One of the hardest lessons to learn in travel hacking is knowing when to let go of a trip, particularly when it is ‘free’.
Recently, we took another gamble on Vegas. For new readers (or those who didn’t keep up with this) when we ‘Vegas’ we don’t gamble in the same way that others do. To the casual observer, gambling means taking some money, putting it in a slot machine or table game, and hoping for the best (regardless of card counting ability).
We approach the gamble very differently. My upside is not connected to winning or losing money, but whether the event of gambling triggers enough Comp to come out ahead of either financial result. If I lose $5000 but ‘win’ $50K in comp, I’ll take it. For those who MS, compare this to the guarantee of paying ~$7 to buy and liquidate a gift card that earns you $25 vs paying ~$0 to Kiva but knowing that there will be an element of randomness to the fee you pay.
Our latest gamble didn’t pay off. We were offered a free cruise on RCCL, but could get no further details. It could be a 7 night on the biggest, sparkliest ship in a suite (spoiler alert, it wasn’t), or 2 nights cruise to nowhere on their oldest tug boat. We wouldn’t know until we went to the booth to pick up the certificate. We rolled the dice.
Controlling the narrative
We stacked the odds in our favor by controlling the narrative of the trip. Rather than it being about going to Vegas to pick up the Certificate, it was about a nice vacation that incidentally involved us walking past this booth, and maybe hitting the Jackpot. We used points for flights (outbound in First Class because we wanted to control the flow of the vacation) the room was comped, and we had several hundred in free money from MGM and Caesars to spend on food.
In the end, because we focused on spending the free money wisely, and willingly spent real money outside of those chains to experience things that mattered, the trip turned out really well. This offset the loss on the certificate.
Close, but no cigar
We came close to picking a 4 or 5 night cruise that visited Cuba, as we haven’t been before. I even took the step of seeing if we could work around RCCL’s Partial Cruise rules that specifically cite Nassau as a hotspot port for cabotage:
If a passenger (as listed on a vessel passenger manifest) embarks in a U.S. port and the vessel calls in a nearby foreign port (such as Ensenada, Grand Cayman and Nassau) and then returns to the U.S., the person must disembark in the same U.S. port. A passenger who embarks and disembarks in two different U.S. ports (such as Los Angeles and San Diego) would result in the carrier (not the violator) being fined. The vessel must call in a distant foreign port before the U.S. embarkation and disembarkation ports can differ. The nearest distant foreign ports are in or off the coast of South America. If either the passenger’s embarkation port or disembarkation port is in a foreign country, then the provisions of this cabotage law do not apply. Nor do they apply in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The plan for this was to find an itinerary that touched base in Cuba first, to clear Cabotage, then disembark in Nassau to stay at Atlantis (also for free) before flying NAS>JFK non stop. It would be a good example of how we splice together travel these days:
- JFK>FLL on ‘whoever is the cheapest in pts’
- Feb 16th: Would need 1 night hotel pre cruise (to keep stress low)
- Feb 17th embark 4 Night cruise, but exit in Nassau
- Several nights at Atlantis, and home to JFK
(the cabotage issue would be that ‘short hops’ outside of the US require you to re-enter the US at the same point you departed, so a nonstop to JFK from NAS might be an issue.. Cuba might address that, but Cuba also isn’t the best Country to be leaning on to help clear up US immigration concerns… oh, and incidentally I’m currently exploring Naturalization, so that would be a factor).
Letting go of free
It was almost a great trip. The cruise fare for two would be taxes and fees only, so around $230, but once you add in the 3rd guest, and the onboard gratuities, we would be around $800-900. Also, the ship wasn’t that sparkly. I might pay $800-900 to experience the Oasis Class, but for the older ships, I didn’t think it great value.
I understand that to someone else, it would be great value, but the final piece for us was that we really want to see Cuba, so the alternative option of flying nonstop JFK>HAV and spending a few nights in Cuba seemed a lot more immersive. There was a lot of fluff and waste with the cruise, so despite it being a deal compared to paying full rate, it wasn’t a deal to us.
The decision increasingly includes the following:
If we’re going to a destination to see it, does the ‘free’ trip cover the bases, or is it only somewhat OK? Traveling even to somewhere close like Havana takes a fair amount of time (driving to/from airports+flights+whatnot) so it is important to us to visually walk through how the vacation would feel. Perhaps it would feel fine on a cruise in some cases, but in others, and when the price is already perhaps more than immersion, the ‘free’ option doesn’t fit.
Factors on why our thinking may differ from yours:
Demand/Load – we have other options. The cruise gig is now totally out of hand where we could book at least 8 cruises in the next 6 months to basically anywhere in the world. While it is hard to do, especially with a new line like RCCL, something has to give else we will just be on vacation permanently. If we had no other cruise options, I think we’d likely go for this one, but at some point, we had to say no.
