Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Life (page 1 of 3)

Planes, Planning, and Potty Training

Yes, my already limited blogging frequency has taken a nose dive. But life has been a bit different of late. With the combined demands of three kids and a full time job upon me, I’ve hardly had time to keep up any writing, either here or for Points with a Crew.

If you recall, we finally arrived home after seven weeks away in Costa Rica on November 5, 2017, now a family of five. Our trip home on Southwest Airlines included a great miles and points angle. You can read our adoption story here if you’re interested (although our family blog suffers from lack of attention as well).

But now back to the title. You might be wondering what planes, planning, and potty training have to do with each other. Let me connect the dots.

Planning my first trip with the kids

Yup. That didn’t take long. It took me less than three weeks being home to plan our first getaway. I honestly thought I’d make it a bit longer. I’ve actually partially planned three trips, but I can’t reveal the other two quite yet. When you have over a million points and miles in the bank, they kinda burn a hole in your pocket.

The idea started from one simple desire: I think it’d be cool to fly Boutique Air. Never heard of them? Yeah, I hadn’t either until earlier this year.

Boutique Air is a small carrier that flies entirely Essential Air Service routes. They fly primarily Pilatus PC-12 aircraft. Simply taking a flight in one of these planes is the main draw I have to them.

I’m used to flying on mostly Boeing 737s and Embraer E175 aircraft, both of which are of reasonable, unremarkable size. The biggest plane I’ve flown on is the A380. The smallest plane in which I’ve ever flown is a Saab 340 on PenAir between Arcata and Portland (sadly, the route  has been discontinued). It has about 34 seats.

But the Pilatus PC-12 is substantially smaller than that, with a mere nine seats. Awesome, right?

So what does potty training have to do with this?

As I hesitantly broached the trip idea with my wife, she was surprisingly behind it. I only wanted to take the older two kids, and just for a weekend away. One of her immediate thoughts was that it would be the perfect time to start potty training our three-year-old. Boom. That settles it.

So I booked myself and our older two on a round-trip flight on Boutique Air from Oakland to Merced. We’ll drive to the Bay, park, enjoy a super quick flight, visit my grandparents for two nights, and the fly the short hop back and head home. Meanwhile my wife will be reading enthralling titles to our little one, such as “Where’s the Poop?“. Honestly, she is looking forward to only having one kid for a couple days, even if much of the time will be spent with him in the bathroom.

We haven’t told our kids any of the plans, but we plan to this weekend. The older two aren’t crazy about long car trips, but I am hoping to drive the morning leg super early so that they can sleep through half (or more) of it. My parents always did this with my siblings and me when we were little. I’m really looking forward to our little getaway.

The closest I’ll ever come to flying private

I figure that flying private is something that’ll never be a part of my future. So flying on a tiny 9-seater Pilatus, often used as a corporate aircraft, will be about as close as I can get. Look for a review of the experience on Points with a Crew in about 2 weeks.

Given that our bank account has taken a hit after spending almost two moths out of the country, planning a trip that is free or close to free is a must. But this is the beauty of miles and points. Given that a round-trip between Oakland and Merced is as low as $37 on Boutique Air, you really can’t beat the price.

I covered our $111 airfare (total for three people!) with the remainder of our Arrival miles, and I’ll use some cash back earned from gift card reselling and manufactured spending to cover most of the cost of parking and gas. Lodging is covered since we’re staying with family. Easy peasy.

Restraining myself from planning more

Like I mentioned above, I already have two more trips in the works, one of which is pretty nailed down. Given that we’re now free from waiting for our adoption to happen, the schedule is wide open. Which ends up being a problem. Since I follow fare and award deals pretty closely, every time I come across a new one, I want to pull the trigger. We need to wait a bit more. Our kids definitely need some time to adjust. We’ve only been home a matter of weeks.

Eventually, I do hope our kids will enjoy travel as much as my wife and I do. They were champs on our first flight, and my daughter remarked that she much preferred flying to driving. But we still need to get them into a rhythm at home, and taking frequent trips, even just for a weekend, might hinder this goal.

So I’m content now looking forward to our quick weekend blast down to the middle of the state and back. Here’s hoping our youngest potty trains in a weekend. 🙂

Featured image courtesy of Boutique Air under CC 4.0 license.

