Monthly Archives: June 2016

Do You Purchase Travel Insurance and if so What Type?

No issue brings us as much angst as the question as to whether we are going to insure a trip.

Buy Travel Insurance Online                     We used to always purchase travel insurance and yet when we did, we were never sure if it was a good policy or not.  You really have no way of knowing till you have file a claim, or someone you know, and how their claim was resolved.  The other part of this equation is,  if their claim was not paid, was it because the claimant didn’t follow the rules.  Perhaps they didn’t notify the insurance company and make a phone call before seeking out medical help first….or save the receipts…go to an authorized physician or facility.  Just  because it was denied doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a good company, it could be as I have alluded, that it was the fault of the insured.  But then again, maybe it just wasn’t a good company.

Let’s go a step back and talk a little bit about travel insurance.  I’m no expert and I don’t hold myself up as one but if you are going to purchase travel insurance make sure you ask questions and compare policies before you purchase.  If you are purchasing through your travel agent, they are not the ones to ask questions of.  They are not insurance agents but merely passing on to you the travel insurance that their agency sells. It may be a good policy but ask questions of that insurance company. Some questions to ask: are  you looking for a cancel for any reason insurance policy? cancel for health or death in your family?  how close must the family member be? do you want your pre-existing medical conditions covered?  do you want medical evacuation?  medical coverage? if you have several trips do you want year long coverage?  Lots of questions to consider and to ask. One thing that I will say about having your pre-existing medical condition covered, you generally need to purchase your travel insurance within 14-21 days of putting down your deposit on your trip.

If you are looking to compare different policies, I recommend you going over to the Insure My Trip website.  You can check off what you want in your policy and then compare them.  If you are more comfortable, give them a telephone call and tell them what you are looking for.  They will be able to guide you.

Another option for you to look at is your credit cards.  Chase Sapphire Preferred has primary rental insurance for your car rental.  In addition to that they also have Trip Interruption/Trip Cancellation coverage of up to $10,000 per trip; Baggage Delay insurance of 5 days at $100 per day.  Make sure you save your receipts to get the reimbursement. Finally, they have Trip Delay coverage.  You need to have purchased your tickets using your Chase Sapphire Preferred card which you should be using since you do get 2 x points on travel.

You should check with your health insurance company to see if you are covered overseas.  I do not believe that Medicare covers you overseas but my military health insurance, Tricare does.  It is called Tricare Overseas and if you do have Tricare and find that you need medical care while overseas, call their telephone number for the region that you are in.  Wondering how I know that?  When we were in Denmark I did have an accident – I fell out of a very tall bathtub while attempting to take a shower because there was no mat and the tub was very slippery.  I cracked my head open on the toilet and was laying on the bathroom floor bleeding profusely from the back of my head.  All I could think about was that we didn’t get health insurance.  Visions of the English actress Natasha Richardson with her head injury from her fall kept going through my head.  Tricare Overseas was called and off to the hospital we went.  But you know what?  Since Denmark has socialized medicine, there was no charge to be seen, for the tests, for the suturing of my head or for the two bags of medicine they sent  back with me to the hotel.

Right then and there it had reaffirmed my decision that if I was traveling in a country with a western culture and socialized medicine, I would forego travel insurance for medical purposes.

The next issue we consider is whether we would cancel due to a death in the family.  My husband’s father is still alive at age 90 and is quite healthy but we know that things can happen.  If something did happen, would we cancel the trip or would we need to return?  We discussed different scenarios and made the decision that works for us.

Travel-Insurance-Icon

Using our points for our airfare and hotel stays, we are able to cancel and get the points, sometimes with a small fee, redeposited to our account.  When estimating the cost of a trip, I have to exclude those arrangements that we are not paying for and that are refundable.

For our cruise to South America that we just booked, we did decide to get travel insurance.  We figure that being at the bottom of South America, medical care may not be readily available if something serious was to happen.  The insurance covers medical evacuation up to $500,000 if I should need to leave the area.  It’s been years since we purchased insurance but at our age and our destination, we feel that we are being prudent in purchasing it.

