In this life, you rarely get something for nothing. Here’s the list in ranked order:
- God’s grace
- Credit card benefits
On a recent road trip to Ohio, my buddy Oscar was telling me how he financed most of his family’s flights to Cayman Islands using card mileage. Nice!
Related: Read about how Oscar saves big bucks on his cell phone service
I prefer money in my pocket, so I go for cashback. What card benefit you pursue is a matter of personal preference, but keep a few things in mind:
- Not all cards are equal – when you are shopping for a new one, make sure its benefit – LL Bean bucks or whatever – is of high value to you
- Diligently pay off your balance every month – if you don’t, all benefits will be washed away, plus some
- Most card benefits don’t automatically redeem – on the regular, I have to tell Citi to award me my cashback bonus
My sister Orpha can vouch for this last point. For five years, she’s had a Capital One Business Mastercard with a mileage benefit that she’s ignored. With a UK vacation planned for December, she wondered if she had enough miles to pay for one of their tickets. So she called them.
Orpha: “Hi, can you tell me how many miles I’ve accumulated? I want to try to buy a ticket to London with them.”
Capital One Rep: “Give me a sec…ma’am, you have the most miles of anyone I’ve seen – over 600,000.”
Orpha: “Oh. Wow.”
My sister is now taking our parents with her. The miles are paying for four round trip tickets, hotels, and the rental car.
Car Insurance Hiccup for the Kid?
Speaking of too good to be true, you might remember the thing we did, where we moved Grey onto a separate-yet-associated GEICO car insurance policy when he moved to Ohio for college.
We were still coasting on smugness fumes when I noticed the policy wasn’t auto-renewing like every other policy everywhere. So I called them.
Me: “Why is the policy for my son’s Mazda 3 not renewing?”
GEICO Rep: “We received a notice from the MVA stating that your son owns 100% of the car.”
Me: “Right, we talked about that.”
GEICO Rep: “If that’s the case, he needs to be on his own independent policy.”
Me: “Oh boy. OK, I’ll tell him.”
In a way, I wasn’t unhappy. I hated being the middleman, paying his premiums, then pleading for a reimbursement. Then pleading some more.
But I knew it would be more money. Maybe way more money. Money he probably didn’t have.
I sent this info to him:
He waited until past the last second, then announced he’d scored a policy with State Farm for $241 per six months. Or $73 less than he was paying on the GEICO policy! I was shocked.
I dug in a little and discovered that Ohio liability minimums are pretty teensy:
- $25,000 for injury/death of one person
- $50,000 for injury/death of two or more people
- $25,000 for property damage in an accident
But so are Maryland’s:
- $30,000 for injury/death of one person
- $60,000 for injury/death of two or more people
- $15,000 for property damage for property damage in an accident
Then I looked up his expired GEICO Ohio coverage:
Ahhh, now I understand. When I transferred him to his own GEICO policy, they had automatically given him our (higher) limits.
Am I nervous his liability coverage is now skimpier than most bikinis? A little, but he’s a poor college student, so there’s nothing for anyone to sue for, and the lower premium is a real blessing right now.
Why Yes, Supplemental Floormat Insurance Is Standard
That’s a typical GEICO move to propose a policy without telling you options for how to save on it.
When Nora bought a used Kia Soul recently, they tacked on a roadside assistance adder, despite nothing similar on the PT Cruiser coming off the policy.
Supplemental insurance riders like roadside assistance and windshield replacement are designed to help you sleep better at night…and to hoover excess cash out of your wallet. If you crunch the numbers, you’ll find that in just a few years time, you’ve paid for a new windshield…and a towing…and an Insurance Execs trip to Majorca with his entire family.
Part of what sometimes makes these adders so profitable is how frustratingly difficult they can be to claim. When my friend broke down in the dark on I-95 in Delaware, he placed a rescue call to Erie Insurance, then spent all night tossing and turning in his car on the side of the highway. No one ever came, despite his having a roadside assistance policy with the insurer.
They Don’t Offer The One Insurance You Really Need
Do they offer insurance to protect against bike rack idiocy? I won’t mind if they automatically add that one, thank you very much.
You might remember how, four years ago, I shattered my rear window by backing my bike rack into a tree.
I won’t pretend that there’s any topping that error in judgement, but we recently had a doozy of an experience related to that very same rack.
Yes, that Yakima rack’s been around a while, mounted to the back of my car most of the time. It came to feel like a natural outgrowth, like elk antlers, stoically enduring the sun and rain and frost…and more sun and rain and frost.
In June, we loaded it up with three hybrid bikes and headed west. Nora, her mom, and I were meeting up with Grey in Somerset, Pa., where we’d bike part of the Great Allegheny Passage.
Headed west on I-70 near Hancock, Md. with Nora driving in the fast lane, we suddenly heard a WHUMP. Sitting in the backseat, my head jerked around – I saw nothing but blue sky. My stomach dropped.
Swerving, Nora wrestled the car into the grassy median, then hurtled across both lanes onto the right shoulder. I stumbled out of the car and around to the back. I couldn’t believe what I saw.
The two main straps that hook to the top of the car had sheared off. Must have dry rotted after all these years, I guess. One lower strap had desperately held, dragging two bikes with it. The third bike had been thrown at the accident site an eighth of a mile back.
Things were eerily quiet. No whoosh-whoosh of cars driving by. I looked up the road, where a wide-load escort vehicle had stopped in the middle of the highway, blocking both lanes. A man jumped out, coolly transferred the dropped bike from the inside edge of the highway to the outside shoulder, then went on his way.
Sometimes it’s easiest to count your blessings in the midst of hardship. The wide-load escort angel was one of them. As was the lack of a tailgater when that bike initially flew.
One more: We were a half mile from the Hancock exit. Hancock is a major stop on the C&O canal towpath bike trail and has a big beautiful bike shop. We stashed the damaged bikes and rack in a drainage area on the side of the highway:
Outside the shop, I said a little prayer that we’d find a 3-bike hanging rack in stock – far from a gimme. They did – just one, in a water-damaged box. We snapped it up for $207.
We collected the bikes from the side of the highway and returned to the shop to ring up more expenses: $235 and $48 to fix two of the bikes. The third one was totalled (I eventually donated it to Bikes for the World) and replaced with a better $400 used Trek bike:
Total spent on a new rack and bike and repairs: $890. Ouch.
We went on to enjoy a beautiful weekend in western Pennsylvania, where some of us were able to have a (delayed) trail ride after all:
We came home with good memories and this little memento of when my bike was dragged for hundreds of feet down the I-70 highway:
Related: Read about another time I experienced provision during a hardship