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Pandemic Travel, With Another Family or Maybe Three



Seven months into the pandemic, the recommended rules for families are clear: Safety first means safety in low numbers. Learning pods are small. Social bubbles are guarded. The “quaranteam” lines have been drawn — at home and on the road.

“By this point, we’re all gotten to know the tribe in our pandemic ‘lane’,” said Stacie Krajchir-Tom, 52, a Los Angeles brand consultant who is heading to Ojai, Calif., next month with several families from her son’s third-grade class. “That’s who you’re most likely going to want to travel with.”

But if vacationing with other families was complicated in Before Times — splitting costs, calling dibs on bedrooms — the coronavirus has only doused the fire with more fuel. Groups must contend with frank discussions, personal frustration and, in some cases, canceled trips. Hotels, advisers and other travel companies are adjusting to a new set of guest concerns and interpersonal dynamics. But for travelers like Ms. Krajchir-Tom, the extra effort is worth it.

“Being on vacation with your friends is always a fun thing,” she said. “But especially during Covid, the greatest gift we can give our kids right now is a shift in environment.”

When it came time for her annual trip with friends this summer, Linda Baird didn’t fret about closed borders or canceled flights; the Airbnb the group had rented in January was on a private waterfront in Maryland, and she and her family would be road-tripping from Columbus, Ohio. She did, however, worry about the drive, especially at a time when Ohio infection rates were peaking.

“I asked myself a few times about whether the stress of getting there would outweigh the experience of being there,” said Ms. Baird, 39, a freelance writer and stay-at-home parent of two children, 4 and 7. “We didn’t tell the kids until about a week before leaving because we knew that things could change at any time.”

For her, communication with her friends — a tight-knit crew of four families with eight children in total — was key. Not only did they discuss how the costs would be divided and who would bring the breakfast bagels, they also checked in with each other throughout the spring and summer, monitoring local infection rates and agreeing to get tested before the trip. And they talked through what would happen if someone fell ill in Maryland, designating the rental’s detached guesthouse as an obvious place to self-isolate.

“We were constantly asking, ‘What is your exposure like? What is your comfort level?’” Ms. Baird said. “There were lots of conversations about how we were living our day-to-day lives and what we could do to make this a fun — and safe — vacation.”

Conversations like that are vital, said Marisa G. Franco, a psychologist and friendship expert.

“Friends should certainly have discussions from the get-go about boundaries, priorities and the issues that could arise,” she said. “It may feel awkward, but it will feel way more awkward if your friend shows up and she’s not wearing a mask.”

But as Judy Nelson, 38, learned while deciding whether to travel with three other families to Seaside Heights, N.J., this summer, even teed-up quarantine values can turn into a case of “the best-laid plans.”

“There was a bit of ‘I really want to go but I’m sort of on the fence’ conversations, but truthfully, it all fluctuated with how the news was looking,” said Ms. Nelson, the communications director at a design firm.

A few weeks before the July trip, Ms. Nelson and her husband, who live in Brooklyn, took their toddler daughter to Jacob Riis Park, a beach in Queens. She relayed what she saw — droves of mask-less sun-seekers — to the group. A few texts and emails later, they canceled their Jersey Shore vacation.

“Canceling felt heavier this year than in other years, because in other years we would have all had more changes of scenery by now,” she said.

Others found that their trips were no match for travel restrictions and clamped-down borders.

Patrick McDermott, who lives in Abu Dhabi, was excited about heading to Connemara, in Western Ireland, with the group of friends he has traveled with every summer for more than 15 years, despite their being spread across multiple continents and countries.

“It has become a cherished tradition and something that all of us, especially our kids, look forward to all year,” said Mr. McDermott, 42, the founder of the points-and-miles website The Expat Flyer.

When the Irish government announced new travel restrictions, four of six families in Mr. McDermott’s group pivoted to a camping trip in Switzerland. But Mr. McDermott and his family had to tag along on WhatsApp: There were reports that United Arab Emirates residents were getting stuck overseas because of the pandemic, and they didn’t want to risk it.

