April 30, 2016

Earn Cash Back When You Shop Or Make Travel Reservations Online


Did you know that you can earn cash back every time you shop online with online stores such as eBay, Amazon, Overstock, etc.? Did you know that you can also earn cash back when you pay for your hotel and flight tickets online on Orbitz, Expedia, Hotels.com, Booking.com... even InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) website?

I personally enjoy shopping online but not as much as I enjoy making travel arrangements online. I love looking for deals and promotions that are available out there to help saving and cutting costs on travels. One of those favorite deals is the cash back portal sites.

How Does Cash Back Portal Sites Work?

As the name suggests, you will get cash back on your each eligible purchases. To make it easier to understand, I'll use Hotels.com as an example. 

Say I want to book a hotel on Hotels.com, if I go to the Hotels.com directly, besides the regular Hotels.com's rewards program, I will not earn any cash back at all on my prepaid reservation. However, if I go to a cash back site such as iConsumer, search for Hotels.com on there, it'll show me that I'll earn 9.6% cash back after my stay for just going to Hotels.com link through iConsumer website and prepay for my reservation. Please note that the percentage of cash back may vary from time to time depending on what type of promotion that the cash back site is having. 

Therefore, as long as you don't cancel your reservation and after your stay, you will earn 9.6% cash back on the total of your room's rate AND you still get to earn Hotels.com's rewards program as you normally do. Pretty sweet, right? Just make sure you sign up for an account on the cash back site so that you can keep track of your history and your earning, as well as getting paid. 

You Can Earn 9.6% Cash Back On Hotels.com By Going Through iConsumer Website

Introducing Cashback Monitor

There are so many cash back portal sites out there besides the iConsumer site. Some have higher percentage cash back offer than the others, and some offers for specific stores while the others don't. So for us to keep track all of that will be a pain. That's when Cashback Monitor comes in handy. 

Cashback Monitor is like a search engine for those cash back portal sites. The site is very self-explainatory. You go there and search for the store or online travel site that you plan on making purchases. You can compare and look at which cash back site gives the best cash back offers, and even airline miles offers. This is a great way to be able to earn cash back as high as possible on your each eligible purchases.

Conclusion

So there you have it. It's little bit forgetful at first to remind yourself to shop online through these cash back portal sites, but as days go by it'll become yet another of your crazy habits! You will enjoy the savings like I did when I made this following hotel's reservation on Hotels.com through iConsumer! I paid $243.99 for a hotel's reservation in New Zealand, and after my stays I got cash back of $50.75!

Remember, you can earn cash back on almost any online stores and travel agent's website. Just search for it on Cashback Monitor.

I Earned Cash Back of $50.75 from Hotels.com

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April 29, 2016

How To Take Taxi From Hong Kong Airport


Taxi is not my favorite when it comes to means of transportation. You never know how much the taxi driver can easily rip you off and it's also not as cost effective as when it comes to travel savings. With that being said, I only go for the taxi when it lacks of public transportations and when I travel in group.

I took my parents and my little sister to Hong Kong this year. So there are 4 of us in the group and we arrived at night in Hong Kong. Granted, the public transportation in Hong Kong is amazing. They do have the Airport Express train from the Hong Kong airport to the city. That left me wondering whether taking the Airport Express is better cost effective than taking the taxi or not.

Airport Express does have group fare. See the chart below:
Airport Express Group Fare
So for one way from Airport to Kowloon, which is where our hotel is located at, it costs $250 HKD for a group of 4. Taxi costs us $250 HKD plus $5 HKD for each luggage in the trunk. Clearly, the taxi method is more; however, it comes down to which one is more worthwhile. Based on my personal situation, here are the reasons why I decided to take taxi:

1. I have elderly parents traveling with me. I need to minimize travel time as much as possible to not exhaust my parents.
2. We arrive at 10:25pm at night.
3. Taking Airport Express will take us to the station in the city that's only designated for the airport, in my case it's Kowloon Station; however, upon arrival at the Kowloon Station, I would need to figure out how to get to the hotel from there.
4. The group fare for the Airport Express is a little bit cheaper than the taxi fare. So from airport to the hotel's door, it makes sense to take taxi for convenience.

We decided to do the same from the hotel back to the airport on our departure date, but we did get ripped off a little bit more money by that taxi driver. That proved me right why I dislike taxi; however, will I choose taxi again if I were to travel in group, definitely!

The Process Taking Taxi From Hong Kong Airport 

  1. Follow the sign for taxi at the airport. 
  2. There will be another sign stating which destination/HK territory. If you are not sure which territory that your hotel is in, there is a taxi front desk that you can ask. 
  3. Follow that sign and line up to get on the taxi. Hong Kong taxi only allows maximum of 4 people in one vehicle. 
  4. There is an agent at the front of the line, asking you where to go and guiding you to a designated lane's number to get on your taxi. 
  5. Tell the taxi driver again where you are going. Remember, it costs $5 HKD per luggage in the trunk. 
  6. The taxi is safe and all metered. Enjoy the ride to your destination. 

Complete Hong Kong Series


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Earn 5,000 Wyndham Bonus Points After 1 Stay With Visa Checkout


Right after I took advantage of the IHG's PointBreak for my Canadian Rockies trip, another Hotel Chain is having promotion that's beneficial to me again for my Canadian Rockies trip that's coming up this June. Wyndham Hotel Group partners with Visa Checkout to come up with this offer for Wyndham rewards members to earn 5,000 bonus points for 1 qualifying stay with hotels that are under Wyndham's umbrella. Those hotels are: Baymont Inn & Suites, Days Inn, Howard Johnson's, Knights Inn, Microtel, Ramada, Super 8, Travelodge, Wyndham, Wyndham Garden Hotels, Hawthorn Suites, and Wingate by Wyndham.

What Is The Offer?

Now through July 31, 2016, if you use Wyndham mobile app to book 1 qualifying stay and check in and out before or on July 31, 2016, as well as use Visa Checkout to reserve the room, you are entitled to 5,000 Wyndham bonus points. The offer limits two separate bonuses per member. That means if you do two separate qualifying stays during the promotional period, you will earn 10,000 Wyndham bonus points, that is in addition to the base points that you normally earn through stays.

