let your thoughts wander

Category: Points & Miles

Amtrak train on the left with a yellow stepping stool outside an open door.

Amtrak Adventure

One of the trips in which Bill and I took advantage of credit card sign up bonuses was booking a Roomette on the Amtrak Empire Builder route from Columbus, Wisconsin to Whitefish, Montana using points from the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Our final destination was Glacier National Park and its sister park, Waterton Lakes in Alberta, Canada. Having only ever taken the Metra and CTA trains in and around Chicago and the Underground and Metro in Europe, this was uncharted territory for both of us. A new and exciting adventure – and to one of the most beautiful US National Parks none-the-less!

Photo looking into a small bunk room with two blue seats facing each other.

Our room was quite small. Essentially two seats facing each other that folded down into a bed, with another bed that folded down from above. The room also had a large window, tiny closet, coat hooks on the walls, a small shelf, and doors out to the aisleway. This is where we stayed for much of the 40.5 hour trip. With the exception of meal times when we went to the dining car, and the one short visit we made to the observation car.

We met a couple who were about 20 years older than us during our first meal, and decided to continue making reservations with each other for several of the remaining meals on the trip. They were also heading to Glacier to meet up with their daughter. We had wonderful mealtime conversations together. I encourage anyone who is considering taking the Amtrak to do so – and to make friends with others on the train. It enriches the experience and makes even more memorable.

The food on the train is pretty amazing! I still remember the crab cake sandwich I had one day for lunch. I would almost take the Amtrak just to have that again. I would have to plan accordingly, however, as the food options vary from day to day.

Fish with a lime wedge, brown rice, and green beans on a white plate.

Mini cheesecake with strawberry topping on a white plate with a blue line and Amtrak logo around the rim.

Taking in the country’s cities and landscapes from the rails lends a totally different view of life. One that feels more carefree and less chaotic than the day-to-day goings on that keep us busy and in the hustle and bustle of coming and going.

Riding on the Amtrak was an experience I will cherish forever, but being on a train for that long is not something I would be overly excited about doing again. There was one time when an announcement was made that we would be stopped for several hours and could not get off the train. I was on the top bunk and started to get claustrophobic and had a mild panic attack. The thought of being stuck on the train in that tiny room for an extended period of time was frightening.

That delay was the result of a freight train ahead of us being stuck on the tracks and unable to move. I believe we may have been stuck waiting for around 5 hours or so. Thankfully that delay was in the evening and we slept through most of it.

There were several other times in which we would be forced to stop (in the middle of nowhere) and wait for a new conductor – as the conductors are limited on how many hours they can work at a time.

With all the stops and delays, we ended up arriving 11.5 hours later than our scheduled arrival time. Which meant we paid for one extra night at the KOA we had reserved. Not a huge deal, but do be prepared for stops and delays if you decide to book an Amtrak trip.

All-in-all this was a trip I will always remember. Would I do it again? Maybe. You never know where life may take you, afterall!

 

Stack of two gold colored and one black colored credit card.

Reward credit card breakdowns

When it comes to reward credit cards there are endless options and things are constantly changing. It’s important to have a clear goal and search for the right card(s) and sign up bonuses that will help you achieve that goal. Below is a breakdown of some of the benefits for many of the cards Bill and I have had at different points throughout the last several years.

Airlines

AAdvantage® Platinum Select®

  • Apply now
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • First checked bag free for you and up to four travel companions on American Airlines.
  • Preferred boarding on American Airlines.
  • Earn 2 miles per dollar spent on American Airlines purchases.
  • Earn 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases.
  • Earn 10% back on redeemed AAdvantage® miles. (Up to 10,000 miles per calendar year.)
  • Save 25% on inflight food and beverage purchases on American Airlines flights.
  • Save up to 7,500 miles roundtrip with MileSAAver® awards.
  • Annual fee of $95. (Waived for the first 12 months.)
  • Variable APR of 17.49%-25.49%.

AAdvantage® Executive

  • Apply now
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • First checked bag free for you and up to eight travel companions on American Airlines.
  • Priority check-in and boarding privileges for you and up to eight travel companions on American Airlines.
  • Earn 2 miles per dollar spent on American Airlines purchases.
  • Earn 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases.
  • Save 25% on inflight food and beverage purchases on American Airlines flights.
  • Save up to 7,500 miles roundtrip with MileSAAver® awards.
  • Admirals Club® Membership for primary cardmember and one authorized user. (Must be 18 years of age or older.)
  • One Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® application fee statement credit every five years. (Up to $100.)
  • No limit to the number of miles you can earn.
  • Annual fee of $450.
  • Variable APR of 17.24%-25.24%.

