Setting Small Investment Goals…

Just a FYI for potential readers: My next several posts will probably be financial related. Hopefully this doesn’t “bore” you too much! 😉

Like many people, I have long term goals for myself from a career, financial, and personal perspective. These goals are 5,10, and sometimes 10+ years in the future. One of my long term goals is being able to a taxable (non-retirement) investment portfolio that generates at least $2,500/month in income. This equates to a portfolio that annually generates $30,000 each year. Having a portfolio that generates $30,000 per year sounds like a steep mountain to climb unless you break it into smaller more achievable goals. 

I wanted to share a few thoughts and strategies about breaking things into smaller goals that have worked for me as I go about this journey to generate at least $2,500 in investment income per month…

It is really hard when you first start buying stock realizing that the stock you just purchase may only pay you a paltry $3.80 per quarter or ~$13.00 per year. That can be down right demoralizing to even think about! So instead of thinking about the longer term amount, when I bough that first position, I looked at things from the perspective of if I had enough dividends to buy a new share of stock in the company I was buying. This did two things for me:

  • It made the goal more realistic and achievable
  • It made me focus on the short term while inching along towards the longer term objective

I was talking with a co-worker a few weeks ago about where I’m at towards my long term goal and told this person that year 0 to year 3 are probably the hardest years to go through when it comes to this investment goal. I say this because it’s difficult to see any progress being made especially when the investments I’m making may only be buying partial shares of stock in the very beginning. It’s also challenging because for most stock investments the benefits to ownership are not realized immediately and you have to be in it for the long haul through both the ups and downs that the market could go through.

I would estimate that I’m somewhere between the middle of year 0 and the end of year 1 in terms of establishing a dividend investment portfolio, having a good number of high quality investments, and starting to see the benefits of dividend re-investments and dividend raises. Right now, I have 5 positions which I consider to be a full positions and am working on building a 6th full position. I define a full position as an investment where reinvested dividends will buy at least 1 full share of stock per quarter.

The 6 positions that I have now generates an estimated $1,400 per year in investment income. (Note: My $1,400 number is actually conservative because I own a couple ETFs where distributions can be uneven and aren’t as predictable as companies who pay dividends.) While the $1,400 number is still really low compared to the $30,000 per year that I want, I am going to use to set a small goal. My small goal for the rest of the year is to get my forward estimated annual dividend income to $2,000 per year.

In my mind, $2,000 is a more attainable goal to aim for this year. Even if I don’t achieve that goal by the end of year, the number is more attainable and realistic than looking at it against the overall number. This also helps me with planning. Right now, I am working on establishing my 6th full position and after that I will build a 7th full position. My plan is once I have my 7th full position is to circle back and buy an additional 10% in my existing 6 positions. Then I will establish positions 8, 9, and 10 and then recycle to other existing positions to add 10% again.

Over the coming days, weeks, months, and years, I will continue writing about this journey to $30,000 in investment income. I hope you will like hearing about my journey!

If there’s anything I would like to end with, it’d be this: Establishing smaller goals to achieve bigger ones is something that can be applied to anything whether its weight loss, paying off debt, buying a home, or investing. Celebrating the small wins also makes it much easier to continue marching down the path of obtaining that bigger goal.





Thoughts on Brexit…

Ah, the crazy Brits…they’re always up to something that’s bound to cause a stir. Whether it’s voting for Scottish independence (2014) or voting on the United Kingdom (UK) leaving the European Union (EU) (this year). One thing I do admire about the system of government in the UK is how they put they major policy questions directly to the citizens for a vote (even if the referendum was non-binding)

With that in mind, I wanted to share some thoughts on Brexit…

Like the majority of the rest of the world, I was quite surprised when the majority of the votes came in favor of leaving the EU. I do think that the British people are making an ill-informed decision or a decision that they are bound to regret in the years to come. There’s many things that the British government will have to do such as re-issuing passports, review current laws that were passed for EU regulatory purposes, negotiate a new trade agreement with EU, determine the status of EU citizens in Britain and British citizens living in the EU, and the list goes on and on! One other thing for consideration is that by leaving the EU, it may also force the break up of the UK. Every single county in Scotland voted to remain in the EU. Also, Northern Ireland is exploring its options to keep trade and borders open with Ireland. It’s no wonder Prime Minister Cameron is letting the next PM activate article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty that allows the 2 year clock on leaving the EU to begin ;).

