Every January, I end up with UA upgrades that I couldn’t use.  Some of them are from upgrades I applied for and then took the flight but didn’t get the upgrade and the instruments came back into my account.  So let me see if any of our readers can use these.  I have 2 RPUs and 4 GPUs.  The RPUs are for any domestic flight and the GPUs can be used on international flights, but only those booked in W fare class or higher.  However, the GPUs can also be used for domestic flights of any fare class.  Here is the one catch – you need to fly before 31 January.

Send me your last name and record locator via email (look on the About Us page) and I will upgrade you on a first come, first served basis.  Please indicate if you need one of the international upgrades, otherwise I assume you’ll need a domestic upgrade.  Consider this a thanks from Andy and I for reading our blog.

Posted by glenn | 4 Comments

I’ve had a couple requests for a follow up article on the best travel gear, so I figured I’d write it now. I have a couple of things that stayed the same, but also a couple new entrants.

 

(of note, some of these are affiliate links. You don’t have to use them, but I appreciate it if you do).

 briggs

Best carry-on bag:

Briggs & Riley BRX Luggage Exchange Rolling Backpack – $280

Unfortunately I don’t think Briggs & Riley sells this anymore, but I purchased this early last year off Amazon, and immediately fell in love with it. I’d had the Ebags TLS Motherlode Weekender Convertible, but I didn’t love it – it didn’t have a waist strap, and had no ability to roll it, which left me with a strained back on more than one occasion. Also, the stitching on the backpack strap started to fray, prompting me to send it back in for a refund. The B&R makes up for it on all counts: It’s got a very good rolling system, it has a waist strap when you convert it to a backpack (chest strap too), and it has a lifetime warranty and is one of the highest quality brands in the business. I have nothing bad to say about it thus far. Bonus: it was Outside magazine’s best luggage of the year 2013. Due to it no longer being produced, Ebay might be the only place to purchase it now.

 rei-bag

Best Checked Travel Bag:

REI Wheely Beast Wheeled Duffel – $100 – $180

I don’t like checking bags when I travel – hanging out at the baggage claim is one of my least favorite things in the world. That being said, when you go on a long trip, for instance our 12 day trip to Argentina experiencing both beaches and mountains, you sometimes need to check a bag. This thing is, like it’s name, a beast, can carry a TON, and is front-loading. Best part, it’s way cheaper than most comparable bags.

 Chrome-Industries-Cobra-Zip-Hoodie

Best Travel outerwear:

 Chrome Industries Merino Cobra Hoodie – $160

 This again takes the cake for most comfortable, best-looking, and just best all-around thing to wear for flying or travelling. It’s warm when it’s cold out, not oppressively hot when the climate is hotter, is naturally odor-resistant, and looks great! When the weather is below 60 degrees, I wear this on almost a daily basis.

 nike

Best travel pants:

 Nike KO Fleece Training Pants  – $49.99

 These warmup pants are SUPER comfortable, fit really well, and are really warm when it’s cold outside. They look great too – you can’t really tell right away that they’re warmup pants. I’ve never worn them in hot environments, so can’t comment on that, but they’re great on whatever temperature they usually keep planes at.

 ag

Runner-up:

 AG Adriano Goldschmied Men’s Protege Jeans – $120

 These jeans are stylish, fit great, are made of super soft denim, and best of all, stretchy! I never thought I’d be recommending stretchy jeans, but now that I’ve tried them, I’m never going back! The only reason this is a runner up and not first is that you probably have to wear a belt, which you have to take off in the security line (unless you’re TSA precheck…).

 salomon

patagonia

Best travel shoes:

 I don’t have one yet

 The two main pairs of shoes I wear when travelling depend on the weather: I wear the Salomon Men’s XA Pro 3D Ultra 2 GTX Trail Running Shoe ($90-120) when it’s cold or rainy, and I wear the Patagonia Men’s Maui Air Shoe ($60-90) when it’s warm and not raining. I can’t recommend either for all travel, because the Salomon is a pain to take off during security, and the Patagonia is not good in wet and/or cold weather. They’re both super comfortable, and both are great for walking around cities. So still haven’t found the perfect travel shoe. If you have, please let me know in the comments section.

 ride

Best travel accessory for children:

Ride-on Carry-on – 45.95

This clever thing is a folding seat for children that fits directly onto your roller luggage, and acts like a stroller going through airports. It has saved my back more times than I can remember!

 belkin

Best travel surge protector:

Belkin 3-Outlet Mini Travel Swivel Charger Surge Protector with Dual USB Ports – $11.88

This thing is clutch when there is only one outlet available – you will quickly make many friends when you hook this bad-boy up at the airport!

sennheiser 

Best travel headphones:

Sennheiser PMX In-Ear Neckband Headphones – $41.65

So these aren’t noise-cancelling, and they’re in-ear, so they’re not for everyone – but for me personally, one of the best ways to experience a city in which you’re staying is running through it. For instance, the amazing mountain paths in Hong Kong are best experienced on foot or bike. These are by far the best running headphones, and they’re great for flights too, as they don’t take up nearly the amount of space that some of the noise-cancelling over-ear headphones do.

 suncloud

Best travel sunglasses:

Suncloud Sentry Polarized Sunglass – $50

I have super sensitive eyes to sunlight, and almost always need sunglasses. With this, I’ve had a pair since 2008, they’re within military regs, they’re light, comfortable, look great, are tough, are good for running, polarized w/ 100% UV protection, and if you lose a pair, aren’t super expensive to get new ones. 4.5/5 on Amazon, and easily better than sunglasses twice it’s price.

 ready player one

Best book for a short flight:

Ready Player One: A Novel by Ernest Cline -$8.68

A boy from a dystopian future has to solve an online puzzle, against all of humanity, using 80’s cultural references, to win a billionaire’s fortune. Tense, creative and hilarious, you won’t be able to put it down.

26349 Pan_Shanataram_cov.indd

Best book for a long flight:

Shantaram: A Novel by Gregory David Roberts – $9.03

An Australian outlaw heads to India to escape the law, and gets involved in the underworld of Mumbai. A true modern day epic, another which you won’t be able to put down. Exotic locales, shady characters…isn’t that the reason we all love to travel?

 

Alright, there is my list. If you’ve got any better options to add, please let us know in the comments section. I love hearing about new travel accessories!

 

Posted by glenn | 5 Comments

Chip & PIN?! What’s the BG talking about now?  Allow me to explain.  The latest, more secure, credit cards come with an embedded chip similar to the one you have in your CAC cards.  You insert this end into the credit card reader instead of swiping the magnetic strip.  A PIN in used in lieu of signature.

Chip and PIN

Why is this important?  Because of all the credit card fraud we have read about, they needed to come up with  a better system.  We have all read about clever thieves figuring out a way to scan your magnetic strip through a reader they install on the inside of a gas pump or by getting a hold of your number and forging a signature.  For these new cards, you insert the chip end into the machine instead of swiping the side of the card through the reader.  Same as you use your CAC cards on your computer.

This new system prevents that.  With the chip, it creates a unique authorization code for that specific transaction meaning that even if a thief got it, they could not use it for another transaction.  The PIN is used to prevent forgery, although CC companies will tell you that they only examine the signature if there is a question of whether you purchased something.  Most often the signature is actually used to prove to you that you bought something and many of the times a person questions a charge because they forgot the bought something!  With the PIN, the transaction can only take place with the knowledge in your head.

This system has been operational in Europe for ten years and is only now reaching the U.S.  Why so long given all the CC fraud here?  It was a bit of the chicken and egg.  Store owners didn’t want to pop for new machines if no one had cards with chips and CC companies didn’t want to pay for the more expensive chip-embedded cards if there were no machines that could use them.

I have had some chip-embedded cards for about a year now and find that almost no American understands them.  I was able to use them on a trip to Germany last month, but had to explain to everyone I was with how to use them.  Back in the States, I found many of the new machines which accept chips, either had that function disabled or the clerk thought that I didn’t understand how a credit card worked and patiently explained to me that I had to swipe the magnetic strip and sign.  Note that even in Germany, I found several places that still wanted signatures instead of a PIN.  This is still more secure than the old way, but it is better if you use the PIN.  Note that the cards still have a magnetic strip so you are not SOL if the merchant does not have the new type of reader.

President Obama signed an executive order on 17 Oct. and the new cards are coming in the mail as you read this.  Here is the announcement from the DTS site.  Don’t forget to update your DTS profile with the new card number.  Expect to receive yours any day now and then have the task of explaining to your troops, Marines, Airmen, etc. how they work.  Good luck with that!

