Thursday, November 29, 2012

WSJ: At Star, Carrier Rivalry Heats Up

The Wall Street Journal has a very interesting inside look at the competition between Star Alliance Members Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa which is very quickly heating up, despite their alliance ties.

Turkish officials are pushing their airline to quickly compete with Lufthansa on many of their Europe and Asia routes and have seen good growth over the past few years. Give it a read and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

DC Like a Local: Happy Hour

If you ask any Washingtonian what their favorite past time is, besides making fun of summer interns, they will most likely say Happy Hour. There is not many things that defines Washington, D.C. and brings people across party lines (had to make a political reference, it's in the rules) than a good Happy Hour in DC. Everyone had their favorite watering hole and there is a good chance that when you walk by a table at a high class K Street bar or a Dive down the street you will find everyone from Hill Staffers to upper level lobbyists and heads of agencies all sitting down for a drink.

So, if you are visiting DC and truly want to live like a local, you have to take part in Happy Hour and see the locals in their element after a hard day making sausage (or laws as most people like to call them).

I've picked my three favorite Happy Hour places in three different categories for three different budget levels (an DC titles to go with them) so you can hopefully find the place and atmosphere that is right for you.

The Intern

The Bottom Line 
1716 "I" (Or Eye in some places) St, NW
Washington, DC 20006
Metro Stops: Farragut North or West

This bar is my absolute favorite in Washington. I will use any excuse to go here, that may be because it's a University of Kansas bar, but I also love to go here for the no frills attitude and budget helping prices.

Most people would call this a "dive bar" but this is a dive bar that will find 20 year olds next to 60 year olds having a good drink.

Their happy hour specials and food specials can't be beat. If you are in town on a Friday they have a beer special that is $1 a bottle from 4pm - 7pm. On Tuesdays some of their appetizers are only $3 each. My friends and I will head here for our every other week standing Happy Hour and pick out one of each of their six choices and chow down and the bill will end up only being around $15 per person.

The Hill Staffer 

Capitol Lounge 
231 Pennsylvania Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20003
Metro Stop: Capitol South

This Capitol Hill bar is a just steps from some of the House of Representative Office Buildings and is a frequent haunt of Hill Staffers looking to unwind after a long day of votes and political fights. The staff here is amazing and you can tell they really care about their customers and want them to relax. If the upstairs bar is packed, make sure to head down to the downstairs bar and find a place to hang out there.

They have a great beer selection and a set of specials every night that ranges from pizza to ribs to a chef's choice. My favorite is the Tuesday special of .25 wings all night!

The Lobbyist 

The Prime Rib 
2020 K Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006
Metro Stops: Farragut West or Foggy Bottom

If you are in town and want a drink in an upscale atmosphere with the high and powerful of Washington, one of your best bets is to head to The Prime Rib on K Street, what is considered the center of lobbying shops in DC.

The bar doesn't really have any drink specials, but you can find an expensive wine list and a full selections of spirits to fit your hearts desire.

Make sure you get a spot by the door so you can see who is coming in and out, you never know who you might see heading in for dinner.

Hope this list will help you have a truly Washington, DC experience. As always, if you are going to be in town, let me know and hopefully we can meet up for a drink!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

My End of the Year Trip

For the past couple of months, I have been in a funk. A travel funk! Which has led me to be a little grouchy and a little nasty at times. I am deeply thankful to my friends for overlooking my funk the past few weeks. The frown that has been accustomed to my face the past few weeks has been overtaken by a big smile. My travel slump is no more.

I excited to announce that my end of the year trip is to Tokyo.

After much debate, a little prayer and much luck, I was able to secure airline tickets and most of my hotel rooms solely with points with very out of pocket cost. Here is what I have booked:

IAD (DULLES - Washington, DC) on United Business Class to FRA (Frankfurt)

then board another flight . . .

FRA (Frankfurt) on ANA Business Class to NRT (Tokyo Narita)  -

Currently my ANA flight is on the Dreamliner, I am crossing my fingers it says that way.

In Tokyo, I plan on spending 2 nights at the Park Hyatt Tokyo and at least 2 nights at the Hilton Tokyo. I have one night left unaccounted for with very limited points options left; therefore, I think this will be a cash paid night. The question is which spend a lot of money to spend a night at the Hyatt or Hilton or schlep my stuff to a third hotel. I have time to figure this out.

On my way home, I am flying America Airlines First Class from NRT (Tokyo Narita) to ORD (Chicago).

I will have an overnight at the W Hotel Lakeside and fly back to DC the next morning.

What I am most excited about is that this trip accomplishes quite a few of my travel goals:

1) Asia in Business Class - check

2) First Round the World Trip - check

3) Spending New Years outside of DC

4) First Christmas not in Connecticut

5) North America in First Class - check (neve to early to start all seven continents in First Class)

The smile has not left my face since I booked this trip. I have no idea what I will do in Tokyo at the moment, so I will need to do research before I leave. If you have any suggestions, I would be grateful.

The travel slump is over and this makes me happy!!!

Are you going somewhere for the holidays???

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Priority Club Visa Holder? Check Your Snail Mail

Do you have the Priority Club Select Visa? You might want to check your snail mail.

The GF has the card and she got a package in the mail from them with a few promotional items, but one of them includes a specialized link to a 90-second video that you can watch to gain 1,000 Priority Club Points.

It isn't much in the scheme of things, but points are free points.

AMEX Small Business Saturday - Who I Supported!

Saturday was a super bus day for me. I had to go to work, because my boss is on vacation. Normally, no big deal, but I had never tried to get to my office building on a weekend. It turned out to be an adventure involving two buses and a cab. (Remember, I live a car free diet). After spending a few hours preparing for the upcoming week, I headed home and only at that point I remember its Small Business Saturday.

