Month: June 2017

Should I Cancel My Credit Card or Will I lose All My Points?

Should I Cancel My Credit Card or Will I lose All My Points?

The first year of racking up credit card points is an exciting time in a young boy’s life. It stays exciting for long after that; however, once you hit that first year mark those annual fees will start to rear their ugly heads. At this point several questions will go through your head… Should I cancel my credit card? Will I lose all my point? etc. If you’re like me, signing up for new cards every three months, then you’ve got some decisions to make: either pay annual fees every three months, or start cancelling cards.

Since most cards waive their annual fee for the first year, or at least have a hefty bonus to make it worth it, it’s a pretty easy decision to sign up and keep the card for a year. Deciding to pay the annual fee and keep the card another year is where it gets a bit hairier. Let me make it clear that I would never cancel the card before it comes up on a year; it just makes no sense. There is no downside to holding the card the entire year as the annual fee won’t be assessed until that point. As your average account age is one of the factors of your credit score (more about that here), you want to keep each account open as long as it continues to make sense. Often times it stops making sense as soon as the annual fee comes up, other times it makes sense to pay the annual fee and keep the card. As I’ve gone through this journey there are two things that I have considered in this decision: the type of points you get from the card, and any anniversary bonuses for keeping the card.

Type of Points – Co-Branded vs Bank Points

If you have used all your points, this won’t be a factor. If you have a point balance, this is a big deal. I’ll tell you why, but first we’ll need to review the difference between co-branded points, and bank points.

Co-branded points are awarded by a bank when signing up for a co-branded credit card. The points however are not housed in the bank’s rewards program. They are housed in the rewards program with which the bank has co-branded. Some examples of this are the Chase Explorer Card, the Citi Platinum AAdvantage Card, and the American Express Hilton Surpass Card. Chase, Citi, and American Express are the banks that issue the cards and award the points. However, to access these points, you will need to login to the United Explorer, American Airlines AAdvantage, and Hilton HHonors rewards programs respectively. Though you get bonus points by spending a certain amount on the card in a certain time frame, and continue to earn points through making purchases on the card, the reward points and the credit card are completely separate from each other. This means that you can cancel the credit card with Chase, Citi, and American Express, but your points will still be in the United, American, and Hilton rewards programs.

That being said, a lot of points expire at some point. And one way to keep your points active in many of the programs is to continually add to your point balance. This is done with every dollar you spend on your credit card. So every month your expiration date keeps getting pushed back. Once you cancel your card, you’ve lost one of the ways to keep your points active. This can be overcome if you frequently use the brand of the card. For example, if you stay at Hilton’s often, that will add points to your balance and keep your Hilton points active. So if you’re going to cancel your card, either plan to use your points within the year, or have a backup plan to keep them active.

Bank points are the other side of the coin. These points are part of the bank’s very own rewards program. Chase has Ultimate Rewards Points, Citi has Thank You Points, and American Express has Membership Reward points. Flexibility is a huge benefit of bank points, but the downside is that any balance you have will be erased if you cancel the credit card. However, there are still ways around this. For example, if you have 50,000 Ultimate Reward Points, you could transfer all of them to a travel partner at a 1:1 ratio before you cancel the card. However, you need to be careful here as well. Once you transfer the points to a travel partner, those points become subject to all the same cancellation rules discussed above. So be sure you have a plan in place to use your points soon, or keep them from expiring until you do.

So the bottom line with this factor is that it’s a lot easier to cancel a co-branded card and keep your points. With bank points, you’ll need to transfer to a travel partner first. In either case, you’ll need to have a plan to make sure your points don’t expire.

Annual Fee vs. Annual Awards

Though not nearly as amazing as the sign-up bonus, many cards have an anniversary bonus. There are three cards that I continually keep and pay an annual fee because of this:

  1. Chase Hyatt Card
  2. Chase IHG Card
  3. Club Carlson Card

Chase Hyatt

The Chase Hyatt Card has a $75 annual fee. The anniversary bonus is a free night at a category 1-4 hotel. I’ve looked up five category 4 hotels and found a nightly rate for each. As you can see, there’s quite a range from $232 at the low end to $540 at the high end.

  • Grand Hyatt Washington DC – $359
  • Hyatt Centric South Beach Miami – $540
  • Grand Hyatt Rio De Janeiro – $232
  • Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile – $330
  • Hyatt Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort – Costa Rica – $275

Rio de JaneiroBoth my wife and I have the Chase Hyatt Card, so we pay $150 a year in annual fees. However, you can see that we could book a two-night stay in Washington DC at a value of $718. That means that we’re ahead by $568. We’ve found this to be a pretty good deal. Not only were we able to get a four-night stay in Maui for our sign-up bonus, but we have used our two free anniversary nights to stay in San Francisco for our anniversary, and to fund two nights of our vacation in Paris…. worth the annual fee.

Chase IHG

The IHG Card has $49 annual fee and an anniversary award night in any IHG hotel, regardless of category. This can be pretty substantial. Let’s do the same exercise with this card.

  • InterContinental Bora Bora Resort Thalasso Spa – $786.42
  • Crown Plaza Times Square Manhattan – $317.52
  • Holiday Inn London Express – Southwark – $304.57
  • Crown Plaza Los Angeles – Commerce Casino – $198.94
  • Intercontinental Bangkok – $163.99

Again, Kendra and I both have this card and pay $98 per year. We could book a two-night stay in the Holiday Inn London Express – Southwark, a value of $609.14, putting us $513.14 ahead.

Bora Bora

Club Carlson

We have really enjoyed the Club Carlson Card. It’s a bit different from the Chase cards. Rather than annual free nights, the anniversary bonus is 40,000 points with an annual fee of $75. This makes our value comparison different than the previous two, as we’ll need to assign a dollar value to the 40,000 points to see if it’s worth $75. Below are some Club Carlson properties as well as their per night dollar and point value, and a calculated 40,000-point value for each.

