Lake County…Just One More Wine Destination

Fall and travel just seem to go together. Whether it’s far or near…traveling is a good way to see new places or to see familiar places in a different light. Memories are just part of traveling.

In my case, I review places for different blogs and publications and I showcase some of those reviews here.

Recently, we spent a weekend in Lake County, California. It’s about a two-hour drive from San Francisco or from where we live. Parts of the area we visited were ravaged by major wildfires in 2015 and we wondered what we would see.

Some of that destruction is still obvious as shells of cars and partially burned homes remained in a few of the smaller towns. Hillsides with blackened sticks of burned trees, brilliant green grass abundant around them, sat right next to vibrant trees which weren’t touched by the flames. Forest fire is an odd creature.

Closer to Clear Lake, green hills, dormant volcanos, and brilliant blue skies were the sites we noticed. It’s easy to see why the American Lung Association has proclaimed the air here some of the cleanest in the nation. All we had to do was breathe to figure that out. With all the clear air and not a lot of light pollution, the Taylor Observatory offers some amazing star gazing.

If you’ve never heard of or spent time at Clear Lake…you should. With over 100 miles of shoreline, it is the largest natural freshwater lake wholly within California. And…for you fishermen, it’s supposedly the land of bass fishing.

Those old volcanos…their soil rich in ash is great for producing impressive Cabernets and Suavignon Blancs. We tried several…and have to agree.

Stay tuned for more reviews of this amazing area.

US News & World Report…Travel Credit Cards



Travel credit cards explained…there’s so much to know. 

If you travel, it would be a good idea to read what U.S. News found out in their survey. They’ve done the legwork…you just need to figure out what’s best for you.

Recently, I was asked to collaborate with U.S. News & World Report regarding travel credit cards. As a nationally recognized publisher of consumer advice and information, they conducted a nationwide study of consumers who own credit cards.

From this study, they created a guide which shows travelers how to best use their cards and get the most from them.

Finally, something that compares cards and gives me information that makes sense.

Throughout the next month I will post results from that study. Hopefully, you will learn something about your credit card.

The link to the entire study is https://creditcards.usnews.com/travel#heading2

Travel credit cards are rewards cards that help users earn free travel, achieve elite member status with hotels and airlines and enjoy many other travel-related perks. Although travel credit cards can often be used for cash back too, consumers receive better value when using them to collect and redeem points for travel.


Travel credit cards fall into one of three types: airline cards, hotel cards and general travel cards. A cobranded airline or hotel credit card enters you into a specific brand’s loyalty membership club and rewards all types of spending, however the points you earn can only be redeemed toward that single brand and its partners. General travel cards also reward all types of spending, at a lower, flat rate, but the points you earn can be redeemed with a variety of airline and hotel loyalty programs, based on the partnerships secured by the card issuer.
What’s in This Guide
    6. Best Travel Cards of 2017
This is one of the most comprehensive and valuable studies I’ve read. It’s worth your time to figure out what is going to work for you.

You may change your mind about the credit cards you use or how you use them.

Have fun traveling…

Maximize Those Rewards

Thinking about travel credit cards…do I really need one?

While only you can answer that question for you, if you’re going to travel very much, it can definitely be worth it. Why?

Things like travel insurance, protecting your rental car, luggage issues, and emergency services may be covered with your credit card. These might not seem important to you at the time you sign up. But, they will be crucial during that one time when your luggage is lost and you’re heading out with 27 kids on a tour of Rome, or your rental car gets a parking ticket in a small town in Germany.

Yep…both have happened to me.

Recently, I was asked to collaborate with U.S. News & World Report regarding travel credit cards. As a nationally recognized publisher of consumer advice and information, they conducted a nationwide study of consumers who own credit cards.

From this study, they created a guide which shows travelers how to best use their cards and get the most from them.

Finally, something that compares cards and gives me information that makes sense.

Throughout the next month I will post results from that study. Hopefully, you will learn something about your credit card.

