Wine Country Advice/Suggestions

Let me start with this…I don’t claim to be a wine country expert by any means.  But I tend to get asked a lot about it, so I figured I’d type out a post as a primer.  That said, we have been out there 4 times now and actually had another stop planned that we had to cancel.  Hopefully, this post will help you get started with planning your own trip.

I’d also recommend reading my wrap ups/retro reviews from our Napa trips: 2016, 2013, 2012, 2010.

Sonoma Valley vs. Napa Valley

One of your first decisions is on where to go because there is a mountain range between the two regions that you don’t want to be traversing on a daily basis.  It depends on a couple things…


What sort of wine do you like?  Cabernets – you’re much better off in Napa.  Pinots and Zinfandels – you’re probably better off in Sonoma.  These are gross generalizations, but they’re true more often than not. Continue reading

2016 Points, Miles, etc. Update

It’s been a year and a half since my last points and miles update post, and nearly 3 years since my original series on points/hotels/flights/etc.  It’s probably time for an update…

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not as deep into the weeds on this stuff as I was 4 years ago when I was planning our 2013 Big Trip.  But, most of the principles are the same.


Our personal travel patterns have changed a lot in the last 2 years.  The biggest change is that there are now 3 of us, one of whom takes a 2-3 hour nap in the middle of the day and goes to bed at 8:00 (No, I’m not talking about Alyce…at least not most of the time).  If you’re staying in a hotel room, that makes for a very dark, quiet, and boring time during those hours.  That’s a major reason why we’ve spent more time in vacation rentals – in addition to the extra space.

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Secondly, we’ve been traveling in Europe.  My favorite hotel brand – Hyatt – is not too prevalent in many European locations.  Plus, I haven’t been Diamond for over a year, and European hotels just aren’t as impressive as the Asian hotels in general. And as I just described, hotel rooms don’t really work for us unless we have a suite.  We didn’t stay in a traditional hotel in Italy at all and likely will not on our upcoming France trip. Continue reading

Updated Points/Miles Strategy

It’s been one year since I wrote my initial post on miles and points, and a good bit has changed in the last year – such as:

*Delta has switched to a revenue based mileage earning system.  That is, you earn miles based on what your ticket costs, not how far you travel.  This is a much bigger difference than it may sound like for frequent flyers.  There is also much speculation that they will change to a revenue based redemption system in the not too distant future (e.g., every Delta mile is worth 1 cent).

*United gutted its award chart for all of its partners and increased the prices of United award flights as well.  United used to be one of my favorite miles, but they’re right in the middle of the pack now.

*United also followed Delta’s lead in changing to a revenue based mileage earning system.  This leaves only American Airlines as the sole major airline on which you earn miles based on how far you fly.  Many speculate AA will follow the other two majors at some point.

*Speaking of American, AA and US Airways have merged.  This places US Airways in the One World alliance.

*Hyatt added a new top award category for its best properties and increased prices across all categories.  This resulted in a 50% increase in award prices for most of Hyatt’s nicest properties.  That said, Hyatt was due for an adjustment.  Overall, it was not awful (see Hilton for an awful hotel point devaluation).

*Citi’s Thank You Points now transfer to several airlines (previously, they were just cash equivalent points).

So with all of that combined with questions I’ve received over e-mail, I figured it was time to update my take on points miles.  My original post still has lots of good info I will not cover here, so be sure to read that in combination with this post.

Takeaways from all the changes:

*Transferrable points are generally the best.  If a program devalues its award chart, you just avoid transferring points to that hotel/airline.

*Don’t hoard your points and miles.  Use them.  Points/miles will always decrease in value.  This can be true even in the case of cash equivalent points (Southwest airlines and Citi both reduced the cash equivalent value of points.)

*Speaking of cashback equivalent points – they can be a compelling option for many people.

In terms of my favorite points, Starwood Preferred Guest (“SPG”) points are still my favorite.  SPG points transfer to my two favorite airlines at the moment.  Chase Ultimate Rewards have gone down a notch with the United and Hyatt devaluations.  Now I probably place them on par (or slightly below) AMEX Membership Rewards points.  Citi Thank You points have improved with the addition of airline transfer partners, but they are still behind the other major transferrable points.


