Category Archives: Uncategorized

Airport Security…or the lack thereof

Via View From the Wing, yesterday, Bruce Schneier, a famous security expert, wrote about the irrelevance of TSA in response to a TSA blog post about their top 10 catches of 2011 (notably, there’s no terrorists in that list…hmmm).  Anyway, the commentary at both links are amusing, and there is a link to a Vanity Fair article with Bruce Schneier discussing how easy it is to beat TSA.

I’ve actually experienced some of the things mentioned in that article.  Last week when I flew out of DCA (Washington Reagan, the airport described in the article), I had someone approach me at security to swab my hands…while I was frantically trying to get my boarding pass loaded on my phone and get my ID out.  Thanks for helping the boarding process TSA.  Whether or not someone’s  hands had traces of explosives, don’t you  think you’d fine the explosives while screening the bag, as described in your top 10.  Oh wait, oops, you guys only find that on the return trip.  Well, nice try.  Seriously, the only people that this test ever catches (that I’ve heard of), are military personnel who’s jobs involve working with explosives.  Yea…I’m real glad you’re protecting us from our own military, TSA.

Also, I believe the Vanity Fair article mentions medical needs (at the bottom of the first page).  I’ve actually witnessed (a family member) get some liquids not typically allowed through security, with the approval of the TSA agents, because of a shoulder injury.  So I guess if you have an “injured shoulder,” you’re free to bring you “medication” and “pain killers” through.

Yup, trillions of dollars wasted on TSA and people’s time.  Don’t you feel safe?  Oh btw, they’re also potentially causing you cancer in the future with the X-ray machines, while the government official that authorized the machine makes a killing from them.

Musings of an Amazon addict – Maximizing points on Amazon.com purchases

I admit it, I’m addicted to buying things on Amazon.  I finally got an Amazon Prime membership early last year, and then after I moved, I used Amazon to buy 90% of my new household goods.  With two day (sometimes upgraded for free to one day) shipping, I could just click, pay, and receive items in a couple days.  I didn’t have to figure out where stores were, or what I could buy at which stores, and all that mess.  And that seemed great to me (well it still seems great to me also)!

And today Frequent Miler has a great post about maximizing your credit card miles/points from Amazon purchases!  A lot of these involve buying Amazon gift cards at places where a specific credit card gets a category bonus.  Personally, I have the Chase Ink Bold, and the AMEX Business Gold card, so I’m planning to look into using those on Amazon gift cards.  However, I applied for the Ink Bold before they converted to the new offer that earns 5 points on office supply spend, so I’m going to have to figure out how to get the new version of the Ink Bold.

Also, don’t forget that you can earn 1 point per dollar at Amazon by going through the Hawaiian Airlines Shopping portal (note that there is not other way to earn points or miles on Amazon, with US Airways changing their online shopping mall operator…Amazon is not on Chase Ultimate Rewards or AMEX Membership Rewards either).  Hawaiian Airline miles might not seem that useful (unless you want to go to Hawaii), but they do have various airline partners (Delta, Virgin Atlantic, Korean Air), or you can transfer the miles to Hilton HHonors points in increments of 5000 miles for 10000 HHonors points.

Taking Hotel Toiletries (for a good cause of course!)

This morning, I ran across an amusing post at Million Miles Secrets about stealing hotel toiletries.  To be fair, as mentioned by Emily in the lined post, it’s not really stealing because you’re paying for these toiletries in your hotel rate, and partially used bottles are presumably thrown away once you check out of the hotel.  In addition, Darius and Emily turn the toiletries into care packages that they give out in third world countries.

This idea (or a similar one) crossed my mind earlier when I was moving.  I had a whole drawer of liquid and bar soaps, shampoos, conditioners, etc, that I had gained from hotels and/or my parents.  I knew I had quite a few, that I generally never touched, since I’d occasionally grabbed them from hotels.  I thought it was a total waste to just throw all these toiletries away, since I had never even opened a lot of them, so I started looking to see if there was some charitable organization that would accept these.  Low and behold, I googled a bit and came upon SAY San Diego.  I brought them a whole box of toiletries, which they greatly appreciated, and said would be given to their clients that were “between jobs.”  The organization even sent me a letter recognizing the donation and allowing me to state the value of items donated…so you can even get a tax deduction for doing this!

