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)!

May 25 2015

Gift Card Sale – Save on Chevron/Texaco, Hyatt Hotels, and More

Just a quick post to share a good deal for your summer road trips.

But first, happy Memorial Day! I hope you’re having a wonderful day, but don’t forget the significance of the holiday and take a moment to remember the sacrifice of those who fought for our freedom.

eBay has nice discounts on a selection of gift cards. Here’s the full list:

eBay GC Event

There’s a $100 Chevron/Texaco gift card for $90. Shipping is free and there is a limit of 3 per buyer.

There’s also a $200 Hyatt Hotels gift card for $175. Shipping is also free and the limit is 2 per buyer.

Other participating cards are Sears, Cold Stone Creamery, Cabela’s, TGI Fridays, and GILT. The iTunes cards appear sold out at the moment, but if interested I would check again later in case they restock.

The seller, SVM, is a reputable eBay seller so it’s not as if you are buying from a random person on eBay.

For additional savings, enroll in the eBay Bucks loyalty program to earn 2% back. And if you previously managed to acquire discounted eBay gift cards, pay with those for further savings.

Finally, since gift cards are just a form of payment, they’re almost always combinable with store promotions as well.

Enjoy the remaining holiday weekend.

May 23 2015

1,500 Free Spirit Miles, New PointBreaks Round About to Open, and More Deals

Happy Memorial Day weekend – the unofficial start of summer!

I hope everyone is having a great weekend whether traveling or relaxing at home, but please don’t forget the significance of the holiday and take a moment to remember those who served.

 

Random deals

For fun, here are a few random deals:

  • Free smoothie at White Castle tomorrow.
  • Get a coupon code for $10 off an in-store purchase of $10 or more at JCPenney by texting “FB” to 527365. That signs you up for JCP text alerts, so if you don’t want the ongoing spam then text “STOP” after you’ve used the coupon.
  • Get a $20 rebate when you buy $300+ of Visa Gift Cards at Staples May 24-30. The gift cards have a purchase fee ($6.95 per $200 card) so the deal only nets $6.10 in profit (when buying two $200 cards). However, I pay with a Chase Ink card that earns 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar, netting 2,069 points. I value Ultimate Rewards points at 1.7 cents each, so the points are worth $35.

Staples VGC

 

1,500 Free Spirit miles

For loyalists of Spirit Airlines, here’s an easy way to earn up to 1,500 Free Spirit miles by taking three quizzes for 500 miles each.

Answers are very intuitive – just remember Spirit is a discount airline – but you do have to get them correct to earn the points. You can always re-take the quiz if necessary 🙂

(If you are not a Spirit loyalist, I wouldn’t bother since Spirit miles expire after three months of inactivity.)

 

New set of PointBreaks hotels bookable on Monday

Just a heads-up, booking for the next round of IHG PointBreaks hotels will go live on Tuesday, May 26 for stays through July 31, 2015.

I consider PointBreaks one of the best deals in hotel loyalty programs, with hotel rooms available at the deeply discounted rate of 5,000 points per night.

I value an IHG point at 0.7 cents, so it’s like paying $35 a night. If you’re unfamiliar, I’ve described the program at length in prior posts (such as this one).

IC Nha Trang
The InterContinental Nha Trang – on the new PointBreaks list – is a steal at 5,000 points per night

Every time a new round is released, the desirable properties go quickly – in a matter of hours, if not sooner.

The discounted 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 (Tuesday, May 26 for this round), go to the webpage of each desired property (accessible from the preview list) 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 (I don’t sit there and stare at the page the whole time; I work on other things in another window).

Happy hunting!

 

April 4 2015

$100 ExxonMobil Gift Card for $90

Happy Easter weekend!

Gas card deals seem popular around here so I thought I’d mention this offer that just popped up on my email.

eBay has $100 ExxonMobil gift cards on offer for $90. This is from a reputable seller (not a random person selling on eBay) and probably will sell out quickly so grab it soon if interested. Shipping is free.

Exxon Ebay

Enjoy the weekend.

February 16 2015

Helicopter to the Airport for $99 & Many Other Deals

Happy Presidents Day!

The last few weeks were super busy (not in a bad way), resulting in abandoning the second half of my Birmingham trip to get home early. But with that behind us I’m paying attention to travel deals again.

One of the most interesting (to me) is the launch of Gotham Air.

