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TRAVEL MORE Part V: Building Miles (cont.)


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This is the last post in my TRAVEL MORE series. Make sure you read at least Part IV before this one, as it is a continuation of the discussion there. This post was a bit late coming; hubby typed it as I drove a small portion of our 12-hour drive on Sunday, and I organized it and added my two cents. What with his work and Thanksgiving going on, I didn't want to bug him too much about putting this together. But I think it's worth the wait and I hope you've enjoyed this series. Thanks to hubs for the help! If you found these posts valuable and would like more travel tip posts in the future, please let me know in the comments!

(cont. from Part IV)

Goals: Economy vs Business/First

If I was in camp #2, which I am, then your miles/points strategy changes a little. The biggest difference is that cash back becomes a lot less valuable. In last post's comparison between outright buying an economy plane ticket vs using miles/points, it was clear that just buying the ticket with cash was the better option. That isn’t the case with business and first class tickets. In most cases a business or first class redemption requires about twice as many miles as an economy ticket, but if you were to purchase the ticket with cash they would easily cost 5-10x the amount of money. For example: United charges 40/70/80 miles for economy/business/first respectively, which means that first class requires double the miles as economy. If I were paying cash, I could buy an economy ticket from the US to Singapore for 800+ right now, whereas first class would cost well over $10K. So you see that in cash it costs over 12x as much, whereas in miles it's only twice as much. You would have to spend $500K at 2% cash back to buy a $10K first class ticket. Basically, because first/business tickets are so cost prohibitive, cash back doesn’t really help out. You will find the above situation to be the case in pretty much all airline loyalty programs.

Better in Business

We think that business and first class are well worth the points and effort needed to acquire them when it's for a flight that's at least 7+ hours. Some reasons: lay-down beds make it substantially easier to sleep and cut down on jet lag, there's better food and service, private space, access to nice lounges with more good food and sometimes showers or beds, priority check-in/boarding, and of course the amenity kits and in-flight entertainment are pluses. For us, we normally use our miles/points to book on business/first for international flights, but never for stateside. Some tips when choosing business/first: pay attention to the plane you're booking your flight on. Newer planes will offer a better experience than older model planes. And not all business/first are created equally. For example, first class on Cathay Pacific will be much better than on United. So it might be worth it to do a little research on your airline. Again, if you would like to see a future post expounding on this, or on any other topic, let me know in the comments.

Hotels

To be honest, we haven’t really splurged when it comes to hotels because we just don’t feel like a $500/night room is worth it. We’d rather use our points for nice flights and stay at a perfectly adequate hotel at a much more reasonable rate. But if you want to stay at high end resorts, the same strategy as flying first/biz applies (to an extent). Like airlines, all hotel chains have a loyalty program and divide their properties into some sort of tier or level. Hotels charge points per night based on the level/tier of the hotel you are staying at. This can range all the way up to 80K points per night at top Marriott and Hilton properties, and 30Kish at Hyatt properties. This leads us into the topic of not all points being created equally. For example, I can transfer Chase points to Hyatt, Marriott, and Hilton, all at a 1:1 rate. And if that's the case, why would I transfer 80K to Hilton to stay at a luxe resort in say the Maldives when I could transfer 30K to Hyatt and stay at an equally luxe resort also in the Maldives? If you're interested in using points for hotel stays, then Hyatt will give you the best value.

But here's the caveat: hotel loyalty points are almost always worth less than airline miles or any transferable point currency. Because of this, I’ve never transferred points from Chase, Amex, or Citi (if I had a Citi card) to a hotel chain. The only one I could see being worth it would be Hyatt, because you could transfer 30K Chase points to stay at a 600+ per night resort. If I really wanted to stay in a luxe hotel I would get a hotel credit card that offered increase earnings. Some good examples:
Ritz Carlton by Chase offers a sign-up bonus of 2 free nights, as well as 5 points per dollar spent at Marriott/Ritz hotels. Hilton and Marriott usually offer up to a 100K sign up bonus with their credit cards and 5 points per dollar at their respective properties. I would use those sign up points, plus the extra points earned at hotel stays to build up for luxe hotel vacations. But again, unless you have so many points/miles that you don’t know what to do with them, I maintain that your points are better used on airfare.

