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Every once in a while I wish I had actual American Airlines points

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Thus far, I've avoided ever having a single American Airlines mile. Despite what you might think, I don't have a strong desire to know the ins- and outs of every system out there. The trip itself, not the way I get there, is still where the bulk of my energy is spent. Thus far, Alaska and British Airways partner redemptions have been "good enough" for my OneWorld/American Airlines needs and I've been able to avoid dealing directly with them. Neither Chase UR nor Amex MR points can be transferred to them, so the only option is to start accruing them, or do a SPG/Marriott transfer which can take multiple days (or weeks if their newly-combined IT department is having another flareup of digital heartburn).

Yesterday in trying to help my husband find a flight home from a family emergency in Montana, my Alaska/British strategy finally hit a wall. I knew exactly which flight he wanted to be on, yet neither of them were showing it as available in any class of service.


I …

What I bought with the Amazon Amex 20% discount

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Amazon brought back their promotion where you get 20% off if you use Amex points during checkout. Since pay-with-points is a bad deal, most people are simply using one single Amex point to pay 1¢ of their order and then reaping 20% off their whole order. Details from the July promotion are here, but the short story is that for this November offer, Amazon and iTunes gift cards are now excluded, so I need a different strategy.

First off, I needed to follow the steps to see if I was targeted for this offer – and luckily I was. Basically what I'm looking for is a brain-dead way to quickly dump $500 worth of items into my Amazon cart that will end up only costing me $400 with the 20% off promo. But in choosing what to get, here's some food for thought:
don't buy anything overpricedonly buy things I actually need and would buy otherwisedon't buy things that spoil or expiredon't buy things that are time-consuming or difficult to use If you're a frequent Whole Food…

A great Amex offer for New Yorkers (targeted)

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The MTA is doing a targeted Amex offer for $10 off when you use Apple Pay to spend $10 or more on their MTA e-tix app. You can use the offer 3 times for up to $30 back.

The app lets you purchase, store, and activate digital tickets for Metro North and Long Island Railroad trains. Most importantly, the app lets you skip the lines at Grand Central, which can be incredibly long on holiday weekends and at rush hour.

Log in to your Amex account and make sure you click "View All" to see if you're targeted. Also, make sure you use the targeted Amex card for Apple Pay when buy your tickets. To set the targeted card as the default in Apple Pay, open the Wallet app on your iPhone, press and hold on the desired card, and then drag the card to the bottom of the stack. (Sidenote to Apple: this interface makes no sense whatsoever).


What we did in Oaxaca

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The food and mezcal in Oaxaca are as amazing as we'd heard. We've been twice now, and I'm sure we'll go again. We're not experts by any means, but here's a few bits we learned.

Before you goThere are no fancy-lady western chain hotels. There's a fairly new Holiday Inn and that's about it. We stay at Xtilu mostly because it's a boutique hotel for people 18 and over. (Lots of people bring their kids to Oaxaca and I like to sleep in). There's a gay B&B but I wasn't able to book it for either of our trips.

That reminds me: Oaxaca is popular. Very popular. I tried to book a January mezcal tour five months early and they were completely sold out. Don't think you're going someplace off the beaten path!

There are some amazing beaches in the state of Oaxaca, but they're a short flight (or a 6+ hour drive one-way) from Oaxaca city.

The "shared taxi" from the airport to town can save you some cash, but ours made 10 long and …

The thing no one's saying about that new CapitalOne card

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This week everyone was surprised when Capital One announced that they were going to allow their points to be transferred directly into airline points programs. It's been interesting to see all of the various blogs doing their analyses without ever really bringing up the fact that no one knows if this is going to be an instant points transfer (like with Chase and Amex) or a multi-day process (like with SPG/Marriott points).

What's a bit irksome for me about the mainstream blogs' coverage is that they seem to have forgotten how normal people use their points. Given how few airlines let you put tickets on hold (Korean and Virgin Atlantic both come to mind), a slow transfer like SPG's means that you risk marooning your points if you transfer them and the award vanishes by the time your points show up. This has actually happened to me and it's stressful and irritating.
UPDATE (Dec 2018): The first real-world tests of transfer times are coming in, looks like a few o…

saving money with Ebates hotels

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I've posted before about my general feeling about hotels. The short version is that I don't really like western "posh" hotels because they're expensive and yet they still don't offer the amenities I actually want:  in-room espressoa Toto Washlet in the rooma free, communal hot spring bath that's open late so I can soak my feet after a long day of sightseeingliquor vending machine so I don't have to pay $47 (and wait 45 minutes) for two gin and tonics from room serviceon-site laundry machines In other words, I'm annoyed that Japanese businessman hotel mainstays like APA and Dormy Inn are (largely) only in Japan.

When I do have to stay at a western hotel I generally try to save some money or at least snag some bonus points. There are a lot of ways to do that – search with Rocketmiles, look for Amex offers, use Hotels.com's "say 10 nights, get one night free", etc. On our recent trip to Israel, though, I tried a new way and it worked …

Surprise domestic lie-flats outside the normal NYC-SFO/LAX routes

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We're repeating last year's holiday routine this year – from New York to Phoenix, then to Portland, then back to New York. We fly Economy domestically most of the time, but during the holidays it's so crazy that we usually spring for First just to avoid some of the mayhem that comes with winter holidays and airports.

New York to LA and SF have their glamorous Mint and P.S. planes, but most other west coast cities generally have normal domestic recliners in First. Then there's the added annoyance that nearly all of the eastbound flights are redeyes, and since I'm a very light sleeper, I despise redeyes unless I can lay down.

But in all of this poking around for holiday flights I found two interesting ones I didn't know existed:
A United 757 with lie-flat seats to Phoenix (flight 230 leaving JFK at 19:30) A Delta 757 with lie-flats on a direct flight from PDX to JFK (flight 1756 at 12:49)


I logged on to Delta.com to double-check that this was, in fact, a lie-fl…