What is Visa Checkout? Simply put, it works as your online wallet that allows you to add any Visa credit cards or debit cards to your profile. As long as the online store supports this method of payment, you should be able to sign into your Visa Checkout account and pick the card that you want to pay for your purchase. Therefore, you need to create an account if you have not done so, and then you will be able to add your Visa cards. Go here to create a Visa Checkout account. You must have this account and have a Visa card added to your account in order to take advantage of this offer when reserving your room through Wyndham mobile app.

Is This A Good Offer?

Personally, I think this is a great offer! Wyndham has simplified their rewards program by allowing members to redeem for one free night at ANY Wyndham hotels including all inclusive resorts for 15,000 points. They also introduced the some cash plus 3,000 points option to redeem for one free night stay. In addition to that, each Wyndham member earn 10 points per dollars spend at Wyndham hotels, or 1,000 points per stay whichever is more. So I can see many potential benefits from this offer. Plus, you can earn these bonus points in conjunction with their current promotion of getting $100 Wyndham gift card after completing two qualifying stays. Go here for more information about the $100 gift card promotion.


Because most of Wyndham hotels are low end types of hotels, their room's rate are more economical. If you are AAA and AARP member, you can even save more on the nightly rate. They also partnership with some corporate offices that give employees/members additional booking discounts. If none of that applies to you, that's okay because most of their hotels are very affordable. The good use of points that you earn through this promotion would be to pay for a cheap room, earn the bonus and use them to redeem for a more expensive Wyndham hotel somewhere else like the Viva Wyndham Azteca - An All-Inclusive Resort in Playa del Carmen in Mexico.

Redeem 15,000 Wyndham Points For 1 Free Night Stay and It's An All-Inclusive Resort

Putting Things In Perspective

As I mentioned that I'll be heading to Canada in June for Canadian Rockies. I'll drive through Hinton town, Alberta to rest before going to Edmonton from Jasper National Park. Luckily, Wyndham has Super 8 and Days Inn hotels there, but Days Inn is much cheaper and with a continental breakfast. So I went ahead and reserved the room through the Wyndham mobile app with Visa Checkout to take advantage of this offer as I plan on going there anyway to stay one night. The room rate after tax for 2 queens bed with kitchenette comes to around $75 USD.

Using this as an example, the points that I'll earn after this stay will be:
1,000 Wyndham points per stay.
5,000 Wyndham bonus points through this promotion.
Total of 6,000 Wyndham points from a $75 stay.
That is enough for two free stays using some cash plus 3,000 points option at another nicer hotel somewhere in the future.

Furthermore, now through July 31, 2016, if I get to stay at another Wyndham hotel, I'll be able to earn those points again, which will make my account have 12,000 Wyndham points, and $100 Wyndham gift card to spend. If this does not sound exciting, I am not sure what does? :-)

Given how cheap some of Wyndham hotels are, I might consider doing the "mattress run" too. But I still have plenty of time to fulfill this offer. Who knows I might be traveling to somewhere else before or after my Canadian Rockies trip this summer.


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April 28, 2016

Is It A Good Deal To Purchase Hilton Points With 100% Bonus?


Now through June 3, 2016, you can purchase Hilton points and get 100% bonus. This is the highest bonus I have seen that Hilton had offered in the past.

If you purchase the maximum points of 80,000 points, you will get additional 80,000 bonus points. You pay $800 for 160,000 points. That means the value of your point is 0.5 cents per point.

Is this a good deal? 

The answer is, it depends on how you redeem your night stays at which category of Hilton's hotels.

Hilton's reward chart has 10 hotel's categories below:

Category 1: 5,000 Points/Night
Category 2: 10,000 Points/Night
Category 3: 20,000 Points/Night
Category 4: 20,000 to 30,000 Points/Night
Category 5: 30,000 to 40,000 Points/Night
Category 6: 30,000 to 50,000 Points/Night
Category 7: 30,000 to 60,000 Points/Night
Category 8: 40,000 to 70,000 Points/Night
Category 9: 50,000 to 80,000 Points/Night
Category 10: 70,000 to 95,000 Points/Night

As you can see, 160,000 points will give you 32 nights at category 1 hotel, 16 nights at category 2 hotel, 8 nights at category 3 hotel so on and so forth. Below is just to give you examples of a couple best uses of Hilton points for lower category 2 hotels that are located in tourist destinations:

DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Kuala Lumpur is a category 2 hotel, and therefore requires only 10,000 points per free night stay. Stay there and admire the incredible architecture of the Petronas Twin Towers! 160,000 Hilton Points will give you 16 night stays there.

DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Beijing is a category 2 hotel, and therefore requires only 10,000 points per free night stay. Stay there and visit the famous Great Wall of China! 160,000 Hilton Points will give you 16 night stays there.



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April 27, 2016

Visit Canadian Rockies and Shop at the Biggest Mall in North America this Summer With IHG PointBreaks Hotel For Only 5,000 IHG Points


IHG has released their Rewards PointBreaks for summer time that's valid through July 31, 2016. This promotion allows IHG member to redeem points for a free night stay at any IHG hotels that are on the participating list for only 5,000 IHG Points. I value IHG point at 0.7 cents per point, that means for 5,000 points, I am actually paying $35 for one night stay.

I happen to travel to Edmonton Canada this June to visit Canadian Rockies of Banff and Jasper National Park. Staybridge Suites West Edmonton in Alberta Canada is on the list that participates with this promotion. I went ahead and reserved the room for 5,000 IHG Points per night. Staybridge Suites looks new and it is located by the West Edmonton Mall, one of the biggest malls in North America. They also provide FREE parking and a complimentary full buffet breakfast that's not just the regular continental breakfast. A huge Studio 1 King Bed Suite with a Sleeper Sofa. I am excited to jump on the deal and looking forward to our stay there. The regular nightly rate there is 156 Canadian Dollars before tax. With this promotion, I only pay 5,000 IHG points, which is equivalent to $35 based of my IHG point's valuation. So this is definitely a steal!

