Saturday, February 23, 2013

First Mileage Run of the Year

Even though I broke up with United and don't fly them anymore for business or with my family, I've still made it a goal to make Million Miler. Why? Well, I'm still relatively young and I figured if I'm this close (at around 800,000 lifetime miles), getting lifetime Premier Gold status is definitely something that I still want to do. Who knows, maybe one of these days United will stop sucking and we'll fly with them again. Until then...it means a I'm doing a whole lot more mileage running, by myself.

Without the 4 trips to Hawaii we routinely fly with them each year, that's almost 25,000 more miles that I need to make up in order to keep my status. When I originally decided to go for Million Miler a while back, I decided to go all out- just a few years of 1K (100,000 miles per year) and I'd be there. Last year I fell a little bit short and settled for Platinum (75,000 miles) after running for about 50,000 of those miles. I made a couple of trips to New York, one to Orlando, Kansas City, Portland, Albuquerque, Manila, Des Moines...all for no other reason than to earn miles, gain status, and get closer to becoming a Million Miler. This year, if I'm going to still meet my goal, I'll be doubling that.

It's an ambitious task, and let's just say until now, I haven't quite been on top of it. I've been busy skiing, traveling on other airlines, and imagine this...flying to places where I actually want to go! Until yesterday I was yet to complete, book, or even really look for a mileage run in 2013. Anyway, enough excuses...it's time to get back to work!

A while ago I wrote a how-to and blogged about the method I use to go about searching for and booking mileage runs. It can be a time consuming process and the hardest part is often finding where I want to go. Luckily this time, twitter made it easy!



New York it is!...and LGA too. I haven't been there yet. My trips last year were all to JFK and EWR. With a lot of the guesswork taken out of the equation, I turned to one of my favorite tools itasoftware.com to start looking for dates. When I normally do transcontinental mileage runs from the West Coast, I like to enter specific airports to try and force a red-eye on the eastbound so I can do a same day turn thus minimizing time away from home and eliminating the added expense of having to get a hotel room. For a typical run like this I would enter "SFO,LAX" in the advanced routing code section to force a stop on there (and an extra 500 mile segment from SMF), then a space followed by "IAD,CLE,ORD". This will ensure 2 layovers/3 segments, and give me pretty good chance of getting a eastbound red-eye flight long enough to sleep on (for example SFO-CLE or LAX-IAD). On the way back I always like to throw IAH in mix, because if you look on a map, Houston is not really on the way to or from anywhere...more miles. This time I didn't bother with any of that and just entered "UA UA UA" simply meaning "give me 3 United segments". I thought it would be fun to  let the computer decide where I was going to go. It came up with a ton of availability over the next few months and a whole world of possibilities (some of which I never thought of) of how to get between Sacramento and New York. The fare was about $240 after taxes for the additional segments with some routes yielding as many as 7800 miles (counting 500-mile minimums). At around $.03 per mile, that is a great deal!
Telling ITA that I want 3 segments on United
I reserved one that I liked (through IAH,CLE,ORD and LAX) for mid-May. I wanted to play around with the schedules a bit more for the others and I figured I'd come back later in the evening and lock down more. Next thing you know, I got busy doing something else and within a matter of hours, the same G-class fares I had looked at jumped about $60. The moral of the story is, if you ever see something you like, book it immediately (or tell United you want to book it later over the phone- and yes that trick still works) and ask questions later! Either way, you always have 24 hours to cancel any purchases should you change your mind. I should have known better. Oh well, I guess the good news is that I have at least have mileage run booked for 2013. It's a start! Now all I need is about 12 more. Stay tuned...

For anyone still interested in the SMF-LGA (or also SJC-LGA) fares, they are still available but now starting at $298. Throw a couple of stops in there and it is still possible to come out at less than $.04 per mile; that's still a pretty good deal!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The First of Many Trips to Alaska

My son and I just got back from our first trip to Alaska. My husband was busy working so unfortunately he didn't make it this time. I know what you might be thinking, "Alaska? In February?" Believe it or not, it wasn't that bad. In fact, it was fabulous! It easily might be one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.
Due to Anchorage's proximity to the ocean, the winter weather there is surprisingly mild given how far north it is. It was in the 20's most of the time while I was up there. Not bad considering the last time I visited family in Wyoming during this time of year it was 20 below! Then there was also that year I spent at the University of Michigan, when it didn't break single digits for an entire month. After that, Alaska seemed downright balmy, even for a Californian. We've even had colder days here this winter!

With Cousin Steve near Turnagain Arm

So you may wonder what one does in the middle of February in Alaska. I went to go skiing. On Saturday we made the scenic drive down the Turnagain Arm to Girdwood and Alyeska Resort. It had snowed the night before and the conditions were absolutely fabulous. Considering we haven't had fresh powder here at Tahoe in like three weeks, I'm glad I made the journey up north. Just $65 for a half day lift ticket plus night skiing was an absolute bargain compared to the $90+ it costs to ski (without a pass) around here, and surprisingly for a holiday weekend, it wasn't that crowded. My cousin Steve and friend Holly showed me around the upper mountain off of Chair 6 before checking out the aspres scene at the Sitzmark. I indulged in an Alaskan Amber (very good) and then some sort of hot chocolate that tasted like it had VanillaMint Listerine in it (not as good, but it was warm). I normally don't drink and ski, but hey, when in Rome...or rather, when in Alaska...right? We had fun. After that we headed out for some night skiing, which was another first for me. Leave it to the people up there to come up with ways to enjoy the outdoors even when its dark out. The entire lower portion of the mountain was lit up and we got in quite a few more runs before calling it a "day" at around 8 pm.

Skiing at Alyeska
Aspres Ski at the Sitzmark
While I was skiing, CJ got out to enjoy the sights as well with a visit to the Imaginarium (children's museum) in Anchorage. Special thanks to my cousin's wife Lisa and their two daughters for taking care of him. He had a fun time. :)

CJ at the Children's Museum in Anchorage
The next day we all went on a tour of the city. We cruised around downtown, saw the official starting place of the Iditarod, and then made a visit to Earthquake park. The 1964 Alaska earthquake was one of the largest in recorded history. From there were got a great panoramic view of the city and the Knik Arm, which is another one of the waterways off of the Cook Inlet. The Cook Inlet of course being named after the famous captain who explored much of the South Pacific; I had no idea before this trip that he ever made it that far north!

After that it was off to the airport for a little plane spotting. Anchorage is one of the busiest cargo hubs in North America, and we didn't have to wait long before getting to see a fully-loaded Korean Air 747 take off yards in front of us. It was a little snowy that day so we didn't stay long, but I would definitely go back just for the plane spotting. With the number of heavies that visit ANC, and on a clear day with mountains the in the background, Anchorage might just be one of the top places to spot in the entire country.

