Jordan, Like a Boss

Hello Dear Readers!

I’m writing to you from the *acute* comfort of my very first Ryanair flight, a four hour debacle commencing in Tel Aviv and culminating in Kaunas, Lithuania. I’m taking Harrison for a very special surprise birthday trip- having managed to keep our destination a secret until we arrived to the airport in Tel Aviv. Pretty cool, right?

Even cooler is the fact that last weekend Harrison and I took a weekend trip to Jordan. That’s one of the nice things about Israel; it’s located in the Middle East, which means that direct flights to quite a lot of the world are extremely short.

Now, before I talk about all the fun we had, I do want to tell you guys how I managed to minimize costs for the trip. This is a points and miles (and travel) blog, after all.

In case you didn’t know, relations between Israel and the rest of the Middle East are…tense. It’s the reason I took a sketchy unmarked flight across the Sinai, and also the reason that the base price for a thirty minute flight between Israel and Jordan starts at $350. This a is a 70 mile journey, folks.

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But basically a world away.

Luckily, British Airways is one of the last few airlines that maintains an award chart based on distance flown rather than ticket cost. And since the two airports are so near each other, the cost for a reward flight on British Airways is a mere 4,500 Avios (and some fees) each way.

British Airways is a transfer partner of American Express, so I transferred over 9,000 Membership Rewards (worth ~120 dollars) for two tickets for Harrison and I, meaning we spent about $250 in points and fees for our $700 flights.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t award availability for our return flight, so we used the land crossing. That story will be coming soon.

We stayed a total of three nights in Amman, and I finally, finally got to use my buy-one-get-one-free night certificate from Intercontinental (you can pay $200 for a year of elite status at IHG, which, among other benefits, gets you one free weekend night/ year with purchase of another night). With two nights covered, I redeemed 25,000 IHG points on our third night.

All told, we spent $302 and 25,000 points on three nights at the Intercontinental Amman. Even better? That aforementioned status (Ambassador) guarantees you a room upgrade, and since availability must have been good, they exchanged my twin bed room with a king size suite overlooking the city- for all three nights!

The breakdown for our costs is this:

Regular Price Our Price
Flights $700 9,000 Avios (worth $120) and $130 in fees
Hotel $1560 25,000 IHG points, one free night certificate, and $302
Total Cost $2260 $432

I’m not going to lie, seeing this breakdown makes me feel pretty awesome. And it just serves to highlight how valuable points and miles are. In case I haven’t harped on that enough.

Stories of our trip are next!

-Carissa “Queen Noor of Jordan” Rawson and Harrison “Basically Her Sidekick” Goldensteinbergowitz

 

Amazing Australia: Strolling Through Sydney

Hello Dear Readers!

Ok, it’s time to delve into this Australia thing. It’s been a long, crazy trip, and I’m so excited to share it all with you!

I landed in Sydney super early on the 4th, which meant plenty of time to hang out, attempt to avoid jet lag (which failed) and begin to explore the city.

First stop? The Intercontinental Sydney, which (due to my elite status) let me check in at 7am and drop my things before heading out to the Sydney Opera House.

Now, I know we’ve all sent the Opera House a thousand times in photos, but it’s one of those buildings that is truly awe-inspiring. It was recently awarded the Pritzker Prize for Architecture, because, as they said, it is a building that has “changed the image of a nation.” And that is so true:

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After my tour, I wandered the Botanic Gardens, which were gorgeous, and headed up to the Rocks, a neat little neighborhood home to quirky shops and a weekend market, which I found myself returning to daily during my stay in Sydney.

One of the stalls in the market, named Natalia Ness Jewelry, looked especially enticing, and I stopped to hang out with the owner, having her make me my own little necklace.

That’s right, handmade! She even added a little plane charm to the end, since I’m a travel blogger and all. Very cool.

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I’m now going to shamefully admit that, despite my efforts, my first day in Sydney ended at 7pm, when I turned on Netflix in my room, attempted to drink the bottle of wine they’d given me as a welcome gift (I finished half a glass), and fell asleep fully clothed in bed.

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Which prepared me for my Bridgeclimb the next day!

-Carissa “The Snooze” Rawson

Amazing Australia

Hello Dear Readers!

It’s been a furious few weeks here for me, as I’m roughly three quarters of the way through a trip to Australia. It’s been an an incredible journey so far, and I’m more than a little excited to share it with you all.

First things first- figuring out my itinerary for Australia was pretty overwhelming. I originally booked my ticket for ten days, figuring, what the hey, that should be a good amount of time to tour the country. However, upon beginning to try and figure out where I was going to go, I realized that Australia is simply massive. I know, I know I should look at a map more often.

