The Copenhagen Card

If there was one takeaway to give you after our trip to beautiful Copenhagen, Denmark last week, it is this: GO THERE.

We loved it. We have been incredibly fortunate over the last year of purposefully pursuing travel to visit some really cool locations. In the US, we visited Austin, San Antonio, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle and since moving to the UAE in September we’ve added Muscat (Oman), Istanbul (Turkey), Vienna, Salzburg, Innsbruck (Austria), Munich (Germany), Ras Al Khaimah (UAE), London (England — just Tony) and now Copenhagen (Denmark). While we loved just about every location on that list, Copenhagen has pulled forward as both Tony and my favorite place to date.

It’s just a beautiful city. It was very “toddler travel” friendly with super high walkability/public transport, as well as being easy to navigate. Tony and I will take turns writing about some specific parts of the trip, including our top list of sites to see, but for now I wanted to start with how we travelled to an expensive city without blowing our budget.

Scandinavia in general is considered an expensive place to visit. With the help of travel hacking, we started this trip ahead of the game. The 7 day hotel stay was covered with a credit card award earned last year — the only hitch was we had to stay at the same hotel property for the full 7 days. Typically, we like to hit more than one city on a stay that long, so we wanted to pick a city where we felt like we wouldn’t run out of things to do and see. Copenhagen delivered on that front. Our flights were booked on points, although we had to deal with a less than ideal route to make that happen (we flew Abu Dhabi > Rome > Paris > Copenhagen). Because we stayed at the Marriott Copenhagen with elite status, we had access to the hotel’s executive lounge giving us free breakfast each morning, as well as afternoon snacks and a hot hors d’oeuvres each evening. This bonus alone insured we could easily keep our spending in check on our trip.

12966856_10100132644627964_434682039_n

The other big cost saver for us was the Copenhagen Card. Benefits of the card include:

Tony purchased the cards for us at the Copenhagen airport. You choose the card based on the length of your stay — options include 24, 48, 72, and 120 hours. With Matteo under 10, and thereby covered by the purchase of an adult card, we only needed to buy two adult cards. The cost came to just under the equivalent of $245. I know that might sound steep at first glance, but don’t forget that it includes our transportation (including to and from the airport) for 5 days and admission to so many museums and attractions!

By using the list of attractions covered with the Copenhagen card, we were more easily able to narrow down what we saw and did each day. We visited both Experimentarium City and the Zoo — without the Copenhagen card, entry to those two places would have cost $65 and $66 respectively. That’s nearly half the cost of the Copenhagen card right there. We also visited three different castles, and the Viking Ship Museum with free entrance under the Copenhagen card. Adding all of the entry fees to the costs covered, we ended up saving about $40 overall buying the card rather than paying admission charges upon arrival. That savings does not take in to account the public transport we used — mostly, because I can’t remember all of the buses/trains we took, and charges varied depending on where you were going (i.e. more expensive to go to the airport than to the center of the city). Had Matteo been a little older and able to handle longer days, the savings would have been even greater as there were several museums we didn’t get to visit due to him holding us back (kidding! well, not really, but that’s travel with a  three year old).

1937043_10100126121290784_5296809044483755283_n
Glad to have the option for public transportation when the wind made walking feel too cold to our desert sensibilities

So that’s the Copenhagen Card! They can be purchased online at http://www.copenhagencard.com/buy-copenhagencard or do what we did and pick one up at the airport. How you get the card isn’t important, what is important is that you GO TO COPENHAGEN. You’re going to love it!

 

 

Advertisements

Ebags Osprey Backpack Review

As I said prior to our Austin trip, Tony and I were excited to try out our new backpacks from Ebags.com. We each have an Osprey Farpoint 40, chosen because of its relatively small size, lots of organizational compartments, and highly rated reviews on the Ebags.com site.

