Skiing With the Rich and Famous: A How-To Guide for the Poor (and Unemployed) Among Us

Hey guys!

Ok, so I’ve been sitting on this one for a while because I reaaally wanted to do it justice.

What is “it,” exactly?

Well, let me tell you!

It was our Valentine’s Day celebration that we celebrated in a totally planned and not-at-all last minute fashion! Ok, you caught me, it was like a week in advance and maybe I forced David to cancel all his plans. But trust me, it was worth it. So what did we do?

We went to Beaver Creek, Colorado! (It’s for skiing). More specifically, we stayed at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek and skied our tails off on Beaver Creek’s many many ski runs.

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The view from our hotel room

Now, in case many of you guys don’t know, Beaver Creek is full of rich people. I mean like, “Oh I guess I’ll just spend ten thousands dollars this week and go to Beaver Creek” rich. Way above the likes of us. Luckily, and you guys guessed it, Carissa-the-Points-Queen was here to save the day. So how did I manage this?

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Yes. I live here.

Well, the Hyatt brand happens to be a transfer partner of Chase. If you guys remember, I’ve got a few different Chase cards, which have earned me almost 200k Chase points. However, I also happen to have the Hyatt Chase card, which has a sign-up bonus of 2 free nights anywhere.

Now, I had originally planned to use those free nights at the Maldives, but a quick search showed me that I could save myself some points and swap those free nights over to the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek.

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Why? Because the Park Hyatt Maldives is only a Category 6 hotel, which costs 25,000 points/night, and the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek is a Category 7, costing 30,000 points/night. So, by using my two nights at Beaver Creek, I could save myself 10,000 points over a 2 night stay. Well worth it, in my opinion.

For reference, the Park Hyatt is currently going for almost $1000/night, so this was a pretty big deal.

With the hotel taken care of, all we had to do was get there. Starting from Washington D.C., roundtrip flights were around $700/person. Ew. Too much for me.

However, after a stupidly long amount of time, I found some Southwest flights from Philly that were $180 roundtrip. And you know what flying Southwest means, right? David comes for free! (I also redeemed points for our flight) So we drove our happy butts two hours up to Philly, spent a night in Denver, then rented a car and drove the additional two hours to Beaver Creek.

Pause for a moment here. At the request of David, I need to enthusiastically tell you guys how great our rental car company was. I rented from Silvercar, which gives a 30% discount to Visa signature card holders (Chase Sapphire Preferred/ Reserve) They only rent out Audis, which is the coolest thing ever, so we cruised to Beaver Creek in style. It’s also worth noting that the cost of our Audi was $269 for the entire weekend, while a shuttle roundtrip would have cost us $349. I’ll take the leather seats, please.

Let me just say, our hotel was awesome. It was located at the bottom of the ski slopes, so you literally left the hotel and got onto the chair lift up. Super cool.

Now, if you guys happen to know me, you happen to know that I had tried skiing exactly once in my life before this. Suffice to say, it went badly. (So so badly). So I was fairly concerned about attempting to ski again. David had been before, so he was all set, but I opted for ski school. And I mean like “how do I put boots on?” ski school.

Of course I was obviously the best at it (why? I’m normally so clumsy). In fact, I was so good that my instructor had me go it alone on the ski lift. He called me athletic and sent me on my way, which meant that I immediately fell over and ate shit as soon as I tried to get off. Very encouraging.

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Look how perfect I am.

Overall the day was fantastic and made huge ski fans out of both David and I. Unfortunately, since the skiing up there is so bleeding expensive, we only managed to make it out for one day. The other day we spent wandering around Beaver Creek village (they hand out free chocolate chip cookies!) and watching a concert with Glen Morrison, who is some guy from Glee and also other famous things.

Did I mention that David opted for no ski school? He says he had a great time, but he also had a GoPro strapped to his and oh my God you guys need to see the videos of him wiping out. He promises he’s uploading them to YouTube soon so I’ll link you guys as soon as they’re up.

Otherwise, we had an amazing weekend which we could have in no way afforded without points. True, ski rentals and ski school cost us out of pocket, but a free hotel and free flights meant we could afford this awesome opportunity without breaking the bank. Totally worth it!

Carissa “Snowbunny” Rawson

Disneyworld on Point(s)

Hey guys!

