Ok! I’m back! Sorry I’ve been away so long, I’ve just been busy moving around California and spending time with friends and family. I know I promised I would write more on Japan, and I will, but today I’m super stoked to talk to you guys about the things you can do with sign up bonuses.
I know I’ve already talked a bit about my favorite cards, but the world is filled with different credit cards companies just begging for your business. Of course, to entice you into spending with them, they offer some very generous sign up bonuses. One card that I just recently opened is the Chase Hyatt Visa, which comes up with a sign-up bonuses of two free nights at any Hyatt property.
Now, at first glance, the offer may not seem that awesome. I mean, who wants to go anywhere for two nights? However, David and I both are getting the card and stacking our offers, so we’ll be able to stay a total of four nights.
After earning the bonus (with $2,000 in spending in the first three months), you’ve gotta figure out where to stay. Now, what makes this offer so valuable is that it’s for any property, which led me to this:
The Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa is possibly the chain’s nicest hotel. Located on its own island, and with room for only 100 people at a time, this hotel starts at $1000/night.
But that’s for the cheapest season. You know what I’m gonna do? David and I (and some friends who I’ve convinced to join us) are going during the high season, when rooms are $1930. A stay for four nights would otherwise cost us $9,535. Or, y’know, free.
If the Maldives aren’t your thing (because you’re afraid of sun? Or fabulousness?), there are plenty of other opportunities to use your free nights:
Park Hyatt Vendome, Paris
Park Hyatt Tokyo
Park Hyatt Beaver Creek
Park Hyatt Sydney
Park Hyatt Milan
Park Hyatt Zurich
Park Hyatt New York
These ones aren’t *quite* as expensive as the Maldives, but are definitely more accessible for people not looking to travel to the middle of nowhere.
All in all, the Hyatt Chase Visa gives a pretty awesome sign-up bonus. Using it well can give you almost $5000 worth of free hotel stays! That’s worth my spending any day.
Ok, so today is going to be a little bit complicated, but bear with me here, it’s worth it.
Today was the first day I’ve actually resold gift cards to earn money. I’ve heard about it pretty often, but have never had the need/ have never jumped on it quickly enough to do it. Let’s start from the beginning:
Whenever you get an American Express card, the card will update with different offers meant to save you money (really, it’s in order get you to spend money on your Amex, but that’s splitting hairs). These offers can rang from amazing to meh, but two days ago, American Express came out with an offer that looked like this: Spend $200 at Neiman Marcus, get a $50 statement credit. At first glance, that doesn’t seem so great, right? I mean, the discount is nice, but nothing to write home about.
If you have multiple American Express cards, there’s a chance that the offer is available on each card. In order to add it to each card, you have to first open a duplicate tab for every card. You then add the offer to each card on each tab without reloading the webpage. The reason for this is that American Express likes to limit you to one offer per account, rather than card. This trick gets around that and lets you do it for each one.
So after loading that offer to my 6 different cards, I strolled on over to the Neiman Marcus website. Not much I’d like to purchase except a nifty $200 gift card. Why? Because I can resell this gift card to a 3rd party reseller and earn myself both points and cash in the process.
After purchasing $1200 worth of gift cards, I went over to giftcardgranny.com in order to find out which website would pay me the most money for my gift card.
It turns out that cardpool.com would instantly pay me $170 for my $200 gift card. Since I paid only $150 per card (after my $50 statement credit), this means I’ll earn $20 and 150 American Express points per card.
I know, I know, this doesn’t sound like a ton. But for just a few minutes worth of effort, I’ve earned $120 and 900 American Express points, which is worth around $20. Since I’m rocking that job free life, every little bit counts.
Most people use gift card reselling in order to meet spending requirements. I’ve never done that personally, but I can see the appeal. Perhaps one day, when I can’t make the spend on my own, I’ll try it out. Until then, free money is where it’s at!
So I’ve talked about a ton of different award programs, and mentioned tons of different sign-up bonuses, but I haven’t mentioned how exactly I keep all my things organized. (My mom brought this up to me. Thanks Mom!)
How do I keep all these different accounts under control and up-to-date? The answer is far easier than a spreadsheet (though I guess if you’re that kind of person you can use one too).
I use Award Wallet, a free account tracking program that keeps all of your accounts in one, easily accessible, place. There are two versions, Award Wallet Basic and Award Wallet Plus. Plus includes some nifty features, such as tracking when your points will expire, so you’re never caught off guard.