Posted by glenn | No Comments

We all knew this was coming.  The combining of frequent flyer accounts between legacy US Airways and American Airlines has taken longer than I thought it would.  Hopefully, this means they have spent a lot of time ensuring that they get it right.  They are targeting to combine during the second quarter of the year according to the email that I received.  I will be glad when this happens as I mainly accumulate miles in United and Alaska programs and US miles count in neither of those currently.

AA and US Combine Initial

I don’t see any upside to waiting, so I suggest that you link your accounts now.  Note that this probably also signals that they will cut off the US Airways Barclays Card, so apply now if you want to get those 50,000 miles for a sign-up bonus.  See my friend Greg’s post about that here on Frequent Miler Quick Deals.

AA and US Combine

If you didn’t get an email and have both types of accounts, just go to www.AA.com

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

Gas prices have declined 40% this year, but you would never know it to look at airline prices even though fuel prices are their second highest expense (after labor).  Alaska is the first airline to break the ice (yes, pun intended) and offer a great fare sale due to their lower costs.  Here is the big catch – it expires today!

Here is the web page with the details, but I will list the gist of the deal.  You get 10% off every fare between cities serviced by AS and 20% off if you travel on Tuesday or Wednesday.  The sale is good for fares on the following dates:

January 21 – February 11

February 23 – March 11

April 14 – May 13

Just add the word FUELSAVINGS in the Discount Code box.  Note this discount is not good on First Class and high priced economy fares.  I just booked my wife DCA-ANC-OAK-IAD for a couple of weeks during April and saved about $100.  Get out there and book today!

Posted by glenn | No Comments

First off, when you sign up for a new Fedex account, you will see a box offering benefits for having an American Express Business Gold account. When you click on the “learn more” tab, these two offers pop up:


amex biz

25k MR points for Amex Premier personal card and 50k MR points for the Amex Biz Gold! I couldn’t find another 50k offer currently (although I didn’t really search too hard). If you know of a similar offer currently available, please post below. Here is the direct link. Also remember, the Amex Biz Gold gets you an additional discount through the Amex OPEN program. You get either 5% cash back or 2 additional MR points for each dollar spent with this card at Fedex, for certain products.

 

Also, if you’re a USAA member, you can get discounted shipping from fedex.com, up to 28% off of personal shipping within the US, or up to 40% off business shipping in the US. Here is the link to take you to the USAA Fedex website, where you can sign up using your fedex login, or sign up for a new account if you don’t have one.

 

Posted by glenn | 11 Comments

I don’t have any special knowledge, but like to think that I’m a smart guy.  So this is the time off year for brave people to predict the future.  In this case, I will focus on what I see happening for travel and miles this year.

Airfares – Gasoline prices have fallen 40% this year, but airfares are hardly changed.  Fuel is (or was) the number one cost for an airline.  Naturally, you would think that airfares would fall as rapidly as gas prices.  However, that is not how economics work.  It is all about supply and demand.  As long as the airfares are priced at values that the market will bear, they will not change.  In other words, the airlines are going to rake in all that extra profit.  Here is my prediction: Airfares will not fall until about May.  Why May?  Airfares are historically at their lowest point from the beginning of January until Spring Break starts in mid-March.  Thus, the public perception will be that they have lowered already.  As the higher summer airfares start, one of the heard is going to start to feel a pinch and start lowering their fares because they know they have a high margin built in.  This will start a race to the bottom and you may see some of the best deals in years.  Once the fares have lowered, the airlines will find it hard to raise them back up without hidden tricks like fuel surcharges.  Keep in mind that geopolitical disruptions can cause the price of oil to spike back up rapidly, so here’s to a peaceful world in 2015.

