Andy and I have been writing this blog for a few years now and very rarely run into any of our readers.  We are sure that you have a lot of questions about maximizing your benefits or status with frequent flyer programs; more than can be written about in a short reply on the blog.  With Andy’s impending PCS move to Asia, we thought this would be the last chance to get ourselves together to host a meet up for the tens of readers we must have.  The event will be Thursday, 23 July from 1800-2000 hrs.

We are bringing a special guest along to this event and she would love to hear what you have to say.  Bring your military adventure and travel war stories to regale all of us.  I’ve got quite a few of my own over the 30 years I have served.  You know the difference between a fairy tale and a war story don’t you?  A fairy tale starts “Once upon a time…, while a war story starts “No shit, this really happened…”

Then we’ll have a Q&A on any questions you might have on tips and tricks of the game.

We are hosting the event at Sine’s Irish Pub , a well known watering hole for Pentagonites at the Pentagon Row shopping center.  The address is 1301 S. Joyce St., Arlington, VA.  I will plan on ordering some appetizers and the drinks are on you (yes, I like keeping my rank)!  Please respond to this post so I can get a rough count of how many are coming.  Look forward to meeting you there and having a great time!

Glenn

p.s. Read the Irish jokes and toasts on the Sine website!

p.p.s.  All are welcome, you don’t need to a veteran.

 

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We have written extensively about Space-A travel on this post.  It’s a great benefit and how my wife and I afforded a honeymoon to Europe back in 1988.

Last January the Committee on Military Compensation had recommended a change to Space-A travel regulations to allow unaccompanied dependents to use it if their Service Member was deployed for over 30 days.  The policy was officially changed this month and the document detailing it is attached here.  Sorry that the statement and sample letter are a little crude, but I had to copy it from the pdf sent to my Soldiers.  I think you have enough to put together the required letter verifying that the dependent’s SM is deployed.

This is a cool development.  I know that on both of my R&Rs from OIF, I had my family fly out to meet me, first tour at Frankfurt and second tour in Sydney.  Coming from Anchorage, it would have been fairly easy for them to get a Space-A flight to Rhein Main AFB in Frankfurt, but that wasn’t an option and I ended up using a ton of United miles to get them there.  Admittedly, they probably enjoyed the UA flight more, but I think of all those families who don’t have a big mileage account and this will really help them out.

We can’t forget that we still have Service Members deployed around the world even though they are not the massive numbers of OIF/OEF.  Personally, my command has about 100 Soldiers deployed to Djibouti on any given day.  Get the word out about this new benefit.  I noted that I still haven’t seen it on the AMC website.

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USAA is my favorite bank, and one of my favorite companies, for many reasons – customer service, ease of use, portability, and benefits. One of the lesser known benefits that USAA provides concerns rental cars, specifically discounts with certain companies – Avis, Budget, Enterprise, and Hertz. Also, and this is huge, USAA provides primary liability coverage if you rent with one of these 4 companies through their website! Finally, they waive most fees associated with these rentals, including the additional driver fee and the under age 25 fee. All of these benefits combined are why I usually rent through USAA, even if the fee is a little higher than on Hotwire, Priceline, etc.

 

As an example, using Avis’ USAA site, I was able to book a hypothetical car at Las Vegas from Sept 17th – 21st, over a weekend, for $159.13 for a subcompact.
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When going through the regular non-USAA site, it’s $169.20, and doesn’t include primary liability insurance. Not a huge savings, but this is just a hypothetical example.
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Most rewards credit cards with which you book your rental car provide secondary insurance, ie it’s insurance kicks in after your primary auto insurance is tapped out. Daraius from Million Mile Secrets provides a good explanation of car rental insurance here, and notes, “[liability coverage] is the most important rental car insurance coverage to have because the liability of a serious car accident could be hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars!”, and I agree.Here is an article on the current credit cards that offer primary rental insurance coverage. (of note, since this article’s publication, there is no more Chase Fairmont card). Also, Chase Sapphire Preferred will be offering primary liability coverage sometime later this year, and American Express offers Premium car rental protection for an extra fee per rental.

 

When you book through USAA however, you will have primary liability coverage, fees waived, a discount from 5-25% off, and you can use whatever card you’d like! You can view all the included benefits below:
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Of note, USAA does not primarily cover the first $5000 of loss or damage to rental vehicle, but your credit card or auto insurance might, depending on their terms.

