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Credit Cards / Chase Pay Yourself Back DPs in Israel
« on: July 17, 2020, 04:11:47 AM »
I'm interested in compiling a list of stores in Israel that are considered eligible to use Pay Yourself Back with the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve cards, beyond standard chain supermarkets and such.
What matters is how the store is categorized (merchant category code - MCC), but I'm not aware of a site or list that provides such information in Israel, so it's mostly trial and error.

The categories are:
  • Grocery stores
  • Restaurants (including takeout and delivery)
  • Home improvement

Hopefully going on a shopping spree next week, so I'll report back with datapoints from Ace, the Keter store, Shufersal Online and Ikea. But in the meantime, happy for any other datapoints you'd like to share!

Trip Reports / Mr & Mrs. BenDor in Japan and HK
« on: June 22, 2017, 12:13:46 PM »
This is my first trip report, and my first trip ever using points. I’ve been accumulating for just over a year, and I’d like to give a big shoutout to all those who post here and have made this hobby possible, and specifically to PieRSquare (who answered a lot of my questions) and the others who have posted TRs and in the Master Thread. So give yourselves a big round of applause!
On to the report.

It all began with plans for Thailand.
I really wanted to go to Thailand. I had been following the Thailand Master Thread, read all the Thailand TRs, and was completely hooked. Beautiful beaches, diving and snorkeling, elephants, beautiful resorts on points, and cheap kosher food at Chabad. What more could you want? A little research showed that AA offer the cheapest awards to Thailand from Israel (after JAL, but no point in wasting Starpoints on this) with great availability on Royal Jordanian and good connection times. I continued to trawl through the Thailand Master Thread, started researching hotels, and began racking up AA miles (thank you Citi!). Up until now, I had been collecting speculatively, but now that we had a destination in mind, I worked out my points-earning plan.
The plan was to go right before or after Pesach (mid-April 17'), to work with my DW's university schedule.

This was in September 2016. We started opening up relevant cards for signup bonuses, and all was well in the world.

In November, about 4 months before our planned travel dates, we discovered that my DW was pregnant! B”H! Our unborn child would be able to enjoy this trip as well! My elation lasted about a week - at which point I found out that Thailand has the dreaded ZIKA virus, making it a no-go for pregnant women. While Zika in Thailand is endemic, and not epidemic like in South America, we decided that we were not risking it. So, the objective now came to find a destination which wouldn’t cost (many) more AA points, and didn’t have Zika. There weren't so many options, as Zika is endemic in most of SE Asia, so Japan came out the clear winner. We soon found out that we were planning our trip around the beginning of the famous "sakura" (cherry blossom) season, which only confirmed our decision. And after looking at some pictures, the Mrs. was hooked!  ;)

Booking: Flights
While living in Israel is wonderful, it does make things a bit more difficult with regards to earning points. So even though our dates were coming up fast, we still didn't have all the points we needed for the flights. Our low expenses (B"H!) didn't help that fact, nor did the closing of the main avenue for MS in Israel. But we were still determined, and thanks to the help of some friends, we finally earned enough AA miles to book our outbound flights.

All good, right? Just a simple TLV-RJ-AMM-RJ-BKK-JL-TYO flight. That's what we thought, until we found out that all there was no availability on JL from BKK to either Haneda or Narita, without wasting almost 24 hours in BKK. Worse, even if we were to continue to HKG, there was no availability in J or Y for any direct flight to Tokyo!  :'( The Internet says that cherry blossom season is crazy, and it was right!

Finally, after researching with a number of very helpful AAdvantage call center agents (I would always call middle of the night US time) and on, it looked like we'd have a long journey from Tel Aviv to Tokyo. TLV-AMM-BKK-HKG-KIX,ITM-HND. Total travel time from TLV departure until arrival in HND would be almost 24 hours (not including timezone differences). Ouch. The one consolation was that it would all in Business class. Our first time too! So it would be worth it. (It was! ;D)

To get from TYO to HKG it's only 10k Avios +27$ (in Y) on either CX or JL. The advantage over these carriers as opposed to AirAsia or any of the other LCC (Peach, VanillaAir, etc.) is in the availability and times. Most of the LCCs are either early morning or late at night, and we wanted a nice afternoon flight. Also, you get 2 pieces of checked baggage and a 10kg hand luggage as opposed to 0 and 0 on the LCCs.

For our return to Israel (and to make it back in time for Pesach) we planned on staying in Hong Kong over Shabbat, and catching the new 1am CX flight on Sunday morning from HKG to TLV, booked using Asia Miles which I would transfer from Citi TYP. (Unfortunately, the maiden voyage was a week after we wanted to depart for our trip, otherwise it would have saved us a whole lot of transfers on the way to Japan…) That would give us a whole day and a half to clean for Pesach (which was on Monday evening). There was only one problem - there was no availability, in any class!  :'(
After overcoming my initial horror, I read that Cathay will often open up availability closer to the date. So I sat back, warned my wife and my Mom that we my not make it home for Pesach, and booked award tickets on the waiting list through CX (the main advantage to booking direct, and what - in the end - got us home for Pesach). I also went on multiple times a day, checking for openings, as I read stories on flyertalk about being on the waiting list, and a seat opening up and being 'grabbed' before handed over to the waiting list... I also kept a close check on fare availability through expertflyer, as there were a lot of unsold J, PE and Y fares, so I was fairly optimistic that something would work out. I also looked into some contingency plans - flying RJ back through AMM (although risking a 45min connection in AMM, and landing Erev Pesach), or just using UR points through the portal to buy (relatively) cheap cash ticket on Ukrainian or Aeroflot... (Luckily, it cleared – but we’ll get to that in a future post.)

