Monthly Archives: November 2013

What Should we do in Copenhagen and Johannesburg?

Blogger Hubby and I will be in Copenhagen for 5 1/2 days the beginning of September.  I am a planner and would like to have some ideas from you of what we should do. We’ve read about Hamlet’s Castle, Tivoli Gardens, the Viking Museum but what else should we do?   I do know I would like to go to Sweden on the train over the bridge but what do we do when we get there? Should we spend the night or it is only a day trip?

copenhagen

Copenhagen is a stopover on our trip home from South Africa.  We have Cape Town and two safaris planned but we will have 3 days in Johannesburg before our son and his family arrive.  Is there a must see or do for us in J’burg?

johannesburg

Would love to get your opinions and suggestions.

With the Thanksgiving Holiday tomorrow, I will be taking a few days off from writing this blog to spend the time eating and being with my family.  See you on Monday, which as some of you know, is Cyber Monday – a time for online shopping.

turkey

Locations to Avoid when Booking a Cruise Ship Stateroom

Just as there are some great staterooms to book on a cruise, there are also some that you want to avoid, particularly if you are a light sleeper.  I always choose my room rather than a travel agent because I know what I like and generally I study the deck maps to educate myself on the rooms.

deck plan

Here are some locations to avoid:

  • Above or below a disco or dance floor particularly on a cruise line that is known to attract a younger crowd
  • Under the pool deck – lounge chairs will be moved for cleaning and the scrapping of the chairs as they are being dragged early in the morning would wake me
  • Next to or under the jogging track – the pounding of the feet will drive you  crazy
  • I do not want to be near a laundry room.  I do not want to hear the sounds of the washers and dryers running
  • If you are a light sleeper, you do not want to be near the stairs or elevator.  Personally, I like to be about 3 cabins from the elevators for easy access yet far enough that I am not hearing the “dinging” sound that elevators make. People walking past my room, unless it is a loud crowd, does not bother me.
  • Above mechanical equipment or the anchor.  I do not want to hear the engines being turned off and on or the anchor as it is being dropped or raised.
  • Under a cafeteria where chairs could also be moved for cleaning.

Flying with your Pets

Have you ever had to ship your animals on an airline?  I’m not talking about the small animals that you can elect to put under your seat, but rather animals that are dropped off in the cargo area to be transported in the belly of the plane.

dog with wings

United has a program called Pet Safe in which they say they will do the following for your pets:

  • Pets travel within United’s specially designed plane compartments that are pressurized in the same way as passenger cabins.
  • A dedicated 24-hour PetSafe desk is available for help at any time (1-800-575-3335 or 1-832-235-1541).
  • Each pet receives a confirmed booking prior to departure.
  • You have the ability to track your pet’s transport from its origin to its destination online.
  • On the ground, both plane and warehouse facilities are climate-controlled for the safety of your pet. To ensure comfort in any weather conditions, pets will be the last cargo loaded and the first cargo unloaded from the plane.
  • Pets receive personal handling in climate-controlled vehicles for connections in United’s hubs if the animal will be exposed to temperatures greater than 85°F (29.5°C) for more than 45 minutes.

dogs cargo

There are many complaints that United has not lived up to what it has said it will do for your pet.  According to “The Bark” many people have experienced problems in shipping heir beloved animals.

One woman from San Diego relates in this video how United almost killed her animals, a gryehound and her cat as she was shipping them to Boston even with a “comfort stop” in Houton.  She videotaped them from her seat on the airplane as her animals were left out in the high temperatures on the tarmac for more than the 45 minutes and more than 85 degree temperature.  She refused to sign the Non Disclosure Statement and therefore UAL would not pay her almost $3,000 vet bill from her animal being in the Intensive Care unit of the veterinary hospital.  By law, airlines must report whether a pet is hurt, lost or dies on a trip within 45 days of an incident occurring. As of November, the Department of Transportation has no record of her pets’ injuries, even though they were happened in July.  There is also a dedicated FB page for this incident.

Have you ever had to ship your animals?  Were you satisfied with their care or did you have a problem?

Register your AmEx card Today for Small Business Saturday

Registration for the American Express® Card Member Offer for Small Business Saturday® opens Nov 24 on ShopSmall.com. Register any eligible American Express Card to get a one-time $10 statement credit when you spend $10 or more on November 30th, 2013 in a single, in-store transaction at a qualifying small business that appears on the Small Business Saturday Map. Supply is limited so register – Nov 24. There will be full offer terms on ShopSmall.com.

Last year I went to a small local business and they were supporting Small Business Saturday.  The problem was they didn’t accept American Express so I knew that they weren’t “officially” part of Small Business Saturday.  It pays to check their site to see if your favorite local store is listed.

Let’s support our local business owners and buy local.