Plane Spotting near ANC

The rest of our trip up there was spent enjoying time with family that I don't see very often. Now that I've been there, I don't understand why it took me so long to go visit. I had it built up in my mind that Alaska was this far-off exotic destination, but in reality it isn't that far away at all- just about 3 hours from Seattle and 5 hours from Chicago. The mountain scenery is as beautiful as I've seen anywhere including the Rockies, the Sierras, and even New Zealand. The tree line is at a very low elevation there, so the tops of the mountains are pure white. After showing my husband some of our pictures, he really wants to go now too. Of course it doesn't hurt that my relatives in Anchorage are some of the nicest and fun people to be around. You can bet that there will be many more trips back up to Alaska in the near future!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

My Big Phat Indian Wedding

This month my husband and I will be celebrating our 6th-2nd anniversary. That's right, we've been married twice. The first time was here in the States. We'd been planning a small simple wedding with just family and a friends, but before we knew it, a guest list of 50 grew to about 500. I don't really like weddings, and more than that, I hate being the center of attention. I couldn't care less about the dress, or the cake or all the other seemingly stupid stuff...so I called it off. The next week with Nevada marriage license already in hand (we'd been planning on getting married at Lake Tahoe), we hopped on a flight to Vegas and took care of the matter once and for good...or so I thought.

Yeah, I kind of had a feeling I wasn't getting off that easy with just a court marriage. Shortly thereafter, my husband's parents brought up the idea of us having an Indian wedding. Since we were already legally married, it was really just going to be for show, but it seemed important to them and since they are such nice people and have always been supportive of our relationship and my husband's permanent move to the US, I couldn't really say no. I'd never been to or even seen an Indian wedding before. Hey, who knew, it might even be fun! All of the planning was to be taken care of (sweet!), and all I really had to do was pick out a few saris and just show up. Deal.

I really had no idea what I was getting in to. It turned out to be a 3 day event with thousands of people. What better way to celebrate your love than with 2,000 perfect strangers, right? Even better was when thousands of strangers keep handing you little envelopes full of cash- Ok, I liked that part! The ceremony itself was unlike anything I've ever experienced. We ate some stuff, lit some stuff on fire, were instructed to put this here, that there...and I noticed there was some money changing hands- both USD and Indian Rupees. I think I might have been sold for something like 10 bucks. I had no clue what was going on. There was a lot of chanting in Sanskrit (which I've heard can go on for hours at these things), and at some point my in-laws started shouting and throwing cash at the priest to get him to hurry it up. I guess they're not really wedding people either. At the end of it we made seven circles around a fire to symbolize being joined together for seven lifetimes. Nobody told me that's what I signed up for; I always thought marriage was 'til death do us part...well, I guess not in India!

As part of the 3 day ordeal event, there was a Ladies Sangeet (Ladies Night) full of music and dancing, the ceremony the next day, and then a big reception the day after that, which is when most of the people actually showed up. I'd been to an Indian reception once before, so that wasn't a total shocker...I just didn't know how big ours was going to be. My father-in-law worked in the government for most of his career, so let's just say he has A LOT of friends. He was always very honest in his dealings and was basically that annoying guy who would never accept "favors" from anyone (this is highly unusual with the palm-greasing that goes on over there). As a result my husband's family got moved around a lot, but over the years my father-in-law slowly worked his way up to the top and managed to build a network of connections stretching all over Northern India. It turns out he has some pretty cool friends too- as a special surprise for me, he arranged for a huge fireworks show! I like fireworks! Then, for most of the night my husband were stuck up on a stage, while people lined up to greet us, hand us little envelopes, and have their picture taken. I almost felt like a celebrity being paid to do an appearance. It was pretty crazy! After a few hours of this, we had two whole suitcases full of cash (no joke), which we eventually gave back to my husband's parents to help cover the expenses. My husband estimated that over their lifetime and during my father-in-laws long career, they had probably given that much, if not more, to other people's children at their marriages. At first they were insisting that we keep it, but let's just say the amount would have made it a slight hassle to bring back into the United States. I was truly humbled by their generosity and that of their friends. The one condition was that I did get to touch and play with all the money- throw it up in the air, jump on the bed with it for a couple of hours, roll around...then it was off to the bank with the armed guard and back to life as usual. In the end the experience was worth more than anything. I actually, kind of, even had a little bit of fun. If you ever get a chance to have a big crazy wedding in a foreign country and party with a bunch of rich people you've never met before- DO IT! It was awesome!


HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY!


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Baby Turns 1: Looking Back at a Year of Travel with the Little Guy

Last week we celebrated Baby CJ's first birthday. I know it's cliche and something every parent probably says, but I can't believe how fast the time has gone by! At first I thought having a baby would mean the end of our traveling days, but our experience has been quite the opposite. We made it a priority from the start to welcome the baby to our family by sharing our love of adventure with him. In his first year CJ visited 5 different states (not counting our home in CA) and flew 22,957 miles on 2 different airlines.
Every kid needs their own FlightMemory!

I used to do a feature on this blog every week called Flashback Friday where I'd dedicate a post to looking back at a past experience; you may or may not have noticed that stopped about 2 weeks ago. Due to the increasing demands of motherhood and having a little guy that naps less and wants to play more, being able to produce content on a reliable schedule has become nearly impossible. So in honor of CJ turning 1, the blog is getting an "enhancement" ...but it's one that I think you will like. Instead of limiting these sorts of posts to just one day or the week, they're fair game any time I have the time...so hello Flashback Wednesday! Today- looking back at year one of traveling with baby.

CJ's First Overnight Trip

When CJ was 3 weeks old we took our first overnight trip to Lake Tahoe. Having missed out on the early part of the ski season due to being extremely pregnant and all, I couldn't wait to get back on the slopes. Anyone who has had a baby is probably well-aware that you're supposed to wait 6 weeks before you resume any physical activity. Yeah, that didn't happen. I was lucky to have a very healthy pregnancy and an uncomplicated labor and delivery; I felt up to it, so with or without doctor's blessing, I was going skiing.

It took almost half a day to pack the car for our short trip to Tahoe. As brand new parents we didn't quite have the routine down yet. Pack-n-play, diapers, clothes, bottles, bibs, the "little black bag"...so much stuff! I think we had enough packed for that first overnight trip to last us 3 weeks. Add that to skis, boots, poles, a helmet, goggles, etc. and there was just enough room for baby. By the time we made it up to the lake, checked in to our room at Harrah's, and unpacked all the stuff it was mid-afternoon. I was still nursing, so I had to get that out of the way, and finally I made it up on the hill by around 2. I needed a belly-band to hold up my ski pants, and it took me a little extra time to tote all my gear down to the gondola and back due to being a bit out of shape, but other than that is was just like old times...ok, not really. I skied for about an hour and a half then it was back to room and back to feed baby. I got 5 or 6 hours of sleep that night, then it was back on the hill for just a few hours again the next day.