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An Example Trip: Using Credit Cards to Get to the Maldives

The Maldives are probably the place we went that draws the most questions from people.  That’s probably for several reasons.  One, it is almost literally on the other side of the planet – or the antipode of us.

A little fun sidebar…Here are two sites that show the antipode of specific locations.  So the next time someone comments that they are digging a hole to China at the beach, you can be the asshole that points out that you’d actually be digging a hole to the middle of the Indian Ocean…Everyone loves that guy.

Anyway – back to what I was saying.  The Maldives are far away.  It took us nearly 20 hours to get to our hotel from Singapore.  People were also fascinated with it because people love beaches, and the Maldives may be the most beautiful tropical location on the planet.

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Elite Status Basics

Ever notice signs at first class checkin at airports welcoming some sort of special airline person to go check in there?  Or how about an upgrade list for the flight?  Who’s rear do you have to kiss to get on that?

Those are all perks of airline elite status, among many others.  How do you get status?  Typically by flying a whole lot and spending a lot of time in hotels.  That said, there are several ways of getting status through credit cards – mainly hotel status.  Though for airlines, you can get several of the more meaningful benefits from credit card perks.

Frequent Flyer Status

I’m not going to cover the benefits of status in too much detail for a couple reasons.  First, if you are actually in a position to earn elite status on airlines (say flying for business), you most likely are already familiar with it…far more so than I could explain in a single blog post aimed at an audience who is vaguely familiar with the idea of frequent flyer status.  If you don’t fly that much, you really have no need to know about it other than to make yourself envious.

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Hotel Booking Tips and Hotel Points

Hotel bookings are kind of the opposite of flights, i.e. award bookings are really simple and revenue bookings are where you can really take advantage of things.

Award Bookings

For the most part this is pretty simple…Pretty much every chain has moved to a system whereby if a base level room is available, you can book it for the required amount of points.  That’s it.  And you can book these right on the hotel chain’s website.  Yawn.

I will offer a couple tips…Cash and points awards are generally the way to go when they are available, but it is pretty rare to find them.  Several chains offer a stay X nights on points and get the [X+1] night free.  That is something to be aware of.  Another one is a points and miles combo redemption.

Basically, read the hotel award rules of whatever points you have.  It is really pretty simple.

Starpoints are my favorite hotel points, but I avoid actually redeeming them at hotels in most circumstances (I save them for airline transfers).  I also really like Hyatt points and have redeemed a bunch of them (transferred through Ultimate Rewards).  I used to like Hilton, but they just did unspeakable things to their award chart – making the best redemptions up to 3 times more expensive than they were a couple months ago.

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Flight Booking and Frequent Flyer Mile Tips

Let me start off with this – unfortunately, there aren’t any major tricks to booking airfare.  I’ve read this book – Decoding Airfare.  And while it was an informative book, it hasn’t been too useful for my type of travel; and I guess the same would apply to most reading this.

That said, there are some tips to help you get the best airfare possible.

I use the ITA Matrix Search to find airfares.  This is what all other aggregator sites use, so you will definitely find as good of a price anywhere on ITA Matrix.  Plus it has a ton of search options.

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Credit Card Sign Ups (including a discussion on credit score)

Disclaimer…This post is long…and it is pretty much all words.  So put your reading hat on if you want to learn about the basics of credit card sign up bonuses.  I’ll include a random picture or two for motivation.

Disclaimer #2…Proceed at your own risk because there is some risk to this – though minimal if done right.  Further, know your situation.  Looking to buy a house within a year? Move a little slower with this than you would otherwise.  Planning on putting 5% down on the maximum loan you can qualify for on that house?  Reconsider your need to sign up for credit cards because you’re likely to be scrutinized far more than someone who puts down 20% on a loan that they easily qualify for.

What is the one easiest way to earn tons of miles/points in a very short time?

It’s not actually flying all that much, nor is spending on your American Express.

Signing up for credit cards is the correct answer.  I went through my latest round of applications a week ago (as of writing this).  I signed up for 5 credit cards; Alyce signed up for 4.  This was a little higher than our typical application round, but it had been a little longer than usual since our last applications.

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