I DID IT — I FINISHED “THE BIG WIN”

IHG announced their big promotion in September.  There was a list of stays that you needed to do to win it all or just complete the sections you wanted and take those points.  Since I was going to be traveling anyway, I made sure that I would stay in one of their hotels.

IHG-The-Big-Win-Promo

 

The night before we left for Hawaii, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express at the airport the night before our flight.  The Chicago Seminar that I attended in October was held at a Holiday Inn and that took care of 2 brands (needed to stay at 4 brands).  Driving home from Northern Michigan, we stayed at a Crowne Plaza, another brand.  Finally, when I went to Northern Virginia to visit friends, I made a reservation at a Candlewood for the least expensive rate possible to round out my fourth brand.  Although I never actually stayed there, it was well worth making the reservation (and checking in) to get all those points.  Altogether I earned about 145,000 points and that will give me about 6 nights of accommodations – well worth it in my mind to spend a little to reap a lot.

So often we use credit cards to get the sign-up bonuses to use for future travel but if you see promotions, sign up for them.  You never know when you might need a hotel room and the points I received from this promotion is a lot more than what I would get from a credit card sign-up.  If you are taking a trip or expect to be in a hotel room, look at the promotions and see how you can maximize it.

Here’s what I did and you can do it too.  The promotion runs through the end of December.  Click this link to register and start staying and getting your points

Stay at any IHG® hotel and receive
1,000 POINTS
Stay at 4 different IHG brands and receive
24,000 POINTS
Stay a total of 6 nights and receive
7,000 POINTS
Book 2 separate stays through an IHG® hotel website or mobile device to get our best price guarantee and receive
2,400 POINTS
Stay 2 Saturday nights and receive
4,800 POINTS
Complete a simple survey and receive
100 POINTS
Complete all of your offers and receive
39,000 POINTS

What’s in My Travel/Cruise Box

Before I got the travel bug I would occasionally buy things for our trips and since we didn’t go often, those isolated items would get lost in our home.  Once I started cruising more, I decided to dedicate a box for all these miscellaneous items that I felt that I needed for the cruise/trip or for packing.

travel box

I find that having this box on a shelf in my closet has made it easier for me to pick up and go.  Want to see what is in my box?

travel box inside

Let’s look at this a little more closely:

travel bocx clock:dryer

I love cruising but one thing that the cruise lines ALL do is they do not put a clock in your room.  If I wake up in the middle of the night, I want to know what time it is.  For those who book an interior room, they have no window to even let them know if it is morning or night.  I find a clock invaluable and will never cruise without one.  I have a head lamp so if I want to read at night I can without disturbing Blogger Hubby.  I also have a travel dual voltage hairdryer – not that I need one on a cruise but if I am staying at a Bed and Breakfast, they do not provide them.  This was one that I found on clearance for less than $10 at Walgreens.

travel box plugs

I have extra electrical outlets and a converter.  The cruise lines also only give you one, maybe two (if you are in a suite) outlets in your room and since I want my clock and perhaps a curling iron or to recharge my Kindle, camera battery, etc, I need more outlets.  I simply bring my own compact ones.  The converter, we all know what that is for and now it is in a safe spot.

Also in my box are a few miscellaneous items – an evening handbag for formal night, a fabric bag to put my shoes in so they don’t dirty my clothes up, big beach clips for clipping my bathing suit to a chair on our balcony (don’t want that blowing away) or my towel to a deck chair.  I also have a small travel size corkscrew, perfume, hand sanitizer, shampoo, conditioner, lotion and motion sickness pills if needed.

travel box misc

Finally, my safety items whether it is a compact rain slicker which I used recently when we landed in Kona with wind-driven hard rain (they have no jet ways at the airport), a strap to go around my bag to keep it secure, money pouches for each of us, a hopeful Upgrade Me luggage tag and TSA approved locks.

travel box safety

Do you have a travel box or bag and what do you keep in it?

Antigua, Guatamala

Welcome Readers from Girl and the Globe.  I was glad to do a guest post for Becky today while she is traveling. I enjoy reading her blog and have met her several times.   I hope you enjoy my blog and come back to visit. 

My son and I made a last minute decision a while ago to take advantage of a long weekend and have a short holiday in Guatemala.  We have talked about traveling together for years and finally it happened.

We both were extremely excited about this trip for some of the same reasons, as well as different reasons. For me, I was excited to have my own adventure and to travel with my son.  I had been living vicariously through my kids travel adventures for the past few years; always helping with flights, alerting them to the dangers of some countries (hey, I’m a mom, I can’t help but worry), and what souvenirs they should bring home for me (opals in Australia, silk in Thailand, turquoise in India, etc). Another factor was that while I was raising my children we spent lots of time together but as we  grew older, that  time seems to be diminished as they began working full time, married and began raising their own children.  They get busy with their lives and we try adjusting as empty nesters.  This trip would be a good chance to spend some quality time together.  For my son what he was looking forward to was watching me haggle  with a Guatemalan woman over the price of a purse.  For some reason he thought the idea of me haggling would be comical.

