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.


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 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.

Citi AT&T Access More card with Sprint mvno

Citi has a credit card that comes with a $650 bonus after $2000 spend. The catch? It can only be earned towards the purchase of a phone directly from AT&T. So, if you were considering an iPhone 6s or something, getting this card would bring your total bill down to about $100+tax for the 16GB model. Not bad! But the cheapest plans on AT&T cost around $50 a month. What if you are on Virgin or Ting or RingPlus and you’re already happy with your service? Here’s what you do. Note: I have personally done all of the following, but used this Flyertalk thread as my guide. After buying the phone you want from AT&T, do this:

1. Immediately unlock it. Before opening the box or powering the phone on. Go to AT&T’s unlock request page. Once you agree to the terms and conditions, fill out the info from your phone on the next page, and for “customer type” choose “Non-AT&T Mobility customer” — it means you don’t have an account with AT&T. Now wait for the unlock email. Mine arrived within minutes of submitting the request. Follow the steps in the email to unlock your phone.

2. Activate AT&T service on it using a friend or family member’s account. To get the $650, you have to activate and keep service for 15 days. It’s ok if you don’t keep your friend’s SIM card in your phone for the entire 15 days*. Your new phone just has to be activated on AT&T’s network for it to count towards the bonus.

My network is Virgin Mobile. I already had a SIM card specifically for an iPhone 6s, but the website “swap a handset” functionality didn’t work. I kept getting “Invalid sim” or “No sim” or “Could not activate cellular data”. If you get these messages, it’s because your device is not on the Sprint whitelist. No amount of messaging Virgin Mobile through email, Facebook, or even calling them will help you. They will escalate to the tech department and tell you that they can only activate replacement iPhones directly from the Apple store, not unlocked phones. They will tell you that your phone is not in their database and that it’s impossible to add it. Do not deal with Virgin Mobile or any other Sprint mvno directly. Just do this:

3. Walk into any Sprint store and ask a manager “Can you put my phone into your system?” The manager will ask to see your phone’s info (IMEI/MEID/ESN, which will be in Settings > General > About on an iPhone), and enter it into their system which is called DNA 2. This will take about 20 seconds.

Now your phone will be recognized by any Sprint mvno.** Congratulations! Now your you can pay $9.99 (or less) for service on your shiny new iPhone that you got for $100!

* I don’t have proof of this, but there are reports that as long as service isn’t canceled within 15 days, you’re good to go.

** A similar process will probably work for Verizon mvnos but I have not tried it.

But, does it scale?

I’m back to report good news on the $5 Challenge: I sold the two Bodum glass containers for $40 each for a total of $80. After $18.32 in fees and an initial cost of $3.98, that’s a net profit of $57.70!

The next question you and everyone will ask is “Yes, but does it scale?” The answer is, of course, no — but it doesn’t matter. The thing about retail arbitrage is that while you may be able to get deals that you can buy more of than just 1 or 2, most of the time, those deals don’t even scale up a single degree of magnitude. When there are good deals on eBay, most are limited to 2-5 per purchaser. There are mystery buying limits at Best Buy, Staples, Saks, Macy’s and many other retailers. Even if there weren’t, you would soon hit other limits: credit limits, limits on how much time and space you have to repackage and send your inventory to FBA or customers, etc.

To be truly scalable, we would have to find items of ever increasing values with the same margins and that sell as frequently as our current items sell. After iPads at around $500, can you think of much else that consumers buy regularly? Anything that’s even 1 order of magnitude more expensive? No, not really.

When starting out, I wouldn’t worry about whether things scale or not. If you’re able to find items that will net you $50 of profit every time you step foot in a Goodwill, and you like going to Goodwill, don’t let the issue of non-scalability bother you. On the other hand, once you find a better place with more consistent (or bigger) profits, you will naturally prefer to do your sourcing there. But you have to start somewhere, so don’t be discouraged that whatever you’re doing doesn’t scale. Just keep your eyes open for other opportunities as well when you’re scouring those estate sales and Salvation Armys.

Sears collects tax on tax-exempt 3rd party purchases

Some background: when I started reselling a few months back, I did an iPad deal that I saw on Oren’s Money Saver. I purchased 3 iPads and my total came up to $1419.19 with tax. Imagine my surprise when I received the iPads and the invoice from the 3rd party seller for $1305: my total with no sales tax added. That makes sense: the seller is based in NY and doesn’t collect sales tax in my state. So why did Sears charge me tax?

July 29: After several emails back and forth, Sears agreed to refund the difference of $114.19 in the form of a mailed gift card, which would take 7-14 business days to arrive.

August 20: No gift card yet, so I emailed Sears again asking for an update. They respond that the gift card is “pending” and they’ll investigate and get back to me within 24-48 hours.

