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

Friday, August 30, 2013

It's hard to plan travel when your internet is out

And by "out", I mean going on five days out.  AT&T has been giving me the run around something fierce, and after a conference call last night with an account rep and technician, the earliest they can have someone out to troubleshoot is next week Tuesday.  And oh by the way, between 8am and 4pm is the best time.  I politely said those times wouldn't work for me, and that it had to be after 5pm (especially since a scheduled technician never showed last night at 5).

I've tried just about everything to get it resolved.

Not happy.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Second round of British Airways Visa Avios have posted!

I've always been a happy customer of British Airways. They even upgraded me on my birthday some years ago as a surprise.  So naturally I've always tried to keep a BA Visa in my wallet box as a backup for future flying and points collecting.  Executive Club also helped me pay for my first award ticket to Doha during my PhD studies.

So one year ago when the Visa was being offered with a 100,000 Avios sign up, I couldn't pass it up.

Now, if you believe some other bloggers out there, Avios aren't what they used to be.  Flying BA means paying for huge fuel surcharges and planning out your trip using a distance-based model.  But if you can figure all that out, the actual flying experience is very comfortable - I've always felt well taken care of when flying BA.  In fact, Dad and I did a connection from Oslo to London Heathrow on BA in June for 10,000 Avios and we got to try Club World!

The deal I signed up for a year ago was 50,000 Avios on the first swipe, and another 50,000 at the one year card anniversary.  How easy is that??  You don't even have a spend requirement.  So, the one year mark just passed and after checking my account, my second 50,000 has posted!

My flight options just increased............

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

So you're almost to United Silver status...

I just wanted to give a quick summary of what happens when you hit the first tier of status on United - I was geeked out the first time I got it, since it meant having a few enhancements to my overall travel experience.

As a review, you can reach Silver status by flying 25,000 miles on United (or qualifying Star Alliance partners) in a calendar year, or reaching 30 qualifying segments.  Next year this will be changing, and will include having to spend $2500 Premier Qualify Dollars on United.com tickets.

You will find the summaries below:

Silvers get access to Economy Plus seats at check-in, and are also in the queue for upgrades if seats are available.  It's pretty difficult to get those seats at the silver level, but on certain routes you can get them!  I also like the additional mileage bonus per flight (25%), as well as the 500-mile earning minimum - shuttle flights like SAN-LAX make the benefit worth it.

Complimentary checked luggage is also included, and some of the award fees are reduced beginning at silver.  As you move up the ladder, those fees are waived upon reaching Platinum status.

Be sure to check your account to see if you're close to reaching the next level of status!  You might be surprised at what you get...

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Place of the Day: Krak des Chevaliers

I'm not sure what it is about castles that I enjoy so much...maybe its the rich history that usually accompanies seeing some of the places that have stood the test of time, or possibly its the novelty of being in a place where people used to live without the conveniences we have now.  In any case, I recently saw a castle that I'm going to add to my list of places to visit the next chance I get - it will go nicely with my fond remembrances of Neuschwanstein and Wartburg:

Granted, getting to this castle may take a while, since all of the unrest in Syria is preventing most from getting there.  But given its location high on a hill (no reference to my alma mater) and views of the surrounding countryside, I think most are missing out on what it has to offer as one of the only remaining Crusader-style castles. 

Sadly, a recent airstrike shows how volatile the region is, so be prepared for a wait until visiting.  I hope that the fighting will soon stop so that no more damage is done.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Easier travel for me...in San Diego

I've been avoiding getting a car for quite a long time.  While I've missed the Prius for many reasons along with its great fuel economy, I've been content to walk everywhere (especially to work) and take the trolley as necessary for anything downtown related. This has also helped me to save a monthly payment as well as insurance costs and fuel every so often.

