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!



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!


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.


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 Langano.  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!



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.



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.


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.



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



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 – 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!

sb hmbd


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.



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.



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


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


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)


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.