Review: Airboat Adventures, Lafitte, LA

As this was my friend’s first trip to New Orleans I let her select most of our activities. One thing on her list was a swamp tour. I admit I was not overly excited about the prospect but it was something I’d never done so I was game.

Based on reviews on Trip Advisor, we selected Airboat Adventures, in part because they would pick us up from our downtown hotel. It’s a $20 charge per person for the ride so while it made sense for us, if you have a larger group it may not. There was a family of four on our boat who’d used Uber to get to Airboat Adventures but cell service is not strong AT ALL at their office and they were having trouble reaching Uber to get a ride back. I don’t know how it turned out but it could be quite costly if you haven’t made prior arrangements for the return trip.

As our visit was in late August, we opted for the 9:45 AM tour, hoping to finish before the heat of the day. We were fortunate in that it was a partly cloudy day which helped to keep us from baking. The airboats have no covering so you are completely exposed during the tour. We slathered up with sunscreen and I was concerned about biting insects (they really like me) but I did not have any issues with that.

Airboat Adventures offers three types of boats: smaller airboats that seat 5-8 people, larger ones that can hold up to 36 and covered pontoon boats which appeared to be able to hold about 50 people. Obviously the smaller the boat the more it can maneuver into side channels of the bayou (as it’s know locally). The fewer people the boat holds, the more expensive it is per person.

Smaller Airboat

Large Airboat

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Lodging Review: Fairfield Inns & Suites New Orleans Airport, Kenner, LA

One perq of holding the Marriott credit card from Chase is that each year you pay the monthly fee you get a certificate good for one night at a Category 1-5 hotel. I had a certificate that was due to expire in October, when the annual fee is due, and the stay must be completed by that date, not just booked. That’s one thing I’d like to see changed with the Marriott-SPG merger – let me book the certificate within the date range, even if the stay is not completed by then.

Since the annual fee of the “regular” Marriott card is $85 (moving to $95 with the next renewal), you can sometimes get great value from using a certificate. The Fairfield Inn and Suites in Kenner is not an especially great use of this certificate as rooms are just over $100 pre-tax but since the certificate would otherwise be going to waste it just made sense to spend it here. This is also the only Marriott property in the immediate airport area and thus the only one with an airport shuttle.

After touring all day in the sticky heat and being caught in a rainstorm just 2.5 blocks from the Hyatt House, we were fairly drenched by the time we caught our Uber to the Fairfield Inn, arriving in the late afternoon.

While we didn’t spend a lot of time inspecting the exterior it looked to be in good shape and we made our way to the front desk. We were assisted by a very friendly associate who noted our status and that we were staying on an award. She filled us in about breakfast though we’d be leaving too early for the buffet. She did arrange for us to have sack breakfasts available for the next morning and got us booked on the appropriate shuttle.

The lobby looked as if it had been recently refreshed and I liked the furniture and the geometric designs on the carpet. Though the breakfast area was not in use I liked the layout and the bright colors of the seats.

A quick note that this hotel is in the flight path for the airport but flights are typically operating in the 0530-2130 timeframe so there shouldn’t be an issue with plane noise overnight.

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Q4 Bonus Category Registration Now Available

Can you believe we’re almost three-quarters of the way through 2018?  As we approach the end of the third quarter, that can only mean it’s time to register for fourth quarter credit card bonuses.

Discover Card

Discover’s Q4 categories are ones that are handy for the holiday season: Amazon and Wholesale Clubs.  To register, just log into your Discover account online or visit this link to log inNote that to receive the 5% cash back you must register first before making your purchase.  You can earn 5% back on up to $1500 in purchases.

US Bank Cash+

US Bank is offering the same categories as for Q3 though you can choose the ones that work best for you.  Select 1 of the 2% categories and 2 of the 5% categories, based on your needs.  For the 5% category you can earn the 5% on up to $2000 in purchases.  To select your categories, visit the US Bank Cash+ website.

Chase Freedom

For the fourth quarter the Chase Freedom card will earn 5x points at Wholesale Clubs, Department Stores and for using Chase Pay. As in previous quarters this offer is good on up to $1500 in combined purchases for the quarter. I no longer have a warehouse club membership, don’t use mobile payments and can’t remember the last time I bought something at a department store so these categories don’t help me much, sadly.  But be sure to register ASAP so you’ll earn your bonus points!

