So you read Boarding Area hourly, know your mile totals on five different airlines, and calculate what year you are going to reach lifetime status in your favorite program.  You are officially a frequent flyer guru, but do you share that with others?

It can be a problem at work and with friends.  You would love to share all this hard won knowledge especially of the tricks to maximizing your returns, but how not to be thought of as the “frequent flyer geek”?  I know for myself, I will gladly help out a person who comes to me with a question or if I hear someone with a dilemma, however, I don’t go around handing my Boarding Area business card and tell people to let me solve their problems.  Of course, I have to be aware of my position and not to be seen as giving inappropriate advice or direction.  The last thing I need is some E-4 being brought into my office because he went out and got 12 mileage earning credit cards because he heard from me that that would be a risk-free way to a fabulous vacation.

So what do you do?  Tell a friend who is in a quandary about how to pay for a nice honeymoon some tips?  Go with some of your buddies on a flight and you sit up front while they go to the back and they want to know what the deal is?  It can be tricky to handle and certainly some people will hear what you have to say and think it is too good to be true.

Personally, I am more than glad to help them out, but I am careful how much information I give them.  I try to give them enough to fix their immediate problem, but don’t geek out by telling them  everything I know.  IF they show more and more interest, I am more than happy to explain it all, but frankly, the entire frequent flyer game can be overwhelming and is best taken in digestible bites.  And, of course, I feel you need to be well versed in that before getting into things like credit card churning which has definite risks.

So how do you handle it?  Actively try to spread the word or keep it close hold?  Family, but not co-workers?  Tell the basics or launch into the advanced course?

Posted by glenn | 3 Comments

A photo from 11 days ago.  I don’t think I need to say more, except that this is really going to cut into my blogging…

DSC_1527

 

Yes, that is my lovely family by my side.  Thanks in advance for all my well-wishers.

Posted by glenn | 6 Comments

So I don’t write very many hotel reviews, but we got a lucky break when staying in Las Vegas for Boarding Area’s convention, BAcon.  The wife and I came a day early so had our own reservation at the Mandalay Bay.  Randy coincidentally had booked the Manadaly Bay for all the convention goers for Friday and Saturday nights.  When we checked in, naturally we asked for a room that would carry us through all three days and not require us to move.  The lady at the desk was very nice and said they could only do that if we would stay at the Delano.  She explained that it just opened today.  A new hotel, sounds cool, let’s check it out.  After a long walk through the hotel and casino, we found the Delano (I later found out from Randy that it is pronounced Del-a-no).  This was the old THE Hotel that had been revamped.

Delano

 

We opened the door and found an extremely nice suite!  This was the first suite I had ever stayed in that had a powder room and a full bathroom.  The photos show what a great place this was and a pretty good deal for $90/ night!

Delano 6Delano 5

Delano 3

The photos probably don’t do the room justice.  It was so new it smelled like a new house.  I told Andy about the deal I got and when he tried it, the front desk said too many others had asked for the new Delano instead of Mandalay Bay.  Worth a shot if you stay here, couldn’t hurt to ask.

The convention was great and loved meeting all our fellow Boarding Area bloggers.  Of course, the highlight for me was finally meeting Andy, my co-blogger for the first time.  Here is our photo together in case you all wondered what we looked like.

Las Vegas 059

 

 

Posted by glenn | 3 Comments

The wife and I are on our way to the Boarding Area Convention, known as BACON.  Been looking forward to this for awhile, especially because this will be the first opportunity to meet my co-blogger, Andy, in person!  Yep, a year together and it has all been virtual until now.  We’re going BWI-LAX-LAS to add a few more miles in there.  Vegas, baby, Vegas!

Anyway, back to the story.  Yesterday, we had been offered to volunteer to take a later flight in exchange for $200 flight credit.  We passed, but I thought that I would check again just to see if the offer had increased and, more importantly, how we could still get to Vegas on time.  The poor Gate Agent at BWI had no help and was trying to work everything by herself.  She politely asked me to wait while she made a call.  I heard her say, “I’ve got a prisoner in 38E, but don’t show the escorts”.  OK, maybe I shouldn’t eavesdrop, but this was really interesting!  I guess she go the answer she wanted and then dealt with me.  No love for the bump, so I sat back down.

