TPG staffers share 2019 travel highlights

Nov 27, 2019

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This should come as no surprise, but here at TPG we love to travel. When we’re not writing about all the ways you can save on an upcoming trip, you can usually find us at an airport, on a plane or exploring a new destination. As 2019 nears the end, we thought we’d share some of our staff’s travel highlights of the year.

We hope you enjoy and perhaps find some inspiration for your 2020 travels. Let us know what your travel highlights were in the comments below!

Brian Kelly – The Points Guy

Favorite place: Israel.
Total mileage: 170,714 miles through Oct. 31, 2019 with about 20,000 or so more miles of travel ahead.
2019 status update: I’m set to re-qualify for AA Executive Platinum and JetBlue Mosaic status. I’m hoping to qualify for Marriott Ambassador Elite status, but if I don’t, I’ll remain a lifetime Titanium Elite member. I’ve already re-qualified for United Silver through the Marriott partnership and have also earned Delta Platinum, Hilton Diamond and Hertz Platinum (via Centurion).
2020 travel plans: Getting United 1k. I may be shifting international U.S./UK travel to United from AA/BA (but may think otherwise after trying the new BA club suites). Newark is much closer to the new TPG office, there’s CLEAR availability, more United planes have real Polaris and the amazing lounge. Not to mention that United has a great linkage with Marriott and will deliver your checked baggage from Newark to Marriott London hotels.

Photo by Jack Witty/The Points Guy
(Photo by Jack Witty/The Points Guy)

Jack Witty – Head of Paid Media

Favorite place: My favorite place I visited this year was Koh Samui, Thailand, because that’s where I got engaged!
2019 status update: Didn’t reach status, but I did use 60k AA miles to fly one-way biz from JFK to NRT, which was awesome. I also used Chase points to fly Singapore biz from SIN to LAX on the way home – could have spent another 10 hours on that plane, ha!
2020 travel plans: The plan for 2020 is to do more in the U.S. — Sedona and Napa — and head north to Toronto. Honeymoon planning as well, with the goal of going to the Maldives.

Benji Stawski – Contributor 

Favorite place: Thanks to some last-minute United Polaris award availability, I celebrated 4th of July with an impromptu trip to Buenos Aires and absolutely loved it. The city was beautiful, the food was delicious and I loved everything about the culture, though next time I hope to go when the weather is a bit warmer there.
Total mileage: 70,363 miles
2019 status update: I’ve re-qualified for Alaska Airlines MVP status for the third year in a row. Although MVP is Alaska’s lowest level of status, I love it because I often get upgrades to first class, including on transcontinental flights.
2020 travel plans: I plan on matching my status to Delta and becoming loyal to the airline since Alaska’s route network is quite limited for East Coast flyers.

(Photo by Mitchell Stoutin/The Points Guy)

Mitchell Stoutin – Director of Engineering

Favorite place: Sitka, Alaska. It was like Disney for screen-free parents and a welcome refuge from the dead of Texas summer. We didn’t even rent a car or pack carseats; we could walk or bike everywhere.
Total mileage: 14,873 (So far. Have a few trips left in me …)
2019 status update: No status this year — I flew every major domestic carrier and half the discounters, though.
2020 travel plans: We’re looking at South America and Newfoundland.

Lori Zaino – Senior Writer

Favorite place(s): My favorite place that I visited in 2019 was Bosnia and Herzegovina. I love destinations that surprise and delight me — the country was an enigma to me before visiting. The natural wonders were gorgeous — expansive vineyards and rolling hills and the Kravice waterfalls were overwhelmingly beautiful. I found the country’s history extremely interesting and had no idea that Bosnia is governed by not one, but three presidents.
Total mileage: This one is harder to calculate considering there’s no easy way to track miles flown on airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet (both of which I fly often as I’m based in Madrid, Spain). But I’ve probably flown about 80,000 miles on Oneworld carriers, 8,000 on low-cost carriers and about 8,000 on Star Alliance carriers this year.
2019 status update: This year, I’ll hit Platinum status on American Airlines. However, for 2020, I might switch to focus on earning with Iberia, as they don’t have an elite spend requirement and I fly them often out of their hub in Madrid. Plus, thanks to AA’s new dynamic (and sky-high) pricing on tickets between the U.S. and Europe, I’d like to focus on earning Iberia Avios. The airline’s award chart still has some sweet spots.
2020 travel plans: I’ll be spending New Year’s Eve in Egypt and have plans to visit Cyprus, Beirut, Georgia (the country) and Montenegro during spring and summer. A road trip through northern Spain and Portugal is also on the agenda for 2020.

(Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

Clint Henderson – Senior News Editor

Favorite place(s): Singapore and Quito. Singapore was a spectacular city, like something from a futuristic movie. It was advanced, clean and luxurious. Quito was a shocking surprise — a stunning city that’s among the highest elevation cities in the world. It’s surrounded by beautiful mountains and has a well-preserved colonial heart.
Total mileage: 104,926 miles
2019 status update: I’ll end the year with Platinum Pro status on AA even though I did a status challenge to earn Platinum Delta status for 2020.
2020 travel plans: I’m hoping to go to Cairo and Santiago.

(Photo by Madison Blancaflor/The Points Guy)

Madison Blancaflor – Credit Cards Reporter

Favorite place: Croatia. The whole trip was a dream, but my favorite place was Bol, a town on the island of Brač. The town was quaint, the people were wonderful, the food was amazing and the beaches were gorgeous. Dubrovnik was a close second. Exploring the inspiration for King’s Landing and seeing filming locations made my “Game of Thrones”-loving heart very happy.
Total mileage: 21,694 — It was a pretty light year travel-wise. Hopefully, that number will be much higher in 2020.
2019 status update: I didn’t reach status this year, but I’m coming for it in 2020!
2020 travel plans: London, Paris, Spain and Thailand are the only international destinations on the books so far, but I’m hoping to add a few more as flight deals and other opportunities come up. And of course my annual trip home to Arkansas to visit family during the holidays.

 

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Insane Night Mode shot long after sunset at @delairegraff just outside Cape Town. Unbeatable scenery – make sure you go for sunset!

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Zach Honig – Editor-at-Large

Favorite place: Cape Town! From hiking Table Mountain to meeting some exceptionally outgoing locals to experiencing my first PeaceJam conference, my favorite trip of the year was exploring Cape Town with the TPG team. United’s new nonstop flight from Newark will make CPT far more accessible and I look forward to returning soon.
Total mileage: 200,588 so far, plus 22,564 to come!
2019 status update: Yes! United Premier 1K and Marriott Titanium (lifetime).
2020 travel plans: So far, I have Kauai, Paris and Colombia in January, but I’m sure there will be much more to come!

Jean Arnas – Video Director for TPG UK

Favorite place: Thailand – I love the people, the food, the culture, the parties and the hotels.
Total mileage: I don’t know, but not a lot.
2019 status update: I was downgraded from Silver to Bronze on British Airways Executive Club. I would like to do a tier point run that earns 5,000 tier points, which would take me back to Gold Guest list and Concorde card.
2020 travel plans: I would like to visit 100 countries by the time I turn 30 years old. I’m at 83 right now — just came back from Sofia, Bulgaria, last weekend. I need to visit 17 new countries before Jan. 2, 2021.

(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)

Samantha Rosen – Lifestyle Editor

Favorite place: I’m so grateful that I had a lot of amazing trips this year, but my favorite was definitely my solo trip to Japan — specifically Tokyo. From the second I landed, I knew it was going to be one of my favorite places in the world. The people were so warm and welcoming, the food was absolutely to die for and the entire vibe of the city was just so special. I flew there in Japan Airlines first class and home in Air Canada business class, and found one of my new favorite hotels: The Conrad. It really was the perfect trip. If you’re considering going: GO. It will be one of the best decisions you ever make.
Total mileage: 70,684 miles
2019 status update: I didn’t reach status this year but I’m aiming to qualify for Delta next year.
2020 travel plans: I’m kicking off the year with a trip to Aruba! I also have a family trip lined up to Hawaii. Would love to get back to Asia at some point, too!

