2021: The Year in Travel

Like a lot of folks my travel came to a screeching halt during the pandemic.  After returning home from my last ski trip on March 7, 2020 the only times I left the Memphis area for the remainder of that year were to visit family in Nashville.  I’d planned to go skiing at the end of January this year but as COVID rates started increasing and vaccines were not yet a reality I ended up canceling that trip.  As a result 2021 will close out without me getting on a plane. I believe this is the first time since the mid-1990s that has happened.

After being double-vaccinated my friend and I met in Nashville in May and took off on a 10-day roadtrip around the Southeastern US.  Part of our plan was to use up some of the free night certificates we’d accumulated.  It was great to enjoy the warm (but not hot yet!) sunshine, walk on the beach, see some minor-league baseball as well as visiting the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC.

Instead of a flight map of my travels, this year I have a road map:

I’m not usually a fan of road trips but was so glad to get away that the mode of transportation didn’t even matter.

Have a safe and healthy 2022, please get vaccinated (and boosted!) and let’s put this whole miserable pandemic behind us.

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Lodging Review: SpringHill Suites Franklin Cool Springs, Tennessee

As the end of 2021 approached I had several hotel free night certificates to spend. As I was not doing much in the way of traveling, I decided to use some of them on my trip home to the Nashville area for Thanksgiving. While I normally stay in the Bellevue area, which is the southwest part of town, there are currently only two Hilton properties and an independent hotel there. A Fairfield Inn property in Bellevue is due to start construction soon but not soon enough for me to use the two expiring certificates I had.

So I decided to stay near my sister in Franklin, which is directly south of Nashville. There are several properties there in the general area of the Cool Springs Mall and I selected the SpringHill Suites as I knew it would come with free breakfast.

SpringHill Suites by Marriott Franklin Cool Springs
(photo from Marriott.com)

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Activate 2022 1st Quarter Bonus Categories

It’s the 15th of the 3rd month of the quarter so it’s time to activate bonus categories for card that have quarterly bonuses for next quarter.  All of these cards offer bonus points or cash back on up to $1500 in purchases during the quarter.

US Bank Cash+

If you’re not already getting 5x Ultimate Rewards points by using a Chase Ink card (and even if you are!) you may want to switch the card you’re using for payment for TV/Internet/Streaming Services and Cell Phones.  You must register your card before March 25th to get the bonus cash-back in the categories you select.  As a reminder, you choose two 5% categories and one 2% category.  To register, click on the link in the email you received from US Bank or visit this link.  I’m choosing Home Utilities (as usual) and Gyms (as usual).

Discover Card

Discover has already given us the full calendar for 2022.  For Q1 the categories are: To activate the bonus, simply log into your Discover account and click on the Activate Now button.

Chase Freedom and Freedom Flex

Chase Freedom’s Q4 categories are grocery stores (excluding Target and Wal-Mart) and eBay.
To register you can go to this link to look at the calendar, then click on the Activate Now button.

In the end

Always register for the bonus categories even if you don’t think you’re going to use them.  You’ll never know when they might come in handy!
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Activate 2021 4th Quarter Bonus Categories

It’s the 15th of the 3rd month of the quarter so it’s time to activate bonus categories for card that have quarterly bonuses for next quarter.  All of these cards offer bonus points or cash back on up to $2000 in purchases during the quarter.

US Bank Cash+

If you’re not already getting 5x Ultimate Rewards points by using a Chase Ink card (and even if you are!) you may want to switch the card you’re using for payment for TV/Internet/Streaming Services and Cell Phones.  You must register your card before December 25th to get the bonus cash-back in the categories you select.  As a reminder, you choose two 5% categories and one 2% category.  To register, click on the link in the email you received from US Bank or visit this link.  I’m choosing Home Utilities (as usual) and Gyms (as usual).

Discover Card

Discover has already given us the full calendar for 2021.  For Q4 the categories are:

2020-11-19 Discover 2021 Q4 Bonuses

To activate the bonus, simply log into your Discover account and click on the Activate Now button.

Chase Freedom, Freedom Unlimited and Freedom Flex

Chase Freedom’s Q4 categories are Walmart and PayPal.  Note that if you use PayPal at Walmart you’ll still only receive 5x points – no double-dipping!

