Wow, it’s been a while

Haven’t posted anything in over six months… wow, how time flies…. Has been a “relatively” quiet (for me) travel year…. Mexico (work) in January… quick weekend in Trinidad in February…. Baseball spring training in Phoenix in March… Long weekend in Grand Cayman in April…. That doesn’t sound like “quiet” for most people, but overall nothing really to write home about….

A “Completely Unnecessary” Trip

The title of this post may be a little mis-stated, since 99% of all of my vacation trips are “completely unnecessary”. This one, however, took it to a completely different level.

Overview of the trip –

JFK, New York City – DXB, Dubai, United Arab Emirates – Emirates A380, First Class

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Yes, that is what the first class seat looks like.

If that’s not enough, here’s the onboard bar –

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The flight was absolutely amazing. The service impeccable. The experience fabulous.

Dubai was a great place to visit. I won’t go into details of the in country experience. 3 days in country was plenty to see the highlights.

Return flight –

AUH – Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates – JFK, New York City – Etihad 777, Business Class

A very solid business class product. While the flight was delayed about 90 minutes from scheduled departure time, the ~14 1/2 hour flight was PERFECTLY comfortable. I managed to get probably 7-8 hours of solid sleep, arriving in NYC refreshed and ready to go.

What’s possible in a year

One year ago today I started actually tracking what I was doing in terms of “manufactured” spending (MS).  Juggling a bunch of credit cards was getting tough, I couldn’t keep track of what spending was on which one, when statements closed and when payments were do.  So I created a spreadsheet.  I’m very pleased to announce that on that one year anniversary, my first year of TRULY entering the MS world, I can report:

$566,770 spent

562,746 miles and points earned

$966.99 cash back – NET – on the above

The above doesn’t include signup bonuses…. I roughly estimate those over the past year at an additional 750,000 or so miles and points… 

I’m currently sitting on “too many” miles and points (to the tune of about 1.3m), but I’m planning on burning a bunch via upcoming trips (Dubai, Norway, Caribbean)….. so I’ll be keeping the spending up!

This is one amazing hobby…. 

How I went to China for 5 days and spent $5 on Food and Drinks

This was my first adventure as a truly frugal traveler – from start to finish.  It started with an amazing $450 airfare from Philadelphia to Beijing, routing through Boston and Chicago, with 5 days in Beijing.  The return was a more direct Beijing to Chicago to Philadelphia (the Boston leg on the outbound was thrown in merely to accumulate some extra miles).  If you’re keeping track at home, that’s about 20k miles for $450, or 2.25 cents per mile (CPM), an amazing rate.  Plus it got me to China, which was the point of the trip in the first place (yes, the miles are an extra benefit, not always the primary reason to travel J).

After securing the flights, I began searching for a hotel.  As a result of my Diamond Status Challenge with Hyatt in May 2014, I would still be a Diamond member during this trip, which entitles me to Lounge access at Hyatts (i.e., free breakfast, free evening reception).  Getting the trick yet to travel frugally?

I booked the Grand Hyatt Beijing, which is a very nice property, located very close to major tourist sites in Beijing.  Also, running directly in front of the hotel is the Beijing subway, which I found to be AMAZINGLY convenient to get to the more far flung locations around the city (at a cost of about 30 cents per ride!).  In addition, all signage is in both Chinese and English, so there were no issues with understanding the route maps.

(front entrance to the Hyatt)

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(front entrance from the street, with a nice display for Chinese New Year)

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The room at the Hyatt was faily basic, and what you would expect from a Grand Hyatt.  Comfortable and functional.

Pictures of the room – a Standard King – below

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I will cover the sites of Beijing in a separate post.

Back to the original title of this post – “cheap” food and drinks.  As I said earlier, Diamond status with Hyatt entitles you access to their Lounge, which has both a breakfast buffet and cocktails/ anacks and appetizers in the evening.  This is an amazing benefit if you’re trying to travel on the cheap!

I didn’t take any pictures of the morning buffet, but there were the typical buffet options – breads, meats, cheeses, some cold cuts, a wide assortment of coffees teas and juices.  I didn’t find any of these to be picture worthy as the fare was pretty standard.

The evening reception was where I was much more impressed!

I’m not much into hard alcohol, but if that’s your preference, there was a very nice selection, all of which was self service

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For those of you (myself included) who enjoy wine, there were a few selections of both red and whites (I’m a fan of red, so here are those)

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More of a beer drinker?  The Hyatt Beijing has you covered!  My recommendation?  The Asahi Dry – very interesting selection.  Again, all beverages are self service🙂

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IF you’re going to be enjoying yourself with a few cocktails, you’ll probably want to grab some food to eat as well.  Again, the Hyatt Beijing has you covered.  Each night the selections changed, providing a very nice array of options.

A nice selection of Chips and Salsa, Sausage, and some other munchies.  There were traditional Chinese food options available as well, but I’m not that adventurous of an eater (Prawn dumpling?  No thank you!)

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Desserts!

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That’s a quick summary of how to eat on the cheap (i.e. free!) while travelling.  Yes, it takes some work and some preparation, but it is certainly possible.

By the way, if you’re  asking yourself where the $5 I spent went, since that hasn’t yet been covered, this was something I just could NOT pass up.  On a day trip the Great Wall of China, there was a vendor selling beverages on the wall itself.  I couldn’t pass up the experience to say I drank a beer on the Great Wall, so I spent the $5 and enjoyed one, as shown here:

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All in all it was a great trip and a great experience!  

A near miss, and a colossal fail

My manufactured spending has gotten rather complex over the past several months.  I am currently using a variety of methods to generate – what to me is – a very high level of monthly spending.  Think Bluebirds and Gift Cards, trips to CVS and to Walmart.

