DietBet Review: Game Tips, Final Results, Payout Details

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I just completed a weight-loss challenge at DietBet.com, where I bet my own hard-earned cash that I could lose 10% of my body weight within 6 months. More specifically, a group of folks (strangers or friends) agreed on a weight loss goal, put money into a community pot, and the winners split the pot. My final results were pretty surprising to me – I ended up losing over 20% of my original weight and nearly doubled the money that I put at risk. Here’s a look back at how the process worked along with some helpful tips and detailed numbers.

Game basics. You pick from a list of available “games” that are starting soon. All of them have a goal of either losing 4% of your body weight in 4 weeks (Kickstarter), or 10% in 6 months (Transformer). I chose the 10% goal and joined The Transformer (Feb 5 – Aug 4), mostly because there were over 1,000 participants and I figured there had to be some people that would drop out. A selfish move, but Dietbet uses the poker rake model where the winners take money from the losers. This is smart because Dietbet doesn’t risk any of its own money (also doesn’t have any incentive for you to lose).

Weigh-in rules and tips. Your weight is verified each round by uploading two pictures: one with your feet on a digital scale, and another of your entire (lightly-clothed) body on the same scale. You are given a special keyword to ensure that the weigh-in is done during a 48-hour window. Here are my tips:

  1. Use the smartphone app. Having the smartphone app made it so much easier to snap the pictures and upload with a few taps. iOS and Android only.
  2. Check the dates with your work schedule. During one of my weigh-ins, I was on the road. Dietbet says digital scales are “preferred” but the only thing at my hotel’s gym was a non-digital balance scale. My submission was still accepted. If my hotel gym didn’t have a scale at all, I would have had to search for a Wal-Mart or something.
  3. Know the rules and give yourself time for rejections. One of my submissions was initially rejected because I was wearing running shoes (in that same hotel gym) and I forgot that shoes aren’t allowed in the pictures. You only get a 12-hour grace period after a rejection to re-submit a qualifying weigh-in.

Overall, I felt that Dietbet was fair and quick when judging my weigh-in pictures. You may also be “audited” and be required to submit a video verification. I did not get audited.

Money details. The bet amounts can vary by game, but mine was for $25 a month times 6 months. I was offered one month free ($25 discount) if I paid $125 upfront, but since this is all about the behavioral component for me, I wanted the monthly charge to show up on my credit card bill. Players who have chosen to place their bets on a monthly basis may drop out at any time and avoid being charged for future, unplayed rounds.

There is one round per month; Rounds 1 to 6. Half of the total money bet is put towards Round 1 through 5. That is $25 x 6 / 2 = $75, split across 5 rounds is $15 per round. The other half is put toward the final weigh-in round. So $75 is bet on Round 6. Here’s a screenshot that shows my actual winnings from each round:

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  • Round 1 Breakdown: $16.09 (7% ROI on $15 bet)
  • Round 2 Breakdown: $26.94 (80% ROI)
  • Round 3 Breakdown: $31.36 (109% ROI)
  • Round 4 Breakdown: $31.50 (110% ROI)
  • Round 5 Breakdown: $30.42 (103% ROI)
  • Round 6 Breakdown: $152.87 (104% ROI)

I ended up winning $289.19, for a net win of $139.18. That’s a solid 93% return on my $150 initial bet! According to their documentation, the average “win” is 50% to 100% of your contribution. I would venture to guess that the 6-month games have a higher overall payout due to a higher difficulty level.

As noted above, Dietbet makes their money by taking a cut of the gross pot before distribution, between 10% to 25%. In a previous post, I erroneously assumed that the numbers being reported above were before fees were taken out. The numbers are actually net of fees. (You are always guaranteed never to lose money if you win, which otherwise technically could happen if enough people win.)

Your winnings can be withdrawn either via PayPal or paper check, but you have to pay a $5 fee and make special request for a paper check. When withdrawing via PayPal, you won’t pay any fees, and I was sent my money within a hour. Here’s screenshot proof of my winnings payout showing no fees.

Don’t overlook this part! When signing up for a challenge, Dietbet will automatically add $20 of “Official Weigh-in Tokens” to your cart. These are not mandatory. I think using the word “Official” is misleading. They should use “Optional” or “Additional” instead. You should treat them as extra raffle tickets for prizes like Fitbits and such. If you want that, fine, but otherwise be sure to remove them.

