Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Reflection (page 1 of 4)

My 2018 Stats: 60 Flights and 75,000 Miles

Every year I like to not only reflect on our past adventures, but also tally up my travel stats. I know. Totally nerdy. I am most interested in seeing the world for the experiences themselves and the innate value I see in that. But I am also a numbers guy who enjoys totaling things and calculating statistics and such. I also have a few checklists that I’m working through as well, such as visiting every state in the Union.

New countries and states visited

The two main things I track are countries and states (as well as Canadian provinces) that I’ve visited. I did not honestly expect to pick up any new states this year. My one new state was rather unexpected: West Virginia. Never did I think I’d be headed there anytime soon, nor did I ever think the company I work for would pick up a project in that state. But that’s exactly what happened. I’ve now spent more time in Pocahontas County, WV than many other places in the U.S.

I could probably count my visit to Charleston, South Carolina as my first visit to that state as well. When my wife and I took an overnight train from New York City to New Orleans (SEE: Our Honeymoon: An Introduction to Travel Rewards), we technically passed through South Carolina. However, we were fast asleep in our Roomette at the time, so we didn’t actually see any of the state. We woke up in western Georgia.

As far as new countries go, I only added two this year: Luxembourg and China. China is one that I will surely visit again. There is so much to see. Our time in Beijing and Hong Kong barely scratched the surface. This was also my first time visiting any country in Asia, so I added a continent. My brief layover in Incheon in early 2017 doesn’t count (SEE: Asiana business class review: Seoul to Sydney).

More miles flown than in any previous year

A little over a year ago I started tracking all my flights using openflights.org. The website is simple and effective, although it isn’t the most visually appealing. But that doesn’t really matter. All I want it to do is track when and where I’ve flown, and with which airlines and on what equipment.

My 2018 travels consisted of exactly 60 flight segments totaling over 75,000 miles on six different airlines. This year also included my first trip to Asia and my first time flying both Air France and Cathay Pacific. The Air France economy experience was stellar (SEE: Air France A380 Economy Review: Paris to San Francisco). But the Cathay Pacific flights in premium economy and business class were far, far better.  Here is a map of the flights.

My 2018 air travel amounted to the most of any year to date. It also amount to over a third of my total lifetime flight miles. This was mostly due to eight trips back and forth across the country for work, although the two international trips certainly racked up the miles as well. Here are some other statistics from the year:

  • Number of airports visited: 26
  • Number of different aircraft types flown: 20
  • Longest segment flown: Hong Kong to San Francisco – 6,914 miles
  • Shortest segment flown: Charlotte to Roanoke – 155 miles
  • Average flight distance: 1,259 miles

Hotel statistics compared to 2017

We spent a ridiculous number of nights in hotels back in 2017. Most of this was due our trip to Costa Rica when we adopted our kids, as we stayed in an apart-hotel for nearly two months. Other trips earlier in the year added to the total, and all said and done, just over a quarter of my year was spent away from home.

This year was very similar, primarily due to eight week-long work trips. Here is the breakdown by chain:

  • Best Western: 1 (1 work)
  • Choice: 7 (2 cash, 5 work)
  • Club Carlson: 6 (1 award, 5 work)
  • Hilton: 13 (1 cash, 11 award, 1 work)
  • Hyatt: 10 (3 award, 7 work)
  • IHG: 17 (3 cash, 6 award, 8 work)
  • Marriott/Starwood: 26 (1 cash, 5 award, 20 work)
  • Wyndham: 8 (1 cash, 4 award, 3 work)
  • Other: 7 (2 award, 1 work, 4 other)
  • Total: 95 nights (8 cash, 32 awards, 51 work, 4 other)

Favorite stay: our five nights at the Renaissance Beijing Wangfujing (Review). The benefits of holding elite status with Marriott were well worth acquiring for this stay alone. It was both enjoyable and a great value.

Looking ahead to 2019

I already have a number of trips penciled in for the first half of next year (SEE: Travel Planning: Penciling in the First Half of 2019). The work travel will slow down a bit, at least for the next six months or so, but we’ll still be heading out on an adventure roughly once per month, even if it is a quick weekend away. I also have some exciting flying planned, and my sights set on top-tier Hyatt status.

