Am I thick or is United Airlines Mileage Plus awards program complete bullshit?

Dear United Mileage Plus program customer service rep,

I just learned something very disturbing while investigating why I’m unable to book a hotel with my MileagePlus award miles.

Every month I receive an email newsletter with info about how many miles I have, when they expire, and how I can possibly use them – for hotels, cars, etc.

United Airlines MileagePlus bullshit awards program

When I tried booking a hotel with the miles through your MileagePlus section of the website, I kept getting an error where after trying to check out I get looped back to the search page. I tried three different browsers until I finally realized there was an error text:

“You are not eligible to use miles for Hotel and Car Awards at this time. You may be eligible for other options such as newspapers, magazines, dining, and air awards. Please visit our <a href=”http://www.united.com/web/en-US/content/mileageplus/awards/default.aspx” title=”MileagePlus Use Miles page” target=”_blank”>Use Miles</a> web page for more information.”*

*By the way, work on your browser layouts and compatibility; that error message shouldn’t be off to the right at the bottom of the page. Ever.

I called Mileage Plus reps who transferred me to web support – it turns out I need some kind of special specific credit card in order to use my MileagPlus points for this booking?!

For years I get these newsletters and promo emails, and I spent hours researching the website and NOWHERE is it indicated I cannot use the miles without some additional criteria involved. I just see links to book hotels and cars.

By the way, knowing this info, I STILL cannot locate further details about what is required to be ‘eligible’ to use my earned awards.

I’m an email marketer/website content writer myself, and this is absolutely unacceptable. I spent years flying United accruing these points, weeks researching through your site in order to choose the hotel destination for my family, and now I find out at the last minute they are worthless – I can purchase ‘newspapers, magazines, dining’? Really? With 45,000 points?

This is the second time I’ve complained to United about something and I don’t expect a helpful response this time either, though I’d love to be proven wrong.

10 Ways Living in Israel is Not What You Think: vote for my Expats Awards entry!

blog-award-2013-entry-150There are a million ways living in Israel is just not what you may have thought… I chose 10 of those and made them my entry for the Expat Blog Awards!

10 Ways Living in Israel is Not What You Think

I’m the only entry from Israel, so LET’S GET LOUD!

Like? Vote! Leave a comment at the bottom of the entry. Comments must be authentic, which means 10+ words. Also, use the share buttons above the comment section to spread the word – those also count. We’ve got till Friday, Dec 20.

And if you have even more ways, feel free to leave those here or there!

P.S. Here are some photo hints as to what my top 10 are…

 

Ready? Get over there and comment! 

IKEA-Lack-table-turned-unicorn: a DIY glazed love rainbow paper tape story

This is the story about how I turned a neglected white side table into a unicorn.

Our story starts a few years ago, when we picked up a cheap IKEA Lack table on clearance. I knew one day I’d have my chance to make it shine.

But I took too long and a month ago huz threatened to get rid of it if I didn’t start shining. I looked for ideas – so many IKEA Lack table hack ideas! – and found this one: How to turn a white table into a rainbow. I had a white table! And a love for rainbows! And from there I found this version - cheaper supplies – and got to work.

Ingredients:

  • One IKEA Lack side table
    • Color doesn’t matter; mine happened to be white. A while back I got a deal – picked it up in the clearance section for just 30 NIS or US$8.50! For around these parts, where it retailed double that, pretty good deal.
  • Colorful paper tape/washi tape
    • I used the former – Kid Made Modern from Target, for about $7 a set of 9 color rolls. Cheaper than washi. I used a full set and approx another half.
  • Mod Podge
    • I used 2 coats of Super Gloss, 3/4 of the 8 fl. oz bottle. Should cost around 10 bucks in the US. Cost me 50 NIS here (sigh).
  • Misc:
    • brush for Mod Podge glazing
    • mat for Mod Podge glazing
    • a smaller table to put the Lack table top for glazing
    • whatever the eff you find helpful for screwing in stubborn Lack table legs
    • a couple hours
    • moderate amount of patience

This is a super-easy, relaxing glue-high inducing, relatively affordable, and somewhat kid-friendly (older kid – tape, younger kid – glaze) furniture project. I’m hoping the glazed top will hold; that’s why I went with the super kind, so I can wash with soap and water when necessary.

Go on, make your own fabulous unicorn table!

The Color Run, Israel: A rainbow of running happiness (kinda)

Milestone accomplished! As in, the ‘doing an activity you love with your kid who expressed interest’ milestone!

On Friday, Koala and I ‘ran’ our first race together. I was so  pumped because after the Jerusalem marathon last year, he told me he wanted to run with me one time.

