July 8 2016

Random Collection of Deals

Hope everyone is well! Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on one’s perspective) work continues to get in the way of my free time so I have been neglecting the blog!

Anyway, a friend taking a quick trip – with flights already booked on miles – jokingly asked how to get the rest of the trip for free. So I promised to pass along a few deals. Since I was compiling it all anyway, figured I’d post it on my little corner of the Internet in case anyone else finds it useful. 🙂

 

Food offers

Uber Eats is offering $20 off your first order. Feel free to use my referral code eats-ubermywanderlux (enter it in the “Promotions” tab of the app).

LivingSocial Restaurants Plus is offering $20 off your first meal at a participating restaurant. You need to join, register a credit card, and pay for your meal with that credit card. You’ll then earn a statement credit equal to the meal price (up to $20). At this time they have restaurants in only a handful of areas, but they are major metropolitan areas.

Grubhub frequently offers $10 off your first order of $15+. You need one of the ever-changing promo codes, but if you sign up for their emails I’m sure they’ll come. Be on the lookout for the $10 code, not the inferior $7 code. I seem to get a code at least weekly (I give them my spam email account, of course). Alternatively, try one of the recent codes on RetailMeNot.

Travel Is Free has a handful of additional ideas here.

 

Transportation offers

Both Uber and Lyft are offering signup bonuses. I don’t think I actually know anyone under age 60 who doesn’t already have at least one of those accounts, but perhaps you only have one and not both? If so, sign up for the other and get a bonus from that.

Current offers are $20 off your first Uber ride and $50 in free Lyft credit. (The bonus amounts change fairly often, but these are current as of this writing.)

 

$80 off Airbnb

If you don’t already have an Airbnb account, sign up through a referral link to earn a $30 travel credit. So get a friend to refer you, or send me a note if you’d like me to send you a referral.

Airbnb is also offering $50 after completing a “business” stay. Doctor of Credit’s blog has details here.

Note that, since the latter credit isn’t earned until after your stay, combining these offers doesn’t get you $80 off one stay. It’s $30 off the first stay and $50 off a subsequent stay.

Have a great weekend!

 

October 24 2015

New PointBreaks List Goes Live on Monday

Every few months, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) releases a new PointBreaks list. I consider PointBreaks one of the best deals in hotel loyalty programs, with award nights offered at the deeply discounted rate of 5,000 points per night.

IHG brands consist of the following:

IHG brands

A new set of PointBreaks properties will be released for booking on Monday (October 26). The list of properties can be found on IHG’s blog (here), and I have also pasted it below.

I value an IHG point at 0.7 cents, so being able to book a room for 5,000 points is like spending $35. Having the co-branded credit card gives you a 10% rebate on redemptions, effectively lowering the cost to 4,500 points per night.

$35 a night is a good deal at just about any decent hotel anywhere. But among the 100+ properties on each PointBreaks list, there is usually a handful of extraordinary deals – InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, and Hotel Indigo properties that normally require up to 50,000 points for an award night (or several hundred dollars for a paid night).

A few potential gems in this round:

There are also a few properties within a short drive or flight of my home that I’ll consider for weekend getaways

 

Ways to acquire IHG points

If you’re short on points, I previously suggested ways to earn IHG Rewards points. Among the methods described is a way to indirectly buy points for $0.007 each.

 

Booking strategy

These properties are offered at the PointBreaks rate from October 26, 2015 to January 31, 2016, but award nights are capacity controlled and desirable properties only last a few hours (if that). So if you’re interested I’d be poised to book as soon as the booking window opens.

The PointBreaks rate usually loads sometime between 8 to 10 AM Eastern on the day booking opens. However, the official PointBreaks page usually doesn’t display the new properties until the afternoon – by which time many desirable properties are gone. (If you go to that page before the new round is loaded, you’ll just see properties from the prior round still there.)