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So if you know me, you definitely know I love to spend time at Disneyworld. It’s honestly one of my favorite places to be, and David and I go down as often as possible. However, the cost is prohibitive for many families. A lot of the time, we’ll go and stay at a cheap hotel because they’re everywhere around Disney. But sometimes, we want to stay somewhere nice. Somewhere with a little more…magic.

So how do we do this affordably? Everyone knows that the Disney ecosystem is built to suck every last penny from your wallet, but there’s definitely something special about getting to stay within the resort and revel in the benefits that being on property brings. However, oftentimes, the costs of the hotels can get as high as $800/ night. I don’t know about you guys, but I am totally not rich enough for that.

Fortunately for us, there are two hotels within the Disney resort that are no longer owned by the Disney corporation. Starwood bought them some time ago, which means…you guessed it! You can use points (from the SPG Amex cards) to stay for free at Disneyworld.

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The two hotels, the Dolphin and the Swan, are a little older than the rest of the hotels, and their theming isn’t *quite* as nice as some of the others, but they are walking distance from Epcot, and get their own special entrance. Because they’re part of the Disney resort, guests staying there also receive the cool extra benefits, such as early entrances to the parks and free transportation everywhere. This can save a bundle in parking fees at the resort.

The Dolphin is considered a Category 4 hotel, which means staying there will cost you 10,000 points per night. However, on award stays, Starwood gives you the 5th night free, effectively bringing the cost down to 8,000 points/night. For a hotel that regularly costs over $300/night, this is a fantastic redemption value.

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And did I mention that it’s on Disney property?

So, when David and I are heading down in May, the room rate for the Dolphin is $329/night, not including taxes and fees. All told, the total for five nights would be $2117.59. Instead, we’re spending 40,000 points (5th night free) for the entire stay!

That is a serious chunk of change, and totally worth it for families who are heading down to Disneyworld.

For my Georgia and New England readers, there’s also a special going on right now for a third night free in honor of the Super Bowl. All you have to do is call to book before February 28th, and stay anytime before January 31st, 2018. There might be a way to stack this with the Citi Prestige’s 4th night free offer, but I haven’t tried.

Anyway, these are some tips for saving money down there. If you guys are interested in learning more, let me know! I have tons of info, and obviously love talking your guys’ ears off.

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Such grace. Such Beauty.

-Princess Carissa of Arendelle

Some Like It Easy: An Awesome Offer for Us

Since I imagine many of you are new to/ have never really participated in the rewards card game, today I wanted to highlight a new card that just came out at the end of last year.

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The Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard has a number of benefits, which include:

  • 2x miles on all spending with American Airlines
  • 1x miles on all other spending
  • First checked bag free for the primary cardmember and up to 4 companions on eligible bags when traveling on domestic itineraries operated by American Airlines.
  • Group 1 boarding for the primary cardmember on domestic flights operated by American
  • 25% inflight savings on food, beverages, and headsets on American Airlines-operated flights
  • 10% of your redeemed miles back on redemptions (up to 10,000 miles per calendar year)
  • No foreign transaction fees

However, the most lucrative part of this offer is the sign-up bonus, which is 40,000 AAdvantage Miles after your first purchase (and once you pay the $95 annual fee). That’s right! There’s no minimum spend for this card, which means you can buy something as small as a Starbucks and land yourself 40,000 points.

That’s enough for roundtrip tickets from the US-Europe, or (almost) 3 roundtrip flights around the United States.

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Look where you can go!

That’s awesome! I paid for parking with my card and shelved it, since I’m not a huge American Airlines flyer, but I’m definitely looking into the best ways to spend my points.

So you guys know, Barclay’s Bank generally pulls from Transunion rather than Equifax. Most other banks will pull Equifax, so this will give you some breathing room on new card openings.

This is a really easy way to slide into the points earning game, with minimal investment and some pretty major rewards. What would you guys do with 40,000 points?

-Carissa

Japan, Or: Dear God Help Me Where Am I?

Since I’ve been bombarding you guys the last few days with different travel tips, I thought I’d go back a bit and talk about our trip to Japan last May. This trip was unique in a lot of ways, not the least because it was David’s first time leaving the US (as an adult. He had been to Mexico when he was a kid).

That meant that everything we were doing was going to be new and different and weird for him. Plus, y’know, it was Japan. Everything there is uncomfortably foreign.

Since this way last May, I actually didn’t have a ton of travel tricks up my sleeve. However, I had signed us up for British Airways Visa cards the year before, since I knew I’d be wanting to travel around. That meant our flights to and from Tokyo were free, which is a huge savings in and of itself.