While I never thought accounting for all this activity would be easy or straightforward, I am reminded today that perfect accounting is required in order to avoid significant costs and hurdles in playing this game.  My two most recent examples –

Last week I purchased 2 $200 Visa Gift Cards at Staples…. Upon ringing me up, the cashier told me the balance due was $206.95.  Wow, a great deal – $200 off….. clearly, the clerk only scanned one of the two cards.  Upon informing him of this, he double checked and agreed he only charged me for one of the cards.  So he picked up a card and scanned it, and the correct total of $413.90.

Two days later (I had a busy week at work, and with the holidays things have been quite hectic), I finally made it to Walmart to load the Visa cards to my Bluebird.  The first load went without issue at the customer service desk, $200 moved from Gift Card to Bluebird.  Second round initiated and this is when the problems began – “Debit transaction declined”.  Uh oh, that’s not good I thought.  Maybe I merely entered the wrong PIN I hoped as I felt the anxiety rise within.  Second attempt ended as the first attempt did – “Debit transaction declined”.  I started to panic slightly – was this avenue shut down?  And how could it be since I had just loaded a different card 30 second earlier?  Or was I the victim of a bad card?  I didn’t know, and the customer service desk at Walmart was no place to find the answer.  I apologized to the clerk (the clerks at this particular Walmart have been very accommodating to me through my toils in the manufactured spending arena) and was on my way.

This is where accounting and recordkeeping is CRUCIAL.  Luckily I had saved the receipt from the Staples transaction.  Upon reviewing the receipt, I discovered the clerk – when she scanned the ‘second’ card had erroneously scanned the FIRST card a second time.  Bingo – the second card had never been activated, although I was in fact charged for 2 cards.  This now required me to go back to Staples and be prepared to fight to get the charge reversed or card activated.  I anticipated the worst since Staples does not allow returns of gift cards.

Luckily, the Staples clerk remembered me (he had commented  how nice it was that I was honest enough to point out I had only been charged for one card initially).  With the assistance of his manager, and after reviewing the documentation I had (which included the screenprints from gowallet to show the second card was never activated and the first had been activated, then attempted to activate again), the manager agreed to refund my money for the second card.  GREAT, that was much easier than I thought.  Oh, and since I was here, why not pick up another couple of cards – another $413.90 down, this time without exception.

Morale of the above story – keep all documentation of all transactions – at LEAST until the transactions have been cycled and converted back to cash.  I’m conservative, so I have begun keeping all records of everything in one filing box.

 

I only wish my Colossal Fail was as easy as the above.

This one is straightforward.  Somehow, on one of my cards that I put a significant amount of Manufactured spend on, I didn’t pay the balance in full on my December statement.  Wham, $97 in finance charges on the unpaid balance.  Ouch, that hurts!  That significantly increased my cost to generate miles.  Can I “earn” this money back via manufactured spending on a cash back card?  Sure.  Will it be quick and easy?  Certainly not.  It will take me approximately $8k in manufactured spend on my 2% cash back card to earn back these fees.  This is a mistake I sincerely hope I do not make again.

 

This game is exciting, but not without it’s pitfalls and traps if you are not extremely careful!

Social Media Mentions

It’s corny, I know… but I’ve gotten excited over the past week as I’ve been mentioned/ referred to several times via social media… specific references:

– CNBC reads a tweet of mine on the air related to the mistake airfare

– Million Mile Secrets uses a tweet of mine to him as part of his “Best of December” article – http://millionmilesecrets.com/2013/12/01/reader-question-do-i-get-a-signup-bonus-if-i-convert-or-upgrade-a-credit-card/

– Frequent Miler (THE MAN!) favorites one of my tweets – https://twitter.com/FrequentMiler/status/418749987384995840

@Milenomics follows lil ‘ole me on Twitter after an exchange related to miles earning!

 

My First Mistake Fare!

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I joined the party for the first time today, getting in on an AMAZING mistake fare posted by Delta Airlines today….. $129 all in for a weeklong trip from PHL-HNL in February.  Tried to take advantage of additional opportunities, but the mistake was corrected before I could get more bookings in.  Oh well, not a bad way to dip my first toe into the world of mistake fares!

Reflections on the first Biz Class Worldwide trip

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Just a few initial comments and reflections on my first major international worldwide, business class, paid for with points trip.

Writing this as I sit in the Lufthansa Senators Lounge in Frankfurt, Germany.  One more leg to this trip, US701, an A330 FRA-PHL (which, by the way, is delayed 2 hours, the first delayed flight on this trip!)

Routing of the trip was PHL-YYZ-PEK-SIN-MLE-SIN-BKK-FRA-PHL, with

– a few hours in Toronto (Maple Leaf lounge was awesome)

– 8 hours in Beijing (still learning how to travel with ease, didn’t think 8 hours was enough to get into the city, explore and back, so stayed in the lounge)

– 4 day stopover in Singapore at the Conrad

– 5 days at the Conrad Maldives

– about 12 hours in Bankok

– 7 (now 9) hour layover in Frankfurt

Sampled Air Canada Biz class 777, Singapore Biz 777 (PEK-SIN-MLE-SIN), Thai Biz 777 (SIN-BKK), Thai A380 (BKK-FRA – and VERY disapointed with the service), wrapping up with US A330 (FRA-PHL).

All in all, this trip proved to me that the – sometimes – craziness and obsessions with miles is well worth it, in terms of the effort expended to generate the miles and the experienced obtained along the actual journey.

——More details to folllow

Further update – some pictures from the trip…… these are from the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island.  A truly amazing place

 

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