So here’s my strategy in advance of each new round:

  • Check out the preview list now and identify properties I’m interested in.
  • On the Eastern Time morning of the day booking opens (Monday, October 26 for this round), go to the webpage of each desired property (accessible from the links below) and navigate to the booking page.
  • Find the 5,000­ points-­per-­night ­rate and book it! Again, the exact time the PointBreaks rate loads is unknown, but it’s usually between 8-­10 AM EST. I just periodically refresh the page until it appears (while working on other things in another window).
IC Cairo
The InterContinental Cairo on the banks of the Nile – a steal at $35/night (photo: IHG)

 

Preview list

Below is the full list as of this writing. Once a property sells out of PointBreaks nights it drops off the PointBreaks page and the 5,000-­point rate no longer displays.

Remember each member may make up to two PointBreaks reservations per property. A reservation can be of any duration (availability permitting).

 

ASIA / AFRICA / MIDDLE EAST

 

EUROPE

Belgium

Czech Republic

Finland

France

Germany

Italy

Lithuania

Poland

Russia

Slovakia

Spain

Turkey

United Kingdom

 

THE AMERICAS

Brazil

Canada

Columbia

Costa Rica

Guatemala

Mexico

Nicaragua

Panama

 

THE USA

Alabama

Arkansas

Arizona

California

Colorado

Connecticut

Delaware

Florida

Georgia

Iowa

Idaho

Illinois

Indiana

Kansas

Kentucky

Louisiana

Massachusetts

Maryland

Michigan

Minnesota

Missouri

Mississippi

Montana

North Carolina

North Dakota

Nebraska

New Hampshire

New Jersey

New Mexico

Nevada

New York

Ohio

Oklahoma

Oregon

Pennsylvania

Rhode Island

South Carolina

South Dakota

Tennessee

Texas

Utah

Virginia

Vermont

Washington

Wisconsin

West Virginia

 

October 19 2015

Staybridge Suites Birmingham Hotel Review

After a regrettable stay at another hotel, I was happy to be moving on.

The Staybridge Suites Birmingham had been open barely a year when I arrived – I hoped that meant they were old enough to have worked out the initial bugs yet new enough that the rooms were nice and clean.

Staybridge Suites is InterContinental Hotels Group’s extended-stay brand, and since I was in the middle of a month-long trip I also looked forward to the extended-stay amenities.

In the end it was a great stay and a phenomenal deal – only 4,500 IHG points per night (5,000/night for those without the co-branded credit card) as the hotel was a PointBreaks offering at the time.

Pic-exterior
The hotel’s main entrance

The location

Location is almost always the most important attribute of a hotel to me, and as a city girl I found this location ideal.

It is right in the city center, easily reachable by and accessible to all kinds of transportation (including my favorite kind – walking).

There are restaurants right outside the front door and a Sainsbury’s supermarket around the corner. Shopping, banking, and most other services are but a few minutes away on foot.

That said, I believe a location closer to the canals (such as that of the Hyatt Regency) would be more picturesque yet still easily walkable, so I suggest considering staying closer to the canals if you prefer a less hectic environment.

 

The room

As you’d expect at a new property, furnishings were new and modern.

My L-shaped room had a sleeping alcove on one end and the kitchen on the other. The design is space-efficient, but a little awkward as there’s not much clearance on either side of the bed.

Pic-sleeping alcove
Sleeping alcove

In addition to ample closet space, a basket is provided in case you plan to use the laundry facilities.

SS closet
The closet area area, kitchen (left background), and bathroom (right background)

The kitchen had dishware, flatware, basic cooking supplies, a stovetop with two burners, a small refrigerator, a microwave/convection oven, and a dishwasher.

Pic-kitchen

Since the hotel caters to mostly business travelers it lacked a few small details that would’ve made it more comfortable for double occupancy.

There was no sofa; only a single upholstered armchair – so it wouldn’t be a great place for relaxing conversation. Likewise, there’s just one chair at the desk/dining table – not brilliant for two-person meals.

I think the table in the corner was supposed to be a desk, but the TV occupied most of its surface so I always worked at the kitchen counter, which was comfortable enough with the padded desk chair.

Pic-desk

The bathroom was clean and functional, but again pretty cozy (space-wise).

Pic-bathroom

 

The service

The service was always polite and friendly.

I arrived at 7:30 AM and they couldn’t check me into a room until 11:00 (which is totally within their right since the published check-in time is 3:00 PM). I told the agent I’d traveled through the night, thanked her for finding me a room early, and said I was looking forward to taking a nap as soon as I got to the room.

