...constantly searching to find the best travel deals and places to visit. A never-ending quest for adventure!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Need a year end charity idea? Try Kiva!

As we near December 31st, you might be trying to decide on final charity organizations for the year (and for coming tax purposes).  Besides several non-profits I support, I always turn to Kiva as one of the best options for giving during the year.  Kiva is a non-profit lending organization, which describes itself as a company that "works with microfinance institutions on five continents to provide loans to people without access to traditional banking systems. One hundred percent of each loan is sent to these microfinance institutions, which we call Field Partners, who administer the loans in the field."

Should you decide that Kiva is also in your plans and you're a new account holder, I would be honored if you used my referral link to join:


The benefit I receive through the link is the ability to send out more loans...always helpful!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Friday, December 20, 2013

Place of the Day: Phnom Penh

I seem to recall Cambodia as one of the countries on "Where in the world is Carmen San Diego" that everyone had a hard time locating.  It's definitely on my list of places within the region to visit once I get that far, with such a rich culture and history to explore.  I tend to not let regional instability get to me too much, and I'm fairly confident that Cambodia has been relatively peaceful of late.  Hence, a future visit:

I think the one place I'd like to visit (at the top of my list) is the Silver Pagoda (which by the way is named due to 5000 silver tiles).  Holding a rare repository of Khmer Art and civilization artifacts, the Pagoda managed to survive the rule of Pol Pot in the 70s, but just barely.  A highlight continues to be the life-size gold Buddha adorned with more than 9500 diamonds - a site to be seen!

Most of the major airline alliances can get you to the region, so using points or miles shouldn't be too difficult.  If you can spare the time, you may also be able to sneak in a visit to Vietnam or even Thailand.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Place of the Day: Willemstad, Curacao

I haven't made it a priority in my travels to focus on the Caribbean as an aspirational destination - I've just always felt there is much more to see and do in Europe and the Middle East.  There are a few places that I wouldn't mind visiting (Aruba, Bogota, and Caracas come to mind), and I also saw a recent location to add my list (although I'm never sure exactly how to pronounce it):

The Dutch colonial buildings are enough of a draw for me to consider visiting this place, but the tropical atmosphere might be a close 2nd.  The Museum Kura Hulanda is also an interesting place to consider on your trip, along with the many snorkeling and diving sites that have become standard when visiting this region.  And while you're at it, why don't you try one of the amazing street cafes?  Willemstad also has the distinction of being one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites.

Hato International Airport is what you're looking for during your flight searches, and flights aren't typically too expensive depending on the time of year.  Connecting from Miami you can find flights as cheap as $392 on American right now, and that's pretty much the only way to get there from the US outside of Copa Airlines.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Coming up short of 1K for 2014

Back in July and August I was theorizing to myself about whether or not I would make 1K again, given the recent devaluations set forth by United.  I was hopeful at the time that my travel planning might include enough trips to get me by for one more good year of 1K and all of its perks.  But as 2013 comes to a close and 2014 approaches in two weeks, I'm disappointed that I won't make the 1K threshold for this coming year.  That being said, I will have Platinum status on both United and American for the year which means a relatively good bonus return on miles and decent perks for award redemption.

But after next year, the jury is out on what my mileage earning potential will be.

With United adding the Premier Qualifying Dollar (PQD) to the equation, I'll be lucky to get Gold status next year given my yearly spend.

And I'm hesitant to just jump ship for American, as it's unclear what the US Airways/AA merger will look like 6-8 months down the road.  Not only that but mileage awards in Star Alliance are much easier to find/come by.

For now I'll continue to maximize my flying on United - I feel as though that will give me the best return as well as the greatest number of options for award travel down the road.  But I'm also going to take a long, hard look at the Alaska Miles program.  Since I'm still on the West Coast, there are quite a few options in that program for redeeming miles, and they have a decent partner airline portfolio (though I'll never fly KLM or Air France).

Friday, December 13, 2013

Place of the Day: Rangiroa

At the top of my list of things to learn to do (besides German and learning to fly a helicopter) is snorkeling and diving.  I have travel aspirations to visit a number of different places (Yap, Maldives, etc) that almost make learning to snorkel an important thing to do before arriving.  I know how to swim (thanks mom), but to really understand and be able to see what's going on in some of the most beautiful places on earth I think I'll need to do those things.  One of the places that I hope to get to is in French Polynesia:

What is this place's claim to fame?  How about being the world's second largest atoll and a nickname to cover the significance of its sea life (God's Aquarium).  Rangiroa has pink beaches similar to Bermuda and has some of best dive sites in the region, along with working pearl farms and a host of small villages.  It seems like there is never enough vacation time in places like this in order to capture the essence!

Getting to Rangiroa might be an adventure for you.  Air Tahiti is probably your best bet, and connects to Rangiroa from other cities in the region such as Bora Bora and Papeete.  For US-based travelers, American Airlines is a partner and miles can be redeemed in one-way segments. Delta is also an option if you have miles to burn.

Can't wait to visit!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Final Istanbul thoughts list

Here are my final thoughts concerning my first time visit to Istanbul:

1. Things are relatively cheap: meaning, I could get a Coke for $1 US, and overall prices on most food products were reasonable.  Restaurant cost depends on how much you are willing to spend, but overall, not terrible across the board.

2. The mass transit situation is easy: Getting from Taksim to the Old City was not a problem via the funicular and tram.  The only confusing part was trying to decide whether to buy tokens or find an Istanbulkart location.  There is a small kiosk on the square that sells them...will remember that for next trip.

3. Watch out for tricky beggars and vendors: I got duped when a shoeshine guy dropped his brush and kept walking away (making me think he accidentally dropped it).  When I grabbed it and got his attention, I was duped...and I imagine he was surprised and upset when I didn't pay for anything as a result.

