Israel?

Hello Dear Readers!

I’m writing to you from the sunny beach of Tel Aviv, where I’m resisting a second mimosa because it’s ten am and maybe I should have some self control?

Nah.

Anyway, I’ve been in Israel for the last week, doing tons of cool stuff which obviously I’m going to write about.

First, the fun stuff. How did I get here? *bragbragbrag* Flights to Israel are stupid expensive, so I wasn’t looking forward to dropping over a thousand bucks to haul myself across the world. It took a few weeks of searching, and just as I was resigned to hopping a complicated points-based itinerary through Europe, I happened to see- somehow- a single day of flights out of Boston that were priced at $600 rather than the normal $1200. Even better, the flights were on Delta.

As I’ve mentioned multiple times, the American Express Business Platinum card will give you a rebate back on points redeemed for your chosen airline. For new sign-ups, the bonus is 35%, but I’m grandfathered in (until October) at a 50% rebate. Delta happens to be my preferred airline, so I redeemed 30,000 American Express membership reward points for my flight. This effectively meant I paid $300 ‘worth’ of points for my round trip itinerary to Tel Aviv and back. Yay!

Of course, I still had to get to Boston, but luckily flights out there from San Francisco are very cheap. (And I used points, obviously).

This is the second time I’ve given myself the benefit of the doubt and scheduled a day long layover somewhere in the hopes that I would go explore the city. It’s also the second time that I’ve been a total lazy-ass and sat in the lounge for the whole day while watching Netflix and generally mucking about online. I’m so impressed with myself.

Anyway, here I am, hanging out on the beach and roasting in the Middle Eastern summer sun. Maybe that’s why flights were so cheap?

Up next- exploring Jerusalem, being Biblical, and hiking at the Dead Sea.

See you guys soon!

-Carissa “I’m Literally Melting” Rawson

Where Are You Going? The Best and Cheapest Airports for International Flights

Hello Dear Readers!

As I continue to write, I realize that a lot of things I take for granted, a lot of people probably don’t know. Things like: where do I get cheap flights? What’s the best way to look up airfare? Are all airlines created equal?

To that end, I’ve decided to make a list of the best/cheapest airports to fly out of, depending on where you want to go internationally. I know when I first started, I had no clue, so here you are:

Europe:


1. New York’s JFK is by far the cheapest airport there is, often flying to/from Spain for less than $400 roundtrip on full-service airlines (think Delta, American Airlines, and United). There are frequently price wars here, and I’ve seen itineraries as low as $300 for these trips.
2. Washington D.C. is another cheap one. Though not as common as JFK, you can still often find flights for less than $500 on full-service airlines.
3. Boston can often be had for as nearly cheap as D.C. and JFK. Specifically, it often flies to Dublin, Ireland, for around $400 on full-service airlines (Aer Lingus). Flight routes mean that this flight path is the (one of?) the shortest to Europe, mileage-wise.
4. Chicago will pop up occasionally, though not as often as the above two.
5. Miami handles a lot of international traffic, and before flight prices got so low, was the cheapest I was ever able to find ($700 Miami-London in 2011).
6. Atlanta will also have some pretty good deals to places like Paris and Amsterdam, though these are sporadic and you need to jump on them quickly.
7. WOW Air and Norwegian are budget airlines, which have begun launching flights across the country for ridiculously cheap prices. For example, San Francisco-Edinburgh can be had for as low as $69 one-way. A return ticket will run you $250, though, and these airlines add fees on for everything. Checking a bag will cost you about $60 each way, but may be worth it if you find a cheap enough ticket. I flew WOW from D.C. to Paris last September for $500 roundtrip and found their coach seats to be quite roomy, and their planes are all new, which is nice.
8. As mentioned above, Norwegian is also really cheap/ new, and has awesome deals around Europe and Scandinavia. Last December, I scored a roundtrip New York-Oslo ticket for $335 and spent an amazing few days in Norway. It’s always worth looking at their price calendars, as prices change drastically from day to day.

