Monday, June 28, 2010

Update on the e-miles Pimping

As noted in this post, e-miles wants to pimp people for miles and, miles-slut that I am, I thought it was worth it to get paid for what I was putting out for free.  Or something.  Having had an account with them for a little over a week, I thought I'd share the experience:

June 20: Earned 200 Miles 

When I first logged in, e-miles wanted to ask me lots of questions.  Worst.  First.  Date.  Ever.  There were four lengthy surveys, on which I said I was very wealthy and interested in EVERYTHING with the idea that these surveys help e-Miles target offers to you.

In addition, there were miles awarded for making e-miles a "trusted sender" in your email account (which I didn't bother to do but told e-Miles that I did) and for reading the e-Miles guidelines and then taking a quiz on them.

Interestingly, information about how easy it is to LOOSE miles was not in the quiz, but I found out that:

  • e-miles are only transfered to your frequent flyer program in 500 mile increments.  Have 600 miles?  You can transfer 500, but need 400 more if you want the other 100.
  •  e-miles expire one year from when they are earned.
  • e-miles can suspend your account if you do not respond to one marketing message per month.
  • e-miles has the right to terminate your account or deduct e-Miles if its rules change in the future

Big daddy can be mean to his children.  :-(

I also watched/read ads for Travel + Leisure, Disney and Zales to earn some extra points.

Click "Read More" to read about getting another 595 miles.

June 24: Earned 595 Miles

When I logged in, I saw that I had a number of offers that were 5 + 250, 5 + 100, etc.  What this meant is that if I looked at the ad, I could get 5 miles, but if I signed up for something, I could earn an additional 250 miles, etc.

Well, it turned out that some companies that I had abused before happened to be on the list.  For example, ING was offering 250 extra miles if I signed up for their ShareBuilder account, and they were also offering their usual $25 bonus.  I'd gotten that bonus probably a year ago and had never canceled my account.  I thought that would make me ineligible to open a new account, but I clicked on the ad anyway.

Sharebuilder asked if I already had an account and then asked me to log in.  I did, awaiting the rejection page, but suddenly they were giving me a second account under the same login and it was still good for the $25 bonus.  The bonus appeared in my new account a few days later.  So I just got 255 miles and $25.  Sweet.

Experian was offering 255 miles as well for signing up for a "free" credit score.  You have to give a credit card because, of course, if you do not cancel your account within 7 days, they start charging you monthly.  I've done the dance with Experian a number of times before, so it took just a quick phone call and repeatedly saying "No" to a customer representative to get them to cancel the membership.

I did a few more ad-looks and even applied for a "Free 2GB Flashdrive", only to be told that "We will contact you to let you know if you were one of the first 500 respondents" eligible to get the flashdrive.  Sigh.

When it was said and done, I had 795 miles in the account and asked for 500 to be transfered to Delta.

Final analysis: If you have free time, it's an easy way to juice your frequent flyer account, but considering it took two hours to get miles worth only $6.00, it's not the best if you consider your time to be valuable.  

Friday, June 25, 2010

Abusing Best Buy

Other than butterflies and newborn babies, there is nothing more beautiful than a Best Buy service plan.  If you play your cards right, you can continually upgrade your electronics for only the cost of the service plan.  You are, in essence, leasing your gear from Best Buy.

Let me tell you a story:

In 2005, I bought both a $329 Mini-DV camcorder and its $79 service plan.  After almost four years of travel video and homemade porn, the camera was still it pretty good condition, which I considered a disappointment.  I wanted there to be a problem with the camera, for reasons that will soon be clear.  Finally, though, my wishes were answered when it fell off a table while the cord was plugged in.  The contacts became loose and now the camera would only charge if the cable was held in a certain position.

So, three years and 361 days after buying the camera--four days before the deadline--I went to my local Best Buy.  According to the policy, Best Buy will replace your damaged item with a new one (even if you caused the damage!).  Since four years is a cosmic epoch for electronics, they didn't have the same camera in stock, which was exactly what I wanted.

Since they couldn't replace it with an new one, the plan dictated that they give me a store credit for the original purchase price.  In 2005, $329 could get you a one-chip SD camera that took expensive Mini-DV tapes.  In 2009, $329 would get you a remarkably small HD camcorder with flash storage.

The price of this brand new camera to me in real terms? The $79 I paid for the plan four years ago. 

I essentially leased it for that price and then was given an upgrade. 

When I got the HD camcorder I also got the 4 year service plan to go with it.  Who knows?  Four years from now, $329 might by me a contact lens with a camera installed on it.  Either way, I've already paid for it, and will go get it as soon as I'm tired of my current camcorder.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Banks that Will Count Paypal or a Bank Transfer as a Direct Deposit

Chasing bank bonuses often requires jumping through hoops, and one of those biggest hoops is a direct deposit requirement.  They put it in there specifically do discourage bonus hunting, because if your paycheck is going to their bank, you're more likely to use their services and stick with them (that, and they get to earn interest by loaning out your money).

The little known way around that is by "pushing" money in from another institution (Paypal and ING are two of the more popular), which the bank's computers see as a direct deposit.  Since not all banks count those, though, the members of the message boards have been steadily compiling a list of which banks do and which banks don't.

ACH, in case you didn't know, stands for Automatic Clearing House, which is the system banks use to transfer money.  When you set up a transfer from one bank to get money from another bank, that's considered a "pull" and does not count as direct deposit.  When you send the money from one institution to go into another, though, that's considered a "push".  Many banks do pulls for free (after all, the money is going into their coffers), but often charge for pushes.  You should read the fine print before you do a push from a bank to make sure you don't pay a fee.  

If you find any others, please leave a comment and let me know.

Click "Read More" to see the full list.