4. Tons of kebap options mean that doing restaurant research ahead of time (I used Tripadvisor.com) is critical to find good places that have well-cooked food (as to avoid any gastrointestinal problems).

5. Planning out your day is key. That way you know how much time you have and how much admission prices are.  The earlier you can start in a day, the smaller the lines.

6. I highly recommend Suntransfers for transportation from the airport to your lodging.  The price was reasonable and there was never a concern about missing a connection or figuring out an unknown transit system.

7. Prepare to spend a lot of time at the Grand Bazaar.  The deals just keep on comin'.

8. Start shopping for next Thanksgiving travel deals soon!  February/March tends to be the sweet spot, and more deals will be available for the taking!

9. If you're looking for easy Visa options for visiting various countries, I can also recommend Travisa - easy to get a Turkish e-visa and other countries for a reasonable price

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Saying goodbye to Sugarsync

Whenever I travel, I always appreciate being able to access files remotely that I may need for work or other purposes.  Dropbox has always been the easiest to use, but another free service (Sugarsync) was also in my toolbag for using while on the road since it was free and worked with my mobile devices.

No longer, since this message just appeared in my inbox:

Sadly, I'll need to say goodbye to Sugarsync.  Can't afford to pay for the service, especially since it's not as intuitive as Dropbox.

Anyone going to stick with them and pay?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

As 2014 approaches...

This is going to be an introspective post, quite a bit different than my normal travel and points related offerings.  As 2014 draws near, I've been reflecting back on my 2013 and all of the different things have occurred - both positive and negative.  I'm grateful for the many travel opportunities I've had, and am thankful for continued good health that allows me to enjoy my travel and points hobby. 

During 2013 I wrapped up my formal PhD study with a successful research trip and final dissertation defense.  This was a culmination of many years of study, reading, paper-writing, joys, frustrations, and hoop-jumping.  I continue to be thankful for the new friendships I've made as a result of my experiences at USD, and look forward to continuing my work with the Qatari students in Doha, Qatar.  To Bob, Cheryl, and Cyndy - thank you for your guidance, support, and for being a committee that didn't hold back.  My family was also very supportive, and there is no possible way I could repay everyone's graciousness during my study.

On a sadder note I had some family upheaval occur in the last 18 months, with my divorce being finalized.  I'm not sure I could write up words that would capture the pain, anguish, and hurt that I've experienced during the process.  For others who have had a spouse refuse to do counseling and leave your home, I can only share familiarity with the situation.  It really made me reflect a lot on plans that had been prepared and my own role in the process, and I've come away very regretful and sad about what took place.  I also experienced another level of pain and exasperation when I was abandoned by my church and church body during the process, something that I never thought would occur in such a difficult situation.  Individuals that I called some of my closest friends left me by the wayside and offered no support, and despite that I harbor no ill will toward them.  I remain confident in my faith but disappointed in how fickle people can be when they have a perceived agenda instead of a willingness to listen and help.

Through everything that has occurred, I continue to be hopeful for the future and realize that I've still got a number of things I want to do.  Namely:

- One aspiration pre- and post-PhD was to start a family, and I'm hopeful for that sooner than later
- I also want to visit Australia, New Zealand, and Ushuaia if points and miles can get me there
- I'm looking forward to a spring trip to South Korea to visit my friend Jimmy (if schedules permit)
- Professionally I aspire to find an administrative position in Qatar, other countries in the Middle East, or another international school (preferably Zurich or Rome)
- I want to make a more concerted effort to be involved in my church
- I want to do a better job of reconnecting with current friends, and reaching out to make new

I'm hopeful for an amazing 2014, and one that fosters a lot of positive outcomes.  Sometimes it's easy to get bogged down in the negatives that happen, but I remain positive and optimistic about what lies ahead.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Istanbul: Day 2

Did I mention in the last post that we were able to catch the Packers game via Internet stream after our flight finally landed and we got to the Hyatt?  It was a sad massacre of a game, but it felt kind of cool to be able to listen to Wayne and Larry in Istanbul on Thanksgiving...how many people can say they did that?

For Day #2, there was a definite plan of attack given the short amount of time remaining in our schedule.  Having investigated the train system the day before we were much more prepared and ready to go the following morning.  We were quickly out the door and to Taksim station...only problem was that we were so confident we knew what we were doing we accidently boarded the funicular twice.  Lesson learned: calm yourself down before jumping on the first train you see.  After that bit of fun, we were off on the T1 and our first stop: The Blue Mosque.

The line was already a bit long by the time we got to the entrance, but our efforts to join part of an already large touring group were successful and we skipped ahead of the line...sneaky, I know.  Upon entering the Mosque you must remove your shoes and if you are a female, you need to have your head covered out of respect.  Once that is accomplished in the small anteroom near the entrance, you find yourself in the main part of the building - and witnessing an amazing view of the tile and grandeur that is the Blue Mosque.

After leaving the main room and putting our shoes back on, the Hagia Sophia was next on the list - it is located right next door to the Blue Mosque so it was a short walk.  The line was not nearly as long to get tickets, so after waiting about 10 minutes we were in and admiring the history and culture of a building some consider a Wonder of the World.  I found the Roman history portion fascinating - walking in similar corridors as Emperor Justinian made me appreciate the long history and changes that have taken place in the building. The tiled frescoes were also a sight to be seen, despite some scaffolding and restoration work being done in the main hall.

We found lunch after the Hagia Sophia at a small restaurant near the entrance and down the train line - a kebap and cafe that had pretty good lamb.

