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Budget Tips, Travel Advice

How does spending the night in an Igloo sound?

April 15, 2013 • By



If you are a true nature lover at heart and can think of nothing being more exhilarating than spending your time surrounded by the snowy white chills of winter, then you should listen up.

Whether you are into snowboarding, back country or alpine skiing, sledding, snowshoe-ing or ice-fishing, nothing is quite as novel as winding down your day by spending your nights camping out in a genuine Igloo!

This unique form of lodging is the perfect way to top off your trip to the snowy mountains of Quebec, Canada.

For more information, check out: Parqcs Quebec’s Sepaq Igloo Accommodations!

”Spending the night in an igloo is a one-of-a-kind winter experience! Spend part of your evening under the starry sky, in front of the campfire, and then enjoy a good night’s sleep nestled in your sleeping bag. Igloos can hold 2-4 people. All necessary equipment is available for rent on-site.”

Now what will the pleasure of such an experience cost you?  Would you believe that the prices start at only $24.25 (before taxes) per night, per person?  If you will be camping on the grounds of a national park, please factor in the price of admission too.

You can place your reservations now by calling 1-800-665-6527.

More info:

*  An outdoor fire pit with firewood is provided, and a pit toilet is located nearby.

* A minimum of 2 adults per igloo is required for safety purposes.

* Igloos may be scattered throughout the campground, or be more or less close to the activities and services available. They are accessible on foot, skis or by snowshoes.

Budget Tips, Travel Advice

Staycations: learning to love the best of where you live on a budget

October 23, 2011 • By
There’s no denying it.  Most of us have found ourselves virtually housebound when in actuality we would love to go out there and see the world.  The reality of the situation is that times are tough and it’s becoming difficult to purchase the necessities, much less think about what some would characterize as “indulgences” like travel.  Well, before you throw in the towel, consider alternative ways of traveling without leaving the city limits.  “Stay-cations” is more than a buzz word these days, it’s an answer to a prayer for many families who are trying to navigate through this stagnant economy.  What is a Stay-cation?

It’s a combination of the words ‘stay’ and ‘vacation’ which essentially means that you stay home and enjoy what’s in your city instead of traveling to another.  I think we tend to take the things closer to home for granted.  We can walk around our hometowns and notice the tourists but never quite ‘see’ what they do.   To some, familiarity breeds boredom, but it doesn’t have to be that way.  You can treat a stay-cation the same way that you treat a vacation.  Save, plan where you want to go and do the research.  The immediate benefits are there: you save money on airfare, hotel and souvenirs because you will be at home.  All it takes is a little ingenuity and creativity and you can create an experience for your family (or for yourself if you are single).  

How do I get started ?

First, set a budget of what you can actually afford to spend for this stay-cation.  Naturally, how much you spend depends mostly on how many people you are planning for.  Once that’s done, determine what things you like to do as a family.  It should be noted what things you would not like to do as well.  Here are some ideas of activities you can partake in during your own specialized Stay-cation that you  craft for your family:

  • If you own a gaming system like Wii or PS3, plan a multimedia day that consists of borrowing video games from the library to play with the family.  Be sure to grab a great movie from the library while you are there, that you can watch later on.  If you must have a more  recent release, visit your nearest Redbox (usually posted outside Wal-Mart or your local grocery store) dispensary and rent one for the night for one buck!  Buy a large bag of popcorn that you can cook with an air popper and a couple of theater sized candies from the grocery store.
  • Again, the library can offer a veritable fount of ideas for staycations.  My local library actually lends their patrons annual entry and parking passes to any of our state’s parks and recreation centers for one week.  Check to see if your local library offers similar perks.  Psstt……while you are there I hear they let check you out books too!
  • Check out online coupon sites for various fun activities.  Sites like Half Off Depot,  Groupon and Living Social, among others offer great deals for family outings, you will just need to select the city closest to you.  Some of my local deals were for hot air balloon rides ($25.00), a Spa day that consisted of a mani-pedi and massage ($100.00), a hayride and a corn field maze on a local farm (5.00) and a bowling night (30.00).  As you can see, the activities are varied and reasonably priced so you’re bound to find something to keep everyone happy and busy.
  •  If you are still a member of Bank of America (and why are you?), they offer free entry into your local museums the first full weekend of every month.
  • Go see a live play or concert.  It not only promotes the local arts community, but enriches our lives.  Many cities have outlets that provide discounts of up to 50%!
  • Don’t discount how much fun a weekend trip close to home can be.  I live in Atlanta so I decided to take a quick trip (4 hour drive) to Savannah with two other girls and had one of the best times!  I was able to book a one night stay at Courtyard by Marriot for $90.00 via Priceline.  We managed to take a $15.00 trolley tour of the city (talk about photo ops!), do a little souvenir shopping, sightseeing, having lunch at Paula Deen’s restaurant, Lady & Sons (the $16.00 buffet is to die for), attend a musical, visit Tybee Island and walk along the beach and nosh on seafood.
  • Try to see your city through the eyes of a tourist.  What famous landmark or event or activity is your city known for that you haven’t seen?  My city is known for having the world’s largest aquarium, being the birthplace of MLK, Margaret Mitchell (author, Gone with the Wind), CNN, Coca Cola & Centennial Olympic Park.  I’m sure yours has its own treasures to discover, so take the time to check out what you’ve been missing in your own backyard.
  • If you are a college student make use of your student I.D.  There are lots of discounts available to museums, restaurants, comedy clubs, theaters, etc. via your University that you can use for you and your family.  Ditto for Seniors who can enjoy several discounts from companies seeking their business!
  • Visit your city’s website.  They offer many activities sponsored by their parks and recreation department for families.  Some of the things that our city provides are firework displays during the holidays or movies on a gigantic screen at the beginning of summer for the kids.
  • Local churches or community centers often sponsor free exercise driven activities like Zumba to help promote physical activity among their members.

