Little did I know when we left the US that I would spend a day in Bosnia. When the concierge at the Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik suggested we take the tour, it sounded interesting so we bit. It was 2 1/2 hours from Dubrovnik so we hired a driver ($200 total) instead of riding on the tour bus (about $120), which gave us more flexibility and a chance to spend some face-to-face time with a local. Jack was his name — a Bulgarian musician who has lived outside of Dubrovnik for 35 years. His English was good enough and he was a jovial man with plenty of stories and history.
The drive along the Dalmatian coast is as picturesque as it can be with islands, coves, inlets, and charming seaside villages all along he way. At the town of Ston, Jack informed us they specialized in the production of oysters and we could see the artificial strands laid across the inlets and bays for miles. Since it’s May, we passed on eating the oysters since they are out of season. (Only eat oysters in months with an “R” in them.)
We first crossed the border along the seashore into Bosnia then, eight miles later, crossed back out of Bosnia back into Croatia for a half an hour before we were back into Bosnia again.
We never left the car; we just handed Jack our passports.
On the way to the village of Mostar, we stopped at an ancient city for photos and coffee. I can’t remember the name or reason for its existence, but at the local tavern a gentleman gladly exchanged some Croation kunas for Bosnian XMs (I think that’s what they were called). There is a 10% penalty for using Kunas in exchange. The Bosnians would rather have Euros — or maybe they are still PO’d at the Croatians.
In Mostar we parked by the church with the largest steeple (remarkably it looked like a minaret) and crossed a main street to the old town of Mostar. We passed several bombed-out buildings and others hit by shrapnel during the war. As we passed through the old city, if it had not been for the touristy stuff for sale we would’ve sworn we’d passed into another century. The buildings are all from the mid-1400s. We ate at a restaurant Jack recommend and had a platter of traditional Bosnian food that was to die for: beef and lamb, stuffed cabbage, stuff grape leaves, meat patties, and traditional desserts. We have not had a bad meal since we arrived.
After lunch we walked to and over the famous bridge that was destroyed during the Bosnian War of 1991-1993. In the museum there’s a film of the rockets hitting and destroying the bridge. Katy is the history buff and remembers seeing those exact same images on US TV. On either end of the bridge, marked on simple stone, are two words “Don’t Forget.”
This war was supposedly started at a Serbian wedding: Instead of shooting their guns in the air to celebrate, the revelers started firing at passersby of the other nationality or religion. At first it was the Serbs against the Croatians and Muslims, then later the Muslims became the targets. Jack indicated that, although things are peaceful now, he wouldn’t be surprised if it broke out all over again. I just asked him to keep it at bay until we left the country.
How To Earning Elite Status with Airlines and Hotels
The frequent flier game began as a way to promote customer loyalty. Elite status within an airlines rewards program does the same thing. Each airline is a little different, but typically if you fly 25,000 miles in a year you are a “low level elite” with that airline. There are typically three levels – silver, gold and platinum — with increasing benefits based on the number of “butt in seat” miles you have with that airline. And when it comes to frequent flier miles, the more “elite” you are, the more perks you receive.
A silver elite member may get 1.25 to 1.5 miles frequent flier miles for every mile flown on his or her preferred carrier. Gold members get two miles for every mile flown, and Platinum members may get as high as 2.25 miles per mile flown in addition to unlimited upgrades to first class. The names of the top tier programs vary according to the airline in question.
Elite members also receive free upgrades to first class when available or with credits they receive for so many miles flown. Elite status is really helpful in the event of missing a connection or having to stay overnight at an intermediate city. The airlines take care of their Elite members.
Airlines often hold more award seats for elite members and provide elite members with better seating on all flights, such as access to the exit row or bulkhead seats. If you fly enough to reach elite status, you appreciate having an exit row with plenty of legroom, especially if you’re flying overseas.
Changes to award tickets are sometimes done without charge for elite members. Elite members will also receive priority standby status on oversold flights.
If you aren’t an elite member yet, make a point to study the elite program of your favorite carrier. Sometimes at year’s end it is actually worth doing a “mileage run” (a paid airline trip designed solely for gaining maximum frequent flyer miles, points or status) just to get the last few miles you need to achieve elite status.
Elite status has made it possible for my wife and me to fly to Europe and get enough frequent flier miles from that one trip for a free, domestic round-trip ticket.
The same rules apply here: The more often you stay at a hotel offering elite status tiers, the higher you’re status will be. And all hotel chains have awards programs. Hilton’s HHonors, for example, offer four levels of elite status. Members earn and maintain elite tier status based on stays, nights, or points earned in any calendar year. Sometimes just taking out a credit card with a hotel chain gives you elite status for a year, such as Hilton’s HHonors American Express Surpass card, Marriott’s Reward Premier Visa, Best Western’s World MasterCard and Hyatt’s Visa (various levels).
My wife Katy and I spent one week of our extended honeymoon at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in an oceanfront room for free. How? By using the points I accumulated applying for Hilton’s credit card, by staying at a few Hampton Inns, by Walking For The Cure with the Susan Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, and by generally keeping our eyes open for Hilton Honors Points. We also spent four nights at the Rome Cavaleri Hilton on points accumulated instead of the $480 per night we would have paid without them.
The key to earning elite status and rewards points with hotel chains is to stay aware of what they’re offering. It changes nearly every year, but the rewards are well worth the time it takes to keep your eyes on the prize.