Rewards travel 101

Hello, it’s me! I’m back from a short hiatus.

These past few months had been pretty quiet on the blogosphere. It’s mostly because I haven’t gone anywhere since May (i know, boring). ūüôā While there hadn’t been much activities here, I’ve been keeping busy with life, and attempting to sharpen my beginner level culinary/domestication skills (#CrockPotHeadfortheWin. One day I’ll upgrade myself to be an #InstaPotHead, but only when the pricey gadget drops in price).

Ever since my cameo appearance on Million Mile Secrets (post here), I’ve gotten a few inquiries from friends on rewards travel. So here I am, sharing my perspective, tips, and pointers. Continue reading “Rewards travel 101”

Shanghai 5-2016

Trip duration: 5/11/16 to 5/27/2016
Route: Dallas => SHA => Dallas
Flying Method: Cash payment

I had the rare opportunity to spend 2 weeks in Shanghai on a work trip recently. From the U.S. going to China, it requires a visa which you have to apply through a nearby Chinese consulate (in my case it’s Houston). The visa application is¬†pretty intense and it asks for a lot of information.¬†You also have to send in your passport, a passport photo, as well as a business invitation letter from the local office. Thankfully everything worked out as hoped. I got my passport back in the nick of time and flew out 2 days after.

There were 4 of us working in Shanghai. We stayed in the Pudong area in Lujiazui near the office. The Huangpu river conveniently flows through the city center between Pudong and Puxi. Pudong literally means “east bank”, and Puxi is “west bank”. The Pudong area is famous for its skyscrapers and skyline; it’s also the financial district and trade zone (similar to the NY midtown area). When visitors go to Shanghai, one of the top places to visit is “the bund” where you can see Pudong from across the Huangpu River. We actually got a reversed view, it’s still a pretty view nonetheless. Continue reading “Shanghai 5-2016”

Japan 4-2016

Trip duration: 4/14/16 to 4/25/2016
Route: Dallas => Narita (eco); Haneda => Honolulu => Dallas (bus)
Flying Method: Award redemption (70.3K AA miles, incl 10% reward rebate), booked in 7/2015 for 4/2016 travel.

Japan, one of the gateways to Asia, is a country full of history and modern innovations. Visitors flock to Japan for the amazing scenery, unique culture, gazillion shrines, food, manga, shopping, onsen (hot spring), and the hustle and bustle of the Tokyo city life. I booked this trip last year in order to secure the highly in demand¬†rewards seat to Asia using American Airlines’ Advantage miles. Majority of the miles came from¬†the Barclay US Airways Premier¬†card 50K sign on bonus (this version is no longer available). It cost $50 in taxes and fees and over 70K miles for the airfare redemption (economy on the way there, and business on the way back). Continue reading “Japan 4-2016”

Iceland & Germany 1-2016

Trip duration: 1/15/16 to 1/24/2016
Route: Dallas => Frankfurt => Reykjavik => Berlin => Frankfurt => Dallas
Flying Method: Award redemption (36K AA miles) for DFW=>FRA roundtrip, plus cash payments for one way flights in between.

Alrighty I’m finally taking out the dusty notepad and getting this much ignored blog some loving. First trip of 2016 has been checked off the list. Oh how I missed ya, airports. kidding. This trip was planned back in April or May of 2015. My friend and I both wanted to go to Iceland and we both had some¬†AA miles to burn. After researching the AA hubs in Europe (Paris, Heathrow, Madrid, Frankfurt) as well as taxes, fees, and connections to Reykjavik, Frankfurt became the obvious choice.

One of the Iceland attractions that draws my interest is the¬†aurora borelis / nothern lights, which is most visible in the winter season. Okay so winter in Iceland it is (brrrrrr). Lucky for us, winter time is the off-peak season to fly to Europe from the U.S., and there are plenty of AA milesavers reward seats. We were able to snag a roundtrip economy flight between DFW and FRA for 40,000 miles per person. Using the Citi AAdvantage credit card to make this redemption, we also¬†received¬†10% of the miles¬†back (4,000). At the end we each spent¬†36,000 miles and paid around $100 for taxes and fees. Since we’re flying in and out of Germany, we decided to squeeze in Berlin in the itinerary. This initial trip planning is my favorite part. It’s like putting puzzles into place except there are no right or wrong ways to do it. Our final trip looked like this: 5 nights in Reykjavik, 2 nights in Berlin, and 1 night in Frankfurt/Mainz. We were able to find reasonably priced one way flights later in the year.¬† Continue reading “Iceland & Germany 1-2016”

Vancouver, BC 9-2015

Trip duration: 9/4/15 to 9/7/2015
Route: Dallas => Vancouver; Vancouver => Portland => Dallas
Flying Method: Award redemption (12,500 AA miles) plus cash payment

Yay to weekend getaway with the family. ūüôā¬†The last time we did a family trip together was back in 2009, so this was definitely long overdue. My parents chose Vancouver since they’d never been to Canada before. Coincidentally, my brother happened to be back in the U.S. for work that week, and¬†he was able to meet us in Vancouver over the weekend. Yay!