Asia:


1. San Francisco is one of the best for flying to Asia, with roundtrip flights to Japan and China running daily for $500 or less. (They also go other places, but I most often see cheapest flights to these two countries) I flew Japan Airlines from here last May (using points), and absolutely loved their seats. International airlines will always best US airlines for legroom and recline, so if you can find one with a good price, take it.
2. Oakland, the sad smaller sister of San Francisco, has far fewer amenities but can also run really cheap flights. It’s also an easier drive and is better to park at than San Fran.
3. Los Angeles, similar to San Francisco, has tons of daily flights to Asia, which can be had for $500 or less. It’s also usually the cheapest location for Australia, which usually runs about $1000 (or more) roundtrip. I recently snagged a seat on Virgin Australia for $700 during a price war, and it’s a nonstop 15 hour flight, which should be fun.
4. Houston, as strange as that may seem, can have some pretty good deals too. In May, I flew roundtrip to Bali for ~$500 on Singapore Airlines as part of a celebration sale. Word of warning, though- flying from Houston takes you the long way around the world. We went Houston-Manchester (UK)- Singapore- Bali, which totaled 24 hours of flight time. It was too long.
5. Seattle and Portland will pop up at times, though not nearly as often as LA and San Francisco. Their flights tend to cost a little bit more, say $600 or so roundtrip.
6. New York’s JFK also has flights, though far less often. You’ll find JFK a lot on this list, as I find that overall they’re the cheapest for international flights.

Africa:

1. JFK is one of the few to offer sale or otherwise affordable flights to Africa. I’ve seen some go for around $700-$800. This isn’t common, though.
2. Another option, if you’re not averse to connections, is to fly one of the cheap flights to Europe as outlined above, and hop down to Africa from there. I often see flights from the EU and the UK for very cheap- anywhere from $300-$500.
3. London, Zurich, Paris, Madrid, Frankfurt, and Amsterdam are the ones I see popping up most often with discounted flights to Africa.

Middle East:

1. Los Angeles runs a surprisingly large amount of flights to places like Dubai that aren’t too expensive. On a regular day, I snagged a roundtrip flight Los Angeles- Dubai for less than $700. They’ll even have fares going as low as $500 on occasion.
2. Seattle, which is where my flight to Dubai connected to, can be one of the cheaper options as well.
3. JFK, of course, is on the list. Flights can cost between $500-$700 here. A flight from JFK to Amman, for instance, was $700 in April on Royal Jordanian, which is a pretty decent airline.

Central and South America:

1. Though I’ve never been to South (or Central) America, there are regularly cheap flights down that way. Los Angeles in particular has flights to Costa Rica, Brazil, Argentina, etc. for decent prices- say anywhere from $400-$800, depending on your tastes. Southwest will even fly you to Costa Rica, with roundtrip flights often less that $300.
2. Dallas, Southwest’s home field, serves Southwest’s cheapest flights to Central America. This is a new area for them, so they’re priced very competitively. Additionally, expect to see expanded flight options in the future, as Southwest has already stated that they’re making this area a priority. Here’s the link to their flight map, which will show you all the routes they fly.
3. Boston is one of the cheaper ones too.
4. JFK, as always, makes the list.
5. San Francisco, though not as often as Los Angeles, will have decently priced flights. The same holds true for much of California. Overall, it’s usually the cheapest state to fly from.
6. Atlanta, every once in a while, will have good stuff.
7. Orlando is a major airport and often has sales.
8. So does Miami.

The Caribbean:

1. Many of Florida’s airports run very cheap flights to the Caribbean and back- think: Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, and Miami.
2. Atlanta, Delta’s home base, will often have discounted flights across all the Caribbean islands. Delta’s competitor’s, American Airlines especially, tend to start price wars over these fares, and it’s not uncommon to see a roundtrip flight from, say, Atlanta to St. Maarten for around $200.
3. Washington D.C. is one of the more common ones for sale flights to down to the Caribbean as well.
4. As always, JFK makes the list.
5. Charlotte, NC is also often an easy one to find flights from.
6. Dallas, using Southwest, will have good prices as well.
7. Boston, specifically flying JetBlue, which runs fare sales every month or so.