Our final stop was the Topkapi Palace - we knew there wasn't enough time to visit all parts of it, so we chose to focus on the Hagia Irene and the Archeology Museum buildings near the entrance.  Our patience was tested when a short entrance line to the museum took almost a half hour to get going (for no reason that could be seen), but we were soon in and taking a look at the many artifacts, including the Sarcophagus of Alexander the Great and many artifacts from the city of Troy.

Upon finishing up at the Palace, it was time to head back, find some food, and enjoy the final evening in Istanbul.  I even got duped by a shoeshine guy right outside of the hotel - have to experience it all!

Stay tuned for a post on my final top list of thoughts from the trip...

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Spring Fare sale: LAX-BOG for $392!

Yep...amazing deal time again, this time from LAX to Bogota, Colombia:

This is a 3 day itinerary, but the fares extend on limited dates into May.  2-day options are also available throughout spring Jan-May.  In fact, it's cheaper to travel to Bogota than Milwaukee on Easter week ($392 vs $500).

I'm half tempted to do it...any other takers??

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Istanbul: Day 1

I'm not sure what it is exactly about Istanbul, but I found myself being transported back in time while viewing a modern city still trying to make up its mind about what it wants to be.  I don't think I've had a similar feeling since my very first trip to Rome, where the ruins are all around you at the same the cars honk and speed past. 

After getting proper rest from a long day of flying (separate posts will be forthcoming on lodging and food), it was out and about to figure out the mass transit in Istanbul.  This actually turned out to be much easier than anticipated, as the signage is fairly good in each station.  And when all else fails you can just follow the bustling crowd.  We never did find the akbil kiosk - either was so obvious that it couldn't be found or we weren't really looking in the right spot.  In any case procuring tokens from the vending machine was easy and soon we were off down the funicular to transfer to the Tram system T1.  Next trip an investment in an Istanbul Kart will be first on the list to save cost.  The tram is very efficient and stops near all of the major sights in the old part of the city.  Crossing the Galata Bridge was a highlight and soon we were off to experience all the Grand Bazaar had to offer.  Including all of the people and vendors wanting your every attention.

The Bazaar itself is monstrous and a lesson in sensory mastery if you're not accustomed to the hustle and bustle.  It reminded me a lot of visiting Souq Waqif in Qatar and the haggling was eerily similar.  You always have to have a suspicious eye ready to take on whatever bargain you want to discover, and the vendors in the Grand Bazaar do not hold back.  I think we were very successful in haggling for the things we procured and look forward to a return trip to the areas we passed.

Soon after we made an effort to reach the Hagia Sophia, but realized upon arrival that we had the hours wrong for entrance.  The setting sun, though, provided an awesome camera opportunity:

We wouldn't make the same mistake for Day 2...

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Greetings from Istanbul

I'm very behind in travel posts relating to this trip, but I will be catching up just as soon as I return home  for a full trip report on the experience.

So far everything has been amazing, the food excellent, and the weather perfect!

Long travel day tomorrow…

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

T-24 to Istanbul

In less than 24 hours from now, my Istanbul adventure shall begin!  (as long as the stupid weather crap doesn't play havoc on connecting flights...)

I'm looking forward to the fun - back in August, there was another amazing flight deal on the docket through Star Alliance for roundtrips to IST...and of course I had to jump on it!  It wasn't as amazing as the $250 r/t to Lima last year, but it's close.  And...I get to visit a completely new country!

I shall be blogging as Internet permits, as I decided not to purchase the AT&T plan for this trip.  And I will also do my best to take as many pictures as I can of whatever I run into. 

Weekend trip, here I come!  (and yes, I will be in Turkey on Thanksgiving - no jokes please).

Monday, November 25, 2013

Tis the Monday before Thanksgiving...

...and there are a lot of people taking this week off which means that my workday will be very quiet. 

And I'm not complaining about that either.

My vacation begins tonight after work and goes through December 2nd.  Can't wait for a little time away and a nice break from life.

Where are your travels taking you this Thanksgiving holiday?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Place of the Day: Cappadocia

Very soon I'll be making my first trip to Turkey (Istanbul in particular!), but on a future trip I hope to have more time to do some exploring outside of the main cities.  One place that will figure at the top of my list will be the ruins and rocky heights of Cappadocia, located in central Turkey:

Part of what makes Cappadocia unique is the rocky pinnacles or minarets that have formed out of the surrounding hillside.  These were most likely carved by volcanic stone and make for an impressive view while on the ground or even above.  One particular site describes these features in this way: Cappadocia was one of the most important places in the spreading periods of the Christian religion. The first christians trying to escape from the Roman soldiers who wanted to avoid the spreading of the Christian religion have settled in the region of Cappadocia which was so suitable for hiding and so they were able to continue their natures and to spread their religions.

I'm fascinated by things like underground cities and civilizations that had to build these places from the ground up.  Makes me appreciate even more the things we have now!
Some travel sites recommend getting to Cappadocia via plane: there are several daily nonstop flights from both Istanbul and Sabiha Gökçen Airport (SAW) to Kayseri's Erkilet Airport (ASR) and Nevşehir's Kapadokya Airport (NEV) on Turkish Airlines, Pegasus Airlines, and AtlasJet.  You might find better deals by buying your airfare in-country, but search around to find the best fares.  United miles are definitely an option if you're booking through Turkish!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

20% off hotel booking through Orbitz

Orbitz is running a short promo through November 28th on hotel bookings:

20% isn't terrible, although be sure to double-check your points earning possibilities before booking (to make sure you don't miss out if your chain requires you to book through their website directly).

Bookings are good through June 30, 2014.

Happy hunting!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

One more day: Southwest Double Points!