Where this has occasionally been a hiccup is when I've needed to get to the airport super-early (before the trolly) or if I'm coming back in to SAN late (after the busses go).  In those cases I've had to either rent a car or take a taxi, neither of which are cheap.  Also, not having a vehicle means that I'm stuck and not able to get to places like church, or when family is in town and wants to tour.  And if I need certain groceries or to get to USD quickly for something, I've had to rent a Zipcar and pay per hour. 

After crunching the numbers, between the Avis rentals and Zipcar reservations, I've been spending almost as much as a car payment per month in rentals.  Doesn't seem very efficient.  While my career path forward is still fluid with the completion of my PhD, I decided I was comfortable investigating a car (either loan or lease) to get me through and help me realize better usage and money.  I won't get the points any longer for car rentals, but I'm comfortable with that to gain the access.

Thankfully...I found a deal/car that made sense (lease) and after some haggling, had an offer on a new 2013 Mazda3....Zoom!

Have you ever leased a car before?  What are your experiences?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Top 40 maps that explain the world

This was shared by a friend, and I found it pretty compelling and wanted to make sure to post it for reference - with as much traveling as I do, it does put some things into perspective.

Top 40 maps


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Istanbul hotel booked!

Recently I've had some time to do research on my upcoming trip to Istanbul in November, and, as luck would have it, some space opened up at one of the two Hyatt properties onsite for a points redemption.  Rather than completely burn all of my points in one shot at the Park Hyatt, I successfully called and reserved a stay at the Grand Hyatt for the few days of the trip.  Based on the reviews I've read so far, this is a pretty up to date property and full of the latest amenities.

Looking forward to the stay, and I'll be doing a full review once I get back.

Has anyone else had a chance to try out the Grand Hyatt? 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

SFO-ANC for $195 - my new mileage run

Yep, you read it right - San Fran to Anchorage for only $195 round trip!

Nets over 4000 miles, pretty good return, so I jumped on it and am now on the 24 hour clock. This time, though, it's 99% that I'm going to do it. 

Here's the breakdown:

Only a mini-run, but very affordable!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Place of the Day: Plitvice

I chuckled out loud when I saw that The Museum of Islamic Art was a highlight of last weeks travel guides...mostly because I love that museum and seem to find my way there every time I'm in Doha.  But for this post, I'm going to highlight another place I want to travel to, and it would also meet one of my Star Alliance airline goals.  Croatia, here I come?

I'm not sure what excites me the most about this place - the fact there's a lot of green involved, the waterfalls and lakes that can be discovered, or the the elevated wood-paths and bridges that allow you access to one of the unique places in the world to visit.  It's a picture-taking dream, and I can't wait to see it firsthand.

Flying into Zagreb might be your best bet on reaching this UNESCO site, and there are plentiful flight options to get you there through each of the alliances. 

Can't wait to visit!

Monday, August 19, 2013

The "Great Mileage Run" that wasn't

So...after my last post outlining the availability of a mileage run that would net almost 20,000 EQM's on United, I dove in on Friday night, calling the 1K line to see if I could get an agent to assist me in making the arrangements.  I couldn't easily do this on United.com, since the multiple reservations area only has the ability to do six (6) segments...and I needed 9.

A very thoughtful agent answered, and for the next 45 minutes we worked to find the flights...to no avail.  Every city pair I saw in the K bucket wasn't seen by her, or if it was, it was hundreds more.  The closest we got was $1030...that's not the $740 I was seeing.  So I chanced the website and combined the IAD-BAH segments in order to fit the six lines I had.  And...I couldn't believe it...it priced it at $750!  The agent couldn't believe it either.  And...very odd...one segment went to Dubai and then connected to Bahrain via a FlyDubai flight - since when was United a partner with FlyDubai?  Maybe that's coming down the road?  Everything ticketed in order, so it was a valid reservation...just surprising.

Here was the final routing:  LAX-LAS-IAD-DXB-BAH-IAD-ORD-LAX. 

