Friday, May 31, 2013

Hotel Review: Richmond Marriott

For our Memorial Day Weekend Trip, we spent our first night at the Richmond Marriott. This hotel is across the street from the Richmond Convention Center.

When I was booking the room, we had the option to get valet and internet for $10 more. I jumped on that offer because valet parking for 1 night was $26.00. After driving up to the hotel, the valet crew of 8+ were ready to help us with our bags and the car. The valet crew was the best set of employees that we encountered during our quick say.

As soon as you enter the hotel, there was a glass pane of water. The feature was neat and gave the hotel a modern feel.

The hotel lobby has many places to sit:

The check-in desk was to the left of the lobby:

Check-in was quick. Very quick. 3 minutes in and out. The staff person was cold and spoke very fast. I had to stop her a few times and ask questions especially about the prepaying for the valet. She did not seem to care. We had the same women check us out. On my bill was a charge for the valet that should not have been there. She gave no apoligie. Actually she said nothing, only handing me a correct bill. This coldness was a common theme from the staff. One quick note, the hotel was overrun by high school volleyball players. There were kids running around all weekend. The hotel separated us from those staying for the tournament. We were grateful for this action.

The room was on the small side. The beds were tight for two dudes:

When we arrived in the room, the bathroom only had one towel. One towel for four people. Worse, on my reservation, I ask for extra towels. Someone else must have gotten my extra towels. A quick call to housekeeping resulted in towels being delivered within 5 minutes.

The hotel had this old color scheme: red and gold. It was not pleasant to my eye. Actually, it hurt my eyes.

The hotel had a Starbucks and T-Miller's Sports Bar in the lobby. Both of them were packed with tweens.


On the second floor was the gym and pool. No pictures of the pool because of little kids. However, the tweens running amock caused the hotel put a staff member in the gym to watch over the kids. 

Overall, if you are looking for an average hotel, then stay at the Richmond Arriott.

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Thursday, May 30, 2013

When Life Throws You A Curveball....

When life throws you a curveball, you have two choices. Either, one can take a called strike and wait for a better pitch or turn that curveball into a double.  My childhood was dominated by baseball; playing, watching and trading baseball cards, so many of my life lessons revolve around baseball metaphors.

Late last week, I was thrown a curveball. My baby sister called and informed me that she was moving to Austin for a job. I was so excited for her. Then came the ask. "Can you come to Austin with me next weekend to look at apartments?" Really? Drop everything, take time off of work, and buy an expensive ticket to visit a different city? Of course!

So, this weekend I am head to the state of Texas.  This is the fifth out of the past six weekends that I won't be in Washington, DC. Honestly, the travel schedule is starting to ware on me, but I am loving every moment. Over the past six weeks, I will have traveled to all four time zones in the United States \
(San Francisco, Colorado Spring, Austin, & Connecticut).

I am excited to visit Austin, because I have only heard great things about the city. Great food, great drinks and even better people. However, my work schedule has not allowed much time but I have not had time to do research. So, I need help my fellow travelers. I need suggestions on places to visit for the following categories:

    1) Best Doughnut

    2) Best BBQ Place

    3) Best Must See Spot (restaurant, attraction or street sign)

    4) Best Area for A Young 20 something Professional to Live

Life throws you curveballs from time to time. Its what you do with those curveballs that matter. For me, I am taking this curveball all the way to Texas.

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Alaska Airlines Adds Passbook For Boarding Passes

Alaska Airlines announced in a tweet this morning that they have added the ability to store your boarding pass in Apple's Passbook to their mobile application options.

I love using Passbook to store my United boarding passes (and my Starbucks card of course) because it brings the boarding pass to the lock screen. This makes it much easier when you are boarding to just whip out your phone and bring up the boarding pass without even unlocking the phone. That way you aren't holding up the line trying to close down all of your apps to just get to your boarding pass!

Hope more airlines (**cough cough** US Airways **cough cough**) will start to add this soon....or at least for US once they integrate to AA.

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Bonus HHonors Points for Staying At Waldorf Astoria or Conrad Hotels & Resorts Through August

I received an e-mail from Hilton yesterday afternoon advertising 2,000 bonus points for every night you stay at a Waldorf Astoria or Conrad Hotels & Resorts through August 31, 2013. I can't tell if the e-mail is targeted, but when I clicked the "sign up" button on my e-mail it automatically registered me through my HHonors number, it wasn't a generic landing page.

