When Things (Don’t) Go Right: Minibussing Through Jordan

Hey All!

I’ve been frolicking away the last few days here in Amman, Jordan. (Ok, and the Dead Sea) and I have so much to tell you!

So, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this to you guys, but the place we’re staying in is a little…cold. It’s in the nicest part of town (which I did for safety reasons, obviously), but is…a basement. Yes, it’s a very nice basement, and has lots of hot water and also a gas stove, but it’s a little like putting lipstick on a pig.

Thus it was that yesterday, David and I (ok, I) decided to make a spontaneous trip to the Dead Sea. The Hilton Dead Sea just opened there a few weeks ago, and I was pretty anxious to get my grubby hands all over the awesome new stuff there.

We were one second away from ordering an Uber out front of our apartment, when our overly zealous host offered us tea and lemon juice. Thus, we found ourselves engaging in awkward small talk in his really rich, really nice, house.

Pause here for a moment, because I feel like you guys need to know something. Half the reason I came out here was for the opportunity to practice my Arabic skills. And you know what? Almost no one can understand me. This isn’t just because of the crap way they taught me Arabic. (Modern Standard) This is full on proper speech and everything and still, everyone looks at me like I’ve grown three heads. I’m going to go out on a limb and say it has something to do with my particular skin color and gender. Very frustrating. Such was the nature of this conversation.

Anyway, since we didn’t want to be rude, we spent a half hour drinking lemon juice, at which point our host told us not to bother with a taxi, because the minibuses were so much cheaper and more effective. Do you see where this is going?

He drove us clear across town, and insisted on speaking with the bus driver himself in order to ensure that we were taking the correct bus. (We were planning on just waving goodbye and taking an Uber anyway). Thus, we found ourselves crammed in the back of a minibus, where I self-consciously held my shirt closed and still 10 Arab men stared lustily at me.

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After the bus emptied out

After two more hours, we finally found our resort, and things smoothed out from there, which I will illustrate to you in a series of photos, because let’s be honest, I’m lazy:

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Breakfast with a view
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Because dignity is overrated

Now we’re back in Amman! And looking forward to more fun times ahead.

-Carissa “Black Beauty” Rawson

Florence, Dog Pee, and a Vacation from a Vacation

Hello All,

I’m writing to you from my hotel in Florence, where I am taking a vacation from my vacation. God, how spoiled do I sound? The truth is, it’s pretty tiring getting up and getting out all day, every day. Combined with the care of a tiny needy dog who sometimes pees on things like your bed, it can be downright exhausting!

So! Like I mentioned previously, I’m completing a status challenge in order to get Hilton Diamond status for the next few years. That meant canceling a few of my Airbnbs and switching to hotels.

And boy, is it worth it. I took off yesterday from Nice, where it had kindly decided to start storming exactly as I ran for the train station. Soggy and freezing, Nala and I climbed onto the train, where we sat, delayed, for two hours. Like, I mean, we hadn’t even left the station yet.

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But look at that tongue.

Anyway, I had a connection in Milan, which I ended up missing. Knowing this, I went down to customer service, where I waited for an hour for help and ended up missing another train. Oh! And someone tried to pickpocket me! Never underestimate the excitement of travel, guys.

Long story short, I ended up in Florence 4 hours late and tired of hauling all my (Nala’s) stuff through train stations. Luckily, upon arrival at the Hilton, (almost) everything got immediately better. Seeing as how I’m currently a top-tier elite, my room was upgraded, and, of course, I got executive lounge access, which means free food and drinks all day long. The point I’m making here is: get status! It makes everything 1000% nicer.

I’m now freshly showered, fed, and watered, and spent a lovely morning in a whirlpool spa area doing absolutely nothing. It was glorious.

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From the rooftop terrace at the executive lounge.

Now, a final story to send you guys off before I spend some more time relaxing and chilling out.

