Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Local (page 1 of 4)

Laying Eyes on Tahoe for the First Time

While I’ve visited much of my hone state (I only have two counties left!), there are a number of places that I’ve still not had the opportunity to see. A couple of these are a mild source of shame, as they are some of the most beautiful locations within California. And at the top of this short list was Lake Tahoe (SEE: One place I am ashamed I haven’t visited).

When I planned a last-minute road trip with our older two kids last year, Tahoe seemed like a great final stop before returning home. It wasn’t too far off the most ideal route between Death Valley and northern California, and it was a far more beautiful option than crossing over into the central valley. It would be a fairly quick visit, but at least we’d get to see the lake.

The first stop: Emerald Bay

After a morning spent driving up Highway 395 and a stop a Mono Lake (SEE: A New Favorite California Scenic Drive), we finally crossed through Alpine County and over to Lake Tahoe. Emerald Bay was the first stop. You know those classic photos of Lake Tahoe? Sorta like this one?

That’s Emerald Bay. It’s an utterly picturesque spot, and probably the most photographed point around the entire lake, as it is easily accessible from South Lake Tahoe. Parking was a bit tricky, as everyone is competing for a spot. We were fortunate to find a place not too far from Emerald Bay and then walked down the road.

Not only did we get to see Emerald Bay stretching out before us, but we also enjoyed lovely Eagle Falls. The kids and I crossed through the water a few times, which was frigid, but we were careful to stay clear of the sharp drop. It is a very picturesque spot. Just don’t get too close to the edge, as there was a death here recently, directly related to taking a selfie.

We took a brief walk along the trail heading south from Eagle Falls, but all too soon had to return to the car and head back into town.

An evening at the “beach”

After checking into our hotel and enjoying some Mexican food for an early dinner, we headed to the beach at the South Lake Tahoe Recreation Area. We walked the short stretch of sand (which is rather unlike ocean sand), and the kids enjoyed playing on the rocks and in the very gently lapping waves.

It started to get chilly quickly, definitely a drawback of visiting in early April. But, man, is Tahoe beautiful. The photos don’t do it justice. It was so much better to finally be there in person and see this gem of our state. We’ll have to come back for a summer trip where we can explore and enjoy the lake longer than half a day.

Our last stop was for ice cream. I found a great spot right at the Nevada state line called The Baked Bear. I’d never heard of the chain before (they have a number of locations in California and in a smattering of other states), but it is an excellent place. Pricey, but excellent. They make custom ice cream sandwiches where you get to pick your cookies, ice cream, and a coating or topping. Definitely a hit with the kids.

Conclusion

We’ll miss you, Tahoe. Hopefully we’ll be back to visit soon. Don’t we look like a bunch of ragamuffins? Obviously none of us cared to really brush our hair after seven days in the car (LOL).

This wrapped up our final full day of our April 2018 road trip (SEE: Southwest Road Trip Overview). I’m finally done with my posts, only a little over a year later. Blogging over at Points with a Crew has taken precedence, but even that is changing, as I’ve landed a new opportunity that I am very excited about. More on that later. I’m just glad I’m done. A couple more trips to finish, and I’ll be wrapped up with most of our adventures.

Are one night trips with kids worth it?

Single-night getaways might not seem worth the trouble to many people. While I do much prefer a stay of about three nights, such as the New Year’s getaway I spent with our older kids in Napa (SEE: Vino Bello Resort Napa Review), we have also taken a few single-night trips. This started with last year’s New Year’s night away in Calistoga (SEE: Celebrating New Year’s 2018). A second was our night in the Bay Area, where we used up my final Fairmont free night certificate last February.

Work kept interfering with my plans, and I had to bump our stay at the Claremont Hotel and Spa back twice. I began to think that we were going to run out of time and the free night certificate was going to expire on me.

Eventually, I nailed down a weekend that would work and confirmed that work would not be sending me anywhere (although this wasn’t ever a 100% guarantee…one trip had me booking a flight less than 24 hours from departure). We would make the trek to the Bay to enjoy the Claremont for one night (SEE: Claremont Hotel Berkeley Review).

