Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Free Hotel #3- Candidasa, Bali

  We are FINALLY finished booking our hotels for our trip, in 34 days!! :)  It took us a lot longer to book our Bali hotels because we were really searching for a few hidden gems.  And boy did we ever. 

    Curtis and I will be spending 5 nights on the coast (to accommodate diving) and 4 nights in Ubud, the cultural center of Bali.  We were ready to book a property called Alila Manggis, a beautiful, luxury hotel on the water that boasts great food, service and a sense of true relaxation for the first leg of our stay in Bali.  It's the cheapest hotel in their entire line of properties coming in at $150 a night before taxes and fees.  It is a very stunning hotel and while everything looked perfect, we hesitated and it paid off.

    See, because Alila is a 5 star property and because it comes loaded with awards and accolades, we knew that while we may score a few free nights with travel reimbursements, everything else would be pricey, especially by Bali standards.  As we started to read into reviews a bit, all wonderful, we noticed that dinner would be around $60 A PERSON every night and all additional activities, like village visits or mountain hikes, were significantly more than they were just about everywhere else. ($100+ each)  So while this hotel was affordable to us nightly for the room, the rest of it couldn't really justify their costs that well, considering that we could walk 5 minutes up the road and have a true local show us around. 

    I began one last exhausted search around the Candidasa area for hotels and ended up, only through a Google maps street view search, finding the hidden gem we were looking for.  Set about 15 minutes walk from Alila, this property has a private beach, only 5 villas, and opened in March of this year.  There are very few reviews of the villas because they are so new but the few we have found have all been wonderful.  The best part, for us, is that it's even closer to the town of Candidasa so we can walk there in the evenings for dinner or during the day for sightseeing. 

The property is Sea Breeze Villas Candiasa 

  I am so excited to find these villas as they look beautiful and so relaxing!  There is a reef directly in front of the beach area so we can snorkel in the mornings or even dive if we would like.  Best of all, because it's a new property, the owner is eager to please and ready to make a great first impression.  We were looking for a Paradise like we found in Fiji and this place reminded us so much of that. 

  The owner sent over a menu as well of their restaurant and very unlike Alila, the most expensive a la carte dish is $6.  (ranges from $2-$6)  The only thing more than that is the dinner special we may "splurge" on at $50 which includes a Lobster dinner for 2, cocktails, apps and dessert at a candlelit table on the yoga hut.

 So at a whopping $85 a night, this hotel was a solid half the cost of our original and I really feel like it will give us a better taste of what real Bali is like.  I'm looking forward to going into the village of Candidasa and visiting the markets, talking to the locals and hopefully catching a glimpse of a Balinese celebration going on.  Who doesn't want to see this!?
So colorful!

  We are so excited to embark on this part of the trip.  It's our longest stay in a country while we're traveling (9 days!) and it will be a healthy mix of relaxation and exploration.  Bali is known for yoga so it's free at every hotel, the spas are stupid cheap (I am dedicating an entire post to just the $11 hour long facials and back massages) and the views are stunning.

    I'll leave with this; even though I'm not a morning person, I may, just may, have to start the trek up Mt. Batur at 2am to catch a sunrise that it's noted the best in the entire world.  Not sure I'll be able to sleep through something as stunning as this:

How We Did It: Capital One Travel Reimbursement: $425
Would Have Cost: $425
Total Cost We Pay: $0!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Free Hotel #2- Port Douglas, Australia

  I talked about Port Douglas in my previous post so I'll share with you our excellent hotel find here as well! Finding cheap hotels in expensive cities isn't difficult, but it does require some research and asking around.  As a result, you end up saving hundreds, sometimes thousands, and find some great deals on hotels you may have never heard of before!  

  I stumbled upon this hotel on an Expedia search, I believe, and the prices were listed anywhere between $90-$170 a night.  It's crazy how different each site will report a rate!  Curtis found a coupon code for Expedia and ended up getting the rate down to $84 a night, score!  It's in the heart of Port Douglas, walking distance from shops, bars and restaurants and 2 blocks from Four Mile Beach.  (where I told Curtis our meeting spot should be since that's where I'll be if he can't find me, haha!)  I present to you the Mercure Treetops Resort.

The pool.  I'll be at the beach.
Well appointed and clean rooms!
I do believe that is a fine place to dine!