The link to the entire study is https://creditcards.usnews.com/travel#heading2

Back to the question…do you need one? Check out some things to think about.


Pick the right first travel card.
When you’re first starting out with travel cards, select one with a general miles program that gives you the flexibility to earn rewards for all spending and redeem with the largest variety of brands. Unless you spend large amounts on travel expenses with a particular brand, airline and hotel cards offer less flexibility and savings.

Combine a general travel card with a cobranded or loyalty card.
Used in tandem with a general travel card, an airline or hotel card makes sense for frequent travelers who are comfortable committing to one particular travel brand. This combination allows you to use the cobranded card to earn bonus points on the cobranded airline/hotel spending and use the general travel card to still earn bonus points in non-travel spending categories. You want to make sure your general travel card is allowed to transfer points to the cobranded card, for maximum value.

For example, Chase Sapphire Preferred works well with the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards program. You can earn Chase Ultimate Rewards by spending with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card and transfer them to Southwest to either book with miles, or earn double miles by booking with your Southwest Rapid Rewards card. Cortez says he’s a fan of this card combination particularly for casual travelers, as Southwest offers 100 percent award seating availability and doesn’t charge a fixed amount of miles for flights, allowing travelers to find some good bargains on their tickets.

For a general travel/hotel combo, the Hyatt Credit Card also works well with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. You can earn points with either card and also transfer your Ultimate Rewards into the World of Hyatt rewards program. 

Maximizing Your Card Benefits Abroad

Knowing how your travel credit card works and what benefits and protections it offers (or doesn’t offer) can help you solve some of the problems that may arise when you’re abroad.

Avoid foreign transaction fees.
If you’re not sure if your card has foreign transaction fees, check with your bank when you notify them of your upcoming trip. You can also verify with them that your card has EMV smart chip technology, which is the most compatible with foreign merchants and provides the best security.

Avoid dynamic currency conversion.
Many foreign merchants let you choose to be charged in local currency or to pay with dollars through dynamic currency conversion. You should always opt for local currency, as the exchange rate will likely be poor and/or have a fee tacked on top. It’s always good to have cash on-hand regardless in case a store or restaurant won’t accept your card.

Know who to contact in an emergency.
Signature Visa cardholders have free access to a 24/7 benefits administrator who can provide medical referrals, contact loved ones and arrange for payments. Likewise, Citibank cardmembers can receive round-the-clock referrals and other help with medical and legal emergencies.

Some programs, like Visa Signature and World Elite MasterCard, provide 24/7 global services for card-related needs and expedited card replacement, and Visa gives an emergency cash advance or Western Union wire transfer within two hours of approval by your bank.

For common travel medical emergencies, an officer from the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate can help connect you with treatment services, inform loved ones and facilitate the transfer of funds, if necessary. All medical expenses will be your responsibility, however.

Take advantage of travel insurance.
MasterCard and Visa both include travel protections through their cards, as well as travel insurance for an additional cost. World Elite MasterCard offers members international travel accident and medical expenses coverage up to $1 million each, plus trip inconvenience protection and luggage protection.

Visa Signature’s plan offers cardholders and their immediate family members Common Carrier Travel Accident Insurance (for accidents involving your airline, train or cruise ship) up to $500,000 and 24-Hour Travel Accident Insurance for injury, dismemberment or loss of life up to $100,000.

Only 15 percent of credit cards offer travel cancellation insurance, and due to the lack of medical coverage and routine exceptions to Common Carrier protection, the benefits are limited. You may want to opt for third-party travel insurance for fuller coverage.

Protect your rental car.
Your personal car insurance policy probably will not cover foreign travel, so you’ll need to purchase auto insurance in your destination country, preferably at an equivalent level of coverage to what you carry at home.

