Month: September 2017

How To Get The Southwest Companion Pass – The Holy Grail of Travel Rewards

How To Get The Southwest Companion Pass – The Holy Grail of Travel Rewards

 

The Southwest Companion Pass is up there as one of the most coveted travel perks. And there’s no question why; it allows you to book travel on any Southwest flight, and take a companion for free regardless of how you pay for your own flight. If you time it right, you can end up with nearly two years of free travel for you and your favorite travel companion, essentially doubling the value of your Southwest Rapid Reward Points, or cash (if you’re one of those people).

Southwest Companion Pass

There are some really cool things you can do with the pass. If it’s just you and your spouse traveling together, it would make sense for only one of you to get it, and live high on the hog until it expires. Then you could get a second one in the other spouse’s name, and do it all over again. If you have kids, you could both go for it at the same time, and then be able to take the whole family (assuming that a whole family is four people). Or if you have another couple whose company you enjoy enough to travel together, you could both get it at the same time and take some couples retreats together. Either way you go about it, it’s going to be an awesome deal for you.

How to Get the Southwest Companion Pass

So, how to get the Southwest Companion Pass? That’s an excellent question… well ya, it was mine. It’s really quite simple: you just need to acquire 110,000 Rapid Reward points in a calendar year. Just so we’re being precise, that means that you must earn 110,000 points at any point between January 1 and December 31 of a given year. You will not qualify if you rack up the required amount between say, February 1 and January 31 of the following year. It’s very important to keep that in mind, because nothing would suck worse than earning so many points throughout the year, only to have such a huge disappointment when you don’t get your pass in February.

I’ve heard of some people being under the misconception that the Companion Pass costs 110,000 points, as in once you have 110,000 points you redeem them for the Companion Pass and then have no points left. The good news is that is NOT the case. You qualify for the Companion Pass once you have acquired 110,000 in a calendar year, and those points are yours to keep. And now they’re really 220,000 points since you’ve just doubled their value.

Well that seems like a lot of points to earn in a year, and it is. There are some fancy ways of going about it, though, that I promise will not break the bank. In good old Triumphant Adventures fashion, the answer is credit card sign-up bonus points. Southwest counts not only the regular points you earn by using their co-branded credit cards for every day purchases, but the sign-up points that Chase offers as well. This means that if you sign up for the cards and spend the minimum amount to get the bonus, then you’ll only need to spend the difference to make it to 110,000 points.

Chase/Southwest Co-Branded Credit Cards

Chase Southwest Cards

The good news is that Chase has three co-branded cards that you can choose from listed in the chart below.  Currently, both personal Southwest cards have an elevated bonus of 60,000 points, which means it’s an excellent time to sign up. However, keep in mind that we are coming up on year end. If you acquire the 110,000 by the end of 2017, it will only be valid until December 31, 2018, which would only give you a little over a year to use it. Whereas if you wait until January, you could probably acquire it in the first quarter of 2018 and then have it until December 31, 2019, which would give you almost two years to use it. The downside is that the higher bonus might not last until January, so it’s a tradeoff.

Credit CardTypical Sign Up BonusElevated Sign Up BonusAnnual FeeForeign Transaction Fees
Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus
40,000 Rapid Rewards Points after spending $1,000 in 3 months60,000 Rapid Rewards Points after spending $2,000 in 3 months$69Yes
Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier
40,000 Rapid Rewards Points after spending $3,000 in 3 months60,000 Rapid Rewards Points after spending $2,000 in 3 months$99No
Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business
60,000 Rapid Rewards Points after spending $3,000 in 3 monthsNo Elevated Sign Up Bonus. See Typical Sign Up Bonus column to the left.$99No

You may be wondering if you can apply for, and get all three cards within a calendar year. Absolutely you can. Now, I can’t tell you if Chase will approve or deny your credit card applications, but I can tell you that I did it, and hundreds of people have as well. Some have applied for both personal cards at the same time, while others have applied for a personal and a business card at the same time. Still others have spread their applications out over a few months.

 

Francisco
Take a weekend getaway to San Francisco, and see the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge.

If you get them a few months apart, you should apply for the Southwest Plus first; here’s why. If a bank offers two different versions of a co-branded card, there’s usually one that’s a higher status than the other. It will generally have a higher annual fee and additional perks. Often Chase will not automatically approve you online, and that may result in having to speak with an actual human being on the phone about why you want both versions of the card. It’s much easier to explain why you want a card that is considered an upgrade form the card you currently have. So, if you apply for the Southwest Premier when you already have the Southwest Plus, you can tell them that you will be overseas and want to have a card with no foreign transaction fees. You can even add that you like the increased 6,000-point anniversary bonus instead of the Plus’s 3,000. You may run in to similar questions when you apply for the business card; but that’s easy, you want to separate your business and personal expenses. We’ll be writing a post about how to qualify for business cards in the future, and we’ll be sure to share a link here once it’s done.

Chase 5/24 Rule

Another thing to remember is the ever-despised Chase 5/24 rule. If you have been approved for five or more cards in the last twenty-four months from any bank, then your chance of getting approved for any Chase card plummets dramatically. So if you’ve been acquiring credit card points heavily for the last few years, that would definitely put a dent in things. This is one of the reasons we tell everyone to do the Chase cards before they do anything else. If you’ve been doing this for a while, there will be a point where you run out of cards to apply for, and you’ll have to back off for a couple years to let the 5/24 rule reset. But don’t worry, if you do it right, you’ll still have a stock pile of points to use for vacations during this time. In fact, that’s the stage we’re in right now. We’ve got about another 5 months before we can apply for Chase cards again, and we have a ton of American Airlines, Delta, and Ultimate Rewards points left to take our New England trip next month. Anyway… 5/24 Rule. Just remember it, and plan accordingly.