Anyways, it’s nearly the size of the U.S., so once I realized this, I decided to go ahead and change my dates from August 2nd-14th to August 2nd-24th, giving me just over three weeks in the country. (Though not really, since you lose two days on the way over.) I then decided to do the classic journey from Sydney up the East Coast, stopping over in Brisbane, Hervey Bay, Airlie Beach, and Cairns before hopping a flight to Alice Springs for a quick jaunt through the outback. Now this may seem like a lot, and it is, but it doesn’t begin to touch the amount of things to see and do in Australia.

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So, with my itinerary decided, it was time to figure out where to stay. As an aside here, I booked my ticket to Australia during a price war between the major US domestic airlines, meaning my nonstop flight from Los Angeles to Sydney clocked in at just over $700 on Delta. I then paid for the flight using 35,000 American Express points. (To see what I’m talking about with these points, click here).

Australia doesn’t happen to be a cheap country to travel, especially when you’re booking hotels. I could use points, but it would burn much of my stash, so that’s not really ideal. And I’ve always wanted to meet great people while traveling, which is a bit difficult when you’re isolated in a hotel room.

All of this is a lead up to say that I booked most of my nights in hostels. And not just like, private rooms in hostels. I mean 10 bed dorms with creaky metal bunks and the dulcet sounds of snoring to keep me awake all night. Do I sound bitter? Maybe a bit.

So this has basically been an intro to the reallly long saga of my trip that I’ll be posting over the next few weeks. Are you guys excited? I am!

First up- Sydney!

-Carissa “Almost an Aussie” Rawson

Poutine on the Ritz

Hello Dear Readers!
Remember when I said I ended my night in Montreal reasonably sure I wouldn’t be hungover?

Yeah.

I guess my plan to drink lots of water and not enjoy too many adult beverages backfired on me because I woke up absolutely miserable.

But time pauses for no man. So I heaved myself out of bed, showered, ate, and dragged myself into the back of a cab in order to go to the Biodome.


And guys, this place is awesome. It’s the old Olympic Park, which the Montreal-ans have converted into a number of different spaces. The Biodome itself is this huge indoor stadium, divided into four separate sections. They’ve recreated different ecosystems in each section and filled them with plants and animals from the ecosystems.


Pictures don’t really show how cool this is, but it’s really neat to walk from the tropics to a cool fall day in a matter of moments.



I also got myself a ticket to the insectarium (ew) and the botanical gardens (awesome). The gardens are huge, and I spent a wonderful amount of time wandering through them.

Then, since it was getting late, I headed out to La Banquise, courtesy of this recommendation here, and indulged myself in a huge pile of greasy poutine.

Mmmm

 

It was just what the doctor ordered for my hangover and I enjoyed practicing my 2 words of French on the wait staff, who politely indulged in my ridiculousness.

In total, I spent almost exactly 24 hours in Montreal. I met some cool people, found a secret speakeasy, gorged myself on poutine, and wandered around some really beautiful places. In short, I had a wonderful time.

I’ll be back.

-Carissa “Schwarzenegger” Rawson

Feeling French in Montreal

Hello Dear Readers!
I was in Vermont just recently (for school) and found myself with a spare day, so decided to make the quick drive up to Montreal. I’ve been to Canada a few times, but only on the west coast, and I was really looking forward to seeing if French Canada was worth all that jazz. Spoiler alert: it totally is.

Anyway, it’s two and a half hours from Northfield, Vermont, up to Montreal, so I hopped in my rental car and sped up the highway to check out French Canada. I anticipated no problems at the border, since it’s, ya know, just Canada, but the border patrol agent was having none of me.

He asked me a thousand questions, looked extremely skeptical when I said I was just staying for a day, and questioned me specifically on what I was going to do in Montreal.

“Well,” I told him, “I hear the poutine is good.”

He busted out laughing and then sent me to extra security. Clearly, poutine is not the winning answer.

After they scanned my passport, examined every stamp in the book, and interrogated me (politely. It is Canada, after all) about my plans, they finally let me through.

And then I was in! It was only about another hour to Montreal, where I stayed the night at the Intercontinental. (I used my Ambassador status to get awesome perks).

Since I was just there for the night, I wanted to make sure I didn’t waste my time. I know I’ve told you guys about the Spotted By Locals app before, but it’s essentially a curated list of things to do and see in specific cities, made by the people who actually live in them.
Which is how I found myself in a secret speakeasy hidden down a set of stairs, sipping on a handcrafted cocktail and generally feeling very posh.

I hung out at the bar there for about two hours, just enjoying my drinks and the general atmosphere, before striking up a conversation with the two people next to me.

This side of Canada is weird, in that it’s…very French. But at the same time, they’re very similar to us. They’ve got all the same stores, roads, and buildings, but everything is written in French and everyone is perfectly bilingual. They slip from English to French and back almost unconsciously, which is really cool but also really difficult for me to understand as a non-French speaker.

