Today I am in Nice! I left Barcelona early on Saturday and ended up here at around 8pm. It was a long, long, day, and Nala wasn’t the biggest fan, but we made it safe and sound. My apartment here is pretty nice, though it’s only got a futon for a bed, which is less than ideal. But! It’s about a two minute walk to the beach so can I really complain?
Yesterday was my first full day in Nice, and to get myself started, I signed up for a walking food tour throughout the city. Let me tell you guys, the French really know their stuff. So fresh!
I actually happened to meet a few other Americans on the tour, so they adopted me into our group and we even spent the rest of the day together! Guys, people think I’m interesting. They even want to spend time with me! How cool is that?
Anyway, the French Riviera is so far way cooler than Paris (sorry Eiffel Tower), and I can see why everyone comes to live here. I certainly would. It’s stunning, and I’ll be spending the next week here taking as many poorly-lit and amateurish photos as possible so you all can see.
Until then, au revoir!
-Carissa “I can’t stop speaking in Spanish” Rawson
Hey! Another picture gallery post for you guys, because I spent some amazing days walking around Barcelona and I think you all need to see how beautiful it is. (But also me. I’m beautiful too. And Nala. Very pretty.)
Museu Nacional D’Art Catalunya
La Sagrada Familia
Used a wide angle lens so I could capture myself and all my friends
Do you know where I’m writing this from? No? You don’t? Well let me inform you. I am currently plopped in the dead middle of the Hilton Barcelona’s executive lounge.
“How does this happen?!?” you may ask, confounded, as you recall that I have been staying with some Argentinians in an Airbnb.
Ok, enough teasing (bragging) and let me tell you guys why I’m here. Do you remember a few weeks ago when I wrote about earning Hilton Diamond status with the increased sign up bonus? There’s actually another route you can take to earn Diamond and keep it through 2019. Hilton currently has a promotion going on where they will match your status with another chain’s (in an effort to poach you). Then, once your status is matched, you can complete 8 stays within 90 days in order to hold your status through 2019. It’s a pretty awesome deal if you can take advantage of it.
However, I’m assuming most of you don’t have elite status with other hotels. Or, at least, you don’t have one high enough to match you to Diamond with Hilton. Well, luckily for us, there is one credit card that does offer such a benefit.
IHG’s (Intercontinental Hotel Group) credit card offers 60,000 bonus points after 1k in spend, as well as automatic Platinum Status with the chain. Now, I’ve stayed at an IHG hotel a bare minimum of times, so don’t think I earned my status or anything.
This is just something they give you when you get the card. Anyway, Hilton will match your IHG Platinum Status with their Diamond status and give you the option to complete the 8 stays in order to keep it.
So that’s what I’m doing! I’ve rebooked a few of my stays throughout the next few months in order to meet the challenge (any Hilton hotel within the portfolio will work), and then I’m good to go.
Why is Diamond so great? Well, it gives you a number of benefits, such as room upgrades, late check-out, early check-in, and free premium internet access. However, most importantly (to me) is executive lounge access, which means free food and drinks (including alcohol!) for the entirety of your stay.
For someone professionally unemployed, like me, this is a huge deal. Now please excuse me while I go stuff my pockets with free apples.
Ok, so I’ve been sitting on this one for a while because I reaaally wanted to do it justice.
What is “it,” exactly?
Well, let me tell you!
It was our Valentine’s Day celebration that we celebrated in a totally planned and not-at-all last minute fashion! Ok, you caught me, it was like a week in advance and maybe I forced David to cancel all his plans. But trust me, it was worth it. So what did we do?
We went to Beaver Creek, Colorado! (It’s for skiing). More specifically, we stayed at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek and skied our tails off on Beaver Creek’s many many ski runs.
Now, in case many of you guys don’t know, Beaver Creek is full of rich people. I mean like, “Oh I guess I’ll just spend ten thousands dollars this week and go to Beaver Creek” rich. Way above the likes of us. Luckily, and you guys guessed it, Carissa-the-Points-Queen was here to save the day. So how did I manage this?
