Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Domestic Travel (page 1 of 3)

Centurion Lounge Las Vegas Review

Work sent me to Las Vegas for a couple days right at the end of 2017. Well, I actually was headed to Needles, California, but I had to fly into Las Vegas and drive the 2 hours south. Which was an adventure (nightmare?) in itself. When I headed home, I decided to check out the Centurion Lounge Las Vegas.

I have been to the Centurion Lounge SFO (SEE: Centurion Lounge SFO Review) several times and the Centurion Studio SeaTac once. While not the primary reason I picked up a Business Platinum Card from American Express (it was during the 100,000 MR bonus offer), the lounge access it provides has come in handy this year, most recently in Oakland (SEE: Escape Lounge Oakland review). I honestly didn’t expect to visit a Centurion Lounge after I won my first access from a Mommy Points giveaway, but I ended up getting the card the next month. Ironically, I’m probably going to drop it soon.

Arriving at the Centurion Lounge Las Vegas

The Centurion Lounge Las Vegas McCarran is located in Terminal 3. I dropped my rental car, quickly passed through security, and was on the tram under to the terminal in no time. Once in Terminal 3, you take the escalators up and turn left to head to the Centurion Lounge Las Vegas.

The front of the lounge is a bit more nondescript than the glass entry, greenery and vertical sign at SFO. I honestly almost missed it.

The lady at the front desk was friendly and professional, and she welcomed me as a first-timer to the Las Vegas location after asking whether I had visited previously. She provided a brief description of the facilities and services provided.

The space

The Centurion Lounge Las Vegas feels a bit larger than its counterpart in SFO. The space has similar seating, with some of the same pods and benches featured. I can imagine that all Centurion Lounges likely use the same style furniture.

A long wall separates the bar, food, and main dining area from much of the rest of the lounge. Facing the windows on the other side, the wall has several seating alcoves. I chose one of these initially to work from for a while.

centurion lounge las vegas

At the end there is a variety of seating. This also seemed like the quietest part of the lounge, as foot traffic is lessened. Had there been any open seats, I would have chosen to sit here.

There is a kids room at the Centurion Lounge Las Vegas, just like in San Francisco. It is a bit bigger. If only American Express hadn’t changed their entry policy and completely hosed families with more than one kid (SEE: American Express devalues lounge access, sticks it to families). Sigh.

Food at the Centurion Lounge Las Vegas

I didn’t bother checking out what the offerings were for breakfast. As I’d arrived at 10:00, it was still running. Instead, I simply got a coffee and sat down to write for a while.

The food changed after 11:00 to the lunch offerings. I eventually joined the line to grab myself a plate.

There was a decent salad selection that included peppers, carrots, cucumbers, cheese, and other items.

There was some ginger rice that I enjoyed. It was probably the best thing offered. There was also a sweet pea puree that I wasn’t keen on.

The meat offering was salmon. I found it mediocre. Definitely not full of flavor.

At the end was udon soup, which I didn’t try.

On the whole, the food at the Centurion Lounge Las Vegas wasn’t quite as good as what I’ve had at SFO. It was a decent lunch, but nothing stood out to me.

Per usual, I didn’t try anything at the bar. I’m sure it had a good selection of alcoholic beverages.

Overall experience

I was happy with the seating, food, and experience overall. The WiFi caused me some issues a few times, but I the root cause might have been my own computer. Each time it would cut out for about 3 minutes, before finally coming back. I would turn my WiFi on and off a few times until it would finally reconnect.

The lounge was fairly crowded when I arrived, and it got an even bit more so as lunchtime approached. I had not expected this, but it rivaled the insanity of the Centurion SFO for a while.

When I got up to go to the bathroom, my seat was occupied when I returned (since I took all my stuff with me), and I had trouble finding another. Things got better after 1:00 p.m. and then even kinda quiet by 2:30.

The line for the food around noon was definitely a turn off. I watched and waited for a good 15 minutes before getting up to grab something to eat.


The ability to grab lunch, sit somewhere quiet and comfortable, and be productive for a few hours in the Centurion Lounge Las Vegas was invaluable. It is also nice to have access to better WiFi (except for a few blips) and cleaner bathrooms than in the terminal. Nothing stood out to me as “above and beyond”, but the lounge is still definitely a step up from the typical United Club or Delta SkyClub.

Overview of our fun weekend in Sacramento

Over MLKJ weekend I took our older two kids away again. We previously made a quick trip to visit the great-grandparents in December, followed by an overnight in Calistoga for New Year’s. This is quickly becoming a monthly tradition, as I already have a weekend getaway planned in February.