Endings and New Beginnings

Today our fledgling family is finally making the trek back to the U.S. after our several weeks in Costa Rica. It’s been a fun, exciting, and soul-searching experience. It’s been frustrating at times. But also joyous. So much change in so little time.

Leaving as two, returning as five

Adoption is definitely the toughest thing we’ve ever done. It is hard to describe the mix of feelings. The kids are a joy, yet it is hard to go from having tons of time together to having literally all of it demanded from you. In the end, it it totally worth it.

Our last couple weeks here were a nail-biting experience. I became anxious as our projected travel date loomed nearer and nearer, and we didn’t yet have all the documents we needed. Fortunately, our in-country liaisons went to bat for us and we were able to receive the final visas on Wednesday.

They told us we could travel Thursday, but there was really no reason to go through booking last minute flights (besides saving two days). It would have been a real challenge to hack six tickets. I almost wanted to do it just for the experience.

So today, Saturday, November 4th is the day. You should have seen how much we had to pack. And how long it took. We’re never traveling with this much stuff again.

Southwest is the best

It’s been a while since I’ve flown the busiest domestic airline in the States. Southwest used to be my first luv in the world of flying, but I’ve since found that I’m pretty keen on most airlines.

Somewhere along the way I forgot just how stellar Southwest’s customer service is. I guess time made my memory a bit fuzzy. Previously, I’d detailed how I was banking on Southwest to get us home by locking in fully refundable award tickets at a good price. Through Twitter I’d confirmed that they would change the names of our kids to what appeared on their passports.

Yesterday I finally got around to confirming this with them and providing them with the necessary info. Things went at smooth as butter, even when they messed up our middle son’s middle name. The Twitter rep had that fixed within 3 minutes. At the end I was able to easily input all the passport details and check us in successfully. We even got a decent boarding position.

Praise the Lord for reasonable companies that look out for customers. I’m so happy our flights today worked out.

Always looking forward

Today is the end of one chapter for our children and the beginning of a new one. Even as we wait for our first flight as a family, I’m already dreaming of taking my kids to other far off places around the world. But this may not come for a while. We need a period of adjustment at home, and they need to learn English. It’ll be a little while before we do any serious globe-trotting.

Still, here’s hoping today is the first step toward our kids becoming great travelers.

4 Checked Bags…You Can Obviously Guess Why

Today is a big day. My wife and I are *finally* headed out to adopt our kids in Costa Rica. It has been a long-awaited trip. We packed over yesterday and today…and ended up with 4 checked bags. *sigh* Life is never going to be the same.

When I travel by myself, I travel fast and light. One carry on and a personal item is all I need. When my wife and I travel, we typically check a single bag. We would avoid this, too, except that my wife often has to bring some supplements and liquids and cooking items that are pretty much impossible to get through security.

But 4 checked bags? I thought I’d never see the day.

Going from 2 to 5

I’m kidding. Mostly. Obviously, it would be nice to keep up how we currently travel, but I knew long ago that things would change oh so drastically. You can’t keep up the same pace with kids in tow. I’m sure we’ll still travel (I already have ideas), but it will almost certainly be less frequently. Not to mention much harder to hack! But this is the life we want, and we cannot wait to meet our precious children (we’ve already been Skyping with them).

Preparing for this trip has been a chore. The longest my wife and I have ever been gone was for a month-long adventure in Europe. We checked two bags for most of those flights, and had to do laundry multiple times during the trip.

But this adventure is even longer. We are estimating that we should be in Costa Rica for six weeks!

With all of our clothing, plus kids clothing, plus toys and games for the kids, plus gifts for various people involved in the process and in our kids lives, four full checked bags is understandable.

Bright and early start

Morning came early at the awful hour of 3:00 a.m. It was pretty brutal. But we are flying out of our upstart little airport (which is a huge plus), and the 6:00 a.m. flight is the most reliable. Currently, it is on time as we sit here at the terminal. We *did* have one time where it was canceled, however.

We should get to Houston with plenty of time to rest and have a comfortable overnight before continuing on to San Jose tomorrow.

Conclusion

I hope to blog a bit while we’re away, but that is looking fairly doubtful. Even this week has been nigh but impossible. All of our focus will be on the kids while we are in Costa Rica. This is a critical time for all of us, as we will be beginning to bond as a family.

#Snyder2to5

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

 

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