December 31 2014

Frontier Flights for $20 and Alaska Award Flights for 5,000 Miles

Happy New Year’s Eve! I hope you had a fruitful 2014 and wish you a happy, healthy 2015.

Frontier $20 flights

Frontier Airlines is having another one-day sale, with $20 fares from seven cities: Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, Phoenix, Trenton/Princeton, and Washington-Dulles.

Here is a sample – Washington-Dulles to Fort Lauderdale for $20 including taxes:

Frontier IAD-FLL $20

Book by midnight PST today (December 31) for travel January 6 through February 11, 2015.

Things to note:

  • These are one-way sale fares; flights in the reverse direction are not as cheap so you might shop around – or use miles – for return flights.
  • Frontier has fees for carry-on bags, although items fitting under the seat are free.

 

Alaska Airlines award sale

With Alaska’s Winter Award Sale award flights are available for as few as 5,000 miles.

Sample award fares:

Alaska Award Sale

Most coach awards normally start at 12,500 miles (and awards to Hawaii at 20,000 miles) each way, so this can represent significant savings.

Book by January 8 and travel between January 6 and March 5, 2015.

Have a safe New Year’s Eve. I am taking the rest of the year off. 🙂 See you in 2015!

 

December 30 2014

1,000 Bonus Hilton HHonors Points, $50 off $100+ at Bon-Ton, and More

Bon-Ton currently has several good discount codes. Even though I’m writing about luggage, these are site-wide discounts so they should work on other items (with some exclusions, as always).

  • Code ZDEC1229SAV takes $50 off a purchase of $100 or more. It was to expire yesterday (December 29) but is still working at the time I write this.
  • Alternatively, code AFTERXMAS14 takes 25% off sale items and expires January 1.

For free shipping and free returns, use ShopRunner. If you don’t have ShopRunner, use code FREESHIP for free shipping on $75+.

I was shopping for luggage, so here is my luggage find: 🙂

The Samsonite Fiero 20″ Spinner, originally $260, is $80 with the discount. That’s almost 70% off!

Samsonite Fiero

In other news…

I have a couple other deals to add to the permanent Deals Page but since I am writing I thought I’d mention them here as well.

Hilton HHonors is offering 1,000 bonus points for updating your email address by tomorrow (December 31). This is a targeted offer, but it doesn’t hurt to try (only takes a few seconds). I was not targeted and only got a nicely worded message saying they already had a valid email for me. Oh well.

Finally, Neiman Marcus Last Call is offering $25 off a $50+ purchase when you pay through Visa Checkout. (Any credit card can be used with Visa Checkout.) Again, use ShopRunner for free shipping and free returns, or use code FREESHIP for free shipping on $75+.

 

December 30 2014

Choice Hotels Winter Promo – Triple Points on Midweek Stays

Hope everyone is enjoying the holiday week!

Choice Hotels’ winter promotion, awarding triple points for midweek stays, has started – so don’t forget to register if there’s even a remote chance you might end up staying at a Choice property during the promotion period.

The promotion runs through February 18, 2015.

Choice Hotels Promo Banner

If you’re unfamiliar with Choice Hotels, its brands include Cambria Suites, Clarion, Comfort Inn, Econo Lodge, and Ascend Hotel Collection, among others.

Choice Hotels Brands

Choice Privileges base (non-elite) members normally earn 10 points per dollar spent on most brands (5/$ on some of the lower-earning brands).

With this triple-points promotion they would instead earn 30 points per dollar on midweek stays (15/$ on the lower brands).

Since a reward night starts at 6,000 points, one could be earned with $200 in spend through this promo.

 

Additional tips

If you’re not already a Choice Privileges member, have an existing member refer you. You’ll each receive 500 points after your first eligible stay. (I’m happy to refer if you shoot me a note through the contact form. I’ll need your first name and email address for the referral.)

Also check Choice Hotels’ promotions page for potentially combinable offers.

And if you have one, be sure to use a credit card that awards bonus points on hotel charges.

December 24 2014

Free Virgin America Points and Free Peet’s Coffee

Happy holidays!

Virgin America is offering 500 free bonus points to members.

VirginAm 500

It only took a few seconds to claim my points. I value a Virgin America point at roughly two cents, so 500 points is worth about $10.

Award flights start as low as 2,500 points, so you could also look at this as one-fifth of a free flight for a few seconds of your time.

If you don’t fly Virgin America often, this is also an easy way to keep your points alive since points expire after 18 months of inactivity.

 

In other news, Peet’s Coffee & Tea is offering a free cup of coffee or tea today.

