Get 5% Cashback on Travel

Regular readers know I’m currently pursuing an MBA. What they don’t know is that I’m currently taking 6 classes plus an Applied Management Research project which is almost twice the usual workload. I’m a third of the way through the quarter and I’m already feeling burnt out.

To help take my mind off things, I decided to look at vacation packages. Once my quarter gets over, I might travel for a week.  I’ve been dying to visit South America or the West Indies for quite a while. Several packages look pretty good. And by  good, I mean from the aspect of being good value for money. Yes, I like to travel cheap, or as I like to emphasize, I’m a price-conscious consumer. Some of the places that had good deals were Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, and Mazatlan. Argentina also looked enticing, but the flights were slightly more expensive. One of the things I noticed was that my Discover Card was offering 5% cashback on travel booking until the end March 2010.

I don’t usually use my Discover credit card very much. It has a strange (but useful) rotational rewards program. Usually, you get 1% cashback, but every month (or sometimes for a whole quarter) you’ll get 5% cashback on a specific category of purchases. Each month its a different category. For example, it might be on travel (plane, hotel, car rentals or cruises), only restaurants, gas or maybe just groceries. This quarter, it just happens to be travel. Pretty useful if I actually end up traveling somewhere.

I typically use my American Express True Earnings Card instead of Discover. The rewards are more predictable. You get the typical 1% cashback on regular purchases, but you always get 2% cashback at restaurants and 3% cashback on travel. I paid my MBA tuition fees with it and got over $500 on it! While I don’t condone spending $50,000 just to get $500 back, it still makes for a nice Christmas present! (I would’ve actually preferred the American Express Starwoods Card since the rewards are great for taking vacations and the points are redeemable for stuff on Amazon, but I was coldly rejected).

So before making any major purchases, you should definitely go through your credit card rewards and see which one gives you more bang for your buck. If you don’t have a Discover card, make sure you sign up for it – the additional 5% might be worth it if you’re planning a big ticket purchase.

If you’re a student with limited credit history, you can sign up for the Discover Student credit card. It is a bit easier to get approved for it and it comes with the same set of rewards.

And if any of you have any vacation suggestions for the end of March, please let me know.

Detour Destinations - The Best Local Trips. Local Prices. No Hassles.

Back In Action


Its been exactly a month since my last post. I’ve been busy traveling in India for a field study project towards my MBA and also getting a bit of vacation in as well.  The project involved studying the impressive operations of Akshaya Patra, a non-profit organization which feeds over a million kids a day as part of a school lunch program.  I traveled to 10 different cities, finally saw the Taj Mahal along with various assorted forts and palaces,  and spent the new year in Goa (where Jason Bourne’s girlfriend died in one of the Bourne trilogy movies).

I also read a lot of good books, one of which was Shantaram, probably the best fiction book I’ve read in a long time .No, it wasn’t the best piece of literature but it was immensely entertaining (in the way that a Bollywood movie is).  Other interesting books were Outliers, SuperFreakonomics, and Jack Welch’s Straight from the Gut.

Classes have started again and the first couple of weeks are always busy. But I’ll try and post a full-year total of my dividend and online income as soon as possible.

Wish you all a happy new year!

Finding A Job

Regular readers know that I’m a full-time MBA student. I haven’t had much time to post mainly because I was spending a lot of time looking for a summer job. With the economy being as bad as it is, it’s been quite hard to get a paid job this summer. Unpaid internships are a dime a dozen and I was able to procure a few of those, which I turned down.  Eventually, I was able to find three paid gigs. One was in the IT department of a large cruise line company which didn’t really excite me.  Another was an online marketing analytics job that was very tempting. However, I turned that down in order to research distressed commercial real estate at Marcus & Millichap. Finding any sort of paid real estate job is tough in this environment and I figured that spending 3 months over the summer was a good way to gain some experience in the field of commercial real estate.

But landing these jobs was very tough. It probably would have been easier if I had looked for product management jobs, since i have a programming background, but I really wanted to do something different over the summer. If I’m spending all this time and money getting an MBA, I might as well do something that doesn’t just slot me as another techie.  My first preference would have been a job in investment management but despite having several interviews that didn’t pan out.  I think if I had networked a lot more, that could’ve become a reality but that’s probably true of any field. If you network hard enough, you’re bound to land a job sooner or later.

One thing all students should do is contact alumni in their fields of interest and offer to buy them coffee to learn about the industry. It’s much easier to do as a student otherwise you’re just some weird random dude who wants to meet them! You never know who will be able to help you get a job. And it probably won’t be the friends you hang out with all the time. You’re all part of the same network and if there were an openings, you would have known about them already. So go out and expand your network!

