ALL POSTS IN [Deals and Rewards]

NYT's Frugal Traveler, Seth Kugel in Colombia.

NYT’s Frugal Traveler, Seth Kugel (Photos: Courtesy Seth Kugel)

Because Seth Kugel prefers the unexpected find to online travel reviews, he’s Our Type of Traveler. As The New York TimesFrugal Traveler, Kugel shares his insights on how to enjoy a destination without breaking the bank — or being a slave to endless online travel reviews — in mapping out a travel itinerary.

For Kugel, it’s all about the delight of discovery, something travelers could use more of, he says.

“We’ve eliminated discovery in travel because places are so well-documented,” says Kugel, from his home in Queens, NY. “I’m not an evangelist for being dumb about a place but there’s something to be said for leaving a little room for discovering a place on your own.”

Here’s how Kugel finds the charm of the unexpected, on the cheap. READ MORE

Waikiki Beach (Photo: Reuters)

Congrats, you survived the holidays. Now it’s time for a real vacation, and here’s the good news: The first few weeks after the New Year are a great time to snag some killer travel deals, says travel deals expert Johnny Jet.

“Not only is it cheaper, but all the resorts are going to be empty — you won’t have to fight for a beach or restaurant chair,” says Johnny Jet. (The other good window for travel deals is the week after Thanksgiving, he adds). “Everyone is offering huge discounts,” says Jet, whose site offers up-to-the-minute listings of post-New Year’s travel deals.
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Cheap winter getaways

Cheap winter getaways: Add San Juan to the list (Photo: Getty Images)

Whether you’re looking to escape the winter cold or chase it, there are plenty of affordable places to visit this winter without breaking the bank. Several airlines are running amazing winter fare sales on domestic and international destinations, many under $300 round-trip. Here are 5 of the cheapest winter fares right now.
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Photo by Thinkstock

Cyber Monday isn’t just a great time for snagging deals for holiday gifts for everyone on your list … it’s a great time to book your next vacation. You can score amazing deals on hotels, flights and more.

Let’s face it: After the holiday hoopla is over, you’ll be spent (and so will your funds) and in need of a vacation. So you might as well save money booking one on Cyber Monday! Without further ado …

1. This year American Express Travel is launching its first-ever Cyber Monday deal. The promotion has deals for hotels throughout the US and Canada travel from January 13 through the 31st, 2014. The promotion will begin on Monday Dec. 2, and will last 72 hours. To book, log on to amextravel.com starting December 2.

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Travel's Best Travel Deals 2013

Our experts weigh in: We’ve rounded up top tips from industry experts like Frugal Travel Guy, Johnny Jet, Nomadic Matt and The Points Guy!

When it comes to travel, we know what you’re thinking — in fact, if search results are any indication, you’ve got trip planning through 2014 on your mind. And chances are you’re eager to save big bucks on that dream vacation you’re still figuring out how you’ll take. For serious, practical help, look no further than our incredible lineup of Travel’s Best Travel Deals 2013 … and yes, these tips are so good, they’ll see you through 2014 vacation planning.

Seriously, we’re not just blowing smoke up your suitcase.

What makes this list so good? For starters, each selection comes hand-picked by a leading travel expert — like Frugal Travel Guy Rick Ingersoll (you may recall Rick in this Today Show segment); The Points Guy Brian Kelly, who scored 500,000 frequent flyer miles a few years ago without even flying that year; John E. DiScala, whose site, JohnnyJet.com, has been named “one of the best money-saving websites for travel” by Budget Travel magazine; and Nomadic Matt Matthew Kepnes, who’s mastered the art of traveling the world on $50 a day. They’re part of our hardcore budget-savvy, points-accruing panel of advisors.

Once you’ve seen these travel experts’ top picks for the best travel deals, don’t stop there – check out our in-depth discussion with 2 of these leading experts: The Points Guy’s top tips for earning travel points, shared exclusively with TravelChannel.com’s readers; and Frugal Travel Guy’s step-by-step guide to snagging travel deals (Hint: start paying attention to sites like BiddingforTravel.com).

Now that you’ve got the tools to earn miles, points and cheap vacation tickets, start your 2014 holiday trip planning now!

You May Also Like:
Score big vacation bargains with Travel’s Best Travel Deals 2013.
Get the lowdown on How to Earn Miles and Points.
Discover the Secrets to Snagging Travel Deals.

