I was checking out some military-specific travel apps over the weekend, and there are some pretty cool and useful ones out there. I have an iPhone 5, so in this article I’ll be highlighting ones available in the Apple app store, but at some point I’ll highlight Android apps. Some are available on both platforms, and I’ll do my best to highlight those. All the below apps are currently free in the app store, except the last one.

Without further adieu, and in no particular order, on to the list:

Allstays military camp site and RV app list covers a little over 200 military campgrounds, FamCamps and RV parks in the United States of America, so if you’re a family that likes to camp and be outdoors, this would be a great app for you. It’s available on either iOS or Android. Here is a video of the app, which lets you find Campgrounds, RV Parks and related services with or without internet, and extensive map filters let you view only what you want to see. I haven’t yet used this one other than navigating through it, but it has 4.5/5 stars. My son is now 3, so hopefully starting this summer we’ll be going camping.

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Base Directory app is a well designed app, that gives you a mobile, offline directory of most service’s bases throughout the USA, and also includes USOs. You can check out this link, which is the internet version of this app, and see if you find it worthwhile. Not every base is on there, but most of the major domestic ones are, with amenities and phone numbers.

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American military museums is an app that shows over 390 military museums and museum ships featuring the most famous and popular exhibits in all the major cities, towns and ports of the United States. Per the website, “This app lists Military Museums from all branches of the military: The Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard. The App will help you find the best exhibits, featuring information on the most popular of over 390 Military Museums in all the major cities and towns of the USA.” Some of the highlights include:

  • USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park

  • Fort Apache

  • General Patton Memorial

  • San Diego Aerospace

  • USS Midway

  • Fort McHenry

  • US Naval Academy

  • USS Constitution

  • Strategic Air Command

  • White Sands Missile Range

  • Gettysburg National Military Park

  • Museum of the Confederacy

I’ve been to Gettysburg many times, and highly recommend it to anyone, so I think this app would be cool for checking out some places that you wouldn’t have normally gone.

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MyBaseGuide is an app for both iOS and Android, that’s similar to the above base directory app. According to the website “Whether you’re relocating, TDY or just “on the go”, our mobile app allows you to easily locate information on any one of the one hundred twenty military installations in CONUS, Hawaii and Alaska. The main purpose of MyBaseGuide is to provide military personnel with useful information for a smooth relocation”. I’ve not used this one, but looks very intuitive and easy to use. baseguide.jpeg

One app that intrigues me is the military space A app ($3,99), which lets you register, from the app, for any upcoming space A flights. It also provides local info such as billeting, car rental, dining, BX/PX/NEX info, links to air terminals’ pages, USOs, and more. Per the app, “Take-a-Hop’s MilSpaceA app allows authorized U.S. government users to register for Department of Defense (DoD) military space-available travel. It is the exclusive app for all DoD travelers wanting a quick, easy, reliable, and authorized means to sign up for Space-A at primary DoD departure terminals.” I’ve only personally ever tried to catch Space A flights out of Bahrain, and was never succesful; they were always full. I remember thinking at the time how inefficient it was to have to show up at the terminal to register, and if you could do it over an app, how great would that be? This app has 5/5 stars and good reviews, so it might be worth checking out.

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I want to hear from you all, did I miss any other good apps? Do you have any experience with any of the above?

Posted by glenn | No Comments

(by Andy) I tend to be somewhat of a travel gear geek, and am always on the lookout for items that make travel more enjoyable. I also highly value my sleep, especially with one (soon to be two) young children running around. As such, I’ve been trying out several different sleep masks over the years, but they all had one thing in common that made them intolerable to me, and that was that when I would wear it for more than an hour, my vision was all blurry from eyeball deformation. It would often take several hours until my vision was back to normal (this is more common in those, like myself, who’ve gotten LASIK).

sleep mask

My wife then found this mask for me, and my life was changed – the Earth Therapeutics REM sleep mask! (non-affiliate link) I’ve been wearing this now for a little while, and my sleep is much more sound, including on planes, and I get no blurry vision when I take it off. My wife says it looks like a mini-bra – the mask is contoured out from your face, so you still can have eyelid movement. Also, crucially, this mask blocks out all light – it is pitch black when I wear it.

