All posts tagged Frequent-flier families

Are GPS apps rendering part of your brain inactive?

How to vastly improve your experience with maps and keep your head from getting lost in the map on your smartphone.

By Brad Beckstrom


Cartography –  The study and practice of making maps.

maps thefrug

Remember paper maps? I’m talking about the big unfolding kind they used to give you at tourism offices, AAA or full-service gas stations. How about the slick plastic coated ones that you could access with one hand on the steering wheel trying to navigate in a city like Rome or Washington, DC? Or the jumbo 50 page city or county map books they used to sell at office supply and convenience stores for about 18 bucks, still popular with some realtors and salespeople who work in remote areas or haven’t jumped on the smartphone bandwagon yet. Or the mother of them all, The Rand McNally Road Atlas hundreds of pages just waiting to be explored. I always had a thing for maps. I was always up for exploring out-of-the-way places, and maps helped me get there.

The frug globe

When my boys were younger, we used to play a game called “spin the globe”, wherever you land, you have to go there. I remember once my oldest son spun the globe and landed on Yakutsk, Russia generally considered to be the coldest inhabited city on earth with average temperatures of -58°F. He immediately added the city to the weather app on his phone and kept an eye on the place, occasionally sharing the sometimes ridiculous low temperatures. I don’t think I’ll ever see Yakutsk but I have a feeling he might.

Once GPS came along I knew I was hooked. (Finally an answer for my lack of direction in life.)   I played around with some of the earliest handheld GPS units, the kind where you had to load a CD onto your computer then somehow transfer maps to the GPS unit. These early units were popular with boaters because it’s very important to know where you’re going on the water. You also need to know about a third dimension, the depth of the water so you don’t end up on a sand barge, as I occasionally did.  At least I can blame the fricking GPS unit versus my lack of preparation with paper navigation charts. Read more…

7 reasons you should travel like a Viking this year!


By Brad Beckstrom

Vikings are back. Well, I’m talking about the popular History Channel TV show. Whenever I watch this show I’m amazed at the spectacular scenery. Where is it filmed? Norway? Finland? It’s actually filmed in Ireland and Canada. Regardless, there’s something about the show that just makes me want to explore new lands. So, here are my 7 reasons you should travel like a Viking this year.

New discount Scandinavian Airlines are on a mission to pillage and plunder other airlines business Viking style.

Did you know that the Vikings were the original settlers of Iceland? Now I can fly there direct for $99 on Reykjavík based WOW airlines. This isn’t some firesale you click on and it’s gone. It’s been on their website for months. The cool thing about flying to Iceland is that you’re only about three hours away from Europe. This makes their flights to Europe very competitive. They have a cool calendar view on their website that shows you the cheapest day to fly. If I am willing to fly on a Tuesday, I can get to Copenhagen for $189. The tickets are one way and you’ll be paying some bag fees, so travel light, my Viking friend.  Another airline up for some plundering and pillaging is Norwegian Air.  They have some eye-opening flights out of some Northeast airports, like $69 to Martinique. Yes, that’s the French Caribbean, I might just like to hop on that flight and not look at a map. It’s only $69 from my local airport, I can’t get to Cleveland for that. They also have a one way ticket to London for $194. I also like that their flights don’t have ridiculous layovers or require much travel hacking. I purchased tickets to Paris (in June) for $700 round-trip that have a total travel time similar to major carriers charging about 60% more.  I’ve put together a list of great travel hacking tools for low airfare here and here.

We will ransack your treasury and devalue your currency.

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Over the past year, the US dollar has hit all-time highs, multiple times, against the euro and other currencies. When this happens US travelers can often find amazing deals. The breakfast buffet at my four-star $53 per night hotel in Mexico City set me back a full $4.25 with tip. For lunch I had the best sandwich I’ve ever had, portobello mushroom with avocado and swiss cheese and other secret sauces, along with a cold Mexican microbrew, that set me back $5.50. Read more…

How to enter the airline matrix and pounce on invisible fares and discount codes.


By Brad Beckstrom

I recently wrote about creating a frequent flyer points machine, using everyday expenses, including healthcare and utilities, to rack up 2X, 3X, 4X frequent-flier points. As a follow-up, I wanted to provide an update on the latest tools I’ve found for spending those points.

Once you’ve figured out how to earn points twice as fast, the real benefit kicks in by spending fewer points, making them go twice as far. Anyone can do this by finding the cheapest days to travel combined with fare deals from your local airport.  If you can find the lowest fare, then you can spend your points more efficiently and get the specific flight you want by using your points through your credit card providers travel service. (I use Chase Sapphire Ultimate Rewards for an added 20% points bonus on booking.)

I found the key to doing this is having the exact flight you want to book at hand when you call to apply points to the total price. You don’t want to depend on the agent to find you the best fare, and you certainly don’t want deal with airlines directly which often charge you for the privilege to book. Airlines also like to drastically limit the frequent-flier seats available, unless of course you’re willing to cough up more money or double points.

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So how to do it? Read more…

Holiday Escape Plan.

Your guide to skipping the insanity this year.

Holiday Escape Plan

I was driving the other day and I saw a pumpkin patch sign up. It’s freaking Labor Day weekend!  I know what that means. Halloween will quickly turn into Thanksgiving and the insanity of the spendy holiday season will begin instantly.

