It’s been another busy year for us; working full-time while maximizing all the travel opportunities that present themselves and also seeking them out. It is always a challenge for us to balance visiting all the places we are interested in but also to visit the places where the return on investment for miles and points is the highest. In this post, we share some highlights of our 2019 travels.
Best Flight Rewards Redemption: Japan Airlines First Class for 70,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Miles
We redeemed 70,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles to fly in JAL First Class from SFO – San Francisco International Airport to HND – Tokyo Haneda International Airport in Tokyo and in business class from NRT – Tokyo Narita International to CGK – Jakarta International. All those travel blogs will tell you this is something you can book, but it’s not always available and after years of trying, we final found 2 tickets. Since there are only 9 seats in First Class, it is very rare to find more than 1 ticket and for the booking to go through but we did and it was amazing! The hard products is old and outdated but the service and food/beverage was great; we got to try Salon champagne that retails for about $750CAD in Canada (if you can find it). We have found one route that has JAL First Class availability consistently but we are not posting it online as that is a sure way to make sure the deal is no longer available. First rule about Fight Club: Don’t talk about Fight Club! …this applies to rewards travel deals!
Best Hotel Rewards Redemption: Westin Hapuna on the Big Island of Hawaii
We’ve been so lucky to be able to book the Westin Hapuna with points when it was 35,000 Marriot points; it’s now usually 60,000 Marriott points other than when it is slow season which is not often in Hawaii. Not only is this resort’s location stunning but the benefits for Marriott Titaniums are pretty great too. We got the best value of this redemption over Christmas, when rooms were going for $700USD +. Even if the resort was full and sold out, it never felt crowded and they have an adults pool too if screaming kids aren’t your thing. We were upgraded to a nice ocean view room and chose breakfast as our benefit which was delicious and we’d splurge for it due to how good the food is.
Our Longest Flight: Turkish Airlines from DPS – Denpasar to IST – Istanbul Airport
Our longest flight of the year was on Turkish Airlines from DPS – Ngurah Rai International Airport to IST – Istanbul Airport, to catch a flight to RAK – Marrakesh Menara. Clocking in at about 14 hours and 6,431 miles, it was a long flight indeed but enjoyed in comfort on the new Turkish Airlines’ 787 business class product. This was also one of our longest days of travel as we were in 3 continents that day; Asia, Europe and Africa.
Our Shortest Trip: One Night in Marfa Texas
We’d seen Marfa featured on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown “West Texas” episode and it seemed like an interesting place that was difficult to visit though from where we are from…until we found some really cheap tickets on Alaska Airlines to El Paso from Seattle and back. We hopped on a red-eye flight from SEA – Seattle to DFW- Dallas Fort Worth and an American Airlines flight to ELP – El Paso before hopping into a rental car and driving about 2.5 hours to Marfa to spend the night. It was one of our adrenaline fueled mileage run weekends that you don’t fully grasp until you’re back home and reflecting on it.
Our Shortest International Trip: 1 Night in Tijuana Mexico:
During our past visits to San Diego, we had always been curious about making the trek to Tijuana but never did. Recently, we watched “Tijuana Taco Crawl”, an episode of the PBS cooking show “Mexico – One Plate at a Time” with Chef Rick Bayless and this piqued our interest in visiting Tijuana due to our love of tacos and how much we enjoy spending time in Mexico. So on a trip to San Diego, we walked across the border, explored TJ, and spent the night before heading back to San Diego to fly back to Vancouver. Overall, we have no regrets about making the trip and have fond memories of it; the people were friendly and helpful, the food and craft beer scene was outstanding, and it was much cheaper than spending time in San Diego.
Our Longest Trip: Around the World #6
Our longest trip had us travel around the globe to enjoy time in Tokyo, Japan; Bali, Indonesia; Marrakesh, Morocco; and Porto, Portugal over the course of 20 days. We flew on 12 flights for a total of 25,437 miles on Japan Airlines, Garuda Indonesia, Turkish Airlines, TAP Portugal, and Air Canada. It was definitely a challenge to pack only carry-on for this trip, but we pulled it off and it helped us in the long run too.
Favorite Big City Destination: Tokyo Japan
We didn’t get to visit that many big cities this year but Tokyo was by far our favorite. We were also surprised at how much more we liked Tokyo than we thought we would. People either seem to love it or hate it and we liked it enough to want to go back!
Destination Where We Spent the Most Time: Hawaii
Between weekend trips and a long Christmas/New Year’s Vacation, we spent the most time in the Hawaiian Islands. Our recent trip had us pending 5 nights on the Big Island and another 7 on Kauai. We also visited a few other times throughout the year.
We were very lucky to book 5 nights at the Westin Hapuna not only using points but at the old rate of 35,000. We also found a similar deal at the Sheraton Coconut Beach on Kauai for 20,000 points for a 7 night stay; the new value is 35,000-40,000 points. We also had this booked way before the Points Guy posted about it online, FYI (we do find other blogs helpful but often we find our own things too and feel it’s worthy to note here).
