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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

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The Neurotic Nerd’s first mileage scheme

white rock letters on the Big Island's endless lava fields

The Neurotic Nerd is getting married this summer (yes, someone is actually insane enough to marry the Neurotic; please stop laughing). Despite her crippling fear of flying, Neurotic is getting married in Hawaii, halfway across the world from where she lives. There is nothing quite so smart as deciding to combine a Huge Life Change with Extensive Air Travel when one vomits at merely the thought of turbulence. Or has panic attacks when flying over water.

Anyway, this epic trip (which includes stops in CA and the midwest) is going to involve at least 2 airlines and 9 segments. Airfare would be staggering, except Neurotic has been mentored by the Flying Nerd and has figured out how to use miles to fly free.*

Neurotic and her better half already have some American miles;** only enough for a one-way flight, however. They have no Hawaiian miles. So step one was signing up for a Hawaiian Airlines Visa and an American AAdvantage credit card. The Hawaiian card got them 20,000 miles outright; after a $1000 charge another 15,000 will post. What will that $1000 charge be? RT nonstop flights from the East Coast to Hawaii, on which they will earn double miles for the purchase. The pair also followed Hawaiian Airlines on Twitter and will get 1000 miles for that. So: very quickly they’ve gotten 35,000 miles plus approx. 5000 from the flight purchase and Twitter follow. Boom. That’s enough to cover their 6 interisland flights.

The AAdvantage card will get them 30,000 miles after a $750 purchase (hotel reservations/deposits), plus a $100 statement credit for American air travel. Those miles plus their existing combined 45,000 mean that they can cover all their domestic flights except one one-way ticket. They’ll buy that with the card and the $100 statement credit will apply, so domestic flights should be free but for approx. $100.

Of course, this is like trip-planning Jenga (It could be AWESOME or it could all topple over and be a waste of time) and it remains to be seen how quickly the miles post to their accounts and whether blackout dates will prevent this plan from working. But if it works, they could get from the East Coast to Hawaii, island-hop 3 times, fly to LA, to the midwest, and finally back east for only the cost of a ticket to Hawaii plus about $100. Not bad for a first effort.

*Not free of fear, but whatever. THAT’S WHAT THE BEVERAGE CART IS FOR.
**Neurotic has six figures of lifetime miles on AA. How has that happened with the crippling fear? She is a frequent phobic flyer, and yes that is masochism.


Observations about getting hotel points from TopGuest

I now use both Foursquare and Facebook to get hotel points (primarily for the programs Hilton Honors, Best Western Rewards and Priority Club). I’ve been posting check-ins both on my Facebook wall and the Foursquare account I’ve set up for my boyfriend and have successfully confused many friends thoroughly. I think some believe that I just go and hang out in hotels now (at least, I hope that’s the worst that they’ve assumed). The more concerned of my friends were nice enough to text and ask where the heck I’ve gone off to.

I am merely aiming to earn 50 hotel points per check-in through TopGuest. I can check into any given program once a day, so long as I’ve linked my membership number in the rewards program to my TopGuest account.

The points usually post within a day to my Hilton and Best Western accounts (although none of my Priority Club points have thus far posted and my first check-in was January 13, 5 days ago). I receive an email each time the check-in goes through. Sometimes it comes instantaneously and sometimes it doesn’t.

As I’ve mentioned previously, the system can be a bit wonky, especially when it comes to airport check-ins (TopGuest offers 50 United/Continental miles per posted check-in). On way more than one occasion, I’ve been unable to post a Facebook check-in to an airport while I was standing in that airport, but I’ve had better luck picking the airport up on Facebook’s location services when I was several miles away. Not that I would ever, ever think to violate TopGuest’s terms of service by checking into a location without ever stepping foot in that location.

My iPhone and iPad both seem to hate Foursquare and half the time will spaz out when I try to open the app. The solution I’ve found to this is to post a check-in through the browser on either device (and this can be done on an actual computer, too — I know a bunch of people who work at the airport and don’t have smartphones but bring their laptops into work. You guys can check in to the airport from your laptop and get miles) using the mobile sites:

1. http://m.foursquare.com

2. http://m.facebook.com

Search for the venue with either and you usually get a lot more (and much more reliable) options than through a phone’s GPS. Foursquare won’t give you mayoral badges or honors or whatever those titles are for computer check-ins but come on, who are you kidding? Those points won’t get you anywhere. Hilton points, however, are practically an actual currency.


