“C-130 rolling down the strip,

64 Rangers on a one way trip,

stand-up, hook-up shuffle to the door,

jump right out and count to four”

I’ll be the first to admit that I am one of the luckiest guys in the U.S. military.  Not only did I make Brigadier General, but I was assigned to one of the handful of GO positions on jump status.  Now, my fun meter has just about pegged with all this winter weather this year, but when it is time to jump, it’s time to jump.  Even if it is 5 degrees outside.

Snow Jump 010

Plenty of time to get the safety brief and “suit up”.  Here the Jumpmaster is checking me out.

Snow Jump 016 Snow Jump 019

First time for me to jump out of a C-17.  It was such a better ride than a C-130!  The seats had a heater behind them that sort of worked.  Nice to jump out of a plane that is not older than I am!  It had warmed up to 16 degrees by the time we got on the bird.

Snow Jump 025 Snow Jump 027

The Drop Zone was at Ft. A.P. Hill, near Fredericksburg, VA.  The 130 mile an hour wind chill wasn’t there long enough to matter, not would I feel it with the adrenaline running through my system!  Then the beauty of the thing.  Checking your canopy to ensure everything deployed right and then enjoy the silence.  I love the silence of floating 1200 feet over the earth and observing my fellow jumpers weaving around the skies, the ground crew ready to receive us, and in this case the beautiful whiteness of the snow blanketing the DZ.

There was almost no wind, so steering my MT-6 was easy.  Then came the landing, which can be rough for a guy my age.  But this was beautiful!  Six inches of snow let me land softly and I only had to brush off the snow from my ACU’s.  I felt pretty proud that I managed to land within 100 feet of the ground crew.  I did commit an airborne faux pas, by unhooking my reserve chute and dropping it on the ground too hard, which caused it to pop open.  They had warned me that these new reserves were really sensitive and I had guarded it very carefully up until that time.  I guess I owe the JM a case of beer!

Snow Jump 002 Snow Jump 003 Snow Jump 006 Snow Jump 008

I was the first out the door on the first stick so I got to observe the other five passes.  Here are photos of the other jumpers exiting the plane.  It was a great day, 19 degrees out, but no wind, which made the setting beautiful.  The troops deployed to the woods to continue their tactical operations, while I bade them farewell (no one wants a GO hanging around)!

I used to joke that I jumped out of perfectly good airplanes, until one USAF guy asked me “I thought you jumped out of Air Force planes?  They have no ‘perfectly good’ airplanes!”

Anyone out there a jumper?

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

Today we have another guest post from Army Brian (can’t reveal more, he’s one of those high-speed bad-ass guys):

 

“A reoccurring issue I face when traveling is gym access.  Finding a hotel on TDY with a decent gym can be a challenge and is always hit or miss.  While many hotel chains have improved their game with respect gyms, some hotels still only have a treadmill, elliptical, and a few free weights.  For me it is further complicated by the fact that I am often not given a choice of which hotel to stay in due to a conference or someone else booking the hotel rooms.  While I usually end up in a nice hotel, I can’t always count on a good gym.

 

An option I’ve routinely used is the YMCA.  Even though I’m not a member of any specific YMCA, I’ve always gotten in for free if I ask to speak with the manager or membership director and let them know I’m active duty military on TDY orders.  I do offer to pay for a temp membership, but inevitably they let me in for free.  Though I try not to abuse their hospitality by asking for more than a week long pass.  If you’re traveling and need to hit the gym, try the YMCA.  Just be prepared to pay for a single day or short term pass.

 

For anyone who likes to ride and/or use spin classes, I recently found a solution for getting in some spinning time when I can’t get to a class.  Try BeatBurn Indoor Cycling by lolo ($3.99), a spin class without the class.  Using your iPhone and the music on your phone, the app coaches you through a spinning session.

http://lolofit.com/apps/beatburn_indoor_cycling

 

I agree with Brian, it can be a pain to try and stay in shape while travelling. As I’ve said before, I generally enjoy waking up early where I am and going for a run through the city, as it makes me feel better, and I can get a pretty good layout and see some sights that way.