So while times may be tough going, there are several ways to spend quality time with loved ones without going broke.  The benefit that you will get to see and do things that you’ve been putting off without having to pay a bundle.  What home treasures have you put off going to see?

Budget Tips, Reviews, Travel Advice

11 MORE of the best free travel apps that will make traveling a breeze!

August 28, 2011 • By


Since my previous article on 12 of the best free travel apps that will make traveling a breeze went viral, I discovered that there was a real interest in finding applications that would be useful to people who were travelers at heart.  After doing a bit of research and checking the functionality, I can say that I have been fortunate enough to find 11 more apps that are equally delightful.

1) Apple’s Find My iPhone app is probably the the must have for iPhone users.   If you can’t find your phone how can you use these apps, silly?  ;-D
















2) Crackle – funny name, good stuff. I have a roku and Crackle is one of my favorite channels. Imagine my giddiness when I found out they have an app for it too? This ‘channel’ offers some really good movies from back in the day. I am noticing a trend where they are offering more current movies these days. The good news is that the movies are pretty stellar, not just B movie only fare, but something that everyone in your family will enjoy. This is a must have for anyone who has the capability of downloading apps.















3) TravelZoo – This mammoth travel deal aggregator is a fantastic resource for those who are seeking great package, airfare or hotel deals.  I have used them extensively to purchase activities like Vegas shows for a mere pittance.  A new feature on the site is local deals which in a lot of ways is a Groupon competitor.  You can secure great deals around your city like a $70.00 dinner jazz cruise in New Orleans for $29.00!
















4) Imagine this. You’re in a strange city, totally discombolated and mother nature is not only calling, she’s screeching like Mick Jagger! It’s not clearly obvious where you can go to answer her call, so what do you do? You pull out your handy dandy Sit or Squat app and you’ll suddenly realize that everything will soon be alright.
















5) Back in the early 90s, there is an old phrase that used to describe that new fangled invention that would require my spending a couple hard earned thousand dollars for the pleasure of using it. The Information Super Highway….we never knew how right they were! Today we are inundated with DATA, it’s almost impossible to keep up with everything that you need to keep up with. This is especially true when traveling. I was first introduced to TripIt! because it was an app in LinkedIn that I discovered and found to be user friendly. It allowed me to create itineraries for each city I traveled to. I can add my entire flight itinerary, hotel and car rental info with confirmation numbers, dinner reservations and whatever activities I had scheduled can easily be added too. The best part is that any changes that are made to the itinerary are automagically changed by the TripIt software. It will automatically add a map of the city that you are visiting along with directions on how to get to your hotel from the airport.
















6) Alrighty, this is an obvious rip of one of my favorite news outlets, but Taptu is another version of Pulse that allows you to follow curated streams from Tech, News, Entertainment and Lifestyle sites. But there is enough of a difference between the two to make things interesting. Now, I really can’t swear who thought of this wonderful way of accessing current events on demand first, (I suspect, Pulse) but I love it. It allows you to subscribe to your favorite media which will guarantee your confirmed status of being the life of every party.
















7) If you really want to get to the station on time, download the DB Navigator! It lists the timetables for over 200,000 trains throughout Europe. If you plan to take the train once or several times throughout your journey, this is a nice tool to have handy as you plan, monitor or modify your travel route.
















8 ) The one thing that irks me when I am in a restaurant is to see a delicious looking dish on the menu and once it’s served, it looks like last week’s gruel. False Advertising! Foodspotting is a restaurant marketing department’s worst nightmare because you get to see how the food really looks before you step inside their front door thanks to fellow foodies uploading the evidence. On the other hand, you can recommend restaurants who can deliver a well executed spread for those who are looking for delectable treats. Bon Appetit!















9) Picture this….you are out with friends, they ditch you….you need a cab and fast! TaxiMagic will ask for your location and a list of taxis at the intersection closest to you will be displayed. Select the company that you want to pick you up by tapping on the “book” button. Immediately, the driver’s name, taxi number & distance from you will appear on the screen. You will even be able to monitor the cab driver’s location via a map! Once the driver arrives, s/he will confirm your identity and your destination. Once you arrive, you can either pay via the app using your pre-set up TaxiMagic account, or via credit card or cash.
















10) We’ve all been there, you’re in the middle of a great article online and some annoyance (like actual work) gets in the way. ReadItLater is here to save the day. You can save any article to read later whether you are on or offline.
















11) Hikers, Backpackers, Outdoor Enthusiasts Unite! AllTrails is a great app that uses GPS Technology to help you find the closest hiking/biking/running trail, campsite, fishing hole or Park using your present location.
















New apps are created everyday and surely there are other worthy applications that will help us as we travel to our destination. Feel free to add your favorites!

Budget Tips, Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s guide to Frequent Flier programs – part 3

August 8, 2011 • By
[box type=”blank” class=”bg-blue rounded-10″] Last week, we discussed how to quickly accrue Frequent Flier miles.  Today, in our final installment, we will discuss how to maximize those miles and make them stretch farther for you.

Before we get started, there is one point that I failed to mention last week.  Do yourself a favor and secure a copy of your credit report before you begin to apply for credit cards.  If you are a US resident, you are entitled to a copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies every year for FREE.  There are plenty of fake websites out there, but the only one sanctioned by the US government is Annual Credit Report .   If you pull your own credit report, it is considered a soft inquiry and will never hurt your credit.  A hard inquiry is when a credit card company (among others) pulls your credit report to determine if they will grant you a line of credit which can temporarily hurt your credit score.  Remember when I said your credit could take a hit?  This is it.  It will drop your score by a few points, but it’s impact will lessen within a few months (usually six), however it will remain on your credit report for two years.  I do not mind this because I have no plans of buying another house or car which would be impacted by the points drop.

