Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Reflection (page 1 of 4)

Big Changes! Points, Miles and Life is Moving On!

I started this blog a few years ago with the idea that I would document the adventures my wife and I were having, focusing on how we were able to travel so cheaply thank to this amazing award travel hobby. Along the way I learned much about writing and blogging, far more than I expected.

While my blog traffic has never been anything to boast about, keeping up with a site landed me other opportunities. Many (most?) of my relatively few readers know that I write not just here, but also for Points With a Crew, a BoardingArea blog. In all honesty, I’ve written far more for PWaC than here over the past years. Dan actually pays me for my efforts, while this site is entirely a labor of love.

But now it is time to move on and step into other opportunities.

Travel Update and The Points Guy Family

If you’d have told me three years ago that I would one day be contributing to the largest points and miles website on the inter-webs, I would have laughed. Me? Write for The Points Guy?

But that is exactly what is happening! I’ve actually already been on-boarded and submitted my first three posts to them, and two have already run. My first details why I consider the Hilton Aspire card to be a great choice for families, and my second was a guide to using points and miles for international adoption travel. I’m *so* excited to be able to contribute, not to mention it is a major step up in terms of freelance writing gigs.

Along with writing at The Points Guy Family, I’m launching on Travel Update, a channel of bloggers on the Boarding Area network. This is the same network that Points with a Crew belongs to. The difference is that I will have my own channel and “brand”, yet still not as a standalone blog. It’s a sort of middle ground between being a contributor to another blog and running your own independent blog.

For Travel Update, I’ll be writing as Family Flys Free. Name changes are hard, and it was painful trying to brainstorm for this one, but thanks to Randy, Heather and the Boarding Area crew, I’m happy with it.

 

Future of the blog

I have a small number of posts that I still consider a better fit for this blog, so I still plan to try write a bit until those are exhausted. There may be an occasional post about life after that, but expect all the points and miles goodness, trip reports, and family travel thoughts to come overwhelmingly from my Travel Update channel.

Important note: my social media accounts are changing. I will not be keeping up under multiple names. That’s just too crazy. Instead, the Points, Miles and Life Facebook page, Twitter handle and Instagram will all be converted to Family Flys Free. This is already in the works.

Conclusion

I’m so excited about this next chapter. Becoming a part of the Travel Update BoardingArea channel is huge move for me. I have only gratitude to Randy and Boarding Area for being willing to bring me on in this capacity. Dan deserves a shout-out as well for all his coaching and support during my time contributing to his site.

Thank you to my readers here as well. Keep earning all those points and miles, and fly your family for free!

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.

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