Here’s a quick warning about driving a car on your visit to New Zealand

I wish someone had warned me.

I typically drive at or right around the speed limit, and I’d never gotten a speeding ticket before.

That is until a moment during my recent visit to New Zealand, when I went 38.5 MPH in a 31 MPH zone (62km/h in a 50 km/h zone), oblivious to the camera on a pole catching me in the act.

Back home about a month later, I got the surprise 80 NZD souvenir in the mail.

The ticket noted that I could email the police department for a photo of the infraction, so I did that and got this a few days later: Continue reading

How to avoid spending 6 hours in your car at the U.S. border into Canada

I spent 6 hours waiting in line, in my car, to cross from the U.S. into Canada.

There are much worse things in life, but the experience was a psychological challenge, so I’m hoping this post may help a fellow traveler avoid it.

How did this happen?

I’d never driven into Canada before. My partner and I decided the 3-day Memorial Day weekend would be a good opportunity to drive up from Portland to visit Vancouver.

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After about 3 hours, we finally hit the 1/2-mile point.

Mistake #1:

Trying to cross the border, on a major highway — I-5 between Seattle and Vancouver — in the middle of the day on the Saturday start of a 3-day weekend.

Okay that was several mistakes, but we’ll count it as one.

Mistake #2:

Ignoring the warning signs. Not only did we ignore the theoretical warning signs — the facts mentioned in Mistake #1 — but we also ignored the literal warning signs.

About 10 miles from the border, we drove past a sign that said something along the lines of “Extremely long border wait times. Expect a wait of 180 minutes at the I-5 border.”

When I flew past that sign, it seemed so preposterous that I didn’t believe it. 3 hours? No way. I expected a solid wait, maybe an hour or something, but they had to be overestimating at 3 hours. How naive I was.

Mistake #3:

Not thoroughly researching my first border crossing. If I had, I might have known what kind of waits are possible and how to avoid them.

But wait, how did a 3-hour estimated wait turn into 6 hours?

That’s something I’m still struggling with, but I have a few ideas.

And when I say 6 hours, I’m talking about from the moment we hit the stand-still traffic about 1.5 miles out from the border checkpoint, up until we bid farewell to the border agent who examined our passports.

First of all, check out this map:

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You see that exit by the Mobil gas station?

What some cars were doing is taking that exit, taking the roundabout, then getting back on the highway.

Sure, the traffic at the roundabout and subsequent merge back looked to be very slow as well, but in my estimation it was moving twice as fast and looked to be saving cars around a half a mile of the slowest portion of the wait.

I wouldn’t feel okay with myself about using that technique, but I guess that’s part of the reason I waited 6 hours instead of 3 hours. Dog eat dog world.

The truly tricky people would use that exit method, then drive as far forward as possible in the Nexus lane, and force themselves into the completely standstill non-Nexus lanes at the last possible point.

At one point I was eye to eye with one of the…guys…using this method, as he motioned incredulously at me that I let him in. Awkward moment for sure, but by the 4-hour mark my southern manners had degenerated a bit.

So how do I avoid this?

1. Cross the border at a non-peak time. If you have to leave at the start of a 3-day weekend, leave very early in the morning or late at night.

2. Use an alternate route. The warning sign I mentioned above listed the estimated wait times for a few different crossing points. The alternate route only a mile off the highway route that I took wasn’t drastically shorter on the road sign estimate, but I’m willing to bet it could have saved us a couple of hours.

3. Sign up for Nexus. My guess from the looks of the Nexus lanes is that I could have cut 4-5 hours off my wait time. It’s $50 and a process to obtain, but could be worth it if you plan to cross the border a few times.

If I could do it over again, I would have left early in the morning and taken this truck route to the east of the main I-5 crossing point:

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How was the crossing back into the U.S.?

We returned to the U.S. on the Monday evening at the end of the 3-day weekend, and I was terrified that we’d have a similar wait.

But we didn’t. We took the truck route and waited 30 minutes total. According to the road signs, the wait at the main route wasn’t too much longer.

I don’t understand why the wait to return home was so much shorter, but it was a huge relief that it was.

I’m obviously still not very experienced with U.S.-Canada border crossings, so if you have any tips or experiences to share in the comments below, it’s much appreciated.

Ranking the 4 major points hotels on NZ’s North Island

Outside of Best Western and Choice Hotels, New Zealand doesn’t have a ton of points options for chain hotels.

Why stay at a chain hotel though?

Loyalty status can get you free meals and upgraded rooms, and using points can make those rooms free.

Sure, you could always use bank points such as Chase UR points to book almost any hotel you want using those points, but this post is looking at four hotels you can book with hotel points.

Which hotels?

InterContinental Wellington, Hilton Auckland, Crowne Plaza Auckland, and Hilton Lake Taupo.

You might be surprised at what ended up being my least favorite of the four: Continue reading

Lyft is finally paying out that $27M lawsuit settlement to California drivers

Almost two years after agreeing to pay $27M to California Lyft drivers in a class-action lawsuit settlement, and one year after a judge gave final approval of the settlement, Lyft is finally paying up.

I posted about this settlement previously trying to explain how drivers could know what kind of money they might make on the settlement, but basically: the more you drove during the applicable time period, the bigger your share of the settlement could be.

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Email from settlement administrators sent today.

How much did I make? Continue reading

Skiplagged now lets you book Southwest flights?

I’m on Skiplagged constantly because these two tools make it my fave spot for tracking flight prices:

1. How early should you buy a flight? Skiplagged gives you an idea by showing how far out fares on your route start to skyrocket. Here I can see that fares on a sample route don’t start to rise drastically in price until you’re 8-12 days out from a given departure date:

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2. If you want to make an educated guess on whether your flight could drop in price, check out the data Skiplagged provides next to each flight in your search:

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Because of the price history I guessed that the flight above would drop in price, since it was more than a month out from the flight, and I snagged the flight when it dropped into one of its $197 valleys.

Get to the news plz.

So this week I noticed Southwest Airlines flights appearing in Skiplagged searches. I don’t know how long this has been active, but I just noticed it. Continue reading

Hotel review: new TownePlace Suites is one of SF Bay Area’s most affordable points options

Finding affordable lodging in the SF Bay Area is a challenge, whether you’re looking for a hotel to stay in while visiting, or looking for a place to live.

For visitors with a stash of Marriott or SPG points (points from either program can be transferred to the other), there’s a relatively affordable new option.

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At 25k Marriott points per night, hotels on the peninsula side of the Bay don’t get much more affordable than the TownePlace Suites San Mateo Foster City. Continue reading

3 Chase UR travel portal glitches & how to get around them

In just a couple of hours of searching for flights last night using the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, I ran into three different glitches.

Here they are:

1. Want to do a search with results from all fare classes? Select the “All Classes” option in your search, and there’s a good chance you won’t in fact get all classes as results.

I was searching for a red-eye flight, and I wasn’t getting many options in the points-price range I was hoping for.

Fix: I tried searching under “Premium Economy,” and suddenly there were some Delta Comfort+ (premium economy) flights that were not there when I searched under “All Classes.” Continue reading

After 10 flights, a review of United’s Silver elite status

Using a status match that took only 15 minutes to complete, I received United’s lowest level elite status a few months ago.

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At SFO, on one of the 10.

Here are the benefits of the various levels of United elite status.

The benefit I cared about the most was getting free access to United’s Economy Plus seats, which have a few extra inches of leg room.

Even as a lowly Silver, each United flight I take I’m put on the list to be upgraded to First or Business class.

How’d I do on upgrades after 10 flights? Not well. 0/10. Continue reading