Since having Matteo, we quickly realized that backpack carry-ons were the way to go for us when we travel as a family. We need all hands on deck, available and ready to try to manage not only the inordinate amount of crap that traveling with a kiddo requires (here’s to you, stroller that Matteo refuses to ride in) but also to keep Matteo from running the wrong way up the TSA Exit Only ramp – side note, TSA Agents do not recognize how cute and adorably naughty my son is.

Okay, back to the backpack. The goal for our Austin trip was to pack everything that all three of us would need for 6 days/5 nights away in carry-on only luggage. We also wanted to avoid bringing Matteo’s separate diaper bag. I’m glad to say that packing wise, the trip was a huge success. We were able to pack clothes for all three of us, multiple pairs of shoes, diapers, baby wipes, Matteo’s sound machine, toiletries, all of the hair stuff I needed to maintain my beauty regiment while away, and everything we used to try to keep Matteo distracted and entertained on the airplane. We used the two backpacks and one small roller board bag – and if needed we probably could have avoided the roller board if we had gotten really serious.  Success!

The best part of the backpacks was that even full of stuff, they were comfortable to wear. The straps are wide and padded. There are additional straps to add stability mid back and at the collarbone. The large compartments have full zippers that allow you to open the flap completely  — which makes packing and unpacking a breeze.

Yes, the backpacks are a little pricey but ebags seems to have pretty regular sales that offer additional discounts off. For the money, you get a sturdy, well made backpack that should last. I’m excited to use mine again in a few weeks when we go away for a weekend in San Francisco. These bags are a great alternative to the traditional roller board carry on, and I didn’t feel like we lost anything as far as packing space goes.

Highly recommend!

Spring Break 2015 — Austin, TX

Well, we’ve returned from our Spring Break trip to Austin. What high hopes we had for this trip. Well thought out plans, a good sized list of attractions to visit, and expectations of fun and relaxation.

Some of that stuff happened.

No, honestly, the trip had more high points than low, but there were some low points. Let’s get that summary over with first, shall we?

1. Weather. When choosing a location for our trip, we specifically avoided other cities that have a tendency for a particularly rainy March. Austin is typically sunny and mild — and it was sunny and mild, the week after we were there. For our trip, it rained 2.5 of the days and was cool and cloudy every day. This would have been less of a problem if the beginning of our trip hadn’t been dependent upon walking around downtown. Bummer.

2. Sickness. On Tuesday evening of the trip, Matteo woke up around 11:30 pm with a terrible, terrible, terrible stomach bug. It was a very long night with that poor little boy getting sick over and over again. Wednesday, he felt pretty crummy so we pretty much lost a day of the trip sitting in the hotel room, tending to a sick little one. Not fun.

Really, those are the only negatives I can think of off of the top of my head for the trip. Had we experienced sunny weather and a healthy little boy, things would have been just about perfect. Because Austin is a really cool city. Detailed recap to come, but the highlights of the trip for me (Jen, here) were our last minute decision to drive to San Antonio and visit the Alamo, and the entire campus of the Hyatt’s Lost Pines Resort in Austin. Both of these stops made me very, very happy.

Of course, just being off work and away from the stress of our everyday lives made the vacation fun right off the bat. There’s not much I enjoy in life more than quality time with Tony and Matteo.

Alamo

The (dreaded) Carry-On

C-Overhead-Bin-Pic

As air travel has become more expensive, one of the first areas where travelers have tried to have a leg up on the airlines is via carry on luggage. Most airlines allow passengers to carry on one small piece of luggage as well as one personal item free of charge. Checked luggage beyond this is then often charged at $25 for the first bag, $50 for the second, and so on — of course, specific charge amounts vary depending on the carrier. Once these common regulations went in to affect, I noticed an immediate reaction by passengers in the form of what they attempted to make fit in the overhead compartment as well as under the seat in front on them.

It’s now typical to see someone (try to) stuff an absolutely overflowing roller board piece of luggage in the overhead compartment while simultaneously shoving a “personal item” the size of a duffel bag underneath the seat in front of them. I kid you not, when I flew to Cincinnati last year a guy in the row in front of me had two overstuffed bags that he was trying to sneak in as “carry on” — he was absolutely thrilled when he made it on to the plane and the flight attendant informed him that his luggage was too large and would need to be checked to his final destination. With a chuckle, he confided that was his hope all along — he was crossing his fingers that he’d make it on the plane before they told him the pieces were too big so that he wouldn’t have to pay the checked baggage fee!

