Thursday, February 20, 2014

Miles, Points and Mai Tais Has a New Home!

Miles, Points, and Mai Tais has moved to

Mahalo nui for reading and I can't wait to see you at the new site! Aloha!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

First Mileage Run of the Year

Even though I broke up with United and don't fly them anymore for business or with my family, I've still made it a goal to make Million Miler. Why? Well, I'm still relatively young and I figured if I'm this close (at around 800,000 lifetime miles), getting lifetime Premier Gold status is definitely something that I still want to do. Who knows, maybe one of these days United will stop sucking and we'll fly with them again. Until means a I'm doing a whole lot more mileage running, by myself.

Without the 4 trips to Hawaii we routinely fly with them each year, that's almost 25,000 more miles that I need to make up in order to keep my status. When I originally decided to go for Million Miler a while back, I decided to go all out- just a few years of 1K (100,000 miles per year) and I'd be there. Last year I fell a little bit short and settled for Platinum (75,000 miles) after running for about 50,000 of those miles. I made a couple of trips to New York, one to Orlando, Kansas City, Portland, Albuquerque, Manila, Des Moines...all for no other reason than to earn miles, gain status, and get closer to becoming a Million Miler. This year, if I'm going to still meet my goal, I'll be doubling that.

It's an ambitious task, and let's just say until now, I haven't quite been on top of it. I've been busy skiing, traveling on other airlines, and imagine this...flying to places where I actually want to go! Until yesterday I was yet to complete, book, or even really look for a mileage run in 2013. Anyway, enough's time to get back to work!

A while ago I wrote a how-to and blogged about the method I use to go about searching for and booking mileage runs. It can be a time consuming process and the hardest part is often finding where I want to go. Luckily this time, twitter made it easy!

New York it is!...and LGA too. I haven't been there yet. My trips last year were all to JFK and EWR. With a lot of the guesswork taken out of the equation, I turned to one of my favorite tools to start looking for dates. When I normally do transcontinental mileage runs from the West Coast, I like to enter specific airports to try and force a red-eye on the eastbound so I can do a same day turn thus minimizing time away from home and eliminating the added expense of having to get a hotel room. For a typical run like this I would enter "SFO,LAX" in the advanced routing code section to force a stop on there (and an extra 500 mile segment from SMF), then a space followed by "IAD,CLE,ORD". This will ensure 2 layovers/3 segments, and give me pretty good chance of getting a eastbound red-eye flight long enough to sleep on (for example SFO-CLE or LAX-IAD). On the way back I always like to throw IAH in mix, because if you look on a map, Houston is not really on the way to or from anywhere...more miles. This time I didn't bother with any of that and just entered "UA UA UA" simply meaning "give me 3 United segments". I thought it would be fun to  let the computer decide where I was going to go. It came up with a ton of availability over the next few months and a whole world of possibilities (some of which I never thought of) of how to get between Sacramento and New York. The fare was about $240 after taxes for the additional segments with some routes yielding as many as 7800 miles (counting 500-mile minimums). At around $.03 per mile, that is a great deal!
Telling ITA that I want 3 segments on United
I reserved one that I liked (through IAH,CLE,ORD and LAX) for mid-May. I wanted to play around with the schedules a bit more for the others and I figured I'd come back later in the evening and lock down more. Next thing you know, I got busy doing something else and within a matter of hours, the same G-class fares I had looked at jumped about $60. The moral of the story is, if you ever see something you like, book it immediately (or tell United you want to book it later over the phone- and yes that trick still works) and ask questions later! Either way, you always have 24 hours to cancel any purchases should you change your mind. I should have known better. Oh well, I guess the good news is that I have at least have mileage run booked for 2013. It's a start! Now all I need is about 12 more. Stay tuned...

For anyone still interested in the SMF-LGA (or also SJC-LGA) fares, they are still available but now starting at $298. Throw a couple of stops in there and it is still possible to come out at less than $.04 per mile; that's still a pretty good deal!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The First of Many Trips to Alaska

My son and I just got back from our first trip to Alaska. My husband was busy working so unfortunately he didn't make it this time. I know what you might be thinking, "Alaska? In February?" Believe it or not, it wasn't that bad. In fact, it was fabulous! It easily might be one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.
Due to Anchorage's proximity to the ocean, the winter weather there is surprisingly mild given how far north it is. It was in the 20's most of the time while I was up there. Not bad considering the last time I visited family in Wyoming during this time of year it was 20 below! Then there was also that year I spent at the University of Michigan, when it didn't break single digits for an entire month. After that, Alaska seemed downright balmy, even for a Californian. We've even had colder days here this winter!