All of my stays at a Conrad in July are on an award night, so I won't earn this bonus. But hey....if you are planning on staying at a Waldorf or Conrad before the end of's worth a shot to register! Plus, you should always register even if you don't think you will end up doing the promotion, you never know. According to the T & Cs you must be registered before you stay to get the bonus points.

Sign up
Make your stay count for more. Register now and you’ll receive 2,000 Hilton HHonors™ Bonus Points for every night you stay at Waldorf Astoria™ or Conrad® Hotels & Resorts through August 31, 2013.*

With nearly 50 inspiring locations around the world you will always find the perfect luxury for your unique taste. Indulge in one-of-a-kind experiences at Arizona Biltmore, a Frank Lloyd Wright inspired Waldorf Astoria Resort, or discover a haven of tranquility at Conrad Bali’s Jiwa Spa.

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Work Backward Approach: Using Marriott's Unexpected Bonus

A few weeks back, Chris and I wrote a guest post on Hack My Trip about our approach to travel planning: Work Backwards. The work backward approach focuses on picking the destination, first, and working to earn the miles and points to get there afterwards. However, the approach is easier in words than practice. For this reason, I will start writing posts about putting the work backward approach into action.

For the Memorial Day Weekend, my friends and I went on a road trip throughout Virginia. When it came time to decided on hotels, the choice was easy. Since we were spending one night in two cities, Cash Back Boy was adamant that we stay at Marriott hotels to use the Unexpected Bonus promotion. As I wrote here, Marriott's Unexpected Bonus promotion gives you a free night at any hotel category 1-5 after spending two paid nights.

How does the promotion tie into the work backward approach? Great question!

Every year, my friends and I take trips to see college football game. One of the biggest expenses that we incur is the cost of hotel rooms. Typically, hotels close to stadiums jack up nightly rates on college football weekends. For instance, last year's trip to Penn State, the cost of one night at the Courtyard by Marriott was $250, but the next weekend, when Penn State was playing away, hotel rates were around $119. By staying this past weekend at Marriott; instead of a Hilton or Hyatt, we prepaid for one hotel night for a future college football trip.

The cost of staying at Marriott hotels were similar to staying at Hilton or Hyatt. Therefore, we lost nothing expect some points in our preferred hotel loyalty program, but we gain a free night for future use. This promotion is a great way of helping pay for your dream trip. First, one needs to check to see if there is a Marriott located near your dream location. No reason to participate if Marriott does not have a hotel where you want to go. However, ff Marriott does have a hotel or hotels near your dream location then this promotion might be a good one to participate  The risk is that a "free night" might not be available for when you want to travel, but to be successful in the "game" a little be of risk is required.

This promotion is not mattress run worthy. The cost in time and money is to expensive. In my opinion this promotion works best if you have flexibility in your hotel choices over the next few months.  My motto is always get something for staying at a hotel and getting a free night after two paid stays is pretty damn good.
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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Free Stuff On United and Hyatt! What More Could You Want?

Our good friends over at Heels First Travel and Hack My Trip have teamed up for an AWESOME giveaway. They are offering one lucky winner a $100 Hyatt Gift Card and Two (2)  United Airlines Global Premier Upgrade e-certs!

The full details of the contest can be found on the Heels First website  or on Hack My Trip, it doesn't matter. So you need to stop what you are doing and go enter now. don't enter... I want to win! So keep on doing what you are doing! ;)

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Free Coffee or Tea On Hilton At The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf

It looks like Hilton is switching their in-room coffee and tea offerings at their hotels and moving toward a product from The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf . As a way to celebrate they e-mailed out that they are offering a free cup of brewed coffee or tea at a participating The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf locations this Thursday, May 30. All you have to do is present your Hilton HHonors card for a free cup! Check your e-mail for participating states and locations!
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Avoiding Jet Lag? It's Science

I am one of those people that can't sleep on planes. It doesn't matter if I am in the back of the bus in economy or in a lie flat bed in business class, I have never been able to sleep. I'll doze off for a bit and then wake up fully and not be able to go back to sleep. I've had this problem long before I started collecting miles and points and I have suffered because of it. On my first ever trip to Australia when I was in high school I slept maybe 2 hours on a 16 hour flight. The most I have ever slept on an overnight trip to Europe is a good hour. As a result the first day of a long trip is usually ridiculously hard for me. The jet lag is horrible and I have to push myself to get past feeling like a zombie and stay up as late as possible to adjust to a new timezone.