I am in love!

Posted by glenn | One Comment

(from Andy) As you know, I’m all about hotel and airline miles & points. As fun as accumulating these points is though, what is more fun obviously it redeeming those points for free travel! It can be a huge hassle, though, sifting through at least three different search programs, for the three different alliances, and that doesn’t even include outliers like Southwest or Jetblue. It can also be tricky internationally, because there is no search engine that shows all flight options within that certain alliance (well ok, maybe ANA does, but it’s search engine is pretty clunky).

Also, for hotel searches, awardmapper is a great option, but I wish at the same time it’d show availability and compare it to cash costs, to find out what your best option is. Why can’t there be a website that can compile all this information at once?

Enter Pointimize, a new-ish travel search engine that has been around for a little while offering hotel options, comparing points vs cash, and has recently introduced a beta version of flight searches as well. It’s very customisable, with the ability to import your awardwallet information, and to also set your own valuations of how much you think each hotel or airline mile is worth per cent. (of note, not all programs work with awardwallet, like United, so you might have to put those miles in manually). When you log in, you’re given the options to search for hotels or flights, with a pretty clean, simple landing page:

FireShot Capture 24 - Pointimize - https___www.pointimize.com_hotel

I did a hypothetical search for a hotel for 3 nights in Las Vegas in September, and this is what the search looks like:

Pointimize hotels

It goes over the major US-based hotel loyalty programs, like Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt, Club Carlson, IHG, and SPG. For airlines, the new flight feature uses the 9 most-used loyalty programs in North America, as follows:

American Airlines (AAdvantage)

United Airlines (MileagePlus)

Alaska Air (Mileage Plan)

Hawaiian Airlines (HawaiianMiles)

Air Canada (Aeroplan)

British Airways (Executive Club)

Iberia Airlines (Iberia Plus)

ANA (ANA Mileage Club)

Virgin Atlantic (Flying Club)

Very cool and very powerful. For the flight feature, I put in a hypothetical flight search from Osaka (KIX) to LAX, and here were the results:

Pointimize_

Very cool, it gives out the flights with both points and cash options available, to see if a possible super-low cash fare would be a better value to you than using points would be. I will definitely be using this going forward! Of note, you cannot book directly through the website; for awards it directs to that chain or airlines website, and for cash it’ll direct you to an OTA.

There were a couple glitches I noted – there’s no tab to change your search within the results page, or at least any I could find; you have to go back to the homepage. Also, when clicking on the Pointimize logo at the top left of the page, to go back to the homepage, it errors out to a 404 error page. Also, I wish you could filter out which alliances you want to show or not, similar to what google flights does; for instance, I searched for Las Vegas to Okinawa, and the first couple hundred results were all Star Alliance, and I couldn’t filter out if I just wanted Oneworld options. A couple bugs, but again, the flight search is still in beta.

One of the founders of Pointimize, Adu Wu, has given us four complimentary invite codes so y’all can start using the flight search option. The first four people to comment on this post will be emailed an invite code within a week.

Enjoy!

 

Posted by glenn | 13 Comments

It seems to me that one of the most sought after answers for aspiring FF addicts is how to do a mileage run.  With my move to D.C., I am not racking up the miles like I usually did when living in Hawaii.  Therefore, I have to do some mileage runs if I intend to keep my United 1K and Alaska MVPG statuses (stati?).  Today, I am going to walk you through all the steps I took to book a mileage run this week.

The first step is to look for a good candidate run and then optimize it to maximize the miles.  I like to look on Flytertalk or Milepoint’s Mileage Run forums to see what others have found.  I was looking a few days ago and finding many interesting runs.  WAS-SNA, WAS-ONT, WAS-SJD (Cabo San Lucas), but what caught my eye was a comment from one person who asked if someone had taken advantage of the       $348 WAS-ANC fare.  Bingo!  I love ANC and have lots of friends there.  It also is a great mileage run since it involves two destinations far apart which I can later manipulate to make it even more.  The closer two cities are the harder this gets.  I always find it more interesting if I can make the mileage run a mini-vacation rather than 24 hrs. without leaving the plane or airport.

