Monthly Archives: August 2013

More Reader Questions

More reader questions answered for you……..

1. Is there a way to link actual miles flown to the ultimate rewards account…or would you have to fly on a star alliance carrier as the way to be able to eventually pool those miles flown with the miles you would get by converting ultimate reward points?   There is no way to link miles flown with your Ultimate Rewards.  UR points can be transferred to the following airlines – British Airways, Korean Air, Southwest, United, Virgin Atlantic.  Of these airlines, only United is a Star Alliance member.  Korean Air is part of the One Sky Alliance.  British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have partners but are not in an alliance.  Southwest has no partners and are not in an alliance.  If you were interested in Star Alliance, you would have to fly United and then you could transfer you UR points to United in order to fly with one of the Star Alliance members.

2. On hotels, what is the best way to begin getting free hotel stays…would you recommend just joining the hotel loyalty programs, signing up for a hotel rewards credit card, or both?  The best way to begin getting free hotel stays is to sign up for their loyalty program.  That way you’ll learn about their promotions which will give you multiple points/free nights if you follow the terms of the promotion.  Hotel credit cards are another way of getting free nights.  Hyatt will give you two free nights, Marriott will give you 50,000 points and you will have to check the other credit cards to see what you will get.

3. Is there a way to combine the Chase ultimate reward points for free hotel stays, or is it a better use of those points to save them for flights?   You can transfer some of your UR points to Hyatt, Marriott, Priority Club, Ritz-Carlton.  Whether you think it is a better use to use your UR for airlines or hotel stays is up to you and what is important to you. Personally I prefer to use my points for long distance business class airline travel.

4. If my spouse also gets a Chase Sapphire Preferred card, will we be able to combine our points?  Yes and no.  You will not have a family account but you can transfer yours into his and vice versa.  When we flew last year, my husband transferred his to my account and we made one booking that way.

5. What specifically do you mean between the difference in free flights versus status? I think I am most interested in being able to book free travel, and if possible in business class.   You get free flights from using your points in your airline account.  For status, you generally get it from flying with your butt in the seat – that’s why people do mileage runs.  You do have the opportunity to get an upgraded seat when you have status.  You could have purchased a coach ticket as a gold member.  If there are business class or premium economy available, you’ll get on the upgrade list.  Whether you get it or not depends on how many seats available, and how many elites are ahead of you.

6. I think I know what you mean by mileage run, but in practical terms, would you just pick a weekend and book a bunch of travel and fly all weekend, or would you do it by strategically picking a far away destination and traveling there over a weekend but making a short vacation out of it…or maybe both depending on circumstances? You could do both.  If you were going on a greater distance, you would have the opportunity to add in a bunch of stops, many times for a nominal amount, for the sole purpose of getting miles.  If you wanted to go from IAD to SFO  you might want to try routing IAD through Boston to Chicago to Houston to SFO.  See how many more miles you would get?  Go to Great Circle Mapper and see the difference.  Now my husband’s cousin picks a destination and makes a short vacation.  She is going to Hong Kong for the miles.  My brother-in-law and his wife went to Aruba to preserve her diamond level.  So, it’s entirely up to you.

7. Question about currency exchange. We will be going to Europe in the fall. Would it be better to get a bunch of Euros before we go or to use a debit card (no ATM charge) at banks in Europe?   I like to have some currency when we go to a new country – in fact, enough to last a few days.  I buy it at my local bank over several different months so hopefully I catch it when the rate is the most favorable.  While I am traveling I use my Charles Schwab bank debit card.  They reimburse you for ALL you ATM fees and it is a favorite of many travelers.  If you are interested, call Chuck and set up your account.

The Canadian Rockies

My brother-in-law and his wife just recently complete a trip to the Canadian Rockies, Lake Louise, Banff and Glacier National Park.  I’ve asked my sister-in-law to be a guest blogger describing their experience this month on their trip.  This is the first post and is about  the Canadian Rockies.  Hope you enjoy this series

First of all we used a couple of tour books to find what might be interesting in any given area as well as checking in with the area’s parks’ information centers.   The two books we used were “Banff, Jasper & Glacier National Parks” by Lonely Planet and “Frommer’s Banff & the Canadian Rockies Day by Day”.  My second piece of advice is be sure you have a good pair of hiking boots and poles are helpful to, even for some of the easier trails.  Most trails have at least some steep areas.  Third,  bring a rain suit.  We had rain off and on almost everyday.  It might start out cloudy and then clear up and then the clouds very often came back in later in the afternoon and we had rain.  The rain clouds could come up pretty quickly so if you are on a trail a rain suit is invaluable.  Also consider bear spray.  Especially if it is during an active bear season — several places sell it and some hotels rent it.  Since bushes all seem to have berries, the bears were quite active as they began gorging for their hibernation.
We flew into Calgery, Alberta, Canada because we were using American miles and they do not fly anywhere into Montana. That was surprising to me.  We rented a car online from National Car Rental and joined their Emerald Club prior to renting.  We got a better rental rate and bypassed the rental counter and went directly to pick up our car and we could choose whatever car in the row we wanted.   By the time we got there and the time of day there was a very limited selection, but at least they did have a car.  I had heard that some Canadian car rental companies will not let you take their cars into the US, so I checked that out first and was told by National that was not a problem.  We  also made sure we had unlimited mileage because we were planning on covering a lot of miles.  We got in the car and immediately left Calgary.
We drove to Waterton Lakes NP.  On the way, on Highway 2, we saw a sign for Head Smashed-in Buffalo Jump, World Heritage Site.   We thought why not stop, we’re not really in a hurry — the day was pretty wasted already.  We were quite surprised at the extensive interpretative center and displays.  We got there at 5:15 PM and it closed at 6 PM, so didn’t have much time to spend there.  We could have spent a lot more time there and it was well worth a side trip.  If you want more info about this area, click here.   They have a very extensive web site with hours and admission charges.  
We then continued on to Waterton Lakes to our hotel, Bayshore Inn.  It was a nice place right in the middle of a cute town, right on the lake.  They were supposed to have wi fi, but it worked only sporadically.  Early the next morning we saw deer in the front yard of the restaurant, right up on the patio, eating the flowers.  Before breakfast we hiked Bear Hump, about 1.5 miles, but at a good incline.  It took a good hour and half to go up and down.  A pretty spectacular view from the top.  After breakfast we did a pretty easy hike to Cameron Falls, which was a very nice walk with nice falls.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA 
In the afternoon we went to Red Rock Canyon and took the shuttle there as they said there was limited parking.  We hiked to Blakiston Falls — easy hike, nice scenery. There were bear warnings everywhere.  The bears were very active because the berries were ripe along the trails.  We were pretty nervous on the Bear Hump hike because it was not frequently traveled, but The Cameron Falls and Red Rock Canyon, Blakiston Falls were busy trails, so we didn’t worry there.  
On the shuttle back to town we did see a momma bear and 2 cubs near the road.  We hiked over to the Prince of Wales Hotel for what we thought would be a late lunch, butprince of wales hotel they were serving tea, which might have been fun, but decided we’d go back to town.  Prince of Wales Hotel is the premiere hotel in Waterton Lakes.  We spent 2 nights at Waterton Lakes, but the first day was spent traveling there, so really only had one full day, which we felt was probably enough.  The restaurants at the hotel were quite good as well as the restaurant across the street.
Coming Next Week:  Glacier
 
 
 

Hotel Promotions for the Fall – Starwood, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott, Hilton and Club Carlson

One of the fastest ways to get hotel points and status is to take advantage of their seasonal promotions.  That’s how we received over 200,000 Club Carlson points last spring.  Here is a rundown of some the active promotions – remember you need to become a loyalty member and you also need to register for them.

Starwood “Take Two” promotion – Starwood (SPG = Starwood Preferred Guest) spgis the  loyalty brand for Sheraton, Westin, Le Meridien, Four Points by Sheraton, Aloft, The St. Regis, Walt Disney World Dolphin and WDW Swan.   This promotion offers double Starpoints on eligible stays and 2,500 bonus Starpoints for every five eligible nights and  up to 10,000 bonus Starpoints for twenty nights.  Award nights are not eligible for this promotion.  You need to register online between September 1st and October 31st.  This is for stays between September 1 and Dec. 15th.  Be warned that some properties are not participating in this promotion – click here for the list for those properties NOT participating.

Hyatt – Beginning September 9, you can earn 5,000 Hyatt Gold Passport bonus hyatt logopoints after your first five nights (remember the difference between a night and a stay – you may have to check in and out again unless your hotel works with you), and thousands more for every additional five nights. After 20 nights, that’s 50,000 bonus points.

Stay
Earn
Total Bonus Points Earned 
5 Nights +  5,000 Bonus Points = 5,000
10 Nights   + 10,000 Bonus Points = 15,000
15 Nights + 15,000 Bonus Points = 30,000
20 Nights + 20,000 Bonus Points = 50,000

Obviously this is geared toward the business traveler but that is not to say that you couldn’t do this mattress run toward elite status.  If I was to do it, I would try to book stays at Hyatt Houses on Friday or Saturday nights when they are the least expensive. I know the one out by IAD is $65 per night.  On September 9th, go to the Hyatt site to register.  The promotion ends on November 30th.

IHG (formerly known as Priority Club) is the hotel loyalty program for Holiday ihgInn, Holiday Inn Express, InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts, Hotel Indigo Hotels, Holiday Inn Resort Hotels, Holiday Inn Club Vacations, Staybridge Suites Hotels and Candlewood Suites Hotels.  The “Big Win” promotion runs from September 1st to December 31st and you will need to become a member.  Sign up, register and see all the offers that you will get.  This is what they wrote me “At IHG Rewards Club, seeing you win means everything. The world’s largest hotel loyalty program is bringing you our biggest promotion this year, creating offers tailored just for you. Each completed offer rewards you with a “win.” Complete them all, and you’ll earn big: 78,300 points. An unparalleled opportunity to earn and win is here. Win big and win often from September 1 to December 31.