Everyone has their strategies to avoid jet lag, and while I haven't found mine it seems that science has figured out the best methods, as reported in the Wall Street Journal, to convince your body that it may be two am at home, but it's really seven am where you are. 

A researcher from Chicago had to make a trip to Egypt for work and she used a strategy, starting three days before she left, to try and minimize her jet lag. As you can see from the graphic below, from the Wall Street Journal story, she tried to move her bedtime back an hour each day and woke up an hour earlier before her flight. She also choose to take the hormone Melatonin. In the mornings she exposed herself to a light box or as much natural daylight as possible to tell her body to wake up. During her flight to London she slept for the first part and then watched movies to try and wake up. Then on her flight to Egypt she napped for some of the flight and then got a full nights sleep when she arrived in Cairo. The next day she exposed herself to as much natural light as possible to get her adjusted. 


Other researchers have found that jet lag mainly comes from our bodies internal clock not being able to adjust to new light cycles. They say for the average person it takes about three days to adjust to a new timezone. As you age that can take even longer.

As I get ready to take our epic trip to Australia and Asia in July I am going to have to try to figure out the best way to sleep and adjust to vastly different timezones from what I am used to. The long flights all over the world are going to necessitate sleep so I read this story with interest. But I know that the average frequent flyer has their own strategies. So...let me know what you do. What strategies do you use to avoid jet lag? Can you not sleep on planes like me, do you have any strategies that have worked? 
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Monday, May 27, 2013

730 Days Left!!!!

Today is my 28th birthday! Today, also, leaves me 730 days left to accomplish my big travel goal: travel to seven continents in business class by May 2015.

As of today, I have hit four continents: North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Leaving South America,Australia and Antarctica. My plan is to visit South America in the fall. Next year, hit Australia or New Zealand; leaving Antarctica for January or February 2015.

Today, I add a new goal: visit all 50 States before the age of 40. In typically JD fashion, to count a state as visited, I must stay 3 nights in the state. The 3 nights don't have to be consecutive, but I do need to put my head on a pillow, rock or bench to count.

Below is a map of the states that I have visited and those I have not. The states colored in Red are ones that I have stayed 3+ nights in, the states colored in Green are ones that I have stayed 2+ nights, and all the rest are calling my name. So far I have visit 17 states: 10 for more than 3+ days.

Accomplishing 20% of my goal with 12 years left is a good start. As you can see, I need to visit middle America. Sad to say, I have treated it as fly-over country. Looking down from the plane wondering what is down there. Today, I make my promise to you, middle America...I am coming to visit!
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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Best BBQ In America

Foursquare is out with America's Favorite BBQ Joints. The list is based upon the BBQ Joints with the most check-ins last summer. This is a popularity contest and popularity does not always equal quality.

I am OBSESSED with BBQ: morning, noon and night, I could eat it everyday. I don't discriminate either. Wet, Dry, North Carolina, Memphis, Texas Style...bring it on. So, this list excited me and made me want to visit. One observation is the list is city-heavy probably due to the shear size of Foursquare users who live in or around cities.

The list is in no particular order:

Dinosaur BBQ, New York, New York

Phil's BBQ, San Diego, California

Hill Country Barbecue Market, New York, New York

The Salt Lick, Driftwood, Texas

Oklahoma Joe's BBQ & Catering, Kansas City, Kansas

Fette Sau, Brooklyn, N.Y.


Slows Bar-B-Q, Detroit, Michigan

Food, Wine and Miles visited Slows recently and high endorsed. 

Fox Bros Bar-B-Q, Atlanta, Georgia

Stubb's Bar-B-Q, Austin, Texas

The Pit, Raleigh, North Carolina

The list of places to visit and eat continues to grow!

Do you have any must eat BBQ places?

Weddings: Just Say No

The Spring time bring warmer weather, but also, the start of the wedding season. In our twenties, weddings seem to happen nonstop. Your close family members, childhood and college friends, and co-workers all seem to be tying the knot. Of course, its never just one a year. They always seem to occur in groups.

