$38 for 12 recipe-kit meals worth $162

Sign-up bonuses on food?? Okay, sure!

GreenChef and HelloFresh, two competing weekly recipe-kit home delivery services, are offering great sign-up bonuses. By getting the first week’s box and then cancelling your subscription (instructions below), you can get 12 meals and $162 worth of home-delivered food for $38. 

Our first HelloFresh meal

Our first HelloFresh meal

Here is the GreenChef link for the first box FREE (or 4 free meals if you’re outside the Oakland/SF area). Original price = $93. Your first box price = $9 (for shipping)

To get $40 off your first box with HelloFresh, enter the promo code Y4XK4D when you sign up. Original price = $69. Your first box price = $29

Each box contains 3 meals for 2 people each. You also get reusable ice packs with each shipment and you can/should reuse their containers, bags, etc. to make the whole process less wasteful.

IMPORTANT: GreenChef and HelloFresh are weekly subscription services, so if you only want to get one discounted box and then quit, here’s how to avoid weekly charges: 1) After you sign up, go to the “Delivery Schedule” section and “skip” each delivery after your first one. This gives you buffer time to cancel before being charged again. 2) After you receive your first box, email their customer service to cancel your subscription.

Note: I get referral credit when people up sign up with the link and promo code above, but as always, I wouldn’t post this if it wasn’t a legitimately great deal. Thanks for helping me out with the referrals!

Living the Bling on Emirates First Class

*Disclosure: There is probably some satire and sarcasm in this article.

**If you like my blog, check out my travel consulting site, www.smartflying.us, and tell your friends about it!


My wife and I went to Dubai recently. We flew from San Francisco to Munich in Lufthansa economy class, had a 5-hour layover, and continued from Munich to Dubai on Emirates First Class Shower Suites. On our return journey, we flew directly from Dubai to San Francisco, again on Emirates First.

Cabin bling

Emirates first-class bling

Here is how it priced out:

SFO-MUC on Lufthansa economy: 30,000 United miles and $5.60 in taxes/fees

MUC-DXB and DXB-SFO on Emirates A380 First Class Shower Suites: 100,000 Alaska miles and $127.20 in taxes/fees

Our route: SFO-MUC-DXB-SFO

Our route: SFO-MUC-DXB-SFO

If we had bought these tickets without miles (which we would never actually do), they would have been well upwards of $10,000.



SFO-MUC: The 11 hours in Lufthansa economy class sucked significantly less than usual because there was light at the end of the tunnel — we were so excited to get to Munich and get the Emirates experience started!

MUC-DXB: When we arrived at MUC, we went straight for the Emirates lounge. It was a business-class lounge with some nice snacks, but nothing too special. I didn’t bother to take many photos because there were business-class peasants loitering about, but it was a nice place to spend several hours on our layover.

Munich Emirates business class lounge

Munich Emirates business class lounge

3 jetbridges for 3 classes

3 jetbridges for 3 classes

We boarded the Emirates A380 through a separate jet bridge for first-class passengers only. Phew! When we got in, I didn’t really know what to do. I had to squint for the first few minutes because of all the gold shiny things. I had no idea that 50 Cent had transitioned careers from rapping to interior airline design. Honestly, I was torn between feeling giddy and self-conscious (i.e., what is the etiquette for everything in this strange land? Do they know that we are not really supposed to be here?), but I gradually settled into the mindset of a kid in a candy shop as my outward projection of hard-earned entitlement increasingly embedded itself in my ego until it reached the requisite size for first class folks like us.

Stepping into first class

Stepping into first class

A package of goodies was waiting for us in the suites: gender-specific toiletry kits by Bvlgari (apparently a luxury brand that makes wildly expensive stuff for people with high levels of wealth and idiocy), and super-soft pajamas and slippers.

Bvlgari amenity kits

Bvlgari amenity kits

The cabin of 12 first-class suites was full, and consisted of about 4 Emiratis and 8 European-looking passengers. We sat down in our 2 middle suites, which connected to each other via a partially-retractable wall. The layout was a pleasant mix of spaciousness, sociability and privacy.

My first priority was to get some ‘04 Dom Perignon in front of me. I didn’t even have to ask; the service was quick, anticipatory and friendly (and it would stay that way the whole time on both flights). I spent a good amount of time playing with my seat, exploring the vast entertainment options, and studying the food and drink menus.

