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United Island Hopper Adventures 2.0

Marshall Islands Nuclear Testing 1954 (US Department of Defense)

Marshall Islands Nuclear Testing 1954 (US Department of Defense)

The end is near! With 962,266 lifetime flight miles, there were only a few things left that I wanted to do before making Million Miler. The United Island Hopper being one of them. With five stops in the Republic of the Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia, UA Flight 154 is often considered to be the ultimate #avgeek trip-of-a-lifetime, that is until and unless you’re crazy enough to sign up for it twice.

My day started at around 7am (island time) in Honolulu. I know that sounds pretty early, but it was a surprising reprieve given the completely inhumane 5:35am departure I experienced on my first island hopper adventure. No clue why the plane leaves later now, but hey, I’ll take it. I flew out to Honolulu the day before, as one should do to catch the island hopper, then headed to Waikiki, rented a paddle board and spent much of the afternoon catching waves; by no means the worst way to spend an 18 hour layover. The view of Diamond Head at sunset enjoyed with a Kona brew in hand didn’t exactly suck either.

My first stop after leisurely checking in at HNL was Starbucks to grab some food. As a previous island hopper survivor, I knew this was pretty important. Food on the plane is sparse. There are other words to describe the food, but if you’ve ever had a Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwich paired with airplane coffee you know where this could be headed. Trust me. Go to Starbucks!


Early morning at HNL

Boarding was rather uneventfully but I did happen to notice the large collection of United logo bags the mechanic sitting in 7c had on board with him. Of course as everyone already knows the island hopper always travels with a mechanic and I’ll let your imagination run wild as to reasons why. There’s also a relief crew of pilots seated in row 1.

I was seated a little further back in 29A. I can explain. When I booked my tickets lets just say there were some discrepancies on regarding aircraft configuration. My itinerary showed a 737-800, however the seat map only had enough rows for 737-700. Three phone calls to United did little to clear up that mystery and didn’t really help either. Why care? I knew from unfortunate experience that there is a window missing in economy plus and it moves depending on which aircraft you’re on. Out of the seats what were left available I didn’t want to chance it. It turns out I made a good call. 737-800. Row 11. The only thing worse than spending 14 hours in economy, is spending 14 hours in economy (plus) without a window, especially on this flight. Row 29 turned out to be good choice though. It was far enough back to get a good view without a lot of obstruction, but I still snapped some good wing shots for ThirtySixThousand. I also ended up with an awesome new friend seated in 29B.

Making friends on the @united #islandhopper #29B #HNL #MAJ #livealoha #hemigram

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We took off from the reef at HNL, and after a few turns we were on our way out across the Pacific on another adventure.


Centrally located approximately 2,000 away from Hawaii, Japan, and Australia, the Republic of the Marshall islands redefines the middle of nowhere. Either that, or it’s the center of the Pacific Rim’s Universe. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective. At 5 hours in, the first sight of land as we approached Majuro literally took my breath away, for a second time. Long narrow fringes of land extend to the horizon, encircling vibrant blue lagoons.


Approaching Majuro

The Airport in Majuro is strategically placed on a section of atoll just wide enough to accommodate a runway. The length of the atoll however is a different story. After two times now flying into this place, I still haven’t determined exactly how big it is, but I’m pretty sure the answer is huge.

After several hours spent at altitude in an environment kept just above freezing, deplaning in Majuro was like stepping into a sauna. I was also pretty excited about stretching my legs. There’s a big sign welcoming you to the islands that you can take a picture with, and a small lounge for transiting passengers. Among other things, they sell beer there.

Yokwe means Aloha in Marshallese

Yokwe = Aloha in Marshallese

If for whatever reason you decide to not get off the plane, you get to participate in the security ritual, where everyone on one side of the plane moves to the other and has to identify their bags. Don’t worry about missing out on this though; unless you have a written note from the U.S. government, everyone on board gets to play at the next stop.


Somewhere between Majuro and Kwajalein #nofilter


Upon decent into Kwajalein an announcement was made kindly asking us to not take any pictures as it is still an active US military base. Funny, how I missed that announcement the first time, but I’ll take that to mean I probably shouldn’t be posting that shit on the internet. Luckily there’s Google for that.

Shortly after my first island hopping experience I remember sitting next to a rather drunk man on the plane between Guam and Manila. He told me about how used to be a private contractor at Kwaj, and that he’d lived on the north side of the atoll. “It’s beautiful there,” he said, crying into his beer, seemingly pining to go back like a character straight out of LOST. It was a little weird.