We got our chance with the first-time-in- Israel Running With Color – NATAL’s Run for PTSD in Tel Aviv.

UPDATE (18/11/13): I just became aware that this run was not related to the official The Color Run organization… this whole time I was under a totally different impression, which is probably a PR problem somewhere. So below is what I was expecting, and might explain why I was disappointed. 

The Color Run is ‘the happiest 5k on the planet!’ – a branded global organized run where you get to run a moderate distance for the sake of having totally colorful fun while doing it. Are they coming to your city? Check out this video to get super pumped about it:

The idea is you run through the course in white, while at several points you have ‘paint’ (in our case corn flour and food coloring) tossed on you in happy rainbow clouds.

So Koala and I had been counting down from a month before. I signed us up for the 1.5km ‘Fun Run’ track. We ‘practiced’ on the way to gan in the morning. We cheered when we got our cute white shirts.

He’s a 4 and a half year old boy, so I knew he might get put off by the color-being-thrown-at-you aspect. And he was, because he didn’t like the idea of someone slapping it on, but ‘lo nora’ – he walked around the paint stations and watched me tutu dance my way through the colors.

My color run self!

Here’s what I loved about the rainbow unicorn happiness run:

  • I got to run with my kid! There were so many kids. A great opp to get yours into running.
  • Themed runs are a nice break from the sporty ones… well, at least now at the moment when I can’t do the major sporty ones.
  • Lots of people got really into it! I made tutus for Koala and I to wear; he didn’t wear his in the end but I wore mine. A few other adults/kids wore tutus too and I think we made a lot of folks warm and fuzzy!
  • Tzahal got really into it, which makes sense given the cause (Natal). Actually, all three male winners of the 5k were Tzahal guys. There was also a big Yachad contingent.

A ‘color run’ or ‘running with color’ is an awesome idea. The problem was, in this case, there wasn’t much color… Here’s what I want the organizers to keep in mind for next year:

  • MORE PAINT.
  • Were they supposed to be tossing it on us like in the video, or slapping us on the back with a handful?
  • Maybe less apathetic paint throwing staff?
  • MORE PAINT STATIONS. The whole 1.5km had three, two close to each other at the end. The whole 5km had more but there were long stretches with nothing to keep you going… maybe more signs, music, cheering crowds might have been more the atmosphere you’d expect?
  • The 1.5 was so incredibly anticlimactic that my brother and I joined the 5k starting right after to get our fill. Maybe that’s our problem for being ‘real’ runners trying to make a kid happy, but still… it wasn’t as exciting as it coulda been.
  • Granted I was towards the end of the 5k as I walked half of it, but lots of people ended up rolling on the floors of the paint stations to actually get some color, and many had to take the paint from the buckets for themselves… Maybe having those shakers like in the video would have given more of the cloud effect we expected?

Here are some more alternative views of the event…

The hair:

The hand:

The victory:

The token Israeli flag among Tzahal runners:

The car:

All in all, I’m happy Koala and I did it. I told him after there is an occasional Tzur Hadassah race… he was immediately interested and asking “Ima when are we doing the Tzur Hadassah run?!”

To be continued…

Here are more pictures from the רצים בצבע site and lots more on Facebook.

DIY! Homemade tutu and dinosaur feet… for the kids who want to be everything

Yesterday was crafty craft Friday! Two projects I’ve been wanting to try: DIY dinosaur feet and a homemade tutu. Both are relatively cheap thrills and the dinosaur feet are especially super simple. I’d probably have the kids do that one more often if I had easy access to proper tissue boxes (see below).

So here we go… the imperfectionist’s crafternoon:

DIY Project #1: Homemade tutu!

Ok, so this was totally more for me than for Bebe; she never asked and I never really told her we were doing it. But she was a patient enough mannequin for a 2-year-old.

I took about a meter of tulle, elastic for the waistband, and a ribbon to jazz it up a little with a bow in the back. The ribbon was totally unnecessary and more annoying than it was worth. The waistband doesn’t necessarily look professional but this was a total ‘I’m gonna think about this till I actually just do it’ project so I wasn’t going for perfection.

Clearly a project for a mama or papa and not the 2-year-old, though older kids can totally get the job done with some supervision.

  1. Measured the elastic for the waist, and measured out the tulle for skirt length; basically went a little below the knee, doubled that, and added an inch more. Cut the tulle into about 3 inch strips, give or take for variety (and because, you know, imperfection).
  2. Sewed the elastic for the waist band.
  3. Extra, unnecessary step: I midway became inspired to pretty up the waistband by loosely sewing a purple ribbon so there would be a bow at the back. I’m sure there’s a better way to do this after finishing the tulle part. I’d do that next time.
  4. Fun fact: if you lose the ribbon method I did, it’s a no-sew affair.
  5. Setup: I put the waistband around one of those kiddie play strollers so I could work off it at eye level, sitting on the floor.
  6. Now, the knots. I folded each tulle strip in half, and the loop end went a bit above the elastic; I looped the rest through it and tightened. Then tied again with an extra knot.