Well, the Hyatt brand happens to be a transfer partner of Chase. If you guys remember, I’ve got a few different Chase cards, which have earned me almost 200k Chase points. However, I also happen to have the Hyatt Chase card, which has a sign-up bonus of 2 free nights anywhere.
Now, I had originally planned to use those free nights at the Maldives, but a quick search showed me that I could save myself some points and swap those free nights over to the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek.
Why? Because the Park Hyatt Maldives is only a Category 6 hotel, which costs 25,000 points/night, and the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek is a Category 7, costing 30,000 points/night. So, by using my two nights at Beaver Creek, I could save myself 10,000 points over a 2 night stay. Well worth it, in my opinion.
For reference, the Park Hyatt is currently going for almost $1000/night, so this was a pretty big deal.
With the hotel taken care of, all we had to do was get there. Starting from Washington D.C., roundtrip flights were around $700/person. Ew. Too much for me.
However, after a stupidly long amount of time, I found some Southwest flights from Philly that were $180 roundtrip. And you know what flying Southwest means, right? David comes for free! (I also redeemed points for our flight) So we drove our happy butts two hours up to Philly, spent a night in Denver, then rented a car and drove the additional two hours to Beaver Creek.
Pause for a moment here. At the request of David, I need to enthusiastically tell you guys how great our rental car company was. I rented from Silvercar, which gives a 30% discount to Visa signature card holders (Chase Sapphire Preferred/ Reserve) They only rent out Audis, which is the coolest thing ever, so we cruised to Beaver Creek in style. It’s also worth noting that the cost of our Audi was $269 for the entire weekend, while a shuttle roundtrip would have cost us $349. I’ll take the leather seats, please.
Let me just say, our hotel was awesome. It was located at the bottom of the ski slopes, so you literally left the hotel and got onto the chair lift up. Super cool.
Now, if you guys happen to know me, you happen to know that I had tried skiing exactly once in my life before this. Suffice to say, it went badly. (So so badly). So I was fairly concerned about attempting to ski again. David had been before, so he was all set, but I opted for ski school. And I mean like “how do I put boots on?” ski school.
Of course I was obviously the best at it (why? I’m normally so clumsy). In fact, I was so good that my instructor had me go it alone on the ski lift. He called me athletic and sent me on my way, which meant that I immediately fell over and ate shit as soon as I tried to get off. Very encouraging.
Overall the day was fantastic and made huge ski fans out of both David and I. Unfortunately, since the skiing up there is so bleeding expensive, we only managed to make it out for one day. The other day we spent wandering around Beaver Creek village (they hand out free chocolate chip cookies!) and watching a concert with Glen Morrison, who is some guy from Glee and also other famous things.
Beaver Creek Village
Did I mention that David opted for no ski school? He says he had a great time, but he also had a GoPro strapped to his and oh my God you guys need to see the videos of him wiping out. He promises he’s uploading them to YouTube soon so I’ll link you guys as soon as they’re up.
Otherwise, we had an amazing weekend which we could have in no way afforded without points. True, ski rentals and ski school cost us out of pocket, but a free hotel and free flights meant we could afford this awesome opportunity without breaking the bank. Totally worth it!
As I sit here on La Rambla, one of the most famous streets in Barcelona, a litre of sangria in front of me and a dog on my lap, a few thoughts come to mind:
First, traveling alone is hard. No one ever told me how hard this was going to be. Not only do I have to carry all my stuff, I have to carry Nala’s as well. Hauling bags up and down the steps of the metro is miserable.
Second, traveling alone with a dog is doubly hard. Seriously, if you thought dragging your significant other along was difficult, imagine you had to feed and water them and pick up all their poop.
So. Much. Poop.
Still, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I love my doggie dearly and she keeps me from getting too lonely out here.
