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Posts tagged as Bali

How to Use Your Tax Return for Travel

Those looking to travel domestically could take a full two weeks to visit the Pacific Northwest (think: Seattle, Portland and the surrounding area.
Couples can spend a week in Sedona, Arizona hiking the red rocks, or lounge on the beach in Florida’s Key West, with airfares in the low $300s roundtrip from many East Coast airports, according to Jauntaroo.
International destinations are still a possibility for couples on a $2,400 budget, including getaways to Croatia, where roundtrip airfare can be found from $483 per person and hotels can be booked for less than $100 per night. (Sadly, outside the capital, there arent a ton of points hotel options.) Theres also Budapest, Hungary. Hunt for a roundtrip flight just over $400 and boutique apartment rentals for $60 per night on Airbnb.
$2,700 to $2,850For international vacations, Midwest residents can head to Spain from the Midwest for just $481 roundtrip per person, or take a quick flight to the island of Aruba for just $371, according to Skyscanner. Entire families can enjoy a trip here by using points to reserve a stay at one of the islands many great points properties.
Photo by Tashka / Getty Images.$3,000 to $3,150The average tax return has historically been about $3,000 per person, and most states land in this range, from Alaska to Georgia, Maryland and Nevada.It’s still a sizable return, and even travelers who don’t want to spend their entire tax return on a trip can find great options within this budget.For residents of Nevada, Alaska, or any of the other western states, the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington are a short flight and boat ride away.
The rural archipelago is filled with state parks and greenery, making it the perfect option for nature lovers who want to hike, kayak, swim or watch for orcas starting in May. Flights originating from the west can be as low as $103 per person, according to Skyscanner, and hotels on the islands usually run from $70 to $150 per night.For international locations, residents of the West Coast can fly to parts of South America in just a few hours. Flights from California to Sao Paolo, Brazil are usually less than $500 in May.
East Coast residents can turn to the British Isles for a great getaway, where flights to Scotland are $499 round trip and flights to London are just $341, according to Skyscanner. Travelers can splurge on the recently renovated Ritz-Carlton in London, or stay at the highly rated Hilton Metropole for less than $150 per night.(Cash in your points for an award night, and youll have plenty of your tax return left over for food, beverages and activities.)$3,700 to $3,850States in the Northeast see some of the highest average tax refunds, with Connecticut taking the number one spot of $3,844, according to Smart Asset.
Travelers in the highest tax return bracket could jet off to Bali for two weeks to visit ancient Hindu temples. Flights from New York City to Bali can get as low as $481 roundtrip in the month of May (though if you want to book something quick, its not difficult to find flights in the mid-$700s) and hotels run in the low hundreds per night.North African temperatures tend to be relatively mild in the spring, making it a great time to visit Morocco or Egypt (one of our top places to travel this April). Flights to Africa tend to run on the more expensive side, regardless of the time of year, but flights to Casablanca can be found in the low $600s roundtrip.Visitors can rent entire homes near Casablanca for roughly $50 per night — and some even include their own pools.For the latest travel news, deals and points and miles tips please .

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Mixing Luxury and Budget Travel on the Same Trip

While my favorite way to maximize travel is through points and miles, my husband and I have come up with a few other tricks over the years to find.Our go-to technique for a vacation with the right mix of off-the-beaten path adventure mixed with pure luxury and true downtime is our high/low technique.Much like pairing an Ikea mirror with an Eames chair in your living room, mixing high-end travel with lower-cost experiences in the same trip can work well. It also has helped us tame our childrens unrealistic expectations around travel.
On a boat we rented for $15 in rural Vietnam High/Low in Practice.Our budget for accommodations during a recent weeklong vacation in Vietnam was an average of $350 per night. This was on the higher end, but it turned out to channel us toward hotels that we found didnt cater to families.Instead we chose to look for somewhere in the $75–$100 per night range for four nights followed by somewhere in the $500–750 range for the next three nights. We also tried to find a third or fourth night for free through select hotels in Amex’s Fine Hotels Resorts (FHR) program.FHR is available to holders of certain Amex cards, such as The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum® Card from American Express. We loved exploring Hoi Ans food markets.