Quick primer on racking up airline miles

Accepting that flying is not the only way to earn airline miles is usually the first hurdle in playing the miles game, so I thought it would be helpful to post a short review on ways to rack up airline miles. First of all, elite qualifying miles (EQM) are a different animal from redeemable miles (miles you trade for free air tickets). EQM earn you elite status on airlines (and thus give you perks). For the most part, you can only really attain elite status by having your own butt (not somebody else’s butt, even if you pay for their ticket) sitting in an airplane seat (hence the term “butt-in-seat miles”). So I’ll focus on how one earns redeemable miles for now.

1. Flying. Duh.

2. Credit card sign-up bonuses and spending money on credit cards.

3. Dining out, having registered for an airline-associated dining program. See explanation here.

4. Shopping online through an airline-associated shopping portal. See explanation here.

5. Converting credit card points or hotel points to miles (or earning miles for booking hotels through airline sites).

6. Free miles through social networking. Sure it takes dedication to constantly update one’s Facebook status or check-in on Foursquare, but I like it. It’s like a real life video game. Sort of.

7. And here’s the grab bag. Promotions! For example, sign up for Gilt.com and get free miles, sign up for MyPoints and get 750 United Miles (mine just posted, I signed up in September but had to email them asking why it was taking so long. As a warning, you get a lot of emails from them) and so on. You can get miles from opening certain investment accounts or doing online banking through Bank Direct. You can also get one bonus United mile for every dollar you spend when you book a tour package through Viator.com, but you have to spend at least $200 in a single transaction. See the explanation here.

I’m digressing but I had a great experience with Viator in September when I booked me and my boyfriend on their Haleakala sunrise tour. They picked us up from our bed and breakfast in Lahaina in the middle of the night, plied us with coffee and pastries and after watching the sunrise and looking around the crater, we were delivered safely back to Lahaina. Our tour guide / bus driver was super, super nice and enthusiastic about everything. At one point I overheard him telling a couple tourists whose picture he was taking, “Cameras are great!”

We got to sleep on the (long) ride and didn’t have to worry about navigating our way up a strange mountain in pitch darkness. Also I don’t know how to drive and I’m not much of a navigator. You do need to book tours in advance because they don’t run every day. Essentially, by booking a tour you’re really submitting a request and they’ll get back to you within a day about whether the tour is running. If not, they’ll give you alternate dates. Plan in advance!

Finally, the greatest thing about playing the miles game is that you can combine so many different ways to earn miles in a single transaction or trip. For one flight, you can earn miles for having your butt in the airplane seat, paying for a ticket using a credit card, checking in on Facebook at the airport, etc.

If I’m missing anything and if you have other ideas, let me know.

Here are some photos from our Haleakala tour (which I didn’t feel compelled to make prettier, for once):

gathered to watch the sunrise over Haleakala

It was REALLY cold. The guy in front of me was wearing a mattress pad.

crater

above the clouds and on the way up to the observatory

 


Earning hotel points with TopGuest and converting hotel points to miles

I’ve been playing around with TopGuest on my iPhone and iPad lately (which means I’ve been yelling at family members with me to make detours to TopGuest locations when we are out and about). I’ll explain. TopGuest generally offers about 50 points each time you post a check-in with your Facebook or Foursquare account (or post a Tweet with a location but that seems unnecessarily complicated). It’s the same program that gets you 50 United/Continental miles for checking in certain airports.

That’s 50 miles per 24 hours, per hotel program. Theoretically.

Hypothetically, you could earn over 18,000 points a year from each of these programs: Hilton HHonors, Best Western Rewards, Wyndham Rewards, Voila Rewards and Priority Club Rewards. (Other programs include Virgin America Elevate, Choice Privileges, Kimpton InTouch, Clubhotel and M life. Why I am less concerned with these programs I will explain in due course.)

I say hypothetically and theoretically because unless you permanently reside at the associated hotels, you’re probably not going to visit one every single day, and if you do, you may very well be violating TopGuest’s terms of use and they may shut down your account. You can read about account shutdowns on this MilePoint thread.

Sure you can act like a normal person and use those hotel points towards free stays and such, but since I tend not to stay in THAT many hotels and am only really committed to the Starwood program (which is not represented on TopGuest), I plan to eventually convert hotel points to miles on the airlines I fly. Thus, I am primarily concerned with the hotel programs that have United and American as transfer partners. The transfer rates are never great, but hey, checking in on Facebook takes practically no effort, it’s free and it only causes mild confusion amongst my Facebook friends and stalkers. Therefore, I’ll get free miles (eventually).

Some examples of possible transfers:

Hilton HHonors has a ton of airline partners and a list of them along with conversions may be found here. I could potentially transfer 10,000 HHonors points for 1,500 American or Hawaiian miles or less thrillingly, 1,000 United miles.

