Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Big Changes! Points, Miles and Life is Moving On!

I started this blog a few years ago with the idea that I would document the adventures my wife and I were having, focusing on how we were able to travel so cheaply thank to this amazing award travel hobby. Along the way I learned much about writing and blogging, far more than I expected.

While my blog traffic has never been anything to boast about, keeping up with a site landed me other opportunities. Many (most?) of my relatively few readers know that I write not just here, but also for Points With a Crew, a BoardingArea blog. In all honesty, I’ve written far more for PWaC than here over the past years. Dan actually pays me for my efforts, while this site is entirely a labor of love.

But now it is time to move on and step into other opportunities.

Travel Update and The Points Guy Family

If you’d have told me three years ago that I would one day be contributing to the largest points and miles website on the inter-webs, I would have laughed. Me? Write for The Points Guy?

But that is exactly what is happening! I’ve actually already been on-boarded and submitted my first three posts to them, and two have already run. My first details why I consider the Hilton Aspire card to be a great choice for families, and my second was a guide to using points and miles for international adoption travel. I’m *so* excited to be able to contribute, not to mention it is a major step up in terms of freelance writing gigs.

Along with writing at The Points Guy Family, I’m launching on Travel Update, a channel of bloggers on the Boarding Area network. This is the same network that Points with a Crew belongs to. The difference is that I will have my own channel and “brand”, yet still not as a standalone blog. It’s a sort of middle ground between being a contributor to another blog and running your own independent blog.

For Travel Update, I’ll be writing as Family Flys Free. Name changes are hard, and it was painful trying to brainstorm for this one, but thanks to Randy, Heather and the Boarding Area crew, I’m happy with it.

 

Future of the blog

I have a small number of posts that I still consider a better fit for this blog, so I still plan to try write a bit until those are exhausted. There may be an occasional post about life after that, but expect all the points and miles goodness, trip reports, and family travel thoughts to come overwhelmingly from my Travel Update channel.

Important note: my social media accounts are changing. I will not be keeping up under multiple names. That’s just too crazy. Instead, the Points, Miles and Life Facebook page, Twitter handle and Instagram will all be converted to Family Flys Free. This is already in the works.

Conclusion

I’m so excited about this next chapter. Becoming a part of the Travel Update BoardingArea channel is huge move for me. I have only gratitude to Randy and Boarding Area for being willing to bring me on in this capacity. Dan deserves a shout-out as well for all his coaching and support during my time contributing to his site.

Thank you to my readers here as well. Keep earning all those points and miles, and fly your family for free!

Kafé Kalik Priority Pass Restaurant Review

After spending over a week in Buenos Aires and Montevideo, my daughter and I enjoyed one night in Miami Beach before heading home from our father-daughter trip. That one night gave us most of two days to enjoy the beach, as we’d landed very early in the morning on Thursday at Miami Airport and were departing the following afternoon from Fort Lauderdale. Our visit to FLL International allowed us to visit the Kafé Kalik Priority Pass restaurant, one of a good number of restaurants that have been added to the network.

Although we were flying JetBlue out of Terminal 3, it is a quick walk over to Terminal 4 where Kafé Kalik is located. Thanks  to text update, we were already aware that our flight was significantly delayed, scheduled for a 9:15PM departure instead of the original 7:15PM. Getting to try out the Kafé Kalik Priority Pass Restaurant at Fort Lauderdale was a sort of consolation prize. But no prize was worth landing in SFO after midnight. The reality of our awful travel day hit hard (SEE: A hellish first experience with JetBlue. It wasn’t the airline’s fault).

Kafé Kalik is near Gate G6 in Terminal 4 of FLL. This terminal is primarily Spirit Airlines departures, and while there were a  fair number of people, it did not feel crowded, unlike Terminal 3 where we would venture later. The Kafé Kalik Priority Pass restaurant offer Caribbean fare in an informal setting.

kafe kalik priority pass restaurant

Using Priority Pass at Kafé Kalik

To use your Priority Pass membership at Kafé Kalik, you need to present your membership card at the desk before you are seated. You’ll add your guest(s) and sign as usual to confirm the visit. The receipt you are given will need to be presented when you are brought your check for the standard $28 per person per visit Priority Pass restaurant credit.

