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Done with Delta

delta-sucks

 

I read Rene’s blog post about this year’s changes on Delta Points and it got me thinking. Not about Delta, but about American. How they haven’t cut anything from their loyalty program this year. How good they are about upgrading elites. And how nice ‘n’ easy it was to achieve Platinum status after only one trip this year. In all reality, I will hit Platinum again for next year, although Executive Platinum is my stretch goal. And even if I don’t, their Elite Rewards program makes me want to continue flying with them even if I don’t hit the 100K mile/point threshold.

Delta, by contrast, has fierce upgrade competition in New York, despite expanding their presence and perhaps because of it (I’m thinking the new T4 @ JFK). They’re switching to MQDs in 2014. And they have American Express as a credit card partner.

At this point, the only downside to being loyal to American is the inability to transfer in miles from an outside program, like you can with United and Delta (from Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards, respectively). American will be the only legacy airline that doesn’t have an outside transfer program linked up to it. That, and the tiny regional jets they like to fly out of JFK. But that’s soon changing as they beef up their fleet.

This post isn’t meant to bash Delta, but rather to extoll American. Which means, by default, that I guess I’m done with Delta. I tried it, but it didn’t work. I loved how they have a nonstop from LGA-MEM (my hometown), their aircraft, and route network. And I’ve got to give it to them: their on-time performance is amazing. 

Their airline partners are “just OK.” American, though oneworld is a much small alliance, has more premium partners (Cathay Pacific, Qantas, British Airways, Etihad, JAL, LAN) and they have generous earning privileges when flying them. Delta really wants you to stick to Air France, KLM, Aeromexico, or Virgin Atlantic (the ones they co-own!), otherwise you get… pretty much nothin’.

That’s the root of it all right there: American is generous and Delta is getting more and more stingy. No doubt there will be further hacks to Skymiles in 2014. I have hopes for AAdvantage, merger and all.

For now, the images below can summarize my feelings for me. So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen.

 

delta-fuck-off

 

fuck-you-delta-ted

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Booked: London on Virgin Atlantic in October

I’m a HUGE Tori Amos fan, and have been looking forward to seeing the musical she’s been working on, The Light Princess, for a while now. Well, tickets went on sale this past week and I was able to snag some good seats to both her talk beforehand and the show itself – in London. Which meant I had to get myself to London.

Luckily, ol’ Deltoid just entered into a partnership with Virgin Atlantic – and award space (in economy) is great. I had the pick of about 5 different flights each day, all at the low-level cost. There was nothing in business or Upper Class as it’s called, but that’s fine because I’d like to hoard my Skymiles to go down to Patagonia on Aerolineas Argentina in the near future anyway.

And the point – to get to London – was quickly addressed. I booked some great flights on Virgin Atlantic and cannot WAIT to see the musical. My out-of-pocket cost was 120,00 miles and $369 for two flights. Not bad for crossing the Atlantic.

Cheep! (Most of it is GB tax.)

Cheep! (Most of it is GB tax.)

This, for me, is the true value of points and miles. Being able to pop over to London for the weekend to see this show is something I’ve been looking forward to for a few years now. The day came, I bought my tickets, and I’m able to go without paying very much at all. Now we just need to find a place to stay for two nights, which should be pretty easy. Then head to JFK, enjoy the flights – and the show!

Looking forward to flying on VA metal. It’ll be my first time. Trip report and show report to follow! October 18th!

 

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First upgrades on American as a Platinum

I took two flights on American last week as part of my courier work: IND-ORD and ORD-LGA.

It was booked into K class, which doesn’t earn complimentary upgrades. I arrived at IND a little early and asked to get on the next flight. The agent re-booked me into Y class (as a full fare) for the entire trip back and took four upgrade “stickers” out of my AAdvantage account.

Whatever about the stickers. I knew she was wrong, but loved being re-booked into a higher fare bucket.

Then when I got to ORD, I was actually supposed to fly back to EWR, which I despise. I noticed a shit ton of flights headed for LGA and asked if I could do to SDC onto the next LGA flight. The agent rebooked me (staying in the Y fare bucket), and my upgrade cleared instantly. I flew first class on both segments with instant upgrades both times. Easy peezy (and to LGA).

