My wife’s experience with Global Entry application

Posted on: June 16th, 2013 by: Jason

I applied for Global Entry back in May 2011 and have enjoyed the benefits of quick processing coming back from international destinations. My wife recently applied for Global Entry and the following is her experience.

Originally I was not going to apply for Global Entry due to the $100 fee and I only travel international once maybe twice a year. Additionally some of my travel is my three children and I, and they don’t have too many stamps in their passports yet. However, the last time I travelled with my husband he got the precheck clearance and was able to breeze thru security while I was waiting in line and taking my shoes off and getting pat downs. I decided it was time to apply and enroll in the program.

I did the online application and paid the nonrefundable $100 fee. I received notice after just a few days that my initial application was conditionally approved and I could schedule an interview with a customs office that had an enrollment center. When the program first started there were only a few main airports that had interview enrollment offices, but now there are quite a few including my nearby International Airport, Salt Lake City.

I went online and there were plenty of openings available albeit it is summer and the appointments were all in the daytime. I picked a day and time when my kids didn’t have any conflicting activities. I figured I would get a neighbor teen to babysit.

Well, I could not find a babysitter, so I called the Customs office and asked if I could bring children that were not enrolling. The employee said, “No problem,” I again said I want to clarify, “Can I bring children under 18 to the interview who are not applying/interviewing,” and she said, “Sure.”

Interview day I load up the kids in the SUV and trek over, park in short term parking as advised, and find my way easily and quickly to the office. I walk into the office with my three cuties trailing behind me with coloring book, crayons, Kindle, and iPod. The employee takes a look at me and said, “Who exactly is applying?” I said, “I am.” And she just kind of looked down her nose and turns to another guy and says, “Can you take them back?” So they lead me around the corner thru their office and out another door to the baggage claim and passport control area which was empty. They point at some chairs and tell me to sit down and wait. There were a few others. Meanwhile several more people arrived.

I thought for sure I would be next since I was 30 minutes early for my 12:40 appointment. But they decided to first take some random guy and a woman who came a day early. I found that slightly annoying. So I sat there with my kids and at 12:35 they invited me to come back. Again with my trail of kids, I sat them down with their coloring and various electronics and told them library voices and stay in their seats, etc. He asked me, “Why did you bring so many kids?” I was thinking um because I gave birth to them. But decided on a more cordial answer, “I was unable to find childcare and was told it would not be a problem.”

The agent asked me a few questions, took my photo with no warning while I was just sitting there, and then he asked me specific questions about my travel to Thailand, Jamaica, and Malaysia. He then informed me I have an agriculture violation on my record. I do not recall this incident at all, I asked where it was and he said it doesn’t say. I thought that was strange to have a violation and no location. I was a bit concerned this could be a deal breaker for the approval. Then he asked me odd questions about my job-like completely irrelevant questions, even my kids later said, “Why did he ask you…?” He asked what my interest in The global Entry Program was. He took my fingerprints and said, check your online account in 24 hours. Your card should arrive in two weeks if you are approved, but they are way behind so it will probably be more like two months.

Then he walked me out and my son started asking all these questions about the terminal and international baggage claim and the guy seemed super irritated. We walked out. It’s been 26 hours and I just logged in to the GOES web site and it says…APPROVED.

Five tips for avoiding getting sick on a plane

Posted on: May 25th, 2013 by: Jason

Recently I spoke to a co worker who had just returned from a trip to Europe. She told me about how she got really sick on the return flight without any airsick bags at her seat and made for a miserable trip. I’ll spare you all the gory details.

Getting sick on a flight ranks right up there with situations that are about the worse thing possible. During my travels, I try to follow these five guidelines to try to avoid getting sick on a plane.

1. Avoid deep fried and fatty foods right before getting on a flight. I always bypass the pizzerias, Mexican food, and the deep fried fish and chips and the like in favor of “safer” food like grilled chicken or sandwiches.

2.Drink plenty of water. I always try to keep the soda intake to a minimum and instead drink water or orange juice.

3.Get up and move around the plane. I will take an aisle seat over anything else just so that I can get up and walk around. It keeps the blood circulating and helps keep everything moving.

4.Ensure safe food consumption the day before getting on a plane. It’s great to sample the local fare on the streets during your trip, but I always make sure I’m eating safer food the day before I get on a plane.

5.Get plenty of rest prior to flight. When I travel I’m always in economy and don’t have the luxury or comfort of a lie flat seat. I try to make sure I get a full night’s sleep devoid of any distractions prior. Your body is already going to deal with multiple time zone changes and connections – try to ensure that sleep deprivation isn’t causing your body to break down.