The great thing about IHG is that  a few times a year have what they call Pointbreaks, where you can book certain rooms for only 5,000 points each night.  For the list of participating hotels, go to this site and look at the second message that lists them all through the world.  Pointbreak rooms must be booked by October 31st.  These are great deals.

Hilton HHonors – Triple Your Trip Promotion.  Sign up and stay Friday, Saturday hilton family or Sunday nights to earn Triple HHonors Points from July 9 through September 30, 2013. And earn Double HHonors Points on Monday through Thursday at participating hotels and resorts. If you’re not a member, join today. Because whether you’re earning Double Points on business or Triple Points on a weekend away, you can always count on HHonors to get you to your next getaway faster.  Register here for the promotion

Marriott – this promotion with United Airlines was previously discussed in this post

Club Carlson – loyalty brand for Radisson,Radisson Bleu, Park Inn and Country Inn and Suites.  If you rent a car from AVIS you can earn up to 9,000 Club Carlson points.  Reserve your rental with Code MUHA021.  This promotion is eligible for those who are renting 3 or more days, for advance rentals only and you must give them your Club Carlson number when you make your reservation.  Go here for more details.

National Park Service Entrance Passes

Yesterday was  Free Entrance Day at over 100 National Parks.  How many of you were able to go to your favorite national park to take advantage of this special day?

If you are not able to go yesterday, here is information on the various passes that are available through the park service:

The Senior Pass (formerly called Golden Eagle, Golden Age, Golden Access) is available for $10 for those who are 62 and older and are US citizens or permanent residents.  You can obtain it for $10 at a federal recreation site or by mail using this application form.   If you choose to get this pass through the mail, then the fee is $20.    When I went with a friend recently to get one, we asked “when does it expire?”  We were told that it expires when you do (a little national park humor).

nps senior

For those in the U.S. Military and their dependents,  you are eligible for a free Annual Pass that must be obtained at a Federal recreation site by showing your military ID or a Common Access Card.

nps military

Annual Pass is $80 and is available to everyone.  They are available at any recreation site or online  or by calling 1-888-ASK USGS (1-888-275-8747), Ext. 1

nps annual

Access Pass is free for U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities.  It may be obtained in person or through the mail using this application form.  Applicants must provide documentation of permanent disability and residency or citizenship.

nps access

Volunteer Pass is free for those volunteers with 250 service hours with federal agencies that participate in the Interagency Pass Program.  The five agencies that participate in the Interagency Pass Program are the National Park Service, US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Reclamation.  These site locations issue the passes.

nps volunteer

Now, a trivia question for you….what is the smallest national park in the United States.   Here is the answer.

Answering Readers Questions

I recently received some questions from a reader.  You might have some of the same questions in your mind. Hopefully I can answer them for you..

1. Generally speaking, what would you say is the best approach for accumulating significant ultimate rewards points?  In my opinion, the fastest way to accumulate significant UR miles is through credit card churning BUT only if you can do the minimum spend in the allotted time and be able to pay your bill off entirely each  month and you are not going to be making a major purchase in the next two years as hard inquiries stay on your credit report for two years.  Remember, in doing this you want to protect your credit. Last year I applied for and was approved for the Sapphire card (50,000 points), Explorer card (40,000 points), Ink Bold (50,000 points) and Chase Freedom (10,000 points).  Right there is 150,000 points just from the sign-up and not including the points earned while doing the minimum spend.  Add in the cards that my husband opened, and we have over 300,000 points from the credit cards.  We have begun to close a few of our cards – something you should do if you do not want to pay the fee and don’t care about the extra perks, in 8-11 months after opening.  The Chase Mileage Plus Explorer card gives you one free checked bag and two passes to the United Lounge each year.

2. My takeaways from your blog are to: use the card on everyday expenses, use the card especially through the rewards mall and especially with stores that offer the highest points, and booking travel through the ultimate rewards site (although I am not clear how to do this)  When you go to your Chase credit card site, click on the right side to go to Ultimate Rewards.  When you get to this page you will see a blue box on the left side.  You want to click on “Book a Trip”.  Follow the directions and you can then book a trip using miles.

3.  Are there other methods for accumulating a lot of miles in a relatively short time span?   As I wrote about in an earlier blog, Vanilla Reloads are a way that I use to pump up my monthly totals.  Read this post to find out how to use it.  Another way is to have one of the Chase business credit cards where you get 5X points in office supply stores.  You can go in, purchase a $500 VISA gift card and use that for your spend in places where you are only getting 1X points – you’ve just bumped up your total points you would have earned.  Additionally if you have the business credit card, pay for internet, landline and wireless phone bill since you’ll also earn 5X points.

4. Is there a way to link actual miles flown to the ultimate rewards account…or would you have to fly on a star alliance carrier as the way to be able to eventually pool those miles flown with the miles you would get by converting ultimate reward points?   Your actual miles flown would stay with the airline that you’ve flown with.  You would pool your points with an airline of the alliance you want to fly.  Let’s say you have UAL miles, you could transfer your UR points to your UAL account when you want to fly on Star Alliance booking through UAL.  You can only transfer your UR points to one of its transfer partners and then you can use their alliance.  UR points can transfer to Korean Air.  Go to Korean Air and see what alliance they are in (SkyTeam) and who you can transfer to within their alliance.

5. On hotels, what is the best way to begin getting free hotel stays…would you recommend just joining the hotel loyalty programs, signing up for a hotel rewards credit card, or both?  I would join the hotel loyalty program so you can learn about all their promotions.  Generally they have 3-4 promos a year geared toward the season “The new Fall promotion…”  To jump start, get the hotel credit card and many times you’ll get points right off the bat and then when you stay with them you’ll get 5x or 10x points per dollar spent at the hotel.  Last year we stayed at a Marriott for a function that we were going to.  There was a cash bar in our function room so I couldn’t charge my drink to my room.  I walked down the hallway to the hotel bar, charged my drinks and got 5x points for each dollar that I spent at the bar.  I believe Marriott now has a promo that you have to register for that after two stays (remember the difference between a stay and a night) , you get one night free.

More questions and answers coming next week.  Keep them coming.

Radisson Hotel and Suites, Sydney, Australia

With all the Club Carlson points that I accumulated during their big promotion last year we decided to stay with them when we were in Australia.  Radisson has two hotels in Sydney.  One is the Radisson Hotel and Suites near Chinatown and the other is the Radisson Blu in the Central Business District.  They both were valued at 50,000 points per night.  I asked some friends from Sydney which they would choose and they thought the one near Chinatown would suit our needs the best.club carlson

Being near Chinatown and away from the Central Business District opened up a variety of meal choices that the one in the central business district didn’t have.  We would also be within a block of one of the main streets (George Street) where we could get on city buses and we were also within walking distance (a few blocks) of the Harborside Park where there were parks, kiddie playgrounds, restaurants, aquarium, etc.

our bedroom
our bedroom

I emailed the hotel concierge a few months before our arrival to inquire the best way to get to the hotel and to request that a room be ready for us even though we were arriving around 9 AM.  She gave me several suggestions on how the various ways of getting to the hotel and then her recommendation.

Since we were Club Carlson loyalty members and had gold elite status due to our Club Carlson VISA card, we were given a very nice one bedroom suite with a full kitchen and balcony with two chairs and a table.  Elite status does pay off.  Additionally, the last night of our stay was FREE because we were Club Carlson members and we were booked our hotel room with points.  You only have to stay two night to get the last night free.  If I had been thinking clearer I would have booked the first two night and then have Blogger Hubby book the second two nights.  That way we would have gotten two night even free-er. )Yes, I know that is not a word!).  You need to think and strategize when using points and miles.

kitchen
kitchen
living room
living room
balcony
balcony

We found that the employees who worked the front desk were extremely helpful to us.  We would inquire as to where we could find a store that sold wine and wasn’t outrageously expensive as specialty wine stores can be; where we could eat a moderately priced dinner; where we could pick up a few groceries, etc.

If you are going to Sydney and would like to stay someplace that has lots to offer, I would suggest the Radisson Hotel and Suites on Liverpool Street.

What is the Most Visited National Park? Read and Find Out!

What is the most visited national park in the United States?  Yosemite? Yellowstone? Glacier?  Grand Canyon?  Here’s a hint….it’s east of the Mississippi.  Give up?  It is also one of the few national parks that does not charge an entrance fee.  It is the Great Smoky Mountain National Park with over 9.6  million visitors in 2012.

Establishing this national park took many years and thousands of volunteers to accomplish it.  On the land that was to become the national park were thousands of people’s homesteads and as well as timber and paper companies.  At the same time  Americans also wanted some place to drive their new possession – the automobile.   It was their auto clubs who pushed for this park as all these new motorists wanted nice roads in beautiful scenery in which to drive their new cars on.

intro GSM

In 1926 President Calvin Coolidge  signed a bill that established the Great Smoky Mountains National Park yet there was no land to be protected by the park service.  What I found out and didn’t know was that the federal government is not allowed, at least during this time, to purchase land to put into the park system.  Since the park would encompass parts of both Tennessee and North Carolina, those state legislatures raised money to buy out the thousands of landowners and companies who were on lands that  would become the park.   With the help of Laura Rockefeller, who donated five million dollars, enough money was raised to begin buying out the residents.  As a side note:  Laura Rockefeller’s son John D Jr established and funded Colonial Williamsburg.  Great Smoky Mountain National Park was officially dedicated in 1940 by President Franklin Roosevelt.