Benèt Wilson – Credit Cards Editor

Favorite place: It wasn’t a particular place. I did a road trip from Sacramento, California, to San Antonio, Texas, with my sister. I literally got to stand on a corner in Winslow, Arizona! I also enjoyed my Caribbean cruise on Celebrity.
Total mileage: 56,758, mostly on Southwest, with some UA, AA and Delta mixed in.
2019 status update: I reached Southwest A-List status in August, which means I won’t have to repeat last year’s ridiculous December mileage run. I also have United MileagePlus Gold. I use my miles to cover those last-minute trips that always come up.
2020 travel plans: I have a trip traveling around Morocco in February. I’m also planning a fall trip to Asia (I’m targeting Vietnam and Cambodia, although that might change).

Caitlin Riddell – Social Media Lead

Favorite place: Guatemala for Peace Jam – a country I had never been to before. I also just did a whirlwind 24-hour trip to Paris (my first time there!) with family where we hit all the major tourist hot spots – Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysee, Notre Dame – and also booked an incredible food tour via the Chase Travel portal where we got to experience some authentic French food including cheese, wine, pastries and more! It was an incredibly memorable trip and I can’t wait to visit again and explore all the areas I didn’t get to see!
Total mileage: 44,703
2019 status update: Yes, renewed my Gold status with American Airlines. Booking a trip to Turks & Caicos in February for my birthday!
2020 travel plans: Possibly a trip to Madrid to visit Lori! Looking forward to taking a vacation where I remove email and Slack from my phone for a whole week

Scott Mayerowitz – Executive Editorial Director 

Favorite place(s): This was another great year of travel for me. One of the highlights was visiting Cape Town, South Africa, with the TPG team as part the amazing PeaceJam program. It was an inspiring trip and I got a taste of Cape Town and am eager to return. The other amazing trip was visiting the Kimpton Seafire Grand Cayman for my fifth wedding anniversary – a trip that was free thanks to my IHG points. It was probably the best use I will ever have for those points. This was an amazing luxury hotel and I am hoarding my points to return again.
Total mileage: I flew 61,580 miles in 2019 – a relatively slow year for me but one that had lots of short domestic flights. My average stage length was just 1,257 miles. I took a total of 49 flight segments during the year. Of my trips, all but one involved nonstop flights. That’s right, just one trip (Cape Town, South Africa) involved a connection. I don’t think I’ve ever had a year with so much nonstop flying. There were five trips to Charlotte to visit TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures, plus multiple stops in Atlanta, Chicago and Dallas to visit the headquarters of the major U.S. airlines. Work took me to Seattle for a reader meetup and to visit Boeing and Alaska Airlines. I also got to travel to Disney World for an amazing story on hidden Mickey Mouse shapes – you need to read the story to understand how cool this is – plus a great trip to Las Vegas for a behind-the-scenes video with McCarran International Airport.
2019 status update: I will retain my Hilton Gold and IHG Platinum status in 2020 thanks to The Platinum Card® from American Express and the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card. For Delta Air Lines, I hit the holy grail of status: Diamond Medallion. That was thanks to lots of Delta flying – including some premium cabin fares — plus a ton of rollover elite-qualifying miles from 2018 and lots and lots of credit card spend on my various Delta American Express cards thanks to moving to a new apartment. Finally, I reached Hyatt Globalist, thanks to a number of stays and also some spend on my World of Hyatt Credit Card. The big status question for me in 2019 remains if I will hit Marriott Bonvoy Platinum. I’m currently estimating I will have 43 elite-qualifying nights. I need 50 to make it. If I get any closer, I will try to pick up a night or two via a Marriott mattress run. It could be worth it for 2020.
2020 travel plans: The trip I’m most looking forward to in 2020 is to the Park Hyatt St. Kitts in January with my wife, our daughter and my parents. (I paid for the flights and hotel rooms all on points.) Thanks to my Globalist status, we’ll get free breakfast each day. I also already applied two suite-upgrade certificates to confirm larger rooms for my parents and my wife, daughter and me. My wife and I are also heading on a kid-free trip in May to Portugal. We transferred American Express Membership Rewards to Aeroplan and then used those to book business class on TAP Air Portugal’s A330-900neo to Lisbon and TAP’s A321LR back from Porto, also in business class.

