Naked Wines Update: Still a good, but not great, deal.

I’ve posted several times about Naked Wines. We drink a lot of wine in our household and it’s our go-to method for ordering nice bottles of wine for cheap, with the added convenience of it being delivered to our doorstep.

Naked Wines is growing in popularity and the Angels (members-only discounts) list has grown to 75,000 people.That’s apparently the max they can handle right now because the waiting list is 17,837 people long. When I first got in there was no wait to be an Angel, so your discount was applied immediately with your first $40 deposit, and you could combine the Angel discounts (approximately 40%-60% off).

Once there was a wait list to be an Angel, they introduced a new benefit of three free bottles on your first order, which could be combined with your $100 discount. This post outlines a possible scenario where you can get 12 bottles of wine for about $115.

But to get an even better deal, I suggested taking it one step further and saving your voucher until you become an Angel. I placed an order under Caleb’s account and ended up with another stellar deal of 21 bottles for $62, but apparently this was too good to be true!

Naked Wines has apparently updated their policy to not allow customers to combine the Angel discount with any form of voucher. I confirmed that this week when I tried to use a $50 voucher (no minimum purchase, received in the mail with The Villain’s initial order), and the site forced me to choose either Angel pricing or using the voucher.

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The best deal I could find was the “Trial Pack,” which is only $82 for 6 bottles, regularly priced. For me this came out to be a better deal so I used the voucher instead of the Angel pricing. We are two for two on Naked Wines matching the first contribution of $40, so they must be doing that for every new account. The total out of pocket cost came to $79.98 for 12 bottles.  It’s not nearly as good of a deal as it used to be, but still better than what you’ll probably find at your local grocery or liquor store.

We are visiting Sonoma region in May, as part of our San Francisco trip, and I look forward to visiting the Naked Wines tasting room, where Angels and their friends always receive free tastings. We’ll re-evaluate our Angel membership after that. There is an option to reduce your monthly deposit to $20, or to your account (and still receive full benefits).

We redeemed a Hyatt credit card free night for one night at the Andaz Napa

We redeemed a Hyatt credit card free night for one night at the Andaz Napa

To get $100 off your first purchase on Naked Wines, please use this linknot the GMPH code previously posted. That post has been updated. Thanks!

Extending the expiration date on free award nights from the Marriott-branded credit card

The Villain and I are planning a pretty epic trip in 2016 and almost all of our points and miles and credit card churning have been focused on making that happen lately.  We’re trying to save money, as well as take full advantage of living in beautiful Colorado, so have made our best attempt at limiting our out of state trips in 2015. We did have about 10 free hotel nights, primarily from credit card bonuses, that expire soon that we of course didn’t want to waste.

We both signed up for the Marriott Rewards Premier Visa from Chase in the past year, when the bonus was for 70,000 points at sign-up, along with a free night at a category 1-4 property. My night expires at the end of April, but Caleb’s expires at the end of March. We had our sights on a trip to Grand Junction, on the Western Slope of Colorado, and wanted to do it toward the end of April, when it was nice enough out to enjoy some of the national parks in the area as well as be able to bike around to some of the wineries in nearby Palisade.

We're looking forward to visiting Colorado National Monument on free days April 18-19, for the  opening weekend of National Park Week

We’re looking forward to visiting Colorado National Monument on free days April 18-19, for the opening weekend of National Park Week

I called Marriott and asked about extending the expiration date on his free night to allow us two back-to-back nights at the same property, and the rep on the phone was very helpful in getting us booked in April, despite one night expiring in March. I had called a few months back to ask if that would be possible, and was told likely, if we had put considerable spend on the card. We had hardly his card at all since hitting the minimum spend, but it was still no problem getting the date extended.

I haven’t had as good of luck with other hotel-branded credit card free nights, including Hyatt and Hilton, but with Marriott it was very simple!

