Well that was easy…..

As some of you know, we take a portion of our money each month and put it into a “charity fund” that we use to make charitable contributions every year. We use to track this when we itemized deductions on our taxes, but with the tax act of 2017, itemizing didn’t work anymore for us (we had paid off our mortgage, so we reached the point where itemization didn’t reach our base deduction in the tax code).

Still, like a lot of folks who give to charity, we continued, even though we don’t get a tax deduction for it. Right now we are only at about 5% of our after-tax for charity (vs. the biblical 1/10th) but we increase it every year.

I got in the mail an offer from Mariott for a rewards card with no annual fee, with 50,000 points if you get the card and charge $1,000 in the first 3 months. This isn’t hard for a lot of folks (groceries, etc.) so I chose to sign up, with the intention, like most travel hackers, of getting the points, paying off the card immediately, and then not using it again.

With the Covid, we’ve been extending our charity to various groups early, rather than waiting till the holidays (like we have in the past). We’ve given several times to our local food bank and the Salvation Army. In this circumstance, we chose to send $1,000 to various charities in September, rather than wait. By doing it by credit card (and eating any fees that were charged for doing so) we were able to get the charity money to folks that needed it, and get our 50,000 points for Mariott (several nights stay). Win/Win all the way around.

Now if only they would lift these travel restrictions so we could use them…..

Mr. 39 Months.

Frugal Tip – taking advantage of business travel

One of the things you often read in our community is people’s love of travel. Some folks make it a full-time career once they hit FI! For those of us still working, we sometimes get selected for business travel.

My father was an engineer in Oak Ridge, TN (where they helped make the atomic bombs) and did extensive business travel all over the US. One of the things he told us near the end of his life was the regrets that he had, that in all his travels he did not take an extra day or two off, and see the sights of the local areas that he visited. The company spent all that money to send him to these places – and he did not take advantage of the free travel.

I have tried to take that to heart in my business travels. As an industrial engineer in the logistics industry, I have had the chance to travel to about 20 different states, and some of the major cities of the US (LA, Portland, Denver, Dallas, Orlando, Miami, Boston, etc.) and done international travel to Canada and Sweden. Not only has this enabled me to rack up some airline and hotel miles, but also I have tried to take advantage of the site seeing opportunities.

I have even had the benefit of taking Mrs. 39 Months along with me. We have traveled to Orlando, Portland OR, and a few other places where she has been able to go see the sites, and I have done my work.

Recently I had to travel down to Miami for a warehousing conveyor project (it is not going that well) and had time to run around for half a day on Sunday. I hit Miami’s south beach, sampled a lot of Cuban cuisine, and toured an interesting house down there called Vizcaya. It’s a mansion built in 1920 to look like an Italian villa, for one of the founders of the John Deere Company. Nice gardens, nice home, a lot to recommend it if you happen to be in Miami.

Hope your travels go well this holiday season

Mr. 39 Months

Mr. 39 Months Mom takes a trip….

And you thought travel was just for FIRE folks?

I owe an awful lot to my mother, like most of us. She helped form my character, assisted me in getting a start in life, and provided loving (though sometimes critical) support. She also was an excellent example of how to live a life of abundance and frugality.

We grew up in the upper middle-class, with my stepfather and mother both management professionals that earned a good, but not fantastic wage. We never had to go without, but at the same time, we never had the latest toy or gadget. When we reached the age to drive, there was a third car, the old beater car that we inherited after our Mom got a new one. We had clothes, plenty of food, and the opportunity to try new hobbies and interests, but again – never a lot of new, hip stuff.

We all got jobs when we hit 16, so that we could earn our own money (and spent a lot of it on gas for the beater, since it was expensive then). Our college wasn’t paid for us, we had to get scholarships, and work through our college years to pay for it (as well as take out loans). I’m aware that the price of college back then was much less than it is now, I’m just pointing out that it was not expected for the parents to assist at that time.

After we left the nest, my stepfather and mother traveled a lot, but they also saved a lot, not spending more than they took in, and living a fun but frugal life.  Well, my mother is now in 81, and after my stepfather passed early this year, she chose to get back out and travel. She signed up for a 2-week cruise around the Greek islands, and took off in early October.

She just got back this weekend, and in talking to her, she really enjoyed herself. While she wasn’t as mobile as they were in the past, she did get to see a lot of stuff, and met some new people who took her “under their wing” as they ran around. While she isn’t sure about international travel going forward, she still plans to travel more. In fact, she’s coming up to see me in New Jersey and my brother in Vermont for Christmas. On the road again…..

