My First…and Last Mileage Run

I fly a lot. Not as much as most business travelers, but quite a bit. Most of my travel is also personal. My travel schedule has awarded me status on United for the past three years. The first two years were Silver and this year is Gold. Gold status on United means that in 2012, I flew over 50,000 miles. This may seem like a lot, but, as I fly back to my hometown of Erie, PA at least 3-4 times a year (~5,000 each trip depending on routing), it adds up quickly. This year, I have been on track for Gold, but as I’ve only been flying domestic, it wasn’t looking likely. Silver would have been great and I could have shot for Gold next year, but then United threw a wrench in my (and everyone else’s) plans.

A few months ago, United decided to add a spending amount to their Status tiers. For Silver, one has to fly 25,000 miles and spend $2,500 on United Stock tickets (ie only tickets purchased through United) – this is doable if the past three years was any indication. For Gold, one has to fly 50,000 miles and spend at least $5,000. There is no way that I could ever pass both thresholds unless I moved to a new role which had me constantly traveling for work.

You might ask, what the difference between Silver and Gold status is and what I’d be losing. The answer is quite a bit. With the exception of today’s trip (I am currently typing this on a flight to Dallas), I have been upgraded to First Class on the majority of my flights this year. Gold gets priority over Silver. It also allows for priority boarding and free checked luggage. Gold status allows you to choose Economy Plus seats at the time of booking while Silver only allows a free Economy Plus seat at check-in. Whenever possible, I try to select a seat in the first row of Economy Plus as it provides the most amount of leg room outside of First Class. My likelihood of snagging one of these seats on Silver Status is slim.

I can understand why United and other airlines are doing this. There are too many people with status, and as the airlines continue to consolidate, the ranks get even larger. For example, the Upgrade List on my flight from San Fran to Dallas today was 58 people long. There were more travelers in Boarding Groups 1 and 2 then in 3, 4, and 5 – the non-status groups. The amount of passengers in the elite groups is further compounded by the mileage runners. These are people who are constantly searching for the best fares on the most ridiculous routes possible in order to gain the most miles. It allows them to gain elite status fast and cheap. There are websites and blogs and groups devoted to trying to cheat the system, and it works. Because it works, I am going on my first and probably only mileage run of my life.

As I said above, I was not expecting to make Gold status this year, but when the spending requirements came out; I knew I had to try. Flying 50,000 miles this year would give me Gold through February of 2015. Barring any changes to my job or lifestyle in the foreseeable future, I recognize that I would probably be Silver for some time to come. Through a series of fortunate events, including a re-routing through Denver from Portland, I did some calculations and realized I was only ~5900 miles short of Gold.

I had three options: 1. I could just saw oh well and walk away; 2. I could buy the miles for ~$1300; or 3. I could go on a mileage run. I figured why spend the money just to buy miles when I could actually go somewhere for less. I tried some crazy routings SAN –> EWR –> BOS –> MCO –> SFO –> SAN, but the thought of spending a weekend flying around the country only spending a few hours in each airport wasn’t appealing to me. This is how the mileage runners do it. Sometimes they don’t leave airports or a plane for days on end. They can rack up about 25,000 miles in one well planned trip. Not for me. So I started trying to find a destination that was the furthest US route from San Diego, while still being on the cheap side.

A roundtrip flight to Hawaii happened to put me 70 miles over Gold status. Sure I had to be creative with the routing, connecting through LAX instead of SFO, but it worked. SOLD! Most people are surprised to find out how cheap flights to Hawaii are from the West Coast, but they truly are. My flight to Maui and back from Honolulu was cheaper that my flights to Erie this year. In the end, I decided to go and stay for a few days. I need the vacation. And the whole trip – flights, car, hotel is cheaper than buying the miles outright. Is this technically a mileage run? It’s my modified version of one 🙂 and I will get to fulfill a lifelong dream of cage diving with sharks.

Wasn’t that just the best tease for a future blog post?

Disney World Part 2 – “You only have to run once….”

