February 17, 2017

Vietnam Introduced New E-Visa and American Passports Qualify!

We were planning last year to go to Vietnam this year, but Vietnam decided to jack up the fee for visa on arrivals for U.S. passport holders in September last year from $25 to $135 per visa per person. If you travel as a family, this fee can really add up! They stopped issuing the $25 visa on arrival that is for single entry 30 days, whereas the new $135 one is for multiple entries 1 year. I'm fascinated by Vietnam but not enough to visit there multiple times in a year! So we changed the plan an decided to go to other Southeast Asian countries that offer free visa to U.S. passport holders instead. 

Apply For E-Visa & Eat Authentic Pho in Vietnam!
Just like what I expected, Vietnam's tourism industry had suffered due to the increased visa fee. Now starting February 1, 2017, they introduced the e-visa for certain passport nationals and U.S.A is one of the countries that is on the list. The e-visa will be so much convenient and the cheapest way compared to other methods in place for getting a visa on arrival in Vietnam. Best of all, it offers 30 days single entry for only $25! 

I'm excited about this news. I love when a country makes it reasonable to get a visa for travelers to go visit. This is still a new system that Vietnam calls it a "pilot." Therefore,  I'd suggest that we hold off rushing to apply for this e-visa and wait it out to see what other travelers are going to experience with using this type of visa both at the airport and border-crossing. But if you already planned on going to Vietnam anyway, you can apply for the e-visa and let us know about your experience! 



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February 10, 2017

Q&A of Booking Flight and Getting 50% Amex Rewards Points Back With Business Platinum Card

Besides the $200 Airline Fees Credit with Amex Platinum Credit Card, the Business version of this card provides much better benefit when it comes to using Amex Membership Rewards points for flights. You get 50% of the redeemed points back on Business and First class tickets with any airlines and economy class with your selected qualifying airline.

How Does this Benefit Work? 
American Express Platinum Credit Card requires that you first pick an airline. When you redeem the Membership Rewards Points for economy class tickets on that selected qualifying airline, you will receive 50% points back. When you redeem the Membership Rewards Points for Business and First Class tickets with ANY airlines, you will also receive 50% points back.

Does the Cardholder Need to be on the Flight's Reservation?
No. Cardholder can book as many tickets as s/he wants for friends and family. S/He is not required to fly or be on the flight's reservation. The 50% points back still apply to the purchased tickets using Membership Rewards Points even though the ticket has no cardholder's name.

How to Book Flight Ticket With Membership Rewards Points?
Go to American Express Travel website.
Log into your American Express account.
Put in origin and destination, etc. as you typically book a flight ticket.
On the searched page, it will display both the cash value and the points value. It is 1 cent per 1 point.
Select your desired flight and follow the screen to pay using your American Express points.

Cash vs. Points

Do I Receive 50% Points Back Instantly?
The process of getting your 50% points back is NOT instant. The points that you redeem for the flight ticket, however, get deducted from your Membership Rewards Points instantly, but you will have to wait until the charge is settled and then your 50% points back will show up. You will see that the cash price of the ticket will be posted to your account, but 2 days later you will see the statement credit because you use points to redeem for that ticket price. In the meantime, your Membership Rewards Points reflect the 50% points back as well. See screenshots below:

The Charge & Statement Credit Posted!
50% Points Back Also Posted!


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February 9, 2017

$200 Alaska Airlines Gift Certificate With Amex Platinum Credit Card

Either Personal or Business American Express Platinum credit card is a premium card for frequent flyers out there. The annual fee of this card is very steep $450, but it provides a lot of travel benefits from free wifi in the air to hotel status and airport lounge access. One of those benefits includes the annual $200 airline fee credit, and thus makes the annual fee of this card becomes $250. Our topic today is to focus on that airline fee credit.

According to American Express, that $200 airline fee credit can be used for the following charges by the qualifying airline:

"Select a qualifying airline and then receive up to $200 a year in statement credits when incidental fees, such as checked bags and in-flight refreshments, are charged by the airline."

What this means is that, first you pick an airline by January 31st of each year, then for any incidental fees that you pay with your Amex Platinum Card to that airline, you will receive up to $200 in statement credit.

If you play this game by the rule, chances are each year, you might be trying very hard to spend that $200 just to spend it to take advantage of that benefit. Why you torture yourself like that? Instead, here's one trick that you can use to work around that rule.

