Behind the Eight Ball

© Jchutch | - Eight Ball Photo

© Jchutch | – Eight Ball Photo

Do you feel like you always find out about great opportunities just moments too late to take advantage? Yeah, well that’s the story of my life. My most recent brush with greatness happened this week, and it all came crashing down this morning.

For those who don’t know, I am a bit of a reward program enthusiast. I took my first solo flight in college to visit a friend at Xavier in Louisiana. From that trip on, I have dutifully kept up with every frequent flier mile and point. I sign up for rewards programs across the board, from grocery stores to credit cards and beyond. Over the past 15 years or so, I’ve accumulated (and spent) more than 500,000 AAdvantage miles (American Airlines), as well as hotel points and rewards in various other rewards programs.

But my earnings in these programs were small potatoes compared to what’s possible. I earned most of those miles not through flights, but by churning credit cards. It was easy and basically risk free since I pay off my credit cards each month, but I never opened more than two or three in a year because I didn’t have enough chargeable expenses to meet multiple sign-up spending requirements (typically about $3,000 in three months), which were necessary to earn the mileage bonuses. And while I definitely enjoyed getting free flights in exchange for those miles, I didn’t capitalize on redemptions—typically redeeming for a 1 cent/mile value when many experienced travelers get 2 cents/mile or more in value.

Manufactured Spending

Just last week, I stumbled across The Manufactured Spending Tournament and learned of a way to meet really high spending requirements with very little effort. So I purchased my first Vanilla Reload card using a rewards credit card and signed up for an American Express Serve account. The basic idea is that you load your Serve account with the Vanilla cards and pay expenses that don’t earn rewards because they typically cannot be paid via credit card (e.g., mortgages, utilities and person-to-person payments). It takes seven to 10 business days after sign up to receive your permanent Serve account.

As I waited for the card, I dreamt of ways to spend all the miles I was going to earn for paying my mortgage and for child care. I finally received the card last night and activated it this morning only to learn that…dun, dun, dun…CVS is no longer allowing Vanilla Reload purchases using a credit card. While there are other ways to create manufactured spending, this was, by far, the easiest I saw. And I just missed out.

Award Travel on American

The manufactured spending frenzy wasn’t the only opportunity I missed this week. Yesterday, I found out about an awesome way to maximize the value of your American Advantage miles. Unfortunately, I spent about 140,000 of my total 150,000 AAdvantage miles on two plane tickets to Aruba for my best friend’s bachelorette trip just two weeks ago. With plane tickets going for more than $1,000 each, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to use those miles. I was wrong.

It turns out that American Airlines allows a stopover on award travel itineraries in the city from which you enter or leave North America for up to a year. So instead of spending 35,000 miles to travel roundtrip between Chicago and Aruba, you can purchase a one-way ticket to Aruba for 17,500 miles and spend 20,000 miles to travel from Aruba to Chicago in May and then Chicago to Paris in August—a total of 37,500 miles. Yes, I would have needed to purchase an additional one-way ticket from Paris to Chicago, but it would have been like getting a one-way ticket to Paris for almost free!

If you have the miles, you can keep the circle of travel going forever. For the return flight, I could have purchased a ticket from Paris to Aruba (or another Caribbean island) stopping in Chicago for up to a year, and so on and so forth.

Maximizing award mileage redemptions requires some forethought and planning, however, and my friends generally fly by the seat of their pants. For example, if we’d purchased our plane tickets to Aruba a few months earlier, they would have cost only 35,000 miles roundtrip. But the bride couldn’t commit to a destination, so they cost 70,000 each instead. Now that I spent my stash on this one trip and the manufactured spending loophole has closed, I don’t have the miles to schedule roundtrips between the Caribbean and Paris (or Tokyo, Argentina, etc.).

But a girl can dream, can’t she?

Want more details on using free stopovers on American? Read this tutorial from fellow blogger The Miles Professor.

Update 4/8/14

In keeping with the theme of this blog, it seems I was also “Behind the Eight Ball” on the American Airlines free stopovers. Today, American dropped free stopovers with no notice to their passengers. So if you booked a ticket using the benefit yesterday, good job. Today? Too bad!

