Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Travel smart with Trusted Traveler programs

If your future travel plans include flying somewhere, this might be the perfect time to apply for one of the Trusted Traveler programs. Long lines at security can result in a rough start to your trip, with tempers tested long before you actually board an airplane. But you do have options.
The Department of Homeland Security sponsors several programs including TSA Pre-check, Global Entry, NEXUS and SENTRI. Each has its own eligibility requirements and application fees, so you need to determine which works best for your needs.

TSA Pre-check: The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) manages and operates TSA Pre-check, an expedited security screening process. Upon approval, you can move through security more quickly and easily in a dedicated line, which is almost always shorter than the regular security line. The line generally moves faster because you don’t have to take off shoes or jacket or put your baggie of liquids or computer in the bin, which saves a lot of time.

This is valid for departures from more than 150 participating U.S. airports. Because TSA randomly selects non-enrolled travelers for this privilege, you could be lucky and get Pre-check occasionally without paying the $85 fee (good for five years), but with TSA Pre-check you’re almost always guaranteed a spot in the short line.

You can pre-enroll online, then visit an enrollment center to verify ID and provide fingerprints.

Global Entry: If you travel both within the U.S. and internationally, your best bet is Global Entry. A five-year membership is only $100. This program provides expedited processing through customs at airports and land borders upon arrival into the U.S.  Trust me, after you’ve endured a long flight to get back on American soil, you’ll be relieved to skip the long lines at customs.
For Global Entry, you will also have to schedule a personal interview (can take weeks or months in some locations) and must provide a passport or permanent resident card.

NEXUS: U.S. and Canadian citizens or permanent residents of either country can apply for NEXUS, an expedited process for airports and land borders between those two countries. Application is similar to Global Entry, and a five-year membership is $50.  It includes Global Entry and TSA Pre-check for travel between those two countries.
SENTRI: Travelers frequently arriving in the U.S. from Mexico, should consider enrolling in SENTRI. The process is similar to NEXUS, and the program requires proof of citizenship and admissibility documentation. Five-year membership fee is $122.25.

Be a smart traveler: Once you have received approval for any of these programs, be sure to enter your Known Traveler Number or PASS-ID into the passenger information section for the airlines you’ll be traveling on, or provide that number to any agent or company that books flights for you. I also double check before checking in for a flight to make sure that number is correctly and currently noted at the airline’s website. If for some reason, it isn’t, you won’t get the benefits due you—and the agent at the airport can’t change the notification (or lack of it) on your ticket.

Photos from free sources

Friday, January 6, 2017

Tips for safe winter travel

Whether you are flying or gearing up for a road trip to visit relatives, Better Business Bureau has advice to help ensure safe travels during the cold and unpredictable winter season.
If you plan on driving, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends getting your car serviced before you hit the road, especially if you anticipate traveling in inclement weather, like snow and ice. Visit your mechanic for a tune-up and have your entire vehicle thoroughly checked.

Before you hit the highway or tarmac this holiday season, BBB recommends that travelers:
Check out the business first. Whether you’re looking for a trustworthy travel agency, hotel, resort or auto mechanic, check out a company’s BBB Business Profile

Create a vehicle safety kit. Prepare for bad weather by creating your own safety kit. Basics for the kit include blankets, a flashlight with extra batteries, a radio, a first aid kit, jumper cables, non-perishable foods like granola bars and nuts, bottled water, an ice scraper and warm gloves.
Research last-minute travel deals. Bargains on airfare or a hotel may be tempting, but be cautious when booking on an unknown travel website or through an online advertisement. Common travel-related complaints to BBB reported trouble with reservations, online advertisements and incorrect charges. Be sure you understand all anticipated charges, so you can compare prices with confidence.

Consider travel insurance if flying. You may want to purchase travel insurance when booking a flight for peace of mind, protection from the unexpected and concern over losing the financial investment in a trip. Also, check with your credit card company, as some offer travel insurance as a perk if you use the card when booking a flight.
Understand extra fees.