Introducing Airlines Gift Registry/Certificate
Couple years ago, I used that $200 statement credit for United's gift registry send to myself, and got reimbursed fine by American Express. Gift registry has nothing to do with incidental fees, but it puts $200 credit into my United account and it does not have expiration date.

I also used it for Alaska Airline's gift certificate. With Alaska Airlines though, you don't want to purchase a full $200 gift certificate made to yourself. Instead, you want to make a small purchase such as $50 or $100 gift certificate each time. It is known that if you do entire $200 on Alaska Airlines gift certificate, you won't be able to get back the $200 statement credit from American Express. In my case, I did not want to do 4 times of $50 gift certificate, so I did $100 twice and sure enough I got the $100 statement credits twice from American Express. I now have used up my annual $200 statement credit benefit, and have $200 credit in Alaska Airlines that will never expire to use for future Alaska Airlines flights.


To get $200 statement credits from American Express by purchasing Alaska Airlines gift certificate:
  1. Make sure your airline selection with American Express is Alaska Airlines. Link
  2. Purchase the gift certificate from Alaska Airlines. Link
Conclusion
Incidentals can happen and sometimes you want to pay for checking your bags to the destination. But the important questions are: Are those fees really going to cost you at least $200 per year? Are you going to really use those services and pay at least $200 per year on unforeseeable incidental fees? Do you want to stress out when the end of year is approaching and you are still trying to spend at least $200, so that you can take advantage of that statement credit benefit to cover the expensive $450 annual fee of the credit card?

To me, I'd rather pay for those fees when the incidentals actually happens. For now, I just want to save myself from stress and simply purchase airlines gift credits that will never expire and use those credits for any future flights.

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February 8, 2017

Review: Everglades Airboat Ride at Gator Park

Introduction
When it comes to traveling, we are all about trying something at least once. You have probably heard of swamp tour but have you ever heard of the airboat tour? If not, here's our review on that tour in Florida.

The Airboat At Gator Park
Location 
There are many swamps in Florida, especially around the Everglades National Park. Both Miami and Ft. Lauderdale are close to the Everglades. When we were in Miami and ready to book an airboat tour, we almost ended up going to the swamp in Ft. Lauderdale. There are just so many airboat tours that you want to read up and make sure which part of the swamp that you want to tour at. In our case, we wanted to be as close as possible to the Everglades National Park, and therefore, we did not pick the tour that goes to the swamp in Ft. Lauderdale.

It is worth noting that these places are not the Everglades National Park itself, but the swamps are part of the park.

The Swamp
Pricing & Booking
The price of the tour with pick up and drop off transportation is around $40-$45 per adult online. Although it might be cheaper to book the tour online that is about $40, but you don't have to. There are many tour desks available throughout South Beach or Miami Beach. The price is the same as you were to book online. Also, it's not only one place that operates the airboat. There are a few places that operate the airboat such as Coopertown, Gator Park, Everglades Safari Park... so there's no need to be concerned about the tour being sold out. We paid $80 for the two of us to go to the Gator Park. What includes in the price are the airboat ride touring the swamp, educational wildlife show, and walking around the man-made park to look at the alligators in the cage.

If you can drive yourself to the place where the airboat operates, you will simply get the ticket online or at the place, which is much cheaper without the pick up and drop off transportation.

Airboat Ride Experience
Let me start out by saying that, the airboat ride is very much safe so there's no need to worry about falling into the water and get eaten by the alligators ;)

If you join a tour, you have the priority to board the boat first in the tour group's line, so that was nice. The ride starts out slow so make sure to keep an eye on what may appear under the water such as turtles, fish, and possibly baby alligators. You are provided with ear plugs due to how noisy the airboat is when it goes faster. Any belongings that can easily be blown away such as hat, sunglasses... need to be store properly. When the airboat reaches its potential to go super fast, hang on to your life! Just kidding. It's a very fun joy ride. The twists and turns through the Everglades swamp make the ride super fun!

Safe & Fun Airboat - Video Below

Alligators Encounter
If you join this type of tour, you of course want to see the alligators, correct? As with any wildlife tour, spotting the animal in the wild is never a guarantee. We were lucky though to spot a female alligator named Lily. The boat operator demonstrated to us how alligator responds to noise and we lured her next to our boat that you can see in the video below.

For what is worth, if you don't get to see any alligators in the swamp, at least remind yourself that the airboat ride's experience is something unique, different, yet fun.


