Saturday, September 29, 2012

Best iPhone Apps for Frequent Fliers

Here is a list of some of my favorite mobile apps to help you stay connected, informed, and entertained while flying through the friendly skies:


  • TripIt- Travel Organizer. A great way to keep track of hotel and flight reservations all in one place. It's FREE and easy to use, although there is a Pro (paid) version available that has a little more functionality and no ads. Once you're signed up all you have to do is forward any confirmation emails from airlines and hotels to plans@tripit.com and it automatically adds them. What's also cool about TripIt is that its supported by so many other apps. You can export your TripIt plans to other sites and programs like Uppward, Openflights, FlightDiary and Facebook. To check out the full list of partners go to https://www.tripit.com/uhp/tools. Also available for iPad, Android, Blackberry, and Windows Phone 7.
  • Uppward- Social Networking. Think foursquare, but for frequent fliers. Check-in to flights, earn miles and redeem them for rewards. There are also virtual awards for visiting certain airports or flying a certain amount of miles; What's so fun is that they look just like the little wings so many of us used to collect as kids. FREE. Also visit Uppward.com to view rewards or link your account to TripIt.
  • FlightAware- Flight Tracker. Whether its stalking that plane flying over your house or tracking a flight you're actually on, FlightAware is a must-have. You can search "nearby" activity, find flights using a route, flight, or tailnumber, and even see airport activity. There is also the ability to share via Facebook and Twitter. Nothing quite says f*** you like posting a live map of your plane cruising over the Pacific Ocean enroute to Maui. FREE. FlightAware.com is a great website and their is a mobile app available for virtually every other platform from Android and Windows, to Symbian, whatever that is. ;)
  • SeatGuru by Tripadvisor- Seating Maps and Flight Tracker. Companion app to the popular website SeatGuru.com. Don't sit in the rear middle seat by the bathroom ever again! SeatGuru lets you search the seat map for your flight using a flight number or by route. The maps are color coded (red is bad) and show other useful stuff like where power ports are located. FREE. Also available for Android.
  • Pinger- Text and Call Free. Tempted to sign up for a lucrative miles or points bonus promo that requires your mobile number but don't want spam texts costing you money? Then sign up for Pinger. Previously known as TextFree, this apps gives you a virtual number that you can use to text and talk to regular mobile numbers or other Pinger numbers. This is also a great way to send a text from your wifi equipped aircraft. FREE. Android version coming soon!
  • AwardWallet- Points Tracker. Keep track of your miles and points balances (and friends and family's too!) all in once place. Easy to use companion to the website AwardWallet.com. The app and service are both free, but I highly recommend getting a Plus membership (donation of $5+ dollars for 6 months) which shows expiration dates and send alerts so you don't lose any precious miles or points ever again. Also comes in the Android variety.
  • OnTheFly- Airfare Search. I cannot express how much I love itasoftware.com, so it's no coincidence that their mobile app OnTheFly is one of my favorites for finding cheap airfares. What makes this one special is the ability to search by calendar and not just specific dates. It's not as powerful as the website, but it's still totally worth the FREE download. ITA is owned by google, so of course this one is available Android too.
  • Kayak- Booking Site. My favorite for what it is and frequently #1 rated travel app. Also available for Android, iPad, Windows, and Kindle. FREE.
  • LiveATC- Live Air Traffic Control. Like listening Channel 9 on the aircraft? Well, this is the smartphone equivalent. The website liveatc.net is free; The app costs $2.99. You just might be an #avgeek is you've ever used an fm transmitter to listen in your car while waiting in the airport cell phone lot. Guilty.
  • Just Landed- Flight Tracker and Airport Picker Upper Tool. Bad at math? Or just too lazy to figure out when you have to leave the house to get to the airport with traffic in order to pick someone up? There's an app for that and it's awesome! FREE, simple, and easy to use. Plus the orange tail on the icon reminds me so much of the Aloha Airlines Funbird :`(
Honorable Mention- Your favorite airlines' mobile app. I fly United and use their app to check in, scope out the upgrade list, and even play sudoku. While mobile boarding passes are available on this one and virtually every other airlines', I still like having a paper ticket or print-out.

What apps do you use for travel? Did your favorite make the list, or know of one that you would like to share? Feel free to post in the comments below!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

MIA Mileage Run

Well, I'm off to Orlando this week so I thought it would be a great time to flash back to the first Florida mileage run that started it all.

