MONEY Tech

How Amazon’s New E-book Subscription Service Stacks Up

Amazon Kindle in front of a bookshelf
JHPhoto—Alamy

The Seattle retailer just announced Kindle Unlimited, which will go head to head with existing reader subscription services Oyster and Scribd.

Updated July 18th

This morning, Amazon announced Kindle Unlimited, a new e-book subscription service. But while Amazon is now the biggest name in the “Netflix for books” business, it’s not the only option. So, how does Kindle Unlimited compare with Oyster and Scribd, it’s best-known competition? Here’s the rundown:

Price

At $9.99 per month, Kindle Unlimited is slightly more expensive than the competition. Scribd is priced at $8.99 a month, and Oyster at $9.95. All three offer a trial month for free.

Selection of books

Not surprisingly, Amazon comes out on top in terms of the sheer number of e-books included. The company says Kindle Unlimited includes more than 600,000 titles, plus “thousands” of audio books. Oyster says it has more than 500,000 titles. Scribd, for it’s part, has more than 400,000.

When it comes to the question of which service offers the “best” books, things get a little muddy. Kindle Unlimited includes popular series like the Harry Potter books and the Hunger Games trilogy, as well as a a number of best-sellers, like Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, and some new titles such as Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis. But, as noted by GigaOm, the service does not include books from the “Big 5″ publishers Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Penguin Random House.

Scibd and Oyster, on the other hand, both offer books from HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster. In additon, each has a few notable deals with smaller publishers: Oyster has books from McSweeney’s and Rodale, while Scribd offers Lonely Planet guides and reference books from Wiley.

Device compatibility

Kindle Unlimited works with all Kindle devices (obviously!), and, via the Kindle app, can be used on most smartphones, tablets and computers. Scribd has apps for the iPad, iPhone, Android, and Kindle Fire. Oyster users can access the service on Apple and Android devices, Kindle Fire and the Nook HD.

The takeaway

Kindle Unlimited isn’t a book lover’s silver bullet. Indeed, as noted by Gizmodo, the books offered by the service aren’t that different from what Amazon Prime subscribers can already access. However, if Amazon is able to get the Big 5 onboard, that could change. At this point, the decision about which service is best for you depends largely on which provider’s library you prefer. So, since all three offer a free month trial, why not give each a spin?

A previous version of this story stated that Oyster is available only on Apple and Android devices. It has been updated to reflect the fact that Oyster may also be used on Kindle Fire and Nook HD.

 

 

 

MONEY Tech

Should You Snap Up a (Cheap) Plasma TV Before They’re All Gone?

A visitor looks at a Samsung ultraslim plasma flatscreen television.
Jochen Eckel—Bloomberg

First Panasonic. Now Samsung. With the big makers dropping plasma, now could be a smart time to buy a TV.

Plasma TVs are going the way of the floppy disk, Walkman, and VCR. This month, Samsung announced that it would stop making plasmas by the end of November. Panasonic got out of the game last year. That leaves just LG to carry the plasma torch—and that probably won’t last. Indeed, by 2016, research firm IHS says plasma TVs will be completely vanish from the U.S. market.

So, with plasma on the way out, should you expect to start seeing killer discounts on TVs that use the technology? And, if you do spot a plasma bargain, should you buy it, or will you just end up with a 60-inch doorstop?

Plasma Prices

Let’s start with prices. No need to hotfoot it to Best Buy right now, according to industry watchers. Panasonic’s exit from the market didn’t have a significant effect on prices, says Ty Pendlebury of CNET.com, and Samsung’s move is expected to be similarly uneventful, at least in the short term. However, that may change “at the very end,” Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis for the NPD Group. Eventually, retailers will be looking to move those last few plasmas to make room for newer stock and the markdowns will shift into high gear.

The average selling price for a plasma is currently $878, expected to drop 14% to $752 in 2015, according to IHS. On paper, plasmas seem more expensive than LCDs, which have an average price of $735. (A note: Some types of LCD TVs are often referred to LEDs. In this story, “LCD” refers to both types.) That’s misleading, though, because LCDs come in a range of sizes, while plasmas are only made in large (and thus expensive) sizes. When comparing TVs of similar size and quality, says Will Greenwald, who covers consumer tech for PCMag.com, plasma is cheaper.

The takeaway: If you’re in the market for a big TV, plasmas are a good deal and will likely get even cheaper. Just don’t expect to see fire-sale prices.

Is Obsolescence Really So Bad?

