The dream trip that got away

21

They say you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. While it’s kind of hard to invoke that expression while knowing how awesome our 3 Cards, 3 Continents trips will likely be, the truth is that there are some things we just couldn’t fit into our master plans. On this week’s show, Greg and Nick discuss a couple of the dreams that got away.

Elsewhere on the blog this week, read about Stephen’s first 3 Cards 3 Continents mistake, the best places to use your Marriott free night certificates (updated for 2022!), how American Airlines Flagship Business stacked up against Flagship First, and more. Watch, listen, or read on for more.


00:45 Giant Mailbag: Chase reconsideration success
4:00 3 Cards, 3 Continents, 3 Updates
16:45 What crazy thing…..did IHG and Chase do this week?
21:08 Awards we booked this week
25:03 Main Event: The dream trip that got away
27:30 Greg’s free night certificate wish list
33:24 Nick’s tropical paradises lost
56:52 Question of the Week: What’s the strategy for a person with high business spend?

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This week at Frequent Miler

Aeroplan plans for future dream trips

Man have I been loving on Aeroplan as of late. I don’t love the long hold time to get an agent on the phone, but if you can stomach that, there is a lot to love about the new program they launched during the pandemic. I have spend hours considering different itineraries and while I can’t fly them all right now, these were a few that really drew my interest for future trips.

Stephen’s First 3 Cards, 3 Continents Mistake: Booking A Hotel For The Wrong Night

One of the hazards I’ve encountered of putting so much time and effort into 3 Cards, 3 Continents planning has been the ease of getting things confused. I have made a number of spreadsheets and as a for instance, I realized the other day that my latest spreadsheet was missing a key cost. I thought for sure I had accounted for it — and I eventually realized I had accounted for it….on the spreadsheet for a previous iteration of the trip. Stephen had something similar happen to him when he booked a hotel for the wrong arrival date. In his case, that cost him something extra — and in a competition that is likely to come down to dollars and cents (at least for Greg and I as things stand), every penny counts.

American Airlines Flagship First vs Flagship Business

I recently had the opportunity to fly American Airlines Flagship First Class to Europe and Flagship Business class on the way home from Europe. While I wouldn’t go out of my way to fly either, I found the seat to be more comfortable in Flagship Business. That said, the Flagship First Dining experience at JFK was really good. I’m not sure it’s worth paying a huge premium over the business class price for that, but it was definitely the best part of the experience. Read more about the similarities and differences.

Best uses for Marriott free night certificates

With Marriott properties moving toward more dynamic pricing, the list of the best properties for using free night certificates is likely to continue to expand. As such, Greg has made updates to this post both based on his own research and reader suggestions and reviews. If you have free night certificates that you’re looking to maximize, this post is a great starting point to find the best hotels and markets. As you find more to add, please let us know. I’ve actually stumbled upon a good option to add to the list, but I can’t yet do it without giving up at least one of my 3 Cards 3 Continents destinations, so look for an addition to the list during my trip (and for my disappointment over not being able to stay there since I didn’t choose a card with a Marriott free night certificate!).

Award travel for a family of 4 | Ask Us Anything Ep 45

For this month’s Ask Us Anything, we debuted a new format with all 5 members of the Frequent Miler team live on the air to answer questions. It was a lot of fun having Carrie, Tim and Stephen along for this one and I think it gives a better sense of the team effort that goes into Frequent Miler, so we’ll likely have all hands on deck for future Ask Us Anything episodes as well. Speaking of that, we’re moving these to the first Wednesday of every month at 9pm Eastern time.

How to transfer Avios between British Airways, Qatar, Iberia, and Aer Lingus

Now with a fourth airline that uses the Avios currency for award tickets, it is a good time for a refresher about how to move your Avios around between programs. This can be valuable since each airline has its own award pricing and it can be highly advantageous to move your Avios depending on the type of award you are looking to book.


That’s it for this week at Frequent Miler. Keep an eye out for this week’s month-ending last chance deals.

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Ramon Ymalay

If we want to talk about the dream trip that got away, I have one that takes the cake.

