Category Archives: Airlines

Global Entry – An Easier Way to Schedule Your Interview

Many of our friends were surprised that we did not have global entry and to be honest, so am I.  Not living in close proximity to an airport where you could schedule an interview seemed to be my main obstacle.  Yes, we do go to the metro DC area and could schedule one at either Washington Dulles or National Airport but I just never did.  Everything that I had heard about these airports was that they had long waits for interviews – months and months long.

I was speaking with my stepson earlier this month and he was flying to another location to get his Global Entry rather than his home airport.  That gave me an idea and I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it before.  Why not just go to another airport.  As we go to northern Michigan once a year  I knew I would be driving past Detroit Metropolitan Airport on my drive.  I called the contact telephone number at Detroit and they told me that I had to first fill out the application online, a background check would be conducted and that would take about 3 weeks.  Once that was completed, I could call them and set up an interview which could take place about a week later.

Feeling gleeful with this news, I quickly filled out the Global Entry application and my husband did his as well.  Imagine my complete surprise when we were notified four days later that we could go ahead and make the appointment for our 15 minute interview.

We sat down at the kitchen table today to look at our calendar and see when a good date would be to set up our interview.  As I went back online to find the photo number of the office at the airport, I happened to scroll a little further down the screen.  I found that they had a NEXUS office in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan which was a lot closer to us.  I called them up and they gave us an appointment for the next day!  This isn’t even an airport but is by an international bridge into Canada.  From filling out the application to scheduling the appointment, it was been nine days.

I know that most of you are not going to be near an international bridge but if you live near one, see if they can give you an interview faster than at the airport.

We did drive up to Sault Ste. Marie, went into the office and had our “interview”.  It was extremely easy and I am kicking myself that I didn’t do it earlier.

At the Chicago Seminars that I attended  in October, I was sitting at breakfast with Greg, known as the Frequent Miler who writes a great blog on our hobby.  I was telling him about our experience at the bridge at the Soo.  He wondered if they had one in the Buffalo area as he was going to help his niece get her Global Entry.  I looked it up and quickly found that there were two – one in Buffalo and one in Niagara.  To be honest, these locations are not where you would expect them to be.  Most people go here to find locations but I found the other locations by going here.

If you decide to get Global Entry, which also gives you TSA Pre check, look beyond airports particularly if you can get to a state that is bordering another country – it just might be faster.

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Hyatt Regency Aruba – a Winter Getaway

I find that I NEED to get away for some sun and warmth during the winter months even if it has been a mild winter like this year.  It always gives a lift to me since I feel that I have a slight case of Seasonal Affective Disorder.  My last minute cruise to the Caribbean didn’t happen this year due to conflicting schedules but I did have my two free night certificates that I earned late last winter from signing up for the Hyatt credit card from Chase.  The two free nights could be redeemed anywhere in the world.  When Blogger Hubby had this card we used his two free night certificates at the Grand Hyatt Kauai.

I have Diamond status with Hyatt due to them status matching me last year to my Aspire status with Holiday Inn.  The status was effective for all of 2016 and expires on 2/28/2017. The Diamond status gave me 4 upgrades and I had used two of them already as I mentioned in the previous blog about me being a Hyatt Gal.  With a couple more suite upgrades and two free nights, we decided to go to Aruba for our beach vacation.

Getting There:  I already had some points that I had transferred from one of my Chase credit cards that gave me Ultimate Reward points to Singapore Airline’s Krisflyer loyalty program.  Knowing that there is an expiration on those points, we decided to book our flight down to Aruba using the points that I had transferred over to my KrisFlyer account.  As they are an alliance partner with United Airline, I went to the United website and saw which flights had award availability.  I wanted to get to Aruba as soon as I could and from looking at the flights available to me I saw that we would have a connection in Newark.  Never having flown through Newark before I wanted to allow myself enough time to get from one gate to another, particularly since I would have to change terminals.  I was nervous about that since I had been told to take the train but if I took the train, I would have to go through security again. Instead there is a bus that brought me to my terminal.  There was hanging signage so it was easy to find.

The flight down to Aruba was set.  For the return flight, there didn’t seem to be any good flights for us without having a long layover in Newark, which would mean we would have to spend the night.  I instead began looking at other airlines and found that Delta had a good one that would get us back to our home airport at 10:30 PM.  The only concern I had was that there was a one hour connection time in Atlanta.  We booked this flight because we also saw that there was ever a little later flight to our home airport in case we should miss ours.  I don’t have many Delta miles so we paid out of pocket for this flight.  I used my American Express credit card and received 5 x points for this purchase.

HYATT – To add to our two free nights at the Hyatt, we booked three other nights paying cash and points.  I was charged $150 per night and 12,500 points per night.  I knew that at this point (and it will change as of 3/1/17) that suite upgrades are not given on award stays so I tried to strategize and book the points and cash nights first followed by the free two nights hoping that they would keep me in the suite that I would get from using points and cash.  Of course, there was always the possibility that they would have me change rooms after the first three nights and then transfer me to a standard room.  I was willing to take my chance but didn’t tell Blogger Hubby about it till we were on the plane.

Flights were fine and before we knew it we were outside the terminal with our carry on only luggage getting into a taxi cab for the $25 fare to where the high rise motels were located on the northwest side of the island.

We pulled up and my breath was taken away at how beautiful the resort was.  We went to the reception desk and was helped by Junel.  At first we were told that our room was not ready even though I had asked for an early check in (a benefit of being a Diamond member).  We started to walk away and he called us back and said that he could give us another suite, a larger one, but only for three nights in the high rise and then go to the regular suite in the low rise for the remaining two nights OR we could wait for the regular suite and stay there for all 5 nights.  We chose to go to the larger one that had an ocean front balcony.