Cheating. I’m sure there are ways to try and cheat at these Dietbet games, despite their various anti-fraud protocols. But for one thing, I now know that if you really lose 10% of your body weight, your body will look entirely different and that is hard to fake. In addition, I think that for most people, losing the weight is worth much more than winning the money. The community board for my challenge was 100% positive in supporting other people towards their weight-loss goals.

Final thoughts. Loss aversion is quite a strange thing. Even though 25 bucks a month isn’t all that much money, the prospect of losing it was a powerful motivator. Powerful enough to get me back in the same pants size and weight as 19-year-old me. But winning 150 bucks? I’ll probably forget about it in a few weeks. An additional motivator was the fact that I told people about the challenge and didn’t want to admit publicly to failure.

While Dietbet was not there to cook my healthy meals, exercise for me, or keep me away from the late-night Doritos, it was the missing catalyst that I needed to get my health back on track. For other people this might be a heart attack or other medical issue. I’m glad I didn’t have to wait for something like that.

But remember, diets don’t work. That is, if you do something special to lose that 4% or 10%, and then stop doing that something special, you’ll eventually just gain the weight back. Instead of gimmicks, you should focus on long-term changes that you can maintain for the rest of your life. I personally use portion control and moderation in place of strict rules.

In the end, Dietbet does a good job of using loss aversion as a motivational tool. The rules are clear, the app is easy to use, and the monthly check-ins are a good frequency. Even if I “lost” the challenge but also lost 5% of my body weight, that is still something. Most importantly, you get the feeling that everyone including Dietbet wants you to succeed. I am still in an ongoing 9-month challenge at a similar site called Healthywage, but so far I would recommend Dietbet over Healthwage – the financial reward ended up being higher at Dietbet, for starters.

I was hoping to never need another Dietbet challenge again, but they just announced a beta test of a new challenge type called a “Maintainer” where you just have to maintain your weight-loss. Intriguing!

Best Interest Rates for Savings Accounts and CDs – Updated August 2015

percentage2Our family keeps a year’s worth of expenses (not income) put aside in cash reserves; it provides financial insurance with the side benefits of lower stress and less concern about stock market gyrations. In my opinion, emergency funds can actually have a better return on investment than what you see on your bank statement.

I don’t chase rates nearly as much as I used to, but it still pays to shop around. Too many places are paying ZERO or close to it – the Megabanks, short-term US Treasuries, and money market sweep funds. Do you know what Chase offers on a 1-year CD? 0.02% APY. Bank of America on their 10-year CD? 0.15% APY. Meanwhile, the rates below vary from 1% up to over 3% annualized.

Best Currently Available Interest Rates
Here is a brief roundup of the best interest rates available on deposits backed by the full faith and credit of the US government (FDIC-insured, NCUA-insured, US Treasury Bonds, US Savings Bonds). I will try to sort them from the shortest to longest maturities.

    High-yield savings accounts

  • It seems every bank has their own online savings account, with the best accounts with long-term competitive rates earning around 1% APY. These savings accounts can change their interest rate at any time, so if you’re going to just pick the highest one, be ready to move your money.
    Short-term guaranteed rates (under 1 year)

  • Everbank Yield Pledge Money Market and Interest Checking account both offer 1.60% APY guaranteed (balances up to $150k on the Money Market) for the first 6 months for new accounts. Since it is fixed, this is essentially a 6-month CD with a higher rate than any other 6-month CD rate out there and with no early withdrawal penalty to worry about.
    Flexible Savings Bonds

  • “Series I” US Savings Bonds offer rates that are linked to inflation. Unfortunately, “I Bonds” bought right now will earn nothing for the first six months, and then a variable rate based on ongoing inflation after that. For new money, I would wait until mid-October when the next rate adjustment is announced. More info here.
    Rewards checking accounts

  • These unique checking accounts pay above-average interest rates, but with some risk. You have to jump through certain hoops, and if you make a mistake you won’t earn any interest for that month. Rates can also drop quickly, leaving a “bait-and-switch” feeling. But the rates can be high while they last. Consumers Credit Union offers up to 5.09% APY on up to a $20k balance, although 3.09% APY is easier to achieve unless you satisfy a long list of requirements. I list this one because the rate is guaranteed until December 31, 2015.
    Certificates of deposit