With that clue it was off to ITA to find when that fare sale was valid.  I started searching in 30 day increments, until I hit paydirt.  Searching through the months, I find that low fare starting mid-September and going to mid-October.  Hey, I get a four day weekend over the Columbus holiday, that would be a great time to go!

The fare is on United as expected.  Always useful to check as many times the competitors will lower their fares to match.  So if you see a sale on a United fare, but you mainly fly American, check and see if American is offering the same.  For this case United is perfect and I go to the United website for the next steps.  I plug in Thurs., 10 Oct returning Monday, 14 Oct for WAS-ANC.  The fares confirm at $333 since I am using my Veterans Advantage 5% discount.  The miles show as 4,070 each way for a total of 8,140.

Now when doing a mileage run, the golden standard is getting under 4 cents per EQM mile.  This is getting harder and harder to find with inflation and the rise in fuel, but go for that as a goal and decide for yourself if it is close enough to be worth your while.  In this case, $333/ 8,140 miles = 4.10 cpm; pretty good for a great mileage run.  Let’s see if we can do better.

If you took Geometry in high school, it was Euclidian geometry, which teaches that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.This rule goes out the window when you move on to spherical geometry which planes deal with when traveling the globe.  As you have probably noticed when seeing a flight path, the shortest route it is a curve.  This is actually shorter than the straight line path traced on a map.  If you plot this curve on the Great Circle Mapper, you can see the flight path the plane will follow and how the mileage distance is calculated.  If I can find a route that deviates from this path, I will increase the number of miles that I earn provided that I can keep the price the same.  So I switch the United flight reservation page to Multiple Destinations instead of Round Trip and start trying to add segents in between WAS and ANC.  One thing to remember when adding segments is that your chances of finding a similarly cheap fare are increased if you try cities where there is a hub for that airline as that typically means there are many flights for the airline to fill (high inventory = low price) and lots of possible connecting flights.  For United, that means trying EWR, DEN, SFO, LAX, and IAH.  Let’s start with EWR, so WAS-EWR-ANC.

OK, I got the same price for this itinerary and the miles look to be about the same.  Then you have to remember that the 199 mile segment will be bumped up to the minimum 500 miles awarded for any segment.  This then brings the total miles for the trip to 8,698 which translates to 3.83 cpm.  Hey, we are looking even better, but let’s see if we can improve that.  I try:

DEN – $430 and slightly less miles

SFO – $575. Forget that.

LAX – Really high fare

IAH – Bingo!  About the same fare, but a LOT more miles!

This shows a fare of $338 (again with the Vet Adv discount) and the mileage is up to 8,946.  This gives a cpm of 3.78!   That’s really great and tough to find these days –  I buy it.  Note that I did try to add even more segments on, but they either added cost or provided almost no extra miles.  For example, I priced DCA-IAH-DEN-ANC and it was only two miles more and added three hours to the flight time.   Not worth it.

So I hope that shows you the process that I go through.  You can apply it to any airline, just do your hunting and do not expect to bag a great deal every time.  I would be interested to hear of your successes if you will post them on my blog.  And for any of you who care to join me on a flight to Alaska, you have my itin – see you there!

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

(from Andy) A couple weeks ago I headed back to my stomping grounds, Philly, as I was in the States 2 weeks for a TAD and wanted to hang out with my youngest brother. I had two $200 Hyatt gift cards from a previous promotion that were burning a hole in my pocket. I’d tried to use them previously on our trip to Saigon, but they’re only available to use in the US or Canada. Also, Frequent Miler had his GCs hacked, twice, so I didn’t want to linger with them. I decided to try out the Hyatt Bellevue, as I’d played in a basketball league at it’s huge gym during residency, but I’d never actually stayed there. Also, it’s in a perfect location in Philly, just south of City Hall on Broad St and about midway between Rittenhouse Square and Washington Square, two Philly hotspots. I was able to book my two nights there with the military rate, $160, and was able to get a late 4pm checkout.