 

 

River Cruising and Viking Cruise Line – Strictly My Opinion

For those who know me and ask my opinion about which river cruise line to choose when sailing through some of the European rivers, I’m quick to say “avoid Viking”.  I know, many of you have had wonderful experiences on Viking and when things go right, then they have many satisfied passengers.

The problem in my mind is when things do not go right, how does each river cruise line handle it.  After all, high water or low water affects all the cruise lines and they handle these problems differently.

Last year when there was low water on the Danube and a few other rivers, most of the cruise lines let their passengers know ahead of time.  Some of their passengers had “cancel for any reason” travel insurance and they were able to cancel their trips rather than be docked for most of their river cruise and be bussed to their ports.  These passengers said that they paid for a river cruise, not a bus trip.  From my understanding after reading all the different threads on Cruise Critic – River Cruising thread, is that Viking did not alert their passengers to the potential that they would have a bus trip or have to switch ships halfway through their journey.

Another reason, particularly when the rivers are low, that I do not like Viking is that their ships have a lower draft to them and therefore are deeper in the water.  Last summer when their was low water levels in the Danube, Avalon, AMA Waterways, Uniworld and other lines were able to complete the majority of their cruises without interruption but not Viking.

Viking is the largest provider of river cruises in Europe and you will hear more negative reports about them.  It seems that some of the common themes is lack of communication to their passengers alerting them to a problem or the potential of a problem.  Having high water (like currently in Europe) or low water (like last summer) is nothing new and all the cruise lines should have some notion of what to do and have alternate plans in place.  They generally do a good job except for Viking.

Found this article about the high water that is affecting many of the central European rivers.  Which which cruise line is having to make alternative itineraries and which ones are not.

I have cruised both Avalon (Rhine River) and AMA Waterways (Danube and shortly the Rhone) and I feel that they are both excellent cruise lines with very good reputations.

Have you done a river cruise and which cruise line did you sail on?  What was your experience?  Were you sailing during a “normal time” or one when there were problems with the water levels?  I’d love to hear your opinion.

AMTRAK’s South West Chief

We were finally on the last leg of our three part train trek around parts of America.  We enjoyed almost all aspects of the trip so far, perhaps with the exception of one of us having to climb into the upper, narrow bunk bed and the train whistles at night when going pass a crossing.  The South West Chief was originally  operated by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway until AMTRAK took over passenger rail service in 1971.

southwest chief

Los Angeles, along with Chicago, has a lounge of first class passengers and we took full advantage of it.  When you enter the front of Union Station, walk straight back and near the rear, turn right and then go up the escalator.  There are chairs, a few tables and chips and soft drinks as well as coffee. There is an attendant sitting at the desk to help us with any questions you might have.

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As lounges go, or at least as compared to airline lounges, this wasn’t too much but it was a nice place to hang out and eat the few snacks that they had.  Because of the way that the station and tracks are laid out, when it was time to go to the track to board our train, we were driven there in multi-row golf carts.  If we had chosen to walk, we would have had a long way to go including going under a tunnel to get to the other side of the tracks.

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We weren’t sure if we would get dinner since we weren’t scheduled to leave Los Angeles till 6:15.  As we boarded we found out that we would get dinner and as the attendant came around, we signed up for one of the first sittings at 7:00.  Same menu that we had on both the Empire Builder and Coast Starlight.  Blogger Hubby was quick to let our table mates know how good he thought the seafood cakes were, which he had again!

We went to bed early because one of the stops in Arizona, early in the morning around 5:45 AM was Winslow, Arizona.  It seemed like I was humming the Eagles song” standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona” all night while I was trying to sleep.  Unfortunately, I woke up about 5 minutes after we passed it.  At breakfast we met a couple who had just gotten on the train.  The did the option of going to the Grand Canyon through the Grand Canyon Railroad.  Although they had a good time, they were exhausted because they had to leave their hotel at 3:  AM to be at the train station at 4:00 AM – unfortunately, the train was late and they had to wait about an hour for the South West Chief to come by.  Although they loved the canyon, they wouldn’t recommend going by train other than the convenience of being very close to the rim.