 

There are also links on the webpage to enroll in these rental companies’ loyalty programs, which I recommend you doing. Of note, having certain credit cards, such as the American Express Platinum, or a World Mastercard Elite, will automatically give you high-level status in these programs. For example, having a Barclaycard Arrival, which is a World MC, will give you Avis First status, which is their highest status. You can then match status with other programs; a good website to check that out is Status Matcher.

 

If you have any questions feel free to email me.

 

-Andy

Posted by glenn | 5 Comments

Eight or nine years ago, before GSA ruined the use of the term, we had a Commander’s Conference at the Marines Memorial Club in downtown San Francisco.  Previous to this, conferences were held in some nice getaway places like Reno, but by the time I got a battalion command, they were already looking for cheaper and less conspicuous places to hold meetings with guys in military uniforms running around where the public could see them.  To my fortune, I discovered the Marines Memorial Club and hotel.

Legend has it that the Marines had saved up a lot of money in WW2 to run a PX system for the occupation of Japan, when the war suddenly ended.  This was back in the day when things were a lot looser with money and the Marines decided that they would buy a hotel in downtown San Francisco so Marines would have an inexpensive place to stay when on shore leave there.  They also wanted to memorialize the Marine legend and particularly recognize all the extreme sacrifices and heroism that were made in the war.  They still consider this club a “living memorial” to those who serve and have served.  Thus, they established the Marines Memorial Fund which bought an old women’s club near Union Square and turned it into a 138 room hotel complete with a great steakhouse restaurant at the top and a large theater at the bottom that could house lectures by eminent speakers.

You can read the complete story here and check out their website.  This is a members only club, however, membership is open to all veterans and those currently serving.  Membership is $150 a year and you must provide a DD214 to prove you are a veteran.  For those, like myself, who are currently on duty the annual fee is only $35.  Can’t beat that with a stick!  What do you get for this membership?  Here is their list:

  • Reciprocal Club Privileges at over 190 private clubs throughout the world
  • All donations to the Marines’ Memorial Association are fully tax-deductible
  • Participation in Club-sponsored social events such as Dinner Dances, Holiday Champagne Brunches, Marine Corps Birthday Ball and New Year’s Eve
  • Participation in Club-sponsored special events such as the George P. Shultz Lecture Series
  • Eligibility to apply for the Marines’ Memorial Association Scholarship Program
  • Participation in the Marines’ Memorial Club’s Frequent Stay Program
  • Complimentary subscription to the quarterly Crossroads of the Corps
  • Guest Cards for your spouse and children over 21 years of age, entitling them to stay at Marines Memorial Club at membership rates
  • The continued existence of the Marines Memorial Club as a “Living Memorial” for past, present and future military personnel and their families

So what kind of rate discount do you get for membership?  Try $149-179/ night with suites at $329-369.  Regular hotels in this area charge double that!  Breakfast is included, as is happy hour, at the Leatherneck restaurant.

Other benefits are a first rate lecture series that makes me wish I lived in San Francisco.  General John Allen speaks there next month for example.  OK, maybe I am the only one interested in that feature…

For all you frequent flyers/ stayers, they have their own program.  Stay 12 nights and get one free.  OK, so not as good as Marriott, but it’s better than nothing!  They also have reciprocal membership at 190 other clubs around the world.  This list and details can be viewed here.  This list includes private clubs with hotel rooms in just about any country (22) that you would want to visit.  I haven’t tried any, but it will be on my list to do when I retire someday.  I’ll bet you could travel the world pretty inexpensively if they are all as nice as the Marines Memorial Club accommodations.

Membership is worth it and pays for itself in as little as one stay in San Francisco.  I have had my wife and daughter stay here when they had a little Mother/ Daughter time while I was on my last deployment and they had a great time.  Note that with the location being so central you can actually stay there without a car or rent one just for the day from several rental car companies a block or two away.  The BART will take you to and from the airport, but it is a good five block hike so maybe not if you have a ton of luggage.  Lots of great restaurants within walking distance too.  Give it a shot – even if you are not a Marine!

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This post is dedicated to a bunch of fun stuff to do and see throughout Honolulu.  Note that we got to all these places, plus Hawaii Kai and Pearl Harbor by The Bus.  Yes, that is the official name of the city bus system.  For $2.50 you can also get a transfer good for two hours and we typically can get at least two trips out of each ticket.