Originally built in 1904 and called the Bellevue-Stratford, per wikipedia, “Over two years in the making and costing over $8,000,000 (in 1904 dollars), the Bellevue-Stratford was described at the time as the most luxurious hotel in the nation and perhaps the most spectacular hotel building in the world. It initially had 1,090 guest rooms, the most magnificent ballroom in the United States, delicate lighting fixtures designed by Thomas Edison, stained and leaded glass embellishments in the form of transoms and Venetian windows and sky-lights by Alfred Godwin, and the most celebrated marble and hand-worked iron elliptical staircase in the city.” Cool.

The facade today is not all that impressive:

hyatt entrance

After navigating through ground-level shops, the lobby is concealed in a small and dark vestibule in the Southwest corner. The lovely young lady at check-in thanked me for my Diamond status, and upgraded me to a deluxe room, which didn’t look too different from a base-level room, at least on the website. I then discovered probably my biggest gripe with this hotel: the awful elevators. There are only two elevators for the whole hotel, which encompasses the top half of the Bellevue building, and they take FOREVER. Especially when there are weddings and wedding parties, for which the Bellevue is well-known. It often took 10-15 minutes for the elevators to show up, which to me is unacceptable for a chain as highly regarded as Hyatt.

Once I eventually got to my room, my reaction was, “meh”. It was a large layout, and the bed and everything was comfortable, but the furnishings were dated, the wifi was slow, and the awful window shutters did not keep out any light at all. Sorry for the picture, but I was tired and had to take a nap before I shot this pic:

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The bathroom was tiny, and not particularly luxurious…maybe in 1904:

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At least the closet was large:

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Diamonds get free breakfast, which took place at XIX, on the nineteenth floor. It offered gorgeous views over the city:

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Breakfast was good, not great, but to me any free food is good. I didn’t show pics of the gym for privacy reasons, but it is enormous and phenomenal, probably one of the best hotel gyms I have ever seen, so if you’re a workout phanatic then this is your place.

Overall I was not very impressed; I guess I’m just used to Hyatt having phenomenal properties, but this place was extremely outdated and with the elevators, not convenient. My biggest gripe, especially after some late nights out with my brother, were the cheap wooden window shutters which offered no morning light-blocking at all. I will likely not stay here again unless they undergo renovation.

Posted by glenn | 6 Comments

While much is written on getting airline points, hotel points can be just as valuable to you and your wallet.  Honestly, I think more is written about airline points just because they are easier to get.  They have better CC deals, you get a bunch every time you fly, etc., but think of it in terms of money spent on a vacation.  If you fly to a domestic location, the typical airfare is about $300, while the hotel you stay in averages about $150/ night meaning your hotel bill is much more than your airline bill.

Here are average daily rates for the major chains.  If your favorite is not listed here just Google the name and “ADR” and you’ll find the latest since Wall Street tracks this pretty closely.  In an attempt to value a hotel point, I have listed the points required for a Category 5 free night next to the ADR and divided to get a value/ point.

Marriott ADR = $140 divided by 25,000 = 0.56 cents per point (cpp)

Starwood ADR = $174 divided by 14,000 = 1.24 cpp

Hyatt ADR = $182 divided by 20,000 = 0.91 cpp

Hilton ADR = $136 divided by 35,000 = 0.39 cpp

If you think Category 5 is not the average, feel free to run your own numbers using the redemption value you think approximates the “average” room.  As with airline Business and First redemptions, sure you can find instances where you can get a $500+ room for only double the points shown above and if that suits your needs, go for it, that’s probably a good use of points for an aspirational trip or to impress your spouse on the value of hotel points programs!

So we see by this that SPG (Starwood) points have the greatest value.  Keep this in mind when you see some blogger touting that you can convert 20,000 SPG points into 25,000 airline miles.  Why would you do that?  SPG points are hard to earn (especially for us as their hotels often do not fall within Per Diem) so why trade them for 25,000 airline miles when it is hard to even find a RT fare for 25,000 miles?