 

However, with most of the Northeast looking more like Hoth, I’ve had to come up with some indoors or even in-the-hotel-room workouts that are worthwhile. I had a pretty good routine, but found a better one, the Batman workout, on Distractify:

batman workout

 

I just did it last night because I was too wimpy to brave the elements to get to the gym, and it’s pretty awesome. (I blast “N.I.B” by Black Sabbath while I’m doing it!).

 

Also, our friends over at DD4M have an awesome link on gym discounts for military members, check it out!

 

What is your workout routine while travelling?

-Andy

Posted by glenn | One Comment

This post may only apply to a very slim minority of you, but for those of you who were able to take advantage of the American Express Campus Edition card and loading at campus bookstores, that capability is going away on March 1st. I just recently received this email:

campus edition

The way to leverage this deal was to load this card, which is a prepaid card, similar to but in a different class from Bluebird, Serve, and REDbird, with a credit card that offered category bonuses at bookstores. I was fortunate enough to have one of the old Citi Forward cards, which is no longer available for new applicants. It was marketed primarily to students and urbanites, and offered 5x Thank You points on restaurants, bookstores, and entertainment. You could load up to $1k per month at campus bookstores on to the Amex, offering an easy 5k TY points per month (or 10k if your spouse also had one).

 

I didn’t hit this really at all until TY points became transferrable to airlines, then I started to hit it hard. Unfortunately, this will be my last month loading. (sadly I’m pouring out a beer for my fallen manufactured spending opportunities).

 

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(There are no affiliate links in this post)

Direct link to offer: https://www262.americanexpress.com/dapply/web/applycard/us/personal-card/api/hil/hilton-hhonors-surpass-card/hhsc-024?wt.mc_id=CMEM_BUfyV3B89yK-nY

HHonors-Card

On Feb 28th, this awesome 80k offer for the Amex Hilton Surpass expires, so if you’re hurting for Hilton points and/or want automatic Hhonors Gold status (which in my opinion is the best mid level status to have), make sure you drop your application sometime in the next week. I am going to go for this one.

 

In addition to the points and the status, the Surpass has the best earnings rates for any other Hilton cards. 12x points at Hilton properties, 6x points at restaurants, gas stations, and supermarkets, and 3x points for all other purchases. This is better than the high-end Citi Hilton Reserve.

 

The annual fee is $75, but remember that military members get their annual fees waived by American Express.

Posted by glenn | One Comment

In my job, I can never take a lot of time off.  So my wife and I take several long weekend vacations a year – which also works to rack up a bunch of FF miles.  Valentine’s Day was fortunately on a long weekend this year, so I took the wife to Sonoma for wine tasting and sightseeing via Alaska Airlines which flies directly into the Charles M. Schultz Airport (STS) in Santa Rosa, CA.

At the airport, I picked up the usual visitor’s guide so I could get a map of all the wineries.  It conveniently listed about half the wineries in red and explained that these were wineries that had a wine tasting room with VISA Signature benefits.  I had never checked out VISA Signature benefits and looked them up.  After all, I have six VISA Signature cards and I think you’ll find most of the miles and points cards are VISA Signature.  Now I had taken advantage of American Express Sync offers many times.  If you are not familiar with these, check out Jen’s Deals We Like blog which I think details these deals better than any of my fellow bloggers.

The VISA Signature were new to me and I was thrilled to see that one of them is free wine tasting and discounts on purchases at over 60 Sonoma wineries.  After a morning driving through Bodega Bay and the Russian River we hit several wineries in the Kenwood area.  Each one had a slightly different deal, but free wine was part of all of them.  The standard at the wineries we visited was a guest paying $15 for 5 wine tastings.  The VISA Signature benefit at most was two free tastings.  Between the wife and I this meant four tasting which frankly was plenty for us.  More than that and I am afraid I would end up with a DUI.  And for those of you who say you should spit, not swallow, I understand but didn’t see a single person following that rule.  Although we did pour a lot of remnants into the little spittoons on the counter.  We easily saved over $100 with this VISA Signature benefit.

