The 2019 Travel Year In Review, A Podcast

*** SHOW NOTES ***

Recorded in the beautiful Downtown Marriott, Providence, RI

2019 Review

  • 225 nights in hotels, with Hilton getting the bulk of those.
  • Flights – 53 – Southwest 39, United 10 & Delta 4
  • Rental Cars – 22
  • 75 different cities.
  • Personal Car –  20,000 miles.
  • That’s 63 trips and 99,715 miles traveled.

According to my Swarm profile, I’ve spent at least one night in a hotel during the last 77 weeks.

2018 Review

  • 248 nights in hotels, with Hilton getting the bulk of those.
  • Flights – 61 – Southwest 53, United & American 3, Delta 2
  • Rental Cars – 16
  • 71 different cities.
  • Personal Car –  28,000 miles.

During last year’s travel review I said – All road warriors keep score, don’t let anyone tell you differently, we all have a number.  I have two numbers, 1000 and 600. I’m 60 nights short of 1000 nights at Hilton properties and 44 nights short of 600 nights at Marriott properties. Both of those numbers combined with 10 years of membership guarantees me lifetime Platinum and Gold status respectively. I have no idea what that entitles me too, but it satisfies a number.

I hit both of those numbers this year, and I’m here to tell you the benefits…….

Marriott Lifetime Platinum Elite

  • Earn 50% more points than Members on every eligible hotel purchase
  • Lounge Access – At hotel brands that have lounges, you’ll have full access and complimentary breakfast.
  • At hotel brands that have lounges, you’ll have full access and complimentary breakfast.
  • Enhanced in-room internet access

Once you reach lifetime status, it lasts forever.

Hilton Lifetime Diamond

  • Elite tier Bonus Points 100%
  • Space-available upgrades
  • Complimentary breakfast
  • Free Premium WiFi
  • Executive lounge access
  • Elite status gifting

All of those benefits come with yearly diamond status, the only benefit I can see is as a Lifetime Diamond member, your points and tier never expire. They did send me a nice set of Bose wireless headphones.

One nice feature that Hilton does is that they give you 10,000 points for every 10 nights you stay. This year that’s been close to 200,000 points. For reference one of our favorite local getaway hotels is the Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista where a room and resort fees will typically run you $200.00 For 50,000 points, all of that is covered.

Both Marriott and Hilton sent me new metal membership cards, which is apparently the “new” thing. Even the new American Express Platinum Card is metal. This “new” thing is so prevalent that Value Penguin posted The Heaviest And Best Metal Credit Cards (2019). The American Express Platinum card, of course, was the heaviest coming in at 18 grams. Yes, this is the world we live in, we are weighing credit cards.

Last January I began using the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card, yet another American Express card. At the time my rationale was, for the $95.00 annual fee I get 12 points for every dollar spent at a Hilton property, that’s huge!  6 points for every dollar spent at restaurants, supermarkets, and at gas stations. That rational paid off at the end of each month those Hilton points rolled into my account.

At the time other benefits, such as 10 free visits to Priority Pass lounges when I travel, worth $300.00. Also, there’s the Hilton Honors Auction Site which allows me to redeem my Hilton Honors Points on exclusive artist experiences and hotel concert events with Live Nation, or racing experiences with McLaren-Honda. 12months later I’ve never used either one of those benefits.

I hit my Southwest Companion pass earlier this month. This will be the third year, and it saves us close to $4000.00 each year in Southwest travel. The Southwest Companion Pass is probably the best travel deal around. If you hit the Southwest number of points, for 2020 it’s 125,000 points up from 2019’s 110,000 points, you name a companion to fly free whenever you fly. You can book your flight with dollars or points, it doesn’t matter they fly free. The Southwest Chase Southwest A card gives you double points when purchasing Southwest tickets and combine that with the double points of being Southwest A-List Preferred it’s close to quadruple dipping each time I fly.

Now being the financially responsible guy that I am I will tell you that both the American Express Ascend Card as well as the Southwest Chase card carry an interest rate well over 20%. That means if you plan to carry a balance that interest rate will quickly decrease the value of their rewards.

When it came to trips best family trip was our Niagra Falls adventure. I booked the flight, hotel, and rental, the CEO handled everything else.

Skylon Tower

  • The Revolving Dining Room rotates 360 degrees in one hour
  • You can see the Canadian Horseshoe Falls, The American Falls and the Bridal Veil
  • Visibility from Observatory on a clear day is 80 miles (129 kms).
  • The height of Tower above Niagara Falls gorge is 775 ft.

