Category Archives: Travel Style

How Rich Would I Need to Be to Buy First Class

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I’m sitting in the Asiana First Class Lounge in Seoul, about to fly one of the newest and hopefully best First Class products in the world on the Asiana A380.

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First Class Suite on Asiana A380

I booked the ticket for 70,000 United miles and around $150 all in because you can still book awards at the old pre-devaluation United award prices.

On a whim, I checked the cash price for the ticket. United is selling today’s Asiana flight for 3.7 million Korean won, about $3,560 one way in First Class.

Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 12.58.45 PMI am actually surprised that the flight isn’t much more expensive. This year I flew Cathay Pacific First Class from New York to Hong Kong for 67,500 American Airlines miles and $27.50. A similar flight goes for $11,271 one way if you buy it from American Airlines (oddly $5,000 cheaper than buying the Cathay Pacific flight from Cathay Pacific.)

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These eye-popping prices made me think: How rich would I need to be before I bought these flights with cash?

  • How rich would you need to be before you bought First Class with cash?
  • Why do I redeem miles for First Class instead of economy?

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Top Five Countries I Still Want to Visit

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I’ve passed the 50 country mark this year, but there’s still so much more of the world I want to see. I gave some thought to the top five countries I haven’t visited yet that I most want to see, and how and when I’ll fit them in, and I’ll share that here.

Sometimes my trip planning happens for reasons other than the country being at the top of my list:

  • There’s a mistake fare or cheap award.
  • There’s an incredible First Class product I want to fly.
  • I want to check a new region off my list.
  • I want to meet up with a traveling friend.

Those are all valid reasons for a trip or two, but I want to refocus and visit the countries where I think I’ll have the most fun and learn the most.

Beyond just thinking about going there, I’m coming up with a time and type of miles to use. Just the act of making a plan makes it more likely I’ll follow through and finally get to these places.

1. Colombia: October 2014

I remember the rumblings when I was on the gringo backpackers trail through Peru in the summer of 2007. Most of the backpackers had not been to Colombia as the country had had a terrible reputation for killings, kidnappings, and terrorism for years, but the few who had been were unanimous: Colombia was their favorite country of the trip.

Everyone had a different reason–Cartagena and the Caribbean, the mountains, the nightlife–but everyone agreed. The seeds were planted then, but somehow I never got around to seeing Colombia even as I visited farther afield countries like Paraguay and Bolivia.

Colombia has been at the top of my wish list since 2011 when I had a big map of South America on my wall and sketched a possible trip where I’d land in Maracaibo, Venezuela, cross the border to Colombia and do a trek to the Ciudad Perdida, visit Cartagena, Bogota, Cali, and Medellin, then head home.

from http://www.ciudadperdidatour.com/informacion-ciudad-perdida/galeria-fotos-ciudad-perdida/

from http://www.ciudadperdidatour.com/informacion-ciudad-perdida/galeria-fotos-ciudad-perdida/

Back then, a great deal came up on a cash ticket to see East Africa and Turkey, so I scrapped the Colombia plan.

When I found out I’d have a perfect 2.5 week travel window this October, I knew where I wanted to go. I plan to travel to Bogota for the entire time to embrace slow travel and getting to really know one place instead of rushing through three (though I like rapid travel too.) I am expecting to love Colombia and to visit the rest of the places on my lost 2011 itinerary on future trips.

I’ll book my trip with American Airlines miles because of what commenters said in this thread.

  • What’s the rest of my top five countries I still haven’t visited?

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How to Get Free Food on United Flights

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Last week I flew United economy for eight hours from Honolulu to Guam. I shared how I got my own row in economy for a long and comfortable nap.

I also got free food on the flight.

There are a few sure-fire ways to get free food on United flights:

  • Fly first class or business class; Economy Plus doesn’t count.
  • Fly an international route that offers free food in economy.

I didn’t do any of that. I was just given free food from the buy onboard snacks by accident. But the process might be repeatable, so I’ll share it.

  • What did I get for free?
  • Is it repeatable?

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How to Get Your Own Row in United Economy

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A few days ago I flew from Honolulu to Guam in United economy and got myself five seats in a row, so I could sleep during the flight.

Even at 6’4″, I only needed four consecutive seats for sleep. I raised the arm rests, collected a few pillows and blankets, and had some great sleep for a few hours after take off. Then I switched off with my brother and he napped for a few hours.

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  • How did I maximize my chances of getting an entire row?
  • How does a row in economy compare to one First Class seat?
  • How was my sleep?

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What Cards Did I Bring to Brazil?

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I landed in Brazil a few minutes ago to see the World Cup in person. It’s a short trip, so I packed lightly including when it came to which cards to bring.