I’m going to pause here and tout the awesomeness of Airbnb. Japan was our first time using the platform, and it saved us hundreds of dollars. It also lets you live like a local, which is something that everyone values (unless you’re in, like, Liberia). Since then, I’ve stayed in 13 different Airbnbs, with reservations for 11 more this year. What I’m saying is, these places can be great deals.

Our trip to Japan went like this: Tokyo -> Hakone -> Tokyo -> Kanazawa -> Kyoto -> Osaka -> Kobe -> Tokyo

We spent a total of ten days in Japan and encountered some of the coolest, weirdest, stuff around, like Harajuku, where everything is violently pink and men with professional cameras take pictures of dozens of girls in school uniforms. Awkward.

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Just a normal day in Harajuku

Anyway, the first day we landed in Tokyo at about 5am, which meant that almost everything was closed, and we were exhausted from the flight over. Economy life sucks, guys. Our Airbnb host was really nice and let us head to our flat early, which meant we were able to shower and get ready before heading out for the day.

Since David is a giant nerd, our first flat was in Akihabara, home of all things geeky. We arrived super duper early, so we got a chance to walk through the city while everything was still asleep, which was really cool.

Our random walking took us over to the Tokyo Zoo, which we ended up wandering through for a few hours before heading over to the Gundam Cafe because we’re losers. It was awesome.

For our first night, we ended up eating at an Izakaya, with a dinner show from our host Mr. Yucky.

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The show was…very Japanese. I mean that in the best way possible. We had traditional Japanese food, which meant a lot of mushrooms and fish. So basically I starved.

But the show. Ok, so Mr. Yucky asked each group of people to pick a country from a list that he had. When it came to my turn, I picked France. He disappeared into his back room for a minute before returning with an easel, a beret, and a piece of charcoal. French music began to play while he swiftly and silently began drawing a picture of me on his easel.

Then, having finished his art piece, he sat back for a minute and admired it before making out with it. A few seconds later, he picked it up, and with a flourish, dropped it down to his pants and began humping it.

I’m not kidding.

Then he handed it to me!

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Japan.

More later.

-Carissa “Draw me like one of your French girls” Rawson

The Joy of the American Express Concierge

Today, I want to share something really awesome that the American Express platinum card can do. If you guys read my blog from a few days ago, you saw that there’s an Amex concierge for platinum card holders, which will make dinner reservations for you, buy and deliver flowers to your beloved, or even snag you theatre tickets for hard-to-get plays.

Well, I’m here to officially say that, thanks to American Express, we got tickets to Hamilton! As in, tickets at full face value, not price gouged to 8x the cost.

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How, you ask? Well, I had heard of American Express selling tickets at face value before, so I signed up for all the different newsletters that announce it. As soon as it popped up, with availability on 5 separate dates, I called up the concierge and had her reserve me some tickets. Since the maximum number of tickets any one person (or account) can buy is 4 (to prevent reselling, I guess), I then asked my stepmom to call her concierge and buy the final ticket. It worked like a charm!

The show is February 7th, and 5 of us are heading over to Chicago to see it. The tickets were only $120 each, rather than ~$700, which makes flying all the way to Chicago worth it.

Since I’m in California right now, David is flying separately to meet me out there, and then we’re using our Southwest Companion Pass to fly back together for half the cost. Cool, right?

See ya guys in Chicago!

-Carissa the deal Queen

Oktoberfest: The Most Fun I Can’t Remember Having

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).

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PJ and I at the Hippodrom

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).

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Looking great

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.

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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!”

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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.

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Us on the train ride home

-Carissa the Oktoberfest Queen

The Southwest Companion Pass: The Holy Grail of Reward Travel

What’s a Southwest Companion Pass?

Well, my friends, let me educate you. I am celebrating particularly hard today, because I finally managed to finagle the Southwest Companion Pass for myself and David. I first learned about this thing almost a year ago, and I’ve been dancing with anticipation for 2017 to come, because qualifying for the pass (in January of the current year) quite literally means 2 (almost) years of buy one get one free travel for you and your luckiest friend.

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And I’ve finally done it! I’ve designated David as my companion, (for obvious reasons) and from now until 31 December 2018, whenever I fly Southwest, he is able to accompany me for free. No matter what the ticket. Southwest’s route map is extensive, and they’ve recently added new international travel too! Can you say Cancun?