Anyway, the last few days have been…difficult, to say the least. We made our way into Madrid at the crack of dawn on Thursday, stayed two nights, then hopped over here to Barcelona. I’m here for a week before we take the train over to Nice.
I know I’ve plugged Airbnb before, but let me tell you guys, this is the most affordable way to travel. Is it the most glamorous? Not always, but I’m staying in a room in an apartment for eleven bucks a night. Eleven. I even have some awesome flat mates, a gay Argentinian couple with a tiny dog named Fiona and an evil looking Himalayan cat. Their English isn’t the best, but, hey, when in Rome, right? (I mean, when in Rome, attempt to speak dismal Spanish at them. Works out great.)
I spent my first two days here just wandering around. Barcelona is a vibrant, busy, city, with tons to do. Of course, I did no research (I know, unlike me ), so I had no idea what I was doing. However, I did manage to find the beaches, La Rambla, Park Güell, and some awesome local spots.
How did I find the local spots? I’m glad you asked! I downloaded an app, called Spotted By Locals, which has over 65 different cities available around Europe. It’s a couple bucks to download each city map, but they’re full of restaurants, sights to see, and things to do that aren’t totally packed with tourists (me).
I also bought myself a five day Barcelona tourist card, which cost 60 Euros (it’s cheaper online) and includes free transport and admission to all the city’s best museums. Worth it if you’re into art and culture and stuff. It also has discounted admission to The Erotic Museum so obviously I was going to buy it.
Now, the other day I went ahead and booked myself a couple of group tours, because I was feeling especially lonely. I mean, there are like 10,000 tapas places here and every single one of them is full of groups of people. I just wanted to fit in, ok guys?
Today I had my first tour, a stroll around Barcelona tasting chocolates and wine. I showed up, bright eyed and bushy tailed, and there was my guide, a nice young woman who informed me that I was the only person to sign up. There went my plan.
It was ok though, because my guide was fantastic. I signed up for the tour via Viator, and she and I walked throughout Barcelona eating all kinds of different chocolates. I tried churros and dipping chocolate, a specialty here in Barcelona, chocolate filled with rum and whiskey, and even spicy chocolate, which I totally did not gag on embarrassingly. The girl ended up being from Ecuador, a Master’s student who had fallen in love in Spain and ended up making her home here. She’s currently attempting to get her Phd.
Now let me just pause here for a second. I just need you guys to know that I studied Spanish for 4 years and never, not once, did someone tell me that they don’t speak Spanish in Barcelona. That’s right. They speak Catalan here, which is its own language evolved from Latin and which I did not remotely prepare for. Whoops!
On the bright side, it’s not too different from Spanish and I can understand it almost as well. Which is to say, dismally.
So what are my plans for the future? Well, I’ve yet to visit a museum out here, and since they’re all free, I figure I should get on that. I also want to take Nala for some more walks on the beach, because she looked so adorably confused when I took her the first time. Seriously, she danced around then spilled all of the sand into my shoes. So endearing.
But for now, I think I’m going to sit here, watch the people pass by, and snuggle my dog. Because what else is life for?
Hey there everyone,
How are you guys liking the new format? I figured since I finally had enough content, it was time for a refresh on the website. I think the new look is pretty cool, and helps to highlight a lot of the awesome pictures that we have. (Not that I’m biased). Anyway, today I’d like to talk to you guys about the actual steps, in order, that you should take if you’re looking to start into the rewards travel game. Credit for this idea goes to my aunt, whom I am attempting to corrupt at this very moment. (Hi Angie!) Anyway, I realize that a lot of these posts probably come off as complicated for someone just looking to start in the game. Hence, this post.
The first question you always want to answer when looking to start points hacking is what do I want to do with these points? I know that may sound simple, but there are so many different options available to you that knowing what you want to do first gives you a really good direction from which to start.
I, for example, wanted to fly to Europe for free. I had read a few blogs stating that the British Airways signup bonus (50,000 British Airways Avios) was enough to get you to Europe and back, twice, if you flew from Boston. So that’s where I started. In August of 2015 (believe it or not) I got my first card, and from there everything has built upwards.