A little background on this hotel – there are essentially two parts to this hotel and they are connected where the reception area is located – somewhat like a U shape building.  There is the high rise which has 9 floors and the low rise which has 5 floors. The Regency Club is located on the 9th floor of the high rise.

ROOM #1 – We were taken to our suite and it took my breath away.  It was huge, at almost 1900 square feet it encompassed the entire back end of the hotel on our floor overlooking the Caribbean.  We had 4 sets of sliding glass doors, 4 thermostats, three separate sitting areas, an Apple desktop computer on the desk, a bathroom that would equal my kitchen, a dressing area, 4 sofas and numerous chairs, two refrigerators, 2 bathrooms and so much more.  This was luxurious living at its best.  I was giddy but to be honest, we really didn’t use much of the room as we didn’t spend much time there.  It did make it convenient to go up one floor for the Club offerings and the concierge that was there.

the left side of our large living roompart of our living room and the kitchen area

we were the next to the top balcony and the little balcony to the right.

ROOM #2 – if I hadn’t seen our first room, I would have been thrilled with this room.  It was a 2 room suite though the layout and furnishing were either awkward or outdated.  The little kitchen area had only a small dorm size refrigerator and a microwave sitting on top of it.  There are no glasses, plates, silverware in any of the cabinets in this area.  There wasn’t even a sink.  What was strange was one of the two closets was in the kitchen and the other in the bathroom.  The sofa would convert to a sofa bed but it seemed very outdated.  The bathroom counter could have accommodated two sinks but there was only.  There were two doors leading into the suite from the hallway – one into the bedroom and the other into the living area.  The balcony overlooked the ocean and we enjoyed sitting out at the end of the afternoon sipping our wine and watching the sunset.

GROUNDS – The grounds in the back were immaculate.  They had 3 or 4 cages of birds including macaws.  In the water feature, there were plenty of koi swimming around, many green iguana, turtles and black swans.  Enough there to keep the few children that were staying here entertained not too mention my husband as well!

POOLS – there are really two pools although they are connected.  The lower pool has a large very, shallow area for very little ones.  This is where I saw the children with their little floaties on their arms.  Steps led down to the adult pool where there was a net across for water volleyball. This is the pool that has a swum up bar.  Around the corner, but still in the water, is where the water slide ends so be careful of the adults and children who are speeding down the blue water slide.  Blogger Hubby went down numerous times and had a great time.  The upper pool is is just  a pool, although a very nice pool.  Behind it, hidden away by the tropical foliage is the hot tub which was very relaxing.

LOUNGERS, UMBRELLAS, and PALAPAS – I found the way that you sign up for a palapa (the palm frond covered wooden umbrellas that are on the beach)and loungers with umbrellas around the pool to be a little difficult but honestly, I don’t know if I could improve it.  First of all, you can reserve and rent a palapa, umbrella or one of the few cabanas.  The palapas rent for $55 per day or $80 for the cabanas and they can be rented for up to one year in advance of your stay.  They have the prime location, closest to the beach.  They do have some palapas that are not for rent but in order to reserve them you can either go online at 4 PM the day before or stand in line at the towel hut.  I stood in line but to be honest, you need to get in line around 3:30.  It goes fast so have an idea of the number of the palapa you want because you are competing with those online.  Many people found that the online process didn’t work so I wouldn’t risk it because they can, and do, run out of palapas by the beach or the umbrellas by the pools.  If they still have some available, you can go to the Towel Hut at 10:00 AM and sign up for one there.  There are usually empty loungers available by the pool though there may not be by an umbrella.

The towel hut and those in line at 3:30 waiting to sign up for a palapa at 4:00
If you want service, turn the 2 color block so green is up; no service, keep the red up

STAFF – we found the staff to be very accommodating and they always seemed to know our needs and our names.  The Club has a cooler for water, and soda.  I lamented to the concierge that there was no Coke products in the cooler.  When my husband went up later, she gave him two cans of Coke’s for us since she keeps some in a different area for those who ask.  They have a contract with Pepsi so they wouldn’t put out the Coke products but they still had them for their guests.  Every time I walked by the registration desk I was always greeted by name and was always asked if there was anything I needed.  At the towel hut, they knew my room number when I would go to borrow a floating pad to lay on in the water.  They even knew when we changed rooms.  I cannot say enough great things about the staff.

REGENCY CLUB – who needs to eat out when you have such amazing food at the Club.  Breakfast dishes always had bagels, croissants, toast, English muffins, cold cuts, smoked salmon, hot oatmeal and then another dish such as pancakes, scrambled eggs and more.  Fresh fruit was plentiful and we appreciated the pineapple chunks, in season watermelon, slices of grapefruit as well as apples, bananas and plums.  The afternoon was time for sweets such as cookies, nuts and dried fruit and cake.   Appetizers began at 5:00 PM and we found that several days that we didn’t need to go out for dinner – that’s how filling and ample the appetizers were.

When we did want to go elsewhere for dinner, we could walk out of the hotel and turn either left or right.  I would go to the left (near the Hilton) as there were many good restaurants there.  Many of them had outside seating around a small stage where there was live entertainment.  We particularly enjoyed the Argentina Grill but we could have easily gone to many of the other restaurants.

SUPERBOWL SUNDAY – We arrived on Superbowl Sunday and in case you don’t know me, although I live in Virginia and have for over 3 decades, I am a Bostonian through and through as that is where I was raised and lived till we moved to Virginia – my accent will testify to that.  Well you know who was playing on that Superbowl Sunday and I wanted to watch it.  Of course, we had that large television in our living room but Hyatt went one better.  They had out in the water a large inflatable screen that they televised the game on.  Of course, we could have sat in one of the uncomfortable wooden slat chairs in the sun but we had a better option.  Remember we had the entire balcony facing the water.  As we had been up way too early, we changed into our PJ’s and sat out on our balcony and watched the game with the audio on in our living room.  Great fun.

