Category Archives: Miles/Points

2018 in Review (and the Reason I’ve Been AWOL)

2018 has been a life-changing year. Yeah, every year is technically life changing. But on the spectrum of change, pregnancy and the birth of our son, little A, is kind of up there.

So that’s my excuse for being an absentee blogger. I think it’s a pretty good one. Pregnancy was as terrible as I imagined, and so much worse. Not that I wasn’t thankful and blessed. I tried to remind myself every time I heaved my innards into the toilet how lucky we were, but the day-by-day process was torture… for nine months. There isn’t any reason to sugarcoat it. I was nauseous, exhausted, starving, nauseous, achy, oh, and nauseous. I’m pretty sure my husband looked at me every day and said to himself, “I”m so glad I’m a guy.”

Traveling was hard to say the least. Our June trip to Greece, Israel, and Poland was both amazing and difficult. Besides for feeling physically sick, I struggled to get used to this new, limited version of myself. Old me wanted to climb up to the Acropolis and take a million pictures of everything. Pregnant me wanted to stay in our air conditioned hotel and sleep for hours. Pregnant me often won out.

Here’s a small taste of what I managed to see and what I’ll eventually blog about.

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View of the Acropolis in the distance. Athens, Greece

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Ethereal light on a Greek island. Aegina, Greece

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Sun setting on the Mediterranean Sea. Tel Aviv, Israel

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The gate to Birkenau – one of the biggest Nazi concentration camps. Outside Krakow, Poland

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Old town square. Krakow, Poland

I achieved one of my travel goals of getting the Southwest companion pass last year, but I was too tired to use it. By the time we got back from our June trip and I was well into my second trimester, I promised myself I wouldn’t go anywhere unless I absolutely had to.

But all that changed on November 27th – 24 minutes into his due date – A was born. It’s been five weeks and we’ve officially decided to keep him. Just kidding. We love this little guy to bits, but he does make it a lot harder to do the things we used to do. Now that the nausea is gone, the travel bug has returned with a vengeance… at least until we have our first diaper blowout on an airplane.

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My goals for 2019 are more limited in scope: Get back in shape (I have been seriously wedded to the couch for 10 months), use my Southwest companion pass to see some awesome places in the U.S. and show A our awesome country, plan a big family trip for next November/December, and sleep for more than three hours at a time.

Extra emphasis on the last one.

2018 in numbers:

0: New state visited. I have still visited 39 out of 50 states. (I hope to change that this year!)

2: New countries visited – Greece and Poland.

4: New credit cards (but three for M as well)

4: Countries visited, including the U.S.

12: States visited, including Washington D.C.

27: Flights.

26,000: Number of miles flown, 30,000 less than last year.

222,500: Number of miles redeemed. This includes two tickets from D.C. to Athens in business class, a roundtrip economy ticket for M to Rome, two tickets from New York to D.C., and  one ticket from Chicago to Knoxville.

215,000: Number of points redeemed at hotels, including two free nights due to credit cards. This includes five nights at the Hilton Athens, two nights at Hyatt Regency Amsterdam for M, and one night at the Marriott in Columbus, OH for M.

Too many to count: Car trips to West Virginia, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and New York.

 

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Prague Part 6: Review – Intercontinental Prague

Prague Part 1: The Worst Train Ride Ever
Prague Part 2: Prague…My Favorite European City
Prague Part 3: Jewish History in Prague
Prague Part 4: Prague Castle
Prague Part 5: Photography in Prague

I chose the Intercontinental for two reasons 1) I had a free night on the verge of expiration and 2) location.

This hotel was more of a mixed bag, but overall, the location made it the best option for us.

The Positives:

  • Location: One of the most important items on our Prague to-do list was the Jewish sites. Located in the heart of the Jewish quarter and literally a 30 second walk to the historic Alt-Neu Synagogue, the Intercontinental was the ideal place for us.
  • Nice rooms: While on the small side, the rooms felt new and modern, and we even had a view of the Vlata river. Notably, the shower was freaking amazing.
  • Massage: Since I’m not the spring chicken I used to be, hours of walking and standing in museums does a number on my back. I splurged on a deep-tissue massage our last night, and it was exactly what this old lady needed.

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The Negatives:

  • Wifi: The wifi sucked. Period. Wildly schizophrenic, there were times when we simply couldn’t connect at all, and times when we …. Yeah, this was a bummer.
  • No status: IHG has some amazing aspects to its program (free hotel night anywhere in the world) and some not so amazing things, namely, difficulty of attaining meaningful elite status. That meant no lounge access, no free breakfast, no upgrade.
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Berlin Part 8: Review – Hilton Berlin

Berlin Part 1: Getting There
Berlin Part 2: Berlin Is… Complicated
Berlin Part 3: Where To See The Berlin Wall
Berlin Part 4: Never Forget
Berlin Part 5: The Jewish Quarter
Berlin Part 6: Museum Island
Berlin Part 7: View From Above

I picked the Hilton Berlin for two reasons: 1) Location and 2) my Hilton diamond status.