Make sure you know the entry guesting policy is for your Priority Pass membership! There have been some changes lately, most notably the fact that American Express cards no longer offer access to restaurants that are part of the Priority Pass network.

We had a lot of time to kill, given our flight delays. But we were still smiling at this point, not knowing how bad of an evening we had in front of us.

Food and beverage

The Kafé Kalik Priority Pass restaurant offers Caribbean cuisine, a selection of cocktails and a full bar. Sandwiches and pizza are available for $10-15, and there are a few other entrees in the $20-30 range. Before 10:30 a.m., Kafé Kalik serves a fairly limited breakfast menu.

kafe kalik priority pass restaurant menu

We had $58 to spend ($28 per person), and if you’re not going to have a cocktail or one of the more expensive items, it’s hard to exceed the Priority Pass allowance. Otherwise you’ll hit it at about your second cocktail, as those are fairly pricey.

My daughter opted for a flatbread pizza, and I went with the Jamaican jerk chicken and a side of yucca fries. I wanted to try the conch chowder as well, but Kafé Kalik had run out of all soups.

kafe kalik priority pass restaurant food

Service is not especially fast. It took a little while for our food to arrive, and when it did, my plate come out first, with my daughter’s pizza following a full 5 minutes behind. Not the best timing.

I’d rate the food as decent. Nothing special, and definitely not a whole lot put into the presentation, but it hit the spot after an active day.

Dessert?

We did save room for dessert, as there was a bit of the credit left over beyond our drinks and food. I figured trying the rum cake and banana bread pudding would be great, as the rest of the credit was just enough to try both.

But this is where we were disappointed: the rum cake has been discontinued and they were out of the bread pudding. What sort of Caribbean restaurant discontinues rum cake?? Total fail on the desserts. I hope they add other options.

We settled for two blueberry muffins from the grab and go to take for the trip across the country. The server was apologetic, and she suggested this as an alternative to the dessert request. Even adding those, we still ended up $5 shy of the $56 credit.

Conclusion

Overall, it wasn’t the best dining experience, as Kafé Kalik was out of not only soup, but all desserts. The food is decent, but I am sure you could find better in the airport. But if you’re passing through FLL airport and want to save some money with your Priority Pass membership, it’s an option. Another drawback is the fact that the Kafé Kalik Priority Pass restaurant is in Terminal 4, so you better have enough time to make it to your gate in another terminal. Getting to Terminal 3 is pretty easy, but the others might be a stretch.

Southwest Road Trip 2018: A Recap

**This is a re-post, but after finally wrapping up all the posts I’d planned to write, I wanted to run a recap**

After canceling a planned trip to Europe, I decided to still make the best of the vacation time I had allotted for myself. I was already planning on being away, so work was covered (I *did* work one week, still). The question was…what to do with the second one?

Planning a trip in record time

I’ve had many-a-whim of planning a trip. Depending on the given fare sale, wide open award space, or other deal-of-the-day, it’s been hard to restrain myself at times. Especially when it would be super inexpensive and a great use of points. The biggest hindrance is nearly always available time. For this last-minute trip, though, time wasn’t the issue. And I had a particular card up my sleeve I’ve been waiting to play.

For quite a while now, the idea of doing a one-way road trip from Arizona has been brewing in my mind. Late Spring is the perfect time to do this, as the weather is still nice, and you can score some amazing rental car deals. The companies all try to relocate their cars out of Arizona, since who wants to visit Phoenix in July??

Booking cheap flights to Tucson and a cheap rental car

With less than a week until departure, I locked our flights in for a total of $91 and 22,500 Avianca LifeMiles. Never heard of either? Read about using Avianca LifeMiles for United flights and how I scored an awesome last-minute redemption. United award space is generally good very close-in, and we took advantage of this. There was plenty of space to Tucson and Phoenix and other southwest destinations showing at united.com.

