2017 – The African Godmother, Aussie-style Glamping & Revised Miles & Points Goals

It’s pretty hard to top our 2016 travels………………but if anything can, it would be another African adventure.   Last year, I made plans and pretty much nailed it, but no time to rest on my laurels!   2017 will see what will probably be our last trip to Africa (unless we win Lotto) so we are going to make the most of it while we can!  Bring on the Godmother of All African Adventures!

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2017 TRAVEL PLANS

After most airline miles programs devalued last year, I was worried that if we put off our long haul travel, we may not be able to make them happen.  Turns out I was right, Velocity devalued their partner awards on Etihad both in terms of mileage required and a shocking new surcharge.  United did away with their traditional stopovers and made their new Excursionist Perk program more restrictive in terms of regions and routings.  If I hadn’t booked when I did, we would have had to cough up more money, more points and travel in economy on Etihad instead of business class.  The itinerary targets all (except Niam-Niam) parrots in Africa that we haven’t seen yet and a few old friends like the African Grey (hopefully closer up), the Red-bellied Parrot and more!  So Africa here we come……………..and not a moment too soon!

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Trip #1

Brisbane – Perth – Abu Dhabi, car to Dubai for a couple days.  Used AAdvantage on QF in Y and Velocity on Etihad J before devaluations happened.

Dubai – Nairobi – Entebbe.  Used Flying Blue on KQ in Y.

UGANDA:  Will be visiting birding hotspots like Entebbe Botanical Gardens, Mabamba Swamp, Mabira Forest & possibly Ngamba Chimpanzee Sanctuary where African Grey Parrots rescued from poachers were released into the wild.  (FYI:  This will be my 2nd trip to Uganda and I have already visited the mountain gorillas in Bwindi and chimps in Kibale).  My main goal is to get African Grey Parrots closer up and possibly Meyers Parrots and some other cool birds like Shoebills and Turacos.

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Entebbe – Addis Ababa – Lusaka – Windhoek.  Used United miles on Ethiopian & South African airlines in Y class.  This is a one region with a stop-over that technically wasn’t allowed before but sometimes slipped through.  It’s no longer possible with Excursionist Perks.

ETHIOPIA:  Will visit either or both of Wondo Genet & Lake Lugano.  Originally we were going to stay at Bishangari Lodge but it was burned down by protesters in Oct 2016.  The new plan is to fly to Awassa, then make day trips from there.  Once back in Addis Ababa, we will stay at the Ghion Hotel (their grounds are a birding hotspot) and a day trip to Menagesha Forest.  I’m targeting 2 endemic parrots – Yellow-fronted Parrot & Black-winged Lovebird plus other species.

ZAMBIA:  Will hightail it out of Lusaka to Livingstone for Victoria Falls/Mosi-o-tunya NP and the Machile IBA for Black-cheeked Lovebirds.  Then it’s on to Mfuwe and South Luangwa NP which is a hotspot for Lillian’s Lovebirds.

NAMIBIA:  We’ll pick up a rental car and drive around Namibia chasing Ruppell’s Parrots & Peach (Rosy)-faced Lovebirds near Etosha NP, Kunene River, Huab Lodge area and around Omaruru.

Windhoek – Doha – Adelaide – Brisbane  Used AAdvantage miles on Qatar Airways & Qantas in J.  This was one devaluation I couldn’t avoid but at least we are getting our miles worth!

money

TRIP #2

Next year’s trip will be expensive both in miles & money so we will keep costs down on our road trip.  I’m thinking maybe a return visit to Bowra Station for “glamping” in the shearers’ quarters.

2017-goals

MILES AND POINTS GOALS

Much to my surprise, I am tracking pretty well.  2017 is booked.  I have enough miles for both a 2018 trip to South America & my solo trip to the World Parrot Conference at Loro Parque.  2019 is looking pretty good as both Qantas (Woolworths) and Virgin Velocity (Coles) are partnered with supermarkets and as long as they keep dishing out the bonus points, we are going to have enough for the South Pacific trip to Cook Islands, Samoa & Fiji from buying groceries & petrol.