So how do you get this pass? There are a few different methods:

1. Fly 110,000 miles in one calendar year on Southwest Airlines. (AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR DAT)
2. Fly 100 one-way flights in one calendar year (NO SERIOUSLY NO ONE HAS TIME FOR THAT)
3. Game the system with credit card reward bonuses

Which one do you guys think I did? (Though I used a different one than the one I’m about to detail below, a great loophole that Southwest is finally closing up.)

It’s actually quite simple. Southwest has three separate credit cards that they offer through Chase bank. Each credit card has a bonus attached to it, which qualifies as mileage through Southwest Airlines in order to earn the pass.

The first, called the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus credit card, currently has a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points.

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Here’s the Link

Spending $2,000 on this card within three months (though ideally you’d do it as quickly as possible in order to earn the pass as quickly as possible) will net you a total of 52,000 points toward the 110,000 you need for the pass.

The second card is Southwest’s business version of the rapid rewards card, called the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business credit card, is earning a 60,000 point sign up bonus. This is a limited time offer, so signing up now is the best idea if you want to get these points. (It goes back down to 50,000 points)

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Here’s the Link

If you guys are concerned about getting a business card, see my post from yesterday. It’s cool, seriously. Anyway, that card will net you 63,000 points after meeting $3,000 worth of spend in the first three months.

The third card you can apply for is called the Southwest Rapid Reward Premier credit card, and will also offer you 50,000 points after $2,000 in spend in the first 3 months.

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Here’s the Link

I would personally go for the first two cards outlined above, simply because the Plus card has a $69 annual fee, whereas the Premier card (both of these are personal cards) has a $99 annual fee, and you earn the same 50,000 point bonus for either.

So, after getting two cards (if you get one business and one personal), you’ll have earned 115,000 points, (including the points you’ll earn from meeting the minimum spend requirements) which will qualify you for the Companion Pass! How easy is that? Do you have someone you like/want to travel with? Then get this pass! It’s the holy grail of travel rewards and is so easily achievable right now, there’s no excuse not to!

Keep in mind that you should have good credit before attempting this (or any reward travel, for that matter). Otherwise, it’s free game! Have fun!

-Carissa and her Companion David

What’s In My Wallet? My Favorite Cards to Use and Keep

Ok, today I’d like to do a brief overview of the cards I keep in my wallet, either because they have amazing perks, or because they offer tremendous value in regards to points/redemptions. As we go on, I’ll do an in-depth post of each card, detailing the ins and outs of each card. Are you guys ready for this? *Deep breath* Ok let’s do it!

#1 The American Express Personal Platinum card

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Why?

I’m going to be upfront here and tell you guys that I’m a huge fan of the whole American Express line. I have 6 of their cards already, and the fact that they’ve waived all my annual fees has saved me a ton of money. This card has some of the best perks in the industry:

1. Access to the American Express concierge, who will find and book for you all kinds of cool stuff (such as reservations for restaurants you can’t normally get into, or tickets for Hamilton at face value)
2. Elite status with Hilton, Starwood, Marriott, Avis, National Car Rental, and Hertz
5x bonus points when you use the card to pay for airfare
3. $200/year airline fee credit, which reimburses you for incidentals such as bag fees (or upgrades to first class!)
4. A Priority Pass card, which gets you into participating Priority Pass airline lounges for free (more on this later)
Access to the American Express Centurion lounges in airports around the country (free massages!)
5. 50,000 point sign-up bonus, which is worth anywhere from $1000-$3500, depending on how you spend it
6. Tons of transfer partners, which offers amazing flexibility for redeeming points
A $100 credit to sign up for either Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, which saves TONS of time (though Global Entry also includes TSA PreCheck, so obviously do that one)

There are more, but these are the ones I personally find most valuable. I’ll go more in depth later.

 

#2 The American Express Business Platinum Card

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Ok, I know some of you are going to ask, do I have to have a business to own this card? The short answer is no. There’s a lot of literature on the subject, but here’s a good article explaining business credit cards:

Can I Get a Business Credit Card Even if I Don’t Have a Business?

Why?

The business version of the platinum card has many of the same perks as the personal one, with one notable exception:

1. 50% rebate on all points redeemed for airfare on an airline of your choice in economy class, or on any airline in either business or first class. This effectively doubles the value of your points, as you can redeem through the Amex travel portal without worrying about figuring out which partners to transfer your points to.
2. This card also has a $200/year airline fee credit
3. Until January 25th, this card has a 100,000 sign up bonus, which is worth anywhere from $2000-7000, depending on how you spend it

 

#3 The Citi Prestige Card

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I know I’ve already talked about this card a lot, but that’s because I rely on it so heavily.

