10-second tip: DarkSky

I live in the SF Bay Area, and we’re in the middle of an epic rainstorm right now. Since we’re just coming out of an historic drought, we’re all still slightly giddy about the wet weather – but not quite to the point we were at a couple of years ago, when people would literally stand in the rain like thirsty plants, arms out and faces up. In other words, we no longer want to get caught in the rain.

Enter DarkSky. Do you know about this app? It’s genius.

darksky

Dark Sky provides hyperlocal forecasts: not just for your city of state, but right where you’re standing. Perfect for when you’re deciding whether to leap out of the car and make a run for it in the middle of a downpour, or wait it out for a few minutes.

I’ve been using it like crazy these past few days, and it’s wonderfully (scarily?) accurate.

Anyone else use DarkSky and love it? And while we’re talking about apps, any others you would recommend?

It’s Personal: I just got a SWA Companion Pass!

For the past few months, I’ve been watching with keen interest as the recent Marriott/SPG merger opened up new opportunities to earn a coveted Southwest Companion Pass.

companion pass

In brief, it’s now possible to transfer Amex Rewards points –> SPG points –> Marriott points –> Marriott Travel Packages (exchange your points for a week of hotel accommodations with airline miles included) –> Companion Pass. You can get on this train at any one of the stops and still end up at the same destination. 😉 The end goal is to get 110,000 Southwest Points, which is the amount you need to earn in a year to earn the pass.

More Info About The SWA Companion Pass

  • The Companion Pass is valid for the remainder of the year in which you earn it, plus the entire next year.  So if you get the pass in January of 2017, it’ll be good through December of 2018.
  • The pass is especially valuable because your companion can fly for free even when you are flying on an award ticket using points.
  • Another great feature is that you can name up to three people (one at a time, of course) during the life of the pass.

Recent Developments

Over the past few days, a couple of things happened that made me decide to pull the trigger on this deal.

  1. First, on January 1, 2017, Southwest unexpectedly pulled the plug on a longtime method of earning the pass, which was to convert Hyatt or Marriott points to Southwest points. Then, on January 5, in an amazing display of goodwill, they reversed their decision until March 31, 2017! Crazy times! Nothing like a little drama to snap a girl into action! Gotta act fast!
  2. Southwest started flying from Oakland to Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas – for SUPER CHEAP. As in 7,128 points for a nonstop flight! This means that my family of 4 could fly to Mexico for less than 60,000 points roundtrip (45,000 if I use my companion pass). Woo!

What I Did

I’ve been really focused on my job lately, and as a result I haven’t planned many family trips (in fact, one of my goals for 2017 is to travel more).

For this reason, my points and miles balances have really built up. I was sitting on 30,000 SPG points, plus a ton of Amex points, so I decided to transfer 180,000 Amex points to SPG (at a ratio of 3:1). This gave me an additional 60,000 SPG points, for a total of 90,000.

Since SPG points transfer to Marriott points at a 1:3 ratio, I transferred all of my 90,000 SPG points to Marriott, for a total of 270,000 Marriott points.

Then I called Marriott (1-800-321-7396) to purchase a Southwest/Marriott Travel Package. This is an incredible value – you can exchange 270,000 Marriott points for 120,000 Southwest points PLUS a 7-night Marriott stay at a Category 1-5 property.

 

marriott travel package

Honestly, I’m not even sure I’ll use the hotel stay. This deal was good enough without it! If I do manage to find a property that works, I’ll consider it gravy.

In the meantime, I’m busy planning a couple of trips to Mexico. With 120,000 Southwest points, I have almost enough for a total of 3 roundtrips.

Happy New Year, indeed!

Has anyone else decided to get the Southwest Companion Pass this year?

10-second tip: get 1,500 free Marriott points!

1,500 free Marriott points is a nice way to start a Monday morning.

Marriott is kicking off a “30 Days Of Members Get It” promo. Or something. It’s actually hard to figure out what the official name is, but you get the idea.

free marriott points

Anyway, sign up here to get your free 1,500 points. You’ll need to connect your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, so this is when it comes in handy to have second accounts…for your alter-ego.

free marriott points

Apparently, Marriott also more in store for us later this month. Click here for a sneak peek.

