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.”
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. 😉
American Express Membership Rewards transfer bonus to British Airways
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
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.
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.
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?).
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.
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!]
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
[If you came here just for the free donuts, the information is at the bottom of this post. 😉 ]
IHG Rewards Club, the loyalty program of InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), is currently offering a bonus when you buy points in the program.
A few people have asked me if it’s worth it. My answer – as it is to most questions in life – is “it depends.”
IHG normally sells points for as low as 1.15 cents each. Here’s the price chart:
That is not a good deal considering they can be acquired for 0.7 cents by other means (discussed here).
However, this promotion gives you a certain bonus when buying points.
But not everyone is offered the same bonus. The various offers are 0%, 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100%. You can find out which you received here.
This is the effective cost per point with each offer:
If you received a 50% offer or below, it does not make sense to buy points this way (since you can acquire them for cheaper, at 0.7 cents each, as mentioned above).
If you got a 75% or 100% offer, then I could see it making sense if both of the following are true:
You think IHG points are worth more than these sale prices. I personally value an IHG point at about 0.7 cents, so I think prices are favorable if you received the 75% or the 100% offer.
You have a specific, near-term use for them. I would not buy points just to hoard them as (1) loyalty points can be – and often are – devalued at whim by the company, and (2) I think it unwise to convert a liquid asset (cash) to an illiquid one (hotel points with little value outside their loyalty program) without good reason.
UPDATE: Use promo code GIFTME for another 15% off! Post has been updated accordingly.
Stumbled on this hotel deal and thought I’d share for those interested in visiting Las Vegas.
Orbitz has rates starting at $59/night at the upscale boutique SLS Las Vegas, a new hotel-casino just opened in August of this year.
Promo code GIFTME takes 15% off the base rate of $59/night. The result is $50/night.
This is a refundable rate and includes a $40 daily food and beverage credit. That brings your net cost down to $10/night before tax – assuming you value the f&b credit at face value.
Be sure to select the rate that shows the f&b credit (see my screenshot below; click to enlarge).
This is a great deal even if you completely disregard the f&b credit. Rates at the SLS typically exceed $100/night; on peak dates they can exceed $500/night.
Note you need to book 3 nights for this rate as it’s part of a “stay 2 nights, get the 3rd free” promotion.
The dates I searched were December 15-18, but I saw availability at slightly higher prices on other dates in December and January. Keep in mind Las Vegas is a weekend destination so rates skyrocket for stays on Fridays, Saturdays, and holidays.
Also keep in mind there is a resort fee (currently $28/night) payable at the property and not included in the rate. (Resort fees are pesky but they’re the norm at almost all hotels in Las Vegas.)
If you don’t already have an Orbitz account, signing up through a referral link earns a $25 credit. So find a friend to refer you, or feel free to use my referral link (thanks!).
The signup credit may not show up in your account right away (I have seen it take a couple of days) and I don’t know if this deal will still be around by the time it does, but you’ll at least have it for next time.
The following offers are not travel-related per se, but still particularly appealing for reasons I explain below:
Best Buy – spend $250+ get $25 back (exp. Dec. 31, 2014). Appealing because Best Buy sells cash equivalents in store (I can’t remember if they’re Visa or MasterCard gift cards, but either way it lets you basically buy money at a discount) and gift cards to other merchants. #AmexBestBuy
JCPenney – spend $50+ get $10 back (exp. Dec. 31, 2014). Appealing because JCPenney sells gift cards to other merchants, including Amazon, in store. #AmexJCPenney
Newegg – spend $200+ get $25 back (exp. Dec. 31, 2014), valid online only. Appealing because Newegg sells a wide selection of gift cards to other merchants (including airlines, cruise lines, restaurants, department stores, and movie theaters). #AmexNewegg
Office Depot OfficeMax – spend $50+ get $10 back (exp. Dec. 31, 2014). Appealing because OfficeMax sells MC/Visa/Amex gift cards in store. (Office Depot also sells them but does not accept credit cards as payment.) #AmexOfficeDepot
Starbucks – spend $10+ get $5 back (exp. Dec. 31, 2014), valid online only at store.starbucks.com but should work when reloading a Starbucks card. Appealing for obvious reasons. 🙂 #AmexStarbucks
Toys R Us – spend $25+ get $5 back (exp. Dec. 31, 2014), valid in-store only. Appealing because Toys R Us carries gift cards to other merchants. #AmexToysRUs
Walmart – spend $15+ get $5 back (exp. Dec. 31, 2014). Appealing because getting 33% off your grocery bill is otherwise rare. #AmexWalmart
Finally, here’s a random non-Amex offer that might interest some:
Free dinner (up to $10) at Bonefish Grill. Expires December 30, but I have a feeling they may pull the deal sooner if it becomes “too popular.”