2017 Travel Year In Review – The Year Of The Bucket Lists

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.  Sorry it’s late but I have been busy with personal things. Last year was epic and I knew it would be hard to top but I may just have at least equaled it.

Very quiet months.  The miles and points opportunities have wound down so I have been more in a spend miles mode rather than earning.  I have begun the shift away from the US programs and back to Australian programs.  So my focus has been on maximizing the Coles (Virgin) and Woolies (Qantas) programs.

The Godmother of All African Adventures happened over 4 amazing weeks and has been already covered extensively on this blog.





On the miles and points bucket list perspective I got to have my first ever business class experience flying Etihad from Perth to Abu Dhabi and Qatar from Windhoek to Doha to Adelaide!


It’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind and so I did.  Earlier this year I had posted that I wanted to do an Outback Australia birding trip.  And that I was saving miles to go to the Loro Parque Conference in 2018.  Well I changed my mind and decided to blow almost all of my remaining AA and BA miles on a trip to Peru to visit the Manu Wildlife Reserve.  So I put in a lot of planning and research to make this trip happen.


The big trip to Peru happened and was a huge success!  I will get around to blogging it in the New Year.

And this was the final miles and points bucket list item.  I traveled in First Class on Emirates between Auckland and Brisbane.  Only a 3 hour flight but it was awesome and a great use of QF points!


Back to a more quiet lifestyle.  I have spent almost all my miles and points (and very well I might add).  I still do the shopping promos at Coles and Woolies but now I feel like I have accomplished so much of what I set out to do in regards to travel.  I am not going to stop traveling but I will tone it back.  I still have plenty of miles in Velocity, Qantas and Amex MR to easily cover travel plans in 2019, even 2020.
You may have noticed I also scaled back on blog postings.  My personal life has become busier than it used to be so I apologize for that.  I will be doing only 3 posts a week from now on just to keep a sustainable posting frequency.

I hope you all had wonderful travels this year too!!

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!


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.


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


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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!!!!


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!



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!


2014 Travel Year In Review – The Year Of Traveling Dangerously

It’s time for my annual tradition, a review of my year in travel.  Here’s the 2013 edition.  Although I had thought this would be a relatively quiet travel year, at least on the personal level, it turned out to be anything but!  Read on to see how we braved road trains, kamikaze kangaroos, the Gaza War, hectic airline schedules and Ebola to complete some epic birding trips!


One quiet month, just needed to finalize the bookings for the Aussie birding trip.  No credit card apps this time, I needed to let the dust settle after going strong last year.  Wyndham devalued their conversion to airline miles rate.


We flew to Perth and picked up a rental car from Hertz for a 2 week trip around Western Australia.  The birds were amazing!  The trip was not without risks as we dodged humongous road trains and dodged kangaroos on the road who kept jumping out in front of us.  Thankfully we completed the trip without injury to us or the car!


Continuing on, we had a brief layover in Melbourne and saw several nice birds, then spent a week in Tasmania.  The highlight was Melaleuca where we saw highly endangered Orange-bellied Parrots and flushed a Ground Parrot while walking to the boat excursion.  Then we had a week’s excursion to Outback Queensland where we visited Bowra Station and Girraween National Park for more birds like Budgerigars, Cockatiels, Major Mitchells and several Rosellas.  More kangaroos played “chicken” with my rental car but I managed to avoid them again. (trip not blogged yet)

Garuda joins Skyteam, most welcome as now we can use Flying Blue to book one way domestic awards!

Towards the end of March, US Airways and TAM officially joined OneWorld.


Shock-horror in the miles & points community as AA eliminates North American gateway stopovers and does away with the OneWorld Explorer ticket – a popular way to travel around the world.  And NO notice given so people couldn’t even squeeze in their last tickets!

Every airline and their brother was doing some kind of buy miles get bonus miles promo.  Americans weren’t biting as they can manufacture spend but they proved popular with Aussies and other travelers around the world.


