By Josh Published June 30, 2018
Hello reader! As I began typing this post, I was sitting on an Amtrak train on the Coast Starlight route, from Los Angeles, California to Seattle, Washington. The trip took 34 hours, and included magnificent sights including the Pacific Ocean, Silicon Valley, and Mt. Rainier.
The trip was possible because I had scheduled 15 days of “Funemployment” between jobs. I needed to turn in my work vehicle and all of my work materials and computer equipment when I left employment with the State of Florida. But since I live in Southwest Florida, and the State Capitol is in Tallahassee (in the Panhandle), I started my trip with a 400-mile drive to Tallahassee for one last work day.
Day 2, in the morning I turned in my stuff and said goodbyes. In the afternoon, I took an Uber to the Tallahassee airport, and then I flew to Atlanta, Georgia, which is a hub for a large portion of trips to/from the Southeast US. I booked the flight on Delta, using 32,000 Delta Skymiles I had accumulated over the years, mostly from a 30,000 Skymiles offer on the Gold Delta Skymiles credit card from American Express a couple years ago. Don’t be like me, wait for a 60,000 or 70,000 point offer before you sign up for this card. American Express cards are usually only available once per “lifetime”.
While in Atlanta, I was able to use my Priority Pass Select membership (free with my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card) to spend a free hour in the Minute Suites in Terminal B at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. It was nice to unwind a bit, kick my shoes off, and have room to spread out, without having to keep a vigilant eye on my luggage.
From Atlanta, I could arrive in just about any major city in the US, so I caught a cheap flight on Southwest for only $130. I had a voucher for $51 from finding a fare reduction on a previous business trip, so I only had to pay $79 out of pocket. I have developed the habit of arriving early and asking the gate agent if there are any available seats on the plane, and this time there were 32 empty seats. So my next question for the agent is to see if I can get an extra seat and pre-boarding due to my height and large frame. This has worked on each of my last 6 flights with Southwest. This way, I’m able to raise the armrest between the two seats and sit diagonally to gain some extra legroom.
I arrived at LAX and caught a quick Uber to my hotel a couple miles away. I had initially booked 5 nights of lodging at 3 different hotels in the Los Angeles area, but when I left a Facebook message for my cousins living in the Anaheim/Buena Park area that I was flying in that night, they reached out to me to have me cancel my stays and sleep in their guest bedroom. One night at the Holiday Inn LAX ran me 30,000 IHG points (and I got 2,000 back from an Accelerate promo), earned from the Chase IHG credit card last fall (100,000 point offer for $2,000 spend in 90 days), and I was able to check-out early and recoup the points that would have been spent for my second night stay. I was able to cancel my 4th & 5th nights stay easily and got the points refunded, but unfortunately I changed my plans too late for the cancellation window on my 3rd night stay at the Hotel MdR – a DoubleTree Hotel in Marina del Rey. I used 50,000 Hilton Honors points, and since I couldn’t get them refunded, I went ahead and borrowed my cousin’s car (she had left on a trip to Ohio the night prior) and I went exploring in that area, and went ahead and stayed in the hotel, since the points had been spent, anyway.
On Day 4, I set out to adventure with my counsin’s car. From Buena Park, I drove to the Santa Monica Pier, then went on the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu, turned around and came back towards Hollywood via Sunset Boulevard to the UCLA campus, and on to Rodeo Drive before driving back to Marina del Rey to beat the evening rush hour. After checking in, I walked about 2 miles to Venice Beach and grabbed an early supper at Cabo Cantina, to munch on some chips & salsa and a quesadilla, while sipping a margarita and watching the Cavs-Raptors Game 2. I walked back to the hotel and spent the majority of the evening relaxing poolside and called my parents to fill them in on my trip so far.
Day 5, after checking out of the hotel and grabbing the breakfast buffet (should have been a $4 upcharge from the complimentary continental breakfast I receive for my Gold status at Hilton properties, but the waiter was gracious to upgrade me for free), I drove back to Buena Park and went golfing with my cousin’s husband. We played “Dad Miller Golf CLub” which is where Tiger Woods played when he was in high school. Apparently the guy named Dad Miller was a 93 year-old golfer who hit a hole-in-one on the 11th hole, and they named the course after him! I hadn’t really planned on golfing during this trip, so I didn’t have my normal golf clothes, shoes, hat, glove, golfballs, or golf clubs(!) so I played in a too-heavy shirt, tennis shoes, no hat, and with borrowed clubs, on a club I’d never heard of before that morning, so I was fairly pleased with my 93 I carded that day. My playing partner shot 108 and he’s a member, so I felt decent about the round, given all of those limiting factors.
