Points! Miles! Points! Miles!

Ever since frequent mileage clubs, award clubs and loyalty clubs have been around I have been a member (of quite a few). Almost every place has points to be earned. When you think of things this way, it changes your way spending. Some people believe it is more hassle than it is worth, I believe it depends on the level of earning, or the approach on collecting them. I think it is worth it! This is a game, and I enjoy playing it. Collecting points, miles and incentives gets easier, when there are people out there giving you step by step directions (like me). This blog post is a little insight of collecting points, miles or incentives.

A major organizing tool is to go buy a composition book (on sale right now for $.50) and keep track of what programs you have. Make a page for each reward club/sky mileage. Try to keep your login info the same with all programs, this helps to remember and login easier . In this composition book keep track of miles/points you are supposed to earn. You want to make sure you are credited for the correct points. Once you have your book, spend a day signing up for accounts. Here are a few I think everyone should have: United,Delta, US Air, American, Lifemiles (Avianca), Marriott, Hilton Honors,Starbucks, your local grocery store and pharmacy. There are more, but these are the basics. Sometimes these sites will run specials to buy miles or points, but you must have the account for at least 12 days ahead to participate. If you are all signed up, you can jump on the opportunity when the deals become available.

Once you have set up your accounts, make goals for yourself. Decide what it is you want to do with your points/miles. You can save points to pay for travel, hotel stays, purchase big-ticket items, magazine subscriptions, free coffee treats and many more. Several friends lately have asked to pick my brain about going to Europe in a year. This can be done for cheap or free with points/miles (blog post about that coming soon) with the right planning.

If you have an idea of what you want to do get with your points/miles, then direct focus on earning points to get it. You can by all means earn points for other things simultaneously, this is getting more bang for your buck! My favorite is to use my sky mileage card at the store to buy gift cards, I usually get 2-5 times the gas rewards points with my grocery store loyalty card. I can build these points to get a $1 off per gallon and the store gas station. I use the gift cards to make purchases online and take advantage of online points/miles to be earned.

Most airlines have a sky mall to earn miles. Go to the airline of your choice, this is generally the one you want to earn the most miles on, and access the “earn miles” screen. Here you will find how you can earn miles on car rentals, hotels,financial services, and shopping of course. The sky malls have hundreds of partnered retail stores in which you can earn miles for every dollar spent. If you use a credit card with point/mile capabilities then you earn double. If you have bought gift cards at the grocery store with your point/mile earning credit card and used the gift card to earn miles with your purchase then you earn triple the rewards. Almost everything you buy can earn points somewhere. Even buying a car. If you have time to think before you purchase you can choose the most rewarding way to make purchases.

What it boils down to is points/miles equal money. If you play the game right you can earn it for free.Just think about purchases before or ask someone (like me) for advice. I enjoy helping people especially with travel, points/miles and saving money.

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Maximize Your Rewards

Guess what? I want to go somewhere. I bet you didn’t see that one coming. My most recent desire is to go to Prague and Budapest. Of course, I want to go as frugally as possible. Lately I have been very inspired by a blog I follow called www.boardingarea.com/onemileatatime . This blog explains the benefits of playing the mileage/points game, for free or inexpensive travel. I understand the benefits of the game and I enjoy playing it. Lucky@onemileatatime explains how you can maximize your miles/points using credit cards. I have taken it a few steps further to maximize them even more.

Today my garbage disposal went out. I went to Von’s grocery store (also known as my home away from home) and I bought gift cards for Home Depot. I used my credit card to get sky mileage. I got 4 times the gas rewards, which equals $.60 off per gallon , up to 25 gallons. I went home and logged into United’s skymall, went to Home Depot and bought the garbage disposal. This gets me 2 miles per $1 spent. I then scheduled to pick it up at the store near me. I told them to text me when it was available. Within 30 min, I got a text telling me it is ready for pick up. The product will be up at the service desk waiting for me. In the long run I saved even more money by not wandering around the store and throwing more items in the cart.

Some may think this was a waste of time. Was it worth it for 500 miles and a $15 savings at the gas pump? I feel it was. I had to go to Von’s anyway. By taking 10 min to order my item online, I saved at least a half hour not wandering around the store. In the 30 minutes I waited for the text, I ate my lunch and wrote this post. I feel I have accomplished quite a bit.

The moral of the post is to maximize your rewards. If you do not know how to do this, just ask me, I would love to help you maximize your rewards.

Strike a Deal

Yesterday I was flying home from Norfolk, Va. The flight was full. I was offered a$300 voucher for future travel to give up my seat. I said I would consider it. When I got to the gate I inquired about this. The gate attendant said she needed just one. This was primarily for a minor traveling alone. I felt $300 was kinda low. I said if she could do $500? We went back and forth and agreed on $450, hotel voucher ( got Hilton points too), food vouchers ( she threw those in) and first class.

Instead of getting home at 1 am I am getting in at 3 pm. I personally find this was an exceptional deal. I have my voucher for my next trip. This now became a two for one deal.

Someone just asked me ” Are you one of those crazy people who give up their seat?” For the most part, yes, yes I am. I feel I get to travel more because of a few sacrifices. Sometimes it depends how sweet the pot is. The moral of the story is bargain for more. Always be kind to the ticket agent, their job is stressful. If your kind and calm they can make it a great deal.