Our original trip included, me, my wife, two kids that are 7 and 11, my mom, dad, and brother. We were scheduled from July 15th-June 1 2022 to go to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana to see the Chobe River and Okavango Delta, and Capetown. We flew to MIA or originating city to get MIA-DOH-JNB on Qatar in qsuites, and were to take CPT-DOH-MIA also in qsuites, for nearly 50 hours of qsuite time. The 4 person qsuite was absolutely amazing on the way there. We also had chartered a private house boat on the Chobe River and private safari camp in the Okavango Delta. A truly once in a lifetime trip.

Well, on June 19th, 2022, not even 48 hours after landing in Vic Falls, my wife was run over by an out of control driver. I thought for sure she was dead as I pulled out from under the vehicle. Through some miracle she was alive but her left heel was ripped off her foot, and she sustained some other injuries as well. Due to the cash based nature of Zimbabwe’s 3rd world “healthcare system” even with travel insurance we were unable to get out of Vic Falls to a Level 1 Trauma Center in Johannesburg, South Africa. Payment had to be made prior to transport. The 1st evac company was going to cost 11000 USD and only wanted wire transfer or cash ONLY and it was a Sunday so the banks were closed so we could not wire money. So we could not pay them. The second company was 17,200 dollars and took credit card (not the most recommended way to earn points…), but even with ample credit their machines would not accept payment for reasons we don’t understand. This was even after calling our banks. At one point we had anyone we knew with a credit card trying to make a payment.

Long story short, her care was delayed 28 hours in getting to a Level 1 Trauma center, meanwhile she is stuck in a “hospital” with minimal medications, therapies or pain meds. I cannot begin to describe to you the horror everything that transpired and most people who have heard the full story believe it should be a movie. What I have wrote here doesn’t encompass 5 percent of the insanity we dealt with in the utter lack of facilities available, along with the people who continually harassed me for other payments every hour so she could continue to receive the little care she got in Zimbabwe. They were so persistent to get paid every couple hours for the treatment, the receptionist at one point basically pulled me from the bedside to go to an ATM so I could pull out my maximum $400 dollars to cover some expenses. I also had to pay for her care in Joburg upfront which was also 38k (yay points) before they would book her OR time or get her a hospital bed.

We are very lucky she did not lose her foot due to the delay in care. We spent two weeks in Johannesburg and 5 surgeries later she was finally stable enough to get medically repatriated on United Polaris JNB-EWR and once landing in the US we obtained an air ambulance to take us the rest of the way.

We finally got back to the US on July 5th and she has continued her surgeries here in the US. We had her 7th and final surgery (hopefully) last Wed.

So if you want to talk about the “trip that got away.” Oh boy do I have a story for you. This is just the surface of what could only be described as mass chaos and insanity. Thank god for travel insurance. They finally got involved in Joburg and paid for the repatriation upfront. Even though it was useless in the acute situation, we are in the process of filing claims now and should be fully covered.

Last edited 17 days ago by Ramon Ymalay
Ramon Ymalay

Thanks for responding. Big fan of this blog!

To answer your question, There was a TON more that went on then what I typed out.

I hadn’t even posted on my non monetized blog in years but had no other medium in which to convey the full story as I couldn’t remotely fit it into a Facebook post. It went viral.

To answer your question I am a Venture X person, also have a Venture that is still active. Capital One was explained the situation ad nauseum and they stated that the card was completely cleared on their end to make the transaction but for some reason it wasn’t going through. Interestingly when I made a payment of 38k to the hospital in Johannesburg, my first capital one venture with a slightly bigger line didn’t run, but my venture X with a slightly lower credit line ran the 38k without issue. Yay for points!

The company did not take AMEX as we had some people try with their AMEX cards but it was MC or Visa only. A Citibank Visa was the card that finally went through after 6 hours of calling various banks and having a variety of relatives in the US attempt to get their cards to run.

The only way the med evac companies were gonna move my wife was when the payment was made and in hand with receipt. No guarantee of payment from the travel insurance company was going to suffice. I do a lot of photography and even offered my photography equipment as collateral but no dice. Me and my mom were basically groveling at one point for them to move her as we were very concerned about infection and also just the viability of the foot given the condition it was in after it was run over. I was very concerned it may require amputation given the delay. I am a physician and seeing the care or really lack of care she received was highly concerning and anxiety inducing.

On a random note, do you know any travel blogs that would maybe interested in a story like this. It is absolutely crazy and something that frequent travelers need to be aware of can happen.