Yes, I know I made a post about it, but the transaction takes 2 steps. 1) Registering and 2) Making a purchase. I wonder how many people registered for the promotion and forgot to make the purchase. Well, I turned out not to be one of them, because I took the metro one extra stop to a small restaurant, Rabbit Grill. Rabbit Grill is located at the Clarendon Metro stop, directly across the street and around the corner.

In full disclosure, I have never eaten at this restaurant. I have always wanted to, because it looks very cool inside.

Also, the restaurant's menu looks amazing too. (website menu here)

Sandwiches, salads, and entrees all under $20, and not the typical sandwiches or salads either. The menu makes my mouth water.

However, I had dinner reservations that night and was not hungry. I remember reading Mommy Points saying she used her $25 credit on gift cards, last year. That's what I did with my $25 credit, I bought a gift card for a future meal. I will write a review of the restaurant, when I eat there.

Ok, so this is a points blog and you are wondering whats the angle on this deal. Well, I double dipped on this promotion. (Whats a double dip? Its when you earn two things for doing one thing). On this deal, Rabbit Grill is a member of Restaurant Rewards, so by buying the gift card, I also got Hilton Honor points. 
$25 = 200  Hilton points by getting free gift card! (Double Dip Baby!)

To be successful in this game, one needs to think about points at every transaction. 

I hope you had a fun Small Business Saturday!!!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

AMEX Small Business Saturday (Limited Enrollment)

I know this has been blogged about to death. I told myself that I was not going to write about it. However, after the nth time talking to family and friends about Small Business Saturday and hearing the small question, "What is Small Business Saturday?" I decided it was time for a quick post.

A little back story:

In 2010, AMEX decided to it was time to support the Small Business that make up the fiber of the American economy. The idea was that typically the Friday after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday, is the start of the high shopping season and increased revenue for the big stores. AMEX declared that the Saturday after Thanksgiving, to be further known as Small Business Saturday. 2010 was the depth of our economic recession and small business's were failing at a rapid rate. AMEX decided to give a $25 statement credit for AMEX members who make a purchase on Small Business Saturday at a participating small business. The program was a HUGE success and gave a ton of great publicity to AMEX (Many small businesses dislike AMEX because of their high surcharges, so it was also a great way of getting some goodwill from small business owners).

Ok, back to the promotion.

If you have an AMEX credit card, not a prepaid card or corporate card, you can are eligible to participate.

Here are the simple steps to participate:

1)  Go to this website to register. You will have to enter your credit card number. Some people have 
      reported registering multiple cards. The program has a limit, but as of Thanksgiving evening at 9pm,
      my friend was able to register. You have to register by 11:59PM MST on November 24, 2012.

2)  After registering, you will receive an email confirming you are registered. If you don't get this email, go
     back to the website and retry to enter the card. If you are registered, the website will let you know that
     you are registered.

3)  Pick a small business to shop at. You can see a list here via zip-code.

4)  Shop! (My favorite part!!!) Use the enrolled AMEX card to spend $25 or more in a single, in store
      transaction at a small business on November 24th. You have to spend $25 or more to get the $25
      statement credit.

5)  Smile. When you get the email that says you have qualified for the $25 credit. I usually get the email
     within an hour of making a purchase.

This Saturday I will be out shopping at small businesses in Arlington. I will make one $25 purchase with my AMEX card and then I will make the rest of my purchases with VISA/Mastercard branded cards, the fees are cheaper on small business!!!

What I'm Thankful For

No. I am not thankful for my passport. (Well that's not totally true. Sometimes, during the holidays with my family, I am thankful for the ability to escape internationally.)

I am thankful for what the passport stands for. This passport says that I am an American citizen and that is a powerful thing. The United States of America is the best country around the word. Yes, that sounds argent, but let me explain.

What does being an American citizen mean to you? Have you ever taken a moment to think about it?

For me, I never asked myself that question until I was studying abroad in Europe.  That year my study abroad program was having Thanksgiving in Bosnia. Yes, Bosnia, once referred to as the black hole of Europe. It was 2005, 10 years after the war and we drove through much of the country, on our way Sarevjo, the capital. Nothing prepared me for the trip.                                                                                               


As we drove through small town/village, we began to see the tragedy of war. For example, in one village, we saw a burned down house, next to another burned down house, which was next to a house perfectly intact. The village church was burned to the ground, but the mosque was untouched.

In the next village over, we saw more burned down houses, next to houses that were untouched. The mosque in this village was bombed out and the church untouched. Every village and small town was similar to this and it went on for miles on top of miles.

The bus was silent for almost an hour. This was the first time many of us saw the effects of war. In the United States, we are very sheltered. It has been hundreds of years since war has occurred on our homeland. Very few us have lived through the effects of war: waking to the sound of bombs, running from gunfire and wondering who might break down the door in the middle of the night. 

The bus ride to Sarevjo was eye opening, but the damage in the capital was equally as bad. Ten years after the war and the capital still showed signs of war. Typically, the capital is the first place rebuilt. However, building after building, in the Capital, still showed massive damage.
Electricity was unreliable and we were instructed only to drink bottled water and use it also to brush our teeth.

Speaking with locals, we were told that schools had to be cut in half. Half the school was for Muslim students and the other half of the school was for Christian students. Students used separate entrances, played in their own playgrounds, and had their respective teachers. The students never interacted with their peers of a different religion. These were two separate schools using the same building. The theory was that neither side would attack the school of their children were in the school.

Have you ever feared for your children, nieces or siblings to go to school? Yes, we have had a string of school shootings over the past decade, but for most parents, a school is one of the safest places for children. In many countries, parents fear every day when their children leave for school. Parents don't have the same worries in the United States. Similarly, every student in the United States has a right to an education. That isn't the situation in many countries of the world.

