The Points Guy http://thepointsguy.com Fri, 06 Mar 2015 16:42:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 United MileagePlus Offers Cruise Redemption Options http://thepointsguy.com/2015/03/united-mileageplus-offers-cruise-redemption-options/ http://thepointsguy.com/2015/03/united-mileageplus-offers-cruise-redemption-options/#comments Fri, 06 Mar 2015 16:24:20 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=112985 United Airlines recently unveiled new cruise benefits for MileagePlus members, who can now book cruises using miles, as well as a combination of miles and cash. With a total of 22 different cruise lines participating in the new program, there are plenty of opportunities for taking to the seas.

Carnival is one of the cruise lines participating in this new offer.

Components of the United Cruises program include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Exclusive MileagePlus rates;
  • Savings up to 75% off of the brochure price of certain cruises;
  • 110% price match guarantee if you find a cheaper offer on an identical itinerary;
  • Various other offerings, such as bonus miles, upgrades, all-inclusive packages and more.

The number of miles you’ll need to sail varies substantially depending on the cruise itinerary. To give you a rough idea of the requirements, I’ve priced out options for a few different cruises.

rc cruise
You’ll find additional bonuses when you pay for a cruise itinerary through the new MileagePlus promotion.

A typical 4-6 night Caribbean cruise will cost you roughly 42,000 miles per person, not including specific discounts that are currently being offered on select cruise lines. Certain cruises (such as the one pictured above) are offering heavily discounted promos, such as the Royal Caribbean Buy One Get One (BOGO) 50% off 2nd guest promo. With that promotion, this itinerary requires just 63,353 miles for a couple in an interior room.

This same itinerary is currently on sale for $359 per person on other websites, so you’d get a return of just over 1.1 cents apiece by using miles. I list United miles at 1.5 cents apiece in my latest monthly valuations, so this isn’t a great redemption. If you’re researching Royal Caribbean for your next cruise, take a look at this recent post on one of the company’s newest vessels, The Quantum of The Seas.

seaborne
You’re reading that right, 50,403 miles per night per person for this cruise!

If your MileagePlus account is getting ready to burst, you’ll find plenty of luxury options to help you part ways with your miles. The cruise line Seabourn is offering certain cruises for a total of 352,824 miles per person. (If you haven’t heard of Seabourn, check out this post on small ship cruises.) These cruises start at around $3,000 per person, so the redemption value is even lower than in the previous example (about 0.85 cents per mile). This is a premium cruise experience, but that rate is abysmal.

The Seabourne Ovation
The Seabourn Ovation is one of fleet’s luxury vessels.

My Thoughts

Airlines and hotels love offering redemption options like this, because every mile you redeem is one you no longer have available for high-value selections like international flights in business and first class. Even with the BOGO promotions, I didn’t see any cruises that offered a decent return. If 1.1 cents apiece is the best you can get, you’re better off just paying for your cruise and redeeming miles from a card like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard or the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.

While I searched through a fair number of options, I couldn’t look at all of them. If you find a MileagePlus cruise redemption that offers good value, please share it in the comments below!

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How to (Almost) Never Lose Your Luggage Again http://thepointsguy.com/2015/03/how-to-almost-never-lose-your-luggage-again/ http://thepointsguy.com/2015/03/how-to-almost-never-lose-your-luggage-again/#comments Fri, 06 Mar 2015 14:29:38 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=112709 Lost luggage can put a damper on your trip, so today TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Jason Steele offers tips on how to make sure your bags stay with you.

As long as airlines have carried bags, they have lost them. And while there’s little you can do once you’ve surrendered your luggage, there are actually many useful steps you can take beforehand to help prevent your bags from being lost in the first place. In this post I’ll look at effective ways to keep your bag from being lost, and discuss what you should do in the unfortunate (but almost inevitable) event that it happens.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Don’t let your luggage have all the fun without you. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Preventing Loss

Of course, instead of just making it easier to find your lost luggage, you’d rather take some steps to avoid losing altogether. Here are a few proven techniques to help avoid lost luggage, and to minimize the hassle when it does happen:

1. Assume your luggage will be lost

Many people go into a panic when they find that their luggage is missing. What will they do without their car keys, medications, warm clothing, etc?  The chances of having your bag go missing may not be large, but you should always assume that it can happen. And when you pack, do so with that exact possibility in mind. That means you shouldn’t check anything that can’t be replaced, or that you won’t be reimbursed for when it goes missing. For example, every airline contract of carriage absolves them from liability for lost jewelry, electronics, art work, and even furs.

Furthermore, you should include in your carry-on bags anything essential that you’ll need at your destination in case your checked bag is delayed or lost. That means carrying on some warm clothing if you’re flying to a cold weather destination, or perhaps a bathing suit if you’re going to the beach. Either way, think about what your backup plan will be if your bag doesn’t arrive with you, and pack your carry-on accordingly. If you’re on a domestic trip to a major city, anything you need should be close at hand, so your backup plan can be as simple as purchasing replacement items at a local department store. However, if your destination is a small, remote island, you probably need to bring more in your carry-on.

Another strategy for couples and families traveling with multiple checked bags is to cross pack a little bit. This means that no individual should have all of his or her belongings in a single bag. That way if one bag is lost, you can all share the misery a little instead of one person suffering a lot.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Luggage tags: still fashionable AND effective! Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

2. Prepare your bag for the journey

First, make sure your bag is labeled with at least two forms of identification. I use two baggage tags, and have a sticker or two with my contact information affixed to the outside of the bag. It’s also important to remove any old airline baggage tags, as you don’t want your bag to be accidentally re-routed to your previous destination (it can happen). It’s also smart to put some identification inside the bag as well, such as a business card.

Another good idea is to snap a few pictures of your bag with your mobile phone, so you have something to show baggage agents to help them identify it, should it go missing. This also helps to establish its replacement value should it become lost. And of course, if your bag has a generic appearance, try to add a colorful ribbon or a unique bumper sticker so that it won’t be mistaken for another. I once saw a bag with big letters written next to the handle stating “This is not your bag!” It’s not subtle, but it does the trick.

Once you’re in line to check your bag, make sure to stow or remove any excess handles or straps, as they can get caught in the machinery and possibly contribute to your bag being damaged or lost. Before surrendering your bag, double check that the airline’s baggage tag is correct. Airline check-in agents could affix someone else’s label to your bag, or tag your luggage to the wrong city on your itinerary. My father once had his bag tagged to London, which was only an overnight stopover on the way to his destination. Without examining the tag, he had no way to know that it would be on a carousel in Heathrow, rather than at his final stop.

Get to baggage claim promptly to make sure your bag doesn’t go missing. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

3. Get to the baggage claim area quickly

There’s always the possibility that your bag could be purposely stolen from the baggage carousel, but more commonly, similar bags are taken on accident. To ensure this doesn’t happen, I like to quickly proceed to baggage claim and watch for my bag coming off the belt.

4. Consider a luggage tracking device. There’s a new generation of luggage tracking devices you can use to locate your bag in real time. While this might not actually prevent your bag from being lost, at least it can help you recover your stuff once it’s gone. At the very least, you won’t have to wait for all the bags to come off the carousel if you already know yours isn’t among them. A luggage tracker will also enable you to tell the airline exactly where your bag is, so that it can be retrieved more easily. For more on these options, read my review of two popular devices.

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If you have to check luggage you can’t afford to have misplaced, consider using a luggage tracking device like Trakdot.

What to do when your bag is missing

1. Immediately file a claim. When your bag is lost, the most important thing is to file a claim with the airline’s baggage service office before leaving the airport. If for any reason the airline’s baggage office isn’t open, then you need to document that fact by taking a picture of it, and then call the airline before leaving the airport. Remember, the claim process has not begun until you have a written copy of the claim that includes both a claim number and a telephone number to follow up.

