Thursday, June 30, 2016

Day One: Part 2 - Here Today, Gone to Maui

So it's settled, we're going to Maui. We booked it on May 28th. We had just a little over a month to prepare. I've done this many times, so I kinda knew what to do next - book our accommodation and car rental.

VRBO - my first instinct was to check our timeshare with Shell Vacations. However, as expected, the timeshare units during the 4th of July holiday period were already booked months in advance. I checked AirBNB, and I didn't care for the units that were available. I eventually found a property by using VRBO, a 2-bedroom, 2-bath condo in Kihei. I reached out to the property contact, and within 2 days, we sealed the deal. 

Car Rental - when it comes to renting a vehicle in Hawaii, for the longest time, we've relied on renting a minivan (which provides
7 seats). However, our past 2-3 visits made us think differently. We were able to get away with using an SUV. So that's what I did. I searched for an SUV with Costco Travel and Discount Hawaii Car Rentals. After a few clicks and comparison, I booked an SUV that will fit the 6 of us.

The entire month of June was devoted to having the kids finish their school session. It was still quite hectic. I visited TripAdvisor, and joined a Reddit, and brushed up on my Maui knowledge once more. However, I'm fairly confident that my family had an idea of what we would be doing once we're on the island of Maui.
Before we leave the island next week, Nancy requested that we move to a nice hotel since we have hotel points to burn. Who was I to argue? I did exactly as what I was told and booked our last 2 nights in Wailea. Details to follow as we approach that day.

Although we had about a month to prepare for this trip, we just kept putting it off. Life, as usual, got in the way. But I think, it was mostly because, in the back of our minds, we knew that packing for Hawaii was going to be easy peasy…..shirts, shorts, flip flops, swimsuits, toiletries…that’s about it. 

On the day before our flight to Maui, that’s when we got serious about packing. Nancy worked  her 12-hour shift, Ethan was out and about with his friends in Santa Barbara, which then left me with Madison to run around for our last-minute errands. Nancy and I also visited her mom at the hospital on Tuesday night, we wanted to make sure to see her before we left for our vacation. So it really wasn’t until 11pm when we started to pack. We lined up our six carry-on luggage, and in a typical Francisco fashion, we got it all done by 1:00 am. 

Our flight was scheduled to leave at 10:45 am out of LAX. We hit the typical LA traffic as we entered the 405 freeway. Traffic was slow as molasses and didn’t pick up until we passed Brentwood. Thank God, we made sure we allotted enough time as we made our way to the airport. I parked our car at an offsite airport parking, and I didn’t realize that it was way offsite, about a 15-minute drive to LAX. Again, we had enough time to factor all of that in to our trip to the airport.

I think we finally got to the American Airlines terminal at  LAX airport by 8:30am. We didn’t have to check any luggage since we usually travel with carryon suitcases. This terminal felt especially crowded today. It was summer after all. Our flight was slightly delayed - originally scheduled to leave 10:45am, the plane took off closer to 11:30am. It was not a problem. We were all together, we all made it safely to the airport, and that’s what mattered most.

Just like what happened to us during our trip to Kauai last summer, our neighbor, Karen who works for American Airlines, took care of us. She arranged for Jocelyn, a flight attendant on this LAX to Maui flight, to take care of us. And she sure did. Again, many many thanks to Karen and Jocelyn for a wonderful flight en route to Maui. Our 5-hour flight went smoothly.

Upon arrival arrival at the airport, we could already sense a warm afternoon ahead. The pilot did announce that it was around 88 degrees when we landed. Since we did not check in any luggage, we headed straight outside to the middle island and waited for our shuttle ride. We rented an SUV, thanks to Discount Hawaii Car Rental, we were referred to Advantage. We were given a Hyundai Santa Fe (not a full-size SUV, but surprisingly roomier than I thought).

Once we got our SUV, it was time to eat. Two years ago, we went straight to Da Kitchen in Kahului, a restaurant just right outside the airport. We wanted to try something new. When we left Maui in 2014, right when returned my vehicle, a local braddah suggested that I go to Poi By The Pound when I return. I read up on and saw pictures from this restaurant, and I just had to check it out. It's also located not far from the airport (located in an industrial area). Within a couple of minutes, we made it.

We only ordered 2 items, but we knew they were going to be huge. We ordered the Hawaiian Plate loaded with Lau Lau, Kalua pork, poke, lomi, chicken long rice, poi, mac salad, and steamed rice.

I saw a local braddah pouring hot sauce over his food. I knew it wasn't tabasco. I asked what it was. It was Chili Pepper Sauce Water (or something like that). Oh man....I tried it and it was so good when paired with the meat.

