Before the days of this blog, I would send periodic emails to family and friends about my travel. At first it was report that I’d made it to wherever and then I started adding some of the things I was seeing for no real reason other than I wanted to tell someone about anything interesting I saw from the trivial to the significant. What follows is the email I sent soon after arriving in Tanzania in 2007… Enjoy!
Hello, hope everyone is well. I have been now about 4 days in Tanzania for my work trip. After the long journey here, it is nice to be “settled” into a normal day-to-day living schedule though the first few days I kept waking up way too early for sanity (4 AM, 5 AM, etc.). Today, I slept past the desired wake up time. I think that is a good thing.
So what is my workday like? I start with a FULL breakfast at the hotel since lunch will not be until 1 PM, at the earliest, and since we start at the office at 8 AM. There is nothing in the vicinity of the office where you can buy any snack or other food, so I must load up at the hotel before coming over. No vending machines either. I fear hunger almost as much as I fear critters so I am proactive
The work location is what looks like an old house, big for the standards of Tanzania but smaller than the McMansions in Atlanta. Being an old house, rooms are small and I imagine some rooms where broken up into offices at some point too. Each little office has its own window A/C unit to keep people cooled. I was actually surprised they had these in every office but I am VERY glad for many reasons. I sit with the IT manager who has technical equipment in her office so her A/C unit works especially well to keep everything cool. I will miss her next week when she will not be at work since her office has to be kept locked due to the equipment and I will not be able to enter it…
Lunch is cooked on site by some ladies they hire to cook lunch for the office. Apparently everyone chips in like a subscription type of scheme because there is nowhere to eat around here. Visitors pay 2,000 shillings for lunch which sounds like a lot but it is less than $2. A bargain for a full plate of rice, a couple of small pieces of meat, beans or vegetables, and some fresh fruit. Around 530 PM we go back to the hotel. We are able to go out if we want but it means a taxi ride as there is nothing near the hotel (it is not near the city center).
Tanzania, unlike other countries where we do work, is quite safe so we are not required to stay in the hotel for our safety. I have heard stories of other countries where once you get to the hotel you must stay in per security standards. Transportation to and from work is provided by the local office, so we don’t have to worry about catching a cab, etc. That is a nice thing.
In the hotel I can get free wireless Internet access, unlike the US where we are squeezed to pay for that in most hotels. However, some nights the Internet connection is down which may have nothing to do with the hotel. That may not be atypical in many of the countries we work in from what I hear. Infrastructure (power, water, etc.) can be rather fragile. I have not experienced power outages in the hotel which is nice because it keeps the A/C on! (I am, I have to say, a little needy that way though I would survive without it if I had no choice which may happen when I travel outside of the big city.)
Alright, this has become quite a long email so I will begin to wrap up. My plans for the next few days are to travel to a town called Mwanza in the NW of the country to visit the field work Saturday and Monday (here is a link to my hotel there http://184.108.40.206/accomdation.html). From there, I get a small break on Sunday to visit the Serengeti National Park (hopefully) (this is where I may stay outside of the park http://www.spekebay.com/). I will return to Dar on Tuesday and probably head out to visit the field in Zanzibar.
Finally, I return to Dar and visit some of the field work done in the urban area here. We do a lot of work here related to health, education and national resource management (I was ignorant about this last area and now I am very curious to see the work we do; there is a strong correlation with national resource development like mining, forestry, etc. and poverty; the former when not managed tends to impact those who live in those areas rather strongly and negatively).
OK, now I will stop.
A friend confessed to me a couple of months ago that he had become a mile/point whore with airlines and hotels. I laughed because I related to what he was saying though perhaps my interest wasn’t to the level of obsession as may have been the case with him. That is, until I started thinking…
I normally do care about my points and stick to one or two programs to ensure my miles accumulate properly. I also keep an eye out for special offers, rare as they may be, to get extra points. But with my friend’s comment I started thinking “what else could I do? have I maximized what can I do without going overboard?”
Delta Airlines AMEX Credit Card
I had always wondered whether getting an airline credit card was worth it. Especially since my Costco AMEX gives me cash back which is considerable given my business travel is charged through it. Cash on hand is better than points with a company that could change award levels, could go bankrupt, etc. So the questions that had been triggered by my friend the point whore intersected earlier this year with my desire to retain top elite status (Diamond) with my hometown airline (Delta). I have had that status since 2010 and thought earning it for 2014 would be cool, especially since simple math told me I would easily attain the level below Diamond (Platinum).
So on I went with research that I normally find tedious. Delta offered several AMEX types so I started by figuring out which would yield the Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) that I may need to top off my actually flown MQMs this year to reach 125,000 MQMs (the Diamond requirement). I then had to understand if the spend required on the card to earn those MQMs was realistic given my normal spend. After determining if that worked out (it did for the Platinum card), I had to see if the fee was worth it. It definitely seemed a reasonable fee given all the MQMs and non-MQMs I would receive plus the earning of the desired elite status. So, on I went with getting the new card.
I also learned in the process that having this card was yet another factor that could help me move up in regular and upgrade standby/wait lists. You would think this should not be much of a factor since as a Diamond and Million Miler I should be towards the top of the list. Most of the time that is true but nothing stings more at the gate before a flight to see you were the first or second person to miss out getting the upgrade! So for as much as it may help, I figured that was another bonus about the airline card. At least tête-a-tête with another Diamond Million Miler, the card could give me the edge if they didn’t have one. (I wish I knew the pecking order of factors leading to the placement on these lists!) Of course, what may be getting me some times is the fare basis paid for the coach ticket since I do have to follow the rules on fares purchased for my business travel. But I figured I have done all I could now, save travel more to maximize my MQMs and getting extra miles for free travel!
How about hotels?
I did give a thought to hotel credit cards but, for me, there seems to be little difference that I care about between, say, a Gold and a Platinum level. Again, I say that I care about because there are differences; it is just that it may be for things that I don’t need (I don’t do a lot of last minute travel, for example) or don’t care enough for. I also don’t want to have more credit cards than absolutely needed so it was either an airline one or a hotel one. My drivers for doing all this lined up more with the airline points so there you go!
I do monitor hotel special offers as they offer an easy (if you travel enough) way to score major points but if you are not paying attention, you may miss them since they are not automatic (similar to the rare airline special offers) – you have to “register” to earn them. I like Marriott’s typical offer of stay X nights in Y months and get ZZ,000 extra points. In 2010 when I spent most of the year in a Marriott in Chile, I made a killing with those deals – I got the max points every time which was far from chump-change! Now, I still get points but not the max every time since I may not be traveling every week in questions. Again, an easy way to get extra points.
What’s in a word? Points hoarder or chaser?
I originally had thought about ending the title of this entry with “Hoarder” instead of “Chaser” but hoarding implies collecting and never using which is FAR from yours truly so I decided that would paint a different reality. In 2011, I used over 600K airline miles to travel with family. Point hoarder I am not! Points are to be used and, if you have plenty, to share with those you want to travel with.
There are many other techniques and tips about maximizing points earning beyond those I have mentioned. Of course, plenty of boards and websites out there where good ideas and discussions happen (e.g., http://www.flyertalk.com/). But still interested in hearing about your “point chasing” goals and strategies!