Electricity free flows in the United States, most of time. (Yes, sometimes it does not work for days or weeks, but we know it will come back on). Our electronic gadgets (which we obtain easily, well maybe not the IPhone 5) allow us to connect to the internet from the comfort of our home or the Starbucks down the street without censorship. Our opinions, on the election to the legitimacy of Kim Kardashian's wedding, can be made without the fear of  persecution (except if you talk about the legitimacy of Kim Kardashian's wedding, you will probably get sued). 

We live in a country of freedoms. Living in the US, allows us to practice the religion that we want, read books the we feel like and vote for the candidate that we best represents our beliefs, all without fear of government persecution. The United States just had a Presidential Election without violence. In many countries around the world, an incumbent winning a close election would have resulted in violence, the day after the election. The only fear most Americans had about the day after the election was that their would not have been a winner.

I remember sitting down for Thanksgiving that year and being thankful for the small things. I was embarrassed. For 20+ years beforehand, I never once was thankful for the small things. I took for granted how good we had in the United States. I took for granted the water that came from our faucet, the food that I ate, the schools I attended and so on. It took this trip to Bosnia to make me stop and be thankful. 

I sent an email to my friends back home from the Holiday Inn Sarevjo that Thanksgiving, that summarized my feelings:

"We are very blessed to wake up in a nation that we have little fear of being shot dead as we go off to work. We are bless to live in a nation where there is an ample supply of food. We are blessed to live in nation that allows us to have little fear of our neighbors. This war in Bosnia was nasty. Even though there has been peace in the nation for ten years a week from Friday, their are still burnt villages, bullet holed buildings and hate runs rampant through the country. I never knew how good I had it until I came here....just a though to think about."

Since 2005, at Thanksgiving, I have stopped for a few moments to says thanks for the small things that we take for granted.

 This year I am thankful for . . . 

  • Knowing where my next meal comes from
  • Not fearing leaving my front door
  • Clean Water
  • Clean Air
  • Free public education 
  • Censorship free internet
  • The ability to practice the religion I like without prosecution
  • Free thought
  • Violence free civil discourse
  • And the list goes on . . . 
I would be remiss to not be thankful for the ability to travel the world without having to get the government's approval. Yes, some countries require visas to enter, but the only thing the United States requires is a passport, which is good for 10 years. In many countries, one needs to get the approval of your home government to travel, even within your own country.

The United States of America is a country of freedoms. A country that protects the freedoms of all of its citizens. Hundreds of thousands of people risk their lives to come to this country, because even the though of being poor in the United States is better than the country they are escaping from. The United State is the greatest nation around the world and citizenship is an amazing asset.

And for this I am thankful. I am thankful to be an American citizen and all the small things that guarantees me.

Happy Thanksgiving All!!!

So Much To Be Thankful For..

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!!

I hope that you are enjoying lots of delicious food with friends and/or family. I just wanted to take a quick minute to thank all of you for reading our little blog. We started this as a way to talk about our favorite hobby and meet others who were as crazy...I mean we are. Your insight, suggestions and idead are what this hobby is all about. Though lots of people can disagree about aspects of our little hobby, I have met so many amazing people in the points/miles game who are ready to share their knowledge so that we can all see this world, a luxury that many people do not get to have.

But beyond that I realized how lucky I am this year, and how much I have to be thankful for. I found a hobby that allows me to travel around the world, something that I didn't think would be possible. I have great friends and family who make me a better person every day.

This really is a beautiful world that we live in, and I can't wait to spend another year lucky enough to travel around it.

Wishing a great holiday to you and your family.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Review: Grand Hyatt Denver

Back in September I wrote about our many culinary adventures in breakfast and beer while in Denver and I realized I never wrote about our stay at the Grand Hyatt Denver. For our stay we paid for one night for $150 and cashed in 12,000 Chase UR points for the next night.

The hotel is located in the middle of downtown Denver and is a perfect place if you want to walk all over downtown like we did. It's just a few blocks from the 16th Street Pedestrian Mall which is a great spot to go for shopping and food. It also features a free bus route to take you up and down the pedestrian mall if you don't feel like walking. This location is also perfect to walk over to the LoDo district which has lots of great restaurants and unique shopping as well as the Rockies baseball stadium.

Kelsey flew in early in the day so she checked us in and the hotel was great about leaving a key for me at the front desk for when I arrived. We were given a free upgrade to a "corner king" room which was just a bit larger than the regular king room.

The best part about this room is that we were at the end of the hallway. I like being farther away from the elevators as it is usually much quieter than the middle of the hallway where people can often be heard coming and going at all hours of the day. The hotel was very quiet and modern, but nothing spectacular.

The room had an entryway that led into the main bedroom which featured a large king bed, a flat-screen tv, dresser/desk combo and a large window overlooking parts of downtown Denver. The living area was laid out a bit strange though since the tv was sitting on the dresser and was only really able to be viewed from certain angles from bed and the desk. On the right side of the room was the bathroom with marble tiled bath/shower combo, again nice, but nothing special.



Bathroom and Closet

Overall the hotel was nice for what we needed, which was as a base to explore the city from. But everything else was just average. The staff was nice, but not nice for any longer than they had to be. Every time I went to the desk I had to wait at least a few minutes before being helped. When we were getting ready to leave we enquired about check out and were told it wasn't available, despite having status with Hyatt. They simply wouldn't budget and the lady who checked us out was more interested in gossiping to her co-worker than helping us find the best way to the airport. So those interactions made a nice hotel turn into just an average hotel.

"View" of downtown Denver 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Car Sharing Companies

I live a car free diet. What is a car free diet? Well, that is a person who does not have a car and relies on public transportation, their two feet and other means to get to work, school etc.

I have not owned a car since I was 18. It's not that I can't afford a car. Rather its that a car in Washington, DC would cost me close to $500-$600 a month, with the car payment, insurance and parking space cost. (One building I lived in charged $250 a month for a parking space). I could do a ton of travel with $500 a month.