If your bag is not found, you will then have a deadline (often 30 days) in which to file a claim for reimbursement.

2. Get reimbursed from your credit card. Most travel rewards credit cards include some kind of insurance for lost or delayed baggage, but you have to meet the terms. Most credit cards only offer this coverage when you use your card to pay for your tickets, which can exclude award travel. However, there is one major exception. With Chase cards, there’s a provision that specifically includes award travel so long as “all of the miles or Rewards points were accumulated from a Rewards program sponsored by Chase Bank.”

As with the airlines, claims for lost or delayed baggage have to be filed within the time frame specified in the card’s statement of benefits. For example, Chase cards give you 20 days to file a claim.

3. Demand any bag fees back. According to DOT rules, airlines must refund any bag fees paid if your bags are permanently lost. Although strictly speaking this rule doesn’t apply if your bag is eventually returned, I think you have a pretty strong case if your bag doesn’t arrive on the same flight, and it can’t hurt to ask.

What are your tips for preventing lost luggage?

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12 Best Irish Pubs Across America http://thepointsguy.com/2015/03/12-best-irish-pubs-across-america/ http://thepointsguy.com/2015/03/12-best-irish-pubs-across-america/#comments Fri, 06 Mar 2015 13:08:32 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=111201 To take advantage of Chase Sapphire Preferred’s lucrative offer of 3x points on dining on the first Friday of every month, we regularly round up the best in food and drink. With St. Patrick’s Day getting closer, many pubs will be packed with patrons with pints in hand. Though everyone feels Irish on this holiday, TPG Contributor Michele Herrmann actually reflected on her heritage in choosing the 12 best Irish pubs across the U.S.

The Black Rose

The Black Rose (Boston)
Walking distance from Faneuil Hall, this pub/restaurant’s sense of Irish hospitality has been vibrant since opening its doors almost 40 years ago. Alongside Emerald Isle favorites like corned beef sandwiches, bangers and mash, and fish and chips, the menu features New England delights like lobster rolls and clam chowder. As a bonus, this hopping venue hosts live music programs every weeknight.

Photo by Vincent Desjardins via Flickr
Photo by Vincent Desjardins via Flickr

McSorley’s Old Ale House (Manhattan)
Amongst the plethora of Irish pubs in New York City, McSorley’s is arguably the most recognized, and certainly the oldest. This cash-only East Village tavern has sawdust on the floor (to sop up spilled beer and meal drippings), a full menu of Gaelic grub, and just two choices on tap—light or dark.

Galway Arms copy
The Galway Arms (Chicago)
A short walk from Lincoln Park, this venue carries a fine selection of whiskeys and scotches along with menu choices that go beyond run-of-the-mill, like a gouda-cheese quesadilla and a Celtic Cobb Salad with Irish bacon and soda-bread croutons. Two fireplaces and vintage woodwork give warmth to the interior while an outdoor patio lets you dine al fresco, and a Sunday night music series features the best in traditional Irish music.

McGillin's

McGillin’s Olde Ale House (Philadelphia)
Opened in 1860, McGillin’s Olde Ale House has been keeping its taps flowing so long that it’s earned the right to be called Philly’s oldest continuously operating tavern. The beer list at this no-frills haunt is a mix of traditional and modern suds: stouts, lagers, pilsners, lites and imports. Rounding out the list are Eastern Pennsylvania-sourced microbrews, and McGillin’s own house specialties, like its commemorative 1860 IPA.

The Dubliner

The Dubliner (Washington, D.C.)
Right across from the Union Station and owned by a son of an Irish immigrant and a saloon keeper, this Capitol Hill pub has been replicated to look as authentic as any you’d stroll into in Dublin. Live music happens nightly, and the pub’s two house beers—an ale and a lager—are crafted with hops imported from County Kilkenny. Along with lunch and dinner pub fare, there’s also a brunch menu that includes a proper Irish breakfast.

Chieftan

The Chieftain Irish Pub & Restaurant (San Francisco)
This bustling SoMa spot has gotten high marks for its pub grub, particularly with Shepherd’s Pie, Lamb Burger, Potato Bites, and of course fish and chips. In a dark-and pale-wood interior designed to evoke the 1920s (despite the fact that this place opened in 2001), you can order food all day/night long—including daily specials and brunch on weekends—and along with fine Irish and Scottish whiskeys, you’ll also find a list of Californian and Irish ales, lagers, stouts and ciders.

Conor Bynre

Conor Byrne Pub (Seattle)
At this casual place on Ballard Avenue, find on-tap or bottled brews like Smithwicks, Harp Lager, various porters, IPAs and lites, as well as several whiskey options. The cocktail menu carries its own weight by featuring Jameson in novel and traditional concoctions, such as an Irish Coffee. Its happening schedule of live music shows includes regular bluegrass jam sessions.

Finn McCool's

Finn McCool’s Irish Pub (New Orleans)
Named for a legendary giant of Irish folklore, this Mid City pub has become a major community asset since its owners from Belfast re-opened the place in 2006—six months after Hurricane Katrina hit. Its menu is a tasty rundown: fish and chips, stews and Irish sausages, twists like Irish nachos, and even international snacks like empanadas. Doubling as a sports bar, patrons often come to watch a soccer match or Saints games.

The Irish Snug

Irish Snug (Denver)
Snug, a word originating in Ireland, translates to “speakeasy,” meaning a place where bar patrons would pay extra to drink without being seen. Today, you can order items like corned beef egg rolls or toasted fennel potato cakes—and that’s just for starters. Classic Irish dishes still reign here and Happy Hour occurs every day with discounted draft beers and 2-for-1 on all well drinks and house wine.

Fado Irish Pub Atlanta

Fadó Irish Pub & Restaurant (Atlanta)
This Atlanta institution provides a wide selection of local and regional craft beers, an ever-evolving cocktail selection and a food menu that blends Irish and pub standards with new tavern favorites. The decor here evokes a true Irish pub feeling: a hand-milled bar, a “Grand House” area with an over-sized fireplace, the mezzanine’s Celtic art and the rooftop patio with large murals depicting Ireland’s rugged landscape. Sports fans happily congregate here to watch Irish and European sporting events.

Nine Fine Irish Men

Nine Fine Irishmen (Las Vegas)
Set inside the New York-New York Hotel and Casino, this on-Strip establishment is authentic in a Vegas kind of way—with an elaborate structure and a healthy dose of music. Built in Ireland, the pub’s facade and interior were then shipped to the U.S. and assembled here, with the addition of mosaics with Gaelic designs, gleaming dark wood, and vintage-style pub lights. Named for nine Irishmen convicted of trying to kill the Queen during the 1848 Irish Rebellion, the hearty menu features some spins on traditional Irish dishes, including a Sausage Pail paired with Guinness mustard.

The Irish Times

The Irish Times Pub & Restaurant (Los Angeles)
A favorite of the Irish acting community in L.A., this fun, friendly watering hole focuses  with trivia and karaoke nights, billiards, and live music performances. The bar often gets kudos for its service, and has a selection of over 20 draft beers on tap as well as an array of whiskeys. Irish specialties and pub staples round out the menu.

Please share your favorite Irish pubs in America with us—and have a Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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Thursday Giveaway: Win a $500 Visa Gift Card http://thepointsguy.com/2015/03/thursday-giveaway-win-a-500-visa-gift-card/ http://thepointsguy.com/2015/03/thursday-giveaway-win-a-500-visa-gift-card/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 21:29:14 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=112736 For this week’s Thursday Giveaway, we are giving away a $500 Visa Gift Card that can be used anywhere that accepts Visa meaning you could use to purchase airfare, hotel stays, or even a shopping spree, it’s your choice! 

Enter to win this week's giveaway for a $500 Visa gift card.
Enter to win this week’s giveaway for a $500 Visa gift card.

