Our Interview With Million Mile Secrets!

Hi everyone! To start today’s blog entry, we’d like to give a big shout out to our friends at Million Mile Secrets! That is a “points and miles”-centric website written by Darius and Emily and their team, who, as per their web presence, “have earned millions of airline miles and hotel points to travel the world for free,” and are, “now blogging to help more people to the same!” Why the shout out? Well, if you are already with Your Mileage May Vary, you already know a little bit about us. But if you’d like to learn even a little bit more, take a peek at this page of Million Mile Secrets, which is a question and answer session they recently had with us, as part of their ongoing Interview Series. In that series, their readers who have blogs (like us!), “share how they book trips with miles and points to get big travel with small money.” And they interviewed us! You know what that means, right? We’re FAMOUS, y’all!

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Sharon (L) and Joe (R) (because we know you really needed us to specify who was who) at the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge at sunset, October 2014

If you are visiting us for the first timeWELCOME! We are Joe and Sharon and we’re a married couple, originally from the northeast (he’s from NJ, she’s originally from Brooklyn, and then Staten Island, NY) but now living in Orlando, Florida. Joe is the one who is majorly into the points and miles and he writes most of our articles that have to do with miles, points, credit cards, airlines, hotels, tricks of the trade, etc. Sharon is the proofreader and tends to write the more diverse entries in the blog.

To give you a feel for us and what we write, here are examples of some of our posts from the past few months:

Miles & Points
 How not to be fooled by false point valuations
 The ways that miles and points are NOT equal.

Credit Cards
 Joe’s review of the Citi Prestige credit card.
 An explanation of why we have a Disney Rewards Visa card but hardly ever use it.

Hotels
 A comparison of using points vs. a credit card offer for our upcoming trip to Disneyland.
• When we stayed in the Towers of the Waldorf=Astoria in Manhattan before they closed for 3 years for renovations.
 Joe’s search for a hotel for our upcoming trip to Las Vegas, while negotiation resort fees, parking fees and taxes.

Airlines
 How we haven’t paid for a flight on Southwest Airlines since 2015.
 Joe’s excitement when he managed to get us flights to Charlotte for $25.

Theme Parks
Sharon’s report of where to look (and where not to look!) for discount tickets to Walt Disney World.
A #TBT, going back to April 2005, when we visited Nara Dreamland, a knock-off of Disneyland, which was operational in Japan from 1961 to 2006.
 The time when we got to throw beads from a Mardi Gras float at Universal Studios Florida.

Our Travels and Experiences (an eclectic mix of places we’ve seen and things we’ve done that we find interesting – they’re oftentimes a little bit unusual or off the beaten path)
 When Joe got to go to the Mystery Science Theater 3000 premiere screening and after-party for their new season.
 How thrilled we were when we managed to get a reservation for the Pan Am Experience.
• A #TBT, looking back at September 2002, when we got to eat dinner inside the Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney World.

Info for Newbies and Those Who Don’t Travel Often
• What to bring on a trip and what to leave home.
 Hacks for managing hotel room thermostats.
 What Sharon did when an airline broke something in her luggage.

So yeah, that’s us. We’d love if you would decide to hang around and click the button on the top of this page to follow our blog and get emailed notifications of when we post. We’ve got some cool topics planned in the next few weeks, which run the gamut from which credit card we recommend to use outside of the U.S., to our visit to Salzburg Austria to see places where they filmed “The Sound of Music,” to some interesting summer hotel promotions we’ve seen, to a lighthearted look at Sharon’s “Photobombs Around the World” series of pictures, to a discussion of when is the best time to buy airfare. Whether you’ve read our posts before or this is the first time you’re stopping by, we’re really glad you’re here and hope you come back to visit again!

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We were able to get on a special queue for this photo op at Walt Disney World a couple of years ago because of having our Disney Visa card. Perks like that are one of the reasons why we keep it.

Cuba’s First Luxury Hotel Is Opening In Havana – What Will It Mean?

A friend on Facebook posted an article earlier this week, originally from the AFP, that the “Gran Hotel Manzana” (I took Spanish for 8 years…The Great Apple Hotel???) recently opened its doors to guests in Havana (According to this article, it soft opened on May 22, with a grand opening schedules for June 7). Jointly owned by the (Swiss) Kempinski Hotels and military-controlled Cuban tour operator Gaviota, it’s said to be Cuba’s first ultra luxury hotel, with rooms and suites going for $440 to $2,485 per night.

If it’s the country’s first “ultra luxury” hotel, what will it mean? Will it be a game changer Continue reading “Cuba’s First Luxury Hotel Is Opening In Havana – What Will It Mean?”

