April 29 2014

Quick Deal Note – $19 Frontier Flights, Free Lonely Planet e-Book

Just a quick note on some deals available today with a short shelf life.

The Kindle version of Lonely Planet’s The World’s Best Street Food is free at Amazon.

b-Pic WorldsBestStreetFood book

 

Frontier is offering flights for $19 each way between Denver & Minneapolis or Trenton/Princeton & Nashville on select dates. Must book by today, April 29th.

b-Pic Frontier sale

Note that Frontier now charges a fee for carry-on bags (items fitting under the seat are still free).

April 29 2014

Save at Godiva, Henri Bendel, vente-privee & More – New Amex Sync Offers

Some new American Express sync offers have come about since I last wrote of them. Thought I’d post an update so you don’t miss out.

If you’re unfamiliar with Amex sync deals you can find details and registration instructions here.

Here are the new offers and associated hashtags:

  • Diesel – spend $150+ get $50 (exp. 5/31/14) #AmexDiesel
  • Godiva – spend $50+ get $7.50 (exp. 5/15/14) #AmexGODIVA
  • Henri Bendel – spend $200+ get $50 (exp. 4/29/14) #AmexHenriBendel
  • MAKE UP FOR EVER – spend $100+ get $25 (exp. 6/7/14) #AmexMAKEUPFOREV
  • Pet Valu – spend $75+ get $15 (exp. 6/30/14) #AmexPetValu
  • Seasons 52 – spend $50+ get $10 (exp. 5/28/14, online sales excluded) #AmexSeasons52
  • The Company Store – spend $250+ get $50 (exp. 6/6/14) #AmexCoStore
  • vente-privee – spend $200+ get $40 (exp. 6/5/14, valid only at venteprivee.com/amexoffers) #AmexVP

Most interesting to me among these is vente-privee, the flash sale site partnered with American Express. They often carry premium brands discounted as much as 70% and, at this writing, are running the following sale events:

VP events

VP events 2

You need a (free) membership to shop vente-privee, and if you’d like to sign up with my referral link I would be very appreciative. They offer free shipping on qualifying purchases of $150+ when paid with an American Express card.

As always, please be sure to read all offer terms carefully.

Happy deal-scoring!

Category: Amex, Deals | LEAVE A COMMENT
April 28 2014

Free Lyft Rides in 24 Cities for Two Weeks

Lyft, a car service that competes with UberX, just launched in 24 new cities – and they’re offering free rides for two weeks in those cities!

If you haven’t tried Lyft, this is a great opportunity. (How much more free can it get?)

b Pic Lyftapalooza

They’re great for travel (I use them for getting between airports and hotels) but equally useful for in-town occasions:

  • When you’re going to dinner in the city and want to avoid driving…and looking for parking…and paying for parking.
  • When you need a way to get home after too many drinks.
  • Or when you just want to avoid the company vanpool for a few days.

The signup deadline is May 8th, and you have two weeks from signup to use the offer.

Since it indicates a limit of 50 rides ($25 each) and only applies to new users in the new cities, I am not sure you can combine this with a new-member signup offer. You might have to choose one or the other.

For those not in one of the new launch cities to take advantage of these free rides, here is information about new-member signup offers:

  • There are several offers circulating. The best one I know of is a $50 credit using code SLICKDEALS. (You download the app, go to settings, then to payment, then enter the code.)
  • I’m not posting my referral link here because it only gives you a $25 credit. But in the event the better code expires, you can find my link in my prior post.
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April 26 2014

Weekend Roundup of Travel News and Deals

I hope you’re enjoying the weekend – whether it’s a quiet one at home, an epic adventure far away, or something in between.

Here’s a roundup of some interesting nuggets from the travel world this week.

News & stories

Money on sale

For your points-earning fix, there are some promotions on cash equivalents this week:

Vons, Pavilions, and Safeway are offering $10 off groceries for a $100+ purchase of American Express gift cards (valid April 23 – May 20).

b Pic Vons Amx promo

Staples is offering a $20 store gift card for a $300+ purchase of MasterCard gift cards (valid April 27 – May 3).

b Pic Staples MC promo

The discount itself is nothing special, yielding only a small profit after card-activation fees. The trick is to buy these cash equivalents with a credit card that earns bonus points at those merchants.