I also think that the U.S. markets are overreacting. The markets in the U.S. have dropped almost 1,000 points from last Thursday’s close due to the “global uncertainty” associated with Britain leaving the EU. In fairness, Britain is the world’s 5th largest economy, however, a lot can and will happen if Britain decided to declare under article 50 that they are leaving the EU. What this overreaction presents for me is opportunities to buy stock at discounted prices! I only wish I had more cash to take advantage of the price drop. It’s like I was explaining to one of my co-workers today, our company is not materially worth less the today because the British people voted to leave the EU. I’m also a believer that this price drop in the market will eventually recover.

From a selfish standpoint, now is a great time to travel to Britain as the exchange rate has gotten much more favorable for the U.S. dollar. Additionally, if you’re buying a house in the next 30 days or so, you may be able to lock in a lower interest rate as there as been a significant surge in buying 10 year U.S. Treasury bonds. This has caused the yield on the bonds to decrease and because mortgages are closely tied to the 10 year Treasury yield, interests are lower.

It will be interesting to see how the vote to leave the EU plays out. There has been talk in Britain of voters not understanding what they were voting for, a petition calling for another vote on leaving the EU, and leaders of the “Leave” campaign walking back on their pledges on what happens and how certain programs would be funded if the “Leave” vote won.

Leaving the EU will be a complex affair with lots to consider for Great Britain and its (former) EU partners. There is much to discuss if and when Britain declares that it’s leaving. So far the biggest losers of the vote to the leave the EU have been the British citizens with the pound losing its value, markets in turmoil, and the potential for Scotland to leave the UK.

I’ll leave you with one thing to ponder…

Given that the vote on last Thursday was non-binding for the British Parliament and the complexities behind actually leaving the EU, will the British actually leave or will this end up being bluster that will end up causing a lot of anxiety and costing people a lot of money? As for me, while everyone is panicking about the uncertainty and trying to figure out what to sell, I’ll be happily buying cheap stock!

If you’re interested in reading more about “Brexit”, I encourage you to consult the following links:

Getting Back to the Basics…

Yowzers! This was bound to happen…finally I am circling back to my “long, lost, and almost forgotten” blog/site. A lot has changed and gone on…

First off, this site used to be hosted by hostgator and I had to pay for the privilege of being hosted. The web hosting renewed every May from 2009 – 2016. This year, I decided that I wasn’t going to continue the hosting by hostgator and I decided to just go with the free option offered by I never really monetized the website and more used it as a journal/place to express ideas and thoughts. Therefore, I decided the free options were good enough for me and my purposes. This has led to saving me $140/year. 🙂

You now might be asking what my plans for the site are going forward? Really, I have no idea how often I will post. I am in a different place and mindset than when I first setup this site and domain. Back then, I was in the midst of planning a trip around the world. Now, I’m working on planning a wedding, paying off a house, occasionally traveling, and saving money and investing. My thoughts are to turn this site into more of an online journal and journey for people to follow/comment on etc.

Recently, I’ve been investing in the market and have made this to be a new habit. My goal is to someday be able to cover my monthly expenses with dividend/investment income. So far I have 5 positions that purchase at least 1 new share of each stock every quarter. I’m working on my 6th position now. It’s definitely a work in progress, but it’s been fun seeing it get off the ground! I’m sure there will be at least a few more posts regarding investments/opportunities for investments.

Some major changes for me….

Since my world trip ended in Sept 2012, I’m on my 4th employer. Sometimes, I’ve left by choice and better opportunities and other times, I’ve decided to leave because of re-organizations/title changes/changes in responsibilities. I’m happy with my current employer, boss, and team so I’m hoping for a little stability in employers the next 2-4 years. It’s almost been a year since I’ve been with my current employer.

