Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Month: November 2016 (page 1 of 2)

A Little Post-Thanksgiving Trip

Too often I forget that a quick getaway can be just as enjoyable as a multi-week adventure. This weekend was a great reminder of that. Quick trips may not seem as grand, especially in light of some of our recent ones, but they are far more doable.

After a lovely Thanksgiving, my wife and I hit the road for some time together in San Francisco this past weekend. My job gives me both Thursday and Friday off for the holiday, so it was the perfect opportunity for a quick getaway.

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The Westin St. Francis, venue for Tremaine Convention

There were some ulterior motives beyond simply visiting the City by the Bay. The annual Tremaine Dance Convention in San Francisco is traditionally been slated for the weekend after Thanksgiving, and this year was no exception. My wife has taught dance for several years at a local studio, and I figured we could catch some of her students’ competition dances at the event. As this is the last year she will be teaching (before we bring our kids home), I figured it would be extra special for her to attend.

I have been to San Francisco many times over the past few years. But rather than letting it feel like old hat, I was excited for a weekend away. Most of my trips to the Bay are for work, and it is rare that my wife and I get any time in the city. The last time was supposed to be special, but it turned into a hectic anniversary spent getting a passport.

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The Mark Hopkins Hotel

For our first night I was able to get a fantastic rate for a night at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins, an iconic, historic hotel located at the top of San Francisco’s Nob Hill. At only 4 blocks from the dance convention and Union Square, the location was great as well.

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Front of the Mark Hopkins

The hotel normally runs $300+ per night for a standard room, or 60,000 IHG points. We got it for way less. It was actually the lowest rate I had ever seen for the Mark Hopkins.

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Christmas tree in the Mark Hopkins lobby

The Mark Hopkins is beautiful. The lobby and restaurant were already decorated for Christmas. Check-in was a little busy, and I could tell the front desk just wanted to get us on our way. They did upgrade us to a corner room, but not on a high floor or with a view of the Bay. But it was still very nice (main view is header photo).

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View of the front valet lot

We spent a relaxing night at the hotel, simply enjoying the time together. A great part of the experience was enjoying dessert at the Top of the Mark, the 19th floor restaurant with wonderful views of downtown San Francisco and the Bay.

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View from our table at the Top of the Mark

The next day we visited Union Square with its traditional Christmas tree. We considered ice skating at the rink as well, but were a bit turned off by the price. As it turned out, it was raining heavily during the middle of the day, so I was quite happy we didn’t buy tickets. We’ll have some skating opportunities near home before the season is over.

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The Christmas Tree in Union Square

After lunch and a crazy drive through town to re-park the van (we burnt an hour looking for an open parking garage), it was time for the dance competition. I left my wife at the mezzanine level of the Westin St. Francis and headed off to a coffee shop for the evening. After blogging and slacking for a while, I decided go watch Arrival at the AMC Metreon.

I fetched my wife roughly five(!) hours (man, that is a lot of dancing). Our second night was a cash and points booking at a Holiday Inn Express just over an hour from the city. The two stays would finish off my Fall 2016 IHG Accelerate promotion.

Sunday was spent driving home, enjoying the redwoods, the rain, and the time together. Now that we have a more reliable vehicle, I hope we can take many more weekend getaways.

 

 

 

Lucrative Offer! New Avianca LifeMiles Credit Cards

After some rumblings over the past few months, the new Avianca credit cards are finally arriving! You can still sign up to be emailed an exclusive 60,000 LifeMiles sign-up bonus offer.  I just received an email today, and it looks like the offers may be live. Note that the increased bonus only applies to the Avianca Vuela Visa card.

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Register at www.lifemilescard.com for a great card offer

Both credit cards offer decent value, although the Avianca Vuela card is certainly the better of the two. The Vuela offers a sign-up bonus of 60,000 LifeMiles, but carries an fairly hefty annual fee of $149 (not waived). The bonus miles are certainly worth well over $149, though. The Vuela card earns 3x on Avianca airfare, 2x on gas and groceries, and 1x on everything else. You also get an extra free checked bag on Avianca flights and have the ability to earn two 50% award discount coupons for the first $12,000 and $24,000 spent each year.

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Some card details for the Avianca Vuela Visa

The Avianca Vida card is the lower end product, and offers a sign-up bonus of 20,000 miles. The card earns 2x on Avianca flights and 1x on everything else. There isn’t really much else to love about it. Both cards also offer a 15% discount when purchasing LifeMiles.

The Visa cards are issued through Banco Popular de Puerto Rico. I have no idea what credit bureaus they pull or how easy it is to get approved.

Avianca is a member of the StarAlliance and is based in Latin America, with hubs in Bogota, Lima, and San Salvador. Their award chart is fairly good, with a few sweet spots.

