Jul 03

This is fairly important, so take 5 min and read it.

I’m a Credit Card Snob

(or so I thought)

I’ve always sorta “secretly” prided myself on my credit card perks obsession.  Due to personal experience, I know most of the good and bad out there.  However, recently, I discovered that I was really missing out.  Enter the Starwood American Express Card…

Before I start, I want to make it clear that you should only have a credit card if you can pay it off fully each month.  Set it up to automatically pay the balance in full each month.  Never spend more than you have.  Always remember to spend responsibly.  Got it?

Why The Starwood AMEX Card Rules The School

If you want a plain old rebate card, there are better ones out there.  However, I like building up travel rewards.  In the end, I think it pays off better and rewards you in a much more enthralling way than just getting a .67% rebate back or something.   Let’s face it, you will need to travel at some point – and the Starwood card is likely your dream come true.

The main perks that matter the most:

  • Points:  Dollars spent = points directly (which you can redeem for flights (almost any airline) and Starwood hotels)
  • Hotels: It doesn’t take many points to get free nights at hotels.  For example, you get 10K for signing up and another 15K soon after if you spend $25K.  At 2K-3K points a night, that’s a lot of free hotel nights.
  • Flights:  There is a hugely important 25% bonus on airline point redemption.  It basically means you will earn a lot of extra miles just for redeeming miles – awesome.

Other cool stuff:

  • Starwood has around 1,000 resorts/hotels in ~100 countries
  • Flights redeemable on more than 350 airlines with no blackout dates (which means schedule any day of the year)
  • If you have other Frequent Flyer programs, you can transfer points into most of them without losing points
  • AMEX has awesome purchase protection for stuff you buy and break/lose
  • Concierge service for getting special access to concerts and other events (hot ticket events)
  • Never again get rental car insurance, it’s built-in if you use this card to reserve the car
  • AMEX offers amazing travel assistance when you are away from home
  • ATM Cash access all over the world
  • Really really easy charge disputing, extended warranty coverage and fraud protection
  • Annual fee waived first year

What Others Have To Say

A well-known financial guru I follow religiously (Ramit Sethi) had this to say about the Starwood Card:

My final test was this: The world’s best consumers of credit cards are management consultants at firms like McKinsey, Bain, and BCG. That’s because basically the only thing these consultants care about is points. Many of my friends have over a million points and are anal — even more than I am — about their choice of cards.

They love their credit cards more than their girlfriends! True.

I know a bunch of friends who work at these places, and every one uses this card. DONE!

You should always do your own research. Here are 2 places to see what others have said, as well as understand the perks/rewards in great detail.

AMEX site: Starwood AMEX (do not sign up here)
FatWallet forums – Discussion about Starwood AMEX (do not sign up here)

Read This!!!!

I wrote this post and plastered it all over the interwebs for three main reasons:

  1. I thought it was cool
  2. I wanted to help my friends & family
  3. I wanted some referral points if you sign up

By using the link below, you will get up to 25,000 free points and the annual fee waived.

If you want to sign up, PLEASE PLEASE use this link and fill out the 20 second form – you will receive the referral in your email within 24-48 hours.

It is very important that you have a sense of urgency, this referral program is set to expire in the next few weeks.  I will remove the link above when it expires.

*** If you are worried than not many places accept AMEX, I’m happy to report that that old rumor seems to be mostly untrue nowadays.   I’ve been using this card (and other AMEX cards) for a long time now and have only run into a few places that don’t take it.  Keep another Visa or Mastercard in your wallet and you’ll be covered for the 3% of the times you’ll need it.

Aug 07

Alarm.com LogoAfter reviewing the multitude of comments on my original review of alarm.com and realizing I had totally forgotten to write the next review, I thought I’d throw together something real quick for anyone still interested in what I have to say.

The truth is my family has been very happy with the alarm.com system we have installed.  It has been reliable and operational for at least 8 months now with hardly any problems at all. We have a huge system with all the bells and whistles, lots and lots of sensors (motion, door, audio glass break, surface break, screen, water, smoke, CO, et cetera) in both wired and wireless formats.  From what I can see, everything seems to work flawlessly.

There have been a few accidental alarm triggers caused by us and the company is quick to call.  Also, the text message/email functionality is very quick (so I know what’s going on).  Typically, my cell phone will alert my via text message that an alarm is “pending” and I will receive that message before the alarm has actually gone off.  Kinda cool to know in real time what’s going on.

The web site history is nice as well to check up on the house while on vacation.  (also nice to be able to disarm the system remotely for a friend to come in and water the plants without having to give them an access code)

The cellular paging aspect is rock solid.  Not once have we ever had a problem in that regard.

The one area that was mildly disappointing was the x10 functionality with the lights; but that’s mostly because of limitations in my house rather than the alarm system itself.  Basically, because the house is split on several different “circuits”, only the outlets and switches that are on the same “branch” as the alarm panel work properly.  I understand there are x10 solutions to this problem; but I haven’t looked into it too much at this point (I’ve just been too busy).

