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5 Ways To Use Frequent Flyer Miles (Other Than Flying)

air force one replica

You might not be flying as much lately – global pandemic or otherwise – but your accumulated frequent flyer miles don’t have to go to waste. Although many airlines have extended frequent flyer programs so your miles won’t expire any time soon, you can put the miles you have now to good use.

Here are 5 ways to use your frequent flyer miles for everything that’s not a flight.

1. Shopping

Most airlines have online malls with a number of retailers including Apple and Best Buy. You’ll find these online malls through the airline mileage website and can use any miles you have for discounts or to purchase items outright. Additionally if you’re using a credit card with mile perks, they most likely will have an online store as well.

sydney australia mall

2. Take A Road Trip

Frequent flyer miles can be used for car rentals or hotels so don’t limit yourself to the sky. As a general rule you’ll get more bang for your mile using points in the travel industry as opposed to a new iPad (see point 1 above).

3. Convert To Cash

You can trade in frequent flyer miles for cash, especially if they’re accumulated through a credit card. NerdWallet breaks down Marriott’s award program (.3 cents per point) but according to Alex Miller, the CEO of Upgraded Points, you want to aim for conversions of a cent per mile.

trove wallet

4. Donate

You’re a good person, I’m sure but just so you know, unless you bought your frequent flyer miles donating them won’t be a tax deduction in most cases. You can though donate your miles, in case you didn’t know that. (Works for random currency you’ve accumulated traveling too.) There are a number of good causes most mileage programs have partnered with and your miles can help others escape political violence or make ends meet (by converting miles to cash).

sunset flight

5. Give To Friends And Family

There’s often a fee to transfer miles to another account (if you’re married though maybe not so contact the airline) but for those people who need to fly, your miles might help them get what they need for a free flight. Like many of the points already mentioned, the best way is through the airline’s online mileage program site, then call to see what better options they might offer you.

While You Wait

Most people haven’t checked up on the miles they have recently or when they might be expiring. If that sounds like you, check your frequent flyer miles right now to make sure they aren’t (or haven’t) vanished. Contact the airlines to see what extension plans are in effect since when travel does resume, you’re likely to get some great deals with the miles you have. So, unless you have a good reason not to, it’s best to stash your miles until you’re ready for sky time since they can protect you from flight cancellations as well.

The Balcony With Nepal’s Best Sunrise View

Just above the Kathmandu Valley whose mountain walls stubbornly holds on to the smog produced in the Nepalese capital, is a view of the Himalayas worth taking a day trip to see. Several hours outside Kathmandu, Nepal, the town of Nagarkot sits at the edge of the valley focused on the Himalayas.

Everything here, from the hotel balconies and conspicuously treacherous ladder stand, is focused on a single daily event: the morning sunrise.

Planning The Spot

Despite the central focus on daybreak, Nagarkot requires some planning to make sure you get the not only the right view but a comfortable spot from which to take it all in. There are a number of good hotels, I can vouch for Hotel Country Villa, just make sure to ask for a room with a balcony view when booking. I’d also recommend one of the rooms further from reception to the left if you’re facing the mountains (they’re quieter) and go for a deluxe room, which aren’t much more expensive then regular ones.

hotel country villa

You’ll not only have a more comfortable stay but a more peaceful view of the sunrise. Hotels in Nagarkot have all of their balconies essentially designed to maximize viewing area, meaning they are right next to each other. A noisy neighbor can quickly take away from the experience and most go to the buffet area to watch, so the more distance the better.

Getting To Nagarkot

You’ll probably be staying in Kathmandu already and the easiest way is to negotiate a driver to take you. Most will happily offer the service, which should cost around $60 for the 90 minute round trip ride. Drivers will stay in the town after dropping you off and to beat Kathmandu rush hour, try leaving in the late afternoon before 5pm.

nagarkot sunrise

Some of the best views become apparent as the risen sun burns off some of the sky mist in Nagarkot. Checkouts are usually around 11am, worth sticking around for, although most drivers will want to leave as early as possible. Be clear you’ll want to return closer to noon, giving you enough time for sunrise, breakfast after, and the Himalayan views as the skies brighten.