“Missing everyone getting together in Switzerland was heartbreaking,” Mr. McDermott said. “The strength of these relationships was particularly evident over the last six months — these friends were our first port of call for advice and support.”

As for Ms. Krajchir-Tom, her school “hive” shares beliefs about masks and distancing. Yet there was one issue that failed to draw a consensus.

“There are families that were definitely not getting on a plane, and there’s the camp that’s completely down to fly,” she said.

The more risk-tolerant subset may eventually head to Baja California. But for now, Ojai, about 90 miles from Los Angeles, was the compromise. The group will stay at The Capri Hotel, whose pandemic protocols Ms. Krajchir-Tom and another mother can vouch for firsthand, having visited with their sons during a quick getaway in August.

In a flash poll on Instagram this summer, Virtuoso, a network of luxury travel agencies, found that 79 percent of users would travel with families whose pandemic values align with their own.

Luxury resorts like Eden Roc Cap Cana, in the Dominican Republic, and The Ocean Club, A Four Seasons Resort, in the Bahamas, are fielding a steady stream of inquiries from such groups.

“We’ve seen an increase in family pods taking over an entire three- or four-bedroom villa residence or booking suites close to each other,” said John Conway, the Ocean Club’s general manager.

Exactly who’s sleeping where is “decision point No. 1,” said Amie O’Shaughnessy, the founder and chief executive of Ciao Bambino!, a Virtuoso agency that specializes in family travel.

“One of the big questions to ask is: Are you going to be in the same house? Are you actually vacationing side-by-side and safely adjacent to one another?” said Ms. O’Shaughnessy. “Or are you saying: We’re going to decide that we’re totally on the same page and share a home?”

Intrepid Travel, which runs affordable small-group tours, has four new Family Retreats, designed for three to five families apiece. The new pod packages at The St. Regis Bahia Beach, in Puerto Rico, include customizable picnics and guided rainforest excursions.

Rental companies are also experiencing strong interest by multifamily groups, seen chiefly in booking rates for large homes. But some report that reservations aren’t necessarily translating into arrivals.

“We have encountered several instances where one or two guests in the reservation will initially back out, making the trip less affordable for everyone else,” said Andreas King Geovanis, the founder of Sextant Stays, a Miami-based hospitality company. “This has a ripple effect, and the group continues to dwindle until they ultimately decide to cancel altogether.”

That’s exactly what happened to Torben Lonne, who lives in Copenhagen and runs, a scuba-diving website. Mr. Lonne was set to travel to Egypt with his uncle’s family but in late September — after the group had been virus-tested and loaded up with travel insurance — his uncle reneged, citing infection rates in Egypt. The trip was canceled.

“Everything was set for us to go,” Mr. Lonne, 34, said. “I felt very disappointed and annoyed that my uncle would back out at the last moment, and once everything was canceled we didn’t speak for a while.”

No one in Ms. Baird’s group ended up in the guesthouse, and even the trip’s misadventures — one power outage, one jellyfish sting — did little to dampen her perspective.

“As soon as I got there, I felt a moment of normalcy,” she said. “We had done everything possible to prepare, and the trip was a break from the anxiety of the pandemic.”

For Montoya Hudson, 35, of Katy, Texas, it was crucial to get the pandemic-related brass tacks out of the way so that the fun — a friends’ trip to Tennessee next month — could begin.

“We said, ‘Hey, this is what we’ve been doing, this is what we would like to do with you, have you guys been doing the same?’” said Ms. Hudson, who works in health care information technology and runs The Spring Break Family, a travel blog. “We’ve been restricting outside activity, going on the side of caution and keeping to ourselves.”

Ms. Hudson and her friend Monet Hambrick, who runs The Traveling Child, another travel blog, are eager for a break from their cabin fever. They’re also looking forward to visiting key sites from the civil rights movement and Black history with their husbands and school-age daughters (they each have two).

