Mental Post-Its

Thoughts, Notes and General Mental Mayhem


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My Favorite Travel Credit Cards…Right Now

deanna-ritchie-227649I’m getting ready to set out on another big trip in a couple of weeks, and while planning, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to maximize my credit card rewards on this journey.

If you missed my original post back in 2016, I’m a novice travel hacker. Meaning, I look for shortcuts on how to save money for travel. I adore traveling, and it fills me up the way few things do, but because I’m self-employed, I’ve gotta watch the costs. Well, I guess most of us have to watch our dollars, don’t we?

If that’s you too, consider looking into travel hacking. You don’t have to do it to the degree that I do, and I certainly don’t do it to the degree that many others do either, but a few tips can take you a long way—literally.

Most often, we we talk about travel hacking, we’re talking about using credit card rewards. Depending on your relationship (or baggage) with credit cards, you may have some resistance to this technique. I get that. It took more research on my part to fully understand this method as well.

But the gist is that opening multiple credit cards will not damage your credit score. It’s the misuse of credit cards that damages your score. So, keep that in mind.

So, with this method, you’ll open the credit card, meet the minimum spend requirement, use the rewards, and then likely cancel the card. The spend requirement is how much you need to spend in order to get the bonus points or rewards. For example, spend $3,000 in the first three months to get 50,000 points. Make sense?

Before I start talking about my favorite credit card reward cards right now, let me reiterate that there are many other ways to save on travel. In this previous post, I outline several others that may be of interest to you. Or you may also chose to employ a couple of different methods as I do.

One other caveat: There are LOTS of different reward cards available, but I’m only talking about the ones I’ve used. I don’t feel good about recommending any that I have no personal knowledge of. There are also plenty of others that I have used but are not included here. These are my current favs. Additionally, there are other current credit cards that I have at the moment, but they do not have good bonus offers right now, so they aren’t included here either.

 

CHASE SAPPHIRE PREFERRED

I think this was my first travel rewards card, and it’s still my favorite. The points are so flexible, the point values are very fair, and when you book through their site, you save even more money! I love this card, and it’s the one I always recommend.

Benefits:

  • Use the points for airlines, hotels, car rentals, cruises, AND activities. I’ve actually redeemed all of these, except for the cruise.
  • No annual fee for the first year.
  • Zero foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 points transfer (Meaning, if I transfer to a partner airline, 1 point with either program is the same. This is definitely not always the case!)
  • Click the link for the full list of benefits.

 

STARWOOD PREFERRED GUEST

This has been a great card the past couple of years. The point values are very reasonable, and the $95 fee is waived for the first year.

Benefits:

  • Free night with the anniversary of the card
  • Free Wifi during your hotel stays, AND free BOINGO hotspot access worldwide. This is often helpful in airports and places that would otherwise make you pay for access.
  • There are a lot of options for transferring points to other programs, if needed.
  • This card also has zero foreign transaction fees, and it’s the one I took to England, Scotland, and Ireland this year.
  • Click the link above for more benefits.

A quick disclaimer, though, that Marriott now owns Starwood, so that may change some things. I’m not sure what everything will look like when the programs are fully integrated, but so far, it’s been a great card. The plus is that you will, obviously, have more hotels available to use your points!

 

DELTA SKYMILES

This is a very popular card among many of my friends, and I can see why. (Besides the fact that Delta is headquartered here in ATL!) You can currently get a 70,000 point bonus, which is great. I just paid 9,500 miles for a New York to Atlanta ticket, as an example.

Benefits:

  • Get a companion certificate each year. This is the reason some of my friends have it, so that they can travel cheaper with their spouse.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • First checked bag free.
  • Discounted Delta Sky Club lounge access. (These things are a God send on long layovers!)
  • Priority boarding.
  • Click the link for the full list of benefits.

 

HILTON HONORS

This is sort of a new card for me. I used to have the Hilton Honors card when it was under Chase, but it just got bought by AMEX, so I’ve only had the new card for a couple of months. The current reward bonus is 150,000 points! I think they’re trying to get people on board now since this card is still hot off the presses.