  • Radisson Blu Resort, Split Croatia – 50,000 points or $169/night – 40,000 point value = $135.20
  • Radisson Martinique on Broadway – 70,000 points or $276/night – 40,000 point value = $157.71
  • Park Inn & Suites by Radisson Vancouver – 38,000 points or $95/night – 40,000 point value = $100.00
  • Radisson Hotel and Suites Sydney – 50,000 points or $305/night – 40,000 point value = $244.00
  • Park Inn by Radisson Resort & Conference Center Orlando – 15,000 points or $67/night – 40,000 point value = $178.67

As you can see, the value isn’t as high on this card. Based on these properties, the value of the 40,000-point anniversary bonus averages to around $160. Where both Kendra and I have one, the total value is around $320, while both our fees come to $150, putting us $170 ahead. While the payoff isn’t as high with this card, it still makes sense for me to keep it. Why close cards and ding our credit reports for cards that put us ahead $170?

Summary

Let’s face it, the anniversary benefits are nickels and dimes compared to the sign-up bonuses. That being said, you may want to take advantage of them. After having cycled through multiple credit cards, they may be the only bonuses available until some time passes and you can apply for the sign-up offers again. Obviously you don’t want to an annual fee for every credit card you’ve got in your wallet. But before you decide to cancel, make sure you know what’s going to happen to your point balance, and make sure you’re not giving up something of greater value by canceling. As I said above, these are the things I consider before canceling a card. If I’ve missed anything that you find important, please let me know in the comments.

Touring Sea Caves on The Algarve Coast

Touring Sea Caves on The Algarve Coast

BeachYou couldn’t describe me as a gym rat. In fact, my desire for working out and being healthy ebbs and flows depending on how vain I’m feeling; but I’m pretty sure if I had the endless smooth sands of the Algarve at my feet, I could become an avid runner. Following Roger the Brit’s advice to wake up early and experience the serenity of the coastline in the morning before touring sea caves on the Algarve coast, Dustin and I went for a run. We don’t have a coastline where we live, so it seems like whenever we have the opportunity to run along the beach, we take advantage of it. If you’ve walked enough beaches, you realize that not all sand is created equal. In San Diego the sand is firm but the beach is littered with seaweed, so you have to be careful or you’ll end up tasting the sand instead of running on it. In Hawaii, the sand is so soft that even barefooted I felt like I had weights on my ankles pulling me under the quicksand. The Algarve has the perfect combination of being firm enough that you’re not fighting against the sand to run but soft enough that no shoes are required, and there’s no treacherous seaweed lurking around. Add the picturesque coastline of Portugal to the mix, some kick ass tunes and it’s easy to get lost in a good run. Furthermore, after a good run like that, there is less food guilt…even while on vacation.

I have an unruly tangled mess of hair which Dustin loves, but showering on the days I have to wash my hair is a chore! I don’t know if Portugal just has bad plumbing or if I managed to continuously step on the drain, but I flooded the bathroom nearly everywhere we stayed at least once. Luckily there was an abundance of towels, so I tried to clean up as best as I could before we left on our guided boat tour of the coast.

Chasing Dolphins & Exploring Caves

When we started planning our trip we knew two things we could not miss. 1) the initiation wells in Sintra and 2) the Grutas de Benagil. We had a few Chase points leftover from our initial sign up bonus after using a chunk for a trip to Hawaii. It was enough to sign up for a guided tour of Portugal’s coast that included chasing after dolphins and the caves along the shore. We’ve used Chase points to book excursions on our trips a few times and all of the companies on their travel portal are well informed, professional, and fun. The one we used for this tour was Dream Wave, and it about 7,000 Chase Ultimate Reward points for both of us. If you have Grutas de Benagil“left over” Chase points, I recommend looking at the excursion options for where ever you may be visiting.

Searching for dolphins is like trying to find your keys when you need to leave the house. Sometimes they are readily available and other times your turn your house upside down looking for them before giving up and taking a different vehicle or walking. We were among the lucky few who actually got to see some that day. Usually the tour starts along the coastline exploring the caves and ends searching for dolphins. However, when one of the other boats found a pod of dolphins and signaled our captain we went chasing after the dolphins. We followed the pod for a good hour before returning to the coast and the caves. The shore is spotted with caves and each is unique, but the crown jewel is the Grutas de Benagil or the Benagil Cathedral  named for its neighboring beach and the dome like ceiling that resembles the coffered concrete dome of the Pantheon in Rome with a central opening to the sky. The cave is large enough that it has its own beach; however, the only way to reach it is by sea. When the tour ended, we drove to Praia de Benagil to swim to the Grutas de Benagil.

Swimming to Grutas de Benagil

ArcI am not a strong swimmer. Somehow my childhood pretending to be the Little Mermaid in a bathtub didn’t propel me to learn the art of swimming. Before meeting Dustin and actually learning some of the mechanics, I was surviving on what could only be described as Napoleon Dynamite running underwater. I had recently improved my dynamite skills while training for a sprint triathlon, so I was feeling more confident than I usually would in the the ocean. We’d tried researching how far of a swim it was from the beach to the cave with little success. After seeing the distance from our boat tour, I was sure it was less than the 350 yards I had trained for the triathlon and I really wanted to see the Benagil Cathedral from inside, so with a 50% chance of survival I dove in.

The swim took 5-7 minutes and although the current offered some challenges, it was completely worth the effort. If you’d rather not take the 50% chance, you can rent a paddle board or kayak to cross the distance.

 

Ponta de Piedade

Ponte de PiedadeWe took a short jaunt over to Lagos from Praia de Benagil  to explore Ponta de Piedade,  a group of rock formations along the coastline of Lagos. The honey colored rocks emerge from the aquamarine water and offer the perfect perch to enjoy a spectacular sunset. We spent the rest of the afternoon discovering the nooks and crannies and climbing from the top of the formations to the shoreline.  If you’re feeling peckish, stop at Sol Nascente and grab a bifana or some piri piri chicken.