There are two entrances to the park in Tennessee and one in North Carolina as well as two visitor information centers for the park – one at the North Carolina entrance and one at the Gatlinburg, TN entrance.  I have always found the Visitor Centers to be filled with information and exhibits generally about geology and park history.  Just so you know this about me – I’m a history buff!

There are many spectacular hikes to go on including part of the Appalachian Trail that goes through the park.  There are all different levels of hiking trails from easy to more challenging.  Me, I usually choose the easiest and my husband likes the more challenging.  So we compromise and go on the easiest 🙂

photo: nps.com
photo: nps.com

Our family camped when we visited the park.  We spent a few nights at Cades Cove along the banks of a creek.  This area was very family friendly.   We enjoyed the auto tour of the Cades Cove loop where there were a number of historic buildings and barns.  Our oldest son loved the  fly fishing that he did within the park in the many trout streams.   Of course, all our family does is Catch and Release. There are also stables where you can go on trail rides.

photo: cadescove.net
photo: cadescove.net

Close to the park is Dollywood.  This is, as I’m sure you know, an amusement park owned by Dolly Parton.  It has the typical amusement park rides but what it also has that is unique to it are crafts and music that are traditional to the Smoky Mountain area.   Next door to Dollywood is Dollywood’s Splash Country, and the chain of Dixie Stampede dinner theaters.   The park hosts a number of concerts and musical events each year.  you never know when you might get lucky and see Dolly or a member of her family in concert at her park.

Have you been to Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

City Slickers Revisited – The 9 Quarter Circle Ranch in Montana

Get your boots our of the closet, wrap your red bandana around your neck, put on your chaps and make sure you have your cowboy hat on and we are going off to be  real city slickers at the 9 Quarter Circle Ranch in Gallatin Gateway, Montana.

We had taken the family there and it is one of our most favorite and special vacation trips we have EVER done.  Whether you are part of a family or just an adults only trip, this is a fun place to vacation.  This trip can be as active or as relaxing as you want it to be – the choice is all yours!

We knew that we wanted to do a dude ranch vacation but which one to choose?  Which state to choose it in?  Lots of options and lots of decisions.  We quickly determined that we did not want to do it in the southwest where it was very dry and too arid.  We also knew that we wanted to be at a ranch where there would be other children for our children to play/ride/hang out with.  Some of the ranches were too small, some were way too big and we found one that, for us, was just right.  Sounds a little like Goldilocks doesn’t it?  We chose the 9 Quarter Circle Ranch because it had the number of people we were looking for, the types of activities and was in a location that we wanted to travel in – Montana.  This was Big Sky Country and we were ready!

How to Get There

There are several different options for flying.  West Yellowstone, about 30 miles away, is served exclusively by Delta Airlines.  Bozeman, a little further away, is serviced by Alaska, Allegiant, Delta, Frontier, United and US Airways.  Check with the ranch to see what the nominal fee is if you needed to be picked up from the airport.  Another option is to fly into Salt Lake City, rent a car and drive the six hours to the ranch.

We chose to fly into Billings, spend the night there, pick up our rental car and drive to the ranch.  We wanted to take this opportunity to see more of Montana. We stopped in Bozeman to pick up a few things that we needed and forgot to bring with us.  Back in the car and then we turned to head south to the ranch which is located in south central Montana.

Accommodations

We were in a two bedroom cabin that had it’s own bathroom and wood burning stove to keep us warm during the cool nights and to take the nip off the cool morning.  The rooms weren’t large but they were just what we needed as we were barely in our cabins.  Our three kids were in one room that had bunk beds – just like they were used to at home.  The furniture was all made of pine logs that are quite standard for western lodges.  Quilts made at the ranch were on all the beds.  Porches were outside so we could sit and take in the scenery and the environment that we were in while watching the kids play with others.

love these handmade quilts
love these handmade quilts

FOOD

When you hear the clanging of the meal bell you know that it is time to head up to the dining room where all meals are served family style.  Don’t worry about dressing up for dinner, just come as you are as this is informal.  For breakfast you eat with your family.  That’s the one and only time you do that.  At first I wasn’t sure if I liked that or not, but I did grow to understand and appreciate it.  After breakfast it was time to get ready for our morning trail ride and pick up our horse at the barn.  At lunch time the kids eat with their age groups and wranglers.  Adults eat together and can have a conversation without cutting up someone’s food for them or cajoling them to more.  Dinner is the meal that I appreciated the most.  The kids all go up to the dining room when the bell rings, about 45 minutes before the adults,  with their wranglers, babysitters and have a kid friendly dinner.  The adults have a Happy Hour  knowing that their kids are well taken care of.  When the children are finished (and this includes teens) they play outside under supervision while the adults have dinner together without any interruption.  This was heaven.

Meals are plentiful and are good home cooking.  You will not lose weight here and you will notice what a hearty appetite you have particularly after being outdoors all day.  Homemade biscuits, baked goods…mmmm.

Activities

Twice a day there are rides through this beautiful landscape.   You are assigned a horse that you will ride for all of your trail rides.  You get to know your horse and he gets to know you.  Since they are ridden so often by a variety of skill levels, they are very gentle and easy to work with.  The horses are raised by the Kelsey family who have owned this ranch since the 1940’s.  Howard Kelsey, who bought the ranch back in the 1940’s was one of the original Marlboro Men who used to ride horseback through the rugged West  when cigarette commercials were shown on television.  His son Kim with wife Kelly and adult children now own and run the ranch – a true family business.

Our daughter,  who was eight at the time when we stayed at the ranch, was in the 6-9 age group that went off and had their own kiddie wranglers on their twice daily ride through the meadows, across the stream and up Lincoln Mountain which was basically across the dirt road.  Blogger Son #2 was in my group (the average skill group) and we went on the same trails though not at the same time, walking and loping (galloping for those city folks) through the meadows, crossing streams and sometimes jumping over them.  We were thankful that the kids and I took some horseback riding lessons in the month prior to acclimate our legs to being around a horse.  We saw some people who were walking very bowlegged 🙂   Blogger Hubby and Blogger Son #1 were in the more advanced group and I think there was more jumping and more loping involved. The ranch has permission to ride through the Gallatin National Forest so you can imagine how beautiful it was.

astreamcrossing

We looked forward to our daily rides although if you didn’t want to ride, you didn’t have to. Since we were in the area where “A River Runs Through It” was filmed there was great fly fishing.  Blogger Son #1 was enthralled watching some of the men at night making flies to use the next day.  He went out with the fishing guide a few times to learn to fly fish and to this day enjoys the art of fly fishing .  If you wanted to keep what you caught, you could bring it to the kitchen and they would cook it for you!

One of the activities that the ranch provides a an overnight pack trip into Yellowstone.  Blogger Hubby and Blogger Son #1 decided that they were very interested in the over night pack trip and since there were limited spots available, they signed up immediately.  To do this, you do need to bring your own sleeping bag which we sent to the ranch by UPS.  Early in the morning a pack of horses leaves taking the supplies with them.  The riders followed and rode all day through Yellowstone.  At night there was dinner by campfire and games.  The next day they rode back in time for dinner at the ranch.

pack trip going out
pack trip going out

Additionally, the ranch provides a myriad of activities Mondays through Saturday.  Sundays are reserved for check in and check out.  Here is a sample of what they provide:

Mondays – softball game

Tuesdays – s’mores around the campfire

Wednesdays – Happy Hour for the adults at the Log Cabin down the road

Thursdays – Hay Ride

Friday – ride your horse to dinner on the trail.  Ever have a bison burger with bacon wrapped around it?  If you don’t want to ride, a car will transport you.

Saturdays – this is an exciting day because in the morning we sit around the corral and have Gym Khana which means games on horseback.  This is for both children and adults.  Some of the games are barrel racing, going around poles and roping.  Guess who came home with a ribbon for roping – ME!  Blogger Hubby roped me and received nothing other than a kiss from me.  That evening there is a square dance in the loft of the barn.  Make sure you bring your petticoats ladies and men bring your best bolo tie.

9 hay ride

 

This vacation is not inexpensive but you get three meals a day, lodging, two trail rides a day, free fishing lessons, daily activities at night and a barrel full of fun.   I highly recommend having a vacation like this that is electronic free (wi fi is available for those who need it though there is no cell phone reception), quality time spent with your family outdoors and an opportunity to visit a part of our country that many people don’t visit.

Do you think a dude ranch vacation is in your future?  Try it and you’ll have an experience of a lifetime, I promise.  We’d love to go back with our children and grandchildren to experience this wonderful ranch and all that it has to offer again.  I’ve been assured that not much has changed since we were there and that is just the way I like it!

Mileage Running Tools and Tips for Finding Great Fares

I wrote the other day about going for status by doing a mileage run.  In this post mapI mentioned the ITA Matrix and I gave you some tutorials by other bloggers.  Using those tutorials, I have found that Great Circle Mapper is extremely handy for me in determining how many miles I would get with a basic flight and how many more miles I would earn by adding in a stop.  Here is the link to Great Circle Mapper where you input the airports and you get the distance or you can see it on a map – the choice is yours.

Another tool to help in finding inexpensive flights for your mileage running is Google Flights  You plug in the city you are flying out of and you will see cities all over the world and what it would cost to fly there.  You will be able to  find an inexpensive flights around the United States and the world!

On FlyerTalk, an online community of frequent flyers,  you can go to the forums and you’ll see a thread on Mileage Runs.  Follow this link to go there.  People in the mileage community will often post great deals there and you need to jump on them as they can and will disappear.