Looks like it’s time to change my airline alliances. Apparently United still has a similar benefit available, but you must book a round-trip ticket to take advantage.

I, for one, will definitely start spending more dollars (and collecting more miles) with Southwest. More information on why that should be your airline of choice to come Wednesday.


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Who’s Your Daddy?

© Positiveflash | - Daddy Photo

© Positiveflash | – Daddy Photo

Every night, I read my two-year-old a bedtime story. Aside from the obvious benefits—helping develop language, emotional and social skills, and fostering a love for reading—it gives us a few quiet moments to cuddle and connect at the end of the day. A couple of nights ago, Kaia and I read a story about a puppy who was bored and looking for something to do. Nothing-to-do Puppy complains to his daddy, who tells puppy to invite his friends over and make a tent clubhouse. At the end of the story, Kaia didn’t ask about puppy and his friends, she struggled to understand just one concept/character from the book: daddy.

Defining Daddy
Kaia doesn’t really know her daddy. Consequently, she doesn’t really understand what a daddy is. After reading this book, she pointed to me and called me “daddy.” I can see her point. As defined in the context of the story, daddy is puppy’s caregiver. He’s the one who encourages puppy and provides guidance. And since we’re talking about cartoon dogs, gender wasn’t something that she needed to reconcile. While Kaia has several people who love her—mamama (grandma), papa (grandpa), uncles, aunts and cousins—she knows they are not daddy.

Defining daddy is something that Kaia just began to explore. A couple of weeks ago, we were visiting with my boyfriend and his daughter, and Kaia called him daddy. At first, I thought she was saying dirty. (Let’s face it, two-year-olds aren’t the most articulate.) But eventually, I realized what she was actually saying. She didn’t develop this idea on her own. She had been hearing my boyfriend’s daughter call him daddy all day. I think she may have thought daddy was his name. Understanding the source of the misunderstanding, however, didn’t make me feel any better about the reality of the situation, which is, Kaia doesn’t know what a daddy is because she doesn’t have one.

Not the Father
Technically, yes, Kaia has a father. But he has largely chosen not to be a part of her life.

When I was pregnant, Kaia’s dad tried to persuade me to have an abortion. He told me then that he never wanted kids, and his actions have shown me since. He “worked from home” during her delivery; he went home during the hospital stay for hours each day to sleep; and since I brought her home, he has visited infrequently, approaching that time like it’s a dreaded task rather than a privilege and a joy. While he saw her fairly regularly for the first five months, as soon as I attempted to serve him for child support, he had just the excuse he needed to disappear.

In the year and a half since, Kaia has seen her dad a handful of times. He drops in every couple of months and stays for a couple of hours. The last time she saw him was 4½ months ago, and then only because she was in the ICU. He even missed her birthday in February, which wasn’t surprising because he missed her first birthday and pretty much every other milestone before and since.

A Secure Attachment
Since Kaia’s dad is not around, she doesn’t understand that he is her father. Honestly, I’m glad for that. I want my little girl surrounded by people who love her. I don’t want Kaia to know that one of the two people in the world who are supposed to love her the most, apparently doesn’t give a damn. Like most parents, I want to protect her from the ugly things in life—and a parent who doesn’t care is pretty high on that list.

But I also know that someday, I might have to hide my disgust and watch as she develops a relationship with her dad. By virtue of the fact that I want to protect her from the truth of his actions, I am also enabling him to return to her life at some point with no consequences for that behavior. I know several people who idolized an absent parent because they craved that parent’s affection and approval. If that happens with Kaia, I know that she will only seem to prefer her dad because she’s confident in my love for her, and she knows that there is nothing she can do to lose that love. That knowledge won’t prevent the reality of the situation from breaking my heart.

When I’m honest with myself, I realize that I am to blame. I chose to be with her father. I ignored the red flags and past negative experiences, and made a baby with one of the most selfish people I have ever known. And now Kaia is paying for that. As much as I hate him, I still hope that one day he’ll realize how special our little girl is. I hope that he’ll begin to be interested in her life, and learn to sacrifice for her happiness as I have in the two years I’ve been blessed to be her mother. I hope with all my heart that one day he will become the father she deserves and that she will only remember being surrounded by love from everyone important in her life.

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