I knew they should’ve used three upgrade stickers instead of four. I called the Platinum desk, they answered on the first ring, and gave me back two certs instead of just one – for the trouble – although flying in first was really no trouble at all. I took the certs and enjoyed the upgrades.

All-in-all, loving American’s service. They seem more willing to do more “behind the scenes” stuff for higher tiers than Delta will, and with no cost. Delta is all about the nickeling and dime-ing these days.

Content to stay with American.

Although, I must say, Delta makes it so freaking easy to earn MQMs with credit card spend. Especially with the newest offer to get 20K MQMS with the Platinum Biz card. Damn, that’s nearly Silver right there. But oh well, can’t win ’em all, right? At least American lets you qualify on points instead of just miles – which might end up being my saving grace if LAN keeps pumping out these cheap deals to South America.

 

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Platinum on American…

…with only one trip this year!

AA-Platinum-Status

After Chile and booking the Xmas trip

American was kind enough to let me complete a status challenge. To achieve Platinum, I had to accrue 10,000 points in the three months following May 16th (my start date). Well, on May 18th, I headed down to Chile and was Platinum by the time I arrived in Easter Island.

Now that I’m back, I have a nice amount of activity in my AAdvantage account:

AA-Activity-2013

 

The Easter Island trip netted me 15,088 EQMs, 22,634 EQ points, 4 upgrade “stickers”, and a lot of redeemable miles. Beyond that though, it really makes me want to hit 50K miles on American this year to keep the status. And this, combined with Delta’s move toward a revenue-based system and other assorted asshat-ery makes me want to stick withAmerican from here on out. I’m also highly unimpressed with Amex, Delta’s credit card partner, as has been noted often.

I also really liked redeeming 81K miles (90K – 10% back) for business class MEL-AUH on Etihad yesterday. I dunno. I’m warming up to it. My only regret is not buying another $900 ticket to Chile while I had the chance…

I have my first revenue flight on American in August to Anchorage (and maybe sooner!) and am really curious to see the Platinum benefits in action. Already, I’ve experienced better phone service. To book the award last night, I got a great agent after only one ring.

Yes, I think I’m going to kick damn Delta to the curb. Two final thoughts:

  • The little things.
  • Devil’s in the details.

🙂

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AAdvantage Miles and Thoughts on American

So I am love love loving the AAdvantage program the more I get into it. I recently discovered that American has what’s called an “Explorer Award” – an award that permits one to make 16 stops in a RTW ticket for 150,000 AAdvantage miles.

That would be a great reason to take a few months off of work to just travel. It’s pie in the sky  for me at this point, but considering my balance is about half of what’s needed, I still have some time to think about it. I do, however, think it’s a tremendous value, and a way to see many cities for dirt cheap and save a lot of miles doing it.

aadvantage-balance

 

So far, I have about 77,000 AAdvantage miles. So I’d need 73,000 more. That sounds like a lot, but it’s totally do-able. The motivation is definitely there.

Orrr, I could make an award booking, like a weekend in Vancouver on Cathay Pacific, or maybe pop over to Europe for a long weekend this summer. But nothing beats the intoxicating thought of traveling all the way around the world.

I’d wanna hit Prague, Vienna, Tokyo, Sydney, Auckland, Cape Town, Buenos Aires, Santiago, and some great Canadian city before slithering back to New York. My heart explodes just thinking about it.

 

The other thing is that this, along with my upcoming trips to Easter Island and Alaska on American, have got me really considering switching my loyalty over. I just dread what the US Airways merger is going to bring. But in another way altogether, I’m genuinely curious, too. American also just released some awesome elite rewards, so more than ever, I’m considering challenging for Platinum status.

Delta continues to spiral down while American seems interested in being a better airline. Sure, they both have their pitfalls. American can be stingy with upgrades for lower elites, but on Delta they’re pretty much impossible. There’s the issue of American’s tiny regional jets out of NYC. But their miles are a hell of lot easier to redeem. Harder to earn, true, but the fact that Delta partners with Amex really bugs me because Amex is a stingy, bitchy little company (more on that later).

