Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

BLUF:  With 2021 traveling still shaky, I’ve placed some U.S. domestic and international cancelable and/or movable trips on my travel calendar.

Today’s ALL HANDS focuses on my 2021 travel planning.

When will travel get back to normal?  That is the key question, and absolutely no one knows the answer.  Still, with vaccinations underway—both globally and within the U.S.—the trend points towards the travel industry and tourist destinations being ready by mid/late-2021.

With those dates in mind, I’ve booked both vacation trips and mileage runs.

First, airlines and hotels extended loyalty status through 2021 which means I have another year to enjoy and exploit those status levels.  I hold mid-level status on United, American, Delta, and Alaska Airlines.  For hotels, I hold top-tier status on Marriott and mid-level (thanks to the Amex Platinum) on Hilton.  I let these status levels guide me as I started exploring both domestic and international trips for 2021.

Second, with international travel still more iffy than domestic travel, I started with looking at all the upcoming federal holidays and their long weekends starting with 4 July.  (Note:  I’m still mulling over Memorial Day weekend at the moment too).  With a Marriott 7-night certificate set to expire at the end of August, I chose 7-nights in Brooklyn, NY during the 4 July weekend.  Living in DC, it’s a very quick flight, and hopefully, by July, restaurants will be open to enjoy all that amazing NY food.  We plan to focus on Brooklyn’s Chinatown.  These flights will be DCA-JFK on Delta or American.  Haven’t decided which airline to use yet.

Moving onto Labor Day, I’ve planned an end-of-summer driving trip through Maine, a state I’ve never been to.  I’ve scheduled us to fly into Bangor, explore Bar Harbor, and make our way to Portland.  Portland continually tops list of “best food cities,” so it should be an exciting stop.  These flights will be via Dulles on United.

Columbus Day weekend takes us out west to Jackson Hole, WY and Park City, UT.  Both locations are better known as ski resorts and playgrounds for celebrities, but October is still a shoulder season, so the location is still affordable.  We plan to fly into WY and then drive the 4-5 hours to UT and enjoy the mountain drive.  At both locations, we plan to enjoy some hiking, mountain air, and some good food.  These flights will be on United in/out of DCA, just to make it a little more convenient for us.

Thanksgiving puts us in Napa Valley, CA.  As much as we love wine, we’ve yet to make a trek to the heart of the U.S. wine industry.  We never spend Thanksgiving with family, so for us, it’s an awesome time to get out and enjoy a long weekend.  While I’d usually fly transcontinental on United DCA/IAD-SFO, I unfortunately couldn’t find a decent fare, at least not without extending our trip too much or taking a red-eye back to DC.  So, this flight will be DCA-SFO-IAD on Alaska.

All airline tickets are cash tickets.  I’ve already booked everything, and with the recent “no change fee” policy from airlines, for me, I feel confident in purchasing the tickets this early out.  Plus, my personal philosophy is to not use points and miles for domestic flights.  While everyone’s travel situation is different, I only use points and miles for international trips.  Further, I very rarely use hotel points for stays.  Other than my free credit card nights (via my Marriott credit cards) or the 7-night certificates, all hotel stays tend to be cash stays.

(Note:  my Marriott 7-night certificate is part of the Marriott Travel Packages option.  Specifically, it’s the Air + Hotel Packages in where you trade in a stash of Bonvoy points for a 7-night certificate and 100,000 airline miles.  I use these certificates primarily in Asia where you get the biggest bang for your buck.  This exchange is primarily where all my Bonvoy points go, and more often than not, I deposit the airline miles in my Alaska Airlines account.  Again, everyone’s travel situation is different, but I think this is the best use of my Marriott points.)

Next, mileage runs:  with Alaska joining Oneworld in March and with some excellent bonuses and discounts thanks to Alaska’s NFL playoff discounts, I’ve booked a couple of springs trips to the west coast.  Some are just out-and-backs while others include weekend stays to visit some friends.  I’ve decided especially with the 50% elite mile bonus through 30 June, it’s a good time to get out and get a higher Alaska status for a higher Oneworld status.  Hopefully, if I can make it to Emerald level, I’ll have access some amazing First class lounges when (at some point) I start traveling internationally.

