How I Just Scored 1,165 AA Miles Buying Everyday Items

I’m getting more and more into travel hacking and making the most out of web portals so I’d thought I’d share some of my recent progress with placing an order of everyday items through the American Airlines AAdvantage eShopping portal.

First, if you don’t know what a web portal is, it’s basically a website that you go through in order to access certain online stores. By going through a portal you usually benefit with travel miles/points or cashback from certain sites. It’s a great way to double-dip with a rewards card and there are plenty of different portals for different travel companies and sites just giving you cashback… (I’ll write up a post about these later).

Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 9.27.16 AMThe portal I’m focusing on in this post is the American Airlines AAdvantage eShopping portal. I regularly need certain pharmacy OTC items like omeprazole for heartburn, probiotics, sleeping aids, and random other products. I recently discovered the AAdvantage eShopping portal and saw that the current miles rate for Rite-Aid Pharmacy was 5 miles/per $1, which is pretty good and one of the better deals you’ll find on the portal. It then dawned on me that I could start purchasing all of my essential pharmaceutical products through the AAdvantage portal and start double dipping with AA miles and the usual Membership Rewards points that I earn from American Express purchases. Why didn’t I know about this sooner!? Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 9.25.19 AM

Promo codes

When you find a store on AAdvantage eShopping there are often special promos. Some are generic and just state that you can save X% of money but others are more specific and require promo codes to unlock — these can be pretty worthwhile. (Caution for newbies: make sure you don’t enter any promo codes found outside a portal like this or you may not be able to collect your points).

Thankfully, there was a promo code for Rite-Aid, “GET15OFF” that saved you $15 off when you spent $70 or more. So Brad and I took advantage of this deal to put in two purchases (the promo code would only work 1x per account). The deals are even better if you become a Rite-Aid Wellness+ with Plenti member because you get cheaper products with good discounts. Many deals are BOGO free making the deal much more lucrative.

The promo codes, cheap prices, and no sales tax definitely made my online shopping experience at Rite-Aid worth it. For example, if I had driven to the local grocery store where I usually buy a 42 pack of omeprazole I’d pay about $1 less for each carton. However, when you factor in the promo code savings from buying multiple packs, I ended up saving easily a few bucks per pack making shopping online worth it.

So I saved money, still got Amex MR points, and also get the AAdvantage miles. Here’s a look at what we earned just with our purchases:

  • $53 x 5 = 265
  • $80 x 5 = 400

That equals 665 extra AA miles for buying mostly stuff I would usually be buying anyway!

The special AAdvantage promo

Now, there is a special AA promo going on for those who spend at least $125 or more before August 16, 2015. I knew that I wouldn’t need enough items at Rite-Aid to meet the threshold of $125 so I decided to take advantage of some of the buy-one-get-one-free deals and try to resell those for a profit on Ebay. I’m not a big fan of buying non-essential items just because they are discounted, and I wouldn’t normally spend the extra effort to go the Ebay selling route but I’ve been wanting to just try out the resale game for a while and begin building a reputable account as well.

The jury is still out on whether I’ll make a profit on some of the those supplements but based on the research I’ve done, it looks like I’ll at least break even because with the discounts and BOGO offers I paid some pretty dirt cheap prices for things like fish oil. Also, I’m pretty confident these items will sell because almost all of them showed a decent history of selling and the items currently listed had several watchers (some had over 40!).

To some, especially more experienced travel hackers, I’m sure putting in this effort for 500 extra miles may not seem worth it, but for me it’s more of a “testing-the-waters” type of thing. If I could regularly make a profit by earning miles and Amex MR points with a few sales here and there, why not do it while I have the time?

So online portals show a lot of potential to me to supplement miles for reward programs and to allow you double dip with a rewards card. It feels good to know that I got an extra 1,165 miles with AA for simply buying items I would’ve already bought in addition to a few items that could potentially turn into a small profit for me.

I’d recommend checking out the promo and seeing if you can find some discounts at certain online stores that really will make it worthwhile to pursue!

Is Booking Hotels and Airfare Through Expedia Worth it?

Booking travel through any third party online travel agency (OTA) website or app can always present its own unique challenges to travelers. This post is going to focus in on Expedia, and give you my take on the pros and cons of booking with Expedia based on my own personal experiences and research that I’ve done.

The booking experience

Expedia has a great booking experience online and the App isn’t too bad either. It’s very user-friendly, comes with tons of filters for price, location, etc. Since I’m huge on location when it comes to hotels, I always use the many sub-categories to locate a hotel. You can almost always find a subcategory for an attraction, monument, market square, etc. Searching for flights is just as easy, and there’s an option for filtering class fares and even multi-city stops.

