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TPOL’s Out of the Office

I’m in Kokomo. Please don’t leave a message. a man in the water

Annual Fees: Worth Calling the Bank When I Know I Will Pay?

I keep a list of what I pay and spend in annual fees (see 2023 What I Spent (And Received) in Annual Fees). It pains me to open my wallet for such fees which is why I cancel cards without outsized perks. For other cards, like my Hyatt visa or my Chase Ink, I know I am not going to cancel them because they provide great value. I used to call Chase and say I was thinking about canceling to see if any offers would be made. In the early days, I would receive something. Now, I can’t be bothered to call. The question I have is whether I should call or at least make the attempt. And for those who do, please report any good results.
a multicolored building with many windows with Canterbury Cathedral in the background
My $95 annual fee for the Hyatt card paid for this in Milan.

I Blew It: Missing Blowholes in Samoa And Tuna in America

Missing It is part of the Bula! Fiji Hub Trip Report.
Are you ready for another Travel Lesson? This one is especially annoying but also not completely my fault. With limited time to explore the South Pacific before my Melbourne Residency, I only had time to visit Samoa for two days. There were two things I wanted to see in Samoa- 1. The blowholes. 2. Le Sua Ocean Trench. I didn’t do any research to see if it was logistically feasible to visit both in such a short period. Arriving in the late afternoon, I spent the first day relaxing at the Sheraton Samoa. which is located on the island of Upolu. The next day I learned that my goal of seeing both was impossible. To see the blowholes, I needed to take a ferry to Savaiʻi, the other island in Samoa. The problem was that it happened to be a Sunday, and there was only one ferry to Savaiʻi which left at 1 PM and returned at 3 PM (see Ferry Schedule here). This meant that I would have to stay overnight there. That was impossible because my flight back to Nadi en route to Kirabti left at 5:15 AM the next day. If it were a Monday, I could have taken the 6AM ferry, arrived at 8AM and then taken the 4PM ferry back. I still would have missed seeing Le Sua Ocean Trench, but at least I could have seen the blowholes, a natural marvel that I had purposefully skipped in Tonga (see Guns & Butter: Tonga Travel Guide) and saved for Samoa. Before embarking on this adventure, I also made the conscious decision to skip American Samoa (see TPOL Does the Unthinkable, Skips a ‘Country’). There were no affordable flights and it was logistically impossible. While my friend Lee Abbamonte said that there is not much to do in American Samoa besides smell the Starkist factory, the next time I’m so close to a ‘country’ (see Is Hawaii a Country?), I will take advantage of the proximity and smell it for myself. Travel Lessons  Based on the flights available, the only thing I could have done not to have these regrets would have been to skip Samoa completely and spend the two nights in Fiji. Alternatively, I could have stayed longer in Samoa and American Samoa and skipped Kiribati. Given the outsized points redemption, 20,000 Avios and $37 versus $1484 out-of-pocket one-way, and isolation of Kiribati (see Fiji to Kirabati: Now That’s a Great Use of Avios), that would have been a mistake. One thing is for sure, like my almost getting stranded experience in Cabo Verde (see Stuck on a Deserted Island? TPOL’s Trouble in Cabo Verde), I will devote at least two days on each island with an attraction that I want to see. This will account for logistical mishaps that may occur. Overall I have to fly all the way back to the South Pacific to visit both Savaiʻi and American Samoa. I will do so on my next residency in Sydney, Australia (see Why A Second Residency?) which is scheduled for the winter of 2025. Trotting is tough.
a man standing on rocks near water with palm trees
Oh no, I have to go back to Fiji.

Zemi Beach House Anguilla: Forget the View, Focus on the Taxes

Zemi Beach Taxes is part of the Birthday Bash Trip Report.
What is your favorite part of trip planning? Mine is putting together my Excel spreadsheet showing how much I saved versus how much someone who purchases Rimowa Luggage would spend. I have a dedicated page on my blog for these works of art (see Bus-Ted: TPOL Points & Cash Summary). As I was filling in the cells for this trip, I went to Hilton.com to see the retail price for a stay at Zemi Beach Anguilla. The cost of the stay would have been $4,076.99 for three nights. While that is shocking, what was more offensive were the taxes. a screenshot of a web page It’s an additional $866.76 in taxes, almost as much as one night. Money must not mean anything for those fancy luggage folk.