The Alligator Lily
After Tour
Each place that operates the airboat may have different programs after the airboat ride. It depends on what is included in your tour ticket. If you did the Gator Park like we did, after the airboat ride, you will get a chance to go sit down and watch educational wildlife show.  This is not about wrestling with an alligator type of show, but rather they educate you about wildlife mainly reptiles and of course alligators. It's educational yet entertaining. You can hold a baby alligator for a photo opt, but it's not free. However, the money goes to taking care of those animals, so it's not a completely tourist trap! After the show,  you can walk around to see alligators in the cage or just grab something to eat, try alligator meat and shop for souvenirs.

Wildlife Show
Alligator Cage
Check out more articles on Miami Florida


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February 7, 2017

Photos Review: Ice Sculptures at McCall Idaho's Winter Carnival 2017

This is the first time that I got to experience the Winter Carnival in McCall Idaho with all its artistic ice sculptures. Here are some photos to look at!

Idaho Potato Band!
McCall Winter Carnival 2017
Most Photogenic of Payette Lake
Hello, Cup Cake! 
Third Place at the Shorelodeg
Grand Prize at the Best Western Plus

Honorable Mention!
Second Place at the Mill Restaurant 



The First Place sculpture is at the Brundage Mountain Resort. We did not drive up there so didn't get a chance to see what it looks like!

This is not an ice sculpture :-)

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February 6, 2017

Retention Up to 16,000 Hilton Points Offer: Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card

I have been holding the Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card for little over a year now. I had this card back in July of 2015 and because this card has no annual fee, I kind of forgot about it in 2016. I have been reviewing my credit card strategy for 2017 and it strikes me the thought that why am I keeping this card in my portfolio?


It's great that Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card has no annual fee. I don't mind keeping it to accrue Hilton points to keep my Hilton points from expiring. But the thing is, Citi has 24 months rule for consumers to earn the sign up bonus again. In other words, if I cancel my card now, I'll be eligible to earn the big sign up bonus Hilton points of this card again after 2 years if Citi still issues it.

I hardly use that card to earn Hilton points unless I am staying at the Hilton hotels. It earns 6 points per $1 spent at Hilton hotels. For the day-to-day expenses, it earn 3 points per $1 spent at supermarkets, drugstore, and gas stations. 2 points per $1 spent everywhere else. Don't get me wrong, the points earning rate is really good, but I just don't value Hilton points that high and I have better cards to use to accrue flexible points rather than specific program's points.

With all that thinking, I decided to call Citi up and told them that I was considering to close my card and see if they provide any retention offers to help me make a better decision whether to keep it open or close it. The customer service rep gave me a retention offer that she thought was the best:
  • Each billing cycle (up to 16 billing cycles), if I put $1,000 or more on the card, I'll earn 1,000 bonus Hilton points on top of the usual points that I'll be earning while using the card. So that is a total of up to 16,000 bonus Hilton points. 
I asked if there's any other offer, she provided me with another offer:
  • For the next 3 months, if I spend $1,500 or more on the card, I'll receive 5,000 bonus Hilton points.
Those are the two offers she had for me. Decision, decision....

Decision
I decided to pick the first offer. The opportunity to earn up to 16,000 Hilton points in addition is great.  This is the only Hilton card that I have. Hilton also make some changes to its program, so I am looking forward to see what the future Hilton program will bring. Since this card has no annual fee, I'll be gladly to keep it little bit longer to keep my credit age good and to accrue points when needed to keep my Hilton points from expiring. Moreover, my Hilton Diamond status is expiring next year 2018 and this card automatically gives Hilton Silver status. So if I cannot maintain Diamond status, at least I'll still have Silver status that allows me to receive every 5th night free on Standard Room Reward stays of 5 nights or more. The regular member does not have this benefit.

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February 5, 2017

Up to $200 Savings Bonus With CIT Bank

If you are new to earning Checking & Savings bonuses from Banks, please make sure to read The Complete Guide To Banks Checking And Savings Bonuses first. On our blog, we are all about money savings for travel and pick up some extra cash to help with any expenses.

Maximum Bonus: Up to $200
  • Deposit $15,000 - $149,999, receive $100
  • Deposit $150,000 or more, receive $200
Availability: Nationwide
Expiration Date: April 28, 2017
Credit Inquiry: Soft
Up to $200 Savings Bonus With CIT Bank
Requirements:
Open the High Yield Savings account 1.05% APY with CIT Bank.
No promo code needed.
Account must be opened and funded by the offer's expiration date.
For 3 full monthly statement cycles:
Maintain minimum $15,000 average monthly balance to receive $100 bonus.
Maintain minimum $150,000 average monthly balance to receive $200 bonus.