I initially had the same impression though. Kwajalein was incredibly beautiful. I don’t know if was that magic time of day or particles left over from former nuclear testing, but I swear the island sparkled. Lush green grass, gentle trade winds blowing through the coconut trees. The place looked like a freaking park. It certainly did not seem to be the most sinister place in paradise. Quite the opposite in fact.

My second impression was a little different. When we landed, I noticed the green grass was now brown, perhaps an indication that it hadn’t rained in a while, and from my perspective sitting on the other side of the plane, I saw that the paint was peeling on some of the government structures. What before had seemed almost dreamlike now appeared to be very real.

Of course there’s more to Kwajalein Atoll than just the military base that occupies Kwajalein Island. The atoll is one of the largest in the world, made up of several smaller islands and a lot of coral reef. A short ferry ride away (or I guess a long walk at low tide) is the settlement of Ebeye, where about 15,000 people live on an area that’s roughly 80 acres; by all accounts a stark contrast to conditions on the military base. However, I don’t really know for sure. It’s not exactly the easiest place to visit. Maybe someday…

Another funny thing I noticed about Kwajalein is that nobody really likes to talk about what goes on there. Again, there’s Google and Wikipedia. Once the venue for one of the most famous World War II naval battles, it has since been used primarily for anti-ballistic weapons testing. It’s location in the middle of the Pacific also makes it prime real estate for both the military and private companies like SpaceX to launch all sorts of stuff, having a choice between polar and equatorial orbits. Kwajalein is a pretty fascinating place.


If you like short field take offs and landings, the second half of the island hopper is for you. #Avgeek tip of the day- if you’re wondering how long a runway is there’s an easy way to find out. Have you ever noticed the big black square signs with numbers on them out on the tarmac? They indicate the length of remaining runway, in thousands of feet. Add both sides of the sign, multiply by 1,000, and there’s your answer. I didn’t count one longer than 6,000 ft. and the internet confirmed it. Buckle up.

The first of these really short runways is on the small island of Kosrae, Federated States of Micronisia (FSM). On days that the island hopper skips a certain island, this is the one. Famous for the “sleeping lady” mountain formation and some of the sweetest tangerines in the world which after two trips I still haven’t been able to get my hands on, that’s pretty much it.

Kosrae, FSM

Kosrae, FSM

The quaint little open air terminal where I spent 40 minutes on the ground last time has been “upgraded” to a drab cinder block holding cell; not among the changes that I like, but at least it was air conditioned.


Out of the three stops in Micronesia, Pohnpei looks to be the true gem. If there was one place I’d really like to spend more time aside from the Marshalls, this would be it. From the air it’s reminiscent of a Mo’orea or a Roratonga- a beautiful, lush, emerald green aisle surrounded by a turquoise lagoon and a barrier reef. There’s Nan Modal, an ancient city made up of such large monoliths that local legend states a dragon might have moved them there, and beautiful Kepirohi Waterfalls; Two things definitely worth going back to see.


If you look carefully you can see a boat stuck on the reef

Pohnpei has the nicest terminal of all the stops, indicating a relatively fair amount of tourism compared with the other islands. Sadly the vintage Continental Micronesia poster I’d fallen in love with on my first trip had been ripped off the wall, but there was an interesting poster about shark tourism. I normally try to avoid them, but apparently there is thriving industry propped up by those who want to go swimming with the creatures. Who knew?


RIP Air Mike

While we were all standing around I was engaged in conversation by one of the pilots. Nice guy. “So where are you headed today?” Me: “Guam” “Why not the direct flight?” “I don’t know, this one seemed more interesting,” I responded with an awkward smile. He kind of shrugged non-judgmentally and somehow seemed to have got me. “Ok”. Despite having just been successfully outed as an #avgeek, I passed on the opportunity to ask any aviation related questions and instead we talked about surfing. Pohnpei is home to P-pass (Palikir Pass), a legendary reef-break and Micronesia’s answer to Teahupo’o and Cloudbreak. “Yeah, it was right under my approach,” one of the other pilot chimed in. “WORLD. CLASS.” I take it he would know. Even though he’s Guam-based, he still keeps two boards in Honolulu. While I wouldn’t exactly use the terms tube ride and barreling when describing my own surfing prowess, I guess there’s always that to live up to someday.