Lake Tahoe
Looking back, it probably sounds like more hassle than it was worth, but a first trip anywhere with a baby is bound to be like that. The year before I had CJ, I skied 21 days in a season. I would wake up early, drive to Heavenly in time to get first tracks, ski all day, then drive home and have dinner on the table when my husband came home from work. This time it took the help of my husband, and parents to help get baby and I out of the house, and over a two day period, I think I got in the same amount of skiing that I used to do by 10am. Anyway, I was still extremely grateful for the trip. It was my first time breaking away from the little one for more than just an hour, and his first time really getting out into the world. We needed this trip just to prove to ourselves that we could do it, and after that things did get easier. We can pack the car in less than 30 minutes and going to Lake Tahoe overnight during this time of year is now routine. This first trip also brought baby's first snowfall, and shortly thereafter baby's first roadside diaper change in the middle of blizzard.

Baby CJ Goes to Maui

Our son CJ made 4 trips to Hawaii before he was a year old, tying my first-year-of-life record. While I was only a couple weeks old when I first went, He made his first trip to Maui at 3 months. I wanted to wait to get him on the plane until after his first round of shots. Then we got him ready by going on a 4 hour road trip to visit grandpa the week before. After that we were convinced he could handle the 5 hour flight to Hawaii. Traveling with a 3 month old was actually pretty easy, considering he slept for most of the journey. CJ's first trip to Maui, brought his first visit to Baby Beach. Getting to see my son play in the sand at the exact same place I did at his age, and teaching him to swim right there where I learned has been such a thrill.

Baby Beach
We went to Maui again at 5 months, which is when we had a mechanical delay on the way over, and a missed connection and an overnight stay on the way home. This was one of those trips where if something could go wrong, it did. Meanwhile, the baby was pretty calm about it. He did get a little fussy after spending 7 hours at LAX, but who wouldn't? On the way home when we got stuck at SFO, we didn't have any of our luggage, so baby CJ had to sleep in the hotel bed with us. That was a first since he had been on his own since the start. Surprisingly we all slept well together that night, and seeing how my calm and happy little guy adapted and adjusted when dad and I were getting extremely frustrated and starting to flip out a little, made me fall in love with the little guy all over again.
Playing with Dad in the Airport
At 10 and 11 months, we made 2 more trips back to Hawaii. CJ was still pretty good on the flights, but expecting him to sleep and/or sit still for the entire journey was out of the question. Our increasingly social and mobile little guy wanted to play, and the little whimpers of protest started when we'd try to put him back in his car seat. "I just want to be held. I just want to jump up and down on your lap and pull your hair and try and take off your glasses and put everything within reach in my mouth." That's life with a baby this age, I guess. Diaper changes in the airplane lavatory are a new challenge now that little CJ is strong enough to resist and sometimes wants to fight back. FML. Confined space + crying, squirming baby = no fun. To make up for it though, beach time over in Maui is a becoming a total hit. CJ loves to play in the water and now even likes to come along with me and sit on the front of my paddle board as we explore the calm, shallow water inside the reef at Baby Beach.

Wyoming and Back, Again

For our first trip to Wyoming over the summer, baby CJ, my husband, my dad, Shiloh the yellow lab, and I all drove together. When we went back a few weeks later, CJ and I decided to fly. Not that a road trip across 5 states with a dog and a baby isn't super-fun and everything...I just thought that driving to San Francisco, getting stuck in Bay Area traffic, and checking-in at the airport 30 minutes before our departure while traveling alone with baby would be even more fun! As bad as all that sounds, it actually wasn't and after surviving all it, I gained a lot of confidence. CJ's trips to Wyoming also came with visits to Nevada, Utah, and Idaho, his first rodeo, and first trips to a fireworks store, a truck stop, and a ghost town.

Alright, This Might Be My First Rodeo
Companion Upgrade Drama, VDB's, Compensation, and Finally a New Airline

You can read all the juicy details in my post Breaking Up with United (I'll spare you a rehash), but to make a long story short, we're now an Alaska Airlines family. CJ picked up his very own Volunteered Denied Boarding (VDB) voucher and quite a few Customer Relations e-certs but it wasn't enough to keep us from leaving United at the end of last year. I'm still planning on using the certs to continue my mileage running quest to become a Million Miler on United, but as a family we've moved on to a better place. Along with operating a direct flight from Sacramento to Maui, it turns out Alaska Airlines (and partners) are the perfect compliment to United and the Star Alliance. A ton of new destinations have opened up to us along with a whole new world or miles-and-points earning opportunities. Without the baby, I never would have been inspired to leave an airline I've been flying with my whole life, thanks CJ!

We love Alaska!
The Gear

Other parents are always curious and like to ask, so here's what we use (and what seems to work)-

First Time at SMF
When we first started traveling with the baby, we used a travel system. The infant carrier/car seat snaps into a permanent base in the car, is easily transferred in and out of the stroller, and also installs by itself without the base in the airplane and in other cars. Simply, gate-check the stroller and pick it up plane-side at your destination. It was the easiest and best thing ever...until he grew out of it.

We transitioned to a full-size Britax Marathon car seat at around 6 months. We then ordered a Go Go Kidz Travelmate to go along with it, but when it failed to show up in the mail before one of our trips to Maui, we had no other choice but to use our old gear. In case you were wondering...yes, you can still cram a 10 month old baby into an infant seat, but it isn't nice. At 22.5 pounds we were pushing it with the 23 pound weight-limit and a little guy like ours with wide shoulders and long legs isn't going to be happy with you for doing it. Luckily (for him I guess), he only sat there for take-off, landing, and the short drive to and from the airport. The rest of the time was spent crawling/jumping in our laps, standing in his seat, and looking out the window.
Are we there yet?
At 11 months, we finally got another chance to test out the new Britax/GoGo combo and it worked like a charm. Yes, it's bigger, heavier and more of a hassle, but then so's our kid. With the Travelmate, the car seat becomes like a roll-a-board, and gets installed on the aircraft. We then use the stroller as a luggage cart for our carry-ons, and gate-check it. CJ loves being rolled around the airport in his car seat! Sitting there on the airplane...well, that's another story and keeping his restrained is something we struggle with at times now.

This Is The Kid You Want to Sit Next to
Aside from that we got a rolling duffel bag big enough to hold the pack-n-play, and the rest of his stuff. Of course, a well-stocked diaper bag as a carry on is also must. For earlier trips it's basically going to just be diapers, wipes, and feeding items, maybe a change of clothes, then as your child gets older you're going to want to bring some toys and/or comfort items along as well. The entertainment needs of little ones seem to grow along with their age, so be prepared. You may need a bigger bag.

What's Next

Ready to go!
Of course there will be lots more trips to Hawaii as long as I have family and a job there. The baby and I are also headed to Anchorage at the end of the week, then all 3 of us are going to India to visit my husband's family and introduce them to the baby for the first time. Along the way we're stopping off in Singapore, Bali, and Hong Kong. It's a big trip, and to be honest, I am a little nervous about how CJ is going to handle to the long 14-hour flights between San Francisco and Hong Kong. We'd never attempt such a feat without this past year of experience. I tend to think of each trip we take with him as a training mission for something bigger and better in the future. We love to travel and looking back I'm glad we went through the extra little hassle to bring CJ along with us and get him used to our wandering ways at such an early age. Year two will bring 2 more states, 5 new countries, a whole bunch of miles, 2 new airlines...and that's just in the next month!