Here’s my referral link, if you guys want to sign up:
So, as some of you have probably seen, we did a trip around Europe late last year, which went something like this: France -> UK -> Netherlands -> Belgium -> Germany -> Italy -> France. It was super fast paced and super fun, but there was definitely a lot of stress involved too, especially since we were basically moving from country to country (almost) every day.
But! That’s a story for another time. Today, I want to talk about Oktoberfest! Mostly because it was one of my favorite experiences ever and some of the most fun I’ve ever had (though the details at the end of the night are pretty hazy).
We actually ended up staying in Munich for two nights, simply because I thought we’d need the time for recovery. Yes, yes we did. The first night we were there, we went to the Hippodrom, which is supposed to be a really cool after party place where you hang out post Oktoberfest festivities. Unfortunately, there was a huge soccer game that night and we ended up being there (almost) alone. I also managed to drink an entire liter of beer and not be even a *little* buzzed. (Turns out it was half lemonade. Thanks.)
However, the next day we were set to go to the real Oktoberfest and party wildly, and let me tell you guys, party we did.
Since PJ (my older brother) and I are actually German, we wanted to make sure we dressed in authentic German clothes while there. And David…just wanted to fit in. So! We bought authentic lederhosen and a dirndl for me, which ended up looking totally fabulous (but I’m not biased).
The day of, we arrived around 2pm, worried that we were showing up too early. Not so, my friends, not so.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Oktoberfest, it’s essentially an enormous, month-long festival that celebrates Bavarian culture and beer. There’s a huge carnival outside, with rides and roller coasters. There are also tons of stands selling souvenirs at gouged prices, which we happily paid. (I bought a heart-shaped cookie with the word Bussi written on it, which means kiss)
There are also about 20 tents from various German breweries, ranging in size from 200 to 6000 people. These tents are filled with wooden tables and busty serving ladies who brusquely shove beer at you in exchange for Euros. There’s also traditional German food, ranging from sausages to schnitzel, which we ordered immediately upon arriving.
So, like I said, we were worried about showing up too early for the party and being the lame people alone in the tents. Well, there were about, I dunno, 1000 people in our tent by the time we arrived? While we were able to find a seat, it was definitely crowded, and another couple immediately came over to share with us. (This is the norm).
We each ordered a different entree’, and quickly dug in once our food arrived. David got himself some bratwurst, which he managed to take two bites of before the elderly German couple next to us sighed and took it away from him.
“This,” they explained in thickly accented English as they dissected his sausage, “is the skin. You cannot eat the skin of the bratwurst.”
They then gave it back to him and watched as he attempted to…de-skin his sausage, before taking it back and doing the whole thing for him. I’ll never forget the sight of an old German woman flailing a sausage around on a plate while David watched in awe. Those are memories, my friends.
There is only one size of beer you can order, and that is the liter. If you can’t drink it, get out. For obvious reasons, many people are incredibly drunk, and the Oktoberfest police are all over it. If you look tired, or put your head down, or seem as if you’re going to be sick, that’s it, you’re out.
That being said, one of the most entertaining things to watch during Oktoberfest are the numerous idiots attempt to down the entire liter of beer in one shot. This happens so often, it’s actually an Oktoberfest challenge, and every single person in the tent stands up to watch you try. Immediately after receiving a beer, you stand up, put one foot on the bench, and get to chugging. Initially, the crowd cheers for you, but if you’re too slow, they start booing, and they boo loud. They also throw schnitzels, sausages, and other assorted debris at you, you big loser.
So obviously, I had to try it. The short answer is yes, I can drink an entire liter of beer at once. The long answer is no, I cannot keep it down. (Or at least I chose not to, since it was still early in the day and I didn’t want to be comatose)
I’m so classy.
Every so often, the live band situated in the middle of the tent would start playing, and everyone would stop what they were doing to sing along and wave their beers in the air. I don’t know a single word of German, so my singing went a little something like this, “blaaargle laaaaargel mein roviaaaa OI OI OI!”
Then we would clink glasses and drink deeply. Rinse and repeat for 11 hours, and you have the entire Oktoberfest festival.
We ended up wandering from tent to tent, and eventually wound up sitting with a few guys who I thought were German, but actually ended up being deaf Americans.
See, it’s really loud in the tents, and when you can’t understand what people are saying, you just assume they don’t speak the same language. One of the deaf guys, who thought he was extremely fabulous, happened to be the twin brother of some model dude who was on Dancing With the Stars one time. I guess that makes him…famous? Anyway, he got really mad once he realized I had no idea who he was. His friend, who was clearly there for moral support and maybe also to chauffeur him around, looked a little like Dr. Evil from Austin Powers. He was much nicer than his famous friend and we ended up talking for quite a while before he invited me to join them on their road trip to Italy and I fled in case they were axe murderers. Fun!