On the way to IAD (Washington Dulles) my son wanted to  prepare me just in case things did not go smoothly, so he decided to talk about “worst case scenarios”.   Here was our conversation.

Son “Mom, lets talk about the worst thing that could happen just so that we can be prepared.”

Me “I could get brutally raped and murdered.”

Son “No silly, we could miss the ride to Antigua”. So anyways….neither of those situations happened.  Obviously my worse case scenario was very different from my son’s.

C + J Dulles

The actual traveling to Antigua part went by without a hitch.  Things could not have gone smoother. We flew TACA from IAD to San Salvadore and did a quick change of planes to fly directly into Guatemala City.  My son had arranged to have a driver pick us up as Guatemala City can be very dangerous.  I was grinning like a little girl before Christmas on the plane as I was taking my very first adventure.

Our driver met us with our names on a sign and brought us to his car.  We were instructed by the driver to keep our windows shut till after we left the city as  hoodlums could reach in the car through the window and rob us.  The drive to Antigua was through the mountains in the fog and at times I was a little nervous…okay, at times very nervous.  We got to our hotel as planned and I have to admit, it was not too shabby. We were a block from the Parque Central (where all the action is) and we had our own bathroom with hot water.  What more could we ask for.

hotel antigua

We managed to go out for dinner by the arch in Antigua at Frida’s (they have the best tortilla soup) and then out for a drinks.  We enjoyed watching some of the young men and ladies as they were dancing the salsa.

arch

The first day we spend the day wandering around the city. We did a lot of window shopping where I bought some handmade necklaces.   We actually ended up eating a lot of street food. We found this little street vendor that was selling ceviche and he got one of those.  We then noticed these strange beers that everyone was drinking so of course we had to try one of those as well. Apparently you took a normal beer, add diced onions, juice straight from a lime, and then some brown stuff that looked a lot like soy sauce (but wasn’t).  It was very different and  was pretty tasty according to him.

Our big adventure for the day was a dangerous hike  from the center of town up to the cross at Cerra De La Cruz.   The overlook at the top gives you the best view of  the entire city of Antigua. The hike was not dangerous because the hike was difficult, but dangerous because a lot of people get mugged.  So we hid all of our money in my shoes (it was a lot of money to us) and then we hiked up the mountain without a problem….Blogger Son #1 and I both shared a laugh about the poor ladies at the market the next day that were going to end up with our stinky dollars.

antigua

crossThe next day we took a shuttle to the famous market of Chichicastenango …this was an an all day event. I really looked forward to Chichi because Blogger Son had told me that typically Guatemalans come from their small villages to the Chichi market to sell their wares. He had been there before a few years earlier and thought it was something that I would want to experience.  It was a great chance to see traditionally dressed Guatemalans and eat local food.

chichi woman

Antigua is a beautiful city, but it is also a hub for tourists….while there are inevitably many tourists in Chichi,  it didn’t take away from the craziness of a market.   My son was hoping to get me on a chicken bus….saying that it was something that everyone should experience in Central America. But I opted not to do it which I felt was wise but instead drove there in a mini-van.   We still had a lot of the excitement – passing buses going 90K on a blind corner, barely dodging stray dogs, and of course the Nascar- like approach to the windy mountain passes. In a shuttle bus you don’t have to deal with the kids crawling on your lap and the live animals in the walkway.  We got there without any problems and met some pleasant other travellers on the bus ride.

chicken buses

The market was more intense  than he had remembered. It was really crowded – so crowded that you couldn’t turn around without bumping into someone or something.   I’m tall for a woman and my son is tall for a man; the Mayans ten to be short so we really stood out.  It was hard to get away from all the hustle and bustle…but I guess that is part of it.  I had a lot  of fun but  just could not get the currency conversions down, or how to say numbers in Spanish, which led to a lot of funny haggling conversations. My son tried as much as possible not to get involved and to shoot me silent signals. I ended up with a number of nice souvenirs including two  blanket.    I think the most memorable part of being at the market was the lunch that we had. We ate at one of the most basic “restaurants” that Blogger Son  have ever been too. It’s difficult to describe without  being there but it was great and he was very proud of me for handling it  well.  The rest of the day at the market was much of the same…haggling and haggling, and the shuttle ride back wasn’t too bad…we both managed to get a good amount of sleep which always makes long rides shorter (imagine that!).