Another tool is Fare Compare  You input your departure city, when you want to travel, the minimum and maximum on your budget and voila…..fares and cities will be shown.  Let the fares dictate where you take your next getaway.

I hope you find these tools helpful in planning for your next trip.

Suggestions Needed For Our Stopover to/from South Africa

Next summer we will be traveling to South Africa with our son, his wife and their baby.  We are planning on using our miles for free flights.  The trip has two purposes behind it.  First and foremost is to visit our daughter’s-in-law family.  She was born and raised in South Africa and then emigrated to the States as a middle-schooler.  Her grandparents, numerous aunts, uncles and cousins still live in South Africa.  We are excited to meet her other family members.  We are also looking forward to seeing the country of her birth and to put a “face” to the different areas that she speaks so fondly of.

sa map and flag

Secondly, another item on our bucket list is to go on safari.  Most Americans tend to sign up with a safari guide and stay in a preserve to be sure to see The Big Five.  That’s not how our son and daughter-in-law have done it the past two times that he has gone.  They always stay in Kruger with reservations made about a year prior to their stay.  They rent a car and do a self guided tour of the Kruger, looking for animals themselves in a more natural and not fenced in manner.  Apparently that is the way most from  South Africa do safari.  We had though of also going to Victoria Falls but apparently there is a huge conference going on during the time we would be there and there are no rooms to be had except in Zambia.  Doing Victoria Falls could also be very expensive as well.

photo: safari.com
photo: safari.com

With such a long trip we thought we would plan a stopover in a location that we might not go to for a primary vacation.  We are having a difficult time coming up with where we want to go.  We thought of the Maldives but Blogger Hubby would not want a week long beach vacation.  We’ve been to Istanbul but admittedly for only 2 days so that is a possibility.  Morocco was another suggestion but I am a wee bit concerned about the heat as I had heat stroke twice in Singapore.  Another possibility is Scotland (where my maternal family is from) and where our exchange student from a decade ago lives.  I had thought of Scandinavia but Blogger Hubby thinks that would be a trip by itself.  Finally, a trip to the Canary Islands.

world with question mark

What are your thought on where we should try to find a stopover for about a week or so?  We desperately need help and suggestions so we can begin planning this trip.

Using our Miles to get to Australia

As I mentioned earlier, Blogger Hubby and I had decided to take a BIG trip and we wanted to go Business Class and we wanted to use our miles and fly for free (other than taxes).

We wanted to fly from Washington Dulles to Sydney Australia and then fly home from Auckland, New Zealand.  This is called an Open Jaw ticket.  I began searching about 9 1/2 months prior to our trip to find the perfect flights and found that there weren’t many flights to choose from.  I was in for a shock!  Apparently the “rule” is to begin looking about (and each airlines is a little different) 330 days out.  There were no direct flights to Sydney from either LAX or SFO.  I had no idea of how to route us to Sydney.  I had asked for help and was told to try creative routing and to try to route through Asia.  But how?

australia

I was booking using United Airline miles.  To do this, you simply go to the reservation page, type in where you are flying from and where you want to go, check the box at the bottom that says award travel, add your dates and then enter all this information.  There are two types of award ticket – the saver award (which is capacity controlled which means fewer seats) then there are standard award )which are about double the miles but if a seat is available then you can book it).  I was not about to give any miles away by booking standard – I would rather come in a few days earlier or stay a few days later.  I had the somewhat luxury of flexibility.

While doing all this research, I found that one of the routings on the United Airline award booking site that I could fly was to Sydney via Seoul, South Korea.  Really, I asked? It was a “little, no it was a lot out of the way”.   I was, I admit, a little apprehensive about flying through South Korea, not because I don’t like South Korea but because it is so very, very close to North Korea and the government of that country scares me.

The option was to fly on Asiana Airlines which is a South Korean airline and I later found out to be one of the top 5 airlines in the world.  Everyone kept telling me what a great airline and airport Incheon (South Korea) was so I bit the bullet and  went ahead and booked us.  This would be a very long flight from SFO to ICN – 10,700 miles.  On this long haul trip on Asiana we were booked into Business Class and to this inexperienced Business Traveler, it looked like First Class.  I thought I hit the lottery.  We were escorted to our seats by the Asiana flight attendant.  She introduced herself to us, and saw to our every needs.  This flight had a 1-2-1 configuration.  We had the two “pods” in the center with lie down flat seats, footrest, a light over our shoulder, a personal in flight entertainment center beyond anything I had seen before.  We were given our menus to select our lunch and our wines.  Our meal was served to us on linen covered trays, nice china dishes, glass stemware – it was like I was eating in a elegant restaurant.  Our wine glass was always filled and they remembered which wine we were drinking.  I would be lying if I said I didn’t love being pampered like this.

the seat in the lie down  position
the seat in the lie down position
1-2-1 configuration in Business Class.  We had so much room.  For the center seats, there is a panel that you can pull up to give you some separation from your seat mate.
1-2-1 configuration in Business Class. We had so much room. For the center seats, there is a panel that you can pull up to give you some separation from your seat mate.

As this was an Open Jaw trip and since I was a little “nervous” about spending this many points and making sure that I got everything right, I called the international award desk for United and had them help me book this trip.  The fee was $25 per ticket and she spent 90 minutes on the phone with me helping me  get better flight times that I was able to do on my own through the internet.  If you are as unsure as I was, do not hesitate to call your airline.  The fee was well worth it.  If by chance you should get a reservation agent that is not helpful, thank him or her, hand up and call again and you’ll get another agent who will be more helpful.

We were booked  in First Class from Dulles to San Francisco on United.  We had a two and a half hour layover in San Francisco and then we were going to be flying on Asiana in Busness Class and then San Francisco to Seoul on Asiana to be followed a few hours later by our flight, again on Asiana, to Sydney.  Both of these flights on Asiana were booked in Business Class and we would have two overnight flights. This was a flight of almost 11,000 miles!

We still had to find a flight home from Auckland and there were no Business Class seats to be had.  We went ahead and booked on Air New Zealand coach seats from Auckland to LAX and then coach from LAX to IAD.  This flight weighed heavily on my mind and I was not happy about it.  I had been trying to convince Blogger Hubby to stop somewhere on our way home but he had felt that we were gone long enough and we should just go home.  He had also been in Japan and Korea a long time ago and did not feel very comfortable in getting around.  I tried to convince him that the Asia of now was very different from the Asia of when he visited prior to our marriage.

Finally, about two months before our trip he agreed we could stop somewhere on our way home.  With a long haul flight you get a free stopover (stopover is 24 hours or more; layover is less than 24 hours – important to know the difference).  We debated between Bangkok and Singapore.  Since Singapore’s official language was English and they were a former British colony we thought they would be a good introduction to Asia for us.

I could not get a direct flight from Auckland to Singapore and had to look around to piece this flight together.  I spent time on the award web site of United finding cities I could fly into from Auckland and then look for flights from that city to Singapore.  Now I understood about being creative in looking for award seats.  I found a flight on Air New Zealand from Auckland to Brisbane, Australia and then from Brisbane to Singapore on Singapore Air.  Once again, both flights were in Business Class.  I was becoming a travel snob and until this trip had never flown anything but coach.  I was anxious to try both airlines but most anxious to fly Singapore Air as I had heard so many wonderful comments on this airline. This flight was over 5,000 miles.

auckland 5000 miles

From Singapore we needed to get home.  We ended up booking a coach flight on Singapore Air to Beijing, China.  In Beijing, we again flew Business Class direct to Dulles on United Airlines.  This flight was almost 10,000 miles.

iad

What I learned through all this is that you have to be flexible.  Know what flights you want, and know the flight numbers.  It can be very difficult to book this yourself online so call your airline reward redemption telephone number and have them do it for you if you are unsure or want to make sure everything you did is correct.  For the Auckland to Singapore segment, I had to piece it together and give the reservation agent all the flights for each segment.  I first found the Auckland toFor us, United charged $25 per ticket and it was the best use of my money.  They also charge when you make a change to your ticket UNLESS they make a change (and usually they do for flights booked quite a ways out) and then you get to change for free.  We were not charged when we changed our flight from Auckland.  Just be nice and appreciative to the person helping you on the phone.

When booking through one airline and flying on another, you need to get your record locator number so you can call up the airline (in this case Asiana, Singapore and Air New Zealand) to reserve your seats.  Do not skip this step – it is very important. I called as soon as we booked and then I also called a month before the trip to confirm with the other airlines.  I didn’t want anything to happen at the last minute.  I wanted to be prepared as best as I could.  Some people have reported problems with other airlines not having their reservations so I made sure as best as I could that it wouldn’t happen to me.

So that is our flights in a nutshell.  The lessons to take from this is to look for indirect flights if you can’t find a direct one; piece together the segments, always get your record locator for each of the other airlines you are flying and finally, confirm, confirm and confirm!

Some of My Fellow Points and Miles and Travel Bloggers

As I mentioned previously, I have only been following blogs and beginning to understand this hobby of ours for almost 1 1/2 years.  There are many. many bloggers out there and  few of them were responsible (and still are) for me learning about miles, points and travel.  Each one has a unique interest and specialty.  I’d like to introduce you to a few of my favorite bloggers:

Rene writes Delta Points and as his name suggests, he write mainly about Delta Airlines though you will read about his trips to visit his family in Sweden or scuba diving with his wife in Aruba. I met Rene last year at the Chicago Seminar in October.   If Delta is one of the main airlines you fly, you should read his blog and sign up for his text alerts when he find great mileage runs on Delta.