Have you ever thought about escaping the holidays? No last-minute trips to malls, hiding gifts in the trunk, wrapping oversized packages. Completely ignoring the news stories about people getting trampled on Black Friday. There’s really a reason it’s called Black Friday.

Choose Adventure over Stuff

What would happen if you could get the whole family to buy in on your secret holiday escape plan? Choosing adventure over stuff this holiday season. I know this is next to impossible if  you have kids under 12 years old, but it’s never too early to start planting the seed. Our kids got a taste of it last year. We had a get together with family and friends in Mexico. We saw whales, visited small villages, took boat rides, sat on the beach.

The holiday escape plan is pretty simple. Instead of the traditional gift giving bonanza of material goods that are soon forgotten, we will put all of that money towards a family adventure. Last year we did a little of both which, looking back on it, is cheating.  We also spent a bit too much once we got to Mexico.

I needed complete buy in on the plan this year. Our gifts to each other would be adventure and time with family and friends.  To my surprise, I got very little pushback.  Our youngest commented “Why wouldn’t we choose that?”  Another comment was “I always have a hard time coming up with stuff to ask for anyway.” I’ll let you know how all this turns out after Christmas morning, at least they’ll be waking up at the beach.

Paying for your adventure

Now the hard part starts, but just think how much time you’re saving by skipping all those trips to the store and wrapping presents. The first thing I did was look back over the last couple years at what we spent on Christmas gifts, local travel, and all the other holiday related “stuff”. Read more…

Simplicity is the whole secret of well being.

I said more cowbell, not more cowbells.

The holidays are hard for the Frug.  Christmas shopping gives everyone a fantastic excuse for buying more stuff. You know the whole gifts and holiday traditions thing going on.  Our friends, family, and our extended family fully embrace the holidays. Multiple family get-togethers and other holiday parties take their toll on the wallet. There are also 9 plastic tubs of holiday stuff that emerge from the deepest corners of the storage room shortly after Thanksgiving.  Lots of festive pinecones, cowbells, singing Santas, ornaments and knickknacks.

I said more cowbell, not more cowbells!

I can just feel the surge of stuff rolling into the house from all directions.  Just thinking about my required half day of frantic holiday shopping also gives me hives.

This holiday season we made an effort as a family to see more stuff instead of buy more stuff.

So here’s the idea. SuperK and I hatched a plan in June to join some other family members on a trip to Mexico for Christmas. This would require some saving, airfare hacks, and creative scheduling as far as the traditional holiday get-togethers are concerned.  We also had a goal of scaling back on gifts and having a more traditional utilitarian (I love that word) Christmas celebration.

We would make this holiday season all about family experiences versus stuff. Sure the kids would be disappointed but to be honest they are generally disappointed with most gifts. You can see SuperK’s thoughts on this here.  Plus, it would be hard for them to complain while sitting on a beach in Mexico hearing about the icy temperatures at home.  So, instead of making the trip a surprise we let them in on it early on. We built excitement with countdown calendars, savings thermometers and photos. We also talked about some of the adventures we would have in Mexico with friends and family.

I am also always playing up the idea that less stuff equals more. Less stuff to shop for, put together, store, repair get rid of, equals more time for adventure.   In a year, I’d like to say we are traveling light not just on our adventures but at home, lightening the load that excess stuff puts on you.

 Okay so this was a big experiment. Did it work?  Here is some of the stuff we saw this holiday season in Mexico.

  • Family and friends from Baltimore MD, Amherst MA, Minneapolis MN, Los Angeles CA, Brooklyn NY.

  • A school of gray whales about 30 yards from a boat that was significantly smaller than  each of the whales.

  • Went to Spanish Christmas Mass in a small neighborhood church in Puerto Vallarta.

  • The Greatest Mariachi Band in the World, as touted by family and friends that had seen them before. I must agree.

  • Several beach towns including Yelapa Mexico, only accessible by boat.

  • A taste of some small village life in Mexico by hiking up a trail of crumbling rocks and ancient steps.

  • Peluchelandia.

  • Six fantastic sunsets.

  • A dose of reality for the boys, seeing many kids working selling trinkets on Christmas Day

  • The famous pie ladies of Yelapa, and some coconut pecan pie on the beach, why not.

  • Some of the best food Mexico has to offer including a great Fish and Chips place Joe Jacks

So here are a few tips for lightening the load so you can see more stuff next holiday season.

  • Use the stuff in, stuff out formula. For every new item that comes in the house two items need to leave. This can include toys your kids no longer play with, clothing they’ve outgrown (or I’ve outgrown),  items you no longer use, knickknacks you’re just tired of looking at.

  • Start planning your adventures now. To make this happen, it really does require some thinking in February once you’ve recovered from your holiday $ hangover.

  • Add up everything you spent this holiday season and take a hard look at what you can move out of the category labeled stuff.

  • Give things away,  It’s easier to part with anything when you believe someone may get some use out of it. We keep a large donation box in the hallway to always remind us of this. Last year we filled about 20 of these.

  • Keep a record of what you give away, Goodwill, Purple Heart receipts etc. you may be able to write off $500 or more on your taxes.

  • Make sure you’re using a credit card that produces from 2 to 5 points for each dollar spent. Check out the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Fidelity American Express that include 2% cash back or points on every purchase.

I’ll be working on the stuff out formula and who knows we may end up in Mexico again next  Christmas.