Check out this funny video for more job finding tips.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Stephen’s Sound Advice – Summer Jobs
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Stephen Colbert in Iraq

Why You Shouldn’t Flirt When You’re Drunk!

No, I haven’t abandoned my blog. I’ve just been busy packing up and moving to Los Angeles and settling in to my new digs in Westwood, which is close to UCLA. And it’s incredibly difficult to pack (or even sleep for that matter) when you’ve sprained a back muscle, especially the serratus posterior superior muscle. Don’t even know how I sprained it. Probably from too much partying around the Labor Day Weekend.

Anyway, I’m all settled in and I start pre-term Math, Accounting and Excel courses tomorrow followed by week-long Orientation and Leadership classes. After 3 weeks of this, the the regular MBA courses start and it’s going to be an incredibly hectic first quarter where I’ll be taking 5 core courses in just 10 weeks.

So I’ve been spending the past couple of days front-loading my recreation and have been hanging out at bars and pubs, networking with my future MBA classmates and other friends. One such networking event entailed going to a bar and drinking imported beers for nearly 7 hours! While I stopped drinking after 3 hours, one of my friends (who’s actually a medical doctor) kept on going. Around midnight, after he had been drinking and flirting with another drunk chick for several hours, he convinced her to pepper spray him! Luckily, it didn’t get as bad as it could have, but it made for a hilarious near-riot. So if you’re prone to thinking you’re invincible when you’re drunk, you might not want to flirt or get into argument with other drunks! (There, that’s one thing they won’t teach at business school!)

And while drinking in bars and pubs is a lot more expensive than drinking at home, it is definitely a lot more fun! Looks like business school is going to end costing a lot more than I expected!

Profiting From The Rise In The Price Of Oil

As I mentioned 5 weeks ago when oil breached $115/barrel, demand for the black gold will cause the price to keep on rising. On Wednesday, I drove to USC where I had an interview at the Marshall School of Business for the full-time MBA program. While driving there, I heard that Oil had exceeded $133 per barrel. I had a great interview (where I spoke about my background, my interests, the state of the economy, what a moron George W. Bush is, and the current elections) and then proceeded to a friends’ place to spend the night.

I later heard that oil prices hit $135/barrel. That news was broadcast incessantly on all the news channels and I kind of felt that it was being overdone. Whenever everyones saying that the price of something is breaking all records, it usually pulls back. I think thats why the US Dollar had shown some strength this year. I woke up on Thursday and bought the ULTRASHORT OIL & GAS ETF (AMEX: DUG), it went up a dollar and I exited my position, happy to have made enough money to pay for my gasoline bill for this month.

After that I went to UCLA for a class visit. I attended a class on Risk Management. One of the case studies they discussed was a deal between Amoco (American Oil Company, which is now part of British Petroleum) and Apache (APA) involving the sale of an oil producing property. Amoco sold the property with a guarantee to pay Apache a certain amount of dollars if the price of oil dropped below a certain amount. On the other hand, they would participate in some of the profits if the price of oil exceeded a certain amount. This was managed through the use of Put and Call Options.

It was interesting to see how large companies managed to hedge the price of oil through options, and especially ironic since oil was all over the news that day. Its not too different from how you can hedge your own expenditures on gasoline and heating oil. If you’re bullish on the price of oil and are willing to bet on this movement, you can buy the United States Oil ETF (USO). You can also buy options on this too.

Similarly, if you’re bearish you can buy the ULTRASHORT OIL & GAS ETF (DUG). You can also invest in Oil Futures contracts, however, if you’re that brilliant I doubt you’d be reading this blog!

But making directional bets in any asset class requires a certain amount of knowledge, homework and commitment. Its much easier to invest in high-yield Canadian Income Trusts like ERF, PGH, AAV, HTE, PEY-UN.TO, etc. They pay out a pretty good dividend (over 8% for most of them) and that should theoretically go up as the price of oil & gas goes up. (I say theoretically since there is some uncertainty regarding the Canadian Governments’ taxation of these trusts, so there is a black cloud hanging over them).

So far I’ve been pretty happy with my investments. I had been buying more on dips. For those of you lucky enough to have bought AAV under $9 back in January, in addition to the monthly dividends, you’ve already seen a 40%+ appreciation in the stock price! (unfortunately I wasn’t one of the lucky ones!)

But there are many ways to profit from the economic news if you keep your eyes open. By the way, USC called me on Friday. I got admitted to their MBA program with a Fellowship (tuition remmission)! So now it’s time to decide between UCLA, USC and UCSD!