AAvantage® Aviator® Red

  • Apply now
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • First checked bag free for you and up to four companions traveling on American Airlines.
  • Preferred boarding for you and up to four companions on American Airlines.
  • Earn 2 miles per dollar spent on American Airlines purchases.
  • Earn 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases.
  • Earn 10% back on redeemed AAdvantage® miles. (Up to 10,000 miles per calendar year.)
  • Save 25% on inflight food and beverage purchases on American Airlines flights.
  • Save up to 7,500 miles roundtrip with MileSAAver® awards.
  • No limit to the number of miles you can earn.
  • Personalized Concierge.
  • Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver.
  • Trip Cancellation and Interruption coverage.
  • Extended Warranty.
  • Price Protection.
  • Purchase Security.
  • Return Protection.
  • Annual fee of $95.
  • Variable APR of 17.49%-26.49%.

Gold Delta SkyMiles®

  • Apply now
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • First checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Priority boarding on Delta flights.
  • Earn 1 mile per dollar on all purchases.
  • Discounted rate of $29 per person for Delta Sky Club® access for you and up to two traveling companions.
  • Extended Warranty matched for up to one additional year on purchases with original U.S. manufacturer’s warrant of 5 years or less.
  • If you try to return an item within 90 days from the date of purchase and the U.S. merchant will not accept the return, Return Protection may provide a refund. (Limited to $300 per item and $1,000 per calendar year.)
  • Purchase protection for 90 days after purchase against accidental damage or theft up to $1,000 per claim and $50,000 per calendar year.
  • Annual fee of $95. (Waived for the first 12 months.)
  • Variable APR of 17.24%-26.24%.

Platinum Delta SkyMiles®

  • Apply now
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • First checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Zone 1 Priority Boarding for you and up to eight other passengers on your reservation on Delta flights.
  • Earn 1 mile per dollar on all purchases.
  • Receive a 20% savings statement credit on inflight food, beverage, and audio headset purchases on Delta flights.
  • Discounted rate of $29 per person for Delta Sky Club® access for you and up to two traveling companions.
  • Extended Warranty matched for up to one additional year on purchases with original U.S. manufacturer’s warrant of 5 years or less.
  • If you try to return an item within 90 days from the date of purchase and the U.S. merchant will not accept the return, Return Protection may provide a refund. (Limited to $300 per item and $1,000 per calendar year.)
  • Purchase protection for 90 days after purchase against accidental damage or theft up to $1,000 per claim and $50,000 per calendar year.
  • Annual fee of $195.
  • Variable APR of 17.24%-26.24%.

United MileagePlus® Explorer

  • Apply now
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • First standard checked bag free for you and one companion traveling on the same reservation on United Airlines.
  • Receive 2 United Club airport lounge one-time passes each year.
  • Priority boarding on United Airlines.
  • Earn 2 miles per dollar spent on airline tickets purchased from United Airlines.
  • Earn 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases.
  • Miles do not expire as long as account is open.
  • No limit to the number of miles you can earn.
  • Complimentary 24 hour Visa Concierge service to help find tickets to sporting and entertainment events, make dinner reservations, and finding the perfect gift.
  • Annual fee of $95. (Waived for the first 12 months.)
  • Variable APR of 17.24%-24.24%.

Hotels

Hilton Honors

  • Apply now
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • Complimentary Hilton Honors Silver status.
  • Earn 7 points per dollar spent at Hilton hotels and resorts.
  • Earn 5 points per dollar spent at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations.
  • Earn 3 points per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Car Rental Loss and Damage Insurance when rental is paid for with this card and collision damage waiver is declined at rental car counter. This product provides secondary coverage and does not include liability coverage. (Not available for vehicles rented in Australia, Italy, and New Zealand. Not all vehicle types or rentals are covered.)
  • Extended Warranty matched for up to one additional year on purchases with original U.S. manufacturer’s warrant of 5 years or less.
  • If you try to return an item within 90 days from the date of purchase and the U.S. merchant will not accept the return, Return Protection may provide a refund. (Limited to $300 per item and $1,000 per calendar year.)
  • Purchase protection for 90 days after purchase against accidental damage or theft up to $1,000 per claim and $50,000 per calendar year.
  • No annual fee.
  • Variable APR of 17.24%-26.24%.