So.. we didn’t hit the jackpot in Vegas this time around, but we learned to say no to free. When doing so, we also agreed that we could risk losing Atlantis too, as it wasn’t a good time to travel right now. The next challenge for us is whether we can say no to the gamble. IE, if we are offered a similarly obscure ‘free cruise’ if we go to Vegas, will we decline unless they give us the details, or will we roll the dice again?
Here’s some posts on what I’ve been doing on the gambling stuff, so you don’t have to search for it. For those following, our offers are now down to 3 nights in a room vs suite, and $50 in F&B, and I am now getting marketing from Circus Circus vs Aria Skysuites. Our trip to Vegas to pick up this Voucher is written up here: Storytelling through food. We spend $0 ‘gambling’ because actual casino gambling, no matter how savvy you think you are, is throwing away money.
Soft pink and white petals create a magnificent cherry blossom display in Washington, DC. Beyond and among the blooms are the majestic monuments and memorials dedicated to Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, George Washington, Martin Luther King, Jr. and our heroes from the Vietnam and Korean wars and World War II.
Stroll along the Tidal Basin, Hains Point and the Kenwood section of the city — like TPG contributor Grandpa Points (Buddy Smith) did last spring — and you’ll have a lifetime supply of memories and photos for your family greeting cards. The annual National Cherry Blossom Festival is held for three weeks from late March to early April and includes a joyous parade; a high-flying kite festival where children can make and fly kites on the grounds of the Washington Monument; and a 10-mile run, 5K run-walk and a kids run, among other activities. (March 20–April 14, 2019)
But the nation’s capital is not the only place to enjoy cherry blossoms. You can find cherry blossoms along the East and the West coasts. And because there’s a slight variation in blooming time from north to south, you may find one that’s at a more convenient time and location for you and your family. And, of course, if you’ve got a nice stash of miles and points, you should always take your family to Japan to see stunning cherry blossoms in Tokyo and Osaka. Though note that while the tips for planning a trip to see DC cherry blossoms are loosely applicable for all of these destinations — Mother Nature is hard to predict and plan around.
Georgia Has More Than Peaches
Macon, Georgia’s International Cherry Blossom Festival lasts 10 days. More than 350,000 Yoshino cherry trees bring clouds of pinkness to springtime, which could easily make Macon, Georgia, the cherry blossom capital of the country. The Central City Park Festival started as a three-day event in 1982 under the auspices of the Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission; the family-friendly celebration features hundreds of events. Among the highlights are a K-12 art contest, free nightly concerts, cherry tree sale, lantern light tours, a pink pancake breakfast, wiener dog race, a bed race, heroes day at Central City Park and a parade. (March 22–31, 2019. Admission is $5 for adults and free for kids 10 and under.)
Where to Stay: Homewood Suites by Hilton Macon – North from 30,000 Hilton Honors points. Homewood is one of TPG Family‘s favorite hotel chains for families.
Vancouver Has Cherry Blossoms, Too
The Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival highlights about 50 different varieties of more than 2,500 cherry trees that reach peak bloom throughout most of April. The family-friendly fair explores traditional and Japanese cultural arts, with loads of vendors and performers. Among the activities are a Haiku Invitational Contest, the Big Sing choral event, the Big Picnic (April 13 from noon to 3pm), tree talks and concerts. The Spring Lights Illumination takes place April 11–13 at the Stanley Park Japanese Canadian War Memorial, where the trees in Stanley Park are illuminated with vibrant projections created by local artists. If you want that perfect photo op, check the website for the trees’ location and stage of bloom. It’s best to take public transportation to Queen Elizabeth Park. Ticket prices will be announced in March. Children under 3 are free. (April 4–April 28, 2019)
Where to Stay: The Category 5 Delta Hotels Vancouver Downtown Suites is available during the festival from 35,000 Marriott Rewards points. Here you could use an annual 35k award night from the Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express® Card or Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card.
Head to Philly for a Riot of Blossoms
In the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, the annual Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival has celebrated the return of spring since 1998. Among the weeklong citywide cultural celebrations include film screenings, kimono dressing, traditional dance and martial arts, ceremonial taiko drummers from Tamagawa University, a tea ceremony and two stages with live entertainment that culminates in Sakura Sunday at Shofuso Japanese House and Garden in Fairmount Park (one of the country’s largest urban parks). The near-forest of 1,600 sakura (flowering Japanese cherry trees) was planted in 1926 as a gift from the people of Japan in honor of our sesquicentennial. (Various locations, including Shofuso Japanese House and Garden, Lansdowne and Horticultural drives. April 6–14, 2019. Mostly free, though Sakura Sunday costs $15 for adults with children under 12 free.)