Ok! So I think that covers most places you’d want to get to from the U.S. Keep in mind, if you aren’t near any of these hubs, it’s often still worth it to look at prices for these flights and then book separate tickets from your nearest airport to these hubs. This is called positioning, and is used very often in order to keep prices down on airfare.

I follow many different sites to track airfare prices, but my favorite is Secret Flying. They post throughout the day on all sale fares that they find, and have gotten me some of my best prices to date. I follow them on Facebook too, so it’s always a part of my news feed.

As always, being flexible on your dates is the easiest way to get cheap airfare. Even within the span of a week there will be very different prices on flights, so if you can, (I know, a lot can’t between work and kids), try to maintain a window of open time rather than set-in-stone dates. When searching for flights, I almost always start with Google’s Air Matrix, which shows month long blocks for almost every airline (minus Southwest).

I hope this has helped you all! Let me know if you have any questions!

-Carissa

Miraculous Miraval- Bacon Meditation

Hello Dear Readers!

Ok, final post on the Miraval, and then we’ll get to explore a whole new country. Which one? You’ll find out! *Ooh mystery*

Remember how I mentioned Miraval was an all-inclusive resort? Obviously, this meant that all the food was included. Here’s the thing, though. This place is super focused on wellness, which meant that while you could order an alcoholic beverage, it was discouraged, but there were free unlimited smoothies available. Obviously I had to try every single type.

And the food. Oh man, the food. Like, I always gave celebrities serious props for being thin and beautiful because they have to eat lettuce all the time, but the food here was amazing and healthy. I’m pretty sure this is how famous people eat and don’t end up starving to death.

We did floating mediation while we were there too, which meant we literally wrapped ourselves up in silk hammocks and swung suspended in the air while a woman rang bells at us.

I’m not the best at meditation, so I was like “….prayer….gratitude…inner peace…bacon…”

It was a pretty neat experience.

We also pampered ourselves with 80 minute massages at the spa. I don’t know about you guys, but if I’m not getting beat up in a massage then I don’t feel like it’s worth it. Put some elbow grease into it, man! This was definitely one of the best massages I’ve ever had. The poor masseur was sweating by the time he finished, which equals A+ in my book.

We spent time at the pool, me in the sun and Jill in the shade because her delicate flower skin hates sunlight.

We got up at an ungodly hour and went for a hike through the mountains, which we didn’t want to do and tried to cancel but it cost money so we went. And it was awesome.

Finally, we did what was called “a swing and a prayer,” which is where you get hoisted up thirty five feet in the air and voluntarily drop yourself, swinging through the air as you scream like a maniac. (Ok, I was the only one who screamed).

To my credit, I also hung upside down like a Cirque-Du-Soleil performer because I’m fancy.

I’ve got to tell you guys, I wish we had so much more time here. The Miraval Resort is like a little slice of heaven in the middle of the scorching hell desert of Arizona, and I can’t recommend it enough. If I could afford it again (lol), I would totally go back. One day?

-Carissa “The Acrobat” Rawson

Miraculous Miraval: Terrifying Ziplining

Hello Dear Readers!

I promise I haven’t died- I’ve just been really busy. (As per the usual).

So, where did we leave off? I’m pretty sure I had just told you guys all about traveling to the Miraval Resort with my sister, Jill. Like I said, redeeming the points was a no-brainer, and we had an absolutely awesome time.

In addition to all sorts of wellness classes, (like yoga, meditation, and spiritual healing), the resort also had challenge courses. Of course Jill and I signed up to go ziplining.

Now, I’ve ziplined once before. I was on a cruise and one of the shore excursions in Dominica was this crazy rope walk through the trees with ziplining. The issue there was that, well, it was Dominica, which meant there were zero safety codes. Which is how I found myself zooming towards a tree on a duct-taped cable with no brakes and a mattress at the other end.

Suffice to say that my first time was a little scary. However, since this was in the good old US of A, I had high hopes as to the safety standards of our course.

And yes, it was safe, but that didn’t make it any less terrifying. 

Like I said, this was considered a ‘challenge course,’ which meant apparently that in order to get to the zipline, you had to scale a fifty foot telephone pole.

