Monday, April 30, 2012

The Big Finagle Part 2: Using the Stopover to Bundle Trips

This is the second in a multi-part series on getting the most of your AA frequent flier points for those just looking to get there in coach, and not particularly concerned about flying business or first class.

Part 1:  Award chart sweet spots
Part 2:  This page

When Daraius interviewed me recently, he asked me what I now know that I wish I had known when I started collecting points and miles.  My response was:
I also only fully understood the power of an AA international stopover only a few weeks before we left for Paris.  Had I realized this when we booked our reservation, we could have looped in one-way tickets to Hawaii on the return end to use later this year.  Doh!  By the time I understood this, the change fees would have made it not worth it.  I was really kicking myself for letting that one slip by.
I've gotten multiple questions to explain what I was talking about.  Here is the post some of you seem to be waiting for.  In this post we will attempt to book a one-way flight using a stopover, which is a way to effectively get two separate one-way flights on a single international travel award.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Big Finagle Part 1: Award Chart Sweet Spots

This is the first in a multi-part series on getting the most of your AA frequent flier points for those just looking to get there in coach, and not particularly concerned about flying business or first class.

Part 1:  This Page
Part 2:  Using the International Stopover to Bundle Trips

If you have ever flown on Southwest or Jet Blue and are reading this, you know what coach feels like and you somehow managed to survive it. Congratulations, you can handle the rough and tumble of life without the constant coddling that those delicate, high-maintenance flowers up front require.  If you are like me, you will use your hardiness to your advantage and save your miles.  (There is one exception to this rule.)

If you are looking to get the most bang for your points buck, the first thing you want to do is look at the award chart and find the "sweet spots".  Since most of us have earned our points through American Airlines AAdvantage program credit card promotions, I will use that as an example, but you could apply the same methodology to any program.

Monday, April 23, 2012 upgraded

As of this weekend, you can now apparently book Hawaiian and British Airways flights using your aa miles on

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Coming Soon: A post on AA International Stopovers

Since I got my 15 seconds of fame on Daraius' interview this past Friday, I've received many questions about the international stopover.  I'm currently preparing a post on this, but it will take a fair amount of research, since I'm learning about it now.  There are a lot of ins and outs of the rules, and I want to take the time to understand it and include as much correct information as possible.  I should be able to post it in a few weeks, so stay tuned!

In the meantime, I'll be finishing up the series on traveling to vegas with kids.

Taking the Kids to Vegas? Really? Part 5: Deals and Finagles

This is the fifth in the series "Taking the Kids to Vegas?  Really?"

Part 1:  Intro and Helpful Hints
Part 2:  What to Do
Part 3:  Where to Stay
Part 4:  Where to Eat
Part 5:  This Page
Part 6:  Slot Clubs and Positive-Expectation Promotions

How to be a Savvy Consumer in Las Vegas

There are a number of things you can do to save money during your Vegas vacation. Perhaps more than my other posts, you can use these approaches whether or not you are coming with kids.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Welcome Fellow Point Mavens

A warm welcome, hello and thank you to all of you who are also privy to Daraius' Million Mile Secrets.  I've learned plenty of tips and tricks from Daraius and the rest of my fellow active participants in the community.

Thanks also to the Points Guy for first introducing me to the notion of amassing significant volumes of airline points through credit cards, to MileValue for answering my toughest questions on the minutiae of AAadvantage rules, to my good friend Nancy for her constructive criticism, and especially, to my dear wife Nancy (no relation) and my kids for their tolerance of this hobby/chore/obsession.

Thanks to all of you, my wife and I were able to take a trip last month that I hadn't expected to be able to afford for at least ten years.  Now our only constraint is my time off from work.

You may have seen my comments on other blogs under my now-blown cover "zzd".  If you didn't like those, you probably won't like this blog.  This is a bit different in that I try to cover ways to save money on traveling in various ways, including but not limited to using points.

If I felt like I got any kind of a good deal - or could have, had I played my cards right - I include a section at the bottom of the post under the heading The Finagle in which I try my best to explain how to get the deal.

You may be interested in the series of posts that cover our recent trip to Paris, or perhaps the series (still in progress) about traveling to Las Vegas with your children - something most Las Vegas web sites, and many people, seem to ignore or harrumph.

Here are links to the series.  If you know anyone who might benefit from this information, feel free to share.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Taking the Kids to Vegas? Really? Part 4: Where to Eat

This is the fourth in the series "Taking the Kids to Vegas?  Really?"
Part 1:  Intro and Helpful Hints
Part 2:  What to Do
Part 3:  Where to Stay
Part 4:  This page
Part 5:  Deals and finagles 
Part 6:  Slot clubs and positive-expectation promos 

Vegas No Longer Equals Cheap Eats

The $8.99 lobster dinner and $1 chuck wagon buffet are things of the past.    The Strip is no longer the domain of cheap eats intended to lure gamblers into the casino.  Nowadays, restaurants are bona fide profit centers, in some places generating more income than the casino.  

It is easy to spend a fortune on food in Las Vegas, although you don't have to.  Generally speaking, the more time you spend eating in restaurants on the strip, the more money you will spend on food.  

In addition to steering your business away from the Strip, another very fruitful tactic for saving money on food is through the use of coupons.  I will cover this in Part 5 of the series.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Reno Intermezzo

Any bottom-feeder should recognize the smell of blood, and attack accordingly.   Wait, that's not quite right.  Bottom feeders scavenge for things that nobody else wants.  That is where we step in.

