Saturday, January 12, 2019

Our Brussels-Bruges-Heidelberg Trip

I told you all about how we booked our fall euro-vacation, but now I want to sit down and share some specifics and some of why we picked the trip we did.

Belgium has been on our travel bucketlist for at least seven years. Being huge craft beer nerds and in love with sours, as soon as we had Cantillon for the first time, we pretty much put a brewery visit on our list. So when we decided to book a trip this fall and to take our son with, we decided we wanted somewhere new (Belgium) and something with easy flights (traveling with a 14 month old. I'm going to do a separate post about travel tips with a toddler). Denver has VERY limited options for direct flight destinations in Europe, especially with the limitation of wanting to use certain airlines (to utilize our miles) and not having been somewhere we've already been (which scratched Paris and London). 

Frankfurt to Brussels was just an hour flight, so we figured once we made it through a long flight, even if the hour connecting flight was miserable, it would be quick. Departing Europe, it made sense to us to have one direct flight back to Denver at the end of travel. Originally we were going to stay in Frankfurt, but after researching some, we decided Heidelberg could be a more charming old-world European city option.

Here are some highlights and details from each city we stayed in. This was definitely not our normal style of travel; we barely had an agenda and didn't do a ton of research on highlights/attractions (I blame being exhausted from first trimester). However, traveling with a baby, we wanted to keep our expectations low and in the end we had a great, laid back trip because of this!

Brussels, Belgium
We had no issues taking the train from the airport to city center. Our Airbnb was about a half mile walk from the station. Although our Airbnb was on the third floor (and we took a stroller), I would highly recommend it for its size, cleanliness, and location; just a few blocks from Grand Place, the large shopping/tourist/restaurant area of Brussels. I highly recommend walking here during the day and night; it's beautiful.
Grand Place by night
Grand Place by day
Our Airbnb
Cantillon Brewery was our top priority for Brussels and it didn't disappoint. It's a family run lambic brewery which makes some of the world's best and most sought after sour beers. It was so good (yes, I had a beer here, I had to) that we went twice. Mainly once to bring the stroller and use it to haul beer home and the second without the stroller to take the tour. If you have any inkling of liking sour beer, or even if you don't, you need to go here when in town.

Cantillon Family picture
Other beer highlights for Brussels were Moeder Lambic (beer bar with apps, on several World's Top 10 Bar lists; right around the corner from our apartment), Brussels Beer Project (dare I say, a nice break from sour beers), and although now they have several locations across Europe, BrewDog (For us, I think it's a nostalgia thing. We went to Brewdog Camden (London) our first Europe trip and then Brewdog Rome and Florence. BrewDog Brussels had an awesome non-alocholic sour for me and also delicious burgers (and high chairs)).
Brussels Beer Project
In addition to beer, Belgium is known for chocolates, waffles and fries. Our favorite chocolate in Brussels was Elisabeth (although there are tons to choose from; their bark was so melt in your mouth good). The best waffle was at Maison Dandoy at the Galerias location. It's a charming corner cafe with tables in the corridor of shops. We waited in line for frites (fries) at Friterie Tabora based on reviews. To be honest, it was a little underwhelming. Their famous for their 30+ dipping sauces, but we're fairly boring (and Ben is really boring, he doesn't even eat ketchup), that I'm not sure it was worth the hype or wait to us.
Maison Dandoy
One thing I wish we would have done more planning for was restaurants. Often times we just popped into whatever was nearby that didn't have a wait because we were all starving.  However, breakfast is my favorite meal, so I do highly recommend the breakfast spots we visited: Peck47 (worth the wait!), Kaffabar (coffee shop with great pour overs and food), and Mokafe (also located in the Galerias near Maison Dandoy; large traditional type breakfast menu).

