Proposing…with Points!

Married with Points

Previously in Married…with Points!

Let’s just put it this way: I knew Julie was going to say yes. My advice to all you would-be proposers out there: be sure of his or her answer before you ask. And preferably be sure that that answer will be yes. I’ll leave all the sordid details of the actual proposal to those that already know the story. What you’re here for is a good old-fashioned explanation of how points played a role in the proposal.

Julie’s family lives in Jacksonville. My family lives in Kentucky. For us, points are not only a way to see the world, they’re a way to see the ones we love. Before collecting points, every time I wanted to go home, I had to plan months in advance. I set a reminder everyday to check the prices of every flight from Washington DC to Nashville. I would hop on any price reduction and unwillingly shell out hundreds of dollars to to spend 48 hours with my family.

When I proposed, things were a little bit different. Four days after, we were on a Southwest flight to Nashville… for free. And the thing about it: it wasn’t my only option.

I’ve spoken about the Southwest companion pass at length, so I’ll just mention briefly that once you earn it, a designated companion flies with you for free. Julie and I do the bulk of our domestic travel on Southwest. Because of this, all of our flights on Southwest are buy one, get one free, whether or not we pay with points.

But we also had the option of flying with British Airways Avios. British Airways is a distance-based program, which means that the fewer miles you fly, the fewer points you’ll use for the ticket. On any British Airways flight or their partner airlines (which now includes both American Airlines and US Air), any flight below 649 miles, only costs 4500 points. For comparison, most airlines would charge you 12,500. That means both Julie and I can go roundtrip to Jacksonville or Nashville for only 18,000 points, where on other airlines awards, it would cost us 50,000.

It’s a good thing that those flights cost as few points as they did, because sitting on that Southwest flight, four days after the proposal, I still didn’t have a ring. I’m lucky that Julie is willing to marry a ringless bum. The major reason for this is that I’m deathly afraid of buying jewelry for other people. I mean, c’mon, she’s going to be wearing this everyday for the rest of her life, she should be picking it out. (At least, that’s what I told myself)

The (very, very) minor and (very, very) secondary reason I hadn’t picked out the ring? I’d yet to figure out what credit card I was going to put it on. Spoiler alert: I couldn’t find a credit card that gave you point multipliers at jewelry stores. That left me the option of just getting 1x points (Booooo 1x!) or looking for a different strategy. I ended up settling on my Citi Hilton Reserve card. Not because the 3x the points I earn on that card was that appealing (let’s face it, individual Hilton points are not that valuable), but because every year in which you spend $10,000 or more on the card, you get a free night at any Hilton property in the world. That purchase, along with a few others last year, got us one of the four free nights we’ll be spending at the Conrad Maldives this August.

As with any large purchase, take the time to think through your credit card strategy. If you can’t get multiple points per dollar on the purchase, then use a card you’re trying meet a minimum spend on. If you can’t do either of those things, think through your points goals: use it as a boost to something you know you can use in the near future. It’s good to have a nice base of points built up for emergencies (whether they be of the serious type or the “holy crap, this is a good deal I need to get immediately” type), it’s a lot more encouraging to make a big purchase and then see your points balance significantly go up afterwards when you’ve got a travel goal in mind for that points balance.

It doesn’t need to be said, but I’ll say it anyways: points should be a secondary consideration when proposing. But, you know what? If you’re going to be spending a ton of money anyway, it makes sense to make it work with your travel goals. When getting married, there’s a lot of things that you can only pay for with cash money, but for the things you can pay for in points, those purchases are all the better.

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Married…with Points!

Previously in Married…with Points!

I was never allowed to watch Married…with Children as a kid. Something about the crudeness of the show (and probably the adult themes) struck my parents as a bit inappropriate for ten-year old Jordon. But it was such a cultural touchstone that it was tough to avoid what it was about: a pretty dysfunctional family that despite their best efforts, really cared about each other.

It’s probably a bit weird to start off a series that will detail your own wedding with an example of a show where the marriage barely functioned. But I like the example because pretty much up until that point in television, we saw these idealized versions of marriages1. They didn’t capture the truth that relationships are hard. That they require work. Married…with Children probably took it a bit far, but we needed to see that on television.2

The goal of the Married…with Points! series of posts obviously isn’t to detail mine and Julie’s relationship, but rather how points will play a not-so-small role in everything from the proposal to how we’re planning our wedding to the honeymoon to the actual marriage. If you start early enough and follow the rough outline I’m going to detail here, you can do something similar.

Nowadays the vast majority of us don’t have the money to do big weddings. Julie and I were never interested in having anything lavish, but the reality of our current economic situation is that we couldn’t even if we wanted to. But even small weddings are expensive and if you want to do something out of the ordinary3 you’ve got to be creative. We’re going to try and pay for as much of our wedding as possible with points. Not out of some gimmick to drive page views, but because we have to.

Julie and I are not trying to emulate Al and Peggy Bundy in their marriage. But we recognize that some of the things we want to do are not going to fall into that perfect view of how a wedding should be planned and executed. Married…with Points! is going to be much more similar to Married…with Children than Leave it to Beaver. Get ready for it.

  1. Roseanne is, of course, another example, but it didn’t debut until after Married…with Children.
  2. Let me just say that everyone better get used to me using TV and movie examples now. It’s just gonna keep happening the more I write.
  3. Like trying to get your 60 closest friends to Mexico for freeish

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36 Hours In… Las Vegas

I learned a long time ago not to go to Vegas for more than three days… I learned last year that 36 hours is just about the perfect amount of time there. While most of the trips I’ve taken in the past tend to be guys trips, this one was a bit different: it was my first couples trip to Sin City.

