How to Test Your Dream Job (Case Study: Me as Monkey Trainer)

Ever had the desire to run off and join the circus? I have.

Two weeks ago, I finally decided: enough is enough. I need some monkeys. Who hasn’t? I’d dreamed of having a monkey on my shoulder ever since I first watched Indiana Jones. So, I called the San Francisco Zoo and asked if I could drop by and play with their monkeys — did they have capuchins? No and no, respectively; however, there was a famous trainer in Napa with baboons. They’d get back to me with his number.

And they did.

Last Saturday, I spent the afternoon with the Jedi master of baboon trainers, Kevin Keith of Napa. He gets called when Hollywood needs monkeys to interact with Sandra Bullock without biting her face off. It was AWESOME. And, God save the queen, he had capuchins. AND spider monkeys, New Guinea singing dogs (the rarest breed in the world, by some accounts), Mandrille baboons, and much more.

For me, this was just the latest experiment in a long string of testing dream jobs — shark diver, tango dancer, MMA competitor, truffle maker, author, etc. — albeit a long-overdue one. Is it possible to just run off and test dreams jobs like this? Sure it is. Is it common? No, but it is very, very possible.

Ever thought of being a chef, chocolatier, dog sledder, astronaut, fashion designer, or sports team manager? There are companies that will pair you with mentors to give you just this experience. Continue reading “How to Test Your Dream Job (Case Study: Me as Monkey Trainer)”

How to Lose 20 lbs. of Fat in 30 Days… Without Doing Any Exercise

Fat Loss via Better Science and Simplicity

It is possible to lose 20 lbs. of bodyfat in 30 days by optimizing any of three factors: exercise, diet, or drug/supplement regimen. I’ve seen the elite implementation of all three in working with professional athletes. In this post, we’ll explore what I refer to as the “slow-carb diet”.

In the last six weeks, I have cut from about 180 lbs. to 165 lbs., while adding about 10 lbs. of muscle, which means I’ve lost about 25 lbs. of fat. This is the only diet besides the rather extreme Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD) that has produced veins across my abdomen, which is the last place I lose fat (damn you, Scandinavian genetics). Here are the four simple rules I followed… Continue reading “How to Lose 20 lbs. of Fat in 30 Days… Without Doing Any Exercise”

Enjoy the Perfect Shower Anywhere in the World… for $2.96

It never fails. After a day of hiking in the mountains, or sightseeing in a new city, you return to your hotel to clean off the smog and assorted grime and… drip, drip, drip. I’ve had crappy, low-pressure showers in every country I’ve visited, except Japan.

What’s so special about Japan? Their design is, above all else, simple. Simple = few things can go wrong. In most other countries, especially the US, shower heads have followed the Gillette approach to product innovation: complexity. “Now you can experience the ultimate in shaving technology: the Ultra-XL5000 with 15 razors!” Shower heads now have dozens of tiny holes that get clogged with minerals and decorative hoses that get kinked and knotted.

About one month ago, I had what would be the last frustrating shower in my new house. I have just come home from jiu-jitsu training and had to scrub myself for about 30 minutes under a drizzle of water to get soap off of my mat-burned body. No fun. I headed straight to Home Depot the next morning and bought three shower heads to test. All of them took up to 45 minutes to install, with assembly and hardware; two of them were too cumbersome and long to be practical (the pipe for my shower is at near-Hobbit height for some reason); and the last barely increased water pressure, despite having “increase water pressure up to 10x!!!” on the package.

I returned to Home Depot and asked for the smallest showerhead they sold, which brought me to an odd little gadget the size of a wine cork.

“Oh, you don’t want that one,” said the employee.

“Why not?”

“I’ve never seen anyone buy it. Too simple and ugly.” I was sold.

The Alson’s Incredible Head (TM) Power Shower showerhead [Ed. note: this is now known as the Delta Faucet Single-Spray Shower Head, Chrome 52654-PK, which you can go to directly by clicking here.] has been one of the best investments in my home and travel life. I installed it in 10 seconds with no more than hand tightening, and my first shower was like going from Chinese water torture to a fire hydrant. Those of you who played sports in high school will find it pleasantly reminiscent of high school power showers. There is a small ball-bearing that increases pressure, much like when you put your thumb over a hose to increase spraying distance. This design also cuts down on water use 30-40%! The Japanese would be proud.