I found that VISA Signature offers a lot more deals than just wine tasting in Sonoma.  They include the following:

  • Discount for BCBGMaxazria (my wife and daughter like this place, but I don’t get the name)
  • 20% off of Food on Foot Tours in NYC (this is one I would love to try)
  • 10-20% off of Greyline double decker bus tours (I can’t count the number of sities that we have done this in)
  • 10% off of Super Shuttle
  • A free 8×10 at JCPenney family portraits
  • Six months free CLEAR membership to speed you through the airport
  • A ton of discounts/ free nights at resort properties

As you would expect, these deals all require you to use a VISA Signature card which should be no problem as you are already using them to collect points and miles.Vacation 1158

Vacation 1154

For the record, we visited St. Francis, Chateau St. Jean, Landmark, Muscardini, and Anaba.  We liked St. Francis the best and bought a wonderful Port there.  It was really nice to enjoy 75 degrees after spending all winter on the East Coast!

 

 

Posted by glenn | 4 Comments

This is slightly out of order, as after our excellent Singapore business class flight, we took Jetstar from SIN – Phuket, and stayed for three nights at the Holiday Inn Express Patong Beach, then took Jetstar back to Singapore. However, I already have this post written. The next stage in our awesome SE Asian trip last fall was our stay at the Westin Singapore. Thus far, these have been my reviews so far from this trip:

 

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

 

And then we’ll have for later:

 

Review: Holiday Inn Express Patong Beach Phuket

Review: Intercontinental Singapore

Review: EVA Royal Laurel (Business) Class 777-300ER Singapore to Taipei to JFK

 

I was going to book two nights at the Westin using my SPG points, but my younger brother Jim, who is SPG platinum from his job as a consultant, had a bunch of suite upgrades that he wasn’t going to be able to redeem, so I asked if I could borrow some for our two night stay there. He said yes of course; however there was a hitch. He’d have to be staying there to redeem the upgrades. So, I transferred 24k SPG points to him (12k per night), he booked the room under his name with me as a guest, then redeemed the upgrades. He added a note that “he would be arriving after we got there”.

 

The location is pretty awesome, as it’s only 3 (long) blocks from the marina, 1 block from the subway, about a half mile walk from the gardens, and just South of Chinatown, which is a great area for walking.

 

I was nervous it wasn’t going to go as planned, but when we went to check in, the front desk agent said, “oh, it looks like your brother won’t be getting in until later”, and I just nodded my head yes. She said she was able to upgrade us to a seaview suite, which looked awesome online.

westin2

The lobby of the Westin is beautiful, grandly overlooking the harbor, and the staff is wonderful. Unfortunately, the check-in got really screwed up after that. We took our bags up to our assigned suite, but when we opened the door, there were already people staying in the suite! We apologized profusely, then rushed back to the lobby to ask, “whisky tango foxtrot?!?”

westin4

The manager came by, apologized profusely to us (and hopefully to the couple we barged in on!), and offered us business lounge access, and for us to wait there while a new room was prepared. Even with the upgrades, we initially were not offered lounge access because it’s only offered to the platinum member, but they gave it to us because of the gaff. It worked out great – we got free breakfasts in the lounge, in return for having to wait only an extra 30 minutes while our room was prepared.

westin3

Sarah, the lounge associate who helped us, was awesome, and personally toted our bags up to our room (against my protests). When we walked in, both my wife and I audibly said, “WOW!” The seaview suite is gorgeous, and ours faced a nearby building, but we still had a partial view of the marina and a side view of the pool and the harbor. There was an entry foyer with ½ bath, leading into a huge living room with desk and Nespresso maker, then to a huge bedroom with king bed, and huge bathroom with floor to ceiling windows and separate shower and bath. The bath had a great view overlooking the city, although was right across the street from another high-rise building where people working there could potentially see through the windows. All the window shades were automated, which was pretty cool.