Like, with your hands. And your feet. There was no nifty basket to haul my carcass up there.

Someone help us

I’m not that bad with heights, really, but the last time I tried crawling up a sheer surface with my bare hands I got so scared that I straight fell off.

Jill, also, has a horrific time with this concept.

So it was with no little amount of trepidation that we watched the first couple people scale this pole, looking like monkeys as they hopped from rung to rung. I told Jill I’d go first, so I wouldn’t have time to psyche myself out, and began climbing as soon as I was told.

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Pictured: not that bad

It wasn’t so bad, at first. Really. But right at about twenty feet, I realized the ground was really far away, and the rungs were super tiny, and also ohmygod what am I doing.

Ohgod ohgod ohgod

I didn’t fall, at least, but I panicked and raced the entire rest of the way up to the platform, arriving and nearly collapsing with relief.

Just kidding. I was hanging onto the pole for dear life. The employee eventually had to pry me off, assuring me that I was securely connected to the cables hanging around the platform.

Then it was Jill’s turn.

You guys.

You guys. 

It started simply enough. Here comes Jill, crawling up this pole, with all the rest of us shouting encouragement and urging her to come up. I stood at the top and berated her, as any good older sister does.

And there she was, a mere two rungs from arriving at the platform. Her head was even peeking over- all she needed to do was grab this rung.

It was at this point that she looked down. And oh, the panic was real.

It was like a movie. She hung there, hyperventilating, convincing herself she couldn’t do it.

There we all were, calling, calling, encouraging her to reach, just one more, and there she went- one arm outstretched- grasping for the rung.

She caught it with the tips of her fingers, and in slow-motion they slipped, her petrified face dropping out of view as she fell.

The air stopped moving but for her terrified yelp as- thwack- with a stretch, her rope caught her and she swung back around to the pole, clinging to the rungs and sobbing.

She was back several feet down and as red as a tomato, (she’s a ginger, you know), trying to gain control of herself and overcome her panic.

And she did. Scarcely a minute later, she began climbing again, this time her face filled with resolve as rose up.

Finally, she crawled up over the platform, and we all cheered wildly, congratulating her on making it.

After that, the zipline was cake.

-Carissa “Badass” Rawson

Miraculous Miraval: Chakras and Zen

Hello Dear Readers!

I’m writing to you from the gorgeous Miraval Resort near Tucson, Arizona. My sister, Jill, and I have been staying here for the last few days, doing all kinds of awesome things. I’ll write about those later (ziplining!), but first I want to tell you how we managed to stay here, because this property is absolutely incredible, and you all need to come here. 

Secluded in the desert

The Miraval Resort is very unique- it’s one of few all-inclusive resorts in the United States, and its rooms can go for as much as $2000/night. However, as of June 29th, Miraval has teamed up with Hyatt in order to allow points earning and redemptions at the resort.

Us with our driver, cheesing before we left the airport. (The ride is included!)

The Miraval exceeds the normal category 1-7 chart, costing 45,000 points/night for the first person, and 20,000 points/ night for the second person. That’s an awful lot, and speaks volumes about the quality of this resort. The Ellen Degeneres show even came here, and did a segment about it:

However, in order to celebrate their new partnership, Hyatt is offering 50% of your points back if you stay here between June 29th-September 15th. As soon as I saw this place, I knew I wanted to come here. And with 50% off, why not?

So I went ahead and booked two nights for Jill and I here, costing a total of 65,000 points (after the 50% back). Now, I had that amount already in my Hyatt account, but the rub here is that you’ll need the full amount of points in your account when you book, totaling 130,000, and they refund the points back to you after you complete your stay.

This kind of sucks, but is definitely worth it. Chase is a transfer partner of Hyatt, so I went ahead and transferred 65,000 Chase Ultimate Reward points into my Hyatt account. (You can earn Ultimate Reward points with many different Chase cards) I’ll have that many left over when they refund me, so I’ll have to use them somewhere else (the Park Hyatt Maldives, perhaps?)

