I am probably Boarding Area’s number one fan of Anchorage, AK.  Mainly because I lived and worked there from 2002-2009 and we kept our house there even after moving out.  Anchorage has a lot going for it.  It is large enough at 370,000+ population to have pretty much anything that you need, but not so large that crime or traffic are problems.  Of course, things are always relative.  When we arrived there in 2002 the big election issue was that it was taking more than 15 minutes to get across town!

Anchorage has one of the best small airports in the country.  Fully renovated over the last ten years, it is very modern inside with lots of good restaurants and the Alaska Boardroom lounge.

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Lot’s of stuffed animals for you to take your picture with to show your friends!

Here is a picture of my house in Anchorage.  I go this after our igloo burned down.  Yes, there are people that really believe that we live in igloos and there is snow year round.  I always offer to exchange their U.S. dollars for Alaskan dollars for them…

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I could write a whole blog on all the interesting things that go on in Anchorage.  Let me limit myself to a couple of things we did in the 36 hours we spent here.  We had lunch at a BBQ place that my wife has been raving on Old Seward Hwy. near 36th St. about called  the Turnagain Arm Pit.  Yep, that’s Alaskan humor for you.  But the food was good and I tried their signature sandwich, the Boar Tide.  A 1/2 lb. of pulled pork topped with a slab of bacon.  Sprinkled with a variety of their homemade BBQ sauces and I was a pretty happy Alaskan!

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After this we went over to the Segaya Mid-Town Market.  If you are in Anchorage, check out any of the three Segaya’s Markets for some of the most eclectic food items you can find.  For a week during the summer, they even have live King Crab and you get a real idea of how big those monsters really are!  For this trip, I snapped a picture that I thought you all would like.  It is very Alaskan to slather your Turducken with a tub of duck fat for that extra special heart attack.  At least you’ll die with a smile on your face!

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So that’s it for Alaskan stuff this trip, but I will come up with more if you all like it.  Hmm,  maybe I could start a reality show based in Alaska…

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I consider Alaska to be a phenomenal airline.  No  it doesn’t have A380’s with showers or lie-flat First Class seats with Dom flowing freely, but it has a pretty good domestic product that certainly fits my needs.  The best part, of course, is the staff who are almost universally friendly and work to make your experience the most pleasant that it can be.  OF course, getting upgraded to First helps…

As MVP Gold 75K’s we ended up getting upgraded on every flight IAD-SEA-ANC-HNL-BLI-SEA-DCA, except the little bird from BLI to SEA.  Getting upgraded to First is easier on AS for a number of reasons.  Not a lot of big corporate international travelers means a lower percentage of elites, lower thresholds to reach status (75,000 would not get me very much on UA or AA), and smart ways to redeem miles.  What I mean about the last part?  Let me illustrate with a real example I am scheduling for my daughter.  She is taking the summer off from med school at Tulane and hiking with friends.  I checked the cost on an award flight from MSY-SEA.  It was 20k in miles for a one way ticket in Coach.  I also checked the cost for First and it was 25k for the same route and dates.  For 5k extra she can enjoy a much better experience.

Here is a little taste of our experience on our mileage run.  Seats are leather with plenty of space and in-seat power.  Note the Digiplayers that are complimentary with First Class.  These iPad-like devices come loaded with all the latest movies and TV shows.  That should last even for a long run like we are doing and saves me from downloading my own content.  Here I am enjoying my pre-flight beverage of guava something-or-other.

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Alaska has tried to enhance their food recently after letting it slip a bit in recent years.  We had some very interesting food this trip.  Check out this salad on our ANC-HNL trip with purple potatoes and ham.  Very Hawaiian, as was the complimentary Mai Tai (everyone gets these, not just FC).  However, I would say someone forgot the dark rum from my wife’s!

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I also love the fact that Alaska has copied one of my favorite things from United and serve warm nuts with the drinks.  Who doesn’t love warm nuts?