 It has great reviews all over and it's location makes it a true steal in the city of $300 hotel rooms. :)  And the hotel looks really nice!  An excellent find that we're looking forward to spending some time at. :)  And best of all:

How We Did It: Capital One Travel Reimbursement: $170
Would Have Cost: $170
Total Cost We Pay: $0!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Where the Water Meets the Road

  I'll continue on with more free talk.  Something we were considering that we're now sure of is that we are renting a car and driving to Port Douglas after our Liveaboard returns to land!  I'm particularly excited about this because the drive is so scenic and there is a LOT to see on the way. 

*Not the clearest video but the scenery is gorgeous! 

  Port Douglas is a highly coveted area to visit because it's the only place in the world where two world heritage sites meet; The Great Barrier Reef and The Daintree Rainforest.  The rainforest is home to so much of Australia's wildlife and spotted with parks and centers where people can stop by and see the animals up close and personal.  One of which, we plan to visit!

The Rainforest Habitat on the outskirts of Port Douglas. 

This habitat is a little different than the ones we have here in the US.  For starters, very few animals are behind any fencing or cages.  They roam freely, coming right up to tourists hoping for a quick bite. :)  While some might find this annoying, I think it's awesome!  Normally we have to elbow our way through parents posing with their kids or tourists climbing on the fences to just get a bad picture of the animals.  Here, you have a photo opp every second! 

Literally, everywhere!

Breakfast with the Birds.  They aren't kidding!
Up close and personal

  We wouldn't be able to explore without renting a car and driving from Cairns to PD very easily and it would end up costing a fortune to go to some of these places.  They're not that far away but cabs and buses add up quick in the land of Aussies!
  Capital One allows you to submit reimbursement requests for hotels, cars and other travel bookings of the sort (you can't submit a request for a meal.  You can, but you will probably still end up paying it) so it only made sense to hire a car while there.  Granted, we're going the super cheap route with a car that may only go 60mph but it doesn't matter!  The drive is worth going slow for and that leaves more free money for the rest of our trip and/or future trips. :)

Don't be jealous!

  No complaints here, it's free!  And when we're not speeding around Port Douglas in our snazzy mini-smart-looking-car, we'll be here:

Four Mile Beach
Four Mile Beach!  One of the most famous beaches in the world for it's seemingly never ending sandy beach.  Ahhh, I relax just looking at this photo.  :) 

How We Did It: Capital One Travel Reimbursements of approx. $130 for car
Would have cost: $130
Total Cost We Pay: $0!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Free Hotel #1- Cairns, Australia

  You may have remembered reading my post about Capital One's Match My Miles promo and learned that the miles can be cashed in for travel reimbursements.   Curtis signed up for both the Venture and Venture Business Card so what we though would be a hefty amount of reimbursements on our trip ended up being DOUBLE.  Thanks Capital One!

I present to you Free Hotel #1.  The All Seasons Hotel in Cairns, Australia.  We have a less than 2 days in Cairns before our liveaboard departs so to make the most of our time in Cairns, we decided to pick a hotel that was in the heart of the city.  Even though we knew booking these would be free, we still stuck with our original budget so we could splurge a bit more on our Bali hotels.  Also for free.

  This hotel is a steal from what we've read being only 2 blocks from the Cairns Esplanade and about a block from the beach.  The rooms look really nice and modern and on top of that, little things that most hotels rip you off on are included in the price of your room, like Wifi and breakfast.  It's not an overly fancy hotel but it's very clean and in a great location, 2 things that are key to a successful hotel stay.  

  Reviews are really good on a place this affordable and many hotels that are 3 times more aren't spoken as highly of as this hotel.  It's simple but the staff and cleanliness go a long way with travelers!  It's a little under $100 a night and in the expensive country of Australia, (still in sticker shock) that's about $80 less than what we were finding online for similar hotels. 
  So for free, we're getting wifi to upload pics from the day, filling up on a delicious breakfast to hopefully give us energy for the day, a 5 min walk to the Esplanade and a 6 minute walk to the beach. 
I think we did pretty good on this one! :)

How We Did It: Capital One Miles Travel Reimbursement of $200
Would have cost: $200
Total cost we pay: $0!