Each trip gives me some great uninterrupted time with them, and also gives mom a bit of a break. One child is much easier to manage than three.

Rundown on our quick trip

We left early on Saturday, which is already my preferred modus operandi for traveling with the kids. It gives them a couple hours to snooze, and by the time they wake up fully, we usually have less than 3 hours of driving left. I’ve let them watch one movie at this point, and then they only need to entertain themselves for maybe another 90 minutes before we reach our destination.

Our time in the capital of the Golden State was spent seeing old town Sacramento, the California Railroad Museum, and the Sacramento Zoo. I’ll cover each of those separately, among other things, in upcoming posts:

Tacking on work

After I planned the trip, I found out that I needed to get certified ASAP for commercial operation of small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS). While recreational use doesn’t require any sort of permit, you need to pass a test to operate one commercially. My boss approached me about operating a UAS on one of our upcoming projects, and I gladly agreed.

But this did mean I needed to cram and pass the test ASAP. He graciously allowed me to tack the test onto the end of our trip and covered some of our expenses.

So, our final night was booked in Auburn, California (on the company dime), where I scheduled the exam. We have friends there who were able to watch the kids while I took the test (so, so thankful!).

After lunch, we hit the road home. It was a quick but fun weekend!

Braving Back-to-Back-to-Back-to-Back-to-Back Trips!

Yes. There are 5 backs in there. Looks like we’re going to start 2018 off with a bang!

This wasn’t the plan, trust me. It sorta just happened. We planned one major trip for January, thinking that was plenty. But then the rest slowly got penciled in, so here we are. It all starts with a fury this week.

Work trip to Needles

This one was the second-to-last addition. The company I work for was recently contracted for a small project in Needles, so I get to fly in and out of Las Vegas for a single-day site visit. Due to the flight schedule between Arcata and Vegas and the 2-hour drive to Needles, I have to make it a 2-nighter.

Work isn’t my concern. That part will be easy. It’ll just be the first time I am completely away from the kids for even one night. I’m a bit nervous to see how they’ll do.

And it starts later today. I’ll be on my way to the airport after lunch.

New Year’s celebration

I took advantage of the Best Western promotion to plan New Year’s Eve away with our older two kids. Originally, I was eyeing the first weekend in January, but we have relatives coming up then. Honestly, New Year’s works even better.

If you know me well, you know I shut down about 10:00 p.m. Sometimes 9:00, or even 8:00 p.m. Staying up late is not my thing. But I already know the kids want to party til midnight, so I’m trying to make this as painless as possible for all of us.

And taking them to a hotel with a pool where they can have fun, eat (a little) junk food, and stay up late sounds like the best plan. My wife can put the little guy to bed and welcome 2018 by getting some quality shuteye.

MLJK Weekend with the older two

This one is still tentative. Given the busy schedule of the rest of the month, it may get axed. But it may be a necessity to give mom some time to catch up around the house. And continue potty training the youngest.

My first little weekend getaway with the older two went really well. They didn’t really care for the 5-hour car drive, but they enjoyed the flight. So what’d I plan? You guessed it: another 5-hour car drive. Yeah…haven’t told them yet.

I decided that it wasn’t worth burning miles for a trip that short. Either we’ll find a good points deal in the Bay, or we’ll stick with my plan to maximize my IHG Accelerate promotion at a Holiday Inn in the Sacramento area. I can offset some of the out of pocket cost with cash back, but not the whole thing. The latter (and preferred) option depends on how our January budget looks.


This was the big surprise trip for the kids for Christmas, and the original one on the schedule. We didn’t expect to take them so soon, but I have an “in” that can get us a steep discount on the tickets. Since this is the biggest cost (free flights and hotel is cake), it made the trip much more doable.

back to back trips disneyland

My mother-in-law did chip in as well, so we are staying at a Disney hotel for part of the trip, which will be a first for me. I am no Disney guru. Travel hacking Disney is a whole new level of obsession.

And then right back to LA

This time it is mom’s turn. It’ll be the first time that my wife has done a solo trip since we’ve been married, if I recall correctly. Maybe ever. She has done a few with her mom, but I can’t think of a single time she has flown or stayed in a hotel solo.

So what is the impetus for this? A day of exercise and dancing with Derek and Julianne Hough was enough to make her jump. It looks like that her first extra cash from starting work again will be put to good use for a one-day intensive in Los Angeles.