Anyway, thinking of all these wonderful options, including an award redemption Delta could never touch, makes me think about what I want for myself in the future. I did slash do like Delta, but I can feel myself starting to sing a new tune. After my upcoming trips, there will be a few really fierce trip reports… then more comparisons. The only wild card here in US freaking Airways. I said it one and I’ll say it again: I Hope US Airways Doesn’t Ruin American’s Culture.

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American Express Vs. Chase: Why Chase Is Winning

Quite simply: signup bonuses with no BS.

I’ve been hating on Amex a lot lately, and with good reason. I now have four Amex cards, three with Amex as the actual issuing bank, and with two of those three, I’ve had to make numerous phone calls, write emails, and send tweets to their support team about not getting a signup bonus. After a lot of back and forth, they usually award me a fraction of what I missed out on as “good will”, but it always leaves a bad taste behind and is like pulling freaking teeth with them.

In my opinion, if an Amex cardmember holds the Platinum Card, their most premium card offering with a hefty $450 annual fee, any other cards should automatically come with an enhanced signup bonus. Something extra. Instead, we see this sentiment in a lot of the T&C:

Eff u 2!

Eff u 2!

What?! Why? That’s so stupid to punish people for wanting to open more cards. This is where Chase excels.

They have a few cards that feed into their Ultimate Rewards program the same way Amex has multiple cards that can be linked to Membership Rewards. But Chase doesn’t impose rules on signup bonuses with multiple cards. You can get a Freedom, a Sapphire, an Ink, and whatever else you want to get and get the FULL bonus on all of them. If anything ever goes awry, just give them a call and it’s taken care of almost instantly.

Not with Amex. They’re notorious for their Financial Reviews and for not awarding bonuses… at all. They’re also really slow and claim to have to “research” your claim. Not only that, but their Membership Rewards program has lost a few key transfer partners in the past couple of years, along with a few other consumer unfriendly changes while Ultimate Rewards continues to improve.

There are a few sweet spots with Membership Rewards. For me, it’s the British Airways Avios. They’re a transfer partner for both Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards, which is pretty fantastic. Membership Rewards also transfer instantly to Delta, which would help me out a LOT with my dream trip to Australia if Amex would ever give me the points I deserve as a customer and card holder.

It goes beyond this, though. It’s about how the customer starts to view the company after a while. I’ve been screwed over by them a few times by now to the point where I’m thinking of switching all my spend over to Chase and giving Amex the finger. I wish it weren’t like this, though. Delta is pretty much forcing their customers to have a co-branded Amex to avoid the upcoming dreaded MQD component of the SkyMiles program, and I love having lounge access with the Platinum Card. But Chase always treats me so right while Amex continues to kick me to the proverbial curb.

So to Chase, I’d say keep doing what you’re doing. It’s working, and it’s so great. I have such a positive association with the company at this point. And Amex. Oh, Amex. Step up your game, because you’re getting your butt beat. I look forward to the day where I’m down to just the Platinum Card. In fact, Delta’s bid for more revenue is kinda sorta slowly driving me over toward American. But that’s a post for another day, and that post will be highly speculative.

When I think of Chase: I trust them, like them, want more of them.

When I think of Amex: Starting to shudder, need energy to deal with them, apprehensive about continuing to use their products. TOO. BAD.

Winner = Chase, hands down. Thoughts, anyone?

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The Feeling of Travel

It occurred to me today as I stepped on Delta metal after being on United and Aeromexico flights the past day or so. It felt right.

There are so many options when it comes to carriers. I think people who travel often should sample a wide variety of them before committing. I’m sort semi-dating American right now though I do like Delta a lot. The feelings I like when I’m on Delta are of being assured, feeling safe, and stepping into an old habit or groove. I feel like I can relax as the MQMs are flowing in. I understand the (arguably shitty) SkyMiles program, and know what I want to use it for (hint: trip to Australia later this year). I know the hubs, the routes, how to wring blood out of a stone AKA book an award flight with them. I dunno, it just felt natural somehow.

