January 2010


Even though the holiday shopping season just ended a month ago, it’s never too early to start shopping for that unique gift. And what could be more unique then a pinata in the shape of a Canadian goose?

Earlier this month was the one-year anniversary of the US Airways Flight 1549 splashdown into the Hudson where all the passengers and crew survived the crash. To celebrate the anniversary, the crew and about half the passengers on the plane gathered for a celebratory dinner. One of the passengers with a sense of humor made three Canadian goose pinatas for the event. One was bashed senseless at the event. The other two were signed by the passengers and crew and are being auctioned off on eBay with the proceeds going towards the Red Cross Haiti relief fund. And if that wasn’t amusing enough, vodka producer Grey Goose is matching the proceeds.

So if you need a goose to decorate your living room, head over to eBay to bid. The auction closes on January 29th at 6pm EST.

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In the wake of the Haiti earthquake many organizations have been collecting cash and other donations to help the people in that country. One way that travellers can help out is by donating airline miles or hotel points to organizations like the Red Cross who can then use them to fly people and supplies in.

So if you have a few miles or points to spare, here’s how to send them over to folks who can use them.

Airlines

Alaskan Airlines– Alaskan will match up to 5 million miles for any miles donation.

Continental– No minimum donation amount required.

United– Choose to donate miles in any amount to the Red Cross, Airline Ambassadors or Operation USA. UA will match up to $50,000 of donations through the linked page.

Hotels

Best Western Rewards– Make a donation in blocks of 5,000 points or more.

Choice Privileges– 1,000 points equals a $5 donation to one of several charities.

Hilton Hhonors– 10,000 points equals a $25 donation to the Red Cross.

Marriott– 18,000 points equals a $50 donation to the Red Cross.

Priority Club– Several charities available for blocks of 10,000 points each.

SPG Starpoints– 4,000 points equals a $50 donation to the Red Cross.

Wyndham Rewards– 5,500 points equals a $25 donation with over 100 charities to choose from.

Some airlines are also offering miles in return for a cash donation. American Airlines will give you miles for donations of at least $50, and Spirit Airlines is giving out miles for donations of $5 or more made using the Spirit Mastercard.

Some bloggers like Gary of View from the Wing and Rick over at the Frugal Travel Guy point out that the hotels and airlines aren’t being entirely altrustic by accepting miles for donations. By doing so, they are able to get some of the miles off their books for cheap. Still, with Haiti in such dire straits right now any donation they can get will help the country get back on its feet.

Personally, I’m choosing to help the folks in Haiti by supporting Food for the Hungry. You can make a $10 donation to them by texting “quake” to 85944.

One of my goals this year is to create a mileage-earning strategy that fits my pattern of travel and help me earn enough miles to get some international tickets. Since I’ve somehow given people the delusion that I’m some kind of frequent flyer, I’d love to get at least low-level status on an airline so that I have a shiny card to support their delusion.

However, picking a program to focus on isn’t so simple. I fly out of Orlando, which isn’t a hub for anyone but is a focus city for some low-cost carriers. Nearly all of my travel is for personal trips. Last year, I flew 4 domestic trips and an international one. This year, it looks like I will be doing at least that much flying again and maybe more if I can find some good promotions. While I’m usually flying out of the same city, where I’m going to varies widely and I rarely go to the same spot twice. So I need to choose a program with a lot of partners in it.

Looking at the three major airline alliances, I’m a fan of the Star Alliance. They are the largest of the three and offer the most choices in terms of carriers and destinations. In the US, where I live, there are three Star carriers- Continental, United, and US Airways. I don’t want to keep my miles in United’s program because of their infamous Starnet blocking tactics. Starnet blocking means that United often doesn’t make partner flights available for booking, even if the partner has award space available. I’ve heard stories of people trying to book a flight to Frankfurt via Luftasa or to Bangkok via Thai Airways only to be told that those airlines don’t have any flights available to those cities (come again?). Since I want to fly internationally, this won’t help me at all.

US Airways has a good mileage program with a decent earn/burn ratio and lots of redemption options. However, flying on the airline itself leaves something to be desired. It’s a basic, no-frills airline. It can get you from point A to point B on time and that’s pretty much it. I’ve used US Airways for short hops on the east coast, but for anything longer I try to fly on a different airline.

That leaves me with Continental. Like US Airways, the program makes it easy to redeem miles at a reasonable rate to many different destinations. They also have a decent on-board product that continues to improve. More interesting, if I can achieve elite status with CO, it can be used to get better seating on UA flights as well starting in mid-2010.

Beyond just flying, I’m also working on getting miles through credit card promotions and spending, online shopping and other promos and deals that pop up. I’m not trying to turn into Ryan Bingham of “Up in the Air” who said “I don’t spend a nickel on anything that doesn’t earn me miles.” But if I can get miles for things I do everyday anyway, so much the better.

So that’s my strategy this year. Hopefully it’ll get me to where I want to go this year.

I love the beginning of the new year. It’s a chance to step back and assess things and set goals for the next year. In 2009, my goals were mostly financial ones- I wanted to become debt-free and increase my income. I did become debt-free. I didn’t increase my income as much as I had hoped (silly recession) but in any case, I’m in a better financial position then I was last year.

I also had the goal of knocking off at least one item on my bucket list per month. With 12 goals completed, I managed to meet that.

This year will be the year of the earn. My focus will be on earning miles- whether it’s up in the air, on the ground or other creative ways. Several bloggers like Chris Guillebeau have raved about the opportunities that large miles/points balances can do for folks wanting to travel without spending a fortune. Whole forums like Flyertalk are devoted to discussing mileage earning and burning strategies.

So here are my goals for 2010-

1. Fly at least 25,000 miles– Last year, I flew about 21,000 miles. Doing 25,000 this year will be a challenge, but if the trips I’m hoping to take (including at least one overseas trip) work out, then it should be doable. The reason why I picked 25,000 miles specifically is because that’s the number needed by most airlines to achieve elite status with them, which is something I’ve never managed to do before. The real challenge will be to credit all the miles to one airline, since some of time I will be travelling with a group and have to go with whoever they want to fly with. In a later post I’ll outline which airline I’m going with and what I’m going to do to build up miles with them.

2. Earn enough miles to take an international trip in business or first class in 2011- After my trip to Japan last year, I really came to appreciate what life can be like in the front of the plane. Plus there are several cities in southeast Asia like Hong Kong and Singapore that I want to visit in the next couple of years. And with all the opportunities out there to earn miles in other ways besides just flying, it’s an achievable goal since I already have about half the miles needed for a trip.

3. Get out of town at least once a month– Last year in the months that I wasn’t flying anywhere I tried to get out and explore unique attractions around my home state of Florida. It’s been fun exploring what’s in my own backyard and it’s been nice knowing that I don’t always have to fly halfway across the world just to find adventure. Besides, if I can’t learn to appreciate what’s in my own backyard, how can I do it in someone else’s yard?

4. Run a 10k- Last year I ran a 5k, and it was amazing. Sadly I fell off the exercise wagon when the hot Florida summer hit. I’d like to get back into shape again so I’m ready to take on whatever adventures come my way next.

5. Continue working on my bucket list and reassess the list in the fall- I’m going to keep trying to get at least one goal a month. I also want to rethink some of the goals on the list. In October, the list will be two years old. A lot has changed in those two years and I’d like to remove some goals that don’t interest me anymore and add some that do.

So there you have it. As always, I’ll keep blogging about these goals throughout the year and hopefully by this time next year I can say that I’ve achieve them all.

What are your goals for the new year?