But what if you wanted to do something else? What if you wanted to go to Hawaii? Or take a once-in-a-lifetime trip to an all-inclusive resort in the Bahamas? Each option requires different rewards, and figuring out all the information can be tough.
First things first, though. You can’t get into the reward travel game with bad credit. Banks are giving out these offers in the hopes that you’ll continue to be a loyal customer, and they aren’t willing to risk this kind of money on people who don’t have good credit. So:
Check your credit. There are numerous websites that will offer you a free credit score, even as often as 1x a week. I personally use Credit Karma, Credit Sesame, Credit Journey, and Nerd Wallet to check my different scores. Credit Karma will offer you both your Experian and Transunion score, which banks pull most frequently from, so I’d go with them first.
Look up credit card specials. The Points Guy has a top 10 list of credit card offers that they maintain, along with different and excellent ways to maximize your points. If you’re worried that your score isn’t good enough, nerdwallet.com will tell you your approval odds for each card.
Decide where you want to go. Bali? Argentina? Hawaii?
Get your first card. For people whose scores hover in the 700’s-720’s, or for someone who doesn’t have much credit built up (not many loans, past credit cards, etc) I would recommend going with mid-level credit cards rather than top-tier right away. Let the banks build their trust in you. Some of these cards include:
Chase Sapphire Preferred– the little brother of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, this card still offers 50,000 points to sign up and a minimal fee of $95/year (waived the first year)
Hilton Honors American Express, either the Surpass, which is $95/year, or its little brother, the no fee version. The no fee card currently has an increased signup bonus of 75,000 Honors points.
6. Google is your friend. Want to know the best way to spend 100,000 American Express points? Google will give you a hundred top ten lists, and you can peruse at your leisure.
7. Read my blog! I know, I know, shameless plug, but I’m going to start highlighting different ways to spend points for vacations, because I realize that just deciding where to go and how to do it can be a little…overwhelming.
Was this even helpful? It seems like a primer guide is a little difficult to write. Anyway, the most important takeaways are these: know your credit score. Know it like the back of your hand. Have an idea in mind and apply with purpose- don’t start off just hoarding points. If United miles get you there faster, get a United card. If Southwest does the trick, get Southwest. Never carry a balance. It will tank your score and leave you unable to peruse further points accumulation. And finally, remember to have fun! These are points with a purpose, and using them correctly can give you amazing, unbelievable adventures that you would have never thought possible.
P.S. I’ll be back later with vacation ideas because who doesn’t like to dream?
Ok guys, so today is going to be a little different. Today, I want to show you guys Japan. Not all of it, I just want to highlight some of the best things we experienced while we were there. Specifically, I want to show you guys the beauty of Japan. Because, honestly, I don’t feel like we hear that an awful lot on this side of the globe. Japan is a stunningly gorgeous country, and guess what? I have the photos to prove it.
From the Kenroku-En garden in Kanazawa
A fountain older than the United States
From the Kenroku-En garden in Kanazawa
The Fushimi-Inari Shrine
Foxes are the mascot of this shrine
Thousands of Torii Gates line the path to the shrine
Cemetery at the bottom of the Fushimi-Inari Shrine
The Osaka Castle
The “best view” in Kyoto, from atop a Buddhist temple
So, my family and I have just spent the last few days in Chicago. We had a really awesome time and got to see the Hamilton musical (thanks to the American Express Concierge). Trust me, it’s worth the hype. So good!
Anyway, today I’d like to talk about the Hilton Surpass American Express card. Now, I’m personally a big fan of the Hilton Honors program, because owning the American Express Platinum gives you automatic gold status with Hilton, and because I find that a lot of the Hiltons around the world offer great mixes of points + cash rewards. This card will actually give you Gold status, so even if you don’t have the Platinum card, you can enjoy these benefits. On top of this, Hilton also often offers cool bonus promotions. Currently, you can earn 2000 bonus points/ night, for every night you stay, no matter where or how much it costs. On top of that, they’re also offering 500 more bonus points if you book through the app.
