Travel between August 19, 2014 and February 28, 2015.
Be sure to consult the T&Cs for blackout dates and other restrictions, and remember that Frontier charges fees for carry-on bags (but items fitting under the seat are free).
American Express Shop Small
In what appears to be a mini-version of an annual holiday promotion from Amex, the company is offering up to $15 in statement credits when you shop with qualifying small businesses in select cities (Houston, Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Philadelphia, and Sacramento).
$15 is not going to change your life (I hope). But if you’re in, or traveling to, one of these cities in August you might as well eke out a free lunch if convenient. (Hint: if the total bill is over $10, do split payments to maximize the deal.)
As always, please read the full T&Cs, but here are two of note:
Must register and pay with an eligible card. (Registration begins August 1.)
Must spend at a “qualifying small business location.” (A directory will be available starting August 1.)
Additionally, IHG is currently running a promotion offering a 60% bonus when you buy points.
If you purchase 11,000 points, you’d pay $138 and receive 17,600 points including the bonus. Your cost would be $0.0078 per point ($138 ÷ 17,600). Buying points this way would enable booking a PointBreakshotel for about $39/night ($0.0078 x 5,000).
Technically this offer is targeted, but it is widely targeted so if you’re a member just search your inbox for the email (mine came on July 25). If you’re not a member, it doesn’t hurt to sign up and see if you get the email (and if you don’t, call them to request).
With the co-branded credit card (described in this post) you also receive a 10% rebate on award redemptions, meaning your net cost is 4,500 points/night (about $35).
List of participating properties
Below is the full list. Award nights are capacity controlled and desirable properties go quickly so if you would like to snag one I would not dawdle.
Each member is limited to two PointBreaks reservations (of unlimited duration) per property. Once a property sells out of PointBreaksnights the 5,000-point rate will no longer display on the booking page.
Base members (those at the Blue membership level) normally earn 10 points per dollar spent. Earning double points through this promotion would yield another 10 points (highlighted in yellow on the chart below). Electing the “Points and Points” earning option gives a further 5 points/$. Total earnings: 25 points per dollar spent.
I value one Hilton point at $0.004 (four tenths of a cent), so 25 points is worth about a 10% rebate to me (highlighted in blue). Important to keep in mind that this “rebate” is not in cash but in the form of Hilton points.
(If you’re curious about how I value a point at $0.004, I explain in this post [scroll down to find it in the second half of the “Analysis” section].)
Elite members earn additional bonuses which “beef up” their return slightly, with top-tier Diamond members earning the equivalent of a 12% rebate (highlighted in salmon).
Here’s a summary of what is earned at each membership level:
Analysis of triple points offer
Everything is that same as above except you earn 20 bonus promotion points per dollar (highlighted in purple) instead of 10.
Again, at my $0.004/point valuation, you’d earn a rebate worth anywhere between 14% and 16%.
First of all, don’t forget to register. I always just register for these things at the beginning, even if I don’t plan to stay during the promotion period. That way if an unexpected stay comes up I don’t lose out on bonuses for forgetting to register.
Some ways to potentially double/triple dip:
Sync and pay with an eligible American Express card to earn a $50 statement credit when you spend $250+ at a qualifying Hilton Hotels & Resorts property. (This offer expires September 2, 2014; details in this post.)
Alternatively, paying with a Hilton co-braded credit card would earn another 7, 10, or 12 points/$ (depending on which card it is).
Regular readers (hi mom and dad!) may have noticed things were quiet here this past week. One reason is logistical as I was occupied by a work project. But the more relevant reason is that my capacity to think about travel was consumed by the aviation tragedies of the past week. Posting about some airfare sale or whatever just felt trivial in light of such calamity.
First and foremost, my thoughts and condolences to those directly affected. Malaysia Airlines, TransAsia Airways, Air Algerie – any one of these incidents alone is a tragedy and catastrophe. All three in a week is beyond devastating.
I objectively know that commercial air travel is, statistically speaking, exceedingly safe. Indeed, many of the week’s reports cite aviation experts attesting to that fact, and as many offer statistical data to support it.
So I won’t rehash the stats here, but rather share my personal, subjective reasons for considering air travel safer than any other mode of transport.
I live in a car-crazy city; it is simply not practical to go about life here without driving every day. Yet every time I get in a car, whether as a driver or passenger, I’m nervous.