market

The next day  we had a relaxing day around town…we opted not to do the volcano tour, instead we explored some more of the city, churches, museums, and some of the local restaurants. We each planned an activity for the day. I chose a relaxing day at a local spa, it was inexpensive and I needed to pamper my feet from all that walking!   My son chose a horseback riding adventure through the local country side (mountains). He has loved horseback riding since our days at the 9 Quarter Circle Ranch and managed to hire a guide to take him alone, which was a real treat. They went all over the area, through the city …but on top of a horse…going through the middle of town…that was a whole other experience for him.  Apparently his horse was afraid of cars, and motorcycles so anytime one would pass, which happened a lot, he would jump…which made it even more exciting for him.  Not quite the Roy Rogers parting shot jump…but the horse’s front legs definitely got off the ground!  He felt like a true Gaucho! After his ride was finished, he met me at the spa as I  was just finishing.  I felt very relaxed and thought it was a wonderful way to spend our last afternoon in Antigua after all that we had done.  My son was still walking kind of funny from the ride and I was relaxed and ready to go!

antigua dinner

Funny side note: On the morning of our first day, we were walking around town. A man selling macadamia nuts came up to me and asked if I wanted to buy any. This was the first vendor that tried to engage me into buying something, and I quickly said NO gracias, a typical, if not somewhat automatic response, anytime someone is asking you to buy something on the street. As we walked away I mentioned to my son that I really would have liked some macadamia nuts. I would randomly bring that up, throughout the rest of the trip anytime that we walked by that area. I was so excited to say NO that I didn’t really take time the to realize that I might want something. On our last night, we ran into the nut man and according to my son my eyes lit up when he approached us. I highly doubt he remembered us…but the way I was smiling I could have worn a big neon sign that said SUCKER that you could read a mile away. I practically jumped out of my shoes to purchase some nuts, and to avenge the mistake I had previously made.  My son was laughing up the entire time.

Another side story – sometimes when I am traveling I wake up really early in the morning and can’t get back to sleep. and my mind will  wander.  On one of our last mornings while my son was sleeping I was going over the 50 US States in alphabetical order.  I worked in an elementary school and one of the school musical programs was the Fifty Nifty United States.   I also decided to memorize my conversion table! I was really bad at it the day before but was an absolute pro on this day.  My son thought it was really a remarkable change…and really funny for him when I told him what I was doing in the wee hours of the morning as he pictured me laying in bed working on her 8’s tables (conversion rate is 8 to 1).

We had a great time and I would encourage some of you to go on a trip with one of your children.  You get to know each other in a different way, make new memories and have fun!   Antigua is not too difficult a place to travel and I was fortunate that Blogger Son kept trying to push the envelope with me and to encourage me to try different things.   I think the fact that he was very proud of me and how well I handled the weekend made me feel proud of myself.

Seat Harness for Children While Flying – CARES child safety device

Have you wondered about flying with your child when you do not want to bring your FAA approved car seat with you on the airplane.  The folks at Kids Fly Safe have come up with a safety harness to use in flight that has been approved by the FAA.  Below, copied from the FAA site about the CRS (Child restraint system), is information on the harness:

FAA-Approved Child Harness Device (CARES)

young boy in child harness restraint

The CARES Child Safety Device is the only FAA-approved harness-type restraint for children weighing between 22 and 44 pounds. This type of device provides an alternative to using a hard-backed seat and is approved only for use on aircraft. The CARES Child Safety Device is not approved for use in motor vehicles.  If you’re using a CARES child safety device, make sure it has “FAA Approved in Accordance with 14 CFR 21.8(d), Approved for Aircraft Use Only” or “FAA Approved in Accordance with 14 CFR 21.305(d), Amd 21.50 6-9-1980, Approved for Aircraft Use Only” on it.  Learn more about CARES here.

If you’re using a CARES child safety device, make sure it has “FAA Approved in Accordance with 14 CFR 21.8(d), Approved for Aircraft Use Only” or “FAA Approved in Accordance with 14 CFR 21.305(d), Amd 21.50 6-9-1980, Approved for Aircraft Use Only” on it.

If you head over to the Kids Fly Safe page, you will see the video on how to use the system as well as where yo can purchase one.  I have not had an opportunity to use on but I will definitely consider it when I fly with my grandchildren as it is definitely less bulky than a car seat that has been approved for flight.

kids fly safe

Chase Sapphire and Freedom News

Have you recently applied for an received either of these two cards?  If so, they have increased the bonus miles you can earn as long as you notify them within 60 days of being approved for the card/s.  Simply go into your online account with Chase and click on “Contact Us”.  You can send a SM (secure Message) to them letting them know that you recently found out that they are offering more miles and you would like them to do the same for your new account.  I’ve done it several times and not once did I have a problem.  Again, the only caveat is that it must be within 60 days of being approved.

