Food Delivery Apps

Traveling with kids can be difficult. From my limited perspective as the mother of a very opinionated 4 year old, I know going in to a trip that there are only going to be so many “golden hours” each day during which we can freely do the things we want to do. Tony and I look at the trade off like this — we could wait a few years until Matteo is “easier” to travel with, or we can go now and know going in that we will won’t be able to go go go as we would if we were traveling just the two of us.

One of those concessions ends up being dinner time. Matteo does best on our trips if we do our sightseeing in the morning/early afternoon. We typically head out for 4 or so hours in the morning, have lunch and then can squeeze in another few hours. By the time evening comes around, Matteo’s mood will only be stable if he can relax and play in the comfort of our airbnb/hotel.

That means we end up limited when it comes to dinner options. Room service is always an option if you’re staying in a hotel, but that can get expensive fast. What we’ve depended on (and loved) for the last several trips, are food delivery apps. UberEats, Deliveroo, Foodora, Postmates, etc. allow you to browse local menus, make your selection, and pay all from your phone.

The apps available to you depends on your availability. Many include a sign up bonus such as $10 off your first order, or a discount when for referral sign ups. Tony and I take advantage of those situations by one of us signing up and then immediately doing a referral sign up for the other which often means saving $20 over two meals. These apps mean you can still explore cuisine in your area without having to actually go out.

We look forward to the time when we can take advantage of the evenings on our vacations as well as the morning and afternoon, but for now we’re okay with this compromise.  If you’re traveling with kids, or considering it, definitely take the time to download a food delivery app or two in your area to give yourself a Plan B when it comes to dinnertime.

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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.

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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).

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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!

 

 

Fear of Flying

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Enjoying our business class seats on our recent flight from Munich to Abu Dhabi. See, I don’t look scared at all (just crazy!).

My very first flight was the morning after our wedding, from Detroit to the Dominican Republic where Tony and I honeymooned in June 2006. Back then, I was terrified to fly. I reached adulthood during the years after the September 11 attacks, and had a real fear for my safety on an airplane. I remember our flight to the DR quite well, I was a nervous wreck. We hadn’t slept yet, I was exhausted and running on adrenaline from the wedding, and I was terribly afraid to fly. Making things worse, though Tony and I were technically seated next to each other, we were separated by the aisle — very romantic. At every new sound or jostle, I turned to him and whisper-shouted “Is that normal?!?!”

That was nearly 10 years ago. My flight experiences now are very different. While I still (likely always will) deal with anxiety, my fear of flying is under control. It’s taken a while to get here though, and I know that many others suffer the same fears so I figured I’d share what has helped me get over my fear, and enjoy traveling.

  1. Know the statistics. This is one that Tony pushed on me, big time. Air travel is incredibly safe, with statistics putting the risk of death in air travel at 1 in 7 million. That’s far safer than train travel and traveling by car both of which I’ve done without hesitation.
  2. Identify yourself as a nervous traveler to a flight attendant. This was a little embarrassing the first time I did it, but I was so glad I did. When I was working remotely for a publishing company in Michigan and living in AZ, I had to fly to our headquarters for a training. I let the flight attendant know that I was afraid of air travel and she took such great care of me! She also told me to watch her, or any member of the crew, if anything was making me nervous. If they didn’t seem nervous, neither should I.
  3. Embrace distraction. Watch a movie that you’ve been wanting to see, read a book you’ve been excited to read, listen to your favorite music, strike up a conversation with the person you’re seated next to, sleep if you can — whatever! Do something to make the time pass so that you’re not just constantly thinking about the flight itself. Anything to make the time go faster is helpful!
  4. Concentrate on why you’re flying. Are you visiting family and friends that you haven’t seen in a long time? Are you about to visit a location you’ve always dreamed of seeing? Whatever the reason for your travel, when anxiety starts to creep in remind yourself the reason for your trip and that it will be worth it when you get there.
  5. Breathe. I took up yoga about a year ago, and one of the many benefits it has taught me is the power of deep, purposeful breathing. Concentrate on filling your lungs with air and slowly releasing. Deep breathing got me through a particularly difficult anxiety attack on a flight just this past fall. Slow, intentional breathing to get through the immediate pain and fear of anxiety.
  6. Upgrade your seat. I know this is not doable for everyone, but travel hacking has allowed us the opportunity to fly in business class a few times. Honestly, the flight experience just doesn’t compare with coach. Flying in business/first class is infinitely more comfortable, relaxing and enjoyable. So much of the stress of travel is alleviated when you sit in a premium seat, and man oh man does that help when you’re an anxious traveler. I can most often be found in a coach seat, but on the occasions that I’m in an upgraded seat, I find that I enjoy the flight. Particularly on the carriers boasting high levels of service (looking at you Etihad!), you will get off of that flight having eaten well, rested comfortably, and enjoyed the on board entertainment. Build up your travel points and then treat yourself to upgrades when you can!
  7. Have a baby. Flights became infinitely easier for me once I had Matteo because I was so busy worrying about his behavior and ensuring that he didn’t make the flight miserable for everyone else on the plane, that I didn’t have time or energy to think about all of things I was afraid of. So, if all else fails, have a baby!