Getting There

I’ve espoused the many benefits of the Southwest Companion Pass, here I am putting it into practice. I live about five minutes from Washington Reagan National, but I’ll drive a bit further to prevent a layover (and for a better price). Southwest runs a direct flight from BWI to Las Vegas several times per day, so I booked my flight using 21,000 Rapid Rewards miles and added Julie onto the itinerary for free.

One of the best things about Southwest is that if the cost of a flight goes down, you can rebook for free. I kept an eye on the Sunday flight (which was the more expensive of the two) and sure enough it dropped 6,000 miles. I rebooked and had the miles redeposited back into my account. 15,000 Southwest miles for two roundtrip tickets to Vegas.

Staying There

I’ve been to Vegas four other times and stayed somewhere different each time1. Part of this is that I like to get the experience of staying at the different famous Vegas hotels. Mainly though, I look for two things: (1) the cheapest price (2) on the strip. Some people will say to stay the cheapest place you possibly can and then take a cab to the strip. This will definitely cost you less money. But for me, there’s something about being right there in the thick of it that makes it worth the extra cost.

For this trip, I booked us into the Monte Carlo. The absolute best way to find deals is to sign up for the email list of all the hotels and to be flexible with when you want to go. I find the former fairly annoying, so I focus on being flexible and get emailed weekly updates from this Flyertalk thread, which discusses deals found on Vegas hotels.


My MLife Gold status got us upgraded into a Diamond Suite. While the room itself was older, the amenities and size couldn’t be beat. Diamond Suites included separate living and bedroom areas, a kitchen, an extra half bath in the foyer, and a two person jacuzzi. It’s not the nicest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in, but its sheer size made it worth it.





Being There

My first trip to Vegas was when I was 14 years old. In the 90s, the city tried to rebrand as family friendly and was actually fairly successful at it. Nowadays you see much, much less of that. It can be good for a solo trip, guys trip, a girls trip, a couples trip, and even a family trip, but don’t be fooled: it’s called Sin City for a reason.

If you’ve never been to Vegas, take some time to just wander up and down the strip. Its not called Disney World for adults for nothing; everywhere you look is a decadent veneer. Stay long enough and the cracks in that veneer become evident; stay just the right amount of time and there’s no place more enjoyable.



I like to gamble, but I get my thrills more from winning and losing, not from betting big money. Because of that I like to stick to $5–10 tables. Depending on where you’re staying and what you like to play that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

To a point (roughly around the Mirage), the further north you get on the strip, the more expensive things become. It’s fun to stay up there, but you’re in the wrong place if you’re looking for cheap tables. With the exception of Saturday night, we were able to find $5 blackjack tables at the Monte Carlo. The only time we found a $5 craps table was early on Sunday morning. If you’re looking for cheaper, head further south on the strip or catch a cab downtown.


This trip was a bit uncharacteristic; usually I eat almost as much as I gamble. I continued my Saturday morning tradition of the brunch buffet at the Bellagio, but didn’t get a chance to eat anywhere major besides that. Brunch at the Bellagio is unparalleled, though. It’s hundreds and hundreds of square feet of almost any kind of breakfast and lunch food imaginable. It’s pricy at $35 per person, but the quality of food more than makes up for it.


If you book directly through the hotel, you can often get food credit on site. This time the Monte Carlo offered us $75 credit at the Pub. We weren’t too hungry for dinner after our huge brunch at the Bellagio, so we ran into the Pub for a quick beer. 2 We ordered two flights from their selection of local brews and American crafts. The beer selection is spectacular, but the food is pretty much your typical bar fare. Unless you’re hungry, save your money for trying the beers you’ve never had before.



I’m middle-of-the-road when it comes to shows in Vegas. I’ve been with people who go to one every night and I’ve been with others who’d rather blow the $120 at the tables. I take a much similar tact to how I see shows at home: if it’s a good enough deal, I’ll see anything; but if it’s expensive, I’ve got to really want to see it.

The whole point of this trip was a birthday present for Julie to see Britney Spears. Much like all good teenage boys of the 90s, I had a non-musical interest in Britney that somehow led to me knowing way more of her songs than I realized. Tickets were expensive (we went for the cheapest at $90 per ticket), but the theater was small enough (seated around 4500) to where it didn’t really matter how far back you were.





The show itself was fairly enjoyable, even for a non-fan. The production values clearly indicate that it’s a Vegas show, but depending on your tolerance for everything Britney Spears, your money may be better spent elsewhere.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Good: You didn’t think you’d get out of this article without a couple of gambling stories, did you? Flight gets in late, we get to the hotel around midnight. I sit down at a blackjack table and play seven hands. Four double downs, two blackjacks and one loss put me up $105. I quickly closed up shop and went to bed.

Good: You’re in Vegas, you’re going to pay a lot for food. Go eat brunch at the Bellagio. It’s absolutely worth it. It’s a Vegas tradition for me.

Good: While the food wasn’t great, the beer selection was top notch at the Pub in the Monte Carlo. If you’re tired of gambling and want to sit somewhere cool and have a beer, go here.

Bad: The Monte Carlo is right on the cusp of being one of the great hotels or merely one of the OK ones. The rooms have great amenities, but they’re a bit run down compared to some of the other places you can stay. Still worth it, but could be better.