Banks that people have had success pushing into:
  1. Bank of America (ING, Paypal, ACH push)
  2. Bank of the West (ING, Paypal)
  3. Bank One (ING, Paypal, ACH push)
  4. Bank of New York (ACH push)
  5. Capital One (ING)
  6. Charter One (ING, ACH push)
  7. Chase (ING, Paypal, Etrade, ACH push) 
  8. Citibank (ING, Paypal, ACH push)
  9. Citizens Bank (ING)
  10. Columbia Bank (Paypal)
  11. Commerce Bank (ING, Paypal) - refers to one in the northeast
  12. Compass Bank (ING)
  13. E-Trade Bank (ING, ACH push)
  14. HSBC (ING, Paypal, ACH push)
  15. Huntington National Bank (ING, PayPal, ACH push)
  16. KeyBank (Paypal, ACH push)
  17. LaSalle (ACH push, Etrade)
  18. M&I Bank (Paypal)
  19. M&T Bank (ACH push)
  20. PNC Bank (Paypal, ACH push, ING)
  21. Principal Bank (ING)
  22. Salem Five (ACH push)
  23. Sovereign (ACH push, ING)
  24. SunTrust (ING, Paypal)
  25. TD Banknorth (ACH push)
  26. UFBDirect (ACH push)
  27. USAA (ING)
  28. US Bank (Paypal, ACH push)
  29. Valley National Bank (ING)
  30. Wachovia (ING, ACH push)
  31. Washington Mutual (ING, ED, Paypal)
Banks that don't count ING/Paypal/ACH push transfers as direct deposits:
  1. Charter One 
  2. Chase  
  3. MeadowsCU 
  4. Metropolitan National Bank 
  5. PNC Bank 
  6. Presidential Bank
  7. Salem Five
  8. Sovereign 
  9. Wachovia 
  10. Wells Fargo 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

$250 from M&T Bank

I just got off the phone with one of M and T Bank's representatives about their new bonus offer.  She didn't know much about it, so I educated her instead of the other way around.  After she asked a manger a couple of questions, though, we got it sorted out.

Here's the deal:

  1. Open a checking account
  2. Sign up for direct deposit: get $25-$150 depending on the account type.
  3. Sign up for overdraft protection: get $50
  4. Make three bill pays in the first month of opening the account: get $50
Now here is the fine print:

  1. MyChoice Checking has the lowest minimum balance while still qualifying for the bonus.  You are must either make 10 check card transactions per month OR  have at least $500 in the account to avoid fees.  This account gives you a $25 bonus with direct deposit.
  2. Select Checking and Power Checking also qualify for the bonuses, giving you $50 and $150 respectively, but also requiring a $5,000 or $50,000 balance respectively.  
  3. The bonuses take 90 days to be deposited, so you much have the account open for at least three months.
I opened a MyChoice checking account, using Paypal to do the direct deposit, and then signed up for overdraft protection as well as bill pay.

I'm only getting $125 instead of the potential $150, but since my commitment is only $500, this means I made a 25% gain for letting them hold my money for a few months.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My First Road Trip: Racing The Sun

I inched the accelerator closer to the floor, torn between getting a speeding ticket and winning this race. My opponent was bigger, faster, brighter and didn’t actually know that we were competing. In fact, it was content to consume hydrogen while I cursed at both it and my patched-together Mustang, the three of us racing towards the horizon.

I was eighteen years-old and had been sitting bored at home, trying to think of something to do.  Then it occurred: Why didn't I watch the sun set over one ocean and rise over another? It was possible in Florida, as we had the Gulf of Mexico on the west coast and the Atlantic on the east. We even had I-4, an interstate that runs from Tampa to Daytona. Great idea, except that by the time I had thought of it, the sun was starting its decent.

Tampa was only an hour's drive from my house, but the sun was already touching the horizon when I exited the interstate, desperately looking for a way to get to a beach.  I could see a beach, see it was right there, but I didn’t know how to get my car to it. Fifteen minutes later, my car was parked and I was running across the sand and onto a pier that jutted out in the water.  I pulled my camera out just in time to photograph the sun's rays dipping below the water.  I watched as the pinks and yellows faded to blue to violet to black.

Relief exhaled. Phase One accomplished.

I had ten hours until the sun rose again and it only took an hour and a half to get to Daytona. What to do until then?

Click "Read More" for the rest of the story


Four AM found me hurtling down I-4, headed east. Construction barricades had me in a one-lane roofless tunnel, and I was sliding through this concrete slalom chute at 90 mph.  I had found a rave in Tampa, and had gotten so lost in the music and the dance that I again left too late.  It was stupid driving that fast in the dark, barely able to see the turns as they shot towards me into the glow of my headlights, driving that fast simply to see a sun that would come up again and again and again.  Stupid, but also damn exhilarating.

Odd to need to be near death to feel that.

The earth raced along with me, spinning at over a thousand miles an hour as it moved the continents, the oceans and me, so fast that if it stopped my car would be catapulted forward, tires leaving the pavement before nose-diving into the asphalt. But the earth didn’t stop and neither did I, and we both raced as fast as we could towards the sun.

Five-thirty AM found me in Daytona Beach, illegally parked at some hotel, the sky just beginning to lighten. I ran to the beach. The sun was not yet up, but it was coming quickly. The sky had already lightened to blue; pinks and yellows were peaking up over the ocean. The sand was deserted. I saw some birds flying over the waves and, as I pressed the button to take a picture, I realized I was out of film.


I turned and ran for my car, hopping in and pulling out, racing down an empty street, trying to find a convenience store. Lights flashed behind me, and I looked into the rear view.


I spotted a 7-11 and parked, looking at a store that I knew had film, looking at the sky growing lighter and lighter as the cop came to take my license and proof of insurance, as he took his sweet time writing the ticket.

I had raced breakneck down the interstate without incident and now, going 40 in a 30, I was getting pulled over.

Ticket in hand, I ran into the 7-11, bought the film, raced back to my car and snail-paced myself to the hotel parking lot, making sure I didn't catch the cop's attention again.

I had raced the sun to the west coast and watched it set over the Gulf of Mexico. While in Tampa,I had played  beach volleyball, rollerbladed, danced and driven through the night, all while on a planet rotating to bring me to see it again.

Breathless, I sat on the beach and waited. Soon the sun rose in a wash of orange and pink, its edges wavering as it cleared the water. It lifted up into some low-lying clouds, its light refracting into hundreds of rays that spread through the cottony ether. It was just me, the beach and the sun.


After the shimmering disk had come fully over the horizon, I lay back, exhausted, concentrating on its warmth on my face.

I awoke about an hour later. I had been dreaming. There was girl in the dream, walking along the beach. She was young and blonde and pretty and had said "hi" to me. And when I opened my eyes, no lie, she was there. It wasn’t the same girl and she wasn’t standing over me as expected, but she was young and blonde and pretty and walking barefoot in the sand nearer to the hotel, giving me a wide berth. I sat up and watched at her, looked at her lit by the rising sun. I was surprised a film crew wasn't recording it.

Everything else had been perfect, so why not this? I suppose in a novel she would had seen me and I her and we would had felt some deep connection and made love right there on the sand while the water lapped up at our legs. Instead, she walked by, barely acknowledging me. Just as she was passing, though, I said: “I had a dream about you.”

It caught her attention.