The island(s) of Chuuk are the final stop before Guam. That’s right, islands…lots of them! All clustered together inside of a huge lagoon framed by perhaps the most gorgeous barrier reef of them all. On my last island hopper adventure, I think I got the best photos of the trip here as we descended through a batch of rainbows towards the airport. The lagoon below is filled with all sorts of interesting stuff left over from another famous World War II battle. Unsurprisingly a lot of people come here to wreck dive. This time instead of rainbows, there was just rain, and the cool dive map from the airport which I was looking forward to checking out again, also ripped off the wall. In other news, the infamous airport motel appears to have undergone renovations, however I still don’t think I want to stay there.


Boarding the plane one last time in Chuuk


Yay! Finally! Don’t get me wrong, the island hopper is about as much fun as you can have sitting for 14 hours in economy, but it’ still…14 hours in United economy (best case scenario domestic first if you’re so inclined). After landing in Guam, it took about 2 minutes to clear US Customs, I caught a cab to the Hyatt, and was on the beach just in time for sundown. It was nice to finally get my toes in the sand, after having been teased for much of the day. The water was as warm as a bath, and getting to swim in the Philippine Sea was the best reward I can think of after a long day crossing the Pacific.

Watching the sunset in Guam

Watching the sunset in Guam

Next week I go back to Guam, this time on the direct flight. I don’t anticipate anything interesting happening. Let’s hope for the best. Shortly thereafter, I’m taking my entire family to Australia, and somewhere out over the Pacific, between Sydney and San Francisco, I’ll become a Million Miler.

As I think back on this most recent trip, The Marshall Islands stands out as one of the most enchanting places I’ve ever been. The delicately placed ribbons of land stretched across the Pacific as far as the eye can see has had me spending a lot of time in contemplation of the geopolitical climate that would make somebody think it was a good idea to blow up a nuke in such a serene paradise. I mean the place is stunning. With an economy now largely propped up by US foreign aid and the rent we pay for use of Kwajalein, I can’t help but wonder what makes one coral atoll in the middle of the ocean more worthy of a Park Hyatt or an Intercontinental than another. The people there are certainly among the nicest I’ve ever met. Maybe it’s the former nuclear testing, but then that argument doesn’t really hold up given the case of French Polynesia, where the powers that be there also decided it was a good idea to blow holes in the reef. What if the likes of Emirates or Etihad flew here? I mean, what’s so special about the Maldives? (I guess I’ll let you know when we visit there in October). Perhaps, just maybe, though, certain places are best left untouched and off the map, only to be served 3 times a week by United Airlines.

Where I’ve Been

It’s been a little over a year since I disappeared into the mountains of Jackson Hole, or so it may have seemed. I know things were just starting to get interesting when I decided to take an extended leave from the world of blogging. For the most part its been business as usual, continuing to live my life one adventure at a time, just sans taking the time to write about it part. Perhaps I owe an explanation. Perhaps not. You decide.

So why come back now? My quest for Million Miler has always been a central theme here at Miles, Points, and Mai Tais and that quest will soon be coming to an end. Really soon, actually. Every good story needs an ending. Right? No I haven’t given up, and yes, I’m still that crazy one out there flying for miles like an asshole when a trip across the Pacific yields about as much as a trip to In-n-Out with a credit card. Welcome to the land of revenue driven programs. I warned you all this was coming.

Again, so why? I get that a lot. The whole Million Miler thing? Why bother when I can easily travel hack my way into the likes of Emirates First and the Park Hyatt wherever? What’s so special about a mid-tier lifetime status that gets you in the same boarding group as someone who just signed up for a MileagePlus Explorer card? Sometimes life it isn’t about the destination, it’s the journey. And this one has been one hell of a ride; an adventure worth infinitely more than a gold card with my name on it. That, and, well, I said I would do it!

So where the hell have I been? Let’s catch up:

Shortly after I left Jackson Hole, I went skiing in Utah: Alta, Snowbird, and Park City.


I also skied a lot closer to home.

I took my dad with me to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida…twice


I took the rest of the family to Seattle

Olympic National Park #family #travelwithkids

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Maui. Tahoe. More Maui. More Tahoe.

Bonsai Rock #laketahoe #tahoe #bonsai #bonsairock #bonsaitree

A photo posted by Michelle S (@hulagrrl210) on

#Haleakala crater #maui #nofilter

A photo posted by Michelle S (@hulagrrl210) on

Thanks to today's paddle I now have a new screensaver on my phone #dlbliss #laketahoe #sup

A photo posted by Michelle S (@hulagrrl210) on


Shit happened on the open-jaw segment of a mileage run to Taipei and Hong Kong

I finally flew out of Reno. DC to visit Jeff the Wanderer and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum


Traded in miles for a last-minute, middle-of-summer ski trip with Miles-Abound-Phil to Portillo and Valle Nevado, Chile. EPIC.