Overall I liked Brussels more than I expected to given that it has such a large array of reviews (good and bad) and suggested amount of time to visit. It was nice that although we hadn't been here, it felt like a familiar large European city and was easy to navigate (acknowledging we mainly stayed in tourist areas; but outside of Grand Place, it wasn't overly charming or interesting and rather blah). We were in Brussels three days and three nights which was a good amount of time, giving us the first night and first full day to recoup from jetlag. If this isn't your origination city in Europe, I would give it only two days.

Bruges, Belgium
Bruges is everything Brussels is not. It's charming, it's old world, it's magical.  The train from Brussels to Bruges is one-hour direct. Our Airbnb in Bruges was about half a mile from the train station so we also walked there. My jaw was on the ground the entire walk. I felt like I was walking in a fairy tale. It's an absolute must visit!
We stayed at an airbnb on the south side of town. Even though it was only a half mile from the main tourist areas, it felt like quite a distance and was our least favorite located airbnb. It was also the smallest but still very comfortable.
Once our first day, we dropped our bags and went to De Halve Mann Brewery for lunch. I can't speak to the beer (other than a sip) but the food was great! So good that we went back a second lunch another day! We also had a great bagel sandwich lunch one day at Sanseveria Bagelsalon, which was the quaintest old school bagel shop. We had a great nicer dinner at The Belgian Pigeon House, although sadly we both were too nervous to try the house delicacy of (you guessed it) pigeon. Even though it was a nice restaurant, they were very accommodating to Grayson (high chair, kids menus, his meal served first) and we were also able to make reservations online. Our last night in Bruges we had pizza at Otomat, which we would also highly recommend!
As for activities, as I mentioned above, Bruges has such great architecture and charm that we had a lot of fun walking around and talking it all in. A boat canal tour is a must and it really affordable; most were 8EU cash per person. We all enjoyed the Kids Playground at K Astridpark located in the middle of the town. One afternoon we also walked north to Hof de Jonge Park. While there wasn't a playground here, there are sheep! Grayson loved watching them and they came over to us (there's a fence) to say hi. During our walk back, we stumbled across a playground at Sincfal Park.
A tourist-must is to climb Belfort Tower in the square. There's a fee to get in and I know 366 spiral stairs doesn't sound enjoyable (remember, it was 13 weeks pregnant!) but there are stop offs that break up the climb. The panoramic views from the top are well worth it!
View from atop the tower
Overall, I'm SO glad we added Bruges to our itinerary. Having been there now, we both consider Bruges a must-see for Belgium. We had approximately two and a half days and three nights there, which was ample time. I think two nights would be sufficient but I wouldn't go shorter than that to take it all in and have time to relax and enjoy.
Last but not least...

Heidelberg, Germany
Originally we thought it made the most sense to visit Frankfurt since we had a direct flight back to Denver from there. But, the more I looked and talked to people, the more it seemed that Frankfurt would be a large business city and not have a quaint European feel. Heidelberg is an hour from FRA airport by train, so easy to get to.
Originally I booked an airbnb by the main train station; but talking to my sister (who'd been for work), we decided to cancel and book a place in Old Town area. This was KEY to a great visit. I'm really glad we made this choice. Heidelberg has a university and city feel to it; but Old Town area is the quaint classic European feel we wanted. Our apartment was on the third floor and very spacious, which was great for the pack and play they provided. We also had views of the square as well as a private patio with castle views. I highly recommend staying here!
Apartment deck views