#TBT: Japan Trip April 2005: Johnnie Hillwalker’s Johnnie Kyoto Walking Tour

Another day filled with not so much stress. Hehehe…now we’re even starting to talk like Japanese people.

We took the 8am shuttle bus to Kyoto Station and had breakfast at Starbucks.


Figure roughly 100 yen to the dollar…look at those prices! (MODERN-DAY NOTE: Those were 2005 prices. I just looked at their site and, as an example, a Tall Coffee Frappuccino (top item on the far right of the sign) is now 420 yen, Grande is 460 yen and Venti is 500 yen).

I’ll tell you…even somewhere as familiar as Starbucks is an adventure when you’re in another country. Japan is VERY big into recycling and trying to throw out your garbage when you’re done with your meal can take nearly as long as the meal itself:

  • Leftover liquid and ice go into the “liquids” garbage (where it sounds like it goes into a garbage disposal).
  • Plastic cups and clear lids go into the “clear plastic” container.
  • White plastic lids and plastic cutlery go into the “white plastic” container.
  • Paper cups, cup holders, napkins and wooden stirrers go into the “paper and combustibles” container.
  • Dishes and trays go onto their respective piles.

I almost took a picture of it all but got too self-conscious about taking picture of, well, GARBAGE! (grin). You know, after 4 days of coffee in a can (they sell it in ALL the vending machines, hot or cold, VERY milky and VERY sweet, just the way I like it) or bad coffee from restaurants, it sure was GOOD to drink some REAL coffee for a change!

MODERN-DAY NOTE about the following paragraphs: in the past few years, Johnnie Hillwalker (now age 87ish?) has retired and the WaRaiDo Guide Network has taken over the walking tours. However these notes are from 2005.

Anyway, after breakfast, we went on Johnnie Hillwalker’s Johnnie Kyoto Walking Tour. Joe had found Johnnie’s website (MODERN-DAY NOTE: website updated. Original website is a dead link) during his thorough-bordering-on-obsessive search of the internet of things to do in the cities in Japan that we were visiting. When I heard about “the little old man who does walking tours of Japan,” I decided we HAD to go on it.

Johnnie is a 70-something year-old man who leads people on a 3 kilometer walk around Kyoto in about 5 hours. We visited several Buddhist and Shinto shrines and temples, places of local commerce (fan makers, pastry makers, ceramics, tatami mat producers, etc) and Johnnie explained about all of them. It was a VERY interesting tour.

OK, so I just realized that I managed to explain a 5-hour tour in about 3 lines of print. How about some more stories and some pictures…

We met Johnnie at the designated place, just outside Kyoto Station. There were about 30 of us on the tour that day…about 20 were from countries that spoke English as a primary language (mainly the US, but I heard British and Australian accents too) and the rest spoken German an another language or two I didn’t pick up on.

Our first stop was at Higashi Hongan-ji Temple, which is only a block or two away from Kyoto Station. It was originally built as a Buddhist temple in 1602, but due to frequent fires, the current buildings are “only” from 1895.


Overall view of Higashi Hongan-ji temple, except for the “big” building.


HERE’S the big building (wink). The “Founder’s Hall” of Higashi Hongan-ji, which you may enter after taking your shoes off (you can see people doing that in the background of the picture…they even give you plastic bags to put them in), is one of the largest wooden structures in the world. I like the guy with the Playboy bunny hat, don’t you? He was on our tour. Guy was from Long Island. Remember him…I’ve got a story about him in a minute.


A small fountain can be found outside all Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. It is considered to be “holy” water of sorts and you’re supposed to rinse your hands and mouth with it, in order to purify you inside and out. Mr. Playboy Bunny, upon finding the fountain, took the opportunity to fill his water bottle with it. Typical clueless American.


A somewhat fuzzy view of the Amida Buddha (as per Johnnie, there are lots of Buddhas but Amida is the most important Buddha), inside the Founder’s Hall. 80% of all Japanese people are Buddhist and 70% believe in Shinto so there is a lot of overlap between the two.


Johnnie showing us how one prays to Amida Buddha.


One of the sleds that was used to carry felled trees from the mountains to be used to build the temple.


An example of the rope, made of human hair, that was used to help build the temple.

The next part of our tour was to walk through some streets in Kyoto that are home of the “industrial” people…those who, for generations, have made goods on the first floor of the buildings, while they lived on the second and third floors. Specific neighborhoods or blocks would be well-known for their paper fans, prayer beads, etc. Some of the old traditions of local commerce are dying out, especially with the younger people wanting to work with computers and other more technologically-advanced, higher-paying careers, but those who still make such products keep going.


