An Accurate Depiction of Minnesota (map)

I saw this map on Facebook the other day and I couldn’t help but saving it to my hard drive for a future blog post. The map is hilariously accurate in its ability to stereotype the  state of Minnesota by regions.

I especially love the descriptions for the other states. South Dakota? “Mt. Rushmore or Something”

Iowa? “Corn and Idiots”

Canada? “Hockey and Santa Clause”

For those of you who grew up in Minnesota, there is surely a lot of head nodding in agreement.

For those of you who have not had the opportunity to visit much, it sure looks appealing doesn’t it?

Well, just know that the ghetto isn’t really that ghetto, the rich aren’t really that rich (except on lake Minnetonka), but the bad drivers really are bad drivers.

Print this out if you ever come to visit. Laughter is a valid currency in MN.

Photo Opp: Washington DC Cherry Blossoms in Monochrome

Monochrome

The blooming of the Cherry Blossoms in Washington DC is a big draw each year to our nations capital. It’s the sign of spring, with pink blossoms decorating much of the city, especially the Tidal Basin where many of the trees are aligned.

The trees were a gift to the US from Japan, and they have proven to be the gift that keeps on giving.

I was fortunate to have been there at peak bloom in 2012, and took many pictures of the event. However, I’m not sharing them all today. Today I’m sharing the one picture I have that completely strips out the color and lends focus simply to the scene. It was beautiful.

Surely in a future photo opp we will examine more cherry blossom photos, that time in technicolor.

 

Being an Entrepreneur – How You See It, How I Live It

I stumbled across this image a while back and I decided that it was an extremely accurate depiction of life as an entrepreneur. Well, at least most of it.

I think that there is potentially a perception among friends who don’t see me every day that what I do is easy, filled with travel and leisure, and I understand why. That is the image I project on my blog, Facebook and Twitter accounts. Heck, I’m going to Mauritius in a month pretty much for free.

What they don’t see is the time spent in between these trips, where I am sitting in front of a computer for 12-14 hours a day trying to make all of this look easy. The truth is that it’s not very easy to own a business, but it’s also something I couldn’t imagine doing without.

These two I’m not sure about. I don’t really understand how Gordon Gecko (an investor character from the movie Wall Street) has to do with the image investors paint of entrepreneurs.

Also, I’m pretty sure that my mom doesn’t really know who Mark Zuckerberg is. She is just proud of me and happy that I’m not in jail ;).

These last two are frighteningly accurate. While I like to think that I am changing the world, inventing something, and solving problems, it can’t be that way without customers.

I can plan on having the greatest product, the prettiest looking website or the most coveted service in the world, and it really doesn’t matter if the phone doesn’t ring.

The phone ringing (actually, it’s really inbound emails), is what makes a business work. Without users, your company is useless. Without a revenue stream, everything is academic.

This is the thing that most people don’t realize. When you are in the center of a business, trying to make it grow, you are desperately waiting for people to find your product and make good use of it. This was true for Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Apple before they hit it big.

Until you can have a steady stream of people in the door, none of the rest matters. Sure, the lifestyle looks amazing when you see planes and pictures, but for the most part that is just an escape from the stresses of trying to make things work 70+ hours a week.

Then again, you may always see entrepreneurship as a glamorous lifestyle until you live it yourself.

 

Delta is Trying to Screw You, Don’t Let Them

Today I wanted to talk about the darker side of booking travel for free. Many of you told me how you were inspired by my post about booking a honeymoon to Mauritius for free. I have been looking forward to this trip for months and I’m a bit inspired myself by being able to pull it off using miles.

Now that the date is approaching, I needed to modify my reservation to be better aligned with my travel needs. My first post I talked about booking flights to Paris (CDG) and Mauritius (MRU) for 120,000 miles each.

What I may not have mentioned was that the flight to Paris was out of Washington Dulles (IAD) airport and I still needed to get to that airport from Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP). In order to make sure every segment of the flight was on the same itinerary in case of delay, I wanted to book everything together. I figured that this flight would be the easy part, but boy was I wrong.

After booking my initial reservation for 120k miles (the lowest number of miles you can book a business class ticket to Africa through Skymiles), I tried immediately to add a seemingly simple domestic flight from MSP to IAD on the same itinerary.

When I called Delta, they told me that adding this leg to my ticket would make the cost 180,000 total miles – a 50% increase to my original ticket (about a $1,200 cash value if you value miles at $.02) in order to add a $300 flight to my itinerary. I was told that this was necessary, because my entire trip would need to be billed as a medium level award instead of being a low level award at 120k miles.