My goal on this trip was just to sit my bottom in a lounger and read, swim, nap and just relax.  We did take a sunset cruise booked from the tent in front of the palapas and we enjoyed it very much particularly since everyone on board was from Boston and they had no trouble understanding me!  Blogger Hubby went on a snorkel trip and he thought it was so so.  Next time, and there will be a next time, I would rent a car for a day or too which you can do directly at the Hyatt.

I thoroughly enjoyed this mini vacation and this is the only Caribbean island that I would consider coming back to.  Most people just know it from a cruise port of call but it is more than just the downtown area that the cruisers know.  There isn’t a lot to do (aloe factory tour, feeding ostriches, touring the island and seeing the Old Lighthouse) but I wasn’t looking for anything except pure relaxation and this fulfilled it.

FYI – when you leave Aruba, you go through their customs and security and then you go through US immigration and customs before you get to your gate.  If you are leaving on a weekend, particularly on a Saturday, this can take up to three hours so make sure you allow yourself enough time.  We had read that and decided to leave on a Friday.  It took us about 90 minutes to go through everything.

 

Flights and Preparing for our Trip to Marseille and Provence

Excitement was building in our home as we finalized all of our preparations for our AMA Waterways River cruise up the Rhone River.  As some of you know, I always invite friends to travel with us so we are in essence “a group” and are entitled to group rates.  It was no exception on our AMA Waterways cruise on the Rhone.

Some in my group were doing the pre cruise in Barcelona with AMA while others joined us in Marseille for our own pre cruise.  Ito be honest, I wasn’t overly confident about our stay in Marseille and we were only going there for two reasons.  Since we weren’t doing the pre cruise, this was the closet airport to Arles where we would board our ship and secondly, we were able to use our Club Carlson points to reserve a room at the Radisson Blu on  the Waterfront.  I had booked this hotel before their devaluation of points in May 2015.  I booked 2 nights under my name and in essence paid for only one night with points with the other night being “free”.  We thought that this would be a good opportunity to explore Provence a little with some tours from Marseille.

With that in mind, I began searching through Trip Advisor for tour guides.  Being frugal is always our traveling motto though we do not want to miss a unique opportunity for our frugality – it’ s a fine balancing act that we walk.  As we were going to be in Marseille with another couple we wanted to do things that all of us could enjoy and do.  The husband of the other couple enjoys bike riding as does Blogger Hubby.  I knew that they would enjoy going on an E-bike tour while the wife and I would do the HoHo bus around town.  My friend has some mobility issues so we didn’t want to be walking all around town.  The other two tours we booked were with Provence Xplorer to go to Aix en Provence on market day and spend part of the afternoon in Cassis.  The next day we were booked with One Day in Provence to go into the small villages, a winery, St. Remy and what ever our tour guide suggested.  For the Provence Xplorer, the 4 of us would be doing a shared excursion, joining others and for the One Day in Provence, the 4 of us would be doing a private tour.  More about those later.

We flew Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic into Heathrow and then British Airways to Marseille.  A concern we had was that we would have to pick up our luggage in Heathrow and then check them in to British Airways for the flight to Marseille.  Luckily when we asked the Virgin Atlantic ticket agent at departure if they could Interline them.  He said ” yes” and put a luggage tag on them requesting them to be transferred over to BA.  Nevertheless, I took a photo of our bags just in case they should get lost.  According to him, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic don’t like to play nice with each other but we had no problem.

I was not overly impressed with the Virgin flight although the flight attendants were very nice, friendly and helpful.  The cabin seemed crowded and very little room to move around and, to me, seemed like there wasn’t much storage in our pod.  The food, for airplanes, was fairly decent.  I had a steak and I actually ate most of it.

With the entertainment system along the wall to my left, I had to pull it out and swivel it to be in front of me.  With the food tray fully engaged, if made if very difficult getting in and out of my seat.  I also thought the cabin was warm and was glad I wore a tee shirt under my top.

Would I fly VA again?  Probably not.  It was okay but not the experience I was looking for.  I’m not sure what I am looking for and it may not exist on a transatlantic flight or if it does, perhaps I’m too frugal to spend too many extra points for it.  Nevertheless, it was fine.

The short flight to Marseille was no different than a domestic flight in the U.S.  Once again we were business class but what that means is that you are in a row with 3 seats and they put a tray over the middle seat so you do not have someone sitting next to you   To reserve your seats ahead of time, you need to pay $49 per ticket.  I did not do that.  If you go online 24 hours prior to your flight, you can reserve your seats for free.  When I went on, they had the two of us together and in good seats.  I made no changes.  It was interesting to me that a flight as short as this one we were still able to be served a hot lunch.  Why can foreign airlines do this but American Airlines can not?  As we were closer to Marseille we could see the Rhone River out the window and then closer to landing, we could view the cliffs and the calanque (a narrow, steep-walled inlet that is developed in limestone, dolomite, or other carbonate strata and found along the Mediterranean coast).

approaching Marseille
approaching Marseille

To get to our hotel we could either take a taxi which would cost about 52€ or we could take the city shuttle bus from the curb outside the airport to the central train station for about 8€ each and then either take a cab to the hotel or a bus.  The shuttle was perfect and saved us a lot of money.  We opted for the cab once we got to the train station since it was very hot and we were tired. The taxi which was about 22€ to go to our hotel, the Radisson Blu Waterfront in Marseille.

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As we rounded the bend and got our first view of the waterfront, we were taken back at how beautiful it was.  This was not the grimy port city that I was expecting; instead there were hundreds of sailboats of all sizes around this rectangular shaped harbor. Our hotel faced this harbor.  After we settled in, we went exploring.  Along all 3 sides of the harbor there were restaurants, pubs and shops.  Along the harbor, it was an expanded sidewalk that was well lit with dark sky approved lights.  I felt very safe.  There is even a ferry that crosses the harbor for 1 €.