I have since bought another Incredible Head (TM) (I’m not kidding) showerhead for traveling, and it has fit almost every shower I’ve encountered abroad.

Go simple and be clean. Two rules to live by.

How to Live Like a Rock Star (or Tango Star) in Buenos Aires…

[Editor’s note: This was written in 2007 but much still applies]

One of the most common questions I’m asked is: what is your favorite place you’ve visited? While I love dozens of cities and just as many countries, I have four that immediately jump to mind: San Francisco, Tokyo, Berlin, and Buenos Aires. I’ve listed them in descending order of expense, and this is where I’ll tie it back to an oddly common question I get:

How do I become a tango expert?

I’m the first American to hold a Guinness World Record in tango, which was done on a lark while I was living in BsAs (that’s Buenos Aires) in 2005 and competed in the world championships. Fortunately for you, dear reader, becoming a tango expert and living like a rock star can go hand-in-hand if you hack BsAs properly.

First, why BsAs? Four reasons off the top of my head:

  1. Created by immigrants from Spain, Italy, and Germany, you get the best food, architecture, and culture from all three. This mix of genetics also produces some incredible physical specimens. In fact, I rank Argentines right up there with Norwegians as the most beautiful people in the world.

  2. In my experience, it’s one of the safest cities in South America. It looks like Paris in many places, and I have never felt threatened on the street, even after 2am. Try that in SF or NYC.

  3. Argentina is the New Zealand of the western hemisphere. From tropical rain forests in the north to world-class skiing in Patagonia, it has it all. Check out rare tropical birds or watch penguins get eaten by killer whales — it’s your choice. Argentina is the most beautifully diverse country I have ever visited.

  4. It is possible to live like a millionaire on $30,000 a year. I’ve been there four times and can tell you this: dollars get you a quality of life that is all but impossible in the US. Even with the getting-there costs, I saved more than $10,000 on my last trip when compared to just sitting on my ass in Silicon Valley, and I was living like a rock star the whole time in BsAs: 5-star meals, VIP tables, you name it.

So, should you take the jump and move to Argentina? I have friends who have done it, but I recommend you take a 1-3-month “mini-retirement” first to take it for a test drive. Here are a few recommendations to get you started:

1. Timing:

Airfare will run between $500-850 roundtrip, so ensure that you’re staying for a while. Remember that it’s summer and hot as hell in BsAs in December-January. November or March-April are gorgeous, and summer time in the US is perfect for skiing in Bariloche or Las Lenas.

2. Flights:

I generally fly Continental/Copa through Panama, as I like to spend 1-4 weeks snorkeling in Coiba in Panama (why not get two trips for the price of one?). If not, Aerolineas Argentina often offers good prices, and you can sometimes get deals by flying into Rio or Sao Paulo, Brazil and then to BsAs on Gol or TAM. Check airfares immediately after 1am on Saturday nights (Sunday mornings), when many airlines lower prices based on “flight load” (ratio of sold-to-empty seats).

3. Housing:

One negative to Argentina, especially BsAs — people will attempt to overcharge you. This will happen in any country with weak currency. I’ve rented rooms with families, used Argentine brokers to get shared apartments, rented posh penthouses from expats, and found hidden gems through Germans. My conclusion? It’s not worth the headache to deal with most Argentines and attempt to save a few hundred dollars. I had a huge pain in the ass with a dishonest Argentine landlord who refused to return my deposit — and I speak fluent Argentine Spanish — so now I deal exclusively with non-Argentines. There are some great Argies, to be sure, but they have the reputation among South Americans for being unreliable (!). Use or my favorite outfit: I’m not gay, but I do like how gay-friendly agencies keep their apartments: impeccably clean. [Update: Airbnb is a great option, as the platform mitigates a lot of the issues.]

