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HOWTO: Redeeming American Airlines AAdvantage Miles or Chase Ultimate Rewards for Los Angeles to Alaska

Posted 19 December, 2012 at 3:40pm by Michael Chu
(Filed under: Credit Cards, Travel) 1 comment

A couple of my relatives posed an interesting question to me the other day and I realized it had a complex answer that wasn't easy for me to explain over the phone. I thought a blog post might be just the thing since I could easily provide pictures and tables without worrying about what their email client does. They live in the LA area and have some American Airlines miles accumulated and, more recently, Chase Ultimate Rewards points which they can transfer to airlines because they have a Chase Sapphire Preferred card. Since I was the one who convinced them to get the Sapphire Preferred card in the first place, naturally, they asked me how to use those points since they were mostly familiar with using American Airlines miles for redemptions.

I recommended Chase Sapphire Preferred because Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) points do not transfer to American, but instead transfer to United, Avios (British Airways), Korean Air, and Southwest. This allows them to diversify their miles to provide some more options when American isn't the best deal or isn't flying at the best times for them. The best part is that by redeeming Avios points through British Airways for domestic flights, they can get an American Airlines (oneworld alliance) or Alaska Airline (partner) award if they need it.

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HOWTO: Redeeming American Airlines AAdvantage Miles or Chase Ultimate Rewards for Los Angeles to Alaska

Las Vegas: The $20 Tip

Posted 20 July, 2011 at 4:42am by Michael Chu
(Filed under: Travel) No comments

I don't know if it's a bribe or a tip, but I can personally attest that slipping the check-in representative a $20 bill (folded and handed to her when she asks for ID and credit card) and asking, "Are there any complimentary upgrades available?" really does work in Las Vegas. From everything that I've read, this is one of the few cities where this trick does work. I did it on a busy tourist weekend (July 4th, 2011) and got a smile and an "of course!" as a response. The $20 bill disappeared and I had the choice of whether or not to stay in The Venetian as I previously booked or move to the quieter Venezia Tower (warning, there is no WiFi there) or to the even more luxurious Palazzo. We ended up going from the standard Luxury room at The Venetian (650 sq ft suite, 32-in flat screen TV and 17-in flat screen TV in the bathroom) to a Strip View Luxury room at The Palazzo (720 sq ft suite, 42-in flat screen TV in front of the bed, 32-in flat screen TV in the living room, and 20-in flat screen TV in the bathroom) for our entire stay. (Obviously, the longer the stay the more of a deal the $20 upgrade tip is worth.) (I spent some time on my last trip in a room in the Venezia Tower and it isn't as nice as The Palazzo. There's something luxurious about being able to control the curtains on the other side of the enormous suite with a remote control - something not offered in the Venezia Tower room I visited.)

What happens if there are no upgrades available (such as during a busy convention)? I don't have any experience in this, but from everything I've read, you get your $20 back. So if you're staying longer than one night and there are rooms worth upgrading to (for example, I wouldn't do this if I was staying at the Imperial Palace in a Deluxe room as the next level up is a "love" room with mirrors on the ceiling and probably very well used beds), it's certainly worth a try.

Las Vegas: How to get from The Palazzo to Venezia Tower quickly and from The Venetian to Walgreens without getting in the sun

Posted 19 July, 2011 at 4:25pm by Michael Chu
(Filed under: Travel) 1 comment

I recently stayed at The Palazzo for several nights and found that I wanted to minimize the time I spent walking around the casino floor. I'm not a big fan of walking through gaming areas because they are loud, crowded, and smokey. The Palazzo's casino is actually really nice compared to most of the other hotels because the pathways are quite wide and smoking is only allowed at the games (but many people don't heed the signs and just walk around with lit cigarettes… plus, smoke travels through the air and no one told the air to stay at the tables and machines). Because of my plans, I found myself walking from my room in The Palazzo to the Venezia Tower on the other end of The Venetian several times a day. By the end of the second day, I had found "optimal" paths through the massive complex. It was also 110°F outside and the sun could blister and burn skin in a matter of seconds, so I really didn't want to go outside if I could help it. I'm also a firm believer in stocking up on supplies at a drugstore like CVS or Walgreens whenever I travel for the necessities (water, mouthwash, rubbing alcohol, and other things you aren't able to bring on planes with you anymore). We asked several different employees from the front desk to a bell boy to the concierge and the directions we were given all involved going outside into the sun and walking along either the side of The Palazzo or along Las Vegas Blvd if coming from The Venetian side. By the end of the first day, we figured out how to get from within The Palazzo/Venetian complex to the Walgreens without exposing ourselves to the sun and being outdoors (in the shade) for about half a minute.

Note: All of these paths are reversable. To go the other way, just follow the directions backwards. I list them in the direction that I walked the most often and is easiest for me to remember. It's a good idea to walk them once in the direction I've written them down so going backward is more recognizable.