Gotham Air

In partnership with a helicopter flight operator, Gotham Air provides helicopter rides from New York City to JFK and Newark Liberty airports. The ride is said to take six minutes.

Regular pricing is $199 to $219 depending on departure time, but currently promo code LAUNCH discounts the fare to $99.

That’s a great deal considering a taxi between the city and JFK can cost upwards of $50 and a decent car service can exceed $99.

And that doesn’t consider the time savings. A 6-minute helicopter ride vs. hour(s) in city traffic – not a tough choice. Heck, even full price doesn’t seem unreasonable given the time savings.

Gotham Air pricing

However, as with all newly-launched services there is the potential for “bugs” in the system. A few concerns came to mind based on either my own (limited) helicopter-riding experience or Gotham Air’s FAQs:

  • A flight is not guaranteed to depart unless four or more seats have been paid in full. So if using this service I’d suggest having a back-up plan.
  • Luggage is limited to one carry-on of up to 25 pounds. That’s a pretty onerous restriction even if you travel light. (The company says if you have more luggage they can “probably make special arrangements,” but does not say what cost/hassle such arrangements might incur.)
  • Unlike taking a taxi or car service, you need to get to the heliport to begin the journey. They currently operate from just one heliport – at Pier 6 – although two more will be added “soon.”
  • Helicopter rides are loud, cramped, and not always smooth (I personally get very motion-sick in them). Of course a 6-minute ride isn’t long, so I’m not saying this would be a horrible experience. Just suggesting it be viewed as a practical means of getting to the airport rather than an indulgent experience.

In any case, I would definitely consider this next time I’m in NYC. If you beat me to it, let me know how it goes!

 

Other deals

Travel

  • Hilton HHonors Dining: A signup bonus of up to 2,000 points. If you are unfamiliar with travel-provider-affiliated dining programs, see this post for tips. (Join by Mar. 31, 2015.)
  • La Quinta Inns & Suites: 300 points for watching a video. Don’t forget to click the “Get Your Points” button at the end to input your membership information for the points. [Thanks to InACents.]

Not travel-specific

  • Wilsons Leather: $10 off a purchase of $10+ with promo code 7785. I needed a new phone case and picked one up for a net cost of 49 cents. Although the code already gives free shipping, I used ShopRunner for free expedited shipping and free returns (though obviously I wouldn’t bother returning a 49-cent item). I did not see an expiration date to the promo code but since it is a Presidents Day offer I wouldn’t expect it to last beyond today.
  • Neiman Marcus: $50 off a purchase of $100+ when paying with Visa Checkout. Any credit card can be used with Visa Checkout. (Expires Feb. 17, 2015.)
  • Chick-fil-A: Free coffee (hot or iced) throughout February.
  • Free pedometer (for AAA members). Or just download a pedometer app for your phone. 🙂 (Valid until Mar. 31, 2015 or while supplies last.)

Enjoy the remaining weekend.

December 17 2014

Hotel vs. Vacation Apartment Rental – Pros and Cons

Posts from this trip:

Unless I’m visiting family or staying with friends, when I travel hotels are my lodging of choice.

Every choice has its pros and cons, but I’m not a B&B person and I’m too old for hostels (and, truthfully, adept enough at finding deals and earning points that I can stay in nice hotels for less than most people pay for hostels).

However, for my recent two-month stay in Buenos Aires I decided to be brave. After staying in a hotel the first month, I rented a furnished apartment for the second.

All photos in this post are of the actual unit I rented.

Pano

In the end it was an okay experience, but there are definitely differences between hotels and short-term apartment rentals.

 

The case for apartments

Probably the most salient difference is apartments afford more space. Instead of a mere hotel room, most apartments – even small studio units – have at least a kitchenette, a dining area, and distinct living and sleeping areas.

If you’re traveling solo or with just your significant other that might not be a big deal. But when you’re an entire family or a group of friends, you’d normally need multiple hotel rooms to achieve the same level of comfort space-wise. And splitting into multiple rooms might not even be practical with young children.

The unit I rented was a studio in a great location (Recoleta) and priced at $65 on a nightly basis, $395 weekly, or $1,000 monthly. Since I rented for a month my per-night cost worked out to about $33. That’s cheaper than a comparable-quality hotel yet gave me double the amount of space.