Southwest is currently running a double points promotion that is set to end in one day!

If you're a frequent traveler on Southwest, check your email for the promotional sign up.  These don't come around very often. (and this one was really short!)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

catching up

Another long weekend (including some travel) has me behind in posting, but I'll be in a better spot to catch up by tomorrow.  Expect a return to normalcy soon! (somewhat)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Heard of "Coin"?

There's been a lot of buzz recently on a new card wallet called Coin.  When I first read about it, I was a bit skeptical that something like this would universally work for all purchases.  I'm always open to trying new things, but it seems like this idea might be a bit far-fetched. 

TPG recently broke down the details (and some concerns):

Now for the gritty details. As I mentioned, the actual card itself can only take 8 cards at once while the app can store an unlimited amount. That’s probably okay for most people, but for other points enthusiasts like me (I currently have 19 credit cards that all earn me points, miles and other benefits), that just won’t cut the mustard.

You can use the card as an ATM card, which is helpful, but it might not work outside the US and it won’t have EMV Chip technology. You also can’t use it for online purchases. When you are making a purchase online, the Coin mobile app can be used to reference your card details, but the Coin itself cannot be used directly for online payments.

Currently you cannot lock your Coin to prevent others from using it, but it will automatically deactivate if it loses contact with your phone for a period of time that you configure in the Coin mobile app. Your account is password protected and the mobile app requires that you type in your password before you can access sensitive card details as well.

Coins are designed to last for 2 years under normal usage (10-20 swipes per day) and do not need to be recharged. Once the battery dies you will need to replace your card. Coins are water resistant but not waterproof so if you accidentally take it swimming, time for a new card.

Each Coin will also cost you $50 for now, but the price goes up to $100 once a certain quantity are ordered, so only folks willing to pony up now are going to get it for half price. They will also get a referral code for $5 per referral up to 10 referrals, potentially taking care of their purchase cost. Referral orders be completed within 90 days of your own order to count.

Cards will not ship until the summer of 2014, so they’re not asking for your shipping information – the website justifies this by saying a lot can happen between now and then, like you move. Or Coin goes bust (my additional hypothetical).

Maybe I’m just too much of a doubter, but the fact that they’re asking you to pay a $50 fee and $5 shipping, but they’re not delivering the cards till the summer at the earliest doesn’t pass my smell test. Not only does it seem strange that you’d have to pay for a product so far in advance of getting it, but it seems to me like this is a bid to raise some venture capital through the $50 sign-up fees.

For all these reasons, I'm going to take a pass. $50 for a card that you won't actually have in hand for another 6 months???  Seems fishy to me.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Devaluations all around

It's been an overall rough week for points earning in major travel programs.  Devaluations have hit just about every program in my earning portfolio, from Hyatt to United, and some of my favorite sites have highlighted the many new changes:



For some Hyatt properties, the new Category 7 will hurt frequent points travelers - and I'm sad to see that the Park Hyatt Zurich is among those on the list that will be going up substantially (36%).  As one of my favorite properties to stay at while on vacation, I'll be needing to save up even more points for future stays in Zurich.

On the United side, most changes are occurring on awards in first class on worldwide travel on partner airlines.  The amount of miles needed increases on location from 63%-86% depending on where you go, which is terrible.  If you choose to travel on United metal exclusively, the changes seem modest compared to the partner areas.  Keep in mind, though, that United does not fly to all locations on their own planes, and often travelers must rely on partners to get to specific destinations. 

I'm fearful that the coming US Airways/AA merger will also gut that program - time will tell if that is the case.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Amazon.com ups order minimum without notice...time for Prime?

Did anyone else notice the subtle change in Amazon.com order minimums for free shipping that occurred recently?

I did. 

Way to go Amazon - not only did you do this without any notice, but you haven't publicized it all for the general ordering public who may not even be paying attention when they order.  $25 to $35 will change most peoples ordering habits.

It might be time to go for Prime (and free 2-day shipping).

If you're interested, you can use my referral link for Amazon Student:


Don't forget you can score 5x UR points by using gift cards via Ink Bold.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veteran's Day

Grateful for all of the hard work and sacrifice by all of our country's veterans on this special day.  We certainly appreciate your work and never take it for granted!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Place of the Day: Hue

I have yet to visit many of the countries in the Far East.  Up until this point, most of the travel that I've done has focused on Europe and more recently, the Middle East.  But there are many fascinating places to visit in southeast Asia, and I'm looking forward to a possible trip to Seoul coming up this spring.

In the meantime, I wanted to highlight another place that I'm interested in seeing, located in Vietnam:

The complex of Hue Monuments is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and was the religious center of Vietnam until 1945. It lies within a 1300 acre citadel on the Song Huang (Perfume River) halfway between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.  I find it interesting that its architecture is modeled after the Forbidden City in China, and speaks to how closely aligned the cultures are in the region.

Most of the major airline alliances fly in to cities surrounding Hue, so there are many options to get you there for a visit.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Made it back

I'm happy to report I made it back from Zurich safely - after an entire day of flying and one small delay, I touched back down at SAN last night.  Today (and for the next few days I'm sure) I'll be jetlaging just a bit. 

I'll be sharing some more thoughts from my trip in a coming post...

US Airways 100% bonus mile offer is back

Once again, US Airways is offering a 100% bonus mile offer on purchased miles - I received my notice via email in the last few days:

Here are the main specifics on the offer:

Buy 10,000 milesGet 20,000 miles
Buy 25,000 milesGet 50,000 miles
Buy 50,000 milesGet 100,000 miles

Overall, it's similar to other past offers, and requires a hefty outlay to get the full 100% bonus.  But it may be worth it if you're planning for a specific trip and need to get the miles.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Restaurant Review: Ristorante Italia

I catch myself sometimes being skeptical of restaurants that are "off the beaten path" and away from the main hub of a city.  Sometimes, though, these are best restaurants in a city.  They offer home grown favorite foods and well constructed meals that are not in main touristy places.