Stay At Staybridge Suites In Edmonton Alberta This Summer For Only 5,000 IHG Points.
You Can Shop at the Huge Mall of West Edmonton Mall and Visit Jasper and Banff National Parks.

What Is IHG Rewards PointBreaks?

It is IHG hotel's special promotion that runs every 3 months for IHG rewards club members. Members can redeem points for a free night stay for only 5,000 points during the promotional period. I value IHG point at 0.7 cents per point, that means for 5,000 points, I am actually paying $35 for one night stay. The great thing about this promotion is that it's not just for IHG hotels in America, but also hotels around the world.

So What's The Catch?

Do note that not all IHG hotels worldwide are participating with this promotion. Most hotels on the PointBreak's list that participate with this promotion are the ones that are usually in a destination that's less travelled to; however, they do have good ones once in awhile. It makes it fun to wonder which awesome hotel could show up on the list. The popular ones obviously will be sold out quick, and therefore it's recommended that you jump on the deal quickly and cancel later as using points to redeem for an award night offers free cancellation up until check-in date. For those that will just happen to travel to the destination or on the road that has a participating IHG hotel on the PointsBreak's list, it's a fantastic deal to pass. It's also worth noting that each member can only book two reward nights reservations per hotel and each member also needs to have at least 5,000 IHG Points in his/her account to take advantage of this deal.

Complete list of IHG PointBreaks List Can Be Found Here

How To Get At Least 5,000 Points In My Account?

Right now, the Daily Getaways of IHG Points deals are still available for purchase. Here's the breakdown of the deals:
15,000 IHG points - $90 (0.6 cents per point)
25,000 IHG points - $150 (0.6 cents per point)
50,000 IHG points - $293 (0.586 per point)
100,000 IHG points - $565 (0.565 per piont)

If you don't want to spend any money, and don't have an IHG Credit Card yet, you can sign up for one and earn the signup bonus points. Check out The Best Credit Cards Offers for the current offer of IHG Credit Card.


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April 26, 2016

Successful Getting The Highest Hilton's Diamond Status By Matching IHG's Platinum Status


Last week I wrote about the New Working Link for Hilton Status Match. I followed that link and submitted a proof of my IHG's Platinum Elite Status and a proof of my previous stay with IHG's hotel property. I wasn't sure if IHG's Platinum will be matched with Hilton's Diamond Status or not, given that the Platinum Elite Status of IHG is no longer the highest status. IHG introduced a new status called Spire Elite, which is their current highest level membership.

Anyway, today I can confirm that if you have IHG's Platinum Elite Status, you can submit request to Hilton to match with their highest Diamond status and you will have that status until March 31, 2018. Remember that if you are an IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card holder, you automatically have Platinum Elite Status.

I am very excited about successful getting Hilton's Diamond Status. The benefits that come with this status can be found here on Hilton's website. For more information about submitting Hilton's status match request, you can check out my post.

Hurry up if you are interested in this as I am not sure how long the new working link stops working again.
My "Congratulations, you've earned Hilton HHonors Diamond Elite status" Email

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April 25, 2016

My Recent Frustrating Experience With Orbitz Customer Service


Orbitz customer service is my worst enemy. I avoid calling them as much as I can. I hate calling them to try to resolve anything. Yesterday I had to call in to inquire them about an email that I received from the Best Price Guaranteed team. I wasn't sure what items they were talking about in the email. My call got routed to this agent, she sounded too professional and everything she said seems to be scripted. I repeated myself several times what I was asking about, but she just kept reading things from her computer about Best Price Guaranteed program, in which I knew about and had nothing to do with my question. I hate when an agent is talking in a circle because s/he doesn't know the answer to the question. So I asked for the supervisor and she said that, the wait would be about 2 hours!!! I politely said okay, let me try to explain to you again what I'm trying to do here. By now, she sounded irritated because I asked for her supervisor earlier, and she had no more desire to listen to me. It was so frustrating that I gave up and screamed on the phone "your customer service is awful awful!" and hung up! I was driving at the time and by the time I got home, I logged on to my computer and shared my experience with Orbitz via email. This is what I said:

I called in this afternoon around 3:30pm and was routed to a very rude customer service agent. I just want to let you know that because I feel like I was being treated with no respect as a Platinum member of Orbitz. I am very very disappointed that you have such an agent employed there.

Over the year, I booked several travels with them both flights and hotels, hence the Platinum stauts. I was very mad that once again their customer service sucks!! I typed up that complain to them mainly to vent my anger and an FYI for Orbitz. They replied cordially and offered me a $25 coupon to use for next hotel's booking. Honestly, I wasn't after any compensations, I was just so mad at that agent that I needed to tell Orbitz how I felt, especially when I have been nothing but their loyal customer for several years. The thing that I can't stay away from Orbitz is that they always have the 15% off most hotel deals and their Orbucks are convenient for me to earn and redeem.

End of rants!


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April 24, 2016

Hotel Review: Crowne Plaza Astor French Quarter New Orleans

Crowne Plaza Astor French Quarter New Orleans
I recently visited New Orleans and stayed at the Crowne Plaza Astor French Quarter. In this review, I'll be focusing on Location, Price, IHG Membership, Room & Bed.

Location
The location of this hotel is excellent. It's located on the Canal Street and the bustles Bourbon Street is right on the corner. There are two regular exit doors for guests, one is the main entrance, and the other one is through the hotel's restaurant where you exit and will be right on the Bourbon Street. I really love the location of this hotel because it's very close to major attractions such as the French Quarter, Jackson Square, Riverfront, French Market, Streetcars, Steamboat Cruise, Bourbon Street.... all within walking distance. It is far away enough from the Bourbon Street that guests don't hear loud music and drunk people at night, which is nice for a good night sleep. 

Price & Award Stay
The prime location of this hotel makes the room rate is a little bit on the high end. I was fortunate to book our 4 night stays there far in advanced, and thus got a very reasonable rate with AAA discount. I did look at the room rate again after my booking, and the price went up to over $230 per night before tax. It was crazy! It wasn't just this hotel, but any other nice hotels in the French Quarter areas. It's a peak time to visit New Orleans for sure. 

