Episode 36: Pandemic Trip Report

I talk about my recent trip to play poker at Maryland Live! casino including my stay at Hyatt Place BWI airport.


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Rough Transcript:

You’re listening to the Hurdy Gurdy Travel Podcast. I’m your host, Justin Vacula, here to help you travel the world at next to no cost through credit card points, miles, benefits, and rewards. Make money, save money, and take advantage of great deals!

Visit my website at HurdyGurdyTravel.com to contact me, find me on social media, read episode transcripts, and support the show with donations and use of referral links! More information at the end of the show…

Thanks for joining me for episode 36 – Pandemic Trip Report. I talk about my recent trip to play poker at Maryland Live! casino including my stay at Hyatt Place BWI airport.

Following about twelve weeks of time mostly spent in my apartment, I wanted a mental break from familiar surroundings and found a good opportunity to play casino poker for the first time in months. I booked a two-night stay at Hyatt Place BWI airport about 15 minutes away from Maryland Live! casino for a total of 10,000 points transferred from my Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Ink Cash cards!

The casino experience was quite different entering through roped-off areas including a temperature check area and additional security. I saw far more sanitizing stations than usual. Many restaurants were closed, table games had plexiglass dividers, and all employees and patrons had to wear masks. Like poker, table games had limited seating. Rather than six people at Blackjack tables, I saw about three people per table and higher table minimum bets. Poker was 7-handed rather than the usual 9-handed and each player had plexiglas dividers to the front, left, and right with a small area similar to a teller at a movie theater booth to move chips and cards.

Overall, the play was cumbersome and not conducive to a social atmosphere. I and other players had to ask the dealer to repeat betting amounts. Players couldn’t understand other players. Reflections from the dividers often obscured chips both directly in front of players and further ahead on the table. Players sometimes bumped their hands on dividers and had to make different motions to place or release chips. One thing which allowed for a faster game and more cleanliness was food being banned in the poker room, so no more eating french fries and other junky greasy food and then touching chips and cards!

These additions to the game overall slowed the pace of the action not to mention the cleaning team or clean team which had to sanitize areas when players left the game or changed seats. Even though the experience was diminished, I applaud Maryland Live! for opening the poker room. Staff was also helpful and friendly explaining recent changes! I think they did the best they reasonably could minus one criticism I will soon mention especially considering many other poker rooms in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and other states remain closed.

Usually, poker rooms, especially Maryland Live!, offer promotions like hot seat and high hand which award active players. The casino doesn’t pay for these promotions, but instead players pay into a jackpot fund or promotion fund through extra money removed from the pot. Typically, when the pot reaches $20 or $40, one dollar and then a second dollar is taken. Players usually don’t mind because they expect to get the money back and they like having a shot at even a mini jackpot.

Personally, I’m not a fan of promotions like these because I’d just rather keep the two dollars instead of having a possibility of winning a promotion. During this pandemic time, though, even as I’m recording on July 5th, Maryland Live! is not offering promotions including hot seat or high hand, so players are paying into a promotional fund and have no chance at getting their money back until promotions resume if they resume. Non-locals, like me, are especially hurt here and in my opinion Maryland Live! shouldn’t be taking money for a jackpot players can’t experience in the near future. Players can still win the bad beat jackpot, but that’s covered with the first dollar taken, not the second.

That aside, the Maryland Live! experience was mostly positive. I drove about 113 miles to Maryland for the only game in town with the next casino poker game, as of July 5th of 2020, being Harrah’s Cherokee about 555 miles away from the Philadelphia area. I may return if I’m looking for another break from my apartment especially since a Las Vegas conference I wanted to attend was cancelled, but with rising rates of infections, I may stay home. I felt safe, am feeling fine after travel, and took precautions during my vacation.

Onto my hotel stay…the Hyatt Place worker told me there would be no traditional buffet-style breakfast and in exchange there was a to-go breakfast. The new breakfast was extremely underwhelming consisting of a danish, fruit cup, and oatmeal cup which likely would retail for around $4.

One commenter on my pages said that it looked like a gas station breakfast. Another commenter asked why Hyatt didn’t prepare the breakfast and then serve it to patrons. Hyatt breakfasts are a highlight of my travel as I look forward to the roasted potatoes, veggies, coffee with almond milk, jellys, cereals, and much more. This time was a bagged meal. The Hyatt worker, though, was kind enough to give me breakfast in the evening so I didn’t have to wake before 10AM.

I’ll now talk about other aspects of my trip.

As usual, when traveling, I don’t directly aim for my destination or hotel, but instead make several stops on the way to take a break from driving and to capitalize on deals. The credit card hobby often allows me to make and save money during my travels not to mention dramatically reducing the cost of travel itself mainly in lodgings and flights.

