Monthly Archives: April 2016

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Zika-Free Beach Destinations on Points & Miles

Category : Uncategorized

[DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor or medically trained professional; the destinations suggested are based on my research and understanding of the virus. Travel to these destinations at your own discretion]

The onslaught of the Zika virus and the deleterious affects on fetus has caused understandable concern amongst travelers worldwide, but in particular those in North America, on travel to the Caribbean, South America and Central America.

Some areas are more affected than others, but the question remains for those pregnant, or attempting to conceive: is it worth the risk?

60% of Americans have indicated that they would change their travel plans to avoid Zika zones.

So does that mean all of the Caribbean, South and Central America are off limits?

I am not a physician. Consult your doctor before going to any of those geographical regions. That being said, the CDC has published it’s map/list of Zika affected areas in those geographical regions, and as hard as it is to believe, there are still some Zika free beach-y destinations that are not as more or required as many miles asHawaii or Phuket, Thailand.

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 9.31.11 AM

Or…

zika infected

Per cdc.gov as of 04/18/16

 

So, what’s left?

  • Turks & Caicos
  • Nassau, Bahamas
  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Monserrat
  • British Virgin Islands
  • Bermuda
  • Anguilla
  • Peru
  • Chile
  • Argentina
  • Uruguay

Keep in mind:

  • With many of the South American destinations you will may to transit through an airport that is in an affected area.
  • Always re-check the CDC site as it is constantly being updated.
  • Do your own search; the tourism websites, if Zika free, will proudly display that (Bahamas, for example).
  • Contact your doctor!

The Fun Part: Using Miles

In terms of using miles on flights, Monserrat and the main airport in the British Virgin Islands (on Tortola, EIS) only has regional island flights which can only be booked using miles on United.

 All tickets are one-way and coach/business
Destination Airport Code American United Air France Singapore
Turks & Caicos PLS 12,500/25,000 17,500/30,000 15,000/37,500 17,500/30,000
Nassua, Bahamas NAS 12,500/25,000 17,500/30,000 15,000/37,500 17,500/30,000
Antigua & Barbuda ANU 12,500/25,000 17,500/30,000 15,000/37,500 17,500/30,000
Monserrat MNI Not bookable Not bookable Not bookable Not bookable
Tortola, British V.I. EIS Not bookable 17,500/30,000 Not bookable Not bookable
Bermuda BDA 12,500/25,000 17,500/30,000 15,000/37,500 17,500/30,000
Anguilla AXA 12,500/25,000 17,500/30,000 15,000/37,500 17,500/30,000
Lima, Peru LIM 20,000/30,000 20,000/35,000 17,500/42,500 30,000/50,000
Santiago, Chile SCL 30,000/57,500 30,000/55,000 25,000/62,500 30,000/50,000
Buenos Aires, Argentina EZE 30,000/57,500 30,000/55,000 25,000/62,500 30,000/50,000
Montevideo, Uruguay MVD 30,000/57,500 30,000/55,000 25,000/62,500 30,000/50,000

Using Singapore miles on the United flights would get you to your Caribbean gateway, but not get you to Tortola (via most likely San Juan). Singapore air is not partners with the regional, non-Star Alliance partner so they would be unable to book you on that flight.

What about British, jetBlue and Delta?

British Airways Avios

British is distance based, so it will depend on your departure. In terms of using those miles on American flights, Miami has the most non-stop flights to the Caribbean and South and Central America. That’s great if you’re starting from Miami. If you’re leaving from any other hub there may, or may not be a direct flight, especially to some of these not-as-common Zika-free Caribbean locations. Check for departures from Charlotte (CLT), Raleigh-Duram (RDU), Chicago (ORD), New York (JFK) and Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) .

New York to Bermuda – 7,500 Avios/person/direction of travel

At 7,500 miles and $5.00, this is a great bargain

At 7,500 miles and $5.00, this is a great bargain

Miami to Nassau, Bahamas – 7,500 Avios/person/direction of travel

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 10.44.56 AM

Using Avios for Caribbean getaways can be a great value, but if you need to connect via Miami or another focus/city or hub of American, British will charge you two award tickets.

jetBlue

Like Southwest, jetBlue’s award tickets are based off of the price of the ticket. So depending on the time of year and your flexibility (as always), you can score some sweet deals… or not so good.

jetBlue also operates many, many flights to many Caribbean and South/Central American destinations. San Juan is also a mini-hub for them so you can connect to some of the more remote islands via that airport.

jetBlue has a nice calendar view that shows you the cheapest prices:

New York’s JFK to Nassau, Bahamas, month of May –

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 12.42.26 PM

Fort Lauderdale (FLL) is also a hub for jetBlue and a gateway to some locations, include Turks & Caicos:

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 12.43.36 PM

Overall, jetBlue represents another solid option to lots of these destinations with nonstop availability. If you can be flexible, you’ll get better results and cheaper redemptions.

