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Just over 3 years ago I asked the question on this blog Are Store Rewards Cards Worth The Effort. That seemed to be a valid question, and still is, because many of those cards have caveats that make it illogical for most of us to use them. For instance, Staples will send you coupons that you can only use if you buy a certain amount of stuff, and most of the time you’re buying way less than that amount.

Light Hotel...
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So, in my mind those types of cards are a waste of time. Three years later I’m ready to talk about different types of rewards cards, and these are cards related to travel in some fashion. As I’m traveling a lot right now I ca honestly say that some of these cards are definitely worth it, even if not in the full manner you might hope for.

For instance, I have the U.S. Airways card as it’s the airline I use most of the time. I also have the American Airlines card, since they’ve just merged. Anyway, once I had so many flights behind me I moved up to silver status which meant automatic upgrades to first class if there’s a spot available and the ability to move further up the aisle on planes with available seats without having to pay for it. I also get one suitcase for free, although I don’t have to use that as often. And when I finally hit the next level I get 3 suitcases for free if I need them; wow!

I also accumulate lots of airline miles but this is where the downside comes in. It seems that trying to use them for flights when you don’t have a few hundred thousand miles is useless. I was going to use them for a trip to Orlando and on to San Diego but even with the miles I had it only covered “most” of the one way to Orlando, and I’d have had to pay full price otherwise. I decided against using the miles since I get to write them off anyway but after flying so much in 16 months you’d think that mileage would have accumulated quicker. Still, no gripes.

After testing different rental car companies I finally decided to go with National, and after so many rentals I was sent their rewards card. What that allowed me to do was not have to stop in to register if the car was booked in advance and there was a special row I could go to and select any vehicle in that row. That was kind of cool because I no longer had to get those smaller cars, but sometimes the choices were limited. Now I’m at the executive elite level which means I get to select from a premium row of cars; oh yeah! I don’t know if there’s another level but I’m happy at this level.

Also, with more rentals I now start earning free days, and I’m already up to 3 free days, which could come in handy if I decide to use it in San Diego, where I’ll be for 3 days. There’s no limit to how many days you can accumulate either.

Finally, I stay at Hilton Hotels, most of the time enjoying Homewood Suites because I like the extra space. As you accumulate points you jump into different levels of membership, and with each level you get special perks. Right now I’m at their highest level, diamond, which means that I’m guaranteed a room at any Hilton family hotel in the nation, and if they don’t have one they’ll pay for me to stay at another brand; isn’t that cool?

I’m now up to over 500,000 Hilton Honors points, which is the equivalent of having 10 to 20 free nights stay at hotels across the country, depending on the level of the hotel in that city and how many points a night they cost. I’m using my points for my Orlando stay and my room will have a whirlpool bath in it; oh yeah!

Of course there’s a downside. If you’re not using these services all that often at some point you only stay at these levels for so long before they start burning away. The airlines drain your miles pretty quickly, and so will the rental car people. Hotel rewards last longer and it’s actually economical to book a hotel room every 9 months or so, even if I’m not traveling, to keep all my points to use at a later time. Strange as that sounds, I’ll book a room at one of the local hotels that I know has a whirlpool bath and have a relaxing night with my wife.

I would recommend hooking up with as many of these cards as you can, even if you’re the occasional traveler. Having a rewards number can always help you reach someone who will take your call if you have a number as opposed to not having one.

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Last week news came out that Best Buy’s sales performance was pretty weak. The speculation was that people going into the stores to look at merchandise, then going home and ordering it through online stores was the reason for the problem and that it might be time for them to start exploring a different business model.

Best Buy
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Although I’ve been on the internet almost 20 years, I’m a relatively new online shopper. In the past couple of years I’ve purchased mainly small items like HDMI cords, DVDs, and my most recent purchase, a charging cable for my MP3 player, considered obsolete. The most expensive item I’ve purchased is a CPAP mask that no one locally carried in the store any longer, so it was a forced purchase.

A couple of days ago I went to buy some glucose strips so I can check my daily numbers, being diabetic. It turns out I haven’t reached the deductible level for my insurance plan this year, which means I have to pay the full price. The cost of these strips is $152; ouch!