Building Miles for Business or First

So what are the best ways to amass miles/points? Here are four key strategies:

1. Sign-up Bonuses. Regardless of what your travel goals are, lucrative sign-up bonuses will help you achieve them faster than any other way.

Here are some examples:
  • Amex platinum 100K bonus
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve 50K bonus
  • Sapphire Preferred 100K
  • Ritz Carlton by Chase 2 free nights (can easily be $800+ value)
  • Hilton/Marriott credit card with 100K bonus
  • Delta Amex with 80K bonus 
Credit card companies want your business, so they offer large sign-up bonuses to entice you. You just have to meet their minimum spending requirement in the requisite time to get that bonus (usually $3k-$4k in three months). Don’t forget though, the clock starts ticking when you are approved for the card, not when you actually get it in the mail. Check the bottom of this post for our overall favorite cards.

2. Choose the Right Card for the Category of Spending. It's a simple principle: if you want luxe hotel stays at Marriott, then use your Marriott card when you stay at a Marriott hotel. But don’t use your Marriott card at the grocery store because you’ll only get 1 Marriott point per dollar and Marriott points aren’t actually worth a lot (compared to an Amex or Chase point). Basically, always think before you use a credit card: which one will give me the most amount of points for this purchase?

3. Use Shopping Portals. We buy a lot of stuff online; you probably do as well. If you are just typing in a store’s URL to buy things, then you're doing it wrong. Many airline and credit card loyalty programs offer a shopping portal where you can earn extra points or miles by accessing stores through them. I recently bought a GoPro from Backcountry.com, and just by accessing their site using United’s shopping portal, I earned an extra 15 miles per dollar spent. It’s that easy. So before ever purchasing something online, check each shopping portal (for each airline and credit card loyalty program you belong to) to see what bonus points each offers.

4. Be Creative when Maximizing You Earnings. Here is our real-life example: every quarter the Chase Freedom has a 5x bonus on certain categories of shopping. It could be groceries, drug stores, wholesale retailers, gas, etc. This quarter the offer is on drugstores and wholesale stores. While in San Francisco a couple of weekends ago I saw some dishes I liked at CB2 (Crate & Barrel sister store). Instead of buying them on the spot, I walked to a nearby drug store, used my Chase Freedom to buy a Crate & Barrel gift card, and went back to make my purchase. By doing that, instead of getting 1 point per dollar spent, I received 6 points for each dollar.

5. Pay Attention. Pay attention to ways your cards or loyalty programs offer extra earnings. Visit your card's site and opt to receive emails so that you're always informed. Examples: every so often we enjoy spending a weekend in San Francisco. One day we saw that by staying in a certain hotel there we could earn 7,000 points. The nightly rate wasn't much more than our normal hotel, so we made the switch and got 7,000 points out of it. Or our Amex Platinum is currently offering a deal where they give back $100 if you spend $500 or more on a single flight purchase with one of their partner airlines. It can really pay to keep yourself informed.

Best Credit Cards for Building Miles

We've mentioned a lot of credit cards over the course of this series. There are just so many cards out there, and since no one person is the same, their wallets shouldn't be either. But here are the cards that we deem the best, aka the ones we recommend to all of our interested friends and family, and why:
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve: 100,000 sign-up bonus if you spend $4,000 in the first three months and 3x points on all travel and dining among other benefits. It has a $450 annual fee but you also receive $300 in travel credit every year.
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred: before the Reserve came out a few months ago, this was our go-to card. 50,000 sign-up bonus if you spend $4,000 in the first three months and 2x points on travel and dining. It's free the first year and $95 after that. We both got the card and after one year downgraded one of them.
  • Chase Freedom: this is the card I downgraded my Preferred to. It's free and has quarterly bonus categories that earn you 5x points. Some examples of past bonus categories they've offered: restaurants, grocery stores, drugstores, wholesale stores, department stores, etc. It's a cashback card so if you don't have another Chase account (like the Preferred or Reserve) to transfer your points to, then you'll only be able to get cashback.
  • Amex Platinum: 100,000 sign-up bonus. The normal bonus is 40,000 but every once in a while they offer a 100,000 sign-up bonus. Those deals are very short-lived so you have to be paying attention and sign up quick. This card is $450 per year but offers 5x points on airfare (booked directly with the airline or through Amex Travel), access to a variety of lounges, and $200 in airline fee credit among other benefits. The airline fee credit is for things like baggage fees, etc. but through a loophole can be used to buy an Amazon gift card. 
  • Citi ThankYou Premier: 40,000 sign-up bonus after spending $3,000 in the first three months. It has a $95 annual fee but offers 3x points on travel including gas, and 2x points on dining and entertainment.
All of these cards except the Freedom have no foreign transaction fee.