Delta

Delta is hardest to pin down as their Skymiles pricing is variable. It’s very possible to find one-ways from their North American gateways (ATL, DTW, JFK) to places like the Bahamas and Turks & Caicos for 10,000 Skymiles per direction, per person. Not a bad deal.

Here’s my tip: if you’re flexible, use the 5 week flexible calendar search. And always search one ways with Delta.

Here’s a sampling with random dates and some of the destinations from the chart.

Atlanta to Turks & Caicos, non-stop starting at 17,500 per person, per direction in coach:

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 10.52.39 AM

But, can we do better?

New York to Nassau, Bahamas:

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 10.54.17 AM

We sure can! That’s just one month, for one passenger, but I’ve seen these prices at various times of the year. If the tickets are worth about $100, or even a little less, I’d jump on these if the dates and timing worked.

Some points hotels in these locations:

This is not a comprehensive list of hotel options; rather, it shows a list of point options available in the location. I use Wandering Arameans Hotel Hustle tool to see availability and locations across the hotel chains.

  • Turks & Caicos – None
  • Nassau, Bahamas – Marriott/Atlantis
  • Antigua & Barbuda – None
  • Monserrat – None
  • British Virgin Islands – Scrub Island, Marriott, 45,000 pts.
  • Bermuda – Two Fairmont hotels
  • Anguilla – None
  • Lima, Peru – Wyndham, IHG 25,000 pts., Marriott 20,000 pts., Hilton 40,000 & 50,000
  • Santiago, Chile – Hyatt 5,00 & 8,000 pts., IHG 25,000 pts., Hilton 30,000 & 50,000 pts., Marriott/Rits 25,000, 30,000 & 45,000 pts.
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina – Wyndham, Hyatt 20,00 pts., Starwood 7,000 & 10,000 pts., IHG 25,000, Hilton 60,000 pts.
  • Montevideo, Uruguay – IHG 15,000 pts., Hilton 40,000 pts.

Overall

Ultimately, it depends where you want to go and how flexible you can be. If you’re limited to the nine or ten destinations from the Zika free zone, you now have a sense of which miles are cheapest, best redemptions, and best flexibility.  And because Zika is so limiting and if it is something you may want to avoid, it’s best use this list as a starting point.

 

-The Miner

[DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor or medically trained professional; the destinations suggested are based on my research and understanding of the virus. Travel to these destinations at your own discretion]

 


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Ah… Airport Lounge Access

Category : Uncategorized

So you have three hours to connect between flights and you’re flying coach. What’s there to do?

Sure, you could walk around the airport aimlessly looking at overpriced magazines and bottles of water… Or, you could go into one of the many airport lounges and kick back, have some snacks, some complimentary drinks, comfortable chairs and decent WiFi. Most importantly, you’ll have three hours of relative silence from the cacophony of the airport.

Airport lounge access, however, does come with a cost.

Entrance into airport lounges always has some fee attached. Most lounges will allow you to purchase day passes at the lounge entrance counter. The fees can be a bit ridiculous:

  • Delta Sky Club – $59.00
  • American Airlines Admirals Club One-Day Pass – $50.00
  • United Club Membership One-Day Pass – $59.00
  • Alaska Airlines Board Room One-Day Pass – $$45.00

The low-cost carriers (jetBlue, Southwest, Spirit) do not operate their own lounges.

While Alaska’s is the cheapest, it would only make sense if you were flying Alaska from the West Coast. Next is American’s, which has a large lounge footprint in all of their hubs and focus cities. Same with United and Delta. So cost aside, only you can decide if the cost is worth it. If you’re flying with a companion, you’d have to purchase a one day-pass per person. That’s almost $100.00! Some one-way tickets cost that much!

