How I Flew 3 Trips Abroad for almost Free

How I Flew 3 Trips Abroad for almost Free

My round-trip flights to Copenhagen, Belize, and Iceland each cost me only airport taxes and fees of well under $100. The airline tickets were free. How? Through the art of travel hacking: collecting frequent flyer points and miles to get free flights, hotels, tours, and more. I flew on United, Southwest, and Delta Airlines using rewards points I earned from bonus offers on three credit cards; the most satisfying hack was using points for my Iceland flights on Delta when I wasn’t even a member of their frequent flyer program.

Copenhagen on United Airlines

My trip to Copenhagen was a spontaneous decision to visit my daughter while she was studying abroad. I had over 100,000 Ultimate Reward points in my account earned from Chase credit card bonuses deals: 50,000 from Sapphire Preferred and 60,000 from Business Ink Plus. Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer 1:1 to United Airlines. The trip to Europe was 60,000 United points and might have been fewer had I not booked so close to my departure date.img_2625

Credit Card Bonus deals involve spending a minimum amount on the card the first three months after opening the account. This amount varies and for some deals can be too exorbitant for my budget. I met the minimum spending requirement on the Chase Sapphire Preferred personal card without changing my budget. I charged every living expense on the card: groceries (with two teenage boys living at home), cat food, coffee, clothing, parking, books, gas, and more. Good thing the card is made of metal!

Similarly, all my operating expenses for my physical therapy practice were charged on the Business Ink Plus card.  It was a stretch to reach the minimum spending requirement through my business, so I had to be creative. I found that I could pay my office rent using my credit card through Plastiq so I used them two months to boost my spending enough to score the bonus.

Belize on Southwest Airlines

When Southwest Airlines opened a route to Belize in 2016, winter was looming in Colorado, so my friend and I jumped on a the “wanna-get-away” rate of around 32,000 points round-trip plus nominal taxes and fees. My points were acquired from a 50,000-point bonus offer on the Southwest Premier card.img_0037

When I began collecting frequent flyer miles in 2013, Chase Southwest Airline bonus offers had the least intimidating requirements. I followed the guidance of Million Mile Secrets to earn 50,000 points on both the business and personal versions of their travel rewards card, spent two extra months charging enough purchases to add 6,000 points and qualified for a companion pass. After that, I was hooked on travel hacking. One of my kids could fly with me for free on Southwest to any where I flew over the time span of a year and a half. I am currently on track to earn a new companion pass from Southwest using the same strategy after waiting the required 24 months to reapply.

Iceland on Delta Airlines

My trip to Iceland was another spontaneous decision; my friend invited me to join him during his one-week layover on his way to Europe. Iceland Air offered the lowest fares from my home base in Denver. However, at the time, Iceland Air was not a partner with any of my frequent flyer programs. By now I had become accustomed to flying for free and was determined to use my travel points.  Here is how it worked: KLM and Air France offered flights from Denver to Iceland; KLM and Air France are part of Flying Blue; Flying Blue had recently become partners with Chase Ultimate Rewards so I booked my flights through the Ultimate Rewards reservation portal using points. Delta is a partner with Air France and flew my route to Iceland.img_20160828_102056417_hdr

The Ultimate Rewards program has an extensive list of partners and points can be redeemed for flights on any Star Alliance partner and rooms in five-star hotels. The versatility of Ultimate Rewards makes them my favorite. When I am not spending to score a bonus on a different card, I use one of my Chase cards that earns Ultimate Rewards. Every living expense get charged – a dollar charged equals a point earned and sometimes 5 points depending on the card and type of expense.

Advice on how to choose the best credit card bonus deals for your travel goals and how to follow the rules of the programs is available online from numerous travel hacking experts. Following these websites through their email subscriptions has given me invaluable tips that make my travels affordable:

Why I Refuse to Take Cipro Antibiotic

Why I Refuse to Take Cipro Antibiotic

Ask your doctor for a cure for traveler’s diarrhea, or any number of bacterial infections, and the first line of defense will often be a prescription for Ciprofloxacin (Cipro). Athletic individuals, in particular, have sound reason to push back when offered this drug for their ailment.

Cipro is the most prescribed member within a family of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones. The FDA requires all drugs within this family to carry the stringent “black box warning” on the package insert indicating there is reasonable evidence of a serious health hazard associated with them. What is the hazard associated with Cipro?

Tendinitis and tendon rupture

Tendinitis is swelling and pain in the fibrous tissue that connects muscle to bone. Tendon rupture is a partial or full tear.

The Achilles tendon, behind the ankle, is statistically the most vulnerable to Cipro induced rupture.  This tendon bears the stress of propelling our full body weight forward in walking. Pain or rupture of this tendon seriously impacts your mobility. If your passion lies in activities that involve explosive power from your feet while sprinting, cutting, jumping, or charging up a mountain you are demanding a high level of tensile strength in your Achilles tendons.