You see, everything comes back to Delta’s award chart.  Delta makes free tickets available in high/medium/low availability. Arguably, only the low availability is a good value (unless you are in urgent need of travel). You can also only really get low availability on their Skyteam partner airlines.

What Delta doesn’t tell you in their chart is that if any segment on an award ticket is medium or high availability, then every segment is charged at that level. In my case, the international flight was all low level, but a regional jet ride to Washington DC added a big premium to the itinerary.

Fortunately, I had been reading about this quite a bit on travel blogs, and I was prepared to hold my ground until I got a good deal (I wish I knew this in 2010 when I booked a flight to Chile in COACH for 110,000 miles). Basically, I decided not to let Delta Screw me with their horrible computer systems.

I called back after 2 months to see if the price was lower and I had no luck – still would have added 60k miles to my fare.

After 4 months, the same result – no addition to itinerary without paying much more.

Today I called and I got the same response – but this time I was prepared. I went to Delta to find out the price of a coach award ticket from MSP – IAD and then returning back. It was 32,500 miles, which I learned meant it was a low level award on the first flight, and a medium level on the way back.

I waited on the phone for 45 minutes with a Delta operator to go over this, and I was told that might flight cost would now be 152,500 miles, because I added a medium availability segment. One segment of a flight adds 32,500 miles to the entire ticket.

There are extortionists with more tact than Delta.

Befuddled, I asked them if I could only book the low level segment (MSP – IAD to start the trip) and remain at 120,000 miles. I booked the flight I could and was content with ending it there.

Naturally, curiosity took over and I asked if there were flights on the next day from IAD – MSP. Miraculously, there were flights at low level redemptions and I was able to secure our space on them.

With a little creativity I was able to add two domestic legs to the honeymoon itinerary. But why did it have to be so difficult?

The truth is that Delta is broken. They overcharge their customers every day and hope that nobody is educated enough to notice. And most people aren’t – myself included. I used to burn miles like they were going out of style, not realizing that it was the domestic segments getting me into trouble.

International travel on Skyteam Partner Airlines is the only good way to redeem Delta Skymiles, because they are all low level availability. Domestic travel using miles on Delta is often a ripoff.

Would you rather pay 50k miles on Delta for a COACH flight from Minneapolis to San Francisco or travel to Europe/Asia/Australia for 100k/120k/150k miles in FIRST CLASS?

The answer should be obvious by now.

Delta is trying to Screw You. Don’t let them

Christmas Time in Prague – Day 1

Posts in this series:

Delta Business Class from JFK to PRG
Prague Day 1
Prague Day 2
Vienna Christmas Markets
Amsterdam
Delta Business Class from AMS to MSP

Jeff’s Rule #1 with international travel: Always stay at an American Hotel unless you hear great things about a hotel that is not American. Why the US bias you ask? Well, it’s because American hotels are modern and have conveniences we are used to having every day. European and other hotels don’t seem to put the same emphasis on cleanliness, bedding, etc. that our American hotels do. Also, these hotels usually have really nice lounges in them that have free food and drink that often comes in handy.

We stayed at the Hilton Prague Old Town for our trip and it was a fantastic choice. It had great amenities and an awesome lounge that we used quite often.

With that said, we didn’t spend much of our time in the hotel. Most of our time was spent exploring Prague. The whole city is like a walking museum – with each building more beautiful than the last. I’m not sure the photos do it justice, but they will have to do for now.

Old Town Prague is perfect for walking. You can pretty much see everything by walking within a 1 mile radius. Right outside of our hotel was our first Christmas Market, which would be the first of many christmas markets we would see.

For those of you who have never heard of a Christmas Market before, it is a marketplace in city squares and parks where vendors come to sell various foods and crafts associated with Christmas. Some are as small as 10-15 booths and others have hundreds.

One of my favorite parts of the Prague Christmas Markets was the distinct food. Everything was very unique to Czech Republic and unlike other things that I had seen anywhere else.  From Trdelnik (a doughy pastry cooked over wood fires) to hot mulled wine, there was excellent food and drink to keep us warm in December.

Most of the day was spent walking around, snapping photos, and enjoying the sights. So many of the buildings had murals painted on them and some very ornate carvings in the stonework. Incredible

This guy was my kind of guy. Those hams were all gone by the end of the day!

Here’s what a live Trdlo looks like. After spinning over a wood fire, they roll it in a sugar and spice solution. Despite all of the work involved, it’s actually sort of boring.

The main Christmas Market in Prague was the gathering point for most tourists and locals.