The Numbers

Now, let’s talk math. If you sign up for the elevated 60,000 sign-up bonus offers, you’ll earn 120,000 points. Easy peasy. However, the elevated bonuses come and go. I’ve seen the bonuses be 40,000, 50,000, and 60,000, with the spending requirements being either $1,000, $2,000, or $3,000. So, let’s assume that both personal cards are 40,000 points after spending $2,000 and the business card is 60,000 points after spending $3,000. So you sign up for and are approved for one personal and one business card. You spend $5,000 ($2,000 + $3,000) to qualify for the sign-up bonuses. You’ll now have 105,000 points (40,000 bonus points + 60,000 bonus points + 5,000 spending points). Now you’ll just need to continue spending with the card until you’ve spent an additional $5,000 which will put you at 110,000 total points. This is totally doable in a calendar year. Like I said, the amount of the sign-up bonuses and spending requirements changes often, but you can plug in the math for whatever offer is current when you decide to go for it.

New York
Finally take that trip to New York that you’ve always dreamed of.

Points That Do Not Qualify Towards the Companion Pass

While spending and bonus points count toward your 110,000 qualifying points, it’s important to remember that there are some other ways to get points. And these other ways DO NOT qualify for your 110,000 points.

  • Points transferred from Ultimate Reward Points
  • Points purchased from Southwest
  • Points earned through Southwest partners
  • Points earned from the Southwest shopping portal
  • Points earned from the Southwest dining club

The only other source of points that does qualify for the 110,000 points are those that you earn by flying, and actually paying for it with cash… something I don’t do much of, but still worth mentioning.

Designate Your Companion and Start Flying

So you got both cards, earned a shit load of points, and are now the proud owner of the Southwest Companion Pass. Now what?

Log in to Southwest.com and click on My Account. Then you can enter all the necessary details for your travel companion. A few days later, you’ll receive the pass in the mail. Generally speaking, you don’t actually need the physical pass. It’s stored in your account, so any time you book a flight online, you can go back in and add your companion to that flight for free. Keep in mind, your companion can only fly if you are flying. I have read a couple stories of people who have been asked to present their physical pass, and then were not allowed on the flight when they didn’t have it, so Dustin and I always make sure we have it with us. As of now, no one has ever asked to see it.

Costa Rica
Southwest also serves many international destinations in Central America and the Caribbean, including Costa Rica.

Let’s say you don’t have a committed travel buddy and you just want to be able to take whomever willy-nilly. Southwest does allow you to change your companion. You have to call in to their customer service to do so. Plus, you can only do it three times in a calendar year. To be honest, I’m not sure if that means you can change it three times (and thus have four total distinct companions per year) or if it means you’re allowed to have three different companions. Luckily my husband has always been my companion, so that’s an issue I haven’t had to experience.

So, long story short. The Southwest Companion Pass kicks a considerate amount of travel ass. It will allow you to fly with a companion for free for up to two years if you are able to acquire 110,000 points in a calendar year. You can do so with the help of the three Chase/Southwest credit cards and their associated sign-up bonuses. If you have any questions I didn’t answer, please leave me a comment. Until then, go out there and get the Companion Pass.

Top Five Restaurants of New Orleans

Top Five Restaurants of New Orleans

New Orleans Eat

Food. It’s really one of my favorite things in life. And a vacation in New Orleans is the perfect place to indulge in it.

New Orleans is known for its cuisine; and after this trip, I can completely understand why. New Orleans is heavily influenced by Cajun and Creole cuisine. Being right on the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico, seafood also plays a prominent part. I’m usually pretty picky when it comes to sea food, so I was a little bit nervous; but after having eaten it for a weekend, I can say that I would probably be twenty pounds heavier if I were from this area. In a city that doesn’t have a last call, even during hurricanes,  you’re bound to find something to whet your appetite. As you’ll see in the reviews of all the restaurants we tried, I really had no complaints (and probably a little too much praise).

We have come nowhere near close to being acquainted with all the restaurants in New Orleans. But with the experience we do have, here is my list of the top five restaurants of New Orleans. Keep in mind, these are not ranked in any particular order. They’re just the five that we liked the most.

1 – Ruby Slipper

Ruby Slipper MenuMost of the places we ate at were recommendations from a self-proclaimed New Orleans connoisseur, my boss’s brother. However, this one was just a lucky google search. I hopped online to find us somewhere to get our grub on while Kendra was finishing up getting ready for the day, and the pictures of the food at this place just looked amazing. It’s located right in the middle of the walk between our hotel and the French Quarter, so we decided to give it a try. It was around 9:30 or 10:00 on a Saturday morning, so we did have a little bit of a wait; about a half hour or so. So…. Effing…. Worth It.

They sat us outside next to the specials sign that read, “White Chocolate Bread Pudding Pancakes.” Normally I prefer French toast or waffles. But add white chocolate and bread pudding to damn near anything and I’m sold. Kendra decided to go with the Bam Bam Biscuit, which is a biscuit with scrambled egg, pepper jack cheese, maple bacon, and a fried green tomato. As always, we shared our plates so that we could both experience trying more of the local cuisine. Suffice it to say that this was not a breakfast fit for a type 1 diabetic such as myself, but sometimes my attitude is that my blood sugar can just rot in hell while I enjoy myself for a weekend. I’m sure that’ll come back to haunt me, but that was the last thing on my mind as I enjoyed the decadent bread pudding pancakes.