Is it worth driving to the Bay for one night with two kids?

If you’re not familiar with where we live, the San Francisco Bay Area is a solid 5 hours from home. It is a drive I have made routinely, generally for work, although I have opted for Sacramento more often these days (SEE: 5 Reasons Why Sacramento is my Favorite Northern California Airport). According to Google Maps, the drive is technically 4.5 hours, but traffic can easily turn it into 6 if you plan it during the wrong time of day.

So…ten hours on the road for one night. Is that even worth it? I can see the skepticism in your eyebrows.

In our case, we really enjoyed the Claremont, even though they didn’t end up applying the room upgrade and putting us in a queen-queen room. Sharing a double bed with a restless seven-year-old boy is a recipe for a sleepless night. It is a beautiful hotel, and we stayed nearly free (dratted resort fees!) at a place that typically costs $100s. The kids had an amazing time in the pool and we enjoyed dinner out at an Indian restaurant in Berkeley.

It was a nice, quick getaway. I think they enjoyed themselves, even though they aren’t fans on being in the car for hours on end. A couple movies make a world of difference.

Are one night trips with kids worth it?

It really all depends on your perspective and attitude. In our case, the one night was a fun trip. I didn’t find it stressful at all, as we left early in the day and had plenty of time to enjoy the hotel and its facilities, returning middle of the next day after a morning swim.

I’m sure for many, a one night trip with kids could be super stressful. In our case, the two of our three that I took were 7 and nearly 11 at the time. This made things a whole lot easier than traveling with a little one, even though the kids tended to get carsick a lot (they have been getting better, presumably from spending more time in the car).

The purpose of the trip is important as well. For one-night trips, it is best for them to be getaways where you’re simply trying to enjoy a hotel and maybe see one sight. Nothing extensive, nothing jam-packed. In the case of the New Year’s getaway in 2018, the kids just swam in the evening, we watched a movie (it happened to be Sully), and then swam some more in the morning after a late breakfast at the Best Western. Very enjoyable for all of us. The Claremont getaway was similar, as we were there to simply enjoy the hotel.

There are instances where a one-night trip would not be worth it, if you simply go somewhere and barely have any time before you sleep and then head home. Not fun at all. I guess the minimum recipe for success is to truly make it a one-night, but two-day trip.

Will we do a one-night trip again?

We ended up doing two more one-night trips after this, but out of necessity, as it they were both for doctor or other medical visits. This is entirely different, as trips like this are unavoidable and both were far more stressful.

I’m sure we’ll end up doing a quick one-night getaway now and then, although I do prefer 2-3 nights for quick trips with the kids. For us they can be worth it, depending on the distance and circumstances.

What do you think of one-night trips with kids? Have you ever tried a staycation?

I finally understand! This is what our airport code stands for ​

A couple weeks ago I had quite the trip. Er, non-trip. I was supposed to fly from San Francisco back up to Arcata on the hour long hop after driving one way to the Bay, but that plan was crushed like always. Instead, I found myself driving back up in a rental car through the pouring rain.

Now I’m still fighting to get the miles back that I used for the trip. But that is a story for another day.

The frustrations of flying ACV

It’s no secret we live in an isolated pocket of the country, and our unreliable air service doesn’t help matters at all. Maybe it’s just me, but literally half of all flights I’ve ever taken with United between ACV and SFO (either way) have been either severely delayed or outright canceled. It’s so bad, that I gave up and generally fly out of Sacramento (SEE: 5 Reasons Why Sacramento is my Favorite Northern California Airport).

While at Arcata, I met a fellow member from the Travel Grumps 101 Facebook group that I am a part of. We’ve previously both commiserated online about the difficulties of flying out of Humboldt, and we got to chat travel for a bit. Until our flight was summarily canceled.

She headed out to retrieve her luggage and rent a car to drive home while I decided to grab dinner for free at the Giants Clubhouse before heading back to the city. A little while later I received a Facebook message from her saying the United baggage handler definitely knew the woes of flying into ACV. He asked her if she knew what ACV stands for.

I’ve always wondered what our airport code stands for, and his answer finally shed some light on the odd airport code. It makes complete sense now.