But after that we will be miles-broke.  Who knows that the mileage programs will be doing by then or if they will devalue even worse so my goal for this year is to stockpile miles in flexible programs.  I have USA cards from Chase (Ultimate Rewards), Citibank (Thank You Points) and the Barclay’s AAviator card which gives an annual bonus of 10,000 miles plus 10% rebate on miles redeemed so virtually 20,000 effortless miles a year.  They often give spending challenges where you get bonus miles after achieving a goal to spend (for example) $1000 in 3 months.  I also have my Aussie Amex Platinum Edge to stockpile points that can be transfered to SPG (for now), VA, SQ, CX and a few others that I probably wouldn’t use.

SETTING MORE GOALS

In this I not only have to consider our finances & mileage accounts but also that we are not spring chickens and it is getting harder and harder to go on long walks and deal with the increasingly smaller seats in economy.  I’ve also had to do some re-shuffling of travel plans due to Venezuela’s ever-worsening situation and the Aussie dollar getting weaker making it harder to afford lodge packages in places like Tambopata which are sold in USD.  I haven’t really changed much from last year, just tweaked it a bit.

Prioritize trips to places that would otherwise be very expensive without miles such as South America.  These trips should be done as soon as the miles can be saved as they are vulnerable to devaluations.  Meanwhile, slot in a short haul trip during years we don’t have enough miles.

  1.  2018 South America  & Loro Parque – Have miles ready.  The actual destinations in South America will be chosen from Bolivia, Brazil, Guyana (which has some but not all of Venezuela’s key species), Bonaire & Mexico.  When grouping them, I need to consider the weather, easiness of finding birds, costs/exchange rates and miles to get there.  As a member of Qantas, I have searched over a whole year and business class is virtually impossible to get, especially for 2 people so we will have to cross the Pacific in economy.  I think they are now selling upgrades to elites and other paying pax.
  2.   TBD  South America – The Last Hurrah.  (Peru & Chile, Venezuela if they get their act together)  This trip requires a strong Aussie $ as birding packages in Peru are booked in USD.  We will be starting from scratch and it may take a few years to save enough miles.

Have a list of birding trips we can do using easy-to-get Velocity points or low-cost carriers.  These are completely flexible as to order and wouldn’t have to be booked 11 months in advance as the others would be. 

  1.  2019 – Pacific Islands (Rarotonga, Fiji, Samoa).  Using supermarket points with Velocity & Qantas with any spare AA for intra-Fiji flights.
  2.  2020 or 2021 Indonesia 1 (Sulawesi, Talaud & Halmahera) – using low cost carriers such as Air Asia,Garuda, Lion Air, etc.
  3.   Indonesia 2 (Seram, Buru, Tanimbar & Bali)
  4.   Philippines
  5.   Pacific Islands  (Solomons, Vanuatu & New Caledonia)
  6.   Papua New Guinea (might have to book an organized tour for safety).
  7.   New Zealand
  8.  Norfolk Island

Continue doing domestic Australian trips every year using “happy hour” deals, miles we don’t need for long hauls or road trips.

  1.  Uluru & Red Centre
  2.  Adelaide & Kangaroo Island
  3.  Gluepot, South Australia
  4.   Other NSW & Victoria TBD.
  5.   More Outback Queensland – most likely this year.

moneytree

CREDIT CARD & FINANCIAL GOALS

Not sure if there are any USA cards I can still get but I will be maximizing category bonuses with all cards.  I’ll also be on the lookout for any Aussie cards that I can qualify for although the best cards tend to be for high income earners only which lets me out.

There are a couple Aussie based survey sites that let you earn shopping vouchers with Coles, Woolies and other shops so I’ve been doing those.   Any money I can save on shopping goes into the travel budget!

Rewards Central

My Opinions

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BLOG GOALS

I’ve already made one improvement by installing Disqus for comments.  I got side-tracked with personal/family things so didn’t get my Feathered and Free stuff migrated over although the archive on the forum will be going offline when the contract expires in a few days.  I’ve had it going in one form or another for the last 10 years but just can’t keep paying for the hosting on top of this blog.

I’d like to promote myself as a guest speaker for bird clubs and travel conventions a bit more and maybe start a travel planning service for people wanting to use miles and points for eco-tourism.