The Positives:

  • Location: Centrally located in Mitte, we were walking distance to most major sites. Berlin is huge, but our location just south of Unter den Linden meant we could easily get to Potsdammer Platz, Brandenburg Gate, Museum Island, the Jewish Quarter, the Jewish Museum, Checkpoint Charlie, etc. all under 30 minutes. There is also a subway stop right at the corner.
  • Pretty Hotel: It’s a pretty hotel with nicely appointed rooms and modern interiors.

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  • The lounge/breakfast: As a Diamond member, we had access to the Lounge which provided breakfast, snacks, drinks, and evening appetizers. We also were able to get breakfast in the main dining room (more tourists, but much bigger spread). Most importantly, I had ongoing access to free diet cokes throughout our stay.

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  • Price: Berlin in general is fairly cheap. I booked five nights for 139,000 points in the off-season. That comes out to approximately 28,000 points a night for hotel in the middle of a major European city!
  • Wifi: Wifi worked well in the room (especially compared to our next hotel).

The Negatives:

  • Upgrade: As a diamond member, I have received some substantial upgrades in the past (I’m still dreaming about the suite in Barcelona). I pointed out that there were plenty of suites available in the hotel, but they argued that someone could still book those rooms over the course of our five night stay. They “upgraded” us to a room with a view of the Dom across the street. The room itself was fine, but the upgrade was disappointing.

As you can see, I was pretty happy with our stay at Hilton Berlin.

 

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Berlin Part 1: Getting There

We flew United business class from Washington D.C. to Dublin, and then economy Aer Lingus from Dublin to Berlin. There are no direct flights from D.C. to Berlin, and while there are better business class options – flying United cost 57,500 miles versus the pricier 70,000 mils required for United partners.

First, the United lounge in Dulles airport. Dulles is not slated to get a new Polaris lounge until 2018 or 2019. The current version is not the best lounge, but also not the worst. Comfortable, free wifi, plentiful snacks… it’s hard to complain.

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United’s Boeing 757-200 doesn’t have the fancy new Polaris hard product that some planes do, but at least we didn’t get stuck with United’s terrible 2-4-2 business class configuration. With a 2-2  configuration, the seats were perfect for traveling couples like us, with lie-flat seats and plenty of space to get comfy.

The service was friendly and accommodating. The new Saks Fifth Avenue blankets and pillows worked great (though I’m not exactly picky), and we managed to sleep for a couple of hours.

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Once in Dublin, we settled into the Dublin Airport Executive Lounge thanks to our Priority Pass card. I was exhausted so I curled up into a ball and fell asleep. But first, I took some pictures.

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Holland Part 7: Hotel Reviews in Amsterdam

Holland Part 1: Falling for Amsterdam
Holland Part 2: Jewish History in Amsterdam
Holland Part 3: Snapshots from The Hague
Holland Part 4: Meet Mondrian
Holland Part 5: Welcome to Leiden
Holland Part 6: Thanksgiving in Leiden

Since this was a last minute trip, I had to cobble together points for the Amsterdam portion of our stay. It turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself. The first couple of nights, we stayed at the Renaissance Amsterdam Hotel (Marriott) for 40,000 points a night. A stone’s throw from the central train station, I loved the location. The rooms were not huge, but not closets either. As a Marriott gold, I often find the “upgrades” are not really upgrades. But gold gave us free breakfast, which more than makes up for the standard room.

2017-05-30 18.05.362017-05-30 18.05.372017-05-30 18.05.392017-05-30 17.48.002017-05-30 17.48.042017-05-30 17.36.522017-05-30 17.36.58Our last night in Amsterdam, we tried out the new Hyatt Regency on the other side of town. Only a couple of weeks old, I thought the hotel was lovely, but I definitely preferred the location of the Marriott. The hotel is situated right on the Singelgracht canal, and our room had a view of the water. Two other positives about the Hyatt: 1) It’s a block away from the Weesperplain subway stop; 2) As a category 4 hotel, it qualifies for the anniversary free night for holders of the Hyatt credit card – a rare thing for western Europe!

2017-06-03 12.50.212017-06-03 12.50.442017-06-03 12.51.162017-06-03 12.51.522017-06-03 12.59.412017-06-03 13.38.452017-06-03 12.58.562017-06-03 12.58.582017-06-03 12.59.03The view from our room:

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Both are great hotels, but my Marriott status and my location preference made the Renaissance the clear winner. See the below map with the Marriott in Red and the Hyatt in purple. The blue pins represent classic Amsterdam sights.