The main reason why you should  check your score is because many lenders have reported incorrect information and those errors could impact your score and creditworthiness, so it’s imperative that you know exactly what is on your report by checking all three credit bureaus once a year.  If you do find some discrepancies, you will have time to correct it before proceeding to attempt to secure more credit and getting wrongfully turned down.


How can I maximize my miles?

Another way to maximize your miles is to forego domestic trips altogether unless it’s cross country.  Domestic flights tend to be inexpensive by comparison, so it would make sense to dedicate the miles that you’ve earned for something that will allow you to cross an ocean or two.  Instead focus on international travel in order to get more bang for your buck.  Your miles will spread further if you plan an international trip in segments.  One’s natural instinct would be to book a flight that’s straight from your home airport to your International destination, correct?  Why not make the most of traveling such a distance?  Instead of booking an (for example) Atlanta to Paris trip, how about an Atlanta to London to Prague to Paris trip?  You can stay in each city for several hours to several days and use the same number of miles on one award ticket!

Although my initial destination was Paris, I would be able to sneak in another couple of cities along the way because it’s possible to take several legs to get to your destination.  Most people in their impatience to get to where they’re going don’t think about how they can achieve a maximum benefit with their miles by making stopovers and transfers along the way.  Stopovers usually last for more than 24 hours while transfers last less than 24 hours.  There is a maximum permitted mileage (MPM) between the two cities (stopovers) that you can travel to.   Each airline has its own MPM standards where you can ascertain the maximum distance allowed between any two cities on your itinerary.  So using the example above, You can’t depart from Atlanta, stopover in Los Angeles, then continue on to London.

Also, the routing has to make sense.  Any airline will permit you to circle the globe traveling either east or west of your home airport.  The general rule for RTW trips (for example) is that you must cross the Atlantic and Pacific oceans at least once.  You can travel between zone 1 (North, South America, Caribbean, Hawaiian and Easter Islands), zone 2 (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) and zone 3 (Asia and the SW Pacific: Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Tahiti).  You must end your RTW in the country where you began it.

Each airline has its own rules regarding the number of segments you can take during your trip, so you would need to speak to an agent directly about this.  Delta, for instance, allows up to 8 segments (2 US segments maximum for international ticket) on one award ticket.   With that many segments, you could in effect, configure a round the world trip with one award ticket!  Keep in mind that no alliance partner awards can be booked online so be prepared to call the primary airline to book your award ticket.

Here’s One World alliance’s rules on stopovers:

  • You are allowed to take two stopovers in total within your continent of origin in order to get to or from a gateway to begin or return from your international travel of which a maximum of 1 stopover is permitted in each direction in the country of origin.
  • After departing from your continent of origin, you are allowed to take up to four flights to explore each of the other continents (six flights in North America).
  • You can book up to two additional flights per continent, at a set rate (online booking of additional segments is not possible).
  • You can fly up to 16 flight segments on your trip. Travel between two airports by surface transportation will count as one flight segment.

Here’s  Star alliance’s rules on stopovers:

  • Star Alliance allows 15 stopovers, there is also a special “Starlite” Economy-only fare for 26,000 miles, but this is limited to a maximum of 5 stopovers.
  • As in most of these fares, Star’s rules require passengers start and end in the same country, but not necessarily in the same city.

Here’s Skyteam alliance’s rules on stopovers:

  • Allows six stopovers with a maximum of three stopovers per continent on round the world tickets.

Don’t let all of these rules make your head swim, this is only the rules for now.  These airline policies can easily change, this is only meant to give you an idea of what you can expect when planning to book an award trip.

Additionally, you could maximize your miles by purchasing an open jaw ticket.  An open jaw simply means that you fly into one city and fly out of another.  Going back to our Atlanta to London to Prague to Paris scenario, you would not have to fly from Paris then back to London to get back home to Atlanta.  You would just fly directly from Paris to Atlanta (or if you were allowed to use more segments, you could cover a couple of more cities before going home).  All of this is contingent upon the airline’s rules and regulations, so be sure to check and see what is allowable.  On the other hand, some things are best left to the experts.  I am currently planning a mini RTW trip for 2013 and I plan to use the services of Lucky, the young man who runs the One Mile at a Time website that I mentioned in the last installment of this series.  He charges 150 (250 US for two passengers) for booking the best trip for you using your FF miles.  I think it will be worth it to have him to work out the kinks and issues with the airlines and I will just focus on the trip activities.  That will give me a lot of peace of mind.  lol  This is a lot to take in for a newbie…..heck, it’s a lot to take in for anyone… continue to do your research, visit the FF boards and learn as much as you possibly can.

As promised, I wanted to tell you about a great online FF mile tracking program.  You know the many challenges of keeping track of your frequent flyer miles from different airlines and managing their expiration dates. This challenge has become even more difficult recently because of the continual policy changes made by airline award programs.

According to an Economist article there has been over 14 trillion outstanding frequent flier miles!  The Economist appraisal of these miles suggests that they are “now worth over $700 billion, more than all the dollar notes and coins at large.” This amount is so extraordinary it can be compared to the gross domestic product of Indonesia! If just 20% of these miles expire it would mean a total of $140 billion USD in losses! has however found a solution to this common consumer dilemma.  The solution is a FREE frequent flyer mile management website that takes the hassle out of tracking members’ reward balances so they don’t go unused or expire. AwardWallet is specifically designed to organize the numerous loyalty programs you are enrolled in. They cover 300+ loyalty programs including: airlines, hotels, credit cards, shopping, rentals, dining, trains and other services like airport parking and online surveys. Furthermore, when a program’s balance is about to expire you will receive an e-mail notification. AwardWallet members never have to worry about losing their precious miles they have accumulated over the years.  If you sign up using the coupon code THRILLME, you will get a FREE six month upgrade as a new user.