It wasn’t long before I saw a very clean cut guy walking behind a guy who I wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley and point for him to sit in a certain seat.  The guy then went to stand behind him.  No visible cuffs, but his hands were together and covered by a jacket, so pretty obvious if you were looking for the bad guy.  I was really surprised as I had never noticed a prisoner being escorted on a plane before, but maybe it happens all the time!

They boarded after the people with disabilities and I got a glimpse of the handcuffs and they were pretty substantial!  Like “bike chain” substantial.  I had looked at the seating chart on the display and noticed that seat 38E was the last row and right in front of the lavatory.  At least the Government was kind enough to give him the worst seat on the plane.

Later in the flight, I had to go to the latrine and passed by the happy couple.  He was just babbling like a homeless guy in the street corner.  Mostly reciting the bible or his version of it.  I felt sorry for the passengers stuck right in front of him if he was doing that all flight!  I stopped on the way back from the lav and politely said to the Marshall, “thanks for your service”.  He was a bit taken aback, undoubtedly because I can’t imagine that he hears “thanks” very much in his line of work.  Sounds like a good job to get miles and status, trouble is you couldn’t use them when flying for work.  Well, maybe if you wanted to upgrade your prisoner as your companion?

Anyone else every have an experience like this?  More to follow from Vegas!

Posted by glenn | 3 Comments

My 35th birthday was last week, so I’ve come here, on the Military Frequent Flyer, to announce my candidacy for the Presidency of the United States!!!

 

Just kidding! However, I figured at 35 years old, I am wise enough to give out some “things I’ve learned” advice. Some of this will be travel advice; some, not so much.

 

(Although we never use credit card affiliate posts, there are other affiliate links in this post – these are all products I own and use regularly. Feel free to not use them if you don’t feel comfortable with it, but if you do, thank you!)

 

Age & Health – I feel qualified to talk about this both because of my age and my job

 

1) You’re only as old as you feel – Throughout the day I try to have a positive attitude, and try to approach everything with the freshness and openmindedness of a teenager, but with the maturity and wisdom of a 35 year old. The number one way to feel young is to go into every situation, no matter how bad you think it will be, with the idea to take something positive or constructive out of it.

2) Physical health should be one of your top priorities – This is the other really important rule to maintain youthfulness. Family, occupation, and physical health, to me, are the three most important things in my life and daily routine. Because I try to do something active daily, to engage in high intensity physical activity 3-4 times a week, to stand or walk whenever possible, I can transverse across massive airport terminals with heavy bags quicker than 99% of most people without any luggage – However, I feel 35 after most basketball games against guys half my age. Along the same lines:

3) Move and walk, all the time – One of the most insidious ways to kill yourself is to sit all day. The more you move, the healthier you are. If it’s part of your job, find a way to switch it up. If you’re flying all the time, make sure to get up every two hours to walk the aisles or stand in the back. I do this all the time, and have been surprised how many times the flight attendants give me free food (and sometimes booze!)

4) You’re never to old to quit your bad habits – Even life-long smokers who quit when they’re 65 live longer than those that don’t. Anything over 2 alcoholic drinks per day is too much. If you’re out of shape, you are never too old. There’s a 67 year old guy at my gym, who is a seriously ripped dude and who does triathalons, that had a desk job, smoked, and didn’t ever work out or play a sport until he was 43, before deciding to turn it around after a blood clot in his leg. Speaking of habits:

5) Waking up early makes you happier and more productive – and the best way to wake up is with a Bialetti. I’m a coffee snob, and tried every coffee product there is, and I’ve never had better coffee than homemade, using good beans, with a Bialetti. I’ve even packed it when I was travelling and had access to a stove!

 

Travel

 

1) For me, the best way to explore a city is to go running through it – I’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying it – you can see a huge swath of city, closer and quicker (and more enjoyable) than in a car, taxi, tour or bus.