So, last night, like I mentioned, I was pretty tired. Nala too, since she had been traveling with me all day. Well, she had already pooped in the train terminal, but luckily the Italians love dogs so everyone just chuckled and shook their heads.

After arriving to the hotel, I spent a few minutes in my room before heading to the club lounge to grab a few drinks and snacks. When I came back, Nala was waiting for me at the door, frantically greeting me and jumping around. Well…I soon found out why, when I encountered my plush, amazing, king-size bed covered in pee. This means my dog, who I had just left, (and who was just outside!) found herself alone, jumped up onto the bed (because the floor wasn’t good enough?) and decided to relieve herself. All. Over. It.

I mean come on! Shamefully, I called down to the front desk and asked them for a new bedspread, because my dog has no manners. They were very kind and sent up housekeeping with a new one, who remade my bed while I awkwardly watched and tried to ignore the wet pile of dog pee bedding right next to us.

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I am a shameful pee dog.

Good times.

Ciao!

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Selfie Queens

-Carissa “Under the Tuscan Sun” Rawson

Free Alcohol and Food! No, But Really.

Hello Dear Readers!

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.

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Actually through 2019, not 2018.

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.

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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.

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I deserve none of this

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.

-Carissa “Elite AF” Rawson

Diamond is a Girl’s Best Friend: Hilton Honors for the Rest of Us

Hey Guys!

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.

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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!

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This signup bonus is for a limited time only, and is absolutely worth it. Get it before it’s too late!

-Carissa “Goldmember” Rawson

Dubai on a Dime (or Two)

Ok, so today I want to talk about a trip that hasn’t even happened yet, mostly because I’m just so stoked about the awesome deal that I got it with!

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Since I don’t have any related photos, enjoy this picture of us swilling beer at a Belgian beer fest in Japan.

Yesterday I gave a brief intro to credit card rewards, so today I’m going to focus on some of the credit card perks that are out there, and how using them properly can make travel WAY more affordable. (Also I want to brag because seriously guys this was so genius of me)

If you guys read my earlier blog outlining our itinerary for 2017, you saw that it was pretty busy, mostly because I have no self-restraint when it comes to trips I can both afford and have the time to go on. I mean, like, why not? To that end, early last week I was wasting my day online, when I saw that there were some fairly cheap fares to Dubai. As in, ~$400 round trip from LA. That got me thinking about a trip to Dubai, and whether or not it was possible to fit it into my schedule. Obviously, the answer was YES! So, after doing a bit of browsing, I wasn’t able to find that aforementioned four hundred dollar fare, but I did find that Delta had fares going for $680, which is still a pretty good deal.

Here is where my first trick comes in. American Express is one of my favorite credit card brands for a multitude of reasons. Their customer service is excellent, they offer very generous sign up bonuses and perks, and they waive all annual fees for active duty military. How cool is that?

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For Chrissy, who loves hot dogs

Anyway, after the Chase Sapphire Reserve card debuted last year, there was a mad rush for other credit card companies to catch up and offer a ‘premium’ travel reward card to match Chase’s. American Express’ answer to that was to begin offering a 50% discount on all reward point redemptions made for airfare on your designated airline if you have their Business Platinum card. That is, American Express lets you pick one airline per year for which you would like to have 50% off reward redemptions. Delta happens to be my preferred airline, which led to an awesome bit of luck. Let me break this down a little:

Generally speaking, you can redeem 1 reward point per cent on Amex’s travel website. So, if I had a $680 ticket, I could instead redeem 68,000 points and get my ticket for free. With Amex’s new offer, I could instead redeem 34,000 points for that same exact ticket. This works for any ticket you buy, not just for yourself. Thus, I was able to get two round trip tickets for David and I from Los Angeles to Dubai for a total of 68,000 points. Considering that the sign up bonus for American Express is currently 100,000 points, this is a pretty awesome deal.

Once our flights were paid for (free!) I started looking for hotels.

