You have 3.5 Hours to Spend Your Annual AmEx Reimbursement

Almost forgot to spend the rest of the $200 annual fee reimbursement on my new AmEx Plat Biz, since I was taking it slow with $100 at a time. I was not sure if the RAT had shut down the loophole, but it looks like its still going on. It would be pretty sweet if some one uses my referral for the last 25,000 MR for the year.

Make sure you spend that sweet $200 before 2016 is up at 2359 Eastern Time!

Happy New Year!


Dumb Money’s Overconfidence in Stock Picks

Yesterday was the last trading day of 2016 which makes it time for the annual ritual of comparing portfolio sizes! One redditor, karan goel, put together this research into what Dumb Money Clickbait articles of 2016 had suggested to buy in January 2016. He then plugged in the numbers from yesterday’s close to get the results:

“Experts” Name Returns
Kiplinger 1.47%
Jim Cramer 0.43%
Forbes 8.58%
TIME 6.53%
Crossing Wall Street 2%

There are some criticisms out there regarding lack of compensating for dividends or splits on reddit r/investing. Even compensating for that, I don’t think it would come close to the returns listed by the index funds. You can see if you listened to any of these guys you would of made some money, but keep in mind if you didn’t make 2% you would be losing value in terms of inflation. Now lets look at the three major ETFs out there that follow the indexes:

ETF Ticker Index 2016 returns (excluding dividends)
SPY S&P 500 14.01%
QQQ NASDAQ 100 10.55%
DIA Dow 30 18.50%

These suggested expert picks had all underperformed compared to the index funds of S&P 500, DOW 30, and NASDAQ 100. Now I bet your managed funds are doing worse, go ahead and check….

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Overseas PCS Tip: Driving Overseas

The Y Plate

Glad to hear that these articles are somewhat helpful in you PCS preparations. I have gotten a lot of questions regarding driving overseas. First off, make sure you and your dependents have a valid US drivers license that hasn’t expired or does not expire while overseas. Some people make to mistake to show up with an expired license and it was a complete pain in the ass to renew while overseas. They will also not issue you a SOFA licenses without a valid non-expired drivers license.

I have only experience in driving in Japan. The process of getting a driver’s license for the Japanese is a incredible investment in time and money, costing them thousands of dollars. However for the service member and dependents it is a joke. You just show up, take one written test, and show your valid US state license. You end up with this little laminated paper card you can drive in all of Japan with.

Regarding cars, all SOFA status people get these Y plate cars that Americans sell to Americans over again till they eventually don’t pass inspection and are crushed into tiny cubes. You cannot leave the island until the car is disposed of or you some someone to sell it to. This leads to very interesting market dynamics where you can just carry around $2000 in cash and make some good deals with desperate people that just have to unload a car to get on a flight tomorrow. I have been on both sides of this transaction, and it feels like pawn stars when you offer $300 for a Honda fit and people are so desperate to unload this thing, and they do!

In Japan cars come in two varieties: yellow plate Kei Cars with a “A” designation or real cars with white plates with a “Y” Plate designation. You can also check out Okinawa bookoo and see what’s available . No rush in getting a car since your sponsor will be driving you around the island that first week for you to get a car. There are used car dealers that will sell a car with a warranty which is sometimes going to be more expensive and then you can buy from a private party. Title transfers take 15 mins and are very cheap. You could get a car for $1,500 and drive it the same day.

The Kei cars are tiny and would never pass any sort of collision standard in America. They also have tiny engines that are 660 cc that are hilarious when you want to accelerate up a hill. These cars are very versatile and will fit in most small parking spots and the smaller road ways here on island. They are also cheaper in taxes and road tax. I personally didn’t get one because I find them to be incredibly novel and unable to move any sort of luggage to the airport. Also I think they are incredible death traps that have no stability or safety at all. Here is what my old sponsor wrote to me about cars here (keep in mind this was 2013):

You can look on Okinawa yard sales (also called Bookoo) to see what vehicles are for sale but the site changes every week and right know everyone is moving so the inventory is high and you will see some vehicles priced for a quick sale in a market where supply is greater than demand.  Most people  will arrive in July and the inventory will drop and the price will start to  climb some.  I know you arrive in August and I can’t really say what will be available then but you can always look at the off base car lots.  The car lots are about twice what you will find from military members who are  moving.  They do the JCI for you (they don’t usually charge for this) so it  is good for the full two years but since it is only $200-300 anyways it is not always worth the extra $2-3K that they charge.  All cars are due in May for road tax so even though they pay for it you it is actually paid on any vehicle you buy, no matter who you buy from.  Some will offer warranties that last for 6mo-1yr but only cover parts typically. Unfortunately there is no way to test drive any of the cars from the dealerships because they can’t do the JCI until you buy it and they can’t be on the road without JCI.  I think this is partly why they offer the warranty just in case there is a problem with the car.  The dealerships get the cars from auctions on mainland Japan and I haven’t heard of too many problems with them.