Notes: 
Minimum opening deposit $100.
Daily compounding of interest.
Limited-time offer. One bonus per customer. If multiple accounts are opened by a customer, only one account will be eligible for the bonus. Offer is subject to change at any time.
No account opening or maintenance fees.
No early account closure fee; however, you must maintain the minimum deposit for 3 full monthly statement cycles to receive the bonus.

Our 2 Cents:
First, the requirement to receive the bonus is very easy. But the minimum deposit of $150,000 to receive $200 bonus clearly is outrageous. The minimum deposit $15,000, on the other hand, is worth considering.

Let's break down some math - let's say you deposit $15,000 into that High Yield Savings account for 3 full months. The 1.05% APY interest will give you around $39 extra. So in the end of the 3rd month, once the $100 bonus is posted, you will end up with a balance around $15,139. That comes to around 3.69% APY on a $15,000 deposit for 3 months - not too bad at all.

After that, you can decide whether to keep earning the 1.05% interest or close the account without any penalty fees and invest that money in a different bank that earns more than 1% APY interest instead. The choice is yours.

Always read the fine print on the offer yourself before applying.

This offer has been added to the Bank Cash Bonuses page.



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February 4, 2017

$225 Checking Bonus With Santander Bank

If you are new to earning Checking & Savings bonuses from Banks, please make sure to read The Complete Guide To Banks Checking And Savings Bonuses first. On our blog, we are all about money savings for travel and pick up some extra cash to help with any expenses.

Maximum Bonus: $225
Availability: Nationwide
Expiration Date: March 31, 2017
Credit Inquiry: Soft

$225 Checking Bonus With Santander Bank
Requirements:
Open checking accounts with Santander Bank. They have three types of account: Simply Right, Santander Basic, and Santander Premier Plus. We suggest the Simply Right checking account because the monthly fee can be easily waived.
Must enter the promo code WINTER225
Within 90 days of account opening, establish one qualifying direct deposit of $500 or more.
Keep the account open for at least 90 days in order to receive the bonus.

Notes:
Offer is not available if any account owner is a current deposit customer of Santander or had a Santander deposit account in the last 12 months prior to account opening.
The Simply Right checking account has monthly fee of $10 and can be waived by simply making one transaction each month such as deposits, withdrawals, transfers or payments.
Always read the fine print on the offer yourself before applying.

This offer has been added to the Bank Cash Bonuses page.

Link to offer

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February 3, 2017

A Magnetic Travel Hobby That Gives The Name To This Travel Blog

The Genesis
The hobby of collecting magnets from places that I have been or traveled to started out when I was going to school in Indiana. I went into an admission associate's office and his metal desk is full of U.S cities and states magnets. I asked if he's ever been to all of those places, he said some but not all. That inspired me until now to keep traveling and collecting magnetic souvenirs. One thing that makes my collection different from his though is the concept that I only collect travel magnets from places that I have actually been to.

The Magnetic Boards
This magnetic travel hobby started out small and it was very simple to find spaces on my fridge to put up those souvenirs. But I kept catching the travel bugs and the collection became out of control that I had to find bigger boards for those magnets. If you are wondering where I've traveled to, you can just check out my magnetic boards below. One board mainly is for my U.S., Canada travels and another one is for my International travels. For the U.S. one, I tried to arrange those magnets of places according to where each U.S. state is found on the map so that it's easy for me to find a particular magnet for a particular city/state. I have a lot of different kinds and looks of magnets from U.S. cities, states, national parks, attractions, and of course countries. When I visit a place, I always try to find a magnet souvenir that has unique looking yet represents the place well.

U.S. & Canada Magnets
International Countries Magnets Running Out of Space Soon!
Why Magnets?
Why magnets, you ask? Besides the inspiration that I had mentioned above, I found magnets are so easy to collect because they are inexpensive, small and can fit into my suitcase or bag easily. Best of all, I love looking at all my travel magnets in one place and each magnet brings back the memories of the journey and destination that I have been very fortunate to visit throughout the years. It's another way to remind myself of being grateful to what I have accomplished and traveled to. One of my favorite saying is "I can't buy happiness but I can buy a plane ticket! That's close enough." although half the time I use airline miles for that ;-)

Here are a few of my favorite magnets from my collection.