You can also book this hotel using IHG points. It requires 40,000 points per night stay, which I think it's a little bit overrated and overpriced for points. But hey, if you are stuck with room rate that's too expensive to afford, it makes sense to redeem points for a free night stay. The points + cash option is also available at 35,000 Points + $70 or 30,000 Points + $40. The best way to rack up some IHG points is to sign up for the IHG Credit Card. Check out the Best Credit Cards Offers here. 

IHG Membership
Crowne Plaza is under IHG program as I mentioned above that you can redeem IHG points for free night stays there. If you have Platinum Status with IHG either through your several night stays with them or like me through having their IHG Credit Card, at check-in they will give you welcome gifts. I am sorry to say that the gifts are not that great - a bottle of water and a packet of trail mix. I could not help but giggled about this. Anyway, it's good to sign up for IHG member because as a member, you will have free access to the Internet wifi there. Otherwise, there's a fee for it. Signing up for IHG membership is free and can be done on IHG.com. As a member, you also earn IHG points through paid night stays that are booked directly with IHG. 

The Welcome Gifts *Giggling*
Room & Bed
All Crowne Plaza hotels tend to not impress me with their rooms. Given how nice the lobby looks, the room is actually mediocre to me. The beds and pillows are very comfortable, but it's little bit high. One thing that I really don't like is how small the window is in the room. I was hoping for bigger window to enjoy people watching on Canal Street and the surrounding tall buildings. Bathroom is alright too, nothing special to talk about. 

That's Pretty Much The Size Of The Window In Our Room
Conclusion
Crowne Plaza Astor French Quarter Hotel in New Orleans is a good decent hotel to stay at when the room rate isn't too expensive. The best part of this hotel is its prime location. So many tourist attractions nearby and within walking distance, yet far enough from all the hustles and bustles on the Bourbon Street. Room and bed are mediocre with small window. All in all, we did enjoy staying there for 4 nights, so I would give it 4 stars out of 5. Will we stay there again? Absolutely, if the room rate is not too expensive. 

The View From Our Room Through That Small Window. Not Bad!

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April 23, 2016

Options From New Orleans Airport To French Quarter


Here are a few options to go from the New Orleans airport (MSY) to the famous French Quarter. 

By Taxi Vs. Airport Shuttle

There seems to be a debate on these two options whether the taxi is better than the airport shuttle or not. After exiting the airport onto the ground transportation area, you will see both the airport shuttle and the Taxi signs. I want to compare these two options based on two things:

Cost: These both options cost money, airport shuttle charges per person whereas the taxi charges per trip. If you travel solo, the shuttle will be the way to go. If you travel in group, taking taxi will make more sense, but consider the timing below. 

Time: This is the one that you need to consider. Taking shuttle, you will have to wait for your turn reaching your destination in French Quarter's hotel. However, that doesn't mean taking shuttle takes longer than taxi. If you arrive at the busy time at the airport, the queue to get on the taxi is ridiculously long. When we were there in the evening around 5pm Friday, we waited in line for at least 1 hour to get on a taxi. If we were to take the shuttle, we would have gotten to our hotel Crowne Plaza in French Quarter sooner. 

Long Queue To Get On Taxi While We Were There
Taxi's $36 Flat Fee Before Tips From New Orleans Airport To French Quarter
So for these two options, if there are just two of you in the party and the line for the taxi is super long, I'd go with the airport shuttle. The price for two adults will come out around the cost of the taxi. The taxi driver told us that they charged a flat fee for $36 before tips. You can either pay with cash or credit card. If the line to get taxi is not long, definitely go for the taxi. You will get to your destination much faster than the airport shuttle. The drive time is around 30 minutes. 

Uber

New Orleans recently just allowed Uber to pick people up from the airport. After you exit the airport onto the ground transportation area, you will need to cross the street to the middle section where you will request and wait for your Uber ride. I would prefer this option above the two above; however the time you arrive at the airport is very important as well. If it's a busy time, you will have a hard time getting any uber rides. Instead of keep trying to request the Uber ride, consider the taxi or the airport shuttle. Give it a try first though upon your arrival to see if any Uber drivers around and are ready to pick you up. You can sign up for Uber using my referral link and get $20 ride credit for your first ride. Uber costs about $33 from the airport to French Quarter. Link to sign up for Uber. However, please note that, sign up only when you know your trip is coming up soon as the credit is expired after a few months.

Public Transportation

Honestly, I wish New Orleans public transportation can be a little bit more efficient considering how busy this airport can get when there's a festival or Mardi Gras there. The time we were there was just on the weekend, nothing special and the line to get taxi was still really long. The public transportation does exist, but requires one additional transfer to reach French Quarter. See google map screenshot below. It takes longer time to get to French quarter, but very economical. For more information on this, click here

Public Bus Transportation from New Orleans Airport To French Quarter


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April 22, 2016

New Working Link for Hilton Status Match


The Hilton Status Match was going on since early April this year. I was waiting to submit the request for the status match because I have not had any previous stays with IHG, the hotel program that I want to use for this status match's request with Hilton. I recently visited New Orleans and stayed at the Crowne Plaza in the French Quarter's area, therefore, I am eligible to submit my request now.

It does not have to be IHG program. See the fine print below:
"To match your status with Hilton HHonors Silver, Gold or Diamond status, you must provide your Hilton HHonors account number and proof of current tier status with Starwood Preferred Guest, Marriott Rewards, IHG Rewards Club, Hyatt Gold Passport, Choice Privileges, or other hotel loyalty program"

I bookmarked the status match link since then, but it appears that link is no longer working. It just redirects me to the Hilton's main webpage. After research, there's a new link that works and I was able to submit my request today.

For Comparison:
  Old Link: https://hhonormystatus.hiltonapps.com/
New Link: https://hiltonhhonors.hiltonapps.com

What Is Status Match? And Why?

