Posted in Travel

Address, GPS – Developing Countries

When traveling to Central or Latin-America, please note that there are no physical addresses.  Both residences and businesses use a short description as an “address” like “800 miles from the gas station at the end of the road”, or “100 meters from the soccer field to the left”; I have seen them using a church or school as a landmark as well.

When you have a GPS (whether it is your own or belongs to the rental car), you can’t put in words like “800 meters from the gas station at the end of the road” but you can put in the name of the hotel, a national park, school, church or other land marks or just search for gas stations in whichever city.  You can zoom in and out a GPS screen so you have a bigger view, if not the whole city at least the neighborhood ahead of you.

I hate to burst your bubble but developing countries are lacking signals on the road. It sucks big time because without the names of the street or names of the route you are just shooting in the dark, sometimes you don’t even know which city you are in because guess what, there are no city or county names posted!  So, this is what I am suggesting you:

PRIOR TO YOUR TRIP please buy a road map which includes detailed city maps as well.  When you arrive please take a few minutes to study it, be familiar with where you are and where you are going, see if you can memorize street names or neighborhoods you need to drive through.  You certainly can’t hold the map while driving unless there is somebody sitting next to you, who can somewhat read the map.

In addition to the map, you will need a compass. No, I’m not kidding, you are going to need one.  You can also use your smart phone’s compass application which is almost as accurate. You need a compass to have an idea if you are going to the right direction.  If you know from the map that a road is north of you but you got no clue which way is north, then start driving, let your compass tell you.  If your compass is on your smart phone, hold your phone down, the back of your phone should face your legs (when sitting in the car).  The road won’t be completely straight but after a short drive you will be able tell your position.

Now, there is one more option, certainly depending on where you are. If you happen to be in a city near Starbucks, McDonalds, a shopping mall, gas station or any place with free wifi than go ahead and connect your smartphone and simply turn on Waze, get the directions to the place you are heading.  KEEP IN MIND THAT ONCE YOU GET THE NAVIGATION YOU CAN’T MAKE A MISTAKE BECAUSE THE APP WON’T BE ABLE TO RECALCULATE WITHOUT INTERNET; once you leave the wifi area, you are on your own again, so if you do mess it up, I suggest you to turn back and do it right.  The way Waze works is that even though you lose the internet connection, it will save the directions for you. You can thank me later, my friend, but you gotta use your common sense when everything else fails 😉

As a last resort: Ask locals for directions and show them the map.  On the countryside don’t expect them to speak your language, you may need to polish your Spanish in terms of directions 😉

Regarding GPS: If you need to buy a download for the continent, don’t bother it unless you plain to visit other countries there later, and there is no need to pay $10 a day for renting it with the car, for that money you can already buy one brand new.  We made it without a GPS and keep in mind that a GPS may not work either if you are in remote areas of the country, like being in a jungle or volcano area in Costa Rica. In Europe you certainly need a GPS, I would not do it any other way, but today I was only focusing on developing countries.

Image:northshoreschools

 

 

 

 

Posted in Flying on Miles, Travel

Redeeming Miles

Bravo, you have enough miles for a free air ticket, now it is time to redeem it. What do you do and how do you choose from the many options on the website? Is there any trick?

Let’s take a look at what I have on both of my airline accounts, let’s do it together: As of today my American Airlines account only shows 12,194 miles, which is not enough for popcorn right now, let’s leave it alone. Actually, not too bad considering that I just got 2 free air tickets to Madrid.

After logging into my United Airlines account, it shows 60,965 miles so technically I have enough points for one free ticket to either Europe or Latin-America, so I just have to make my mind about where and when to travel.

On United.com under MileagePlus click on Use Award Miles (on American Airlines it is called Book an Award Ticket) and fill in the grids the same way as if you were to search for a regular airplane ticket. Based on your departure date, you will get a long list of flights.  You will notice that some of these free flights are crappy with long layovers or are connecting in cities which are out of way.

I don’t mind long layovers, as a matter of fact, I’m actually fishing for those because it gives me an opportunity to visit another city at no additional cost, furthermore, I don’t mind spending a night there so I can discover more.