However! The Hilton Surpass American Express card has an increased signup offer at the moment, at 100,000 Honors points if you spend 3k in the first 3 months (instead of 75k). This card has a number of benefits:
Complimentary Gold Status
12 Hilton points per dollar spent at Hilton
6 points per dollar at US restaurants/ gas stations, and supermarkets
3 points per dollar on everything else
So, what can you do with 100k points?
Well, I spent 80,000 Honors points to save tons of money on a hotel in Dubai. Using the points + cash reward, I was able to drop a 1000sq ft suite from $272/ night to $64 and 16,000 points/ night. Over the course of five nights, that totals $1040. Not bad!
Or, if you’re looking to maximize your free nights, Hilton Category 1 hotels start at just 5,000 points/night, meaning you can spend 20 free nights in hotels around the world. Even better, using Hilton’s current promotions, you earn 2500 bonus points for every night you spend, effectively making your redemptions 50% off. This means you can stay 2x as many nights! That’s right, 40 free nights in a Category 1 hotel. And if you’re a Gold member, every one of those nights comes with free breakfast (for 2), early check-in, late check-out, and room upgrades.
And, because you’ve stayed so many nights at Hilton, you’ll be bumped up to Diamond status, which equals even more awesome benefits. Most importantly, this status gives you Club access at Hilton hotels, which means free food and free drinks all day. Awesome!
This signup bonus is for a limited time only, and is absolutely worth it. Get it before it’s too late!
So if you know me, you definitely know I love to spend time at Disneyworld. It’s honestly one of my favorite places to be, and David and I go down as often as possible. However, the cost is prohibitive for many families. A lot of the time, we’ll go and stay at a cheap hotel because they’re everywhere around Disney. But sometimes, we want to stay somewhere nice. Somewhere with a little more…magic.
So how do we do this affordably? Everyone knows that the Disney ecosystem is built to suck every last penny from your wallet, but there’s definitely something special about getting to stay within the resort and revel in the benefits that being on property brings. However, oftentimes, the costs of the hotels can get as high as $800/ night. I don’t know about you guys, but I am totally not rich enough for that.
Fortunately for us, there are two hotels within the Disney resort that are no longer owned by the Disney corporation. Starwood bought them some time ago, which means…you guessed it! You can use points (from the SPG Amex cards) to stay for free at Disneyworld.
The two hotels, the Dolphin and the Swan, are a little older than the rest of the hotels, and their theming isn’t *quite* as nice as some of the others, but they are walking distance from Epcot, and get their own special entrance. Because they’re part of the Disney resort, guests staying there also receive the cool extra benefits, such as early entrances to the parks and free transportation everywhere. This can save a bundle in parking fees at the resort.
The Dolphin is considered a Category 4 hotel, which means staying there will cost you 10,000 points per night. However, on award stays, Starwood gives you the 5th night free, effectively bringing the cost down to 8,000 points/night. For a hotel that regularly costs over $300/night, this is a fantastic redemption value.
And did I mention that it’s on Disney property?
So, when David and I are heading down in May, the room rate for the Dolphin is $329/night, not including taxes and fees. All told, the total for five nights would be $2117.59. Instead, we’re spending 40,000 points (5th night free) for the entire stay!
That is a serious chunk of change, and totally worth it for families who are heading down to Disneyworld.
For my Georgia and New England readers, there’s also a special going on right now for a third night free in honor of the Super Bowl. All you have to do is call to book before February 28th, and stay anytime before January 31st, 2018. There might be a way to stack this with the Citi Prestige’s 4th night free offer, but I haven’t tried.
Anyway, these are some tips for saving money down there. If you guys are interested in learning more, let me know! I have tons of info, and obviously love talking your guys’ ears off.