After our initial snafu with the flight situation, Joni, Brit, and I all arrived safely to Scotland. Since all our original plans were a bust (luckily most everything was refundable), we decided to make new, better plans.
And what better than going and visiting all the Outlander sites we missed the first time around?
And although essentially all of our plans were canceled as a result of the flight changes, we still reaaally wanted to go on the private Outlander tour we had booked up in Inverness. So it was that we got up before the crack of dawn to board the three hour train to Inverness:
And spent the day wandering around the highlands going to visit different Outlander things. This tour was actually pretty cool, as we didn’t go just to filming locations- we also saw actual clan Fraser lands and real Scottish history.
We boarded the train late back home to Edinburgh, exhausted but totally happy. Next stop? London, baby!
It’s been a busy few weeks here in Carissa-town. Joni and I just got back from a week long trip to the UK, I renewed my annual pass to Disneyland, and- oh yeah- I worked at my job.
As always, my life is hectic to the point of chaos, but I’m used to it. Comfortable with it, even. I find peace on long-haul flights with nothing to do but watch movies and blog. It’s my safe zone.
But you know what isn’t my safe zone? Airports. More specifically, the Los Angeles airport. Have any of you ever flown through there? The place is a nightmare, a sprawling mess of dysfunctional security lines and angry customers, sprinkled all over with the dust of its constant construction.
So it was that Joni and I left five hours early for our flight to the UK, laden with luggage and bleary eyed, ready to spend three hours in LA traffic.
To our immense surprise, the drive took only a little over two hours, and we arrived with plenty of time to spare. In fact, we boarded our plane on time (me in peasant class, Joni flying fancy up front) and took off right as we were meant to.
Shortly thereafter, however, the pilot landed again, citing a “small engine issue.” An hour later, they had us deplane and bussed us back to the terminal, telling us to come back in two hours to board again.
At this point, we already knew we’d miss our connection in Amsterdam, so both of us were on the phone with KLM, who insisted that the plane had taken off as scheduled. You know, despite the fact that we were on the phone, talking, from a terminal in Los Angeles. The call ended with them doing a virtual shrug and advising us to call back later.
Ok, sure. So instead we headed back to our deplaning area, where a few harried gate agents were still typing furiously at their computers.
Why were they typing furiously? Well, it turns out that our entire flight was canceled, and rather than updating the system, they were instead rebooking every single person on the flight right then.
So it was that we were booked on a flight- not to Inverness- which was our original city, but to Edinburgh. And Joni? She was bumped from business to the back with Brit and I.
Ah well, at least we were going to make it? *foreshadowing intensifies*
By the time we made it out to the British Airways check in desk, which was our new airline, the entire airport was jammed full of angry re-accommodated passengers, all jostling each other for elbow room. Not to be deterred, Joni and I entered the special assistance line, which we were quickly dragged out of as British Airways informed me they ‘don’t accept dogs.’
Long story short, I ended up in a massive argument with the British Airways people, we nearly canceled our trip, and at the end of it all I ended up on an Air France flight connecting via Paris in premium economy, and Joni routed through London Heathrow on British Airways in sad regular economy. (Ok, she did purchase an upgrade to economy plus).
We met up in Edinburgh, our entire trip in disarray and zero plans left with what to do.
Annoying? Also yes.
But the redeeming factor? Since we were flying to the EU, our canceled flight fell under European flight delay jurisdiction, which meant that they owed Joni and I $682 each.
Considering I paid under $400 for my round-trip flight, how mad can I be?
It’s been a long time since I’ve written specifically about credit cards and reward travel, and for the first time in a long time, I’m actually caught up on my trip reviews.
So today I’m going to talk to you about a credit card I’ve been lusting after ever since it was launched in January 2018. The card, the American Express Hilton Aspire card, is an ultra-premium credit card that combines a disgustingly high annual fee ($450!) with some of the best benefits available in the credit card business.
What Do I Get For All That Money?
• 14X Hilton Honors Bonus Points at hotels and resorts in the Hilton portfolio worldwide
• 7X Hilton Honors Bonus Points on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies and at U.S. restaurants
• 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for all other purchases
•Hilton Honors Diamond status
•One weekend night reward at a hotel or resort in the Hilton portfolio with your new card and each year of card Membership
• A second weekend night reward at a hotel or resort in the Hilton portfolio after spending $60,000 in purchases on the card in a calendar year
• $100 on-property credit at Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts and Conrad Hotels & Resorts when booking the exclusive Aspire Card package
• No foreign transaction fees
• Access to the American Express concierge
•150,000 point sign-up bonus
What’s the Big Deal?
1.Hilton Honors Diamond status– this is the highest status Hilton offers, and provides tons of benefits for elite members. The Aspire card is the only card on the market to offer top level elite status simply for holding a credit card.