At Staples, I’ll use a Chase Ink card that earns 5 points/$ at office supply stores, netting 2,070 points and $6 in Staples store credit.

b Pic Profit

2,070 points is one-sixth of a free flight to Hawaii, so ten minutes spent dropping by Staples is worthwhile to me.

As for cards with above-average awards on supermarket purchases, you might look into the Blue Cash cards issued by American Express.

Other promotions

Don’t forget to check the regularly-updated Travel Deals Page. New additions this past week include promotions by Alaska Air, American Eagle, Choice Hotels, Frontier Airlines, Virgin America, and Virgin Atlantic.

Have a fantastic remainder of the weekend!

Category: Deals, News, Tips | LEAVE A COMMENT
April 25 2014

1,000 Bonus Miles with Virgin Atlantic Little Red

A quick deal note for those with travel plans in the UK this summer…

Virgin Atlantic is offering 1,000 bonus miles to celebrate the first birthday of Little Red, its UK domestic service.

b Pic Little Red offer

The offer applies to Little Red flights between London and Manchester, Aberdeen, and Edinburgh taken by July 31, 2014.

If you’re not yet a member of Virgin Atlantic’s loyalty program, Flying Club, earn some extra miles by having an existing member refer you. (They will need to log into their account and enter your name and email address.)

Have a great weekend and don’t forget to check our Travel Deals Page to keep tabs on all kinds of interesting promotions!

April 24 2014

Analysis of Hilton Summer Promotion

analyzed the upcoming Starwood Earn Away promotion the other day, and now that Hilton has announced its Double Your HHonors summer promotion I thought a similar analysis might be useful.

Read on for a summary of the promotion, my opinion of what it’s worth, and some tips for maximizing value.

The promotion

b HH Promo header

  • Earn your choice of double points or double miles when staying at participating hotels and resorts. Your selection, made during registration, can’t be changed later. (See below for my thoughts on which option to select.)
  • The promotion period is May 1, 2014 to July 31, 2014.
  • You must register for the promotion prior to checking out of your first stay.
  • All brands are participating: Conrad, Waldorf Astoria, Hilton, Embassy Suites, DoubleTree, Hilton Grand Vacations, Hilton Garden Inn, Homewood Suites, and Home2 Suites.
  • However, there is a fairly long list of individual hotels that are not participating, so be sure to check it before making plans.

Analysis

Here’s a comparison of what you’d earn with each option. As you see, with the double points option you earn 25 points per dollar spent, and with the double miles option you earn 10 points and 2 miles per dollar spent.

HH promo scenarios

All else equal, I would favor the double points. Double points equates to a 10.0% rebate while double miles a 7.4% rebate assuming you value HHonors points and most airline miles as I do ($0.004/point and $0.017/mile).

(These calculations assume non-elite status. Elites still earn elite bonuses, but those aren’t doubled.)

If you’re interested in how I value an HHonors point at $0.004, here’s a quick explanation. (Otherwise, feel free to skip to the next section.) My last Hilton stay was at the Hilton Paris CDG, where a paid night currently costs €189 (about $260). In lieu of cash I can redeem 40,000 points, thereby achieving value of $0.0065/point ($260/40,000) on redemption.

Hilton CDG redemption

But the important caveat is that points, in un-redeemed form, should be significantly discounted relative to cash. (I know I say that a lot, but I think it’s so important.) Points are not cash; they are a restricted, illiquid currency with little value outside their respective loyalty program.

So I always apply a discount when valuing unredeemed points. How much of a discount depends on several subjective considerations, including how well that chain’s properties geographically line up with my travel patterns and how generous they are with award nights (which are often capacity controlled). I also discount for the fact that paid stays earn new points while award stays don’t.

Applying a discount, I generally value unredeemed HHonors points at $0.004 apiece. Although the numeric result is different when valuing airline miles, the same logic applies.

Hints and tips

As usual, I have some suggestions to help you potentially double or triple dip. (Quadruple dips are rare but do share of you manage one!)

  • The terms allow for registering for other promotions concurrently, so check Hilton’s offers page to see if there are other combinable deals that might suit your travel plans.
  • If you pay with a Hilton co-branded credit card you earn another 7, 10, or 12 points/$ (depending on which card it is).
  • Earn a $50 statement credit by connecting an eligible American Express card to TripAdvisor and spending $250+ at a participating Hilton property (valid March 18-May 31). I advise reading the terms of every promotion carefully, but it’s especially important for this one because many Hilton brands are excluded.