A typical “industrial” street in Kyoto.


Making Buddhist prayer beads.


Producing fresh tofu.


Making fans.


Putting the gold paint on the ends of the fans. This guy is more anal-retentive than ME!


The final results. For sale, of course (grin).


Making tatami mats. Yeah OK, these people didn’t let the Industrial Revolution pass them by (grin).


Making ceramic bowls. They were all hand-painted and VERY expensive (think $30+ per saucer), except for the “Seconds” that were for sale for $2 to $10 each.

Our next stop was the Shosei-En Garden. It is a strolling garden that belongs to Higashi Hongan-ji Temple, although the two properties are separate and not connected. It dates back to the ninth century, when it was built by Prince Minamoto Noturu.


Shosei-En Garden is a typical Japanese manicured garden.


These carp were HUGE and boy, did they like the lunch that Johnnie brought them!


Joe enjoying hanami (cherry blossoms). Or maybe he was just reading one of his maps (grin).


Closeup of hanami.

Our next stop was to visit a Shinto shrine. You can tell that it’s Shinto because of the rope hanging from the doorway (the rope designates the boundary of a sacred place).


This particular shrine we visited is the one that Johnnie is a member of, and he has made a donation to have a paper lantern with his name on it.

Next stop was a small Buddhist cemetary. Each grave site is small because Buddhists are traditionally cremated, so they need less space. They usually place the ashes of several family members underneath one stone grave marker.


The wooden sticks are made by loved ones and are left at the grave site to show that they visited. They also often leave flowers or plants and/or burn incense at the grave site.


Johnnie said that leaving a jar of sake, like at this gravestone, is NOT traditional (grin).

Our next stop was in front of a store that made sushi. We all got to taste a piece of vegetable sushi. Not bad, but I still like California and eel rolls better.

Next was a brief stop at the former site of the Nintendo Card Playing Company, which eventually turned into the computer and video game giant that it is today.


Sign declaring the Nintendo Playing Card Company on the now-abandoned building.


Outside of the building. Notice that the architecture is very American.


A very poor shot of the inside of the building (Sorry…I had to take the picture through a glass window with a metal screen in it and not use a flash).


Johnnie preparing to give each of us a card as a souvenier.

The next stop on our tour was a local shop that sold candy made out of bean paste, as well as different types of Japanese tea. Like so many other businesses in Kyoto, the store had been in the family for many, many generations. We got free samples of the barley tea (yuck) and a bean paste pastry here (not bad, but, of course, not sweet enough and, as pretty and differently decorated as the candies were, they all tasted the same).


Outside shot of the tea and bean paste candy shop


Making bean paste candy.


Close-up of making bean paste candy.

Next stop was another shrine. This one was called Toyokuni Shrine. I don’t know about the guys, but by this point, I was starting to get “shrined out” (grin) so I didn’t pay as much attention to the history of it, nor (perhaps thankfully?) did I take as many pictures of it.


Johnnie in front of the Toyokuni shrine. Probably the best picture I got of Johnnie (grin).


Decent shot of the inside of the shrine.


Multiple Torii gates next to the shrine, in combination with the statues of the foxes, indicate that this shrine was an Inari shrine. There are several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari across Japan. Inari is the Shinto god of rice, and foxes are thought to be his messengers. Therefore, many fox statues can be found at Inari shrines (see picture of inside the shrine). The Torii gates are usually paid by individuals, groups and businesses…usually in the hope that their donation (and advertisement of their names on the gates?) will please the gods and, in turn, will help them in business matters. By the way, please note that this shot includes Mr. Playboy Bunny again…with a full bottle of water. Totally clueless. Thank heaven we visited all of those shrines, or he would’ve dehydrated!

Behind Toyokuni Shrine was the largest bell in all of Kyoto. Although hundreds of years old (it was built in the 16th century), it’s still in use for ceremonies and holidays.


Far-away view of the big bell


Close-up of the bell, including the hand-painted ceiling.

The end of the tour, where Johnnie bid us goodbye, left us near Kiyomuzidera Temple, which is a set of Buddhist buildings at the edge of the mountains on the west side of Kyoto. It was easily a STEEP mile up, with more hills and steps than we had done in all previous days combined, but according to Johnnie, the area was “most beautiful” (wink), with the buildings, many trees and plants and cherry blossoms in full view and, since we were so high, a gorgeous view of the city.


First thing we came upon when we got to the top of the hill was this HUGE cemetary. My guess is that it’s probably filled with all of the people who died of heart attacks after walking up the hill!


A short description of what we had climbed the hill for and were about to see. Brought to you by Fujicolor film! (grin)


First building in the temple area.