That evening, I went to a school carnival at my little cousins’ elementary school. They are finishing up 1st and 6th grades, so they were excited to show off their school projects from the whole year to their parents and their unexpected-visitor/cousin from Florida 🙂
Day 6 happened to be Cinco de Mayo, and being in Southern California, I knew there’d be a party! This time, my other cousin hosted a bunch of us at her (very nice) house with a pool in the backyard. All of my little cousins were jumping onto and playing with their “Cous-uncle Josh” because I’m the age of their uncles, but I’m officially their cousin (2nd cousin, once removed?). I got way too much sun, and had way too much fun. Ate way too much chips & salsa and had a few adult beverages to wash it all down.
Day 7, before heading to Union Station, my golf buddy (cousin’s hubby) took me to see Huntington Beach, where the AVP was hosting the annual Huntington Beach Open beach volleyball tournament. Action had not yet started for the day, but it was cool to see it up-close, since I’ve seen it on TV several times in the past. Upon arriving downtown at Union Station, I checked in to get my seat assignment and grabbed a handful of snacks for the train. I found my train platform and fairly quickly found my seat (and the empty one next to me, which I definitely will not complain about!). I booked this train trip (LA–>Seattle) on the Amtrak website for $122 cash out of pocket. I went with a regular coach seat, knowing that there is ample legroom and wider-than-airline seats, 120v outlets, and it’s possible to get up and explore the train (dining car, observation car with floor-to-ceiling windows, and a café lounge car that operates like a mini 7-Eleven onboard the train). We got delayed by more than an hour in the Oakland area, and have been gradually losing more time between stops. But this caused us to be near Mt. Shasta as the sun was rising, and I got to see some cool sights that would normally have been passed by during the dark.
Around 9pm on Day 8, I arrived in Seattle, and checked in at the Grand Hyatt Seattle for two nights, with a list price of $548/night. I paid 15,000 Hyatt points per night instead, which I earned from the 40,000 point sign-up bonus on the Chase Hyatt credit card (plus a 5,000 point bonus for adding an Authorized User when I opened the card). I can’t believe I got nearly $1,100 in value out of that Hyatt card signup bonus, with another 15,000 points remaining that I used for Day 11 in Boston.
On Day 9, I purchased the CityPass for $89, which includes admission to 5 top destinations, including the Space Needle, Chihuly Museum & Gardens, Museum of Pop culture, Seattle Aquarium, and the Argosy Harbor Cruise (the 5 options I chose; you can opt for a different museum in place of Chihuly and #MoPop), and these are valued at over $160. I woke up to a perfect weather day, sunny and in the upper 50s. Working through the list of suggestions from friends and locals I had tapped via Twitter (Shoutouts to @CeceMcKiernan, my friend Kelli @FloodGeek101, Angela from @TreadLightly_RE, and Ty Roberts from @CampFIREfinance, along with some Twitterless peeps), I started out in search of breakfast at Biscuit Bitch. These Bitches are very popular, and there was a line out the door for people to get their hands on some scrumptious fixin’s and coffee. I Tweeted to the OG Bitches (@bitchesgetrich) that I found their Mothership!
Moving on from there, I walked 2 blocks to Pike Place Market, which was full of merchants getting set up for the day. I walked around for a bit and checked out the GumWall, which might be cool to some people, but I’ve seen more gum on one wall at a loose-meat sandwich shoppe in Greenville, Ohio (Shoutout to Maid-Rites). From there, I walked through Belltown to check out the Space Needle in Seattle Center. The Space Needle is undergoing a “Spacelift” (facelift) right now, so my views were partially obstructed by construction workers and ongoing construction, but it was such an amazing view. Mt. Rainier stands so much higher than, and closer to, Seattle than I expected! With the morning’s marine mist still showing up, the peak of Mt. Rainier looked like a perfectly-painted mountain from a Bob Ross painting, sticking its head above the clouds.
After Space Needle, I checked out the Chihuly Museum and Gardens, which were impressive, but I had already seen a large collection of Chihuly works at the Morean Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. I also went to the Museum of Pop Culture, but felt underwhelmed by it Last on the agenda for sight-seeing was a one-hour harbor cruise around the Elliott Bay, which was full of opportunity to take more pictures of the Seattle skyline and enjoy the nice sunny day. The onboard bar didn’t hurt, either!
As cool as those sights were, the highlight of my day came later, around Happy Hour, when I met up with a fellow Personal Finance blogger for the first time. Ty Roberts had a meeting downtown, and met me for a beer at Yard House. Honestly, this was the first time I’ve ever been able to talk to someone In Real Life about FI, FIRE, blogging, and this PF community that I honest-to-goodness LOVE. Ty was so easy to talk to, encouraging, and I just had the most amazing chat with him. I can’t wait to experience more of that at FinCon in Orlando this September!
