Category Archives: flying

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.

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.


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.









EU Rule 261 – Important if you Fly into or out of Europe

I’m going to take a little break from my trip report in Europe to talk about a different subject that may, at one time or another, affect you. That subject is a flight delay or cancellation while flying from an EU country to another EU country OR from an EU country to elsewhere OR flying into Europe on a EU carrier.  In my case I was flying from Milan via Brussels to Washington Dulles this summer.  Since I had a delay, I’ll be addressing that and will not write about flight cancellation.

BACKGROUND – We were flying on an award ticket that we had booked through United Airlines.  We flew from Milan’s city airport – Linate – at 6:30 AM to Brussels on Brussels Airlines and then we were booked on the noon flight on United Airlines to Washington Dulles with an arrival time in IAD at 3:00 PM.  While in Milan I was received  email alerts  informing me that our flight from Brussels would be delayed one, then two hours.  We arrived in Brussels around 8:30AM and after we went through security we went immediately over to the Passenger Assistance desk.  Interestingly enough, there were two lines there – one for Chicago passengers and one for Washington Dulles passengers.  When it was my turn, I was then told that the delay would be seven hours long!  Once I had processed that information, I then began asking questions.  Was there another flight that would leave Brussels before 7 PM?  I was told “yes” but it was through Chicago and it would arrive 30 minutes before my rescheduled flight.  I asked about flying into another city such as Boston, Philly, etc then taking a flight to Washington Dulles.  “No, there was nothing else”, I was told by the agent.

They offered us a 14 euro voucher for lunch, but not dinner and that was it.  We sat down and tried to strategize.  I powered up my iPad and found that there was a flight to Munich that would get me into IAD much earlier.  I got back into the very long line and by the time I reached the agent at the desk, it was too late to try and make the flight to Munich. in order to change planes to get to IAD.  I could have made it if they had rerouted us when I first approached the Passenger Assistance desk.  I expressed my displeasure that they did try to find other flights to get us home other than the one via Chicago.

Remembering that there was some rule about delayed flights in Europe, I asked the agent about it and they gave me a pamphlet about filing a claim.  Apparently they have to have the information on the counter but they don’t have to tell you anything or really answer any questions. Beyond that they were not helpful.

EU 261  – sets out the compensation that passengers will receive in the event of a delay or cancelation, or when they are denied boarding because of overbooking, or when the airline is unable to accommodate them in the class that they had booked their seat in.  You must be departing from any airport in the EU or arriving in the EU on an EU carrier or one from Iceland, Norway or Switzerland.   You must have a confirmed reservation and have checked in; your ticket was purchased at a fare available to the public and that includes an award ticket from a frequent flyer program.  You are not entitled to compensation if you are denied boarding on the grounds of health, safety, security or invalid travel documentation.

DELAYS – if your flight is delayed 4 hours from your scheduled departure, you may be entitled to compensation between €250 -€600 depending on the distance of the flight.

If you are within the EU and are traveling  1,500 km or less –  you are entitled to receive €250.  If you are traveling over 1,500 km then your compensation would be €400.

If you are traveling between the EU and a non-EU country and are traveling 1,500 km or less  then your compensation is €250.  If you are traveling 1,500 – 3.500 km then you may receive €400 and if it is 3,500 km or more then you may receive €600.

ADDITIONAL COMPENSATION – the airlines have to provide meals (vouchers for meals), two telephone calls , fax or email messages for you.  We were given phone cards that could only be used in Belgium.  As I stood in line, I heard the agent calling an elderly couple’s son in the United States to let them know what was happening.  If the delay causes you to spend the night, they will provide a hotel and transportation between the airport and the hotel.

If your airline offers  you an alternative flight with a similar schedule, the compensation may be reduced by 50%.

You also have a choice with either the above compensation OR reimbursement within seven days of the full cost of the ticket at the proce at which it was purchased for the part of your trip not flown

You may not be entitled to the compensation if the delay or cancellation is caused by extraordinary circumstance such as bad weather.  This does not include mechanical.