Finally, dessert is served!  This was a form of cheesecake for both meals that we have had so far, but not the exact same thing.  Both were delicious.  The main courses were either Alaskan cod or Chicken Marsala or Kalbi Beef.  Sorry I failed the mission and didn’t get pictures before I devoured them.  They were all so good!

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Finally landed in Anchorage a little after midnight.  That is very normal for Alaskan flights, take off or land in the middle of the night in order to accommodate West Coast schedules.  Fortunately, that makes it easy to schedule a mileage run of 4,000 miles in one evening.  We left at 1820 EDT and arrived at 0020 ADT.  What better to greet us than a moose!

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The wife and I target long weekends to get cheap airfares to accumulate elite qualifying miles in order to keep our status.  Due to my being a Million Miler on United, we (spouse matches your Million Miler status) are perennially Gold there and there is not any point in trying for miles there unless I think that I can get to 75k+.  Since United is easy, we focus on our other main FF program, Alaska Mileage Plan.

My wife used to think I was crazy to research so much about frequent flying, but once she earned status on Alaska, she became addicted to keeping it.  Last year she made MVP Gold 75K by BIS.  I matched my expiring United 1K status and Alaska gave my MVP Gold 75K also.  I guess we are an AS power couple!  So after a couple of really cheap DCA-LAX mileage runs in February we are well positioned, but still have a long ways to go in the year to get 75,000 on a primarily domestic airline.

The secret is to fly as far as one can and D.C. to either Alaska or Hawaii is about 5,000 miles each way.  Alaska makes mileage runs easier than most airlines due to the companion fare allowed by their BoA credit card.  So for any fare I can find, my wife flies along for only $99 + taxes and earns the same mileage that I do.  Note that if your primary program is AA or DL, you can use this technique also and credit your miles to those program.  However, the DL mileage is down due to the continuing hostility as part of the “Battle for Seattle”.

This run I arranged for us to not only go to our second home in ANC, but also hit HNL for a couple of days.  The routing is shown below and the total cost was $1,270, but divide that in half and get $635 per person.  The routing will get us each 12,065 EQM and with the MVPG 75K 125% bonus, we each get 27,146 RDM each.  Some of my fellow bloggers value AS miles at 2 cents each for a value of $542 earned meaning that we are theoretically spending less than $100 to visit ANC and HNL!

ANC HNL Mileage Run

While the routing to ANC is pretty simple, normally I would route through LAX to pick up an extra 1,000 miles, just couldn’t find a good price for this weekend.  However, on the way back, I found routing through BLI (Bellingham, WA).  Not only does this pick up an extra 500 miles for the BLI-SEA route, but the chance of getting upgraded on a less crowded flight is much greater.  So how did our upgrades look?  Well, I used certificates we got for being Golds for U class flights and got lucky for a couple of flights with complimentary upgrades.  The wife was already upgraded 10 of 12 flights so far this year, so top status really makes a difference.  Here’s how our itinerary looked before we boarded Saturday morning.

ANC HNL Schedule

So First Class for every flight except one so far!  More to follow in the remaining days this week…

 

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AA Charity

American Airlines often comes out with promotions around Veterans’ Day to donate through them to certain military charities for an increased amount of miles.  A normal charity dollar earns 10 miles, but through 10 July, you can get 15 per $.  Now they are having one for Memorial Day as well.  The mix of charities has also changed.  This time your donation goes to a wide variety of charities: The USO, Air Compassion for Veterans, Hero Miles, Snowball Express, Airpower Foundation, and The Honor Flight Network.  Several of these were new to me, so I thought I would give you a few details below.  You can access the main AA military charity site here.  I hope you all decide to donate tot hese worthy causes.  As a “pro tip”, this is a good way to keep your account active if you have AA miles that will expire.

The USO offers a variety of programs and services to lift the spirits of America’s troops and their families. The organization makes these programs available to as many eligible participants as possible, building awareness of these important tools to help in the recovery process when troops return home.