So it is for Ristorante Italia - down one side street and away from the main area of the train station and Bahnhofstrasse, this restaurant offers a truly authentic Italian eating experience for a reasonable price within Zurich.  I was particularly drawn to their restaurant philosophyHaving a passion for traditional recipes and a variety of regional dishes. They pride themselves on intense taste of fresh, seasonal produce.  And they are proud to have the reputation of being more authentic than most Italian restaurants in Zurich.

They have a main menu as well as a separate take-out list - I chose the take-out list for this visit, and went with the spaghetti pomodoro.  When I got home, I had one of the best prepared meals of spaghetti I've ever sampled.  The sauce and noodles were prepared as exactly as my mother would make, with a particular spice not present in most sauces.  The accompanying breads were also exceptional.

With intimate seating available, the restaurant also has a fairly extensive wine list.  Next time I look forward to giving a vintage a try. 

And despite the quiet street, the main seating area was mostly filled - a testament to the word of mouth this location speaks to.  If you're in the area, be sure to stop in and check it out!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Restaurant Review: The Bite

While scouring the map for new culinary delights in Zurich, I chanced to see the 19th ranked/rated restaurant in Zurich (by Tripadvisor) as right around the block from where I'm staying.  So...I couldn't resist giving it a try!

I'm not sure how to describe them, but the burgers served by The Bite are simply outstanding.  Maybe its the flavors within the meat itself, maybe its the sauce, or quite possibly...all of them together!  Since it was my first time visiting I tried the "Classic" - figured I should start off basic and work my way up.  The food was quickly prepared, server always attentive, and I had no issues with the meal.  I also enjoyed the ambiance of the room - it's the first place where I've been served a meal on a table made from a door!

The menu is not complex - I think it helps them focus on their product and makes it unique (Swiss Beef mix included)

Next time you're in Zurich, be sure to stop in and try The Bite - I was lucky they could fit me in without a reservation.  Next time I might not be so lucky!

Friday, November 1, 2013

United Award ticket Devaluation...and it's not good

Greetings from Zurich!

I was thinking about scaling back posts while on vacation, but when I saw this cross the wire today, I had to share:

United Increasing Miles for Award Redemptions

After taking a look at the comparable data, it seems as though domestic tickets will be left unchanged for the most part.  It's when you want to redeem miles for Business or First class on United it starts to get bad, and when you choose partner airlines it becomes disasterous.

For example:

Business class seat to Europe:  Was = 100,000 miles;   Now = 115,000 (United), 140,000 (partners)

I think what might be poorest is the fact that it came out of the blue, right in the middle of United's big campaign to focus on their "new" services.

Not very positive to me.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Vacation Staging

Greetings from the AA Flagship Lounge at JFK! I've successfully made it this far and will soon take off for Zurich. My first flight was uneventful - I sat next to a nice SDSU grad who was in the way to visit her son for a week. Had a nice conversation with her as we went. We arrived 30 minutes early, and I'm hoping for a smooth flight over the water.

My blog access might be spotty the next few days, but I will try to post as I can.

The week is almost done!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

No coat

Well...I'm now officially resigned to the fact that my coat is gone. 

No word from the Delta Ops people at MSP, and no responses to my messages or electronic information sent. 

I'm sad.  And will need to be creative for a coat the next few days while traveling.

Guess I also need to start coat-shopping for when I get back.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Coat update #1

Wanted to share an update on my "blunder" from last night of leaving my coat on Flight 1389 from MSP-SAN.  Just got call from SAN Delta ops...

The coat was not located here.  A kind lady said she checked all over the gate as well as ops/lost&found, and no coat - there was a good chance it went to its next location since they didn't do a cabin "clean".  So...after a quick check on the plane routing, my plane went back to MSP this morning as Flight 671, landing at noon.  I called and left a message just now at MSP's Delta Ops area, as well as doing the website form again. 

Maybe someone in Minneapolis found it...here's hoping...

Did I really just do this?

I did something last night that I have never done...never ever.  I've flown on a ton of different airlines, carried a bunch of different luggage and bags, and hauled a whole lot of different stuff.  But last night...upon getting back to San Diego...I left my new, black, winter North Face coat in the overhead bin.   And I didn't realize it until I got to work this morning.

Here's hoping that Delta pulls through for me - I called and left messages at the airport, and also filled out their online form.  Part of me is resigned, though, to the fact I probably won't ever see it again.  It's a great coat, and an expensive one that did not have my name anywhere on it.  I had worn it on the first leg from MKE-MSP, but then took it off when I boarded the flight to SAN and stuck it on the inside part of the bin next to my Skyroll.  When I got off, it never occurred to me to look for it - I just grabbed the Skyroll and went.  When do I ever carry around a winter coat in San Diego? 

Anyone want to take a wager on whether or not I get a call back from Delta?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

I can't believe I'm stooping this low...

Tonight I begin my trip back to Wisconsin to speak at the WALE conference on my research.  I'm excited to be sharing what I learned, excited to be back at WLC for a few days, and excited to hang with my dad (who will be attending the grade school conference just down the street).

But there's one thing I'm not excited about - flying Delta.

I know, I know...those of you who know me are probably wondering what happened to me.  How could I ever buy a Delta ticket?  Skypesos, after all, are not worth anything in flight mile currency.  The last time I flew Delta was well over 6 years ago.