With Cousin Steve near Turnagain Arm

So you may wonder what one does in the middle of February in Alaska. I went to go skiing. On Saturday we made the scenic drive down the Turnagain Arm to Girdwood and Alyeska Resort. It had snowed the night before and the conditions were absolutely fabulous. Considering we haven't had fresh powder here at Tahoe in like three weeks, I'm glad I made the journey up north. Just $65 for a half day lift ticket plus night skiing was an absolute bargain compared to the $90+ it costs to ski (without a pass) around here, and surprisingly for a holiday weekend, it wasn't that crowded. My cousin Steve and friend Holly showed me around the upper mountain off of Chair 6 before checking out the aspres scene at the Sitzmark. I indulged in an Alaskan Amber (very good) and then some sort of hot chocolate that tasted like it had VanillaMint Listerine in it (not as good, but it was warm). I normally don't drink and ski, but hey, when in Rome...or rather, when in Alaska...right? We had fun. After that we headed out for some night skiing, which was another first for me. Leave it to the people up there to come up with ways to enjoy the outdoors even when its dark out. The entire lower portion of the mountain was lit up and we got in quite a few more runs before calling it a "day" at around 8 pm.

Skiing at Alyeska
Aspres Ski at the Sitzmark
While I was skiing, CJ got out to enjoy the sights as well with a visit to the Imaginarium (children's museum) in Anchorage. Special thanks to my cousin's wife Lisa and their two daughters for taking care of him. He had a fun time. :)

CJ at the Children's Museum in Anchorage
The next day we all went on a tour of the city. We cruised around downtown, saw the official starting place of the Iditarod, and then made a visit to Earthquake park. The 1964 Alaska earthquake was one of the largest in recorded history. From there were got a great panoramic view of the city and the Knik Arm, which is another one of the waterways off of the Cook Inlet. The Cook Inlet of course being named after the famous captain who explored much of the South Pacific; I had no idea before this trip that he ever made it that far north!

After that it was off to the airport for a little plane spotting. Anchorage is one of the busiest cargo hubs in North America, and we didn't have to wait long before getting to see a fully-loaded Korean Air 747 take off yards in front of us. It was a little snowy that day so we didn't stay long, but I would definitely go back just for the plane spotting. With the number of heavies that visit ANC, and on a clear day with mountains the in the background, Anchorage might just be one of the top places to spot in the entire country.

Plane Spotting near ANC

The rest of our trip up there was spent enjoying time with family that I don't see very often. Now that I've been there, I don't understand why it took me so long to go visit. I had it built up in my mind that Alaska was this far-off exotic destination, but in reality it isn't that far away at all- just about 3 hours from Seattle and 5 hours from Chicago. The mountain scenery is as beautiful as I've seen anywhere including the Rockies, the Sierras, and even New Zealand. The tree line is at a very low elevation there, so the tops of the mountains are pure white. After showing my husband some of our pictures, he really wants to go now too. Of course it doesn't hurt that my relatives in Anchorage are some of the nicest and fun people to be around. You can bet that there will be many more trips back up to Alaska in the near future!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

My Big Phat Indian Wedding

This month my husband and I will be celebrating our 6th-2nd anniversary. That's right, we've been married twice. The first time was here in the States. We'd been planning a small simple wedding with just family and a friends, but before we knew it, a guest list of 50 grew to about 500. I don't really like weddings, and more than that, I hate being the center of attention. I couldn't care less about the dress, or the cake or all the other seemingly stupid I called it off. The next week with Nevada marriage license already in hand (we'd been planning on getting married at Lake Tahoe), we hopped on a flight to Vegas and took care of the matter once and for good...or so I thought.

Yeah, I kind of had a feeling I wasn't getting off that easy with just a court marriage. Shortly thereafter, my husband's parents brought up the idea of us having an Indian wedding. Since we were already legally married, it was really just going to be for show, but it seemed important to them and since they are such nice people and have always been supportive of our relationship and my husband's permanent move to the US, I couldn't really say no. I'd never been to or even seen an Indian wedding before. Hey, who knew, it might even be fun! All of the planning was to be taken care of (sweet!), and all I really had to do was pick out a few saris and just show up. Deal.