Air Compassion for Veterans provides medical-related air transportation for military, veterans and their families. Through Fuel Smart, a fuel-saving program that uses procedures to safely reduce fuel consumption, American has been able to contribute funds to help provide assistance.

The Hero Miles program helps provide round-trip airline tickets to wounded, injured and ill service members and/or their families who are undergoing treatment at a military or VA medical center; or who are attending an authorized event. Flights are made possible in part by mile donations to American’s Miles for All Who Serve program.

Snowball Express is one of the few charities dedicated to the children of our nation’s fallen military heroes. The all-volunteer nonprofit organization pays tribute to fallen military service members by helping their families connect with each other.
The Airpower Foundation is a nonprofit organization that raises money for programs that directly benefit veterans, military service members and their families. For the past 12 years, American has sponsored the group’s annual Sky Ball event, a black-tie gala and fundraising event.

The Honor Flight Network provides charter flights to veterans of various wars and conflicts to Washington, D.C., to view the memorials constructed to recognize their services and that of their fellow soldiers. The “Tour of Honor” relies on donated services and volunteers.

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As you well might know, I’m a big fan of not paying fees, particularly annual fees on credit cards. And and you also might know, because I write about it all the time, if you’re active duty (and sometimes even a reservist or a guardsman), you can get your annual fees waived on most if not all your credit cards. I’ve heard of varying levels of success from our readers in their attempts at getting SCRA benefits applied to their accounts so they could have their annual fee waived.

 

I’ve been universally successful in getting my annual fees waived…well, almost. My Bank of America Virgin Atlantic account has an SCRA application pending, but I anticipate it’ll be approved. And yes, @Benji (one of our astute readers), US Bank did approve my SCRA application, after much emailing back and forth. I think my success has been partially luck, and partially my tendency to keep asking, respectfully, until I get what I want.

 

I’ve had a reader email me asking about all my cards. I’m going to list my cards, and their respective annual fees, to see how much benefit I’m getting; it’s substantial! By bank:

 

American Express

Mercedes Benz Platinum – $475

SPG personal – $65

Hilton Surpass – $75

Blue Cash Preferred – $75

SPG business – $65

Gold business – $175

 

Chase

Ritz Carlton – $395

Sapphire Preferred – $95

United MileagePlus Explorer – $95

IHG Rewards – $49

Ink Plus business – $95

Ink Plus business #2 – $95

 

Citi

Prestige – $450

AA Executive (since cancelled this year) – $450

Premier – $95

AA Platinum – $95

Hilton Reserve – $95

Forward – $0

Best Buy – $0

AA Platinum business – $95

AA Platinum business #2 – $95

ThankYou business – $0

 

CapitalOne

No Hassle Rewards Visa – $0

 

Barclaycard

Arrival+ – $89

US Air (since cancelled this year) – $89

US Air #2 (also cancelled) – $89

Lufthansa (since cancelled this year) – $79

 

Bank of America

Virgin Atlantic – $90

 

US Bank

REI – $0

Club Carlson – $75

Lifemiles (since cancelled) – $75

 

Discover

It – $0

 

USAA

Amex – $0

World MC – $0

 

Taken all together, that’s $3,715 that I’ve saved over the past year. That’s a bit misleading however, as some of the above cards had their annual fee waived the first year anyways, and several of the ones I cancelled were that way. That being said, it was still a substantial amount that I’ve been able to save, purely from being a military member! See yesterday’s post if you want direction on how to apply for these benefits

 

Yes, that’s 28 cards, which is a crazy amount; however I can assure you there are those with twice that many. I mean, you heard about this guy right?

 

If you’re wondering why I cancelled so many Barclaycard cards, it’s because they are really strict about approving new accounts when you already have a bunch; it’s a churner’s nightmare.

 

If you have any questions let me know in the comments or email.

