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Archive for January, 2017

Credit Card Strategy

January 11th, 2017, 9:18pm by Mike

amazoncard

I’m a fan of credit cards that get points. When I was consulting, I was all about travel and hotel points, but now that I’m not traveling so much, I need to think through how to maximize my return. So here’s where I am, with the cards I currently have:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred: $95 annual fee, 2x (=2%) points on travel and restaurants, 1x elsewhere. The points are “Ultimate Rewards” points from Chase, which can be transferred to airline/hotel programs or used directly for travel through Chase. Also can be used at Amazon, but not a great point redemption. 50,000 points signup bonus. This is my main credit card.
  • Chase Freedom: $0 annual fee, 5x points Ultimate Rewards points (=5%) in rotating categories every quarter, 1x otherwise. Right now it’s gas stations and local commuter transport (trains and Uber, basically). Since it’s free to have, it’s basically a no-brainer — only really used in the current 5x categories. I think this had 25,000 point signup bonus.
  • SPG Business Amex: $95 annual fee, 5 qualifying nights and 2 stays toward status, Gold status if you spend $30k per year, lots of extra points if you use at Starwood properties. Importantly, the Business card gets Sheraton Club access, which is key for family vacations (and my favorite SPG perk anyway). A holdover from the consulting days, where I really did well with this one. I think this had 30,000 point signup bonus.
  • Citi Prestige Mastercard: $450 annual fee, but great benefits. I got it when they still gave Admirals Club access from American, along with $250 in travel credit per calendar year (=$500 for the first annual fee payment — since I got in August 2016, I used the 2016 credit and now have a 2017 credit to use before August — more than pays for the card), Global Entry Fee waiver, complimentary 4th night at hotels, Priority Pass lounge access. Gets 3% for air travel and hotels, 2% dining and entertainment, 1% elsewhere. 50,000 point signup bonus. 

 

So here’s what I’m going to transition to:

  • When the Citi card comes up for renewal, cancel it (before the fee). So I have to spend my Citi points before that, and make sure I use the travel credit.
  • When the Citi card is cancelled, apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which is Chase’s version of the Citi Prestige. Same $450 annual fee, but gets Ultimate Rewards points, $300 travel credit (again, per calendar year, so 2x the first year), Priority Pass lounges but no Admirals Club access. It gets 3% on travel and dining, 1% elsewhere. Through today, they have a 100,000 point signup bonus (falling to 50k tomorrow and beyond), but I don’t want to have both the Citi and Chase megacards at the same time, seems a little exorbitant. With this, I’ll cancel the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
  • When the SPG Amex is due for renewal, cancel it. Gotta do the math, but I think I’ll qualify for lifetime SPG Gold with another 7 nights of stays, so canceling the card won’t hurt me there, but I guess I lose Sheraton Club access. Have to figure out whether that’s worth the price of the card or not. Considering we spent about 4 nights a year in DC visiting family, that’s 4 family breakfasts, easily would cost over $95 without the Club. So maybe I’ll keep it just for that.
  • Sign up for the Amazon Prime Visa card. Gets 5% back on Amazon purchases, 2% at restaurants, gas stations, and drug stores, 1% back for other purchases. No annual fee, and $70 gift card signup bonus. We spend several thousand dollars per year at Amazon — certainly on par with what we spend on air travel, and more than hotels) so definitely worth it. (Update: Decided to go ahead and get this card now.) 

So after this transition is over, I’ll save at least $95 in annual fees, and consolidate all my point collection to Ultimate Rewards, since I won’t use the SPG card for much of anything. I’ll be getting 5% back on all Amazon purchases, 3% on travel and restaurants, 2% at gas stations and drug stores (doesn’t amount to much for me), and 1% everywhere else. Among categories, the only meaningful one left is groceries, I think. 

Do you guys have a credit card strategy?

 

 

 

The Board App!

January 10th, 2017, 8:20pm by Mike

No, not an app of the blog, but rather one for the original Board. I think it’s seriously exactly The Board algorithm put into a modern iOS app

It looks pretty good!

Tires

January 5th, 2017, 3:41pm by Jake

Yesterday I discovered my tire was completely flat as I started to drive home. Got a lift, and returned this morning to survey the damage– sorry I forgot to nab a photo. Tire looked like it was toast. Called roadside assistance, put on the spare (but didn’t have air to inflate it– so now I have to drive on a mostly flat spare a couple miles to add air). Tire definitely toast, huge nail in it but the killer was the wear on the sidewall from driving with a partial-mostly flat 4-5 miles. Turns out, my car is at 45,000 miles and probably due new tires regardless.