I really had no idea what I was getting in to. It turned out to be a 3 day event with thousands of people. What better way to celebrate your love than with 2,000 perfect strangers, right? Even better was when thousands of strangers keep handing you little envelopes full of cash- Ok, I liked that part! The ceremony itself was unlike anything I've ever experienced. We ate some stuff, lit some stuff on fire, were instructed to put this here, that there...and I noticed there was some money changing hands- both USD and Indian Rupees. I think I might have been sold for something like 10 bucks. I had no clue what was going on. There was a lot of chanting in Sanskrit (which I've heard can go on for hours at these things), and at some point my in-laws started shouting and throwing cash at the priest to get him to hurry it up. I guess they're not really wedding people either. At the end of it we made seven circles around a fire to symbolize being joined together for seven lifetimes. Nobody told me that's what I signed up for; I always thought marriage was 'til death do us part...well, I guess not in India!

As part of the 3 day ordeal event, there was a Ladies Sangeet (Ladies Night) full of music and dancing, the ceremony the next day, and then a big reception the day after that, which is when most of the people actually showed up. I'd been to an Indian reception once before, so that wasn't a total shocker...I just didn't know how big ours was going to be. My father-in-law worked in the government for most of his career, so let's just say he has A LOT of friends. He was always very honest in his dealings and was basically that annoying guy who would never accept "favors" from anyone (this is highly unusual with the palm-greasing that goes on over there). As a result my husband's family got moved around a lot, but over the years my father-in-law slowly worked his way up to the top and managed to build a network of connections stretching all over Northern India. It turns out he has some pretty cool friends too- as a special surprise for me, he arranged for a huge fireworks show! I like fireworks! Then, for most of the night my husband were stuck up on a stage, while people lined up to greet us, hand us little envelopes, and have their picture taken. I almost felt like a celebrity being paid to do an appearance. It was pretty crazy! After a few hours of this, we had two whole suitcases full of cash (no joke), which we eventually gave back to my husband's parents to help cover the expenses. My husband estimated that over their lifetime and during my father-in-laws long career, they had probably given that much, if not more, to other people's children at their marriages. At first they were insisting that we keep it, but let's just say the amount would have made it a slight hassle to bring back into the United States. I was truly humbled by their generosity and that of their friends. The one condition was that I did get to touch and play with all the money- throw it up in the air, jump on the bed with it for a couple of hours, roll around...then it was off to the bank with the armed guard and back to life as usual. In the end the experience was worth more than anything. I actually, kind of, even had a little bit of fun. If you ever get a chance to have a big crazy wedding in a foreign country and party with a bunch of rich people you've never met before- DO IT! It was awesome!


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Baby Turns 1: Looking Back at a Year of Travel with the Little Guy

Last week we celebrated Baby CJ's first birthday. I know it's cliche and something every parent probably says, but I can't believe how fast the time has gone by! At first I thought having a baby would mean the end of our traveling days, but our experience has been quite the opposite. We made it a priority from the start to welcome the baby to our family by sharing our love of adventure with him. In his first year CJ visited 5 different states (not counting our home in CA) and flew 22,957 miles on 2 different airlines.
Every kid needs their own FlightMemory!

I used to do a feature on this blog every week called Flashback Friday where I'd dedicate a post to looking back at a past experience; you may or may not have noticed that stopped about 2 weeks ago. Due to the increasing demands of motherhood and having a little guy that naps less and wants to play more, being able to produce content on a reliable schedule has become nearly impossible. So in honor of CJ turning 1, the blog is getting an "enhancement" ...but it's one that I think you will like. Instead of limiting these sorts of posts to just one day or the week, they're fair game any time I have the hello Flashback Wednesday! Today- looking back at year one of traveling with baby.

CJ's First Overnight Trip

When CJ was 3 weeks old we took our first overnight trip to Lake Tahoe. Having missed out on the early part of the ski season due to being extremely pregnant and all, I couldn't wait to get back on the slopes. Anyone who has had a baby is probably well-aware that you're supposed to wait 6 weeks before you resume any physical activity. Yeah, that didn't happen. I was lucky to have a very healthy pregnancy and an uncomplicated labor and delivery; I felt up to it, so with or without doctor's blessing, I was going skiing.