For us, we enjoyed seeing the change in scenery across America.  Here are a few scenes that we passed on our last day on our train trek.

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IMG_1042As I mentioned, our train, unbeknownst to us, was running late but what we found out on every line is that they build time into the schedule so they very rarely arrive late at the station at the end of the line.

Our final stop was Albuquerque.  Our train trek was over but now our New Mexico part was beginning.  It was 11:00 in the morning, the sun was shining and we were excited.  We gathered our bags, left the train and walked out front to get a taxi to the airport to get our rental car.  Problem was – there were no cabs.  I tried calling one cab company but no answer.  I tried Uber but it was surge pricing very high.  Finally got a cab company who would send a cab out to the train station in 10-15 minutes but no guarantee that we would get it.  After half an hour, one came but there was a little disagreement on how got to ride.  The other couple and us came to an agreement that we would share it since we were both going to a car rental at the airport.IMG_1047

We closely examined the car, loaded our bags and headed north to Santa Fe.

Would we do this again – yes!  We’d like to do the California Zephyr route which is San Francisco to Chicago traveling through scenic Colorado and the Rockies.

This entire train trip took 65,000 of my Ultimate Reward points that I had transferred over to AMTRAK (no longer available to do it) and remember, traveling first class included all of our meals.  I used points to stay at the Holiday Inn and Suites in Chicago the night before our train trip, also for the Weston Bayshore in Vancouver, points for our night at the Hilton Doubletree Checkers hotel in Los Angeles.  We paid for our night at the Seattle Grand Hyatt and used a Diamond upgrade for our Emerald Suite.

Up next, Land of Enchantment – exploring Santa Fe, Taos, Albuquerque and its environs.

REMINDER: I’m getting together a group for a cruise around the southern tip of South America.Come join us on March 5, 2018 (that’s right – 2018) on Holland America’s Zaandam, a vessel with about 1450 passengers as we board in Valparaiso, Chile as we cruise among the fjords, through the Strait of Magellan, Beagle Channel, visiting the southernmost town in the world, Montevideo, Paraguay and disembarking in Buenos Aires, he home of fine leather and the tango.  With a group, basically in name only, we received the lowest rates and amenities. .  Leave a comment and I’ll respond privately to you about this cruise or contact my travel agent, Michelle, at michelle@mccabeworld.com and tell her you are in Jane’s group!

Chicago Seminars 2016 – a Must if you are New to this Game of Point/Mile Collecting

I cannot say enough GREAT things about this seminar – which I have absolutely no affiliation with other than being a very happy attendee.  This will be my 5th year in attending and each year I come away with more confidence to broaden what I do.  The seminar was begun by Rick Ingersol of Frugal Travel Guy and taken over by Howie Rappaport.  If you have a chance, go on over to Howie’s blog.

First of all, this seminar is, in my opinion, very, very affordable.  The entire weekend of seminars beginning Friday late afternoon to late afternoon on Sunday and including your lunch on both Saturday and Sunday is $105.00.  The event is at the Elk Grove Holiday Inn, a short shuttle stop from O’Hare Airport.  If at all possible, try to stay at the host hotel but if not, book a room at one of the overflow hotels where shuttles will run you back and forth to the event.  If you are in an overflow hotel, keep checking back at the host hotel because there are ALWAYS last minute cancellations, even the day the seminar begins.  I would go to the host hotel first and see if there were any openings before checking into the host hotel.

Most times there are two concurrent seminar topics running in adjacent rooms.  Tough decision which to choice or better yet bring a friend, spouse or find a friend and offer to share notes..  Bring a sweater too – some rooms are very cold, others just right or hot.  You just never know.

Bring your laptop (I do), a notebook for jotting down information, your iPhone to take pictures of the screens to help you remember.  The main thing that you should bring with you is a willingness to meet people, include others in your conversations, share and to ask questions.  So much of what I have learned has been in the lobby between classes, or over a beer in the connected restaurant or over a meal with a newfound friend.

