How we booked a Winter Break excursion for less than $500

My wife and I want to get some sun this Winter Break and since my parents recently bought a condo in Florida, we thought it would be a good idea to spend some time down there. Obviously, saving on housing is a big plus, but even without that expense, plane tickets for the December 23-31 timespan were ranging from $400 each for the least desirable times (departing a 5:45am? no thanks) to $850 each for the best times. Instead, we opted to use our miles and get as cheap deals as possible for whatever else we could.

For the flight down, we opted for using our United Mileage Plus account to the tune of 25,000 miles each for the one-way trip. The only time we could leave on December 23 was after 6:30pm because I teach until 3:05pm, which would have cost us $397 each:

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Since we used 25K miles + $5.60 each for the September 11th fee, the price per mile is calculated the following way:

$397 – $5.60 = $391.40
$391.40/25,000 = 0.0156 (or 1.56 cents per mile)
The Points Guy values United miles at 1.5 cents each so we were just above that value.

Total dollar cost for these flights was $11.20 for our tickets.

For our rental car we found a deal with Budget for only $470 for the week. The method to keep this cost down while maintaining coverage is twofold:

1) Knowing that if you use your Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card, you get primary auto insurance. Therefore, you can decline their Liability Damage Waiver that can get excessively expensive.

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2) Knowing that according to Budget’s terms of service, spouses and domestic partners can be added as additional drivers for no extra fee. You do need to show up and display a driver’s license but you would not have to pay the $14/day extra.Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 10.22.29 AM

Total dollar cost for rental car was $470.

Finally, since we are visiting Providence, RI for the day following this trip, I knew we would need to find a connecting flight from Fort Lauderdale up north. I turned to Southwest Airlines, as they are a transfer partner of Chase. I found a flight that would cost $217 each on their “Wanna Get Away” fair that comes with free checked bags.

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Since I was trying to minimize cost, however, I opted for the points amount of 13,381 miles + $5.60 fee. Price per mile calculation:

$217 – $5.60 = $211.40
$211.40/13,381 = 0.0157 (or 1.57 cents per mile)
The Points Guy values Southwest airlines miles at 1.3 cents per mile, so we had ourselves a pretty good deal.

Total cost for return flights: $11.20

Final total cost for entire trip: $492.40.

(Amount saved: $397 @ 2 = $794; $217 * 2 = $434; $28 * 7 days = $196; Total saved: $1,424).

We look forward to our time on the beach!

Blood donation gets to the point

In brief discussion with a friend yesterday I was introduced to the New York Blood Center’s Donor Advantage program, a loyalty program for those who regularly donate blood. Much like a regular frequent flyer account, one can accrue points for donations and there are even different tiers based on the type of donation you give.


The two major types of blood donation (whole blood/red cell or platelets) Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 8.40.16 AMhave different amounts as you can see in these snippets from their website.

Additionally, there are times of year when you can get extra points for donation during that time when it is harder for the organization to get blood. Right now there are bonuses for platelet donations of 50 points if you donateScreen Shot 2015-09-13 at 8.40.22 AM between November 27 and December 2, and then again between December 21 – January 6.

You can redeem your points through their program for a variety of gift cards, sporting goods, office supplies, etc. Of course, since a $25 gift card costs 600 points, it can take a while to actually take advantage of this process. There are limitations on how frequently one can donate blood or platelets so you might have to wait a few years before you get anything.

Fascinating, though, right?

The return trip in first class (Costa Rica adventures part 3)

IMG_3514With some advanced planning, my fiancée and I were able to return home from Costa Rica with two first-class tickets via Honduras. While our time in Honduras was enjoyable it was not enormously remarkable due to the fact that we flew on January 1st when most (if not all) businesses were closed. Our taxi driver was quite nice and brought us to a food court-like outdoor area with a few family-owned lunch places open. We had an amazing plate of fried fish, plantains, rice, and beans for only $5!
Screen Shot 2015-01-03 at 6.24.02 PMOur flights back were award tickets booked through the United website. Since there were no saver (read: cheaper) tickets available from United, we opted to get flights on Copa Airlines and Avianca Airlines, connecting in San Pedro Sula, Honduras (yes, it is the murder capital of the world, though not as dangerous as you would think in the center of the city). Since both airlines are within the Star Alliance, it was actually cheaper to book with them due to United’s partner award rule chart.