Rather than stay a night you don’t really need or let your free night go to waste, I highly recommend calling to see if they will extend the expiration date on your free night!

Two new Kimpton Inner Circle new hotel offers + new ‘nightcap’ perk

If you follow this blog regularly you know I have a HUGE crush on Kimpton hotels. I only wish there were more of them across the country. (Kimpton, pretty please come to Houston)! The good news is that Kimpton is growing fast and continues to announce more new hotels. One of the most valuable Inner Circle perks is the new hotel offer, which includes a complimentary night stay and a $50 dining credit at new properties.

I recently booked my first ever new hotel offer at The Goodland in Santa Barbara for a girls weekend in May. I logged in this morning though and noticed Kimpton recently released two more new offers: Palliadian in Seattle and Monaco, Pittsburgh. Here’s the details:

new hotel offerI have plans to be in Seattle during this time period so look forward to going back to Palladian, where I had a great stay during their opening week. Haven’t spent much time in Pittsburgh before, so I’ll go out of my way to make sure I can redeem the free night there by September 1.

Fancy a nightcap? 

More free booze at Kimpton! According to this USA Today article, Kimpton Hotels will roll out a new nightcap program to its guests. It’s currently offered at 17 properties, but will roll out to remaining 48 hotels over next year. Nightly samplings will include a small pour of a libation with snacks, such as nuts, cookies or cheese. Typically it will be served from 9 -10:30 p.m., but some hotels will offer it earlier or pass out “speakeasy” cards.

Just another reason to love Kimpton!

How to use Excel to manage credit cards and points: Part 1

A few days back I posted a link to my go-to spreadsheet for managing our credit card system. With nearly 40 cards at this point, that’s no easy task! Thanks to some comments and reader feedback I’ll be updating the Points, Miles and Credit Card Management Template to include even more info, but in the meantime expect several brief posts that provide an overview of how I use some of the individual tabs.

1. Accounts and Info:
This tab is listed first for me because it’s the one I access the most and is sort of a “catch all” for any account where there’s a membership number or a log-in or password to be remembered. It’s nice to have these all in one place so you don’t waste timing trying various passwords, trying to remember your number, etc. This way you can vary  your passwords, though I know I’m guilty of using the same three passwords for hundreds of accounts but we all know that’s not safe anymore! I know there are a lot of great password generating/saving websites and apps out there, which I’ve been meaning to try. Would love to hear your suggestions for what works for you! LastPass was one suggestion I heard at the Chicago Seminars last year.

Examples of types of information I include, and some of my favorite websites:

  • driver’s license numbers
  • passport numbers
  • known traveler numbers (for TSA Precheck, another lifesaver!)
  • social security numbers
  • license plate numbers
  • tax programs
  • student loans
  • home, car and health insurance
  • email accounts and passwords
  • Amazon, Spotify, Hoopla, Pandora and other entertainment log-ins (I recommend gofobo for advance movie screening alerts in your area)
  • library card numbers
  • dining reward programs (Seven Starbucks accounts, anyone?)
  • online shopping accounts
  • shopping portals (Ebates is usually my go-to).
  • store loyalty numbers
  • commonly used ‘PINs’or secret words
  • grocery store and gas rewards
  • Wine club memberships
  • Social media accounts. Follow me on TwitterFacebook, Instagram, and Pinterest!
  • File and photo sharing accounts
  • Travel booking websites (Orbitz Rewards, Rocket Miles, Points Hound and Travel Pony are good ones).
  • Coupon sites (I love the ones where you log in and can easily click to make your own shopping list from their suggested deals, such as hip2save.com and livingrichwithcoupons.com)
  • Recipe and fitness websites (currently obsessed with myfitnesspal.com)

This is a great place to store key phone numbers, important names, passwords, etc.  There is some crossover between what’s on this tab and some of the others, but this is always the first place I look.

I joke with The Villain that God forbid anything were ever to happen to me, at least he knows how to access any and every account and has full contact info and necessary information.