Flexible Travel Points with American Express Spg

By now most of you know that  love the flexible points that certain credit cards have.  Some of the Chase credit cards give you the Ultimate Reward points that you can use for 5 airlines, AMTRAK and 5 hotels and  American Express gold and platinum cards give you Membership Reward points.  Another card that I really like that also gives me the flexibility that I crave is the America Express SPG card.  SPG stands for Starwood Preferred Guest which is the loyalty brand for Sheraton Hotels, Four Points, Westin, aLoft, St. Regis and  W Hotels.  Of these hotels I have stayed at the Sheraton as well as aLoft.

American Express will have from time to time increased sign-up bonuses for this card.  Currently it is 10,000 points after the first purchase and then an additional 15,000 after spending $5000 within the first 6 months.  Click here for a link to the card.

What I really like about this card, as I mentioned earlier, is the flexibility that if offers.  I can transfer points to Hawaiian Airlines and then book a flight on American Airlines through Hawaiian.  We have three major alliances with the airlines and some non-alliance partners.  Once you transfer to one airline in an alliance, then you have access to all the other airlines within that alliance.  Plus, for every 20,000 Starpoints transferred within the same transaction, Starwood will automatically add another 5,000 Starpoints!  This means that up to 94,999 Starpoints can be transferred into your frequent flyer account, with most airline partners, making a free flight that much closer.   Please keep in mind that only one airline transfer transaction per member, per airline program, is permitted within a 24-hour period.  For more information, go to this link

spg

For Those who Fly United more than 5 Times Per Year (or book for others)

Do you fly United often either personally or for business trips?  Do you buy a lot of United tickets for yourself or for others?  If you answered yes to either of these questions, pay close attention to what I am going to tell you.  United has a little known program called United.com Club.  It is a way to earn a little bit of money as an airline credit every time you book a ticket at united.com

There is a $25 membership fee that you must pay first and then every time that you book a ticket through your account at united.com you earn a $5 credit that is put into your United Travel Bank to be used for future travel on United or United Express.

IF you are booking a ticket for someone else, you will still get the credit as long as you are signed in through your Mileage Plus account with United.

Five dollars is not a lot of money for booking a flight but it is something that is being offered (for a fee of course) , and must be applied toward future United travel.  If you plan on booking more than 5 trips this year on united.com, you’ll make your money back on the annual membership.  These credits that you receive can only be applied to ticket prices not taxes and fees when you redeem miles for an award booking.

Merger of American Airlines and US Airways

The DOJ yesterday paved the way with their decision to allow US Airways to purchase American Airlines.  The plan, as I am aware of, is for the airline to now take on the name of American Airlines – similar to when Continental took over United and kept the United name.  What will this merger mean to the travelers?

usairways aa

First of all, as everyone has expected, US Airways will most likely leave the Star Alliance and join One World where American is a member.  Like the United and Continental merger, you will most likely be able to more miles back and forth to the two airlines until the merger is fully complete which could take awhile.  I’m sure that Elite Status will carry over to both airlines – if you have Elite on US Airways, you get a reciprocal Elite on American and vice versa.

US Airways Dividend Miles will probably go by the wayside and eventually be converted to AA Advantage Miles. I would strongly suggest that you take advantage of any US Airways promotions or credit card offers.  Both Blogger Hubby and myself today applied for US Airways credit cards knowing that they wouldn’t be around for too long.  That way, we can down the road, apply for the Citi American Airlines credit card.  Here is a link for the US Airways credit card.  I do not receive anything if you apply for these cards.

For the traveler, I think there will be other changes – lost slots at DCA and LGA; they will have to give up gates at Boston Logan, Miami, LAX, ORD and Dallas Love.  Finally the smaller airports will most likely have higher ticket prices.  USAirways/American Airlines could possibly raise ticket prices and the other airlines would follow suit – how often have you heard that happening?

What are your thoughts on the merger and what it would mean to you?

Where to Stay during Road Trips

When Blogger Hubby and I are on a road trip, we never know when we are going to feel like not driving anymore and calling it quits.  That reason makes it difficult to pre-book a hotel for us.  Many times, we just want something clean, convenient and close to the interstate that we are driving on.

Years ago Blogger Son #2 alerted us to the hotel coupon books at the rest areas found on the Interstates.  We had seen them but never picked one up.  That piece of advice from him in many ways changed the way that we traveled.

hotel coupon book

Generally there are three things that you can count on with these hotels in the coupon books – 1) you can’t make reservations 2) you will not get any loyalty points for staying at these hotels because the prices are as low as you can go and 3)you will never get a ground floor room.

Along with local hotels, you will find Days Inn, Hampton Inns, La Quinta, EconoLodge, Microtel – all the usual hotels that you’ll find in your travels.  We always look for ones that provide a breakfast in the mornings as well as free wi-fi.