Ugly: One last gambling story. I was teaching Julie how to play craps before we left3, but we couldn’t find a $5 table to play at until early Sunday morning. We were only two of three people at the table and the other guy was playing the Don’t Pass Line (come on, dude). We very quickly proceeded to make him a lot of money.

Tip of the Trip

Hyatt and MLife are partners, so you can do a status match between the two. If you’ve got Hyatt Platinum or Diamond, it will translate to MLife Gold, which will be good enough to get you a room upgrade. Also, make sure to add your Hyatt and Southwest numbers at checkin; you can also get points in those two programs.

Come on, just tell me what to do already! (TL;DR)

See this:

Britney Spears: Piece of Me

Stay here:

Monte Carlo

Eat this:

Bellagio Brunch Buffet
The Pub (only for beers)

  1. I’ve previously stayed at the MGM Grand, the Mirage, the Bellagio, and the Las Vegas Hotel (formerly the Las Vegas Hilton).
  2. This violates my first rule of Vegas: never pay for a drink, but since it was paid for with hotel credit, I deemed it allowable.
  3. As you craps players can attest, there’s nothing more fun in Vegas than a craps table that’s hot.

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Barclaycard Arrival Adds Chip+PIN

Mommy Points on Barclay adding Chip+PIN to the Arrival card:

Its finally happened – a good miles and points credit card will now come with a chip and pin option! This makes traveling internationally much easier since that is the standard in many countries, and sometimes even required at unmanned machines in train stations or similar…Current Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard card members will receive the new Barclaycard Arrival Plus card, with chip technology, when their current card expires. They can also request the newly enhanced card right now…

This is a big deal because it’s the first (major) U.S. Credit Card to offer Chip+PIN. You can apply for it here. That’s an affiliate link for us, so we’ll receive compensation if you apply through that link. (So apply through that link)1

For those who don’t know, there are several countries (mainly in Europe) that don’t swipe credit cards. Instead, you put the card into a slot on a small keypad and type in your PIN to validate the transaction (instead of signing). Most places I’ve been allow Chip+Signature2, but every now and then I’ll see some place (usually an automated kiosk) that requires Chip+PIN.


Because I’m heading to Rome next weekend, I had Barclay rush the card to me. I’ll report back any problems, but one thing I found out while activating is that the card needs to be used somewhere other than an automated kiosk before the PIN can be used at an automated kiosk. This shouldn’t be too big of a deal; grab a sandwich before buying your train ticket.

Let’s hope that more banks add the Chip+PIN to their cards. But for now, if you’re traveling to Europe, you really should have the Barclaycard Arrival.

  1. You’ll get 40,000 points after meeting a minimum of spend in three months. That’s good for $400 of travel.
  2. Which means you put the card in the slot, but instead of typing a PIN, you sign the receipt as you normally do in the U.S.

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Solving Couples Travel One Southwest Companion Pass at a Time

Look, being in a relationship can be great. Personally I like that someone will cook me a nice warm meal every now and then. The eternal-companion thing also has it perks.

One thing that’s not so great about being in a relationship? Double the cost of airfare. Sure you now have someone who can also get credit card sign-up bonuses, but after years of traveling by myself (or traveling with someone I didn’t need to account for), it’s still quite the sticker shock to find a great price on a ticket to Rome and then have to pay double for it.


Too often when earning points I thought of myself as in a silo; that I could accrue in one manner as to maximize travel for myself. But as Julie and I have begun to travel more together, I’ve realized that I need to find a way that makes sense for us to travel together. I’ve never been a huge fan of traveling by myself, but this is the first time where I’ve actively had to look for a way for someone else to come along.

So as the majority of my travel shifts from solo to couple, I began to look for ways to maximize trips for two people. One of the most obvious ways is to just earn more points. That works, but feels wasteful; I know that’s my old solo-trip mindset rearing it’s ugly head, but if I earn more points, I want to use those points for more trips, not for the same trip. Another way is to have her pay for her trip with her own points she’s earned through credit card sign-up bonuses. That also works, but sometimes the logistics of trying to book two separate tickets on the same itinerary is a nightmare.

Luckily, Southwest has already solved this problem for us. Like most airlines, Southwest offers a companion pass; anyone who flies with the person who booked the flight, flies for free. Unlike most airlines, Southwest is exceedingly generous with it: it’s good until the end of the next year after you earn it1 and your companion flies with you for free2, whether you booked the trip with cash or with points. That’s a spectacular deal.

Earning it can seem a bit daunting, but as always, there are pretty good strategies for doing so. To secure the Southwest Companion Pass you need to accrue 110,000 Rapid Reward miles or fly 100 flights in a calendar year. Let’s forget flying; that’s an insane pace. Instead, let’s focus on earning the miles.

There’s lots of ways to earn miles quickly, but by far the best is through credit card sign up bonuses. Fortunately, Southwest has four credit cards. What also works in our favor is that while the normal sign up bonus for each card is 25,000 miles, every few months Southwest ups those bonuses to 50,000 miles. That means if you apply for two of those four cards, you can get 104,000 miles3 towards the companion pass with very little work. Earning those last 6,000 miles is probably the most difficult part. For those of you who can swing it, just put another $6,000 on one of the credit cards. If you’ve got some Marriott or Hyatt points, you can also transfer from there. Or you could just do it the old-fashioned way and fly those 6,000 miles.