Even the $65 nightly rate is still decent, albeit not a significant savings over a hotel of similar caliber. (Hotels in Buenos Aires are not expensive.)

If you like to cook when you travel then the kitchen would be another big plus. Though I only cooked there once (and even that one time was unnecessary), I definitely appreciated the refrigerator and microwave.

Also, apartments usually have a washer and dryer, or at least a common laundry facility. Very convenient if you’re traveling with kids or for a long time.

 

The case for hotels

A common complaint about hotel chains is that properties are large and impersonal. But in my view that’s not all bad.

Having a large property affords economies of scale that allow for certain amenities smaller operations can’t cost-efficiently provide: room service, 24-hour maintenance, on-call housekeeping, etc.

Even though I was only in the Buenos Aires apartment for four weeks, I had several unpleasant incidents. In a hotel they would’ve been minor inconveniences (if not totally benign), but since they occurred in an apartment they were moderate to major headaches.

First, I got locked out of the safe. One day the batteries simply died and the door wouldn’t open (why do they design these things with the battery cage inside the door?).

Safe
The offending safe

Of course with my impeccable timing it happened on the Friday night before a big national holiday on Monday. That meant the maintenance person was off until Tuesday.

Problem was, I did not have enough cash to last until Tuesday. I only carry what I need when I’m out and about, so I only had enough cash on me for a day or two. The rest of my cash and all but one of my credit cards were in the safe. I would not have starved as I had the one credit card, but in Argentina when you pay by credit card things can cost literally 50% more (which is another post for another day).

The rental agency did send someone to try and open the safe on Saturday – actually they sent two different people at two different times. Neither succeeded, and they told me they’d need to locate the person who held the physical key to the box…and they didn’t think they could reach him until Tuesday. I argued vociferously against waiting that long, but in the end they could only do what they could do.

I mean, only one guy has a key? And they can’t reach him for three days? What do they do if the guy gets hit by a bus, or up and quits in a disgruntled manner, or simply misplaces the key?

Or…you know…a renter gets locked out of the safe over a holiday weekend…

Safes can die in hotels too, but in a reputable hotel with on-site maintenance the issue would not have dragged on for days. It likely would have been resolved on the spot.

As is, the incident was a moderate headache. I not only feared running out of cash, but was stuck at the apartment for most of that Saturday awaiting two different people at two different times. I was not about to let random maintenance people access the contents of the safe without me present. (Visitors to Argentina use a lot of cash as, again, it’s not economical to use credit or ATM cards there. Among other valuables, I had a significant amount of cash in the safe.)

But it could have been much worse. If it happened the day before I was scheduled to go home, I would have missed my flight since my passport was in the safe (along with everything else I would not have wanted to leave behind: my phone, tablet, cash, credit cards, and some jewelry). Since it took days for this to resolve, I might have been delayed several days – potentially missing business meetings or other important engagements on the other end.

And it would’ve been excruciating if my laptop had been in the safe (as it normally is when I leave for dinner). It was a fluke that I’d left the laptop out that night. With my phone and tablet already locked up, it would’ve been intolerable having none of my communication devices – not only to stay in touch with friends and family (and the outside world in general), but to deal with the owners and rental agency on the matter.

Bath

Then there is the time the electricity went out…and stayed out for six solid hours. It started in the afternoon (which greatly disrupted my work day) and continued into the evening (when there isn’t natural light to compensate). If I hadn’t had a flashlight on me, it would’ve been unsafe to even leave the apartment. Being on the seventh floor, leaving required navigating as many flights of stairs each way – in darkness as the elevator was out.

It was not the owner’s fault (the blackout was building-wide) but I believe a decent hotel would have (1) worked with greater urgency to fix the problem, (2) provided at least minimal emergency lighting, and/or (3) somehow compensated guests for the inconvenience.

Here are a few other negatives gleaned from this experience. I relay them not to be petty, but to illustrate the point of this post.