As an expert in how to travel the world on $50 a day, Matt Kepnes, aka Nomadic Matt, is definitely our Type of Traveler. Since this Boston native quit his day job in 2006 and started travel blogging at 23, he’s gone on to visit 70 countries, hundreds of cities and 6 continents. On his No. 1-ranking travel site, Nomadic Matt (and in his book, How to Travel the World on $50 a Day) Matt dispenses tips on how to travel longer, better and cheaper. We caught up wtih Matt, who’s currently on tour in Europe, to answer your questions. Whether you’re seeking to become a world traveler yourself or start your own successful blog, Matt’s got the insider look at what it takes.

Traveling Type: How did you get started travel blogging?
Nomadic Matt: I created my blog in 2008 as an online resume in the hopes of becoming a freelance writer. I wanted to write guidebooks and in a roundabout fashion, that’s what I do.

What’s your blog about?
I teach people how to travel the world on a budget.

How many countries, cities and continents have you traveled to?
I’ve been to 70 countries, countless cities and 6 continents. I’m only missing Antarctica.

What’s your favorite place you’ve traveled to?
Picking a favorite place is a little like picking your favorite child. It just can’t be done, but I would say my top 3 are Thailand, Sweden and France.

What’s your favorite place to get away from it all?
My apartment. I love sitting on my couch, ordering Chinese food and watching movies. That’s my vacation!

What’s one place you would just as well not see again?
Vietnam.

For the budget traveler, what budget-friendly spots should they put on their radar?
Greece, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Ukraine and Nicaragua, to name a few.

What’s your must-have item when traveling?
For me, I never travel without my iPhone. I love music too much. It makes me tremendously calm and happy, so I always like having access to my music while traveling. It’s especially great on long, long bus rides.

What’s your favorite travel app?
I don’t use apps other than ones related to airline loyalty programs, so I can check my miles. I would have to say my app is now my favorite. I’m building an app that will help people track expenses and budget their money on the road.

Tell us your funniest travel story/experience.
I once got lost in a jungle in Costa Rica with a few friends. We took the wrong path, got lost and before we knew it, it was nighttime and we didn’t have a flashlight. In retrospect it was funny. At the time, we were really scared.

What’s the best thing you’ve eaten while traveling, and where was it?
The best thing ever? Tough question. I’ve had so many delicious meals. If I had to pick one meal that stood out, it would definitely be the paella I had while in Valencia, Spain. That was phenomenal.

What’s the best hostel or hotel you’ve ever stayed at?
My favorite hostel in the world is The Flying Pig in Amsterdam, though it’s a bit on the pricey side. For absolute value, I love Aboriginal in Budapest. That place is a great bargain, with great stuff and a big breakfast.

Where’s “home”?
New York City.

What would you recommend to travelers visiting your hometown?
My hometown is a little suburb outside of Boston but we do have the Deane Winthrop House, which is one of the oldest historic houses in the area and famous for its slanted walls!

Any recommendations for anyone wanting to start a travel blog?
Be an expert in something. A general blog isn’t good. Focus on a topic, no matter how narrow, and be the best at it.

What’s No. 1 on your bucket list?
Going on safari in East Africa for 3 months.

Over the last 2 months I’ve managed a couple of fun vacation runs — a variation of a mileage run that involves actually leaving the airport and exploring a city — to Moscow, Paris and Johannesburg. My trip to Moscow was a weeklong vacation, while my runs to Paris and Johannesburg were just extended weekends. A little crazy, I know, but the experiences and sights were well worth the expense and travel time. And besides, or perhaps most importantly, I earned a LOT of miles, ate caviar and saw elephants.

Total Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM): 29,043
Total Redeemable Miles (RDM): 58,086
Flying Time to/from Moscow: 23h 13m
Flying Time to/from Paris and Johannesburg: 37h 40m

Saint Basil's Cathedral

Photography by Arthur Hsu

This year, I’m hoping to earn 150,000 SkyMiles in order to book a round-trip business-class award ticket to Australia — a ticket that would normally cost approximately $16,000 (yes, you read right). I was inspired to book both of my recent “vacation runs” after I saw posts about cheap tickets on FlyerTalk. Another great site to follow is The Flight Deal, which gathers airfare deals that make the most of your miles and money.