Most Unique Hotel Feature: Reverberation Radio at The Slow in Canggu
Yes, the private pool was a great feature in our room at The Slow in Canggu but Reverberation Radio, a series of podcasts that featured unique music from around the world was really enjoyable. All you needed to do was turn up the radio and you could hear the music throughout the room and the pool area. It really added to the ambiance and also blocked out some of the street noise. We came home with new musicians to support and follow too. And yes, this was the first ever podcast we ever heard! Read our detailed review of our stay at The Slow!
The Best Room Upgrade: Marriott Waikiki Beach Resort Spa
Gone are the days of generous suite upgrades through the Hyatt program but we did get a very nice room upgrade at theWaikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa on one of the top floors in the renovated wing with great view of the sunset. That being said, we did have to use a Marriott Bonvoy Suite Upgrade certificate to secure a better room category than we booked. We chose a better room in the renovated over a suite that could have been on a lower floor in the un-renovated section of the hotel since the extra space would have been wasted on us.
The Most Unique Place We Stayed: Farmersdotter in Cawston British Columbia Canada
We came across Farmersdotter on AirBnB when planning a visit to the Okanagan Valley. Located in the Similkameen Valley, it’s close enough to all the spots we like in Osoyoos, Oliver, and Penticton while also making is possible for us to visit what this stunning and lesser-known wine region has to offer. Farmersdotter has 2 tiny home cottages to rent on their garlic farm where they also bake the best sourdough bread we’ve ever had in our lives. The landscape is so bucolic and the setting so quiet, it beats staying at a hotel or inns on the other side of the mountain. The cottages themselves are well designed and very comfortable, making it one of our favorite styles of accommodations, rustic luxury. If you are out this way, check out Orofino and Corcelettes for great wine!
Our Worst Hotel Experience: The Westin Cozumel
It was a toss-up between the Westin Cozumel and the Sarasota Modern but getting our room 2 hours after check-in and not having running water or brown water to shower in at the Westin Cozumel was worse than not being able to use the pool at the Sarasota Modern despite paying a hefty resort fee because of all the kids’ birthday parties booked on weekends.
The Most Cultural Experience: Marrakesh Morocco
The confluence of all the cultures and influences here made Marrakesh Morocco by far the most new experience for us from a cultural perspective and it was also our first time in Africa. The old city, the Medina of Marrakesh was a maze of wonders and mystery, as was visiting the Musee de Confluences with its architecture and history. We also got to stay in a renovated home, a riad called Dar Kandi which gave us a glimpse into life there.
Our Favorite Meal: Ulekan in Canggu Bali
We love Balinese/Indonesian food and Ulekan served up our favorite meals of the year; we ate here 3 times when we were in Bali! Everything we had was delicious, high quality, and very flavorful. We were also really impressed by the Balinese dancers that perform during dinner too to promote the culture of the island.
The Best Breakfasts: Smoothie Bowls in Bali
It was tough choice between the breakfasts at the Westin Hapuna but the smoothie bowls in Bali are unlike anything we’ve ever had. We’ve been so fortunate to have breakfast at so many places but it was truly the fresh fruit smoothie bowls we had in Bali that were the most memorable. We liked the flavors the best at the Shady Shack but the mandala designs at were so unique at Café Vida.
Our Worst Meal: Nomad in Marrakesh
This was an example of a place with a stunning setting but mediocre food, sorry Nomad! The vibe was also not pleasant due to how everyone was just there to be on their phones. Not fun to have someone almost fall on you as they stretch to film an Instagram Story video while you’re eating and drinking hot tea.
The Most Dangerous Things We Did: Renting a Scooter in Bali
We have been wanting to do this for years but always lacked the courage but this time, we decided to rent a scooter to get around in Bali. As experienced scooter drivers in Canada, nothing can prepare you for the chaos and rules of don’t stop just go in Bali. From scooting down the infamous Canggu shortcut to another shortcut with loose stones and steep incline, there were more scary moments than enjoyable ones. The worst part of it though were dealing with the Australians who had no regard for anything and did very unsafe things that put everyone’s safety at risk. Overall, one of those really fun things that we will never do again!
The Scariest Part of Travel: Taxis
We try to support taxis but time and time again, they are the source of our worst experiences when traveling; they’re terrifying! The drivers always drive too fast and not only put our lives at risk but the life of others. We never have issues like this when we use Uber or Lyft! We debate about which taxi ride was the scariest; the one in Bali from the airport to Canggu or the one from the airport to our hotel in downtown Porto…both has erratic speeds, weaving, and slamming of brakes beyond what should be allowed.