Travel cards with Visa Signature and World Elite MasterCard benefits offer auto rental collision damage waivers that provide reimbursement over and above any primary insurance you have for towing, loss of use, theft and/or damage to the car up to the full cash value of most rental vehicles booked using that card.
There are restrictions, however, including the country of travel, type of vehicle, age of the vehicle and length of the rental period. And you’ll be required to refuse the collision damage waiver at the car rental counter. Third-party liability, personal accident and personal property coverage will not be included with your card’s coverage, which is why TripAdvisor Travel Advocate Wendy Perrin advises carefully considering which of your credit cards will give you the best coverage (and not result in an increase in your insurance premium).
Be sure to file your claim as soon as possible because time limits are strictly enforced, and have as much documentation as you can. This includes copies of the accident report, rental agreement and receipt, repair estimate, police report and plenty of photos.

Additionally, in some countries, you will need an International Driving Permit. An IDP can be purchased from AAA or the American Automobile Touring Alliance for a $20 fee with a valid driver’s license, two passport pictures and a completed application.

Get help with your lost luggage.
Many travel rewards credit cards offer benefits to help you deal with lost luggage. The Lost Luggage Locator Service of Visa Signature can assist with the airline’s claim process or arrange for replacement items to be shipped to you. Both Visa Signature and World Elite MasterCard guarantee users reimbursement for lost or delayed baggage of $100 a day for three days.

Airline liability can be complicated for international travel. Your rights are laid out in either the Warsaw Convention or the Montreal Convention, depending on which country you’re traveling to. Frommer’s has a good breakdown of what to do in the event of lost luggageunder either scenario, plus best practices for avoiding lost bags in the first place.

I’m Confused…Which Travel Card Do I Need?

You thought you had the best travel credit card.

Then, you see an ad on TV and you begin to wonder. That one sounds better than yours. Or, does it? You’re confused.

Maybe you should get both. How do you know?

Recently, I was asked to collaborate with U.S. News & World Report regarding travel credit cards. As a nationally recognized publisher of consumer advice and information, they conducted a nationwide study of consumers who own credit cards.

From this study, they created a guide which shows travelers how to best use their cards and get the most from them.

Finally, something that compares cards and gives me information that makes sense.

Throughout the next month I will post results from that study. Hopefully, you will learn something about your credit card.

The link to the entire study is https://creditcards.usnews.com/travel#heading2

Is a travel credit card right for you?
Make sure you meet these requirements before signing up for a travel rewards credit card.
  • You travel frequently. If you don’t consistently spend on airfare, hotels or other travel expenses, consider a cash back credit card instead. They have fewer limitations on redemption and might save you the cost of an annual fee.
  • You have a good credit score. You have the best chances of being approved for a travel credit card if you have a FICO score of at least 700.
  • You pay off your balance each month. Because travel credit cards have higher-than-average APRs, you should only get a travel card if you can pay off your balance each month.
To find a travel card that meets your needs, evaluate each card using the following criteria:
  1. Pick the right rewards program for you.
  2. Calculate earning potential.
  3. Factor in sign-up bonuses.
  4. Calculate redemption value.
  5. Subtract annual fees.
  6. Understand travel benefits.
  7. Avoid foreign transaction fees.

1. Pick the right rewards program for you.
Your travel credit card will work either in conjunction with the loyalty program of an airline or hotel chain or with the rewards program of the bank or credit card company that backs it. Each program has its benefits as well as unique terms and conditions for earning, redeeming and transferring points.

