Category Archives: Uncategorized

You Should Go to Sonoma for Sunset Celebration Weekend

Spoiler alert: After my ramblings I will give you a buy one, get one free code for Sunset Celebration Weekend 2017 in Sonoma.

Ever since moving back to California, I’ve been a wee bit obsessed with Sunset Magazine. Its garden layouts and home features are my wish book. I’ve used more than one travel piece as inspiration for trips. I basically want to live inside Sunset Magazine.

For today, I contented myself with being inside Sunset’s test gardens and smart cottage, at the media preview day of Sunset Celebration Weekend 2017. It was well worth driving an hour and a half each way on a weekday to Sonoma. (SCW used to be in Menlo Park, but when the magazine moved to Jack London Square in Oakland, their test gardens moved to sunny Sonoma.)

First up was a garden tour.

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Earned 18,000 Miles Through AAdvantage Shopping Promotion

It’s been awhile since I participated in a program where you have to make transactions with X number of merchants in order to get a bunch of frequent flyer miles. I did one YEARS ago for American that had me making small purchases from all kinds of weird merchants such as Orvis. But this one looks easy-peasy: Spend money with these four American Airlines partners, get 10,000 miles: 1-800-FLOWERS, the AAdvantage Shopping Portal, AAdvantage Dining and Vinesse Wines.

Since I didn’t feel like working this afternoon, I went ahead and planned out a strategy for getting the bonus miles and more at a cost of about $150, without buying anything I didn’t want anyway: Continue reading

HomeExchange’s Passport Program: Game Changer

We have belonged to HomeExchange for a couple of years. It’s a home swap site, as in, you find someone who wants to vacation in your area, and you stay in their home while they stay in yours. I’ve always loved the concept, but in practice, making exchanges work has been difficult because finding someone who wants to come to California, who lives somewhere we want to go, and is willing to accept our less-than-glamorous home has been onerous.

Most of the times we have had people use our home or stayed in the homes of others through HomeExchange, it’s ended up being a gift. Last summer we hosted a French family while we were in Wisconsin; a nice couple in Utah let us use their guest cottage even though they couldn’t make it out here.

But this year HomeExchange finally introduced a point system, which they call the Passport program, so that if you host someone but you can’t go to their home, you earn a stay in someone else’s home. Continue reading

When You Have to Cancel a Trip

I’m feeling a bit wistful today because tomorrow we were supposed to be boarding Amtrak for a four-day weekend in Lake Tahoe. The plan had been to meet my parents, who were coming on the same train line in the opposite direction, from its origin in Chicago.

But floods in the West washed out the train tracks, and my parents’ trip has been postponed a week. We could have kept the Airbnb we’d reserved and gone with friends instead, but the fact is, the trip was going to be a strain financially anyway, and I found out after making the plan that my husband doesn’t get President’s Day off. So we decided to cancel. Besides, we’ve been really busy the past two weekends, with a Cub Scout trip, a Girl Scout trip, a slumber party, and umpteen Girl Scout cookie sales. We were really too busy to go on this trip, we didn’t have the cash, and besides, President’s Day Weekend is waaaay too crowded at Tahoe.

But being a frugal traveler, I wasn’t going to cancel if it was going to cost us financially. The first thing I did was check the cancellation status of our Airbnb. It’s up to the homeowner to set the cancellation policy, and most I have reserved set their policy to “strict,” meaning that I would not be able to get a refund. However, this condo owner had set her policy to “flexible,” meaning that we would receive everything back but the $149 Airbnb booking fee, which my parents agreed to cover. I sent the owner a note of apology and cancelled, and soon saw that the refund to my credit card was pending.

The other company I needed to check in with was Amtrak. I had not selected a “flexible” fare, opting to save money with the regular price. However, when I called, the agent informed me that I could get a full refund up to 48 hours before the trip. So I cancelled that too. Besides, the train had been cancelled all week from our end as well, so, although it is so far listed as “status unavailable,” I’m willing to be that the Friday train we were going to take will be scratched.

The only cost I don’t feel great about with this trip is a couple of seasonlong ski rentals that my husband made for himself and our son. Actually, he rented the skis for the Cub Scout Winter Lodge at Tahoe two weeks ago, but when they got up there, the kid said he wasn’t feeling well and they didn’t ski. With this trip cancelled, I’m not sure my son is going to ski at all this year, meaning that the cost of his rental will be wasted. Of course, I’m going to ask Sports Basement if they can give us any of our money back if we never used the skis. You never know! I’m also looking into booking a less expensive ski destination in March and/or April so he can still use them.

Day 6, Australia, Friday NIGHT: Sydney Pub Tours

Photo courtesy of Lord Nelson Brewery.

For most of the first week, we were dead tired by evening and up early in the morning. Friday night was the first time Erik and I ventured out after dark, to join Sydney Pub Tours, which combined tasting good beers with learning the city’s history. It was pricey at $255 Australian, but well worth the splurge.

We were a few minutes late meeting our group at one of the historic pubs in The Rocks, leading our guide to call me on my Google Voice number. Because we were carrying a Tep Wireless hotspot,* we were online, and my phone actually rang, which was the first time this had happened with a local call from Australia. We hadn’t realized before the trip that getting a call from a few yards away would be more exciting than getting a call from the United States, which had already happened once (while we were at Taronga Zoo, we talked to the contractor working on our house).

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Day 6 Australia, Friday: Aboriginal Heritage Tour, Manly to Spit Walk, Pub Crawl


Friday was our last free day in Sydney, since we would be at the wedding Saturday and leave town Sunday. So we were determine to pack in a lot. My mom stayed home that morning because her brother was to come by, and besides, she was fighting a cold and needed to rest up for the wedding.

First, we went out to breakfast for the first time on our vacation, to Celcius Coffee Co., a tiny cafe at Kirribilli Wharf, which my cousin who lived in the neighborhood had recommended. Continue reading

Saved My United Miles

I recently got one of those mailers warning me that my United miles were soon to expire, urging me to spend them on magazines. Now, in the past, I would have considered that offer, especially since I only have some 3,000 United miles, which I got from flying SAS last year.

But a miles-savvy friend told me about a way that I could stop these miles from expiring without spending any of them. Since most airlines, including United, just require you to have some activity periodically to prevent miles from expiring, a quick and easy way to save them would be to transfer a few miles from another awards account. Continue reading

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