I stated that hotel points are harder to earn, but I have created a spreadsheet to help you figure out how to maximize them.  Access it here on Google Docs.  I started with some basic hotel data we posted a couple of months ago.  This lists most of the major hotel chains and their programs.  Next comes the programs levels and how difficult it is to obtain that level in terms of nights stayed.  Note that owning the affiliated CC will make this easier to obtain, especially with Marriott.  Next it lists the benefits and I find these to be very valuable as they save me $$ every time that I stay so obtaining the next status level is often worthwhile.  After that we get into the math.  The columns list the base points earned per $ and bonuses for being elite and holding their CC.  I highly recommend that you get the CC for each chain where you think you will stay as it dramatically increases the amount of points earned at most hotels, often doubling your base points.  This then ends in a total column which are the points earned per $100 spent.  Note you can change this to the actual points earned by changing the $100 amount in column A to your estimated spend.

This table can be very useful if you are trying to decide on which hotel chain to make your primary earning one and which one secondary or tertiary.  However, further analysis may help even more in that decision.  The last two columns allow you to play with some hypothetical scenarios.  There is a table below the main spreadsheet listing the  number of points required for a free night at each of the chains by redemption level.  In the spreadsheet, I plugged in a Category 5 night at Club Carlson, Hyatt, and Starwood to see which one would require the least amount of spending to get that free night.  You’ll see the results in the last column which shows that you will earn a free night at Club Carlson for much less spend than the other two.

Another comparison that you can make is deciding if it is worthwhile to go for a higher status level in a program.  For example, look at Starwood.  You can get to Gold with 25 nights (or owning their CC) or try to make Platinum at 50 nights.  Looking at the table, you see that Platinum will get you free breakfast and lounge access, which are certainly worth something, but you actually earn the same amount of points for a stay!  Let’s compare two programs and decide which one would be more valuable.  Marriott Gold and Starwood Platinum both require 50 nights.  If I plug in average night redemption value for a Cat 5 room, I find I must spend about $320 less at Marriott to earn the same free room.

All these frequent flyer/ stayer programs are what the NSA likes to call “Big Data”.  Lot’s of information, but what do you do with it?  Hopefully, this spreadsheet will help you play with some scenarios that suit you personal needs and where you stay most often.  It does not account for some other factors.  For instance, Marriott, Starwood, and Hilton all give you a fifth night free if you redeem for four nights straight.  I can’t factor everything into the spreadsheet, so do some of your own math when comparing.  If anyone notes a mistake or change needed, send me a comment and I will update it.

Posted by glenn | No Comments

(Andy here) My family and I decided to spend July 4th weekend in Osaka and Kyoto, because of all the restrictions placed on Okinawa. It’s only a 1.5 hr flight from Oki, so it’s easily accessible. I looked at awardmapper and decided to compare the hotels on there to popular hotel review sites. One of the best reviewed hotels in the city is the Marriott Osaka Miyako, both for it’s awesome location, it’s phenomenal service, and it’s amazing views looking out over the city. We flew into Itami (ITM), whereas most people will fly into Kansai (KIX). From the airport, there is an awesome limo service that takes you to several locations throughout the city, and one is one block away from the Marriott! Just ask the information desk, and they’ll let you know, or you can check on google maps or their website.

I booked us four nights. I initially wanted to do all four nights on points, but the last night wasn’t available on points. Fortunately, Marriott has a cash + points option, which let me book three nights on points and the last with cash. It was 35k points per night, and the single paid night was around $350.