To enter to win, visit our Facebook Page. Remember, when you share it on your wall, tweet it out or send an invite, every time one of your friends enters, you get an extra entry

Last Week’s Winner: 

Last week, we gave away $500 in Uber Credits. Thousands of entries were received, and two lucky winners was chosen at random. Congrats to TPG readers Rachel T. on winning!

Uber-driver

Congrats to our winner, and stay tuned for more great giveaways here on the blog and on TPG TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

We’re excited for this giveaway this week and hope you’ll enter!

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Flying Direct to Greek Islands http://thepointsguy.com/2015/03/flying-direct-to-greek-islands/ http://thepointsguy.com/2015/03/flying-direct-to-greek-islands/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 19:29:36 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=109553 Sailing from one island to another in Greece sounds like an idyllic way to spend a vacation, but when you’re pressed for time, nothing beats flying. TPG Contributor Jessica Spiegel gives us an overview of Greece’s main island groups and those islands within each that have airports. Opa!

Despite how small some of the Greek islands seem, many of them have airports with at least seasonal service from mainland Greece or elsewhere in Europe. In many cases, the only regular flights to and from these airports are on Aegean Airlines or Olympic Air, both of which connect with Athens. When there are other options (useful for anyone who’s starting a trip outside Greece), those are noted below.

Keep in mind that many of the airlines listed are smaller, regional carriers that may not fly from the largest airport in a given city. Pay attention to airport names so you’ll know whether you need to high-tail it from London Heathrow (LHR) to make your connecting flight at Gatwick (LGW) or Stansted (STN).

Also note that flying from the Greek islands back to Athens is almost always more expensive than flying to the Greek islands, so if you have the time, you might want to fly into the island of your choice and then sail back to the mainland.

Classic Santorini - Courtesy of Shutterstock
Classic Santorini – Courtesy of Shutterstock

Cyclades Islands

Southeast of the mainland, the Cyclades (pronounced kick-LA-dess, if you’re Greek) are roughly 220 islands—not all of them inhabited—spread around the Aegean Sea. Smaller airports in the Cyclades include Astypalaia (JTY), Milos (MLO), Naxos (JNX), Paros (PAS), and Syros (JSY), all of which have regular flights from Athens on Olympic Air.

The southernmost of the Cyclades, Santorini is home to whitewashed buildings and gorgeous blue domes poised high above the sea, an island formed by the eruption of a volcano thousands of years ago. Santorini Thira Airport (JTR) has regular flights from Athens on Aegean Airlines and Ryanair, along with seasonal service on British Airways, Air Berlin, Alitalia, easyJet, Austrian Airlines, Condor, Finnair, Norwegian Air Shuttle, Thomas Cook Airlines, Transavia.com, and Thomson Airways.

One of the larger Cyclades, Mykonos is known for its colorful doors, iconic 16th-century windmills, and lovely beaches. The Mykonos Airport (JMK) has regular year-round flights from Athens on Aegean Air, and the rest of its air traffic is seasonal. It’s served by airlines such as British Airways, Alitalia, Air Berlin, Austrian Airlines, easyJet, Condor, Scandinavian Airlines, Thomson Airways, and Transavia.com.

Read our review of the Hotel Belvedere in Mykonos

Hellenic temple at Corfu - Courtesy of Shutterstock
Hellenic temple at Corfu – Courtesy of Shutterstock

Ionian Islands

The Ionian Islands are mostly found to the northwest of mainland Greece in the Ionian Sea, but there is one straggler off the tip of the Peloponnese. There are seven main islands, with several smaller ones among them. The airport on Kithira (KIT) has regular flights from Athens on Olympic Air.

Corfu is one of the largest Ionian Islands, with an important place in Greek mythology and a UNESCO-listed old town. Ruled at various times by the Venetians, French, and British, the island bears the architectural stamps of each, including palaces built by the nobility. Corfu International Airport (CFU) gets flights from Athens on Aegean Airlines year-round, while flights on Aer Lingus, Air Berlin, British Airways, easyJet, Air France, Alitalia (starting in August 2015), Austrian Airlines, Condor, Norwegian Air Shuttle, Swiss International Air Lines, Ryanair, Thomas Cook Airlines, Thomson Airways, Transavia.com, and TUIfly are seasonal.

The largest Ionian Island, Kefalonia (or Cephalonia), has mountains at its center and gorgeous beaches on all sides. The island is excellent for outdoorsy types, and even those who plan to spend most of their time on the beach should check out the beautiful Melissani Cave on the lake of the same name; the water inside the cave is lit from below, giving it an iridescent blue quality. The Cephalonia Airport (EFL) has year-round service from Athens on Aegean Airlines, and seasonal service on easyJet, Air Berlin, Austrian Airlines, Monarch Airlines, Norwegian Air Shuttle, Ryanair, Scandinavian Airlines, Thomas Cook Airlines, Transavia.com, and Thomson Airways, among others.

Lefkada is technically connected to the Greek mainland via a long floating bridge, but it’s still an island. Visitors love its beaches, its windsurfing, and its charming towns, and its high cliffs are supposedly where the poet Sappho leapt to her death. Aktion National Airport (PVK) gets year-round flights from Athens on Aegean Airlines, plus seasonal flights on carriers like British Airways, Air Berlin, Norwegian Air Shuttle, Condor, Finnair, Thomas Cook Airlines, and Transavia.com.

Many of the beautiful Venetian buildings of Zakynthos were destroyed in a 1953 earthquake, but the lush island remains alluring for visitors who enjoy its beaches (including one with a shipwreck that remains on the sand) and Blue Caves. Zakynthos is also known for the endangered loggerhead turtles that use its shores as a nesting ground. Zakynthos International Airport (ZTH) has regular flights from Athens on Olympic Air all year long, and its flights on Air Berlin, Austrian Airlines, easyJet, Condor, Finnair, Thomas Cook Airlines, Thomson Airways, Ryanair, Monarch Airlines, and Transavia.com are seasonal.

Stegna Beach, Rhodes - Courtesy of Shutterstock
Stegna Beach, Rhodes – Courtesy of Shutterstock

Dodecanese Islands

Set in the Aegean Sea, the 160 Dodecanese Islands—only 26 of which are inhabited—are much closer to Turkey than Greece. Many of the islands are rich in history, including little Patmos, where Saint John was exiled and wrote the Biblical Book of Revelation. The airport on Kalymnos (JKL) has regular flights from Athens on Olympic Air.

Once home to the Colossus of Rhodes—one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World—Rhodes remains one of the biggest of the Greek islands, with plentiful beaches and a medieval old city that’s been declared a UNESCO Heritage Site. Rhodes International Airport (RHO) has year-round flights from Athens on Aegean Airlines and Ryanair, and from Munich on Aegean Airlines. Other flights—on Aegean Airlines, Air Berlin, British Airways (starting in April 2015), Alitalia, Condor, easyJet, Monarch Airlines, Ryanair, Thomas Cook Airlines, Thomson Airways, Transavia.com, and TUIfly—are seasonal.

Kos has long stretches of inviting beaches and ancient ruins, and its formerly huge, ancient Greek marketplace was an important part of a vast trading network. The Kos Airport (KGS) gets flights from Athens on Aegean Airlines year-round, with seasonal routes on Air Berlin, British Airways, easyJet, Condor, Norwegian Air Shuttle, Monarch Airlines, Ryanair, Thomas Cook Airlines, and Thomson Airways.

Located roughly between Rhodes and the huge island of Crete, Karpathos shares close, historical ties with both. The main pastime on this island (for visitors, at least) is hanging out on the lovely beaches—just take care to find out which ones are susceptible to high winds, which make them decidedly less calming. The Karpathos Airport (AOK) has year-round service from Athens on Olympic Air, and seasonal service on Air Berlin, Arkefly, Scandinavian Airlines, and Transavia.com.

