Keeping Our Dormant Frequent Flier Miles On Ice

I used to fly quite a bit.  In my single days, I would try to do at least one trip per year. I got to see destinations like New York, Las Vegas, San Diego and Florida.  Having purchased a more expensive house and now with a baby, we have limited our travel to where flying has been significantly reduced.

I’m not going to lie, the multiple rate hikes and fees imposed for such things as picking your seat or checking baggage makes me less inclined to fly as well.

But, with the slowdown in our flying, we haven’t been accumulating frequent flier miles.

With Delta, at one point I had a significant amount of miles banked after having done a six month stint where I was flying back and forth to Florida every week for work.  At the time it was Northwest.  But, all that traveling actually got me and my wife free tickets on two trips, one to New York in 2005 and another to Orlando in 2008.

That was our last flight, and in doing so I had used up all of the miles that would give us free flights, but there was still a significant amount left.

Enter in the latest and greatest ‘great idea’ by the airlines, and that is where they will take away your miles after two years of non-use.

Great way to encourage flying.  Take away the carrot that might encourage people to fly more.  But, anyways, I digress.

Well, I received the notice that my miles were about to expire so I logged in to take a look. I had about 13,000 miles, which was about halfway to a flight.  I didn’t want to lose them, so I looked at the options.  Turns out I didn’t have to fly, but I could basically do any activity on my account to keep them active, including redeeming miles.

I’ll note that one suggestion I’ve heard is to have a rewards credit card that logs miles.  I actually did have one of those back when I was flying to Florida, and with charging all of the flights and travel costs to that card, then getting reimbursed, I was able to accumulate miles quickly.  However, when I stopped traveling as much, I determined that I would get better use out of our Citi Dividends cash back card.  When Northwest simply canceled my card (after a year of non-use), that sealed the deal and I decided that unless I started flying again regularly, I was not going to cave in and get a rewards card.

So, I looked at other options, and I decided to look at their magazine subscription program.  You can get subscriptions to many magazines for the cost of some of your miles.

One of my favorite magazines for years and years was Entertainment Weekly. I always like knowing what movies, music, books, and other things are coming out, and they’ve always written some pretty good articles about movies, TV shows, and the like.  I had a subscription for over ten years.  When a renewal came up that I felt was way overpriced, I let it lapse.  Over time, I remarked a few times that I missed reading it, but that paying for a subscription didn’t seem like something I wanted to do.

Since using my miles represented no out-of-pocket costs (well, actually a small amount, but I’ll get into that in a second), and it actually perhaps will lead to saving me in the future should we get a free flight from the miles we avoided losing, I decided to use 1,500 miles for a one-year subscription.

I’m still left with a majority of my miles.  I get a year subscription for no out of pocket costs, and I get two more years before I have to do anything again to avoid losing the miles (assuming they don’t tighten the program again, which I wouldn’t put it past them to do).

When I went to enter my subscription, it presented me with a great offer.  Add a second year subscription for an additional fee.  The additional fee?

Two dollars.

I jumped on that one without even thinking about it.  The way I looked at it, that actually got me right to the point where my two year inactivity fee would come up, and assuming they still had magazine deals, I could just re-up.

We’ll see what happens between now and then, but in the mean time, I am loving having my subscription back and loving even more that my out of pocket costs are less than two pennies per magazine for the next two years!

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Guess What? I’m Not Nominated!

I just read my 103,309th article this week (but who’s counting) with the topic ‘Hooray, look at me, I’m nominated for a Plutus Award’ and the obligatory begging and groveling request for votes.  I just thought I’d join the fray by mentioning that I’m not nominated, so instead of requesting that you leave my site and vote, I’ll ask that you stick around and read a couple more of my articles instead!

Have a great weekend!

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Who Is Giving This Guy Money???

The city of Detroit has had it’s share of bad press over the last few years.  It’s been front and center stage to the American auto meltdown.  Home values in the area have plummeted.  Unemployment here leads the country.  It has been in the top tier of foreclosure rates for what seems like forever.  The school system was shown to be one of the worst run and the lowest performing in the country.

In other words, it’s been a mess.

I don’t live in the city but am a metro Detroiter.

In spite of all that, I still love the area I’m from.

The biggest stain, in my opinion, on Detroit’s reputation was not any of the things I mentioned above.  It was the behaviors and actions of the former mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick.

Kilpatrick was the ‘hip-hop’ mayor, elected as a young guy with great fanfare earlier in the decade.  He rolled in wearing diamond earrings and making it known that he was a fresh face with fresh ideas.  He was young, vibrant, and energetic, and in those ways represented exactly the direction Detroit wanted to go to turn things around.

Unfortunately, when it was all said and done, he turned out to be nothing but a crook.  He abused his office and the power that came along with it.

Among the alleged incidents:

  • A party at the city-owned mayors residence that featured strippers
  • 24×7 security detail for him and his family that cost the city millions
  • Purchase of city vechiles for use by his family
  • Firing of the Detroit chief of police for disagreeing with him
  • An affair with one of his staffers while both were married
  • Misuse of city property and funds tied to his affair
  • Involvement in bribery cases
  • Purjury

It goes on but that is a list of things that surrounded him.  What led to his removal from office and jail time was that he used city owned Blackberry’s to send and receive tens of thousands of text messages that proved his involvement in many of the items listed above.  Because it was city owned property, the messages were released to the public record.

