Your Free Shit Can Get You Even More Free Shit

screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-9-03-42-pm

The breakup hit me hard.

It was August 31, and I was suddenly single again. To make matters worse, there was still so much to sort out. She’d have to change her address, and I had to cancel the flight we’d booked to Ottawa to meet her family. I was a fucking mess. I hadn’t eaten a proper meal in days, and I was trying not to lose it on the phone with RBC Rewards. I felt like I was either going to cry or puke. Puke, probably. I felt too numb to cry. The automated recordings ended and an actual person picked up the phone.

“Hi, you’ve reached RBC Rewards. This is __________. How can I help you?”

“Uh, hi. My girlfriend and I broke up, and I need to cancel our flight to Ottawa.”

“Well, I can certainly help you with that, sir. I’ll just have to ask you some security questions…”

I was trying REALLY hard not to puke. It was sad that I was only cancelling my ticket. My ex was still going to see her family on Christmas because I couldn’t take that from her. That’d make me a monster. Splitting up the tickets felt so fucking final though. I had to snap back to reality.

“… So, as a non-refundable ticket, we can’t credit you back with the Avion points you used, but we CAN give you a WestJet credit for $818.”

“Uh, sure. That sounds good.”

Wait, what? That seemed like a pretty wicked deal. I’d only used 35,000 Avion points to pay for that ticket, but I also knew how far WestJet dollars could go. I hung up and decided to do some research.

For non-RBC users, a typical RBC Avion card gives you 1 Avion point for every $1 you spend. There’s an annual fee of $120 for the regular one, and a discounted annual fee of $50 for the business one. I hold both, so I pay $170/year. Both cards had a welcome bonus. My personal Avion gave me 15,000 points and my business Avion gave me 20,000. My flight to Ottawa and back was already “free”. Now, it’s worth $818 WestJet dollars? I clicked over to their website. Within minutes, I found what I was looking for: a flight to Cancun and back for less than $500.

Our friend K is a world traveller. Just the other night, he was telling us about Mérida and nearby Progreso, where his family owns a beach house. Drunkenly, we agreed and marked off our calendars. It was decided. We go to Mexico and explore Yucatán in March. Suddenly, for the first time in two weeks, I felt okay again. Everything was going to be fine!

Yeah, I know there are still gonna be taxes on my flight. I figure I’ll probably end up using $700 of my WestJet credit. Still, to get to Mexico on Avion points alone would’ve actually been 45,000 points! I got it for 35,000 points AND I got an extra $100+ in WestJet credit. I’ll most likely use it to help K pay for his ticket. I think of it as investing in a kickass tour guide.

Don’t just look at the simplest option in front of you. In money, banking and reward points, there are often ways to play the system to get more of what you want. What happened with WestJet was a happy accident. Imagine what you could get away with if you did some proper research!

Obviously, get what you can, but draw the line the moment your requests start to affect actual people. Don’t hassle customer service reps or be an asshole. They’re not paid enough to deal with our bullshit. Just find tiny loopholes, and keep more cash in your pocket. You could save thousands.

I guess I’m going to Mexico!

Advertisements

The Midas Gambit

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 1.03.37 AM

I care what people think. You wouldn’t notice, but I actually agonize over meeting new people. I’ll replay conversations in my head for days. Did I make a good first impression? Did they laugh at my jokes? Are we friends now? I know this line of thinking is shallow and insecure, but I can’t help it. Whether you do the same or not, there’s an uncomfortable truth in how people view you – social status and new friends can unlock new opportunities you otherwise wouldn’t have. That’s why I always aim big in social situations. After reading this, you will too.

*****

You’re at a dinner party. It’s a potluck and everyone’s cooking in the kitchen. Before showing up, you were given a choice on what to bring. Should you make something wild, or just be lazy about it? Sure, there’s an art to perfect mashed potatoes, but there are people to impress. You go to Granville Island instead and source ingredients for an authentic Louisiana gumbo chock-full of andouille, shrimp and fresh okra. Go, you.

“Holy shit, what are you making?”

“An authentic Louisiana gumbo chock-full of andouille, shrimp, and fresh okra,” you say.

“Wow, that looks delicious! I can’t wait to try it!”

Bam, immediate bonus points. Meanwhile, Safeway Joe mashes his potatoes in the background and no one cares. He serves a purpose though. We NEED mashed potatoes. He probably even does a pretty good job at it.

*****

I have a confession to make: I’ve never made mashed potatoes. Literally never. Part of the reason is I grew up in an Asian family, but the real reason is “The Midas Gambit” – I always do the coolest and most advanced thing I can instead of basic tasks. That way, even though I’m secretly a derp, it looks like everything I touch turns to gold. When I cook in my free time, I’m not making sandwiches or boiling pasta. I’m cooking the craziest and most involved dish I can so I learn how to do it.