Coming up, I’ll be finishing my series on the Caribbean with St Vincent, Dominica & Puerto Rico, then doing a series about Australia’s Northern Territory (Top End).  Then I still have some historical trips I can blog about with updated how-to-get-there info, maybe I’ll start with the Philippines!

Join me tomorrow as we visit St Vincent and the beautiful Vincie Parrot!

2016 Travel Year In Review – The Year Of Endemics, Endangered Species & An Earthquake

It’s time for my traditional look back at the year in review – both my personal travels and events that affected the miles and points community.  Last year we took it easy and good thing too as this year was epic!

JANUARY

Usually a quiet month after the holidays but I was finalizing accommodation & guides for the big trip to Ecuador, Colombia & the Caribbean.  We were renovating the bathroom and I took advantage of the opportunity to maximize my miles & points haul by using my Amex at Coles to get 3x on Bunnings (like a Home Depot in the USA) gift cards.  I learned the hard way not to scan my Flybuys card as my inflated average expenditure ruined my points promos for months.

FEBRUARY

Just more fine tuning of travel arrangements, nothing much happening.

MARCH

AAdvantage devaluation happens on 22 March with Australians copping the worst of it with huge increases in business class awards.  Jetstar has a major sale on and I grabbed some BNE-DRW-BNE tickets for a Top End trip in September.   We leave for Ecuador on 31 March amidst border protection staff on strike and a late LATAM flight but we still manage to make the connection to Guayaquil by the skin of our teeth!  On a brighter note, another passenger swaps his business class seat for my bulkhead economy so at least I get a good night’s sleep!

APRIL

The adventure begins!  We visit some amazing reserves and national parks in Ecuador (including the Galapagos), Colombia & some Caribbean Islands.  We saw some amazing endemic and endangered birds so you can look forward to a top 66 birds of the year tomorrow!   There was a huge earthquake in Ecuador about 400 km from where we were staying and we felt the earth move.  It was pretty scary!  Other earthquakes happened in 2016 but this one was the worst when you consider both magnitude and death toll.

MAY

We finish up the islands and spend some time in the USA to see family.  Chase added Flying Blue as a partner which I really appreciated as I use them for redemptions on Kenya Airways.  With a devaluation pending, I scramble to redeem Velocity points for Etihad PER – AUH in biz with a plan to add the KQ segments in Y DXB – NBO – ADD when they become available which gets us to Africa.

JUNE

Barely was the ink   pixels dry on my Etihad redemption dry than Velocity announced a horrific new tax on Etihad redemptions, so I dodged another bullet!  The rest of my travel dates open up for award bookings and I finish booking next year’s trip to Africa. I always want to lock in the rates before a program devalues even further.

JULY

Nothing earth-shaking in the miles & points world this month.  Etihad has a 25% bonus on hotel and credit card (not Flybuys) transfers and a mediocre IHG Pointbreaks list is released.

AUGUST

The one I was waiting for – 20% bonus on SPG transfers to AAdvantage.  I need AAdvantage for 2018 South America and this is the cheapest way to get them from Australia.  United further devalues Mileage Plus by restricting the stopovers to what they call “Excursionist Perks“.  If they had done this 2 months ago, it would have messed up my intra-Africa redemption.  On a more positive note, Woolies brings back Qantas points as an option.

SEPTEMBER

We have an amazing road trip through the Northern Territory’s Top End in a rented car visiting the top birding hotspots.  You can look forward to these reports in the New Year but there are some hints in the Top 66 Birds post tomorrow!  The Marriott-Starwood merger provides a new option for Aussies to get United miles at a decent rate…………..at least until end 2017.

OCTOBER

United’s Excursionist Perk program takes over and puts the kibosh on a couple of my planned future redemptions in northern South America.

NOVEMBER

Velocity partners up with Flybuys in addition to Etihad to compete with the Qantas-Woolies partnership.  The semi-annual 25% bonus gives Aussies a windfall of Velocity points which are good value on South Pacific flights.

Donald Trump wins the US presidential election and the world collectively goes  shock-hawk

Nervously we await his effect on travel, miles & points, credit card bonuses, worry that he won’t support global warming issues and hope he keeps his mitts off the nukes!