You may ask why am I attending for a 5th time.  Well, as most of you know, I am a YOUNG senior and although I have plenty of free time (ahh, retirement is grand) I do sometimes take a little longer to “get it”.  My first time attending I felt overwhelmed and that everyone was speaking a language that I didn’t get and I felt too embarrassed to ask any questions.  I hid out in my room some of the time though I did have a great excuse of my broken foot in a cast and needed to elevate it.  The second time I had taken a couple of trips, knew the words but still a little unsure of the strategies.  I spoke more, sat with strangers and involved myself in the conversations.  I knew what to expect the second time and even spent an extra night (Sunday) so I wouldn’t miss Sunday afternoon and wasn’t as rushed.  The third time was really the charm for me.  I met a great group from Boston and a really nice woman from Texas.  She and I have stayed in contact passing on deals to each other.  We joined a large group for dinner and had so much fun.  Last year, I felt like one of the more veteran attendees and it was answering questions from newbies, encouraged those who stayed outside of circles to join us.

No matter what your level or expertise in this hobby is, I know that you will take home a new trick as well as new friend.

Here is the link to the registration form   Please consider attending, you will not regret it, I promise

 

 

 

 

 

Why I LOVE going to the grocery store – not what you think!

As most of you know by now, the majority of our travel is from earning and burning points and miles from our various credit cards. We don’t earn too many of them from travel but rather from strategically using our credit cards as well as credit card sign ups.

As I have mentioned in the past, one of my favorite combination of credit cards is the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card with the Chase Freedom card. The Freedom card by itself is a money back card but if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred card or one of the Chase Inks (business cards) then the Freedom card will earn the Ultimate Reward points that can be transferred to airlines and hotels and formerly AMTRAK.Freedom

What is unique about the Freedom card is that they have different category spending per quarter. The second quarter of this year is 5 times points at grocery stores and big box stores like Sam’s Club, BJ’s Warehouse, Costco, etc.

I need to have a few windows replaced and had Lowe’s come over and give me an estimate for the window replacements – over $2,000.00. Hmm, my local grocery stores sells Lowe’s gift cards and if I purchase them this quarter, I’ll get 7,500 ultimate reward points rather than just the 2,000 points from paying Lowe’s directly.  Note:  you are limited to spending $1500 per quarter to get the bonus points.  Do I hear a Cha Ching!

That got me thinking.  What else do I ordinarily spend money on that I could purchase a gift card for during this quarter? I always need gas so a few BP gas cards went in my basket as well as a few restaurants gift cards and movie theatre gift cards and of course, those lovely and ever so versatile VISA $500 gift cards. Luckily, Blogger Hubby also has a Freedom that that we can use for all these extra points.

This should be a banner month for me with it all ending on June 30th. I hope you have the Freedom and and have taken advantage of this quarter’s bonus categories. If you don’t have it and are interested in one, please leave me a message in the comment section.

UPDATE:  Mommy Points has just written that Chase Freedom will continue to pay 5 x points when used at wholesale club stores through the end of the year.  You can read her post here.

Who Wants to Cruise With Us to South America?

Yes, I admit it…..I’m a planner.  I like to have a goal, or trip in mind so I can have fun researching, planning and of course saving for it.  Blogger Hubby and I have looked at our bucket list again, re-prioritized it and found what we want to be our next trip.  Since we are taking off next year from big travel (putting money into our house) I had to begin looking at 2018.  I know, I know – that’s a L O N G time off but because it is a long time off, I was able to get a really great deal.  The best deals for trips are really far out or last minute.travel world

 

One cruise that we have wanted to do for about 5 years now is the cruise around South America and Antarctica.  Having Antartica as part of the trip  added on about a week and several thousand dollars more to the. Regretfully, I let go of that dream.