Third, planning for international travel is much trickier:  what countries will be open? what airlines will offer pre-COVID level service in premium cabins? what will be the testing/vaccination requirements?

With those questions in mind, I’ve booked two international trips for 2021:  one with miles and one cash.  For September, I booked a trip to Japan and Singapore using Alaska miles.  JFK-HND-SIN, with a 6 day stop-over on JAL.  I’m taking advantage of Alaska’s excellent partner redemption (65K miles for business class) to enjoy two of our favorite countries.  The return again uses Alaska’s partner redemption, but this time with Cathay Pacific.  70K Alaska miles for SIN-HKG-JFK, with business class to HKG and Cathay’s famed First Class onward to JFK.  Cathay Pacific is one of my favorite airlines, and they have amazing lounges at HKG.  As many times as I’ve flown them, I’ve never had the opportunity to enjoy their First Class or their First Class lounges.  Hopefully this trip happens both for the destinations and the flying perks.

Next, Christmas and New Year’s take us back to Asia for the holidays.  This ticket is a cash ticket from a deal with Singapore Airlines I found in July 2020.  I originally planned this trip for Feb 2021 with the hope COVID restrictions would be over by then.  When I bought this ticket, SQ had free, unlimited changes on the ticket.  So, after a call to Singapore Airlines, I moved it to Dec 2021/Jan 2022.  Not only is SQ an awesome airline with an awesome business class, the free changes means I can keep kicking the can down the road based on COVID restrictions.  This ticket is JFK-FRA-SIN-BKK and return.  I’ll credit the SQ mileage to Alaska, and the cycle will continue as we work towards 2022 trip planning.

Will any of these trips happen?  I’m confident the domestic trips will stay on the calendar, but I’m less confident about the international trips.  Not only do more vaccinations need to happen, but countries need to be logistically ready to start accepting tourists.  Already, I’ve read reports that Australia won’t be open for tourist until at least 2022 and maybe even longer.  It’s not out of the question more countries could tread on the side of caution.

Still, I’m happy to share with you some of my travel planning over the rest of the year.  Plus, somewhere in there, work travel will start as well.  That could mean some adjustments on my end.  But this is why the no change fee and cancelable rates are so important.  Flexibility is the key to travel planning!

Good luck as you start planning leisure trips for 2021.

Be safe!

Happy Travels!

Vr,

Albert

 

Albert Guerrero, USAF, Ret.

“Let’s Travel Farther, Together!”

 

Follow my travels on Instagram:  @albert_traveler

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I fell in love with Alaska and Alaska Airlines after moving to Anchorage in 2002. AS traditionally does very well with customer service and that is no better demonstrated by their long-time policy of upgrading any elite to fill the First Class cabin. I keep nerdy track of my upgrade percentage every year 2018-74%, 2019-37%, 2020-78%, and 2021-73%. That is mostly just at Gold status and is definitely higher than any other airline, even when I was a UA 1K for ten years. Now I hope to improve that even more with my elevation to Alaska’s newest elite tier 100K.

This new elite level is generally thought to be in response to AS joining OneWorld and needing to have an equivalent tier to American’s Executive Platinum. Historically, AS didn’t establish even a 75K tier until just about five years ago since they mainly catered to flyers in the Pacific Northwest and not a ton of long haul routes. Partner airlines could count in the total miles, but then the requirements were raised if you counted them, so 75k miles on AS or 90K miles if you included miles from partner programs. The benefits were already pretty good at 75K and most people wondered what else they could offer. Let’s take a look at that.

 

Going to the front of the line for upgrades is probably the biggest benefit for me. I seem to always be just on the cusp on getting upgrade as a 75K. Usually making it, but it is usually just before boarding. I hate sitting at number one on the upgrade list (as opposed to number 18 on the UA list?) but still have good success as noted in the percentages listed early in the post. Hopefully, my upgrade percentage will be close to 100% as no other elite will be in front of me unless they paid more for their ticket or booked earlier. Next behind me will be AA Exec. Platinums, so staying at 75K would mean having two groups of elites in front of me. What about other gifts for this new status?