Frequent Miler is written by Greg who I had the pleasure of  meeting while we were both on a mattress run last year in Sault Ste. Marie.  He has taught everyone so much in getting multiple points through his Frequent Miler Laboratory.  He was the first that I remember to write about the Vanilla Reloads, becoming a Fulfilled by Amazon seller (FBA) when you find really good deals (such as  at Kohls where you get 5x points and this week 30% off) to sell while you are keeping the points and at times making some money.  Last March he challenged himself to earn ONE MILLION MILES.  You can read all about that and other experiments he’s done to help us all at Frequent Miler

MJ on Travel is written by Marshall Jackson who is a pilot, worked for one of the largest airlines.  He is still in the airline industry, travels frequently and is a cruiser as well.  With his frequent travel schedule he does many reviews of hotels, his flights and has a keen insider knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes.  You can read his blog at MJ on Travel

New Girl in the Air is written by Becky, a young married woman.  As much as we all love international travel, it is not financially possible to do it all the time.  Becky combines both long weekend trip reports with her international travels.  Both types of trips are extremely informative and she travels places that are a little off the beaten path.  Currently she is writing about her trip to Slovenia but prior to that she has written about her trip to the Columbia River Gorge, Memphis, etc.  Check out her blog New Girl in the Air

Scott and his team write Mile Value.  Like other bloggers they do quite a bit of traveling.  Scott’s blog is a little different than just trip reports, he analyzes  the entire point and mile travel.  His blog was the first one that I read that told me how I could get a free one way ticket that I could take much later when booking a trip using miles.  Read his free one ways so that you too can make use of this trick at Mile Value.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this post on some of the bloggers that I read and why I like their blogs.

Traveling from Detroit Metro – DTW and on Southwest

This post is written by Blogger Hubby about his very recent trip out to Portland, the Columbia River Gorge and Seattle.  This first section details his flight and parking at Detroit Metro Airport.  Please read to the bottom for a reader give-a-way.

I recently traveled from northern Michigan to the west coast. After checking fares from the nearby regional airports (Pellston, Sault Ste. Marie, Traverse City, and Alpena), I decided to drive the four hours to Detroit to take advantage of the substantially lower fares on Southwest Airlines.

Parking – As I had a 7 AM flight out and a 10 PM arrival back, I needed to stay in a hotel at both ends of the trip. Since we had some Marriott points from my sign-up for the credit card, my wife used those points to book me into the SpringHill Suites at the airport.   I needed parking for 10 days.  Parking seem to be the critical factor in planning my trip. Before she booked me into the Spring Hill Suites, I was trying to find a hotel near the airport with free parking? I couldn’t find one for the length of time I needed  and I also found out that you do not get free parking when using an award night through Marriott.   I  found that paying for hotel parking was as expensive as airport or off-site parking. It turns out the county in which the airport is located charges a hefty parking surcharge. Therefore, I needed to figure out parking before I booked a hotel. The lowest rate I found was $5 a day at a place called Valet Connections. They can offer a lower rate because they are located in an adjacent county without the surcharge. You drop your car off one site and then it is moved to another long-term parking site. They request reservations to get the best price guarantee, but I wanted to check out the place first before I committed to them. I visited the drop-off site the evening before my flight and it looked great. I made sure they had 24-hour shuttle service, and was told to arrive at 5:30 AM for my 7:15 AM flight. I got there a little early the next morning and a  modern shuttle bus pulled up about 5 minutes later, and the trip to the airport took about 15 minutes. Great! My pick-up at the airport on my returned also worked great. I called them from the baggage area at about 10 PM and was told a shuttle would be waiting for me. I had to use the ‘skywalk’ to cross over to the rental car and off-site shuttle pick-up stop, and there were two Valet Connections shuttle buses waiting. They loaded me on one and then we waited about 10 minutes for another couple to arrive from the airport. My car was waiting at the drop-off site.   I received a coupon with a guaranteed $5 rate and one free day of parking (7 day minimum) for my next visit.

valet connections

Southwest Airlines – I haven’t flown on Southwest Airlines for years (hmm, make that decade or so) and  their ticketing, seat selection and boarding procedures were unfamiliar to me. Their two-free checked bag policy brought back memories of the good old days when traveling by air was easy. My travel-savvy wife booked my flight, with her Ultimate Reward points that she transferred over to SouthWest and she selected their “Wanna Get Away Fare” that offered the lowest price. This ticket was nonrefundable, but if I cancel I could apply the ticket value to another flight within 12 months. She also purchased their “EarlyBird Check-in” for $12.50 as I would not be able to check-in online prior to my return flight. With this, Southwest gave me automatic check-in, improved seat selection and earlier access to overhead storage. I knew it was open seating once you got on the plane, but did not know about the line-up procedures at the gate and how the EarlyBird Check-in would help me. I am familiar with United Airlines that boards you by the type of status you have, type of seat, and your seat row. I also recently read about American Airlines testing a new procedure that allows passengers without luggage for the overhead bens to board first to help speed-up seating.

With Southwest, each boarding pass has a letter and number designation. On my first flight, for example, I had the designation “A11.” At the boarding gate I saw signs with boarding letters A, B, and C; and posts with numbers 1-60 for each letter. At boarding time, they instructed us to get in line based on your letter and in order by your number. Later I learned that for our flight, the boarding numbers A1-A10 were for any Business Select Fare passengers of which there were three. My EarlyBird Check-in, A11 number put me fourth onto the plane so I quickly learned the benefit of the $12.50 fee. Although the line-up procedure eliminated the congestion at the gate, it did not necessarily speed up seating once passengers got on the plane. The open seating worked well to distribute most passengers throughout the plane, but on full flights it was still slow getting the luggage in the overhead bens and people seated. On one flight the stewardess urged passengers to quickly store their luggage and take a seat so the plane could leave the terminal. On the whole I liked the boarding process, but then my highest number during all four of my my flights was A21 so I can’t speak for people with a number in the “C” line. When I returned home, I did a goggle search and found a more complete explanation of how they assign boarding numbers. It turns out to be quite complex because there are several categories of passengers.

 

southwest

READER GIVEAWAY  I have the coupon given to Blogger Hubby for $5 guaranteed rate and a free day of parking with a minimum 7 days of parking.  Please leave a comment to be entered in this random drawing.  I’ll choose the winner on Sunday, August 18th. I’ll notify the winner by email and you’ll have 48 hours to get back to me otherwise I’ll make a second drawing.

 

Chase Freedom Credit Card New Benefits

I have spoken off and on about several of the credit cards that I have and why I REALLY like them.  The Chase Freedom card is one of them for the quarterly bonuses and if you have a Sapphire Preferred or an Ink card, you can accumulate UR points and transfer them to the other cards.  Other than that, there is nothing else special about this card for me until………

Freedom

Today Chase announced new cardmember benefits that sound very appealing to me.

Firstly, they now have auto rental collision coverage included which means that theft and collision coverage is provided for most rental cars worldwide.  Check with Chase to see if the car you are renting has this coverage.   I know that before I rent a car, I always find out what my credit card covers and what I need to decline on the car rental forms. Some credit cards, if you pay an extra fee, will be the primary insurer when you rent (think American Express) which at times is important to me.  Here in the US, it doesn’t matter who pays first and who pays second in the case of an accident but when traveling abroad I want it to be as hassle free as possible.

Secondly, like some of the American Express cards, they are now offering to extend the manufacturers warranty by one year on items you purchase with your Freedom card.  I really like this benefit because I have had that happen to me – where an item was out of warranty period (mine was 90 days) and no longer worked (at 6 months).

Finally, eligible purchases are protected for 120 days against damage or theft. I jsut read a blog

To get more information, you would need to go to http://www.chasebenefits.com/freedomYP1 to download and read the Guide for complete details. If you have any questions, call Chase  anytime at the number on the back of your card.

What is a Mileage Run and Do You Want to Do One?

You are beginning to understand the value of frequent flyer miles and are ready to take the next step which is attaining elite status with either an airline, hotel or both.  This post will talk about airline elite status.  Credit card signups are a great way to get free travel but along with free travel, you might want to get some status.

Status can get you many perks.  Keep in mind that most airlines have three levels of elite status with the top level having the most perks.  If you are a bottom level elite you will still have some perks but not the majority of them.  For some it  is worth it to try to get more miles under your belt to get all the perks particularly if you fly frequently.

Some of the more common perks are

* free checked bag

*priority boarding

* free same day changes

*being able to pre-select preferred seats

*waived award fees

*mileage earning bonuses where you can increase your miles by a multiplier.  These miles do not count toward status but do count as award miles toward free flights.

*a dedicated customer service line for elites only.  This comes in handy when there are delays due to weather.  Airlines want to keep their elites and want to keep them happy and they tend to get better help earlier than the general public.

*Upgrades to Business or First Class.  Each airline has different rules and you need to know what the rules are for your airline.

There are more perks depending on the airline.  Go to your airline’s website to see the complete list.  Another resource is to go to Hack My Trip where Scott has created a side by side comparison of the three levels of airline status like this one:

side by side comparisons

Now that you know the perks of status, you are probably wondering how to get more miles to attain the status- simply it is your butt in a seat.  That’s it pure and simple.  But wait a minute, there’s more.  In order to get your butt in a seat you can do a mileage run which is  all about finding the cheapest flights that give you the most miles.  It is a  trip designed solely to earn miles or points.  You may be flying so much over a weekend, or whenever you choose to fly, that you never leave the airport.