By following the five rules above, I have never been sick on a plane. As backup should it occur, I always make sure to carry supplies with me to limit the extent of getting sick. Aspirin, Imodium, and even prescription strength Imodium for severe situations.

What are your tips for staying healthy on flights?

The upside down card reader

Posted on: May 14th, 2013 by: Jason

On the highways of Utah, there is a billboard from Complete Merchant Solutions that drives me crazy. I’ve seen it enough times that it’s been really bugging me.

The billboard states “Yeah, we do that too.” while demonstrating a credit card swiper through a mobile phone. It’s as if they’re stating that it’s nice that others have a credit card reader but so do they. In fact, it comes off as a little bit cocky. Except if you notice, it has a credit card facing upwards while everyone knows that the magnetic strip is on the top so to actually use their reader – you would need to flip the card over.

See this example from Paypal.

You can clearly see the credit card correct flipped over in order to process it.

Here’s an example from Square.

Once again, the card is properly flipped around to use the magnetic strip. So if you decide to use CMS for your merchant solutions, don’t follow their example on the billboard. Instead, flip your card around to actually use the magnetic strip. Now I feel a lot better that I’ve shared my visual pain with the rest of you.

The airport train that a lot of people won’t be able to use

Posted on: April 4th, 2013 by: Jason

When Salt Lake City was chosen to host the 2002 Winter Olympics, one of the exciting aspects was the upgrade to Utah’s transportation system. There were new highways and a light rail system called TRAX. Since the Olympics, lots of money has been poured into the extension of TRAX and the creation of a commuter train known as Frontrunner along with massive improvements to the highway.

The culmination of this is the completion of the long awaited $350 million Salt Lake City Airport TRAX line that will finally allow a way to reach the airport. I was excited to finally have a way to ride the train to and from the Salt Lake City airport though currently, it’s not that difficult to get to the Salt Lake City airport. You can go via I-215 or via I-80 to get there. There is plenty of economical long term parking available for around $8 a day.

As it it turns out that it’s not going to be such a great addition after all. The airport line’s schedule won’t allow for passengers with very early flights to make it nor passengers that have late night flights. The weekend schedule will be sparse as well.

The whole purpose of an airport train is to add a good option for people to get to and from the airport at convenient times. Some of the airport trains I’ve taken is MARTA in Atlanta, BART in San Francisco, Arlanda Express in Stockholm, Flytoget in Olso, Copenhagen’s Lufthavne, and KLIA Express in Kuala Lumpur. I’m disappointed by the decision by Utah Transit Authority to not have extended hours on their train.

This comes also on the heels of another fare increase which makes Salt Lake’s light rail one of the most expensive in the United States.

Here’s hoping that the Utah Transit Authority changes their mind on the schedule to allow for more people to use a very expensive addition to get to the airport.

Ensure safe and secure delivery of your checked bag

Posted on: April 3rd, 2013 by: Jason

Reading in the December issue of Forbes, they recommend a foolproof way to make sure your checked bag arrives safe and secure that is apparently used by professional photographers all the time.

Ready, set, check your bag

Put a starter pistol in your checked bag and declare it as a firearm at check-in. Starter pistols are non-lethal guns that use blanks or caps to make a sound to start a race. By declaring a firearm in your checked bag, the airline and TSA will ensure that your bag arrives safe and secure because the last thing they want is a lost “weapon” during transit. When you declare a firearm, you are given a card to fill out and then the the card is put into your bag and handed to a TSA agent who then transports your bag.

An example from Alaska Airlines:

Transporting Firearms

A “firearm” is any weapon that will or is designed to or may be readily converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive, or the frame or receiver of any such weapon. This includes:

Sporting rifles, shotguns, and handguns
Handguns of authorized law enforcement officers while traveling on official duty
Starter pistols, compressed air or BB guns, and flare pistols
Antique firearms
All firearms must be unloaded and carried in a locked, hard-sided container where only the customer retains the key or combination.

The hard-sided case must be secured in such a way that it does not allow for accidental or unauthorized opening. Multiple locks may be required on some cases to ensure the case cannot be opened. Customers are not required to place locks in every available area on the case, as long as the case is secure.

Alaska Airlines does not allow customers under age 18 to carry on or check a firearm.

I doubt the wisdom of trying this on an international flight but it does make for an interesting loophole for domestic flights of luggage with very valuable items. Personally, I don’t check anything valuable in my luggage ever since my film camera was stolen coming back from Tahiti in 2003 but for some of you, this technique may prove useful.