People who love plasmas–and they definitely exist–love them because they have great color contrast, a clear, sharp picture, and a wider “viewing angle” than LCD models, meaning you can sit further to the side of the screen without seeing a distorted image. However, they’re also massive energy hogs, and aren’t as thin or bright as other technologies.

The reason so many companies are dropping plasma has little to do with the technology itself. Rather, as LCD models have gotten better and cheaper to produce, it’s become less logical for manufactures to build and maintain factories capable of building only large, pricey plasmas.

Still, if you’re buying a technology that you know is headed for extinction, it’s worth considering what will happen if you need to get a new part for your plasma or have it repaired. Consumer Reports argues that TVs from the top brands are reliable and will continue to support their products. A Samsung rep echoed this, saying the company “will continue to provide support for our plasma TVs and our customer service policy will remain the same as before.” That said, it’s difficult to predict what repair options you’ll actually have.

So You Want to Buy

If you think a plasma could be the right buy for you, check out the Samsung F8500, which CNET dubs “the last great plasma TV.” Starting at $1,800 for the smallest 51-inch model, down from $2,700, “this TV is a very good value and will easily beat any LCD under $3,000 for picture quality,” says Pendlebury.

 

MONEY online shopping

Should You Ditch Amazon and eBay for Alibaba’s 11 Main?

Abandoned shopping cart
Michael Wriston—Getty Images/Flickr

The June 11 launch of 11 Main, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba’s first foray into the U.S. retail market, set off plenty of speculation about the company’s plans to take on Amazon and eBay. But for online bargain hunters, the real question posed by 11 Main isn’t which corporation will come out on top. It’s, “Should I shop there?”

To find out, I requested an invite (the site is currently invite-only) and pulled out my credit card.

Visually, 11 Main has more in common with crafty marketplace Etsy and flash sale sites like Gilt than the no-nonsense, utilitarian look of Amazon. Rather than sell its own items, the site is a platform for smaller sellers to hawk their wares. 11 Main currently hosts over 1,000 of these sellers, and divvies up their products into categories like fashion, home, tech, toys and jewelry. You can also browse each provider’s shop, and “favorite” items, saving them to a separate page.

Since much as been made of the 11 Main vs. Amazon and eBay showdown, I decided to compare the three by shopping for identical product on each site. I selected five different items: a jump rope, iPhone cover, bottle of pet shampoo, set of children’s socks, and pair of sunglasses (eclectic enough for you?). In each case, the item is sold not by the big site itself, but by a small seller using 11 Main, Amazon, or eBay as a storefront.

Here’s what happened:

On the pure price of the item, Amazon and eBay tied with two winners apiece, leaving 11 Main to bring up the rear.

What really matters to shoppers, though, is the total cost required to get the object of your desire to your doorstep. Now, if you’re Joe Shopper, who just wants to log on and pick up one item, you should go directly to eBay, which won (or tied) on price plus shipping, four times out of five.

But who actually pays shipping on Amazon? If you shell out the $99 a year to be a Prime member, or are willing to stock your cart with $35-worth of must-haves, you can drop those nasty shipping charges on many items. Of our five buys, four qualified for Amazon’s free shipping (the fifth was mailed directly by the seller, and was therefore ineligible). Once free shipping was factored in, the power dynamic flip-flopped, and Amazon came out on top.

Now for returns. When it comes to shipping back a product from 11 Main, you and the seller are on your own: you communicate via email to hash out the details. You also deal with the seller on eBay, though you message back and forth using the site, rather than directly. Amazon provides the most mediation; the site even sent me a printable mailing label, despite the fact that I was shipping the item directly back to the seller. (The actual return policies for each item vary by seller, no matter which site you use.)

The takeaway:

At least in its current form, 11 Main is no match for America’s current online retail kingpins. Can you take advantage of Amazon’s free shipping options? If so, make the Seattle-based retailer your first click.

Stray notes on 11 Main

  • When I logged into 11 Main after making my first purchase, the site had no record of my order.
  • If the items you put in your cart are from different sellers, they are treated as entirely separate purchases, and must be bought individually. Never have I been so happy that Autofill exists.
  • 11 Main has no product reviews or seller ratings. It’s often possible to find them elsewhere online, but adds to your shopping time.

 

 

 

 

MONEY Travel

7 Great American Vacation Spots (That Won’t Bust Your Budget)

Our mission: to find a geographically diverse group of top U.S. destinations where your summer travel dollars can — with a little bit of planning — go a very long way. Then: recommend particular attractions, eateries, and places to stay that will make the most of your visit without breaking the budget.

Nashville, TN

If Bristol, Tennessee, is the birthplace of American county music, Nashville is where it moved after growing some sideburns (or curves). Soak up live performances any night of the week and spend your days investigating Nashville’s many other artistic, gustatory, and historical delights.