Our car rental was locked in for $101 for 8 days. This is pretty much unbeatable. I even made $3.50 cash back by booking through the Ebates cash-back portal (referral link, if you join and spend $25, I get a bonus). I’ve seen good rates on these deals, and this about matches the lowest I’ve ever found. It makes sense, though, as you are actually doing the rental car company a favor by moving their car. Otherwise they’d either pay to truck it to a better summer market, or it’d be a stranded asset for several months.

We had eight days to make it from Arizona back home. I quickly penciled in a few major destinations, and other ideas quickly filled out our itinerary. Among other places, we would see Saguaro National Park, Sedona, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and Death Valley.

Overview of our travels

I’m trying to get a bit better about organizing trip reports. I know some are a quick rundown of a few sights and maybe a hotel review. For our longer trips, though, having an outline is the better way to go. It keeps me on track as I take a few weeks several months to find the time to post. Here the rundown of our 2018 Southwest U.S. road trip:

Gutsy, I know, given my typical post rate of 1-2 per week. But having goals helps. I’ll add links to each as I post.

Overall, the trip was great. The kids had a blast. My only miscalculation was planning more driving near the end of the trip rather than pacing things a little more evenly. This meant they were very ready to get home during the last couple days. But at least I now know they can survive seven hours in the car in one day. 🙂

TBT: Getting Lost in Metz, France

My first Throwback Thursday post recounted how I got my wife and myself lost in Rome back in 2016, and I figured I’d follow up with another misadventure. This one is a bit more recent, as it occurred during my week in Europe with the kids last year. It didn’t make the original set of stories I blogged from our trip, but probably should have. Me getting lost is not a normal occurrence, and the fact the kids were along just made things that much more stressful.

Our tricky return plan to CDG Airport

When I initially looked into how to get us back from Luxembourg to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, the train was the preferred option. Tickets were fairly reasonable, and even considering the the two transfers, one in Metz and the other in Paris, it wasn’t a bad option. Not cheap for three people, but not bad. It would also give us most of the day in Luxembourg before the afternoon train departed.

So off to Paris we went,  spending three lovely days in the French capital (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3). Then it was off to Luxembourg (SEE: Our Whirlwind 44 Hours in Luxembourg) for a few days. It was on this day that I belatedly realized I hadn’t actually booked the tickets mentioned above. Although I had settled on a plan, I had failed to book the return leg. No matter. I would do it the morning before we left.

Except there was just one problem: the prices had gone up substantially. We would be spending quite a bit more than I anticipated. Exploring other options, I finally decided that booking a rental car from Metz to CDG directly was the cheapest and fastest option. We would still need to take the train from Luxembourg to Metz, but that was a quick journey and inexpensive.

I prepped…just not enough

This would be only the second time I have ever driven in a foreign country that is not named Canada or Mexico. But with several weeks of driving in San José, Costa Rica under my belt, I had no qualms about driving in France. The streets might be a bit tighter in the cities, but I would be doing mostly highway driving. Or so I thought. 

I carefully mapped out our route. I had directions noted down on paper that would take us from the center of Metz to the highway toward Paris. It was a series of only a few turns, and then it would be smooth sailing to the airport. I noted down the freeway exit as well, but I figured that once we got that far, there would be clear signs for Charles de Gaulle. 

But all this went out the window. When we arrived at the rental car center, it dawned on me that there weren’t any cars parked in the tiny front lot. Turns out they’re actually kept underground in a garage beneath the train station. We hopped in and took off in our tiny Citroen, and that was when things went off the rails. 

Instead of exiting to the east, like I’d planned, the garage spit us out going west. I hadn’t studied the streets on this side of the station and only had a vague idea of how to get back toward where we needed to be. Where was a paper map when you needed one?!? I should have bitten the bullet and just paid for a local SIM. At least then I would have an easy way of getting us out of this predicament.