Silver Airways Anguilla to San Juan: Free & Direct

Silver Airways Booking is part of the Birthday Bash Trip Report.
On a quest to pad my Country Count List (see Where I’ve Been), I go on trips that never end (see Punxsutawney TPOL Trip Report). For my birthday, I did not have anything crazy in mind. I had already gone to Iraq for my 40th (see Iraqi Homecoming: My 40th Birthday in Baghdad) and am indifferent about whether I spend my money at home or on the road (see Intro: Birthday Bash Trip Report). From Anguilla, I was open to the possibility of going to another island, so long as it was convenient. When I went to Skyscanner.com and searched nonstop to anywhere, no options came back. When I went to Anguilla’s Wiki Airport page, I was overwhelmed by the number of options but underwhelmed by the non-points airlines that serviced the airport with nonstop flights (see Wiki Airports: Finding Flights to the Unbeaten Path). Curious, I wondered what a flight would cost from Anguilla back to Puerto Rico. To my surprise, Silver Airways offers nonstop service for only $138. In one hour, I could be back home, ready for golf the following day. On top of that, I used my annual Capital One Venture X travel credit to pay for the flight. Although I plan on Visiting Every Island in the Caribbean, I prefer to go for Carnival or wait until I have my own yacht. a map of the caribbean and the caribbean a close-up of a chart

Zemi Beach House Anguilla: 3 Nights vs. 5 Nights

3 Nights vs. 5 Nights is part of the Birthday Bash Trip Report.
I signed up for the Hilton Business Amex, met the minimum spend of 4k to receive the free night and met the minimum spend of 15k in a year to receive another free night. The aspirational redemption to maximize these certificates was at the Zemi Beach House Anguilla. What better way to spend my birthday than on a tropical paradise (see Intro: Birthday Bash Trip Report)? After reading the introduction to OMAAT’s review, I was persuaded that I should increase my stay from three nights to five nights to take advantage of the fifth free night which Hilton offers for points redemptions of that length. I went to the app and saw there was availability. I booked it. After reading the entire review, I went back and canceled the extra two nights and contemplated saving an additional 110,000 Hilton points by staying for two nights total. Ultimately, I went back to three. While the hotel looks nice, I don’t know what I would do for five nights. Lucky mentions walking on the beach. I can do this in my backyard in Rio Mar on one of the nicest beaches in the world, Las Picuas. Lucky also describes the restaurants in the hotel and says how expensive they are. What is worse than night after night of racking up a huge restaurant tab? Lucky also mentions renting a car. This is supposed to be a lazy trip, not one for exploration. Unfortunately, my ability to remain lazy lasts for a few hours, making a car rental compulsory. Finally, in my Travel Lessons, I write, “TPOL’s rule is to stay a maximum of three nights but preferably two nights in any city. Four nights in Tenerife is an eternity (Guns & Butter: Tenerife Travel Guide (Disappointed Edition).” Why write the rule if I’m not going to stick to it? Thank you Lucky for saving me 220,000 Hilton points. two bottles of beer on a towel on the beach

No Business Class San Juan to Medellin

No Business Class San Juan to Medellin is part of the Birthday Bash Trip Report.
There aren’t many direct international flights from Puerto Rico. My favorite one is Iberia to Madrid. I’ve flown it many times (see Una Vez Mas). Recently, Avianca started flying directly to Medellin. Remarkably, basic economy tickets can be purchased for as low as 7,000 LifeMile points. With an abundance of currencies that convert to LifeMiles, I figured it would be worth spending more for a business class flight. But, no matter what date I checked, I saw zero business class availability. How could this be, I wondered? Wondering did not provide a solution. Instead, I mustered up the courage and called Avianca to find out. Lately, the customer service has been quite good (contrast Avianca’s LifeMiles Chat Sucks: Are You Surprised?). I learned there are no business class seats on flights from Puerto Rico, and there are no business class seats on flights from Medellin to Miami, the next stop on my birthday trip. Ultimately, I spent 19,680 LifeMiles + $20 for a ticket that includes both a carry-on and checked-in bag. For a 2:40 minute flight, I can endure coach while saving my points.
a screenshot of a flight schedule
I will be going to Colombia more often on this route.
TPOL’s Tip: According to OMAAT, Avianca will fly business again.

