Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Month: March 2016 (page 1 of 2)

An Awaited AA Adjustment

American_Airlines_Boeing_777-200

It’s here. I haven’t really talked about it, but an American Airlines AAdvantage program ‘adjustment’ (mostly a devaluation) has been scheduled for months now, and the new award pricing finally took effect yesterday. You can find the chart here. Although I had been frantically searching award availability for the past few weeks, wanting to use my 50,000 AA miles for a business class ticket to either Europe or Japan, I let the date slide by without pulling the trigger on anything. Here is why:

  1. The new award pricing is actually better for awards to Central America and the Caribbean. The ‘off-peak’ windows may be shorter, but saver awards are a very reasonable 12,500 each way on the new AA award chart. With trip possibilities to Central America in the fairly near future for both mission work in Guatemala and our adoption, saving them for this use made a lot of sense. Award availability also tends to be wide open to these locations. Which contrasts with…
  2. Extremely limited business class award availability to Europe on American metal! The AA award flight searches turned up dozens of options that are on British Airways metal, but the award availability is downright abysmal for Americans own flights. I find this reprehensible. I don’t want to spend $100s in surcharges for a British Airways redemption.
  3. I couldn’t find a good route where I could book one ticket with AA miles and one with BA Avios. This is one of those times where I wish I had more miles in one currency and less in another. I had priced out some options from the west coast of the United States to Japan, but it involved bookings through both BA and AA award engines. I settled on an SFO-LAX-NRT booking, but I realized that my Avios wouldn’t post in time for me to book both tickets before the AAdvantage change deadline. I didn’t want to risk booking one ticket and then losing the availability for the other later. I might have been sending my wife off to Japan without me. Or vice versa.
  4. Italy started sounding better than Japan. Don’t get me wrong, both have an allure, but after a week of toying with hotel options and economy flights (I ditched the AA business class flight possibility….see point 2), Italy made way more sense, and I could use Delta miles rather than AA. This segment is, in fact, already booked.

Overall, the AAdvantage miles were significantly devalued, although the business-class and first-class redemptions took the brunt of it. The previous award prices were actually really appealing, and left me wishing I had tried to bank more miles. In the end I figured that if I use save the AA miles I have for flights to Central America, I am actually coming out ahead on the deal. Or maybe I am just trying to feel better about the change.

2016 Travel Wish List

2015-12-30 15.28.17

After having a solid year of traveling in 2015, I have been brainstorming future trip ideas for the next 9 months. As I take stock of our situation, I realized that a few major things are going to impact my wife and I this year:

  1. Adoption – We are currently waiting on dossier approval by PANI in Costa Rica. After this final hurdle, we will be waiting on a referral for a sibling set of two children from an orphanage or foster care. Saving for our adoption has been a large focus for the past three years, especially for my wife who has saved $1,000s in tip money from her job as a waitress. I wrote about our adoption previously and we also have a blog.
  2. Car savings – My wife and I decided that we needed to double down on saving for a vehicle for this year. Let’s just say our current van does some…interesting…things at times. Like random dash smoke. And possessed windshield wipers. Then there is the leaking back hatch, the chirping fan belt, and the disintegrating upholstery. Overall, she is still running pretty strong for a 20-year old vehicle with only 143,000 miles, but we have decided that we would really like something a bit more reliable. It’s almost comical that every time we try to leave town, some new problem arises with our van. Saving for a car will put a dent in our potential travel budget.
  3. Changes in work situation – The company I work for has been doing well for the past two years and has kept me mostly focused on an internal project. We have had a few contractual changes, however, and the flexibility and freedom I have enjoyed may be lessened. So far the outlook has been good, and I even got to travel for a small survey in Utah, but this could change. There are also a couple new business ideas that are on the table as well, and I may need to stay closer to home in order to be as accessible as possible. My hope is that we can still have a solid three week trip each year where I can work remotely for two days per week, stretching out the paid time off.

