Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Life (page 1 of 3)

Travel Hacking with Kids: A New Frontier

Confession time: I have *totally* been called out a couple times on the fact that I contribute to a blog called “Points with a Crew“, yet I have no crew. Yeah. Family travel blogger without a family. Kinda weird.

But that is finally changing. I knew when I took on the gig at PWaC that I *would* indeed have a family. At that time, I figured we’d have our kids home by now. But…per the typical timelines we’ve experienced with the adoption process, things *always* take longer. We should know that by now.

I’ve written a bit about travel hacking our adoption trip. There is not a lot of opportunity here. Maybe for some trips away from San Jose. The fact of the matter is that there is simply no cheap lodging that will meet our needs for an entire month that we can obtain for close to free.

But what about future trips?

Travel hacking for….5??

Things are never going to be the same. Travel hacking for 1 is a breeze. Travel hacking for 2 isn’t much different, especially if you both are into earning and burning miles and points via credit cards.

Travel hacking for 5, though? Yeah…this is gonna be a whole new level. Especially with kids who can’t get their own credit cards.

Consider flights to Europe. Last summer we spent 120,000 miles to fly to Europe. This was for 2 people round-trip. For 5 we would need 300,000 miles. Quite a bit more.

And that is just for economy. Business or first class for 5? Forget it. We’d be saving for a few years or more.

Hotels are gonna be rough

As a couple you can basically stay anywhere. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a hotel room where the occupancy *isn’t* at least 2 people. Award rooms always work (as long as there is availability).

Five people is another story. Many hotels don’t even offer a room with 5 person occupancy, let alone offer those rooms at the base award level.

Some places in the world are also more accommodating than others. In the U.S., occupancy rates are generally better/higher. I’ve found a decent number of rooms for 5 or 6 in various cities. You could also just book a room for 4 and bring in 5 (yes, ethics issue here).

Five is one of the hardest numbers. Six is probably worse (which I’ve booked for friends). Once you get above that, though, booking two rooms seems more and more ideal.

Cash back is where it’s at

I’ve decided that my strategy is going to shift substantially going forward. Until now, I’ve focused on mostly earning miles and points, with a little cash back and cash “points” on the side.

Now I am going to focus the bulk of my spending on cash back and/or flexible points that can be used to book paid travel at reasonable levels. One option is the Business Platinum card from American Express that gets 50% back when you book using your MR points (soon to be only 35%). Another is the BarclayCard Arrival+ which is essentially like a cash back card for just travel. A third is the US Bank FlexPerks which will essentially be like a 1.5% card for airline ticket purchases. There is also my trusty Citi DoubleCash.

With all the fare sales, we’ll often get a better deal (and have more flexibility) accruing cash “points” and using these to book our travels. Example: $500 fare to London on British Airways from SFO. We could use 40,000 UR points through the portal, or 25,000 Merrill+ points, or 33,333 FlexPerks (under the coming 2018 program). Any of these are better than 60,000 miles round-trip.

Miles will have their place

I definitely won’t give up miles entirely. I’d like to take my kids on “long distance dates” like Dan does with his kids, and miles will allow us to have some really special experiences.

I already have trip ideas. Family trip to Victoria, BC (using my Delta miles at a screaming good rate). Or flying to Hawaii using my (nearly) 125,000 Avios on Alaska Airlines. And then some trip ideas with a kid at a time.

Not so fast

Hold on now. My wheels are turning prematurely. We’ll be in an intense period of bonding as a family for the new several months, and I don’t expect to travel much the first year after we bring our kids home.

So the brakes are on when it comes to gallivanting across the globe. Full speed ahead on becoming a family.

There will be time enough for figuring out the points and miles game for a family of 5. It’ll be different. Maybe harder. But we’ll make it work.

Our Adoption Trip – Sorta Nailing Down a Plan

I’ve previously written a couple times about the planning that has gone into our upcoming adoption trip. Previously, we didn’t have a match *or* a travel timeline. But I’m sure you know by now that my wife and I are officially adopting 3 beautiful kids from Costa Rica, and that we only have a matter of weeks until we will be leaving to meet them!

This leaves me desperately wanting to plan the trip, yet still unable since we still do not have official travel dates. However, I’ve boiled things down to essentially Option A and Option B for our flights and hotel.