The Dom '04

The Dom ’04

The Dom '04

The Dom ’04

The menus and, yes, a guide to the Shower Spa

The menus and, yes, a guide to the Shower Spa

They asked me when I wanted to take my on-board shower, and I was the first one to do so, about an hour after takeoff. There is a “shower attendant” that cleans the bathroom after every single use, so it is always impeccably clean and fully stocked with fresh orchids, fine toiletries and the sweetest of fragrances. Thank god they had fresh orchids in the shower — if they had some lowly weeds like roses or poppies, I would have torn them up and flushed them down the mahogany toilet.

Shower with orchids

Shower with orchids

The shower bathroom is huge!

The shower bathroom is huge!

Mandatory selfie in the shower bathroom

Mandatory selfie in the shower bathroom

The food was really impressive. It all looked and tasted amazing, but it’s a bit boring to describe each dish so I’ll just post some photos.

AMAZING cheese plate

AMAZING cheese plate

Caviar setup

Caviar setup

Roast salmon steak

Roast salmon steak

Smoked tuna

Smoked tuna

We decided that our MUC-DXB flight would be a good opportunity to taste every top-shelf whiskey and cognac on their menu. When else in our lives will we have the opportunity to taste such a flashy lineup of the rarest Scottish and French mana (from bottles averaging over $300 retail price)? Wanting to be a bit social and adventurous, we went to the back of the plane to the business class bar. How amusing it is to see how the lower levels of society fly around in business class. So we snapped our fingers and a first-class flight attendant personally delivered our whiskey flight from the first-class bar back to us at the bar.

Business-class bar

Business-class bar

We had Johnnie Walker Blue and Platinum, Chivas 21, Glenfiddich 21, and Hennessy Paradis. It was amazing that they all really have no unpleasant aftertaste; just a lot of flavor. In a blind taste test of the whiskies, Lou’s favorite was the Glenfiddich 21 and mine was the JW Blue. The Hennessy Paradis cognac was ridiculously delicious; probably the best liquor I have ever tasted in my life. Most satisfying of all was when business-class passengers asked for the same first-class drinks and were just plain denied (ok, we let them try ours out of pity, self-consciousness and an inability to drink the massive pours in front of us). So we had a little party at the back of the plane, and it was awesome!

Self-serve First Class bar

Self-serve First Class bar

Next thing we knew, it was 6am in Dubai and we had not slept. Oops. Well, first class is not about getting a good night’s sleep. Not in the Emirates shower suites, it isn’t. Some people say “carpe diem” or “you can sleep when you’re dead.” They are close to the truth, which is that you can sleep when you’re in business class.

You can also ride in Volvos when you’re in business class. As first-class passengers, we got free chauffer rides in Mercedes-Benz cars to and from the airport in Dubai and San Francisco. I mean seriously, who would even want a chauffer ride in a Volvo?

DXB-SFO: On our way back home from Dubai to San Francisco, we saw how amazing the Dubai first-class terminal is. Wow. It is an expansion of the traditional lounge concept, such that one entire floor of the Emirates terminal was dedicated to first-class passengers only.

Dubai first-class terminal

Dubai first-class terminal

Dubai first-class terminal

Dubai first-class terminal

There were about 20 people in the entire thing, which had several restaurants where you can order whatever you want, as well as a cigar bar and a spa/massage room, all for free.

Steak sandwich breakfast at the Dubai first-class terminal

Steak sandwich breakfast at the Dubai first-class terminal

During our 16-hour flight from DXB-SFO, almost everything was the same except for some slight variations in the food and wine menus and the fact that the first-class cabin was completely empty. We were the only two passengers in first class! We were truly lucky to have such rare exclusivity and personal service: the us-to-flight attendant ratio was something like 2-to-7. We took showers, of course, and instead of going for whiskey tasting again, I decided to try every wine on the menu (remember, this was a 16-hour flight). My favorite was the Sandeman 40-year Tawny Port, closely followed by the Chateau Palmer 1995 and the 2010 Mt. Eden Estate Chardonnay.

Red wine flight

Red wine flight

Ports with chocolate cheesecake

Ports with chocolate cheesecake

Dessert wine selection

Dessert wine selection

Wine selection

Wine selection

Flying over the North Pole!