Conclusion

With a little goal-setting and creativity you can really up your vacation game. Instead of sitting in a tiny seat for 10+ hours you could be eating gourmet meals in a giant chair sipping on cocktails and snacking on caviar. Remember in my introduction post when I talked about our past year of travel and how everything cost us less than $1500? Hopefully if you made it through this whole series you have a good idea of how we did it, but let me break it down for you:
  • San Francisco --> Singapore, then Jakarta --> Tokyo were all on United First and Business. We used miles amassed from credit cards (at the time we had the Chase Sapphire Preferred and United Mileage Plus credit card). It cost us a whopping 320,000 miles and we paid $100 each in fees. 
  • From Singapore --> Bali, and Bali--> Jakarta we flew on Air Asia which probably cost no more than $40 each time.
  • Utah and Las Vegas: not sure how many times we've flown to each of these spots, but almost every time we use the occasion to spend our airline credit. Some airlines are better than others at gifting credit to make up for mistakes and such, and hubby has ended up with a small stockpile. Also, sometimes if you end up on an overbooked flight they will offer credit if you're willing to take a later one. United says that they offer a minimum of $200 worth of credit in those instances.
  • Hawaii: we flew economy on Alaska Airlines using American miles amassed through the AAdvantage Aviator Red and Silver Barclay cards as well as some bought miles. 
  • Seattle + NYC: this was to take photos for my brother's engagements, so he paid for my flights.
  • Korea: used a deal that was posted on The Flight Deal (check out my post on finding cheap flights). It was in Singapore Airlines' economy and cost $500 including taxes and fees.
  • NYC again: I won a contest to attend a blogging conference, so this was paid for by them.
  • San Francisco --> London, then Rome --> San Francisco was all using miles on American's first and business and cost $100 each in fees.
  • Paris --> Florence was on Air France and cost maybe $70 per person.

I hope you enjoyed this series. If you have questions or would like to see more posts like these in the future please tell me in the comments. And if you found our advice on credit cards helpful, please reach out to my email so that we can send you a referral code! Thanks for reading~

Connect with us at @gina.chong @justin.akira and my travel insta: @everywhere.with.you


TRAVEL MORE Series:
Part I: Introduction
Part II: Road Trips
Part III: Cheap Flights
Part IV: Building Miles
Part V: Building Miles (cont.)

TRAVEL MORE Part IV: Building Miles

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This subject encompasses several points that I feel are each important to touch on, so I decided to break it up into two parts. Today you'll get an introduction to building miles, and tomorrow we'll finish the discussion. My hubby is the expert in this, so he has taken over these last two posts (mostly ;).

Goals

The most important thing to do before getting into the miles/points game is to figure out what you actually want to do with them.  Do you just want to travel as much as possible or do you want to build points for luxury vacations?  Are staying in high end hotels or flying intercontinental first/biz class what you’re after?  It sounds simple, but coming up with goals is really important because it will shape your miles and points strategy. Plus it gives you something to look forward to. Miles/points are far from the perfect currency, but if used correctly they will allow you to experience luxuries that would otherwise be out of reach for most people.

Choosing Loyalty

It's important to distinguish between miles/points that can be transferred to many different travel partners and those that can only be used in a single travel program.  For example, Chase Ultimate Reward points can be used to book travel (hotels, flights, cruises) directly through Chase’s travel web portal, or those same points can be transferred to 11 different airline and hotel partners at a 1:1 rate.  AMEX membership rewards points and Citi ThankYou rewards points act in the same way, but not always at a 1:1 ratio. These points are different from say United Airlines Mileage Plus miles or Hilton Honors points which can only be redeemed within their respective loyalty programs.  This makes “transferable” points inherently more valuable because of the extra flexibility they provide.