Why?

1. The Citi Prestige concierge, which, like the American Express one, can book your tickets and reservations you otherwise wouldn’t be able to get. Booking hotels through the concierge also gets you the 4th night free on *any* stay, which can be invaluable.
2. 3x bonus points for money spent on airfare
3. 2x bonus points for spend on restaurants and entertainment
4. A 50,000 point sign up bonus, which, is worth between $750-$2000
5. Priority Pass membership for you, which also allows you to bring 2 extra guests into participating airline lounges for free
6. $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck (I use my spare credits on family and friends)
7. $250/year travel credit that is reimbursed automatically

 

#4 The Chase Sapphire Reserve

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I have 7 different Chase cards, but the Reserve is the best of them. Released last year, it caused a wild outcry as hordes of people lined up to apply for it. So many people got it that Chase actually ran out of the metal that the cards were supposed to be manufactured with, and had to start sending out plastic cards. (The shame!)

Why?

1. Great transfer partners, which allow for the ultimate flexibility when redeeming points.
2. 3x bonus points on all travel and restaurants (even, like, Uber)
3. 50,000 point sign up bonus, which is worth between $750-$2000
4. Priority Pass membership for you and unlimited amounts of guests, which means you and you whole family can get into airline lounges for free. (You’re welcome Great-Step-Uncle George 2x removed)
5. $300/year travel credit, which, like the Citi Prestige, is reimbursed automatically when they see travel purchases on your account
6. $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
7. Automatic 1.5 cent redemption of points on Chase’s travel portal, which, while not the best deal, saves you the headache of trying to work out transfer partners. The portal also includes Disneyworld hotels, unlike anyone else, which can save you a lot of money when traveling down to Orlando. (Who does that??)

 

#5 and #6 Starwood Preferred Gold Cards (both personal and business)

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I’ve put these cards together because they offer some really similar benefits, though they do have a few differentiating features. When I’m not trying to meet spending goals or using other cards with bonus categories, these are the cards I use, because SPG points are widely considered the most valuable points out there (and also some of the hardest to earn)

Why?

1. They both offer sign up bonuses of 25,000 points, which can be worth…thousands of dollars. I just spent 40,000 points to stay at the Walt Disney World Dolphin for 5 nights, which saved me $2100.
2. The SPG business card offers free club access at any Sheraton hotel you stay at. While I was initially meh about this perk, I quickly realized that club access means both free breakfast and dinner, which I take good advantage of. It’s saved me a bundle of money when traveling
3. SPG award point redemptions (at Starwood hotels) give you the 5th night free on any stay, which saves you 20% on your stay
4. SPG has the most transfer partners of anyone, and its points often transfer at a more than 1:1 ratio, which means you can get more points by transferring
5. Every time you transfer 20,000 points to a partner, you get an additional 5,000 point bonus

So there you guys go. These are my top cards, which I keep using even after I’ve earned their sign up bonuses. Most of these are considered the “top-tier” of reward cards, and for good reason. The perks they offer can be worth thousands of dollars, and making use of these can take your travel experience from good to amazing.

-Carissa

The Dominican Republic: Virgin Mudslides and Montezuma’s Revenge: Part 2

Where did I leave off yesterday? Oh that’s right, we had just gotten to our hotel in the Dominican Republic. First off, have any of you guys ever been to the Caribbean? I went down through several different islands (St. Thomas, St. Maarten, St. Lucia, Barbados, Dominica) on a cruise a few years back, and while I always thought the resort areas were nice, beyond their borders the poverty levels were shocking. I guess white sand beaches are only important if you can, y’know, feed your family.

Anyway, this time around I was totally sure that it would be 100% different and everything would be nice and beautiful because…optimism. I think you guys can see where this is going. Turns out the Dominican Republic is just as poor as everyone else! But that’s ok, because we drove straight through it without stopping on the way to our lovely all-inclusive resort.

Enough about the plight of others. What, do you think this is a blog about humanity? Nope! Our resort, which was called “Lifestyle Tropical Resort,” was a huge, sprawling mass that encompassed 10 other, smaller resorts. I guess the Lifestyle brand is worldwide, which was fairly obvious considering most of the guests there were from the far reaches of the world: Australia, Ecuador, Canada, etc etc.