Our absolute favorite food/brewery in Heidelberg was Vetters, and really that's because of the cheese spaetzle (a german egg noodle). It's so good, I think we went there two or three times in three days for it. Their beer menu had classic German beers. We also enjoyed  Zum Seppl for lunch, another brewery in a hotel and the beautiful former ballroom turned restaurant. Palmbrau Gasse is another great spot for classic German food and Hans IM Gluck (we realized is a chain), was a great spot for a sit-down burger lunch. We had no issues finding high chairs or kids menus in Heidelberg restaurants, which was a nice relief.
As far as activities, the big draw is Heidelberg Castle. A castle which was originally constructed before the 1200s and has seen a numonber of additions and renovations since. It was worth the hike up the hill to get there (there's also a funicular which you can ride up, but we wanted the exercise). We found two great children's playgrounds; the first was right in Old Town - Spielplatz. The only reason we found this was that we went to a classic German bakery, Backerei Grimm, and as we walked out we heard kids laughing. We walked towards the laughter and found this great playground! The second playground we sought out after Ben did some research, Playground by the Neckar. It was a walk to get there, but it was right on the river and a beautiful sunny day.
City views from castle grounds
Our highlight activity of Heidelberg took us back to our Colorado roots; a hike. Several websites mentioned the top tourist activity was viewing of Thingstatte, an amphitheater built by the Nazis during World War II. We plugged this into Google maps and were able to follow the walking directions to get there, which took us on a variety of trails (primarily Philosopher's Way), total probably 3-4 miles and 2 hours there and back. The German forest was beautiful with fall colors and we were initially the only people at the ruins. This was such a nice break from roaming the streets and their hustle and bustle.
Along Philosopher's Way trail
Two things we would have done differently (and nothing to do with traveling with a toddler): First, we bought a TON of beer a Cantillon; close to two dozen bottles. Rather than ship the beer home, we came prepared with an extra suitcase. When I packed, I managed to fit the majority of items for Grayson and I in a carry-on sized suitcase. Traveling to Brussels, we packed the carry-on suitcase inside of the full size so that we only had one bag to check/lug around. However, because Brussels was our first stop and we filled our extra suitcase with beer, this meant we were traveling around Europe (we counted over 10 trains we took this extra 60 lb suitcase on). In hindsight, it would have been smarter to use this travel technique had Brussels been our last stop and we were going directly to the airport when leaving the city.

Note, I learned back in college when a friend went to Italy, diapers are a GREAT way to package alcohol/glass bottles when travelling or shipping. They help protect the bottle from breaking and can absorb liquid should the bottle break. We bought diapers while in Europe and knowing ahead of time what our plan was, we brought a box of extra large ziplock bags with us on the trip.
Beer, diaper and ziplock stash; no broken bottles!
The second thing we should have done was book our train travel from Bruges to Heidelberg in advance. I'm not sure why I didn't, given that it was about 5.5 hours of travel and had limited options, but it cost us. Booking in advance would have saved a lot of money. Day-of travel tickets cost double, if not more depending on the route, than booking in advance. Lesson learned!

In recap, this trip was very different for us, having a 14-month old Grayson with us; but at the same time, we were able to maintain our go-go style of travel but in a more laid back fashion. Grayson did a great job going with the flow and falling asleep in either the stroller or Ergo 360 carrier whenever he needed a nap.  If given the choice again, I'm not sure Ben would take Grayson, but I would without a doubt. Travel has been a big part of our lives up until now, and while it has and will continue to change (I'm not sure when I'll be ready to take two kids to Europe or any farther international than Canada or Mexico), I think it's important that we continue to travel and show our kids the world.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Big News #2!

This week we shared on social media that our family is growing! We are excited have our children close in age growing up together. I love knowing that Grayson will never remember a time not having his sibling.
I've already received several questions and have been trying to find time to type up some extra information for those of you who are curious and to help document this pregnancy (we've been so busy this fall that I've already done much less for this pregnancy than I did for Grayson's #secondchild). I had so much fun sharing my last pregnancy and documenting that I look forward to doing it again.

How far apart will the kids be?
Baby H2 is due May 2019, which will put our kids about exactly 20 months apart depending when baby decides to arrive.  Our ideal time line for kids is roughly two years apart. I grew up with a brother nine years older than me and a sister two years younger; Ben and his sister are three years apart.