Samaraa’s Minaret: The Intimidating Wind to the Top

Samaraa’s Minaret is part of the Iraq Homecoming Trip Report. Catch up on all the posts:
The first stop on the way to Mosul was Samarra, home to the most unique minaret in the world. The Great Mosque of Samarra was built in 848 but was destroyed following an invasion of Iraq in the 13th century, leaving the one-of-a-kind minaret as the main attraction. Before going to Samarra, I watched a YouTube video that made the trek to the top seem treacherous. I compliment the videographer for her skills but can assure you there is relatively no risk, minus selfie stupidity (see Beware of Selfie Death!).
a gate with a sign and a sign on it
After all the checkpoints, we arrived.
a man standing in front of a tall building
It quickly turned into a photoshoot.
a man standing in a desert with a tall tower
a large tower in a desert
The ominous bird in the desert.
a large stone building with a gate
Where the mosque used to be.
a stone steps with a city in the background
Living on the edge
a man standing on a roof with a city in the background
Classic Saddam pose
a man standing on a roof with his arms out
How’d I end up here?
a man sitting on a roof looking at a city a man sitting on a roof looking at a city
a stone steps leading up to a large square in a desert
Be careful going down
a man leaning against a railing
#neverscared
a man standing in front of a large tower
Photo of the day
a large tower made of bricks TPOL’s Trivia: The US used the minaret as a sniper tower to fight ISIS. TPOL’s Turbans: Looking to blend in while in Samarra, purchase your own Urban Turban.
a man standing in front of a large tower with Great Mosque of Samarra in the background
Rooted in Iraq and conceived in London, IQ Khameleon is the smart sportswear brand that blends culture with functionality.

Simply The Best: April 2024

You thought I Quit Blogging? You were wrong. I was trying to improve blogging efficiency. I failed initially but it is now in the works. In the interim, I am back to doing it manually. Here are the brilliant posts from April.
  1. Baghdad, Iraq Day 2: Welcome to the Jungle
    a group of people standing outside of a building
    It was a day in Baghdad, one day after my 40th birthday. I wondered where I would be if my parents had stayed in Iraq. Would I be this educated? Would I be alive? Would I have one of those rad haircuts?
  2. Baghdad, Iraq Day 3: Calm and Culture
    a fire pit with wood burning
    Day 3 was much more calm than the first two days.
  3. Baghdad, Iraq: Family Reunion
    a man standing next to an old man
    This was an awesome experience, one that cannot be replicated and one that I cannot put into words nor would I want to do so.
  4. Intro: Birthday Bash Trip Report
    a man drinking from a glass
    I’ve had some wonderful birthday celebrations. Though nothing will be more memorable than my homecoming to Baghdad, 2024 will be no exception.
  5. Rimowa Luggage: Maybe If I’m Flying Private
    a group of luggage on display
    Why would anyone spend that much on a suitcase?
  6. AA SJU-MIA-LAS: Borracho in Business (First)
    a drink and a can of soda
    Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, the flight attendant came out with more vino and entertained my request for my fifth drink, a Jack and Coke Zero.
  7. Aria Vegas: Sweet Life, If You Can Experience It
    a cars parked in front of a large building
    Why do I always receive suite upgrades when I am unable to make the most use out of them?

Intro: Birthday Bash Trip Report

I’ve had some wonderful birthday celebrations. Though nothing will be more memorable than my homecoming to Baghdad (see Iraqi Homecoming: My 40th Birthday in Baghdad), 2024 will be no exception. I start the week in Medellin, Colombia. From there, I integrate this Birthday Bash Trip Report with my Rum, Rum Trip Report. As an old man, I have to document what I’ve done historically. As a traveler, I need an excuse to go on an adventure, though staying in Puerto Rico or Scottsdale weren’t bad alternatives. 2023
a sandwich on a towel on a beach
A sandwich in Las Picuas, Puerto Rico is an adventure in itself.
2022
a man standing in front of two large buildings
Impossible to beat Iraqi Homecoming for my 40th.
2021
a man from a window
Riding high in Culebra, Puerto Rico
2020
a golf cart on a golf course with palm trees
Covid Celebration in Rio Mar
2019
a view of a forest and mountains from a hill
El Yunque, Rio Grande
2018
a man in a suit giving a presentation
Professor Bachuwa teaches a CLE in NYC on his birthday
2017
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Intercontinental Marseille
2016
a group of people taking a selfie
Visa blunder in Shanghai. Struck midnight on my birthday detained in Shanghai, went to Hong Kong, and returned to party in Shanghai.
2015
a man holding balloons in the shape of three
Broke after Mongolia, TPOL retreated to the mountains of Montana for one year.
2014
a man and woman sitting at a bar
The Pho King in Scottsdale
2013
a man holding a drink
When friends used to visit in Scottsdale.
2012
a man standing in front of a pool
Super Model at the W Hollywood for my 30th.
2011
glasses of beer on a table
While I was not fired on my birthday, it was shortly thereafter.
2010
a man standing next to a statue
I moved to Shanghai on my birthday.
2009
a man drinking from a glass
I failed to get my internship in Dubai and ended up back in Scottsdale.
2008
a man drinking from a glass
Sambuca, Scottsdale, post 2007 law school graduation.