Ferry across the harbor
Ferry across the harbor

One of Blogger Hubby’s concerns in traveling to France is that neither of us speaks French.  For that matter we don’t speak any other foreign language but his lack of French bothered him.  Our first restaurant we had to pull out the English-French-English dictionary but as time went on, we were able to read about half of the menu.  Most French people that we met spoke a little English but to me they spoke quite a bit.

The hotel, in addition to the beautiful view, was very nice with a restaurant attached that had good reviews on TripAdvisor.  Nevertheless, we didn’t eat any meals there.  For breakfast, we were on our own because when we booked the hotel on points it did not include a breakfast.  As usual, Blogger Hubby offered to go out  early and find a bakery to bring back some delicious just made pastries.  Our room overlooked the secluded pool area,and the harbor.

view from our room at the Radisson Blu Waterfront
view from our room at the Radisson Blu Waterfront

We went to bed a little early so we could catch up on our sleep and be ready to explore Marseille and Provence.

Sunset in Marseille
Sunset in Marseille

Hope you enjoyed our photos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Rules for Chase Credit Cards

I receive no compensation of any type from JP Chase – in fact, they probably don’t know anything about me.  The views below are mine entirely.

Chase is tightening up their rules for obtaining one of their credit cards.  This past summer/fall, they began implementing the 5/24 rule.  If you opened 5 credit cards from any bank within twenty four months, you would most likely be declined for any of Chase’s own credit cards.  This was exclusive to their own credit cards such as Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Freedom card and any of their cards that are not co-branded with another company such as Marriott.

 

If you are new to credit card churning, then I would suggest before you get to the 5 card you apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card, one of my favorites of all time.  I do not have an affiliate link as I do not have a business relationship with them but if you are thinking of getting their card, I would receive 5,000 Ultimate Reward points if I refer you.  If interested, just drop me an email and I’ll begin a dialogue with you.  If not, I still HIGHLY recommend this credit card because of its flexible Ultimate Reward points.

Now Chase is changing the rules AGAIN!  Their co-branded cards will follow the same 5/24 rule sometime in April.  If you are on the fence or thinking about applying for one of their co-branded cards, my advise is to do it within the next month to six weeks.  In fact, I would do it sooner than later. Some of their co-branded cards include British Airways, Hyatt, Marriott, IHG, Ritz Carlton,  Disney, Southwest Airlines and United Explorer.

I have been thinking about getting both the Hyatt card and the Marriott card but my problem is that you can only have five personal credit cards from Chase.  Which card to close is my dilemma.  I already have the United Mileage Plus Select card (a co-branded card) which is my oldest credit card dating back to the early 1990’s.  It is a card that is no longer available and for those of us that have it, it makes it worthwhile to keep it.  I certainly do not want to close that card out since I have had it as long as I do – always keep your oldest card!

hyatt logo

I also have the IHG card ( a co-branded card) which gives me Aspire elite status with IHG (Holiday Inn, Intercontinental, etc) and I do participate a few times a year with their promotions and there ALWAYS is a step that has you paying with your IHG credit card.  Also, this card gives me one free night a year and the annual fee is only $49.  I have only had the card about ten months now and do not mind paying the $49 for the one free night, which we will use in Brussels.

ihg

I currently have the Freedom (one of Chase’s cards, not co-branded) which I do love for the revolving quarterly bonus categories.  It has been particularly useful to me before the holidays as Amazon has been one of the bonus stores.  That might be the one that I will consider closing and perhaps my husband could get it instead.

Freedom

In December I applied for and one month later  approved for the United Explorer credit card which gives me free checked bags when I fly on United.  Since I tend to fly United the most, that will be particularly useful to me.  Since I have had that card only about a month, obviously I do not want to close it.

Finally, I have the Chase Sapphire Preferred.  Thinking that I might never be approved for it again, I’m keeping it.  I love the Ultimate Reward points and since am boosting my United points with my new Explorer card, I can use those UR points for other airlines, like Singapore Airlines.

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Chase Sapphire Preferred

So if I want the Marriott or Hyatt card, I’ll have to close one of my Chase cards and it will probably be the Freedom, much to my chagrin.

Have you thought about applying for any of the Chase co-branded cards before the 5/24 rule takes effect?  Are you having the problem that I am as to which card to close?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Book a United Award Ticket and Save in Two Different Ways

Blogger Hubby received an invitation that he would not refuse a few weeks ago.  Blogger Son #2 went out to Bozeman, Montana from the East Coast with his family the middle of June to begin work on his Masters in Science Education.  Spending some time in the West with his wife and two little children had been something he had wanted to do.  Combine that with his desire to begin his masters and the two ideas were able to come together this summer.  Of course, since he doesn’t live in Montana he will continue to work on his masters online and to go back out next summer for more classwork.

Blogger Son #2 recently took up fishing although he did have some lessons a few years ago from my husband in fly fishing.  Additionally when he was younger we took a family vacation in Montana at the 9 Quarter Circle Ranch and he watched his older brother take an avid interest in fly tying and flyfishing.

Knowing that my husband loves, did I say loves, flyfishing, he invited him to go to Montana and join him for some fishing in the Madison and Gallatin Rivers.  The Gallatin River was made famous in the movie “A River Runs Through It”.  Blogger Son #2’s family would be flying home while our son would be driving the family van back to the East Coast.  The plan was for my husband to overlap with our daughter-in-law and their two children then to spend some time alone with our son after his family left.