It took almost half a day to pack the car for our short trip to Tahoe. As brand new parents we didn't quite have the routine down yet. Pack-n-play, diapers, clothes, bottles, bibs, the "little black bag" much stuff! I think we had enough packed for that first overnight trip to last us 3 weeks. Add that to skis, boots, poles, a helmet, goggles, etc. and there was just enough room for baby. By the time we made it up to the lake, checked in to our room at Harrah's, and unpacked all the stuff it was mid-afternoon. I was still nursing, so I had to get that out of the way, and finally I made it up on the hill by around 2. I needed a belly-band to hold up my ski pants, and it took me a little extra time to tote all my gear down to the gondola and back due to being a bit out of shape, but other than that is was just like old times...ok, not really. I skied for about an hour and a half then it was back to room and back to feed baby. I got 5 or 6 hours of sleep that night, then it was back on the hill for just a few hours again the next day.

Lake Tahoe
Looking back, it probably sounds like more hassle than it was worth, but a first trip anywhere with a baby is bound to be like that. The year before I had CJ, I skied 21 days in a season. I would wake up early, drive to Heavenly in time to get first tracks, ski all day, then drive home and have dinner on the table when my husband came home from work. This time it took the help of my husband, and parents to help get baby and I out of the house, and over a two day period, I think I got in the same amount of skiing that I used to do by 10am. Anyway, I was still extremely grateful for the trip. It was my first time breaking away from the little one for more than just an hour, and his first time really getting out into the world. We needed this trip just to prove to ourselves that we could do it, and after that things did get easier. We can pack the car in less than 30 minutes and going to Lake Tahoe overnight during this time of year is now routine. This first trip also brought baby's first snowfall, and shortly thereafter baby's first roadside diaper change in the middle of blizzard.

Baby CJ Goes to Maui

Our son CJ made 4 trips to Hawaii before he was a year old, tying my first-year-of-life record. While I was only a couple weeks old when I first went, He made his first trip to Maui at 3 months. I wanted to wait to get him on the plane until after his first round of shots. Then we got him ready by going on a 4 hour road trip to visit grandpa the week before. After that we were convinced he could handle the 5 hour flight to Hawaii. Traveling with a 3 month old was actually pretty easy, considering he slept for most of the journey. CJ's first trip to Maui, brought his first visit to Baby Beach. Getting to see my son play in the sand at the exact same place I did at his age, and teaching him to swim right there where I learned has been such a thrill.

Baby Beach
We went to Maui again at 5 months, which is when we had a mechanical delay on the way over, and a missed connection and an overnight stay on the way home. This was one of those trips where if something could go wrong, it did. Meanwhile, the baby was pretty calm about it. He did get a little fussy after spending 7 hours at LAX, but who wouldn't? On the way home when we got stuck at SFO, we didn't have any of our luggage, so baby CJ had to sleep in the hotel bed with us. That was a first since he had been on his own since the start. Surprisingly we all slept well together that night, and seeing how my calm and happy little guy adapted and adjusted when dad and I were getting extremely frustrated and starting to flip out a little, made me fall in love with the little guy all over again.
Playing with Dad in the Airport
At 10 and 11 months, we made 2 more trips back to Hawaii. CJ was still pretty good on the flights, but expecting him to sleep and/or sit still for the entire journey was out of the question. Our increasingly social and mobile little guy wanted to play, and the little whimpers of protest started when we'd try to put him back in his car seat. "I just want to be held. I just want to jump up and down on your lap and pull your hair and try and take off your glasses and put everything within reach in my mouth." That's life with a baby this age, I guess. Diaper changes in the airplane lavatory are a new challenge now that little CJ is strong enough to resist and sometimes wants to fight back. FML. Confined space + crying, squirming baby = no fun. To make up for it though, beach time over in Maui is a becoming a total hit. CJ loves to play in the water and now even likes to come along with me and sit on the front of my paddle board as we explore the calm, shallow water inside the reef at Baby Beach.

