2015: Starwood Platinum and Reward Travel

Photo of one of my favorite hotels, the Starwood Hotel Alfonso XIII in Seville, Spain.

Fortunately and unfortunately for my friends and family I’ve set a few fun travel goals for the year: attain Starwood Platinum and book leisure travel strictly on points/vouchers whenever possible.  With the exception of important occasions and mandatory trips, 2015 will be the year of cheap flights, points education, and lots of fun weekend trips!

Hopefully my family, friends and boyfriend don’t get sick of the “but can I go on points…and is there a Starwood there?  Maybe we can wait until 2016–”.

Why the points game:
I’ve accumulated a lot of points from credit card spend and bonuses and the good old fashioned way: flying.  It’s free money for what you already spend.  Religiously avoiding cash and always going for miles and points has paid off  (I do not condone spending specifically for points unless you are experienced and you’ve done your research!).  I’ve never consistently spend them because I’m also a bit of a freak when it comes to getting good value out of them–I prefer 3-5¢/point or more; booking those prime time $800 flights to Vegas with 25k points always felt really good!  1¢ cash back is just not enough, so when a flight wasn’t a good deal on points I ended up paying in cash.

My target value per point won’t change, but my approach towards travel booking will. Instead of picking destinations then figuring out how to get there, I’m going to challenge myself to think harder about how to use up my points and be the most cost/point effective.  There are so so many places left to explore that I don’t really need to do the former.

Why Starwood:
I love Starwood, right down to my Westin Heavenly Bed in my apartment.  My Dad has always been a Starwood guy, so naturally I have an affinity to the hotels I grew up running around in.  It’s also helpful that I have Starwood Gold this year and realized that if I was more consistent with my hotel choices, I may actually reach Starwood Platinum.

A lot of accumulated points.

Leisure travel on the weekends or vacation time!  My consultant/former consultant friends snark at me that if I just got a consultant job I’d get it so quickly.  Well, haha, no.

Southwest Companion Pass from the guidance of some travel and points blogs on how to attain one.  Some smart spending will allow me to translate my accumulated points to unlimited travel for a designated bud (the lucky boyfriend, Ryan) whenever I’m flying Southwest.

In the coming year, I’ll be posting some fun weekend getaways out of New York City.  Stay tuned!

Andy’s Travel 101

So many left to go!

30 Countries and Counting — So many left to go!


Flights – Compare prices and make sure you are covering all your airlines!  American Airlines and tiny regional airlines don’t necessarily get aggregated into Kayak.  Look at edreams against individual airline websites and book whatever is the lowest price after fees (edreams is sneaky!).  If you are a heavy packer, you may want to add the additional bags when you first buy your tickets with budget airlines like Ryanair or Easyjet because if you buy the bag in person it’ll often cost you triple what it would have cost if you pre-purchased.

Hotels – Unless you are a seasoned traveller, know someone on the other side, or are referred by a trusted advisor to an apartment, do NOT use airbnb!  Stick to major hotel chains or hotels with good reviews if you don’t want to be surprised and to (mostly) guarantee you’ll have a good English-speaking resource.   If you are price-sensitive and don’t have special affinity towards a specific hotel chain, I use (which charges extra fees) for the stay 10 nights, get 1 free.

Credit and ATM Cards - call your card providers in advance to figure out what the international fees are and to let them know you are traveling!  If you have no-fee cards, you don’t have to fuss with taking large cash withdrawals!  You may have heard something about needing a chip in your credit card to work in Europe–that’s mostly false.  The only place I’ve had trouble without a chip is in Turkey, but if you ask them to use a Garanti scan machine instead of a Denizbank you shouldn’t have trouble.

Here are my personal favs:

  • ATM: Charles Schwab’s High Yield Checking Account which offers ATM rebates (free but annoyingly takes some time to open the account and deposit checks, which I found out the hard way before my Germany trip last year!)
  • Credit Card: Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card for no international fees ($95 annual fee), and of course if you already have the American Express Platinum though it isn’t as widely accepted.