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The only airline that made sense for him to fly was on United using our Ultimate Reward points that we earned with our Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card.  Actually, United had good flights out but not any returning.  Instead, he would fly Delta home now that they had one way flights for half the points.  I quickly transferred our American Express Membership Reward points over to Delta and booked the return since we didn’t have many options.

For the flight out there United didn’t have any economy seats so I was forced to consider First Class but since he was only doing it one way, I was going to have to use 25,000 points AND have to pay $80 in fees.  Yikes, I could do the 25,000 but $80 in fees.

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Then I began thinking.  What if I transferred the points over to Singapore Airlines; would that change how many points I would need?  I called up Singapore Airlines and was told that it would be 20,000 points and 7.50 Singapore dollars which I quickly converted to be $5.49 USD.

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Instead of transferring my Ultimate Rewards points to United I would be transferring them to Singapore Airlines.  I called up Chase and it took about 5 minutes to do the transfer since I already had a Kris Flyer (Singapore’s Loyalty Program) account although the points did not show up in my Kris Flyer  till about 12 hours later.  Once in my account I called up Kris Flyer to make the reservation.  The seats were still there luckily but one thing that I didn’t know was that since the points were in my account with Singapore Airlines, I needed to “nominate” my husband to be the recipient of my points.  That was easily done online and then I quickly called up Singapore to continue booking.  I asked for the Record Locator number so that we could go on the United site and reserve his seat.

Final analysis was that I saved 5,000 Ultimate Reward points and $75 dollars.  Sounds like a successful award booking to me.  Remember, even though you might to fly on United, it might be better to book the trip through Singapore or another Star Alliance airline.

Airlines Make Changes and You Need to Be Aware of the Changes!

Last October I had booked a one way award ticket for Blogger Hubby and myself home from Milan after our river cruise.  We are going over on KLM using my Membership Rewards points and coming home on Brussels Airlines using my UR points that I transferred over to United.  I was ready excited about trying Brussels, particularly their  transAtlantic flight.

brussels

In the course of updating my Excel spreadsheet on my credit cards and points, I went to the United website to see how many points I had through my Mileage Plus Account.  While I was there, I “reviewed” my reservation.  The reservation looked fine.  My first flight from Milan to Brussels on June 16th was there, the correct date and time.  The second flight was right underneath it from Brussels to IAD with the correct time but wait…..it was for the June 15th – the day before.  “How did this happen?”, I wondered.  I was the one that made the reservation.  Had I made a horrible mistake?  As I thought back to the night that I made the reservation, I had remembered that I did it on the telephone as this was a reservation that I was unable to book online.  Surely, the United agent would have caught that mistake.  What happened?  I hurried to tell my husband about the mistake.  As I am telling him, I’m also beginning to mentally wonder if there are any seats left on the day we need to fly.  Blogger Hubby, ever the calm person, goes to our travel folder (see this post) and pulls out our printed copy of the reservation confirmation that United sent me when I made the reservation.  It clearly showed both flights on the correct day.  Times I this make me appreciate us having a paper copy of our confirmation.  Now I’m realizing that a change has probably happened but can I get the flight back?

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I called United and spoke to an agent who pulled the reservation and saw that there would be no way for me to make the connection in Brussels (as my kids would say, duh!) the day before I was leaving Milan.  Apparently Brussels Airlines had made a change and they now do not fly to IAD on Tuesday.  Since both legs of the flight are with them, why did they leave me with a connection that I couldn’t make?  There was no communication between us and them, no indication that there had been a change – I heard nothing and was totally taken back by this new itinerary.  We kept saying that we’re so glad that I caught the change otherwise it could have been the day of departure in Milan when we caught it.

While I was on the telephone with the United agent, I was pulling up the United website and looking at what was available for our flight home on the correct day.  I did not see any award seats available from Brussels.  My thought would be that they would change my entire itinerary and have me fly to Munich or Frankfurt and then flying to IAD from there.  Luckily the agent working with us was able to force open two seats for us from Brussels to IAD.  Although we’ll have a longer layover over in Brussels (3 1/2 hours versus 90 minutes) we still get to fly to Brussels, Belgium.

My message to you is to check your reservation, line by line, date by date, flight by flight and times as well as the time between flight.  Have you found a mistake like this on one of your flights?

United worked diligently to solve this change and opened up seats that were not previously open even though this change was nothing that they had done.  I merely had booked the Brussels Airline flight through them.

Now it was time to “fix” the problem.  As I am talking on the telephone to the agent, I’m also pursuing the United website seeing what is available.  I didn’t see anything from Brussels.  The only possibilities was to change our first flight from Milan (LIN – the city airport) to a flight leaving out of the international airport and going to Munich or Frankfurt

Chicago Seminar – American Airline miles and Cadillac

WOW — what a weekend I had.  I learned so much from the speakers and I was able to fine tuned other ideas that I never implemented because I wasn’t sure what was being taught to me.  Most importantly, I was really able to connect with others attending the conference and share ideas on travel, manufactured spend and booking travel.

I won’t go into everything at this time, you’ll find bits and pieces of what I learned coming out this next month but I will tell you a real deal that is going on now.

Do any of you collect American Airlines points?  If so, I have an amazing deal for you and it takes almost no time at all.  If you test drive a Cadillac, you’ll receive 7,500 points.  If you and your spouse both test drive, you’ll receive 15,000 as a couple.  This is an amazing offer.  You can either make an appointment to test drive the car at 844-469-2234 where you will speak to a concierge who will set up your appointment.  Be prepared for about a 30 minute wait time.  You might be able to set up the appointment with your local Cadillac dealer.  This is no end to this deal but it does say quantities limited.  Make sure you have an AAdvantage Loyalty number and to be safe, bring that number with you.  Some have reported telling the dealer when they arrive for the test drive that they are there for only the points and some dealers will give them the certificate and not make them do the test drive. For all the details about the offer, please click this link.   If do you this, pleases report back to me and I’ll list everyone’s experience.