Wyoming and Back, Again

For our first trip to Wyoming over the summer, baby CJ, my husband, my dad, Shiloh the yellow lab, and I all drove together. When we went back a few weeks later, CJ and I decided to fly. Not that a road trip across 5 states with a dog and a baby isn't super-fun and everything...I just thought that driving to San Francisco, getting stuck in Bay Area traffic, and checking-in at the airport 30 minutes before our departure while traveling alone with baby would be even more fun! As bad as all that sounds, it actually wasn't and after surviving all it, I gained a lot of confidence. CJ's trips to Wyoming also came with visits to Nevada, Utah, and Idaho, his first rodeo, and first trips to a fireworks store, a truck stop, and a ghost town.

Alright, This Might Be My First Rodeo
Companion Upgrade Drama, VDB's, Compensation, and Finally a New Airline

You can read all the juicy details in my post Breaking Up with United (I'll spare you a rehash), but to make a long story short, we're now an Alaska Airlines family. CJ picked up his very own Volunteered Denied Boarding (VDB) voucher and quite a few Customer Relations e-certs but it wasn't enough to keep us from leaving United at the end of last year. I'm still planning on using the certs to continue my mileage running quest to become a Million Miler on United, but as a family we've moved on to a better place. Along with operating a direct flight from Sacramento to Maui, it turns out Alaska Airlines (and partners) are the perfect compliment to United and the Star Alliance. A ton of new destinations have opened up to us along with a whole new world or miles-and-points earning opportunities. Without the baby, I never would have been inspired to leave an airline I've been flying with my whole life, thanks CJ!

We love Alaska!
The Gear

Other parents are always curious and like to ask, so here's what we use (and what seems to work)-

First Time at SMF
When we first started traveling with the baby, we used a travel system. The infant carrier/car seat snaps into a permanent base in the car, is easily transferred in and out of the stroller, and also installs by itself without the base in the airplane and in other cars. Simply, gate-check the stroller and pick it up plane-side at your destination. It was the easiest and best thing ever...until he grew out of it.

We transitioned to a full-size Britax Marathon car seat at around 6 months. We then ordered a Go Go Kidz Travelmate to go along with it, but when it failed to show up in the mail before one of our trips to Maui, we had no other choice but to use our old gear. In case you were wondering...yes, you can still cram a 10 month old baby into an infant seat, but it isn't nice. At 22.5 pounds we were pushing it with the 23 pound weight-limit and a little guy like ours with wide shoulders and long legs isn't going to be happy with you for doing it. Luckily (for him I guess), he only sat there for take-off, landing, and the short drive to and from the airport. The rest of the time was spent crawling/jumping in our laps, standing in his seat, and looking out the window.
Are we there yet?
At 11 months, we finally got another chance to test out the new Britax/GoGo combo and it worked like a charm. Yes, it's bigger, heavier and more of a hassle, but then so's our kid. With the Travelmate, the car seat becomes like a roll-a-board, and gets installed on the aircraft. We then use the stroller as a luggage cart for our carry-ons, and gate-check it. CJ loves being rolled around the airport in his car seat! Sitting there on the airplane...well, that's another story and keeping his restrained is something we struggle with at times now.

This Is The Kid You Want to Sit Next to
Aside from that we got a rolling duffel bag big enough to hold the pack-n-play, and the rest of his stuff. Of course, a well-stocked diaper bag as a carry on is also must. For earlier trips it's basically going to just be diapers, wipes, and feeding items, maybe a change of clothes, then as your child gets older you're going to want to bring some toys and/or comfort items along as well. The entertainment needs of little ones seem to grow along with their age, so be prepared. You may need a bigger bag.

What's Next

Ready to go!
Of course there will be lots more trips to Hawaii as long as I have family and a job there. The baby and I are also headed to Anchorage at the end of the week, then all 3 of us are going to India to visit my husband's family and introduce them to the baby for the first time. Along the way we're stopping off in Singapore, Bali, and Hong Kong. It's a big trip, and to be honest, I am a little nervous about how CJ is going to handle to the long 14-hour flights between San Francisco and Hong Kong. We'd never attempt such a feat without this past year of experience. I tend to think of each trip we take with him as a training mission for something bigger and better in the future. We love to travel and looking back I'm glad we went through the extra little hassle to bring CJ along with us and get him used to our wandering ways at such an early age. Year two will bring 2 more states, 5 new countries, a whole bunch of miles, 2 new airlines...and that's just in the next month!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

When Being an #Avgeek Makes a Full Circle
I was up skiing at Northstar yesterday when I heard a large jet roaring overhead. Of course I had to look. It was a beautiful, crisp, bluebird day, and I could easily tell from the contrail that it was a 4-engine aircraft- 747 or A380. "I wonder if that's..."