Peets Coffee

Enjoy. 🙂

December 21 2014

Quick Travel Tip: Use a Document Scanner App

Often I’ll get random pieces of somewhat-important paper while traveling – a receipt here, a document there.

After a while, it adds up to a pile of paper that I don’t want to (1) lug home, and (2) deal with filing away when I get home.

Even at home I’m paperless as much as possible anyway. Searching for a document that’s electronically filed is easier than trying to remember where I physically put a random piece of paper.

JetScanner Lite App

For scanning documents while on the road, I use the free Jet Scanner Lite mobile app (there is an ad-free paid version as well).

You just take a picture of the document with your phone or tablet. The app you lets make edits, then converts the picture to a PDF or JPG file. From there, you can email the file (to yourself and/or others) or send it directly to a cloud drive.

December 20 2014

Man Finds Travel Companion with Same Name as His Ex for Round-the-World Trip

In case you wondered what became of this story, there is a recent development!

To recap: In May, a man named Jordan Axani booked plane tickets for a round-the-world trip with his then-girlfriend. The couple broke up before the trip came to fruition, but rather than let his ex’s ticket go to waste Axani decided to give it away for free.

The catch was that the name on the ticket couldn’t be changed, so he had to find a recipient with the same first and last name as his ex. He wrote a Reddit post – which has since been removed – titled “Are you named Elizabeth Gallagher (and Canadian)? Want a free plane ticket around the world?”

The post went viral and changed his life.

In the story’s main plot line, he did find a travel companion for the trip: a 23-year old Canadian student named Elizabeth Quinn Gallagher. The trip is scheduled to commence tomorrow and Axani promises to document it online.

While I’m glad the search worked out, I find the side stories more interesting than the main plot. My favorite is that Axani was so moved by the responses to his post – many of them with heartbreaking stories from strangers who longed to travel but couldn’t for one reason or another – that he founded the charity A Ticket Forward.

The organization’s mission is to “fulfill the travel dreams of…individuals who have been burdened with significant health, financial, or other tangible misfortunes.”

As a frequent traveler, sometimes I take travel for granted when in fact it is a privilege – for some a very rare privilege. I admire the charity’s cause and will be rooting for it to become, as Axani hopes, a Make-A-Wish Foundation for travel.

Meanwhile, Ms. Gallagher – the one going on the trip – asserts it will be platonic. In her words, she already has a “pretty serious” boyfriend; the trip is “totally sort of like as friends.”

Mmm-kay.

December 19 2014

70% off Samsonite Luggage, Multiple Promos for Frontier Flights

Greetings! I will make this post quick so I can get out of here and break this cycle of eating three meals a day at Panera all week.

 

Samsonite sale

Amazon has select styles of Samsonite luggage for 70% off with free shipping and free returns (today only).

I am eyeing this two-piece hardside set that includes a 20″ spinner and a 24″ spinner for $120 (list price $400).

Samsonite

There are other sets that each include a 21″ piece (plus another piece) but I like the 20″ since it’s small enough to usually qualify as both an international and a domestic carry-on.

 

Frontier sale

Frontier Airlines currently takes 13% off when you book with promo code SNOWFLAKE.

In addition, they are offering $39 fares between select markets to celebrate several new routes.

You can search availability and participating cities here, but one example is Chicago to Atlanta for $39. With the SNOWFLAKE promo code, the price goes down to $36.

ORD-ATL

 

As always, wishing you safe travels.

December 18 2014

Free Geek Squad Services, Marriott Spring Promo, and Amex to British Airways Transfer Bonus

My near-perfect track record of poor timing remains untarnished – I am staying with family for the holidays and, through no fault of theirs, the Internet here is out all week. (AT&T’s customer service is a disaster, by the way.)

Many thanks to the local Panera for letting me camp out endlessly at their shop. Their customer service is excellent and the Wi-Fi is surprisingly fast (for a coffee shop). Hit me up if you want to know how to get around their 30-minute cap on Wi-Fi during peak hours. 😉

 

Free Geek Squad services at Chicago O’Hare

Best Buy Geek Squad

If you are traveling through Chicago O’Hare Airport between now and December 23, and need help with an electronic device, the Best Buy Geek Squad is offering free service and advice from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM CST daily in Terminal 3, Concourse H.

[Thanks to Johnny Jet for the tip.]

 

American Express Membership Rewards transfer bonus to British Airways

Amex BA

I love British Airways’ frequent flyer miles (called Avios) because their award chart is distance-based, meaning award flights of short distances are super cheap – just 4,500 miles each way for a flight of 650 miles or less.

I must use Avios at least a dozen times a year, such as for this short hop to Reno, Nevada. However, I have never earned a single Avios mile from actually flying British Airways. Instead, I obtain them by transferring points from American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards.

