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  • 2014-05-04-1

    Welcome to American Peak

    I’m Ryan, and this is my travel blog. First, a little about myself. I’m a 32 year old male and a life long resident of Northeast Ohio...

A quick and easy way to manufacture spend $1,000 per month is through Amazon Payments. The process is really simple -

Amazon Payments

Amazon Payments

  1. You and a close friend or family member each need to create an Amazon Payments account.
  2. Add your credit card to your account.
  3. Have the other person link their account to their bank account.
  4. Send $1,000 from your account to the other persons account, using your credit card as your payment source.
  5. Have the other person withdraw the money from Amazon Payments to their bank account.
  6. Have the other person pay the $1,000 back to you via a check, cash, etc.

A few things to note when using Amazon Payments -

  1. You can only transfer $1,000 per calendar month for free.
  2. Never transfer the money from account A to account B and then back to account A. Amazon will shut down your accounts for doing this.

Using this quick and easy method you can charge $1,000 to your credit card every month at no cost, a great way to earn miles or points on your awards earning credit card.

Other Manufactured Spend 101 series posts:
Manufactured Spend 101 – Part 1: The Spend, Visa Gift Cards at CVS
Manufactured Spend 101 – Part 2: Cashing Out

 

Original sign in German.

Original sign in German.

The highly rated Word Lens app for iOS is currently being offered free for a limited time.

If you’re unfamiliar with Word Lens, it’s an innovative app that translates foreign languages into English in real time and superimposes the translation over the foreign words. For example, if you’re in a foreign country and looking at a street sign and have no idea what it says, launch Word Lens, point your camera at the sign and the Word Lens app will show you the street sign in English (see the sample images to the right and below).

Word Lens translation of the German sign.

Word Lens translation of the German sign.

What’s also great about Word Lens is that it conducts the translations offline, so there’s no need to have your data service turned on (which I rarely ever do when I’m overseas).

Once you download the app, make sure that you open it up and download all of the language packs (which are also currently free). Word Lens currently offers language packs to translate the following languages to English: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Russian, and Portuguese.

There’s no word on how long the app and language packs will be available for free, so download it now!

2014-05-13-1

Cabeau Memory Foam Evolution Pillow

When traveling on long international flights, I have a really hard time getting some solid sleep. I tend not to recline if there’s someone sitting behind me, since I hate when people in front of me recline, so I try and sleep sitting upright. This comes with a few challenges. Your head tends to role side to side, causing your body to lean over until you end up laying on the person next to you, or your head tips forward, causing your body to violently jerk your head backwards, waking you up. Even if I do manage to stay asleep, I usually end up with a sore neck and shoulders. Not a great way to start your vacation.

In March I took a quick trip to Italy that involved an overnight flight from Toronto to Frankfurt and I wanted to do my best to get some quality shuteye on the flight. I decided to purchase a travel pillow and after conducting some online research, purchased the Cabeau Memory Foam Evolution Pillow. It worked remarkably well.

The Evolution Pillow differs from many other travel pillows in that it has much higher sides, which provide better support and stability to your head, keeping you from leaning to the side. It also secures around the front of your neck, preventing your head from tipping forward while you sleep.

Cabeau Memory Foam Evolution Pillow

Cabeau Memory Foam Evolution Pillow

It did take a little getting used to, but after some adjusting, I got a couple of hours of sleep while cruising over the Atlantic. I also tried it out as a traditional pillow and laid against it while leaning on the side of the aircraft (I had the window seat). It wasn’t quiet as effective in that position as it’s not flat.

The Evolution Pillow also has a couple traveler friendly features. Despite being a fairly sizable pillow, it compresses down to about one third of its size and can be stored in a small pouch that is included. This is very convenient since I usually only take a backpack as a carry on and I don’t have room for any items that are bulky. It also has a pocket on the side of it for storing your phone. This will help out if you like to wear headphones while sleeping.

The Cabeau Memory Foam Evolution Pillow is available from Amazon.com for around $40 and after almost 700 reviews, it has earned a solid 4.5 star rating.

Earlier this week in part 1 of the Manufactured Spend 101 series I discussed buying Visa gift cards at CVS in order to accumulate miles or points on your credit card. Now that you’ve got a stack of Visa gift cards, you need a way to convert them back into cash so that you can use them to pay off the bill of the credit card you used to purchase them.

There are two easy ways to convert your Visa gift cards back into cash and both of them involve a trip to Walmart.

1) Loading your gift cards onto an American Express Bluebird card.
2) Walmart bill pay service.