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What’s Next: Central Europe

The traveling circus is off to Europe again in two weeks, making this our third trip to Europe this year. Not that I’m complaining.

This trip began like a lot of our trips: me playing around on the computer, randomly looking up flights, and saying “Hey babe, you want to go to Berlin?”

Basically, there was a ton of United award availability to central Europe and we had replenished our points accounts since Amsterdam. So Berlin, Prague, and Vienna – here we come.

How did we do it?

Flights: I splurged on business class tickets to Berlin in the hopes that we will arrive well-rested and can hit the ground running (fingers crossed). We will fly United Polaris (sadly not the fancy new United hard product) to Berlin with a stopover in Dublin. There are no direct flights from D.C. to Berlin, and flying United requires less miles than United partners like, say, Austrian Air. Total IAD – TXL for two people: 115,000 United miles and $16.80.

On the way back, we’ll be flying economy from Vienna to D.C. for 30,000 United miles each. Business class would have been nice, but at 70,000 miles per person it was too much. At least, the flight is non-stop. Total VIE – IAD for two people: 60,000 United miles and $178.32.

Hotel – Berlin: Picking hotel rooms is my favorite part of traveling. I know, some people like the sightseeing, the food…whatever. I love the hotel analysis. It takes all kinds, right? Since I have diamond status at Hilton, my heart always gravitates there, and I had racked up a ton of points thanks to work travel. Berlin was easy. The Hilton Berlin is smack in the middle of the city, with easy access to major sites. I booked five nights, taking advantage of Hilton’s five for the price of four deal. Total Hilton Berlin for five nights: 161,000 Hilton points.

UPDATE: I occasionally check on my already-booked hotels to see if prices have gone down. Lucky me, the Hilton Berlin was going for 139,000 points for the same five nights. I chatted Hilton and they immediately redeposited 22,000 points into my account!

Hilton Map

The Hilton Berlin is the red icon, just a few blocks south of Berlin’s main drag, Unter den Linden.

Hotel – Prague: I had a free IHG night I needed to use before it expired in November so it made the Intercontinental Prague an easy pick. It’s not the best value for my free night, but it’s better than not using it all. In the end, because prices were relatively cheap, I paid for two nights with cash, one night with points, and one night with a free night award. Total Intercontinental Prague for four nights: 40,000 IHG points and $302.56.

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The Intercontinental Prague in the city’s old town. Super excited about the location and the proximity to the Jewish sites.

Hotel Vienna: This was a tough one. Vienna hotel pries are more western Europe than eastern Europe, and we were fresh out of Hilton points. It came down to Starwood vs. Marriott. Starwood offered a slightly better location, but my gold status with Marriott gives us more bang for our buck. So I transferred a bunch of SPG points to Marriott at a 1:3 ratio and booked the Vienna Marriott, where we got five nights for the price of four. Total Vienna Marriott for five nights: 160,000 Marriott points.

Marriott Map

Most of the key attractions in Vienna are located inside or around the ring. The Marriott is directly on the ring road. Looking forward to the lounge here.

Trains: We booked two trains from Berlin to Prague and from Prague to Vienna. Thanks to Seat 61 (the best website for anyone attempting train travel), I was able to find cheap prices on the Czech Republic train site. Total Berlin – Prague for two people: $65.63. Total Prague – Vienna for two people: $53.72.

So that’s how you do two weeks in central Europe on the cheap without slumming it.

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Ireland Part 7: Where We Stayed

Points will get you only so far in Ireland if you leave the major cities, so I tried to maximize our points staying options where I could.

With Mark and I being Hilton Diamond members, we chose The Morrison (DoubleTree) on the banks of the River Liffey for our single night in Dublin. When we checked in, I asked for my upgrade, and we were given a satisfactory room. Usually, I try to push for a luxurious suite, but with one short night in Dublin, I decided to save my pushiness for another time.

2017-05-17 20.44.442017-05-17 20.44.512017-05-17 20.45.292017-05-17 20.46.072017-05-17 20.48.53But then, Mark checked in to his room at 11 p.m., and they gave him the biggest ass suite I have ever seen in my life. I was more than a little jealous.

2017-05-18 10.53.38You walk into the suite, and there is a nice-size dining room and window seat.

2017-05-18 10.53.56Then, because that’s not enough, there’s a separate living room area with plenty of seating room.

2017-05-18 10.54.002017-05-18 10.57.16Oh, and there’s a wrap-around porch that offers views of the river.

2017-05-18 10.54.19The bedroom is a separate room with another window seat.

