Euro-trip Part 1: Getting to New York

Flight 1: Sacramento to Minneapolis-St. Paul (SMF-MSP) – DL1742

This was a red-eye flight leaving at 12:52 am. Delta starts boarding 40 minutes early so the flight started pre-boarding at 12:12 am.

We flew on a MD-90 which is roughly the same as a Boeing 717, which is what our next flight would be on. Seats were arranged as 2-3 in Economy (1-2 in First). This meant the overhead storage was above only 2 seats, on the left that was both seats and the right the middle and window seats, leaving a weird gap on the headspace while walking through the plane.

The seats weren’t particularly comfortable because they were flat and hard. Legroom was minimal and the food tray was not sturdy, especially when it had to rest on my knees in the down position.

I chose this flight for multiple reasons, but one was being able to record the sunrise out of the window. I captured some pictures and did a [time lapse] which can be found on my YouTube channel.

We landed around 6:00 am local time, which put us a little ahead of schedule and gave us some extra time to get from one end of the airport to the opposite side of the airport. Something which took about 10-15 minutes. But it was worth it because we stopped by the Escape Lounge in MSP.

Escape Lounge at MSP

Considering it was about 6:30 am, the lounge was pretty quiet and pleasant. However, the lounge was still being set up with the food being put out for about 30 or 45 minutes after arriving in the lounge.

The lounge is pretty big with lots of seating that was mostly new; maybe a few chairs were 2 or 3 years old. I think this is the first lounge I’ve been to with paper coffee cups for taking your espresso out of the lounge, instead of having only ceramic cups for drinking within the lounge.

Another benefit of being a quiet lounge in the early morning was the ability to take a nap despite not having designated sleeping “pods”. There were some couches and big chairs which ended up being great spots to catch some “z”s.

Flight 2: Minneapolis to New York (MSP-JFK) – DL1310

Featuring a B717, this flight experience was similar to the flight into MSP since the planes are almost identical. One difference between the MD-90 and B717 were the seats, because there was an adjustable headrest on the B717.

Neither flight had In-Flight Entertainment on the back of the seats like the plane I took from SMF-SLC nor is there a TV mounted every few days for everyone to watch the same program like American offers.

I was tired so I ended up napping through take off and a little more of the flight. But after waking up for good I got to work on this blog thanks to T-Mobile.

Delta offers GoGo inflight WiFi and I could have bought a pass but I have T-Mobile for my cell phone carrier and they offer a free “WiFi and Texting” pass. So I picked the free option.

Bathrooms in airplanes are known to be small and the bathrooms on this flight were small. I’m about 6’2” (189 cm) and my head nearly reaches the ceiling even though my shoes have barely any thickness to them.

Back to the seats, legroom still was not good, but it wasn’t terrible. I had room between my knees and the seat in front of me so I’ll call that a success. I can’t wait to fly business so I have not only plenty of legroom but also a lie flat bed.

Getting to Europe via Flexible Rewards and Airline Miles

My recent post announcing I’m going to Europe mentioned I will be flying business class on Brussels Airlines. I booked that flight with Membership Rewards (MR) points I earned from sign-up bonuses. However, that flight is from the East Coast and I live on the West Coast of the USA.

Getting to New York could have been done multiple ways:  a long road trip; flying an early morning, direct flight from SMF to BWI then taking a bus or Amtrak to New York; swimming through the Panama Cannel; and many others. I wanted to keep things simple, and comfortable, so I chose to fly Delta from Sacramento (SMF) to New York (JFK) with a stop in Minneapolis (MSP). This splits the cross-country flight into two 3-hour flights in economy, something more bearable for someone with long legs.

However, I could have picked a flight with American Airlines using the points from the sign-up bonuses from the Aviator Red and AAdvantage Platinum cards. We would have flown into a different airport, but still in the same area a day early so it would have worked out.

