As you know, this has been mostly a "deals" focused blog. But, as you may have gathered, my interests have broadened into ways to make travel more affordable (and/or comfortable). In some circles this is known as "travel hacking."
|ships lined up to go through Panama Canal from window of plane|
As with most things on this blog, this is going to skew towards being targeted at beginners or non-participants in this space (experts be warned). And also to serve as a "justification" & explanation of why & what I made this trip ... so that maybe I don't have to tell the story in as much depth multiple times to curious family/friends/readers.
The Trip Details:
Some key details upfront. First, I made this trip in less than 48 hours (assuming the last leg of my flight home from Chicago, where I am now, doesn't get delayed!) over a weekend, so I didn't have to take any time off from work. Certainly my personal/family time has value, but arguably not as much as a day off from work! Second, the trip was all flown in First or Business Class on American Airlines (some US Airways planes - as they were just acquired by AA), so I traveled in comfort.
|waiting to get on red-eye from PDX on yet-to-be-converted-to-AA US Air plane|
|a view of Miami from the sky|
I traveled alone on this trip and had hoped to connect with an old classmate, but that didn't happen unfortunately. But he was nice enough to give me his opinions on what to do. Of course, seeing the Panama Canal is on that list, but I'm saving that for a later date (!!!). So I went to the Biomuseo, or Biodiversity Museum, and the Casco Viejo historic district of Panama City. I could write at length about both of these, but there's already lots of better write-ups you could read by Google'ing either. But I will share some photos ...
|animals that crossed the Panama land bridge - at BioMuseo|
|Plaza de la Catedral and Iglesia Catedral in Casco Veijo neighborhood|
|view of downtown Panama City from Casco|
|Iglesia La Merced|
WHY do this trip? (i.e. - the "deal" angle):
It's going to be impossible to go into great detail on anything here, so I'll just scratch the surface and you can feel free to contact me via email or twitter with any questions. This (unfortunately) is not a how-to tutorial, as many aspects of this "deal" are no longer available. But great deals come around from time-to-time, so maybe it piques your interest to learn more for future opportunities. Or maybe it will just confirm for you that I'm crazy.
The primary driver behind this trip (and a nearly identical one I'll be taking in a few weeks - stay tuned for "part 2") were 3 factors:
1) Going after the HIGHEST level American Airlines status! On a total whim (but acting fast - as is often the key in this "game"!), I recently signed up for an American Airlines "fast track" (to elite status) promotion that my friend Shawn posted at Miles to Memories. As you can read there, it allows a person to earn AA status for flying FAR less miles than usual. I won't go into many details here, but there's some great benefits to having elite status (and especially so at higher levels), most notably earning extra miles (when you fly) and the ability to get upgraded to first class even when flying on cheap economy fares. A key factor towards this aspect of the deal is that travelers earn at least 1.5x "elite qualifying" miles/points (won't get into the distinction here) when flying first class on AA.
|mmmm ... first class breakfast ... better than it looks! :)|
[UPDATE: Forgot to note that I'm also going to be earning over 40k AA miles on these two trips, as you earn miles on Citi ThankYou or Chase Ultimate Rewards trips. Usually you don't earn miles on "reward" bookings, at least ones made directly with airlines. So those 40k+ AA miles I'm earning offsets a good chuck of the ThankYou points I used to book my two trips to Panama!]
|spa at the Miami Centurion lounge - nice complimentary back massage!|
[UPDATE 2: I just had my first-ever ice cream sundae in the sky. Typically served with dinners in first class on AA flights. Just made it all worthwhile! :) ]
|where I am now ... watching football in the Chicago airport AA Admirals lounge|