What I do mind is the following:

  • If I am arriving between midnight and 6 AM.  After an overnight flight I’m very tired and perhaps even jet lagged; I can’t check into my hotel until at least noon (in best case scenario); I am wasting time. I hate to stick around airports and coffee houses with no sleep, I don’t have energy to do much even if I leave my luggage at the front desk of my hotel.  Nothing worse than starting a road trip dead tired.  Last November I flew to Dubai and Turkish Airlines landed at 2 AM. The flight was so rough that I almost got sick on the plane, I decided to buy an extra night at the hotel (for the previous night) so that I can check in, go to bed and sleep it off.
  • If the connecting airport is out of way: I only take this kind of flights when there is nothing else, when I can’t pick another date.  In August of 2007 I flew from Washington, D.C. to Alaska connecting in Dallas, Texas, which was insane but there wasn’t any better connection during peak season for a free flight, however on the way back it was much better connecting in Portland, Oregon. I just toughed it out, a little more wine helped 😉
  • If redeeming the miles costs too much money. Please note that there is a small fee associated with the redeeming the miles but those are disclosed prior to the purchase. United  Airlines shows this fees next to the mile needed for the flight, American Airlines shows it on the check-out page.  I have a limitation for this, willing to pay up to $50 per person one way, over that I rather choose another airline with perhaps a bad connection but as long as I can save.

Beware of British Airways for free flights! I like the airline with their customer service, in-flight entertainment, food, even the connecting airport in London but when it comes to free flights, they are notorious.  British Airways is affiliated with American Airlines; technically I would only need 50,000 miles for a free round trip ticket between the continental USA and Europe.  This European airline has the nerve to charge over $300 just to redeem miles one way, which comes to over $600 for a round trip ticket. For the love of God, for $600 you can already (or almost) buy your own round trip ticket to Europe so there is no reason to give away your hard earned miles for basically nothing and pay an additional $600!!!

Do you remember when I said that I’m setting my budget for a European ticket for up to $600? Well, I really meant it in all aspects! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Flying on Miles, Travel

How to Decide: Buying Air Tickets versus Redeeming Miles for Free Tickets

This is how I decide but you can make your own decision, there is nothing written in stone. Please note that my reasons are based on my own personal preference; you can certainly save toward a free ticket to Africa, Asia or Australia but if you want to fly domestic, go ahead and fly domestic.

It “costs” 25,000 miles for a domestic air ticket to fly within the continental USA. I live in the USA and have already been to most US states, seen every national park and waterfalls, famous vineyards, beaches, lakes and major cities. I visited Alaska, every island of Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. I doubt I left anything out so technically I can now cross out the great US of A with Canada and focus on other countries.  In addition to that I would hate to waste 25,000 miles on domestic tickets because if I were to travel locally, I could get good deals.  Additionally, I can physically drive to nearby states from Washington, D.C. to the Canadian border and Florida, stretching west to West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky.

It “cost” 50,000 miles to get a free ticket to Europe and I gladly choose Europe over anything, there is a lot of history there, metropolitan cities, good food and the Mediterranean Sea.  The countries are very close to each other, you drive a few hours in any direction and people are already speaking a different language.  There are a lot of European airlines to choose from and many of them are participating in reward programs so I’m pretty much covered from British Airways to Lufthansa, from Air France to Alitalia, from Iberia to SAS, etc. and I love free layovers in major cities.  By the way, 50,000 miles will take you to Latin-America too!

If I were to pay for a European air ticket out of pocket: I have set my limit to $600 but you can set your own limit to whatever amount. I’m very savvy and not willing to pay more than that.  What it means in my case is that if a ticket costs over $600, I rather wait until I have enough miles to fly for free.  European air tickets below $600 are very reasonable so no need to waste 50,000 miles. If I have 50,000 miles I rather save it for more expensive tickets.

Wow Air is one of the lowest cost carriers on the east coast so don’t be surprised to find airfares to Western European and Scandinavian countries for a few hundred dollars one way.  From Boston to Iceland fares start from $99 one way, from Baltimore to Iceland they start from $199! No wonder it is called WOW air! 🙂 I would never waste my miles to these cities, I rather pay for these and save my miles for something else I cannot afford!

Any questions? 🙂

Posted in Flying on Miles

The Value of a Mile

When you are earning miles, you certainly don’t know the value of it until you have to buy one.

When do you buy miles? When you need to redeem your points for a free ticket but you don’t have enough points.  You are a frequent flyer now, so go ahead and log in, make your selection for a free ticket and put it on hold without a credit card (only members can do that, American Airlines will hold your reservation for 5 days with no obligation to buy). The website will calculate how many miles you need for the free ticket and how many miles you are missing so you won’t need a calculator.  If you still haven’t purchased your ticket by midnight on the 5th day, the airline will cancel your reservation without penalty and release the seats for purchase.