Sri Lankan Airlines officially join OneWorld.  The annual Daily Getaways promo is announced but no bargains to be had since Wyndham points no longer transfer to airlines at an attractive rate.  In the face of devaluations and airlines changing their programs with no notice, I decided to bring forward the two trips planned for 2015 which would become impossible if the programs changed.

The French Polynesia trip relies on Air Tahiti Nui remaining a partner of the “new American” since Air New Zealand doesn’t release seats between AKL & BNE and very rare seats between AKL & PPT.  I brought the planned Feb 2015 trip forward to June 2014.

The Africa trip relies on no more United devaluations and the use of stop-overs and open jaws and would be way more expensive if these perks went away.  I bring the trip forward from Aug/Sept 2015 to Nov 2014.


We travel to the Marquesas and Rimatara to see some of the most beautiful lorikeets in the world.  Meanwhile Daily Getaways tanks with most point packages going begging due to devaluations.  Information about the AA/US merger starts trickling out.


Dramas with the award tickets booked on US Airways/Star Alliance for the upcoming trip to the World Parrot Conference at Loro Parque.  Our planned stopover in Israel is in jeopardy when airlines pull out of TLV because of the Gaza War.  I’m stressing big time when Turkish Airlines also pulls out.  They later reinstate the flights but cut back the schedules.  Meanwhile, Singapore Airlines cancels our PEK-SIN segment and rebooks us on an earlier flight that kills our quickie trip to the Great Wall.  More stressing since US is no longer partnering with SQ since they changed to OneWorld.  I manage to get the tickets reissued and communicated to all airlines involved after several hours on Skype.

Air India joins Star Alliance.

On the bright side, ANZ finally does a good deal on the Qantas card and I pick up 50k QF points with no annual fee!  I scramble to meet the minimum spend domestically before the Israel/Europe trip as the card has a hefty forex fee.  Bills are prepaid through December, one less thing to stress over!


The war in Gaza continues and I have to plan an alternate stopover in Turkey just in case things get worse by Sept when we will be there and we can’t go to Israel.  I am not worried about the war as we won’t be anywhere near Gaza but the war could either spread or cause airlines to pull out again or leave us stranded in Israel if it happens while we are there.  Ceasefire is declared on 26 Aug, less than 3 weeks before our trip.  People on Trip Advisor advise that Israel is safe for tourists.  The damage to the tourist industry is done and TK cancels the morning flight we are on and rebooks us on an afternoon flight so we now will arrive late into Jerusalem and miss a valuable sightseeing time.  Once again, we need to have our tickets revalidated, more time on the phone and more time to make sure all airlines got the memo.

I send our passports to the Ghana Embassy in Canberra for the visas for the Nov trip and stress about them getting back in time and not getting lost.  Thankfully they come back with visas in good time.  Now I get to stress over the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia possibly spreading to Ghana.

In my spare time I have to pre-write 80 blog posts (mostly birding trip reports and bird profiles) to cover my one-per-day schedule while we are in Europe and Africa!  I bet no one even noticed I was gone!


Because of Ebola, Ethiopian Airlines pulls out of Monrovia and Conakry, both of which were routed via Accra.  They cut back Accra to one flight a day and of course it is OUR flight that gets cancelled and rebooked to the other flight.  I guess I should be glad they rebooked us!  So yet another round of ticket reissuing and calling airlines to make sure they all get the new ticket numbers.

We fly to TLV via BKK and IST (fantastic lounge) and get the suites between BKK-IST on the wetleased plane!  Mini-first class experience.  Once we finally arrived in TLV, we found that one bag had gotten lost.  We waste time filling out forms and stressing out as our evening clothes for the gala party at Loro Parque and the cruise are in the lost bag.  The prodigal suitcase is delivered the next day to the Crowne Plaza Jerusalem while we are at Masada much to our relief.  We enjoy the rest of our visit in Israel (which was perfectly safe), the stopover in Nice and the conference.

After the conference, we fly to Venice and boarded an NCL ship for a Grand Mediterranean cruise.  This cruise won’t be blogged since it doesn’t fit the eco-tourism theme but it was the worst cruise I have ever taken.  Incompetent service, cancelled Mykonos port, live animals in the magician act and lack of activities during sea days.