Each hotel's loyalty program provides status to members when they complete certain tasks such as staying x amount of paid night stays. The higher status you have, the better benefits you will get when you stay with that specific hotel chains such as earning bonus points per night stay, early check-in or late check-out, complimentary room upgrade, free Internet, free welcome gifts, etc. It'll make your stay more fun and respected by hotel's staff! My current status with Hilton is GOLD, and the higher status from that is DIAMOND, which is also the highest Hilton's status. So by submitting my Platinum Elite status with IHG for status match with Hilton, I assume I should be getting the Hilton's Diamond status. I'll report later once my request has been honored. 

This status match's request is an easy way to get to higher status with certain hotel's program without having to spend several money on night stays. In order to be eligible for Hilton's status match, here are the two requirements you need to submit: 

"Acceptable forms of status validation include a screenshot of your current account status or your membership card. Acceptable forms of stay validation include a screenshot of your previous reservations or hotel receipt, redacting any personal information other than your name and membership number. We accept .jpg files only. Please do NOT send us any personal information (including your phone number, address, social security number, date of birth, user name, passwords, or credit card information)."

Once the request is approved, the Hilton HHonors elite tier status will be valid through March 2018. Woohoo!

So today I submitted that request. I attached webpage screenshots of my membership status with IHG and another email screenshot of my recent stays with IHG's Crowne Plaza in New Orleans. After submitting that, I got the following message: 

"Thanks for requesting status with Hilton HHonors. We’re processing and validating your request. Please allow up to 10 business days for your account to be updated."

Fingers crossed!


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April 21, 2016

Getting From Oslo Airport (OSL) to Oslo Central


Oslo, Norway makes it so convenient for travelers to travel from the Oslo Airport (OSL) to Oslo Central where most of the tourist things are happening.

There are a few ways to get from OSL Airport to Oslo Central such as the Flytoget Airport Express Train, Norwegian State Railways (NSB), Flybussen Bus, and of course Taxi. But in this post, I am going to only focus on the most efficient and economical way.

Taxi is obviously the most expensive method. The Flybussen Bus is alright but as we all know, buses are not that convenient and efficient compared to trains. The Flytoget Airport Express Train is faster than NSB trains, and thus more expensive. So our winner is the NSB (Norwegian State Railways).

All trains are operated in the airport's basement. NSB costs 92NOK (~$11) to travel one way. Tickets can be purchased from the ticket office or the ticket machine. If you want to use the ticket kiosk machine, your credit card needs to be chip and PIN enabled. Chip and Signature card is not going to work. After coming out of customs, turn right and the ticket office and machines are on arrivals level. There will be signs there, so don't worry. You can also purchase ticket on board the train, but there will be additional charge of 40NOK (~$4-$5).

The Step By Step Getting On The Airport Train Process

  • After clearing the customs, turn right and walk pass the baggage claim area and out to the arrival hall. You will see the sign for the airport train. Follow that sign. 
  • If you look straight ahead, you will see two train schedule boards (Photo #1). One is for The Flytoget Airport Express train (Right), and the other is for NSB train (Left). NSB trains are cheaper. 
  • If you have credit card that is Chip & PIN enabled, you can purchase the ticket from the Ticket Kiosk Machine (Photo #1). If not, look to your left, you should see a red ticket office counter (Photo #2). Go there and purchase your ticket from the agent there. 
  • Follow the sign to the Track #4, which is at the basement. That's the track from Oslo Airport to the Oslo Central Station (Photo #3). 
  • Wait for your train! There will be schedule board at the track as well so you know when the train is coming. The process is really easy to follow, and the train ride is very comfortable (Photo #4). 
Photo #1: NSB Trains & Ticket Machines Are On The Left. Flytoget Airport Express Trains Are On The Right
Photo #2: Purchase NSB Train Tickets At The Ticket Office
Photo #3: NSB Trains From Oslo Airport To Oslo Central Is On Track Number 4
Photo 4: NSB Is A Comfortable Train Ride
You can go to NSB website to take a look at schedule and fare for more information. On the webpage, you can select Oslo Lufthavn (Lufthavn means airport) to Oslo S (S refers to the Central Station). On returning to the airport, you can also take NSB from the Oslo Central to Oslo Airport.

Check out more articles on Oslo Norway


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April 18, 2016

How To Stay At Sheraton Senggigi Beach Resort For Free OR Cheap

It Is Possible To Stay At Sheraton Senggigi Beach Resort For Free OR For Cheap
Sheraton Senggigi Beach Resort in Lombok which is just a boat ride away from Bali Indonesia. This resort is part of the Starwood Hotels & Resorts. Thus, you can redeem for free night stays using Starwood's SPG Points.

This resort property is an SPG category 2 hotel and therefore it requires 3,000 points per free night stay on the weekend nights (Friday and Saturday) and 4,000 points per free night stay on the weekday nights (Sunday through Thursday). If your stays fall on both the weekday and the weekend, the "average" of points needed for each will be required for redemption.

Stay For Free

The easiest way to earn SPG points is through their credit card's sign up bonus. You will earn several SPG points that will give you several nights. The typical sign up bonus is 25,000 SPG points, the catch is you obviously have to have good credit scores to be approved for the card, and then you have to spend certain amount of money within certain period of time to get that bonus. If you are expecting big expenses that you will be spending anyway and can put on this card, then this may make sense. This will allow you to earn the sign up bonus and redeem the points for night stays for FREE. You can check out my Best Credit Cards Offers section in this blog to see the current best offer for the Amex SPG Credit Cards for both personal and business. 25,000 points will give you 8 weekend nights at Sheraton Senggigi Beach Resort, and 6 weekday nights.

If the credit card sign up bonus does not work for you, check out other Ways to Earn Starwood SPG Points.

Stay For Cheap

Another option is to file the Best Price Guarantee claim if after booking with Starwood, you find the room rate for the same property on the other websites is cheaper. SPG will award you either 20% discount or 2,000 Starpoints. That, however, requires some research effort on your end. Check out my successful experience with SPG Best Price Guarantee. I also did the BRG for this particular property.

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April 14, 2016

Earn At Least 65,000 IHG Bonus Points and More To Share With ShareForever Promotion


First of all, this promotion is available for anyone that has IHG rewards account. However, how many bonus points you will receive depends upon you logon to your account. It's known that you will get at least 65,000 Bonus Points after completing each offer under your account and one free night stay at any IHG hotels to share with another designated account that is also an IHG rewards member.

