I’m Doing Something New Here and a Little Crazy

When it comes to travel, there are 3 things I know well.

  1. Portland
  2. Priceline
  3. Traveling for pennies with frequent flyer miles.

As for numbers 1 and 2, they are covered here on the blog.  My series of Priceline posts have been the most popular articles on this blog since I published them.  The articles drive the majority of the traffic to this site.

As for number 3, it is not the main focus of this blog but something I cover occasionally, usually when it comes to me bragging about a trip I scored for next to nothing.  The next post on that subject is due in December when my wife and kids and I will fly to Hawaii and stay 7 nights at the Hilton Waikoloa for $20 (don’t ask me how many Hilton Points that took, ugh).

While the blog is pretty quiet on the points front, I’m fairly active on twitter and on one my favorite mile and points blogs travelbloggerbuzz.com.  So the other night I tweeted this,

and I’ll be damned if someone actually took me up on it.

While I may have been kidding on the square, I had to do it.  6 hours later, I found an award that routes through London to Hong Kong from Los Angeles.  The award was a combination of coach, business class, and first class.  All international flights were in business class or first class.  West Coast to Hong Kong would have been much easier and I could have done it in less than 6 hours.  However, routing via Europe was a fun challenge so I enjoyed it.  US Airways is a strange beast and I am still waiting to hear if it was successfully booked.

Back at my favorite mile and points blog, Travel Blogger Buzz (TBB), there has been a lot of talk about monetizing blogs and his in particular.  TBB has struggled to find a way to get something out of all the work he has put in on his blog.  He has turned to credit card affiliate links, which is ironic because they main focus of his blog is how much travel bloggers who push credit cards suck.  I have given him a fair amount of grief over it.

The experience with the award booking and discussion at TBB has me thinking about more ways in which I can monetize this blog.  I do surprisingly well with Google Adsense. This is due in large part to the fact that most of the traffic on this site is organic (i.e. “bidding on Priceline” searches).   Looking for ways to add extra revenue is always good. I’m thinking about offering a miles consulting and award booking assistance service to the blog.  I doubt it will get much interest but it will be fun to see and experiment with.

To that end, I created a page offering what I basically offered on twitter.  I figure if I get one or two people every couple of months that would be fun (and manageable if it takes me 6 hours per award!).

Without further ado:

Frequent Flyer Miles and Points Consulting:  Learn to Travel for Free.

SEO dictates TRAVEL and FREE be included in the title, even though it’s not.  Unless you’re this guy.  I am probably totally crazy for offering this for $45, but what the hell it’s cold and wet outside.

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Uber is Coming to Portland (Sort of) and How to Get a Free Ride

Uber is a ridesharing company that allows you to use your smartphone to order a ride, track the cars progress to you in real time, texts you when the car arrives, and all payment is handled through the app.  Uber is a competitor with traditional taxi services.  The taxi industry here in Portland is a highly regulated industry, except that it’s sort of not.

In Portland there are a limited number of taxi operating permits that the city issues to taxi companies. These permits are effectively controlled by the Private For Hire Transportation Review Board.  The board does not actually approve the permits but is heavily influential with respect to taxi industry policy within the city.  As you can imagine when the taxi industry has a heavy influence on policy it may affect whether Portland would permit Uber to operate within city limits.  As of today, Portland is the only major west coast city not to permit Uber to operate within its city limits.

Well there is good news, if you live in a suburb.  Uber is now operating in Tigard, Beaverton, Gresham, and Vancouver.  Uber can pick you up in these cities and drop you off in Portland, Uber just can’t pick you up in Portland.

When the taxi industry has a controlling hand in policy what do you expect? God forbid Portlanders be allowed to use a ride service that is convenient and cheap.  For comparison sake lets look at costs between traditional Portland taxi’s and Uber.  A ride from downtown Vancouver to PDX is $17- $22, Beaverton to PDX is $36 – $48, and Gresham to PDX is $27 to $36.  (Click here for Uber cost estimates).

Now, lets take a look at how much a traditional taxi from Beaverton to PDX will cost you. From downtown Beaverton to PDX is 20 miles.  You will be charged $2.50 for pickup plus $1.00 for each additional passenger.  You will then be charged $2.60 per mile plus $.50/minute waiting time.  At a minimum, assuming no waiting time charges (yea right) a taxi will cost you $55 for a couple to ride from Beaverton to PDX.

With Uber not only will you save money on the base rate but there is also a trick to earning an easy $60 – $90 in credits with Uber.

How to earn a free ride:

Here is an easy way to earn $60 – $90 in free rides with Uber.  If you use my referral link to sign up for Uber you will receive a free ride worth $30.  When you sign up you will also get a referral link/code.  If you refer a friend they will get $30 and when they take their first ride you get $30.  If you have a significant other this is effectively $90 for the two of you.