It’s a bit tedious but it’s cute and Bebe had a fun time running around pretending to be a bird. Glad I could make that happen!

Here’s the original idea I used.

DIY Project #2: Dinosaur feet!

After two weeks of sick I finally acquired the essential ingredients for the dinosaur feet project: cardboard tissue boxes. It’s a rare commodity here in Israel – our tissues usually come in bags.

(See why it’s so hard to get your craft itch scratched here?)

This is super simple for the kids, and a fun (but probably short term) game when it’s done.

  1. Get two tissue boxes, paint color of your choice, paintbrush, surface mat.
  2. Have the kid paint the boxes.
  3. Leave out to dry.
  4. In the meantime, cut out the ‘toes’ or ‘claws’ depending on what your kid’s dino style is.
  5. When the boxes are dry, attach the claws. I ended up folding them in the back, taping each piece together where you wouldn’t see, and gluing as a unit to the boxes.

Totally effortless on my part, except for green paint bath cleanup. Koala stomped around until he discovered it’s a bit slippery which is way more fun.

Here’s the original idea I used.

Happy crafting!

#tomorrow13: Dan Ariely on online dating & the ideal BMI to snag a man

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What is it about online dating makes us roll our eyes?

The lying? The misunderstanding? The misleading profile pics?

At a panel at the Israel Presidential Conference today, Professor Dan Ariely, famed and beloved behavioral economics expert, presented what he’s found are the major issues with the online dating platform, and how it could be improved.

Online dating makes people boring

Ariely said his team was given access to loads of data – communications between online daters. They thought they hit the jackpot! Until they read through it.

Turns out, online dating correspondence is boring.

Ariely chalked it up to two possibilities:

  1. When you let people talk about anything, they choose boring, easy things
  2. Actually, we just don’t know how to talk to people – so we bring it to the lowest common denominator and talk about the most basic topic: your personal CV.

The problem is, we usually take the safest option when it comes to other people. Think about a couple online daters choosing a restaurant or where to have coffee.

His team created their own online dating ‘platform’ in which people were restricted to 20 conversational questions, all different, all interesting: Why did you break up from your previous relationship? Are there crazy people in the family? What’s your sexual fantasy?

Everyone was happier: the askers were more interested and the answerers were happy to talk about something other than parroting their resumes.

What attributes make some people successful at online dating?

In economics, this area is called labor analysis. For instance, it’s often discussed how some people can get higher salaries compared to other attributes, like height, weight, education, etc.

Similarly, Ariely’s team took into account the  attributes of daters against their salaries, and desirability. What makes someone more attractive as an online profile? Which attributes make some successful in their communications in online dating?

Turns out, women really care about men’s height.

How much more money would a man have to earn a year to be as attractive as someone an inch taller? It would take a yearly salary hike of $40,000!

A basic flaw of the online dating interface helps people search for partners based on exaggerated superficiality – superficial attributes – like height.

By the way – Ariely found that online dating men really care about women’s BMI – ideally measuring at a nearly anorexic 19. And how much do women need to earn to be one BMI point higher?

For men, it makes no difference.

What happens when we convey superficial information about ourselves?

On average, as we learn more about people, we like them less. When we’re missing info about a person, our brains fill in the gaps in over-optimistic ways – so when we do meet for coffee, we get disappointed.

Obvious fact: Women get more disappointed than men – and never seem to learn.

So what can we do to improve the online dating platform?

Ariely has tremendous hope for online dating. It’s complex to find a partner to fall in love and spend the rest of life with. Online dating is supposed to help, after the match maker disappeared. Ariely found that for every six hours spent on online dating – searching profiles, corresponding – on average, people get one coffee. It’s not a great trade-off: it’s like driving to Eilat and back for a cup of coffee with someone that doesn’t work out.

To improve the online dating process, it’s worth looking at dating in the real world. It doesn’t look like an interview. You go outside the framework to experience something together. When we experience together, we can reflect on the other person in a better way.

So Ariely’s team created a virtual world in which online daters went on ‘dates’ to  virtual spots, like museums, parks, etc. Then they had something to talk about in their online communication, other than interview questions. That actually doubled the probability of going on a second date.

In India, Ariely studied the happiness levels of love marriages and arranged marriages. He found that the love marriages start happier, but decline, and the arranged marriages do the opposite. The crossover between the two? Year three of marriage.

