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A brilliant and yet terrible idea

pocket shots

We found these in a liquor store in San Antonio, thought that they were totally hilarious and bought them for immediate consumption novelty’s sake. You can also get pocket whiskey and pocket tequila. If you can’t fly coach without alcohol and you want to surreptitiously stick it to the TSA man and the airplane cocktail cart but are above filling 3.4 shampoo bottles with booze, I guess I have a solution for you… Personally, I would prefer a refreshing pocket beer.

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A Wine Nerd scoops up 2000 SkyMiles and more wine

Shivers Run

If you like wine, as The Wine Nerd does (so much so that he even makes his own. See above. He also works in a wine bar. He really likes wine.) and you have friends who want to drink your wine, it may behoove you to join a wine club to scoop up some promotional bonus air miles:

Thanks to my friend The Flying Nerd, I have embarked on a quest to accumulate frequent flyer miles. In addition to this newfound hobby, I also enjoy coming across new bottles of wine. Given my talent of multi-tasking, I set off to accomplish both in one fell swoop. During the process of a 2-minute search on the Delta Skymiles website, I came across an offer from the American Wine Cellars Club.

The Offer:

Receive 2,000 bonus miles for the first shipment of 6 bottles at $41.94. For those of you who struggle with math, that’s $6.99 a bottle. Not a bad deal. (3000 more miles would be given with the 3rd wine club shipment, but the Wine Nerd need not commit to so much of their wine, so was satisfied by the 2000-mile initial offer.)

Is it worth the price?

Each person will come to a decision on whether the price is right depending on your circumstance and preferences. Individuals value items differently, such as bottles of wine and airline miles. Below is how I decided that the offer was right for me.

The Valuation:

I value my SkyMiles at $0.01, so 2000 bonus miles are worth $20 to me. I then see the offer as 6 bottles of wine for $21.94. Do I value 6 bottles of low-end wine at $21.94? Yes, but only to serve those bottles to my box-wine-loving friends — except The Flying Nerd of course…

Notes:

  1. I’ve always wanted to learn the origin of the phrase “one fell swoop”
  1. Yes, you will have to call and cancel your membership to the club. Normally I dread this task, but the company understood my motivation for joining the club and the whole call lasted less than 90 seconds.

Hello Kitty-themed flying

My Hello Kitty burger from Sweets in Taipei. It tasted not very good, but at least not like cat meat. Not that I would know what cat meat tastes like, I don't think.

There is a certain part of my incredibly dignified and studly personality that still allows for a little weakness when it comes to Hello Kitty. I share this weakness with The Awesome Nerd (although she doesn’t see it as weakness, more like full-blown obsession, and her 9 year old son sees the excess of Hello Kitty paraphernalia in their house as a form of child abuse. I asked him about this. He looked at me with terror-filled eyes and said, “They’re all looking at me.”). Because of this, the Awesome Nerd alerted me to this article  about EVA Air’s Hello Kitty plane. There are three Hello Kitty-themed Airbus A330-300 planes and they’ll serve Japan, South Korea and Guam. “Passengers get special baggage tags, Hello Kitty headrests and pillows, Kitty-chan soap, and Hello Kitty food.”

I want to fly on them SO BAD.

It’s been a few years since I’ve had the full blown Hello Kitty experience in Taiwan (the Taiwanese take Hello Kitty very seriously). I’ve eaten at Sweets, the Hello Kitty restaurant in Taipei (where my photo of the Hello Kitty burger above is from). There is also a Hello Kitty maternity ward in a hospital and should I ever decide to bear children, you can bet they’ll end up with Taiwanese residency because of it.

About three years ago, when I was teaching in Taipei for a summer, I hopped back to Hong Kong for a bit and miraculously, my flight took off FROM THE HELLO KITTY GATE. Here are the photos:


A Personal Challenge: Texas for (almost) no money

Hamachi tacos and tamales at Distrito aka "research"

This month the boyfriend and I are presenting a joint project at a professional food nerd conference in San Antonio and I thought it would be a fun challenge (okay so I have a questionable definition of “fun”) to see how close to free I could make our five-day trip. I added the stipulation that I should avoid using miles that are most valuable to me, but rather, use leftover miles and points. So I didn’t touch our United MileagePlus accounts and I checked award availability with British Airways’ Avios program obsessively for weeks (until I gave up finding flights that fit our schedules and just dealt with the fact that I will have more Avios points than I know what to do with for a while).

So here’s what the line-up looks like:

1. PHL-SAT on American. I had JUST over 25,000 AAdvantage miles in my account. Our one-way tickets cost a measly 12,500 miles and $5 in fees each and fit our schedules almost perfectly — we’d have to fly to Texas a day before the conference or else the tickets would cost 25,000 miles each on the following day.

