How you can fly RT to South Africa for $70/person

 

I can show you the world, shining shimmering splendid. Okay, enough of the Aladdin soundtrack. How can you book 2 tickets to Johannesburg, South Africa from the United states for $70/person? Below I’ll detail exactly how I did it.

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First, I could get off of work Wednesday 2/15/16 to  Wednesday 3/01/16 without taking vacation time, so I needed somewhere to go for those exacts dates. In North America, the last two weeks of February are still strong winter weeks. As a Floridian, I hate snow, cold, and all things winter.

Since I am terrible with Geography, I pulled up a map and looked for the equator. None of the countries along the equator peaked my interest, but I enjoy Florida’s weather which is, for lack of a better term, one standard deviation above the equator. Therefore, I looked for countries along the 30 degree latitude lines. I realized South Africa is one latitude line below the equator, whereas FL is one latitude line above so theoretically when FL is experiencing winter, South Africa should be experiencing a similar to what FL’s would be.

Yes, I really thought about weather this much because I don’t want to travel anywhere in which I need a coat. Beyond personal comfort, it helps to travel with only a personal item, aka bookbag, if you don’t have to bring winter clothing.

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So when I decided on South Africa, I first used Google Flights to check a few sample flights. First the cost in dollars if I left my home airport, or any of the airports I can easily access for cheap. For example, if a flight across the ocean is $400 cheaper if departing from Houston than Tampa, I would gladly buy an additional $35 ticket from Tampa to Houston to save $400. For reward flights, this isn’t as much of an issue, but there may only be award tickets available from certain airports.

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Instead of being limited to one airline or one airline alliance, Chase points allow you to transfer to nearly all major airlines. I ended up using United.com to search for star alliance flights. Because the award tickets on United.com were not as desirable flight itineraries as flights I was able to fly on Google Flights, I spent a lot of time looking into different award alliances, but in the end Star Alliance in which United is a member was the best option.

52 open tabs of internet later, I had to realize that I could either choose an award ticket for 80,000 MileagePlus points plus $70 person or I could pay about $1,000 and have the most amazing itinerary including a 20 hour layover in Paris where J’s cousin lives. Unfortunately those amazing flights didn’t allow us to choose award seats. So, we have a few long, but not long enough to leave the airport, layovers in cities that were not on our bucket lists. What we did do is save about $800 per person to use instead of doing really cool things in the country of our choice! The $70 price was from the mandatory fee’s and taxes.

I received 50k mileage plus points from the United MileagePlus Explorer Credit Card, and 100k Chase points from the Chase Sapphire Preferred, and the rest of the points from actual flying or points earned on credit card purchases.

To find out more about earning frequent flyer points and redeeming them for award flights, I suggest exploring the Extra Pack of Peanuts blog and podcast, One Mile at a Time blog.

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If this helped you, please share on pinterest below.

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Where to Print while Traveling (for free)

Where to print a Boarding pass for free

While visiting my boyfriend in TX, I realized around 10pm that I needed to print my boarding pass. However, in the world of millennials without printers I typically just use a smart phone.

Unfortunately Spirit Airlines (review here) doesn’t have an app or allow you to just show a digital boarding pass. If you have to print the pass at the airport, that will cost you $10.

Office Depot, Staples, or FedEx will let you print for less than a dollar, but at 10pm they are closed.

Then, I remembered last time I travelled at the Embassy Suites in Houston, they had a free business center where I printed my boarding pass! I pulled up Maps, searched for hotel, found a nearby Hampton Inn by Hilton and called to ask if I could come in.

Although the business center is typically for guests only, they lady made an exception and let me print! I drove a mile and returned with my boarding pass printed for free!

Print at a nearby Hotel (even if you aren’t a guest)

Hotels are open 24/7 and usually have very friendly staff that want to solve your problems.

That’s it. Hope this tip helps you out in the future or hopefully SPIRIT begins allowing digital boarding passes.

See you next Wednesday,
Vera

 

How to Save Money on Baggage

How to Pack a Personal Item Only

1. Check your airline’s baggage fee policy

Southwest typically allows checked bags, but in an effort to save time at the airport, try your best not to check a bag.