Both our kids have today off from school, for some reason.  (Easter Monday?  The oft-disrespected third day of Passover?)  Since I can telecommute today, we took a spontaneous trip up to Reno, Nevada.  Actually Sparks, just east of Reno.  We come here a couple times a year with our kids.  It's very easy to get to from Sacramento, 2 hours' drive up Interstate 80.  There isn't a whole lot to see here, but it's fun to get out of town and stay in a hotel, and hotels here are about the cheapest anywhere, especially Sunday through Thurday nights.  We have some friends up here who we will be meeting for lunch later.

I also like staying in casino hotels because I am something of an insomniac, and at a casino I know I can always come downstairs and read, blog about nothing, etc. while the family sleeps.  When I get really desperate I can play nickel video poker.  5 dollars lasts more than long enough for me to want to get back to sleep.

If we have time, we'll stop and play in the snow for a bit on the drive home late this afternoon.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Taking the Kids to Vegas? Really? Part 3: Where to Stay

This is the third in the series "Taking the Kids to Vegas?  Really?"
Part 1:  Intro and Helpful Hints
Part 2:  What to Do
Part 3:  this page
Part 4:  Where to eat 
Part 5:  Deals and finagles 
Part 6:  Slot clubs and positive-expectation promos 

Where Not to Stay

  • Anywhere on the Las Vegas Strip.  
  • Downtown.
  • Circus Circus or Excalibur.  
This may fly in the face of any instinct you ever had about going to Vegas.

Where to Stay

Your best options are:

  • Off-Strip Hotels
  • Timeshare Resorts
Which one to choose depends on how long you will be there and what your priorities are.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Taking the Kids to Vegas? Really? Part 2: What to Do

This is the second in the series "Taking the Kids to Vegas?  Really?"

Part 1:  Intro and Helpful Hints
Part 2:  This page
Part 3:  Where to stay
Part 4:  Where to eat
Part 5:  Deals and Finagles 

Part 6:  Slot Clubs and positive-expectation promos 

This is primarily directed to families with children 10 and under, although many of the activities can be enjoyed by people of all ages simply looking for a break from the casinos.

What to Do with your Kids in Las Vegas

Let's start with the most important lesson of all:

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Taking the Kids to Vegas? Really? Part 1: Tips, Tricks, and Transportation

This is the first in the series "Taking the Kids to Vegas?  Really?"

Part 1:  This Page
Part 2:  What to Do
Part 3:  Where to Stay
Part 4:  Where to Eat
Part 5:  Deals and finagles

Part 6:  Slot clubs and positive-value promos 

Taking the Kids to Vegas?  Really?


If you are anything like me, going to Vegas is not something you want to do.  It's something you need to do, like eating or using the restroom, only the urge comes about once every six months.

Now that you have kids (in my case, young kids, aged 4 and 7) if you say you want to take the family to Vegas, are you finding that everyone is telling you to go to Disneyland instead?

Ignore the haters.  You still can go to Vegas.  But it really helps to know a few things that can make the difference between a really crappy trip that made you wish you had held your nose and gone to Disneyland, and a great trip that makes you want to come back next year.

Here's a secret: kids love vegas.  Just like I did when I was a kid.  After all, it's a city full of video games.  The only catch is that they aren't allowed to play them.

Ok, maybe not all kids love Vegas, but ours definitely do, because they have a great time, and we do too.

The thing to remember is, going to Vegas with kids can be a fun experience, but it's not the same experience that you had when you were going with the guys or the girls.  However, you can still capture a little of that "magic" as long as you are also willing to set aside a good amount of time for the magic of child-rearing.

I'll start in this post about some useful tips about traveling to Vegas, and what to do with your kids when in Las Vegas.  Over several more posts, I'll continue the series, posting suggestions on where to stay, family-friendly restaurants, and ways to save money, honed over at least five trips with kids in tow.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Caveat Emptor: Some Deals are Too Good to be True

Update 4/5/12:  It appears that Exotic Escapes has cancelled this deal and issued refunds to all buyers.

Several of the Vegas blogs and discussion groups have been discussing this deal  that was offered in the last few weeks on Living Social:

For $149 Sunday-Thursday or $289 Friday-Saturday, you get:

  • Room for 2 at the Plaza Hotel in downtown Las Vegas
  • Four live show tickets
  • $300 in slot play
  • One in-room massage
  • Daily $25 breakfast credit at Island Sushi and Grill 

Blog Pivot: To America

This blog started with an anomalous event in our lives.  We very much enjoyed our trip to Paris, but it was not at all typical of the trips we take, except that it wasn't very expensive.

Going forward, the blog will focus on the type of travel we usually do.  Namely, travel within the lower 48 states, and possibly occasional very short visits to British Columbia or Mexico.  The key topics we will be covering generally include traveling for cheap.  As before, I'll try to point out the finagles and deals we used and hope that my descriptions are clear enough for you to replicate the experience if they really sound all that interesting.

I have a full-time job that does not require much travel, so I don't have the time to travel anywhere near as much as some bloggers.  When I do travel, it is usually with my family, during my daughter's school vacation periods: one week each in March, October, and November; two weeks in December; and two months off in the summer.

A fair amount of the cheap travel we do is to Las Vegas. Some people blow a fortune there, but we usually don't.

We also are usually traveling with our children, so the posts will cover those topics also.

To answer your next question:  Yes.  We usually take our kids with us to Las Vegas.  This will be covered.

I hope you find this helpful.  Please offer constructive suggestions in the comments.