Do you have what it takes to pursue the Points and Miles challenge? I’m not so sure…

Three years ago, I decided to take the “Hobby” of earning Travel Points and Miles seriously. I immersed myself in learning the “in’s & out’s” and after formulating a mediocre plan, I leapt from the proverbial edge and went all in. Three years, 14+ credit cards and 3,500,000 various points/miles later, I’m exhausted.

There is NO rest in this pursuit. Deals, opportunities, angles and tactics changes hourly. You must read, research and learn the nuances of every credit card, hotel chain, airline and car rental perk, challenge, coupon, offer and status opportunity available for the program that meets your goals. You must also learn about programs outside your sphere as they are often a “back door” to a program that is within your focus ie. booking with Alaska Air for an American Airlines flight when Alaska, who will take American Airlines Miles, requires less to do the same thing, yet you still board an American Airlines plane. It is literally like drinking from a fire hose.

The resources are easily available, but if you want to be at the “top of your game,” you must put in the time and effort. This, plus maintaining websites, blogs and writing books about what you’ve learned and experienced, make for a full day.

The reward? I have the ability to travel anywhere, in any way, for free; like I need more demands on my time. Ironically, the pursuit can become more interesting that the actual reason you started; to see the world in ways that most are unable; the most exotic cities, the best hotels and flights etc.

Having said all that, I do love it so. There is no greater thrill than to obtain top-tier hotel status, fly first class and see the world “simply” by accumulating points and miles. It becomes a type of currency that you earn through hard work, effort and being a step ahead. It can be glorious, but be warned, it is all-consuming and definitely not for the faint of heart. You’ll go to bed thinking about it and you’ll get up thinking about it. If your fortunate though, the bed you’re in will be in a place that is absolutely incredible.

 

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The Point of the Highland Thistle

TheSunflowerMuse.com

“The Point of The Highland Thistle”

At the Vernal Equinox, the Scottish Highlands have always yielded before their Dark and Mercurial Sky, who once again is forced to endure Lady Spring’s conspicuous and gaudy arrival.

As She approached, the curmudgeonly Sky, turned and peered into the distance, greeting her only with silence.

Lady Spring, irritated by the tepid reception and the Sky’s obvious lack of deference, gazed disapprovingly upon the Highlands and its dull and dreary pallor.

“The only signs of life are these prickly Scottish thistles that rise from the snow,” she said, as she tugged at her robe, which had become entangled in thistle and was refusing to yield. Frustrated, she took off her robe and tugged as hard as she could, pulling the whole plant from the soil which then caused her to fall backward onto the ground; her robe now completely covered in thistles. “I’ll banish…

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Could you imagine? The most expensive nap ever taken🌻

I love this question: Should I wait to have children until I can afford them? Academically, sure; but most likely, nobody would ever have kids.

Waiting until you can “afford” to travel follows the same path. It’s the land of “I wish I had but now I can’t.”

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Somehow, if we’re careful, we manage to have children and thrive anyway. Following your travel dreams is no different, You just “make it work” or alternatively, you roll the dice and wait until you retire. Good luck with that…

  • No, this isn’t a crime scene, they’re asleep!🙄

 

And Three’s a Charm…

The third book is done and printed! The Diary of Francis Kelley. Amazon has been “struggling” with paperbacks lately, so the books are on my site: Travelinggump.Com under “menu” and the eBook versions are on Amazon. Just search “Travelinggump”

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Order here Thru Paypal and get Free Shipping!

Miami, Florida. A Snapshot of Biscayne Blvd from 81st to 6th Street Downtown

To Quote Henry David Thoreau:  “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see”

From 81st to 6th (Downtown) is about a 20 minute drive.  We’re here for 3 days.  I wanted to see things which are usually overlooked while driving this route.  Traffic can be quite harrowing so my gaze rarely strays from what lies straight ahead.  This Sunday morning though, I was at my leisure and decided to go and look for unnoticed gems.  I started at 81st and worked my way south towards the Bayside Market at 6th.  It didn’t take long before I came across this dumpster dominated by a group of aggressive pelicans.  I was expecting cats or squirrels.  I got pelicans.

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​Next came three Hotel’s, one of which is a Hotel/Carwash combo, that just say “welcome to Florida”, followed by a misunderstood kind of place named “Wonderland” and a Coppertone Ad that I haven’t seen since I was a teenager.  Memory Lane.

At about 38th street, this caught my eye.  Now where did I leave that damned car?  I know it’s here somewhere!

