Category Archives: Travel

Keep your airmiles from expiring

I collect airmiles from three airlines – American, United and Delta and travel fairly infrequently so need to keep on top of the expiry dates. I lost a bunch of miles from Alaskan previously. Delta Skymiles never expire and as of Aug 2019, United Mileageplus miles don’t expire as well. I was using their associated dining programs for United and American to keep my miles active hopping across the border to Bellingham. With the borders closed and my American miles close to expiry, I had to look for another option for American. Aadvantage has an eshopping portal to collect miles and I was able to purchase a $10 groupon for Quizno’s nearby. It didn’t go smoothly since the site didn’t take my postal code to pay online (Canadian postal code for US site – adding 00 to the three numbers in my code didn’t work) but paying as a guest account did. Still have to use the groupon since I didn’t read the fine print and it had limited hours but the miles have showed up in my eshopping account.

China Eastern Visa Free Transit through Nanjing Lukou NKG Airport

I had recently flew to Bangkok with China Eastern through Nanjing Airport. Though a visa is typically required to enter China (10 yr visas are available), a visa free transit policy was introduced a few years ago offering up to 144 hours depending on the city. See this link.

I emailed China Eastern to confirm Nanjing Lukou was visa free and was sent this link confirming visa free transit is available.

Nanjing Lukou NKG is a large airport but not very busy for it’s size. A sign indicates it does not have a transit area. Typically, airports will have a way to go from the arrival area directly to the departure area with screening for transit passengers.

On arrival, you need to indicate you are transitting without a visa to the customs officer. You do not need to fill out any paperwork and the officer will collect your passport and direct you to the waiting area with the other transitting passengers from your flight.

If you have a visa, you need to fill out a departure (yellow) form. If you want to leave the airport through the 144 hr visa free transit, you also need to fill out a blue form to apply for it.

Once all the passengers from your flight are processed, your group will be lead to pick up your luggage from baggage claim and then head upstairs to recheck your luggage back in. They will also print your boarding passes at this time. You will then be lead as a group to departures immigration where they will return your passport and you can go through security to the departures area. You still need to fill out a yellow departure form. Though the staff speak English, they do have difficulty pronouncing names so someone should volunteer to help them read off names.

There aren’t a lot of food options post-security. Just a noodle restaurant (accepts Visa credit card) and a Subway.

Update: As a bonus, I got mileage credit on Delta Skymiles because China Eastern is a partner airline. They only gave credit on half the flights so I had to make a request for the missing mileage.

Two Days in Los Angeles – No Car and No Cash

I was able to pickup a mistake fare on Delta for $65 CAD YVR-LAX return posted on the YVR deals facebook page and website.  With the low CAD and high cost of hotels, I would only stay for one night.  Since I am used to visit cities as cruise ports, I am used to exploring a city within six hours so two days is a relatively long time.

My plan was to NOT rent a vehicle in the sprawling LA area due to bad traffic and having to pay for parking but two things I wanted to do were to bike along Venice Beach and hike Runyun Canyon.  My other challenge was to NOT use cash and credit card only.  Having a vehicle might have added the Getty Center and Griffith Observatory to my itinerary.

I researched bus routes and how to use the LA metro network with the help of Google maps and streetview.  I planned to stay in the Hollywood area since it was central and  near metro stations though I had been warned that the area was dirty and had lots of homeless people.

The best hotel rate I could find in the area was the Motel 6 in Hollywood for $70/night midweek.  I found an online code that saved me 10%.  By the time I actually booked, the rate went up $5.  In hindsight, I should have booked earlier since I was only charged once I stayed.

LAX  by Public Transport

First challenge was to get from LAX to the hotel in Hollywood.  I had planned to head into Santa Monica right after but realized it would be more efficient to head into Santa Monica directly from LAX since it was closer.  I would just need to lug my small pack until I checked in.

Options for leaving LAX were a shuttle/metro ($1.75 + $1 for TAP card) or the LAX flyaway bus ($8-$9).  The most frequent route was to Union Station downtown (30 min) though there were routes to both Hollywood and Santa Monica for the same price.  I then found that Santa Monica’s bus network had a route from LAX to downtown Santa Monica for $1.25.  Since I could only purchase a TAP card at a kiosk at LAX/Aviation Station, I would take the free “G” shuttle there and could buy the card and stored value with my credit card.  If I paid cash, I could’ve paid the $1.25 fare and used the bus terminal from “C” lot but would still need to get a TAP card in Santa Monica to be able to transfer to get to Hollywood.