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Alberto Riva – Managing Editor 

Favorite place: This year, I finally made it to Berlin, a city that had captured my imagination back when it was still divided by the Berlin Wall. I didn’t find any visible trace of that history; it was easier to bump into reminders of World War II than of the Cold War. But what I did find was a profoundly European city, rich in culture and ideas, far more interesting than other (and more beautiful) places on the Continent. Berlin didn’t feel like a place to spend three days in and be dazzled by the architecture, like Rome or Paris. It felt like a place to move to for a while, maybe a long while. I understood why friends have left the U.S. for it lately; things are happening in Berlin. Also, it’s cheap. Easy winner for my favorite place of 2019.           
Total mileage: 70,000 miles as of mid-November. I’ll make it to 80,000 before the year is out, and even that is low for me. TPG has been expanding and I’ve been busy running the news crew from the New York office!
2019 status update: I re-qualified for Platinum Medallion with Delta, thanks to rollover elite-qualifying miles from last year. In 2020, I plan to use the four regional upgrade certificates that come with Platinum status to get myself and my wife bumped to Delta One lie-flat seats on flights from NYC to Los Angeles, a city that’s grown on us. We used to be total snobbish New Yorkers about L.A. A couple of trips there this year in early spring, when the East Coast was freezing and California balmy, helped us see the error of our ways.
2020 travel plans: Burning through my stash of Chase UR points. I’m thinking of redeeming via United Airlines for Lufthansa business class to Europe. The conventional wisdom is that Lufthansa is great in first class and only middling in biz, but I beg to differ: LH biz seats may not offer aisle access for everybody, but the 2-2 layout on the upper deck of the 747 is perfect for a couple, and the service is always flawless. Berlin via Frankfurt, here we come.

Jill Bressler – Senior Product Designer

Favorite place: Guanajuato, Mexico. I’m technically about to go (leaving next week), but I’ve been before. It’s a cultural hub in Mexico, a Unesco world-heritage site (think colorful, colonial buildings, tree-lined streets, beautiful parks and squares) with an incredibly friendly population that a mix of locals and transplants.

Total mileage: 60,000
2019 status update: Sadly, I was just learning about status at the beginning of the year so didn’t prioritize it. I expect to get gold status on American since we book work travel on that airline a lot, but I’m not sure I’ll travel enough to get status on any other airline.
2020 travel plans: Barcelona in January, more of Spain in April/May with potential to dip into Morocco (still planning with my husband).

Photo by Liz Hund/The Points Guy
(Photo by Liz Hund/The Points Guy)

Liz Hund – Reporter

Favorite place: I took a lot of great trips this year, but backpacking through Thailand was one of my favorites.I was expecting the islands to be my favorite part of Thailand, but I really fell in love with the north of the country — especially Pai. It was such a charming little mountain town with amazing food and so many activities — the Pai Canyon hike, taking a local cooking class and chasing waterfalls. I’d love to go back and spend more time there.
Total mileage: 55,049
2019 status update: I didn’t reach status this year as my flights were pretty spread out on different alliances throughout the year. I did come close to Gold on American.
2020 travel plans: I have Australia and Tokyo booked so far. I’m also hoping to visit London in the spring when the wisteria trees are in bloom.