They normally transfer at a 1:1 ratio, but the current promotion awards a 40% bonus on transfers from Amex. You’ll receive 1,400 Avios for every 1,000 Membership Rewards points transferred.

So if you have upcoming travel plans involving Avios, and Amex points burning a hole, here’s your opportunity to spend them.

The offer expires January 31, 2015.

 

Marriott Rewards Spring MegaBonus

Marriott MegaBonus

Registration for Marriott’s Spring MegaBonus Promotion opened yesterday, so don’t forget to take care of it. I always just register right away for these things even if I don’t have immediate plans to participate since it only takes a moment.

The registration deadline is March 31 and earning dates are February 1 to April 31, 2015.

Offers are targeted, but the most common is 2,500 bonus points for every paid stay starting with your second stay.

I value a Marriott Rewards point at $0.006 (6 tenths of a cent) so I would value 2,500 bonus points at $15.

As always, wishing you safe travels – especially if you’re traveling through a mall parking lot this week.

December 17 2014

Hotel vs. Vacation Apartment Rental – Pros and Cons

Posts from this trip:

Unless I’m visiting family or staying with friends, when I travel hotels are my lodging of choice.

Every choice has its pros and cons, but I’m not a B&B person and I’m too old for hostels (and, truthfully, adept enough at finding deals and earning points that I can stay in nice hotels for less than most people pay for hostels).

However, for my recent two-month stay in Buenos Aires I decided to be brave. After staying in a hotel the first month, I rented a furnished apartment for the second.

All photos in this post are of the actual unit I rented.

Pano

In the end it was an okay experience, but there are definitely differences between hotels and short-term apartment rentals.

 

The case for apartments

Probably the most salient difference is apartments afford more space. Instead of a mere hotel room, most apartments – even small studio units – have at least a kitchenette, a dining area, and distinct living and sleeping areas.

If you’re traveling solo or with just your significant other that might not be a big deal. But when you’re an entire family or a group of friends, you’d normally need multiple hotel rooms to achieve the same level of comfort space-wise. And splitting into multiple rooms might not even be practical with young children.

The unit I rented was a studio in a great location (Recoleta) and priced at $65 on a nightly basis, $395 weekly, or $1,000 monthly. Since I rented for a month my per-night cost worked out to about $33. That’s cheaper than a comparable-quality hotel yet gave me double the amount of space.

Even the $65 nightly rate is still decent, albeit not a significant savings over a hotel of similar caliber. (Hotels in Buenos Aires are not expensive.)

If you like to cook when you travel then the kitchen would be another big plus. Though I only cooked there once (and even that one time was unnecessary), I definitely appreciated the refrigerator and microwave.

Also, apartments usually have a washer and dryer, or at least a common laundry facility. Very convenient if you’re traveling with kids or for a long time.

 

The case for hotels

A common complaint about hotel chains is that properties are large and impersonal. But in my view that’s not all bad.

Having a large property affords economies of scale that allow for certain amenities smaller operations can’t cost-efficiently provide: room service, 24-hour maintenance, on-call housekeeping, etc.

Even though I was only in the Buenos Aires apartment for four weeks, I had several unpleasant incidents. In a hotel they would’ve been minor inconveniences (if not totally benign), but since they occurred in an apartment they were moderate to major headaches.

First, I got locked out of the safe. One day the batteries simply died and the door wouldn’t open (why do they design these things with the battery cage inside the door?).

Safe
The offending safe

Of course with my impeccable timing it happened on the Friday night before a big national holiday on Monday. That meant the maintenance person was off until Tuesday.

Problem was, I did not have enough cash to last until Tuesday. I only carry what I need when I’m out and about, so I only had enough cash on me for a day or two. The rest of my cash and all but one of my credit cards were in the safe. I would not have starved as I had the one credit card, but in Argentina when you pay by credit card things can cost literally 50% more (which is another post for another day).

The rental agency did send someone to try and open the safe on Saturday – actually they sent two different people at two different times. Neither succeeded, and they told me they’d need to locate the person who held the physical key to the box…and they didn’t think they could reach him until Tuesday. I argued vociferously against waiting that long, but in the end they could only do what they could do.

I mean, only one guy has a key? And they can’t reach him for three days? What do they do if the guy gets hit by a bus, or up and quits in a disgruntled manner, or simply misplaces the key?

Or…you know…a renter gets locked out of the safe over a holiday weekend…

Safes can die in hotels too, but in a reputable hotel with on-site maintenance the issue would not have dragged on for days. It likely would have been resolved on the spot.