Airline Miles – One key thing to remember about miles is that all the upcoming changes only affect redeemable miles (RDM), status-earning miles (EQM) do not change in 2015.  So with that clarification, expect to earn many less miles from flying.  Delta went to a revenue-based mileage earning RDM system on 1 Jan. and United will follow 1 Mar.  They will now pay 5x to 11x the amount you or your employer paid for the ticket minus taxes.  While the airlines could simply pocket the cost of handing out fewer miles, I think they will do something else.  My prediction is the we will see a lot more targeted mileage promotions.  They will take some of those miles they are not handing out to the savvy travelers like us who work hard to find low cost airfares on long routes and instead use those miles to entice mid-to-high fare customers to  fly certain routes that the airlines have available seats on.  This will be particularly true on routes where the airline has competition.  We’ve already seen that with Alaska and Delta on routes to and from SEA, but expect more.  If you see a great deal on a competing airline, the odds are high that your airline will match so keep an eye out for mileage specials.

Status – Expecting double or triple EQM like in 2008/9?  Fageddaboutit!  With an improving economy finally driving up business travelers, there will be plenty of them qualifying for status and no need for the airlines or hotels to offer it for people like us.  Look for credit cards as the best way to gain middle status.  Middle (Gold) status actually nets you pretty good benefits at hotels and is better than being a Kettle on an airline.  Confused by that reference?  Read Flyertalk or Google MA and Pa Kettle to get it.  My prediction for 2015: status will be primarily given to business travelers with the exception of competing airlines in certain markets.  That is just a carry over from this year and enabled me to be an Alaskan MVP Gold 75/k even though I only flew 32,000 EQM on them in 2014.

Hotels – Prediction: hotel rates are only going to go up this year.  The hotel business is much more competitive than the airline industry and they are looking to cash in on the rising economy.  Deals will be hard to find if there is also a business market buying up the rooms.  Want a room in Palm Springs?  Probably enough competition to lower rates there, but Honolulu where business and leisure travelers stay together, not likely.  Look for promotions tied to significant stays or frequencies such as business travelers do.  Two nights and get a third free; that’s probably gone for a long time.

Credit Cards – Prediction: More lucrative deals tied to business cards rather than leisure ones. This is a change from the past where CC companies were appealing to individuals who were not affected by the recession and could still spend a lot personally even if business was down.  Now with business spending up, expect those cards to be the ones most lucrative to the CC companies and thus receive the better incentive offers.

OK, I stuck my neck and out and we can review in a year to see just how accurate I was.  What do you think?  Have your own opinion on where things will head in 2015?

Posted by glenn | One Comment

Sorry I’ve been so delinquent on publishing reviews from our SE Asian trip in September. I’ve just been super busy with work and with family-related matters, as I’m sure most of you can imagine. These are the relevant reports so far:

 

Review: United Business Class 757-200 JFK to San Francisco

Review: United Business Class 747 San Francisco to Hong Kong

Review: Intercontinental Hong Kong Deluxe Junior Suite

 

Today I’ll do:

Review: Singapore Business Class 777-200 Hong Kong to Singapore

 

And then we’ll have for later:

 

Review: Holiday Inn Express Patong Beach Phuket

Review: Westin Singapore Seaview Suite

Review: Intercontinental Singapore

Review: EVA Royal Laurel (Business) Class 777-300ER Singapore to Taipei to JFK

 

Today I’ll talk about our flight from Hong Kong to Singapore, the only time I’ve flown Singapore Air, but that left me wanting to try it again. Our flight left around 2pm-ish, and using HKG’s amazing subway system, arrived at the airport around 1:20-ish. That unfortunately didn’t really leave us any time to visit a lounge, as we had to schlep ourselves through a labyrinthine arrangement of gates and escalators to get to our gate. By the time we’d gotten there, boarding had already commenced. Here was our view from the gate:


singapore2

 

Walking aboard, we were greeted warmly by the purser and all the beautifully-atired flight attendants. We noticed although the cabin was pretty, it was clear that this was their older business class product. No complaints from me though – we were on our way to Thailand via Singapore, flying in business class on an award fare. Our seat were comfortable, and we were immediately offered champagne and/or fruit juice.

singapore1

singapore3

 

The setting wasn’t glamourous, but it was still very nice – large screens for movies, the controls for it were intuitive. We were offered warm towels, booties, and noise-cancelling headphones which were very nice I thought.

singapore4

singapore6

singapore5

We were served food as soon as we were aloft, which consisted of a salad with shrimp and then a main satay chicken dish, which was delightful, along with some wine.

singapore7

Overall, there was nothing flashy about the 4 hour long flight, except for the flight attendant’s dresses (interestingly, they asked us not to take pictures of them). I learned that the color of their dress corresponds to how long they’ve been a flight attendant:

 

  • Blue – “Flight Stewardess”
  • Green – “Leading Stewardess”
  • Red – “Chief Stewardess”
  • Burgundy – “In-Flight Supervisor”

Pretty cool, and a really solid flight. Everything flowed seamlessly, the attendants were doting but never intrusive, and we came away with a great feeling afterwards.

singapore8

We arrived at SIN, amazed by their gorgeous airport, with a 3 hour layover until our Jetstar flight to Phuket. We crashed at the Wellness Oasis Spa that is world famous for having a fish footbath!

wellness

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

 

This article contains no affiliate links.