Last edited 17 days ago by Ramon Ymalay
Ramon Ymalay

Thanks for responding. Big fan of this blog!

To answer your question, There was a TON more that went on then what I typed out.

I hadn’t even posted on my non monetized blog in years but had no other medium in which to convey the full story as I couldn’t remotely fit it into a Facebook post. It went viral.

To answer your question I am a Venture X person, also have a Venture that is still active. Capital One was explained the situation ad nauseum and they stated that the card was completely cleared on their end to make the transaction but for some reason it wasn’t going through. Interestingly when I made a payment of 38k to the hospital in Johannesburg, my first capital one venture with a slightly bigger line didn’t run, but my venture X with a slightly lower credit line ran the 38k without issue. Yay for points!

The company did not take AMEX as we had some people try with their AMEX cards but it was MC or Visa only. A Citibank Visa was the card that finally went through after 6 hours of calling various banks and having a variety of relatives in the US attempt to get their cards to run.

The only way the med evac companies were gonna move my wife was when the payment was made and in hand with receipt. No guarantee of payment from the travel insurance company was going to suffice. I do a lot of photography and even offered my photography equipment as collateral but no dice. Me and my mom were basically groveling at one point for them to move her as we were very concerned about infection and also just the viability of the foot given the condition it was in after it was run over. I was very concerned it may require amputation given the delay. I am a physician and seeing the care or really lack of care she received was highly concerning and anxiety inducing.

On a random note, do you know any travel blogs that would maybe interested in a story like this. It is absolutely crazy and something that frequent travelers need to be aware of can happen.

Cavedweller

Almost died in Waikiki just 11 days in ICU then 3 weeks in Rehab..Write a book and do the Talk Shows Doctor. U could make millions and help people be aware BUT I was before.. Let’s hope it turns out well for u..ALOHA

Mary

Wow, what a terrible experience. I’m so sorry that happened to your family. Was the ground portion of your trip organized through a travel agent or tour company, and if so, were they any help at all?

Also, I’m wondering why your travel insurance company wasn’t helpful in getting your wife evacuated from Zimbabwe. You mentioned they were eventually helpful, after you got to Johannesburg. Was the difficulty primarily with the Zimbabwe medical system not cooperating with the insurance company?

Note to self: make sure our MedJet membership is active when we go to Southern Africa!

Ramon Ymalay

Yes, we were through Pangolin Photo Safaris and it was a bespoke trip. We fell through the cracks as at the beginning and end of the trip while everything was booked through them, but our time in Vic Falls and Cape town were kinda on our own. They booked all the tours, transfers, hotels etc in cape town and Vic Falls, but it wasn’t till we were going to the Chobe River Boat, and then the Ker and Downey Camp on the Okavango Delta by that we would have a full time guide with us.

We contacted them but they really were of no help in that situation.

I did not contact the travel insurance company personally, but gave the phone number and policy number to the med evacuated companies. They did said they contacted them but needed us to pay. I never called them personally, and probably should have. I had no ability to call international on my cell phone. If you could read my story on my blog, which you can’t as I can’t post a link here, you’d have an idea of the time frame I was dealing with, and the chaos so I never thought to call them personally or find a way, as I was having a hard time just contacting my CC Company.

I suspect either they didn’t bother to contact the Travel Insurance and said they did, or more likely, they actually did call, and the travel insurance would only send them a guarantee of payment, given the situation. I’d be impressed if a travel insurance company would just fork over 17k cash without some degree of vetting what was happening with the 17k.

Zimbabwe is a cash based system. Again, I wish you could read the story I wrote as it explains sooo much. It’s on my non monetized blog, which up until this I hadn’t updated in years. You can google The Small World Family Blog and it could pop up, and give you an in depth analysis of what happened. Everyone says it’s a gripping read, as I wrote it like a novel. Long story short is they really only wanted cash every step of the way, and avoid CC’s like the plague. I only got one medical payment done with a CC while I was in Zimbabwe.

When we got to Johannesburg, we were able to activate the local agent, which is a 3rd party that will contact the hospital and guarantee payment. At that point I was alleviated from having to make further payments. This was after already forking over 56k in my own cash to get us to the point where she could have surgery and a room in Johannesburg.