Après ski w/ @britinnc #skiportillo #chile #apres101

A photo posted by Michelle S (@hulagrrl210) on

I also flew First Class for the first time on a 3-class airplane…on American. Slightly less epic.

So what kind of self respecting travel hacker hadn’t flown International First Class before? *Raises Hand* That would be me. But in case anyone was starting to doubt my abilities, my husband has. I sent Mr. Mai Tais to visit his family in India on EK F. We traded in 90K not-so-hard-earned Alaska miles before all the shower selfies and people like Sam Huang led to the untimely demise of that award. Mr. Mai Tais also got to fly the ANA RD-D2 787 between San Jose, CA and Tokyo! *Jedi hand wave* Be jealous. At one point there was short-lived talk of doing my own kickstarter (for charity of course!) to try and get him to dress up in a costume for the flight, but ultimately I didn’t get my s-h-i together in time. Such is life with 2 small kids. Mr. Mai Tais is the one who takes care of them most of the time when I’m away so being able to treat him in return was even better than going myself. Truth.

So how are the kids? They’re great! They’re also very happy Alaska MVPs. SMF-OGG-SMF-OGG…our family loves Maui.

Off to #maui for my first birthday! #babyK #travelwithkids #iflyalaska

A photo posted by Michelle S (@hulagrrl210) on

#travelwithkids #travelstyle #OGG #alaskamvp

A photo posted by Michelle S (@hulagrrl210) on


What Happens in the LAS Centurion Lounge…yeah, let’s not even go there πŸ˜‰

Speaking of Alaska (the state, not the airline), We went back there in February to visit my cousin Steve and family using 100K Suntrust Skypesos (RIP). Delta Saver Awards really do exist! At least if you’re interested in going to Anchorage in the middle of February. It was great!

Hanging out with #family in Anchorage, #Alaska this weekend

A photo posted by Michelle S (@hulagrrl210) on


I then went skiing with Points Princess Caroline at Beaver Creek and Vail (The Westin Beaver Creek is awesome BTW). I like to ski πŸ™‚

Mileage Run to Tokyo

#view from the #skydeck at #moritower #tokyo #japan

A photo posted by Michelle S (@hulagrrl210) on


…and I also flew back and forth a bunch of times on a $40 fare between Los Angeles and Chicago. 5 times in 2 days. Some trips are better than others.


So What’s Next?

I look forward to sharing the closing chapter of my Million Miler story before I take off into the sunset one last time, Mai Tai in hand, in search of a nice beach somewhere to retire.

The #FinalCountdown is on!

It's a sign…#literally #australia2016 #flythefriendlyskies #DEN #airport #travel

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Goodbye 2014, Hello 2015!

I can’t believe it is 2015! The end of the year kind of snuck up on me and I completely missed my planned year-in-review post. Anyway, between caring for two (!) young kids, cleaning up around the house, paying my manufactured spending bills and watching bowl games today, I thought it would be fitting to pay a quick tribute to 2014:

Our Newest Little Traveler

Our Newest Little Traveler

Our newest little traveler, Baby K, joined us in September. Despite spending much of the year pregnant, I still managed to rack up some vertical feet on the ski slopes and fly for over 69,000 miles (ok, that’s not much compared to almost 150k in 2013!). I finally crossed 1 million miles on my flight memory (all airlines, including award tickets), although I am still chasing that lifetime status with United. We visited Japan and mainland China for the first time, then spent a lot of time as a family on the beach around more familiar places like Lake Tahoe and Maui.

Miles Flown: 69,065

Countries Visited: Japan, India, China, Mexico

Airlines Flown: United, Alaska, US Airways, ANA, Asiana, Air China

Elite Status: Premier Silver on United (barely), Alaska Airlines MVP, Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles Gold


Powder Day at Heavenly Lake Tahoe

Powder Day at Heavenly Lake Tahoe

Mori Tower, Tokyo

Mori Tower, Tokyo

Forbidden City, Beijing

Forbidden City, Beijing

DL Bliss State Park, Lake Tahoe

DL Bliss State Park

Maui no ka oi

Maui no ka oi

Looking forward to 2015:

  • Maui in January
  • Whistler and Vancouver, BC in February (#skido2015)
  • Skiing in Jackson Hole and Utah in March (I finally redeemed a Delta award ticket!)
  • Father-daughter trip with my dad to the Kennedy Space Center in May (postponed from last year)
  • Surf, ski, and standup paddle as much as I can!
  • More family beach days
  • Oktoberfest
  • United Million Miler?


