• It feels like there should be a gradual increase of happy hour prices rather than just charge you double five minutes later

  • On Sunday, I wanted to watch Star Trek: Discovery, but with my house still full of extended family, I went downstairs to watch it down in my office. I quickly aborted after turning on the TV and remembering just how bad the sound is from the built-in TV speakers.

    I immediately flipped over to the Wirecutter: I’ve been meaning to order wireless speakers to replace the Harman Kardon Soundsticks that I’ve been using as computer speakers for the past twelve years. I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone and order a nice pair that could double as both computer speakers and AppleTV speakers.

    For this to work I needed bluetooth speakers, so I had to go with the Wirecutter’s upgrade pick. $250. Pricey, but about what I was expecting to pay.

    It was only a few seconds after adding the speakers to my Amazon cart that some Apple Math started creeping into my head:

    Wait a second. If I’m paying $250 for these speakers, is it worth $100 more to just to get a HomePod?

    The always great reporting by Serenity Caldwell already had me wavering. After listening to this week’s The Talk Show and just a general want to find a need for this device, I was ripe for caving in.

    Paired with Rogue Amoeba’s Airfoil (play audio from your Mac to any speaker!) and the AirPlay capabilities of the AppleTV, I’m now a proud owner of a HomePod preorder. We’ll see if it sticks.

    (It probably will stick)

    So not only has CBS All Access milked $10 from me to watch one show, but it’s also squarely on them that I’ve spent $350 on a HomePod. If only Star Trek: Discovery had been on network TV…

  • Staring down a 3.5 day work week with a big ski trip (and Baby Vale’s first vacation!) at the end. It’s going to seem like an eight-day week

  • I almost said to Julie, “I’m going to play a little Stardew Valley and then be up to bed” but I didn’t because we all know there’s no such thing as a little Stardew Valley

  • 1:30pm brunch reservations after a 9am church service means you have to be very careful not to blow through all your potential conversation topics

  • Supreme irony I posted what I did right before a movie about basic decency, privilege, and the differences in how we all live our lives.

    Not that it matters, but she didn’t say one word after the previews.

  • In the previews for Shape of Water and I’m 90% sure I have a movie talker next to me. Pray for us both

  • Fixing Apple Watch's Move Goal

    I mentioned last week that I was trying to figure out how to fix the Apple Watch’s activity tracker. Elizabeth Lopatto somewhat beat me to the punch by detailing her move goal problems with the Apple Watch:

    The first week I put it on, the Apple Watch says I have to make 300 calories’ worth of movement in order to achieve my goals. So I do. This isn’t hard, and a couple days later, I actually triple my goal, which feels good. I know this because the Watch tells me. It feels good to get the little gold star and the silly badge that confirms I’ve made my stand goal, my activity goal, and my exercise goal for the week. The next Monday, the Watch tells me I should shoot for 750 calories.

    This is when the failure begins.

    The constraint on the Move goal is my rest days. I don’t do yoga on Tuesdays or Thursdays. Instead, I cook, usually in big enough portions that I can use the leftovers for lunch the next day. The relevant thing here is that cooking takes time; I can’t work out and cook at the same time. Without rest days, I hardly cook at all, which means I spend more money on takeout, which is generally worse for me than the foods I prepare myself.

    The Apple Watch doesn’t care about any of this. Rest days are the limiting factor on my ability to hit my move goal — while I easily hit 700 calories by the Watch’s measure on my workout days, I move a lot less when I take time off from working out. But rest days are crucial for exercise: they let your body recover. Without recovery, you don’t get the strength you’re trying to build, and you place yourself at risk for overuse injuries.

    At times I remind myself of what Blahnik said: this is a minimum. You’re supposed to beat it. This reminder makes me feel worse, not better. I stop letting the Watch set my Move goal. It is too unkind to me.

    The idea of a move goal is great, the execution is somewhat off. The current move goal feels like it was designed in whatever is Tim Cook’s fitness equivalent to Jony Ive’s world of white.

    There’s two pieces to how I would fix this:

    First, the daily move goal should take a cue from the exercise and stand goals and be a static metric: something akin to the 10,000 steps that Fitbits and old-school pedometers used to set as goals (though, I agree with Lopatto that ‘steps’ isn’t exactly right). If Apple is set on ‘calories’ as that metaphor, that’s fine. It can stay. It’s not like ‘calories’ is exceedingly accurate right now, so setting a static calorie goal for everyone is at the very worst value neutral in the accuracy department.

    Regardless, the focus of the daily move goal should just be meeting a minimum baseline of activity– essentially making sure that you’re doing more than just sitting on the couch all day. I do think there’s value in maintaining daily fitness goals, but good news! That’s already being achieved with your 30-minute exercise goal.