BA 100k Mile Bonus Offer

  British Airways is at it again.  In response to the recent Capitol One Match My Miles promo, other credit cards are taking note and stepping up the bonus offers.  Lucky for us!!!
  Right now, British Airways is offering 100k mile bonus for singing up for their card.  You get 50k after your first purchase and another 50k after you spend $2500 within 3 months of activation.  Pretty sweet!
  I'll break down the perks of this card and the not so perky parts below.  I've personally had this card before and still have 50k BA miles burning a hole in my pocket.  :)

- 100k miles for $2500 in spending you already planned on doing!  That's a lot of miles!
- BA is a One World partner SO that means you can use these miles for any flight that's in the One World Alliance
- BA is known to give much higher credit limits than normal so if you need a card to add to your credit to help open utilization, this is a great one to get.
- No foregin transaction fee
- Earn 2.5 miles for every $1 spent with BA and 1.25 miles for every other $1 spent.

Not So Perky
- BA miles are expensive to cash in for international flights.  They make the customer pay a fuel surcharge that's usually around $300 for any flight to Europe so keep that in mind when booking.  If you find a flight to Europe that's $400 total, it's worth it just to book it and pay all in cash so you earn the miles on the flight rather than waste miles.  They're best used to cash in for American flights domestically.
- You HAVE to pay the $95 membership fee yearly.  There is absolutely no way to get this removed/reversed without canceling the card.  Many have tried and all have failed.  

  All in all, it's a good card to have and it never hurts to have a few extra miles in your pocket for a quick weekend getaway!  :) 

Signup link:


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

215,000 miles? Why, yes please!

  Think I'm pulling your chain?  Think again!  The Citibank promo for their 75,000 mile card offers are still going on.  Seriously.  So if you need miles, here's a very quick and easy way to score enough miles for a few trips over the pond! 
This could be you!

  The offer implies that this is good for first time Citibank cardholders only, however, a LOT of people have been approved if they've never had the "type" of card listed out below.  If you already have a Citibank AA Mastercard, I'd definitely try your hand at the three below, since you've never had a Citi Visa or Amex before.  The promo is still live with people getting instant approval as late as this morning.  Citi can pull this offer at anytime so start applying!  :) 

  The stipulation is that you must spend $1500 in the first 6 months of having the card, which is not hard to do at all once bills, groceries and all purchases you plan to make go on these cards during that time.  As long as you pay it off each month, the miles are totally free to you! :)  They all waive the annual fee the first year and the day the annual fee hits next year, simply call and threaten to cancel the card.  If they don't reverse it, cancel it.  A lot of times you're able to re-sign up for deals like this as little as 4 months later and they consider you "new customer."  (this varies from card to card so it's best to call and find out how long you're in the system before canceling)

Citibank Amex:

Citibank Visa:

Citibank Business Visa: d=EN&siteId=BAO&B=V&screenID=3006

Monday, April 4, 2011

Match My Miles!!!

  Ok, it took me a while to share this with you guys, sorry!  I've been busy in our yard making some major changes and the hubs and I have tried to focus solely on that for the last month or so. 
  Anywho, another great promotion to throw your way!  A lot of you have heard about Capital One's mileage/reward programs and I wanted to speak to that in this post.  In terms of actual mileage redemption for flights, they are pretty low on the totem pole but there are other things that Capital One has going for it that rank it much higher.  

  We're not people to cash in miles for products.  30k miles equals a flight anywhere in the US with American and yet to cash that in, you could get a $50 radio or something ridiculous.  The travel portion of miles is worth much more than the rewards you can get with them.  However, Captial One is a bit different.  They base their mileage redemption on the cost of the flight and that can add up quickly. 

Here's the breakdown of their mileage redemption for travel:
15,000 Up to $150.00
35,000 $150.01 to $350.00
60,000 $350.01 to $600.00
100 x travel price More than $600.01

  The problem with this is that as airline costs rise, the mileage redemption cost rises as well.  Redeeming the "miles" for other products makes much more sense in this case because you can cash out your miles for actual cash, gift cards, etc. and the cost per mile is way better that way. 
  The best thing about the program is that you can submit reimbursements for travel and have them dock your miles based on costs.  For example, you plan on spending 3 nights at a hotel in NYC.  Put those 3 nights on your Capital One card and then submit for those to be reimbursed to you and dock your miles instead.  Makes that hotel stay even sweeter!

  A few weeks ago, Capital One announced it's newest promotion; Match My Miles.  They are so convinced that their miles are better, they are willing to match the mileage balance currently in any of the major airline's reward programs for you for free, up to 100k miles.  So if you have over 100k miles in your account right now, they'd automatically give you 100k Capital One miles for free. 