My next decision was when to go. Obviously, their summer was the best time or was it?  Summer is considered the rainy season, not like monsoons but more like here where the heat of the summer will cause afternoon thunderstorms.  I’ve also become sensitive to the heat and that needs to be taken into consideration.  Last year’s trip to Europe, where it was in the high 80’s and low 90’s almost every day was a major drain on my energy as well as how much time we spent out of doors and waiting in long lines.  I read that the early fall is a wonderful time to visit – think of New England in the fall.  From what I read, drier air will move up from Antarctica and will give us those azure blue skies that we see in the spring and fall.

map south america

I have been on Celebrity, Princess, Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Holland America as well as two river cruise lines.  I fee like I have a taste of their personalities and know what to expect from the ships.  I chose Holland America (HAL) because of what it offers me.  I really enjoy their Culinary Arts Kitchen where they will give you small group cooking lessons, large group demonstrations, the rocking and rolling Piano Bar, easy access to loungers and tables around the pool, entertainment that we enjoy.  With all this information in hand, we chose to begin our cruise on March 5, 2018 on Holland America’s Zaandam.

zaandam

We begin our cruise outside of Santiago, Chile and sail past beautiful, green and lush forests and lakes, through the Strait of Magellan, Beagle Channel, seeing many glaciers.  Did you know that there are more glaciers in Chile than in all of Scandinavia?  We will go to the southernmost town in the world, Ushuaia, Argentina.  We will enter Glacier Alley and stand at the front of the ship with warm beverages in hand as we gaze at the glaciers that may be gone in our grandchildrens time.  Have you ever seen a glacier calving – that’s when a chunk breaks off and falls into the water and hear the noise they make?  We will see penguins in their natural habitat and so much more.  But it’s not all scenery.  We’ll spent a day in Montevideo, Uruguay and overnight in Buenos Aires.  I’m planning on having a custom made leather jacket made for me in Buenos Aires.  We’ll also stop in the Falkland Islands and be able to have a spot of tea, British style.

The beautiful glaciers
The beautiful glaciers
Glaciers galore
Glaciers galore
Ushuaia, Argentina - the southernmost city in the world
Ushuaia, Argentina – the southernmost city in the world

While in are in South America, this would be an opportunity to visit Machu Picchu, Easter Island, the Galapagos, or Iguazu Falls

My fantastic travel agent, Michelle, of McCabe World Travel outside of Washington DC, will be coordinating the group travel.  She has been able to lock in for our group the lowest prices for us.  In addition to the lowest prices, there will be amenities for our group.  I’ll try to arrange some excursions that are more personalized and smaller than what the ship offers though you are free to do what you want.  Remember, we are a group in name only so we can get the best prices.  Of course, we are all a friendly group and it will be run to see each other and share stories.  Don’t you want to be part of this great group?

Am I tempting you a little bit?

 

 

Coast Starlight Train from Seattle to Los Angeles

Traveling by train is not quick.  You will not get to where you want to go fast.  Train travel can be expensive but for some of these routes, it is much less than airfare for these remote locations.  Train travel is a lazy, relaxing way to sit back, and watch the scenery go by while you are going to your destination and enjoying the ride.  That’s something that most people don’t say about airplane travel.  You have the opportunity to meet people, share travel stories, get recommendations  if you are stopping in their hometown.  Train travel is almost a luxurious way to travel because you are not rushing.  It’s a throwback to other times for most of us.  Rooms are small, even the large bedroom that we got very very small.

In our "large" bedroom" on the train.  It was the same setup on all the trains.
In our “large” bedroom” on the train. It was the same setup on all the trains.
hallway where our bedroom was located
hallway where our bedroom was located

We began the second leg of our Train Trek across America in Seattle when we went to Seattle’s King Street AMTRAK station to board the Coast Starlight. We had heard so much about this leg of our trip that I wondered if it lived up to the hype. After reading this, you be the judge.  If you missed our first leg, you can read about it here.

At the King Street Station, there is no lounge.  Like airports, there is a dedicated line waiting to board for first class passengers. You need to look at your ticket for it to tell you which car you are on and which room. Our ticket said 1130 D which translates into train #11, car 30, room D. You need to remember this information because you will use it in the dining room to charge your meal to your room (remember, your meals are included if you are a first class passenger).