Or we could have used United miles from either the United MileagePlus Explorer card or Chase Ultimate Rewards points transferred to United’s program from the Chase Sapphire Preferred (CSP). Another option could have been transferring my MR points to Alitalia and flown from SFO to Amsterdam for 80,000 points roundtrip.

What I’m getting at is there are so many options. And there are probably more than 1 that will be a great choice for any one trip.

The biggest reason I chose to fly Brussels Airlines from the East Coast is because I didn’t want to be on a flight for half a day if I flew out of California. I also wanted to try out a few different “products.” “Products” meaning the type of airplane, seating arrangement, seats, and in-flight service offered by an airline.

Flying Delta from Sacramento to Minneapolis to New York (SMF-MSP-JFK) allows me to be more comfortable flying cross-country and trans-Atlantic, while experiencing lounges (which can reduce my cost of food) in MSP, JFK, and Brussels (BRU).

My reasons for not flying American Airlines to get to New York include not being able to visit a lounge in my layover (or not having a layover), and saving my AA miles for another big trip, either with both of my parents or a solo trip in a business or first class cabin to Asia.

The biggest take-away anyone should get from this is that regardless of what points (or how much cash) you have, there are countless options, including some you may never have heard of yet.

I always check Google Flights for cash prices, and I track prices for a flight to be notified if a flight increases or decreases in price. It also gives me the flexibility to search several Departure airports and multiple arrival airports to find the cheapest flight for a trip.

I’m Going to Europe!

Thanks to Membership Reward (MR) transfer partners, I will be flying business class on Brussels Airlines (SN). The original plan was to transfer my MR points to Etihad and book 2 round-trip tickets for ~73,000 points, but that didn’t work out. So I transferred my points to Aeroplan and booked the same tickets, just for more points.

Flying Brussels requires flying out of either New York (JFK) or Washington, DC (IAD). This trip will originate in New York, meaning my second visit to New York. Peter Lik has galleries around the country, and I discovered him when I found his gallery in Hawaii last June, and I’ll be stopping by the gallery in New York.

Europe is a large continent so I will be a little more specific. My main purpose for this trip is to be in Paris, France for the final stage of the Tour de France this year. Other countries I’m visiting are England, German, and obviously Belgium.

While I have strong, and close, roots in Northern Europe, this trip is primarily for tourist and sight-seeing fun. As well as watching the Tour de France live in-person.

Flight to San Diego #1: SMF – SLC

I chose to run the Rock ‘N’ Roll San Diego for the first weekend of June. To get to San Diego, I chose to fly on Delta. My chosen route with Delta was Sacramento (SMF) → Salt Lake City (SLC) → San Diego (SAN) so I could check out the Delta Sky Club in SLC.

The Delta credit cards from American Express currently have their highest sign-up bonuses being offered, 60,000 points for the Delta Gold card with the annual fee waived the first year. These points are good for 1 or 2 round trip tickets for longer flights, like SFO – JFK, or roughly 5 or 6 short one-way segments like SFO-LAX.

To the Airport!

The trip to SMF was smooth without any congestion on the drive to the airport. Once at the airport, security was not busy at all so I spent maybe 10 minutes going through TSA. Delta flies out of Terminal A which is also used only by United and American which might account for the speed of security compared to Terminal B which has 7 airlines.

The Airplane

My flight to SLC was on an Airbus 319-100 which seats 126 people and has 2 cabins, First and Comfort+/Economy. Having only 2 cabins meant boarding went quickly, first Pre-boarding, then First Class and Diamond Medallion members, with Sky board followed by Group 1, 2, and 3 to finish things off.

The overhead storage bins were like buckets that came down from the ceiling and we dumped our luggage into them. I recently got a carry-on suitcase with a battery from Away called “The Bigger Carry-On” and it fit just fine in the overhead bin. Seating was 3 on either side of the aisle, so a 3-3 configuration.

 

This airplane felt new because the light and air vent controls looked like a WiFi router, which it might have been since there was an illuminated “WiFi” icon during the flight. The In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) also seemed updated because even though there was a screen in the back of the headrest on each seat, the screens were independent of one another and they were touch screens.