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Johnny Cash Museum

Do: During the daytime, get heady on harmonies at the Johnny Cash Museum — where you can see the singer’s handwritten lyrics and Martin guitar ($15 entry) — and the Country Music Hall of Fame, which just underwent a $100 million expansion ($25; $2 off with a visitmusiccity.com coupon). Then hit a Grand Ole Opry live radio show (from $29.50, three days a week) for big names like Blake Shelton, as well as old-school and up-and-coming performers. For a taste of Nashville’s noncountry scene, check out the Stone Fox for the nightly live performances, many with no cover charge, and $1-off happy-hour specials. If visual art is more your speed, you can enjoy works by Goya, Hopper, and Wyeth at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, located in a renovated Art Deco post office ($10), and take tours of 135-year-old letterpress shop Hatch Show Print — during which you make your own print to take home ($15).

Eat: Go for a handmade pasta, like garganelli verdi with heritage pork ragout ($17), at Rolf and Daughters, which opened last year in a 100-year-old factory building in Germantown. Then there’s Pinewood Social, a restaurant/karaoke bar/bowling alley, great for treats like hot sweetbreads ($13) and pork-belly salad ($12). But no matter what else you eat, don’t leave town without trying Prince’s Hot Chicken, which is nothing short of a buttery, crunchy, fiery revelation ($7.65 for a half chicken). It’s a few miles northeast of downtown, on the way back from Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage estate. Newcomer 400 Degrees, near the Hall of Fame, is a close second ($5.86 and up).

Sleep: If your timing is flexible, you can snag discounts at hotels that reward you for longer stays. The Hutton, where rooms typically range from $200 to $300 per night, offers 15% off three-night stays and 20% off four-night stays this summer. Save even more by staying farther from downtown: A new branch of Homewood Suites in the Vanderbilt area, just west of center city, costs 30% less than the downtown Homewood Suites in August — $180 a night compared with $260.

Splurge: Good cowboy boots ain’t cheap, but you can allay the sticker shock by checking out the bargain section of French’s Shoes and Boots. Before bed, grab a nightcap at The Patterson House, a gorgeous speakeasy (and celebrity hangout) serving up class, sass, and incredible cocktails.

 

Portland, OR

Portland has a well-earned hipster rep, but it’s also become a buzzy culinary hotspot. Isn’t it time you went to taste the hype for yourself?

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Danita Delimont—Alamy

Do: Get your bearing with a free walking tour from Secrets of Portlandia, billed as a “stand-up comedy about Portland’s history and culture (twice a day through September 3). You’ll get a rundown of various neighborhoods, see the city’s best known street art, get bar and restaurant recommendations, and more. Still feeling a little of that World Cup fever? Get tickets for the Portland Timbers, the popular local Major League Soccer team. Of, if you’re after a more intellectual pursuit, head to Powell’s City of Books, the flagship of the world’s largest independent chain of bookstores. The store is always hosting interesting readings and book clubs, so check the calendar to see what’s on while you’re in town.

Eat: Portland is a foodie favorite known for two things: creativity and affordability. Start your noshing with the city’s famous food carts. Go to Foodcartsportland.com (or download their 99 cent app) to get the scoop on where to find the most mouthwatering options. One to try: Gastro Mania, home of the $8 foie gras burger. Check Under the Table with Jen, a local food blog run by Jen Stevenson, for sit-down eats. For an evening of wine, cheese, and charcuterie, Stevenson recommends Cyril’s: “It has a ‘secret’ patio, and they just added a bocce court.” Finally, don’t leave town without a stop at the legendary Voodoo Doughnuts, one of the originators of the creative doughnut craze.

Sleep: Portland has some great hotels, but if you’re traveling mid-summer, you’re unlikely to find a well-located place for less than $250 a night. For a more affordable option, try the Everett Street Guesthouse, which is an easy walk to many restaurants and cafes and a six-minute drive from downtown. Rooms start $100, including breakfast.

Splurge: If you’ve ever watched IFC’s Portlandia, the Portland-based comedy starting former SNL cast member Fred Armisen and musician Carrie Brownstein, you remember the “Put a Bird On it” sketch. That scene was filmed at Land, a store/gallery that carries a range of affordable gifts and artworks made by local craftspeople. No matter your taste, you’ll likely find a goodie worthy of a spot in your suitcase.

 

Santa Fe/Albuquerque, NM

New Mexico perfectly captures the spirit of the Southwest — and is full of fun, affordable activities. Start in Albuquerque, then drive an hour northeast to Santa Fe, home to one of the most vibrant art scenes in the country.