 

What A Trip We Had – London Part 1

After being gone a few days short of a month, we are home.  It’s not often we take a trip such as this and we relished most of it.  Much planning and thought went into this yet, there was also spontaneity.  We learned much during this trip and about our traveling style, where we are willing to scrimp a little and where we are willing to spurge a little.  The great news is that we came home still speaking and still loving each other.

I’m not planning on going into a lot of detail about the planes we took or what we had to eat unless I feel that it is important.  On this flight from IAD to Heathrow we flew Business Class on points.  On previous United flights I, in my opinion,  will say that I have never felt like we have had great service or food.  This crew was a little different – they seemed friendly.  Yes, friendly.  Turned out that they were a British United crew.   No wonder they were friendly.  United Business Class on this 767 was narrow and I knew that prior to our flight nevertheless, we were able to stretch out and get a few hours of sleep.  So, no complaints from me.

As I mentioned before, we learned that we had to pick up our luggage since our connection was over 13 hours.  We found Baggage Express in Terminal One, where we would be departing from, and brought our bags there.  The charge was 10 pounds per bag for 24 hours.  We gladly paid the twenty pounds to leave our bags there for our day of exploring in London.

London – what can I say.  It was amazing.  This was my first time there and I sought all sorts of advice from people.  How to get into the city, what to do, etc.  Against all the advice that we received, we decided to take the Tube into the city from Heathrow.  We did it for several reasons.  The Heathrow Connection and the Heathrow Express were quicker and much more expensive.  Additionally, it dropped you off at Paddington Station and you still needed to get to the sights that we wanted to see by Tube.  Conversely, by taking the Tube in we got off exactly where we wanted to and in this case it was the Westminster stop.  Riding the Tube gave us a little time to close our eyes and feel a little more rested after our overnight flight.

Before we left the states, we downloaded a map of the subway stops and then plotted what we wanted to see and where they were located in relation to the subway stops.  We also downloaded a map of London and highlighted what we wanted to see.  We also downloaded a quick self guided walking tour in central London from TripAdvisor.  Over planning perhaps but we didn’t want to waste any of our time figuring out what we wanted to see and where it was located.  We decided to see a few of the more famous sights and then the afternoon would be spent at the British Museum.  You know what they say about the best laid plans.

When we exited the tube, the first sight we saw was Big Ben against a glorious blue sky as we stood at the entrance of a bridge over the Thames.  We saw Westminster Abbey, Parliament, and walked down to Lord Nelson’s column.  As we were walking around we decided to forego the British Museum.  It truly was a beautiful day, cool breeze, sunshine and we knew that we would be on another airplane ride for the flight to Johannesburg.  I just didn’t want to give up the day outside as worthwhile as the British Museum would be – that will just have to wait for another trip.

Big Ben
Big Ben
London Eye
London Eye

With that decision taken care of we enjoyed our stroll through St. James Park, walked over to Buckingham Palace and viewed the Queen Victoria Memorial statue sitting in front of the gates of Buckingham Palace.

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The one place that I hadn’t been to yet was Harrods.  Yes, I wanted to go there just to see it.  Here are some of the sights from Harrods:

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After this we headed back to Heathrow on the Tube.  We were tired.  We retrieved our suitcases, checked them in, went through security and to the South African Airlines Lounge where they had great hot food, drinks and most importantly showers.  The shower to me was better than a box of Godiva chocolates – it was heavenly.

With a long trip like we were in the middle of, I found that I liked having a long layover like we did in London (should have been 15 hours but was 13 hours due to late take-out). Having time in London allowed us to see a city that I hadn’t been to before as well as getting outside walking around in delightful weather breathing in the fresh air and feeling the sun on our faces. We felt re-energized as we began our final leg from London to Johannesburg.

Delta Airlines – a Miss and a Save with Luggage

Blogger Daughter and her 14 month old baby have been visiting us for the past two weeks at our Lake home.  Last week it was their time to return home.  Since we are in northern Michigan, there is only one airlines that operates in most of these small airports and that is Delta.  I’ve always internally cursed that there is no competition and that the tickets are incredibly expensive.  This is Blogger Daughter’s story about her return flight.


 Background:

When Blogger Daughter flew up flew up from her home in Virginia, the baby’s car seat was wrapped in plastic by the gate agent and there was no fee to check it  (also true of baby strollers).  It arrived nice and clean and ready to put the baby in.  The return trip was a different story.  The gate agent (and there is only one gate) refused to bag it saying he didn’t have time.  She was upset, not knowing what condition the car seat might be in since they do have a connection in Detroit.

Here is her story:

Our plane landed and I turned my phone on. It beeped with a voicemail…the dreaded voicemail. It was Delta airlines calling and saying one piece of my baggage did not make to it Richmond. Ugh.

My 14 month old son and I were flying back home (Richmond, VA) from Lisa Nolan AirportNorthern Michigan after spending a relaxing two weeks visiting my parents. We flew home from Pellston with a connection in Detroit to go on to Richmond. Even though we had an hour layover in Detroit…I still got that voicemail.

Okay so I listen to the voicemail and groaned.  I had checked two items – my suitcase and the carseat. They referenced the number on the phone of what item it was but I had no way of knowing if it was my suitcase or the carseat. What on earth do I do if it’s the carseat? My husband was already on his way to pick us up and we obviously need to have a carseat to go home. So one happy reunion later, we’re down at baggage claim.  I was very impressed that Delta had alerted me so quickly about this problem. That way we weren’t stuck waiting at the baggage claim for the missing piece of luggage, we already knew one was going to come out. The bags came out quickly and we soon realized it was indeed the carseat that was missing.