I’m also getting married in September of this year! Woohoo! That will be another great and exciting change. I’m marrying a Minnesota girl who is a pre-school teacher and has a love of helping others. She also shares my love of travel, trying new restaurants, canoeing, being outdoors, being practical/planning, and being frugal. We’re only a few months away from getting married and nearly everything is all done for the wedding! 😉

Going along with getting married, I bought a house in late February 2016! Of course with a house, comes new expenses and new things one has to buy. It’s been an interesting process and expect to see some posts related to the house as well.

Finally, although my travels have slowed down, there is still a deep love of travel, how travel can change a person, and what people can learn from traveling. I’m looking forward to my and my fiance’s 2 week road trip in late July/Early August. We’ll be road tripping from Minneapolis to Portland, OR stopping at a few national parks along the way. It’s going to be about a 4,700 mile trip and should be fun to disconnect from work for awhile.

Well I suppose that’s all for now. I hope to maybe get my site header back and get going again on this site with new posts from time to time.




Reviewing iPhone OS 3.0 on my iPhone 3G

iPhone 3G running OS 3.0
iPhone 3G running OS 3.0

I have already discussed my experience upgrading to the new iPhone 3.0 OS. Now, I’d like to talk about the improvements Apple made in OS 3.0.

Back in January 2009, I wanted to upgrade my 2.5G phone to a 3G phone. As part of my switch, I looked for the best carriers and 3G phones. I eventually concluded that the iPhone 3G was in the best available 3G phone. In my iPhone 3G review, I commented that Apple’s lack of bluetooth functionality, support for voice dialing, and the exclusion of copy/paste were all functions that Apple got wrong with the iPhone 3G. Even with these feature limitations, I still came to the conclusion that the iPhone 3G was the best device on the market at the time.

In March 2009, Apple announced major feature updates to the iPhone OS that would fix the three things that I said Apple got wrong. Additionally, Apple added MMS, tethering, and searching to the list of features added to the iPhone. At the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in early June the iPhone 3G-S was announced. As expected, the 3G-s would have better hardware, more memory, improved camera, and push notification. Besides those expected upgrades, additional features like video recording, turn by turn navigation developed by Tom-Tom, and more integration with Apple’s MobileMe service by allowing subscribers to “Find” through iPhone and to remotely delete any data on the device if it is stolen.

Those are some really interesting features to bring to the consumers’ reach because previously if you wanted the ability to remotely delete data you would have to own a blackberry or other enterprise class type device. Even then, you wouldn’t be able to remotely delete data yourself, you would have to call the company help desk for that. Apple also took one step closer to gaining business adoption of their device by supporting full disk encryption in OS.

In my iPhone 3G device review, I listed the things that “Apple Got Wrong” first, then discussed the things they “got right”. So for this article, I’m reversing the order and discussing things they “got right” first and then talking about where Apple missed the mark. My thoughts on what Apple got “right” and “wrong” will be from the perspective of a user running the iPhone 3G and not the newer iPhone 3G-s.

What Apple Got Right with OS 3.0:
1. Finally stereo bluetooth support! This was one of my major gripes. I have tried this feature out already. It rocks. The one thing I quickly realized though is that if you are listening to music over blue tooth, you must use the blue tooth headset’s volume controls to turn up or down the volume. I am lucky that my blue tooth headset has a good range of volume control. Some headsets may only have 3-4 ranges of volume.

Besides stereo bluetooth, according to the iPhone blog, the following other features were added regarding bluetooth support:

– Peer to Peer. This is a big one, folks, but it’s a little strange. You can share files and talk to other apps over Bluetooth. This means you’ll be able to do multiplayer games, for example, or ‘beam’ your contact card from one iPhone to another. Or heck, play a trombone duet. No pairing is required, either. Discovery of other iPhones happens with Apple’s Bonjour ZeroConf autodiscovery protocols
– Control Accessories. In addition to the dock accessory control, you can now control Bluetooth accessories from within an app. The example from the event was a glucose meter, but the possibilities are honestly endless.
-Tops on my Bluetooth list: Bluetooth keyboard support. Technically, you will be able to do with with iPhone 3.0. The weird issue there, however, is that this keyboard support would have to happen on an app-by-app basis instead of happening device-wide. That, friends, is a bit of a bummer.”