Just a reminder and word of caution that this type of sensitive information needs to be password protected! As I previously mentioned, I use the file-sharing service Dropbox to store this spreadsheet. I also recommend storing scanned copies of various documents such as identification, insurance cards, marriage licenses and any rewards card showing status you may need to prove, in your Dropbox account.

What am I missing? What other type of info can you think of that would be helpful to store here?

The Excel sheet that keeps me sane

As part of the kickoff to my “Get Your Points Organized, America” Series, I first want to introduce you to the document that I keep up on my computer, and phone, pretty much at all times. I reference it multiple times a day, am constantly making changes to keep it accurate and it is the single most effective tool I use to keep my points, miles and credit cards organized. You can click on the link below to download a blank template for your own use. For today I’ll highlight some general tips, and in the next post I’ll break down each individual tab and how I use it.

Points, Miles and Credit Card Management Template

Dropbox:
I store our document on Dropbox, which is a file sharing service. If you do not have an account you can use my link to sign up and receive 500MB of bonus space. Dropbox allows multiple people to work in the same document and to save it to a server that can be accessed from multiple locations, i.e. home, work, cell phone, etc. We also use the Dropbox app, which is handy when we need to pull up a loyalty number, a credit card number we don’t have on us, or our license plate number when checking in somewhere it’s required.You could also use Google Docs or a similar service if you prefer.

Password Protection:
It’s crucial to password protect your document, otherwise this is just identity theft waiting to happen. This document contains a lot of sensitive information including social security numbers, driver’s license numbers and credit cards, so be extra cautious where and how you are viewing it, and to always close out of it when you’re done, even on a personal computer to protect yourself. Here’s how to encrypt it with a password on Microsoft Excel 2010:

encrpytion on excel

Saving:
Because we have multiple people accessing and editing this document on multiple computers, we have run into the problem of ending up with a lot of ‘Conflicted Copies’ and confusing ourselves. My best advice is to always remember to save the document frequently and to close out of it when you are finished. If you are working offline, such as on a plane, be sure to open it up and save once you are reconnected to the Internet.

Make a commitment to keep it updated:
This type of document will only be helpful if it is accurate. When I did my big overhaul of all of my different cards, points and processes at the beginning of the year, I realized that most of my tabs were full of incomplete or inaccurate data. The key to keeping it updated is to input new data as soon as you receive it. For example, when you do a churn, fully fill out all columns under that tab. Then when you receive the card, go into the next tab and update all the card information. My new rule is that “if I don’t have time to add whatever it is I’m doing to my master document right now, then I don’t have time to do the task at all.”

If you are not already using a system such as this type of document to manage your hobby, I highly recommend you spend some time gathering up all of your cards, all of your log-ins and passwords, etc. and plug it all into one place you can easily access. It’s some work upfront, but will make your life way easier in the long run!

Stay tuned for more detailed descriptions of each of the individual tabs.

Maybe I need this wallet to hold all my credit cards! I prefer the 'rubber band' system for now. Some in my purse, some in the dresser drawer. But at least all of the information is saved in one place! (Photo from Pinterest)

Maybe I need this wallet to hold all my credit cards! I prefer the ‘rubber band’ system for now. Some in my purse, some in the dresser drawer. But at least all of the information is saved in one place! (Photo from Pinterest)

How to use Award Wallet to track point balances + upgrade coupons

Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing a series of posts helping you to organize your points and miles and credit cards to help you travel better and save time. If you are a true beginner, or just need a quick refresher, I encourage you to check out my ‘Getting Started Guide.’ It breaks down the basics, from setting travel goals, checking your credit score, and applying for rewards earning credit cards, and many of these topics will be reviewed or covered in more depth as a part of this series.

Once you get into this hobby you’ll likely end up with points in lots of different programs. I highly recommend before you take any flight, rent a car or stay in a hotel, you sign up for that company’s rewards program. Here is a link to The Points Guy’s Beginner’s Guide, which includes direct links for all of the program sign-ups. Be sure to write down your number, username and password!