As the hours wound on, everyone got more drunk, more cheerful, and infinitely louder. Let me lay out the scene for you:
The sounds of the crowd crashed around me as I peered around, blearily, looking for David. My arms wrapped around my brother on my left and an unfamiliar friend on my right David’s face leered into my vision, a dramatized version of himself as we swayed to and fro. “Oi oi oi!” We shouted, clinking glasses as we stood, wobbling on the wooden benches of the festival table.
All around us, voices reverberated, a thousand thousand revelers cheering as they drank deeply from their mugs. Waitresses hurried through the gaps, clutching five, ten beers apiece as they rushed towards their thirsty customers. Everywhere I looked, people were grinning, cheering as they celebrated this age old festival. Across from us, a family with their daughter, no older than fourteen, sang and laughed, enjoying the family friendly environment.
Beer sloshing down our fronts, we drank, another and another and another. On the ground, flirty females wound their way through groups of interested men, their aprons tied expressly to one side- telling everyone, “Yes, I’m free. Yes, I want to talk.”
New friends made drunken promises, creating plans to meet- in Germany, in France, in England. From everywhere these people came to celebrate, to indulge in the age-old tradition of simple food, simple drinks, and simple fun. And indulge we did.
Ok, so today I want to talk about a trip that hasn’t even happened yet, mostly because I’m just so stoked about the awesome deal that I got it with!
Yesterday I gave a brief intro to credit card rewards, so today I’m going to focus on some of the credit card perks that are out there, and how using them properly can make travel WAY more affordable. (Also I want to brag because seriously guys this was so genius of me)
If you guys read my earlier blog outlining our itinerary for 2017, you saw that it was pretty busy, mostly because I have no self-restraint when it comes to trips I can both afford and have the time to go on. I mean, like, why not? To that end, early last week I was wasting my day online, when I saw that there were some fairly cheap fares to Dubai. As in, ~$400 round trip from LA. That got me thinking about a trip to Dubai, and whether or not it was possible to fit it into my schedule. Obviously, the answer was YES! So, after doing a bit of browsing, I wasn’t able to find that aforementioned four hundred dollar fare, but I did find that Delta had fares going for $680, which is still a pretty good deal.
Here is where my first trick comes in. American Express is one of my favorite credit card brands for a multitude of reasons. Their customer service is excellent, they offer very generous sign up bonuses and perks, and they waive all annual fees for active duty military. How cool is that?
Anyway, after the Chase Sapphire Reserve card debuted last year, there was a mad rush for other credit card companies to catch up and offer a ‘premium’ travel reward card to match Chase’s. American Express’ answer to that was to begin offering a 50% discount on all reward point redemptions made for airfare on your designated airline if you have their Business Platinum card. That is, American Express lets you pick one airline per year for which you would like to have 50% off reward redemptions. Delta happens to be my preferred airline, which led to an awesome bit of luck. Let me break this down a little:
Generally speaking, you can redeem 1 reward point per cent on Amex’s travel website. So, if I had a $680 ticket, I could instead redeem 68,000 points and get my ticket for free. With Amex’s new offer, I could instead redeem 34,000 points for that same exact ticket. This works for any ticket you buy, not just for yourself. Thus, I was able to get two round trip tickets for David and I from Los Angeles to Dubai for a total of 68,000 points. Considering that the sign up bonus for American Express is currently 100,000 points, this is a pretty awesome deal.
Once our flights were paid for (free!) I started looking for hotels.
Ok brag time here. Are any of you familiar with the St. Regis brand of hotels? It’s a super high-end luxury hotel chain owned by Starwood Hotels and Resorts (one of my favorite hotel chains). Here’s a photo of the lobby at the St. Regis Dubai:
That’s pretty stinkin’ nice. Room rates start at $321/night after taxes. That’s actually fairly inexpensive for the St. Regis brand, since rooms in the one in New York start at around $800. It is the Middle East, after all.
Still, $321/night is too rich for my blood, especially since we’re looking to stay in Dubai for almost two weeks. However, Starwood currently has a promotion running where you can buy 4 nights (at tons of different hotels) and they’ll give you the next two free, for a total of 6 nights. Not bad, right?