75Ks got a 125% bonus on miles and unlike the other major airlines, these miles are still awarded on distance, not dollars spent, which makes it super easy to rack up tons of AS miles. Most bloggers consider these the most valuable miles of any airline due to the ability to redeem on some 23 fantastic partners such as Cathay Pacific, Qatar, Icelandair, and formerly Emirates. My wife and I have received great value on these partners over the years, although I have to say that Emirates will be sorely missed. Now 100Ks will get 150% on all fares. Nice!

For several years now Gold and 75Ks received a free drink – sometimes two – and a small snack. While I would have preferred to get one of the new snack boxes for free, I can’t complain about what they are offering to 100Ks

This is one of the new benefits for both 75Ks and 100Ks with 75Ks getting one and 100Ks getting two. I have heard great things about AA SWUs as opposed to the UA GPUs that I found extremely hard to use (needed to buy a W fare to even have a chance at an upgrade). Given where we are with international travel, I am fine with not receiving these until Q2. Hope to use them this summer and report back.

Happy to see the additional perks and hopefully more upgrades. How hard was it to qualify for 100K this year? Not hard at all given the “rollover” EQM and what ended up being a year long 150% bonus to EQM as shown below.

Requalifying this year will be a lot harder, but they made one thing easier and that is counting partners. Now there is only one amount for each level so taking a few long haul flights on AA or other partners should get my wife and I well along to another 100,000 miles. These new benefits will be evaluated closely to see if going for 100K again is worth it. Have four AS flight next month and will see what kind of difference this new status means!

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Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

BLUF:  With 2021 traveling still shaky, I’ve placed some U.S. domestic and international cancelable and/or movable trips on my travel calendar.

Today’s ALL HANDS focuses on my 2021 travel planning.

When will travel get back to normal?  That is the key question, and absolutely no one knows the answer.  Still, with vaccinations underway—both globally and within the U.S.—the trend points towards the travel industry and tourist destinations being ready by mid/late-2021.

With those dates in mind, I’ve booked both vacation trips and mileage runs.

First, airlines and hotels extended loyalty status through 2021 which means I have another year to enjoy and exploit those status levels.  I hold mid-level status on United, American, Delta, and Alaska Airlines.  For hotels, I hold top-tier status on Marriott and mid-level (thanks to the Amex Platinum) on Hilton.  I let these status levels guide me as I started exploring both domestic and international trips for 2021.

Second, with international travel still more iffy than domestic travel, I started with looking at all the upcoming federal holidays and their long weekends starting with 4 July.  (Note:  I’m still mulling over Memorial Day weekend at the moment too).  With a Marriott 7-night certificate set to expire at the end of August, I chose 7-nights in Brooklyn, NY during the 4 July weekend.  Living in DC, it’s a very quick flight, and hopefully, by July, restaurants will be open to enjoy all that amazing NY food.  We plan to focus on Brooklyn’s Chinatown.  These flights will be DCA-JFK on Delta or American.  Haven’t decided which airline to use yet.

Moving onto Labor Day, I’ve planned an end-of-summer driving trip through Maine, a state I’ve never been to.  I’ve scheduled us to fly into Bangor, explore Bar Harbor, and make our way to Portland.  Portland continually tops list of “best food cities,” so it should be an exciting stop.  These flights will be via Dulles on United.

Columbus Day weekend takes us out west to Jackson Hole, WY and Park City, UT.  Both locations are better known as ski resorts and playgrounds for celebrities, but October is still a shoulder season, so the location is still affordable.  We plan to fly into WY and then drive the 4-5 hours to UT and enjoy the mountain drive.  At both locations, we plan to enjoy some hiking, mountain air, and some good food.  These flights will be on United in/out of DCA, just to make it a little more convenient for us.

Thanksgiving puts us in Napa Valley, CA.  As much as we love wine, we’ve yet to make a trek to the heart of the U.S. wine industry.  We never spend Thanksgiving with family, so for us, it’s an awesome time to get out and enjoy a long weekend.  While I’d usually fly transcontinental on United DCA/IAD-SFO, I unfortunately couldn’t find a decent fare, at least not without extending our trip too much or taking a red-eye back to DC.  So, this flight will be DCA-SFO-IAD on Alaska.

