Sunday, January 29, 2017

When Fear Rules

January 1990: I flew back home to Minneapolis after attending my father's funeral in England. As the plane descended over Minneapolis my anxiety level rose, as it always did at this point in my journey back to the USA.

Flying doesn't bother me in the least. It was the thought of being questioned by an immigration official and being denied entry to the USA. I'd be forced onto the next flight back to the UK, separated from my partner, my home, my job, my life.

As I walked towards Immigration Control, my pulse would race, I would try not to shake. I rehearsed the upcoming encounter in my head:
Immigration Official: Are you a homosexual?
Me: I have nothing to say.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Inauguration Day 2017

Today, Inauguration Day 2017, I did my bit to support artistic expression and local beer.

Artistic expression is constitutionally protected speech. Art can express compassion, empathy, inclusiveness, but it can be annoying, uncomfortable, nihilistic. A crucifix immersed in the artist's urine is not my go-to artistic experience, but neither is mind-numbing kitsch.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

How to Dispose of Unwanted Money

Tomorrow I'll be stopping at the post office to drop off a box filled with foreign coins and banknotes.

Last year, at Newcastle International Airport, I showed my nephews an easier way to dispose of foreign currency. I led them to a big, bubble-shaped currency donation bin, then handed them some UK coins. As you can see in the picture at the top of this post, they were happy to perform The Disposal. 

They didn't think to rush over to a concession to buy candy with their new-found wealth. I'm grateful they want to help others.

I was thinking about this coin-drop the other day as I was sorting through my collection of leftover foreign currency. I always tell myself the money will be useful "the next time I go."

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Freakin' Cheap: Almost-Free Flights

How about an almost-free flight to Tokyo?

How about applying for a credit card with a 70,000 airline frequent flyer (FF) mile signup bonus, using the card for three months, then cutting up the card? 70,000 miles can buy a round-trip ticket from Minneapolis to Tokyo.

Flying is not always the best way to accumulate FF miles. Airlines are moving to price-based loyalty schemes. Instead of awarding one or more FF miles per mile traveled, Delta Airlines awards between 5 and 11 FF miles for each dollar spent on the ticket. If I'm lucky enough to find a really cheap fare, I'm not going to get so many FF miles.

These days, credit cards are a lucrative source of miles. It's not too hard to find signup bonuses ranging from 50,000 to 70,000 FF miles. Sign up for an airline-affiliated credit card, spend a minimum amount in the first two or three months, then get tens of thousands of miles credited to your airline FF account.

The key to collecting miles is to churn credit cards: apply for an airline-affiliated card, use the card for the required time period, get the bonus miles, then cancel the card. We've found that credit card issuers won't accept another application for about two years. So, two years later, reapply for the card and repeat the process.

70,000 miles is nothing to sneeze at. United Airlines has excellent availability in Economy between Minneapolis and Tokyo round-trip in the next few months for 70,000 FF miles.