We loved this place so much that we decided to visit once again the last day of our trip shortly before we flew out. Kendra got the Bam Bam Biscuit again, and I opted for the French Toast Batons, which were brioche French toast sticks tossed in cinnamon sugar, served with applewood-smoked bacon. Again, the Ruby Slipper did not disappoint. This is probably one of the best breakfast restaurants I’ve ever been to.

Ruby Slipper Breakfast

2 – Dickey Brennan’s Bourbon House

Bourbon House

This was one of the recommendations from my boss’s brother, and he was even nice enough to tell us exactly what to order. The Signature BBQ Shrimp Po’ Boy. So this is the only Po’ Boy I’ve ever had, so I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on what exactly differentiates a Po’ Boy from any other sandwich. However, I will take plenty of time explaining why this one is much better. The bun is a loaf of French bread sliced in half. The sandwich wasn’t cut open as typical sandwich. Rather, it was cut into from the middle of it, but not cut on the outsides, forming a pocket. What was in that pocket was nothing short of the highest degree of heaven, pure mouth bliss, an orgasm in your mouth, however you want to describe it. It was grilled shrimp in a bourbon sauce. Not being a bourbon drinker, I have no idea if most of the flavor came from bourbon or not, because it definitely had a unique taste with which I wasn’t familiar. I did leave that restaurant, though, thinking that I need to start drinking bourbon.

Signature BBQ PoBoy

3 – Cornet

We really just stumbled upon this place because it was where one of our tours ended. I’m assuming the tour group has some sort of an agreement with the restaurant because it was a little weird that they would end a voodoo tour at a restaurant. As we walked through, I saw and smelled some delicious Cajun food and decided to stay and have dinner after.

I’m not a huge fish guy, but I decided to try the Cajun Platter, which included fried catfish, red beans and rice, jambalaya, and green onion smoked sausage. As expected, it was all amazing, even the catfish, and especially the sausage… ha sausage. Kendra got the Tour of New Orleans appetizer which includes jambalaya, gumbo and craw fish mac and cheese, as well as a side of hush puppies.

Not only was the food great, but so was the ambiance. We sat out on the balcony overlooking Bourbon street, which provided for some entertaining people watching.

Cornet Dinner

4 – Cafe Du Monde

Restaurant is a strong word to describe this place. But since it is such an iconic part of New Orleans, it has to be mentioned.

Cafe Du Monde has been around for a while. The original cafe was established in 1862; and they’re still around, so they must be doing something right. Their menu is small and simple; beignets, coffee, milk, and chocolate milk. Where was this place when I was nine? Aw, who am I kidding? I still have the pallet of a nine-year-old, so I really enjoyed this place. A beignet is a French style donut, square in shape, and covered in powdered sugar. They come in orders of three, so I was figuring we’d each have one and a half. That was until I remembered that Kendra doesn’t like donuts. She tried one, but didn’t care for them enough to split the other one with me. I’m still not sure how I manage to trust a woman that doesn’t like donuts, but she’s got me wrapped around her finger somehow.

Cafe du Monde

5 – Dickey Brennan’s Steak House

Turns out that half the restaurants we went to are part of the Dickey Brennan group of restaurants. I had never heard of Dickey Brennan before. I did a quick google search and learned that he was quite the restaurateur of New Orleans. If he were still alive, I’d try to have him move in with me and Kendra and be our personal chef, because everything we ate at his restaurants was pure gold.

Dicky Brennan's Steakhouse

While a steak house isn’t exactly local cuisine, we decided to give this place a try as it was another recommendation from my boss’s brother. He hadn’t steered us wrong yet. And still hasn’t. I got the rib eye steak and au-gratin potatoes. The only other time I’ve had a steak as yummy as this one was when Kendra and I splurged one year for our anniversary and went to Ruth’s Chris. Kendra got the filet, which she was also impressed with. And although a steakhouse may not be what brings people to New Orleans, we were still able to try some food local to the area. Kendra ordered the turtle soup, which was uniquely flavorful without that strong seafood taste you’d expect.

Turtle Soup

I really wish there would have been something that didn’t taste so great so that my review wouldn’t sound so biased, but this place continued to impress as we headed in to dessert. We ordered the bread pudding and pecan pie. I didn’t realize that either were part of Louisiana cuisine as we have both back home, but apparently they’re both desserts that New Orleans touts as part of their cuisine. They were both delicious.

Bread Pudding & Pecan Pie

Please leave any great New Orleans restaurants where you’ve eaten in the comments. We’d love to give them a try next time we’re in the Big Easy. And hey, if you want some things to do in between meals, here’s some ideas.

Top New Orleans Attractions – An Adventurous Weekend in The Big Easy

Top New Orleans Attractions – An Adventurous Weekend in The Big Easy

We had a shit load of expenses last year. It sucked for my wallet, but it did wonders for my credit card point balances. One amazing thing that came from it was the ability to get enough Southwest Rapid Rewards points to qualify for the companion pass. The companion pass allows you to book a flight on Southwest airlines (with cash or Rapid Rewards points) and you get to take a travel companion for free. We’ll be able to take advantage of it until it expires at the end of 2017. So, 2017 has turned in to the year of domestic travel for Kendra and me. While not as exotic as international travel (you just don’t feel as cool saying that you just got home from L.A. as you do saying you just got back from Europe), domestic travel has the benefit of, well, being domestic. In addition to one long two-week vacation, we’ve been able to have a couple really nice weekend getaways.