 

As you may know by now, I love my credit cards. Being in the military, and utilizing the benefits of the SCRA, we can get some amazing benefits without having to pay exorbitant fees, especially from the upper echelon cards, or the luxury cards. Depending on your opinion of what constitutes a luxury card – my definition is any card with an annual fee over $200 – you can really live it up! For now, I’ll consider a couple cards as luxury cards – Amex Platinum, Citi Prestige, Chase (JP Morgan) Ritz Carlton, Chase United Club, Visa Black Card, and Citi AA Executive. Of course the Amex Centurion and JP Morgan Palladium are luxury cards, but not many of us, outside of huge spenders, are going to qualify for those. Of the above, I’ve gotten all but the Black Card and the United Club.

 

First off, the welcome kits with these cards are a little over the top:

 

Amex Platinum:

Amex

Citi Prestige:

citi prestige

Citi AA Executive:

citi-executive-aadvantage

Ritz Carlton:

ritz1

 

ritz2

ritz3

Each of these welcome kits weighs at least a pound, and has far too much packaging for just having a credit card in it. I think the companies are genuinely trying to drum up excitement about having their card. I have to admit though, that it works – I do get excited when these packages arrive in the mail!

 

If you’ve read my articles before, you know that you can get your annual fees waived by being in the military. And in the cases of these cards, that’s huge! Just as a reminder – how to get your annual fees waived on American Express cards, how to get your annual fees waived on Citi cards, how to get your fees waived on Chase cards.

 

Amex Mercedes Benz Platinum annual fee: $475

 

Citi Prestige Annual Fee: $450

 

Citi Executive Annual Fee: $450 (I have two of these, so $900)

 

Chase (JP Morgan) Ritz Carlton Visa Annual Fee: $395

 

Total money I’ve saved because I’m in the military: $2,225 just for these four cards!! Now, on to the main benefits of having these cards.

 

For the Amex Plat, the two main perks are the annual $200 airline fee waiver and the airline lounge access, both Centurion lounge and Priority Pass select. The fees are ostensibly only supposed to cover things like baggage fees, in-flight purchases, etc., but can be used for airline gift cards (check out this flyertalk post). Unfortunately, you can only use it for one airline per year, and need to designate it beforehand. And, if you have the opportunity to visit a Centurion lounge a couple times per year, you know how truly nice they are! They’re currently available in DFW, LGA, LAS, and SFO, and will seen be available in both MIA and SEA. Also, because of their frequent Amex Sync offers, having an extra card to sync is huge. Finally, automatic SPG Gold status is pretty awesome too!

 

For the Citi Prestige, I think it’s combination of benefits is the best out of all of these. First off, you get $250 of airline credit per year, and it can be any airline and go towards any airline fee, including tickets! This is way more useful than unspecified airline fees! You also get the Priority Pass select. Another awesome benefit, one that is not talked about a lot, is their golfing benefit. You get 3 free rounds per calendar year, at a huge selection of courses, available through the Prestige site. During my recent trip to Las Vegas, I played at Bali Hai (typical greens fee $250), Rhodes Ranch ($65), and finally the gorgeous TPC Las Vegas ($199). That’s over $500 for free!

 

The Citi AA Executive doesn’t offer a whole lot of extra bonuses for it’s annual fee, other than US Airways and American Admiral’s Club lounge access. The main reason to sign up early last year was for 100k AA miles (that offer is no longer available). There is a current offer for 50k AA miles after $5000 spend, and $450 annual fee. Not worth it to me.