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

Lodging Review: Hyatt House New Orleans/Downtown

For the second consecutive year I found myself back in New Orleans just before Labor Day for an event at the Hyatt Regency. Last year I stayed at the Regency but this year a friend was coming with me and we were going to stay over for a couple of days to play tourist. As I started comparing prices, and knowing we’d need breakfast, I realized we’d be better off at the Hyatt House which is next door to the Regency but is connected by a walkway.

We stayed three nights here, using a combination of cash, the free night certificate that comes with the Chase Hyatt credit card and World of Hyatt points. I called in to make the reservation and got a fantastic agent who compared my corporate rate, member rate and the AAA rate to figure out which night was the cheapest so I could pay cash for that night and use the certificate and points for the other two night. Then she was able to put that all on one reservation for us, which was terrific. I’d hoped for a room with two beds, but none were available on points so we got a room with a king bed and a sleeper sofa.

The building housing the hotel is at the corner of Loyola Ave and Poydras Street, with the hotel occupying floors 11-17. The Hyatt House entrance is on the Poydras Street side and there’s an express elevator up to the 11th floor main lobby.

Check In

As I arrived after 10 PM there was no waiting to be checked in and the whole process was quick and efficient. Every staff interaction I had was very pleasant. My Discoverist status (a result of holding the Hyatt credit card) was recognized and I told I was being given a slightly larger room. I asked again about a room with two beds, just in case one had opened up, but none were available. I was offered a choice of two of several welcome amenities and I took the 1000 points plus a plate of fruit. I was also given a large bottle of water, and one was available each day per guest.

One large bottle of water per guest per day is complimentary

Hyatt House New Orleans/Downtown Elevator Lobby

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New Month, New Quarter, New Bonus Categories

It’s the first day of a new quarter and that means it may be time to change which cards you’re using for certain purchases.  As mentioned a few weeks ago, here are the categories for cards with quarterly rotating bonuses:

Discover Card

Discover Card will net you 5% cash back when you use your card at Restaurants this quarter.  The most important thing to remember is that you must register your card before you’re eligible to earn the 5% back.  If you haven’t done it yet, do that now!

 

US Bank Cash+

With US Bank’s Cash+ card you get to select your own categories: two will earn you 5% cash back and one will get you 2%.  It also offers a category I’ve never seen elsewhere: home utilities.  That can be especially valuable during these hot summer months.  Here’s the list of categories for Q3:

To make your selections, log into your account.

 

Chase Freedom

Freedom is offering 5x Ultimate Rewards points at gas stations, Walgreens and for Lyft rides.  Ultimate Rewards can be spent as cash back on your statement at a value of a penny a point, or if you have one of the paid UR-earning cards, like the Sapphire Preferred or the Sapphire Reserve, those points can be combined with the URs you earn through those cards and transferred to an airline or hotel partner.  You may end up getting more than one cent per point value in that instance.

If you haven’t already activated your bonuses, you can do that here.

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

Improved Features from TripIt

One of my favorite travel tools is TripIt. If you’re not familiar with this tool, it’s accessible both as an app and as a desktop utility. Once your account is created, you can forward your confirmation emails to plans@tripit.com and TripIt will consolidate all your plans into a single, easy-to-read itinerary.I typically travel with friends who live in different cities. Since we all have TripIt accounts and have marked ourselves as fellow travelers, one of us sets up a trip, adds the other members and then when they forward their reservations, the plans show up in a single itinerary.

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Activate Q3 Bonus Categories Now

It’s time to activate your bonus categories for the cards that offer quarterly bonuses. All of these cards will give you bonus cash back (or points) for up to $1500 in spend during July, August and September.

Discover

For the Discover Card, restaurants will earn you 5% cash back.  Remember that you must activate your Discover Card bonus BEFORE making any purchases or you won’t get the bonus cash back.  To register your card, look for the email that should have been sent to you or visit this link.