New Orleans Weekend

Kendra has had an itch to see New Orleans for quite a while, and I’ve always thought it seemed like a cool city. I honestly didn’t know much about the city other than Cajun food, jazz, and hurricane Katrina. So when she suggested we take a trip there for Labor Day weekend, I was all about it. Didn’t stop to think about the fact that it would be smack dab in the middle of hurricane season. And somehow the fact that there weren’t increased fares to travel there over the holiday weekend still didn’t make me consider it. It wasn’t until Hurricane Harvey was bearing down on Houston that I stopped to think, “Hey, isn’t it hurricane season down there?”

Despite the tragic events of Houston, New Orleans has luckily had a mild hurricane season. For the week and a half prior to our trip, I was checking the weather everyday ready to cancel our trip. Though the forecast promised heavy rains the whole time, we decided to be adventurous and head down anyway. I’m so glad we did. Somehow every meteorologist on the planet had it wrong. The weather was beautiful. It was a little overcast for parts of Saturday afternoon. But all that did was provide a bit of respite from the hot dankiness characteristic to the area.

Airfare, Accommodations, & Transportation

We stayed at Holiday Inn New Orleans – Downtown Superdome. We used our two free nights that we get every year for keeping our Chase IHG card active. It’s completely worth the $49 fee. The really cool thing about this benefit is that it can be used at any IHG hotel. So you could even stay at a place as nice as the Intercontinental in Bora Bora. It seems a little silly to use a benefit like that at your run of the mill Holiday Inn. But the nights were about to expire and we’ll have two new free nights loaded to our account soon that we can use somewhere nicer, so we opted to use them here. It was also nice that we used them in a little bit more of a working man’s hotel anyway since we stayed for a third night and could afford to pay the actual nightly dollar rate.

We opted to forego the rental car for this trip. Our hotel was central to everywhere we wanted to go, and we figured if we got tired of walking, there’s always Uber. Uber turned out to be a great resource for the trip. As expected, our feet took quite a beating, so it was nice to hop into a car every now and then. Uber is a fantastic way of doing a quick getaway in a single city. I think we used Uber about a dozen times, and we still spent less that we would have with a rental. Plus, we didn’t have to worry about paying the nightly $30 fee at the Holiday in for parking. It’s slick the way it works too. Just open the app, type in where you want to go, and the driver is usually there within three to five minutes. If you can’t tell, this trip totally sold me on Uber.

So anyway, now that we’ve got all the business out of the way, let’s talk about all the fun shit we did in the Big Easy. I often hear people talk about their favorite city. Both my sister and my boss love San Francisco. I have a friend that loves Boston. As for me, I’ve never really had a favorite city. After visiting New Orleans, I think I might be willing to say it’s my favorite. It’s so different from every other US city. The culture, architecture, art, and food really set it apart, and it doesn’t surprise me that it often tops the list of unique US cities.

French Quarter

We planned to leave most of our first day in New Orleans open to just be able to walk around and check out the city, and be open to doing whatever we wanted to spontaneously. The only appointment we had was a 7:30 voodoo tour of the French Quarter. So after our delicious breakfast at the Ruby Slipper, we decided to take our own stroll down Bourbon Street. Unfortunately at the time of our visit, New Orleans was in the process of replacing its dated sewer system, so the first few blocks of Bourbon Street funneled all the tourists to fenced off sidewalks. Luckily it only lasted for the first four or five blocks and then opened up. The streets seemed to be a little dirty and smelly. I’m not sure if that’s because of the way they had everything torn up, or if that’s normal. From everything I’ve heard about New Orleans, I expect it’s typically that way. Dirty or not, you can’t help but fall in love with the place. The architecture is so different than anywhere else in the US. In fact, as we walked through, it reminded me a lot of downtown Panama City. All the two and three-story buildings, with their tall doors and windows, shutters, and plants hanging from their balconies create a charming atmosphere.

New Orleans Architecture

As we meandered through the streets we started realizing just how entertaining the people watching was going to be. There were a couple things at play that made this truly an interesting weekend to be in New Orleans. First, there was an LSU/BYU football game that was scheduled to be in Houston, but was transferred to the Superdome due to the flooding with Hurricane Harvey. Second, the Decadence Festival. I had never heard of the Decadence Festival, but apparently it occurs every Labor Day weekend in New Orleans. Our Uber driver told us about it the night before, when I asked what it was, the best way he could describe it was “Gay Mardi Gras.” Perfect… Not really my scene, but watching the dynamic play out between LSU scene, the BYU scene and the gay pride provided for some free entertainment all weekend. Blue BYU shirts, the yellow LSU shirts, and what looked like an explosion of pixie dust from the festival provided for some colorful views. It was funny to see quickly the blue shirts began disappearing once the gay festivities were in full swing. I don’t think the BYU fans had too great of a weekend as their team lost 0 – 27 that night.

