October 2007
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Some random player recognises my godlike genius

This player knows class when he sees it ūüôā

I’m definitely taking it as a compliment.¬† It was only my second session playing on that site and at the time I was actually stuck about a hundy.

Like a Virgin?

A¬†word of warning to anybody who is looking for a Las Vegas package deal with Virgin Holidays – don’t get excited too soon when you drop on a bargain deal online.¬† In fact, to be safe you should probably wait until you step onto the plane before you start counting down the days.¬† T minus, err, zero.

I found out just what a gamble they can be by trying to book a holiday for my sister.¬† She’d already booked the week off work and found a deal on Expedia for about ¬£500 each, then called me to ask if it was a good deal or if could I do better.

Now that’s a challenge I can never refuse…

I thought I’d done exceptionally well when I found this deal with Virgin for two return flights and seven nights at the Luxor:

¬£546 would be a phenomenal price for just the flights, never mind with a week’s accomodation into the bargain too.¬† At this price it was¬†either an insane promotion or it was priced wrong.¬† Either way, I was going to try to take advantage of it.

Laura found out that it was a mistake the same evening when she got a phone call telling her that the price on the web site was actually for just the accomodation and would she like to add on the flights now for another £500+ each.  The answer was obviously "no".

I don’t completely believe their story.¬† The breakdown above shows line items for air passenger duty (although only ¬£20 each, when it costs ¬£40 just to leave the country), a fuel surcharge¬†and an economy seat discount.¬† This all suggests that the flight¬†is included in the total.¬†¬†It even let me log in to the Virgin Atlantic site and select seat reservations, where it also cruelly showed a countdown to¬†a holiday that didn’t really exist:

But the chances of them honouring the published price are, as you might expect, zero.  Option one was to cough up for an overpriced flight.  Option two was to forget it ever happened.

Now, more than three weeks after cancelling, I’m still waiting for a refund.¬† In fact it was only after I called the bank and they set up a three-way phone call to find out what was going on that we got any joy at all.¬† What a shambles.¬† Even then, they tried to deduct a ¬£120 per person cancellation fee.¬† I don’t think so…

OK, so I knew all along that something had probably gone wrong and that they might try to get out of this booking, but it did reveal a frightening feature of the Virgin Holidays online booking system.

Once you fill in all the information on their web site, including payment details, you still have to wait up to fourteen days for written confirmation of the booking.¬† Until it arrives, you just don’t know for sure whether or not you have a holiday.¬† They can still cancel it at any time.

Even if they charge your credit card, even if they book you a seat on the damn plane, they can still change their mind.

While I would expect that in most cases they’re probably not interested in simply cancelling your booking just because they can, what’s to say they wouldn’t pull the plug on your package deal if your plane suddenly became very popular and they could make more money selling it as flight only (which, as far as I can tell, is a confirmed booking the minute you press submit).¬†¬†A delay of up to two weeks for confirmation of a flight booked online¬†is just not good enough.

In the end Laura rebooked with MyTravel for £294 each and snubbed the rock-bottom rate I found her for Imperial Palace in favour of the Excalibur for just a little more.  Not a bad decision.

Overall, it was still about £200 cheaper than Expedia.  Mission accomplished!

How credit card companies make money

I just downloaded my latest credit card statement, and I knew it was going to be big because it’s been a particularly extravagant month.

I’ve booked two¬†Vegas trips¬†for myself and one for my sister (I’m sure you’ll hear more about this), plus enough first class train tickets to requalify for Virgin Traveller.¬† Apparently I’ve been to Cheltenham five times this week, who knew?

There’s also all my new office furniture.¬† My desk is up, and it’s all the right colour, and it turned out to be¬†a marvel of engineering.¬† The Hoover Dam of desks.¬† The lady in Ikea said it would never work, that it’s just not meant to go that big.¬† I’ve proved her wrong just by using two steel tubes and one extra leg.¬† The over/under on it collapsing is three weeks.

Then there’s all the other random crap that usually goes on there, which this month included car insurance renewal and, obviously, Spice Girls tickets.

New Balance:   £4,983.46
Minimum Payment:   £9.20

Not forgetting the really important bit:

BMI Diamond Club Miles earned: 7,313.04

I really wouldn’t mind if they rounded down the point zero four miles,¬†that won’t get me very far.

So let me get this straight.  Even if there was no interest on this card I would be paying it off at just over nine quid a month, which would be 542 monthly installments Рa mere 45 years to clear the balance.

Given that if you pay your credit card automatically by direct debit you have just two options –¬†full balance or minimum payment – this special rate (the card terms say the minimum payment should be 3% of the balance¬†– nearly ¬£150 in this case) has to be a crafty angle they’re shooting to try to rack up a lifetime of interest.¬† Or at least a couple more months until you realise what they’re up to.

Can anyone lend me five grand?

Name that price

I now have my download link for Radiohead’s new "pay what you think it’s worth" album, In Rainbows.

I paid 50p.

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Everyone has a bad beat story

The reason it feels like I’ve been offline for the past week or so if that my home office is being reconstructed.¬† After nearly four years of stepping over boxes that I hadn’t quite unpacked since moving in, as well as the debris from my organic, floor-level filing system, the time has come to do things properly.

