Planning Your First Cruise Tips: Dos and Don’ts

Cruise relaxThrow a dart at a spinning globe and if it lands in the blue, chances are there’s a cruise ship which sails somewhere nearby. As a means of choosing an itinerary for your first cruise, this probably isn’t the most reliable. But there are a few universal hints that can launch you on the right course to ensure those first-timer, rookie errors are ironed out long out before you leave home.
Multi-stop cruises with few days at sea might not be ideal if you’d prefer to relax on deck and gaze at nothing but the ocean. For the insatiable explorer, however, multi-city trips in the Western Med including Barcelona, Florence, Pisa and Rome might be more up your street. But whether you’re on a cruise around the Mexican Pacific or the Yucatán peninsula, there are some tips which apply across the globe.
DO check their definition of “all-inclusive”
Check the term “all inclusive”. It’s true, cash rarely changes hands on board, but the only things that are usually included are accommodation, food, soft drinks and ship’s passage. On many lines, alcohol, excursions and premium restaurants are charged to your room key, linked to your credit card, so be sure to research, plan and budget for this before you leave home.
DON’T be late
Whichever one of the many cruise deals out there you decide to choose, whether it’s Central America, the Eastern Med or the Caribbean, one non-negotiable constant is the ship’s timetable: it will sail without you if you’re late. Eliminate the risks of flight delays and book a hotel in port the night before so you join the ship rested, relaxed and in plenty of time.
DON’T suffer motion sickness
If you’re worried about seasickness, book a cabin amidships (in the middle of the vessel) and on a lower deck so the pitch and roll won’t affect you so much in lively seas. An even more reliable way to ward this off is to take ginger, before and during your cruise. Fresh, candied or in non-alcoholic ginger beer, it’s an effective preventative and cure.
Once you’ve nailed that, you’ll fully enjoy those after-dinner moonlit strolls on deck as the bow gently rises and falls on the Eastern Med or the Caribbean Sea. And as you contemplate the carpet of stars overhead, you’ll marvel at why this unique experience of our planet has until now felt so elusive.
Images by mbarrison and LukeGordon1, used under Creative Commons license
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The Grand Teton

I spent several weeks of every childhood summer in the Targhee National Forest in the shadow of the three peaks of the Tetons. Countless evenings I watched, transfixed, as the setting sun cast a warm orange glow on the sharp granite peak of the tallest of them – the Grand Teton.

I told myself, “someday I’ll stand at the top of it. Someday I’ll see what it sees – hundreds of miles in every direction.” I’ve spent twenty years saying that.

Earlier this summer, I was camping nearby and watched as a beautiful combination of a pink sunset and a brilliant rainbow stretched across the familiar backdrop.  Table Mountain was visible – a summit I’d achieved many times, but the Teton itself remained hidden behind the clouds, a metaphor for the way it had always eluded me.  Again I found myself craving its conquest. “This is the year,” I thought.Rainbow sunset

So the first week in September, when my neighbor, Victor, who has climbed the Grand Teton many times sent me an email fishing for interest, my response was quick and clear, “I’m in. Say when.”

The next week brought a perfect weather forecast – a critical factor for a peak that’s often shrouded with thunderstorms. We settled on taking the Owen Spalding route and the “car-to-car” schedule – opting to make the 20 mile trip in a single day, rather than bring camping gear and stay overnight (a decision I’d later regret). I recruited my brother Sheldon to join us, and at midnight, the three of us met to divy up the climbing gear and pack our bags.

By 2:00am we were on the trail with nothing but headlamps and stars to light our way.  The first few miles had little incline, so the conversation was great and the going was easy, but it wasn’t long before a brutal set of switchbacks changed all that.

After about 5 miles, the trail disintegrated into fields of massive boulders which we climbed over with enthusiasm and vigor. I was just giddy to finally be approaching the towering mountain I had admired since childhood.

“Giddy” quickly changed to “grumpy” as the ascent sharpened as we climbed out of Garnet Canyon.  We were a little over four hours in and the sun was just starting to rise, which gave us a great excuse to pause and enjoy the moment. The grumpy went away… for the time being.Owen Spalding

The sun came in handy as the next stretch to the top of the lower saddle was a complicated fixed-rope climb.  We pulled ourselves up the line and arrived at the saddle – about 10,000 feet – right around 7:30am.

From there the summit was visible and didn’t seem too intimidating – proof that things aren’t always as they seem.  The incline steepened and the trail often disappeared into slippery shale. If that weren’t bad enough, the thin air also entered the equation and suddenly every step was burdensome.

upper saddleWe clambered on all four limbs until we came to “the eye of the needle.” On other hikes I’ve heard spots like these referred to as “fat man’s misery.” You get the point… it tested our flexibility.

