Oct 29

My Best Use of SPG Points

Vermont Foliage

Vermont Foliage

A few weeks ago we flew out east as a family (with our toddler) for a wedding in Vermont, during peak foliage season! The long weekend turned out to be beautiful, we had great company: got to catch up with friends and family. Perhaps what was best is how our weekend started.

Big Plane!

Big Plane!

We knew we needed to get to east coast on Thursday in order to hitch a ride with the inlaws, whom rented a minivan, and our options were to fly into either BDL or BOS on Thursday morning or to fly in on Wednesday night and then get a hotel overnight. The flights on Wednesday night looked to have the most seats available and we were able to get a row to ourselves — the toddler now being over 2 years old is no longer a lap child and requires his own ticket/seat, which is actually nice because I get to share his leg room. We were a little apprehensive without having no car upon arrival and trying to book a hotel room last minute but the inlaws also offered to help and book a room with points somewhere locally that we could just take a shuttle to.

And so we boarded, got the row to ourselves (only after visiting the lounge and having a calming drink and some snacks) and off we went.

Looking Out

Looking Out

Thankfully (my wife being somewhere social media addicted, although she claimed it was for work) bought GoGo internet on the flight and somewhere 3/4 into the flight she got an email from her parents that there were no award nights available Marriott. I got a little nervous as you don’t want to be looking for an airport hotel 20 minutes before landing, your options are either to pay through the nouse for a decent hotel or take your chances on the plethora of sketchy motels around. I really didn’t want to stay at a motel with a baby, so we had to get a somewhat decent hotel. I started scramming and tried looking at Hartford Hilton to see if I could get a discount from my work, unfortunatelly they had absolutely no nights available, so eventually it came down to paying $288 + taxes to stay at the Sheraton right in Bradley Airport. Now mind you, when we lived in CT we talked about staying there for a weekend get away many times, and now that we don’t live there any more we probably wouldn’t get more chances, so this was as good time as any.

Being a travel/points nerd that I am I really had a tough time just shelling out $300 for literally a bed to sleep in, so I loved into SPG app on my phone and looked for award nights:

SPG Score

SPG Score

What a score, essentially more than 4.3cents/mile redemption rate (no wonder travel hackers value SPG points as some of the most lucrative ones). Considering you can get 25-30000 SPG points through an AMEX signup, this is a great way to use these miles. Book the room I did immediately, we got off the airplane, got our luggage and walked over to the next terminal and got to our Sheraton’s check-in desk, and there was a little bonus — my boy absolutely loves fire trucks, and they must have had an alarm go off a few minutes before because there was a truck outside and a bunch of fireman in the lobby. He immediatelly started yelling out “FIRATRUK!” and as one of the fire man heard that, he smiles and then offered to go outside with us and have us take a closer look at it, and then this happened:



On top of that, because of my AMEX SPG and Platinum cards I automatelly get a room upgrade (if availble), which we did – we got upgraded to the SPG Preferred floor and had the airport view, and also because it’s a Sheraton through the AMEX SPG card you get lounge access – which was perfect to get a late night snack, milk for the baby and in the morning to have a great breakfast and fuel up on coffee.

Our view in the morning

Our view in the morning

So overall, my first experience of redeeming SPG award points was completely painless and I couldn’t be more happier on the treatment we got at the BDL Sheraton and the overall value that I got out of these points.