Happy New Year, thanks for reading and safe travels!

Flying With a 2-Year-Old and 2-Month-Old

As of mid-September we’re now a family of 4! Since then life has been a little crazier than usual, and having my hands full with a 2 month old baby girl (and her 2 year old brother) is part of the reason I haven’t been flying, blogging, or blogging about flying as much as I used to. Slowly but surely though, things are getting back to normal, if there is such a thing, and it’s not like we were going to stay home forever! Travel is a way of life for our family and two weeks ago the time (finally) came to pack up our s*** and make our way to the airport for Baby K’s first trip to Maui.


My Little First Class Travel Buddy

So what is it REALLY like to travel with a 2 year old and a 2 month old? To be honest, I’m not really sure. I mean, I was there, I survived it, but I still don’t know what to make of the experience. It’s like a paradox. There’s the sheer bliss of taking my two kids to same beach where I learned how to swim paired with the agony of trying to shove a double stroller into our Hyundai-Santa-Fe-of-a rental car. I’m sure most people came here expecting to read about crying on the plane (there was some of that), getting peed on (that happened too), and what an overall pain in the ass it is to travel with two small children (to a certain extent this is true), but somehow it wasn’t that bad. Two of us got upgraded, I took a nap, and then enjoyed a lovely lilikoi ginger creme brulee for desert. Clearly, life doesn’t entirely suck. To be honest, taking two kids on an airplane isn’t that much harder than taking them in a car to Walmart, and Maui is so much better than Walmart. If nothing else, I feel like traveling the world with our older son had prepared us well. At the same time, we learned a couple of new things:

  • Always get to the airport a few minutes early…to take pictures in front of the giant red bunny, of course!
    Baby K's First Trip

    Baby K’s First Trip

    Seriously though, this is good advice for everyone, not only those traveling with small kids! Travel is more fun when you’re not in a rush.

  • More babies. More crap.
    With Grandpa (and the rest of our crap) at OGG baggage claim

    With Grandpa at OGG baggage claim

    I used to take pride in the fact we could fit a pack n play (travel crib) inside our ginormous Dakine Split Roller suitcase. Then sometime during the process of shuffling a double stroller, 2 car seats, our bags (one of which was full of LED light bulbs from Costco) and a box with a pack n play in it (since the suitcase our pack n play goes in was already full) 10-feet-at-a-time across the check in area and through agriculture inspection at OGG, I came to the conclusion that we need to travel lighter. With all the money we saved thanks to Hawaii’s generous energy rebate, we’ve since purchased an extra pack n play to leave with family on Maui. Next time (next month), we’re only taking with one bag.

  • If there is any chance of rain in the forecast, you might want to send one adult to get go get the car…


    Right as we all got off the parking lot shuttle a red cell passed over the airport. How do I know it was a red cell? My son decided he wanted to jump in a giant puddle and I felt the appropriate action was to take a picture and tweet about it. It was then I saw the radar map the local news had shared. See that red spot east of Woodland? That’s us getting rained on! So there we were, huddled in the little bus-stop/shed in economy parking waiting for the storm to pass, while my two year old son excitedly splashed water all over the place. What did I do about the situation? I laughed. It was right in the middle of this FML-moment that I concluded there was a high probability that traveling with two kids had indeed made me lose my mind. Then I realized, our son has lived through a drought his entire life; He’d never even seen a puddle before! It’d been a long day for all of us, we were almost home, so I let him play. The huge smile on his face, the shrieks of laughter, the contagious joy of discovering something new in the world around him…the journey may not always be easy, but little stuff like that is a big reason why we travel with kids.


National Park Week 2014

April 19-27th is National Park Week and in celebration you can get free admission to NPS sites across on the country this weekend on April 19th-20th. For more information visit Last year my family and I took advantage of the opportunity for a spur-of-the-moment trip to nearby Yosemite (you can read our trip report here). This year, we’ll be headed to Japan, but that doesn’t mean I can’t join in on the fun by looking back at some of our favorite trips throughout the years!

Yosemite 2013

National Park Week, Yosemite 2013

Mai Tai’s Favorites:

Yellowstone and Grand Teton

Both of these Wyoming parks hold a special place in my heart due to the large amount of time I’ve spent there thanks to having family in the area. Yellowstone is of course America’s First National Park and a definite must-see. While the main (and most famous) attraction is Old Faithful, I’ve found the nearby geyser pools to be equally, if not more spectacular, and the wildlife viewing is unrivaled.