There are some links below to off-base dealerships that sell used cars to military members.  They all speak English and they list prices in US dollars so you don’t have to figure out the exchange rate.  There are some dealerships that will finance the cars at little to no interest for 1 year but they won’t budge on the list price if you aren’t paying cash.

Just to add, when I sponsored someone in 2015 the yen had dropped making the dealership cars more affordable then private party sales. Also keep in mind they don’t take $100 bills at B.C motors outside of Kadena. You must bring them $20 bills and they count it all out by hand, no joke. Also if you end up using the dealer, make sure your sponsor gets his or her $50 for the referral bonus! A lot of dealerships have this bonus, and if they are a good sponsor, they should at least treat you to lunch for buying from the dealer.

The dealership buy depends on how comfortable you are with auto maintenance and repair. I bought my car private party and have not had a problem in my 3 years. I did all the shop work at the car auto shop bays on Kadena. I recommend you stick with common Japanese cars where parts are readily available. The biggest problems is people who are insistent on driving Volkswagens or Jeeps (or worst BMWs and Mercedes) that have to wait weeks for parts to arrive when something breaks.

Ask your sponsor to send you the study guide for the written driver’s test well before you get to Japan in order to quickly pass the test the first time. Also make sure you get your international drivers permit offered by AAA so you can rent a car and drive while on vacation to other countries. Even the remote island of Ishigaki required the international permit just to rent a car. Not all places recognize your CAC and SOFA driving permit as valid. A country like Korea require this permit as well as your US Drivers License just to rent and drive a car. I got the photo taken for free at combat camera on base and sent it in for my permit.

The final bit of advice regarding driving overseas is to get a letter from your insurance company to get a 10% discount on your Japanese insurance.

Hope that helps!


Military Investment Series Part 1: Why Robo-Investing Sucks for the Service Member

We are approaching the less than a year mark  before switching over to the blended retirement series. I have decided to do an overview of what each component of TSP is and why it is to your benefit to use it for your primary investment vehicle. First part of the series is why do TSP at all? When we are bombarded by advertisements for robotic investment services known as “Robo Investing”, this looks appealing to make awesome market return without managing the money. I’ve noticed how a lot of service members are dicking themselves over with the following robo-investing services:

Robo-Investing Service Annual Fees (%)
Betterment 0.35
Wealthfront 0.25
Futureadvisor 0.5
Personal Capitol 0.89
Vanguard Personal Advisor Services 0.3
Acorns 0.25
bloom $99 a month

There are a few I have consulted that make the stupid decision to invest in Betterment or Wealthfront which charge more than ten times the cost of TSP. There must be a fundamental misunderstanding of math here with these guys. If we look at the cost in terms of basis points, we see that Personal Capitol charges 89 basis points where TSP charges 3.9 basis points, almost 23 times more expensive.

Despite having exclusive access to TSP, some of you are forgoing this benefit by not contributing to TSP. Rather than putting your $18k away automatically into TSP, some are putting their post tax money in essentially the same funds (or in even worse funds that don’t beat the index) in the above private services. Keep in mind TSP charges between 0.026% and 0.039%, meaning that for every $100,000 saved in the plan, military members paid only $26 to $39 in annual fees. In contrast Personal Capitol charges $890 on the same $100,000, putting it essentially the same funds or funds that return less than these index funds.

I don’t know about you, but $890 a lot of fucking money, costing thousands in earning in the future! Even the $350 a year Betterment charges for essentially the same collection of index funds is appalling. These bastards are over charging you, but you think your cool because your hipster friends use it. Not worth it!

Start your 2017 right and don’t be an idiot by ignoring the single greatest military benefit of TSP. Also imagine that sweet 5% base pay match in 2018 when you switch to BRS. Let your civilian sucker friends fall for robo-investing, stick with TSP, as it is one of your military benefits!

Happy New Year!


Is Buying AA Gold Status Worth It?

BLUF: The answer is no since you could fly round trip to Phoenix almost 7 times for two passengers for the same amount. If you did this you would only be 2 round trips away from just earning gold yourself using the Chase Ritz Carlton Card $100 bennifit.

The good folks at AA offered me Gold Status (One World Sapphire) for a mere $749. Keep in mind I already have One World Sapphire with AirBerlin topbonus status matching to my United Silver Premier.

Right now I only use my AirBerlin card to get in the short priority line when checking into my American Airlines flights. I usually book these using Avios miles transferred from my AmEx Membership rewards points for short haul domestic flights. This usually locks myself into my non-status BA number. Lots of people have been figuring out work around solutions to try to encode their AA number into the ticket for status. Since I really don’t have any status, and the BA Avios booking gives me instant priority on AA, I never care to change it myself.