No matter what, you’ll likely end up paying 3x more than an Argentine. A decent room in a good location can be found for $300 USD, a great single bedroom apartment can be found for $700-800 USD, but here’s one tip: if you can get a friend to come with you (or if you have a family), a two-bedroom or three-bedroom can be had for $1,200-1,300, and it will be 10x more luxurious than the one-bedroom. My favorite areas to live are, in descending order of preference: Recoleta (I like near Plaza Francia), Palermo, Barrio Norte, and San Telmo. Puerto Madero is the most expensive area and people fight for it, but it’s quite boring unless it’s a weekend evening.

4. Clubs, VIP treatment, and Food:

Spend an evening walking around one of the best hotels in BsAs, such as The Four Seasons, Sheraton, or Hotel Alvear, and make friends with one of the managers on call. They get VIP tables at all of the top clubs — Asia de Cuba, Opera Bay, Mint, Amerika, etc. — and can get you on the lists, so invite them for drinks and ask them for suggestions of where to meet. If not, just visit the clubs around 10pm on a Thursday or Friday and ask to meet the director of special events, or the manager (“gerente”). Tell him you’d like to bring some friends to the club and ask how to get on the list. Keep his card in your wallet to flash at bouncers. Worst case scenario, just spend $50 USD with a few friends and you can get a 6-person VIP table with unlimited champagne for the night 😉

For wining and dining, my faves are Gran Bar Danzon and La Bistecca, but more than both combined, I love all of the hole-in-the-wall parrillada (Argentine BBQ) restaurants. Just wander down Lavalle off of Avenida Florida and take your pick: the beef sandwiches for $3 USD (use plenty of chimichurri) will blow your mind.

5. Tango:

I had no interest in tango before visiting Argentina. I thought it was effeminate and ridiculous, something out of Shall We Dance? (the Japanese original is not to be missed) The truth is that social tango is completely improvised (much like my first love, breakdancing). Chest to chest, strangers will embrace and get to know each other more in three minutes than 10 dates would otherwise accomplish. Every night of the week, tango rules the night, only really getting started around 1am. Here are some of my favorite milongas (tango dance halls):

“New wave” (nueva onda) tango and 20-30-something crowd:

“La Viruta” at Armenia and Cordoba, inside the Armenian Cultural Center (odd, I know). 1am+ on Wed, Sat, and Sunday are awesome. I took a kiwi friend of mine there the day before he flew back to NZ, and he said to me: “Thanks for ruining my life.” He had been in BsAs for three months and had never seen such wildlife.

Traditional and older crowd: “Sunderland” or “La Baldosa” — find “El Tangauta” magazine in any tango shop, or at La Viruta, for addresses and all the tango info you can handle. Also use Ctrl-F to find any of the milongas I mention here.

If it is your first time in BsAs, I would recommend having an Argentine friend call the teachers and ask for pricing for an unnamed “friend,” not mentioning that you’re a foreigner. Otherwise, I promise that you will be overcharged. Smelling dollars, someone who should cost 50 pesos/hour will ask for 80 dollars. You should be able to get excellent private lessons for 50 pesos/hour. Good group lessons can be found at the Carlos Coppelo school in front of Shopping Abasto. My favorite private teacher is the young prodigy Gabriel Misse, but he’s going to be more expensive than most. He trained me for the world championships and is amazing. Here is a clip of Gabriel and his partner Alejandra Martinan. It starts off slow, but watch the amazing footwork as they progress. Most amazing? It is ALL improvised on the spot.

If you want to live like a king, it’s just a few thousand miles south. Viva la Argentina!

Related and Suggested:

Tim Ferriss – 3 Tips for Would-Be Dancers: From 1st Class to World-Class in 6 Months

Freeing Yourself from the Daily Grind – Tim Interview on Yahoo Travel

Rolf Potts, author of one of my favorite books of all time, Vagabonding, recently interviewed me on Yahoo! Travel for his column Traveling Light: The Art of Independent Travel. I forgot to post it here, as I was, well… traveling overseas!

It answers some of the most important questions that keep us from escaping or enjoying life once we do:

*What are the biggest misconceptions people have about work, and making time for travel?