After a year of having the Southwest Companion Pass, I can honestly say it’s one of the best ways to travel with a significant other or even just a friend. It costs the exact same amount of points or cash as if you were traveling by yourself, plus you get the added benefit of being able to book everything on one itinerary. It solves the bulk of my problems with couples travel in two credit card applications.

I’m changing the way I think about trips. While there will always be the Rome trips that I’ll have to pay double the miles for us to get to, I’m a lucky guy to have someone who likes to travel and wants to come with me to all the crazy places I want to go. I’m also fortunate that Southwest can pick up the tab for all of those other places.

  1. If you earn it May 2014, it’s good until December 2015. If you earn it in January 2014, it’s good until December 2015. Spoiler: earn it as early in the year as you possibly can.
  2. Actually, you’ve got to pay the September 11 fee, which is $5 roundtrip
  3. 50,000 for each sign up bonus, plus the 2,000 points you’ll receive for having to meet the $2,000 minimum spend on each card

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…We will make it to Rome soon! (Part 2)

“Just promise me that we’ll go sometimes.”

“We’ll go sometimes.”

“OK, then let’s get this figured out.”

We were close, but we didn’t make it to Rome. Julie was a trooper in all of this. She needed confirmation that this wasn’t the end of our trip, that we would eventually make it on a flight with two valid passports. After a couple of days of work, it was confirmed: we were going to Rome.

You’ll remember from the previous post that there were four areas that we needed to solve. Here’s how they turned out:

The Flight

Airlines just plain don’t like to give you things for free. I called Delta on Friday to rebook our Rome flights for October and they told me no. I reasoned. I pleaded. But it was of no use. Despite the fact that we were told we were going to be able to rebook for whenever we liked, I couldn’t convince any agent (I called multiple times) or any manager to rebook for Columbus Day weekend.

This was the point where I needed to make a decision on how to act: I could either give up and try again another day or I could try an negotiate a different weekend. October was our first choice, but our second choice was over Memorial Day weekend. While not completely giving up October, I asked if there were any other weekends we could be booked. At first, the manager told us it could only be rebooked this February. Luckily after going through several other dates, I finally arrived at Memorial Day. After some coaxing of the dates and times, we finally settled on the Friday-Tuesday of Memorial Day weekend. Both of us had given in from our original positions to compromise on a date or time. While I wasn’t technically given what I was promised, it was worth it to me to get this booked for a weekend that was acceptable rather than fighting Delta for what I was told I was owed.

The Hotel

The one dim spot in this is that we weren’t able to get the hotel totally refunded to us. Citibank took care of the negotiating and the best they could do was the cost of a one-night stay as fee for cancellation.

Most of the time, I like negotiating these kind of things on my own. But this was one of those instances where I was happy to let Citi take care of it. Could I have gotten the whole thing refunded to me? Probably. But, the cost of a one-night stay was worth it to me to not have to deal with calling internationally to a country where I do not speak the language. Sometimes it’s worth the money to let others take care of it for you.

The Booked Tours

While we obviously haven’t actually gone on the tours, yet. I really have to commend the company, Through Eternity, for working with us as much as they did. I emailed them about 30 hours before our tour was supposed to begin and they responded the next day saying they would allow us to move our tours for whenever our trip got rebooked. When the flights got rebooked, I immediately emailed Through Eternity. I heard back from them the next day with confirmation numbers for the rebooking of the two tours. While I obviously can’t comment on the quality of these tours, just their flexibility alone would make me recommend the tour group.


We feel a lot better now that we have a specific time when we’ll be going on this trip. It’s also a lot easier to say, “We didn’t make this weekend, but we will be going Memorial Day weekend!”. We still have several people that will be asking about our trip, but now that we can reset expectations for another weekend, we feel a lot better about it ourselves.

It sucks we didn’t make it to Rome, but there are some legitimate good things that have arisen from this. First, it’s not the week before I leave for my round-the-world trip. Second, Julie didn’t have President’s Day off, but she does have Memorial Day; that’s one fewer vacation day that she’ll have to take. Finally (and maybe best of all), Delta gave us the miles, qualifying miles, qualifying segments, and qualifying dollars for the trip on Friday. It’s not a lot, but it’s more than we would have had before.

So, instead of focusing on the bad. Instead of focusing on not making to Rome, we’re choosing to look at what we got from it and focusing on the fact that we will make it to Italy. Pretty soon, actually. Things could have turned out a lot worse, instead we worked quickly and hard to make sure everything turned out the best it could.

Julie’s still feeling some guilt about her passport being the cause of us not going (which, she shouldn’t, at all). But next time I see her, I can finally answer her question of when we’re going to Rome.

“Soon, Julie. Soon.”

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We Didn’t Make It To Rome This Weekend… (Part 1)

Remember this line from my Dry Run to Rome post?

I’m a firm believer that the best way to get good at something is to do it and fail at it.

Well, I failed at my trip to Rome.

It was doomed from the beginning. Washington DC had seen it’s heaviest snowfall since 2011. 14,000 flights were cancelled. It was long odds that we were even going to make it out of our homes.

But we did it. We made it. Julie and I arrived at DCA early to see that despite the noon and 12:10pm to Atlanta being delayed, our 12:59pm flight to Hartsfield-Jackson was still on track. We boarded the plane and settled in for the first leg on our trip to Rome.

It turned out to be the only leg.

