All posts by Carrie Kirby

Oh, Amtrak

Amtrak has many problems, but its web site is particularly frustrating because it is so close to being good. It does a great job at pulling up the train you want to take, allowing you to reserve and make changes online, and such. But then every once in awhile it fails spectacularly.

Like today, when after putting tickets in my cart for an upcoming trip to Lake Tahoe, the site asked me if I wanted to get an Amtrak Guest Rewards World Master Card, put today’s purchase on it, and get a 20,000 point bonus after spending $1,000 in 90 days. Continue reading

12 Is Old Enough to Fly as an Adult?

Today I used some miles to get my 12-year-old a one-way ticket from Chicago to San Francisco. She’ll be flying out to the Midwest with her grandparents, but needs to return home alone. In the past when she flew as an “unaccompanied minor,” I had to pay the airline an extra $100 per flight for them to keep an eye on her. I was resigned to ponying up this time, but it turned out I didn’t have to. Continue reading

Camp Signup Time = Time for a New Card!

Because the holidays were busy, I ended up charging a considerable amount of money for the kids’ spring activities on an old credit card.

That’s bad. Why? It’s not that I don’t loving getting one Southwest mile per dollar on my current main card. It’s just that, when you’re about to make a major spend, that’s a good time to get a new card account so you can hit the required spend to qualify for the signup bonus. Continue reading

Day 5 Australia, Thursday – Manly Beach and Karlangu Gallery


On Thursday, our plan was to take the ferry 20 minutes to Manly Beach, finally getting to the other shore of our own Pacific Ocean so we could look across and wave hello to California. We hoped the weather would be warm enough to swim, but if not, we figured the kids could play in the sand. But first we had to get there, which proved slightly more challenging than we’d expected. Continue reading

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.


Continue reading

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