Award Space Home from the Great Wall

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I had a blast spending 70 hours in Beijing with my brother this week using the 72-Hour Visa-Free Transit rule.

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on a section of the “wild” Great Wall near Jiankou

The rule requires you to enter China from one country and leave China to a third country within 72 hours among other requirements.

Since the time you can spend in Beijing under the rule is so limited, I would not fly directly from the United States to China, starting the clock when you’ll be severely jet lagged. We started our Asian trip in Hong Kong and got over jet lag there, so when we flew to Beijing (same time zone), we could hit the ground running.

Since starting in Beijing is not recommended, I looked at award space next May for awards returning from Beijing to the United States. Why May? The temperature was perfect for us in September, and May has similar weather. (September 2015 will be bookable next month.)

There are a number of direct flights from Beijing to the United States and Canada on Air China, United, Air Canada, and American Airlines that I’ll look at in this post. I’ll ignore the Delta flights because they can’t be booked one way until January 2015.

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  • How is award space for two people from Beijing to the United States in May 2015?
  • What miles can you use to book the flights?

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How the 72 Hour Transit Without Visa Works in Beijing China

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Visa entry requirement change frequently. I will not update this post. Check travel.state.gov for the latest information.

I just spent 70 hours in the Beijing area without a visa using China’s 72-hour Visa-Free Transit rules.

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As a recap, 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

The key one not to overlook is that “third country” rule. You cannot fly into Beijing from one country and fly right back to that same country. For instance, New York to Beijing to Los Angeles doesn’t work. New York to Tokyo to Beijing to New York does work.

  • How did the 72 Hour Visa Free Transit work?
  • What did we do upon arrival?
  • Are Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau “third countries” for the purpose of the visa?
  • What did we squeeze into 70 hours?
  • Do I recommend using the 72-Hour Visa-Free Transit program?

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American Airlines Best Business and First Class on New Route

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American Airlines’ best Business and First Class are both found on the 777-300ER, its newest international plane.

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The 777-300ER features fully flat beds in Business Class and First Class, plus a walk up bar on board for the folks up front. So far the plane is flying 1-2 frequencies a day on some of American Airlines’ routes to London and Sao Paulo.

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The plane will also fly Miami to Sao Paulo from November 6 to December 1 of this year.

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American Airlines and US Airways’ award charts are the cheapest around at the moment, so it’s a great deal to get a new and world-class product like American Airlines has put on its 777-300ERs for 50k miles each way in Business Class to Europe or Brazil or 62,500 miles in First Class.

  • How is award space in Business Class and First Class from Miami to Sao Paulo while the 777-300ER takes over one frequency?
  • How is award space in Business Class and First Class on the other 777-300ER routes?

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More United Options to Brazil, Azul Adds Flights to USA

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United partner Azul, a Brazilian low cost carrier, is adding flies to the United States in December 2014.Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 6.20.17 PM

  • December 1, 2014: Viracopos-Campinas (VCP) to Fort Lauderdale (FLL)
  • December 15, 2014: Viracopos-Campinas (VCP) to Orlando (MCO)

Note that Viracopos-Campinas is often called a Sao Paulo airport. It is about 50 miles from the city center and farther away than Sao Paulo’s other international airport (GRU.)

These new American destinations are in addition to the 100+ destinations served in Brazil.

You can book Azul flight with United miles. Azul’s planes are in an all-economy configuration, and United charges 30,000 miles each way between the United States and Brazil.

  • How is the Azul experience?
  • How can you book Azul flights with United miles?
  • Where does Azul fly to from Viracopos airport?

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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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Hike to Sai Wan Village, Sheung Luk Stream, Hong Kong

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A few days ago, I hiked to Sai Wan Village and Sheung Luk Stream in Hong Kong on the advice of an American friend who’d done the hike last year. The hike, lunch, and cliff jumping made for my favorite day of activities in Hong Kong and a stark contrast from the urban activities that dominate Central and Kowloon.

The Sai Wan Village hike is quite famous with even a CNN article on the topic, but I couldn’t find one site with good directions, photos, and maps of the hike to Sai Wan village and Sheung Luk stream, so hopefully this post can be that resource as well as a trip report to inspire you for your next trip to Hong Kong.

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Jumping in at Sheung Luk

The hike is an easy 45 minutes to one hour in each direction along a fully paved path. The main issue is the omnipresent heat and humidity in Hong Kong.

Along the way, you’re treated to views of the High Island Reservoir, and at the end of the path is a spectacular beach and ocean, a fishing village with delicious Chinese food, and a stream with natural pools and waterfalls.

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High Island Reservoir, from the trail

  • How do you get to the trailhead?
  • How do you get to the waterfall?
  • What are your return options?
  • Plus more pictures.

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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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Arrival Miles Can Be Used to Pay Airline Taxes and Fees

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Arrival miles are good for so much more than just airfare. You can also use them to offset fees that airlines charge or even the taxes on award tickets.

Any purchase you make from an airline should code as travel, which means you can redeem Arrival miles from the Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard® to remove the purchase from your card’s account balance.

After my brother and I used his Arrival miles to get a $571 airbnb stay in Seoul for free, we looked at what was left in his account.

He had two other travel purchases that he could redeem miles against: $64.20 from United and $30 from Hawaiian Airlines.

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The United charge was the taxes on his award ticket to Asia. The Hawaiian charge was the change fee on an interisland flight when he decided to cut short a trip to the Big Island.

Many programs like Ultimate Rewards, ThankYou Points, and FlexPoints allow you to redeem points for a free ticket on any airline. Arrival miles from the Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard® go one step further allowing redemptions for any travel expense including these airline taxes and fees.

