Tag Archives: travel

Chase Freedom Card Disappoints with Its Most Recent 5% Bonus Categories–No Costco!

I carry and use the Chase Freedom card for occasional purchases, because I am an avid bonus points collector. In the past year, I have traveled from Chicago to: Mexico (four times); Oklahoma City (twice); Dallas; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (twice); and New Orleans (twice) ALL FOR FREE due to bonus points that I got from purchases or from signup bonuses (those signup bonuses were earned on three different CHASE cards). I still have over a thousand dollars in my point bank toward future travel. Each quarter, the Chase Freedom card offers a 5X bonus offer for purchases from certain types of stores. Last quarter was restaurants and movie theaters. The quarter before that, it was drugstores and grocery stores. Traditionally, the final quarter of the year is devoted to warehouse clubs such as Costco and Sam’s club. Disappointingly, the most recent quarter, which started yesterday, October 1, 2017 is Walmart and department stores.

For me, this is a big disappointment. Last year, I purchased gift cards at Costco. With the 5% bonus on those purchases, it was like getting a 7.5% refund on each and every purchase. That is because I transfer all the bonus points from the Chase Freedom card to my Chase Sapphire Reserve card, which gives a 50% bonus toward travel if you purchase your tickets using points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards website. So a $100 gift card at Costco (which could be used for anything at Costco, including gasoline), would earn me 500 bonus points (100 points times 5, because it was in the bonus category), which is worth $5.00…but when transferred to Chase Sapphire Reserve, that $5 would buy $7.50 in travel.

I predict many customers will be disappointed that warehouse clubs were not included in the bonus categories this Christmas. I don’t shop at Walmart and I honestly can’t remember the last time I visited a department store.

I Got a Refund from Airbnb for a Cancellation in Austin Due to Hurricane Harvey

About a month ago I made reservations on Airbnb to stay in a cute little apartment in Austin, Texas, over the weekend of Gay Pride, which was scheduled for August 26th and 27th. I was planning to drive down from Dallas on Friday the 25th after work and drive home on Sunday. As that Friday approached the ominous forecast about Hurricane Harvey looked like it might put a damper on things.

When I woke up on Friday morning, it was to news stories about the imminent threat of the hurricane as it approached the coast. People were evacuating Houston, and Austin was under alert for heavy rains, flooding, and loss of electricity, especially if the storm continued on toward Austin. There had been a run on supplies at supermarkets in Austin and the surrounding areas, leaving shelves empty. I decided to cancel my reservation. A few hours later the organizers of the Gay Pride fest announced that it was canceled as well (it has been rescheduled–more on that below).

After going through the process of canceling, I wrote a note to the landlord to say that I hoped he would offer a full refund due to the extenuating circumstances. He replied with a standard line: sorry, but we have a cancellation policy for a reason, and we will not be offering a refund.

The Airbnb policy in this situation appears to be that you have to wait 72 hours before you can open a dispute. I did so. When I went to the contact me page on the Airbnb website, I wrote a simple note explaining the situation and asking that they offer a full refund. There were notes on the site asking customers who were submitting requests that were directly related to Hurricane Harvey to save these things, in case the company wanted them as proof that the cancellation was related to the hurricane:

  • News coverage describing how the area around the listing was affected
  • Emails from local authorities advising you to evacuate, or warning you to stay away from the area

I did have some of those things, such as the news report I linked to above, but there was no way to provide them, and it turned out that I didn’t need to. Within 12 hours, I had received a response apologizing to me for the trouble, and offering a full refund, no questions asked. If you were planning to visit Austin for Gay Pride, and you canceled your plans, write to Airbnb and request a refund, even if your host (like mine) refused to provide one!

Regarding Austin Gay Pride, the parade has been rescheduled for Saturday, September 30th, and the festival will take place on Saturday, October 21st. It looks like I will miss the festival, but I do plan to make the parade!


What to pack for a trip to New Orleans

I love New Orleans! It is honestly my favorite city to visit in the United States. The culture, the food, the architecture, and the feel of the place make it a wonderful place to spend a few days or a week, absorbing a culture that is unique to this awesome city. But there are some things you might want to know, and some things that you can take with you that will make your trip that much more enjoyable. I will put a list of items at the end of this article, but I first wanted to point out a few things you might not think of.