  Use this card in conjunction with your others to REALLY save some cash on a trip.  If you get this card and get the 100k mile match, use your normal airline miles for the flight and submit reimbursements for travel expenses, you're looking at a FREE TRIP.  Yep, free.  Use your more valuable miles to book the flight and then use your new Cap 1 miles to pay for the hotel/lodging.  The 100k miles is roughly $1100 in travel expenses so score!!! Combine this with no foreign transaction fee (usually around 3% for other cards) and you're truly saving some serious cash on a trip.

  So what's the catch?  Well, as I said before, unless you're redeeming these for cash, gift cards or travel expenses, the miles for travel are not valuable at all.  Plus, you don't really get a say in who you travel with or guaranteed seats on some of the nicer airlines.  (Such as with One World Alliances) Also, they are only giving out a certain amount of miles before the promo ends and you have to wait for them to send you a code so you can send in your mileage balance.  We are still waiting on this code and hoping the miles don't run out before they send it to us.  So time is of the essence here! 
  And lastly, this is a tough card to get.  If you already have a Cap 1 card, call and see if you can get upgraded to the Venture card with this specific promotion.  If not, Cap 1 WILL PULL  3 hard hits on your credit to each reporting agency.  So unless your credit is great across the board, it may not be worth it to risk 3 hard pulls for this.  If it is, and you know that, I think it's worth the risk. 
  We're waiting on a code and then we will be using this for travel expenses for Bali and Cairns!  So that's an additional $1100 savings we weren't expecting, making our Bali hotel stays and Cairns hotel stays totally free.  Can't beat free.  Ever!!!

  So, all in all, this is a great promotion they're doing to get people over to their reward program but make sure you're comparing it to the programs you're already using.  For us, it's a great addition to the savings we already take advantage from with American Airlines but we won't be booking a plane ticket using those miles anytime soon.  Especially when we've booked tickets to the Caribbean for 17,500 miles before, a flight that costs around $750 total, and that would fall under Cap 1's mileage redemption at 75,000 miles.  No brainer!

Link to sign up!

Enjoy! :)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Cathay Pacific is determined to spoil me rotten....

  It's true.  I was already on cloud 895,876,493 dreaming about the business class seats we scored for cheaper than coach on our flight from LA to Hong Kong.  And then Cathay Pacific had to go and upstage itself.  Literally.
  About 2 months ago it unveiled it's NEW business class seats.  Because the massaging, lay-flat bed with a personal tv wasn't enough for some people apparently.  (there are days I want to find those people and pinch them)  The new seats are larger (didn't know that was possible), make it easier to see out of the windows and even include power to each seat along with iPod hookups.  Apple is taking over the world.  I'm calling it now.
  Here are the old seats:

  Very roomy, lots of space and every amenity you can think of needing in a seat.  So why the replacement so soon?  Some passengers had complained about the seat being narrow and the way they were aligned made it almost impossible to look out of the window.  Since Cathay Pacific is one of the top airlines in the world, it didn't take complaints like this lightly.  Instead, it answered with a complete overhaul of it's business class seats.  And boy did they step it up!

New cabin is more open allowing passengers traveling together to talk during flight

It's a bed!!!  On a plane!!!!

Modern updates

Yes, I will be snoozing in the air.  In case you can't tell, I'm really excited about this!
  We REALLY lucked out with this renovation.  For starters, business class mileage seats go FAST.  As in, within the first week a flight is released to the public.  On top of that, any updates made to a flight means demand goes up so airlines will make less seats available to use miles for since so many passengers are willing to pay for the new seat.  So lesson learned!  Book mileage flights as soon as your travel plans are set, especially if you're flying business.  While there isn't a guarantee that our specific plane will have these seats, they are focusing on long haul flights first and the 15 hour LAX-HK is definitely a long haul flight.  (it's classified as an "ultra-long haul."  thanks for the reminder Cathay)

  Have you ever been surprised right before a trip with news like this?  Did an airline wow you recently?  Let me know!  :)