What happened to me was this: money.  I hate money.  And since this particular ticket was only $250 compared to United's offering at the time of $400, I had no choice.

So I went the cheapest route.  And I hope I don't rue the day I made the decision, as I can't be late getting to the conference.

At least I'm flying a 767 from here to Atlanta, which will make it more tolerable.  But still...it's the principle of the matter.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

United Double Miles promotion? Not the greatest

...and that's saying something.  United has tried to match the recent Southwest double miles promotion, and it comes up way short.

The terms and conditions though make this pretty weak (my bold). Take note the lower fare classes are not included, and the offer doesn't apply to tickets already purchased:

  1. Offer is valid for segments with an origin and destination within the 48 continental U.S. states on flights marketed and operated by United and United Express, which includes domestic travel within international itineraries. Offer excludes travel to or from Alaska or Hawaii.
  2. Registration is required before travel on united.com.
  3. Offer is valid on tickets purchased between October 21, 2013, and November 21, 2013.
  4. Offer is valid on travel completed between October 21, 2013, and November 21, 2013.
  5. Members can earn double award miles on base miles earned for travel in F, A, J, C, D, Z, P, Y, B, M, E, U, H, Q, V, W and S fare classes.
  6. Double miles are defined as two multiplied by the base award miles otherwise credited in connection with qualifying segments.
  7. You can earn the bonus an unlimited number of times in accordance with these terms and conditions.
  8. Offer is only valid on United and United Express and is not valid on United-marketed codeshare flights operated by other carriers.
  9. Offer is not valid on government fares.
  10. Passenger must be a member of United’s MileagePlus program to qualify for this offer.
  11. This offer is not combinable with other non-combinable offers.
  12. Bonus will be posted to the member’s MileagePlus account six to eight weeks after the end of the promotion period.
  13. This offer does not apply to Premier® qualifying miles (PQM), class-of-service bonus miles, class-of-service PQM, Premier bonus miles, redeemable bonus miles or other promotional PQM.
  14. Service charges for ticketing with a United representative in the 50 United States and Canada are $25 by phone, $30 at a City Ticket Office and $35 in person at the airport. Ticketing charges may vary outside of the U.S. and Canada and based on MileagePlus status level. The ticketing service charge does not apply for tickets purchased on united.com. Service charges are subject to change. 
Come on, United...you can do better!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Educause Day 3

We wrapped up Educause on Friday morning with a final keynote, and a few remaining small group sessions.  The highlights are below:

Learning space discussion from Buffalo State

The main room is similar to our LRS B - but they have mediascapes in every corner
Crestron/Extron mix to handle switching
Air touch table same as ours
Node chairs from Steelcase
No Apple Tvs
Convinced most faculty would change methods, but it's about empowering
Does library have training?
Faculty seen as "partners" over time
NCSU learning space toolkit used - http://www.Learningspacetoolkit.org

Air media vs Apple TV? Looking at air media down the road....

CIO search session - strategies to get yourself known

Optimizer vs transformer vs strategist - how candidates are classified
Communication, collaboration, ability to execute - key attributes
Building your brand is most important
When creating a Resume, include professional profile - 5-7 sentences
Insight of institution and culture - "why do you want to work" question...can you answer it?
Taken a risk/lesson learned...what have you done to stand out?

Hope that I can attend next year!  Orlando is much farther away...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Educause Day 2

Another great day at Educause. The sessions overall have been impressive, and I'm finding myself taking a lot of notes and doing quite a bit of highlight sharing.


Multi device, multi OS session covering what is best strategy to get updates done?
BYOD really now seems to be BYOE (bring your own everything) - how do we support it?
Attitudinal barriers are key area of focus to changing instructional design
Universal design at front end is key
Adaptive learning technologies sessions - draws on observation to inform new learning processes
Knewton, cckf, and loudcloud are adaptive technologies available
Final CIO roundtable was excellent - perspectives on being successful

One day remaining!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Educause. Day 1

Had a very successful day 1 at Educause. As this is my first time attending, I had some high expectations for the sessions and speakers, and thankfully I was not disappointed.

Our morning started out with a talk by Sir Ken Robinson, and we heard his perspectives on life, education, and where we've come from over time as we adopt new ways of operating smarter.

Highlights of the sessions:

Simplifying Copyright is not as ways as it sounds
Faculty are not always aware of resources available to find materials
There is a lack of data to make decisions on acquiring media
The CIO session noted ideas about how to facilitate technology changes
A session on Learning spaces was not well put together - was disappointed in content
Mediasite session was the best of the day - new updates will allow for user created content upload and publishing

Looking forward to Day 2!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Heading to Educause

I'll be hitting the road to Educause in Anaheim later today through Friday, and am planning to do recap posts at the end of each day on major highlights.  I may even be updating as each session progresses if I can find Internet...

Hope everyone has a great week!  (and if you'll be making the flight over, be sure to send me a note!)

Monday, October 14, 2013

Last Chance! US Airways Share mile promotion!

Tomorrow is the last day of the US Airways Shared miles promotion.  Just as a reminder: If you have a US Airways account, you can transfer up to 50,000 miles and get 100% additional.  The fee breaks down to $567.50, so it's a minimal per-mile assessment.

You can find the link here.

I'll be passing on this one for now, but hope to take part in the next 100% promo.

Friday, October 11, 2013

$499 flights to Ireland? Yes!

Kayak.com shared an update today on some great fare sale prices to Ireland - check out the dates above for more information, but if you have the time and money, this looks to be a very good deal!  I have yet to make it Ireland for a visit, but I know of others that rave about the experience they've had in Dublin or Belfast. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

T minus 3 weeks...