American Express Bluebird Card

The best way to cash out your Visa gift cards is by loading them onto an American Express Bluebird card. The reason I prefer this method over Walmart bill pay is because it’s free, can often be done at a kiosk without needing to interact with a Walmart employee, and even if you do need to interact with a Walmart employee, it’s a much simpler transaction for them to perform.

American Express Bluebird Card

American Express Bluebird Card

First, you’re going to need an American Express Bluebird card. The Bluebird is a reloadable debit card, so it won’t affect your credit score. Apply for the card at www.bluebird.com and it will arrive in the mail in under a week.

Walmart MoneyCenter Express Kiosk

One of several styles of Walmart MoneyCenter Express kiosks.

Once you have a Bluebird card, go to your local Walmart and take your Bluebird card and Visa gift cards with you. Look for an automated kiosk called the Walmart MoneyCenter Express. It can usually be found near the Customer Service desk or in the Walmart MoneyCenter, if your store has one. If your Walmart has a kiosk and it’s functioning (they tend to be out of service a lot of the time), click on “Walmart MoneyCard” on the home screen (you can also click on Bluebird, but I find that it doesn’t work as reliably) and swipe your Bluebird card when prompted. Next, click on the “Reload” button and enter the amount that you want to load (you can’t split payment methods, so you’ll have to load your Visa gift cards onto the Bluebird one at a time). After a short wait, the kiosk will tell you that the transaction is free and to click “Finish and Pay”. On the next screen, choose “Debit”. Swipe the Visa gift card when prompted. If you purchased your Visa gift card at CVS, you can use any four digits as the pin number. Next, choose whether you want cash back and then click “OK”. The kiosk will complete the transaction and print a receipt.

A few things to note:
1) You can only load $1,000 onto a Bluebird card each day and a total of $5,000 in a calendar month.
2) The kiosk will only let you load $1,999 onto Bluebird cards every 10 minutes. If you try and load more than that in less than 10 minutes, the machine will lock up and require a manager to come over to unlock it. DON’T DO THIS! It can takes hours for a manager to service the machine and it takes it out of service for everyone else trying to load their Bluebird cards.

If your Walmart doesn’t have a kiosk, or it’s out of order, go to the MoneyCenter or Customer Service desk and tell them that you want to reload your Bluebird card. Unlike the kiosk, they can do split transactions at the register, so you can unload multiple gift cards in one transaction (as long as it’s under $1,000 total). Some Walmarts enforce local policies that do not allow gift cards to be used to load Bluebird cards. This is not a Walmart corporate policy, just one made up by your local store or the employee. Don’t argue with them, just go to a different store. This is also why in part 1 of the series I recommended purchasing OneVanilla cards. They looks like regular debit cards and don’t say the word “gift” on them, so employees don’t usually recognize them as being gift cards.

Now that you have your money loaded onto your Bluebird card you have two options to pay off your credit card bill:
1) Log on to www.bluebird.com and use the website’s free bill pay service to make a payment to your credit card.
2) Write a check from your Bluebird account to yourself, deposit it in your bank account and pay your credit card bill as your normally do. (At the moment you can request 100 checks for your Bluebird account for free, but this offer will expire in the future. I recommend requesting them even if you don’t currently plan to use them.)

Walmart Bill Pay Service

The second option for cashing out your Visa gift cards at Walmart is by using its bill pay service. There are two times when this is beneficial: 1) you don’t have a Bluebird card and don’t want to get one and 2) you’ve already loaded your $5,000 monthly maximum onto your Bluebird card and want to do even more (infinite?) manufactured spend. The bill pay service costs between $1.50 and $1.88 per transaction, so I would recommend using it only when necessary to keep your costs down.

Walmart Bill Pay Service

To make a payment to your credit card at Walmart, go to the MoneyCenter desk (if your Walmart has one) or Customer Service desk. Tell them that you want to pay a bill (if they’re confused and can’t find the bill pay service on their screen, it’s a service called CheckFreePay) and when they ask you for the payee, tell them either Visa or Mastercard (depending on which network the card you’re paying off uses). Walmart does not currently allow you to pay off American Express cards.

Next, the employee is going to need some information from you:
1) Your credit card account number.
2) Your name.
3) Your phone number.
4) The amount of the payment.

Note: Walmart will let you swipe up to four cards per bill pay transaction. What that means is if you have $500 Visa gift cards, the most you can pay in one transaction is $2,000. If you have $200 Visa gift cards, the most you can pay in one transaction is $800.