The one caveat to these credits is that they work for one ride at a time, and they operate more like vouchers.  It’s really one free ride worth up to $30.  So if your ride is $17, that uses up your entire $30 free ride.  If your ride is $40, then you owe the difference.

I imagine that eventually Uber will come to Portland.  Unfortunately, it will probably involve making Uber just as expensive as the traditional taxi companies so they are not put out of business.  All the more reason to sign up for the credits above.

Note:  When you use my referral link I also get a referral credit.  Thank you in advance.  

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Pause Kitchen and Bar: A Pleasant Surprise in North Portland

As I have mentioned in my last couple of posts on restaurants I have been in a bit of a funk lately with my dining out experiences.  I have been striking out left and right on new places that I have tried, culminating in a very disappointing experience at the Woodsman Tavern.

This being Portland, I would eventually come out of this funk and the funk recently ended with a stop at Pause Kitchen and Bar.  This is a nondescript little restaurant on a less than ideal stretch along North Interstate.  I tried Pause for the first time a few months ago and was impressed.  We went again last week and I was curious to see if the food experience was a fluke or the real deal.  Turns out it was the real deal, this place is good.  With our second visit Pause now ranks as one of our favorite restaurants in North Portland.

On this trip my wife ordered seared albacore tuna with fingerling potatoes, green beans, and a kalamata olive muffaletta.

Pause Kitchen and Bar

My wife was kind enough to share a bite with me and man was it good.  I’m normally not a huge fan of albacore tuna.  I prefer ahi and I usually associate albacore with tuna fish sandwiches.  Don’t get me wrong I love a good tuna fish sandwich but thanks to that mental association I don’t really eat albacore.  It’s fish from a can, right?  Wrong! This was good and flavorful.  I think I will need to rethink that mental association.

I ordered a smoked pork chop on greens and latke.

Pause Kitchen and Bar1

This was easily the best restaurant pork chop I’ve ever had.  My only complaint was that it was too small.  I thought I was in for a good chop when the server warned me that they serve the pork chop medium rare. Unbeknownst to her, I love pork and I am well versed on the proper temperature to which a pork chop should be cooked – e.g. medium rare.  I also don’t like greens, so I mean this as a huge compliment when I say they were edible. They did not take away from my enjoyment of the meal at all. Lastly, the latke that was wrapped under the greens was crisp and flavorful.

After having a very disappointing experience with the Woodsman Tavern, Pause was a real joy.  I also thought it was a good value.  Both our meals were reasonably priced and kids eat free!  I highly recommend this restaurant.  They also have a good happy hour.

Pause Kitchen & Bar on Urbanspoon

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Twitter as a Travel Tool

In the last 6 months I have come to really appreciate twitter as a valuable travel resource. This weekend I finished our booking for Hawaii when we go to the Big Island in December. I called the hotel (Hilton Waikoloa) directly because I wanted to make a request for a crib and a microwave.  Unfortunately, the phone rang and rang and rang for 5 minutes before someone answered.  I was then transferred to another phone tree.  It was quite annoying, while the phone was ringing I decided to complain to the hotel’s twitter feed.  It turned out to be a really good decision.  Here is the exchange:

twitter as a travel tool

Within a few minutes of sending a DM to @hiltonwaikoloa I got a call from the front desk manager, Charlie.  He was very helpful and apologized for no one answering the phone. He took care of the request for the crib and microwave and put a reminder on his own calendar near our arrival to make sure we have those things.  He even gave me his email address to email him if we have other needs that come up.  He went above and beyond what I was expecting.  The experience got me thinking about how much I love twitter and how it was so much easier to basically send them a text message then calling and dealing with a phone tree (or two).

Hilton Waikoloa is not the only company I have tweeted and gotten quick responses and or assistance.  American Airlines has a great twitter feed that is very responsive and helps out as much as they can when you have an issue.  I tweeted American Airlines when our flight was delayed leaving Chicago to Madrid and they were pretty responsive.

Twitter is also a great tool for information.  I sometimes follow an airports twitter feed if I have concerns about delays.  Most destinations have a tourist information feed that can also be helpful.  News organizations will tweet traffic delays, weather, local news, etc… There is a plethora of information out there on twitter.  More often than not news organizations will tweet something before the story even shows up online.

Another great way to use twitter is to connect with locals for advice.  I regularly respond to people with questions about Portland.  Have a question where to eat? Just ask and include a #Portland or #PDX.  You will get plenty of responses. Lastly, I am always more than willing to respond to tweets so feel free to tweet me directly with any Portland related questions.  You can follow me on twitter here.

Bottom line, if you are not on twitter, I would suggest joining.  When you go on a trip follow your airline, your hotel, and ask for advice on twitter.  I think you will be really impressed by the responsiveness.

