AMEX Business Platinum the go to for rewards travel

American Express Business Platinum just took points credit cards to a whole new level with 50% points refunds on flights. Without question I am a travel points fanatic.  The benefit is a key component to my travel agenda, using it everywhere from booking rooms to flights.  Combining great cards with strong points earning capability is a great way to add more options into when and how you book.  One of the best cards in my arsenal, the American Express Business Platinum, just got a whole lot better with the offering for flights and it is just too good to not share.  The AMEX Business Platinum was already a go to of mine because it is benefit packed.  For instance, they frequently offer special offers that you can enroll in for discounts and rebates on purchases at stores and restaurants you already visit.  Additional card holder benefits include access to the Centurion Lounge when you travel, reimbursement for TSA pre-check enrollment, and a refund of discretionary charges at your airline of choice.  When you use them all of these benefits quickly add up above and beyond your annual fee. Before the new flight bonus it was a toss-up if it made more sense to transfer my points to United and book reward travel or purchase a ticket with points on the AMEX website.  Now there is no question booking with points gets you flying at essentially half the price.

Now if this is sounding too good to be true, I understand as I nervously waited after my first booking to see if a refund would indeed happen. I learned though that the points refund happens about 24 hours after booking, probably in line with their 24 hour free cancellation policy, and then voila the points are back in your account.  There are of course a couple of drawbacks, as nothing in life is perfect.  First you need the available funds in the account as the flight is first charged and the points are used to pay on your credit account after booking.  The second is that you need points and lots of them.  Using the card for purchases and then transferring the payment immediately has worked for me as the card is not a revolving account so it could result with a very sad billing statement if you don’t do some checks and balances on your spending.  Lastly the bonus is on your airline of choice that you enroll with AMEX either at activation or annually so choose wisely on an airline that is convenient for your city.  All in all though the points bonus is the truth and really gives you more for less.

Buckle your seatbeat! My guide to traveling with young children

One of the question I am most frequently asked about my travel plans is how do I successfully travel with a young child. Well I am not sure how successfully I do it as I have endured pee, pooh, puke and screaming in my adventures in traveling with my son but travel we do as we are 2 continents and five countries down as we celebrate his 18th month.  While I am no expert in how to do it without tears, and I mean my own tears not his, I have learned some tips to survive the journey.

1 – Study your child’s habits and proceed accordingly: Knowing what your child’s daily habits are an important way to cut down on surprises during a trip. If they nap every day at noon, you wanting to see a landmark on a given day does not change that habit for them. As best you can keeping with a child’s normal schedule helps cut down on them acting out of character. This means even testing what they do if they are off schedule so you can know how bad it can get. While I do not suggest you plan a whole vacation around your child’s home schedule knowing what you are in for helps you keep calm when they are not their normal sunshine state. Please note if your child is typically a wild child or requires bribing to get them on track this will not change and you should still proceed accordingly (vacations do not make angels out of children, especially small ones

2 – Plan Smart: From travel gear to snacks on hand, there is a lot that preparation can do to keep you relaxed and your kids happen. One of the best decisions I made was investing in a small stroller/car seat combo that makes the transition from plane to walking to car a breeze. This doesn’t mean try to bring your house with you because that is stressful in other ways. Just pack 3 to 4 essentials and realize that sometimes nothing will make your kid happy so you have to keep it moving. When it comes to fights a lot of great planning can come in your seat selection. This of course takes planning or surcharged rates but being close to loved ones, bathrooms or even, crib accessibility on overnight flights can be key to a win.

3 -Shit happens: Literally and figuratively shit happens. Knowing the unexpected will happen gives you a chance to make peace with it. So if you pull the unlucky card to have the stomach sickness inflight with a small child you can do what you can and forget about the rest. Place your bet on the fact that your child won’t be a perfect angel and you can be responsive to the things that don’t go as smoothly as you would hope.

4 – Get over yourself: Part of the concern we have is what others will think of us when our kids are not perfect travel buddies. Yes you will get the annoyed glares when you walk on the plane but don’t take it so personal. Most of us have travelled with and without children so we know both sides of the coin.   Children are as much a part of plane expectations as people stealing your armrest and the occasion passenger with BO. Swallowing your pride, offering an occasional apology when it is due, and working to make your child comfortable and no menace to others is the best you can do, getting worked up about falling short of perfection will only stress you and your child.

Squeezing in the fun with two days in Chicago

At least once a year I try to make it my business to visit my favorite US city, Chicago, for a whirl of fun, friends, family and of course food. My most recent trip afforded me 2 days to get all the fun I could squeeze out of Chicago with my two favorite travelers, my kids, in tow.  With a weekend base camp of the Hard Rock Hotel on the Magnificent Mile I took off right away to get reacquainted with a city I adore.

