Monday, March 31, 2014

April Fool's Day?

A friend of mine reports in NJ that VR Reloads are still purchasable with a card in NJ today. Maybe this hype is all an April Fools Day joke as Frequent Miler Speculates at

If not, the Amex Serve is more important than ever.

Dear USAir, Welcome to OneWorld

US Airways joined the OneWorld alliance today. This is awesome, because you can now book all sorts of cool flights with Avios miles! If you live in Philly or Charlotte this could actually change your life. Remember, Avios has a 1151 mile radius on their 7500 mile redemption. If you live in Charlotte, you can now get to Cancun, Grand Cayman, Nassau, or Providenciales for great rates! Avios plus cash often lets you split the ticket into part cash part points at a favorable rate, sometimes under 2 cents per point. Welcome to OneWorld!

Check out where you can go on the Avios Chart with this tool:

On a related note, you can get 7500 Avios points by spending $1500 in restaurants on your Chase Freedom card in Q2 2014. Just don't forget to activate the bonus!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Virginia Sweepstakes

Virginia is offering a nice Williamsburg and VA Beach vacation sweepstakes, and all entries get sent a travel guide. Why not? Williamsburg is lovely. It has Busch Gardens, nice golf, a water park, and colonial Williamsburg. The food in the colonial taverns is rather renowned.

Friday, March 21, 2014

AA Miles for Trivia

You can get some quick and easy AA miles by participating in a promotion they are doing. Supposedly you can get about 1000 miles for messing around on the web for a bit. I'm off to check it out.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Montreal Restaurant Recommendations

A coworker asked me for restaurant recommendations in Montreal today, so I thought I would repost them here. I have been there twice in the past couple of years and I wish I was going back for Osheaga this year, but instead I have a work conference.

Quebecois food is like the craziest ode to meat, imagine giant veal chops covered in foie gras with some fancy french sauce.

I haven't actually been here, but only because I couldn't get a rez. I saw it on Bourdain and another foodie friend went and loved it.

This is my favorite restaurant ever, it is the one that got Christine to like Foie.

The best eggs benedict I have ever had was at L'Avenue

Finally, this is a ridiculously good BYOB, highly recommended.

This is a great cocktail bar in French area (along st denis)

This is a a giant bar in middle of French area

This was a great microbrewery

There is a big casino on the island, climbing Mont Royal to the chateau is nice, and there is a cool market called jean talon. Interesting tourist food includes smoked meat from Schwartz's, poutine anywhere cheap (I find it bland more expensive places didn't have better versions), and finally they have a unique style of bagel.

The foie and lobster sandwich I had at Au Pied de Cochon has me salivating right now.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Eagle Rock Ski Area

I went with Christine and two of her cousins to Eagle Rock Ski Area in Hazleton, PA recently. I recommend it for people with small children or people learning to ski. The rates are rather low and the lift lines are short, even on a nice weekend in early March.

 The vertical lift is about 500' and the top of the mountain is very flat. The two courses on the far edges were popular with Christine and her cousin. They almost worked up the nerve for what is a double black on this map. I thought it was more of a dark blue compared to Camelback or Blue Mountain slopes. The slope on the far right of the map was a blue according to the map when we were there, it might be black because of some terrain features. The rental gear was a tad aged compared to some nearby mountains, however, the gear for kids seemed pretty new.

The bar is at the base of the mountain and is not very crowded and has excellent prices. You can ski in and out quickly. They also had good chili.

The restaurant in the country club is not recommended. It was dirty, had quite rude staff (one of which was probably on meth), and they couldn't cook a hamburger to the right temperature. One of our party members made her dissatisfaction quite clear to management and they did not seem receptive to comment.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Q2 Chase Freedom Bonus

If you are anything like me, it will be harder to track when to stop using the Chase Freedom than to hit the full bonus this next quarter. Remember Chase freedom is like 8% + Cash Back in its bonus category, but only on your first $1500 in spend on that category. Couples should get two of this card. This is because Chase Freedom points are worth at least 1.6 cents, and I value them around 2 cents. In Q2, your category bonus is restaurants and Lowe's. If you really don't like eating out or home improvement, order some gift cards from Lowe's on whatever you do like. I think they sell Amazon cards.