Wake Up With Efficiency

Sunrises at altitude over some of the world’s highest mountains appears faster than what you experience at sea level horizon. Whatever the stated sunrise time is (on your phone or at the hotel, usually posted at reception), you’ll want to get up 45 minutes before using your bladder or this alarm trick to avoid oversleeping. That gives you a 30 minute head start to get your balcony view plus any cameras set up (with a healthy margin of error).

The sun will appear roughly 30 minutes after the “sunrise” time giving you plenty of time to enjoy the view. On the way out of town, most drivers will stop by this lookout tower if you’re willing a climb for another Himalaya view as part of one of the best day trips from Kathmandu.

Student Shares What To Know When Moving To Chicago For College

This is a guest post by Brian Selcik, a student at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, where he is studying for a BFA in Musical Theatre Dance.

chicago skyline

You may be a new student preparing a move to begin studying at one of Chicago’s many universities and institutions. Having gone through the process myself not too long ago, here are some things I’ve learned that will help plan for your first semester in Chi-town.

Parents, Students, Either.. Both? Take A Breath

The city of Chicago is like its own small country of 2.7 million people who enjoy over 40 kilometers (26 miles) of public beaches, lively local theater, plus the 4th busiest airports in America making it very accessible. Many universities in Chicago are located in the Loop right off of Lake Michigan. (This is the Loop.) There are over 7,000 restaurants and sights that bring over 55 million tourists annually and going to school right in the heart of the city allows you to experience it all.

chicago skyline evening

Don’t Make Your Living Environment Your Work Environment

One of the best pieces of advice I have for really anyone going to college is not to make your living environment your work environment. Dorm rooms are designed for you to eat, sleep, and live but don’t mistake a desk for a ideal place to study. It is hard to focus on work in a place where you sleep and relax – the opposite is also true. (Parents, you wouldn’t want to eat dinner in an office, would you?) But in Chicago you’re lucky to have many great places to get school work done. Some of my favorites are Dollop Coffee, Hayden Hall, Harold Washington Library, and even the new experiential lululemon at Lincoln Park.

chicago coffee shop

Explore The Loop

There is virtually no place in Chicago five miles around the Loop that would not have some great locations to explore with friends. Take your U Pass (the unlimited student ride pass for the public transportation) and head on the Red Line in either direction. At most any stop you’re probably going to find yourself in a cool location with coffee shops, restaurants, and so much more to experience.

It’s comfortable to get stuck in the few blocks around your university so taking the time to use your U Pass and explore is something allows you to make the most of your time in Chicago. A few of my favorite stops off the Red Line are Chicago and State, North-Clybourn, Fullerton, and Belmont.

Get Out When It’s Cold

Chicago is known for a lot of things but the cold weather during winter is definitely one of the most infamous. While it can get pretty bad you can still absolutely go out and explore as long as you are prepared. (It’s all about dressing properly!) Ear covers, a long coat, thick socks, a warm scarf, and gloves are all you need to survive the cold. You can stay outdoors and go ice skating at Millennium Park, or you can head indoors and go somewhere like the Chicago Board Game Cafe. The cold is not as bad as people (who usually aren’t from here) make it out to be as long as you are leaving your building prepared for the weather! Layers people, layers.

lululemon chicago

Go See A Show!

Chicago has one of the best theater districts in the country where you can see some innovative, creative, and inspiring work. You have your bigger companies like The Goodman, Steppenwolf, and Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, but also your smaller store-front theater like BoHo Theatre and Kokandy Productions. There are always student discounts available (for tickets generally ranging between $10-15) and even some ushering opportunities where you get to see the shows for free. New shows happen year round so there you can go see new work whenever you have a free weekend.

Urbs in Horto

Since studying here I’ve come to realize Chicago is one of the best cities in the world. With its restaurants, history, and theaters, the unique location makes it a special place to live and study. Those of you planning your first semester in Chicago, hopefully these seeds will help you grow quickly in the city in a garden.