I only brought four cards:

  • Two credit cards
  • One debit card
  • One membership card

The cards are going to earn me miles, get me lounge access, and save me ATM fees in order to make my trip cheaper and more comfortable.

  • Which cards do I carry for international travel?
  • Why did I bring each one?

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How to Throw the Most Exclusive Party that People Will Talk about All Year

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Moses Storm was caught up in the pretension of Los Angeles and felt the need for his birthday bash to be memorable. He mused: “Ideally…[a cool party] is something everybody’s talking about, it has very high security, and it’s exclusive. And what place do more people talk about with higher security that’s more exclusive that Los Angeles International Airport?”

The video is hilarious throughout.

I first saw the video on BuzzFeed, but I actually know Moses from my time in Los Angeles, so then I went to facebook to see if he had invited me to this ultra-exclusive event, and he had. Full facebook invitation below the fold:

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HELP! Can I transit Beijing for 72 hours on my way to Hong Kong or Taiwan?

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Hopefully everyone has heard that you can stay in China for 72 hours without a visa if:

  • you fly into Beijing (PEK), Shanghai (PVG or SHA), Guangzhou (CAN), or Chengdu (CTU)
  • fly out of the same airport
  • stay in the city/province the entire time
  • arrive with an onward ticket to a third country departing less than 72 hours after arrival
  • hold a passport from one of 51 countries including the United States

Here’s what the U.S. State Department says about transiting without a visa:

“If Beijing Capital, Shanghai Pudong, Guangzhou Baiyun, or Chengdu Shuangliu airport is your international transit point, you may stay in mainland China for 72 hours without a Chinese visa if you have: a valid passport, a visa for your third country destination, an onward plane ticket departing from the same airport, and you remain in the same municipality/province in which you entered,.  Make sure you get an endorsement stamp at the immigration desk before you leave the airport.”

The Chinese Embassy’s site basically says the same thing except they add Shanghai’s other airport to the list of airports where you can enter without a visa for 72 hours.

But what I have not seen defined anywhere is what qualifies as a third country.

The requirement of heading to a third country from China basically means that you cannot fly Los Angeles to Beijing and then back to the United States without getting a Chinese visa. Nor can you fly from Los Angeles to Beijing and then on to Shanghai without a Chinese visa.

What I want to do is fly from the United States to Beijing and then on to either Taiwan or Hong Kong within 72 hours.

Does Taiwan or Hong Kong count as a “third country” for the purposes of transiting Beijing without visa?

I ask because I know that the official Chinese position is that both are part of China.

Please help me out if you have transited China for under 72 hours without a visa on your way to Hong Kong or Taiwan or if you can link to a definitive source saying whether it’s OK.

Thanks!



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Best Passports for Visa-Free Travel

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I really like my passport. It’s gotten me into almost 50 countries and has a great plea from John Kerry to would-be annoyers:

“The Secretary of State of the United States of America hereby requests all whom it may concern to permit the citizen of the United States named herein to pass without delay or hindrance and in case of need to give all lawful aid and protection.”

For almost all the countries I’ve visited, I just showed up at the border and handed over my passport to get in, sometimes having to pay for a visa on arrival that cost $20 to $100 (Tanzania!).

I’ve only had to do something other than show up three times:

  • Australia required filling out an Electronic Travel Authority form in advance online and paying 20 AUD.
  • Argentina required paying $160 in advance online and printing out the receipt. That payment is good for 10 years.
  • Paraguay required a $160 visa from an embassy in advance. (I got mine in Argentina for only about $100 due to currency arbitrage.)

Having a United States passport is excellent for travel since so few countries require a cumbersome visa for Americans to enter. Even when you do need a visa, it’s usually pretty automatic to get and just takes planning and money.

But we don’t have the best passport for visa-free travel. Which countries do? Where does the US rank? Which are the worst passports for access?

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My Second Best Travel Tip (Don’t Get Lost Abroad)

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I actually haven’t ranked my travel tips, but I love this one because it’s super simple and saves me from getting lost all around the world.

But it’s not my #1 travel tip, which would probably be “use miles” or “travel more” or “travel solo” or something like that.

It may not even be my #2 travel tip because you can save a lot of money with these two:

Anyway, here’s how I avoid getting lost worldwide when I don’t have cell phone data. I used this trick in Slovenia last month because T-Mobile doesn’t offer free data there, and I’ve used it to navigate the dusty streets and alleys of Kampala, Uganda without issue.

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How to Get Free Texts and Cell Phone Data (Almost) Worldwide

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T-Mobile offers an incredible deal for travelers. All of their monthly plans offer free text messages and mobile data in over 120 countries worldwide.

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On previous trips, I’ve done everything from buy a local SIM card in every country to pay AT&T upfront for way-overpriced international phone, text, and data packages. On this round-the-world trip, I kept my phone and phone number and got free text messaging and mobile data in five of the six countries I visited. In all my trips abroad, this was the most stress-free when it came to staying connected.