The FIRST magnet on my fridge from San Fransisco.
Visited in 2004.
I find the Alcatraz magnet from San Fransisco is very cute and funny.
I took my mom to San Fransisco and took the opportunity to see the Alcatraz for the first time.
The Angkor temple in Cambodia has a special meaning in my heart and
this magnet has unique design that represents this one of the wonders of the world very well.
The Chitchen Itza in Mexico is another one of the wonders of the world.
This magnet is locally made and that's a great way to support the locals.
When visiting Barcelona Spain, I picked up this locally made magnet at La Rumbla.
It's beautifully designed and all major sights of Barcelona can be found on that magnet
including the stunning Sagrada Familia.

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February 2, 2017

Free 10,000 Alaska Airlines Miles Tip If You Enrolled In Both Elevate And Mileage Plan

A week ago, I emailed Alaska Mileage Plan's Customer Service to inquire about the surprise bonus 10,000 miles that they are giving to customers due to its merger with Virgin America. According to Alaska Airlines statement, you should get that 10,000 miles if you have both Alaska Mileage Plan and Virgin America Elevate programs as of December 5, 2016.

Free 10,000 Alaska Air Miles - The Merger of Alaska Airlines & Virgin America

Before I share with you about my personal experience, let's take a look what the statement actually says:

"We understand that many Mileage Plan members have questions about a surprise 10,000 mile gift that started appearing in some accounts last night, and we wanted to help put some of the mystery to rest. We can’t wait to show members of both programs what more to love looks like with Alaska Mileage Plan, and decided to kick things off with a 10,000 mile bonus award to thank our guests who have been loyal members of both Elevate and Mileage Plan. The gift process is expected to be completed over the course of next couple of days, and eligible members — which includes guests who were active in both Elevate and Mileage Plan as of December 5, 2016 — should look for an email from Mileage Plan later this week. Elevate members who don’t have a Mileage Plan account will be invited to activate one, along with details about their own special welcome offer, how to convert points, and status matching. For now, please sit tight, and we’ll be sharing more information about what members have to look forward to in the next couple of days."

My Personal Experience
I am very active with Alaska Airlines and its Mileage Plan, but I never flew Virgin America at all. I signed up for the Elevate program mainly to transfer SPG points to Elevate miles, then Elevate to Alaska miles at 1:3 ratio after the merger. I searched my Elevate welcome email to see when did I sign up. Turned out I signed up after December 5, 2016 but still in December month of 2016. However, I gave it a try by emailing the Mileage Plan's customer service at Alaska Airlines and instead of inquiring 'where' my 10,000 bonus miles are, I stated that I still have not received those miles that were result from the merger and then simply provided my information for the Elevate program.

I received a response:

"Thank you for contacting Alaska Airlines. The 10,000 welcome miles have been
associated to your account and should show within the next 7 business days.

Thank you for choosing Alaska Airlines and the Mileage Plan program."

So I'll be getting the 10,000 welcome miles even though I did not have active Alaska and Elevate programs as of December 5, 2016 per their statement. I am pleased with this outcome. Free 10,000 Alaska miles is enough for a round trip flight for certain routes and I value Alaska miles a lot due to its partnership with other foreign carriers.

Conclusion
In conclusion, I really don't know how Alaska Airlines system works and how it integrates with Virgin America's system as far as awarding the bonus 10,000 welcome miles to Alaska Mileage Plan customers. But Alaska has extended this offer until February 28, 2017. So if you still have not received the 10k bonus miles, are enrolled in both programs and want to give this a shot like I did and your mileage may vary (YMMV), here's what you would do:
  • Email Mileage.Plan@alaskaair.com and say something that you have not received the 10,000 welcome miles from the merger of Alaska Airlines and Virgin America. Put your full name, birth date, and Virgin America Elevate program number. Then send it and wait for their response. It typically takes about a week to hear back from them.
This deal has been added to the Current Travel Promotions page.

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$150 Checking Bonus With M&T Bank

If you are new to earning Checking & Savings bonuses from Banks, please make sure to read The Complete Guide To Banks Checking And Savings Bonuses first. On our blog, we are all about money savings for travel and pick up some extra cash to help with any expenses.

M&T Bank has $160 Checking Bonus that I posted yesterday; however, it's only available for New York State only for certain counties. This following $150 Checking Bonus is available for more states, but it's still not nationwide.