I still went ahead and put together a small wish list of a trip ideas for the year. Will we hit all of them? I don’t think so. Not even close. But this exercise keeps me stocked with goals for using our miles and points.

costa_rica_beauty

  1. Costa Rica – Lord willing our adoption referral will come this year. My wife and I have talked lately about going down for a visit even before our referral comes in…just to scope things out. But the actual trip to meet our children is our biggest hope this year.1024px-Park_Hyatt_morning_shot
  2. A week or two in Japan – This would give me an excuse to use our Hyatt certificates at the Park Hyatt Tokyo for a 4 night stay, which is one of my top uses for them. I would also hope to see Kyoto and Osaka or Nagoya. If there weren’t so many other unknowns this year, I would already have booked us business class tickets before the upcoming AA award chart changes. Only a few days left now!Antigua_guatemala_2009
  3.  Guatemala Visit – How I long to go back to Guatemala. The mission trip with my church team and those from Calvary Chapel Colorado Springs was such a sweet time. I made some friends that I really want to see again, and with the next trip likely not planned until January 2017, going back this year is really tempting.canyon_de_chelly
  4. Road trip through the Western U.S. – Having so much interest in great international travel destinations, I often forget about the vast beauty of America. I have not been to many great places in the Western U.S., including Tahoe, the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, Mesa Verde, the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Glacier National Park, and the list goes on.sicily-506644_960_720
  5. Two weeks or more in Italy, Sicily, and/or Malta – This is an either/or idea with the Japan trip. I am leaning more toward northern Italy due to more (and better) rewards hotel options, but I would rather fly into Rome and meander down the peninsula to Sicily, before finishing in Malta.san-diego-skyline-1406008352Uqq
  6. Family Visits and Weddings – Barring unforeseen circumstances, these will happen. We are already planning to visit my wife’s grandma in San Diego, and will then catch a flight out to Colorado to more of her relatives. This summer is full already with two of my cousins getting married, one of which will require either a drive or flight up to Seattle.

I have plenty more ideas beyond these. We are sitting on a large stash of hotel points and airline miles, and flights are at their lowest prices in 5 years, so I find that I cannot seem to keep myself from dreaming up new trips across the globe.

Stompin’ Around Saint George

2016-02-23 17.46.31

The view of Saint George and the Virgin River valley.

The Southwest U.S. is beautiful. I never gave visiting it much of a thought for many years, always envisioning brown desert, unbearable sun, dry winds, and a place completely devoid of trees. Yeah there is that Grand Canyon place, but neither of my couple trips included that, and everything I had imagined was generally confirmed.

A visit to Sedona, Arizona changed everything. I vacationed there last year with my brother-in-law, and I was completely caught off guard by how beautiful the desert now appeared. The vistas there are magnificent, and I began to see the Southwest in a completely different light. The desert can truly be a beautiful place.

Because of this new perspective, I was excited to be visiting Saint George, Utah. I have only previously passed through Utah twice: once through Salt Lake, and technically a second time while on the California Zephyr (Amtrak)….mostly sleeping during that porting. This was my first opportunity to see southern Utah.

2016-02-23 10.51.12

Located in the far southwestern corner of Utah, Saint George is literally just over the border from Arizona, and not far from the Nevada border as well. I was only staying for a couple nights, and would be working during the day, but I hoped to take at least one quick hike while in the area.

The surveys I was there to do took about a day and a half, which only left me with one evening to see some of the area. I used that brief time to take a quick walk up to the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area. The route I chose provided a great view of Saint George and the Virgin River valley (first photo). I would have loved to be able to visit Zion National Park, a brief hour away, but that will have to wait until a later date.

It was a great work trip. The survey was great experience, and I got to see a new place. Win all around.

At The Mercy Of The Weather

Weather. You have to plan for it, no matter where you are headed. We get our share living on the northern coast of California. The temperature is generally quite mild, and we barely get any snow, but we do get some heavy rainstorms from time to time. If the rain is extended and intense enough, local rivers flood, and the high winds often down trees and cause power outages.