This trip has truly been once in a lifetime. Jill and I don’t get to spend much time together, so getting some sister time has been really awesome.

We were…a little tired after our 6am flight

The Miraval is a wellness resort, so it’s full of classes offering all kinds of different things to do. We’ve been super busy, what with all the meditation, hiking, and spa treatments. When you book with points, your package also includes a $175/ per person/ day credit that you can use at the spa, or on different, extra classes, like horseback riding and ziplining.

I’ll write about that next! Until then, I’m going to go meditate and ponder chakras.

-Carissa “Zen” 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

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

 

Discovering Dubai

Hello Dear Readers!

As you all know, I had just recently hopped a plane from Ethiopia back to Dubai, in order to meet my brother PJ for our six days in the UAE.

I wrote about coming here earlier this year, and explained how I used both the Citi Prestige 4th night free and a promotion from Starwood that gave me two more free nights in order to stay six nights for the price of three at the St. Regis Dubai. This is important, because the hotel is way too expensive for me to stay at otherwise. Our room was fantastic, and I took a couple surreptitious photos of the hotel as possible, so you guys could see the kind of ridiculous luxury of the hotel.

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Now, one of the best parts of the St. Regis brand is the inclusion of a 24 hour butler service, which brings your luggage up for you, unpacks it, provides tea and coffee service on request, and presses two items of clothing per day for free. As you guys can see from the photo below, the only thing I had with me was my backpack, which was full of dirty laundry to boot, so I declined the unpacking service offered. Something about a tuxedo clad butler pulling out a plastic bag full of dirty laundry felt a little less than…luxurious. Especially when that was all I had!

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Pictured: All my luggage

However, since the hotel had me feeling all kinds of fancy, I sprung for a real wash with their laundry service, and my clothes (and nearby strangers) thanked me for the cleaning in a washing machine rather than a sink. Don’t ask me how much it cost.

I had an entire day to myself before PJ showed up, and since my flight from Ethiopia didn’t land until 4am, I slept in pretty late. That is, until a butler showed up with a fruit platter and I answered the door in my underwear. I’ve had better days.

Did you guys know it’s Ramadan? When I bought the tickets to Dubai, I didn’t even think about it, but the city essentially shuts down during the day for the entire month. Eating and drinking in public is against the law, and if you’re a dirty heathen they have special segregated areas for you to satiate your hunger if you must eat.

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Shamelessly drinking coffee during daylight hours.

However, being Ramadan meant there were all kinds of awesome feasts going on every single night. Obviously PJ and I took full advantage of it, and devoured quantities of food that would otherwise be shameful. Don’t worry, full details are coming.

Like I said, I was there alone for the first day, so I ended up doing iftar (breaking of the fast) by myself. I asked the St. Regis concierge to arrange a reservation for me, and *deigned* to allow the chauffeur service to drive me to the restaurant.

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This will suffice.

If you guys aren’t familiar with Ramadan, and iftar, it’s a time that’s very family/ friend oriented, and everyone heads out in large parties to celebrate together. So when I showed up alone, in the middle of Dubai, I attracted many strange looks. Nevertheless, the food was amazing and threw me straight back to Jordan (which I only left a little over a month ago. Isn’t that weird?) I really miss that place! Anyway, PJ showed up around 11pm, and we stayed up late before heading to our supremely comfortable beds in preparation for the busy days ahead.

Looking forward to telling you about them!

-Carissa “I swear I’m super rich” Rawson

 

Doing Disney (Alone)

Hello Dear Readers!

I’m currently on my way to another airport…as will surprise none of you, I’m guessing. This time I’m headed out to Cancun for my very first trip to Mexico! I’m not even alone- one of my best friends, Chrissy, is coming with, and we plan on spending an amazing four days at an all-inclusive resort. Obviously, I plan to tell you all about it.

For the last five days I’ve been in sunny Orlando, Florida, spending time at one of my favorite places in the world: Disneyworld! That may seem strange…given all the other places I go, but there’s something really special about this place. Really tugs at my happy strings.

