The Real Value of Miles & Points

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We had something of a minor family emergency this week at Unintended Domesticity HQ.  (Don’t worry, we’re all fine.)  But as a result, we needed to quickly fly in a relative that lives hundreds of miles away.

The relative didn’t have the money to buy the outrageously expensive last minute tickets, which were running upwards of $500 for one-way, or nearly $400 (plus the real likelihood of a $100 change fee later on) for a round trip. And while we could have fronted this relative the money, we didn’t really want to take that hit to our budget either.

Luckily, I’ve been collecting travel miles and points for years now, and in fact am right in the middle of a new round of card churning. So before I parted ways with our hard-earned cash, I took a look at what my miles could get me.

The first option I had was to book through one of the respective travel portals where I had points, like Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi Thank You Rewards.  These portals allow you to book tickets using points as if they were the same as cash, in which 1 point = 1 cent. That would have meant spending roughly 50,000 points on this one-way flight, which wasn’t an ideal situation, but could be done, if necessary.

The second option was to transfer some of my points to individual carriers. There were several carriers flying the route that we needed, including Delta and United.  Using the same reward programs mentioned above, this meant we could either transfer Citi Thank You Reward points to Flying Blue, a Delta Sky Alliance partner that allows you to book one-way awards on Delta, or, we could transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to United, directly.

Taking a look at award availability on both programs, we were in luck – both airlines had award availability on the day we needed, and either award would have cost 17,500 points – far less than the 50k of booking through a travel portal. Seeing as the United flight was direct and the Delta flight was not, I instantly transferred the needed points over from my Chase account and booked the ticket.

We were hit with a $75 close-in booking fee (which would have been lowered or waived if I had better status on United) and around $50 in taxes, but still came out $375 ahead of where we would have been with a cash booking. That made the redemption value for my Ultimate Reward points roughly 2.2 cents per mile, which far outperforms the current valuation of United points at 1.5 cents per mile, and is slightly better than Ultimate Rewards current valuation at 2.1 cents per mile.

But the real value?  The real value is that we were able to get a family member where they needed to be in an emergency with little hassle and little out of pocket cost, reducing stress all around.  And that, my friends, is invaluable.

Header image credit: Flickr user origami-imagiro under a Creative Commons license.

Why The Internet-Famous “Flow” Hive Is a Terrible Idea

Because I’m a beekeeper, anytime someone hears something interesting about bees, they tend to tell me about it.  For that reason, I’ve probably been sent the Indiegogo page for the Flow Hive well over twenty times by now.

And I’m not the only one, apparently.  The thing has raised a startling $12 million dollars so far.  It’s one of the most successful crowd funded ideas, ever.

But whenever someone sends me this “really great idea,” I have to sigh, and calmly explain to them why it’s a really, really bad idea.

The Flow Hive is nicely engineered, and when it comes to efficiently harvesting honey, I’ll admit it’s a novel concept. But harvesting honey is an infinitesimally small part of being a beekeeper, in the grand scheme of things.

Last weekend, for example, we harvested six pints of honey from our hive.  The harvest took place as part of a larger effort to re-queen our hive in order to keep it healthy. The overall time we spent working the hive that day?  Three hours. The total time devoted to harvesting honey? Five minutes.

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The hubby, inspecting a frame of brood.

And that’s the problem.  A LOT MORE WORK goes into beekeeping than simply harvesting. Put in the hands of inexperienced and untrained beekeepers, these Flow Hives are going to result in a whole lot of sick and dead bees.

The main premise of these hives is that you can have “honey on tap” able to harvest whenever you like.  One problem: in order to stay healthy, your bees need their honey too.  They need it to feed themselves through the winter, through storms, and through months when pollen is hard to come by. If you harvest it and leave the bees without their source of sustenance, the bees will become weaker and will be more susceptible to pests and diseases. Or, they’ll just starve completely, and die.

Further, the millions who have bought these hives for the promise of beekeeping without all the hassle are going to be in for a nasty surprise.  Keeping a healthy hive means checking on your bees at least monthly during the working season to make sure your queen is productive, that you don’t have mites or foul brood affecting your hive, that there’s adequate spacing, etc. It’s part of the responsibility of keeping bees.