It’s hard to tell if it’s my loved ones that make the city fun for me or if my friends and family there embody the spirit of the city, explaining my love for both. Chicago is brazen and busy and metropolitan but it still has woven in it the love of life that appreciates art and food and friends that keep me coming back for more.  Automatically at the top of my agenda is to connect with people, but there is no reason that cannot be combined with some other city highlights.  Of course food is supreme in Chicago so be it brunch at Yolk or a deep dish Pizza at Giordano’s there are some things that are undeniably often imitated and rarely duplicated on the Chicago food scene.

My top highlights from the trip, however, were not my usual food fest. Instead something old and something new took the cake.  On the something old side a walking tour of the Magnificent Mile area always does my heart good.  Coming from Houston where walking is rare I love how easy the city is to maneuver by foot and all the possibilities at hand.  In an afternoon of walking you can explore Millennium Park and its art installations, meet new friends for you kids, wander in and out of shops, and get some great live street entertainment.  All these things make Chicago the constant top pick for US city.  On the new side I was able to do something that has escaped me before, Afternoon Tea at the Peninsula.  From first stepping into the hotel I knew it was something magical and afternoon tea was a great mix of prim and proper with smiles and giggles from the opportunity to spend great time with great friends.  The champagne that comes with tea doesn’t hurt either.  All in all Chicago gives you a chance to do almost anything under the sun, even in a pop in pop out weekend.

Off to the races with the TL Charity Polo Match

Almost any reason to dress up and wear a hat is a good one but when it adds in charity, polo, and picnic you have a first class reason to pull out all the stops. At the Tomorrows Luminaries Charity Polo Match at the Chukkar Farm Polo Club you get a great day time party, polo match, and some of the best dressed in Atlanta all in one place.  One of the things I love best about events where you dress to the nines is that looking great puts people in a great mood.  When you are feeling your best you can’t help but smile and the feelings and great vibes are contagious.  So despite the heat everyone was grinning from ear to ear as the Hendrick’s poured and the music enticed you to move to the beat.

The event is located in Alpharetta, Georgia and from someone who is not from Atlanta that means it is really far. As we took off on the really long ride that we were really late heading out for I began to wonder if it would be worth it.  We had to pack our own picnic, dress our own table, and make it all the way to the country to attend.  But as soon as we arrived and took in all the fabulousness at hand we knew the answer was absolutely yes!  We made our own spread of everything we liked but the guests around us were friendly and more than willing to share and point out some things that shouldn’t be missed.  Of course this included the Hendricks stations pouring up the one and only gin I will drink in some cocktails perfect for the occasion.  While you sit perched high upon a hill with a lovely polo match in play you realize this is one of the moments where being grown up and being able to appreciate new experiences is so great.  As the day moved on the great live band and subsequent friends and friends shots that continued made it truly and event and a day to remember.

A-Town Birthday Showdown

I love celebrating life so when a good friend calls with birthday plans in Atlanta chances are I’m going to try and join in on the good times.  My most recent trip to Atlanta was a great weekend getaway to celebrate friends, fun, and oh so many laughs.  Of course with a trip with 5 ladies there are going to be some standard checks on the things to do list, eat, shop, and party so away we went to paint the town red in Atlanta.

As a foodie, getting a taste of a city is always at the top of my list and no restaurant did it better for me on this trip to Atlanta than Serpas.  The restaurant does serve American food but with such an edgy twist on classics it leaves you wondering exactly where it came from and how you can get more.  The national acclaims have come flowing in and every bit of praise is completely worth it.  I had the Stuffed Airline Chicken and after my foodgasm I was pretty sure it was the chef’s way to ask me to marry him.  The chicken was both juicy and crunchy with a stuffing that made you lick your spoon stopping only long enough to stuff some savory mashed potatoes in your mouth.  Hmmm hmmm hmnmm, this restaurant will make you want to change your weekend plans.

Outside of food the question becomes where will you get all of your shopping and fun done in the city.  We just Buckhead as our base location because how close it is in the vicinity of great food and shopping.  When traveling with a group of five it is important to make things convenient enough for everyone to have their own freedom in doing things.  This way you don’t end up want to strangle someone for taking too long to get dressed or not wanting to stick to the pace you are on.  Although Buckhead is a great shopping location, there are few better central locations to party than downtown Atlanta.  The variety of clubs makes popping around a breeze so you can get everyone pumped based on their preference and ensure a good time is had by all!  The variation in the trip was key to ensuring we all got to celebrate as a group and do the things we enjoy individually as well.