Best headphones for running: Sennheiser Headphones

Best sunglasses: Suncloud Sentry

2) I’ve had much more memorable experiences travelling when they’re shared. I’m not talking about travelling with someone; I mean when staying in a place while travelling, I’ve had much better experiences couchsurfing or staying in a hostel than when staying in a hotel, because of the people I’ve met that I otherwise never would have. It may not be as comfortable, but you’ll spend less money and you’ll meet (possibly lifelong) friends! Airbnb and VRBO are two other options for more authentic experiences. If you’re young and single, you might consider Triptogether.

3) For me, it’s the destination > the journey. I accumulate miles and credit cards for the destinations. Premium cabins can add amazing experiences to your vacations, and the blogs that advocate for those are fun to read, but, for me at least, I’ll slog it for several hours in economy to get to an amazing destination.

4) Food from food carts or local markets is often way better, cheaper, and rarely (but sometimes) more dangerous than restaurants. I’m a doc, and I eat at them all the time.

4) If you’re travelling 2 or more times per year, get some quality travel accessories. I’m totally cheap, but a few years ago realized it’s worth it to invest in quality items even if they’re more expensive. A couple recommendations that I have:

-For more active travel: eBags TLS Weekender

-For more relaxed travel:Briggs & Riley Explore International. B&R bags are super durable, have lifetime warranties, and I’ve been very pleased with this one.

-If you need to check a bag: REI Wheely Beast Rolling Duffel

-Power Source: Belkin Mini Swivel Charger Surge Protector

-Travel Adapter: Ceptics International Plug Adapter Set

5) If you’re in the military, have good credit, but aren’t collecting miles and points from credit cards, you’re missing out on free travel. Solution: Read this blog!

Posted by glenn | No Comments

Many bloggers and posters of frequent flyer programs love to go “woe is me” and implying that the airlines are screwing everyone by devaluing your hard earned miles.  I think that nothing more is happening here than the laws of economics – yes, economics applies even to miles and points!

Basic economics dictates that the worth of a dollar or other monetary unit, is equal to the worth backing that currency and the amount in circulation.  Increase the amount of currency and the worth of each dollar decreases proportionately.  This is called inflation.  My lovely wife, for example, cannot understand why the U.S. does not just print more dollars to pay off our debt.  I am done trying to explain the concept of inflation to her (this argument went the way of why algebra uses “x” – we almost got divorced over that) so will hopefully do a better job with you.

Every time that an airline or hotel issues a mile or point it is just as if they printed a dollar.  When there are not many miles in circulation, the value of a mile is relatively high and can be redeemed for a high value product.  This would be the 80′s.  If miles were redeemed at the same rate they were spent, everything would be fine.  However, airlines and hotels discovered that they could actually sell their miles instead of just giving them away for free to customers who used their asset.  They started selling them first to credit card companies and later to many other services, such as mortgage companies, in order to develop a very lucrative cash stream.  Think about it, these credit card miles are just a bunch of electrons that may or may not get redeemed for a product that is often not sold such as empty airline seats or rooms.  This results in more and more miles in circulation.

As more miles get printed, more people start chasing the same amount of assets (seats and rooms).  They become hard to get and people start to rebel and stop buying the miles.  In order to keep the market going, the airline raises the price of a free seat, making them harder to afford therefore more available.  People shout and complain about “devaluation”, but what you are really witnessing is classic inflation.

As the market picks back up, more companies buy even more miles and the cycle continues.  The economic term for this is an inflationary spiral.  This is why a free economy round trip has gone from the original 20,000 miles in the ’80s to 25,000 in the ’90s and I find 50,000 is very common in today’s market.  Pro tip – always check the price of the First Class ticket compared to the coach, it can often be the same because few people check for FC.  Back to the lesson.  As someone who has collected miles since 1986, I can tell you that they were hard to earn back then.  Even with the credit card, there were no 100,000 mile bonuses like you see today.  Scoring 25,000 miles from a mortgage in 1994 was huge.  The majority of big mileage makers were businessmen who traveled a lot.  This is the main reason that the Pudding Guy became so famous as earning a million miles was really something in those days.