One unhealthy hive can affect all other hives within a three mile radius. And when bee populations are already declining as a result of colony collapse disorder, the last thing our fragile pollinators need are a bunch of inept hipster “wanna-bees” growing bored of their hives while their bees languish and die.

I don’t begrudge the guys who created the Flow Hive. It’s a neat idea, and, in the hands of a capable and knowledgeable beekeeper, it could work.

But the mass marketing of these things to people who have no idea what they’re doing?  That idea needs to buzz off.

Travel Credit Cards to Pay Attention To Right Now: Summer 2015 Edition

Our two new Citi cards can help us get to our Alaska cruise vacation next spring.
Our two new Citi cards can help us get to our Alaska cruise vacation next spring.

Over here at Unintended Domesticity HQ, we’re in the middle of a new round of credit card churning – the goal being three cards in about as many months, and quite the haul of benefits as a result.

We started with the Citi Prestige Mastercard.  The Prestige card comes with a hefty fee – $450 – but under the current offer, you get 50,000 Citi Thank You Points if you spend $3,000 in the first three months of having the card.  You also get a preferred transfer rate with American Airlines, making those points worth $800 on AA or $625 on any other airline.

That already makes the card valuable, but the rewards go further. You also get $250 per calendar year in travel reimbursements – and note that I said calendar year, not cardholder year.  So before the fee hits next summer, you can get up to $500 reimbursed via statement credits, including flights, baggage fees, booking fees, fuel surcharges, etc.

And it just keeps going: you get a travel statement to cover Global Entry ($100 value), Admirals Club Access (up to $500 value), Priority Pass select Access (up to $399 value), and a 4th night free benefit for nearly any hotel booked through the Citi travel portal.  So all in all, you get at least $1,225 in value, and more if you use your points on American, book hotels through their portal, and/or visit airport lounges regularly.

Once we’d completed spending on that card, however, we also went ahead and got the Citi Thank You Premier.  Compared with the pricey Prestige, the Premier has just a $95 fee, and even better, it’s waived for the first year.

This card also gives you 50,000 Citi Thank You points for $3,000 in spending in the first three months – and since we get the bumped up American exchange rate with the Preferred card – that means this card is ALSO worth up to $800 in travel on American (or $625 in travel if you don’t have the Preferred card).

There aren’t a ton of other perks on this card, BUT you do get 3x points on gas stations for the life of the card, making it a good all-around card to add to your travel arsenal.

Finally, once we’ve completed the spending on the Premier, we’ll get the hubby a new hotel credit card, and cancel his Southwest Preferred Visa that we got at the start of the year. We’ll do these transactions at roughly the same time, minimizing any risk to our credit scores, because our % of available credit will remain about the same.

We’re not sure just yet which hotel card we’ll go for – the primary candidates are either the Starwood American Express or Hyatt Visa – because we’ll wait and see what hot deals are being offered whenever we’re actually ready to apply.  Yet whatever we go with, we’ll have enough points to take our next big trip with both flights and hotels covered.

What cards are you working towards right now?  Share in the comments.

Header photo credit: Flickr user akgypsy37 under a Creative Commons license.

Update on our Wicking Raised Bed Garden

IMG_2361It’s been a few months since we shared the process of how we built our wicking raised bed garden in the front yard, and we’re in full harvest season!

We typically get this sort of bounty about 3x a week. We went ahead and tore out our remaining lettuces last month, as the heat had made them too bitter for salads. We replaced the lettuces with a serrano pepper and all three of our pepper plants— poblano, serrano, and jalapeno — are finally starting to grown and thrive with the recent heat wave.

Speaking of the heat wave, even though our bed waters up from the bottom, we’ve found we’re still needing to refill the reservoir at least once a day. It’s hot! And our tomatoes in particular are very thirsty.

So what’s next in the garden?  We’ll continue to enjoy tomatoes and pole beans through the summer, though our strawberries are likely almost done. Peppers should set fruit and start ripening up next month, and that’s also when we’ll take our first big basil harvest to turn into pesto. And then we’re basically in hibernation mode through September!