  • If you have a large cushion, it’s quite likely to just sit there for years. Why not put some money in longer-term investments where you can still take it out in a true emergency and pay an early withdrawal penalty. Synchrony Bank (formerly GE Capital Retail Bank) is offering a 5-year CD paying 2.25% APY $25k+ balances (2.20% APY for $2k+) with an early withdrawal penalty of 180 days interest. For example, if you withdraw from this CD after 2 years and pay the penalty, your effective rate earned will still be 1.69%. Capital One 360 also has a similar 5-year CD.
  • Other notable CDs… USAlliance FCU has a limited-time, callable 25-month CD paying 2.27% APY (anyone can donate to eligible charitable organization to gain membership). E-Loan Bank has a 5-year CD paying 2.45% APY but with a big early withdrawal penalty of two years of interest.
    Longer-term Instruments

  • Willing to lock up your money for 10+ years? Did you know that you can buy certificates of deposit via Vanguard’s bond desk? These “brokered CDs” offer the same FDIC-insurance and are often through commercial banks like Goldman Sachs. As of this writing, you can get a 10-year CD maturing 8/12/2025 that pays 3.05% APY. Prices will vary regularly.
  • How about two decades!? “Series EE” US Savings Bonds are not indexed to inflation, but they have a guarantee that the value will double in value in 20 years, which equals a guaranteed return of 3.5% a year. However, if you don’t hold for that long, you’ll be stuck with the normal rate which is quite low (currently a sad 0.50% APY). Think of it as a huge early withdrawal penalty. You really want to be sure you’ll keep it for 20 years.

How about my money? In terms of the opportunities above, I have opened an account at Everbank in the past for the promo rate and I have usually try to buy the max in US Savings I Bonds each year (no EE bonds, too long of a commitment). I don’t currently juggle any rewards checking accounts nor do I have any deposits with any other banks mentioned above. It’s just not worth it me to switch right now.

Besides some older CDs at higher rates, I keep a good chunk of my money at Ally Bank because right now they are the all-around “good enough” bank for me. Sure I could eek out 1.05% in a savings account somewhere, but Ally Online Savings is paying a 0.99% APY (as of 8/6/15) which serves as a no-fee overdraft companion to my Ally Interest Checking with ATM fee rebates. Along the same lines, I could get 2.25% in an outside bank’s 5-year CD, but Ally has 2.00% APY on their 5-year CDs and a relatively short 150-day early withdrawal penalty. A rate difference of 0.25% on $10,000 over a year is $25, and I’m not sure that’s enough to open a CD at another bank when my current Ally CDs mature.

All rates were checked as of 8/6/15.

Paribus: Automatically Request Price Drop Savings

paribus_logoMany online retailers offer a “Low Price Guarantee”, which doesn’t mean they actually have the lowest prices but only that they will match a lower price if you find it and ask for your money within a certain time window. Sometimes they’ll match certain competitors, and sometimes they’ll only match themselves.

For example, let’s say you buy some shoes and you find that a week later they are $25 less. If you don’t both notice and ask using the proper channels, you won’t get that $25 adjustment.

Paribus is a start-up which promises to help you automatically request price adjustments on all your online purchases. They’ll even see if you could have saved more using another coupon code. Thanks to reader Colin for the tip.

What does it cost? The service makes money on a contingency basis, taking 25% of any savings found. If it doesn’t save you money, it doesn’t get paid.

What merchants does it support? Here’s the current list:

  • Amazon.com
  • Target
  • Wal-Mart
  • Bloomingdale’s
  • Best Buy
  • Macy’s
  • Sephora.com
  • NewEgg.com
  • Staples
  • Bonobos
  • J. Crew
  • Zappos.com
  • Nordstrom
  • Gap
  • Banana Republic
  • Old Navy
  • Athleta
  • Piperlime

Any concerns or catches? Well, in order for their bots to do their thing (and basically impersonate you), you’ll need to hand them a decent amount of information. I signed for an account and this is what they wanted:

  • Control over your e-mail address. You will need an e-mail from a major provider (Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, or iCloud) and either need to authenticate them or give them your e-mail password. They need the ability to both scan your e-mail for receipts and send e-mails requesting refunds on your behalf.
  • Your Amazon.com password. If you want to utilize Amazon’s price match policy, you’ll have to give them your account password (which they promise to keep encrypted on their servers).
  • Your credit card information. Most retailers will credit your money onto the same payment method as the original purchase, so you’ll have to leave a credit card on file with Paribus for them to charge their finder’s fee.