When booking mileage runs, be sure to check your fare class.  Some fare classes don’t earn miles or only earn a reduced number of miles. For my trips, I flew Delta T class and KLM/Air France R class, both of which earn full Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQM). Both trips also had a low cost per mile (CPM), which is important for a great mileage run. Typically, you want the CPM to be under 5 cents per mile.

Moscow Cost per Mile: $0.0347
Johannesburg Cost per Mile: $0.0420

A mileage run is a trip solely for earning EQM, so oftentimes you never even leave the airport. But in this case, I turned them into vacations.

My trip to Moscow was the first time I used Global Entry, a Customs and Border Patrol program that expedites the immigration process when returning to America, which I was approved for the week before leaving for Russia. Thanks to this program, it literally takes less than 1 minute to clear customs. If you don’t have it, I recommend you apply since it also includes TSA Pre-Check, which gets you through security quicker and with fewer hassles.

Overall, Moscow is a beautiful city with many activities, but in my experience, it is also very expensive. I stayed at the Hotel National, where Lenin stayed while the Kremlin was under construction. It’s also a Starwood property, with which I have Gold elite status, and so I earned 8,852 SPG points thanks to my stay.

Hotel National, Moscow

Photography by Arthur Hsu

While in Moscow, I enjoyed the various sites such as Saint Basil’s Cathedral and a day trip outside the city to Troitse-Sergiev Monastery. If you find yourself in Moscow, be sure to explore the metro system — the various stations are truly beautiful, each with a different design. I also enjoyed proper meals, including a 10-course omakase meal at Nobu Moscow. Don’t worry, I also sampled iconic Russian cuisine such as caviar and borscht.

Komsomolskaya Metro Station, Moscow

Photography by Arthur Hsu

My trip to Johannesburg was a much shorter and farther excursion, with a 12-hour layover in Paris and about 37 hours in Johannesburg. With such a short amount of time in Paris, I made my way into the city and used a hop-on/hop-off tour bus to see the major sites before I returned to CDG and grabbed some food and Scotch whisky in the Air France Salon to await my flight to Johannesburg.

Once in Johannesburg, I took the Gautrain, Africa’s first rapid rail system, to the Radisson Blu Gautrain hotel, and shortly after, my guide arrived to take me on a tour of Joburg. I liked the sound of Cashan Private Day Tours, which offered custom city tours, and I was able to book a half-day tour with Penny Cashan. Our first stop — and most surprising and enjoyable element of the tour –  was the Market on Main, which occurs every Sunday at the Arts on Main in the Maboneng Precinct, with great food and various art galleries. I had no idea that Joburg has such a thriving art community.

The next and last day in Joburg, I booked a 1-day safari with Felleng Tours to the Pilanesberg Game Reserve. This turned out to be a great experience, since we were able to take the time to find 2 of the Big Five– the white rhino and the African elephant — along with many other amazing animals and sights. Fortunately, the daytime temperatures were low, so the animals weren’t hiding in the shade.

Elephant in Pilanesberg Game Reserve

Photography by Arthur Hsu

Back at O.R. Tambo Airport, I headed to the Air France Salon before deciding to check out other lounges in the airport thanks to my Priority Pass membership, which gives me access to lounges around the world where I do not have elite status. Properly hydrated and nourished, I headed to the gate to catch 2 flights home — just short of 22 hours with a connection in Amsterdam. Now I need to start thinking about my next mileage run.

Watch Mommy Points‘ tips to earn airline elite status.

Photography by Getty Images

In an $11 billion deal that would create the world’s largest airline, American Airlines and US Airways have agreed to merge. The new airline will take the American Airlines name to help keep the company afloat after it filed for bankruptcy more than a year ago. The mega-merger deal is scheduled to close in the third quarter of 2013 and make its debut at an airport near you — well, sometime soon.

So what does this pending merger mean for travelers? For one, less competition in the airline industry could mean price hikes for customers. The new American Airlines — with 900 planes, 95,000 employees and 3,200 daily flights — will have the scale, breadth and capabilities to compete more effectively, according to US Airways CEO Doug Parker. The new American, along with United, Delta and Southwest, would control over 70% of the US market. So frequent fliers are warned to expect a rise in ticket prices.

Travelers flying American or US Airways won’t notice immediate changes. Industry officials say that it’s likely the airlines will operate separately for the first year and that existing tickets will be honored. However, it’ll be months before the frequent-flyer programs are combined and years before the 2 airlines are fully integrated.