Well, back to the subject of my post, when I can't use public transportation to get somewhere and I need a car, I sometimes rent cars from Hertz or Dollar and other times I use car sharing companies like Zipcar or car2go. I use each for different reasons.

For example, I rent cars from traditional car rental companies (and bank airline points) when I need a car for more than a few hours. Traditionally, I can rent a car, in Washington, DC, for about $20 on a weekend, when I schedule a few weeks in advanced. However, I can not always plan, when I will need a car. Sometimes, I need to run some errands and need a car for a few hours. That is when I turn to car sharing companies for help.

I use Zipcar in this instance. I pay zipcar an annual membership fee and then pay for each hour, anywhere between $8.00 to $15.00 an hour, to use a car. Unlike rental cars, I do not need to travel to airports to pick up a car. Zipcar's cars are parked on the side of  the street in many locations around Washington, DC and the surrounding counties. In fact, there are 20+ cars in a 5 minute walk of my apartment, including one across the street from my apartment's front door. Similarly, I do not have to pay for gas when using Zipcars, its included in the hourly price.

If you are interested in joining Zipcar, check the various organizations that you are a member of, because being a member of certain organization may have lead to a discount on your Zipcar membership fee or free credits. I gained my membership through my alma mater and save money annually on my membership fee.

Why do I bring this up on a travel blog?

A few weeks ago,  I was thinking that I have never though about using Zipcar when visiting a city on vacation. Zipcar has cars in over 50+ cities around the United States. For example, in San Diego, I wanted to go visit, Cabrillo National Monument, but it would have taken 2 hours via a combination of a tram, 2 buses, and my feet. I decided not to go visit the monument, because I only had 4 hours until the monument closed.

I wish I would have brought my Zipcar card on the trip. I could have rented a car for a few hours (for probably about $30 total) and drove to the Monument in about 30 minutes. One might wonder why I did not rent a car on the San Diego trip from Hertz. The reason was the cost of parking at the two hotels I stayed at cost about $15 a night (or $30 for the two nights). Add in the cost of the car rental for two days and gas, the price for the weekend could have been close to $75. 

For future trips, I will be bringing my Zipcar card with me. One never knows when a spontaneous side trip might arise and the ability to visit something out of the reach of public transportation. I like the ability to take the track less traveled and car sharing programs like Zipcar will allow me to do this.

Have you ever used a car sharing program when traveling?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Pete's Diner Washington, D.C.

This is cheating a bit since I live in Washington, D.C. but I realize that it's a very popular tourist destination and when people come to visit they sometimes want to live like a local and avoid all of the "tourist" options for dining and entertainment so I figured it was a great time to start a "Live Like a Local DC" section of the blog.

In these posts I will try to post great options for every meal, including brunch because in DC brunch is a an experience in and of its self. Then I'll move on to my favorite sites in DC that go beyond the National Mall and the typical tourist spots. kick this off I have to start with one of my absolute favorite places in DC to get breakfast. The weird thing about DC as a city is there are very few true breakfast places. As I mentioned, brunch places are very abundant, but a true breakfast place is hard to find.

My favorite breakfast place is just a 2 minute walk from the Capitol Building, Pete's Diner. Pete's is everything you are looking for in a good diner style place. When you walk in this place is tiny...there are about five booths, nine or so barstools and a longggggg table with benches on either side that you can sit at. All seating is first-come first-serve so you can just take a seat anywhere. If you come in on a Saturday morning around 8:30 you will find me and my friend Chris camped out in the second to last booth. It's been our Saturday tradition since our senior year of college and we've reached the point where they know our order and we don't even have to formally order anymore.

That's the beauty of Pete's, the staff has an amazing memory and knows all of their regulars. Their regulars are everyone from Hill Staffers to Capitol Policemen to Members of Congress. Speaker John Boehner used to be a regular every morning and still pops in every once and a while when Congress is in session. Just today there were at least eight new Members of Congress that will start work in january with the 113th Congress.

Pete's is really no-frills the menu is plastic but there are specials all over the wall which is where your eye should go. The specials on the wall have most of my favorite items like the the Pete's Number 2-B which is two eggs, home fries, bacon and toast...why it's 2-B I have no idea. The decor on the walls consists of a bunch of random paintings, letters from Members of Congress and police badges from all over the country.

When you order you better not blink because your food will be there in a flash and the coffee cup will never see the bottom. The food is nothing fancy, but it's exactly what you are looking for before a long day walking across the city.

I have no idea what the bottom of these cups look like

Random Wall Decorations 

Inside Seating 

Outside Seating 

Forgot to take a picture before eating again....

Thursday, November 15, 2012

United Club LAX - Terminal 6

As previously mentioned I traveled to Los Angeles last week for a work trip and stayed downtown at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel and was less than impressed. So when I had the morning to kill before heading back to Washington, D.C. I didn't really feel like staying around so I left early and headed to LAX.

I must have missed the notoriously bad Los Angeles traffic because after about a 20 minute taxi ride I arrived to the United check-in area and was headed to security. After a just as long 20 minute wait in the security line I was through to Terminal 6 to wait for my flight. Even after burning time in the security line I still had over 3 hours before my flights so I decided to burn one of my two United Club Lounge Passes that comes with the United MileagePlus Explorer card.

I found the United Club Lounge in Terminal 6 right across from Gate 62 and right next to my departure gate so it was perfect!

I was buzzed in and handed off my pass to the desk attendant and she politely welcomed me to the United Club and asked how long it was until my flight. I told her just about three hours and she replied, "Oh good, you know some people come in with their passes and only have about 30 minutes before their flight. It's such a waste to stay for that short amount of time so I always tell them to hold onto it."

I thought this was a very nice gesture. The last time I used one of my lounge certificates the desk agent was very sour in her demeanor. She was clearly not pleased I had a lounge pass instead of a membership and when I asked her about my flight and to see if there were any aisle seats closer to the front of the plane available she just replied the flight was full without even knowing where I was it was easy to say that this was a much better experience.

