Travel Tip Thursday: How Shopping Can Net You Mega Miles

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Apologies for the lack of updates, LEG+JCBphiles, but, you know, DOG.

Anyway, quick update today on how to make sure you’re getting the most out of regular purchases.  I mean, why buy $100 in pet gates when I can buy $100 in pet gates and get 400 frequent flier miles?

You can purchase products from almost every major retailer online and earn miles or hotel points, as long as you make sure to go through an extra step or two (and, honestly, if you’re spending money so fast online that you can’t slow down enough to take these extra steps, then you should speak with a professional).

Now, how do you find out if, say, the infant chinos you want to buy from BabyGap for your creepy human doll will qualify for miles? There’s a really useful site out there call ev’reward, where you just enter the URL for the website you want to purchase from, and it will produce a list of programs like American Airlines AAdvantage or US Airways Dividend Miles that will award miles for that purchase, and how many miles you’ll earn per dollar spent.

Just to reiterate what I said in a previous post: you’re probably only going to earn 3-5 miles per dollar spent, so this is not going to net you a first-class round-trip to Paris anytime soon, but it’s a nice way to keep a steady stream of miles flowing into your account, and they do add up over time.  Sometimes, too, retailers will offer higher amounts during promotions.  You can also earn lots of miles through subscription-based products like The New York Times (where I earned 1761 AA miles for home delivery), magazine subscriptions (23 miles per dollar on Magazines.com), or Netflix (1000+ miles for new subscriptions).

I also wanted to give a quick shout out to a really useful miles tool for which I’ve been late to the party: AwardWallet. If you are new to the miles game like I was until recently, you may find yourself checking a dozen different websites to keep track of how many miles you have with United, then Delta, then hotel points with Hyatt, Starwood, and so on.  Not only that, but you’ve probably signed up for so many rewards programs over the years that you probably don’t remember log-in info across all of the different sites.  Well, timesuck no more!  AwardWallet allows you to keep track of all of your rewards programs on one site. Super simple and convenient!

Happy travels, everyone!  We will be living vicariously through you, since we are now house-arrested with Ripley, the world’s cutest ankle bracelet.

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Travel Tip Thursday: Spring Training for U.S. Airways’ Grand Slam

[This one’s for you, Alix!]

I detailed in a post a few weeks ago some beginners’ tips on how to start racking up points/miles for airline and hotels stays.  Now, I’m gonna show you guys how to step it up a notch through one of the best (and most fun!) airline miles promos out there.  All it takes is time and effort (and in some cases, some cold hard cash).

For the past couple of years, US Airways has run a fall promotion called the Grand Slam, a cheap and fast way to score thousands of miles.  It’s essentially a promo to encourage business with their various partners (hotel chains, SkyMall, rental car companies, etc.) via a baseball-themed, escalating bonus miles incentive.  For every 4 partners you did business with, you not only received the normal amount of miles you would get from those transactions, but you would also get a bunch of bonus miles as well.

Last year, it went a lil’ somethin’…like this:

4 “hits” = 3,000 bonus miles

8 “hits” = an additional 7,000 bonus miles (10,000 total)

12 “hits”= an additional 5,000 bonus miles (15,000 total)

16 “hits”= an additional 10,000 bonus miles (25,000 total)

…and so on and so forth, with the maximum amount of “hits” (or individual transactions with those partners) capped at 40, 40 hits getting you a total of 110,000 bonus miles!

The good news? Several of the hits are free, which I’ll go into as we get closer to September (when the Grand Slam has started in the past), so you can gain 10,000 bonus miles with just a little bit of elbow grease. Some hits are cheap or require you to spend money you would’ve spend anyway, which is how I got to 25,000 miles last year. The bad news? Some are expensive or nearly impossible to complete, like last year’s LasikPlus surgery hit (no joke!)

But why am I bringing up a promotion that won’t even start for another 4-5 months? (If it happens again at all!)  Because some of these “hits” require a little bit of advanced planning.

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Why “Fringe” Matters

The recent announcement of Fringe‘s renewal for next season–it’s fifth and final–got me thinking.