First off is Chinatown.  Once a terribly seedy area to be avoided, this area next to downtown has been steadily improving over the years and now has quite a few good restaurants.  My wife (who is Asian) is very happy to wander the shops during the daytime and find bargains.  We took a couple of new pairs of loafers to a shoe shop to have the protective taps put on the bottom and the nice Korean couple did it while we waited for only $3 a pair!  So much for Hawaii being expensive.  Lots of deals to be had in this neighborhood.  Here is an interesting shot.  Leonard Freeman created Hawaii-FiveO and the inspiration for one of the characters was the Chin Ho Kelly Building he saw in Honolulu.  Here is the inspiration for the main villain Wo Fat.

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Here is a shot of a hilarious painting someone did on a building along Dillingham St.  Hope you can make out that she is thinking “Oh God!  Why can’t my boyfriend surf?!”

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Care for some wood carving?  Check out this guy along Kuhio St. outside the Makitti Restaurant.  He carves Tikis while you wait and is very talented.

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Here is a tip for great cheap food in Waikiki.   Eat at the Foodland along Kuhio (across from the old International Market)  This “two scoops” steak dinner is delicious and only $10.99!

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Finally, we checked out the food trucks.  This one is the Blue Ocean and parked outside the big Laundromat on Kuhio, not far from the Hilton.  I had the seared tuna and my wife’s was mahi mahi and shrimp.  Cost was $13 and $15 respectively.  Pretty good, but not Giovanni’s!

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Since we lived in Honolulu from 2010-13, it is always interesting to see what has changed.  I have to say that things must be going well there as I saw more tower cranes than I ever have there.  Lot’s going on right now.  For those of you who know Honolulu, you know the venerable Ward Center.  This old outdoor shopping center covers several blocks right on Ala Moana directly across fromt eh marina.  They announced several years ago that they would replace the low rise mall with high-rise condos while still providing the same amount of shopping space below.  They have already replaced the Nordstrom Rack and Pier One Imports into nice new stores and now the high-rise work is starting on top of the parking lot for the theater.  Looks like a nice building, but I am sure there are those who will hate the new skyline.  The photo is taken from where Pier One used to be.

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Next on the list of projects is something that we all might experience.  I wrote a year ago about how they had started construction on the Ritz-Carlton Residences right behind the main shopping area on Kalakaua.  They have moved very fast and must be getting close to what I am guessing will be a 30-story tall tower.  I am assuming these are timeshares so we may be able to send our Marriott point to stay here one day.  Using my engineering knowledge, we are over a year away from opening (completion of the structure is about the 50% point of a project).

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Next is something that has been in the works for years – renovation of the famous International Village!  Former home of Trader Vic’s, it had really deteriorated to a bunch of cheap trinkets shops.  Someone bought this in 2011 and finally tore it down for a completely new shopping experience.  Fortunately, Hawaii law requires that they preserve the Banyan trees on the property.  Here are some photos with a shot from Kalakaua and another with the substantial steelwork along Kuhio.

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Here is a shot of the rendering of what it is supposed to look like when complete a year from now.

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So if you go back in the future, expect some changes from the Honolulu that you were used to!

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We typically stay at Marriott family hotels since I am a perennial Platinum, but this time I had a better deal.  Several things came together to point us to getting a great deal at Hilton.  First of all, we had gone to one of those Hilton timeshare presentations in Vegas and walked away with a certificate worth a $200 rebate off of one night’s stay which we needed to use by July.

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Secondly, I had the Citi Hilton HHonors VISA which besides granting my Gold status, was having a promotion until 30 Jun to give 13 miles/  dollar on Hilton charges.  This card also grants a free night for $10,000 spend in a year, so has a lot going for it over other Hilton cards.  Finally, I found a special deal for military offering 15% off for military members which you can access here.  I had actually booked a room at $209/night and rebooked with this offer to bring it down to $179/night.  I guess that brought down my one night savings from the certificate, but the math works out on this being a better deal.

We often tried staying at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, but my wife finds that place a noisy zoo.  The other options were the Doubletree which is right across from Ft. DeRussy and the Hilton Waikiki which is the older property at the other end of Waikiki near the Marriott.  The latter had the cheaper rate, but my wife was afraid this would be some worn out hotel.

We got there and were pleasantly surprised.  We were upgraded due to my Gold status and found the 30th floor room quite nice.

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The location turned out to be fine right on Kuhio as we had good access to everywhere by bus and even walked to the Hale Koa from there.  The free breakfast and lounge in the evening was nothing special (it certainly didn’t compare to the same at the Marriott) but this hotel came without a resort fee so how could I complain?

Admittedly all the hotels at this end of Waikiki look pretty old and could use a facelift as seen from this view from our hotel.

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More on our adventures in Honolulu tomorrow.

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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…

 

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

 

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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