Activate the bonus every quarter at

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Points for All Your Spending

You should be getting points for all your spending. All of it, mortgage, rent, taxes, student loan payments, whatever. This is actually fairly straightforward to do. I am not sure how long this strategy will last, but as of about 3 months ago, this is easier than ever before. It is also pretty easy to hit even the highest minimum spend requirements for credit card bonuses.

Step One, Sign up for American Express Serve, do it twice if you're a couple, do it three times if you can.

Step Two, Sign up for Amazon Payments, do it twice if you're a couple, do it three times if you can.

Step Three, Set up each American Express Serve to take $200 a week off your credit card.

Now every month, follow these steps:

1) Go to CVS five times, use your credit card to put $500 (the max) on your American Express Serve account. Do it twice (the max) each time you go there. This is annoying, but I work across the street from a CVS and walk past another one on my walk to the train. Many people live or work near a CVS.

2) Send your significant other $1000 on your Amazon Payments account. Don't have her or him send it back. Withdraw it from their account into checking.

3) Use American Express Serve Bill Pay to pay whatever bills you have (mortgage, rent, water, whatever) or just mail a check to your significant other.

Using this technique, your spend of $6000 can get $136.80 back from your Barclay's Arrival card or 9000 United points from your United Club Card or 7500 BA miles on your Chase BA card. Couples can get $11000 in spend. A couple pursuing this strategy with a Barclay's arrival card will earn an extra $11000*0.0228*12 = $3009.60 in real cash income every year or 165,000 British Airways miles or 198,000 United miles. With an American card, a couple will get 132000 miles, which is enough for a 130,000 mile around the world trip in Business class. You can get 660,000 Club Carlson points with 11k in monthly spend, enough points for over 3 weeks in a category 3 hotel.

This is just from this technique, all the rest of your shopping should be going on your card as well. You might want to spread your CVS spending around on different cards and work towards multiple mileage goals at the same time.

This is all for the low low cost of $1 a month in fees from American Express, waived for billing addresses in New York. Ignore all the travel blogger advice about Bluebirds and Vanilla Reload cards or whatever until you have maxed out this strategy. The only possible addendum to it is buy $5000 in American Express gift cards through Top Cash Back or Big Crumbs on your card and load your Serve at CVS with those instead of your card (this is what I am doing this month).

7500 BA miles each month is nothing to scoff at, it is enough for a one way on US Air or American up to 1151 miles. This is amazing. Suppose you are in DC, this means you can get 6 flights a year as one person on this strategy to New Orleans, Montreal, Florida, Bermuda, or the Bahamas. You can find out
how far you can go by looking at the BA award chart  and using this tool 

1151 miles around DCA

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Free 2015 Zagat Guide

If you visit NYC often, you should get the Zagat guide. It is a great way to filter down the incredible restaurant selection. Their reviews are generally more credible than competing crowdsourced ones like yelp and more comprehensive than professional food critics. Now you can get it for free by answering their survey.

Also, when you go to, you can make great use of their map tool to filter to the best restaurants below a certain price in the area you want to eat.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Bad Deal: UA Upgrade on K class fare to Europe

If you find a great fare to Europe, you might think you should use your miles on an international upgrade. Let's say I value the upgrade at $1000, which is quite high, I probably value it at closer to $500. It is quite annoying to find a great fare, and then look at the upgrade award chart to find out it was a K, an L, or a W and you have to pay 40k miles and $1100 to do the upgrade! This is like getting charged $1700 at best, way higher than my $1000 liberal valuation on it. The only decent upgrades seem to be on fares that were already pricey. Oh well, I guess you can't always have your cake and eat it too.

Good Long Distance Fares

Flying on points is great, especially internationally, when fares tend to be very expensive and you can get two cents per point in value rather straightforwardly. However, sometimes international fares are cheap as well and long haul flights are great for earning miles. This is not a travel nearly free blog, but more of a travel value blog.