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Las Vegas: How to get from The Palazzo to Venezia Tower quickly and from The Venetian to Walgreens without getting in the sun

Driving to Texas and Biodiesel Planning

Posted 14 April, 2009 at 2:09pm by Michael Chu
(Filed under: Travel) 2 comments

In two days, I start driving for Texas in my Volkswagen Jetta TDI. I've been running Biodiesel (B99 - 99% biodiesel, 1% petroleum diesel blend) for the last three years, and I'd prefer to run on as much biodiesel as possible while I drive to Texas. I have a few constraints though - it won't be time efficient for me to pick up biodiesel on the way to Texas, so I'll only have what I carry with me (two 5-gallon fuel cans of biodiesel). Because of the angle of the opening to the fuel tank on my Jetta, I can't maneuver the fuel can to get more than about 4.5 gallons out. The last 1/2 gallon is stuck in the can. Also, for emissions reasons, I'd like to run as close to B20 (20% biodiesel) or higher as possible. The last constraint is that I can't get fuel again before I leave (the fueling coop that I belong to isn't providing fuel again until Thursday evening and I leave Thursday morning) and I have 2/3 of my tank full of B99 right now.

I could run B99 for as long as possible (about 850 miles) but then I'd be running pure petroleum diesel for the rest of the trip. Here's the plan that I've worked out:
- Fuel up in Santa Clara with petroleum diesel before driving to my parents' home in Los Angeles. After fueling, I'll be running approximately B66.
- After spending the night at my parents' home, fuel up in LA with petroleum diesel without adding additional biodiesel. B29
- Drive to Tucson, AZ where I add 1/2 a can of biodiesel (2.5 gallons) and then top off with petroleum diesel. B22
- Drive to Las Cruces, NM where I spend the night. Drive to El Paso, TX, where I pour the rest of that biodiesel fuel into the tank (about 2 gallons). Fill up with petroleum diesel. B20
- Drive to San Antonio where I pour in another 2.5 gallons of biodiesel and top off with petroleum diesel. B20
- Drive to Austin with 13-14 gallons of B20 left in the tank and 3 gallons of B99 in fuel cans.
This method should allow me to have some time to run on biodiesel while in Austin as I look for a new source of biodiesel.

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Driving to Texas and Biodiesel Planning

Wednesday Photo: Yosemite Falls at Night (Yosemite National Park, California)

Posted 11 March, 2009 at 9:30am by Michael Chu

This shot was taken at a quarter past 10pm. I exposed the image for 30 seconds which was much too long for a Nikon D100. Sensor noise more or less dominates the image.
Yosemite Falls at Night (Yosemite National Park, California)
Tripod, 30 sec at f/4.0 on ISO 800, 28-200mm f/3.5-5.6 lens

Photo of the Week: Manhattan at Night from the Empire State Building

Posted 1 March, 2009 at 9:30am by Michael Chu

Times Square (top right) is unmistakable when looking north from the observation deck of the Empire State Building - it's a giant bright blue beacon. Also brightly lit is the monolithic slab of the GE Building (top right). If it wasn't so cold up there, I could stay staring for hours (that's probably an exaggeration, I get bored easily… so several minutes at least!)
Manhattan at Night from the Empire State Building
Supported, 1/5 sec at f/2.8 on ISO 100, 17-35mm f/2.8 lens

Wednesday Photo: Zabriski Point, Death Valley National Park, California

Posted 25 February, 2009 at 9:30am by Michael Chu
(Filed under: Photography, Travel) 2 comments

I remember hiking for several hours with my friend Jeremy through caverns, over hills, along dry river beds, and finally climbing up over these rocks to get to this location - Zabriski Point - only to find a parking lot with 5 or six cars and a dozen tourists taking pictures. I remember say something like "I thought you said the hike was the only way to get here! We could have driven here?" and Jeremy said, "I wanted you to go on the hike." Can't help smiling at that memory.
Zabriski Point, Death Valley National Park, California
Tripod, unrecorded exposure on Velvia 50, 28-200mm f/3.5-5.6 lens

Photo of the Day: Snow Covered Trees

Posted 11 November, 2008 at 9:30am by Michael Chu
(Filed under: Travel) No comments

I believe I took this picture while pulled over on the side of the highway waiting for the roads to clear on the way to Lake Tahoe.
Snow Covered Trees
Handheld, 1/80 sec at f/4.2 on ISO 200, 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6 lens

Moaning Cavern and Black Chasm Cavern

Posted 14 June, 2008 at 10:09pm by Michael Chu
(Filed under: Travel) 4 comments

Tina and I took her parents to a couple of caverns in Califonia's Gold Country. We first went to Black Chasm Cavern but found out the entire area didn't have any power (so no bathrooms were available there and almost everything in the town of Volcano was closed). They were still giving tours, but with flashlights. I was all for going on the flashlight tour, but Tina and her parent's thought it would be better to move on to a town with power (so we could get some food) and to Moaning Cavern. (I called ahead to make sure they had power - they did.)

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Moaning Cavern and Black Chasm Cavern

American Airlines Potato Chips

Posted 17 April, 2008 at 4:47am by Michael Chu
(Filed under: Travel) 3 comments

While on the flight to Austin, Texas, I bought what I thought was going to be the most over priced bag of potato chips ever - $3. What I got was surprising:

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American Airlines Potato Chips

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