Hopefully, this series overview will encourage you to jump on the FF mile bandwagon.  If you truly want to be a vetted budget traveler, nearly free travel has to be a part of your portfolio.  By following these tips and utlitizing the resources recommended in this series, you will be well on your way to “Sampling the world at a fraction of the price”.


Budget Tips, Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s guide to Frequent Flier programs – part 2

August 1, 2011 • By
[box type=”blank” class=”bg-blue rounded-10″] Last week, we discussed the importance of Frequent Flier miles and their critical they were in helping you to achieve your travel goals. Today, we will discuss ways to help achieve those goals with a quickness.


Is there a way to get a lot of miles quickly?

At this point, the best way to get a significant number of miles quickly is through airline specific credit cards.  They offer bonus mileage and perks which requires you to meet certain conditions in order to qualify.  I applied for a  AMEX Delta Gold card recently.  The process was seamless and I got an approval immediately.  If I spent $1000.00 within a month, I would receive 50,000 Delta Skymiles, 2 (one-time use) passes to their Sky-club lounge, the first bag that I check in would be at no charge an the annual fee would be waived.  If you think about how quickly you can accrue $1000.00 in expenditures, you’d see it was a great deal.  I used the card to pay for gas, groceries and for other purchases I usually make.

Once upon a time,  my motto was if I can’t see what I bought with a credit card the next month, don’t buy it!  That would exclude gas, groceries or any other perishable item.  However, branded cards have changed my way of thinking.  I use credit cards anyway, why not make it work to my advantage?

If you are unable to pay the card off in a timely fashion, then I would caution you about seeking more credit than you currently have.  This method will only work for you if you are fiscally responsible.  I can’t stress enough how important it is to guard your good credit fiercely, so do not take the seriousness of getting in over your head lightly.

I will share something that happened to me that I think is pretty fantastic.  I had one (cash rewards) credit card with a balance that I wanted to transfer to an awards card that was offering 30,000 bonus miles and a 0% interest rate for a year.  I figured why continue to pay finance charges when I can just transfer the balance (the card did carry a 3% transfer fee…blah) and save some money in the long run?  After I was approved and had been using it for about a month, they began to offer another promotion for the same card, but the bonus miles had jumped to 75,000!  I didn’t see that one coming, but lesson learned.  I kept my cool and decided to contact the company via their secure messaging system through my online account to see if they would match it.

I knew deep down that my chances were poor, but I had to give it a try.  A couple of days later, I got a response where I was let down easy.  The agent went on to say that as a one time courtesy, they would be adding 20,000 miles to my account which should post immediately to my account (it did).  Moral to the story?  It never hurts to ask (very nicely), so give it a try should you find yourself in a similar situation.  You never know what they may try to do to keep you happy.

Rule # 1: If your card doesn’t offer a chance to earn miles, get rid of it if you can.  

If your credit is good, you are probably getting inundated with these types of offers in the mail anyway.  Seek out the ones that offer the most miles and go for it.  I would never secure a credit card that didn’t offer an award of some type and not all of them charge an annual fee.  I see no reason in making the banks richer and getting nothing for my troubles.  However, I didn’t always think that way.  I saw credit cards as a convenient way to pay a bill or purchase goods or services.  I had no other use for them besides that.  Now I realize that they can serve another purpose and that is to allow me to earn miles for living life as usual.  But, you should be judicious about which offer(s) you accept; some are better than others.  My 50k Delta deal is now down to 25k for current applicants.  I say wait until they offer a similar deal, no need to rush, always hold out for the most miles.

Not long afterward, an incredible deal came across the FF boards.  British Airways was offering a branded visa through Chase.  If you spent 2k in 2 months, you would earn a whopping 100k miles.  Do you think I turned that down?  The only downside is that you were billed the annual fee ($95.00) almost immediately.   However, you got 50k miles immediately too….after the 2 months you would get the other 50k.   The one thing that bugged me was that I could not use a credit card to pay my mortgage.  Can you imagine how quickly you would meet the spend requirement if you were allowed to do that?

Amazingly, I discovered a site that will allow you to pay your mortgage with a cc.  ChargeSmart is the solution to mortgage companies who put up similar roadblocks.  ChargeSmart doesn’t charge a fee, but your mortgage company probably will.  You will be told how much before the transaction is processed.


I believe that increasing your FF mile cache is an art.  You must always continue to focus on learning new ways of earning miles.  To that end, I suggest that you check out the following sites that offer incredible insight into securing frequent flier miles:

Frugal Travel Guy

The Points Guy

One Mile At A Time

Flyer Talk

Frequent Flier Crier

Also check out deal sites like Fatwallet and Slickdeals where FF mile earning opportunities are discussed regularly in their forums.


There are some frequent fliers who are dedicated credit card churners.  This means that they apply for numerous credit cards  (some, every three months) in order to earn bonus miles .  Once they meet the spend requirement and collect their miles, they will either close the card within six months or accept the card issuer’s offer to transfer them to a no fee card.  The reason why they cancel within six months is because usually the annual fee is waived within the introductory period (the first year) and they do not want to pay when that period is over.   The downside is that your credit score will take a hit for about six months before it recovers.  Therefore, it is not a good idea to do this if you are planning on buying a house or a vehicle because it will hurt you in the short-term.  Keep in mind that these people are not novices, they have been doing this for years.  If  you try it, you do so at your own risk.  I do not condone or condemn such practices, this is merely information that I am passing along since it is pretty prevalent in the FF world.