To register you can go to this link to look at the calendar, then click on the Activate Now button as seen above.

In the end

Always register for the bonus categories even if you don’t think you’re going to use them.  You’ll never know when they might come in handy!

Categories: Cash Plus, Chase, Credit Cards, Discover, Freedom, US Bank | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Lodging Review: Country Inns & Suites Asheville Outlet Mall, NC

Southeastern US Road Trip
Andaz Savannah
Embassy Suites Charleston Historic District
Anderson Ocean Club and Spa
Country Inn & Suites Asheville Outlet Mall

The final stop on our road trip was built around a visit to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. This was also the only opportunity we had to utilize the two free night certificates I’d earned via spending on my US Bank Radisson Rewards credit card.

Country Inns and Suites by Radisson Asheville, Asheville Outlet Mall, NC (photo from Trip Advisor)

Location

The hotel is on Brevard Road which is a very busy divided highway. The Asheville Outlet Mall is just across the street and there are numerous similar hotels nearby. Its main attraction for us was that it was close to the interstate and just 6.6 miles away from the Biltmore. Right next door to the hotel is a grocery and a gas station and there are numerous restaurants in the area.

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Lodging Review: Anderson Ocean Club and Spa, Myrtle Beach, SC

Southeastern US Road Trip
Andaz Savannah
Embassy Suites Charleston Historic District
Anderson Ocean Club and Spa
Country Inn & Suites Asheville Outlet Mall

It had been several years since I last visited Myrtle Beach but I found it hadn’t changed all that much. It was still very touristy with high-rise after high-rise along Ocean Boulevard along the beach. Compared to the historical sites we’d seen in Savannah and Charleston, Myrtle Beach can be a step down culturally but we enjoyed great weather and had a lot of fun walking on the beach, playing mini-golf and just relaxing.

As mentioned in the intro to this series the primary reason for our visit was to fulfill a Hilton Vacation Club timeshare presentation in exchange for a few nights of lodging. Originally that presentation was going to be in Hawaii but after the pandemic struck I just wanted to get that obligation fulfilled as quickly as possible. So this fit in well as a stop on our road trip.

Anderson Ocean Club and Spa. The mini-golf you see here is free to guests.

We arrived at the mustard-yellow building in the afternoon. The loading/unloading area is a half-circle ramp that leads to the back of the building. While valet parking is available, you can self-park for free in the same garage (albeit on higher floors) and it’s only a block away.

Check in was quite simple and we were given wrist bands to wear that would allow us certain privileges. The only thing we used them for was the free mini-golf across the street.

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Categories: Condos, Hilton, Hilton Vacation Club, Lodging Review, Myrtle Beach | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Lodging Review: Embassy Suites Charleston Historic District

Southeastern US Road Trip
Andaz Savannah
Embassy Suites Charleston Historic District
Anderson Ocean Club and Spa
Country Inn & Suites Asheville Outlet Mall

The next stop on our road trip was the Embassy Suites Charleston Historic District in Charleston, SC. We arrived in the early afternoon on a rainy day and didn’t have to wait too long to pull under the covered area where we were met by the valet. We had taken our time on the drive up from Savannah but had still reached Charleston well before check-in time. However the valet proactively offered to check to see if our room was ready and, to our delight, it was. Not only that but as our bags were being unloaded from the car, someone from the front desk actually brought out our room keys to us. I can only assume my Diamond status played a part in that.

There is no free parking anywhere in the area. The valet service is $35 per day and the cars are parked right across the side street. There is a parking garage next to the valet lot that is the same price or slightly higher. The hotel does mention another garage that’s a dollar or two cheaper per day but the bottom line is that you’re going to pay a pretty penny for parking here. We used the valet the first day as it was raining and we were still getting our bearings but the second night we parked in the nearby garage. When we checked out we found the valet charge had automatically been extended to the second night but I mentioned we had not used the valet the second day and was assured the charge would be removed. I did have to follow up a day or two later, but the charge was eventually credited back.

