How to earn up to $3,000 per Discover Card

Update: BlueBird has shut down many accounts of people who have used them to Manufacture Money Spent as in this article and others. While not all have been shut down and it is still possible to open accounts and do a bit of MMSing, it is dying and should not be seen as a guaranteed option.
Update: As of 10/9, Discover announced that Gift Cards would not be eligible for the additional 10% bonus. According to a representative at Apple, Apple Pay does not provide any additional information about transactions than Discover  normally receives. It is unknown if Discover will be able to enforce this exclusion.

Discover recently announced that they will now be available to use with Apple Pay. With this, they announced that when a card holder uses their Discover It, Discover It Miles, or Discover It Miles and Getaway’s card, they will receive an additional 10% bonus on the first $10,000 spent on in store purchases on top of the current cash back.

The offer is available on September 16th and runs until the end of the year. It is only available on the Apple Watch or IPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6s, and 6s Plus.

Discover Card

This promotion takes Cash Back up to 11% on all purchases and 15% in revolving categories for the Discover It card and 11.5 % for the Discover It Miles and Discover It Miles and Getaway’s card’s.

The INCREDIBLE thing is for cardholders who signed up for the Double Points or Miles promotion this year, then ALL of the points or miles earned this year are doubled. This includes the points and miles earned during this promotional period.

This means that the 11% and 15% earned with the Discover It card and the 11.5% are doubled to 22%, 30%, and 23% on all in store purchases! When the full $10,000 is spent, card holders can earn $2,200, $3,000, and $2,300.

If a holder, like myself, doesn’t plan to spend $10,000 on in store purchases before the end of they year on any or all of their Discover cards, they can refer to my post on Manufacturing Money Spent.

With MMS, card holders can spend $119 on 20 $500 gift cards to hit the $10,000 limit. This would leave profits of $2,081, $2,881, and $2,181.

If you don’t have a version of the IPhone 6 or Apple Watch, you could buy one and use the profits to repay yourself. Apple sell’s theirs for $545 + tax. You could also find them cheaper used or with cell phone contracts. You could get the AT&T Access Card which gives a $650 credit toward a phone to cover the cost. You could borrow a friend’s or you could buy one and take advantage of the return policy.

Iphone 6

If you don’t have a Discover Card, it may be worth it to apply for one to take advantage of this bonus, even without the double points and miles bonus. Without the bonus, there is still $1,000 of profit to be made from each card.

I’m going to be buying and returning at least one IPhone 6 to take advantage of this promotion. I have the Discover It and It Miles cards, both with double cash back promos activated. I’m then going to be using my mother’s and sister’s Discover It’s without the double points activated.

I will be using these four cards to earn about $6,000 this month, $4,000 now, $2,000 at the end of the year when the Double Bonus is completed.

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Monastery Surfing – An Underutilized Accommodation Option?

“Hello Father Michael, I was told next door at the church to come here and ask for you. I’m from the United States and passing through. I’ve heard that some Monasteries may take people in for a night or two and wanted to find out if I could stay here for a night.”

“Yes, come on in, we just sat down for dinner. You can put your stuff here, Brother George will take you to your room after dinner.”

“Thank you Father.”

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That is the conversation I had with the Father at the first monastery I attempted to “surf” at. Monastery Surfing, my new term references Couch Surfing, which I use to stay with locals during my travels. While I love Couch Surfing, it’s not always an option, so outside of camping, I’ve found other ways to obtain free accommodation, such as monasteries, Red Cross’s, and random locals.

I first got the idea to try to surf at monasteries from a traveler I met in Xela, Guatemala. She was excited to meet the man who was trying to spend only $700 in 2.5 months while going through all of Central America. She had heard about me from another traveler who I had met in Nicaragua. She told me that if she was doing what I was, she would be staying at churches. Her father had always told her that if she ever got into trouble and needed help or a place to stay, to go to a church, they’re usually open 24/7.

While that certainly was never my experience, most I had seen were closed a lot, and this is still true, I liked the idea and decided to try it. I was able to hitch hike my way to Cobán, a town that I heard had a monastery and was close enough to my destination, Semuc Champey, where I planned to do some bridge jumping, to stop at. This is where the above conversation comes into play.