“I know it sounds very simple, but I miss people,” Ms. Hudson said. “My daughters haven’t had the chance to socialize with their friends; I don’t get to chat with my co-workers in the hallway. This seems like a nice way to merge the desire to travel with the need to see friends.”

Sarah Firshein is a Brooklyn-based writer. She is also our Tripped Up columnist. If you need advice about a best-laid travel plan that went awry, send an email to

By: Sarah Firshein
Title: Pandemic Travel, With Another Family or Maybe Three
Sourced From:
Published Date: Thu, 08 Oct 2020 09:00:21 +0000

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Limited time Amex points transfer bonuses ending soon!




During normal times, points transfer bonuses by Amex or any other issuer gain a lot of traction. However, we live in unusual times. Travel is nowhere close to normal and only a small minority is actively looking to book travel. Amex Membership Rewards points, along with Chase Ultimate Rewards points are two of my favorite transferable points currencies. Amex, in particular, has the edge over Chase when it comes to international airline partners. At the moment, Amex is running two lucrative points transfer bonuses with their Membership Rewards points. However, if you’re looking to travel any time soon then now is a good time to transfer time as these limited time bonuses end on October 31.

Amex Points Transfer Points Bonuses

Amex is currently running points transfer bonuses for Hilton and Marriott. These limited time offers expire on October 31, 2020.

Hilton Honors

The standard points transfer ratio for Hilton Honors is 1:2. With this bonus, you’ll get a ratio of 1:2.8. For example, if you transfer 1,000 Membership Rewards points, you’ll get 2,800 Hilton Honors points.

Marriott Bonvoy

The standard points transfer ratio for Marriott Bonvoy is 1:1. With this, bonus you’ll get a ratio of 1:1.4. For example, if you transfer 1,000 Membership Rewards points, you’ll get 1,400 Marriott Bonvoy points.

Crunching the Numbers

During normal times, many frequent travelers tend to jump on these limited time transfer bonuses. However, how lucrative are these bonuses during the current situation?

For example, let’s say you want to book a top tier Hilton hotel. One night will cost you at least 95,000 points for a standard room. With this bonus, you’ll need 39,000 Membership Rewards points instead of 48,000.

Similarly, let’s say you want to book a top tier Marriott hotel. One night will cost you at least 85,000 points for a standard room. With this bonus, you’ll need 61,000 Membership Rewards points instead of 85,000.

In short, the higher the category of the hotel, the more lucrative these transfer bonuses become for you.

Credit Card Bonuses

If you’re falling short on Marriott or Hilton points, another option is to sign up for co-branded credit cards from Marriott and Hilton. Currently, many of these cards are running limited time offers. Please note that Amex and Chase restrictions may apply to these credit cards.

Card Name Sign-up Bonus Application Link
Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless 30k points
Apply Now
Chase Marriott Bonvoy Bold 5 free nights (up to 50k points each)
Apply Now
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card 125k points + Platinum Status for 2021
Apply Now
Amex Marriott Bonvoy Business Card 100k points + $150 in credits
Apply Now
Hilton Honors Business Card 130k points
Apply Now
Amex Hilton Honors Card 95k points
Apply Now
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card 140k points
Apply Now
Hliton Honors American Express Aspire Card 150k points + 1 free night
Apply Now

The Pundit’s Mantra

In most cases, I don’t recommend transferring points speculatively. However, if you do have a trip on the horizon, then it makes sense to use these Amex points transfer bonuses to your advantage.

In the past, I’ve used transfer bonuses to book some really cool trips. For example, I used a transfer bonus to British Airways in order to book a last minute trip to Colombia. However, given the current scenario, not many of us are planning such trips on the go.

Do you plan to make use of either of these points transfer bonuses before the end of the month? Tell us in the comments section.