Zach Griff – Travel Analyst 

Favorite place: My most memorable trip was to the PeaceJam conference in Ghana, and my most memorable flight was flying Swiss First on the carrier’s flagship Boeing 777-300ER.
Total mileage: 2019 has been my busiest travel year thus far. By the end of 2019, I will have flown 205,000 miles and 99 segments.
2019 status update: With all my 2019 travel, I reached top-tier status with two airlines – JetBlue Mosaic and United 1K. JetBlue’s Mosaic status is great for me since it allows me to make free changes and cancellations to any of my flights. With an ever-changing schedule, Mosaic is super-valuable. 2020 will also be my first year with top-tier United status, so I’m excited to use my hard-earned GPUs to upgrade flights into the flagship Polaris product.
2020 travel plans: 2020 is shaping to be an awesome year. I’ll continue flying JetBlue and United to try to requalify to status in 2021. I’ve already got trips booked to Vietnam and the United Island Hopper, with much more to come!

Zachary Bartholomew – TPG App Project Manager

Favorite place: Seville, Spain
Total mileage: Around 35,000.
2019 status update: AA Gold. Hopefully the stars align and I actually get an upgrade to first!
2020 travel plans: Costa Rica, Pacific Northwest, and a TBD location in Europe

Jane Frye – Weekend Editor 

Favorite place: My favorite place I visited in 2019 was Mexico City. Not only did I go on the most incredible food tour of my life, but the flight was only about five hours from NYC and the lounge situation at MEX is top-notch. I left wanting to immediately plan my return visit.
2020 travel plans: For 2020, I’m heading on my first solo trip to Madrid thanks to a deal we posted on TPG to hang with contributor Lori Zaino. I’m also looking forward to a trip to Banff in the fall, and my return trip to CDMX, of course.

JT Genter – Senior Points and Miles Editor 

Favorite place: Da Nang, Vietnam, was a destination that wasn’t on my map until an incredible Cathay Pacific sale last New Year’s Eve. Katie and I visited multiple times on these flights and enjoyed the amazing food and culture. We can’t wait to go back and explore more.
Total mileage: 241,943 through Nov.12 with another 13,416 miles booked. Probably will end up around 270k.
2019 status update: American Airlines Executive Platinum (150k+ EQM), Asiana Platinum (earned two-year status in 2018), Malaysia Enrich Gold elite status (good through 2020), IHG Spire Ambassador (74 nights so far but will hit 75), Marriott Platinum (59 nights so far), Choice Diamond (33 so far but will hit 40), Hilton Diamond (from The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card), Wyndham Diamond (from match) and Best Western Diamond (from match).
2020 travel plans: New Zealand, Singapore, Brazil (for Carnival), South Africa, Tanzania, Germany, India, Morocco, Egypt, France, Australia.

Cornwall
(Photo by Peter Rothbart/The Points Guy)

Peter Rothbart – Senior Points and Miles Contributor 

Favorite place: I spent a week in Cornwall in June, attending a music festival and then hiking the South West Coast Path. Falmouth and the surrounding area were inconceivably charming — lush hills dotted with tranquil hamlets, all against the backdrop of the North Atlantic. It made for a breathtaking break from big-city life.
Total Mileage: I will have logged 44,911 air miles by the end of 2019.
2019 status update: Airline status isn’t a priority for me, so I didn’t earn any this year and don’t expect to in 2020. I have hotel status from the Amex Platinum and Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, which has gotten me upgrades and free breakfast during several stays this year.
2020 travel plans: Nothing is booked yet, but I’m planning a spring trip to Nice and Corsica, and a fall/winter visit to Chile’s Lake District.

Emily McNutt – Global News Editor

Favorite place: I took so many amazing trips this year, making it incredibly hard to pick just one destination that was my favorite. I was lucky enough to travel to Tinos, Greece, on a week-long holiday with my partner. Having never heard of the island, I had somewhat low expectations but was completely blown away by the island and its people. It’s a small, stunning island just about a 20-minute ferry ride from Mykonos. It’s relatively undiscovered by tourists, which adds to the charm, and the food was some of the most incredible I’ve ever eaten. I definitely plan to return next year.
Total mileage: Current travel planned puts me at 126,814 miles
2019 status update: Delta Platinum, Hilton Diamond, Marriott Gold
2020 travel plans: Hoping to finally cross at least one destination off my bucket list — either Namibia or Mauritius. Or maybe both!

Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy
(Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Katie Genter – Senior Reporter

Favorite place: I visited a number of amazing places in 2019 while writing reviews of the Hyatt Regency Kuantan Resort, the InterContinental Phu Quoc Long Beach Resort, the Westin Langkawi Resort and Spa, the Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay and the Doubletree Resort by Hilton Fiji. But my favorite place this year has no chain hotels and our guest house had a floor made of coral rocks: Maupiti in French Polynesia. On this small island of 1,200 people, we swam with manta rays in the wild, watched tuna be carved into sashimi and kayaked above sharks. The island is only suited for intrepid travelers, but was certainly a memorable experience.
Total mileage: 228,971 BIS (butt-in-seat) miles through Nov. 19.
2019 status update: American Airlines Executive Platinum (Oneworld Emerald), Malaysia Enrich Gold (Oneworld Sapphire, earned in Jan 2019 and good through Jan 2021), Asiana Platinum (Star Alliance Gold, earned status for 4 years in 2018), IHG Platinum (mid-tier, from IHG Premier), Marriott Gold (mid-tier, from being authorized user on Platinum Card), Hilton Gold (mid-tier,  from being authorized user on Platinum Card) and Best Western Gold (low-tier, from AARP benefit).
2020 travel plans: New Zealand, Singapore (looking forward to Holiday Inn Resort Batam nearby), Brazil (for Carnival), South Africa, Tanzania (staying at some low-category Marriotts), Germany, India (staying at lots of Hyatt low-category properties), Morocco, Egypt (staying at some low-category Hiltons), France (for RoboCup 2020), Australia and much more.

Horseshoe Bay
(Photo by Sarah Long/The Points Guy)

Sarah Long – Data Analyst

Favorite place: I loved using my family trip to Bermuda to earn my Amex Platinum sign-up bonus and enjoy all of its perks! Nothing says “I’m an adult” quite like “Shall I guest you into the lounge, Mom & Dad?”
2019 status update: Since I no longer travel every week for work, I didn’t make my usual statuses. However, I will enroll in a status challenge in January to reclaim AA Gold!
2020 travel plans: 1) Download the TPG app!  2) Stop being such a points hoarder. Burn a few hundred thousand of my stockpiled points and miles by hiking in Patagonia, touristing in Seoul, and chasing the aurora borealis in Iceland. 3) Drink champagne in as many lounges as possible.

Daniel Ross – TPG UK Content Producer

Favorite place: As part of my first ever review trip, I visited the beautiful country of Jordan. Not only did I tour some mind-blowing places like Wadi Rum and Petra, but my dad came along for the ride which made the experience all the more special!
Total mileage: My mileage for 2019 will be 73,071 miles.
2019 status update: I got Silver with British Airways. I’m excited to continue having lounge access all around the world, getting free seat selection and cutting queues in airports all over the world!
2020 travel plans: Gold Status with BA (bit of a pipe dream), first ever trip to Australia which will be all on points and miles and a visit to my favourite place in the world – Brazil!

Photo by Katherine Fan/The Points Guy
(Photo by Lauren Ashley Studios)

Katherine Fan – Senior Travel Features Reporter

Favorite place: Cape Town, South Africa, is one of those places I can’t stop raving about. Incredible food, phenomenal weather, rich and intriguing culture. I had never been to Africa before, and I was blown away by how diverse everyone was, what their stories were, and how much passion there was in every area.
Total mileage: I will have flown 146,785 miles by Dec. 31. I started the year in Taiwan and visited a few new countries, as well as my sixth continent: the Philippines, South Africa, Spain, Greece, Morocco and Liberia.
2019 status update: I hit Silver with United and earned A-List with Southwest. I plan to try status-matching to another Star Alliance airline so I have something to work with for 2020.
2020 travel plans: I might try a short-term move overseas for a few months!

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Featured photo by Thomas Janisch/Getty Images.

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