I did the best I could to navigate toward the freeway, but instead got completely turned around in the middle of Metz. Driving a stick shift along narrow streets wasn’t the issue (SEE: 5 reasons why you should rent a car with a manual transmission). The mess of confusing roads that weren’t arranged in any sort of grid-like fashion was. I finally stopped the car by an old church to de-stress and think. We’d been driving almost 15 minutes, and we weren’t any closer to leaving Metz.

Navigating the old-fashioned way

Even though I was quite turned around, I eventually found my way back to the train station. Using what? The sun, of course. I’d finally figured out that we’d been weaving mostly south instead of west, like I’d originally thought (thank the very rough Google map). Keeping the sun on the left, I eventually spied a sign for Gare du Metz. Following this took eventually us onto a street that dropped us under the station and then back up onto the road I wanted to be on in the first place!

After that it was smooth sailing, following the signs to Paris and taking the few turns necessary to approach Charles de Gaulle airport from the east.

We arrived a bit late, but the Holiday Inn Express CDG Airport gave us a restful sleep before a nice flight home on an Air France A380 in economy.

Conclusion

In hindsight, I’m still happy with the choice I made. It was hectic and frustrating in the moment, but love driving. Flying at 130 kmh over the hills of Lorraine and Champagne on a beautiful evening is an experience I will not forget.

But for the “normal” traveler, I would recommend the train. If we were on an extended adventure through the French countryside, a car would be critical. But this was just to get us back to the airport. Save yourself the potential headache and travel by rail.

Seattle at Super Speed, Day 1: Packing in the Sights

After a long day of travel and late arrival into Seattle, my son and I woke up with a lovely view of the Space Needle. Our hotel couldn’t have been in a better location (SEE: Hyatt House Seattle Downtown Review). I love hotel rooms with a nice view, and this was certainly one of the best.

Besides the Space Needle, there are a few other prime Seattle attractions located all on the same grounds. The Seattle Monorail gives you easy access to downtown and other mass transit. But as we were so close to Seattle’s most iconic attraction, I figured we’d start there. I mean, what could be more fitting?

Exquisite views of the Emerald City

The Space Needle is literally a three-minute walk from the Hyatt House, so we were there in no time at all.

One aspect of this trip is that our sightseeing passes were sponsored by CityPASS. I wrote a full review of CityPASS over at Points with a Crew, detailing the value you can expect to get from the pass, depending on which Seattle attractions you enjoy. In general, if you’re going to hit four or more of the listed spots, it’s worth the money.

It was easy to pick up our passes at the Space Needle, as there was hardly a line this early in the morning. The pass is good for seven consecutive days, which means you can take your time enjoying Seattle. Given that we had only two days in the city, we had to pack in as much as possible. This first day would include three of the five attractions on the pass.

This was my third visit to the Space Needle, which I have visited every time I’ve been to Seattle. It provides some of the best views of the city. At the base there is an interesting exhibit that shows the planning and construction of the tower, which debuted for the 1962 World’s Fair, along with the monorail. It has been a Seattle icon ever since.

An elevator ride later,  and we were looking out over the city. It was an utterly typical Seattle day, which meant we didn’t get views of either Mount Rainier or the Olympics across Puget Sound. I’m not sure how often it gets that clear up here, but I hope to eventually visit during one of those times. I’d happily pay a premium at the Space Needle to enjoy those views.

We still had a lovely view of downtown Seattle, Elliot Bay, and Lake Union.

Heading downstairs, I enjoyed standing on the glass floor, which my son thought was crazy. No matter how much I assured him it was safe, there was no way he would step out there with me.

When we’d had our fill of the lovely views, we finally headed back down to earth and down to the waterfront for our next stop. Transit included the monorail, of course. It is a fun diversion, and the rail passes just feet from our hotel!

On to the aquarium!

The Seattle Aquarium was next on the list, another attraction available using CityPASS. I’m not going to go into detail since I did a separate write-up on that attraction as well. What I will say is that the Seattle Aquarium is worth a bit more time than we were able to spend.

Plan at least a couple of hours to enjoy the whole thing, even more if you hope to catch a few of the shows. My son and many of the other kids there really enjoyed the touch pool.