Thank you Brian for taking time in between your studies to share your experience and recommendations for new students coming to Chicago! This isn’t Brian’s first guest post on the site so if you’re visiting London see this, want to see Hamilton for cheap read this, and for a Harry Potter trip to Orlando click here. Brian’s also on Instagram @brian_potter7.

How To Travel

new york city

There are a lot of ways to travel smarter but if you want the most straightforward advice on how to get started, this is your guide.

First of all, traveling is not that hard. At least not the basics in general, assuming you’ve got some disposable income, a bit of time, and of course the inclination to go somewhere.

Where To Go

Traveling can mean a lot of things but often the first thing to come to mind is some far off exotic place. Those can be great choices but you’ve probably never gone to the tourist sites in your own town. What about the next town over? Maybe you want to start a travel blog or YouTube channel, you don’t need to go very far to do either.

Since you can’t see the entire world in a lifetime, these places are good choices to start from. If you love street food, definitely go to these cities. Adventure sports? Las Vegas. Want to see how much it costs to fly from where you are to anywhere? Kayak Explore will show you.

Honestly though, most of us have a place we’ve always really wanted to see. Don’t let people talk you out of it. Get suggestions on things to do nearby (more ideas can’t hurt) but if there’s somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, that’s where you should probably be headed. You might love or hate a place and that can change over time so aside from actual dangerous places, all you’re hearing are people’s opinions about a given point in time.

travel memes

And if someone’s never been to a place don’t listen to their advice about a place. It’s probably negative and definitely uninformed.

How To Go

Some places you have to fly. For others, taking a train is more environmentally friendly but also easier on your body than taking an airplane. Remember to add 4 hours at least to any total flight time – that covers getting to an airport on time, checking in, plus going through security. A 30 minute flight is really more like 4 or more hours of travel time.

Obsessing over flight prices isn’t likely to save you much nor is booking on a Wednesday. Check out multi-city flights. Travel savings are much more obtainable through choosing the right accommodation, where you eat, and by simple packing habits like buying a reusable water bottle.

What To Take

Recently I saw this tweet which is mostly true unless you’re a French horn musician. What you use at home is what you’ll use on the road. You shouldn’t pack more than you can use in two weeks and most specialized travel gear isn’t versatile enough to justify the costs (remember what I said about saving above?)

arthurs seat edinburgh

Learn these important phrases of the local language using this powerful tool. Gum or mints are essential. One other thing, it’s usually worth paying a bit more to get durable gear. Cheap fabrics don’t withstand traveling well so it’s better to get one good thing than 3 cheap things over the same period of time. Plus good products usually come with good warranties because the brands can stand behind their products.

Stay Connected

Currency is a helpful app that works offline. WiFox gives you passwords to all the airports in the world, important since getting to your accommodation from the airport is when you’re most vulnerable. Find some good travel blogs, they give good firsthand insights that can help with planning, navigating scams, and learning the local customs.

scottish highlands

Download Google Maps offline to help you get around. Put the phone down and look up when you don’t need it.

faucetsafe app

Go with the flow, try a food you’ve never had, and always eat where the locals do. Long lines of tourists don’t always indicate the best places to eat and TripAdvisor can only get you so far. Ask a local. Try it, you’ll get good advice like this.

Remember The Important Things

There’s certainly more, but this should help get you started. Traveling can be tiring, confusing, or a bit lonely sometimes. Keep in mind that if you can travel for recreation, you’re one of the lucky ones on Earth. Not everyone can travel and for most of human history it was impossible to move like we do now.

Understanding other cultures doesn’t require much footwork far or near – meeting new people can give you an important insight. Getting out of cities and into nature can give you perspective. The one thing to bring on any journey is an open mind, without that, you can visit every country in the world and still have not seen much of anything at all.

Everything You Need To Know About Attending CES In Las Vegas

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) takes place in Las Vegas every January so this post written in July may seem a awkwardly early, but for those of you thinking of attending, this is the time of year to begin planning. Over 110,000 people go to CES annually and while getting to the convention is relatively simple, there are a few things I’ll be doing differently the next time.