Happy Monday!

 

Airbnb tried to give me 3,000 Virgin miles…and I said no.

Yep, it’s true: Airbnb and Virgin were generous, and I was dumb.

You know that sinking feeling when you realize you just let a bunch of points or miles slip through your fingers? That’d be me today. I just found out I left 3,000 Virgin miles on the table – and I couldn’t be more annoyed.

What happened?

A few weeks ago, I shared how I found a great deal on award tickets to Maui next summer. Since then, I’ve been putting together a plan for where we’ll stay during our trip.

To build in a little variety, I snapped up 4 award nights at the Andaz Maui, then decided to spend another 4 nights at an Airbnb. Amazingly, I’ve never stayed at an Airbnb before, so I’m not really familiar with the booking process.

It seemed simple enough: find a place, click “book,” wait for the host to confirm, and done! After I found a place I liked, I took care of the booking in a matter of minutes.

However, as usual, there’s a way to make the process a little more interesting.

You can earn Virgin or Delta miles when you book with Airbnb

Yep. And it’s really, really easy. All you need to do is start your search on either the Virgin or Delta sites.

airbnb virgin

 

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You’ll earn 1 point per dollar you spend at Airbnb. Each of the sites will even give you a sign-up bonus: first time bookers using Virgin get 1,500 bonus points and a $20 Airbnb credit, while if you book with Delta for the first time they’ll give you 1,000 miles and a $25 Airbnb credit.

Grr! I totally missed out on this one! I hate when that happens.

Have you made any points and miles mistakes lately? Please share in the comments – it’ll make me feel like I’m not alone. 🙂

5 tips for shopping on vacation.

Do you go shopping on vacation? I was cleaning out my closet recently when I realized something interesting: most of my very favorite pieces of clothing are things I’ve bought on trips.

I am a frequent vacation shopper, for many reasons. I’ve found Halston in New Orleans, cashmere in Vegas, and Vince in Seattle. Every time I wear one of these pieces, I fondly remember the city I was in, who I was with, the way I was feeling…each item is a great souvenir. In fact, I’m in DC right now, where I just snapped up these Rag and Bone classic Newbury booties on supercrazy sale.

shopping on vacation

I can’t believe how cheap these were at Saks Off 5th in DC!

Shopping on vacation can be awesome (great finds, fun times) or it can be awful (hours and money wasted). To maximize your chances of greatness, there are a few simple things you can do.

Top 5 Tips For Shopping On Vacation

  1. When in Rome…
    • This one’s easy. Headed to Miami? Stock up on bikinis and sunglasses. Going to Vancouver? Look for a winter coat. When you search for a city’s must-have pieces, you’ll find plenty of selection and sales, but when you flip the script, it’s easy to end up frustrated.
  2. Ask around
    • Now’s the time to poll your friends on Facebook for the best boutiques, thrift shops, shoe stores, etc. in the city you’ll be visiting. Getting personal recommendations from people who know your style is priceless. If you’re the first in your group to visit a city, never fear: Yelp is also your friend.
  3. Save space
    • You know the expression “Pack a pair and a spare”? Now’s the time to put this saying into action…but with a suitcase and a duffel. If you’re planning to go shopping on vacation, fold a small duffel bag into your suitcase. Case in point: this post, about the time my friend Hottie and I went wild in a Seattle thrift shop.
  4. Take your time
    • Usually, the best discoveries happen when you’re just wandering around. I’ve stumbled upon many a find while I was simply ambling through a cool neighborhood. This is also where most of my favorite pieces have come from.
  5. Don’t “Just Do It”
    • So you’re in New York, arguably the shopping capital of the world, and you’re just not feeling it? It’s all right – it happens to the best of us 🙂 Better to back away from the boutiques than to dive in an end up with something you don’t really need.

Do you have any tips for shopping on vacation? Share in the comments!

Yay! A Kimpton Sweepstakes!

