Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Month: August 2017 (page 1 of 2)

3 Reasons I’m Glad I Traveled to See the Eclipse

Last week an amazing natural phenomenon was enjoyed by millions of people across the United States: a total solar eclipse. The path of totality arced across the entire United States, resulting in a name of The Great American Eclipse.

While eclipses are fairly routine (a total eclipse happens every couple years on average), it is more rare to be able to see totality. You have to be at the perfect intersection of time and location. Some people could live there whole life and never end up in the path of a total solar eclipse!

Even if you weren’t watching from along the path, you could still enjoy the eclipse with special solar glasses. However, you missed an absolute wonder if you didn’t make it into the path of totality. Here’s why:

It may be a once in a lifetime experience

While there is always the possibility that we will catch another eclipse, being able to only travel a few hours to the path of totality pretty much makes this a once in a lifetime experience. There will be another eclipse over the eastern United States in a few years, but no more that stretch across the U.S. until 2045 (this one actually passes directly over Humboldt County).

I figure that we may be able to catch another eclipse. I’d sure like to with our kids. But in case we don’t, I didn’t want to miss this one.

Totality *must* be experience in person

Everything I read leading up to the eclipse said you *must* make it to the path of totality for the best experience. There were a few naysayers who didn’t really think it was all that interesting, but I took the words of those who had experienced other eclipses to heart.

And we weren’t disappointed. The eclipse with enjoyable for the hour or so leading up to totality, but it was in the last couple minutes and then totality itself when I finally felt an absolute sense of wonder. We were able to see the “diamond ring” moments before totality, and then experience the 360 degree “sunset” all around us. It was utterly surreal during the middle of the day.

It made me ponder life

The eclipse is truly a marvel of creation. It is a spectacular event that is orchestrated so perfectly. The fact that the moon fits exactly over the sun a handful of times each decade makes it a unique and amazing sight. If the moon were a bit further from earth, or if the orbital planes were oriented differently, we wouldn’t even see any eclipses.

But we do. The heavenly bodies are hurtling through space at thousands of miles per hour, yet in perfect harmony, and we get this amazing sight at a few, precious prescribed times. I feel so small and insignificant in this vast universe the Lord has created.


I definitely hope to see another total solar eclipse, and I really hope we can travel so that our kids can see one. If you missed this one, I encourage you to plan for the 2024 eclipse that will cross North America!

Thoughts on this Eclipse-Eve

It’s been an enjoyable weekend. My wife and I headed out on Friday for a medical appointment in Chico, and then spent the night nearby. We then meandered through the oft-forgotten northeastern section of the state, an area I’d never seen.

That evening we made it to Bend, Oregon, along with many other eclipse-goers. Traffic was not all that great. After an easygoing morning, we finished the trek to Portland. Well, Clackamas. Close enough. Now tomorrow we head south to the path of totality of the solar eclipse. And then home.

Eagerly anticipating the eclipse

I’ve never seen a total solar eclipse. I don’t even think I’ve seen a partial eclipse, either. I vaguely remember seeing a lunar eclipse, but am not even sure about that one. Looking at historical eclipses, this would have likely been in 2000 when I was 10 years old. Obviously it didn’t leave much of an impression if I *did* see it.

To me, the eclipse is yet another wonder of creation. The fact that there are certain prescribed times where the moon passes *exactly* in front of the sun, covering it completely (but not excessively), showcases the creativity of our God.

I’m expecting the brief period to me much like my first glimpse of Niagara Falls. Pictures give you an idea, but they don’t hold a candle to the in-person experience.

But will it be that good?

Some people have downplayed the eclipse, saying you can see all you need in photos (or on TV). Others say you *must* be within the path of totality, otherwise it’s just not the full experience. I sure hope the latter are right, since I am super excited for this 2-minute-long event.

We’ll be on the road bright and early tomorrow, hoping to beat the traffic to this amazing wonder of creation. If any of you are also on the road for the eclipse, stay safe, and enjoy this amazing phenomenon!

Header image courtesy of Luc Viator under CC 3.0 license

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.

Should you prepay gas for a rental car?

Much of renting a car is a headache. I’ve stood in line for hours. Or not gotten the car I reserved. And then they try to up-sell you. And then they ask if you want to prepay the fuel. I’ve often said no, but should you prepay gas for a rental car?

There are a few factors that go into this decision:

  1. Will you be driving enough to empty or mostly empty the tank?
  2. What is the cost per gallon compared to local prices?
  3. Is it a matter of convenience?

Let’s look at each of these and then ask again, should you prepay gas for a rental car.

Figuring out if you will empty the tank

If the answer isn’t an obvious yes or no, this will take a bit of quick math. You might want to do a bit of estimating before your trip. I’d use the average miles per gallon for the class of car you reserved, plus the typical size of the tank to figure out roughly how many miles you can drive on one tank of gas.