I can be the most cautious, defensive driver ever – but I still can’t control the fact I share the road with all kinds of loons. Drivers who are drunk, texting (even though it’s technically illegal), applying makeup, otherwise distracted, or simply reckless. Heck, I myself am guilty of some of these occasionally.
In fact, people don’t even need a license to get behind the wheel. (Legally, yes. Logistically, no.)
When flying, the pilots operating your aircraft are specifically trained to fly it safely. Further, the pilots of every other plane up there are trained as well. In ground travel you share the road with the aforementioned loons, but at 30,000 feet everyone piloting is trained and screened.
Even the amount of time off a pilot is to have before flying is regulated, which is more than can be said of surgeons and other professionals whose job is (or should be) equally focused on preserving life.
And note the plural noun – pilots. On commercial flights there is not only a captain but also a first officer at the controls. You don’t have that kind of “back-up” in a car or even most other mass transportation such as a bus or train.
Regular maintenance and safety inspections
I have seen (or heard) cars on the road with brakes so worn they sound as if they’re grinding metal at each stop. I know someone (coincidentally, a doctor) who put 60,000 miles on a car without changing the oil because she didn’t know it was something you’re supposed to do. Again, you are sharing the road with these braniacs (and their poorly-maintained cars) when you drive.
In contrast, I am confident there is a long list of maintenance work that commercial aircraft undergo regularly and an equally comprehensive list of pre-flight safety inspections that occur before every commercial flight takes off.
Even non-mechanical things are checked – the weather, for example.
I’ve had many flights delayed or cancelled for mechanical or weather reasons, and when it happens I try to remember that inconvenience is a relatively small price to pay for safety.
None of these things guarantees a perfect experience (as the tragedies of this past week remind us), but in the big picture I still consider commercial air travel exceedingly safe compared to the alternatives.
As I wrote in a prior post on travel safety tips, everything in life has risk – from bungee jumping to driving your kids to school to merely sitting on the couch. It’s not a matter of avoiding risk (which is impossible because everything has risk), but of managing risk well.
Must book by tomorrow (July 20) and complete travel by December 31, 2014. Terms say it is good on your first hotel booking on the Travelocity app and there is a list of excluded hotels, but otherwise these are nice healthy discounts.
It requires dining once at a participating restaurant (must spend $30 or more) and completing a review (takes just a few minutes), so this is a really easy way to earn 2,000 miles if you’re going to eat out anyway. (If you don’t eat $30 worth on one occasion you can buy a gift card to use over multiple visits.) Must register by December 31, 2014.
Be sure to see if there are any restaurant week events in your area or along your path of travel to potentially sweeten the deal.
If you’re unfamiliar with dining programs, I explain towards the middle of this post.
The Nile is the world’s longest river, flowing for approximately 4,200 miles and serving as a water source to eleven countries.
By both measurements, it easily beats the Amazon (~3,900 miles, 7 countries), the Yangtze (~3,800 miles, one country – albeit a massive one), and the Mississippi (~3,800 miles, 2 countries).
To ancient Egypt it was more than just a river; it was a primary source of sustenance. Although bordered by several large bodies of water – the Red Sea, the Mediterranean, the Gulf of Suez, and the Gulf of Aqaba – Egypt is mostly arid desert. (Hint: avoid visiting at the peak of summer.)
The Nile creates a fertile green valley amid that great expanse of desert. Without it, one wonders if ancient Egypt could have risen to its heights. Egypt’s position was based on agricultural wealth, which in turn was attributed to the river.
In my infinite wisdom, I did visit at the peak of summer. But the 115-degree weather was survivable, and the highlight of my 12-day trip was sailing the Nile for four nights aboard the Sanctuary Sun Boat IV.
The boat itself was very nice – of the 200 or so that regularly cruise the Nile, Sanctuary’s four boats are among the most luxurious. But the sights along the way were spectacular. Indeed, while seeing the Pyramids was the motivation behind the trip, these sights further south left a greater impression.
That structures built in 2,000 BC (meaning they are 4,000 years old!) are still standing at all is impressive. That some are nearly unblemished is astounding. You can still see not only intricately carved designs, but even the colors of some painted surfaces.