All of that to say, we’re less than a week out from our Spring Break trip to Austin, TX and I’m starting to think about packing. Since Matteo is 2 years old now, we had to pay for his ticket as well which means that between the three of us, we’re entitled to bring 3 personal items as well as 3 carry-on sized pieces of luggage.

Tony, ever the travel researcher, recently purchased new backpacks for he and I via Ebags. I learned early on when traveling with a little one, anything you can do to free up your hands will benefit you 10 fold — so backpacks became a staple of our carry-on routine. Originally, I just purchased one I found at clearance on Target, and it was fine, but our new bags from Ebags are specifically meant for travel. That means plenty of organizational compartments and zippers built in to make packing as a carry-on a breeze. In addition to the backpacks, we also ordered packing cubes to help us make the most of the space that we have. Hopefully, these purchases will allow us to travel solely with carry-ons, meaning we can get to the airport later and don’t have to wait at the luggage corral.

Full review of the products we purchased to come after our trip, but wish us luck in traveling as a carry on only family. Also, wish us luck in choosing the correct shows to download for Matteo — he’s usually a Wild Kratts loyalist, but lately the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been giving the Kratts a run for their money.

An Introduction to Frequent Flyer Programs and Portals

So far on this blog we have covered ways to leverage credit card bonuses as a way to get cheap flights and airlines miles.  Another staple in any travelhacker’s toolbox is the use of frequent flyer programs and their related shopping and dining portals.

The first step for anyone interested in travel hacking should be to sign up for frequent flyer programs and hotel loyalty programs of interest.  In order to receive credit for miles flown and to be eligible for statues or special offers the airlines must have your account information so they can deposit your miles accordingly.  For example, on an upcoming trip from Phoenix to San Francisco and back the three of us will be flying on United and all three of us have United Frequent Flyer accounts (Mileageplus accounts) that will earn us each 1,302 award miles:

uSFO

This may not seem like a ton of miles, but every little bit counts in this game, I mean you are going to take the trip anyway you might as well get the miles for it.  It’s important to note to that airlines add multipliers for premium cabins so if you were to fly this same flight in business class you might get 150% of the miles flown and first class might be 200% bonus since the tickets cost much more than a standard economy seat.

AAshopping

While most of you may be familiar with frequent flyer mileage programs, you may not know about shopping portals.  Most major domestic and international carriers have shopping rewards portal that offers you bonus miles per dollar spent at many online stores where you’re already spending money. If you shop through the American Airlines portal and are looking to buy shoes through New Balance’s online store you will earn an additional 4 miles per dollar spent.  The portal simply allows your browser cookies to link to your frequent flyer account and once the money is spent the additional miles will be credited to your American Airlines account.  If you were already planning on spending $100 at New Balance you will now be rewarded with an additional 400 frequent flier miles without paying any more money, all you need to do is shop through the portal.  There are hundreds of stores where you can take advantage of these portals such as Target, Home Depot, Staples, Groupon, Sears, Lowes, Kohls, etc.  Each airline has their own portal and one we use often is Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.  Last week, we bought a new carry on travel backpack for Jennifer and a quick search through the ultimate rewards portal showed me that ebags was offering 10 pts/$ .  For the same $145 bag that was on amazon, I bought it for $145 (free shipping as well) and earned over 1400 ultimate reward points on top of it by purchasing through the ebags Ultimate Rewards shopping portal:

curIn a later post we will discuss dining portals — the dining portals work much in the same way as shopping portals but work with restaurants that are linked to your credit card.  Until then, be sure to register you and your family for frequent flyer programs and start with the ones that you are most likely to use based on your home airport.  These programs are free to join and are easy to create online.  Some of our favorites are:

American Airlines Shopping

Delta Skymiles Shopping

US AIrways Dividend Miles Storefront

Southwest Rapid Rewards Shopping

Start getting credit and earning miles for purchases and flights you already make and take.