Our view flying into Osaka:

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The hotel is right across the street, or under the street if you’re going through the shopping mall, from Tennoji station, which is one of the main waypoints connecting the city’s subway and JR (train) system. This was another reason this hotel was perfect for getting around Osaka (Japanese taxis are EXPENSIVE). When you arrive at the building, which is I think the 2nd tallest building in Osaka, you take the elevator up to the 19th floor to the main lobby, which has several bars and eating areas and a beautiful check-in area:

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The view from up there is amazing:

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They took our luggage and had us go up to the 38th floor to the Marriott Club, as I’m a Marriott Gold (thank you Chase Ritz Carlton!) for check-in. (I didn’t take pics for privacy reasons as it was quite packed). While we were checking in we got complimentary libations (Blanton’s Bourbon??? Heck yeah!) They upgraded us to a deluxe room, which doesn’t look that much different from a regular room, at least on the website. One unfortunate thing that I didn’t discern before checking the room – a rollaway bed for our son costs between $40-50 per night…ouch! Entering our room:

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Again, the view was amazing! Unfortunately I couldn’t get a glare-free picture on my iphone of the view, so you’ll have to imagine. The beds were two singles plus the rollaway:

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The beds were very comfortable, and despite the city being brutally hot that week, the AC kept the room feeling very nice.

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Tons of bottled water was provided, with more in the club, and my personal favorite, a Nespresso machine was available with complimentary capsules:

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The bathroom was spacious and well-appointed:

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There was a sliding door that could block off the bathroom if you wanted, but it could be opened to appreciate the view:

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Bathroom amenities were Thann:

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The bathtub and shower were in the same room, a feature which is the norm in Japan. Hot and cold water were immediate:

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And, my favorite, a Toto washlet:

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Osaka has some AMAZING restaurants, including many Michelin-starred ones. Unfortunately, almost none of them allow children under 12, so after talking to the concierge, an English-speaking babysitter was arranged so we could go to one of the only ones we could get reservations to, Gaku, which was phenomenal. She cost about $80 for 3 hours, not terrible.

We also booked some tours on Voyagin, including a day-long tour of several sites in Kyoto and Nara. Although Kyoto was beautiful, the highlight to me and my family was Nara – both the deers which you can feed and pet, and the amazing Buddha temple, with the world’s largest wooden Buddha. Also take one day to hit Spaworld Osaka, which is incredibly relaxing.

Overall a very cool trip – I think I like Osaka better than Tokyo. When we return, we’re definitely going to stay at the Marriott again!

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

So you read this blog because you want to fly for free? Have I got a deal for you and it costs NO MILES!  Simply put, the USAF travels all over the globe and if they have extra room on the flight, you can go for free.  Well, they do insist you pay for the box lunch provided, but we’re talking like $10.  Probably more now as it has been a while since my wife and I flew SPACE-A.

You may think it is sacrilegious for a frequent flyer to advocate using Space A travel, but it does have its uses – primarily that it is 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, England 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.

SPACE-A travel has a lot of rules and categories that determine priority.  Here’s something that you may not know – DoD civilians are eligible under certain circumstances.  Also civilian dependents for certain reasons.

For those of you who are adventurous, the official Space A site is here.  Of there is an app for Space-A (like everything else) that you can find at Takeahop.  Both iPhone and Android versions are available and greatly simplifies things so that you don’t have to hang around the Space-A terminal all day long.  Armed Forces Crossroads is also an awesome resource for finding bases and flight information.

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.  Frequent flyer miles still play a role here.  An ideal use for miles is, if you get stuck like we did on your return, you can use miles for a one way flight back home!

Posted by glenn | One Comment

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 | No Comments

Fortunately airline crashed are very rare and you are much safer up in the air than you are driving on the ground.  Still, people get nervous about what to do in case of an emergency landing.  I thought that it might be timely to share some of my training in aircraft survival.  When I lived in Alaska, it was a requirement for me to go through wilderness and aircraft survival due to the nature of my work taking me all over the state.  The average time to find a downed plane in Alaska is two days since much of the region is out of radar coverage and they may not be sure where you were last seen.  It was a great course and included a trainer that turned us upside down in the water and we had to unbuckle a swim out through debris.  While I can’t duplicate that experience here, I certainly can share some of the classroom lessons taught to us.

Like much of the military training we have all been through, the key here is situational awareness and practicing enough so that “muscle memory” takes over.  Very similar to the weapons training we all go through.  Just like the safety card that everyone habitually ignores in the seat pocket in front of them, the mental part of this only works if you actually go through the mental steps ahead of time.  When the pilot tells you to assume the crash position, it is too late to go through these steps.