  • Baggage fees: Some airlines charge to check bags. If a bag check-in is free, bags weighing over 50 pounds may cost you more.
  • Pet fees: Most airlines accept pets if they are kenneled, but the charge is usually around $100.
  • Ticket changes: Plans can change, but keep in mind that your travel cost was determined by your original departure and arrival times. Changing your plans may cost extra.
  • Hotel fees: Some  hotels charge extra fees for room service and Wi-Fi. Read the fine print when booking a hotel, and save your receipts.
Information courtesy of Esther Robards-Forbes, Public Relations Manager 

Photos from free sources.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Celebrate with bubbly in Sonoma County, California

If your idea of a perfect celebration involves the sound of a cork popping, a trip to Sonoma County, California, should be on your bucket list. Sonoma is an ideal grape growing region for California “champagne” and produces delicious sparkling wines in red, white, and rosé. To taste some of the region’s best bubbly, sign up for a Sonoma champagne tour.
Private Tours

Champagne is perfect for
toasting special occasions.
Sonoma Wine Tours offers a variety of private wine tours as well as a fabulous champagne tour through Sonoma County’s hidden cellars. Guests can enjoy a 4-5 hour journey through J Vineyards, Iron Horse, Korbel, and Roderer and sip some great bubbly along the way. Sonoma Wine Tours will customize your tour to fit your specific preferences and tastes.
Public Tours

Korbel Champagne Cellars: Korbel is well known for their sparkling wine. Visitors can take a free 50-minute tour through the historic champagne cellars in Sonoma County and then enjoy a tasting of Korbel’s finest products. The winery offers private guided tours by appointment.
Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards: Gloria Ferrer is a Spanish-style winery that produces sparkling Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It was the first sparkling wine house in the Sonoma Carneros AVA and now has over 335 acres of vineyards. The winery offers public, private, and group tours of their caves and sparkling wine facility. After the tour, order a glass or flight of sparkling wine to enjoy by the fire or on the veranda.

Vineyards in Sonoma County, CA grow grapes for a variety of
wines, including champagne.
J Vineyards: This winery is located in the Russian River Valley AVA and was named the “Best Winery Tasting Room in the West” by Sunset Magazine. Guests can enjoy a one-hour vineyard tour followed by a tasting of sparkling and varietal wines. You’ll visit the fermentation room, barrel room, bottling areas, and the Crush Pad where grapes are pressed. Tours are $30 per person and begin at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. daily.
Iron Horse Vineyards: Iron Horse is a beautiful family-owned winery that’s situated on a hilltop in Sebastopol, CA. The sparkling wines produced here have been served at the White House for over 30 years. Stop by the outdoor tasting room to try five estate wines against a stunning backdrop of Sonoma and Mt. St. Helena. Or, sign up for the VIP tour and tasting for a behind-the-scenes look at the sparkling wine production process.

Stay at Honor Mansion

Honor Mansion in Healdsburg provides guests with elegance,
comfort, and wonderful breakfasts.
While visiting Sonoma wine country, stay at Honor Mansion, a luxurious Healdsburg bed and breakfast. Following your wine tour enjoy late afternoon refreshments sampling an assortment of delicious local wines and scrumptious hors d’oeuvres each day. In the morning, you’ll wake up to a delicious gourmet breakfast—and be ready to take on California Wine Country all over again. 
Information courtesy of Honor Mansion, Healdsburg, California

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Lassen Volcanic National Park is a study in changing natural environments

We love America’s national parks, so it’s not surprising that we managed to visit three in one day on a West Coast road trip.
After visiting Yosemite National Park in California, which we believe is one of the most beautiful places in the world, we headed towards Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. Along the way, we stopped for a couple of hours at Lassen Volcanic NationalPark in northeastern California.

Mt. Lassen reflection in Lake Helen in Lassen Volcanic National
Park in Californa
 A lesser-known destination, this park clearly shows how the earth’s surface is constantly evolving. It provides an area for geologic study of ever-changing thermal areas as well as showcasing long-ago volcanic activity and subsequent recovery of nature.
Mud pots boil with steaming
sulfur-infused water in Lassen
Volcanic National Park.
First-time visitors will want to take the 30-mile diving tour on the main park road as we did. Along the way we stopped to view hydrothermal features like fumaroles, boiling mud pots, steaming sulfur springs, and three of the four types of volcanoes in the world. At Sulphur Works we watched superheated ground water bubbling to the surface. Boardwalks lead to many of the ecological sites, and it’s best to stay on the trail since these molten regions have been known to collapse.