Niagara Falls American side Tour with Maid of the Mist Boat Ride

  • Maid of the Mist boat ride
  • Niagara Whirlpool
  • Niagara Falls State Park Cave of the Winds

Niagara Craft Brewery Tours – 4 stops and 6 hours in length. Pace yourself, this is day drinking with someone else driving.

  •  The first stop was Sunnybrook Winery Canada’s first fruit winery. We sampled most of their Ironwood Ciders.
  • The second stop was Silversmith Brewing Company. Housed in a converted church it offered both beer and food.
  • The third stop was the Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery & Distillery This is a new location and closer to the Canadian wine/beer trail. As you could imagine hockey themed.
  • The last stop was the Niagara College Teaching Brewery – The Niagara College Teaching Brewery is a practical learning environment for students in Niagara College’s Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program located at the beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake campus. Student offerings such as Elder Wand, Resurrection Stone and No Schwartz in the Brewery.

Magnificent Tours 6-hour tour. We had a great tour guide, really knew the area, and added great tips along the way. The best part, we didn’t have to park and didn’t have to wait in lines.

  • White Water Walk – Take a walk like no other, along a boardwalk at the very edge of one of the world’s wildest stretches of whitewater! Marvel at the relentless power and beauty of nature and see how the deep and narrow Great Gorge was created.
  • Niagara Whirlpool – Designed by a renowned Spanish engineer, Leonardo Torres Quevedo, the Whirlpool Aero Car has been soaring the Niagara Gorge since 1916. The antique cable car is suspended from six sturdy cables and offers spectacular views of the swirling Niagara Whirlpool and the Class 6 whitewater rapids of the Niagara River.
  • Niagara’s Fury – While visiting Niagara’s Fury the temperature will drop 20 degrees. Water will bubble and spray while snow falls all around. Standing in the mist on a massive platform you will feel the full wrath of Mother Nature as the floor tilts and trembles beneath you. Incredible images produced on a 360-degree screen with technology previously used only in satellites and medicine will immerse you in a “4D” Universal Studios-style attraction.
  • Journey Behind The Falls – Journey Behind The Falls consists of a tunnel running directly behind the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. You will journey deep within to touch the heart of Niagara. Before you, the mighty river explodes after free-falling more than thirteen stories. The sound is magnificent; the sight, awe-inspiring. Raincoats are provided.
  • Hornblower Niagara Cruises – Take a legendary Falls boat tour which has been thrilling visitors for more than 150 years. Hornblower Niagara Cruises offers you an exciting new way to experience the breathtaking Niagara Falls. The state-of-the-art catamaran boats take visitors to the base of the American Falls and then on to the basin of the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. It’s a half-hour thrill of a lifetime!

We took a day off and hit the antique trail.

  • Old Chapel Antiques And Artisan Market
  • Lewiston Antique Mall
  • Shawnee Country Barns Antiques
  • The Mill Marketplace
  • Hoover’s Dairy Store

Oh, Canada Eh! Dinner show – Canada’s Longest Running Dinner Musical!
This two-hour show features all-Canadian music; from maritime folk songs to modern pop. Come meet our singing Mountie, Hockey Player, Anne of Green Gables, Klondike Kitty and more. This high-energy production features over 70 songs from all-Canadian artists including music from Paul Anka, Celine Dion, Shania Twain, the Bare Naked Ladies, Avril Lavigne, Justin Bieber and many, MANY more. While you’re enjoying the show, our performers serve our famous all-Canadian, family-style meal; at what other restaurant are you served your dinner by a singing Mountie?

You can’t see much from the USA side, so book on the Canadian side.
Parking is expensive and hard to find
Crossing the border adds 20 – 40 minutes to your trip
If we go back it’d be at the Marriott Niagara Falls Hotel Fallsview & Spa. Close to restaurants but far away from the madness.

Two business trips stood out, Seattle and Buffalo

Beyond grey skies, Starbucks and the TV show Fraser my knowledge of Seattle was limited. After 4 days I had a new outlook.

  • September was perfect for a visit, the temperature was perfect, and yes the sky was cloudy at times and the rain did fall.
  • You can tell the folks from out of town by the fact that they are carrying umbrellas. The locals all wear Northface and Patagonia lightweight raincoats.
  • Traffic is a giant cup of suck. While they appear to be an “environmentally friendly” town most cars in the downtown area contain a single occupant.
  • On the “environmentally friendly” front every place I went to had a multitude of trashcans. One for plastic, one for paper, one for aluminum…… and so on, and so on.
  • The homelessness is as bad as reported. I saw tent cities constructed in the median of I-5. Mt best guess is that the legalized marijuana plays into that.
  • The city is filled with fantastically friendly patient people. With so much traffic I don’t recall ever hearing a single horn honking.