I was a bit confused about the TAP card with my research and unsure of the amounts that could be loaded onto it.  A daypass can be loaded for $7 (break even at 4 trips) and I didn’t need a daypass for the first day.  The preset stored value amounts are $1.75, $3.50, $5 and $10 and $20.  If you have both stored value and a pass loaded on your card, the pass will be used first and the daypass would be activated on first use so you can buy it the night before.  Daypasses and single fares could also be loaded on buses but cash only.

Arriving at LAX/Aviation station, I found a single kiosk at the west end of the station near the shuttle stop.  A line had formed behind me.  The bus for Santa Monica boarded on the east side and from there I noticed two more kiosks on that side.  When the Big Blue Bus arrived and I boarded, I couldn’t find where to tap on the farebox. The receiver  was actually mounted at the front of the bus by the steps.  Santa Monica buses had their own payment system and adding TAP was a retrofit.

On the trip there, we passed the In-n-Out Burger in Marina Del Rey I had planned to bike to.  I could’ve gotten off and save myself the extra bike trip.

Santa Monica Breeze Bikeshare

At Santa Monica, I was planning to use the new Breeze Bikeshare network.  In hindsight, I should have just used a regular rental shop since I could have left my bag there instead of lugging it with me.  The kiosk was not working at the first hub I went to and I had to search for another location.  The kiosk display was difficult to read in bright sunlight and it didn’t have a very user-friendly interface.  You needed to enter your email address and a PIN code, agree to terms, and request a RFID card.  I didn’t see the option to use my TAP card and almost forgot to logout.  Your account number and pin are actually emailed to you.  The PIN didn’t work for the first card I purchased so I had to get another one.  I did try to setup an account at home online but the credit card entry screen was NOT secure and it appeared I had to use the credit the same day so I cancelled it.

The bikes were heavy, but had electronic locks,  8-speeds, bells on the left handle and a front basket.

There are separated pathways for bikes and pedestrian from Santa Monica Pier to Venice Beach Pier.  You need to walk your bike if you want to go on the Venice Beach boardwalk or pier.  I returned the bike before checking out Santa Monica Pier and the pedestrian mall on 3rd St in Santa Monica.

I boarded the 704 bus on Santa Monica Blvd for the 1 hr trip to Hollywood.  Though I had an offline GPS app, the bus automatically announced all stops.  I had to transfer at North La Brea St about an hour later.

The afternoon I explored the Hollywood area by my hotel,  had dinner a Chik Fil A, and prepurchased a daypass on my TAP card for the next day.  The Oscars were upcoming and Hollywood Blvd was shut down to install the bleachers and red carpet reception area for the Dolby Theatre.

With the forecast for 28 deg C, I wanted to get up to Runyun Canyon bright and early when it was cool.  I did do my research beforehand.  The trails though not signposted are wide and it would be difficult to get lost since you had a clear view of most of the canyon and trails.  The 3.25 mile full loop took about 2 hrs and was relatively easy.  Only tricky part was going down the west trail since it was steep and slippery with the loose sand.

My next stop was La Brea Tar Pits which required taking the bus to The Grove by the LA Farmer’s Market where I could transfer to the LADOT Dash bus which had a stop at the Tar Pits.  The Dash buses operate separately from LA metro, accept TAP payments and are only 35 cents on TAP or 50 cents cash.  Stops are also announced on their smaller buses.

After the museum, I headed back to the hotel to grab my bag and then rode the metro to Union Station downtown.  One interesting point in taking the metro is that you DON’T need to tap out when exiting stations which is the first system I’ve encountered that doesn’t require this step.  The gates are also bi-directional.

Though I wanted to explore downtown for the afternoon, my legs were sore after the bike ride the previous day and hike in the morning.  From Union Station,  I checked out Olvera St on my way to Phillipe’s for lunch.  I did notice a Dash bus running outside but was unsure of the route.  Instead of walking back to Union Station (the metro is way on the east side), I should have take the Dash Bus downtown.

After a quick look at Civic Square and Disney Concert Hall, I started making my way to the airport early.  The blue metro line heading south passes Watts Towers and I could have stopped for a look though the area can be a bit dodgy.

I originally planned to take the LAX flyaway bus from Union Station but reports indicated the 30 min travel time gets longer during rush hour.  I had a daypass for the metro already and there is no surcharge for the airport like other metro systems in the world.  It took just over an hour from downtown to LAX on the metro with waits changing lines and for the shuttle.