I have not been able to verify any of these other features as I don’t use them much. I’m not sure how well bluetooth file and contact transfer between non-iPhone devices will work.

2. Push notification. This seems like a no brainer. Before the 3.0 update, you would actually have to run an application in order for you to receive updates from that particular app. The problem with this was you could only run one app at a time. Therefore if you wanted the latest news you would have open your news app every time you wanted to check for updates. With the 3.0 update, if the application supports push notification, it will notify you if there are any updates.

I see this feature especially useful for email, news, and social networking apps like facebook. I have a feeling that developers are working fast behind the scenes to get their apps updated.

3. Copy / Paste functionality. I personally don’t find myself using copy/paste on my phone that much. Copy/paste was available on my last phone and I didn’t use it much there either. I think what is cool about this feature is that it is available system wide to any application. No additional development is needed within apps to take advantage of thisw feature. While I may not use this feature that much, I can see how it might be useful to other people.

4. Landscape virtual keyboard layout. If you are in the “Messages” or Email, you can turn your phone from portrait to landscape. The keyboard will be repositioned for you to type on a larger keyboard. I think this is one of those nice to have features, but it’s not make or break for most people. I am disappointed that Safari does not appear to have a landscape keyboard available. (Note to Apple: Please add in a landscape keyboard in Safari.)

5. MMS is supported! I admit, I am not the hugest text message user out there. But it would be cool from time to time to be able to take a picture with my phone and send it to someone. I might see something really cool and want to share that right away. I haven’t sent a MMS message yet because the AT&T network doesn’t “support” this yet. More on this in the things Apple got “wrong”.

6. Tethering. Again, I haven’t tried this one out…as you guessed it – it’s not supported by the AT&T network yet, but Apple says you can tether the iPhone to a computer and connect to the 3G network. I don’t actually see myself as using this service, although it would be cool to have on a long road trip. Also, I have read that estimated pricing for unlimited data and tethering will be $70.00 per month. That’s not cheap.

7. Updates to included applications. Apple improved the stock, weather, and safari apps. I am not going to go into too much detail here, but if you’re interested check out the entire walk through of the 3.0 update.

After reading my list of what Apple got right, you might be thinking to yourself, “Everything is perfect!” Unfortunately, now that Apple has gotten most of the basics right, there are still several major huge issues that need to be addressed.

What Apple Got Wrong:

1. Bluetooth support. You might be scratching your head with the inclusion of this on the list saying “but wait?!?! you said it was something they got right”. There are several things that need to be added to the iPhone’s bluetooth support. First, voice activated dialing over bluetooth. I still have not found confirmation that this is support in the 3.0 update. Secondly, I should be able to skip ahead to another track from the bluetooth headset. So far that isn’t possible, so even though I am able to listen to music over bluetooth, I still need to interact with the phone in order to skip ahead to a different track.

2. Voice activated dialing. If I owned the new iPhone 3G-s, I would have definitely called this something that they got right. I was extremely disappointed to find out that Apple did not support voice activated dialing with the iPhone 3G. This is something that would seem to be able to get done via a software update. Shame on Apple for doing this, but this feature alone will not convince me to pay $599 (I am not eligible for upgrade pricing to AT&T) for a 3G-s phone.

3. Failure to have all launch features available. I’m not sure here who’s more to blame if maybe this one should go to AT&T instead of Apple. I am disappointed that if I wanted to tether or send a MMS message I would have to use some hacks in order for these features to be available. I haven’t researched them yet, but this isn’t something I want to spend a bunch of time figuring out. (Note to Apple and AT&T: In the future, please have all launch features available especially in one of your biggest markets – the U.S.)

4. Screwing the iPod Touch users (again). Apple certainly has found a way to generate some revenue with these updates. First, thank you for letting iPhone users have a free download. It is probably mandated by the carrier agreement with AT&T. Now for the shady part. It turns out the second generation iPod Touch does have bluetooth hardware inside it! Now in order for you to take advantage, it appears Apple wants you to pay another $10 for this privilege. That’s pretty down right shady and sneaky way to re-tax your users.