The only complaint I have about the lounge in Terminal 6 at LAX is that it is a bit small. The lounge is very long, but it is not very wide so the seating areas are quite small.

When you walk into the lounge there is a business center to your left and just behind the check-in desk there is a set of six or seven work stations with lights and power connections if you want to do some work. From there you turn left and head down the aisle and pass a few sitting areas on your right side with some pretty neat views of the United gates. It was great to watch a few of the big jets come and go as I was waiting. At the end of the lounge is the bar area with a few more chairs and about four or five bar tables to sit down at.

In the middle of the lounge is a little pantry which has the typical United Club offerings of crackers, salty mix, trail mix, a few pastries, soft drinks, water, assorted fruit and my favorite....the Tillimook cheese. After living in the Pacific Northwest for a few years with my parents and falling in love with Tillimook cheese I always have to grab it when I see it...and United Clubs are about the only place to find it outside of the Pacific Northwest. The only bad part is they are in the hardest to open plastic packages ever! I always spend ten minutes looking like an idiot trying to get them open. But it's always a welcome snack to take with you or eat in the club.

Next to the pantry area is a small TV area which is where I settled in for the three or so hours I had left before my flight. It was the day after the election and I had missed being in Washington for the election so I was feeling deprived of my full surround-sound political environment and the background noise of CNN was exactly what I needed to get me back on track. I booted up the work computer and knocked a few things off my to-do list and the three hours flew by and it was time to get on the flight home.

View from the TV Area 

There is nothing extra special about this lounge, but it has everything that I like about United Lounges: A quiet place to get some work done, good wifi, good drinks, outlets and Tilimook cheese so I was a happy camper and it was a great use of my lounge pass.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Considering the US Airways Club Offer

I'm sure many of you have seen the current offer that US Airways has to join the US Airways Club between now and November 18, 2012 for a discounted rate of $400 and 5,000 Preferred-qualifying miles into your Dividend Miles account.

This offer appeals to me because a US Airways Club membership also allows you access into United Clubs and Star Alliance Lounges. As you know, United is my airline, but from time to time US Airways is cheaper than United or has the better routes so I will fly them and just credit the miles to United. That's the case in the coming months as I am flying both US Air and United so the thought of being able to access the lounge for those trips is looking better and better.

I know I don't travel as much as some, but the times I have been able to access lounges, through international travel or club passes, I really value the ability to have a nice place to sit, access to an outlet, a drink or two if I would like and a decent mix of snacks to eat then or take on the plane for later. That and the ability to catch up on some work makes this offer very attractive. I think if I am out in the main airport areas I sometimes end up spending enough on lunch or dinner to justify this over the long run.

Many would say, why not apply for the United Club Card or the Amex Platinum card, and normally that would most likely be my alternative plan. But, I just did my last churn a few months ago and I am not in a position right now to apply for any other this is going to be my option going into next year. The discounted price, the ability to access United Clubs (or as always use US Airways Clubs when flying on US) is really making me pause and consider going for this offer.

What do you think? Has anyone else had experience with this offer, participated in it in the past?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Reinstate Expired Miles!

I know this won't come as a surprise to some, but I logged into my United MileagePlus account the other day and noticed a new line on my account information. There was an "Expired Miles" link. Now before I started this wonderful hobby I had amassed about 25,000 United miles and since I was a poor college student I was flying mostly airlines that would give me my ticket home at the cheapest amount, caring little for the frequent flyer miles I could earn along the way. As a result I let 25,000 miles expire (it's ok it's ok take a deep breath and pick your jaw up off the floor). 

Well after starting to collect miles and points and realizing how powerful 25,000 miles is I had to kick myself over and over for letting those miles go. So when I saw those "Expired Miles" come back onto my United account I figured it was just the miles/points karma rubbing it in again. 

But then I clicked on the link and found out that I could restore those miles!!! For just $50 you can restore up to 25,000 miles into your account as long as it is within 18 months of when they expired. So....go run to your United account and see if you can restore some of those old miles! 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

What are you looking for?

The last few days have been an interesting one in the points/miles world. We've seen the changes in a few credit card offers and the loss of some bird cards at Office Depot. It's amazing the different strategies that people use to get more miles and points for as little as possible. Some people think extreme couponers are strange...they've never met some point/miles junkies!

But my last post on social media in the miles/points game and the amazing new blog from @FlyerTalkerinA2 which shows a great wrap up of daily blog news delivered with high levels of snark   and loads of mile/points knowledge made me wonder...what are you looking for in a travel blog?

We've been at this for about four months now and I know it's been a bit of a learning curve to try and find content on a daily basis that is new, interesting and something that not everyone else is blogging about.

That made me wonder...what's in your ideal travel blog. What are you looking for? How can we do better and what would you like to see in the future? We started this blog to continue the conversation about miles and points with new friends around the world and to show our parents that we aren't just going around the world for fun...what am I talking about, that's exactly why we are doing it. But, we are always looking for new things to write about and contribute to the overall miles/points discussion. So...if there is anything else we can do better, please let us know!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Social Media and the Points/Miles Game

In my professional life I am a communications professional and a big part of my training has involved how to use social media to match the message that your company is looking to distribute to the audience that you are looking to reach.

That's why I read with great interest a post from Hack My Trip  on how networking can be one of the most valuable travel resources. As I have said many times over, I have only been in the points and miles game for about 6-9 months and I must admit that when I first started I was so confused....I had no idea where to even start!

Then I started adding blog after blog after blog to my Google Reader which finally gave me a great overview of the points/miles games and how everyone approaches it in their own way. But one of the biggest things I learned was how open and amazing the community really is, especially on social media!