We head into the Delta baggage office and are greeted by a nice Delta lady who quickly offers us a snack from their snack basket and some water. One bottle of water and Fruit Roll-up later (what can I say, I’m still a kid) we were learning that the carseat was already on the next flight to Richmond and would land in about 45 minutes. We quickly learned that my biggest fear of having no way to get Nolan home was not an issue — they had loaner carseats! We just wanted to get home so we opted to take a loaner instead of waiting for our carseat. She told us how our carseat would be delivered to our house that evening (it was already 4pm) and they would also take the loaner carseat with us so a return trip to the airport was not necessary. I was pretty happy with how all of this was handled.

We confirmed our address and was quickly sent an email confirming the situation and that we would receive email updates.  And we sure did. About an hour later we received another one that our carseat was loaded up and on it’s way. It also introduced the driver to us over the email so you can see his picture and what type of car he drives. We hung a small sign up on our door that the Delta employee gave us and signed it to give the driver permission to leave the carseat on our front porch if we weren’t home. When we were on a family walk around the neighborhood when the driver called and said he would be at our house within 30 minutes. About two minutes later he arrived at our door with our carseat and took the loaner back with him. Shortly after I received an email confirming the exact time of delivery and suggesting I contact them if I had not received it.

Overall I was very happy with how Delta handled this situation. Despite the frustrations of having lost my luggage, they have a good system in the works for making up for it.

 

 

Check Your Flight Itinerary

As you might remember, Blogger Hubby and I have a BIG trip coming up next month.  Today in the midst of planning, we took the opportunity to review our itinerary on the airline’s website.  I noticed that on our way home, there were some time changes to our flights and one of them could seriously impact us.

Originally we had about three hours in Toronto after our flight from Copenhagen.  Now, we were down to 90 minutes.  90 minutes – YIKES!  I wasn’t sure if that would be sufficient time to deplane, go through Canada Border Services Agency an  U.S. Customs and Border Protection and then get to our gate.

Thankfully there was another flight 45 minutes after our scheduled one that United was able to put us on.  That meant we would have a little less time in Chicago where we would connect to our last flight to Detroit.

Lesson learned, always check to see if there have been any changes to your itinerary.  Since the airlines have made the initial change, they do not charge you when you need to make a change like we did.

 

Spring Break Trip #1 – Rincon, Puerto Rico

1.  Spring Break Trip #1 – Rincon, Puerto Rico

2.  Our Home Away Rental, Rincon, Puerto Rico

3.  2nd Home Rental in Rincon

4. What to do in Rincon and the Surrounding Area

 

The Beginning

When Blogger Son #2 told me that he and his family were renting a house in Puerto Rico I was very happy for them and a little envious that I wasn’t going along – after all, who doesn’t love a little spring breaking?  I must have said something to Blogger Daughter who, a few weeks later announced that she and her family were also going to Puerto Rico and would I like to come with them.  Would I – what a silly question.

 

puerto rico

 

Blogger Son had rented a home through Home Away right on the beach in Rincon, Puerto Rico which is on the northwestern coast of the island.  Blogger Daughter was able to rent one a few doors down.  Being with two of my three children, three of my four grandchildren plus son’s mother-in-law (who I really like to spend time with), her husband and their 14 year old nephew – it sounded like this was going to be a fantastic family trip.

 

How We Got There

We were able to find tickets on US Airways for about $300 roundtrip from Richmond, VA to San Juan via Philly.  We were all going to be on the same plane from Richmond to Philly but then Blogger Son and his family were scheduled to take an earlier flight from Philly to San Juan than we were.  We just didn’t feel comfortable with a 45 minute connection and traveling with a 10 month old.  We all arrived at the Richmond Airport at 6:30 AM to find that our flight to Philly would be late…. late enough that we would miss our connecting flight to San Juan.  They quickly rerouted us through Charlotte, which just made more sense to us anyway.  The problem was that the flight was leaving in about 25 minutes but they didn’t want to load our luggage since we had less than their required 30 minutes.  Son was able to get on just fine but they gave us some difficulty.  I mentioned to the agent that we were all together – all eleven of us.  I think that did it because before you knew it, a supervisor okayed it.  I was disappointed that we didn’t receive an email, text message, tweet or smoke signal letting us know of the situation.  We could have arrived earlier, reserved our seats or have them protect us on this earlier flight to Charlotte.  Disappointed in US Airways.

david edgar death cert

We, and at least 3 others including one in a wheel chair,  raced to security and made the flight just fine.  We all breathed a sigh of relief as we got settled into our seats.  Once in Charlotte we found that we had about an hour connection before our flight.  That gave those of us who didn’t get the boarding passes in Richmond time to get them.  All the time we took when we booked the seats to get the seats where we wanted and with whom went out the window.  We were just glad to get seats.

All the kids were good on the flight and it was a faster flight since we were now on a much larger airplane.  There was a time when we had some turbulence.  Two in our group were in the aisles changing seats and the flights attendants told them to sit in the aisle and to hold on.  It was really rocking – going up and down and side to side.  After about 7 minutes it was over and was smooth sailing the rest of the way to San Juan.

After getting our luggage (mine was easy to spot with the decorative duct tape) and picking up the rental car, we were on our way.  Our first stop was Fort Buchanan so I could stock up on groceries at the Commissary.  If you travel with any active duty or retired duty military personnel, I always advise stopping off at a military installation to get groceries, liquor/beer/wine or discounted tickets to local events.  The base is about 15 minutes from the airport and was on our way to Rincon.

fort buchanan

Rincon is about 2 1/2 hours from San Juan and there is a closer airport to it, Aguadilla, which US Airways doesn’t fly into.  I understand that Jet Blue does and so does United though after a quick look, it seems like all the United flights arrive at 1:30 AM.

Next up, our homes on the beach.

