Get In The Starwood Game

swingbatterbatterSo I’ve played the Get In The Game contest a couple of times now… basically it’s a baseball simulation game and it takes about 2 minutes to play.  You can earn Starpoints, Amazon Gift Cards, and more.  Since I am not a fan of the MLB I find this to be one of my least favorite games to date.  Still I participate in almost all of the free points programs I can, even if it’s only a chance at a win.

Starwood is my favorite hotel chain so I spend the most effort trying to accumulate points with them.  Hotels range from 2k to 25k points per night, with most of my favorites being 7k to 12k.  With their fifth night free bonus, we have stayed at a lot of beautiful properties around the world for free!  We earn points mostly through our credit card spend (1 point per dollar spent).  They have a promotion now where if you apply for their American Express card and spend $3,000 within 90 days you’ll get a whopping 35,000 bonus points!  That’s the highest bonus I’ve ever heard of (normally the bonus is 25,000).  What will that get you?  You could stay three nights at the Sheraton Kauai or five nights at the Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort for free!  Sheraton has hundreds of properties around the world to choose from (and I’m more than happy to help you get as much bang for your buck as you can if you need help).

They also have a refer a friend program, so you can earn an additional 5,000 points for each friend you refer that gets their credit card!  So if you don’t have a Starwood card yet do me a favor and apply through my referral link.  Drop me a line and I’ll have one sent to you right away.

Safe Travels!




3/1/16 UPDATE! Gumbo has a new forever home!  We found a woman who has had bunnies all her life and is excited to spoil Gumbo.  She picked him up last week and within a few hours had created a pretty awesome little bunny condo for him.  If anything changes we will post here.  In the meantime, be sure to visit the NM House Rabbit Society‘s website to find bunnies who need loving families.  Thank you for your interest!

12509471_10153244653190614_6841989369338014356_nI’ve had a lot of interest in Gumbo, the adoptable bunny. Rather than responding to every question I thought I’d put together a little fact sheet for him.

Breed:  Lionhead

Birthday:  9/20/2015

Neutered:  Yes

Weight:  3.5 pounds (but still growing)

Gumbo belonged to a friend of a friend in Phoenix, AZ.  The family decided they didn’t want to take care of him any more.  We saw his photo on Facebook and immediately fell in love.  We drove to Flagstaff, explored the Grand Canyon for a few hours, then picked up Gumbo and brought him back to Albuquerque.

He’s the cutest little thing.  Very social.  Loves the cat, loves the dog.  LOVES bananas.  He bites a bit when he doesn’t like you doing something, but since we got him neutered this behavior has subsided considerably.  Unfortunately my family is allergic to either the bunny or the hay that he needs to eat every day.  It’s breaking my heart to give him away, but I’m afraid it’s what we have to do.

I reached out to the NM House Bunny Society and they added Gumbo’s bio to their Adoptable Rabbits page.  The response has been overwhelming!  I want to find the perfect home for our little bunny so I’m hoping this page will help you figure out if a rabbit’s life is for you.

12769500_10153312148665614_1775124061_nFirst of all, if you haven’t read every word at you should.  Bunnies are not hamsters.  They cannot live in a cage with pellets.  They need socialization, a large cage, several hours of daily “house time” in a bunny proofed room, 24/7 access to hay and greens (our bunny vet, Dr. Lee, says bunnies should be eating and pooping at all times but very little fruit, pellets, treats, or carrots), regular nail trims, toys, and love.  If you want to pair him with another rabbit it should be female.  Some people give over entire rooms to their bunnies!  Since he’s outgrown his 36″x 18″ cage we have added on a pen so he can stretch out when not running loose (see pic).  I found a good price on a 48″ x 30″ cage at Amazon that we are considering buying.   You should have room for something at least that size in your home.  If you aren’t prepared for this, all of this, Gumbo probably isn’t for you.  If you think you are able to meet his needs, though, please send me an email or reach out to me on Facebook.

Please let me know how you plan to house Gumbo, feed Gumbo, what kind of bunny experience you have, other pets, kids, or any other pertinent information and maybe we can schedule a meet and greet.  We are in the NE Heights of Albuquerque.  Montgomery & Wyoming area.