We meandered our way toward Jackson Square, which is an area about the size of a city block on the outskirts of the French quarter near the Mississippi river. It was here that in 1803 the Louisiana Purchase took place, making Louisiana a US territory.  In the middle of the square sits a statue of Andrew Jackson on a horse, commemorating his significant role defending the city in the war of 1812. St. Louis Cathedral towers over the square to the north, while the streets to the east and west are adorned with typical New Orleans facade buildings. Be sure to stop here for some good pictures as the statue, cathedral, and green space make for some great scenery. All but the street to the south of the square are closed to vehicular traffic. So it has become a pretty hip place to walk around and see street performers as well as a place to purchase paintings and other cool knick-knacks from street vendors.

Jackson Square

With my wife being a fan of the macabre, I thought it would be fun to check out the Museum of Death. It’s located just one block north of Bourbon street. This place was quite a bit more morbid than I expected, guess that’s why it’s called the museum of death. Right where you purchase your tickets, there is a picture on display of a guy who wrecked his motorcycle and his whole body has been dragged on the street and mangled. Apparently it’s the litmus test before you enter; Kendra and I passed.

Museum of Death

Inside they have displays of all sorts of things death. There’s a video on a loop that shows how brains are surgically removed from skulls. There’s a display of most of the notorious serial killers as well as some artifacts and letters that belonged to them or their victims. Pretty much every major and minor conflict in modern history that involved death (9-11, World War II, Oklahoma City Bombings, US shooting rampages) had a display. It was quite disturbing, but still kind of cool because there were artifacts that aren’t available anywhere else to see. It makes me curious how they got a hold of them. As we finished our tour they asked us if we had any questions. I asked if they could tell me where we go when we die. Unfortunately, they were no help there. Also unfortunate that we were not allowed to take pictures… though maybe it’s probably for the best. I don’t want to gross you guys out.

We had a little bit of time to kill, so we took a few more strolls down Bourbon Street to enjoy some people watching. By now it was getting into the late afternoon, and the Decadence Festival was in full swing. Watching dudes that I never would have guessed if I just saw them in a normal setting were frolicking around, hand-in-hand, dressed in nothing more than tight briefs and suspenders. Some even had butt flaps that opened up into their nether regions.  Most of it was just entertaining. The only time I felt really uncomfortable was when I had to push through a crowd of half-naked men standing around making out with each other to cross the street. It was the kind of crowd that you can’t avoid physical contact in, like a night club. Only in a night club, I don’t mind so much if I get bumped into. But my options were limited. I couldn’t go over. I couldn’t go under. The only way was through a solid wall of dong. I made it through okay, but I really prefer to just watch them from the comfort of a balcony while stuffing delicious Cajun food in my face (secretly being jealous of their perfectly sculpted bodies). Now I know how women feel at the beach.

Decadence Festival

Voodoo Tour

7:30 arrived, and we made our way to the meeting point for our voodoo tour. I’ve decided that Voodoo is probably one of the world’s most misunderstood religions. Hollywood has done a decent job of mysticising it. Even still, it’s weird as shit. No disrespect, I think my own religion is weird as shit as well. We walked from one Voodoo shop to another as well as to homes of some of the most famous Voodoo practitioners including Marie Laveau. Apparently she was like the Don Corleone of New Orleans for most of the 1800’s. Not too shabby for a woman of color in the south in the Antebellum era.

Voodoo Shrine
Voodoo Shrine

While learning all about the Voodoo Queen was mildly entertaining, what I enjoyed most about the tour was just walking around the French Quarter at night. I’d been walking around it all day, but it has a different appeal at night. I love the way the homes are lit with flickering lanterns and depending on the street, smooth jazz floats in the air. By the end of the tour, the spectacularly costumed people parading the street waited with their arms stretched toward the balconies for the chance to be adorned with Mardi Gras beads.  Kendra asked our tour guide where the tradition of Mardi Gras beads stemmed from, apparently people used to throw flour and bricks in celebration until that was outlawed. Beads took over as a more practical option.

New Orleans at Night
Photo Credit – backroadsandbarstools.blogspot.com

Snug Harbor

As a self-proclaimed metal head, Jazz has never really been my thing, but how could you come to New Orleans without checking out the music scene? One of our Uber drivers recommended a couple different clubs on Frenchman street just a few blocks east of the French Quarter. Apparently, Frenchman street is the less touristy version of Bourbon street. It was nice to arrive there and not be surrounded by half naked men.

Snug Harbor

The club was classy, in fact I was probably a little under-dressed in my flip flops, but they still let me in. While the music was enjoyable, I couldn’t believe how into the music some of the people around me were. I mean they were really getting in to it. I guess my style just isn’t refined enough, I got a little bored after about an hour. But what I did enjoy, were these street performers that we heard outside while were waiting for our Uber to arrive.

Garden District

Somewhere in between all the French Quarter stuff we did on Saturday, we were able to catch an Uber over to the Garden district of New Orleans. This is a neighborhood that was developed throughout the 1800’s and has many large mansions with really cool facades. All we really wanted to do here was walk down the streets and catch a few glimpses of cool houses, and visit Lafayette Cemetery #1, the oldest in the city. After all, what trip to New Orleans would be complete without visiting one of New Orleans’ most iconic features?

New Orleans Weekend

Like the rest of New Orleans, its cemeteries are unique; unique enough to be featured in several films and be an attraction to many tourists. Because New Orleans sits below sea level they hit the water table at about 3 feet, making burial at 6 feet impossible. Their solution? Above ground tombs.  Most of these tombs have two shelves inside, the top shelf is for the recently departed. The body is placed inside and the heat and humidity decomposes the body. Once decomposed (generally after one year) the body is moved below to the second shelf. This method allows for multiple generations of the same family to be buried in the same plot. This peculiar way of burying the dead offers a stunningly eerie view, and it’s easy to see why it has been featured in so many films. Weather you opt to take a guided tour or wander the grounds yourself, it’s worth checking out.