Shortly thereafter we got our first taste of “exposure” – the unprotected risk of falling.  Even though the potential drop was a mere 30 feet, the adrenaline kicked in as we gripped a ledge and eased along it. Sheldon, in particular, had a hard time with the risk of falling.  The danger combined with exhaustion was wearing on him.

Another steep shale slope awaited us en route to the upper saddle and where before I couldn’t help but notice the beautiful sparkle of the various colors of granite, now I couldn’t have cared if it were sparkling with gold.  I just wanted to be up there.

Reaching the upper saddle at 13,000 feet was satisfying, but what awaited us was terrifying.  If any one of us had suggested we bag it and go back down, the other two would undoubtably have also conceeded.  But when the temptation arose, it was pushed away with a chant of solidarity, “we’ve got this.”image4The task at hand was now to work our way across two roped traverses – one named “the belly roll,” and another named “the crawl.” With the wind now whipping wildly, it had gotten cold and the slow going only made it worse. Even still, we made it across, and then worked our along another roped route, this time a vertical chimney.

From there we roped the three of us together and made our way along the catwalk – a seemingly unending stretch of more dangerous climbing at altitudes that made even small movements taxing.  By this time emotions had kicked in as we realized we were almost to the summit.  What had been an incredibly difficult climb was almost over… well, half-over. We still had to get down.

The three of us all got a little teary-eyed as the peak came into sight. It was a combination of relief and reward – pride in having achieved it.  We pulled ourselves over that last edge and onto the 13,770 foot platform that rises above everything else for hundreds of miles in every direction. We allowed ourselves to enjoy the moment and celebrated with wheat thins and bacon cream cheese. A fitting celebration.Grand teton summit

When we’d had our fill, we scrambled down to the first rappel pitch and tied ourselves in. Going down was infinitely easier, albeit nerve-wracking. A little more downclimbing and another rappel took us back to the upper saddle.Grand teton rappel

Going down had the effect of increasing our oxygen intake and we felt it right away, but whatever joy it brought was killed by the realization that we still had almost 10 miles to hike and it was almost 5:00pm.  I started wondering if we were even going to make it off the mountain.

Still, somehow we found it possible to descend and by 7:00pm we were back at the lower saddle.  At this point we acknowledged that without a little rest, we weren’t going to be able to make it.  Another climber extended the courtesy of borrowing us his tent and pad and we took a dreamy one hour nap. We barely made it back to the fixed rope line before dark.

Again the headlamps led our way and we made our way through hundreds of boulders – leaning heavily on our walking sticks.  Back down to the switchbacks which somehow now seemed even longer.  Our steps were more plodding than hiking, throwing one leg in front of the other and catching ourselves before we fell.  The bottoms of my feet felt like a single massive blister and every part of me ached.

The last five mile stretch was never-ending as I complained, out loud, to no one in specfic. I moaned and groaned and carried on, powered only by an urgent desire to get back to the car.

When we finally saw reflectors in our headlamps I was more overjoyed than I was upon summiting.  It had been a intense, grueling experience, but one that was worth every minute of pain.

I had triumphed the trials of that preeminent peak. I saw what it sees and breathed what it breathes. I climbed the Grand Teton.

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My Unusual Highlight From My Trip to Paris

Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees, the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, or the Notre Dame are favorites for most people who visit the capital of France.  This romantic destination abounds with sites that most people dream about throughout their entire lives.  They desires so badly to stand at the top of the Eiffel Tower, or to contemplate the Mona Lisa.  If they could simply do this, their life would be fulfilled.  My trip to Paris, however, included an unusual highlight of the trip.

1000 Fights’ Advice

The Fighting Couple is a close friend of ours.  Their blog focuses primarily on couple travel and the fights that it causes.  Mike and Lucy are connoisseurs of unique travel ideas.  Their special skill is the ability to seek out the “road less traveled.”

I called Mike before my trip in an effort to find one of these gems that would make my Parisian trip stand out.  Without hesitation he had a suggestion that fit within his speciality.  He told me that I was to visit a grave.  Wow.  Really? A grave, like a place where somebody’s dead bones lay?  Umm.  Try again man.  How about something cool dude?  Little did I know that his suggestion would change my entire attitude toward the French people and love America more than ever before.

Visit a Grave?

I’m betting right now that 90% of you know who Marquis de Lafayette is. You’ve probably seen things named after Lafayette like towns, squares, and statues, but you’re not sure why.  Did you know there are roughly 20 towns or counties in America named Lafayette?