I started to follow the bloggers I read on a regular basis on Twitter. From there I started following people that they interacted with on a regular basis. This allowed me to see the questions that others were asking and things they were curious about. I saw how everyone in the community was willing to help out with those questions and give everyone the chance to become a successful traveler using the tools that are available. Twitter is a great medium for this communication because our hobby is one that bring together people from around the country, and around the world, together to follow one game....and there is no better way to expand that knowledge than by learning from other people who have done it before and can lend a hand!

At first it was hard to reach out to people I have never talked to, let alone people I have never met in person. But I found out that everyone I have interacted with is nice as can be and willing to lend a hand. If you are willing to make an effort to get to know the people in the community you will find a great resource that is available to bounce ideas, learn from and travel by proxy with as we all go explore the world.

That being said....I am a person who LOVES to meet other people and know what they are up to. So...if you are willing...please follow me on Twitter here and here.

Plus...if you are in DC, drop me a line and lets meet up in person!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Review: Millennium Biltmore Hotel Los Angeles: Beautiful Lobby...Nothing Else

Another week and another trip....I recently checked-in on Foursquare and it informed me that I had checked in to my third straight airport and it was my third airport in as many weeks. I know this is nothing for the average road warrior, but for me this is so much travel. I now have so much respect for those that are on the road all of the time, and I can't imagine how hard it is, even if you do get to travel all the time.

Anyways...onto the real story...I was headed to Los Angeles for five days on a business trip. I ended up staying at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel which is located at 5th and Grand Street in downtown Los Angeles.

The first thing you notice about the hotel is just how absolutely beautiful it is. The hotel opened in 1923, and upon its opening it was the largest hotel west of Chicago at over 70,000 square feet. The arcatecture in the lobby is just stunningly beautiful. The 1920s accents are still there and the murals on the ceilings and carpeted stairs with brass railings beside stone walls just take you back to a whole new era. The hotel has been featured in many movies, including the original Ghost Busters and was even the host to the Oscars when it was first started. There are tons of old pictures of the orignal Oscars with many celebreties. The hotel just has a cool feel all around.

But I wish the same could be said for the area outside of the lobby....

I arrived at the hotel after a flight from DC and I was ready to just head to my room and head to bed because I had a 5:15 wake up call waiting for me the next morning. I arrived in the lobby and there was a flight crew from an A380 flight checking in (about 20 people it seemed like!) and milling about the lobby. Their crew leader was at the desk getting all of their keys in line and so I waited patiently. Then three other desk clerks walked out of the back and started chatting on their own and working on the computer completely ignoring me. After waiting for about 5 minutes the agent helping the crew leader get keys in order finally realized I had been waiting and told her colleagues to help me!

One finally came over and checked me in. I was offered an upgrade to the Club Floor for $50 a night, but it wasn't really clear what came with the upgrade besides a bit of a bigger room so I declined. I later read that the Club Floors are supposedly I'm glad I passed :p.

I was given a standard king room on the 8th floor. I took to old elevators up to the 8th floor and walked into the room. The first thing that struck me was the yellow walls and yellow lights and the 1920s accents. I can appreciate that the hotel wants to keep some of the old features of the building and keep the charm alive. But, it looked like this room hadn't been updated since the hotel opened. The yellow on the walls and the yellow light in the room along with the dated furniture made the room feel old, dark and cramped.

When I walked into the room a decent sized closet was on the right and the tiny tiny bathroom was on the left. I say tiny, and I really mean it. The door swung open directly open in front of the toilet and when it was open it was less than an inch from the toilet brim. This was a tight squeeze bathroom with no room to move around.

The room its self had a standard king bed, a desk, a tv, dresser and a chair. The easiest way I could describe the feeling on walking into this room was that this hotel may have a five-star lobby, but it has a two-star set of rooms at best.

The other main gripe I had was the total lack of outlets in the room. There was only enough that you could have the two main lamps that provided light in the room on at one time...nothing else....To make coffee you had to unplug one lamp and then plug it back in later. At 5:30 in the morning, it was the last thing I wanted to do every day. There was also no plug next to the bed, which is bad for me because I use my phone as an alarm clock. I finally figured out that if you pull the bed out you can reach an outlet that is built into the wall behind the bed and has one extra plug.

I'm not arguing that the hotel needs to go fully modern....I just think that there are ways to improve the rooms enough to match the lobby and keep some of the old style.

I was also not impressed with the hotel restaurant at all. The staff was horrible...I ate there for breakfast twice and it was a pain to get any attention from them and one morning they even all stood around my table to chat while I was eating. For that pleasure I got a $10 bowl of oatmeal one day and a $19 omelet along with $4 coffee that was restaurant grade and never got refilled.

To put it bluntly...if you want to see this beautiful hotel, just go into the lobby and don't waste your time in staying the night.

King bed with no plugs (See the yellow lighting) 

Sitting Area/Desk

TV, Bed and Closet 

Tiny Bathroom

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Election and Frequent Flyers, Should We Be Worried? - Part 1

With a major election on Tuesday, the political science side of my brain is in overdrive. I went to school in Washington, DC to be close to the political capital of the world. Somewhere between 2003 and 2008, I learned that I did not want a career in politics. However, my love of elections has not gone away. I love the horse race of elections, the polls, and the missteps.

A few days ago, a question popped into my head. Do us, frequent travelers, have anything to worry about in the upcoming election? Will the election of one candidate over another have dramatic effects on the frequent flyer community?

Chris and I are on the opposite ends of the political spectrum. So I posed him the question and between the two of us, we came up with a list of topics that are important to the community.

Neither candidate has made any direct comments about frequent flyers or air travel in general. Except for Governor Romney’s questioning, in early September, why airplanes don’t have windows that open, after his wife’s plan filled with smoke. Therefore, the following analysis is only a hypothetical guess of what might occur.