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http://www.visitalbuquerque.com

Do: With among the highest concentrations of Native Americans in the country, New Mexico is a great place to learn about Navajo and Zuni Pueblo culture. In Albuquerque, catch a dance performance and read about the history of the state’s 22 tribal communities at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center ($6 admission). If you’re visiting in August, try to catch the Santa Fe Indian market, where more than 170,000 people gather each year to learn about and buy contemporary Native American arts and crafts. For a dose of 20th century Americana, check out Santa Fe’s Georgia O’Keeffe Museum ($12 for adults, free for youth under 18) — and don’t leave the state without catching a dramatic sunset on North America’s longest aerial tram, the Sandia Peak Tramway in Albuquerque ($20).

Eat: Enjoy the kitchy décor and savory diner-food-with-a-twist at Owl Cafe in Albuquerque; try the sumptuous green chili cheeseburger ($5.25) and the onion loaf ($4.95) — a plateful of thin, golden rings piled high. Up in Santa Fe, there’s something for everyone at Harry’s Roadhouse, where the saucy and delicious tacos, burritos, and enchiladas can all be made vegetarian. Generally, top-rated Mexican food abounds, so you just have to remember one rule: Dip those sopapillas in honey.

Sleep: Even nicer hotels in Albuquerque are much less expensive than their counterparts in other cities: The Hotel Parq Central, top-rated on TripAdvisor, charges less than $150 a night for stays in August. Santa Fe is considerably pricier, so go for a bed and breakfast instead, like the whimsically decorated El Paradero Inn, where rooms are available from $155.

Splurge: Take advantage of the hot-but-dry desert weather at the outdoor Santa Fe Opera, which shows original works alongside classics like Carmen. Ticket prices range based on dates and seats from $30 to $300.

 

Long Beach Island, NJ

Don’t be misled by the Jersey Shore GTL stereotype. While there is certainly plenty of fist pumping in some New Jersey beach towns, Long Beach Island is more of an old-school family getaway, complete with salt water taffy, mini-golf, and 18 miles of beach.

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Do: Climb the 217 steps of the Barnegat Lighthouse for panoramic views of the island and Barnegat Bay ($3 entry fee). You may even be lucky enough to be in town when the lighthouse is open for a “night climb,” which happens just a few times per summer (check the schedule). When you’re ready to hit the water, try a lesson at LBI Surfing. Non-surfers may want to try an SUP—stand-up paddling—class instead. Group lessons are $55 per person. Finally, don’t forget to grab a beach pass; they start at $5 a day.

Eat: You’re on vacation, so eat some fried food. Locals like The Clam Bar in Beach Haven. Try the fried flounder and fry platter for $12.95 or go old school with Clams Casino ($9.95). The line can get long, but you can always call ahead for take-out (and no matter what you do, mind the no cellphone policy!). For another fun indulgence, head to the infamous Chicken or the Egg, once featured on the Man vs. Food show on the Travel Channel. You’ll have plenty of egg dishes to choose from, of course, but the casual eatery is also known for its chicken wings, which come with a choice of 16 sauces.

Sleep: Rather than overpay for a funky beach hotel, look into renting your own place. A recent search of AirBnB turned up 1-bedroom condos starting at $160 per night, and a 4-bedroom cottage for a manageable $190 a night. Bonus: Many rentals come with bikes, grills, and beach chairs.

Splurge: Go to the original Ron Jon Surf Shop, opened in 1961. You know you want a new pair of board shorts or sunglasses, so pick them up at this massive, wonderfully cheesy beach emporium.

 

Yellowstone National Park, WY

America’s national parks are a shared treasure — and Yellowstone is the granddaddy of them all. Check an important item on your domestic bucket list and pitch a tent here.

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Neal Herbert—NPS

Do: Swim, hike, and horseback ride through the two-million-plus acres of our country’s first national park, containing the world’s largest collection of geysers and hot springs — which come in every color of the rainbow. Bring binoculars to get the best view of Yellowstone’s wild fauna, including bison, elk, bobcats, coyotes, moose, mountain lions, wolves, and bears. And of course, catch a glimpse of Old Faithful erupting. The park’s $25 entrance fee is good for a week’s stay, and seniors older than 62 (and their families) and military families can get in for free.

Eat: Nothing beats the smell of barbeque mingling with the fresh outdoor air, so cook outside in one of the park’s designated picnic areas for pleasure — and savings. If you need a break, grab a seat in the Old Faithful Inn Dining Room, located right next to the famous geyser, and order the smoked bison and pheasant and chicken sausage ($15.95) or make your way to Roosevelt Lodge for some farm-raised trout ($18.75).