westin5

 

westin7

westin6

westin1

The outdoor pool is pretty phenomenal, as it’s an infinity pool overlooking part of the marina, and the harbor. It was hazy the whole time we were there, and we had a cab driver who said smog was getting worse all the time in Singapore. I guess my only gripe about the pool was that because it’s so high up (42nd floor) it was pretty windy, which made it a little cool in 70ish degree weather. There’s a bar, but it’s also attached to the lounge; across the hallway is the fitness center (which I didn’t use) which overlooks the harbor.

westin8

 

westin9

Breakfasts were decent; not the best Westin breakfast I’ve had, but they did the trick (and free always tastes better!)

westin10

As a consolation, because of our botched check-in, they offered us a complimentary ride to the airport. We were a little embarassed, as we were going for a night in the Intercontinental, but they didn’t mind. We were escorted in the Westin’s jaguar, which was great, even though the Icon was really only 3 subway stops away.

 

All in all, it was a phenomenal stay, and I would definitely stay there again!

 

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Reader Justin sent me a link to his site where he maintains a wealth of military travel resources and information.  Check out his Travel Guide for Military Personnel and Families.  Now I am not necessarily endorsing every thing that he links to, but I thought that I would take this chance to review several of them.

Cost-efficient Travel – Has some good basic advice including this: “Before you finalize your itinerary, ask if the company offers a military discount. Many businesses do, even if it is not advertised.”  I have found a lot of retail businesses where I either asked or they saw my CAC card when I opened my wallet and volunteered that they had a military discount.  Examples are American Eagle and Under Armor.  However, be careful about asking about a military discount from something travel related like airfare, hotels or rental cars.  They will likely have a “military rate” that is actually higher than what you can get if you are smart shopper.  The discount will sound large, but it is a discount off of the full fare which almost no one pays.  The only real military airfare discount that I have found is the Veterans Advantage 5% off of any United, Lufthansa or jetBlue fare (including the most discounted ones you can find).

MilitaryHops.com - Good resources for flying Space-A.  This includes links to the official AMC site as well as John D’s which I consider the easiest to use of several private resources sites.  One caveat is that I would definitely NOT follow the advice given to buy a ticket through Militarytravel.com.  If you get stuck on Space-A, that is a perfect use for using a bunch of frequent flyer miles to get a free one way back to your unit.  Last minute tickets would still be very expensive even with any discount they could give you.  Free is better.

MilitaryRates.com – A very professionally done site that has a number of non-travel military resources and articles such as BAH rates and New GI Bill explanations.  The travel discounts offered for attractions and shopping are good.  Again, I would pass on discounts advertised for rental cars and airfare and find your own deals.

OperationWeAreHere.com – Not a lot of travel related stuff here, but you can find just about everything else.  This is a really nice site with more military resources on one page than I have ever seen.  There must be close to a hundred links to various military sources of information.

VetTravel.com - A travel booking site that is supposed to have military discounts.  I compared several flights that my wife and I have coming up with this site and Google flights.  All VetTravel results were either the same as found on Google Flights or higher (some much higher).  I didn’t try hotels or cruises, but I say pass.  Also, remember that booking through the airline’s site gives you much more flexibility for changes than if you go through a third-party site such as this.

MilitaryTravel Service – Did a similar check to above and they did come up with a fare on USAirways that was $30 cheaper than shown on Google flights.  This is almost certainly a consolidator fare.  Consolidators buy a block of tickets on planes for a group discount from the airlines and then sell the individual tickets for a discount off of the regular fare.  You can save money, but beware that you may find that the ticket earns no frequent flyer miles and is impossible to refund.  Caveat Emptor.