The other American carriers, such as United, American, Delta, allow a free carry on the size of a roll aboard. This is typically all one needs for a 1 week trip or longer if access to laundry.

All US carriers, including Spirit and Frontier allow a personal item. A purse is what the airlines were thinking, but they allow up to the size of a small backpack. The backpack shown below is the exact allowable size dimensions. “Dimensions must not exceed 16 x 14 x 12 inches (40 x 35 x 30 cm) including handles and wheels. Until April 3, 2017” –Spirit website

2. Consider baggage cost in the ticket price.

For instance a Spirit flight for $140 versus American for $200. If you have a carry on, both flights are $200. Then, you might as well get the free drink, extra leg space, and better frequent flyer program of American.

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image from Spirit’s website

2. Pack using the KonMari Method

A capsule wardrobe, or a few pieces that mix/match together. Pro tip: black is the new black. Bring only things that you feel awesome in so that you wear everything (leave the scratchy ill fitting things at home or donate them).

You can do it!

Before flying Spirit, I always carried a carry on. Now, I go for a week or even two and carry a personal item only!

See you next Wednesday,
Vera

KonMari Packing for Travel

The KonMari method is packing with design principles in mind. Although KonMari packing turns a small bag into a near bottomless pit, think Hermione’s purse in Harry Potter, clothes will look orderly compared to otherwise chaotic travels.

The KonMari method comes from the book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. The book focuses keeping those things that spark joy and getting rid of the rest. It also teaches a specific way to fold and store clothing.

KonMari Packing How To

1. Bring only items that spark joy

If you like a sweater, but it doesn’t fit well/is scratchy, you probably won’t want to wear it anyway, leave it out of the bag. This is hard for me because I think I’ll want to wear this fancy dress, but then realize my workout clothes are much comfier for a day exploring town.

2. Lay out all clothes before packing.

Bring everything to a central location, such as the bedroom floor, before packing anything. You probably don’t need that many tee shirts and you’ll be tempted to just throw in a few more if you can’t see that you already have 4 packed.

3. Respect your clothes; fold them properly.

You like your personal space so do clothes. Don’t smoosh them all together or leave them unfolded. Instead fold items into squares/rectangles so that if they were to stand side by side in your drawers, they would not fall over. KonMari items are stored side by side instead of on top of each other. This way you can see everything at one time. Example video here and here

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4. Organize them in your bag.

Pack them by item type or color.  Seeing the gradient from dark to light or in the order of the rainbow brings order to the suitcase. If this isn’t something you care about, then throw away my advice and you do you, but this tends to bring me joy. Shirts, then pants, then undergarments, then accessories, then makeup.

5. Travel with Zero bags

With a smaller number of items, stored where I can see them all, and folded nicely so as not to cause wrinkles, I tend to wear more of the clothes instead of just a few things over and over. This way I can travel with only a personal item. Not even a carry on. Personal items are free on even the most budget carriers, such as Spirit and Frontier. This means a large purse or a small bookbag only.

Spark more joy whilst you travel,
Vera

Souvenirs that Don’t Suck

Walk through any touristy city and you are bound to notice “gift shops.” Inside there are tee shirts, hats, keychains, shot glasses, mugs, and black purses with city name written loudly across them in a capitalized white font (you know the one). Although my mother has the intention of bringing something home for us while she travels, I have a collection of tee shirts that I have never worn in my “mom went somewhere” drawer or they have been donated to the local thrift store.

I appreciate my mother’s thought, the time, and the money she spends on me. Yet, I’ve learned to never buy souvenirs at gift shops unless a loved one specifically collects shot glasses or mugs with town names written on them.

Souvenirs that rock

Instead of something that gets stashed somewhere, I started buying things that are useful to me that I would have bought at home.

In Canada I bought pants, a shirt, and a sweater, but not from a gift shop, instead from a department store in a mall. Whenever I wear those Tangerine Tango, Pantone’s color of the year 2012, pants, I am reminded of the Falls, the singing/dancing in the ferris wheel, and being bewildered when the Immigration & Customs agent interrogated me in the back of a minivan thinking I was trying to illegally escape New York.