Beekeeping 101: Replacing Your Queen Bee

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Our new queen in her insertion cage. She’s the one with the blue dot.

There ain’t no drama like queen bee drama cause queen bee drama don’t stooooooppp.

When we went into our hive for the first time this spring to see how the bees were doing after the winter, we got a nasty surprise.  Our queen had gone rogue. Meaning, our original queen – the one we got with our nuc – had died, been killed, or swarmed and flew away.  Anyways, she wasn’t there anymore.  Instead, we had a new queen.

And not to sound a little Deliverance-y about it, but we didn’t know who this new queen had been mating with. *Cue banjo music.*

You see, in Texas, about 20% of the wild bees in the area are Africanized bees, aka “killer bees”.  And when our new rogue queen went out to mate (which is what all queens must do before they can start laying brood) there’s a good chance she may have mated with the Africanized bees, which are more aggressive, less mite-resistant, and not as good at producing honey as our specially-bred queens.

So…we had to kill her.

Except first, we needed a new queen.  So, we ordered one from our local apiary, Beeweaver Apiaries.  Unfortunately, since we were ordering late in the season, we couldn’t pick up our new queen until this week, meaning we’ve missed a good portion of the spring honey flow harvesting season.

But, as of today, we got our new queen and were ready to get in our hive to find (and then kill) the old queen. This, we found out, was easier said than done.  The control queens are easy to spot – they have a marker on their back that corresponds to the year (2015 is blue.) But as for our rogue queen…we had to spot her only by her slightly larger body, thicker back legs, and pointed butt.  And we needed to find her among about 50k other worker bees.

The whole process was slow going and resulted in more than a few stings for my hubby, our main beekeeper.  However, at the end of the day, we were able to insert our new queen (kept in her protective wood and sugar cage, which keeps the worker bees from killing her for a few days before her nubile queen pheromones intoxicate them) AND we were able to steal two frames of honey, resulting in about six pints of the good stuff!

We’ll give this gal about a week to settle in, then go in to check on her and see about harvesting a few more frames…we’ve got Christmas presents to fulfill, after all!

Anyone else replaced a queen this season?  Tell us about it in the comments!

How I Make One Meal Last for Four: Homestyle Fajitas

When you hear the sizzling griddle approach your table in the restaurant, it’s almost impossible to stop your mouth from watering.  It means your delicious plate of fajitas – tender grilled meat, carmelized onions, fresh salsa – is but a few minutes away.

But lately, I’ve taken to making fajitas at home on the weekends, as the list of ingredients translates so well into other meals and reheatable lunches that it seriously cuts down on our weekly food bill while also keeping me (currently on a low-carb kick) and the hubby (who’s never dieted a day in his life) happy. Generally, this one meal will translate into four for us: one dinner, one breakfast, and two lunches, or eight total servings.

Here’s what the shopping list looks like: (Click “continue reading” to see more.) Continue reading “How I Make One Meal Last for Four: Homestyle Fajitas”

Trip Report: Anniversary Trip to Hawaii, Part Three, 10 Hours in Oahu

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The view from Duke’s Waikiki

As anticipated, our week in Hawaii had flown by far too fast, and come Saturday, we were forced to say Aloha (the bad kind) to the Big Island and start the journey home.  However, we had specifically planned our flights to allow a 10-hour layover in Honolulu, allowing us to get just a little taste of what the biggest city in Paradise was all about.

We arrived at the Kona airport around 11am and a helpful Hawaiian Airlines agent was able to check our baggage all the way through to Austin – a feat that, if you’ll remember, the United agent in Austin told us was impossible even though the two airlines have a codeshare agreement. Further, noting the hubby’s 6’5″ frame, she also bumped us up to exit row seats on the Kona – HNL flight. Even more proof that Hawaiian Airlines pwns the domestic carriers to Hawaii any day.