Crete - Courtesy of Shutterstock
Crete – Courtesy of Shutterstock

Cretan Islands

A collection of uninhabited rock outcroppings and tiny islands, the Cretan Island surround Crete, and island large enough that it has two airports from which to choose.

Crete’s main airport is Heraklion (HER), with year-round service from Athens on Aegean Airlines. The other flights—on carriers such as Air Berlin, Alitalia, British Airways, Austrian Airlines, Arkefly, easyJet, Condor, Monarch Airlines, Lufthansa (beginning May 2015), Norwegian Air Shuttle, Swiss International Air Lines, Thomas Cook Airlines, Thomson Airways, Transavia.com, and TUIfly—are seasonal.

The island’s smaller Chania International Airport (CHQ) serves year-round flights from Athens on Aegean Airlines, Olympic Air, and Ryanair, and from Munich on Aegean Airlines. Seasonal service is on easyJet, Austrian Airlines, Condor, Ryanair, Scandinavian Airlines, Norwegian Air Shuttle, and Transavia.com, among others.

Crete appears on our list of emerging European destinations for 2014

Village on Chios - Courtesy of Shutterstock
Village on Chios – Courtesy of Shutterstock

Aegean Islands

Set to the north of the Cyclades and Dodecanese, most of this group is closer to mainland Turkey, and includes the sub-groups of the Sporades Islands and North Aegean Islands. The airport on Skyros (SKU) has regular flights from Athens on Aegean Airlines, and the airports on Ikaria (JIK) and Skiathos (JSI) have regular flights from Athens on Olympic Air.

Just four miles from the Turkish coast, Chios has long been a producer of the traditional Greek mastic gum and home to an 11th-century monastery that’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Chios Airport (JKH) gets year-round flights from Athens on Aegean Airlines, and seasonal flights on Austrian Airlines and Transavia.com.

One of the larger islands in the northern Aegean, Lesbos (also spelled Lesvos) is historically important as the birthplace of several Greek poets and writers—including Sappho. The island is a major producer of ouzo, and visitors love its beaches and picturesque villages. Lesbos’ Mytilene International Airport (MJT) services year-round flights from Athens on Aegean Airlines, plus seasonal flights on Air Berlin, Austrian Airlines, Aegean Airlines, Thomas Cook Airlines, and Transavia.com.

Agriculturally rich Lemnos is primarily flat, with plenty of beaches, the ruin of an ancient theatre, and a medieval fort and a castle in Myrnia, the island’s main town. Lemnos Airport (LXS) has year-round service on Aegean Airlines from Athens, as well as seasonal flights on carriers like British Airways and Thomas Cook Airlines.

Just north of the Dodecanese Islands, one mile from the Turkish coast, Samos has an ancient history of wine production, and today still produces Muscat. The remains of a Temple to Hera is the island’s UNESCO-listed site. The Samos Airport (SMI) has flights on Aegean Airlines from Athens all year, along with seasonal flights on Air Berlin, Austrian Airlines, Thomson Airways, and Transavia.com.

Are you hoping to visit the Greek islands this year? In the comments below, we’d love to hear about your plans!

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13 Benefits Every Airline Credit Card Should Have http://thepointsguy.com/2015/03/13-benefits-every-airline-credit-card-should-have/ http://thepointsguy.com/2015/03/13-benefits-every-airline-credit-card-should-have/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 16:59:20 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=102115 I asked TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen to explain which airline credit card benefits are most important to help you decide what to look for when applying.

When it comes to airline credit cards, there are some standard benefits that every one should have, like earning multiple miles per dollar on specific airline purchases, or giving cardholders free checked bags. There are other benefits that are less common, but which should become standard, such as waiving foreign transaction fees and offering award discounts. In this post I’ll outline the benefits you can expect when applying for an airline credit card, and suggest a few that card issuers would be wise to adopt.

The Virgin Atlantic Mastercard earns 3x miles on Virgin purchases and 1.5x miles on everything else.
The Virgin Atlantic MasterCard earns 3x miles on Virgin purchases and 1.5x miles on everything else.

1. Airline Spending Bonuses: This should go without saying, but every airline credit card should offer cardholders multiple miles per dollar for spending on the co-branded airline. Some cards are more generous than others in this respect. American, Delta, United, and US Airways cards offer 2x miles per $1 for purchases on those respective airlines. However, others like the British Airways Visa (2.5x), Virgin Atlantic World Elite MasterCard (3x), and the Virgin America Visa Signature cards (3x) offer a greater return.

While 2x miles per $1 is decent, issuers should offer superior earning for the more premium versions of airline credit cards. For instance, you could still earn 2x miles per $1 with the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World MasterCard or the Gold Delta SkyMiles Amex, but you might earn 3x miles per $1 with premium cards like the Citi Executive AAdvantage World MasterCard or the Delta Reserve card. At any rate, no co-branded airline credit card should earn fewer than 2x miles per $1 for purchases on the airline itself.

2. Other Bonus Spending Categories: While many co-branded hotel cards earn bonus points for purchases outside the hotel—like the Hyatt Visa (2x points on dining, airfare, car rentals) and the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve (5x points on airline and car rental purchases)—it’s rare to find an airline credit card that earns more than one mile per dollar for off-brand purchases. However, it’s not impossible!

The British Airways Visa earns 1.25 Avios per dollar on all purchases (2.5x on BA purchases), the Virgin Atlantic MasterCard earns 1.5 miles per dollar on all purchases (3x on Virgin airfare), and the United Club Card earns 1.5 miles per dollar on all purchases (2x on United purchases). While these are higher-end cards, more airline credit cards should consider adding bonus earning opportunities. Adding even one or two categories such as dining, hotels, or car rentals (which often go hand in hand with airfare purchases airfare) would be an opportunity for both the card issuers and consumers.

Is one of these cards right for you?
Virgin America’s credit cards both offer cardholders the chance to spend their way to elite status.

3. Elite Status Spending Bonuses: Several high-end airline credit cards target elite flyers and those who spend heavily on their co-branded cards, offering spending-based elite status boosts as an incentive. The Platinum Delta SkyMiles Amex, for example, earns up to 10,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles when you spend $25,000 in a calendar year, and another 10,000 MQMs when you spend an additional $25,000 in the same calendar year. Similarly, the Delta Reserve offers a potential 30,000 MQM’s for spending over $60,000. Meanwhile, the Citi Executive AAdvantage World MasterCard awards cardholders with 10,000 elite-qualifying miles every calendar year they spend $40,000 or more.

Even airlines with less traditional elite status programs (such as Virgin America and Southwest) offer similar perks on their co-branded cards. For example, the Virgin America Premium Visa Signature card offers cardholders up to 15,000 Elevate status points per calendar year (5,000 points for every $10,000 of eligible purchases). The Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Visa earns cardholders 1,500 Tier-Qualifying points for every $10,000 in purchases (up to 15,000 Tier-Qualifying points per calendar year). If elite status matters to you and you spend more than you fly, one of these products might suit you well.

The British Airways Travel Together Ticket.
You can earn a companion ticket by spending $30,000 on the British Airways Visa.

4. Other Spending Bonuses: Several credit cards offer everything from mileage bonuses to companion passes for hitting certain spending thresholds, and although the dollar amounts tend to be high, the rewards are often worthwhile.

Perhaps the best known is the “Travel Together” companion ticket you can earn for spending $30,000 on the British Airways Visa in a calendar year. The United Explorer card offers 10,000 bonus miles when you spend $25,000 in net purchases each year, and the Hawaiian Airlines Business MasterCard offers cardholders 40,000 bonus miles for spending $100,000 or more in a calendar year. The Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World MasterCard gives cardholders a $100 flight discount on American Airlines each year as a cardmember for spending $30,000 or more on purchases. Finally, the Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard offers 5,000 bonus miles annually when you spend $10,000 or more on purchases.