Yesterday's FlightAware for United 900
Sure enough it was United flight 900 on it's way from San Francisco to Frankfurt. Have you ever seen a plane flying over and wondered where it was headed? Well, there's an app for that. It's called FlightAware (If you're an #avgeek too you may have already heard of it)  and it's awesome! In addition to being able to track flights by flight number, tail number or route, there's a "Nearby" feature, that will bring up a map with all the planes on IFR flight plans in the sky above you. Yesterday I was just lucky enough to have my phone on me.

Of Course I Tweeted About It!
I normally don't like to mess around with my iPhone while I ski- I figure part of the draw of being outdoors is escaping digital distractions (like twitter). It just so happened that yesterday I was also working on earning one of the harder EpicMix badges at Northstar (25k), so I wanted to have a way to confirm that all of my lift check-ins were counted properly. On groomer days when the off-piste snow is kind of crappy (meaning I'm not leaving the trail to go through the icy trees), that's how I keep myself entertained. I guess my obsession with conquering EpicMix kind of makes me a #skigeek too, if there is such a thing.

Anyway...I'd just rode Backside Express and I'm standing on top of the mountain when a big plane flies overhead. I get distracted (which I often do when planes fly over) and out comes the iPhone from the ski jacket. I then use FlightAware to confirm my guess that it's United 900. It turns out I've actually been on that flight before! In fact, I even blogged about it here...and I took a picture (below)...which is another #avgeek activity I typically do for my other photoblog

United Flight 900 SFO-FRA in 2009
So it was in that moment that being an #Avgeek (and a #skigeek) came full circle. In 2009, I clearly remember looking out of the plane window as we flew over Tahoe and thinking about all the people down there skiing that beautiful day. Yesterday while I was skiing, I couldn't help but think about all the people up in that plane on their way to Frankfurt while remembering what it was like to be there.

Earning Shopkicks with Amex for Target

You know you're a miles and points junkie when you start working an angle that involves shopping for a Coach purse at Target. I know what you're probably thinking, "...but Target doesn't sell Coach bags". Allow me to explain.

I just recently found out about this new thing called Shopkick. Ok, so it may have been around for a while, but it's new to me and I guess it's pretty popular among moms (I see a lot of other moms doing it now). In fact, it was my mommy-friend Sarah who told me about it. Basically, it's a Checkpoints-like app that rewards you for shopping. Much like Checkpoints, you earn points for "walking in" to stores and scanning stuff. Then you also get "kicks" (their points currency) for flipping through "look books" and occasionally for spending money at their sponsor's stores too- No surprise there, most of the points available in this app come from actually spending money. Your kicks can then be redeemed for a variety of gift cards including itunes, Starbucks, Target, Best Buy, gas cards, etc. I admit it's a little out of my normal miles-and-points earning realm (no airline miles here), and you might be wondering how this is at all relevant to my travel blog. Keep reading. Besides, who doesn't like free stuff? I decided to check it out.

After Shopkicking for about a week, I began getting kind of frustrated by my slow progress- some of my scans didn't work and certain things (like the cameras at Best Buy) only earn points once every 30 days. Then, only 1 kick for flipping through a look book? Are you kidding me? I then figured out it would take me like a million years to get to 75,000 kicks for that $300 Coach gift card I decided I want from them. My excitement was quickly waning. I'm not one to complain about free stuff, but I began wondering if it was really worth my time.

As I mentioned above, most of the points from Shopkick are earned by actually buying stuff. I kept getting little pop-up screens in the app advertising "500 kicks for spending $50 at Old Navy" and "2 kicks per dollar and 1250 kicks for $125+ spent at Toys R Us". I actually did spend $50 at Old Navy and bought some clothes for my kid (which he needed), but aside from that, I don't really want to go buy goods I don't need just to get kicks. I'm sure lots of people do, and that's probably part of their business model. I began searching for a better way. Maybe, it's because I've been reading too much Frequent Miler lately, but the first thought that popped into my head was...I wonder which of these retailers sell gift cards, and not just any gift cards...ones that can be churned.