Benefits:

  • 6x or 3x for eligible purchases, which is fantastic
  • Complimentary Gold status
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 10 Priority Pass lounge visits (sort of like Delta lounges) – I’m excited to use a couple of these on my next trip!
  • Click the link for full benefits.

 

Side benefit: AMEX cards, like Delta, Hilton, and SPG above, has the best dashboard for looking at account details, benefits, and rewards. It may seem like a strange thing to bring up, but some account dashboards just make it hard to find what you need. The AMEX one is so easy to use.

 

Quick tips for using rewards cards:

Like I said above, I recommend doing your research to fully get your questions answered, but in general, here are a few tips that will help you on this journey.

  • Whatever credit card you’ve had the longest, no matter what type of card—keep it open. This will keep a record of your credit history while you’re switching out rewards cards, and show how responsible you are with credit. Never close this card.
  • Start with one one card and see how it goes. You’ll learn by doing.
  • Put your fixed expenses on your card only. For me, that means things like my rent, health insurance, car insurance, etc. Some people put all of their expenses on their card, and that may work for you. I personally prefer just putting my fixed expenses on my credit cards, especially when I’m trying to make the initial spend. I’m no financial wiz, and it’s just easier for me to track and plan.
  • Ditching the cards after you use the rewards is up to you. I weigh what the renewal benefits are versus what the renewal fees are, and things like that. Some cards I get rid of immediately after using the bonus points, and some I don’t.
  • People often seek out airline cards first, which is understandable, but it really depends on what your travel needs are. Several nights in a hotel can often cost more than a flight, so keep that in mind.
  • One of the more difficult aspects of choosing cards is understanding point values. They vary wildly! For example, one of my least favorite cards was the AMEX Gold. It seemed great to get almost 100,000 points (this was a few years ago), but when I tried to redeem, I realized how little the points actually got me. My friend and I attended a conference in Chicago, which is what I wanted to use them for, but when all was said and done, we had to stay well outside of the city because the points didn’t go very far. So, when possible, it’s good idea to try and research how far the points will actually stretch.

Questions? Let me know.

Happy travels!

 

PS: Don’t forget to check out my original post on travel hacking to learn more about using credit card rewards and other ways I save on travel.

PPS: Traveling solo? I’ve got you covered there, too. Take a look at this post.

(Note: several links are affiliate links. But I only ever recommend what I like and use.)

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Happy Fourth of July!

alondra-olivas-24214

No matter how or where you choose to observe today, know that you are blessed to have the freedom of choice.

Thank you to all those who made it possible.


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Business Boutique: Notes & Quotes

fullsizerender-14I totally forgot to post about this event after attending in November. Maybe that’s because I feel like I sat with it so long, which is a good thing. One of the facets that I really liked about this event was that the notebook also served as a workbook. So, I’ve had it sitting out since coming back from Nashville just waiting to finish my homework. I’d intentionally set it aside for this year’s personal retreat (more on that soon!), so really, I think my conference experience just ended.

Christy Wright’s Business Boutique is a conference aimed for Christian women entrepreneurs. She started as a Dave Ramsey coach and speaker, and has now moved into this niche, which I believe will thrive. Business Boutique is extremely practical, which I appreciated most of all. And one of the most interesting pieces of the event to me was that it’s aimed at dreamers, starters and builders. The “dreamers” were the people I found most fascinating. I’d never seen a conference aimed at people who had no idea what they want to do! I talked to several of these ladies, and they confirmed that they either had a super vague idea (“I want to sell something online.”) to no idea (“I am open to anything. I just want a change.”) There were also a wide variety of women there from young moms looking for a career or something to contribute to their family, to new or established business owners, to retirees looking to begin again. It was kinda fun to hear the range of stories, backgrounds and ideas.

Outside of this two-day annual event in Nashville, she also has a really good podcast and a series of one-day events around the U.S. during 2017. Her events are extremely affordable, and a lot of fun. I’d definitely recommend this conference to other Christian women entrepreneurs!