Ok brag time here. Are any of you familiar with the St. Regis brand of hotels? It’s a super high-end luxury hotel chain owned by Starwood Hotels and Resorts (one of my favorite hotel chains). Here’s a photo of the lobby at the St. Regis Dubai:

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That’s pretty stinkin’ nice. Room rates start at $321/night after taxes. That’s actually fairly inexpensive for the St. Regis brand, since rooms in the one in New York start at around $800. It is the Middle East, after all.

Still, $321/night is too rich for my blood, especially since we’re looking to stay in Dubai for almost two weeks. However, Starwood currently has a promotion running where you can buy 4 nights (at tons of different hotels) and they’ll give you the next two free, for a total of 6 nights. Not bad, right?

You guys remember how I talked about the unconditional ‘buy 3 nights get 1 free’ deal that my Citi Prestige card offers? Well, you can stack those two offers together, to get a ‘buy 3 nights get 3 free deal.’ That’s half off! So I called up the Citi Prestige concierge, and after a lengthy (about 40min) conversation with a very skeptical concierge woman (she had never done this kind of transaction before, so she handed me off to another woman who had- and she very gladly helped me out), I had our room booked!

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I mean look at this bathroom!

It still wasn’t free, of course, but I thought if there was ever a time to splurge this would be it. All told, I got 6 nights at one of the best hotels in the world for $903, instead of $1930 were I just to buy it flat out.

Since that’s only six nights, I still had to buy five more, but where? Well, another nifty perk of the American Express Business Platinum is that it gives you elite status at several hotel chains simply for holding the card. One of those chains is Starwood, where I just booked the St. Regis (which means free room upgrades, 12pm check-in, and 4pm check out, as well as welcome amenities every time you stay), another that it provides is Hilton HHonors gold status.

Hilton’s reward program gives some pretty good perks, the best of which is free breakfast wherever you stay. You guys see where I’m going with this, right? Just wait, it gets better.

Well, I really wanted to stay on Jumeirah Beach, which is the best beach in Dubai, with perfect white sand beaches that overlook hotels like the Burj al-Arab (which I can’t *quite* afford yet). Hilton is having a winter sale right now, where rooms are 30% off, but, even better, you can stack this sale with something called a points + money redemption. Essentially, you pay partial points and partial cash in order to get a discount on the room rate.

Rooms at the Hilton’s DoubletreeĀ Jumeriah Beach start at $272/night, but you can also get them for $64 and 16,000 Hilton points per night. Well, I don’t have any Hilton credit cards, so I didn’t have enough points to qualify for that rate. But you know what I do have? That Citi Prestige card I keep talking about! Citi happens to be a transfer reward partner of Hilton and also just *happens* to be having a bonus for 2x the points right now when you transfer to Hilton.

So that’s what I did. I transferred 40,000 Citi points (the current sign-up bonus for this card is 50,000 points) over to my Hilton account, and booked it for five nights at a total cost of $410 and 40,000 Citi points instead of $1506 for a 1000sq ft king bedroom suite right on the beach. Even better? Free breakfast, 12pm check in, 4pm check out, and a possible room upgrade! That’s the high life.

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Our Hilton hotel

All told, our 12 night stay cost $1,313 for flights from Los Angeles and fantastic stays at some of the nicest properties in the world. If we were paying out of pocket, it would have cost us $4,796 for the same thing. That’s the power of points!

I know this has been a long post and tons of information, but I think it’s pretty worth it for you guys to hear. Granted, this isn’t the cheapest vacation in the world, since we decided to spring for the really nice hotels. We could’ve gone cheaper or even free, but then, isn’t Dubai all about excess?

Now that our flights and hotel are covered, I have to come up with some things to do! I’ve heard sand boarding in the desert is great, and we’ll definitely have to ride a camel, but other than that I’m an open book. Do you guys have any recommendations?

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-Carissa and George