Airbnb outside Geneva

On a recent trip, we stayed at an Airbnb about 20 minutes outside Geneva, on the French side. Well, in the French countryside. The interesting thing about this place was that the owner is a semi-retired former head of operations at luxury hotels around the world. Our stay was a boutique hotel experience at a reasonable price.

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This was our concierge and bedwarmer, the ever-purring Robert. Actually, Robert is female, but our host said “She’s too ugly for a girl name.” Robert was found in a hotel parking lot, abandoned and bloodied from being bullied by other more street-wise cats. Now recovered, she spends her time doing her best carpet impression.

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This was our deck and pool. Another plus for the Airbnb experience is never having to share the pool with other hotel guests. Or cats for that matter. Robert was all mine!

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Our room — I should’ve gotten more of the details. There were antique doors, vintage photographs: small touches that made the place feel special.

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Our private living room. The field beyond the picture window had horses. I should’ve gotten a picture of that, it was delightful.

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“Close your door at night or she’ll end up in your bed. And she snores like a pig,” warned our host. I didn’t mind at all. I wanted to catnap her. Apparently she has a large fan following on Facebook. I’ll update you when I find her page.

Banana Republic Shopcard Haul

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BR recently did a promotion, giving out $10 Shopcards for subscribing to texts. As it turned out, you could text “STOP” to stop receiving messages and then re-subscribe for a new Shopcard. I got 4, but I read about others who got 30+

Out of pocket cost: $3.85

Total items purchased: 8

Original MSRP: $236.50

Between deals like this, clothing swaps and Goodwill, I spend basically no money on new clothes.

Ringplus free cell service

Ringplus (R+) often runs promos for free cell service that has a 1 time fee that goes towards overages. Often these only last a few hours though, so prepare ahead of time. Here are the recommended steps:

1. Find a phone you know will work with R+

Make sure it’s a GSM phone, and enter the phone’s info here to check compatibility: https://my.ringplus.net/device_validation_requests/new

If the phone is not recognized, you can go in to a Sprint store and ask to have it added to the Sprint whitelist. Then check again.

2. Sign up for R+ promo alerts

Most promos do not allow existing users to upgrade, or have very limited upgrade capacity. So, you should sign up for alerts on SD or enter your email at the bottom of this page: https://promos.ringplus.net/ to get the most minutes/texts/data.

3. Start checking the sign up page early

R+ has some buggy issues where they frequently release promos early and they sell out quickly. Be ready when the promo goes live, or a little before, especially if it’s a good one.

Upgrades

Upgrades sell out even quicker, often within 15 minutes. They do not require an extra top-up, even if the new plan has a higher top-up requirement than your current plan. For example, if your current plan required a one time top up of $15, and your new plan has a $25 one, you do not have to pay the $10 difference when upgrading.

R+ referral program

It’s fussy, but they have one:

Complicated swapping waltz

If you have already signed up for R+ with a plan but you see a better one that you want on a particular handset, you can swap handsets. This requires you to have 3 R+ compatible phones available. (Copied from R+ discourse forum, but not tried personally)

Goal – swap 2 phones between 2 plans with aid of a 3rd phone or ESN
which is inactive, and swapping can be done immediately without a
waiting period. First make sure your RingPlus balance on each plan has
enough to cover the swaps. In this example $2 on Plan A, $1 on Plan B.
The plans do not have to be on the same RingPlus account.

Plan A – has Phone A
Plan B – has Phone B
Phone C is an inactive Phone or ESN

1) Plan A – swap from Phone A to Phone C
2) Plan B -swap from Phone B to Phone A
3) Plan A – swap from Phone C to Phone B
4) Phone C is back to being inactive

*Each of the 3 device swaps costs 99 cents each, so it costs about $3 to complete a three way swap as shown.

Canceling a free line ties up the phone until the next billing cycle if
you are trying to activate a NEW free line with the phone, just as if
the phone was swapped out of a free plan. Doing a device swap on a
different free plan to the phone from the canceled free plan works
immediately.

Get paid to save electricity

My one goal in life is to maximize profit and minimize work. A friend introduced me to a new app that pays you to save energy. If you’re a California resident, you can get paid up to $300 a year just by using less electricity at certain times. The app is called OhmConnect, and you get $20 just for signing up. [Note: that is a referral link, and I’m grateful if you choose to use it, but I am not affiliated with OhmConnect.]