But for now, here are just a few of my take-aways:

Christy Wright:

  • Your dream should be so big that if God’s not in it, you’ll fail.
  • If you set your goals before the why, dreams, vision, and mission statement, your goals have no soul.
  • You’ll be the most successful when you stay in your strengths.
  • Stay true to yourself by building your business around your personal values.
  • When talking about your business, focus on the benefit to the customer, not the features of the business. Start with why.
  • If you don’t believe in the goodness of business and making money, you’ll never have a good business or make money.
  • Turning your hobby into a business requires a mind-set shift. Its no longer a part of you. The business is its own thing.
  • You teach others how to value you. If you don’t value your work, no one else will.
  • Faith and fear require you to believe in something that hasn’t happened yet.
  • Fear doesn’t mean you’re doing something bad. It means your doing something bold.
  • Anything that tears you down is not from God.
  • Creating balance in your life comes down to what you spend your time on.
  • Stress and anxiety are caused when there is a disconnect between our values and our behavior.
  • Life balance is simply living from your values.
  • Jesus wasn’t focused on the need. He was focused on the assignment.

Dave Ramsey:

  • Goals must be specific.
  • Goals must be measurable.
  • Goals must have a time limit.
  • Goals must be yours.
  • Goals must be in writing.

Rachel Cruz:

  • Quite the comparisons.
  • Steer clear of debt.
  • Make a plan for your money.
  • Think before you spend
  • Save like you mean it.
  • Give a little…until you can give a lot.
  • Talk about money, even when its hard.

Christine Caine:

  • Impossible is where God starts.
  • You can’t change your past, but you can change your future.
  • Just be willing.
  • God has a plan, purpose and destiny for your life.
  • God always uses unlikely people.
  • It’s the job of the people of God to carry the message of God to their generation.
  • You’ve got to make a decision that what God did for you is bigger than what someone else did to you.
  • A word you’ll never find in the Bible is retirement.
  • Leave a gap in your business that only God can fill.
  • You’re going to have to take a step of faith to step into your God-given gifts.
  • Do not say no when God says go!

Hillary Scott:

  • One door closing is not all of them closing. Resilience and perseverance are required.
  • Have wise counsel and mentors.
  • Be humble enough to ask questions.
  • Remember you’re defined not by others, but by Who created you.
  • “Comparison is the thief of joy.” – CS Lewis

Amy Porterfield:

  • Social media works when you know your ideal customer identity.
  • Social media works when you create original content that serves your ideal customer.
  • Your content should be aligned with, but separate from, your product.
  • Social media works when you ignite action.
  • What does your ideal audience need to experience, be aware of, or believe in in order to want or need your product/service?

Nicole Walters:

  • Sales is not about pushing; it’s about influencing.
  • Sales comes from confidence and confidence is like a muscle; the more you use it, the stronger it becomes.
  • Be kind, but firm. Be specific.
  • It’s your God-given duty to share your gifts with the world.

Donald Miller:

  • Demonstrate empathy and authority.
  • Solve internal and external problems.
  • Give customers a plan.
  • Make your call to action clear.
  • Define how you will improve people’s lives.


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Travel Hacking: An Introduction

165476132I travel as much as I can…but never as much as I’d like. I love it. I love new people, new foods, new cultures, new sites and new experiences. It never gets old. It fuels me and fills me up.

And over the past couple of years, I’ve been able to travel a lot more. Most of that is due to travel hacking. I stumbled upon the concept by accident, and am so glad that I did! It has allowed me all sorts of opportunities that I might not otherwise have, and many of my friends have asked for guidance in trying to get started as well. So, I thought I’d explain it a bit here.

To start, if you are unfamiliar with the term, travel hacking is simply finding ways around the typical travel system—traveling for free or very cheap. This is typically done through credit card offers. You sign up for large bonuses, use the bonus, then dump the card before the annual fee.