Thursday, February 7, 2013

When Being an #Avgeek Makes a Full Circle

Urbandictionary.com
I was up skiing at Northstar yesterday when I heard a large jet roaring overhead. Of course I had to look. It was a beautiful, crisp, bluebird day, and I could easily tell from the contrail that it was a 4-engine aircraft- 747 or A380. "I wonder if that's..."

Yesterday's FlightAware for United 900
Sure enough it was United flight 900 on it's way from San Francisco to Frankfurt. Have you ever seen a plane flying over and wondered where it was headed? Well, there's an app for that. It's called FlightAware (If you're an #avgeek too you may have already heard of it)  and it's awesome! In addition to being able to track flights by flight number, tail number or route, there's a "Nearby" feature, that will bring up a map with all the planes on IFR flight plans in the sky above you. Yesterday I was just lucky enough to have my phone on me.

Of Course I Tweeted About It!
I normally don't like to mess around with my iPhone while I ski- I figure part of the draw of being outdoors is escaping digital distractions (like twitter). It just so happened that yesterday I was also working on earning one of the harder EpicMix badges at Northstar (25k), so I wanted to have a way to confirm that all of my lift check-ins were counted properly. On groomer days when the off-piste snow is kind of crappy (meaning I'm not leaving the trail to go through the icy trees), that's how I keep myself entertained. I guess my obsession with conquering EpicMix kind of makes me a #skigeek too, if there is such a thing.

Anyway...I'd just rode Backside Express and I'm standing on top of the mountain when a big plane flies overhead. I get distracted (which I often do when planes fly over) and out comes the iPhone from the ski jacket. I then use FlightAware to confirm my guess that it's United 900. It turns out I've actually been on that flight before! In fact, I even blogged about it here...and I took a picture (below)...which is another #avgeek activity I typically do for my other photoblog ThirtySixThousand.com

United Flight 900 SFO-FRA in 2009
So it was in that moment that being an #Avgeek (and a #skigeek) came full circle. In 2009, I clearly remember looking out of the plane window as we flew over Tahoe and thinking about all the people down there skiing that beautiful day. Yesterday while I was skiing, I couldn't help but think about all the people up in that plane on their way to Frankfurt while remembering what it was like to be there.

Earning Shopkicks with Amex for Target

You know you're a miles and points junkie when you start working an angle that involves shopping for a Coach purse at Target. I know what you're probably thinking, "...but Target doesn't sell Coach bags". Allow me to explain.

I just recently found out about this new thing called Shopkick. Ok, so it may have been around for a while, but it's new to me and I guess it's pretty popular among moms (I see a lot of other moms doing it now). In fact, it was my mommy-friend Sarah who told me about it. Basically, it's a Checkpoints-like app that rewards you for shopping. Much like Checkpoints, you earn points for "walking in" to stores and scanning stuff. Then you also get "kicks" (their points currency) for flipping through "look books" and occasionally for spending money at their sponsor's stores too- No surprise there, most of the points available in this app come from actually spending money. Your kicks can then be redeemed for a variety of gift cards including itunes, Starbucks, Target, Best Buy, gas cards, etc. I admit it's a little out of my normal miles-and-points earning realm (no airline miles here), and you might be wondering how this is at all relevant to my travel blog. Keep reading. Besides, who doesn't like free stuff? I decided to check it out.

After Shopkicking for about a week, I began getting kind of frustrated by my slow progress- some of my scans didn't work and certain things (like the cameras at Best Buy) only earn points once every 30 days. Then, only 1 kick for flipping through a look book? Are you kidding me? I then figured out it would take me like a million years to get to 75,000 kicks for that $300 Coach gift card I decided I want from them. My excitement was quickly waning. I'm not one to complain about free stuff, but I began wondering if it was really worth my time.

As I mentioned above, most of the points from Shopkick are earned by actually buying stuff. I kept getting little pop-up screens in the app advertising "500 kicks for spending $50 at Old Navy" and "2 kicks per dollar and 1250 kicks for $125+ spent at Toys R Us". I actually did spend $50 at Old Navy and bought some clothes for my kid (which he needed), but aside from that, I don't really want to go buy goods I don't need just to get kicks. I'm sure lots of people do, and that's probably part of their business model. I began searching for a better way. Maybe, it's because I've been reading too much Frequent Miler lately, but the first thought that popped into my head was...I wonder which of these retailers sell gift cards, and not just any gift cards...ones that can be churned.


Best Buy does! They sell a $200 VISA or Mastercard gift card for $5.95 (Well, $200 plus a $5.95 fee). I don't remember which it was, but the important part is they have a debit card logo on them and can easily be cashed out using Serve or Amazon Payments (that is, if you're not already using AP for other stuff, which you should be). Best Buy was offering 1 kick per dollar and 1250 kicks for spending $200, meaning you could earn 1450 kicks for $5.95. At that rate the $300 Coach gift card would end up costing $307.76. Not a great deal, but at the same time you could rack up some spend on a miles-and-points earning credit card (That's where the miles and points part comes in and this starts getting relevant again). Of course there are limitations to this. The 1250 kick bonus is only on the first $200, and you can only cash out $1000 worth of debit cards using Serve in a month.

So this morning I walked into Target to buy some stuff that I actually needed when I noticed they were one of the earning partners for the day (the partners seem to change frequently but they're are identified by a little green credit card icon). 1 kick per dollar, 150 kicks for $50+, 350 kicks for $100, and 600 kicks for $150+. I didn't think much of it, made my necessary $14.88 purchase and left the store with 14 kicks. I then later went back to the store with my new Chase British Airways VISA card and bought a $500 American Express for Target prepaid starter pack, which I've been meaning to try anyway ($3 fee). It worked!


Frequent Miler is a true master when it comes to gift cards, racking up spend, all things churn-able, and he explains the AMEX for Target thing better than I probably ever could. It's kind of like Vanilla Reload, and basically just another way to manufacture spend on a (miles-and-points-earning) credit card. $3 load fee (up to 1,000 after the initial $500 starter pack) and $3 ATM fees- $400 daily limit (after 1 free trip to the ATM each month). It's an Amex card, so you can then use it for daily spend (like at Costco) or cash it out, however you please.

I earned 1103 kicks for my little purchase at Target today. In addition to the $3 purchase fee, it will cost another $3 to cash out the Amex card. At that rate (75,000 kicks divided by 1103 x $6) the $300 Coach gift card would cost $407.98, not to mention 68 trips to Target. Obviously not a great deal if I'm doing it just for kicks (pun intended). However, my new British Airways VISA has a sign-up bonus of 100,000 Avios points once take care of some minimum spending requirements (which in the case of this card, are pretty substantial). To get an idea of how much this is worth, one-way trips on American Airlines using Avios start at just 4,500 points. If you take that into account, the $6 "expense" now becomes a better deal. Moral of the story- I'm getting some extra kicks for racking up spend and earning miles that I probably would have been doing anyway.