But it’s fun! These two were very much French Canadian, and I spent a good portion of time staring back and forth between them as I attempted to deduce what they were saying via body language.

Eventually, they told me they were headed out to a different bar, and invited me to come along.

Now, as a single female I’ve got to be careful about where I go. So I did the natural thing and asked,

“You aren’t gonna murder me in a back alley, are you?”

To which they responded, that no, of course they weren’t, so clearly that was good enough for me.

(I know I’m being flippant about this guys, but I am actually extremely careful and would never head out somewhere without telling someone/if I felt the least bit unsafe/ etc etc. Don’t worry.)

We left the speakeasy and walked a few minutes down the road, to this very fancy, very busy night club.

Now, I know you’ve all seen photos of what I wear. I was in green pants and my walking shoes, coupled with a blouse, which was the nicest thing I had with me. As a traveler, I just don’t have room for fancy pants clothes.

Me.

In contrast, the guy I was with was in a full suit and the girl had on a cocktail dress. I was in no way fit for entry and thus hid behind the both of them as we walked into the club.

I then spent the whole night thinking “Don’t look at my feet, don’t look at my fe- oh god he’s seen the tennis shoes.”

I don’t know that I’ve ever been to a real night club before, but this place was really cool. It was packed, shoulder to shoulder, and between the giant bottles of Grey Goose and sparklers, people shouted at each other and sipped glasses of wine. And this was on a Thursday.

We were there until at 2am, at which point the guy in our group had had a little bit too much to drink, so his friend (they were just friends hanging out) decided it was time to go. We Uber’ed back to my hotel and I let them in the lounge, where we hung out and drank coffee until the wee hours of the morning.

Finally, a little more sobered up, they took off in a cab and I trudged up to my room, reasonably sure I wasn’t going to be hungover.

Ha.

-Carissa “Fancy Pants” Rawson

Ambassador Status- Elite on the Cheap

Hello Dear Readers!

Today I want to talk to you about the Intercontinental Ambassador program. Like I’ve mentioned before, it’s unique in that it’s a loyalty status you can purchase rather than earn. This is good for people who want to be treated like royalty without having to spend a lot of money/nights at hotels. The program’s benefits are pretty cool:

 They also gift you with 5,000 bonus points, which is enough for a free night at any of IHG’s PointsBreak hotels. The program costs $200 to buy into, but having that free night certificate can easily save you that much or more, depending on where you stay.

For instance, the Intercontinental Thalasso Bora Bora will run you $1000/night for a room, but using the certificate will snag you the second night for free, saving you a full $1000. You can also redeem reward points with this, so you can stack offers and create a longer stay for yourself.


I know, that sounds expensive. You can stay wherever you’d like, though. The Intercontinental San Francisco will usually run about $200/night, so even just using it there will save you the cost of the membership. Intercontinental’s hotels span the globe, so there are a lot of choices for you.

I also find a lot of value in the room upgrades. As I said in my post about the Intercontinental Moorea, I was upgraded to an entire bungalow, at a cost difference of over $1200 for three nights. That’s awesome!

Even better, when you go to renew your status, the price drops to just $150. Or, you can pay $200, receive 15,000 bonus points (instead of 5,000) and get 10% back on all points redemptions. This stacks with the IHG credit card’s 10% back, so you’ll receive 20% of your points back on every single booking.

Is It Worth It?

It’s not hard to find value in this program- though if Intercontinental is not somewhere you’d usually stay, or you aren’t looking to travel to one at least twice within the year, I wouldn’t recommend it. Otherwise, I think this is a fantastic way for those who don’t normally earn hotel status to be an elite without a lot of commitment.

-Carissa

 

Intercontinental Moorea: Family Friendly Fun

Hello Dear Readers!

I’m pretty excited to talk about this today, simply because the Intercontinental was such an awesome stay.

I’ve told you guys previously that I have Platinum status (the second highest) with the Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG) simply because I hold their co-branded credit card. It’s got a $49 annual fee and gives you some pretty decent benefits. The sign up bonus from this card is also how I booked these nights, as detailed here.

Anyway, the benefits of being Platinum include early check-in, late check-out, a room upgrade, and a welcome amenity. That’s pretty cool, but there’s another oddball program out there specific to the Intercontinental Hotel called the Ambassador program.

Unlike every other program, this one you can purchase for $200, and it provides a host of benefits specifically at Intercontinental hotels. I’d been wavering on whether or not to purchase this, but on the day I was due to check-in, I went ahead and did it. (I’ll detail all the other benefits of the Ambassador program in a later post)

I’m so glad I did. You see, since I was booking my stay using points, I only qualified for the cheapest room available. That room, which goes for $300/night, is a hotel room in the main building.