WHAT I DID – I sent a message to United asking for compensation under EU Rule 261.  After two weeks I heard nothing.  I then sent another message and within a week I received an email from United Customer Care apologizing for the delay.  I was given two alternative options instead of the €600.  The first option was a $1000 voucher for travel on United or United Express for one year.  At first glance, the idea of each of us receiving a $1000 voucher sounded great.  We had another river cruise planned for next year however…..we could only use the voucher on United and we could get to Paris but we would either have to pay cash or use points to get to Marseille where we were staying before our cruise.  This is what we were told:

Travel Certificate(s), including but not limited to (1) the validity
period of one year from the issue date with no extension, (2) there
will be no refunds, (3) the Travel Certificate(s) will not be reissued
if lost or stolen, (4) the certificate may be redeemed for credit up to
its face amount only towards the purchase of an electronic airline
ticket(s), where eligible, from United, and (5) if the face amount of
the certificate exceeds the cost of the ticket for which it is
surrendered, any residual amount will be applied to the same Pin for use
toward another ticket until either the original issued amount is
depleted or the expiration date has been reached, whichever comes first

Our second option was 30,000 miles deposited into our Mileage Plus account.  Valuing each point at 1.5 cents, then this would be valued at $450.00, less than the €600 we were entitled to.

Upon further thinking, we had been saving up the miles in our account and as nice as the 30,000 points would have been, I think having €1200 in our pocket would certainly make our trip next year even nicer.  By choosing to not accept any of the alternatives, we have the flexibility to use the cash as we want, we aren’t locked into only using United Airlines – this is the best decision for us.

What I do now is to fax to them the signed form indicating what I am electing to so and it will be processed in six weeks. I will not receive a check but instead will receive a prepaid VISA debit card.

As difficult as it was sitting in an airport for about eleven hours, getting home at 9:00 PM, leaving the airport at 11:00 PM it is nice receiving some compensation for it.  It’s even better that we were on a reward ticket!  I’m sure that most requests for compensation do not go as smoothly as ours did, but we are very satisfied.

If you are delayed, save all your paperwork as they will ask you for your flight number and ticket number.  I also wrote notes to myself to put in my letter when I asked for compensation. I do not know if that helped or not but I am hoping that when they read that we were not offered other flights, that they could understand why we were upset.  Also, you have to apply for the compensation – the airlines are not going to voluntary come to you.  They do have to have information on the agents counter but they don’t really tell you what it is.  Be proactive, ask questions, save everything and research and file when you get home.

Remember, if you have a delay, cancellation, in a different class ticket than what you were booked in, involuntary bumping – there are compensations for you but you must seek them out.  The main exclusion to these is extraordinary circumstances (click on link for examples) such as bad weather and a list of other reasonable reasons why there would be a delay.

If you have received a denial letter from your airline because they consider mechanical delays to be extraordinary circumstance, know that they are wrong.  Send a copy of your letter seeking reimbursement and their letter denying your claim to the National Enforcement Body of the country you were flying out of or on whose airline you were on.  Here is a link to the list of the various enforcement bodies.

Have you been delayed?  Have you applied for compensation?  If so, what was your experience?


UPDATE – I was successful and received my prepaid debit card for $677 for both myself and Blogger Hubby.In this instance, it was not as difficult as I had been led to believe.  Thank you United Airlines.

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.


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.

Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 3.44.14 PM

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.

What I take on the Plane with me for an Overnight Flight

I tend to be a hoarder with my points and want to save them for Business Class tickets when we have long flights.  Our flight, on KLM, is under 8 hours and I did not want to waste points for that so…we are flying economy.  Even though I wish we were flying Business Class for a myriad of reasons, I just can’t justify it for this flight.

One of the things that I will be missing on our flight home (on Star Alliance) is the lounge since we will have about a 3 hour layover.  I do not have the Chase United Explorer which would give me 2 United Club passes a year.  Instead I went to DansDeals to the Buying/Selling forum and was able to purchase 2 lounge passes for $20.