There are full-year passes, but if you’re someone who flies that much, you may have elite airline status which can sometimes provide complimentary lounge access. (If you have elite status with lounge access, you probably know it!).

You will also have complimentary lounge access on international business and first class flights. Within the U.S. domestic first class (so New York to Dallas, for example) would not receive complimentary lounge access. The only flights that receive complimentary lounge access within the U.S. are the transcontinental (New York – Los Angeles / San Francisco – Miami) in business and first would receive it.

 

But isn’t this about credit cards?

Card Lounge 1 Guests Lounge 2 Guests Lounge 3 Guests Annual Fee
Citi Prestige Admirals club when on AA flights Up to 2 Priority Pass* Up to 2 $450
Citi American Airlines Executive Full Admirals Club membership Up to 2 Auth User for domestic Admirals Clubs  Up to 2 Up to 2 $475
AMEX Platinum Delta Sky Club $29 per Priority Pass $27 per Centurion Lounge Up to 2 $450
AMEX Business Platinum Delta Sky Club $29 per Priority Pass $27 per Centurion Lounge Up to 2 $450
Chase United Club Card Full United Club membership Up to 2 Star Alliance None $375
Chase United Mileage Explorer Plus 2 Club Passes; one time use when flying on United metal  None Waived 1st year, then $95
AMEX Delta Reserve Delta Sky Club None $450
AMEX Hilton Surpass Priority Pass and pay per visit ($27) None $75

(*Priority Pass is a group of 800 or so lounges around the world) 

These cards come with other benefits, but all else being equal, which one is worth it?

It really depends on what type of flyer you are and how frequently you’re flying. I’d say the day pass may be worth it, say if your flight is delayed for several hours and you’re stuck at the airport.

I personally find a lot of value in Citi’s Prestige card as I fly American airlines a lot domestically. Citi (on both of their premium products) has the most generous guesting policies, too.

On the other hand, the AMEX Platinum cards give access to the vaunted Centurion lounges. However, for a $450 annual fee, a charge to bring in guests on Delta and Priority Pass lounges, and a limited number of Centurion lounges, I could not justify the annual fee for that type of lounge access. It’s unfortunate as the Platinum cards from AMEX used to offer Admiral’s Club and complimentary guest access to the Delta Sky Clubs.

Is the $450 price tag worth it?

Is the $450 price tag worth it? – Centurion Lounge, Las Vegas Airport

It really is nice to be able to get out of the hustle and bustle that is an airport and have peace and quite for an hour or two before a flight. The complimentary drinks and food are an added benefit. But what did we all do before lounge life? We sat around the airport killing time just like everyone else. And when anyone flies Southwest (if they have that companion pass!) then you usually don’t have any type of access. So, like anyone else, you just deal.

When the time comes to pay my annual fee on the Citi Prestige card, it will be a tough call because of the lounge access provided that I’ve taken advantage of internationally, domestically and with long layovers.

So, is it worth it?

-The Miner


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Kosher While Traveling: Beijing & Tokyo

Category : Uncategorized

[Disclosure: I may earn compensation if you click on any external links]

Note: I am not a rabbi and the opinions related to keeping kosher are my own, based on my experience and asking my own rabbis.  

A common question I receive from those who keep kosher and those who do not, is how we keep kosher while traveling. In some places, like Israel and countries in Europe (London, Paris), it’s fairly easy to find an abundance of kosher food. In others, like many smaller islands in the Caribbean and a lot of countries in Asia, it’s a bit harder. A lot of the popular countries have a Chabad that supplies kosher food for the Sabbath and/or a restaurant to travelers wishing to keep kosher.

General Tips

Here are some general and useful tips I’ve accumulated over the course of my travels to make it easier to keep kosher while traveling:

  • Do your research beforehand–many Chabad’s have their own small restaurants, but about a month before your trip, shoot them an email to confirm that they will be open, what their hours are, do you need reservations, etc. This will ensure that if you show up… that they are actually open!
  • The leniency of cholov stam (lit. “plain milk”) does not apply to every country (Beijing, China, for example); so be sure to ask before you go.
    • If you are going somewhere where this will be a problem, you can bring your own dehydrated milk or powder based creamers which do not need to be refrigerated.
  • Before every trip where keeping kosher is difficult, I make a menu itinerary that includes columns for the day, the meal and what activity we’ll be doing. This way, if we’re going to be on a day trip, I know that I won’t be heading to the Chabad for lunch or dinner.
    • Example:
      Breakfast Lunch Dinner
      Tuesday, March 29 Bar Sandwiches Pre-packaged pasta #1
      Wednesday, March 30 Bar Grillers/cheese Dini’s Restaurant
  • Dry goods such as protein and granola bars, granola, nuts, oatmeal and cereal can go a long way. They’re filling and can help you keep up your energy (unlike chocolate, chips and cookies!).
  • You can purchase the above items at foreign/American grocery stores, but they are pricey.
  • Soup cups are key, especially where ramen is the norm.
  • Do not assume that because something is certified in the U.S., that it is certified abroad. For example, Kit Kat sold in Japan are made in Japan and not imported into the country so they do not bear any certification. They may taste the same but the ingredients can be different which may require certification.
  • When going grocery shopping in some countries, think outside the box. For example: getting kosher food in Hawaii can be difficult, but it’s still part of the U.S., so things like Morning Star do exist!
  • Eating fresh fruit and vegetables (uncut) is usually okay in most countries. The restriction to not eat it, like in China, is not because it’s not kosher. The restriction exists because of washing products with unfiltered water.

Transporting & Packing/Packaging 

To ease your travels while on the road brining some of the following items can be very helpful:

  • Plastic cutlery, plates, hot cups (for the microwave) saran wrap and tinfoil
  • Small, transportable icepacks that if you need to throw out, you won’t feel bad about

 

  • They fit really well inside any type of sustainable cooler bag that is large enough to hold a good amount of food, keep it insulated for a good lenght amount of time and stay frozen for several hours. Here’s the bag I used. It seems bigger than it is when you first open up the box, so you may want to go a bit bigger. This size fit perfectly on the plane. And on the way back, assuming it’s empty, it doubles as a nice carry-on ;).

 

  • For our pre-packaged meals, we used these containers that are microwavable safe. I can’t get enough of theses! They come in bigger shapes and different configurations, too.

 

Keeping Kosher in Beijing

Only being in Beijing for three days, I knew that our kosher situation would be a bit easier. Though there is a Chabad, it’s not centrally located (at least to our hotel, which also was not centrally located); it does deliver, though.

As a Hilton Diamond member, you are usually entitled to a free breakfast… Knowing this, and knowing that it would obviously not be kosher, I emailed the hotel and asked them if they could accommodate a kosher request. Sure enough, they ordered us three (free) kosher breakfasts from the Chabad restaurant, Dini’s Kosher Beijing. It was a surprisingly large amount of food, and most of it was pretty tasty! #itneverhurtstoask

Aside from that we had the usual suspects: peanut butter and jelly, Morning Star patties, cheese sandwiches. We also pre-cooked and packaged some pastas that we were able to keep in the mini-fridge in our room. These were great for the evenings we were too tired to go to the Chabad for dinner.

And then of course, we did go to the Chabad’s restaurant for dinner. They only take cash (boo) but the food was delicious. They also had kosher dumplings which made the trip feel a bit more authentic:

Kosher dumplings in Beijing -- The real deal.

Kosher dumplings in Beijing — The real deal.

As I mentioned above, the leniency of chalav stam did not extend in Beijing, so we drank black coffee most of the time. Had I known this before hand (and listened to my own advice), I’d have brought liquid or dry creamer. You live and you learn!

Keeping Kosher in Tokyo

The majority of our trip was in Tokyo. Packaging up 6-7 days worth of to-go meals was not realistic for us, so we depended on the Chabad for Shabbat dinner and lunch, and many dinners in the evening. The prices were what you’d expect and the portions were generous. Though nothing inventive, it’s always nice to end your day off with a fresh and hot meal. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches can only take you so far…

There is a second kosher falafel restaurant in Tokyo, called King Falafel. The falafel was delicious, prices were fair, but the location is a bit out of the way. If you’re nearby, it’s definitely worth a visit. They are open Monday – Friday and only for lunch. Call ahead to confirm.

I came to Tokyo for the Falafel

I came to Tokyo for the Falafel

Unlike Beijing, the leniency of chalav stam does extend to Tokyo, at least, so we were able to drink coffee like we’re used to.

