Friday, December 30, 2011

Just rewards

If you've stopped by here once or twice, you know that I travel extensively for my job.  And while that might not mean that I'm traveling across the ocean to Europe or Japan, I'm on the road a LOT.

About the only thing that makes it bearable is that I have the opportunity to collect, keep and redeem my frequent flier and hotel patron miles or points.  I suppose that's the saving grace for most road warriors, though I seldom want to travel very far for leisure.

That said, I've had some interesting experiences in redeeming some of the points I've accumulated over time with various hotel chains and airlines.  Here's a quick sampling of what I've experienced.

DELTA SKYMILES

This is probably my favorite, as I fly Delta just about exclusively (where I start in Lexington, Kentucky, Delta is my best option for booking travel to nearly anywhere).  And I have a Delta Skymiles American Express credit card which I use for all of my business-related travel expenses.  Thanks to Delta and American Express I've been able to "buy" six round-trip tickets over the past year, and have paid the princely sum of a $5 service charge each time.  Friends and relatives have complained about the difficulties of using miles for reward tickets, but I've seldom, if ever, had problems with Delta in this regard.

MARRIOTT REWARDS

Another program to which I am very loyal, choosing to stay in Marriott-branded hotels whenever and wherever possible.  We also have a Marriott Rewards Visa card on which we charge some monthly expenses, like gasoline purchases.  And we generally enjoy four to eight free nights in Marriott hotels annually, though this year we stayed fewer free nights.

This program also offers merchandise purchases by using only points, no added costs or shipping charges.  Recently I acquired a set of Bose earbuds for travel and just today redeemed a few more points for a music-only Apple iPod.  And I still have enough points for another hotel stay!

U.S. AIRWAYS DIVIDEND MILES

The least useful of my accounts, I seldom, if ever, fly U.S. Air, even though their primary hub city of Charlotte is a frequent destination of mine.  Their prices are so much higher than other airlines that I can never justify the added expense associated with the convenience of a direct flight.  And their miles program offers no merchandise rewards that I've detected, save some periodic offers of magazine subscriptions in which I have no interest.  And there's no discernable way to profitably trade these miles for something more useful, at least none that I've determined.

UNITED MILEAGE PLUS

This program just combined with Continental's OnePass program, as the two airlines are now a single entity and are beginning to operate as a single business.  I had miles on both programs, but, unfortunately, not enough for a ticket.  So I reviewed their online merchandise offerings (United is another airline I seldom fly, as they don't serve a lot of the destinations I visit) and found a K-cup coffee maker that might be a nice addition to our kitchen arsenal.  And like the Marriott program above, no surcharges, fees or shipping charges....nice!

HILTON HONORS

Hilton's my first alternate hotel chain; generally, if there's not a Marriott property, there's probably a Hilton hotel where I'm going.  They offer reward hotel nights, but I've never redeemed for one of those.  And recently I explored the merchandise offerings and found they were requiring two to three times what the comparable Marriott program does for the same items.  So I'm still sitting on some HiltonHonors points, and will likely use them for free rooms.

There are others...for instance, Starwood's program encompasses the Westin properties, and I joined their program when I stayed at a Westin a year or so ago for a company function.  But strangely, they don't ever seem to have any record of my stays, so no points ever accumulate.  Odd.

Many restaurants are jumping on this rewards bandwagon, too, and I'm in favor of anything that does not require the member/user to pay a fee to join.  A local restaurant chain operates a pretty good program and my wife and I enjoyed prime rib for next to nothing there a while back!

Very, very, very rewarding!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Merry Christmas....we can still say that, can't we?

Well, we're at Christmas 2011 plus 2 days.  Kentucky is experiencing heavy rain, and has been off and on for a few days.  Not exactly conducive to the holiday spirit, but we didn't find it a damper at all.  In fact, my wife and I commented to each other that this may have been the best Christmas we've had in a long time!

We're really fortunate, in that we have a healthy and growing family, we each have our health, we're both employed (or, as employed as we wish to be, anyway!), and life's pretty good, overall!  As I mentioned in my last post, we all could stand to stop and think about how well off we are a bit more often.