Mistaking Margherita for a Margarita

Posted on: April 2nd, 2013 by: Jason

Utah is a pretty conservative state overall and that filters down to places of employment. It is common to have company travel policies prohibiting the reimbursement of alcoholic beverages. Personally this isn’t an issue as I don’t drink alcohol, but it does lend itself to some comedic moments.

I recently took a trip to London for work and while there visited a restaurant called Pizza Express. As I looked at their menu, I decided on a traditional Margherita pizza with tomato and Mozzarella. The food was fantastically fresh and was very enjoyable.

When I got home, I turned in all of my receipts for reimbursement. I received this email from our accounting department the following day.


Dear Milesquest,

I have a question about the Pizza Express receipt. Your receipt includes a margarita with no note that it is virgin. I will need your confirmation that it is indeed virgin otherwise it cannot be reimbursed.

Thank you,
Accounting

To which I replied:


Dear Accounting,

Margharita is a type of Italian pizza with tomatoes and cheese – not an alcoholic drink.

Sincerely,
Milesquest

Have any of you ever had some reimbursement shenanigans happen?

A chance to travel to Sweden

Posted on: March 19th, 2013 by: Jason

Each and everyone one of us usually has ancestors that came from another country. As an American traveling, I’m become appreciative of the different cultures, different landscapes, and different food varieties that are offered. Having ancestors that came from Sweden, I’m especially curious as to how they lived and struggled trying to survive back then.

A friend sent me a link to this concept. There is a TV show current playing in Sweden called “Allt för Sverige (Everything for Sweden)”. The concept is – they send 10 Americans who have Swedish ancestors back to Sweden to learn about the culture and to compete for a chance to meet their living relatives in Sweden.

I’ve been watching the series on YouTube. In the first episode, the 10 Americans go through a class on how to speak Swedish. They are then sent out to try out their newly learned language and then meet their neighbors for a “fika”. The look on the reserved Swedes faces as the Americans try to come into their house to eat snacks is priceless.

In another episode, the Americans have to compete with each other in a Swedish music contest. They have to listen to clips from Swedish artists such as ABBA, Europe, The Cardigans, and Håkan Hellström.

Personally, I have ancestors that came from Sweden – the show does a good job of putting the contestants through activities that their ancestors would have performed.

The show is looking for contestants to try out for the show. If you’re interested, the website is http://www.greatswedishadventure.com/

For those you with Norwegian ancestry – there’s also a Norway version as well.

When manufactured spend backfires

Posted on: March 11th, 2013 by: Jason

Several years ago at another company, I overheard a co-worker of mine lamenting to our travel agent that she didn’t have the credit score to get a credit card and wasn’t sure how she was going to pay for an upcoming business trip. At the time, I had some cards with some pretty sizable annual spend requirements and an idea came to me. What if I added her as an authorized user for the purpose of business purchases? She would receive the reimbursement from work, hand it to me to pay off the balance and it would be a win-win situation. She had the means to travel for business and I would rack up the minimum spend and miles.

I drew up a simple contract basically saying that whatever was purchased on the card whether it was reimbursed or not would be her responsibility. I ordered a card for her and put our plan into motion.

At the end of the first month, I printed off a statement with all of her charges and handed it to her. She turned in her receipt for reimbursement and handed me a check for the exact amount. We followed this pattern for several months and everything was working fine.

After the first six months, I started to notice some personal spending that started to slip in. I didn’t pay much attention to it as I would hand the statement over and receive a check for the full amount. It didn’t really bother me – and it was more free miles.

After a while though, I was handed the check on the payment due date rather than in advance. This meant that I had to have the necessary funds available to cover the entire balance in order to avoid late fees. This worked as well as their check always cleared but I was starting to get a bit nervous. On the other hand, huge sums were running through the card and I was racking up free miles.

After about a year and a half, she found another job with another company and gave her two weeks’ notice. I figured that this was a good time to stop the relationship and get the card back. I handed her the bill and she handed me a check. As I examined the final bill a couple of weeks later – something that was really peculiar was a rather large purchase from an electronics store with a return a couple days later. Why would there be a large purchase the final week of employment?

On a hunch, I inquired with our Accounts Receivables department and asked if there were any reimbursement checks that matched this large amount – and there was. This person had been purchasing large amounts of electronics, getting it reimbursed, and then returning the item(s) and pocketing the reimbursement. I immediately felt sick to my stomach as I felt like I had in some way been a part of this scheme. There was probably a good reason this person couldn’t get their own credit card – had I given a drunk a drink?

I went to the electronics store and asked for all the receipts associated with her card number. I then pulled all the reimbursements and they matched up almost perfect for the past year. I turned over all the information to our internal auditors who launched a huge investigation. I came under scrutiny as well as I was connected with the scheme but was able to show that I had no involvement. They ended up prosecuting her for fraud and reached a plea deal. I never heard from her again and am not sure whatever happened to her career.