Where to Stay: Kimpton Hotel Monaco Philadelphia, right across the street from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, from 55,000 IHG Rewards Club points per night. Be sure your kids know the secret password to get a surprise at check-in if one is available during your stay.
Enjoy Japantown’s Floral Display
The Japantown neighborhood of San Francisco is home to the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival that draws more than 200,000 people each year over two weekends in April. Included in the festivities, started in 1968, are traditional music, dance and other cultural activities. Try Japanese and Japanese–American culinary treats (sushi, tempura and chicken or beef teriyaki) and revel in the Grand Parade (Sunday, April 21, 2019) that starts at 1 p.m. City Hall on Polk Street near McAllister and ends about two hours later at Japantown near the Peace Plaza. Most of the events take place on Post Street and include taiko drumming, tea ceremonies and traditional Japanese folk dancing. The Sanrio Kids Corner has Hello Kitty and her friends entertaining children. (April 13–21, 2019)
Where to Stay: The Holiday Inn San Francisco – Golden Gateway is a 15-minute walk to Japantown and can be booked with IHG Rewards Club points (from 50k per night). The IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card offers 80k bonus points after spending $2,000 in the first three months from account opening.
Japanese Culture in the Pacific Northwest
At the three-day Seattle Cherry Blossom & Japanese Cultural Festival, you can explore and experience the cultural roots and contemporary influences of Japan through free live performances, visual arts (shodo ink paintings, origami demonstrated by the Puget Area Paperfolding Enthusiasts Roundtable, temari silk threading, kibori woodcarving and more), foods and games. In 1976, then-Prime Minister Takeo Miki of Japan gave the city 1,000 cherry trees in honor of the country’s bicentennial. The festival is the largest and oldest of its kind in the Northwest. If you just want to see pretty blossoms, try Green Lake Park, the University of Washington Liberal Arts Quadrangle, Washington Park Arboretum and Mount Baker Park. (April 26–28, 2019)
Where to Stay: Embassy Suites Seattle Downtown Pioneer Square. With Wi-Fi and breakfast included, it’s a great deal for families. Reward nights during the festival are available between 67,000 and 70,000 Hilton Honors points per night. Before your stay, read up on which Hilton credit card is best for family travelers. There are also some solid Hyatt options in Seattle.
Brooklyn’s Sakura Matsuri Festival
While you can find Kwanzan and Yoshino cherry trees and blossoms in several places in New York’s Central Park in late April and early May, the big festival is the weekend-long Sakura Matsuri festival at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. More than 200 trees in 26 varieties set the frame around the 60-plus family-oriented activities. You can participate in various workshops, visit the puzzle plaza, watch samurai sword master performances, Japanese dances, taiko drumming, ikebana flower arranging, cooking demonstrations, tea ceremonies, craft demonstrations, puppet shows, calligraphy art, displays of geta shoes, a kimono fashion show and meet manga artists as you learn about Japanese culture and history. (April 27 and 28, 2019. Admission is $15 for adults and $8 for seniors 65+ and students 12+ with ID. Kids under 12 and members are free; advance ticket purchase recommended.)
Where to Stay: TRYP New York City Times Square South is just 15,000 Wyndham Rewards points per night (that even includes a room that accommodates up to eight people!). Or, here are some other top picks for families in NYC. And, learn how your family can enjoy New York City without hitting the usual tourist traps.
Cherry blossoms can be seen across the country (and world), but timing your trip correctly can be a challenge. But it is a challenge well worth it if you can make it work! Has your family gone in search of cherry blossoms? Where did you visit?
Featured image by Buddy Smith / The Points Guy
When Leon McCarron ventured along the 200-kilometer-long trail that connects Kosovo, Montenegro and Albania, he found a path that entwines the region’s dark history, natural beauty and promising future.
It’s fall 2017 when I travel to the Balkans to explore what seemed to me to be a wonderfully audacious project: A 200-kilometer-long hiking trail called ‘Peaks of the Balkans’.
Connecting Kosovo, Montenegro and Albania, this series of pathways through the rugged and remote mountains that characterize these borderlands would be an engaging introduction to this under-visited region.
The post What’s it like to hike through the Balkan borderlands? appeared first on Adventure.com.
EARLIER THIS MONTH, a decommissioned Boeing 747 airliner was towed down a Dutch motorway to its final destination as a novelty hotel complex. Its owners reckon they can turn the jumbo-jet into a tourist attraction. They are not wrong.
Progress is being made on the rescue plan for Alitalia. Bloomberg
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