Hacking Update – September 1, 2016


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GOAL: 7 Free one-way tickets from Ontario to Japan by September 2017. It’s an ambitious goal and an experiment in travel hacking for large families.

METHOD: Mainly reward miles earned through credit card sign-up bonuses. Also credit card purchases and miles earned on flights.

COST PER TICKET: roughly $520 Cdn to purchase OR 37 500 Aeroplan points OR 5 580 blue Airmiles (low season)


SUMMARY – 1 free flight (Ontario – Japan)

FAHBIO – 67 326 Aeroplan points
SWMBO – 0 Aeroplan points, 4719 blue Airmiles points

Keeping organized with my credit card hacking is important. I have to make sure to meet the minimum first 3 month spend and to remember to cancel cards before the first year is up if I decide the annual fee is not worth it.

Beginning May 1, 2016, I will post a monthly update on where we’re at. When you see a big jump from last month, you can bet a credit card sign-up bonus is involved. To get the details, please see my frequently updated credit card tracker.



6 free flights (Ontario – Japan) but so close to having 7 free flights


106 173 Aeroplan points


19 979 Aeroplan points
8 244 blue Airmiles points
167 587 AMEX reward points* (75 000 of these points cost $700, the price of a Platinum Amex card.  Since I am opposed to paying for points, I’m not counting these towards my free flights.  Technically, they just mean that the Platinum card was free since they are worth $750 and the card cost $699.)  167 587 – 75 000 = 92 587

AUGUST 1, 2016


4 free flights (Ontario – Japan) but so close to having 6 free flights


103 874 Aeroplan points


19 609 Aeroplan points
8 145 blue Airmiles points
122 119 AMEX reward points* (75 000 of these points cost $700, the price of a Platinum Amex card.  Since I am opposed to paying for points, I’m not counting these towards my free flights.  Technically, they just mean that the Platinum card was free since they are worth $750 and the card cost $699.)  122 119 – 75 000 = 47 119

JULY 1, 2016


4 free flights (Ontario – Japan)


100 557 Aeroplan points


19 609 Aeroplan points
8 034 blue Airmiles points
40 443 AMEX reward points*

JUNE 1, 2016


4 free flights (Ontario – Japan), almost 1 free flight earned per month


96 433 Aeroplan points


19 609 Aeroplan points
7 889 blue Airmiles points
37 743 AMEX reward points*

MAY 1, 2016


4 free flights (Ontario – Japan), almost 1 free flight earned per month


90 133 Aeroplan points


19 609 Aeroplan points
7 679 blue Airmiles points
32 614 AMEX reward points*

*AMEX points can be used as a travel credit (100 points = $1) or transferred to Avios (British Airways) or Aeroplan (Air Canada) 1:1.

Architectural River Cruise


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River cruises focusing on architecture are probably the most popular tours in Chicago.  Many companies offer these tours and the competition is so stiff that operators know they better provide a top notch product.

caf cruise2

Chicago’s First Lady sets out

I’d say that the most highly regarded tour is that provided on Chicago’s First Lady by the Chicago Architecture Foundation‘s (CAF) docents.  This 90 minute excursion is consistently voted as one of the top ten tours in America by various groups such as Trip Advisor.

caf kayakers

Kayaking tours are also wildly popular

I have only ever heard good things about the cruise and have even spoken with Chicagoans who have taken the tour several times with out-of-town guests and found that each docent puts their own spin on the tour so it’s never the same thing twice.  I like that.

But.  But. But.  The tour costs $44 US/$60 Cdn per person.  Personally, I cannot justify spending that kind of money.  I also worried that, with a background in architecture, the tour wouldn’t offer me new insights.

caf worbles

When purchasing our discounted Second City tickets the other day, I noticed 1/2 price CAF cruise tickets.  The counter staff at Hottix told us that they sometimes receive these tickets on Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday in the summer.  Sold.  The tickets work out to a bit more than 1/2 price because Hottix adds a $5 per ticket charge to cover its overhead.

caf groupon

Bet you didn’t know that Groupon started in Chicago

Our tour was at 1 pm on Monday.  Although the boats have an air-conditioned lower deck, the views aren’t great and it is hard to hear the guide.  So everyone sucks it up and sits outside.  In the stinking hot sun.  Bring sunglasses and a hat with a visor.  We brought neither but were fine.  Also bring water.  It was a hot, sunny day but the only uncomfortable part was sitting on deck for 15 minutes before the cruise started.  That said, Fahbio was wearing shorts and got an impressive sunburn on his knees.

caf corn cob

Marina Towers, 1962  At the time the tallest residential buildings in the world

Our guide, Mitzi, was fantastic.  I certainly came away with new knowledge and a different perspective on the city.  Fahbio, not particularly interested in architecture, also found it well worth it.  He says it was jam-packed with information.

caf montgomery ward

Montgomery Ward tower, 1972

Today’s Quote of the Day comes from CAF’s docent Mitzi (paraphrased):

Montgomery Ward was a very egalitarian company.  Since there was no way every employee could have a corner office it was decided that no one would have a corner office.

The Second City


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When you say “Second City” to Canadians, like me, who grew up in the late seventies and eighties, the first thing (only thing?) that comes to mind is SCTV.  SCTV stands for Second City Television and it was a hit from the get go.  The show consistently came up with hysterical sketches made even more hysterical by the talented cast.  People like Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, John Candy, Andrea Martin, Joe Flaherty, Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, Martin Short.  Mention “Bob and Doug McKenzie” to any Canadian of a certain age and be prepared to be hit with a shrill “Ku ruck ku ruck ruck ku ku”.