That’s the feeling I seek when I travel. That sense of rightness, and of exploration, and of comfort. I know my upgrade chances are always slim with Delta, and I wish that would improve, but I always look forward to the SkyClubs. Delta giveth and Delta taketh away.

On the contrary, being on United metal felt kinda icky to me. It’s a shame because I love Chase Bank so much. Their credit card signup bonuses are the best in the industry. If Chase partnered with Delta, that would be the best-case scenario. But they don’t. They have United. Bleh. I avoid giving them revenue whenever possible. I would really only use them if I were flying free or booking an award on another, better airline. Why don’t I like United?

Just in that same way that Delta jives with me, United just doesn’t. I find the FAs and CSRs to be almost kind of spiteful and vindictive. It’s like there’s this mean streak running through the core of the company and I can’t quite place, but that shows up from time to time. And each time, like yesterday, I’m reminded why I avoid United. Some people love United, and that’s great. Maybe they live in Houston or Chicago, or just really like the service or clubs or destinations.

There are many reasons why people like the things that like. But some of them just can’t be placed.

Am I off here? I love being up in the air. Love it. But more and more lately, I’m becoming very aware of the company I’m sharing the experience with.

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Trip Report: Aeromexico Economy LAX-GDL

First, I need to start this post with a cringe. I cannot STAND LAX. Oh my god. So when I landed at Terminal 7 on United’s flight from DEN, I set about immediately transferring to Terminal 2, where the international departures happen. To do that, I have to completely leave the terminal (bad), go through security again (bad), but didn’t have to recheck my bag thanks to United’s interline baggage policy (very good).

As I wandered through the fog outside LAX toward Terminal 2, I was reminded of why I can’t stand LAX, or LA in general. The airport is poorly designed, it’s literally falling apart, and each new process feels like pulling teeth, which kinda ties into the bad design.

When I arrived at Terminal 2, it was pretty easy to find the Aeromexico desk. I could hear it before it saw it. A cacophony of screaming Spanish. The occupy the old Northwest space. I know so because I could still see where they crossed out Northwest a few years ago and put up Aeromexico.

I waited in a long line to get my boarding pass, and credited the flight to Delta. Since it was a Q-class economy fare, I’ll get full mileage credit. The agent was friendly and efficient, but my god the people. It was a completely full flight.

The gate on the boarding pass read 24A. When I got to the gates, I checked the monitors like always and saw they’d changed it to 28. Fine. When I got there, people were lined up waiting to speak to the gate agents. Gross. Some of them were crying. Like, convulsing crying. Did I miss something? Was the gate change that dramatic? I heard a lot of people bitching about it while waiting in line.

The boarding process was almost comical. There were FAs literally showing people to their seat and stowing away baggage for the customers. First time I’d ever seen that happen. Even still, people were lost and confused. Watching the boarding process in an aircraft always makes me lose faith in humanity.

Aeromexico felt grimy, like they’d never cleaned the planes. The FAs were thorough, modern, and cultured, but the other passengers were like animals. I had three Mexican men in contact with me as they slept, snored, and randomly jerked. I was also the aisle bitch and was bumped CONSTANTLY. Jesus. I am not a big person. It takes effort to hit me. Also, every time someone came down the aisle, they clutched my headrest for dear life, which of course made my whole seat go back. This happened over and over and over. I won’t even mention the quantity of crying babies because you all know how much that thrills me.

The ride to GDL seemed like forever. It finally touched down at 6am. They did that Euro thing where they plop the plane down and make people take a bus to the terminal.

Bus to terminal at GDL

Bus to terminal at GDL

Customs was a breeze. My company hired a broker specifically to get me through customs. All I did was present my declaration and touch a button. Within minutes, I was at the Delta counter receiving my boarding passes to ATL and EWR. After the hellish experience with Aeromexico, and um, I guess I’m now classifying it as hellish, I was thrilled to see those dark blue and brick red kiosks.

Final take on Aeromexico: right up there (down there?) with Alitalia. Wouldn’t be my first choice for travel, in any cabin. Why do all of Delta’s SkyTeam partners SUCK?