How long did you try for number two?
If you remember, it took us six months to get pregnant with Grayson, so when we decided to start trying again, that was one consideration and the other factor was that Ben had a work retreat in Mexico, where Zika is still a concern. Right now the CDC recommends abstaining three months after possible exposure, which would have allowed us to start trying in January or February. Call me crazy, but I did not/do not want a child born through the holiday season; really I didn't want to be due November through February time-frame. I grew up with two best friends born on Christmas and New Years, plus I loved my fall maternity leave with Grayson, that it was important to me to think about timing.

As luck would have it, we didn't need to worry about the decision to try for a holiday baby or not because this time around things happened much quicker, as in on our first try. I think it's because I'm much more in tune with my body. In order to get pregnant the first time, I learned my ovulation signs and cycles. "Lucky me" (extreme sarcasm), even though I'm still breastfeeding Grayson now at 14 months old (it AMAZES me that my body is supporting not ONE but TWO living beings right now!), with Grayson my cycle came back around 10 weeks postpartum and has been regular ever since. Knowing we wanted to try in the fall, I started tracking my signs in the spring to get a good idea of timing.

When did you find out?
It was a few weeks before Grayson's birthday and I had recently dropped to two pumps a day at work.  I was consistently punping 8oz of milk during the day. Within days of conception, my milk supply dropped 3oz pumped and I knew I was pregnant. I waited a few days to take a test, and sure enough: positive! When I calculated the due date, I realized we were due May 10th; a day after my birthday and six days after Ben's.

Before we were officially trying, I had seen a "World's Best Brother" shirt at Target and had ordered it just in case. So I had it on hand and the Friday before Grayson's first birthday, I put it on him and let him crawl into the kitchen to tell Ben. We were both equally shocked and surprised that it happened so fast, but excited! When we initially started trying for kids in 2016, I naively thought we would have a May baby, so the fact that our second child is due in May feels like it's meant to be!

We already had Grayson's one year pictures set up, so I called my photographer to share the news. I said I know it's extremely early, but would you mind capturing a few pictures of Grayson in a big brother shirt so that we can use them to tell family? I'm so glad we added in these announcement pictures. They might be my favorite from the session. All photos in this post were taken by Courtney Heckler.
How far along are you?
Today I'm 16 weeks. Just like with Grayson, my cycle started on a Friday, so every Friday I'm one week farther along. I know it seems silly, but that makes me look forward to Fridays that much more!

It's so crazy (and honestly nerve wracking) to think that at Christmas we'll be half way there.
How are you feeling?
Thankfully with this pregnancy I haven't suffered any nausea at all. With Grayson I never got sick, or maybe once; but felt poorly enough I carried a vomit bag around with me everywhere, just in case! I was extremely tired weeks five through nine, but now that's subsided.
Are you showing?
You guys, I started wearing maternity jeans at 11 weeks; 11 weeks! With Grayson I didn't wear them until after our babymoon, so 21 weeks. I'm not majorly showing yet (although enough that I've had some people ask), but I think I knew how much more comfortable they would be than regular pants or the hair-tie trick (although I'm still doing that a little to fit into favorite jeans).

Now at 16 weeks I have more of a visible bump starting (it's so weird how bumps always come out more at night; am I right?!). I wore a button down shirt last week and realized, I don't think I can wear this buttoned more! Thank goodness last winter the majority of my tops were oversized and flowy for breastfeeding; they're perfect for this year's bump.
Are we going to find out the gender?
Nope! We have talked about it a little; but we waited for Grayson and it truly is THE BEST surprise to wait. Because we waited the first time, we have all of the initial gender neutral necessities we need anyways.

(Plus you know me, if it were a girl, I would start shopping like crazy! Even if it were a boy I probably would too because we'll need to add some summer weather newborn clothes to our closet for this baby).
Will you schedule a C-Section?
Another nope! I think I may have blogged about this before, but having Grayson via C-section was the absolute opposite birth experience I wanted when we initially found out we were pregnant and even when we found out Grayson was breech. We tried everything, everything, to change that he was breech, but in the end I still believe that he and I are in this world today because a c-section was the safest way for his arrival.

