Archive | July, 2014

Don’t Wait for the Louvre

An ordinary day at the Louvre. Photo Guia Besana for The New York Times

One cloudy afternoon this month, the line to enter the Louvre stretched around the entrance pyramid, across one long courtyard and into the next,” according to yesterday’s New York Times article about the ever increasing crowds at premier art museums. Scenes like that are why we regretfully decided not to revisit the Louvre on our most recent trip to Paris.

The Times focuses mostly on worries that such large crowds may start damaging the artwork. It goes without saying that these crowds also routinely ruin what is supposed to be a peaceful and contemplative experience for visitors. But they don’t have to. There are ways to beat the crowds.

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How to Save 20% or More on Hotels

Hotels and Chase Perfect Together

(Update: The Chase Ultimate Rewards Portal no longer offers bonus points for booking through

I’m writing this partly as a Public Service Announcement for our readers and partly as a reminder to myself to stop being so stupid. Hopefully putting this down in pixels will help me get my head out of me bum, although that might be asking a lot.

So what’s got me so ticked? Before I get to that, I need to fill in some background first.

If you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card, and you probably should if you do a fair amount of traveling (to see why check out our Best Reward Card for Travelers article) and if you book lodging with (which you should at least consider for reasons we’ll explain momentarily), it’s possible to use the two together to get discounts and benefits totaling more than 20% of the cost of your hotel. It’s also possible to book the same hotel and not get those benefits, which is partly what I’ve done a couple of times now. And I’d really like to stop doing that.

So here’s how you can learn from my mistake and save 20% or more on lodging.

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Two Continents, Double the Dalí

Dali Queen Esther

We arrived at the Salvador Dalí Theatre Museum in the Spanish city of Figueres by way of St. Petersburg, Florida—three years and thousands of miles later.

Before being introduced to Dalí’s work in the Sunshine State in 2011, neither Brian nor I was all that familiar with him beyond his curled, signature mustache and Surrealist paintings. In fact, as we discovered at the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, there was much more to this multi-dimensional artist than a melting clock.

A single Surrealist painting purchased by art-loving newlyweds Reynolds and Eleanor Morse in 1941 was the first piece in the Dalí treasure trove they amassed and which eventually became the basis for the St. Petersburg museum. Dali’s paintings are presented chronologically, spanning 45 years, from Impressionism and Cubism to Surrealism and a classic period that focused on religion and science. He also dabbled in film and photography, created sculptures, and designed jewelry, clothes, furniture, and sets for plays and ballet. We left the museum intrigued by the wonderfully offbeat sensibility that conjured images like a fast-moving still life, the artist Vermeer’s ghost doubling as a table, and bicycle-riding skeletons balancing rocks on their heads.

That was the warm-up act.

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The Strange Math of Traveling Without a Plan

Vancouver Chinatown

I meant to go here

Is it possible to get nothing for something and still think you’ve gotten a good deal? Apparently, the answer to that question is yes. Or at least that’s my conclusion after reading an unintentionally hilarious report about how one last minute traveler “scored a good-value award on Cathay Pacific” Airlines.

The short version of this story is that a traveler hadn’t researched or booked parts of his itinerary and, as a result, was having difficulty piecing together some needed flights. Unfortunately, the only flight that fit his needs “was pricing out at a whopping $678, even for economy! That was way too much money for me to shell out,” he writes.

After working some travel hacking magic, the hero of this story manages to book that same flight for $111 plus 2,500 Avios points. Triumphantly he exclaims that the $567 he saved in airfare got him a redemption value on his frequent flyer miles of “a whopping 22.7 cents per point!”

And it’s true. After putting himself in a bind by not booking his flight ahead, he was able to partially avoid a steep penalty by using frequent flyer points.

But here’s the thing: he could have booked an identical flight in advance for $113. So instead of saving $567 he really spent 2,500 Avios points to purchase a ticket for $111 that he otherwise could have bought for $113. That $2 in savings works out to an abysmal .08 cents per point!

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Girona, City of Gardens (and Stairs)

Girona Collegiate Church of Sant Feliu Spire

It’s easy to see why the Catalonian city of Girona has endured 25 sieges and fallen to enemy forces on seven different occasions. It’s a place you really do want all for yourself. And on our first night in town, we had exactly that.

The day-trippers had all gone for the day. Girona is just an hour’s train ride from Barcelona, making it a quick-hit destination for many. They were mostly leaving just as we arrived. 

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