 

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Trip Report: Delta Economy GDL-ATL-LGA

View of mountains in Guadalajara from GDL

View of mountains in Guadalajara from GDL

I’m on a roll on this GDL-ATL flight, and can see Texas below me. This flight was exactly what I’ve come to expect from Delta: solid, reliable, easy.

Just sat down on Delta's GDL-ATL flight

Just sat down on Delta’s GDL-ATL flight

Only bone: they had me in Zone 3 boarding. Really, Delta? I’ve got the card and everything. But other than that, this flight has brought back warm and fuzzy memories after being on United and Aeromexico the past couple of days.

Also, this flight really solidifies Delta Vs. American for me. I like them both equally. Dust, please settle.

Lots of people on here have cute Southern accents and it reminds me of home. Flying out of GDL was gorgeous. Guadalajara looks cute from above, and the mountains and canyons beyond the city were stunning. I wish I could’ve spent more time there.

Over Mexico

Over Mexico

Oh! I should give thanks to Amex because I’m using some of my $200 airline credit this year to buy myself a margarita.

I have an evil plan for when I get to ATL. I want to get bumped, get a voucher and put on a flight that instead arrives at JFK. I hate flying into EWR. HATE it. I checked on the Fly Delta app, and my chances are 70/30 at this point that I’ll get bumped. So fingers are crossed.

Will report more from ATL SkyClub, which will be my first time there! Let’s keep this buzz goin’, Deltoid.

Another stamp on the ol' passport

Another stamp on the ol’ passport

 

So I’m safe at sound now and wanted to update on the final flight, ATL-LGA. It was supposed to be to EWR, but I despise that airport and asked the agent the agent at the SkyClub if I could fly into LGA instead. Since the flight to EWR was delayed anyway, the agent was able to put me on the next flight to LGA. Score. Cheaper taxi ride!

Since the flight was in a different terminal, I headed over there to imbibe a drink instead. The SkyClub in Terminal A was HUGE, but man was it packed. I tried to go to the bathroom, and there was a line. The little bathroom only had two stalls, yet the SkyClub is built to accomodate about 200. Stupid. I left and went to the bathroom in the airport, which was actually emptier and had no line, then went to the SkyClub in Terminal T.

A vast improvement. Ample seating and much less crowded. I promptly grabbed a rum and coke and chilled for a sec.

When I fly for over 24 hours then have a drink

When I fly for over 24 hours then have a drink

It was really nice. I left soon after to go board. The boarding process was easy enough, and I got all settled into seat 29F. After everyone was on, the pilot announced that we’d have to deplane to change aircraft. The whole point of changing my flight was to get to New York sooner, not later. Anyway, after we boarded again, we sat on the tarmac for a while before we departed. Then, a couple of hours later, I was finally home after a long and crazy run out to GDL. The flight was quick, lots of turbulence, and I nodded off a lot. I felt so gross and tired when we finally landed, and hopped right into a taxi.

Back in the snow

Back in the snow

I did notice that when I got put onto the LGA flight that the agent knocked off the GDL-ATL segment, so I anticipate having to call about the missing miles and MQMs in a few days. The weather has sucked lately, Mercury is in retrograde, and pretty much all of my flights were delayed. But, I’m back in the NYC and looking forward to my next trip, wherever it may be.

 

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Trip Report: Madrid 2013

I went to Madrid February 1-4, 2013.

Booking Madrid

The ticket was only $281 R/T in economy thanks to an awesome deal described in this post from The Points Guy. I was actually in the middle of putting together The Points Game guide, so this was a real opportunity to put some of the things I’d learned from the blogs into practice.

The currency conversion came to $281

The currency conversion came to $281

I bought the ticket for a number of reasons:

  • As a Silver Medallion on Delta, I was entitled to a 25% RDM bonus
  • The itinerary was JFK-FCO-MAD-FCO-JFK – over 10K MQMs and nearly 13K RDMs
  • The end result was 2 cents/mile – a screaming deal

Screen shot 2013-03-03 at 7.28.18 PM

 

Multiply this times two

Multiply this times two – I credited the flights to Delta’s SkyMiles program

 

I paid for the ticket with a no-foreign-transaction-fee credit card (my Amex Platinum Card) since I had a credit with them after bitching for a solid week in September.