A Full Travel Year: Reflecting on 2018

Every year I like to take stock of where we went, what we saw, and the amazing experiences we were blessed to have. I ended up taking the kids more places than I anticipated this year, including two international trips. The older two have been great travelers, and I hope to have many more adventures with them. Soon enough their younger brother can be added to the mix as well.

Disneyland!

We kicked off the year with a trip to Disneyland in southern California. I’m blessed to have a coworker whose sister works for Disney. She was able to get us all in for close to free one of our two days. We also stayed at the Disneyland Resort, thanks to my in-laws, something I never thought we would have done. I was looking at points hotels close to the park for our stay.

Disney is the sort of vacation that makes you want to take a vacation, at least for me. The kids had a blast, but there is *so* much to do and see that we ended up running ourselves ragged. But they had a wonderful time, which is what matters the most.

Our week-long road-trip across the Southwest

When I initially called off our first planned trip to Europe, I decided the older kids and I would still spend a week away, but enjoying our own country. Given that spring is the best time to visit the Southwest, and there are amazing rental cars deals available, we hopped on a plane to Tucson and made our way back to California day by day. Stops included Saguaro National Park, Sedona, the Grand Canyon, Death Valley and Lake Tahoe.

The road trip was a blast. Sadly, I’m not quite done with those trip report posts (Overview). Even though the two had previously gotten car sick frequently [SEE: Trying (and failing) to help our kids with their constant carsickness], they did amazingly well on this long trek. I’m not sure how often we will road trip, but I’d like to work that into our plans now and then. Most of the time I think about traveling to some far-flung place, when there is still plenty to see and experience close to home.

Paris and Luxembourg

I ended up deciding to rebook a shorter version of our European adventure that was amenable to everyone. Instead of being gone 19 days, we would keep it to 8. This meant we’d really only get to spend six days in Europe, given the long plane rides each way. We could have spent all that in Paris and still not seen everything, but I decided that splitting the time between the French capital and the small principality of Luxembourg would be most ideal.

I’m infatuated with small countries, and Luxembourg was as interesting as every other one I’ve visited (SEE: 5 Reasons to Visit San Marino). The kids and I had a blast exploring the old city. The highlights of the trip were still back in Paris, though. The Eiffel Tower was everyone’s favorite. Except for climbing the stairs. The kids will always remember how I made them hike the tower.

Quick trips with the older kids

Summer brought two shorter trips, my first solo adventures with each of the older two. My daughter especially liked how we got upgraded to first class on our way to San Antonio to visit her friend (SEE: Treating My Daughter to American Domestic First Class).

When it was my son’s turn, I settled on Atlanta, mainly because of the great summer deal I came across, and the fact it cost us barely $7 out of pocket for the flights. But I’d never visited the city, and I figured it was as good a city as any to explore. Sometimes you chase specific destinations, sometimes you just let the deals take you places. We had an amazing time at the Delta Flight Museum and the Georgia Aquarium. Our downtown Atlanta accommodations were also pretty swanky, not to mention free (SEE: The American Hotel Atlanta Review).

Experiencing China

The capstone trip of the year was definitely our adventure in China. This was my first time visiting Asia, and it was an incredible experience on the whole. We spent 5 days sightseeing in Beijing, taking in the history of the Chinese capital. Standing on the Great Wall was probably the highlight for me (SEE: 5 Days in Beijing: Day 3 – Mutianyu Great Wall Excursion). It is a truly incredible experience.

Then we traded cold northern China for balmy Hong Kong for a few more days. This eclectic city is like no other I’ve ever visited, and it is just the sort of place I’d love to stopover in for a couple days at a time. From the food to the hustle and bustle to the exquisite skyline of the skyscrapers of Hong Kong Island, I hope to come back. We had our first Michelin-starred dining as well: a dim sum restaurant that set us back about $25 for all three of us. Cheap and delish.

Conclusion

Now that the year has drawn to a close, I’m looking forward to a travel-filled 2019. We have more than a couple trips in the works, including a quick getaway over New Year’s. More on the rest of our adventures later. Merry Christmas, everyone!

6 Years Since our First Miles and Points Trip

On the first day of July my wife and I celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary. It’s crazy to think that we have already been married that long. Six years and three kids later, things are very different than they were when we were first married. But I’m sure that is the story of most married couples.