That said, it's been a busy few days, as one would expect.  Despite this, my wife and I managed some recreation by taking in a couple of recently released movies.  Our first choice was "Sherlock Holmes:  A Game of Shadows."  This is the sequel to the popular (if not critically acclaimed) release of a couple of years ago featuring Robert Downey, Jr. in the title role, with Jude Law as his faithful companion, Dr. John Watson.  I'm not a veteran of the Arthur Conan Doyle books, but these are meant as entertainment and not a deep meditation on the source works, and they succeed nicely.

Last night we decided to wind up our long weekend with another movie, this time selecting Tom Cruise's latest installment in the "Mission: Impossible"series (no number, this one is called "Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol"), and all I can say in response is WOW!  Great casting, great action sequences, a lot of humor, a great, slam-bang entertainment package directed by a fellow named Brad Bird.  Apparently Bird is an alumnus of TV's "The Simpsons" and had graduated to animated films with Disney/Pixar and others (his animated "The Incredibles" is a favorite of mine).  As I've read recently, why no one gave him the chance to direct a live-action movie until now is uncertain, but this was a great "popcorn" movie and my wife and I were wrung out by the suspense by the movie's end!

I'm most excited about "The Dark Knight Rises," the third portion of Christopher Nolan's acclaimed Batman trilogy.  Two previews have been released so far, and they're having the expected effect on me.  This film is due to be released on my birthday next summer, so I've already informed my better half that my present must be a trip to the nearest ginormous IMAX screen to see this.

But it's back to work today, for at least a couple of days.  Another four day weekend coming up for me.  Tough, I know, but I'm doing my best to cope.

Hope the holidays were everything you hoped for and more!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Here and there

Just back from a nice long weekend trip to Colorado, where my wife and I visited our daughter and her family.  The centerpiece of the weekend was our six-year-old granddaughter's performance in "The Nutcracker."  She was one of the Ginger Snaps who emerge from underneath the skirt of a woman during the second act and, from all appearances, performed her role quite well!

We were delayed a couple of hours leaving the Denver area Monday, not because of the snow that the area was receiving, but because of an aircraft mechanical issue.  Glad that we weren't traveling today, as that same area will be the recipient of six to nine inches of fresh snow.  Great for the ski resorts that dot the mountains outside of Denver, but not so great for the average commuter and certainly not for air travelers.

One of the things I took note of during our extended wait in the Denver airport was a woman who took the opportunity of some downtime (she was apparently flying in from one location and her husband from another, so she was in our vicinity waiting) to write her Christmas cards.  She had what appeared to be a box of about fifteen cards and was handwriting and hand-addressing these cards; she even had stamps with her.  Most impressive.

Each of most of the last twenty years or so we've written and included the "Christmas letter" with our cards.  One year, for a variety of reasons, we decided not to do the letter, and we really heard about it from our card exchangers.  So we've continued the practice since.

For that reason and others, Christmas card effort is seldom a similarly movable feast, as our card list grew with the marriages of both of our children and the addition of their extended families.  We reached a high of sending something like 55 cards a few years ago, and I use the computer to produce labels and our newsletters for legibility and efficiency.  But we've noticed in the last couple of years that we get progressively fewer and fewer cards, and correspondingly, we're sending fewer, too.

My speculation on why we're getting fewer cards--Facebook, e-mail and many other more immediate forms of communication.  By virtue of me commenting so on a blog anyone can see that I am not at all an opponent to social media of various types.  But what I find surprising is that we don't find out information about some with whom we maintain a casual, long-distance friendship until the Christmas card arrives and carries certain news with it.  Like the death of a well-loved aunt from my wife's deceased first husband's family.  This was mentioned casually, as though it was common knowledge, but we knew nothing about it.  Or the cancer that the husband of a college friend of my wife suffered and has apparently overcome.

If you're not in the loop in the normal communication channels (Facebook, I'm looking right at you), you don't find out these things.  We're all so busy and so self-absorbed, I suppose, that it's just easier to post something on Facebook for all to see, rather than get the word out in a more traditional manner.  Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but it takes some adjustment.