Booking: Hotels
Booking hotels was contingent on us figuring out our itinerary. As mentioned below, Japan is huge and there is so much to see! But because it was the sakura season, hotels were filling up fast. Very fast. Luckily, I was still able to get the Prince Sakura (15 min walk to R' Mendi's Chabad House in Tokyo) for most of the nights I wanted in Tokyo, and we spent Shabbat in an airbnb 5 min walk from Chabad, which I had meticulously gone over with the host to make sure it was shabbat-friendly.
Apart from that, we had two nights in Toyama at the Crowne Plaza there, one night at the Crowne Plaza Nagoya, and spent our second Shabbat at the JCC/Chabad in Kobe. From there we planned on going to Kyoto, but there were literally no hotels, hostels or ryoken left in town, so we booked two nights at an airbnb in Osaka (Terrible! Worst idea ever! >:() finishing up with a night at the Prince Sakura and one night at the adjacent Prince Shinagawa (more on that later).

In Hong Kong, we splurged for the Shagri-la Kowloon with Chase UR.  Totally worth it 8)

Keeping kosher in Japan, and other pre-trip preparations:
Japan is an amazing country, and there is so  much to do and see. There is, however, very little to eat, for those keeping kosher (besides your basic fruits and vegetables which are very expensive, and fish). Basically, you have the two Chabad houses (official and unofficial) in Tokyo (only one of which has an active restaurant), the Jewish community in Kobe (run by Chabad). On our trip, we heard from others that a new (unofficial) Chabad house in Kyoto opened up. So we planned out all our meals before hand, and brought a suitcase full of food (cereal, pasta, instant soups, snacks, etc) and a large freezer bag (bread, soups, cheese, lasagna). There is a very detailed list of what foods you can bring in to Japan (and what not). Unfortunately, all types of poultry and meat are prohibited (without proper import certification), and while the reports say that no one has been stopped (yet), we didn't want to break the record and risk getting stuck in Japan with no food. So we brought only milchig food (frozen lasagna, frozen soup, frozen pitot, frozen cheese, etc.).

We planned on doing cooking at both the hotel and at the airbnbs, and purchased an electric-coil burner for about ~20$ in Tokyo and a grilled cheese sandwich maker for about 10$. Remember that Japan uses 100v (and the current is 50/60A) so be careful bringing electronics with heating elements from the USA, as I was told they still need some sort of converter. In Israel all our appliances are 220v, so it wasn't relevant anyways.

At all the hotels we stayed at they were very accommodating with regards to our stockpile of frozen and refrigerated kosher food. The frozen food was stored in the kitchen or porter's freezer in a large freezerbag on wheels, and they would cart it back and forth to our room. Most had no qualms about heating food up in the oven, while two hotels only provided microwave services. We would always ask them to clear out the mini-bar so we could use it for our Israeli cheese and local cows milk (ask your LOR! We talked to R' Herschel Simantov, a mashgiach for the OK, who said it was fine to drink full-fat clearly labeled cows milk).

And for the record, always double wrap frozen soups. Always...  :-[

Planning a Japan itinerary
As there is so much to see, you really have to pick and choose. After combing the Japan master thread, various travel guides, and the nephew of a neighbor who had spent 3 months in Japan last year, we built our itinerary:
  • (Tuesday Day -2: Depart TLV)
  • Thursday Day 1: Land in Japan
  • Friday Day 2: Tokyo (Ueno park)
  • Shabbat Day 3: Tokyo (Chabad + ??)
  • Sunday Day 4: Tokyo (Tokyo National Gallery + Akihabara)
  • Monday Day 5: Tokyo (Shinjuku, Shibuya and Ginza)
  • Tuesdya Day 6: Toyama (activated 7 day Japan Rail Pass)
  • Wednesday Day 7: Kanazawa
  • Thursday Day 8: Scenic route to Nagoya, SCMaglev Park
  • Friday Day 9: Toyota Factory Tour + Travel to Kobe
  • Shabbat Day 10: Kobe
  • Sunday Day 11: Kyoto
  • Monday Day 12: Nara (return to Tokyo, end of JR Pass)
  • Tuesday Day 13: Tokyo (Cherry blossoms, Shibuya, Ueno and Karaoke! ;D)
  • Wednesday Day 14: Tokyo (Cherry blossoms) + Fly to HKG
  • Thursday Day 15: Hong Kong (touring the Island)
  • Friday Day 16: Hong Kong (Kowloon)
  • Shabbat Day 17: Hong Kong (Kehillat Zion + Museum)
  • Sunday Day 18: Fly to TLV

Redemptions [vs. cash value]:
- TLV-TYO  RJ/CX J:  2 * 30k AA + 42.20$ [~2500$ pp, 8.3cpp]
- TYO-HKG CX Y : 2 * 10k BA + 27.13$ [~350$ pp, 4.3cpp]
- HKG-TLV CX PE: 2 * 30k CX + 330HKD (~42$) [~950$ pp, 3.1cpp]
- Prince Sakurua Tokyo: 4 * 40k Marriot points [350$ per night, 0.875cpp]
- Crowne Plaza Toyama: 2 * 25k IHG points  [~300$ per night, 1.2cpp]
- Shangri-La Kowloon: 3* 24k UR [~350$ per night, 1.5cpp]

Total cash (not) spent: *~11,000$*

Detailed posts will follow, but expect sporadic updates. It takes time to churn these things out...
I'll also try and update the Japan Master Thread wiki with info as I write up the TR.

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