Bubbles and luxury-the Ritz Carlton Buckhead

The Ritz brand is synonymous with luxury and the Ritz Carlton Buckhead in Atlanta head up to that reputation and more.  Situated just steps away from Lenox mall the hotel offers great amenities and a personal touch that defines what a luxury hotel should be.  The lobby was definitely at the top of the list as a highlight for me.  If you are thinking is it because they gave you free champagne when you walked in the door then the answer is a resounding yes!  The mimosa station that was set up for happy hour on the Saturday we arrived was just what the doctor ordered when it came to shaking off the jet lag blues.  And as the Ritz name suggests just the ordinary would not do.  With flavors like Apple cider mimosas I made the lobby my central station as we waited for our room to be prepared.  Top that with the whiskey tasting that happened once the champagne was carted away and you begin to catch a glimpse at what makes this hotel stand out.

My next stop was at the spa.  While I only had time for a much needed pedicure I still had the opportunity to unwind in the shared spa areas and prep for what was sure to be a long party weekend.  The sitting area designed like a little oasis was the perfect location to slow down, drink some tea, reflex, relax and take a breath.   To top that with having your feet rubbed while watching a clear view of the city skylines you can lose yourself in the mellowness of it all.

When you add the bonus drinks and a staff that treats you like royalty the Ritz officially claims its title as one of the best luxury hotels. While I am also a fan of the Ritz Carlton in downtown Atlanta, the Buckhead location gives you just what you were looking for: the comfort and regal vibe you expect from a Ritz from the rooms to the staff.

Tropical family fun in Cancun Mexico

Yes Cancun is a party paradise, but this tourist mainstay is also a beautiful tropical paradise that works for family fun as well.   My trip to Cancun began because I wanted something a little more festive than Cozumel in my short weekend getaway to Mexico.  Admittantly the access is not as straight forward as I would like, with a 40 minute ferry and hour bus ride to get there from Cozumel, it is more than a trek to get there.  After such a long trip with kids though we found Cancun to be a great haven for water fun with a little something for everyone.

For the more adventurous crew the options abound while in Cancun. From trips to pyramids to ziplines to tours that include snorkeling marvels they have it all.  Planning is a bit of a factor as some of extended tours require an early departure time and previous day scheduling.  As we failed on both of these counts we had to do something that could be done immediately and had a shorter trip time.  In the end we wound up with the perfect mix as we took the Jungle Tour, a snorkeling/boating trip, which lasted only about four hours.  Driving the boat was the main draw for me as this definitely put a bit of the adventure in your hands.  As I hopped in the boat with my daughter and revved up the engine the excitement was real.  The tour takes you through the Cancun coastline to a snorkeling destination at the end of the Cancun strip.  Once you arrive you hop right off your boat and take a quick snorkeling tour full of both friendly fish and cool underwater statutes.  It was a great time to spend some one of one time with a loved one and get a real since of exploration.

For the more laid back or even the younger or older crowd there are still tons of options but in my opinion there are few better than the beach. A day at the beach, is filled with things that lend themselves to family time.  Be it crashing in the water, taking a sun soaked nap or even exploring the sand for treasures it gives you the perfect opportunity to do one of lives greatest treasures, one on one time with the ones you love.

Hard Rock in Cancun: Adding a little rock and roll to your vacay

The Hard Rock Hotel Cancun is everything the Hard Rock has become synonymous with: a party atmosphere, beautiful lodgings, and a great vibe from its guests.  When you add these classic Hard Rock elements with the natural beauty of Cancun in a premium all-inclusive hotel, you amp up the volume on a typical Hard Rock visit.  I have always loved the vibe of the Hard Rock hotels as the rock and roll theme always puts me in a mood for fun.  With the great restaurants and prime locations the hotel chains in Las Vegas and Chicago hold some amazing memories.  In Cancun, however, this type of fun isn’t a novelty, the city itself has built a brand for party and fun so how does the Hard Rock make it even better???? Beach, booze, and bliss.

You usually know a good time is in store when at check in you are offered a drink of your choice.  Well at least that is a good sign for me.  Once you step into this beautiful property you know that most anything you want is at your disposal.  The many restaurants offer convenient seating and a variety of cuisine options. The bars are fully stocked with premium liquors and the bartenders pour freely.  The rooms are comfortable even including large Jacuzzis and also a full stocked bar ready for you to raid.  Room service offers a variety of options and deliver any time of the day or night.  Even with all this the fun does not stop there.