  • There was no smoke detector (that I could see) in the apartment. I realize I was not in the US and different countries have different codes, but I believe in a reputable hotel this would not have been absent.
  • There was no dead bolt on the door – something I have never seen a hotel room lack. While the building had seemingly good security, you still want a latch in the unit to prevent getting walked in on – by maintenance or the housekeeper or whatever – when you’re there. Even if they knock first you might not hear the knock if you’re in the shower or otherwise indisposed (which is the worst time to be intruded upon in the first place). In my case this wasn’t a big deal as I just bought a rubber door stop for a few dollars, but (1) a dead bolt would’ve been standard in a hotel, and (2) most people don’t want to spend precious vacation time hunting down a store that sells door stops.
  • The hair dryer died one day and I had to wait until the next day for another. Although this didn’t kill me, in a hotel I would’ve received a replacement in minutes and would not have had to go to bed with damp hair.
  • I am not sure if it was just my particular rental, but they only provided a few days’ worth of toiletries and paper products even though I paid for a month-long stay. Again, this was not a big deal for me in practice (there was a grocery store nearby and I just bought supplies during my grocery runs), but if I were only staying a few days and didn’t plan on grocery shopping I would’ve been annoyed having to spend precious vacation time hunting down basic supplies a hotel would have provided.

Finally, the rental agency required a security deposit equal to two weeks rent. Although I did not consider that unreasonable, it was another negative versus hotels. Hotels may hold your credit card number for damage, but they don’t actually charge you unless there is damage. And even if they did charge your card without a valid case, you could dispute the transaction with your credit card company.

In contrast, I had to pay the apartment rental agency a security deposit in real money upfront – and simply hope they’d return it at the end. Few rental agencies in Buenos Aires accept credit cards, and those that do charge significant fees for the privilege (again, the “blue rate” issue). Most agencies require the deposit by wire transfer, but the one I worked with at least accepted PayPal. While PayPal does offer dispute resolution services, I believe they are not nearly as robust as the consumer protections of a credit card.

If the agency did not refund my security deposit, for whatever reason, I did not see much practical recourse. I mean, I am not going to spend time and resources returning to Argentina to sue them in small claims court (or whatever it’s called there, assuming they even have it) and attempt to present a case in my third language. I doubt it would succeed, and even if it did I’m certain the cost and effort of pursuing the refund would exceed the refund amount itself.

The rental agency I used stated on its website that security deposits are refunded “at checkout.” Well, the person who came to check me out said she knew nothing about security deposits as they’re handled at the main office. Several days after checkout I still had not received my refund and had to e-mail them to request it.

Now, I am anal retentive and had made a note to follow up if my deposit weren’t returned. But not everyone is as obsessive. Many people, on returning from vacation, go right back to work and are immediately swamped trying to catch up on everything that piled up in their absence. I can totally see how someone might lose their deposit because they simply forgot to follow up.

I had a good experience with this rental agency overall, so I give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it was an oversight rather than an intentionally dishonest act. At this writing I am still awaiting my refund, but they assure me it has been processed and should arrive in 48 hours. If it doesn’t, I will update this post. [Update: refund received!]

 

The verdict

None of the “cons” of an apartment was horrible (though the safe box situation had the potential to be). But I did not think the “pros” outweighed them either.

In the final analysis, it comes down to a matter of personal preferences and trip circumstances. For me personally, I’m unlikely to consider an apartment again unless I were staying at least three weeks, or with a big enough group, or could realize significant cost savings. There were just too many annoying inconveniences.

I think problems such as these are not isolated to this particular apartment. Rather, I believe they represent a systematic difference between hotels and apartments. I think that because:

  • I did not rent some dump in the ghetto. It was a nice unit in a modern building with a 24-hour doorman located in one of the most desirable parts of down. Yet it still had all these problems.
  • The rental agency I worked with was good overall (the only issue I ever had with them was the security deposit, as described above). In some cases, I felt they went above and beyond to provide good service. Yet I still ended up with a seemingly-endless string of issues.

 

Tips

I rented this apartment directly from a local rental agency, but I also considered Airbnb (and similar services HomeAway and FlipKey). While Airbnb has other disadvantages, I do like that it doesn’t require an upfront security deposit (like a hotel, it only charges your card if there is damage at checkout). Airbnb also does not release the rent to your host until 24 hours after check-in, whereas through a traditional agency you typically have to pay the full amount directly at check-in.

Remember, when you rent through a traditional agency, the agent does not work for you – it works for the owner. When you book through Airbnb or the like, at least the service is (supposedly) impartial.

Bedroom

Also, unlike a hotel where you can cancel your reservation without penalty (assuming you booked a refundable rate), most apartment rentals require a deposit to hold the unit (which you forfeit if you cancel). In my case the deposit was substantial. I did not intend to cancel, but sometimes life derails your plans. If I had gotten sick or had a family emergency or faced some other situation what prevented the trip, I would have lost the deposit.