For the best explanations and introductions, here are a few introductory posts from the pros I follow:

Additionally, here are some of the other resources I use:

  • http://www.secretflying.com: crazy low error fares *
  • www.travelzoo.com: This is an awesome weekly email with deals from your nearest large city. They have deals for all over the world at any time. Their packages are absolutely the best! This is also a great recommendation if you simply don’t want to do any of the other travel hacking work.
  • http://faredealalert.com: Good deals out of ATL, but you can find these for all major cities, I’m sure. *
  • www.fly.com: cheap flights and easy App
  •  TrustedHousesitters.com:  Stay in people’s homes for free all over the world in exchange for taking care of their pets.
  • Gate1 Travel: A weekly newsletter for packages.
  •  Travel Pirates: Another great, weekly newsletter.
  •  www.awardwallet.com: They have a really helpful blog, and this is where I store all my accounts for easy reference. It’s super helpful to be able to see all of my accounts at once.

*For Secret Flying and Fare Deal Alert, you have to jump on them quickly to get the deals since many are error fares, meaning the airline made a mistake in the pricing and will change it as soon as they notice. So I get Twitter alerts via text to stay on top of it. It’s worth getting a Twitter account for these deals! Once you’re logged in, just click the gear on the profile page and select “Turn on mobile notifications.”

I am by no means an expert at this, but here are the things its afforded me over the past two years:

  • Four night’s stay in Chicago (free)
  • Flight to Chicago (free)
  • Two night’s stay in Irvine (free)
  • Two flights to NYC ($30)
  • One night’s stay in NYC (free)
  • Flight to DC ($30)
  • One night’s stay in DC (free)
  • One night’s stay in North Georgia (free)
  • One night in a suite in Fort Myers (free)
  • Car rental in Fort Myers (free)
  • Two night’s stay in Austin (free)
  • Flight to Austin ($75)
  • Flight to Barcelona ($250)
  • Three nights in Barcelona (free)
  • Flight home from Barcelona (free)
  • Two nights in Nashville (free)
  • Two nights in Orlando (free)
  • Ticket to Universal Studios (free)

I should also note that my key to making the minimum spends is that I can pay my rent via credit card. So, for example, many cards require you to spend $3,000 in three months to get the initial bonus points. If that isn’t something you can do, then you’ll need to stick to error fares and travel deals rather than relying largely on points.

If you are interested in getting started with a rewards card, the one everyone recommends to begin with is the Chase Sapphire. Here is my referral link. These are by far my favorite points! I kept this card rather than canceling before the renewal because it’s so awesome. Give it a try!

I hope this helps you a bit as you start your travel hacking adventures. And happy traveling!

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(Some links are affiliate links.)


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Answering the Question: What Do I Do?

hands-typingSince leaving my old job in May, I now frequently get asked what kind of work I do. So, I figured I’d take the time to spell it out here.

The gist is that I am a writer and consultant (mostly marketing and communications) for nonprofits, social justice organizations and social enterprises. I also do a little magazine writing, and hope to expand that soon. Now and again, I do other odds and ends upon request or for friends, but writing and consulting is really the core.

I particularly love partnering with small organizations. I’ve found that many of the people who run and are employed at those organizations do so because they have a heart for the work, but may not be strongly suited for the strategy when it comes to communications and marketing. This is where I come in. I have always loved helping small businesses grow, and being in on the ground floor to build them up. So, when I apply my skills to their needs, I can help them get their message out in a bigger and better way. And in working with those three types of businesses (nonprofits, social justice organizations and social enterprises), I am ensuring a greater success for the types of companies that I want to support personally and see thrive.