*So what is the best way to negotiate your way into a mobile work lifestyle?

*Many people often can’t stop thinking about work minutiae, even when they’re far away from the traditional office setting. How do you get your mind, and not just your body, out of the office?

Here’s part of the introduction:

With the advent of new communication technologies it has also become possible to adopt what has been called a “global mobility lifestyle,” which allows you to redesign your work life in such a way that it can mix in with extended travel. Entrepreneur and Princeton University guest lecturer Tim Ferriss has written a book about this, The 4-Hour Workweek, that will hit bookstores in April. I contacted him by e-mail to get some perspective on making your work work for you (instead of the other way around)… (Read the interview)

How to Check E-mail Twice a Day… And Have Your Boss Accept It

Think your boss won’t go for an email autoresponder?

You’d be surprised. Here is one example from a SXSW attendee. His two e-mail to me have been combined with a bit of editing for length.

Hey Tim,

Here’s what i took away from your presentation (and put into action!):

I sent out an email to everyone in my division letting them know i’ll only be checking email at 11a & 4p. I’ve included my email down below:

“Hi all…

In an effort to increase productivity and efficiency I am beginning a new personal email policy. I’ve recently realized I spend more time shuffling through my inbox and less time focused on the task at hand. It has become an unnecessary distraction that ultimately creates longer lead times on my ever-growing ‘to do’ list.

Going forward I will only be checking/responding to email at 11a and 4p on weekdays. I will try and respond to email in a timely manner without neglecting the needs of our clients and brand identity.

If you need an immediate time-sensitive response… please don’t hesitate to call me. Phones are more fun anyways.

Hopefully this new approach to email management will result in shorter lead times with more focused & creative work on my part. Cheers & here’s to life outside of my inbox! “

So far the response has been very receptive and supportive. Here’s the quick “reply to all” email response i got from our senior operations manager (he oversees 5 radio stations. and most of the people in the building):


AWESOME time management approach!!! I would love to see more people adopt that policy.


I’m sticking to it and it’s making my days more productive already. As the days are progressing, more people are “on the bus” with respecting my new email policy and i havent had any snags (even with SXSW going on – and i work in Austin radio, so we’re all swamped this week). However, every single person feels like it just wouldn’t work for them if they did it. (“oh, but i’m on too many mailing lists” or “All i do is work in my email box, i have to.” i’m sure you’ve heard it all before).

As far as your presentation… A major thing i took away is applying the concept of 80/20 to my workflow. I’ve always known i waste a great deal of time on things that ultimately aren’t showing the bulk of my ROI. Hearing you present it in a new light enabled me to start actively weeding out the time wasting clients & processes. I do a lot of work that our interns should be doing. So i’ve begun designating responsibility appropriately, thus freeing up my plate for the more relevant tasks. It will be a slow process, but senior management is on the same page with me.


Tim Duke

KROX & KBPA – Interactive Brand Manager

Here is a shorter autoresponder another attendee successfully implemented:

Thank you for your email! Due to my current workload I am only checking email at 11am and 4pm. If you need anything immediately please call me on my cell so that I can address this important matter with you. Thank you and have a great day!


My personal e-mail autoresponder limits me to once per day and indicates “I check e-mail once per day, often in the evening. If you need a response before tomorrow, please call me on my cell.” My business e-mail autoresponder, on the other hand, gives me the option to check email once every 7-10 days.

The real hard part, of course, is keeping yourself away from that damn inbox. Get on a strict low-information diet and focus on output instead of input; your wallet and weekends will thank you for it.

Can You Redesign a Life in 48 Hours? Part II

This is Part II of a series of posts following SXSW in Austin, where I issued a challenge to attendees: implement at least one principle from my presentation (“The 4-Hour Workweek: Secrets of Doing More with Less in a Digital World”) and report back on results in 48 hours.

Here are two e-mail of close to 100, edited for length, that show how life can be redesigned if you ask a few uncommon questions. The first highlights the importance of defining a target monthly income (TMI) for your ideal lifestyle to avoid excess hours, and the second highlights the importance of avoiding “crutch activities” and following a low-information diet.