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For obvious reasons

Anyway, this was my first time ever doing Disneyworld alone. It was definitely different, I’m not going to lie. I spent a lot of time considering whether to even come, but in the end I had already paid for a lot of it- and I’m a huge Disney nerd, so I made the choice to do it.

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I feel like this is me.

I posted previously about how I was going to stay on points, and the Disney Dolphin did not disappoint. Since I’m a Gold Starwood Preferred Guest member, they even upgraded my basic reservation to a brand new corner room with two (two!) separate balconies. This meant I could watch both the Epcot and Hollywood Studio fireworks from my room. So cool!

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My morning view

So what was it like going to Disneyworld by myself? Well..it was a lot of things.

It was really awkward every time I went to a restaurant as a party of one. People don’t expect people to show up to Disney by themselves. One morning, I went to order a coffee from the breakfast bar downstairs.

“One coffee, please,” I told the barista, pulling out my wallet.

“Two coffees?” She asked, looking over my shoulder for my nonexistent companion.

“…no. Just the one.”

This happened repeatedly, everywhere I went.

“Oh, are you with those kids? A group of three? Is that why you’re sitting alone?”

My favorite was the single rider line at Epcot’s Test Track ride, where the employee informed me and the guy behind me that our party was going to have to split up in order to get on the ride. Faking concern, I turned to the guy behind me and asked, “is that ok with you?”

He definitely thought I was hilarious.

However, there are many, many pros to going it alone. If anyone has ever gone to a Disney park with me (hi family!), then they know that at Disney I ain’t playing around. I walk a zillion miles per hour, weaving through the crowds and sliding past strollers like a ghost. I frequently disappear and end up waiting impatiently at the front of rides waiting for my party to show up. So! It was really cool to just…slip in everywhere and not have to wait for the other slowpokes to catch up.

In addition to this, there are tons of times where just a single spot remains on an attraction, and I was pulled from the line no less than three times in order to fill up a seat. That was pretty awesome. Being alone also meant that I was able to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, with no arguments or compromises. Super cool.

Now, I’m assuming many of you are familiar with Disney’s Fastpass+ system. If you’re not, it’s essentially an online ride reservation system. You pick the things you want to go on in advance, and have an hour long return window in which to come back and skip the line. Disney lets you pick three fastpasses up to sixty days in advance, and on the day of, you can make additional choices after you’ve used your first three. Most people will get a 4th and maybe even a 5th one, if they’re lucky.

Guys, the Fastpass system is amazing for single riders. I spent an entire day at Magic Kingdom during a very busy season, and didn’t wait once in a line. I showed up at park open, 9am, walked onto a few rides before lines built up, and then used Fastpasses the entire rest of the day.

Now this is going to sounds braggy, but only because it is. From 9am until 8:30pm, when I left, I rode:

Seven Dwarves Mine Train 3x
Space Mountain 7x
Peter Pan 3x
Pirates of the Caribbean 5x
Haunted Mansion 4x
Big Thunder Mountain 3x
Jungle Cruise 2x
People Mover 1x
Mickey’s Philharmagic 1x
Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor 1x
Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blaster 1x
Ariel 1x
It’s a Small World 1x

For those of you who aren’t super familiar with Disney, that is a ton of rides. I just refreshed the application on my phone and went from ride to ride, skipping all the lines. It was great!

Anyways, while being at the parks alone was sometimes a little sad (who am I going to share these memories with?), it was also a lot of fun. Would I do it again? Definitely.

I’ll share some tips and tricks I used to keep costs down on this trip later this week. In the meantime, enjoy those landscape photos of Disneyworld! (This is because it’s really creepy to take pictures of people while alone in a theme park full of children. I know better than that.)

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Pictured: zero people

-Princess Carissa of Arendelle

A Tahitian Paradise

Hello Dear Readers!

So, I’ve come to admit that I…*may*…have a bit of a traveling addiction. One of my first posts on this website detailed my schedule for the upcoming year, and back in January I thought my schedule was jam-packed.

Well…I’ve since added a few new trips, the most recent of which is a five night stay in Tahiti. You may wonder why/where I get my ideas for travel, and honestly it’s an amalgamation of flight sales that I find, good opportunities for reward points redemptions, and sometimes even just places I want to go.