Loyalty airline programs
For some travelers, their loyalty to any particular airline lasts only as long as that airline offers the cheapest flights. But frequent flyers are often willing to forgo initial cost savings in exchange for benefits down the road. Which airline’s program works best for you will depend on several factors regarding the loyalty program and the airline itself.
Popular airline programs:
Loyalty hotel programs
When you look for a hotel, do you prioritize value or luxury? The answer will help you determine which hotel rewards program is right for you. As with airline loyalty programs, your earned points may only be eligible for redemption with one hotel chain and its affiliate partners. Some hotel rewards programs have partnerships with other brands, such as Marriott Rewards, which allows members to redeem and earn points with The Ritz-Carlton Rewards program.
Popular hotel rewards programs:
General points program
Using a general travel credit card enters you into the rewards program for the bank or credit card company that backs it. While you will have access to the broader redemption platform for that provider’s network of credit cards, you’ll still receive the best value by redeeming for travel through the platform or using the platform to receive statement credits for travel purchases made on the card.
Examples:
Maximizing your rewards means matching your goals and habits with the appropriate type of travel rewards program. If you want deluxe benefits that come with elite membership status, an airline or hotel card is the way to go.
However, if you don’t travel as often and want maximum flexibility when you do, as well as a broader range of earnings categories, a general travel card is usually the smartest choice for your first travel card. Frequent flyers often find that adding a second, cobranded loyalty card to their wallet makes sense once they’ve established a favorite airline or hotel chain.

2. Calculate earning potential.
Travel cards earn rewards at different rates for spending in different categories, so you have to analyze your spending habits to determine which card will help you maximize your points. A good travel card will have a range of purchases that qualify as travel spending. These purchases can include:
  • flights
  • stays at hotels, motels, timeshares and campgrounds
  • car rentals
  • cruises
  • trains
  • buses, taxis, limousines and ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft
  • parking lots and garages
  • bridge and highway tolls
  • meals and other nonlodging expenses at hotels
Depending on the type of card, these purchases can earn between 1.5 and seven points. The highest points tend to come with hotel cards, while airline cards typically award double to triple miles for flight purchases. All other purchases, often referred to as everyday spending, typically earn between one and two points per dollar spent.

3. Factor in sign-up bonuses.
The most lucrative travel cards offer bonus points to those who meet a certain level of spending by a specified date, usually within three to six months. These bonuses can be worth hundreds of dollars. For example, the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards card offers 50,000 points when you spend $2,000 in the first three months, and the BankAmericard Travel Rewards card offers 20,000 points when you spend $1,000 in the first three months.

4. Calculate redemption value.
Every travel card carries a rate at which points or miles are awarded. However, what those points are worth to you depends on the value you derive from redeeming them, as well as your preferences and priorities.
For general travel cards, point valuation is simple math: your number of points multiplied by the redemption rate, often a rate of 1 cent to 1 point. On the surface, award travel with airlines or hotels is also straightforward: The typical cost of a flight or room is divided by the number of miles you need to book an award flight or stay.
But airlines and hotels frequently adjust the price of award travel based on award level, award availability, time, destination/location, fare/hotel class, demand and other factors. All of these changes will affect the value of your miles, making valuation for airlines in particular “extremely complicated,” according to Dubash. “You’ll see estimates all over the place.” He and Cortez both cite 2 cents per mile as a general standard for miles with the major airlines, while the value of miles with smaller airlines like Southwest and JetBlue may fluctuate higher or lower than 2 cents.
Other factors that affect the value of your rewards program include:
  • whether there are fees for checked bags, foreign transactions, etc.
  • whether your points can be transferred to another loyalty program and at what ratio
  • how easy it is accrue and redeem points and whether you face blackout dates, seat restrictions or other limitations
  • the quality of perks available to you once you reach top-tier elite status
5. Subtract annual fees.
Credit card companies entice new users by waiving the annual fee for the first year, which typically ranges from $40 to $95, although it can go as high as $450 per year. Once the fee kicks in, be sure you’re earning enough rewards or enjoying the other card benefits to compensate for it. For example, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard’s $89 annual fee activates in the second year, but you might easily save that amount through the card’s discounts on car rentals, vacation packages, charter flights or flights with one of its airline partners.
There are also excellent cards on the market that don’t carry an annual fee. For example, the Discover it Miles card is a no-fee card that doubles users’ rewards at the end of the first year of use, has no foreign transaction fees and offers a flat 1.5 percent rewards rate on all purchases, including nontravel expenses.

