2015 Travel Year In Review – The Year Of Traveling Quietly

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.  In direct contrast to last year, 2015 was a quiet, safe and relaxed travel year for us.


Quiet month, only interesting news is that Barclays ditched their forex fees making the card more useful for overseas travel.  I cancelled a few credit card to avoid annual fees and make way for future churning.


The AUD continues to nosedive so I swap around a couple of South American countries and bring the trip to Ecuador & Colombia ahead to 2016.


The USDM program officially merges to AA and I find myself once again with a healthy balance of AA miles and take a nostalgic look back at USDM.


We enjoy our only overseas trip this year – a relaxed birding trip to Thailand & Malaysia and a week in the Cook Islands.  The whole trip is in economy and we manage to survive.  Tomorrow you will see many of these birds in my top ten bird sightings.

While we are blissfully away and offline, US Bank announces the eminent demise of the free award night bogo that came with the Club Carlson Visa.


Planning begins for next year’s trip which will be an epic adventure to Ecuador, Colombia, the Caribbean and a visit to family in the USA.  I do a small app-o-rama for needed cards:  Chase United which was back in churning range over 24 months since last bonus, the Citibank Thank You Premier and the US Bank Lanpass Visa because there was no other way to get free seats to the Galapagos.


Everyone scrambles (including me) to use up their Club Carlson points before the devaluationCopa launches its own award program, I am hoping they get some good transfer partners.  Hello, Citibank?


I finish booking award flights for next year as the fruits of my May app-o-rama roll in.


A pleasant surprise from Club Carlson as they watch customers leave in droves which means a free night for us in Trinidad.  SPG runs a lucrative bonus transfer to AA which replenishes my account via my Aussie Amex.


We take a relaxing road trip to Lake Coolmunda & Karara/Durikai to see some Aussie birds.  I rediscover how much fun travel can be when no airlines are involved!  We both win $110 Orbucks in the photo contest which gets us a few free hotels next year.


Australians switch grocery store loyalty programs in droves as Woolies ditches Qantas and Coles partners up with Etihad.


The month of the bloodbaths!  First SPG announces that they have been sold to Marriott which means no more transfers from Amex MR – SPG – AA & other partner airlines.  A disaster for Aussie miles & points collectors since we don’t have direct earn credit cards to most USA & South American programs.  Then American fresh from merging US Airways to AA announces the devaluation for AAdvantage which seriously DIS-AAdvantages Australians even further.  I am very thankful to have already booked next year’s trip and recalculate the miles need for future trips.


Attracted by the chance to see rare Ground Parrots, we join a Birds Queensland trip to Rainbow Beach.  Some light amusement in the miles & points world as SPG & Accor have games.  Ina wins 10k SPG and we both win 1100 Accor.  Woolies bows to the social media backlash and relents on offering Qantas points.

So there it was – a year of upheavals, especially involving 2 major programs – AA & SPG but a quiet, fulfilling year of personal travel.  I hope everyone else had a great year!


There’s Still A Lot To Be Thankful For

This has been a rough year in many ways.  Several species are even more endangered than they already were due to bushfires.  We still don’t know how many Western Ground Parrots survived the Esperance bushfires.  But we can at least be thankful that there are some in a breeding program so the species won’t be lost altogether.  Logging has been temporarily stopped on Bruny Island but we need it to permanently stop so Swift Parrots can continue to nest there.  We are still hoping and praying that more Orange-bellied Parrots show up at Melaleuca for breeding.


IMG_7384aThe miles and points game (aka The Hobby) also took a major beating with huge devaluations by Club Carlson & American Airlines and the potential loss of the SPG to airline transfer which will make airlines tickets much more difficult to get for free using normal household spending.

At the traditional time when Americans count their blessings (a tradition that really needs to be world wide), let’s remind ourselves of what we can be thankful for.

  • I am thankful that I have the opportunity to travel and see the world.  If miles and points went away tomorrow and I couldn’t travel any more then I have still had an amazing run!
  • I am thankful that there are beautiful nature reserves all over the world that protect so many endangered and not-endangered species.  Please get out there and see them!
  • I am thankful that there are birds in the world whose beauty enchants us and charm delights us.  Protect them and treasure them!
  • I am thankful that there are organizations such as the World Parrot Trust, Birdlife and many others who have research biologists out there trying to save  endangered parrots so we don’t lose them from the planet.  Help them as best you can.
  • I am thankful for the local people who gave up poaching wild birds and are now working as guides and other occupations because of ecotourism and that they are able to share their local wildlife with us.  Support them by employing them when you visit their localities.
  • I am thankful for the social media that allows us to be more aware and informed and teaches us to respect, cherish and protect nature. Share, share, share!
  • Wild turkeys in Australia are probably thankful that Thanksgiving ISN’T an Australian holiday!  This is as close as they get to being on one of our tables!



Breaking News – Marriott To Acquire Starwood

You may be wondering why people reading an eco-tourism blog care about luxury hotel chain mergers?  In this case, it’s not about the hotels or the elite status.  It’s concern over what will happen to the highly valuable transfer to airline miles with the 5k bonus if you transfer 20k SPG that has me worried.