Being a hotel snob, the brother booked 2 nights for us at the Shangri-La hotel. The hotel is located in the middle of Vancouver downtown and we were able to get to major attractions nearby on foot. ¬†We started out the weekend by venturing out near the West End after all of us arrived in Vancouver, and had lunch at a dim sum restaurant on Robson street. Vancouver has a pretty high population of Chinese people, getting authentic Chinese food was definitely on our radar. In the afternoon, we walked along the harbour then headed¬†north to the Stanley Park¬†(here comes all the hate stares from the family since I insisted that we walk there). We only walked around 1/3 of the park¬†since everyone was complaining. =P Continue reading “Vancouver, BC 9-2015”

Saving for retirement simplified

So you’re ready to start saving / investing for your financial freedom. The main question is, how do you get started? I thought I’d¬†share my own challenges and questions to break the process down to the bare bone. Based on my current situation, retirement savings can be broken down into 3 buckets: 401K, IRA, and brokerage account. Of course there are other tools such as Health Savings Account (HSA), Simplified Employee Pension Plan (SEP), etc. I’m not as familiar with those, but just know that there are more options than the 3 buckets I mentioned. Also, the info mentioned is based on a single tax filer. There are different limits for a married couple.

401K – ¬†Some general background, it’s nothing new but a refresher instead. A 401K is something most of us are familiar with. 401K is sponsored¬†by most employers as a tool to facilitate retirement savings for employees. In most cases the employer would provide matching contribution up to a certain percentage (e.g. 100% match up to 5% annual¬†gross compensation). For a traditional 401K, the money that an employee can contribute is tax deferred (i.e. you don’t pay any taxes now on the $ you put aside to a 401K), as well as any interest or dividends earned. In 2015, you can contribute as much as $18,000 a year. If you’re 50 or older, you can contribute an additional $6,000. Upon reaching the retirement age and when you start to withdrawal funds from your 401K, you’ll then be taxed for the withdrawal. For roth 401K, the contribution you make is with “after tax” $$$, however upon retirement, you will not be taxed for withdrawals make. Continue reading “Saving for retirement simplified”

Financial Independence

Finance independence!!!! Lately I’ve been pondering on this, and have been soaking in many information shared by bloggers that have reached this state and are retired from the workforce. Just like how I stumbled upon the secret club of miles/points, I found out there is a whole set of people who have¬†reached financial independence and early retirement, and are blogging about their experiences and ways to follow their road map. OMG where have I been? Most if not all of the successful young¬†retirees¬†all have one thing in common: They live well beneath their¬†means and save aggresively. Too often we find our lifestyle inflating along with the increased income as we progress in our career. We chase trends, hypes, new gadgets, vacations (I’m guilty as charged), new cars, bigger houses, etc. But at the end of the day, are we happier by possessing those material things? Do they provide long-term satisfaction? The answer is probably no.

Even though I’m late in the game, it’s better to be late than never arrive. I’m super excited about how this goal¬†will change¬†is changing how I spend, save and invest (sigh…gotta cut back on vacations). Some of my family members think I’m crazy and weird for thinking about retirement for a 30 something single female. What do they know. I’ll be traveling the world and laughing at their 9-5 day job and 3, 4 weeks of vacation upon reaching my goal. =P For starter, I vow to save and invest 50% of my income (cringing), fully fund my 401K and IRA, and stop buying junks and random gadgets (goodbye home renovation).¬†I have this crazy idea to reach my goal and retire 10 years from now! Maybe my ADD self will find something else to work on and gradually forget about this goal, but in the mean time, a girl can dream. ūüôā

Here are some intriguing and super informative sites that I’ve been visiting:


Mr. Money Mustache


What are your life goals and aspirations?

Sydney 8-2015

Trip duration: 8/26/15 to 9/1/2015
Route: Dallas => Sydney; Sydney => Dallas Sydney => Honolulu => Phoenix => Dallas
Flying Method: 90K AA miles DFW->SYD (Bus); SYD->HNL->PHX->DFW (Eco). The majority of the miles were from the 75,000 sign-on bonus from the AA Executive master card.

It was almost a year ago today when I had this crazy idea to book a getaway hundreds and thousands of miles away.  After waiting anxiously for this trip to happen, my passport now happily scores an Australian stamp. Few days before leaving, I decided to stay an extra day in Sydney, hence all the extra connections on the return flight. It was well worth it as I got to see everything I had on the list plus a couple more.

What a beautiful city Sydney is! For a first time visitor, I was in¬†awe¬†by how friendly the people are, how diverse the city is, and how convenient it is to get around. Thanks to¬†social media and the Internet which brings the world closer than ever, my visit to Sydney wasn’t so solo after all. The company made the trip more interesting and entertaining, and made me like Sydney that tiny bit more. Continue reading “Sydney 8-2015”

Credit Bureaus and Credit Card apps

It’s a common knowledge that when one applies for a credit, whether it be a credit card, car note, student loan, mortgage, etc., the first thing a lender will do is to perform a risk review on the credit applicant to see how risky or credit worthy this person is. The lender will pull a hard inquiry on one¬†or a few of the credit bureaus (TransUnion, Experian, Equifax) to look at the credit behavior of the applicant. Based on the credit score and history from the credit bureaus, the lender will then decide whether or not to approve or decline the credit request and at what interest rate. Obviously the higher the credit score you have, the more favorable you’ll be in front of the lender.¬† Continue reading “Credit Bureaus and Credit Card apps”

My credit card adventures – part 2

Here is a recap on what’s happening in my credit card¬†realm this year (2015): Opened 3 new cards with a total of 200,000 in points and miles. This also came with a whopping $989 non-waived annual fees (ouch, but no pain no gain). This may sound like a hefty expense, but when you take into consideration the benefits from these cards, the net cost isn’t as bad as it looks. Continue reading “My credit card adventures – part 2”