As chance would have it, Acme stores were offering a great deal of $10 off Mastercard gift cards which leads to a profit of at least $15 per purchase when considering credit card rewards, the activation fee, and the discount. In my local area, I can visit two stores without taking big detours, but on the way to Maryland Live! I found six stops which were slight detours.

In Delaware, in the same parking lot as an Acme location, I found a Gamestop store where I used my Pro Membership $5/month credit atop existing rewards from old gift card purchases to get a free t-shirt – Super Mario Kart design this time!

I also made two stops at Panera Bread locations for free large iced coffees and food bought through discounted gift cards. Panera is my go-to stop while on the go because I regularly see opportunities to buy discounted gift cards. The best I’ve done was getting $50 Happy gift cards 15% off and then using those during a Panera promotion of get a $10 bonus card when buying a $50 gift card. You can source the Happy cards through Amazon, office supply stores, GiftcardMall, and other places.

As always, I suggest you follow Doctor of Credit and GCgalore.com for deals to do even better than spending $42.50 for $60 in Panera gift cards – an effective 30% discount and even more through using credit card bonus categories, shopping portals, and discounted Amazon gift cards. I also made stops at WalMart locations to reload debit cards – always nice while on-the-go rather than going to the same local stores!

I also stopped at Harrah’s Philadelphia casino on the way and way back to redeem $15 match play and $10 in Reward Credits for a total of $30 match play and $20 in Reward Credits. Here, I didn’t see any plexiglass, but table seats, like in Maryland, were limited. I typically use match play for Blackjack, but was unable to immediately play due to waiting lists, so I played roulette for the first time ever because I didn’t want to forfeit my match play coupon and wasn’t going to wait for 30 minutes. As usual, make one bet and then leave rather than giving up house edge.

In closing, travel was a nice break from my apartment, but it felt like death by one thousand cuts with many elements diminished. This is my first world problem for the day. I didn’t go in with high expectations, but still felt like something was greatly missing especially with poker not being a very social game which was more apparent on day two. For many, the current pandemic can feel like an ever-present danger when travel, just a few months ago, was a time to let loose and not worry. It was nice to swim in a public pool and glide down waterslides in Hawaii just months ago!

Would I recommend traveling at this time, for others to replicate my trip or something close to it? I say it’s a personal decision and suggest not going in with high expectations. In fact, expect that the experience won’t be like it would be in 2019 or earlier because you’ll very likely run into speedbumps. It can, though, be a welcome break from your usual surroundings if maybe more local activities like hiking or camping aren’t suitable alternatives.

Even if you don’t travel, continue placing spend on your credit cards to gain points, miles, and cashback for the future. I’m continuing to sign up for new cards to gain more benefits and signup bonuses especially happy with American Express’ temporary benefits I discussed in podcast episode 27. As always, I aim to always work on a signup bonus or a high spending goal seeing long-term gardening some talk about, not signing up for cards, to be unacceptable because this comes with a high opportunity cost. Don’t limit yourself. When the smoke has cleared, it will be nice to travel and have the miles, points, and benefits to do it well!

Thanks for listening and stay tuned for more content!

Visit my website at HurdyGurdyTravel.com where you can contact me, read episode transcripts, complete a free credit card questionnaire to receive tailored recommendations, follow me on social media, listen to past episodes, and subscribe to my mailing list.

Support my work through Patreon, PayPal, the Cash App, and referral links by visiting the donate tab on my website. Subscribe on YouTube at Hurdy Gurdy Travel Podcast; like my Hurdy Gurdy Travel Podcast Facebook page; follow HGtravelpodcast on Twitter; and follow Justin Vacula on Instagram.

I’ll be livestreaming from YouTube with business coach Cakeologi on Tuesdays and Fridays at 9PM Eastern as shelter in place time continues. We’ll talk about all things money, business, and credit while answering questions from a live audience. Find announcements for upcoming streams and archives of past livestreams on my website at hurdygurdytravel.com.

Schedule a free 15-minute consultation with full-time business coach and YouTuber Cakeologi who can help you formally establish your business, build business credit, and get premium business credit cards. When you select from various paid services after the free consultation, I will receive credit for referring you. Listen to Cakeologi on episode twelve of my podcast. Visit his websites at cakeologi.com – that’s c-a-k-e-o-l-o-g-i and burstbiz.com – b-u-r-s-t-b-i-z and tell him I sent you. E-mail him youtube@cakeologi.com

Visit my other podcast at stoicsolutionspodcast.com where you can find practical wisdom for everyday life inspired by the ancient philosophers of Greece and Rome.

Thanks to generous patrons and fans of this podcast who help support my work. Have a great day.

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