Sleep: Hotels and cabins are available within the park, but you should decrease the hit to your wallet and up the excitement by pitching a tent in one of Yellowstone’s tent and RV campgrounds. Whereas a room at the Old Faithful Lodge can go for $124 a night in August, camping sites are only $21. There are five grounds where you can reserve spots online, and seven that are first-come, first-served.

Splurge: Bring along some high-quality thermal underwear — the park is surprisingly cold at night, with average lows in late August dipping below 40 degrees. And if you make any gift shop purchases, avoid this book, unless you want to spend your evenings dreaming about bear attacks.

 

New Orleans, LA

Despite its reputation as a party city, New Orleans is much more than beads and bachelor bacchanals. The city is rich with culture, food, lore, and one of the most American of musical genres — jazz.

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Viewminder—Flickr

Do: Get to know New Orleans and its history intimately with one of Free Tours By Foot’s two-hour walking tours, after which you tip the guide whatever you’d like. Start with the French Quarter tour, where you’ll learn about the city’s founding (details are delightfully macabre and salacious) and see historic spots like the Tennessee Williams house. Then branch out with the cemetery or Garden District tours, where you might glimpse a celebrity pet. In the evening, unless you are a dead serious jazz enthusiast, forgo the long line and $30 ticket prices at Preservation Hall and enjoy a live performance at effervescent (and free-of-cover) Fritzel’s.

Eat: Trying the sweet, fluffy beignets at Cafe du Monde ($2.65 for three) is a crucial rite of passage for NOLA visitors, as is ordering a po’boy from one of the city’s many worthy shops. Wash down the grease with the quintessential New Orleans cocktail, the Sazerac, at the quintessential New Orleans bar: the Napolean House ($7).

Sleep: Skip chain hotels like the Marriott or Hyatt, where prices typically top $200 a night, and soak up local charm by staying at a family-owned bed and breakfast. At the 1830s Creole-style Bourgoyne Guest House on Bourbon Street (just north of the hubbub) you’ll pay only $95 a night for studios overlooking a quiet inner courtyard. The plates in the attached kitchenette come in handy to collect crumbs from a late-night muffaletta.

Splurge: Reward yourself for hours of walking — or dancing at The Spotted Cat — with dinner at romantic, atmospheric SoBou. An appetizer of sweet potato beignets is fancied up with foie gras fondue, duck debris, and chicory coffee ganache ($12).

 

Chicago, IL

Always one of America’s most exciting cities, Chicago really comes alive in summer, when residents can finally shed all those layers and get out and enjoy their town.

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Stephanie Lamphere—Flickr

Do: No matter what part of the city you’re itching to explore, you’ll find an intriguing itinerary at ChooseChicago.com. The site runs down a weekly calendar of what’s going on, and suggests routes through 51 different areas. You’ll also find a bevy of free activities throughout the city this summer, including 30 concerts at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. For more culture, seek out one of the dozens of shows put on by small theater companies every weekend. Tickets usually range from $15 to $35 and Chicagoreader.com offers current listings. Finally, no one with even a passing interest in America’s Game should skip Wrigley Field. Check the schedule and get tickets—some at as little as $20—at the Cubs’ website.

Eat: Start with the classic: a Chicago-style hot dog topped by sport peppers, tomato slices, and bright green relish from Hot Doug’s on the North Side. Or, for the type of neighborhood joint locals love, Stephanie Callahan, of food blog Stephanie Eats Chicago, suggests Home Bistro in Lakeview. “It’s a cozy, BYOB place that always has the best ingredients and freshest flavors,” she says. Want a $20 a person dinner (including tax and tip)? Get away from the downtown Loop for a range of ethnic food, including Mexican, Indian and Vietnamese.

Sleep: Hotels in the city center are pricey in summer, but you can save by choosing a B&B. Check out options in Chicago’s North Side neighborhoods, such as Andersonville, Old Town, or Wicker Park. The Wicker Park Inn, for instance, has rooms in July for $159 a night and occasionally offers special rates as low as $99.

Splurge: Reward yourself for a day of serious sightseeing with an al fresco cocktail at Shanghai Terrace, in the Peninsula Hotel. A Green Tea Mojito or Sour Cherry Old Fashion goes down even easier with a cool breeze and sweeping skyline view.

Need more ideas for summer sojourns? Take our quiz: Which Movie Matches Your Travel Style — and Dream Destination?