These spending bonuses are becoming more common, and hopefully more airline credit cards will begin to offer them to stay competitive, and hopefully with lower spending thresholds—after all, a $100 discount for spending $30,000 is literally a 0.33% return on spending, which doesn’t really get the heart rate up.

American Airlines cardholders can receive discounts of 5,000 or 7,500 miles round-trip.
American Airlines cardholders can receive discounts of 5,000 or 7,500 miles round-trip.

5. Reduced Mileage Awards: Several credit cards will knock a few thousand miles off certain redemptions, which can add up depending on where you travel. American Airlines offers reduced-price awards to Citi AAdvantage cardholders, which can save you 5,000-7,500 miles on round-trip awards within the US and Canada that originate in the 48 continental United States (between certain cities that change monthly). The personal Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard from Barclaycard offers 5,000 miles off round-trip award fares from North America to Hawaii. In September, all the Delta Amex cards offered cardholders limited-time access to discounted awards—a feature they should think about instituting permanently, or at least more often.

6. Mileage Refunds: One of the most valuable benefits of the Citi AAdvantage personal cards (and now the US Airways Premier World MasterCard) is that they refund cardholders 10% of their redeemed AAdvantage miles (up to 10,000 miles per year). Getting 10,000 American miles back is like being refunded $170 (based on TPG’s most recent valuations), which is nearly double the annual fee for several of these cards.

Both the Delta Platinum and Reserve cards will continue to offer companion tickets.
Both the Delta Platinum and Reserve cards offer companion tickets.

7. Companion Passes: One way to offset annual fees is to take advantage of companion ticket offers. Though many of those currently available are valid only for economy travel within the 48 continental United States, they can still end up saving you hundreds of dollars. Both the Platinum Delta Amex and the Delta Reserve cards offer a domestic economy class companion certificate each year upon renewal, while the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature offers a $118 coach companion ticket to cardholders each year.

The Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard offers a one-time companion discount of 50% off for round-trip travel in coach between Hawaii and North America, and a $100 companion discount every year after that. The $99 companion pass that comes with the US Airways Premier World MasterCard will no longer be offered in 2015 as it transitions into an American Airlines credit card, but it would be great if Barclaycard figured out a way to keep this benefit around.

8. Anniversary Mileage Bonuses: These bonuses are becoming more rare, but certain cardholders who signed up for the US Airways Premier World MasterCard in the last few years will get a 10,000-mile bonus on their card (though this benefit should end in 2015). Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier cardholders get a bonus of 6,000 Rapid Rewards points on their cardmember anniversary each year (worth roughly $85 in Wanna Get Away fares).

9. In-Flight Purchase Discounts: While these are less exciting than the big ticket benefits, getting 20%-25% off in-flight purchases (such as snacks or entertainment) is still useful, especially if you’re a very frequent flyer. Currently many airline credit cards offer such discounts, including the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World MasterCard and US Airways Premier World MasterCard (both of which have a 25% discount) and the Delta Amex cards (which have a 20% discount). The real winner in this category has to be the JetBlue Amex, which offers a 50% statement credit for in-flight purchases, including cocktails, meals, and movies.

Checked bag fees can really add up, so find a credit card that waives them.
Checked bag fees can add up quickly, so find a credit card that waives them.

10. Free Checked Bags: Unless you’re primarily flying Southwest and JetBlue or have elite status with your airline, chances are you’re paying about $25 each time you check a bag, and those fees can add up quickly. Thankfully, many airline credit cards offer the first checked bag for free as a benefit, which is usually extended to some number of companions on the same reservation. For instance, the Delta Gold Amex, Delta Platinum Amex, and Delta Reserve Card allow cardmembers to check their first bag free on all Delta and Delta Connection flights, and the benefit extends to up to 9 people traveling on the cardmember’s reservation.

The United Explorer means your first checked bag is free for you and a companion when you fly United, while the United Club Card gets you get two free checked bags for yourself and a companion. Among other cards, the Citi Platinum Select AAdvantage provides a free checked bag on American Airlines for the cardholder and up to four travel companions.

11. Priority Boarding: Some of the best airline credit card perks mimic elite status, and this is one of them. Every airline credit card should offer cardmembers some form of priority service (like check-in and/or boarding) so you can get on the plane first and snag overhead space for their bags. It’s a simple, tangible benefit of loyalty. Fortunately, many airline credit cards do just that, including the Citi AAdvantage cards, the United Explorer card, and the Delta American Express cards.

Delta releases more award space to its Amex cardholders.
Delta releases greater award space to its Amex cardholders.

12. Priority Award Space: Though this usually occurs at high mileage levels, some credit cards offer members exclusive access to award seats. For instance, primary United Explorer cardholders can use miles to book any available seats on a United-operated flight at the Standard Award level with no restrictions or blackout dates. If you’re a Delta Amex cardholder and log into your SkyMiles account before searching for awards, you can check the “I am traveling” box to find extended domestic coach award space as well (a benefit discussed at length in this FlyerTalk thread). Making more awards accessible, even at higher mileage levels, is a great way to boost customer satisfaction and encourage cardholders to use their cards to earn more miles.

Be sure to have some foreign currency on hand ahead of time.
Airline credit cards should waive foreign transaction fees.

13. Waived Foreign Transaction Fees: Forex fees are one of the biggest bugaboos for international travelers, and rightly so. Why pay a 1-3% premium just to use your card in another country, especially when that credit card is an airline card predicated on travel?

Although some major airline credit cards incur these fees (it depends more on the issuer than the airline), fortunately many others do not, including the United Explorer, the American Express Delta cards, and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Visa (even though Southwest still has relatively few foreign destinations). This is a major selling point for international travelers, and should come standard on airline cards these days.

What benefits do you prize most on co-branded airline credit cards?

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Which Countries Waive Reciprocal Visa Fees http://thepointsguy.com/2015/03/which-countries-waive-reciprocal-visa-fees/ http://thepointsguy.com/2015/03/which-countries-waive-reciprocal-visa-fees/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 14:59:59 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=112720 Today, Steve Gempeler and Peter Gulas at Allied Passport & Visa tip us off to some changes in the visa world!

The United States charges $160 for all nationals requiring a visa to enter the country. In return, many other countries charge US citizens reciprocal prices for their own visas, and some don’t even require U.S. Citizens to have visas, but still tack on a visitor entry fee upon arrival.

Today, we’ll discuss a few recent changes in U.S. reciprocation policies involving a few big name countries that require visas, and dissect their reciprocal fees (or their decisions to charge Americans more or less than $160).

Chile (Image courtesy of Shutterstock)
Chile now waives the reciprocity tax for U.S. passport holders. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

A lot can be said about country relations based on visa requirements and entry fees. Here are two recent developments from South America:

Chile

According to the Santiago International Airport website: “From Tuesday 26 February Chile has eliminated the collection of reciprocity tax for United States passport holders, who are now exempted from this payment.”

In the past, Americans (who never needed a visa to visit Chile) would need to pay the $160 fee upon arrival. It appears now that not only do Chileans not need to pay the $160 in return, but have also gained exemption from visa requirements to visit the United States. It almost goes without saying that relations between the two countries are warming up.

Venezuela (Image courtesy of Shutterstock)
Venezuela now requires Americans to obtain a visa in advance. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Venezuela

Until recently, the Venezuelan government charged $60 for U.S. business travelers to obtain a business visa, but allowed tourists entry without a visa. However, as of just last week, Venezuela now requires Americans traveling for business and tourism to obtain a visa in advance. They also raised the fee to match the $160 reciprocal price tag.

The worse part about this change in policy was that Venezuela did not alert the U.S. State Department about the change until March 3, 2015, creating a lot of confused travelers. Here’s the Department of State notification via the U.S. Embassy website in Caracas. 