Why do I write about this? Just to remind everyone to plan for the long term, because you are going to stay healthy and want to run around for a long time. Be ready and enjoy it!

Mr. 39 Months

Another travel hack completed

I’ve written before about how I’m a “roady” for my wife when she is doing the dulcimer thing. Well, we’ve got another trip coming up in October, down to North Carolina, which could be expensive. However, travel hacking to the rescue!

The trip will consist of a week traveling down to Tennessee (to see my family) and North Carolina (for Dulcimer). We will need air travel, a hotel (for five days), and a rental car.

  • Air: Since we know the dates well in advance, I was able to get the tickets with a minimum of air miles from our stock of American Airlines miles (Southwest doesn’t fly into Knoxville, TN, where my family is). Cost of two round-trip tickets at this time is $506 each or $1,012. For mileage, we got a deal for 12,500 miles each, or 25,000 miles. So we ended up spending roughly 25 miles per $ on this. Not as good as when we went to California last year, but not too shabby. Savings of $1,012.
  • Rental car: One week of rental, but had to use $ (not points). Used the Chase travel link to rent with Budget (mid-size car for $376.14. Will use Chase card to get the points on it.
  • Hotel: We’ve got a lot of Hilton points, so I was able to get 5-days within 10 minutes of the Dulcimer Festival for 160,000 points (40,000 per day, with 5th day free). A little pricey for the hotel, but the convenience is worth it. Total savings of $740.
  • Food, Gas, other: Couldn’t use points on these, but again, was able to use the charges on my Chase card

Similar savings to our trip last year to California, and we’ll get the opportunity to visit another national park (Smokey Mountain National Park) and see family. Not too bad.

Other travel hack posts

Next year, we are looking at going to Yosemite and Sequoia National Park. Any ideas on how I can save money on the travel hack there?

Mr. 39 Months

Well, there goes that travel card…..

I think a lot of folks in the FIRE community who engage in “travel hacking” feel a little guilty over exploiting the credit card companies and their free offers. We sign up, charge, pay them off immediately, get the bonus points/miles and then drop them like a “hot potato.” It almost feels like stealing. We comfort ourselves with the fact that the credit companies must be making money offering this, and our small percentage of “hackers” is just a drop in the bucket to their massive profits. Still…..

Well, in August, I added another card to my bank of cards, the Hilton Am. Express card. I stay in Hilton’s a lot for my company, and the offer was a card with no annual fee, and 60,000 points if you spent $1,000 in the first month. With a lot of my business trips causing me to spend that in one week, it was a no-brainer. Sign up and go!

Well in late August I went on a business trip, and had some business expenses. I tend to pay my credit cards off several times a month. When I get my travel reimbursement back, I transfer that exact amount onto the card (so I can track what got paid for business and what still needs to get paid for personal). It’s just the way I keep work.

Unfortunately, American Express wouldn’t let me do this for the first 30 days of the card. They told me that it was an issue at the beginning, but would end after the first 30 days. I was OK because I had gotten the money back for my travel reimbursement and paid the $1K bill for that on Sep 12th. The date for the new bill was Sep 16th. I also tried to finish paying the card off entirely on Sep 15th (even though these charged had happened on Sep 10th). Again, as a travel hacker, I knew I wanted to pay the card off as soon as possible, even if I could have let it “ride” for another couple of weeks.

Well, I finally get to the point where its past 30 days, and I can pay a second time within the 30-day period, and I see a charge for $14.29 on a remaining balance of under $200. What the heck? Turns out that I needed to pay my bill by Sep 11th, not the 16th (when the printed the bill) and because they wouldn’t let me pay twice in the first 30 days, I had extra funds still on the card – funds I could have paid off but they wouldn’t let me.

Well, that was “outside of enough” for me. I had the bonus points already to my Hilton account, so I called them up and asked to cancel the card. They said they’d pull the interest rate charge out and apologized, but I believe that if they played these games in the first 30 days, they’d keep playing them. I may have been at fault for not reading all the fine print (i.e. knowing that I had to pay the bill by the 11th) but not being able to pay the bill multiple times a month and track my spending really irritated me. Best to be done with them.

So I did the good travel hacking thing, got the points and cancelled the card – and I don’t feel any guilt about this one.