It’s a brisk 55 min drive back to the hotel and after starting the day running then floundering in the water and hiking up and down rocks we were famished. Taking

Alambique

Roger the Brit’s advice we ate at the Alambique. The cuisine is a mix of Mediterranean, Portuguese, and European so there is something for every palate. The al fresco dining atmosphere is lovely, but don’t forget the bug spray or the mosquitoes will be dining on you. By the end of our meal, both Dusty and I were wearing our napkins around our legs like pencil skirts to stave off the horde of vampirous pests.

That wraps up day two in the Algarve. Be sure to let me know if you have any questions in the comments. If you’ve been to Grutas de Benagil, I’d love to hear your experience.

Road Trip In Southern Portugal – Cascais to the Algarve

Road Trip In Southern Portugal – Cascais to the Algarve

Boca Do InfernoHow I wish we had more time to enjoy Cascais. Though I could appreciate the beauty of the area the night before, waking up to a bright sunny Saturday morning just made it that much better. However we had a three night stay waiting for us in the Algarve, and we couldn’t keep it waiting (I know, poor me, have to go to the Algarve). The Algarve is about a 3-hour drive south of Cascais and our check in was for late afternoon, so we decided to stroll the streets of Cascais for most of the morning before hitting the road.

Boca Do Inferno

We drove to town and then took about a 15-minute walk along the coast to see the Boca Do Inferno (Mouth of Hell). The Boca Do Inferno is a chasm in the sea cliffs along the coast. The waves are quite spectacular when they hit it just right. It’s a pretty cool thing to see, but the ocean kind of stinks here for some reason. We only stayed about twenty minutes. If you’re in Cascais, it’s worth your time to check and and snag a few pictures.

On our stroll back to the city center from the Boca Do Inferno, we stumbled upon a car show. Kendra and I aren’t too into cars, but it was fun to check out what they had there. It was getting close to noon so we figured we’d get Kendra in Cascaissome lunch. We walked up and down the streets looking for a spot to eat and finally decided on a burger booth that was set up next to the beach. We were also able to find a pastel de nata, a Portuguese bundle of goodness recommended to me by my friend who grew up in the area. We sat next to some pretty artful sand sculptures while we ate (see above).

Ponte 25 de Abril

After lunch, we decided we should start our trek down to the Algarve. Not many people know this, but there are actually two Golden Gate Bridges in the world. One of them happens to be in Lisbon. Okay, that’s not true, but it looks like it could be the Golden Gate’s sister. Oddly enough, it was built by the same company that built the Oakland Bay Bridge, but not the Golden Gate Bridge. People often compare the two because they have a similar structure and color. It’s called the Ponte 25 de Abril (April 25th Bridge). The name commemorates the date of a military coup that occurred in the 1970s to overthrow an authoritarian regime. It connects Lisbon to the city of Almada to the south. And we had the privilege of driving over it on our way to the Algarve.Ponte 25 de Abril

The Algarve

We arrived at our hotel in the Algarve around 4 or 5 in the afternoon. We booked a stay for 3 nights at the Hilton Conrad for 210,000 HHonors points that we acquired using various American Express co-branded Hilton cards. This hotel was pretty fancy. Kendra really enjoyed the wood monkey sculptures in the lobby. We got to the room and quickly started looking up places to go eat; we were pretty sure anything cooked in this establishment would be way overpriced. We found a place online called Julia’s Restaurant and Bar. It was right on the beach and we were able to watch the sunset as we ate.

So I have a confession to make. Kendra and I typically don’t go out of our way to interact with strangers. So when the guy sitting alone next to us started asking us questions about where we were from, I wasn’t too excited about doing small talk with him. Little did I know that Roger the Brit (as we now refer to him) would turn out to be one of the highlights of our whole trip. We ended up talking with him for a few hours and thoroughly enjoyed it. We spoke about all the forbidden topics: religion, politics, etc. Keep in mind, this is when Hillary Clinton and Donald Monkeys in the Conrad LobbyTrump were neck and neck for the US Presidential election. So both candidates were pretty easy to poke fun of. But it was nice to know that he was as worried about our country as we were. We discussed his views on Brexit, and the turmoils his country was facing as well. He told us that he has kids who live on both coasts of the United States and he visits often. He has a vacation home in the Algarve and spends a lot of time there. The job that he had retired from took him many places around the world and he told us about a lot of his exciting experiences.

We never asked, but we suspect he’s a widower. After we finished the main course, I got up to go use the restroom, and later Kendra mentioned to me that when I stood up he looked like he was sad that we were leaving. So my sweet wife decided that we would get some dessert to keep him company a little longer. I wish we would have got a picture to remember him, but nonetheless it was an evening and a conversation I will never forget. It was a great reminder to both Kendra and I of another aspect of traveling that we enjoy; seeing the world from other perspectives. We may not always agree on those “forbidden subjects”, but it was delightful to learn from and laugh with Roger the Brit.

Not only was it nice to visit with him, but being a connoisseur of the area, he gave us some excellent recommendations. He told us of a great beach that was pretty much empty if you got up early enough for a good walk. He also told us of the Sao Lorenzo, a church with traditional Portuguese blue and white tile throughout the whole interior. He also gave us some good restaurant recommendations while we were in the area. We took up all three recommendations, which will be posted about later.

Kendra at DinnerNot to get all kumbaya, but I’m glad Rodger initiated the conversation that broke Kendra and I out of our “stick to who you know” attitude. Our journey in the Algarve would not have been as remarkable. We still struggle with this, but that evening at Julia’s makes me want to branch out a little more. I would recommend if you have the opportunity to get to know the local people or other travelers to take it.  You may be lucky enough to spend the evening with someone as remarkable as Roger the Brit.

I’d love to hear any experiences you’ve had connecting with locals or other travelers. Please feel free to leave any in the comments.