 

 

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In my continuing series on military credit card benefits utilizing the SCRA (Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act), I’d like to go over using those benefits with Bank of America credit cards. Thus far, we’ve gone over the following banks:

 

How to get your annual fees waived on:

 

American Express

 

Barclaycard

 

Chase

 

Citi

 

Capitalone

 

US Bank

 

I recently applied for an received the Bank of America Virgin Atlantic 90k credit card (application link), and wanted to see if BoA offered SCRA benefits. I’m also thinking of applying for the 25k Alaska Airlines card (or several!). I know that BG Goddard loves Alaska Airlines.

 

Before calling, I googled “Bank of america SCRA” and got this incredibly helpful website, which is one of the few bank websites that goes over all their SCRA benefits. The “Benefits” tab doesn’t go over annual fees though, so I called the number on the website, which is 1.877.345.0693. The associate I spoke with was very nice and helpful, but wasn’t sure if annual fees were waived.

 

She spoke with her supervisor though, and he confirmed that yes, once they get copies of active duty orders, almost all fees, including annual fees, are waived while they’re active duty. They said to fax either orders or a letter from your respective CO to 1.866.696.0292, or to mail a copy of it to:

 

Military Benefits Unit

P.O. Box 982282

El Paso, TX 79998-2238

 

She also said you did not have to be a cardholder before going Active Duty, unlike some of the other banks (looking at you Citi!).

 

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So everyone knows the basics of earning miles and redeeming them for a free flight, right?  Well, here are some tips on using those miles in a smarter manner and for ways that are applicable to military flyers.

A key fact to remember is that dollar prices of miles almost always rise the closer you get to the flight’s date.  With miles the price stays constant, although “saver awards” can be gone if you wait too long.  Many people complain that “saver awards” are so hard to get for the flight that you want that you might as well plan on paying the “standard award”.  My own experience is hit or miss and just consider myself lucky if a saver award is available without trying to book a trip a year in advance.  Life is too hectic for me to plan that far in advance.

With that in mind, use the axiom that if you can lock in a flight far in advance, use dollars, if it is short notice use miles.  The mile to dollar exchange ratio here will be very much in your favor.  So your flight for your wedding anniversary = dollars.  The flight to Vegas for your buddy’s bachelor party = miles.

This rule come in handy for a great military benefit, Space-A Travel.  The problem with Space-A is that you are dependent of the Air Force following their schedule and this is often not a good bet.   So while the flight may get you to your destination, you may get stranded for several days there if the bird breaks down or fills up with a priority mission.  FF Miles to the rescue!  Take the flight and use miles for that ticket home if you get stranded.  If you really want to be smart about it, go ahead and book a one way ticket home using miles and cancel it if the flight looks like it is going to be a go.  That gives you a better chance to get a saver award, but make sure you don’t forget to cancel if you don’t need it.

Another great use of miles is for one way tickets.  Some airlines, such as Southwest, Alaska and American, price a one way ticket at half of the round trip price.  Makes sense, but that is not the traditional way airlines priced these.  They priced a one way ticket as half of the full fare price, meaning a discounted round trip ticket could be less than a one way ticket.  United and some of the legacy carriers are still this way, so it creates a real problem to use them for a one way flight.  Only a few years ago, FF programs did not have redemption levels for one way flight, but now most do.  This makes a great value when you have to take a one way flight and save you a lot of dollars.  The military seems to end up in situations where we need to fly one way quite a bit, mostly due to our many moves, but this strategy can come in handy in many situations such as when your kid flunks out of college and wants a one way ticket home.  Just kidding.

Lastly, don’t forget when spending your miles the traditional way to use them for your lovely spouse first and pay for your own seat so you can earn more miles and greater status.