As I get closer to Downtown, the  homeless begin to increase in numbers significantly.  I parked and decided to walk the rest of the way.  The Gentleman on the left had no less than six watches on his arms,  The young man in the middle seemed to move about constantly from place to place but never took the guitar out of his backpack and the third Gentleman, was missing his legs and just sat there, not speaking, watching the traffic go by.  I wonder what he is thinking…

A tragic side note:  I’m see a man, white in color, mid-twenties with an obvious physical disability, trying to make his way through the crowd from one side of the shopping area to the other.  A group of people are yelling and heckling him.  He is trying to get away from them, his speech garbled, yelling that “it’s not his shirt and that he doesn’t know what it says”.  The “group” failed to let up.  He kept repeating that he had to get to the other side to get his money.  The shirt, black with white letters said “Black Lives Matter”.   He appeared to be part of the local homeless community.  My impression was that someone had offered him money to wear the shirt and run through the large crowd of African-Americans which had gathered there.  The sick Bastard(s) got what they wanted, it was ugly and the young man ran away trying to take the shirt off as he fled.  I never saw him again.  He won’t be hard to spot, he has a noticeable limp and is very thin.  I watched the group return and I didn’t gather they ever found him.  I am thankful for that.

If the recession of 2009 slowed down Florida’s construction industry, it sure doesn’t show here.  New Skyscrapers are being built all over the downtown area.  I have never seen so many individual construction projects happening at one time.  Miami is Booming!  If you possess the skills to do this kind of work, get down here!  Unfortunately, the dichotomy between Miami’s large homeless population and the strong demand for construction labor have me a bit baffled.  I can only assume that many of the homeless suffer from various types of mental and physical illnesses which, unfortunately,  deny them the benefits of employment.

Miami Dade College Museum of Art and Design.  At night, this is a beautiful sight to see.  I had to include this picture!

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And finally, I reach 6th street at the Bayside Market.  Shopping, Eating and Music await your arrival.  In addition, you get a beautiful view of the Harbor and Marina.  Below, the “One man Band” plays beneath a 115 year old Banyan Tree.

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One 20 minute drive, so much life.  Come to Downtown Miami and see what you find.  Enjoy!

Academically, it Was A Good Idea. No, Not Really.

I’m curious, with the back and forth between the US and Cuban Governments, what do Cuban-Americans think about it.  I went to Miami Florida’s Downtown to interview Cuban-American passer-byes.

But first, a brief history of Cuba:

1492  Christopher Columbus arrives in Cuba and they now become a colony of Spain.

1792  Great Britain occupies Cuba but later trades them back to Spain for Florida.

1898  As a result of the Spanish-American war, the US Military now occupies Cuba.

1902  Cuba gains their Independence.  A succession of despotic leaders follow culminating in the overthrow of the Batista regime by the “26th of July Movement” led by Fidel and Raul Castro.

After that the US and Cuba more or less isolated themselves from each other until…

2014  President Obama restores Diplomatic Relations and our Embassy in Cuba is ultimately reopened.  Travel to Cuba is allowed.

2016  (December) Raul Castro announces the death of Fidel Castro.

2017  (June)  President Trump changes the new US policy and restricts travel and trade with Cuba.

2017 (July)  I’m in Miami and seeking opinions from the Cuban Community regarding this back and forth.

Talk about showing up unprepared…

I went to where the people are, a good plan I thought. Went to the Bayside Outdoor Market and over the course of a few hours, spoke with four people.

I learned two things relatively quickly: The first, that of the four, two of them were actually Brazilian but had heard of Cuba, the third had vacationed there once but is from the Dominican Republic and the fourth, a man who appeared to me to be from “somewhere” South America, was actually Asian; he did let me know that if it helps, he is fluent in Korean, French and English.  The second thing that I learned is that I’m apparently an idiot and can’t seem to tell the difference between a person of Cuban descent and a Palm tree.   With that, I’m 0 and 4, game over.  Maybe I’ll go to a shopping mall in Missouri and try and spot people in the crowd who are from Illinois.  We really should all have to wear team so and so ball caps…

I’m still curious though, but today is not the day for answers, at least any from me.  I do wish for peace for all the people of Cuban descent who have fought for it for such a long time.

Cute Cat Video vs Travelinggump.Com

So about the cat video.  I’ve been told repeatedly that if you want more “traffic” on your site, add a cat or puppy video. My jaw hit the floor at the mere thought that this could have merit.  I take my website seriously (although I do occasionally go off the rails) and it frustrates me that anyone would prefer a pet video over…well…me.  It’s an ego thing, apparently.

