spreadsheets and suitcases

organization + travel = family fun

Disney T-A-G, and a personal bag

It’s been a rough time for me emotionally, though of course my suffering is infinitesimal compared to those who actually died/were injured/are missing in the Earthquake.  No new (safe) donation opportunities haves popped up specifically for Hawaii.  I sent money to my cousin’s car service, and from what I understand, it was helpful.  I will continue to send aid in that manner.  It was really great to see that communities with lots of Ecuadorians (NY, Miami, etc), were getting together Facebook Groups to organize donation drives via the airlines or local travel agencies.  There have been lots of inspiring stories of rescues, international aid arriving, and huge quantities of donations from the less-hit areas of Ecuador.  The inevitable political sniping and accusations of favoritism are alive and well, too.  There is still along ways to go towards rebuilding, of course.  Time to put those donations to work and get on with it.  Ok, Disney time! Read the rest of this entry »

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Earthquake in Ecuador

It’s now been about 48 hours since the devastating earthquake in my beloved Ecuador.  The 7.8 earthquake struck near the western coastal city of Muisne, in the province of Manabí.  Many of the coastal towns are practically destroyed, and my birth city of Guayaquil suffered huge structural damage, with bridges collapsing and many buildings reduced to rubble.

Ecuador is used to earthquakes, so many buildings are not built out of wood, as in the US, but out of solid concrete.  Unfortunately, even concrete can’t fully withstand the seismic forces at play here, and so you see piles of cracked concrete blocks with rebar sticking out on the news where buildings once stood.

It is well-known that Ecuador is a third-world country, and many of the hardest hit areas are poor.  Many are asking how we in the US (especially faraway places like Hawaii) can help.  There is no easy answer here.  Corruption is rife in my country- you cannot be sure that your monetary donation will ever reach the organization you’ve sent it to, and even if it does, it might not be used in the way you want it to be.

My cousin in Guayaquil is using his executive car/taxi service as a mobile donation pickup service.  Many are unwilling or unable to leave their homes but can still help in some way, so they use Twitter to let his business know that they have donations, and one of his fleet will pick up the donations and deliver them to the official distribution centers that have been set up in the city.

Another cousin, in Florida, has a friend who has purchased tickets to Ecuador, and will be using all his luggage allowance for donations and supplies purchased in bulk.

These are probably the only ways I would help as of right now.  I’d use my parents’ account to send money to pay for the fleet’s gas/employees, or send a check to my cousin to buy goods on my behalf.  In other words, I’d only send $$$ to people I already know and trust. 

My family is going to let me know if there is a reliable way to send money to Ecuador, and if I have something, I will certainly share it here.  In the meantime, please hug your loved ones, and keep my vibrant and resilient Ecuador in your thoughts.

ecuador176

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Bits & Pieces: Alaska/Virgin America surprise and Daily Getaways

  • Wow- in a surprise move, this week Alaska Air Group (which is the holding company for Alaska Airlines) announced that it was acquiring Virgin America, with the deal announced now, the purchase (hopefully) officially approved by Jan 2017, and the 2 airlines flying under a single operating certificate by 1st quarter 2018.  See the combined route map below.  Of course, there might be some consolidation to the map over time.  What does this mean for us in Hawaii?  On first glance- not much.  Adding Virgin America to Alaska’s route network doesn’t open up any new routes/cities to/from the islands directly.  But I do see some new connection cities, like Fort Lauderdale (where JetBlue announced directs flights to Quito from last year).  Here’s the full press release, and some handy FAQs.

Alaska Virgin America combined route

  • Virgin America currently has a referral bonus for joining their frequent flyer program, called Elevate.  If you are already a member and want to get some points for referring others, start at flightswithbennies.com.  Both the referrer and the referred get 500 points.  You can also leave your referral link in the comments for any reader to use.  I’m currently assuming that any Elevate points you currently have will be converted into Alaska Airlines miles by 2018, so it’s a good idea to stock up where you can.
  • Finally, the U.S. Travel Association is currently offering their yearly month of travel-related offers, called Daily Getaways.  I didn’t see anything that would work for me this year, but last year I was able to take good advantage of the $50 Alamo gift card for $25 offer that will be up for grabs soon- I wound up purchasing 3 certificates and paid very little for my rental from Pittsburgh to Newark.  I was intrigued by the Busch Gardens ticket offer, for a trip to Washington DC/colonial Williamsburg/Busch Gardens Williamsburg I hope to piece together for 2017.  $45 + tax per person.  Pretty good deal, considering rack rate prices are $77 + tax per adult, a bit less for kids.  But when reading the fine print, <dead horse> I learned that the tickets would expire before the projected date of our trip, so it was a no-go.  Also, the Busch Gardens site has various vacation packages available, which have nice value-added options like free parking or even free food.  So I’ll look into those once I can lock some more dates/details in place.
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Bits & Pieces: more SPG drama, a good Amex Offer, new Citi Costco card

  • Previously on Merger Drama 2016Marriott and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) were going to merge, then the Chinese company Anbang submitted a superior bid, then Marriot counter-bid, leaving us all in suspense as to whether Anbang could (or should) increase their offer?  Well, they did!  And then, they didn’t!  So as of right now, Marriott emerges victorious.  Should be official later this year.
  • I got this good Amex Offer in my account: 10% cash back when using my Amex (this is my SPG card) to pay my wireless bill online. cell offer

According to the fine print (always read it!), the statement credit should appear within 90 days of 6/30/16, so it’s not an instant statement credit like other Amex Offers.  Also, it’s limited to $30 total that you can get back.  Make sure you don’t use a third-party vendor, as it might not trigger the credit…use the provider site directly.  This is a good offer, since we always pay the phone bill online with a CC for the points/miles 🙂

  • We also received some information about the TrueEarnings Costco Amex’s upcoming conversion to Citibank.  I was all ready to cancel the card and just use other Visas that we already own for our Costco visits.  But…they’ve improved the terms, to include 2% back at Costco, which we can’t beat with any other no-annual-fee card.  So we’ll be accepting the new card.  This post from blogger One Mile at at Time sums it up quite nicely.
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