US Bank Cash+

With the US Bank Cash+ Visa you can select one of three 2% categories and two of twelve 5% categories.  To me the home utilities category is a no-brainer as I know I’ll spend several hundred dollars there each quarter and I know of no other card that offers that category.

Chase Freedom

Though Chase markets this as a cash back card, in fact you’re earning Ultimate Rewards points.  And you can redeem each point for a penny off your credit card bill.  But if you’ve got one of Chase’s Ultimate Rewards-earning (UR) cards with an annual fee (like Sapphire Preferred, Sapphire Reserve or one of the Ink cards) you can combine the URs you earn via the Freedom card with the URs earned with the other cards and get more than one cent per point in value from those URs.

For the third quarter of 2018 the bonus categories are Lyft, Walgreens and gas stations.  This doesn’t help me much as I very rarely use ride-sharing and have never used Lyft, the Vanilla pre-paid debit cards found at Walgreens cannot easily be turned into cash and the gas stations around here will not allow the purchase of pre-paid debit cards with a credit card and they often don’t have the $500 denomination anyway.  You can activate your Chase Freedom card bonuses here.

 

So for me it looks like I’ll be using my Discover card at restaurants and my Freedom card at the gas pump in Q3.

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

All Nippon Airways B777-300ER First Class Tokyo Narita to Houston

Exploring Asia Overview
Cathay Pacific B777-300ER Business Class San Francisco to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Lounge Review: The Cabin at HKG
Cathay Dragon A330-300 Business Class Hong Kong to Beijing
Lodging Review: Regent Beijing Hotel
Beijing: Dongcheng District
Beijing: The Great Wall
Beijing: Run-ze Jade Garden
Beijing: The Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs
Beijing: The Legend of Kung Fu
Beijing: Tiananmen Square
Beijing: The Forbidden City
Beijing: Hutong Tour via Rickshaw, Tea Tasting, Flying to Xi’an
Lodging Review: Hotel Shangri-La Xi’an
Xi’an: Qing Dynasty Terra Cotta Warriors
Xi’an: Tang Dynasty Dinner and Show
Xi’an Wrap-Up, Flying to Lhasa, Lhasa Home Visit
Lodging Review: Shangri-La Hotel Lhasa
Lhasa: Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Market
Lhasa: Canggu Nunnery and Sera Monastery
Lhasa: Potala Palace
Leaving Lhasa and Flying to Chongqing
Viking Emerald
Shibaozhai Temple
Cruising the Three Gorges
Three Gorges Dam
Jingzhou City Walls Tour
Wuhan: Hubei Bells Performance and Provincial Museum
Shanghai: Shanghai Museum
Lodging Review: Fairmont Peace Hotel, Shanghai
Shanghai: Old Shanghai and Yuyan Gardens
Lodging Review: The New Otani Tokyo Hotel
Tokyo: City Tour
Mt. Fuji and Hakone Tour Returning by Shinkansen
ANA Suites Lounge Review, Tokyo Narita
All Nippon Airways B777-300ER First Class Tokyo Narita to Houston

Date: October 24, 2017
Flight: NH 174 NRT-IAH
Seat: 2A (ANA Suites)
Aircraft: B777-300
Depart: 11:15 AM

We departed from gate 56, which was a 3-minute walk from my seat in the ANA Suites lounge. It was just a brief escalator ride down one level and a very short walk to the gate.

Boarding was scheduled to begin at 10:45 AM so I left the lounge at 10:30 AM just to have a look around the gate area. We had a nice nose-on view of our aircraft but for some reason the photo I tried to take didn’t work.

About 10:40 AM an announcement was made indicating that boarding would begin soon. I loved how civilized it was, with separate boarding lanes for First (and Star Alliance Gold), Business Class (and Star Alliance Silver) and Economy. There were about 5-6 (really young looking!) agents in the area working the flight and monitors overhead let everyone know they needed not only their boarding passes, but also their passports open to the photo page.

Once pre-boarding of one wheelchair and one family with small children was complete, precisely at 10:45, those of us in First Class were allowed to board. I was a bit amused that after passing the gate agents, we turned a corner to reach the jet bridge and there were another half-dozen gate agents – and even some ramp/maintenance workers – and they all bowed to us as we walked through. Once on the jet bridge, two doors were being used for boarding – 1L for First and 2L for everyone else. It was one time I didn’t mind turning right after boarding!