Have you ever picked up these coupon books?

I Did It…….I Tried AirBnB

and the results are mixed.  First of all, let me explain that I didn’t know what was expected of the hosts, or what was expected of me.

We drove to the location at about the appointed time to meet our hostess.  It was on a charming section of a street in NW Washington DC.  The location was great and perfect for what we wanted to do.  This AirBnB was advertised as a 1-2 Bedroom.

We met our hostess within 5 minutes of our appointed time.  She took us into the home and showed us around.  She did have a set of keys made but didn’t know which key fit what doors or gate and had to try them all to find out.  She also did not have them on a keyring and had to find one.  This theme of being unprepared was one to resonate throughout our stay.

The upstairs where the one bedroom was located was in a little disarray.  That surprised me as I knew from a previous review that she was moving and when I asked the hostess if she was moved, she answered that she was.  Truth be told, she is still getting settled and things aren’t really set up to be a B&B.  Our room had a king size Sleep number bed leaned up against a headboard that was not attached and that was pushed against the wall.  Every time I turned while sleeping, the headboard would rattle against the wall.  There was no clock in the room (though she did ask us if we wanted one), and two small desk lamps on end tables next to the bed.  The bureau in the room had pictures on it that she was going to hang.  There was one pillow on the bed and a very small therapeutic foam pillow. Pillowcases were on our bed.  She didn’t seem prepared to host us.  For towels we had beach towels and one facecloth.  She asked us if one towel was enough.  We did tell her that we wouldn’t be showering as we had just showered before we left home.  The bathroom was not organized for visitors and there were even underwear on a doorknob.  There was no place in the bathroom (that we shared with her) to put our toiletries like a tube of toothpaste while we brushed our teeth.  A bathmat lay on a heap on the floor in front of the tub.  This was a very cluttered bathroom.  There seemed to be a lot of problems with the house – front light wouldn’t go on (she tried changing light bulb), something in the bathroom that a plumber was coming over to fix, including installing a funky alkaline water purifier.  She had to show us how to get water out of the water purifier instead of the faucet.  When we first arrived, the tub/shower was absolutely filthy.  When we returned later, it was cleaner and she had told us she had been scrubbing the tub with a cleanser.  I would have thought she would have done this before we got there.  She propped up the bathroom sink stopper with a gagdet like a bottle opener and we were instructed to leave it open. Kitchen was cluttered and dirty dishes in the sink.

I did find parking on the street as she suggested (though she did have a spot in the back alley if I needed it) but she wasn’t sure what the parking rules were.  She walked outside with us to find the parking enforcement sign.  I think she should have known this if she is going to host guests.

We were in DC for a family function that we went to in the afternoon, came back to the B&B for about 40 minutes and then left again for more of our family affair.  We told her we would probably return around 10:00 – which we did.  She was working on her computer in the living room while watching a beauty pageant on television.  As we were both tired, we went to bed right away but the loud noise of the television was deafening at times along with the aroma of the popcorn she was popping.  She also told us that she still had a few pictures to hang and we would hear her pounding a nail in the wall.  She went to bed quite late.  When we woke up we decided just to leave since we didn’t think she was going to make us breakfast

Our hostess was a very lovely lady, and we felt secure and safe however I don’t think she had a clue how to receive guests and what her obligations are.

During our conversations before I booked, I casually asked our host if breakfast was included since in my mind, it was a B&B.  She did say we could bring what we wanted or she had eggs, yogurt, coffee and a nurtibullet.  I said I would have yogurt and we could bring some pastries.  Now in my mind at more formal B&B’s I have stayed in, you are given a time when when breakfast is ready for you.  That conversation never happened so we really weren’t sure of anything.  Probably a little fault of both of ours.

The ad lists this house as a 1 or 2 bedroom house though I am not sure where the other bedroom would be if you rented it as our hostess slept in that room on an air mattress.

Will I try AirBnB again?  Yes, but I will be a little wiser and know which questions to ask.  Regardless of my feelings, we did save quite a bit of money by staying in her room and we did feel safe and secure.

AirBnB – trying it out!

I’m back in the Northern Virginia area and need to spend Saturday night in DC.  I looked at the hotels since I am in the IHG promotion – they were about $189 which is high but the parking was $45 additional!  I began looking for alternatives and decided to try the AirBnB that I have written about previously.

airbnb

AirBnB is an online company service that provides a way for private individuals to rent unoccupied living space to guests. The company had over 500,000 listings in 33,000 cities and 192 countries. Listings include private rooms, entire apartments, castles, boats, manors, tree houses, tipis, igloos, private islands and other properties.