Maximum Bonus: $150
Applicable States: D.C., DE, MD, NY, PA VA, WV - There’s a zip code entry on the offer page that you can check to see if your area is eligible or not to open a checking account with M&T.
Expiration Date: February 28, 2017.
Credit Inquiry: Soft
$150 Checking Bonus With M&T Bank
Requirements:
Open any personal checking account with M&T.
Within 90 days of account opening:
Establish one qualifying direct deposit of at least $100.

Notes:
Cash bonus will be awarded within 90 days of direct deposit.
The EZ Choice Checking has the lowest monthly service fee $6.95 and it can be waived by making one or more transactions each monthly service charge cycle (deposit, withdrawal, a check or any debit payments).
A $50 early close-out fee applies if the account is closed within 180 days of the date the account was opened.
Always read the fine print on the offer yourself before applying.

This offer has been added to the Bank Cash Bonuses page.

Link to offer

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The Complete Guide To Chase Sapphire Reserve's Priority Pass Airport Lounges Membership

UPDATE: November 2017 The Priority Pass Select Membership Card through Chase Sapphire Reserve is now digital/mobile enabled. Go to this link to register: https://www.prioritypass.com/chasedmc

One of the great benefits of Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card for frequent flyers is the Priority Pass Select membership. The membership allows access to over 900 airport VIP lounges in more than 400 cities around the world. I personally love airport lounges when I fly. They are quiet and comfortable to work or relax while waiting for flights. In addition, I can enjoy food, snacks, and drinks with no charge. Some lounges even have conference room in a private setting that I can make phone calls without being interrupted by others or afraid of others overhear my conversation.

Chase Sapphire Reserve card provides the Priority Pass Select membership to cardholders as an annual complimentary beneift, but cardholders will need to go to Chase Ultimate Rewards portal to activate and request the Priority Pass Select membership card to be mailed out.

Relax At Priority Pass Participating Lounge In Honolulu Airport While Waiting For Inter Island Flight

Activate Priority Pass Membership With Chase Sapphire Reserve
  1. Log on to your Chase account.
  2. Go to Ultimate Rewards under Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card. 
  3. Hover on the "Use Points" drop down and click on "Card Benefits."
  4. Select Activate under the Airport Lounge Access. The button then changes to Green as an indication that you have requested the Priority Pass Select card to be mailed out to your address on file. 
Activate Priority Pass Membership Card Through Chase Ultimate Rewards Portal

How Long It Takes To Get The Priority Pass Membership Card?
According to Chase, it states that 2-3 weeks for you to get your Priority Pass membership card. From my personal experience, I activated to request my Priority Pass card on January 10, 2017 and I received the card in a week. 

Guesting Privileges With Priority Pass Through Chase Sapphire Reserve
Your priority pass membership with Chase Sapphire Reserve also allows you to bring unlimited accompanying guests with you to visit any participating lounges at no charge. That way you and your travel companions can enjoy the lounges together while waiting for connecting flights. Do keep in mind though, some lounges do have restriction on how many guests they allow to enter.  

Chase Sapphire Reserve's Authorized User
One of the arguments that I made in the article on Is It Worth It to Add Authorized User to Chase Sapphire Reserve? is the ability to have each Chase Sapphire Reserve's authorized user has his/own Priority Pass membership card when s/he is not traveling with the primary card member. Their Priority Pass Select membership benefits are the same, which also includes the ability to take their own accompany guests into the lounges at no cost. 

How To Request Priority Pass Select Membership For Authorized User?
Once the primary Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholder activates the request to receive the Priority Pass Select membership card in the Ultimate Rewards portal, Chase automatically sends request to Priority Pass Select to send additional Priority Pass membership card to each authorized user. The process is done automatically so there's no need to call Chase for that. For example, I requested my Priority Pass card on January 10, 2017, sometime after that I added an authorized user to my Chase Sapphire Reserve. When the Priority Pass cards arrive, both me and my authorized user receive our own separate card with completely different card numbers, but with the same full benefits. 

How Long The Priority Pass Select Membership With Chase Sapphire Reserve Is Good For?
One year - I requested my Priority Pass membership card on January 10, 2017 and my card has expiration date of January 31, 2018. 

Sapphire Reserve's Priority Pass Select Membership Card And Priority Pass Lounges
At this time, the Priority Pass Select Membership Card through Chase Sapphire Reserve is not digital/mobile enabled yet. You will need to carry the plastic card and show it each time you want to enter the participating lounges. [Update Nov 2017: Priority Pass Card through Chase Sapphire Reserve is now digital/mobile enabled. Register here.] It always gives me a peace of mind anyway with the plastic card vs. digital card. However, there's a useful Priority Pass app that you can download on your mobile and search for any Priority Pass's participating airport lounges.