"When I booked my trip to South Florida, I figured the last place I would find myself was in the middle of the worst snow storm in a decade." Read my MIA Mileage Run Trip Report that I posted on both FlyerTalk and milepoint.



Snowmaggedon 2011


Hopefully tomorrow it all goes according to plans and I don't encounter any snowstorms, hurricanes, or whatever else mother nature and/or United Airlines might have up their sleeves. I'm also kinda hoping to not spend another night sleeping in the airport. You can follow me on twitter, where I'll be checking in via a cool new app I found called uppward.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Shuttle Spotting: Endeavour Visits Sacramento

I woke up early this morning, packed up the baby, and headed down to the California State Capitol to try and catch a glimpse of history in the making. It's not every day that you get to see a Space Shuttle piggybacking on a 747 no matter what city you live in, and for Sacramento, this may have been to most exciting thing to happen here, like ever. It was a rare sight indeed; It turns out that during the Space Shuttle program, there were fewer ferry flights involving the shuttle than actual flights into space and today was THE LAST shuttle mission, ever.

With last minute details of the flight plan being somewhere between top-secret and non-existent, it was hard to know exactly where to go for the best view, so I took my chances and headed to the grassy mall area to the west of the Capitol building. People lined the rooftops of surrounding buildings downtown and my excitement grew as cues from them helped me find N905NA and Shuttle Endeavor as they emerged almost directly overhead! We got lucky; instead of seeing this once-in-a-lifetime spectacle only once, those of us in Sacramento got to see it twice after the plane circled to the north and headed back over a second time. Here are a few of the pictures I was able to snap. I hope you enjoy them!
People on the roof of the Capitol Building in Sacamento awaiting the arrival of Endeavor

The capitol mall

Rooftop spectators

Positive sighting

There it it!

Flying VERY low

Space Shuttle Endeavor and the 747 N905NA

Passing to the north

Wait! Come back!

On their second pass over the Capitol :)


I feel very lucky I got to see this, but at the same time it's a very sad day. NASA is just a mere shadow of what it once was and manned space flight in this country seems to have come to and end (hopefully it's temporary). I made it back home from downtown in time to watch live on tv as the shuttle landed at LAX and that's when it hit me that it's all over. In the world I grew up in, space flight was routine. I realized my son will never get a chance to watch the magic of a shuttle launch on tv like I did so many times as a kid, and for loss of better words, that sucks, however I'm still glad to have shared today with him. I doubt he'll remember it, but he was there, he saw it, and I hope someday he is able to draw inspiration from that as he sets out on journeys and adventures all his own.

Additional reading:
Did you know the Space Shuttle Endeavour was named after the ship Captain Cook sailed through the South Seas? More about the shuttle: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/shuttleoperations/orbiters/endeavour-info.html
Also some interesting stuff about the 747's you seldom head about http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shuttle_Carrier_Aircraft
I wonder where they'll be headed...


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Space Shuttle Endeavour to Fly Over Caifornia Tomorrow

If you're anywhere in Calfornia tomorrow, get ready for the plane spotting, or rather shuttle spotting opportunity of a lifetime! The Space Shuttle Endeavour is scheduled to make its appearance on the back of a 747 over the skies of Sacramento anytime after 8:30a.m. tomorrow morning. After that it's headed to the Bay Area at around 9-9:30, south over the Santa Cruz and Monterey areas, then scheduled to show up in LA area around 10:30 before landing at LAX. For security reasons, details are vague, but for the most up to date information, @Nasa is encouraging people to follow the shuttle and post pics on twitter using the hashtags #spottheshuttle and #OV105.

I'll be headed to the state capitol early tomorrow with the baby to try and get a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse for myself. I'm sure the baby won't remember, but at least we can both say we've "been there, done that", and hopefully snap some good pictures. The shuttle's final resting place will be at the California Science Center in LA, which is right across the street from my Alma Mater, USC. If you're in the LA area, you can also catch the shuttle as it makes its journey along surface streets from LAX to the museum on October 13th.

image: sacbee.com

For more details check out:
Space Shuttle Endeavour to Embark on California Flyover

No word on which runways the shuttle will be using at LAX tomorrow, but if it ends up being north, In-N-Out is definitely the place to be:
Planespotting: In-N-Out LAX

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sleeping in the San Francisco Airport



When I looked out the window of Terminal 7 at JFK and saw a United 757 with an open engine cowling and a big puddle on the ground I knew there was going to be a problem. That was even before they had announced a mechanical delay, but it was obvious. I immediately got on the phone with United reservations to start looking for other options home, but without ground transportation, any alternate flights out of EWR or LGA were out of the question. With only an hour scheduled layover at SFO, it was looking like I would for sure miss my connecting flight.