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 5.34.14 PMThe customer service can be hit or miss, though. I’ve never had a problem with them to this day but I’ve heard about a lot of people having issues with them. I will say that long wait times can be an issue so if you’re the type who abhors being put on hold for longer than 5 minutes, you might find yourself getting a bit frustrated.

There’s always a risk

Here’s the thing, when you book with Expedia or any third party there is always a risk that you might experience a hiccup in the booking process. This usually comes into play when you decide to modify or cancel your booking but sometimes it can be attributed to nothing you did. For example, there are horror stories of people showing up at their hotels with no booking slot available and crazy things like that. Now, these people almost always get taken care of by being sent to another hotel due to overbooking but who wants to deal with that? I’ve been using Expedia for several years now and have never had any major problems with my booking. I’ve even had to cancel flights before and I was able to smoothly work it out with Expedia without any issues. However, see below about paying attention to terms.

You should just remember that anytime you don’t book directly through the hotel or airlines you run the risk that something could get lost in the process. For that reason, always make it a practice to follow up with the hotel or airlines a couple of hours after you book and get a confirmation/booking number. The need for this is even greater when you’re booking a small, local hotel that you’ve never heard of or some kind of guest house/hostel in another country. Those places tend to be less established and organized and the potential for a mishap is far greater.

Also, make sure you check in with the airlines for  seat selections because the seat selection tool on Expedia can be a little iffy at times. In fact, I don’t think it’s ever worked properly for me.

Read those terms and conditions!

In addition to being familiar with the general terms of Expedia you should pay extra close attention to the terms and options of your transaction. For hotel bookings some of the concerns are whether a hotel has free cancellation up to 24 hours; pay later option — if so what, find out what credit card the hotel takes because that can get mixed up some times; free wifi — find out if that means in rooms or just common areas; breakfast included, etc. The major concerns are the refund options because if Expedia says no refund, they mean NO refund.

For flights you really want to make sure that you get some kind of protection plan unless you are 100% sure that you are going to board that plane so help you God. And even if you go with a travel protection plan make sure you are aware of what will allow you to cancel. For example, under the Travel Arrangement Protection plan (which covers all travel on Expedia) you can cancel before your trip due to sickness or injury but:

“The Sickness or Injury must: a) commence while your coverage is in effect under the plan; b) require the examination and treatment by a Physician at the time the Covered Trip is cancelled; and c) in the written opinion of the treating Physician, be so disabling as to prevent you from taking your Covered Trip.” 

That’s a pretty high threshold and is just an example of how Expedia doesn’t mess around when it comes to travel protection plans. There are some other examples of what’s not covered and some of them are a little shocking. Have a mental breakdown? Better go to the hospital! Act of war affecting your travel plans? Sorry, mate. So if you’re planning on booking flights and hotels just be 100% certain or as close to that as you can be that you will be departing on that date.

You might be saving money, you might not

In my experience, whether or not Expedia is cheaper is really hit or miss. I usually always check with the hotel right as I’m looking at prices on Expedia to make sure that Expedia is cheaper or at least the same price. In the past Expedia was almost always cheaper and if they weren’t then another OTA was.

Recently, however, this doesn’t seem to be the case and in fact many hotels are now matching what you find on OTAs. I still think this is going to be a hit or miss thing for the time being. But it’s good to know that if you find a low rate on an OTA you should always check with the hotel to see if they are willing to match the price.

You might miss out on upgrades

I’ve heard it first hand that people who book through third-party sites are often the last people to get chosen for upgrades or the best rooms at hotels. On top of that, there’s even a stigma that some staff members say others hold toward “OTA bookers” because they tend to be more problematic, demanding, less loyal, peons, etc. You get the picture. What really surprised me is that even in cases where you supply your member number, hotels like Starwood won’t even recognize your status, making it virtually certain that you don’t receive any “special” treatment.

I’ve personally been given the best rooms and given upgrades in the past when I booked with Expedia so I know that you can still get “special” treatment, but at the same time I’ve gotten some of the crappiest rooms on some occasions, too. No telling why it happened in each case, but I’m sure that more times than not OTA customers get second-preference.

One way that you can combat this is that you can become an Expedia+ Member and book +VIP hotels, where you’re given perks like access to the spas. You’d think that if you’re getting that kind of access they’d also hook you up with upgrades if they are available but according to Expedia you may only get those kind of upgrades if you’re a Gold Member. The drawback is that you’re not going to be able to consistently gain points or status at one particular hotel, which for some people will make it not worth it. However, if you’re not loyal to any specific hotel and enjoy mixing your hotel stays up a bit, then the Expedia route looks a lot better.