The first class product on Copa Airlines was quite an experience. We had access to the VIP lounge in the San Jose airport; we were treated to a simple snack/meal on the plane; and we were given blankets to keep ourselves warm. It was a short flight but very smooth with good service. There was, unfortunately, no non-meat option for the snack so my fiancée was a bit upset.

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The flight from San Pedro Sula, Honduras to JFK airport was of a higher quality for a longer flight. The seats were comfier, there was an in-flight entertainment system with many new release movies (as well as some older ones), and the food was plentiful. For this flight my fiancée made sure there was a non-meat option for her to eat (in this case fish). The service from the flight attendants was wonderful and we also received an amenities package in a TUMI case – quite fancy. From start to finish the experience was high quality.

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Buy $300 worth of Visa Gift Cards from Staples and get $20 gift card as a rebate

Since posted this today, I’m just going to copy and paste and cite his link here.

Buy $300 In Visa Gift Cards From Staples And Get A Free $20 Visa Gift Card Via Easy Rebate

If you buy $300+ in Visa gift cards from Staples between 01/04 and 01/10 you can send in an Easy Rebate online to get a bonus $20 Visa gift card.

This is valid in-store only.  Officially there is a limit of 1 rebate per household.

If you buy 2 $200 Visa gift card in store you’ll pay $13.90 in card fees. Use your Chase Ink Plus or Chase Ink Cash card and get 5 points per dollar spent. That’s 2,070 points for a $413.90 purchase.  Plus you’ll get the $20 Visa card via Easy Rebate to bring your cost basis down to $393.90 without accounting for the points.

Even without the Staples gift card the argument can be made to buy gift cards from Staples for your everyday spending.

Say you spend $2,000 on everyday spend.  On a typical card earning points or cash back worth 2% you would save $40.

If you bought $2,000 in Visa gift cards for $2,069.50 you’ll earn 10,348 points that are worth $181.09 at a 1.75 cents per point value.  After backing out the $69.50 it cost to buy those gift cards you’ll still left with a $111.59 profit, or about triple the rewards you would earn from other cards.  It’s an effective rebate of 5.58% everywhere you shop.

Even if you only value the points at 1.6 cents each that would value the 10,348 points at $165.57, leaving a profit of $96.07 or an effective rebate of 4.8% everywhere.

Want to just cash out the Visa gift card instead of using it for everyday purchases?

The pin on the Visa gift card is the last 4 digits of the card number, no need to set anything.
-You can load up to $5,000 per month onto a Target AMEX REDCard for free.
-You can cash out the Visa cards using EvolveMoney to pay bills like your mortgage, property tax, auto loan, health insurance, store charge card (Gap, Macy’s, Target, etc).  There is no fee for this but you can only make 1 payment per biller per month month.
-You can load Visa cards to your Serve card with a Family Dollar cashier for no fee (though some stores won’t do this)
-You can load Visa cards to your Bluebird or Serve card at a WalMart ATM machine for no fee.
-You can load Visa cards to your Bluebird or Serve card with a WalMart cashier or customer service for no fee.  Just say you want to use your debit card, no need to mention that it’s a gift card.
-You can buy a money order with the Visa card at any store that accepts debit cards as payment (except the post office).  Such stores exist even in manufactured spend deserts like NYC.
-You can pay your credit card bill at WalMart with BillPay at Customer Service.
-You can swipe the card on an Amazon card reader for a 1.75% fee.
-You can gift a Visa gift card as a wedding gift instead of giving a check.
-You can… ;)

HT: Moe’s Tavern, via DDF