The first show I loved wholeheartedly was J.J. Abram’s Alias. I would obsess about it, scouring the web for spoilers for upcoming episodes, guest star lists, Rambaldi theories. Everything would stop at 9:00pm on Sunday nights as Sydney encountered an endlessly complex world of assassins, evil criminal organizations, and her own life as a triple-agent. It was pure geek bliss: a kick-ass heroine (I had yet to discover Buffy), mysterious rivalries and relationships, dense and detailed, flowchart-necessary mythology.

And then it came crashing down. I think all Aliasphiles will agree that the Superbowl episode, Season 2’s “Phase One,” was both one of the ballsiest things ever done on network television (upending the entire dramatic arc of the show in 44 minutes); it was also the series’ peak. Only rarely would Alias even hint at something as grand and ambitious over its following 3 seasons, and as a fan, it became increasingly obvious as the show went on that there was no master plan and the mythology which became such a feature got bogged down with the dead weight of half-baked storylines and needless, science fiction-y (commonly referred to in Alias‘s case as “spy-fi”) complication. (X-Files, anyone?)

I loved that show and I still do, but it spuddered to such an unsatisfying conclusion that I strained to care.  It’s was like the friend you still want to hang out with because you remember the good ol’ times, but they always stand you up.  I had invested a lot of time and enthusiasm into that show, hoping for one great, overdue payoff, but it didn’t deliver and I was burned bad.

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Kitchen Catastrophe: Week 3 Recap

I’m starting to suffer from “ingredients are expensive”-itis, everyone.

This past weekend, we went to Giant to buy ingredients for the two dishes below and I ended up spending around $40.

$40 for TWO meals.  I might as well have gone to Chili’s and gotten an appetizer AND a margarita instead.

Anyway, that alone may be enough to dissuade me from continuing to make things from scratch, especially when I’m only making for two and Lance hates leftovers.

That being said, I begrudgingly poured my $40 worth of confectioner’s sugar and Yukon gold potatoes into giant bowls and stirred. Let’s see what I came up with:

First dish: Spanish Chicken and Potato Roast

This plating would receive 10 points from celebrity guest Kathy Griffin on "Iron Chef America"!

Friends, a word of advice: whenever you’re making a dish with chicken in it, make sure to actually thaw the chicken first! I didn’t, and for whatever reason, the “cold water immersion bath” tactic just wasn’t working.  I ended up nuking the breasts (tee hee!) for a few minutes just to get them to be pliable.

Otherwise, this turned out pretty good.  Lance thought it lacked a little flavor, but that was probably due to an uneven distribution of the paprika-based seasoning.  I had a breast (hee hee!) that was covered in it which I really enjoyed.

Recipe archived for future use!

Second dish: Bacony Breakfast Cupcake

Rest assured, there is real, actual bacon in this dish, and not something faux.

Unfortunately, given that my nearly 2-year-old phone now refuses to keep a charge through the entire day, I wasn’t able to take a bunch of pictures.  Suffice to say, these came out okay, though I used a tray for mega-cupcakes as opposed to a regular cupcakes, so there ended up being too much cake in proportion to the frosting.

Also, this is definitely a pancake in cupcake form, so what I originally thought was going to be a sweet dessert ended up being more of a savory dish, especially with the chives and the bacon.  I might try a different approach next term and make pancake muffins with pecans in them instead.

And, frosting?  It actually IS better to wait for the cupcake to cool down so that your frosting doesn’t melt down the sizes of your panmuffcake.  I was able to take this one photo before it all went to hell:

What this recipe also doesn’t tell you is that, if you’re being all fancy and trying to make a frosting swirl, you should start on the outside and work your way in.  Why this never occurred to me is a mystery, and led to some janky-looking cupcakes.

[Sidebar: “Janky,” after being made fun of for years due to using this “made-up” word, is actually a real thing. So there!]

So this week was a bit of a setback. What’s the most frustrating about this is that, even though I am developing a comfortability in the kitchen which I was previously lacking, I don’t have this innate confidence that I see in many other people.  I have an inferiority complex, dammit!  I know a lot of that confidence others express is a result of decades of practice, which I don’t have.  Throwing myself into this crash course and forcing myself into the kitchen is the only way I’m gonna learn.