Building Miles

So how do you gather miles and points?? Obviously if you take a flight and have a frequent flyer account with that airline you will earn some miles, and if I stay in a Marriott property I will get some Marriott points. Traditionally, this is how a majority of people try to build miles and points, but unfortunately, unless you are spending tens of thousands of dollars on airline tickets and hotel stays, it will take a ridiculous amount of time to build any real value. A much quicker way to build a substantial amount of miles is through credit cards and their correlated shopping portals. I’m not going to get into the pros and cons of credit cards, or their do's and don'ts, or talk about financial responsibility. You are your best judge. Needless to say, credit cards are an excellent tool to boost you mile/point balances.

Credit Cards

It is important to establish that not all credit cards are created equally. Depending on your goals and -- almost equally as important -- your spending habits, one credit card may offer significantly more value than another. On top of that, many credit cards offer very lucrative sign up bonuses if you spend a certain amount of money within 3 months of account opening.  We’re talking 30-100K points/miles or $250-$1500 bonuses just for opening a credit card and meeting the minimum spending requirement. This is how we see things: you're going to buy groceries, eat out sometimes, and buy yourself a new pair of shoes once in a while anyways, so why not get a return on those purchases? If used correctly, credit cards offer you the chance to optimize your spending.

Using Credit Cards to Realize Your Travel Goals

I divide people into 2 main camps: (1) those who don’t care how luxurious a vacation is and just want to travel as much as possible, and (2) those who want to use points for luxury travel that would otherwise be difficult to achieve or fiscally justify.

If you are in the first camp, then your miles and points strategy is pretty easy.  You shouldn’t be focusing on accumulating Hilton, Marriott, etc. points or American Airlines, Delta, or United miles.  You should find a credit card that offers the most cash back. Or if you spend a substantial amount in certain categories, find a credit card that offers bonus points in those categories which can later be used to purchase travel. The reason you'll want to go this route is because you will get MUCH more value purchasing a cheap economy ticket/hotel room outright with the cash back vs. trying to accumulate enough points/miles to use those for a free night's stay or flight. For example, a round trip economy ticket from San Francisco to Japan can usually be purchased for under $1000 and sometimes for as cheap as $500 (check out the last post on how to find cheap flights). To buy that ticket in miles on say United, it would take 70,000 miles. If I just used a straight 2% cash back card it would take me $40,000 of spending to get enough cash back to buy an $800 flight to Japan (of course that can be expedited, but read on).  But to get that 70,000 mile United ticket using a United Mileage Plus credit card, I would have to spend $70,000. That's a huge difference. For the cost of one trip bought with miles, you could almost buy 2 round trip flights to Japan with cash and not be limited by award seat availability. You will find the exact same situation when comparing booking your average hotel ($100-$300 per night) with money vs using points.

Considering that I predominately spend money on restaurants, travel, and groceries, and assuming that I was part of this first camp, here is what I would have in my wallet:
  • For all travel/dining (hotels, cabs, Uber, flights, parking, trains, fast food, sit-down restaurants),  Chase Sapphire Reserve – 3 points per dollar on travel/dining, 1 point per dollar on everything else. Points are redeemable for 1.5 cents per point through chase.  So you get 4.5 cents for every dollar you spend in this category.  The annual fee is high ($450 per year), but you get a $300 dollar travel credit, Global entry, priority pass, rental car insurance, plus more.
  • For groceries, gas stations and department stores - AMEX Blue Cash Preferred – 6% on groceries, 3% at gas stations and department stores, 1% on everything else ($95 annual fee).
  • For everything else – Citi Double Cash card which gives you 2% cash back on everything with no annual fee.

In the next post we'll talk about how to build miles if you're in the second camp of people, as well as share more mile-building strategies. Hope you are finding this TRAVEL MORE series helpful so far. Thanks for reading!

Part I: Introduction
Part II: Road Trips
Part III: Cheap Flights
Part V: Building Miles 2

 

TRAVEL MORE Part III: Cheap Flights

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Today I'm sharing four key ways to find the cheapest flights possible. Apply all of these tips and you'll be able to optimize your spending so that you can travel even more. Thanks to my hubby, the true expert, for helping with this post. Check it out:

1. ITA Matrix: the ITA Matrix allows you to expand your flight search capabilities. Let me break down some of it's benefits:
  • Instead of just searching from one city to another, you can search multiple departure cities and destinations at once. For example, living in the Bay Area I have several airports nearby in San Francisco, Sacramento, Oakland, San Jose, etc.. I would be happy to fly out of any of those depending on which one offers the lowest fare. And let's say I want to go to NYC and again am happy to fly into any one of their airports. Instead of manually having to look up each combo of possible flights, ITA Matrix allows me to do it all in one single search. This allows you to find a potentially cheaper flight departing or arriving out of a different airport while still being in the same area.
  • The calendar of lowest fares allows you to choose how many nights you want to stay in your destination and then search by month to find when fares are the cheapest. 
  • If you are looking to build miles or status with a specific airline you can filter results to only show that airline or airline alliance.  
  • It's also great for searching for multi-city trips with stopovers. [Stopover: when you stop in a connection city for more than 24 hours. They are sometimes offered for an extra $100 or even for free. If you would like to see a future post about how to take advantage of stopovers let me know in the comments.]
  • Once you select a flight it gives all pertinent information about that ticket. It will break down actual airfare, taxes, and additional charges. It will also list the fare class and rules associated with the ticket (change/cancellation fees, blackout dates, any restrictions). This is important because oftentimes mileage accrual, upgrading rules/fees, etc. for most airlines are affected by the ticket class fare. 
  • One last benefit to the matrix, which is similar to the first tip: say you want to go to Europe but are open to exactly where. You can tell the matrix that you want to depart from say the Bay Area (sfo, smf, sjc, oak) and go to Paris, Rome, Iceland or the Athens. It will literally search all of those various combinations. You just can't do that with other search engines. 

2. Google Flights: they are based on the same software as ITA Matrix so it's very similar. The difference is that you can't do "advanced routing," meaning that you can't force the search engine to look up a specific routing/airline. You can, however, choose an alliance that you want to fly with. A benefit to Google Flights is their Discover Destinations feature. You can use it to set a month, trip length and departing point, and it will show you cheap flights to various destinations. On top of that, you can refine the results by adding a continent of interest. This is a great tool for if you want to travel but don't know where to go. It will give you ideas while helping you save money.

3. The Flight Deal: this is a great site that posts cheap deals every day. The most effective way to keep yourself aware of their deals is to follow them on Facebook (considering you're often on FB). That way, if you actively like or click their posts, their deals will pop up in your feed and make you aware of them as soon as possible. These kinds of deals go very quickly, so speed is important. For example, when they posted a deal from SFO to Korea on Singapore Airlines for $500 (round trip including taxes and fees), I saw it right away and called my mom immediately. I'd seen similar prices to Korea but never on such a great airline, so I couldn't let that one pass. But because I was away from my passport at the time I couldn't book until several hours later and our ideal dates were already gone. We still found dates to go, but the point is that you have to be real quick with these. Now, a good chunk of the deals will be leaving from hubs such as LA, San Francisco, NYC, etc. but that's not a deal-breaker. They still post deals from all sorts of airports, and even if they don't, you can still make it work. Some of these prices are so low that it would be worth it to grab a cheap connecting flight (or even drive) so that you can take advantage of them.

4. Email Alerts: did you know that you can subscribe to receive cheap flight alerts through TripAdvisor? I've even come across entire sites dedicated to this such as Airfare Watch Dog and Cheap Air. This isn't something I've used a ton, but it's a great option.


I hope these tips were helpful! These have been indispensable resources in our own travels, and I hope they are of use in your quest to explore the world more. Check in tomorrow for the next part in this series: Building Miles.  


Part I: Introduction
Part II: Road Trips
Part IV: Building Miles
Part V: Building Miles 2

 

Chocolate Peppermint Holiday Donuts


This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser, MARS Incorporated. All opinions are mine alone. #BakeInTheFun #CollectiveBias #SweetSquad

I had a lot of fun putting this post together. One of my favorite things about the holidays is baking; it brings back many sweet memories. I loved when my mums did her pre-holiday pie-making and would use a biscuit cutter on the leftover pie scraps, bake them up, and we would eat them with jam. No matter how young I was she always let me help with the holiday cooking even if I was just peeling apples. I was so proud last year when she tried a holiday cookie recipe I posted on the blog, and loved it so much she continued to make it all season to give away to friends. Cookies are definitely a holiday must, and no one enjoys cookie-decorating more than I do, especially when they serve as an excuse for friends or family to gather in the kitchen together. But this year I wanted to create an alternative to traditional holiday cookie decorating, and I'm so excited about how this project turned out!