Touring Castles In Sintra Portugal

Touring Castles In Sintra Portugal

After a long 24 hour flight, we finally arrived at the Lisbon airport, went through the hustle and bustle of claiming baggage, going through customs, getting the rental car, and fighting through foreign traffic rituals to get away from the airport. A sane person heads straight to the hotel to catch up on well needed rest; Kendra and I take 19,931 steps (at lease according to my iPhone) touring castles in Sintra. And I must say I have no regrets. If I could take everything I love about my hometown, and mix it with everything cool about Europe, it’s Sintra… hiking through the mountains with really cool ancient shit to look at.Hirschis in Sintra

Sintra is a town in the foothills of the Sintra Mountains just outside of Lisbon near the Atlantic coast. It’s unique because there are a plethora of castles, ruins, and estates that are all located in this charming town. With so much to see in one place it’s no wonder why it’s swarming with tourists. Due to the high amount of tourism, driving to Sintra is not recommended as parking is a scarce resource. Kendra and I found several stations online where we could park and then hop on the train for the rest of the journey. Once we figured out how to get on the right road and headed in the right direction, it was only about a 20 minute drive to the Portela de Sintra (the station closest to Sintra with available parking).

Once in town, we stumbled around for about a half hour trying to figure out the best way to see everything. There is a tourist information station just a block away from where the train drops you off. We were able to find a hop-on hop-off bus service that took you to all the main sights. It was a pretty good deal, and we certainly didn’t want to do ALL of Sintra by foot. Though small, Sintra peaks and valleys resemble the scars on Deadpool’s face, so we decided to give it a try.

Our first stop was the Moorish Castle, or as the locals call it, Castelo dos Mouros.

Moorish Castle

Moorish CastleThe Moorish Castle, or what is left of it, is nestled in the forest of Sintra. If you’re like me and don’t know much about European history you’re probably wondering, “who the hell are the Moors?”. Kendra studied history in college so I usually ask her these questions. Apparently the Moors were some pretty bad ass conquerors from Africa that dominated the Iberian Peninsula for much of the Middle Ages. Since the heaviest tourist attraction is the Pena Palace we decided to purchase tickets to both castles at the ticket booth near the Moorish Castle bus stop. If this area is crowded, stroll on past it to the inner most gate of the castle to the hidden ticket office where there is usually little to no wait. Tickets for both castles are 18 euros, or 7.50 euros for just the Moorish Castle.

The Moorish Castle is the oldest of the castles in Sintra, so the outer walls and some sarcophagi are the most distinguishing features. There are parts of the outer walls that could be mistaken for a miniature version of the Great Wall of China. You can traverse the walls which offers some good views of the ocean, the city, and the other sites Sintra has to offer.

The Moorish Castle was my first attempt at using a selfie stick. The one we purchased was really cheap. I had to remove my phone case to connect it and it was kind of bulky and annoying to carry around. On the bright side, nothing puts hair on your chest like taking a picture of yourself with a bright pink stick.

Once you’ve traversed the walls, the courtyard offers a place you can purchase food, eat a picnic, and/or use the restrooms at no charge. I’ve never been so excited to pee for free, as most public restrooms in Europe require coin to use. After relieving ourselves we hopped back on the bus to hit the next stop, the Pena Palace.

Pena Palace

All the way at the tipy-top of the mountain is the Pena Palace, Sintra’s most prominent monument. Sitting so high, it can be seen from much of Lisbon on a clear day.

Pena PalacIt was originally built as a monastery. Apparently, the virgin Mary was chillin’ in the area at some point in the 1500s, so they decided to build her a church. It remained  a quiet area of meditation for centuries until an earthquake in 1755 reduced all but the chapel to ruins. It remained so until King Ferdinand took an interest in turning it, and the surrounding areas, into a retreat for the royal family in the 1800s. He commissioned a German architect to really beef this thing up, while adding a bunch of his own flair including elements of German and Portuguese style. The result is a Disney-esque fairy tale castle with each wing and minaret a different textile and color.

It’s ownership passed hands between various members of royalty until the establishment of the Portuguese Republic in 1910. Queen Amelia, Portugal’s last queen, spent her last night as royalty in the palace before being exiled from the country. At this point, it was classified as a national monument and converted into a museum. The original colors faded throughout the 1900s, but were restored by the end of the century.

Though we had to push through more tourists at this site, it was definitely worth it. Not only are the views of the castle itself stunning, but so are the views of the surrounding area. There are some great photo opportunities for views of the Moorish castle from the Pena Palace, and vice versa.

When we had our fill of people, we headed out to the pick-up spot for our hop-on hop-off tour. We thought we were in luck as the next bus was arriving in 5 or 10 minutes; however, our luck didn’t hold. The bus was completely full and we were left waiting for the next one.  Since there wasn’t a guarantee that we would get a seat on the next one, which was scheduled to arrive an hour later, we started looking for other options.  We were running out of daylight and we wanted time to see the Quinta da Regaliera. This estate is what first brought us to Portugal and Sintra. There was no way we were going to miss it due to some bus schedule. So we found a local that runs a taxi service. It was a little extra cost, but she added a lot of value. We shared the ride with some tourists heading to a different attraction and we got to hear a little bit of the history of both attractions on our ride.

Quinta Da Regaliera

The Quinta da Regaliera was a private home until the 1990s. It was owned throughout most of the 1900s by an extravagant rich dude that really decked out the grounds with elements of Masonry, the Knights Templar, and all sorts of Illuminati hocus pocus mumbo jumbo. The mansion and church are Neo-Gothic in style and are small, but you go here for the grounds.

I’d have to say the grounds of this estate were one of the highlights of our trip to Portugal, the top features being the initiation wells. They are basically inverted towers wrapped in a spiral staircase with moss growing on their surfaces. The two wells don’t serve as sources of water, rather they are used for ceremonial initiation rites. The larger well contains a 27-meter staircase with several landings. The smaller well is less of a spiral and has straight stairs that link each of the ring shaped floors to one another. The smaller one is called the “Unfinished Well” as it doesn’t have the same finished touches as the other.