Shortly after having Grayson, I started researching VBAC supportive OBs (vaginal birth after cesarean). I came to the consensus of one highly recommended and raved about doctor in the area. As in, I've heard more than one woman say they decided to have a third child because they loved their VBAC experience and this OB so much for their second. (I also want to throw in here, in case you're a c-section mama and not familiar with where you can find information and support, International Cesarean Awareness Network is a great place to start or to heal from a previous birth experience. You can likely find local chapters to learn about VBAC supportive doctors and hospitals in your area).

Knowing we wanted to have kids close together, I met with him in the spring to ask about my likelihood of a successful VBAC and the preferred timing between pregnancies. He said I'm an ideal VBAC candidate (from what my previous OB, who specialized in breech birth, could tell, there was no reason caused by my body for Grayson to be breech). He also said he recommended 18 months between deliveries.

Also re:gender above, to be honest, there's a part of me that's scared I won't have a successful VBAC. Knowing I'll have the surprise of learning the gender at birth, regardless of how this baby arrives, makes me excited!

So we're planning on an unmedicated doula-OB supported VBAC! And delivering at a different hospital, which is also known to be extremely supportive. As one friend who has had 2 successful VBACs with my OB put it: with your experience, the OB/nurse/hospital, your doula, husband and will-power, you've got this. I hope so that comes true!
Are you going to move?
This question has come from friends and family who are familiar with our house. We have a three bedroom, two bathroom house with some "bonus" spaces like a master entry room and main floor office. We currently have our bedroom, Grayson's room, and a guest room.

With the majority of our family out of town, it is extremely convenient to have a guest room, but for how often they are here compared to our daily living, it makes more sense for us to fully utilize the room for our kids. We currently plan to the guest room into a second nursery combined with playroom (it's much bigger than Grayson's room).

Our basement isn't finished, however there is a fourth nonconventional bedroom (it has a closet and two windows) down there that we could use as a guest room if we wanted (otherwise the air matress fits in the office). We just need to find the time to update it and turn it into an actual bedroom instead of storage (i.e. we need to paint, install carpet, buy an IKEA bedframe and foam mattress in order to get down our stairs. Our current queen guest bed won't fit down the stairs because they're so steep!). This is a winter project on my goal list.

There's also the thought that if the kids are the same gender, we could have them share the large bedroom (current guest room) and then use Grayson's room as a play room and turn it into a guest room (ie pull out an air mattress when guest's come). Time will tell really! We are constantly looking at new listings online and went to see a townhouse last spring, while we have great equity in our house, the problem is that the market is so hot, we would have to spend more than we want to get what we want (a single family home with garage, grass yard, four bedrooms and two living areas). And hi, we'll have two kids in daycare, which also is not cheap here, so we're not looking to increase our mortgage right now!

How did you travel to Europe pregnant? Did you drink?
We booked our flights for a trip that's been on our beer bucketlist for years and a week later we found out we were pregnant. I figured it would happen! Thankfully, I also knew for the timing of the trip I would be in my second trimester and it would be more manageable than going those early weeks of pregnancy, and it was.

And yes, I had some beer. I was 13 weeks and had half a beer and several sips at Cantillon. I couldn't not and I've been reading up a lot on occasional drinks during pregnancy and decided I felt comfortable having some beer; and it was soooo worth it! But we also brought back plenty of beer to save until this baby arrives and I'm drinking more too.

So there you have it; the story to our growing family :)

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Travel Tip: Earning and Redeeming Points and Miles

In the past six years, we've been fortunate enough to take five major trips and just booked our sixth for this fall. For three of those six trips, we redeemed credit card points for flights and hotels.
May 2017 Iceland Babymoon
Now, before I get any farther, I feel obligated to say that credit cards are not for everyone. If used responsibly, there are benefits; but if in the wrong hands, they can send you in a downward spiral. For us, we charge almost everything we can to card BUT immediately going online and pay it off, typically within the same day. We don't carry over balances and rarely do we have a balance on our card at all.