In the Czech Republic, my belly button ring fell out and was lost. We just so happened to pass a Claire’s, a pretty famous cheap jewelry store in America where little girls buy hair accessories and jewelry for middle school dances. I bought a cheap 5 pack of belly button rings and have gone through 3 of them in the 2 years since that trip. Why would I buy something that I can get the exact same thing 45 min from my house at the nearest Claire’s? Every time I see my belly button, I remember Prague. Every time I change out my ring for a new one, I see the price tag on the back of the container with the price in Czech korunas or crowns.

My friends have given me special gifts such as Owl carvings made from wood from trees specific to Costa Rica because they know I love owls. I have this proudly displayed on my desk and I work with it to keep my desk stylized. I see this daily versus a mug. One wood carving is enough. Just as one mug is enough.

When buying a gift for someone, do not burden them by requiring them to set aside storage space for your item.

My opinion is mainly focused on buying souvenirs for myself. For others, well, they’re more difficult. Although the sentiment is the same, the extra time and thought put into gifts does not go unnoticed by the other person. If you enjoyed this, please share on pinterest!

a guide to buying souvenirs that dont suck

See you next Wednesday,
Vera

Easy Way to Earn Frequent Flyer Miles With Zero Effort

The best way to make money is passive money, money that keeps getting added to your savings account while you’re sleeping. The best way to earn Frequent Flyer Miles is to do it mindlessly. Sure you can shop through online portals and remember to use MileagePlus X before checking out in a store, but those require thought. The following way does not.

Linking your credit card to a dining rewards program, such as United’s Mileage Plus Dining, means that whenever you dine at a participating restaurant points will automatically get added to United Mileage Plus miles. No thought, no searching out restaurants, no buying gift cards, no submitting the receipt. Just having your credit card number linked and having points added while you sleep, or rather eat!

Earning Levels

Straight from MileagePlus Dining FAQ:

  • Member Level – earn 1 mile per $2 spent if you elect to not receive email communication from MileagePlus Dining.

  • Online Member Level – earn 3 miles per $1 spent if you elect to receive email communication from MileagePlus Dining.

  • VIP Member Level – earn 5 miles per $1 spent if you elect to receive email communication from MileagePlus Dining AND have 12 or more qualified dining transactions in a calendar year.

Don’t think; just earn (like your 401K it’s free points for things you are already doing)

Circle B Bar Reserve

Situated in the middle of nowhere Florida is a town called Lakeland that boasts one of the best wetland preserves in the state. Without the trip to the official Everglades National Park, which receives tons of tourists each year deservingly so, Circle B Bar Reserve boasts wildlife encounters without the crowds.

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Alligators Eating Other Alligators

After trending on Facebook, we drove to Circle B Bar to see a massive alligator eating another alligator. Alas, after our 1.5 hour drive there, Alligator Alley was closed due to nesting season. Yet, all the other trails  were open.

Beautiful Florida Oak “Spanish” Moss

Walking through trails covered by Spanish Moss meant shade. Other trails did not have a speck of shade and were a bit of a beating, but eventually it rained on and off. We loved the rain.

Pokémon GO

J and I used lucky eggs in Pokémon GO and walked around evolving, hatching eggs, and catching fire type Pokémon, Ponyta, while looking at water. Circle B Bar Reserve is full of Pokéstops and gyms. It was an amazing day. New Pokémon I caught at: Ponyta, Golduck, Abra, Squirtle, Cubone, Slowpoke, Nidorino, and many Pidgey/Rattata/Spearow/Caterpie/Weedle.

 

Best Part? It’s Free!

Texas Bucket List

Houston Bucket List

My partner has been relocated to Houston, TX for 8 months. This means once a month I’ll be flying Spirit to visit and have 8 visits to complete the list. Here is everything that will crossed out and linked to once completed.