To do this, many in the frequent flyer community use the ITA matrix.  This travel search tool is very similar to what the airlines, Orbitz, Travelocity and other travel search engines use.  The only thing you can’t do is book tickets on this site.  There are many tutorials out there that teach you the finer points of using this site.  I went to one seminar where we were shown how to go from Point A to Point B using this site and what the ticket would cost.  Then we added in another stop and the price didn’t change, or changed minimally,  but the miles  did –  we got more and that’s the object.

mileage run

Scott at Hack My Trip has this basic tutorial which many find very helpful.  He also has this tutorial for more advance searches.   Another Scott at Mile Value has this tutorial.  This post on the Flyer Talk forum has these instructions for using ITA.  Finally Glenn at the Military Frequent Flyer has these instructions.  As you can see there are lots of resources to help you but you must look for them.

Some feel that they can do this in weekends by flying cross country.  Others feel that they want to do it in a shorter time span and they will fly from the east coast to Asia or Australia.  You do whatever works for you in the time period that you have as well as following the cheapest fares.

Look for more posts to come on tools for mileage running.

Now, I’m wondering if you have ever done a mileage run or known of someone who has?  I’d love to hear of  your experience.

Marriott and their MegaBonus Promotion

Marriott has a new Fall promotion and it is a MegaBonus –  you can earn a free night at a category 1-5 hotel, up to two free nights, for every second paid stay. Remember, there is a small difference between a stay and a night.  One night is a stay, two consecutive nights is one stay, 5 nights is a stay.  Some hotels will let you check in on one night, check out the next morning and then check back in again for it to be considered two stays – check with your hotel first as not all will let you do it.  The key is to get two different reservation numbers.

marriott

Whether you travel for pleasure or business, you need to sign up for this promotion.   Even if you have no travel plan, unexpected events happen that may cause you to travel and stay at a Marriott.

You must register up by Nov. 15th and have stays between September 15, 2013 and January 15th, 2014.  You can register here Marriott MegaBonus  If you are not a Marriott Reward member, you can sign up at the same link and become a Marriott Reward Member to take advantage of this promotion.

To give you more “free nights” from this bonus, you can sign up and stay your stays  for the bonus.  Your partner can do the same and you’ll end up with 4 free nights!  Sounds like a vacation to me.  Additionally, if you sign up for a Chase Marriott card, once you do your minimum spend of $1000 in three months you’ll earn 50,000 Marriott Reward Points.

Marriott Rewards(Registered Trademark) Premier Visa(Registered Trademark) Signature Card

Don’t forget to register so you can take part in this MegaBonus promotion!

Tools to Help You Choose Your Airplane Seat

When you book an airplane reservation and go to choose your seat, what do you really know about the seats?  Like me, probably not much.

There are some very helpful tools that will give you information so that you can make an informed decision about which flight/plane that you are going to fly as well as what are the seats that are average, the seats that have some problems and others that might be more desirable for you.

I knew that when we flew home from Beijing (just a plane connection) that our United flight had very narrow Business Class seats in a 2-4-2 configuration rather than a more spacious 1-2-1 like we had flying over to Sydney.  Additionally, some of the United seats were facing backwards like the ones we got.  I weighed those seats against other choices I had that gave me a layover and connection in LAX or SFO rather than flying straight through to IAD.  I had the tools so that I could decide which flight I wanted to book for our return home.

The site that I use the most is seatguru.  Another player is seatexpert  I use seatguru almost exclusively.  I haven’t used seatexpert and don’t know much about that site but you might want to go and explore and see which one you like best.

seatguru

Another site to help you choose is Skytrax  It has a listing of the ten best airlines for seats as well as the ten worse.

A strategy that some flyers who are traveling with another are using is to book both the window and the aisle seats leaving the middle seat empty.  The hope is that someone will not voluntarily choose this seat.  If they do, you then have a choice of offering them either the window or the aisle so you and your companion can sit together.

airplane seat

Another option for travelers is to sign up with Expert Flyer.  You need to first create an account with them, put in your flight details and what type of seat you are looking for such as aisle or window.  You’ll get an alert when one become available.  You then contact the airline to make the change.  Additional alerts are 99 cents.  You can also sign up for their paid subscriptions.  The Basic is $4.99 per month while the Premium is $9.99 per month.  It all depends on how much you travel.  They also have a year subscription on sale now for $99.99 saving you twenty dollars.

Travel Agents are also another resource.  I know, most of us don’t go to travel agents anymore but depending who they are, like a Virtuoso travel agent for luxury travel, they often have codes that can unlock seats that we can’t see on the computer.  They generally charge a booking fee but it may be worthwhile to you.

With all these resources you will stand a better chance of getting the type of seat that you want as well as location.  What has your experience been in seat selection?

Have you Heard About “The Pudding Guy”

The Pudding Guy is a legend among miles and points enthusiasts.  When I first read his story last year I just couldn’t believe how ingenious he was and like others wondered why I didn’t think of it.  In fact, most miles and points enthusiasts wonder the same thing.    You’ll have fun reading this article about him from Dateline UC Davis  and perhaps it will inspire you to act quickly and possibly go all the way in on a great deal like Pudding Guy found.  If you go to Snopes.com you’ll find that it is true!

February 4, 2000

Engineer finds sweet travel deal in cups of pudding

By Kathleen Holder

David Phillips says he still likes eating the chocolate pudding that helped him win more than 1 million frequent-flier miles.
Tony Novelozo/Axiom photo

In the mileage-hungry realm of frequent fliers, Facilities Services civil engineer David Phillips is now an international legend.

Phillips–also known as the “Pudding Guy”–has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the London Times, on the “Today Show” and on radio programs as far away as Italy. He’s a hot topic of Internet bulletin board exchanges. Friends and associates seek his advice on the latest promotional contests.

All because he parlayed $3,140 worth of chocolate pudding cups and other Healthy Choice products into 1.25 million frequent-flier miles. That’s enough for 50 roundtrip flights anywhere in the United States, 21 trips to Australia and back or 31 trips to Europe–worth, by Phillips’ count, as much as $150,000.

“I’ve done similar things in the past but nothing that’s worked out this well,” Phillips said.

Last May, Phillips noticed a Healthy Choice promotion that offered 500 miles for every 10 bar-code labels sent in by Dec. 31. An early-bird special offered double the mileage–1,000 miles for every 10 bar codes submitted by May 31.

With just three weeks to meet the early-bird deadline, Phillips went through much of the Healthy Choice product line–from soups to cereal, popcorn and pasta sauce–before finding the gold mine: chocolate pudding cups selling for 25 cents each at a discount grocery store in Woodland.

With help from his mother-in-law, he hit every Grocery Outlet store between here and Fresno, filling a van with thousands of pudding cups.

All in all, he bought 12,500.

Phillips and his wife, Cindy, peeled off most of the bar codes themselves. But with time running out, he made arrangements to donate the remaining pudding to the Salvation Army and have their volunteers remove the labels. In donating the food, Phillips also earned himself a sizable tax deduction.

While many of Phillips’ co-workers liked the pudding he brought to the office, he said his 5- and 7-year-old daughters are sick of it–”Too much of a good thing.”

His wife thinks the whole episode is funny, he said. “She never thought we’d get the miles. I got the feeling she was just humoring me throughout this whole thing.”

During spring break, he and his family will use their first free air miles for a trip to Milan, Barcelona and London.

A first-class trip to New Zealand is planned next year as a payoff to his wife, Phillips said. “She got blisters pretty quickly from peeling off the labels, so that was my bribe.”

Phillips’ experience in recognizing a good gamble goes back to his undergraduate days here.

When he was earning his engineering degree, he became an avid blackjack player and learned several card-counting techniques. He said he might have become a professional player except for the cigarette smoke in the casinos.

Some of his job skills also came in handy. He used spreadsheets to track and plan every detail of the project: How many cups of pudding were needed for a ticket to the Caribbean island of Aruba? 300. How much pudding will fit in a Mercury Villager? 3,456 cups. And because he monitors the campus’s compliance with conditions of its environmental permits, he said he was well-versed in reading the fine print.

But the worldwide media attention is new. “The last time I was in the newspaper for anything I did was during high school when I plugged up an irrigation canal in Fresno. That article wasn’t too positive, but I suppose it was the start of my career as a civil engineer.”

Now he’s considering a new frequent- flier promotion offered by a group of airlines in South and Central America: Fly all 10 airlines in six months and win a million miles.

“I’m thinking about a 48-hour run to Central and South America–10 airlines and nine different countries.

August Shopping Portals

I love the first of every month to see what the shopping portals bring.  I’ve done some of the work for you and am presenting a few from each credit card so you can see how many extra points and miles you get for shopping online through these portals:

Chase Ink Business Card:     Ultimate Rewards Logo

123inkjets.com – 15 points

Anthropologie – 7 points

Art.Com – 6 points

Boden USA – 2 points

Columbia Sportswear – 5 points

DSW – 7 points

Groupon (yes, you can use it for Groupon Purchases) – 2 points

GAP – 3 points

J. Crew – 5 points

Snapfish – 15 points

TOMS – 5 points

USAirways Dividend Miles Storefront

Under Armour – 3 miles per dollar

Nike  – 6 miles

Sephora – 9 miles

Toshiba – 2 miles

Vera Bradley – 2 miles

Nordstrom – 2 miles

North Face – 3 miles

Delta Skymiles Shopping     

Home Depot – 2 miles

PETCO – 3 miles

FEDEX Office – 2 miles

Checks in the Mail – 5 miles

Discovery Store – 2 miles

Pottery Barn – 2 miles

AAdvantage Shopping          AAdvantage eShopping

Office Depot – 3 miles

Lowes – 3 miles

Living Social – 3 miles

Starbucks – 3 miles

Banana Republic – 3 miles

White House Black Market – 3 miles

There are many more shopping portals. Remember you can purchase gift certificates to be used later.  My recommendation is to get a physical gift certificate rather than an e certificate.  This will help you when you go into a physical store like Starbucks (3 miles per dollar at AAdvantage Shopping).  If you are going to be shopping why not get some extra points or miles.  Some of the stores let you choose to pickup your purchases at the store (Lowes, Staples) so you will not have to pay shipping.  any times you can also get free shipping by spending a certain dollar amount or finding a free shipping coupon.  I always look at http://www.retailmenot.com.