You guys remember how I talked about the unconditional ‘buy 3 nights get 1 free’ deal that my Citi Prestige card offers? Well, you can stack those two offers together, to get a ‘buy 3 nights get 3 free deal.’ That’s half off! So I called up the Citi Prestige concierge, and after a lengthy (about 40min) conversation with a very skeptical concierge woman (she had never done this kind of transaction before, so she handed me off to another woman who had- and she very gladly helped me out), I had our room booked!
It still wasn’t free, of course, but I thought if there was ever a time to splurge this would be it. All told, I got 6 nights at one of the best hotels in the world for $903, instead of $1930 were I just to buy it flat out.
Since that’s only six nights, I still had to buy five more, but where? Well, another nifty perk of the American Express Business Platinum is that it gives you elite status at several hotel chains simply for holding the card. One of those chains is Starwood, where I just booked the St. Regis (which means free room upgrades, 12pm check-in, and 4pm check out, as well as welcome amenities every time you stay), another that it provides is Hilton HHonors gold status.
Hilton’s reward program gives some pretty good perks, the best of which is free breakfast wherever you stay. You guys see where I’m going with this, right? Just wait, it gets better.
Well, I really wanted to stay on Jumeirah Beach, which is the best beach in Dubai, with perfect white sand beaches that overlook hotels like the Burj al-Arab (which I can’t *quite* afford yet). Hilton is having a winter sale right now, where rooms are 30% off, but, even better, you can stack this sale with something called a points + money redemption. Essentially, you pay partial points and partial cash in order to get a discount on the room rate.
Rooms at the Hilton’s Doubletree Jumeriah Beach start at $272/night, but you can also get them for $64 and 16,000 Hilton points per night. Well, I don’t have any Hilton credit cards, so I didn’t have enough points to qualify for that rate. But you know what I do have? That Citi Prestige card I keep talking about! Citi happens to be a transfer reward partner of Hilton and also just *happens* to be having a bonus for 2x the points right now when you transfer to Hilton.
So that’s what I did. I transferred 40,000 Citi points (the current sign-up bonus for this card is 50,000 points) over to my Hilton account, and booked it for five nights at a total cost of $410 and 40,000 Citi points instead of $1506 for a 1000sq ft king bedroom suite right on the beach. Even better? Free breakfast, 12pm check in, 4pm check out, and a possible room upgrade! That’s the high life.
All told, our 12 night stay cost $1,313 for flights from Los Angeles and fantastic stays at some of the nicest properties in the world. If we were paying out of pocket, it would have cost us $4,796 for the same thing. That’s the power of points!
I know this has been a long post and tons of information, but I think it’s pretty worth it for you guys to hear. Granted, this isn’t the cheapest vacation in the world, since we decided to spring for the really nice hotels. We could’ve gone cheaper or even free, but then, isn’t Dubai all about excess?
Now that our flights and hotel are covered, I have to come up with some things to do! I’ve heard sand boarding in the desert is great, and we’ll definitely have to ride a camel, but other than that I’m an open book. Do you guys have any recommendations?
So after an auspicious start to the blog with the review of our trip to Norway, I thought I’d start making good on the promise to show you guys how exactly we manage to go on these trips. It probably seems complicated, but I assure you guys, it’s not. It just take a bit of time investment on the front end (ya know, to learn it all), and then you can pretty easily hop on things at will.
First things first, right? There are two methods to my madness here, both of which are equally important. In late 2015 I started looking into cheaper ways to travel to Europe, since I had been wanting to go over for a long time. I quickly stumbled into the idea of credit card rewards, and while I originally was skeptical, I found that if you manage it correctly, you can earn tons of rewards without incurring any debt/interest payments/horrible life-ruining fees.
The key, obviously, is not to carry a balance from month to month. Now, since I’m not a huge spender and I don’t have a ton of money, I rely most heavily on credit cards’ sign-up bonuses to earn my points. As an incentive, most cards will offer anywhere from 50k-100k points for you to sign up and spend X amount of dollars on them in a given time. Take, for example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card. It offers a 100k point sign up bonus after 4K in spend in 3 months.
That sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Well, rather than going out and buying yourself four thousand dollars worth of stuff that you don’t need, it makes much more sense to simply transfer all of your spending over to the card. For me, that means my mortgage payment, my car payment, all utilities (water, electricity, gas, phone, internet), insurance payments, etc end up going onto the card. In a month, that total equals about $1900 worth of bills. So, just after 2 months in, I’ve met my spending goal without incurring a ton of extra debt. And, since I already have that money earmarked for bill payment, I simply use that to pay off the credit card.
