Tag Archives: amtrak

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Confessions of a Broke Travel Points Junkie | BEDA Day 2

I signed up for my first travel credit card this year.

I’ve always been wary of credit cards. The idea of “free money” always seemed attractive, but growing up in the recession, I’d heard so many horror stories of people ruining their finances with them. Considering I had no credit after graduating from college, I figured it might be time to give one a try. A year later, I found they weren’t so scary after all.

Now that I’m settled in NYC, I want to get some more travel under my belt. Which can be pricey. I might not be traveling on The Points Guy’s level, but if I can offset some of the costs of travel with points and miles, all the better.

I started with Amtrak Guest Rewards. I travel home to Philly at least once a month on Amtrak, and with their rewards program, I earn 2 points per dollar spent. They recently changed their redemption system, so it costs less points to get a ticket. I haven’t earned quite enough points, though, and when I do I may just hoard them for a bigger trip or tickets to a show via Audience Rewards.

When I decided to bite the bullet and get a travel credit card, I decided to go for the card with the lowest possible risk (in my eyes). I’m still broke after all. My bank offers a card with a decent point-per-dollar-spent rate and no annual fee. These general travel credit cards let you redeem points for any number of travel costs, from airfare to hotels to taxis. I’ve found this to be the easiest way to earn points as it doesn’t depend on how much you actually travel. Plus, I got a big old points bonus for spending a certain amount of money (and paying it off) within the first 3 months. Win.

I’m not particularly loyal to any airline. I like to go with whoever offers the best fare and flight times for my trip. Despite this, I did recently join the American Airlines AAdvantage and JetBlue TrueBlue programs. This was kind of a “screw it” move. These airlines fly out of my main travel hubs (Philadelphia and New York respectively), and have decent programs with lots of brand partners. If I’m going to fly on either airline, I might as well make the most out of it. It was free to sign up and I’ll at least get a magazine subscription out of it.

How do I keep track of all these points (ha)? My favorite tool at the moment is AwardWallet. This site automatically keeps track of your awards points in a variety of programs (including retail loyalty programs like Sephora Beauty Insider) and lets you know when points are about to expire. No need to log into each site individually to check your point balance. AwardWallet has you covered.

I may be earning slowly right now, but eventually I’ll have enough points to at least fund half of a trip to one of my bucket list locations. What are your thoughts on award travel, friends?

From a Window Seat

clouds 1

I spend a lot of time looking out the window when I’m traveling by plane or train. I like to guess where we are in the journey, make up stories for the towns we’re passing through or over. I try to play the same game on car trips, but the road signs kind of take the fun out of it. Plus, 2 hours on the interstate will make you think that the world consists solely of trees and Roy Rodgers restaurants.

I’m currently coming to you live* from the Amtrak Keystone line between Philadelphia and New York. I’ve taken this route several times over the last few months and it’s starting to lose its charm. The tracks are mostly lined with warehouses, junkyards, and unfortunately-placed apartment buildings. Tonight, I don’t seem to mind it as much, though. The skies are mostly clear and there’s a brilliant sunset to my left. It’s the kind of lighting that makes even the most industrial scenes seem idyllic.

clouds 2

Sometimes I joke that my childhood took place along I-95. With most of my family in the New York area, my parents and I spent many weekends on the road visiting them. Was it an ideal situation? Probably not. But I never really had a problem with it. I spent those hours in the backseat listening to music, making up stories to go along with the songs. It was a kind of meditation, a time for me to be still and let my brain just kind of go. Heaven for my introverted side.

clouds 3

I’ve included some photos from my most recent flight back to New York from Savannah, GA. I’ve traveled a lot, but I’m not quite jaded enough to lose my fascination with clouds. By some miracle of science, we are able to see these kinds of sights AND NOT DIE. I mean, that’s crazypants. I don’t take for granted the fact that I can step into a metal tube and come out 5 hours later on the other side of the country.

And then I get stuck on the Tarmac for an hour at LaGuardia. I could do without that part.

In other news, thanks to the magic of WordPress, A Suitcase Full of Pens is a real-ass website now! I’m super-excited about this, but please bear with me as I get things up and running and looking nice. It’s all a work-in-progress and a learning process and blah blah blah. However, I’ve got lots of new content coming your way, so watch this space.

*This is a previously recorded broadcast. Voting has now closed.