To Go, Do, & See

  • Holocaust Museum Houston
    • Free with Student ID
  • Minute Maid Park
  • Astro’s Game
  • Buffalo Bayou Park
  • Houston Arboretum & Nature Center
    • Free
  • Cypress Trails
  • Beer Can House
  • Water Wall
    • Free
  • The Galleria
    • Free unless you buy something
  • Houston Grand Opera
  • Rice University Campus
    • Free if you secure parking
  • Rice University Trail
  • JPMorgan Chase Tower
  • Houston Zoo
    • Free First Tuesday of month Sept-May 2pm-close
  • Discovery Green
  • House of Blues
  • The Health Museum
    • Free every Thursday 2-7pm
  • Galveston Island State Park
  • Canino’s Market
    • Second Saturday of Month 10am-12pm
  • Moody Gardens (Galveston)

To Eat

  • Underbelly
  • Cafe Pita
  • Killen’s BBQ (Pearland)
  • Uchi

Dates

  • Cooking class (sushi)
  • Salsa lesson
  • Tandem Skydiving
  • Horseback on beach

Review: Spirit Airlines A320 Economy Tampa to Houston

Hello WTWT readers, with the recent degradation of frequent flyer loyalty programs my choice for flights is typically based on fare cost. My typical flight is TPA-EWR (Tampa to Newark round trip), but will now be TPA-IAH (Houston) since JR, my boyfriend, was relocated to TX. Spirit Airlines has base fares ~$70, where as United is ~$170 WTW. Since I only need underwear and a toothbrush and a super small capsule wardrobe for the time, I can fit everything in a small backpack which is include on Spirit as a personal item.

review spirit airlines

Spirit Airlines
Flight NK 315
Tampa (TPA) to Houston (IAH)
19 August 2016
Depart: 1955 (50min delay) EST
Arrive: 2038 CDT | Off plane: 2150 CDT
Duration: 1 hour 43 min in air + 1 hour 10 min to get to gate
Aircraft: Airbus A320
Seat: 5F there | 28 A on return

Booking

After searching the flight on Google Flights, I booked directly with Spirit. I set up a FREE SPIRIT (their frequent flyer program) account and made my way through to check out having to click “no I don’t want any add ons” for what felt like 30 times. Spirit is unapologetic and blunt about baggage fees, highly motivating you to buy baggage now and not at the gate. Before the flight I also received a few emails reminding me to buy baggage since at the gate baggage is $100 whereas during booking it is ~$35, and during online checkin, ~$45.

You can also upgrade to the “big front seat,” or to select a specific seat, but if I’m traveling ultra low cost, I’m not giving them anymore money than I absolutely have to.

Remember to do online check in and have access to print a boarding pass because spirit does not have an app and check in at the counter will run you $10. Shout out to the Embassy Suites for having free internet/printing by the check out desk during my stay in Houston.

Boarding

If you purchased baggage, you board first in zone 1, but as a personal item only person I boarded zone 4 seat 5F. I walked passed the big front seat, which was bigger, but not worth the extra money (~$40-80 one way).

I walked on, put my backpack under the seat, but still noticed the overhead bins were full. It seems people just put their personal items up there so as not to sacrifice the small amount of leg space. Therefore, it was still slow to board with people stopping to put bags in the bins.

The seats themselves are tight, but are the extra two inches worth double the ticket price? For me, no. This short 2 hour flight is about surviving not exactly enjoying the trip as would happen in international first class. I had a window seat and had an awesome seat mate. On the way back I didn’t chat with anyone at all, but I had enjoyable conversation on the way there. It helped to like your neighbor because inevitably you will bump arms or legs. On United flights, I typically lay the tray table down to sleep on it and choose aisle seating, but that was not possible in the amount of space. Thankfully, I had window seats each way.

The seats themselves seem “old” already even though there are advertisements on the plane saying that Spirit is the fit fleet with the newest planes of any airline. Yes things seem worn and budget materials, but it is a seat, it was comfortable, and I can see myself making this flight every other week saving money compared to flying United to Newark only once a month. This is great for a long distance relationship!

Flight

With a short delay on the tarmac, we were off. The flight attendants were great. They were funny, quick, and smiled often. Although there were no drinks or snacks provided, they did come by to ask if you wanted to purchase anything. My seatmate didn’t know that water wasn’t included so he had to buy a bottle. I had bought a bottle of Smart Water in the airport and a Quizno sandwich, which put me out ~$15. Typically I don’t buy lunch/dinner before a flight because I can count on United giving me nuts, pretzels, and extras if I ask nicely. But I have to say that I was more satisfied eating a hoagie for dinner than eating 2-3 packs of pretzels.