Verdict: The negatives aside Apple has advanced its iPhone platform ahead plus MMS and tethering will eventually be available from AT&T. Apple will need to continually remain vigilant from the threats RIM, Microsoft, and Palm pose. It is my belief that they will do this through major software updates and less on the hardware side. I think what you are going to see in the coming months and years is the idea of software advancing features less about adding new hardware. This 3.0 update is the beginning of that trend.

The 3.0 OS update has given me new features on my iPhone 3G. I don’t have any plan to update to the iPhone 3G-s. If I do upgrade to a new iPhone, it will be at the end of my contract. In the end, this update was worth the wait and addressed some of my original complaints in my review of the iPhone 3G.

My Experience Upgrading the iPhone 3G to iPhone OS 3.0

At Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference, it was announced that iPhone OS 3.0 would be available on June 17.

When June 17 finally came, I was excited to try out the new iPhone OS! I plugged my iPhone into my computer and set off to start the update process. The first thing I realized was that I needed to upgrade to iTunes 8.2. Ugh! I hate upgrading iTunes because it is a pain the ass. After about 20 minutes, iTunes is finally updated! Woohoo…I can finally start downloading the iPhone upgrade! Uh-oh..I keep watching my download…it’s going very slowly and keeps timing out. Hmmm…I’m never going to get this downloaded.

Something I should mention is that after the iTunes upgrade, the application told me to restart my computer. I still can’t figure out why after all these years I still have to restart a PC after I upgrade an application. It’s completely ridiculous. Anyways, I restarted my laptop and re-opened iTunes to start the download again. Ahhhh the download is finally moving! After about 45 minutes to download the 230MB update, I was finally ready to watch the upgrade install. Little did I know…

After the download completed, the upgrade process started. It started by backing up the device. What I didn’t realize is how long it would take. First off, while the backup was being completed there was a screen on the phone that said “Synchronization in Process” and other than that, the progress indicator within iTunes wasn’t very helpful in that it did not list a percent complete which would have been more helpful or at least gave me confidence that the upgrade wasn’t freezing up. The other thing that I didn’t notice was that every time I hit the slider to access the phone, I was actually canceling the backup process. When I finally read the screen a little closer, I came to this realization and said oops!

After I figured out not to leave the “Synchronization in Progress” screen, I began to wonder why the backup was taking so long. So I started google searching to see if any other users were reporting backups taking a long time to complete while upgrading to OS 3.0. Eventually, I found this C-Net article which described backups on the iPhone as taking a long time to complete. Now that I knew backups would take a long time to complete, I left my computer with the upgrade in progress for 30 minutes. I came back and waited an additional 15 minutes. After this 45 minute delay, the OS was finally being installed!

I noticed a series of reboots with the iPhone 3G. This process took about 5 – 7 minutes in total. Finally, a screen came up in iTunes that said the update was complete. Whew! I finally survived the upgrade process and didn’t brick the device. Unfortunately, by the time the upgrade finished it was 11pm at night and I needed to get some sleep. Playing with the new OS would have to wait until another day.

Notes to Apple:
1. If I access my phone during the upgrade, give me the ability to pause the upgrade and pick up where I left off.
2. Please speed up the backup process on the device (Maybe this has improved with the 3G-s)
3. Please let me update iTunes only and not require me to download iTunes and Quicktime through the software update

From Nomadic Matt – “Don’t Have (Travel) Regrets

I saw and shared this on my google reader, but for those who don’t use google reader, I wanted to get this link out there and share it. Matt talks about his regret of not studying abroad in college. One of the reasons he cites is fear of “missing” things going on at home. Years later he still regrets not spending a semester abroad in another country, even though he has been traveling almost non-stop since 2006! He comes to the conclusion that when you return home from your time abroad that things pick up right where you left off.

One of the other things Matt indirectly brings up is the idea of having regrets. I think the quote by Mark Twain sums it up best for me:

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

Don’t wait until later to do something you want to do. Make your best efforts to pursue those goals now.