I signed up and began looking in the neighborhoods of DC that I was interested in staying in. I also wanted a parking spot as I didn’t want to be driving around DC neighborhoods on a Saturday night looking for a spot.  On paper, I think I found a good match.  It is a room in a cozy townhouse in DC owned by a woman who is about 3 years older than me.  We have communicated back and forth…. what time I would arriving, when I would be leaving, she had a vegetarian household and asked that we keep it that way etc.  I also wanted to make sure that it was a non-smoking house.  She even invited me to attend the brunch she was having at her home on Sunday morning and to attend a concert with her friends.

I paid the fee which included a $12 fee to AirBnB for providing the listing, etc.  At that point I received her name and her telephone number so we could communicate in real time.  During the booking procedure I had to provide  identification on line using their software to take a webcam photo of my government issued ID.  I know what she looks like and she knows what I look like.

I’m really excited about trying this out and I think my first time is going to be a success – I’m going into this with no reservations – I feel completely comfortable.  I’ll let you know next week how this all turns out.

Have you ever done AirBnB, Coach surfing or alternative lodging?

Vanilla Reloads and CVS – a dilemma

The other day I walked  into my local CVS to pick up a prescription.  While I was there, I thought I would also get two Vanilla Reloads.  I asked the pharmacy cashier to load them with $500 each.  At the end, she asked to see my identification – this was not a surprise to me.  What was a surprise is what she did next – she scanned the bar code of my license.  I quickly asked her why and she told me that the machine told her to.  I was shocked – what were they going to do with my information?  Now you might think that I am haphazard with my personal information since I purchase items online but I make that decision.  Also those decisions don’t have very personal tidbits of information like how tall I am or how much I weigh etc.  When I asked what they did with the information, the cashier couldn’t help me so I asked for the store manager.

cvs

A woman came out and she really didn’t have any more information other than to suggest that I call 1-800 CVS or something like that.  I suggest that SHE call since others may have the same questions that I do (and I was busy trying to correct a prescription).  She came back and told me it was a FEDERAL law that the stores collect information on our purchases as it relates to money laundering.  Hmm, not true I told her as I had just purchased a lot more a week earlier.  She also said that VISA is requiring her to do this.  Again, doesn’t sound likely since I had used the same card the week before.  Finally she said they do nothing with my information – they don’t even keep it.  Hmm, once it is in the system, it’s always in the system.  Since she knew nothing other than what she was being spoon-fed by whomever she spoke with, I let it drop and went home.

It was still a thorn in my side so I called the corporate offices of CVS today.  I had a really nice young man help me and he got it.  He had to go to other departments, including the store, to get the information.  I asked three questions – could I have been told prior to them scanning my bar code that they would be doing it so I would then have an option whether I wanted them to do it or not?  Secondly, what do they do with the information on my license and thirdly, why are they doing it.

To answer the questions he called the store.  They said that there is a sign posted for the employees to read that indicates that purchases of Vanilla Reloads of $1000 or more require a scan of the bar code however that is not in a place where customers can see it.

Secondly, what do they do with the information.  He was a little hazy on this but basically they don’t do anything with it.

Thirdly, why do they do it?  Apparently there is a lot of fraud around and money launders are finding this a great means to cleanse dirty money.  They want to have a record in case something fishy should occur down the road and they can show that they took means to get identifications.  To help, they ask for identification when you buy $1000 or more in reloads.

A way around this is to go in and buy 2 Vanilla Reloads – load one for $500 and load the other for $490.  With the $3.95 fee, you’ll be below the $1000 threshold that CVS has imposed on many of its customers.  I use VR’s to pay my mortgages, long term care policy (checks only, no cc’s), etc.  So from now on, I’ll just be getting $10 less each time I go into CVS.

Have you had any issues?

My Award Booking Trip to South Africa and…….?????

Let me begin by saying that  I could have never put this trip together without hiring Andrew from the Point Pros (Andrew@pointspros.com).  If you are looking to hire someone to help you book a complicated award ticket or any kind of an award ticket, I would HIGHLY recommend Andrew.  Andrew works under Ben (aka Lucky) who writes One Mile At A Time

What I had thought would be a simple trip to South Africa with a free stopover in Scotland on our way home turned into so much more.  Getting to Scotland was very difficult and costly with UK passenger and landing fees.  We had hoped that if we deleted that portion of our trip it would be easier to book, but it wasn’t.  We’ll save Scotland for some other trip.  Deleting Scotland has allowed us to think about adding in a different stopover city.  Remember, on long haul trips, you get a free stopover for as long as you want.

Apparently South African Airways hasn’t released any award booking seats from the United States to South Africa during the time period we wanted to go.  We needed to patch together an itinerary to get us there on the 16th as we were flying from Johannesburg to Nelspruit for our safari on the 17th.   Unfortunately, the closest we could get  to Johannesburg on an award booking was on the 14th. With award booking you have to remain flexible – you most likely will not get what you want with more exotic destinations.  Though Blogger Hubby hates to waste money on hotels I’m rather happy about it – it gives me time to adjust to the time changes before we go on safari on the 17th.