Pre-Flight Prep:

1.  Wherever you are seated, examine the closest and the next closest exit in relation to where you are seated.

2.  Count the number of rows to those exits since you may not be able to see the exit if the cabin has smoke in it.  You may need to go forward or back by that number of rows.

3.  Read the safety card even if you think you already know it.  I recently had a Fight Attendant ask me how I would open the exit door and I failed.  Turns out I was on a different model of plane that had new exit doors that sprang open like a DeLorean.  I would have known this if I had read the card.

4.  Practice locating your seat belt release with your eyes closed.  If you try to shoot straight for where you think the buckle is, you may be wrong and continue to fumble about without finding it.  A better way is to take your hand to a known point that you can always find such as your heart.  From there sweep downward along your body and you will be assured of running into your seat belt.  From there you can slide your hand along the belt and find the buckle release.

4.  When you are seated right next to an exit door, you should also practice finding the door handle with your eyes closed.  Be discrete about this as others might get nervous if they see someone playing with the exit door handle!  Similar to the other exercise, from where your arm is after releasing your buckle, run your arm over your lap rotating it so that your hand strikes the wall at lap level.  From there sweep up the wall and you are certain to run into the door handle.  Once the handle is located, it is critical that you recall from the card how this type of door handle operates.  Some require rotating the handle, other require you pull the handle up, and some still require you grip the door above and below.  You need to assume that the cabin will be filled with smoke so do not depend on using your eyes.

Pre-Crash Prep:

1.  Listen to the pilot’s and/ or FA instructions.  I know this sounds easy, but how many people have you told to do something and they then do something different.  This is because many people do not listen to what is said, but instead hear what they expect to hear and take action based upon that.  Listen carefully and wait until the announcement is completed before acting.

2.  Assume the crash position if directed.  The best crash position is to take one hand and cover the face while putting that arm’s elbow in your gut.  Take your other arm and wrap it around your body taking a firm grip on your opposite shoulder.  Then bend forward tucking your head down and putting the elbow of the arm wrapping around between your legs.  This position will allow your body to absorb energy coming from any direction while protecting your vital spots.  This is slightly different than the FAA’s crash position, but I think the instructor is right that it is a little better than the standard position.

3.  Think through the actions you will take post-crash and go through the instructions from the safety card in your head to remember each step such as looking through the window of the exit door before opening to ensure there is no fire on the other side.

aircrash

Post-Crash Actions:

1.  Stay calm.  Remember “slow is smooth and smooth is fast”.  Get off the plane and help others do so.  The entire plane is designed to be evacuated within two minutes.

2.  For God Sake’s leave your carry-ons behind.  Nothing in that carry-on is worth your life or that of your fellow passengers.  It appalled me to see some passengers pulling their carry-ons from the Asiana flight at SFO.

3.  Remember that you don’t have to go down the aisle.  Going over the seats may be a better bet for you especially if you are in a window seat.  This might seem hard to do, but if you’ve got to get out it might be your best option.

4.  Once evacuated to a safe distance stay there so they can get accountability of the passengers.  Don’t go wandering off.  If you have to leave the area to get help, let someone know your name and where you are going.

5.  Render aid according to your abilities.  If you are certified in First Aid or CPR this is a good time to put those skills to work until the First Responders can reach the site.

I hope these tips can help you (and others) if you are ever in a crash situation.  As the Boy Scouts say “Always be prepared”.

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

Ironically, people focus primarily on airlines miles, but typically you will spend more on a hotel room than your airfare when on a trip. Think about it- what does an airfare cost-$400 to $500? That’s the same cost as 2-3 nights in a typical hotel (and one night in some hotels)! Obviously, the math depends on how many are staying in a hotel room vice flying, but you get the point that hotel points matter just as much as airline miles.

Many will place an average value of about 1.5 cents per airline mile, I often find that hotel points value is less than 1 cent per point. So while I can get a $350 airline ticket for 25,ooo miles, a $350 hotel room will typically go for 40,000 points. This is a generalization and rates vary greatly just as they do for hunting airline awards. The lesson here is that, on average, you will need more hotel points for a free hotel room than miles for a free airline ticket. Unfortunately, hotel points tend to be a little harder to accumulate than airline miles, but we’ll go over a few techniques.