Weary traveler reminder:

Myself – Disney-phile, ex-Amusement Park worker, Camp Counselor aka Slave Driver

Donald – Returnee for the Rick B tour, glutton for punishment, Instagram-er Extraordinaire

Barb – Mother, Returnee, Seriously needed a getaway

Natalie – Cousin, newbie, no clue what she was getting herself into

Day 2 – Saturday, October 5th: Animal Kingdom and Epcot Food and Wine Festival 

Weather: ~90 Degrees with 85% Humidity

Planning and completing a whirlwind trip to Disney World is all about time management. The best approach is to understand a combination of park hours, extra magic hours, and FASTPASS’s. In addition, you really need to have an idea of everything you want to see and ride before going into the parks. Sure, there is always room for flexibility and changes, but start with a good plan.

On Saturday, Animal Kingdom opened at 8 am with extra Magic Hours. Since AK closes the earliest, I always recommend starting there in the morning. Typically, I only leave myself 4 hours to see the whole park…yes 4 hours. I find it more than enough time to see and do everything.

“You only have to run once during the whole trip, and today is it,” I told Barb, Natalie, and Donald. Despite some grumbles, they reluctantly agreed on the promise that it would be well worth it. If you get to AK at opening, you should run (or race walk) immediately to Kilimanjaro Safaris. Getting there first thing means that you should be able to walk on the ride when, in 30 mins, it could be a 45 min wait. The added benefit is that most of the animals are out, active, and are typically just being fed. Despite a less than enthusiastic guide, this Safari did not disappoint. We saw a ton of animals, and even had some close up encounters with the giraffes.

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We exited the ride around 8:30 and from there we were off to Expedition Everest. This is a very popular ride and one of my favorites. Since it was still early, we grabbed FASTPASS (return time was 45 mins later), and immediately got inline for an advertised 10 min wait. It wasn’t, we walked right on. Barb and Donald had ridden before, but Natalie was a little apprehensive. Needless to say, she enjoyed it. I wish they could figure out a way to get the Yeti to work, though.

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From there we headed to Dinoland. Walked on Dinosaur, TriceraTop Spin, and Primeval Whir. By this time it our FASTPASS’s were available and we headed back to Everest. In 2 hours, we had ridden 6 rides, not half bad.

I knew it was coming, but I still held out hope that we could skip it. The group requested a viewing of Festival of the Lion King. Not my favorite, but we were making good time and the majority ruled. We killed time at the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail and the Maharajah Jungle Trek before Lion King. I have to admit, it was more enjoyable than I remembered and the rest of the group really enjoyed it.

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We were back in the car and on our way to Epcot by 12:15, starving and ready to eat our way through the World.

Up Next: First day of Epcot Wood and Wine.

Disney World Part 1 – “It’s really not so scary!”

This past weekend, I traveled to Orlando for a mini-Disney vacation. I generally try to do these little marathon sessions once a year. The challenge? 4 Parks in 2 1/2 days. At this point I’ve got it down to a science, and, really, I should try to patent it. It’s fool-proof. If anyone is looking for advice on how to optimize your Disney trip with little time, let me know. Just be prepared to be EXHAUSTED. Warning: This Itinerary is NOT for kids.

I love going to Disney at this time of year. The Halloween decorations are fun and festive, but mostly importantly, the Epcot Food and Wine festival is taking place. This has become a sort of tradition for me, and well worth checking out if you’ve never been. We’ll get to that in the next blog though.

This year’s weary traveler’s:

Myself – Disney-phile, ex-Amusement Park worker, Camp Counselor aka Slave Driver

Donald – Returnee for the Rick B tour, glutton for punishment, Instagram-er Extraordinaire

Barb – Mother, Returnee, Seriously needed a getaway

Natalie – Cousin, newbie, no clue what she was getting herself into

Day 1 – Friday, Oct 4th: Hilton Pool and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party

One debate I always have is whether to stay on Disney Property or a nearby Hotel. There is truly no rhyme or reason to how I decide, it ultimately comes down to cost. My advice is to look on Kayak or Hotels.com to weigh your options. I have found amazing rates at Disney Hotels (i.e. $150 a night for the Animal Kingdom Lodger – normally $400). This trip, there was no such deals to be had. We opted to stay at the Hilton by Downtown Disney for $100 a night. With parking and the resort fee, it would end up being about $140 a night. For a little bit more, we could have stayed at a Moderate Disney Hotel, but the Hilton offered Extra Magic Hours and had better sheets in towels in my opinion. We chose to drive on our own, but they do have shuttles to the parks.

