Hotel review – Hong Kong SkyCity Marriott

Total stay:

1 night

Method:

Points redemption of 30,000 Marriott points for a standard room.

Getting there:

During our 6 days visit to Hong Kong (trip report here), we spent our first night at the SkyCity Marriott. The SkyCity Marriott is located on Lantau Island, less than 10 mins of shuttle ride from Hong Kong international airport. The proximity to the airport and it being on Lantau Island was the main reason I chose this property. It is also located next to a convention center with access to the airport express train. After arriving to the Hong Kong int’l airport around 4pm, we followed the signage to ground transportation, which was the building across from the arrival terminal 2. There were various shuttle pick up bays, the bay for SkyCity was 29 and 30. We waited for around 20-30 minutes before the Marriott shuttle arrived.

Experience:

Upon arriving at the hotel, we were greeted by a friendly receptionist. Our room was a standard guest room with airport building and the South China Sea in a distance. The room itself was inviting, modern, and clean. The amenities provided were the Thann Aromatherapy line. Since I’m a mid-tier Marriott Gold member (I think it was mostly because of my previous year’s work stays), we had free breakfast as well as access to the executive lounge. I’d never been to a hotel lounge before so that was pretty exciting.

Right before we left for Hong Kong, the Skycity Marriott guest service emailed to confirm our reservation. In my response I mentioned that this was our first time visiting Hong Kong, and if there was anything they could do to help make our stay more enjoyable. Soon after we got settled into the room, there was a knock on the door and we were greeted with a nice dessert tray and a hand written note complimentary of the hotel. Talk about customer service :))))

One of the really nice service from the hotel is its complimentary shuttle to/from the airport, the Tung Chung Terminal (it’s a hub to various bus lines and the MTR), and Disney Land. We used the shuttle service to get to Tung Chung Terminal the next morning for our visit to the Big Buddha. Taxi fare between the hotel and Tung Chung terminal costs around 65 HKD each way (a little over $8). It was definitely a saving.

Before we headed to see the Big Buddha in the morning, we had a huge meal at the hotel restaurant. There were eastern and western style options, everything was super delicious. Since there weren’t convenient meal options near the hotel, and breakfast being complimentary, this was definitely much welcomed. We also stopped by the executive lounge just to see what was offered there. Breakfast at the lounge had less variety, but it was less crowded and more private.

We were also able to exchange some USD’s to local currency. The exchange rate was reasonable (better than the airport FX desk) and there were no additional fees.

Final thoughts:

I’d recommend this property for its service and location. Customer service at this hotel was superb and everyone we interacted with was helpful and friendly. The retail cost for a night could range from $150 and up. For a category 6 hotel and 30,000 Marriott points, this is a pretty decent bargain. 

 

Hong Kong and Macau 4/5-2017

Trip duration: 4/27/2017 to 5/3/2017
Route: Dallas => Hong Kong; Hong Kong => Dallas
Flying Method: American Airlines AAdvantage reward redemption @ 58,500 round trip (eco) [65,000 – 6,500]


Planning and Itinerary

This trip actually came about as a result of the 2 free weekend-night sign-on bonus from the Citi Hilton Honors Reserve card. After earning the sign-on bonus in 5/2016, I started researching on higher tier Hilton properties in order to maximize the reward value. A majority of the category 9 properties are beach resorts or at a location that’s a bit hard to get to. I ended up choosing Hong Kong Conrad to redeem the 2 free nights stay due to the ease of getting to Hong Kong. After scanning AA’s reward chart and playing around with different dates, I was able to find milesavers redemption in economy from DFW to HKG. Taxes and fees ended up being around $80ish. As using AA’s co-branded credit card (either Citi Aadvantage platinum card or Barclay Aviator mastercard) gets you 10% of the rewards redemption back, I made sure to pay the taxes and fees using the strategically kept Barclay Aviator mastercard. The reservation was made in 7/2016 for a total of 58,500 miles. Before confirming the flight arrangement, I actually called Hilton to reserve the 2 free weekend nights first. The sister came along on the trip using her AA miles as well. 🙂 We decided that 6 days would be enough for Hong Kong. As one may have heard, due to space limitation, lodging in Hong Dong does not come cheap. For the remaining days, we booked 1 night at the Skycity Marriott by the airport (30,000 Marriott points) and 2 nights at the Hyatt Regency in Kowloon (15,000/night, transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards). (Note: separate post on these hotels to come later). Most of the hotel research was done using awardmapper.com which helped me see what properties were available in certain areas. Forgot to mention, for US passport holders, there’s no visa requirement for Hong Kong travel unless you plan to stay past 30 days. If you’re going China through Hong Kong (e.g. Shenzen), then a China visa is required. Continue reading “Hong Kong and Macau 4/5-2017”

Hilton Tokyo Narita Airport

I stayed at the Hilton Tokyo Narita Airport in 4/2016 at the start of my 9-day Japan adventure. After 12 hours of flight from DFW to Narita, I wasn’t about to hop on the shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto for another 2 hours without a bit of a R&R. I chose this hotel due to the close proximity to the airport. My flight arrived around 4pm and I was planning on taking the JR Narita Express into Tokyo (Shinagawa Station) the following morning for bullet train ride to Kyoto.

Total stay:

1 night

Method:

Points redemption for 20,000 hilton honors for a standard room. This is a category 3 property. The retail price fluctuated between US$100 to $200 based on a few months of observation prior to my trip.

Getting there:

There is a complimentary Hilton shuttle bus that picks up and drops off passengers between the airport and the hotel. The signs at the airport are really easy to follow. At the international terminal (terminal 2), the bus picks up at #26. I was lucky that as soon as I found the sign to the shuttle bus, there was one just arriving. It took about 15 minutes from the airport to the property.

Positives:

This is a decent size hotel which is frequented by crew members as a transit point. As mentioned earlier, the main reason I chose this place was due to the close proximity to the airport. The room itself is nothing to write home about; however it is nevertheless comfortable and very much welcomed after a long flight. Give me a hot shower, comfy bed, and I’m a happy camper. I had a room facing the green fields and was really quiet. My Citi Hilton Reserve card was active at the time which provided gold hhonors status for cardholders. Gold hhonors status = free breakfast. I totally had a ball the next morning. The breakfast spread had a wide variety of options ranging from the continental style breakfast (cereals, yogurt, oatmeal breads, croissants, scrambled eggs, fruit, etc) to Japanese style hot plates (congees, noodles, etc).

The amenity was the standard PeterThomasRoth brand! Can’t complain. 🙂

(Me staring out the window for a good 30 minutes watching cargo planes fly by)

Not so positives:

The room could use some modern touches. It felt like it was stuck in the 80’s. But all good! I wish they didn’t have all those in-room-for-purchase snacks/drinks laying out on the counter. It took up space and I didn’t want to accidentally eat them.

Final thoughts:

I’d recommend staying here for the location. The staff were all very friendly and the shuttle service was convenient. I didn’t use the gym or dine at the restaurant other than breakfast so can’t really speak to those. If I could get a room at $100/night in Japan in a major chain hotel I wouldn’t mind paying it. But hey at 20,000 points a night I say it’s a steal. Lastly, it’s always a good idea to sign up for the hotel rewards program, even though it might not be a chain that you frequent. Some properties only offer free wi-fi to their members so why not take advantage of that. 🙂

***Check out my Japan trip report for some ideas on things to do and places to go***

Hotel review – Park Hyatt Sydney

So I’m trying something new here, going to incorporate hotel reviews into the blog. Although I’m no road warrior, I’ve had my share of hotel stays due to work and personal travel. So here it goes~

My visit to the Park Hyatt Sidney was back in 9/2015, it’s not terribly recent, but it may still be of interest for those who may want to check out this property.

Total stay:

3 nights

Method:

2 free nights earned via the Chase Hyatt credit card, plus 30,000 Hyatt Gold passport points (now known as World of Hyatt). The 30k points were transferred from the Chase Ultimate Rewards points (earned via the Chase Sapphire Preferred card). This property could cost an upward of $600/night depending on the time of year.  Continue reading “Hotel review – Park Hyatt Sydney”

My 2016 Financial Adventures

2016 came and went in a blink of an eye. It was the first full year where I set out to execute my goals of financial independence retire early (“FIRE”). So far, the 1st of 12~15 years to retirement was on point. With some feet dragging, I was able to meet my savings goal of 50% (total savings incl 401K divided by gross salary minus taxes). Initially, I was hoping for a savings goal of 50% excluding 401K, however that became too ambitious of a goal with my travel bug and wanderlust.

For those interested in budgeting and financial goal setting (highly recommended for EVERYONE to do), I find the tool from personal capital to be very helpful and user friendly. It’s a free site (similar to Mint.com) where you link all of your financial accounts so everything is in one place for net worth tracking, as well as investment fees and performance monitoring. Although a chat with a financial advisor from personal capital will follow once you create a free account, there is no obligation to use their service.

Using the retirement planning tool within personal capital, I was able to forecast the probability of meeting my retirement plan, which is currently 80% probable. Basically, you’d input your projected income (savings per year, expected cashflow from social security), annual expense, current age, expected return, and expected retirement age. Using these attributes as well as your current financial situation, the retirement planning tool calculates how likely you’ll meet your plan. Although it’s just a forecast/probability and there is also standard deviation to consider, it’s still a good/fun way to gauge where you are in your planning.

The path to FIRE is not all unicorns and rainbows. It was quite difficult to grasp the idea at first, and honestly uncomfortable to execute. However once I took the plunge, it became more than just saving money. It changed how I look at material goods and consumerism. Although there were the obvious splurges (sigh….my travels), there were also some conscious cut on my spending. Gone is the cable subscription, iPhone, and mindless spending on material goods. Food/eating out is still a challenge, but with it came the learning how to cook and prepare healthier meals at home. It’s still a work in progress, but progress nevertheless. The consumerism piece is actually easier for me to trim down, although still difficult at times. Case in point: After having 500 internal dialogues on whether or not I should replace my broken fitbit, I circled back to the minimalist concept, and realized I almost let a product dictate my life. It actually felt really liberating once I decided I do not need it. I used fitbit as an example as it was something that I really wanted (for someone who works out 4 times a week) but did not need. Now, think about the purchases that you’ve made recently; how many of them were something that you really need?

On the credit card end, 2016 was a light year for me with only 3 new credit cards in the books. They were all Hilton cards (2 from Citi and 1 from Amex) totaling 175,000 hhonors points, plus 2 free weekend night certificates. These points were strategically obtained mostly for a wedding in Bali later in the year. With many new rules and restrictions from the financial institutions, my days of travel hack may be slowly coming to an end. 🙁

All in all, 2016 was a sounding board for what’s to follow. Although I cannot control how the market performs, what government policies are put in place, I am in control of my own behavior and goals. And so are you.

HAPPY NEW YEAR 🙂

Bend, TX 10-2016

This trip report is a bit different from the previous trips. It didn’t involve any airplanes or hotels nor miles or points; instead, a 4 cylinder engine and a tent were all that’s required. <shocking> 🙂

A couple of weeks ago, we took a 3 1/2 hour drive down to the Colorado Bend State Park for some fun in the wilderness. My sister and I left early Saturday morning to meet the group who’d been there since friday. Not surprisingly, after several hours of driving we were still in Texas. The views along the 3 plus hour drive were a pleasant change from the busy and congested Dallas city life. The last hour or so we drove through FM roads, small towns and ranches before finally arriving at the park entrance.

There are many different activities one can do at the Colorado Bend State Park. From hiking, mountain biking, fishing, waterfall gazing, to swimming and kayaking in the Colorado River. There are plenty of hiking trails to choose from with various levels of difficulty. Due to time constraint, I was only able to do 2 hikes during this trip: Gorman Falls and Spicewood Springs trail. Both were good, I liked the spicewood trail over the gorman falls though as it’s more scenic.

Our friends who organized the trip had yummy burgers, kababs, and sandwiches prepared. The only thing missing was s’mores by the campfire. :(((( Guess this calls for a re-do. My favorite part of being out in the wild was seeing the specks and twinkles in the sky. It felt so soothing and calming gazing at the stars with the sound of crackling fire in the background. It was also neat seeing wild deer roaming around at night. Least favorite part was having to use the waterless composing toilet, and not being able to shower. So, one night of camping is plenty enough for this amateur. 😛

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I could count how many times I’ve been camping with one hand – the magic number is 3. This time around I was somewhat prepared. I even got a new half-dome tent months before the trip and camped out in the living room to practice. This tent (northface storm break 2) was pretty easy to pitch and light enough to carry in a backpack if needed (and it’s carebear approved). Unfortunately I forgot to snap a pic at the campsite.

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Apart from being able to spend time with friends and getting back to nature, this trip actually helped my sister and I get our minds off of losing our 9 year-old parakeet who passed away 2 days prior. It’d been a really stressful and heart breaking time leading to his passing, we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves had we stayed home.

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In loving memory of Bebe (7/2007 – 10/2016)

Anywayz! Want to end the post on a lighter note – there are so many wonderful places to see around us. All you have to do is go out and explore. It doesn’t have to be a long plane ride to a foreign country, or a fancy get away with expensive meals to go along. All you may need is a 4-cylinder engine, a tent/camping equipment, basic food items, good company, and you could be the richest person in the world in terms of memories and experiences.

Greece 9-2016

Trip duration: 9/15/16 to 9/24/2016
Route: Dallas => Philly => Athens; Athens => Philly => Dallas
Flying Method: Citi ThankYouPoints redemption (PHL->ATH); Cash Payment (DAL->PHL->DAL)


Planning and Itinerary

Greek mythology, the founding place of democracy, island hopping, baklava, souvlaki, anyone? Yes please! A few girlfriends and I embarked on our Greek adventure six months after the idea was formed during one of our random chitchats.

As with most trips, the 1st step of planning consists of where to go, how to get there, and where to stay. We knew we wanted to fly into and out of Athens. After comparing routes, prices, and schedules (I used ita matrix search), the Dallas -> Philly -> Athens route seemed to be more practical. There was also the option of Dallas -> Heathrow -> Athens, however it seemed to be more of a hassle connecting in a foreign country where you’d need to clear immigration / customs before getting onto your next flight. We chose the 1st option for obvious reason. Since getting the Citi Prestige card, I had over 50,000 citi thank you points waiting to be used (sign-on bonus). I used these points through the citi travel portal to purchase the roundtrip fare between Philly and Athens. These points had a 0.16 point to dollar conversion when you book an American Airlines flight. I was able to shaved off a little over $800 in airfare by doing so. The flights also earn miles as they are still considered revenue flights by the airline. The Dallas to/from Philly flights were bought separately using AA gift cards (saved from when I had the Amex Platinum card where you could get $200 in airline gift cards per calendar year.) 🙂

As far as where to go, we had a total of 9 days in Greece. Each of us pitched in our preferences and we ended up with Athens, Santorini (Thira), and Mykonos. We decided to fly from Athens to Santorini (booked directly via Aegean air), ferry to Mykonos from Santorini (bought online while we were in Greece, picked up ticket at the ticket office when we departed Santorini), then fly back to Athens from Mykonos (booked directly via Aegean air). The domestic flight was a lot more reliable and faster than ferry, although ferry was more budget friendly, however not 100% reliable. It would have taken at least 6 hours on the slow ferry (less choppy) from Athens to Santorini, whereas it only takes under 1 1/2 hour to fly. Our overall schedule looked like this: Athens (1 night) -> Santorini (3 nights) -> Mykonos (2 nights) -> Athens (2 nights).

Lodging wise, since there were 4 of us, we used airbnb mostly. We stayed in a hotel our 1st night in Athens by the Monastiraki Square (Attalos Hotel, review here). In Santorini we stayed in Oia in one of those picturesque cave houses on the cliff. In Mykonos we stayed near the town center so most places were accessible by foot. On our last 2 nights in Athens, we stayed near the Victoria Station (2 stations away from the city center).

Oh by the way, most of us never traveled together before. All of the plannings/bookings were done via email communication.  We rock! 🙂

Athens

Where do I even begin! This city is so eclectic. As we were leaving the airport on the train into the city center (12 euros per person each way; or 20 euros for 2 ppl), the scenery almost made me think I’m in California (it would’ve been funny if there was a Hollywood sign on the hill). There were hills, trees, highways, and somewhat of an open field. 15 mins or so in, the train then went underground; gradually we began to see the hustle and bustle of the city.

We had a private food walking tour scheduled the same afternoon upon arriving in Athens. Unfortunately only 2 of us made the tour as the other 2 girls’ flight was delayed and rerouted. 🙁 After a shower and a power nap, we met our guide by the Monastiraki Square. This tour was one of the best ones i’ve been on. Not only did we experience some authentic Helenic treats, we also got to see the city from a local’s perspective and away from the touristy spots. Who knew there were excavations preserved under the glass floor across the city (not just in the Acropolis Museum)?! There were noticeable graffitis all over the city. At first sight it may look like places were vandalized, but it’s actually a common sight. The graffiti more or less gives the city its quirkiness. Before coming to Athens, a friend mentioned the food tour. Initially I brushed it off as the one I did in Tokyo was a bit of a let down and expensive. Boy was I glad to come across this tour company (Athens Walks), we got to learn/see/eat so much and the price was reasonable too.

Pics from the tour, don’t remember what they all are. The coffee was from Mokka; the loukoumades/fried donut (bottom right) with goat ice cream was superb; we also got to sample freshly made Greek salad by the guide, savored awesome quality olive oil and vinegar’s nectar; and different pastries made from filo dough (different flavors stuffed w/ chicken, spinach and custard)

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Pic below: Inside the fish/meat market; some of the many outdoor markets selling fruit, nuts and olives; Miran spice and salami shop (we had the best hummus ever there. Interestingly it’s hard to find hummus while we were in Greece as tzatziki is more common).

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We saved the main Athens activities towards the end of the trip. Through viator, we booked an all day Athens’ tour where we saw the changing of the guards in front of the Syntama Square, the Acropolis, the Arch of Hadrian; had lunch in Plaka, went to Cape Sounion and saw the Temple of Poseidon. It was quite a busy day. At night we walked around the Syntama Square and had a fab dinner and desserts next door to wrap up the trip.

20161104_202252-collage  Santorini

As touristy and commercialized as Santorini sounds, I personally think it’s one of the places you’ve got to visit at least once while in Greece. The views are just simply amazing, especially the sunset. The cave house we stayed at in Oia faced the caldera/flooded crater on the cliff (pic below in the center). We actually had to hike down some steep and slippery steps to get there. But once there, you just wanna sit in the lawn chair and soak in everything around you (Well, for maybe 5 mins. It was still pretty hot and humid during the day). We didn’t have anything planned in Santorini. During our stay, we’d get up early in the morning, wander around the alleyways and see the sunrise. After breakfast/lunch, we’d take refuge inside the air conditioned villa and chitchat about anything and everything. At night we’d go out and explore some more. One night we took the bus to Fira and had dinner there (Fira is a bigger town on the island with lots of restaurants and shops).

On our 2nd day we went on a quest to find ferry tickets to Mykonos. After being turned around and sent off to different shops, we learned that in Oia there are no places that sell ferry tickets; we’d have to take the bus to Fira. During the said quest, we stumbled across a store selling sunset cruises. Let me tell you, if you don’t do anything else in Santorini, do the sunset cruise. We were able to get on a small group catamaran with a slight discount (hey if you don’t ask, you won’t receive). This was a great lesson that you don’t always have to pre-plan and pre-book everything. Sometimes you get better deal booking things on a whim, plus, you have more flexibility. The sunset cruise was amazeballs. We stopped and swam in the Hot Springs (uhhh lukewarm?), snorkeled near the White and the Red Beach. A delicious Greek dinner was also included with wine and beer. Toward the end, the catamaran, along with every other boat in sight, stopped near Old Fira as the sun was setting. It was the most amazing sunset I’ve ever seen. The rays sparkled and the sun looked like diamond in the sky. On our catamaran, one guy proposed to his girlfriend during the sunset (apparently this proposal scene happens a lot on the boat).

(Side note: We found out we could buy the ferry ticket online via Helenic Seaway and pick up at the port. We did exactly that and purchased VIP seats in case of sea sickness).

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Mykonos

Our next island adventure brought us memories that will certainly be something we’ll laugh about for years to come. Our ferry from Santorini to Mykonos was a bit delayed. As we waited at the crowded gate with other passengers, we were excited when it finally pull up to port. The debark and embark process happened all so very quickly. We dropped off our bags and were ready to head upstairs to enjoy our VIP seats. The only problem – the guy who was checking tickets saw ours and yelled “NO MYKONOS”. Our mouths literally hung wide open, we were stunt and confused. While we stood speechless, he then proceeded to ask: Do you understand english? #@#$*&#@! We then tried to grab our bags and run for the gate, only to see the gate already being pulled up, and the ferry already left the port. Ughh, so much for VIP seats. The same guy came by and told us we should get off in an hour at the next island so we could catch the ferry to Mykonos. He was like “be very careful, if you don’t get off, you’ll be heading to Athens”. The rest of the journey went on fine, we got off at Ios and caught the ferry that we were supposed to be on, which was 15 mins behind. We were finally able to enjoy some much needed break in our VIP seats. lol.

Our perky airbnb host came to pick us up at the port. She showed us to the rental and gave us detailed directions, with drawings on the map and all, where all the main places are at. She recommended that we go to this beach club which plays some awesome EDM music. After seeing how excited she was about this place and the video snippets, we were sold. After a bit of rest and dinner, we set out to this beach club called “Scorpio”, which is located 20 mins south of the city center near the area called Paraga. So we finally got on the bus (delayed as always), all excited about this beach club, only to get off at a deserted bus station in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. There was a beach alright, but it was pitch black. We found the sign to Scorpio and it led to some dimly lit path (wooden planks) on the beach. We followed it for a few minutes and arrived at a resort/hotel like place. There was music playing, the area looked nicely decorated, all looked promising except we were the only people there. After talking with the people at the reception desk, we were told the party season had just ended the week before. OMG! Mykonos, what a day! Why you be playing us like that?!

The rest of our visit went along fine. Again we took things slow and just roamed around the city center for the next 2 days. This island has a completely different vibe from Santorini. The white buildings with blue/red shutters and the cute walkways are what strike me the most about Mykonos. And of course, the windmills. 🙂

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Here are some travel hacks, tips and info learned from this trip:

  • Bring a water bottle and refill with boiled water. Most lodgings have an electric kettle. It saves $$$ and is more environmentally friendly.
  • Take transportation into consideration when making lodging arrangements. The fares do add up. We tried to look for areas that are easily accessible by public transit. Also, taxis aren’t always the expensive option. In Athens, a taxi ride from the airport into the city (and vice versa) is around 35 euros per car (for a 4 door sedan that fits 4 passengers). Metro fare at 12 euros/pp (even at 20 euros/2 ppl) would’ve been more expensive for 4 ppl. There’s a 24hr bus from Syntama Square to the airport (X95) at 6 euros/pp each way. In Santorini, taxi/private transport costs 35 euros each way from the airport to Oia and vice versa. Had we stayed in Fira, bus would’ve been a cheaper option. But we chose Oia for the scenery and the quaintness. In Mykonos we chose a place where the airbnb host provided free transportation. 🙂
  • Take it slow! There is only so much you can do/see. For this trip, all we’d prebooked were the food walking tour as well as the Athens city tour. We left the rest of the itinerary open. It was a breath of fresh air not having to rush from one location to another. When we returned to Athens the 1st night, we decided to stay in. With bags of snacks in tow, we turned on the chrome cast and enjoyed a lighthearted chick flick.
  • If you checked in a bag, make sure to leave a set of clean clothes and essentials in the carryon. Our friends’ flight from Dallas to Philly was delayed, and they missed the flight to Athens. Even though AA was able to rebook them on a separate flight, their bags didn’t make it into Athens that same day. The bags had to be flown to Santorini the next afternoon (since we were going to Santorini the following day). Let’s just say it’s not fun to have to wear the same outfit for 2 days.
  • On a similar note, fortunately our friends’ flight to Athens, including the connecting flight, were on the same ticket. When one segment was delayed, AA was able to put them on a different route automatically. Had the delay happen to me, since my flights were all on separate tickets, I would’ve had to coordinate with AA on my own. It’s a risk I have to take, therefore I also make sure there’s plenty of time in between the 2 connecting flights in case of unexpected delays.
  • Found out the hard way that the Citi Prestige card does not treat the citi thank you points booking as part of the annual $250 travel reimbursement benefits (for example if you use point & cash to pay for a booking). Reason being that booking is done by 3rd party travel agency, therefore not eligible for travel reimbursement. 🙁

Efcharisto (thank you) Greece for a wonderful time with old and new friends alike. Can’t wait for a return visit in the future.

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(After a failed quest to find the beach club in Mykonos)

Rewards travel 101

Hello, it’s me! I’m back from a short hiatus.

These past few months had been pretty quiet on the blogosphere. It’s mostly because I haven’t gone anywhere since May (i know, boring). 🙂 While there hadn’t been much activities here, I’ve been keeping busy with life, and attempting to sharpen my beginner level culinary/domestication skills (#CrockPotHeadfortheWin. One day I’ll upgrade myself to be an #InstaPotHead, but only when the pricey gadget drops in price).

Ever since my cameo appearance on Million Mile Secrets (post here), I’ve gotten a few inquiries from friends on rewards travel. So here I am, sharing my perspective, tips, and pointers. Continue reading “Rewards travel 101”

Shanghai 5-2016

Trip duration: 5/11/16 to 5/27/2016
Route: Dallas => SHA => Dallas
Flying Method: Cash payment


I had the rare opportunity to spend 2 weeks in Shanghai on a work trip recently. From the U.S. going to China, it requires a visa which you have to apply through a nearby Chinese consulate (in my case it’s Houston). The visa application is pretty intense and it asks for a lot of information. You also have to send in your passport, a passport photo, as well as a business invitation letter from the local office. Thankfully everything worked out as hoped. I got my passport back in the nick of time and flew out 2 days after.

There were 4 of us working in Shanghai. We stayed in the Pudong area in Lujiazui near the office. The Huangpu river conveniently flows through the city center between Pudong and Puxi. Pudong literally means “east bank”, and Puxi is “west bank”. The Pudong area is famous for its skyscrapers and skyline; it’s also the financial district and trade zone (similar to the NY midtown area). When visitors go to Shanghai, one of the top places to visit is “the bund” where you can see Pudong from across the Huangpu River. We actually got a reversed view, it’s still a pretty view nonetheless. Continue reading “Shanghai 5-2016”

Japan 4-2016

Trip duration: 4/14/16 to 4/25/2016
Route: Dallas => Narita (eco); Haneda => Honolulu => Dallas (bus)
Flying Method: Award redemption (70.3K AA miles, incl 10% reward rebate), booked in 7/2015 for 4/2016 travel.


Japan, one of the gateways to Asia, is a country full of history and modern innovations. Visitors flock to Japan for the amazing scenery, unique culture, gazillion shrines, food, manga, shopping, onsen (hot spring), and the hustle and bustle of the Tokyo city life. I booked this trip last year in order to secure the highly in demand rewards seat to Asia using American Airlines’ Advantage miles. Majority of the miles came from the Barclay US Airways Premier card 50K sign on bonus (this version is no longer available). It cost $50 in taxes and fees and over 70K miles for the airfare redemption (economy on the way there, and business on the way back). Continue reading “Japan 4-2016”