Now comes the part where I advocate being rational, taking is slow, and not ruing the deal by being greedy. I am pretty happy with myself and the 1103 kicks I got today. I realize I'm not going to earn a new Coach bag overnight but at the same time, it's not going to take me "like a million years" anymore either. It's also worth mentioning that any bonus kicks you earn by buying stuff is held in an escrow-of-sorts (piggy bank) until after the retailer's designated return period is up. I don't actually get my kicks for another 60 days, another reason why Shopkick by itself if definitely not the next big miles-and-points thing. The Shopkick double dip is simply a small bonus to on top of other more lucrative miles-and-points earning activities that some of us do already anyway. I'm sure you could probably sit there and play with the numbers all day and night (I may do that for a little while after I finish writing this post) and come up with all sorts of more creative and better ways to hack Shopkick (just please stop short of jailbreaking your phone and spoofing-the-geolocator-stuff because that's too far). Anyway, say you're a guy or you're just not really into Coach purses...There are lots of other good prizes. For example, 500 kicks is also good for a $2 Target gift card; You could think of it as a little "rebate" to offset the cost of reloading your Amex for Target cards. You could also trade in for a GoPro (too bad I already have one), to go on a cruise, or even donate to a cause...the possibilities are almost limitless. Just be cool about it...at least until I get my new purse.


If you are interested in joining Shopkick, or more importantly, if you found any of what I shared to be helpful and informative and want to sign up using my referral link, here it is- http://get.shopkick.com/taylor9520. I get some kicks out of it and I truly do appreciate the support. Anyway, it's getting late so I'm off to bed...I think I'll be dreaming about the possibility of this deal coming up at CVS if and when they become a spending partner ;)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

How to Earn 12 Miles Per Dollar for Shopping at Sephora

I recently needed to stock up on some skincare essentials and wanted to share how I made the most of the recent shopping experience. By planning ahead, and thinking strategically I was able to maximize my miles and points earning on a Sephora.com purchase in order to get over 12 miles per dollar!

Step 1- A trip to the grocery store to buy gift cards. I figured I would spend a little over $100 on my upcoming purcahse so I bought 2x $50 gift cards from my local Safeway. They are currently running a double Gas Rewards promotion, so the hundred dollars I spend earned me 200 points in that program. 200 points translates to 2 Gas Rewards worth $.10 per gallon each the next time I fill up. It is limited to 25 gallons, so that works out to a savings of $5 next time I visit the pump.

I also used my Chase United MileagePlus Select Visa which earns 2x's miles at the grocery store, so my $100 purchase earned 200 miles.

Step 2- Picking a shopping portal by visiting evreward.com. Typically United's portal Mileage Plus Shopping is my automatic go-to for Sephora purchases because I like United miles. They usually offer 4 miles per dollar (note- evreward sometimes gets things wrong) and occasionally offer up to 8 miles per dollar during the holidays and other random times throughout the year- in fact they just did...and I missed out on it. Damn. If I went this route my purchase would earn me 400 miles. Chase Ultimate Rewards offers 5 points per dollar and I confirmed that is correct. If you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Bold/Plus card you are then able to transfer points to MileagePlus (among others) at a ratio of 1:1 in increments of 1000, so this choice would theoretically earn 500 miles.

The next option that caught my eye was 8% cash back through Ebates and that where a little creative thinking came in handy. 8% of $100 is $8. It costs $7.90 to buy 2 Vanilla Reloads ($3.95 per $500) at CVS. $1000 worth of Vanilla Reloads would earn me 1000 MileagePlus miles by using the same United credit card again. In this case, instead of paying for the Vanilla Reload fees out of pocket, I am reinvesting the money I earned through the cash-back portal. That's how I figure I end up with 10 miles per dollar. Add that to the miles I already got at the grocery store and I end up with 12 miles per dollar on my Sephora purchase. The extra 10 miles per dollar is based on the assumption that you are able to find/purchase Vanilla Reloads and know how to/have a way to cash them out. Of course, there is always the option of just keeping the $8.

Picking a shopping portal on evreward.com
Step 3- The fun part is actually when I get to go shopping. Sephora offers free shipping on orders over $50. They also let you select up to 3 free samples on all online orders. I strategically split my $100 purchase into 2- $50 purchases to maximize freebies. This month is also my birthday, and as a member of Beauty Insider, I got a free gift. Add that to a couple promotional codes I was able to find, and my takeaway was 6 free samples (designer perfumes and skincare), 1 deluxe (large size) sample of Tarte BB cream (using code BRONZEBB), a free birthday gift (I opted for some Jack Black shave cream for my husband to try), and a grab bag of even more skincare samples (SKINSAMPLER). I also earned over 100 Beauty Insider points, which I will save for a later free gift.

Check out the freebies in my basket!
So of course my purchases didn't come out to an even $50 (well one did, but there was tax) so all said and done I spent another $16. That went on the United credit card earning me an additional 16 miles.

The total miles and points haul for my $116 Sephora purchase:
  • 200 United MileagePlus miles for buying $100 worth of Sephora gift cards at the grocery store
  • $5 worth of Safeway Gas Rewards
  • 1000 more MileagePlus miles once I use my $8 cash back from Ebates to buy Vanilla Reloads
  • 16 MileagePlus miles for the balance I paid on my credit card after I using my gift cards
  • 100-and-something Sephora Beauty Insider points
I hope this real-world example of how to shop creatively will help you the next time you have a routine purchase that needs to be made. Of course, I would never advocate going out and buying stuff just for the sake of earning miles, but if there is something you are planning on purchasing anyway, a trip to the grocery/office supply store ahead of time to buy gift cards paired with using a points/miles/cash back shopping portal can earn you even more along the way. Obviously a bit more thought and a little more work goes into this approach vs. just walking into the mall and buying stuff and I normally don't bother unless my planned purchase is over $100. But hey, every mile counts right? It is really up to you to determine how much time and effort goes into your miles-and-points earning hobby. Your approach can be tailored based an what kinds of miles and points you are after, which credit cards you have, and/or any category bonuses those cards have.

For more on how to earn miles and points through shopping check out my previous posts here and here. If you are interested in signing up for Ebates, there's a referral code for that: http://www.ebates.com/rf.do?referrerid=lcVj8H00Fh2h29Rw3kswjQ%3D%3D and I truly appreciate the support if you choose to use it. If you want to get in on a little referral action yourself, there is also a conga in the S.P.A.M. section on flyertalk. Either way, you can get a $10 gift card after your first $25 purchase. Happy Shopping!

Monday, February 4, 2013

My Air Tahiti Nui Experience

Earlier this week Air Tahiti Nui (not to be confused with Air Tahiti, the domestic airline) announced they are overhauling the interiors of their entire fleet of A340 aircraft. Even though the news broke about ATN's new Business Class via facebook on Thursday of last week, it appears the blogging world is just catching up, and I noticed there were a few posts about it on Boarding Area today. Anyway, I figured I'd jump on the bandwagon and share my $.02 as well, seeing as how I was lucky enough to actually experience the airline not too long ago.