Flights to Costa Rica

I’ve had several ideas on what points or miles to use to fly to Costa Rica (SEE: 4 airline award options for our adoption trip…which do I choose?). Previously, I had saved AA miles for this purpose. However, given the dearth of AAvailability, this has become a less than stellar option. Plus, we’d have to drive to the area to fly (a good 4-5 hours). Ditto for Delta.

We’ve also considered Southwest, but I’d like to save our Southwest RapidRewards points for our flights back. This pretty much leaves us with using United miles. The plus here is that we don’t need to drive to the Bay to fly out. Well…as long as we trust United to get us out of Arcata (SEE: Our First “United Horror Story”).

Backup plan…there is always cash or the Chase UR portal. Not sure I want to do either.

Lodging in Costa Rica

No matter what, figuring out how to “hack” a month of lodging is extremely difficult. My wife and I did this on our trip to Europe, but we were changing location every few nights, and we burnt over 400,000 hotel points in the process.

Not to mention we were two people, and now we will be five! And there is no way we will be hotel hopping with the kids during our first weeks with them.

Our agency has suggested an extended stay hotel (including multiple bedrooms and a kitchenette) that looks nice. It is relatively affordable at $75 per night, which comes to $2,250 per month. I’ve also considered renting an AirBnb if I can find a good one for less than $1,500, however.

The plus with the hotel option is that it’s a place our agency has housed people over many trips. The staff know the drill. There is also free breakfast and a pool. The plus with the AirBnb (or other rental option) is the potential cost savings.

We’ll see which we end up choosing. The jury is still out on this one. But I have a clear Option A and Option B.

Flights back from Costa Rica

Here we have two main options: (1) Southwest from San Jose to Oakland, via Houston, or (2) Alaska Airlines from San Jose to Los Angeles, and then cheap cash flights back to the Bay (or a one-stop Alaska ticket). I’d be using the 50% “pay with points” benefit on my American Express Business Platinum to cover the latter (SEE: First Use of the Amex Business Platinum 50% Points Rebate).

Both options have pros and cons. The pros of the Southwest option is that option are that is should require fewer points, plus we would have plenty of free checked baggage. The cons are that it is via Houston and a longer journey.

The pros of the Los Angeles option is that it is direct to California. We’d probably overnight in a hotel, and then fly out late morning on the short hop to SFO/OAK/STS. The cons are that I’d be burning an awful lot of valuable Amex MR points.

Conclusion

So…we kinda have a plan for our travels to Costa Rica. I can’t wait until we get an official travel date so that we can finally lock in the outbound flights and lodging. This may not happen for a few more weeks, however.

The trip can’t come soon enough. We already long to meet our kids. Things are a mix of excitement and nervousness. I just want to be off and away. Work has been busy (which is probably a good thing), but I can’t wait to drop it all and spend time with our children. It will be the beginning of an amazing adventure.

Header image courtesy of Arturo Sotillo under CC 2.0 license

 

Reflecting on our 2016 Travels

As I sit here on the 20th floor of the Hyatt Regency Vancouver, watching the snow gently swirling lazily down to the street below, I find myself reflecting on our 2016 travels. What a wonderful year of travel my wife and I have enjoyed. It has truly been amazing. So many experiences in so many place. And for so little out of pocket.

We started things off with a wonderful winter trip to Quebec City, Montreal, and New York City. Quebec City is about as European as you can get without traveling to Europe, and we had a lovely four days in a tiny apartment we rented. It was our first experience using AirBnb, and also our first experience of negative Fahrenheit temperatures. Additionally, I realized that my wife absolutely loves ice skating, but is terrified of skiing.

Spring included a couple trips to visit family and friends. Summer then brought our biggest adventure. We were able to spend 30 days in Europe, enjoying the balmy French Riviera, the art and history of Italy, and the exquisitely beautiful Emerald Isle. I already long to go back to Ireland.

During autumn we surprised my in-laws in Portland for a few days in the rainy Pacific Northwest. And now we are on our final adventure of the year, one that will bridge 2016 and 2017, here in Vancouver. We enjoyed Granville Public Market today, and plan to have an easygoing New Years Eve. Tomorrow will be spent in Stanley Park, and Monday is yet unplanned.