Sep 19

Keeping Goals

The importance of keeping goals

We’re on our second trip back out east to visit family and friends, I wrote about the first trip, during my birthday, earlier this year.  I also wrote about the importance of trying to stay active while on a vacation or a trip, and today I wanted to write a story about maintaining that routine.
I was never a runner, as a matter of fact most of my life I hated running — it was just something one had to do when you wanted to get somewhere quicker and didn’t care about looking like a fool, or something I had to do while playing tennis.  In highschool my most dreaded activity was running the required 1 mile once or twice a year.  Then somewhere in my early twenties I read a statistic that XX% of highschool age children can’t run a mile in under 10 minutes, and being 23 or 24, thinking my life was peaking and it was only downhill from there, I decided I should get into running and beat all those highschoolers.
I had no routine or discipline, I had no dedicated running gear (up until about 2 month ago I still ran in my basketball shorts — yes, I’m that guy — I told you running looks stupid 😉 ).  I moved back in with my parents for the summer and I was really bored in the suburbia, so one of the only methods of getting out of a house and not actually driving anywhere was to run somewhere.  I ran to a bridge over the highway once,  it was a mile there and I probably walked a portion back home.  I kept running every evening I could after I got home from work, and I discovered a longer route, it was a path leading into the woods — a new development was being built. It was cool because the road was a dirt one, they were blowing rocks away to make the access road and I was running in the woods, with dear, turkeys and an occasional fox around — it was way before I knew what trail running was.  As days turned into months and then years I got a little bit better (only in terms that I could run longer, not necessarily faster), the development actually materialized into something real, houses starting going up, I moved away, etc.   I would still visit my parents and would go on my “big loop” run, I always thought it was closer to 4 miles because I would time myself and it would always be in the high 30 mins for me to do this loop, always with a walking break.  This was in the time before I had a GPS watch, before Google Maps even existed, so I never knew or bothered to know the distance.

It’s 13 years later, and I haven’t run the loop in probably 10, I don’t even live in the state anymore. But, I have a GPS watch now that I’ve been getting back into running (doing 3+ mile runs on average every single day of the month, since about November).  And, my GPS watch allows me to plan out routes, so a while ago out of curiosity I mapped out my old run, and was surprised that it only came out to be 3.4 miles, I guess I wasn’t as good of a runner back then as I recall.  Anywho, the route was programmed into my watch and ready to go, that one day when I would come back.

Fast forward to two days ago – we packed up with our 21mo old boy and came to visit my parents.  Plan was to go to the beach, meet up with friends, go to NYC and just in general enjoy free babysitting and relax. I also packed up my new running gear because I wanted to get some excercise in, and what better way to do that than go on my old loop run.  I planned to do the run a few days into the vacation.   On the flight over we hit up the lounge, they had pour your own Cutty — so I had a big glass, I also had some tequila and since we were sitting in Economy Comfort and drinks are free I just had to have 2 Miller Lites.   Baby took a nap on my lap and I couldn’t really sleep, so I drank a lot of coffee to stay awake, definitely not enough water.  So after 3 hr flight, another 1.5 hr in the car when we got to my parents I had very restless legs, I just had to get out, perfect reason to go for a run.

And so I went, on my old loop, with one goal in mind: run the loop like I last did 13 years ago, just to prove to myself that I’m still in relatively good shape and I can do now what I did 13 years ago.  And I ran… it was an odd experience, I missed the woods, but the roads seemed so narrow and tiny, getting to my dvelopment turn-off took a lot quicker than I remember, running through the development it was a start difference — the neighborhood is now established, most houses are build, the trees are all grown up.  And still I ran and still it all seemed kinda small.  I ran up the hill that would get me completely winded and I kept running, I got to the first bridge at which point I would either walk or take a walking break and I still kept running, I got to the last turn home, all up hill, that I don’t think I ever fully ran back in the day — this time I kept running, giving a nod to the mailbox which was my cut-off point at which I would start running, now I went past it… and finally I got to my parents house, still running and I press the Stop button on my watch.

My Run

It was only 3.2 miles!   Even though the distance wasn’t near what I thought it was, it felt great to complete my old “ultimate” run, in much better time.  So I encourage you to keep your goals, even if they’re years old, they’re incredibly motivating and will give you the drive that you need to achieve better things in the future!


Apr 24

Amex and Staples

Amex and Staples Offer

I previously wrote about that I’m a fan of Amex Offers. And recently browsing through the app I found an offer for $25 off at any purchase over $100 through Staples’ website:
Amex and Staples

Now not to be a snob, $25 is $25, but a lot of times I can find better and cheaper things on Amazon and I don’t really have a large shopping list of office supplies valued at $100+ that I need to go out and buy.