I left Humboldt today during such a storm, headed for the Bay Area. The rain literally never stopped the entire drive, and it got heavier the further I was into the hills. Things were going well for the first hour, but the trip came to a complete halt near Leggett, California. At this point the road bottlenecks to only 2 lanes for several miles through a winding section that is known for its numerous rock slides. When I came upon today’s incident, I was a bit confused since we weren’t near one of the sections that is always causing problems.

20160313_132306

A few people were out of their cars, and I could tell something was seriously amiss. Leaving my car, I jogged 100 yards up the road, and was promptly informed that there were both a small tree and a downed power line across the road. It must have happened only a few minutes earlier since I was about number 25 in the quickly accumulating line of cars.

I decided to wait the whole thing out. Someone had called PG&E, so I passed the word about the incident to a few other drivers and hopped back in my car. It took PG&E about 30 minutes to show up, and then another 30 minutes or so to get the road cleared and start controlled traffic. There was a final incident where the truck driver in front of me stopped because his trailer was touching the telephone lines overhead! Luckily he made it through without causing more damage!

20160313_132354

At least I had food. My wife kindly packed the last cinnamon roll and some bagels for me. Overall, it was only a minor inconvenience. I had the whole rest of the day to make it to the Bay Area, so I wasn’t stressed about the delay. It was a good lesson that you can be completely at the mercy of the weather when traveling.

That Time IHG Spire Elite Status Got Us A Two Bedroom Suite

staybridge-suites-fairfield-2531608249-2x1

Last year my wife and I had our first stay with IHG while I had Spire elite status. This new top-tier status had just launched in July 2015, and we were both awarded it by the lucky fact that we had each opened a Chase IHG MasterCard that Spring and had met the 75,000 point requirement for the year with the sign up bonus and minor spending. It was a honestly a total fluke. But we quickly put it to use.

On a late summer trip to the Bay Area for an appointment related to our adoption process, I booked a stay at Staybridge Suites Fairfield/Napa, located in Cordelia, California. I wanted to get out of the Bay Area to avoid morning traffic the next day, and even though the hotel was slightly out of the way, having a kitchen would mean my wife could cook dinner and breakfast for herself, which she prefers over eating out due to dietary restrictions. This hotel stay is now several months in the past, but I wanted to write about it for two reasons:

  1. It demonstrates how hotel elite status can get you great upgrades – When we arrived at the hotel, the front desk greeted us and acknowledged my Spire status. We soon had our keys and were headed up the elevator. I had booked a standard one bedroom suite (the most basic room) for our single night, so it was quite a shock when we walked into a room that had not only the standard full kitchen, but also a small living room and a second bedroom with two queen beds and its own bathroom. The front desk never mentioned the upgrade! My wife and I had a good laugh at how we really didn’t need three beds or two bathrooms for two people. I joked with her that I would sleep in one room and she could sleep in the other. She didn’t find that funny. We had so much space that we simply didn’t need. Which brings me to my second point…
  2. It illustrates the subjectivity of the ‘value’ of elite status perks – Our time at Staybridge Suites Napa-Fairfield was very short. We arrived after dark and departed before 9:00 the next morning. All we really wanted was a decent bed and the kitchen. What we got was so much more, but does that translate into added value? There was a small couch and coffee table, and we did sit and talk for a bit at it, and the dining table was definitely nice. Would we have paid extra for this? Almost certainly not. We would have been perfectly content with the room that we paid for, and don’t really have much use for one beyond that. The upgrade was very nice, but there was no tangible benefit from it, unlike benefits that can directly correlate to money, such as free breakfast.
2015-09-18 07.31.08

The unused second bedroom of our gigantic suite.

There are truly instances where having elite status with a hotel chain does contribute to a better room or experience. My wife and I have been upgraded a few times to rooms with better views, which is probably my favorite perk. I am all about a good view.

But this wasn’t the case with the Staybridge Suites room. Overall, the place was nice, and the upgrade was thoughtful and appreciated, but entirely unnecessary in our case. What it did prove is that Spire status does mean something, and that I was happy about.

Older posts