Sailing from Luxor to Aswan, here are some of the sights along the way.
The Temple of Karnak – an enormous complex of halls, temples, and other structures built over a span of almost 2,000 years – is located on the east bank of the Nile near Luxor.
A series of ram-headed sphinxes lines the approach to the temple complex:
Perhaps Karnak’s best-known feature, the Great Hypostyle Hall:
Also on the east bank is the Temple of Luxor:
Several statues of Ramses II (AKA Ramses the Great) at the Temple of Luxor are well-preserved, offering a detailed look at the pharaoh’s features:
On the west bank lies the Necropolis of Thebes, where many of Egypt’s pharaohs (including Tutankhamun, AKA King Tut) were buried in the Valley of the Kings. There’s not much to see above ground:
The action is in the tombs below, though unfortunately the semi-dark environment doesn’t photograph easily.
Near the Valley of the Kings is the funerary temple of Queen Hatshepsut, Egypt’s first female pharaoh:
These are the Colossi of Memnon, two enormous statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III designed to guard the entrance of his funerary temple (though little remains of the temple itself):
The very well-preserved Temple of Hathor, goddess of love and joy, is near the small town of Dendera:
The ceiling was being cleaned at the time. In this picture, one side has been cleaned and the other hasn’t:
The Greco-Roman temple at Kom Ombo is a double temple – it is one building containing two temples, each with its own entrance and chapel. One is dedicated to Sobek, the crocodile god; the other to Horus, the falcon god (and one of several sun gods).
Near the city of Aswan (famous for its dams), the Island of Agilkia houses the Temple of Philae.
Because its original location, the Island of Philae, is now submerged, the temple was moved to Agilkia and reconstructed stone by stone.
The temple itself is fine (it’s actually very nice, but honestly I was templed-out at this point); however, the setting on an island in the Nile was by far my favorite temple setting of the whole trip.
My entire 12-day trip was booked with tour operator Abercrombie & Kent, which has an excellent reputation in Egypt. (The reputation is deserved, in my opinion.) At the time, in 2012, tourism in Egypt was extremely low as a result of the Arab Spring and the company offered rates that probably only allowed it to break even – at best. (I have no inside information, I’m only speculating.)
While I have not seen rates so appealing since, I would say the rates on the company’s website as of this writing are still reasonable for what you get – a well-executed tour with a luxury operator.
As for safety, I can only offer my personal perspective which is that I never felt unsafe during my visit despite the political circumstances. (A&K provided armed guards who traveled with us, which I appreciated but considered an abundance of caution rather than a necessity.)
Perhaps the news coverage we receive in the United States is hyped, perhaps I just lucked out that nothing happened the days I was there, perhaps the tour operator did a good job of insulating its clients from the “real world,” and perhaps it’s other things that don’t occur to me. But I can definitely say I had a great visit and never once felt threatened.
Better yet, when you go while no one else is going you get the sights almost to yourself. I have heard that on an average day several hundred tour buses visit the Pyramids of Giza. I counted five the day I visited. Granted, I wasn’t there the entire day, but one can reasonably infer that the volume of tourism was greatly diminished.
And I was very pleased to have gotten a 5-star, professionally organized tour at a vastly reduced cost – probably less than half of what I could have arranged on my own for comparable accommodations (even with my deal-scrounging habits).
With that, let me leave you with some pictures of life along the Nile as seen while sailing.
Hope everyone had a great weekend. For a Monday pick-me-up, here are some nice promotions (travel and otherwise)…
$25 off at Best Buy
A new American Express Sync promotion offers a $25 statement credit on a purchase of $250 or more at Best Buy.
If you don’t need anything during the promotion period, you can lock in the savings by purchasing a gift card for future use. (But note certain types of gift cards are excluded in the fine print, and I would also avoid buying gift cards online as they’re often processed by a third party which wouldn’t trigger the credit. Merchandise bought online should be fine, though.)
Many Best Buy stores also sell other retailers’ gift cards (such as Amazon).
To double dip, be sure you have (or sign up for) a My Best Buy loyalty account since a $250 purchase would earn $5 worth of loyalty points.
To triple dip, combine with other eligible promotions or coupons that may be offered by the retailer.
If this offer is not in the Offers For You tab when signed in to your American Express account, you can add it via Twitter (hashtag #AmexBestBuy) or Facebook. If you don’t know how, please see my Amex Sync primer.