One current example is JFK to Milan on Emirates for two people in April. This is currently selling for as low as $438 per person, under 6 cents per mile. Since you can earn miles on this flight, like most paid fares, it is like also getting at least 1/3 of the fare back in rewards credits.


Another great fare you can get right now is Scandinavia in November on United, just in time to see the Northern Lights. Christine and I booked the direct flight from EWR to Oslo for her birthday and Thanksgiving at $447 round trip, all in. Stockholm was also really well priced.


One on Mileage Runs today was NYC to Anchorage in June for $404. This is on US Airways and is 4.3 cents per mile, meaning you get almost half back in miles!
I have never been to Alaska, but I hope this price comes back in 2016 or 2017.


Three of my favorite sites to keep an eye on the best fares are
You can also put a fare alert on any route you really like on Kayak or most major online travel agencies.

NYC Restaurant Week

Many cities have a restaurant week, where lots of restaurants will offer a three course meal for a fixed price. In NYC, we have $38 dinners and $25 lunches. In my experience, the prix fixe lunch menus around town are often great deals, even throughout the year at places like Junoon or Georgio's. One of my favorites is the City Harvest lunch at the lounge at Le Bernedin. Le Bernadin is arguably the best restaurant in the United States. The challenge however, is to find restaurants that don't have a horrible rendition of their regular menu just offered up for the less likely to return customers of restaurant week. These are often the most expensive restaurants on the list, or the ones that can survive on their existing reputation and don't have much incentive to try to appeal to a new group of diners.Restaurant week actually lasts three weeks, and I tried three restaurants on the prix fixe scheme over this time.

One nice thing about NYC restaurant week is the google map and restaurant filter available at Also, you could get a $5 statement credit each time you go out to a participating restaurant by linking an Amex at also.

The first restaurant I chose was a steakhouse around the corner, Frankie and Johnnies. I went with a few colleagues for lunch. This is a very old timers, fancy looking place. I got the barley soup, medallions of filet mignon with mashed potatoes, and key lime pie. The meal was rather slow paced and the food was executed well, but generally a little bland. The mashed potatoes were way over processed tasting to me and had not nearly enough butter; the gravy was bland to me as well. This is a great place if you like very traditional options and are not an adventurous eater. I, however, will be unlikely to return for restaurant week but I might come back for perhaps the burger or the veal chop, which both sounded great. They do a 3 course $40 dinner every Sunday if this is what you are looking for.

Next stop on the list was Perilla for dinner with Christine. Perilla is very well known, as the first winner of Top Chef, Howard, is the proprietor. This was a pretty good experience. It is located in the West Village near the PATH station.  This was the menu.

They had a red and a white wine on restaurant week discount as well. We started with their famous duck meatballs, a deep fried mussel salad, and some gumbo. I didn't really get the meatballs, they were interesting but not worth $15 to me. The mussel salad was amazing. For dinner I had a roasted hake of potatoes and brisket. My dish was very very light on the sauce and this was a bit of an issue for me. It is possible the sauce wasn't actually put on the plate. Each bite with the brisket in it kind of overwhelmed the other flavors in the dish, but the brisket was mostly just a garnish. A good dish, but could have been executed better. The orange clove desert I had was wonderful as well, and Christine loved her sorbet selection.

Last place we went was Resto at 29th and Park. For me, this was the highlight of the three. I didn't actually order off the restarant week menu, as their regular menu was similarly priced. As a first course, I had an amazing veal breast dish that was fatty and deliscious and reminded me of pork belly. For my entree I had monkfish with chanterelles. Monkfish is my favorite fish cooked. I shared a pear desert from the restaurant week menu with Christine. We were also able to take advantage of grabbing a couple happy hour cocktails before our table was ready, but this place is well known for a good beer selection. I highly recommend this place throughout the year, and I would definitely do one of their large format feasts, a new trend around here that is also at a couple of other popular restaurants such as the Breslin and Momofuku. I also still need to try their sister restaurant, Cannibal.