Something that is somewhat controversial are vegan and vegetarian restaurants. In Tokyo (and Japan in general), contrary to popular belief, those types of restaurants are a rarity. Not only is vegan, vegetarian and kosher hard to come by, so is halal food. Any sort of dietary restriction is pretty difficult to accommodate without bringing your own food or going to the same restaurant everyday.

So that’s exactly what we did, plus the above mentioned items.

Snacks are also difficult. Most products in your generic grocery store are not imported; rather, made and manufactured in Japan or surrounding countries. This means that they would not be certified kosher. In fact, the Chabad informed us that even if the ingredients are the same, the product can be problematic. Oh, well.

Two last things:

  1. Fresh fruit is really delicious in Japan
  2. Fish is a major food category in Japan. That being said, you can purchase raw kosher fish from the market and have your hotel double wrap it and bake it–if you’re comfortable doing so.

[Saran] Wrapping it up

There are good kosher travel meal options out there (Pomegranate), but for this trip it didn’t make sense, considering there were local charades with restaurants. (A future post on the different kosher travel to-go meals). With what we packed and the restaurants, we never went hungry. Next time, I’ll bring more snacks.

-The Miner

 


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Trip Highlights: Tokyo, Japan

Category : Uncategorized

Though comprehensive trip reports can be interesting… I find them to be too much and too long to read, and boring. So that’s why I provide highlights for each location.

That being said, I’m more than happy to chat about specific aspects of the trip and location.

A Brief Intro…

After spending three nights in the busy city of Beijing and seeing ancient sites such as the Great Wall of China, we hopped on our ANA flight from Beijing Capital Airport to Tokyo-Haneda Airport.

We planned to go to Tokyo specifically during Spring to take advantage of the Cherry Blossom festival and atmosphere around the city… and boy, did we luck out. The weather could not have been more perfect (with one rainy day) and we were able to see the cherry blossoms in all their glory.

Airlines/Hotels

You can read about what points we redeemed for flights here and hotels here, but to quickly give my opinion:

  • I found Cathay Pacific’s business class to be overrated (blasphemy, I know) and Japan Airlines’ Sky Suite business class to be excellent and super comfortable. You can read reviews here and here.
  • We stayed the Prince Sakura it was an outstanding hotel. Though it’s part of Marriott, it’s owned and operated by Prince (a Japanese brand) so their hospitality really shone through on all levels. The location was excellent, too, only 3 minutes walk from a main train terminal (Shinagawa train station)
    • The hotel was part of a larger hotel complex (with 3 or 4 other Prince properties) and in between them was a small cherry blossom park.

Getting Around

One of the hardest things about going to a new country is getting around–car rental or public transportation. Luckily, we had Google maps as part of my global Spring data plan, which partners with carriers worldwide (except in China), giving me sufficiently fast 3G speeds. And, unlike China, we used the transit system extensively. It is extremely efficient, clean and a overall pleasure to take. Prices are comparable to other major cities ($1.25 – $2.75 USD per direction). 

The sheer amount of public transportation, options, however, can be a bit confusing. There is:

  1. Tokyo Subway
  2. Tokyo Metro
  3. JR [Japanese Rail] – Privately owned

They can all be rode with one reciprocal pass that you can load, or you can get a one-day pass to ride the subway and metro for 1000 JPY ($9.26 as of this writing).

PLEASE NOTE: You cannot use credit card for the single tickets, only for the reloadable card.

How We Decided to Do What We Did

Prior to the trip I made an itinerary, but after our first day on the ground, it was pretty clear to me that just going to different/unique neighborhoods just wouldn’t cut it. Unlike Beijing, it’s a bit easier to get around and the ability to quickly look things up on my phone was invaluable. (I would have gotten a guidebook had we visited other cities, but we only visited Tokyo). So if you Google “Top 10 things to do in Tokyo”, you’ll get a list like:

  1. Shibuya Crossing
  2. Harajuku
  3. Shinjuku

… And on.

So I put those “activities” down and then got to the neighborhood, not really knowing what to do. We quickly rectified this by planning even more after our first day and in preparation for our next day.