So at some point we'll inventory the cards we've received this year, and, as we generally do, we'll determine not to send cards to some folks next Christmas.  This sounds kind of punitive, I suppose, but with the cost of cards (and labels and paper and stamps) ever increasing, it's the smartest approach.  So don't be offended if you didn't receive a card from the Smiths.  Fewer and fewer are these days.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tis the season

Well, just about all of the shopping is finished.  Presents are wrapped and placed under our tree.  Christmas cards were addressed and mailed over a week ago.  My sales team is hosting holiday parties for just about all of our major customers during this week and next.

Yep, looks like we're just about ready for our annual celebration.

This is always a time that tests one's patience and frays one's nerves, if we allow that to happen.  My wife and I always set a budget and nearly always realize there's someone or something that we neglected to identify.  And there's always a relative or two that just swears they're not buying gifts for anyone this year, only to catch us by surprise nearer to the holiday.

We're very fortunate that these are "problems" by any stretch of the imagination.

Yet in the past few years we've found small ways to share our abundance and add to our holiday joy.  A couple of years ago, I found about a local organization that assists the homeless, and they're entirely local, not tied in any way to a larger national or even regional bureaucracy.  So three years ago we began contributing a few dollars several times per year to their cause.  Maybe it doesn't help, but I suppose our modest donations cannot hurt, either.

Our church also does something called the Giving Tree, wherein church members pick up one or more giving tree cards which identify a needed gift for a deserving family or individual, and then contribute the item indicated.  We've routinely done that for the past ten years or more.

And this year the local Salvation Army chapter sponsored something called a Food Angel.  They are available at local groceries and when you buy one the proceeds go toward providing Christmas dinner to a needy family.

I feel good that we do these things, but, at the same time, cannot help but feel bad that such measures are even necessary in this day and age.  And I don't want to turn this into a discourse on the 1% vs. the 99%, but you get my meaning, I'm sure.

If you don't have money to donate, give your time, as many local agencies who assist the deserving can always use an extra pair of hands.  Or two.

Enjoy the holidays!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Randomness

No coherent theme for today's post (honestly, is there ever, really, ONE theme for this thing?).  So I'll scatter some thoughts in no particular order.

Herman Cain, we hardly knew ye.  But, then, I'm a man.

President Obama was asked by a reporter about whether the White House has or had a policy of appeasement with regard to terrorists and potential enemies abroad.  Paraphrasing, his response was something along the lines of "You'd need to ask Osama bin Ladin."  Well done, sir.

Thank you, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, for signing Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals to a ten year contract worth as much as the GNP of many countries.  My Cincinnati Reds automatically surge to the "contender" list in the National League Central Division as a result.  I don't have the precise statistics handy to add, but I saw Pujols' length-of-career stats against the Reds for his 11 year tenure with the Cardinals.  During that eleven years Albert played roughly one full season's worth of games against the Reds, and his offensive numbers were astounding---something like 46 home runs, over 100 runs batted in, and a very high batting average.  Reds fans who are lamenting the team's inability to make a deal for a new player are probably also celebrating Pujols' departure from the Cardinals, from the Reds' division and the Reds' league.

Permit me to brag briefly...we're finished with Christmas shopping except for a couple of small items for our grandchildren, and have already mailed our Christmas cards, too.  But thanks to my crushing business travel schedule over the past few weeks, we didn't go to Cincinnati, as we customarily do, for our shopping this year.  Suppose the merchants of Hamilton County got along without us somehow....

I visited Long John Silver's for a meal yesterday, for the first time in a LONG time.  I hadn't been in some time because, frankly, each time I went I became ill afterward from the excessive greasiness of their food.  Last night's fare was fresh, prepared and served quickly, tasty and prompted no ill effects afterward.  So they seem to be on their game again after a few years in the fast food wilderness.  Now, if Wendy's could get its act back together.....

Somewhere along the line I began exploring Pandora Radio as a potential (FREE) replacement to the satellite radio I use in my home office.  I liked the programming choices available (the system asks you to name artists that you like and assembles programming based on your expressed preferences) but until I can figure our how to stream that wirelessly from my Macbook Air to my desktop speaker dock, it's not worth the change.  Although I wouldn't mind saving what I currently spend on that satellite radio.

Speaking of which, I'm running out of things to sell on Craigslist, so if you know of anything that's selling well that I have an extra one of, please let me know.

Followers

Blog Archive