Other posts of interest


Mr. 39 Months

Travel Hack Completed …..Somewhat

As folks know, Mrs. 39 Months and I took the opportunity to travel to Northern California and Oregon recently, both to enjoy the scenery and for her to take a class in shoe making. It was a great time, and one of those opportunities everyone should take advantage of if they get the opportunity.

I also wanted to use this trip to put into practice some of my travel hacking skills. As you may remember, I’d worked hard on the two Southwest Airlines cards in order to get to 110,000 miles and get the companion pass. I have now been working on the Chase Sapphire card, to try and nail down the 60,000 bonus points for that.

Overall, the trip consisted of 10 days (2 days in the air, 8 days on the ground). We flew into San Francisco, saw a few sights (Cathedral, Fisherman’s wharf, etc.) and then hit the sack. The next day, we visited Alcatraz, and then headed north. The following three days were spent in Northern California and Oregon, visiting national parks and enjoying the outdoors. We ended up Wednesday in Portland, where Mrs. 39 Months spent the next 4 days in class, while I traveled about and saw the city and surrounding area (Columbia River, City of Portland, etc.). We finally headed home on Monday (long flight).

So how did my hacking do?

  • Air flight: free (except for some fees) – savings of $1,088
  • Rental car: paid $338 for 10 days through Alamo, plus gas (about $120). Didn’t use any points, but all the cost got onto my Chase card, helping me towards my goal for the free 60,000 points.
  • Hotel: Due to where we were staying in the national parks, I couldn’t really use any points on stuff, but we did get the hotel in Portland for free: savings of $745
  • Food, Gas, other: Couldn’t use points on these, but again, was able to use the charges on my Chase card to hit my goal. By the end of the trip, I had achieved the usage on the card to get my 60,000 free points!

Overall, trip for two, Philadelphia to San Fran, travel to Portland, and then back cost around $1,512. I’m sure many of the really experienced travel hackers could have saved even more, but I’m pretty happy.

Some lessons learned:

  1. Southwest companion pass is awesome. Wife traveled across the country and back for free!
  2. It pays to get points from various vendors, not just the ones with Chase. I had several hotel options in Northern CA/Oregon that I could have used points for (ex. Holiday Inn express) that I didn’t have points for, so I had to pay cash for.
  3. Haven’t figured out a way to pay for car rental with points yet. Maybe used my 2% cash-back Citi card to pay for it.
  4. Food/Dining out is difficult to use points for – better to use card to pay for it with case and collect the points.

We had a great time, and I learned a lot about travel hacking. Time to plan the next big trip (probably 2019). Maybe the Grand Canyon?


Mr. 39 Months

Two steps on travel rewards, completed, working on 3rd!

OK, if you remember back in December I did my first semi-official travel hack (kinda).

Well, following the guys on ChooseFI and other folks in the community, I’ve been furiously working on additional travel hacks. I’ve applied for and received two of the Chase Credit cards,  the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card (40K miles when you charge $1,000 dollars in the first 3 months) and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business card (60K miles when you charge $3,000 dollars in first 3 months).

Well, got the cards in early and mid-December 2017, and I’ve managed to put on over $6,000 in 2 months, just paying regular bills and taking one business trip. So as of today, I hit my goal for the 2nd card and got credit. I now have 106,360 miles in my Southwest account for miles (good for around 3-4 cross-country trips), without doing more than just regular spending (and paying off the credit cards) plus the $198 (2 x $99) for the credit cards. $198 for 4 round-trip coast –to-coast ticket. Two major hacks done!

Now on to the next “hack” – when you reach 110,000 miles/points in a calendar year, you get the infamous Southwest Airlines Companion Pass (someone can travel with you for free). I have a business trip next week and a personal vacation week in March, so I should be able to hop those pretty quick. I’ve already told Mrs. 39 Months that we need to plan on travel sometime in 2018 and use this option.

After that, its time to get the Chase Sapphire rewards card (50,000 points if you spend $4K in 3 months) and I’ll really be up there! I already have a bunch of American Airlines and hotel points due to business travel. I actually am enjoying this a bit. I’ll let you know how I’m doing as we go forward.


Mr. 39 Months

Yay! I just did my first travel hack (sort of)…..

Well, I’ve been doing the research, reading the blogs, and listening to the podcasts on it. Figured it was time to start using some of that knowledge to help out.