Best Western Rewards has a somewhat better conversion rate. For 5,000 Best Western Rewards, you can receive 1,000 miles on Aeroplan, Alaska, American, Continental, Delta, Southwest, US Airways and Asiana Club. The link is here.

I keep track of all my hotel points on AwardWallet and so far, the Hilton and Best Western check-ins I’ve made have been posting within a few hours. I’ve been updating my AwardWallet account in obsessive awe. You can also receive bonus points just for signing up for TopGuest and linking either a Facebook or Foursquare account. I received 500 bonus Best Western Rewards for signing up. I receive an email within a day of the check-in reporting that I’ve received points through TopGuest.

I’ve been in Hawaii for a couple weeks now and well, there are a lot of hotels here, so I’ve had a number of opportunities to check-in, concentrating on Hiltons and Best Westerns. I’ve been testing out the GPS on my phone and iPad and it can pick up on hotels from my grandma’s couch, but checking in on Facebook to a hotel from my grandma’s couch would be um, just plain wrong (and in violation of the TopGuest terms of use). Use some discretion. You’re supposed to actually be at the location, but as the MilePoint thread reports, the system is really wonky and sometimes doesn’t even pick up on check-ins from within a hotel property.

Steps:

1. Sign up for hotel points program.

2. Sign up for a TopGuest account and link it to a Facebook or Foursquare account.

3. Connect your hotel points program number to TopGuest.

4. Search Nearby Places on Facebook and post a check-in or check in on Foursquare. Make sure the place you choose is the most obviously named place. Check to see if it has many other check-ins by others — that will give you some hint to whether or not you’re checking into the correct place. For example, when trying to obtain United/Continental miles through TopGuest, don’t check-in on Facebook to “Honoruru Intl Airport” or “Honolua Intl Airport” but rather “Honolulu International Airport (HNL)” which has thousands of previous check-ins.

To further maximize my check-in opportunities, I’ve signed up my boyfriend for a Foursquare account and linked his hotel program reward numbers (which I also set up) to TopGuest. I now have his Foursquare account on my iPhone and check him in whenever I check myself in on Facebook. I’m not relying on him to do his own check-ins because he is part-caveman, doesn’t know how to use Facebook and I’ll bet you fifty bucks he hasn’t heard of Foursquare. I guess I should probably tell him about this at some point if I remember.

I did not attempt to check in on Facebook to a hotel while I hiked up the Makapu'u Lighthouse trail because that would be wrong.


50 bonus United/Continental miles per Facebook check-in

I’ve been grudgingly liking a lot of things on Facebook lately, in order to enter unlikely sweepstakes and jump on some promotion or another (or get Mucinex coupons). I’ve long come to terms with the notion that my Facebook profile does not reflect my inner soul nor my remarkably vibrant personality. (My collection of fridge magnets, however, is still highly indicative of who I truly am.)

Happily, this means I can actively take part in a program where you can earn 50 United or Continental miles (per 24 hour period) for a Facebook (or Foursquare, which I don’t use. I’m not even really sure what that is.) check-in at or near any of these airports. Register here.

Sure, you can remember to check in on Facebook whenever you’re flying, but the coolest thing about the program is that you don’t really have to be AT the airport, just in its vicinity — close enough for a check-in. I tested this during the minute and a half it took my megabus last night to hurtle past the Newark airport on the turnpike and successfully confused several friends who noticed the check-in on my wall. They assumed I was like, flying off somewhere.

Mercifully, I had the presence of mind to whip out my iPhone and check in during my active digestion of a really awesome dinner (the sashimi omakase at Jewel Bako, pictured below with the full intention of inciting great envy. I’d label the fish, but I think it would piss off the environmentally aware.) and almost immediately, I received an email from MileagePlus, telling me that I will soon receive 50 bonus miles (“soon” meaning 6-8 weeks) and listing offers from some airport retailers.

I’m still kicking myself for forgetting about the program on my way up to New York. I could have checked in when we stopped at the Newark train station! Anyway, I was riding up on Amtrak. It was too blissful. I got distracted.

Since the 50 miles can be earned daily, I am trying to brainstorm ways to well, check in daily. Should I entrust an airport employee with my Facebook password? Use my transpass to take the train to the airport every day, taking the super, super, ultra-crazy “long way” home? (Incidentally, if you’re in the Philly area, you should know that a transpass gets you on the airport train free. Otherwise it’s 7 bucks each way). Start hanging out with the forlorn wine nerds at the bar of the airport Marriott?!?!

Sashimi omakase at Jewel Bako