 

 

MONEY

See Your Favorite World Cup Players Live, No Trip to Brazil Required

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NATAL, BRAZIL - JUNE 16: John Brooks of the United States (L) scores the team's second goal during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group G match between Ghana and USA at Estadio das Dunas on June 16, 2014 in Natal, Brazil. (Photo by Alex Livesey - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images) Alex Livesey - FIFA—FIFA via Getty Images

Didn’t make it to the Cup? You can still catch Team USA right here at home.

It happens every World Cup like clockwork: After ignoring soccer for the last four years, Americans suddenly become rabid fans of the beautiful game, casually tossing around terms like “stoppage” and “PK.”

U.S. soccer mania usually vanishes as soon as the Cup winner is crowned—this year the final match is July 13—but it doesn’t have to. Nearly half of Team USA’s roster plays for a Major League Soccer team (the rest play internationally, where, believe it or not, people care about soccer all the time). So, if you live near one of the 19 MLS teams’ home cities, it’s easy to see these all-American football gods in the flesh.

Here’s the quick rundown of your Team USA World Cup heroes home clubs:

Seattle Sounders: Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin

Real Salt Lake: Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimano

Sporting Kansas City: Matt Besler and Graham Zusi

LA Galaxy: Omar Gonzalez

Toronto FC: Michael Bradley

Houston Dynamo: Brad Davis

San Jose Earthquakes: Chris Wondolowski

The best way to max out your Team USA sightings is to splurge for a ticket to the MLS All-Star game, which will be played in Portland, Ore. on August 6. The official line-up won’t be announced until mid-July, but if you’ve been watching the Cup, it’s a good bet that you’ll spot some familiar faces. Plus, the All Stars will take on German club Bayern Munich, which is also home to US World Cup team midfielder Julian Green. Tickets to the match are sold out, but are currently reselling on Stubhub starting at $129.

Not up for the trek to Portland? Pick a nearby match where two or more national teammates will go head-to-head. Of course, it’s impossible to say exactly when members of the American team will be knocked out of the World Cup and back on the field for their MLS teams. To be safe, we’ve pulled together a list of the remaining match-ups scheduled to take place after the Cup final.

The home team is listed first for each match.

7/19: Sporting Kansas City vs. LA Galaxy. Tickets start at $45.

7/19: Houston Dynamo vs. Toronto FC. Tickets start at $32.

7/26: Seattle Sounders FC vs. LA Galaxy. Tickets start at $40.

7/26: Toronto FC vs. Sporting Kansas City. Tickets start at $55.

8/2: San Jose Earthquakes vs. Seattle Sounders FC. Tickets start at $53.

8/8: LA Galaxy vs. San Jose Earthquakes. Tickets start at $38.

8/10: Seattle Sounders FC vs. Houston Dynamo. Tickets start at $29.

8/16: Real Salt Lake vs. Seattle Sounders. Tickets start at $29.

8/16: Sporting Kansas City vs. Toronto FC. Tickets start at $42.

8/20: Seattle Sounders vs. San Jose Earthquakes. Tickets start at $26.

8/29: Sporting Kansas City vs. Houston Dynamo. Tickets start at $42.

8/30 San Jose Earthquakes vs. Real Salt Lake. Tickets start at $26.

9/12: Seattle Sounders vs. Real Salt Lake. Tickets start at $28.

9/14: San Jose Earthquakes vs. LA Galaxy. Tickets start at $29.

10/4: LA Galaxy vs. Toronto FC. Tickets start at $38

10/8: Toronto FC vs. Houston Dynamo. Tickets start at $43.

10/11: Real Salt Lake vs. San Jose Earthquakes. Tickets start at $29.

10/19: LA Galaxy vs. Seattle Sounders. Tickets start at $38.

10/25: Seattle Sounders FC vs. LA Galaxy. Tickets start at $39.

Bonus Match: The Houston Dynamo will host British team Aston Villa on July 26. So, if you’re a fan of American goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who plays for Aston Villa, this is your chance to see him play against Team USA teammate Brad Davis. Tickets start at $29.

MONEY Travel

QUIZ: Blockbuster Vacations! Which Movie Matches Your Travel Style — and Dream Destination?

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Sony Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

This quiz tells you which famous film should serve as inspiration for your perfect summer getaway.

...find out if your dream vacation is more Lost in Translation or Wet Hot American Summer!

MONEY Food & Drink

Donut Fails: 7 Flavors You Won’t See On National Donut Day

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People love hot sauce, and they love donuts. That doesn't mean they love hot sauce and donuts together. Sarina Finkelstein

In a world where bacon and Sriracha donuts fly off bakery shelves, what does it take for a flavor to be considered too weird?

