My month in money #19: The one with the windowless room

What I’ve actually done this month to be clever with my cash.

There are a couple of thoughts behind this feature. Often there are small things I’m doing that don’t warrant a whole article so this can bring them together! Plus, it’s a great way to show that I “walk the walk” and really do follow my own advice!

So here are the key money matters from my own life in July 2023

In the pic: Accidentally dressing the same as my friend’s crockery

Who needs daylight?

There’s a growing trend in budget hotel where the cheapest rates are reserved for rooms without a window. And when I have to visit London for work it’s become my accommodation of choice!

Some of you might think this sounds a lot like solitary confinement, especially when you consider the state of some chain hotel rooms, but in some ways it’s actually better.

For a start, it’s not like I’m in these rooms for anything other than sleep, so it’s likely to be dark when I’m in the room anyway. When I have needed to work I’ve either got on with it or relocated to a brighter lobby or alternative space.

The rooms have generally been pretty decent too. The Z Piccadilly and Zedwell rooms have been nicer than many midrange hotels I’ve stayed at, while even the more basic Point A Kings Cross is head and shoulders above some of the tired Travelodges and Premier Inns nearby.

Plus there’s no street noise, always an issue in central London. Though that’s not always a shortcut to a good night’s sleep – the basement room of the Zedwell Shoreditch must have been right over the tube tunnels as the shaking woke me up about 5am!

The savings vary from hotel to hotel, but expect £10 to £20 per night, depending on the location and room type.

Can’t cancel? Move it

Sticking with hotels, a last minute change last weekend (thanks to rail strikes) meant I couldn’t use a prebooked hotel room. Sadly this Premier Inn booking (with a window) wasn’t flexible so couldn’t be cancelled.

But that didn’t mean I just wrote it off. A call to Premier Inn’s hotline (you might be able to do this online but I was the victim of a recent system update so my booking hadn’t moved over) meant I could move the room to a different date.

And not only that, since the room was cheaper later this year I also got a £30 refund, which came through to my account a few days later.

This isn’t the first time I’ve spoken about this, but it’s a good reminder to always check there isn’t any wiggle room if you’re unable to use a booking, whether it’s for a hotel, train, event, restaurant or something else.

The best deals

Find our picks of the best offers in our dedicated deals library

We’ll miss ticket offices

I had to book a bumper load of train journeys the other day and as they went across a few different rail providers the usual digital ticket option wasn’t available. Instead I had to collect all seven tickets from the station.

Now, I’ve had this problem before where I didn’t have the card I booked with on me – a requirement for the ticket machines. So this time I was all prepared and had my Halifax debit card (used to secure 10% back at LNER) with me. Or so I thought. I’d actually picked up my wife’s!

The ticket machine had moved on a bit since I last did this and there was an option to use contactless rather than insert the card, but I hadn’t added this card to my Apple Pay wallet.

Fortunately, there’s always been a work around where it doesn’t matter what card you have – you just need the booking number. And that’s to head to the ticket office.

So, that’s a handy tip in case you get caught out. But it’s not the only reason I mention it.

The rail strikes we’ve seen recently have been inconvenient for many of us, but it’s worth noting that one of the key reasons for the industrial action is around the closing of ticket offices, with some stations even becoming totally staffless.

Apart from security and safety issues this could bring about, my ticketing problem was a timely reminder of how we undervalue having face to face services. Luckily I was getting my tickets the day before travel. But if I’d been about to board, I’d have been forced to buy a new ticket or miss my train.

And this automation of life isn’t just at train stations. As I wrote last month, the repercussions are on the high street when we need to speak to someone, and this month has seen yet more bank branch closures – bad news for if we ever do need to pop into one.

A missed credit card payment

Regular readers will know I’m pretty strict about using credit cards. As I laid out in my credit card rules article, you must always aim to clear the balance in full every month to avoid interest charges. And ideally have a Direct Debit set up to avoid forgetting.

Well in July I spotted one of my Amex cards had a charge for a missed payment. That didn’t add up. But then in dawned on me, I’d had a nightmare setting up the Direct Debit on Amex.

Each time I tried to set one up, I was told I needed to print out a form, fill it in and upload it. Now, I do have a printer, but having just finished working, I didn’t want to go back downstairs to my basement office, fire up the computer and go through all of that. I’d do it later. Though obviously that didn’t happen and it’d ultimately slipped my mind.