As you know, I love Kimpton, so this morning I was thrilled to learn about the first Kimpton Sweepstakes! Enter now through December 28, 2016.

In true Kimpton style, there are plenty of goodies to go around – even if you don’t win, you can get a nice discount on all the prizes available – 25% off for everyone, and 35% if you’re an Inner Circle member.

Prizes

  • One (1) Grand Prize of a three (3) consecutive night stay at any Kimpton Hotel in a standard double occupancy room.
  • One (1) First Prize of the Kimpton Bed Mattress and Box Spring.
  • One (1) Second Prize of a Zebra Sheet Set.
  • One (1) Third Prize of two (2) Feather & Down Pillows.
  • One (1) Fourth Prize of a choice of Kimpton Robe.
  • One (1) Fifth Prize of an Atelier Bloem 4 Bottle Set.

You can enter here.

If you want to learn more, you can read the official rules here.

Good luck!

kimpton sweepstakes

 

kimpton sweepstakes

kimpton sweepstakes

kimpton sweepstakes

 

How to fast-track your Kimpton Status.

It’s here! The moment I’ve been waiting for! It’s time for the Kimpton Rewards Annual Sale.

Why am I so excited?

The Annual Sale is a “fast-track” way to earn top-tier Kimpton status.

The Kimpton Rewards program is called Karma Rewards. It’s both generous and fun. You can reach the first tier just by signing up, and hit the last tier with only 14 stays.

kimpton karma

During the Annual Sale, you’ll get Double Stay Credit for each of your stays. This could help you in one of two ways:

  1. If you’ve currently got a few Kimpton stays under your belt for this year, you can book additional stays to top off your balance and hopefully reach a new status high.
  2. If you’re going for 2017 status, you can get a solid head start. For example, with just 3 stays, you’ll be almost halfway to Inner Circle!

Why I love Kimpton

Kimpton is my favorite hotel brand. Their boutique hotels each have their own neighborhood vibe, and the staff goes out of their way to make guests feel comfortable and welcome. I’m frequently offered a glass of wine at check-in, for example, and I’ll sometimes find truly special amenities in my room.

kimpton amenity

Speaking of wine, they also have an nightly hosted wine hour, which always creates a fun community feeling and is a great way to start an evening out. They’ve got awesome bikes you can take out for a spin (for free!) and yoga mats in the rooms in case you need to unwind. Free wi-fi, a free drink from the minibar, and morning coffee in the lobby…those all happen, too.

If you’ve got Inner Circle status (their top tier) you also get a complimentary night at new hotels, frequent upgrades, late check-out, free goodies at the restaurant, and an incredible welcome amenity each time you stay.

kimpton inner circle welcome amenity

My welcome amenity from the Hotel Buchanan

Sale details and tips

  • You need to be a Kimpton Karma member to have access to the sale.
  • Getaway from October 13, 2016 – February 28, 2017.
  • Book by October 16, 2016.
  • Consider staying at different Kimpton hotels during the same trip to earn more stay credits.

kimpton sale

 

Anyone else out there excited for this sale? What great deals have you found? I’d love to know!

Wow! Amazing Avios award availability to Hawaii this summer.

I just booked a trip to Maui this summer using Avios, and lemme tell ya, I am thrilled.

While I’ve often tried to book these legendary flights (prized because of their low points cost – only 25,000 Avios for a roundtrip from the West Coast to Hawaii), I have never actually succeeded, as they are notoriously rare. In fact, each time I’ve called British Airways to try to figure out a Avios to Hawaii booking, the agent has audibly tsk-ed and tutted his or her way through the lengthy conversation, all which have ended in disappointment (on my end, at least).

NOT THIS TIME!

On a whim, I checked the American Airlines site for the months of July and August to see what goodies might be available. Specifically, I was searching for Oakland – Maui flights that had “MileSAAaver” award availability. (This is because you need to find Saver award availability on American or Alaska in order to book the flights using Avios. You also need to find a direct flight).

Tons of availability!

