Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mattress run #2—44,000+ Club Carlson points

Back in May, I learned that the Carlson hotel chain was having a Big Night Giveaway promotion, basically a buy one, get one kind of thing. I signed up online to participate in each promotion of the three hotel chains (Radisson-50,000 points, Country Inn & Suites-44,000 points, Park Inn-44,000 points). Staying one night at each hotel would result in a total of 138,000 Club Carlson points, which could be redeemed worldwide.
Plus, I get 20 points per dollar on the room cost, 1,000 extra points for booking online, a 2,000-point “Welcome Next Stay” bonus and I previously got a 4,500 signup bonus from E-rewards (sign-up by invite only). So all told I should end up with at least 150,000 points.

Technically, the promotions are still available; however each hotel is only offering 15,000 points instead of 44,000 and 50,000. If you’ve got a trip coming up and one of these hotels work for you, I’d obviously sign up for the smaller bonus, but it’s no longer worth doing a mattress run.
Links to the promos are as follows
*ParkPlaza also just announced a 50,000 point promotion, but there is only one in the U.S. (Minneapolis), so I didn’t sign up for it.

The three nights at the hotels I’ve selected in the Dallas area will run me about $230 (this helped to meet myspend on the Chase Sapphire Preferred as well). I was able to get each room through a 25 or 30 percent off promo.

Carlson hotels start at 9,000 points per night and go all the way up to 50,000 points. I plan to redeem some of the points for a night or two at a fancy Radisson Blu in Spain or Park Plaza in London, so I thought it was definitely worth an outlay of $230 to get rooms that cost way more than that.

My first stay for this promotion was at the Park Inn near Dallas Love Field for 44,000 points. I felt fortunate to have a Park Inn nearby, since there are only 10 of them in the United States.

I checked in about 11 p.m. on a Friday night. I had read the Trip Advisor reviews of this hotel and wasn’t planning on it being too nice. I had packed a bag to stay overnight, but if it was gross or creepy, I’ve would’ve turned around and went right back home after checking in.

My room was on the second floor. As I opened the door, I first noticed the light was on and there were towels and garbage in the vanity area immediately next to the door. I peered inside and didn’t see anyone, but the room had clearly been recently occupied. The bed was unmade and there were other pieces of trash strewn about.

I headed back downstairs and told the front desk clerk of the room’s condition. She said someone must have switched rooms and this was the second time that had happened that night. She gave me a free breakfast voucher for my troubles and reassigned me to a room on the 11th floor.

The hallways were dark (borderline creepy), but the room itself was clean. The room certainly showed its age with peeling wallpaper. The lights were not easily accessible upon walking into the dark room. The pillows were also a bit too soft for my tastes. The air conditioner was extremely loud; it drowned out the TV every time it came on. The hotel’s amenities included an airport shuttle and free Wi-Fi.
King size Sleep Number bed with a complementary package of gummy bears, chair with ottoman

old tube TV, mini-fridge and microwave

The bath area was small, but serviceable.

I had a view of the pool from one window.
I got a nice view of the sunrise over IH-35 from the other window.

I ordered my free breakfast to-go the next morning and headed out around 7 a.m. They put my bill under the door with a note that I didn’t have to check out at the front desk, just leave my keys on the nightstand. I did call the front desk to let them I was checking out though just in case. Points posted the following Tuesday.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Priority Club points posted

Woo hoo! I received 7,330 points for my recent mattress run at the Candlewood Suites. I am still expecting 6,000-10,000 more points from some other PC promotions I signed up for. The good thing about these points is that they never expire.

So how can I use these points?
One option for using points is on Priority Club PointBreaks, which are reward nights priced at 5,000 points at selected hotels for a limited period of time, instead of the standard redemption rate.  Priority Club PointBreaks Reward Nights are based on availability and PointBreaks locations may be added or deleted at any time.

Priority Club Rewards "Points & Cash" is another option for obtaining a reward night. You can redeem Priority Club points for a reward night in three ways: using your existing points for all required points for the desired reward night; using your existing points and 5,000 points purchased for $40 to total the required points; or using your existing points and 10,000 points purchased for $70 to total the required points.

IHG hotels include Candlewood Suites, Staybridge Suites, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Crowne Plaza, Intercontinental and Hotel Indigo. Reward nights range from 10,000 to 50,000 points per night at locations worldwide.