A workaround for e-mail privacy concern would be to create a special e-mail address for shopping (i.e. yourname_receipts@gmail.com) and then set up auto-forwarding of everything going to that “dummy account” to your normal e-mail address (i.e. yourname@gmail.com). That way, you can just check your normal e-mail and still get all your online receipts.

I just signed up for an account today, but here’s a screenshot which shows some theoretical savings:

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This does seem like a good idea for a service, although the merchants probably won’t like it as they profit when we are lazy and uninformed. I don’t like the idea of giving out my Amazon password, but really that is the only online merchant that I use regularly. The final question will be if their execution lives up to the promise of “set-it-and-forget-it” savings.

More: TechCrunch

Google Translate: Free, Real-Time Language Translation While Traveling

gtranslateicoBack in 2014, Google bought Word Lens, a neat app that translated a few languages in real time using your smartphone’s camera. The live translation feature has been integrated into the Google Translate app (Android and iOS) and now works with 27 languages. If you snap a picture, it works with 37 languages.

This means when traveling to a foreign country, just point your phone at a restaurant menu, grocery store item, or street sign and you’ll see it in your home language. This counts as a deal for me because I would pay money for such a convenient and useful app. But it’s free, and you don’t even need an internet connection to use it (assuming you download the appropriate language packs ahead of time).

Here’s a cool video demonstration (embedded below, direct link):

Here’s the announcement on the official Google blog:

We started out with seven languages—English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish—and today we’re adding 20 more. You can now translate to and from English and Bulgarian, Catalan, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Filipino, Finnish, Hungarian, Indonesian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Slovak, Swedish, Turkish and Ukrainian. You can also do one-way translations from English to Hindi and Thai. (Or, try snapping a pic of the text you’d like translated—we have a total of 37 languages in camera mode.)

There is also a conversation mode where you can speak and it will provide instant translation of conversations across 32 languages (good for interactions at hotels, train stations, or taxis). I believe you’ll need an internet connection for this, but it supposedly now works better with slower connections.

I tried it out and while it really only works with clearly printed text, it is still an amazing application of augmented reality. I look forward to having it expand to even more languages like Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.

Willing.com Review: Free, Legal Online Will Software

I must admit that I procrastinated on setting up a will, much like many others. Ideally, an experienced, skilled estate lawyer would create something customized to your situation. But it is not always clear how to find such a person, or know what a fair cost would be. Maybe we just don’t like the idea of thinking about death.

If you don’t create a will, your state already has a default plan in place (look up the intestacy laws in your state) and it may not be what you would have chosen. Do you want a stranger appointing the guardian of your children? I tried to think of it as a gift to my family. A reader recently told me about Willing.com, a new website that promises a free, legal will in about 10 minutes. Is such a service a good idea?

Here’s what The Consumerist (owned by Consumer Reports) had to say about other DIY will-making software:

Our wallet-watching cousins at the Consumer Reports Money Adviser newsletter took a look at three DIY options for will-making — LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer and Quicken WillMaker Plus — and found that while all three are better than not having a will, none of them is likely to meet the needs of anything more than the most basic of estates.

I’d never heard of Willing before, but the other software costs $35 and up, so I took it for a little spin and took a bunch of screenshots (click to enlarge).

Overall, the interface was very pleasant and modern and mobile-friendly.

First, they will ask some basic information about you and your family. Names, genders, zip codes, and birthdates, but not Social Security Numbers. I suppose they aren’t required legally? At least it’s one less source of identity theft to worry about.

Next, they will ask you how you want to handle your property…

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.. and final arrangements.

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Who do you want to carry out your wishes?

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When you’re done with the questionnaire, your will is created and customized to your state.

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You can then print or download your complete will as a PDF, and also create an optional living will.

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At no point do you see any advertisements nor do they ask for any payment information. The last screenshot does provide a hint as to the future revenue model for Willing – perhaps they will set up a way for you to prepay your funeral expenses (relieving your family of some stress and money) and get a little cut of that. That sounds reasonable to me if they are providing the will for free. Of course, if you live another 50 years, will you even remember shelling out that money?