We touched down in Honolulu just before 1pm, and the first order of business was  to head to Waikiki beach, where we enjoyed beachside lunch at the famous Duke’s.  Named for the native Hawaiian and Olympian who was later dubbed the “International Father of Surfing”, we enjoyed cheeseburgers and tiki drinks while watching a crowded flock of beginning surfers tackle the manageable waves.

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The USS Arizona Memorial, as seen from the ferry

With our bellies full, we headed over to Pearl Harbor & the USS Arizona Memorial where we hit a bit of luck – there were still ferry tickets for the last shuttle of the day, so we scooped up the free passes and were able to pay our respects as we explored the Memorial.  Arriving late in the day (I’d recommend about 2:15 or so) is a somewhat risky strategy for obtaining tickets for the tour, but if you’re unable to be there to request the first-come-first-served tickets when the doors open at 7am and don’t want to pay for a 3rd party tour, this may be your best option. And, even if you don’t make it out to the Arizona Memorial itself, you can still enjoy the displays in the well-curated Pearl Harbor Visitor Center.

Yep, that's a seal made of Spam, riding a wave of Spam cans.
Yep, that’s a seal made of Spam, riding a wave of Spam cans.

Up next, we headed back down to Waikiki where the main street of Kalakaua Avenue had been shut down to make room for the Waikiki Spam Jam.  Benefitting the Hawaii food bank, the Spam Jam celebrates the island’s obsession with the canned mystery meat, with vendors slinging up Spam in all its forms.  We tried some teriyaki Spam musubi, a dish that piles grilled Teriyaki-flavored Spam atop sushi rice, then binds it with nori…and…well…it was certainly not our favorite taste of the trip, but at least now we can say that we’ve done it.

A bit of souvenir shopping and finally it was time to head to the airport, where our red-eye flight was set to depart at 10pm.  We bid adieu to our vacation, and fell quickly asleep as we crossed the Pacific to head back to our home and reality.

Trip Report: Anniversary Trip to Hawaii, Part Two, the Big Island

IMG_2247After squeezing every bit of “aloha” we could out of Maui, it was time for us to head to our second island of the trip, Hawaii, aka the Big Island.

A quick 20-minute flight from Maui deposited us on the Big Island, which is sort of like being deposited on Mars. The sandy beaches, swaying sea grasses and palm trees we’d become accustomed to on Maui were replaced with rough black cooled lava – as far as the eye can see. It was roughly 30 minutes to our hotel in Waikoloa by rental car before the landscape changed back.

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The view from the lobby of the Fairmont.

For this segment of the trip, we stayed at the Fairmont Orchid, which is a fairly traditional upscale Hawaiian resort.  Using a free upgrade certificate I’d gotten by asking for a status match, we managed to get a lovely partial ocean-view room with a balcony in the tower closest to their private beach area, yet paid only about a third of the standard room price.

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Partial Ocean View Room

Another great thing about the Fairmont is that by joining the Fairmont’s Presidents Club (which is free) you get a lot of added perks.  We received 10% off a fantastic couples massage at the spa, $10 off our beach cabana rental, upgraded internet, priority checkin, and free bicycle rentals just for filling out the quick online form.

The bicycles were especially useful, as we used them a couple times to ride the quick mile path down to the Shops at Waikaloa where you can find a tasty little vegetarian cafe called Under the Bodhi Tree which had some of the best coffee we encountered during the entire trip.  The grocery store there was also a winner and had a poke bar with the best poke of our vacation.

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Sunset from above the clouds.

Our final evening on Hawaii, we went up – up – up into the clouds, to the top of Mauna Kea, one of the two twin peaks that make up the Big Island.  Here we watched the sunset from 9k feet, and then participated in one of the Stargazing parties at the Observatory.  Just remember: the higher you go, the colder it gets, and while we’d brought jeans and fleeces just for this occasion, we were still shivering as we tried to observe the heavens.  The observatory does star parties nightly, after sunset.

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High powered telescopes for the stargazing party.

Our three short nights on the Big Island flew by, and before we knew it, it was time for our flight to Oahu.  Stay tuned for the final edition – aka “how to rock a 10 hour layover in Honolulu”.