She came over. I introduced myself, and she sat by me on the sand. Her name was Jaime, she was sixteen, and she was on vacation with her still-sleeping parents. Our conversation was the basics: where from, why here. I spent a lot of it lying on the sand with my eyes closed against the light, the sun still showing red through my eyelids, white spots dancing as I listened to her. Like the rave, it, too, felt right: me lying there, her sitting beside me, the salty breeze blowing off the water, the sun dissipating the morning chill. There actually was a connection between us, a moment, one of those moments where fate and life converge and you’re left with a simple second of synergy, beautiful for its own sake. There wasn't more, no future where we told our kids how we met, simply a boy falling asleep on the beach after racing to see the sunrise and waking up to share it with a pretty girl.

She gave me her email, and then I stood up, brushed the sand of my jeans and bid her goodbye. And as her hand gently brushed her windblown hair out of her eyes, the sunlight glinting off the near-white strands, she said goodbye to me, too.

I still remember that second.

I never wrote her.

Fantasy aside, life demanded that I get back into my car, and drive home. I had been to my first rave, met an angel, seen the sun rise and set over two oceans and, as it turns out, got back to the interstate just in time to hit the morning traffic.

Welcome back, life.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

e-Miles Wants to be Your Pimp

e-Miles wants to pimp you out for miles, as illustrated by this photograph of a statue called "The White Slave".  e-Miles is the yelling man on the right and you are the naked, supple, firm, slightly sad and submissive woman on the...  Goddamit, where's my wallet? 

The gist is that e-Miles sends you emails with marketing messages that you have to respond to, and in return they give you airline miles.  So far, showing you a one page advertisement and asking you three multiple choice questions is worth 5 miles, and asking a page of demographic questions is worth 15 miles.  Oh, you also get 200 miles just for signing up.

The catch?  E-miles only transfers your miles to your airline account in 500 mile batches, and you have to request the transfer.  So you would have to look at 60 of the one page ads in order to get your first batch of miles.  Considering that miles are valued at a penny a point, it's like an hour of your time just to get $5.00 worth of miles.    

E-miles, therefore, is your pimp, selling your eyes to abusive Johns like Zales and Disney (the first two ads I saw) while keeping the bulk of the cash for themselves.  I like being degraded, though (and have nothing else to do on a Friday night0, so I signed up with them.  Expect another post in a couple weeks about the experience.

So far, e-Miles works with Delta, Continental, US Airways, AirTran, Alaska Airlines, Frontier Airlines and Hilton HHonors®.

So if being a prostitute escort is what you've always wanted to be, click on this link to go to e-Mile's website.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Deals: 20% Off BooksFree Membership

Hey!  Stop looking at the naked kid reading, you pedophile!  I put it there because, you know, this post is about reading, not for you to gawk at!

BooksFree is pretty much Netflix for books and audiobooks: you sign up for a plan and they ship you set number of books or CDs.  As you send them back, more are sent to you.

Why post about it on a travel blog?  Well, other than the fact that I am also reading naked on a toilet seat right now, it's also good for getting your hands on a lot of audiobooks.  Have BooksFree send you a dozen or so, rip them all to MP3, and you have something to keep you sane on the TransSiberian Railway (AKA sounds more fun than it actually is) or any other mind-numbingly long jaunt.

And since I don't believe in paying full price for anything, here's a coupon code for 20% off your membership:

Friday, June 18, 2010

Free Credits and Alcohol from Southwest

Southwest is currently offering up to 4 credits for signing up for their program.

Click Here for Information About their Program.

The Dealie-O:

1. Enroll in Southwest Rapid Rewards and 2 credits.

2. Sign up for  The Rapid Rewards Report and The Rapid Rewards E-mail Update and stay subscribed for three months to get two more bonus credits.

3.  The offer is only good for new Southwest Rapid Rewards members.

As I was not yet a Southwest member, I decided to get the credits.  And then I noticed this on the bottom of the sign-up page:

Southwest is giving me gifts AND alcohol?  I know what this means...  Bow chika wow chika...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Turkey: Dan-Rah and Skinny Dipping

It was an island uninhabitable by design: a small oblong of razor sharp rock covered in thorny brambles. Weary of its interior, I opted to sit on a short stone spire sticking out of the ocean, my feet protesting as I tried to find smooth places to place them, my backside unhappy as the point almost pierced my butt cheek.   Finally, I found comfort, my legs just over the sea, the water gently lapping up against them.

[Our yacht for five days]

Sarah swam up from a sandbar she had been exploring, pulling off her mask and snorkel and tossing them beside mine on a nearby outcrop. A few hundred yards away floated our yacht.  Well, not really ours.  We had paid for a five day "Blue Cruise" along Turkey's Mediterranean coast, an experience that had thus far been amazing.

The blobs of color bobbing around the yacht were our fellow passengers, who always seemed reluctant to swim more than ten feet away from the boat.  Sarah and I, though, we liked to explore.  After an hour of snorkeling, my pockets were already full of interesting shells, some of which would later prove to be owned by well-hidden hermit crabs.  The fact of other ownership became known back in my cabin when a couple of the shells magically moved themselves several feet away from where I had put them. The crabs and their homes soon found themselves on an unasked-for adrenaline joyride through the air before splashing back into the brink.

“Think we could climb that?” I asked Sarah.

Mountains—albeit small ones—rose up from the shoreline of the coast. Their surfaces seemed like piles of pebbles left by some small god child, stacked steep up to three separate peaks, the middle one noticeably higher than the others. Goats made noises at each other as they picked their way along those rocks, chewing on the scrub brush growing from the crevices. There was nothing remotely approaching a path to those peaks; but if you thought in terms of climbing rather than hiking, it was just a grade four scramble that couldn’t take more than an hour.

“Probably,” said Sarah, leaving it at that. I took her lack of enthusiasm as an idea rejection.


Several hours, the rest of a book and a number of backgammon games later, Sarah tapped me on my shoulder.

“Let’s climb the mountain,” Sarah said to me.

[Enjoying a book on the deck of the yacht]

She said this, of course, with only an hour before we were scheduled to sail out of the bay.  Sarah had spent the past two hours tanning herself and writing in her notebook a few feet from me. Why she hadn’t decided to start the climb earlier, save perhaps to make the experience intense instead of leisurely (I do not deny that my subconscious also decides things in this way), I don’t know.

I thought for a moment.



Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting“Don’t let the devil goats get you!” Brenna yelled from the ship as Sarah and I swam to shore, our shoes held over our heads. The goats had been so named because, yes, they did have a certain malevolent look about them. They stayed out of our way, though, as we put on our socks and shoes and started scrambling up the steep rocks, showing up their prowess and hurting their collective pride. They “nahhed” at us in scorn.

Sarah took the lead, locating climbable rocks while avoiding the sharp branches of the shrubs. The rock was a hard, porous limestone that offered a plethora of holds for hands and feet. We practically ran up the thing, and within half an hour were on the top, looking down at our ship and the others in the bay.