Cell Phones - If you don’t travel often and you aren’t going for more than two weeks, it’s probably not worth it to figure out how to get a local cell or SIM card.  However, you should definitely turn on an international data plan even if it’s just contingency for that one time you accidentally turn on your phone and you get blasted with  iMessages.  Verizon is $25/100MB and AT&T is similar.  As for text messages and voice, for Verizon (and probably AT&T), the monthly $5 plan is prorated, so you can always turn it on/off for your two week vacation.

Safety and Emergencies

  • Buy a cheap bag that seals really well, or only put your wallet into tight pockets where you’d feel hands.
  • Leave your passport in the hotel safe and carry a copy unless you are in a place that requires a passport for international travelers for age verification (like in Hong Kong, though I’ve personally never been carded).
  • Try not to carry a lot of cash, but make sure you have some for emergencies!  I also like to leave some money in the hotel safe just in case.
  • If you lose your credit cards, call right away (of course), but if it is a Visa, you can demand the Visa Emergency Card be overnighted to your hotel.
  • It may be best to leave your family heirlooms home :)
Bagel Oasis

Bagel Oasis – New York’s Best Bagel

I always hear New Yorkers bicker about their favorite foods and how there can only be ONE pure variety of anything: Laduree for macarons, Magnolias for cupcakes, Dominique Ansel’s cronut, Levain’s cookie, blah blah blah, and eventually someone will say something like ESS-A-BAGEL for bagels.  What? Ess-a-bagel?  Wait, you’ve been in New York for how long?Ess-a-bagel is GREAT.  A very delicious Manhattan bagel with multiple and accessible outposts.  They’ve benefited from word-of-mouth marketing.  I admittedly go there when I’m craving a bagel and have sent multiple people on the mini-pilgrimage to the so-called best bagel of NYC.  Service is always kind, rushed, and follows everything by the New Yorker way.But obviously these Manhattanites haven’t been to Bagel Oasis (or haven’t had a friend kind enough to bring them one).  I hardly go there, if not for my best friend requesting when I come to visit her in Grenada to bring New York bagels.

I’m a bit biased because like every other New Yorker I have grown up on THE BAGEL–my idea of perfectly delicious and always consistent chewy soft circular bread with a layer of crust.  This bagel is from Bagel Oasis in Fresh Meadows.  Yes, this coming from the girl who hates bread.  I used to eat it “Chinese-American style” with roast pork from my Great Aunt’s restaurant Fan Fan right down the block.More objectively, I can still say I think this is the best bagel in New York.  Not only is it perfect when you buy it fresh and room temperature, but also when you toast it (which I can’t say for Ess-a-bagel).
If you have any friends who drive or feel like taking a detour on the way to JFK, totally stop by Bagel Oasis.
18312 Horace Harding Expy
Fresh Meadows, NY 11365
(718) 359-9245 |

Budapest – Should You Go?

Whenever Budapest comes up in conversation it seems the only thing people talk about is how beautiful it is.  SURPRISE!  Yes, the city has incredible architecture, but there are incredible buildings all over Europe that are so much closer.


1. It is REALLY expensive to fly there.  A one-way to Budapest can be an off-peak round trip to Paris.
2. For those who’ve barely made it to France or England, why would you go to Budapest first (and all those countries in between!)?
3. If you are a bottle service hunting young’n, you won’t really find that here–nouveau riche doesn’t exist in Budapest the way it does in New York.  You’ll mostly find “eurotrash” sorts of clubs or ruin pubs (which are so cool)


1. Just about all major hotel chains are well represented for those of you who only use points to travel. <<unlike Bucharest!>>
2. The food is dirt cheap!! …even to eat really well – try Bock Biztro (received a Bib Gourmand from Michelin).
3. You can rent a really comfortable apartment cheaply (I stayed in the centrally located Senator Apartments)
4. Drinking is pretty cheap and bizarrely fun in ruin pubs
. Okay, yes, the city is beautiful.  If you want a highlight tour, take the hop on hop off bus/boat tour!
6. It is full of geo-thermal springs and really great and affordable spas (try Magnolia Day Spa)
7. If you’ve exhausted all of Western Europe, this is a natural next stop that is different enough to still feel like an adventure.

Some photos from my trip!