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NA-Europe business/first class is a LifeMiles sweet spot

A great example is Lufthansa business class from North America to Europe. At 87,000 LifeMiles, you are most of the way there with just the sign-up bonus from the Avianca Vuela card. The same ticket would require 140,000 United miles!

One of the biggest benefits of using LifeMiles is that Avianca does not apply fuel surcharges on award tickets! If you used Aeroplan miles to book the same Lufthansa first-class ticket mentioned above, you would only use 70,000 miles (better than United’s 140,000), but you would pay a hefty amount in fuel surcharges.

The lack of fuel surcharges makes LifeMiles worth collecting. With the new credit cards, accruing LifeMiles just became a whole lot easier. The 2x gas and grocery earning of the Vuela card is especially lucrative. Valuing LifeMiles at roughly 1.7 cents each, that is a return of 3.4% per dollar. Not shabby for some everyday spending!

Currently, the only other fairly easy way of accruing LifeMiles is by transferring SPG points. Avianca was actually only recently added as an SPG transfer partner.

You can also buy the miles. Avianca has good sales on their miles now and then. If you have the cash to spend, it may be somewhat cheaper way to book Lufthansa first class.

Overall, the new Aviance Vuela card is solid. I hope you’ll be able to take advantage of the great offer.

Header image courtesy of Maarten Visser via wikimedia commons.

Are Free Flights In Our Future? Ryanair’s CEO Says Yes

Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary is on the record saying free flights may be a thing within a decade. Skeptical? The Secret Flying blog has the details. Supposedly the sharing of airport retail profits and reductions and/or abolition of the air passenger duty could make this a reality for select routes.

Or maybe Ryanair’s CEO was being overly sensational to simply draw headlines.

The idea is certainly appealing, and with the crazy fare sales that RyanAir sometimes offers, free flights don’t seem entirely out of the question. With their business model, however, only expect your seat to be free. Oh, you have luggage? That’ll cost you.

While I am still inclined to disbelieve Michael O’Leary’s outlandish claim, the general trend in airfare prices has been nothing but a good for the consumer for the past several decades. Flight prices were reported to hit a 7-year low this past summer, and if the current fare sales are any indicator, next year could be even better. Low cost airlines like WOW, Norwegian, and RyanAir are pulling prices down through increased competition. Norwegian’s CEO plans to offer $69 trans-Atlantic one-way flights.

Free flights are quite a claim. We’ll see what becomes reality.

Heartwarming London Heathrow Advertisement For The 2016 Holiday Season

In a world of constant advertisement, my general goal is to tune out as much of it as I possibly can. It is rare for me to fully watch any sort of ad, let alone give it any real attention.

This advertisement for the London Heathrow Airport is a huge exception. It is delightfully emotive, drawing the viewer into the sentimental time of the holidays. I wish all advertising was this pleasant and beautiful. Enjoy.

WOW $99 California To Iceland Fares: What This Means

Today I received an email from WOW Air, Iceland’s low cost airline, advertising $99 fares from California to Iceland. With a subject of “California! Europe is only $99 away!”, it was a bit misleading. I should have figured they meant $99 to Iceland (yes, technically Europe), but fares were still on sale to other major cities like London and Paris. Albeit a bit more.

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The $99 to Iceland is a first. It honestly blew me away. That is a crazy price for a nearly 9 hour flight.

I have repeatedly seen fares on Norwegian hit as low as $179 between Oakland and Stockholm. The new Gatwick-Oakland route hovers around $220 one-way at its lowest. But the sub-$100 from the U.S. West Coast is a first for me.

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Along with the phenomenal price to Iceland were offers of $199 fares to London, Paris, Amsterdam, or Frankfurt. These are just as fantastic.

Availability for all the flights ranges from November through early April, although prices are higher around the holidays. Book soon. These fares are only available for a few more hours. 

What does a sale like this really mean? For one, it shows the true level at which low-cost airlines can really compete. Increased competition is nothing but a boon for consumers. I am glad that WOW Air and Norwegian are aggressively attacking the trans-Atlantic market.

My takeaway is that we have yet to hit the cost floor on trans-Atlantic fares. Bjørn Kjos, the CEO of Norwegian Air Shuttle, is on the record saying $69 one-way flights across the Atlantic are in the works. Sub-$300 round trips could soon be common.

Kjos plans to make this possible through the use of fuel-efficient Boeing 787 and 737 MAX jets. The updated version of the 737, a staple aircraft for many carriers, will be able to make the hop across the pond.

I honestly can’t wait for this to happen. It may be foreboding for legacy carriers like the “Big 3” in the United States, but it can be nothing but good for consumers. The older airlines will just have to adapt to the new model. United is introducing “basic economy” fares. Delta has already been selling a similar product for a few years.

What is really shows is that many passengers simply care about getting from point A to point B. Forget all the perks, upgrades, elite status, and everything else. Price is king.

Now I just wish that I had a week available to visit Iceland…

Header image courtesy of Anna Zvereva via Wikimedia Commons.

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