Explore California for Free with Aeroplan Miles

We have not posted in a while since we were enjoying the hot summer in California last week! We traveled for a total of 8 days, flew a total of 5338 miles, ate a total of 4 hamburgers, and spent less than an average week’s worth of rent in San Francisco. Since we can now fly for free pretty much anywhere in the world, why not?

The first flight we took was to San Francisco with a connection in LAX. We always fly for free since we book our flights with rewards points. We got to the airport nice and early since the TSA lines took hours the last time we flew. However, this time around, we basically walked right in and it did not take us more than 20 minutes to cross security. We also flew without any checked bags so this drastically speeds things up.


Find your card today and start earning those SWEET miles!


Once past security, with about 2 hours before our flight, we took advantage of the perks of travel rewards and enjoyed a Premium Lounge. Had some snacks and drank some 12 years-old scotch while we enjoyed comfy couches all for a total price of $0.00! (Free entry only comes with certain premium cards)


Stay in louges for free


Departing was a pain and our flight stayed on the tarmac a full hour before lifting but we got to LAX safe and sound. The only annoying thing was that this hour delay made us miss the last flight to San Francisco and we were stuck at LAX for the night.

Air Canada arranged a stay for us at the Holiday Inn and gave each of us a $30 food voucher for the next morning. It was annoying to go in and out of the airport for a layover like that. At least, Air Canada made it slightly less annoying by arranging everything for us on the spot.

At 9 o’clock that morning, we finally flew out to San Francisco. We took the BART train to get from the airport to the financial district for only $9 each instead of using a taxi or Uber that would have cost us roughly $45 to $60. It is as fast as a taxi, clean, the seats are nice, and the BART can take you almost anywhere in the city for less than $10.

On our first day there, we walked the pier, saw the Golden State Bridge, and walked up Lombard street. On our walk to the pier, we followed the heard of tourists (it was a Sunday afternoon after all) and stopped by In-N-Out Burgers.

We had high hopes for this place given the amazing experience we had at Shake Shack in New York, we thought the west-coast equivalent would measure up. Unfortunately, it just was not for us. The fries were worse than the frozen ones you can buy at the grocery store and the burgers were simply ok, nothing fancy. (Sorry In-N-Out fans)


Cheap Travel

Cheap travel


We ended our stroll in the Palace of Fine Arts, a beautiful park with an amazing theatre and art structures. We played with the swans and turtles, then walked back to our hotel in the Embarcadero district.


Travel hacking


For the next 3 days, Mrs. Xyz was attending a conference so I walked around the city and explored the ups and downs of San Francisco (literally).

I spent a day around China Town and got a fresh haircut for a big $6. Pretty good for one of the most expensive cities in America! I have noticed this even back home; you can always get a cheap haircut in China Town. The experience is not exactly as fancy as a $16,000 haircut from Stuart Phillips but you get a pretty good cut for a few bucks.

I then ate lunch at a nice Szechuan restaurant and spent $8 on a shrimp and vegetable dish before walking around the neighborhood a bit.


San Francisco


.The following day, I visited the Musée Mécanique on the Pier 45 of Fisherman’s Wharf. If you want a unique experience, this is the place! Old pinball machines, mechanical arcade games, and coin-operated mechanical musical instruments are fascinating to me and I highly recommend visiting this free-entry arcade museum. A few dollars in coins will last you a while since most of the games are only 25¢ or 50¢.


Cheap travel


.After her conference, I and Mrs. walked to the AT&T Park to catch a Giants vs Cubs baseball game. On our way there, we stopped by Chipotle for a little burrito (actually it was enormous!). This was the first time we tried Chipotle and I know they have a big following but even with the extra guac, we were not impressed. I would not say it was a bad burrito but it was just not extraordinary.

On my last day of solo-adventure, I walked down Main street, stopped in a few malls but did not buy much. I got this great deal on some Banana Republic shorts that were on sale for $12 when they actually sell for $75 back in Canada. One thing that struck me was the Amazon retail store. We have gone full-circle over here! The biggest online retailer who is killing brick and mortar stores and closing malls is now opening stores in malls!


Amazon store


That night, we hopped on our flight to Los Angeles. If you are not flying first-class, a great little trick is to ask if there are any unsold seats available and mention that you are willing to help in case of an emergency. The exit row seats are now sold as Economy Plus since they offer greater leg room but we often get those seats without any extra charge just by asking nicely.

Once landed, we took the shuttle to our car rental company and had to wait almost half an hour for the under-staffed establishment to finally give us our reservation. We cannot really complain since we did get the rental for free with travel rewards. 🙂


It was nice to drive a brand new, shiny-red, full-size sedan. It had Sirius XM radio, Sports mode driving, and only 15,000 miles on it… All things we do not have on our own cheap, old, cars.