Other “Big Name” Countries

Australia

It always seems puzzling that Australians are able to enter the United States for free, but Americans are charged $20AUD to obtain an Electronic Travel Authority (also known as an ETA). Apply directly through the Australian government website here.

Brazil

The process of applying for a Brazilian visa is very similar to the process Brazilians face when applying for a U.S. visa. Both applications are completed online, involve comparable supporting documentation, and cost $160. However, Brazilians need to make a personal appearance at a U.S. Embassy or consulate when applying, whereas U.S. Citizens can apply with a third-party service. Please note that Brazil consulates throughout the United States are very strict when it comes to jurisdiction, so make sure you submit documents to the correct location when applying for your visa.

versão final teste2
Brazilian consulate jurisdiction.

 

China

The visa processing machine that is China has really gotten its act together. While the application (example) looks overwhelming, it’s actually pretty straightforward, and the processing time is extremely short compared to other embassies.

They also do not enforce jurisdiction in Washington D.C. The visa fee for China is actually $20 cheaper at $140, and they only match the $160 visa fee with the United States if you need rush processing.

Best of all, China (like Brazil) has started issuing 10 year multiple entry visas to U.S. passport holders traveling for business or tourism. Click here to apply for your Ten Year Chinese Visa.

If you choose to use Allied Passport and Visa to obtain your international travel visas or passport services, please visit their website and be sure to mention “ThePointsGuy” on Allied’s Order Form to receive a $5 TPG discount!

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How to Stay Connected While Traveling: Phones, WiFi, & More http://thepointsguy.com/2015/03/how-to-stay-connected-while-traveling-phones-wifi-more/ http://thepointsguy.com/2015/03/how-to-stay-connected-while-traveling-phones-wifi-more/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 13:08:55 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=112404 For better or worse, it’s getting easier and easier to plug in everywhere you go. Whether you need to stay connected for business or just want to stay in contact with loved ones, you’ve got options. Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen explains just what those options are.

We live in a digitally connected world. Many of you would probably struggle to think of the last time you went more than a few hours without using a laptop/tablet/smartphone (while awake, of course). With technology continuing to advance at a rapid pace, there are more methods to stay in touch today than even a year or two ago, so today I want to go through the various options for staying connected while you’re away from home.

I’m going to look at this from four different travel “venues” that typically make an appearance in your trips:

  1. At the airport
  2. In the air
  3. On the ground (in another country)
  4. In hotels

Hopefully these suggestions will come in handy the next time you’re on the road!

Staying connected at the airport is getting easier and easier. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Staying connected at the airport is getting easier and easier. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Airport connections

The typical airport can be a beehive of activity, and fortunately, it’s becoming easier for you to stay connected when departing from, transiting through, or arriving at a given airport. When I first started traveling for business several years ago, I encountered many airports with only paid options for accessing the Internet, but that’s quickly becoming a thing of the past.

In fact, of the 10 busiest airports in the United States (based on 2013 data from the FAA), 9 now offer complimentary internet:

  • Atlanta (ATL)
  • Los Angeles (LAX)
  • Chicago-O’Hare (ORD), though only the first 20 minutes are free
  • Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW)
  • Denver (DEN)
  • San Francisco (SFO)
  • Charlotte (CLT)
  • Las Vegas (LAS)
  • Phoenix (PHX)

The lone exception is New York JFK, which charges $4.95 per hour or $7.95 for 24 hours of access.

Though some airports don’t provide free internet to all passengers, there are other ways you can stay connected. Most airline lounges have their own WiFi networks, and many provide computer workstations in case you left your device at home (or allowed the battery to die!). I have even visited lounges where the network doesn’t require a username and password, so if you’re in the terminal near a lounge, you may be able to gain access without entering the club.

If you hold the Amex Platinum, the new partnership between Boing and American Express gives you free internet at over a million hotspots worldwide.
If you hold the Amex Platinum, the new partnership between Boing and American Express gives you free internet at over a million hotspots worldwide.

Another way to stay connected is through a membership with Boingo Wireless, the provider most commonly found in airports around the U.S. There are a variety of plans available, but if you currently have the Platinum Card from American Express (or a business or corporate version), you can enroll in the Boingo American Express Preferred Plan, a benefit added to the card as of June 2014. Through this partnership, you can access over 1 million hotspots worldwide on up to four devices at once with no roaming fees or data caps.

Even at airports with free WiFi, a Boingo membership can give you access to premium internet and higher speeds, so this is a great way to stay connected while you travel.

Delta
Delta is one of many carriers with in-flight WiFi through Gogo.

Connections at 35,000 feet

Planes used to be the one place where you could escape from connectivity. That all changed with the introduction of in-flight WiFi, which is now found on most domestic flights and many international ones as well. Each airline has its own method of keeping you connected onboard; here’s a quick rundown of those options on the major U.S. carriers (with links to the respective pages):

  • Alaska: most planes are equipped with Gogo in-flight internet.
  • American: most planes are equipped with Gogo, and American is currently adding Gogo to all new two-class regional jets.
  • Delta: just about all two-class planes are equipped with Gogo; Delta plans to add satellite-based coverage for international flights in the next year or two.
  • JetBlue: currently adding Fly-Fi to its planes, with all A321 and most A320 aircraft already equipped.
  • Southwest: currently adding WiFi to its planes.
  • United: currently installing satellite-based WiFi on its entire fleet (aside from 757 p.s. routes, which have Gogo).
  • US Airways: approximately 90% of domestic flights have WiFi coverage through Gogo.
  • Virgin America: fleet-wide access to Gogo.

If you aren’t loyal to a specific airline, you may want to consider an unlimited monthly pass (currently $59.95 per month). This will give you access to WiFi on all participating airlines: Air Canada, Alaska, American, Delta, United (p.s. routes only), and US Airways. Otherwise, you can browse the individual purchase options when the plane reaches 10,000 feet, including hour, flight, or day passes.

One way you can avoid these costs is by with the Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN. As of last month, cardholders receive 10 complimentary Gogo passes each year. With all-day passes usually costing $16, this is a great way to get $160 of the annual fee back in your pocket.

You may not want to stay connected when visiting a secluded beach, but many carriers allow it! Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
You may not want to stay connected when visiting a secluded beach, but many carriers allow it! Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Ground connections

Once you land in a foreign country, one of your first actions may be to turn your phone on. If you only have a nationwide plan, you’ll likely encounter one of two things: no service or roaming service. The latter of these two can be incredibly pricey, so before you travel, be sure to investigate what your carrier offers.

First, think about how you will be using your phone abroad. Do you need to make phone calls? Will you need data, texting, or some combination? Do you need service everywhere, or will WiFi suffice? The answers to these questions will help you decide what plan to pursue.

If simple WiFi access won’t be enough, many carriers offer add-ons (or included services) to keep you connected. T-Mobile is typically viewed as the leader in this arena, as all Simple Choice plans include unlimited data and texting in 120+ countries for no extra charge. Verizon’s global plans, AT&T’s Passport offerings, and Sprint’s International Data packs give you a specified monthly data allowance abroad for a flat rate. If you’d rather pay-as-you-go for data and/or texts, that’s an option as well, though be prepared for relatively high charges.

If you need the ability to make voice calls abroad, carriers give you several options. Again, T-Mobile stands out, with flat rate calling (20 cents/minute) to covered countries available on all Simple Choice plans. AT&T’s Passport packages offer discounted per minute pricing; your actual rate will vary depending on the package you select. Sprint and Verizon also offer “discounted” pricing when you add global voice to your plan (both charge $4.99 per month). Unfortunately, the resulting rates are inconsistent across countries, and can get as high as $5.99 per minute! See a country by country breakdown for Sprint here and for Verizon here.

Skype is one popular service for making voice and video calls while traveling.
Online options like Skype are easy to use and generally less expensive.