In a rare move, I let everyone sleep in and enjoy some pool time at the Hilton. Donald and I opted not to go to one of the Water Parks. We lounged and drank by the pool and grabbed lunch at the Earl of Sandwich at Downtown Disney, a surprisingly cheap option.

How can you accomplish Disney World in 2 1/2 days? Doesn’t a half day waste a ticket? The answer is simple. Use the Party schedule. In this case, we decided to attend “Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party”. At $62, you get 8 hours in the Magic Kingdom where they limit attendance and provide a special Fireworks show and Parade…not to mention Trick Or Treating. Technically the party runs from 7-Midnight, but they let you in 4 hours early before kicking the rest of the general attendees out.

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The weary travelers begin their journey

During the Halloween Party, Fast Passes are not available, but you are still able to get them before the park “closes” at 7. Normally I’m a clockwise park goer, but keeping the Fast Pass rule in mind, we went counter-clockwise and got one for Space Mountain. Return time was 45 mins, so we opted to ride Carousel of Progress and Buzz Light Year. I have a separate post planned for ride comparisons between Disney World and Disneyland, but let’s just say that Space Mountain and FL just pales in comparison to Space Mountain CA. After a quick dinner, we headed to Splash Mountain before the sun went down and proceeded to get more wet then we intended.

You don't get THAT wet....right....

You don’t get THAT wet….right….

Here’s a tally of everything we were able to do during the Halloween Party. Proof that you can conquer the Magic Kingdom in 8 hours:

Space Mountain…Buzz Lighter Year’s Space Ranger Spin…The Carrousel of Progress…”It’s a Small World”…Splash Mountain….Pirates of the Caribbean…The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh….Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid

The real stars of the show were Mickey’s “Boo-to-You” Halloween Parade (including a special appearance by the Headless Horseman) and the Happy HalloWishes fireworks display. Both are unique only to the Halloween Party.

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There were also stops at multiple Trick or Treat places for Candy. We probably could have done a lot more, but chose to leave the park at 10:30 to avoid the mass exodus at Midnight.

Up Next: Animal Kingdom and Epcot Food and Wine

I am an INFJ

Over the past week or two, I have been investigating and coming to terms with my Myers-Briggs personality type. As an INFJ (introversion, intuition, feeling, judging), my personality type represents approximately 3% of the total population and ~1% of males. It is the rarest personality type, and quite frankly, the more I learn about it, the more everything begins to make sense.

Here are a few quotes from various websites and sources which I believe sums me up well….you’ll forgive me if I don’t quote.

“INFJs are, by definition, rare, reserved, and unlikely to initiate anything, which means that many of them can end up alone and misunderstood.”

“INFJs consciously choose the people that are close to them. They would rather have a few very close friendships as opposed to numerous superficial ones.”

“An INFJ’s allegiance is no trifle. If an INFJ wants to stick by you, it means they really like you. Do not violate that gift.”

“INFJs usually keep several friends, and that’s all they require. The good news is that we don’t need a large social circle to feel satisfied with our interpersonal lives. The bad news is if we don’t have that little circle, contrary to what appearances convey, it can be agonizing. We’re sometimes mistaken for aloof, but we’re anything but. Introvertedness makes us reserved and less willing to express fondness for others, but the F factor reflects our need to have at least a few sincere folks in our lives who truly get us and the desire to make others happy, and when that need goes unmet for long enough, INFJs become prone to antisocial behavior and even depression. We tend to be picky about the company we keep, which complicates the friend-making process. Get us running with the right crowd, though, and we can be as jovial and fun-loving as the most outgoing extroverts.”

“INFJs have an extremely complex internal value system. An INFJ will see if you ‘fit’ into their world, and they’ll bend their own rules if they really like you. INFJs tend to have very high standards, but are also very accepting once they trust you and know you’re safe.”