I am not a lawyer and thus can’t vouch for the accuracy or quality of the will contents. As the Consumerist article states, one thing to worry about is outdated information if their software isn’t updated regularly. The final instructions tell you to sign the will along with two valid witnesses and that a notary is not required for the will to be legally binding.

The final document produced was only three pages long, although my theoretical situation was pretty simple. As I read through it, I started to see how such software would eventually become free. Indeed, while researching this post, I found several other “free will makers”, although Willing.com had the best user interface and had the least amount of annoying ads.

It may not be optimal, but at least going through the Q&A process will make you aware of the various issues you need to think about. Who will take care of your kids if your spouse dies? Who is your backup heir? Your backup estate executor? Maybe just starting the process of putting your wishes down in writing is a good thing. Otherwise, I can see someone with a simple situation using this software, but don’t know if I could recommend such a service to my friends. If I really cared about how my estate was handled (i.e. I had a significant net worth and/or dependents), I would recommend hiring a lawyer instead. The question then becomes – Is there a better way to find a good estate lawyer than relying on word-of-mouth?

Jet.com: Loss Leader Pricing on Everything + 1 Year Free Promo Code

jetJet.com has officially launched its attempt to bring the Costco model to online shopping. That is, they plan on selling you things at near-zero profit margins and make their money on the annual $49.99 membership fee. The more stuff you add your cart, the lower the total cost. The more you buy from the same warehouse, the lower your total cost. Free shipping on orders of $35 or more.

This supposedly means prices that are 10% to 15% lower than Amazon on average, even listing the Amazon price right on their page for instant comparisons. How they show savings is a little confusing… things make more sense after adding it to your cart.

For example, this pack of toilet paper shows $21.05, the same price as Amazon. But I can save $9.06 by actually adding it to my cart, which brings the actual price to $11.99, much cheaper than Amazon. If I buy *two* packs, then my sub total is $42.10 which breaks the $35 barrier and gets me free shipping. But my actual total due is only $22.74, less than $35. Confusing, but hey it works out in my favor so I’m cool with it.

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However, this model only works at a certain scale, and this WSJ article points out that they are often buying stuff from other competitors when they don’t have the item in their own inventory:

The Hoboken, N.J., company is absorbing steep losses on many orders filled as part of a trial run that began in March, largely because Jet hasn’t signed up enough partner merchants or opened enough warehouses to directly sell much of the merchandise shown on its website.

When a Jet customer buys items that aren’t in its inventory or available from partner merchants, a Jet employee buys the items from another website and has them shipped directly to the customer. That is expensive for Jet because the company often pays high shipping costs plus any difference between its advertised price and the amount charged by the outside website.

For example, The Wall Street Journal recently bought 22 items from Jet. Twelve were shipped to the Journal by retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., J.C. Penney Co. and Nordstrom Inc., according to sales receipts.

Jet’s prices for the same 12 items added up to $275.55, an average discount of about 11% from the prices Jet paid for those items on other retailers’ websites. Jet’s total cost, which also includes estimated shipping and taxes, was $518.46.

So in other words, the 11% pricing discount above is not due to an awesome business model yet. They are being artificially suppressed with investor money. Now, spending venture capital funds in the search for rapid growth is common for internet start-ups, but I don’t remember any of my early Amazon orders coming in a Barnes & Noble box.

As a consumer, I suppose the best thing to do is simply enjoy the loss-leader savings during your free trial and then decide if it’s worth $50 a year. Costco is highly profitable but even they offer their $4.99 rotisserie chickens as a loss-leader, missing out on $40 million a year in order to keep people coming in the door.

Update: People report success getting a free 1-year membership with promo code CURISMA. There is also the code FREE6 which gives you a free 6-month membership. If you signed up with Jet earlier, don’t forget that you may have gotten a 6-month free trial already. (The trial doesn’t start until your first purchase.) It appears on the normal website, they give out 3-month free trials.