    Second, your new “move goal” is now based on burning a user-adjustable amount of calories per week (exactly like the current move goal operates, but on a weekly instead of daily basis). Apple Watch badges (like move streak, perfect week, and perfect month) should remain. But instead of tying them to daily goals, tie them to the weekly goals.

    Let’s say your current (daily) move goal is 500 calories and that you wanted to set your weekly move goal at essentially the same level: 3,500 calories. If you average 600 calories for five days of the week and 250 calories the other two days, congratulations– you’ve met your 3,500 calorie move goal.

    This achieves two things:

    1. You can still challenge yourself and have rest days. How many calories you burn in a discrete day is irrelevant as long as you get your 30-minutes of exercise, your twelve stand hours, and meet whatever the baseline activity is for the day. What matters for streaks now is how many calories you burn in a week.

    2. Weekly goals are more easily achievable, but are not any worse for your fitness– 3500 calories burned in a week is mostly the same as 500 calories burned in seven consecutive days. This eliminates some of the “failure bracelet” aspect that Lopatto mentioned in her article. Sure there will be some weeks that you struggle to meet your move goal, but there will be a whole lot fewer of those than individual days you struggle to meet it.

    I love the idea of the Apple Watch and I mostly love its execution: last year I lost 50+ pounds by keeping a 150-day move streak alive. But guess what? As soon as I lost that streak, I lost a lot of my motivation to work out.

    I’m not saying that the Apple Watch needs to go easier on the fitness aspects of people’s goals, but I am saying that the Apple Watch needs to go easier on the behavioral aspects of them.

  • I’ll reconsider getting the HomePod:

    1. When the reviews come out
    2. When (if!) it ever goes on sale
    3. As features are added (AirPlay 2, multi-user support, etc.)

    From best I can tell–there’s not a lot of information out there— it just currently doesn’t fit my needs.

  • I successfully resisted the urge to buy a HomePod. Please clap.

  • Diamond Beach at Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon in Iceland. Lots of ice chunks on a black sand beach. Also a huge ice couch that you had to wait until the tide went out to hop on and off! Had to be quick to not get wet!

  • Really happy to get this post on the basics of discounted travel with credit card points out; I get asked about it all the time. Hope it helps people travel more!

  • The Five Basics of Credit Card Points and Airline Miles

    There are three things everyone should know about credit card points and airline miles:

    1. This isn’t “free” travel
    2. It can take a lot of work and organization
    3. Everything changes often

    I’m going to attempt to cover the basics here, which means I’m not going to get into the specifics of how to best play this game. If you read this and want to know more, let me know and I’d be happy to discuss what best fits your situation.

    The good news is that everything I’m saying here scales: if you just want to open one credit card per year, collect your 50,000 points, and get two roundtrip domestic coach tickets: cool. If you want to fly first class to the Maldives and stay in an overwater bungalow: equally cool (but get ready to put the hours in).

    Before we get started, remember that we’re dealing with financial tools here that if used inappropriately, can literally ruin your life. No trip is worth destroying your credit or going into debt. If you’re currently in debt, focus on getting out before starting this. The amount of money you save from getting out of debt is tenfold what you’ll earn from points and miles. In short: only start this if you 1) are not in debt and 2) know the risks associated with it.

    A lot of how you collect points and miles depends on what you’re looking to do: if you’re keeping it small, your strategy is different than if you’re going big. But no matter what you do, you’re going to need to know the basics.

    Basics 1: Chase, American Express, and Citi: the Big Three Credit Card Issuers

    A big misconception is that the bulk of accrued airline miles come from flying. The truth is that the vast majority of your points and miles will come from credit card spending and sign-up bonuses. While there are other issuers, the three you need to be familiar with are Chase, American Express, and Citi.

    Each one of these banks issue several different credit cards that all accrue either airline miles or credit card points at rates ranging from one point per dollar spent to five points per dollar spent. Most of the credit cards that these banks issue also come with sign-up bonuses ranging from 10,000 points to 100,000 points after spending a certain amount of money over a certain period of time (the default is spending $3,000 in three months).

    Basics 2: What’s the difference between credit card points and airline miles?

    Now that you know the three major credit card issuers and how that the bulk of points and miles come from credit cards, let’s talk about the difference between credit card points and airline miles.

    Airline miles are straightforward: these are miles earned by flying or from spending on an airline-branded credit card that are deposited directly into the airline’s mileage balance. So if you fly an American Airlines flight, you’re going to earn American Airlines miles. If you spend money on an American Airlines credit card, you’re going to earn American Airlines miles.