Nowadays, guys like Greg, the Frequent Miler, can earn a million miles in one month of credit card and other bonus tricks!  Note that the airlines react to this inflationary spiral by trying to keep selling the “good miles” to credit card and other companies and minimize the “bad miles” which are those they give away for free to people who fly.  They are just trying to maximize their shareholder return and if you have airline stock you should appreciate that.  So what do you do in this inflationary environment?

Ironically, my best advice is to earn miles faster than they can raise their prices for redemption.  I know that this only continues the cycle, but it is really all the individual can resort to keep the value of their accounts.  In monetary inflation, you actually lose value by keeping them in a bank that earns half a percent interest.  Similarly, don’t worry about your account balance.  Use them whenever you are getting a good return against the alternative of purchasing the ticket or room, but don’t burn them for the sake of burning them.  A big need for miles could be just around the corner and you need to keep some reserve.  In the past, I would make back these miles through a combination of credit card purchases (good miles) and flying on business-paid or cheap vacation fares(bad miles).   What the airlines are changing now is going to a revenue-based method of giving you those free “bad” miles.  UA and DL are going there next March and, much like baggage fees, all will eventually conform.

So keep flying, but concentrate on earning more of your miles through those lucrative bonuses, smart credit card use, and other ways to collect large amounts of miles for little effort (or money).  The industry will continue to find and try to shut down these avenues for you.  Witness the shutoff of the CVS/ Vanilla Reload “easy button” for MS.  This will continue to be a game of cat and mouse as the Boarding Area bloggers find a new method, let you exploit it, and then see it shut down.  I never said this was going to be easy!  But it should still be fun if you are the type of person who enjoys solving a puzzle and getting a pretty good reward for a few hours of your time each week.  If you discover your own trick please share it, but do so discretely.  I suggest posting on here your rough idea or plan and let people email you for the details.  Good luck in the Grand Game!

 

Posted by glenn | One Comment

We are all familiar with getting the military/ federal government rates at most hotels when traveling TDY.  Did you know that most of the major chains will also give you those rates when you are on vacation with your family?  You should check both ways, regular rates and Gov’t rates, as I have often found that empty hotels will offer rooms at below Gov’t rates.  Gov’t rates are particularly good in high cost areas.  However, just like cheap airline seats, once a hotel sells however many rooms they set aside for that rate, it will become unavailable.  The rule here is book early, you can always cancel and rebook as long as it is not at the last minute.

Here are what the major chains list for their Military/ Gov’t rates for personal use:

Hilton Military Link

Government & Military

The most recognized name in the industry, Hilton Hotels & Resorts stands as the stylish, forward thinking global leader of hospitality. With more than 540 hotels and resorts in 76 countries across six continents, Hilton welcomes guests in more countries than any other full service hotel brand. If you are a state, federal or United States military employee, you can enjoy great savings with special government and military rates at participating Hilton Hotels & Resorts.

Marriott Military Link (Note their warning about some properties not allowing leisure stays)

Marriott Government & Military Per Diem Rate Qualification Guidelines

Who is Eligible for Marriott’s Government Rates? U.S. Federal Government Rates State Government Rates Local Government Rates Canadian Federal Government Rates
U.S. Federal Government Employees Eligible Not Eligible Not Eligible Not Eligible
U.S. Military Personnel Eligible Not Eligible Not Eligible Not Eligible
Cost-Reimbursable Government Contractors Not Eligible Not Eligible Not Eligible Not Eligible
Other Government Contractors Not Eligible Not Eligible Not Eligible Not Eligible
Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs) Employees Eligible Not Eligible Not Eligible Not Eligible
Native American Tribal Government Employees Eligible Not Eligible Not Eligible Not Eligible
Canadian Federal Government Employees Eligible Not Eligible Not Eligible Eligible
Canadian Military Personnel Eligible Not Eligible Not Eligible Eligible
U.S. State Government Employees Not Eligible Eligible Not Eligible Not Eligible
U.S. Local/County Government Employees Not Eligible Not Eligible Eligible Not Eligible
Select Canadian Provincial Government Employees Not Eligible Not Eligible Not Eligible Eligible *
(see note)
Retired Military Personnel Not Eligible Not Eligible Not Eligible Not Eligible
Dependents of Military Personnel Not Eligible Not Eligible Not Eligible Not Eligible

