Travel Hacking Part I – Earning Miles

Machu Picchu

Marcel and I earn a lot of airline miles without actually flying. As a result, we rarely have to pay for tickets these days. Many friends and family have asked me about this and I finally got a chance to write some things down about how we do it. Enjoy!

Summary: Travel hacking is a way to travel at a significantly low cost using miles and points earned mostly without actually flying.
Some people get really serious and earn millions of miles. We try to maintain a hundred or two hundred thousand miles with minimal effort.
Personally, I just enjoy accumulating miles like a savings account.

Here are some reference websites but if you get overwhelmed with all the information, skip them for now and read our method below.

http://chrisguillebeau.com/3×5/beginners-guide-to-travel-hacking/
for inspiration and ideas
http://thepointsguy.com/
to find the latest deals
http://www.flyertalk.com/
forum for general questions

This is how we did it for the last 2-3 years:

1. We signed up for two frequent flyer programs to access the most frequently used airlines.
American Airlines with partners listed here: http://www.staralliance.com/en/about/member_airlines/
United Airlines with partners listed here: http://www.oneworld.com/member-airlines/overview
The partner airlines are very important because you can redeem your miles from any of the listed airlines.

2. We checked out the best credit card deals http://thepointsguy.com/top-deals-3/ that would give us miles on either American or United. We both applied for a card each but with some spending requirements you may have to spread it out.
For example:
https://creditcards.chase.com/sapphire/
Chase Sapphire (points transferrable to United)
Earn up to 45,000 bonus points – 40,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months and an additional 5,000 bonus points when you add an additional cardholder and make a purchase within the first 3 months.
In this example, you might need to wait until you meet the $3000 requirement before applying for another card. If you can spend $6000 in 3 months then feel free to apply at the same time.

Rinse and repeat the above 2-3 times per year or more and you will have 100K to 200K miles or more. In the fall, British Airways offers the best deal – 100,000 miles sign-up bonus. Again, you can use the said miles on any of the partner airlines. And yes, you can buy multiple tickets for a family from one account. This should not affect your credit score. Ours were not affected, even after we closed some due to the annual fee the 2nd year.

NOTE: Most annual fees are waived the first year. Before it renews, call them and ask them to waive the fee. On one of our cards the Citi AA, they waive the fee every year if we use the card 3 times a month.

3. Other ways to earn miles:
United Shopping Assistant – Click on the link within the United website, shop online using your United credit card to earn miles, pick up the item at the store or ship it.
For example: I bought a laptop for $450 from Best Buy. At that time, they have a 3x program. I earned 1350 miles. Some stores do 6x miles.
Dining – One time registration of your card on the United website and every time you dine at one of the listed restaurants, you automatically earn points. Usually 3x.

4. Other benefits: My United credit card gives me priority boarding, free checked bag, and free access to the first class airport lounge (2 passes per year), just by having the card. Some of these lounges have spas! All free. No kidding.

5. Hotels: We did not sign up for any as we prefer low-grade hotels such as Comfort Inn etc. If you like luxury, apply for the Starwood Card which gives you access to the Sheraton family of hotels. The bonus points of 25K will give you about 5 nights free. https://www262.americanexpress.com/apply-card/spg/007/spg-001

With a little work, you will be traveling in style – for free! Just make sure your credit card spending is under control.

Next time I will describe how we redeem miles. The idea is you want to maximize the valuation of the miles. Stay tuned…

Disclaimer: Travel hacking is not for everyone. Make sure you read the fine print. Your mileage may vary.

See Travel Hacking Part II – Redeeming Miles


Filed under: Family, Travel |
 

Salty’s on the Columbia River

Last weekend we were on a hunt for seafood. Marcel’s mom who is currently working in Portland this winter was looking for a good place for dungeness crabs. That is always a tough question for us because there is none in the sense of what people imagine to be a good seafood restaurant. When we visit her in Florida, there are fish restaurants everywhere. My idea of a seafood restaurant is some kind of shack where they serve the catch of the day etc. The closest one we found in Oregon was Tony’s Crab Shack in Bandon. Sure, there are places like Jake’s Famous Crawfish, McGrath’s, SouthPark etc. but to me they feel like restaurants you can find anywhere in the country except that maybe the salmon and dungeness crabs are fresher. In which case, you still have to pay a lot of money. So, our favorite way to enjoy seafood is to cook it at home. I like to get live crabs from Uwajimaya where they have them all year round. They have three sources – Alaska, Oregon, and California depending on the season. We also like the wild Copper River Salmon from Alaska which Costco sells occasionally. Albacore Tuna is readily available in Astoria, OR. Marcel once had tuna fish and chips there and it was excellent!

We went back and forth picking a place but finally decided on Salty’s since it has a nice ambiance and view.

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Complimentary House-made Potato Chips.

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Lobster Bisque

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Calamari, Crab Cakes, and Coconut Shrimp

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Fish and Chips

Not shown here, we also had some seafood chowder and dungeness crabs. We had a nice leisurely meal on a Saturday and hope to find more places like it.

If you are looking for the best Fish and Chips in town, head over to the Frying Scotsman food cart.

Do you know of any good seafood places in Portland?


Filed under: Family, Foodie, PDX local, Travel |
 

Happy New Year!


Our annual collage for 2013.

I know it is now February (almost March!) but there is always room for more positive thoughts. I wish you a wonderful 2014!

Over the holidays I’ve been thinking about this blog and the direction I wanted to take it. I was posting on Facebook for a while and have neglected this site. As many of you know, Facebook has its limits and really more appropriate for quick updates. Well since it is a new year, I decided now is a good time to launch a “new” and improved JavaFoto.