Amazon Prime Day 7/15 : One-Day Sale for Prime Members

Expired: Sale is over! Amazon is holding something called “Amazon Prime Day” for their Prime members on July 15, 2015. Non-Prime members can sign up for a free 30-day trial to be eligible to participate. Here are the deals that caught my eye:

Also check out Walmart.com, as they announced that they will also compete with Amazon today with a bunch of deals. They also have Wal-Mart Dare to Compare Deals, where supposedly everything on the page is cheaper than Amazon (shipping may vary).

RingPlus: Basic, Free Cellular Phone Service – No Credit Card Needed

RingPlus is a Sprint MVNO that offers cheap cellular phone plans, starting at… $0. You can bring over an off-contract Sprint phone (check eligibility) or you can buy one from them (old iPhone 4 costs $105). They make money partially from ads – ads play whenever you call someone instead of the normal ringing. When your friend picks up, the ad stops immediately. You also pay for any overages past your free allotment. There are no contracts and no activation fees.

RingPlus free plans are usually only open a for a limited window, and then it closes for a while. On July 15th, they are opening up a new “Truly Free Plan” which doesn’t even require your credit card number, in case you are afraid that they will charge you improperly. It includes 125 minutes, 40 texts, and 10MB of 4G LTE data per month. It’s not much, but hey it’s free. Not even taxes are due. All you need is an e-mail address and an eligible Bring your Own Sprint Device phone.

Here’s a screenshot of their current plans (click to enlarge).

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Are there any catches?

  • In the past, RingPlus has discontinued their free plans without much notice if they can’t line up enough advertisers in your calling area. That would be annoying, especially if you invested good money into a Sprint phone.
  • If you do sign up and decide to link your credit card, know that overages cost 2 cents per text, minute, or MB. Roaming is available, but those overages are much more expensive.
  • MMS picture messages are at an additional cost (4 cents each).
  • I’m not sure how easy it is to track your current usage.

In case you were suspicious, this is not a VoIP-only service like FreedomPop as normal calls use the Sprint network. However, free WiFi calling is an option so you can save your minutes. I know there are some RingPlus users out there as readers, so please share and discuss in the comments!

AirHelp, Refund.Me, AirTaxBack: Get Money Back For Cancelled, Delayed, or Missed Flights

airhelpHave you been on a delayed, cancelled, or overbooked flight to/from Europe within the last within the last three years? Ever just missed a flight? You could be entitled up to $800 from the airline, or a refund of your taxes and fees.

AirHelp and Refund.me are services that help travelers claim compensation for certain flight problems. Too often, airlines convince folks to settle for food vouchers or drink coupons when they can claim cold, hard cash. Right now, they only appear to work with flights to and from the European Union. Specifically:

The flight passenger rights stated in the EC 261/2004. apply if you are leaving the EU with any airline or arriving in the EU with an airline registered in the EU (or Iceland, Norway or Switzerland). AirHelp helps passengers from all countries who have experienced delayed, canceled, or overbooked flights that are subject to this EU regulation.

You provide them with your information, and if they can use EU regulations to get your compensation (supposedly they’ll even take them to court), they’ll send it over (after taking a 25% cut). If they can’t help, there is no cost for you. It seems like if you’ve already experienced a delay or cancellation, it wouldn’t hurt to give them a shot. I haven’t had the opportunity to use either of these companies, so I can’t say which is better.

AirTaxback.com is a related service that helps travelers get back Taxes, Fees and Charges (TFC’s) if you for any reason never went on a scheduled flight. Perhaps the flight was cancelled, you or a family member was sick, or even if you simply were late for the flight. Again, this appears to be based on European Union flight laws. They charges a finders fee in advance (from free to €10) after they determine that your application is valid and you are due a refund.

We estimate that in 2012 alone, airlines flying in and out of Europe held on to over €3.5 Billion in Taxes, Fees and Charges belonging to passengers that booked a flight but didn’t travel” We are looking forward to working with the great people from AirTaxBack as this is one more area where most passengers are currently unaware of their rights and are met with indifference, when trying to claim themselves.

Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card – 75,000 Bonus Points Promo

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citihilton180emvLimited-time offer. The sign-up bonus for this card has also been bumped-up for a limited time. The Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card, from our partner Citi, is their no-annual fee co-branded card and comes with the following perks:

  • Limited Time: Earn 75,000 Hilton HHonors Bonus Points after making $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*
  • Earn 6 HHonors Bonus Points for each $1 spent at any participating hotel within the Hilton portfolio.*
  • Earn 3 HHonors Bonus Points for each $1 spent on purchases at supermarkets, drugstores and gas stations.*
  • Earn 2 HHonors Bonus Points for each $1 spent on all other purchases.*
  • Enjoy the benefits of HHonors Silver status as long as you are a cardmember*
  • No annual fee.*

This card is ideal for people who at least occasionally stay at Hilton hotels (as this card is also giving you a bunch of points and complimentary Silver status to try and get you to become more loyal). Hilton HHonors points are worth the most when redeemed for a hotel stay, as there aren’t really that many great cash-equivalent redemption options.

Silver Status perks include:

  • 15% bonus on all the HHonors Base Points you earn.
  • 5th night free on Standard Room Reward stays of 5 nights or more.
  • Complimentary in-room and lobby Standard Internet access during stays at Waldorf Astoria™ Hotels & Resorts, Conrad® Hotels & Resorts, Curio – A Collection by Hilton, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, DoubleTree by Hilton™, Canopy™ by Hilton, Embassy Suites Hotels™ and Hilton Grand Vacations™
  • Two complimentary bottles of water per stay (at Waldorf Astoria™ Hotels & Resorts, Conrad® Hotels & Resorts, Curio – A Collection by Hilton, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, DoubleTree by Hilton™, Embassy Suites Hotels™, Hilton Garden Inn™ and Hilton Grand Vacations™ hotels)

Hilton points redemption varies from month to month. You can use this search tool to see how much a hotel will cost in any specific area (i.e. Honolulu or Paris). Here are some example redemptions for the month of June:

  • Honolulu, Hawaii. Hilton Waikiki Beach is 40,000 points. Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort is 50,000 points.
  • San Francisco, California. Hilton San Francisco Union Square is 50,000 points.
  • Orlando, Florida. DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel at the Entrance to Universal Orlando is 20,000 points.
  • London, UK. DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel London – Tower of London is 60,000 points.

This Citi Hilton card is the version with no annual fee, the first year or any future year. If you have this card and are looking to sign-up again, please note this fine print:

Hilton HHonors Bonus Points offer not available if you have had a Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card account that was opened or closed in the past 18 months.

There is also another card called the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card which has a $95 annual fee, but has better ongoing perks. I personally have the Reserve, but I can understand that some people prefer no annual fee.

Obihai Obi200: Free Monthly Home Phone Service + $29.99 Upfront Cost

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Updated with new deal at bottom. Depending on the survey, somewhere between 40% and 65% of people now live in households with no landline (cell phone only). If you still have landline phone service and are looking for a cheaper alternative, Obihai is officially supported by Google:

Obihai is excited to announce official support for Google Voice. With a Google Voice account and a companion OBi device you can make and receive VoIP calls on a regular telephone. To get started, just login to the OBiTALK website, add your OBi device and select Google Voice as your service. You’ll then confirm your account with Google, and within minutes, you will be making and receiving calls from the comfort and convenience of your home phone.

An Obihai VoIP phone adapter is a little box that will allow you to plug in any standard landline telephone and use Google Voice to make free phone calls within the US and Canada. You can also make cheap international calls starting at 1 cent a minute.

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It’s tough to beat under 50 bucks upfront and no ongoing monthly fees for unlimited home phone service. I bought one earlier this year – check out my OBi200 Adapter + Google Voice Installation Review.

We primarily use cell phones now as well, but it is nice to have a backup service that doesn’t cost anything monthly and we can have the occasional long conversation without worrying about battery life, plan overages, or too much cell phone radiation.

$29.99 deal details. The Obihai OBi200 VoIP Telephone Adapter from NewEgg is usually around $49.99. Using the promo code EMCAVAP42 knocks it down to $39.99 with free shipping (my e-mail just says “for a limited time”). However, you can also stack another $10 discount – this one from American Express Checkout. NewEgg is a participating merchant, just pick the AmEx Checkout option instead of entering your credit card info… the new service uses your existing American Express online account login so there is nothing new to sign up for. Final price: $29.99 with free shipping (+ any tax).

