Losing weight is simple!

I decided about two months ago to lose weight. I’m pleased to say it was a good decision: good because I was (and still am) overweight; and good because I followed through on that decision (and I’m continuing to do so). So far, I’m down from 190 at my fattest (I’m 5’9″) to a svelte-by-comparison 175.

Losing weight, it turns out, is surprisingly simple. Which is not the same as saying it’s easy, mind you, but it is very simple. Take it away, Neil:

Via Reddit

Via Reddit

In other words, managing your weight boils down to paying attention to your calorie intake and outflow. Despite what the clickbait headlines may have you believe, there are no miracle fat burners, no secret combinations of foods you have to eat, no times of day that are better or worse for eating, no magic meal sizes or snacking systems that will take the pounds off effortlessly. You just have to make sure you don’t eat too much. It takes discipline, self-control, and basic math.

The first thing you need to know is how many calories you’re burning, and that’s merely a function of height, weight, age, gender, and activity. You can get a good estimate in about 30 seconds here or try the slightly more advanced version here.

The next step is counting calories, and this is where it’s helpful to be one of those people whose good at counting points and miles, keeping track of credit card lines, and so forth. I know some people who use the MyFitnessPal app religiously, and it works very well. My wife, for one, loves it. As for me, I keep a running tally in my head throughout the day and make sure I come in at or below my calorie intake goal every day, and that has worked great for me. You do need to build some skill in estimating calorie amounts; I recommend getting a food scale and doing some weighing at home of your favorite foods so you can get a feel for how much a given amount of food is. Get familiar with the nutritional info pages of your favorite restaurants as well. And there are also plenty of nice pictures along the lines of this “What 200 calories looks like” page.

You also need a feedback mechanism, a.k.a. a scale. Weigh yourself every day, preferably at the same time so as to minimize fluctuations.

Finally, you need some inspiration to motivate you. In my case, my wife and I both have a family history of Type 2 diabetes, so that provides some motivation. Beyond that, I have found the fatlogic subreddit to be invaluable–I have a strong aversion to bullshit of all sorts, and this particular site cuts through the self-defeating bullshit that people (myself included) use to justify their current weight. My wife, on the other hand, really enjoys the gamification aspect of MyFitnessPal and gets a kick out of seeing green (i.e. hitting her calorie target) every day. And both of us want to set a good example for our kids as well and show them how to be healthy adults.

The devil is in the details, and there is a lot more that can be written, but that’s weight loss in a nutshell. My only regret is not starting this sooner. I just wanted to lay out the bare bones for any of you thinking you could stand to lose a few pounds–if you’re in that boat, I highly recommend giving it an honest try.

Man finds glitch in Choice Hotels rewards program, accumulates points, redeems for Applebee’s, gets sued

An interesting story out of Florida:

ST. PETERSBURG — It was the glitch that kept on giving.

That’s how Choice Hotels International, one of the world’s largest hotel chains, portrays a flaw in its online reservations system in a lawsuit accusing a St. Petersburg man of fraudulently redeeming gift cards worth $48,500 in a rewards program for loyal customers.

Robert Chat, 38, discovered the Choice Hotels booking system didn’t erase his rewards points when he canceled a reservation, the suit said. So Chat began making, and quickly canceling, hundreds of reservations from October to January, then redeeming gift cards earned as a “reward,” Choice Hotel alleges. Chat denies wrongdoing.

The gift cards could be used at a wide variety of stores and restaurants, including Dunkin’ Donuts, Home Depot, Target and Applebee’s.

Chat defends himself thus:

Chat, 38, who said he had not been aware of the lawsuit until a reporter asked him about it, wrote in an email to the Tampa Bay Times that he received less than 10 percent of the $48,500 in gift cards alleged in the lawsuit.

“I’ll be hiring a lawyer tomorrow to fight the suit as there was nothing done illegal nor was anything done in malice,” Chat said late Tuesday. “I stayed at over 1,100 Choice hotels in the last five years … I worked with their bonus structure to obtain points.”

Fascinating stuff! I wonder who else knew about this? Chat couldn’t have been the only one. And it’s hard to say for sure, but from the way they’re describing the glitch I’m surprised this wasn’t discovered earlier. Or maybe it was and I just haven’t heard about it?

As for the question of who’s right and who’s wrong, here’s how Choice puts it:

The lawsuit said the rules of the program make it clear that customers earn the points for “actually staying in a Choice Hotel room and paying for the room in full.”

“Frequent stay programs are common throughout the industry and neither Choice nor its competitors offer rewards for frequent reservations,” the lawsuit said.

Regardless of who’s right and who’s wrong, I’m glad this is being settled with a civil suit rather than a federal criminal court case.