I know several people going back to school right now. I hope that they consider spending a semester abroad as part of their graduate studies.

Don’t Have (Travel) Regrets | Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site.

News Link – A 15,000 dollar tax credit for buying a house after all??

I saw this link on one of the message boards I frequent. Apparently the Senate wants to increase the home buyer tax credit to 15,000 and remove the income and first time buyer restrictions.  Originally, when the stimulus bill was being considered in Congress, the first time home buyer tax credit was $15,000 in the Senate version and nothing in the House version. Through negotiations, the tax credit was watered down to $8,000 with certain restrictions.

Now apparently to encourage even more home buying the Senate would like to increase this tax credit back to the original $15,000! You got to love the government for trying. Personally, no tax credit is going to completely solve the problem with people losing their jobs, unable to meet their monthly obligations, and unable to easily get approved for financing.

This is definitely one to watch though.

Senators Want Homebuyer Tax Credit to Rise to $15,000 (Update2) –

Twin Cities Restaurant Review – Enjoy Restaurant in Apple Valley, MN

On Saturday, June 13, A friend and myself at a restaurant called Enjoy. I admit I am a city person so I probably would have never gone to this restaurant myself, but my friend insisted on driving somewhere and she had one of those 2 for 1 entertainment coupons. The biggest selling point was the happy hour on tap beers for $2.00. So who was I to argue with not having to drive, being able to save some money, and getting cheap on tap beer? Plus it had been awhile since I had caught up with my friend. So the situation was pretty hard to argue with.

Location:Enjoy is located in Apple Valley, one of the southern suburbs in the twin cities metro. It is off of Cedar Avenue, but if I was driving there I would have had to google maps it to figure out how to get there. I am sure it is convenient for those who live in Apple Valley and south metro.

Pre-Restaurant Experience: We weren’t actually planning on going to Enjoy to start out with. I can’t remember the name of the other place, but when my friend called to see how busy the first place was, the person who answered the phone did not sound too happy to take a reservation. So a few minutes later, my friend decided to cancel our reservation and call Enjoy. Enjoy gladly took our reservation and indicated they weren’t overly crowded for a Saturday night. Restaurant managers and staff – let this be a lesson that when you answer the phone be sure to act pleasant as it could affect your potential customer’s perception of the restaurant even before they step foot in the door.

In Restaurant Experience: My friend and I arrived while happy hour was still going on. This was definitely a major plus in my book. The restaurant does have an outdoor patio which there were some people eating at. Since it was getting, we decided to eat at the bar area where there was plenty of room. If you look on Enjoy’s website, the bar area is the only area that is not pictured, but it is nice and relaxing and fits the whole casual dining atmosphere.

We were promptly seated and I immediately began flipping through the selection of on-tap beers which included Fat Tire, Guinness, and Harp. Originally, I was going to order a fat tire on tap, but I changed my mind at the last minute and went with a black and tan. This was definitely a wiser move because it let me re-discover black and tans!

After a round of drinks and thumbing through Enjoy’s menu, we were ready to order. I ordered a 10oz. Prime Rib (queen prime rib) which came with 2 sides and my friend ordered a chicken dish. Our friend was delivered fairly quickly. One thing I do want to comment on is the number choices you have to pick from for sides. There are 11 sides including baked potatoes, grilled asparagus, sauteed mushrooms, steamed green beans, creamy hash browns, sweet potato fries, garlic mashed potatoes, macaroni & cheese, steamed broccoli, whipped sweet potatoes, and creamed spinach. This is certainly enough to satisfy anyone’s desire to eat healthy or a little unhealthy. I went with the mac and cheese and the steamed green beans. I certainly did not regret these choices either.

Even though I ordered the smaller prime rib, I found it to be very filling. In fact, I could not finish it all. This was partially due to the fact the sides I choose were decent portions and the beers I drank while waiting also filled me up. I enjoyed eating the prime rib and found it made no problems in the way it was prepared. By the time we were done eating our meals, we were extremely full and did not have any room for desert.