Well, I had to know the answer and yes, I’m aware that I may have altered the end result with the way that I intro’d the video, blah, blah, blah.  Anyway, here are the twitter results…Cat Video on left, prior article on right, similar time frame.

Also, the Cat Video received a tepid response on Facebook but did above  average on Instagram.  My guess is that each venue has a somewhat different type of user which could account for the differences.   All said, my delicate ego remains ridiculously intact.

What’s In My Wallet? (Gulp…) 16 Credit Cards…

That sounds insane doesn’t it? If it helps, one of the cards is Lilly’s.  Points and Miles aren’t for the faint of heart…and my credit score must be awful, right?

Looks good to me.  Credit Cards are tools and I NEVER carry a balance.  That’s the secret. Each Credit Card in my wallet is there for a reason and when needs change, so do the cards, sometimes…Here is the list and yearly fees:

  1.  Chase Sapphire Reserve      $450
  2.  Amex Blue Business Plus    $ 0
  3.  Marriott Business                 $99
  4.  IHG Hotels (Holiday Inn)    $49
  5.  United Airlines Explorer     $95
  6.  Delta Platinum                      $195
  7.  Hyatt Hotel                             $75
  8.  Amex Business Platinum    $450
  9.  Amex Personal Platinum    $450
  10.  Starwood (SPG) Business    $95
  11.  Ritz-Carlton                            $450
  12.  Citi American Airlines         $95
  13.  Amex Hilton Surpass           $75
  14.  Amex Business Gold            $175
  15.  Amex Business Plat-Lilly    $450
  16.  Edward Jones World            $0

That’s a long, scary and expensive looking list; and when you add up the fee’s, $3203.00 per year!  Two important points: 1. Some of the above cards waived the 1st year fee and 2. It’s time to thin the herd before the fee comes due.  So who stays and who goes?  Each card offers benefits, some of which I don’t use.  I’m only going to list what’s important to ME, not everything the card offers. Starting at the top:

  1.  Sapphire-Keep: 3x UR points on Travel and Meals.  $300 Travel Credit,  Airport lounge access.  Xlnt Travel portal.  All meals go on this card+most Travel
  2. Amex Blue Business-Keep: No Annual Fee, 2x Amex MR points on everything.  This card gets used on everything that isn’t Meals and Travel.
  3. Marriott Business-Keep, grudgingly.  You get a free night (cat 1-5) each year which can far exceed the card fee.  I don’t carry this card around.
  4. IHG-Keep. Free night each year (Huge value potential here, think Las Vegas Palazzo) plus Platinum Status.  Low fee.
  5. United Explorer-Bye. Other non-airline cards cover benefits of this card
  6. Delta Platinum-Bye.  See #5
  7. Hyatt-keep for free night feature.
  8. Amex Business-Keep. $200 airline credit, 35-50% points return on airline. 5x on MR airline ticket purchases and lounge access.  Gold status with SPG, Marriott, Ritz and Hilton.
  9. Amex Personal-Bye. Use Amex Business.
  10. SPG Business-Keep. Max point return at Marriott, Ritz and Starwood.  Free WiFi
  11. Ritz-Bye. This is a hard one.  $300 “any travel” credit.  It’s that last $150 ($450 annual fee) I just can’t find the value.  I don’t stay at Ritz-Carlton that often.  I got the card because of the 3 free night promo.  These are gone after the first year.  I received HUGE value in the last year from that promo.
  12. American Airlines-Bye. See #5
  13. Amex Hilton Surpass-Keep. Hilton treats me like a king. 12 Hilton pts per $ at Hilton Hotels
  14. Amex Business Gold-Keep. This is my Travelinggump.com card.
  15. Amex Platinum (Lilly)-On the fence
  16. Edward Jones World card-Keep. It’s a lousy card but my oldest and has no fee. Good for credit report, not much more.

That’s 5-6 Byes and keep the rest.  I’m not a fan of the airline cards as their benefits are very narrowly focused.  They are most valuable to those seeking airline status.  Having said all that, as each card hits it’s anniversary, I’ll call customer service who will occasionally waive fees or offer Points/Miles to keep you for another year.

With my current card choices, I rarely pay for airline tickets, lounge access, rental cars or hotel rooms.  Whether I use Points, Miles or pay out of pocket depends on the math. Either way, I love having the option to choose.

Where do I go now?  What is my next card?  The Chase Ink has me salivating but alas, thanks to their 5/24 rule (loosely stated, 5 cards opened anywhere within last 24 months=No Go on Ink at Chase, Ugh) not an option today.  So do your due diligence and let me know “what’s gonna be in your wallet?”