2. Since we fly in late, one night at the Courtyard Marriott at the San Antonio Airport (category 2) for 10,000 Marriott Rewards points. I had just over 1,000 Marriott points in my account, so I transferred 9,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (from my Sapphire Preferred sign-up bonus) to my Marriott account. The transfer took 2 days to be processed. Although I value UR points highly (which transfer 1:1 to United), I can afford to spare 9,000, especially since our tickets cost so few AA miles.

3. Two nights at the Doubletree San Antonio Downtown at the conference rate of $85 per night. As a HHonors Gold member, I’ll earn a 25% bonus on points and more points because of the More Points promotion. 1,000 bonus points per night plus 5,000 bonus points per weekend stay.

4. One night at the Sheraton Gunter Hotel San Antonio (category 3) using a cash and points award: 2,800 Starpoints and $45, which I think is a pretty damn good deal. I’ll earn 2 Starpoints on the dollar for the $45 spent and parting with just 2,800 Starpoints was not at all painful. Given that I have a Starwood Preferred Guest AmEx, I also have Preferred Plus status, the perk I am most interested in being room upgrades upon availability. Thankfully, the Gunter Hotel is near the Amtrak station in San Antonio.

5. San Antonio to Austin on Amtrak. Two ISIC-discounted tickets (normally $13 each for an adult) for a total of $22.10. The flights out of San Antonio back to Philly were too early / we would have missed part of the conference / none of the award options were that “cheap” but I found the perfect flight out of Austin. Also we’ve never been to Austin and have wanted to check it out, even if it is just for a day.

6. AUS-PHL on American. Chase Ultimate Rewards came to my rescue again. I booked directly through the Ultimate Rewards Travel site (accessible with my Chase Sapphire Preferred) in order to save 20% on points. Since UR points are not airline miles (although you can transfer them to mileage programs to turn them irreversibly into airline miles), I still earn frequent flier miles with points booked through UR as if I was booking with cash. Also there are no blackout dates. Two tickets “cost” $271.20 or rather, 21,696 UR points.

Cash total for two travelers: $247.10

For 4 flights, 2 train tickets and 4 nights in hotels and minimal damage to my mileage accounts, that does not suck.

more research: esquites at Distrito in Philly


Foursquare + AmEx statement credits = I get to eat even more sushi

my favorite so far of the Izumi chef's custom creations: ankimo (monkfish liver pate), fried shrimp heads and amaebi sashimi

To say I take sushi seriously is an understatement. I’ll resist hyperbolizing, but I like my sushi fresh and preferably moving (unless a particular fish is better served lightly and watchfully aged) and I like it weird. Moving to Pennsylvania, I initially scorned all sushi restaurants in the entire state. My rationale was as follows: it is too far inland and there are too many idiots around here who order things like monster dragon crunchy Philadelphia rolls. These beliefs were unshakeable until I started going to Izumi (1601 E. Passyunk Ave), discovered they have live uni (served in its badass shell). After a rather beachy summer in Greece, during which I salivated whenever I saw people step on sea urchins, my uni craving by the time I got back to Philly was pretty hard to quell.

Now I go to Izumi regularly and I have a routine. I order some sashimi, but for the rest of the meal, I end up eating whatever the sushi chef plops in front of me. But this is not a restaurant review. This is a post that combines three of my current fixations: checking in on Foursquare, my Starwood Preferred AmEx and sea urchins.

I now regularly post check-ins on Foursquare for my boyfriend and I at hotel and airport locations to obtain free miles and hotel points. See explanations about hotel points here and here and explanation about United/Continental miles here.

I’ve also been checking into restaurants on Foursquare to keep track of where we go out to eat. I keep a food calendar, too, but I guess I’m more than a little obsessive about documenting such things.

Almost all my spending is now split up between my Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa and my Starwood Preferred Guest American Express, which I still haven’t made the minimum spending limit on in order to get another 15,000 super valuable and flexible Starpoints. It’s a great card — see an excellent review of it by Lucky, even if I don’t receive double points on travel and dining with it as I do with the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

Last night, I synced my AmEx with my Foursquare account so that when I “check in” to a particular restaurant, in this case, Izumi, I activate a Foursquare special and get a $5 statement credit for supporting a small business. Details here. This special also applies to a good number of other small business establishments.

Therefore, sign up for an SPG AmEx, go to Izumi, post a check-in on Foursquare and order some urchin. If you ask nicely, the sushi chef might give you a raw quail egg to put on top.

live uni appetizer at Izumi