Put on your seat belt and get comfortable as you read about these flights.

seatbelt

We will be flying from Detroit to Washington Dulles where we will have about a six hour layover (any friends want to pick us up and take us out of the airport for the afternoon?).  From Dulles we’ll fly in business class overnight to London Heathrow and where we have a (gasp) 14 hour layover.  Rather than stay in the airport that long, we’ll probably take a train into London – a place I have never been.  We’ll actually have two overnight flights, like we did flying into Sydney.  We’ll  return to Heathrow and take an overnight flight down to Johannesburg on South African Airways.

After spending a few days in Johannesburg and meeting our son, our daughter-in-law and baby to be, we’ll go on two different safaris in Kruger.  Looking forward to this but a little concerned about the 4 AM guided safari tours – that’s very early!

safari car

For the return home, and this is the part that gets ugly, we will be returning from Cape Town (an Open Jaw flight).  Using award miles to get out of South Africa was not easy.   The choices were either EgyptAir (which had poor reviews) or Ethiopian Airlines in economy but on the new Dreamliner.  We’ll fly from Cape Town to Johannesburg and then onward to Addis Abba, Ethiopia.  We’ll have a layover and then fly on to Rome, on Ethiopia Airlines in Business.  From Rome we’ll fly to Copenhagen, Denmark on Scandinavian Airlines.  What a day of traveling.  We’ll spend 6 nights in Copenhagen.  We’re open to lots of suggestions including whether it is worthwhile to take the train or ferry over to Sweden.

copenhagen

For our flights home from Copenhagen we’ll fly into Toronto on Air Canada’s Executive First Class suites which have a 1-1-1 configuration.  Click on the link and you’ll see what I am referring to.  A short hop to Chicago and then a shorter hop to Detroit and we’ll be back from where we started from.  I guess you can see why we needed help.  Through Expert Flyer we have listed several other flights that we’d like to be on if seats become available.

All this for 240,000 miles total (Ultimate Rewards points transferred to United)  and $212 per person.  If we were to pay cash for this exact itinerary, it would be over $21,000.  Granted there were shorter ways to fly (direct from Dulles to Johannesburg) but that cost more money and since we are retired, we have time plus I get to fly into Ethiopia.  We will fly 22,439 miles on this epic journey.  We can pay and make changes to this itinerary but if we make any changes after February 1st, that will put us into the new award chart and would end us costing us many more points.

Finally, again many thanks to Ben and Andrew from the Point Pros and I would HIGHLY recommend them.

Here is what our trip will look like:

map

British Airways 100,000 point credit card offer is back

I know many of you are tired of reading about credit cards yet many are interested.  I need to walk a fine line between the two.  Regardless, I DO NOT get any compensation or benefit for writing about offers that are out there nor do I encourage you or want to discourage you from getting these cards.  You know what your financial situation is – not me.

british-airways_1009185c

British Airways is back with a tempting offer – 100,000 Avios points for opening a credit card.  However, you need to know that you get 50,000 miles once you spend $2,000.00 in the first three, an additional 25,000 points after spending $10,000 in the first year (the $2,000  .is included) and another 25,000 when you spend $10,000 in the second year that you have the card.  The fee of $95 is not waived.

I’m not a big fan of BA – they charge huge fuel surcharges which could be more costly than you were expecting.yet they afe good for using on American Airlines or Alaska Airlines for short hauls within the United States.

For a great explanation, and since I am still really sick with this stomach bug, I suggest you head over to Million Mile Secrets.  Darius does a great job of breaking it down.  Here is the link for his blog.

United Airlines devalues their Award Tickets

Yes, it is true…beginning February 1, 2014 United Airlines will begin to require more points when redeeming miles for an award ticket.  Previously it didn’t matter whether you were traveling on United or one of their partners in the Star Alliance.  Now it does matter!  Also, rates for Business Class and First Class prices have really gone up, particularly First Class has really skyrocketed.  They now have divided their award chart into two award charts – those flying on United metal and those flying on a partner’s metal.  What I had loved about the Star Alliance is the great airlines that I could fly using my UAL points – now I’ll be penalized when I do.

united

If you are planning on redeeming UAL points, book it sooner than later.  All trips booked by January 31, 2014 will use the older award chart and the next day, it will be the new award chart.  Also, you cannot make any changes to your trip on Feb. 1st because it will then put you into the new award chart.

Here is the link to the current award chart and here is the new one for you to compare.  As far as I can tell, the changes are affecting international travel as well as to Hawaii and Alaska.  If you fly within the 48 contiguous states you should be okay.

Final word – book before February 1st if you are planning a trip.