What impressed me was not only the touch and independence of each screen, but the fact there were hours of modern movies (like Moana, Hidden Figures, and Rogue One), TV series, and full albums all for free.

On the underside of the IFE screen was a headphone jack and a USB port. Each of these inputs had a blue light illuminating them but the light would switch off and on without any known reason. I couldn’t tell if my camera was charging or not, so I used the universal power socket that was on the near the floor of the seats in front of me.

Being about 6’ 2”, leg room is of great importance to me. With that said, I chose the window because SMF-SLC is just over an hour.

I didn’t have much to complain about in terms of legroom. My knees were about an inch away from the seat in front of me while my feet were directly below my knees and the seat was upright. Even the tray table was well above my knees when my legs were in the same position.

The short duration of this flight meant I didn’t find using the available GoGo WiFi worthwhile to use, but I did take a water and pretzel snack when the food cart came through. Another consequence of such a short flight was not being able to tell if the seats were comfortable. They weren’t uncomfortable and they looked new, but I couldn’t tell if they would hurt during a 2+ hour flight.

Landing in Salt Lake City went smoothly and I had a 3 hour layover so I headed from Gate D13 to the Delta SkyClub located between the D and C gates. The review of my flight from Salt Lake City to San Diego will be published in a few days, and videos of my flights can be found here.

If you think it’s as awesome as I did to have a battery for charging various things while sitting around with a carry-on suitcase, and you’d like $20 off your order of an Away suitcase, you can use my referral link and I will also get $20.

What to do When Annual Fees Post

Many credit cards with annual fees waive the annual fee the first twelve months. Twelve months have passed since I got my first credit cards with an annual fees (AFs) so my twelve months of waived annual fees have ended. This means I have to decide what to do with these cards.

My three options are:

  1. Cancel the card and not pay the annual fee;
  2. Keep the card and pay the annual fee; or
  3. Keep the card, but product change the card to a no-AF version

Keeping a budget for the entire year has meant I budgeted enough money each month to be able to pay any annual fees (AF) once it came time to pay up. However, a year of use has helped me learn more about my spending habits, and how much I value each of the cards I have acquired.

So what am I doing with these cards?

The biggest reason I’m okay with signing up for credit cards is knowing I am building credit history, so I prioritize options 2 and 3 from above.

Now, I could cancel all of my cards and the accounts would continue to increase my Age of Credit History for 10 years until they fall off my credit report (10 years from now), but I’d rather keep them forever and have 30+ year old accounts. Plus, keeping as many accounts open helps me build a relationship with banks.

Product Changing

I wrote about flying to Hawaii using points from the United MileagePlus Explorer card and flying to the east coast to visit family using American Airlines miles from the Citi AAdvantage Platinum card last year. And I decided to product change these two cards instead of canceling or paying the AFs.

By product changing (PCing) these cards within 30 days of the AF posting, the $95 annual fees were refunded to my accounts. If the cards did not have fee-free versions, I would have canceled the cards and still been refunded the annual fees.

Canceling

Another card mentioned in the post about flying to Hawaii was the American Express Premier Rewards Gold card. I am still unsure of what to do with this card because it offers good category bonuses, but I’m not sure if I would benefit from earning Membership Reward points since I don’t spend enough to accumulate enough for a full trip. Fortunately, I have a couple more months to decide whether I will cancel the card or pay the AF.

A third card I used during my Hawaii trip was the Barclaycard ArrivalPlus. This card allowed me to redeem points to zero out the cost of the GoCity Card I bought to hit all the tourist attractions. These points are very flexible, but the ArrivalPlus requires a minimum of 10,000 points ($100) to redeem against a travel expense. I could have changed the card to the no-AF version, but I had too much trouble with the card so I ended up canceling it.