The travel insurance booked our business class flights on United Polaris back, and also arranged all ambulance transfers along with an air ambulance from EWR to CMH for the final leg as narrow body planes have no way for my wife to elevate her leg to alleviate the pain, so they had to book an air ambulance to get us the rest of the way. The travel insurance royal *^*&! the repatriation to the point we almost missed our flight back and got denied boarding but that’s a story for another day. If you really want to know the full details, I suggest reading our blog. It’s truly unreal what happened, and the drama and demands were just insanity.

Mary

I did find your blog and read the whole story. It was obviously an incredibly stressful situation, and a dangerous one.

In the future when you travel, I’m sure you’ll make sure to have a working cell phone. The lack of cell service created a lot of the worst problems for you.

And if you’re ever unfortunate enough to have another medical emergency while traveling, you’ll now know that the most important thing you need to do, right away, is to call your travel insurance company. It’s unfortunate that insurance companies don’t make this clear, but their whole job is to smooth out all the financial and logistical nightmares you inadvertently put yourself through. The reason they give you those little printable travel insurance cards for your wallet is not so you can show them to the hospital, ambulance, evacuation company, etc. It’s so you can call them and let them take care of it all. They have contacts and people on the ground to help you. It’s not like in the US where you simply present your insurance card at the front desk.

I completely understand why you did everything you did. You definitely learned the hard way. So glad it all worked out eventually.

Ramon Ymalay

Yes. The lack of having cell definitely made things more difficult, and cost some minutes of precious time. I normally buy a local SIM card but didnt have time when we landed and we were only going to be in Zim for 3 days. That being said, I dont think it would have made a huge difference. I say this because my mom had working cell service, but cell is very spotty in Vic falls. They couldn’t stay at the hospital after they arrived while we were leaving as when I asked them to call my wife’s family they had no cell service there, so that really wouldn’t have helped much at the “hospital.” That’s why they left to go back to the lodge so they could make phone calls. I cut that out for brevity. Even if I had a working cell, it was not functional at the hospital. It did cause some increased anxiety due not being able to communicate while at my wife’s bedside and cost us some time but ultimately I was able to make international phone calls I needed when I wanted albeit with some inconvenience. Getting the CC 6 digit code to my cell would not have mattered as whether I had the code or not the payment wouldn’t run.

The biggest problem was the inability to get payment to the med evac teams due to it being a Sunday and an inability to make a wire transfer.

TBH, I honestly am not sure how helpful the travel insurance company would have been on the Sunday my wife was run over. The insurance company, has incredibly limited times to contact them, even when calling their “emergency” line as I discovered when we tried calling on Monday when we arrived in Joburg. Interestingly enough, part of the issue was when I got to Johannesburg, was I had several people there attempting to help contact them on arrival to try and secure a payment as the 38k was a very large sum. Despite their best efforts to call all the available numbers we could not get a hold of anyone. Hence why I made the 38k payment upfront. I cut that part out of the story for brevity. The international patient liason at the hospital did get a hold of them the following day and that’s when they said to stop making payments and that they would send a letter of guarantee of payment and told me to defer everything to them and they also activated a third party local agent to assist. It was a huge relief for me when I found out I could finally stop bleeding cash. I had to call the agency more times than I can count while in Joburg, and I must say they are painful to get a hold of, and take many tries sometimes and the emergency line is not very helpful and we’ll leave it at that. You can ask our local agent their opinion it eh insurance company and the craptastic job they did with our repatriation. Our local agent was amazing and she predicted everything that would go wrong with our repatriation but the insurance company still screwed it all up, and we almost missed our repatriation flight. Thats a novel in itself.

I will say the chance of them having a local agent to assist in Vic Falls is pretty slim. The company they activated in Joburg covered a very large area, basically all of South Africa, as their team flying all over South Africa dealing with different cases. So the chances of having a local agent on the scene in Vic Falls to assist locally is a long shot given Vic falls is a very small town and they’d have to send someone there via a commercial flight.

I’ve gone over that day hundreds of times in my head to see if anything would have made a significant difference. While having the inability to call from my phone definitely was a nuisance, there was no cell reception at the “hospital” and ultimately, the only thing that may have made a difference was calling the travel insurance company directly rather than having the evac team call and seeing if I could strong arm them into finding a way to make a credit card payment and not just guaranteeing payment. This is also assuming their CC would run, as we tried capital one visa, capital one Master card, Bank of America visa, and a couple others, and in each case we called the bank and escalated to a manager to try and get a payment through in which each time they said the payment was approved. Several of the cards, one of mine included were business cards so it didn’t seem to be a business vs personal CC issue. The winner was a Citibank Personal Visa. We could only hope the travel insurance company had a Citibank Visa. Lol.