Okay, that being said, here is my limited credit card reward knowledge! As a note, we used Chase for all of our banking so I've gravitated to the Chase credit cards for the easy and accessibility of having accounts in one place, making it easy to pay balances.

We've had a Chase Freedom credit card for 8+ years. It's a good "starter" credit card (in my opinion) that allows you to earn one point for every dollar spent (1% back). It also offers quarterly category bonuses that offer 5% back with a $75 maximum. The categories are practical every day purchases like gas stations or grocery stores. There is no annual fee but there are foreign transaction fees. For the longest time, this was the only credit card we had and used it for everything.

A few years ago, we added the Chase Sapphire  Preferred credit card to our accounts. The interest in this card was two-fold: First, unlike Freedom, there are no foreign transaction fees (which are typically a 3% fee for every purchase made not in the US), making it a great card to use for international travel. Second, is that Sapphire gives you two points for every dollar spent for every travel and restaurant related purchase. Given that we budget to eat out 2-3 meals after, this adds up. This card does have an annual $95 fee after the first year; but if you're using the points to travel, the benefits well outweigh the fee (I'll hit on redeeming points below).

After realizing we typically fly United a few times a year, this year we added the United Explorer Mileageplus Chase credit card. I had debated on the Frontier card, but decided United was a better fit with our international travel goals.  The perks of the United card have actually improved since we got it. Now it's similar to Sapphire, with double points for every dollar spent on food and travel, plus you get a free checked bag for you and accompanied guest. Since United now charges for basic Economy bags, this saves $100 per roundtrip for two (at $25/bag/person/flight). There is not an annual fee nor are there foreign transaction fees; so overall, this card is a winner if you fly United! As a cardholder, you are also eligible for free upgrades on flights as well as discounts on reward flights (info below).

My friend Breanne got me into miles a few years ago. She and her husband actually quit their jobs and traveled the world for over six months using miles they accumulated. She gave me tips how to earn additional miles; something I will be forever grateful for!

What I use most frequently is shop-through sites for miles. Are you familiar with Ebates, a website which allows you to log-in and search for a store, click on a link to be taken to that stores website and shop on the stores website but you get a small percent back for what you spent in an Ebates account? Well guess what? Both United and Chase Ultimate Rewards (how you access your Chase credit card points) also offer shop-through options to earn points and miles! And, the rewards for those sites is typically higher than the percent given back by Ebates.

For example, on United MileagePlus Shopping, I log in and search for Target. Target comes up at 1 mile per $1 spent. I click on the link and I'm off to shop! If I spent $50 on diapers, then I get 50 miles deposited to my MileagePlus account. I know that doesn't sound like a lot, but United also runs promotions where if you spent X-amount in a month, you'll get bonus miles. Last summer I use this to spent $250 in three months and I was given 1,500 bonus miles in addition to the reward miles for every dollar spent. I've been using Mileage Plus shopping for a little over three years and look at the top right for how many miles I've earned; this is NOT how many dollars I've spent.

Similarly, Chase Ultimate rewards offers the same program. Log in, selected Shop through Chase, search your store, select and shop!

The last way, which we don't use very often is MileagePlus Dining. Log in with your Mileage Plus account, save a credit card to the account and then every time you use the credit card at qualified purchases, you earn additional points (on top of the 2 points for every dollar with Sapphire or United card).

A huge perk to take advantage of ioth the Sapphire and Mileage Plus credit cards is their offer for initial bonus miles if you meet 3-month spending criteria. Sapphire offers 50,000 bonus miles if you spend $4k in the first three months; so we timed this card with work we were doing on our house at the time. MileagePlus offers 40,000 bonus miles if you spent $2k in the first three months (which unfortunately was easy with daycare). Some merchants, such as daycare, do charge a smile credit card fee, but it was worth paying $36 in fees to use the card to get the 40,000 miles (which as mentioned below is equivalent to $400 in rewards). You also can receive 5,000 bonuses for each card by adding an authorized user (for me, Ben).