To take advantage of this offer, you must register first, then stay between May 1 and September 5, 2016. Here's the link to register.

Below is my specific offer, and you can read about the promotion's terms and conditions here.

REWARDS FOR YOU
+ 7,000 BONUS POINTS
Stay your first night by May 31, 2016

+1,400 BONUS POINTS
When you stay a total of 2 nights

+3,000 BONUS POINTS
When you stay a total of 4 nights

+20,000 BONUS POINTS
When you stay a total of 9 nights

+40,000 BONUS POINTS
When you stay a total of 24 nights

REWARDS TO SHARE
1,000 POINTS TO SHARE
When you stay your first night

1 FREE NIGHT TO SHARE
When you stay 15 nights


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Successful SPG Hotel Best Price Guarantee

While planning a vacation to Lombok island that can be reached from Bali, Indonesia, I found out that there's an SPG property on that island that is a category 2 hotel - Sheraton Senggigi Beach Resort. I did not have enough Starpoints for award night stay at the time, so the only way to stay at this resort is to pay for the room rate out of my pocket.

This is my first time trying out the SPG Best Rate Guarantee Program. I was frustrated with SPG at first that I made a reservation for a flexible rate for $111/night, and Priceline had the same flexible rate for $98/night, same room type. I submitted the claim and got denied because they compared my flexible rate to a non-flexible rate, claiming that their program terms focus on the lowest rate found on the internet for the same type of room. It does not matter what type of rate I book on the reservation. It confused the heck out of me and I complained to them that their program does not make any sense. So there were several back and forth emails and finally they gave me 500 starpoints for the inconvenience and confusions that this experience had caused. I ended up cancelling my reservation but definitely learned my lesson.

A few days later, I started looking again. This time I only focused on the non-flexible rate. The rate I saw on SPG website is $79.92 and Priceline shows $79.75. Still, I didn't want to book the non-refundable rate on SPG because I wasn't sure what would happen between now and then. That's just me that I don't typically book a non-refundable rate for hotels. I learned my lesson last time that SPG does not compare what type of rate on my reservation, but rather they compare the "lowest" rate between their website and competitor's website. So I went ahead and booked a refundable rate for $111/night and then submitted my claim asking for 20% off the lowest rate. Hooray, my claim got approved and the rate that I actually will be paying is 20% off the SPG's non-refundable rate $79.75. So the rate becomes $63.80 USD per night.

During the claim, I could have chosen 2000 starpoints instead of 20% off, but I did not want to because I booked a refundable rate of $111/night. It's a little bit too expensive for me for 4 nights there and if the best rate guarantee does not fall through, I could decide whether to keep the reservation or not.

I'm so pleased that this worked out the way I wanted. I got to stay at that property for the first time, got a flexible rate for $63.80/night, and I got to collect starpoints after the stay as an SPG Gold member. If I were to book with Priceline, I would not be able to collect starpoints at all.

I'll definitely have a fantastic stay at Sheraton Senggigi Beach Resort!

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April 13, 2016

Best Hilton No Annual Fee Credit Card Offer 75,000 Points


Offer Link
Offer ends May 04, 2016
Earn 75,000 bonus Hilton points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
Earn 7 points per dollar spent at Hilton hotels.
Earn 5 points per dollar spent at U.S. restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations.
Earn 3 points per dollar spent on all other purchases.
No Annual Fee. 
Silver status - enjoy all the benefits that come with this status including 15% bonus on Base Hilton Points earned from stays.
Spend $20,000 in eligible purchases on your card in a calendar year and you can earn Gold status through the end of the next calendar year. The benefits with this status include 25% bonus on base points stays, complimentary room upgrade when available, and free high speed Internet at some Hilton properties.

My Two Cents:

This is a nice sign up bonus offer from American Express Hilton HHonors Credit Card. The earning rate of this card is super. Most of hotel chain's credit cards out there only give you 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases, but this card gives you 3 points per dollar spent. Best of all, no annual fee! If you have been looking to rack up Hilton points, you have until May 04, 2016 to get on this offer. 

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Photos Review: Crater Lake National Park

Panoramic View of Crater Lake
The Crater Lake is simply beautiful. The crystal clear blue water surrounded by mountain ranges make this lake amazingly beautiful. We visited the lake in the Spring with free admission while the snow was still there. All hiking trails required snowshoes. Regardless, the visitor center is open year round and visitors can enjoy the incredible view of the Crater Lake during any seasons of the year. Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States. Being a National Park, it made me wonder at the time whether there's fish in the water or not. The answer is Yes! Enjoy the photos!

Simply Beautiful!
The Reflection of the Wizard Island
Crater Lake Is Beautiful In Every Corner!
Incredible Crystal Blue Body of Water
Daily Maintained Road for Visitors
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April 12, 2016

Earn 5,000 Citi Points By Adding An Authorized User To Citi Premier Credit Card by 06/30/2016

Earn 5,000 Citi Points By Adding An Authorized User To Citi Premier Credit Card
I have a feeling this appears to be a targeted offer that I just received in my email for my Citi Premier Credit Card.

From the fine print, this is how it works:

Add an authorized user to your Citi Premier credit card
You and/or your authorized user spend at least $1,000 on your card by 06/30/16
Get a one-time bonus of 5,000 Points

Check your email or make a phone call to Citi to inquire about this if you are interested in getting the bonus 5,000 points with your Citi Premier credit card.

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KeyBank $300 Checking Bonus Available States AK, CO, ID, IN, ME, MI, NY, OH, OR, UT, VT, WA


Amazing $300 Checking Bonus from KeyBank, but hurry this promotion is ending by the end of this month.