For corporate business travelers, there may be a few perks. US Airways and American officials expect the combined network of flights and routes to lure corporate travelers away from competitors.

The new airline will keep all hubs for both airlines, but no word yet on a location for the operations center, reservations, flight training, and maintenance and crew bases.

I’m an avid fan of traveling, so aside from the occasional business trip, I frequently travel for leisure — usually for a rock climbing adventure. But my ultimate goal, other than having fun and exploring diverse culture, is to obtain miles and elite status. One method of obtaining miles is by taking a “mileage run” (MR). I try to turn a mileage run into a mini-vacation, like my trip to Stockholm; however, during my latest trip, I encountered a little snow in Amsterdam, which limited my amount of time in the city. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth it.

Snow at AMS

Photography by Arthur Hsu

You may be asking “what’s a mileage run?” It’s flying for the sole purpose of earning elite qualifying miles (EQM) and redeemable miles (RDM). Each airline uses different acronyms, such as Delta’s Medallion Qualification Miles (MQM), so make sure to check with your own frequent-flyer program. The EQMs help frequent flyers earn or maintain their elite frequent flyer status, while the RDMs can be used to book award tickets and pay for upgrades.

If you’re new to frequent-flyer programs and want to learn more, there are several active forums and blogs that discuss the programs such as FlyerTalk, milepoint and Mommy Points. Check out Mommy Points’ video series on TravelChannel.com for her tips for earning and using points.

Usually frequent flyers wait until the end of the year to take mileage runs, but this January, I decided to get a head start on maintaining my Delta Platinum Medallion elite status with a globetrotting extended Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend. Using Google Flights, I found a ticket to Istanbul with a low cost-per-mile (CPM), which is ideal for a mileage run. Generally, for a mileage run, you want to search for flights that cost no more than 5 cents per mile.

I usually prefer direct flights, but the additional connections for this trip added a few thousand extra miles, so I booked the ticket — flying from DC to Amsterdam to Istanbul to Paris to Minneapolis and back to DC.

Total Time in Transit: Nearly 48 hours, including 12 hours in Amsterdam.

 Unlike my last mileage run, I flew this entire trip in economy. Luckily, due to my elite status, I was able to pick seats in Economy Comfort, which provides extra legroom and seats closer to the front of the plane, allowing me to exit sooner and make it through passport control quicker. When I arrived at Schiphol airport in the early morning, I went to the KLM Crown Lounge for some breakfast and espresso before heading out into the city. It was a cold day in Amsterdam, around 21°F, made a little worse by high winds. In the afternoon, it started to snow, but I continued to wander the city before finally surrendering and going back to the Schiphol to enjoy my last few hours in the KLM Crown Lounge.  Sitting in the lounge, I could see the snow falling, and the word that flyers most dread — “cancelled” –started to appear on the flight status monitors. Luckily, my flight was only delayed.

As we approached Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport (about 3 hours late), I had a great view of the city lit up in the darkness. Once we landed, I went to the Millennium Lounge for some snacks and beverages for the 2 hours before my next flight that would take me Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport. That flight was also my first time flying on Air France, and I missed the service I generally find on Delta or KLM.  Although the flight attendants were polite, the food and beverage offerings were very limited — they didn’t even have sparkling water!

Istanbul at Night

Photography by Arthur Hsu

Once at CDG, I proceeded to the Air France Lounge for a shower and a few glasses of Taittinger Champagne before boarding my Delta flight to MSP. Although I wasn’t sitting in their Business Elite seats, I was again happy in my Economy Comfort seat. A perk of international Economy Comfort is the complimentary spirits, so once the plane reached cruising altitude and beverage service began, I requested some Woodford Reserve Bourbon, served neat, of course. With a final stop in Minneapolis, I relaxed in the Delta Sky Club before boarding my flight back home to DC.

After spending most of the time in airports and on airplanes, with a snowy and windy layover in Amsterdam, this trip was worth the miles.

Total Medallion Qualification Miles (MQM): 11,765

Total Redeemable Miles: 23,530

Should you go on a mileage run? That depends on your situation. You shouldn’t do MRs if you can’t afford the trip, or if you would be leaving a family behind. There’s no advantage to having elite status and plenty of miles if you go broke, but as with everything, YMMV (your mileage may vary).

Watch Mommy Points‘ tips to earn miles.