Imagine my shock when I saw this on the American site:

avios hawaii

And this on the Alaska site:

hawaii avios

I was electrified with excitement, but tried to remain calm, as I knew that sometimes the return flights can be the deal-killer. However, here’s what I saw:

avios hawaii

I could not dial the British Airways number fast enough. Of course, then I was on hold for about 45 minutes, but I wisely used that time to check award availability for the Andaz Maui and a few random Airbnbs.

I waited breathlessly while the agent checked my chosen dates. Again, this took forever, so I struck up a conversation about Manchester, England (which is the location of the British Airways call center and the hometown of the agent to whom I was speaking). After what seemed like an eternity, I yelled with delight when the agent was able to confirm that SEVEN award seats were available! Especially since I only needed four. 🙂

How much did it cost?

Each flight priced out at 12,500 Avios + $5.50 each way, so all told, these four roundtrip flights cost me a total of 100,000 Avios + $44.

The best part was checking what the flights would have cost if I purchased them with cash instead of miles: $2,872!!

hawaii avios

You can do it, too!

A few tips:

  • Since Avios is a distance-based award currency, the number of miles you need depends on how many miles your flight is. You can use the Wandering Aramean’s Avios calculator tool to check the points cost of a flight.
  • You need to find award availability for the lowest tier of award prices.
  • Try calling a different call center (Singapore is supposedly a good one –  Tel: +65 6823 2095) for shorter wait times.
  • Make sure that you ask the agent to waive the phone booking fee of $25, as these award seats aren’t possible to book online.

Good luck and aloha!

Is anyone else planning to snap up these great award flights?

Get a pair of luxury leggings for just the cost of shipping.

Ah, leggings. They’re comfortable, practical, and – depending on what you wear with them – they can even be chic. In other words, they’re a travel staple.

However, they can be pricey. As you know, a quality pair of leggings can set you back $75-$100! So, I was excited to learn about this promotion for free leggings from Girlfriend Collective.

girlfriend collective

Right now, you can get a pair of leggings that is ethically made (check out Girlfriend Collective’s FAQ for details) and sustainably sourced (each pair of is made from 25 recycled water bottles)…for the cost of shipping.

girlfriend collective

Since the leggings are made in Vietnam, you’ll pay $19.95 for them to arrive via First Class Package International Service. Once the promotion ends, they’ll likely sell for $60-$70, so while it’s not free, this is a solid deal.

I just ordered a pair and am excited to test them out. Anyone else planning on getting in on this deal?

Apparently I found a secret offer from Amex.

A couple of weeks ago, I got a thick envelope in the mail from Amex. I quickly tore it open, excited to discover what surprises they had in store for me, and was thrilled to find a packet of offers redeemable with my Platinum card.

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The most practical of the bunch was a 30% off a Boxed order, which stacked nicely with a 2x points offer I already had loaded onto my card. I used it to stock up on cleaning supplies and snacks for my kids’ lunches and saved $50. Nice.

Then there was a more “aspirational” offer: $200 off $500 at Intermix. Drool.

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Lemme just say: wine hour is real, people. 6 pm on Sunday night? Dangerous. Stack that with an extra 40% off sale items, 8% back from TopCashBack, 2x points at Amex, and a birthday check from my in-laws and you can pretty much guess the rest.

Although…Amex put a screeching halt to my wild plans when the code on the card just straight up didn’t work. I tried everything I could think of, then I called Amex.

Which was a total waste of time.

Thirty minutes later, I had spoken to 3 people – including someone in tech support – and they all implied that my card (and the code) were a figment of my imagination. “Of course we believe that you’re holding the card in your hand right now,” the last rep said to me, placatingly, “it’s just that we have no record of it. According to our systems, it doesn’t exist.”

For reals.

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So I did what any sane person would do: I tweeted @AskAmex.

Sure enough, within minutes, my issue was resolved.

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The moral of the story? Actually, I’m not really sure. Is it:

A) Never call when you can tweet.

B) The Amex marketing team has gone rogue.

C) Ask and ye shall receive.

D) All of the above.

What do you all think? Has anyone else received this offer? Has anyone used it? Any other secret offers out there?