[Sarah bouldering atop the mountain]

The site was amazingly beautiful, but I’ll let pictures tell the thousand words. We had enough time to pose for them, take a couple more of ourselves bouldering with that beautiful backdrop, and then rock hop down to the shoreline to swim to the boat, our little adventure taking less than 45 sweat-soaked minutes.

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Back on board, I looked at the captain's navigation maps. Although I found our mountain, it was apparently too small to have its peaks named.

So we named it, smashing our own together.

We had just climbed Mount Dan-Rah.


Photobucket - Video and Image HostingAlthough the climb had made our day, we discovered there was plenty more worth seeing on our journey to where we would anchor for the night.  We sailed over a sunken city, the foundations of its houses visible through the clear water.  We sailed past by an island only reachable by boat, a castle clinging to its highest point and a fishing village spread across the rest of it.  Finally, as the sun started to sink, we reached a cove and dropped anchor.

As night came on, Sarah and I started secretly drinking the raki (a Turkish liquorish-flavored liquor not unlike ouzo) that we had smuggled on board after a stop two days prior.  We were not supposed to bring any drinks on board (giving the ship a monopoly on booze), so we had been forced to become raki runners and Pepsi pirates (my treasure trove of cans now buried at the bottom of the ship’s cooler). Tipsy and happy, we scarfed down dinner and got dressed because here, in the middle of the night in the middle of the Mediterranean, we were going dancing.

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[Our ship, anchored for the night]

At 11:00 PM, a speedboat pulled up beside the yacht and everyone under the age of 30 got on board. The speedboat stopped at the other boats anchored in the cove and soon a party was making its way to one of the world's most exclusive clubs.

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[Enjoying the bonfire in front of the club]

We danced for hours before taking a break on one of the wooden platforms, cooling off in the night air.  Then, a movie moment happened shortly thereafter:  Four of in the group were American, and we all perked up when we heard the opening chords of Don Mclean’s “American Pie.”

“A long, long time ago/I remember how that music used to make me smile…”

It came to us on the night breeze from the over-amped stereo system, and no matter what we normally thought about our country, at that moment we were proud to be Americans. The thirty or so other people sitting outside—all from other countries—quietly listened, as the four of us began singing together. We looked off at the sky, the water, occasionally glancing at each other but mostly singing for ourselves, our voices in near whispers during the verses but rising up joyously together on the choruses. The four of us: Sarah, Ryan, Brenna and me, were all travelers; we pride ourselves on having visited and lived in many places, on speaking other languages and being comfortable in other cultures, but that moment something was very clear, at least to me: we were inescapably American. No one else on that beach, in that club, knew those words, at those words were just one of thousands of strings that bound us together as a people, a culture, a nation. And while it looked like a cool Almost Famous/”Tiny Dancer” movie moment, it was more than that because we all felt very close just then, something we remarked upon later, drawn together by childhoods staring out car windows while this song played on car radios, now adults out in the middle of nowhere in an area of the world that mostly hates us and being very, very American together.


Photobucket - Video and Image HostingLeave it to the Australians to ratchet up the party. At some point in the evening, two of the Australian girls had gotten behind the bar and were helping to serve drinks, taking a shot or two (or seven) for themselves.  I noticed they were back there only when I was hit on the back with ice cubes and, turning around to find Jess, one of the Australian girls, tugging the front of her tank top down to offer me a target. I underhand tossed a cube at her and she maneuvered to catch it between her breasts. Another ice cube, another perfect catch and soon our Turkish bartenders, Vinnie and Hussein (actual names), happy about all that close-by cleavage, began giving out free shots of vodka.

The dance floor was a loud group of moving bodies. Most had partnered up and I noticed that Sarah was dancing with Ahmed, the first mate of our boat, who had started the evening by saying to her: “I want be with you tonight.”

The lack of English meant that the insinuation could have gone either way but his intentions were pretty apparent when, a few dances later, he was pushing his tongue in her mouth. Being attractive, Turkish and made of muscle, Sarah wasn’t minding.


I stripped naked and dove into the water, narrowing missing Sarah, who dog-paddled in all her pinkness. Skinny dipping had not been our idea: it had been suggested by two of the girls on our boat.  Although both backed out when we returned from the club, I'm not one to waste a good idea.  Besides, who wouldn’t want to say they had gone skinny dipping in a cove in Turkey in blue-black water under a moon one day from full?

After a few minutes of being shrinkingly-cold, I told Sarah I was getting back on the boat.  Showered off and carrying my blankets up to sleep on the deck, I noticed Ahmed spreading out a blanket over two of the deck cushions, creating a double bed. He was ambitious.  I knew he had told Sarah things like: “Look my eyes” and “I think I loving you,” but from what I understood, she had declined his offers. Still, I made my bed up as far away as possible.

A few minutes later, I couldn’t find Sarah. She wasn’t in the water, she wasn’t on the deck and she wasn’t in the cabin. I didn’t think she was drunk enough to have had a problem swimming, but it was too small a boat for her to have completely disappeared. Finally, though, she swam into view from the front of the boat and I handed her clothes to her when she got on board.

Sarah declared what had happened to be "amazing".  Seeing her in the water, Ahmed had descended a chain that stretched taut from the bow of the boat to just above the water.  He had sat on it while Sarah had pulled herself up out of the water, one hand on the chain, the other on the back of his head, breasts exposed and dripping in the moonlight, to make out with him.

I think her decision to sleep on the double bed with Ahmed fell into the category of teasing. She had no intention of having sex with him, but  the topless making out had probably given Ahmed the idea that he was on his way to scoredom.

I awoke a few hours later, almost at daybreak, to hear her telling him to stop and that she wanted to sleep.  Knowing she could take care of herself, I went back to dreamland.

In the debrief the next day, Sarah admitted that sleeping in his bed had been a bad idea, and not just due to the lack of sleep.  Apparently Achmed's kissing was of the “shock and awe” variety, and she showed me where his tongue, in its forceful incursions, had actually torn a bit of that flap between the tongue and the bottom of the mouth. Hers was swollen and bleeding a little.

Apparently for her, it had not been a Turkish delight…

Still, it'd been one hell of a day.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Deals: $20 off o2 Gear Shop

o2 is a pretty sweet gear shop that I've purchased from in the past.  They currently have a deal for $20 off all orders of $100 or more.  For all you non-math people, that's a million percent off or something.  As you can tell, I am also a non-math person. 

Here's the link:

Save $20 on All Orders of $100 at o2 Gear Shop Use Code: "GETDOWN"

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

How to: Turn Your Travel Pics into Photo Books

A friend recently showed me travel photos from a trip to South America.  But instead of pulling them up on her laptop like I like to do, she took out a leather-bound book and opened it.