So what makes this guy so cool?  Why is everything named after a guy that we don’t even know?  I’m not sure, but I am happy to enlighten you about this remarkable man.

Marquis de Lafayette

Here is a Frenchman that was born with tons of money.  He was a high class citizen from birth.  One day he bumped into a recruiter that the USA had sent over to Europe to hire mercenaries that would fight for us.  In exchange for their knowledge we offered pay.

Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette

Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lafayette wasn’t interested in pay, but he was interested in fighting for America.  He decided to join the cause, so he purchased a boat that could take himself and the other recruits to America.  Because of his high class status these arrangements were all made in secret.  On his way out of town he dropped a letter in the mail to his father-in-law explaining his intentions.  By the time he set sail an urgent message arrived from his father-in-law requesting that he get his butt back in France.

Lafayette considered his options before finally deciding to turn back to reason with his father-in-law.  While he was enroute to the rezendvous point Lafayette made a final decision to abandon the meeting and return to the boat.  His pull to help America was too great.  Can you imagine the rage of your wife’s father?  The funny thing is that he later rendered the support, money, and influence of his relatives later in the war (including his father-in-law).

He spent the next years of his life as a General in the cause of our independence from England.  At one point he was nearly killed by a bullet, and hadn’t even fully healed when he returned to the battlefield.  He and General George Washington became best friends during their shoulder to shoulder service.  They were such great friends that Lafayette later named his third child George Washington Lafayette.

Because of his connections, he was able to bring great influence of the French, who actually recognized us as a nation prior to England granting us our independence.  He recruited the help of their Navy, and played a pivotal role in the final battle of Yorktown.  With the French Navy in the harbor, then being surrounded by Washington, Lafayette, and Rochambeau it forced Charles Cornwallis to surrender.

Without question this man had made a significant contribution to our Independence.  We arguably could not have prevailed were it not for his involvement in bringing the help of the French to our aid.  His selfless service allowed us to break away from England to for the United States of America.  This Frenchman is a hero.  We should honor his significant contribution toward our freedom.

After the war was over he returned to France, where he spent the majority of his life.  At a later age he decided to return to America.  He received a warm welcome wherever he went.  We hailed him as an American hero for his service.  He was pleased to see that we had named countless cities after him as well as squares, monuments, and statues.  He loved America, and we loved him.

One of his final tasks was to return to Bunker Hill, Massachusetts.  This location played a pivotal role early on in the war when George Washington was able to push the British out of Boston from this battle.  He took soil from this battleground that he brought home with him to France.  As his life drew to a close, he had instructed his son George Washington Lafayette to sprinkle the soil from Bunker Hill on his grave after his death.

Parisian Highlight

Visit this grave and stand on American soil.  Know that he loved America enough to request that he be buried in our soil  Soil for which he spilled his own blood, and which has given us the blessings of living in America.

How to Find Marquis de Lafayette’s Grave

This place is VERY unassuming.  Most of the residents who live in the area have NO idea that there is a cemetery nearby, so directions will be important to you.

The address is 35 Rue de Picpus.  It is located in the 12th arronidissement.  The place is located in front of a Renault dealership that looks like this:

highlight paris

There is NO sign outside the door. You’ve just got to find the door with the address 35 Rue de Picpus. It looks like this:
LafaayetteYou have to push a button and they’ll open the door for you.  This will bring you to a plaza that looks like this:

PICPUS CEMETERYUpon entering the plaza, turn immediately to your right and knock on a door.  A man attended to us and charged 2 Euro each for an entrance fee to the cemetery.  He then directed us to the Blue Gate on the left hand side of the chapel, through which we entered a long park.  visit grave

Cruise back to the back right hand corner and you’ll find the graves.  Look for the American Flag so you can visit Marquis for me.

Fun Thing to Do

I encourage you to bring a George Washington quarter from the year you were born to lay on the tomb of Marquis de Lafayette.  My wife and I did this, which really enhanced our experience.

Please.  Spend the time to make this trip.  It will be worth your time to pay homage to a man who has blessed your life immensely.  Thank you Marquis!

Posted in Europe, Family Travel, Fun Travel Stories, Travel Itineraries, Travel Tips | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Five Finger Formula For a Frequent Flyer Fortune

I had a streak in college when I “broke bad.” I was a straight-up kleptomaniac for about a week.  I went from being the kid who felt immense guilt over yoinking a pack of bubble gum, to a guy who shamelessly stole Christmas gifts for every member of his family. It started out with stuffing a pair of snowboarding mittens into a box of boots I was already buying.  It was a dishonest, homemade version of “buy-one-get-one-free,” and I justified it despite knowing it was wrong.

