Dipping in a Toe: The First Steps for Starting Reward Travel

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.

a2a54309-e28c-421e-beb5-df594fcbea62The 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Decide where you want to go. Bali? Argentina? Hawaii?
  4. 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.
  • AAdvantage Aviator Red card, which is $95/year and offers 40,000 points after your first purchase.

5. Follow different blogging sites, which will tell you awesome deals as they occur and keep you up to date on specials. Often, it can be worth your while to purchase airfare on sale and save your points for lodging. I follow View From the Wing, Secret Flying, Travel Pirates, The Points GuyDeals We Like, Running With Miles, Flyer Talk, Award Wallet, and many more. For the most part, I keep up to date on Facebook, which is a constant feed of the best specials out there.

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.

-Carissa.

P.S. I’ll be back later with vacation ideas because who doesn’t like to dream?

Oktoberfest: The Most Fun I Can’t Remember Having

So, as some of you have probably seen, we did a trip around Europe late last year, which went something like this: France -> UK -> Netherlands -> Belgium -> Germany -> Italy -> France. It was super fast paced and super fun, but there was definitely a lot of stress involved too, especially since we were basically moving from country to country (almost) every day.

But! That’s a story for another time. Today, I want to talk about Oktoberfest! Mostly because it was one of my favorite experiences ever and some of the most fun I’ve ever had (though the details at the end of the night are pretty hazy).

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PJ and I at the Hippodrom

We actually ended up staying in Munich for two nights, simply because I thought we’d need the time for recovery. Yes, yes we did. The first night we were there, we went to the Hippodrom, which is supposed to be a really cool after party place where you hang out post Oktoberfest festivities. Unfortunately, there was a huge soccer game that night and we ended up being there (almost) alone. I also managed to drink an entire liter of beer and not be even a *little* buzzed. (Turns out it was half lemonade. Thanks.)

However, the next day we were set to go to the real Oktoberfest and party wildly, and let me tell you guys, party we did.

Since PJ (my older brother) and I are actually German, we wanted to make sure we dressed in authentic German clothes while there. And David…just wanted to fit in. So! We bought authentic lederhosen and a dirndl for me, which ended up looking totally fabulous (but I’m not biased).

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Looking great

The day of, we arrived around 2pm, worried that we were showing up too early. Not so, my friends, not so.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Oktoberfest, it’s essentially an enormous, month-long festival that celebrates Bavarian culture and beer. There’s a huge carnival outside, with rides and roller coasters. There are also tons of stands selling souvenirs at gouged prices, which we happily paid. (I bought a heart-shaped cookie with the word Bussi written on it, which means kiss)

There are also about 20 tents from various German breweries, ranging in size from 200 to 6000 people. These tents are filled with wooden tables and busty serving ladies who brusquely shove beer at you in exchange for Euros. There’s also traditional German food, ranging from sausages to schnitzel, which we ordered immediately upon arriving.

So, like I said, we were worried about showing up too early for the party and being the lame people alone in the tents. Well, there were about, I dunno, 1000 people in our tent by the time we arrived? While we were able to find a seat, it was definitely crowded, and another couple immediately came over to share with us. (This is the norm).

We each ordered a different entree’, and quickly dug in once our food arrived. David got himself some bratwurst, which he managed to take two bites of before the elderly German couple next to us sighed and took it away from him.

“This,” they explained in thickly accented English as they dissected his sausage, “is the skin. You cannot eat the skin of the bratwurst.”

They then gave it back to him and watched as he attempted to…de-skin his sausage, before taking it back and doing the whole thing for him. I’ll never forget the sight of an old German woman flailing a sausage around on a plate while David watched in awe. Those are memories, my friends.

There is only one size of beer you can order, and that is the liter. If you can’t drink it, get out. For obvious reasons, many people are incredibly drunk, and the Oktoberfest police are all over it. If you look tired, or put your head down, or seem as if you’re going to be sick, that’s it, you’re out.

That being said, one of the most entertaining things to watch during Oktoberfest are the numerous idiots attempt to down the entire liter of beer in one shot. This happens so often, it’s actually an Oktoberfest challenge, and every single person in the tent stands up to watch you try. Immediately after receiving a beer, you stand up, put one foot on the bench, and get to chugging. Initially, the crowd cheers for you, but if you’re too slow, they start booing, and they boo loud. They also throw schnitzels, sausages, and other assorted debris at you, you big loser.

So obviously, I had to try it. The short answer is yes, I can drink an entire liter of beer at once. The long answer is no, I cannot keep it down. (Or at least I chose not to, since it was still early in the day and I didn’t want to be comatose)

I’m so classy.

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Classy.

Every so often, the live band situated in the middle of the tent would start playing, and everyone would stop what they were doing to sing along and wave their beers in the air. I don’t know a single word of German, so my singing went a little something like this, “blaaargle laaaaargel mein roviaaaa OI OI OI!”

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Then we would clink glasses and drink deeply. Rinse and repeat for 11 hours, and you have the entire Oktoberfest festival.

We ended up wandering from tent to tent, and eventually wound up sitting with a few guys who I thought were German, but actually ended up being deaf Americans.

See, it’s really loud in the tents, and when you can’t understand what people are saying, you just assume they don’t speak the same language. One of the deaf guys, who thought he was extremely fabulous, happened to be the twin brother of some model dude who was on Dancing With the Stars one time. I guess that makes him…famous? Anyway, he got really mad once he realized I had no idea who he was. His friend, who was clearly there for moral support and maybe also to chauffeur him around, looked a little like Dr. Evil from Austin Powers. He was much nicer than his famous friend and we ended up talking for quite a while before he invited me to join them on their road trip to Italy and I fled in case they were axe murderers. Fun!

As the hours wound on, everyone got more drunk, more cheerful, and infinitely louder. Let me lay out the scene for you:

The sounds of the crowd crashed around me as I peered around, blearily, looking for David. My arms wrapped around my brother on my left and an unfamiliar friend on my right David’s face leered into my vision, a dramatized version of himself as we swayed to and fro. “Oi oi oi!” We shouted, clinking glasses as we stood, wobbling on the wooden benches of the festival table.

All around us, voices reverberated, a thousand thousand revelers cheering as they drank deeply from their mugs. Waitresses hurried through the gaps, clutching five, ten beers apiece as they rushed towards their thirsty customers. Everywhere I looked, people were grinning, cheering as they celebrated this age old festival. Across from us, a family with their daughter, no older than fourteen, sang and laughed, enjoying the family friendly environment.

Beer sloshing down our fronts, we drank, another and another and another. On the ground, flirty females wound their way through groups of interested men, their aprons tied expressly to one side- telling everyone, “Yes, I’m free. Yes, I want to talk.”

New friends made drunken promises, creating plans to meet- in Germany, in France, in England. From everywhere these people came to celebrate, to indulge in the age-old tradition of simple food, simple drinks, and simple fun. And indulge we did.

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Us on the train ride home

-Carissa the Oktoberfest Queen