What does ACV stand for? That’s right: Another Canceled Vacation.

How to consistently fly for $270 or less round-trip out of Arcata

Flying out of our local regional airport can be a pain due to delays and cancellations. But it can also be extremely convenient, if things go smoothly. The only problem is…flights can be outrageously expensive.

Which makes using miles to fly in or out of Arcata a winning proposition almost every time since it represents a great value for your miles. If you’re interested in scoring a couple free flights, there are a couple great credit cards you can pick up that will earn you two round-trips out of our local airport.

But if you already have those card and/or are looking for another way to bring the cost of flights down, the Avianca LifeMiles program presents an interesting option. I’m going to be candid and state that this strategy is probably more of an intermediate level

Leveraging Avianca LifeMiles short-haul awards

Avianca LifeMiles has one of the best award charts for short-haul domestic awards within the United States. As a member of the Star Alliance, you can redeem your LifeMiles for flights on United Airlines. The LifeMiles chart breaks the U.S. into three regions, and flights within each region are only 7,500 miles one-way. You can even include connections (although the LifeMiles site seems to choke on itineraries that include more than 1 connection).

The “United States 3 zone” includes the following states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming. Oddly, Montana is in “United States 2”. But you can still fly to almost all the western states from Arcata for only 15,000 miles round-trip, an excellent deal (SEE: 3 reasons I am SUPER excited for the new LifeMiles shorthaul awards).

This is where the cost of miles can sometimes outweigh the cost of flights. Say you are interested in flying from Arcata to Jackson, Wyoming, an often expensive destination. Two round-trip tickets will probably run you $1,100 at the cheapest. Using LifeMiles for an award on this itinerary presents excellent value.

But what if you don’t have any LifeMiles?

How buying miles is actually cheaper than buying a ticket

It is extremely rare that I will ever advocate buying miles. In general, don’t do it. There are other ways to accrue them. But if you fly from Arcata frequently, this is one instance where buying miles could make some sense.

One of the most recent LifeMiles sales offered miles with “up to a 125% bonus”. The bonus for 1,000-50,000 miles purchased was 100%, so we’ll roll with that number. Let’s assume you want two round-trip tickets within the western U.S., which will cost you 15,000 miles each. Purchasing 15,000 miles will give you an extra 15,000 miles, enough for both tickets. Every 1,000 miles costs $33, so the total price will come to $495 for the miles you need.

Each ticket will also be subject to a $25 award ticketing fee (dumb, but it is what it is), and taxes of $5.60 each way, which is the TSA fee. Doing the math, each ticket will therefor cost $283.70. This is 50% or less of what many tickets to Jackson, Wyoming cost. Definitely worth buying miles in this case, if you would otherwise be looking to pay cash.

Even better, LifeMiles are fantastic for awards close-in, when prices are both high and United is charging you the obscene “close-in booking” fee of $75 for general members. The return on a LifeMiles purchase is even better in these cases. An added benefit is that United award availability is often better close-in.

So although I don’t typically advocate buying miles, this is one case I would consider it if I would otherwise need to pay cash for a ticket. You just need to ensure that there is sufficient award space to book the ticket you need.

Budget for flights with a monthly subscription

If buying a bunch of miles at once isn’t for you, LifeMiles offers a very unique option: a monthly miles subscription. It’s truly one-of-a-kind. I’ve never heard of another airline loyalty program that offers this feature.

In most cases, a subscription like this is silly. You pay a monthly fee, and they add miles to your account at a rate that isn’t really worth it in most cases. However, if you’re looking to fly a few round-trips per year out of Arcata and want a way to budget appropriately for them, this might just be something that interests you. It will also let you break out your flight “purchase” into manageable pieces through the year.

Avianca LifeMiles offers several subscription options, but two in particular stand out to me:

The “Plan 1,000” is a manageable cost and offers you one round-trip for $19.49 per month, with 1,000 extra miles to carry over per year. The “Plan 2,000” give you two round-trips per year, plus 2,000 carryover miles, for just under twice the cost. Visit Club LifeMiles for more info

Two other ways to accrue LifeMiles

There are a couple other ways to accrue LifeMiles. You have a few different credit card options. The Citi ThankYou Premier is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 50,000 ThankYou points, which can be transferred to LifeMilesat a 1:1 ratio. That’s how I topped off my own LifeMiles account most recently.