I was promptly greeted and escorted to my seat, 2A. The Flight Attendant, Mami, was just lovely and informed me that since only 3 of the 8 First Class seats were occupied, she would make my bed across the aisle in 2D. Wow, two suites just for me! Neither 1A nor 1D were occupied so I had the whole left side of the plane to myself.

ANA First Class Suite

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ANA Suites Lounge Review, Tokyo Narita

Exploring Asia Overview
Cathay Pacific B777-300ER Business Class San Francisco to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Lounge Review: The Cabin at HKG
Cathay Dragon A330-300 Business Class Hong Kong to Beijing
Lodging Review: Regent Beijing Hotel
Beijing: Dongcheng District
Beijing: The Great Wall
Beijing: Run-ze Jade Garden
Beijing: The Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs
Beijing: The Legend of Kung Fu
Beijing: Tiananmen Square
Beijing: The Forbidden City
Beijing: Hutong Tour via Rickshaw, Tea Tasting, Flying to Xi’an
Lodging Review: Hotel Shangri-La Xi’an
Xi’an: Qing Dynasty Terra Cotta Warriors
Xi’an: Tang Dynasty Dinner and Show
Xi’an Wrap-Up, Flying to Lhasa, Lhasa Home Visit
Lodging Review: Shangri-La Hotel Lhasa
Lhasa: Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Market
Lhasa: Canggu Nunnery and Sera Monastery
Lhasa: Potala Palace
Leaving Lhasa and Flying to Chongqing
Viking Emerald
Shibaozhai Temple
Cruising the Three Gorges
Three Gorges Dam
Jingzhou City Walls Tour
Wuhan: Hubei Bells Performance and Provincial Museum
Shanghai: Shanghai Museum
Lodging Review: Fairmont Peace Hotel, Shanghai
Shanghai: Old Shanghai and Yuyan Gardens
Lodging Review: The New Otani Tokyo Hotel
Tokyo: City Tour
Mt. Fuji and Hakone Tour Returning by Shinkansen
ANA Suites Lounge Review, Tokyo Narita
All Nippon Airways B777-300ER First Class Tokyo Narita to Houston

Since Narita Airport is so far from downtown Tokyo (over an hour’s drive on a good day) and traffic is always a question mark, Viking arranged for me to leave the hotel at 6:30 AM for my 11:15 AM flight. As it turned out, traffic was light and we made very good time. Another couple from our cruise was in the same van but they were flying KLM so there were two Viking assistants there to meet us at the airport. One took the KLM couple to the south check-in point while mine loaded my bags on a cart and guided me to the north check-in.

As I was in ANA First, we walked back to the Z check-in area which is a private area for ANA, United and other airlines. There were about 4 ANA reps inside and I was the only passenger at that point so it felt a little strange (but nice!) to be doted on so much. Check-in was very efficient and I was directed to the dedicated security lane, the one that can only be accessed directly from the First Class check-in area. Naturally that process was speedy as well.

Then it was down the escalator to Immigration, where, of course, I picked the line that didn’t move. But I had plenty of time and once the one person holding up the line finally got through, our line moved efficiently as well.

I turned left and walked past a number of shops and one gate before coming to the escalator leading to the airline lounges.

ANA Suites Lounge Narita Lounge Entrance

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Categories: Airline Clubs, ANA, Asia, Japan, Star Alliance | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mt. Fuji and Hakone Tour Returning by Shinkansen