Next week…..we will discuss how to maximize those miles.

Budget Tips, Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s guide to frequent flier programs – part 1

July 25, 2011 • By

I love to travel.  But, when you factor in the outrageous ticket prices, ridiculous junk fees, charges for checked baggage and in some instances…… carry on bags……… you will be broke before you reached your destination.  I say it’s high time for consumers to fight back!  One of the best ways to accomplish this is through the religious accumulation of Frequent Flier miles through an airline’s FF program.

What is a Frequent Flier (FF) program?

A Frequent Flier program is an airline’s loyalty program which rewards its members for their continued patronage.  Essentially, it gives the passenger a chance to earn a mile in kind for every mile that they fly on an airline.  Earn enough miles and you will eventually be able to book a free (with the exception of booking fees and taxes) domestic or international trip!  Today’s FF programs have gone through many changes over the years; so much so that you can actually earn miles without flying at all!

You’ve got my attention, how can I earn FF miles without flying?

One of the most popular ways is through an airline’s branded credit card.  When you sign up for the card (usually there is an annual fee of $50 – $450 involved)  you will get from 1 – 2.5 miles for each dollar spent.  You can also earn miles through a variety of sources like:

1. Hotel stays
2. Financial Services
3. Utilities
4. Restaurants & Entertainment
5. Car rentals
6. Surveys
7. Retail shopping via online portals
8. Joining online coupon or point sites
9. You can even earn miles by LIKING an airline’s (or their partner’s) page on Facebook!

You can always find out about mileage promotions by going to an airline’s website.  Be sure to sign up for their occasional emails which will detail all of the current promotions that you can take advantage of.   Frequent Flier miles is one of the last remnants of airline perks and I would advise all travelers (especially budget travelers) to take serious advantage of them.  The only caveat that I will offer is to pursue a promotional offer ONLY if it is something that you would normally use.  To purchase something that you would never use to gain miles defeats the purpose.  If it’s useful and you can afford it, go for it, otherwise….don’t waste your money.

What is an Airline Alliance and how can I maximize my award potential ?

In an effort to offer their passengers more travel options, airlines have teamed up to connect domestic and international travelers with partner airlines who may travel routes that they do not.  This spirit of cooperation or partnership is called an airline alliance.  You can earn miles on one airline within that alliance and redeem them on another airline within that alliance.  For example, you can use your Delta miles on a trip that includes Delta, Air France and Czech Airlines because they are in the same alliance.

As you accrue miles, you can also gain status within an alliance which will give you VIP status and perks like double FF miles, seat upgrades, priority boarding and/or check-in, various waived fees or lounge access.  Each Alliance’s status benefits varies.  Currently, there are three of these alliances in existence.

Here are the names of the alliances and their member airlines:

1. Star Alliance
2. One World Alliance
3. Skyteam

The first step is to sign up with the airlines that you currently use on a regular basis or one that you think you might use.  Next, sign up with at least one member of each airline alliance.  This will ensure that you have all of your miles concentrated  in one place even though you can use any member airline when it’s time to book an international flight.  Be sure to keep track of your member name, password for each program.  You will need them in order to sign into your online account.

Keep track of your FF # too; you will need that when you book a flight online or via phone.  I would recommend that you do not book via phone because you may incur additional fees as a result.  Booking online is free.  There is a great program that will help you to keep all of this info organized for free.  More on that and a review in a follow up post.

You should do a little research and make sure that each of the two airlines (within the same alliance)  fly connecting routes.   There would be no benefit in sign up with two airlines that fly the same route.  The best way to see where each member airline flies is to check the alliance’s route map:

1. Route map for the Star Alliance
2. Route map for the One World Alliance
3. Route map for SkyTeam (rumored; they are adding new partners so current map is unavailable)




How can I keep my miles from expiring?

Honestly, you would have to try very hard to get your miles to expire.  Most miles remain active and valid if you perform one transaction within 12-18 months, depending on the airline.  You can easily fill out a survey, make a purchase or sign up for an email list to keep your account active.  There are some airlines whose miles never expire like Delta, BMI (British Midland International) and United (who is now merging with Continental) , so you can’t lose there.  Stay on top of your account and you will never lose any of your hard earned miles.

Do I have to spend my miles on flights?

No, you do not, but why wouldn’t you?  If you are truly looking to build a FF miles portfolio, I wouldn’t advise you to use your miles to purchase inconsequential things like magazines, etc.  Believe it or not, some airlines will try to tempt you to waste some of your miles in that way.  Steady and slow wins the race.  Be patient and watch your miles grow over time.  Use those miles for international travel or for itineraries that would cost you a lot of money otherwise.  Try to have an idea of where you would like to go.  Check out a specific airline’s award chart to see how many miles will be needed to get to your destination.   You can find a specific airline’s award chart by Googling it.

In the next two weeks, we will discuss how to quickly accrue and maximize those treasured frequent flier miles so that you can realize your dream vacation.

Budget Tips, Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The top 12 ways to save money without really trying (if you ever hope to take that trip you’ve been dreaming of)

July 3, 2011 • By


If only we could travel this easily, but until then, we'll have to pay our way to our dream destination...


1. If you are expecting a tax refund do not earmark it for anything.  Interest free loans to the government aside, put any surplus funds in a savings account and resist the urge to touch it. Stat!

2. Place any change left from each one dollar bill that you use during a purchase into a large glass jar.   If there’s any change in your pocket, drop it in the jar….no exceptions!  When it’s full, take it to your local Coinstar machine (usually found in grocery stores) or its equivalent and deposit the bills that you get in trade into your savings account.