If none of these options appeals to your wallet, technology has been a boon to staying connected while traveling. Here are some of my favorite tools to use:

  • Skype: Offers free phone calls and video-chat over WiFi connections with other Skype users, and allows you to make calls to international landlines and cell phones (either pay-as-you-go or a flat monthly fee). Skype’s “Unlimited World” package, usually $13.99 per month, offers a free month trial so you can test drive the service.
  • Vonage: Similar to Skype, Vonage offers customers two different apps for international calling. The standard mobile app allows you to call other Vonage app users around the world for free. If you’re a current customer, however, you can download the Vonage Extensions app and use your smartphone to make international calls when connected to WiFi, regardless of your location.
  • Google Hangouts: If you have a Google+ account, you can access the Hangouts feature and video chat with friends and family over WiFi. You can also place calls to the U.S. and Canada for free, and calls to other countries are available at low rates as well.
  • Rebtel: This service allows you to make international calls using an app over WiFi or data, but Rebtel also provides local access numbers, which is great if you’re staying in a hotel that gives free local calls. Your first call is free, so you can try it before you commit.

Keep in mind that all of these apps and services use data to make calls, so you must either connect to a WiFi network or plan to use local networks. The latter of these will likely result in significant fees, so be careful when you use them!

Starting January 15, 2015, Marriott Rewards will offer free Wi-Fi to all its members - not just elites.
As of January 15, 2015, Marriott Rewards offers free WiFi to all its members — not just elites.

Hotel connections

The last few months have seen a flurry of activity when it comes to getting online at hotels. IHG Rewards was the first major chain to offer complimentary internet access to all guests in 2014. From there, the dominoes began falling quickly:

In addition to these offerings, if you have certain levels of elite status with these chains, you’ll now be able to access complimentary premium internet for faster browsing.

This isn’t the only way to stay connected in your hotel. As I wrote about in November, there are other methods for gaining access without paying, including booking a room rate or package with free internet (such as a club room or suite), negotiating for free internet at check-in, or connecting in the lobby, which you can often do for free.

Bottom line

While many of you take vacations to get away from it all, staying connected on the road can be an absolute lifesaver. If you plan ahead, you can keep in touch with friends and family members virtually anywhere in the world without breaking the bank.

How do you stay connected when you travel?

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Hotel Review: St. Regis Princeville on Kauai http://thepointsguy.com/2015/03/hotel-review-st-regis-princeville-on-kauai-2/ http://thepointsguy.com/2015/03/hotel-review-st-regis-princeville-on-kauai-2/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 21:59:24 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=112359 I first visited the St. Regis Princeville three years ago, and I’ve been wanting to return ever since, so I was excited to spend three nights here last month on a brief (but totally worthwhile) jaunt to the Hawaiian Islands.

This Starwood property sits on the northern coast of Kauai overlooking Hanalei Bay. With the roaring Pacific and the famous cliffs of the Na Pali Coast as a backdrop, the scenery is stunning. The resort only has 251 rooms, so it’s quieter, more intimate, and more exclusive than most other high-profile properties on the island.

I maximize points and miles so I can savor sunsets like this one.

Rooms at the St. Regis Princeville average $500/night, or as a category 7 property, you can redeem 30,000 Starpoints during off-peak periods (35,000 points otherwise). Instead, I booked this stay using Starwood’s cash and points option, and paid 15,000 points and $275 per night. Essentially I was buying back 15,000 points per night for just over 1.83 cents each. Since I value SPG points at 2.4 cents apiece, I was happy with that price.

If I had stayed for five nights, I would have redeemed with points alone to take advantage of SPG’s 5th award night free benefit. Since I only stayed three nights, I opted to preserve my points so I can use them for other lucrative redemptions (like SPG Moments).

Check-in Experience

Excellent view from my upgraded room.
I had an excellent view from my upgraded room.

Upon arrival I was upgraded from a standard mountain view room to an ocean view room with a terrace, since no suites were available for a platinum upgrade at check-in. However, I was also given butler service as an added benefit, which was particularly nice since that usually only comes with a suite.

My SPG Ambassador Heather learned quickly that the key to my heart is through champagne, pineapple and sparkling water with lemon.
My SPG Ambassador Heather learned quickly that the key to my heart is through champagne, pineapple and sparkling water with lemon.

Guest Room

Hotel Review: St. Regis Princeville on Kauai
Hotel Review: St. Regis Princeville on Kauai

The look of the rooms hadn’t changed since my last trip. I love the original Hawaiian art, hardwood fixtures, custom-built furniture and plantation shutters. There’s a lot of marble in the foyer and bathroom; it feels very colonial Hawaii.

Hotel Review: St. Regis Princeville on Kauai
Great details in the room. So beachy!

The bathroom was marble, marble, and more marble, featuring two sinks and a supply of Remède bath products.

All marble, all the time.
All marble, all the time.

The terrace is a huge bonus in a room with a single space, especially in a place as breathtakingly beautiful as Kauai.

Hotel Review: St. Regis Princeville on Kauai
Lots of time was spent on the terrace.

Hotel Amenities

The resort is on the clifftops over Hanalei bay, so getting to the beach requires a transfer to two elevators. However, the infinity pool is beautiful, and was quiet even though the hotel was full with other guests, so we spent some time relaxing there admiring a gorgeous sunset.

Breezy and beautiful day by the pool.
A breezy and beautiful day by the pool.

We ate at Kauai Grill on site and it was good, but not outstanding. Instead, I highly recommend Bar Acuda in Hanalei Bay — probably the top restaurant there, and well worth a trip outside the resort. Tahiti Nui is a fun place for cocktails. The local spots in Hanalei are your best bet.

Makana Terrace at The St. Regis Princeville

The lobby bar is out-of-this-world spectacular, with a Champagne sabering each evening, hula dancers, and an unbeatable view.

The St Regis lobby is gorgeous.
The St. Regis lobby is gorgeous.

The butler service at the St. Regis is incredible; it includes unpacking and packing, coffee service, and two free items pressed each day. The butlers also acted as concierges, helping us make reservations and such.

I love Kauai, but miss my pooch dearly so it was super sweet of the St. Regis to bring him to me.
I love Kauai, but missed my pooch dearly, so it was sweet of the St. Regis to bring him to me.

Shortcomings

The main issue I had with the resort is the WiFi. It was 1992-dial-up slow. At first I thought it may have been because my room was so far from the main building — which shouldn’t be an issue in itself at a top resort — but the connection was horrendous even at the pool. Hawaii isn’t Cuba, and the Andaz Maui had blazing fast WiFi; there’s really no excuse. The resort’s IT department just kept telling us to restart our computer, which of course did nothing. I understand that most people aren’t coming to the St. Regis to get online, but if you’re planning to do any kind of work while you visit Kauai, I’d suggest booking elsewhere.

The resort itself could also use an overall renovation (I’m not sure if this is already in the works or not). It’s just a bit tired and outdated.

Finally, the St. Regis Princeville has one of the worst SPG Platinum recognitions for breakfast. Instead of receiving a credit that could be used at will, we could only choose from a paltry selection of croissants and other continental items. If you want to opt-up to the full buffet, it would be a $19 up-charge per person.

With Kauai's micro-climates, you never know what weather you're going to get- especially on the north shore
With Kauai’s micro-climates, you never know what weather you’re going to get, especially on the north shore.

Overall Impression

Despite the few drawbacks, the property still is stunning and I really like the North side of Kauai. For suggestions on what to do in Kauai, check out What Are the Best Excursions in Princeville, Kauai, Hawaii.

Princeville is an interesting town; the climate changes all the time, but even in the rain it’s gorgeous. The resort itself is restful and elegant, and because it’s so expensive, I’d recommend it for a honeymoon that’s a real splurge. That being said, the rooms could really use a refresh.