My way around that was to add trip cancellation coverage to my travel insurance policy. If my trip were canceled, I could file an insurance claim to recover prepaid lodging expenses. The claim would only be valid if I canceled for a covered reason, but that is better than no coverage at all.

If you are facing the hotel-or-apartment debate, I hope my experience provides a useful data point. If you have questions feel free to leave a comment or shoot me a note!

December 1 2014

Deal Alert: $100 off $100 on Orbitz Hotel Booking

This deal will not last, so hurry if interested.

Orbitz is offering $100 off a hotel booking of $100 or more. I found plenty of rooms with rates just a smidge above $100, meaning they’d be almost free with this promo.

The terms say this deal is good from December 1 through 8, but I am almost certain the 10,000 capacity will max out before then. May last a few hours, if that.

Orbitz promo banner

 

You can book here and be sure to use promo code VISACHECKOUT for the discount. The offer requires paying with Visa Checkout (if you don’t already have an account you can set one up during the booking process).

As with many Orbitz coupons, most major hotel brands are excluded. However, this is a great deal to use on boutique and non-chain properties.

To know which hotels qualify, I suggest inputting the promo code on the main page before hitting the “search” button (see below). That way, results will display “promo code eligible” next to qualifying hotels.

OrbitzVsaCkoutMy guess is the coupon does not cover taxes, but please let me know if you find differently. Valid stay dates are December 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015.

Possible double dip

If you don’t already have an Orbitz account, signing up through a referral link provides a $25 credit. So find a friend to refer you, or feel free to use my referral link (thanks!).

I say “possible” double dip because the credit may not show up in your account before this promotion maxes out. (I have seen it take a couple of days.) But you’ll at least have it for next time.

Happy Cyber Monday!

(Thanks to Slickdeals.)

October 20 2014

Virgin America Discounts via LivingSocial

Hola! I only have a few minutes but wanted to post a quick note about an interesting offer from LivingSocial.

LivingSocial VirginAmerica

Discounts on Virgin America flights are offered at the following values:

  • $25 for $75 to spend on round-trip airfare for long haul flights
  • $15 for $50 to spend on round-trip airfare for medium haul flights
  • $10 for $25 to spend on round-trip airfare for short haul flights

As always, be sure to read all the terms & conditions, including deadlines and blackout dates. Among them are that travel must be booked by November 18, 2014 and occur by February 18, 2015.

Have a great rest of the day. Since I am currently in Argentina and yesterday was Mother’s Day here, my belated good wishes to all the moms out there!

IMGP1798
Happy Mother’s Day from Argentina!

 

August 17 2014

Skype Credit 30% Off at eBay

Skype is a great travel tool as it makes international phone calls economical – whether you’re at home calling abroad or vice versa.

Last week I wrote about how to save money on Skype. Today there is a new deal that’s just as valuable – but easier to obtain.

You can simply buy Skype credit for 30% off through eBay.

Skype Credit via eBay

I made a purchase and received my redemption code within minutes. (However, once redeemed, Skype itself took a while – about an hour – to reflect my updated account balance. Just FYI.)

You do need a PayPal account for this transaction but it only takes a few minutes to create one if you don’t already have.

Enjoy.

August 16 2014

Free(ish) Travel Accessories Including This External Battery Pack

With last month’s Transportation Safety Administration announcement of enhanced screening on electronic devices, I’ve been diligent about charging my devices before approaching airport security.

I also made a mental note to get an external battery pack for additional peace of mind.

Found one today for (almost) free.

Sears has a selection, some of which will earn a rebate equal to the cost of the device (before tax).

For example, the WOW power bank below is priced at $14.99 and would earn a rebate of the same amount.

Click to enlarge

A few things of note:

  • Use store pickup to avoid shipping costs.
  • On some items, the rebate is less than the item’s full cost.
  • The rebate is not in cash but in the form of Shop Your Way points (the currency of Sears’ and Kmart’s loyalty program). I don’t know when these particular points would expire, but the window usually isn’t huge so don’t forget to redeem them before expiration.
  • If you don’t already have a Shop Your Way membership you can sign up during the checkout process.

(Thanks to Slickdeals.)