Success with manufactured spending in Providence, RI

I spent much of the past week in Providence, RI at a professional development workshop learning some new coding skills for the computer science class that I teach. During that time I decided to take a first real stab at manufactured spending and had some wonderful success.

For those unaware of the term, manufactured spending means using your credit card to somehow buy an item (therefore earning points/miles on said credit card), then somehow liquidating that item back into your bank account to pay off the credit card debt you just accrued. I have done it once or twice before in NYC and it is notoriously difficult to liquidate some of the items you can buy. The one method I have heard of working very well was using gift cards to purchase money orders, specifically at a Walmart, where fees are low and opportunity is high.

So, I took this knowledge and put it into action. While staying at the Providence Marriott Downtown, I used the fact that I have a Chase Ink Cash card that earns me 5x the points when purchasing items at office supplies stores to buy loads of Visa gift cards at the Staples just across the street. Then, I took a nice walk to the local Walmart to buy money orders with those gift cards.

The fees involved were not that bad. To buy a $200 gift card at Staples costs $6.95 in fees each and to buy a money order at Walmart is $0.88 for up to a $2000 money order. In total, I was spending $28.68 to earn 4,139 points. So, if you do the math, it cost me roughly 0.69 cents for each point that I earned. Since The Points Guy values each of them at around 2.0 cents for each point, I did quite a good job getting some new value. Not too shabby for a first real try.

The big question now is whether or not I can duplicate this process in Brooklyn. I already know where to get the gift cards (Staples nearby me) but when I’ve tried to find a source to liquidate near me I have come up short. I know there is a Walmart in New Jersey and one in Long Island that are public transit accessible, but it still adds cost. Still searching!

Review: Holiday Garden Inn in Providence is surprisingly amazing

My wife and I spent Thanksgiving in Providence, Rhode Island visiting her relatives and due to a variety of factors we ended up sleeping at the Hilton Garden Inn located in Fox Point, across from India Point Park. We had booked the trip using points and got a great deal. At the time, each night would have been $144 + tax, giving us a less-than ideal valuation rate:

~$320 (for two nights) / 80,000 = $0.004/point (basically 0.4 cents per point)

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Since The Points Guy currently values Hilton at 0.5 cents per point, we were a little below, but that was offset by the fact that we have Gold Status through the AMEX Hilton Surpass card I have. With that benefit, we got upgraded to a larger, nicer room (although without a bathtub – only a large shower), and two free breakfast vouchers to use at their in-hotel restaurant, Drift.

The room was spacious and had a wonderful view of the harbor (this was important since the other side was a loud highway). There were some nice amenities inside including a refrigerator, microwave, and Keurig coffee/tea machine. The TV screen was also enormous (must have been at least 50″) and the bed was large and comfortable (with lights on both sides, but not power ports). Overall, a solidly good room.

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The restaurant is where our experience really shined, though. Of course we used our two vouchers because it was easy and convenient to get a variety of foods in the morning. What we didn’t realize going into the experience was that our experience would be incredible, our food would be amazingly tasty, and we would befriend the breakfast manager, Steven.

When you enter the breakfast area it looks similar to other hotel breakfasts you experience: there are some cold trays filled with yogurt, juices, and fruit; there are some pastries, bagels, and assorted extras; and there is a small kitchen. We found out from the server that we had some simple cook-to-order options: eggs/omelettes, french toast, roasted potatoes, and pancakes. And the drink station had a wide variety to offer, including a layered-lemon-lime water.

Put simply: the food was astonishingly tasty!

We had all the fixings at some point during our two-night stay: the pancakes were fluffy and abosrbed the (real) maple syrup well; the french toast had an amazing cinnamon-y flavoring to it; the omelettes were fluffy and made-to-order with real eggs (not from a carton), and the potatoes were out-of-this-world (paprika can do wonders!).

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Steven, the breakfast manager, was so kind and fun to chat with – we shmoozed for around 20 minutes each morning as he was in and out serving and retrieving orders. It all started because he overheard my wife and I commenting on how lovely and tasty the water was, so he responded and started a conversation. We learned that he takes his business very seriously and plays within whatever limitations he is given by Hilton to make sure the food is scrumptious and real. He also told us about his chef who, while young, has some amazing skill that benefited from immensely.

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There are some restaurants out there that really get what it’s like to provide a nice experience for their customers and Steven’s is one of them. The food was so tasty that despite him giving us a recommendation for another place he is connected to in Providence (Milk Money) we decided to stick around for another meal.

Overall it was an awesome experience in the hotel and the breakfast made it even more so. Thank you to Steven, the hotel staff, and Hilton for allowing us to use our points for this stay!

How to win at Thanksgiving travel

I have always been a firm believer that advanced planning and research make your life easier. Still, sometimes mother nature gets in the way and makes your life difficult.

This year, my fiancee and I had planned to travel from New York to Providence to spend Thanksgiving with her family, and instead of renting a car in Brooklyn and driving through NYC traffic for hours, we decided to get a train to New Haven and then get a car from there using Zipcar. I did multitudes of research on this and discovered that not only would it increase our speed immensely due to avoiding the expressways in “heat” but it would also be cheaper to get a car in New Haven than from New York.

The plan worked perfectly with the exception that instead of leaving on Wednesday afternoon like we had planned, we left early on Thursday morning. Due to extreme weather conditions we postponed things. In the end, I’m not sure if it mattered so much but we were not rushing in the morning and we got seats on the train (even if we were separated).

Thanksgiving can be a major headache of travel if you do not plan yet also have some flexibility. I am happy we were only traveling by land – flight were cancelled at various airports around New York City and I can only imagine what they looked like in terms of angry passengers. Make sure your plans are not fully set in stone and that you have a good attitude when breaking them in these situations.