  • How did we redeem his miles for the taxes and fees?
  • What decision did I make to save him $1 (he owes me a Frosty!)?
  • Does this mean you can use Arrival miles to offset the cost of buying airline miles during miles sales?

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Six Under-Priced Awards on the United Airlines Chart

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As promised in yesterday’s post on the Five Under-Priced Awards on the American Airlines Chart, today I’ll post six under-priced awards on the United chart.

The basic premise of these posts and my post on the Coolest Thing You Can Do with 60,000 Miles was connecting far-flung regions into a single trip by taking advantage of under-priced awards between the regions.

Why American and United awards? Because they can be booked as one way awards, and these THINK BIG trips allow you to see more by booking a series of cheap one way awards.

I’m including the cheapest one way international awards between non-American regions only because the cheapest international awards from the United States are better known.

Hopefully seeing cheap ways to get between South America and Africa or East Asia and Fiji will spur you to THINK BIG and come up with a really creative trip that incorporates both places.

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1. Economy Class: 10,000 Miles Between Central America and Northern South America

or 20,000 miles in Business Class

Between Central America and Northern South America (Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela), you can fly for only 10,000 United miles in economy or 20,000 in business.

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United partners have hubs in El Salvador, Colombia, Peru, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Panama, so finding award space is a cinch.

This award could be the way to combine Central America, the Galapagos and South America on a single trip. THINK BIG.

  • What are the other top six under-priced awards on the United Airlines chart? Pay special attention to five and six!

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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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Five Under-Priced Awards on the American Airlines Chart

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Yesterday’s post on the Coolest Thing You Can Do with 60,000 Miles was a hit, so I thought I’d follow up with how you can create your own THINK BIG itineraries with miles.

The basic premise of that post was connecting far-flung regions into a single trip by taking advantage of under-priced awards between the regions. In that vein, I’ll post some under-priced awards between international regions from the American Airlines chart today and United chart tomorrow.

AA Award Chart, Spot the Value

AA Award Chart, Spot the Value

Why American and United awards? Because they can be booked as one way awards, and these THINK BIG trips allow you to see more by booking a series of one way awards.

I’m including the cheapest one way international awards between non-American regions only because the cheapest international awards from the United States are better known.

Hopefully seeing cheap ways to get between East Asia and Australia or Europe and the Maldives will spur you to THINK BIG and come up with a really creative trip that incorporates both places.

1. First Class: 40,000 Miles Between Europe and India, Maldives, Middle East

or 30,000 miles in Business Class

American groups the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, and the Maldives into one region, and then it under-prices many awards to and from the region!

Between Europe and the Middle East, India, or Maldives is only 30,000 American Airlines miles in Business Class and 40,000 miles in First Class.

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Key routes to consider are Dubai to London on a Qantas A380 and Abu Dhabi to London with Etihad. Both feature absolute world class First Class products for the same price as you’d expect to pay for domestic First Class to Hawaii!

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7hr30min of A380 First Class for 40,000 miles

You can use these under-priced awards to get between Europe and Asia on a round-the-world trip.

  • What are the other top five under-priced awards on the American Airlines chart?

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Last Chance on Three 50k Delta Cards

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Expired

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The Coolest Thing You Can Do with 60k Miles

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Last week I urged people to be realistic with their miles and listed The Easiest Places to Get with Miles. Today I’m telling you to dream big and to look to do things with miles that you couldn’t easily or cheaply do without miles.

For instance, for 60,000 miles, you can book yourself a “triangle trip” that lets you practice your Spanish in Chile and Spain. The trip would let you see the wildlife of Patagonia and the nightlife of Barcelona.

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How many thousands of dollars would a similar trip cost? Could you even have dared to dream about such a routing before you knew the power of your miles?

The routing I’ll talk about relies on three discounted awards, and award space is plentiful on all routes. Best of all, you can live anywhere in the continental United States to take advantage, and you can customize the destinations to your taste.

  • What three discounted awards combine to form the legs of this triangle trip?
  • What 60,000 miles do you need? How can you get them?

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Review: United In Flight Entertainment on Your Own Device

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Yesterday, I flew a United 777-200 equipped with the carrier’s latest entertainment concept: I could freely stream hundreds of movies and TV shows on my own laptop or United’s iOS app. (Hemispheres magazine said that Android compatibility is coming soon.)

I had never seen a system like it, and it seems like the wave of the future as it’s much lighter for United to remove all of its monitors and let us use our own.

I tested out the system by watching the fantastic Searching for Sugar Man documentary on my laptop on my flight from Honolulu to Guam.

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  • How did I like the personal streaming entertainment?
  • What would I improve?
  • How many TV shows and movies were available?
  • Was there internet on my flight?
  • What has United done with all its monitors?

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Can You Use Arrival Miles for Free Airbnb Stays

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Can you use Arrival miles to get free lodging from airbnb, the easiest way to rent someone else’s apartment while you travel?

I talked my brother into getting the Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard® earlier this year for the same reasons that I got one, the big sign up bonus and the two miles per dollar on all purchases. He quickly spent $3,000 in the first 3 months to unlock 40,000 bonus miles. That 46,000 miles–40,000 bonus plus 6,000 from spending–is worth $500 in free flights, hotels, car rentals, and more.

We are in Hong Kong now as part of two week trip through Asia. We’re using my cheapskate lodging techniques, avoiding hotels altogether with nights in airbnb, a hostel, and a Chinese farmer’s house.

He booked us five nights in Seoul through airbnb for $571. I told him to make sure that he booked the stay with his Arrival Plus, so we could test whether he could redeem Arrival miles (link) for an offsetting statement credit.

  • Were we able to redeem Arrival miles for a free airbnb stay?

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