Final thoughts

As with Starwood’s summer promotion, I find this one just okay. I’ll certainly take advantage when it best fits my travel plans, but it’s not enough to compel me to shift business to Hilton otherwise.

Hope this was helpful. As always, please be sure to carefully read the fine print for each promotion you consider participating in.

April 23 2014

Travel Safety Tips (and the Risk-Reward Analysis of Adventure Travel)

The city of Nanaimo, with a lovely waterfront location on Vancouver Island, hosts one of the best-known bungee jumping sites in North America. The setting is stunning.

The bungee jumping platform sits in the middle of a bridge stretching over a canyon. Standing there, you’re surrounded by lush forest on all sides and the Nanaimo River is at your feet.

Well, 15 stories below your feet.

With only a rope around your ankles to hopefully contain your fall.

Bungee Jumping Nanaimo
Bungee jumping in Nanaimo. (Image courtesy of WildPlay Element Parks. Used with permission.)

Bungee jumping was not on my bucket list, but a friend I was traveling with wanted to do it. And Nanaimo was en route to our destination, so the stop only made sense. Of course I could have declined to jump, but I figured why not try it. Since I was already there, the marginal cost was low.

Thankfully, I hadn’t heard stories like this at the time. The subject of the story describes the harrowing experience and aftermath of having the bungee cord snap as she jumped 111 meters (more than double the distance of the Nanaimo jump) from a bridge over the Zambezi River by Victoria Falls. That she fell into a river rather than onto land saved her life, and fortunately she is here to tell the story.

But traveling is indeed dangerous, and doing stuff like bungee jumping while traveling greatly magnifies the risk.

Yet when I think about it, everything has risk.

  • Sitting on the couch watching TV and eating nachos all day is risky – to your health.
  • Investing your hard-earned money is risky – the investment may lose value.
  • Not investing your money is risky – inflation erodes its value.
  • Driving your kids to school half a mile away is risky – over 80% of car accidents happen within 20 miles of home. Granted that’s because most of one’s driving occurs locally, but the point is that you are vulnerable whether at home or afar.

It’s not a matter of whether something is risky – because everything is risky – but of whether the risk is worth its reward. Don’t evaluate risk in isolation.

If bungee jumping is on your bucket list, does the gratification of fulfilling a life’s goal outweigh the (statistically small) risk of plunging to your death (or being forever maimed)? That’s for each individual to decide, but the decision should weigh both risk and reward.

Those who find travel rewarding usually have proportional tolerance for its associated risks.

But here’s the thing: risk can be manipulated. When you find ways to lessen a risk, the scale tips further in favor of the reward.

With that, may I offer some suggestions for mitigating travel risks.

Physical risks

Pack light. The less you have to lug the more easily you can maneuver and the less vulnerable you appear to pickpockets.

Be prepared. Research the destination and carry or download a map (but use it discreetly; don’t advertise that you’re in unfamiliar territory) so you have a sense of where things are. You’re less likely to accidentally wander into seedy parts of town, and more likely to notice if a cabbie is taking the “scenic route.”

By the way, if you ever have to dispute a cab fare at the end of a ride, make sure all your bags are out of the trunk first.

Lock the suitcase left in your hotel room while you’re out. It only takes a second and deters sticky fingers.

Be aware and undistracted. Riding on a subway line where pickpockets operate (which is most lines serving major tourist sites) isn’t the best time to watch cat videos on YouTube.

Likewise, don’t fumble needlessly with your belongings. In the land of pickpockets, you should be in control of your stuff at all times. If you’re holding a cell phone and need your camera, secure the phone first (in a pocket or purse, not in your other hand) then get the camera – with both hands. Likewise with your wallet, a drink you’re holding, and anything else.

Avoid potentially sketchy situations. If I’m traveling alone I’m not going near a red light district at night even if it’s the city’s big tourist attraction. I might miss out, but the risk is not worth it.

Also when traveling alone, I’m very wary of strangers who strike up a conversation with me. My default assumption is that they’re up to no good. That’s not to say you can’t make friends while traveling – I’ve met some lovely people that way. I’m fine initiating a conversation with a stranger because the random odds of me choosing a shady character are low. But if a shady character is targeting me, the likelihood that they’ll start talking to me is very high.