Hyatt

  • Apply now
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • One free night per year at any Category 1-4 hotel or resort.
  • Receive 10% bonus points when choosing to earn points on eligible spend.
  • Receive complimentary in-room premium internet.
  • Receive 2pm late check-out upon request at participating locations.
  • Earn 3 points per dollar spent at Hyatt hotels and resorts.
  • Earn 2 points per dollar spent at restaurants, on airline tickets purchased directly from the airline, and at car rental agencies.
  • Earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Points do not expire as long as account is open.
  • Redeem points for free nights starting at 5,000 points per night.
  • Reimbursement for toiletries and clothing if baggage is delayed over 6 hours. (Up to $100 per day for 5 days.)
  • Up to $3,000 reimbursement per passenger if you or your immediate family members’ checked or carry-on bags are damaged or lost.
  • Up to $5,000 per trip reimbursement for passenger fares, tours, and hotels if trip is canceled or cut short by sickness, severe weather, or other covered situations.
  • Purchase protection for 120 days after purchase against damage or theft up to $500 per claim and $50,000 per account.
  • If a purchase you made in the U.S. is advertised for less within 90 days, receive reimbursement of the difference up to $500 per item and $2,500 per year.
  • Complimentary 24 hour Visa Concierge service to help find tickets to sporting and entertainment events, make dinner reservations, and finding the perfect gift.
  • Annual fee of $75.
  • Variable APR of 17.24%-24.24%.

Other

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

  • Apply now
  • Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases.
  • Earn $150 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in first 3 months after opening.
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back.
  • Cash back rewards do not expire as long as account is open.
  • No annual fee.

Chase Sapphire Preferred®

  • Apply now
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • Earn 2 points per dollar spent on travel – from airfare and hotels to taxis and trains.
  • Earn 2 points per dollar spent at restaurants worldwide.
  • Earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Transfer points to participating frequent travel programs at 1 to 1 value.
  • Auto rental collision damage waiver.
  • Trip cancellation/trip interruption insurance.
  • Zero liability protection.
  • Baggage delay insurance.
  • Annual fee of $95. (Waived for the first 12 months.)
  • Variable APR of 17.24%-24.24%.

 

Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. If you enjoy my blog and would like to support this website in some way, using these links will help do exactly that. If you have any questions, please put them in the comments below. I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.

Young woman with dark hair and glasses sitting in a business class seat on an airplane.

How I receive free airfare and lodging

For years Bill and I have been traveling for nearly free. Yes, we still have to pay taxes and fees on airfare. We also still pay for food and other things, but overall our flights and lodging are often free. While discussing our upcoming trips with friends or family and explaining it is free, we are always asked “How?!” So here it is: credit card bonuses. Airline frequent flyer programs and hotel loyalty programs are key factors as well, but we get the biggest bang for our buck with credit card bonuses.

It started a long time ago with the Chase Sapphire Preferred and has evolved along the way. So far, this year’s credit cards are the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite and the United MileagePlus Explorer.

I know your next question, “Don’t you have a lot of debt – opening credit cards all the time?” The answer is no, we have zero credit card debt. We pay our bills in full every month and typically only sign up for a new card when we know our purchases will meet the required spend on time. We also close the accounts before the annual fee comes due.

The hotel cards are a little different. We rarely close those. Sure there is an annual fee, but they also come with the perk of one free anniversary night every year. If used wisely, the value of that free night far outweighs the cost of the annual fee. Therefore, while you are still paying for the room in a way, the cost is far less than the normal price.

This strategy is not for everyone. But if you do it right, you can travel the world with very little out of pocket expense. We have flown business class roundtrip to Australia, Cambodia, and Nepal (separate trips) and paid less in taxes and fees than the cost of flying economy on the same flights. Currently Bill and I are working toward flying business class to Africa or Western Australia.

 

Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. If you enjoy my blog and would like to support this website in some way, using these links will help do exactly that. If you have any questions, please put them in the comments below. I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.

Delta airplane flying in the sky.

Current Delta award flights under 30,000 miles

I am currently reviewing Delta award redemptions for 2018. At the time of this writing, below are some of the best roundtrip options I have found for under 30,000 miles. (All listings are from Chicago O’Hare in the spring/early summer.)