Air Tahiti Nui's New Poerava (Business) Class. Images courtesy Air Tahiti Nui
Air Tahiti Nui's New Moana (Economy) Class
My husband and I flew on Air Tahiti Nui in 2011 between LAX and PPT. At the time, with only United miles to burn (meaning the only way to get to French Polynesia was on Air New Zealand via AKL), we actually bought tickets to go to Tahiti for our 5 year anniversary- Scary, I know (both the part about buying tickets and being married for that long). I have to say, I was very satisfied with our experience in Moana (coach) Class, which of course is where we sat. I offered my initial impressions of the airline in an earlier trip report on milepoint. Admittedly my standards are a little low, based on all of my years at United, but Air Tahiti Nui was pretty darn nice I thought, even in the back of the bus! With all of the hype of a new Business Class product, some of the other bloggers seemed to have missed that ATN's Economy Class is getting a makeover too- although I'm not entirely sure it needed one.

Air Tahiti Nui Moana Class 2011
New Moana Class

Air Tahiti Nui already boasted wider-than-industry-standard seats, and their 2-4-2 seating configuration made for a very specious cabin. No changes there. The seat pitch of 31" is the same as Economy Plus on United and we were very comfortable for both of our 8-hour red eye flights to and from Papeete. Each seat had an individual entertainment system with movies, games, and a map. The new upgraded "on-demand" system is said to have more channels, including ones for kids, and "Tiare TV" featuring stunning imagery that will undoubtedly get you all excited about your upcoming visit to paradise, that is, if the giant wall-murals throughout the cabin don't do the trick.



Some Real-Life Imagery of French Polynesia

Where Air Tahiti Nui really stood out, in my opinion, was with their exceptional inflight service. Even Economy had printed menus and amenity kits, and we were offered 2 meals plus snacks on both flights. The food was actually pretty good too! (Again my standards may be a little low based on United). The flight crew was among the nicest I've encountered anywhere, but then perhaps that is to be expected when flying through Pacific. I've always had very pleasant experiences on Aloha, Hawaiian, and with United's Honolulu-based crews. I think friendly service and hospitality are a big part of the Polynesian culture, and Air Tahiti Nui does not disappoint there. You're going to have a hard time finding any airline that treats you better!

Moana Class Menu
Chocolate Crepes and a Grilled Peach for Breakfast. Yummy!
A Coach-class Amenity Kit- Minus Some Cozy Blue Socks That Are Now a Permanent Feature in My Carry-on :)
So while the upgrades to the back of the plane appear to be purely cosmetic, the ones to Business Class are a welcome refresher. We peeked into the old "Peorava" Class and I wasn't overly impressed- recliner style seats that looked kind of like domestic first on any of the main lines. Hopefully the exceptional service made up for it, but let's just say after seeing that, I wasn't too disappointed with the great deal we got on our seats towards the back of the plane. We didn't get a chance to check out their First Class, which will be going away entirely. Given Tahiti's central location in the Pacific and the shorter duration of most of their flights (8 hours is really not a long trip guys), I'm sure having just the updated Business Class will be perfectly adequate, as will the new angled-flat seats vs. true lay-flat. It's worth noting that the upgrade will increase premium cabin capacity from 30 now (24 Business + 6 First) to 32 (Business only). Hopefully, that means more award availability for those of us wanting to cash in American AAdvantage miles next time, but only time will tell. You can also redeem Delta Sky Miles on Air Tahiti Nui and/or their competitor Air France, who also flies LAX-PPT a few times a week. Naturally, we all want to trade in our airline miles for premium class travel to far away exotic destinations, but unless you're rich in hotel points too (which we weren't in 2011), French Polynesia can be very expensive. Going with a package deal, like we did, might be a good option to explore. Once we bundled everything together, our coach airfare was virtually free.

Tiare Flower Winglet of an Air Tahiti Nui A340. ThirtySixThousand.com
No matter where you sit, Air Tahiti Nui is your best choice when flying to the South Pacific- it also kind of happens to be your only choice if you are looking for regularly scheduled flights to and from Papeete. Anyway, in the end, an already-nice airline is getting a fresh and modern new look to go along with an already-great in-flight experience. That, paired with the stunning beauty of Tahiti and surrounding islands, has me excited and looking forward to making a repeat trip back French Polynesia, hopefully sometime very soon.


Thursday, January 31, 2013

Hacking Hong Kong

As I reported earlier, somehow I got another free stopover out of our upcoming trip to India. Due to a schedule change, and an almost-inevitable missed connection in Hong Kong, I was able to talk United into letting us stay an extra day there. Of course that leaves one issue...Where are we going to spend the night? In the spirit of keeping this a "free" stopover I began exploring the options of using miles and/or points to help finance our stay. As much fun as I had spending the night in the HKG airport when United stranded me there in 2006 (haha, just kidding), I knew there just had to be a better way.

My husband and I have a number of points with Starwood, Hilton, and Priority Club, most of them from credit card sign ups. I checked out the W Hong Kong (Starwood)- expensive, The Conrad (Hilton)- doesn't really look like our style, and even considered transferring some points from Chase Ultimate Rewards to stay at the Grand Hyatt. Finally there's the good ol' Intercontinental Hong Kong (Priority Club) where we stayed during Babymoon 2011. My husband is the Priority Club guy in the household. He has the credit card and the Platinum Ambassador status, he knows the system, and he usually takes care of all things hotel-related on most of our trips. Not this time. We are already using a lot of his points (and status) to get the most out of our upcoming stays in Singapore and Bali, and since this little extra stopover in Hong Kong was my idea, guess who gets to pay for it. That right, me.

It turns out I have quite a few Priority Club points too! Before I was banned from Topguest, I managed to rack up quite a few of them (and at one point Gold status too). So for most of us the Topguest ship sailed a long time ago, but if you somehow weren't in on the deal, you can still sign up at topguest.com and earn points for "checking in" via Foursquare. Just don't try and rig an auto check in service because recent foursquare updates make it blatantly obvious that you're cheating (i.e. Michelle just checked in to the local Holiday Inn Express via auto4sq.com). In the end it didn't seem to matter whether you cheated or played fairly, we all got shut down the same. Anyway, the deal was good while it lasted and still may be for whatever you can get out of it.

In addition to the Topguest hack trick, I earned extra points through participating in various promotions (check out the flyertalk master thread) including the some fun quizzes:
This was an old promo and I'm not sure who to thank for originally finding out about this one (flyertalk, milepoint, or another blogger) but The Points Guy does a pretty good job explaining it. Isn't it amazing how many Priority Club properties there are around the world?!? USA, Great Britain, Canada, China, Japan, Italy, Spain, France...Read between the lines here and this little trick is good for at least a few thousand free Priority Club points.

I also stayed at a Holiday Inn Express in New Mexico in 2008, and who knows where else over the years (I've been a Priority Club member since 2001) so some of those points may very well have come from actual hotel stays- but I'm guessing it's a minority of them. My Priority Club account for the most part has been neglected since we started using my husband's.