As we were boarding the Atlanta-Rome flight, the gate agent called Julie aside to look at her passport. It expires on April 6, 2014. In 51 days. Italy requires at least 90 days of validity left on your passport to enter the country.

We reasoned. We pleaded. But it was of no use. We sat at the gate and watched the agent call out for anyone else to board and then shut the door tight. We were dumbfounded.

Five minutes before we were going to Rome.

Now we were stuck in Atlanta.

You just can’t foresee all the problems that may arise when you travel. The best you can do is try to have a good understanding of how all the systems work and minimize consequences. We had four areas that we needed to quickly deal with: the flight, the hotel, the booked tours, and expectations.

The Flight

We were lucky that upon seeing that we weren’t going to board this flight that the gate agent called another agent to help deal specifically with our problem. He immediately wanted to rebook us for Monday’s flight, but with both of our work schedules (and the exorbitant amount of money to expedite the renewal of Julie’s passport) we quickly decided against it. Luckily for us, Delta assumed some blame in this: they should have never let us leave DC in the first place. Because of that, they promised to reissue us the tickets for whenever we wanted to go and booked us on a flight back to DC for that evening.

The Hotel

Both the flight and the hotel were booked with Citi ThankYou points, which means we had two potential avenues (Citibank and the hotel itself) for canceling the reservation. I immediately called the hotel in Italy, but it was already after midnight and the reservations agent had gone home. I then called Citi and after some explanation and goading, got the agent to say he would take care of the cancellation (if it was possible).

The Booked Tours

We’d pre-booked tours to the Vatican and the Colosseum/Forum. I tried to call the number on the email reservation, but it was after midnight in Rome and no one answered. I located an email address, explained the situation and asked if we could be rebooked for a tour at another time. If that wasn’t possible, I asked if we could get a refund.


Managing expectations may have been the toughest thing about this. Julie and I first had to come to terms with the fact that we were going to be spending the weekend doing a House of Cards marathon and not sipping wine in an Italian bistro. We’re pretty flexible travelers, but the complete cancellation of a trip after its already started is a tough pill to swallow. To further compound that fact, while it wasn’t immediately pressing to tell anyone that we hadn’t made it to Rome, we felt like there were certain people who should know. We each called our families to inform them. We then sent emails to work saying that we were going to be in the office the next week. The act of doing these things isn’t difficult, but sometimes it can be a gut-punch of a reminder when all you’re trying to do is think about something else.

We didn’t make it to Rome this weekend. We will make it to Rome another weekend. That’s what we have to keep telling ourselves. We’re still waiting for how all of this gets resolved, but it will get resolved. We will make it Rome soon.

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The Relative Future

17, 15, 13, 10, 9.75, 8, 7, 6, 1 hours ahead of Washington DC.

I literally spent the entirety of this trip in the future, living on a plane of time that home could never quite catch up to. I’ve always found the concept of time zones fascinating. They exist to provide common ground for people; to make sure the sun rises in the AM and sets in the PM. It means we all may be on different times, but it also means that we share the approximate same experience of a day.

I went on this trip because I wanted to see the world, because I wanted to see what I hadn’t seen. I went on this trip to see if I could adjust what makes me comfortable, to see if I could live on the road for five weeks. I went on this trip because I wanted to see how the world works.

I don’t want to act like I now know how the world works, that I’ve got it all figured out. But at the same time I saw flashes of how people work, glimpses of a universal human experience. We all worry about the same things, we all find the same things funny, we all have different tastes in food, in culture, in books, in music, in movies, in TV. Nothing changes those things, but how we perceive it is shaped by the context of how we live.

That’s the true fear of homogenization. It’s not that we don’t all find the same things funny, it’s that there’s only one joke that we all laugh at. Not that we don’t all find solace in music, but that there’s only one song we listen to. Not that we don’t all have a word for “hello”, but that that word is always the same. Some may see this softening of cultural differences as good, as all of us getting closer together. From what I’ve seen we already share the experience that matters; what colors us, what makes us different, adds spice to human existence.

So I went on this trip to confirm this. I suspected it was true, but I needed to collect evidence. I thought I knew it, but I needed to see it. What I found was that it’s not really a matter of confirming anything, rather it’s a matter of just letting these things be. Observing and acknowledging rather than categorizing and confirming.

I can’t pretend like I know this is true, but at least I have a better idea that it is. According to a clock, I spent the entirety of this trip living in the future, but according to what I experienced the sun still rose in the AM and the sun still set in the PM. Life and how we live it isn’t a matter of differences, it’s a matter of similarities. We all may live in the future or the past relative to each other, but when it comes to a shared human experience, the sun still rises in the morning and sets in the evening.

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Six Days in… Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires doubles as not only the last stop of our around-the-world trip, but also as the longest we’re spending in any one place. For six days, we ate tender Argentine steak, drank the rich Malbec wine, and partook in the spectacular music scene of one of the world’s greatest cities.

Getting There

There are always pretty good fares from the continental U.S. to South America (check on some of American Airlines’ super saver deals if you’re looking to use miles). But as with Paris, this was part of our larger around-the-world trip. If you’re interested in reading about how we booked that trip, we’ve already done a pretty thorough job of documenting it.

As is true with many airports, EZE lies well outside the city limits. Unlike some of the ones we’ve been to recently, there’s very spotty public transportation to and from. Your best bet is probably to just bite the bullet and pay for a cab into the city. It shouldn’t be that expensive (around $30–40) and it’s probably worth it. We were lucky to have our host offer to come pick us up at the airport and drop us off at the place we’re staying.