Overall though, I still like alarm.com and would use them again if I had it do all over again.

If you have any specific questions, I can try to answer them within a week or so… so just leave a comment!

Aug 29

Alarm.com LogoBeing a computer geeky type, I have always been enthralled with technology. I suppose it makes sense then, that I recently started pondering security systems for my house. After spending “countless” hours reading forums, talking to friends, meeting security system installers, et cetera, I have made a decision on the best one: Alarm.com.

Ok, now you might be thinking: “Big surprise, Dustin, the web developer, chose a security company that has .com in the name”. I promise you though, it’s more than just the name!

Here’s my reasoning:

1) I don’t have a regular land line (POTS) and I don’t intend to get one just to support a security system (especially since it seems to be pretty easy to cut).

Alarm.com uses a wireless cellular (GSM) system — no wires to cut and reliable service 24 hours a day.

2) I don’t want my security system to depend exclusively on a home internet connection (and again… that’s easy to cut).

There are alternate companies who rely exclusively on home broadband internet based communications. Home internet connections are fine for email and web surfing, but I would never trust my home security to a cable or DSL modem.

3) I want a system that is built solidly and will protect my family and home from the blights of society.

Alarm.com currently uses a GE Concord panel, a highly regarded system in the security arena. It’s reliable, tough, and well-tested.

4) I need flexibility, expandability, and advanced features, while still being easy to use (since my wife is not a computer programmer).

The panel used by Alarm.com currently has 96 available wireless zones, 16 wired zones (plus 2 smoke detector zones), easy to use interfaces, and everything else you could possible need.

5) I prefer a price that doesn’t require a 2nd mortgage to keep running (the price should be mostly offset by a homeowners insurance discount).

Alarm.com is a relative bargain compared to other companies (especially making use of wireless signaling and internet reconfiguration).

6) I yearn for a system that appeals to my nerdy gadget-oriented side.

This is the part that really had me convinced! Imagine being able to log in to your alarm system from anywhere in the world and see what is going on currently and what has happened in the past.

What if you could program new security codes, arm and disarm the system, set up lighting schedules (based on events like doors opening) using standard X10 controllers?

What if you’d like to see if “someone” has gotten into the alcohol cabinet when they weren’t supposed to?

Alarm.com makes it all possible and much more, through their powerful and simple online interface. The portal makes programming your alarm system a snap and it’s very simple to set up notification contact lists (both phone and email) for everything from a door opening to true alarm events.

So, add all those requirements & features up and what do you get? Alarm.com tops my list. In fact, even if you take out many of my personal “requirements”, Alarm.com is still the best bang-for-the-buck of any security company I researched or talked to (and I talked to a lot of them).

I can also personally attest to the over-the-top customer service at Alarm.com. They respond to your emails, treat you like a real person, and don’t have a foreign accent (ie: they are easy to understand).

At this point, I’ve chosen the equipment and picked an installation date. I’ll update you as the house nears completion and the service goes live.

Leave a comment if you have any questions.

EDIT: Please read my new review everyone – it’s been a while since I wrote this. 

Aug 07

Pink Papaya LogoI was asked by the owner of The Pink Papaya to donate some blog space to help sponsor a local charity event I’ve been involved with. If you are in the Northwest Arkansas area, please take a moment to consider attending the event.

Detailed Information Follows:

Pretty in Pink is Back!

We are putting on a large fashion show and concert on Tuesday, Sep. 25th at the Walton Arts Center parking lot. This years event will be spectacular and a very large scale producton where we put on an amazing multi-faceted show with expected attendance of over 3000!

Important ways to help: Spread the word, be a sponsor, volunteer. Buy tickets or more importantly buy a cabana… more than half have already been obligated, so DON’T wait

All individually designed and decorated by local designers with very unique themes. They accomodate 10 and will have snacks and drinks and a private server for every 3 cabanas. They also include 10 VIP tickets and VIP parking transfers in the limo bus.

The Headliner is Kelli Pickler with Edwin McCain, opening acts are MAR and Amanda Scarlett.

Renowned Designer Shadang will be premiereing his new clothing collection. You can find him on YouTube for all of the press in Hollywood, or our featured work together in last month’s Citiscapes on page 20!

- VIP tickets are $100
- General admin tickets are $50 (all tickets day of show are $100)
- VIP cabanas are $2500 and seat 10 and include 10 VIP tickets
- VIP entrance is at 7:00 PM, general admin entrance is at 7:30 PM

Sponsorships still available
Expected media/promo to exceed $150K!
Expected attendance is 3000, with a goal of $250K being raised — All net proceeds go to benefit the local affiliate for Susan G. Komen.

Again thank you for all that you can do to make this a success!

- Miranda Epp-founder/president of Pretty in Pink

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