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Looking into points again

Friday, May 25th, 2018 at 8:47 pm

For a number of months now I have been thinking about travel, probably due to a combination of shortly spending two weeks in Thailand (and Singapore) for the Koh Samui International Podcast Festival 2018, next year I will be heading over to the South Island of New Zealand for LCA2019 and I am considering a weekend up in Sydney for the Australian Skeptics National Convention. Amongst all the planning of where to go, I thought about rewards points and whether I had enough to use for any part of this travel.

My first step was to look up what points I had, which led to some disappointment and learning about expiry policies…

A few years back when I was in Kansas for work I signed up to the Hilton Honors program as it made it easier to access the hotel wifi, but I also earned points. I don’t recall how many, but that is no relevant anymore as they have all expired. I have learned that to keep your account active (and keep any points) you need to stay at a Hilton hotel every twelve months, something that I did not (and am unlikely to) do.

My original musing on the value of points involved Qantas points, so I knew I had some of those as that is what I would originally get when shopping at Woolworths. Note that I just said ‘originally’ as a few years back the Everyday Rewards program that gave Qantas points changed into the Woolworths Rewards program that gives Woolworths points. While I have appreciated the $10 off for every 2000 points, in hindsight I should have opted to keep getting Qantas points instead. Why? Because the 20,000 Qantas points that I did accumulate have expired due to lack of activity.

The final two places that I have points (and know still have them) are flybuys which I mostly get from using my credit card, and Velocity because in recent years my occasional flights have been with Virgin Australia, including the ones to/from Kansas that work paid for…

Over the years I have accumulated a lot of flybuys points, despite redeeming for books of movie tickets a few times there are around 180,000 points which could be redeemed for $900 in “flybuys Dollars” or the same value in gift cards. On the Velocity side I have around 30,000 points, the “cash rate” for these is slightly better: 18,000 points for $100 instead of the 20,000 points for $100 with flybuys.

But what about all that spam I have been getting about linking my flybuys and Velocity account and then transferring points and getting a 20% bonus if done in May? I have looked into that but…

  • login to flybuys and try to link my Velocity account, it errors saying that the Velocity account is already linked to a flybuys household
  • login to Velocity to see what it says on that side, what does it say “Your flybuys and Velocity memberships are linked”
  • try linking from flybuys again, same error
  • track down contact information for flybuys (only phone or mail, no email) and call them, they say I need to call Velocity to get them to unlink from their side
  • locate the support page for Velocity (now just a phone number) and call them, they can’t unlink flybuys from my account and transfer me over to flybuys support, this person can see there is an issue and while they cannot help, they will escalate
  • over a week later no change…

I don’t have high hopes for being able to transfer point, but one question is do I even want to? Transferring 10,000 flybuys points only gives 4,350 Velocity points (I don’t know if that is including the 20% bonus) so that is not good if I was only going to cash them out as gift cards, so I would need to know that I would be using them for flights.

So I started pricing out some flights…

The same Melbourne to Sydney return flights for a weekend in October:

  • $260 booking direct
  • 52,000 flybuys points (cash rate: $260)
  • 23,800 Velocity points (cash rate: $132)
  • 54,000 flybuys points converted to Velocity points (cash rate: $270)

So using the flybuys points is the same as cashing out the points and just buying the tickets, while the Velocity points are better value if you have the points already. Converting from flybuys to Velocity is the worst option of these.

Another aspect to this comparison is opting for business class instead of economy:

  • $998 booking direct
  • 199,600 flybuys points (cash rate: $998)
  • 38,900 Velocity points (cash rate: $216)
  • 89,000 flybuys points converted to Velocity points (cash rate: $445)

Again the flybuys points give the same as cashing out the points, while using Velocity points is again the “best” option. This time converting flybuys points to Velocity points does come out better than gift cards, though I’m not sure if it is worth it for the short Melbourne to Sydney flight.

Looking further ahead to the longer flight from Melbourne to Christchurch:

Economy:

  • $602 booking direct (includes bags and meal, $552 if bags and no meal, $502 if no bags and no meal)
  • 58,600 flybuys points (cash rate: $293) (no included checked bags or meal)
  • 62,000 Velocity points (cash rate: $344) (includes checked bags and meal)
  • 142,500 flybuys points converted to Velocity points (cash rate: $712)

Business:

  • $1292 booking direct
  • 258,600 flybuys points (cash rate: $1293)
  • 98,100 Velocity points (cash rate: $545)
  • 225,500 flybuys points converted to Velocity points (cash rate: $1127)

For these flights there is more variation in the numbers. For economy it first appears best to book through flybuys, but having to buy checked baggage is not good, so using Velocity points is the best if you have them. Topping up Velocity from flybuys might be an ok compromise, but assumes my accounts are ever able to be linked.

For business class it only appears to be worthwhile if you already have the Velocity points, booking through flybuys is the same as just buying the ticket, though topping up some Velocity points from flybuys might be ok. For my current situation, even though I should get some more Velocity points for my Singapore/Thailand trip I will not have enough of both to make business class an option.

An additional complication to the economy numbers is that the direct prices were direct from Virgin Australia. While a search on Google Flights gave me the same $502 no bags/meal option from Virgin Australia, but also $333 with one bag if booking through Expedia.

After all this there is only one thing I am certain of, this is complex and the time spent working out what is the best deal is probably not worth it. I am leaning towards maybe using Velocity points for Sydney, cashing out flybuys points into gift cards, and looking for a deal (such as the Expedia one) for New Zealand…

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All roads lead via … Sunshine West

Tuesday, February 6th, 2018 at 9:43 pm

Over the past couple of years I have been ordering more things online that are being delivered with tracking. This means that instead of just waiting for the item to arrive, I can now spend too much time checking its status.

