Affordable Luxury is a Real Thing….

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View from the villa porch
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Master bedroom porch
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We each had a couch to stretch out on!
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Master suite
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Morning view
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We had the first floor. Upstairs is a separate bedroom/bath.
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Every morning was this beautiful

My best friend and I turned 50.  Not on the same day.  Not even in the same calendar year.  But we decided to celebrate in style with a trip.  The only problem:  Holli is a (very educated and underpaid) teacher + I have two kids in college = limited disposable income.  I’m supremely lucky to have Holli in my life.  But in this one travel planning instance, she is lucky to have me!  We weren’t doing no stinkin’ road trip to no budget motel for this milestone birthday!

First off, I convinced her last summer to apply for the US Airways master card from Barclay’s (no longer available) so that she could easily pick up a bunch of miles to be used on American Airlines with the sign up bonus, opening up our travel area.  We wanted to go somewhere neither of us had ever been.  Holli had never left the country before, but I’ve done a good amount of traveling.  We settled on Belize:  easy three hour flight, no state department warnings, second largest barrier reef in the world, and we are both fluent in their national language (English).  She booked her ticket via AA for 30,000 miles + $62.50: I booked! the same flight via British Airways site for 20,000 Avios + $62.50.  First step, done.

Did you ever find a place with deals so good you almost hate to share them?  I mean, what if a zillion people find out (and actually jump on) this site and all my great possibilities go the way of the dodo bird?  Well, if you’ve read this far, you deserve to know about this gem:  www.luxurytraveldiary.com  This is a blog site, and on this page, there is a golden banner that says “grab a deal in our travel auctions”.  Do yourself a favor and click on that.  Then sit back, close your gaping mouth, register on the site, and BID!  The offerings change, you bid in GBP (Great Britain Pounds–check the exchange rate so you know how much you are actually bidding) and you have to be aware of availability dates, but OMG!  Let me tell you, these are the real deal.  I grabbed a Belize bargain for me and Holli, costing us $75 USD each for four nights at Hopkins Bay Resort, including daily breakfast and a cooking lesson.  All for far less than I would have paid for one night at a Super 8.

I kid you not.  Holli and I had a 2BR/2Bath LUXURY villa, facing the beach.  The resort has kayaks and bikes to borrow, free wifi (with NO resort fee for any of this–I’m looking at you, Florida hotels).  The bartender doesn’t skimp on the alcohol (tell King I said “hi” when you go!)  The restaurant is open air and authentic–and delicious!  The staff (and everyone we met in Belize) is incredibly friendly and goes out of their way to accommodate you.  Case in point:  we wanted to set up some tours–snorkeling, Mayan ruins, etc.  For snorkeling, we were asked if we minded sharing our outing with another group.  ????WHAT????  Usually I hear that X number of people are required to “make” a tour.  Not at Hopkins Bay.  We ended up with three other women that we bonded with.  And the snorkeling was fantastic (thanks Capt Jack and Mr Santos!).   Our Mayan ruins tour was me, Holli, our guide, and a guide in training.  They took us to lunch afterwards at a local restaurant, and we enjoyed truly getting to know them.  (Kudos, Greg and Paul!)  I can’t say enough positive things about our Hopkins Bay experience.  I might even pay full price to go back here.  (High praise, indeed)

So the secret is out there.  Luxurytraveldiary.com is the shizz.  I’m going to go bid on more travel–they have some African safaris right now–and maybe I’ll be victorious once again!  Let me know if you bid on something and win it.  Good luck!

 

Yet ANOTHER Alaska Airlines Credit Card…..

I opened an Alaska Airlines Visa through Bank of America last year in order to get enough miles to bring my daughter home from Europe on American Airlines.  One extra benefit this card offers is a yearly companion certificate.  (Buy a coach ticket and get another ticket on the same itinerary for $99 + taxes–ends up being around $121 R/T.  Both tickets earn frequent flier miles and are upgradable.)  I was unsure if I would even use this.  But remember, I’m frugal (i.e. cheap), so I hate to not use a great discount.  The certificate expired on February 8.  I knew there was no way I would take a trip by then, so I took to Twitter to ask Alaska Airlines some questions.  (If you aren’t using Twitter as a way to get excellent customer service, you are missing out!)  The AS rep let me know that I just had to book a ticket by 2/08 for flights within the next 300 days.  And with Alaska’s very generous ticket change policy (best one I’ve experienced–no charge for changes 60+ days prior to flight), I knew I could make it work.  Now, where to go?

This is typically where I run into problems.  Not in finding somewhere to go, but rather in finding TOO MANY places to go!  I could fly DFW-SEA-SFO-HON on ONE ticket, spending a few days at each location.  I could fly direct to Hawaii.  I could go to Cabo or Juneau.  I could pick a single location in the Pacific Northwest.  SO MANY OPTIONS!!!!  Then it came down to “How many tickets?”  If  I decided to keep the credit card another year and pay the $75 annual fee, I’d have another companion fare certificate deposited to my account.  So, in effect, I could take 4/5 of my family somewhere by purchasing two tickets.  Decisions, decisions….(According to my Twitter conversation with AS, so long as I travel/pay for the fare, I’m golden.)

After looking at this from every angle, I decided to book a trip to Portland for me and my husband to celebrate our anniversary.  Why Portland?  The PNW is on my ever growing list of places I want to go.  PLUS, when I googled it, there are an impressive number of waterfalls in the area.  Big D loves waterfalls.  There are also wineries (woohoo!) and whale watching along the coast.  BOOM!  Winner!!  Booking was incredibly easy through the Alaska site.  I found direct flights both ways for a grand total of $500.83:  $366.20 for me, $134.63 for D.  I could have found a cheaper flight, but flying direct and at reasonable times means more to me than saving $75.  I filled out all the info, was about to click “pay”, and then magic happened.  An “Apply for an Alaska Airlines Visa, get 25,000 miles and $100 statement credit” offer appeared, with a “get approval in 60 seconds” button.

But remember:  I already have this card.  That’s why I’m here in the first place.  I’m not a card churner–someone who opens up several of the same cards just to max out bonus miles.  But 25,000 AS miles that can be redeemed on A LOT of great partners across multiple alliances?  PLUS a $100 statement credit after spending $1000?  AND, if I’m approved, I can use it on this ticket purchase, getting me halfway to the spend requirement?  What the heck.  I clicked apply now, filled out the forms, and one minute later got my approval!

So now I have a new AS credit card with another companion certificate.  Do I keep my original credit card when the annual fee comes due in March to get another companion certificate?  Or do I cancel that one and just hold the new AS credit card?  I don’t use these cards on a regular basis, although I’m not opposed to using them if there are some bonus categories offered at some point.  What would you do?