Day 10, I wanted to check out more sights that were recommended to me, so I walked to Pier 51 to catch the Ferry to Bainbridge Island for $8.35 (round-trip).
The ride over & back were the most enjoyable part for me, because I arrived so early in the morning that most, if not all, of the local shops had not opened for the day (around 10-10:30AM). In fact, I hopped back on the return ferry by 10:25 and made it back to Seattle by 11. After that, I used up the last ticket in my CityPass to check out the Seattle Aquarium just a few piers away. In the early afternoon, I went back to the hotel to shower up and pack my bag so I could check out of the hotel room by 2pm (late checkout granted for my World of Hyatt Discoverist status). I left my bag with the front desk, and took the Link over to the University of Washington campus to check it out.
After walking around campus for about an hour, I went back to the hotel, grabbed my bag, and took the Link to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Arriving at the airport 7 hours before my flight was not ideal, but I was able to once again use my Priority Pass Select to gain entry to an airport lounge with free snacks and beverages. The Priority Pass app shows 5 lounges that we are supposedly able to access, but the Alaska Airlines lounges had signs at the entrance that said they were not accepting Priority Pass holders that day. So I walked up and down every terminal (C, D, B and then A) except N & S, and counted at least 10 airport lounges in that airport. I finally gained access to The CLUB at SEA where I spent a couple hours charging my devices, listening to a podcast, called my grandma (awww) and took advantage of somde free snacks.
At the end of Day 10, at one minute until midnight(!) I flew on a JetBlue flight in Mint class (first class with a lay-flat seat) to Boston. I booked the flight using JetBlue TrueBlue points, only 33,700 points, when that class was listed on other flights the same day for 70,000-110,000 points). I figured for my first-ever Red-Eye flight, it was a good idea to trade-up for some comfort, and I really wanted to check out Mint, anyway.
Arriving in Boston on Day 11, I will use some additional Hyatt points (15,000/night) at the Hyatt Regency Boston in downtown. Unfortunately I was about 1900 points shy of having the 15,000 needed for my second night, so I transferred 2,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points at a 1:1 transfer ratio to Hyatt from my accumulated Chase points (reminder: I have Chase Sapphire Reserve, Freedom and Freedom Unlimited, and I transfer all of my rewards to my Sapphire Reserve points balance to allow the points transfers to Chase’s travel partners). I was pretty exhausted from the overnight travel, but I did manage to walk 2+ miles to Fenway Park to take the tour of a sports and cultural icon, with some amazing views of the city.
Day 12, having caught up on sleep, I set out for a day of exploring. I had previously visited Boston in 2003, on a family trip before I turned 21, so I knew I had to stop at Cheers and have an adult beverage. I checked out the Freedom Trail and walked over to Bunker Hill and the USS Constitution. I also killed at least an hour watching various street performers in the Quincy Market area. I explored Chinatown a little bit and grabbed a local hard cider to go along with my dinner.
Day 13, I took the Silver Line MBTA bus to Boston-Logan International airport for $2.75 instead of the $23 and change that I paid a (terrible) Uber drive on Day 11 morning when I arrived in Boston. For my return flight to Southwest Florida (RSW airport), I used 8,600 TrueBlue points from JetBlue. I had these points plus the Day 10 red-eye flight points from the Barclays JetBlue Plus card, which came with a 40,000 point bonus for spending only $1,000 in 90 days. I forgot that the card also gives me a 10% refund on award redemptions, so I ended up getting over 4,000 TrueBlue points back into my account (over $80 worth at 2c a piece).
So I share this whole story to say that I went overboard on a 13 day trip to celebrate the end of my previous job. I worked in a position that was effectively a full-time temp for almost 3.5 years. Due to this work status, I did not have any paid holidays or vacation time in that time, so I had this pent-up urge to hit the road, skies and rails to see more of this magnificent country. I could probably do without the overwhelming scent of weed/pot in the various cities/states I visited, but that only minimally reduced my enjoyment of these fine places. I’m excited to be moving into a position where I will be earning a standard 2 weeks of vacation and 11 paid holidays to help me get back on the road moving forward. I’m glad I had the opportunity to bank all of these various points so I could use them in this blowout trip around the US. Many in the travel-hacking community chirp the mantra of “earn and burn” or “churn and burn,” because there are constant devaluations occurring in the many points & miles programs. But for someone like me, there were zero opportunities to use the points/miles over the past 3 years (except for a few quick trips “home” to Indiana for the holidays) so the points were worthless to me until I could actually use them. And it was SOOO worth it once I could actually use them on a trip that will be in my memory bank until the day I die.