Yellowstone 2004

Yellowstone 2004

Grand Teton also has some incredible wildlife opportunities as my mom and I found out during an early-morning airport run in 2010 (fun fact: JAC is the only major commercial airport within a national park in the US). Other favorites in the park include the very photogenic Oxbow Bend, Snake River Overlook, and Jenny Lake. The mountains after which the park is named are pretty nice too. πŸ˜‰

With 6 Month Old Baby CJ at Snake River Overlook in 2012

With 6 Month Old Baby CJ at Snake River Overlook in 2012

How to get there: Your best bet and closet airport is Jackson Hole, Wy. Also nearby: Cody, WY and West Yellowstone, MT.

World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument (Pearl Harbor)

I could never get sick of going back to visit Pearl Harbor and it has been subject of numerous trip reports here at Miles, Points, and Mai Tais (here, here, here, and here). If you’re ever on Oahu, make time to go learn more about our nation’s incredibly history and pay your respects the the thousands of Americans who lost their lives there on December 7th, 1941.

Pearl Harbor 2013

Pearl Harbor 2013

How to get there: Pearl Harbor is just minutes away from HNL by cab, take a bus from Waikiki, or parking is available on site.

Pu’unoa o Honaunau (CIty of Refuge)

An unsuspected favorite on the Kona Coast of the Big Island, we visited here in 2009. Tikis (or rather “ki’i”) and turtles adequately sum up the attractions, yet there was something more about this place. In ancient times anyone sentenced to death for breaking kapu (sacred laws) could seek refuge here and be given a second chance. As screwy as it sounds, there is an incredible aura of calmness and sense of peace here that needs to be experienced in order to be believed.

Turtle (Honu) Seeking Refuge on the Beach at Pu'uhonoa O Honaunau

Turtle (Honu) Seeking Refuge on the Beach at Pu’uhonoa O Honaunau

Closest Airports: KOA and ITO


This is perhaps my all-time favorite park after 3 visits. By far my favorite area of the park is the Island in the Sky district, which is 1,000 feet above the rest of Canyonlands, overlooking the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers. Mesa Arch at Sunrise is worth getting up to see, and if you’re up for a real adventure, there’s some cool secret stuff to be explored here as well.

How to get there: About an hour away from Moab, UT and Arches National Park


It’s hard to mention Canyonlands without talking about nearby Arches, which is probably the most accessible park I’ve ever been to. It is small, easy to cover in a half day, yet with plenty to see. Most of the parks attractions can be seen from the road, but if you’re looking to dig deeper and get up close and personal, consider the short hike to Delicate Arch at sunset; it’s well worth the effort.


Delicate Arch at Sunset, 2004

How to get there: Just minutes outside the small town of Moab, Utah. Closest Airport: Grand Junction, CO. SLC is about 3 hours away.


Another unsuspected favorite, this place is arguably much more impressive in person than in pictures. Also there’s plenty more to see in the Black Hills area of South Dakota that makes it worth the trip: Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave, the world’s largest (and kitschiest) drug store- Wall Drug, the Minuteman Missile and America’s First National Monument- Devil’s Tower, which is just across the border in Northeastern Wyoming.

Closest Airport: Rapid City, SD


Maybe I’m biased as a California native, but this park will make every list I ever compile simply because it’s awesome! I don’t know what more I can say that hasn’t been covered in earlier trip reports other than try go to Glacier Point if it’s open (seasonal). The birds-eye views from up there of the high Sierra, giant rock monoliths and cascading waterfalls almost don’t seem real.

Making Friends at Glacier Point 2009

Making Friends at Glacier Point 2007

How to get there: About 3 hours driving from SFO and 4 hours from SMF. Also consider Modesto (MOD) and Fresno, CA (FAT).

Virgin Islands

I’m a sucker for nice beaches, and Trunk Bay did not disappoint. My husband and I visited in 2010 as part of a Eastern Caribbean cruise (we day-tripped over from nearby St. Thomas) and I’m still obsessing over that white sand and warm turquoise water.

Still Dreaming About This Beach Day in 2010

Still Dreaming About This Beach Day in 2010

How to get there: A short ferry ride from St. Thomas (STT) and catch a ride to the beach in the back of a truck (available near the National Park Visitor Center)

Also check out: Last year’s Best of America’s National Parks


Welcome to the New Miles, Points, and Mai Tais

Aloha and welcome to the new!

