This season, we’re all about optimization. In collaboration with American Express.
The holidays usually bring to mind long lines, crowded airports, endless parties to dress for, and just a general feeling of chaos. For me, however, the holiday season is a time to slow down, give back, and spend time with close family and friends. I see this time as a window of opportunity to do all of the things that are most important with the people who mean the most.
With New York being a city of mostly expats, people’s friends become their family. I see all my close New York friends as extended family and rely on them throughout the year as such. As a way to say thank-you, this year, I plan to make everyone a holiday dinner to show my appreciation. While I do put an emphasis on making dishes that everyone will enjoy and fit the array of dietary needs one would assume comes with a New York dinner party, my favorite part is using my American Express® Membership Rewards® Points to get each guest a gift card that doubles as their place setting. It doesn’t have to be anything outrageous, but something that speaks to their personalities. A manicure at a fancy hotel, where they can spend the day at the spa, a blowout, a gift card meant to be used for a meditation class—these are all small tokens, but they really let people know how much you appreciate them. Plus—since I’m purchasing them with my points, I can spend a bit more money on the dinner and decor. An all-around win.
This year, giving back and volunteering is also top of mind. While everyone feels like they could do a better job of this year-round (myself included), it’s important not to beat yourself up and to take advantage of the times you can help others. In addition to the long list of things I admire about our employees, their commitment to giving back is top of my list. They’ve organized for us to volunteer for two full days at the Salvation Army this month. In addition to volunteering time, there are some causes that truly just need money for research, trips, etc., or ones that require volunteering in places that I am not able to get to. Sometimes just finding out which causes are credible and how to donate to them can be so overwhelming it is easy to just write the entire task off. I am SO thankful that American Express has its Members Give program that allows me to use my points to donate to causes that are important to me. Fun fact—from 2010 to 2016, Card Member donations through “Members Give” totaled $84M in dollars and Membership Rewards points redeemed for donations to charitable causes. This year I’ll be donating to Pencils of Promise, a nonprofit organization that builds schools and increases educational opportunities in the developing world, and Waves for Water, which works on the front lines to provide clean water to communities in need around the world. This program allows me to give back in a way that is stress-free but also ensures my donation is getting to the right people at the right places. See here to learn more about Members Give and search for a nonprofit to donate to.
The final cherry on my holiday sundae is a tradition I’ve had for years and years. While many people take this time of year to go on vacation, the thing I look forward to the most is going home. For the past five or six years, every December my family and I spend time at our cottage just outside Toronto. Being able to spend a week with nothing to do but cook, sleep, hike (if the weather allows it), and spend time with the people I love most is the thing I get most excited about every holiday season. This year I’m using my American Express Membership Rewards points to book my flight home to kick off my favorite time of year. Since my schedule is so erratic, I don’t always get to book in advance to get the best deals. Thankfully American Express allows me to use my Membership Rewards points to purchase a flight with over 100 leading airlines—the most airline transfer partners of any U.S. credit cards rewards program. I’ll fly home a couple of days early so I have the chance to catch up with all of my friends in Toronto, and I’ll also use this time to get everyone’s presents ready to give to them once we get out of the city. Leaving the cottage gives way to another highlight of this tradition—for the past five years, a group of my friends (a mix between people who live in Toronto and those who come home to visit) always celebrate New Year’s Eve together. This is the perfect way to cap off my trip home and sends me back to New York feeling rested and full of love for all the people in my life.
As you can see, I try to take advantage of this time of year to actually slow down, be more purposeful, and give back to all the causes and people that are most important to me. I hope this holiday season you and all your loved ones get the chance to do the same. And with more than one million Membership Rewards points redemption offerings, I also hope American Express can help you craft the perfect holiday.
Special thanks to Holt Renfrew for wardrobe.
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