Last edited 16 days ago by Ramon Ymalay
Mary

I hope it didn’t sound like I was blaming you — I wasn’t. Sometimes we’re just in a bad situation that cannot be easily resolved, and we do the best we can. I must say, you and your family were incredibly resourceful!

It would be interesting to know if the insurance company, or one of the credit cards with evacuation and foreign assistance features like Amex Platinum or Chase Sapphire Reserve, could have done much for you in Zimbabwe. Possibly not, at least in the first few hours. If nothing else, it would probably have been a relief to know you had someone working toward a solution on your behalf.

We are planning a trip to many of the same places you had on your itinerary, and I will definitely be reactivating my MedJet membership before then. MedJet is not insurance, it’s a private medical evacuation service with its own network of medically equipped jets. It will evacuate you to a place of your choosing if you need hospitalization. It’s not crazy expensive — $399/year for a family membership. You might want to look into it before your next trip to a developing nation.

Ramon Ymalay

I will definitely look into medjet. I could have been flown to any place I wanted as I was paying out of pocket at that point and would get reimbursed later. We had a million dollar benefit for repatriation so we coulda gone practically any where. Joburg was the closest option not In Zimbabwe with a Level 1 trauma.

After talking with the driver that ran my wife over (he drove to visit us in Joburg) he said that if we had flown to Harare, it wouldn’t have had much in the way of healthcare and it would have been more of the same in terms of bleeding us dry for money with minimal results to show for it and that ultimately we’d still likely get transferred to Joburg.

Probably one of the scariest things is that if you are a solo traveler, you would have no one to advocate for your transfer. It’s not like in the US where the doctor would advocate for you. Here the local doctor wouldn’t bother suggesting an evacuation unless I was the one pushing for it. If you were solo, you’d be too incapacitated to mobilize any funds or make payments and just get kicked to the curb eventually. Realy scary if you do a lot of solo traveling.

I would be very curious if Amex Plat or CSR could do anything. They’d have to find a way to make a payment and in Amex case that would be hard as they didn’t take Amex at all. My mother in law has Amex and it wasnt even able to run. MC or Visa only. CSR would maybe have a better chance. The question I have with medjet is do they own their own jets or do they have to get a jet there? If they have to send a jet that could be a significant delay in more remote places like Vic Falls, Zimbabwe. If they just contract local providers that would speed things up considerably.

rick b

Nick, if you go to Kota Kinabalu, don’t just stay in some cookie cutter resort like Shangri La. you’ll totally miss the point and all the best activities. None of the activities are in Kota Kinabalu itself, it’s just a run of the mill SE Asian town with not much to do.

You need to spend 1-2 weeks in Borneo and hike Mt Kinabalu for sunrise, go to Kuching, Mulu National Park, and visit several orangutan sanctuaries …one in Kuching and the other near Sandakan. They also have probscos monkeys in those same nature reserves.

And then there’s Sipadan diving, which is a whole trip by itself.

BenA

Peru is great! Just visited there in March. Stayed at the Tambo del Inka. Fantastic! Cusco is also a great place to visit.

Reno Joe

For me, the dream trip that got away was a lifetime of travel. In 1981, I was looking for another car. I found one for $10,750. While I was living on my own, I fell back on what my dad would say — it wasn’t practical. Well, the car was a 1957 Ferrari Testarossa 250, which currently goes for 8 digits. How travel would have been different had I bought that car. Ha.

Cavedweller

HaHa in1990 I almost brought a good Mig-15 for $100k. Like u we Both would’ve gone broke as in doing Maintenance on them..V Bernie

Another Jeff

Went for the IHG 125k + FNC that expired the day after they made program changes. It’s coded specifically as “New Cardmember Bonus Free Night” and is not topoffable.

E J

Same experience here. An unexpected and unwelcome surprise from IHG on this one.

Dee

Hmm. This episode isn’t showing up in my PocketCast app yet.

Dee

Thanks, Nick. It posted.