If you’re interested in taking advantage of any PC bonus point earning opportunities here’s a good list of the current promotions.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Freebie Roundup

I love signing up for free samples. Checking the mailbox is more fun when you’re always anticipating what freebie will show up this week.

What does this have to do with cheap travel?
Free samples often come with high-dollar coupons (and I only request the freebies for stuff I would probably buy/use regardless). Using the coupons means savings on my grocery bill, so I have more money to spend on wants like travel.
Free samples often come in travel size quantities, which are perfect for that TSA 3 oz. liquid rule or for non-liquid items, just enough to take on a short trip.

I plan to frequently post some of the freebies I’ve signed up for. Here are some recent ones. Samples go quickly, so YMMV (your mileage may vary).
U by Kotex (click on Build Your Board)
Invisible Glass Wipes (3,000 samples per day limit)
Lysol Dual Action Wipes (not a free sample, but free after rebate)

Good freebie, but I won’t be requesting it since I have no need for a men’s razor

Upcoming freebies
On July 13, Chick-fil-A will award a free meal (breakfast, lunch or dinner) to any customer who comes to one of their 1,600+ restaurants fully dressed as a cow. Those in partial costumes will receive a free entrée.
I did this last year (printed off the cow starter kit from the website and paper clipped the pieces to my clothes on my lunch hour) and the cashier gave me a free meal!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Free money? Yes, please!

Update 7/5/12

I funded my account with the minimum amount needed to keep it free on June 29. The $150 bonus posted on July 3. Easy peasy!

For the longest time, Chase Bank has sent me offers for $100, $125 or $150 bonus if I opened a checking account with them. After weighing the pros and cons, I finally decided to take them up on one of their $150 offers.

  • Free $150-Duh! I will be putting this toward my replacement car down payment fund.
  • Chase Exclusives program—offers some extra Ultimate Rewards points for Chase Freedom cardholders (I am one). According to the fine print, you will earn 1 base point for each $1 of net purchases. You will earn an additional 1 point for each $1 of eligible airfare net purchases made online through the program booking tool. As a Chase checking customer, you will also earn 1 bonus point for each $10 of net purchases (which equates to 10% of base points earned), and an additional 10 bonus points for each individual net purchase. This doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me, but all I know is it means more points I can use for cheap travel! Also, I will be shopping for a car loan in the future and this program offers up to .75% off, so something to take into consideration.
  • I don’t have to change my direct deposit to get the bonus.
  • I already have three other checking accounts (!)
  • Have to jump through hoops to keep the account fee-free (direct deposit or minimum balance requirements).
  • Can’t close the account for six months or Chase will take back the $150 dollars.
  • Bonus is considered interest and I will have to pay taxes on it.
So, I opened the account and will keep it for at least six months, maybe longer. Many people seem to keep the account open for six months, close it, and then open a new one the next year for a new bonus. Maybe I will do that.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Inching towards cheap travel

Prior to 2011, I found it a hassle to keep up with frequent flyer miles. It required I remember to put in a number every time I booked a flight and I wasn’t particularly loyal to any one airline so I couldn’t keep the miles from expiring.
In 2011, I decided I was going to try and be somewhat loyal to American Airlines. Since I live in the DFW area (one of their hubs), I always seemed to find reasonable airfares and non-stop flights to my destinations.
So, I joined the AAdvantage program. Soon after, my mailbox was bombarded with AA credit card offers every month or so. I usually read and then shred them. I wasn’t interested in a credit card with an annual fee (even though the fee was waived for the first year). Those offers kept increasing from 25,000 or 30,000 mile sign-up bonuses all the way up to 50,000 miles plus some other perks.
Changing my mind
I don’t remember how I came across it, but this blog post helped me change my thinking. After doing more Internet reading, I learned that many people sign up for airline cards, get the bonus and then cancel the card before fee is due. And credit card sign-up bonuses are the fastest way to get points and miles for cheap travel without actually flying.
So here I am today
I know my limits and am NOT willing to attempt to spend $10,000 in three or four months just to get a bunch of sign-up bonuses at one time. I also don’t want to mess up my credit by opening too many cards at one time. Did you know you can get a free credit score (not your real FICO score, but fairly close) at Credit Karma and Credit Sesame?
So far this year, I have opened three new credit cards for a total of 150,000 miles or points.
My 50,000 AA miles posted in June 2012.
  • January 2012 Citi AAdvantage Visa—50,000 miles after spending $3,000 in four months, $150 statement credit and two Admirals Club lounge passes
  • March 2012 Chase Sapphire Preferred—50,000 miles or hotel points after spending $3,000 in three months
  • May 2012 Chase Southwest Airlines Visa—50,000 Rapid Reward points after first purchase
That is all I plan to do this year. More on my future plans to come.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