About four hours later, I finally left JFK. I had originally been scheduled on the 6:30 flight. That one left at 10. I went standby on an earlier flight that left at 9:30, but either way, the damage was done and I didn't arrive in San Francisco until about 1 in the morning. My first stop once I arrived in SFO was Customer Service who, as per United policy, are supposed to provide hotel vouchers for cases like this. "No hotels" was the simple answer that I got. According to them, every single hotel in the city of San Francisco was sold out for the night. The more likely truth was that they were out of hotel vouchers for pre-contracted discounted rooms, and didn't want to cough up the extra money to have me stay somewhere else at the walk in rate. However, what was even more disconcerting was that with 5 employees standing around doing nothing and no one else in line, no one even wanted to pick up a phone to help me look, even after I offered to pay for a room myself. I don't really care what the excuse was, the bottom line is that it was United who failed to operate on schedule and they did not live up to their end of the deal. At this point I'd normally walk off, rent a car and drive home, but I was too tired.

Needless to say, I didn't really enjoy my stay at the San Francisco International Airport. It was really cold there and trying to sleep on a dirty bench like a homeless person was kind of humiliating. In case you were wondering, the security announcements still played at 3 am to an audience of at least twenty other people United managed to screw over that night. If you were lucky enough to fall asleep in the first place, if that didn't wake you up, someone coming by to vacuum around your makeshift campsite would. 

Having spent the night in the Hong Kong airport back in 2006, I made it a point to never do it again, but I have to admit Hong Kong was way better. At least it was warmer. Despite my best efforts, this still happened to me...twice. Both times it was mechanical delays that lead to missed connections and both times United really let me down. The first time I was still young, innocent, and naive enough to fall for it, plus it was Chinese New Year, so I'll go as far as to give them the benefit of the doubt that there really were no hotel rooms. This time I didn't have a choice. I tried calling United to find another route home. There were none. I tried taking an earlier flight to get me there sooner. It didn't work. I tried being nice. It didn't help. No amount of begging, pleading, or eventual arguing with a very unsympathetic supervisor got me a place to stay for the night. Neither did my Premier Gold status.

Even though what happened really was no fault of mine, I still feel like a failed somehow. I am a seasoned traveler. I'm supposed to know better. I'm supposed to know the ropes, the ins and outs, the little secrets to help me avoid situations like these. I know that if there is a delay and you want to get on another flight to not bother trying to talk to the gate agent and pick up the phone instead. I know that if United says they are out of hotel vouchers you can go book yourself a hotel room and send them the bill. I've done that before. I NOW know that if you prepare and pack for a day trip and don't take things like your cell phone charger and contact lens solution, you will end up spending the night. That was my bad.
 
It's been a couple of days now that I've been home, and had time to cool off and reflect, but I'm still mad. A detailed complaint has been sent to United Customer Relations, and I already went ahead and forwarded a copy to the Department of Transportation before United even gets a chance to ignore my letter like they have often done in the past. I have reason to believe that based on my status, their mistake, their generosity in the past, and now the DoT's involvement, that there will be a lot of travel vouchers headed my way in the near future, but to be honest I'm not even really that excited about it, because all that means more travel on United. So far this year I've experienced 3 significant delays (one of them with an infant in tow), 3 cancellations, 2 missed connections, and now a night spent in an airport. That was out of 6 trips. At this point, I have more vouchers than I can spend, and when I call to use one, along with wasting an hour of my time on hold trying to ticket something over the phone, I get another flight where something else inevitably goes wrong, which leads to another voucher. At first I thought it was cool they were essentially paying for me to make 1K for small stuff like broken audio equipment on the aircraft and shorter delays. But then the delays got longer and longer, my infant son was split off from my record locator and re-booked on a separate flight, and now after spending a night in another airport, I'm starting to rethink my strategy a little; There is no amount United could issue that would make me want to do it all again!
 