 

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Woodsman Tavern: Overpriced, Overhyped

My usual practice is if I eat out at a place and I don’t like it, I don’t write about it.  The Woodsman Tavern falls into this weird category where I would say the food is good but I wouldn’t recommend it because it is so overpriced.  As I mentioned in my last post, Portland is really lucky to have so many great places to eat.  One benefit of us living in such a foodie town is that even the neighborhood pub has to step it up a notch because we expect more.  The other side to that coin is if you are going to bill yourself as a high end restaurant you better freaking bring it.  The Woodsman Tavern tries that but falls short.

We went to the Woodsman for a friend’s birthday party and we sampled a variety of things on the menu. Nothing was bad, it was all good. But there was also nothing outstanding about it. It was, I think by Portland standards, average. For the price that you are paying ($25-$29 main course, $9-$12 apps) you should be saying wow. Also, the portions sizes for the main courses were huge, too big in fact. I like leaving a restaurant feeling full not gross and I don’t know about you but when I pay $30 for a meal I feel compelled to eat it.

As for the service I thought it was average. My biggest gripe was waiting 20 minutes for a server to show up at our table after being seated. Which is not a huge deal just annoying. But again, at this price point I expect better.

If I had one word to describe the Woodsman it would be overpriced.  I do not mind paying for an expensive dinner if the food is worth it.  At this price point there are better options in Portland, where you can have a meal and think wow.  If you want to drop a $100+ on dinner I would suggest going down the street to Ava Genes. Nothing at this place justifies the cost. This is Portland, there are plenty of places where you can get better food for less money, so why come here?

The bottom line is the food is by Portland standards is good but not great, and the price just makes it not worth going to. They should cut the portion sizes in half and reduce the prices by a third and this place would be worth going to.

The Woodsman Tavern on Urbanspoon

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When It Comes to Restaurants, Do Portlanders Know They’re Spoiled?

It has been awhile since I posted a restaurant review.  Which, at least on my end is poor blogging practice since restaurant reviews are some of my more popular posts.  It’s not like I haven’t gone out much, we still go out once a week, but I haven’t really been any place spectacular.  I usually reserve the restaurant posts on here for places that I think are worth going out of the way for.  That isn’t to say where we have been has not been good, they have, just not special.  But then something occurred to me the other day.

We were having dinner at our neighborhood pub, Darcy’s up in St. Johns.  This is the kind of place where you can order breakfast for dinner (which I did).

photo (40)

My wife ordered a bacon cheese burger, which is a half pound of angus certified beef, and a darn good burger.

photo (41)

So I’m eating dinner, drinking a beer (West Coast IPA, soo good and I couldn’t believe they had it on tap), and I think to myself man we have it good!  This place has at least 10 very good craft beers on tap and the food is good.  In spite of all that I would say for Portland standards, this place is average.  You will never see this place make a list on the Oregonian, Willamette Week, or Portland Monthly.

The great thing about Portland is that every neighborhood in town has a place like Darcy’s.  Where you can get good food and find a variety of high quality craft beer. Portland is such a foodie town that I think it lifts up all restaurants because the customers just expect more and that is a great thing.

So I write this to say, if you are visiting Portland don’t forget the places where locals go day in and day out.  Visit the marquee spots but try these places as well.  You are not going to find a list of these places.  You just have go out and explore but chances are if you just walk around and see a crowd of locals you can bet it’s worth trying.

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More Direct Flights to Europe From PDX

In the last month there has been some positive news for PDX based travelers.  For those of us who use PDX as our home airport our options for direct flights for international travel are limited.  PDX has only one direct flight to Asia, on Delta to Tokyo, and one direct flight to Europe, on Delta to Amsterdam.  Next summer that is going to change.

Direct Flights to Iceland

Starting in May 2015 Icelandair is going to start direct flights from Portland to Reykjavik on Wednesdays and Fridays. This is great news for us locals, for two reasons.  One, Iceland is cool.  Second,  Icelandair is a great airline for connecting to the rest of Europe.  Check out their route map.

As you can see, Icelandair has a lot of destinations in Europe.  But, that is not what makes Icelandair good for connecting to Europe.  What is cool about Icelandair, is that they allow stopovers in Iceland for up to 7 days at no additional cost.  The flight from Portland is also short at about 7 hours.  From Portland you can take a relatively short flight to Iceland, stopover for a few days, then continue on to your destination.  It is two vacations on one ticket.

Direct Flights to Germany

Starting in July of 2015 Condor will operate direct flights from PDX to Frankfurt on Tuesdays and Fridays. Lufthansa used to operate direct flights on this route until is was discontinued in 2009.  I’m happy that Portland will have another flight directly to continental Europe.

