March 27, 2014

7 things that will help you understand using travel rewards cards to your advantage


From the very beginning of our travel together, my husband and I have done all of our international flying with frequent-flier-miles. With Asia and Easter Island both on our itinerary for our first gap-year of travel, crossing the distances we had in mind would have seemed financially impossible for us without frequent flier miles.

Perhaps there’s a misconception out there that you must first pay for a significant amount of flying before you can accumulate enough frequent-flier-miles for a free international flight. That may be true when using the traditional approach to earning miles. But there is another strategy that has become quite popular for earning miles that requires no flying at all.

Credit cards.

There are dozens of them. And of course, it can get quite confusing. So I’ve put together a list of 10 things to help you understand travel rewards cards, and therefore, use them to help you with your own travel goals.


1.) Not all cards advertised as “travel rewards cards” will earn you frequent flier miles.

There are basically four types of currencies you can earn with travel rewards cards: 1) frequent flier miles with a mileage program, 2) hotel points with a hotel rewards program, 3) points that can be transferred into frequent flier miles or hotel points, and 4) points that can be used to reimburse money you spend on travel.

The latter can be good for covering what frequent flier miles cannot, but won’t be as significant in earning you a free international flight.


2.) Just because a card is offering a bonus, it doesn’t mean it’s a good bonus.

All the major travel credit cards advertise mile or point bonuses. This is the main appeal in many cases however, it’s worthwhile to do some research when you see a card offering a bonus. For instance as mentioned above, there are various currencies in the travel rewards card world. Find out what an advertised bonus could realistically translate to in terms of travel.

Even once you have acquainted yourself with the bonus’ currency, it’s also good to know the difference between a good bonus and a weak bonus. At least when it comes to miles, hotel points, or points that can be transferred into miles, we generally tell people that 50,000 points is a good bonus.


3.) There are often requirements you must reach before you earn the bonus.

Occasionally a card will offer a bonus that you can receive as soon as you sign up or make your first purchase. But more often there is a spend-requirement you must reach first. Generally it’s set anywhere from $1,000-$10,000 spent within the first 3-6 months depending on the card.

Many cards offer bill-pay set-ups online to help you work towards that spend-requirement with your ordinary spending.

In the travel-hacking community however, it has become quite popular to use your credit card to purchase something that can easily be turned back into useable cash. Gift cards for example have paved the way for a cheap though admittedly complicated strategy for reaching spend requirements.


4.) Many cards also have an annual fee, though sometimes it’s waived for the first year.

It’s up to you how to handle this annual fee. Sometimes the card’s regular earnings from ordinary spending, annual gifts, or other card perks are enough for the annual fee to be worth it. That is up to you but you should understand that canceling a card after just a year can have an effect (albeit a fairly small one) on your credit score.

Your credit score takes your average length of history into account and having multiple 1-year accounts will lower that average. Because of this, we recommend having a few no annual fee cards that you will keep, even if you never use them. We also recommend that, if a person doesn’t feel they can keep up with the annual fee (or doesn’t wish to), they try having the card downgraded to a no-annual fee card after the first year.


5.) Collecting miles with credit-cards has a lot to do with credit score.

Most of the good travel cards require you to have at least a fair credit-score for approval. You can get a free credit score estimate with sites like Credit Sesame or Credit Karma. Technically they are just estimates, but they tend to be pretty close to accurate.


6.) Having multiple credit cards can actually improve your credit score.

Credit score works a little differently than many people may assume. It is less a measure of your financial status, and more a measure of your ability to be responsible with debt. It’s all about debt management really.

Therefore, the more cards you are responsible with, the higher your score will be. We have tested this and seen it to be true, as have many others.

Of course, the most important point here is that being responsible with multiple cards has a good effect. Being irresponsible with multiple cards could be very dangerous.

You can read more about what responsible credit card use is in our post about how credit score and travel-hacking work.


7.) Applying for cards too closely together will prevent you from getting approved.

Applying for one card today and another one tomorrow will make you look desperate and will prevent you from getting approved for a card, even if your credit score is great. If there are multiple rewards cards you’re interested in, wait at least 3 months between each application. Some suggest you don’t need to wait that long, but this is the safer strategy.


Credit cards are a huge part of the travel-hacking budget strategy and these 7 things will give you a place to start your research.  Ultimately, the idea here is that rewards cards are helping you and that you’re in control of them, not the other way around.  While trial and error is certainly a part of everything in life, especially when it comes to credit and credit cards, it’s good to be as informed as possible from the beginning.

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Category: Air Travel, Travel Bargains

September 27, 2013

“Germany’s second-largest airline has become a mesmerizing spectacle of shaming and apology.”

Air Berlin plane

We’ve all heard horror stories from our friends—and have many of our own—about certain airline experiences. With the sheer volume of flights scheduled around the world on any given day, it is a statistical certainty that there will be the occasion snafu, and sometimes it’s your flight’s turn to have the bad day, and sometimes it isn’t. So, it’s generally wise to not let one friend’s horror story or isolated incident inform your opinion of an airline.

That’s what I thought when I head of a friend’s troubles with Air Berlin the other day. Living in Copenhagen, she was scheduled to fly to Miami for a short vacation to see family. Due to an epic screw-up on the airline’s part, she has found that the soonest she could reach her destination would be in two days, thus destroying her much-anticipated visit. This was compounded by the fact that they were reportedly rude and unhelpful.

She was crushed and angry, so I took her rant about the airline with a grain of salt, especially considering the sterling reputation of the normally efficient Germans. She was crushed and angry, so I took her rant about the airline with a grain of salt—until I read this.

In fairness, other friends who have flown the airline reported nothing but positive experiences. But when a major magazine runs a story about an airline’s slow-motion meltdown and includes the line, “Germany’s second-largest airline has become a mesmerizing spectacle of shaming and apology” in the first paragraph, there is definitely grounds for warning my fellow travelers to think twice before booking until the company sorts itself out.

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Category: Air Travel, Destinations, Europe, Notes from the collective travel mind, On The Road

February 12, 2013

Child Free Flights: How the childless can be less of a pain in the… rear.

Air Asia has just announced that that they will be offering child-free quiet zones on some of their flights. As someone well out of the baby-toting years of parenthood, I can see how this will be appreciated by the many folks on flights who don’t have toddlers and don’t “hear the music” as my husband puts it.

I don’t enjoy ill-behaved children. As a parent, however, I realize that it’s a bit more complicated than it appears to the casual observer to keep a kid sane, happy and socially acceptable on a 30 hour marathon around the world. I’m not opposed to a few rows of “quiet seating” as it does more than isolate the childless from the irritating child, it isolates the irritating adults from the parents who are doing their level best, with more or less success, depending on the flight.

We can all agree that parents should do their best to make sure their kids are cooperative on a flight. But the flip side of that is that people traveling without young children (which is most of us, frankly) could really stand to work a bit harder at not being a pain in the ass and perhaps even stretching so far as to be part of the solution.

Would that be too much to ask?

Quiet-zones on flights are one part of the solution, but another part is treating children like people, not pets, and remembering what it was like to be little and out of control of your environment. Why not be a blessing to a struggling parent instead of one more critic, and find a way to be part of the solution?

It’s just good karma.


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Category: Air Travel, Family Travel, On The Road

January 12, 2013

BootsnAll Introduces World’s First Multi-Country Flight Finder

Vagabond – a person, usually without a permanent home, who wanders from place to place; nomad.

While vagabonders may not have a permanent home, they do still need a way to get around. Most of us vagabonders who decide to take off, whether it’s for a couple months, a year, or permanently, utilize some combination of flights, buses, trains, and any other number of ways to get from point A to point B.

If you’ve ever planned this type of trip, you know that flights are going to be the most expensive part of the trip. Not only that, but trying to decide between buying a multi-stop flight prior to leaving or one-ways as you go, then trying to decide which website/company to go with, can be a time-consuming and maddening process.

BootsnAll is hoping to make that part of the planning process much easier for you.

For the past two years, we have been hard at work on a new product that we think is going to change how people plan long-term trips. It’s a multi-country flight finder that allows travelers to get instant prices, with no rules, and book up to 25-leg trips online. Surprisingly, this has not been done before. Try to book a trip online (Travelocity, Expedia, Kayak, Airtreks etc), with more than 6 legs. It can’t be done…. until now!

You may have noticed us linking to Indie in past posts on Vagablogging, and that’s because we’ve had it in beta testing mode for a few months. So that means that people have been searching and buying on Indie. See what some industry experts and customers have to say about Indie:

Rolf Potts says, “BootsnAll’s Indie allows you to explore the possibilities of long-term travel in a way that actually reflects the flexibility of independent travel. It enables you to research international multi-stop and around-the-world flights with instant pricing, online booking, and none of the cumbersome rules and restrictions that come with airline-alliance bookings. If you’re only planning a trip from Point A to Point B you might not need Indie — but if your journey entails onward travel to Points C or D or Z, Indie is an essential research tool.”

Terry Jones, founder of Travelocity, says “Around the world travel planning has never been easy. For years this has been a manual task. When I went around the world in 1970 it took forever to get a price and it was manual. When I ran programming for SABRE air fare pricing, we always avoided RTW as it was just too hard. BootsnAll is a great answer for RTW fares in just a few minutes. I don’t know any other site that can do so many legs so quickly.”

“We travelled around the world last year and are looking to go again in 2013… We have had a number of quotes again using Star Alliance, etc. (that we used last time), but this system [Indie] seems a thousand times easier and lets us get to exactly where we want to go without the usual restrictions placed on you with other round the world ticket companies.” says Brian Kelly, an Australian traveler who is planning a round the world trip for his family of four.

Jamie Boud says, “Although I’ve never done an “around the world” trip, it’s something I think about often. It’s fun to plot out various trips just to see what the prices are, and then day dream about putting it all together.”

To start checking prices and building trips, all you have to do is register, enter cities and dates, click search, and Voila! Live pricing. See something you like? Go ahead and book.

To get you started, here are a few cool trips we’ve found recently:

Don’t forget to sign up for BootsnAll’s RTW newsletter, delivering special deals, RTW trip planning advice, and resources via email every single month. We also have a Facebook fan page and Twitter page, so be sure to like and follow those to keep up to date on all your RTW travel needs.

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Category: Air Travel, Notes from the collective travel mind

January 8, 2013

An Exciting Development in Indie Travel From Boots-N-All

Sean Keener, CEO of Boots-N-All is a friend of mine and one of the most passionate people I know when it comes to developing resources to empower and encourage independent travel. A few months ago he let me in on the Beta testing of the ace up his sleeve, and today I’m as excited as he is about the launch.

The team over at Boots-N-All has made a giant leap forward for the indie travel market in developing a tool that will allow us all to chart our own courses in a way that has not been possible up to this point.

Did you Know?

Not any more!

Enter Indie. 

It’s the first of it’s kind airfare booking service with no rules, instant prices and online booking for itineraries of more than six stops.

It’s being unveiled for the very first time today, after being in Beta for three months. As someone who travels full time, I can’t tell you how excited I am about the possibilities!

Kudos to Sean and the team for putting together yet another practical resource the could change the travel industry.

Check it out, people:


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Category: Air Travel, On The Road, Travel News

November 1, 2012

Flying domestically (usa) with a service dog

Flying with your Service Dog takes a bit of pre-planning. Most airlines require 48 hours advance notice about your canine partner. Initially tickets can be booked online through a collective search website like CheapOair. Before purchasing tickets, check out the Airlines direct website for Service Animal rules. Under Federal Law airlines are required to allow Service Animals but a few are friendlier about it than others.

For example: Delta Airlines states on their Special Concerns page “We welcome trained service animals in the aircraft cabin. Trained service animals are different from emotional support animals in that they have been trained to perform a particular function or service to assist a passenger with a disability in the management of their disability. Under most circumstances, we do not require passengers using trained service animals to provide additional documentation. However, it is expected that a service animal behave in public and follow the direction of its owner.”
Special note: If you have an Emotional Support or Psychiatric Service Animal you must provide documentation from your Mental Health Professional.
Before finalizing travel plans take into account if your dog will need to relieve itself during a layover. Allow yourself as much time as possible in case you’ll need to exit and re-enter a security check point.
Two days before, call into customer service and follow the extensions for an existing flight. Have your ticket conformation number handy. Let the representative know you’re traveling with a Service Dog and at this time you may request a bulkhead seat. From experience, I’ve found that the bulkhead window seat provides the most floor room for my dog to curl up. Sometimes (but not always) they’ll ask the breed and size of your animal and also what tasks it preforms for you. Any airline staff or airport personal are allowed to ask what tasks your dog preforms for you. They can NOT ask directly what your disability is. Answer them nicely. They only do this to confirm legitimate Service Dogs.
Navigating security isn’t as horrible as the media advertises. Liquid restrictions and the taking off of shoes is a pain; but it’s just part of the process. On the upside you don’t have to stand in those long, long security lines. Look for a sign that says, “Crew or Passengers needing extra assistance.” These lines are generally shorter and will help accommodate your needs. To enter, hand them your boarding pass, ID and Service Dog Handler ID. That last one isn’t required; however it helps to have one. Mine is plastic (size of a credit card) has my countries flag, the names of myself and my Service Dog as well as our photos. On the back is printed the U.S. Federal Law about ADA Act, along with phone numbers and website address for the Department of Justice. Occasionally this ID has been photocopied, along with her vet papers, when we’ve flown internationally.
Generally, I opt for the old fashion metal detectors and put my dog in a sit-stay on one side. Pass through myself, and call her through to me. Do not remove your animals harness or vest. Only their packs need to go on the belt. If possible I take extra care not to “beep”, but my dog always does. Her working harness, collar and leash all have metal buckles—no avoiding that. This does mean TSA will pat down and search your dog. I use a stand-wait command for my Service Dog. That way she can be searched without interaction with the agent. The process doesn’t take long. They feel her harness and usually swab her for explosive residue. If you need to hold your dog during the search, they’ll swab your hands too. In the event your dog is uncomfortable being handled by strangers with rubber gloves, get a thin cape with plastic buckles and a rope leash to avoid them “beeping.” Place their normal working gear in the bin with your shoes.

When at your gate; take advantage of pre-boarding. You can get yourself and your animal settled before the wave of other passengers. I take along a small blanket to place on the floor so she doesn’t leave fur behind. It’s also good practice to find out if the fellow passenger beside you likes dogs once they sit down. I’ve personally never had an issue with anyone not.
Flying international with your Service Dog requires extra paperwork and attention to detail; as well as, traveling with mobility equipment, such as a wheelchair. I’ll address that in another post.


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Category: Air Travel, Female Travelers, General, North America, On The Road, Solo Travel, Vagabonding Styles

October 3, 2012

How to avoid crying babies on flights

Crying baby

Crying baby. Photo: a4gpa / Flickr

You’re excited.  You’ve just boarded a plane to start your vagabonding journey.  Then it happens: a baby starts crying. Sometimes it gets worse: other babies start crying too. What was going to be a relaxing flight has turned into a scream-fest. If you don’t have noise-cancelling headphone on hand, what can you do?

Air Asia X has approached this problem by creating a Quiet Zone on its long-haul planes. Starting February 2012, the first seven rows in economy class will be reserved for guests age 12 and above. The nice thing is that there is no extra charge for this preferential seating.

Would you prefer airlines to go further, say having an entire class that’s for adults only or flights that are child-free?  Worth an extra fee?  If you have horror stories, how did you deal with this?   Let us know your thoughts in the comments.


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Category: Air Travel

August 27, 2012

Meet a 19-year-old travel hacker

Platinum Elite credit card.

Platinum Elite credit card. Photo: Robert S. Donovan / Flickr

When we think of a “travel hacker,” the instant image that springs to mind is Ryan Bingham, the corporate road warrior memorably portrayed by George Clooney in the film “Up in the Air.” Can young people get in on the frequent-flyer game?

Yes, says Hao Tran, a college student featured in the Million Mile Secrets blog. In his interview titled, Never Stays at Hotels, he describes some of the amazing experiences that free flights have opened up for him. They include attending the 2012 London Olympics and going up the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building) shortly after watching Mission Impossible 4.

His best tip for getting more miles was to complain to the airline if you have a legitimate grievance about a bad flight. One e-mail snagged him 20,000 miles. Tran stressed that it must be an honest complaint and this technique shouldn’t be abused.

As for the headline, “Never Stays at Hotels,” Tran explained that he prefers to stay in youth hostels. Although he’s also expanded to using Airbnb as well to stay in private residences.

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Category: Air Travel

August 23, 2012

Do you have a fear of flying?

An eleven-year-old British boy and his father will soon embark on a 3,500 mile overland journey from the UAE to the UK along the safest route possible. The family is relocating back to London. Their son, Joe, experienced paralyzing anxiety about flying for the first time. Several failed attempts to re-board the plane have been made. For the last six weeks therapy, hypnosis, and a sedative injection were tried, but none have worked. Oddly, the boy has flown many pervious times without problems.


Do you have a fear of flying?


You’re not alone. According to many studies about 40 percent of people have anxiety associated with airline travel–even those who fly on a regular basis. Fear like being out of control, of crashing, claustrophobia, and with heightened security of TSA. Several of my friends refuse to fly because of one or more of those reasons. John has only flown once in his life and barely left the State he grew up in. Sparing emotional details he just says, “I don’t like it.” At one time he worked at an airport refueling planes—not sure if that helped or hindered the situation. But as fate would have it, John shall take the second flight of his life in two weeks. He called me when he booked tickets, and said he’d call me again to make sure he’s up-to-date on packing requirements for TSA. I’m sure I’ll hear from him while he’s waiting at the gate. Flying aside, he suffers from sensory overload problems which lead to panic attacks on a normal basis. As I’ve discovered, which I bet many of you have too, traveling opens great horizons. For many years John has said, “We gotta go to Ireland for your 30th birthday.” Now that is less than a year away. I hope his next flight is a pleasant experience.

I can relate to both Joe and John’s anxiety. Mine however was separation-anxiety linked to airline travel. When I was eight, my parents got divorced and as a result lived in different states. Twice a year I’d be put on the plane by one…and collected at the other end by another. At least, back in those days, passengers without tickets could accompany friends and family right up to the boarding gate. My, my have times changed…

That anxiety lasted well into my late teens before I gained control of it. However a different type cropped up last year when my Service Dog, Trinity and I prepared for our first flight together. Rather than starting small, we went straight to the big-leagues and flew internationally. And for an added challenge, I chose to depart from THE international airport linked to my childhood anxieties–Logan in Boston, Massachusetts. That turned out to be an extremely positive move, because every security personal we encountered was accustom to seeing Service Dogs! Within three months we took a total of eight flights spanning eleven times zones. Turns out my pre-flight anxiety was much worse. The airlines “misplaced” our bag in Paris for over an hour. Then the chaos got worse. We boarded the train where workers decided to strike, tripling the crowds of frustrated travelers on the first day of spring. What remains vivid about that first flight was the Steward who brought extra chicken treats for Trinity. The lost luggage attendant insisted on bringing her multiple cups of spring water while we waited. Everyone on the overcrowded train pushed and shoved each other but was extremely aware not to step on her tail. Unlike most people, my dogs’ favorite part of flying is the TSA pat down! It’s one of the few times she gets attention from someone other than me while in uniform.
Special note: If you happen to be a Service Dog Handler and are considering flying with your dog; please feel free to contact me and I’d be happy to chat further about my experiences to share more information.

Here are a few ideas to help battle flight anxiety:
1) For those of you technologically minded, “There’s an app for that!”

2) Virgin Atlantic has a course to take complete with flight simulator. So does iPilot. 

3) Captain Stacey Chance has put together a free online self-help course that also has an audio download so you can take it with you and listen on the flight!


But electronics aside, anxiety can also be relieved with pressure points. Ever wonder why the human reaction is to hug someone when they are upset? Without realizing, the exchange of a firm hug triggers good endorphins because of a point around ones collar bone. But obviously you can’t have someone hugging you the whole flight; so try these other points on your hands.

1) Pinching the “meat” of your hand between thumb and index finger

2) Pressing the indention of your wrist at the base of thumb

3) Pressing either side of your index finger at the tip and below the knuckle
For visual guidance check out this video.

In addition “The Emotional Freedom Technique” involves tapping points on the hands, head, face and collar bone, combined with words. Here’s an introduction video.

Pressure point triggering is a task taught to Service Dogs for people with sensory issues. This is one of the tasks my dog does.

If you notice someone else who has a fear of flying, refrain from running up to hug them. A stranger might not be receptive to your thoughtful gesture. However, try to politely share about the pressure points on their hands.

Happy flying, everyone!

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Category: Air Travel, General, Travel Health, Vagabonding Advice

August 20, 2012

What are your favorite/least favorite airports?

Sleeping at Hong Kong HKG airport.

Sleeping at Hong Kong HKG airport. Photo: Rolling Okie / Flickr Creative Commons

Tony Wheeler, co-founder of the Lonely Planet guidebook empire, wrote a post titled Airports – love them/hate them. Very often, the airport is your first impression of a country. You start setting expectations. Is dealing with officials painless or painful? You’ll get more of the same out of the airport. Does the place feel clean and efficient? You can wager for the same conditions once in-town.

For least-favorite airport, I’d have to put Los Angeles LAX at the top of my list. Partly because familiarity breeds contempt. When I attended a college in southern Califorina, so I’d have to pass through LAX a few times a year. Once had to sprint across a whole concourse to catch a connecting flight. Whoever thought to have connecting flights arrive and depart from opposite ends of airport was crazy.

As for favorite airport, the hands-down winner is Hong Kong HKG. The fastest, easiest landings I’ve ever experienced. Nearly every time, my luggage has appeared by the time I’ve passed through immigration. The Airport Express is a wonder; I wish all airports had a dedicated high-speed train to go to the city center. A big bonus is how many magazine shops and bookshops HKG has. If you’re living in Asia and starved for English-language reading material, definitely load up before flying out.

What airports do you love and hate? Please share your stories in the comments.

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Category: Air Travel, Notes from the collective travel mind












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