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How it works: you connect it to your energy provider (like PG&E), and then you can see your energy usage on your OhmConnect dashboard. During certain times, when there is a larger demand for energy and your electricity provider is at risk of needing to buy energy from less efficient/more expensive sources, you’re alerted about an “OhmHour.” If you keep your energy usage below a given threshold during that time, you get paid! Points are worth 1 cent, and OhmConnect pays out via Paypal, at your request.

It may not be much money, but it’s very little effort, and probably adds up to enough to pay for one overpriced coffee per week. If you’re a California resident, why not!

Maui: the case for car camping

I now belong to a small community of travel hacking enthusiasts, and you wouldn’t believe the glamorous hotels they stay in for free or nearly free. A great recent example is Michael’s recent post on a trip to Japan. I guess you could say I’m on the opposite end of that spectrum, and I’m here to make the case today for car camping on Maui, as I did on my trip there in February.

But why

Maui has all of its resorts on one side of the island and everything else worth seeing spread through the rest of the island. And it’s not Oahu — the roads are in parts windy, single lane, treacherous and made of dirt. Driving the famous Road to Hana takes about 3 hours, and I’m not even sure Hana itself has hotels. It barely has a supermarket — just a liquor/convenience store.

There are beaches with well-maintained public restrooms everywhere, and no one cares where you camp as long as it isn’t under a “no camping” sign.

There’s no temptation to retreat to the hotel room you’re overpaying for. You’ll never miss a sunset.

Without the rush to get here or there before dark, you’ll have the opportunity to stop at BBQ stands like this one on the road to Hana:

(With food served on a leaf, and chopsticks whittled from bamboo)

There are also great “official” campgrounds, like the one at Wai’anapanapa State Park (the black sand beach) that’s only $18 per night for up to 6 people.

Another good one is at Haleakala National Park — free with park entrance fees. It’s the best way to beat the crowd to see the sunrise, since you’ll be just 45 minutes or so from the peak.

But mostly, I’d love to encourage you to take the drive to Maui’s Upcountry. True, there isn’t much there except open fields and windmills, but it’s worth it. I’m no photographer, and I took these with a phone camera, but Upcountry is breathtaking:

Car camping will also encourage you to explore all the beaches, rather than going to the same one outside your hotel for your entire vacation. These other beaches will probably be less crowded, too.

When considering this, I tried to look for encouragement online — any evidence that someone had done this and had a good time. I didn’t find it. Let me be yours. If you are the type of traveler that doesn’t spend much time in your hotel room, if you don’t have a complicated beauty regimen, if you’re up for an adventure and seeing parts of Maui that are more for the locals, you’ll probably like car camping.

Getting United to pay out for EU-261

If you’ve had a flight delay originating in the EU within the past few years, you probably got a flyer with detailing your rights under EU regulation 261. Without getting into the details, it requires airlines to compensate passengers in cash for delays starting at 250€ and going up to 600€, depending on distance and length of delay.

Backstory

Our flight out of CDG in January was canceled due to a mechanical problem and rebooked for the following day. We were given a flyer about EU-261, and so sent a message through the customer service form on their website that day. After about a month, I received a letter saying that unfortunately, our situation did not qualify for compensation but that I would be granted a $175 voucher for my next flight on United. I declined. I went back and forth with United a couple of times via snail mail and they sent a letter saying that the mechanical issue was “force majeure” (an act of god) and thus exempt from EU-261 payouts — end of story: “We consider this issue closed.”

I didn’t stop there. I contacted the FAA. They responded that they would investigate. N contacted the French equivalent of the FAA. He heard back that they agreed that United should pay out under the regulation, but that they would need to contact United. After that, we heard nothing for months, so we didn’t hold out much hope.

Change of CEO

In September 2015, Oscar Munoz was named the new CEO of United. With new leadership, I think they re-examined EU-261 claims and I was contacted out of the blue in October with a new offer: a $1000 travel voucher, 30K United miles, or 600€. I filled out the form and sent it off — I should be getting cash in the form of prepaid debit cards within the month.

How this affects you

If you haven’t yet received a new email from United about a declined EU-261 claim you believe is valid, it may be time to contact them again. Just send them the same information you sent originally through customer service messaging on United.com and they will take another look at your case. I can’t be sure whether it was the CEO change or the FAA or the French FAA, but it’s worth a try! 250-600€ for 5-10 minutes of your time? Why not.