When you don’t have enough miles for a free ticket you can purchase the missing miles from your airline, which are immediately deposited into your frequent flyer account after payment.  Miles are sold in batches and the more miles you buy the less they cost.  Also keep in mind that over a certain amount of miles you get free bonus miles so if let’s say you need 11,000 miles technically you only need to pay for 10,000 because you are getting 1,000 for free.  Over 25,000 miles you are getting 10,000 bonus miles for free!  When your purchased miles are deposited into your account, go ahead and “pay” for your reservation (which was now on hold) and your miles will be deducted from your frequent flyer account.

Here is an example of air mile costs:

1,000 miles cost $29.50

2,000 miles = $59

3,000 miles =  $88.50

4,000 miles = $118

Over 5,000 miles you will receive 1,000 bonus miles for free and pay $147.50

10,000 miles + 1,000 miles for free  = $295

Over 25,000 miles you will received 10,000 bonus miles for free and pay $737.50

40,000 miles +10,000 miles = you pay $1,180

So officinally, when you need 50,000 miles for a free European ticket from the continental USA; you had zero miles you would need to pay $1,180. Now you know, how important it is to earn miles and wait till you have enough for a free ticket. In my 25 years of traveling I only bought air miles once because I wanted us to fly together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Flying on Miles, Travel

Cash-Back Credit Card versus Airline Credit Card

Here it goes folks, which one benefits you more? It is time to compare them!

Your cash-back and mile awards depend on your spending in both cases but there is a huge difference, and correct me if I’m wrong, you get your cash-back at the end of the year while you are earning the miles as you go, so you may have enough points for a free ticket before the end of the year.  The cash-back percentage is between 1%-2% of your total annual purchase, while airline credit cards deposit between 1-3 miles per dollar spent depending on the type of credit card (regular, business, gold, platinum, etc).

When you are a frequent flyer of an airline holding their credit card, you are not only earning miles from the credit card company but also from the online stores you shop at via the airline’s web portal, restaurants, hotels, rental cars and many other merchants, who are participating in the program with the airline, this is what I call “Double-Dipping”.  There many different ways of earning miles, which I have already explained in my previous blogs (How to Fly for Free 1-4).

Now, when you get cash-back after your annual purchases and let’s say you want to use that money for air tickets, you can simply buy that on your own from any website, BUT your money may not be enough!  You have x amount of money (cash-back) in your hand but your air ticket could cost 2x (depending on where and when you travel).

When you have miles you don’t worry about the cost of the ticket; this is how it works: There is an award chart showing the mile requirements for each zone.  Take my example: last year I went to Sardinia, Italy on miles; flew from Washington DC to Olbia.  Washington DC is in the continental USA and Italy is in the “Europe Zone” so a free round trip ticket between these two destinations “costs” 50,000 miles.  The continental USA means 48 states and the Europe Zone means a lot of countries in Europe from Portugal to Turkey, from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean.  With other words, it does not matter where in the continental USA I fly from to which European country (even if it is a small, remote island) as long as the airline (or their European partner airline) flies there, it still “costs” 50,000 miles round trip.

Now let’s break it down to the dollar value; I guarantee you gonna love this! Take my example again:  My ticket from Washington, D.C. to Sardinia, Italy “costs” 50,000 miles per person in the month of August, which is considered to be a peak season.  At the time of redeeming my miles the cheapest airfare was advertised for $1,980 per person on Expedia, then imagine how much it would have been with my airline! Since I took my husband with me I would have paid $3,960 for the 2 of us, which is insane for air tickets alone.  If I lived in Los Angeles (which is still in the continental USA), I would have paid approximately $2,300 per person to Sardinia, if I had purchased tickets from my own money but if I had used miles from Los Angles to Sardinia, Olbia, it still would have been 50,000! Capish?

Flying to Europe from the east coast does not always cost that much, it all depends on the season, country and the airline.  In April we are going to fly again on miles, from Washington, D.C. to Madrid, Spain.  April is pre-season and at the time of redeeming my miles the cheapest airfare was advertised for $960 per person for the same dates as mine and we are two people. Let’s translate this into miles: Washington, D.C .again is in the continental USA and Spain is in the “Europe Zone” so again, it “costs” 50,000 miles per person round trip.