So, without further ado…

Activities

Here are some of the activities we did

  • Mori Art Museum — A really cool, modern art museum with some unique and interesting exhibits. It shares the grounds with two other museums, and a sky tower that on a clear day, gives a wonderful panoramic view of the city.
Grounds of the Mori Art Museum

Grounds of the Mori Art Museum

View of Tokyo

View of Tokyo

  • Shibuya Crossing — Sheer and utter madness. Really fun to watch and participate in the mad dash to cross the street where 2,500 people cross at one time during rush hour. 
  • Mt. Fuji / Hakone National Park — Unfortunately, this was the one day it was raining and extremely foggy so we could not see more than several feet in front of us. Oh, well. 
Beautiful... fog?

Beautiful… fog?

IMG_6504

  • Imperial Palace – The inside of the palace is closed on Mondays, but most people just like to take pictures of the famous bridge and enjoy the constart of Japanese shogun architecture, to modern day construction. Indeed, it’s a sight.

IMG_6581

  • Asakusa Shrine — Perhaps one of the most famous shrines in Tokyo, a tourist trap, but cool outdoor market to get souvenirs and other stuff.

IMG_6635

  • Ginza – I’d consider this to be the Fifth Avenue of Tokyo. High end shops with a lot of neon lights.
  • Kabukiza Theatre  — Highly recommend this authentic, Japanese theatre experience
  • Akihabara (Akiba)

Cherry Blossom Festival(s)

Tokyo takes pride in the fact that is has four distinct seasons, and in each season they celebrate the beauty of the greenery and parks. However, the Cherry Blossom, or Sakura, is something that is unique to Japan due to the large amount of cherry blossoms that bloom at the same time. They have an official Cherry Blossom tree that “rings in” the festival and the national tourism symbol is a cherry blossom!

Spring is a special time in Japan: it was evident in the atmosphere and feeling of the people who live there. The Sakura governed all while we were there.r

Much of our time was enjoying the different, well manicured and clean public parks that Tokyo has to offer. There are 19 different varieties of sakura. We went to:

  • Yoyogi Park

IMG_6478

  • Ueno Park

IMG_6670

  • Shinjuku Goyen

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IMG_6727

Would I go back?

Most definitely! Already trying to figure out the next time we can go there. Tokyo will host the Summer 2020 Olympics and I think it’s a great choice, considering their advanced transportation infrastructure.

There are also a lot of other cities that I’d love to see; Osaka and Kyoto in particular.

Arigato!

 

-The Miner


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Trip Highlights: Beijing, China

Category : Uncategorized

Though comprehensive trip reports can be interesting… I find them to be too much and too long to read, and boring. So that’s why I provide highlights for each location.

That being said, I’m more than happy to chat about specific aspects of the trip and location.

Airlines/Hotels

You can read about what points we redeemed for flights here and hotels here, but to quickly give my opinion:

  • I found Cathay Pacific’s business class to be overrated (blasphemy, I know) and Japan Airlines’ Sky Suite business class to be excellent and super comfortable. You can read reviews here and here.
  • Our Hong Kong – Beijing leg was in angle-flat business class seats. This was my first class in that type of product as I’ve always had the mindset that when flying business it’s either lie-flat, or coach. This flight changed that for me. Angle-flat is better than coach. We slept like babies.
  • The Doubletree by Hilton Beijing was excellent: cheap redemption, courteous staff and really clean and well kept hotel and room. As a Diamond member we were upgraded to an executive suite. The hotel is a bit out of the way, but with only two full days on the ground it did not really matter. Would stay here again, unless I was there for a longer stay.

Getting Around

One of the hardest things about going to a new country is getting around–car rental or public transportation. One of the more difficult things about China is the firewall, punily referred to as the ‘Great Firewall of China’. Essentially, this firewalls blocks all the good stuff most of us are used to, like Facebook, instagram, and Google maps!

So how did we get around it? For $0.99 a week (and we were only there 3 days), you can get VPN-Shield app in the iTunes or Android app stores. It will connect you to a different server, “ghosting” your location so you wouldn’t be blocked from the above sites.

In terms of connectivity, I rented a MiFi device for a week with more than enough data so we could use our friendly apps on-the-go, but also have access to Google Maps and Uber.

Uber’s are super cheap in China (like $5.00 for a 45 minute drive), but because addresses are complicated, the driver will want to call you to confirm your location. So even if you did speak Mandarin, you’d need a SIM card to receive those calls.

In any event, we probably spent around $50 on six uber rides (that would be about quadruple in New York City!). If you’re there for longer, or more centrally located, you probably would rely more on public transportation.