So will I keep flying with them? For now the answer is yes, although I often fantasize about joining the "dAArkside" and taking my business over to American Airlines. Unfortunately, I still have quite a few non-refundable tickets on United for this year, which I'm not about to just give up. Plus I'm a strong believer in second chances (or third or fourth or fifth chances at this point). I fly again in less than two weeks, and for the first time I'm not looking forward to it. In fact, I'm a little scared to find out what they have in store for me next.

Links:
Wronged by an airline? The DoT can help. Go to http://airconsumer.dot.gov/CP_AirlineService.htm
 Sleeping in the airport? You are not alone. Check out http://www.sleepinginairports.net for helpful tips.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Fly to Remember: Flying to New York on 9/11

It wasn't a coincidence that I ended up booking my free trip to New York on 9/11. It was the cheapest city/most miles/date combo to choose from for the entire month of September. More than a decade later, I guess there are still a lot of people out there who are afraid to fly. I am not one of those people. Before you all go passing judgement on me for being opportunistic, and taking advantage of the after-effects of such a horrible travesty, I want to share why I was so insistent on flying on this date. I love to fly. The day we stop doing what we love because we are afraid or intimidated is the day the terrorists win.

So how was flying on September 11th any different than any other day? For the most part it wasn't. My trip was rather uneventful. The passenger loads didn't seem much lighter and for the most part it was business as usual. However you could tell what was in the back of everyone's minds, even though everyone seemed eerily silent about what had happened 11 years ago that day. My opt-out pat down at SMF was just a little bit more thorough that usual. There were small American flags displayed around the cabin of my p.s. flight to New York, and I was just a little bit more hesitant to just jump up out of my seat and take cool pictures for thirtysixthousand.com like I normally do, as I didn't want to arouse suspicion messing around near the exit row windows in front of my seat. I actually didn't get any pictures.

My trip started out at around 6am in Sacramento. I flew down to LAX where I was to connect to my flight to JFK. While we were taxiing, I did something I never do, I checked my twitter. I saw that @ranflyer, the founder of flyertalk and milepoint has just landed at LAX. The tweet included "Fly to remember #9/11". I liked that, "Fly to remember", so I hashtagged it and tweeted back, sharing that I was at LAX too. We never met, but I was still pretty excited when he responded.

Eventhough the hashtag never really caught on, #flytoremember became the theme of the day. All of a sudden my mileage run seemed to have more purpose than just racking up the usual miles and points. I was flying that day because that is what I like to do and thanks to all the brave men and women who serve this country I was able to do so safely and unafraid.

As we made our final decent into JFK I could see the construction at the new World Trade Center site. It is once again the tallest building in the New York skyline, which wasn't the case when I flew to Newark back in April. Having lived on the west coast for most of my life and having only been to New York a handful of times, 9/11 always seemed sort of distant and surreal to me. It didn't that day.

My trip to New York was brief. I got to wander around Terminal 7 for about an hour then returned to the same gate where I had deplaned and waited for my return flight back to the west coast. It was then that I looked out the window and saw something was wrong. To be continued...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

#Hello737 Enter to win 50,000 American AAdvantage Miles

American Airlines is really excited about the delivery of a new 737 and they are giving away 50,000 Aadvantage miles via facebook. To play, like them, read the hints, and find the #Hello737 graphic hidden over on aa.com. The app default will spam your friends, but you can always opt out if you don't like to share. I won't take all the fun out of the game, but here's a hint to help you on your way: go to the Travel Information tab on aa.com, scroll down, and select Destination Information. The "windy city" you are looking for is a featured destination. Good luck!

Find this on aa.com and enter to win. Contest ends 11:59pm CST, Sept 13th

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Plane Spotting: In-N-Out LAX

As a frequent flier, private pilot, and aviation enthusiast, naturally one of my favorite things to do is go plane spotting, and one of the best places to do that is the In-N-Out Burger on Sepulveda near LAX. I used to live in LA when while going to USC and I'm kind of embarrassed to say I only went to this place for the first time last year; now it is a must-stop every time in in town. If you're ever at LAX for a long layover, it's close by, easy to get to, and well worth the effort.

