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.

Advertisements

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.

Curiosity Killed The Travel Blog Writer (you were expecting the cat?)

One of the greatest gifts of travel is that it forces you to interact with the world.  I’m a lousy “interactor” but I love to watch people.  I like “interesting”.  I can sit in an airport for hours just watching people as they go about their lives.  It redefines what is “normal”, although I’m beginning to believe that “normal” doesn’t even exist anymore.

My problem is that there is not enough time to talk to everyone that peaks my interest;  I’m curious about everything and I want to write it all down.  Also, I assume that others are just as curious as I am. Wrong!  Unfortunately, I also haven’t figured out a way to approach people and ask, what can sometimes be difficult questions, without bothering or offending the person(s).

The truth is that the people that I’m interested in don’t have to explain their choices or decisions to me or anyone else.  But I wish they would.  I would like to truly understand and learn as I’m certain some of their answers would be fascinating and very enlightening.  I would love to spend at least 5 minutes, with each of the three listed below, and just listen…

  1.  Berlin Airport: Two Hari Krishna devotees, each wearing orangish  canvas brown colored “robes” and each sitting perfectly still, staring straight ahead. Each had a large urn sitting on the ground next to their right foot.  Each urn was wrapped in the same material as the garment they were wearing.  They did not flinch, nothing, for 45 minutes.  I wanted to know the “why” and suddenly they were gone…
  2. However you may feel about this person, there is most likely, a very fascinating life story here…img_9322.png
  3. Chicago Airport:  A Muslim family sitting together.  Four women, two fully covered including their faces, except for the eyes and the other two fully covered, except that their faces were exposed.  They appeared to be about the same age.  The men were in shorts and T-shirts.  I am curious about the “why” and I  don’t want to read it from a book.  I wish I knew someone who is a Muslim that I could ask.  I wish I could have asked them…

Three different stories, three different sets of lives.  What they appear to all have in common though, is that they are each very passionate in guiding the direction of the life they’ve chosen to live.   We should all strive to learn the “why” and then maybe, we too would understand.

Welcome to Vienna, Austria! Now let’s talk towing hitches …

I already have numerous intelligent articles to write about this trip to Austria, from the flight with AirBerlin (yay) to our Hotel at Le Meridian (ugh).

But I’m tired and feeling a bit silly from all the flights today so I’ll start with something that’s completely off topic;  Have you ever seen a European Trailer Hitch?  I’ve seen them here for years and I can’t stop grinning.

On the left is a standard, boring but highly efficient, US hitch and on the right, a common European hitch which seem to be attached to myriad of cars and varies in length, angle and well…size.  Oddly enough, it seems that the smallest cars have the largest hitches…This European hitch seems quite “proud” to be attached to it’s owner’s vehicle.

Yes, this is juvenile and a bit immature but I just can’t stand it any longer, they’re everywhere and, well…there it is.

I promise to write something useful tomorrow…:)