Monthly Archives: April 2013

Product review of Comet CM-MO7CD shredder: Finally, a shredder I can recommend!

Regular readers may recall a previous post where I relayed my terrible experience with an AmazonBasics shredder I purchased. The failure of that machine sent me in search of a replacement. I did a lot of research and read a lot of reviews. I found that to get a shredder with consistently high ratings across various websites, you have to be willing to spend at least $85 to $100. Because I need a reliable shredder and a cheaper model failed quickly, I decided to pony up $90 for the Comet CM-MO7CD, a 7-sheet shredder. (Amazon has since raised its price to $109.99.)

After owning the shredder for 2.5 months, I feel I can fairly evaluate it.

Things I like:

  • This is one of the quietest shredders I’ve ever owned. I used to dread shredding due to the noise, but this is no longer the case. According to its product description on the manufacturer’s website, this shredder produces 55 decibels (dB) of sound.
  • It has a 4-gallon, pull-out wastebasket for easy disposal of shredded materials. No more lifting a heavy shredder head every time I need to dump out the paper, and no more emptying a small wastebasket frequently.
  • The wastebasket has a window that allows you to see how close the wastebasket is to being full.
  • It is a micro-cut shredder that cuts materials into tiny pieces that would be practically impossible to reassemble into a readable document.
  • It has wheels, making it easier to move.

Things I don’t like:

  • The shredded paper tends to accumulate in the front of the wastebasket, when there is still empty space in the back. You have to pull the wastebasket out part way and shake it to create more room for additional shredding.
  • When you remove the wastebasket, some material falls from the shredder head into the base of the shredder.
  • You can only shred for 8 minutes at a time, then you have to take a 45-minute break before your next 8-minute session. This is probably the biggest drawback of the machine.
  • You can only shred 7 pieces of paper at a time, and letter-sized sheets have to be lined up just right to be picked up by the machine.
  • The shredder is a bit large, measuring 13.5 inches wide, 9.53 inches deep and 21.06 inches tall.

For those who need a higher-security shredder at a reasonable price, the benefits of this machine definitely outweigh the drawbacks. I would buy it again.

Do you have a shredder that performs well? Please post a comment with the details.

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Filed under Product recommendations, Technology and office equipment

A great tool to get free Amazon shipping

One of the great features of Amazon shopping is the ability to get free shipping on orders of $25 or more. Items that qualify for the free shipping program have the words “eligible for FREE Super Saver Shipping” next to their price.

But what if you have $24.32 worth of items? You don’t really want to buy something extra that would cost you more on Amazon than it would at your local Target or Walmart. So, you need to find a cheap item to get you to the $25 mark. But how do you do that when there are hundreds of thousands of items on Amazon? I recently discovered a neat online tool that does the work for you.

Use the Amazon Filler Item Finder at www.filleritem.com. Enter the amount you need to spend to get free shipping, and click “Search.” The website will return a list of items that fit the bill, along with a link to each item. Popular items have bold links. Each item has its price displayed besides its link.

The results aren’t always perfect. Sometimes, the item will turn out to be part of Amazon’s new add-on item program, requiring you to spend $25 before the item is eligible for free shipping. But, I’ve found the results on this website much more accurate than other, fancier-looking sites that often have limited results or incorrect prices for items.

Many of the items in your search may be things you wouldn’t use, like gasket seals, pipe fittings or guitar strings. But, you can always give them to a friend or donate them to charity, and spending 46 cents on something you don’t need is better than spending several dollars on shipping. One way to find something you’ll actually use is to up your minimum price a bit. So, if you only need to spend 46 cents to fill out your order, enter $1 into the Amazon Filler Item Finder instead. By spending a few cents more, you may find something you can actually use, like this dispensing bottle I used to round out my order.

What are your favorite cheap items to fill out orders on Amazon?

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Filed under Cheap and free stuff, Saving money, Shopping tips

Airline travel tips learned from United Airlines nightmares

My husband had a terrible travel experience this week — twice. On both legs of his round-trip journey on United Airlines, big problems occurred, further reinforcing our belief that United Airlines is one of the worst airlines on which to travel. While I may rant a bit in this post, it will focus mainly on lessons we’ve learned that can help you in similar situations.

Lessons learned about baggageplane-in-sky-landing
On his outbound flight, United lost my husband’s suitcase, which contained all the clothes he needed for a week’s worth of business meetings. It wasn’t your typical lost luggage error. My husband was at the airport in plenty of time for his first flight, and he had an ample layover before his second flight. You know the white, self-adhesive tag that the airline prints out and places on your baggage? It turns out the United counter representative put someone else’s airline luggage tag on my husband’s bag. He realized this the next morning when he looked at his claim check and noticed it had someone else’s last name. I called the airline, got the contact information associated with his claim check number updated and he got his bag 24 hours after arriving at his destination. This taught us:

  • Check the luggage claim check the airline gives you at the counter. Make sure it has your name on it.
  • Be sure you have your own luggage tag on your suitcases. This helped the airline confirm which bag belonged to my husband.
  • Make a mental note of unique items packed in your suitcase, so the airline can confirm it has the right bag by examining the contents.
  • For travel involving next-day business meetings or other critical events, place a day’s worth of clothing in your carry-on baggage, along with key supplies such as deodorant and contact lens solution.