Friday, April 1, 2011

Why We Travel

  I am constantly amazed at the number of people who genuinely do not understand why we travel and/or choose the places we would like to visit.  I realize everyone is different and not everyone likes to be outside of their comfort zone but it's still difficult to comprehend. 
  I have always loved to travel.  As a kid, we would go on vacations and I couldn't wait to see where we ended up.  We chose mostly family friendly spots like Disney World or Gatlinburg, TN and of course, because we're the Bennetts, it was also an adventure.  As a result of that, I knew never to expect something to go as planned or as you may have imagined it because it never does.  Ever. 
  That definitely had a bearing on me during college too.  Huntsville girl moves to NYC?  Of course!  The idea never scared me because I knew it would be an adventure and I knew I could figure it out.  Deciding to move to TN after a year there?  Of course!  Moving to Dallas and knowing maybe 3 people there?  Of course!  The bottom line is that because we traveled as children, because we were exposed to different parts of the country and came across different kinds of cultures, I was never afraid to just go somewhere. 
   So when I met my now husband 4 years ago and 3 months into dating, he asks if I can run off to Canada for a quick weekend trip, I knew I had found my Mr. Right.  Not because he was taking me to Canada but because he enjoyed the adventure as much as I did.
  It's very easy to get caught up in life here, in Texas, and simply have no time to travel.  That's why we make such an effort earn miles, points and save money for some sort of trip in the future.  We seek adventure, we live for adventure and truly enjoy the feeling of being somewhere and having to figure out how to get back to our hotel at times when no one around us speaks our language.  It's at those times you realize how compassionate people are, how friendly people are and you learn so much about yourself as well.
  When people ask us why we're traveling for an entire month, our first reaction is "why not?!"  While we do laugh a bit as we say it, we truly mean it.  Why not?  You get one shot at this crazy thing we call life and I want to ride this bike until the wheels fall off.  (or until Curtis falls off of the bike and we end up in a hospital in rural Italy)
  This all leads me to answer my original question/thought.  Why do we travel.  We do so because it makes us better people.  I am a more compassionate person than I used to be and my heart hurts a bit more when things like earthquakes or cyclones hit parts of the world.  It's more than a news story to me now.
  I am a MUCH more tolerant person.  Small town Texas isn't the most tolerant place in the world :) (I say that with love) and when you're in a place where YOU are the outcast, it's truly incredible how much that changes you in an instant.  The tolerance also comes from just simply learning why people do the things they do.  I never understood why Chinese people stood so close to me before or were extremely pushy and argued about prices of goods until I went to China.  It all made sense at that point.  They don't have personal space there because there isn't room, they're pushy because no one lines up for things and they argue because they are a culture that barters for items.  As a result, it doesn't bother me anymore.
  I am a stronger woman now.  I am so very fortunate to live in a place where women have a voice and I use mine now much more than before (if you can believe it) because I don't want to take it for granted.  I embrace my femininity because I see how many other places don't allow women to do such a thing.  While I am respectful of all cultures, it really does remind me, with each new country, how very blessed I am here.
  And lastly, it makes me a better me.  I know who I am and I know what I want.  It's taken a few years to get here but I can honestly say that I know what I want out of my life, I know who I want to share that with and where I want to go.  I don't think I would be so determined, so driven and so confident in who I was as a person if it weren't for traveling.  It reaffirms things I may have thought I was in the past.  Can I really read a map in Greek?  Yep.  Will I actually try something when the person giving it to me just smiles and nods and I have no idea what it is?  Yep.  Can I really pee in a squatty toilet?  Yep.  Can I ride in a car with my brother and sister and parents through the mountains of TN, survive the worst hail storm of my life, listen to sis scream when she finds out we took the scenic route through Kentucky and are back in TN and live to laugh about the story to this day?  Yep! 
  While I know it's not easy to see the world, it's definitely something I want to do.  All of it.  It ain't cheap and that's why we have figured out unique and fun ways to travel frugally so it's not a once-every-10-years sort of thing.  Travel can be very affordable if you're willing to do a little bit of research and play the miles game!  And yes, the world is full of crazy people and places may seem unsafe right now but that shouldn't stop anyone from living their life.  An earthquake can happen anywhere, in LA, Arkansas, etc. so we're not immune here in the US.  The way I look at it is that if it's my time to go, I can't change that so I'm going to embrace every moment as if it were my last.

   I thank my family for instilling the travel bug in me when I was younger and for making me the strong, stubborn woman I am today.  I thank Curtis for sparking my interest once again for travel and for suggesting we go to places like China and Malaysia, places I may not have gone to so quickly on my own.  And thanks to whoever is reading this because it's a long post. 

  It's a scary world out there but upon closer look, it isn't so bad.  :)

Us in Istanbul

Delicious dumplings on the streets of Beijing!

Curtis in St. Croix with the beer drinking pig!

Us at the top of St. Mark's Square in Venice
Red Beach in Santorini the morning after we were engaged!