I’ve spoken in the past to my students and the engineers under me about the need to join rewards programs for the travel they do for business (airline, rental car, hotel, etc.). Even if they go to a “one off” hotel (regularly go to a Hilton, but stay this time at a holiday inn) sign up for the program. The points add up, and you can use them for your own personal travel (most of the time – some companies keep them for their own use).

I also suggest to the students that they write “Willing to travel” on the bottom of their resumes. Businesses know that travel sucks, and often they are willing to pay folks extra for their willingness to travel.

Well, I’ve accumulated some significant mileage in the air, which I have used in the past on personal trips (Hawaii, Alaska, etc.) but I never really looked at the hotels. To my surprise, I found I had a significant number of points in both Hilton and Mariott from travel. I figured it was time to try this out.

Mrs. 39 Months wants to attend a Dulcimer Festival in the Poconos the 2nd weekend in January. So I went on both Hilton and Mariott’s sites, and found a nice one-night stay within less than an hour of the site, for only 20,000 points (the lowest point total you can have for Hilton rooms on the weekends). Score!

I know that I’m going to be visiting North Carolina in March to take a woodworking class, so I went to look for rooms there. It turns out its pretty dead at that time in NC, in that area, so I got a five night stay for only 40,000 points (10,000 pts a night, with 5th night free!). Score again!

Finally, I did my first credit card as part of the hack (see info on travel hacking in the links to the right). I applied for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card. If I can charge $1,000 dollars in the first 3 months, I can get 40,000 Southwest points. I’ll try and get the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business card next, in order to get 60,000 Southwest points if I charge $2,000 on it. Thus, I’ll be 103,000 points in towards the 110,000 necessary to get the infamous Southwest Airlines Companion Pass. I just have to charge the remaining $7,000 by the end of 3 months.

I actually am enjoying this a bit. I’ll let you know how I’m doing as we go forward.


Mr. 39 Months

Travel Hack Plan

Well, after going through a large number of podcasts and bloggers comments and articles, I’ve chosen to enter the world of travel hacking, like so many others in the FIRE community.

I’ve already provided a link to the travel 101 blog, which I think is one of the best. Other ones to look at if you are interested in travel and seeing the world are Go Curry Cracker or RetireEarlyLifestyle (both with links to right). There also prominently featured on many of the FI podcasts that I listen to. In the end, after realizing how easy it was and the opportunities it provides, I couldn’t resist.


Travel 101 has an excellent course on travel hacking, and its free! For those interested, I suggest you consider taking it.

I first took a look at where I was, based on an American Airlines card and business travel. I also had some hotel stays, again based on business travel.

  • American Airlines: 234,436 miles (not bad). Good for a lot of trips, especially international
  • Marriott Hotels: 37,563 points  (good for about 3 nights, depending on where)
  • Hilton:237,817 points (good for about 8 nights, depending on where)

Not a bad start.

In looking at how to get started, I reviewed the cards that Travel 101 suggested and what I already had. One of the issues is that Chase bank has a “5/24” rule, which says you can only get 5 new credit cards within the last 24 months – and that is any credit cards, not just Chase. If you apply for one of theirs after you have gotten 5 others, they will turn you down.

Early in the year, as I started exploring FIRE and looked at Credit card benefits, I got a Citi card with 2% cash back, and an Amazon card for 3% back (because I did so much shopping on Amazon). Thus, I am limited to only applying for 3 other cards. Based on the information provided by the travel hackers, I am going to proceed as follows:

  1. Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier card: Apply in Dec, put $1,000 in 3 months on it and get 40,000 miles
  2. Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Business: Apply in Dec, put $2,000 in 3 months on it and get 60,000 points, for a total of 103,000 miles
  3. Do additional charges on Southwest Cards to reach the 110,000 mile mark and get the travel pass (hopefully as soon as possible).This would enable Mrs. 39 Months to fly with me for free on Southwest.
  4. Get a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (the mother of all travel cards): Apply in February, after I have done a lot of my Southwest Charges. Charge $4,000 in 3 months and get 50,000 points.

With that done, by the middle of 2018, I should be sitting on a lot of miles, hotels and points. Then its trying to figure out where to go?

Plans for 2018:

  • Visit Portland Oregon (Mrs. 39 Months wants to take a class there, and then we can visit some national parks)
  • Visit Asheville, NC (I want to take some woodworking courses there)
  • Visit Vermont, where my brother lives
  • Other trips?

I’ll let folks know how this is going as I try to work stuff out.

What travel hacks have you done/are planning to do?


Mr. 39 Months