The Issues

The first issue is government regulations of airlines. Over the past year, the frequent flyer community has had new regulations come into effect that have changed the “game” for the positive:

  • Ability to cancel airline tickets within 24 hours of booking them
  • Advertised price must included all taxes and fees
  • Airlines can not raise fares after they have been booked (ie fare mistakes)
  • Limited amount of time airplanes can be on the tarmac
The frequent flyer community loves the inability of airlines to raise prices or cancel tickets due to a fare mistake. Similarly, the ability to purchase a fare mistake and cancel within 24 hours later is a game changer. Now one has no reason not to book a fare mistake. Book the fare mistake, check to see if you can take time off and cancel later if it does not work out.

Obama:  Since these regulations were issued by the Department of Transportation under his administration, one can assume that he is very unlikely to roll them back. If anything, one can expect more regulations. The DOT press release announcing the new rules mentions, “the Department is looking at other airline consumer protection measures for a possible future rulemaking, including requiring that all airline optional fees be disclosed wherever consumers can book a flight, strengthening disclosure of code-share flights, and requiring additional carriers to file on-time performance reports.”

Romney: The Governor has been very vocal on the need to roll-back government regulations especially those issued over the past four years. Romeny’s webpage on regulations states, “a Romney administration will act swiftly to tear down the vast edifice of regulations the Obama administration has imposed on the economy. It will also seek to make structural changes to the federal bureaucracy that ensures economic growth remains front and center when regulatory decisions are made.” However, during the First Presidential Debate, Governor Romney stated, “Regulation is essential. You can't have a free market work if you don't have regulation. As a businessperson, I had to have -- I need to know the regulations. I needed them there. You couldn't have people opening up banks in their -- in their garage and making loans. I mean, you have to have regulations so that you can have an economy work. Every free economy has good regulation. At the same time, regulation can become excessive.” With this statement, one can be certain that the Romney Administration would not roll back every regulation that the Obama Administration has issued.

With this in mind, the regulations that a Romney Administration might roll back is those that are expensive to businesses. Of the four mentioned above, the one regulation that the airlines complain most about is the tarmac rule. A domestic airplane that is on the tarmac with passengers for more than 3 hours can be fined up to $27,500 per passenger. The number of tarmac delays has dropped drastically, but the number of cancelled flights to avoid tarmac delays has gone up. Consumers like the regulations, so a roll back of this specific regulation is unlikely. Similarly, the other three regulations mentioned above are not as well know, but are very consumer friendly; therefore, a roll back, is again unlikely.

The second issue is taxes. Benjamin Franklin once said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” The purchase of airplane tickets or the redemption of airline points for a ticket always comes with a tax. At the very least, each ticket comes $2.50 tax for each leg of a journey that requires them to board a plane, which goes toward financing the TSA's staff, operations and screening equipment -- like those new body scanners.  Similarly, depending on which airports one flies through, one may get a passenger facility fee.

Romney: The Romney platform does not specifically discuss the 9-11 Passenger Security Tax. However, Romney’s running mate House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s 2012 Budget Blueprint had a provision to raise the tax from $2.50 per leg to a $5.00 flat one way tax. One can assume that if Ryan placed it in his “Path to Prosperity,” that it will show up again in a future Romney Budget.

Obama: Obama’s 2012 budget blue print supports the raised of the passenger security tax. Page22 states, “The Administration proposes both to raise the fee and change the manner in which it is collected” The Administration proposal makes three changes 1) replace the current “per-enplanement” fee structure to a flat one way fee, 2) remove the statutory fee limit and replace it with a statutory fee minimum of $5.00, with an annual incremental increase of $0.50 from 2013 to 2017 resulting in 2017 of a fee of $7.50, and 3) allow the Secretary of Homeland Security to adjust the fee up, but not down per his/her discretion.

Neither candidate is proposing getting rid of the 9-11 Passenger Security Tax, but both candidates have proposals to increase the taxes from its current limit. 

The third issue is our friends at TSA. The TSA is one of the biggest hotbed issues and the
media loves to talk about it. TSA was created after 9-11 and controls the security at most airports throughout the country. Many frequent flyers love TSA-Pre Check, which allows for faster passing through TSA check points. A proposal has floating around to allow more airports to get rid of TSA and hire private companies to handle the security. Will TSA Pre-Check go away with private security firms?

Romney: The platform adopted at the Republican National Convention had specific language in regarding the privatization of TSA:

While the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks brought about a greater need for homeland security, the American people have already delivered their verdict on the Transportation Security Administration: its procedures – and much of its personnel – need to be changed.
It is now a massive bureaucracy of 65,000 employees who seem to be accountable to no one for the way they treat travelers. We call for the private sector to take over airport screening wherever feasible and look toward the development of security systems that can replace the personal violation of frisking.
Obama: The Democratic Platform did not include such language regarding the TSA. Actually, the Platform did not included a mention of the TSA at all. However, President Obama signed into law that would make it easier for airports to transfer to private security. TSA Administrator John Pistole commented on the new law as saying "It's changing the burden, if you will, on the discretion I have in terms of making that decision, which is [based on] the taxpayers' best interest in terms of cost, but obviously the bottom line is who provides the best security," he said. "So if I'm required to accept something unless I can prove affirmatively that it does not meet that criteria, it obliviously changes the standard.” He went on to say, “that privatized screening at airports that participate in the SPP have in the past cost between three percent and nine percent more than if the TSA had operated screening services at those airports.”  Due to Pistole’s statements, one can assume the Obama Administration is not in favor of complete removal of the TSA, but not against some airports switching to private companies handling security.
Again another issue with slight differences between Obama and Romney: both candidates support the privatization of security at airports, abet with different criteria.  In regards to the effect of private security companies taking over security at airports and programs like TSA Pre-Check, the case is still out. Currently, 16 airports have private screeners and not one allows TSA Pre-Check. A big test will be Orlando’s Airport’s application to switch private security and their ability to keep TSA Pre-Check.
Conclusion Part 1:
The three examples, regulations, taxes and TSA, show that both candidates share similar beliefs. There are slight differences, but nothing earth shattering. The raising of the 9/11 Passenger Security tax is disturbing and effect each of our's travel budgets. This is an issue we all must watch carefully. Giving the ability to the Secretary of Homeland Security to raise the fee unilateral is dangerous.
My goal in this post and tomorrow’s post is not to change anyone’s mind on who to vote for on Tuesday. The issues that we are talking about a minuscule compared to other issues facing our country. However, I believe that the community needs to be more aware of the effect of elections on our hobby. Our community is quick to be loud and use the government when the result might be in our favor (ie the United 4 Mile Asia Award Trip). We must be equally loud and tell the government, when we feel that they are encroaching on our hobby. Our hobby is not unlike others who are politically active. Sportsmen, in particular, hunters are acutely aware of the effects of an candidates stances on the Second Amendment. Similarly, professional poker players pay attention to changing gambling laws and tax deductions for gambling losses.
Yes, the election is two days away. I hope this post starts a conversation within the community, no for this election, but for the one coming in 2014 and 2016.
Until tomorrow~ 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Why We Do This Game