Initiation WellThere is a network of underground tunnels that connect the two wells and a lake area you can walk across using the stepping stones that pop up in the moss covered water.  Just be careful around the moss lake, a tourist slipped on one of the stones while we were there and fell in. She was okay, but you wouldn’t have guessed that from the screams that were coming from her child.  In our initial travel search, pictures of the completed initiation well are what brought us to this place. It was well (see what I did there?) worth the trip.

The Rest of Sintra

We spent our whole day in Sintra touring the three attractions above. If we had planned a little better we would have been able to tour other cool monuments like the Palace of Sintra and the Monserrate Palace. I found a pretty cool company that offers guided tours of Sintra. If you want to maximize your time more effectively and get more of a guided tour to learn about the history and culture, give them a try.

Jardim Dos FrangosOur Evening in Cascais

After a long day of walking, we took the train back to our car and began the trek to find our hotel. We had about a fifteen minute drive to the Sheraton Cascais Resort, yet another place where I wish we would have had more time. We used 10,000 SPG points that we acquired with our Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card to stay for free. The ambiance continued to impress upon my mind how beautiful this country is. The red stucco of the buildings contrasted well with the lush green grounds. We got to our rooms and realized the only thing that exceeded our desire for sleep was our desire for food, so after a quick shower we were off to hit the town for some dinner.

A buddy of mine lived in Cascais back in his hellion days, and was kind enough to tell me where to find good eats. Where Kendra and I could sooner solve world hunger than make a restaurant decision, this came in handy. We went to his top recommendation, Jardim Dos Frangos (garden of the chickens). A caution for when you go out to eat in Portugal; they’ll set a bunch of appetizers on the table when you sit down. We American’s are used to not paying for things we don’t ask for, so we assumed they were on the house. So the bread and goat cheese you see on the left, yep we paid for it. No regrets though, we would have done the same had we known beforehand, just wanted to give a fair warning.

We have this habit of posting pictures of our food on Facebook while traveling, and my brother-in-law took the opportunity to mock me for how American my meal looked while on the other side of the world. I must admit, it does look like it could’ve come straight from KFC, but it actually had some seasonings unique to the area. It’s called Piri Piri Chicken, and my brother-in-law can suck it, because it was quite delightful…(even if it was served with french fries).

After a 5,100 mile flight, a 19,000 step hike, and one breast of chicken in my belly, it was time to be done. We took the short drive back to our hotel and hit the hay for a good night’s rest. Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments. I’d love to hear any experiences you have had as well. Thanks for reading.

How Many Credit Cards Can I Have And Still Have A Good Credit Score?

How Many Credit Cards Can I Have And Still Have A Good Credit Score?

I had a lot of questions when I started collecting credit card points back toward the end of 2013, not the least of which was how this whole thing was going to affect my credit score. It’s a legitimate concern. Here I am telling you to sign up for credit card after credit card every three months. One could get a little concerned that this would have a negative effect on the finances. So you may be asking yourself, How many credit cards can I have and still have a good credit score? The answer is as many as you damn well please, as long as you use them responsibly.  Allow me to explain.

Credit Score Basics

There are three rating agencies called credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. These bureaus gather data from banks, mortgage companies, credit card companies, and other credit lenders. The Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO) has created an algorithm that probably no one but God himself understands that is used to calculate a FICO credit score. The FICO score varies between the three credit bureaus, and this is because each of them operates independently of each other, and not all lenders report to all agencies. Generally speaking though, your FICO score should be similar between the three bureaus.

Even though we don’t know the exact calculations used to come up with the FICO score, we do know what factors impact it. Not only do we know the factors, but how heavily each affects your score. So without further ado, here they are.Credit Score

  • Credit card use – High impact
  • Payment history – High impact
  • Derogatory marks – High impact
  • Credit age – Medium impact
  • Total accounts – Low impact
  • Hard inquires – Low impact

Credit Card Use – High Impact

Credit card use is calculated by taking your average monthly balance as a percentage of your total credit limit. For example, if you have 5 credit cards each with a $20,000 credit limit, then your total credit limit is $100,000. If you typically carry a balance of $5,000 between all 5 cards, then your credit card use is 5% ($5,000 divided by $100,000).

The lower your use, the better. If you think about this, it intuitively makes sense. The more credit you are using, the further you are pushing your limits, and that means you are riskier to lenders. Showing that you have credit available to you, but that you don’t have to use it shows that you’re a safer bet.

Payment History – High Impact

This one is pretty straight forward. It’s just looking at if you’re making your monthly payments on time. Paying your bill on time every month is a good way of showing lenders that you are responsible with your debt, and thus are less of a risk to them. Even one late payment can ding you here, so be sure to keep track of those due dates.

Derogatory Marks – High Impact

You don’t want derogatory marks. Just the name alone should scare you away.  A derogatory mark could be a bankruptcy, foreclosure, collection, tax lien, or a civil judgement. None of these help your case with lenders. If you have any of these, not all is lost. Most will come off within seven to ten years, and the further they are in the past with all other factors looking better in the recent past, the less some lenders may worry about them.

Credit Age – Medium Impact

Credit age is the average time your accounts are open. This looks at each open credit card, auto loan, student loan, mortgage, and any other open credit arrangement and takes an average of the time each has been open. The higher the average, the better. This shows you have more experience with credit.

Having a long-standing mortgage goes a long way to positively affecting this factor. Keep in mind that every time you refinance your house, you are closing an account and opening a new one. So think back to the last time you refinanced, not when you actually purchased your home, to calculate this average.

When using credit cards for the sole purpose of getting the sign-up bonuses, it can be tempting to cancel the card right away. I always recommend keeping the card as long as you can. If there is no annual fee on a card, there really is no reason to cancel it. Even if a card does have an annual fee, sometimes it still makes sense to keep it.

I’ve found that of all the cards I’ve done in the past 3 years, I’ve found about 3 or 4 cards that are worth paying the annual fee and keeping. With all of that, I’ve been able to keep this factor pretty strong.