Eventually he stepped down, served a token jail sentence, and left the state.

One of the items of his settlement was that he was to pay the city of Detroit restitution for money that he mis-used and for the cost of investigating the various things surrounding this.  Once he left Detroit, he claimed that he could not make these payments, while moving into a swanky mansion, paying for plastic surgery for his wife (who for whatever reason stayed with him), and making other massive expenses.

The judge, thankfully, didn’t buy it.  In fact, the judge was so angered that he ordered Kilpatrick to move up a big chunk of his payments.  Kilpatrick pled poverty (from behind the doors of his 5,000+ square foot rental).

So, when a $75,000 payment was due last week, did Kilpatrick make the payment?  No.  He didn’t pay up a penny, claiming that he ‘didn’t have the money’.

The part that amazed me, though, is that $40,000, or just over half, was paid on his behalf by supporters and private donors.

That’s right.  This guy used the city property and bank accounts like it was his own for the taking, admitted guilt on many accounts, agreed to pay restitution, then threw it back in the face of everyone by living like a king while claiming poverty, and yet there are still people willing to open up their checkbooks to the tune of $40,000?

I don’t get it.

My guess is that these are people that he could have been involved in ‘shady’ deals with that are afraid that Kilpatrick could turn on.  That’s just a hunch, but would it really be too far a stretch?

Did I mention that there is a federal investigation into his dealings, with the possibility that he was bribing companies to get awarded city contracts while he was mayor?  He could possibly be charged in a RICO (rackateering) suit, which is the same type of suit that often brings down organized crime families.

Sounds like he got $40,000 in hush money if you ask my opinion.

The saga will no doubt continue to play out.  As much as I want to see this guy punished for his criminal activities and his blatant disregard for every citizen that he was entrusted to represent, I hate seeing the further blemishes that this brings upon the city and surrounding region.

But I still can’t get over the fact that there are people out there willingly giving this idiot money.  Unbelievable.

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Taxes Are Done

Our taxes came back from the accountant and I was pleasantly surprised.  I had estimated our federal return using a couple of the online calculators.  I was close but we actually came away with about $200 more than I’d thought.  Our federal return goes as a straight percentage allocated to the following:

  • Debt Payoff – 25% – We are working to be all-but-mortgage-debt-free by the end of 2012 and this will help us take a big step towards that goal
  • Vacation Fund – 10% – We like to go on vacation now and then, and this will help pay for our trips
  • Home Repairs / Renovations – 25% – Our house is just a touch over ten years old, so I expect that bigger ticket repairs will start piling on in the next few years, such as roof, windows, driveway, furnace, water heater, etc. and this will help defray some of those costs
  • Car Repair – 5% – This is to defray unexpected car repairs, insurance deductibles, or big ticket repairs like brakes or tires
  • New/Used Car Fund – 25% – We don’t have any car loans and I’d like to keep it that way.  We purchased a used car last year, so we should be set for a few years, but this will allow us to start re-building this fund since it was depleted with our recent purchase.
  • Family Expenses – 10% – We had built a nice fund when we had Baby Beagle so that we were able to pay for big ticket items that we didn’t receive as shower gifts.  We have future plans (nothing imminent, I promise) to continue to grow our family, so this will help defray some of those costs for when the time comes.

As you can see, our federal return goes largely towards paying off things that we haven’t purchased yet.  This is done intentionally for the simple reason that, as we work towards our goal of paying off debt, we also have a goal not to take on any new debt if at all possible.  Saving money for expenses we know are coming will help us maintain this goal.

Our state refund was also a couple hundred dollars bigger than we had expected.  With our income falling from 2008 to 2009 due to my wife working only part of the year, we qualified for a bit of a refund on our property tax expenses that I hadn’t been anticipating.

Our allocation of this will be for more current items:

  • Debt Payoff – 25% – It’s our standard to use 25% of cash inflows to pay down debt and we plan on doing the same with this.
  • Carpet Cleaning – We would like to get our carpets cleaned annually and it will be time in the spring
  • Lawn Mower Repair – My lawn mower is a couple of years old and I’d like to have a general repair done.  We have a lot of nuts and twigs that fall on our grass, so I’m sure that the blades need to be sharpened, and there’s a local place that does a tremendous job with yard equipment.
  • Furnace Tune-Up – I’m embarrassed to say that we haven’t yet had our furnace cleaned and tuned up, and I know that most guidelines for reducing heating/cooling costs tell you that this is something you should do every year or two.
  • Tree Trimming – This is something that, with many trees on our yard and near our house, needs to be done every two to three years.

We may not get to everything from the state return, but we should be able to get a big chunk of our list done, and all of the items are things that my wife and I agree need to be done to keep our house and yard in the condition that we desire.

Now, we just have to wait for our returns!

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