Keeping and Paying the Annual Fee

At the other end of the spectrum, I am planning to keep the Hyatt and IHG credit cards from Chase and pay the annual fees because I get a free 1-night stay from each card every anniversary. The Hyatt certificate restricts use to category 1-4 hotels. However, the IHG annual certificate has no restrictions on hotel categories, so I could spend the night in Times Square for the $49 annual fee on the card.

Action Cameras and YouTube Videos

I am joining the world of action camera videography. With a couple GoPro cameras in hand, I will be cataloging my traveling, races and training on YouTube.

There will be separate channels for travel and races and another for full length recordings of me training.

On the travel and races channel, I have uploaded a time lapse of my recent trip on Amtrak to San Jose. And I have begun uploading my run workouts as I prepare for the Rock ‘N’ Roll San Diego race weekend.

I already have several videos planned for this summer with the first coming from my weekend of racing in San Diego. The majority of my planned videos will be from my trip to Europe in July. These will include time lapses of the flights going to and coming back from Europe, and train rides throughout Europe.

A couple more videos I will be creating will be a follow up to my blog about my TomTom Spark and a brand new blog post about my newest phone, the OnePlus 3T.

 

How to Use Citi ThankYou Points (TYP)

Citibank has several cards which earn their flexible reward points called ThankYou Points (TYP). I talked about these cards in my post about TYP earning cards which you can read here.

These points are similar to Ultimate Rewards points from Chase and Membership Rewards points from American Express by having multiple options for redemption.

TYP have a lot of uses: paying student loans or mortgages, redeeming for gift cards or statement credits for select expenses, transferring to airline and hotel partners, or redeeming the points through the TYP portal for flights based on cash prices.

For this post, I’ll focus on the redemptions giving each point a value of at least 1 cent. That is, 100 points = $1.00 or more.

The “better” methods:

  • Loan payments (might have devalued recently)
  • Gift cards
  • ThankYou Point travel portal
  • Transfer to Hotels or Airlines

Other uses for TYP:

  • Statement credit
  • Cash back (bad value)
  • Shop with TYP (bad value)
  • Shop with TYP at Amazon (bad value)

From the list of “Other Uses”, statement credits are the best option at a value of 0.75 cents per points (cpp) while cash back has a value of 0.5 cpp. These two redemptions are essentially the same (redeeming points for straight money) but different methods.

To give you an idea of what these values mean: 100 points can be redeemed for either $0.75 as a statement credit, or the same 100 points can be redeemed for $0.50 cash back (going directly into a bank account).

If you have a couple hundred points that you want to use up, redeeming those points for a statement credit could save you the money from a meal or two.

As for the “better” methods, loan payments and gift cards are exactly 1 cpp. Transferring points gives a value which varies on which airline or hotel you transfer to and what you’re booking with that hotel or airline.

Hilton seems to be the only hotel transfer partner where 1000 TYP convert into 1500 Hilton points.

Airline partners TYP can be transferred to included:

  • JetBlue
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Cathay Pacific (Asia Miles)
  • EVA Air
  • Etihad
  • Air France and KLM (Flying Blue)
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Malaysia
  • Qantas
  • Qatar
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Thai Airways

Booking travel through the TYP portal gives either 1, 1.25, 1.33, or 1.6 cpp depending on which card you have, what you’re booking, and how long you’ve had your card.

TYP have the following values through the travel portal if you have:

  • Citi Prestige
    • 1.6 cents/point (cpp) for American Airline flights
    • 1.33 cpp for other airlines (1.25 cpp starting July 23, 2017)
    • 1 cpp for car rentals, hotels, and cruises
  • Citi Premier
    • 1.33 cpp for American Airlines flights
    • 1.25 cpp for all other airlines, car rentals, hotels, and cruises

The good redemptions tend to be either booking American Airline flights with the Citi Prestige before the end of July this year, flights on any airline with either card, or transferring points to other airlines where the cents/point value is strictly dependent on the flight booked.

However, this means you need large amounts of points except for short flights like from SFO to LAX or LAX to PHX. This is where many people might consider using their low balance of TYP for a statement credit against a meal they enjoyed.