How does the T-Mobile plan work? What countries does it cover? What was my experience?

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How Did I Just Learn This Awesome Trick To Get More Space in Coach

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I fly a lot of flights in economy class. While all my longhauls are in business or first, when I fly domestically or hop around Southeast Asia, Europe, or Australia, it’s almost always in coach.

It’s just not worth using airline miles to book short flights in first class. I prefer to book cheap economy flight with Arrival miles and save my airline miles for international first class.

Last week I read an article called “30 Pilots And Flight Attendants Confess Their Best Kept Secrets,” and one of the secrets was actually an amazing tip I can’t believe I didn’t already know.

It won’t quite give you this much space in economy, but it does make flying in the back a little more comfortable.

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Cathay Pacific First Class

How have I given myself more room in economy this week?

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How I Pay Zero ATM Fees Worldwide

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During my recent trip to New York, Macau, Singapore, Cambodia, England, Slovenia, and Germany, I had a wallet full of six currencies. For my several stops at ATMs, I paid zero ATM fees.

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I didn’t pay a fee to the bank that owned the ATM. I didn’t pay a fee to my bank for using some other bank’s ATM. And I didn’t pay a transaction fee for taking out foreign currency.

With all that fee avoiding, I saved at least $50. If I save $50 per trip for the foreseeable future, that will add up to quite a lot more money in my pocket.

The secret to the savings was opening a Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account. The account is free to open, has no account minimum, and no monthly service fees. Once you have the account, Schwab will never charge you an ATM fee no matter what ATM you use to access your money, and it will cover any fee that the ATM owner charges you.

The opening of the account may require a hard pull on your credit report. I don’t see one on my credit report, but other people do report seeing a credit pull.

How do you open one? What is my experience with the account and ATM card?

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My Top Ten Countries for Travel

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I’ve had the good fortune to travel to 44 countries on six continents, many in the last two years since starting the blog.

I rarely write about my trips because I’m better at writing about how you can earn and redeem frequent flyer miles for your dream trips. And there are other blogs where people give actual travel tips.

But the week I’ve spent in Cambodia has been so fantastic that I want to share the top ten foreign countries that I’ve enjoyed the most.

What are my top ten? What are the best miles to use to get to them?

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Six Thoughts on Six Months in Buenos Aires

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Most of this post was written in August as I left Buenos Aires, but I’ve edited it today. Thus the perspective is a mix of my perspective as I was leaving and my perspective as time has passed.

I arrived in Buenos Aires on February 19 with three 50-pound checked bags and two carry ons having flown from Los Angeles in American Airlines First Class. I’m typing this up on August 9 from the Star Alliance lounge at Ezeiza International Airport about to board South African business class to Johannesburg with one backpack and one overflow shoulder bag. (I’m cheating a little, but I am a one-bag evangelist.)

Trip Report: South African Business Class from Buenos Aires to Johannesburg

Other than 10 days in Paraguay and Uruguay, I’ve spent the last six months in Argentina. I took short trips to Bariloche and Iguazu, but I mainly spent the time in the Palermo Hollywood neighborhood of Buenos Aires.

Here are my six takeaways from six months in a distant land.

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Six Countries, Seven Cities, Seven Flights, Six Days on One 12,500 Mile Award In Progress

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One of my most popular posts was How to See Seven Cities in Europe on One 12,500 Mile Award.

In that post from June, I explained how to use the 23-hour layover trick to see seven (or more) cities on one United award for only 12,500 miles plus taxes (of $155 in this case.)

I am in Rome, heading to Brussels tomorrow, so I am already done with three of my goals for the week.

  • party in Zagreb–check!
  • cliff jump in Dubrovnik–check! (see below)
  • see the Colosseum in Rome–check!
  • hang out at the Grand-Place in Brussels
  • check out a fjord in Oslo
  • get into trouble in Amsterdam
  • and get to Munich in time for the end of Oktoberfest.

Here’s the route I’ll be taking visually:


I was apprehensive when I started this week of travel that it would be exhausting and I would see nothing except airports and hotels. I didn’t want this to just be about checking countries off a list to impress people later. I really wanted to do the best one to three activities in each place that I could fit into 23 hours.

So far Dubrovnik and Rome have been complete successes, and I have high hopes of having an over-topped waffle tomorrow in Brussels. I may be exhausted in a few days, but for now, I am very happy with this crazy award.

If you have any tips for fun things that I can do in one day in each city, please share them in the comments.

And make sure to check out How to See Seven Cities in Europe on One 12,500 Mile Award.

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Here’s a video of my cliff jumping today at sunset. I apologize for the videographers’ shrieks. There’s just something about a man cliff jumping apparently.



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