Tips for the Lower End:The key to the low end of the stay is to realize that while it may cost less, it isnt actually less enjoyable because it is culturally rich. During the low, we do lots of sightseeing and driving, eat at local restaurants or cook and keep costs relatively low by engaging in the local economy rather than staying insulated within a resort economy.Our family is able to see areas we wouldn’t normally get to enjoy if we were only sheltered at luxury hotels and resorts. It is also a great time to do purposeful travel.
Plus we often travel with our two young kids and want an Airbnb or family-run hotel for reasons beyond budget.Make sure youre using the best credit cards to book an Airbnb.We sometimes are able to book our low accommodations through Hotels.com/Venture and use my Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card for 10x the points on the room stay, then use it toward our 10th night free with Hotels.com, which is effectively a 20% return.You can also choose a lower-category points hotel for your stay.
A large welcome bonus, such as the one offered by the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card that earns you 100,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening, could get you several nights at a Category 1–4 Marriott redemption.Tips for the Higher EndWhen we head over to the high end, we enter pure resort mode — we don’t have to worry about driving or where to go for lunch because everything is right there.
We often do not leave the grounds because we’ve already explored and just want to stay put. We like to book the luxury piece at the end of the stay and utilize early check-in and late check-out to really stretch the stay (FHR benefits and elite status are great for this).This can be a fantastic time to use a high-end redemption to bring down costs and use the savings for extras such as cooking classes or a spa experience.During a 10-day trip to Bali, for example, we spent five nights in a low-cost villa and then did a five-night redemption at The Ritz-Carlton, Bali (Category 6, from 50,000 Marriott points), taking full advantage of its incredible kids club and inexpensive babysitting.
Here are many different ways to stay with your family in Bali using points.Our one-bedroom villa at Four Season Resort The Nam Hai.Riding on the sleeper train between our high- and low-cost stays in Vietnam.Lower End: Rural VietnamIn Vietnam, our lower end stay was in the Bong Lai Valley at Phong Nha Farmstay for $85 per night, including breakfast.It was essentially a backpackers spot, but had a large family room next to the owner’s apartment. My older son became fast friends with the owner’s son, Howie, and talked about him for months afterward.Enjoying the cooler weather at Phong Nha Farmstay.In Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, we rented a private 14-seat boat for just for the four of us where I could easily breastfeed the baby; the privacy gave us the flexibility to turn back if our 2-year-old was scared of the caves.The three-hour cave gondola ride was $15, plus a $6.50 entrance fee for the national park.Rather than a scary experience, the ride turned out to be peaceful and done at the perfect pace for our family.Another day, we took advantage of the advertised free bikes at the farmstay.
The only family bike had a flat seat on the back. We used my sarong to tie my older son on the back, and my husband wore the baby on his front over the bumpy, muddy roads to the only local attraction called The Duck Stop.Using a hand-drawn map, we found the family-run spot, which offered a package of food and a visit to see their raft of ducks ($4, kids free). Suddenly, we were in borrowed sandals and feed was being thrown on our feet.The ducks chased us while trying to bite our feet with their bills as the owner screamed, “It’s like a massage!” We then greeted the resident water buffalo before heading back on our bikes. These are the types of peculiar travel experiences that I had while backpacking in my 20s and love having again with my family (my husband less so).

High: Four Seasons The Nam HaiAs much as I love reliving my backpacking days, entering the Four Seasons Nam Hai was extraordinary. We booked with a fourth night free, which brought the cost down from $750 per night to $660 per night for a one-bedroom, ocean-view villa with an included exquisite breakfast.Yes, that is pricey, but that is why we balance it out with more affordable accommodations. We also considered the Intercontinental Nha Trang, Vietnam using IHG Rewards Club points from the generous IHG®  Rewards Club Premier Card (bonus currently up to 120k points) and the fourth consecutive award night free for cardholders.
The magical thing about a luxury resort is that they pretty much know where you are at all times and can reach you. With the kids safely in childcare, we attended a Vietnamese cooking class arranged by the hotel that included a visit to the local market.
When we returned from the market with our fresh ingredients, the cooking assistant notified the babysitter to bring my youngest son to me at the cooking school via a golf cart because he needed to breastfeed.When the baby finished his lunch, his babysitter whisked him away again, which made me feel like a mother in “Downton Abbey.” We could not have dropped the fresh shrimp into hot sizzling oil with our tiny children in tow. The Cooking Academy was $115 each and included our fantastic five-course lunch of grilled calamari skewers, grouper in banana leaf and wok-fried prawns in tamarind sauce.To round off the experience, on our last night we went into the ever so photogenic Hoi An to see the lanterns lining the streets. We wandered the streets until our children melted down, and then hopped in a taxi back to the hotel and into bed.
When packing the next morning, we realized that my DSLR camera was gone and must have been left in the taxi. Normally, that might been adios to the camera, but the hotel quickly pulled the license plates off the security camera of us arriving the night before, located the driver and had my camera back in my hands by our 11am departure.That could have been a sour note to end the vacation. Instead we were happy to be staying somewhere where we were just taken care of — our problem suddenly became their problem.We enjoyed the bountiful breakfast buffet rather than scrambling to track down the camera and avoided the sadness of losing all the photos from our trip in Asia with the kids, including those in this story. It was also a reminder to make sure I know what insurance protections my credit cards have.