6. Understand travel benefits.
Travel benefits can be practical tools, discounted pricing or luxe perks. Common benefits include no foreign transaction fees, access to 24/7 concierge or customer service lines, free baggage and travel insurance. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card comes with trip cancellation/interruption insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, car rental theft and collision coverage, baggage delay insurance, trip delay reimbursement, 24/7 customer service and more.

The Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier credit card and Business credit cardprovide A-list status users with priority check-in and boarding, free same-day standby and dedicated customer service. Members of the top two tiers can get free in-flight Wi-Fi and free flights for a friend every time they fly.

The Marriott Rewards Premier credit card comes with zero foreign transaction fees and a free night stay every year after your account anniversary. Members at the introductory level get free in-room internet, while the upper tiers promise lounge access and breakfast, free room upgrades, guaranteed room availability, late checkout, elite customer service lines and arrival gifts.

7. Avoid foreign transaction fees.
The best travel cards don’t charge a foreign transaction fee, which is typically 2 to 3 percent on every purchase. Since these fees can be greater than any rewards you earn, frequent overseas travelers will want to make this card feature a top priority.

Cheers…





No chairs…just a few stools. 

No tables…just a long wooden bar and some upturned wine barrels. 

Dozens of well-used, copper pots hang from the dark, wooden ceiling. 

Tour groups wander in…but don’t stay for even one glass. Locals stop at the same time each day…and the bartender never asks what they want. He just knows.


Warm and cozy, this original bacaro has been catering to the workers of the Rialto Market, tourists, and even supposedly Casanova since 1462. Like so many things in Venice, it’s not easy to find. Even with a map. It’s tucked in a


Cantina Do Mori, in Venice, gets my vote for a mid-morning glass of Prosecco and an afternoon glass of house red wine.

Park Your Car…Or Not?


You can’t wait to get on the plane to France, Denver, San Diego, or somewhere. It doesn’t matter. You’re excited to go.
But…you have to get to the airport and then leave your car. If you’re gone for an extended period of time…it may cost you a bundle.
What do you do?
This is an excellent site for all things travel. Check out their deals on shuttle services to and from the airport.
To make this even sweeter…save 10% with coupon code JUL17A
Here’s an example of some info they have posted:
Top reasons to use an airport transportation service
These are the main reasons we recommend using an airport shuttle instead of parking at the airport:
·         It’s fast and easy to check rates online and choose a vehicle that best suits your needs and your budget
·         You can pre-book well in advance of your travel day so there’s one less thing to worry about in the busy days leading up to your trip
·         Unlike most taxis or ride-hailing services, with the provider we recommend, your fee is set up front and there is never any surge pricing
·         It’s a snap to select exactly when and where you want to be picked up for your ride to the airport (and dropped off upon your return). Examples include your home, office, hotel or school/university.
·         The driver drops you off right at your terminal and will help you with your luggage. They same applies when you fly back into the airport.
·         Drivers are professional, have had background checks and are safety trained. They’re also required to carry liability insurance coverage.
·         You can make one-way, roundtrip or multi-leg advance reservations. Super convenient!
For more great parking and travel info, check out this site from Jennifer Church.
Airport Parking Helper
P.S. If you’ve got a trip coming up, you can grab coupon codes for off-airport parking, hotels with free parking, shuttle services and more by visiting our Top Travel Deals page.

Remember, lots fill up quickly in the busy summer travel seasons, so don’t delay!

How Do Travel Credit Cards Work?

Let’s say you want to go to Paris. 

Do you like a particular hotel or airline? Do you have a credit card that gives you points or rewards when you stay or fly with your favorites? How about if you use that card on other purchases?

Do you spend more just to get more points? Have you ever wondered how your spending translates back to your rewards?

Recently, I was asked to collaborate with U.S. News & World Report regarding travel credit cards. As a nationally recognized publisher of consumer advice and information, they conducted a nationwide study of consumers who own credit cards.