Flying over the North Pole!

Lastly, as for the onboard water selection, my favorite was VOSS. It was so clear and liquidy, somewhat cold sometimes, and it really quenched my thirst in a way that whiskey and port could not sustainably match. VOSS was also the only water available in first class, so it was hands-down the best water I consumed during those flights. A priceless elite water from Norweigan glaciers, exclusively for first class. Seemed normal at the time. After stepping off the plane and back into the real world, I saw VOSS’ prices and it became clear that it is a status-driven product that appeals to the same “stupid stupid rich” crowd as Bvlgari does. Good thing I packed away one of those 4-oz bottles from the plane and it is now perched atop my mahogany trophy case.

VOSS: the holy grail of waters in Emirates First Class

VOSS: the holy grail of waters in Emirates First Class



Per person, the SFO-DXB round-trip would have cost either 180,000 Alaska miles for Emirates first class, or 85,000 United miles for economy class. So I found a sweet spot and was able to do the round-trip for a total of 130,000 miles with most of the flying time in first class. You can easily search for Emirates award availability directly on Alaska’s homepage.



Emirates miles have relatively low utility (super high redemption rates and fuel surcharges), so don’t even bother with trying to earn them. Rather, you should get Alaska miles and redeem them on Emirates flights! We got our Alaska miles by getting the Bank of America Alaska Airlines cards several times. There is a personal card and a business card, and there are reports on Flyertalk that you can get each of those cards once every three months. To get 100,000 Alaska miles, I opened 2 personal and 2 business cards over the course of a year or so. Each one has an annual fee of $75, but the personal card gives a $100 statement credit after spending $1,000. So the real cost of earning 100,000 Alaska miles by getting these cards was (75*4) – (100*2) = $100. Not bad at all!

We got our United miles by getting the Chase United Explorer cards. I have gotten both the personal version and the business version in the last few years. They have awesomely consistent sign-up bonuses of 50,000 to 60,000 miles per card (don’t ever settle for the standard United 30k offer — see Flyertalk wiki/discussion for the personal card and business card), and the annual fee is always waived for the first year.


Good luck with your point-earning and redeeming, and happy flying! Always appreciate your first- and business-class experiences, be super nice to the crew, and don’t take anything too seriously in the air; you’re lucky to be there 🙂 

African Honeymoon: 77 days, 60,000 miles, $380, 11 flights, 5 countries


When my work contract in Kisumu, Kenya came to an end, Louisa and I decided that we would take a long honeymoon around Africa. After looking at a lot of flight options and researching tons of places we wanted to go, we ended up with the following flight itinerary:

Kisumu-Nairobi-Zanzibar (2 weeks in Zanzibar)

Zanzibar-Nairobi-Lilongwe (2 weeks in Malawi)

Lilongwe-Johannesburg-Port Elizabeth (2 weeks in South Africa)

Port Elizabeth-Cape Town-Walvis Bay (2 weeks in Namibia)

Walvis Bay-Johannesburg-Frankfurt-Marrakech (3 weeks in Morocco)




What a crazy itinerary! It would have cost well over $7,000 per person to purchase the exact flights we took, or more than $3,000 per person if we had bought similar flights on the lowest-cost airlines. As it turned out, each of us paid 30,000 Air France miles, 35,000 United miles, and $380 in taxes and fees.

We flew KIS-NBO-ZNZ and ZNZ-NBO-LLW on Kenya Airways, and we redeemed 30,000 Air France Flying Blue miles and $200 for them. You can earn Flying Blue miles by transferring American Express Membership Rewards points at a 1:1 ratio. Air France is a SkyTeam member, so they have access to all of the same international flights as Delta, and often a more favorable award chart. They do charge fuel surcharges, but they are pretty reasonable. We could have used 60,000 Delta miles and $100 for the same flights, but we strongly preferred to save 30,000 miles and spend an extra $100.

The rest of the itinerary, LLW-JNB-PLZ-CPT-WVB-JNB-FRA-RAK, was booked using 35,000 United miles and $181 (see how to earn United miles at the bottom of this post), flying on a combination of South African Airways and Lufthansa. The LLW-JNB-PLZ-CPT-WVB-JNB flights were all on South African Airways, and then JNB-FRA-RAK were on Lufthansa. As for the flight experiences, they were all fine, but nothing special since we were in economy class (don’t feel sorry for us; our next big trip was in Emirates First class (see next blog post)).