I started Miles, Points, and Mai Tais in 2012 to share my love of travel, adventure, and all the miles and points that make those things possible. After nearly a year blogging with First2Board, I decided it was time to be back out on my own. If you followed me from my previous site(s), just a few items of important business before we get the party started: If you subscribe to my feed you might want to sign up again using one of the social links on the right, and if you have previously linked to any of my content, the pages are the same just at instead of

I really hope you like the new look and I encourage you stay and take a look around. Over theΒ  coming days I’ll be working hard making sure all the links work and the pictures look their best, but if you come across something that needs my immediate attention (or have any other suggestions) feel free to leave a comment or email me at

Thanks again for reading and stay tuned for exciting new stuff along with some old favorites like Manufactured Spending Mondays, and Special Livery Sundays returning this week!


National Aviation History Month: Exploring Hawaii’s Aviation Heritage

November is National Aviation History Month so in honor of that I wanted to share one of my all-time favorite websites. The State of Hawaii runs an incredible archive of photos and facts covering the unique aviation heritage of the Aloha State. To view the photos, go to the side menu and select “Aviation Photos” and then the decade you are interested in. Most photos are further categorized by island and airport. Some of my favorites include construction pictures from Honolulu’s reef runway from the 1970s, Kahului in the 80s, and photos of the Pan Am Clippers from the 1930s. There is also an extensive collection from Hickam Airforce base in World War II. The website also includes a lot of information about Hawaii’s airport system, pioneer airlines, as well as major events. So whether you’re looking to re-live your first trip to the islands or just want to see what life was like back when United really was the Friendly Skies, be sure to check out this site!

Happy Aviation Heritage Month!

Pam Am Honolulu Clipper 1939 (

Pam Am Honolulu Clipper 1939 (

A Father’s Day I’ll Never Forget

Not to brag or anything, but my dad rocks! Seriously! He is one of the coolest people I know and just an incredibly fun person to be around. We even share a lot of the same interests- most of them having to do with flying. He’s a Million Miler with United (which I someday hope to be) and had the good sense to sign up for a lifetime membership to the Red Carpet Club back when they offered it for only a few hundred bucks. If that wasn’t enough in itself to make me think that he’s totally awesome, he holds a commercial pilot’s license for both helicopters and airplanes.Β  He was also very supportive of me when I decided to go for my private pilot’s license back in 2009.

Father's Day 2010

Father’s Day 2010

Seeing as how today was Father’s Day, I wanted to share a story of the very special day we spent together in 2010. It was during the US Open at Pebble Beach and my dad volunteered to provide aerial support for local law enforcement. Father’s Day 2010 turned more into take-your-daughter-to-work day, and my husband and I were able to hitch a ride in his helicopter to one of the biggest sporting events of the year. We landed on the football field of my alma mater (about 10 years too late) and then were transported to the venue in the back of a cop car. Talk about arriving in style!

Unfortunately, my dad was working most of the day, so we didn’t get to spend it all with him…but we did get to watch someone sink a double eagle on the sixth hole at Pebble Beach. The crowd went absolutely crazy! I don’t know much about golf, but from what I understand that’s kind of a big deal. If it wasn’t for my dad so selflessly giving up his time to serve the community that day, we never would have been there to experience it.

Later in the afternoon, after my dad fulfilled his duties, we all flew home, got drunk, and watched the end of the US Open on TV. It was a little surreal watching it air live after we’d been there in person just a few short hours before. It was kind of like leaving the Super Bowl at the end of the 3rd quarter, but at least we did it together as a family! I wouldn’t have traded that day (or its ending) for anything.

I don’t think my dad reads my blog (in fact I’m pretty sure he doesn’t), but I still wanted to say thank you! I know I’m the luckiest little girl in the world! Happy Father’s Day!

Carmel Valley on the way to the US Open

Carmel Valley on the way to the US Open

Pebble Beach

Pebble Beach

About to land on the football field of my alma mater

About to land on the football field of my alma mater

Leaving the US Open to go home and watch it on TV

Leaving the US Open to go home and watch it on TV

I’m in! My Craziest Adventure So Far (At Least This Month)

Looks Tame, Right?

Looks Tame, Right?

I just signed up for my second paddleboard race of the season! This time it’s an 8-miler along the beautiful east shore of Lake Tahoe. The 2013 Thunderbird Run is an out-and-back paddle between the beach at Sand Harbor and the historic Thunderbird Mansion. These two locations are among the most scenic in Tahoe and I figured what better way to see them than from a 10’6″ surfboard. This might very well fall under the category of “what the hell was I thinking?” as up until now the farthest I’ve ever paddled is 5 miles…and that was just a few weeks ago! Who knows, maybe it will be good training in case I decide to tackle bucket list item #70.Β  Either way, I’m registered, excited, and can’t wait to share my experience once I get out to explore the most beautiful lake in the world.