Anyway, after that, I started thinking I should just always collect the hotel toiletries, and then donate them all at some point to an organization that can use them.  I’ve been too lazy thus far to do it, but maybe I’ll start now. 🙂

Obviously, there are probably other organizations that would accept these items, so feel free to post them in the comments below!

 

Transferring points from AMEX MR, Chase UR, and SPG

Lucky of One Mile at a Time, has a post about transferring points within the American Express Membership Rewards (AMEX MR), Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR), and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) programs.  A good read to understand what you can and can’t do with the points in each of those programs.

Those are honestly the three favorite programs among the miles blogs, so I would expect everyone doing this to have a credit card that earns in at least one of those programs, and preferably two or all three of them.  Having points in all 3 not only gives you the best opportunity to take advantage of credit card signup bonuses, but lets you have options for getting points/redemptions in the majority of loyalty programs that exist.

Here’s a list of AMEX MR transfer partners and SPG transfer partners.

Also, on the credit card front, the American Express Platinum (and business version) or Premier Rewards Gold (and business version) card will get you started in AMEX MR.  The Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Ink Bold will get you going in Chase UR.  And finally, for SPG, you’ve got the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest card (there’s also a business version).

Note: Gary of View from the Wing has given me permission to use his credit card referral links, as I have explained on the credit card offers page.  Thus, he will earn a commission if you apply through these links.  Before applying, do make sure that these are the best offers available.

 

Starting my journey for AA Executive Platinum

So today, I’m on the first on 9 trips I have on AA this month, in an attempt to maximize their DEQM promotions currently running.  I’ve never flown on mileage runs (for the sole purpose of collecting miles), so this flight/month should be an interesting experience.  I’m hoping to make good use of the time I’m on the plane, although I may just end up sleeping a lot, which I guess is a fine way to catch up on sleep.

A (weak) case against frequent flyer miles

There’s an interesting article from National Geographic Traveler encouraging consumers not to collect frequent flyer miles.  Gary at View From the Wing brought this to my attention, writing a strong (long, but worth reading) rebuttal of his own.

The gist of the National Geographic article is that people are spending way too much on miles, from buying more expensive airfares to going on mileage runs (disclosure: I’m guilty as charged :), having booked 9 round trip flights on AA for the month of January…and I still need to write that promised post), and making purchases just for miles.  On the flip side, these miles are unable to be redeemed for any flights, and airlines are creating a class separation amongst the elite, frequently flying, extreme mile collecting  and the regular travelers who pay increasingly more fees (e.g. baggage fees), and get less value.

I could see why someone could feel this way about miles programs.  Redeeming your miles for a flight now can cost anywhere from 12,500 miles to 100,000 miles just for coach tickets, and you often have to get creative to get where you want to go.  However, part of the deal of playing the miles game is that you must exercise flexibility and commitment.  You won’t be able to find mile saver fares during a major holiday on a direct flight to your destination…that’s just a fact of life.  However, if you’re willing to travel at non-peak times (even just slightly off peak), you can derive tremendous value.   Additionally, to always have options, you should be committed to collecting miles in as many programs as you can.  This doesn’t mean you need to fly every airline and get elite status, but you should be going to for any credit cards/promotions that are within reach for you.  This does require you to keep track not only of all your accounts, but also which promotions are happening when.

If you can do all this, you do have the means to travel places.  And contrary to the notion that airlines are segregating elites out of the majority, getting yourself into some of the exclusive lounges is becoming more accessible.  You can book yourself premium class tickets for a fairly reasonable amount of miles (100,000 miles might seem like a lot, but if you can generate 500k miles per year through credit cards plus whatever you spend/fly, booking yourself a first class trip is well within reach), and with that comes access to elite lounges, preferential service, etc.  You can sometimes even pay as low as $100 to upgrade your flights to first class (not necessarily worth it, but you could), and experience all the great benefits that come with that (waived baggage fees, priority check-in and boarding lines).  If anything, preferential service on airlines is becoming less exclusive/more accessible, especially if you play the miles game.

There was a somewhat relevant point made in this post over at Things in the Sky, showing average airfares over the last 15 years or so.  Despite recent fare increases, airfares are still historically relatively low.  I recommend checking out that post, as well as the View From The Wing article and the original National Geographic article.