3. Do side jobs in your spare time.  Cut grass, do a friends hair, mani-pedi, type resumes, etc.  If you have a specialized talent or skill, use it to your advantage.  I paid a twelve year old $5 for wearing a shirt with my website address on it for five consecutive days by using the Fiverr site.  Quirky job, but he’s that much closer to realizing his dream of going on a class trip to Australia.

4. Cliched, but so true!  Forgo the beverage god, Starbucks.  I bristle at the thought of paying $4.00 for a pound of coffee, so I’m downright apoplectic when it comes to the price of a cup of Starbucks!   No offense, but I like the cappuccino at the local Quiktrip or RaceTrac gas stations better than the big ‘S’ and it only sets me back a little over a buck.  Even better drink the coffee that your employer (may) provide for free at work!  Don’t even think about it….just put the money that you would have spent in that jar!

5. Start using coupons religiously.  Whether it’s through your grocery store’s loyalty program, coupons clipped from the newspapers or coupon deals from sites like Groupon or Half Off Depot are growing exponentially by the day.  So if you must reach into the wallet and part with some cash, try to find discounts and bargains that will lessen the pain.  The trick is that whatever you happen to save must go directly into the glass jar.

6. Be willing to make small sacrifices like brown bagging your lunch so that you won’t have to eat out so often.  But if you must see # 5, or try Entertainment Books which offer so much more than restaurant deals for a specific city.  Right now, they are on sale for 9.99 and the coupons don’t expire until November 2011.  You can get great restaurant deals from your area at too.  Try to keep a safe distance from co-workers who love to go out for lunch everyday.  Don’t give into peer pressure, just focus on your travel goals. Trying to keep up with the Joneses’ is a great way to stay broke, so go straight to the company fridge and get the food you brought from home and imagine yourself sitting on the beach one day because of it.

7. If you are into extracurricular activities, there is a distinct possibility that you may have to give up some of your favorite (and possibly expensive) hobbies in order to sock away money for that big trip you’ve been planning.  If you already own a game system like the Wii, use it instead of going out bowling.  Or see what activities your community may offer to its residents for free.  There are several programs my local county provides that costs me not one cent.  Sure, it’s probably not what you’re used to, but you will have to be willing to give up things that you may really enjoy and think about what you’ll gain in the end.  Better yet, if it’s not free to do, don’t.

8. Get rid of cable and/or satellite television.  A few months ago, I was paying $160.00 for an internet, phone and satellite tv service bundle.  I had 285 more television channels that I actually watched!   For my television needs, I purchased a Roku, which allows me to stream tv from the internet via services like Netflix and Hulu Plus.  I pay $16.00 per month for both services.  The Roku unit looks like a cable box and costs between $59.00 – $79.00 depending on the type that you want.  Apple tv does the same thing, but I hear that they do not offer as many channels.  I don’t have first hand experience, so I won’t comment on it.

There are no other costs associated with operating the unit.  Roku offers unique programming as well.  You can find those channels with a simple google search.  Added bonus: You can save on movie theater tickets by being patient and watching them when they come out on DVD via Netflix!  If there is a particular show that you can’t find on those services, check out that show’s website.  You can usually find full episodes the day after, that you can watch online for free.  I’m also able to catch up on programming that I may have missed like a particular season of ’24’.

9. I was paying way too much for an internet service that wasn’t all that great.  Now, I am paying $29.00 per month for AT&T U-verse internet service that is twice as fast (when the contract ends in a year, I plan to re-negotiate so that I can keep that rate; always try that….companies general like to retain good paying customers).  Shop around, seek out the best deal because there are plenty out there you just have to ask what is their best offer if you decide to go with them.  If you love your service, call them and ask to speak to their customer retention agent and tell them that you are thinking about switching and wanted to know what deals they had to offer in order to keep you.  Don’t try this is you are behind on your bill or they will think you’re nuts! 

10. Seek out cheaper alternatives for cell phone service.  I decided to  try cell phones again after a decade of not using them, as my primary phone instead of a land line.  Besides, I was paying too much for a phone that I rarely used; at least this way, the phone would be portable and more convenient.  I love the $25.00 per month plan from Virgin Mobile.  I get unlimited data/text/web and 300 minutes per month; more than enough for me since I’m not much of a phone person anyway.  There is no contract, you can cancel whenever you want.  But, if you’re a talker, there are other tiers available. I am a recent convert to MagicJack.  It is a small piece of hardware that you attach one end to your mac or pc and the other end is attached to a landline phone via a cord.  You will be able to make local and long distance calls for $20.00 per YEAR.  The unit costs between 25.00 – 40.00 depending on where you purchase it.

11. If you are in the market for any big ticket item, search the thrift stores first.  You will be amazed at the things that you can find there that are in perfect condition.  There is a bit of a twist to this method though.  Go to the thrift stores in the more affluent areas.  They will most likely have the best selections and more of it.  Or you can try something that is really unique like the Unclaimed Baggage Center!  Before you go to the big box stores and pay an arm and a leg for furniture, electronics, etc., see if you can find a gently used item first before you pay a mint for something new.  Alternatively, see what you can score for free via Freecycle, but be aware that you are expected to offer an item first, in most cases.

12. If you love to read, don’t buy any books.  Instead, go to your local library and check them out.  If you happen to own a kindle like me (if you don’t, download the free kindle software so that you can read books from your computer) sign up with Jungle Search to get an email list of kindle books that you can download for free!  In the meantime, you can scroll to the bottom of Jungle’s homepage to get a list of books from various genres.


So, how do you save money for your trips?  What unique ways have you earned that extra cash for your dream vacation?

Budget Tips, North America, Reviews, Travel Advice

If you ever wanted know where 1% of your lost luggage ends up, it’s Scottsboro, Alabama!