Here are some more pictures of Gumbo:

Donny Anderson – The Cincinnati Kid

FullSizeRenderDonnie Anderson died May 1.  You may know him as the Cincinnati Kid.  I knew him as dad.  He loved me and I miss him. He was a bit of a celebrity in Cincinnati thanks to his mad pool skills and quick wit.  He was the first Bank Pool World Championship in 1974 and was proud to be inducted into the One Pocket Hall of Fame in 2009.

We will have a memorial service to honor him on Tuesday, May 5.  If you knew him, you surely loved him.  If you didn’t know him you missed out.  But you can read a little bit about him here.

My Instant Pot

I love kitchen gadgets.  It’s unhealthy really.  But there is something just oh so satisfying about having the perfect contraption in which to make an interesting meal.  And if it comes with bluetooth, that’s all the better!  So now that I’ll be home from traveling for a few months and it will be too hot to cook inside soon, I’m going to start giving my Instant Pot (affiliate link) a workout.

Today I’m making our take on beef adovada.  Yesterday I made the red chili sauce and right now I’ve got Mexican pinto beans cooking.  I always try to test a recipe as is written for my first go around, but the IP Cooking Time Schedule is so lacking information I’m a bit concerned.  So for the sake of record keeping, here’s what I did:

Soaked 1 cup of beans overnight.  Really, I started soaking them at like 2pm the day before.  At 10:00am this morning I drained them, put them into the IP with 4 cups of water, a couple of smashed garlic, a quarter of an onion (whole) and a couple generous pinches of salt.  I set the IP to “beans” and 25 minutes.  The buzzer just went off so I used my phone to turn off the warming function for a natural release (it’s bluetooth so I don’t even have to get up from my computer to cook now … man I love technology).

The result?

Meh.  I took the lid off after 15 minutes of “natural release” and about a minute of forced release. The beans were still boiling!  Needless to say, they were a little mushy for my taste.  Next time, quick release and call it a day.  Now I’m off to brown my stew meat for adovada!

Well that was short lived.  Trying to brown my stew on the saute function, the pan never really got hot enough to sear the meat.  Just grey it a little.  I was getting ready to deglaze the pan when the machine turned off and won’t turn back on now.  Sigh.  This was going to be my day o’ pressure cooking.  Now it looks like it’s going to be my day of emailing Instant Pot support 😦

Oakland Spam

femme_stress_telephoneOk, I don’t know what’s going on in Oakland, but somehow someone (I assume someone sucky) got a hold of my cell phone number.  Every day I get a call from Oakland, CA.  I don’t answer.  They don’t leave a message.  I block them.  The next day, same thing, but with a slightly different number.  I’ve googled them all and I don’t get any kind of results.  Maybe the power of the interwebs will eventually solve this mystery:

  • 510-496-4290 Saturday 4/18/15 at 12:45pm MDT
  • 510-496-5544 Friday 4/17/15 at 4:19pm
  • 510-496-4361 Thursday 4/16/15 at 12:08 EDT
  • 510-496-4396 Wednesday 4/15/15 at 1:19 EDT
  • 510-858-7815 Tuesday 4/14/15 at 12:49pm EDT
  • 510-496-4361 Saturday 4/11/15 at 1:32 MDT

Whoever you are, either stop calling me or leave a message.  I will never answer a call from an unknown phone number.

Update:  And they just keep calling!

510-496-8970 4/19/15 2:20pm MDT

Renting a car in Costa Rica

Oy vey!  What a nightmare renting a car in Costa Rica has turned out to be.

From the guidebooks and message boards I’ve been perusing the last couple of weeks, I discovered that Costa Rica ranks pretty high for car accidents.  Supposedly for this reason their government has imposed mandatory basic liability insurance (SLI) which carries a hefty fee of about $15 per day.  When you’re looking at a 50+ day rental, that adds up!