At the peak of my depravity, I walked into an office supply/shipping store and picked up a $24 Rand McNally Road Atlas off the shelf, walked back to the back of the store, put it in a large envelope, and paid $4.50 to mail it to myself.

While I’ll admit that I’m still a little awestruck by my own clever methods, I’m not proud of those days.  And while I’m as value-conscious as I’ve ever been, I’m a reformed man.  At least, I think I am.  You see, now I get my “five-finger-discount” on the biggest of my spending categories – travel – and I get it by understanding and using loyalty point programs.

It doesn’t sound as flashy, but I’m telling you, it’s a colossal heist.  Here’s a taste. In the past three years I’ve stayed 49 free nights in hotels.  I flew my family of six to Panama for $261 out-of-pocket.  My wife and I just returned from a 2-week trip to Italy that we booked for 40,000 points and $81 each. I could go on and on, but you’re catching the vision.

You see, most people think they’re already playing the frequent flyer mile game… but they aren’t even in the stadium.  There is a world of travel-hacking out there that would astonish you… and the fact that you have an Alaskan Airlines credit card is only getting you started. There are people like me who are hoarding loyalty points aggressively (chubby-kid-under-the-piñata style) and I want to invite you to become one of them.

Here’s my Five Finger Formula:

1. Understand the Programs

Civita BagnoregioThe first key to taking advantage of loyalty programs is, of course, to understand them. It’s not nearly as intimidating as you’d think.  To begin, know that there are essentially three forms of travel rewards you can accrue:

  1. Airline Miles: You probably belong to at least one of these programs – Delta Skymiles, American AAdvantage, Southwest Rapid Rewards.  These are the most visible of all loyalty points and they’re a key to making free-travel happen.
  2. Hotel Points: Similarly, hotel chains offer loyalty programs that usually span a few different brands.  Ones that may be familiar might include the Marriott Rewards program or Hilton HHonors.
  3. Bank Points: These are generally deeper in the shadows, but they are supremely powerful because often they can be transferred to various other programs or spent like cash.  Examples include American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Barclaycard Arrival Points.

Now that you know that there are programs in each of these categories, consider that you can obtain points a few different ways:

  1. Direct Usage: Airlines usually give you miles for every mile you’ve flown and hotels give points based on the number of dollars spent.  This is a painfully slow way to accumulate points.  If you consider that a domestic flight is typically 25k points and the US is about 3,000 miles wide, you’d need to do at least 4-5 RT flights from coast to coast in order to have enough for a free flight.
  2. Per Dollar Spending on Credit Cards: If you have a business that is heavy on inventory or that makes other large-dollar purchases that you can pay with a credit card, this is a great way to build points, yet most of us are not that fortunate.  I find that I can spend about $1000-$1500 per month in everyday expenses, also making the accrual to free-travel levels achingly sluggish.
  3. Upfront Bonuses from Credit Cards: For me this has been the rainmaker.  In the past 3 years, between my wife and I, we’ve applied for 34 credit cards and racked up more than 2,200,000 loyalty points across a number of platforms.  This is not for everyone as it does require discipline, but it is so insanely worth it.
  4. Promotions: Loyalty programs are about creating… you guessed it… loyalty.  What they want to see is you look to their brand first when making travel plans, and they get that by helping you love what they offer.  Often programs will run special programs to bump your balances.  You need to know about these.
  5. Transfers: Some programs like the Starwood Preferred Guest will even allow for specific transfers, but usually these come from the bank points we mentioned above.  It’s especially nice to make transfers when they’re offering multiplier bonuses.
  6. Buying Points: I almost didn’t include this because more often than not, it’s not a plausible thing to do, but every once in a while, they make it worth it.

2. Sign Up for Them

El valle beach Dominican RepublicYou don’t need to go out and sign up for a bunch of credit cards right away, but there is no harm in enrolling in the loyalty programs for airlines and hotels.

Do yourself a favor and create a single username and complex password that you’ll use to register for all of the programs.  Email yourself the account numbers once you’ve registered and keep them in a special email folder.  By doing this you’ll also be piped into special promotions they’ll email from time to time.

Also, this way you’ll always be ready in case you happen to fly on an airline you don’t normally use or stay in a hotel you weren’t a member of. Commit that you won’t allow opportunities to fall by the wayside.  I have friends who are crazy about travel and yet somehow they allowed 17,000 miles to go uncaptured after flying to China without registering for a program. [gagging sound]  Don’t do that to yourself.