From this study, they created a guide which shows travelers how to best use their cards and get the most from them.

Finally, something that compares cards and gives me information that makes sense.

Throughout the next month I will post results from that study. Hopefully, you will learn something about your credit card.

The link to the entire study is https://creditcards.usnews.com/travel#heading2

Today we’ll learn about how those cards work.
Travel rewards cards help users save money on travel expenses, like on airfare, hotel and transportation spending. Travel credit cards benefit repeat customers, because the more you spend, the more savings (or benefits) you receive.
Travel rewards cards offer higher earning rates for travel spending in particular, and may can be cashed in for highly discounted or free flights and hotel stays, free or reduced baggage fees, priority boarding and other perks. Some cards may not even require any points at all to take advantage of those perks, but they may carry an annual fee to offset those costs to the issuer.

Travel credit cards often come with lucrative sign-up bonuses with the best cards offering as many as 100,000 points to new members who hit a minimum spending amount within the first few months.

Like other premium rewards cards, travel cards are generally known to carry more restrictions and fees than the average credit card. For this reason, travel cards are not as beneficial for the occasional traveler.


There are three basic types of travel credit cards: airline, hotel and general travel.

Airline credit cards
Airlines partner with credit card companies to offer cobranded travel rewards credit cards that earn the most miles when used for flights on that particular airline and spending with affiliate partners, typically double or triple the miles. Cardholders still earn miles for day-to-day purchases (with a few exceptions like cash advances and purchases of prepaid cards), only at a lower rate, typically one point per dollar. You can redeem earned miles with that airline or its affiliates.

Benefits: Perks and spending rewards
Airline cards can deliver a cheaper, more comfortable flying experience. Benefits often include free or reduced baggage fees, priority boarding, complimentary or discounted access to the airport lounge and discounts on in-flight purchases.
But airline cards can also save you money by offering sizable sign-up bonuses, waived foreign transaction fees and double or triple miles earned on airline and affiliate purchases.

Hotel credit cards
Hotel credit cards are most valuable when used to book accommodations with that particular hotel chain. Unlike airline cards, it’s not uncommon to earn five points per dollar spent with that brand, with other travel purchases earning fewer points and all other purchases earning the least. Points have to be redeemed through that brand or its partners.

Benefits: Free nights and special status
Hotel credit cards work best for loyal guests of one particular hotel chain or group. Free nights are the most valuable benefit, and most hotel cards provide users with an easier path toward elite status, which delivers perks like guaranteed room availability, membership discounts, priority check-in, and complimentary upgrades. As with airline credit cards, one-time sign-up bonuses are common if you spend a minimum amount within the first few months.

Some hotel cards charge an annual fee that’s waived during the first year, but those that do typically don’t charge foreign transaction fees. Many hotel cards provide various forms of travel insurance, like lost baggage protection, trip delay reimbursement, emergency assistance and car rental insurance coverage. Some hotel rewards programs let you transfer your points to their airline partners.

General travel credit cards
General travel credit cards are not tied to any particular travel brand and offer the flexibility to redeem through their own travel portals or transfer points to partners to redeem for cruises, hotel packages, rental cars and cruises, among other options. Purchases typically carry a flat reward rate, but points can be redeemed from a broad selection of travel brands and sometimes for nontravel rewards.

Benefits: Flexibility and value
General travel cards are inherently more flexible than airline or hotel credit cards, which is a big plus for travelers who aren’t loyal to any particular brand or who travel to destinations with fewer options for hotels or airports. Cardholders can worry less about blackout dates or travel restrictions because they’re not tied to a sole provider.

Points can sometimes be transferred to other loyalty programs. However, points don’t transfer equally with all partners and the exchange rates do vary; in some cases you get get the best redemption value by transferring points to partners. It’s important to review your card’s reward charts to better calculate the value of transferring your points with partners.