Subject: You changed my life… my response to your challenge

Hi Tim,

Thank you profoundly for your presentation (which I immediately felt the need to share with everyone). I am insanely exhausted and jetlagged: flight got postponed overnight, just got in today, picked up my son, hung out with him, then off to a theater rehearsal. So I have neither time nor energy to fully explain the radical ways I am implementing many of your suggestions. However, I did want to respond before the midnight deadline! So, here’s the brief outline:

* My business partner and I are going to quit our jobs in the immediate future

* We’re starting a new company (the one we were about to start before we got sweet-talked into being employees)

* We have defined the lifestyles we want to live

* We have figured out how much those lifestyles will cost us

* We have determined how many hours we need to bill per week to get there (currently it is only 16 each)

* We are figuring out how to decrease those hours and increase our profits by outsourcing some of that work

* We have already lined up a freelancer to outsource to

* We have identified our goals for our company

* We have set up a time to meet together with both of our spouses to discuss our exit strategy from our jobs and to get their buy in

* And we are insanely excited and can’t wait to free ourselves!

Of course, we have not had time in the last two days to implement all these decisions, but we absolutely will. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!



First, thanks for a great presentation at SXSW! I took your message to heart and put it in action immediately… below is a brief description of what I did as a result of your presentation and the results I enjoyed.

During your presentation I had my laptop on and Outlook active. I had several other windows open too. Not long into the presentation I realized what I was doing and put it away to focus on your presentation. As soon as the presentation was over, I started putting what I learned into action by first analyzing what I had the rest of the day on my schedule.

But before I left, I created an autoresponder for my email account to let everyone else know that I was getting serious about my time too. I went to my next presentation and quickly realized that I wasn’t getting what I expected and rather than toiling on my computer or suffering through the presentation, I left. This meant I had an extra hour in my schedule which came right before lunch. My first reaction was to go to a bar I know with wi-fi to get lunch and “work.” But of course, “work” was just an excuse to stay “busy.” On the way to the bar I realized where I was headed and what I was doing again.

The problem I had was identifying what I should do if I wasn’t “working.” What could I do with a 3 hour break in the middle of my day? Well, this also happened to be the most beautiful day during SXSW and I realized that what I wanted to do most in Austin at that moment was go for a run on the river trail near my hotel. It was the first time in years that I went for a run because I wanted to enjoy my day and not because I had to do it as a task on my schedule. It was then that I realized with a little more effort I could do this every day! How cool would that be?

Today was my first day back to work. It was also the first time I didn’t check my email prior to heading to the office. In fact I set 11am as my first time to check email for the day and I stuck to that. In return for not checking my emails, I completed a long awaiting task that I had been reprioritizing for the past two weeks. I also wrapped up a proposal that I had more than a week to work on and scheduled lunch with one of my employees to discuss his professional growth in the agency and how I wanted to use ideas from SXSW to get him to teach to the rest of the agency. Just before going to the lunch I checked my email, answered the important ones and planned my afternoon. I didn’t answer email again until 4pm which is just before I left – an hour and a half early!

Tonight I went for a jog, unpacked my things and got caught up around the house. I then worked on a pet project for a bit which I haven’t had the time to do in the past.

I’m just getting into this and can’t wait to see how the results pan out over the next several months. Thanks again and I can’t wait to read your book!

Tom H.

Coming next: How do bosses and customers respond to autoresponders? Samples that worked and extreme e-mail detox.

4-Hour Case Studies: Can You Redesign a Life in 48 Hours?

This past Monday, I gave a presentation at SXSW Interactive in Austin, TX titled The 4-Hour Workweek: Secrets of Doing More with Less in a Digital World. It was my first public presentation on the principles in the book. It ended up standing room only and has caused some waves, being mentioned in the SF Chronicle, Wired, and other media since.

Two good attendee summaries of the presentation and its after-effects can be found at My Life May Have Just Been Changed and What would you do if you had 36 extra hours of free time each week?