Since then, I've been wanting to make a photobook of my own, containing my best travel pics.

Since I spent some time searching for discounts (because that's what I do), I thought I'd do everyone else a favor and put all the current coupons for photo books into one spot:






Thursday, June 10, 2010

Deals: 15% off Frommer's Products

It worked!  If we were to compare travel guides to types of women, Frommer's would be the Old Money Princess and Lonely Planet would be the book that everybody's had. 

Since I kept posting so many Lonely Planet Discounts, it finally made Frommer's jealous and now she's mine! 

Which means I found a discount for 15% off their products.  They are best known for their travel guide books, but they also do vacation packages as well.

When you click on link, it will take you to their homepage, and when you go to checkout, a 15% discount will automatically be applied.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Most Complained about Domestic Airlines

Yahoo Travel just put out an article detailing the most complained about airlines.  For all the problems I've had with JetBlue, I would have thought they would have been #1.  Huh. 

The Top Offenders:

  1. Delta
  2. United Airlines
  3. US Airways
  4. Northwest Airlines
  5. American Airlines
  6. Comair
  7. Continental Airlines
  8. AirTran
  9. Frontier Airlines
  10. JetBlue Airways

Monday, June 7, 2010

Deals: Free Audiobook From Audible currently has an offer for a free audio book of your choice.  Could be just the thing to shorten a long bus ride or plane flight.  And I mean that literally by the way, because I know you would choose to listen to "The Anarchist's Cookbook" while hugging a bag of fertilizer.

The catch is that you have to sign up for a 14-day free trial to get the free audio book, but you're smart enough to just get your book and then cancel the trial.  Right?  Right?

Well, I guess it won't matter since you're blowing yourself up anyway, leaving your Audible debt to your relatives.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

American Airlines Helps Old Men Impregnate Women

American Airlines currently has a deal that feels more like progressive Vegas slots than anything else.  Biggest payout: 100,000 bonus miles.  Chances ANYONE will get those miles: 1 in Well, Think Back About the Hottest Person in Your High School that You Forever Crushed on But Never Got the Chance to Be With; Your Chances Are the Same.  

The Deal: Basically, you need to fly a round trip flight in or out of some of their less-traveled destinations.  Fly to 2 of them and you get 1,000 miles.  Fly to 3 cities and you've got 4,000 miles. Get to ten cities and you will net you the 100k.

I can't think of a single situation in which someone would fly to all these particular places (listed below).  I mean, Kentucky and China?  Seriously?  Well, maybe it could be done by an independently wealthy geezer (pictured at right) who has two months to live and wants to impregnate women in each of these cities.  You know, setting up franchises.

Have a better reason for why someone would? Leave it in the comments.


  • You have to register prior to travel using Promotion Code NEWAA.  
  • Flights after July 31, 2010 don't count.
  • 2 cities = 1,000 miles
  • 3 cities = 4,000 miles
  • 4 cities = 6,000 miles
  • 5 cities = 10,000 miles
  • 6 cities = 15,000 miles
  • 7 cities = 25,000 miles
  • 8 cities = 50,000 miles
  • 9 cities = 75,000 miles
  • 10 cities = 100,000 miles

Eligible cities:

  • Allentown, PA
  • Asheville, NC
  • Augusta, GA
  • Beijing, China
  • Charleston, WV
  • Cheyenne, WY
  • Eleuthera, Bahamas
  • Fargo, ND
  • Fayetteville, NC
  • Harrisburg, PA
  • Lexington, KY
  • Myrtle Beach, SC
  • Rapid City, SD
  • Scranton/Wilkes Barre, PA
  • Sioux Falls, SD
  • Treasure Cay, Bahamas
  • Tri-cities, TN

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

$300 from Comerica Bank

Comerica Bank is offering a sort of a la carte bonus system at the moment.  It ends on June 30th.


Notice: This promo is open only to new checking account customers.

You must open a new checking account (minimum $2,500) and add any of the following:

1.  $75 for Signing up for Bill Pay and Making 5 or More Bill Payments a Month for 6 Months
2.  $75 for getting a Comerica Check Card (free) and Making 5 or More Transactions With It for 6 Months
3.  $75 for setting up a direct deposit that deposits at least $150 a month
4.  $75 for opening up their Premiere ($5,000 minimum to avoid fees) or Platinum Circle Account ($50,000 minimum to avoid fees).  The account must stay open for six months.

It breaks down thusly:

1.  If you invest $2,500 for their free checking account and just do options 1-3, you earn $225, which works out as a 9% return on a six month investment.

2.  If you invest $5,000 to do all four options, you earn $300, which works out to a 6% return on a six month investment (although an extra $75 in your pocket).

The five bill payments and five check card transactions could be a little difficult to keep up with, but free money is free money...

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Get 1,000 American Airlines Miles

If you've not done so, you can currently get 1,000 bonus American Airline miles by signing up for the AAdvantage eSummary.  Pretty much, they're paying you miles to save themselves postage.

To sign up for eSummary, click on the "Profile" link in the upper-right area of the home page and log in. Then scroll down and select the box "AAdvantage summary via E-mail instead of via the postal service" to subscribe.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Earn Up to 25,000 United Mileage Plus Bonus Miles

TD AMERITRADE has a new special going with United Airlines that gives you miles for opening an account with them.  You have to be a new customer and open an account by June 30, 2010.  

The amount you deposit determines your reward:

1.  $2,500=5,000 miles
2.  $10,000=15,000 miles
3.  $50,000=25,000

Here is the fine print, with certain things bolded by me:

Offer valid for new Individual or Joint accounts opened and funded by U.S. residents with $2,500 or more by 6/30/2010. Not transferable and not valid for IRA or other tax-exempt accounts, internal transfers, current TD AMERITRADE clients, or with other offers. Limit one offer per client. Offers are not valid for TD AMERITRADE Investing accounts using the Amerivest service. Offers are not valid for accounts managed by independent investment advisors and maintained by TD AMERITRADE Institutional. Account must remain open with minimum funding required for participating in the offer for 9 months, or TD AMERITRADE may charge the account for the cost of the miles. Allow 6 weeks from account funding for the first half of miles to appear in the Mileage Plus account. To qualify for the second half, TD AMERITRADE account must remain open with minimum funding required for participating in the offer for 6 months from the first posting date. Miles will be deposited in the Mileage Plus account within 6 weeks. TD AMERITRADE reserves the right to restrict or revoke this offer. Miles accrued and awards issued are subject to the rules of the United Mileage Plus Program. United, its subsidiaries, affiliates and agents are not responsible for any products and services of other participating companies and partners. The Mileage Plus Program, including accruals, awards and bonus miles, is subject to changes without notice. Taxes and fees related to award travel are the responsibility of the passenger. Bonus miles and miles earned through non-flight activity do not count toward elite status. United and Mileage Plus are registered service marks. For complete details about the Mileage Plus Program, visit United Saver Awards are currently redeemable at 25,000 miles within the U. S. (excluding Hawaii) and Canada. For more information on Mileage Plus Award Reservations, call 1-800-421-4655. TD AMERITRADE and United Air Lines, Inc. are separate, unaffiliated companies and are not responsible for one another's services and policies.