Sugar lovers rejoice: Today is National Donut Day, when donut lovers get to partake in the annual tradition of having a donut (or six) for free. In honor of this important holiday, we asked a number of donut makers one of the great existential questions of our time: Is there anything that can’t be made into a delicious chunk of fried cake? Their answers were enlightening–if not exactly appetizing.

Some flops seem obvious. High off the success of a Cheerwine creme-filled number (Cheerwine is cherry-flavored soda that’s big in the South), Krispy Kreme decided to try a collaboration with another regional brand: Texas Pete hot sauce. The resulting hot pepper-and-creme-flavored confection never made it into stores. “The consensus was that it might be a little polarizing,” said a Krispy Kreme representative via email.

Strange Donuts of St. Louis doesn’t typically have a problem with selling bizarre flavors. In fact, one of the store’s recent hits was a meatball donut. Yes, that’s a donut stuffed with meatballs that are made with–obviously!–stale donut crumbs. But there is one flavor that flopped, said co-owner Corey Smale: a Pop Rocks version, intended as a homage to the urban legend about Pop Rocks and soda. “Too weird,” sighed Smale.

Other times a flavor might seem incredibly promising, but something is lost in the donut-ization process. Santiago Campa, owner of Donut Bar in San Diego, was pretty excited about a creating a lavender version. “We even got little lavender buds to put on top,” he said. Despite multiple tries, the pastry just tasted like “shampoo in the mouth,” said Campa. “And not even good shampoo–cheap shampoo!”

Location can also play a role. Mark Israel, owner of Doughnut Plant, said that while his sesame and even tahini doughnuts are always crowd favorites, the black sesame doughnut just won’t work in the New York store. In his Japanese locations, however, it’s a hot seller.

Another donut flavor sin: seeming too healthy. Krispy Kreme tried a whole-wheat version of its famous original glazed, but it was ultimately pulled from shelves due to lack of interest. When Canadian super chain Tim Hortons introduced the “Dutchie,” a raisin-studded yeast donut that’s popular up north, to the U.S. market, the company quickly discovered that Americans “didn’t really get it and I guess really don’t like raisins in their doughnuts!” a company spokesperson explained via email.

Then there’s Portland’s Voodoo Doughnuts, which claims credit (blame?) for launching the bacon dessert craze with its Bacon Maple Bar. A few years back, the store offered an oyster donut. When a customer ordered one, an employee would have to run down the block to a nearby oyster bar to procure the mollusk, throw it on top of the donut and douse it with sauce, recalled co-owner Kenneth Pogson. Sure, it was gross, but that wasn’t what got it yanked from the menu, he said: “Nobody wants to wait.”

MONEY Travel

Yes, You Can Still Go to the World Cup Without Going Broke

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RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JUNE 30: Neymar of Brazil is pursued by Jordi Alba (L), Sergio Ramos and Cesar Azpilicueta (R) of Spain during the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 Final match between Brazil and Spain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Jasper Juinen—Getty Images

It's not too late to plan a trip to the 2014 World Cup, running from June 12 to July 13 in Brazil. Here are some tips for keeping the costs of flights and hotels down.

Let’s be real: World Cup 2014, which kicks off in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on June 12, isn’t exactly a bargain hunter’s paradise. That said, there are ways to attend without emptying your bank account—even this late in the game (err, match).

In fact, FIFA, soccer’s governing body, is releasing nearly 180,000 tickets for sale on Wednesday, June 4, with prices starting at a manageable $90. On the secondary market, Bloomberg is reporting that some tickets are going for as little as $15. While it’s possible to plan a last-minute trip to take in the world’s biggest sporting event in person, it’s wise to stop procrastinating pronto. Hurry up and submit your visa application (it’ll take some time to be processed), check out TIME’s guide to the Cup, and use these tips to keep costs down.

Snagging Tickets

FIFA has been very clear that FIFA.com is the only legit place to buy World Cup tickets, and that seats purchased from a reseller may not be honored. However, if you can’t score the seats you want through official channels, you may opt to take your chances on the secondary market. You’ll find plenty of options on online reseller Viagogo (including that $15 seat to Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Iran). Recently, the site also listed tickets for Team USA vs. Portugal on June 22 starting at $93. Can’t find what you’re after? U.S.-based reseller Stubhub also has a World Cup section, though choices are geared toward later rounds, since the site is only offering tickets to buyers who are still in the United States.