 United Itinerary LLW-PLZ-RAK 

You may be asking, how the heck do you redeem 35,000 United miles for 7 international flights, 3 unique destinations and over 10,000 miles in the air? The key is in United’s routing rules on round-trip awards, which allow a stopover and an open-jaw. So I booked a “round trip” that does not look like a round-trip at all to us humans, but it looks like one to United’s system.

This is the way United’s routing system thinks about our route: We flew a “round trip” from Lilongwe to Walvis Bay. However, we made a stopover in Port Elizabeth along the way. And instead of returning to Lilongwe, we did an open-jaw return “back” to Marrakech. It is ridiculous, but totally viable and within United’s routing rules.

You can book these complicated stopover and open jaw awards on United.com but it is a little bit tricky sometimes. To search for multi-destination award space, don’t use the “multi-destination” feature on United.com until you are ready to book. To find availability, you must search each segment individually as a one-way and manually keep track of which flights are available. United.com’s multi-destination search tool is slightly broken if you change dates or locations during the flight-finding phase, and it often fails to bring up correct results (probably intentionally ;). However, if you do the prior research on one-way flights and then use the multi-destination search engine to look for the exact dates and exact locations with available award flights, it should work and you can book the award!



Throughout our honeymoon, we mostly camped and stayed at backpacker-style hotels to keep costs down, but in South Africa we had some nice point redemptions for hotels.

In Knysna, we stayed at the Conrad, which is now Louisa’s favorite hotel of all time. We redeemed our 2 weekend night certificates that we earned from the Citi Hilton Reserve card, and we were upgraded to a super-luxurious suite with really cool dark decor and a big balcony in a 4-unit building away from the main hotel. We also got free “continental” breakfast (aka a deluxe feast) for our Hilton Gold status (which comes with the Reserve card). They have an awesomely secluded off-site private driving range and tennis facility, which we enjoyed for hours.

IMG_1842 IMG_3523 IMG_3539

In Cape Town, we redeemed 100,000 Club Carlson points for 4 nights at the Radisson Blu Waterfront, which ended up being my favorite and largest hotel room of my life. We booked a normal guest room but got upgraded to a 1,200 square foot, 2-bedroom suite on the top floor with ocean views. I love getting upgraded to suites because it means you can buy groceries and cook at the hotel! We didn’t really need the extra bedroom, extra bathroom, or office, but hey, it was pretty awesome!

IMG_3751 IMG_3757 IMG_3760

In Port Elizabeth, we redeemed 44,000 points for 2 nights at the Radisson Blu, which was super comfortable and quiet, which is exactly what we needed, having just flown in from Malawi where we had roughed it (relatively) for two weeks.



The on-the-ground experiences were amazing! I don’t want to bore anyone with all of our in-country itineraries, but our favorite individual destinations, in order, were:

  1. Franschoek/Stellenbosch, South Africa (wine tasting, beautiful scenery and hiking)
  2. Ruarwe/Nkhata Bay, Malawi (kayaking, snorkeling, camping, and hiking)
    f2703040 f3996672
  3. Cape Town, South Africa (vibrant city full of history, culture, and delicious food+drink)
    IMG_3773 IMG_3824
  4. Etosha, Namibia (camping and “big 5” safari)
    IMG_4342 IMG_4500
  5. Storms River Mouth, South Africa (oceanfront camping, marine life, hiking)
    IMG_3248 IMG_3462
  6. Sossusvlei/Deadvlei, Namibia (sand dunes, stunning scenery)
    IMG_4849 IMG_4977
  7. Todra Gorge, Morocco (deep, narrow canyon with great hiking)
    IMG_5140 IMG_5154
  8. Pwani Mchangani, Zanzibar (white-sand beach, crystal blue water and fun tidal walks)

I visited Morocco 6 years ago and loved it. But between then and now, it has reached the point at which almost everything is a tourist trap, which I can’t stand. That is also the case with Zanzibar, which is incredibly beautiful but it was impossible to go anywhere without being hassled. 