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After the Father invited me in, we sat down at a dinner table with three Brothers. We had a delicious meal of rice and beans, plantains, fresh fruits, and juices. I was lucky that they all spoke English very well, so we were able to get to know each other a bit. I was glad I was also able to give a bit back by entertaining them with travel stories.

After dinner, I was shown to my room. I was surprised to find that I had my own room. There were three beds to choose from, I was provided toiletries, and I had access to WI-FI in the Father’s office. It was better than a hotel!
In the morning after making my bed, I went looking for Father Michael to thank him again.

I found a maid in the kitchen and she informed me that the Father was gone for the day. She then offered me a delicious breakfast and water to fill my bladder (the one in my backpack… not like the, you know, one where it goes once you’ve drank something…) I thanked her and asked her to thank Father Michael.

After Guatemala, I surfed at two more monasteries in Belize. I found the first monastery in Santa Elena, not far into the country. I did the same approach, only this time, informed the Father that I was a bit sick, exhausted, and needed rest (Montezuma was taking his Revenge.) He informed me that they usually only let people stay for a night, but he would allow me to stay a second if I needed extra time to rest.

Again, I was provided with my own room, food, a shower, and WI-FI. I explored a bit in this town, but mostly I rested. On the second day, I met a Canadian, Father Nicholas, who was visiting from the monastery just west in San Ignacio. He invited me to come to his monastery to experience the Festival of the Patron Saint Mary that was taking place over the next couple of days.

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I love festivals, especially ones based so deep in culture and religion, and loved the festival in this small town. The first part of the festival was a parade. The whole town came out to watch as members of the Church, Brother’s, and Father’s carried the statue of Mary around the town.

After the parade was a feast. I was happy to be able to serve the masses food and give back a little after I had been given so much. Following the food were fireworks, though not the usual big, colorful fireworks. First, was a street length set of firecrackers, a constant pop-pop-pop, for a full 30 seconds. Then there were the Bombas. Bombas shoot up into the air and make a small explosion and a very loud BOM-BA sound. They are awesome to experience.

The next morning, I went to my first Catholic service. While embarrassing, it could’ve been worse. At one point, the Father welcomed the congregation to partake in the Eucharist. As a Christian, I’ve experienced Communion many times, and anyone is welcome to partake, whether a devout Christian or not.

I followed the others to the front to take the Eucharist and after watching a few people go up to the Father, say a silent phrase, take the Eucharist and walk away, I still had no clue what exactly the procedure was. I ended up in front of the Father looking like a deer caught in headlights. I was grateful when he took pity on me and gave me the piece of bread. It was only later that I found out what I was supposed to say. I also found out that the Eucharist is only meant to be taken by devout Catholics and that he gave it to this little deer out of compassion to end it’s misery.

After the festival, I found out that the Church and these great people turned out to be the gift from God that kept on giving. I was planning on hitch hiking my way into Mexico now that I had rested a bit. Father Nicholas told me that he and a few others were going to make their way to Mexico that same day and that they were making room for me in the van. Once again, I was so grateful, I no longer needed to use the bit of energy I had stored to try to catch rides.

Monastery surfing has been one of the best experiences I’ve had while traveling. The people are amazing and it’s hard to beat free hotel level accommodation that includes food. This is definitely a underutilized form of accommodation. It is a diamond in the rough and I don’t see enough people trying this anytime soon to jade the church, so it’s worth keeping in mind as an option through your travels.

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P.S. Sadly, due to my camera and cell phone being stolen in Nicaragua, the above photos are stock and not the actual monasteries I stayed at.

 

 

 

 

 

Manufacturing Money Spent: Bluebird

update: BlueBird has shut down many accounts of people who have used them to Manufacture Money Spent as in this article and others. While not all have been shut down and it is still possible to open accounts and do a bit of MMSing, it is dying and should not be seen as a guaranteed option.

Manufacturing Money Spent or MMS. What is that and what does it mean? MMS is the act of making it look like more money is being spent on a credit card than you are actually spending. Often times, as it is with the strategy I demonstrate in this post, a person will spend 1% to earn points or miles. This means, that if a credit card gives a return of anything more than that 1%, we can turn a profit. It means that when we sign up for a credit card that has a $5,000 minimum spending requirement to receive the sign up bonus, we do not actually have to spend $5,000 of our money.