If you find any great deals, let us know!

 

Last Minute Cruise Deals

When you cruise, your final payment is generally due 90 days out from the date of sailing.  At that point the cruise lines know what their inventory is and they may start reducing the fares in order to fill all the beds on a cruise.  From what I’ve understood, the cruise lines don’t make money on your fare but rather from the money you spend once on the ship whether it is from alcohol, the money you dropped in the casino, excursions that are booked through them or your purchases in the shops on board.  They want and need to fill the beds and they will reduce and reduce fares to get those who can travel at the last minute.

I have found that you can get a great deal with a Caribbean sailing because there are so many cruises that are plying the waters of the Caribbean.  Also, if air fares are high to Europe or beyond, then the number of passengers tend to not book because they don’t want to pay the higher airfare to meet the ship.  That’s when fares can be reduced also.

cruise in caribbean

I’ve been looking all summer for a reduced fare to sail from either Boston or New to Maine, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, PEI, Quebec and possibly Montreal.  I am also willing to do it in the opposite direction.  The sailing on the St. Lawrence has a short time – generally only a few months and because of that there tend to be few, if any, sales on these fares.

Right now I’m sure you’ll find great deals on Alaskan cruises.  September tends to be the end of the season for cruising in Alaska but it might be a great year to do it in Alaska as they are having a very warm summer.

alaska cruise

My daughter and I were able to take advantage of one of these cruises within one week of sailing and we found cheap airfare to boot!  We booked passage on a Celebrity ship out of Fort Lauderdale for 5 nights visiting Cozumel and Roatan, Honduras.  Sure , we only had a stateroom with a window and our stateroom was third from the bow BUT we only paid $250 each for this great vacation.

Celebrity Cruise Line published their Tuesday fares at this site and Holland America has what they call Flash Sales at this site.  This is a site I found for Royal Caribbean sales.

If you happen to have some free time, check out the last minute sales with the cruise lines.  If you happen to decide to book a cruise, please refer back to my blog on booking a cruise for tips.

Rome – The Eternal City and Abitazione Pigneto B&B

Ever since I took Ancient History in 10th grade, I have wanted to go to the Ancient Cities. The opportunity came and Blogger Hubby and I jumped on the chance.  We didn’t have many points to use for hotels so we looked for more affordable options for staying in Rome.  We were able to use UAL miles to fly Luftansa from Washington Dulles to Rome via Frankfurt.  Nothing special about the flight or the food on the flight.

As I have mentioned before, we use Trip Advisor quite a bit so of course we went to them right away to see what was recommended by other travelers.  We found a B&B outside of the city that came with great reviews and the cost was 60 Euros (as opposed to paying about 200 Euros in the city).  Abitazione Pigneto had an 89% approval rating with Trip Advisor.  After a few emails back and forth, we booked this B&B for the days we were in Rome prior to our cruise as well as a few days after our cruise when we would be returning to Rome.

We opted to ask our host Giorgio to pick us up from the airport.  We had read on Trip Advisor that he would do this.  His fee was much less than hiring a cab.  We could have used the train/tram/bus but since we didn’t know where we were going and we would be tired after an overnight flight, we thought it was best to have him pick us up.  That was the right decision as he gave us a running commentary as we drove into the city,  pointing out different buildings and giving us a mini-history lesson.

The B&B was on the 4th floor of the smallish building.  We took the elevator up and was shown our room.  It was a small room with a double bed, small television but the best part was that it opened up onto the balcony terrace  overlooking the side street that we were on.  We also had a shared bathroom that was not a problem whatsoever.  We shared it with one other room.  The third room in this B&B had their own private bathroom but it didn’t have the balcony access that we did.

We were in the Pigneto section of Rome which is east-southeast of the city, one block from public transportation. This is a true neighborhood that we were in where middle class Italians live. At the top of our short street was a fantastic gelato store – probably the best I’ve had to date!  The street behind ours was a farmers market during the day that sold all sorts of produce.  Also on this street was a small grocery store where we would buy great bread and cheese to eat and wine to drink on the terrace outside of our room.  At night the stalls disappeared and the table and chairs were put out in front of all the cafes so there would be outdoor dining.  Truly an authentic Italian neighborhood with lots of restaurants, cafes and people strolling and talking.  I knew we would not have this experience in the tourist section of Roma.

with my Pacsafe Purse
with my Pacsafe Purse

Breakfast was not what we were used to in the States, it was a few slices of cheese, meat and dry toast with really good guava juice.  Before we would go out, we would speak with Giorgio and he would advise us which bus we needed to take.  He also gave us a handout on how to get back to the B&B from various points around the city.  As I mentioned before, it was extremely convenient to the tram/buses.  It seemed like all the transportation went by or stopped at Termini, which is the huge train station and probably center of transportation in Rome.

our guide at the Colosseum
our guide at the Colosseum

We booked a tour with Angel Tours that covered The Forum, The Palatine Hill and finished at the Colosseum.  Being part of a tour group you get to skip the long line at the Colosseum – it was well worth the cost of the ticket.  Our guide was from England and had just received her Masters degree in Ancient Studies from Oxford.  She really made the tour come to life with us as she told us many stories and explained so much to us.  I would recommend taking a tour if there are many things that you want to see in the city that you are visiting – you will get so much out of it, more than you would have by just walking around and reading the placards.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After a few days of touring we needed to go to the Port of Civitavecchia to meet our cruise ship.  We had several options for getting there (which is about 90 minutes from Rome); we could take the train and then walk from the station to the port entrance or; we could join others and rent a limo to take us or; we could ask Giorgio how much he would charge to take us.  The third option is what we went with.  It was the least expensive and the most convenient.  For the return trip back to the B&B after our cruise, we decided we could take the train from the port and then the tram from Termini back to the B&B since we had become familiar with the transit system.

We had a wonderful cruise and looked forward to our return back to Rome where we toured the Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Borghese Gardens.  We never got to go inside the Borghese Villa since we did not book tickets online and when we were ready, there were no tickets to be had.  Lesson learned – always book tickets online first for popular venues.

There are so many wonderful things to see in Rome.  I was completely enthralled with the city and all of the sites.  I can’t wait to go again

SHARK WEEK and SOUTH AFRICA

 In honor of it being SHARK WEEK on Discovery Channel, I am happy to have Blogger Son #1 back with his account of cage diving with the Great White’s off the Coast of South Africa.

Against all initial advice  I decided to go cage diving with the GREAT WHITES in a small town not too far from Cape Town.   What an experience it was!

The small fishing village of Gansbaai (where we would dive from) is only a shortdrive from my wife’s parents home in South Africa. Dyer and Geyser Islands, just off the coast, are home to a large colony of over fifty thousand seals and are  a favorite feeding ground for the Great White shark. The deep channel between these two islands is known as Shark Alley and is acknowledged as one of the best places in the world to view the Great White. If you have ever watched any sort of shark program you have probably heard of shark alley. It was one of those moments that I have mentioned before, the kind of instance that really reminds you of where you are. I’m sitting on a boat right now, about to get into the same water as those crazy guys that I have seen so many times on Shark Week (on Discovery Channel). We were all very excited, to say the least!

 South Africa 117

It worked just like you’d imagine: we parked ourselves in shark alley between the two seal islands and started chumming….about fifteen minutes later a HUGE (about 15 ft) GREAT WHITE SHARK just appeared out of nowhere and it was going for our bait (a Tuna Fish).

Seal

Everyone went crazy and rushed to the side of the boat…it was really pretty darn exciting. This went on and on for about 6 hours.  We had maybe 10 different large great whites come to our boat, each just as exciting as the next. We’d be sitting around just kind of scanning the water for sharks or chit-chatting  …  maybe 20 or 30 minutes would go by without any action, then the captain would give a blood curdling yell…”SHARK!!!!!”  just like in JAWS.  We all jumped up and down to check things out. We had a large diving cage that was attached to the side of the boat and everyone would take turns in this cage (7 at a time), a typical turn lasting for about 30 or 45 minutes – plenty of time to see plenty of action. When the sharks would get close you would just go under water (the cage was only 3/4 submerged) and check out the shark. Often it would come right up to the cage and bump into it.  Scary but exciting.  This is something that I would recommend to anyone and would most likely do it again.

SHARK ATTACK!!

PS  Anyone else upset that Megalodon on Discovery Channel turned out to be a Mockumentary?

***Shark jumping photo in the header at top of page is from apexpredators.com.  Other photos are from Blogger Son #1

Air, Land and Sea is 2 months old!

I have published my 50th post and my blog is 2 months old!  The idea that I’ve had for a very short time to write a travel blog has now come to fruition and has been published for two months.  Okay, I’ve had to strong arm some friends, and force family members to subscribe and “follow” me.  Although they have heard many of these stories before they have been kind enough to listen again.

Every time that a new person signs up for the blog and I don’t know him or her, I get so excited.  I often wonder how unknown people find my blog and I am so excited that they have.  I know that this blog is a very small (okay, tiny is more like it) player in the world of travel blogs yet I am still excited every time I write a blog and see that people have read it and sometimes commented on it.