One of the first things I ever made was wild game gyoza. Elk, bison and venison. Shiitake mushrooms and onion for texture. Pan-fried and topped with grated ginger, and served with a rice vinegar dipping sauce. I had no idea what I was doing, but it came out great. It’s surprisingly difficult to fuck up food. Other dishes I can do with minimal thought are root beer glazed ham, chicken coconut curry, spicy eggplant, ratatouille and perfectly-grilled ribeyes, but I still look up the proper rice-to-water ratio because I’m actually a culinary idiot. To the outside world though, I’m the guy whose dinner parties are out of this world. It’s the Midas Gambit in action. We don’t have infinite time. We might as well do awesome things with the time we have.

The Midas Gambit doesn’t just apply to food. And once you step back a bit, it’s not even about impressing people. It’s REALLY about being the greatest goddamn person you can be. When you start making it a goal to do The Impressive Thing always, you’ll find you eventually reach a level of advanced competence your peers don’t have.

While most of my photo classmates were dicking around with Holgas, I learned everything I could about building a photography business. I registered my business at 19 and now pull a living wage. Meanwhile, 90% of those classmates remain hobbyists. Many of them aren’t even photographers anymore. While most of my friends drank PBR, I was learning how to taste whisky from Jim Murray and earning industry certifications that still make me money today. I now get invited to whisky events where cracking a 32-year-old Port Ellen is no big deal. While my musically talented friends only showcased their ability on karaoke nights, I registered myself with SOCAN and joined a band to tour other provinces as a drummer. I’m not even a good drummer! I just did it because I could!

Do you see what I’m getting at? In all these examples, I chose not to stay at “my level”. Why would I register a photography company when I didn’t even have clients? Why would I attend a Jim Murray seminar when I was only vaguely aware of Glenlivet? Why would I tour as a drummer when I can’t even drum on Rock Band? I’ll tell you why: Because that’s how you get ahead in life.

The Midas Gambit only has one rule: Given a choice between two courses of action, ALWAYS DO THE MORE IMPRESSIVE THING. That’s an oversimplification, and there are obvious exceptions – electrical work or handling firearms, for instance – but the message is clear. Avoid basic tasks. There will always be someone to mash the potatoes, and you’ll get further in life if you pick up the power drill and let someone else take the screwdriver. Do the complicated thing always. You’ll often find you end up learning the basics anyway just to make the complicated thing work. Choose to put yourself miles ahead of the competition. If you make this a mantra, I guarantee you’ll soon impress everyone you know. Heck, you might even impress yourself.

Okay, seriously: What’s the proper rice-to-water ratio?

Here’s $210 of Free Groceries!

IMG_1922

Yep, just free goddamn groceries. There’s a catch, of course. You need to collect Air Miles and shop at Safeway, and you need to hack the American Express Air Miles Platinum credit card first. More details below.

Before we get started, you should know Air Miles has never been a great rewards program. It’s free, I guess, but it’s still shit. Using Safeway as an example, you only get 1 reward mile for every $20 you spend. The only way people accumulate a meaningful miles total at all is by hunting for items that give you “bonus miles”, which I don’t recommend you do. To make matters worse, it takes 7,500 miles just to fly to Europe. Earning miles the usual way means you’d have to spend $150,000 just for that flight. Air Miles are dumb, and you should know that going in. Don’t even get me started on how miles are gonna start expiring soon. Seriously.

The Air Miles program’s only saving grace is you can now log in and change your miles type from Dream Miles to Cash Miles. Instead of earning towards a flight you’ll likely never take, you can now trade 95 Cash Miles for $10 off your Safeway grocery bill. This is where it gets juicy.

First off, you CANNOT turn existing Dream Miles into Cash Miles. This is super sneaky, especially when Dream Miles is the default setting. What you need to do is log into the Air Miles website, click on “Get Miles”, then click “Set your preference”. Slide the bar over until it reads “100% AIR MILES Cash”, then click “Set my preference”. It’ll take a day or two to switch your account over, but you’re done now. You’re now earning Cash Miles.

Still want that $210 in free groceries? You’ll need to sign up for that American Express. Here’s the link again. As you can see, there’s no annual fee for the first year and it’s $65/year after that. That’s okay, we won’t be paying. You’ll also notice you get 2,000 reward miles as long as you charge $500 to the card within the first three months of membership. See where I’m going with this? Sign up, link your Air Miles account to it after you’ve switched over to Cash Miles, collect your 2,000 Cash Miles which equals $210 of Safeway groceries, and cancel the card before you have to pay an annual fee. Easy peasy. (A word of caution: This may slightly impact your credit score.)

The crazy thing is there’s actually loads of free shit out there just like this. Here’s an even better article about credit card hacking from MMM. I juggle credit card rewards all the time and just saved up enough Avion points for a flight to Spain. Cost: $170 in annual fees.

Credit cards can be great if you know how to use them. As long as you keep up with your bills, you’re golden. And apparently, if you know how to hack them, they can be a nonstop fountain of free shit.

One final note: In researching for this article, this is only how I think this deal works. I spent an hour on the phone with them checking my facts, but there’s always the element of human error. Read the fine print before signing anything, and please don’t sue me if something goes wrong. Let us know how it goes in the comments.

Editor’s note: Ben did not receive any payment for recommending these products.