Next week begins a month of running around for me, culminating in a planned trip to Zurich to mini-celebrate finishing my PhD on the 31st. I got a pretty good deal to fly American over, and was able to make use of two Systemwide Upgrades to get me in Business class the entire way!  Definitely will be nice to sleep flat on the way over, as well as enjoy the perks and entertainment on the way home. 

But before I go, I've two other important events to attend.

First, I'll be up at Educause in Anaheim next week - after all of these years in higher ed, this will be my first Educause trip.  In the past it's been hard to get to when it's been held in Florida, but since it's in Southern CA this year, my department is sending a contingent!  Should be a great trip.

After that gets done, I'll be flying out to speak at a conference at my alma mater in Wisconsin on my research from Qatar the next weekend.  I'm looking forward to being back on campus, and it will be a bit odd when I stand up in front of everyone the first time instead of being in the audience! 

Three weeks of travel fun...it shall soon begin!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Etihad adds LAX to its route map

That's right folks - another option to get to the Middle East will soon be here!

USA Today article

What I like about this option is it presents another fantastic way to utilize American Airlines miles - up until now, the only reliable redemption option was through New York (JFK). 

It also means that I have another option to consider when looking to book flights back to Doha.  I'd prefer to stay on United if at all possible, but I won't rule out going this direction if the price (and miles) are worth it.

Flights are slated to begin June 1st.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Place of the Day: El Oriente

I had a blast last year visiting South America for the first time, and couldn't beat the price I found to fly me round trip from LAX to Lima ($250).  It was worth the time, as I was able to visit Cuzco and Machu Picchu and really get a first had view of the forested mountain areas of that region.   There are many more places like that to visit in South America, and I wanted to highlight another that takes you much closer into the Amazon:

Known as "the East", El Oriente is Ecuador's wild region of tropical Amazon rainforest.  It's probably best to visit one of the eco-lodges on the first trip, where you can see a variety of animals and plant life, including monkeys, tree frogs, and birds of all kinds.

There are always flight deals (it seems) over Thanksgiving to reach this region, so keep your eyes out for deals.  It's high on my list for another visit!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Place of the Day: Medina

During our first trip to Qatar, we had the opportunity to visit the Fanar where we had a chance to explore and learn more about the Muslim faith.  As part of that experience, besides visiting the mosque and prayer areas, we heard about the holy sites that are revered in that religion and are part of a collection of historical locations.  One of those sites I'd like to highlight is in Saudi Arabia:

Medina - Saudi Arabia

The al-Nabawi Mosque is considered to be the second holiest site in Islam after the Holy Mosque Al-Masjid al-Haram in Mecca (probably the most well-known site).  Built in 632 A.D., it is built over the site of Mohammed's tomb and house and is visited by many people every year.  The sheer numbers of people that frequent this place should put it high on your list to visit if you're in the region and looking for some history.  Other places to see in Medina include the Old Bazaar and the Madain Saleh Tombs, which some have called a smaller version of another famous site, Petra. 

Getting to Medina might be a bit of a challenge, but airlines such as Saudia will get you there in good order.  Make sure to check visa and cultural restrictions before going.

Good luck!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

US Airways Buy, Share, Gift miles and 100% bonus - limited time!

It's been the talk of the blogosphere, so I'm sharing it here as well.  If you have a US Airways account, this could be a very valuable way to top off your account for a trip you have coming up.  Just transfer up to 50,000 miles and get 100% additional.  The fee breaks down to $567.50, so it's a minimal per-mile assessment.

You can find the link here.

Don't forget your US Airways account has to be open for at least 12 days in order to take advantage of this offer!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A favorite dish when I travel

If there's one particular dish I search for when I'm traveling, I'm proud to say it's Mac n Cheese.  There are so many varieties out there that I can't help myself in trying new concoctions. Add some meat?  Sure!  Try a different cheese?  Why not!

Travel and Leisure is highlighting the best Mac and Cheese across America:

Best Mac!

I'm proud to say I've tried the Mac N Cheese at The Old Fashioned, and it was amazing...prepared just right, not overly cheesy, and with a lot of flavor.

What's the best you've had?

Monday, September 30, 2013

Have you ever been flagged at customs?

Whenever I'm flying back in to the US, I always wonder what would happen if I ever got stopped for customs...   I've been very dutiful in filling out the blue and white customs form on every trip, and in the last two years have certainly appreciated having Global Entry - zipping past the long lines right through passport control is a definite timesaver.

And I've often wondered about what would flag me in the customs reporting...and I'm happy to share this quick picture article about it:

Flagged at customs

Do your best to avoid it!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Research next steps...

I enjoy writing about travel-related topics, and appreciate the entire experience of visiting new places and relaxing in new environments.  But now that my dissertation is complete, I'm looking forward to next steps with my research.  This most likely will mean putting together a plan to get back to Qatar and the students in Education City to discuss their experiences and learning. 

So I've begun the process of working toward "next steps" in my professional research plan.  At the top of my list:

1. Submit journal articles from my dissertation work
2. Apply for grant funding to get me back to Qatar to continue my research
3. Realize a foreign language goal
4. Share my research at conferences

It's ambitious, but I don't want to lose momentum.  I feel as though I've found a really valuable area in which to contribute, and I'm hopeful for what may come up down the road. 

If anyone knows of grants or organizations that may be looking for this type of research, please comment below - I'm exploring all options!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Hump day

I'm not sure what exactly it is about this video that makes me laugh every time...

...it's probably the camel, because it reminds me of Qatar and our desert excursion overnight (where we nearly froze to death).

And after all...it's hump day so I'm happy to share.

Wooo hoooo!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Pudding for miles? It can be done...

I almost didn't believe it myself when I first read it, but a friend shared this recent article and I have to say...well done....