Sitting as long as we will be, my ankle will get very swollen.  I went to our medical pharmacy yesterday to purchase a compression sleeve for my ankle.  I do have the knee high support hose but the top rolls down and they are very, very hot.  The sleeve that I have is open toed and goes just slightly above my ankle.  There was another one that was open heel and open toed and was much easier to get on though my thought was that it would give me less support and structure.  I’ll report back whether I made a mistake or not.

I have downloaded books to both my iPad (for me) and my Kindle (for Blogger Hubby).  They need to be preloaded in order for you to read them when there is no WiFi available or it is very expensive.  We’ll be reading for awhile and won’t run out of books.

I am wearing on the plane very comfortable pants, a short sleeve shirt with a sweater over it hoping I can find a comfortable zone.  I also have little knit slippers from one of my amenity kits to put on my feet to walk up and down the aisle of the plane – I have to take my shoes off.  I also bring a scarf as another layer or just a light layer over me.

I always wear my heaviest shoes and in this case it will be my running shoes (for me, it’s walking shoes) from Saucony.  I hesitated to bring them but we will be in some rain and my other shoes are more open on top and I thought these shoes would keep my feet drier.

I have Sjogrens Syndrome, an autoimmune disease,  and my skin,mouth and eyes are always dry.  In my CamelPak that I’ll bring on the plane I’ll have a bag of hard candies to suck on as well as eye drops to help my dry eyes.  I’ll also bring hydrating moisturizer for my face.

In my backpack, I will have all of our cords for our electronics and a small travel cord that I can plug multiple items into.  If we need to recharge our electronics, I’ll be ready.

I’ll also have in my pack my knitting and my smocking – need to keep my hands busy and flexible.

Have I forgotten anything?

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.


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… 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

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.


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:




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.

Long Haul Flights – Compression Socks and Exercise

I recently spoke with Dr. Bailey, my physical therapist, about my upcoming long haul flight since I have varicose veins despite them being surgically treated  twice.  Additionally, as many people my age realize, our ankles/feet swell.  I asked her what I should  do to minimize DVT and to help my swollen ankles/feet.  She wrote this article for the readers of Air, Land and Sea.

Travel related Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) occurs due to a slowing of blood flow through the veins.   Blood can pool and a clot can form.   This typically occurs in the lower leg due to gravity and a dependent (hanging) position. Vascular flow is maintained by muscle activity. On long haul flights (longer than 4 hours) muscle activity can be diminished. Combine that with limited space and mild dehydration and certain consumers can be at risk for a DVT. Symptoms don’t generally happen immediately which makes it difficult to spot.



Things can be done to help prevent the development of DVTs. The following are some tips on how to reduce the risk of developing a DVT on a long haul flight.

    • Hydrate the day before the flight and during the flight
    • Wear compression stockings to keep your legs from swelling
    • Avoid alcohol the night before or during the flight because it will dehydrate you. The same goes for coffee, soft drinks, and chocolate.
    • Try to get an aisle seat so you can easily walk around the plane.
    • Do exercises in your seat or during your flight to improve muscle activity

compression 1

Compression stockings and travel socks can be a good tool to help manage swelling and prevent DVTs for both men and women. Stockings with a pressure of 15-20mm Hg are adequate to prevent swelling and DVTs. Travel socks/compression stockings can be purchased online and at several travel websites. For Your Legs is a site that has free shipping and quick service. Be sure to take good measurements according to the brand that you are ordering. Some stockings can also be purchased at medical equipment supply stores. Be careful with sizing as most stockings cannot be returned once they have been opened.


Walking and standing during a flight can be helpful in keeping blood flow in your lower extremities. Also make sure to wear clothing that won’t cause any constriction behind your knees when sitting for a long time.

compression 2

Exercises can be done in your seat during a flight to encourage blood flow in the lower legs.