Okay, so there's the three credit cards we use (Freedom, Sapphire, MileagePlus Explorer) and what they all offer as common rewards, so how do we accrue our points and miles?  and how many miles does it take to get some where?

In general, points and miles are redeemable at every 1000 points equals $10. Chase credit card points (i.e. Freedom and Sapphire) are earned and tracked separately for each card, but they can be combined together.  As mentioned above, Chase points can be earned or redeemed through their Ultimate Rewards program. You can also book travel on their website at up to 25% off retail by redeeming with points.

We pretty much exclusively use our Sapphire card (because a lot of where we use our cards is dining out or breweries); however, I do pay attention to Freedom quarterly bonus categories so that we can take advantage of the 5% back (verse Sapphire 2% back on restaurants and travel and 1% back on everything else). We use the Sapphire card over the United because Chase points can be redeemed on their (see Ultimate Rewards info below) OR they can be transfered to travel partners, like United. The miles we earn with the MileagePlus credit card DO NOT show up in our Chase account; they only show up as United miles and cannot be transfers elsewhere (however, they do not expire).
However, the big for your buck is transferring Chase points to travel partners, such as United. Chase Sapphire has a travel partners that allows you to convert your points to miles for the travel partner account. So 50,000 Chase Ultimate rewards points transferred to United becomes 50,000 United Miles. United offers reward travel called Super Saver at below dollar-value flights. I keep all of our Chase points in our Ultimate Rewards account until we are ready to book a United flight. I then log on to Ultimate Rewards and transfer to United, where they're instantaneously available and book. Once you transfer points to miles, you can't undo the transfer

 Generally a roundtrip domestic reward flight is 25,000 miles (12,500 each way); when you think of the 1 to 100 ratio, this means you can get a domestic reward flight for $250. Now, there are a lot of domestic flights you can generally find under $250, so unless in a pinch, this isn't necessarily a huge savings in regards to bang for your buck. However, longer flights are easier to see the benefit. A "good rate" for an international reward flight is 60,000 miles (30,000 miles each way). 

For both domestic and international flights, there are reward flights available for more than 12,500 and 30,000 one-way but these are not really getting your money's worth... so I only book rewards flights when the flight miles follow the rule of thumb above (12,500 or less for a one-way domestic flight and 30,000 miles or less for an international flight).

I'm not sure if any of this making sense, so here's an example.

For a roundtrip flight from Denver to Hawaii (our April 2016 birthday trip), booking an United Economy flight (so upcharge for selecting your seat and checking a bag) would cost you $736. as shown on the left below.

However, the same flights booked as reward flights as a Mileage Explorer cardholder is  45,000 miles, which is equivalent to $450 (plus taxes). Comparing the cash to miles costs, for a roundtrip flight to Hawaii, you could save $275 after taxes; well worth it! (Especially when you consider that you could have 45,000 miles when you first get your card if you earn the initial spending bonus and add and authorized user).

It's also worth noting that when we booked our Hawaii flights we didn't have the United card so we paid 50,000 miles. Now searching for flights as a cardholder, having the card, saves you $50, when you compare the reward flights mileage of 45,000 to 50,000.

Similar to above, for our fall trip we just booked we paid 120,000 miles + $505 (you still pay taxes on flights; we also paid 10% fair fee for Grayson for international lap infant rate); which equates to $1,705 ($1200+$505). Had we paid cash for our flights, it would have been over $3,300! We basically paid half of what the flights would have cost if we paid cash. Obviously points well spent!