For those of us that also geek out about frequent flyer miles, this flight is also an award flight gem. Condor is a member the Miles & More frequent flyer program.  A one way ticket from Portland to Frankfurt is only 25,000 miles in economy.  How can you get Miles & More miles? Currently the Lufthansa credit card has a 50,000 mile sign up bonus. Lufthansa is also a member of the Miles & More program, meaning the miles from that credit card can be redeemed on Condor.

The bottom line here is that more direct flights to any destination is a plus for those of us who fly out of PDX.  I’m doubly excited that PDX is increasing the number of direct flights to Europe.  I hope these are a commercial success for the airport so more airlines may be encouraged to add routes.

Update:  Looks like flights on Condor will start June 19th.  

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Challenge Accepted Costco! Can I Beat a Car Rental Price on Costco with Priceline?

I am a huge fan of Priceline for rental cars.  I think last minute bidding with Priceline is THE way to go for cheap rental cars.  Although I think Costco just made it hard on me.

I am currently finalizing some of the details for our upcoming trip to Hawaii.  We booked airfare a few months ago using frequent flyer miles and the hotel is just about wrapped up. On Monday I thought I would check out rental car prices.  My typical strategy for rental cars, which you can read about in detail here, is to book a reservation I can cancel and then make a last minute bid with Priceline the week before I leave.  Well Costco Travel just made that a challenge.  When I checked Costco on Monday I found a rental price of $12.50/day for an intermediate car.   Needless to say I made that reservation. Total price including taxes was $158.  Beating that with Priceline is going to be a challenge.  Well, challenge accepted Costco, challenge accepted.

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Welcoming 6 New Portland Breweries, Map Updated.

Local Beer

Local Beer

So I last updated my Map of Portland Breweries in 2012.  It has been in desperate need of an update.  In the last couple of years there have been some major additions and changes in the Portland craft beer seen.  Amnesia left town to go the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge, in its place is Stormbreaker Brewing. In the same neighborhood we also welcome two additional breweries, Ex Novo (a nonprofit brewery) and Ecliptic. Ecliptic was perhaps one of the most heralded brewery openings in some time.  No surprise since the owner is Oregon brewing legend John Harris.

Down in Southeast Portland 13 Virtues moved into the brewing space at Philadelphia’s  We also welcome Baerlic Brewing and Montavilla Brew Works.

I have lost count of how many individual breweries this makes for Portland.  Needless to say it is a lot.  There are a lof of great breweries in Portland and many are adding great food too.  So use the map and start exploring.  Cheers.

View Portland Breweries in a larger map

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Portland Day Hike: Latourell Falls Columbia River Gorge

Latourell Falls Lower Falls Columbia River Gorge

The Columbia River Gorge, 30 minutes east of Portland, is filled with lots of great hiking. You could easily spend a couple of days hiking all the different trails.  I love the Columbia River Gorge and having it in Portland’s backyard is one of the many reasons to love this city.  A really great hike, and the closest of the Columbia River Gorge waterfalls to Portland, is Latourell Falls.  Latourell Falls is a easy to moderate hike just past Vista House on the Historic Columbia River Highway.

To get to Latourell Falls, head east on I-84 out of Portland.  Take exit 22 (Corbet) and drive up to the Historic Columbia River Highway and turn left.  If you have the time the Portland Women’s Forum and Vista House are on the way and worth stopping at.  If you are crunched for time, keep driving.  Latourell Falls is on the right side of the highway past the Vista House.  The parking lot is marked Latourell Falls.  If you are going to hike the falls I suggest heading out early because the parking lot can fill up fast.  If you get to Latourell Falls by 9:30 you should be able to find plenty of parking.  If you get there too late you will need to park on the shoulder of the highway.

The hike to view both Lower Latourell Falls and Upper Latourell Falls is a little over 2 miles. The hike is easy/moderate in difficulty. The beginning to the hike is a bit steep but after that it levels off.  if you are not interested in the hike but just want to view the falls you can get a pretty good view from a trail just below the parking lot.

Latourell Falls Lower Falls Trail Columbia River Gorge

However, I think the hike is well worth it.  It is good exercise and Upper Latourell Falls is a pretty waterfall that is not overly crowded thanks to the uphill hike to get there.

Latourell Falls Upper Falls Columbia River Gorge

Another reason why I think the Upper Latourell Falls hike is worth it is for the view.  After you walk past the falls there is a split in the trail.  One goes up (the way back) and one goes down.  The downhill trail will take you to a lookout with a great view of the Columbia River Gorge below.

View from Latourell Upper Falls Trail Columbia River Gorge

 

If you are looking for a day hike from Portland and don’t have all day to spend in the Columbia River Gorge, then Latourell Falls may be the hike for you.

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