    Credit Card points are a bit trickier to understand. Each of the three big credit card issuers all have their own system of credit card points: Chase has Ultimate Rewards, American Express has Membership Rewards, and Citi has Thank You points. These credit card points are valuable because they can be redeemed in two different ways:

    Redemption 1: Directly for travel. Generally at redemption rates ranging from 1¢-1.5¢ per point, you can book anything related to travel: flights, hotels, rental cars, cruises. etc. So if you have a redemption rate of 1¢ per point, a $500 flight would cost you 50,000 points. If you have a redemption rate of 1.5¢ per point, a $750 flight would cost you 50,000 points.

    Redemption 2: Transfer to airline miles. Generally at a rate of 1:1, you can transfer credit card points for airline miles (or hotel points). 30,000 Chase Ultimate Reward points can be transferred to 30,000 Southwest miles. 50,000 American Express Membership Rewards can be transferred to 50,000 Delta miles.

    The catch on Redemption 2 is that not every credit card issuer can transfer to every airline. For example, American Express Membership rewards cannot transfer to Southwest. Similarly, Chase Ultimate Rewards cannot transfer to Delta. For the three major credit card issuers, here are the main transfer partners:

    • Chase Ultimate Rewards: Southwest, United, Singapore Airlines, British Airways
    • American Express Membership Rewards: Delta, Singapore Airlines, British Airways
    • Citi Thank You: Singapore Airlines, British Airways

    Basics 3: The best credit cards for earning airline miles or credit card points

    Let’s get this out of the way first: American Airlines is a popular airline. But while Citi issues an American Airlines credit card, no credit card points from the big three credit card issuers (Chase, American Express, Citi) are able to be transferred to American Airlines. (This isn’t strictly true–but to keep things simple, we’re going to say it is) So if you want to earn American Airlines miles, you need to get an American Airlines card.

    I value credit card points much more than airline miles. Mainly because credit card points can be used like cash (Redemption 1) or turned into airline miles (Redemption 2). So since we’re keeping this basic, let’s focus on the best credit cards for earning credit card points from Chase, American Express, and Citi. These are in roughly the order that I value the points:

    [As a quick side note, some of these links I get extra points if you apply through]

    Chase Ultimate Rewards

    Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited (No Annual Fees, 15,000 Point Sign-Up Bonuses)

    One of these two (or preferably both!) should be in your wallet. The Chase Freedom has rotating categories every quarter to where you earn 5x the points on all purchases in the category (for October-December it was Wal-Mart, for January-March it’s Gas and Internet/Cable bills). The Chase Freedom Unlimited earns a flat 1.5 points/dollar on every purchase. Which speaking most cards that have annual fee earn only 1 point/dollar on every purchase, it’s kind of crazy this card is free.

    The catch (and there’s always a catch!) is that unless you have one of Chase’s Premium Cards (Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve), you can only redeem these points for cash at a rate of 1¢ per point. Which, let’s be honest, isn’t the worst thing in the world. But if you do want to take it a step further…

    Chase Sapphire Preferred ($95 Annual Fee, 50,000 point sign-up bonus) and Chase Sapphire Reserve ($450 Annual Fee, 50,000 point sign-up bonus)

    … then the Sapphire line of cards is where to go. Both of these allow you to either redeem the points for travel (1.25¢/point for the Preferred, 1.5¢/point for the Reserve) or transfer to airlines and hotels for miles. If you have the Freedom and/or the Freedom Unlimited and the Chase Sapphire Preferred and/or Reserve, points earned on the Freedom cards can also be transferred to airline miles or redeemed at the rate of the highest card you have (e.g. if you have the Sapphire Reserve, you can redeem points earned on the Freedom Unlimited for airline miles or 1.5¢/point directly for travel).

    Both of these earn one point per dollar spent on every purchase, but earn bonus points for restaurant and travel purchases (2x the points on the Preferred, 3x the points on the Reserve).

    You may be looking incredulously at that $450 annual fee for the Sapphire Reserve (and you should!). But know in addition to everything mentioned above, the Sapphire Reserve also gives you $300 off travel purchases every year (so if you bought a $400 flight–or two $200 flights– on the card, $300 would be refunded to you) and gives you lounge access at 1000+ airports, as well as a host of other benefits. As long as you actually make $300 worth of travel purchases a year, the annual fee for the Chase Sapphire Reserve card is effectively $150.

    American Express Membership Rewards

    The American Express cards are the ones I haven’t had in years as that they have pretty strict application rules, their sign-up bonuses aren’t great, I don’t really fly Delta, and worst of all (and most applicable to me): you can only get the sign-up bonus once (like once ever– one sign-up bonus in your lifetime). But if you’re flying Delta, then this is your only choice.

    AmEx Everyday (No Annual Fee, 10,000 point sign up bonus) and AmEx Everyday Preferred ($95 Annual Fee and 15,000 point sign up bonus)

    The Everyday gets 2x the points at grocery stores and 2x the points on travel purchases. The Everyday Preferred gets 3x in those categories. The main benefit here is that when you make 30 purchases per month, you actually get a multiplier on the points you earned for that month (30% for the Everyday and 50% on the Everyday Preferred). The other leg up it has over Chase is that even if you just have the no-annual-fee AmEx Everyday, you can transfer those points to airlines for miles.

