Tag Archives: saving time

How to Use Your Credit Card’s Concierge Service

…or how to get someone to do your bidding for free.

I love credit cards (see my post on using trip delay insurance). One perk of credit cards that I take advantage of frequently is their concierge services.

Any card with the Visa Signature logo comes with a free concierge service, as do Amex Platinum and Centurion cards, Mastercard World Elite cards, and Discover cards (I’m not quite as certain regarding Discover cards, but the Discover card that I have comes with a concierge service, and it’s just the basic no annual fee Discover More card).

For the most part, I’ve used the Visa Signature concierge to make restaurant reservations. Want a table at Gary Danko? Instead of calling exactly 2 months in advance yourself, just send a request to your concierge, and they’ll do the calling for you. Want a reservation at a restaurant in Paris but you don’t speak French? Have your concierge deal with it.

Concierges can also do things like make travel recommendations, get concert tickets, send gifts, etc. I once was looking for a place near work to get my pupillary distance measured in SF for free, and instead of calling up optometrists and shops myself, I sent the request to the concierge, and they emailed me back a list of places where I could get this done. This saved me at least half an hour of research.

Granted, the quality of concierges varies greatly. I’ve used the Visa Signature concierge to make pretty much all of the restaurant reservations for my upcoming trip to Europe, but in some cases, they told me that tables weren’t available because they requested them for the wrong dates (for April 2nd instead of February 4th because they forgot that Europeans put the day first) or because they didn’t know how to dial an international number correctly. But overall, I’ve been quite pleased with the service that I’ve received from Visa (less so with Discover and Amex).

Have you ever used your credit card’s concierge service? What things have they done for you?

How to Get Through US Customs and Border Patrol Efficiently

Get Global Entry.

Global Entry is a trusted traveler program that provides expedited pre-clearance into the US. In other words, you submit your info for a background check, and if you get approved, you get to skip all of the lines when you come back to the US from a trip abroad. It’s magical. The last time I came back from the US, I was literally off the plane and into a car to go home in less than 10 minutes because of Global Entry.

The application process is pretty painless, although the online application is slightly long and you do have to go to an interview at one of the interview sites (generally located at airports). Depending on the site, it may take a long time before you can schedule an interview, so I would advise applying for Global Entry several months prior to your next international trip. Alternatively, you can try walking in for an interview, although I’ve heard that some interview sites don’t like that.

The other barrier is that it costs $100 for the application, and you don’t get the application fee refunded if you get rejected from the program. Here are a couple of ways that I know of to avoid paying the application fee or otherwise getting the fee reduced:

  1. United Airlines will reimburse Platinum members and above for the application fee
  2. Amex will reimburse Platinum cardholders for the fee (this is valid for each authorized user on the account, and you can add up to three additional users to your account for $175 total)
  3. Nexus costs only $50 for its application, and you get access to Global Entry, but the enrollment centers are all near the border to Canada, which might be a deal breaker for many

It’s also worth noting that for the United and Amex reimbursements, although it might say that the reimbursement is supposed to be used for the status- or cardholder only, in my experience, you can use the reimbursement for anyone’s application.

Personally, even if I hadn’t gotten the fee reimbursed, I still think Global Entry is worth it. At $100 for 5 years, that’s $20 per year for expedited clearance. If I travel internationally three times each year, and each time Global Entry saves me 40 minutes of waiting in lines, then I’m paying $10 per hour of my life saved. Granted, there’s the upfront time spent to apply and interview for the program, but I have reason to believe that future interviews aren’t necessary for renewal, so I’m going to say that the upfront time investment can be amortized over the rest of my lifetime, so it’s relatively negligible.

As an additional bonus, Global Entry members can also enroll in TSA PreCheck, which can save you time going through normal security. Granted, TSA PreCheck hasn’t actually worked for me yet, and it’s a random process, so you can’t count on it saving you time, but in theory, I like the added benefit, and it can further decrease the relative cost of the application fee. UPDATE: After a couple of weeks of waiting, I’ve received TSA PreCheck on every eligible flight. It makes travel that much easier.

Do any of you have Global Entry or TSA PreCheck? What have been your experiences with either program?

How to Manage Email

I’m always astounded at people with thousands of unread emails sitting in their inboxes; I get anxious when I have more than ten.

I generally try to keep inbox zero, but in actuality, I usually have 1-3 emails sitting in my inbox. Here’s how I manage my email:

1. Does this email require any action from me? If not, archive immediately (press e if you’ve enabled keyboard shortcuts; I also apply whatever labels are necessary at this point if I need to keep tabs on it). This is generally 80% of my email.

2. For emails that require action of me, can I do this action in less than 2 minutes? If so, do it immediately, then archive the email. This is 10% of my email.

3. For emails that require action of me and will take more than 2 minutes, mark the email as important somehow, write myself a task to do, and archive the email. This is the remaining 10% of my email.

The key parts to this plan are incredibly aggressive archiving and recognizing that keeping things sitting in my inbox doesn’t make me more likely to do them and instead just makes my life feel more cluttered. I used to keep interesting articles, things that I should research, things that I should get back to but don’t have to necessarily do, etc. sitting in my inbox, but I realized that I never returned to them 99% of the time. So now, I instead force myself to take an action of some sort immediately, and then archive the email so it doesn’t sit around and make me feel guilty.

Of course, this means that sometimes my to do list gets a little out of control, but I’ll get to managing tasks at a later time. In the meantime, what are your favorite tips for managing your email?

How to Get Your Meal on an Airplane Faster

…or why I order special meals when possible.

Although airlines don’t serve meals in coach on domestic flights anymore, most still serve them on international flights. And if you have the misfortune of sitting near the back of the plane, you won’t get your meal until much later, and you might not get your first choice of entree.

But if you’ve ever paid attention to meal service, some people get their meals before everyone else: people who order special meals. So if you want to get your meal before everyone else, just order a special meal on a plane.

There are a lot of different options for special meals on most airlines (Emirates offers over 20 special meals; United offers 9 special meals), and I usually go for the VGML aka vegan meal (note for vegans: just because you ordered a vegan meal doesn’t mean that everything is actually vegan… United’s catering out of the US seems to be particularly bad about this).

united_vgml_breakfastA United VGML breakfast with soy milk and real maple syrup (and some sort of vegan egg substitute)! Not sure what I was supposed to put the syrup on though…

I think special meals are great! You get your food before everyone else (which means that you can get to sleep earlier), they’re often much more appetizing than what they normally serve (particularly when catered from Asian countries, although this is up to your own preferences), and if they forget to cater it, you can usually ask nicely and a flight attendant will try to scrounge up something special for you (if the flight attendant doesn’t seem to care, ask to speak to the purser on the flight; I’ve also gotten free miles as compensation when they don’t have my special meal).

Have you ever ordered a special meal on a flight? What was your experience with it?