I present to you: holiday donuts! I've completely fallen in love with baked donuts this year, I think they are cute and delicious. My brain was just bursting with fun ideas on how to holiday-fy them, but I had to settle on these three themes: donut hole snowmen, donut wreaths, and winter wonderland donut combos. I have pictorials for each below, though they're simple enough that they don't need much explanation. The chocolate peppermint combo was inspired by DOVE® Peppermint Bark. I'm so glad I thought to buy two bags of it because my hubby ripped into one before I could make this recipe! I filled the donuts with chunks of these delicious smorsels, and they are what make these so good. It's only in stores for a limited time so make sure you snag some on your next Walmart trip.

Something Walmart is doing again this year is taking part in the Great American Milk Drive. Through 12/25, every time you buy a bag of M&M's® at Walmart, fresh milk will be donated to kids and families in need. It's a great cause and an easy way to support it. You can find more info and also donate directly by visiting milklife.com/give, as well as checking out the video below. The holidays are all about sharing, and this is a lovely opportunity.

What are your holiday baking traditions? If you're looking for new ideas, there are tons of creative recipes at www.MyConfectionCorner.com, including lots of M&M's® recipes. Run to Walmart this season, grab a bag of M&M's® and some Great Value® milk, whip up a recipe, and feel good about helping out a worthy cause. And a tip: save some money with Ibotta. Click the photo below to see their offers.

http://cbi.as/64st2







Chocolate Peppermint Holiday Donuts
Makes about 20 donuts + 30 donut holes

Donuts:
  • 3 sticks + 1 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 2-3/4 cups sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 cups almond flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 200 mL Great Value® milk
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 3/4 pkg. DOVE® Peppermint Bark, chopped small
Icing:
  • 4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1 tsp peppermint extract
  • 1/2 cup whole milk

Directions:

Preheat oven to 320F. Grease donut and donut hole pans.

Beat together butter and sugar until fluffy and smooth. Then beat in the eggs, flour, almond flour, baking powder, milk and cocoa until smooth. Fold in the DOVE® Peppermint Bark. Fill pans 3/4 full and bake for 15-20 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cool a couple minutes in the pan before removing to a rack to cool completely.

To make the icing:
Combine the powdered sugar and peppermint extract. Start by adding 1/4 cup of milk while whisking, and add more as needed to get an opaque but spreadable consistency. Follow instructions below for coloring the icing and dipping the donuts. Cover any icing you're not using immediately with a damp towel to keep it from hardening.

Snowman Donuts:
  • 6" lollipop sticks
  • Donut holes 
  • white icing for dipping
  • Orange and black icing
  • #1 tip fitted onto a pastry bag
  • scissors
Dip donut holes in white icing and let dry. Gently push one lollipop stick through 3 donut holes, stopping just before it comes out through the other side. Decorate with orange and black icing like so.

Winter Wonderland Donuts:
  • Equal amount of donuts and donut holes 
  • sky blue icing
  • white icing
  • #1 tip fitted onto a pastry bag
  • clear sprinkles
Dip both the donuts and donut holes in sky blue icing. Immediately after dipping the donuts in the icing, sprinkle them with the clear sprinkles. Once the icing has solidified, decorate the donut holes with a snowflake using white icing. After dried again, present them like so.

Wreath Donuts:
  • Donuts
  • juniper green icing
  • Red icing
  • #1 tip fitted onto pastry bag
Dip the donuts in juniper green icing and let dry. Use the red icing to make a bow at the top of the donut. Then ice on berries all over, bunching them in threes like so.


Donut recipe adapted from this chocolate loaf recipe






TRAVEL MORE Part II: Road Trips

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This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #FallForPennzoil #CollectiveBias

A couple of weekends ago hubby and I took a small road trip through Napa Valley to enjoy the beautiful Autumn leaves. We stopped several times along the way to explore and take photos, and I was feeling quite grateful for living nearby so many amazing areas we can visit over weekends. We've put a good amount of mileage on our car just in California, and when the time comes to move away I think I'll feel pretty good about taking advantage of our time here.