Availability: AK, CO, ID, IN, ME, MI, NY, OH, OR, UT, VT, WA
Expiration Date: 04/29/2016
Credit Inquiry: Soft
Requirements:
Open a qualifying checking account.
Enter Promo Code: EDGT0316
Establish one direct deposit of $500 or more within the first 60 days.
Offer Link

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Getting From Phuket to Phi Phi Island And Holiday Inn Resort Phi Phi Island, Thailand - Here Is How

Beautiful Phi Phi Island
Not like Phuket, Phi Phi Island does not have an airport. So the only way to get to it is through ferry transfer. Phuket town itself is a big touristy industry, several tour desks and activities are available across the town, including the ferry transfer from Phuket to Phi Phi Island.

There are two major piers on Phi Phi Island. The first being the main pier called Tonsai Pier and the second pier being the pier that's close to the Holiday Inn Resort Phi Phi Island and the other two resorts there: Phi Phi Natural Resort and P.P. Erawan Palms Resort. Visitors can choose between these two piers as accommodations are available in both areas. Several ferry transfers company are available and most of them will stop at the main pier. Unless that first pier is your destination on Phi Phi Island, you will need to hire a longtail boat to take you from there to your destination. It's worth noting that you can also contact your lodging place to see if they can arrange a pick up for you from there.

View Upon Arrival at the Tonsai Pier
We were staying at the Holiday Inn Resort Phi Phi Island. After contacting the resort, we were informed that the best way to reach the resort is to go with Andaman Wave Master Company. The ferry will depart from Phuket at 08:30 am or 01:30 pm. These 2 times ferry will make the first stop at the main pier of Phi Phi Island, and drop you off at the second or last stop by the resort. After that, the resort's staff will pick up you and all your luggages from the ferry by longtail boat or "sort of engine operated cart" upon your arrival. The pick up service is free of charge and there's no need to make any reservations as long as you have room's reservation with them. The travel time is approximately around 3 hours, but it'll go by quick because the Andaman Sea beautifully keeps you occupied.

We Were Picked Up from the Ferry and Arrived at the Resort Via This "Cart" Transportation
The Andaman Sea's Rock Formations 
Andaman Wave Master Company is pretty reliable and safe. They have three types of class services available: the Standard, First, and Premium Class. Standard being economy class, and the difference between the First and Premium is that Premium class passengers have their own private sundeck, whereas the First shares with the Economy class passengers. We chose First class as the difference in price with the Economy wasn't huge. It was well worth it. The seats are more comfortable and definitely less crowds. You can view the photos of each class seats here. You also have the option to upgrade to the next class later on after boarding the ferry. The ferry ticket price also includes free shuttle from your hotel in Phuket to the ferry and from the ferry to your hotel on your return on a roundtrip ticket. In addition for being a ferry transfer service, they also work with hotels and resorts on Phi Phi island to offer visitors packages for overnight stays on the island. For more information on that, please check out their website. I'll be just focusing on the process of getting from Phuket to the Holiday Inn Resort here.

First Class Seats on the Andaman Wave Master's Ferry

The Process From Phuket to Holiday Inn Resort Phi Phi Island

  1. Make room reservation with Holiday Inn Resort Phi Phi Island.
  2. Reserve ferry ticket with Andaman Wave Master Company. Pick the time and class service that you want, as well as the free pick up and drop off shuttle service. 
  3. Double check the confirmation email, print it out once everything looks good. 
  4. On traveling day, wait in the lobby for the shuttle's pick up service if requested during ferry's booking above. The driver may ask to see your confirmation email, and then give you a sticker indicating where you are going on Phi Phi and the type of ferry's class service. 
  5. Upon arrival at the ferry terminal, check in with the Holiday Inn Resort's staff to get a bag tag for your bags. 
  6. On the boat, enjoy the scenery of the Andaman sea along with neat rock formations and caves. Several photo opportunities. 
  7. Stay onboard upon arrival at the first stop, which is the main pier called Tonsai Pier while the ferry is dropping off other passengers. 
  8. Continue on until you arrive at the second pier as the last stop close to the Holiday Inn Resort. 
  9. You will be told to get on either the longtail boat or the cart to get from the ferry to the Holiday Inn Resort's check-in lobby. There's no need to worry about your bags, they will be automatically picked up by the resort's staff later on. You might get to your room before your bags do. 
On the day that you depart Holiday Inn Resort back to Phuket. The resort's staff will take you to the ferry and load your bags for you onto the ferry. That process is really convenient. Upon arrival in Phuket, you will need to pick up your own bags from the ferry and then look for the sign held by the van's driver for the area in Phuket that you arranged the shuttle's drop off service for. 

Getting from Phuket to the Holiday Inn Resort Phi Phi Island can take time and effort. However, with some planning and understanding the process that I outlined above will help. To be able to experience Phi Phi Island is a unique experience that's worth doing and going through all the effort to get there. Enjoy your stay on Phi Phi. Check out my review on the Holiday Inn Resort Phi Phi Island.

Enjoy Your Stay at Holiday Inn Resort Phi Phi Island

Complete Phuket Phi Phi Island Series


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April 11, 2016

Best Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card Offer 80,000 Points


Offer Link
Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
Earn 7,500 bonus points when you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening.
Earn 5 points per dollar spent at Marriott hotels.
Earn 2 points per dollar spent on airline tickets purchased directly with the airline, and at car rental agencies and restaurants.
Earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
No Foreign Transaction Fees 
Silver Elite Status every year - enjoy all the benefits that come with this status.
Annual fee $85. Consider paying for the annual fee because you will get an anniversary free night certificate at any Marriott category 1-5 hotels worldwide that costs way more than $85 after paying for the annual fee.

Obviously, to get the best value out of paying for the annual fee is to redeem that free night certificate at any category 5 hotels worldwide like these two Marriott hotels in Bangkok, Thailand. The nightly rate is above $100 before tax.

My Two Cents

My relationship with Marriott's Rewards points is a love & hate thing. Redeeming points for a free night stay is too overpriced for a nice and great location Marriott hotel. The lower category hotels are good but the location is either far away from downtown or main tourist attractions. Most of those hotels can also be found near the airport, which is great when we just need to be by the airport for 1 night before catching an early flight or arriving late night. They usually provide a free shuttle to and from the airport too. That's exactly what I did when I stayed at the Courtyard Buffalo Airport after my Niagara Falls trip, to take advantage of the free shuttle to get to the airport for my very early flight. This property is a category 4 hotel so it requires 20,000 Marriott points.