For the last two years, at the end of each high-tech entrepreneurship lecture I give at Princeton, I have issued a challenge. I did the same in the SXSW presentation, offering a roundtrip ticket anywhere in the world to the person who implemented the principles and told me about it in the most dramatic fashion by 12 midnight Wednesday, approximately 48 hours later.

People need incentives to change behavior until they see that what I claim can be done, can actually be done.

The outcomes and feedback, more than 5 full pages in Gmail, have exceeded all expectations. The next several posts will share a few of incredible 48-hour turnarounds and stories of metamorphosis. Here is just the first, edited for length and with a name change:


My name is John Gatern and I attended your panel at SXSW where you requested stories of people who’ve implemented your tactics for the 4-hour workweek and when I spoke to you after the “Made to Stick” panel, you were excited I’d given up a Treo for a “normal” cell phone. What’s happened since then you ask? So, where do I begin?

Well, I guess I should give you some quick background points. I turn 32 a week from today. I weigh exactly 57 pounds more than I did when I took my first job seven years ago. I’ve gone from corporate suit to serial entrepreneur in that time period and I now own four companies and am launching a new one this spring. I’ve also been dating the same girl for the past seven years (yes, she’s patient). I carry two cell phones (and pay for a 3rd as a backup) and average over 5,000 minutes per month. I have over 14 email accounts I check every ten minutes with my Treo and wireless air card, oh… I also have five computers I use daily (three desktops and two laptops) in three office spaces. To say I work and I’m accessible is causing me to laugh as I type this email.

So, what did I get from your panel? Well, I made the following changes immediately.


– Consolidated cell phones into one normal voice phone (no Treo)

– Asked my right hand man to give up Treo with me

– Set reminders to ask myself at 9:00, 1:00, 5:00 (Am I being productive, busy or doing a crutch activity?)

– Located a negotiation expert/author in my own city who I’m soliciting for instruction (Lacey Smith of

– Sat down today with two business partners to have “the talk” about our goals truly not aligning (I think one will be rectified and one will go separate ways)

– Turned down business from the client I’ve known I don’t need or want (he was bewildered, but I think deep-down he agrees)

– Cleaned out my inboxes and started from scratch (man that felt good).

– Got rid of a warehouse lease I know I don’t need for a business I don’t even enjoy


– Signed a three-month contract with Chris Tedesco, a personal trainer ( for a 1:30 workout appointment four days per week (yes.. in the middle of my work day!)

– Called a contractor to finally come re-do my bathroom (it’s needed it for years, but I’ve put it off)

– Created a food intake log in the past 48 hours and it scared me! (this may be my MOST valuable input)

Finally, I’ve adapted your talk into three baseline tenants for my new outlook (yes, I like lists).

1. Clients pay for and desire my talents over my accessibility

2. While my overall success has been acceptable, my connected lifestyle is hindering its growth

3. More focus on self and less outside influences equal a better quality of life

Tim…. maybe this sounds too unbelievable. I’ve included a few links to people if you so choose to contact them to check up on me. I recognize not all of these steps are taken verbatim from your talk, but sometimes a message gets through the clutter and for me, it was yours. I almost didn’t attend your panel. One of my business partners was at SXSW and said you’d be just another time management pep talk, but I recognized time is my endangered and most valuable resource. I am sad to say… I thought being and even looking busy was what successful people “just did.” I’ve been so focused on working I’ve left out my health and have hindered the growth of my ventures. My greatest asset is my brain and I’ve been so busy acting busy, I haven’t spent enough time using my brain to plan and execute. I’m glad your panel reinforced what I knew somewhere deep down was true.

I may never have a consistent four-hour work week, but a bigger change will happen because of your speech. I’m grateful for your words and your efforts towards the book. You may be too busy to talk or even email back and I understand that fact. If you do want to contact me or are interested, I’d like to keep in touch with updates of my progress. Thanks again.

Your grateful friend,



Lifestyle design doesn’t take much time. It just takes a few uncommon decisions, and even more uncommon actions. More to come next, including sample autoresponders and other simple steps that yield huge results.