When I first logged onto WordPress in January, I discovered that something was wrong with my Dashboard. All I could get was a blank screen and it didn’t even allow me to write a new post. I searched the WP forums and could not find a way to fix it. Then I had a light bulb moment…I decided I would start over with a new installation, theme, and whatever else I can come up with. I like the current format of the blog but I thought maybe I can do more. I’m still not quite sure what more means. I want to find a balance between writing something meaningful, at least to me without taking up too much time and we’ll see how it goes from there.

With the help of my brother Francis I was able to import all my posts into a new directory. Currently I am working on the theme and all the minor details that go along with it. Soon, all the hard work will be done and I will be back to posting like I used to but hopefully this time with more inspiration.


Filed under: Art, Beer, Family, Foodie, Mulder the Dog, PDX local, Travel |
 

Pad Thai Sauce

When I go out to eat Thai food, I almost always order some Pad Khee Mao but from time to time, I get a craving for Pad Thai. Sadly, I am usually disappointed with what I get. I end up with soggy noodles, a greasy plate, or sometimes the flavors are totally off. Now I am not saying that I know what authentic Thai food is. It’s just that I expect it to taste a certain way. After researching some food blogs and cook books, I found these proportions to be right for my taste.

1 cup Tamarind Paste
1 cup Palm Sugar
1/2 cup Fish Sauce

That’s it…but you have to make sure you use good quality ingredients.

I fill up a Ball jar with the mix so I can make Pad Thai in a flash.

Cooking Tips:

1. Heat the ingredients together to make the sauce then refrigerate for future use.
2. Use high heat with a lot of oil to prevent the noodles from sticking.
3. Soak the noodles in warm water until they are pliable but still firm to keep them from getting soggy during cooking.
4. Stir fry the meat and vegetables together, add noodles, then finally the sauce.
5. Add chili flakes according to your spice preference.
6. I recommend this basic recipe with the exception of having the sauce pre-made per the above instructions.

Enjoy!


Filed under: Foodie, PDX local |
 

Dairy-Free Blueberry Shortbread Bars

I have been doing the dairy-free diet for a few weeks now so I am starting to miss buttery sweets. While searching for a good shortbread recipe, I found this one. It was adapted from the book Butter Sugar Flour Eggs: Whimsical Irresistible Desserts. The original recipe was called Lydia’s Austrian Raspberry Shortbread.

The first day I mixed the shortbread, divided it into four pieces (for easier grating), and placed them in the freezer.

The next day I grated the shortbread in an 8″ x 8″ pan.

The blueberry jam bled through the shortbread and the whole thing came out a lot thicker than the picture in the book but still good overall. It was also a little sweeter than I would have liked so next time, I will reduce the sugar to 3/4 cup. It could be that the jam already had enough sugar.

RECIPE:

1/2 pound (2 sticks) Earth Balance vegan buttery sticks, softened at room temperature
2 egg yolks
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
dash of salt
1/2 cup blueberry jam, at room temperature (or any jam available, preferably homemade)

In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (I used a hand mixer), the buttery sticks until soft and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and mix well.

In a medium bowl, stir together the granulated sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to the buttery stick/egg yolk mixture and mix just until incorporated and the dough starts to come together. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and form into 2 or 4 balls. (I found smaller balls easier to grate). Wrap each ball in plastic wrap and freeze at least 2 hours or overnight, or as long as a month.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Remove 1 (or 2) balls of dough from the freezer and coarsely grate the frozen dough into the bottom of an 8″ x 8″ baking pan. Make sure the surface is covered evenly with shreds of dough. With a spoon or spatula spread the jam over the surface, to within 1/2-inch of the edge all the way around. Remove the remaining dough from the freezer and coarsely grate it over the entire surface. Bake until light golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes.  (I used convection bake and it only took about 20 minutes). Cool on a wire rack, then cut in the pan with a serrated knife.

The verdict on the buttery sticks? It was a great substitute but I would not want to use it all the time. Not that I should eat that much “butter” anyway 😉

I will write about my decision to go dairy-free sometime, but for now enjoy the sweets!

Update 2/11/2013 I’m eating dairy again but in low quantities. I just love baking too much to quit completely.


Filed under: Baking, Foodie, Gardening, Health |
 

Francis and Marie’s Wedding

It’s been a very busy summer as always but this year my brother’s wedding made the season special.

The wedding was held on July 14th in Dallas, TX where we also had a big family reunion. It was so much fun dressing up for the “Mad Men” theme. It was a beautiful wedding full of love and awesome entertainment! One of the highlights of the occasion was my brother singing and playing the guitar with the groomsmen. I’m so proud of him!

Marcel, his Dad Rejean, and I. My fabulous hat was from Classic Collection. I added feathers to match my dress.

The cousins and brothers

The “Mad Men” ladies

My brother Francis and new sister-in-law Marie. More pictures are here.


Filed under: Family, Travel |
 

Mississippi

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Shopping for cool sunglasses in the MISSISSIPPI neighborhood.

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Amnesia Brewing

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Paper balls


Filed under: PDX local |
 

Blues Fest Etc.

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Chicken Souvlaki Plate from Dorio Greek Cafe

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CSA Share this week

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Fireworks

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Blues Fest


Filed under: PDX local |
 

Happy Sunny Day!

Mulder tired from his morning W.

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Meat, Cheese, Bread on SE Stark

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Coava Coffee. Delicious cold brew


Filed under: PDX local |
 

Cake Fest

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My new friends Leny and Jon showed me how to make Ube Cake while I showed them how to make Tiramisu Cake.


Filed under: PDX local |