The truth is if you want to pursue travel, flying is the most efficient way to get you from point A to point B. Most of us want to maximize our time at the location, rather than spending our vacation days getting to the location, and that means flying. So in order to see the world, and enjoy the world, you have to bite the bullet, take the risk, and get on the plane. I promise though, the more you do it the easier it gets!

Don’t let your fears dictate your life.

Spring in Copenhagen

For our first big trip of 2016, we are planning to make our way to Copenhagen for the last week of March during Tony’s Spring Break from work.  While Scandinavia may seem an odd choice for a trip in Spring, Copenhagen will be far less crowded than many warmer destinations (and if we wanted warm weather we could simply stay in Abu Dhabi).  For this trip we booked two separate, one way awards tickets via the One World Alliance program using American Airlines miles, and one ticket on Skyteam Alliance using Delta Skymiles.  The reason for the combination purchase simply boils down to award space availability, and trying to best utilize some of the miles we had in both accounts.

When we first started searching for flights, we found that there was extremely limited award space availability for our flight date in March to Copenhagen using Oneworld (American Airlines miles), and no availability using Star Alliance (United miles) so instead we opted to use Skyteam Alliance (Delta Skymiles) for the trip.  We were able to book Alitalia business class tickets to Copenhagen from via Abu Dhabi-Rome-Paris-Copenhagen.  

While, with two stopovers this route is not ideal, it was the only real option available to us if we wanted to book with award miles. To book, we combined Delta Skymiles that we had accumulated and then transferred some American Express membership rewards in to Skymiles at a 1:1 transfer rate. The transfer got us to the magic number of 42,000 miles per person, the going rate for the one way business class ticket. While this redemption is not quite as good as the American Airlines award price of 30,000 miles per one way in business class, it is still reasonable for us given the fact that we have built up many Skymiles in our Delta accounts. It also helps to consider that Delta no longer has a fixed award chart; they moved to a variable award chart that charges miles based on demand and occupancy at time of booking (something going against us at peak travel times like spring break). For the same trip to Copenhagen on other dates/times, the cost runs as high as 85,000 miles per person. The fees for this award trip were minimal and come to a total of only 260 AED ($71) for three tickets in business class. The price for this same one-way flight in business class is currently going for $6,560 — for the three tickets we would need, the total cost would be $19,680!

American Airlines policy allows one-way award ticket redemptions. The cost for a one way trip between the Middle East to Europe in business class runs 30,000. Between our two accounts we had just over 90,000 American miles and we figured this was a great time to splurge and spend an extra 10,000 miles per person to fly back Abu Dhabi in business class.  The route from Copenhagen to the UAE had much more award availability in both economy and business classes and we were able to find a great British Airways flight from Copenhagen to Dubai (with a brief stop in Heathrow) in their Club World business class seats.  The cash price for the ticket is $2,756.45 — consider again that we need three tickets and the cash price for the tickets would be $8,263.35 for our family. The only drawback to this route is that award flights through London come with higher fees than most award routes, meaning that each flight will cost us $235 in fee charges.  

Breaking down the costs of our spring break flights, we will fly business class to and from Copenhagen for an out of pocket cost of 127,000 skymiles, 90,000 AA miles, and a total of $776 in award fees. If we weren’t using points/awards, our total out of pocket cost for these flights would be $27,943.35.  Obviously we (and most others) would never consider of shelling out close to that much money for flights — it just  goes to show the tremendous value that on can capture by using miles and points to travel.