All airline tickets are cash tickets.  I’ve already booked everything, and with the recent “no change fee” policy from airlines, for me, I feel confident in purchasing the tickets this early out.  Plus, my personal philosophy is to not use points and miles for domestic flights.  While everyone’s travel situation is different, I only use points and miles for international trips.  Further, I very rarely use hotel points for stays.  Other than my free credit card nights (via my Marriott credit cards) or the 7-night certificates, all hotel stays tend to be cash stays.

(Note:  my Marriott 7-night certificate is part of the Marriott Travel Packages option.  Specifically, it’s the Air + Hotel Packages in where you trade in a stash of Bonvoy points for a 7-night certificate and 100,000 airline miles.  I use these certificates primarily in Asia where you get the biggest bang for your buck.  This exchange is primarily where all my Bonvoy points go, and more often than not, I deposit the airline miles in my Alaska Airlines account.  Again, everyone’s travel situation is different, but I think this is the best use of my Marriott points.)

Next, mileage runs:  with Alaska joining Oneworld in March and with some excellent bonuses and discounts thanks to Alaska’s NFL playoff discounts, I’ve booked a couple of springs trips to the west coast.  Some are just out-and-backs while others include weekend stays to visit some friends.  I’ve decided especially with the 50% elite mile bonus through 30 June, it’s a good time to get out and get a higher Alaska status for a higher Oneworld status.  Hopefully, if I can make it to Emerald level, I’ll have access some amazing First class lounges when (at some point) I start traveling internationally.

Third, planning for international travel is much trickier:  what countries will be open? what airlines will offer pre-COVID level service in premium cabins? what will be the testing/vaccination requirements?

With those questions in mind, I’ve booked two international trips for 2021:  one with miles and one cash.  For September, I booked a trip to Japan and Singapore using Alaska miles.  JFK-HND-SIN, with a 6 day stop-over on JAL.  I’m taking advantage of Alaska’s excellent partner redemption (65K miles for business class) to enjoy two of our favorite countries.  The return again uses Alaska’s partner redemption, but this time with Cathay Pacific.  70K Alaska miles for SIN-HKG-JFK, with business class to HKG and Cathay’s famed First Class onward to JFK.  Cathay Pacific is one of my favorite airlines, and they have amazing lounges at HKG.  As many times as I’ve flown them, I’ve never had the opportunity to enjoy their First Class or their First Class lounges.  Hopefully this trip happens both for the destinations and the flying perks.

Next, Christmas and New Year’s take us back to Asia for the holidays.  This ticket is a cash ticket from a deal with Singapore Airlines I found in July 2020.  I originally planned this trip for Feb 2021 with the hope COVID restrictions would be over by then.  When I bought this ticket, SQ had free, unlimited changes on the ticket.  So, after a call to Singapore Airlines, I moved it to Dec 2021/Jan 2022.  Not only is SQ an awesome airline with an awesome business class, the free changes means I can keep kicking the can down the road based on COVID restrictions.  This ticket is JFK-FRA-SIN-BKK and return.  I’ll credit the SQ mileage to Alaska, and the cycle will continue as we work towards 2022 trip planning.

Will any of these trips happen?  I’m confident the domestic trips will stay on the calendar, but I’m less confident about the international trips.  Not only do more vaccinations need to happen, but countries need to be logistically ready to start accepting tourists.  Already, I’ve read reports that Australia won’t be open for tourist until at least 2022 and maybe even longer.  It’s not out of the question more countries could tread on the side of caution.

Still, I’m happy to share with you some of my travel planning over the rest of the year.  Plus, somewhere in there, work travel will start as well.  That could mean some adjustments on my end.  But this is why the no change fee and cancelable rates are so important.  Flexibility is the key to travel planning!

Good luck as you start planning leisure trips for 2021.

Be safe!

Happy Travels!

Vr,

Albert

 

Albert Guerrero, USAF, Ret.

“Let’s Travel Farther, Together!”

 

Follow my travels on Instagram:  @albert_traveler

Posted by glenn | No Comments

Alaska Airlines is my favorite FF Program and for many good reasons. I have been a MVP Gold or 75K for 18 years straight (they kept my status both times I deployed) and today’s announcement gives me even more reason to continue that streak.