Swamp Tour

If you’ve ever seen a movie filmed in the swamps of southern Louisiana, you can imagine the excitement of booking a swamp tour in this area. There’s always such a sense of eeriness with the unknown of what’s under the water’s surface, the trees adorned with Spanish moss, and all the run-down shacks full of toothless seance practicing creepers.

Well we were there in the middle of the day, so it wasn’t so scary. Also, any mysticism of the area was completely raped and murdered by our tour guide. I felt like the goal of this man was to make us think that there was absolutely nothing interesting about the area. He took us out in what I would best describe as a pontoon boat with an awning. He wasn’t quite this direct, but basically what I heard him say was “Nobody rides the fan boats down here, we make a lot more money down here than the rest of the country thinks, there’s nothing exotic about hunting crocodiles, and none of the cool stuff you see in the movies ever happens here.

New Orleans Swamp Tour

Despite the boring tour guide, the scenery was breathtaking. It’s an environment that is resistant to humans coming in and screwing it up, so all the forestation was beautiful and pristine. We even caught a glimpse of a bald eagle. Unfortunately, the water levels were unseasonably high because of Hurricane Harvey. This covered up all the logs where crocodiles like to hang out. We did see a baby crocodile right at the beginning and there was one spot in the tour where we just saw the tip of one’s head; but other than that, we didn’t have too much luck spotting any.

Plantation Tours

The plantation tours were probably what I was most excited for on this trip. I love seeing and walking through big, old houses; especially those that have humongous grounds with sprawling oak trees. I’m not too much of a historian; but it was my wife’s major and I always appreciate learning about the events that shaped the areas I visit. The area’s rich Civil War and slavery history makes a plantation tour a must do when in the area. We were lucky enough to do two.

Oak Alley Plantation

Oak Alley Plantation

Oak Alley was the more traditional out of the plantations we toured. If you close your eyes and imagine a pre-Civil War southern plantation, chances are you’ll see many features of Oak Alley. Located on the west bank of the Mississippi River, it’s named for its distinguishing visual feature, two 800-foot rows of oak trees that were planted in the 1700’s before the present house was built. Running rows of oak trees from the front of the property to the house was a customary practice back then as it created a funnel to suck gusts of the cooler air above the river towards the house to cool it off in the hot and humid summer days. The one at Oak Alley stands out because of its sheer size. The trees are quite a site to take in. Many branches are so old and grown that they have almost grown back in to the ground.

Oak Alley

Old Oak Trees

The plantation was built and run by Jacques and Celina Roman. Jacques died of tuberculosis in 1848 leaving his wife and children to run it. Being a big spender, Celina racked up a bunch of debt. Combine that with the abolition of slavery after the Civil War and the plantation was no longer viable. The property passed through the hands of various owners until Andrew and Josephine Stewart acquired it in 1925 to run as a cattle ranch. Josephine was the last person to live in Oak Alley, leaving the grounds to the Oak Alley Foundation when she died in 1972. It was then opened to the public for all to enjoy.

All in all, this was a cool place to see. The tour wasn’t as interesting as the grounds themselves. They also provide a lunch of typical Cajun cuisine. While I wasn’t impressed enough with the meal to add it to my list of food recommendations, it was an enjoyable meal. Though it didn’t make my top-five list, I would still strongly recommend this place for their buttermilk pie, which was rich, decadent, and delicious.

Laura Plantation Tour

With my feet still aching from the previous day of walking all over the French Quarter, and now having a swamp and plantation tour under my belt, I really would have rather headed back to town for dinner and rest, but we wanted to make the most of the time we had. So we were off to another plantation tour; this time, the Laura plantation. If Oak Alley is the epitome of a southern plantation, Laura is anything but. Aside from some the colorful exterior paint, the exterior of the main house made it look like an ordinary home. What the Laura plantation lacked in flare was made up for with a really interesting story, and a much more entertaining tour guide.

Laura Plantation

A Frenchman by the name of Guillaume and Duparc built the house in 1805. He and his wife Nanette acquired several adjacent parcels of land and ended up with a 12,000-acre sugar plantation. The Duparcs owned 186 slaves and housed them in 69 cabins. Each cabin was occupied by two families. The slave cabins were used even until well after the civil war. While the workers were obviously compensated for their work, it wasn’t much. And living and working conditions weren’t great either. It wasn’t until that part of the tour that it impressed upon my mind how open the wounds still are. I couldn’t believe that people in the Unites States would live in such conditions so close to my life time. I now get why race is still an issue.

Duparc Family Tree

While the operations of the plantation passed down to the children upon Guillaume’s death, Nanette kept a tight rein on things, even when it passed down to the next generation. She had a mother-in-law “cabin” built so she could stick around and keep an eye on everyone. She was known to be quite brutal, especially in keeping the slaves in line. Though her personal servants had gained her favor over the years, they were still slaves. What adds to the intrigue is that, due to some indiscretions of her son, she shared grandchildren with her servants. Unfortunately, this did nothing to change the way she treated them.

As you can see, the subject matter of this tour is quite heavy, but it made for a really interesting afternoon, and gave me a lot to think about. My conclusion: slavery is stupid.