Keeping your Airline Mileage Points Active

If you don’t travel regularly but collect airline mileage, your points may expire due to inactivity.  I’ve lost a bunch of mileage with Alaskan Airlines by losing track.

With most airlines in alliances like OneWorld and Star Alliance, it is easier to collect points and join only a few programs. You can enter your membership number during online check-in.  It is a major pain to claim mileage after a flight had been taken since you need to mail your original boarding passes and tickets.

With both United Mileage Plus and America Aadvantage, points will expire after 18 months of your last activity.  Being in Canada, I found the best way to keep your account active is to sign up with their affiliated dining programs and cross the border to Bellingham for  lunch and a shopping trip.  American and United use the same program but branded to their own airline.  You register separately for it and link a credit card and your mileage account.  All you need to do is to have a meal at a participating restaurant and charge it to the credit card you have registered.  Mileage should appear on your account in a couple of weeks.  They used to have Canadian restaurants in the program but that ended several years ago.

The only other frequent flyer program I’m enrolled in is Delta Skymiles and mileage doesn’t expire with Delta.

Exchanging Money

It is always good to have some local currency when you arrive in a new country to take transit or a taxi into town.  Airport exchange places usually have terrible rates and may have a fee as well.

If you use ATM’s, exchange rates tend to be good but your bank may add network, atm and foreign exchange fees to your withdrawl.

In Vancouver, I typically exchange money at VBCE or Everforex.  Both have excellent rates and no additional fees.  VBCE tends to carry more currencies than Everforex.

I’ve recently found that exchange rates may be better at your destination country, especially in Asia.  With rates available online, let’s look at some examples.  You will always get a better rate selling foreign currency than buying it.

Remember that foreign coins are typically not accepted for exchange anywhere so they should be spent or donated to charity.

Oct 23 2015


Everforex 5.89
VBCE 5.80
Berlin Exchange (Hong Kong) 5.91 *Best rate*


VBCE 25.1
Vasu Exchange (Bangkok)  27.0 *Best rate*
SuperRich 1965 (Bangkok) 26.95


Travel Medical Insurance

Travel insurance is something that is often overlooked when planning a vacation or even heading across the border for a quick shopping or ski trip.  Usually a news story about some person that got injured on vacation facing massive medical bills draws attention to the need to buy insurance.  Some people have coverage through their work extended benefits plans but if you don’t, travel insurance is inexpensive and even cheaper if you don’t need coverage in the US.

I get my travel insurance from Canadian Direct (Travel Underwriters).  You can get a quote and pay all online.  I’ve had a claim before and they air ambulanced me to Ottawa from the US and covered my dad to travel to the US hospital.  If I actually read through my policy, I would’ve known that they covered rentals of both a phone and TV at the hospital.

Here are some quick online quotes from Canadian Direct.  I have added the option for zero deductible which is a 15% surcharge which ends up being very minor.

  • Annual, multi-trip, 5 days, US coverage, $0 deductible – $68
  • Single trip, 14 days, no US, $0 deductible – $30
  • Single trip, 14 days, US coverage, $0 deductible – $42

You can pay for annual and add a single trip if it exceeds your policy’s number of days.

If you get into a car accident in the US, this is covered under ICBC’s Basic Insurance.

Flight and travel deals from Vancouver

If you are looking for travel deals from YVR, check out the website  They also have a pretty active Facebook page.  If you sign up for their newsletter, you will get maybe one or two email blasts a month but the Facebook page is more active.

I was able to book a return flight from YVR-HKG (connection in SEA)  last year for $440 CAD taxes and fees all in.  The ticket was booked through Flighthub which has terrible customer service and a sneaky shopping cart.  I got charged an extra $20 for a purchase guarantee which was an option selected by default with no pricing associated with it in the cart.  The final total did not show up until AFTER I submitted my credit card info.  I did phone the next day and had the charge reversed grudgingly but otherwise, the eticket issued was fine and checked out ok on the Delta website.  The purchase guarantee was a $20 extra charge for the option of cancelling flights within 24 hrs though most airlines allow this without an extra fee.  The bonus was that I also got skymiles for the flights, even though the flight was heavily discounted.

I actually wanted to go to BKK so booked my own connection on AirAsia.   I paid $265 CAD return from HKG.  I also planned  a side trip to Chiang Mai for a couple of days with a cheap flight on Nok Air $61 CAD return from BKK.  I should have planned it better since there is a direct flight on AirAsia from Chiang Mai to Hong Kong which may have saved me a bit of time and money.