“However, the closer one gets to an INFJ’s heart, the more their standards will apply to the other person, which can sometimes create issues.”

“They often have darker periods where they close up. They can become monk-like and reclusive. It doesn’t mean they don’t like you, it just means they need to recharge.”

These are just a few of the quotes that I really relate to. My so-called inner circle tends to change based on various factors. When I go home to Pennsylvania to visit family, I often see old friends. These interactions can be downright awkward or strained. It’s not because I don’t value these friendships, but because they are no longer in that inner circle. My ability to open up becomes more difficult.

There will be times when I’m hanging with friends and I don’t say anything, I just listen. I know it can be often difficult for me to open up, and that it can be a very slow process. This can be indicative of that process. It may also mean that I need to just be by myself for a while. I can go days without interacting with people in a personal setting. This is part of my recharge process.

Various different things can emotionally and mentally wipe me out. Weekends where I have activities constantly booked, large parties, traveling…. This is one of the reasons I believe that I am such a homebody. It also explains why I don’t enjoy going out to the bars or clubs anymore. Those experiences are just too mentally draining.

You may ask how I can go to Disneyland so often, but I can’t go to the gay clubs? It’s a valid question. As an INFJ, I tend to pick up on the emotions going on around me, and I channel them. My mood can often change by the collective mood of a crowd. It’s cliche to say, but Disney tends to be a happy, uplifting place. People truly enjoy the experience of being there whether they are young or old. A club on the other hand can offer a range of emotions further heightened by substances. In one corner there may be a couple in love, and others are joyously letting loose on the dance floor. But there is always another side…drama with a capital D, cat fights, the judging, the rejection, or just being a drunken hot mess. I’m more sensitive to all of this than other personality types and it does emotionally and mentally exhaust me.

This insight to me is enlightening, and I want to share it with others because it explains why people might perceive me as being a bit different or reserved. While all of this did seem a little negative, there are many positives to being an INFJ. We are fiercely loyal to our friends, family, and beliefs. We stick by you and are always there to help in any way we can. We are the listeners, the go to people when you need to chat or and someone to lend an ear. We are harmony builders and seek to create balance in relationships and situations.

So hopefully this provided you a little insight to who I am as a person. I’m sure I’ll write more blogs about my struggles as a INFJ, but in the meantime, if you would like more information, check out these websites:

http://www.truity.com/infj

http://modalitiesofexistence.com/2011/05/24/infj-dating-bible-or-how-to-date-an-infj/

Come ye, all ye everywhere, to the fair!

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June in San Diego typically marks a number of things: “June Gloom”, Tourist Season, tourists complaining about “June Gloom”, and the San Diego County Fair. No other time of the year can you impress your friends by eating deep fried butter and feel accomplished about it. My advice? Try not to worry about that tingling sensation in your arm. Chances are, you’re  not having a stroke, but it’s your body’s way of warning you to not eat that again! Also on the deep fried list this year: Cool-Aid, brownies, cookie dough, and a Krispy Kreme Sloppy Joe sandwich!?!?!?!

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My friend, Chicken Little, was able to score a pack of tickets, parking, ride and game passes through work. We decided to go last night because my schedule through June is just crazy with friend visitations and upcoming travel. It’s actually kind of sad that I could only find 1 night to go to the fair out of the whole month of June, but that’s a story for another post. I met Chicken Little relatively recently, and he has quickly become a really good friend. Honestly, it’s just easy. There are no expectations, no pretenses….we accept each other for who were are. Whenever I say one of my off the cuff and inappropriate comments (which I’m prone to do), I sheepishly look at CL, he grins at me, and we break into hysterical fits of laughter. Usually that time of friendship takes years to develop, but ours took hours.