It can be challenging to keep track of how many points you have and when they expire. I used to monitor this all manually using my Master Excel Spreadsheet (which will be the focus of at least a few blogs in this series), but that got a little out of control considering we are enrolled in at least 55 programs between the two of us. A much, much easier way is to use Award Wallet.

Award Wallet lets you track all most of your points and miles in one place. You can easily access your individual online accounts from your Award Wallet account with one click, and you can even manage accounts for your family members and friends. There is also an Award Wallet app that you can download to easily access your frequent traveler account numbers when traveling.

The first step is to sign up for an Award Wallet account.  I have a free premium membership upgrade coupon for first time users: free-eisquz (8 available)

Continue reading

Experiencing Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and Country Inn and Suites French Quarter Review

New Orleans was one of the only bigger cities in the U.S. that I had never visited, so recently it’s been near the top of my domestic vacation spots list. Though The Villain’s been several times, he’d never experienced the city during Mardi Gras so we headed there last weekend. Thanks to Southwest and Club Carlson points we were able to take a fairly affordable weekend getaway to New Orleans and stay right in the French Quarter during Mardi Gras.

We redeemed 44,000 Club Carlson points for a two night stay at the Country Inn & Suites on Magazine Street, thanks to the bonus award night with the Club Carlson Visa from US Bank.  It was definitely one of the more upscale Country Inn & Suites I’ve been to before. The hotel was in a great location, just a few minutes walk from the parade routes and the French Quarter.

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Our room itself was quite small, with the king size bed taking up most of the room, but it did have a mini-fridge, a nice TV and a decent sized bathroom. We were there to experience Mardi Gras anyway, not lounge around a hotel room. The complimentary breakfast included hot and cold items and there was plenty of seating available even during a busy time. There was a small courtyard with a heated pool. While the hotel was close to the action, it was surprisingly really quiet. The parades didn’t go down our street, but some of the floats seemed to park there afterwards so we got to see some up close. I appreciated that all hotel guests were given a wristband, which were checked at the front door, to ensure that non-registered guests would not be coming in and out of the hotel. This seemed to be the general policy for most hotels during Mardi Gras.

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There was a concierge available at the hotel and though they offered suggestions for where and when to watch parades, in general we thought the whole Mardi Gras experience was pretty chaotic and unorganized. There are just so many dang parades and they all have different routes and take forever so it was hard for us to figure out when to be in the right spot to catch them.

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One of our biggest surprises was when we arrived close to midnight on Friday night there was still a parade going on! Welcome to Mardi Gras! Our cab driver had to drop us off about eight blocks away from the hotel, but walking was a lot faster than driving. On our way back to the airport on Sunday we again were advised to walk several blocks, crossing a parade route, to hail a cab. Cabs to and from the New Orleans airport are a $33 flat fee. We were told by our concierge to allow at least four hours for getting to the airport, but we got pretty lucky and it didn’t take us too long, which left us at the airport for several hours without lounge access (only a Delta club at MSY).

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Some of our highlights of the weekend were the parades, eating delicious Cajun food (fried catfish, blackened redfish, jambalaya, red beans and rice, and beignets), strolling down Bourbon Street (fun in the daytime, way too much for us after dark) and meeting up for a late night rendezvous with my friend Nicole, who lived in Nola for awhile and showed us all the good spots, including an iconic piano bar.

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We had a fabulous weekend in The Big Easy, made possible thanks to our airline and and hotel points. Mardi Gras is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and at times even felt like we were in a foreign country. I can’t say I’d go back again, though it was well worth it once. I would like to return to New Orleans during a different time of year to experience more of the city and some of the neighborhoods outside of the French Quarter.

Apologies for all the weird spacing issues with the photos. Almost a year into this and I still can’t figure out wordpress!

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