REVIEW: CONRAD BORA BORA KING VILLA

Bora Bora is a place that you can do fairly cheaply on  points and miles. However it is also a place where you can spends tens of thousands of dollars. We decided to do something in the middle and used 320k Hilton Points to book 5 nights at the Conrad Bora Bora. Originally we couldn’t find 5 consecutive nights (80k points a night and 5th night free) and originally booked the Le Meridian. Eventually after searching every few days for a month I was able to find the availability I needed. During our stay, the base Garden View Suite would have been over $5k for 5 nights. (for simplicity sake I am using a $1USD=$1XPF, where it’s really closer to $.9-$.95…)

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This is an amazing use of Hilton Points. Even better is we got upgraded to a King Villa for the first 2 nights by being a Diamond Member. Then I paid a cash upgrade to an Over water Pool Bungalow for the last 3 nights.

In this review I will be focusing on the check in experience and the King Villa.

Check In

After a 50 minute flight from Papeete to Bora Bora, it was only about 9am and we were ready to get to the Island that the Conrad is on.

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After 30 feet into the terminal, you see about 8 different hotel stations. The Conrad is there with flower leis and water for its guests.

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While you grab your bags from baggage claim, their porters will do the rest and put them on the boat all the way to your room.

Conrad has two main boats for transportation between the Airport and the Conrad. Its about $140 a person round trip, with our kids free for being under 12. While not a great deal, their boats are definitely the nicest out of any other resorts.  I would book again with them to boat in style and for the convenience.

Big yacht on the end is your taxi to the Conrad.

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The inside is just as nice.img_20190628_081854

Upper deck outside views leave you in anticipation of wanting to get there.img_20190628_082342

You start to see the bungalows and know you are almost there. img_20190628_084353

Then finally you can hear the music and see the staff there welcoming you to the Conrad.

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Caroline checked us in at this great lil sofa right on the dock. Drinks and washcloths waiting for us. She explained a few things about the hotel and then put us in a golf cart to drive us all around the hotel so we could see everything the Conrad had to offer. It was now about 10AM and she said that our room was upgraded to a King Villa and that it was ready. This is awesome to be able to check in to a resort like this 5 hours early!img_20190702_124816img_20190702_124756

We were in room 407 which is the Last King Villa at the far end of the resort. This was just fine as it was very quiet.

Upon walking in there was a small mini bar area with stocked fridge and snacks for purchase. There was still room to shove a few waters or extra beers for yourself in there.

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The main room had a TV and a couch made up as a bed, with another roll away bed setup already. Our kids are getting bigger so them not having to share a small pullout sofa is a great thing. They also provide beach towels for you in your room. However there is also a beach towel hut so you always have plenty of towels.img_20190628_092727img_20190628_092720img_20190628_092811

There is a door from each side of the main room into the bedroom. The bedroom has a nice size TV and a very large bed. Also both rooms, the bathroom, and outside deck are all wired for bluetooth. img_20190628_092749img_20190628_092816img_20190628_092742

The bathroom was also very large with a door from each room, 2 sinks, separate tub, shower, and toilet. There was also always 3 sets of toiletries and 8 bath towels in our room! These were stocked daily so little things like being able to use 2 towels or extra conditioner is nice.img_20190628_092714img_20190628_092700img_20190628_092705img_20190628_092709

The room was large and provided plenty of space for the 4 of us. While there was doors that separated the 2 rooms, the vaulted ceiling was still open. So we could hear our kids giggling each night before they fell asleep.  Then we would go outside and drink wine on the patio.

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The outside deck is very large with 2 lounge chairs and a table with 2 regular chairs. While were were back a few hundred feet from the ocean, it was still beautiful to just sit out here and watch the blue water. img_20190628_092838img_20190628_092822img_20190628_092819

While we were out enjoying ourselves after checking in, the Conrad put a nice lil welcome gift in our room of fancy water, macaroons, mango juice, and candy.

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Our own private villa with bike parking.

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Some other notes about the room is that they provide turn down service daily and would put out slippers for us, along with a bottle of water for each person. The TV selection of channels was pretty small, but we only turned the TV on once to watch the news.

The check in experience was seamless and could not have gone smoother. Our room was great, especially using points and then get a class upgrade. In the next few posts i will be talking about the restaurants, resort activities and pools, as well as the Overwater Pool Bungalow we stayed at. Then providing a few thoughts on hwo to save a few dollars once you get here. img_20190701_081301

REVIEW: AIR TAHITI NUI LAX TO PPT 787 IN COACH

We booked this flight over 6 months ago using 40k AA miles each for one way in economy. 6 months ago you had to search for space on expert flyer and call AA. Now  it is usually easily searchable on AA. We could not make it work using miles to get form OKC-DFW though so we had to drive to DFW. Which was OK since I take that flight often for work and I get delayed or cancelled often. I was wanting to get 4 business class award tickets but those are very hard to find. I checked back often and found a few singles available but never 4.

After a Drive from OKC to DFW and a decent on time American Airlines Flight from DFW to OKC, we had about 2 hours until our flight to Papeete Tahiti and was able to get a few drinks and some dinner at the AMEX centurion lounge.

Our flight was scheduled to be at 11:50pm, so at about 10:45 we left the lounge. We were departing form Gate 46, which is a very long walk through a maze from the main Tom Bradley Terminal. On our way there we start to hear our names being called and I think, did the time change? Once we got there they were just calling everyone’s names to check passports…

At about 11:15 they started boarding with business and premium economy, followed by the back of the plane on up towards the front. We were in row 22 which meant we would be close to last. We then get in line, only to get on a nice crowded bus to take us to a remote stand. Since we were close to last to board, this meant we had to wait for every passenger which was about 25 more minutes in this stuffy humid bus of people just wanting to start vacation.

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It was about a 10 minute drive to our remote stand where we boarded our 787.img_20190627_234951

Waiting for each passenger in coach was a pretty heavy blanket and pillow. The cabin temp was very warm and there was no individual air nozzles so there was no need for the blanket. Also in the seat was a a small amenity kit of ear plugs, headphones, and socks. img_20190627_235954

The seat was fairly standard with 31-32 inches of pitch. The flight was about 95% full. Since we boarded close to last, most of the bins we already closed but when we opened them they were all half empty. Still plenty of storage space.

Since this was a 11:50am flight, they kept the lights off in the cabin most of the flight. img_20190628_072103

My wife and kids fell asleep right away but I found a movie and wanted to see what the first meal would be. About 1:15 minutes into the flight they came around with drinks and a chicken dish. I wasn’t hungry but the fruit and the butterscotch pudding were great. About a half hour later they came around to clean it up.

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About 90 minutes till landing they started breakfast. You had your choice of eggs or crepes. The crepes were delicious, the eggs were horrible. Also throughout the flight they came around with cups of water. There were snacks in the galley but I was in a middle seat (the things I do for my family)and didn’t want to disturb my neighbor who was sleeping. img_20190628_065505img_20190628_065513

The IFE was pretty good. Very responsive new screens on this 787. The selection of movies was OK for a 8 hour flight, but not as large as most other airlines.img_20190628_080750

We landed at about 5am. Its a nice island remote stand. There was live music upon entering the terminal!

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We had a connecting Air Tahiti flight at 6:45 and was a lil worried about making that connection as we had to get our bags and check back in. It was perfect timing though and we made everything just fine.

You don’t have a lot of choices when flying to Tahiti. This 787 was a good comfortable flight. I would do it again.

HOUSTON HOTEL COMPARISON: HOUSTON AMERICAS VS MARRIOTT MARQUIS

Recently I attended a conference in Houston at the George R Brown Convention Center. I lived in Houston from 2009-2012 and go back about once a year. It amazes me how each time I go back, something has changed about Houston. I decided to split my stay between these two large convention center hotels. The way the convention rates worked, I actually checked into the Marriott, then the Hilton, then the Marriott again.  Here is a quick comparison between the two mostly in pictures.

The hotels themselves are both connected to the convention center and are on each side of the Discovery Green. Hilton is right next to the Toyota Center, and the Marriott is right next to Minute Maid Park.

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View of the Hilton from the Marriott.
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View of the Marriott from the Hilton
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View of Downtown from the Marriott
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Wide angle shot from the convention center of the Hilton on the left and Marriott on the right.

Both hotels are very nice large check-in areas and common areas.

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Check-in at Marriott
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Very cool themed elevators at Marriott
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Texas Themed Art at Marriott
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Bar area at Marriott
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Biggio’s Bar at Marriott
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Bar area at Hilton

The room at both hotels are nice. These are large hotels so the room are pretty standard Hilton and Marriott rooms. So not much to write about there.

Next is the highlight of the hotels. The pools and recreation area. Hilton has a Spa Like pool, where Marriott has the amazing Texas shaped Lazy River pool.

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Marriott Poll and Lazy River
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Yard games at Marriott
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Bocce Ball at Marriott

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Bar at Marriott
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Never Crowded indoor only pool at Hilton

Now lets talk about the Elite lounge areas. Both of the lounges were some of the better US lounges I have seen. Breakfast was good, snacks though out the day, and then appateizers that could double for dinner. Both lounges had bar areas- Hilton a real Bar and Marriott a makeshift bar.

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Marriott Evening Snacks
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Marriott Evening Snacks

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Marriott Breakfast
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Marriott Breakfast

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Marriott Breakfast
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Marriott Breakfast
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Marriott Breakfast
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Marriott Afternoon Snacks
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Hilton Evening Snacks
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Hilton Evening Snacks
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Hilton Breakfast
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Hilton Breakfast
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Hilton Breakfast
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Hilton Breakfast
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Hilton Breakfast
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Hilon Lounge. Food area was actually a separate room.
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Hilton Bar Lounge
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Hilton Lounge
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Hilton

 

Overall

I would love to stay at both of these places again. If I was coming for work I would probably stay at the Hilton. The lounge was just slightly nicer and it was a lil quieter there. If I was coming with my family, hands down I would go to the Marriott.

 

WHATS WORTH THE SPLURGE? FLYING IN BUSINESS CLASS, OR GETTING A LARGE SUITE AT YOUR DESTINATION?

Our family has a pretty large hoard of miles and points. We can afford to go just about anywhere we want in business or first class using these, but there is always a catch- there has to be availability.  Recently we took a flight to London and back. It’s only about 8 hours in the air from Atlanta. While I would have preferred to fly in business class, we were able to find round trip tickets for only about 50k miles each in economy. Business class tickets for those dates were over 200k miles each.  However we booked a large hotel suite in London. The trip and rest/sleep we got were amazing. So let me share my thoughts.

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Flying in Economy for 8 hours.

In this case instead of spending $150-$200 a night for a hotel room, or using points to cram into a single small European hotel room, or booking 2 hotels room with points, we booked a suite at the Hilton Paddington Station  for about $300 a night. That extra $150 was the best money spent. I would much rather spend an additional $150 a night than to shell out the additional 150k points per person to get sleep on the plane. This additional $150 a night meant my kids each got their own bed, and my wife and I got our own room with a king size bed.

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Everyone having their own bed, pull out sofa and a rollaway for my kids.
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Everyone having their own bed, 2 twins / 1 king in own room for the adults.

On a plane you may get a few hours of psuedo sleep if you are in a lay flat bed, but its not gonna be great. You are still going to be somewhat jet lagged. Then if you are crammed into a small single hotel room after that flight, you will probably not sleep well and end up getting on each others nerves.

If you fly economy though, you may get a nap while watching 8 hours worth of movies. While you will be jet lagged, you can actually get 8 hours of good sleep that night in your hotel suite. Even with kids.

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Of course I would rather fly in First or Business Class, but we can deal with economy if we know we will get good sleep at our destination in a suite.

For a flight below 10 hours for our family of 4, we can definitely do economy. If you can find saver level business class tickets, go for it. Of course we would rather fly in Business Class or First Class, but booking a suite has changed my thought on traveling a little bit. We don’t have to book our vacation around flight availability for premium seats. It’s much easier to find hotel availability for a suite at a reasonable price, than it is to fly in premium cabins at saver levels.

Do you book your vacations around premium flight availability, or does that matter to you?

DELTA REFUND OF $100.80 ON MY LONDON AWARD TICKET

As I wrote about here, our family recently took a short jaunt across the pond to London. We found a good deal with miles on flights that worked so we jumped on it. Unfortunately one of the bad things about award tickets leaving London is all the taxes and fees that get added. Its normal fees when going to London from the US, but leaving London back to the US hurts. You can take the train down to Paris and save a few dollars on award ticket fees, or buy a cheap cash ticket to visit another country and then fly back from that country and save on these fees as well. (great way to see another country while saving on fees!)

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Last week I received an email from Delta below stating that the $100.80 Air Passenger Duty Fee are not applicable to minors and would be refunded.

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I checked my credit card account, and there the credit was!

Delta Credit

Now I have 2 children and only received one notification and only one credit. I have contacted Delta to make sure I get the other $100 refund.

Why cant they fix their system to just not charge this in the first place? I don’t know, but I will gladly take my refund!

 

REVIEW: HILTON LONDON PADDINGTON STATION

First I just gotta stay this was one of the most comfortable hotels I have stayed at. It wasn’t fancy, but our room was large and we slept amazingly even with jet lag.

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Our family of 4 only had 3 nights in London. I had originally booked the Crowne Plaza at Kings Cross as we could use some of our free night IHG certificates there for a room with 2 double beds. It is very difficult to find a hotel that points can be used with in London. About a week beforehand I started to have second thought on that hotel. Basically since we were flying economy, and only staying 3 nights, I was wondering if we needed a bigger room that we could all sleep comfortably in.  I started looking at some AirBnB’s but we were landing at 9am and most of them couldn’t give us an early check in, or even have a place for our bags. So decided to book the Hilton Paddington Station which was about $300USD a night for a standard suite.

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After a pretty good 8 hour flight from Atlanta to London, our family of 4 decided to take the Heathrow Express train that drops you off directly at Paddington station. We bought roundtrip tickets at the airport that were $45USD per adult, and kids free. (I think 12 and under) This is the easiest way to get into London, its a quick 15 minute ride. The train has room for luggage and is very convenient.

img_20190318_052602The train drops you off about 100 yards from the hotel entrance.

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They have some signs, but it could be marked better. Basically you just go up to the 2nd story and the hotel is right there.

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It was about 10am and I was hoping we could get a room. I already checked into a room on the Hilton app and was told that my room was not ready yet. I had emailed the GM a few days beforehand asking for an early check in and a person came out of the back saying they could put me in a different suite (339) and I said that would be great. I asked if I could get a roll-away bed as well and they said they would send someone up in just a minute. Then they told me about my Diamond benefits which included executive lounge access, and breakfast in the restaurant.

Went up to our room and was surprised at how large it really was. Entry into a large hallway with a large closet, then 2 separate rooms.

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Each room had their own door. Our bedroom was huge for London. Actually had 2 twin beds made, but could easily be pushed together. However they always pushed the beds apart when they made up the room.

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They had 2 bottles of water, but brought up more shortly and replaced them with 4 fresh bottles each day. There was also a mini bar and coffee maker in the bedroom. The fridge had expensive beverages in it, but did have a small section for personal use.

The second room was pretty good size and also had its own door. It had a double size fold out sofa and we were able to fit in a roll away bed very comfortably.IMG_20190316_183410IMG_20190316_183420

A person came to make up the spare room right when we checked in as they thought we probably wanted to take a nap. They also brought us up plenty of towels, water, and extra toiletries so we would be set. This is a great way to start, and each day housekeeping always made sure we were fully stocked with those items. (you’d be surprised how many times our family of 4 doesn’t get 4 towels everyday…)

The bathroom was large as well and off of the hallway. I was kind of surprised it only had one sink, but had a shower, as well as a shower/bath combo.

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The views from our room were OK.  The windows were kind of small though, and hard to look out of. We overlooked the outside entrance of the hotel.

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As a Diamond member, we also had access to the executive lounge.

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The lounge was on the ground floor and had quick breakfast items and snacks though out the day. They they also had evening items with free drinks.

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The lounge was nice, but nothing amazing. It was a decent place to relax and have a drink though. It was on the ground floor and while it didn’t have outside views, it did overlook the inside of Paddington Station which was a unique feature.

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We also had a few breakfast’s in the main restaurant. While good, it was pretty average for a Hilton chain.

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While the hotel is nice, its nothing over the top. Our room had a few rough spots with carpet and some paint chips, but we slept good. The location is great and what sets this hotel apart. Being able to get off of the tube and not even having to take a step outside to get to your hotel, just makes traveling less stressful.

You can also walk to several pubs in the area, or to St. Marys Hospital where penicillin was first used.

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The hotel is also close to Hyde park. (a great park to get a run in the morning too.)

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You can walk through Hyde Park, and in about 20 minutes you can be at Harrods, National History Museum, or the National Science Museum.

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I am very pleased that we made a last minute decision to stay in a suite at the Hilton Paddington. From a great location, early check in, lounge access, to a large comfortable room, we were able to get plenty of rest here. Some days we had very busy agendas and didn’t get back to the hotel until after 10pm. We had to get ourselves out of bed at 9am the next morning in order just to make it to breakfast. Its not very often 4 people sleep like that on vacation, much less with jet lag.

 

 

DELTA COMFORT PLUS AND ECONOMY TO LONDON AND BACK

Recently our family of 4 went to London and back. I was able to book these roundtrip tickets for 54k points each during one of the Delta Flash Sales. As a Delta Platinum member, I was also able to get 2 seats upgraded to comfort plus.  It was nice as the configuration on both flights were 2-3-2, and on each flight we were able to get the last row of comfort plus, and the first row of economy.

Now I thought that comfort plus was going to be a little bit different than economy. I knew that there would be a lil extra legroom (Delta claims 4 inches) but I had the impression this would also include better meals or better service. It is the exact same meals and service as all of economy.

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The menus and meal selection are decent, but the same for economy and comfort plus.

Menu from ATL-LHR.

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The Pasta was just horrible. Brownie was great though.img_20190314_223702

Chicken salad wasn’t what I was expecting, but was edible.IMG_20190314_224327

A cold breakfast. IMG_20190315_040122

Now I asked for a Baileys and coffee before landing in London. I was informed they already locked up the liquor cabinet. But then 5 minutes later the flight attendant made my day with this!IMG_20190315_040326

Menu from LHR-MSPIMG_20190318_074422

Salad was OK, but break and cheesecake were amazing.IMG_20190318_092542

While the sandwich doesn’t look all that appetizing, it was surprisingly tasty.IMG_20190318_153618

On both flights they passed out full size water bottles which is an great easy way to stay hydrated.

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The in flight media selection was the same on both flights, and it was great. Lots of new releases and hours to keep adults or kids entertained. The hardest part was figuring out which movie to watch. The screens were also large, new, and very crisp.

The best way to get a few hours of sleep on the way from LHR to MSP.

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Landing at MSP.IMG_20190318_164603

These were both great easy 8 hour flights across the pond and back. I was glad for the complimentary upgrade to comfort plus, but I would never pay anything extra for it.

APPLIED AND APPROVED: 2 CHASE CARDS IN 1 DAY!

It had been a while since I had applied for a new credit card. About 2 years ago  I went on applying for every credit card out there, but have not applied in the past couple of months to a year. I realized that in January 2019, I would be under Chase’s 5/24 rule. (In a nutshell the 5/24 rule is that Chase won’t approve you for a new card bonus if you have have applied for more than 5 personal cards in the past 24 months.) At the same time I was to go under the 5/24 count, Chase also came out with a great promotion for their southwest card, 30k points and the companion pass for a year after spending $4k in 3 months.

So this was a no brainer that this would be the card I would apply far in early February. Well I also usually apply for a few cards the same day so it is only one credit card pull on the credit card reports. Knowing that I wanted to stay close to 5/24 so I could apply for another Chase card in a few months (when my next card falls off), I decided to apply for a business card that doesn’t go against the 5/24 rule.  I decided on another Chase card, the Chase Ink Business Card, which has a 80k point bonus after $5k min spend in 3 months. You wont get approved for this card if you are over 5/24, however it doesn’t count towards the 5 since its a business card. (confusing, right?)

I ended up applying for both the Southwest Personal Card and the Chase Ink Business Card within about a minute of each other using separate browsers. First approval was for the Southwest Card. I had had the Companion pass from 2013-2018, so I am super excited to have it back for 2019.  I had my application filled out simultaneously for the Ink card and hit submit as soon as my Southwest card went to approved. I thought maybe I would get a application pending status screen where I would have to call to verify some information. Or maybe I wouldn’t get approved since the Southwest card I applied for a few seconds earlier would set me back at 5/24.  Surprisingly, I was instantly approved for this card as well. 2 chase card approvals in 1 day!

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8 days later I received both cards in the mail. I set them up online and sent a message through Chase’s portal which confirmed i would receive the signup bonus’s after meeting the min spend.

GOOGLE FLIGHTS VIA PRICELINE IS CHEAPER by 15% THAN BOOKING DIRECT

I am planning a trip for late summer to Iceland and Norway and recently found out something that sounded to good to be true. When searching on Google Flights, I was able to book via the Priceline link for cheaper than booking direct with the airline or other 3rd parties. Everything but Priceline went up when I clicked on them. I received confirmation and e-ticket numbers and even have assigned seats. Here are the details.

Here is an example flying from Reykjavik to Oslo on Icelandair. You put details into Google Flights, and it spits out these price options. These are all for Economy Light options which includes carry on luggage and assigned seats, but not a checked bag.

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They appear to all be about the same, but when you start clicking on them, trhe prices go up.

You can click on Orbitz, and the price instantly goes up from $193, to $222. (I tried a few others as well, and they all went up in price as well.)

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When booking direct with Icelandair, the price goes up to $227.

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This sounded too good to be true with Google / Priceline. I decided to go ahead and book for our party of 4 via Priceline and just see what happens. It all went through and within 15 minutes I received a Priceline confirmation as well as my Icelandair confirmation. I was then able to go into Icelandair.com and pick out my seats, see my e-ticket number, and could even add a checked bag for a fee if I wanted to.

For our party of 4, this saved us about $140!