Clear, sparkling water of shallow Emerald Lake, a glacial U-shaped pool at the base of a mountain, gets its green color from algae growing at the bottom.  It makes a wonderful photo opp.
Emerald Lake sparkles in Lassen Volcanic National Park.
A little further down the road, we stopped to admire the gorgeous azure water of Lake Helen. A true alpine lake, it is 110 feet deep and frozen most of the year. During our July visit the ice had melted, but given the cold temperature of the water, we enjoyed colorful mountain reflections and resisted the temptation to wade in. And there was still snow on the ground in places—an ironic sight for shorts-clad visitors like us.

Snow in July!
Hiking trails scattered throughout the park attract visitors who come to learn about, explore, and appreciate the unusual landscape.  Some trails lead to hidden lakes, but lakes like Emerald and Helen are easily accessible from the road. Since our time there was limited, we stuck to sights near the main park road.
Lassen Peak, at more than 10,000 feet tall, provides a beautiful backdrop for a landscape created by volcanic activity.  Seeing what remains today, you can muse about Lassen’s eruption in 1915 which blew a mushroom cloud of ash seven miles into the sky.

This park may not “wow” you with gorgeous scenery found in other national parks, but it’s worth visiting to observe the interesting geology and geography that is being preserved. And take a hike if you have time. Meadows filled with wildflowers are lovely in spring and summer.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

6 tech tips for international travelers

Today's guest post is by Adam Ferraresi, a Dallas-based web developer at

Holiday traveling may seem like a nightmare today, but a hundred years ago, it was truly a horror. As the Daily Mail reports, if a UK traveler wanted to make a trip to Australia or New Zealand, the journey would take at least 40 days. Things have dramatically changed in the 21st century, and it only takes a couple of hours to travel to a different continent. So it is no wonder that, according to the 2015 UNWTO Tourists Highlight Report, a staggering 1.1 billion people traveled overseas just last year.

Just ten years ago, most of us were looking forward to spending time from our homes unconnected, but in 2016 technology is a vital part of every trip. Therefore, it has become essential that we can access the Internet wherever we are and whenever we want. But many questions pup up in your mind when thinking about using technology overseas: How much will everything cost? What are the risks? What plans do I need? So here are six tips that hopefully will help you get the most out of using your favorite devices on the road.

1.      Put Your Phone into Airplane Mode

Your smartphone is your biggest hassle when you are out of the country, simply because it can load you down with international roaming bills. And when you are overseas, everything from calls to being connected to the internet comes with a huge price tag. In order to save money, put your phone into airplane mode as soon as you get on an airplane. Turn off roaming and cellular data for the duration of your trip.

2.      Pick up a Local SIM As Soon As You Land 

If you have an unlocked phone, and it’s not essential for you to have your exact number during the course of your vacation, you should pick up a local, pre-paid SIM card. Do some research before you choose your local provider, but don’t worry about it too much because you will probably be able to pick a SIM up right at the airport.
3.      Be Careful with Wi-Fi

We love free Wi-Fi, but you have to be alert at all times, because cybercriminals set up “rouge hotspots” all over the world with the sole purpose of stealing data. Most of them have names that mimic well-known Wi-Fi networks like McDonalds or Starbucks, so they can fool you into connecting. Once you establish a connection, criminals can collect your data without you even knowing that it is happening.
4.      Use a VPN for Data Transfers

You can also avoid the risks of using public hotspots by being strict with the networks you connect to, but doing that is both inconvenient and time-consuming. The simple solution is Virtual Private Network. This handy piece of software allows you to securely connect to any public hotspot by encrypting your data and thus protecting you from malicious data collection. There are free options, but a high-speed VPN such as ExpressVPN will not only keep your data safe, but it will also provide you with an additional layer of security for less than ten dollars a month.
5.      Download a Ton of Offline Apps