The only tricky part is how close it is to the other trip. If only we’d picked the next weekend for our Disneyland trip. Kinda locked in at this point. Looks like we’ll be heading home Wednesday and turning right back around to Oakland on Saturday.

What’ll the kids and I be doing? Good question. I not 100% sure yet. I booked a hotel (for free with Wyndham points) in SF for two nights in case we want to stay there. We may just go back home to Ferndale for Sunday, but that would mean even more time on the road.

After that?

Our kids don’t know it yet, but I’ve asked my parents to watch them for two nights in February so Kels and I can have a romantic weekend. Well…mostly romance. We’ll also be headed to Global Entry appointments. In any case, I’m definitely looking forward to this.

We have one more trip that is in the works, but I can’t spill the beans on that yet. Hopefully I have it all finalized sometime next month.

Final thoughts

Are we crazy? Probably. Do I think we can make it through these with flying colors? Absolutely. Lack of confidence is rarely my issue.

But in case you start wondering if I’m still sane, feel free to drop me a note once we’re on the other side. 🙂

Christmas Surprise: We’re going to Disneyland!

Back when I planned our quick trip to visit my grandparents, I mentioned that a couple more trips were in the works. Well, it’s time to let the cat is out of the bag: we’re going to Disneyland next month!

The trip is one of the gifts we decided to get the kids. As Kels and I have sought to prioritize experiences over material things, gifting a trip for Christmas is much more up our alley than buying the kids a lot of stuff (but they did get a lot of stuff, too).

But given that Disneyland is an expensive destination, so how are we able to afford this so quickly?

Travel hacking a Disney trip

Scoring discounts on Disney is not for the faint of heart. The general consensus is that you really can’t get better than 10-20% off on Disney hotels and admission. And the cost of entry is ridiculous. Entry for our family of 5 to one park for one day would cost approximately $485. And we’re looking to go for 2 days on a Park Hopper pass, which will set us back at least twice that. No matter how you slice it, this isn’t an easy trip to take for cheap. Forget about free.

A strategy I would employ is picking up a couple cash-back cards with a decent bonus to offset the enormous cost of taking your family to the Magic Kingdom. If you’re new to the points world and haven’t applied for many cards, pick up a Chase Sapphire Preferred card if you haven’t (SEE: 5 Reasons the Chase Sapphire Preferred is the Best Starter Travel Credit Card) and then look into a Capital One Venture and/or Barclaycard Arrival+. I don’t typically recommend these cards out the gate, but they will get you most of $1,000 in flexible points you can use toward Disney tickets.

Some warehouse clubs offer Disney gift cards at a slight discount. Factoring in the use of a cash back card, you probably can’t do better than ~5% off using this strategy. It’s something, but it’s still not much. In all honesty, there is no easy way to hack Disney like airfare, where you can get a couple sign up bonuses and fly to Europe in business class for less than $200 out of pocket.

But there are ways. You’ll just need to search a bit harder for them. Disney will never be my forte. When I attended the Family Travel 4 Real Life conference this past May, one session was completely dedicated to hacking Disney. It’s is own world.

If travel hacking Disney is of interest to you, let me point you to a few other resources:

So…how are we able to take our family of 5 to Disneyland next month?

It’s who you know

As is the case with many things in life, sometimes it’s more about who you know than what you know. Turns out that I have a coworker whose sister works for Disney corporate. She can walk most of us in for free for one day (possibly all of us if she can have a coworker meet her at the park, which she is trying to make happen). This means our tickets will either be free or heavily discounted. If we don’t all get walked in for free, the remaining two that we need to buy will be ~50% off.

Since my mother-in-law loves Disneyland, we invited her along. My one and only time visiting the park in Anaheim was with their family, long before my wife and I were married. They used to go annually. We got them tickets last year as their Christmas gift.

I’m not sure how she put it all together, but my mother-in-law managed to work some magic for all of us. She has had a Disney Visa card for as long as I can remember, and the tickets for the second day are part of a package she booked in conjunction with a Disneyland hotel. Apparently now was the time to put the points to good use. I’m not complaining.

So now that we will be out at most a mere $150 for tickets for two days, we just have to put the travel together.

Flights south

This part is cake. We had a number of options, so it was all a function on convenience, timing, and maximizing point redemption. Since there were so many of us, it makes the most sense to fly out of the Bay Area rather than Arcata or even Santa Rosa. Alaska has reasonable nonstop flights to John Wayne Airport (Santa Ana), which is the closest to Anaheim and Disneyland. I’ll happily avoid the pit that is LAX.