Oddly enough, I cannot find anything official about this.  The best explanation I’ve read is that each rental car must carry insurance directly between the rental agency and INS, and the rental agency passes that cost on to the renter in whatever way they want.  That explains why the prices vary I guess.  Sounds quite corrupt to me.

So being the budget minded traveler that I am, I am trying to find a way around this.  Since this cost is determined by the agency itself I feel like i’m fighting a losing battle.  Regardless, I shall carry on.

I have the American Express Premium Car Rental Protection Plan but that clearly states that liability is not covered.  They cover CDW (Collision Damage Waiver) and LDW (Loss Damage Waiver) and advise you to decline these optional coverages.  Additionally it only covers up to 42 days.  So we will need to rent a car in two shifts in order to be covered.  Unfortunately, contract periods less than 30 days seem to double!  Creeps.  I requested Costa Rica specific documentation from AMX to take with me just in case I need it.

I have auto insurance through a major company here in the states but apparently I am not covered out of the country :(.  That was a surprise and a major bummer.  Good thing is my umbrella policy will cover me.  Not sure how that will work but we’ll see.

I also have AAA and USAA.  I wonder if they have some kind of non-owner auto insurance that I can buy.

Finally I’m never a big fan of travel insurance, but I think in this instance it might be a good idea.  The best quote I found so far is $375 with rental coverage but it still doesn’t seem to have liability.

Avis Costa Rica says:  Prior to your trip you must contact your bank and request written proof of your credit card protection plan, where its validity in Costa Rica is clearly stated. Such letter must be presented at the Avis counter at the time of the rental and we reserve the right of accept or not such protection.

Amx is sending me what documentation they have, but again, liability isn’t covered so that won’t do much for me.

Quotes for 4×4 SUV Daihatsu Bego 31 days, high season

Vamos:  $1585.45 ($51 per day) not including insurance but they will let you waive CDW and SLI if you can show proof of insurance.  Additional drivers are free and they will give you a cell phone (but if you want to *use* it you’ll pay $5 a day).  When I tried to click on that car class to reserve I got an error that they were sold out.  Next best price was $1800 but they do have a banner that says call for long term pricing.  They also say they have a price match guarantee.  When I called them they said the mandatory insurance cannot be waived, only collision.  (Also got a quote for 51 days: $2977 including insurance)

4x4RentaCar  $1740 ($58 per day) … high season, including basic insurance.  No mention of taxes or “SLI.”

The Price includes CDW and TPL (Third Party Liability) basic coverage, based on 24hrs rental shifts, No hidden fees policy applies. Please continue your reservation filling up the following fields and submit.

Budget Costa Rica:  $996 including taxes and fees (14% from LIR airport – ouch!).  I called and they said the mandatory insurance for this car class is $14.99 a day ($14.99 x 30 = $450).  Total:  $1,526.33 for 31 days, or $49.24 per day.

DRO (Deductible Reduction Coverage – This is the cover for collision and theft. It is optional) can be declined, but you always have to take the basic insurance SLI. The Supplemental Liability is a mandatory coverage to basic liability. This only covers if the driver is declared guilty by a court or if the drivers accepts fault. This coverage covers property and persons. Covers up to a maximum amount of C 50.000.000 (roughly $100K US) per person or up to C 125.000.000 (roughly $235k US) per event for medical expenses or death of persons involved either inside or outside the vehicle, non – relatives of the driver (until third degree of blood relation or affinity). In case of property ex: vehicles or houses, coverage is up to C 10.000.000 ($20k US)  This cover can not be declined, and the renter will be responsible for the total value of the damages caused to the rented car. It protects other properties, vehicles or persons.

Requirements for the rent:

  • Minimum 25 year of age.
  • Valid passport and driver license.
  • Major credit card for $1000~$3000 for guarantee deposit plus the amount of the total of the rent.
  • At the International Airport Juan Santamaría there is a 13% tax fee and at the International Airport Daniel Oduber there is a 14% tax fee.
  • Drop off will be charged when pick up and return offices are different.
  • Drop off rates are related to availability, season and distance between interest points.