So how did I come to the idea of Tahiti? Well, I’ve mentioned before that American Express has offers that it passes out, some of which come in the form of a statement credit, some in the form of bonus points, etc. A couple months ago, they came out with an offer that gave you 20,000 membership reward points if you spent $1,000 on Air France. I’ve gotten a similar offer to this before (Spend $1,000 on Japan Airlines for 20k bonus points), and I’d been sitting on this offer for a while. I actually received it on a few different cards, but I obviously don’t have multiple thousands of dollars to be throwing around.

Anyway, it was the final day for the offer, and I’d been chewing on some different ways I could use it. Scrolling through Air France’s website, however, I saw that they had a monthly special on direct flights from Los Angeles to Tahiti for a cool $1000 round-trip. So, redeeming this offer, I bought the ticket and received 25,000 total membership rewards points (including the bonus categories rewards for purchasing airfare), which equals- at the minimum- $500 worth of airfare on American Express. I can also transfer it to other partners in order to get better value for my points, but I usually prefer to keep things simple.

Having booked my flights, I needed to find a place to stay. In case you didn’t know this, Tahiti happens to be…fairly expensive. However, there are quite a few different hotels out there, so I had plenty of options.

Hotels

Hilton Moorea

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You all know that I’m very partial to Hilton hotels, (It’s the status, really) so the first place I looked was at the Hilton website. Well…it’s not cheap. The Hilton Moorea is currently going for $1500 for a two night stay:

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However, there are often times when the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal will offer you lower rates on the hotel than the hotel website itself. Such was the case of the Hilton Moorea, where after much searching I found the same 1000sq ft bungalow pictured above on Hilton’s website for a mere $677 for two nights. ($772 after taxes) That’s a savings of 54% off the original price. (This works much the same way as Priceline, in that you get a discounted room rate by booking through a third party.) Even better, however, is that Chase allows you to redeem Ultimate Reward points at a value of 1.5 cents each if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, meaning that the two nights only ended up being 52,000 points total.

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For reference, the total amount of points required to redeem on Hilton’s website is 396,000.

Since the Hilton was such a splurge, I didn’t want to stay more than the two nights. Thus, I needed three more somewhere else, but where?

Intercontinental Moorea

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The next hotel I looked at was the Intercontinental Moorea. Again, there are tons of hotels in the area, but this one had the benefit of being amazing and also near to the Hilton, so my transportation between the two wouldn’t be a problem. Paid rates for a room here for three nights equal out to about $1000:

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However, back in January, I got the IHG credit card by Chase. Its sign-up bonus is 60k points after 1k spend in the first 90 days, and after my spend was done, I had a total of 70k points sitting in my account. The Intercontinental Moorea is redeemable for a total of 40,000 points a night, or you can use a combination of points + cash in order to redeem a stay. IHG works differently than other hotel chains with its cash + points offers, in that it has you “buy” points at a reduced rate and then make a full award redemption, as you can see below:

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The combination I chose was points + cash, in which I spent 80,000 points and $200 in cash for all three nights. Since I was 10,000 points shy of the 80,000 I needed, I transferred over points from my Chase Sapphire Reserve card to cover the difference. And then I booked my room! So, all told, I’ll be staying a total of five nights in Tahiti, at some really awesome hotels. My costs are as follows:

Costs
Flight: $1,038
Hotels: $200
-Total Cost: $1,238

In return, I am earning 25,000 American Express rewards points, which equal out to at least $500 worth of airfare. In addition, I’ll be earning thousands of Flying Blue miles on Air France, which I’ll put to use when I move to Scotland later this year.

Were I to pay completely out of pocket, my total would be this:

Costs
Flight: $1,038
Hotels: $2499 ($1511 for the Hilton, and $988 for the Intercontinental)
-Total Cost: $3,537

That’s 65% off! I’m pretty excited, as I’ve heard amazing things about both of these hotels.

Also, have you guys looked at the map of Tahiti?

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Looks remote enough for me!

-Carissa “Basically living on a beach” Ragland