Here are a few examples of the work I’ve done so far, and an introduction to some of my fantastic clients:

  • Atlanta Dream Center: They protect and support the area’s most vulnerable populations, including the homeless, at-risk children and women who have been trafficked or prostituted. Among other things, I wrote many of the communications pieces for their annual benefit dinner, such as the website, save the date, invitation, newsletter announcement, press release and sponsor package. I also created a marketing plan that they can use to more effectively organize the event moving forward, and provides a comprehensive strategy for the who’s, why’s and how’s of the annual dinner. Additionally, I consulted on all aspects of the dinner, and was able to give marketing and communications insight they didn’t have before. All of this resulted in their most profitable fundraiser to date—by far! I have been a volunteer with them for the past three years, so I was beyond excited to see them surpass their goals, and for a new audience to become aware of their amazing work.
  • Habitat for Humanity: Ok, so you’ve probably heard their name before. They provide safe, affordable homes to individuals and families around the world. Habitat is a solution to the global housing crisis, and while I’ve always had great respect for the organization, it’s in overdrive now that I’ve learned so much more about them. We both celebrate the big 4-0 this year, so I’ve been rewriting some of their web pages as they prepare for a new digital online presence. And I’ve been able to work with a friend from college, so that’s been fun too.
  • Connect Faith: I started writing for this magazine several years ago when I was at Orange because the focus is Christian event planners, and I fit that mold at the time. So, it’s been a place where I could use the knowledge from that job to help educate and inspire others in that field. I also attend a lot of Christian conferences, as you already know if you’ve read this blog much at all, so I could share the things I was learning with a larger audience. They are a great publication, and it’s been fun working with them. I hope to also be able to write for some of their other magazines soon. And, as I mentioned above, I hope to write for other publications as well before too long, particularly in the areas of social justice and travel.
  • Be the Bridge: This budding organization utilizes resources and conversations to further racial reconciliation. They believe that the Church must become a bigger answer to this issue, and are equipping people to host racially diverse small groups that create open lines of communication.  We should not be having the “race conversation” as only white people or only black people, but as friends and Christians. My friend, Latasha, started this organization because she was willing to have the awkward, but necessary conversations, and build bridges that foster healing. It’s important and timely work. They just held their launch parties here in Atlanta a few weeks ago, so I assisted in strategy and communications, and also did live Tweeting, Instagram and Facebook during the two inaugural events.
  • Dr. Bombay’s and The Learning Tea: This darling little tea shop in Atlanta’s Candler Park neighborhood funds “life scholarships” for girls in India. With these funds, girls can go to college, have a safe place to live, and have all their basic needs provided for. And her chai tea is my absolute favorite! I was introduced to Katrell, the owner, in 2012, and we’ve been friends ever since. I even traveled with her to India in July 2015 to meet the girls! I provide ongoing communications and marketing consulting services for both organizations, as well as for her book, Tiger Heart.
  • Naeem Fazal: My friend, Kitti, collaborated with Naeem on his first book, Ex-Muslim. It’s really fascinating and funny and heart-warming, so check it out. She was unable to collaborate on his second book, so she recommended me. We’re just getting started on the book proposal, so we have a long way to go. But it’s been fun getting to know him. This project falls into more of the odds and ends category, but my friends who know I’m working on this ask me about it a lot. I guess books are just more interesting. 🙂
  • TrueNorth: I just started working with them, and I’m really excited about the work that they do! My friend, Anne, started this organization just a couple of years ago after working with women who had been trafficked and prostituted. She decided that she wanted to work more “upstream” to focus on more of the source and start of the issues, rather than toward the end when women had already been abused. I think that is a terrific strategy. So, she is creating resources and providing information to combat our sex-saturated culture. Porn is a huge issue now, which probably isn’t hard for you to understand. But did you know that kids as young as eight are now seeing pornographic images, and most porn is consumed while individuals are at work? Anne wants to get to the root of that issue, and also help remove some of the shame associated with these behaviors so that individuals, children and families can get the help and freedom they so desperately need, and can only be found in Jesus. She currently speaks about the issues, and is working on a book and Bible study, and will also soon be expanding into events. So, I’m assisting in the writing, strategy and execution of their year-end giving campaign. I can’t wait to see her work and presence in the community grow!

Hopefully now you have a better understanding of what I’m doing now that I’m a full-time entrepreneur. It’s been so fun to partner with these causes that I believe in, and to do different kinds of work that furthers good things in the world.

If you know of anyone that I can help in these ways, please reach out! (Website coming soon!)

PS: Don’t I have some amazing friends? I’m so proud of them, and blessed to be a part of their work.