Wherever I go, I find it very important to be able to interact with local people genuinely, and it was almost impossible to do that in Morocco and Zanzibar. In those countries’ tourist destinations, the tourist-local dynamic is, sadly, purely transactional because of the exploitative tourism culture that has developed there. I would encourage travelers to visit places where real interpersonal connections can be made, where people want to share their culture and find out about yours without anyone having to pay for it, where it’s not just tourists using locals for entertainment and vice versa for money.

On our trip, we found the tourism culture to be the most positive and enjoyable in Malawi and South Africa, which is surely part of the reason why those countries were our favorite destinations!


Have YOU been to Africa? If so, what countries or places did you enjoy most?

Good luck earning and redeeming miles, and safe travels!


**This post is largely about maximizing the value of United miles. The easiest way to get United miles is to apply for the United Explorer credit card by Chase Bank and get 55,000 miles after spending $3,000 within 3 months and adding an authorized user. There is no annual fee for the first year, and no foreign transaction fee ever. This limited-time offer expires on May 23rd, and the normal public bonus offer is 30,000 miles. I receive a commission (5,000 miles) for each person who gets approved through this link, so I’d appreciate your link usage if you decide to apply for the card.

Chase United Explorer Offer

**If you like my blog, check out my new travel consulting site, www.smartflying.us and help spread the word — share it with your friends, employer and anyone you know who is planning a honeymoon soon!

Diary of a Successful Application Round

Like many other bloggers (and most of my friends and family at this point), I apply for a lot of credit cards. So I thought I’d share a real-world example of a recent round of applications…

This week’s round of applications:

On Sunday, after seeking, pondering and weighing the best signup bonuses featured on my favorite blogs and various threads in the Flyertalk credit card forum, I applied for these 6 credit cards:

Chase Intercontinental Hotel Group Visa for 80,000 points after spending $1,000 in 3 months, no annual fee first year

Citi AAdvantage Mastercard for 50,000 points after spending $3,000 in 3 months, no annual fee first year

Barclays US Airways Mastercard for 40,000 points after spending $1, with an $89 annual fee

Wells Fargo Propel World AmEx for 40,000 points after spending $3000 in 3 months, no annual fee first year

Bank of America Alaska Airlines Personal Visa for 25,000 points after spending $1, with a $75 annual fee

Bank of America Alaska Airlines Business Visa for 25,000 points after spending $1, with a $75 annual fee

If all of these were to get approved, I’d be earning 260,000 points/miles for spending $7,003 in 3 months and paying $239 in annual fees.

Normally, about 60-80% of my applications in any given application round get approved, and only a handful get “instant approval”. If you don’t get instantly approved, don’t worry, you can call the reconsideration line right away to get a decision!

This time around, I got instant approval on the Barclays US Airways card and both Bank of America Alaska cards (surprise!). Whenever I apply for the Bank of America card, I always get approved for at least the business one but the personal one only seems possible every 6 months. I’ve been applying and getting approved for the Barclays US Airways card every 6 months for about 2 years now.

For the other ones, I called the reconsideration lines for the respective banks and I didn’t even have to talk my way into anything! They just had to verify some information about me, and then they gave me instant approval over the phone!

So I went 6-for-6 for a whopping 260,000 points, and I’m pretty darn happy about it. For the record, I don’t recommend that you do more than 2-3 applications in one round unless you are an expert and you know all the potential consequences of messing it up (see Credit Cards page and links). Start slowly and build your way up to big application rounds like this.

Warning/Disclaimer: I always err on the side of less applications rather than more, because being greedy can be the death of your credit score, and nobody wants that. There are always more points to be had in a few months, so don’t overdo it.

Good luck folks!