British Airways 747 over In-N-Out LAX taken on our way back from Tahiti in 2011



Located right next to the approach path for the north runways (24L and 24R), In-N-Out is the perfect place to grab a bite while a 747 roars over your head. Lunchtime is probably best as there are a lot of international arrivals mid-day and you're guaranteed to spot a heavy. When we were there in July, we saw 2 A-380's within probably 10 minutes of each other. That was definitely the highlight of our otherwise not-so-fun 3 hour-turned 8 hour layover due to a mechanical. Anyway, the best way to get there from LAX is to catch a Parking Spot Sepulveda Shuttle. It's free and you'll find them outside on the baggage claim level; they're hard to miss with big bright spots all over them (they even have a USC one!), but be sure to get the Sepulveda shuttle because there are two different Parking Spots at LAX. Their Sepulveda parking garage is on the same property as the In-N-Out. The shuttles are frequent and the trip takes about 5-10 minutes each way. If you do have a flight to catch, be sure to leave enough time to clear security once you back to the airport. As a Premier Gold with United I'm able to use the shorter lines in Terminal 6 and had never had to wait more than just a few minutes, making In-N-Out a very easy trip, but of course experiences vary due to which airline you are flying and what time of day it is.

I'd normally consider myself more the clean-living active lifestyle type, and somewhat of a foodie, so I'm usually not a fast food advocate, but trust me, In-N-Out is good! In fact, I'm not entirely sure I would have survived my pregnancy without my at-least-twice-weekly animal style cheeseburger (well that, Thai food, chocolate milk, and that one week I was addicted to all things peanut butter). Luckily, there is an In-N-Out right by my house in NorCal, but even then, I still can't get enough, and make it a point to visit the one by LAX whenever I can. It is also cheaper and tastier than anything else I have been able to find in that airport.

For those of you not from the West Coast, who might not be as familiar with In-N-Out and their "secret" menu, you've got to try animal style- mustard grilled into the meat, extra sauce, extra pickles and grilled onions. I usually opt for a animal style cheeseburger and a water, which comes out to a very friendly $2.30-something with tax. You can also get a double double (as the name implies, double meat, double cheese), 3x3, 4x4...you get the idea, and you can even get your fries animal style too. I usually don't like fries (not particularly In-N-Out ones, but fries in general) but I did try them that way with the special sauce and grilled onions when I was pregnant (I was told that's what all the other preggos order) and they were very good!

If you're looking to take some awesome pictures while you're there, the best place is from the Parking Spot structure (don't be afraid to go up a level or two), which is where these were taken.

Captured on my iPhone during the infamous 8 hour delay to Maui in July 2012

Spotting tip: If you want to know which planes are headed your way, you can listen to air traffic control via liveatc.net. They have an app for both iphone and android. You can also find an LAX arrival schedule here.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Mileage Run Update

Today was a productive morning! My little boy slept in later than usual, so I took full advantage of the opportunity and called United to book two more mileage runs to MCO and DSM. All I have to do now is fly what I have booked and I'll at least be a Platinum! That's still 25,000 miles away from my goal of 1K, but for the first time that goal actually seems reachable. It's one thing to say I'm going to go out and fly 100,000 miles, but as I'm finding out, it's another entirely to actually go do it.

Calling United to book a mileage run using an e-cert

I got off to a late start this year, due to having a baby and all, and didn't go on my first run until April. My little one was only 3 months old then when I flew SMF-LAX-EWR-LAX-SMF. The next week the whole family came along and we took baby on his first trip to Maui, then the week after that I went on an overnight and flew SMF-SFO-IAD-EWR-IAH-SMF. I was originally supposed to go EWR-DCA-IAH-SMF on the return, but as anyone who has experienced the "new" United may tell you, s*** often happens, plans change, and well, that didn't happen that way. It's totally OK though, because whoever rebooked me EWR-IAH put me in C (fare code for revenue business class) so I ended up earning 1.5x times miles on the segment and came out about 50 miles ahead of if I had actually flown to DCA. It also got me to Houston a few hours early which opened up the opportunity for a VDB (voluntary denied boarding) situation. I still made it home at the original scheduled time with a $300 e-cert, which I greatly appreciate, because aside from the trips to Maui for work, my mileage running hobby is completely self-funded.

Due to the summer travel season and higher airfares I didn't do any runs. The family and I went back to OGG for a few weeks in July and then I redeemed some miles and took just the baby to JAC to visit family in Wyoming, but other than that, most of the summer was enjoyed at home.

