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 Budget.com 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!

Either BA can’t add, or I can’t add

So the hubs and I are looking at spending a bit of time in Monterey, CA.  Flying there from ABQ is expensive so I went to British Airways to use up some of my Avios that are laying around.

I can get to MRY via either LAX or PHX, but the shorter flights through PHX aren’t available on the days I want to fly.  I can get there through LAX, with some seriously weird addition.

For domestic flights, especially ones on teeny planes, I always book in economy.  It’s super cheap with Avios thanks to their distance based mileage program.  ABQ-LAX is 7500 avios.  LAX-MRY is 4500 avios.  When I add those together I get 12,000 avios.  Considering the flight costs over $500, I thought I’d book it.  But when I went through the process, BA tried to charge me 30,000 avios.

bawth2

I thought well, maybe MRY has some crazy surcharge associated with it.  But when I check ABQ-PHX-MRY the price is 9,000 avios.

So my conclusion can only be, if I want to layover in LAX then I’m going to be charged an extra 18,000 avios.  I thought about booking the two flights separately, but with only a 45 minute layover, and the odds of me checking a bag high, that seemed risky.  I certainly hope BA isn’t changing their award chart and this is just the beginning of a massive devaluation!

I tweeted my dilemma to British Airways but they didn’t respond.  They have no option to contact them via email that I could find.  I posted a question on The Point’s Guy’s Facebook but I’m sure he has better things to do than answer my questions for free.  So I am currently (and painfully) on hold with British Airways.  27 minutes so far.  And if past experience is any indicator, when someone does finally pick up (I’ve waited well over an hour before), they will just transfer me to someone else and I’ll be on hold for another God-knows-how-long.

I used to recommend British Airways to my friends for their generous credit card signup bonuses and American Express transfer bonuses, but once I deplete my household account, if I am ever able to deplete my household account, this may be the end of our bittersweet relationship.

But I digress.  If anyone happens to stumble across this post and can explain how 4500 and 7500 add up to 30,000 please comment!  I’ll probably still be on hold.

———————————

Update:  A helpful man answered the line after 35 minutes.  He didn’t know why this award was pricing out so high, so he booked the flight for me.  To charge me properly, he said he would take 30,000 avios out of my account, then would refund 30,000 avios, then would debit 12,000 avios.  I foresee this not going as smoothly as I’d like.  I think I’ll be buying Berkshire Hathaway travel insurance just in case!

 

IHG Rewards Club Big Win Promotion

IHG Big Win PromotionIHG Rewards Club offered me 90,000 odd points for completing their first 2014 Big Win Promotion by April 30.   Since I loved the Intercontinental Fiji so much, and we have a number of trips planned early this year, I thought I’d give it a shot this time around.

Our first trip in 2014 is a bucket list beach vacation in Turks and Caicos that we booked with 66,000 British Airways Avios (transferred from American Express Membership Rewards with a 40% bonus) and $170 in international taxes (for both of us).  On our return flight we were forced an overnight in Miami, so I thought we’d kick off our promo there.

I booked a Best Flexible Rate with Breakfast room at the Holiday Inn MIA Airport via the IHG website for $179+ tax (less $9 that I will get back using the Upromise Shoppig Portal).  I paid more for that rate than I would have had I used Troy’s military discount or my AAA discount for that matter.  But this reservation as-is will help me complete 4 out of the 15 tasks (staying 1/5 nights, 1 stay BFR w/ bfast rate, 1/2 booking through mobile device, and 1/2 stay at Holiday Inn hotels).  Because of the IHG Visa I just received I’ll have Platinum Elite status too.   Bring on the upgraded airport room!  Anyway, I hope this turns out to be a good move and not just a waste of money.  Will keep you posted I guess.

My IHG Big Win Promo Status

☐ Stay a total of 5 nights and earn 8,400 points (1/5)
☐ Stay at 3 different IHG brands and earn 17,600 points (1/3)
☑ Book 1 stays through the Best Flexible Rate with Breakfast and earn 2,000 points. (1 night at MIA $200)
☐ Stay 2 Saturday nights and earn 8,000 points
☐ Book 2 separate stays through an IHG® hotel website or mobile device to get our Best Price Guarantee and earn 1,900 points (1/2)
☐ Stay at 2 Holiday Inn® hotels and earn 8,000 points (1/2)
☐ Complete 6 of your offers and earn 46,000 points (1/6)

Also other codes will kick in from the miscellaneous promo codes that I’ve registered for.  I don’t know that I”m going to be able to complete all 6 offers, but I do have a considerable amount of travel coming up this first quarter, so what the heck!  We’ll see how it goes.


Upromise link is a referral link where I may earn money if you click through and shop via their portal.  


I Just Got Excited Paying My Insurance Bill

I got the Skills to pay the Bills!
HT Olly for the Flickr pic

So my insurance agent, bless her heart, just called me to remind me that my car insurance premiums were due.  A month ago.  Oops!  Lucky for me, they have a 30 day grace period.  Also lucky for me, I hadn’t filed away my new IHG credit card that I just activated yesterday.  This card has a $1,000 spend on it and my bill came to $1,054.31

Cha ching!  Minimum spend met!  I will have an extra 80,000 points in my IHG account soon.  Not a bad way to start the day.  So now I say thanks, State Farm, for your insanely high teenage car insurance premiums!

Now to spend $10,000 on my new Citi Exec card to get the 100,000 American Aadvantage miles by May 1.  Mission accepted.