Las Tacas is a small resort town on the northern coast of Chile which I stumbled upon during a drive between Santiago and La Serena.
I had never heard of it, and even today as I Google its name relatively little comes up. There is no Wikipedia page and there are few English-language web pages (or even Chilean pages offering an English translation).
I am not sure if the place is obscure in general, or just obscure to foreign visitors. Perhaps the Chileans like having it to themselves?
Nonetheless, this town is super photogenic.
My photos were taken with a cheap camera and I present them un-retouched and unfiltered. All I did was crop them to fit the page.
There is a stunning white sand beach:
The water is deep turquoise:
The buildings, which I think of as a mix of Mediterranean and Southwestern architecture, are spotless:
I doubt there is much in Las Tacas to occupy a long stay, and I can’t say it warrants a trip in and of itself. But if you find yourself driving along the coast of Chile, it is definitely worth a stop if for no other reason than to snap a few photos.
It would also make for an easy day trip from La Serena, which itself has good – but different and busier – beaches.
For me, it turned out to be a great place to have a nice meal with a fantastic view amid a long drive (Santiago and La Serena are about 480 km apart).
For my Los Angeles foodie friends, and those visiting our fair city soon (welcome! and please forgive the traffic), dineLA Restaurant Week is coming up.
And I’ll show you how to triple-dip on this offer!
If LA doesn’t fit your plans, just scroll down for similar events in other cities.
Los Angeles Restaurant Week
LA Restaurant “Week” (it’s actually 14 days long, from July 14 to 27 this year) is a great way to dine at some top restaurants at significant discounts.
Lunch menus range from $15 to $25, and dinner menus from $25 to $45.
For example, Brazilian steakhouse Fogo de Chao is offering dinner for $45 per person. Since it is an all-you-can-eat joint (albeit a very nice one) and the menu doesn’t change for Restaurant Week, it’s easy to see value relative to the normal $62 price.
Unlike Fogo de Chao, most participating restaurants serve a special fixed menu for the event. I have found those to be great deals as well, with high-end establishments offering multi-course dinners for much less than their normal prices. (I know $45 is not a cheap dinner per se, but we are talking about value.)
Some interesting options:
BOA Steakhouse has a 3-course lunch for $25. (The Sunset Blvd. location is particularly good for celebrity-watching if you’re into that. Despite living in LA, I’m very ignorant about celebrities and typically don’t even know who most of them are, but occasionally still manage to recognize one and get a kick out of it.)
Chinois on Main has a 3-course lunch for $25 and 3-course dinner for $45. (Speaking of “celebrities,” last time I was here Wolfgang Puck came out and visited with each table in the dining room. Nice guy (based on our 20-second convo).)
Cicada has dinner for $45. (Good food with a crowd comprised more of downtown business types than Hollywood types.)
Mr. Chow Beverly Hills has lunch for $25 and dinner for $45. (Lots of paparazzi lurk outside…if that’s a sign of anything.)
Patina has dinner for $45. (Primarily a business crowd, but this is one of my favorite LA restaurants.)
If you prefer lower-key restaurants there are plenty of those as well. There’s a search tool on the Restaurant Week website, with a variety of sort options, so take a look and make some plans. You can always hit the gym “tomorrow” to work off the food. 🙂
How to double dip
American Express is offering a $5 statement credit each time you spend $21 or more at a dineLA restaurant and pay with a valid, registered credit card. The registration page is here.
Now, since a credit is offered for each transaction of $21 or more, you know what to do if the bill is $42 or more, yes? (Split the payment into multiple transactions and/or multiple cards. Just make sure all cards are properly registered first.)
How to triple dip
Choose a restaurant that also participates in a travel provider’s affiliated dining program to earn miles or points at the same time. If you’re unfamiliar with dining programs, I explain in this post. (It’s too late to register for the particular offer discussed therein, but the post has a general explanation of dining programs.)
Many cities’ restaurant events have already taken place this year, but there are still upcoming ones in 2014. Here is a small sample:
Be sure to read above for suggestions on how to double – or even triple – dip. I have seen the Amex deal offered in several other cities. (I did not check for all cities, but a Google search should turn up the appropriate registration page for your city if there is one.)