Donate Miles to the Kenyan National Frisbee Team

Dear Readers,
I need your help.
While I’ve been living in Kenya for the last year, I’ve been working hard to grow the sport of Ultimate Frisbee in Kenya. It is a beautiful game that represents the epitome of cross-cultural sportsmanship and pure athleticism.
I am currently organizing the Kenyan National Team’s bid to the World Championships of Beach Ultimate (WCBU 2015) in Dubai. No African team has EVER attended these World Championships since they started in 2007. The last WCBU had 1,100 players from 30 countries, but no teams from Africa.
I have been coaching and motivating for a year now, and we’re rearing to go! But there is one small problem: the tournament costs twice as much as the average Kenyan earns in a year. Not a single Kenyan-citizen player will be able to pay their own way. So we need to raise $10,000 (and lots of airline miles and hotel points) to field a team.
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I know that most of you have lots of miles and points. Hopefully I have helped you get some of them. If you have enough to spare some, this is a great way to give back, and my teammates and I would be truly grateful for your generosity.
I created a website to rally support around the cause: kenyafrisbee.weebly.com/. I would really appreciate your help in sharing Team Kenya’s story with your personal networks (facebook, email, your rich uncle, etc.). If you’re personally in a position to donate airline miles or hotel points, please email me at PointsforGood@gmail.com.
We’re going to need all the help we can get. Please help me make this go viral in the frequent flyer community!
Mike McGuirk

Upper-Deck First Class on a Lufthansa 747

Hands-down, my most amazing flying experience was a 12-hour flight in Lufthansa first class from San Francisco (SFO) to Frankfurt (FRA). As I type right now, I am lying under a mosquito net in an $8 hostel in rural Uganda, so the incredible ridiculousness of this flight is especially lucid.

I spent 67,500 miles and $5.00 on this flight–more than I would ever recommend that anybody spend on such a flight–but I was really swimming in United miles at the time and it was the only transatlantic flight available on miles for my last-minute impulse trip. And it was quite the impulse trip: I booked the flight about 1 hour and 35 minutes before it took off, and had not previously been planning on going to Europe.

I showed up at the plane disheveled, sweaty and crazy-eyed from packing my bags in literally 8 minutes, speeding to the airport, parking, and sprinting to the gate like a madman. When I boarded, I saw the glittering stairway to heaven and wondered what curiosities awaited me in the weird world of elite lavishness.


I bounced upwards into the super-exclusive first-class cabin, and the flight attendant actually said, “I’m not sure you’re in the right place–are you sure you’re sitting up here?” In all honesty, it may have been a fair question given my state. After I whipped out my boarding pass, she apologized profusely and showed me to my seat.

The cabin was very spacious, with only 8 seats (where there could be 72 economy seats (yes, I measured it)), 5 other people occupying those seats, and 4 flight attendants.


My seat welcomed me with the following amenities upon my arrival:

  • A hand-written note from my personal flight attendant and a red rose
  • A fully lie-flat seat with a great entertainment system and, curiously, a bed next to it.
    • I thought it was weird that they would put someone next to me who would be lying down in a bed for the whole flight, and then I realized that maybe the bed was mine too. I thought about asking the stewardess for clarification but I just decided to play it cool. In the end, to my amazement, they were both mine. Why was my seat lie-flat if I also have a bed? Well, why not?


  • A comfortable set of slippers, socks, and pajama bottoms and tops (my everyday pajama pants now)
  • Bose noise-cancelling DJ-style headphones
  • A “Porsche Design” amenity kit (my travel toiletry case now) full of bougie toiletries and flying necessities such as a shoe horn and a hairbrush.

A 747 takes a long time to board. Since first class is the first to board, there is plenty of time for drinks and snacks. That is a big plus that I never considered before experiencing it.

About 15 minutes after takeoff, they gave out menus for dinner, wine and breakfast.


For the starter course, a cart came by with several types of caviar and Grey Goose vodka. And so I had caviar for the first time in my life, and it went well with the ice-cold vodka. All 3 of the other starters looked amazing so I asked if I could have a sampler plate with a little bit of each one of the starters. They must have misunderstood because they brought me regular portions of all 3 starters. They clearly just had way too much food, and they had no problem giving me triple portions because no one else is allowed to eat it except me and my 5 royal bretheren. Not wanting to be rude, but knowing that I was frittering away valuable stomach space, I ate all of them and they were delicious. My favorite was the “Seared Beef Tataki with Green Papaya and Peanut Sauce.”


After the starters, I went to the restroom, changed into my pajamas, and returned to my humble abode. On my walk back, I realized that they had wine, cheese and fruit carts strewn about the cabin, just in case I ever got hungry or thirsty at a time when the 4 flight attendants were occupied with the other 4 passengers.

For the main course, I selected “Poached Lobster Tail and Claw in Saffron Reduction, Simmered Mushrooms, Butternut Squash” and it was deluxe restaurant quality.