The Chase Sapphire Preferred is currently offering a limited time welcome bonus of 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points. You’ll earn a welcome bonus of 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months. You’ll also earn 2x points all on all travel and dining spend and 5 x on Lyft rides.

Apply Now


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Disclosure: The Points Pundit receives NO compensation from credit card affiliate partnerships. Support the blog by applying for a card through my personal referral links. This article is meant for information purposes only and doesn’t constitute personal finance, health or investment advice. Please consult a licensed professional for advice pertaining to your situation.

By: The Points Pundit
Title: Limited time Amex points transfer bonuses ending soon!
Sourced From:
Published Date: Tue, 20 Oct 2020 12:10:32 +0000

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Cruise Ship Rescues 24 People From Sinking Boat Off Florida Coast




The Carnival Sensation was sailing in international waters off the Florida coast on Saturday when crew members spotted a crowded 36-foot boat that appeared to be in distress.

The ship maneuvered alongside the boat and crew members handed over blankets, life jackets, food and water to the 24 people onboard the smaller vessel, including two children, according to the Carnival Cruise Line.

As it floated 37 miles off the coast of Palm Beach, the boat began to take on water. The passengers were quickly ushered aboard the cruise ship through a side hatch that is typically used in port to load supplies via a gangway. The boat sank after the rescue, a Coast Guard spokeswoman said.

The rescued passengers were the first guests to board the cruise ship in months, Carnival said. They were evaluated by the cruise ship’s medical staff and quarantined away from crew members, the cruise line said. They were picked up by the Coast Guard after about six hours, the spokeswoman said.

The rescued boat was coming from Freeport, Bahamas, said Nicole J. Groll, the Coast Guard spokeswoman. It was not clear where the boat was headed, she said, nor was it clear what had happened to the boat that caused it to sink.

“The disabled vessel sank and actions are currently being taken to coordinate the transfer of the individuals ashore,” Ms. Groll said in a statement Monday.

The $45 billion global cruise industry serves 20 million passengers in a typical year. But since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, ships have been roaming the seas for months without guests, staffed by skeleton crews. Operations have been suspended until Oct. 31, and some lines have canceled cruises into next year.

Carnival operates 23 ships. While they are idle, they maintain a “minimum nonoperational manning status,” according to a spokesman. That means they are staffed by 75 to 100 crew members, including marine engineers, technicians and officers, as well as housekeeping, culinary and other staff members.

Occasionally, they perform rescues, the spokesman said. In July, the Carnival Legend responded to a call for help from a boat that had run out of fuel off the coast of the Bahamas. The Legend gave the boaters 25 gallons of gas to help them make their way back to Jacksonville, Fla.

Ships are obligated under maritime law to respond to vessels in distress, said Jim Walker, a Miami-based maritime lawyer.

The duty to rescue a derelict vessel falls to a ship’s captain, who “has both a moral and a legal obligation to help,” he said.

There are typically three or four such rescues every year, some of which involve migrants, Mr. Walker said.

“Often there is no true ‘rescue’ of foreign immigrants at sea because the cruise ship will call the U.S.C.G. who will pick them up and then return them to their home countries,” Mr. Walker said in an email, referring to the Coast Guard. “It is not so much a ‘rescue’ but an ‘interception’ at sea.”

In some cases, he said, a ship’s captain or the captain’s employer could face criminal charges for ignoring a cry for help.

In 2012, Princess Cruises was sued after one of its cruise ships, the Star Princess, failed to help a disabled fishing boat that had been adrift for days when it was spotted by crew members and passengers. Two of the people on the fishing boat died.

The cruise industry has come under fire during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly early in the outbreak as passengers and crew members were trapped aboard ships where the virus spread rapidly.

In February, more than 700 passengers were infected on the Diamond Princess as the ship idled off the coast of Japan. Nine of the infected passengers died.

In August, the cruise industry voluntarily suspended operations until Oct. 31, following the extension of a no-sail order for cruise ships through Sept. 30 issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency noted that from March to July there had been nearly 3,000 suspected and confirmed coronavirus cases and 34 deaths on cruise ships in U.S. waters.