So...I had what I wanted at $757.40 and flying time of 56 hours to get the near 20,000 elite qualifying miles I need to stay at 1K for next year.  Crazy.

Even more crazy...I cancelled it night before last before the 24 hour mark to get a refund.

What's wrong with me, you ask?

Well...I crunched some numbers, and while the price point for this type of thing is as low as it would ever be, I just don't have the $$ right now to spend on it.  If it were a bit cheaper, I think my budget could do it.  I hate money.  And I hate that I have to give up something like this that would really help for next year. But I think its the right decision.

I will keep scouring for deals...another is bound to pop up.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Mileage run option on UA...$741 LAX/BAH

And...the fact I'm considering it means I'm probably a little nuts...

Check out the base fare price though...$99 each way!  (what you don't see is $450 in taxes)...

New ILA video

Check it out!


Quite a few USD grads throughout! (though I didn't make it this time)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Will I make it to 1K?

I'm having a second half of the year conundrum.  Starting next year United will be partially basing its Elite Levels on spend, which means that in order to reach the top tier, you need to fly a certain amount and spend a certain amount.  Not only that, but you need to do it only on United ticketed flights - Star Alliance flights will not count.

What's good is that if you reach 1K this year (before December 31), you will have it automatically for all of next year (and the first year of this whole spending business).  I don't really see myself meeting the spending requirement each year, so this is probably my last chance to be a 1K for a very long time (if ever). 

So my conundrum is this: based on the miles I've flown so far this year, I'm short in what I need to make it for next.  Do I try to mileage run to get to 1K?

There's a part of me that says yes - do it.  With the amount of flying I end up doing for family related things and also professional activities (research, consulting, etc), it would make sense for me to keep the top status another year.  The other part of me says that it's going to cost me (obviously) to do it, and can I really afford to do that while I pay other things off?  If I budget things right, I could probably swing it.

Taking into account what I've already got booked through December, I'm looking at trying to fly about 36,000 miles.  I don't have Christmas booked yet, nor a few other staging flights that I need to do, so that will help.  That's about 7 cross-country roundtrips in the US...or...three roundtrips to Hong Kong. 

What to do....

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

New United Club at San Diego (SAN) Terminal 2

United was in the process of moving is primary gates from Terminal 1 to the newer and improved Terminal 2 at San Diego International Airport (SAN), and as a result, the United Club has also gone through a makeover.  If you've ever visited the Terminal 1 club, it was much smaller and limited in terms of food and amenities (widely discussed on Flyertalk).

More details from the announcement:

The 5,842-square-foot United Club in San Diego is on the terminal’s mezzanine level, directly above the airport’s new Sunset Cove. The location of the lounge affords spectacular panoramic views of the Point Loma seaside community as well as the airfield. Its open layout features a centrally located buffet and bar and 119 seats, including balcony lounge seating in the atrium. The walls are dotted with vintage airline photos. The new furnishings are conducive to relaxing or getting work done with greater ease and comfort. As with all United Club lounges, members may enjoy complimentary snacks, beverages and Wi-Fi. 

The newer Club looks greatly improved!  Check it out here!

(I'm going to miss Terminal 1 though...always seemed a lot easier to get through security and not endure the bustle that is Terminal 2.)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Department of Justice files suit to block US Airways/American Merger

I certainly didn't see this coming:


It seems as though everyone has been taking for granted the fact that the merger between these two airlines would go through with little difficulty (and maybe a few landing slots at Reagan to give up) - this was taken further by the fact the European Union approved the deal recently as well.

Now, it's all a question.

While I could go along with a notion that this is another bargaining tactic, I tend to subscribe to the idea that the government isn't usually going to get involved unless they really have to.

And if this was done at the behest of consumers, then I may not disagree with the decision.

Time will tell how this works out, but I have to believe it's not a good sign for the merger.

For more fun reading, you can view the end of this thread here.

The complain can be found here.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Hotel Review: Doubletree Tower of London

I've been a bit backlogged in work, so here is a review of the DoubleTree that's been sitting on my to-do list!