Something I have noticed is that parcels will go via Sunshine West, even if they are coming from near the destination.

A recent order from Myer is an interesting example with it being shipped from the store in Doncaster and this is in the tracking they display:

Seems pretty straightforward doesn’t it? But the tracking from Australia Post shows a few intermediate destinations:

At face value it seems like a waste to sent the parcel on such an indirect path, but I assume it is actually more efficient (probably people time) to handle all parcels via a central location.

Another aspect I have noticed is that when ordering from a solely online store that the items will be shipped from a warehouse, but for places like Myer where online ordering is a recent addition to their physical stores it appears like the item is shipped from a “nearby” store that has stock. But should they ship from a store near the destination, or from a store near where parcels are handled?

Though no matter what I find intersting about parcel delivery, I am glad I don’t have the issues that Dave Hall has in country Victoria:

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Bringing back the ham

Friday, December 22nd, 2017 at 7:11 am

For the first time in a few years I will be making an Alton Brown baked ham for Christmas lunch. To prepare I went to double check the recipe from my own blog post, to find that Food Network had changed their URLs without putting redirects in place.

I have updated the broken links, but am also putting the important details here, including values in metric:

Ingredients:

  • 1 brined ham, hock end
  • 1/4 cup brown mustard
  • 2 cups dark brown sugar
  • bourbon in a spray bottle
  • 2 cups crushed ginger snap cookies

Steps:

  • Heat oven to 120°C (250°F)
  • Prepare ham by scoring the skin and tenting with foil
  • Cook for 3 to 4 hours or until internal temperature reaches 55°C (130°F)
  • Remove skin and fat from ham
  • Heat oven to 180°C (350°F)
  • Apply mustard, brown sugar, bourbon and crushed cookies
  • Cook until internal temperature reaches 60°C (140°F), approx 1 hour
  • Rest for half an hour and then carve

To have it all done and then at my sister’s place for lunch, the prep work needs to be done the night before and started in the oven at 6AM on the day.

There is now a (not the best quality) copy of the entire episode on YouTube which could be used as a reference in addition to the recipe and the episode transcript:


Good Eats S04E06 Ham I Am

Relevant to all this is that I am excited about Good Eats coming back as Return of the Eats early next year, and if the Eat Your Science Tour ever comes to Australia I will be there…

(similar to how it was automatic to get a ticket to Brain Candy as soon as I heard there would be Australian shows, I will miss the Melbourne show as I will be in Sydney that week, so I am going to the Sydney show instead…)

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Weathering a Buzzconf

Monday, December 4th, 2017 at 1:32 pm

This past weekend was the third Buzzconf, and despite the Severe Weather Warning we were not washed away. Although my concession was to borrow a more substantial tent (that I could also stand up in!) and ensuring I had plenty of changes of clothes.

I heard about and talked to people about all sorts of interesting things, VR and AI being repeated topics, a very exiting part of the weekend was watching the results of the rocket workshop:


BuzzConf 2017 Water Rocket Launch

I briefly thought about going into detail about my favourite talks, but instead just watch this:


Much Ado About BuzzConf

Really impressive videos put together by Hai Truong, more so once you realise that he shot, edited and published them during the weekend…

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Skepticon in Sydney

Monday, November 20th, 2017 at 3:39 pm

I have just arrived home from a weekend up in Sydney for the 33rd Australian Skeptics National Convention, branded as Skepticon Australia.

It was a great weekend, so what were my highlights?

We heard from Britt Hermes of Naturopathic Diaries about how she became a nauropathic doctor, how she came to understand why that was a mistake and finally what she is now doing about it. It was a shame she wasn’t able to be there in person due to illness, but the video conference was the next best thing.

A panel on journalism featuring Kathy Marks, Marcus Strom & Fauziah Ibrahim gave some interesting insights into how journalists are dealing with the news these days. Of particular interest to me was the information from Marcus about – in his time at the Sydney Morning Herald – the level of tracking that occurs on a news website. They monitor every click and how much you read, plus things like constantly running A/B testing on variations of headlines to determine which is more clickable.

The session about War On Waste with Craig Reucassel, Stephen Oliver & Jodi Boylan started off teasing what we could expect to see in the upcoming fourth episode, but then went deeper building on the previous day’s panel. When can you advocate for one side of an issue versus straight journalism and how to balance education with entertainment.

The most powerful talk of the weekend was from Ruth Ellison (who I knew from previous skeptic and tech conferences as a as a user experience person and maker of laser cut jewelery), speaking for the first time in public about what it was like to grow up in and then leave a religious cult. The entire room was stunned to hear about Ruth’s experience, so much support from people later in the day and via twitter.

The other big thing this year was a number of live podcasts recordings (mostly in “the other room” so I didn’t go to them as I went to talks in “the main room”), but there was only one that I was even slightly aware of, and had never listened to. This is not unusual as there a lot of podcasts out there, but the striking thing was that quite a few people I spoke to were at the convention they listened to one of the podcasts (mainly The Scathing Atheist). The two recording in the main room that I watched were Cognitive Dissonance and God Awful Movies (by the same hosts as The Scathing Atheist). They were enjoyable but not quite my taste so I don’t think I will subscribe. I have queued up a couple of their older episodes to listen to, I will see how they are…

I think my next skeptics event like this will be the Surf Coast Skepticamp in February, but much sooner than that I have a technology event, the third BuzzConf in two weeks time…

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