A honeymoon to remember

Today I find myself reminiscing about our honeymoon, a two-and-a-half week adventure where we spent thousands of miles on a train and saw the majestic mountains of Colorado, the sleepless streets of New York, and enjoyed fresh seafood and live music in laid-back New Orleans. It was a trip that we could not have and should not have afforded, save for one small detail: it was the very beginning of my travel hacking. You can read some of my original retelling of how the trip came to be in a previous post.

I do regret a couple things. Well…regret isn’t the right word; I just wish I would have had a better understanding of how eager issuers were at the time to sign anyone with a good credit score up for new credit card products. Hotel credit cards were off my radar. If I’d only picked up one, we may have had a much nicer stay in New York.

Rest in Peace, amazing Amtrak deals

The heart of our trip was made possible by two cards: the Chase Amtrak Mastercard (no longer issued) and the Chase Sapphire Preferred. In the “good ol’ days”, Amtrak was a Chase transfer partner, and a lucrative one at that. This was back when Amtrak still issued awards based on zone and not based on the cash cost of a ticket.

We were able to get $3,500+ worth of first-class train travel for all of $70. It’s rare that I can pull that much value from two card offers these days, but some trips come close (SEE: The Anatomy of a One Week Trip to Australia).

These deals are long gone. You can still get an Amtrak card, sometimes with an elevated 30,000 point bonus. That is still a recipe for a decent trip in a sleep car on a long-distance train, but it is nothing like it used to be.

Looking forward to when my wife and I can get away again

One of the most difficult things about jumping into parenthood has been the lack of time as a couple. This also translates to the inability to get away as a couple. We know this will change eventually as the kids become more grounded and we feel comfortable leaving them with our parents for a couple days, but we are not quite there yet. And even then, we won’t be able to do it often. My wife and I do fondly remember the trips we were able to take as a couple and how glad we are that we had those opportunities. I know we will have them again someday.

Traveling is fun…but there is no place like home

As I wrap up a week of work followed by a weekend visiting good friends, I can’t help but reflect on how eager I am to return home. This is not the first time I’ve felt this way. Work was engaging and enjoyable. The weekend was full of fun and laughter with friends a bunch of crazies that I wish I could see far more often. But it is high time to get back. I miss my wife and kids, and I can’t wait to hug them and see their happy faces this evening.

The pros and cons of work travel

It’s no secret that I enjoy traveling. Walking out the door on a new adventure is still accompanied by exhilaration (especially when I get to fly first class). Even when traveling for work. Consulting has it pros and cons, and one of the pros for me is occasional work travel.

If I was a weekly road warrior, flying out every Monday and back every Friday, work travel would likely go in the opposite category. Being gone once once or twice a month for several days is plenty. It would also be hard if it was for a project or job I didn’t really enjoy. Fortunately, that is not the case. Our work out of state is engaging and keeps me on my toes. Getting the chance to do some interesting and enjoyable work across the country is an opportunity I can hardly pass up.

The other plus is being able to earn valuable airline miles and hotel points for our own adventures. This time I was able to perfectly match my hotel stay in Virginia to my Q2 2018 IHG Accelerate promotion, earning 42,000 IHG points in the process (worth about $250). These will be carefully guarded for our own adventures.

But it’s not all upside. Saying goodbye is still difficult. It was hard at times when it was just myself and my wife, and it has become even harder with kids. Yet even if saying goodbye is difficult, I can always look forward to that sweet moment when I return.

If I didn’t ever leave, I wouldn’t ever experience the joy of coming home again. There is nothing like being greeted by a shower of hugs from my kids and kisses from my wife. My completely amazing wife. She is an absolute wonder woman, handling the kids on her own for a week at a time. I’m thankful every day that I get to share this adventure of life with her.

Just a little while left

As I write this from the Denver airport, my one hope is that my flights will actually be on time this afternoon. United has a way of consistently being late. I know delays are simply a fact of air travel, but United is worse than most. Especially when flying in or out of Arcata. But if all goes as planned, I’ll be home tonight before the kids go to bed. And I can’t wait.

Europe, Take 2

A few weeks ago I called off a trip to northern Europe with our older two kids (SEE: Walking away from a trip – lessons learned). It was a hard decision, given the investment and excitement we had all put into it. But it was the choice that was needed.