MilitaryOnlyTravel – They advertise themselves as the “Ultimate Website for Military Travel” which normally would set off alarms bells.  In truth, I found that they advertise a lot of modest discounts which are all available from open sources, such as the Disney tickets we have blogged about previously.  Nonetheless, I do recommend the handiness of this site as it has a lot of these discount codes all in one place.  They do have a travel booking service, but it is a very soft sell and actually seems likely to give you a good discount as it focuses on cruises and tours.  I do believe that you can get a good military discount on these as opposed to flights and hotels.

Justin also has some great links to other resources, such as travel for vets with special needs (my Dad was one), off-duty resource links, links to lodging near military bases, and links to loans for emergency travel/ vacations (Emergency vacations?) but I would advise you to stay away from these.  Go to the Army Emergency Relief (AER) fund or other military source.

Thanks Justin, maybe the wife and I will check out your vacation rentals in Florida one day, they look great!

Posted by glenn | One Comment

Scott and company over at Veterans Advantage are not ones to rest on their laurels and are always looking to arrange yet another discount for members.  The latest two improved deals are from Amtrak and Verizon.

The first new item is a bonus on the discount for members riding on Amtrak:

Veterans Advantage is a members-only program dedicated to creating new benefits for military veterans and their families on travel and shopping. Members holding a valid VetRewards Card are eligible to receive a 15 percent discount on the lowest available fare on most Amtrak trains. VetRewards Card members who also enroll in Amtrak Guest Rewards will receive two points for every dollar spent on Amtrak travel, or up to 750 points per trip on weekend service on Acela Express.

This compares with the following existing discount on Amtrak:

Amtrak also offers discounts for active-duty members of the armed forces not enrolled in Veterans Advantage. Active duty U.S. military personnel, their spouses and their dependents are eligible for a 10 percent discount off the lowest available rail fare on most Amtrak trains.

So while I wouldn’t sign up just for this benefit, this is a bonus for the 5% discount available for all United and jetBlue flights, 

The second item is a new discount, this time from Verizon:

Verizon FiOS has now extended its offerings to Veterans Advantage as a newly created benefit for families covering home Internet, TV and phone service – with an annual savings of up to $120 per year!

Veterans Advantage members are eligible for exclusive savings of $10 a month ($120 a year) for “Triple Play” Bundles (TV, Internet & Phone) and $5 a month ($60 a year) for “Double Play” Bundles (TV, Internet or Phone).

In addition, these savings are combinable with current special promotions from Verizon FiOs. The latest special promotion includes savings of $120 on Verizon Triple Play and a $300 Visa prepaid card with a signed two-year agreement.

I don’t have Verizon, but have to believe that this is a better deal than the man on the street could get.  Check it out and see if it would save you some bucks!

You can reach this deal here at Veterans Advantage.

Disclaimer: We have no financial relationship with Veterans Advantage (or anyone else for that matter).

Posted by glenn | No Comments

(there are referral links in this post – feel free to not use them if you don’t feel comfortable with them, but if you do, Thank you!)

I was extremely excited when I received an email today that Lyft is coming to Philadelphia starting today, Friday the 30th! However, I was also a little skeptical, but it offered 20 free rides for referring people – those people get 20 free rides too.

lyft

I’ve used Lyft several times before, all in Chicago, and it went swimmingly, and, most importantly, safely and cheaply. I know they’re trying to roll out as a big competitor to Uber, and in trying to drum up support are offering free rides. But 20 free rides??? I’d have been happy had they just offered 1 per referral. But whatever. Remember to sign up with a credit card that offers a bonus on transportation, including ground transportation, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred, the Citi Prestige or Preferred, or (this quarter) the Discover It (5% back on ground transportation).

If you’re interested and haven’t yet signed up, and want (possibly) 20 free rides, check out my link: http://lyft.com/invited/ANDREW5401

Thanks!

Posted by glenn | No Comments

From Wikipedia: Game theory is the study of strategic decision making.  Sounds like what we are all trying to do with the game of acquiring and redeeming miles & points.  To me it is a game since there are rules for all to follow and everyone is just trying to use those rules to maximize their (or their  team’s) gains.  Notice that I did not say breaking the rules which is why I purposely stay away from the term “travel hacking” as, in my mind, hackers break rules.  I am never going to advocate that you break any rules.