When I first started this game, 2 years ago, my goal was to see the world on someone else’s dime. At the time, I had a good job that paid the bills and help me pay for my graduate education in cash with a little extra each month to save for 1 trip a year trip. However, I could not afford to travel internationally especially not in premium class. I turned to the points’ game to supplement my income.

My goals (maybe not desires – read here) have me jetting off to exotic locations (in premium class, of course). That is why I spend hours each week learning new point earning techniques. I do it for the ability to travel outside of the US.

Or that is what I though….

I did something strange this weekend. I spent points to fly out to Seattle to surprise my mom. Wait, for those that know me, my mom lives in Connecticut, so why did I fly across the country to see her.

A little back story, my mom was flying to Washington State to surprise one of her sisters for her 50th birthday. My mom had been planning on her surprise visit since July. Two weeks ago, I saw a few days with zero closings (rare in my business), so I took the opportunity to take a few days off. It just happened to be around the 50th birthday party.

Knowing that I needed a flight to Seattle, I looked at my frequent flyer accounts and saw I had room to spare with US Airways, United, American and British Airways. My first thought was to spend the British Airways points for two reasons: no late booking fee and mileage based award chart. However, British Airways did not see any availability (darn…I really wanted to try Alaskan Airlines and they have a direct flight from DCA). I immediately gave up on United for two other reasons: to valuable for international flights and I can get United flights with US Airways Points.

I eventually settled with booking direct United flights from Dulles (IAD) to Seattle using 25,000 points. Yes, I could have saved 5,000 miles (I hold the US Airways MasterCard) by flying US Airways metal, but that would have required me to transfer planes in Philadelphia or Charlotte. On a related note, due to the East Coast’s visitor Sandy, flying US Airways would have meant major consequences. My flight home was cancelled on Monday, but I was quickly rebooked on a Tuesday flight. If I was flying US Airways, the earliest flight, I could have been rebooked on was Thursday.

Yes, I spent 25,000 miles. The round trip ticket would have cost me $800 or a redemption of $0.032 per mile. I would not have been able or willing to spend $800 for this trip. There is a big debate in the community about redemption values. Some feel it’s the cash price at the time of booking, while others believe it’s the amount you would have spent. In this situation, the spending of the miles was about surprising my mom or not surprising my mom. Value per mile did not come into my mind.

In the end, my mom was very surprised. I surprised her at the airport and it was the funniest thing. She was screaming with delight for a few minutes nonstop.People around us, at the airport, might have thought I was trying to mug her.

Oh! The surprise of my aunt was equally fun. A few photos of the party:

Spending the miles on this trip was the right thing to do. Yes, I could have saved the miles for a trip in business class to Europe or Asia. Would that have been the better value? Maybe. However, the surprise on my mom’s face and the video to replay over and over again was well worth the value in points.

Sometimes the best use of points can not be calculated in a nice dollar to mile ratio. Only you can determine the best use of your points. In this situation, I can't think a better way to spend 25,000 US Airways miles.

Happy Spending!!!!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Value of Mattress Running: A Case Study

I forgot to talk more about this while chronicling our trip to London and Amsterdam but got side tracked with trying to find all of my pictures and make it sound semi-coherent. But this trip really showed me the value of mattress running.

For those of you that don't know, mattress running is when you stay at a hotel for the sole purpose of earning hotel points that push you toward the next level of elite status, or you stay to take advantage of a promotion a hotel is running.

My first encounter with mattress running happened in May when Club Carlson was running a special for their Radisson and Country Inn and Suites brands where a one night stay would earn you 50,000 and 40,000 points respectively. Both Kelsey and myself stayed a night at one of each to earn the 90,000 Club Carlson points and after the actual points for the stay posted we both had a points balance of around 112,000.

We paid an average of $90 a night for the two night stays so all in we were at about $180 a person or $360 total. We then used the points that we each earned to stay two nights at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Street and the Radisson Blu Amsterdam. These properties both cost 50,000 per night, which is the highest cost per night Club Carlson has.

Right before we left I looked at the paid rates for the hotels that we were staying at found out that the Edwardian Mercer Street in London was going for $400 a night and the Blu Amsterdam was going for $250 a night. So, if we would have booked our hotels online (Yes yes yes, I realize that these rates might be inflated a bit since they were so close to arrival) we would have paid $1100 for four nights. Instead we only paid $360. By taking a two nights to stay at hotels that were 10 minutes and one hour from our house we saved ourselves almost $750.

This hobby may seem a bit weird and strange at times...but if you are willing to put in the time to explore how you can maximize your potential earnings it can pay off in dividends.