 

 

An SPG Success Story. Do Try and Stay Awake Until the End.

I take this serious.  Points and Miles are a fine hobby for some but not for me.  There is no “hobby” about it.  I’m hunting for value and opportunity everyday and everywhere.  My traveling parameters?  The Globe.  I travel, I observe, I write…you nod off.  All is well and right in the world.

The costs to travel the world are, well…outrageous.  I don’t do outrageous, I do value and I use three main tools: Credit Cards, reaching Status with what ever company I’m using and by taking advantage of every points and miles “promo” “they” offer.

Example:  I’m in Vienna, Austria and I need a King room for two nights.  Nearest Hotel is a Starwood (SPG) property called the Hotel Bristol.  A Luxury Collection, 5 Star Hotel.  I’m swinging for the fences.  What do you do now?  My Mantra: “Always bite off more than you can chew”  Its a good thing that I’ve got a big mouth cause’ we’re going in the door!  How?

  1. Open the SPG app on your phone and check rates at the hotel using the SPG Lowest Standard Rates, SPG Free Nights and SPG Cash and Points options.  Here is what I see:

    Do the math:  SPG points are worth ~2.7 cents each.

  2. Option 1. Pay $283.22 per night x 2 = $566.44
  3. Option 2. Use 12,000 SPG Starpoints per night (12,000 x 2=24,000pts) x .027 $648.00 total
  4. Option 3. Use 6,000 SPG Starpoints per night (6000 x 2 =12,000pts = $324.00) + $110.00 per night $220.00.  Total $324.00 (in Pts Value) +$220.00 in cash =$544.00.

So what now?  You need “points”.  This is where the Credit card comes in.  Go to  Americanexpress.com, look for the Purple SPG Starwood card.  Simple; qualify, spend $3000.00 on whatever (bills,utilities etc…) within 90 days and receive 25,000 SPG points (that alone is worth ~$675.00 in value).  The card costs $95.00 a year but that fee is waived the first year.  Anyway, there’s your points.

Now you need Status.  Stay with me to the end and you’ll appreciate why.  You’ll want to be Gold or better.  Don’t forget that Gold with SPG, Marriott or Ritz is Gold with all three. Also, remember how I said I take this serious?  Well, the next Card you’ll need to explore is the Americanexpress.com Business or Personal Platinum.  One of it’s many valuable benefits is that you are automatically Gold with SPG and Hilton.  Read up, this is a serious card for serious people who love to travel.  Anyway, there is your Gold Status with SPG, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton and Hilton.  They all constantly offer opportunities to earn more points to keep growing if you choose.

Well, I went in and chose option 3.  $220.00 + 12,000 pts.  I booked a basic King room on my phone standing in the lobby.  Because of my Gold Status and room availability, I was upgraded to a Deluxe Executive King ~$530.00 a night ($1060.00 total value) for $220.00 and 12k in points.  Now, you’ve formed a mental picture of this Executive room.  It was everything your thinking.  It was Vienna, Austria Amazing.

There it is, serious Credit Cards for serious travel.  On a serious note, you lose value if you run balances and don’t pay these cards off EVERY month.  If you can do that, you’ll be amazed.  Study all of the benefits and costs and see if they are right for you!

Happy Travels!

 

 

 

A Few Thoughts On Our Recent Trip To Austria With a Bonus Video!

It has been an interesting week.  Long flights, three Hotels, sightseeing, a car rental and some shopping.  I thought for fun, I would use a different format for this article.  This way I can chronologically praise or blast, this or that, while still keeping it interesting.

To:  Springfield, Missouri Airport (SGF). You are one of nicest regional airports in the world.  I didn’t realize that until now.

To:  The Airberlin Gate personnel in Chicago (ORD); are you insane? What a cluster that was.  You don’t board Special Needs, Families with Children and 1st/Business class ticket holders all at the same time.  It was a neck-in-neck race of strollers, children, wheelchairs and brief cases all bearing down on one clerk blocking a single door.  It didn’t end well.

To:  Airberlin A330 1st/Business Class.  Your staff is wonderful but only one bathroom?  I’m waiting in line with the Captain of the plane.  He finally gave up.

To:  The luggage handlers between Springfield and the Vienna Airport, Damn!, you are a brutal lot, our luggage is not your enemy.

To:  The Grandmotherly at the Berlin International Airport, please, PLEASE start wearing bra’s or thicker undershirts, ANYTHING! And please turn the heat up!  Lilly was having way to much fun pointing my attention here and there.  It’s like a car crash, you just can’t look away…the images, now I may need therapy.