Also, create a stream of ongoing points and miles education by subscribing to some blogs. Obviously we’d welcome your subscription to and we’d urge you to check out and the forums at This way you’ll always be aware of what’s happening in the Miles and Points world.

3. Get Some Points Coming

St Pete beach paddleboard

Maybe you’ve already got some built up… perfect, that’s a good start, but good is an impediment to great.  I want you to get a taste of what it feels like to be empowered by an awardwallet that is brimming with opportunity.

My favorite “getting started” strategy right now is to begin piling up points with the Barclaycard Arrival World Mastercard.  It’s super simple to redeem the points – just reimburse yourself for travel purchases. The up front bonus is healthy – you get $440 in free travel after spending $1000.

Aside from that, make a determination about which programs best suit you.  If you fly Southwest Airlines often, search out some ways to pile up Southwest Rapid Rewards.  If you love staying in Starwood Hotels, get the Starwood card that offers a bonus of enough points to stay as many as 8 nights in Category 2 hotels after meeting the minimum spending requirement.

4. Know How to Value Them


This is easily the most challenging part – travel points are currency, and as such, their value is variable. The most confusing element for people is the concept of “miles.”  They’re referred to as such because historically airline miles have been accrued on a “miles-flown” basis. But with most programs redemption has little to do with distance flown. Because I always think in terms of maximum value, these figures are for the lowest possible redemption for each program.  You can pay much more in points than this, but these are baseline figures for the lowest amount you can get away with.

Here’s how redemption breaks out for most airlines:

  1. Domestic flights are generally 25k points on the major carriers.  The exceptions are Southwest, whose redemption is directly relative to the cost of the flight (~70 Rapid Reward points per dollar on Wanna-get-away fares), and British Airways which does consider the length of your flight in valuing redemption (making it an incredibly cheap way to book short flights.
  2. Central America/Caribbean/and Hawaii flights are 30-40k. Availability for these is best on American, Frontier, and US Airways.
  3. Europe and South America run between 40-60k. I think the greatest value in all of frequent flyerdom is the 40k redemption to Europe on American between Oct 15 and May 15th. Getting $1300 flights for 40k miles is like an ultimate clearance sale. American Airlines is also an incredible value to South America, sometimes even offering flights for 30k points.
  4. SE Asia, Africa, Australia, and everything else are 60-100k. I like United for these kinds of flights. Delta works, too, but availability is scarce.

You can research each program on their individual websites, but we consolidated the links in our Using Airlines Miles page.

But getting free flights is just the cake. Free hotels? Now that’s the icing. The variance on hotel points is far greater, so it’s nearly impossible to create a value system that runs across systems.

The first thing you need to understand about hotel points is that all hotel chains divide their hotel properties into categories.  The higher the category, the more points they call for. In most cases, Category 1 hotels are very few and far between.  I always like to look at programs in terms of how many points it takes to redeem for a Category 2 hotel – that gives you a good baseline value to compare across the board.

Approximate points required for 1 night in a Category 2 hotel:

  1. Marriott Rewards 10k -Obviously there are an abundance of Marriott hotels across the globe.  The best finds for category 2 hotels are right here in the US and in Spain, for whatever reason.
  2. Starwood Preferred Guest 3-4k (Sheraton, Westin, Aloft) – I used a few of these hotels in Italy and there are some good ones in popular vacation destinations in the US as well.
  3. Club Carlson 15k (Country Inn & Suites, Radisson) – This is my favorite program right now, especially because having the card they offer equates to a “book one, get one free” deal that really stretches the points. There are super nice category 2 hotels all over England and in a number of countries in Central and South America.
  4. Hilton 12.5k (Hampton, Doubletree) -I feel like this is the most overvalued chain, charging a lot of points that are tough to accrue for hotels that aren’t all that great.
  5. Priority Club 15k (Holiday Inn, Candlewood) – You can search out category 2 hotels, but the best way to use these points is on their Point Breaks hotels that allow you to stay for only 5k a night.
  6. Choice Hotels 8k (Comfort Inn, Quality Inn) – This is a great option for free stays in good locations in large cities that usually require far more points from other programs – examples are Paris, Rome, London, Frankfurt, etc.

Now, you’ve got a stash of hotel and airline points that you’re greedily counting like Scrooge McDuck.  All you need is a way to tie it all together – is it too much to ask for free car rentals and cruises too? No, it’s not, in fact.  You can pull this off with Bank Point programs that have a portal that allows you to book these things for free, or that provide reimbursement for travel purchases.  In many cases you can also transfer these points to hotel or airline programs to top off your accounts when you need a little boost.