As is, the incident was a moderate headache. I not only feared running out of cash, but was stuck at the apartment for most of that Saturday awaiting two different people at two different times. I was not about to let random maintenance people access the contents of the safe without me present. (Visitors to Argentina use a lot of cash as, again, it’s not economical to use credit or ATM cards there. Among other valuables, I had a significant amount of cash in the safe.)

But it could have been much worse. If it happened the day before I was scheduled to go home, I would have missed my flight since my passport was in the safe (along with everything else I would not have wanted to leave behind: my phone, tablet, cash, credit cards, and some jewelry). Since it took days for this to resolve, I might have been delayed several days – potentially missing business meetings or other important engagements on the other end.

And it would’ve been excruciating if my laptop had been in the safe (as it normally is when I leave for dinner). It was a fluke that I’d left the laptop out that night. With my phone and tablet already locked up, it would’ve been intolerable having none of my communication devices – not only to stay in touch with friends and family (and the outside world in general), but to deal with the owners and rental agency on the matter.

Bath

Then there is the time the electricity went out…and stayed out for six solid hours. It started in the afternoon (which greatly disrupted my work day) and continued into the evening (when there isn’t natural light to compensate). If I hadn’t had a flashlight on me, it would’ve been unsafe to even leave the apartment. Being on the seventh floor, leaving required navigating as many flights of stairs each way – in darkness as the elevator was out.

It was not the owner’s fault (the blackout was building-wide) but I believe a decent hotel would have (1) worked with greater urgency to fix the problem, (2) provided at least minimal emergency lighting, and/or (3) somehow compensated guests for the inconvenience.

Here are a few other negatives gleaned from this experience. I relay them not to be petty, but to illustrate the point of this post.

  • There was no smoke detector (that I could see) in the apartment. I realize I was not in the US and different countries have different codes, but I believe in a reputable hotel this would not have been absent.
  • There was no dead bolt on the door – something I have never seen a hotel room lack. While the building had seemingly good security, you still want a latch in the unit to prevent getting walked in on – by maintenance or the housekeeper or whatever – when you’re there. Even if they knock first you might not hear the knock if you’re in the shower or otherwise indisposed (which is the worst time to be intruded upon in the first place). In my case this wasn’t a big deal as I just bought a rubber door stop for a few dollars, but (1) a dead bolt would’ve been standard in a hotel, and (2) most people don’t want to spend precious vacation time hunting down a store that sells door stops.
  • The hair dryer died one day and I had to wait until the next day for another. Although this didn’t kill me, in a hotel I would’ve received a replacement in minutes and would not have had to go to bed with damp hair.
  • I am not sure if it was just my particular rental, but they only provided a few days’ worth of toiletries and paper products even though I paid for a month-long stay. Again, this was not a big deal for me in practice (there was a grocery store nearby and I just bought supplies during my grocery runs), but if I were only staying a few days and didn’t plan on grocery shopping I would’ve been annoyed having to spend precious vacation time hunting down basic supplies a hotel would have provided.

Finally, the rental agency required a security deposit equal to two weeks rent. Although I did not consider that unreasonable, it was another negative versus hotels. Hotels may hold your credit card number for damage, but they don’t actually charge you unless there is damage. And even if they did charge your card without a valid case, you could dispute the transaction with your credit card company.

In contrast, I had to pay the apartment rental agency a security deposit in real money upfront – and simply hope they’d return it at the end. Few rental agencies in Buenos Aires accept credit cards, and those that do charge significant fees for the privilege (again, the “blue rate” issue). Most agencies require the deposit by wire transfer, but the one I worked with at least accepted PayPal. While PayPal does offer dispute resolution services, I believe they are not nearly as robust as the consumer protections of a credit card.

If the agency did not refund my security deposit, for whatever reason, I did not see much practical recourse. I mean, I am not going to spend time and resources returning to Argentina to sue them in small claims court (or whatever it’s called there, assuming they even have it) and attempt to present a case in my third language. I doubt it would succeed, and even if it did I’m certain the cost and effort of pursuing the refund would exceed the refund amount itself.

The rental agency I used stated on its website that security deposits are refunded “at checkout.” Well, the person who came to check me out said she knew nothing about security deposits as they’re handled at the main office. Several days after checkout I still had not received my refund and had to e-mail them to request it.

Now, I am anal retentive and had made a note to follow up if my deposit weren’t returned. But not everyone is as obsessive. Many people, on returning from vacation, go right back to work and are immediately swamped trying to catch up on everything that piled up in their absence. I can totally see how someone might lose their deposit because they simply forgot to follow up.