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Courtesy of my friend Brian who writes The Gate, here is a charity drive sponsored by Coca-Cola in cooperation with Kroger Supermarkets.  It is called Honoring Our Heroes and they have a two-fold drive.  The first is to donate 100,000 cans of Coke to the troops which you can help accomplish by simply clicking here.  Now I am sure there of those out there that think that there are better things we can give our military members than sugary caffeinated drinks (although it doesn’t seem to harm the young ones) and you are right.  The other drive is to raise money for one of my two favorite charities (the other being The Wounded Warrior Project) by soliciting a donation from you and then they will match that amount.  The ultimate goal is to raise $1,000,000 for Service Members and this fine organization.

Coke

We have written in the past about the USO which you can read here.  This is a great cause and we hope that you not only get a Coke in their hands, but also help a great organization such as the USO which of course you should be visiting whenever you are passing through the airport.

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Well as simple as anything in the military is…  As long as you know the rules, you can profit from them, but if you are not aware of them, you will certainly be disappointed in the results.

You may think it is sacrilegious for a frequent flyer to advocate using Space A travel, but it does have its uses – such as being almost free to use.  It is a great service to use if you are young and don’t have much money or you are retired and have more time than money.  I remember using it on my honeymoon to travel all over Europe.  We flew from Travis AFB (I was stationed at Ft. Ord at the time) taking two days to finally reach Frankfurt. we spent a few days each at Frankfurt, Naples, and Mildenhall using them as bases to take day trips to various adventures along the Rhine or to Pompei.  We did run into the main problem when you take Space A.  That being that we ended up only able to get a hop from Mildenhall to South Carolina and couldn’t get out of there back to California, so we ended up buying commercial tickets to get home before my leave was up.

For those of you who are adventurous, the official Space A site is here.  However, there is a great site that simplifies everything.  Created by and called John D.’s Military Space-A Travel Pages, this boils everything you need to know down to an easy to follow dialogue including typical routes and phone numbers to call.  Here are some common things John lists to increase your chances of success in getting the flight you want.

  •  number of flights to your destination
  • number of Space-A seats on those flights
  • number of people ahead of you trying for the flight
  • number of seats you need (1 is better than 6!)
  • seniority of your signup date in your particular category
  • time of year (summer and non-school periods are the worst)
  • amount of time you’re prepared to tolerate (i.e. burning leave) waiting for a flight in the terminal (and not at Burger King!)
  • amount of legs (different flights) you’re willing to take to get from A to B
  • type of aircraft you’re willing to fly on
  • weight of your baggage (under 30lbs enables you to compete for more types of aircraft)
  • your willingness to take a flight to a less popular location e.g. McConnell versus Dover

Your chances will improve the more you know the rules, methods and timing of sign-up, perseverance, patience and timing or travel.

So good luck and good hunting to those of you out there who want to try this great military benefit.

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Preface:  Although this program says Active Duty, it really is for active military including those from the Reserve Component.  Go to any Park Service gate and show your ID.  They will give you two passes, so you can give one to one of your dependents.  I got mine at ‘Ohe’O (Seven Sacred Pools) in the Kipahulu part of Haleakala National Park.  This is on the backside of Maui and you have to be pretty adventurous to get there.  Make sure you have four-wheel drive, but totally worth it!

Seven-Sacred-Pools-Oheo-Gulch-199x300

The National Park Service is recognizing the contributions and sacrifice of our service members by giving them and their families free admission to all our national parks.

“An annual pass will be made available to members of the military free of charge beginning Saturday, which is Armed Forces Day. The America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Annual Pass ordinarily costs $80. It provides access

to more than 2,000 national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands.” Announced a press release from the Interior Department as part of Armed Forces Day celebrations.

Pretty cool and I always like to see something done for the families.  Even though we often hear how budgets are tight, the NPS is giving up an estimated $2-6 million in fees by doing this action.  Military personnel or any of their family members can get the pass at any national park or wildlife refuge that charges entrance fees.  The pass will be for active duty military or activated Reserve or National Guard service members and any member of their family. The service member does not need to be present for a dependent to get the pass.