Chicken Little and I g0t to the fair with relative ease. There is something to be said about going on a June Gloom Tuesday at  4 pm, and that is…do it. The crowds were minor, and the whole fair was easy to navigate. CL put it another way, “I guess not a lot of people like REO Speedwagon.” Valid point. The band was putting on a free concert that evening. I have to confess, we googled them to see what songs they played. I also have to confess that CL and I had a major geek out session when we first walked into the fair because there was a Star Trek exhibit! CL saw “Into Darkness” and loved it, so I have been continuing his ST education by making (forcing? chinese water torturing?) him watch the older movies. Anyway, the exhibit was fun and mostly contained mockup displays of “The Next Generation” sets. There was a bridge set from “The Original Series”, and you were able to sit in Kirk’s chair. Sadly, pictures were as out-lawed as Romulan ale, so no smoldering pic of me in the Captain’s chair.

The fair contained the usual suspects: games, rides, deep fried goodness, cows (I can’t tell you how many times the phrase “look at the set on that one” was uddered – haha get it?), poultry, and jacuzzis…yep jacuzzis.  After Star Trek, we crossed the farm animals off the must see list. There were a wide range of cows, goats, sheep, and assorted fowl that I personal thought would have looked better on my plate then in a cage. Here’s a pic of two adorable baby calves:

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After the animals, we hit up the rides. I’m an amusement park junky and will pretty much ride anything. Chicken Little? Not so much, and this is where he earned his nickname. “Ooo,” I was giddily shout, “Let’s ride that.” “How about you ride that and I’ll hold your camera,” CL would reply. As I am pretty much relentless, I was determined to get him on a ride no matter what. So what did I pick? The tallest, bad-est, wildest ride in all of fairdom…this bad
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boy:

It spun you up in a circle all while your car was spinning from the G forces. Ironically, Chicken Little loved it and I didn’t. I also got CL on a version of the Hell Hole, one of my all time favorites. You enter into a saucer shaped vehicle with 50 of your closest friends, and hope that they don’t barf. The saucer spins s0 fast, that you’re plastered against the wall and then your wall section (on rollers) moves up and down. There were kids turning themselves upside down and climbing the wall. We both loved it!

After a brief walk around, we decided it was time to clog our arteries. As far as fair grub goes, we played it relatively safe, deciding to split Deep Fried Kool Aid and Chicken Fingers with fried Onion Rings and Zucchini. Since many of you have asked in other forums, the Kool Aid is basically dough, mixed with cherry Kool Aid and deep fried. It’s very subtle, but really delicious with a nice pink hue.

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While we were waiting for hearts to forgive us, CL asked me about my Nikon 3100. Lately I’ve been playing a lot in manual mode, so I gave him a brief explanation of the settings. What followed was an impromptu photo shoot. We each took turns trying out head shots. CL’s came out better than mine, but he was a quick learner. I’m sure everyone around us thought we were nuts, though.

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After dinner, it was time to hit up the carnie games. Turns out I’m a bit of a shark. First up was one of those bounce a ping pong ball into a cup of water games. We both won, and both got fish (sadly not gold). Somehow I adopted both and they are sitting in a vase upstairs as I write this, currently still alive. I told CL that we needed to work on his co-parenting skills. Next up, Dart Tic-Tac-Toe…3 darts, 3 balloons, one chance at glory.

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You would never believe the pressure: 2 down, 1 to go.

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In the words of Fat Amy, “Nailed It.” Sadly, lightening did not strike twice.

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Lastly we hit up one of those shot water at a target race games. Yup, won that one too. DSC_0030

So we started to leave the fair with two more fish, two more stuffed animals, and a lot more artery blockage then when we came in. But wait! I know what you’re going to say. The jacuzzis! Where do the jacuzzis fit in? I can hear you now, “I read this entire post just on the chance that I might see you shirtless in a jacuzzi! What gives?” Well..here they are:

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The San Diego Fair has a couple of buildings where vendors can come sell their wares. There is anything from fudge to whisks to sham-wows. One building is dedicated to home type things and the display of jacuzzis is alway choice. Who doesn’t like looking at jacuzzis and day dreaming of one in their yard, or in my case, my living room, since I don’t have a yard.

All in all, the fair was a pretty great experience. There is a little something for everyone. If you live in San Diego, make sure you check it out. If you don’t, try one of your local fairs for a similar experience.