* Note: Only government employees of the following five Canadian provinces and territories are eligible for the Canadian Federal Government rate:

Alberta, New Brunswick, Ontario, Yukon Territory, and Northwest Territories

Note: At most Marriott hotels the government rate is available to eligible guests regardless of whether they are traveling on business or pleasure. However, some hotels may only make the government per diem rate available to guests traveling on official business. Please check the hotel’s rate description for details. If the rate description states that the rate is only for guests traveling on official government business, please be prepared to present travel orders when checking in.

Choice Hotels Military Link (Note that you can join their Choice Privileges program and get Gold status just for being a military member)

Save big with hotel & travel deals for military and government personnel
Choice Hotels show their appreciation for military and government travelers with guaranteed discounts on one and two person rates at more than 2,700 participating properties. Active duty/retired military personnel, federal employees, cost reimbursable contractors and employees of foreign governments are eligible for the Choice Hotels military discount and government hotel rate program.

Government hotel rates are reserved for travel on official government business only for federal employees. Military personnel, their dependents and members of several government/military associations are extended the rate for official and leisure travel. An eligible party must occupy the room to qualify for this rate plan.

Competitive government rates* available to the following:

  • Government/Military employees on official travel status
  • Government reimbursement contractors on official government business
  • Active/retired military or their dependants on leisure travel
  • Members of certain government/military associates on leisure travel
  • Appropriate identification will be required upon check-in

 Best Western Military Rate Link

US Government / Military Hotel Discount

Best Western hotels are pleased to offer low discount hotel rates based on U.S. government per diem for government employees, military personnel traveling on official business or leisure.

US Government/Military Hotel Discount

Who Qualifies

  • All federal and state government employees with credentials.
  • Military personnel/civilian military personnel
  • Tax funded hospital and university personnel
  • Cost reimbursable contractors

How it Works

  • Make a hotel booking online or call our Worldwide Reservation office at 1-800-WESTERN
  • Present an official identification card or work orders at time of check in
  • Don’t have an official identification card? You may apply in advance of your stay for a Best Western issued government traveler card. Please complete our online government application. If you qualify, your card will be sent to you electronically within 7-14 days.
  • Questions? Contact our Government Representative at 623-780-6842
  • Canadian Government Travelers: Most of our Canadian Best Western properties and many in the United States honor special Canadian Government discount hotel rates. Proof of Canadian Government identification or work orders at check in is all that is required. For further information and to make a reservation with the Canada Government discount rate, please visit our Canadian Government/Military Hotel Discount page.

Starwood (Note that this says you can only use Gov’t rates on official travel, so no love here)

Can I book Government Rates online?

Yes. Government rates can be booked online for Government employees on individual (non-group) government business-related travel. The eligible employees are U.S. Federal and State employees, National Government employees, active military personnel, Amtrak employees and Canadian Provincial employees. You will be required to provide the appropriate identification at check in. Please note that only one room can be booked per government employee.

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

I recently dropped in to my neighborhood Citizen’s Bank to deposit a bunch of cash I had acquired from paying for group dinners with a points-earning credit card and collecting everyone’s cash. (My friends have gotten use to my “crazy” manufacturing spend techniques and don’t question it anymore). I was watching the slideshow they had on their branches monitor, and noticed in caps “10% back on gas”. What??? I inquired at the desk, and they’ve recently changed the terms on their Cash Back Platinum Mastercard.