Paying the bill: Between my friend and I our bill was about $40 with tip. This included 2 entrees and 3 beers. Definitely not bad for a casual dining place in the suburbs of the twin cities. Also having the 2 for 1 coupon helped. Our dinner would have been less without the drinks but it is hard to pass up $2.00 on tap beer.

Verdict: While I can not say that I will be a regular at Enjoy dining, I had a really positive experience. Everything from the cheap beer, food, and service were good. Understanding that there are many restaurants in the twin cities metro, Enjoy would be one to consider if you lived in the south metro and especially if you have an entertainment coupon. If I lived in the area and had out of town guests and needed a high quality, “safe” restaurant pick, Enjoy would be a good bet to go with.

Note: I apologize for the lack of photos. I did not have my regular camera on me and my iPhone does not do very well in low light situations. I will try to take photos of the food I order at various restaurants on a more regular basis.

China Trip Update 2 – Booking my Hostels and choosing my seats on the Northwest Airlines

My previous update on my trip to China discussed why I wanted to go to China and receiving my Chinese visa.Now that it has been a few weeks I wanted to provide an update on my activities to prepare for the trip. So far to date, I’ve done some research into sites to visit, but I also wanted to take care of a couple logistical details including booking hostels and choosing my airline seats.

Booking my hostels…For the truly adventurous, some might advise you to wait until you get to China to find accommodations, however, I’m a realist. Maybe if I was staying in China for 6 weeks or longer would I do something like that, but I am only there for two short weeks. I don’t want to waste any of my time while I am in China finding a place to stay.

As a side note, I also considered couch surfing, but I decided that this trip was not the right time to do that. I may just try to meet up with a few couch surfer hosts in their city though. Probably the next time I go to China, I will try couch surfing out as I think it would be an awesome experience.

In my past trips to New Zealand and India, I have used to read reviews and book hostels. Unfortunately, Hostelworld charges a booking fee. They probably charge this booking fee to recoup the costs of running their site and while that’s understandable, I’d prefer not to pay a booking fee which was why I was excited when I found a new hostel site called Hostelbooker has pretty much the same line up of hostels as Hostelworld. There may have been one or two different hostels listed on Hostelworld, but there wasn’t enough of a difference to make me think twice about using Hostelbooker. The main savings I saw was the fact there was not a $2.00 booking fee. This may seem a bit cheap to haggle over a booking fee, but I tend to think most people would prefer knowing a site that doesn’t charge such a fee.

I read many reviews of hostels in Beijing, Shanghai, and Xian covering things like safety, cleanliness, service, and fun at the hostel. I am pretty easy going myself and probably could not have made a mistake with picking any of the hostels listed. Here are the hostels I selected:

Shanghai Blue Mountain Youth Hostel
Dates: August 30, 2009 – September 3, 2009

(September 3, 2009 – I will catch a night train to Xi’an that arrives on September 4, 2009)

Xiangzimen International Youth Hostel
Dates: September 4, 2009 – September 5, 2009

(September 5, 2009 – I will catch a night train to Beijing that arrives on September 6, 2009)

Haina Hostel
Dates: September 6, 2009 – September 11, 2009

(September 6, 2009 – I will catch a night train to Shanghai that arrives on September 12, 2009)

Le Tour Shanghai Youth Hostel
Dates: September 12 – September 13, 2009

September 13 – Head home!

Certainly, if you have any comments about these hostels (hopefully I did not go wrong) or you will be these hostels yourself, feel free to leave a comment.

Choosing my airline seat…Usually, when you choose a seat on an international flight, you are dreading that economy seat. I’m actually very excited to be flying in business class on a Northwest Airlines 747 jet. While I’ve flown on a 747 jet before, this will be my first time in business class. Before everyone thinks I have a ton of $$$ and can actually afford a business class seat, I used frequent flyer miles to obtain this seat. I plan on enjoying and relaxing on my flights to and from China. In order to aid in my seat selection in the business class cabin, I consulted threads in flyertalk’s Northwest Worldperks forum. I eventually went with exit rows on the upper deck of the 747. Needless to say, I’m excited to be finally trying the 747 upper deck. This could be my only chance as many airlines are retiring these jumbo jets because of their operating costs. Let me know if you are on a DTW-PVG flight on Aug 29. If so, we can hang out at the DTW airport. Feel free to leave a comment if you’ve experienced business class service on a NWA 747.