Total Accounts Age – Low Impact

Believe it or not, the more accounts you have the better. This kind of ties in to the first factor, as having more accounts increases your credit limit. Keep in mind, this only works in a positive manner for the first factor if you don’t max out your accounts. In addition to that, payment history comes in to play here as well. Having multiple cards won’t help your score if you mismanage them and miss due dates.

Lenders like to see that you have experience with various types of accounts. So having a few credit cards, a mortgage, an auto loan, and maybe a student loan all help to show that you have been able to manage several different kinds of financial loans.

Hard Inquiries – Low Impact

Hard inquiries occur when you apply for a new loan or credit card. Having multiple hard inquiries shows that you are acquiring more debt, which could look bad to lenders.

You may be wondering if this should prevent you from applying for multiple credit cards to get sign-up bonuses.The good news is that hard inquiries have a pretty short lived negative impact on your credit score. Their affects fade over time. In addition, this is one of the lowest impact factors.

What Does This All Mean?

In a nutshell, what all this means is that as long as you don’t max out your cards, pay the bills on time, and don’t cancel your accounts too soon, that you’re basically golden to do whatever you want. I am going to hedge here a bit and say that since credit scores are not an exact science, I am not going to guarantee your credit won’t take a hit for participating in this hobby. But I can say that my credit has done nothing but improve since I’ve started, and I know others have had similar results.

Credit Karma

It’s not always easy to get access to your FICO score. However, there are a lot of ways online to get a good idea what it is. Credit Karma is a website I have used to keep tabs on my credit score since I started doing this. Credit Karma uses both TransUnion and Equifax and calculates a credit score using VantageScore 3.0. While this is not going to be exactly the same as your FICO score, a good score on Credit Karma is a good sign that your FICO score is solid.

Credit Karma shows how my score based on TransUnion has trended for the last nine months. As you can see, it was around 805 back in September of 2016. It has increased and is currently at 815. I wish that I was able to show you the trend back to 2013, because my credit score has only continued to increase throughout my credit card point journey.

Credit Score Bottom Line

While I will stop short of guaranteeing your credit will only get better throughout this hobby, I will say that my score has continued to improve. This experience has been shared by others. Keep in mind though, that you have to be responsible with your debt; don’t max out your credit, pay your bills on time, and don’t cancel cards too early. By following these principles, you should be able to continue to open cards and get their sign-up bonus points. Your score may ebb and flow as you get hard inquiries, but just remember that those hard inquiries don’t have very lasting effects.

Please share your thoughts in the comments. I’d be curious to see if anyone has different experiences.

What Credit Card Should I Get To Start With?

What Credit Card Should I Get To Start With?

So, you’ve thought enough about travel rewards and you’re ready to get in the game. Congratulations, I’m so excited for the journey your about to embark upon. You’re probably asking yourself… what credit card should I get? That was my first question, and it’s usually everyone’s.

Of course, there are sometimes unique circumstances that would sway my recommendation to one card or another; but I’ve found that 9 times out of 10, I recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. If you look at similar travel blogs, it’s usually in the top 3 recommendations; there’s a reason for that – actually several.Chase Deal

  • A great sign-up bonus of 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
  • 5,000 additional points just for signing up an authorized user
  • Double points on travel and dining purchases
  • $0 annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
  • Flexibility with a 1:1 point transfer to many of the top travel partners

Bonus Points

First, let’s talk about the serious points you can rack up in a relatively short amount of time. Chase currently offers 50,000 bonus points upon spending $4,000 in the first 3 months. That’s about $1,000 higher than most offers, but still completely doable. If you have any concerns about being able to meet the spending, check out this post. If you’re still worried, you may want to hold off until you know you have a large purchase that could boost your spending. I always recommend holding off if you’re not confident that you can meet the spending, because once the bonus period has passed, there’s no chance of getting those points. So always make sure you have a solid plan to complete the spending in the allotted time before applying.

Okay; off my soap box. Back to points. Another way to initially rack up a bunch of points is to add an authorized user to your account at setup. This is typically done as you apply for the card. Before you hit submit, you’ll see a field that asks if you would like to add an authorized user to your account. Whoever’s name you put in this field will also receive a card and will be able to spend on your account. Keep in mind that you are financially responsible for all the spending done by this person. If you have a travel buddy (mine is my wife, Kendra), add this person as your authorized user. By doing so, you will get an extra 5,000 if that person makes just one purchase, of any amount, in the first 3 months – easy points.

So now you’ve spent $4,000 in 3 months and added an authorized user, so Chase has given you 55,000 Ultimate Rewards Points; but by the time you get done with the required spending, your point balance will be more than that. Remember that as your working on the sign-up bonus, you’re also accruing points just by spending. Chase will give you 2 points per dollar spent on dining and travel, as well as 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. So, you’ll have a minimum of 59,000 points when all is said and done on your sign-up offer. And as icing on the cake, if your travel buddy signs up for the card as well (and adds you as the authorized user), you now have 118,000 points between the two of you.

What could I do with 118,000 Chase Ultimate Reward Points?

  • Book two round trip tickets between mainland USA to Hawaii on United Airlines – 90,000 points
  • Book two round trip tickets between LAX and New York LaGuardia – 95,000 points
  • Book five nights at the Grand Hyatt Singapore – 100,000 points
  • Book three nights at the Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel in Hawaii – 90,000 points

As you can see there’s quite a bit you can do with 118,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points. Check out this post to learn more.

Annual Fee – Waived for The First Year

Another reason this card is great for beginners is that the $95 annual fee is waived during the first year. There are cards that do not waive the annual fee for the first year, and they are still worth your time; however, I find that you’re better to go with a card that waives it’s first-year fee when starting out. The reason for this is mostly mental. You are signing up for cards so that you can travel for free, and if the first consequence of doing so is to pay a $95 fee, it kind of takes the winds out of your sails. As I said, many cards that don’t waive the fee are still good, but let’s get you in the game and get some quick wins under your belt before we worry tackling those.