Now that summer is over, the fun officially begins. Next week I fly SMF-LAX-JFK-SFO-SMF with transcon's on United's p.s. flights. At the end of the month I'm going SMF-DEN-MCO-LAX-SMF, finally doing that trip to Orlando that I put off from labor day weekend.

October: SMF-LAX-CLE-MCI-CLE-SFO-SMF (possibly x2), SMF-LAX-SEA-PDX-SEA-LAX-SMF, and SMF-LAX-IAH-ABQ-IAH-LAX-SMF in between my son's "guppie-turtle" swim lessons that we signed him up for here at the local pool. I still have two opportunities to book something else in October, which is usually considered the best month for mileage runs, but it's going to have to be REALLY good to make me want to miss out on swim class.

In early November I'm doing the island hopper and flying SMF-LAX-HNL-MAJ-KWA-KSA-PNI-TKK-GUM-MNL-GUM-HNL-SFO-SMF with a one-day stop over to go surfing in Honolulu. When I get back, SMF-IAH-DEN-DSM-DEN-IAH-SMF, which I love, because if you look at it on a map it makes no sense, and you think they'd make you fly Denver-Houston-Des Moines, but no; somehow I pulled it off. 

Nothing is booked yet for December, but I'll probably end up going to Maui again early in the month.  Due to past experience, I try my best to avoid travel during the holidays, because basically, it sucks. That still leaves a few chances to try and get in extra trips to make 1K, so I'm hoping an praying something reasonably priced to Asia will come along so I can score a bunch of miles at once. If you've noticed, most of my runs tend to be shorter domestic one and there is a reason for that, they're cheap (or even free after I apply one of the many e-certs I've been given this year due to United's dismal operational performance), but the trade-off is I end up spending more time than I would like to away from home. 

For me, mileage running is all about finding that perfect balance, which means sometimes the best CPM (cents per mile) isn't always the best deal if it means extended time away from the family, or even worse, when that time away from family is spent going to Kansas City for three straight weekends in a row! I try to mix it up a bit when I can by picking new destinations or routes. Each time I fly it is an adventure and I always look forward to the opportunity to get away and escape from being a somewhat stir-crazy primarily-stay-at-home mom. But then when I get back, I'm always happy to be home, and I'm infinitely more appreciative of my new life, my wonderful husband, and the perfect baby boy I have there waiting for me. I'm also happy when I get to use all those hard-earned miles and buy them business class seats to Singapore, Bali, and India next year!

http://www.world-airport-codes.com/

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Make the Most of your Labor Day shopping

It's no big secret that holiday weekends are a great time to shop, especially for those looking to buy large ticket items. Labor day is no exception with everyone from car dealers to big box stores offering great sales and promotions, so if you're planning on doing any shopping this weekend, or any other time for that matter, here are some helpful tips that can help earn you valuable miles and points along the way!
evreward.com
  • Buy online- The best way to take advantage of coupon codes and mileage/points portals is to shop online. Don't want to pay for shipping? Don't worry many retailers offer free shipping for spending over a certain amount and/or offer free in-store pickup. Shop online a lot? You may want to consider subscribing to a service like shoprunner.com* or Amazon prime**.
  • Search for coupon codes- doing a quick google search (example: REI coupon codes) or using a site like retailmenot.com can save you extra cash!
  • Use a shopping portal- Many popular mileage and points programs offer bonuses for using their referral links. You can typically find your program's shopping portal by doing a quick google search (example: MileagePlus shopping) or through your favorite program's website. Also, evreward.com is a great site that allows you to search by retailer to see which program's shopping portal is offering the best deal. Mileage/points portals on occasion also will offer holiday multiplier bonuses for certain retailers during some holidays.
  • Use your favorite mileage or point earning credit card- This may seem like a no-brainer if you're looking to earn points and miles, but get to know your credit cards a little before choosing which one to use. Several cards out there offer category-based bonuses, for example, my Chase Select Mileage Plus Visa (sadly Chase no longer offers this card) offers 2x points at grocery and home improvement stores, and some of their other cards like Ink and Freedom offer up to 5x points at office supply stores, which leads me to my next point...
  • Consider buying with a gift card- Why? Because you may be able to earn more miles that way. Many grocery stores like Safeway, and office supply stores like Staples and Office Depot, and home improvement warehouses like Lowe's sell gift cards for other popular merchants. If you have a credit card that gives you a bonus for spending at an office supply store, grocery store, home improvement store, etc. you can earn more miles for buying your gift card from them, then redeeming it where you will be doing your shopping. I personally like buying gift cards at Safeway, because it is a great way to earn gas reward points (right now they're giving 4x points for purchasing gift cards) on top of 2x bonus miles from my credit card.