Your phone might be limited if you don’t have 24/7 Internet access, but you can still carry a lot of helpful information that will be a huge asset on international trips. You can easily download and load up Google maps before you go, and maps will stay in memory for 30 days. However, the offline version is only available to Android users. If you’re an iPhone user, there are other apps like MapsWithMe that provide everything you need without an Internet connection.
6.      Pack a Power Adapter

If you're carrying multiple high-tech gadgets on your trip, remember that some locations will not have the same kind of power outlets you have at home. So pick up a power adapter designed for the country you are visiting, or if you plan on doing a lot of international travel, pick up an adapter that works in multiple countries. If that is the case, the Ceptics Grounded Adapter is great choice.
Remember--if you cannot find the right hotspot or be sure that your private information is safe at all times, your smartphone will be nothing more than dead weight in your pocket.

Photos supplied by Adam Ferraresi





Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Holiday lights and Rudolph at Sea World San Antonio

5 Million Sparkling Lights Create the Largest Christmas Illumination in Texas

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer leads the way to Christmas joy under the glow of five million holiday lights at SeaWorld San Antonio’s Christmas Celebration.  Through Jan 1, SeaWorld San Antonio has been transformed into a winter wonderland with the largest lighted Christmas display in Texas.

Holiday lighting vignettes will be held throughout the 250 acres of the park including Tower of Light, Christmas Cove, Snowman Village, and Caribbean Christmas. Holiday entertainment will feature Clyde & Seamore’s Countdown to Christmas, the Merry Mariachies, Christmas Navitity Story, and Dolphin Christmas.

New holiday programs include Dine with Rudolph and Rudolph’s Christmas Town. SeaWorld will be adorned with carolers, holiday treats and traditions like Home for the Holidays with Santa and Mrs. Claus, and Shamu Christmas Miracles.  For a detailed activity list and to purchase specially priced Annual Passes, visit  

“No one loves Christmas more than Texans, and we intend to make this the biggest and brightest Christmas the Lone Star State has ever experienced,” said Carl Lum, park president.  “This year we are lighting up the night sky in a way that’s never before been seen by expanding from one million to five million twinkling lights and bringing back our signature lighted flagpole to make this the most festive and family focused holiday destination throughout Texas.  The SeaWorld elves are already hard at work creating magic around the park,” added Lum.  

As a part of the holiday celebration, SeaWorld and its hotel partners are offering guests benefits, including the Kids Stay and Play Free Christmas package. Priced from $89 per person, per night, guests enjoy one night of accommodations at a SeaWorld partner hotel and park admission valid for up to seven days.  For each adult purchasing the package, guests may also receive a free child ticket (ages 3-9) valid for up to 7 days.  Other perks include 20-percent off all-day dining, 20-percent off merchandise and a free game at the Games Center.  

For an additional charge guests can add a dining experience with Santa Claus or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. This Christmas package is valid through Dec. 31, 2016. Reservations can be booked online at

SeaWorld San Antonio is open weekends through Dec. 17, as well as Christmas break, Dec. 17 through Jan. 1.  

Information courtesy of Rachel Pinner Trevino, De Berry Group, San Antonio, Texas . Photos:

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Christmas in Granbury, Texas

Granbury,Texas  (near Fort Worth) has kicked off a series of special Christmas events to make this holiday season one to remember.  Over the next couple of weeks you can experience yuletide nostalgia with favorite traditions, twinkling lights, winter festivities and special appearances by Mr. and Mrs. Claus.
“It’s a magical time of year for all of us, and the historic charm of Granbury provides the perfect setting to make memories with your loved ones,” said Teresa Anderson, CEO, Visit Granbury. “From live Christmas concerts to our annual Night of Lights Parade, there are many opportunities to get into the spirit of the season.” Events include:
Granbury's restored 1886
Opera House

 “Meet Me in St. Louis” – The Granbury Theatre Company presents this timeless holiday musical at the Granbury Opera House Nov. 18 – Dec. 23. Show times are Friday 7:30 p.m., Saturday 2 p.m. & 7:30 p.m. and Sunday 2 p.m.Tickets start at $25.
Santa’s Workshop – No Christmas is complete without a visit to Santa’s Workshop. Bring the kids for photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus inside a hand-painted, holiday-themed wonderland in Granbury’s historic downtown square gazebo Nov. 25 – Dec. 17. Event times are Friday 6-8 p.m., Saturday 2-5 p.m. & 6-8 p.m., Sunday 2-4 p.m.