Banana Republic / Gap credit card changes: top-tier status easier to get

I recently heard from the lovely folks who issue my Banana Republic credit card. They wanted me to know that a new card and new benefits are on the way. I could care less about the look of the new card, but I always perk up when folks start talking about new benefits.

Here’s a page describing the new changes. What caught my eye was this:

Upgrading to Luxe has never been easier.

  • 5,000 base points qualifies you for Luxe
  • For Visa Cardmembers, your spend in and out of our brands counts towards you based points

Now up to this point you could only get Luxe status by spending $800 at the Banana Republic / Gap family of stores. But if I’m reading this correctly, you can now get Luxe status by spending $5,000 anywhere you want, since you get 1 point per dollar spent outside of the stores.

I checked the T&C’s for clarification and it said this:

Cardholders must earn 5,000 points (excluding bonus points) to upgrade to Luxe, Silver or Navyist status. Visa cardholders will qualify for status by making purchases outside of Gap, Inc. locations.

So yes, it seems you can get Luxe via spending outside of the Gap, Inc. family. I also noticed this bullet point:

Gap Silver, Banana Republic Luxe and Navyist by Old Navy accounts will earn a 20% rewards bonus each calendar quarter.

…Which makes this card 1.2% on everything, and 6% back at the stores. And today I received a promotion in the mail: 3X back on everything next month, which would be 3.6% back on everything with Luxe status. I may need to think about putting some spending on this thing. As far as I can tell, Luxe/Silver/Navyist status isn’t all that great. Here are the benefits as per the website:

  • FREE shipping on all online purchases7
  • 15% off Choose Your Own Sale Day offer8
  • FREE basic alterations on all Banana Republic purchases9
  • Luxe-only offers and shopping events like Triple Points Days
  • Exclusive toll-free Luxe priority line

If there are some good coupons / discounts, then $5K of spending at 3.6% looks a little more enticing. Anybody have any experience with status at the Gap brands? (MilesAbound, I’m looking at you.)

BBVA Compass NBA Amex Marketing Fail

The bad news–from a professional basketball standpoint anyway–is that I live in Charlotte. The good news is that the credit card industry has given me a reason to care about the NBA finals!

I recently signed up for the BBVA Compass NBA Amex card. They’re offering a nice little deal: get the card before June 30 and the $50 annual fee is waived for the life of the account. Oh, and also they’re offering 5% cashback on all spending during the NBA finals.

I don’t know anything about BBVA’s credit card operation, but they gave me a pretty good credit card line. I was not too impressed with this email, however:

bbva marketing failThe key phrase there at the bottom: “Bobcats fans like yourself”. For those of you who don’t keep up with the NBA, the team was called the Bobcats, but the name was changed before the 2014-15 season after rights to it were relinquished by the New Orleans Pelicans after they dropped the name. (The original Charlotte Hornets franchise had moved to New Orleans a while back.)

So, it was amusing to see the Hornets graphic combined with the Bobcats name, as I’d thought I’d heard the last of the awful Bobcats team name. But I have no complaints after they sent me this:

bbva nba promotion

They are really promoting the heck out of this thing! Not that I’m complaining. The NBA finals ought to be interesting this year.



The retail credit card landscape: more changes coming!

Yesterday’s WSJ article, “Credit Card Firms Reap Rewards of Consumer Brand Loyalty,” had some interesting nuggets in it–some of which I’d heard, some of which I hadn’t:

  • BP’s credit card is switching from Chase to Synchrony this week.
  • Bed, Bath, and Beyond is ditching U.S. Bank and is currently looking for a new issuer, and U.S. Bank is no longer accepting applications for the BBY card. I checked the U.S. Bank website, and sure enough, that card does not show up. There is still a site for the card, but I don’t see an “apply” button.
  • Some retailer I’ve never heard of called Forever 21 wants to issue a co-brand card.
  • Verizon has looked into issuing a card, but it’s not clear whether or not they’ll do so.
  • Charles Schwab will launch a new card with Amex next year.
  • Discover is sitting out the grab for retail cards, deeming the market overheated.
  • Commerce Bank is going after the affinity market, particularly college & university cards, which were apparently abandoned by B of A after shelling out big bucks to acquire them in the MBNA deal:

Affinity cards were particularly popular in the 1990s but fell out of fashion after MBNA Corp., which had thousands of affinity relationships, was acquired by Bank of America Corp. in 2005. The Charlotte, N.C., bank eventually dropped many of those card deals after the financial crisis when it overhauled its consumer-lending businesses.

The Verizon thing was news to me, and after seeing the new AT&T card from Citi, I’m curious to see what Verizon would offer. And I didn’t know about Bed, Bath, and Beyond either–that one has potential to get interesting as well.