Even though my feet were tired, I’m extremely glad we toured the Laura plantation, and if I had to pick a favorite out of the two, this would easily win.

So there you have it; everything we were able to pack in to a quick weekend getaway. We wish we would have had more time. Have you ever been to New Orleans? What would you recommend if we were able to go back for more time? Please feel free to elaborate in the comments.

 

 

 

How to Travel Big with Chase Travel Partners

How to Travel Big with Chase Travel Partners

In our How to Redeem Chase Points for Maximum Value post I discussed the difference between redeeming points directly through the Chase portal, and transferring points to Chase travel partners. I won’t go into the depth of the difference in this post; suffice it to say that if you want to get more bang for your buck… or point… then you should make an effort to transfer points to partners rather than redeem directly through the portal. In this post, I’d like to introduce you to the individual Chase travel partners. As always, I’m covering Chase first because it’s my preferred program. I’ll cover Citi and American Express travel partners later.

Chase Travel Partners

The current lineup of Chase partners includes 7 airlines and 4 hotels as seen in the chart below.

Airline/HotelProgramTransfer Ratio
AirlineBritish Airways Executive Club1:1
AirlineFlying Blue Air France KLM1:1
AirlineKorean Air Skypass1:1
AirlineSingapore Airlines KrisFlyer1:1
AirlineSouthwest Rapid Rewards1:1
AirlineUnited MileagePlus1:1
AirlineVirgin Atlantic Flying Club1:1
HotelIHG Rewards1:1
HotelMarriott Rewards1:1
HotelThe Ritz-Carlton Rewards1:1
HotelWorld of Hyatt1:1

Notice that the travel ratio on all programs is 1:1. Well, what the hell does that mean? It means that for each Chase Ultimate Rewards Point you transfer to a particular partner, you will receive one point in the program to which you are transferring. This may seem like a no-brainer if you are new to travel points. However, there are other programs that ding you for transferring. For example, you can transfer Citi ThankYou Points into JetBlue’s rewards program at a 2:1 ratio. So you would basically lose half your points. There are other examples where you get more points than you originally had. Let’s use Citi ThankYou Points for another example. You can transfer ThankYou Points into Hilton’s rewards program at a 2:3 ratio, meaning that if you transfer 1,000 Citi ThankYou Points to Hilton, you would end up with 1,500 Hilton HHonors Points.

Chase Travel Partners

Anyway, back to Chase. I have personally only used five travel partners: Southwest, United, Marriott, IHG, and Hyatt. This doesn’t mean that I don’t see value in the other six, because I certainly do. My wife and I have yet to travel to Asia. But make no mistake, we have our eyes set on a couple locations in the near future… Thailand, China, Japan, Cambodia… we just haven’t decided which one yet. But once we do, I’m sure Korean Air or Singapore Airlines will come in quite handy. But enough about my travel aspirations, let’s dive in to a couple scenarios and see how these partners can be utilized.

Chase Cards

Chase currently has 5 cards that allow you to collect Chase Ultimate Rewards Points. I’m going to ignore the Chase Freedom Cards and just focus on the two Sapphire cards as well as the Chase Ink. The chart below shows the points you could earn given their current bonus offers.

Credit CardSign Up BonusAuthorized User BonusRegular Points Earned While Getting BonusTotal PointsTotal Points If You Double Up With a Travel Buddy
Chase Sapphire Preferred50,0005,0004,00059,000118,000
Chase Sapphire Reserve50,0004,00054,000108,000
Chase Ink Business Preferred80,0005,00085,000170,000
Total180,0005,00013,000198,000396,000

You may be thinking, Ya right that’s the best-case scenario. And your right, but it’s also pretty achievable. My wife and I did it when we first started out. Granted the cards were branded a bit differently then, but we were still able to amass that amount of points fairly quickly. The only one that might be a challenge is for both of you to get a business card. You each would need a separate business.

One other thing to be careful about is the authorized user bonus. Most cards allow you to add an authorized user such as a spouse when you sign up for the card. Both of you will receive cards with your own names in the mail, but both are tied to the primary user’s account. Basically just two cards for the same account, like debit cards on a joint checking account. Banks figure that you’ll spend more on the account if there are two of you using it; solid logic. So often times there will be a bonus if you add an authorized user, and that user makes only one purchase of any dollar amount. The bonus is usually 5,000 points which seems like a no-brainer; easy points. This has worked out well for us, but I have heard rumblings of people not being qualified to receive the sign-up bonus on their own card if they were an authorized user on someone else’s account. Ever since I heard that, I’ve been a little weary of adding my wife as an authorized user if she hasn’t got the sign-up bonus for that card yet. For example, if neither of us had ever signed up for a Chase Sapphire card and we both want to get the sign-up bonus, I would sign up for it first without her being an authorized user. Then after I get my sign-up bonus, she could sign up for the card and add me as an authorized user (since I’ve my bonus is no longer at risk; I’ve already received it). I know some people still get away with it with no problem, but for me it’s not worth sacrificing the chance to get a 50,000 bonus for 5,000 extra points.

Regardless, between the two of you, you can still amass a large amount of points in a pretty short time.  Let’s assume both of you are able to get your own individual personal cards, and only one gets the Chase Ink Business Preferred. Let’s say you’re careful and decide to only go for the authorized user bonus on the second person to get the card. Once you’ve hit all your spending requirements, you will have earned 306,000 points. Oh, the fun you could have. Let’s see what you could do.