You can watch all of my CES tips in the video above or read on.

What Is CES?

CES is the world’s biggest consumer electronics show where companies come to show off some of their upcoming, conceptual, and unique tech. From underwater drones to autonomous flying cars, CES has morphed from what’s coming next year to the edge of what might be possible in the near future. The futurology present at CES is impressive enough to make it worthwhile for many travelers to visit, even if you’re not a complete tech head.

ces vr bmw

Getting Tickets

Registration starts in the middle of summer the year before CES. For browsing the massive show floors, an entry level registration will be more than enough for a full 3-days at the show. Tickets run around $300 for the public with media, blogger, and other influencers passes available as well if you meet certain criteria. Show tickets are plentiful, highly unlikely to sell out, but hotels on the other hand are a different story.

Where To Stay

The earlier you book accommodation, the better, since even Vegas’ hotel capacity is somewhat stretched during CES. Most of the Airbnb options aren’t close to the Strip or convention halls, but healthy competition between casinos means you can usually get a good deal if you start searching before September. Outside of the actual show days, “Old Vegas” has a number of discounted room rates for CES attendees. After CES begins however, it’s more efficient and cost effective to stay at a hotel with direct access to the Las Vegas Monorail.

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Traffic to CES is a mess of metal and knowing this, ride share companies seem to surge their prices accordingly. The Monorail means you can get in and out quickly, at a flat rate.

Strategize The Floor Space

You can’t see everything at CES, nowhere near it. Interested in cars? There’s a massive hall for all of them, plus outdoor demos, which can eat up a full day. Before you get the idea to move faster, at CES it’s advisable to pick a few things you want to see and go in-depth. Aside from the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), CES is spread over 10 other convention halls, casinos, and showrooms.

Sands Expo has some of the smaller, independent inventors and startups. Plan to set aside at least an afternoon to get there using one of the free shuttles from LVCC, the main hub of activity to center your CES strategy around.

Keep With The Basics

Some sound advice applicable to a lot of these type of big events like comic cons: arrive early in the morning, bring your own water, snacks, plus a few external batteries – outlets aren’t the easiest to come by. Overall, CES is an entertaining experience, particularly if you’re looking for travel gear to get your hands on during a trip to Las Vegas with or without the usual sites.

When Airbnb Is Better Than A Hotel (And The Other Way Around)

There are three types of travelers who pay for accommodation: those who primarily use hotels or hostels, those who stick to Airbnb, and the very few who alternate between the two. It’s easy to get comfortable with a particular travel workflow but if you’re diehard in either the Airbnb or hotel camp, you might be missing the advantages both have in different situations.

Here’s when to use Airbnb or a hotel, depending on you travel plans.

Misconceptions About Hotels And Airbnb

Let’s lay down some ground work. First, by hotels, I mean traditional accommodation which includes a variety of services such as cleaning or meals. Airbnb lets you rent a room or an entire home from someone else, generally on a short term basis.

There’s a blurring line happening here, where Airbnb renters are becoming more professional, offering additional services – and hotels are getting into the Airbnb game as well. On the flip side, hotels are now offering more of the perks of Airbnb, such as free wifi. Consequently, Airbnb has gotten more expensive while hotel prices have lowered to compete.

hotel valladolid

Many people who aren’t familiar with Airbnb often confuse it with Couchsurfing, where you crash at someone’s place for free. Although you can rent out a single room in a home or apartment using Airbnb, you’re always paying for it. Travelers who rely primarily on Airbnb, tend to always assume hotels are more expensive which is hardly the case these days.

Last Minute Bookings: Hotel

Much like flights, booking at the very last minute can leave you with exceptionally high or low price options. You might be in luck if someone isn’t able to rent out their place but generally speaking, hotels are often a cheaper alternative in these cases – for the simple reason there’s more of them. Consequently, competition between various hotels and hotel booking engines, encouraging price competition whereas on Airbnb, there’s only Airbnb. (True, there are other home rental options but Airbnb has the most market share.)

