16 April 2006

Mail That Makes You Smile

I remember when I was a kid racing out to the mailbox to get the mail. Excluding the week or so preceding my birthday, the odds of me finding anything in that mailbox for me was pretty remote, but I still chased after the mail more than the average barking dog. A I've gotten older, I get more mail -- but, the only difference is that now I usually don't want it! I figure that most adults now feel roughly the same way I do about mail - bills, bills, and more bills. Occasionally, the bills are interrupted by a pre-qualified credit card offer, an offer to consolidate my student loans, and a carpet steamer advertisement.

This week, though, the mail was pretty good -- and it isn't even my birthday!

I received a free park-hoppper ticket to Universal Studios -- no obligation, otherwise. I have seen the "free offers" that require a time-share presentation. Yuck. No -- this was an actual, bona fide, free ticket to Universal Studios Orlando and Islands of Adventure. Attached to the free ticket was another coupon offering an additional six tickets (who is really going to Universal by themself?) for only $35, which is a sizeable discount.

I can't think of the last time that I paid to go to one of the central Florida theme parks. It seems like if you live here for any length of time, you just know someone who knows someone who has a friend that always has free tickets. Plus, I am not a theme park junkie. I could do without standing in outrageous lines for hours to spend less than five minutes on rides. Factor in the overpriced food, screaming kids, and European tourists (tour-ons, for you locals) and it just doesn't seem like a way I would want to spend my day.

I have a friend who works part-time at Disney. She gets access to the annual Christmas deal for employees (almost enough of a reason to work at Disney!). She gets a ticket (park hopper) for herself and up to three or four friends, free popcorn and drinks in the park, a 30% discount on souvenirs, and a 50% discount in the restaurants. We usually go on one of to see the holiday candlelight processional, where "famous" (B-list celebrities, usually) people perform a holiday reading and high school choruses sing holiday tunes. While I am not a huge Christmas fan (could be my Jewish upbringing?), Disney really does the holidays right. And, for free, the price really can't be beat, either.

So, I will likely use my free pass to Universal, and if I have friends visiting from out of town at some point, I may even use the $35 discount coupons, too.

If you want to read more about my good mail this week, check below the fold...

People that know me, know that I am a travel whore. I love to travel and I love even more the perks I get through airline miles and hotel points. This week, the travel mailbox overflowed, as well.

Apparently, there is a class-action lawsuit against Starood hotels. Apparently, I am a member of the affected group. Apparently, I have no recollection of how I became a member of the effected group. I received two $14 discount coupons off of a future paid stay at the listed Starwood resort properties. Of the listed properties, which I assume are the ones that were mentioned in the lawsuit, I have only stayed at the Westin Diplomat and the Westin Savannah Harbor. The Diplomat waived the resort fees for me, but I may have paid them in Savannah. Even stilll, the Savannah stay was only one night -- and it was a cash and points night, so I didn't really gripe about the resort fee. You can only use the coupons at the listed resorts, and the odds of me paying to stay at one of these places is pretty remote, but it is a nice gesture. I also received a similar coupon for $3 for a concurrent lawsuit fighting other unfair automatically billed, but undisclosed fees. Of the hotels listed, I can only assume that my infraction occurred at the former Four Points by Sheraton in Rochester, NY. I remember them billing me for a hotel safe that I never used. The charge was removed from my bill at the time, which amounted to a minor inconvenience at check-out time. Of course, that hotel now operates under another brand, so I won't be using my $3 discount there. Of the other hotels listed, there is one at which I stay periodically for business, so if I get the chance to use it, I will. If not, the circular file will see some new contents.

I also received my Hilton Hhonors credentials for the year. I (somehow) managed to earn Silver VIP elite status with them for the coming year. I think my last paid stay at a Hilton property was at the Milwaukee Hilton for the 2004 NACAC Conference. I had one award stay last year. So, somehow, Hilton felt that was worthy of their silver elite status. The letter that accompanied my new card also offered me the opportunity for a fast track to Gold VIP status. If I stay four times or ten nights in two months starting May 1, they will bump me up to gold status until next April. Mmmm....whatever. I am Platinum Elite with Marriott and Starwood, and prefer those programs to Hilton's. Still, I may manage four one-night stays during May at the Hampton Inn Commack, if it fits into my travel schedule. I did always like THAT hotel.

My Hertz #1 Club Gold Five Star credentials for this year also came this week. Enclosed was a certificate for a free one-day rental! Joining Hertz #1 Club Gold is definitely one of the best things I have done to make my travel life easier. The perks of Five Star are just a bonus. I usually get a one-class upgrade, but sometimes the upgrades are less than desirable -- right now, I don't really want a giant, gas-guzzling SUV. But, being able to arrive at the airport, take the rental car shuttle to Hertz and walk straight to my car and drive away is a huge, HUGE time saver. My last non-Hertz rental was when I took vacation last year to southern California. My buddy took care of the rental car, and we waited no less than two hours in line for a car at Thrifty. The long queue was just a volume issue -- there was no shortage of cars. They just couldn't move people through quickly enough.

Lastly, my quarterly statement arrived from my Fidelity 403b retirement plan. I will take a gain of 5.7% for the first quarter -- and hope that things continue on that upward trend. I suppose tracking money that I CANNOT use for almost another three decades might be a little obsessive, but I like to know that I am making progress towards a reasonable retirement.

Something tells me that my mail luck may not continue into this week, as I am expecting a few bills to arrive, but I can always hope, right?

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