UCLA Loves Me!

I managed to get accepted in the UCLA Anderson School of Management. Since I applied in the third round I think thats quite an achievement. Of course, applying so late virtually guarantees no funding or fellowships. This kind of sucks since I did get a 740 on my GMAT which typically helps in getting MBA fellowships (unless you’re going to the top 5 schools). But on the other hand UCLA is ranked #12 for the full-time MBA program.

I was looking forward to not having any student loans when I graduate, especially after receiving a fellowship from UCSD. But UCLA’s program is much more highly ranked so the question is whether its worth spending the extra $60,000.

Of course, if we go through a period of hyperinflation (which I think we’re already in the beginning stages of) then in 10 years, $60,000 might only seem like $10,000! In which case, going to even the most expensive school will look like a good investment in hindsight.

In the worst case, I’ll take out a tax-deductible student loan to cover the costs of my education. Well actually thats not the worst-case scenario. Having to sell off my investments and gold & silver coin collection would be the worst case! But I’m hoping the passive income generated by my investments will help provide me with living expenses for the duration of the MBA program. Or maybe someone will buy my blog for $50,000! 😉

Got An MBA Fellowship = No Student Loans!

Today I got a letter from the University of California, San Diego’s Business School. They’ve offered me a full fellowship for the MBA program! I think it was based on my GMAT score.

It consists of a complete waiver of all tuition and professional fees for both the years of the course. Getting this means I won’t need any student aid, nor will I have to sell any of my investments to fund my education. Considering that I have a very pessimistic outlook on the direction of the US economy, I believe the unemployment rate will be a lot higher when I graduate in 2 years time. I’d rather save up my money for the rainy days ahead (which means they’ll be more opportunity for good investments at that time). Not having to sell my investments also means I’ll be able to use the income they generate for living expenses.

Not having to worry about student loans or money when I’m going to school will be a great relief. The last time I went to school, lack of money caused me a lot of stress. I’d rather not have to worry about my finances and solely focus on maximizing my experience and enjoying the whole process.

I read an article in Businessweek about a Harvard MBA student who had dreams of working on Wall Street. With the current layoff and poor economic outlook (and with huge student loans looming) he prudently settled for a job working at Mattel. But I can’t help think that he must be very disappointed that the best job he could get after spending $150,000 on a Harvard MBA was working for the makers of Barbie dolls.

I also have an interview with UCLA’s Anderson School of Business lined up. I’ll give it my best shot since its an awesome school. But unless I get some sort of financial scholarships/fellowships, it’s going to be tough to beat the financial attractiveness of UCSD’s offer. In fact, the fellowship makes this MBA the cheapest possible way to get a business education, putting its cost on par with that of the Personal MBA program which costs $1,267.

If I go to any other good school, the education is likely to cost me around $100,000. Since my wife might be in another city, thats twice the living expenses plus traveling to meet each other. If I go to a private school, the cost might escalate to over $125,000. By living in San Diego, I might be able to work part-time after the first semester, so that’ll further decrease the loss of income during that time. Instead of working part-time, if I want to set my own venture, being local will again help since I have a lot of contacts here. Of course, a less expensive route is to enroll in the online MBA programs, although the quality of education is not the same as the traditional programs.

However it plays out, my desire to go to Business school will be fulfilled in September!

B-School, Here I Come!

I just took the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) today. Its an entrance test for admission to MBA programs at business schools. I’d been studying for it for the past month and it really paid off. I scored a whopping 740 which puts in the 97th percentile and incidentally also makes me directly eligible for membership into Mensa!

I was hoping to score a 700 which would make admission into the top MBA programs seem feasible. But with a great score like this, I’m hoping it’ll become a reality. But I’m already pretty late getting my application together for next fall. The early round’s and the first round’s are over and I have less than 4 weeks for the second round of applications. After that, its incredibly difficult to get in, so my best bet is applying in the 2nd round.

And this period unfortunately coincides with my vacation to Thailand and India (and possibly Zimbabwe) which starts next week. While in Thailand I’m hoping to look at some property. Southern Thailand is truly a paradise on Earth. You can buy houses there for $30,000, which sounds unreasonably cheap to me. And while in India, I’ll be attending a wedding and negotiating the sale of some property with a builder (which could get very ugly). Not exactly an environment conducive to writing B-school admission essays. Oh well, c’est la vie. Looks like its crunch-time again.

UPDATE: Since several people have asked me which books I used, here’s a list of Books To Help You Score a 700 On Your Gmat

And if any of you already have an MBA I’d love to hear your experiences and how its helped you.