Then I receive the bonus! 100k points is worth anywhere from $1700-$5000, depending on how you use it. Not too shabby, right? So what do you do if your mortgage doesn’t accept credit card payments? There are actually a ton of services out there that allow you to pay with a credit card and then turn around and issue a check to your bank. Plastiq.com is one of them, but there are a multitude of others. Granted, these folks do charge a small fee for their services, but it ends up worth it in the long run.
After earning the bonus, I simply rinse and repeat with different cards. The credit card market is extremely competitive right now, so there are a ton of good options out there.
Will this hurt my credit score?
I know this question probably bothers a lot of you. The short answer is no. While people generally talk about the amount of inquiries on your report as damaging to your score, the extra lines of credit that you receive will actually increase your score.
As an example, let me give you my own credit history. Since starting this whole thing in late 2015, I’ve gotten 13 new credit cards. (Though only two of them were in 2015, the rest were 2016). That’s right, I averaged essentially one new card per month for the entirety of last year. And you know what? My credit score has actually increased. The reason for this is simple: the number of inquiries on your credit report has a low impact on your overall score, while the available amount of credit that you have (and your overall utilization) has a medium impact on your score. My credit is actually better now than when I started.
The key, again, and I can’t say this enough, is: don’t carry a balance. Otherwise, all the rewards you receive will be eaten into by the interest you’re paying each month. Instead, transfer your regular spending onto the card and use the cash you were going to spend anyway to pay off the card. Trust me, it’s worth it.
What are some of the things I’m getting to do with these rewards?
Fly round-trip Los Angeles- Tokyo
Fly round trip Atlanta- Dominican Republic
Fly Houston-Orlando- San Francisco
Fly round trip New York-Madrid
Fly round trip Los Angeles-Dubai
Fly one way New York- Washington DC
Fly New York- Sacramento- Houston
5 night stay at Disneyworld’s Dolphin hotel (free instead of $2100)
6 night stay at the Doubletree Hilton Jumeriah Beach in a 1000sq ft suite ($400 instead of $1700)
4 night stay at the Doubletree Aqaba ($160 instead of $600)
This is just the tip of the iceberg here. There are so many opportunities out there to be taken, and it just takes a (teeny tiny) leap of faith to jump in.
Anyway, this was a brief primer on some of the rewards you can get with cards. Let me know if you guys like this/ would like to hear more/ want an in-depth guide on earning and redemptions. This is something I’m pretty passionate about, and the more people I can bring into this world, the better!
Enjoying our time at the Fushimi-Inari shrine in Japan
As my 27th birthday approaches, I’m looking back at all the things we’ve been able to do. And, since this is a blog about travel, (duh) I’m thinking about all the fantastic things we have planned for this year.
So far we’ve kept pretty mum about our plans this year; things have been in flux, but we’ve got a tenuous plan so far and I’d like to share it with you guys. Since we’re heading to Edinburgh in August, (for school!) we had to mash a lot of things in a little amount of time. So, without further ado, here is Carissa and David’s Proposed Itinerary of 2017:
From January to February I’m heading back home to California. Going to hang out with the fam, get our dogs sorted (they don’t love travel as much as we do), and generally hang out as unemployed folks are wont to do. David is going to hang back in Maryland, working and finishing up his degree. This is important to know, because the next step is:
Carissa’s super extreme adventure to Europe (with her dog). That’s right! From February until the end of March I’ll be powing around Europe with my dog, Nala. I’m starting in Spain and working my way through France and Italy. For the most part, I’ll be hanging out in the warmer climates, because who really wants to be in the snow? Um, hello, Californian here.
Starting in April, I’ll be joined by David, fresh out of a job and eager to experience…wait for it…Jordan. Don’t kill me. As you guys know, I lived there earlier this year- BUT- David hasn’t and he’s been so looking forward to seeing Petra! This also comes as a recommendation from my soon-to-be Arabic professor from Edinburgh. See, it’s for school!
Ok, once we wheeze tiredly back to the US, we head right back out to go to Bali! This trip will be the most luxurious thing we’ve ever done, not the least because we’re getting to go out with family. David’s brother and sister-in-law are coming with us, and I’m looking forward to lounging around our own private villa. Life’s so hard.
Then! And this is one I’m so excited about! We’re heading to…….Dubai! I snagged some AMAZING deals to get out here, so we’ll be living (cheaply) in the lap of luxury and doing things that Dubai-ians do. Ride camels? Drive sports cars? More research on that later.
At this point we’ll be straight up pooped, so we’re going to hang out and kick our heels for a bit before moving to Scotland. Once there, it’s full steam ahead with schooling so we won’t have time to do much else.