The ability to also redeem general travel card points toward statement credits or cash back makes this type of card particularly attractive to users who prioritize flexibility.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Travel Rewards Credit Cards
For the right consumer, travel credit cards can make a lot of financial sense, but it’s important to understand the pros and cons.

Benefits
Better point valuations and redemptions: Travel-related spending with travel credit cards accrues points and miles faster than general rewards credit cards, and when those miles are redeemed for travel, they have potential to deliver better ratios than other rewards like cash back or statement credits. Points can be used to book free nights at hotels or for free flights.

Travel perks: Many travel credit cards also offer perks like free checked bags, priority boarding, concierge services and travel protection and assistance.

No foreign transaction fees: A foreign transaction fee is a surcharge on every purchase made on a credit card outside the U.S. If your itinerary takes you overseas, a travel credit card that carries no foreign transaction fees helps you avoid that added cost, which is typically 3 percent of the purchase price.

Drawbacks
High costs: Travel cards’ purchase interest rates (APRs) fall on the higher end of the scale for all credit cards, and the credit score needed to secure them starts in the upper 600s. Qualifying credit scores on the lower end of the spectrum will, in turn, result in higher APRs.

Top travel cards charge annual fees that require high amounts of travel or other spending to offset them via rewards. Similarly, sign-up bonuses may encourage you to spend more just to qualify for them.

“I think that many consumers are very excited about the points without considering how much they’re going to spend in actual interest at the end of the day,” Cortez says. To avoid running a high balance on the card, Cortez explains that a savvy consumer will look at his or her budget in light of the required minimum spending amount to qualify for a sign-up bonus and determine a plan to earn the points in a way that complements their lifestyle.

Restrictions: Travel credit cards can also cost you time. Some cards require lots of planning or working with customer service to navigate blackout dates, limited seat availability or confusing terms and conditions. Depending on the card, there can also be restrictions on earning miles, including caps and expiration dates. And, of course, bonus points from airline and hotel cards are restricted to redemption only with that brand or qualifying partners.

Emily Jablon, cofounder at Million Mile Secrets, points out that for an expensive or long-distance trip, it may be worth the added cost to enlist the help of an award-booking service. For a fee ranging from $75 to $250 per traveler, services like Cranky Concierge and AwardAdvocate can help you find and book the lowest fares for award travel and answer any questions you may have about your trip.

Cheeriest Little Island

Burano, an island in the northern Venetian Lagoon, has been referred to as one of the most colorful places on earth as well as one of the top 10 most colorful cities in the world. 

Approaching Burano from Venice, it’s easy to see why. Brightly colored houses, all of them, pop against the green waters of the channels. At first glance, their narrow streets and impossibly bright colors appear almost tropical. One more look and you feel like you’ve just stepped into a postcard view, as small boats line both sides of the canals and the bright colors rise above.

Legend has it the houses were painted brightly so returning fishermen could see them from long distances. Today, your house can be painted certain colors. Just send a letter to the government to see what color you may use.

When you take the vaporetto from Venice, get off at the small island of Mazzorbo, just one stop before Burano. Walk past the 14th century church of Santa Caterina, a local vineyard, and a park. Cross the foot bridge connecting the two islands and it’s easy to walk the island from one end to the other. Check out the Museo del Merletto or lace museum, Galuppi Square, and the campanile of the San Martino church. Now take a look from another angle of the campenile and see how it leans. Yep, they have their own leaning tower.


The pace is slow here; slower than Venice. Flower boxes, overflowing with flowers, offer sweet scents; laundry, hanging from second story windows, is just as common as open shutters; bikes, sitting by doorways, wait for their owners; cats, posing for their close-up photos, lazily groom their faces. This is a real island with real Venetians living their lives. You just happen to be their visitor for the day.