Hawaii

Hawaii

United Airlines charges 22,500 points per person for a one-way saver (which means your dates need to be a little flexible) flight between the mainland US and Hawaii. So two round-trip tickets would cost 90,000 points (22,500 points x 2 people x 2 flights). You’ll also have to pay a negligible amount for taxes. If I remember right it was about $10 per ticket when I went to Hawaii in 2014.

This leaves you with 216,000 points for hotels. And this is where you can get a bit more creative, and it’s really based upon what you value. Do you want to live in the lap of luxury for a couple of nights, or would you rather stay longer in more of a working man’s hotel? It’s really up to you, here’s some of your options if you were to stay in Maui.

HotelPoints Per NightNights Possible with 216,000 Points
Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa20,00010
Hyatt Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort25,0008
Hyatt Residence Club Maui, Kāʻanapali Beach30,0007
Marriott Courtyard Maui Kahului Airport35,0006
Marriott's Maui Ocean Club - Molokai, Maui & Lanai Towers40,0005
Marriott's Maui Ocean Club - Lahaina & Napili Towers
40,0005
The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua60,0003
Ritz-Carlton - Kapalua
Ritz-Carlton – Kapalua

If you only had 3 nights for a quick getaway, you could spend your whole trip at the swanky Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua. However, if you were planning on a longer trip, you could spend 10 nights at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa, or anywhere on that spectrum. You’re more likely to spend around 5 days in Maui which would allow you a lot of different options. If you wanted to spend a couple nights at the Ritz you could, and then spend the remaining three nights at a less swanky hotel.

When we were in Hawaii, we spent our time in Maui at the Hyatt Andaz, and as you can see from the pics in this post, it’s nothing to complain about.

Florida

Miami Beach

United Airlines charges 12,500 points per person for a one-way saver flight between cities in the mainland US. So, again, two round-trip tickets would cost 50,000 points (22,500 points x 2 people x 2 flights). So in this example, you’d have 256,000 points left to spend on hotels. Here’s some of your options in Miami Beach.

HotelPoints Per NightNights Possible with 256,000 Points
Hyatt Regency - Coral Gables12,00021
Hyatt Centric South Beach Miami15,00017
Courtyard Cadillac Miami Beach/Oceanfront35,0007
Holiday Inn Port Of Miami - Downtown40,0006
Winter Haven, Autograph Collection40,0006
Ritz-Carlton The Miami Beach Edition70,0003
Courtyard Cadillac - Miami Beach
Courtyard Cadillac – Miami Beach

You’re probably getting the idea here, but I’ll do one more example and look at an international destination.

Australia

Sydney

United Airlines charges 40,000 points per person for a one-way saver flight between cities in the mainland US and Australia. Two round-trip tickets would cost 160,000 points (40,000 points x 2 people x 2 flights). So in this example, you’d have 146,000 points left to spend on hotels. Your options are more limited for hotels since the airfare is a bit more expensive. I’ll discuss ways to deal with that below. But first, let’s assume there’s nothing you can do about it and all you’ve got are 146,00 points for hotels. Here’s some options if your visiting Sydney.

HotelPoints Per NightNights Possible with 146,000 Points
Hyatt Regency Sydney20,0007
Park Hyatt Sydney30,0004
Holiday Inn Old Syndey40,0003
InterContinental 60,0002
Intercontinental - Sydney
Intercontinental – Sydney

As you can see, you can still have a decent vacation even when more points are used for airfare. However, there are ways to get more points to make up for it if you’d like to spend more time (which honestly, if you’re going to fly all the way to Australia, you should spend at least two weeks there). Luckily, all four of the Chase hotel partners have their own co-branded credit cards that offer either more points, or free nights as a sign-up bonus. You can sign up for them and get the bonus just as you would the Ultimate Rewards cards. The only difference is that the points you get from these cards are not flexible. You can’t transfer them from program to program. If you get a Chase Hyatt card, the points you get will only be redeemable at Hyatt hotels. This isn’t so much of a drawback as you can use the points to supplement what you can’t get with Chase points (or the other way around, depending upon how you want to look at it). I just want to make sure that the beginners understand the difference between what can be done with flexible bank points like Chase Ultimate Rewards points versus program specific points such as Hyatt points.

Here are the co-branded cards you can get to extend your stay longer. And remember, both you and your travel partner can each get a card so you can double up on the bonus points.

Credit CardSign Up BonusSpending RequirementTime FrameAnnual FeeAnnual Fee Waived First YearApplication Link
Hyatt Credit Card40,000 Hyatt Points $2,0003 Months$75NoApply Here
IHG Rewards Club Select80,000 IHG Rewards Points$1,0003 Months$49YesApply Here
Marriott Rewards Premier80,000 Marriott Points$3,0003 Months$85NoApply Here
Marriott Rewards Premier Business80,000 Marriott Points$3,0003 Months$99NoApply Here
Ritz-Carlton Rewards2 Free Nights in a Category 1 - 4$4,0003 Months$450NoApply Here

So there are just three examples of trips you could take by utilizing Chase travel reward partners. There are probably a few destinations where Chase partner hotels aren’t available; but for the most part, you’ll be able to visit pretty much any city you’d like. Some have tons of hotels, while others are more limited. Just do a quick Google search for any city you want to visit, and combine Hyatt, Marriott, IHG, and Ritz to see what’s available.

If there’s a city you want to visit, and you’re having a hard time figuring out award travel, leave me a comment and I’d love to look into it with you. As always, thanks for taking the time to read.