Above is a list of what AAdvantage Gold gets you, nothing of note except the 500 mile upgrades and the 40% miles bonus. I guess the preferred seats might be worth getting into, but I already get the free checked bag per military and having the Gold and Silver Aviator AAdvantage card from Citibank and Barclays respectfully. So right off the bat I don’t care to spend the $749 just for a status I don’t need. Here are the requirements for status:

I came across this article suggesting using the Chase Ritz Carlton Visa Infinite $100 discount in order to get status for yourself and another person. I could not find the super discount fares for Boston like they did in the article. Maybe during low season, but I compiled a list of the 4 possible locations to take full advantage of the $100 discount for a couple of tickets. I broke it down by segment:

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Don’t Forget Gate Passes for that Hollywood Moment

The quintessential movie scene of every happy airport reunion takes place right at the plane’s gate. In a Hollywood movie the main love interest is reunited with the blundering boyfriend, who finally sees her as the love of his life the second she steps off the plane. What happens in reality is seeing your love ones at the baggage carousel, which is entirely anti-climatic. This at the gate reunion seems impossible now a days due to all the TSA restrictions. However, I rediscovered this Hollywood moment of the gate-side reunions and goodbyes are possible using Gate Passes. Just ask nicely and you may get one!

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Data Point: When the $300 resets on CSR

Merry Christmas!! It was nice to see the $300 for travel expenses reset for the year even before 2016 was up. I looked into it and chase defines the $300 credit will reset:

$300 Annual Travel Credit: A statement credit will automatically be applied to your account when your card is used for purchases in the travel category, up to $300 in statement credits annually (“annually” means the year beginning with your account open date through the first December statement date of that same year, and each 12 billing cycles starting after your December statement date through the following December statement date).

My first statement went from 11/08/16 – 11/24/16 payment due 12/21/16. I had my first reimbursed charge on 10 November and my last on 17 November. My second statement goes from 11/25/16 – 12/24/16 and today when it closed I got a refresh on my $300. Now I have until December 2017 to spend the other $300 on travel.

The Annual Travel Credit will be issued for the year in which the transaction posts to your account, through your December statement date. For example, if you pay for baggage fees, but the airline does not post the transaction until after your December statement date, the cost of the baggage fees will be allocated towards the following year’s Annual Travel Credit maximum of $300.

Now the annual fee of $450 is charged every November, if I spend the $300 before the second charge hits then I am free to downgrade my card to a chase freedom unlimited with no annual fee. I essentially made $150 in fee reimbursements as well as gotten $1,500 in free travel with the 100,ooo UR point bonus. So I am up $1,650 with my little taste of Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Keep in mind Chase does not waive for military unless of course you had the account before you joined.

For those on the fence, try to always straddle both years in October and November to get the double reimbursement and get hit with a single annual fee, Don’t wait till December as your first statement will not allow you to have the annual $300 bonus to reset.


PCS Overview: So you got orders to Japan….

Congrats! You are going to have the time of your life, but you will need to prepare well, and prepare quickly for your upcoming adventures. Japan is one of the most restrictive places for a foreigner (Gajin) to stay for over 90 days. You have joined a very elite group of Americans that have what is known as SOFA status, or Status of Forces Agreement between the Government of Japan and the American Military. On your arrival, there will be no visa given, but rather a stamp in your passport that will give you unlimited stay and leave privileges from Japan for the duration of your tour. Your spouse and dependents will get this stamp as well. This is an excellent way to bypass the Japanese immigration visa restrictions. Usually normal visitors must leave after 90 days or apply for a one year cultural exchange visa with a school or work place.

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Churn Like a Chinese Billionaire

Looks like Chinese billionaires are on the points game too, and why not? With 206.3 Million AmEx points you could redeem it for $4.12 million dollars in airfare using a linked AmEx Business Platnum Card of your selected airline. I stumbled on to this Chinese churning website, and with the help of a native speaking O-5 we learned some new things:

  1. The VPN trick is working for targeted offers for Chicago Market for for AmEx Plat 75k, Blue Cash Everyday $250, Every Day Rewards for 30K. Much like what I described for the PRG, choose Chicago in your Express VPN and incognito mode to get the deal.
  2. Keep your cards active by doing micropayments on each one. One good trick is to buy yourself Amazon gift cards to keep an account alive. My brother just got his account shut down for 10 months of inactivity on the Barclay’s Silver American Airlines Card.
  3. Most of the posts (like mine) come right from r/churning and other peoples blogs, but they are translated to Chinese. They even gave me credit for the weighing of the cards post!

Worth a look even for a new perspective, use Google translate or Chrome to view. You might need a native speaker to get the real translation to make sense.


My Most Excellent Brother Just Scored $85 Hamilton Tickets

According to this post on reddit American Express Booked the entire Private Bank Theater in Chicago for the 21st of January 2017, and the 25 Feb 2017. The 8 pm show for both dates I believe, and it is open only to AmEx Platinum or better card holders. He called the concierge at AmEx Open at 800-492-8468 and was on hold for 3 hours. There is a limit of 4 tickets per card member, ask them to check the “concierge allotment”. Good luck out there!