Saturday, April 9, 2011

I Got My Tickets to Italy - Alta Via 2, Dolomites Trip,

So I got the tickets. For $236. And if that doesn't sound like an accomplishment, you haven't tried to buy tickets to Europe this spring.

Here's the punchline: I've wasted two years paying for the privilege to carry a Virgin Atlantic Black credit card. Turns out Virgin "miles" are more like kilometers: they only get you about 60% as far (or was THAT the punchline, ha ha -- yeah, hm...) Anyhow, you start out all optimistic because it only takes 35,000 air-miles to get to Europe. Doesn't that sound like a good deal? Well what they don't tell you is that the seats are severely limited; the only viable European destination from the Northeastern United States is London; the Boston to London flights are booked 6 months in advance; and you have to pay over $500 in taxes in fees to fly from JFK to London. I finally gave up and booked with my United miles and paid just $116 in fees to get all the way from Providence to Venice. So guess which card I'm canceling...

I am going to stop complaining now. After the booking contortions I should feel fortunate that I can even GET to Venice for just $116 in fees! And it is even remotely possible that I will be joined by my friend Charles, schedule permitting. You might remember him from our mutual misadventures on the E5 and on our arctic trek along the Kungsleden

I have decided to keep track of some of my planning on this blog. I haven't been using it very much and this gives me an excuse to post some plans for this summer and some reflections on my previous Dolomite trip.

The hike I will be doing is called the Alta Via II. I hiked the Alta Via I back in 2008 with three friends. I was leading the trip that year and, as much as I love to lead small groups of friends, I also really enjoy the solitude of hiking either alone or with Charles.

If that sounds weird -- I mean the "solitude of hiking with Charles" part -- you have to understand our hiking style. We both value solitude. During our first hike (the E5, mentioned above) we spent far too much time together. The close quarters nearly destroyed our friendship but the resulting detente gave us the foundation of honesty that has supported our friendship through many later hikes. Instead of hiking together, we hike in the same general proximity. This may mean that we won't see each other for several days at a time. Sometimes one of us will take an alternate route with no more than a "see you in two days." Occasionally we get together in a small town or a hut for a blowout dinner, the next day we may not even see each other. I once told Charles "Hiking with you is almost as good as hiking alone." I hope that he took it as the intended compliment but I actually misspoke. Hiking with Charles is much better than hiking alone because it gives me someone with whom to reminisce.

If anyone is curious how I got from Providence to Venice for $236 in the high season, it's all about the Chase United Mileage Plus credit card. There is a $60/yr. fee but, given the price of overseas flights, that fee easily pays for itself. I route all of my spending through this card and pay it off at the end of each month. As a result, I average over 25,000 miles per year just in spending. That's a "free" ticket every two years. Total cost, $236. Not bad when the same ticket would have cost me $1400 or more.

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