To:  The Taxi driver from the Vienna airport to Le Meridien, really? You couldn’t get any closer to the door, everybody else did.  Didn’t appreciate the hike with our beat up luggage.

To:  Le Meridien Vienna, you can and will do better. You share the SPG Brand and on the outside, you are beautifully done.   For reasons discussed with SPG Customer Service, I left.  Members value their status, it can be challenging to earn and we take it very seriously.  So should you.

To:  Starwood SPG Customer Service, Thank you!  Your attention to the matter was prompt, appreciated and worthy of your reputation as one of the finest hotel groups in the world.

To:  The SPG Hotel Bristol Vienna.  You provided a level of service and patience with me that was extraordinary.  Subira, Miriam and Carlos, I was having a very bad day and you exceeded my expectations.  It was the effort you put forth that made it so special.  It mattered, it made a difference and I am humbled.  Thank you

To:  Lilly for not killing me for being “me” that day.  Yes, I can be quirky.  Thank you love.

To:  The City of Vienna for your beauty, architecture and the precious gift of Music that both your past and present Citizens have provided.

To:  The two couples we met at our business dinner.  The Biergarten afterward was incredible as was the lady bathroom attendant (in the men’s room) who walked up and down behind us mumbling, probably judging us like Madelyn Khan in Mel Brooks’, History of the World; yes, yes, no, YES!  Anyway it was creepy and there she was.  Too much beer later, we went back to the hotel and ultimately called it a night…after more beer etc…the next day was not good but hey, we socialized! For that, I thank you.

To:  The prolific bicycle riders of the world, you arrogant lot of roadway tyrants who consistently refuse to obey the laws and blaze through traffic lights and stop signs, yes, you who see pedestrians as an obstacle but refuse to yield.  And, ironically, it is you who whines the loudest when a vehicle does the same and you are the one “ass-up” on the ground, crying (and filing a lawsuit) for your suffering.  This is the long way of saying be on-guard in Vienna, or any city, as they rarely yield and are easily annoyed if you slow them down or impede them in any way.

To:  Salzburg for being incredibly beautiful and having actual pedestrian sidewalks to avoid those two wheeled maniacs.  For having the most glorious old town shopping areas and for your continued contribution and support to the music we so dearly cherish today.

To:  Eagles Nest in Berchtesgaden.  You weren’t always a restaurant with a view.  In another time, you were different.  I sit within your walls and even though you try and deceive me, I know you, I see you clearly.  The pleasant smells of your kitchen hide nothing.

To:  Humanity.  If we ever wanted to ensure the return of that which we loathe, we simply need to allow it to be forgotten, for this act alone, is the key that opens the door of that which separates humanity from its demise.

To:  The Autobahn, I was promised reckless endangerment.  Instead I received a Ford Fiesta with 3 cylinders and a 70 mph limit.

To:  Rogers and Hammerstein for the musical “The Sound of Music”, the Von Trapp Family and to Julie Andrews for blessing us with her voice and beauty for so many years.

To:  Janet for daring me to do my own twirling version of “The Sound of Music” on an Austrian hillside.  And a thank you to Ben for editing.  It’s basically 11 seconds of me earning a permanent revocation of my Man-Card.  Bob Fosse would not approve.

To:  Austria for having the most beautiful forests that I have ever seen, they are absolutely stunning to view.  If I had accomplished nothing more on this trip than to drive through the Salzburg countryside, that drive alone would have made it worth coming to Austria.

To:  The jerk who studied the Von Trapp family and the true story of The Sound of Music.  Thank you for crushing my idyllic view of the story and showing a picture of Maria Von Trapp, who by the way, looks absolutely nothing like Julie Andrews.  I hope this guy gets hit by a bike.

To:  The City of Salzburg Municipal Court and the eagle-eyed officer who noticed that I apparently didn’t feed some hidden parking meter when I parked in a group of other cars and gave me a 25 euro parking ticket.  This event provided great joy to the hotel staff who couldn’t stop laughing when I asked them to translate the citation.  “Didn’t you see the sign?”, my reply, “everything is in German, no English anywhere!” The clerks’ reply “you should learn German then”.   I gave up, he had me with that.

To:  Natalie at Hertz Vehicle Rental.  You would’ve thought the vehicle I had rented belonged to her personally.  When I returned it, she examined the car like it was a crime scene.   Somehow I passed, no damage whatsoever.

All in all, it was a great trip, made up of many special events that gave it a depth that allowed it to be wonderfully memorable.