Gift Cards

The first step in this strategy to MMS is to find a local store that sells Visa or MasterCard gift cards. I go to my local grocery store, where I get a 5% return on groceries, and buy their $500 Visa or MasterCard gift card. They each come with a one time activation fee of $5.95, so just above 1%. There isn’t much difference between the two, the main thing to keep in mind when buying the gift cards is that they can not be Vanilla brand, any other bank issuer is fine, and American Express gift cards do not work. The other difference is that with the Visa cards, the PIN is automatically the last 4-digits of the card number, while with MasterCard, there is either a code attached to the card, or you have to call MasterCard to set a PIN. Once I have my gift cards, I make my way over to Walmart.

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Excluding Steak and Shake, these cards all had balances of $200 or $500

Bluebird

Bluebird was created from a partnership between Walmart and American Express (Amex.) It is a prepaid card with online access, it is not a checking account and there is no credit attached or involved. A Bluebird card can be obtained in two ways, either by purchasing a temporary card at Walmart, usually for $5, or by going to their site, Bluebird.com and signing up there. Temporary cards must be registered on their site and go through the application process as well. They will mail a permanent card once the application is approved. Identity verification is required at times.

Bluebird has compliance limitations to what accounts are allowed to do. Each account can upload $1000/day at Walmart’s ATM machines or $1,500 at the Money Center. They can also only load $5,000 per month per account. With this, we can MMS $5,000/month, not a small amount, however, some, like myself, want to be able to MMS more than that. I currently manage 7 Bluebird accounts that my family and best friend have opened and allowed me to use. This means I can load $35,000/month. If I do it all at the grocery store and I use my Wells Fargo Cash Back card, which gives 5% cash back at grocery stores, I will spend $416.50, but I will receive $1750 in cash back, turning a profit of $1,333.50 per month.

Bluebirds Small

Now that I’m at Walmart, I’ve bought my Visa or MasterCard gift cards, and I have my Bluebird cards, I head over to the Money Center. If there is an ATM, I use that, otherwise, I head to the register. If I’m at the register, I hand the cashier a Bluebird card and tell her I would like to add $500 to my account, sometimes $500 to two accounts. If I have a Visa card, when the time comes, I just slide the card, enter the last 4 digits of the card number and it should go through. If I have a MasterCard, I have to hit “Change Payment” and select “debit card,” enter the PIN that came attached to the card or the new PIN I called to set and, it too, should go through. If I use the ATM, my preference because I generally don’t like telling cashiers what I’m doing or that I’m using a gift card to add money to my account, I hit the Bluebird button to start. I follow the steps of swiping my Bluebird card, entering the amount I want to load, $500 at a time, accepting the amount, clicking “Debit Card” as the payment option, and swiping my gift card. Here, it does not matter if I have Visa or MasterCard, both will work, I just slide, enter the PIN and finish.

While at the ATM, when I try to load more than $1,000 onto one account or $1,500-$2,000 onto multiple accounts, the ATM’s camera sees that it is the same person and decides that I have reached the compliance limit for the day. I have to wait until a worker comes to help or just walk away. If I wait, the associate will generally cancel the transaction and I will either have to wait until the next day to continue or go to the cashier and put a last $500-$1,000 onto an account or two. To avoid the machine showing the compliance message, after I load $500 or $1,000, I’ll walk away and either get a drink of water, use the restroom, do some shopping or let someone else use it and wait behind them. If I go shopping, I ask to load $500 at the end of the transaction. This time away resets the ATM and will allow a bit more to be loaded without the message popping up.

Once I have loaded my gift card balances onto my Bluebird accounts, I either go onto my Bluebird App or go home and pull up the accounts on my computer. Once I am logged in, I go to the “Pay a Bill” page, this is the final step in the MMS strategy. I’ve added my payee’s by clicking the “Add Payee” button, searching for whichever bank issued the credit card I purchased my gift cards on and then putting in my credit cards info so that I can send payments to it. I give the payee the nickname of the type of card I have so I can distinguish between payees without referencing card numbers when I have more than one credit card from a single bank. Bank accounts can be linked too and the balances can be withdrawn to it instead of being sent to the credit card. Since the payee is set, I click “Pay a Bill” and send the balance from my Bluebird account to the credit card.

Using this strategy, I make it look like I am spending thousands of dollars each month while only spending 1% of that. Any spending requirement is within reach and any points or miles goals can be achieved. It is essential to stay organized when doing this with more than one card, it can become complicated very quickly. Watch for my upcoming post about how to stay organized and MMS like a pro.