New 4-Hour World Record – Joe Ceklovsky

The 4-hour lifestyle is about getting more from less in all areas of life. I just returned last night from South by Southwest (SXSW), where I presented a few fundamentals of The 4-Hour Workweek. Much more to come on the interesting after-effects of that later.

In my inbox this morning was an e-mail from Joe Ceklovsky, one of a dozen or so powerlifters I’ve worked with, primarily as related to neural acceleration. He just set a new World Powerlifting Organization (WPO) world record in the 148-lb. class with a 503-lb. benchpress. To put this in perspective, that is 3.4 times his bodyweight, so if you weigh 180 lbs., you would need to press 612 lbs. to match him, which is more than six 45-lb. plates on either side of the bar. The best part? Joe trains benchpress once per week for less than one hour and has a full-time job outside of this passion.

Remember: more with less. Smarter is better than harder. See his latest record here. His all-time competition record of 525 lbs. is presented below to amaze. If you have trouble viewing it, go here. I formally predict here that he will hit 551 in his next competition. Congratulations, Joe! (Update on Jan. 20, 2008: Joe has now benched 600 lbs. at 148, 4.06x his bodyweight)

Platinum Card Finally Gets Me

Those of you who have followed me for a while know that I don’t spend much time juggling frequent flyer miles. Nor do I squander hours making pennies on the dollar with point schemes or signing up for the latest special-offer credit cards. I have four credit cards (two personal, two business) for separating expenses, and I have used an AMEX gold card since 2003 for most purchases because: 1) Their customer service has handled disputes and fraud within 24 hours with zero paperwork, and 2) I’ve never had issues using it in more than 20 countries.

AMEX has also been outstanding at sending me at least 3 pieces of mail a week since 2003. Most of it has been offers to upgrade to the Platinum Card, which, at around $200 per year at that time, made no sense to me. The benefits included things I would never use, like getting a free companion ticket if I bought a full-fare business/1st-class ticket (about $2,000-4,000 on the tickets I checked). Personally, I’d rather get a $200 roundtrip on Orbitz.

That said, and for all my smack talking, I just signed up for the Platinum. What?!

Unknown to most people, the Platinum card benefits have just been changed for the first time in close to 10 years. Here are the two new features that sealed the deal for me and how I’ll leverage them for more fun and profit:

1. Four free domestic companion flights per year on flights over $299

[UPDATE: This benefit has since been canceled. Why? My guess is that they never planned to continue it past one year or so. It would just be a loss-leading benefit for a brief time to get sign-ups and new members. Just an educated guess.]

Since I live in CA but travel a lot to NYC, I can get four free tickets for friends who want to come with me to NYC on the same itinerary. I can also barter these tickets or trade them on Craigslist, which gives me an automatic ROI of at least $1,200 on the $300 first year annual fee. If I fly to Hawaii from San Francisco, which I plan to do soon to train with BJ Penn, and barter the extra ticket – even at a 30% discount on the “retail prices“- the ROI will cover my expense while there.

2. Free access to over 950 work and meeting spaces around the world

Coffee shops can get old fast. More that once (especially in Buenos Aires and Paris), I’ve wanted to dropkick the smoker who refuses to go outside and DDT the kid with the iPod on 1,000 decibels. If you really want to see me lose it, surround me with a gaggle of gum-chewing girls on their cell phones. The Platinum Card gives me an alternative to going postal — a remote office to use, complete with gourmet coffee, broadband, printing, and conference rooms. The alternative use that interests me — mostly for fun and pranks — is getting a mailing address and receptionist in primo locations and then having the mail and calls forwarded to wherever I actually happen to be. Want an office on Wall Street or Champs-Elysees in Paris? Next time an investment banker rolls their eyes when you say you’re an entrepreneur, you can casually mention at the end: “Nice meeting you. Next time you’re in London or Paris, give me a call. We should do lunch near one of my offices. Gotta run to the theatre/beach/museum [make sure it’s around 2pm in the afternoon], but keep in touch!” Ah, the precious moments 😉

More to come as I figure out even better methods for squeezing the most out of this card, my first new one in 3 years. If you have any good ideas, let me know.