As the day of the departure gets closer, I am definitely getting more excited for the trip. I have already started making a list to pack even though I will only be gone for 2 weeks. In future trip updates, I’ll discuss some of the activities that I have planned.

The Idiots that run Delta

I was talking with a friend today. He is headed over to Nairobi, Kenya and had his flights booked on Delta. Recently, Delta had to cancel their Atlanta to Nairobi flight because they were not granted permission by the U.S. government to operate it. This forced Delta to rebook passengers via other cities like Amsterdam or London-Heathrow.

My friend logs into his account and see that his flight had been changed. He was actually kind of expecting it due to a link I sent him a few days ago stating the cancellation of the Nairobi flight. What he was not expecting was to be re-routed via Brussels!! Delta in its “wisdom” decided it would be great to re-route him ORD – ATL – BRU (Brussels) – BJM (in Burundi) – NBO! This absolutely boggled both my friend’s and my minds. To give a little background, there are standard protocols airlines typically follow when re-routing passengers including:

1. Re-route through a major hub in the region.
2. Re-route on partner airlines
3. Take the most direct routing

Delta missed the mark on all three of these items. First, Brussels is not a major hub for Delta or the Skyteam Alliance, which Delta is a member of. Second, by re-routing through Brussels, my friend was being booked on Brussels Airways, an airline that is not a partner of Delta. Third and probably the most important, ORD-ATL-BRU-BJM-NBO was not the most direct routing. A more direct routing would be ORD-AMS-NBO. I am not sure if this points to a large problem with Delta’s IT systems because you’d think the computer would be smart enough to book through your major hubs, choose appropriate airlines, and use the most direct routing if seats are available. Of course, when I found this out, I immediately said “what the hell” and told him he would have to call Delta/NWA.

Now as a side note, one of the primary reasons my friend booked the flight originally was to obtain 10,000 bonus miles for flying through Africa on Delta’s new route. Unfortunately, Delta wasn’t granted permission to operate the Nairobi route. So when my friend called in to get the proper re-routing, he asked for his promotion miles as well. Of course, NWA said since the route was no longer valid that the promotion didn’t apply and that the offer on their website had been updated to reflect this.

Turns out this wasn’t as accurate as NWA said it was. If you go here, you will notice the qualifying routes have been updated. But if you look in the terms and conditions, you will notice under rule number 2:

“Qualifying travel must be after registration and by August 31, 2009. Your itinerary must include travel on the Northwest Airlines or Delta Air Lines operated flights (Los Angeles – Sydney, Los Angeles – Sao Paulo, or Atlanta – Nairobi). Travel must be on a paid published fare. Bonus Miles will only be awarded for travel that includes one of the specified nonstop flights. One-way travel will qualify for half the Bonus Miles for the specific fare class. Routes can not be combined. A maximum of 15,000 Bonus Miles will be credited for each roundtrip ticket purchased and flown during the promotional period.

* 15,000 Bonus Miles will be awarded after roundtrip travel in NW BusinessElite (J/C/Z), DL Business Elite (J/C/D/S/I) class.
* 10,000 Bonus Miles will be awarded after roundtrip travel in NW Coach (Y/B/M/H/Q/V/L/T/K), DL Economy (Y/B/M/H/Q/K/L/U/T) class.”

The things that make you go “Hmmmm”. Looks like NWA forgot to update their terms and conditions because Atlanta – Nairobi is still listed! My friend has a screen shot of this. I am going to help him write a letter to NWA to get those bonus miles. Plus I think that he should get some form of compensation for having to spend time calling in for a simple re-routing that should have been done correctly in the first place.

I’ve said in the prior posts that I am burning all of my NWA/Delta miles. When NWA was a stand alone company, it had one of the best IT systems in the industry. With its merger with Delta, I think that competitive advantage has been lost. There are many broken things on NWA and Delta’s websites. Again, a situation like this just helps validate my reasons to burn the rest of my NWA/Delta miles.