 

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A week in the Land of Fire and Ice

I am convinced that Iceland is one of the top five most beautiful countries in the world. It’s vast landscape varying from incredible mountains, about 130 volcanoes, to glaciers and plains of nothing. Its Hekla Volcano is the place where Director Ridley Scott chose to use as his planet in the “darkest corners of the universe” in his film “Prometheus.” I had the pleasure of spending 8 days there in early April 2015 and it was one of the best experiences I’ve had.

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I arrived at the airport in Reykjavik and it didn’t take too long before I found a local waiting to pick up his girlfriend who happened to fly in on my flight. I sat down a seat a away from him and started talking to him, told him that I was hoping to find someone heading toward the city and he said as long as it was okay with his girlfriend, I could ride with them as far as they were heading. I caught a second ride that took me into the city and started exploring.

It wasn’t long until Iceland’s weather started showing itself and there was a full out hail blizzard. For about ten minutes. Then it was decent, only snow flurries and a bit of wind. I even saw some blue in the sky instead of grey clouds. The saying goes, “If you like the weather in Iceland, wait 10 minutes,” and it’s true, ten minutes later, the hail storm was back.

I ended up staying in a hostel my first night to avoid the weather. I met a group of travelers from all over and hung out with them. We ended up being a group of five and since the beginning of April is the end of the Aurora season, went hunting for a dark spot to try to see the lights. It reminded me why I do not like traveling in groups, decisions are so slow to be made. The hunt was unsuccessful.

þingvellir National Park
Þingvellir National Park

The following night I was scheduled to couch surf with a local, Petur, and his son for a couple of nights. It was absolutely great, the Icelandic people are so kind and welcoming. He took me to a local thermal pool, a much more budget-friendly version of the Blue Springs that everyone raves about. I didn’t see the point in spending about six times as much when the local thermal pools are where the locals are. It was very relaxing, indoor and out, different pools of different temperatures, depths, it had jets and even a water slide. He prepared traditional snacks and a “filler” dinner, a kind of rice pudding that I enjoyed, but Iceland isn’t known for it’s food, so it wasn’t something to write home about. He introduced me to his vinyl collection and I listened to his album “Illinois” by Sufjan Stevens about fifty times. On my second night with him, I used his spare key to go watch the night sky in hopes of seeing the lights. The forecast was unusually high and I was lucky enough to be able to lay out under the stars and watch the Lights dance across the sky for a few hours before I became too sleepy and returned to the apartment.

Petur told me that he believed that in the country side, I could knock on a few doors and about half of the locals would open their doors to me and invite me in for a night, so after my two nights with him, I set out to hitch hike the famous Golden Ring Route and spend my nights in random locals homes. I received two rides with locals before I arrived at my first destination; Þingvellir National Park. During one of my rides, the woman let me see how the locals view nature. She told me about the mountain on the opposite side of the harbor from Reykjavik. She told me that “She” was wearing her White Dress and that she must have an extraordinary closet because throughout the year she wears so many different dresses filled with so many different colors. Many believe in invisible elves, trolls, and other creatures. It’s just another reason why I love this country.

Geysir

Here at the Þingvellir National Park is where I met Shaniece, a awesome person and the best police woman I’ve ever met. She was from Virginia and was traveling for the first time by herself. We had the same plan, so I was able to catch a ride with her. We ended up spending four incredible days together. We continued on the route and came across some Icelandic horses, stopped to try to pet them and met a couple of ladies from Los Angeles, Danielle and Laura. Danielle is the stage director of Marvel on Ice and helped produce the awesome Power Rangers Reboot while Laura is an editor at Playboy. Having been a huge Power Rangers fan growing up, I was a bit star-struck. We met up with the two again at the next stop, the geothermal area that contains the famous “Geysir” and “Strokkur,” and the four of us became fast friends. Geysir erupts hot water into the air up to 100ft every 10 minutes or so and is where our word “geyser” comes from. We continued onto our final stop in the Golden Ring, the Gulfoss Waterfall with the ladies in tow.