Nice little coupons

Sometimes Expedia throws in random bonuses and coupons like $25 off your first mobile booking through their app and sometimes much bigger discounts like $200 off stays of five nights or longer. Also, sometimes there are credit card portals that give you a bonus for going through an OTA like Expedia. You just have to be on the lookout for these but they can provide you with some decent savings sometimes. Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 5.29.14 PM

Best Price Guarantee

Expedia has a best price guarantee that applies to all shoppers. It goes as follows:

“Find a cheaper flight, vacation package, rental car, cruise or activity within 24 hours of booking and we’ll refund the difference, plus give you a $50 travel coupon for future travel. For hotels, we go even further: If you find a cheaper rate on your hotel reservation up to two days before your check-in, we will refund the difference and give you a $50 travel coupon for future travel.”

If you’re an Expedia+ Member the hotel guarantee lasts all the way until midnight before check-in.

This sounds pretty good and is really good except that there are numerous reports of consumers having to fight tooth and nail to get their refunds and coupons. I haven’t tried it yet and I know some people were able to get their rightly deserved rebate/coupon but I also know that it can be a pain in the arse dealing with what sometimes sounds like borderline unethical practices on behalf of Expedia. For that reason, I’d proceed with caution when relying on this guarantee. If you’re an Expedia+ member, especially a gold member who gets special customer service, it will likely be easier for you but I’d pretty much always expect a little headache when trying to get this.

Expedia+ Reward Points

The Expedia reward system is not as great as it used to be when it offered ThankYou Rewards by Citi Bank but they still can go pretty far. I’m going to do a better breakdown on this reward system in the future but I’m just going to keep it simple right now.

The main reason I like Expedia+ rewards is because it allows me to triple dip (and then some). If you have a rewards credit card you can book through Expedia earning Expedia rewards and credit card points and then you can add your booking to your frequent flying account. I’ve done this numerous times and it’s a pretty good way to rack up points. However, note that most big hotels no longer allow you to gain points this way — it’s mostly just airlines. 

Also, if you book through the Expedia App you earn 3X the points (a promo that never seems to end). In addition, if you’re a gold or silver member you earn 30% or 10% more points with each booking (bookings for hotels are worth 2 points per $1). Finally, sometimes Expedia just throws in random bonuses for points for booking to certain locations like taking a trip to the UK or for certain activities.

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 5.31.36 PM

Thus, you can earn a lot of Expedia points by booking through the App, being a gold/silver member, and taking note of bonuses. And on top of that you can still get your frequent flier miles and credit card points.

Note: some credit cards will give you like 3-5x the points by booking through the airlines with a card and in that case, you likely are better off using such a card. However, if you don’t have a lot of reward cards for airlines and you’re stuck with just one card that isn’t going to give you a bonus for booking through specific airlines, then Expedia Rewards makes a lot more sense to use.

Get the most out of Expedia Rewards with hotel bookings

Using Expedia Rewards for hotels can really be beneficial, especially if you are down to stay in certain Expedia+ VIP hotels and not hooked on major chains like IHG, Hilton, etc . That’s because when you redeem hotel coupons they go twice as far. For example, 14,000 Expedia points would normally get you $100 off but if you stay in a VIP hotel you double that to $200. That’s not a bad deal, especially if you collected those points while also collecting airline/credit card rewards along the way. To see what kind of hotels you can come across, check out my review of this hotel in the Algarve, Portugal. It was a VIP hotel and we stayed there for two nights and it only costed us $74. Not bad, at all.

Using Expedia Rewards for airlines isn’t quite as beneficial to your Expedia account, because the bonus points earned through Expedia for airline tickets are 1 point per $5 spent, which is nothing compared to some reward cards like the British Airways Visa card by Chase that gives you 3 Avios per $1. You can get around this a few ways, though. By booking through the app you can get 3 points per 5$ but that still doesn’t compare to most reward cards. The other option is to book a package of hotel+airline so that you get 2 points per dollar spent but you can’t book packages through the app as of the time of this article so you lose out on 3x the points, which is not worth it if hotel costs make up a substantial amount of your checkout costs for the package.

Thus, the benefits from booking flights on Expedia to your Expedia Rewards is pretty limited, but you have to remember that you can still collect your frequent flier miles so it makes up for itself in a way.

(There are also options for Expedia+Citi credit cards that I’m going to go into more detail on a later post but those can provide you with a lot of bonus points for spending and with sign-up bonuses.)