So let me show you some of the things that I have done to maximize my own miles & points game.  I started the year as a United 1K, Alaska MVP Gold and Marriott Platinum.  I have consistently held all these levels for the last ten years or more.  Tip: I held these statuses even while deployed twice to Iraq.  All these organization maintained my status during any year in which I was deployed since I was unable to re-qualify – just send them an email with a copy of your orders.

So this year did not involve nearly as much travel as I normally do.  Living in D.C. now cut down on the distance that I flew to many events.  So I reached October and only was expecting to end the year at 62K in UA EQM, 32k in AS EQM and 55 nights (incl. 15 from the Marriott Rewards VISA).  Although I reached lifetime UA Gold last year, being Gold meant very few complimentary upgrades and not having AS Gold meant that I wouldn’t receive free changes to tickets – one of the best benefits of any program.  Getting only Gold with Marriott was less traumatic since Gold is an adequate level in most hotel programs, since it gives you free internet and breakfast.

I had actually booked a mileage run in December to at least make MVP Gold, but then reading Boarding Area every day paid off.  Ben from One Mile at a Time and Scott from Travel Hacking Codex both wrote that Alaska was now granting MVP Gold 75K status by status match.  I sent AS my United 1K statement and within a few days I was a level that I have never achieved MVP Gold 75k (yes, that is a mouthful).  Trick:  Before you lose a high status, see what other program you can match that high status to.

MVPGold75k

BTW, I cancelled my flight for the mileage run so I could use its value to qualify in 2015 and then booked a 30K mile OW First Class United ticket to Alaska for Christmas vacation.  Note, that I was able to quickly earn back these miles from the recent United/ Marriott Rewards Plus promotion  running Nov.-Jan. which then gave me an extra 100% on my UA flights AND Marriott stays.

united-logo

Now here it is January and I expect that I will be knocked down in UA Mileage Plus from 1K to merely Gold.  While I am hoping that they take a look at my history and give me a soft landing to UA Platinum, I have a plan if they drop me all the way to Gold.  I will then apply to use my new Alaska MVP Gold 75k status to status match to UA as a UA Platinum.  Tip: Status matching is often advertised as a once in a lifetime benefit, but my experience is that it is more like once every 3-5 years.  So use it, but only if you really plan on flying that airline next year.

Lastly,  What to do about Marriott dropping to Gold?  Well, no tricks for that one, but reports on Flyertalk’s Marriott Forum post talk about Marriott averaging your last three year’s stay and possibly keeping your status up based upon that.  My status hasn’t dropped from Platinum yet, but I am not about to call them and ask.  I did notice that they added a little “thank you for staying over 500 nights next to my status.

Marriott Thank You

I figure if they give it to me for being a good customer (717 nights lifetime) then I’ll take it.  However dropping to Gold won’t be as consequential as dropping status on one of the airlines.

So I hope some of those experiences give my team (all of you) an advantage.  Let me know of your successes with these tips & tricks.

 

Posted by glenn | No Comments

Every January, I end up with UA upgrades that I couldn’t use.  Some of them are from upgrades I applied for and then took the flight but didn’t get the upgrade and the instruments came back into my account.  So let me see if any of our readers can use these.  I have 2 RPUs and 4 GPUs.  The RPUs are for any domestic flight and the GPUs can be used on international flights, but only those booked in W fare class or higher.  However, the GPUs can also be used for domestic flights of any fare class.  Here is the one catch – you need to fly before 31 January.

Send me your last name and record locator via email (look on the About Us page) and I will upgrade you on a first come, first served basis.  Please indicate if you need one of the international upgrades, otherwise I assume you’ll need a domestic upgrade.  Consider this a thanks from Andy and I for reading our blog.

Posted by glenn | 5 Comments

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