Similar to airline alliances, most hotel programs encompass earning miles at a variety of hotels within that chain. Major hotel chains long ago learned that the way to capture all your stays from the luxury vacation to the business trip to the stay at a local hotel because they is just no way you are going to spend Christmas in that madhouse your brother calls a home. So Marriiott, for example, has the following hotel brands all under one program:

JW Marriott (5 star)

Marriott (4-5 star)

Edition (5 star)

Autograph (5 star)

Renaissance (3-4 star)

AC (4 star)

Springhill Suites (3 star)

Townplace Suites (3 star)

Residence Inn (3-4 Star)

Courtyard (2-3 star)

Marriott Vacation Club (Timeshares)

and a partnership with Ritz-Carlton (5 star)

So you can see that they try hard to cover all your possible needs. This is actually good, since it means you can earn and redeem miles in most of the possible situations that you will encounter. Each of the major hotel programs is similar in this aspect although some cover a wider range of star levels than others. For military or government travellers, one thing to consider is all the remote locations that we can get sent to. Marriott, Hilton, and Holiday Inn tend to be more widespread than other chains such as Starwood or Hyatt which are concentrated in major cities. The major hotel frequent stayer programs are:

Marriott (Marriott Rewards) – (I listed its components above)

Hilton (Hilton HHonors) – (Waldorf, Conrad, Hilton, Double Tree, Embassy Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton Inn, Homewood Suites, Home2Suites, and Hilton Gand Vacation timeshares)

Starwood (SPG) – Bought by Marriott and we will see how many of these brands they retain, if any (Sheraton, Four Points, St. Regis, Luxury collection, W Hotels, Le Meridien, Westin, Aloft, Element, and Starwood Vacation timeshares)

Choice (Comfort Inn/ Suites, Quality, Sleep Inn, Clarion, Rodeway Inn, Suburban, Econolodge, Cambria Suites, Mainstay Suites, and Ascend)

Hyatt (Hyatt Gold Passport)-(Hyatt and Hyatt Place)

Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG Priority Club) (Intercontinental, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Crowne Plaza, Candlewood Suites, Staybridge Suites, and Hotel Indigo) – special note: many of the Army on-post hotels are managed by IHG and you can gain points there!

Just as with airlines, it makes sense to try to put most of your stays with one program, but have membership in 2-3 because you may end up having to stay there occasionally. This will also help you gain status which is just as important with hotels as it is with airlines. Most programs have three levels Silver, Gold and Platinum/Diamond, just as with the airlines. Unlike airlines, however, the requirements for each level can vary quite a bit between programs. Some count stays of however many consecutive nights and others do not. Some count only the actual number of nights stayed in one of their hotels. Some count stays/ nights when you use points for a free stay and others do not.

Gaining top level can require a lot of nights spent away from home, some programs need as many as 75 nights in a hotel. The consensus of several of my fellow BA bloggers think that the Platinum level is just too hard and that Gold gives you most of the key benefits such as free breakfast. I have been Platinum for several years in Marriott and really enjoy the top level treatment, but admit that it is hard to earn that consistently.

One important point is points or miles. Several of the programs will give you airline miles instead of hotel points if you like. I strongly advise against doing this. I already pointed out the value of hotel points and I think you will get much more value out of a bunch of hotel points instead of adding on to your airline mileage balance by a little bit. Note that this extends to the Hilton program that famously offers points and miles. They will give you 50% more points if you forgo the miles and this is a great way to build up your hotel points.

Lastly, consider that some programs will let you earn lifetime status (Marriott, SPG) while others do not have that.  Definitely something to consider if you still have a lot of years to accumulate points.

So make your choices and start earning. Personally, I like the wider programs such as Marriott and Hilton, but it will depend on your situation. Many of my BA blogger compatriots swear by Hyatt and SPG saying that they have better FF programs and bonus offers. The choice will be up to you.

Posted by glenn | No Comments

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