Of course, a year from now, you’re going to be coming up on your sign-up anniversary asking if you should pay the $95 to keep the card for another year. There are several reasons for and against keeping the card, and we’ll go over all of that in another post.

Plane

Flexibility of Chase Ultimate Reward Points (Click Here for More Detailed Info on This Whole Section)

The flexibility of Chase Ultimate Rewards Points is one of their best features. Though I tell people to think about their travel goals before they sign up for a card, plans can always change. With most point programs, you can usually figure out how to get pretty much where ever you want, but the flexibility of Chase points makes it so much easier.

Ultimate Reward Points can be transferred at a 1:1 ratio to many travel partners. What this means is that if you transfer 1,000 Ultimate Reward Points to United Airlines’ rewards program, MileagePlus, that you will now have 1,000 MileagePlus points to use with United Airlines. This may seem obvious, but what you may not realize is that other bank points programs have a penalty when transferring. Some have a 4:3 ratio. If that were the case with Chase, you would only have 750 MileagePlus points in the example above. So, whenever you see a 1:1 transfer ratio, that’s a really good thing.

Hawaii

Chase’s travel partners include:

  • Airlines
    • British Airways
    • Air France KLM
    • Korean Air
    • Singapore Airlines
    • Southwest Airlines
    • United Airlines
    • Virgin Atlantic
  • Hotels
    • IHG
    • Marriott
    • Ritz Carlton
    • Hyatt

Not only can Chase points be transferred to these travel partners at a 1:1 ratio, but you can also use Chase points to book flights, hotels, rental cars, and excursions directly through the chase portal.

Summary

I recommend starting this hobby with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. Between being able to accrue points quickly (with its generous sign-up bonus, authorized user bonus, and regular spending), its $0 annual fee introductory rate, and the flexibility of Chase Ultimate Reward Points, this card stands out as the card of choice for beginners.  What do you all think? If there is another card that you would recommend for first-timers, please feel free to explain in the comments.

Cabeau Evolution Pillow Review – Flying In Style

Cabeau Evolution Pillow Review – Flying In Style

Product: Cabeau Evolution Pillow

Cabeau Evolution Pillow In Case
Cabeau Evolution Pillow In Case

Price: $39.99 ($59.99 with cooling technology)

Where to Buy: Amazon.com

My Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Traveling the world is great. Flying isn’t always the greatest. The airlines do what they can to offer comfort, but when you’ve got to squash hundreds of people together like sardines for multiple hours just to turn a profit, there’s only so much you can do. Luckily, there are products that make flights a little cozier, one such is the Cabeau Evolution Pillow.

You can buy these little puppies on Amazon for anywhere from $30 – $60 depending upon the features you want. They come in multiple colors and come with a stuff bag for convenient storage. They are made of memory foam, and have a removable cover for easy washing.

While they don’t cure all your flying ails, they can make the flight more bearable. One of the problems you get on a long flight is a kinked neck from all the um, creative, sleeping positions you end up in. The sheer size and thickness of the Cabeau pillow helps support your head more than most travel pillows. Though not as stiff, it has the structure of a neck brace, so while it doesn’t completely keep your head from nodding forward, it does hold it better than a typical travel pillow.

One of the things I like about it is that you can snap the ends together and adjust the tightness, so it will fit for multiple sizes. You can leave the snaps up front, but I often find I get better support if I snap it in front and then spin it so the snaps are in the back. This usually provides enough support that it doesn’t wake me whichever way my head starts to nod. And though I don’t feel like I’m in my own bed, my neck usually feels better than it would have if I traveled with a regular travel pillow.

It comes with a nifty case that you can stuff it into. One of the drawbacks is that it doesn’t handily snap to a handle or a strap of your luggage the way a standard travel pillow would. The package has a long enough tie down cord that you can feed other straps through, but it’s long enough that it usually dangles awkwardly regardless of how I try to fasten it to my luggage. That being said, I’d rather deal with the annoyance of lugging it around, than the annoyance of a stiff neck. Another drawback is that it gets rather hot, however they do make one with a cooling feature that you can get here. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m intrigued enough that I just may try it on my next long flight.

Well there you have it. The Cabeau travel pillow’s size makes it stand out against the standard travel pillow and will offer more support as you try to sleep on the plane. You can purchase it at amazon.com at a reasonable price. Let me know if you have any comments of if I left out anything important.



How To Save Money Traveling With Airbnb

How To Save Money Traveling With Airbnb

Let’s face it, there’s not going to be a hotel that participates in a rewards program everywhere that’s on your travel wish list. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to cough up some money to pay for your accommodation. This, however, does not need to break the bank. Not only can you still find affordable accommodations, but this also turns into an opportunity to get more in touch with the reality of the location you are visiting, and experience it from much more of a “local” perspective. In this post, I’m going to show you how you can save money with Airbnb, and still have a great time, as well as how to save $40 on your first Airbnb stay.

What is Airbnb?

Airbnb is a web based market place that connects homeowners wishing to rent out their homes on a short-term basis, with travelers such as yourself. As of 2017, Airbnb has over 3,000,000 listings in over 65,000 cities, in over 191 different countries. Not too shabby. Suffice it to say that whenever Kendra and I have been unable to find a reward program participating hotel, we have always been able to find comfortable accommodations through Airbnb.

Airbnb has accommodations to fit any type of stay. You can search for anything from a private room in L.A. for a night, to renting a tree house for 3 nights in Costa Rica, to renting a castle in Europe for a week. The good news is that nightly rates are typically about half the cost of hotels, depending upon the locations. A study of 22 touristy cities was conducted by busbud.com and found that Airbnb rates were higher than hotel rates in only 6 of those cities. So far, every time I’ve needed to use Airbnb, it’s been cheaper than hotels.airbnb-vs-hotels-difference-by-city Airbnb is simple to use. If you can book a hotel online, you should have no trouble using Airbnb. You simply sign up for an account, and then login to search based on location, length of stay, number of travelers, and travel dates. The people that rent out the homes/rooms are called hosts. Most hosts will have plenty of pictures and descriptions posted about their accommodations. When you book a stay, you are actually submitting a request to stay at your host’s property. Most hosts will typically respond within 24 hours and you will be notified when they do so your stay will be confirmed. Once confirmed, you will have access to whatever instructions the host has uploaded to Airbnb; directions to the location, where to find the key, check-in and check-out times, Wi-Fi passwords, things of that nature.