August 24: No followup, so I emailed Sears again asking for an update.

August 31: The supervisor of the email team responds,

First off let me say that you were given misinformation about the taxes on this order. Which I’m sorry that it happened to you.Tax are never refunded unless a person or a company are tax exempt and have the certificate, or they live in a tax free state.

This was never the issue: tax was not supposed to be charged in the first place, as the seller does not collect sales tax in my state. However, she did conclude the email with

I have forwarded the request to our gift card department to issue the gift card of $114.19 that you were promised. It will arrive at your mailbox in 7 to 14 business days.

October 19: The promised gift card has STILL not made its appearance, so it’s pretty clear that Sears is giving me the runaround and hoping that I will just go away. I emailed them one more time, requesting a check instead of a gift card because I am no longer interested in being a Sears customer. We’ll see how that goes.

I am not holding my breath on this one, but in case you were getting into reselling, these are my experiences with Sears. Dealing with their customer service might not be worth your time.

Selling to Saveya could be risky

Since there are so many gift card reselling websites, it’s good to know which ones are reliable, and which ones would be better to avoid. Saveya has some of the highest rates for reselling, but I am cautious about using them going forward because I, and several others I’ve talked to, have been having issues with them.

Shipping problems

I have tried twice in the past month to ship gift cards to Saveya because they had the best rates for reselling some gas gift cards. Unfortunately, all gas gift cards need to be mailed in. This is usually not a problem, but with Saveya, the same shipment has run into problems twice now.

Here’s the timeline on the first attempt:

August 14 – gift cards shipped to Saveya via USPS
August 18 – USPS reports “Undeliverable as Addressed
August 29 – USPS reports “Moved, Left no Address
Sept 12 – gift cards returned to me

I emailed customer service, and they confirmed that the address was correct, but added “I sent this to our fulfillment center to look into. I will say we always suggest FedEx and not USPS.” I had not seen or heard that suggestion anywhere before the email. So, I was told to ship it again — that there shouldn’t be issues. I tried again, with a printed address label — I had handwritten the first. FedEx? I wasn’t going to pay $9 or whatever, when my margin was already low.

This time, USPS reported that “no secure delivery location was available“. No secure delivery location at 11:25 on a Friday morning — seems strange for a business. No mail box, no front desk? The first attempt took more than a month — that should’ve been my lesson. But now I’m for sure done with shipping cards to Saveya.

Depleted gift cards

My friend sfoflyer had an issue with selling gift cards electronically. Here’s the story in his words:

I sold 2 GAP gift cards to SaveYa, and they required me to enter the card number and PIN to verify the balance of each card. After I entered them, their website verified that the gift cards had the correct balance. Since I received a confirmation email, I thought it was done deal and I just had to wait for my check in the mail. I received my check 4 days later, then a week later SaveYa charged my credit card $120. I called their customer service — they didn’t know and had no clue and couldn’t help, really the worst customer service. I filed a dispute with my credit card company, then 2 weeks later SaveYa emailed me that the reason they charged my credit card was because “one of the gift cards balance was depleted”. It doesn’t make sense, because they charged me the full $120, which is what I was paid for both gift cards. I called customer service again, but it was the same….all the reps were completely clueless and unhelpful. So I just have to wait and hope Amex sides with me on this dispute.

Staples bait and switch

Esther of ‘dem flyers tried to sell Staples gift cards to Saveya after verifying with customer support that they do accept mailed print-outs of e-gift cards. She shipped the printouts, and when Saveya received them, they emailed her saying “Sorry, we only accept physical gift cards” and shipped them back to her. Here’s her experience:

I was supposed to be paid 93% per card and I sent in 39 printouts. Took me 20 min to print them all out because I had to click each link in a new tab.

It was a one day only rate and I confirmed by email the next day that it was ok to match the rate because I had submitted the order and that I could send in printouts.

Saveya responded

The purchase order saveya-[…] has e-certificates.  I know we discussed this prior to you sending them in; however, our system only accepts codes, not e-certificates.  I apologize and will be sending these back via FedEx for Wednesday delivery.

Esther also notes that her experience with customer service is frustrating because despite her status as a bulk seller, they never respond to her first email, requiring her to follow up with a second email every time she has a concern.


If nothing else, dealing with Saveya could be a waste of your time. But, with their non-transparent policies on depleted gift cards (Do they do an investigation? Do they contact the issuer and not just the customer who may be claiming fraudulently that the gift card has no value?), it could be a waste of money too. With so many gift card reselling sites competing for business, Saveya will have to do a lot better to stay competitive. I hope that they will start by investing in a mailbox that USPS can access, doing thorough investigations before charging seller’s credit cards and making their rules clear and consistent.