Digital risks

Use a wallet with RFID-blocking technology.

Secure sensitive data. I’m by no means a digital security expert, but it’s simple enough to avoid storing personal files on your laptop and tablet. My files are kept with a cloud storage service, and if my device is stolen I can detach the files from it remotely.

Financial risks

When out sightseeing, only carry as much cash as you’ll need for the day and leave the rest in the hotel safe. Distribute it (and your credit cards) among different storage locations (shirt pocket, pants pocket, purse, money belt, etc.).

If you’re traveling with someone else, further distribute your cash and credit cards amongst yourselves. That way if one person is pickpocketed not all is lost.

Buy travel insurance. While I already have health insurance and my credit cards offer travel coverage, I still want insurance that specifically covers issues arising outside my home country. Premiums vary (so shop around) but are generally very reasonable. My most recent policy cost $42 for a 16-day trip – totally worthwhile compared to the risk of a huge medical bill if something goes wrong.

Fortunately I’ve never come close to needing medical evacuation, but it’s another reason for travel insurance. If my life is on the line I don’t want a med-evac company refusing service because they’re unsure whether my regular health insurer will pay them.

However, I personally don’t buy trip-cancellation coverage as I’m willing to take my chances there. I’d definitely consider it for an expensive trip, but much of my travel is free or almost free thanks to miles and points.

Back to bungee jumping

If your risk-reward analysis of “adventure travel” compels you to go for it, great! But at the same time, do what you can to lessen risk. As it pertains to bungee jumping, that might include:

  • Choosing a quality operator. Does their equipment look well-maintained? (If I see a frayed cord I’m not entrusting my life to it.) Do they charge a reasonable (not overly cheap) price that doesn’t make you wonder how they stay profitable…in light of all the equipment they’re supposed to maintain?
  • Choosing a safe (or safer) setting. I was comfortable jumping in Canada – a modern country with advanced health care. While I’m in no way judging anyone else’s personal decisions, I wouldn’t have jumped at Victoria Falls (in Zambia and Zimbabwe).
  • Buying travel insurance – with med-evac coverage!

To summarize, I don’t consider risk inherently bad. In fact, risk-taking is often a pre-condition to reward-reaping. But why not stack the deck in your favor as much as possible.

P.S. If you’re prone to motion sickness be forewarned about bungee jumping. Like being carsick magnified a trillion times. I would’ve mitigated that risk – if I’d foreseen it.

April 22 2014

Check Your Orbitz Account for Possible Free Credit

Yesterday an email popped up that caught my attention (because it was offering free money):

Orbitz email

I hadn’t paid much attention to Orbitz, preferring to book my travel either through a travel provider’s own program (for the loyalty points and upgrades) or opaque third-party sites like Priceline (which can yield some great deals if done right).

But when something’s free, I’m not going to complain about the price.

I had low expectations since many Orbitz hotel promotions seem to exclude a lot. Like this one:

HOTEL10 code T&Cs

(Emphasis mine.)

But when I “tested out” my free $50 credit, lo and behold it did not have that exclusion and worked on many (I’d say ~80%) of the hotels in areas I searched for.

Not only that, there were many decent (3-star-ish) hotels with pre-discount rates around $50, meaning the rate would’ve been zero, or a negligible amount, with this deal. (You still have to pay tax.) Wish I’d taken screen shots (sorry, won’t happen again).

I ultimately used the credit on a hotel for an out-of-state event I’m attending in a few weeks. That one wasn’t free, but the net cost was only ~$50 after my triple-dipping shenanigans. A solid, well-located hotel — and it’s literally adjacent to the event so I’ll save on time and transportation costs.

Read on for a description of the Orbitz Rewards loyalty program, followed by tips for maximizing value.

Earning and redeeming “Orbucks”

  • Hotel bookings earn 5% in Orbitz Rewards if booked through the app (3% if booked on a computer).
  • Flight bookings earn 2% in Orbitz Rewards if booked through the app (1% if booked on a computer), capped at $50 in Orbucks annually per member. You can often double dip by earning frequent flyer miles while earning Orbucks.
  • Packages earn 1% in Orbitz Rewards.
  • Earned Orbucks expire 12 months from the date earned. Promotional Orbucks (like the $50 I got) expire per the terms of their respective promotion.
  • Orbucks can only be redeemed on hotel bookings (not flights).