Cruise continues, ports were great but we were exhausted as we DIY’d everything to save money.  We did get to see most of the European sights we targeted.  The stress doesn’t end with the cruise.  Swiss Air has two late flights and we barely make it in time for the Air China flight FCO-PEK, huffing and puffing and praying the bags are on board.  We stay in the Air China lounge since now we don’t have enough time to go to the Great Wall.  SQ flight in J on the A380 is fantastic!  We finally catch a break when the SQ transit desk lady manages to swap us onto the red-eye to BNE, sparing us an overnight in the albeit wonderful Changi Airport.

Avianca Lifemiles devalues their awards.

No rest for the wicked as I bite my nails and watch Ebola reports online.  So far Ghana remains Ebola-free as does the rest of Africa.  With shortened nails, I breathe a sigh of relief.  I have 3 weeks to catch up on everything that happened while we were traveling and then we set off again for JNB via TPE & PEK.  I have noticed the declining availability of J class awards lately so am relieved we are doing this epic journey in biz.


The African trip is amazing!  I’ve only started blogging about it and am up through Port Elizabeth but in the New Year will finish blogs on the rest of South Africa, Mauritius, Madagascar, Ghana, Addis Ababa (layover) and Tanzania!


Realizing that we need to cool it on the long-haul trips next year since I have burned most of our miles squeezing in French Polynesia and Africa I cut back next year’s travel to only one overseas trip – South-east Asia and a week in Rarotonga so my husband can see his family and friends.  I burn the last United miles we have to book a killer itinerary that totally maximizes the United routing rules – 2 open jaws and a stopover!  BNE-BKK-CNX-BKK-USM /-KUL-BKK-PVG-AKL-RAR.  I use Virgin Velocity to close the circle with RAR-AKL-BNE.

Air New Zealand announces service to Buenos Aires late next year.  I am not holding my breath for award seats!

So there it is!  We survived a stressful but fulfilling year of travel and birding!

How was YOUR year?










2013: A Year Of Travel In Review

In what I hope to make annual tradition (see last year), I will be doing a recap of both my personal travel in review and some important events that affected or changed how we use miles and points to facilitate our trips.


This is high season in Australia due to school holidays, not the time I like to be traveling.  I did take the opportunity to do an app-o-rama and scored a few new travel credit cards and lots of miles & points.  New cards:  SPG Amex, Chase United Explorer, Citi AAdvantage Amex, Club Carlson Visa.



Towards the end of February, we left Brisbane for Bali enroute to West Papua.  Several hotel chains started announcing devaluations.


We spent 3 weeks in West Papua visiting Biak, Nimbokrang, the Arfaks & Waigeo before heading back to Bali for a few much needed days of visiting spas & Bali Bird Park.



Quiet month catching the blog up on the trip.


A chance to stock up on some hotel points that can be turned into airline miles at good rates.


My 2nd and final app-o-rama for the year.  This time I got an Amex PRG (to convert to Flying Blue points for Africa), Chase Freedom, Chase Ink, Citi AAdvantage Mastercard.  I tried for a Barclays Arrival card but was denied due to too many apps in a short time which is what they usually do in this situation.



We spent 3 weeks traveling around Central America, visiting Belize, Guatemala, Costa Rica & Panama.



We arrived in the USA via Las Vegas, then stopped off in Maui & Waikiki enroute home to Brisbane.


US Airways & Barclays announce a promo that gives a rebate on award travel.  I scramble to bring forward a trip originally planned for 2015 to Southern India & Sri Lanka.



United Airlines announces massive devaluations.  DOJ approves merger between US Airways & American Airlines.  We head to India to visit birding hotspots in Coorg, Wayanad & Mudumalai.


Merger closes between US & AA.  We spend a few days birding in Sri Lanka.

Travel Promo Year In Review 2012

The quest for free or very cheap airline miles and hotel points is always filled with intrigue and drama!  Here are a few of the most memorable promos of 2012.