The Most Surprising Destination: Guadalajara Mexico
We found cheap tickets on Alaska Airlines to visit Guadalajara, Mexico’s 2nd largest city for a long weekend. We were not quite sure what to expect but really enjoyed walking around to enjoy good strong coffee, ate all kinds of delicious food like birria and chilaquiles so delicious we still dream about them, saw José Clemente Orozco’s murals at Hospicio Cabañas, and stayed at a great boutique hotel called Casa Habita in the Lafayette neighbourhood. This was also the place where the Mexican people we met were the most welcoming when it came to helping us practice conversing in Spanish.
The Most Disappointing Destination: Canggu Bali
We’ve loved Canggu for years and would venture here to escape the scene in Seminyak but it’s changed, and not for the better. Unregulated development and a surge in popularity have changed this one sleepy low-key town into a full-fledged party destination for debauchery where over-tourism is affecting everyone. There used to be remnants of Bali here in the rice fields and the atmosphere but it’s pretty much just another Seminyak or Kuta now; the rice fields and agriculture are disappearing, the clubs are popping up, and massive hotels are being built in places that are sacred to local people.
The Most Frustrating Travel Experience: Connecting through SEA – Seattle Tacoma Airport
Endless flow control delays, lack of gates, ending up at the N-gates, outage of the C gates train, lack of Priority Pass Lounge options, and the never ending waiting times to get into the American Express Centurion Lounge have made connecting through Seattle, our most traveled airport stressful and daunting. We have also had to run to make connection more often than we should, even with 2 hours between flights here making it a very stressful airport for us to travel through but since Alaska Airlines keeps cutting service to YVR – Vancouver, we don’t have much of a choice. Thankfully, we’ve been able to use the new Alaska Airlines Lounge at the N-gates the last few times we’ve flown through here.
Our Favorite Cold Weather Destination: Porto, Portugal
We prefer to spend time in warm destinations or to visit colder destinations when they are warm but we couldn’t pass up spending a few days in Porto, Portugal this November even if it would be colder than most of the other destinations we visited. We bundled up and did our best to walk around the city, which we enjoyed immensely. It also helped that our hotel, Cocorico Luxury Guesthouse in Porto had an amazing shower room that kept in all the steam and heat and had a nice bath to warm up after long days of walking and exploring. We also enjoyed good meal indoors at Cervejaria Gazella and Taberna Dos Mercadores, and had Portuguese tarts and strong black coffee too. We will be posting about our time in Porto soon!
Place with the Weirdest Vibe: New Mexico
We spent a long weekend checking out Albuquerque and Santa Fe in New Mexico. The scenery is pretty stunning and we found the people friendly but it just felt weird here. Maybe it is the altitude, the wide open spaces, the scenery, the grit, and the fame from Breaking Bad but it’s just a place we had more trouble getting to know compared to other places we have visited. We did have fun and enjoyed our visit and would definitely come back, especially to visit Santa Fe as some of the museums were closed while we were there and Meow Wolf was sold out. We did have a memorable stay the El Vado, at a renovated motel on Route 66 in Albuquerque and a great meal at Paper Dosa in Santa Fe. We also got to try Gruet sparkling wine, which is actually produced in New Mexico, which we quite enjoyed.
Our Travel in Figures:
We don’t keep track of how many countries we visit but we did visit 2 new ones this year and 7 in total: United States, Barbados, Mexico, Japan, Indonesia, Morocco, Portugal.
Jason flew 141, 517 miles. Maxine flew 125,996 miles.
We are behind on blog posts but we will be posting reviews of our flights on Japan Airlines, Turkish Airlines, TAP Portugal, Air Canada; update blog posts with tips for Hawaii; share tips about visiting Porto Portugal; a summary of our disappointment in Canggu; and reviews of our stays at The Slow in Canggu Bali, the Sheraton Coconut Beach Resort, and the Cocorico Luxury Guesthouse in Porto Portugal soon! Thanks for following along this year!
What are some of your travel milestones this year?
- Our Trip To Tokyo: 7 Things We Learned
- Review: The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort, Big Island Hawaii
- Stay: A Review of the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa
- Weekend Trip to Marfa in West Texas
- Visiting Marrakech in Morocco: 13 Tips
- Stay: A Review of Dar Kandi Boutique Hotel in Marrakesh
- Review: Farmersdotter Air BnB Cawston British Columbia
- Destination Guide: Okanagan Valley in British Columbia
- Overtourism: Did “Eat Pray Love” Ruin Bali?
- Indulge: Indonesian Food in Ubud Bali
- Plan: Flying out of PAE – Paine Field on Alaska Airlines
- Review: Alaska Airlines Lounge SEA-TAC North Satellite Terminal
- 4 Days in Cozumel: A Travel Guide
- Stay: Review of Casa Habita in Guadalajara
- Visit Guadalara in Mexico: 10 Tips to Plan Your Trip
- Review: Sarasota Modern, A Tribute Portfolio Hotel
- Review: El Vado Motel in Albuquerque New Mexico
- Review: Texican Court in Irving Texas
- Top 15 Destinations in 15 Years: Our List