Now this was a while ago, but it hadn’t been an issue as I’d been manually paying off the card with my Halifax debit card to hack the monthly £5 reward payment. Except I then stopped using this Amex so there wasn’t enough on there for that payment. So I didn’t make a manual payment, leaving a balance of £26.23 unpaid, which brought about a 79p interest charge.

Not the end of the world, but not something I was happy about. I got in touch with Amex via the live chat and explained what had happened and they removed the interest charge. And since I had made some payments that month (complying with the TSB switch offer terms) I hadn’t actually missed the minimum repayment – so it won’t appear on my credit report either.

Now, the fact that I’ve been unable to set up a Direct Debit for American Express without using a printer doesn’t sit right, and it wasn’t a problem in the past. I’ve contacted the Amex press office for more details and will report back.

Exercising to earn more cashback and freebies

Now I’m back on the payroll, one of the perks is Vitality health insurance. And with that there’s also an exclusive American Express cashback card. It works a lot like the Platinum Cashback card, with 0.5% back on spending up to £10,000 in a year, increasing to 1% above that.

But you can get more if you excercise – potentially rising to an extra 2% back. To get this high rate you need an additional Vitality product, so the best I can hope for is an additional 1%.

And to get that I’d need to amass 160 Vitality activity points in a month, which apply for spending on the Amex two months later. In July I’m on course for going just over 120 points, which will give me a 0.75% boost in September.

Getting 160 will be a lot easier now I’ve bought a cheap Fitbit (stacking five Boots and cashback offers to get it for £48, down from £85), so I should be earning 1.5% on all spending up to £10,000, then 2% above that, which beats what I’d get with Chase.

There’s also a £100 bonus for spending £2,000 in the first three months – something separate to the other welcome offers.

So overall I’m quite pleased, and enjoying the weekly free Rakuten rental and monthly cinema ticket on top.

But a quick warning for those looking to use their membership to get a virtually free Apple Watch or Amazon Prime membership. You’re actually taking out a loan which is wiped out each month if you reach that 160 point total.

Now if you do exercise five times a week you’ll get the maximum 40 points a week (hitting 12,500 steps or 60 minutes of constant exercise will do it). But if you’re injured and can’t do this. Or on holiday and never leaving the sun lounger, you’ll struggle to hit those targets. And that’ll mean you’ll end up paying something towards those loans each month.

Plus if you leave your job or your company axes or changes health insurance you’ll still have to repay the money. And with the Apple Watch loan spread over three years that could prove costly.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try these, you just need to be aware of the risk. Personally I don’t fancy wearing a smart watch all day every day, and long term readers will know I’m no fan of Amazon Prime either.

Breaking my Prime boycott

Saying that, I did use Amazon over the Prime Day sales. But before you judge me too harshly, I did have a hefty gift voucher credit to use and we’d taken out a free trial so we could watch the final season of The Marvellous Mrs Maisel.

But the real reason why I did shop at Amazon was thanks to a staggering Kindle offer. The battery on Becky’s one doesn’t last long, and though we’ll use the library or buy books from our local book shop now, Kindles are great for holidays.

By combining a few different offers I managed to pay £43 rather than £159 for a Kindle Paperwhite without ads.

Though the prices won’t be as good now as when I bought the device (and may never be again), it’s worth having one key element of this hack at the back of your mind for if you ever do decide to buy one of Amazon’s e-readers.

Amazon sell a range of Kindles, and most versions also have a Kids edition. The device itself is exactly the same, but you get a free case, no adverts and two year warranty thrown in.

And you don’t have to use it just for kids content. Once you’ve set it up for a child you can just sign out and log back in as you. So you’re getting a better device for the same amount.

And the rest…

I can’t remember everything but a few extras in brief…

  • I took advantage of some high fixed rate and tracker rate savings accounts
  • I won £75 from July’s Premium Bond draw
  • I bought some Crosstown doughnuts in London on the way to visit my parents but they couldn’t add loyalty points to my app. So I emailed proof of purchase to their support the following week, and voila, points were added
  • I used some of the Telegraph Extra Vue freebie hack (sadly no longer available) to take my wife and niece to see Barbie for free
  • I spotted a £15 voucher email in my junk from a voucher code site for a hotel booking I’d made through them

Our podcast

Listen to Cash Chats, our award-winning podcast, presented by Editor-in-chief Andy Webb.

Episodes every Tuesday.

One thought on “My month in money #19: The one with the windowless room

  1. A great account of the trickle-up economy.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.