Summer Plans…Yes, Please.

This is just an initial post of many regarding summer plans. As a public school teacher, I am commitment-free from June 15th (@3pm!) through August 30th. Typically that means a vacation – somewhere, anywhere to get away from home. I need vacations, and if you have read my blog for any length of time, you know I prioritize vacations.

Two of my more recent moves have been the addition of two credit cards. These were “why not?” moments where I had read enough about travel hacking from sites like The Points Guy, Nomadic Matt, Flyertalk and Travel Break, that I decided I wanted to try some of the strategies. I am generally a smart traveler – flexible enough to take advantage of unexpected opportunities and in possession of enough wanderlust that I can easily and happily make an amazing vacation out of a last-minute destination.

This is one of my philosophies, and I found this in New Orleans.

This is one of my philosophies, and I found this in New Orleans.

A common topic that comes up on all of these “be a smart traveler” sites are which rewards credit cards to use and how to use them efficiently. I already have a Chase Venture credit card but I decided to avail myself of an additional card, or more. Earlier this year, I signed up for the BarclayCard World Elite Mastercard, which seems to be widely considered one of the three best travel rewards cards (along with the Chase Sapphire and the Starwood Preferred cards). With a $90-ish fee per year, and the first year waived, it offers (secondary) rental insurance, TripIt Pro access, chip & pin technology, and gives a flat 2 “miles per dollar” in rewards. Any travel expenses on the card can then be reimbursed at $1/mile. There’s a 10% bonus on redemption which basically gives a 2.2% yield on redeeming rewards. There was also a 40,000 mile signup bonus. After 3 months with this card, I already have over $500 of any travel expenses waiting to be reimbursed.

Before my trip to New Orleans for Spring Break a month ago (already a month???), I purchased a flight on Delta at a very good price. I decided to sign up for the Delta Skymiles AMEX – and try it for the year (fee free – waived). There’s a slightly increased potential to keep this card long term because my Costco AMEX will end next May and I will then cancel that – I want an AMEX and don’t need another of whatever it will switch to. Anyhow, this Delta Skymiles card came with an immediate $50 credit, free checked baggage (!), and 30,000 miles. That is enough for 2-3 one-way flights.

I was really curious what two extra credit cards would do to my credit rating. I expected a slight drop. As of today, they have actually gone up a bit – for example, my Experian rating went from 821 to 824. That makes me even happier. Ultimately, along with about 65,000 Alaska miles in my account, I thankfully have many options for summer travel, specifically for traveling on short notice. Google Flights helps me explore potential flights, and The Flight Deal offers a curated list of great (!) deals on a daily basis, from several major US cities.

This leads me to my summer plans, which I realize I haven’t mentioned. First off, I had the option to work summer school and I decided not to. I was going to hike Mt. Whitney – the tallest peak in the contiguous US – but wasn’t chosen for a permit for the dates I wanted. Then I was invited on a fabulous trip! My good friends Juan and Melanie, who are married, are going to be driving around the US this summer. Melanie is also a teacher so she needs to be back around the same time I am. They are going to be driving around the entire US and I am invited for as much as I want – a leg here and there, the whole thing, whatever. It will be a mix of campsites and budget accomodations, National Parks and urban centers. Their route is going to be motivated by the route recently calculated by Michigan State U. Computer Science research assistant Randal S. Olson’s Optimal Road Trip Across the U.S. You can see the route at that link, as well as how he computed it. I believe Juan and Melanie are planning to skip Wyoming, Wisconsin, and maybe one or two others for reasons of efficiency, but this could potentially add nine more states on to the 36 I have visited.

The states I have visited (plus MS, LA, and AL) as a mirror image.

The states I have visited (plus MS, LA, and AL) as a mirror image.

I think we will be good travel partners besides the fact that every once in a while, people need some alone time. I always have the option of staying longer in a certain place, then flying to meet them later. I could even fly home for stretches. It is 12,000 miles, after all. That’s pretty substantial but being able to rotate among three drivers will be great. I am thankful for this opportunity and even though it will be the hot, humid summer, I am really excited about going back to New Orleans. I loved it there, I need to go back, and I hope to reconnect with some people I met there. You probably know by now I get really excited about just about any travel. For example, last summer I drove seven hours to Boise, Idaho. I loved the experience, even amidst a fair amount of “why would you go there?” comments. On this trip, I am especially excited about Kansas City, Cincinnati, Detroit, Charleston, Savannah, N’Awlins, and Austin.

More to come!

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