What if the host is a serial killer? Don’t worry, Airbnb has user reviews from people that have stayed there before. So any reservations you have about booking can usually be cleared up (or confirmed) by simply reading through the reviews. This is a two-way street. Hosts will also do reviews on you so that other hosts can read up on you before they decide to accept you as a guest. There’s no need to worry about this; if you’re a decent human being and don’t trash your hosts property, most will give you good reviews (Kendra and I have had no problems).

Our Airbnb Experience

We’ve used Airbnb probably a half a dozen times. We’ve used Airbnb in Switzerland, Croatia, France, and in our own home state of Utah. Each one has been its own experience, but each enjoyable.

Our first experience with Airbnb was in Goldiwil, Switzerland a small hillside village that is part of the larger municipality of Thun, near Interlaken. Our hosts were Franziska and Rene whose lovely home overlooks Lake Thun and the Stockhorn mountain range. Franziska and Rene were very welcoming, welcoming but not invasive. They had breakfast prepared for us each morning of our stay, and even joined us a couple times and offered tips for how to maximize the time we spent in Interlaken.

Kendra with Airbnb Hosts Interlaken
Kendra with our Interlaken Airbnb Hosts
Interlaken Airbnb Host Artwork
Artwork done by Rene, our Interlaken Host

Our second experience was in Zermatt, at the base of the Matterhorn. This was a tiny studio room on the top floor of apartment complex with a fold out bed. Our hosts name was Bettina, but we never met as she lives in Bern. The key was simply left for us in a flower pot and we were directed to leave it in the same place when we left. As we spent most of our time wandering the streets of Zermatt and exploring the ice caves near the top of the Matterhorn, this small accommodation was perfect for what we needed.

Zermatt Airbnb
The grounds of our Zermatt Airbnb

Our next host was Zadranka in the city of Zadar, Croatia. We had an apartment on the second floor of her building that overlooked the Adriatic Sea. She is a sweet lady that makes her own liquor and has several bottles prepared for her guests. While in Croatia, there were two national parks we wanted to see: Plitvice Lakes National Park, and Krka National Park. Both parks were roughly equidistant from Zadar, which is why we chose it as our base for the middle part of our Croatia trip. We were also able to experience the old town of Zadar at night and see the unique Sea Organ and Sun Salutation.

Zadar Airbnb
Kendra on the seaside walkway by our Zadar Airbnb

When my brother-in-law graduated from college, the family decided to do a weekend getaway at Park City, Utah, a high-end ski town just up the canyon from Salt Lake City. We were able to find a 3-bedroom Airbnb that comfortably accommodated about ten of us for the weekend. This is another location where we never met our host, but once again, clear directions were left and the stay was everything we needed.

Okay, I’ll bore you with one more. Our last stay was in the beautiful city of Annecy, France. This was probably the nicest Airbnb we have stayed at. The grounds had a beautiful pool, which sadly we just didn’t have time to use. Franck was our host, and despite the language barrier, he was able to help us out quite a bit. He lent us the use of his bikes, and even called ahead to a nearby restaurant to make reservations for us.

Zadar Airbnb
The pool at our Annecy Airbnb

Save $40 On Your First Airbnb Stay

As you can see Airbnb has treated us nice throughout our adventures, and our story is not unique. If you can’t find award travel in any of the cities you visit, there’s no reason not to use Airbnb. Kendra and I have stayed at multiple Airbnbs, each unique and memorable in their own special way. After each visit, we walked away glad that we weren’t able to find free hotels because it allowed us to get to know and live like locals, if only for a couple days.

Airbnb has a pretty cool referral program. If you sign up for and use Airbnb through this link, you will be able to save $40 on your first stay. If you have any questions and comments as you do so, or if you want to comment on anything just in general, please do and I’ll get back with you.

There’s Not Much That Beats Canyoning In Interlaken Switzerland

There’s Not Much That Beats Canyoning In Interlaken Switzerland

I never knew canyoning was a thing. So when my wife asked me if I wanted to go canyoning, I asked her why she was verbing canyon. A co-worker of hers had recently been to Europe and told her that we need to go canyoning in Interlaken Switzerland.  Luckily, Interlaken was the first destination on our trip. He recommended we look into Outdoor Interlaken, a tour company that offers adventures on all levels of the ballsiness spectrum. It’s a little pricey; around $200 per person, but totally worth it. And as I have mentioned in several posts, the key benefit in using reward points to travel is that once you are at your destination, you don’t have to scrimp as much.

We opted for one of the less ballsy canyoning adventures, but still a few adrenaline rushes (at least by my standards). We met at their headquarters in downtown Interlaken to suit up for the adventure. We then drove up one of the mountains and had a short hike to the stream by which we would descend. We started off repelling down about a 20-foot drop, did several dives into large pools, did one cliff dive that was probably about 15 feet (though it looked much higher from the top), and even had some Goonie-esque water slide moments. But why read my description, when you can just check out the video.

We ended up getting put with a group of exchange students from the United States. They attend a school in Luxembourg and get to travel to random places in Europe every weekend (lucky bastards). It was fun listening to them talk about the trip from their perspectives, like not telling their moms that they were doing something so crazy. Oh, and I also learned from their infinite knowledge, that canyoning is illegal in the United States. Hopefully they aren’t pre-law students. They were fun to interact with throughout the day. We ended up running in to them later that evening as we attended a chocolate making class.

If you’re going to Interlaken, I’d recommend you check out Outdoor Interlaken. They have adventures for all seasons, so you should be able to take advantage regardless of when you go. If you go, please feel free to share your experiences in the comments.