Next, you’re going to tell the employee that you want to do a split payment using multiple debit cards and tell them how much you want to charge to each card. You will need to swipe your card first before the employee can enter the split payment (this is new after a recent software change, previously the employee needed to enter the split payment before your swiped and some employees are still learning the new way).

After you’ve swiped all of your cards, you still have the bill pay service fee that you need to pay. It’s usually anywhere between $1.50 and $1.88. I usually pay this in cash, but you could alternately adjust your bill pay amount (i.e. $1,998.12 instead of $2,000) to pay for it with your Visa gift card.

The employee will now give you your receipt and within 2-3 business days you will see the payment post on your credit card’s website.

So Now What Have You Accomplished?

Let’s say you bought a $500 Visa gift card at CVS using the Citi HHonors Reserve card (3 HHonors points per dollar spent) and used the Bluebird method to cash out. You paid $504.95 for the Visa gift card ($500 + $4.95 purchase charge), which earned you 1,514 HHonors points. You then loaded the Visa gift card’s $500 value onto your Bluebird card and then used the Bluebird bill pay service to make a $500 payment to your Citi HHonors Reserve card. Your total expense is now just the $4.95 purchase charge and your earned 1,514 HHonors points. That means you paid $.0033 per HHonors point ($4.95/1,1514). Assuming you want to stay at a Hilton property, such as the Hilton Vienna Plaza, where one night costs either $339 or 50,000 HHonors points (50,000*$.0033=$165), you can save a lot of money! Check out my post on maximizing your Hilton HHonors points for some great examples of how much you could save.

Next week in the Manufactured Spend 101 series I’ll be telling you how to use Amazon Payments to spend $1,000 per month at no cost.

Other Manufactured Spend 101 series posts:
Manufactured Spend 101 – Part 1: The Spend, Visa Gift Cards at CVS
Manufactured Spend 101 – Part 3: Amazon Payments

In early September I’m taking a vacation to Athens and Mykonos, Greece and Vienna, Austria. I have a lot of Hilton HHonors points accumulated and I want to use some of them for my stays in Athens and Vienna, but I also want to get the best value out of them. Hilton offers several ways to book a room – cash, HHonors points, or using a combination of cash and HHonors points. So which one is the best value?

2014-05-07-1

Hilton Athens

Hilton has only one property in Athens, the Hilton Athens. For the nights that I’m interested in staying in Athens the room rate is $186 (134€) or 40,000 HHonors points or $68 (49€) + 16,000 HHonors points. To determine how much it’s going to cost, I first have to determine how much it cost me to earn each HHonors point using manufactured spend (my primary way of accumulating points). Assuming that I purchased $500 Visa gift cards with a $4.95 purchase charge at CVS using my Citi HHonors Reserve card (which earns 3 HHonors points per dollar), my total cost per point is $.0033 ($4.95/1500). Using this cost, here are my options:

Cash: $186
Points: $132 (40,000*$.0033)
Cash + Points: $121 ($68+16,000*$.0033)

In this instance, my cheapest option is to use a combination of cash and points. Using this method, I can save $65 (35%) off the regular price of the room. I’ll also earn 30 HHonors points per dollar (10 base, 5 double dip, 10 credit card, 5 diamond status) on the $68 I spend, which will earn me an additional 2,040 HHonors points, which at a value of $.0033 is almost like getting another $7 off the price.

2014-05-07-2

Hilton Vienna and Hilton Vienna Plaza

Hilton has three properties in Vienna, but only two that I’m interested in, the Hilton Vienna and the Hilton Vienna Plaza. The Hilton Vienna is $296 (213€) or 50,000 HHonors points or $90 (65€) + 20,000 HHonors points. The Hilton Vienna Plaza is $339 (244€) or 50,000 HHonors points or $90 (65€) + 20,000 HHonors points. Here are my options:

Hilton Vienna
Cash: $296
Points: $165 (50,000*$.0033)
Cash + Points: $156 ($90+20,000*$.0033)

Hilton Vienna Plaza
Cash: $339
Points: $165 (50,000*$.0033)
Cash + Points: $156 ($90+20,000*$.0033)

In both of these instances my cheapest option is also to use a combination of cash and points. At the Hilton Vienna I can save $140 (47%) off the regular price of the room and at the Hilton Vienna Plaza I can save $183 (54%) off the regular price of the room! And as above, I’ll also earn a couple thousand HHonors points too.

So that’s how I determine the best method to pay for rooms at Hilton hotels. Leave a comment and let me know which payment method you prefer and why.