The examples above are partnering Chase points with United. We haven't used other Chase Travel partners, but if you google there are tons of blogs to help you get the most use out of your miles and other airlines or airline alliances, like Star Alliance. I really like The Points Guy

Another way we have used our Chase points was to book our Iceland Babymoon trip directly through Chase Ultimate Rewards. As advertised, we booked our flights for 25% less miles than the dollar equivalent.
We booked our flights for Iceland using Ultimate Rewards and spent 79,608 Chase Points total for two flights, which is $796 value. However, Chase considers it a $995 value with their 25% savings booking through them. Compared to the flight cost outright, granted this is 15 months later, but looking now on Iceland Air's website, two flights from Denver to Reykjavik would cost $1,788.

So similar to our fall 2019 trip, using miles basically we got our flights for half the retail price!

Flights booked with Chase Ultimate Rewards
Flights booked with Iceland Air directly

There you have it, how I've learned to earn miles and use them efficiently without flying on a regular basis to accrue miles. I hope you were able to follow and that this insight inspires you to make your adventure dreams come true! (Remember, spend only what you can afford, but take advantage of the rewards available).

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Deja Vu

Here it is the end of July, 2018 and I'm feeling very much like I did this time a year ago.

Last year we had our first pregnancy and come July 2017, we were preparing for our first baby, due September 8th. My pregnancy had been relatively smooth sailing. I was trying to mentally prepare for baby and childbirth.

I'm not sure why or how, but I always knew I wanted an unmedicated birth. We hired a duo of doulas and were enjoying our last two months of us and of summer when my OB said that the baby was measuring large and she wanted to do an ultrasound to double check (we didn't know the gender at the time. Now that Grayson is here, I typically still refer to him as "baby" in utero out of habit).

We found out baby was breech and I spent much of the rest of my pregnancy as hormonal and emotional as it gets. (You can read about it here); and now I'm feeling much of that anxious emotion again right now.
Grayson is ten months old and not crawling yet.  To this point, he hasn't been a physical baby. He's never done log-rolls and is content sitting and playing. He's trying to get on all fours and army crawls backwards but he's not moving. He was a "late" sitter (at seven months and one day) also. At his nine month pediatrician appointment, our ped recommended we do an assessment with our state's Early Intervention program. It took a while to actually get the appointment scheduled and since then Grayson has shown more interest in crawling, so we considered cancelling the appointment.

Yesterday we went to it. He was evaluated with a play-based interview. An occupational and speech therapist asked us questions as they played with him. At the end of the interview, there was a definitive "yes, he qualifies", which surprised both Ben and I.

I spent yesterday afternoon feeling very emotional, similar feelings that I had to our breech pregnancy last time. I know there's an end; our breech baby was going to be born no matter what, just like in time, Grayson will crawl and will walk no matter what. But, it's the unplanned and unforeseen; it's the uncertainty, the stress, the emotional and mental push to get into the light is weighing heavy on my heart right now.

I'm going to give myself a moment to think "why me?". I had many moments, days and probably weeks of this feeling when we found out the baby was breech. But after allowing myself time, I quickly started to think, I don't want to give up hope and schedule a c-section, so what are my options? Similarly for Grayson's gross motor skills, as a parent there's only so much I can wallow. He can't fight for himself yet, so it's up to us to figure out what's best for him, even if we're learning as we go.

Just like Grayson's birth, he's following his own path and knows what was best for him;  I am reminding myself that this is also his path and we're here to help him progress along on it. This isn't the end of the world. This isn't something life-threatening or dangerous and I am thankful for that. This is just another step along parenthood and motherhood that is a learning moment for us all. There will be plenty more of these in his life. Bigger and scarier trials.

Some friends have had their children in the same program and rave about the impact it's had on their children, although they admit it can be hard also.

Moving forward, we'll be assigned an occupational therapist and a coordinator who will come to our house for a biweekly appointment. On the off weeks the OT will visit him at daycare so that he is in his natural settings, and from there, we'll move forward. Literally and figuratively.

Whatever happens, this child will always be the light of me life.
Photos by Courtney Heckler

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