Some people said this was a crazy trip for a crazy person: Fly from Washington, DC, to Stockholm, Sweden for dinner … and then fly home early the next morning. But in my defense, there was some reasoning and thought behind this, as I am a somewhat-sane “mileage runner” — a person that flies for the sake of earning miles.

The Friday before New Year’s Eve, I decided that I wanted to reach Delta’s Platinum Medallion frequent flyer elite status. The status was well worth the expense and time since I was planning a climbing trip to Paris the next year. Don’t understand elite status? Mommy Points explains the benefits. I was short 8,634 Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQM) from the required 75,000-mile target and had just 4 days until the yearend deadline. A plan was needed quickly.

I immediately started searching for low fares that would yield the needed miles. A great tool is Google Flights which shows you destinations around the world and allows you to filter for specific airlines and alliances, in my case, SkyTeam. I already expected the ticket price would be high since this was a last-minute purchase, so my goal was to maximize miles earned for a reasonable cost. I finally settled on a ticket to Stockholm, which would net me 9,170 MQM and departed Dulles International Airport on Saturday at 6:20 p.m. to arrive at Stockholm Arlanda Airport on Sunday at 7:00 p.m. after a layover in Amsterdam. I’d be back in DC by 3:30 p.m. on Monday.

Total Time in Transit: Nearly 34 hours with 11 hours in Stockholm!

After packing a change of clothes, I headed to Dulles, parked in the economy parking lot and went off to Departures. (Travel tip — put your parking spot in your calendar. After your return flight,  this makes it easy to remember where your car is.) I made a quick stop at the check-in counter using the SkyPriority lane (another benefit of elite status), grabbed my boarding pass and learned that my flight was delayed 2 hours. No big deal — I could wait in the Air France Lounge until my flight and enjoy some snacks and Bordeaux wine — another advantage of having Delta Gold Medallion status.

Once boarding started, I headed to the SkyPriority lane where they actually have a different gate for elites, so I was sipping champagne in my business-class seat within a couple of minutes. After eating my 3-course meal — served on a white table cloth and porcelain plates — I went to sleep so I’d be able to walk around Amsterdam for a few hours before my connecting flight to Stockholm.

KLM Food

Photography by Arthur Hsu

After landing in Amsterdam, I took the Schiphol Express train to Central Station and wandered around the city for a few hours before grabbing a quick meal of poached eggs, smoked salmon and espresso at Vinnies Deli. The deli was located next to Dampkring, which I remembered seeing in an episode of The Layover, but when I looked at the Layover App, I realized I had ended up in a different cafe. Either way, it was packed with people. I continued to wander along the canals before heading back to the airport for a short flight to Sweden.

Amsterdam

Photography by Arthur Hsu

After finally arriving in Stockholm, I was excited to have a nice meal. But first, I checked into Jumbo Stay, a hostel built into a Boeing 747. I typically don’t stay in hostels, but I made an exception since the novelty of sleeping in an airplane was a somewhat unique experience  (granted, I slept the night before in a Boeing 767).

Jumbo Stay

Photography by Christian Skovgaard

Next, I headed back to the airport to catch the Arlanda Express train to Stockholm Station for dinner at Rolfs Kök. I grabbed a seat at the bar and decided to start with some Bellota pig tartare. This was my first time eating raw pig and it won’t be my last, as you could actually taste the acorns that made up the Bellota pig’s last meal. My main course was perfectly-cooked loin of cod with anchovies. And for dessert, I enjoyed a glass of Ardbeg Ten Years Old single-malt scotch (no ice, of course). After dinner, I wandered the streets before heading back to the train, catching some sleep and leaving for the airport at 5:00 a.m. for my return home.

With my quick trip to Stockholm, I netted 11,104 MQM, (with the 150% class bonus for my business seat), which helped me secure Platinum Medallion status through Feb 2014. I also earned 9,170 bonus miles as part of the 100% bonus miles Medallion benefit for a total of 20,274 miles! All in all, I had a great flying experience, a delicious meal and I ended the year with enough miles to book 2 business class award tickets for a bouldering adventure in November to France’s Fontainebleau, one of the top bouldering spots in the world.

If you want to learn how to earn airline elite status, watch our video. Be sure to also catch our web series, Mommy Points’ Family Travel Deals, to learn more about earning miles and making the most of your points.

 

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