  1. ABCs – lift your feet off of the floor and “draw” the ABCs (capital letters) once every ½ hour.
  2. Heel lift/Toe lift –keep your feet on the floor and lift your toes off the floor (hold for 10 seconds) then lift your heels off the floor (hold for 10 seconds) Alternate 10 times every ½ hour
  3. Squeeze your buttocks muscles together as if lifting yourself up in your seat (hold for 10 seconds) and repeat 10 times every hour.
  4. Tighten and squeeze your thighs together as if you are squeezing a ball between your knees (hold for 10 seconds) and repeat 10 times every hour.

abc heel lifts

You can also perform some simple exercises while standing waiting for a restroom. Be careful not to disturb those around you and practice good etiquette. Avoid pulling at the seat in front of you or bumping into others as your try and stretch.

  1. Heel lift – Lift yourself up onto your toes and repeat 20 times.
  2. Balance on one foot and bring the opposite leg up toward your chest- hold 10 seconds and repeat 2-3 times each.
  3. Bend your knee and bring your heel up behind you near your buttock-hold 10 seconds and repeat 2-3 times
  4. High Marching while standing in line.


Risks associated with developing a DVT for most people are very small but taking a few simple precautions can help you arrive at your destination ready for an adventure.

Thank you for your information.  I’m sure this will help many of my readers including me.

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.



The Top 3 Best Airports in the World in 2013

I admit it…when we first began traveling internationally a few years ago, I was extremely green behind the ears.  I didn’t really know that airports had personalities or that they were made for more than passing through.  After all I lived a few miles from IAD so I would exit and come home.  Over the course of the past few years I have been fortunate to fly to and through about 10 different international airports.  I was curious to see how the airports that I visited stacked up against other airports throughout the world.

I turned to Airport Awards to see which airport was voted number one in the world.  It’s an airport that I have visited.  Not to keep you in suspense but it was Changi Airport in Singapore.  You may wonder what it has that makes it number one.  For children it has an indoor playground, a beautiful butterfly garden, an interactive Enchanted Garden, a Family Zone with diaper changing areas, MTV booth and gaming area.  If you have a layonver, there are free tours of Singapore with a choice of a Colonial or Cultural Tour.  There is also a movie theatre, koi pond, interactive art for the children, horticulture center, orchid garden, a swimming pool (yes, inside the airport is a swimming pool), a sunflower and light garden and so much more.

Butterfly Garden

Second on the list is Incheon Airport in Seoul, Korea.  Incheon was number one last year and it shows why it is in the top ten of airports around the world.  This spacious airport that is built to let in a lot of natural sun boasts 7 gardens within the airport.  There is a .0001% rate of baggage mishandling so you can rest assured that your bags with transit through without any problems.  The airport has free wifi, computers for you to use that are free, showers for you to quickly feel refreshed after a long flight, a playroom for children, dry cleaning in case your seat mate spills something on you, a sauna and spa area, 2 movie theaters, an area where you can make traditional Korean crafts.  They, like Singapore, also have free transit trips into Seoul for either shopping or visiting historical sites.

one of the 7 gardens at the Incheon

A newcomer to the top three airports is Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.  It has the world’s first permanent library. It also has an annex of the world famous Rijk Museum in the Museum Annex part of the airport.  If you feel like gambling, there is also a casino.  Children need to run after being on a plane for a long time so the Dutch built a Childrens Park/Playground just for that purpose.  Of course, it has a slower shop where you can buy the famous Dutch Bulbs but if you are planning on bringing them back to the US, make sure that they are of the type that can be imported.  The employees at the flower shop will know and most likely they will be in a separate section.

Childrens Park and Playground at Schiphol

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.


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.

For those who have the Chase Freedom card, you can now activate your first quarter bonus categories by going to this site


IHG is offering another Big Win.  During the Fall I participated in it and ended up with over 150,000 which also includes the points I received from staying at the hotels – not bad.  Sign up for it even if you don’t think you are going to any hotel stays.  We just found out today that we will be staying at a hotel the first week in January so I will book it at a Holiday Inn.  Even if I don’t finish the promotion, I’ll get extra points from at least this stay.  Go here to register.

ihg big win

Delta Airlines listens to its customers and says a resounding “no” to allowing in flight cell phone calls.  I do not want to be sitting next  to someone talking loudly especially if I am trying to rest.  Thumbs up to Delta.