Pudding for miles

Wish I would have gotten in on the deal!

Monday, September 23, 2013

American Airlines/Qatar Airways partnership begins today!

Just crossed the newswire:

AA/Qatar Airways Partnership

This is something I've been looking forward to for a while, since it opens up more possibilities to get to Doha and the Middle East for my research.  While space isn't searchable online at AA.com, it will be interesting to see what the mileage redemption options are...I might even call to do some "test" bookings to see what the range of options may be.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Packers vs Bengals broadcast schedule

I for the life of me would love to know why San Diego County is the only little purple blotch in California and has decided to show ATL-MIA....come on, give us the Packers game!! 

Friday, September 20, 2013

No more Canal rides for me...

It's one of the things you see when you're in Vegas, and now it's empty!

Venetian Canals

Guess that I won't be visiting on my road trip this weekend...I bet it's an echo chamber in there....

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Qatar Airways Sale - Save up to 40%!

This is a very limited time offer, and only applies to flights out of Doha:


But if you're in the region or planning to travel within the region, it may work for you.

Good luck!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Looking for a hotel? Orbitz promo code available!

A limited time promo code is available for Orbitz - see the info above.

If you're looking for a place to stay, check it out!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

San Diego Restaurant Week is here!

I look forward to this time every year, and I wanted to share that it's now San Diego Restaurant Week!  There are fabulous places to eat (and drink) in the area, and most participating restaurants have $10 lunch and $20-40 dinner menus that are priced WELL below their standard menu offerings. And you have over 180 places to choose from!


Now that I have a car, it will be much easier for me to get around and try some places if I have time (and $).  My favorites include:

The 94th Aero Squadron
Bertrand at Mister A's
The Palm - San Diego
Ruth's Chris Steakhouse
The Fish Market

If you're in the area, be sure to stop in and support our local merchants!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Place of the Day: Èze

I've only visited France one time officially, and it was a trip to Paris that was quite an eye-opener to the culture of that city.  While the mainstay places were fun to visit, and the public transportation relatively easy to figure out, I found the city overall to be dirty and the street "vendor" type people to be a bit annoying (really? water that much?).

That being said, I've realized that I need to expand my palette and not let Paris ruin so many other fascinating places to visit in the country.  One of those is the highlight for today:

Èze is located on the southeastern-most point of France, very close to Nice.  It's had an interesting history, with both the Romans and Moors having settled in the surrounding region.  In the past it's been described as an "eagle's nest", being situated almost 1400 ft on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean.  The views are stunning...and definitely on my list to visit!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Chase Sapphire Preferred for you!

Shameless plug for this post...the Sapphire Preferred really is one of the better points earning cards out there...easily transferable to a variety of travel partners.  I've had several friends sign up, and want to make sure to extend the offer to anyone interested.

Here is the link below!

Get 40,000 bonus points with Chase Sapphire Preferred®. Apply before March 31, 2014 at:


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Place of the Day: Place Djemaa (Jemaa) El-Fna

There are a number of places that are still on my list to visit in the Middle East, and maybe when I return back to the region to work or do research I'll have a chance to explore.  One of these places is in a country that has been relatively peaceful in the last years, and has an interesting cultural scene.

I think the initial pictures remind me of Indiana Jones movies...a sprawling square lined with vendors, snake charmers, and kebab makers.  Many interesting cafes are also present, providing insight into the local culture. 

There are many airlines that fly into Marrakech, so using points would not be a problem.  Hope that I can find a way on a future trip!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Arabian Gulf explained in 20 maps

The Arabian Gulf explained in 20 maps?


If you missed the other one I posted that explains the world, you can find it here.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

One minute travel rant: "rollerboards"

(begin rant)

I have only a few annoyances that really bug me when flying, and one that constantly makes me shake my head relates to travelers (usually women, sorry) that insist on doing what most of us do and bring on large suitcases and attempt to jam them into the overhead bins.  While that in and of itself isn't a big deal, I get really annoyed when those same people jam up the boarding process, seats, and other flyers by filling their suitcases to a weight that doesn't allow them to physically lift and stow the luggage themselves in the overhead bin.  This in turn causes others around them to have pity, stand up, and attempt to help them. 

If you can't lift it yourself, then you have no business having it as a "carry-on".  Check it.

(end of rant)

Monday, September 9, 2013

Mileage run success - to Anchorage and back

Not my typical flight board!
I'm happy to report that I've made it back and forth from Anchorage in one piece on my mileage run, and had a very pleasant experience overall.  All of my United flights were on time and comfortable, and I even had a chance to walk around for a few minutes after I made it up there.

Quick summaries:

Flight #1: SAN-SFO - A screaming baby made this relatively short flight mildly annoying.  How did a mom and baby get up front anyway?  Maybe it was a points redemption.

Flight #2: SFO-ANC:  Friendly flight crew, great seat, overall good food.  New sampling for me was a chilled southwest chicken plate with corn chips, vegetables, corn, and salsa.  The 4.5 hours flew by.

Flight #3: ANC-SFO:  I had about 80 minutes total to walk around, and got to see a few things before this flight took off.  It was a rainy and cooler 57 when we landed, a start contrast from the weather we've been having in San Diego.  The flight back was equally uneventful, and with the same flight crew!  The Flight attendants did a count, and there were five of us all doing the same mileage run (the guy next to me was from Houston).  We all had a good laugh about how cheap it was.  I slept for about 4 hours...not bad.

Flight #4: SFO-SAN:  Fast, quick, cold air conditioning.  Landed safely, back in the San Diego heatwave.

Considering the value of the "run" flights ($195), I had a very successful run.  Can't wait to find my next deal!