We decided to pay 5 euros to go to the top of a tower to get a better view of the town. This was one of the many good views.

After climbing the tower, we needed to eat more. Here we try what looks like a giant “elephant ear” covered with Garlic, Ketchup and Cheese. It was decent, but sort of boring.

The cheeses in the market looked awesome, but we only had a day, so I refrained from eating them

After a quick nap, we decided to have a night walk around the city. Below is the hot mulled wine station (Medovina) that can be your best friend on a cold December eve.

The main Christmas Market looks even better at night!

The Christmas tree itself had some really cool lights that moved constantly. Photos don’t do it justice, but here is a video I took: Cool Christmas Tree

With all of the markets lit up in red, Prague is really a captivating city at Christmas time.

We ended the night by having some traditional Czech Absynth. Absynth tastes like shit, but it’s fun!

More to come from my December, 2011 trip to Prague, Vienna and Amsterdam!

Dreaming of the Maldives

Maldives Here I come!

Yes, I realize we are still 7 months away from our epic honeymoon in Mauritius and Europe, but I can’t help myself: I am already planning my next trip in 2013 to the Maldives.

This one all comes down to overwater bungalows. Ever since I learned what an overwater bungalow actually was, I have been obsessed with staying in one. This isn’t as easy as you might think, because there are literally only a handful of places in the world where you can stay in an overwater bungalow due to hurricanes, monsoons, etc.

A Bungalow in the Maldives

Obsessive compulsive tendencies lead me to learn that Bora Bora may be a great place to visit for an overwater bungalow.  In fact, Bora Bora probably has the biggest selection of bungalows in the world. Plus, there are many Hilton properties in Bora Bora and it’s a breeze to get there with Delta Skymiles.  For our honeymoon, it was between Mauritius and Bora Bora.

Bora Bora is gorgeous, but it was too easy, too commercial and too well known… to the point that when I described an overwater bungalow to a friend, they said “oh, you mean like what they had in Twilight?” CHANGE OF PLANS. No Twilight and hopefully no Bachelor destination for me. Just unadulterated overwater bliss.  You all know how we arrived at Mauritius, so let’s get on with the story.

All it takes is a picture of the Maldives to realize how awesome it would be to visit. The question for me was: can I visit the Maldives using Delta Skymiles?  After digging around, I learned that this is absolutely possible, via one of two routes:

  1. Through Skyteam partner Aeroflot through Moscow
  2. Through Malaysia Airlines (codeshare through Skyteam partners) through Kuala Lumpur

Either of these routes would be a treat, and the thought of going through Moscow for a stopover is particularly intriguing. It appears on Expertflyer.com that it’s pretty easy to get there via business class as well.

Eating Underwater

Now if we go to the Maldives, we need to find a place to stay.  It turns out that the 250k Hilton Honors points I currently possess would work quite well at the Conrad Maldives resort.

Two private islands with several overwater bungalows available. I should have enough points in order to bring the cost of the trip close to $0.  But in order to be sure, I am going to sign up for the Hilton Surpass American Express card in order to get enough points to be comfortable. That card also gives Hilton Diamond status, which all but guarantees an upgrade to the best room available.

Will I really be able to use Skymiles and Hhonors points to visit the Maldives?  Absolutely. Will I actually be able to break away from work long enough to do this?  To be continued…

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How to Book a Dream Trip to Mauritius on Delta Skymiles

Mauritius 035

This is where we are honeymooning

Yes, I realize that I am way behind on my last trip recap, but I just wanted to bring up a few tips for booking international flights on Delta Skymiles (or any program for that matter).

Amanda and I have decided to go to Mauritius on our honeymoon.  You probably haven’t heard of Mauritius, and that’s OK – I hadn’t heard about it until Amanda told me that she wanted to go there.  From the pictures it looks gorgeous, so I had no problem saying yes!

What I wasn’t sure about was how to get there and if we could afford it.  That actually became much easier when the points guy wrote about his trip to Mauritius this past summer and how he got there on Delta Skymiles.