A few minutes after I got in the room, she called to say they’d planned to test the fire alarm at noon but could reschedule if that would bother my nap. I told her not to worry and that they should proceed as planned, but I very much appreciated the gesture.

Housekeeping is provided every weekday, but if you want it on the weekends you have to request it 24 hours beforehand. I didn’t mind this policy (I often decline daily housekeeping anyway) and in fact liked knowing I wouldn’t be disturbed on the weekend.

The only snafu was that I’d checked in on a Friday so by Monday I was out of supplies. Yet when housekeeping came on Monday they did not replenish some supplies. I had to call down for toilet paper and soap. It actually took several hours to arrive and I had to call several times. Not a huge problem, but I’m just saying it wasn’t a flawless experience.

 

The amenities

I swear I took pictures of the amenities, but the dog must’ve eaten them?

Daily breakfast is included in the room rate, but after a few days I realized the hot-food menu only varied by one item: eggs were scrambled one day and omelet-style the next. The only other hot items were sausage and baked beans, both prepared the same way every day. However, there’s a nice selection of breads, pastries, yogurt, fruit, and beverages.

There is also an evening reception Tuesdays through Thursdays. It’s a nice touch, but again don’t plan your life around it and definitely don’t expect to make a meal of it. For the primary clientele – business travelers – these receptions are a convenient way to congregate with colleagues in the evening.

The laundry room had maybe 5 or 6 washers and the same number of dryers. The one time I used it, machines were readily available.

The fitness room was bigger and nicer than I expected, but I’d rather just go outside for exercise (weather permitting – this is England 🙂 ).

 

Summary

Overall I enjoyed the stay and the location is ideal if you like being right in the city. I wouldn’t hesitate to say here again if the price were right.

Pros

  • Central location
  • New, clean, and modern
  • Friendly service
  • Amenities for long-term travelers

Cons

  • Just some nits as described above

Cost

  • 4,500 IHG points/night. Since I value an IHG point at $0.007, I equate the cost to $32/night all in. A great deal for the quality!

Link to hotel website.

September 18 2015

Great Orbitz Deal: $100 off $100+

Update: Deal is gone. Hope everyone managed to book what they needed before the music stopped!

____________

Happy weekend, everyone! Apologies for the rushed post, but this is too good a deal to ignore. 🙂

Orbitz is offering $100 off a hotel booking of $100 or more with code MASTERPASS.

MasterPass

There’s a short fuse as travel must occur by September 30, but if that works with your plans then it’s hard to beat $100 off $100!

Most major chains are excluded, but I was able to find many good options that do qualify. To save yourself some frustration, input the promo code (again, it’s MASTERPASS) in the search box on the main search page before commencing your search. That way, qualifying hotels will be tagged “Promo Code Eligible.”

Input the promo code in the box that looks like this:

Search Box

Then look for the “Promo Code Eligible” as shown here:

Search Results

Also note you must pay via MasterPass (a digital payment service) and the code doesn’t cover taxes.

Safe travels!

July 25 2015

Bonefish Grill, Chipotle, Shutterfly, and Choice Hotels Promos

Hope everyone is having a great weekend! Here are a few deals…

 

Bonefish Grill

Obtain a Bonefish Grill $10 off coupon here and enjoy a free(ish) dinner on the house.

Although I haven’t been to Bonefish Grill in a while, I recall some entrees priced in the low teens (or maybe even single digits?), so $10 off is a great deal since there is no minimum required for the coupon.

The lobster tails pictured above don’t look too bad.

Terms do say “one coupon per table” so…everyone sit separately at the bar? 😉

The coupon expires August 3.

 

Chipotle buy one get one free

Get a Chipotle BOGO free coupon playing their Friend or Faux game.

Just click “play now” to play the game. Took me about a minute, and you don’t have to get the correct answers. At the end you’re asked for a phone number where they’ll text you the BOGO coupon.

It says the coupon comes within 7 days but mine came in under 2 hours.

I didn’t notice an expiration date for the game, but the coupon itself expires August 15.

 

Shutterfly $20 off $20+

Shutterfly $20 off $20

Also free-ish is this Shutterfly $20 off $20+ offer. Use code JOLLYJULY and note the offer expires July 28.