Some great food.

  • Midori Teriyaki – if you go at lunch it will be packed. It was so tasty we at lunch there two out of the four days. Their General Tso Chicken was some of the best I’ve ever had.
  • Market House Corned Beef – a New York-style deli in Seattle…. yep. A huge pile of delicious corned between slices of marbled pumpernickel bread.
  • Tutta Bella Neapolitan – a perfect place to end a long workday. If you like craft cocktails then you’ll love this place. No matter what you order get yourself a side of meatballs, your story will appreciate it.k
  • The Taproom at Pike Place – a great tap house right in the heart of Pike Place so it is perfect for people watching. They offer a couple of dozen beers on tap as well as cans of Washington State favorites.

 

Speaking of Pike Place, we spent a few hours at Pike Place, which includes a couple of stops you need to make. First is the Public Market, also known as the place where they throw fish. This place offers most everything a great farmers market would. The floral booths were filled with an endless variety of cut flowers. The seafood stands were stuffed to the gills. They’ll gladly pack it for you so it’ll keep for 48 hours. Yes, they do throw fish. The market starts closing down around 5:00 pm.

The other stop is the original Starbucks. There will be a line, a long line….. coffee people are dedicated. There seems to be a Starbucks on every corner, but believe it or not, Seattle comes in sixth on the list of cities with the most Starbucks. That number is 133 and New York comes in first with 241.

The other business trip that stood out, and for a couple of reasons was Buffalo, NY. It was August, and again the weather was perfect. I commented about the weather to the locals in Seattle and Buffalo and every one replied with, “You don’t want to be here in January”.

In case you were wondering there are 2 airports in Buffalo.

Buffalo Niagara International Airport – BUF
Niagara Falls International Airport – IAG

No one wants a brand new rental car, especially with six miles on it. When you turn it in, every single scratch and dent will be your fault.

Buffalo is a walking town, the Hilton Garden Inn was within walking distance of everything Buffalo.

The Anchor Bar – As a “wing guy” this was bucket list stop. The interior is wonderous, from Harley’s to license plates there was something to look at everywhere. I tried to order their Anchor Bar IPA, but they were out of it. I ordered 10 wings medium and when the plate arrived I was ready to experience the birthplace of wings, the mothership, the mecca…… I bit into the first wing and it was just “OK”, my heart and stomach sank. I looked at my dining partner and they had the same expression. Now I must add that our waitress was spot-on, friendly and checked in on us several times during our meal. Their Niagara Falls location was no better.

Hatchets And Hops – Drink beer and throw hatchets, what could possibly go wrong? Pressure Drop Brewing was holding a tap-take-over during our visit, and that made it even better.

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que – The second time I’ve visited a Dinosaur location and this one was as good as the first. Again it was a combo plate, St. Louis Ribs, wings, mac-n-cheese coleslaw, and a slice of cornbread. The ribs were tender and as they say, “fell off the bone”. The wings were smoked to perfection and the mac-n-cheese was a good as Grandmas. The coleslaw was OK, but I didn’t go there to eat coleslaw. Great beer selection, including some local choices.

Big Ditch Brewing Company – Ended up here for lunch, and what caught my attention was the roll-up garage doors that created a wonderful this wonderful open-air experience. Since it was lunch I didn’t partake in the beer offerings…. I did later that day. My lunch was the Siracha Chicken Sandwich, a siracha honey coated chicken breast covered in cilantro sour cream, pickled red onions, and cucumbers. Sticky but tasty and satisfying.

Deep South Taco – Walking distance from the hotel. Started with a Hayburner by Big Ditch Brewing Company and coupled that with an order of Quesadillas – smoked cheddar, chihuahua cheese and queso fresca with pinto bean purée. Tasty and the guacamole was fresh and piled high. Also ordered chips and salsa and the salsa was a bit of a letdown. Friendly staff and a fully stocked bar.

Lafayette Brewing Co – They brew their beers on-site in a 15 barrel brewhouse located directly below the main bar in the basement. This bar is a total throwback, lots of wood and brass, I felt right at home.

That’s a wrap on 2019 travel, I have one more family trip between now and the end of the year, and that’s it.

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