Overall Opinion

Overall I recommend Expedia but with these caveats:

  • If you have a good airline reward card already you likely won’t benefit as much because that card will give you more points without the potential hassle of dealing with a third party. Also, if you have a hotel rewards card, especially for a hotel that’s a true “go-to” for you, then you don’t want to use Expedia and miss out on status/points and potential upgrades.
  • If you have a more generic rewards card and frequent flier accounts you can triple dip! This is much more beneficial if you enroll in Expedia+ Rewards and work your way up to gold status while taking advantage of other bonuses like 3X times the points through app booking. In no time you’ll have a couple of hundred dollars off a nice hotel in addition to building up some points on your other accounts.
  • Airline tickets purchased through Expedia can help with the points some but usually not as much as hotels.
  • Expedia is great when it runs smoothly, but can be very bad when it doesn’t.

The Best Free Travel App for Offline Maps

If you’re like us and do a lot of short, three day trips you may not always want to bother with buying a pre-paid SIM card and mess around with taking out your own SIM card and risk ruining it or losing it. The problem is you may not have any kind of cell phone service or data when you go to certain countries, which can be a good thing sometimes but can be a real pain when you need to quickly pull up directions or find somewhere to eat. So if you’re looking for one of the best free offline map apps that doesn’t require data then consider Maps.Me.


Way better than Google or Apple Maps

Some of you may have relied on Google Maps on your mobile devices even without service. It’s true that your GPS does work, but only to a certain extent. I’m pretty sure phones like iPhones use an “assisted GPS” meaning that without access to data, your maps are not going to be complete at all and often times will be impossible to navigate with. Just about every time I tried to rely on just Google or Apple Maps on my iPhone I had major issues. Often time only a single blue dot would show up amid a screen full of gridlines rendering the map completely useless. So while you can just try to get by with one of those apps, I highly recommend to not risk getting lost and going with an app like Maps.Me.

Maps.Me: zero internet required and great features

Maps.Me requires zero internet connection (it can even function in airplane mode). This applies whether you get the app from the Apple App Store Google Play Store or off Amazon. Speaking of purchasing the app, another great thing about this app is that it’s free!

The app has just about everything covered in terms of locations. As far as I know it has every major country covered and maybe even all or most of the smaller countries — it even has maps for small islands.

The maps are also exceptionally detailed. You can find just about everything: pharmacies, cafes, pubs, restaurants, public bathrooms, parking garages, etc. The streets are also marked for the direction of traffic flow, which proved to be a great asset, especially in places like Lisbon, Portugal where driving can quickly become a nightmare.

Maps.Me also has a helpful “auto direction” feature so that the maps orients itself with the direction that you’re heading, which is great for both walking and driving.

The maps are very easy to manipulate with touch zoom and two-finger touch turning of the maps. I was really impressed with the speed of the app as well. Compared to Google Maps, this app was making our life a lot easier as we approached exits and needed to receive directions promptly. Another handy option is that you can tap on a place and “star” the location to bookmark it for later.

The search feature is great as well. You can look up just about everything from food, hotels, and transport and even less common things like WiFi sites, ATMs, and different types of entertainment and sites. I will say that a few restaurants didn’t pop up for us while we were in the Algarve (Portugal); however, those same restaurants didn’t pop up on Google Maps so they may have just not been officially listed. Still, just about everything else we searched for came up without any issues so I was pretty impressed.


Downloading the Maps

It’s pretty easy getting started on the map, too. You simply zoom in on a country and eventually a “download map” will appear. You can also search for the country in the list option. (For some big countries, like the USA, you actually download the states individually.) The basic maps will take up a decent portion of your memory but it can vary somewhat, especially for countries where you can download region-specific maps. For example, the map for just England UK is 379 MB to download, while the map for the Paris, France region is only 107MB.

In addition to downloading just the maps, you can download routing directions for the country, too. That will require more memory for your phone to store but I used the navigation routes in Portugal and I found the routes to be vastly superior to the crazy routes that Google Maps was sending us so the extra memory required was well worth it. Sometimes the routing options are only about 20 more MB but sometimes they almost double the size like England’s which goes from 379 MB to  566 MB. Now that I have a much bigger iPhone (64 GB) this isn’t so much of a worry for me but before I had the 16 GB and could only afford to download a couple of maps. Thus, I think the only drawback of this app is the space that it takes up, which will probably only be an issue if you have a phone with limited storage capacity. (I believe you can save maps to your SD card with other types of phones.)

I know that there are many other options for offline maps that are solid choices but I haven’t felt the need to try out any other apps because I’ve been so satisfied with this app to date. So look around and research other offline map apps if you must but you really can’t go wrong with this app!