The kids also ordered Kalbi Ribs with Kimchi, Mac Salad, Rice and Hawaiian Bread. Aaaaahhhh it was a perfect meal to kick off our arrival on Maui.

The next stop, predictable really, was Costco. It never fails. A Costco stop is a must for us. The Maui store is so conveniently located right outside the airport. We bought a few things that we needed for a few days, but I have a feeling we'd be back again for more.

One more stop before heading to our condo. I saw Tamura's Fine Wine &, not there for the alcohol, but for their wide selection of Poke. Their display refrigerator had the most selections I've seen. Arguably, they knew their poke. Of course, I had to "sample" a few pokes. I did get 2 orders - fresh ahi hawaiian style poke and sesame tako (octopus) poke. I've been to their store in Lahaina during our trip in 2014, and I knew I had to come back.

Finally, we made our trek to Kihei. It was about 25-mile ride to Kihei. We got to Pacific Shores condo around 5:30pm. It's your typical condo with 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a lanai, dinette, full kitchen. What sold me was the bunk bed for the kids. Evan and Caitlin love bunk beds! I didn't think this was going to make a difference since the last time we stayed on Maui, the condo we rented didn't have an A/C. But it was breezy and every room had a fan so it kept the place cool. For this vacation, this condo that we rented though had an A/C and boy, what a difference!

After unloading our luggage, the girls decided to stay at the condo, but not the boys. Heck, we're on Maui. Off to the beach we went. It's a good thing that the beach was just across the street. We went to Charley Young Beach late in afternoon. Jumped in the water, used the body board provided by the condo, and enjoyed our first afternoon on Maui by swimming during the sunset. It was a perfect way to end this long, and tiring day. Mahalo for following our journey!
Sunset swim at Charley Young Beach, Kihei

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Day One (Part 1): $11 per person to Maui? Yes, please!

Previously on DaddyTravels

The last time we visited Maui was in the summer of August 2014. From a family travel perspective, we have since had our fair share of worldly travels with lots of visits to New York City, to Italy (Milan, Florence, Venice, Pisa, Lake Como), Paris, Kauai, London, Budapest, and Prague. Nancy also spent over two weeks in Manila and Bangkok. I had a very busy travel season with my old job which required me to travel multiple times to the East Coast. 

That all ceased since I started a new job early in 2016. In many ways, the slowdown in travel all worked out. Many of you know that I lost my Dad back in April. He was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. The cancer was discovered very late, and we lost him in mid-April. His passing happened so suddenly and it truly made many of us realize the need to live life to the fullest and share many of those best moments with your loved ones.

Saving up points

We love to travel, but we all know that traveling ain't cheap especially when I have to factor in a total of 6 travelers in my family (2 adults and 4 kids). For years, whenever we planned a vacation, we would choose the latter part of August (that's when the airfare prices typically start to go down). There were a couple of times when we also drove to the Bay Area, and flew from San Francisco since it was cheaper to fly from there to go to Hawaii.

But that all changed in 2014. I started to learn about racking up points, not just from my own travels, but from earning them via credit card sign up bonuses. We've since had amazing trips to Europe (twice) - Milan, Venice, Florence, Lake Como, Pisa, Paris, London, Budapest, Prague. We've also managed to take advantage of points to Kauai and New York City.
New York City - Central Park, June 2014
The Eiffel Tower - Paris, Spring 2015
Big Ben - London, Fall 2015

The Tower Bridge - London, Fall 2015

Budapest - the Hungarian Parliament Building. Fall 2015

Overlooking Prague, Czech Republic, Fall 2015

My points earning strategies were featured last year in the The Points Guy's Reader Success Story section of his blog.

When Nancy and I went to Europe back in the fall, our flights from LA to London, London to Budapest, and Prague back to LA only set us back by only $349 - that's the total amount for both of us that we paid on airfare. What about our hotel stays? For 2 weeks, we stayed in 4-star and 5-star hotels, for how much? All for FREE. How? All due to the points and miles we earned by strategically using the right credit card that gave us biggest bonus bang for our buck. Had we paid for our flights and hotel, easily it would've been over $7,000, yet we only paid $349. You can read the details by clicking the link above when I was featured by The Points Guy.

Three months before our Europe trip, we also took the entire family to Kauai and we partly used points. For our party of six, I got 4 FREE tickets from LA to Kauai (roundtrip), and only paid $44 total.

Airfare in the summer to Hawaii (high-season) easily goes from $600-$900 per person. We did not pay anything close to that. I vowed to myself, the next time we go to Hawaii, my goal was to have all six of us get FREE tickets. 