The deal is expected to close in mid-2016, the companies said.

Forewarned is forearmed.  Full story here.  Worst case scenario is that the SPG program goes away and is absorbed into Marriott Rewards and we lose the transfer option – at those rates anyway.

We have time so no need to rush into anything but if you have been counting on SPG to get the miles you need for a specific trip you may have to prioritize those miles.  I know just this year I had to use the SPG option to top up LAN for a one-off redemption to the Galapagos.

For Aussies (unless you are a dual citizen and can get USA credit cards), if SPG goes away, so does our chance to get miles in AAdvantage, British Airways and Flying Blue.  That’s just from my list of Top 8 Airline Miles programs.

IHG’s Boring Summer Pointbreak List

This is one of the worst lists I have seen.  Absolutely NOTHING is jumping out at me as a good deal even at 5000 points per night.  Just in case anyone has travel planned to one of these destinations, please check out the summer IHG Pointbreaks List which is valid until 31 October.

For Aussies, there is ONE Oceania property – HOLIDAY INN WARWICK FARM which is in the greater Sydney area but inconvenient unless you have a car.

5 Hours Left For Big Savings On Club Carlson Panama & India

The lucrative BOGO award night that comes with the Club Carlson Visa will be gone in 6 hours.  However there is an overlap with a new promo to save 25% on Latin American hotels that you can take advantage of if you are quick.  Two nights at the Radisson Summit for 11,250 points!

Radisson SummitMost Club Carlson hotels in India went down as of 1 June so there is a small window of opportunity for a BOGO award there too!

Eco-Lite: Lemur Island, Vakona Forest Lodge, Madagascar


Lemur Island is located on the grounds of the Vakona Forest Lodge.  The lemurs here are tame and will jump all over you, especially if you have bananas.  It’s basically a glorified zoo but in natural foliage setting.  It’s fun to spend an afternoon visit there when it’s too hot to go birding but don’t confuse this with real eco-tourism.  Kids are welcome.


From Andasibe village, keep going north to the Vakona Forest Lodge.  Lemur Island is just near the main gate.  After you buy a ticket, you will be rowed across a small river to the island where you can wander around as you wish.


Tickets are 15,000 ariary per person.  You can buy them at the reception of the Vakona Forest Lodge and use a credit card (when the machine can get a signal).


We spent about an hour there.  The lemurs will jump all over your fellow tourists, sometimes with hilarious results.  Staff will give you bananas to feed them.  The lemurs found here include bamboo lemur, the black & white ruffed lemur, brown lemur and diademed sifaka.


While not affiliated with any conservation programs, the island does provide a home for some lemurs that were formerly captive as pets and rescued and can’t live in the wild.  You can get excellent photos as the lemurs come right up close.



There are no points hotels anywhere in Madagascar.  You can earn airline miles by bookng through Pointshound or Rocketmiles.


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My husband making friends

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Look at the hands on this close up – 4 fingers and a thumb just like humans!

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Mama and baby

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A few birds we saw on Lemur Island

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Weird Predictions For Travel In The Future, Including Eco-tourism

Skyscanner published the last part of their series on travel in the future while we were overseas so I forgot this was sitting in my “to-do” folder.  They have already made predictions on how people will research travel and book flights which I am overall not thrilled with.  Some of their ideas are just too invasive and take all the fun out of trip planning.

The final installment addressed hotels of the future which I don’t like at all!  Once again, they just seem too intrusive.  Seriously, the shower will flash a green light once it determines I am “clean enough”?


Space travel will probably be a huge hit with the sort of people who currently like to fly just for the sake of flying, particularly in first class.  I can’t see spending a fortune to sit in a metal box and looking at basically nothing just to brag about it.

The future of eco-tourism if it goes according to the article doesn’t sound all that great.  We can look forward to Mr & Mrs Gotbucks going to remote wildlife and birding habitats just so they can brag to their friends they were the first to get there or the last to see a species before it goes extinct. Ummmmmm………………..what about trying to SAVE the species from going extinct?  I have been to see some highly endangered bird species such as Orange-bellied Parrots and Echo Parakeets and I would be devastated if I was among the last to see them in the wild.  I want them to breed, multiply and never be endangered again!


I do agree with this statement below because eco-tourism is what gets local people to stop capturing their wild animals and birds but I disagree that it should be only for very wealthy people.  The whole reason I am writing this blog is so ordinary people can learn to do eco-traveling for less by using miles and points and cutting out the middle-men tour operators and booking direct with the locals.


The one thing that did sound interesting is the Undersea hotels if they can build them without damaging the reef.  It would be pretty cool to be able to see the sea life around the clock without having to put on scuba tanks.


Click here to see the full article.

2015 – A Year To Rest & Replenish

After a hectic but fulfilling 2014 in which I brought forward two trips I had originally earmarked for 2015; I now find myself with decimated mileage accounts and a need to rebuild.  I’d say that I not only met but I exceeded last year’s goals!  Those trips were also extremely stressful as you saw in my 2014 in Review post so I need a trip that won’t be mentally stressful.  I also need to pay off the credit cards which made it possible to bring those trips forward a whole year and do some home renovations so this year needs to be cheap & cheerful.