The reason that I’m telling you this quite embarrassing story is to just provide some caution as we all look for creative ways to manufacture spend for some extra miles. Looking back, it was quite foolish of me to entrust a card to someone else no matter how perfect it seemed. If something is too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.

How I cut my DirecTV cord to save money towards future travel

Posted on: February 23rd, 2013 by: Jason

I’ve paid for cable TV in one form of fashion for the past 10 years. Most recently I’ve been a DirecTV customer since 2008 when they offered 15,000 Priority Club points for sign up.

I had tried to cut down some of the cost by purchasing an owned receiver off of Ebay for so that I would skip the monthly rental fee. If you choose to go down this path, make sure that prior to buying you get the RID number from the seller (most post it in their pictures) and call DirecTV to confirm that it is in fact an owned receiver. I had a couple of people who stated in their auctions that their receivers were owned but DirecTV said they were in fact leased.

Even with doing this, my monthly DirecTV bill was $90 plus $6.95 monthly fee for my old school Series2 Tivo and $0 for my old school Series2 Tivo with lifetime service. This means that I was paying $1163.00 a year for the privilege of having access to cable TV. And for what? To watch American Pickers, Top Chef, Bar Rescue, and America’s Test Kitchen? Certainly there was a fair amount of sports as well. But is all that worth $1200 a year when I could be using that money for something else – perhaps travel?

I decided it was time to formulate a plan to cut the DirecTV cord and go for something a lot cheaper while still having access to some decent shows. I started by looking at different set boxes in order to run Amazon Prime, NetFlix, Vudu, Hulu Plus and all the other various on demand services out there. I ended up deciding on the Roku 2 XS mostly for the clean interface and that it has a ethernet connection on the back to cut down on buffering. I picked up a refurbished one up for $50 from 1saleaday.com and another from Costco for $80 that included an HDMI cord.

The Roku interface

Next, I had to find an Over the Air Antenna in order to pull down the free HD channels. The forums at TV Fool and instructions on Antenna Web were very helpful in helping to pick out the right antenna. You can even enter in your address and it will show a map of which direction to point your antenna to get the maximum amount of channels. I ended up purchasing the Antennas Direct DB4E Antenna for $55. A good friend came and installed it in my attic pointed in the correct direction.

I called Tivo to find out about upgrading to an HD receiver. The associate I spoke with actually suggested that I shop Ebay for a Series 3 HD Tivo that was going for around $40 and that I would be able to transfer my incredible $6.95 rate over to that unit. The Series 2 Tivo with lifetime unfortunately won’t transfer.

Lastly, I have been playing around with the various streaming services. My favorites are the free Amazon Prime service when you subscribe to Amazon prime for $79 a year. I also have enjoyed the selection and parental control options with Netflix.

In summary, my upfront costs have been:
$55 for Antenna
$120 for 2 – Series 3 HD Tivos ($40 + $20 shipping each)
$50 for Roku 2 XS
$80 for Roku 2 XS

My ongoing monthly costs will be:
$7.99 for Netflix
$6.95 for Series 3 TIVO
$9.95 for second series 3 TIVO

This comes out to an ongoing savings of $72 a month or $864 a year. I’m still able to get all the normal channels – ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, WB, and PBS in clear, crisp HD.

clear, crisp HD for free

Most of the TV series are on Netflix or Amazon Prime though a little delayed. Luckily my favorite NFL team, the Dallas Cowboys, are usually on nationally on the normal channels. If I start to miss the NBA too much, I can buy the NBA League pass through the Roku for $75 a year. Overall I’m glad that I finally dumped DirecTV and freed up some more cash for traveling. If you’re sick of paying so much for cable each month, you can cut the cable too!

The Terminal movie in real life – stranded passenger living in airport for last two months

Posted on: January 31st, 2013 by: Jason

For anyone familiar with the movie Terminal, Tom Hanks plays a stranded passenger who is caught in limbo and is forced to live in the airport as he doesn’t have the required papers to leave.

There’s a modern day example of this going on right now. Spaniard Rodrigo Ben-Azul flew to Chile to visit with family in order to settle a dispute. Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful in settling his dispute and his visa to stay in Chile had run out. He therefore returned to the Santiago airport but without any money to purchase a ticket home nor any money to eat with. He has been waiting for his family in Spain to send money so that he can return home.

He has spent the last eight weeks returning carts for money and picking food out of trash bins to survive.

If anyone is flying through Santiago – try and find Rodrigo and help him out!

« previous home top next »

Archives by Year:

Archives by Month:

Archives by Category