Invitations to weddings = money out of your pocket. At the vary least, there is the obligatory gift. However, if you decided to go to the wedding there is the added cost of something to wear, drinks, and gas and that's if you are local. If the wedding is not near where you live, add in the cost of airfare, hotels and meals. The costs start to add up.

American Express conducted a survey of 1,500 adults which determined that the expected cost to attend a wedding in 2013 at $539 after adding in travel, attire and gifts. That's up more than 50% of last year's expected expense of $339. The increase in the amount of spending could be attributed to the approving economy and people's wiliness to spend more to attend a wedding. However, $500 per wedding can add up. 

Melanie Hicken, on CNN Money, wrote an article this week entitled, "My Friend's Weddings Are Putting Me Deep in Debt." The article details, PR Account Executive, Christopher Sledzik, who has racked up $10,000 in debt by attending 12 different weddings and being apart of 3 different wedding parities over an 18 month period. 
"For me, vacation time has been devoted to (weddings) for the past couple of years," said the 27-year-old public relations account executive. "I'm at that age where everybody's getting married, or at least it seems that way."
$10,000 in debt caused by attending weddings. Thats a little ridiculous. He goes on to say that the bill "is now accumulating $130 in interest each month." Assuming he makes the minimum payments, it will take 12+ years to pay off this debit. 12 years of his life chained to debt from attending other people's weddings.

Christopher needs to learn the phrase, "I'm sorry I can't attend." He is $10,000 in debt and what did he get? A few laughs, a rubber chicken dinner and some free booze. If you can't afford to pay to attend a wedding without credit than you probably shouldn't go. The bride and groom won't be upset, because its one less person/couple they have to pay for. No wedding is worth chaining yourself to debt for years to come. 

Here are some simple tips to reduce the costs associated with attending weddings:

1) Obviously, use points and miles to pay for airplane tickets or hotels.

2) Check to see if the "group" hotel is actually the lowest available rate at the hotel, sometimes its not.

3) Find other single people or couples to share hotel rooms or rental cars.

4) Buy gifts online and have them shipped to the Bride or Groom, saving you money on baggage fees.

5) Buy a Tuxedo. Spending $300 or $400 upfront will save you from renting multiple tuxedos later. One
     can always rent vest, cummerbund, or bow ties to match the wedding party, if necessary   

6) Extend the trip by a day or two and make it a vacation

Do you have any tips to save money while traveling to weddings?


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Friday, May 24, 2013

Donate Hyatt Gold Passport Points to Help Oklahoma Tornado Victims

Growing up in Kansas has made me acutely aware of the dangers of severe storms and tornadoes. I'll never forget being just three or four years old and having to leave a restaurant dinner with my parents and my grandparents because a storm was coming in. On the way home I turned around in my car seat and saw a tornado on the ground behind us. The storm missed us, but others are not so lucky. 

The disaster in Oklahoma was a horrible event and I am so sorry for all of those that lost a loved one and their homes. Companies across the country have started to chip in and if you are interested in helping out Hyatt Hotels is taking donations of Hyatt Gold Passport points to transfer donations to the American Red Cross. More details from Hyatt are below:

                       LEND A HAND
                       TO help THE RELIEF EFFORTS IN OKLAHOMA
                       [DONATE NOW]

On Monday, May 20th a massive tornado struck the Oklahoma City region leaving a path of destruction in its wake. 
Our thoughts are with those who have been deeply impacted by this disaster. 
To support the immediate needs and long-term recovery of the affected communities, Hyatt is donating $50,000 to the American Red Cross.  In addition, we pledge to match the total donations from Hyatt guests, associates and others up to $25,000 through June 30, 2013. 
At this time, we invite you to join our matching gift campaign for the American Red Cross in the following two ways:
1.     You can donate your Hyatt Gold Passport® points in 5,000 point increments. Each 5,000 point donation results in a $25 USD gift to the American Red Cross. To donate your points, please call Hyatt Gold Passport Customer Service toll free at +1.800.228.3360 in the U.S. and Canada or +1.402.593.8615 when outside the U.S. and Canada.
2.     To make a cash donation, please visit Hyatt's American Red Cross donation page.  
No contribution is too small.
We thank you for teaming up with Hyatt and the American Red Cross to rebuild communities where our associates, guests and neighbors have been affected by this disaster.