You know what else we have never had; car loans. 🙂 The average American borrowers finance their new car purchases with loans over $28,000. Not only is this number super scary high but the car loan industry seems to be in a frenzy to give out loans to anyone in America. The good debt is less and less accessible with the new mortgage regulations that were elected after the 2008 crash but the car loan industry is still very flexible and is giving out shiny new cars to people that really cannot afford it.


Loan typesSource: FRBNY Consumer Credit Panel/Equifax


We spent a day visiting Malibu, Venice Beach, Beverly Hills, and Hollywood or in other words, we played in traffic all day. Gosh, there is a lot of traffic in L.A.! We had never seen such wide highways with so many cars. According to INRIX’s Global Traffic Scorecard, Angelinos spent an average of 104 hours stuck in traffic jams last year or about 12.7% of their total drive time. The city was the 2016 global leader when it comes to traffic and even surpassed New York by 15 hours per year.

Traffic data in LASource: INRIX’s Global Traffic Scorecard


There are plenty of cool tech solutions to reduce traffic like Uber pool, Chariot, or Waze Carpool that minimizes single-user cars on the road but the biggest changes will probably come from the recent Measure M, a new sales tax measure L.A. voted into fund as much as $120 billion in subway, light rail and bus system improvements over the next 30 years.

After our fun day in traffic, we drove some more but this time, along much nicer scenery. We drove along the Highway One north up to the Hearst Castle.


Fly for less


.The tour was $25 and lasted about 30 minutes, not something I particularly enjoyed. It is not a castle and is it not historic, it is more like a very large themed house that a guy with too much money built. This eclectic showcase of tremendous wealth reminded me a bit like visiting the Trump Tower on our last trip; too much ego and too much gold.

We then stayed in a nice Airbnb in Los Osos and hiked in the Montaña de Oro State Park the next morning. This beachfront park was breathtaking. Walking by the cliff-side and looking down to the amazing ocean down below is something we highly recommend.



California travels


That same day, we drove back south on the 1 back towards L.A. On the drive, we stopped in Santa Barbara to grab a bite to eat and were very impressed with this small city of almost 100,000 residents. It has this charm and beach feel to it. The main street has great little restaurants and all the shops you could ever need. It would be a great place to retire, too bad the median home value is a whopping $1,050,800 according to Zillow.

We stayed at Le Méridien Delfina in Santa Monica that we booked for free with SPG points. Even though this was not the priciest hotel we have ever stayed at ($360US/night), it was certainly offered the best services we have seen in a while.

Your stay starts with complimentary valet service, while most hotels in L.A. charge anywhere from $60 to $90, and they even allow you in and out privileges during your stay. Last time we were in New York the hotel was charging $85 per day for valet parking and if you took your car out that day, you had to pay again!

Next, we got a warm welcome with Champaign glasses and got upgraded to a premium room and late check-out since we are Preferred Guests. Later that evening, the hotel offered us a complimentary chauffeur service to drive us to our restaurant but we took the free city shuttle to drop us off instead. That was a neat service offered by the city of Santa Monica and runs on small electric cars.


Travel for free!


That night, we ate at Mao’s Kitchen in Venice. The $8 onion pancake we had to start was just ok but the $1 Beijing Spring roll was excellent. We then ordered the Dan Dan Mian for $12 and that was a letdown but Mrs.’s rice and shrimp dish was excellent. The portions are huge but they charged us a few hidden extras which should have been disclosed at ordering so we would give this restaurant a 3-star review.

The next morning, we used the hotel’s free bikes to ride along Venice Beach before sipping drinks by the pool (complimentary of course).


venice beach


After a fun and extremely cheap trip, we flew back home and took a cool new transport service that runs on an all-electric fleet of vehicles. We got the chance to ride in the brand-new Tesla Model X from the airport and it was awesome! We hope you the best travels, Mrs. and Mr. Xyz. 😀



Amazing travels


Amazing Weekend Trip to New York using Rewards Miles

Last weekend, we went to New York City to unwind and discover the Big Apple. It was a great way to forget about our daily routines and enjoy the high-pace of the city. A few weeks before our trip, we planned a few activities and got our free hotel stay through reward points.

We booked a hotel in Midtown (right in Time Square) for $325 a night. However, we actually paid a total of $0.00 for our whole stay. The secret is, we used credit card reward miles. 🙂


Free hotel stay!

Find your card today and start earning those SWEET miles!


Visiting New York can become really expensive really fast. With a little planning, we were able to spend under $100 per day and still have a great time. Our main expense was food and drinks since we stayed away from the traditional tourist traps. Of course, we would not be anywhere near this figure without our free hotel stay.

When we checked in our hotel, another hotel guest leaving the city generously gave us subway day passes that she was not able to use. That saved us a few subway fares. (Regular fare is $3 and the 7-day unlimited pass this woman gave us is $32.00)

Thank you random hotel lobby woman! 🙂

We spent our first day walking around lower Manhattan and exploring the great architecture it has to offer. We stopped by Madison Square Park and ate an amazing burger at the original Shake Shack then visited the New York Stock Exchange, the 9/11 Memorial, and the New York Public Library.