But it turns out that The Second City has a history predating SCTV.  Who knew?  The show grew out of Toronto’s Second City comedy troupe.  But Toronto’s Second City, itself, was an offshoot of the original Second City comedy club in Chicago.  The Chicago Second City has been going for almost 60 years (!), since 1959.  At first, the sketch comedy was strictly improvisational and improv still plays a central role in Second City shows.


Photo Credit: secondcity.com

The Second City is one of the leading comedy clubs in the world with shows every day.  Many Second City cast members have gone on to join Saturday Night Live and to enjoy stardom in their own right.  I’m talking Tina Fey, Bill Murray, Chris Farley, Amy Sedaris, Dan Akroyd, Steve Carrell, the Belushis, Mike Meyers, Joan Rivers.  No small potatoes, these.

The last time we visited Chicago, Fahbio really wanted to go see a Second City show.  I was more lukewarm.  What if we shelled out a bunch of cash and it wasn’t funny?  I’m pleased to report that there is NEVER any danger of a Second City live show not being funny.  In fact, you are more likely to die when your drink goes down the wrong pipe because you’re laughing so hard than to leave the show muttering, “That was lame…”

Years have gone by and I still remember how hard I laughed that night.  I also remember that we stumbled upon “Hottix”, a non-profit organization that offers half price theatre tickets from the League of Chicago Theatres.

second city tickets

This time around, a Second City show was on my list of absolute must-dos.  We headed right down to Hottix and had a difficult time choosing between the various different Second City shows.  In the end, we went with “Unelectable You” as it seemed timely, what with the presidential race going on and all.  Any slight misgivings we had about not getting the jokes as a result of our Canadian citizenship were unfounded.

OMG – the show was hysterical.  A blend of scripted scenes and improv, it had us rolling.  Audience member Jackie (retired middle school teacher) if you’re reading this, you were an amazing sport when they dragged you on stage and turned you into a presidential candidate.  I’ll remember those shenanigans until the day I die and I swear it will always make me break out in laughter.

If you find yourself in Chicago, be sure to take in a Second City performance. If you can’t get here, get onto YouTube and watch some vintage SCTV.

Art Institute of Chicago


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The first few bites of a dessert have the greatest impact.  As you continue eating, your senses get saturated.  The same thing happens when you visit a museum.  It is possible to spend a whole day in a museum but after 90 minutes or so, your feet start to drag and your mind to wander.  And that, my friend, is why you cannot and should not spend more time in an outstanding museum than in a mediocre one.

And that is also why museums should not be charging people $25 to get in.  Museums conserve artifacts but they also have a role to play in educating the public and allowing access to museum pieces.

The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the oldest and largest art museums in the United States.  Its collection is second only to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s in New York.  Since its beginnings in 1879, it has been connected to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, a leading art training ground.  As a result, it developed close relationships with many of its iconic student artists, such as Georgia O’Keefe.

The Art Institute of Chicago is the permanent home of some of the world’s most famous originals.  People are often surprised to learn that the paintings below live in Chicago.

chicago american gothicchicago grande jattechicago hopperchicago renoir

And there are many, many, many, many more that you probably thought were to be found in the Louvre or the Met or the Vatican or the Victoria and Albert.  The Art Institute of Chicago also holds staggering collections of objects in various categories: African, Decorative Arts, Medieval Armour, Byzantine, Public Art, and so on and so forth.

Obviously a single visit to such a collection is an absurdity.  Unfortunately, that’s what some of us have to live with.  For those who have a particular interest in art, history or architecture, with a collection this size, it makes sense to have a plan and to stick to it as much as possible.

The following “must see” things in the museum are based entirely on my personal interests.  If you are in Chicago to see its architecture or public art first hand, a visit to the Art Institute will complement and round out what you are seeing in situ.  Without further ado, in no particular order, my list of highlights:

  • European Impressionism
  • European Post-Impressionism
  • European Modernism
  • European Decorative Arts
  • American Paintings 1900-1955
  • American Modernism
  • American Decorative Arts
  • Architectural Fragments (essential for fans of early skyscrapers)
  • Prairie School
  • Architectural Ornament
  • Chagall Window and Public Art

Let me come back to my point that 90 to 120 minutes is the optimal length of visit.  The price to visit the Art Institute of Chicago is:

  • $25 US/$33 Cdn Adults
  • $19 US/$25 Cdn Seniors/Students/Teens 14-19
  • Free for children under 14

These prices mean that only the most affluent art lovers can enjoy and learn from this world-class museum collection.  Many expensive museums offer a free day once a month or a few free hours per week.  The Art Institute of Chicago offers some free entry dates/times for Illinois residents.

art institute ticket

Citizens of the rest of the world, regardless of how passionately they love art, are out of luck.  Or are they?  Everyone needs a ticket to enter the museum.  Illinois residents will be asked their zip code.  Spit out a valid one, quickly and without hesitation, and that free entrance will be yours.  I chose 60613.  But fair is fair and the museum is a gem of the art world so don’t be a cheapskate.  I would encourage you to make a donation in line with your means to help support the work of the Art Institute of Chicago.  Donation boxes are located inside the museum.  Personally, I think $12 is a fair price.

  • Free weekdays in January/February (January 4 – February 11, 2016)
  • Free Thursdays 5-8 pm all year

Today’s Quote of the Day comes from the International Council of Museums (ICOM):

A museum is a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.