 

Choice Hotels

Choice Hotels GC

Finally, Choice Hotels is offering a $50 gift card after two qualifying trips.

Gift card options include Amazon, Walmart, several gas stations, and a handful of restaurants.

Do note the promotion requires two separate qualifying “trips.” Per the FAQs, consecutive nights at one hotel only count as one trip, regardless of check-ins or check-outs.

Also, a trip is defined as one night or more at some brands (Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites, Quality, Sleep Inn, Clarion, Cambria, and Ascend Hotel Collection) while 2 or more consecutive nights at other brands (Econo Lodge, Rodeway Inn, Suburban Extended Stay Hotel, or MainStay Suites).

And note the somewhat-convoluted redemption process. After the two qualifying trips you’re awarded 8,000 points which can then be redeemed until 10/31/15 for one $50 gift card.

If you value 8,000 points more than a $50 gift card to one of the participating retailers, then don’t redeem them for the gift card. To help you decide, I previously wrote a long analysis when they ran this offer last year.

Registration is required (register here) and check-in must occur by August 19.

 

Have a great rest of the weekend.

July 20 2015

$68 Transcontinental Flights, Discounts on 76 Gas & Hyatt Gift Cards

Evening, everyone. Here are a few quick notes on some good deals.

eBay gift card sale

The eBay gift card sales are back!

Pick up a $100 76 gift card for $90:

76 GC

Or a $200 Hyatt gift card for $175:

Hyatt GC

Here are some other offers:

These are from reputable corporate sellers (not a random person selling on eBay) and the good ones tend to sell out quickly.

To double dip, pay with eBay gift cards acquired at a discount. For example, Kroger grocery stores currently have a digital coupon for $10 off when you purchase $50+ of eBay gift cards. (Download the store’s app to your phone, log in to load the coupon to your account, then go to the store and buy the gift card.)

To triple dip, earn 2% back by via eBay Bucks (enrollment is free).

 

Spirit airfare sale

Spirit Airlines is having a nice sale, with routes priced at $68 roundtrip including taxes.

Many routes are included; here are just a few examples:

From Los Angeles:

LAX Flights

From Boston:

Boston Flights

Book by 11:59pm on July 21, 2015 for travel on select dates from August to November.

Spirit is a low-cost carrier so do factor in extra costs (such as carry-on bag fees, although a personal item is still free) and set your expectations for a no-frills experience.

But $68 for a long-haul flight across the country is a bargain (albeit only a mediocre deal for the shorter routes)!

July 11 2015

Finishing My Fredericton Trip Report and Pondering the Wisdom of Off-Season Travel

Posts from this trip:

 

For many, travel decisions are mainly driven by the destination. People decide where they want to go, then book flights and lodging accordingly.

That’s a perfectly reasonable approach, but it doesn’t work as well for me. Because my travel list is long. Basically, I want to go (almost) everywhere.

When “everywhere” is your preferred destination, specific locations are somewhat irrelevant.

Combine that with my other favorite sport – deal hunting – and much of my travel decisions are driven by economics. Where can I go cost-efficiently at this time? (To clarify, “cost-efficient” and “cheap” are not synonymous.)

With this strategy, I’ve had some fantastic travel experiences for nearly-negligible costs.

I jetted off to Amsterdam on a whim, staying in one of the finest hotels in the world, for a total cash cost of about $200 (flights, hotels, and sightseeing included).

I took a 12-day, luxury tour of Egypt for a fraction of the typical price.

Recently I stayed at – to name a few – the very nice Delta Fredericton for $25/night, the 4.5-star InterContinental San Francisco for under $50/night, and the new Staybridge Suites Birmingham (in England, not Alabama) for about $32/night.

 

But bargains occasionally entail compromise

For example, an award flight might not be available on my preferred date.  So I have to adjust my schedule.

Or – to the point of this post – I end up visiting a place during the off-season. Like the arid desert that is Egypt in the peak of summer.

Or Fredericton, the capital of New Brunswick, in the middle of winter.

My week-long Fredericton trip was almost entirely economics-based, with a total cash cost of about $100 – flights and hotels included. (I don’t typically count meals and ground transportation since I incur those regardless of whether I’m traveling.)