Sorry these posts have been brief.  I’ve been caught up in the holidays and have found myself behind in b

Seat Harness for Children While Flying – CARES child safety device

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

FAA-Approved Child Harness Device (CARES)

young boy in child harness restraint

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

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

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

kids fly safe

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 (  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.


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.


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:


Planning the Trip to Hawaii with Points and Miles

As some of you know, we recently had an opportunity drop into our lap – a friend of Blogger Hubby offered us their timeshare in Oahu for a week at the end of September.  I have never been to Hawaii and Blogger Hubby had been there a L  O  N  G time ago.  This offer was made to us a few days before Labor Day so we needed to get our act together and fast.

First, since we were still in Michigan we needed to find flights on our points.  None of the small airports near us had flight the times that we needed for a connection in Detroit.  Our next option was to drive the 4 1/2 hours south to Detroit Metro Airport.  I was saving our UR and UAL points for our trip to South Africa for next summer and therefore needed to use our American Express Membership Reward points.  Looking at many of the airline schedules and using the ITA Matrix, United appeared to be our best bet.

American Express membership points do not transfer to United Airlines though they do transfer to Singapore Airlines which is in the Star Alliance with United.  UAL requires 80,000 points to fly in Business Class to Hawaii; Singapore Air, through their award chart only requires 60,000 points.  To me, a frugal point saver, that is a significant difference.  Miles were transferred to Singapore Air (I did it online, you can do it online or by phone).  A quick phone call, once the points were deposited into the KrisFlyer account that I had previously opened, and my seats were booked.  I had spent some time on the UAL award site choosing my flights that had award availability, and those flight numbers were given to KrisFlyer.  Seats were booked!  A tool to help you find the number of award miles needed from many airlines is Milez.Biz


Next up….planning what to do and where to go after our week in Oahu.  We knew we only wanted to go to two islands but the three that came to mind was Maui, Kauai and the Big Island.  Before we made that decision, we needed to see where our hotel points would take us to.  We seemed to have more options for Kauai and the big Island so that made our decision process a little easier.  In Kauai, it was a no brainer for us.  We had opened the Chase Hyatt credit card last fall and when you do, you get 2 nights free at ANY Hyatt worldwide.

I had heard so much about the Grand Hyatt Kauai that I wanted to spend two nights there.  We arranged an early morning flight on Hawaiian Air (7:40 AM) so we could maximize our time in Kauai.  We were able to stay here since we had opened a Chase Hyatt credit card last year and you get two free nights at any Hyatt in the world.  Since these would expire in November, we thought this was a good use of those two free nights.

Next up, where to stay on the Big Island.  As I had mentioned in a previous post, Blogger Son #2 had WWOOF’ed in Kona and he suggested that we stay around that area.   I had lots of Hilton points so we booked the Hilton Waikoloa Village for three nights.  We had arranged a late afternoon flight from Kauai to the Big Island so that we would have almost 3 full days in Kauai and since we were flying home from Kona at 9 PM, we would have almost 3 full days on the Big Island as well.  We used our points from the Hilton American Express card – about 50,000 per night.  I had lots of points as I had just purchased a number of Vanilla Reloads at a grocery store and as most of you know, you get 5 times points at a grocery store when you use this card.  Knowing your bonus categories really help.  I had also opened last year a Bank of Hawaii and a Hawaiian Airline credit card where I received 35,000 from each card.  Nothing spectacular but they transferred over to Hilton at a 1:2 ration – for every Hawaiian mile, I received two Hilton points.  Did all this for a total of 140,000 points.

Next up, it becomes a reality and you’ll read about the flight to Oahu.

Trip Report – Vietnam and Cambodia

Blogger Son #1 and his wife Blogger DIL #1 recently went to Vietnam.  I’ve broken their trip into three reports:

Ho Chi Minh City and Hoi An

Sapa, Halong Bay and Hanoi

Siem Reap

Before I get into the details of our recent trip to Vietnam and Cambodia, allow me to introduce myself and provide you with a little background about who I am.