We settled in and went exploring. We had heard that this train was different and we wanted to find out how it was different. One car behind us was the Parlor Car which I don’t believe any other long haul train has. This is exclusively for first class passengers and it has padded, swivel chairs so you can look our the windows. This is similar to an observation car with the windows at chair level and on top as well. There are 12 of these chairs as well as about 8 tables.

comfortable chairs in the parlor
comfortable chairs in the parlor
tables for eating during dining hours in the parlor as well as the wine tasting.  We would play cards here as well
tables for eating during dining hours in the parlor as well as the wine tasting. We would play cards here as well

You can make meal reservations in the parlor car and they have a different menu that what we had on the Empire Builder or what we would have on the SouthWest Chief. Excited that we would have something different, I quickly signed us up for lunch. BIG MISTAKE. Nothing is prepared fresh, or at least as fresh as it could be on the train. I ordered a salad which was mainly arugula and sliced red cabbage with a salad dressing that was not to my liking – and I like most salad dressings. Blogger Hubby had the chicken salad sandwich and he said it was a “nothing kind of sandwich”, pre-made who knows when. There was another choice and it too was a sandwich. Lesson learned – eat meals in the dining room.

The parlor car is also where they have wine tastings for $7.50 for three tastings and an offer to buy a cheese platter for $10. The first day it was 2 wines from Washington and one imported wine from Argentina. The second day it was 2 wines from California and the same imported wine from Argentina. Although it was nice to do this, it could have been presented and run better. After we were served our wine, the parlor stewart disappeared. Sometimes there were long waits before pours. You decide whether you want to do this or not.

tasting a Washington State wine
tasting a Washington State wine

 

We left Seattle about an hour and more late. They had to put sand on the train for us to spray in the tracks where we would potentially have problems climbing elevation and possibly slippery tracks.

Once we started moving we were glad that we were in the comfortable parlor car seats as we admired the beautiful scenery that was unfolding before our eyes. We crossed smaller rivers, traveled along the Columbia River, climbed mountains, saw Mt. Shasta and just took in the sights. We certainly understood why Oregon is called the Evergreen State as we traveled southbound. What surprised both of us was that there was still snow on the ground.

Through the Cascade Mountains
Through the Cascade Mountains

On all of the trains, there are some longer stops where you can get off the train, go in the station or just stretch your legs on firm ground.  Here we are in Eugene, Oregon where the waffle sole was invented and Nike was begun.  The longer stops are called “smoke stops” as there is no smoking on the train.

One of our stops, Eugene, Oregon.
One of our stops, Eugene, Oregon.

As we traveled through California we stopped at Salinas which is nicknames “America’s Salad Bowl” and marveled at all the rows and rows of crops that were growing and being harvested.  We could quickly spot the red strawberries that were growing on the plants and wished we could have reached out the train window to grab some.

Salinas, California - America's Salad Bowl
Salinas, California – America’s Salad Bowl

Further down the coast, south of San Luis Obispo, came the sheer beauty of this coast.  There was nothing between us and the shore.  With colors ranging from deep green to tans and browns, it was breathtaking and made us glad that we were seeing this from the train – we could have never done it by automobile as there were no visible roads to our eye.  Mountains in the background, sand and ocean in front of us as we were zipping along on this stretch of track that this train route is noted for.

Pacific Coast
Pacific Coast
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Pacific Coast south of San Luis Obispo

There is one point in this section that you go around a curve and can see both the front of the train as well as the back of the train at the same time.  Of course, I wasn’t able to photograph it but here is the front of the train.

The front of the Coast Starlight train
The front of the Coast Starlight train

Every train has a different personality with different crew. Also, each of the trains we rode had the same menu yet with different cooks, the same food was different on the trains.  Blogger Hubby loved the seafood cakes which were a combination of shrimp and crab meat.  He thought that was the best on the menu.  I had the signature steak on al three trains and the Coast Starlight had the best steak by far.  Salisbury Steak, the special on all the trains, was hit or miss.  We didn’t try the pasta with the overcooked veggies.  The herb chicken was also good.

We arrived in Los Angeles around 9:00 PM and took a cab to our hotel with an attitude from our cabdriver since our hotel, the Hilton DoubleTree was only a few blocks away.

As a reminder, everything on this trip with the exception one hotel night was booked using points.  Your meals on the train are included in your first class fare/miles.

Leg two of our epic train trek was now in the books.  Next up, what to do near the train station during the day.