 

 

Amazing Deal – Citi American Airlines Credit Card 100,000 points!

Occasionally a great deal will come our way.  Last year for 2 days only, I received 100,000 miles from American Express.  Those miles took Blogger Hubby and I to Hawaii in Business Class seats with 40,000 miles left over for a future trip.

Now Citi is offering a similiar deal – you can earn 100,000 American Airlines miles with a $10,000 spend in three months.  This offer comes with the following benefits:

  • $200 in statement credits — earn $1 in statement credits for each $1 spent on purchases within the first 12 months of membership.
  • Admirals Club membership (a membership value of up to $500)
  • Earn10,000 Elite Qualifying Milesafter spending $40,000 in purchases each calendar year
  • No foreign transaction fees  on purchases
  • Earn two AAdvantage miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, including US Airways codeshare flights booked on aa.com
  • Priority Boarding and 25% savings on eligible in-flight purchases
  • Your first eligible checked bag is free
  • SmartChip technology Expert Concierge Service
  • $450 Annual Fee – not waived but with the $200 statement credit it will help offset this expense

You will notice on this page, which will take you to the application page, that it asks for a referral code  – you can leave it blank.

aadvantage deal

Remember that US Airways and American Airlines are merging so more routes would open.

I know that you might be put off with the $10,000 spend but my plan is (yes, we got this card yesterday) to buy Vanilla Reloads and pay my mortgages with them and then pay my credit card that I used to get the VR’s with the money that is in the bank that I was going to use to pay my mortgage.  Between paying bills, grocery shopping, and even paying for federal/state taxes with my credit card.

Is this something that you are planning on applying for – if yes, I’d recommend doing it sooner than later.  Great deals like this do not last long.

United Airlines Changes its Unaccompanied Minor Rules

United has revised its rules on unaccompanied minors and now it says it’s no longer allowing children ages 5 to 11 to fly without an adult on flights that include connections. It also says its optional service for unaccompanied minors ages 12-17 will only be offered.

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United made the changes about  two weeks ago and many parents are not aware of the change of rules.   United charges $150 extra, each way, for children flying alone.

kids flying alone

This new policy for young children on United  is similar to what  US Airways and Southwest have . Delta Air Lines and American will still help young children who are flying alone get to connecting flights.

Expiring miles and how to extend them

As I mentioned before, one of my very good friends has about 500,000 UAL miles.  She was concerned this fall because she knew that her points were going to expire at the end of the year.  She had me over her house to try to book a trip for her so her miles wouldn’t expire.  She didn’t need to go to that extreme.

If you are close to having your miles expire, there are several easy ways to save your miles without having to take a trip.

To keep your airline miles from expiring you must have some type of activity within your account.  If you have a co-branded credit card and use it at least a few times a year, that is sufficient activity to keep your airline miles from expiring.

united airlines

You can also go through your airline shopping portal (AAdvantage, United Mileage Plus, Delta Skymiles Shopping)  purchase something like flowers for your mother, significant other and it is a win-win situation – you get points for sending flowers as well as extending your miles 🙂

aadvantageeshopping_logo

Another way is by dining.  You can also earn miles when you register your credit card on your airline’s dining  site (American, United, or Delta).  All you need to do is to pay with that credit card at a participating restaurant, and you’ll receive miles in your account.  You can register your card with all three and get miles with both United, American and Delta.  Again, a win-win-win situation.

dining

You can also transfer miles into your airline accounts from either Ultimate Reward points you have, AmEx Membership Rewards or even hotel points from  Hyatt, Marriott, Hilton, Priority Club, and Starwood Preferred Guest.  You do not need to transfer a lot into your account – remember you just need some activity in your account to keep it active.

You can fly on a partner airline and credit it to the airline of your choice that is in your alliance.  When we flew US Airways, I credited the miles to United – kept those miles current.  I did not have many miles on US Airways so I wasn’t losing anything on US Airways.

Hope this has helped you in keeping your miles current.

 

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?

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?

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

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.

The Marriage of Marriott and United Airlines

A new partnership, merger or marriage, whatever you want to call it has recently taken place among two of my favorites.  United Airlines and Marriott have joined forces and and have unheard of travel benefits for both.  This new partnership is called RewardsPlus and you have to register in order to take part in this partnership.

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Registration

If you are a Marriott Platinum or Platinum Premier, you need to register here.  If you are a United Gold, Platinum, 1K, or Global Services, then you need to register here.

The Nitty Gritty

For Marriott Elites

If you are one of the Marriott Elites (Platinum or Platinum Preferred) and do not have any status with United then you will be given by United Airlines Silver status.  Silver status gives you

  • Complimentary access to Economy Plus at check-in (when available);
  • Complimentary Premier Upgrades (when available);
  • Premier Access priority airport services;
  • One complimentary standard checked bag (50 lbs.);
  • 25% Premier bonus award miles on United flights

For United Gold or high Elites

You will now enjoy (after registration) Marriott Gold status will gives you

  • Lounge access and breakfast at select Marriott locations
  • Room upgrades
  • Complimentary Internet access
  • Priority late check-out
  • 25% bonus points and much more (editorial comment – they don’t mention what “much more” is)

Enhanced Miles And Points Benefits Coming Soon:

  • Convert Marriott Rewards points to MileagePlus miles at a 20% discount.
  • Receive 10% more MileagePlus miles when you book the trip of a lifetime and redeem for a Marriott Rewards Travel Package–up to 12,000 more miles
  • All MileagePlus Premier members can convert their MileagePlus miles into Marriott Rewards points at a 1:1 ratio, up to 50,000 miles per year.


Even if you do not stay at a Marriott very often or fly United, sign up for the promotion.  You will never know when you might find yourself in a Marriott hotel or have to take a quick trip on United.