Lesson learned about canceled flights
After getting my husband’s trip off to a terrible start, United also managed to ruin the end of it. On his way home, after his first flight landed, he learned his connecting flight home had been canceled for “environmental reasons.” The airline didn’t bother to explain what this term meant. On Delta, when we’ve had canceled second flights, the airline has rebooked us on new connections while our first flight was still in the air. United doesn’t provide this excellent customer service to its travelers. The airline forced my husband to stand in line to reschedule his flight, then told him it couldn’t get him home for 24 hours, even though there was no bad weather affecting other flights. He was traveling between two large airports featuring  multiple airlines, so there was no excuse for a 24-hour delay. He asked about being placed on other airlines but was told no seats were available.

Back at home, I looked online at some of those other airlines and found three same-day flights on Delta with economy-class seats available. I called United and conferenced in my husband. I pointed out to the United representative that there were flights available on other airlines and asked her to book him on one. We spent an hour and 20 minutes on the phone with her (most of the time on hold), then she cut us off and never called us back, even though she’d requested our call-back number. Another, 40-minute call with a new agent resulted in my husband being booked onto a US Airways flight the next morning. United did not pay for his hotel room or even give him a meal voucher. From this, I learned:

  • Staff in the airport terminal does not always tell the truth. Don’t take their word for it that options on other airlines are not available.
  • Ask a friend or family member to call the airline’s national number for you and to try to rebook your flight.
  • Before calling to rebook a cancelled flight, research what options are available on other airlines, and have them in front of you. Tell the airline the flight numbers/times of the flights you want the traveler to be placed on.
  • When dealing with United, you may have better luck if you asked to be rebooked onto US Airways. Part of the reason for the long delay in our phone calls was the wait time it took for the United Staff to get on the phone with Delta Airlines staff. Booking my husband onto US Airways took only a fraction of the time.
  • Ask what will happen to your luggage if you change flights or airlines and what you should do if it is not at your final destination when you arrive.

My husband’s arrival home will not be the end of the story for me. I plan to write a detailed letter to United explaining all the ways they negatively impacted my husband’s travel and asking for reimbursement for the costs he incurred. At the least, I am hoping to get a travel voucher or frequent flier miles as compensation, although I’d really like to see them pay for the hotel room he needed.

By the way, an independent study recently confirmed United is the worst in customer service among major carriers.

Do you have “lessons learned” from your own travel nightmares? Please post your tips to help others avoid the same headaches.

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Filed under Customer service, Travel tips

An affordable alternative to Keurig coffee makers

I am not a “morning person,” so coffee plays a key role in perking me up and getting my day started on the right foot. When the java coming out of our old coffee maker started to get lukewarm, my husband and I decided it was time for a new model. I liked the idea of Keurig machines, but the price tag was quite steep, and I read a number of online reviews from various websites citing problems that occur with them after about a year of use. For these reasons, I researched other brands that might meet our needs.

I settled on the KitchenAid Personal Coffee Maker. After two months of use, I highly recommend this model. I bought mine from Target, where the price was $20 lower than that of the KitchenAid website and about half the cost of comparable Keurig models.

This machine makes hot coffee–we didn’t realize how poorly our other coffee maker was performing until we tasted the coffee coming out of the KitchenAid. I brew my coffee into the stainless-steel mug that came with the coffeemaker to keep it as warm as possible when brewing, then pour it into my personal mug when I’m ready to drink it. You can also drink directly from the mug that came with the machine or brew directly into a personal mug (I’d recommend a tall one to prevent splashing). A downside of the mug included with the machine is that it is not dishwasher safe.

The KitchenAid Personal Coffee Maker comes with a dishwasher-safe gold-tone filter, so you don’t have to use any paper filter unless you choose to. One reviewer on the Target website complains that this machine leaves “sludge” in the bottom of your cup. This is true, but it is a pretty small amount, so we just leave the last sip in our cup, and we never taste the sludge.

One complaint I have about the machine is the water reservoir. Instead of being totally see-through, it has a “smoky” finish that makes it difficult to monitor the amount of water you are putting in. We’ve found better visibility by positioning the coffee maker directly under an overhead kitchen light. I am sure KitchenAid used the colored finish to make the machine more attractive, but I would prefer a clear finish.

One of the great features of this machine is that it will make an 18-ounce cup of coffee. Many of the other machines we considered had a much smaller capacity.

The KitchenAid Personal Coffee Maker comes in silver, black and red and has a one-year, total replacement warranty. It is almost 15 inches tall, but is only 7 inches wide, so it has a relatively small footprint on our counter.

Because it uses a miniature, standard filter basket, it won’t take K cups, but I see no reason you couldn’t use miniature coffee filter packs or bags like these.

If you use a personal coffee maker, please share your experience (good or bad) to guide others when selecting a new model.

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Filed under Product recommendations, Shopping tips