Researchers theorize that Cipro breaks down the collagen throughout the body. Collagen is what gives connective tissue its strength and structure.  A 2015 study implicates Cipro in Aortic Aneurysm which is rare but life threatening. The lining of the aorta – the largest artery in the body – is made of collagen.

The FDA warning states “These problems may affect tendons in your shoulder, your hand, the back of your ankle, or in other parts of your body.” Essentially any tendon where there is repetitive stress from your favorite activities can be at risk: those of the shoulders of swimmers and throwers, knees of hikers and skiers, and elbows of golfers and tennis players.

It is alarming when you consider how miscalculated Cipro’s role might be in causing tendonitis. The onset of Cipro related tendon problems can be from a few hours after your first dose to six months after taking your last dose. The longer the time span, the less likely one would connect their pain to the drug, so the relationship is probably higher than statistics would indicate.

There are compounding factors that increase risk of Cipro induced tendon problems:

  • Being over 60 years of age when tendons tend to be weaker due to lower levels of collagen in the tissue
  • Concurrent use of corticosteroid medication which in itself is known to weaken tissue
  • Participation in vigorous exercise
  • Pre-existing tendon disorder
  • Diabetes mellitus when circulation is compromised

The fluoroquinolone family of antibiotics is especially good at penetrating bone, tendons and cartilage; if that is where your infection is, it may be the best choice. But in conditions where the infection resides in your gut, bladder, or sinuses there is certainly an antibiotic other than Cipro that can cure you.

Cipro nearly quadruples your risk of tendon rupture. Any time your doctor prescribes it, ask if there is a safer alternative. Why take unnecessary risk of interrupting your active lifestyle?

References:

Chien-Chang Lee, M. S., Meng-tse Gabriel Lee, P., Yueh-Sheng Chen, M., & al, e. (2015). Risk of Aortic Dissection and Aortic Aneurysm in Patients Taking Oral Fluoroquinolone. JAMA Internal Medicine, 1839-1847.

Trevor Lewis, M. M. (2014). Fluoroquinolones and Tendinopathy: A Guide for Athletes and Sports Clinicians and a Systematic Review of the Literature. Journal of Athletic Training, 422-427.

US National Library of Medicine. (2017). Ciprofloxacin. Retrieved from Medline Plus: https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a688016.html

 

5 Things to see on Land in Belize

5 Things to see on Land in Belize

Belize is well known by scuba divers and snorkeling fanatics for its thriving reefs off shore. Inland attractions are lesser known and offer immersion of a different sort: tropical rainforests, Mayan ruins, and a mix of Creole, Latino, and Mayan cultures. As a former British colony, the primary language is English but driving is on the right side of the road. US dollars are widely accepted and you can expect change given in a combination of US and Belizean currency at a 1:2 exchange rate.

  1. Mayan Ruins You can climb all over four impressive ruin sites near San Ignacio which is a 2 ½ hour drive from Belize City: Xunantunich and Cahal Pech are close to San Ignacio; Caracol is a three-hour drive from San Ignacio on rough roads; El Pilar, discovered in 1983, is seven miles up a four-wheel drive road and rests under a rainforest canopy that is stirring with howler and spider monkeys. Crowds are non-existent. Fees at ruin sites are $5-$10 US.
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    Caracol

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    Xunantunich
  2. Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. Native Belizean pine forest with waterfalls, swimming holes, and caves. Four-wheel drive is recommended or you can hire a guide (required for exploring the caves) out of San Ignacio. The staff at the Cayo Welcome Center in San Ignacio shares directions to the local’s favorite falls and swimming holes in this park. You can enjoy the scenery and a refreshing plunge with few other people around. No fee.

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    Big Rock Falls
  3. Herman’s Cave. Hike 10 minutes through a lush tropical forest to enter the outer 200 meters of St. Herman’s Cave with flashlights; you can go deeper, if you wish, with a guide. Your entrance fee includes access to Inland Blue Hole a mile down the Hummingbird Highway – a great place to swim and cool off after your hike. Fee $4 US

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    St. Herman’s Cave
  4. Hopkins. This Garifuna village on the Caribbean coast was named “Friendliest village in Belize” by Belize First Magazine. The residents welcome you as part of the community. Ask the locals where to find live Garifuna drumming for your evening entertainment.

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    Hopkins (Photo Credit: B.Tomas)
  5. Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Preserve. Hike trails to waterfalls, tube the river, and peer into the lush green forest of giant palms and ferns for jaguars, peccaries, macaws, toucans, ocelots, and other tropical wildlife. If you don’t have a rental car, you can take the bus from Hopkins to the Maya Center and hire a taxi or hike the six-mile access road to the park. The cats are elusive but mosquitoes are bold – bring insect repellent. Fee $5 US.
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    Outlier Trail in Cockscomb Basin

    (For tips on driving in Belize, check out my guest blog post at One World 365 )