PS:  Isn’t that the best gif ever!!!!

DECEMBER

Flying Blue has a great promo to earn a 10,000 miles bonus when you book a 2 night hotel stay through their new partnership with Pointshound.  I use it to book our 2 nights in Entebbe for next year.  Garuda Indonesia announces the “Deal of the Year 90% off any redemption” which several bloggers in the USA attempt to book only to find out there are ridiculous hoops to jump through to get the tickets issued.  It was actually targeted to Indonesians and Asians as you need to physically visit a Garuda office to get the tickets issued.  We have a Garuda office in BNE so I might have gone for it if we didn’t already have our trips booked for next year.  The promo was cancelled 24 hours later.

And that wraps up this year’s review!  Programs continue to devalue and the miles & points game is getting much harder and I have to ask myself how much longer it will go on.  But in the meanwhile, it’s been a wild ride to some very wild places and I am not ready to get off yet!

 

 

New – Disqus Commenting Installed

Over the last year, I was getting overwhelmed by spam comments and very few legitimate ones.  With a major trip (Ecuador, Colombia, Caribbean & the USA) looming, I was messing around trying to stop the spam and ended up turning the whole comment system off.  I had intended to fix this after returning from the trip but then things happened in my personal life and I just never got around to it.  In the past, the spam just overwhelmed the legit commenters and I was exhausted.  This is just a hobby blog, I am not a full time professional blogger.

Anyway, in the New Year, I want to change that and want to make it easier for real commenters to post but still keep out spammers and decided to give Disqus a try.  I think their anti-spam blocking is better than anything I could come up with and I have seen this system used on many other blogs so it must be pretty good.  It doesn’t appear to work on older posts (unless I did something wrong) but anyway from this point forward, comment away!

MTTW Is 4 Years Old Today

Looking back, I can’t believe it!  I barely knew what WordPress was and yet decided to start a blog to help people create eco-tourism adventures on a budget.  Now here we are, 4 years and 1565 posts have passed since my tentative “Hello World” post back in 2012.

 

4th-anniversary

I’ve done a lot of traveling since then and have tried to keep up with blogging current trips first and then going back to do the historical trips.  This latest adventure which took place in April & May 2016 to Ecuador, Colombia and the Caribbean is still in progress with our first Caribbean island – Trinidad coming up next with some amazing birds!

For now, I can only say I hope I have helped and inspired people to get out there and see wild birds and don’t be afraid of the cost – you can use miles to offset a lot of it!  Have a virtual piece of my dream cake and let’s look forward to more adventures to come!

parrot-cake

Back From An Epic Trip To Ecuador, Colombia & The Caribbean

Actually we got back a week ago and I still haven’t really recovered.  This has been a very full-on trip covering a lot of ground throughout Ecuador, Colombia & some Caribbean Islands that have good birding – Trinidad, St Lucia, St Vincent, Dominica & Puerto Rico.  We then spent time in the USA visiting family.  While I usually try to build some down time into a trip, this time it wasn’t possible.  It’s getting so much harder to earn miles from credit cards and my stockpiles are dwindling so I was mindful that we may not get back to these parts of the world again so we had to cover everything possible.

During this trip we experienced the big earthquake in Ecuador on 16 April.  Luckily we were far from the epicenter and in no real danger but the internet and tv reception were out in the lodge we were staying at and we had no way of knowing just how bad the earthquake was until we got to the Quito airport the next day.

Flights weren’t affected and we got to Colombia on schedule only to have our bank shut down our ATM card!  I had done everything right – notified all banks and credit cards of our itinerary and the bank should have known we were in Colombia but they still shut down that one ATM card.  Thankfully they didn’t shut down our credit cards and I was still able to access cash by doing cash advances but I had a mess to sort out when we got home.  They wouldn’t accept my secure message to unblock the ATM card and insisted we call but between lack of phone coverage, quickie one-night layovers and time zone differences between Australia and the Americas we weren’t able to connect until we got home.  The bank finally did reverse the cash advance fees because they had unjustly blocked my card but it took numerous phone calls and a lot of stress.