Thinking out of box

Thinking out of box when you’re doing credit card scheming usually involves gift cards, so gift cards is definitely something I could use. I started looking around Staples’ website and they do offer a large selection of gift cards that are available, anything from debit Visa/Amex cards to other retailer’s gift cards.

Some are definitely better deal than others. The most straight forward way would be to purchase a $100 Visa gift card and get $25 off on it, which is essentially $100 cash for $75, not too shabby. But… the Visa/Amex card come with a $5.99 loading fee and also have shipping costs associated with them, so while you’re still coming ahead on the $25, you’re coming up really short.

I started poking around gift cards to retailers that we actually use. My wife is a big fan of Banana Republic and we buy a lot of stuff for our toddler at Baby Gap — so imagine my pleasant surprise when I found out that Staples is actually running a %20 off promotion on Gap cards. Another great aspect of these cards is that they’re e-cards, there is no shipping charge for them and they simply get mailed to you:
Amex and Staples

I ended up buying $125 worth of Gap gift cards for $100 on my Amex card and immediately got an email notification from Amex saying that I’ve successfully used my $25 rebate offer and it’ll be showing up on my credit shortly.

So long story short, I got $125 of Gap Gift cards for $75, an incredible value. As a matter of fact, we already used $60 of that Gap cash today on some new clothes for our boy 😉

Happy dealing out there


Apr 05

Amex Offers – Target and Best Buy

Amex Offers

Amex has recently been on a roll — I already wrote about a great offer where you can earn double points with Amazon. Now it seems like other vendors are signing up with Amex to try to take some of the business away from Amazon, and they’re Target and BestBuy. Each of the merchandisers have rolled out their own 2x points.

Amex Offers - Target and Best Buy

Fine Print

The interesting part is that these offers are not available for in-store purchases, they’re only available on the .com versions of the vendors. I think this is a smart strategy for Target and BestBuy because in a sense they know that they can’t compete with Amazon in the overall marketplace, but in order to bolster their on-line businesses they’re trying to get free exposure.

Is it a good deal?

Double points/miles are always great, but ultimately is it a good deal? That actually depends on a few factors:

  • What are your typical redemption rates?
  • Do you have a Target Red Card?
  • Do you have Best Buy rewards credit cards?
  • Product Selection & Preference

I actually don’t have the answer on the last point, as I very rarely shop at Best Buy and their FAQ about the rewards seems super lengthy and involves multiple tiers, etc. But, here’s a link in case you’re looking for some extra reading.

Redemption Rates

As I wrote about it here and here, you should be targeting about 2cent/point redemption rate. In this case, with double the points you’re getting about 4% off your purchase. For Amazon, if you’re not using their own Amazon card that’s a great reward. It’s even better if you’re able to redeem points for first class, where you can get high single digits awards, double them and you’re looking at 10-20% off. And, considering that if you have Prime you can get free shipping essentially on anything this is a great deal

Red Card

If you have a Red Card you get 5% off your purchases. So you’re stuck in the dilemma of putting your spend on Amex or your Red Card. Target doesn’t offer free shipping, at least not without some threshold levels, so this is an associated cost that directly diminishes the value of this proposition already. At this point I’d say that an average person, when shopping on Target’s website, is better off using the Red Card than an Amex card even with double the points promotion

Product Selection (and preference)

I absolutely love Amazon, we have Prime Now in our city and we buy everything from diapers, to yogurt to milk to whatever on Amazon. There just isn’t that much selection at Target or Best Buy, and I usually have to travel to suburbia to actually go to one of those stores so I automatically ignore them. So for me, even though I may be getting an extra 1% off on my purchases if I shopped at Target the simple convenience of not stepping a foot in their store is completely worth using my Amex Card on Amazon.

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