TD AMERITRADE has teamed up with United to bring you a special offer…
Open and fund a TD AMERITRADE account by June 30, 2010, and earn up to 25,000 United Mileage Plus bonus miles…
The more you deposit, the more miles you earn… Spin: Click here to find out how to Earn up to 25,000 United Mileage Plus bonus miles – Open and fund a TD AMERITRADE account by June 30, 2010

Friday, May 28, 2010

Travel Advice: Five Hidden Hotel Fees to Avoid

If you can toss down $55,000 for one night in a hotel room (which is what you'd have to pay for the Royal Penthouse Suite at the President Wilson Hotel in Geneva--the world's most expensive hotel room), then you're probably not too worried about hidden hotel fees.

But for the rest of us, here are the ways that hotels might try to gouge you:

1.  Electricity Surcharge
Usually found in carribean hotels, they can be up to 10% of your bill.

2.  Charitable Donations
A number of hotels, particularly higher-end ones, will toss on a small charge to go to a charity of their choice.  You can opt out, but, of course, you have to ask to.

3. Credit Card Fees
Many hotels outside of America and Europe will charge you as much as 2% of your bill for paying with a credit card.  I've personally seen this in Egypt and Thailand and know that it's also common practice in Australia.  The problem is that you might approve your bill and then then the credit card charge goes on AS they run the credit card.

4.  Paying for Coffee, Tea or Bottled Water
Although those bottles of water or packets of instant coffee or tea in your room used to be free, some hotels are trying to make up for recession-based losses by charging for them as if they were part of the mini-bar.  This even includes higher-end hotels like Barclay's in New York, which charges $3 for its coffee.

5.  Conversion Fees
When travelling abroad, you should always pay in local currency (drawn out of an ATM for the best rate; read this post about getting your ATM fees reimbursed ).  Why?  Because if a hotel rings up your bills in dollars or euros, they can also charge you a "conversion fee" for doing a currency exchange.  This conversion fee can be as high as 4%.

Avoiding the Fees
How can you avoid these fees?  A little knowledge goes a long way.  Firstly, ask, ask, ask.  Unsure if you're going to be charged for that coffee?  Don't be lazy and use it anyway.  Ask!  When checking in, ask what fees might be charged on top of the rate you booked it at or were quoted.  If they want to charge you for housekeeping (some hotels do) or electricity, ask to have those fees waived.  If it's low season, they'll likely do it. 

Just knowing what the costs could be will let you skip a lot of fees ahead of time.  When it's all said and done though, carefully check your bill.  You can get a lot removed right at the front desk if you are persistant enough (persistant does not mean being rude or yelling). 

Good luck.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Travel Advice: Three Tips for Scoring a Hotel Upgrade

Advice for Scoring an Upgrade:

1.  Ask
Seriously, just ask.  I've found it works about half the time, but the half the time that I get a half-priced suite is, well, pretty sweet.

2.  Visit Popular Destinations in High Season
This one is counter-intuitive, so let me explain: Even with the recession on, popular destinations such as New York, Orlando and Las Vegas find themselves flooded with requests for standard rooms.  What they don't get flooded with--particularly since we're on the tail end of a recession--are demands for high-end rooms.  So when hotels have more requests for standard rooms than they can honor, it makes economic sense to start bumping people up to high-end rooms in order to keep booking the standard rooms.

3.  Check in Late
The later in the day you check in, the better able the hotel is able to judge demands on rooms for the day.  If they see that a lot of their upgrade rooms are oversold, it costs them little and gains them a lot (of customer favor) by upgrading the room.

[Personal example of the above three: I arrived on a early evening flight into Vegas during the summer and was checking into my Circus Circus hotel room at around 8:00 PM.  There was a long line ahead of me and a long line behind me, meaning that the hotel was probably booked to the gills.  When I got to the desk, I asked if there were any available upgrades.  Without batting an eye, the attendant immediately gave me a strip-facing suite.  Sweet.]

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Top of Poland (By Way of Slovakia)

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We clear the treeline and have no words. The valley looks as if God's boat had sailed through, the keel carving the rock and leaving fecundity in its wake. Below are the trees we spent an hour hiking through, above are green grasses dotted with purple and yellow flowers, their petals high enough to brush my biceps. This mountainside meadow spreads up until it merges with the grey rock and white snow that mark the peaks of the Tatras mountains.
Up there, facing each other across a saddle are the highest points in Slovakia and Poland, for this range marks the border between the two countries. The Slovakian peak, barely 150 feet higher than its Polish partner, is inaccesible without a guide. But Rysy, the Polish peak, has a trail right to the top and is frequently climbed from both sides of the border. At 8,199 feet, this should be a cakewalk.

Carrie and I are hiking extremely light on this trip: tennis shoes and day packs. We're walking past those who took this trail a little more seriously, who are heavy with their hiking boots and refrigerator backpacks.  I suppose we could have weighed ourselves down more: at the bottom of the trail were bags of coal and a sign that promised a free drink at a hut on top of the mountain if you brought one up. Beside the coal were two wooden frames with shoulder straps, each ladden with 70 pounds of firewood.  For shlepping that to the top, you would get a free night's stay.  Someone had taken that offer, and as we were climbing down, we saw someone, bent nearly double with the wood frame on their back, their own backpack strapped to the frame. When we got closer, we saw that it was a woman.

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Bags of coal, to be taken to the top

The way up was beautiful, walking through those angled mountain meadows fed by cold mountain streams that we crossed via woode bridges. These gave way to glacial lakes as the weather briefly broke. As it lightly rained we walked past a stream running over and waterfalling down the mountain side.

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Glacial lakes

The terrain seemed to change every 20 minutes: after the rain stopped, we had to use ropes and chains to get up the slick, steep rock, and then we hit the snowpack. I slipped and fell a couple times, my cheap, Ukrainian sneakers finding no purchase on the icy snow.

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Using the ropes and chains to climb up.                       Carrie on the snowpack, me slipping below her.