Here are the major bank point programs:

  1. Barclaycard Arrival Points – I lead with this one because I love how flexible it is and how simple the earning capacity is.  You earn 2 points for every dollar you spend and a 10% point kickback when you reimburse yourself for travel purchases.  It equates to 2.2% cash back for travel, and that just doesn’t get beat.
  2. Chase Ultimate Rewards – This is another solid program with an option to use the points as cash at a 1.25 ratio.  You can also transfer to a lot of other programs.  There are a few different cards that you can use to pile up this kind of points.
  3. American Express Membership Reward Points – AMEX controls the market on business spending, so there are a lot of people with hundreds of thousands of these.  I’d much prefer to have the others, though.
  4. Capital One Venture Points – Also a travel reimbursement program, this one is good, but it has been a long time since there have been big up front bonuses to lure me in.

Overall, the points are ultimately worth to you what you value them for.  If you never want to go on a cruise, maybe the Barclaycard Arrival points aren’t all that great for you.  If you stay with friends or rent vacation homes, maybe you’re better off to focus on airline miles over hotel points. The important piece is that you know what you want and go get them.

5. Know How to Redeem Them

IMG_0499All this is for naught if you can’t figure out how to use these points you’ve been gathering. There’s always the good old fashioned way of calling in, but unless your a pro at interpreting broken English and waiting on hold excites you, you’re going to want to book online.

I keep track of all my points in various programs with – it’s a handy tool that keeps me organized and feeds my wanderlust when I need a pick-me-up.

Every program has an online portal and booking with points is not much different from normal reservations.

We’ve done a number of instructional videos on our Youtube Channel, but fiddling around with it yourself is really the best way to get it accomplished.

When booking the most important rule is to be flexible. This is the real secret to using loyalty points efficiently.  I always tell people, “If you want to use frequent flyer miles to go to Hawaii from December 23 to Jan 2nd and stay at a specific hotel, there’s a chance you could do it, but it’s going to completely drain you. If you want to go to someplace with a nice beach in the wintertime and stay in a clean hotel, you will be amazed by how much you can do with how little.”

Travel (real travel, as in, going places that are not occupied by cartoon characters) is about experiences.  It’s about learning and living and loving.  It’s about adventure and risk and excitement… and you don’t get any of that if you aren’t willing to break out of your comfort zone.

Your frequent flyer adventures will be so much cheaper, so many more, and so much more memorable if you’ll be willing to take what opportunities present themselves, rather than prescribing a necessary plan that they must conform to.

Here’s an example:  Every quarter Priority Club releases their list of Point Breaks hotels – properties they let you stay at for 5,000 points/night.  Since I have 85k, I could stay in one of those puppies for as many as 17 nights.  Looking through the list I think, “Hmm…a Staybridge Suites in Valley Forge, PA… isn’t that where General George Washington knelt and said a humble prayer before leading the Continental Army to victory?” Guess who just booked a trip to Pennsylvania?

In Summary

As with any journey of a thousand miles, just as Lao-Tzu said, this one begins with a single step – a step in the direction of almost-free travel.  Commit now to do more than casually collect frequent flyer miles and points.  If you’re doing it right, it will feel like stealing – the exhilarating part, without the guilt.  Just like travel itself, it’s something you’ll never regret.


Posted in How to Wanderlust | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Sign up for IHG Rewards Club and Earn a Stay at ANY IHG Hotel

If you aren’t already an IHG Rewards Club member, I’ve got a deal for you.  And if you are already an IHG Rewards Club member, I still have a deal for you.  First we’ll talk to the newbies, though.

One of the steps we’ve outlined in our comprehensive post on A Five Finger Formula to a Frequent Flyer Fortune is to sign up for various hotel and airline programs so that you have logins and can begin accumulating points.  Often there are promotions and bonuses for enrolling and now just happens to be one of those times.

In all the years we’ve been promoting loyalty point abuse, the only hitch people ever seem to have is the worry about opening credit cards.  We get it.  Not everyone is able to resist the urge to spend money they don’t have. Not everyone is willing to keep diligent records of which cards they’ve applied for and ensure that they make all their payments on time and in full.

But here’s an opportunity that our readers can take advantage of without any credit application.

IHG Accelerate Promotion (For new members)IHG Hotels

Right now there’s a promotion that will allow new IHG Rewards Club members to earn a free night stay in ANY IHG hotel, simply by enrolling and then staying twice before the end of 2015. If you stay 4 times, you can earn 2 free nights in ANY IHG hotel.