Exploring Asia Overview
Cathay Pacific B777-300ER Business Class San Francisco to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Lounge Review: The Cabin at HKG
Cathay Dragon A330-300 Business Class Hong Kong to Beijing
Lodging Review: Regent Beijing Hotel
Beijing: Dongcheng District
Beijing: The Great Wall
Beijing: Run-ze Jade Garden
Beijing: The Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs
Beijing: The Legend of Kung Fu
Beijing: Tiananmen Square
Beijing: The Forbidden City
Beijing: Hutong Tour via Rickshaw, Tea Tasting, Flying to Xi’an
Lodging Review: Hotel Shangri-La Xi’an
Xi’an: Qing Dynasty Terra Cotta Warriors
Xi’an: Tang Dynasty Dinner and Show
Xi’an Wrap-Up, Flying to Lhasa, Lhasa Home Visit
Lodging Review: Shangri-La Hotel Lhasa
Lhasa: Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Market
Lhasa: Canggu Nunnery and Sera Monastery
Lhasa: Potala Palace
Leaving Lhasa and Flying to Chongqing
Viking Emerald
Shibaozhai Temple
Cruising the Three Gorges
Three Gorges Dam
Jingzhou City Walls Tour
Wuhan: Hubei Bells Performance and Provincial Museum
Shanghai: Shanghai Museum
Lodging Review: Fairmont Peace Hotel, Shanghai
Shanghai: Old Shanghai and Yuyan Gardens
Lodging Review: The New Otani Tokyo Hotel
Tokyo: City Tour
Mt. Fuji and Hakone Tour Returning by Shinkansen
ANA Suites Lounge Review, Tokyo Narita
All Nippon Airways B777-300ER First Class Tokyo Narita to Houston

On our final day, Viking had contracted with another company for a tour out to Mt. Fuji and Hakone National Park. While we had the option to return on the bus, almost everyone opted to pay the few extra dollars to return via Shinkansen, the high-speed bullet train.

We were blessed with a beautifully sunny day which made the drive out to Mt. Fuji more enjoyable. We stopped along the way near Lake Kawaguchi-ko for a traditional Japanese lunch at a local restaurant. There was a wide variety of foods so even if you didn’t like everything that was offered there was certainly something else you would like.

Our lunch had lots of dishes!

What lurks beneath all the covers!

From the restaurant we could see Mt. Fuji in the distance. The rain that we’d endured the day before had brought the first snow of the season to the mountain, giving it a gorgeous topping.

Mt Fuji from Lake Kawaguchi-ko

Mt. Fuji

If you were to hike Mt. Fuji, you’d find a series of stations along the way. These are places where you could camp for the night before the next day’s hike. The fifth station is the highest one reachable by car or bus. At first we weren’t sure we’d be able to reach it as the road had been covered in snow, but by going to lunch first and giving crews more time to clear it we were fortunately able to reach it.

At the fifth station was all the usual tourist stuff with t-shirts, pins, postcards, etc. There was also this small Shinto shrine. But the biggest attraction was the close-up of Fuji-san. We’d been told the best view was on an outdoor raised viewing platform but unfortunately that was closed due to the snowfall.

A small shrine at the fifth station

A view of Fuji’s peak from the shrine. We were just a little too close to be able to see the top clearly.

Konagatake Ropeway

After milling around for awhile the bus took us down to Lake Ashinoko where we boarded a boat and cruised along the lake a bit until we reached the Konagatake Ropeway.

Boat that took us to the base of the ropeway (tram)

The small building at the top of the hill is the top of the ropeway.

With a name like that I had visions of doing some sort of ropes course and wondered how some of the older folks in the group were going to manage. But the ropeway was really just an aerial tram. They do try to squeeze every last person in and I actually felt claustrophobic enough to exit the tram and wait for the next one (10 minutes later) where there were only about 15 of us on it instead of 75 people crammed on the previous one.

The ride to the top provided some scenic views of the immediate area, the lake and as we got higher, Mt. Fuji. Once up top we had the option of hiking up a little further to a Shinto shrine.

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Shinkansen

The bad part about taking the bullet train after dark is that you can’t really convey how fast you were going. The lights are left on inside the train and on board it doesn’t feel like you’re moving all that quickly but when I could see us moving past buildings, I knew we were indeed going quite fast. The drive that had taken us two hours (including lunch) on the outbound leg of the tour only took us about 35 minutes to return. As expensive as I’m sure Tokyo is, it seems to me it would be much more economical to live further out and take this train in to work each day.

We wrapped our trip with dinner at one of the restaurants inside the hotel’s shopping area with some of the folks we’d been with for over two weeks now. I really liked Tokyo and would like to come back when I have more than two days to see things.

Categories: Asia, Japan, Tours, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Viking | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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