Other things piled up and I am still trying to sort out some personal stuff but once I do, I can start blogging this trip and trust me, it will be worth the wait!

2016 – Epic Journeys, Amazing Birds While The Dust Settles On Airline Programs

2015 has been a relatively quiet travel year as planned and we did need to take a break and get some things done around the house.  We have almost finished those projects so it’s time to look forward to an epic birding adventure around South America & the Caribbean!

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TRAVEL PLANS

After US Airways merged to American, I had enough miles to book the long haul parts of the Brisbane to Ecuador & return from the USA to BNE flights.  The rest of the trip has been pieced together from random accounts.  Unfortunately it is pretty much impossible to get J on either trans Pacific long haul and it’s not worth wasting miles on J for short haul flights so this trip will be all in economy albeit with carefully chosen seats!  Top birds will be parrots (as usual), hummingbirds (love these little guys), quetzals, tanagers and anyone else who flies by!

Trip #1

Brisbane – Sydney – Santiago – Guayquil on Qantas & Lan.  Planned birding in Cerro Blanco, then buses to Copalinga & Umbrellabird Lodge.

Guayaquil – San Cristobal, Galapagos – Quito.  Birding on the island and surrounds.  I had to get the LAN Visa card JUST for this ticket as I couldn’t get the seats otherwise and this is an expensive route!  From Quito either rented car or public transport to the Tandayapa/Sacahtamia/Mindo area.

Quito – Coca, then we have a 3 night Napo Wildlife Centre package.  Then we take buses to Wildsumaco, San Isidro & Guango Lodge before returning to Quito.

Quito – Bogota – Santa Marta.  We overnight in Santa Marta at a hotel I got for free on Orbitz, then we have a few days in El Dorado & Minca for birding.

Santa Marta – Medellin (the last 3 flights using Lifemiles).  Bus to Jardin to hopefully see Yellow-eared Parrots, then more buses to Manizales for Rio Blanco & Nevado for more birding.

Peireira – Bogota (cheapo Avianca flight), then day trip to Chingaza.

Bogota – Panama – Trinidad.  Planned birding in Nariva Swamp, Yerette, Caroni, Aripo & Asa Wright.

Trinidad – St Lucia (nice 5th freedom award on BA).  We’ll be looking for St Lucia Parrots and any other birds.

St Lucia – St Vincent – Dominica – San Juan.  Chasing more endemic Amazon Parrots through the Caribbean if Liat doesn’t make us crazy first!

San Juan – USA (various award flights to visit family).

LAX – Brisbane on Qantas.

money bird

Trip #2

A quick fly-self drive trip to Darwin, Kakadu & Katherine Gorge area.  I was going to use AA or BA for this but might just wait for a “happy hour” special deal to come along.

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MILES AND POINTS GOALS

Last year, I had some very specific goals to save up for and I had a certain order I wanted to do the trips.  However this past year has been a horror year for devaluations and Aussies now stand to lose our only method of collecting miles in the SPG partner programs which include AA, Flying Blue & Lan.  I am somewhat shielded by being a dual citizen who can also get USA cards but that is pretty much over as I have already had all the cards in the programs I can use.  All I can do is try to maximize 5x category bonuses to get as many miles as possible.

I think the next couple years, the major programs will sit tight and let the dust settle while they figure out what to do next with the programs.  United’s major devaluation came into effect in early 2014 and I feel reasonably safe it won’t devalue again before the end of 2016.  I don’t trust the current rates beyond 2017 though so I have decided to bring forward the “Godmother of All African Adventures” to 2017 replacing the Indonesia trip which can be done anytime using low-cost carriers such as Air Asia & Lion Air.  I should have enough United, Virgin, Singapore & Flying Blue to book the flights we need by the middle of the year.  I do need to concentrate on Ultimate Rewards, Thank You Points (for SQ) & Aussie Amex for Virgin so those cards get priority for spending.

American just devalued which takes effect March 2016.  I had to readjust the miles needed for 2018 trips to Mexico, Bolivia & Venezuela and I will probably be going to Loro Parque solo.  These trips will be booked in late 2017 and I don’t think AA will devalue again before that.  AA will probably stay the same until late 2018 while they crunch numbers on the new program.