Princeville, Kauai - Summer 2015
2016 Summer Plan A: Europe for Six

Since coming back from Europe last fall, our plans changed, no Hawaii trip this summer. We wanted to kick our travels up a notch. The ambitious goal was to bring ALL six of us to Europe in August 2016. While Ethan and Madison have been to Europe, Evan and Caitlin have yet to cross the Atlantic. Back in December, I looked at my points balance, and analyzed how many points I needed to accomplish this goal, and realized that if I stick to my plans, by May of 2016, I'd have earned 360,000 pts (we needed 60K pts/person to travel to Europe).
Sure enough, I stuck to my plans, I chose the right credit cards, used them in places where I got the biggest bang for my buck. I was right on schedule. By May 13, 2016, I had 360,000 points deposited in my Chase Ultimate Rewards account. We earned these points mainly by using our Chase Sapphire and Chase Ink Cards. For program details and how to apply for the cards, click the link. So the planning began....well, kinda. 

Daddy, we can't go to Europe

Cheering Ethan during his Freshman Football Season 2015
In mid-May, after a week of searching and creating European itineraries, Ethan said he wanted to go to Europe badly but he'd also be missing three weeks of football practices, which meant very little to no playing time during the first few games. Fine! A few days later, Madison also said she couldn't go to Europe in August, she recently signed up to be a cheerleader for the Camarillo Roadrunners (a youth football team), and their practices will be in conflict with our planned August trip to Europe. Fine! I was actually upset for I've been planning for ALL of us to go to Europe, yet at the same time, I understand that they were passionate with their activities. So I let it go. I had to...until...

We Need a Plan B

After I realized that Europe for six of us may not happen this summer, you better believe we came up with a back-up plan and fast. Scheduling our vacations was an administrative nightmare. Nancy and I had scheduled three weeks of vacation in August, but none in June or July. My schedule was more flexible, and all I had to do was to notify our admin assistant of the changes and that was that. Nancy, on the other hand, needed to be creative. So we looked at end of June to early July. That's our target. It was a shot in the dark because that was around the 4th of July holiday (an extremely high season, award tickets are hard to come by).

Kids, where do you want to go? 

We could probably do New York again and drive to Washington DC. Ethan and Madison have been to NY three times, but they've never been to DC. Caitlin and Evan have yet to visit the East Coast. Or, for our last choice, we could go always go back to Hawaii. It was unanimous. They all wanted to go to the East Coast. 

So the search began to get award seats for New York and beyond. It was not easy. Why? Since I was not going to pay for the trip, finding an award trip, a last-minute trip is not always that easy. These were my roadblocks:
  1. Travelers in my party - 6 (2 adults, 4 kids)
  2. Timeframe - travel before and after the 4th of July holiday  (high season)
  3. Destination choices from LA - NYC, DC, Philly, Boston, Costa Rica, Cancun (as you can see, we were open to go just about anywhere)
  4. Points budget - no more than 25K/person roundtrip or a total of 150K points. Why? I made sure I have enough points remaining for other trips planned later in the summer or fall.

Every destination I chose did not work out, they were either unavailable or the points were going to cost so much more per person. I checked United Airlines, American Airlines, British Airways, Singapore Air, Korean Air, Delta, Jet Blue, Southwest - made multiple calls inquiring about award tickets but to no avail.

The only thing that worked out, ironically since the available dates were for around the 4th of July holiday, was an award with British Airways (via American Airlines) from LAX to Maui. It was the only destination and airline award that allowed us to travel at 25,000 points per person. 

To be honest, I didn't grab the Maui trip right away. We kinda sat on it. We were really hoping to go somewhere else other than Hawaii. It was our last resort. We've been going to Hawaii yearly, and wanted to change it up. But none of our other destination choices were available. After 3 days of putting Maui aside, we made a decision that our last-minute summer vacation would be Maui. For the six of us, I used 150,000 Ultimate Rewards points and did a quick transfer from my Chase account to British Airways and got our six American Airline tickets for $67.20 total, yes $67.20 for six of us, roundtrip tickets from LA to Maui. 

If we paid for the flights in cash, it would've been $4,464!!! 

A buddy of mine joked around, "you had to 'settle' for a vacation in Maui!" That's exactly what happened. We wanted to take the kids to somewhere new for a change, but it just didn't work out. The odds were against us. A trip back East will just have to wait. Maybe in the Spring. But in retrospect, c'mon now!!! It's Maui!!! Maui!!! Maui!!! Aloha!!!

We had to make it work where all of us could go on vacation together. We grabbed the opportunity, we were flexible enough, and now, we're on the verge of returning back to Maui. It was evident that as our kids grow older, and they find themselves involved with more extra curricular activities, that planning a trip could take an act of Congress. So for now, we can say that we've at least gone to Hawaii in the summer of 2016 with all 4 kids. 

Thanks for following our journey.