Happy traveling ( frugally)!

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Sonoma County, California

I am fortunate to live in California, close to several wine countries. Living in the middle of the Central Coast wine country, I never really considered going to Sonoma County, until after researching it. Now I am ready to pack my bags and have a fun girls weekend there. I think you could have a really nice weekend and not spend that much money.

Where to stay? I looked into several hotels, bed and breakfast’s and vacation rentals. In my opinion, it depends on the type of trip you are going on. I feel the best value would be a bed and breakfast if I were going with my significant other or just one friend. If there is a larger group then I would go for the vacation rental. The bed or breakfast is quaint and serves breakfast (hence the name). Bed & breakfasts are usually a pretty good bargain. Groupon and Livingsocial offer deals often. There are last-minute discounts if you can find a vacancy for bed and breakfasts (check the website when booking). With a group of 4 or more I would rent a vacation rental. The price is very reasonable especially if you are sharing the cost with friends. You can stop at the market and get snacks and breakfast items. This will cut down on the costs of eating out the whole time.

What to do? In my research I found there are a lot of things to do in Sonoma besides just wine taste. Sonoma has several little boutique shops, so shopping would be a great thing to add to the to do list. Sonoma is near beautiful beaches and the Armstrong Redwood State Reserve (and several other parks). All of these places are perfect for a nice hike, sight-seeing, photography, picnicking or just relaxing.There are a few little museums, for example the Charles M. Schulz museum, this is a “Peanuts” museum. If you are a fan of Charlie Brown and Snoopy this would be an entertaining place to see. There are a couple of raceways, if a huge thrill is what you are seeking then you came to the right place. Put the pedal to the metal and race your heart away, Sonoma has a few raceways to choose from. For a free experience you can stroll down Florence Avenue and view a neighborhood filled with whimsical junk sculptures. Of course, we cannot forget wine tasting. Another opportunity to bring a picnic and incorporate the food with wine pairing. Bringing your own food can cut down on costs. Considering joining a wine club. This will usually get complimentary tasting for you and your friends, plus a discount on any wines you want to purchase. If each of you join a club this will save you several dollars on tasting fees.

Where to eat? I have never been to Sonoma, I just had to base the restaurant recommendations off of the research and reviews.All the restaurants are located in Sonoma, this should make it easy to find. I am a frugal person, and not a big fan of really elegant, overpriced restaurants. My goal is to find good value, which really means good food, not over priced. Most of the time I share meals and an appetizer. This way I do not over eat or over spend. I am also a foodie. This is a part of travel I enjoy tremendously. In my research I look at all the reviews, good and bad. When the bad reviews are few and consist of “slow service” or “small portions” I generally ignore them especially 2 bad out of 347 reviews.My experience with reviews is there is always a “negative Nelly/Neal” in the world.There will always be at least one bad review, just make sure its something that doesn’t bother you. That being said, The following would be the restaurants I would consider eating at.

LaSalette:This restaurant has authentic Portuguese food. The bulk of the reviews say how incredible, delicious and authentic the food is. The food appears to be moderately price $15-$25 per entrée. They serve lunch and dinner.The menu was not displayed, a lot of the dishes were mentioned in the reviews and sounded yummy.

Sunflower Caffe Espresso & Wine Bar: This is fresh California cuisine serving breakfast and lunch. The restaurant is in a garden like setting. The reviews say the atmosphere is very enjoyable. Prices are $10-$20 per entrée.

Hopmonk Tavern: Another California cuisine ranging from $10-$20 per entrée. Most of the reviews are about how good the beer is. I think this an awesome feature in wine country, there is always a beer drinker in the mix of people on a trip, this will make them happy.

The Breakaway Cafe: The menu looked yummy to me and so did the pictures. This was another moderately priced restaurant $8-$25. There was some reviews of slow service, this isn’t a fast food place. Slow down and enjoy the meal and your time in Sonoma.

Park 21 Cafe, Grill and Market: This restaurant is American, Mediterranean, Contemporary, Californian cuisine. Moderately price $10-$20 per entrée. This restaurant has a wide range of food choices. I believe this restaurant has great value (based on the pictures). Every review was about great service and great food. There was only on negative review and it was that the coffee was expensive. I think I will take my chances.

After my research I am excited about Sonoma. I am ready to go, I think this would be a great girls trip. We could even stop in San Fransisco on our way home. I hope this helps with any plans to Sonoma you may be planning. Please share your experience with us after your trip. Safe travels.

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Road Trip Again

I had to hit the road again. Making my way across the country with my dad and sister. California to Charleston, SC is a total of 2724 miles.
Yesterday we drove 1000 miles. We brought an ice chest with cheese, crackers, fruit and nuts. We only stopped for dinner. We stopped at Route 66 casino outside of Albuquerque. We ate at Thunder Road. This restaurant was a great value! A lot of food, so split something. They did not charge tax either. We continued on for another hour and found a Comfort Inn in Moriarty, NM. The girl at the front desk was extremely nice. For $80 we had a clean room with very comfortable beds. This included breakfast. The breakfast included eggs, sausage, biscuits and gravy, waffles plus everything included in a continental breakfast. The coffee was very good too. I felt this was a great value.

We are on the road again. I will keep you posted with my frugal and great value tips.

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