When I came home, for the first time ever I decided to look online to see if I could get a better price. It turns out I can get the same number of strips from an online store for as little as $64; in essence, I can save 150% by ordering them online. Wow! And with shipping, it still comes to at least a 100% savings; I’d be stupid not to take that.

The thing about online suppliers is that they can get a lot of items and put them in a warehouse. In some cases the companies selling the items don’t even have to store them; they can get them directly from someone else and all they have to be is the middle man.

In regular stores, it’s all about the psychology of presentation. They know which items go with what, and they also know that they have to have so many of each item, especially popular items, because people come to stores with the expectation of walking out with whatever they want to buy.

True be told, that’s still the largest market, physical buyers. But the numbers are dwindling, and in this age of demands for the increase of worker pay and insurance coverage, companies like Best Buy, Sears, Penneys and others might go the route of reducing staff before trying something else; unemployment can help companies but it always harms communities.

Still, it’s hard to blame consumers for making smarter purchases. After all, even I buy my insulin at Walmart because it costs less than anywhere else locally since they have their own brand of insulin.

Luckily, there will always be some industries where buying things online isn’t going to work as well… or is that even true? Grocery stores will probably survive, but right now you can buy meats online and goods such as cereals online, along with canned goods, although not everything is as cost effective. Still, it’s something that even grocery stores might have to deal with in the future… other than dollar stores.

What’s your thought on this issue? Do regular stores have something to worry about or is this just a blip on the screen and will everything turn out okay?

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Almost 2 1/2 years ago I wrote a post titled Why Prescription Drug Costs Are So High. I walked through the steps of how these things come to market, and it’s a pretty comprehensive list. I hope you check that out because, unless you already understand the process, you might not understand the rest of what I’m going to share here.

Ebola Virus Particles
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Two weeks ago the big story in the U.S. was having an American who’d contracted Ebola frown from Africa to Atlanta for treatment. That seemed scary enough, but what was amazing is that whatever they gave this person they started to recover from it to the point where the patient, a physician, was able to hold a press conference. This led to the question of why, if there was a drug available that could cure this nasty disease, why wasn’t it being sent to Africa to take care of these people.

I’m going to tell you why. The reason… costs. Now I’m going to explain.

It costs a lot to bring pharmaceuticals to market. One of the things that’s calculate by drug companies is about how much money they can make on that drug. That calculation takes into account all the research, the papers, paying for salaries of those who have to create it, whether insurance companies will pay for it, can they get grants from the government, and just how large the population is that might possibly consume it. That’s a bunch isn’t it?

Truthfully, there have been drugs created that could cure plenty of things that happen to people that never make it out of the lab. They do get tested on a population because science is science, but often that’s as far as it goes. If a profit can’t be made, that’s that. Sure, most of us believe there should be a moral imperative at work, but that’s just not how things are done. Business is business, and if corporations can’t at least recoup their investment, they’re not going to put any real money into it.

This brings up Ebola. True, the World Health Organization recently stated that there’s a real crisis with the reemergence of Ebola. And it can be a deadly disease; it’s one of the scariest diseases ever, and if you want to know about it, check out the book The Hot Zone (this links to the Wikipedia page), which I read in the mid 90’s.

No one knows when it’ll pop up or where it’ll pop up, and it can spread fast. But when compared to many other diseases the numbers are low. Before this year, there had never been 1,000 people in Africa diagnosed with it. Through July this year that number is up around 1,300. That pales in comparison to even the flu, which confirms around 75,000 people a year in the U.S. alone, although its mortality rate is much lower (Ebola can be between 50% and 90% of its victims).

This isn’t a philosophical discussion of the merits of why the drug should or should not be dosed out to countries that need it. Instead, it’s a look at the money, which everything in the world is based on. If you want to relate it to something in the United States, look at HIV drugs which, when Magic Johnson was diagnosed, could cost as much as $15,000 a month for treatment, and even though it’s still pretty high, now offers more options that range between $2,000 and $5,000 a month because there’s a lot more people who had it, though, because the numbers have come down, could start the costs of obtaining them could potentially rise.

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