2.One weekend night reward at a hotel or resort in the Hilton portfolio with your new card and each year of card Membership– this free night is unrestricted, meaning you could use it at the Conrad Maldives if you so please (which costs $2,000/night). It’s very easy to find a hotel that will cost more than your $450 annual fee.
3.Priority Pass™Lounge Membership– if you aren’t interested in getting other premium credit cards, like the American Express Platinum Card, then this could be a good option for you as Priority Pass has airport lounges all over the world. It’s awesome to get away from the stress of the terminal.
4.$250 Airline incidental fee annual statement credit– this credit can be used on the airline of your choice for things like: purchased upgrades, purchased seats, bag fees, and an annual lounge membership.
5.$250 Hilton resort annual statement credit– use this at your free night for the ultimate in smug satisfaction.
6.150,000 point sign-up bonus– 150,000 bonus points is nearly enough for two free nights at the Conrad Maldives. Combine it with your other free night for three completely free nights at the best hotel in the world. If that’s not your jam, 150,000 bonus points also equals 30 free nights at Hilton’s category 1 hotels. Enjoy the upgrade your Diamond status brings you.
I actually recently applied for this card myself but was turned down due to having too many American Express cards. Yeah, that’s a thing. I have an offer to upgrade from the lower tier American Express Hilton Card, but it comes without the sign-up bonus, which is really kind of crappy. Let’s be realistic though, once my Diamond status runs out in March, I’ll probably head right over to this card.
It’s that time of year again, where I make intensely insane decisions for the sake of status. Last year, I flew for a weekend to Nice in order to make Platinum status with Delta for 2018.
This year? This year I flew from LA to Spain in order to make Platinum Premier status with United for 2020.
You may be asking yourself, “for the love of God, why?”
Sometimes I ask myself the same thing. But the long and the short of it is this: ThePointsGuy values Premier Platinum elite status worth $4,580 for the year of 2018. Why? For the huge number of benefits you get as a result. (Free economy+ on all flights, free exit row seating, free upgrades to business and first class, free priority boarding, free checked bags (all of these things are for you and up to 8 companions on your ticket), Star Alliance gold status, and free access to all Star Alliance lounges whenever you’re flying on them).
More than this, though, I am acquiring my Premier Platinum status through a status match challenge. It’s pretty common, as airlines try to poach frequent fliers from each other. So just before my Delta status expired (which I earned through real flying), I emailed United, asking for the challenge.
The requirements for a status challenge are that you fly 18,000 miles on United owned aircraft (so no partner flights) within 90 days. For me, that’s an easy trip to Israel and back.
Or so I thought. I didn’t know about the United owned aircraft clause, so after I completed a trip to Israel in November, I was still like 8,000 miles short of my goal and had until January 26th to complete it.
This put me in a bit of a bind. You see, I could either let the challenge lapse and not get status on United, which would have probably been the easy route.
I have been meaning to stay home more often, after all.
But the thing is, I was planning on using my United status for 2020 American Airlines status (worth $3,430), and my 2020 American Airlines status for 2021 Delta status (worth $4,025). It was a serious waterfall effect, you see.
Which is how I ended up on a plane to Spain a mere seven days after returning home from my most recent trip. This time, my service dog Brit flew with me, and she was a total champ. Brit happens to be a bit of a potty snob, as she’s used to the lush, rolling hills of Illinois in which to do her business. Airport service dog relief areas are not her jam.
Which is how she ended up holding it from Los Angeles-Houston-Frankfurt-Madrid.
Harrison and I travel differently. Oftentimes I enjoy the pure luxury of travel, sunbathing, swimming, free food, excellent drinks, etc. Harrison, on the other hand, judges the value of a trip by the level of discomfort he experiences while on it. And that’s a pretty cool measurement, I’ll agree. But it also leads to me doing things with which I am vastly uncomfortable.
Like going to a random stranger’s house and eating a dinner that they’ve prepared. Both in theory and in actuality it was really cool. But would I have ever done it on my own?
Not a chance.
He and I are good for each other, in that way. He drags me out of my comfort zone, and I make sure that we can afford to be there. It’s a win-win for both of us.
So it was that on our first day in Georgia, jet-lagged and miserable (me), we found ourselves the only two dinner guests of some Georgian folks out in the suburbs of Tbilisi.
I’ve got a ton of social anxiety, so I spent the entire first half of dinner trying awkwardly to keep conversation flowing. Things I learned? Russia sucks, nearly everyone in Georgia makes their own wine, and it’s customary at a party for (male) guests to drink out of horns.
Today I am writing to you from my economy(+!) seat, heading to Madrid for my very first international trip with Brit, my service dog. She’s currently laying on the floor, exhausted from the sprint to meet our connection in Houston. Kidding, that’s me. She’s exhausted from all the floor licking she’s done.