My question for The Board is: where’s the best place to buy new tires, and what’s the best brand/type to buy? Should be all-season since there’s the chance we’ll drive to the mountains at some point.

CES 2017

January 4th, 2017, 3:24pm by Mike

I’ve heard that you can keep people coming to a blog if you keep giving them new content. We’ve obviously proven the converse (no new posts = no visits), so let’s give it a try. I’m checking out the news from CES — here’s what I see that’s interesting:

Smart watches. I don’t know why, but I just don’t like the Apple Watch, for me. It’s too big in every dimension (you could say my wrists are too small). But with the demise of Pebble, my Pebble Time Round isn’t long for this world, so I need to start looking around. Today at CES are a couple of cool contenders:

      • Garmin Fenix 5S: Unofficially, this is the ladies version of the watch, but it’s 42mm diameter, so on the same order of size as the Apple Watch, but round. It’s definitely more of a fitness/sports watch, but I think it looks more like a normal watch. Unfortunately, it starts at $599, so no way that’s going to happen. You can read all about it here.
      • A much more compelling-looking option is the Withings Steel HR. Looks like an analog watch, but does activity tracking and as the name suggests, measures heart rate. Also has a small inset screen that does notifications, HR, steps, etc. And has a 25-day battery life. And it’s round, and either 40mm or 36mm. And costs $180. I’m nearly sold.

Antenna. Not the most exciting space, but Mohu (maker of the famous Leaf HD antenna) has a new product that’s pretty cool. According to Engadget:

The AirWave promises free TV “everywhere” across a variety of mobile and connected TV devices, since it catches the OTA signal and turns it into an IPTV stream for its app, sort of like a localized Aereo (RIP).

Aereo was pretty cool, and worked well for me until it was shut down. I’m excited that I could potentially get HD channels, since I haven’t found an antenna yet that works in my living room. With this one, I could put it somewhere else in the house, since all it needs is to connect to my Wifi network to stream video. $150, so probably not the first thing on my wish list, but cool nonetheless.

Anybody else paying attention?

The Rogue One Post (CONTAINS SPOILERS!)

January 1st, 2017, 3:33pm by Mike

I know we’re all busy with real life these days, but a new Star Wars movie, especially at the holidays, is something that we’d probably all be psyched about. If life has gotten in the way, stop reading here unless you’re OK with spoilers! By the way, if you accidentally see the images below, they’re from the trailers or past movies.

 


 

We saw Rogue One in 3D IMAX on Friday — I’m not sure what others think, but I thought it was totally entertaining, probably more so than The Force Awakens. The highlights for me:

  • The tidbits they throw in for fans. They went a little far with reusing exact lines (like the Cantina guys in Jedha city (“You better watch yourself.”), and the Gold squadron attack on the planetary shield generator (“OK, boys, keep it tight and keep an eye on those towers.”). I later learned that some of the space battle scenes, particularly cockpit scenes, were actually unused footage from A New Hope.
  • Seeing Darth Vader at his biggest and baddest, slicing up rebels, being the evil guy we’d always heard about but never really seen.
  • Answering the “Why was the Death Star so easy to destroy?” question
  • While there were no Jedi fights, they guy with the staff was pretty cool.

There were some plot holes that I caught, and a couple that I didn’t and read about before. For me, the biggest one is the end of the movie. It’s pretty clear that A New Hope starts within minutes of the end of Rogue One. Darth Vader watches Leia’s ship pull away, then he’s boarding it at the start of Episode IV. So, how does Leia claim that she’s “on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan?” You could say that that was just a line, but it was the same line that the rebel guy that Vader force-chokes says — how did they coordinate their stories?

Taking a step back, why was Leia there anyway? Either the Alliance was going to get the plans transmitted to them (in which case they could just re-transmit to lots of Rebels, and not need Leia), or they were going to get a flash drive (in which case, they should have uploaded it to the Rebel Cloud as soon as they got it, and wouldn’t need Leia). The only way they need Leia is in the extremely slim chance case that was the one that happened — and again, it still doesn’t really make sense. Why didn’t they jump straight into light speed on leaving the command ship? Others have certainly made the jump without calculations in an emergency (Han did it in the Millennium Falcon from inside his freight ship in Episode VII).

And of course there are other questions: How did R2 and C-3PO get on the ship, since they apparently missed the boarding announcement back at the Yavin 4 moon base? How did the Cantina guys escape Jedha, get to Mos Eisley within days, and act like they hadn’t just barely escaped the biggest weapons test in the history of the galaxy?

 

But these really didn’t take away from the fun of the movie (in fact, they’re a big part of it). I’m curious what you guys thought.

 


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