With tiny streets opening up to small squares and eventually to the island’s main square, you’ll find tourists mingling with locals chatting and drinking espresso or spritz. Elderly ladies work on their embroidery as children whisk in and out. Find a little wider spot and you’ll find an impromptu soccer game.
Lace making used to be a main industry with Burano lace exported worldwide. Leonardo da Vinci supposedly came here to shop for cloth to use at the main altar of the Duomo di Milano. Making lace was an exacting endeavor. Each lady specialized in one stitch. Each piece, tablecloth, or shawl required seven different ladies to complete the stitching. You can imagine how long it took to finish.

Today most inhabitants are fishermen and that’s why you’ll have a fantastic lunch of super fresh seafood at a much more reasonable price than across the lagoon in Venice. A couple of restaurants have been featured on food shows around the world. If you visit during a street market day, be sure to look at the fish to catch a glimpse of typical Venetian Lagoon seafood.


It won’t take you long to walk the entire island, but take some time to wander away from the main squares to find a small bar to sip your espresso or spritz and people watch. Eat lunch here and sample the local catch of the day or fantastic risotto.

Take photos…lots of photos. Remember, it’s one of the most colorful places in the world.


If You Go: Take vaporetto number 12 from Fondament Nove, departing every half hour. It also makes one stop on Murano Island so if you reach Murano from another part of Venice, you can transfer to number 12 at the Murano Faro stop. On the scenic 40-minute ride you’ll pass the cemetery island of San Michele, Murano, Torcello, and small islands in the lagoon. If you plan on being in Venice for several days, it’s cost effective to purchase a vaporetto pass good for longer periods of time.

Bar a Vin, Bordeaux

For wine lovers, there’s just something about tasting Bordeaux wines. 

There’s something special about tasting those wines in Bordeaux. After all, we should get a taste before we head out to the vineyards.

But, how and where to start?

With so many areas, AVAs, and wines, this could be a daunting task.

We know about the left bank, with Medoc, and the right bank, with Saint Emilion to start with. But wait…there’s even more.

So, when we heard about the Bar a Vin in the city of Bordeaux, this seemed like a good place to start our education, right?


This isn’t your normal wine bar. If you want to sample a new wine, gain some insight and advice on a particular appellation or vintage, or just sit and sip your new favorite Bordeaux wine…this is the place. All the Bordeaux wines from reds to dry and sweet whites to roses and sparkling wines can be tried in a setting they specifically designed to let you appreciate and enjoy what Bordeaux has to offer.

The list we were handed had the day’s wines…all thirty of them. Sommeliers spent time with us, shared their passion and their knowledge of the wines on that list, and offered suggestions. We asked questions and they had answers. 

They explained that the list is updated frequently, depending on what is now available or what wine is a specialty they want to feature. If we weren’t sure about a wine, they explained some of the nuances to us. When they discovered our tastes, they brought us one not yet on the list to sample. Truly an experience we’re glad we found.

If you need something to taste along with your wines, local cheeses, meats, and chocolates are available as well. Terrific pairings seemed to exist for everything on the list.

Prices are reasonable…much more so than we expected. We found out why. The Bar a Vin is located on the ground floor of the Maison du Vin de Bordeaux, the headquarters of the Counseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bordeaux, or the Bordeaux Wine Council. They underwrite this endeavor as this offers the perfect opportunity to showcase their wines. Makes sense.

This 18th Century building is known as the Hotel Govineau. The triangle front reminds you of a ship’s prow, and it should. It was built to honor the city’s role as a port.

The Bar a Vin, complete with neoclassical architecture and contemporary furnishings, opened in 2006. Look around. Artwork, stained glass windows, tapestries, and mirrors all represent Bordeaux grape harvesters, the Garonne River, and the world of wine in Bordeaux.

If you’re staying in or near the city of Bordeaux, this is a place you won’t want to miss. Superb service accompanying fantastic wines in a relaxing environment…who could ask for more?

One hint…if you’re going in the afternoon, go early. This place, while spacious, fills quickly. Business people to tourists to wine lovers all know to head here about mid-afternoon. Or, go at 11:00 when it opens. The sommeliers love to tell you what’s new!