Bottom Line:The adage goes that a vacation with kids is just a trip and never a vacation. After enjoying sightseeing and adventure time, end your family trip at a luxury resort with safe, reliable on-site childcare so you have time to truly unwind and maybe even have a date before returning home.Using this high/low method, you can average out the costs either with points or cash while enjoying both secluded luxury and local culture.Have you ever tried a high/low vacation? How does your family balance different interests during travel?Know before you go.News and deals straight to your inbox every day.The Business Platinum® Card from American ExpressAside from the 75,000 points welcome bonus, Amex recently made huge improvements to the Business Platinum Card, including the fact that you will now earn 50% more points on purchases of $5,000 or more, earn 5x on flights and eligible hotels at Amextravel.com and cardholders will receive a $200 airline fee credit each year.

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US-backed Syrian forces battle to take last IS pocket

NEAR BAGHOUZ (AFP) – Syrian fighters backed by artillery fire from a US-led coalition battled a fierce jihadist counteroffensive Monday as they pushed to retake a last morsel of territory from the Islamic State group.
A war monitor said a coalition air strike killed 16 civilians including seven children trying to flee the holdout on Monday, but the US-led alliance was not immediately available for comment.More than four years after the extremists declared a caliphate across large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq, several offensives have whittled that down to a tiny holdout.The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces on Saturday announced the final push to expel hundreds of diehard jihadists from that patch in eastern Syria on the Iraq border.The US-led coalition maintained a steady beat of bombings on the last IS pocket on Monday, as the SDF faced fierce resistance.The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said 12 SDF fighters and 19 jihadists were killed in the fighting Monday.
Heavy clashes are ongoing to pressure IS into surrendering, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said the SDF responded after IS launched a counterattack earlier in the day.

IS launched a counterattack on our forces and we are now responding with rockets, air strikes and direct clashes, Bali told AFP earlier.The sound of bombs echoed dozens of kilometres (miles) away and columns of dark grey smoke could be seen from SDF territory.
Bali said there were dozens of SDF hostages held by IS inside their last foothold, but denied reports of executions.Backed by coalition air strikes, the SDF alliance has been battling to oust the jihadists from the eastern province of Deir Ezzor since September.Since December, tens of thousands of people, most women and children related to IS fighters, have fled the shrinking jihadist holdout into SDF territory.US-backed forces have screened the new arrivals, weeding out potential jihadists for questioning.
On Monday, dozens of coalition and SDF fighters were stationed at a screening point for new arrivals from IS areas.Coalition forces stood over about 20 men who were crouching on the ground.

Two French women told AFP they paid smugglers to take them out of the battered IS-held holdout of Baghouz, but Iraqi jihadists had prevented other foreigners from leaving.They said only the Syrians and Iraqis can be smuggled out, said one of the women, who said her first name was Christelle, from the city of BordeauxThe Observatory said 600 people including around 20 suspected jihadists fled IS areas overnight.The SDF said it advanced inside the pocket on Sunday, seizing 40 positions from IS.
On Saturday, the alliance said up to 600 jihadists as well as hundreds of civilians could remain inside the IS patch of four square kilometres (one square mile).Spokesman Bali said IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the man who pronounced the cross-border caliphate in 2014, was not among them, and likely not in Syria.

At the height of their rule, the jihadists imposed their brutal interpretation of Islamic law on a territory roughly the size of Britain.But military offensives in both countries, including by the SDF, have since retaken the vast bulk of their territory.The jihadists however retain a presence in Syria s vast Badia desert, and have claimed a series of deadly attacks in SDF-held areas.US President Donald Trump in December shocked Washington s allies by announcing a full withdrawal of US troops from Syria as IS had been beaten.
Trump s decision to withdraw US troops has left Syria s Kurds scrambling for safeguards.A US departure makes them more vulnerable to a long threatened attack by neighbouring Turkey, who considers Kurdish fighters to be terrorists, and dashes their dreams of autonomy.The Kurds have largely stayed out of Syria s nearly eight-year civil war, instead building their own semi-autonomous institutions in the northeast of the country.But the expected US pullout has seen them grappling to mend ties with the Damascus regime, which is against Kurdish self-rule.

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