 “Away in a Manager” Nativity Displays – View Granbury resident Faye Landham’s impressive collection of over 1,000 nativity sets from all over the world at the Dora Lee Langdon Center Concert Hall Dec. 2-11. Event times vary.
 “Christmas Has Come: The Sounds of the Season” – Granbury’s Big City Music Revue plays Christmas favorites Dec. 2 – 17. Show times are Friday 7 p.m., Saturday 3 p.m. & 7 pm. Tickets start at $22.

Courthouse in Granbury's downtown Historic District
Granbury - A Candlelight Tour - Set amid the ambience of Granbury’s Historic District, the 33rd Annual Candlelight Tour will showcase Granbury’s architecture, history and culture. The tour provides attendees with a rare opportunity for guests to go inside some of Texas’ most beautiful historic residences. The tour will be held Friday, Dec. 2nd 5-9 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 3rd 12-9 p.m. Tickets purchased before November 30th are $20. After that date, tickets are $25.
Historic markers can be found on most downtown
buildings in Granbury
The Granbury Living Christmas Cards –Hand-painted by nationally-renowned artist James Spulock, these beautifully themed Christmas cards come to life with performances by actors, dancers and singers in Granbury’s historic downtown square Friday, Dec. 9th and Saturday, Dec. 10th at 6 p.m.

Several live Christmas concerts and performances will be free to the public throughout the month of December. For complete information about upcoming Granbury Christmas events, visit
Information courtesy of Mary Lester,
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

For more information about Granbury, click here:
and here:

Friday, November 25, 2016

Christmas through the years in Lyndon Johnson's Texas home

Gather the family and come out to Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park to celebrate the holiday season at “Christmas Through the Years in LBJ Country” on Saturday, December 10, in Johnson City, Texas. This National Park Service centennial celebration will run from 6:00 to 9:00 pm.
Sign designating the LBJ National Historical Park
The special event is free and open to the public. It takes place outdoors at 200 Elm Street in Johnson City on the city block where young Lyndon Johnson came of age. The president’s Boyhood Home will be open for lamplight tours. Next door is the Pedernales Electric Cooperative headquarters, where thousands of Christmas lights illuminate stately live oak trees.

Christmas was a special time for President and Mrs. Johnson and their family. This year the National Park Service carries on the Johnson family’s tradition by making the holiday season special for locals and “out-of-towners” alike.

Blanco County Courthouse in Johnson City, Texas
shines during Lights Spectacular.
If you haven’t been to Johnson City during the holidays, this is a great chance to visit. Christmas glows for the 23rd year during the annual Lights Spectacular presentation, which runs from November 25. 2016 through January 1, 2017. More than 100,000 lights sparkle on the Blanco County Courthouse, centerpiece of the display, while Pedernales Electric Co-op’s Headquarters boasts a twinkling forest with over one million lights. Practically every inch of tree bark and limbs is covered with tiny white lights, and larger bulbs gleam through the branches. This local celebration will cap the National Park Service’s year-long centennial celebration.
A wonderland of festive lights at Pedernales Electri Co-op's
Headquarters in Johnson City, Texas
Activities showcasing Christmas traditions from the 1860s through the 1960s—from the time of the president’s grandparents to the years of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency—will include the following:

  • Traditional country music and Christmas carols with Brian Black from 7:00 to 8:30 pm
  • An 1860s chuck wagon cooking demonstration with cowboy stories
  • Hands-on Christmas crafts for children
  • Display of President Johnson’s historic 1915 American LaFrance fire truck
  • Lamplight tours through Lyndon Johnson’s Boyhood Home
  • An exhibit and presentation on young Congressman Lyndon Johnson making Lights Spectacular a future reality with the creation of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative
  • Screening of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on an outdoor movie screen
  • Brian Black of Bandera, Texas, a music artist who has opened for and played with a number of renowned musical artists, will perform.
LBJ's boyhood home will feature lamplight tours
Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park is open seven days a week from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. For more information visit  and

Information courtesy of Brian Vickers, Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park

Top 3 photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier. LBJ home from free source.