There are also two Avianca LifeMiles co-branded credit cards offered through Banco Popular. Haven’t heard of them? I hadn’t either. But the sign-up bonus was amazing when I got the card (SEE: My highest credit limit ever came with…what new card?). And the news just broke last week: the 60,000-point offer is back (read about it here)!

My words of caution

I’ve personally had no issues redeeming LifeMiles for a couple trips. It’s been totally painless through the LifeMiles website, and ticketing has happened quickly through United. It even easy to add the flight to your United account to select seats, check in via the app, etc. But there are numerous stories of people who have had nightmarish experiences with Avianca LifeMiles.

LifeMiles also doesn’t present you with all the options that the United website does, which means that a United award itinerary you’ve found might not be bookable with LifeMiles . I would *always* check for the itinerary through the LifeMiles site directly to ensure that your flight is an option presented. Since award seat availability varies, there is always the potential you could end up with miles that don’t work for your specific trip. If you’re locked into specific dates, I would be hesitant to go this route.

LifeMiles also doesn’t like awards with more than one connection. With connections in San Francisco, Los Angeles and (starting next year) Denver from ACV, you still have a great number of one-stop destinations available. There is also a workaround to this which I will cover at a later juncture, as it is a bit complicated.

All that said, if you have some flexibility of destination and dates, LifeMiles should work just fine. Be proactive about searching for award availability. It changes daily, especially when you get less than 3 weeks out. I find United sometimes releases a significant number of seats. As mentioned above, LifeMiles are a better option for a last-minute getaway since you’ll avoid the United close-in award fee, but you’ll still have to pay the $25 LifeMiles award fee.

Conclusion

If you’re willing to jumps through these hoops, you’re looking at much cheaper flights out of Arcata, up to half off of many itineraries in the western U.S. There are almost zero times I would suggest buying miles. This is one of the very, very few exceptions for which I’d even consider it, and even then, weigh the decision carefully. Still, the ability to fly round-trip out of Arcata for only $270 could be entirely worth it.

Questions or worries about this method? Hit me up anytime through my Contact Me page.

Avianca aircraft image courtesy of JTOcchialini via Flickr under CC BY SA 2.0 license

United adds another nonstop destination out of Arcata!

After the launch of United’s nonstop Los Angeles service earlier this year, I didn’t really think another nonstop flight was in the cards for our tiny airport. I’ve dreamed for the day we might have other options. But I figured that would remain a pipe dream.

Well…in a rather unexpected move by United Airlines, our tiny, local airport *is* going to see another nonstop destination!

United adding Arcata to Denver service

Starting in June of 2019, United will provide a once-daily service between Arcata and United’s Denver hub. This will take Humboldt from a single option this spring to three different nonstop flight options in about a year’s time. Connections in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Denver

The flight will be a night-turn, similar to the new schedule for the Los Angeles flight. The regional jet serving the route will leave Denver at 7:00 p.m., landing in Arcata at 8:50 p.m. It will return to Denver the following morning at 6:30 a.m.

The schedule is fantastic for work travel. United offers connections in Denver to many midwest destinations, which may turn people’s two-stop itineraries to one with a single connection. A healthy layover in Denver would provide enough time to have a nice lunch at the Timberline Grill before catching a connection (SEE: Timberline Grille Denver Airport Review).

Salt Lake City still on my wish-list

While I heartily welcome any additional air service, what I’d really like to see is service from another airline, specifically Delta and specifically Salt Lake City. Delta has become my favorite domestic airline, and it would be amazing if I could fly them locally. They briefly offered this service over a decade ago, but discontinued it after only a year.

Beyond Delta, I’d happily take an Alaska connection to Seattle, or an American connection to either Los Angeles or Phoenix. Any other airline would provide needed competition.

Still, I’m thankful that our area is getting more air service. I’m sure I’ll end up flying the hop to Denver once service begins.

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