And I’d always wanted to visit Spain. You can’t beat a $281 R/T ticket that comes with ~13K RDMs. It would also be my first chance to utilize my Global Entry (coming back to JFK) that I got through the Amex Platinum Card.

Departure

Read More

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Looky What I Just Got

20130303-163435.jpg

So it’s official. I’m FO on Delta.

Deciding where I want to place my airline allegiance. Should have American Platinum or even Executive Platinum status by the end of May. 2013 will definitely see a lot of programs get a good shake out. It’s definitely between Delta and American. Waiting for the dust to settle a bit before I commit to either, though.

 

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Trip Report: Hawaii 2013

Nothing quite like a Hawaiian sunset

Also see:

When Jay and I were in Iceland late June/early July of 2012, I discovered I’d finally accumulated enough miles via my Chase Sapphire Preferred card to book our dream trip to Hawaii. We were effectively on one vacation and planning another.

Our excitement was through the roof. I booked us from JFK-SFO-OGG on January 10 and HNL-LAX-JFK on January 20th.

Ten days in Hawaii. Total out-of-pocket cost: $15. To book the award ticket was just $7.50 a person.

There was only a little drama. I ended up redepositing the miles and outright buying a flight from SFO-LAX-HNL on Delta because it was so cheap that I was no longer getting my .02 per mile – pretty much the only policy I hold when it comes to redemption values. But we kept the JFK-SFO leg on United.

The big day finally rolled around. It was balmy in New York, but certainly not beach weather. We woke up early to take the A train to Howard Beach, then the AirTrain to the terminal at JFK. It was one of those moments where the plane was boarding, the door would soon be closed, and we were still in the security line. It was the first time I ran through the airport in my socks. We found our seats on the plane, which was surprisingly empty. Economy seats we had. There were plenty of business and first seats available, but we had to suck it up and sit in the back of the plane. But we didn’t care. We were embarking on the first leg of our trip to Hawaii.

Flying over Colorado

Flying over Colorado? Wyoming?

When we got to SFO, we had to change terminals, which was actually pretty easy. The only thing that sucked was having to grab our bags and recheck them. There was no SkyClub in SFO (!) but we only had time to grab a quick sandwich and then it was time to board our Delta flight to LAX.

Thanks, Deltoid

Thanks, Deltoid

Once at LAX, we had a few hours to kill, so we hung out in the SkyClub, where I concocted a brilliant new drink: ginger ale and rum with a splash of grenadine. I had two. NOM!

Impromptu mixology

Impromptu mixology

I worked on my laptop and watched the sunset over the ocean from inside the terminal.

Sunset at LAX

Sunset at LAX

LAX-OGG was our third flight that day. The two before were nothing special. Economy, standard service, no food, alright seats. Small regional jet from SFO-LAX. The plane to OGG was huge though, and completely full. It always breaks my heart to watch the boarding process of a large aircraft. Oh my fuck, people are so stupid.

I chose Delta as my airline of choice for my $200 airline credit benefit with my American Express Platinum card, so treated myself and Jay to some drinks and food for purchase. We were obviously on a flight that held many attendants of a destination wedding. People were getting plastered and were so loud. Since it was a late flight, people finally konked out after about 90 minutes.

I managed to get a wink or two, and when I woke up, we were a little over an hour from OGG. I was beyond thrilled. When I saw the first flickers of lights on the ground, I knew we were close. Flying over the ocean at night is terribly boring. But the long day of flights was finally over. We were in Maui. The flight attendants made an announcement wishing everyone a pleasant wedding. We did not get lei’d.

MAUI

It was 11pm when we landed. We dashed off the plane, stretched our legs, and went to grab our bags. I was immediately struck that the airport was all open-air (they all are in Hawaii, I found out). The light jacket I was wearing was too much. It was WARM. YES.

Love that shirt!

Love that shirt!