Read more about Johnson City's Lights Spectacular here:


Sunday, November 20, 2016

More about polar bears on Smithsonian channel

If you watched the first installment of Polar Bear Town on the Smithsonian channel, you won’t need convincing to tune in for the rest of the series. If you’re just joining the docu-series, here’s what you’ll see in subsequent programs.
Mother bear will show her cubs how to hunt seals.
Testing the ice as Hudson Bay freezes.
Wednesday, November 23 at 8 p.m. ET/PT
A mother bear is leading her nine month-old cub back from his first hunting season on the ice. Now, they
ll face an even more daunting challenge: throngs of tourists descending on Churchill, which could put the cub and themselves at risk. Veteran guide Dennis Compayre takes on an apprentice, Andrea Dillon, but an aggressive client might complicate her baptism by bear. And fellow guide Kelsey Eliasson flips the script and takes up a camera himself to assist in a groundbreaking research project that identifies bears through their unique whisker patterns. 

Wednesday, November 30 at 8 p.m. ET/PT

Bears spar with each other to learn defensive skills.

Polar bear season has reached its peak and Brian Ladoon is looking for help at his Mile 5 Dog Sanctuary. Brian cant be in two places at once feeding his Canadian Eskimo dogs and on the lookout for polar bears. Luckily, volunteer Russell Hausler has traveled from Australia to give Brian a hand. But Russell is not experienced in the dangers of Polar Bear Town and he may end up doing more harm than good for Brian and the dogs. Meanwhile, bear guide Dennis Compayre and regular client, California photographer Andrew Bazeley, are looking for the perfect shot to complete Andrews book. They encounter a pair of polar bears that locals call the Scrappy Brothers, because they wrestle each other to hone their skills for mating battles to come. And a cub called Curious ventures away from its mother and finds itself on a dangerous collision course with a hungry but elderly male known as St. Pete.

Wednesday, December 7 at 9 p.m. ET/PT

Bear tracks lead into the town
of Churchill

Halloween has arrived in Polar Bear Town. Its the worst day of the year for bears in Churchill and the busiest for conservation officers. Children are trick-or-treating and people like Erin Greene are attending parties. Last year, Erin was on her way home from a party when she was attacked by a polar bear. Erin survived the attack but is afraid that it could happen again. Erin enlists her friend, bear guide Karine Genest, to confront her fears by getting close to a polar bear for the first time since the attack. While humans are understandably fearful, the bears are even more at risk. New Mom follows her nose into a bear trap and separates herself from her cub, whose very survival may depend on Kelseys intervention. 

Polar bears that wander into Churchill are kept in a holding
facility until they are released back into the bay area.

Even long-time residents can't get complacent
about polar bears in and around Churchill.
And a roaming Big Bear is headed directly toward the army of guards protecting town.

Wednesday, December 14 at 8 p.m. ET/PT

Winter has settled in on Churchill. It
s the time of year when conservation officers release bears from its polar bear holding facility, which the locals call Polar Bear Jail. A special release sees a mother polar bear and her cub airlifted out of town, to be safely released in the wilderness. Kelsey has special access for the release and follows along in a chase helicopter. But the tranquilizers that conservation officers use on bears wear off quickly and the helicopter pilots need to find a place to land before the bears wake up. Meanwhile, Dennis Compayre enlists some friends to help him find a special bear called Dancer, whom hes known for over 20 years.