I was born and raised in South Africa, was lucky enough to have my first European vacation at the age of 6, did extensive traveling in southern Africa during my youth, immigrated to the United States at the age of 12, and traveled every summer from high school through college and graduate school (including 6 months studying aboard in France). To say I’ve got wanderlust would be an understatement. When I met Son #1, he’d just returned from 8 months of backpacking around the world. I just knew we were meant to be… Son #1 and I were set up 7 ½ years ago, have been married for 3 years, have visited 19 countries together, and have a little bambino on the way in early January… I am DIL #2. Vietnam & Cambodia I’m sure its no surprise that we take our travel planning very seriously. Our trip to Vietnam and Cambodia in March of this year was planned for about 6 months. In addition to being our annual ‘big’ trip, it was my 30th birthday present – lucky me! My husband is practically a professional traveler and so, once we decide on a country to visit, he generally takes the lead mapping out our planned itinerary through the country. He does countless hours of research and reading in order to finesse our route (our trips at most are 2 weeks in length due to the fact that we both work full-time). Once he has mapped out the POA, I come on board to help figure out the details of the trip – hotels, transportation, activities, etc. Vietnam and Cambodia were no exception to this general rule. Here was the 2 week itinerary for Vietnam and Cambodia: 2 nights in Ho Chi Minh City, 3 nights in Hoi An, overnight to Sapa, 1 night in Sapa, overnight to Hanoi, 1 night in Halong Bay, 1 night in Hanoi, 3 nights in Siem Reap.

Ho Chi Minh City


We landed in HCMC after a long flight that took us through Dubai on Emirates. No matter how many times I do it, landing in a foreign country is so disorienting at first – a combination of exhaustion, jet lag, and being on the opposite side of the world can really confuse me! We’d arranged a pick up from the airport to take us to our hotel (I highly recommend organizing at least the first night’s hotel and a transfer there no matter what your travel style), Giang Son Hotel (low-budget hotel in the heart of HCMC that came highly recommended by Lonely Planet & other travelers). After a much-deserved hot shower and change of clothes, I was ready to crash (although it was early), but my husband has different ideas upon landing in a foreign country! Being located in District 1, or the heart of HCMC, we walked right out of our hotel and had hundreds of food options, and decided to go for our first bowl of Pho at a nearby eatery. We eat a lot of Pho in our hometown of D.C., but this stuff was the real deal. After dinner, we strolled around the streets, taking in all the sights, sounds, and smells of HCMC. Scooters en masse, peddlers, food, restaurants, bars, artists, you name it. What a vibrant place!


The next day (our only full day in the city), we did a bit of a walking tour around the city – went to Cholon market (huge market with food and clothes, shoes, suits, dresses, food, and souvenirs all for a fraction you would pay anywhere else) and the War Remnants Museum (talk about a Debbie Downer, but very interesting too). We got ourselves sufficiently lost on the way back, but enjoyed meandering through the city, taking it all in (a must in any foreign city, if you have the time). That evening was spent in the district around our hotel – eating delicious Vietnamese cuisine, drinking beer, and people watching (one of our favorite activities while traveling).

Hoi An

To get to Hoi An, we took a direct flight from HCMC to DaNang. From there, we had arranged an hotel transfer for the 30 –min trip between DaNang and Hoi An. Almost immediately upon arrival, I knew Hoi An would be a highlight for me.


Hoi An is located on the central Vietnamese coast and used to be a big trading port between the 15 and 19th centuries. The small town is quaint and well-preserved, with a riving running through it, the beach a few miles away, hundreds of top-notch restaurants, lots of shopping and the highlight – thousands of tailors! Other sights include the Japanese Covered Bridge and the Quan Cong Temple. We stayed at a great little hotel right on river called Long Life Riverside Hotel. All the rooms surround a big pool, and guests get free access to bikes (which became our primary mode of transportation during our 4 days in Hoi An).


We’d start our days with the hotel’s complimentary breakfasts, take long bike rides to the beach, hang out and make friends with the myriads of other backpackers in the area, grab lunch and a beer, and head back to the city for some street food & shopping.