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Danielle and Laura returned to Reykjavik for the rest of their trip while Shaniece and I continued onto the village of Vik, population about 200, where Shaniece had booked her hotel. We spent two nights here and this is where my hopes of finding kind locals would come in. After exploring the beach and agreeing on what time to meet up in the morning, Shaniece and I parted for the night. I went knocking on the doors of the village. The fifth person to answer their door was an older local lady, Lara, she was home alone, her husband wasn’t going to be home for a few hours, but to my delightful surprise, she almost instantly said yes and showed me to the spare bedroom downstairs.

Lara was so kind. I came upstairs to ask about the bed covers and she offered me crackers and hot chocolate. She made me the best home made hot chocolate you could imagine, I had never seen anyone make it with a bar of chocolate and milk, it was amazing. We talked for about an hour. She told me about her daughter, Doctor in Sweden, her son, a fisherman, and her career as a elementary school teacher. She was retired and about to go visit her daughter. She told me that she wished she could have traveled more when she was young, but ended up getting married and having a family, so she was unable to. I felt bad she hadn’t been able to travel as much as she’d wanted to and I hope I’ll be able to make my reader’s travel dreams come true. Lara was even more optimistic about the locals welcoming spirits than Petur, she felt 3/4 people would welcome someone into their home rather than Petur’s estimate 1/2.

Sadly, at least in Vik, tourists are ruining this culture. The next night, I heard a very opposite view. The seventh door I knocked on was the home of Aran and his wife Eva, two local police officers. When I asked Aran if they would welcome me into their home for the night, he went and discussed it with Eva, and I heard her say Couch Surfing. I informed them that I am a Couch Surfer and that made them feel confident enough to invite me in. We talked for about an hour or so before it got too late. They had once had an account to host, but were immediately overwhelmed by the vast amount of requests they received and ended up closing the account. They informed me that at one point, it was true, nearly anyone would let a traveler stay with them for a night rather than be left outside in the cold, but tourism has grown so fast that it has become common for the hotel and hostel in the village to fill up, even in the off season, so many people come to their doors knocking. On top of this, tourists walk onto local’s lawns and look into their homes as if they’re at a museum. The locals are becoming jaded. We must respect property and privacy if we want to even hope for locals to be kind and welcoming.

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Shaniece and I at Jökulsárlón,

During the second day with Shaniece, we made a long trip to Jökulsárlón, an amazing glacier bay where we got to walk on the most idyllic glaciers. We got extremely lucky, during our two days in the South, we experienced really good weather for Iceland at that time, while Danielle and Laura were suffering grey skies, rain storms, and roads being shut down due to the weather. After Jökulsárlón, we finished our day off with a trip to the Skaftafell National Park to see Svartifoss, or Black Waterfall.

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Svartifoss, AKA Black Waterfall

When we returned to Vik and I found Aran and Eva to spend the night with, I was given an awesome offer. Eva was going to the local horse stables in the morning where they kept their horses and asked if Shaniece and I would like to ride. Horseback riding is a big attraction, Icelandic horses are unique, very cute, and it has been illegal for any horse to enter Iceland for over 130 years to preserve its genetic purity. That includes any horse that has left the country from re-entering. With a bit of struggle, I woke Shaniece up and off we went to meet Eva.

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On our way back to Reykjavik, we stopped at a few places we’d wanted to on the way to Vik but didn’t have time to. We went to Reynisfjara first, AKA Black Sand Beach, where there are rock formations similar to the Black Waterfall’s formations. We struggled but succeeded to find a crashed airplane from years ago that the government decided to leave. We saw multiple more waterfalls including the huge Skogafoss fall and finished off our tour with the frozen Kerið Crater Lake. The GPS took us down a wrong road and we ended up walking through woods and foot high snow to find the fenced back entrance. Someone inside told us we had to go around and pay to enter, but we decided it would be easy enough just to go through the fence, and who would know?

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After our final stops, we made it back to Reykjavik for my final day and Shaniece’s last couple. We kept in touch with Danielle and Laura and ended up meeting up with them at a bar for trivia. Danielle was meeting up with an old friend of her boss who had been living in Iceland for the past 10 years after falling in love with a local. He owned an acting school and is a radio host. He ended up winning the trivia and treating The ladies and I to drinks with his winnings. He was also a couch surfing host and ended up spending the night with his girlfriend and allowed me to stay in his home for the night. We also met another couple of awesome people and we all hung out well past the end of trivia. It was a great night.