Last weekend I spent a good 2-3 hours researching the trip and today I spent another 3 hours finalizing the plans and booking it with Delta over the phone.  I thought it would be fun to share the process.  If you want to book an aspirational award trip to an exotic location, follow these steps:

  1. Amass some miles with a travel provider. This can be done by earning miles on flights, promotions or credit cards.  Credit cards are the easiest way to earn a lot of miles quickly, because you can only travel so many miles, but if you have reimbursable expenses with your employer, you can get a lot miles in a short period of time.
  2. Make sure your credit card has a big signup bonus of 50k to 100k miles/points. I highly recommend getting a branded credit card for your airline of choice and/or getting the Chase Sapphire preferred credit card.
  3. Understand the rules of getting “award” tickets on your airline and how much things cost.  Some airlines are very transparent with pricing – they have a single price that is easy to understand.  Delta has 3 levels of award tickets, ranging from low (25k miles domestic in coach) to high (380k miles international in business class).  They are also always trying to screw you out of miles. However, Delta partner airline award redemptions are always at the lowest level – SCORE.
  4. Learn the partner airlines that share awards with your airline of choice.  Delta is in the Skyteam alliance – which means I can fly on airlines like Air France, KLM, Korean Air, Kenya Air and many, many more.  American is part of the OneWorld Alliance.  United and Continental are in the Star Alliance.  Each alliance has benefits and drawbacks.
  5. Decide on your destination.  This may be the easy part, but there is a lot to consider.  For example, did you know that you can stop over on your way to your destination for as long as you like?  You can literally stay in Paris for nearly a full year before going to your final destination – all on one ticket!
  6. Find out if there is space available in coach or business class on each flight.  This is more difficult than you may think, and I had to use expertflyer.com in order to find availability on Air France and Air Mauritius flights.
  7. Figure out each segment that you want to fly for your trip and write them down on paper.  Traveling internationally, you can almost never book your entire flight on an airline’s website, because they are all on different inventory systems. With Delta, you can only book these awards on the phone, so it is important to write down each segment on paper.
  8. Call your airline to book the flight.  Yes, you have to call them in order to get through to someone.  Tell them exactly what you want: “I need 2 tickets in business class and I am going to read you the flight numbers for you to enter into your system.”  It pays to be explicit, or else you will not get what you want. It took me 2 hours on the phone to book my flight, but it saved me a boatload of money this way (more on this below).
  9. Check in on your flight status periodically to make sure nothing has changed. While flight schedules in the US usually don’t change much (until the day of, when everything is delayed), this may not be the case internationally.  Be careful that you don’t get screwed in the process.

I followed these rules and have been able to manufacture the honeymoon of our dreams that involves 6 nights in Mauritius, Oktoberfest in Munich, the Swiss Alps, Italian Alps, Mediterranean coastline and Paris.  2 tickets for 240,000 Delta Skymiles and $500 in taxes.

This may sound like a lot of money/miles to people, and by all means it is – you could get 10 round trip domestic tickets for this price.  But to put things in perspective, this ticket would cost $8,698 EACH if we paid full price.  The street value on 240k skymiles is only $2,400.  By my math, we saved $15,000 by following these rules – (not that we would have actually spent that on a trip).

The only way we could afford to go to Mauritius in first class is through award travel, and the only way I would have known to do this is by reading every travel blog I can get my hands on over the past year.

Reading really pays off.  Maybe it will for you too?  To get started, I recommend these blogs:

More to come as the time approaches.

4 Nights in Europe – Delta Business Class from JFK to PRG

Posts in this series:

Delta Business Class from JFK to PRG
Prague Day 1
Prague Day 2
Vienna Christmas Markets
Amsterdam
Delta Business Class from AMS to MSP

In October my brother told me he wanted to go on a “mileage run” to secure Platinum status.  Needing around 8,000 miles to make the next level, he had the option of flying a few times around the US or making up the miles in a single trip overseas.  Europe was the natural choice, and after some deliberation between locations in Europe, checking schedules and prices, we decided to fly into Prague for 3 nights, with a layover night in Amsterdam.

Since I already secured Platinum status for 2012 back in September, and I have amassed far too many Delta Skymiles than I can possibly spend in the short term, I decided to use my frequent flyer miles to book an award ticket in Business class.  This was my frist time in international business class, but after reading flight reviews from several aspirational travel bloggers, I had a good idea of what to expect.  I also knew the best way to spend my Delta Skypesos and receive a strong value.  I ended up getting my business class ticket for 100k skymiles on a ticket that had a $5,000 face value.  That’s 5 cents per mile, which is a very good value (you’ll have to trust me on that one).

Taking the cue from these travel bloggers, I have decided to document this trip in a format similar to what they use: break up the flights, hotels and cities into multiple posts to showcase each part.  This post focuses just on the flight, and ensuing posts will cover the cities visited.

After a 9 hour layover at New York’s JFK airport, we boarded the flight to Prague for an overnight flight that took off at 7 PM in the US and landed at 9 AM in Prague.  The first thing I noticed when I took my seat was the legroom.  There was significantly more legroom than any domestic flight you’ll see.  This is so that you can lay in your seat overnight (this particular seat was an older version that simply lets you recline at a 45 angle or so, but not lay down fully.  The seat also wasn’t long enough for my 6’2″ frame.