We visited during Octopus week, which was definitely an enjoyment. The “primetime” show featured both a wolf eel and a Giant Pacific Octopus, which was absolutely packed. I took the chance to enjoy it from the cafe upstairs while ordering lunch.

After our visit to the aquarium we picked up our Argosy tickets. It was my intent to hop on the midday sailing, but I forgot to factor in that it was a holiday weekend. It was completely sold out. We picked up tickets for the following day, which would be hard to catch, but probably doable between our Boeing factory tour and a visit to the Museum of Flight.

Pike Place coffee stop. No, not Starbucks

A pick-me-up was in order halfway through the day. It is common knowledge that the original Starbucks location is at Pike Place Market in Seattle, which could have been an obvious choice. But I have a little insider knowledge on the best coffee at Pike Place.

First we made another stop, though. The City Fish Co. is a great spot to stop by, just in case you catch the famous fish toss they are known for. Or maybe just buy a whole fish yourself. We arrived just in time to catch a customer buying a golden trout.

From there we headed across the street and up to the second story of the uphill building to Storyville Coffee, my favorite coffee spot in the market. The coffee is some of the best I’ve ever had, and the baristas are pleasant. They often offer free samples of some of the baked goods as well.

I do have a bit of an inside connection to Storyville, as their coffee roasting studio (located out on Bainbridge Island) and shops are owned by the same individual that formerly employed my dad. I had a chance meeting with the manager, who I’d previously met when he visited Ferndale years ago. It was great to see him again.

Supercold! and the Pacific Science Center

Warmed up and ready to tackle the afternoon, we rode the monorail back to the Space Needle station, headed for the Pacific Science Center. I hadn’t been here since I was a kid when my family visited Seattle way back in 2003. That’s 2003, give or take a year, as I cannot remember exactly when.

The Pacific Science Center has a number of different exhibits, ranging from animatronic dinosaurs, to space exploration, to a super cool model of Puget Sound that lets you watch the tidal currents in action. One day is simulated over the course of 73 seconds. Everything is controlled by a series of gears on the wall that cause weights to rises and fall, simulating the tides. 

There are also presentations, only one of which we attended. It was titled Supercold!, where Katy, a very enthusiastic staff member, engaged the kids with a presentation on the various states of matter. Of course freezing things with liquid nitrogen was a hit.

She even made the kids recite a hysterical “pledge”…I quote: “I promise to always…always, always, always…be safe around super cold things because I like my fingers and my eyeballs unfrozen.” All of this brought back my college science class days when we did some of the same things, making sure to keep our fingers and eyeballs unfrozen. 

I highly recommend the Pacific Science Center if you visit Seattle with your kids. It is much more than your typical kids museum, as it geared toward kids of all ages. There is enough for adults to enjoy, too.

Space Needle, take two

One of the perks of CityPASS is that you are able to enjoy the Space Needle twice, once during the daylight and again at night on the same day. Although I’m not sure I’d spring for the ticket if it wasn’t bunlded with the rest of the CityPASS, a night view of the city was definitely the perfect final stop.

Unlike our visit that morning when the Space Needle opened, there was much more of a line at dusk. I’m sure sunset is one of the most popular times, especially if it is clear and you can catch a beautiful sky as the sun drops past the Olympics across the sound. Although we didn’t make it up in time to really get a view, we did enjoy a great nighttime view of downtown Seattle.

Calling it a day

We found a place to eat dinner a couple blocks from our hotel. It had been a while since I’d had Thai food, and I figured we should give Mantra Thai a try. I thought the food was excellent. My son was a bit hesitant to try anything, but ended up enjoying the fried rice that we ordered. I wish my kids we all more adventurous eaters.

At the end of the day, we hit about as much as I figured we could do: the Space Needle, the Seattle Aquarium, the Pacific Science Center, and Pike Place Market. Given the amount of time each of these attractions requires, I don’t really think we could have packed in anything else. You could certainly spend more time at any of these and stretch out your visit. But we only had two days, and with the second full of aviation sights, Seattle at super speed it had to be!

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