To give credit where credit is due, this effort was spearheaded by Michelle Obama and Jill Biden.  Ms. Biden said in a statement, “”Our nation owes a debt of gratitude to our servicemen and women who make great sacrifices to protect our country and preserve our freedom.  In recognition of their service, we are so pleased to be putting out a welcome mat for our military families at America’s most beautiful and storied sites.”

 

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My final post in my SE Asia trip reports, sorry it took so long! This was one of the coolest parts of our trip, the business class flight home. Here are my previous posts:

 

Review: United Business Class 757-200 JFK to San Francisco

Review: United Business Class 747 San Francisco to Hong Kong

Review: Intercontinental Hong Kong Deluxe Junior Suite

Review: Singapore Business Class 777-200 Hong Kong to Singapore

Review: Westin Singapore Seaview Suite

Review: Holiday Inn Express Patong Beach Phuket

 

I was going to do a post on our night at the Intercontinental Singapore, but for some odd and embarrassing reason, we cannot find a single picture from that stay, even though we took many pictures. Perhaps we just misplaced an SD card, but if I ever find those pictures, I’ll post that one.

 

After our (very nice) night there, we took the amazing Singapore train back to Changi Airport for our afternoon flight to Taipei, with a two hour layover there, then onwards to JFK. It would be a 5 hour initial flight, followed by a 15 hour leg, so I was hoping our seats were comfortable. Were they ever!

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The exterior of EVA airlines is not all that impressive, I guess I wasn’t initially as struck by it as by other carriers.

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Fortunately, we were able to board right away, and when we got to our seats, we were very pleased with what we saw. The cabin configuration is reverse herringbone in a 1-2-1 style, and the seats are all completely layflat. Even though the middle two seats somewhat face each other, there is still a lot of privacy with the center divider.

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The amenity kit was by Rimowa, with a very convenient carrying case, which I’ve been using ever since for toiletries. There was nothing spectacular inside, but some nice moisturizers, toothpaste, nightmask, etc. We also got very well functioning noise-cancelling earphones, some comfy (and not bad looking) EVA pajamas, booties, and a super plush comforter, which I wanted to take with me but wasn’t allowed to.

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Even though there were two separate flights, they were both essentially the same cabin layout, and had the same excellent service of the flight crew. The only real difference was the meal selections.

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We did check out the Royal Laurel lounge in Taipei, which was huge, incredibly well-stocked with food and booze, and with incredibly conscientious staff, the type of which you just don’t find in the US. Me being classy and sophisticated, I went with a hot dog and beer. There are 4 different EVA lounges in Taipei, depending on which class of service you are, plus a transit hotel; we went with The Infinity lounge, which they describe as their futuristic lounge space. There are “themed” showers, but we didn’t have enough time to check them out.

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The bathrooms on board the flight were large (not A380 large), well lit, clean and with excellent amenities. They were frequently cleaned throughout our flight.

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The food on board wasn’t delicious, but it was very good, and plentiful, and came accompanied by some fantastic cocktails, including Dom Perignon, which I’m not a huge fan of honestly. Here is a representative selection of what is served.

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Here is the stock photo on the website

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Here is me greedily chowing down!

My wife and I both slept over 7 hours, I finished the two books I was working on, and we still saw several movies (15 hours is a long time, even in layflat business class). I had to get up twice during the flight to do some exercises, and the flight attendant was quite startled to see me doing dips between the seats while most of the passengers slept.

 

Overall it was an amazing flight. If I have to do another trans-Pacific flight, which I know I will be doing in the future, EVA will definitely be on my shortlist of go-to airlines.

 

Of note, on their TPE-JFK service, they offer complimentary shuttle service from JFK down to major cities in NJ then on into Philadelphia. We had not known about this until the day of our flight, and were supposed to have arranged it earlier, but they were very gracious and let us jump on to go to Philly as it wasn’t fully packed on the shuttle. Kudos EVA!

 

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