Getting There

Fares to Brazil are definitely up there. In May, travel planning site Hopper found that flights from the U.S. during the World Cup were up an average 38%. To chase down a reasonable ticket, you’ll need to time it just right. Don’t even bother looking at flights on June 12 or 13, says Rick Seaney, CEO of flight-comparison site Farecompare.com, noting that one-stop flights from New York City to Rio de Janeiro on those dates are now starting at about $3,700. Leaving just a day earlier (the 11th), knocks that fare down to $1,800, while waiting until June 15 brings it down to $1,100. The tournaments lasts into July, after all, so it’s not necessary to be there at the kickoff.

Another option: fly into Brasilia or Sao Paulo, both of which are typically cheaper than Rio. Seaney says Sao Paulo is especially affordable, with one-stop fares during the early stages of the Cup hovering around $1,200 from New York. If you’re flying out of a smaller U.S. gateway, check out fares from a major South America-bound hub (Miami in particular), and then book a separate flight from your city to the international departure point. Sometimes by breaking up flights into sections, the total costs are significantly cheaper.

And don’t forget to factor in the cost of any short hops you’ll need to take within the country. (None of Team USA’s group stage matches are in the big cities.) In some cases, it might be a better deal to pay more for an international flight that will require less jetting around once you’re in Brazil.

Where to Sleep

Believe it or not, there are still hotel rooms to be had. But at least in the most popular cities, the pickings are slim and the prices high. According to a TripAdvisor analysis, which looked at data from early May, Brazilian lodging during the World Cup period is up an average 120% over the same time last year. The good news, says TripAdvisor’s Brooke Ferencsik, is that hotel prices have edged down slightly in recent weeks, dropping from an average of $298 across the 12 host cities, to $275.

Not surprisingly, TripAdvisor fingered Rio as the most expensive location, with the average per-night hotel rate now coming in at $464. To go cheaper, head to Sao Paulo, where the average rate is a relatively mild $192. The only problem: Sao Paulo doesn’t host a U.S. group stage match. For that, the best deal is Natal ($281). Still, a recent search of TripAdvisor found plenty of rooms for less than that, including ten options for $116 to $260 per night on June 16, when the Americans take on Ghana.

Prices get even lower when you start looking at apartment rentals on sites like AirBnB. (Unless you happen to be looking at Brazilian soccer god Ronaldinho’s place, which was reportedly listed for $15,000 a night on the site.) Kevin Raub, a Brazil-based writer who’s covering the event for Lonely Planet, recommends checking out Brazilian sites, like Camaecafe.com.br for Rio apartments rented by “artists and cool, creative people.” For small inns called pousadas, hiddenpousadasbrazil.com still lists some affordable options.

Finally, check Roomertravel.com. This site, which allows people and tour operators to resell hotel rooms they can’t use, recently listed the Rio Design Hotel from July 5 to July 11 for $208 a night; the hotel’s own site lists the property as sold out.

Getting Around

Brazil is a massive country, so chances are you’ll be doing at least some flying to get around. Hopper found it would cost a minimum of $557 to fly from Natal to Manaus to Recife to take in all three of Team USA’s group stage matches. To help keep flight costs down, don’t rely on flight aggregators or U.S-based travel sites, which can miss some fares. Instead, check airlines’ sites directly, says Alexandra de Vries, author of Frommer’s Rio de Janeiro Day by Day. The big ones are GOL, TAM, Azul, and Avianca. And as always, the more pain you can endure—layovers, pre-dawn flights—the better the chances you’ll get a deal.

Buses are another good option. Lonely Planet’s Raub recommends Buscaonibus.com for researching bus routes and timetables. A warning: many of the bus company sites won’t allow you to book online using a U.S. credit card, so you may need to wait until you’re in Brazil to actually get tickets. Public transportation is the most affordable (and efficient) way to get around the bigger cities, but for times you do want a taxi, Courtney Scott, Travelocity senior editor, recommends loading up on apps. Uber recently launched in Rio, while Easy Taxi and 99Taxis are well established.

Paying for it All

Keep in mind that Visa is a World Cup sponsor, so the stadiums will accept only Visa cards and cash. ATMs can be “fussy with foreign cards,” warns Raub. Be prepared to visit a few before you find one that works. Card cloning can be a problem in Brazil, says de Vries, who recommends using ATMs located inside bank branches whenever possible. Also, when planning your cash strategy, remember that various banks cap daily withdrawals at different amounts.

Be aware that “chip-and-pin” credit cards are widely used in Brazil. But don’t panic if you don’t have one, says Paul Irvine of Dehouche, a Rio-based travel consultancy, noting that few of his American clients have had a problem with their standard cards: “They’re very usable.”

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