London hotels can be quite expensive, and finding deals can be tricky unless you're willing to burn some points.  Before Hilton decided to devalue their award chart, I got in on the deal for reasonable night stays and chose the Doubletree Tower of London for this trip.  I liked the location close to the Tower and easy access to the Tube.

It was extremely easy to get to the DT from the Tower Hill tube stop - just a quick 5 minute walk out and around the corner and we were there. Check in was a bit of an adventure - the agent didn't remember my Hilton Gold benefits, and I had to ask at least three times for the amenities that were part of it.  He said he was new - I'd recommend always asking if they don't bring it up.

Our room was of medium size and ready to go once we made it up the elevator.  Since it was warm during our stay, the air conditioning was very welcome.  I'm always left with a safe feeling when staying at DT's, and this property also gave me that feeling.  Our calls with questions were always quickly solved, and staff were always welcoming.  Internet speed was adequate.

We even tried the rooftop bar on our first night - there was also a wedding party having fun up there - but our drinks were served quickly and the view was ok.  Pricing is a bit high though - watch out for how much you're paying.

All in all I'd stay again if the price were right - points made it easy for this trip.


Friday, August 9, 2013

Finishing Touches

As of yesterday my dissertation has gone to the bindery.

Along with that my paperwork has been officially turned in at USD.

I have met the graduation requirements, and am officially done (pending distributed copies to all).

Let the void begin!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

American Airlines back on Awardwallet

Some time ago, the travel blogs were abuzz with the fact that American Airlines had dropped permission for Awardwallet to access AAdvantage account information - so keeping track of your AA miles became very difficult unless you always logged in to AA.com to check.  While I understand that the airlines want more of us to access their sites so we can buy more flights, this doesn't help when you're trying to keep track of the many accounts that most people have.

Well...today AA decided to partner up with Awardwallet again.  Happy day!

Press Release

Friday, August 2, 2013

Place of the Day: Fraser Island

There is one country I am woefully overdue in visiting, and actually was supposed to visit almost 5 years ago but didn't.  This same country has many wonderful heritage sites and natural resources, and comes with its own attitude and lifestyle in many parts of the country.  Where is this?  Look no further than Australia...but for this Place of the Day, I'm highlighting:

Why visit Fraser Island where there are places like the Great Barrier Reef and the Sydney Opera House to look at?  Well, this particular place is the world's largest sand island, with nearly 75 miles of broad coastal beach to explore.  Not enough for you?  Hiking is also available and will take you from the shores of beach-goers to lakes and the rain forest.  

All of the major airline alliances can get you to Australia, so if you have points available you're in good shape.  Just make sure you're picking the right time frame - winter and summer are opposite!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Buy Lifemiles 2 for 1 through August

Just received a wonderful little promotion via email from Avianca/Taca for the month of August - 2 for 1 sale on miles!

Here are the specifics:

At LifeMiles we give you more because we want you to live your miles to the fullest, therefore, LifeMiles brings you miles 2x1 until August 30th. For each package of 1,000 miles you buy, LifeMiles will give you a bonus of 100% more that can be redeemed to fly to more than 1,300 destinations on routes operated by Avianca, AeroGal, partner airlines or Star Alliance member airlines.

Also, you can enjoy your LifeMiles with “Hotels Around the World” and “Hilton HHonors™” in more than 100.000 hotels in 90 countries. As well, discover our vast commercial and financial network and everything you can do with your LifeMiles by visiting EarnandEnjoy.com.

Typically, to receive this deal you already need to be a member of the Lifemiles program, so if you aren't already, signing up now costs nothing. Avianca is a member of the Star Alliance, so you can use the miles for flights on United and other partners.

The Lifemiles chart isn't too crazy generous (a quick economy search to Europe wielded a 60,000 mile option), but it does give another option for getting to someplace fun.