We passed the mountain hut and kept going, trudging up the snow until it gave way once again to rock and the saddle between the peaks. We were nearly blown off our feet by the gusts of wind that hit as as soon as we cleared the valley walls.

The red and white blazes marking the trail disappeared and we followed two people ahead of us. We found ourselves climbing, using hands and feet as the trail completely dissapeared. Looking up, my hood acting as a sail in the wind and tugging at me, I saw the top of the mountain. Rather than a peak, it ended in a straight, thin line, one you would have to straddle just to say you were on top, because there was no room to stand. With the gusting wind, I was genuinely worried that we would get blown off the top.

Then we looked back and saw other hikers, saw the path leading up the other peak. We were on the wrong mountain and were twenty minutes from scaling the highest peak in Slovakia, even though we weren't legally allowed to do so.

Despite my fear, I entertained the notion of finishing it, but Carrie firmly refused. We climbed back down and followed the path up to the other peak. The two people that had been ahead of us kept going, still climbing. Whether they were mistaken, one was a guide, or they were just doing it, we never found out.

The other peak was much easier to summit, requiring only a bit of scrambling at the end before we passed a sign saying we were now on Polish territory, and then we were at the flattened top of the point. The views were amazing, and we stopped to eat lunch there, chatting with an Australian who had come up from the Polish side, a Swiss would had come up from the Slovakian.

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At the top!

Carrie and I had made it up in 3.5 hours. It was supposed to take us 6. Our lunch finished, we blew back down the mountain, passing the laden people who we had passed on the way up. When we hit the snow pack, we both simply sat down and slid, an exciting, slighlty out of control plummit down towards the rock. An elderly couple who were hiking came up in front of us. Carrie stopped short, and I ran into her. Rather than stopping, I sort of bounced around her, angling past the couple before the snow leveled out and I was able to stand up. A Slovakian family, who was just beginning to go up the snow pack and had watched me come down, congratulated me.

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The snowpack we slid down.

In any case we made it to the bottom, and for less than four dollars, I celebrated our topographical victory with a fantastic steak dinner with a cold Pepsi.

Life was sweet.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Best and Worst Airlines For Redeeming Frequent Flyer Miles

IdeaWorks, a company that specializes in researching and improving loyalty programs, recently published a study on how likely a person could find a requested seat using frequent flyer miles.  It made 280 flight reward queries per airline and then posted the percentage of how often they were able to find a reward seat and the lowest-tier reward pricing.  

You can see the full rankings below, and they confirm what most of us have long suspected: it's hard to get a domestic flight for miles.  Airlines only open up a small percentage of seats on a given flight that can be bought with miles ("reward seats") and the reality is that although an airline like Delta might tell you that you can get a free round trip flight as soon as you accumulate 25,000 miles, as this study shows that it can be damn near impossible to get it.

Southwest Airlines seems to be the exception.  They top the chart at 99.3%, and then from there the next six are all international carriers.  Delta Airlines and US Airways are at the bottom, at 12.9% and 10.7% respectively.  

I love loyalty programs, but only in as much as I can abuse them.  I have almost every single airline-branded credit card, each of which gave me (supposedly) a free flight's worth of miles after my first purchase, but, yes, it takes a flexible schedule and a lot of patience to actually book a reward seat.  In fact, I still have enough miles with both Continental and United for free flights, but have yet to redeem them because my BleedTravel study shows that you can redeem them 0% of the time that you want.  

Because of this, I try not rely on frequent flyer miles to get free flights and instead use credit card bonuses that either credit you all or part of the cost of a flight (like the Chase Sapphire card, which I talk about in this post) or whose loyalty programs buy regular seats for you when you cash in your points, thereby bypassing the reward seat limitation altogether.  My favorite of those types of programs is the ThankYou Network, and I talk about how to bonus stack several of their credit cards together to get a free flight in this post.

Here are the rankings:   

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Travel As Business: Dissecting IRC 183, Pt I

[NOTE: Quotes below refer to "Schedule C losses".  For those who do not know what those are: if an individual has their own business, they file the income and expenses of that business with the IRS using a Schedule C form; losses on that form can then be deducted from their overall income, reducing the amount of taxes they have to pay.]

Internal Revenue Code Section 183 (IRC 183) is sometimes referred to as the “Hobby Loss” part of the code because it deals with the very complex and murky subject of whether a taxpayer is engaging in a profit-driven business that also looks like a hobby or whether they are engaged in a hobby that they are trying to make look like a business in order to deduct costs.

It is so murky because the code is pretty much based on intent (whether a person is trying to make a profit) and--sharp objects aside--an auditor cannot get into the head of a taxpayer.  The way tax courts have ruled on this matter has further complicated this matter for both taxpayers and auditors.

By being familiar with IRC 183, though, a person can take steps to make their businesses legitimate in the eyes of the IRS, even if they are taking substantial losses from something that some could argue is just a hobby.

First, a Discussion of the Code

It is worth noting that the code is a work in progress. The first version was created in 1943, in almost direct response to the actions of a man named Marhall Field. At the time, Field was operating two newspapers in Chicago as a sole proprietorship and taking a loss on them on his personal income taxes. Essentially, the Federal government was helping to subsidize his newspapers.

A large amount of litigation followed as the IRS tried to use the code to stop others from reducing their overall tax burden through loss-making side projects.  The Tax Reform Act of 1969 was supposed to clarify how much a person could loose before they hand to stop: no more than $25,000 in 3 out of 5 years. A disagreement between the House and the Senate, though, killed putting a dollar amount on losses, resulting in a tax system that  “defined profit as not only immediate economic profit but also any reasonably anticipated long term increase…"  In other words, the IRS did not have the right to tell someone they were loosing too much money, provided that a profit might be seen at some point in the future.

In order to limit litigation over the now quite subjective rules about profit making, IRC 183 was put into place in 1988. The essential component was that any business which was profitable for 3 years out of a consecutive 5 year period would be considered a business, no matter how much it looked like a hobby.  If the IRS wanted to pursue a case, the onus of proving that a business was really a hobby would fall on the IRS.

Today, IRC 183 is considered flawed by the Treasure Department. A recent review stated that “the IRS faces considerable challenges in administrating the tax law for taxpayers who take Schedule C losses year after year for potentially not-for-profit activities.”  It said that current regulations “do not establish specific criteria for the IRS to use to determine whether a Schedule C loss is a legitimate business expense without conducting a full examination of an individual's books and records.” A full examination, of course, is a huge drain on IRS resources.  According to the report, the IRS experimented with several cheaper methods of recovering money, including sending warning letters (which were often ignored) or doing audits by mail (which turned out to be nearly as time consuming and expensive, and which did not deter most taxpayers from taking losses in subsequent years).