My first mattress run

I recently completed my first of four planned “mattress run” hotel stays. A mattress run is a trip with the sole purpose of getting hotel points or taking advantage of a promotion. With a mattress run, you book a cheap hotel night, and in return you'll earn something far more valuable. Often times, people don’t even stay the night at the hotel.

Reasons why I booked this particular stay
  • I am trying to meet the required spend ($3,000 in three months) on my Chase Sapphire Preferred card by the end of the month, so I can get 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points that I will redeem for future airfare or hotel stays.
  • I signed up for a number of stackable Priority Club Rewards promotions that should net me a few thousand points for this stay.
  • IHG Vacation Pay promotion $75 prepaid Master card

My stay at the Candlewood Suites near the Dallas Galleria
I selected the cheapest hotel that came up when I searched—it just so happened to be five minutes from my job, so it was easy to swing by and check-in after work on Friday.

At check-in the clerk thanked me for being a Priority Club Rewards member and handed me a welcome bag which included a bottled water, a package of Belvita breakfast biscuits and Axe hair gel. I was invited to spin the wheel for a prize and I won a $5 gift certificate to the Candlewood Cupboard (little convenience store inside the hotel where you pay using the honor system), which I redeemed for a small bag of Cheetos, peanuts and a bottle of orange juice.

The room itself was nothing special, but it was clean. Since this is an extended stay hotel, there was a small kitchen area with refrigerator, dishwasher, cooktop and microwave. 

There was a small desk, chair, tube TV and VCR/DVD player (DVDs were available at the front desk to borrow). 

Though I booked a stay for Friday and Saturday night, I only slept there on Saturday night. The bed was comfortable, and I slept well. The bathroom was clean and offered plenty of towels.

My total with taxes came to $131.06. I submitted the $75 mail-in rebate, which will bring my out of pocket expenses to $56.06. I expect to acquire a few thousand PC reward points through the promotions I signed up for, such as signing up for text messages.

Since I booked the reservation through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards Mall for 4 points per dollar, I should get an additional 524 UR points, plus the Sapphire offers 2x points (262) on travel, for a total of 786 UR points. I'm happy with that!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

How I’m spending $3,000 in three months

When I signed up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, I knew I’d have trouble meeting the required spend to get the 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points. For some people this would be a breeze, but for a small spender like me, it presented quite a challenge*. Even if I charged every single expense I had that takes credit cards (gas, groceries, restaurants, cell phone, internet, water bill, car repairs, gifts, clothes, miscellaneous stuff), it wouldn’t come to $3,000. *I pay off my bill in full every month.

Plus, during the first two months I was still trying to spend $3,000 in four months to get 50,000 Aadvantage (American Airlines) miles from Citibank (there was a two month overlap). So I knew I needed to get creative. Initially, I thought I’d just buy some Visa gift cards at the grocery store. This would require me to take money out of my savings to pay the initial credit card bill and then “pay myself back” over time. I didn’t really want to do that.

Then I read how some bloggers were using rebates. Stores like Staples, Fry’s and often offer software and other items for free after rebate. To date, I’ve bought about $550 of products and submitted 24 rebates. Whenever possible, I used a coupon as well, to help offset the sales tax, since rebates don’t refund the sales tax. I now have more photo paper and anti-virus software than I know what to do with!

My rebate goodies (minus a couple items that are in the mail)

Since most rebates take anywhere from four to eight weeks to send the check, I always purchase stuff at the beginning of a new statement cycle. That way the bill wouldn’t be due for two months, giving enough time for me to receive and deposit the rebate checks.

I realize there is some risk involved in rebates being that companies sometimes find various bogus reasons to deny them or my own human error could cause a denial.

I’m also participating in a few hotel promotions, one that provides a $75 mail-in rebate card and three others that will net me more than 100,000 hotel points to use in the future.