Work Travel: Boston in July


My Boston trip that was cancelled is now rescheduled. I will be there from July 23-25 for work. It will be nice to put an end to this project!

I still have several more work trips to schedule and am getting closer. They include: DC, Wichita, Baltimore, Detroit, and Scranton. Busy is good!

Another $50 Focus Group!


I am on a roll it seems!

I just got accepted for another one on July 11th that will yield me a taste test (hopefully dinner!) and a $50 restaurant gift card that I intend to use for my work travel meals (and therefore banking per diem cash!).

These things do seem to come in waves. As long as I am staying home for work for a while I want to fill up my schedule with as many as I can get!

Free Coffee for your birthday!


I just discovered by getting and registering gift cards from both Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks you get a free drink on your birthday. You also get a few coupons and other perks but I focus on the free stuff!

This is great since my birthday is not far away. I like coffee on the road and need it sometimes for long days at the Mondays!

I already had a Dunkin card so I registered it. I got a $5 card from Starbuck (which I will eventually use on the road for work anyway) so I can cash in the free perk too.

Free is good!

Another Focus Group: $60!


Today I got another focus group for some extra money after work. I am actually a stand in for no-show participants so I get paid to play on my laptop. There are worse things!

Cheap Airfare, Groupon, and $25 gift card


The small wins add up!

This week I have scored:

  • $180 round trip airfare to Chicago for my seminars in October
  • $4 3-day Chicago Train pass (Groupon--Normally $14!)
  • Free $25 AMEX gift card for meeting a $200 promotion.
This all helps me in the long run and allows me to travel more often. Love it!

Top Cash Back


For a while I have been using ebates. A site that gives rebates for orders online at most popular merchants. It was nice getting a quarterly check in the mail for things I was going to buy anyway. I averaged about $35 per quarter or $140 per year!

I have now discovered where they offer larger (the largest in fact) rebates from the same places. They are quite flexible and I can keep more in my own pocket. Both are wins in my book!

I will continue to use them and add to my savings account!

Extra $125 - Focus Group


Today I am doing a focus group after work for a TV Show. I am getting paid $125 to give opinions for 2 hours. Not bad at all!

I wish I could do this everyday! Very easy money and sometimes even interesting.

Update: They had free beer during the focus group too! A first for me but awesome.

Square Up: GREAT for individuals and contractors



I do some computer repair work on the side and it was always a hassle to require cash or check payments from people. Square allows me to accept any credit card for a flat 2.75% fee. No other fees!

The device that attached to my iPhone is free as is the app that runs it. It direct deposits the money to my back account the next day. These guys have it figured out. You don't even have to run a business! It works for individuals too.

I ordered one for myself and I am going to try it out. I can't complain for free!

Maxing out points bonus: Chase Freedom Double Dip!


The bonus categories this quarter ending 6/30/2012 are grocery stores and movie theaters. I don't go to the movies so I am trying to max out the $1,500 spending cap at grocery stores. I don't come anywhere close to that in food!

The good news is that Kroger sells a LOT of different gift cards. To make the deal sweeter they are currently offering, until 6/16/2012, 4x fuel points for branded gift cards (except Kroger, Visa, Master Card, and American Express). I did my best to maximize both without buying cards I don't need. I settled on:

  • $500 Kroger gift card (bought before I saw the 4x fuel points deal)
  • $500 Visa gift card (I needed flexibility more than fuel points)
  • $50 card
  • $100 Shell Gas card
  • $100 Shell Gas card
  • $50 Kroger card #2
As you can see I spent $1300 in gift cards. I had already spent $200 at Kroger normally since 4/1/2012 so I have now reached the limit for the 5x Chase points for the quarter. I am working my way through the Kroger gift cards for food and gas. I just used the Amazon card to order what I was going to buy anyway. I am keeping the Shell cards for future gas needs for myself as well as company travel (reimbursed!). The $500 Visa card cost me an extra $5.95 fee but not bad for the flexibility and extra 2,500 Chase points. I can use it anywhere and spend normally.

 I am selling the second Kroger gift card to a friend for $50 cash. Money he would have spent anyway and I get 250 more points out of it. Being creative is all part of the game!

Looks like I will be giving the credit cards a break for most things until I burn through these gift cards. Carrying them around is a slight hassle but worth it for all the points and benefits I get.

Focus Groups


It has been a long time since I have had the opportunity to do some. They are a great and easy way to get extra money. Travel for work has slowed a little so I can cram some in. I can use the money!

Today I got into 2 different ones. One is next week for $125 and another the week after for $60. I would do these everyday if I could! Some are actually interesting. I like the food ones where I can get a free meal too!

I need to get back into this more and start to ramp up my side income.

The value of the Sky Club (or other airline lounges)


When I first started flying regularly I thought people were crazy to pay $400 per year to have access to airport lounges. I used to go to restaurants, coffee shops, and bars at the airport before flying. Then I had the chance to go to the lounges for free or nearly free and saw the light. I now use them all the time!