As part of my re-fit, I’m getting the mother of all desks.¬† For reasons that the picture should make obvious, it’s not assembled yet, but this is what it looks like laid out on the floor.¬† The long side is a whopping 2.2m,¬†almost bigger than the room itself and certain to present a very interesting challenge when it comes to flipping the thing over after it’s been built.

Nice job with the end pieces, Ikea.¬† This is "full serve" furniture so I didn’t even have chance to make that mistake myself, it¬†took a trained professional to cock it up.¬† Why would you think to look in the box to make sure everything is the same colour, really?

The picture is distorted a little because I used a super-wide lens, and this also adds an element of terrifying perspective to an already scary carpet.¬† It didn’t seem quite so brown in the shop, I promise.

When the carpet fitter was here, he saw that I was working downstairs with my desk set up on the card table and talk quickly turned to poker and I got the obligatory bad beat story.¬† Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Pocket aces flops a set, big stack villian pushes with suited trash,¬†runner-runner flush.

"It’s like they can see what cards are coming", he said.¬† "My mate says there’s a program you can download so you see what everyone else has got even if they fold".

Presumably his mate has heard about the alleged¬†super-user access in Absolute Poker.¬† Either that, or he’s going to fall for a bullshit scam like this¬†(and I realise by linking to the site I’ve just helped to increase its Google rank, but really if you’re daft enough to pay them money, you deserve all the trojans that it’s bound to come with).

I also found out he plays most nights on PKR or William Hill and¬†enjoys six-tabling $1 sit-and-gos with a bottle of vodka.¬† It’s an activity that that I’ll try to review in due course, but sounds like it’s something that needs a name of it’s own.¬† I’m going to go with Absolut Poker.¬† Ithankyou.

Pimping PokerStars for a freeroll entry

Texas Holdem Poker

I have registered to play in the PokerStars World Blogger Championship of Online Poker!

This Online Poker Tournament is a No Limit Texas Holdem event exclusive to Bloggers.

Registration code: 3428228

Spicing up my life

I got Spice Girls tickets! And corkers they are too. Block 106, row D – actualy facing the stage. That almost never happens.

Stopped laughing at me yet? OK. Now for the obligatory rant about Ticketbastard fees.

There are so many great advantages to trading online. Having a global presence without needing premises; staying open around the clock without needing extra staff; never needing to actually speak to customers. Reduced overheads produce savings that can be passed on to make you more competitive. At least that’s how it should be.

Absolutely everything you can buy is cheaper on the internet, except for concert tickets. But when the only way you can buy tickets is online and one site has a monopoly, they don’t need to be competitive.

My two ¬£75 tickets cost ¬£169.75. You’re laughing again, aren’t you?

The ¬£2.25 charge for "standard post" I can almost live with. Who doesn’t inflate their shipping costs to build in a little extra profit when they’re selling junk on eBay? I know I do, so it’s a bit hypocritical to take issue with an overpriced stamp.

But the "service charge" on this was the fattest I’ve ever seen. ¬£8.75 on each ticket! Where the hell does that come from?¬† There must be a human involved in the process somewhere along the way so we can’t deny them a little something towards their expenses. And sure, it’s a business so they’re going to want to make money by adding a booking fee. Come on though? A surcharge that’s the same price as a CD (delivered) for every person who goes to a concert?

Here’s the official explanation:

This Service Charge (otherwise known as a Convenience Charge or Booking Fee) is a fee that covers costs that allow Ticketmaster to provide the widest range of available tickets while giving you multiple ways to purchase. Tickets are available in many towns and cities via local ticket outlet locations, our Call Centre and

What a crock of shit.¬† These tickets were only available online – you needed to be selected to get sent a password to stand a chance of booking – and the first batch¬†sold out in 38 seconds this morning.¬† Where’s the convenience in having to be online at 10am on the dot to have to fight through the booking process in record time and take whatever tickets you’re lucky enough to have thrown your way?¬† If you decide you don’t like the look of the seats it’s picked for you and want to try again, you’re probably going to miss out.

Similarly, if you come up against an impossible Turing test, like these, you’re pretty much buggered.


Apparently if you relax your eyes, you can see a helicopter in the one on the right.

Tickets from the first show raked in ¬£175,000 in booking fees in under a minute. Then three more dates were announced, and then four more. Overall the juice on just those eight shows heading into the pockets of Ticketmaster shareholders is ¬£1.4 million – I think somebody just got a new yacht.¬† It’s not exactly skilled work stuffing tickets into envelopes. The fees I paid on just two tickets could fund three hours of minimum-wage labour. Plenty of time, even if their equal opportunities policy demands the use of partially-sighted amputees with Parkinson’s disease.¬† It’s somewhat generous.

What’s most annoying is why is the service charge for this is so much higher than for other tickets? Am I somehow getting a much better service than I would, for instance, with my ¬£12 face value ticket to see The Donnas next month (and I’m really not ashamed about that either), which carried a ¬£1.20 fee? The postage on those was cheaper too, at ¬£1.75. Are the Spice Girls tickets really heavy?

Seriously, if people have been successfully taking their banks to court to claim back unreasonable charges for overdrafts I might start keeping a tally of just how much Ticketmaster has ripped me off and see if I can’t do something about it. It would probably pay for my next car.