When I logged into my account the other day, I had just over 32,000 points. I had narrowed down our choices in Hong Kong to two: the Intercontinental Hong Kong and the Crowne Plaza Causeway Bay. Both properties require the same amount of points. Since we stayed at the IC back in 2011, I thought it might be fun to try someplace new. I also wasn't planning on getting lucky with a Harbour View room at the Intercontinental like we did last time, especially since this stay is on my account and I don't have any status. I like the Causeway Bay area because of the convenient shopping and dining choices plus they have a rooftop infinity pool (The IC would like you to think they have one too, but it turns out it is for the Presidential Suites only). Crowne Plaza it is!

Priority Club in Hong Kong

You may notice that the nightly rate for the Intercontinental is quite a bit higher than what it is for the Crowne Plaza, but since we are using points, it really doesn't matter. Sure, you could argue the the IC is a better value and that I'm not getting the best deal, but we already stayed there and in the end I'm still getting a $350/nt. hotel room for free. I'm perfectly OK with that. So my 32,000+ points balance puts me within striking range of the Point and Cash option of 35,000 + $70. Luckily, I don't have to pay the extra $70 (although $70 for 10,000 points is not a bad deal). Priority Club recently devalued "enhanced" their award chart but as a courtesy are giving members until mid-March to call in and book at the old rates (Thanks Mommy Points!). The CP used to cost 35,000 points outright and that's what I'm going to pay.

To top off the account I redeemed 60 e-Rewards dollars for 2,200 more Priority Club points, which put me 265 points frustratingly short of the 35,000 I needed. My next move was going to be a transfer of 1,000 points from my Chase Ultimate Rewards account at a rate of 1:1. That kind of annoyed me because I didn't want to use those Ultimate Rewards for Priority Club points (they are much more valuable transferred elsewhere), and if I counted the $7.90 cost of what it would cost to replenish those points by buying a couples of Vanilla Reloads at the store, my stay wouldn't be so free anymore. Luckily, Jason from Miles Quest saved the day by posting about how to get 1,000 points from VISA for watching a short film about the Priority Club credit card. I watched the movie and the points should be in my account by the time you are reading this.
Redeeming e-Rewards for Priority Club points

So that's how I hacked creatively booked Hong Kong and ended up with a free room for the night. I also cleaned out my Priority Club account (which we no longer use), so now I don't have a bunch of points sitting around waiting to be devalued the next time they "enhance" their award chart. Without miles and points, I can guarantee you we wouldn't be staying in as nice of a hotel and there's no doubt that the extra money I saved will come in handy for a little shopping in Hong Kong.







Wednesday, January 30, 2013

We're going to Alaska!

Have you ever done anything crazy like book a trip to Alaska in the middle of winter? Because that's exactly what I did last week. Why, you may ask? Well, if you follow me on twitter (@hulagrrl210) it's no big secret that I like to ski. As a Tahoe season pass holder, Vail's social media invention EpicMix spams my followers every time I hit the slopes. Of course I could disable it, but I like bragging about my accomplishments such as 150,000 vertical feet so far in the season and mastering the Nevada side at Heavenly in one day! Anyway, I have a cousin in Anchorage who knows how much I love to ski and who keeps inviting me up to check out the 49th state. That combined with watching perhaps a few too many Warren Miller films lately and some newly acquired Alaska Airlines MileagePlan miles gave me the idea...we're going to Alaska!

image courtesy travelalaska.com
It's just me and the baby this time. Unfortunately, my husband has to work (someone has to right?) so let the solo-mom-baby-wrangling adventures begin! It turns out there are some "logistics" involved in figuring out how to get a kid, all of his #$%*, my skis, poles, boots, and a bunch of survival gear winter clothes on a plane to and from Alaska. United has spoiled me over the years with their generous 3x's 75 pound baggage allowance for Premier Golds/Platinums, but we're not flying United this time- mainly because it costs as many miles to fly to ANC as what we're paying to go to Singapore, Bali, India, and now Hong Kong next month. When I checked with UA, the only thing available was a Standard First Class Award (via DEN) for 50,000 miles each way! Yeah, not thanks. So once again Alaska Airlines is stealing away more of my business from United.

Unfortunately, I don't (yet) have any status with AS so we're just going to have to rough it with the standard (paid) 2x's 50lb. baggage allowance. Since baby's first trip and the infant carrier days, we've transitioned him into a Britax Marathon car seat and use a Go Go Kidz TravelMate to wheel him around the airport. Those come on board with us. We then use the stroller as a makeshift luggage cart and check that plane-side. Then CJ has his own massively-large Dakine Split Roller duffle bag that holds his Pack-n-Play and whatever else baby needs when he goes on vacation (a lot of diapers, wipes, clothes, toys, food, etc.). We then usually have our own individual carry-ons, plus the diaper bag, and an additional check-in bag (or two) for mom and dad. This works out great when we have two adults (and no heavy ski boots). Not this time! Luckily, my cousin's wife says they have a Pack-n-Play we can use, and I'm figuring without much use for the stroller in Alaska in the middle of winter, I might actually be able to pull this one off with one check-in (my skis padded with winter jackets and whatever else I can cram in that bag) and a carry-on roll-a-board or backpack (with ski boots). A diaper bag is a "personal item" right? I know I'm really pushing it with the carry-on allowance, so worst case scenario I pay extra (grrrr), CJ's giant duffle bag comes too and without the Pack-n-Play, if I put the ski boots in there, we still have hope of coming in under 50 lbs. Glad we got that all figured out!
Guess whose bag that is!
Now, you also might be wondering how a life-long loyal United customer ends up with a bunch of Alaska MileagePlan Miles. 25,000 miles came from a targeted promotion for Northern California residents flying to Hawaii. A few more miles came from actually flying to Hawaii (2 times now with AS) plus a trip home from Las Vegas on Delta. More recently I got a 25,000 from a Bank of America-Alaska Airlines credit card sign-up ($75 annual fee). Add in the various other routine daily activities of a self-confessed mileage junkie (e-Rewards, e-Miles, etc.) and before you know it, I had over 75,000 miles in the bank- more than double what I need to make it up to Anchorage and back. Award availability on Alaska Airlines was surprisingly good given the last minute nature of the trip. I was able to get very good mid-day timings with minimal layovers for 32,500 miles (12.5k + 20k). There were some cheaper options, but I figured going via SEA and PDX then getting to ANC at 1 or 2 in the morning would make me a bad mother, and an even worse house guest. In the end it was well worth a few extra miles to travel in the middle of the day. I only bought one ticket for both of us, which is something I like to do on domestic award travel as long as there appear to be a lot of empty seats at the time of booking. The airlines will usually let you bring your car seat on board and take up an extra unoccupied seat. While I typically don't like to "lapchild", this is something I have done before on United. Alaska's policy is very generous in this regard, and all they ask is that I provide them with a birth certificate (or passport) to verify that my child is indeed under 2 years old.