I am trying to figure out how to value the visit. The quieter space and nicer bathrooms are a good perk but I need to justify the annual cost. I find I get this from the free wifi, free bar drinks, and snacks. My visit today to the Sky Club in Detroit I will use as an example:

  • 2 Jack & Coke cocktails: average $8 each with tip at airport prices
  • Snacks: $5 at airport prices
  • Canned soda: $2 at airport prices
  • Wifi: $10 for a day pass (where airports do not offer it for free)
Today's visit was an average one for me and I got $23 of value from it without wifi or $33 if you count it. In my case I don't count the wifi since I have a company 3G card and my iPhone. At an average of $23 per visit I need 20 visits to "break even" on my $450 AMEX annual fee. I can do this easily with my work and personal travels. 

This doesn't even factor in the other benefits of the AMEX Platinum card. They are:
  • $200 per calendar year in Delta fees reimbursed
  • $100 ($20 per year) for Global Entry
  • Membership rewards points that I can transfer to several airlines
  • AMEX Travel Insurance (hard to value that but VERY handy if hurt/sick abroad)
  • Priority Pass lounge access abroad
When I run the numbers for 2012 so far, which is only halfway over, I have gotten WAY more than $450 value out of the card. Including bringing my girlfriend to the lounge I have done 21 visits. Add that to the above benefits and I am nearing $1000 in recuperation. That number will rise even more over the next 6 months!

Michigan Points Bonanza!


This trip will yield me a LOT of points. It so happens that 3 big promotions are being utilized this time. My first night hotel will get me 44,000 points plus the normal points for the night. My second night hotel will get me 50,000 points plus the normal points for the night. Finally I will be hitting my spending target for my new Chase Ink card (or dang close!) and get the 50,000 point bonus there.

This is certainly not the norm but worth noting. I will have lots of points for future hotel stays or other needs and 50,000 more valuable Chase points to add to my pile. At least for now I am earning points faster than I can spend them which is an excellent problem.

I run out of time off work way before I run out of points!

My First Experience Booking US Airways Award Ticket


I called US Airways yesterday to book a ticket for my girlfriend to join me in Guatemala for a 2 week stint in November. I have read horror stories about their phone reps and was prepared for the worst. I had all the flights I wanted with open inventory that I found on Expert Flyer. I was prepared for a painful spoon-feeding call buried in ignorance.

I called up the reservations line, got through the annoying automated system, and spoke to "Dennis." He was friendly but immediately asked me where "GUA" airport was. "Here we go..." I thought to myself. Turned out to not be too bad. He said he had traveled to Central America before but never Guatemala.

I explained that I could not book this online and hence my call. He did some checking to confirm that United flights in fact had to be booked over the phone. I was prepared to pay the fees. Lucky for me he waived the $40 phone booking fee. Yay!

I ended up having to give him my dates and specific flight numbers. He was unable to locate them on his own but when I gave the info to him segment-by-segment it was not an issue. I spent a total of 20 minutes on the phone with "Dennis" and got every booked and done. Not great and not bad either. Maybe I was lucky?

This means that I have now burned most of my AA and US Air miles. This was by design due to expiration dates and now sped up since the potential merger between the two. Who knows what would come of that so may as well burn the miles for something I need now and watch to see what happens.

In the end I have success! Another cool trip for pennies on the dollar. I love miles.

Boston Trip Cancelled


One of my pet peeves is last minute travel cancellation. This happened Monday morning when my client called to delay the project. It was a scramble to cancel all the arrangements and re-schedule my entire week. Ugh...

It worked out as I have plenty I need to get done here anyway. I hate losing the miles and points but I will get them later when I have to actually go on this trip later. I am still also going to Detroit next week for a couple of days.

Back to work!

Property Tax Dropped over 50%!


I just got my annual notice for my property tax on my house. I had to read it several times to be sure I understood because I didn't believe it at first. It had dropped over 50%!

I checked it against last year's bill and they property value they put on my house also dropped by over half so it made sense to me. While this is not a good thing if I were wanting to sell my house I am not concerned. I will be living here a while and eventually keep it as a rental property.

This is great news since it reduces the amount I have to dedicate each month to paying the property taxes. Since I have been over saving the past 6 months I moved the surplus funds into other savings goals.

It is nice to get a tax bill in the mail well below what you expect. Doesn't happen often!

Call about annual fees to get bonuses


My annual fee hit for my United Visa card this weekend. I decided to call Chase to see if they can give me some sort of incentive to keep the card. Otherwise I was going to close the account to avoid paying the fee.

It took them all of 5 minutes to offer me a credit to my account for the fee or 10,000 miles. I took the miles since I value them well above $60. I essentially just bought those 10,000 miles for $60. Under normal buy mile prices $60 would have gotten me 2,000.

So my cost is $0.006 per mile which is an excellent deal any time!

Never hurts to ask!

Work Travel Coming Up!


Next week I am back on the road a bit. I am headed up to Boston again Monday night and will be there through Wednesday. With 2 straight weeks in the office I am glad to be back on the road again. It breaks the day-to-day grind a bit and of course I can rack up some points!

Should be nice weather this time as well. I usually don't travel for work during the summer much but that has changed this year. We have stayed steadily busy which is a good thing. Busy means more travel, more raises, and more points!

The following week I will be in Michigan for a couple of days for another project. I am utilizing a hotel promotion to really bring in a lot of points for both of those nights up there. It will be a lot of driving but that is normal for my Michigan trips it seems. I am also looking forward to more great Lebanese food too!