June 26, 2011 • By

This is the second in a series of infrequent articles that will spotlight Hidden Treasures within a city that are usually overlooked by the locals….but they’re not the only ones. We will be searching for some of the best little known secrets from every city imaginable. Lean closer and tell me what’s special about yours…….

Peeking through the trees to check out Lake Guntersville.

Peeking through the trees to check out Lake Guntersville.

Mapquest says it’s a two hour forty five minute drive from my house and I think that they were right on the money. We woke up on a Saturday at 5 am to make our way to Scottsboro, Alabama so that we would get there right at 9 am.  I didn’t know that we would be going through so many two lane country roads, an interstate and a lot of four lane highways, but we did. I guess the drive always seems longer if you’ve never been there and is always shorter on the way back because all you’d have to do is work your way backwards. The drive was as beautiful as it was long. We got to see landscapes untouched by human hands. There were fields of crops, houses were spaced acres in between, and we saw every type of animal you’d expect to see in the country: Goats, cows, donkeys and even alpacas! I had no idea that this road would turn out to be the site of the “Trail of Tears”.

The Trail of Tears is the pathway that native Americans were forced to take after the US Government stole their land. Many died of disease and exposure along the way.


Budget Tips, Reviews, Travel Advice

The 12 of the best free apps that will make traveling a breeze!

February 27, 2011 • By

Before I purchased my Ipod Touch last month, I couldn’t give two hoots and a holler about apps.  I saw it as just another way to waste time and for someone to separate you from your money.  Now….I see the error of my ways.  It’s my new addiction and I don’t need no cure!  Seriously, you could literally find yourself sliding your fingers back and forth over a rectangular piece of glass for hours on end and somehow manage to not get committed! There’s something for everyone….even for morons.  There are a whole host of applications for every possible situation, especially for travelers.  After doing a littl…erm…a lot of research, I have picked twelve must haves if you are serious about traveling and staying organized and entertained and won’t cost a cent.

1) PageOnce Trip Tracker is a neat app that allows you to record all of your frequent flier program account information securely in one place.  Once that’s done, it will automagically import all of your flight information to your Ipod touch or Iphone automatically.  It’s a great way to keep tabs on any frequent flier miles that’s earned because you will be notified via email when you do.  I’m pretty bad at keeping up with stuff like that, so this is a treasure.  Also, it keeps track of any hotel or car rental reservations that you have booked during the trip.

2)  Pulse News Mini captures a montage of some of your favorite websites.  You can literally view several news sites, entertainment sites, sports sites….all at once.  Once you tap on an article, it will pop up and allow you to read it.  You can share said article via email or social media.  It also allows you to sync stories offline, so you will never be without your latest news stories.  It’s compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1.3 or late and best yet, is free!

3)  Tripadvisor is something that I always refer to when I’m planning a vacation or even activities at home.  It’s pretty much a review site that rates accommodations, activities and restaurants from all over the world.  The reviews are written by fellow travelers who have first hand knowledge, so you get their opinion of their experience and probably a few choice words on how things could improve if they were displeased.  The good news is that you get the good reviews too.  It’s just nice to get some insight before booking and regretting it later. Compatible with iPhone, Android, Ovi, Palm and iPod.

4)  GateGuru – is another user driven app that reviews 115 airports’ services.  Travelers can weigh in on how long it takes to get through checkpoints at each terminal.  You can get info on the restaurants located in each concourse as to which has the best eats.  Also, reviews and tips about the airport in general are freely given.  One tap of your stylus gets you a view of the airport map and you can bookmark your favorite airports.  Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.0 or later.

5) UrbanSpoonHungry and in a new town?  UrbanSpoon allows you to select a location, the type of food you want and the price that you want to pay.  What could be simpler?

6) allows you to share info with someone by simply placing your phone in your hand and bumping knuckles with the person you want to transfer info to.  You can transfer app links (you still have to pay for the ones that cost dinero), photos, contact, etc.  Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.0 or later.

7) Hipmunka portable flight search engine that allows you to view results in a timeline.   This app doesn’t show you the cheapest flights first, instead they are listed according to factors like the number of layovers and the length of the trip.  If you are more concerned with picking flights with a lower ‘agony’ factor than price, this is the app for you.

8 )  All SubwayOk, so I lied.  This is the only app that will cost you…99 cents.  But it’s so worth it and an important tool for all travelers to have!  It has the actual subway maps of major cities that you simply select, click and the map appears.  What a convenience to have them all in one place and not have to worry about toting around various subway maps.

9)  Tango Video Calls – I learned about this application from Michael at Strux Travel.    Tango allows you to make video and voice calls over your smartphone’s Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G networks. If you’ve ever Skyped from your personal computer, you’ll understand the concept. Basically, you download the app, create a free account, then launch the application. It will automatically populate with the contacts from your address book who already use Tango. Or, you can invite your friends & family to join up by sending them a text or email. Once both parties have the app, you just make a call. It’s that easy!

If you’re in your local calling area, you can call anyone in the world for free. Or, if you have access to a Wi-Fi network, you can call anyone anywhere, even when you are abroad. (Just make sure you are on airplane mode so you aren’t hit with roaming charges.)  I can see it being particularly useful to reconnect if you and your travel partner are separated in a crowd.  Currently the app is available for the iPhone 4 and 3GS, iPod Touch, EVO 4G and Galaxy S.

10)  Gas Buddy – Finds the cheapest gas on the go – for free! In one click, locate gas stations near you and see their current gas prices. Never overpay for gas again. GasBuddy is a community of users working together to update gas prices and help everyone save on gas!

11)  MetrO The smartphone universe is chock full of public transportation apps for cities across the world. MetrO, however, covers some 400 cities, and while most individual city apps may be a bit more comprehensive, MetrO is more than adequate for most traveler’s needs. Users download the app, and then add the cities they want. MetrO can plot routes for you and shows your location on a map so you can see what’s nearby.  Compatible with Palm, PocketPC, iPhone, BlackBerry and Smartphone.