Staying There

I’d mentioned in my Paris report that I always like to stay in an Airbnb, if possible. For those that don’t know, Airbnb is a site where locals can advertise rooms, apartments, or even entire houses to rent. Many people equate it with couch surfing, but honestly, it’s much closer to a hotel than that free alternative. Most cities I’ve seen have offers for entire homes or apartments, which to me, is even more preferable than a hotel. If you’re lucky and book as early as you can, you can often stay in prime spots for much less than a hotel would cost.

We booked this Airbnb pretty early in our planning and we had good communication with our host, Ruy. The apartment itself is everything you’d look for when visiting a city: not only close to several restaurants, banks, and public transportation options, but also within walking distances to many of the things you’d want to see in Buenos Aires. We stayed there for all five nights and the accommodations were more than adequate.

The only potential downside is that we were only offered one key, which was necessary to both get into the apartment and out of it. That meant that we were pretty much sticking together for the bulk of this trip unless we planned ahead enough to figure out a way around this problem.1 There was also one morning where we didn’t have hot water, but it was back on in a couple of hours, so that’s not really anything to worry about, at all.

Being There

When I think of Buenos Aires, I think of steak, wine, and tango. That wasn’t far off. The city is lined with parrillas (steak houses) all offering their own take on the staple and each offering their own particular version of Argentina’s delicious Malbec wine. We’ll offer up some suggestions below, but honestly, it’s tough to go wrong here. Everywhere we ate was delicious.

Historically, the bulk of my knowledge of Argentina centered on Juan Peron and his wife Eva, also known as Evita. The politics and intrigue of the real story play out as well as an Shakespearean tragedy, but even sixty years after her death, it’s completely obvious how much of a role she stills plays in the minds of Argentine people. It’s impossible to escape her visage on the sides of buildings and many of the city’s most popular destinations have an Evita aspect to them, as well.

Plaza de Mayo and Casa Rosada
The hub of all political life in Buenos Aires. And I do mean all. Casa Rosada is the mansion and political residence of Argentina’s president (completely analogous to our White House). We didn’t get a chance to tour it, but saw the spectacular building from outside its iron fences.

But where all the official policies of the country may originate from Casa Rosada, the feelings of the people are demonstrated in Plaza de Mayo. As we were there, things were being cordoned off for what looked to be a huge demonstration later that day. Asking around confirmed that this was not an unusual event; the Argentine people love to protest and they love to do it in Plaza de Mayo. While there were several people camped out in the plaza, I never felt unsafe or as if anything bad would happen. It was completely evident that this is just a part of Argentine life; I just remained aware of my surroundings (as I do in any big city) and was completely fine.

Bicentennial Museum
Just behind Casa Rosada is one of the better museums I’ve been to on this trip. The Bicentennial Museum was developed from the old Argentina customs office that was recovered and then renovated to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Argentina. It takes a a chronological look at early 19th century Argentine life all the way through its current presidency. While most of the exhibits are in Spanish, the pictures and artifacts alone make this worth a trip.

La Recoleta and Recoleta Cemetery
Probably Buenos Aires swankiest neighborhood and its most famous sight. La Recoleta tracks well with some of the most yuppie neighborhoods I’ve seen: farmer’s and artistan’s markets line the streets, microbreweries seem to pop up everywhere, and outdoor seating subsume every available sidewalk in the area. It’s very much worth taking a morning and walking around, the area is incredibly beautiful and it reinforces the idea of Buenos Aires as a modern city.

As in life, death, I guess. Recoleta Cemetery is famous for its decadent monuments to those that have died. It’s almost entirely privately funded, and it shows. Many of Argentina’s most famous people have been buried here, including, funnily enough, Evita herself.2 Tall monuments line what can only be described as streets and streets of tombs, each one clearly trying to outdo the one that came before it. Recoleta is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and absolutely worth a trip. There’s an iPhone app and several maps available for guiding viewers through the cemetery, but unless you’re well-versed in Argentine history, culture, and politics, most people will be completely unknown (at least they were to me). There’s no signage or anything explaining each tomb, though, so if you want a little context, going on one of the guided tours is your best bet. At the very least, grab a map and ask one of the guides to point you in the direction of Evita’s tomb.

La Brigada Parrilla
One of San Telmo (a Buenos Aires neighborhood) most famous steakhouses, La Brigada did not disappoint. We were treated to one of, if not the best steaks and bottles of wine I’ve ever had; it was so tender that the restaurant literally only provides a spoon to cut it with. I’m not much of a food critic, but trust me, go to this place. Prices were a bit higher than normal and more in line with what you’d see at a nice steakhouse in the U.S. We made a reservation before going, so it may be a good idea to do the same. As with most places that serve dinner in Argentina, the restaurant didn’t even open until 8pm (Those Argentines are a late-eating bunch).

El Tigre and Delta
I love going to cities, but going to the small towns outside of large places tends to be more my speed. El Tigre was about an hour train ride outside of Buenos Aires and was one of my favorite places I’ve had the opportunity walk around. (Mike and I repeatedly remarked it reminded us a lot of Napier, New Zealand.