Shopping here was INSANE. One could spend every waking hour at a different tailor in the charming little town and STILL not get to half of them.  Both my husband and I got some custom clothing make (although in hindsight, I wish I had more made as its such a great deal). The process for bespoke clothing is quite simple –  get lured into the store by a charming salesperson, look at some fabrics and patterns (or bring samples of the styles you want replicated), they take your measurements and a 50% deposit, and off you go. Come back a few hours later for a fitting and then pick it up the next day (or even sooner depending on your timeframe – we learned that anything is possible after I got a custom pair of sandals made in 30 minutes). All in all, this place is a shopper’s paradise!!


The other thing we loved about Hoi An was the food scene – it boasts some of the best street food in Vietnam – and we seemed to find it all (note: eating street food in a foreign city is not for the faint of heart. I am generally a lot queasier than my husband, who’ll eat just about anything. However, even I couldn’t resist the smells and tastes of this food – no matter what the state of the vendor’s refrigeration or sanitation). We also did a cooking class (Morning Glory – much recommended), and strolled through the town market many times, checking out all the diverse vegetables, the noodle makers, the fisherman’s catch, and the sights and smells of the butcher (that are not always so great if you ask me!)

Keeping Track of your Luggage while Traveling

One of the things I absolutely don’t like after a flight is going to the luggage carousel to look for my luggage.  I try to minimize my frustration of trying to find my suitcase by getting a less popular color.  There are  so many black, red and navy blue suitcases and after a while they all begin to look alike, at least to me.  I’ve tied bright bows, pom poms, etc on the handles but bows have become untied, and pom poms have broken off.  I needed to put my thinking cap back on and find something that would make my suitcase stand out so that I could find it more easily and others would know that  it definitely was not their suitcase.

While I was thinking about that I also had wondered this year when we flew to Sydney and had three connections how I could describe my suitcase in the event it became separated from us.  I thought it was a high likelihood with the number of connections that we had.

Hmm….what could I do.  While shopping at Staples one day I passed a display with colorful duct tape


and a lightbulb went off in my mind.  I could use the duct tape and run it on the front, back and sides of my suitcase.  That surely would be unique and it wouldn’t have to be permanent.  I bought some and did exactly that:


Now that I solved the problem of identifying my luggage my next step was figuring out how to describe it.  Rather than just saying a blue suitcase with penguin duct tape on it, I took a photo of my suitcase as I gave it to the airline personnel as well as double checking the tags that were put on my suitcase.  I know that accidents can happen and wrong destinations can be put on by accident but I like to try to minimize the risk of losing it.  I take lots of photos.

What do you do to try to keep track of your luggage?

Hawaii Bound!!!

We just received an amazing offer – a timeshare for us to use for free in Oahu this month!  This month….Holy Cow!   I have to get moving… NOW.  So I have lots of questions and dilemmas.

The first dilemma we have is how to get there.  Should I use my points to go there in Business/First Class since it is a long flight?   Will I have enough for our South Africa trip that we have to book within the next couple of weeks? There are many variables of where we should fly out of as well as where we should  fly home from?

After Oahu, we will fly to Kauai and the Big Island – at least that is the plan currently.  That doesn’t mean tomorrow it won’t be Maui and Kauai.  I have enough hotel points that we can stay for a few nights at each island hopefully.  I’m thinking that this is more like an island sampler – visit a few and then see where we want to go back to in the future.  The Sheraton is only charging 10,000 – 12,000 SPG points per night and I have about 30,000 points.  AmEx co-brands the SPG card and the points are very difficult to come by other.  I also have about 300,000 Hilton points from their co-branded American Express card.  I like this card because of the bonus – 5 x points at grocery stores.  I  found a grocery store up here that sells Vanilla Reloads and there doesn’t appear to be any limits as to how many you can buy.  I bought 4 of them at $500 each yesterday.  That means I spent $2000 and since it is 5 times I just received 10,000 Hilton points!  Score one for the home team.