Have you stayed at the St. Regis Kauai? Feel free to share you feedback below!

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Layover Lowdown: Istanbul Atatürk Airport http://thepointsguy.com/2015/03/layover-lowdown-istanbul-ataturk-airport/ http://thepointsguy.com/2015/03/layover-lowdown-istanbul-ataturk-airport/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 20:59:13 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=109942 Our new “Layover Lowdown” series features airports and destinations around the world where you’re likely to be stuck between flights, offering tips on navigating and spending time in the airport, as well as some things to do if you find yourself with time to explore the nearby city. TPG International Contributor Lane Nieset takes us through Turkey’s largest airport—one of the fastest growing in Europe, with over 50 million passengers passing through each year.

The Istanbul Atatürk Airport.
The Istanbul Atatürk Airport. Photo courtesy of TAV Istanbul Ataturk Airport

Europe’s fourth busiest airport, and one of the top 40 international airports in the world, Istanbul Atatürk Airport (IST) has rapidly grown since it was renamed in 1980 after the founder of the Republic of Turkey—looking much different than it appeared in the 1963 James Bond film, From Russia With Love. In the past few years it’s been rated “Airport of the Year” by Air Transport News, and it’s not hard to see why, from the state-of-the-art luxury lounges to a Grand Bazaar-inspired Duty-Free shopping complex.

At the Airport

Special Features

Turkey is a predominately Muslim country, so those who practice this faith can find eight mosques spread throughout the International and Domestic terminals, open 24/7. If you’d like to take in a different side of the culture, swing by the TAV Gallery in the International Departures terminal and check out the artwork on display, like the recent underwater photography exhibit, “The Birth of a River: Sakarya,” which spotlights Turkey’s third-largest river.

Star Alliance Gold members, first- and business-class passengers on Star Alliance airlines, and Turkish Airlines international business-class travelers can soak up the luxuries in the super snazzy Turkish Airlines Departure Lounge, which has everything from a tea garden serving Turkish tea to chef’s corners where passengers can watch the masters whip up regional specialties like manti, a Turkish dumpling. The lounge also has a cinema, free WiFi, a billiards room, golf simulator, showers and a prayer room.

Those flying first or business class on Emirates can relax pre-flight in a comfy leather armchair in the Emirates Lounge,  drinking Champagne, eating gourmet Turkish fare, and/or taking advantage of the WiFi and showers. After long-hauls, passengers can de-stress in the wellness center at the SkyTeam Lounge, which features tons of natural light (no fluorescents here!), an oxygen bar and full-body massage chairs.

If you want a moment of privacy or some shut-eye, the TAV Airport Hotel in the International terminal has 46 rooms for stays from three to 24 hours that feature Internet access, a music system, minibar, and screens with flight details. But keep in mind this doesn’t come cheap; rooms start at 95 Euros ($108) for up to three hours.

Tip: If you plan on exploring Istanbul, Americans need a visa to enter the Republic of Turkey, so save time and purchase an e-visa ($20) before you arrive at the airport. The 90-day visa allows for multiple entries, and can also be purchased at one of the kiosks near passport control inside the airport.

Old Bazaar
Stock up on Turkish specialties at the Old Bazaar, designed to resemble the city’s Grand Bazaar. Photo courtesy of TAV Istanbul Ataturk Airport

Shopping

Didn’t have hours to spend getting lost in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar? You can still snag local specialties like halva and Turkish delight at the market-inspired Old Bazaar, designed to look similar to its counterpart in town. If you’re looking for designer fare, the International Departures terminal also boasts boutiques like Hermès, Bvlgari, Ermenegildo Zegna, Salvatore Ferragamo and Versace. Over in International Arrivals, the duty-free concept store sports the broadest variety of imported wine in Turkey.

Dining 

If you want quick Turkish cuisine, try Turcuisine in the International Departures food court or grab Turkish meze like stuffed grape leaves from Restro, a buffet restaurant with international cuisine on the mezzanine floor (before passport control). For sit-down spots, the low-key English Efes Beerport (just past passport control), is open 24/7 and serves snacks, pub fare, and, of course, beer. Those who want to spread out and enjoy a slightly more upscale meal should take a seat at the airport outpost of Turkish chain Kitchenette, which doubles as a restaurant and pâtisserie.

Luggage Storage

Store your suitcase for just 20 Turkish Lira ($8) per day at the 24-hour Baggage Custody Service, located in Arrivals in both the international and domestic terminals.

Transport to the City Center

If you want a quick option into town, take one of the orange airport taxis, which charge around 145 TL ($60) and take about 30 minutes to get to Taksim. Be sure to have local currency, since most cabs don’t accept credit cards, and keep an eye on the meter or negotiate a flat rate before you start driving.

You can also take the Havatas airport shuttle, located outside the terminals, which runs every half hour to Taksim and costs 11 TL ($4.50). The trip takes about 40 minutes in total, depending on traffic (which is notoriously bad in Istanbul).

The metro is a cheap option into town, located just underneath the Arrivals terminal, but will require a few connections depending on where you want to go. If you plan on going to Taksim, take the red line M1A to Yenikapi and switch for the green M2 line to Taksim. Rides require a token (jeton), which costs 4 TL ($1.60), but if you plan on staying in town for a few days, purchase a reloadable Istanbul Kart from the airport (6 TL or $2.40), for reduced fares on trams, ferries, buses and the metro.

Bosphorus Boat Tour
Take to the water with a boat tour on the Bosphorus. Photo by Lane Nieset

If You Have a Half Day

Head out on the Bosphorus and tour Istanbul by boat, where you can see both the European and Asian sides of the city from the water. End the tour with a fish sandwich under the Galata Bridge, just a few Turkish Lira and grilled straight from the sea.

Blue Mosque
Step into the Blue Mosque and check out the architecture, but be sure to have your legs covered (and hair, for the ladies). Photo courtesy of Lane Nieset

If You Have a Whole Day

Start in Sultanahmet and explore some of Istanbul’s famous sites, like the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque); the underground Basilica Cistern dating back to the third and fourth centuries; the Topkapi Palace museum, home of the Ottoman sultans for over 400 years; and the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) museum. If you still have time and want to experience a Turkish ritual, book a Turkish bath at a hammam like the classic Çemberlitas Hamami, built for a sultan in 1584.

If You Have the Night

The 326-room Radisson Blu Conference & Airport Hotel is just a quick (and free) shuttle ride from the airport and has a Turkish hammam and indoor pool, as well as amenities like Nespresso machines and in-suite Jacuzzis. Rooms start at 38,000 Gold Points or $108.

Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah
Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah is the oldest European hotel in Turkey. Photo courtesy of Jumeirah Hotels

Located near Galata Tower overlooking the Golden Horn, the elegant 115-room Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah (rates from $262) is a historic hotel with Old World charm that has hosted Hemingway, as well as Turkish leader Atatürk (who stayed in the suite now named after him). Nearby off of the Istiklal shopping street, the new Philippe Starck-designed Mama Shelter hotel (rates from $79) is a great choice for the younger set with a lively bar scene featuring craft cocktails, Turkish wine and beer, guest DJs spinning, and Franco-Turkish cuisine.

The Istanbul EDITION, Ian Schrager’s collaboration with Marriott, is a cozy enclave tucked away in the skyscraper-heavy neighborhood of Levent. Schrager’s understated glamour reigns throughout, from the loft-style rooms with rich wood hues to the sultry Gold Bar with a 20-foot aquarium. If you plan on spending part of the day indoors, don’t miss the hotel’s three-floor ESPA spa. Rates for the Category 8 Marriott property start at 40,000 reward points or $159 per night.

For more ideas on things to do in Istanbul, check out the Destination of the Week: Istanbul post.

What are some of your favorite things to do in and out of the airport in Istanbul?

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