Best Buy does! They sell a $200 VISA or Mastercard gift card for $5.95 (Well, $200 plus a $5.95 fee). I don't remember which it was, but the important part is they have a debit card logo on them and can easily be cashed out using Serve or Amazon Payments (that is, if you're not already using AP for other stuff, which you should be). Best Buy was offering 1 kick per dollar and 1250 kicks for spending $200, meaning you could earn 1450 kicks for $5.95. At that rate the $300 Coach gift card would end up costing $307.76. Not a great deal, but at the same time you could rack up some spend on a miles-and-points earning credit card (That's where the miles and points part comes in and this starts getting relevant again). Of course there are limitations to this. The 1250 kick bonus is only on the first $200, and you can only cash out $1000 worth of debit cards using Serve in a month.

So this morning I walked into Target to buy some stuff that I actually needed when I noticed they were one of the earning partners for the day (the partners seem to change frequently but they're are identified by a little green credit card icon). 1 kick per dollar, 150 kicks for $50+, 350 kicks for $100, and 600 kicks for $150+. I didn't think much of it, made my necessary $14.88 purchase and left the store with 14 kicks. I then later went back to the store with my new Chase British Airways VISA card and bought a $500 American Express for Target prepaid starter pack, which I've been meaning to try anyway ($3 fee). It worked!

Frequent Miler is a true master when it comes to gift cards, racking up spend, all things churn-able, and he explains the AMEX for Target thing better than I probably ever could. It's kind of like Vanilla Reload, and basically just another way to manufacture spend on a (miles-and-points-earning) credit card. $3 load fee (up to 1,000 after the initial $500 starter pack) and $3 ATM fees- $400 daily limit (after 1 free trip to the ATM each month). It's an Amex card, so you can then use it for daily spend (like at Costco) or cash it out, however you please.

I earned 1103 kicks for my little purchase at Target today. In addition to the $3 purchase fee, it will cost another $3 to cash out the Amex card. At that rate (75,000 kicks divided by 1103 x $6) the $300 Coach gift card would cost $407.98, not to mention 68 trips to Target. Obviously not a great deal if I'm doing it just for kicks (pun intended). However, my new British Airways VISA has a sign-up bonus of 100,000 Avios points once take care of some minimum spending requirements (which in the case of this card, are pretty substantial). To get an idea of how much this is worth, one-way trips on American Airlines using Avios start at just 4,500 points. If you take that into account, the $6 "expense" now becomes a better deal. Moral of the story- I'm getting some extra kicks for racking up spend and earning miles that I probably would have been doing anyway.

Now comes the part where I advocate being rational, taking is slow, and not ruing the deal by being greedy. I am pretty happy with myself and the 1103 kicks I got today. I realize I'm not going to earn a new Coach bag overnight but at the same time, it's not going to take me "like a million years" anymore either. It's also worth mentioning that any bonus kicks you earn by buying stuff is held in an escrow-of-sorts (piggy bank) until after the retailer's designated return period is up. I don't actually get my kicks for another 60 days, another reason why Shopkick by itself if definitely not the next big miles-and-points thing. The Shopkick double dip is simply a small bonus to on top of other more lucrative miles-and-points earning activities that some of us do already anyway. I'm sure you could probably sit there and play with the numbers all day and night (I may do that for a little while after I finish writing this post) and come up with all sorts of more creative and better ways to hack Shopkick (just please stop short of jailbreaking your phone and spoofing-the-geolocator-stuff because that's too far). Anyway, say you're a guy or you're just not really into Coach purses...There are lots of other good prizes. For example, 500 kicks is also good for a $2 Target gift card; You could think of it as a little "rebate" to offset the cost of reloading your Amex for Target cards. You could also trade in for a GoPro (too bad I already have one), to go on a cruise, or even donate to a cause...the possibilities are almost limitless. Just be cool about least until I get my new purse.

If you are interested in joining Shopkick, or more importantly, if you found any of what I shared to be helpful and informative and want to sign up using my referral link, here it is- I get some kicks out of it and I truly do appreciate the support. Anyway, it's getting late so I'm off to bed...I think I'll be dreaming about the possibility of this deal coming up at CVS if and when they become a spending partner ;)