We went out to find a taxi and were immediately scolded for jaywalking. Um, this definitely wasn’t New York. It was actually really hard to find someone who would accept a credit card as payment. Again, very NOT New York. Also, there were a lot of women taxi drivers. We finally found a lady who would accept cards. I want my Ultimate Rewards points! By this time, we were halfway delirious and wanted to be in our room ASAP.

She drove us the twenty minutes to our hotel, the Aston Maui Li in Kihei, HI that I booked using ~47,000 United miles. We got our bags, and wanted to leave tip on the credit card. She demanded the tip in cash. Jay gave her all he had, which was about $6 (still a good tip for a $20 cab ride). She glared at us as we wheeled our bags away. It was so weird. But whatever.

We went to the checkin desk where the front desk employee was EXTREMELY thorough about the property. We were both so tired that we nodded off a bit during his spiel. I perked up when he said he’d upgraded us to an Ocean View room for free. The words “free upgrade” could pull me out of a deep REM cycle, I swear.

The room was basic, but we could indeed see the ocean. It was night, we were exhausted, and we looked forward to seeing Hawaii in the morning sunshine.

The next day we got the full effect. The property, the palm trees and beaches, the ocean… it was all perfect. We spent four days lying on the beaches to recover and reenergize. Maui was amazing. The beaches were wonderful, and we got quite a nice base tan.

Right outside our room

Right outside our room

Aston Maui Lu

Our beach on Maui

Hang loose

Hang loose

There were lots of handgliders during the day on the beach. In the mornings, we had breakfast at a cafe down the street, and in the evenings we explored a few different restaurants including the most amazing taco place I’ve ever been to in my life. The fish tacos were so flavorful and fresh. YUM.

We heard of a couple of gay places on Maui. First, the Sunseeker Resort is a gay owned and operated facility, and is apparently clothing optional. We walked by on the way to a sushi place, but didn’t see any nudity. :p

Then, there is a gay nude beach called Little Beach. It is only accessible by car. Since we didn’t rent one for this leg of the trip, we missed out on the chance to get some sun on our blindingly white backsides.

Let's face it, I went to Hawaii for the Mai Tais

Let’s face it, I went to Hawaii for the Mai Tais

What I wore to the luau

What I wore to the luau

Sunset over Maui

Sunset over Maui

Then, on January 14th, we flew to Hilo. We took a different car service to the Maui airport.

HAWAII (THE BIG ISLAND)

The big island was all Airbnb and Pointshound finds. We got some great deals, averaging about $60/night. We picked up a rental car from National, booked through Ultimate Rewards for only $167 for three days, and drove to our first Airbnb in Pahoa, HI.

Black sand beach on Hawaii

Black sand beach on Hawaii

Waves crashing over black lava beaches

Waves crashing over black lava beaches

I was immediately struck by vast change in geology. The black sand beaches were rugged, and breathtaking.

Our Airbnb host was charming and kind, but we only stayed in each place for one evening. The next day, we drove north on the Hawaii Belt Road, all the way to Kona. The plan was to completely circumnavigate the island. Along the way, we saw Akaka Falls, more stunning beaches, and so much lush vegetation. We also grabbed a delicious lunch at a bakery/cafe and stopped to stretch our legs, and visit a few scenic points.

Hawaii

Hawaii

Very rugged

Very rugged. Uh oh!

Northern tip of the Big Island

Northern tip of the Big Island – it looks like Wisconsin

The change is geography was dramatic. In the higher altitudes, it was extremely foggy, and sometimes rainy. By the time we made it to Kona, it was sunny and gorgeous again. The western side of the island is very rocky and rugged, with lots of lava fields. We did make it to one coffee plantation near Kona, though.

Coffee plantation in Kona, Hawaii

Coffee plantation in Kona, Hawaii

That night, we tried to sample Kona’s gay scene, but me and Jay ended up at a bar with one other guy and a very eager bartender. Not so great. Maybe we didn’t hit up the right place(s). We were exhausted anyway, and went to sleep in our gorgeous Airbnb rental with a view of the ocean beyond the city of Kona.

The next day, we drove to Volcano to see some of the hot magma and even more lava. What we saw, I will never forget for the rest of my life. Pictures don’t do it justice. It was a complete sensory experience. I could not only see it, but hear the crackle and force, smell the sulphur, and feel the vibration of the earth. Completely stunning.