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RE-PRIORITIZING GOALS

The end of loyalty programs as we know them is not quite here but it’s coming.  The programs themselves won’t go away, they will just become less profitable for us to use.  Already Australians can use low-cost carriers such as Air Asia to get to most of Asia for around the same cost as big airlines like Qantas & Singapore charge for the fuel surcharge on award tickets.  There is still value in redeeming business class awards – that is if you can find one!  If you read last year’s Goal Post, then you can see how my bucket list has changed slightly due to these devaluations and the lower Aussie dollar.  That’s why I keep a bucket list & you should too in case you need to swap trips around.  I have posts on how to do that HERE & HERE.

On my planned future trips, it is virtually impossible to get business class between Australia & South America.  Africa is possible mostly in Ethiopian which doesn’t have lie-flat seats on these routes so I don’t think it’s worth it.  So here is what I have to do.

Prioritize trips to places that would otherwise be very expensive without miles such as Africa & South America.  These trips should be done as soon as the miles can be saved as they are vulnerable to devaluations.  Meanwhile, slot in a short haul trip during years we don’t have enough miles.

  1.   2017 Africa (Namibia, Zambia, Ethiopia, Uganda) – 80% OK, still need some UA & SQ.
  2.   2018 South America (Mexico, Venezuela, Bolivia) & Loro Parque – Have miles ready
  3.   TBD  South America (Brazil)  This trip is better for when AUD is low as we can avoid USD and use local currency.
  4.   TBD South America (Peru & Chile)  This trip requires a strong Aussie $ as birding packages are booked in USD.

Have a list of birding trips we can do using easy-to-get Velocity points or low-cost carriers.  These are completely flexible as to order and wouldn’t have to be booked 11 months in advance as the others would be. 

  1.  Indonesia 1 (Sulawesi, Talaud & Halmahera)
  2.  Indonesia 2 (Seram, Buru, Tanimbar & Bali)
  3.   Philippines
  4.   Pacific Islands (Rarotonga, Fiji, Samoa).  This one targeted for 2019, best done with Velocity & Qantas with any spare AA for Fiji flights.
  5.   Pacific Islands  (Solomons, Vanuatu & New Caledonia)
  6.   Papua New Guinea (might have to book an organized tour for safety).
  7.   New Zealand
  8.  Norfolk Island

Continue doing domestic Australian trips every year using “happy hour” deals, miles we don’t need for long hauls or road trips.

  1.  Darwin, Kakadu, Katherine
  2.  Uluru & Red Centre
  3.  Adelaide & Kangaroo Island
  4.  Gluepot, South Australia
  5.   Other NSW & Victoria TBD.
  6.   More Outback Queensland

CREDIT CARD GOALS

Last year I had to cancel a few cards due to annual fees and to free up “slots” to improve my chances for instant approvals.  Goodbye to Amex SPG, Chase Sapphire,  Citi AAdvantage, Club Carlson & Lifemiles Visa.  On a mini app-o-rama I said Hello to United Explorer (2nd time), Lan Visa (only way to get to Galapagos) & Citi Thank You Premier (For Flying Blue, Singapore, Qantas, Etihad & 3x on travel purchases.

This year I am not sure if I can get any more USA based cards considering all the cancelled cards plus I have 2 more on the chopping block.  I’d like to have the British Airways Visa again to get a nice stash of BA and a United business card but I don’t want to push Chase too far.  I do plan to maximize the 5x categories on the Ink & 3x on the Citi TYP.

We may go for some Aussie cards if the opportunity comes up.

Dream Travel

BLOG GOALS

I am finally all caught up on blogging trips we did since I started this blog in Nov 2012.  Of course we did lots of travel before that so I will be catching up on historical birding trips with current information on how to do them.  I also plan to merge Feathered and Free to this platform but before I can do that, I need to transfer over the historical travel posts.

First up for January – tomorrow – the fabulous Pantanal of Brazil!

Hyacinth Macaw (Anodorhyncus hyacinthius)

Hyacinth Macaw (Anodorhyncus hyacinthius)