When it comes to crazy-fun adventures, I’m not the only one here at First2Board who takes it to another level. Currently, Point Princess is riding her bike across the country, Jason at Food, Wine, and Miles just set a personal record for most airports in a day, Points Summary is in a different country every week it seems, and I’m sure Kathy (Will Run for Miles) is training hard for her next marathon. So what’s the craziest thing you’ve done so far this month?

2013 O’Neill Tahoe Cup Donner Lake. Last Month.


Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going (and How I Paid For It All)

When things go unexpectedly quiet here at Miles, Points, and Mai Tais you can figure I’m either on a trip or up to no good booking another mileage run. In the case of this last week, it was both. Less than a day after I finished flying SMF-IAH-LGA-DEN-ANC-SEA-IAH-LGA-IAH-SMF, I stumbled across what I’m calling the deal of the year- SMF-PHL/CLT from $170 round trip on United! Already exhausted, I stayed up well into the morning hours holding as many tickets as I could using the trusty phone order trick. At one point I think I had 18 of them. I know confessing to moments like this only perpetuates the stereotype that mileage runners are crazy, but at less than $.028 CPM, I mean, who wouldn’t get excited?!? I am now booked just shy of United Premier 1KΒ  for 2013 (putting me at around 900k lifetime miles towards Million Miler). πŸ™‚

This is What 93,919 Miles on United Looks Like

This is What 93,919 Miles on United Looks Like

The Booking Process

An important rule when it comes to booking fares like these is if you see a deal you like, jump on it! They rarely stick around and this one lasted just around 24 hours (although as of this morning SMF-PHL/CLT could be found from $240 which is still a good deal). In order to find what I didn’t know I was looking for (i.e. a mileage run), I followed the usual clues: @TheFlightDeal, Airfare Watchdog, and Mileage Run Deals on Flyertalk. That is how I found out about Philadelphia. I used ITA Matrix to piece together a plan and then used’s “Multi Destinations” option to replicate the results. As for the Charlotte fares, I just got lucky. At around 2am when all of this took place, I lacked the mental capacity to recognize that there was a US Airways hub attack going on at United. I randomly chose CLT on my next search, and sure enough- $170 rt fares there too! As a general rule though, if a competitor’s hub comes up as a cheap destination, check the other ones too. Found a good fare to/from MSP? Also check ATL. DFW? Try MIA.

Sample Itinerary

Sample Itinerary

Of course after going on all-night mileage booking binge, there was some fallout to deal with the next morning (and about 35 United emails). It took the better part of another day to sort through what I’d snagged and refine my itineraries. Undesirable layovers, red-eye flights too short to sleep on, and itineraries that don’t get the most miles (i.e. pretty much anything through Denver)- all gone. I booked all of my trips for later in the year, which leaves me the entire summer to stay home travel to other places, spend time with my family, and pretend that I’m normal.

How I Paid

Here in the Mai Tais household, we’re a real family with real expenses, meaning I’m not about to go spend all of our hard earned cash to go fly around the country. Now that I’m running low on e-certs, the original plan was to start using Ultimate Rewards points to help pay for my trips. It may not the best use of points (to each his own), but the lifetime status I’m chasing has to be earned through revenue tickets, and I’m not about to pay full price for them. By booking through Ultimate Rewards, I still get my miles, and because we have the right credit cards, I even get a 20% discount. All I had to do was simply copy what I’d found on ITA/United on Chase’s site, and theoretically those $170 rt tickets would only cost 13,600 UR points. Too bad the Ultimate Rewards booking site was down at 3am the other morning!

Redeeming United Miles for a Chase Statement Credit

Redeeming United Miles for a Chase Statement Credit

Plan B meant I put all those tickets on Chase United MileagePlus Select Visa (no longer available). I still earn 3x’s miles for United purchases (which in this case isn’t much) and up to 5,000 EQM (which helps), but I lose the 20% discount from UR. The next morning when Ultimate Rewards started working again, the deal was gone and let’s just say the difference in fare was a little more than that 20%.Β  It was a no-brainer. When it comes time to pay the bill on my MileagePlus Visa, I can cash out some of my United miles via Chase Choices, or request a check for my points from Ultimate Rewards. I value them around the same and in both cases a $170 ticket costs 17,000 miles/points. With my Premier Platinum 75% RDM bonus, I figure I’ll actually earn back most of those miles once I go flying. The rest are easily replenished with a little online shopping and a few trips to Walmart/Staples/CVS and the grocery store. πŸ˜‰

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