I made my reservation through instead of Budget Costa Rica since I can get 3% cash back via Ebates and I’m not too thrilled with the sneaky business tactics of Costa Rican Rental Car Companies.  I wanted to book for 42 days but got the error:  You may not reserve a car for more than 31 days through our website. (Through Kayak those limitations don’t apply.)

equipment & services 0.00
protections 0.00
concession recovery 122.39
fees 89.70
taxes 0.00
$ 996.59 TOTAL (USD)
This doesn’t include the $14.99 per day mandatory insurance that I’m sure will end up being taxed at 14% too, so I’m expecting the total to actually be $1,526.33, or $49.25 per day.  Not sure if the $2.50 per day convenience fee mentioned in the fine print is included or not.  But at least for now we have a car for the first 31 days and no car for the last 23.  Guess we’ll play that last little bit by ear!

Here’s the fine print:

Credit Card Policies: Budget in this country accepts Budget Charge Cards, American Express, Diners Club, Discover Card, Mastercard, Visa.  Note: Credit cards without raised numbers are not accepted in Costa Rica. A mandatory charge card deposit, plus estimated rental charges will apply to all rentals and to all vehicles.  The guarantee deposit amount ranges between 1,000.00 USD not to exceed 1,500.00 USD depending on car group rented.

NOTE: If the customer declines SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance) the credit card hold for any category will be double the guarantee deposit (2,000.00 USD – 3,000.00 USD) and the customer will be 100% responsible of the car, passengers and third parties.

Age Requirements: At this location, the minimum age is 18 for all car groups.  An underage fee will apply for renters 18-20 of 20.00 USD per day.  Young drivers should contact counter directly for full details.

Debit Card Policies: Debit cards are not accepted.

Driver’s License Requirements: Valid driver’s license from country of residence and passport are required.  Rental must begin within 30 days of renter’s arrival to the country.  International driving license is required only for countries with non-Roman alphabet.  International driving license is a translation only.

Additional Driver Policy: Additional drivers must meet the same requirements as the primary driver.

Location Exceptions

PLEASE NOTE: Car groups H, I and N are Quick Pass ready. No pre-enrollment or sing up is required. When driving a Budget vehicle, the renter has the option of using the 27 Highway and Quick Pass lanes without stopping. If the renter decides to use the express lane, the renter will be charged the standard non-discounted fee for the roads as published by the toll authority plus the convenience fee of 2.50 USD per rental day for each and every day of the rental or 70.00 USD maximum per month for use of this service.

The additional driver must meet the same restrictions as the primary driver. Additional driver fee: USD 5/day. Will apply to spouse.

Cash rentals are not accepted. A credit card hold of the total estimated rental charges, plus a deposit ranging between 1,000.00 USD, not to exceed 3,000.00 USD will apply to all rentals and to all vehicles. If SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance) is purchased the deposit ranges between 1000.00 USD not to exceed 1500.00 USD depending on car group rented. If the customer declines SLI, the credit card hold for any category will be double the guarantee deposit (amount ranges between 2000.00 USD not to exceed 3000.00 UD) and the customer will be 100% responsible of the car, passengers and third parties.

Purchase of LDW is optional and relieves the customers financial responsibilty to the vehicle. Cost for all car groups is 28.95 USD per day. If LDW is declined, the renter is responsible for up to the full value of the vehicle. Supplemental Liability Insurance (SLI) is optional for all car groups at 14.99 USD per day. If SLI is declined a credit card hold will apply, see CID information above. Personal Accident Insurance (PAI) is not offered. Reduction Coverage (DRO): is available at the counter only

Travel Into Other Countries

Cars can be returned to other Budget locations within this country based on car availability. Fees vary according to distance between locations and depending on car group rented. One way fees may also apply to any special equipment rented. Vehicles are not available for one-way rentals outside this country.

The Bottom Line

We ended up going with Budget and a 4×4 Diatsu.  We were charged $19.99 per day for the mandatory insurance, so we ended up spending $1833 for our fist 30 days, and $1329 for our last 12.  More than we paid for our lodging!  So if you’re going to Costa Rica and need a car, be prepared to pay!