  • The flights were free. I didn’t even spend frequent flyer miles because I added Fredericton as a stopover en route to Birmingham, England. (On a round-trip international award ticket, United allows one free stopover.) I probably paid incremental airline fees and taxes, but I don’t have the breakdown for the Fredericton portion so let’s just say $25.
  • One night at an airport hotel for an overnight layover was $56.
  • One night at the Delta Fredericton Hotel was $25.
  • A week at the Crowne Plaza Fredericton cost $0 in cash. A PointBreaks hotel at the time, it cost 4,500 IHG points/night (the 5,000 PointBreaks rate minus a 10% rebate from my IHG credit card). I have a six-figure IHG point balance – earned through reimbursed business travel or other low-cost means – so this stay hardly made a dent.

In the on-season, my hotel costs would have been much higher as I doubt the Crowne Plaza would have been offered on PointBreaks.

 

So what’s Fredericton like in the off-season?

In a word: cold.

For those unfamiliar with Fredericton’s location, it is in eastern Canada, above the US state of Maine. So it’s basically like going to Maine in January. Except colder.

This was Fredericton’s town square when I visited:

Officers Square
Officers Square in Fredericton. Cold, eh?

Ideal for ice skating – if that’s what you’re there for.

Alas, I didn’t bring my skates. And everything else there is to do outdoors was severely constrained by weather.

Not that I had a bad time. In fact, it was a nice – if not optimal – trip.

I toured the Beaverbrook Art Gallery when it was otherwise devoid of visitors. While paying the entrance fee, the cashier made small talk and I mentioned I was visiting from California.

A few of the rooms were closed for renovation so he charged me half price, then left me to roam the exhibits. The collection was okay. For a small gallery in a remote-ish part of the world, you can’t expect The Louvre.

As I was about to leave, a staff member approached and said, “They told me you’re visiting from California. I’m sorry some of the rooms are closed to the public but if you like I can take you to see them.”  While I didn’t think much of the collection at that point, I did not want to refuse the gracious offer so I accepted.

Turns out, the non-public rooms held all the gems. There were some stunning paintings and tapestries. This person not only escorted me through them, but took time to explain many of the pieces and the general history of the museum, including how some of its treasured pieces were acquired.

It’s unlikely I would’ve been offered this very detailed tour of the museum’s restricted areas during peak season.

Beaverbrook Art Gallery Sculpture
On the grounds of Beaverbrook Art Gallery

The museum has several famous works, including three Salvador Dali pieces and one by Lucian Freud (grandson of Sigmund). Of course, with my impeccable timing, all were on tour at the time.

So, as with everything else in life, off-season travel has its pros and cons.

 

Is off-season travel worth it?

On the balance, I’d say yes – in moderation.

At the extremes, it’s not worth it if you can’t at all enjoy the destination’s intrinsic appeal. To point out the obvious:

  • You can’t snow ski in summer when there’s no snow.
  • You can’t go sailing in winter when the water is frozen.
  • I wouldn’t try to hike the Inca Trail, which requires long days of trekking and several nights of camping, during rainy season.

Conversely, other destinations are only mildly inconvenient in the off season. In those cases, I’m willing to go if the cost-benefit analysis is favorable.

I didn’t mind Egypt in the summer. While it was hot, most of what I wanted to do didn’t require extended outdoor exposure or high physical exertion.

I was driven to the Pyramids and other sites in air-conditioned vehicles; I only had to get out and walk around a little once there, and that was tolerable with good sunscreen and proper hydration.

The remainder of the trip was spent gorging myself on gourmet food while sailing the Nile on an air-conditioned luxury boat. Do-able.

Sunboat
Outdoor dining patio on Nile River cruise boat

Wishing you, as always, safe travels.

 

July 3 2015

Free Drink, Two Amazon Offers, Triple Hilton HHonors Points, and Complimentary Museum Admission

Finally! Friday is here! Happy Independence Day weekend, everyone.

If you’re flying Southwest tomorrow, enjoy a free cocktail on board.

Southwest Free Drink

The airline extends this offer on various holidays but doesn’t advertise it much, so you’ll likely have to speak up and ask for your free drink.