While it was nice to stroll around in a small town, people mainly go to El Tigre for the river and its delta. After flooding destroyed several parts of the city, the people decided to just go with it and form their town around the water. While El Tigre has a main commercial area linked by normal asphalt streets, the bulk of the residential area is linked by waterways; everyone lives right on the river and uses boats to get to the main section of town. We had the opportunity to take a ride on one of the commercial boats to see the some of this area. It was a great contrast from the city and I highly recommend it, if you have the time.

Evita Museum
Much like the bicentennial museum, very well put together. But your enjoyment will probably depend on how interested you are in Eva Peron. It’s fairly small, so it’s easy to get through, but the museum is laser focused on all things Evita (as it probably should be).

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Good: Buenos Aires loves it protests and that extends past the kind where you air your grievances in Plaza de Mayo. We had the opportunity to see some local bands play late one evening. The theme: all were repurposed songs from failed revolutions. I couldn’t understand much of what was being sung, but the energy coming from the bands absolutely couldn’t be matched. This seems like it’s done fairly regularly, so if you get a chance, head down to the Centro de difusión Cultural Severino DiGiovanni.

Good: Buenos Aires is known for its food, so we spent the better portion of two days eating our way through the city.

Bad Eating probably kept us from seeing all we should. Oh well, priorities!

Bad: Remember how I said I think of steak, wine, and tango when I think of Argentina? Yeah, well, we never got to see any tango shows. That’s totally on us and there are several every night for you to see. Be better than us and go see one!

Ugly: In Recoleta Cemetery, there were several of the tombs and monuments that had fallen into various states of disrepair. As in they’d completely crumbed in on themselves. In what can probably be described as a bit of karmic justice, families are required to pay a monthly upkeep fee for the cemetery to make sure that the relative’s final resting place receives regular maintenance. If a family doesn’t pay (for any reason), the tomb is ignored. One of the most shocking sights was to see all of this wealth in life and in burial, be completely for nothing twenty years after a family stopped paying the monthly maintenance fee.

Tip of the Trip

One thing our host told us as we were coming into the city: Buenos Aires is well known for its Italian food. I’ve never been to Italy (though, that should be remedied next month), but the Italian is absolutely spectacular, if not the best I’ve ever had. There’s plenty of restaurants around; make sure to take at least one night and have some pasta somewhere. (Supposedly the pizza is also really good, but we didn’t have a chance to try it.)

Come on, just tell me what to do already! (TL;DR)

See this:
Plaza de Mayo
Recoleta Cemetery
El Tigre and Delta

Stay here:
Airbnb has many places, including the one where we stayed.


p>Eat this:
La Brigada

  1. Edit: We asked our host as we were leaving if there were additional keys, turns out there were. He probably still should have offered them to us in the beginning, but you can ask him about them if you stay in the same place
  2. There’s some controversy about Evita being buried here. Rightfully so. Before marrying Peron, she came from extremely humble beginnings and spent most of her time as First Lady of Argetina speaking for the rights of the poor. Recoleta Cemetery is completely counter to everything she stood for.

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Four Days In…Paris

Don’t worry, everyone. After weeks of writing, long, flowery, probably over-descriptive posts on our around-the-world trip, I’m going to revert to something a bit more practical for our description of Paris: namely our version of the ubiquitous trip report.

As you’ve probably figured out by now, our crack Leap Forward team 1 likes to do things a bit differently. Lot’s of great people have written some great things about Paris (The Points Guy, Mommy Points, Ernest Hemingway), but we want to try and put our own spin on it and on trip reports in general.2 The format and what exactly we write in these things are still in flux, so if there’s something you’d like to see that you’re not getting, make sure to let us know.

So without further ado, let’s kick off the first of our “Four Days In…” series with Four Days in…Paris!

Paris is one of those cities that everyone says to visit. I knew I’d get there eventually, but it kept getting pushed further and further down the list. It wasn’t in the initial plan for our around-the-world trip, but in order to make Madagascar and Buenos Aires work, we had to come through Paris twice, so it made sense just to schedule a longer period of time to see it.

Getting There

As I mentioned before, it was part of our around-the-world trip. I was there for four days total; one day after flying from Moscow on my way to Madagascar and three days after flying from Madagascar on my way to Buenos Aires. Paris is not that difficult to get to, but it can be expensive. Weather during the winter is hit or miss and the throngs of tourists during the summer scream “stay away” to me. Do this: go in early-to-mid spring. You may hit a day of rain (as we did), but odds are you’ll have some great weather (mostly sunny, highs around 70, lows around 40).

Getting from the airport (Charles de Gaulle- CDG) is an easy 40-minute train ride right into the heart of the city. It costs about 10 euro, but is clean, comfortable and runs fairly often. There are other ways to get into the city, but this is the one that you’re going to want to take.

Staying There

You’re probably going to pay a lot of money to stay in Paris. You can do it cheaply, but I’ve never been the biggest fan of hostels.3 If you’ve got hotel points or free hotel stays, this is the place to use them.

We stayed for three nights at three separate hotels: the Hilton Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome, and Trianon Palace (a Hilton-Waldorf Astoria property in Versailles). We’ll have a more in-depth review of the properties at a later date, but here’s the basics on each one:

The airport Hilton was more out of convenience. With only about 22 hours in Paris before our relatively early boarding for the flight to Madagascar, we didn’t want to stray too far from de Gaulle. It hit all the things you’d expect an international hotel chain to hit: free breakfast and a lounge for diamond members, large rooms, and impeccable service. Mike used 40,000 HHonors points to book the room.