In order to be eligible, you must make a purchase at barkbox.com, us.burberry.com, laithwaiteswine.com, ledbury.com, newegg.com, sabon.com, ticketmaster.com, virginwines.com, warbyparker.com, wsj.com, or wsjwine.com, and, at time of checkout, select the Amex Express Checkout option instead of the merchant’s standard online checkout option. You must have an online account with American Express since you will be required to provide this username and password in order to use Amex Express Checkout. Offer ends 9/7/15. Limit one (1) $10 statement credit per American Express online account per merchant. Offer only valid on orders shipped within the United States and its territories.

Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card: 50,000 Bonus Points Review

Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit CardMost travel cards offer an ongoing sign-up bonus, but it’s even better when you snag them during a limited-time bump-up – this time it is the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card from Chase. The last time I wrote about their  offer was a year ago. The highlights for new Marriott cardholder include:

  • Earn 50,000 Bonus Points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
  • Enjoy 1 Free Night Stay at a Category 1-5 location every year after your account anniversary date!
  • For every $1 spent, earn 5 points at 4,000 Marriott locations, 2 points on airline ticket purchases directly with airlines, at car rental agencies & restaurants and 1 point everywhere else
  • The fastest way to earn Marriott Rewards points towards free nights
  • No limit to how many points you can earn
  • Pay no foreign transaction fees and enjoy wider acceptance when you travel with your embedded chip card and you make purchases at chip-enabled card readers
  • $0 Introductory annual fee, then $85

We’ve started traveling again as a family, so I looked through Marriott’s redemption offerings. Marriott properties include Ritz-Carlton, Renaissance Hotels, Courtyard, Residence Inn, and Fairfield Inn & Suites. You can view their redemption chart here. Redeem 4 nights and get the 5th night free. Hotels on their PointSavers list have temporarily reduced redemption costs.

50,000 points is enough to get you a night at any Category 8 hotel in the world. Or, 50,000 points can get you two nights at any Category 4 hotel plus a little left over. Or, it could get you five nights at a Category 2 hotel. The free night award can be used for up to a Category 5 hotel. In the top right corner of the redemption chart link, you can view a comprehensive list of what hotels are in any specific category. Here are some options that caught my eye.

Ritz Carlton Tier 5 (Highest tier, 70,000 points a night)

Category 8 Hotels (40,000 points per night, 35,000 if Pointsaver)

Category 7 Hotels (35,000 points per night, 30,000 if Pointsaver)

Category 6 Hotels (30,000 points per night, 25,000 if Pointsaver)

Ritz Carlton Tier 1 (30,000 points per night, 20,000 if Pointsaver)

Category 4 Hotels (Eligible with Cat 1-5 Certificate or 20,000 points per night standard, 15,000 if Pointsaver)

  • Orlando: Courtyard Orlando Lake Buena Vista at Vista Centre
  • Orlando: Courtyard Orlando Airport
  • Orlando: Fairfield Inn Orlando Airport
  • Orlando: Fairfield Inn & Suites Orlando at SeaWorld®
  • Orlando: Fairfield Inn & Suites Orlando Lake Buena Vista in the Marriott Village
  • Orlando: Courtyard Orlando International Drive/Convention Center
  • Orlando: SpringHill Suites Orlando Airport
  • Orlando: Fairfield Inn & Suites Orlando International Drive/Convention Center

As always, hotel points are only good if you can use and enjoy them. Poke around their award listings – Marriott has a lot of different hotel brands to choose from. The Courtyards I’ve stayed in have been modernized and updated, while SpringHill Suites are nice for families. I’ve also gotten to stay at some terrific properties thanks to such point promotions, although I tend to value location and convenience over the bling factor. There is an $85 annual fee that is not waived the first year.

If you’ve gotten a bonus from this Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card within the last 2 years, please note the following:

This 50,000 bonus point offer is available to you as long as you have not received a new cardmember bonus for this product in the past 24 months.

I was wrong initially as Marriott points are convertible to gift cards, but it takes 60,000 points to redeem for a $200 gift card for Marriott or retailers like Best Buy, Home Depot, or Nordstrom. That ratio isn’t all that great, you’ll definitely get the most value out of your points if you stay at Marriott hotels.

On your account anniversary, you’ll get a certificate for a free Category 1-5 night which you can weigh against another $85 annual fee. As long as you can use that certificate for a decent hotel, getting $85 value is certainly achievable. For example, a random night at the (Category 4) Courtyard Orlando Lake Buena Vista at Vista Centre was $115 when including taxes.

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