At the library, for example, you can get free tours at 11 am and 2 pm Monday to Saturday and at 2 pm on Sunday.

We did not get to it but if you want to see the Statue of Liberty, you can always pay and go with the tourists or you can take the Staten Island Ferry for free and it offers a great view of the city. It runs every day and anyone can just hop aboard.

We then ate amazing, cheap, authentic Thai at Pure Thai Cookhouse near our hotel and ended the night drinking $3 beer at Rudy.

Rudys bar in New York City


On our second day, walked through Central Park and then visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They ask for a “recommended” amount of $25 for entry but it is completely up to you. Most tourists just go with the what the sign says and pay the full amount. However, you simply tell the cashier how much you wish to pay and that will be your fare.

With all its grandeur and spectacular skyline, New York City is definitively nice from great heights. Unfortunately, visiting the observation decks of the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, or the 1 World Trade Center each cost over $30. The cheaper option is to enjoy a nice drink on a rooftop terrace for roughly $15. We went on the rooftop terrace Metropolitan Museum of Art overlooking the obscenely expensive real estate around Central Park. Other great options in Midtown are 230 Fifth, Sky Terrace, The Skylark or you can also get a great view of the skyline from the Staten Island Ferry or the Wythe Hotel rooftop terrace in Brooklyn.


The MET roof top viewThe view from the Met rooftop.


We then ate huge sesame bagels filled with Lox salmon and cream cheese over at H&H Midtown Bagels East. in the Upper East Side and then walked the High Line. This 1.45-mile-long linear park was built on an elevated section of the old West Side Line train track. The greenery and liveliness of the place were very refreshing. Street performers were entertaining the tourists and the lavish plants have overtaken the train tracks. Our walk ended at the Chelsea Market where we ate at Los Tacos No.1.


The high line New York CityThe High Line.

On our third day, we visited the American Museum of Natural History and the Hayden Planetarium both located on the Upper West Side of Central Park. Just like the Met, these advertise a suggested price but you can contribute any amount you want.

We did not have time to visit it this time but the Museum of Modern Art on 53rd Street is free on Fridays from 4 pm and the Museum at the Fashion Institute is always free. We would have liked to visit a few more but ran out of time. You can look up the free museum days offered around the city and easily save a few bucks.

Another great activity we wanted to try is free kayaking in Queens. The Downtown Boathouse offers free kayaks on weekends and holidays and the Long Island Community Boathouse offer free kayaks and tours for you to roam around and explore the shore. We wanted to experience the sensational sunsets the water has to offer but never got to it.

All in all, we spent slightly less than $100 per day on food and enjoyed three fun-packed days. We experienced new things, tasted new flavors, and saw new heights that we simply cannot see back home. Visiting this ridiculously expensive city made us think about all this wealth. The big cars, fancy apartments, and expensive cocktails must make people happier right?

Would you be happier if you could live in a $30,000 per month apartment in TriBeCa?

How about an $80,000 per month townhouse in Upper East Side? Would you be happy then?


How to be happy$80,000 per month townhouse in Upper East Side


maslow pyramid

Findings from a study by researchers from the University of Cambridge found that spending money can increase our happiness when we spend on things that fit our personalities. These purchase that meets our psychological needs can make us happier but again, that is only true once our basic needs are met.


Our findings suggest that spending money on products that help us express who we are as individuals could turn out to be as important to our well-being as finding the right job, the right neighborhood or even the right friends and partnersSandra Matz


For some people, fancy things might answer their esteem needs but to what point? A 2010 academic study by psychologist Daniel Kahneman and economist Angus Deaton found that happiness increases up to an income of $75,000. After that point, the extra dollar has no measurable effect on day-to-day contentment.


The magic income: $75,000 a year. As people earn more money, their day-to-day happiness rises. Until you hit $75,000. After that, it is just more stuff, with no gain in happiness. – Robert Frank, WSJ.


In states like New York, however, it costs much more to cover your basic needs. This happiness number is therefore higher. Using the current cost-of-living indexes per state from the Council for Community & Economic Research, we can find this optimal income level for each state.


How much do you need to be happySource: Advisor Perspectives


If we go even deeper and look at Manhattan, the equivalent of $75K soars to $162,500 based on this cost of living index. Now if we want to be even more accurate, we should account for inflation since the Kahneman-Deaton study appeared in 2010 and was based on 2009 survey data. The annual Consumer Price Index (CPI) shows a 15.56% increase from 2009 to 2017 so the Manhattan happiness number is more around $187,850 in 2017.

Our happiness number is greatly influenced by how we see ourselves in relation to others. If you live a simple life in a simple neighborhood, there is no reason to keep up with the Jones. Live life to your own standards, not the ones of others. In conclusion, New York City is a great city to visit. We had a great time but boy is it expensive to live there! Spend your dollars wisely and be happy, Xyz.