All Thanks to Travel Hacking

Through the miles and points we accrued in 2015 and 2016, we were able to enjoy these experiences at a fraction of what they normally would have cost. The flights for nearly all of our trips have been on miles we’ve earned, and much of our hotel has been on points. For our summer trip to Europe, we paid for a total of 4 nights of hotel, plus minimal amounts in taxes for many of the other nights. Flights for the two of us cost a mere $350 total.

I absolutely love helping others interested in the world of “travel hacking”. This is one of the biggest reasons I was so thrilled to be on-boarded with Points with a Crew as a contributor this month. It has allowed me to write for a larger, more established audience (sadly, I’ve written less here).

For my local friends and family, I hope to hold a “Travel Hacking 101” session in late January 2017. I am still thinking about the venue and format, but I would like to set up a time for both a presentation and some Q&A afterwards. If you’re reading this and live in Humboldt, send me a message via email or Facebook if you’re interested and want a spot before I release the invite to the world.

Reflecting on our 2016 travels

Looking forward now to 2017

Looking Forward

Things are mostly unknown looking into 2017. I wrote about 3 trips I look forward to over at Points with a Crew, but these only carry us through January (as we are currently on one of the 3 I wrote about!). We know that 2017 will likely bring a large amount of change to our lives.

Actually….our lives will probably be turned upside down. It is almost certain that 2017 will be the year we finally adopt our children. My wife and I recently had to do a home study update (since it has been so long since we completed the initial one), and from the communication we have had with our agency, they are very hopeful that we will have a referral soon. We are so excited.

This does mean we have to keep the travel plans to a minimum, since we will need to drop everything and be ready to travel about 6 weeks after we say yes to our kids. But I am completely fine with that. Starting our family will be our new adventure. 🙂

I’ve Been Accepted as a Points-with-a-Crew Contributor!

A few weeks ago, Dan Miller over at Points with a Crew (PWAC) started taking applications for writer positions for his blog. His site is part of the collection of Boarding Area blogs and has decent readership.

Dan has written many good pieces on family travel, detailing his own experiences from the unique perspective of a father of 6. He also regularly posts on credit card and reselling deals, interesting travel stories, and general tips on how to make cheap travel happen with a large family.

When he announced that he would be taking on contributors, I was eager to apply. I figured that I might actually have a shot at the position, having been developing my own blog over the past year, albeit I have nowhere near his readership. I jumped at the opportunity to write for a larger audience.

After writing up my “travel hacking resume” and sending it in along with some links to my work here, I soon got an email from Dan. We cleared up a few things about my interest in the position via email, and he then informed me I had made the second round of picks.

The final round of “interview” required me to write a few sample pieces. I submitted the final of my three samples last Sunday, and anxiously waited for an email. In my head I gave myself a 10-20% chance of actually being selected.

Thus I was floored when I received Dan’s email congratulating me on my selection!

I’ll now be writing multiple articles per week for PWAC, mainly focusing on  travel deals and news. My first one went live today!

Experiences vs Material Things

While my wife and I were driving home from our recent weekend getaway to San Francisco, she read an article to me that really hit home. Rather, it described something I already knew to be true: experiences are far more impactful than material things. Experiences also generally provide greater happiness in the long run. Research shows memories tend to grow fonder with age, whereas things are often quickly forgotten.

Personal case in point: I would much rather spend money on a travel experience than on virtually any new possession. Why? I find traveling far more fulfilling. My wife and I have been on several wonderful trips these past couple years, and I cannot imagine trading them for any material things of similar value. Stuff wears out. Memories last a lifetime. I’d rather have the latter.

twillingate_berg_tour

Our iceberg tour in Twillingate, Newfoundland was one of my favorite experiences of 2015

The article also described the benefits of gifting experiences rather than things, but acknowledged that material gifts have their place. For this the author supplied the  “four gift rule” (which is apparently fairly well known, but is new to me):

  1. Something you want
  2. Something you need
  3. Something to wear
  4. Something to read

So simplifying. Make the rest experiences.

Starting this Christmas, my wife and I have decided to start focusing on gifting experiences rather than things. We know that completely changing our gift buying habits won’t happen immediately, but we have already had some great ideas for some of our extended family and friends.

It’s utterly cliché, but the best things in life aren’t things. Make memories and take photographs. Remember the places you’ve been and the people you’ve met. Ditch the stuff. You can’t take it with you anyway.

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