At first blush this appears to be a mediocre promotion – kind of a “buy 2, get 1 free” deal.  That’s not inspiring.  If that’s all this deal were, we wouldn’t be sharing it with you.

Here’s the secret to making this absolutely worthwhile: Stay in cheap hotels to meet the terms, and then use your free nights in the most freaking expensive hotels you can find (devilish smile).

First off, I want to point out the difference between a “stay” and a “night.” The wording in this promotion is clear that they will credit you for “stays,” not nights.  This means that if you stay two consecutive nights, it still only counts for one stay.  In order to meet the terms, you’ll need to stay on two different occasions or four (for the 2 nights).

Now, knowing that, the best way to take advantage is to book 2 or 4 separate nights.  You could even do it in the same city for consecutive nights if that’s easier for you. Let’s just say, for example, that you’ll be going to some Boise State Football games this year (good for you!).  You could stay at the Candlewood Suites Hotel for ~$92/night.

Candlewood Suites

Do that a couple of times and then you could redeem your free night at the Willard Intercontinental in Washington DC.

Willard Intercontinental

Or spend a couple nights on different stays at the Candlewood Suites in Phoenix.

Candlewood Phoenix

And go ahead and use that free night at the Intercontinental in Amsterdam.

Intercontinental Amsterdam

There are lots of awesome places you could stay at some of the finest hotels in the world – London, Paris, New York City, or great resorts in places like Bora Bora, Tahiti, or the Caribbean. Just visit this link to see what amazing hotels you could stay in.

All you have to do is enroll in the IHG Rewards club and register for the Accelerate Promotion, then meet the requirements to take advantage of this promotion.

Could you do this for your spouse, too? Yes… you’re starting to capture the vision now.

IHG Accelerate Promotion (For existing members)

Now, if you’re already an IHG Rewards Club member, you’ll want to login to your account to see what requirements they want you to meet in order to secure up to 50k more points. Here’s the summary of what I’ve been offered.

IHG Accelerate

Your terms might be different, but check them out and see.

Where to stay efficiently with IHG Points

The prospect of 50k points starts to sound pretty good when you look at the Point Breaks hotels that you can stay at for 5k points/night. These are just some of the hotels in the US and they have them all over the world.

IHG Point Breaks

The IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card

Now, let’s just imagine for a moment that you’re ravaging the first promotion, and licking your chops for some points to use on those Point Break hotels.  One way you could pile on 60k of them would be to sign up for the IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card from Chase and then spend $1000 within the first 3 months.

It gets even better when you realize that the annual fee is waived on this card for the first year and that for every year you hold the card, you pay a tiny little $49 annual fee in exchange for one free night in ANY IHG hotel.  Yes, you know where I’m going again.  Just use that free night at an uber-expensive hotel and you’ll always get the best of them.

What’s in it for us?

At one point we used to recieve a commission for card applications that were processed through links on our site.  Sadly, those days are long gone.  These days our only motivation to continue to provide awesome ideas like this one is to see you, our faithful followers, abuse the hell out of reap the benefits of promotions like these.

Cheers to more almost free travel for all of us.

Posted in Chase, Hotels, IHG Rewards | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Have your choice of two excellent hotel point offers – Marriott or Hilton

The increased bonus on the Delta card that Sheldon wrote about had many of you jumping on board to pick up some Skymiles – enough, in fact, for you and your spouse to take an almost-free domestic trip.  The only hurdle now will be for you to find an almost-free place to stay.

Fortunately for you, there are two limited time offers out there that are worth taking a close look at.  I have raved about the Chase IHG Rewards Club Visa as being the new king of the hill when it comes to hotel cards.  I still love that offer, but here are two more that you should put into consideration.

80,000 point bonus on the Marriott Premier Rewards Card

Minimum spending: $3000 in the first 3 months

Status: 15 credits towards elite membership

Annual fee: $85 annual fee, not waived the first year


Bonus: Free night in category 1-5 hotel each year you keep the card (more than worth the $85 annual fee)

This offer expires on August 31st.

Example use: One great way to use this is to also take advantage of Marriott’s “Redeem 4 nights, get 5th night free” perk. You could do this in a category 4 or 5 hotel which requires 15-20k points per night.

I always like to use to find hotels in specific point categories.  As you can see, there’s no shortage of Category 4 and 5 Marriott Hotels in the United States.

20k point/night Marriott Hotels

20k point/night Marriott Hotels

Now, we could find all kinds of amazing places to stay, but just for the sake of throwing it out there, you could stay 5 nights at the Residence Inn in Murfeesboro, Tennesee, just a few miles from downtown Nashville.  Not only is the Residence Inn extremely comfortable, it also has one of the best free breakfast spreads around.