After spending all day on this, I decided to take the United flights and my head was spinning like the girl from Exorcist though no green pea soup.  I decided to call in the troops and hire a booking specialist after talking with him through email.  My initial thought was to transfer my AmEx Membership reward points over to UAL and book the flights.  He told me, to my surprise, that United is not a transfer partner of AmEx.  My idea came to a screeching halt.  What do I do now?  He came up with such a great idea (and worth his money).  He said that AmEx was a transfer partner of Singapore Airlines and they are a partner of United.

The interesting thing about Singapore Airline is that their award tickets (even on United) require fewer points than United charges for their award.  Instead of paying 80,000 miles per business class ticket, we are paying 60,000 points – a savings of 40,000 miles.  What you need to do is to become a loyalty member of Kris Flyer, the program for Singapore Air.  Then go to your AmEx , go to membership rewards, click on partners and then link your AmEx account with the loyalty program you are interested in transferring points to.  You can either call AmEx or you can do the transfer yourself  on AmEx’s site.  This is irreversible so be sure before you do it.  They told me the point transfer would take 3-5 business days but less than 12 hours later, they were transferred.  Next was the telephone call to Singapore Air booking the flight – make sure you have the flight numbers so you can give it to the agent.  Next thing we knew we had tickets to Hawaii.

All we have to worry about now is booking the hotel rooms and flying from island to island.

So if you have been to Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island, send me your list of things that we have to do.

Mileage Running Tools and Tips for Finding Great Fares

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

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

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

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

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

Suggestions Needed For Our Stopover to/from South Africa

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

sa map and flag

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


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

world with question mark

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

Using our Miles to get to Australia

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

auckland 5000 miles

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


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

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

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

Traveling from Detroit Metro – DTW and on Southwest

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

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

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

valet connections

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

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



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


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

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

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

Some of the more common perks are

* free checked bag

*priority boarding

* free same day changes

*being able to pre-select preferred seats

*waived award fees

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

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

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

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

side by side comparisons

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

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

mileage run

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

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

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

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

Tools to Help You Choose Your Airplane Seat

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

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

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

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


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

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

airplane seat

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

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

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

Have you Heard About “The Pudding Guy”

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

February 4, 2000

Engineer finds sweet travel deal in cups of pudding

By Kathleen Holder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All in all, he bought 12,500.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In flight exercises

I was very impressed with Asiana Airlines when I flew them from SFO to Seoul and then Seoul to Sydney.  Near the end of both flights, an Asiana Public Service Announcement came on and showed us how to properly do some exercises in our seats.  What a wonderful idea, I thought, reminding us that we had sat for a long time and that we should do something before we leave the aircraft.


Here are some exercises I found from KLM for your next long distance flight.

Ankle turns: Lift your feet off the floor and move your toes in a circle, one foot moving clockwise and the other foot moving counterclockwise. Change direction and repeat.

Foot lifts: Place your heels on the floor and bring your toes up as high as you can. Then put both feet back flat on the floor. Then pull your heels up while keeping the balls of your feet on the floor.

Knee lifts: While keeping your knee bent, raise your leg while tensing your thigh muscle. Repeat 20 to 30 times, alternating legs.

Shoulder rolls: Raise your shoulders and then move them forward, downward and then backward in a smooth circular movement.

Arm bends: Start with your elbows on the armrests and your hands pointed forward so that your lower and upper arms make a 90-degree angle. Take turns moving your left and then your right hand toward your chest and back, and continue for 30 seconds.

Knee to chest: Bend slightly forward. Fold your hands together around your left knee and pull it toward your chest. Hold this position for 15 seconds and let your knee drop slowly. Change legs and repeat.

Forward bends: Place both feet on the floor and pull your abdomen in. Bend slowly forward and ”walk” your fingers along your shins to your ankles. Hold for 15 seconds and sit up slowly.

Upper-body stretch: Stretch both arms over your head. With your right hand, grab your left wrist and pull it slowly to the right. Hold for 15 seconds and change arms.

Shoulder stretch: With your right hand, grab your left elbow and pull your outstretched left arm slowly toward your right shoulder. Hold for 15 seconds and change arms.

Neck roll: Relax your shoulders, let your head drop to your right shoulder and roll your head slowly to the front and then to your left side. Repeat five times.