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Big Spending At A MileagePlus Dining Rewards Restaurant Soon? Earn Up to 1,250 Bonus United MileagePlus Miles

The Dining Rewards program is a great way to easily wrack up points while dining out and spending exactly what you would already be spending. If you haven't signed up for a program yet you can pick your favorite airline (I choose United of course) and you register your credit cards so that every time you register a dine at one of the participating restaurants you earn points, simple as that! Though if you have the Alaska Airlines program apparently Bank of America registers you automatically in the Alaska Airlines dining rewards program. It's easy for me to get points as my favorite Thai food place by work participates so once a week I go and earn my 60 points and take my spicy fried rice and all is good in the world!

A few days ago I got an invitation from the MileagePlus Dining program advertising bonus miles for dines at participating restaurants. If you spend over $100 you will gain an extra 250 bonus miles and you can repeat the bonus up to five times for the potential of up to 1,250 bonus miles.

MileagePlus Dining(SM)
Big Spender Bonus
We want to thank you with up to 1,250 MileagePlus® bonus award miles!
For a limited time, you can earn 250 bonus miles every time you spend $100. Register today to earn this special bonus up to five times for a total of 1,250 bonus miles.

Register now >

This is really a bad promotion on the whole because 250 bonus points for spending so much money is not worth it. But if you have a big group going out to dinner soon or are heading to an expensive restaurant that participates in the program you might as well earn the bonus points. This is one of those promotions that you register for just in case you need it. The offer is targeted but it doesn't hurt to try and register just in case you find yourself willing to "treat" all of your friends at dinner. Don't worry, I won't tell them you did it just for the points. ;) 

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Booking A Hilton Stay Today? Get 2,500 Extra HHonors Points

I just got a great e-mail in my inbox for those that might be booking a Hilton hotel stay today. Starting at 11:00 AM EST today if you are one of the first 4,000 people to book a stay between May 23, 2013 and September 30, 2013 and enter your confirmation number and HHonors number on the HHonors Facebook page you will earn an extra 2,500 bonus points on your stay. They full terms and conditions are below, but only one 2,500 bonus is available per HHonors number.

So it's not an Earth shattering bonus, but if you happen to be booking a Hilton stay between now and the end of September...bonus points are always nice!

For 24 hours,
2,500 Bonus Points are calling you
The Hilton HHonors™ Great Getaway 24-Hour Bonus Offer is almost here. And because you're a valued member of Hilton HHonors we're telling you first. Starting at 11:00AM EST on May 23, 2013, you'll have 24 hours to book a stay and then enter your confirmation number for the chance to get 2,500 HHonors Bonus Points. Be ready when it opens – you'll only get your Points if you are one of the first 4,000 HHonors members during the offer to book, enter your confirmation number, and then complete your stay by September 30, 2013.

When travel calls, be ready to answer in an instant. "Like" the Hilton HHonors Facebook page now to preview the Bonus Offer, and come back when it opens at 11:00 am EST.
Brand Bar
HHonors Hilton Worldwide

You must be an HHonors member to participate in this offer. Offer only valid for stays booked between May 23, 2013 11:00 AM EST and May 24, 2013 10:59 AM EST through the Hilton HHonors Facebook page or other Hilton HHonors booking channels. HHonors member must visit the Hilton HHonors Facebook page and provide their valid Hilton HHonors Member number and valid booking confirmation number in order to qualify for this offer between May 23, 2013 11:00 AM EST and May 24, 2013 10:59 AM EST. You must complete your stay beginning on or after May 23, 2013 and no later than September 30, 2013. Reservations modified or altered to dates outside the eligible period are ineligible for this offer. Offer only available to the first 4,000 qualified entries received. Maximum of one (1) 2,500 HHonors Point bonus awarded per HHonors member for this offer. Please allow 4-6 weeks from completion of stay for Bonus Points to appear in your HHonors account. This offer may not be combined with other select promotions, offer or discounts and is not valid for existing reservations or groups. Bonus Points earned on Base Points do not count toward elite tier qualification.

Hilton HHonors™ membership, earning of Points & Miles™ and redemption of Points are subject to HHonors Terms and Conditions.

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