The seats on this plane were also fairly old by modern standards (not complaining, just pointing it out), but had a nice adjustable headrest that could be used to prop your head up before sleepy time.

The seats were definitely better than what you’d get in coach class, but from what I have read, they are not the best that Delta has to offer.  Again, I’m not complaining – just educating.

They also give a nice pillow, sturdy blanket and an amenity kit, which came in handy later in the flight.

After boarding we were given a pre flight drink option of champagne or orange juice.  I chose the Champagne of course.

We were also given a menu of the food options for the flight, and asked to give our order for dinner.

There were a lot of good looking options, but I decided on the beef tenderloin, because I love risotto.

Here is a look at the full menu

 

The Chilean Cabernet was quite tasty!

And here is what I ordered:

Started off with warm mixed nuts that hit the spot (I was getting hungry at this point)

The Crab and avocado appetizer was OK

The soup was very good

The salad was decent, but the sour cream and dill dressing was not my favorite

The beef tenderloin with risotto and broccoli stems was fantastic!  The risotto had an amazing flavor that was lightly sweet and savory. I have no idea what Gremolata is, but I am on a mission to find out.  The tenderloin was cooked perfectly, and the Bearnaise sauce was great on top of the beef and the broccoli.

I did not need dessert, but how can you turn down a handmade sundae?  I can’t think of a better way to end a sedentary day of travel than with a sundae.  It was as good as it looks.

About 45 minutes before the flight landed (and only 4 hours after dinner), I woke up and was asked if I wanted breakfast.  I wasn’t really hungry, but the description for the Omelet sounded good enough to try.

Good it was NOT.  It was probably one of the worst omelettes I have eaten and was just all around gross.  Fortunately, I wasn’t hungry, so I didn’t really miss it.

Landing in Prague was easy, with Customs going very smoothly and baggage claim easy to navigate.

 

We found out that the best way to get to our hotel was to take a shuttle into the city center for around $6 total (that’s cheap)

Within an hour of landing, we were on our shuttle into the heart of Old Town Prague for the next chapter of our adventure!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mustache Update

I did it!  I grew a mustache for 30 days and tomorrow morning I am going to gloriously shave it off.  I hated that sonofabitch on my upper lip (Amanda hated it even more), but I did it for a good cause.

Have you donated yet?  http://mobro.co/jeffsauer

So far I have raised $466 to support Mens Health awareness.  I think I could do better, so please donate!

The Three Deep Brostaches have received $1,091 in donations, which is a good showing overall, but many individuals hardly raised any money.  So they grew out their mustaches in vain.  Not literally of course.

You learn a lot about yourself with a mustache.  I learned that mine grows in on each side of the lip, but there is a big gap in the middle.  How does yours come in?

 

http://mobro.co/jeffsauer

The N in November is for Mustaches

Somehow I became the office mustache guy.  It probably started with my Ditka costume for halloween, and my insistence on wearing a prosthetic mustache on multiple occasions thereafter.

It has since escalated to links of Tom Selleck, Ron Swanson, a mustache shaped wine opener, and a coffee mug tribute to the mustaches of the world.

All of this mustache attention is particularly funny to me, because I have always been convinced I can’t grow facial hair of any sort, let alone a third eyebrow.

This year I went all in to find the answer this question.  I committed to growing out a mustache in the name of charity by joining Movember.

The premise of Movember is simple: you grow out a mustache in the month of November and accept donations for your trouble.  The donations all go to mens health awareness, particularly cancers affecting men.

Even better, Three Deep is officially on board with employees participating in Movember, and many of the guys are growing out their mustaches as well. So I am learning about myself and raising money for a good cause without violating any presentability code at the office.

Who knows, maybe the mustache is a good look for me?  If you want to donate to the cause and help raise money and awareness for mens health issues, I encourage you to visit my Movember page at:

http://mobro.co/jeffsauer/d

I have fully committed to the cause, and even wore the 6 day beginnings of a stache to my engagement party this weekend. It takes a special woman to put up with the beginnings of a mustache, and if my future bride can put up with my attempt to grow one, she’s definitely a keeper!

You can visit that page to see updates on how my mustache is doing.  It’s already coming in better than I would have thought.

Jeff Mustache

It’s not too late to join – you probably only need a few days to outpace my stache!

Once again, you can donate here: http://mobro.co/jeffsauer/d