The Park Hyatt Paris Vendome was a little bit different; it’s widely considered to be one of (if not the best) Hyatt properties in the world. It’s located fairly close to several of the major Parisian sights (it’s within walking distance of the Louvre museum). But if you’re staying there, the hotel in and of itself is part of the experience. It’s lavishly decorated and the staff are extremely considerate and efficient with all requests. We stayed in a suite, paid for by one of the two free nights given to me by applying for the Chase Hyatt credit card.4

Our final day in Paris, we spent in Versailles and stayed at Trianon Palace, a Hilton-Waldorf Astoria property. It was literally a palace that was part of Versailles. Mike’s diamond status with Hilton got us an upgrade to the main property, as well as free drinks in the bar (which at 20 euro apiece, I wasn’t about to buy otherwise). He used Citi ThankYou points to book the room at full price, so not only was the room free for us, but he also earned points for staying there. Not bad for what used to be a retreat for the King of France!

Being There

Four days in Paris is enough to see the major things, but you’re still going to feel like you need to come back and spend more time. I prioritized seeing the major sights while there:

Notre Dame
The famous cathedral didn’t disappoint, but it was pretty much exactly what you’re expecting: a giant Catholic Church with stunning gothic architecture. Don’t miss the gargoyles on either side!

Originally built as a church, but now functions as a mausoleum. They’re currently doing construction on the dome, so it was hidden from view.

The Eiffel Tower
The most well-known symbol of Paris. It’s similar to the Washington Monument, the St. Louis Gateway Arch, the London Eye, and other tall structures that people probably pay too much to go up in. You need to go there and see it, but I opted not to pay to go up in it. I don’t want to seem to cynical here, though. It’s a spectacular piece of architecture and you really need to see it in person to appreciate that.

Paris Catacombs
Carved from the limestone that built the city, the catacombs house the dead of millions of Parisians far underground. If you’ve been to catacombs in other cities, you know what to expect. But what you won’t expect is the sheer size of it. I walked for nearly an hour, surrounded by stacks of bones higher than my head. They only let in 200 people at a time, so the line can get a bit long. That’s a blessing and a curse; without the line snaking around the circle, it would have been almost impossible to find!

The Louvre Museum
If it’s possible to undersell the most famous sight in (arguably) the world’s most famous city, the Louvre is undersold. I had one art history class in college, which gave me enough knowledge to know what I need to see when I go places like the Louvre. On Wednesdays, the museum is open until 9pm (it normally closes at 5pm), so I assumed giving myself four hours should be able to let me hit everything I needed to see. Wrong. Everywhere I went I kept seeing pieces of art and history that I’d at least heard of in passing. By the time I needed to leave, there were still several things I wanted to see that I didn’t get a chance to. If for nothing else, I’m going to have to come back to Paris to see more of the Louvre.

Best known as the palace of Louis XIV, XV, and XVI (before the last had an unfortunate run-in with a guillotine), it stands today as one of the most decadent examples of monarchy-era France. It will take a full day to get out to see it and if you’ve got other things you want to see in Paris, you can prioritize those. But if you’ve got the time, it’s absolutely worth it. The train runs out to Versailles, so while it takes some time to get out of the city, it’s fairly easy to do. We’ve seen a lot of big important houses on our trip around the world, this was probably the last one and it did not disappoint.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Good: As I mentioned before, the Louvre. If you’ve got one day in Paris, this is what you go see. Even if you’re not a fan of art or history, it’s pretty difficult not to be wowed by how many things you’ve heard of are in one place. There’s literally miles and miles of art to see, so you may want to do a bit of planning in advance. There’s an iPhone app that will guide you through much of what you need to see while your there. It’s $2, but I don’t know if I’d been able to see half of what I did without it.

Bad: Not to dwell only on the Louvre, but probably the second most famous piece, the Winged Victory of Samthrace, was being restored while I was there, so I didn’t get to see it.

Bad: There’s very little in the way of explanations for any of the pieces in the Louvre and what there is, is totally in French. Without a guide or without the iPhone app, you’re literally just looking at painting and sculptures without any context.

Ugly: From this picture, where would you expect the tour of Versailles to start?

If you said the giant gold archways in the center of the palace or any one of the smaller stone archways that line the edges, you’d be wrong.

If you said that tiny entrance in the middle of the three arches off to the far right that had absolutely no markings, you’re obviously cheating (or have been there before). We walked through some of the smaller rooms for about half an hour, wondering “is this it?”, before finding the actual start of the tour. Come on guys, let’s get some better signage!

Tip of the Trip

You’re going to be waiting in lines quite a bit in Paris. To avoid one of them, you may be able to buy your ticket to Versailles at your hotel (if you’re staying in Versailles). If not, swing by the gift shop (it’s on the left, across the street, at the top of the hill, before you enter the preliminary gates). You can buy your ticket there for the same price, sans line waiting.

Come on, just tell me what to do already! (TL;DR)

See this:
Notre Dame
The Louvre
The Eiffel Tower

Stay here:
Park Hyatt Paris Vendome (if you can swing it)


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  1. Not our Leap Forward team on crack
  2. Knowing me, I’ll probably write a thousand-word post on why we’re doing it this way, so for those of you who do like me over analyzing things, just hold tight.
  3. my personal favorite way to stay is Airbnb
  4. If you’re a platinum or below, you get two free nights at any Hyatt just for applying for the credit card and meeting the minimum spend. If you’re a Diamond member, you get two free nights in a suite.

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