I highly recommend a visit to Volcano if you are at all interested in geography/geology, or just want to experience the power of the earth.

Pele was raging

Pele was raging

Mist and fog filled the air all around the volcano

Mist and fog filled the air all around the volcano

We stayed that night at a creepy BnB we found on Pointshound. The woman was very religious, and the decorations were horrible. It was called End of Road Bed and Breakfast. Yeah, um… if you’re a fellow gay traveler, AVOID. We did have a fantastic dinner with lovely cocktails at the main lodge in Volcano. We wished we’d opted to stay there instead. Live and learn!

The next day, we returned the car and flew to Oahu.

OAHU

We were supposed to stay with one of my college friends on Oahu, but she screwed us over so we had to make last-minute Airbnb accomodations. Luckily, they were fine. We booked another car rental for pickup at HNL, this time with Budget. It was only $125 for three days.

We were most looking forward to our stay at the Hilton Waikiki Village. In the meantime, we partied with the gays in Honolulu, stayed out till four in the morning, and got drunk for $15 at a great little bar called Bacchus. Honolulu was very gay-friendly.

Dramz in Honolulu

Dramz in Honolulu

The next day, we explored Honoruru.

Honoruru

Honoruru

We went to check into the Hilton, which I booked through American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts. It offered me a whole slew of upgrades, including early checkin, late checkout, room upgrade, free breakfast, and a $100 food and beverage credit to use in the resort.

When we finally found the checkin desk which took forever as the place is very poorly signed, I heard those magical words again. “Free upgrade.” But this time, we snagged ourselves an Ocean View Suite. It had a separate sitting area, a huge king sized bed, and a large bathroom filled with sweet-smelling coconut- and pineapple-based products. We were shown to our room by the Concierge, who made us feel very welcomed. He brought along a kit detailing all of our amenities.

Our suite

Our suite

View from the balcony

View of the Pacific from the balcony

Thanks, Hilton and Amex!

We definitely used our food and beverage credit!

We definitely used our food and beverage credit!

Kissing penguins at the Hilton

Kissing penguins at the Hilton

The next day, we laid on next to the beach until about 3pm and sipped Mai Tais. Then, we came in, showered, and packed up our things. The Hilton was wonderful! Five out of five stars.

Then, for our last day/evening in Hawaii, we had lunch at a little cafe downtown and dinner at an Italian restaurant further east, and drove around Oahu. We went down to Diamondhead and hiked down to the beach. There was supposed to be a gay beach down there, but all we could see was families with small children. We gave up and laid out to get a few last rays of sun.

Last day on Oahu

Last day on Oahu

All-in-all, a wonderful trip. A few observations:

  • Hawaii was way more religious than I expected. There were churches EVERYWHERE
  • The weather was perfect (that might warrant a DUH)
  • I felt very comfortable the entire time. Everyone was kind
  • Hawaiians LOVE Spam
  • It was no more expensive than anything in NYC
  • I would totally go back again. I think Maui was my fave! (Then the Big Island, then Oahu.)
They love it

They love it!

Bottom line

Couldn’t have asked for a better trip. Read this post to find out how I made this dream a reality. We only paid $100 per day between the two of us for hotels, car rentals, food, gas, souvenirs, AND R/T flights from New York.

This trip was my first points redemption. Safe to say I’m completely hooked!

Doesn't have to be!

Doesn’t have to be!

Hot dogs at HNL - back to NYC

Hot dogs at HNL – back to NYC

The flights back to New York were standard. We hung out in the nice SkyClub at HNL and had a couple of beers. When we got to LAX, we saw all members of the Boy Band 98 Degrees at the SkyClub. They were in business, of course. Jay and I were upgraded to Economy Comfort, which was a nice gesture. I sat right next to the door, and was the first person off the plane.

Fenwick was VERY happy to see us when we got back home to Brooklyn. I slept for a solid 12 hours to recoup from a long day of travel. A few days later, it snowed and was blisteringly cold, but I still had Hawaii on my mind as I geared up for my next trip to Madrid.

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