So, last I left off, we were talking about Harrison’s visit to California to meet my family, which went about as well as possible. He returned home just before Christmas, which was good, because for Christmas my family and I crammed four (and a dog) to a room in the Disneyland hotel.
It was actually super cool going to Disneyland for Christmas, and Brit did an amazing job as my service dog, diligently cleaning up any and all crumbs that I spilled.
A mere four days after Harrison returned home I flew out to Israel for a visit. Sadly, Brit wasn’t able to come with me, as Israel requires a rabies titer test (it takes an entire month to process!) and I hadn’t had one done yet.
As an aside here, I know some of you have probably seen my post about PTSD. There’s obviously no miracle cure, but I severely underestimated the effect Brit has/has had on me. So this trip was really difficult, as being separated from her is just…the worst.
Separation aside, this trip was cool for a couple of reasons, the first being that Harrison and I spent New Year’s in Georgia, which is next door to Azerbaijan and equally as weird.
We spent a total of five nights in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, and all of it was wonderful.
Georgians celebrate Christmas on January 7th and we arrived December 30th, which meant I got to celebrate Christmas all over again. Mostly it meant that the Christmas markets were alive and well, and the whole city was dressed up for the holidays.
As you all well know, Christmas is my most favorite thing in the whole world, so it was awesome to rewind myself five days and have more Christmas!
-Carissa, Brit “Floor-Snack”, and Harrison “Please Is Christmas Over Yet?”
I’m writing to you from the depths of economy on a long-haul flight from Copenhagen to Los Angeles. No, it’s not comfortable. Even less comfortable is the fact that I was assigned a middle seat (with no option of changing it!). Fortunately, the woman next to me begged me to change seats with her husband, who was in an aisle seat. I graciously complied.
Now, I’ve already told you about my trip to meet Harrison’s parents. What I haven’t told you about is his trip to meet mine. You see, Harrison may have two parents and a sister, but I’ve got five and three siblings. We’re a bit larger of a family.
So I finally enticed Harrison to fly to California, and I ended up meeting him at my apartment as he landed before I arrived home from Illinois.
I take it you all remember when I faced that gauntlet of his friends? It was a bit similar, as my entire family turned out for the special occasion of Harrison’s visit, including my father, who drove in from work just to (I think) glare disapprovingly at Harrison. That’s what Dads are for, right? We’re just lucky he didn’t whip out the pellet gun.
Day two after his arrival I dragged him to Disneyland, because of course I did.
In total Harrison spent a total of seven days in California, including a road trip of the Pacific Coast Highway.
Those posts are upcoming!
-Carissa, Harrison “This is a Psuedonym,” Diamond and Brit “The Snackiest of Snacks”
You know, we didn’t do all that many tours while we were in Budapest, in stark contrast to our previous vacations. I think it’s because as time has gone on we’ve become more desensitized to the common kind of tours. I mean, I think art is pretty and all, but I can only look at so many different paintings in so many different museums before I run out of energy.
That being said, we spent most of our trip in Budapest relying on rave reviews from others and my old favorite app, “Spotted By Locals,” to get around. Which is how we ended up at Szimpla Kert, one of the immensely popular ruins bars hanging around the Ruins District of Budapest (which, by the way, we were staying in. Yes, I’m great at locations).
Since Harrison and I are ninety year olds in young people bodies we showed up to this bar at 7pm, to grab some drinks and sit around judging people all night long.
No seriously, I basically spent the whole time making up stories about all the people sitting around us. Does that make us boring?
For those of you who don’t know, the ruins bars are immensely popular old buildings in the Jewish District of Budapest, formerly abandoned and now taken over by various hipsters who sell overpriced beer and host local concerts. In short, they’re super cool.
We spent all night at Szimpla Kert, chilling and hanging out, realizing only when we left how lucky we had been. You see, as old farts, we had showed up long before the crowds. But by the time we left, the line to get in was roughly 50 people long, wrapping around the block and back.
Now it’s been a month or two since I went to Budapest, seeing as how I totally failed to post for the last couple of months. However, I am pleased to tell you all that Hungary was my 40th country visited, 30th for Harrison, my male traveling companion, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time in this Eastern European country.
Hungary was actually my very first visit to Eastern Europe and I had high expectations. I’ve been all over the west, from Spain to Belgium, and have seen the hordes of tourists battling it out over mediocre museums. From what I’d heard, though, Budapest was positively bustling, a very beautiful city, and dirt cheap.
All these things were true. We spent only four nights, as Harrison and I both have limited time (for some reason he keeps running out of vacation time at work), but we Lived. It. Up.
Actually, we did probably one of my most favorite tours ever here, where a local guide took us around with vintage Polaroid cameras to all the best places in the city and let us take some awesome photos.
This served three purposes: one: it gave us the lay of the land, two: it gave us some amazing souvenirs to take home, and three: I mean how cool are vintage Polaroid cameras?!