Or just look up the general range of the car, if that is something that is easy enough to find with Google.

Figure out the local cost of gas

Also compare the local price of gas when considering whether you should prepay gas for a rental car. Typically, the prepay option for fuel will be at a price per gallon that is cheaper than local gas prices. This is because you are unlikely to return the car with a completely empty tank. It is a game (at least for me) to figure out how little I can leave in the tank when returning the car, it I’ve prepaid the fuel.

If you will very likely empty the tank at least once completely and the price per gallon of the prepay option is reasonable, consider pre-paying the fuel.

Should you prepay gas for a rental car?

Sometimes it is simply convenient to pre-pay

At the end of the day, you’re probably on vacation, so why worry about having to fill the tank? Or maybe you’re traveling for work and don’t want to have to remember to top off before returning your car.

If it is a matter of convenience, such as an early return to the airport, I’d probably go with pre-paying the fuel. I’d definitely balance this with how much you’re driving and figure out roughly how much you’re paying for this convenience.

Case Study #1

Back in May I traveled to Orlando for Family Travel for Real Life 6. During the trip, I rented a car for the day to explore the atrociously flat state of Florida. I opted not to pre-pay the fuel since I would only be depleting half a tank at most.

Fast-forward to the rental return where I returned the car without filling up (SEE: The ONE rental car mistake I often make). Major mishap here. I was charged over $50 for fuel, for a tank that would have cost me around $25 to pre-purchase!! In this case, pre-paying would have saved me a ton of money. Admittedly, I was a total space cadet and forgot to fill it before I drove back to MCO.

Pre-paying the fuel in this case would have given me major peace of mind. Although it *would* have been best to still decline the option and fill the tank myself.

Case Study #2

Fast forward to July where I took a trip to Montana with my brother-in-law to visit friends (SEE: Hiking the Highline Trail Glacier National Park and Of Course I HAD to Visit Snyder Lake in Glacier National Park). When we picked up our car, the prepay option had a fuel price of $1.75 per gallon!!! This is insanely cheap when you’re coming from California.

I knew that we would be driving to Missoula and back, not to mention up to Glacier a few times. My gut told me yes, purchase the fuel. I ended up using about a tank and a half over the trip, so it worked out great. We returned the car at less than 1/8 of a tank.

So…should you prepay gas for a rental car?

Answer: it depends. But if you are doing any serious amount of driving, I certainly would. I used to shy away from this option, but I’ve found it to work out for the best in more and more instances.

Should you prepay gas for a rental car, just remember NOT to fill the tank before you return the car.

Image courtesy of Erico Junior Wouters under CC 2.0 license

Au Revoir, Pen Air: Humboldt is Again Stuck with ONE Airline

In a depressing move, PenAir notified our local Arcata-Eureka Airport that they will no longer be flying the ACV-PDX route. And they are dropping it fast. The last flight will be this coming Monday.

This leave us with just United Airlines as our only commercial option (yet again). Getting out from behind the redwood curtain just got a bit harder.

PenAir’s reason for leaving

It seems to be impossible for our area to keep a reasonable amount of commercial air service. My first guess when hearing the news was that the route wasn’t particularly profitable due to the rural nature of our area. The single flight I took on PenAir to Portland didn’t have that high of a load factor (SEE: The Pacific Northwest Stopover “Trick”). However, the United flights I’ve been on are almost always very full (and very expensive).

Turns out that the economics of the route had nothing to do with PenAir’s decision to axe it. The program director for the Humboldt County Aviation Division called the route “very successful”. So what is the problem?

Airlines need pilots

PenAir, like other regional airlines, is suffering from a pilot shortage. Horizon Air (another regional airline that flies under Alaska’s wing) had to cut some flights due to their pilot shortage in June. Pilots are retiring by the hundreds per week, and we can’t seem to fill the ranks with new talent fast enough.

PenAir actually cut all non-essential air service routes in the lower 48 states. This means you can still fly to Portland from Crescent City (an EAS airport) on PenAir, although for most of Humboldt County this is roughly a 2 hour drive north. Hardly ideal. Might as well drive to SFO.


This is sad news for Humboldt. I really liked the new little airline we acquired last year, and had hoped to fly them again. I’ll continue to hold out hope that we will pick up a new option. Three flights per day on United is hardly much of an option (plus they break guitars).

I want to add that if you’re young and considering a career, consider becoming a pilot. The investment isn’t all that much different than a moderately expensive university, but the demand for your skills will not be going away anytime soon. The world will need 637,000 new pilots by 2036 to fill the projected increase in air travel. North America will need 117,000 of those. Airline pilots make good wages, so the multi-year investment should be entirely worth it.

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