But at least you can’t complain about the price. 🙂

Triple Hilton HHonors points

Hilton is offering triple HHonors points at participating properties in the Americas through January 30, 2016.

Be sure to read the terms. Also note you must book the triple points rate (see example below) and the stay must be at least two nights.

Hilton 3x Rate

$15 off $50+ on Amazon when paying with American Express Membership Rewards points

This is a nice offer, but it’s targeted and requires having an American Express card that earns Membership Rewards points.

Receive $15 off a $50+ purchase when you use Membership Rewards points to pay.

Amazon MR promo

If targeted, you’ll see a banner at checkout. Click on the “learn more” button then find the box to link your Amex card. It looks like this:

Amazon MR instructions

After following the prompts to link your card, you’ll see the option to pay for your order by redeeming Membership Rewards points.

Here’s the catch: the redemption rate is 1.43 points to 1 cent. That’s a terrible conversion rate.

I value a Membership Rewards point at 1.7 cents, yet this offer only yields about 0.7 cents of value.

So the trick is to redeem just one point on your order (which is all it takes to qualify for the $15 off). The remaining balance is billed to your Amex card.

Payment screen redacted

Don’t forget to use promo code SWP07AXP15.

Note there are also offers for Chase and Discover cardholders. I wasn’t targeted for those, but if interested keep an eye out when logged in to your Amazon account.

Bonus Amazon tip

If you’re a Prime member but have yet to use the Subscribe & Save service, Amazon is offering $10 Subscribe & Save credit with promo code TRYSNS10.

Offer ends July 31, 2015.

Free museum admission

Finally, don’t forget this weekend Bank of America and Merrill Lynch cardholders receive free admission to over 150 museums, science centers, and botanical gardens.

Enjoy the long weekend.

July 1 2015

Lots of Free Travel Books

Happy alllllllmost Independence Day! Is it just me, or do these “short” work weeks seem to drag on forever?

As I normally do this time of year, I re-stocked on poolside reading material. Thought I’d share some travel-related finds.

At this writing, the Kindle version of the following books is free. (However, Amazon prices can change any time so double-check the price before ordering!)

Without a Kindle device, you can still read e-books with a free Kindle reading app.

Machu Picchu: Appreciating the Lost City of the Inca

Machu Picchu

Secret Europe: 50 Truly Unforgettable Experiences to Inspire Your Next Trip

Secret Europe

101 Tips to Reduce Luggage Weight

Luggage

London, England Travel Guide Book – A Comprehensive 5-Day Travel Guide…

London

Cruising the Inside Passage Alaska

Inside Passage

Spanish Tapas Recipes: Authentic Tapas Recipes from the Tapas Bars of Spain

Spanish Tapas

Ireland: For Travelers!: The Tourist Guide To Make The Most Out Of Your Trip To Ireland – Discover Where To Go, Eat, Sleep & Party

Ireland

USA’s Best Trips: 7 Amazing Road Trips

USA's Best Trips

A Naturalist Guide to the Galápagos Islands – 2nd Edition

Galapagos

Onboard French: Learn a language before you land

Onboard French

Rome: The Best Of Rome For Short Stay Travel

Rome

Getting High: The Annapurna Circuit in Nepal

Annapurna

Top 14 Places to Visit in Norway

Norway

Italian Travel Phrases for English Speakers: the most useful 1.000 phrases to get around when travelling in Italy

Italy

The Happy Camper: How I Quit My Corporate Job and Sold Everything to Travel Full-Time

Happy Camper

Ladakh in Pictures  

Ladakh

Havana Tips and Tricks: Interesting Facts and Tips On Havana And Cuba

Havana

June 27 2015

100 Free Prints from Shutterfly

Not being a big “stuff” person, I buy very few non-consumable things while traveling. My trip souvenirs are mostly photos.

Stored electronically, they take no physical space. And when I want prints, there’s often a way to get them inexpensively. 🙂

Wouldn’t you know it, Shutterfly is offering 100 free prints through June 30th. Just use code 100FREEPRINTS at checkout.

You still have to pay shipping, but here’s a tip: shipping costs are tiered. If you order 100 prints, shipping is $7.99. Lower the order to 99 prints and the shipping drops to $5.99.

Shutterfly Cart

Have a great rest of the weekend!