Friday, September 11, 2009

We're back from the Lone Star State!

Almost a week now since we got back from our Labor Day trip to San Antonio and Austin, Lone Star State (TX). We had a great time and thought that it would be appropriate to share the highlights of it with everyone. So on Friday pre-Labor Day, we left our jobs early (Friday European style baby!) and headed for the airport, and that in itself is already awesome. The flight through Dallas to Austin was average; although I gotta say that the pilot could have used a few more trainings in the landing dept…not exactly smooth operating. We arrived, collected out bags and headed for the car rental place, conveniently located across the from the baggage claim. It was late so we got on the road to San Antonio, where we were to spend our first 2 nights, and began admiring the Lone Star’s wonders next to the highway.

Among the motels, Wal-Mart’s, gas stations and fast-food joints common to American highways, we ran across mega churches, anti-abortion signs with white crosses around them, a snake farm and a warehouse-looking place called “Zone d’Erotica” painted pink. Upon arrival we were famished, but at 2am there are only so many places offering a meal in a town like San Antonio. So we ended up having late night breakfast at the reliable Denny’s. Nothing like the feeling of ingesting French toast and bacon with maple syrup in the middle of the night. Finally we checked into the Westin Riverwalk (very nice establishment but no robes or slippers in room to enjoy) for the next two nights.

In the morning we headed to the historic King William district for breakfast at the locally owned “Madhatter’s” tea house and restaurant. After a satisfying breakfast we checked out the old German neighborhood with its Southern-style mansions. With the humidity and heat rising, we returned to downtown where we got in line to check out the Alamo (free admission). We even got a chance to listen to a right-wing Christian lunatic preaching about how we are all going to hell for how we live our liberal, sordid, God-less lives….quite a treat on a hot Saturday afternoon. The Alamo was ok, interesting, if you have a good imagination, but it has nothing inside to really swoon over. Outside, the grounds (also free) are probably more interesting and the huge (over a foot long) orange-white Asian koi in the water outside were quite cool. Then it was off to admire the wonders of taxidermy at the Buckhorn saloon, and finally off to lunch at Rosarios. We felt fantastic good after white fish ceviche, tilapia tacos and awesome margaritas, which I highly recommend if you are ever around San Antonio. La Villita (old art district in downtown) was next, and an informational Riverwalk channel boat ride. Boat ride was nice and refreshing, except for the petulant child that kept kicking Patrick in the leg for the longest time before his over-done-up mother noticed anything.

That evening, after strolling the arts & craft stands along the Riverwalk, we headed for dinner at Biga on the Banks. We dined on the balcony, in the pleasant evening breeze, sipping a local Viognier. After an entire day of being quite active we thought that another stroll around town would be appropriate, because no trip for Nadia and Patrick is complete without experiencing utter exhaustion.

Sunday morning we ventured to the more suburban parts of San Antonio to have a Tex-Mex brunch at Paloma Blanca. Having filled out stomachs, we checked out three missions (San Jose, Espada and Concepcion) which were very cool and truly felt like a trip back in time. Next, on our trek to Austin, Patrick decided that he wanted to visit two old-school towns (New Braunfels & Gruene) set up by Germans (mainly for the bakery) but unfortunately New Braunfels’s famous Naegele bakery was closed for the weekend and Gruene did not exist as far as we could tell. The precise reason for this was the fact that our GPS system led us to an open field with bushes and announced that we had “arrived” in the town. Classic! :) We thought, oh well and moved on to the largest outlet store mall in San Marcos, we had ever seen. Patrick was hoping for some hip cowboy boots at the rodeo store but the prices were not exactly right. He did score a shirt and sweater at the Express outlet for a total of $12 (retail total $110) so it was a win-win. Confronted with few suitable food options again, we replenished our energy somewhat with frosties from Wendy’s and watermelon-flavor shaved ice.

We checked into our hotel in Austin later that early evening, and then headed to check out the UT campus (with its humongous football stadium) before going to dinner at Uchi, an extraordinary Japanese restaurant. The place was packed, and the service too slow for our starved, tired bodies but the food was excellent. After dinner we headed back to downtown where we checked out the lively scene of bars and live music on 6th street. While Austin during the day is not much of a sight, the nightlife scene is great and anyone would be sufficiently entertained.

Monday morning, we had a quick breakfast at the hotel coffee shop called Java Jive, although it is simply a Starbucks in different clothing. Then headed to the Texas state Capitol building (with way too many photos of Dubya) and then to lunch. Of course, finding The Roaring Fork Restaurant, in suburban Austin was not an easy feat among the endless business parks without clear street numbers but we made it. Enjoyed some gourmet burgers on the river, chatted with a pleasant although somewhat annoying waitress and then back to the airport for our flight back to San Jose, CA. All in all, it was a good trip and if you like warm weather, good food and a little history, San Antonio and Austin are a great destination for you.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

American & United Double Elite Qualifying Miles

American brings back double elite qualifying miles through December 15 — the second time this year — REGISTER HERE.

United followed suit and announced the same thing today, Registration required for your choice of double qualifying miles or double qualifying segments, you have to pick and you can only choose one.

Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM) do not get you free flights but when you have enough you will get status with the Airline which entitles you to all kinds of perks! :)

Rental Cars

Since we have gold status at Hertz and preferred status at Avis those are our main two rental car providers for most of our trips. This Fall it seems Hertz edged out Avis due to better Mileage bonuses by Hertz with United. TIP: Always check your airline websites for rental car promotions - there's always a special offer or way to earn miles on your rental!!
Our previous trip to San Diego was lucrative since Avis offered 5000 Delta Skymiles for 2 day rentals.

A word of caution concerning Enterprise - apparently they are not taking the safety of their customers seriously since they just ordered 66000 Chevy Impalas without the standard side-curtain airbag. They save $175 per vehicle but it's detrimental to anyone riding in one of those cars. Enterprise won't get my business anytime soon because of this.....

San Antonio-Austin Trip - Labor Day weekend 2009

Nadia and me will be taking of to Austin/San Antonio tomorrow. As you might imagine a lot of planning has gone into this trip. We have mainly relied on a combination of Kayak and airline/hotel websites to get the best deal. Nadia still had a free hotel night certificate from a previous promotion with Starwood. Thus, we will be staying one night for free in San Antonio.

Otherwise, this fall we are actually paying for most of our trips in order to stock up enough points/miles for next years trips to Europe, Bahamas??? NYC??? - all this is still in the planning stages but the sooner one can start collecting miles, the better! :)

Citi AAdvantage - gotta love it....

If anyone was thinking Citi's incredible spread of credit cards that earn American Airlines miles isn't enough - never fear - there are now a total of 3 personal & 2 business cards, each of which can earn you 30K AAdvantage miles after spending ($750 - US Mint coin deal of couse!).

Citi® Platinum Select® / AAdvantage® World MasterCard, the Citi Select® / AAdvantage® American Express® card, the Citi Aadvantage Visa Card the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® MasterCard, and the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Visa® Card (go to for application) . After 95 days on biz cards from the posting of the first prchase, (65 days on personal cards) reapply again for the same cards and complete the same spend requirements to receive a second chunk of AA miles bonus. Until December 31st these cards (except for the Business Visa) offer 30,000 miles each. Most have $250-$750 minimum spend requirements -- use them for items would buy anyway (groceries, gas, etc.)Or the US Mint deal. PLEASE NOTE: You do NOT have to cancel your previous Citicards before applying for new ones.

As always - your credit is important so handle these offers with care. You should get your credit score (FREE as a trial) from many reporting agencies. If your score is above 750 you won't have any troubles. :)