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The next day, I started hitch hiking to the airport to catch my flight the next morning. I started going to gas stations and just ask people if I could have a ride because I was not having much luck with my signs. It took longer than I expected, but after a few rides, I finally came across a government official who was heading close to the airport. It was pouring rain out, so he didn’t think I would have much luck catching another ride, so he kindly decided to take me the final 10 or so miles to my destination. At the airport, I was dumbfounded. I had never seen an airport with signs that said no sleeping or eating in the airport, but here they were. I realized I needed to find a hidden area where no one would notice I was sleeping because I did not want to go back out into the rainstorm to try to sleep for the night. I found the restrooms and was very happy to see that the doors to the stall were from the ground to the ceiling and the stall were big enough to lay down in. I had my own private suite. Another traveler had the suite two doors down.

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Iceland was amazing and I can’t wait to go back and experience it in the summer. Being so far in the northern hemisphere, on June 21, it’s longest day, the sun sets just after midnight and rises before 3AM, so there is nearly 24 hours per day to explore this gorgeous and incredible country.

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DCIM102GOPRO

The Answer to the Language Barrier

It’s one of the things that people worry about most when they’re about to head into a foreign land. Language. How can we travel in countries like Japan, where outside the tourist area’s locals don’t know much if any English, or France, where they may know some English but are reluctant to use it because they feel, granted, correctly, that we should speak their language in their country. The problem is that people in many countries, especially the US, only learn their native language. So, In the US, we grow up only knowing English, and while we take a foreign language in school, most of us only memorize what we need to to get past the class and then forget the bit of the only other language we’ve ever attempted to learn. On top of that, how could we possibly learn the language of each country we want to visit when in Europe alone, there are twenty three official languages and over 6,500 total languages in the world. Can we please all just forget the our languages and use Klingon?

Make a sign, someone will help!
Make a sign, someone will help!

Okay, now maybe you can get by in most of the world without speaking any other language than English, but come on, we should at least attempt the native tongue, it makes the locals feel good and often they are much more willing to try to help if an effort is made on our part. I’ve even heard that Parisians may help if something humbling is said, like “Pardonnez mon ignorance, je ne parle pas,” forgive my ignorance, I do not speak French. Again, although we may be able to get by without speaking the native tongue, it still makes traveling a lot easier if you can speak it a bit. So outside of spending months prior to your trip studying and trying to memorize and understand how a language works or buying an expensive language learning program like Rosetta Stone, what can we do to prepare to prepare ourselves to communicate in a new language?

Trying to communicate in a foreign language can be intimidating, many people struggle to force themselves to ask where the restroom is. Did you know that there are about 250,000 words in English, but with only about 250, you can create any sentence and express nearly any idea? It’s the same way in every language, learn a few hundred words and you can become conversational. Think about that, if you want to take a language further than just getting by in a country and become conversational in a language, you could learn 25 words a week and be conversational in less than 3 months. On top of that, there are many words in nearly every language that are cognates, meaning they sound the same and mean the same in a different language. In Spanish, take any English word that ends in “tion” and change it to “ción” and it almost always the same thing, like action to acción or preparation to preparación. After the cognates, there are a lot of great apps to help you memorize new vocabulary and get you started in a new language, but my favorite by far is Duolingo. This app is fun and very interactive and rewards you for completing levels of vocabulary. You earn Lingots which you can use to buy fun lessons like pick-up lines or dress up the avatar. Once you’ve completed a lesson, there’s a memory bar and the longer it’s been since you completed that lesson, the lower it goes, so it reminds you to freshen up on it.

Doulingo avatars

This information will not help everyone, many people don’t feel they have the time or motivation to attempt to learn even some of the basics of a new language. All is not lost though, one of my favorite tools while traveling is Google Translate. It’s great because we can actually download languages for offline translation. No more do we have to carry around a dictionary or worry about having WI-FI or data for translations. Translations can also be saved and starred for a quick reference. While it isn’t perfect, in most countries, locals will be able to piece together what we’re trying to say, even if the translation isn’t spot on. Also, to translate what the other person is saying, it is required to have the keyboard for that language installed to spell and punctuate each word properly, the local can help with this. While no one wants to be stuck using their phone or tablet every time they want to communicate, it’s a lot better than nothing. If you do have data or WI-FI, Google can translate words and phrases that you take photo’s of too which is great for quick translations.