What Happens To Other Priority Pass Select Membership Card That I Received Through Other Credit Cards?
Chase Sapphire Reserve is not the only card that provides this Priority Pass membership to cardholders. American Express Platinum and Citi Prestige credit cards also have this benefit, but each Priority Pass card that you receive through each credit card is its own entity. In other words, they are all different. Your lounge privilege along with guesting privileges do not tie to your first and last name whatsoever, but rather your plastic Priority Pass membership card that you receive through each credit card. 


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February 1, 2017

$160 Checking Bonus With M&T Bank

If you are new to earning Checking & Savings bonuses from Banks, please make sure to read The Complete Guide To Banks Checking And Savings Bonuses first. On our blog, we are all about money savings for travel and pick up some extra cash to help with any expenses.

Maximum Bonus: $160
Applicable State: New York only in the following counties: Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans, Wyoming
Expiration Date: March 24, 2017.
Credit Inquiry: Soft
$160 Checking Bonus With M&T Bank
Requirements:
Open any personal checking account with M&T.
Within 90 days of account opening:
Establish one qualifying direct deposit of at least $100.

Notes:
Cash bonus will be awarded within 90 days of direct deposit.
The EZ Choice Checking has the lowest monthly service fee $6.95 and it can be waived by making one or more transactions each monthly service charge cycle (deposit, withdrawal, a check or any debit payments).
A $50 early close-out fee applies if the account is closed within 180 days of the date the account was opened.
Always read the fine print on the offer yourself before applying.

This offer has been added to the Bank Cash Bonuses page.

Link to offer

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My 3 Takeaways From Recent Best Price Guarantee With Hotels.com

This is the second time that I did Best Price Guarantee (BPG) with Hotels.com - first one being long time ago that I matched their price with another hotel booking website via the phone and got approved right on the spot. The simple reason that I have not matched the price with past hotels that I booked through Hotels.com is because their Best Price Guarantee program does not give any other incentives other than just the credit back on the difference in price. Compared to BPG program with Orbitz, they not only credit members back the price difference, but also give members additional $50 Orbucks to use for future travel. Doing BPG requires some research time and therefore I don't file claim if the incentive is minimal to make my time on the Internet worthwhile.


My last booking with Hotels.com was a month ago that I planned on going to the Winter Carnival in McCall, Idaho for the first time and I was afraid there may no rooms available. I booked the hotel with cancellation/refundable rate. I had to cancel 2 days before my check in date in order to get a full refund if I changed my mind. I did not change my mind and 1 day prior to my check in date, I was curious to see if the rooms were sold out or not at that hotel's property during the carnival on Hotels.com. To my surprise, the rooms were not only sold out, but the rate was also $10 cheaper than what I booked. As a result, I filed the claim with Hotels.com.

According to Hotels.com's BPG program "All requests must be made by 23:59 the day before your stay, at the latest." - So I met the qualification to file the BPG claim. One thing I wasn't sure is that the rate that I booked was refundable but because this hotel has 2 days cancellation policy and I searched this hotel 1 day before my desired stay's date, so all the room rates that they have were non-refundable. Typically with BPG, everything from room type, bed type to cancellation policy, etc. has to match up in order to get a successful price match, otherwise, they will deny the claim. I went ahead and submitted the claim with a screenshot of the 'new' booking's total cost anyway as my thinking was that, although the rate that I booked was refundable but because it had passed the cancellation policy, it became non-refundable. So technically, I was matching a non-refundable rate with another non-refundable rate found on Hotels.com. So I gave it a try.

The verdict is, my claim got APPROVED! This is what their email said:

"We've validated the lower price found and will match it. As you've arranged to pay the hotel directly, please note that you will pay the original booking amount at the hotel.  Once your stay is completed, we will contact the hotel to verification, and issue a refund to your credit card within 72 hours of checking out. Once we have issued the refund, you can expect to receive it in 3 to 7 days depending on your financial institution.

Enjoy your trip knowing you've now got the lowest price for your room.  Thanks for booking with us!"

