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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Arriving Late To The Frequent Flyer Mile Party

Before preparing to move to Kazakhstan, I had never really bothered with frequent flyer mile programs.  I think I signed up for one years ago, but never accrued enough miles to benefit, and just got bored with the whole thing.  But after we accepted our job offers in Kazakhstan, someone suggested that we look into frequent flyer miles, and it made sense to me, since we would be earning a lot of miles over a fairly short period of time.

So we signed up for a program with Star Alliance, and most of our flights home were with its member airlines.  I checked after every flight to make sure more miles were added to my total, but didn't really understand how to redeem them for anything.

Fast forward to our return to the US.  Two of our closest friends we made in Kazakhstan got married while they were planning their move out there, and planned to have a larger wedding party for this coming summer.  The celebration will be in England, where they are from.  We decided that if at least one of us had at least a job offer by that time that we would try to go.  I was fortunate to start working pretty quickly, but living in the DC area has a funny way of eating up income pretty quickly, so I decided it was time to figure out how to use our frequent flyer miles.

I checked my account, and, to my delight, found that I had (and by extension, Scott would have) enough miles for a one-way trip between North America and Europe.  But then how would I book the other half a round-trip ticket?  And how would I book for both of us?

I decided to experiment.  I started a booking to see if there was any way to input two account numbers so that I could combine our miles and book for both me and Scott at one time.  Nope.  I then tried to book a round-trip ticket just for myself, and was invited to purchase the additional miles I would need, to the tune of around $1,000.  Um, no thanks.

It looked like we would have to each book a one-way ticket separately in order to use our miles, and then book another one-way ticket together to pay with "real" money.  Scott had scoped out one-way ticket prices and found that return tickets were more expensive.  So we sat side by side with our laptops and booked the return trip tickets together.  We even managed to book seats next to each other.  I was surprised that we had to pay some money for those tickets even though we supposedly had enough miles to cover the tickets, but maybe I should have been, considering that airlines are stingy even with cheap snacks these days.

Then we booked our tickets to fly to England together.  Being a frequent flyer mile novice, I have no idea if the somewhat convoluted process we used to book our tickets was the best one. But we did save a considerable amount of money over what we would have paid to purchase round-trip tickets without any miles.  And frankly, flying between the US and Kazakhstan several times a year was very taxing, and I was glad to have a tangible benefit come from it.  I doubt we'll accrue this many miles again anytime soon, but I'll certainly keep any eye on how many miles we do earn, with the hope of more affordable travel in the future.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Something I Don't See Every Day

When I went to the metro station on Tuesday to head home after work, I saw something unusual on the MARC train/freight train tracks.

This phone picture doesn't actually do the circus train justice.  It was very long--much longer than I could have captured with my phone's camera.  I haven't been to a circus since I was a little kid--and I have had no desire to go in many years--but I couldn't help but be curious about what was in all of these cars.  Was it all just equipment?  Or were the animals being transported this way?  How does the circus transport its animals, anyway, and what is it like for them to be cooped up for hours on end with no clear idea of their destination?

Whatever their motivation, I'm glad Ringling Bros. decided to discontinue their elephant acts.  I'd much rather see elephants (and lions, tigers, and whatever other animals have been used in the circus) being themselves and doing what they would do naturally than performing in a contrived way.  I hope retiring the elephants will be just the beginning, and that if years from now I see another circus train, I won't have to wonder if it's transporting animals.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Human Commuter Migration Patterns

A pair of geese have a nest near where I work, and recently, their goslings hatched.  Naturally, people have been very interested in these goslings.  So imagine my excitement when, while walking by a little pond on the way to my office, I saw three pairs of adult geese, all with goslings!

Unfortunately, the feeling was not mutual.

I want to say here that I was not trying to get close to the geese, take selfies with them, or anything like that.  I simply wanted to walk on a path that was constructed primarily with humans in mind and maybe see the goslings on the way.  But as I approached the area where the first pair of adult geese were hanging out with their goslings, one of the adults hissed* at me.  I veered off the path into some mud to try to convince him/her** that I meant no harm.  Having passed this first pair of geese, I passed by the second pair without incident.  But then as I approached the end of the path, where the third pair of adult geese were with their goslings, another one of the adults hissed at me.  I was in a quandary; I dared not backtrack for fear of angering the previous four adult geese I had passed, but I didn't have a good way to circumvent the goose who was angry at me at that moment.  I teetered over a bunch of rocks to give the goose the human-free space it required.

When I headed back to the metro station at the end of the day, I took a different route and avoided the pond altogether.  I have certainly altered my commutes to avoid other people who I find disagreeable, but this was my first time changing my commute to avoid animals who dislike me.

*I'm not sure if there is a technical term for the warning sound geese make, but it reminds me of a cat hissing.
**I have no idea how to determine a goose's sex, and I don't intend to get close enough to try.