The first thing to know about New Orleans is that it is not only frequently very hot, it is also incredibly humid. Literally swampy. If you spend some time in the French Quarter, you will smell some smells that you have probably never smelled before! The constant humidity and warmth support lush and beautiful trees and plants, but they also support things like mold and mildew, so one of the things I recommend if you have regular or occasional allergies is an antihistamine. I use Zyrtec because it works for me, but that’s very much a personal thing, of course.

The second thing to know about New Orleans is that, because of the high humidity, your sweat will not evaporate as it normally does. You are quite likely to walk around and sweat and soak through your clothes. On my first visit, I had an absolute blast, but my clothes kept getting drenched in sweat, and I had only packed enough clothes for a regular weekend trip, so my next suggestion would be to pack extra clothes (and underwear and socks!) in case you want to stop back at your hotel or AirBNB and shower/change mid-day. I go to New Orleans at least three times a year (four already this year), and I always pack three full changes of clothes per day.

The wet underwear problem leads to my third suggestion. Again on my first trip, I experienced an extreme version of “chub rub”, exacerbated by the always-damp underwear and all of the walking I was doing. My inner thighs chafed like crazy, till they were red and raw and painful. I ended up walking with my legs spread, doing my best not to waddle. Changing into dry underwear a few times per day will help, but I was able to get rid of the problem completely by using something that I consider a miracle product: Body Glide. It’s not lubricant! It’s an anti-chafing stick such as those used by marathon runners or bikers to prevent friction chafing under their arms and between their legs. I actually use this produce EVERY DAY of the year now (TMI?), but it is especially necessary when you are planning to walk a lot in a humid location such as New Orleans, Fort Lauderdale, Disney World, Miami, or Key West. A little swipe of this stick on your inner thighs will prevent that painful chafing completely! It goes on thinly, so barely-there that you might wonder if it’s applying correctly. I can honestly say that in 10 years of using this product, I have never again experienced that awful problem. And if you ever forget to apply it and develop the beginnings of the dreaded rawness? You can apply it even AFTER the chafing has started, and it will stop it in its tracks, as well as alleviate the symptoms and give you some relief! I believe in this product so much that when discovered while I was packing for a recent trip that I was almost out, I panicked until I realized it was available in my area on Amazon Prime Now for same-day delivery. This is my #1 recommendation for you. I would never take a trip to New Orleans without this product!

You will definitely need some sweat-proof sunscreen. My favorite, that goes on smoothly and invisibly, is Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Face & Body Stick in SPF 70. This is a solid stick that comes in a package that is small enough to throw in a bag, or even in your pocket, if you are planning to spend hours in the sun. I apply it once before leaving in the morning, and then consciously attempt to spend as much time in the shade as possible (by crossing to the shady side of the street, hanging out under awnings or trees, etc.), and I am fine all day. If you are especially sweaty or if you are spending time at a place without shade like a festival or something, I would reapply it after a few hours.

The last item I recommend might not be for everyone, but it is definitely good for anyone who (like me) enjoys the drinking aspect of New Orleans. I use and highly recommend hangover prevention capsules. I have found the capsules called PreToxx to be highly effective. The product is a vitamin and herb blend that contains high-dose Vitamin B and Vitamin C, Magnesium and several other minerals, as well as some ingredients that are meant to support your liver, NAC (N-Acetyl L-Cysteine), Prickly Pear Fruit Extract, and Milk Thistle Seed Extract. You take 3 capsules BEFORE drinking, along with a glass of water, and then three more capsules AFTER you finish drinking, before bed, again along with a full glass of water. Simply drinking water will help to avoid a hangover, but I have used this product for a few years, and I personally believe (although I have not proof), that this product DOES do what it claims. On the few occasions where I have forgotten to take the capsules, I have suffered much worse hangover symptoms.

So, my master list of things you should pack when you are going to New Orleans, in addition to the things I mentioned above:

  • Extra shirts, underwear, and socks (more than you would normally pack for the number of days you will be in town.
  • SHORTS. Extra shorts if you sweat heavily like I do
  • Comfortable shoes that breathe
  • A hat or baseball cap, especially if you are planning to spend time in the sun
  • sunglasses
  • A swimsuit (most hotels have a pool here)
  • Beach Towel (frequently provided at the nicer hotels)
  • A book to read
  • A plastic tumbler and straw is handy if you want to save money on drinks by mixing them at your hotel (it is legal to carry around an alcoholic beverage in NOLA, as long as it is in a plastic container)
  • Sunscreen
  • Body Glide to avoid inner-thigh chafing
  • Hangover prevention pills
  • Antihistamine pills if you suffer from allergies, especially molds and plants