2017-05-18 10.55.39The headboard is some kind of funky, multi-colored… something. There is actually a remote control to change the colors.

2017-05-18 10.56.19And the bathroom was bigger than our entire room.

2017-05-18 10.55.48At least, breakfast offered a nice spread, somewhat lessening the sting of Mark’s hotel room jackpot.

2017-05-18 10.09.17All in all, the DoubleTree was nice hotel in a good location with an impressive breakfast. For 50,000 points, we saved ourselves a couple hundred of dollars.

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Ireland Part 6: Some Mountains Are Too Big

When Mark told me he wanted to hike Croagh Patrick, the holiest mountain in Ireland said to be climbed by Saint Patrick himself, I said “You know it’s that’s a 2,500-foot hike, right?”

And then I said: “When was the last time you went on a hike?”

Mark brushed off my concerns, that is, until we drove up to the base of the famous pilgrimage site and his eyes traveled northwards.

Needless to say, we did not end up hiking Croagh Patrick, much to M’s dismay. Instead, we spent our last day in Ireland driving leisurely back to the Dublin airport, stopping to to sightsee along the way.

One of the amazing things about Ireland is that there is no shortage of historic sites. From abandoned castles, to ancient churches, every off-the-beaten road took us to another surprise.

So the moral of the story is, sometimes, laziness has its perks.

*IMG_8622Here we are arriving at the famous pilgrimage site.

*IMG_8623And then looking up at the mountain…

**IMG_8633…and then crossing the street to check out some ruins that didn’t require any exertion whatsoever.

**IMG_8674I don’t even know what these ruins are, but it was on the water and it was beautiful. And there were cows!

**IMG_8683**IMG_8689**IMG_8690**IMG_8706**IMG_8718**IMG_8727From there, we headed east, making our way slowly back to Dublin. Mark found the ruins of an old monastic site called Clonmacnoise that was stunning. I got to take pictures; Mark and M got their church and ancient history fix; everyone was happy.

**IMG_8763**IMG_8828**IMG_8845The monastery was founded in 545 A.D. with different buildings dates to different time periods. According to Wikipedia, it was one of the most famous monastic sits in Ireland during the 9th to 11th centuries. More information here.

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**IMG_8855**IMG_8807**IMG_8786**IMG_8769Temple Finghín & McCarthy’s Tower is dated to the 12th century.

**IMG_8840*IMG_8842And sheep! I love me some pictures of sheep.

IMG_7301After a couple of hours of driving and spontaneous rain showers, we caught sight of a double rainbow just as we were nearing the outskirts of Dublin. What a fitting end to a lovely trip.

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Review: Hilton Reykjavik Nordica

There are not many points hotels in Reykjavik. You have two Club Carlson options and two Hilton options. Hilton offers the older, cheaper Nordica and the newer, more expensive, and more centrally located Canopy. Since we were low on points after our December Spain trip, I was able to make the Nordica work for $71 and 16,000 points a night.

Pros: Nice hotel; affordable price; large, upgraded room; club lounge access; pretty views.

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The Nordica lounge

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View from the lounge

Cons: A 30-minute walk from the center of town; lounge is on the small size.

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All in all, we were happy with our choice. The walk into town forced us to do quite a bit of walking and see more of the city. Our first day in Reykjavik, we walked more than seven miles! While the lounge was on the small side, it was still lovely to have access to free food and drinks (mmmm, diet coke), and the views were nothing to sneeze at. Finally, the free parking was useful once we rented our car. If you’re planning a trip to Reykjavik on points, the Hilton Nordica is a great way to keep costs down.

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Review: Priority Pass in Dulles Airport

The Priority Pass lounge card gives you membership in a network of 900-plus lounges all across the country. It now comes free with several credit cards, including the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Citi Prestige card.

In the past, I have primarily used Priority Pass in Europe, where the lounges are more plentiful, but I was excited to try out Priority Pass in Dulles since we flew economy to Iceland.

Here’s the catch: Due to the influx of new members, many priority club lounges have placed limits on when you can enter. For example, the KLM lounge in Dulles’s Terminal 1 (closest to Iceland Air) is only open to Priority Pass members from 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m to 8:30 p.m. The British Airways lounge is only open to Priority Pass members from 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. We arrived at the airport  at 5:00 p.m. during peak travel time. So we headed off to the Turkish Airlines lounge – the newest Priority Pass lounge.

It was great! While on the small side, there is a fantastic spread of food and drinks, comfortable seating, outlets, showers, and even a nap area. While Priority Pass is not a perk I use everyday, it is the perfect perk to alleviate the pain of flying economy on an international trip.

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IMG_9627As Priority Pass becomes increasingly popular, it may become increasingly useless for members, but for now, we were able to make it work.

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