1.  Huge credit card signup bonuses – lucky Americans got to collect hundreds of thousands of free miles via credit card signup bonuses.  I have a few of them in my series here if you missed out.  Remember to “learn how to fish” and check out each deal before you sign up for it.  Aussies have a few credit cards too but not as lucrative as the Americans.

2.  Discover America promos in April and May delivered a nice bonanza to those who were quick on the draw.  I am not sure if this will happen next year but I will blog about it if it does.  Meanwhile, read up on it via FlyerTalk.

3.  United’s 4 mile redemptions to Asia.  This was a mistake fare that only a few VERY quick people who were prepared to travel straight away actually got in on.  Many people tried, but when UA discovered the mistake, they cancelled all bookings of people who hadn’t traveled yet.  A few threatened to sue so it got really crazy!  Grab your popcorn and see this FlyerTalk thread!

4.  Club Carlson’s Big Night Giveaway.  What made this one special was that it was available worldwide.  Many people did “mattress runs” to cheaper hotels nearby to get the bonus miles which they could then redeem at an expensive hotel on a future trip or transfer to airline miles.  Lots of fun as most people got in on it!

5.  50% Bonus on Hotel Points converted to Dividend Miles.  Nice way to get rid of extra hotel points or make a huge profit on Starwood SPG points!

6.  The rise and fall of Bluebirds and Vanilla Reloads.  No, I don’t mean THIS bluebird!   I mean the frenzy of people seeking cheap Ultimate Rewards via Office Depot and various reload card options.

7.  Wyndham Rewards Phantom Phrenzy.  It was supposed to be a targeted promo but somehow a link got out and people were booking cheap Wyndham hotels and not even showing up to stay in them just to get the 16,000 point bonus.  I didn’t do it as I am wary of mistake promos as sometimes they are honored, sometimes they aren’t and this one you had to fork out for the rooms in advance without knowing if you would get the bonus or not.  It turns out they did get it after LOTS of complaints back and forth to Wyndham.

8.  Cartera Online Mall Mania.  Cartera is dodgy at best about giving you miles for your click-through purchases.  Unfortunately, they operate most of the airline’s affiliate shopping malls so you can’t really escape them.  Sometimes they stuff up and offer ridiculous bonuses that are obviously a mistake but people will try to get them honored.  This Flyertalk thread has one of the best ones that carried over from last year and had most people getting a “goodwill” bonus instead of the cheap miles they had hoped for.

9.  LifeMiles 250 miles per purchase bonus.  New kid on the block, Avianca Taca’s LifeMiles opened an online shopping mall and sent out emails to all members offering 250 bonus miles per purchase.  Of course savvy miles collectors wasted no time in finding the cheapest way to rack up the miles.  Those of us who are eco-friendly opted for online automatic transactions such as e-books, donations to puppies and e-gift certificates.  The worst of the bunch were ordering $1 shampoo bottles, each of which were packaged separately and shipped individually until the drugstore cancelled the unfilled remaining orders and withdrew from the online mall.  So far, no one has gotten their bonus miles but you can read all about it here.

10.  The demise of US Airways Grand Slam promo that had been going for 4 years previously.  This was the one we all waited for with breathless anticipation of cheap miles to be spent on exotic destinations all over the world.  The more experienced Grand Slammers would start saving a year in advance for hotel points and other “hits” to be used in September each year for this extremely lucrative promotion.  Last year, FlyerTalk had a whole forum dedicated to the Grand Slam! In August, we eagerly started following US on Twitter, playing with URLs looking for a hint of the 2012 Grand Slam…………….all for nought!  It didn’t happen!  Most people blame it on several beginner oriented bloggers who spell out the tricks and loopholes in such detail a two year old could do it and it no longer required finesse and intelligence to maximize the promo.  It would have been unsustainable for US to hand out so many miles to so many people.  In October, they did throw us a bone with a Share Miles promo that wasn’t nearly as good as the Grand Slam had been but allowed us to top up our accounts at a discounted rate.

What does 2013 have in store?  Of course no one knows, but if you follow this blog by rss feed or subscription (use the form in the sidebar to the right), we will be right on top of the new promos that come up so you can get to those wonderful ecotourism hotspots you are all dreaming about!