For the 6 of us I spent a mere 19,600 Amex Membership Rewards (before my 50% back perk dies!), a $75 Alaska voucher, and $28.40 cash. Not much out of pocket. Cash prices would have been $470 for all six of us.

Thanks to a promotion, the kids will each be earning a bonus 5,000 Alaska miles as new Alaska MileagePlan members. This means our family will earn a total of 20,000 Alaska miles for our quick trip. It’s basically like trading our MR points for Alaska miles. Totally, totally worth it.

What about hotels near Disneyland?

There are a number of hotels available near Disneyland, but I quickly focused on a couple options for the six of us. The one that made the most sense was the Homewood Suites about a mile from the park. The points redemption rate was reasonable, and it could fit the six of us.

I also eyed the Howard Johnson across from the park, as we have a good number of Wyndham points, but it would tougher to swing for 6. For 5 I’d do it in a heartbeat, and request a crib. The Best Western right across the street also seemed like a decent option, but I don’t have enough points to swing it. Since we are going to be in the park all day for 2 days, the hotel is little more than a place to crash and sleep, so staying at a more budget place was an option on the table.

But all my ideas got tossed out the window with my mother-in-law’s plan.  Now we’ll be staying on-property, just a quick walk from the park. I’ve never stayed at a Disney hotel (and never planned to!), so this will be a whole new experience for us.

Our one night of airport hotel is at the Embassy Suites SFO for 42,000 Honors points. I wish San Francisco airport hotels were cheaper, but they are in line with the rest of the area. The advantage here is free breakfast for all of us.


Disney is high on many families travel lists, and with the cost of tickets so high, it is often a vacation that they must save long and hard to make happen. Fortunately, thanks to family and friends, we have a nice shortcut. If not for these, we’d be saving for a Disney vacation for at least a year.

Images courtesy of Tuxyso and Norberak Egina under CC 3.0 license

A Successful First Getaway with Kids!

If you recall my post a couple weeks ago, you’d know that I took a quick weekend getaway with our two eldest kids. Mom and the toddler stayed behind to hold down the fort (and work on something very important).

Now we are on the other side of that adventure, and we are not only all alive, but everyone involved had a great time. Sure, there were a couple low points, such as both kids vomiting (at different times) during our five hour drive to the Bay Area. But hey, not everything had to go perfectly.

Ever present car sickness

One thing I noticed is that the kids really, REALLY prefer air travel to car travel. We had several bouts of car sickness while in Costa Rica, and things really haven’t improved since we’ve been home. We don’t give them Dramamine when running errands locally, but I failed to have it on hand for our drive south, which turned out to be problematic.

Beyond the upset tummies, the kids are prone to headaches while in the car. Like, all the time. We’ve read this could also be motion-related, but I hadn’t ever heard of this until the past couple months. The headaches are worse than the nausea, as we end up with grumpy kids for the whole trip rather than one good puke.

I thought about axing the idea of taking a weekend night away each month with the older two after our drive, but they did a lot better on the way home. I’m planning to just power through, and pick places a bit closer to home. We need to get them used to more time in the car. I’ll just make sure we always have Dramamine on hand. And Ziplocs for puke-catching.

Visiting my grandparents

After our adventurous drive to the Bay, we chilled in the airport lounge before almost missing our flight. You can find my write-up on our experience over at Points with a Crew:

After almost missing our flight (yeah…read that review), we arrived safe and sound in Merced where we were greeted by my grandma and grandpa, our kids’ tatarabuelos. The kids were initially shy, as is typical, but they did warm up well to them.

For my part, I really enjoyed catching up with my grandparents. Both have had some health issues in the past year or two, and it was good to see them doing well. Grandma plans to come up soon, so the kids will get to see her again.

Riding a horse!

This was one of the biggest highlights for the kids. My grandparents live outside Merced, in a little town called Cathey’s Valley. It is a blip on the map between I-5 and Mariposa along the highway to Yosemite.

The plus to living in the county is that they have 5 acres. And they have a knack for acquiring horses. When I was a teen, they had four. Now they have seven.

Fortunately, one of them was ride-able. This made the kids’ day!

Since the little guy didn’t come on the trip, grandma and grandpa sent us home with a stick horse!


Our two nights were over too quickly, and soon we had to head home again. The return drive up 101 was long, and the kids complained. Overall, I still think it was a success and would be willing to do it again.

The travel horizons are already looking way more full than I originally  intended. More on that in another post…

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