Category Archives: finance

Redeem British Airways Avios Points for Free Flights

From my limited experience BA Avios points are difficult to redeem for international flights, esp. from where I live STL to PVG Shanghai. But I also heard BA miles is very efficient for the US domestic flights, the trick is also to find them. So here is how I did recently, for one way STL to LGA (New York). I used AA advantage account to search award flights first (note AA is the BA partner in the US), and I saw some openings. Then I go to BA site, search the same date, I got the award seats.

I have not done round trip or multi-stop in this case. This is something I will try next time.

(Update 04-20-2014) Today I booked the round trip ticket for STL to CLL (College Station, Texas), it costs 36,000 points plus $20 for 2 tickets. This is compared to 22,500 points + $7.50 for three STL to LGA (New York) tickets. It’s a bit more expensive for the round trip tickets, even considering breaking it into 2 legs, it’s 9,000 points per leg.

Also, I noticed the points guy has some good stuff (this one and this one) about redeeming BA Avois points.

Squirrel visited my sienna minivan again

This time it tried to make an home again, luckily because it was overnight, they did not bite cable or things bad enough to cause damage.

I am annoyed by them to be honest. So as my neighbor. So who is the culprit? I heard from my neighbor, the new Toyota Sienna minivan is using soy based (food based) as insulation material under the hood. No wonder they chewed those thing left and right in my van. But why Toyota did this, so that they could boast they are “green”, or to make the regulators happy? This “green material” is just creating trouble for people like me, who had to park car outside, unfortunately in this country in many places, squirrels is just a way of life. I think Toyota should either reimburse me for the repair cost ($600) plus my time, or issue a voluntary recall to replace the material from food based to chemical based. Better yet, put some tabasco (the hot sauce) on it.

Airline and hotel credit card offers

I felt it’s easier to make money from those offers from writing iPhone, iPad and iOS apps. At least this is true for me so far. Another plus side people may not pay attention is the “no tax” benefit of the bonus miles/points. Also keep in mind if one needs to apply for home loan (buying new home, or refinance), he/she should be careful not applying too many credit cards in the near term to hurt his/her credit score (and potentially pay higher rate for home loan). With that in mind, I would describe some of the cards I applied this year.

Airline cards
United Mileage Plus Visa Signature Chase: earlier this year I applied this via my Mileage acct, received the 50,000 bonus miles. UA is doing 30,000 miles with $50 coupon now. Check united.com web site.

Continental OnePass MasterCard Chase: applied this after UA card. 50,000 miles. They are offering 30,000 miles as of now. One needs to sign up OnePass from Continental site first. Continental has merged with United, and the milage program will be merged at the end of 2011.

British Airways Visa Signature Chase: applied this in May. Got 50,000 miles with remaining 50,000 miles pending (needs to spend $2,500 in first 3 months).

Hotel cards
Marriott Visa Signature via Chase: 50,000 points worth about 5 nights at Courtyard. And one free night at category 4 or above. The link is here.

Intercontinental Hotel Group Priority Club: 60,000 points, worth about 4 nights at Holiday Inns. New account only. Link is there.

Currently I am thinking about two cards, the Amex HHonors (62,500 points for Hilton family hotels, as described by Loyal Traveller) and Chase Sapphire reward card.

Note compared to writing apps, one can not expect make this as a business, rather than a nice way (almost effortless) to complement income. I have used my bonus AA miles, and Marriott hotel points for my recent travel to Shanghai. Not to mention the convenience brought by my Amex SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) when travel in the US.

(Update 07-09-11) I saw this Southwest airline reward card deal from myMoneyBlog. I jumped.

Some questions about 529 plan

I got those questions from a reader:
Why there is no national 529 plan? Looking at some states plan, it’s pretty much mutual funds like 401k, the investment return is like S&P? Why bother (consider S&P return is so low)?

I am not expert on this, I think why each state has a plan is pretty much why each employer (or most employers) has a 401k plan. The main purpose for such as plan is this: 1) Save some money for future liability (retirement or college tuition); 2) Hopefully the money can grow with the power of compound interest (snow ball effect); The tax deferral (in the case of 401k) or tax deduction (most 529 plans) are just ice on the cake.

As to why there is no national plan and federal tax deduction, I think this partially explained by college savings is still very small compared to retirement savings. Another indicator is the sales (or willingness for people to pay) my iPhone retirement savings/college savings app. Basically I gave away college savings calculator there because very few people are willing to pay 99 cents.

A side note: most people think spx (S&P index) is just boring, and some people think their retirement savings investments can grow 20% year over year. I think those people are too optimistic about their future. WSJ has an excellent article “The other midlife crisis” which explains why people expectations on income growth and retirement investment return are unrealistic.
Retirement income picture (via WSJ)

Better early than late: join college 529 plan

I was thinking about this for a few days, and I took the plunge today. The kicker is the referral bonus from Ohio College Advantage 529 plan, as I read from my friend theSunsFinancialDiary.

As to investment choice, I picked the Vanguard Winsor II (which I got to know from my 401k plan), because its relative out performance over S&P 500. But the investment choice probably is not as important as “start early” (snowball or compound interest effect). Similar things can be said for state tax deduction from 529 plan contribution.

In case you are interested, please use my number 2568778 as referral code when you open account at Ohio 529 Plan, that way you will get the $25 bonus, and I will also receive some bonus money (provided you open and fund at least $25 to the account, by June 30, 2010). A rare win-win situation in the financial world 😀

(Update) PBS NBR Paying for college: the 529 plan. It also suggests “open an account as soon as the baby is born”. Another interesting thing is, 529 can be used for graduate school and re-training.

(Update 2) Comparing the fund options between Missouri 529 (MOST) and Ohio College Advantage plan, it seems to me Show Me State does not have much to show on this. Here is Morningstar’s best and worst 529 plans. One thing to note is while Ohio CollegeAdvantage 529 Savings Plan is among the best, Ohio Putnam CollegeAdvantage (broker-sold) is among the worst. So keep this in mind: a state could have multiple plans. Choose the winner, not the loser.

(Update 3) I wrote the 529 plan in more detail at stlplace, and I will give additional $25 to those who use my reference code 2568778. So the total bonus for you will be $50.

(Update 4: 6-17-2010) I found this Kiplinger’s Find the Best 529 Plan to be interesting. One interesting point I noticed is the Show Me State (Missouri) offers state tax credit/deduction for any plan. In other words, we got lucky that we don’t have to enroll in the Missouri plan (which is not that good in my personal opinion), while get the same tax benefits. You can read the tax benefits of 529 plan at savingforcollege.com.

Financial considerations: health insurance

Ever since the birth of our baby Serenity (Youyang),she has seen doctors, pediatricians to be precise.This is common in the US, as each baby (supposely) has a pediatrician look after her/him. Of course, this is assume the baby has health insurance coverage. In the US it usually means she/he will be covered under one of the parent ‘s plan, or in the case of no plan for parents, there are some government plans for low income family kids.

I was a bit nervous on the health insurance thing, both for my wife’s labor and the baby, because I changed my employer recently, which also means I am enrolling in a new plan (unknow factors). The new plan is slightly expensive than my old plan, understandably because my new employer is a smaller organization (compared to the old one), resulting in less negotiation power. Health insurance (excuse me healthcare) reform has being a hot topic in the US because of year long debate, and the dramatic ending (house passed the bill on Sunday). Hopefully when my baby has her kid, she need not worry too much about that?

Continue reading Financial considerations: health insurance