Although I've enjoyed plenty of successful road trips in general, unfortunately I think I've only ever had fails on holiday road trips. One year we did a 14-hour journey up to Washington to visit the in-laws, and beyond the stress of 28 hours on the road, you can imagine how treacherous the mountain passes are that time of year for two people in a small sedan no longer accustomed to snow. Needless to say, we vowed never to attempt that again. And let me tell you about last year: hubby didn't have any time off of work beyond the actual holidays, so we decided to try driving the 9 hours to my parents' on Christmas Eve. Except that we both became sick and ended up sleeping all day. We woke up late at night and impulsively decided to try driving through the night and arrive on Christmas morning. We packed, loaded up two cars (hubby had to be back earlier than I), took one cat each, and headed off. Two and a half hours into the drive I just couldn't handle it anymore. I was sick, tired, and just felt plain awful. So we turned back, and the worst part of it (beyond the five useless hours of driving) was that neither of us could rest on the return drive since we'd brought both cars. It was a big #HolidayFail and we laugh about it now (insert laugh-crying emoji), but I'm hoping that with these simple tips I can help prevent some #fails for you.

The thing is, unless perhaps you're taking a short trip with one of those $19 flights between SFO and Long Beach, road trips are almost always cheaper than flying. And there are other benefits to staying on the ground: you have the convenience of your own car for the duration of your trip, you get some quality time with loved ones, you can stop at fun places along the way, it's easier to take your pet with you, etc. There are plenty of benefits to opting for a road trip, but that's not what I'm talking about today. Today I'm sharing these few simple tips that will ease the stress of your next road trip, mentally and financially. Hopefully you will find these tips helpful as the holidays get closer.

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1. Road Trip Prep: there's a quote that says "it's better to prepare and prevent than it is to repair and repent." Basically, make sure you and your car are ready for the trip. You could save yourself big bucks and big headaches that way, and it can be as simple as: get that oil change you've been putting off. Luckily my hubs is very good about getting our oil changes on time, and we always use full synthetic just because we believe it's worth the investment. We recently stopped by Walmart and used Pennzoil® Platinum Full Synthetic Motor Oil. That stuff keeps pistons up to 20% cleaner than required by the toughest industry standard and keeps your engine cleaner than any leading synthetic oil. Plus it's on Rollback at Walmart through Dec 27 ($49.88 --> $44.88).

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2. While on the Road:
  • pack your own meals and snacks. This may be common sense when trying to cut costs, but it's something I have trouble thinking ahead to do most of the time. And then I feel like crap on the road because I've been eating fast food for meals and snacking on gummy bears to keep myself awake. This could all be avoided with a bit of prep, and I even have some healthy road trip recipes in the archives that I love.
  • use gas apps that tell you where the cheapest gas is from your current location. Handy, huh?

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3. Cheap Accommodations:
  • first option: if you have a friend in the area, obvi stay with them.
  • camping can be either free or cheap, and a lot of larger camp areas also have showers. We stayed at a great one with showers in Big Sur.
  • have you ever tried couch surfing sites? Never done it myself but have friends who swear by it.
  • I have, though, used air bnb a few times and that is a great option especially in large cities with few cheap options.
  • hostels
  • I personally wouldn't recommend using points for hotels. I feel that they're generally more valuable if they can be saved and transferred to airline miles, but more on that in the next few posts.

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4. Sight-seeing:
  • parking costs can seriously add up. While in cities, consider leaving you car behind and using public transportation to save that moolah. You'll have to gauge if that's worth it depending on your city and situation, but as an example, I actually enjoy renting or bringing a bike to San Francisco to get around.
  • Facebook is a great way to find free or cheap events: just type "events near xxx" in the search bar and you'll know everything that's going on.
  • find the cheapest restaurants near you with high ratings by using restaurant apps. These apps will often have restaurant offers like a free appetizer, etc. Seriously, technology is everything. 

Whether you found some of these tips particularly enlightening or not, they represent great spending patterns that if developed into habits can make a real difference. Thanks to trusty Pennzoil® for sponsoring this post. For those of you living in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina or  Tennessee, Walmart's Automotive Care Centers just recently started carrying the Pennzoil® brand in those states, so make sure you ask about it on your next trip. And don't forget this one last money-saving tip: through Dec 27 you can save $5 on Pennzoil® Platinum Full Synthetic at Walmart while it's on Rollback. Happy Holiday Travels! Where are you planning to travel to these holidays?

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