So here's my Labor Day weekend shopping example- a new jogging stroller!

Yeah, I know, I never thought in a million years I'd be so excited about spending a couple hundred bucks on a piece of baby gear, but between the sand and saltwater on Maui's Baby Beach, and United's baggage handlers, our poor Graco travel system stroller is starting to show it has been abused and it now squeaks a little. Overall it has been a great stroller, and I intend to keep using it for general purpose stuff like travel and trips to the mall, but I figured taking it on 3-4 miles walks around the neighborhood several days a week was a little much, so this is what I picked out-


REI is selling this BOB stroller for $339 (normally $399) and includes about $50 worth of free accessories which seemed like a good deal as I saw some going for as much as $450 at other sites ($449 MSRP). The cheapest online deal I found was $309, but I decided to go with REI because of their 100% guarantee, the free cup holder and snack tray they are throwing in, and because there is a store near my house where I can easily go pick it up to avoid paying for shipping. Sadly there was no mention of whether or not this is eligible towards my 10% REI member dividend, so I'm guessing no, but if it is, that is worth about another $30 which will be a great surprise. The total came out to $363.67 after tax for the stroller, bonus snack tray and handlebar console (cup holder). No additional coupon codes this time. Oh well.

The next step was choosing a shopping portal. I went with United on this one for 2 miles/dollar. It wasn't listed on evreward, but after a quick google search and trip to mileageplusshopping.com I confirmed that I could in fact get United miles (evreward is good, but not perfect, so good reason to always double check with your favorite program).

I then decided I was going to use my Chase Select Mileage Plus Visa for the purchase, but instead of buying directly from REI, I made a quick visit to my local Safeway to stock up on $350 dollars worth of REI gift cards. Because Safeway is a grocery store I get 2x bonus miles for $350 worth of my purchase. So here's how it all broke down:

  • Savings of anywhere between $60-$100 (depending on if you go by REI's non-sale price vs. MSRP)
  • $55 worth of FREE accessories because it's Labor Day
  • 727 United MileagePlus Miles for using mileageplusshopping.com
  • 713 United MileagePlus Miles for using my Chase Select Mileage Plus Visa (2x on $350 = 700 spent @ Safeway plus 1x on the difference between $363-$350, or 13)
  • 1400 Safeway gas rewards points. Each 100 points = $.10 off per gallon up to 25 gallons and they let you use up to $1 off per gallon worth or rewards at a time, so this could be worth up to $35 in savings on gas.
All said and done, I saved almost $200 and earned 1400 miles! Since this worked out so well, I'm thinking I might need to buy a new stand up paddleboard this weekend as well ;) What do you think guys?

*full disclosure- I do receive a small referral bonus if you use my link to sign up for shoprunner. As always, I appreciate the support!
**additional tips- If you want to try Amazon Prime, they normally offer a free 1-month trial. If you use Amazon Mom to sign up, you can get it for free for 3 months. Just another reason that being a mom (or knowing a kid) is cool!


Enter to Win 100,000 HawaiianMiles!

Hawaiian Airlines is celebrating more than 25 years of service to Las Vegas by giving away 100,000 HawaiianMiles on Facebook, more than enough for 2 tickets between the mainland and Hawaii (which are 40,000 each). If Vegas isn't your thing, Hawaiian serves several other mainland and international destinations as well (Tahiti, anyone?). Check out Hawaiian Airlines' award chart here. Anyway, the promotion is called Pacific Ocean's 11 and it's totally fun. All you have to do to enter is like Hawaiian and choose your favorite Vegas "persona" (Lucky Tutu, Glamour Goddess, Party Animal, etc.). Be advised, the app will post on your wall announcing to your friends that you entered the contest, but you can easily delete it if you're not into spamming your contacts- totally up to you. Good luck! Where would go if you won?

Hawaiian Airlines Pacific Ocean's 11 Contest, Aug 20th - Sept 14th, 2012