The resort gave us each a wrist band, which seemed really cool to begin with, since they were marked with a large VIP and clearly meant we were something special. Then, a friendly Dominican guide showed us to our room, which was decent, something I’d expect from a 3 star hotel in the Dominican Republic.

However, we soon came to find out that these wristbands were not quite as special as we had thought, and that actually being marked VIP denoted us as the lowest tier of guests on property. What did this mean?

NO ACCESS TO THE ICE CREAM SHOP. WE WERE REBUFFED FROM THE CREPE STAND. AND- WORST OF ALL- WE WEREN’T ALLOWED INTO THE SPECIALTY WHISKEY BAR. David returned to our room, crying.

Seriously, though. While being at an all-inclusive resort was nice, having different levels of access certainly made us feel…less than. Guests would be hanging out with each other, making small talk, while trying to glance surreptitiously at each other’s wrists to see what level of membership each person had. (The people who owned timeshares within the resort were obviously the highest tier) It was like a caste system at an all-inclusive resort, and we were at the bottom.

I know, these problems are so first world.

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David suffering his life away

So what’s the point of being at an all-inclusive resort? Obviously, to eat and drink as much as humanly possible. You guys will then be disappointed to know that I was on antibiotics and thus prevented from drinking alcohol. David, however, suffered from no such compunction and managed to drink enough for the both of us. The resort is littered with bars and filled with generous bartenders who, I kid you not, straight dump liquor into your glass while winking knowingly at you.

So it was with great confusion that David ordered a “virgin mudslide.” The conversation went something like this:

“Hi, I’d like a superextrastrongalcoholic drink and one virgin mudslide.”
*pause for a beat*
Server: “a what?”
David: “yeah, a virgin mudslide.”
Server: “…you mean a chocolate frosty?”
David: *shamefully* “…yeah.”

That’s how you know a man loves you. Let me tell you, I slurped those things down like there was no tomorrow. They were delicious!

We didn’t do much during our time there, so there isn’t much to write about. However, we did get to try some awesome food at dinner time, and we spend a significant amount of time in the cabanas at the beach. Those were awesome.

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So tilt. So art. So cabana.

But did you guys know that November is the rainy season in the DR? Us either, which meant that 3/4 days we were there, it poured off and on all day. That meant the cabanas were frequently soggy (no one else minded because they were all plastered).

And! One day we got stuck in a rainstorm on the way to dinner at the *authentic* Dominican food restaurant. The whole resort was flooded, and remember how I said it was totally sprawled out? Well, you have to use their resort shuttle system to get around, but the water was too high to get through. I mean, the cars in the parking lot were under almost 3 feet of water. We did manage to flag down a delivery van, and crawled into the open back (no seats, just a metal floor) despite the driver’s protests. Then about 8 other people saw what we were doing and climbed in too, including a very drunk, very old woman who didn’t realize I wasn’t her granddaughter until 20 minutes in. I’ve never been held so lovingly by a 90 year I didn’t know.

Ok, one last story from the resort and I’ll finish up with this part, because seriously guys WHAT THE HELL. Have you guys ever heard of a huntsman spider? I hadn’t either. Here’s a photo of it:

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Shortly before this man died a tragic, spidery, death

Well, on our last night at the resort, we were eating at an open air Mexican restaurant (the food throughout the resort was actually really good), when all of a sudden, the couple at the table next to us stood up, freaking out. We were waiting on our dessert to be served, and I turned to ask the girl what was going on.

“There’s a spider!” she shrieked, pointing wildly in the direction of her table. Now, I would just like to pause here and note that I am not afraid of spiders. David is, and I have to crush them all around the house because he flails like a big baby at them.

But then I saw this spider. It was finished with their table, and instead ran over to ours, skittering across the tabletop like a huge, hairy omen of death.

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THIS WAS BASICALLY US

It was at this point that I got on my chair and started shouting. David, frozen with fear, gaped at the spider and refused to move. A waitress came rushing over, and when I hysterically described the spider to her, she shook the tablecloth a few times before declaring that the spider was gone.

Besides, she said, “it’s harmless, like a big kitty. ”

She then brought me a jack and coke, to calm my nerves.
Thanks, Dominican Republic.
-Carissa who is miraculously still alive

Dubai on a Dime (or Two)

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!

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Since I don’t have any related photos, enjoy this picture of us swilling beer at a Belgian beer fest in Japan.

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?

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For Chrissy, who loves hot dogs

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:

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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!

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I mean look at this bathroom!

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.

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Our Hilton hotel

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?

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-Carissa and George