In addition to base membership, there are two “elite” tiers with perks including concierge services and potential upgrades, Wi-Fi, and breakfast:

  • Star member: to qualify, book and stay at least four Eligible Hotel room nights within a rolling 12-month period.
  • SuperStar member: to qualify, be a Star member and book and stay at least twelve Eligible Hotel room nights within a rolling 12-month period.

There is also a Best Price Guarantee.

Hints and tips

Here are some suggestions to help you potentially double or even triple dip. Not all of them can be combined, so do the math and optimize for your own situation – that’s part of the fun of this “game.” 🙂

Have an existing member refer you. You’ll get $25 in signup credit and they’ll get $25 after your first completed stay. Of course you’re more than welcome to use my referral link (thanks for supporting this site!). Note that the signup credit is not instant; it comes by email a few days after signup.

Use code DOWNLOAD25 to save $25 on your first hotel stay (book by 6/30/14, travel by 9/30/14). This code is only valid on mobile bookings.

Pay with a credit card that earns an applicable category bonus. (I used one that earns double points on all merchants categorized as “travel.”)

Check out this page for other promotions that might fit your needs. Currently on offer are a $25 credit for a hotel booking in Germany (book by 4/29/14) and a $30 credit for one in Los Angeles (book by 5/16/14).

Try code HOTEL10 for 10% off a qualifying hotel (expires 6/30/14). This code excludes many hotels, though (see the second picture in this post).

As always, be sure to read all terms and conditions carefully.

Finally, one more suggestion…

Even if you’ve no need to book anything right now, consider signing up for the potential of getting random free credit in the future. I got $50 yesterday even though I don’t remember booking anything in years. (Actually, not sure I’ve ever booked anything through them.)

Category: Deals, Tips | LEAVE A COMMENT
April 21 2014

Starwood Summer Promotion – Details & Analysis

Starwood Preferred Guest, the loyalty program of Starwood Hotels and Resorts (with brands including Sheraton, Westin, W Hotels, St. Regis, and Le Meridien) has announced its Earn Away promotion.

Pic SPG Earn Away

The promotion

  • Earn double Starpoints (i.e. 4 total points/$) on eligible stays at participating properties.
  • Earn triple Starpoints (i.e. 6 total points/$) on eligible stays at participating properties that include a Sunday night (Saturday night at hotels in the Middle East).
  • Must register by June 30, 2014 and stay between May 1, 2014 and July 31, 2014.

There is a (rather lengthy) list of non-participating properties so be sure to check it before making plans.

Analysis

I think this promotion is…just okay. It works out to an 8% rebate (for a stay earning double points) or a 12% rebate (for a stay earning triple points), but keep in mind the rebate is in the form of points, not cash.

Remember, any time you evaluate points you should discount them relative to cash because points are not cash; they are an illiquid currency. (That said, Starpoints are pretty valuable compared to other points currencies because they’re transferable to a decent list of airline partners – with a 5,000-point bonus for transfers of 20,000 points.)

So, all things considered, I (subjectively) value Starpoints at about 2 cents apiece. Therefore 4 points x $0.02 = 8% rebate, and 6 points x $0.02 = 12%.

(Also, only base earnings are doubled or tripled; bonus points earned from Gold or Platinum status or from paying with a Starwood co-branded credit card aren’t.)

Certainly better than nothing, but not worth going out of the way for.

Potential double dip

Since the terms say the offer is eligible with other Starpoints promotions, you should be able to stack it with the Hear the Music promotion through May 31, 2014.

As always, carefully read all terms and conditions. Hopefully you’ll get some value from one or both promotions!

April 18 2014

Free Entrance to U.S. National Parks This Weekend

According to the U.S. National Park Service, the country has 401 national parks. While about one third of them typically charge an entrance fee, the fee is waived on several dates in 2014 – including this weekend in celebration of National Park Week.

If this weekend is too soon for you, there are several additional dates later in the year:

National Parks Free Entrance

See the National Park Service website for details and a calendar of special events.

Enjoy, and be sure to check our permanent Travel Deals Page for other interesting travel deals!

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