When preparing for international travel in a country that speaks a language other than our native tongue, it can be overwhelming and stressful imagining the difficulties that may show up along the way. A new language can be very intimidating, it can be embarrassing to attempt to say one thing and say something completely ridiculous by mistake. These feelings can be reduced though, if not eliminated, by spending a little bit of time learning some key words and phrases that will allow us to say nearly anything you need to. Also, by understanding that locals will appreciate any attempt at speaking their language, even if it doesn’t sound perfect, we are able to relax a bit more and not worry so much about embarrassing ourselves.

If you’re interested in learning a language quickly, check out www.fluentin3months.com, where you can learn different techniques to help you in your linguistic goals.

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Favorite Transfer Ending Soon?

Update: BlueBird has shut down many accounts of people who have used them to Manufacture Money Spent as in this article and others. While not all have been shut down and it is still possible to open accounts and do a bit of MMSing, it is dying and should not be seen as a guaranteed option.

I love Amtrak. I have only ridden once, but it was from Atlanta to Dana Point, CA in a roomette and it was 100x better than flying. I transferred 20,000 points from my Chase Ultimate Rewards account with points I had manufactured for $139. the trip would have cost about $800, so I got a pretty good value. If you haven’t tried Amtrak before and have some UR points stacked up and have some extra time, I highly recommend it. Compared to traveling by car, bus, or plane, there just is not much competition to the luxury of the train. I got a roomette for my points, which is the same price for 1 or 2 passengers, so try to bring someone along for even more value. It was incredible, having a bed and private room to sleep in for three nights, that’s incredibly expensive on a plane. On top of that, meals are included. I had great meals, cooked fresh in the kitchen, again, incomparable to plane food outside of first or business class. Eggs, bacon or sausage, juices, cereal, grits, toast, a real breakfast, later a delicious burger and salad then dessert. For dinner, salad, steak, and dessert. The value of the meals alone for one person came out to over $200. Along with the sleeper car and food, when you’re at the stations, there are lounges just for sleeper car or business class passengers, usually stocked with snacks and drinks, comfortable chairs and TV, magazines, and newspapers. While the rooms, lounges, and meals all offer great and luxurious value to this, another reason why Amtrak is my favorite way to travel is because you actually get to see places you wouldn’t otherwise. During my trip, I saw cities contrasted later by small towns that look like they came straight out of an old western movie, I saw forests, swamps, deserts, rolling hills and mountains. I also got to meet a lot of great people, but when I wanted private time to read or anything, I had my seclusion of my room to retire to.

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Now the sad part. Amtrak and Chase are cutting ties. Starting September 30, 2015, Chase will no longer have a Amtrak branded credit card, instead they will be issuing Chase Freedom cards to each Amtrak card holder as a replacement, and Bank of America will be picking up the Amtrak brand. With this news, it can be expected that eventually, Amtrak will no longer be a Chase transfer partner. To me, Amtrak has become one of Chase’s most valuable transfer partners. I’m sending my parents to Boston from Florida in October in a roomette for only 15,000 points each way, $104 for both after manufacturing the points, so they can catch their flight to Paris, which I helped them snag a couple of months ago for only $300 each round trip during a sale on WOW Airlines, the same airline I took back in April to get to Iceland for a week and then onto London. The loss of Amtrak will be a huge devaluation to Chase’s Ultimate Reward points program.

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I felt like I was in the Wild Wild West

If you’d like to try out Amtrak using UR Points, now is the time to transfer those points and stock them up in your Amtrak account for later use. Also, note that Amtrak is changing their redemption chart starting January 24. They’re moving from a three zone based award chart to a “revenue based” award chart and while it looks like there may be cheaper redemption’s in some spots, revenue based charts are never a good thing for those looking for spots where prices are high but the redemption is cheap. There will also be fees of 10% of the points for refunds and modifications, the guidelines vary but can be found here. This is all mainly bad news, but rewards will start at only 800 points instead of 3,000, so it will be possible to come out even better than with the zones, so it will just take some playing to figure out if you should book now or wait. The point estimator can be used to compare redemption rates. I’m about to go to Las Vegas in a sleeper from Atlanta, the cash value is about $2000, I’m getting it for 20,000 points, great redemption, but under the new program, that redemption would cost me a whopping 69,000 points! Not such a nice redemption anymore, still, 2.89 cents per point is generally a good redemption rate, even if it’s not 10 cents.

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