3 Takeaways From Hotels.com's BPG Program:
  1. You can request BPG with Hotels.com 1 day before your stay's date. Orbitz requires 2 days before scheduled check-in date. 
  2. If a booking was a refundable rate and it has passed the hotel's cancellation policy, you can file the BPG claim comparing that now non-refundable rate with the current non-refundable rate for the same hotel, same room type, etc. 
  3. If your booking requires that you pay directly at the hotel, you'll have to pay the original price and complete the stay first then Hotels.com will start the process to refund the price difference. I'll report back once I get my credit back. 
UPDATE: After my stay, couple days later I received this email:
"We're writing to let you know that we've processed your refund.
Refund amount: USD 14.95
How you'll get your refund:
We'll apply your refund to 
MasterCard ending in xxxx"

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2 Common Cruise Questions On Arrival And Departure Flight Time For Embark And Disembark The Cruise Ship

Going on a cruise? You may want to fly in and out of the city that has the cruise port if you don't live near one. Today, I want to address two common questions that first time cruisers typically have about the flights.

1. What Time Should The Arrival Fight Time Be In Order To Embark The Cruise Ship On Time?
If going on a cruise is one of the bucket list things that you must do, then don't risk flying in on the same day your cruise leaves. Flights can get delayed and you'll miss your cruise. If you must fly in on the same day, make sure to give yourself several hours in between from deplaning, picking up bags, leaving airport, and getting to the cruise terminal. After that, you also need to go through security and check in, etc. with the cruise line. It's a lot to do! There will be a lot of people try to get on the cruise ship with long queues, and therefore the more time you have before boarding the better. I recommend that if you can fly in one or two days prior to the day that your cruise leaves, that'd be ideal.


2. What Time Should The Departure Flight Time Be After Disembark The Cruise Ship And Go To The Airport On Time? 
First and foremost, check your cruise itinerary to see what time the ship docks at the port. Then allow 4-5 hours before your flight time. Cruise lines are very good with arrival earlier or on time to the port because they operate on a tight schedule. Often time, they arrive an hour earlier than what's specified on the itinerary. If you do call the cruise line to get the advice, 4-5 hours are usually their recommendation. 

Below are some additional tips that help you get off the ship faster and get to the airport with plenty of time to spare before your departure flight time. 

What is self-assist luggage program?
During your cruise, try to make some time to go to the reception desk and ask them for the form that you can fill out for self-assist luggage program. This program basically means that you will be carrying on your own luggage to disembark the ship. I recommend you do this as soon as you can and do not wait until the last minute to do that. They do have deadline for passengers to turn in that form.

MSC Cruise Line's Self Assist Program
How to verify that I enroll in self-assist luggage program?
Depending on the cruise line. Your first human intuition is to ask the reception desk directly. Some cruise lines need all the forms submitted and then the staff will enter all the information into the computer's system. Therefore, you can only verify that the day before the disembarkation as they will send you the instruction to your stateroom.

What procedures do I need to follow to disembark the ship as soon as possible?
  1. This is SUPER IMPORTANT! You need to go to the reception desk before the disembarkation day to close your account or clear your balance if you use cash/debit card for all transactions on board, or for whatever reason you have an open account with them. You need to close it or you are not allowed to disembark the ship when they scan your cruise card while you are in queue to leave the ship. I witnessed this happened to other passengers, and it's not pleasant! Try to settle the account days before the disembarkation because the lines to reception desk could get really long, especially on the disembarkation day as several people are not aware of this.
  2. The day/night before the disembarkation, you will receive the instruction about the self-assist luggage program. With self-assist, do NOT leave your luggage outside of your stateroom the night before the disembarkation. Instead, follow the instruction provided to you. I found it very helpful too to watch the disembarkation process on the TV in my stateroom to learn more about the procedure. So if that's available to you through your cruise line as well, I strongly recommend that you watch. 
  3. On the disembarkation day, you can either choose to show up based on your appointed time and deck number or show up earlier if you can. They are not checking your disembarkation time, which means that if there are disembark times that are earlier than yours, you can simply show up and join that group to leave the ship. The earlier you get out of the ship, the more time you have for your flight time.
  4. After clearing the immigration, you may proceed to outside where there will be transportations that are available to take you to the airport. They range from regular taxi to shared van. Sharing ride means that you'll have to wait until the van has enough passengers before the van leaves for the airport and then you'll have to wait for your turn while the van drops everyone off based of their airlines and airport terminals. The regular taxi will be much faster because you can simply hop on the taxi with your luggages and the driver will take you all the way to your departure terminal and airline. 
There you have it! If you still have any questions, feel free to leave comment. Hopefully you have plenty of time before your departure flight. As the saying goes, it's better to be early than sorry!

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