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Lodging Review: Andaz Savannah

Southeastern US Road Trip
Andaz Savannah
Embassy Suites Charleston Historic District
Anderson Ocean Club and Spa
Country Inn & Suites Asheville Outlet Mall

Our road trip was planned with the idea of using as many of our free-night certificates as possible. I only had one Hyatt certificate as I earn new ones in December and I’d already spent the 2019 certificate at the Hyatt Place Denver Airport in early 2020. But I have plenty of Chase Ultimate Rewards points so I transferred enough to my Hyatt account and we booked the Andaz Savannah using one night on points and one night with the free certificate earned from renewing my Chase World of Hyatt Credit Card.

Hyatt Andaz Savannah

The hotel has a great location in the heart of the historic district. This also means there’s no free parking. The hotel offers valet service but there’s a garage practically next door so for us the valet service wasn’t worth the extra money ($37/day). I will say that despite the fact that we didn’t use the valet service, the valets were always super-nice, opening doors for everyone and ensuring our stay was a good one. They also helped us load our luggage on to a cart before parking the car.

The front desk is located just inside the lobby and the associates were always very friendly. She thanked me for being a Discoverist and we were given a room on the fifth floor. She pointed out that the mini-bars were empty but if we needed any of the complimentary items usually found there (water, soft drinks) that we could just ask at the front desk. She also told us of our welcome amenity of a free beer or champagne (or soft drink for me) and we took advantage of that. Though I wasn’t sure I’d need it, she gave me a complimentary 2 PM checkout time as well.

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Southeastern US Road Trip

Southeastern US Road Trip
Andaz Savannah
Embassy Suites Charleston Historic District
Anderson Ocean Club and Spa
Country Inn & Suites Asheville Outlet Mall

In 2020 a couple of friends and I had planned to go to Hawaii. This decision had been based on attending a Hilton timeshare presentation on the big island but we got 5 nights there for free along with an included rental car. Of course that got cancelled. But I still had to sit through a timeshare presentation somewhere. Rather than push it out any further, my friends and I decided on a Southeastern US road trip and I’d attend the presentation in Myrtle Beach, SC.

In addition, I had a number of free night certificates I’d received from my various hotel credit cards so we set out to use as many of those as we could. We both had Marriott 25K certificates but once we’d settled on the cities we wanted to visit, we found that none of these cities had Marriotts where we could use our certs, which was quite disappointing. In all we spent 9 nights on the road and used free night certificates for 5 of those nights. The three nights in Myrtle Beach were part of the Hilton timeshare presentation package.

In three of our destination cities we only stayed two nights each; in Myrtle Beach we spent three nights. As such I won’t be doing detailed descriptions of our activities but will mention a few items below.

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Activate 2021 3rd Quarter Bonus Categories

It’s the 15th of the 3rd month of the quarter so it’s time to activate bonus categories for card that have quarterly bonuses for next quarter.  All of these cards offer bonus points or cash back on up to $2000 in purchases during the quarter.

US Bank Cash+

If you’re not already getting 5x Ultimate Rewards points by using a Chase Ink card (and even if you are!) you may want to switch the card you’re using for payment for TV/Internet/Streaming Services and Cell Phones.  You must register your card before September 25th to get the bonus cash-back in the categories you select.  As a reminder, you choose two 5% categories and one 2% category.  To register, click on the link in the email you received from US Bank or visit this link.  I’m choosing Home Utilities (as usual) and Gyms (as usual).

Discover Card

Discover has already given us the full calendar for 2021.  For Q3 the categories are:

This is one category I’ll likely max out as I eat at restaurants quite a bit.  To activate the bonus, simply log into your Discover account and click on the Activate Now button.

Chase Freedom and Freedom Unlimited

Chase Freedom’s Q3 categories are Grocery Stores and select Streaming Services.  Don’t forget that these stores often sell both merchant and cash-equivalent gift cards so buy gift cards at these places and spend them elsewhere and save.

The Grocery Store category excludes places like Walmart and Target Superstores that have a grocery section.

The selection of streaming services is rather small though it does include most of the bigger names: Disney+, Hulu, ESPN+, Netflix, Sling, Vudu, Fubo TV, Apple Music, SiriusXM, Pandora, Spotify, YouTube TV.

To register you can go to this link to look at the calendar, then click on the Activate Now button as seen above.

In the end

Always register for the bonus categories even if you don’t think you’re going to use them.  You’ll never know when they might come in handy!

Categories: Cash Plus, Chase, Credit Cards, Discover, Freedom, US Bank | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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