I have had people from 20 different countries find and read my blog.  The biggest surprise was 28 hits from Norway when my daughter wrote about her Hawaiian Babymoon in Hawaii using points.

I’ve had people from Canada, Norway, United Kingdom, Australia, Switzerland, Philippines, Malawi, Hong Kong, Singapore, Spain, Poland, Finland, Russian Federation, Costa Rica, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Germany, Vietnam, Malta and Indonesia find and read my blog.  That is such an absolute thrill for me.

I hope that you have been able to find a few tips.  Whether it have been  perhaps been encouraged to get out and do more traveling or to help “fund” your travel through credit card sign-ups or find a new product that will make your travel a little bit easier.

I also want to thank you for passing my blog on to friends and family and also for posting it on your FB page and encouraging others to read it.

If you ever want to be a guest blogger for travel locally, domestically or internationally, please drop me a note.  We are in this to help each other out.

Once again, thank you for being part of my Air. Land. &  Sea family.

photo: kootation.com
photo: kootation.com

The Art of Haggling

This post was written by Blogger Son #1 about his adventures in haggling around the world.

I thought that I would  talk all about bargaining and the markets. While traveling, one will often spend a good amount of time around the markets – buying souvenirs for loved ones at home or just roaming around.  I know that my wife and I have spent a ton of time in the back streets of Morocco hunting down the most unique gifts at the lowest prices possible. Not only is it really nice to have things to bring home from exotic places …. haggling for the lowest price is pretty damn fun. And I will say, I have gotten pretty good at it (or at least I think so) although I guess I will never really know what the lowest/local price is.

haggling2

A few general notes about haggling: Each country / geographical region is different. I know that when I was in Central America, people would haggle with you for what seemed like hours. You could say “no” a hundred times but they would still chase you down the street asking you for “last price”. In Central America the sellers would often start with a really inflated starting price and you would have to counter with a really low offering…and then you would work your way to a happy medium well,  not a medium more like a quarter of what we started out with.

It has been a while since I was in Egypt but I remember that  the haggling was really animated. The sellers would hold their chest yelling in pain saying that you are breaking their heart (and would expect you to do similar).

haggling1

Parts of South East Asia were much different especially when coming from Central America and  they didn’t seem to enjoy haggling as much. And would often not bargain – or just name a price close to the actually selling price. If you countered with too low of an offer they would get offended and not sell anything to you.

Morocco seems to be similar to Central America.  The sellers will really try to push their luck and give you a really high first offer. Then of course you need to counter with a low bid. But not too low or they wont except it and you’ll have to make another offer. Part of the trick is to avoid adjusting your price too often or at least getting them to adjust their price every time you do. Here is an example of a typical transaction:

haggling3

Customer walks by a shop and just happens to look at something hanging outside
Seller: “Hello, Bonjour, Hola”
Seller: “Are you English?”
Me: (I’m still ignoring him)
Seller: Take a look, no buy just look. Where are you from? England, Germany?
Me: America (or Australia or Germany or South Africa …depending on my mood)
(I have already spotted what I want to buy but I don’t want to give any hint to the fact that I want this item…I am looking at everything else.)
Me: How much for xxx (some other random item….something that should be in the same price range as what I secretly want)
Seller: “I give you good price!” “Today good day”
Seller: “500”
Me: “Woooo too much, How much for this other thing (the thing I really want)”
Seller: “ok ok I give you family price, 450”
Me: “no I don’t want it….” (Leave the shop and start looking at stuff out front (as opposed to inside)
Seller: Ok what is your price?
Me: “too much, I pay 100”   (note: I always tend to say 100 less than I really want to spend).   My first offer will be,  lets say 100, then he will laugh and I will tell him that his price was too high.  If things go according to plan he will make a big drop. Then I will make my biggest increase (lets say to 150) and then we will haggle over 10’s until we converge at 200.

This goes on forever…the seller is always trying to get you to up your price by saying “give me your best price” “give me your last price” and I am always trying to get a new price from him “give me a real price” “I don’t need this” “give me last price”. One nice little trick I learned is to make the same offer twice, but pretend like it is a new offer. The goal is to get him to drop his price twice without you increasing yours). It also helps to have my wife with me. One of us can play the good cop (normally her) and one of us can play the bad cop (me)…this works really well. We have the routine down! I will end this with some random notes about our haggling adventures.

Sellers LOVE gifts/presents. If you are close to a price that you want but can’t get them to lower anymore, offer a simple gift. Even a pen or a little charm or something. My wife is great with this  She was haggling with the guy forever over a price, and as soon as she offered a whole pack of gum as a gift he said “done!” She saved her main item,  the one that  everyone has been eyeing for her biggest purchase and it worked as well.
When we are planning our market shopping trip we sit  down and talk about our game plan.   We know that if we want two of a particular item but we will only let the sales person know that we wanted one until the last second..then we would demand a cheaper rate for two (it works).   We will also wait till a fast is broken (like after Ramadan) or late in the day just before the market closes. There are tons of tricks…and we love it!
Occasionally when we leave a store the seller may be a little disappointed – this is a good sign that you got a good deal.  While I do my duty and support the local economy, a heated negotiation is part of shopping abroad and can be a lot of fun. I can’t tell you how many times I have been called a Berber Man (I think this means frugal or cheap).
Have you noticed different types of haggling throughout the world?   Wondering if your experiences have been like mine.

National Park Series – Yellowstone National Park

This is the first in a series of visiting National Parks throughout our country:

When our children were younger and money was a little tighter, we would make a vacation out of camping and visiting our National Parks.   When we lived in New England we didn’t visit many National Parks for the simple reason that we didn’t have many.  In fact, we only had one in all of New England – Acadia National Park in Maine. It wasn’t until we moved to Virginia that we were able to visit more parks.

yellowstone

First a little history of Yellowstone National Park – The first National Park was Yellowstone in 1872.  The Northern Pacific Railroad urged Congress to preserve this land but they had an ulterior motive.  The railroad was interested in making this area a major rail destination and they wanted to prevent the park from being misused as well as to stop the poaching of animals on park land.  Yellowstone National Park was being administered by the Department of the Interior.  They had limited legal authority and resources.  The federal government didn’t do a good job of managing the area and to help it, in 1892 the US Army established a fort (Fort Yellowstone) at the northern entrance to the park at Mammoth Hot Spring.  They set up wildlife policy and management that served as a model of what they do today as well as constructing many buildings , many of which are still in use.  The Army continued their management of Yellowstone until 1918 when the National Park Service was established and control of this Park was turned over to NPS.

There are nine places to stay within the Park but my favorite is the iconic Old Faithful Inn.  I use this Inn in which to judge other park service inns and lodges. yellowstone-notebook.comWith the large log multistory lobby and the massive stone fireplace it truly represents all that is western and rustic and stood as a model for other national park lodges.  In keeping with the rustic nature of this lodge, there is no television, radio, internet or air conditioning.  I am fine with all except the no air conditioning.hearth

The lodge is adjacent to its namesake, Old Faithful Geyser.  Old Faithful is the largest regular geyser in Yellowstone.  Some think that it erupts every hour on the hour but it doesn’t.  The rangers at Yellowstone can fairly closely guess when the next eruption is but that is about as far as they can guess.  Generally it will erupt from 35 minutes to 2 hours and the length of the erupts varies as well.

Driving through the park you see many cars pulled over to view the nativewildlife such as  bison throughout the park.  Do not go near the wildlife particularly bison.  Respect them and their size.  Also, if you are camping in Yellowstone do no leave any food in your car as the bears will rip your car apart to get the food.  The park has special bear proof containers to put your food in.

photo: travel-nationalgeographic-com
photo: travel-nationalgeographic-com

Though this is one of my favorite parks, it is not my absolute favorite.  I’ll write about my favorite in another blog.

What parks have you been to?  Do you have a favorite?  I’d love to hear about it.

Friday Specials with VISA

I love my Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card.  I know you’ve heard me say that over and over and over again.  One of the new features that they added this spring was the First Friday of the month Dining Out program.  They want you to go out with friends, try a new restaurant and you’ll be rewarded with 3 Ultimate Reward points per dollar spent.  Don’t feel like dining out tonight but have plans for tomorrow night and you are wondering how you can still get those points – no problem.  Just go to the restaurant and buy a gift certificate.  You’ll still get the 3 points per dollar if you purchase the gift card today and you can eat at the restaurant at a future date.  Remember with the Chase Sapphire card you get a 7% bonus on points at the end of your membership year.  Effectively you will be getting a 3.21% per dollar spent.

Chase Sapphire Preferred
Chase Sapphire Preferred

Fandango Friday – This is the lat night that Fandango will be offering this summer promotion.  You need to have a VISA Signature card (yours probably says Signature on the face of the card).  You need to purchase the ticket on a Friday for that same day’s viewing.  For more information, click here.

just one example of a VISA signature credit card
just one example of a VISA signature credit card

converters or adapters

This has always confused me – when do I need a converter and when do I need an adapter and what is the difference.  I’m sure you more experienced travelers understand but I didn’t.

adapter:converter

To try and get it clear in my mind, I began to do a little research.  I found out that many electronics have dual voltage listed such as 100-240v.  You will find this in the specs paper that comes in the package.  What this means is that it is able to use either voltage but you will still need an adapter to plug your electronic into the electric outlet.

voltage

There are many different styles of wall sockets so it is important to know which type of adapter you need.  We have a set that has many different type of adapters.

plugs

On one of our trips, I plugged in our little digital clock into an adapter only to find out that I fried it – it wasn’t dual voltage and I didn’t add a converter.  Now I know to check.  Make sure when you travel that you have the correct adapter and know whether or not you need a converter.