My wife and I talked a lot that week after we got back from our adventure-that-wasn’t-meant-to-be. The older two kids talked a lot with us, too. More than a few times they asked where we would have been and what we would have been doing, had we gone. I tried to keep my mind off it.

After a couple days, we came to the decision that a trimmed down version of the original plan would still work for all of us. I soon found an appropriate window and started the cement in plans once again.

Why we decided to re-plan the trip

The long and short of the matter was that the length of the previous trip was the biggest hurdle. It was originally going to be ~12 days, but turned into 15 based on when I found the cheapest tickets. Then we changed the plan to include a couple days in the Bay prior to our flights out, so the grand total came to 18 days. It was just too long.

So, once we found a window that trimmed the total length down to 8 days, my wife and I were far more settled. Fortunately, the kids tickets were reusable (cash value, although paid with points). Mine actually was, too, but I didn’t get the memo in time for it be of any use for this trip (SEE: Two weeks later, Air France responds to my service request). Prices had gone up since it wasn’t the great sale I’d caught before, but they weren’t terribly more. Luckily, I had a small stash of Delta gift cards (thank you Amex airline credits) that I used to cut much of the additional cost.

The main reason we desired to re-plan an abbreviated version of the trip was how awful of a letdown the last experience was for the kids.

Setting the kids up for disappointment

Life will brings its disappointments. Part of maturing is learning how to handle disappointment, and it is not my plan to shield my kids from this. Experiencing disappointment helps build confidence and resilience. Kids have to learn how to overcome setbacks.

But directly causing significant disappointment to your kids as a parent is a bit different to me. This was all my fault. I’d gotten the kids all geared up to go. We even traveled to the Bay Area to get passports, as the post office was less-than-helpful when it came to figuring out everything we needed to process them (the fact that the kids are internationally adopted was the main complicating factor). I’d set their sights on something, built up their hopes, and then crushed everything at the last minute. Holding my crying kids that day tore my heart out.

I know I’ll fail the kids at times. It’s inevitable. But they also need to know that I’m not going to play games with their emotions. If forces outside my control change our plans, they will have to cope with that. And I hope they understand.

What I want them to understand is that I will follow through on what I tell them we will do. We are also still in a phase of building trust. The kids have progressed by leaps and bounds over the eight months they have been with us. Our relationships are so much different than they were a matter of months ago. We are closer. We understand each other better. Communication and affection continue to grow. But we still have some distance left. I hope that being able to still take them on this adventure will help mend any breach of trust I caused.

Is it worth going overseas for “only” a week?

This is always a question in my mind. Quite a while ago, I would have quickly said “no”. To spend all that time and money (or miles) to head over to another continent for just a week seemed silly. That was at least how I approached our trip to France, Italy, and Ireland last year (SEE: Thirty Days in Europe).

But slowly my mind has changed. An analogous change of mind is whether it is worth spending miles to fly in a premium cabin. I used to think there was no way that was worth it. In most instances, you can fly twice for the same number of miles.  Both of these previous opinions were left in the dust when I planned a five night trip to the land down under (SEE: The Anatomy of a One Week Trip to Australia).

That trip ended up being very much worth it. In any other circumstance, I would have wanted to spend a minimum of 3 weeks to make the trek “worth it”. But given that I spent ~$300 out of pocket for the whole five days, it was a win all around. When you’re not spending a ton of cash for airline tickets, a week trip overseas is actually within the realm of reason. You can easily spend more on two days at Disneyland as a family.

As we are currently on our adventure, I can say that a week will be perfect. It is long enough that we can see a couple different places, yet short enough that they won’t get burnt out. By the end of our 8-day road trip, the kids were definitely ready to get home (although this was most likely a function of how much we had to drive during the last couple days).

Looking forward

With summer upon us, there is not a lot planned on the travel front. June will be the month of dance, then the kids will attend a couple vacation bible school programs and camps during July and August. We will likely pick things up again this fall.

With a pocket (er…AwardWallet account) full of miles, a lot is possible. I’m currently working on a rough schedule of trip ideas for the next couple years. This’ll give us more concrete goals on the earning side, as well as let me burn through points that have been aging for a while. But more on that later. For now, we will enjoy France.

Featured image courtesy of Eric Chan under CC 2.0 license

« Older posts