For our lodging in Copenhagen we decided to leverage a unique option with Ritz Carlton/Marriott Reward points program and purchase one of their “Flight+Hotel” packages.  Last year, we both signed up for the Ritz Carlton Visa card which on top of many benefits (lounge access, room upgrades, and airfare reimbursement each year), came with a hefty sign up  bonus of 140,000 points (each) last January.  The sign up bonus combined with points gained from some spending at Marriott last year meant that once we combined our points into one account (a perk allowed between spouses), we were sitting on a balance of 340,000 Marriott/Ritz Carlton Reward points.  This allowed us to book a package that includes seven nights in a Category 8 Marriott hotel (Marriott hotels are organized in to categories 1-9, with 1 requiring the fewest points to book and 9 requiring the most) as well as giving us 100,000 American Airlines miles.  This particular redemption was a good use of points because Copenhagen is a fairly expensive city to visit. Even though the end of March is far from peak season, the hotel rates at the time we booked were $295/night at the Copenhagen Marriott.  For a 7-night stay that equates to $2,065.  There are no award or resort fees for us to pay at this property and since we already achieved Marriott/Ritz Carlton “Gold” status (by having their credit card).  Our “gold status” also entitles us to a room upgrade based on availability, a late check out of 2:00 pm, and access to their executive lounge during our stay with breakfast, cocktails, and snacks for the entire week.  

As if all of that wasn’t enough, we booked our stay during the fall when American Airlines offered a 20% bonus for purchased miles — that means that we were credited 120,000 miles instead of the originally intended 100,000.  Lucky for us, 120,000 miles is the precise number of miles it takes to purchase three tickets to fly round trip to Europe from the Middle East (which will come in handy for our tentative plans to visit France for Christmas 2016).  To give you an idea of this value, consider that if you wanted to purchase 120,000 AA miles right now, the miles alone would cost $3,128 from American Airlines direct. 

This has been a somewhat lengthy and drawn out post, but the bottom line we want to drive home is that travel hacking WORKS! We have booked a luxurious trip to Copenhagen, flying business class, spending 7 nights at one of Mariott’s nicest European properties, and simultaneously banking the airlines points to pay for three round trip tickets to use on a later trip, all for under $800 out of pocket.  The price tag on this trip for the “rack rate” exceeds $30,000!  The credit card sign up bonuses and miles earned did convey some costs, but we have been able to gain enough utility from the credit card sign up fees to more than justify their use based solely on this trip. The ins and outs of these awards can be a bit difficult to understand at first; there is a lot of leg work up front to research best options based on schedule limitations and award availability, but in the end all of this time and effort will hopefully make for an amazing week in Scandanavia.

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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

Global Online Enrollment System

A few weeks ago Tony and I started the process of enrolling in the trusted travel program through the Global Online Enrollment System (GOES).The program in intended to allow international travelers to move quickly through the customs process and is intended specifically for low risk travelers. While it was created with frequent international travelers in mind, there is no minimum number of trips necessary to qualify for the program.

Getting enrolled in the program was a pretty easy, 3 step process. First, we enrolled in the GOES program via their website and completed the online application. The cost to submit is $100 and covers a 5 year period. You need to have your passport number available to enter as part of the application process. Once the application is submitted, the government will review the information while a background investigation is conducted. As long as your background check goes through, you’ll receive an email to set up an in person interview with a US. Customs & Border Protection officer at an Enrollment Center in the U.S. before final approval is granted. At the interview, you’ll be asked some basic questions similar to what you answered on the initial application, the officer will photograph you, and he/she will take your fingerprints. Your fingerprints will be checked right then and there, and within a few minutes (as long as all comes back clear) you’ll be done — and you’ll officially be enrolled in the program.

We were both able to schedule our interviews quickly and were able to go to our local airport, Phoenix Sky Harbor, to complete the process. It took about an hour total — that includes parking and finding the office, and I was on my way. Well worth a faster time through security and customs in the future.

For more information on the program: https://help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/1035/~/global-entry-program—who-can-apply

FYI — the officer who helped me told me that United Airlines is going to be sending all of its employees for enrollment, so if you have a United hub in your area and are interested in enrolling, don’t wait. They’re expecting wait times to jump to 3 months in the Phoenix area!