The Carnival Corporation, which operates Carnival, Princess and other brands and serves roughly 50 percent of the global cruise market, has dealt with outbreaks on several of its ships, including Holland America’s Zaandam, which tried to unload sick passengers in Florida in April. Last week, Carnival Cruise Line canceled several cruises that were scheduled for November and January.

By: Marie Fazio
Title: Cruise Ship Rescues 24 People From Sinking Boat Off Florida Coast
Sourced From:
Published Date: Mon, 19 Oct 2020 22:51:45 +0000

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2,000-Year-Old Cat Etching Found at Nazca Lines Site in Peru




The image, stretching for 40 yards on a hillside in Peru, shows a creature with pointy ears, orb-like eyes and a long striped tail. It appears to be a cat lounging, as cats often do.

Archaeologists stumbled across the faded etching while remodeling a section of a UNESCO heritage site known as the Nazca Lines, Peru’s Ministry of Culture announced last week.

The catlike geoglyph — which experts say dates to 200 B.C. to 100 B.C. — is the latest discovery among the carvings of larger-than-life animals and plants previously found between the towns of Nazca and Palpa, in a desert plain about 250 miles southeast of the capital, Lima.

“The discovery shows, once again, the rich and varied cultural legacy of this site,” the ministry said in a statement.

The Nazca Lines were first discovered by a Peruvian aerial surveyor in 1927. Images of a hummingbird, a monkey and an orca were unearthed at the site. UNESCO has designated the Lines and Geoglyphs of Nasca and Palpa a World Heritage Site since 1994.

The cat etching is believed to be older than any of the prehistoric geoglyphs previously unearthed at Nazca.

“It’s quite striking that we’re still finding new figures, but we also know that there are more to be found,” Johny Isla, Peru’s chief archaeologist for the Nazca lines, told Efe, a Spanish news agency.

The designs were believed to have been created when ancient Peruvians scraped off a dark and rocky layer of earth, which contrasts with lighter-colored sand underneath. Researchers believe that the figures once served as travel markers.

Drone photography has led to several discoveries in recent years, Mr. Isla said. In 2019, researchers from Japan, aided by satellite photography and three-dimensional imaging, unearthed more than 140 new geoglyphs at the site.

Research and conservation work had continued at the site even during the coronavirus pandemic, when most tourist sites have been closed. Archaeologists and employees were working on the Mirador Natural, a lookout point in the protected site, when they began unearthing something intriguing. When they cleaned the mound, clear lines showing the sinuous body of a cat emerged.

“The figure was barely visible and was about to disappear because it is situated on quite a steep slope that’s prone to the effects of natural erosion,” the culture ministry said in a statement.

The authorities said that even a stray footprint could mar the fragile grounds, and have imposed strict rules against trespassing at the site. Before the pandemic shut down tours, visitors were permitted to view the lines and figures only from planes and lookout points.

But disturbances at the Nazca lines have occurred, drawing widespread condemnation.

In 2014, Greenpeace activists left shoe marks near a large hummingbird design when they placed a sign that promoted renewable energy, Peruvian officials said.

“You walk there and the footprint is going to last hundreds or thousands of years,” Luis Jaime Castillo, a Peruvian official and archaeologist, told The Guardian at the time. “And the line that they have destroyed is the most visible and most recognized of all.”

In 2018, a truck driver was arrested after intentionally driving his tractor-trailer across three lines of geoglyphs.

Even as Peru works to preserve its ancient sites, officials reopened Machu Picchu this month for one lucky tourist after he became stranded during the pandemic and waited seven months to see the 16th-century Inca citadel.

By: Tiffany May
Title: 2,000-Year-Old Cat Etching Found at Nazca Lines Site in Peru
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Published Date: Mon, 19 Oct 2020 08:48:43 +0000

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