Back view of the same building, but it gives you an idea of how high up we were.


More buildings in the temple “compound.”


This temple is being refurbished for your future enjoyment! (wink)


Joe in front of the main building of the Kiyomuzidera Temple.


Shot of me looking at Kyoto.


Fountain for purification at the temple. Mr. Playboy Bunny must’ve been thrilled…he could get a refill!


There were several gardens at the temple site, as well as on the way down (we took a different path down the hill, for variety). During the walk, I found this small cherry tree in full bloom.


As the blossoms fall off the trees here, they go into the river and are washed away. Pretty, huh?

There were several shops on the long, steep hill going towards and away from the temple, though there wasn’t much “stuff” that we found very interesting in those. Since we were hungry though, we each got what we think is the equivalent of a cream puff, albeit with custard, not cream, on the inside. The wrapper for the pastry was another perfect example of Engrish:


Recently I have become very healthy. My hopes have begun to swell. Dreams have increased one by one.
WTF???

Took a bus back to the hotel and ate at a restaurant adjacent to it, called Die Gute. I had steak, Joe had pasta and Steve had a beef stew.


My appetizer/salad. I had no idea of what I was eating at that moment. Sardines, maybe? Well, the steak was good.


Can’t ruin beef stew.

Very good and definitely worth the price.

After dinner, we did some walking around a local supermarket (“Oh look, they sell Del Monte and Hershey’s products!”) and a 100 yen store. Didn’t buy anything yet, save for some small stuff, because we’re still at the beginning of the trip and will have to shlep it all with us for over 2 more weeks.

As of this writing, we’re in the midst of doing laundry at the hotel’s laundry facility…they have a whopping 2 small washers and 2 small dryers. For the whole hotel. And we’re 3 people. AND there’s another hotel patron who is doing HER laundry (she was from California, but originally from Long Island and didn’t like Japan at all. She liked Hong Kong better. More action. OK lady…whatever). It’s gonna take us forever for our stuff to dry (update…we were drying stuff until about 2am).

Tomorrow we see the Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto, then go on our way to Nagoya, to see the World’s Fair Exhibition. We’ll have internet access in Nagoya too, so my next message will be written from there. Until then, sayonara!

Posts We Like: Share Your Best Disneyland Tip

A fellow blogger, Travel With Grant, posted this entry today that says:

I need your help! My niece, her husband, and their two kids ages 5 and 3 are coming to visit me in Southern California. And what’s top on their list of experiences? Well Disneyland, of course 🙂

So they asked me, their favorite Aunt and travel expert, for tips about saving money at Disneyland. Yikes, I haven’t a clue. I love Disneyland, but haven’t been in years, so I’m not at all in the know. But I am hoping the TWG posse has some great ideas.

DLJoe&ShaNow, Joe and I are pretty good for helping out and answering questions when it comes to Walt Disney World, but for Disneyland? Well, we’ve been there a few times and are even going back this fall, but to give advice about ways to save money when you’re actually inside Disneyland? Not so much. However we’re always willing to help someone with a request and even if we can’t answer her question, we suspect we have readers who can. So do us a favor by doing them a favor and if you have some ideas for money saving measures at Disneyland, go over to Travel With Grant‘s page and let them know. Tell them Sharon and Joe from Your Mileage May Vary sent you. Thanks!

Hotel Reviews: Three Nights in the Carolinas

We just returned from a trip to North Carolina and South Carolina. The main reason we went was to attend a friend’s wedding in Charlotte but since we are rarely in that area, we decided to turn the trip into a whirlwind weekend of visiting South of the Border, the cheesy tourist trap right off of Interstate 95, on Thursday, meeting up with friends in Raleigh for dinner on Friday night, and then attending the wedding on Saturday before Continue reading “Hotel Reviews: Three Nights in the Carolinas”

Did I book a flight in Basic Economy?

As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently had to book flights for us on routes that offered Basic Economy fares. After studying up on what the restrictions were for each airline and taking into consideration the details of each trip, I decided to book the basic fare for one of the trips and paid the extra money for “regular” economy for the other.

The following is a breakdown of how I made my decisions:

Continue reading “Did I book a flight in Basic Economy?”

Buyer Beware: Do your homework before booking a flight with a “basic” fare

I was doing some serious travel planning over the last two weeks. We are focusing on taking several shorter trips this year and that means I need to book more flights than usual for us. Since I’ve been booking our domestic flights with my Southwest miles or on JetBlue, I haven’t paid much attention to changes the major airlines like American, Delta
and United have been making. I did know they started to offer bare bone, or basic Continue reading “Buyer Beware: Do your homework before booking a flight with a “basic” fare”