I had a good experience with this rental agency overall, so I give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it was an oversight rather than an intentionally dishonest act. At this writing I am still awaiting my refund, but they assure me it has been processed and should arrive in 48 hours. If it doesn’t, I will update this post. [Update: refund received!]

 

The verdict

None of the “cons” of an apartment was horrible (though the safe box situation had the potential to be). But I did not think the “pros” outweighed them either.

In the final analysis, it comes down to a matter of personal preferences and trip circumstances. For me personally, I’m unlikely to consider an apartment again unless I were staying at least three weeks, or with a big enough group, or could realize significant cost savings. There were just too many annoying inconveniences.

I think problems such as these are not isolated to this particular apartment. Rather, I believe they represent a systematic difference between hotels and apartments. I think that because:

  • I did not rent some dump in the ghetto. It was a nice unit in a modern building with a 24-hour doorman located in one of the most desirable parts of down. Yet it still had all these problems.
  • The rental agency I worked with was good overall (the only issue I ever had with them was the security deposit, as described above). In some cases, I felt they went above and beyond to provide good service. Yet I still ended up with a seemingly-endless string of issues.

 

Tips

I rented this apartment directly from a local rental agency, but I also considered Airbnb (and similar services HomeAway and FlipKey). While Airbnb has other disadvantages, I do like that it doesn’t require an upfront security deposit (like a hotel, it only charges your card if there is damage at checkout). Airbnb also does not release the rent to your host until 24 hours after check-in, whereas through a traditional agency you typically have to pay the full amount directly at check-in.

Remember, when you rent through a traditional agency, the agent does not work for you – it works for the owner. When you book through Airbnb or the like, at least the service is (supposedly) impartial.

Bedroom

Also, unlike a hotel where you can cancel your reservation without penalty (assuming you booked a refundable rate), most apartment rentals require a deposit to hold the unit (which you forfeit if you cancel). In my case the deposit was substantial. I did not intend to cancel, but sometimes life derails your plans. If I had gotten sick or had a family emergency or faced some other situation what prevented the trip, I would have lost the deposit.

My way around that was to add trip cancellation coverage to my travel insurance policy. If my trip were canceled, I could file an insurance claim to recover prepaid lodging expenses. The claim would only be valid if I canceled for a covered reason, but that is better than no coverage at all.

If you are facing the hotel-or-apartment debate, I hope my experience provides a useful data point. If you have questions feel free to leave a comment or shoot me a note!

December 13 2014

Fly Premium for the Price of Economy and Stay in a B&B for a Fraction

Hope everyone in the path of California’s storm of the decade is safe and well.

I am scheduled to return from my two months in Buenos Aires this weekend and looking forward to writing all about it.

Meanwhile, enjoy a few travel deals for the weekend.

 

Virgin America

The sale is back – you can save 50% on First Class and Main Cabin Select fares with promo code MERRY50.

VA

Main Cabin Select fares often cost about double the price of economy fares, so this is an opportunity to “upgrade” without much additional cost.

Book by tomorrow (December 14) and fly December 19 to January 2.

 

BedandBreakfast.com free $30 gift card

BedandBreakfast.com has been running gift card specials throughout the holidays but this one is the best I’ve seen recently.

BedandBreakfast

Receive a $30 gift card when you buy a $100 gift card (a 30% bonus) using promo code JINGLE. Alternatively, receive a $150 gift card when you buy a $450 gift card (a 33% bonus) using promo code BELLS.

Buying multiple cards in smaller denominations also works as long as your total purchase meets the threshold.

To make a good deal great, BedandBreakfast.com also offers “Hot Deals” – specials that change weekly. You can search Hot Deals by location here (just ignore the email signup field if you don’t want to sign up).

Among this week’s offerings is the Cabernet House in California’s Wine Country. The regular rate is $378 but the Hot Deals rate is $129 – a 66% discount. Combine it with the gift card deal and a $378 stay ends up costing under $100!

Cabernet House B&B

And if you’re still shopping for gifts, this makes a nice gift for those who like B&Bs as you can customize the gift card with a personal photo.

If you have your eye on a specific property, be sure to check first that it accepts gift cards. (Check here.)

 

Air Canada giveaway

Air Canada is running a “Giftmassive Giveaway” through Christmas Eve. Prizes range from percent-off discounts to free flights.

Air Canada Giftmassive

Try your luck here. It’s quick and doesn’t require an Air Canada account. I played and won a 20% discount code. Perhaps I will try again with a different email address. 😉

Finally, don’t forget to check the Travel Deals and Other Deals pages (on the yellow sticky note at the top right corner) when you visit! Sometimes I find a nice deal but don’t have time to write it up so I will just add it to one of those pages.

Enjoy the remaining weekend.