 

Finally, I recently signed up for the Chase (or JP Morgan) Ritz Carlton Visa Signature card, which gives 140k Ritz Carlton or Marriott points after $2k in spend, and with a $395 annual fee. The most obvious benefit, other than the points, is the Marriott Gold status for the first year (and each year after w/ $10k spend), but I think the biggest benefit is the $300 of airline fee credit per year. This, like the Amex Plat, is only supposed to go towards actual fees, but also like above, can go towards airline gift cards (check out this post about it by Doctor of Credit).

 

As you can see, I’ve not only saved a lot of money on not paying annual fees, but also gotten a ton of money’s-worth benefit out of having these four awesome cards. If you’re in the military and have a good credit score, I’d highly recommend checking these out.

Posted by glenn | 10 Comments

Before all your mileage/ point counters reset tomorrow, let’s take a look at how everyone did.  I’ll review my plan vice results and ask you to chime in and compare.

Airlines:

Goal: United 1Kunited-logo

Results: Only 62,046 EQM so no 1K for me for the first time in ten years.  Interestingly, I had $7,036 in spend so that doesn’t appear to be a problem for future years as many had worried about.  Fortunately, I passed a million miles last year so I only fall to Gold.  Also, the million miler benefits gets my spouse the same status as me so she drops too, but not before getting a free Global Entry card as a result of being 1K this year.

Goal: Alaska MVP GoldAlaska

Results: I was heading into fall with only 32,000 EQM and had already made my reservations for mileage runs to reach 40,000 EQM and requalify.  Then I read One Mile at a Time and found that AS was matching status up to MVP Gold75K (yes that is a mouthful to say), and sent them my UA 1K statement.  I actually thought it wouldn’t work since I was already an MVP Gold and this was to attract new customers, especially from Delta.  However, the AS fairy came along a few days later and changed my status to 75K and I got all the benefits except the 50K in bonus RDM.  My wife had been busting her butt all year to make 75K and was not happy that I had figured out a smarter way.  It helps to read Boarding Area! p.s. thanks Lucky.

MVPGold75k

Hotels:

Goal:  Marriott Platinum

Results: I only ended up with 4o nights plus 15 from the credit card, so will lose Platinum status for the first time in 8 years.  This was a year in which I didn’t PCS or have a long TDY so I just couldn’t get the travel.  I did pass 700 lifetime nights so hoping for eventual lifetime Platinum, but I have to get my lifetime points to 2 million and am only at 1.35 million so I’ve got a long way to go.  That’s what I get for staying in the cheap places!

Did do pretty well on getting RDM miles with the AA Executive card’s 100,000 mile sign-up bonus and getting Capital One and Chase Ultimate Rewards cards for those short trips which are better paid for by these points instead of spending 25-50K from one of the airline accounts.  Been great for flying my daughter from Tulane to see us in D.C.

Overall, not the best year and lost status on two of the three programs I had top status in, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.  So how did all of you do?  Let’s hear your successes or failures for 2014.

Posted by glenn | One Comment

The Service Academies (West Point, Naval Academy, Coast Guard Academy, and Air Force Academy) have their students get kind of caught in a Twilight Zone.  They are members of the military and get paid, but the time does not count for retirement, they have a rank, but not for UCMJ purposes, etc.  The same had been true for access to TSA’s Pre-Check which was supposed to be open to all DoD Service Members, but somehow it did not apply to cadets.  TSA has now fixed this as written here.

Unlike at the beginning of the Pre-Check Program where a DoD member could just walk up to security, all SM including the cadets, must enter the DOD ID# on the back of your CAC Card into the “Known Traveler” field on your airline website or DTS.  I’ll walk you through how to do it in DTS.

From the log in screen, select “Traveler Setup” and then “Update Personal Profile” on the drop down menu.

DTS Title Bar

Then select the “My TSA Information” Tab

TSA Info

Finally, scroll down on that screen and put your DoD ID# in the “Known Traveler” field.

DTS TSA Info

For your favorite airlines, it is a lot easier.  Typically go to your account information.  Look for traveler profile or personal information and then a “Known Traveler” block, then enter the ID information there and save.  If you get your boarding passes and notice that they don’t say TSA Pre-Check at the top, then show the ticket agent your CAC Card and they can enter it and reprint the BP so you can sail through security without having to take your laptop out or remove your belt.  Hope everyone has a safe flight home from the holidays!

Posted by glenn | 3 Comments

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