Wednesday, December 21 at 8 p.m. ET/PT

s spring in Churchill. While most polar bears are now hunting for seals on the frozen Hudson Bay, pregnant females have migrated south to their ancestral dens to give birth. The race is on for guides, photographers and scientists to find hidden denning sites outside of Churchill, in hopes of seeing mothers and cubs emerge. Inside one of those dens, a mother bear has spent three full months nursing her cubs. At around 20 pounds each, theyre nearly ready to leave the den and embark on the epic trek to their icy hunting grounds. And a team of biologists, including Don Moore of the Smithsonians National Zoo, make an astonishing discovery a maternity denning complex that a group of polar bears has used for generations.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier from our own adventure viewing polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Mastering the magic of traveling for free

Everyone likes to get something for free, and travel experiences are among the most coveted. For Greg Davis-Kean, who calls himself a Miles Master, booking travel, hotels, and activities with airline miles, points, and reward programs—no dollars!--is a fun challenge that has taken him all over the world.
“It’s easier and quicker to earn miles in ways other than flying,” the Michigan resident said when I talked with him recently. “Although some people think it’s too much trouble, I have found it’s so worth the effort. I can’t believe everyone isn’t doing it,” Davis-Kean added as he shared some of his secrets with me.

Take a lovely vacation for free with Miles Master tips.
A dream vacation

Davis-Kean recently returned from a luxurious Caribbean vacation on Necker Island, a 74-acre island entirely owned by Sir Richard Branson, for which he spent seven months accumulating 1.2 million miles. Branson is Chairman of the Virgin Group, and his island in the British Virgin Islands is part of the Virgin Limited Edition portfolio of luxury properties. The whole island operates like a resort where up to 28 people can book individual rooms at certain times of the year.

Davis-Kean’s trip was an award listed on Virgin Atlantic Limited’s website, and he decided it was worth pursuing. “I just liked the challenge to do this,” he said of the exclusive excursion. “What I didn’t expect was that the trip exceeded my expectations.”
What’s the trick?

Credit cards are a great source for
accruing points that can be
exchanged for travel.
How did he collect such a massive amount of miles in a relatively short time? He juggled credit card miles, bonuses, and other miles-earning schemes (all legal, of course) to rack up more than a million miles.
His first tactic is to apply for credit cards that offer large sign-up bonuses. “Be sure you’re getting the best offer because these change frequently,” he said. Check his blog , The Frequent Miler, for up-to-date information and tips on current deals.

 “There’s no downside to signing up,” he explained. He does keep good records on his 30 plus cards to know when the free first year is up (when the annual fee kicks in), so he can decide whether to keep or cancel the card or downgrade it to a non-fee card to preserve credit at the issuing bank.
“Focus on transferable points programs such as those with Chase bank, American Express, and Citibank,” he said. Flexibility to transfer points to airline programs makes them more valuable, and you might even get bonus points at the time of transfer.

Another trick: “Look for credit cards with category bonuses. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve card offers three times the usual points for travel and dining expenses. Although there is a hefty charge for that card, annual credits reduce the effective rate considerably. The American Express Everyday card is his preferred card for groceries and gas.
Upgrade your hotel stays with points
for free nights.
With hotel cards, Davis-Kean suggests accruing points to use for free-night stays. “That’s a better deal than putting those points on an airline card,” he said. Sure, you might have to pay a small fee, but if you choose wisely, having a hotel card can be worth a lot of money. For example, the annual fee for an IHG card (Intercontinental Hotels, Holiday Inn, and more) is just $49, but you get a free night every year—and where can you stay at a nice hotel for just $49?

Making it work
What started as a hobby for Davis-Kean has turned into a full time career. For the last five years he has produced a blog where he shares tips for readers.  Whether you’re just curious or have gotten hooked and want to take your project to the next level, read his blog at 

Greg Davis-Kean, Miles Master
“These tips keep my wife in top-tier status,” he said with a bit of humor. He also keeps up with new offerings and techniques by reading other blogs that discuss maximizing points and miles. Even if you can’t spend the time and effort that he does, you can still reap plenty of benefits by just being aware of and taking advantage of offers that are widely available.
So what’s next for Davis-Kean? He’s looking at a safari-based trip to Africa.

Photos from free sources