An example of some flights we won't be taking

 So after having kids, it turns out just a bit more planning goes into these last-minute, impulsive-behavior-driven trips as I continue to chase my dreams of being a jet-setting, snow-bunny, surfer-chick, still-20-something (for a few more weeks anyway), life-loving, sometimes-crazy, young adult. Of course, none of this would be possible without having one of the greatest little guys around, and he really is such a good sport on the plane (and in the car) when we drag him along on all of our travel adventures. Also special thanks to my awesome cousin Steve, his wife Lisa, and their beautiful family for the invite and for taking us in. I am truly blessed to have such wonderful relatives and I can't wait to check out the snow in Alaska!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

United Award Booking Adventures

At first I thought about titling this "How to get extra stopovers on award travel", but then I'm not sure if I found a way to exploit the system or if I just got lucky..maybe both. Anyway, I somehow ended up with 3 free stopovers on our upcoming trip to India. One of the things I like to do on award tickets is to take advantage of the one free stopover that United offers on round trip travel. If you're headed to India, which is about as far away from Northern California as you can get without going full circle, that means your stopover can pretty much be anywhere in the world. For this one we chose to sneak in a free trip to Bali.

The next free stopover in Singapore isn't really a stopover at all...after all anything less than 24 hours is just a long layover right? ;) This is one of my favorite tricks and one we used before on Babymoon 2011. The idea is you show up at a city mid-morning or early afternoon one day, and instead of continuing on to your destination that evening, you choose a morning flight the next day. To do this, try using the multi-city or "Multiple Destinations" option when booking. Sometimes it may be helpful to try search by individual segment or to look up the schedule in your airlines' timetable. In some cases getting this extra "stopover" may require calling on the phone. As the golden rule with United goes...if at first you don't succeed, hang up, call again. It took a couple of phone calls in this case and I had to tell the agent exactly which flight numbers I wanted, but it worked! I also got them to waive the charge for booking over the phone by saying I was having "techincal" issues with the website (united.com didn't like my idea very much)- while the new United really doesn't like to waive the fees for this reason anymore, they still occasionally will if you ask nicely. :)

I booked these tickets almost a year ago...a lot can change in a year, especially schedules. Long story short, that is how we ended up with our 3rd stopover in Hong Kong.

SFO-HKG-SIN-DPS-BKK-DEL-BKK-HKG-SFO gcmap.com

For this trip we ended up with a mixed saver award (half coach, half business class) using Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways and United. Trying to get business class seats on Singapore using United miles is next to impossible. The one day in the history of the world when Singapore released their premium seats to other Star Alliance partners...yeah, I was busy working sitting on a beach in Maui when that happened and missed out, so coach it is. Not sure if I write that off as FML or #firstworldproblems. Singapore Airlines offered the best schedule to fit our needs (and the only way to "stopover" in Singapore along the way), so we took what we could get.

Coming home I was able to score us business class seats the whole way. With a roundtrip economy saver award to India costing 80,000 miles per person, and the mixed award we ended up with being 100,000 I found this to be an incredible value. (20,000 miles to fly halfway around the world in business class...yes please!) The plan was DEL-BKK-HKG-SFO, going as far as Hong Kong on Thai and then continuing home on United. The trick to getting 3 business class seats on Thai was to book 2 people on one record and 1 on the other. Thai releases their seats in pairs, and special thanks to Gary from View from the Wing for telling me about it. Sure enough it worked like a charm; as soon as two of us booked the seats, two more opened up and we were able to snag the third that we needed. Of course, in typical United fashion, they botched this and put the baby on his own record instead of one of the adults, but whatever. Hey, at least we're all on the same flights (believe it or not that has been an issue with United the past)!

With tickets booked well in advance, we waited...and continued to wait for our upcoming trip as some interesting changes began to unfold. The first one being our SQ1 flight is now on an A380 instead of a 777. So bigger, fancier plane- same not-so-big, not-so-fancy coach seats, but then I've never been on an A380, so I figured it'll be cool. The next change was an aircraft swap from a TG 474 to their brand new A380, and since we're flying in business class on that segment this was a welcome surprise and the chance to try out a brand new premium product. Along with that swap came a slight schedule change...and what was a tight connection at HKG became an illegal even tighter one. I somewhat-intentionally neglected to do anything about it.

So a few days ago, I'm at home, probably still in my PJ's, cleaning up the latest mess the baby made...ah, my other glamorous life of that stay at home mom...when the phone rings. I nice lady from United was calling and asking to talk to baby CJ...um, ok. She then asked if baby CJ was traveling by himself (valid question perhaps given the state of our itineraries, but no I'm not sending my soon-to-be 1 year old son jet setting around the world by himself). "This wouldn't possibly be regarding our upcoming trip to India, would it?" Lucky guess. She then informed me of the "good news" that she could rebook us on a 15-hour flight DEL-EWR and then continuing on to SFO. My head started spinning. First of all, I hate Newark. Second of all, I've done that flight. It sucks. What sucks more is following it by 5-6 hour transcon in an A320, or similarly-sucky aircraft...Goodbye Thai A380's brand new business class. Goodbye free massage at the Royal Orchid club in BKK (one of the perks of flying Thai). Hello enhanced pat down in New Jersey. At that point my baby started crying. Thank goodness! "I'm going to have to call you back."

The first thing I did was to get on the computer and start exploring other options. Was there anything through Narita? Frankfurt? Singapore? Munich? Seoul? Anywhere but Newark? Nope. I eventually did call back, defeated and ready to accept my fate. Interesting conversation...At first I asked if there were any other options. There were none. A month out? Business Class? Saver Award? Who were we kidding. When I told the agent I was trying to avoid EWR, she said, "I don't blame you. You know, I don't know who or why or whatever they were able to even offer you that routing." That's what I'm sayin'! Technically coming home through Newark would be an around the world ticket. I was always told "you go through the Pacific, you come home through the Pacific" when traveling to that part of the world. She agreed with me. The way around this would be to book tickets to India using 2 one-ways, but since we took advantage of the free stopover, that option was out. I guess United had been willing to make an exception since it was their metal that flies the DEL-EWR route. While it might have been fun for my kiddo to make his first around-the-world trip at a year old, I didn't complete mine until I was 23...Dude can wait a few years! Of course, technically not being able to go around the world ruled out Lufthansa or Swiss and going through Europe, which didn't matter because there wasn't availability anyway. No luck via Tokyo on ANA either. Singapore Airlines didn't have any Business seats (no surprises there), neither did Thai, and none of the other Star Alliance carriers' schedules worked. We were running out of options. I figured it was a long shot, but I asked anyway, "What if we are willing to spend the night in Hong Kong, and just come home 24 hours later?"..."Let me put you on hold".

Hong Kong 2011
So United is letting us do another stopover in Hong Kong. I like the city and I figured it will be a good way to break up the long journey a little bit. At one point there was talk of them even providing a hotel but that didn't come through. They had to convert some revenue business class seats to "accommodate" us (as in we already might have cost them a little bit of money), but anyway we're now booked HKG-SFO on our same original flight, in business class, just a day later. In the end I was thanked again for my continued loyalty and I very graciously thanked the lady who helped me for her time. I'm sure we're going to have a fun day in Hong Kong. Thanks United!