 

Albuqurque, NM – 28,000

Atlanta, Georgia – 12,000

Austin, Texas – 17,000

Baltimore, Maryland – 11,000

Baton Rouge, Louisiana – 29,000

Boston, Massachusetts – 14,000

Burlington, Vermont – 20,000

Cedar City, Utah – 25,000

Charleston, South Carolina – 17,000

Charlottesville, Virginia – 24,000

Chattanooga, Tennessee – 23,000

Dallas, Texas – 12,000

Denver, Colorado – 13,000

Edmonton, Alberta – 18,000

Fort Meyers, Florida – 15,000

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania – 27,000

Helena, Montana – 26,000

Knoxville, Tennessee – 25,000

Las Vegas, NV – 17,000

Lexington, Kentucky – 14,000

Los Angeles, California – 19,000

Louisville, Kentucky – 14,000

Miami, Florida – 16,000

Montreal, Quebec – 24,000

Manchester, NH – 22,000

Newark, NJ – 14,000

New Orleans, Louisiana – 13,000

Newport News, Virginia – 17,000

Norfolk, Virginia – 17,000

Orlando, Florida – 13,000

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – 23,000

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – 15,000

Portland, Oregon – 15,000

Providence, Rhode Island – 17,000

Richmond, Virginia – 17,000

Roanoke, Virginia – 27,000

Salt Lake City, Utah – 18,000

San Antonio, Texas – 20,000

San Francisco, California – 20,000

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan – 22,000

Savannah, Georgia – 21,000

Seattle, Washington – 15,000

Shreveport, Louisiana – 29,000

Spokane, Washington – 24,000

Toronto, Ontario – 18,000

Vancouver, British Columbia – 21,000

Washington DC – 15,000

Tryptic of three photos: Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge, adult female sitting on a large gray boulder, and sandy beach with turquoise water and an island.

Epic Adventure: Bangkok, Australia, New Zealand & Oahu

Starting Christmas Day, 2014, Bill and I embarked on our 26 day Epic Adventure. Our flight routing consisted of Chicago-Tokyo-Beijing-Bangkok-Melbourne-Cairns-Sydney-Chrischurch-Auckland-Honolulu-Dallas-Chicago with an overnight in Beijing, most of a day in Bangkok, several days in the Melbourne area, several days in Cairns, several days in Sydney, several days exploring the south island of New Zealand, a short layover in Auckland, and a three day stop over in Oahu. If that isn’t an epic adventure, I don’t know what is! (To add to its grandiosity, we flew business class for the longest legs of the trip.)

Adult female with long dark hair and glasses sitting in business class section of an airplane.

This trip was a long time coming. I had yearned to return to Australia ever since my People to People Student Ambassador trip back in 2000. Fourteen years later, it finally became a reality. After being there, I think Bill now realizes precisely why I was so adamant about wanting to go back. The country is beautiful, the people are wonderful, the sights are great, and food treats you right! What more could you ask for?

This trip was not exactly the same as the trip I was on in 2000, but it hit some of the highlights and added even more great things. In 2000 we took a bus from Sydney up the eastern coast to Cairns, with frequent stops along the way. On this trip we first explored Bangkok for a day and then were off to Australia, starting in Melbourne – driving the southern coast along The Great Ocean Road to Port Campbell and back.

Photo of Melbourne, Australia skyline in the distance.

From Melbourne we flew to Cairns, rented a car, and visited the Daintree Rainforest. We also took an organized snorkeling trip out to the Great Barrier Reef – no trip to Cairns is complete without visiting that natural wonder.

Photo from airplane window over the Great Barrier Reef.

When we were done in Cairns we flew to Sydney. After exploring the city and reminiscing on some of the things I had seen on my previous visit, we took the train in to Blue Mountains National Park for an overnight.

Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge.

Then back to Sydney and off to New Zealand! New and unchartered territory for both of us. After visiting, it was clear why many people say you cannot visit Australia without visiting New Zealand and vice versa. Both are amazing, but in totally different ways.

Adult female sitting on top of a large gray boulder with several other large boulders surrounding.

To end the trip, Bill had found that we could include a stopover in Hawaii on our way home, so we took full advantage of that and spent 3 days on Oahu soaking up some more sun before returning to the cold midwestern winter.

Sandy beach with turquoise ocean and an island in the distance.

Three continents and four countries later, this epic adventure is what I consider to be our best trip to date.

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