Large Groups Or Families: Airbnb

In terms of price per person, Airbnb typically works out much better. Of course it depends on the renter but usually, for large enough homes, the total cost of the stay doesn’t increase much with more guests. In other words, if a home is listed as accommodating up to 6 people, usually then the rate for 2 people versus 6 isn’t much different. Hotels on the other hand are designed for 2-4 people – larger rooms aren’t often available in bulk, so they’re more expensive in general.

hotel swimming pool

Services: Airbnb

Many Airbnbs will offer free wifi, a kitchen, laundry machine, refrigerator, microwave, plus the attentiveness of a single owner, rather than an anonymous clerk at a customer service desk. (Except hotels also may bundle common services such as airport pickup into the price, saving you the cost of a ride.) Having all of those services can save you money over a longer stay since you can get groceries and cook, for example, but for very short trips, you might end up paying for things you never use.

Length Of The Stay: Depends

Longer stays of more than a few days tend to always be cheaper using Airbnb. Hotels charge by the night, mostly a flat rate per day that doesn’t take into account the total time you’ll be staying. Airbnbs on the other hand tend to be more expensive on a daily basis, but discounted in week long or monthly increments. For longer stays you can also contact the owner directly, circumventing Airbnb (as well as its protections) to save even further.

Late Night Arrivals, Comfort, Events: It Depends

One area where Airbnb can get a bit annoying is when you’re arriving late at night. Some owners have automated key lock boxes for guests but where it’s not an option, you’ve got to coordinate through Airbnb’s messaging system. In theory, not too difficult but if your flight’s delayed or you don’t have mobile service upon arrival, it can make communicating hard. Hotels are generally staffed 24 hours so for late night arrivals they make for easier check-ins. In cities where there’s no Uber taxi drivers will have a better idea of where the hotels are; finding an Airbnb in the middle of the night could mean a few extra turns to get lost or scammed.

granada at night

Hotels, for better or worse, are consistent in their quality, not to mention security as well. You can look up a Yelp or TripAdvisor review and have a pretty good idea of what you’ll end up with. Alternatively, cleanliness can vary more widely with Airbnbs. Some owners have lots of reviews you can rely on but even in those cases, I’ve stayed at places where the owner had an off day. They either didn’t arrange the cleaning staff in time for my arrival, forgot, or seemed hungover. An Airbnb can often get away with one bad review among many good – besides most people don’t leave as bad of reviews on Airbnb. (Owners certainly reach out to prevent it.) Hotels have a public image to maintain, full-time staff, and more prepared for a high volume of guests one after the other.

When it comes to conferences or other special events, hotels can be advantageous if you book well in advance before rooms are scarce. Select hotels usually have conference rates and discounts, tending to be closer to the event themselves (potentially saving you on daily transportation costs). Most convention centers or stadiums aren’t in residential areas, meaning few Airbnbs nearby. The Airbnbs that are close go (significantly) up in price, while those further away end up costing you in Uber fees. All of this assumes you’re in town for a short trip.

Always Check Both For Comfort

You want to avoid the habit of only checking for hotels or Airbnb when looking at a particular destination. All of the above are generalities that can’t take into account very specific circumstances, how lucky you are, and the type of trip it is. For some people, a kitchen and a laundry machine give convenience, for others, it’s a burden they’d rather leave at home.

Hotels are generally a straightforward deal, might get you reward points, but there’s less wiggle room for negotiation. You can always call directly, use corporate discounts, or look at private rooms in fancier hostels as well. With Airbnb, a reverse image search helps uncover deals, this device can uncover hidden cameras, and you can turn your phone into a hotel room surveillance device wherever you stay.

What do you prefer? Hotel, Airbnb, or neither? Let me know in the comments below!

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About Anil Polat

foxnomad aboutHi, I'm Anil. foXnoMad is where I combine travel and tech to help you travel smarter. I'm on a journey to every country in the world and you're invited to join the adventure! Read More

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