The captain updated us briefly along the way, the flight was smooth, and almost everyone around me was talking to their neighbors compared to other flights where most people are quiet except the people 2 seats s you talking in their outdoor voices (that used to be me because I can’t hear well on planes when my ears don’t equalize, but I’ve learned to talk softer than I think I have to).

Since the rows are closer together you hear more babies and conversations, but if you are talking yourself you don’t really hear it. On the way back I was silent, put in headphones, and didn’t mind my neighbors at all.

Overall

Spirit is about managing expectations. If you are looking to be pampered and someone to have amazing customer service, or you have to bring a full size carry on, don’t fly Spirit. If you want your butt and your purse/backpack in a seat, get somewhere cheaply, and to bring your own bottle of water or buy it, you will save a ton of money flying Spirit.

Travel better my friends,
Vera

Houston in 36 Hours

Are you wondering what to do in H-town for the weekend or long layover? No worries, here are some quick recommendations.

It is obvious that no location can truly be appreciated in less than two days, but here’s how J and I made the most of 36 hours together in H-town.

Get In My Belly (food&drink)

Y’all know I’m a sushi lover, but the highest rated Sushi places Kata Robata and Uchi did not have same day reservations available.

  • Hearsay Attached to the Embassy Suites, but you would never know it. The chic antique decor is beautiful and feels luxurious. Both of us enjoyed our entire meal at 1030pm. Recommendations: their interesting take on Crab Cakes
  • The Blue Fish At 5pm it was pretty empty, but having skipped lunch we walked here as quickly as possible for dinner. Sushi was good, reasonably priced, and did not have to dress up like one would for the fancier places in H-town. I love sushi, but don’t want to be judged for loving putting Spicy Mayo all over my rolls.
  • The Embassy Suites 
    • Unlike other hotels with either no breakfast or lousy muffins and an overripe banana, the Embassy has a chef making cooked-to-order omelets and pancakes along with the typical Continental hotel breakfast.
    •  The reception is the best part! Free snacks and alcoholic beverages, no tickets, no limits. Great to pregame or to just enjoy a couple drinks before going back to room and relaxing with your partner. If you’re a cat like me and want to go out and right back in, going downstairs for free drinks is much more doable than Ubering to a bar for 20 minutes.

Get In a Bed (lodging)

  • The Embassy Suites – Downtown On top of the benefits above, each room has a living room and separate bedroom. In the bedroom, there is a vanity and a radio with aux MP3 cable. Doing makeup in the bedroom instead of the bathroom is a game changer when J is trying to shower and I’m trying to get ready. Plus, Embassy Suites is by Hilton so we racked up Hilton points. J was here for business so we did not pay for the 2 nights we spent here. Embassy Suites did not know about Wednesday to Wednesday travel or the upcoming blog so there was no preferential treatment.

Get There (flights)

  • Spirit Airlines My full feelings on Spirit are best captured in their own post. IAH – George Bush Intercontinental Airport is a Spirit hub. Round trip ~ $75 with only a personal item (small bookbag) / no carry on / no checked bag. By far the cheapest if you can go without any baggage, but do you really need anything other than underwear and a tooth brush. Btw, I forgot my toothbrush and the hotel gave me a complimentary one.

Get Out and Do

  • Holocaust Museum Free for students, so bring your old college ID with you.
  • President’s Heads It was closed, but we could still see them from the road. There are no longer at the artist’s studio on Summer St (where the beatles statues remain) and are now (as of Aug 2016) at 2401 Nance St.
  • WaterwallThe Galleria Before hitting the mall, marvel at this giant wall of water and cool off with the mist that’ll surround you. Park at the mall for free parking not the lot right next to the water wall.
  • Discovery Green Best place to find a Bulbasaur on Pokémon GO? Discovery Green. Lots of free events such as yoga and exerceise groups going on. Also decent place to walk, be near water, and feel out of the city. If it’s nearby, stop. If not, don’t worry about driving in to see it.
  • Churches Beautiful methodist and catholic churchs that we were able to walk into by swiftly slipping through open side doors even if the main door was locked. #luckbewithyou
  • Rice University We walked around on move in day. It was so beautiful it made Buzzfeed’s list of the 41 most instagrammable college campuses in the #9 spot. Also, there are a ton of Pokéstops. As a true Villanovan, a wildcat would take down an owl every day though.

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