Maybe you can see the difference now on REDEEMING MILES for air ticket versus BUYING an air ticket from your cash-back by your credit card company.

 

 

Posted in Flying on Miles, Travel

“Double Dipping” 101

“Double Dipping” is a faster way to earn miles while killing two birds with one stone.

  1. As a frequent flyer: Log into your account and purchase your airplane ticket, for your airline or it’s partner airlines.
  2. Use your credit card affiliated with the airline for the online transaction.
  3.  Take the flight and make sure your frequent flyer number appears on your boarding pass as well not just your on the reservation – you will be earning miles for the flight as well (depending on partner airline, your booking class and cabin type) but the airline will deposit miles into your account anywhere between 50-100% of the miles flown within two weeks from your trip.

PLEASE NOTE: YOU CAN BUY YOUR AIR TICKETS FROM ANY WEBSITE INCLUDING TRAVEL AGENCIES BUT YOU MAY NOT ALWAYS EARN MILES FOR THOSE FLIGHTS.

The way the system works is that certain booking classes do not qualify for award miles, so when you book outside of your airline’s webpage there are no guarantees that you are getting miles for those flights.  You will certainly get your tickets and fly wherever you need to go but you may not get the miles for it.  When you shop outside of your airline’s website you don’t know what class they will book you on and you certainly don’t have any control over it.  In those cases you will only know the booking details after purchase, which is when travel agencies email you the receipt and electronic tickets.  Rule of thumb: if your ticket was one of those super-duper deep-discounted fares most likely your flight won’t qualify for miles (buy hey, you got a good deal which also matters).

I don’t want to complicate this even more but it can also happen that you may get booked on a “higher” class on the first leg of your trip and on a “lower” class on the second leg of your trip (or vice versa), so in those cases you earn different percentage of miles for each leg of your trip (or none at all if one leg does not qualify).  It happens with super cheap tickets.

I have been fighting with Turkish Airlines since last November because they confirmed (“booked”) my E-ticket on “W” class after purchase; however my boarding pass shows a “Y” booking class for each leg of the trip.  This seems like an administrative error but it is worth the fight since there are thousand of miles at stake from Washington, D.C. to Istanbul, from Istanbul to Dubai and back to D.C. via Istanbul.

I always wondered how many booking classes are out there. Let me tell you, a lot! Imagine it like the ABC, first/business classes are beginning with “A”, “B” and “C”, economy classes are ending with “Y” and “W”, while “Y” still qualifies for miles but not “W”.

My advise is this: Buy your ticket directly from your airline whenever you can so that you have options to choose between different booking classes prior to purchasing the ticket. If there is a significant price difference between your airline and a travel agency, then go ahead and buy the cheaper one.  You never know, your cheaper ticket may still qualify for miles, just make sure to mention your frequent flyer number when you buy it and mention it again when you check-in at the airport.

 

 

Posted in Travel

Credit Card and Foreign Travel

It is not the safest to carry cash with you anywhere, you can get robbed on the streets or in your hotel room. When you land at your final destination just change between $50-$100 to get you out of the airport into your hotel, it will buy breakfast the next day and reserve the rest for those occasions when your credit card is not accepted.

Feel free to use your credit card; it is widely accepted and it certainly has a better exchange rate versus changing your money for local currency in banks or street shops.

Have a piece of mind using your credit card because if there is any unauthorized charge, you can always dispute it back home but if you have internet access over there, you can monitor your account daily from your mobile phone or laptop.

Most credit cards now don’t have foreign transactions fees so you have nothing to lose, on the upper hand, you will earn miles for your foreign transactions as well!

Lastly, most credit cards offer car and travel insurance so if you do rent a car overseas, you can decline their car insurance and simply use your own. As long as it is not a luxury or specialty car, you are covered for theft and collision, which will save you a bunch of money and leave you protected.  My credit card has many other benefits for other type of damages due to trip delays, reimbursement for lost or damaged luggages, medical emergencies, just to name a few. I can also board the air plain with priority (and those who travel with me), check more luggages and once a year I get two club passes to VIP airport lounges where I get free food, specialty drinks and gourmet coffee, while laying down on a recliner.  Last, but not least, you will also get free room upgrades and complimentary breakfast in over 700 hotels worldwide.  Travel in style, my friend, like I do! 🙂

If you do decide to take your credit card with you, you will need to report it to your bank so that they don’t decline the foreign charges.