Getting to Austin on the Cheap

As noted earlier the 3 of us are headed to Austin over Spring Break this coming March.  Austin is a great warm weather city that is located within 2 hours by plane of PHX and we’ve heard nothing but good reports regarding Texas’ capital.  Tony signed up for the US Airways Dividend Miles Mastercard this past summer to top of his US Airways account to fly round trip to London this past October.  One of the perks of this card is that it comes with two companion passes that allow two traveler’s to fly for $99 each on any paid ticket of over $250 in North America (excluding AK & HI).  As luck would have it flights were pricing to Austin for $281 round trip and then we added the two $99 companion fares to this flight which after taxes priced out to all 3 of us flying to Austin for a little over $550.

Coupled with the Hyatt stay which is already booked for 5 nights on points we will be traveling as a family of 3 for 5 nights to Austin for well under $650 round trip by simply leveraging a few credit card bonuses and perks.  Jennifer has recently applied for the US Airways Mastercard as well since they are currently offering a 50,000 mile sign up bonus (normal offer is 40,000).  For those interested in this credit card act quickly because it will soon be eliminated due to the AA – US Airways merger.  In the coming weeks US Airways accounts will be merged with AAdvantage accounts and the miles will all accrue in the same account.  In addition to the mileage bonus and companion certificates this card also allows 1 free checked bag per flight for up to 4 passengers traveling together, charges no foreign transaction fee, and allows for priority (zone 2) boarding.

_usairways_premier_world-big

The only thing we have to decide next is where to use the 2 companion certificates for Jennifer’s card.  Stay tuned for another trip preview as we have booked another trip over the long Easter weekend.

The Value of Points

Earlier in the week I told you about our upcoming trip to Austin, TX. This trip is the perfect example of how you can leverage hotel points to avoid paying outrageous high rates at hotels.

I’ve already listed the reasons why we’ve chosen the Hyatt Place Austin Downton for our stay, so now let’s talk numbers. Currently a standard room at the Hyatt Place Austin Downtown is booking at $305/night for an advanced purchase rate (meaning you will be charged if you end up canceling for any reason). Plan a trip for 5 nights and you’re looking at…$1766.10.

Hyatt

Rest assured, we won’t be paying that amount come March. Instead, we will be redeeming 80,000 of our Hyatt Gold Passport points (15,000 per night) to stay in the same room — with no further out of pocket costs.

Last summer, Tony signed up for the Chase Ink Bold card which offered at the time (and currently still does) 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points (after spending $5K in the first 3 months*) as a sign-up bonus. I recently signed up for the Chase Freedom card which offered the equivalent of 20,000 points which we were then able to transfer to Tony’s Ultimate Rewards account.

The $5K minimum spend on the Chase Ink Bold card also offers 5 points/dollar spent at Office Supply stores (i.e. Staples, Office Max, etc.) cable companies, and utilities. By creatively purchasing gift cards and paying our utility bills with this card, we successfully earned an additional 25,000 ($5k x 5 points per dollar) on top of the 70,000 bonus points. Between those two cards, we netted $95,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

These Ultimate Rewards points can then be transfered at a 1:1 ratio at 11 different travel reward partners, including Hyatt Gold Passport.  Chase Ultimate Rewards instantly transfer to Hyatt Gold Passport and are immediatley available to use for booking stays at Hyatt properties.  The Hyatt Place Austin Downtown is a category 4 Hyatt property which requires 15,000 points per night.

Chase-Ultimate-Rewards-Transfer-Partners

Because we have these 80,000 points at our disposal we will be able to stay at this gorgeous, expensive hotel for a mere fraction of the +$1700 total that the room is currently booking. We’ll talk about how we’re handing the airfare for three to fly from PHX to AUS a little bit later.

*Coming in a future post, how to meet your spending minimum without really spending a dime…