I just received an email from their CCO, Andrew Harrison, with several key announcements. Many of us were waiting for this ever since they firmed up the date to join OneWorld which will start 1 April. Here are the key bullets:

  • Status extended to 31 Dec 2021 – OK, expected that
  • Access to Main Cabin Extra Seats – OK, expected that.
  • Later in 2021, upgrade certificates to Business Class on international flights – wow!
  • Free upgrades on AA domestic – remains to be seen where you are in the pecking order. AS elites only upgraded after all AA elites? Or top-tier to top-tier, then mid-tier, etc.? I have had great success with free upgrades on AS over the years and will look forward to testing this on AA. Note: AA Elites – don’t be haters on this one!
  • Starting April 2021, MVG Gold 75K will be Emerald One Worlds – they previously announced this. Looking forward to lounge access internationally!
  • I’m starting off this year with EQM equal to how much I flew Jan-Apr last year and 50% bonus on EQM will extend until June. That will certainly help with the next item.
  • A new 100,000 mile elite status category starting in 2022. I know a few fanatic flyers who will welcome this. Not sure how much they can increase the benefits over 75K which already gives you 225% redeemable miles and free upgrade certs. Maybe free lounge access? Will wait with baited breathe to hear more on this.

This is just a quick note to announce the news. More to follow I am sure.

Posted by glenn | One Comment

Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

BLUF: 2020 has been quite a year! This year, I flew 54,664 miles which includes one international trip and quite a few US-domestic flights, almost all for work. This is fewest miles I’ve traveled in about a decade.

Today’s ALL HANDS focuses on my 2020 travel.

What a year! That’s definitely the understatement of the century. It’s been a while since I’ve posted for Glenn and TMFF. My apologies for going silent since April, but even with the quarantine and the days upon days of telework, finding the motivation to write about travel was still pretty difficult. Then, in late June, my work at the US Department of Veterans Affairs began to pick-up, and in early July, I was back on the road. Work travel has been almost non-stop since then with prepping for trips and closing out trips taking up a lot of my time and energy.

As Glenn and I have mentioned before, TMFF is NOT our primary job nor do we rely on it for income. It’s a labor of love, and sometimes more labor than love. Originally, I had plans to revisit some trips in a multitude of AARs, and while I has a streak of three posted, I completely ran out of steam. I’m sure many folks felt the same as quarantines and shelter-at-home orders continued throughout 2020.

Still, as telework days melted into each other and more time was spent in front of the TV binging all that precious and new streaming content, putting together a travel blog entry kept falling lower and lower on the priority list.

Enough whining, let’s get to some travel data.

In 2020, I flew only 54,664 miles. In 2019, I flew 163,951 miles. That’s only 33% of the miles flown this year compared to last year. That’s quite a drop: Thanks, COVID! LOL!

For leisure travel, back in Jan 2020 (when we were all fat, dumb, and happy about traveling) I made a trip out to the West Coast to enjoy some Alaska Airlines First Class comfort and visit Los Angeles, San Diego, and Seattle. Plus, I visited the new Paine Field airport (PAE) north of Seattle. The newly opened concourse building houses two main gate areas with mountain chalet décor. It was a fun stop on my coastal tour.

Also pre-COVID, I had leisure trips to Asheville, NC and Toronto, Canada. Both were great visits and worth going back too. Though, I would say Asheville is a pretty small town, so a return visit for me is probably not likely. However, the beer and the BBQ were excellent as was the visit to the famed Biltmore Estate. As for our February trip to Canada, it was pretty great. Any excuse to visit our friendly northern neighbors and inject some maple syrup into my veins is high on my list!

In March 2020, we took our first, and only, intercontinental trip of the year. Back in Spring 2019, Qatar Airways was having an awesome business class deal to announce their new Montreal to Doha route on a QSuites-installed Boeing 777-300ER. I picked up two roundtrip tickets for $2000 each on the Montreal-Doha-Bangkok route. Granted, I had no idea where we’d be in March 2020 (we were due to depart Germany during the summer of 2019), but I figured where ever we were in the US, getting to Montreal would be a pretty easy feat.

So on 29 Feb, we flew IAD-YUL and spent the night at the in Marriott Airport Montreal. It was a very nice stay. While COVID news was still limited to China, South Korea, and Italy at the end of February, we were pretty confident our visits to Ho Chi Minh City, Chiang Mai, and Bangkok would be uninterrupted or affected by COVID. Originally, I had planned this trip to included Seoul and Chengdu. As COVID restrictions were beginning to pop up in China and South Korea, I smartly altered these stops.

If you’ve read about how Qatar Airways’ QSuites are the “best business class” then you’ve only heard part of the rave. Qsuites, the actual seat, is amazing. So much room and with the closing door, you really have a tiny apartment. However, when you couple the comfortable suite with Qatar’s outstanding services (e.g., dine-on-demand, hefty meal and a snack menus, a full complement of wine and spirits) it is like riding in First Class. My international First Class experience have been on SWISS, Japan Airlines, and Thai Airways, and those were amazing experiences. Qatar’s QSuites equaled if not surpassed those given how new their 777 was.

That whole trip was amazing. Vietnam is an awesome destination; the people and the food are terrific. This was also our first visit to Chiang Mai which included that famed Thai hospitality and food. Plus, any chance to get to Bangkok is a good thing!

It was about in mid-March when the whole world began closing borders and flights started canceling. Luckily, we made it back to the US before the country closed down. As COVID raged on, I canceled our June 2020 trip to Australia and our Nov/Dec 2020 trip to Japan. Sad to have to cancel those, but we weren’t going anywhere due to COVID and certainly not on an international trip.

Work’s policy was to test us post-work trip, so I ended the year with a cool baker’s dozen (13!) of COVID tests. While I didn’t get used to the nasal swab, I at least knew what was coming. When work travel started back up in July, I saw very empty airports and airplanes. Though, by the time of my final trip in Nov, planes and airports were full again. When available, I would purchase the upgrade to domestic First Class to allow for more room and just being around fewer people. Since I had to travel, I tried to be as safe as possible.

I’ll save my 2021 leisure travel plans (yes! I actually some!) for another All Hands.

Many of our readers have PCS’d during this dynamic time and many continue to be stationed all over the world. On behalf of Glenn and me, we hope everyone in the TMFF family continues to remain safe and vigilant during the pandemic.

Thank you for allowing me to be part of The Military Frequent Flyer team!

Happy 2021!

Happy Travels!

Vr,
Albert

Albert Guerrero, USAF, Ret.
“Let’s Travel Farther, Together!”

Follow my travels on Instagram: @albert_traveler

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I have written extensively in the past about the membership program Veterans Advantage and how it saves me a lot of money. My tally for the last 12 months is savings of $495 on airfare. Much more than the $59 annual fee. They have a lot of other discounts as well, such as CVS, rental cars, etc.

Disclaimer: I receive no compensation from Veterans Advantage.

Similar to AAA or AARP, you need to pay for a membership to join and get these discounts. The standing airline discounts are already great. They are 5% off United, Lufthansa, and JetBlue and 10% off on American. Right now they have a special deal with Alaska which increases the normal 5% discount to 15%! However, it is only effective until Sept. 21st for flights completed by 2/28/2021. That makes this ideal for any of your holiday flights. And with no change fees, you risk little if circumstances force you to change or cancel.

Alaska is my favorite airline. I have been an MVP Gold for 18 years straight due to their fantastic service and benefits such as still awarding miles for distance flown with 100% bonus for being an MVPGold (my wife gets 125% bonus as an MVPGold75K). A lot of people think that they don’t live in the Northwest or Alaska and so can’t fly Alaska Air. Check out their route map and you’ll be surprised how many East Coast and Midwest locations they now serve.

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Hope you have enjoyed my trip to McMurdo. It is wonderful to get paid to do something adventurous like that. Here are some final pictures and thoughts on this special trip. If you missed any, here is a link to the beginning.

Located in the central hallways between dorms and the mess hall is a special monitor. It gives the weather forecast and news, but everyone really watches to see if their flight will leave. Really based upon whether the C-17 lands.

And here is one of the best things I saw right next to the monitor.

The flight home was on a C-17. At least on this flight, I had no issues going up to the cockpit and talking to the flight crew who were all Air Force Reserve members from Washington State. As everyone can see, not the most comfortable seats.

Here are some of my better photos, at least the ones I like.

Thanks for reading and glad to share a few of the hundreds of photos I took. I certainly would love to go back someday. Maybe for my retirement job, I can work at McMurdo for a few months. Although I spoke with one of the bus drivers who said he did it just for the kicks and actually made more money as a window washer in Seattle!

‘Merica!

 

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“Cool stuff”, see what I did there? Still writing on this trip of a lifetime.

You can catch up by reading the first, second, third and fourth posts.

Saved all the best stuff for the end. Today I’ll be giving you a tour of CAPT Scott’s original expedition hut, some penguins, and a pier made of ice.

We’ll start at Discovery Hut where the Terra Nova Expedition camped for two years. The structure was an Australian hut and designed to have a double roof to let heat rise in the Outback. Not a good design for Antarctica. To go inside, we needed one of the McMurdo staff who is deputized as a National Park Ranger. For the full story of Discovery Hut, read more here.

Everything inside is untouched for over 100 years. This was originally built in 1902 and abandoned for the last time in 1917. It was buried by snow until the American Navy came to set up McMurdo in 1956. It was excavated of all the snow and they were amazed to find how well preserved everything was.

Just like they were here yesterday. Warning the next photo might be disturbing for some. It shows the remains of seals killed for food and their oil was used for fuel. Still preserved since it only gets above 32 degrees about three days a year. There was a butchered seal on the floor of another room and the oil was still glistening like it was done yesterday.

I have had to live very primitively sometimes in the Army, but I cannot imagine suffering through this for two years!

The next sightseeing activity is George Vince’s Cross. An early explorer who supposedly was wearing new boots which didn’t fit him well. He slipped and fell into the water here and died. It is a very steep drop off.

Here is the hill from Discovery Hut.

The view is spectacular!

From this hill I was able to see a small group of penguins. Note that this shot is from about 100 yards away. You should never get closer to the animals than this in order to safeguard them. I have seen some photos of tourists thinking this is a petting zoo and that is completely wrong.

 

The next cool thing is something engineers like me geek out about. Remember an earlier post where I said the sea ice blows in and out daily? That makes building a concrete and steel pier extremely difficult plus it would require pretty significant disruption to the ocean bottom here. Years ago, an engineer came up with the idea of building a pier out of pure ice! This block of ice is about a football field long, half that in width and about 20 feet thick. It is allowed to bob up and down with the tide and connected to land by cables and a Bailey Bridge. The once a year supply ship comes in about January and offloads everything the base will need for the following year. from fuel to heavy equipment and preservable supplies. Greens and other fresh items come via the C-17s each week. You can see Discovery Hut and the Vince George Cross beyond that.

So why is it covered in dirt? They spread a few inches of dirt over the surface to reduce melting. Since we were here in February, they are using a grader to scoop up all the dirt. Then during the winter, they will spray seawater on top and let it freeze to build back the few feet of ice lost to the summer sun.

That’s it for today, hope you enjoyed. Let me know if you have any questions I can answer.

 

 

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For those of you catching up, my first post on Antarctica is here and second post here.

This is a hard post to write since how do I capture a full week in one post? Here’s my attempt at that, but feel free to ask if there is something that you would like to see more of.

Here is a general overview. The entire site is built on the rocky slope of Mt. Erebus. There is very little soil and no vegetation so you really get the feeling that you are on another planet like Mars. The whole layout is very utilitarian and not designed for beauty. Yet the beauty of Antarctica surrounds you in every direction. Hopefully, you see that in the background of these photos.

That last photo is on one of our bad weather days with a half inch of snow at about 3 degrees F – and this is summer in Antarctica!

Here is a great shot of the entire station taken from the other side of the port. Note the square structure in the foreground is the original hut from the ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition led by CAPT Scott. A tour on that tomorrow.

The barracks are the four buildings on the left with the sewage treatment plant on the right with the Crary Science Center just beyond that.

If you followed the road between the pass in the middle you would pass New Zealand’s Scott Base and continue on to the airfield on the ice.

These pictures overlooking the sewage treatment plant show some of the spectacular view of mountains and ice. Notice that we have a little open water this day. The wind will either blow all the sea ice in to clog the port or blow it all the way out and we have clear seas. Changed every day.

Even in Antarctica you need to have coffee! The Coffee House is in an old Quonset hut left over from the Navy days of 1956. Very cool interior with a lot of history and artifacts.

The theater is a “T” off the long Quonset.

Hope you can see the big screen TV at the end.

At the Crary Science Center, they have all sorts of interesting experiments and prep for experiments that take place in the dry valleys or on the ice. I love this drawing that illustrates the dinosaurs found on Antarctica. Not the place that people think dinosaurs are usually found.

What do most of the buildings contain. Interestingly, they are mostly shops and storage for the scientific expeditions that come down in November for a week to a couple of months to conduct experiments in the unique environments of Antarctica. One of the ones that fascinated me was the dry valleys near McMurdo – one of the most extreme deserts on the planet! These places look like the ultimate garage full of wood-working equipment and tents. This sign below is one of the absolute best I have ever seen!

Of course there are places to take the mandatory cool selfie.

Tomorrow cool photos of history and nature.

 

 

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The flight from Christchurch to McMurdo is 4-5 hours. Unfortunately, it is common that the pilots take off with good weather over McMurdo only to have it close in and result in having to fly all the way back for the ultimate trip in vain. I have had to do this a number of times in Alaska and its no fun. However, today would be good weather. Not much to see below until we were about an hour out. The pictures below should speak for themselves for the spectacular views.

These views too me a while to figure out. These are snow drifts on clear. Pretty!

Remember I mentioned that they build the station on the slopes on an active volcano? See Mt. Erebus with a constant plume of smoke.

Then the station drifts into view.

Then a landing on the ice. No different than any concrete runway. Time to deplane.

And then get on a giant bus for the 60 minute ride to McMurdo. Like the name?

Check out the Mad Max ride going along side of the Terra Bus

More on my week at McMurdo tomorrow.

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I know this journey will likely make most of my fellow bloggers jealous – especially my buddy Stefan K. I am always envious of some of the spots he goes, like Iwo Jima, so turnabout is fair play.

You can catch up on the first post for this trip here.

Most people think of getting to Antarctica the way commercial cruises get there. Travel down the coast of South America and then jump over to the Antarctic Peninsula and possible visit the U.S. Palmer Station. However, that is a station of about 12 personnel. The main U.S. site is McMurdo Station on the Ross Ice shelf whose population can swell to 1000 during the Antarctic Summer. Here is a map to orient you.

If you fly due north from the Ross Ice Shelf you conveniently run into New Zealand. So I just had to get from Washington, D.C. to Christchurch, New Zealand. Sounds like a real frequent flyer adventure!

Fortunately, the best way to get there is a combination of United and New Zealand Air. This suited me as a United Million Miler just fine. Not that I got an upgrade, and I flew the whole thing in coach, so I don’t want to hear from you sissy bloggers that say they would never fly that far in anything but business. Suck it up, Buttercup!

The flight down on United was pretty much what you would expect. Got to go to the NZ lounge in Auckland which was nice. Then a short hop NZ flight to Christchurch. I was very impressed with Christchurch, but will leave that for another post.

Now you may ask -Can you get to McMurdo commercially? And the answer is of course not. Once we arrived in Christchurch, we RON and then were supposed to take a C-17 to the Ross Ice Shelf airstrip. How unfortunate that the C-17 was broken down – and how unusual, I always thought they only broke down only in Thailand, Honolulu and Alaska during the fishing season. That left us to take the Royal New Zealand AF 757!

First we were issued all our arctic gear (weird that they don’t call it Antarctic gear) which is a lot of stuff! We had to carry it all onto the flight and suit up prior to landing just in case we crashed on the ice. The rest our personal gear went into two orange duffle bags. It was a ton of stuff to carry on – I hadn’t worn Mickey Mouse boots since I was stationed in Korea. I’m sure I would have valued every piece of gear if we had actually gotten into trouble.

Time to board the plane!

Yes, the seats were very 1990’2, but still a lot better than what we would get on a C-17.

The head covering with the royal symbol was a cool touch.

Tomorrow’s episode: Landing on the ice!

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