Notable Activities

Here’s a list of activities/sights we did in about two days:

  • Tiananmen Square

IMG_6245

  • Forbidden CityIMG_6266
  • Summer Palace

IMG_6359

  • Silk Market
  • Hutongs and Riding a Rickshaw

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  • The Great Wall of China

IMG_6321

Would I do it again?

Beijing is a massive city with a large (read: too big) population. The country of China has a population of 1.3 billion people, and is roughly the same size as the U.S., which has a population roughly 1/4 of China. There is always traffic, and always a hustle and bustle. Much like New York City. But with more people.

There are a lot of remarkable cities in China and a lot of wonderfully exciting sights within each city. We were able to hit the landmarks within 2-3 days, and I think it’s pretty doable.

Would I go again to Beijing? Probably not. Should you see the Great Wall? Yes, if that’s of interest to you. Do you need a long time? We didn’t, but you may!


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[News] What you may have missed over the past few weeks…

Category : Uncategorized

I intend for this post to be weekly, but as we were away… No time like the present!

Miles/Points

The Hilton Surpass card has been upped to 100,000 points, for spending $3,000 in three months. This is the highest it’s ever been…. And what to do if you recently applied for this card, before the increase.

In a surprise devaluation:

Hotels/Airlines

Anbang, the Chinese investors, officially walks away from their Starwood bids. Of course someone else can come along, but that’s doubtful. Oh well.

Gary Leff at View from a Wing has an interesting analysis on the future of hotel mergers.

Speaking of mergers, it’s been announced that Virgin America will sell and merge with Alaska Airlines–what will the future of these points and miles be?

American has gotten rid of their 24 hour holds in favor of the 24 cancellation policy. This only applies to revenue (cash) tickets. I think this is a good thing; their other policy was confusing and misleading. This will NOT affect award ticket hold policies, however.

Marriott’s cash and points options are now available… if you can find them.

Match to Hilton Diamond until 2018–this was really useful on our last trip!


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Credit Card Churning – Quarter 1 Update

Category : Uncategorized

Quarter 1 of 2016 will be coming to a close and I wanted to provide my lovely readers with an update on where I am with card churning this year.

Here’s my results from the first three months of 2015:

2015
Bank Card Bonus
Chase Southwest Plus 50,000
Chase Southwest Premier 50,000
Chase Marriott 80,000
AMEX Delta Gold 50,000
AMEX Business Gold 75,000
BofA Alaska 25,000
BofA Alaska 25,000
Chase United Mileage Plus 50,000
Citi AAdvantage Gold 25,000
Barclays U.S. Airways 50,000
Totals 10 Cards 480,000

And the results from the past three months of 2016:

2016
Bank Card Bonus
AMEX Business Platinum 100,000
AMEX EveryDay Preferred 15,000
AMEX Hilton Surpass 80,000
BOFA Alaska 25,000
Citi AA Business 50,000
Chase British 100,000
Citi Hilton 75,000
Chase Fairmont  2 nights
Chase British 100,000
Chase IHG 80,000
AMEX SPG 35,000
AMEX BRG 80,000
Citi Hilton 75,000
Totals 14 Cards 815,000, 2 nights

Where’s the Difference?

335,000 points, 2 nights and 4 credit cards.

What attributed to the substantial gain this first quarter over Q1 2015? Three, 100,000 sign-up bonuses.

The British Airways bonus is:

  • Tiered bonus: 50,000 points after spending $2000 within three months; 25,000 more points after hitting $10,000 spent; then 25,000 more points after hitting 20,000 spent.
  • Public
  • High spend

The American Express Business Platinum

  • High spend
  • Targeted

What Cards To Get Now?

Remember, there are some limited time offers that include the SPG, Marriott and Hilton cards (all those have been applied for in either or both years) and some others that I applied for because of anticipated use.

Other cards, like AMEX cards which earn Membership Rewards are always valuable because they can be transferred to multiple partners.

Some of these points and spend are still pending or in the process, but Q2 and Q3 for me this year (yes I’ve planned them out) will be slow for me for a variety of reasons, but I’ll certainly pick it back up in the end of Q3 and throughout Q4 to probably come to the same amount as last year.

Want to how to churn? Concerned about credit score? Read these informative articles:

What are your churning plans for this year? This month?

-The Miner