CashBack Platinum MasterCard   Citizens Bank
You get 10% cash back on the first $1k of gas purchases, and an unlimited 5% after that, for the first 90 days. You also get 5% back on grocery and drug store purchases, but again only for the first 90 days. There is no annual fee. After 90 days, everything reverts to 1%. I hate that these rewards only last 90 days, but there doesn’t seem to be anything in the T&C to limit your amount, just your credit limit. I suppose if they gave you a huge limit, you could really kill it. For instance, if you had a 7-11 nearby (coded as gas stations) that let you buy gift cards with a credit card, and put $50k in 90 days, you’d make $2550 (minus whatever you paid in GC fees). I doubt many people could pull this off though, so I’m not sure how scalable this is, especially only for 90 days. This card is only available in certain states too. I’m not going to be jumping on this one, especially since I just got denied for two cards (even after recon calls) because of way too many CC applications this year.

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

This happened to me in my own Philly, as my wife and I were going downtown on a date. We were getting off the subway, and a young guy asked if I could break a $50 dollar bill, as they wouldn’t accept it for a subway token and he had to get home. He had it folded up, but it looked real, and I did have change, so I got it out of my wallet. I grabbed the bill and opened it to make sure it was legit, and it was so old and decrepit it fell in half. He wanted compensation as I had just “ripped his 50 in half”. I’m not sure it real or not, but I gave it back to him, and just gave him $3 for a subway token. He still wanted $50 of change for the $50 I “ripped”, but I squared up to him and my sympathetic autonomic system kicked into overdrive, and he eventually scrammed.

I read about this from other people on some local Philly blogs happening to other people as well. I can only imagine what would’ve happened if it were just my wife, so my advice, be VERY selective in who you help out.

Posted by glenn | 7 Comments

COL Glenn alerted me to a blog post where a child on a plane had a severe peanut allergy, and anaphylaxed (stopped breathing) when a passenger 4 rows away had opened a bag of peanuts. He wanted my medical opinion on this case. I find her anaphylaxis from 4 rows away by smelling peanuts dubious, but I’m not an allergist, I’m an ER doc, so I asked my allergist friend (who wished to remain nameless, but works at a top 10 nationally ranked hospital). He said this would be virtually impossible unless the peanuts were ground finely and aerosolized. Here’s the medscape article on inhalation of peanuts.

I read one study where found researchers failed to detect peanut in air filters at the level of the neck after volunteers danced on peanuts on the floor of a poorly ventilated room (Perry TT, Conover-Walker MK, Pomes A, Chapman MD, Wood RA. Distribution of peanut allergen in the environment. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2004;113:973-976). There was also a study where people with severe peanut allergies smelled a jar of peanut butter from very close range but experienced no allergic side effects (Simonte SJ, Ma S, Mofidi S, Sicherer SH. Relevance of casual contact with peanut butter in children with peanut allergy. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2003;112:180-182). There is still persistent belief that just smelling peanuts can cause anaphylaxis; however the medical literature does not support this, as there have only been anecdotal cases.

From my perspective, if you’ve got such a severe allergy that you anaphylax from smelling peanuts, you need an epi-pen on you at all times, and you need to immediately see an allergist for desensitization therapy, because you’re constantly at risk of death.

 

Posted by glenn | 5 Comments

Most tour companies have a pitch for you to walk their beautiful sand beaches, tropical paradise, or see some ancient sites.  Sounds enticing, right?  So take a look at this pitch:

“If your idea of a good time is driving through a Hezbollah rally and then going to get some sushi, Beirut is definitely the edgy Mediterranean destination for you.”

Or how about “Where wildlife, oil, and AK47s abound: how can this region be anything but fascinating.”

Beirut, Iraq, Mexico and Africa are all tourism destinations of War Zone Tours.  As incredible as it sounds, there are people that really want to go to these places of danger and experience what it is to be like in the middle of a conflict.  The founders started this back in 1993 and say they have conducted tours in over 50 countries.  They are staffed with High Risk Environment (HRE) guides are all experienced security professionals having spent years traveling dangerous areas of the world.  Many are former military special operations personnel.  Hmmm, so am I, maybe this should be my retirement job?

Apparently, they will customize the tour to your desires.  However, I doubt they will give you IBA and an M-4, so you take your chances.  And to think I scored two completely free tours of Iraq courtesy of Uncle Sam!  Another great military benefit.  For those who missed out on deployment, go for it.  Just don’t ask POTUS to save you if things go south…

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

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