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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How to Travel By Yourself

How to Travel By YourselfAs you read this, I’m actually galavanting around the UK and Ireland with my friend, Rachel, for the next two weeks. This trip is a #bucketlist item, and since we didn’t merit an invite from Harry and Meghan for the wedding, we planned our own jaunt across the pond. (Follow the adventure on Instagram!)

However, if you’ve read this blog for a while, you may already know that most of my travel is on my own. And I answered the question of how to travel by yourself a few days ago for someone, so thought I’d also share my tips here as well.

Sometimes I forget that not everyone travels solo because so many people in my circles do. As I’ve said before on this blog (many times!), I LOVE to travel. Whether I’m going an hour away from home, or to the other side of the world, it just fills me up the way few, other things do.

Different foods, different culture, different sites and sounds. It’s always a beautiful experience, and shows you that while the little space you occupy in the world is important, it’s not everything. Travel is a big source of inspiration for me, and I know that many others feel the same.

I’ve traveled to many states here in the U.S. by myself, either for a personal vacation or work purposes. And for my 40th birthday, I checked off one of my top bucket list items when I traveled to Spain. And, yes, I went by myself. That trip was sort of planned spur of the moment because I saw a great deal on a flight. I didn’t even take the time to ask anyone to go with me because I booked the ticket within 10 minutes of seeing the deal! I just knew I wanted to wake up in Barcelona for my 40th birthday, and this was my opportunity.

By now, most of my friends are married with kids, and I am single. So, understandably, it’s much more difficult for them to travel with a friend and not with their family. But my philosophy is that I want to see as much of the world as possible, and if I have to do it on my own to make that dream come true, so be it!

Over the last couple of years, I’ve also become an amateur travel hacker, which has allowed me to travel cheaply. Putting the time into learning these tricks has been well worth it to be able to do something I love…with as little money as possible. 🙂

So, if you’re thinking about setting out on a solo adventure, here are my best tips for how to travel by yourself:

  • I love attending conferences, and this really kicked off my solo travel experiences. I think it’s a great place to get started because you’ll already be in a room with people who have similar jobs, interests, or passions. That makes it easier to strike up a conversation, especially for us introverts. And I realize people have limited vacation time or budgets for professional development at work, but I wouldn’t let that stop you. For example, I’m involved in the anti-trafficking and social justice community, so a number of those conferences were taken on vacation time and self-funded. But I made friends at those events that I look forward to seeing every year at the next event, or even making a special trip to see them in their hometown.
  • If you’re on a solo vacation, book tours. I really love Viator and TravelZoo, as well as free walking tours. As I mentioned, I’m an introvert, so I made sure I had these kinds of things scheduled on my solo trip to Barcelona to ensure I’d be around people and having conversations with others. On one day trip, I met some lovely women from Australia, who were also traveling solo, and we had dinner together after the excursion had finished. You can, of course, do the same kinds of things in your home country.
  • I’m “directionally challenged” to say the least, so if you want to see a number of things, but aren’t sure how to get around and don’t have a rental car, buy a hop on hop off pass for at least the first day. Do this on your first, full day to help you get your bearings while someone else does the driving. Honestly, I kinda cringed at doing this in Barcelona because I didn’t want to put a big “tourist” label across my forehead, but it worked out wonderfully. I sat on the whole two-hour ride to see the city at a glimpse and figure out where things are, and how close they were to each other, and then I hopped off to see my top priorities. I only did this for one day out of the five I was there, but of course, it’s an easy method of transportation should you want to continue for a couple of days. And depending on the city, public transportation or ride sharing are other great options.
  • In Barcelona, I also booked a “tapas tour” on the first night. This was not only an effort to meet people and not eat alone, but it gave me a crash course on the local fare so I knew how and what to order going forward.
  • I’m sure no one likes to eat out alone, and I only do it when traveling solo, but it honestly just takes practice. I still don’t like to do it, and feel like everyone is staring at me, but I have to just remind myself that I’m in this wonderful place and this is part of the experience. Bring a book or something to occupy yourself, and you’ll get through it.
  • I love staying in hotels by myself, and I love room service! Just for your own protection, lock your doors, of course, and keep your eyes open, especially if you’re coming back late. 

Additionally, let me bring up one other thing that’s been super helpful for me over the past year or so: Facebook groups and social media.

I’ll soon be traveling to San Diego for a work conference by myself. Outside of hoping to meet people there, we have a Facebook group for everyone in the coaching program that is hosting the event. So, people have been in there making connections, setting up appointments, and even finding people to split hotels with.

I will also have several days on the back end to hang out in the area. I’ve been to San Diego a couple of times before, so I want to use this extra time for networking. So, I jumped into several of the Facebook groups I’m a part of, and asked them who might already be in that area or who I should meet while there. Because I work with nonprofits and social enterprises, these are potential clients. But, of course, it never hurts to just expand my network regardless. I’ve already had several responses from people who had recommendations or would like to meet up, so that’ll be another great way to fill my time—and get a tax deduction. 😉 

Obviously, we women should be careful when traveling solo, so I’m cautious not to include specific locations or dates in public spaces. But posting on personal or business social media accounts, or in Facebook groups can be a very easy way to find new friends or clients.

Pretty much of this just takes some time, practice, planning, and patience. But if you love to travel, don’t let anything stop you. Empower yourself, and go for it!

And if you have other tips, or want to tell me how these worked out for you, I’d love to hear!

Happy travels!

 

Update 4/4/18: Just read this article, and about the term “microadventures.” If some of this feels expensive or overwhelming to you, give microadventures a try!

 

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in you sail. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain


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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.)