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

Booking: Racing the Clock

Oh, how I wish I hard started this miles push just a little earlier. Mainly because of something I didn’t know when I started: We need to book our flights by Monday, March 21, or we’ll have to pay more miles for each ticket, because American Airlines is raising the rates. Despite my best efforts, it’s now clear that not all the miles I racked up will be credited to our accounts by Monday, so we’ll only be able to book some of our group’s flights then, and will have to pay more for the others.

If we are lucky, on Monday I’ll be able to book six one-way flights with my frequent flyer account, and three with Erik’s. My mom, who’ll be traveling with us, should also be able to book hers. For all these flights, we’ll pay the current rate of 37,500 each.

That leaves just one one-way flight that I’ll have to get later, after more miles credit from the bonus to one of the Mastercards I signed up for. I’ll pay 40,000 miles for that one-way flight. It’s only a loss of 2,500 miles, but I’m bummed that it means we’ll have our reservations spread across more than two record locators. However, I think I can ask customer service to link our itineraries so that the airline knows we’re traveling together.

The best news today is that the 50,000 mile bonus my mom earned from signing up for a Citibank Platinum card just posted to her account, so I’ll be booking her flight today!

I’ll also put the remaining tickets on hold, so that we don’t have trouble booking all of our frequent flyer seats on the same flight. So far, there has been plenty of award availability on the SFO-Sydney flight of our choice, so that shouldn’t be hard. I hope!

What We Spent All That Money on to Get the Miles

Current miles: 295,000

Goal miles: 375,000

In my last post, I told you that we planned to spend $10,000 in less than two months in order to get about $10,000 worth of free airline tickets. Actually, the whole effort was more like spending $16,000 in under four months, because at the time I wrote that, we had already spent $6,000 to earn the sign-up bonuses on two other cards. All this spending earned us a total of about 265,000 miles in bonuses. That might sound crazy. After all, if we have that kind of money on hand, why not just buy the airplane tickets outright?

The reason it’s not crazy is that we spent the money on stuff we were going to pay for anyway. This is a really central tenet of the whole credit card miles thing. You can’t be going out and spending on stuff you wouldn’t have otherwise bought, just to earn the miles. You especially can’t put purchases on these cards that you can’t pay for as soon as the bill comes in, because the moment you pay an interest charge, you’re behind. This game is only worth it if you pay no late fees or interest charges. Seriously!

This post is a little awkward to write, because I get that not everyone can just decide to put thousands of dollars on credit cards over the course of a few months. We are a bigger family in a high-cost area, and although these high costs mean we are far from rich, our monthly income is above the national average. We had some cash reserves on hand, and we had a number of deferred expenditures that had built up because I’m cheap and tend to put off spending money. Not only that, but spring happens to be a time of year when we have to prepay for a bunch of summer programs for the kids so that I can continue working during their summer break. Not everyone will find themselves with as much inflow and outflow as our current situation calls for.

On the other hand, most people reading this might only be trying to get two or three free airline tickets, and might have longer than a month to get all the spending done. The bonus offers I applied for all allowed three months for making the minimum spend. So even if it doesn’t work for you just as it worked for us, it may work for you in your own way.

So what did we spend all that money on in such a short time? Basically, we spent $3,500 on kids’ camps and classes, $2,000 on charity, $2,000 on skiing (some reimbursed), $1,400 at restaurants (a lot of that reimbursed by fellow diners), $1,000 on business expenses, $1,000 on gifts, $850 on groceries, $750 on airfare for family events, $300 on one of our kids’ birthdays, $750 on gift cards for future groceries and the rest on miscellaneous one-time splurges, purchases and bills.

In other words, this stuff:  Continue reading