 

One of my favorite features of the hotel was the pool.  The in pool seating allowed you to rest in water to get a break from the heat in comfort and style.  The pool atmosphere is lively with performances, games and entertainment throughout the day.  While the kids hopped in a game of volleyball I hopped in between bar, buffet and the pool and finally finished out my day of R & R with some time on the beach.  With the sun coming down we got a chance to experience some of the nightlife options at the hotel with a nightclub pumping music throughout the main pavilion and hookahs picked up by small friendly groups enjoying the night breeze.  A delicious taco cart came out just in time to smooth the munchies that descended as we danced and laughed into the wee hours.  With so much to do you escape some of the boredom that can come with being in one place for your whole vacation and with such a great location you are always free to hop into some of the fun party or adventure vibe of Cancun.  Hard Rock Cancun does a phenomenal job of giving you classic hard rock fun in a beautiful tropical environment.

Kicking the luxury up a notch at the Intercontinental Presidente Hotel Cozumel

When a lush tropical paradise meets a luxurious homage to tribal ancestry in the form of a hotel you may have found yourself at the Intercontinental Presidente Hotel in Cozumel.  With just a couple of days between booking my flight and taking off for Cozumel I had to decide quickly on where to stay on this beautiful Mexican island.  With rave reviews the choice was easy and quick to stay at the Intercontinental Presidente. As we passed other beautiful hotels on the way from the airport I began to doubt my decision, however, as I turned into the expansive driveway with lush palm trees and a colossal lobby all regrets quickly washed away.

Upon arrival at the hotel you are welcomed into the unforgettable indoor/outdoor entrance. We were asked if we would like to upgrade our room and the extra money paid to have easy access to the pools and beach from one of the suites was worth every penny.  The grounds of the hotel stay true to the infusion of tribal offerings with a very posh twist.  The huge suite space gives a feeling of surprise and privacy around every corner from the separate standing shower and soaking tub to the sleeping area that leads to a phenomenal outdoor patio.  With a room this nice it is tempting to stay put but there was oh so much more waiting in the grounds of the hotel.

With rooms getting the thumbs up it was time to satisfy another pressing need… time to eat. The restaurants at the hotel offer a sampling of coastal Mexican cuisine.  While not the tex mex fusion we find in America, everything we tried at their main restaurant gave a little sampling of cuisine that spanned throughout Mexico.  My favorite by far, however, was the grill restaurant Trattoria Alfredo Di Roma.  Located directly in the sand next to the beach this restaurant focuses primarily on grilling to perfection.  The grilled chicken was melt in your mouth good with seasoning that left you licking each finger that got in on the meal.  When combined with a grilled lobster tail I as pretty sure I died and ended up in a foodie nirvana.  With that we ended our night with the waves crashing, the tequila flowing and the great company of friends.

Life aquatic was the goal for our first full day at the Intercontinental Presidente.  While the infinity pools and large hot tub seemed to offer some reserved relaxation, I opted for the gorgeous ocean at our doorsteps.  One of my favorite amenities of the hotel were the lounge chairs and couches available to enjoy the great views.  While many hotels charge for their luxury seating this hotel works on a first come first served basis.  Definitely some hogs tried to dominate the space with an early morning hat reservation so persistence is needed to find a spot you can make base camp for the rest of the day.  Once you have It you are golden, however, so no matter if it is a jump off the pier or a swim in the ocean you can always return to order food or drinks or catch an afternoon nap (for me a mix of all three were perfect).  If you want something more than swimming the hotel offers everything from the chance to explore ocean life from the rocky shore, to snorkeling on property to jet skiing.  Essentially something luxurious for everyone can be found at the Intercontinental Presidente in Cozumel.

 

 

Cozumel: A Perfect Island getaway destination

Sometimes you just need to get away and when that happens the white sand beaches and crystal clear water Cozumel may be calling your name.  This summer I did a quick summer getaway to Cozumel and it turned out to be just what the doctor ordered in getting some major R & R packed into my summer.  As an island getaway Cozumel offers all the fun in the sun you would expect from Mexico with a small cozy feel perfect for taking a vacation that you don’t need a vacation from once you head back to real life.

I think the beauty of the beaches in Cozumel are reason enough to check out the island. The fish meet you at the water making it a great location for snorkeling, especially if deep water swimming is not your thing.  With the warm water you can also take advantage of all of the great other water sports like jet skiing and scuba diving.  My favorite is probably sitting where the sand and water meeting enjoying a pina colada but to each their own!

Outside of the water fun Cozumel is a beautiful place that gives you glimpses of big city fun and exotic adventures. If you are in a party mood their central district has some great bars and food all piled into one place where drinks flow with ease.  If you want to step back in time you can visit some of the great Mayan pyramids on the island.  My choice for Cozumel (outside the United last minute special ticket price) was the rest and relaxation so I refused to lose focus from my goals, despite the fun options that abounded on the island.  As I hopped between the ocean, my beach chair, the bar, and the pool I knew I made the right decision as I got my fill of downtime on the lovely beaches of Cozumel.

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