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Resort Review: Holiday Inn Resort Phi Phi Island

Holiday Inn Resort Phi Phi Island
The Holiday Inn Resort Phi Phi Island in Thailand made our trip there a paradise one. This beachfront resort provides so much tranquility and relaxation for our first time "beach and island bum" vacation on that island. We appreciated very much that Holiday Inn gave us a complimentary room upgrade. To make the story short so that we can jump right into my review about this resort. I booked this resort far in advanced using IHG points to redeem free night stays there. For 35,000 points got us only a Garden Bungalow room. I made a note request during booking for a complimentary beachfront room's upgrade. It never hurts to ask! To my surprise, on the check-in day, they informed us that they upgraded us to the Coral Beach room, which is a deluxe beachfront room. That room made all the differences in our successful and memorable Phi Phi Island's trip.

In this review, I'll focus on some key elements about this resort such as: Price & Room, Location, Transportation, and Dinning. I don't think you need to know about the beach as the beach there is pristine white sandy beach along with beautiful crystal green colored ocean.

Pristine White Sandy Beach On Phi Phi Island

Price & Room

The Holiday Inn Resort Phi Phi Island's room rate is not too awful. You are looking for at least $120 (before tax and other fees) per night for the Garden Bungalow and extra for the beachfront rooms during off peak seasons. Price can definitely add up after all the tax and other resort/service fees, and depends on how many nights you will be staying and tourist seasons. If you can afford it, go for the beachfront rooms as they are very nice and your money will be well spent. The Coral Beach room that we were staying at was amazing. Besides all the usual hotel's amenities, the room has its own private deck overlooking the ocean and the beach is right there steps away from the deck. Best of all, an outdoor shower in addition to an indoor shower.

Our Coral Beach Room
Beachfront With Private Deck
The Outdoor Shower
On the other hand, if you are on budget, the Garden room will still make your stay a pleasant one on the island, and if you have been collecting IHG points, you can redeem the Garden room for 35,000 points and ask the resort for a complimentary beachfront room's upgrade if available.

There are many rooms at the resort. It's a huge place. They even have golf carts that goes around the resort and guests can hop on and off to their destinations within the resort. These golf carts came in handy for us when we checked out to get our bags picked up as our room was little bit farther from the lobby room.

Location

The location of the Holiday Inn Resort Phi Phi Island is fantastic. Not so much about getting there, but once you get to the resort, it's right on the beach. Any beach lovers will definitely love the location of this resort.


Transportation

Getting to the Holiday Inn Resort Phi Phi Island takes a little bit of time and effort. Depending on which town you will be staying before going to Phi Phi, first you have to catch the ferry, preferably operated by Andaman Wave Master Company as it's the company that will take you to the closest pier to the Holiday Inn resort. You don't have to go with this company if the price is not right for you, but do check with the resort and the other ferry's company about how to get to the resort. Travel time is approximately 3 hours. Then the resort's staff will pick up you and all your luggages from the ferry to the resort area by a longtail boat free of charge.

We were staying in Phuket town and Andaman Wave Master Company provided free shuttle from there to the pier where we got on the ferry to Phi Phi. The Holiday Inn staff were already at the pier to check us in before boarding the ferry. We splurged ourselves in First Class as the price wasn't so much different compared to the Economy Class. The ferry ride was nice and we got to enjoy the scenery of the Andaman Sea. The 3 hours spent on the ferry went by quick. Upon arrival at the closest pier to the resort, some passengers were picked up by the longtail boats and some including us were picked up by "sort of engine run cart". It was cool! On the departure day, we were picked up by the longtail boat to board the ferry back to the mainland.

We Were Picked Up from the Ferry and Arrived at the Resort Via This Transportation
Longtail boats are quite common on Phi Phi to travel and take day trips to nearby islands.

Dinning

Besides The Holiday Inn resort there, I believe there are a couple more resorts that are nearby, but they are not affiliated with Holiday Inn. You have the options to either dine at the Holiday Inn or those as you like because the resort is not all inclusive. I personally find the restaurant at Holiday Inn is alright. All bills include a 10% service charge. It seems to be pretty common in Thailand. The resort also has the sunset bar that's located on the top of the hill, but there were too many mosquitoes up there in the evening when we were there, so we didn't stay too long. There's also another oceanfront bar where we hung out and had a few drinks. They had singer entertainment at night over there. There are a couple more restaurants there, but we didn't try all.

The Oceanfront Bar for Drinks and Hanging Out!
If you are into walking, there's a village on Phi Phi that you can walk to and there are some restaurants and bars there. The area seems to be more for backpacker travelers, hence the price is more economical. It's a little bit of walking from the Holiday Inn. Facing the ocean from Holiday Inn, you want to turn right and there's a walking path with a map along the way to that village. It's more of an inland and therefore beach access is not convenient. However, a half day or one day trip to check out the area and have some food and drinks there are recommended.

The Village - Walks Away from Holiday Inn Resort

Conclusion

Overall we enjoyed our stay at the Holiday Inn resort. The location of the resort is excellent though it requires time and effort to get there, but the beachfront location makes it worthwhile. Our beachfront room was super nice with outdoor shower, private deck, and stone's throw away from the white sandy beach and ocean. Food there is mediocre and the price is a little bit on the expensive side plus the 10% service charge.

Our Room's Private Deck - Stone's Throw Away from the Beach and Ocean

How To Get IHG Points For Free Night Stay At Holiday Inn Resort Phi Phi Island

If you want to give the Holiday Inn Resort Phi Phi Island a try, remember you can redeem 35,000 points per night there for a free night stay. You can also do points + cash options, meaning you use some points plus paying some cash out of your pocket for a few free night stays so that you can spend longer time on the island. The easiest way to rack up some IHG points is to check out the Best Credit Cards Offers for several IHG bonus points through the IHG credit card's sign up.

Redeem 35,000 IHG Points for 1 Free Night OR Redeem Some Points + Cash

Complete Phuket Phi Phi Island Series


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