The investigation made it clear that IRC 183 is not a “good tax” because it is so hard to enforce: “we conclude that it is difficult for the IRS to efficiently and effectively administer this provision.”

In its summation, the Treasure Department recommended that the legislation be changed to establish a clearly defined standard or “bright line rule” for determining whether a deduction is legitimate or not.

What the Code Means for Someone Who Turn a Travel Hobby Into a Business

1.  According to the guidance the IRS publishes for auditors, “an activity could be considered a for-profit business if a taxpayer shows any profit during a 5 year period, even though larger losses are claimed in the other taxable years.” The safe harbor provided by IRC 183 helps protect the taxpayer. If a business takes three years of profit (which could technically be only a dollar in profit) and two years of heavy losses, the burden of proof still lies on the IRS to prove that it is not a for-profit business. An example of this might be taking a European vacation one summer, taking the cost of the trip as a business loss, and then selling a story ever year for the next three years, generating small profits in those years. The trip was an investment that paid off in the next few years with sold stories (which further your cause of turning your writing into a profitably business). You can do this provided that you “devote time to the business in the honest belief that the business will sometime in the future become profitable."

2. The IRS states: “It is not necessary for the taxpayer to show what their projected profit is expected to be.” Also, the IRS does not have the right to determine whether a business could be profitable, and a “reasonable expectation of profit” is NOT necessary. It is only important that the taxpayer is honestly trying to make a profit.

3. Although the code states that being profitable in 3 years out of 5 should alleviate most suspicion, it still allows a taxpayer to take losses year after year provided they can demonstrate that they are trying to make a profit. In one court case, a taxpayer took $700,000 in losses over seven years and the courts still ruled that he was conducting a for-profit business.

4. IRC 183 provides 9 considerations that an auditor should look at when determining whether a business is for-profit or a hobby loss. Those considerations will be looked in part II of this post.

In Summation

For now, the subjectivity and murkiness of the code is on the side of the taxpayer, particularly if the taxpayer shows three years of profit in a five year period. Provided that the taxpayer is conducting the business in the hopes of making a profit, even if the potential for profit is almost nonexistent, the current law sides with them and allows the loss, even if the loss is quite large and taken year after year after year.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Travel As Business: Assessing the Risks of Taking a Business Loss for Your Travel Business

Turning your travel into a has several benefits, the greatest of which, obviously, is having your job (even it's only your side job) be something that you love.  Beyond that, though, it has the benefit of either generating profits for you if the business does well, or generating tax savings for you if the business does poorly .

But taking a business loss on your taxes does have a risk: the IRS determining that you are conducting a hobby and not a profit-driven business and penalizing you for that.  And since no one wants to end up in jail while trying to save money on their taxes, here is a blunt discussion of the risks involved in taking a business loss.

If you are audited, an IRS representative will try to determine if your loss is tax evasion or tax avoidance.

Tax Evasion

If you are evading taxes, you are risking a lot of grief. You could be jailed and you could be fined (the amount you owe plus a 75% penalty). If you are found guilty of evading taxes, there is no statute of limitations and and the IRS can look at your entire tax history when trying to assess how much you owe.  Obviously, no one wants to be guilty of tax evasion.

Tax Avoidance

Avoiding taxes is another matter. Provided it is legal, you are allowed to avoid as much tax as you can. One way to think about it is if you were to take a longer route home to avoid a toll road. Your effort has allowed you to legally avoid a tax and it was your right to do so.

An IRS agent might disagree with your interpretation of the law, but it is not illegal to take a tax avoidance position that later turns out to be wrong. In this case, the penalty is likely to be the amount you owe, plus 20%.

The statute of limitation on tax avoidance is three years. The IRS cannot recover money from a return filed four years before the audit, even if they determine that on those returns you were incorrectly avoiding taxes.

The Difference

As a CPA once told me: “Mess with the deductions, but never mess with the income.” Lying about income is considered tax evasion.  Taking a deduction that the IRS later considers incorrect, though, is usually a case of tax avoidance.

 Of course, if you are taking a deduction that you are clearly not entitled to (like taking an education deduction when you obviously weren’t going to school or taking a dependent deduction for kids that you don’t have), then that would almost certainly be considered evasion.

 But, as my CPA friend told me, taking a business deduction for an activity that you are making some money on is simply “taking a position. The IRS may later disagree with you, but it was not illegal.”

Chances of Being Audited

Even with Obama’s increase of funding to the IRS, the chances of you being audited if you report less than $100,000 a year is slim. The reason is that when the IRS chooses which cases to persue, they want the potential recovery to make up for the cost of the audit and then some. Most of the cases that are cited when
dealing with hobby-loss are for huge deductions. One was a doctor who tried to deduct his polo playing hobby because he met clients while conducting it. Another was for the owner of a car dealership who was deducting more than $30,000 a year for his stock car racing hobby because he said it helped advertise his dealership. In both cases, the courts disagreed.

 If you’re saving yourself $1,000 a year in travel deductions for your travel writing business, it’s hardly worth it for the IRS to spend almost that amount in payroll hours just to get it back.

That said, I firmly believe that you should take deductions as if you were to be audited.  Taking Schedule C losses is a red flag for the IRS, even if your deductions are too small to be worth the effort. Individuals also do get randomly selected, and you might get audited for that reason.

While it’s your right to avoid tax by taking business losses for a pleasurable business that you are trying to make a profit from, you should conduct that business as if the IRS will be investigating it.  That shouldn't deter you from doing it; it just means that you should be mindful when doing so.

Worth It?

That’s a question only you can answer, but here is a way to think about it: Let’s say you take business loss deductions that net you $1,000 in savings. That’s likely a significant amount of money for you. The chances of you getting audited are slim, but if it does happen and the decision goes against you, you will likely be penalized the amount you owe plus 20%. Since you would have paid the $1,000 if you hadn’t taken the deduction, your loss comes to $200.

That, too, might be significant, but it can help to think of that $200 as an investment. The chances of getting audited if you report $25,000-$50,000 on your tax return are 0.58%. So, would you be willing to invest $200 in a stock if you had a 99.42% chance of turning it into $1200?  Even in a casino, it would be a good bet: a 600% instant increase in your pocket with only the smallest chance of you having to give it back later.

Many others have agreed that it's a good bet, which is why Schedule C deductions loose the treasury $1.9 billion a year.  Because of this, the Treasury Department recommends fixing the tax code to make it harder to take a business loss for what may appear to be a hobby, but until that happens, taxpayers are allowed to turn their hobbies into businesses as long as they are trying to make a profit from them.

Disclaimer: I am not a tax professional, and can not be held liable for losses incurred while following the advice of this website.