Link to the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit CardMarriott

75,000 point bonus on the Citi Hilton HHonors American Express

Minimum spending: $2000 in the first 3 months

Annual fee: No annual fee

Status: Silver status as long as you have the card

Limited time offer – period uncertain.

Example use: There are so many hotels in the Hilton family – Hampton Inn, Double Tree, Embassy Suites, and more.  For whatever reason, I like the idea of using these 75k points on fewer nights in a really nice hotel, so as an example, we’ll look for a place we could stay at for 25k/night for 3 nights.

Again, as you can see, there are plenty of them all over the United States.  Check out to see what’s available in your dream destination.

Hilton Hotels for 20-25k points/night

Hilton Hotels for 20-25k points/night

I instantly honed in on San Diego and discovered the Doubletree Golf Hotel and Resort by Hilton.  The property looks amazing and 3 nights there would be rejuvenating.

Link to the Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature CardHilton

Posted in Citi, Hilton, Hotels, Marriott Rewards | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hurry and Get 50k Delta Miles With Limited Time Offer

I’ve been in this hobby, passion, addiction for the last five years.  Offers for 50k Delta miles come and go, but if you’re in the market for Delta Skymiles, now is a great time to pick up this card.

Link: Delta Amex Gold Personal/Business 50k Offer (expires 6/30/15)

50k Delta Miles Short Term Offer

On a rare occasion you’ll see American Express counter and offer a bonus like this.  They’re responding to the 50k offer that Chase and United ran last month.  For the most part unless you’re targeted the generally published offer is for 30k Delta miles.

Delta has been known as the company that doesn’t have SkyMiles as much as they have SkyPesos.  This is a joke amongst travelers who have tried to use their miles, yet had a hard time finding availability in using the miles.

What Are the Terms of the Offer?

Annual Fee: $95 annual fee is waived for the first year

Foreign Transaction Fees: Waived

Baggage Fees: Waives the baggage fee (1st bag only) for yourself as well as up to 8 people traveling on the same booked itinerary.

Delta Bonus: You’ve got to spend $2000 in the first 3 months of card membership before they drop 50k Delta miles in your account.

Statement Credit: Also, the $50 statement credit is only applicable in the following scenarios:

One statement credit for $50 will be issued to your Card account after a Delta purchase is charged to your Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card within your first 3 months of Card Membership. Purchases to meet the spend requirement include those made by both the Basic and Additional Card Members on the Card Account. Purchase must be made directly through Delta. A purchase may not qualify for the statement credit if it is submitted under a merchant code that has not been categorized as a Delta merchant code as of the date of the purchase(s).

This has not been tested: I believe that you should be able to buy a gift certificate from for $50, which keeps you from having to actually purchase a Delta flight within the first 3 months of card membership.

How Far Will 50k Delta Miles Get Me?

Recently Delta completely removed their award chart and left a simple statement that talks about how many miles it takes to book a trip within the USA:

Within and between the Continental U.S., Alaska and Canada, round-trip Award Tickets will continue to start at 25,000 miles (plus taxes and fees). One Way Award Tickets for 10,000 miles (plus fees and taxes) are now available to select destinations.

Their old chart used to look like this:

New Delta Award Chart

New Delta Award Chart After June 2014

The 50k Delta miles should get you two roundtrip tickets within the USA.  Living in Idaho makes Delta miles great because they actually fly out of Idaho Falls.  That is a luxury rarely enjoyed.

Can I Get This Bonus Twice?

Back in the day Amex was liberal in offering bonuses multiple times throughout a lifetime. Today they’ve tightened up this, which gives you an even better reason to pick up this card while they’re having this splendid offer.

Personal Card says this:

“If we identify you as currently having an American Express® Card account, you may not be eligible for this welcome bonus offer. This offer is also not available to applicants who have or have had this product.”

Business Card says this:

“Welcome bonus offer not available to applicants who have or have had this product within the last 12 months.”

It’s interesting to me that they’re willing to give the bonus to a business more than once, but a personal card you can only get it once in your lifetime.  I made a huge mistake a few years back and picked up this card when the bonus was a measly 30,000, and it didn’t come with a statement credit either, ouch!

Why We Love It

I love this hobby.  Traveling is part of my identity.  Using miles to offset expensive airline tickets is always awesome.  Pick up this card while the offer is up to 50k and score the extra 20k miles that will always benefit you!

What are your thoughts about this offer?  Do you plan on getting this card?

Posted in American Express, Delta | 2 Comments