With my status as a Platinum member, the hotel went ahead and upgraded me to a premium hotel room. This was about a $30/night difference. Not a huge deal, but pretty cool.

However, when I arrived, I wrote down my newly purchased Ambassador number on the check-in form, telling the reception clerk that I was indeed a Platinum Ambassador.

I kid you not, he gasped, starting typing furiously on his computer, and then swiftly disappeared to the back room.

When he came back, he handed me the key to my room, informing me that as a Platinum Ambassador, he’d gone ahead and upgraded me to their best available room, which was an entire bungalow with another private pool.

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These rooms go for about $600/night. That’s a difference of $1200 over the course of my three day stay, and an excellent return on the $250 investment in my status ($49 for the card and $200 for the Ambassador program).

I was floored. I thanked him profusely, loaded myself and my luggage (my backpack) into a golf cart, and I was off.

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The Intercontinental, while on the same island as the Hilton, is a totally different world. It’s on the opposite side, for one thing, and this hotel is much more…tropical.

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Where the Hilton was polished and pruned into perfection, the Intercontinental is a part of the environment, a fact you can see as wild animals climb the many lush trees. This hotel also houses a sea turtle recovery clinic and a dolphin program, both of which are free to check out as a hotel guest.

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How cool is that?

I really enjoyed my stay here. I dug the different vibe from the Hilton, and I’d have a hard time choosing between the two in the future. However, while the Hilton gave off a very romance-y honeymoon feeling, the Intercontinental seemed much more geared to families, and I saw a lot more kids here. The hotel is also a lot bigger, and takes a while to walk from place to place.

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I signed up for the themed buffet here too, since I was interested to see how the shows differed, and what kind of foods they would serve. The food was great- a traditional Polynesian barbecue, but you guys. It was the same show as the Hilton. Like, I don’t mean the same style. I mean the same exact performers came over two days later and did the exact same show at the Intercontinental. I was a little peeved, I’m not going to lie. At nearly $100 for dinner I felt a little gypped, and sat sulkily on my phone for a fair bit of it.

That is, until the lead dancer took advantage of my inattentiveness and pulled me on stage to dance. Luckily there was no one there to film it, so my poorly performed Polynesian dance is forever lost to history.

Next up- the benefits of the Ambassador program!

-Carissa “Platinum Ambassador” Rawson

 

Pure Paradise: French Polynesia

Hello Dear Readers!

I’m writing to you from my new favorite country, French Polynesia, where the water is blue and the beaches are pristine. Like I’ve mentioned before, my stay here is taking place across two different hotels: the Hilton Moorea, and the Intercontinental Moorea, both of which are utterly gorgeous and deserving of heaps of praise. To that end, I’ll be writing about them separately, both their positive and negative aspects, and which I’d rather visit again (it’s a tough call!).

My flight here from Los Angeles was as painless as can be. I’ve now stripped my travel gear down to a single backpack and tote bag, so I had nothing to check. Thus, I checked in online, waltzed through security, and hung out in a lounge until the very last minute when I boarded my flight. This was only my second flight with Air France, and I’m always tickled pink by the teeny baguettes that they pass out during the meals.

Less awesome was the fact that my flight in Tahiti landed at 4am. Now, I’m going to go ahead and admit to you all that I had no excuse for being unprepared, but I did almost no research to figure out how to get to Moorea.

No joke, my knowledge was like: “Uhhh, isn’t Moorea a different island? Do I need a ferry?”

The answer to that is yes. You do need to take a ferry. But first, you need to get to the ferry. When I asked the woman at information, she told me to take the bus “that way” (pointing to the left) “to the market, then get off and walk.”

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But first, bask in my photography skills. Ooh. 

Seriously, those were my instructions. So, I headed up in the pitch-black (it was about 4:30am) to the bus stop, waited for fifteen minutes on the wrong side, then another fifteen minutes on the correct side after I realized the bus I wanted had just driven by.

I finally made it on the bus, which looks like many of the buses we have in the US. That is: decrepit, worn down, and utterly devoid of information. Obviously, I was already supposed to know where I was going, and nobody spoke any English to help me.

At this point, my plan was to look out the window and, like, hope that I’d see something resembling a market so I’d know when to get off.

It didn’t exactly work like that. After about twenty minutes, I noticed we seemed to be heading into some sort of downtown, and at one particular stop a ton of people got off. I took that as my cue and disembarked, where I found, to my immense surprise, that I was right!

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So, so right.

I even managed to find my way to the ferry, where I purchased a ticket to Moorea, and spent the next two hours drinking an extremely French cappuccino and paying 4 euro for access to internet. Boo.

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My first glimpse of Moorea

Next post is the Hilton Moorea- see you guys soon!

-Carissa “Seriously Why Aren’t I Tan” 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