The online dating market is trying to help people experience dating like they do in the real world, but with a major inherent flaw: online dating profiles are structured to be easy for computers to process – attributes, like height, gender, job – and not how people actually process other people.

Ariely likens it to wine vs digital cameras: We taste wine, and we know we like it but may not be able to list the exact reasons why. Digital cameras, though, have measurable specs.

So whether you’re an online dating platform programmer, or a starry-eyed hopeful seeking romance, Dan Ariely would like us to consider: we humans, as opposed to our computers, relate to experience goods, not information goods.

More #tomorrow13:

#tomorrow13: Behavioral economist Dan Ariely says we’re good, dishonest people

Waiting on line to enter a session, I became totally consumed in fascination over the behavior of some of the other people in line. Of course I use the term line loosely. People queued up early, creating a mob scene within five minutes.

I couldn’t help but focus on a particular woman at the absolute front, pushing at the rope cord, snapping at the stubborn security guard, and even tattling people who seemed to be getting ahead and sneaking through a different door.

All that, and here we were waiting for a talk by renown professor of behavioral economics, Dan Ariely, who was to address dishonesty and our tendency to act dishonestly.

Here are my notes from his highly entertaining talk:

There was a troubling piece of research: two people in a room. We ask them to please talk to each other for ten minutes, introducing themselves. Ten minutes later we asked ‘did you lie in the last ten minutes?’ Everyone said no. When we played back a tape… turns out, on average, people lied 2-3 times in ten minutes.

We all lie from time to time… but we all generally think of ourselves as generally nice and honest people.

How do we rationalize this?

Well, even God lies: In the story where He tells Sarah that she will have a child with Abraham, she laughs – my husband is too old! God tells the same to Abraham, but tells a white lie in there – after all, it;s for shalom bayit!

How do we measure dishonesty?

Here is one method: We gave people a sheet of paper with 20 math problems – everyone could solve all the problems with enough timem but we only give five minutes. After, they are told they get a dollar for every coreect answer, and to tally them and then shred the paper. On average, people were given six dollars for siz correct answers.

What the testers knew is that on average, people were actually getting four right.

Is it a few people who lie a lot?

No. There are a lot of people who cheat a little bit. There were 35,000 people in that experiment!

And it’s not too far from real society: there are big cheaters, but only a few. There are more little cheaters, like us, so we can feel ok. However, the economic impact of all that small cheating is actually higher.

What do we stand to gain and lose – is it worthwhile?

We changed the experiment – offered different amounts of money per correct answer. As the price went up, the cheating didn’t get higher. It stayed the same.
Lots of people cheat just a little, regardless of the probability of being caught.

People try to balance two forces:

  1. we look in the mirror and want to see good people
  2. we want to benefit from cheating

Due to our flexible skill, we can do both – as long as we cheat a little bit.

What influences rationalization?
A biggie: ‘I’m not really hurting anybody.’
People download illegal music… but they won’t sneak from a restaraunt without paying; that’s something that they enjoyed and interacted with people throughout.

Another way: Like stealing 50 cents from the office petty cash vs stealing a pencil – no one feels bad for the pencil.

We are becoming a society that has multiple steps between us and the people were dealing with. money is becoming more abstract – we’re not just dealing with cash. As the distance between ourselves, other people and money concepts, grows – what kind of people are we becoming?

How could you decrease rationalization?

We experimented with people signing honor codes – gave them a chance to cheat – but saw no cheating whatsoever. Even though it was a meaningless document, and they knew that, it still worked.

What happens when people are given many chances to cheat over time?

People cheat a little bit and balance feeling good, and then at a certain point people switch, and start cheating all the time. We call this the: what the hell effect.

So why would people ever stop?

Experiment: give people the chance to ask for forgiveness, confess. Once they do, cheating goes down dramatically.

South Africa used this idea for their reconciliation period after apartheid. If people can have a chance to say they are sorry then people can move on and change.

What are the cultural implications? 

Actually, Israelis cheat just like the Americans. Who cheat like the Italians, Chinese, Germans, English, Canadian, Colombian – all tested, all the same.

But dishonesty looks different in different places – how can it be the same?

The experiments are abstract and general and not embedded in any culture. They test the basic backbone of human culture. In that regard we’re all the same. But culture operates on top of it – it takes a domain – like illegal downloads, bribery, speeding – and tells you it’s ok to cheat. It matters per country, per domain.

My favorite part of Dan Ariely’s talk? 

When a moderator came in and handed him a note he had 5 minutes left. Dan looks up and says, “but my clock here has 8.5!” he looks cheekily at us in the audience and says, “I’m going to take the bigger one because we’re talking about fudge factors and cheating.”

More #tomorrow13: