Australia Day 3: The Rocks, Din Tai Fung, The Aquarium


So here we are on Tuesday. Despite the huge time change, we were experiencing very little jet lag other than the tendency to fall asleep early at night and be up and up every day at 6, which is really not so bad because it meant that every morning we were dressed and fed and out the door before 9 a.m.

On this day, we took the ferry from the Milson’s Point quay, next to the entrance to Luna Park, to Circular Quay, and walked the opposite direction from the day before, to the historic Sydney neighborhood known as The Rocks.

As you might guess from its name, The Rocks is built on sandstone, and it has stairways and tunnels carved in. On the lower parts of the tunnels, you can see marks from the pickaxes of the convicts who dug them out by hand. We wanted to go to the Sydney Visitor Centre there, but, as was becoming a pattern for us, we arrived before its doors opened for the day, so we walked around and bought a delicious latte. Continue reading

Australia: Sydney Day 2, The Bridge, The Domain and The Australian Museum

I opened my eyes on the first morning waking up in Sydney to the sound of Erik’s regular 6 a.m. alarm, helpfully changed to 6 a.m. Sydney time by his phone. Through the screenlike window shades, I could see silhouettes of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. Soon the kids and my mom were up as well — everyone had slept 10 hours or more — and I fed them and packed a lunch for all of us.

I opened one the shades to discover a city transforming from gray dawn to a brilliant blue day. This was to be one of those golden, sunny days that made the long journey feel worthwhile. We were out on the street before 9 a.m., feeling full of energy and ready for adventure.


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Tep Wireless Review


One of the many pics I uploaded in real time

Erik and the family and I just got back from our epic Australia trip, the one I paid for with miles and points. I have many things to share about this trip, but today I’m going to focus on what we did for communications because I want to get out a timely thanks to Tep Wireless, which provided me with their product free of charge to try out. Although I did promise to share my experience here in exchange for this benefit, all opinions are my own.

On past overseas trips, Erik and I didn’t plan ahead for how we would communicate while on the go. We made sure to rent places with wi-fi, and figured we would catch up with folks via email and Facebook at the end of the day. But we didn’t get cellular data plans to use while out and about on our trips to England, Denmark and France, because 1) our phone carriers didn’t offer international plans and 2) although we looked around at buying SIM cards or cheap-o phones once we arrived at our destinations, we were confused by the options and didn’t want to spend too much of our precious vacation time shopping around. On both trips, after briefly looking around, we gave up and just went on with no working phones.

While having wi-fi at our accommodations worked fine for keeping in touch with folks back home, we really found ourselves missing that data connection when it came to looking up information on the fly, especially getting directions. We nearly got lost in the countryside in the dark in France one evening when I realized that I hadn’t mapped out full directions to our friends’ farmhouse before setting out. And we couldn’t call them to let them know we’d be late.

So we promised ourselves that next time, we would plan ahead to have some kind of on-the-go connectivity. And then we actually did it. We planned ahead, guys! High five. Continue reading

Hello Wisconsin! Part I: Arrival in Chicago

13782061_10154356613987421_5617404283400284602_nI’m typing this with my feet up in the big. ass. suite we were given at the Brew House Inn and Suites in Milwaukee. We booked three nights in this place using Chase Ultimate Rewards, with a little worry that it’s too out of the way for our plan to enjoy all that Milwaukee offers. So far, however, we are having a lovely beer-centric visit, and this hotel is a beer-lover’s destination in itself.

But let’s backtrack so I can give you a full trip report of journey to the (upper) center of the country, so far. Monday, I flew from Oakland to O’Hare, yet again arriving not just on time but a little early on the direct Spirit flight on that route. Say what you will about that ultra-budget airline, but they seem to have that run down pat. Hope I don’t have to eat my words. Anyway, not only was it the cheapest ticket to get us to the Midwest this summer, each person in my family had a $100 voucher from our New Year’s debacle, so it was a steal. Continue reading

A Moment of Buyer’s Remorse

One bad thing about using miles to fly is that you have to commit well in advance. That disadvantage sank in for me when I heard some chatter online recently about “insanely low” prices to fly to Australia.

Sure enough, right now I could buy RT tickets from SF to Sydney for the dates I want for under $600. The direct flight that I wanted is a little more — $1171 on Qantas. Still, though. It’s a bit upsetting because when I take into account that I spent about $200 per person on fees to use the miles, the $600 flight is only $400 more expensive than the flight I spent 75,000 miles on. Four hundred bucks is the price of a domestic flight, and domestic flights usually only cost about 25,000 miles. Continue reading

All Tickets Booked!

A few days ago, I was getting really nervous that the last 50,000-mile bonus I needed to book our son’s return ticket from Australia still hadn’t hit my AAdvantage account. The first monthly billing period of the card I’d opened to get the bonus had closed, and I’d spent the requisite $3,000. I called Citi to ask why my miles hadn’t posted and the agent told me that yes, I’d earned them, but it would take 4 to 6 weeks for them to hit my account.

That didn’t worry me, because they always say 4 to 6 weeks after the statement closes. In my experience, though, bonus miles usually it your AAdvantage account right after the statement closes.

Sure enough, the next morning, there they were. I had to call American Airlines to book that last ticket because, being a minor, I couldn’t book my first-grader’s ticket online all by itself. I was lucky enough to get a patient and experienced agent, who not only took my miles and booked the ticket, but also linked the reservations of our five family members and my mom, so that now every time I call with a question about our trip, all TWELVE separate flight segments will pop up together.

He also explained to me how to select our seats. Because we are flying American partner Qantas, we have to log into the Qantas web site to select them. We needed a Qantas record locator for each reservation to do that, which he gave us. So I will log onto Qantas to do that asap.

But first I will dance around my kitchen, because I just got $12,000 worth of airfare for miles and a few hundred bucks taxes and fees. Whoo hoo!

Free Trip Plan: Seattle to SFO for 4

Now that I figured out my San Francisco to Australia trip, but am still obsessed with miles, I’ve taken to offering to plan free trips for my friends. If you have an itinerary you’d like to get for free, email me at carrielynnkirby AT Here is my first trip plan for a friend:

I have a friend who wants to take a family trip to the San Francisco Bay Area this summer. This plan would work for anyone who wants four free domestic round trip tickets, as long as you take action before March 30.

I’m assuming that my friend has no miles so far in any airline or system, so that she’s starting fresh. Also, she doesn’t have any credit cards for any travel rewards programs.

Here’s what I told her to do:

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We Got Our Free Australia Trip! (Well, 9/10 of it)

Just under the wire before American makes award flights more expensive on Tuesday, I managed to get enough miles into Erik’s and my American accounts to book nine out of the 10 one-way flight segments we need to get our family of five to Sydney, Australia, and back. What’s more, my mom got enough miles in her account to book her out roundtrip, on the same flight as ours.

I need to come up with some sort of miles dance to do all over the house at moments like this. Because the fist pump I did didn’t quite express the excitement.

We’re now waiting for the 50,000 bonus miles from my CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® card to hit my account, so we can book the return trip for our youngest kid. Either that or he gets to immigrate to Australia! That solution was proposed by his sisters. Continue reading