12) Currency – When traveling abroad, you need to know just how much your country’s currency is worth compared to the country you are visiting. Currency provides up-to-date exchange rate info for more than 90 currencies and 100 countries. Currency displays thumbnail flags for the corresponding currencies. All you will need to do is add your currency and currencies that you will be using during your travels and you will be able to monitor the exchange rates at a glance.  You can either manually refresh exchange rates or set the app to do so automatically: intervals range from every hour to every day.
Well, that’s my list.  What apps do you find are particularly useful during your travels?  Feel free to share them with the rest of us!

Budget Tips, Europe, Travel Advice

Monasteries and Convents: Unconventional lodging at its best

January 16, 2011 • By

One of the great things about traveling is that you get to stay in a nice, comfortable accommodation where someone else is responsible for changing the sheets and keeping your room clean.  Unfortunately, most of us are programmed to automatically book a hotel when considering places to lay our head during vacation.   If you’re like me, you may be a little more adventurous and prefer unusual digs that most tourists would not only dream about, but be totally unaware of its existence.    Staying at a monastery or convent is a perfect off the beaten path mode of lodging that more people are taking advantage of these days.  As an added bonus, it helps to create lasting memories and is kinder to your wallet.

Once a former hospital, Park House Guesthouse is located in Liverpool, England and is run by Augustinian nuns. All rooms are en suite and the available amenities are television, beverage equipment, ironing facilities, on-site parking and full board. A theater and library as well as shops and restaurants are nearby. Rates start at 32€ pp. Visit them at

A view of one of Park House's double rooms

The number of monks and nuns is dwindling; so many monasteries and convents are beginning to offer their properties for short and long term lease.  It makes sense to offer the available quarters for rent because the revenue helps to pay for the upkeep of the often aging structures.  Some are still fully functioning entities while others have been converted to Inns and B & B’s rather than be left empty.  While they may not offer creature comforts like four and five star hotels, this would be a great opportunity to enjoy the historical aspect of such properties.

The Abbey of Mount Melleray was originally founded in 1832 in Brittany, France but their monks were expelled during the French Revolution so they decided to relocate to Cappoquin, Waterford, Ireland. Today the monks operate a thriving dairy farm and an abbey guesthouse with shared bathrooms (prices are to be negotiated). The monks also manage an on-site gift shop and cafe. Visit them at

In most instances, the daily rates are between $25.00 to $95.00 US for singles and doubles; $100+ for suites, the rooms are average size, some meals may be included and bathrooms are likely shared.  While these accommodations are available world-wide, US properties may tend to be a bit more modernized while European ones are more historical treasures.  My friend, Eileen Barish runs a website and sells guidebooks that spotlight European monasteries and convents.  You will be amazed at the excellent deals that can be had for staying at such elegantly stoic landmarks.

Unique geometric exterior of St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota USA

St. John's Abbey offers singles, doubles and suites from 65.00 to 110.00. Each room is minimally furnished and has a private bath, lakeviews, heating and air, a phone for local calls and is wired for internet access. Contact them at

Monasteries and convents are often sought out when people are looking for their own personal spiritual retreat.  The grounds are quiet, one can walk the gardens in peaceful introspection and there are many places were you can sit in solitude without being disturbed.   This type  of pilgrimage or retreat is not suitable for the tourist, because most of the time is spent in prayerful silence and religious worship.  While they do not proselytize or force feed their religious beliefs, they only ask that you respect their standards of conduct.  Please note that they may also have standing curfews that are strictly enforced.  If curfews are a concern, be sure to ask about their policies before booking your stay.

Maison Notre-Dame du Chene is a spiritual pilgrimage located in Loire, France. While there is a separate house for families and groups to use for celebrations and meetings, the guesthouse is primarily reserved for those seeking religious sanctuary. All guestrooms are ensuites and breakfast is served daily; rates begin at 35€ pp. Visit them at

In her books about European Monastery lodging, Good Night and God Bless, Trish Clark “provides detailed descriptions of each type of facility.  There are directions on how to get there, along with general tourist information and some ideas for things to do and see in the surrounding area.  It also lists nearby restaurants and pubs.”

Located in Kent, England, this 13th century order of the Carmelites provides single, double and family rooms at rates beginning at 26€ pp including breakfast. The Friars Aylesford Priory has an on-site restaurant and sits on acres of park-like grounds. Visit them at

One of the eighty bedrooms located in the Friar's guesthouse

The beauty of the entire experience is that you’ll  never know what hidden gem you will find in your research on monasteries and convents.  Perfect case in point: Maison du Seminaire in Nice, France.  Located at the foot of the Mediterranean Sea, this beautiful former Seminary has 60 rooms that rents for 70€ per night.  Each room is en suite, has televisions and telephones and wi-fi and parking is free.  The rooms are bijou, but the views more than make up for that.  There is a restaurant on the first floor that opens out onto an outdoor terrace.  From that vista, you will get to see the rich and spoiled frolic on the beach or watch them sail by on their luxurious yachts.   The delicious irony for you, my dear budget traveler, is that you get to enjoy the same beach for a mere pittance compared to what they’ve paid.

What's not to love about this location?

With a room view like this...the accommodation gods have smiled down upon you

Rooms are small and practical, but would you really go there just to spend your time sleeping?

Fantastically magical views from the outdoor terrace

So, what do you think, dear reader?  Would this type of accommodation be appealing to you?  Or you may have already had the good fortune to stay at one of the monasteries or convents.  If so, where did you stay and would you recommend it to the rest of us?