    AmEx Premier Rewards Gold ($195 Annual Fee, 25,000 point sign-up bonus) and AmEx Platinum ($550 annual fee, 60,000 point sign-up bonus)

    These are the premium AmEx cards. The gold has a $195 annual fee, but you get a $100 airline credit (more restrictive than the Chase Sapphire Reserve $300 credit which is applicable to any travel), plus you get 3x on travel and 2x on restaurants, gas, and groceries.

    The Platinum card isn’t one I really recommend strictly for points earning. There’s some great benefits (it’s got the best signup bonus, $30 in Uber credit every month, $250 airline credit, lounge access, other premium benefits), but with the exception of 5x the points on airfare booked with AmEx, you only earn one point per dollar everywhere else.

    Citi Thank You Points

    This used to be where I earned the bulk of my points, but they’ve really restricted applications and they only offer sign up bonuses every now and then. In addition, these points don’t transfer to airlines that fly domestically, so you have to be pretty knowledgeable about how to book domestic flights with miles from international carriers. It’s pretty easy to understand, but there is a learning curve on this.

    Thank You Preferred (No Annual Fee, No sign-up bonus)

    This is a basic card, but it’s free and you get 2x the points on restaurants and entertainment (movie theaters, sports tickets, etc.)

    Thank You Premier ($95 Annual Fee, no sign-up bonus, though sometimes there’s a 50,000 bonus) and Thank You Prestige ($450 annual fee, no sign up bonus, though sometimes there’s a 50,000 point bonus)

    Both of these cards earn 3x the points on flights and gas and 2x the points on restaurants and entertainment. With the Prestige you get a cool offer of the fourth night free at any hotel you book, plus $250 in travel fees reimbursed every year, as well as lounge access (similar to the Chase Sapphire Reserve). If you have the Premier or Prestige, these points are worth 1.25¢ per point to directly book travel. Also similar to Chase, you must hold one of these cards to transfer Thank You points to an airline.

    Basics 4: What are the limits for signing up for these cards and getting a sign-up bonus?

    There used to be a time when you could pretty much sign up for any of these cards at any time and get the signup bonus. That time has passed. In general here are the current rules:

    Chase: you’ll only get approved if you have opened fewer than five credit cards from any bank in the past two years

    American Express: only one sign-up bonus ever

    Citi: one sign-up bonus for all cards every two years (when–ya know– they’re actually offering signup bonuses)

    Basics 5: If I’m just starting out, what do you generally recommend?

    If you’ve got something specific you want to do, talk to me.

    If you’re just generally looking to get into this and not as worried about maximizing, here’s what I’d do:

    If you’re just starting out (i.e. you’ve applied for one or zero cards in the past two years), my recommendation would be to get the Chase cards you want before moving onto the others. You can apply for two Chase cards every 30 days.

    If you want more points and Citi is actually offering a signup bonus, move on to the Citi Thank You Premier.

    The AmEx cards are a bit trickier to generally recommend when to get them. Since you only get one sign up bonus ever, you want to make sure it counts. I’d recommend only applying for these when you have a specific use for them.

    My general strategy is to maximize Chase points. Not only are they the easiest to earn on spending (they have the best signup bonuses and the best bonus categories) they also transfer to the airline I fly the most (Southwest) and with the Sapphire Reserve I can redeem the points for 1.5¢ per mile if I want to go that route.

    The one thing I want to emphasize here is that the more cards you get, the more work this takes to manage. If you know that you’re not going to keep up with all that it takes to manage several lines of credit open to you, just apply for one of these cards (probably the Sapphire Preferred) and then two years later cancel it and apply for it again. But if you’re willing to put in the time, effort, and attention needed to do this appropriately, you’re going to be able to see and do things you never thought was possible.

  • I’m most excited about Shape of Water’s nomination– mainly because I haven’t gotten a chance to see it yet and this pretty much guarantees another two or three weeks to do so

  • Mostly happy with at least the list for Academy Award best picture. I’m sure there’s something obvious I’m missing, but all the movies that I was immediately looking for made the cut.

  • I was excited when the HomePod was announced, but eight months later $350 seems steep for the current feature set. I’d like to say I’m in wait and see mode, but I know I’ll pick up at least one.

  • What a waste when a few perfectly good thunderstorm is forecasted for while you’re asleep

  • I really need Dwayne Johnson to find his Die Hard

  • It’s such a nice day for a run, I think I’ll stay in and watch football

  • What are y’all doing tonight? Julie and I are talking about the Oxford comma

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