Then for dessert I had a cheese plate and chocolate panna cotta. The cheese plate was the worst thing I had on the flight, but it was still eons better than anything you’d get in economy class.


All in all, the dinner service lasted over 2 hours. I was pretty amazed. Then it was time to just chill out, watch a movie, and sample every wine and weird German drink on the menu since I was pretty sure it would be a while before I returned to a top-shelf open bar at 40,000 feet for $5.00.


“Mr. McG, would you like turn-down service?” This question puzzled me, and my mind churned for a few seconds. I had no idea what the this turn-down service thing was… “Sure! Of course, that would be great, thank you.” Life is more exciting when you don’t say no to things, so I took an extreme leap of faith and I did not regret it. Thusly I got the first turn-down service of my life, right in front of my eyes, on an airplane, and believe it or not, it was bar none the best turn-down service I had ever experienced.

I slept well for many hours and when I woke up it was breakfast time. I was really hungry and I ate everything that was placed in front of me (smoked salmon, cheese, croissants, yogurt with fresh fruit, scrambled eggs) and it was all delicious. My cappuccino was especially good.


Before I knew it, we were descending for landing, and I reluctantly prepared myself, mentally and emotionally, to say goodbye to my elitist daydream and interact with dirty normal people again.

As I led the other first-classers off the plane and started up the jetway into the terminal, a Lufthansa agent intercepted me and directed me to the Lufthansa First Class lounge, where I would wait for my connecting flight to Bologna.

The lounge was huge and there were about 10 people inside. My first stop was the cigar lounge because I had to see it to believe it. Dozens of premium cigars in a humidor, all for me, all for free. I smoked 27 cigars in one hour, because why not. In fact that last sentence is false; I had a Cuban cigar and then I walked around to explore. There were showers and nap rooms, but I had time for neither. The bar had more than 80 different types of whiskies, and despite my general avoidance of hard alcohol, I decided I had to dabble. I had a splash of Johnnie Walker Blue, which goes for $190/750ml bottle at BevMo, and a dash of 16-year Scottish single malt that was the most enjoyable whisky of my life.

Soon came the time to catch my connecting flight and I was called over to the lounge exit. To my surprise, the exit led down the stairs and onto the runway, into the open arms of a Porsche Cayenne and a private driver.


Voila, saved yet again from interaction with peons! If I had been forced to walk to my gate through a public terminal, I would have shit a brick; thank god. So I got a private luxury ride whizzing under jumbo jets, dodging cargo ants, all the way to my plane.


I was the last one to board and it seems like the plane might have been waiting for me, because everyone who had just seen me pull up in a Porsche looked at me in awe as I boarded. Who is this character who gets private Porsche rides to planes, they thought, with the Germans’ minds leaning toward Merkel’s son and the Italians’ toward Berlusconi’s boytoy.


So I boarded in business class, flew to Bologna, walked off the plane and left that surreal world behind. It was a heck of an experience and I don’t regret the purchase for a second. I would not spend that many miles on first class every trip, but I think I’ll probably splurge once every 4 to 6 years, depending on how the credit card bonuses keep flowing.

How to Prevent Miles from Expiring

How to keep your miles active

When I hear about people who had lots of miles and then they expired, my heart sinks. Two good friends recently told me about their respective expired miles, and my heart plummeted to the depths of fleeting misery and I lost a small piece of my soul.

People letting their miles expire would not be so sad if it wasn’t so easy to prevent miles from expiring. IT IS RIDICULOUSLY EASY. And considering that each 10,000 United/American/Southwest miles are worth at least $150 (using conservative estimates), you should be willing to put in a few minutes’ work to prevent your miles from expiring!

There are literally hundreds of ways, many of them free and effortless, to prevent miles and points from expiring. In a nutshell, the basic policy for most airlines looks something like this:

“Miles expire after X months of no account activity (or earning)” 

Luckily, there are tons of ways to earn and redeem miles that will reset that expiration clock. I prevented my US Airways miles from expiring by getting a 1-year subscription to Outside Magazine for 800 miles! It would be redundant for me to list all of these tricks here since other bloggers have put lots of effort into this already, so here are some of the most helpful posts:

Daraius’ detailed explanation of each airline’s particular policy and best ways to beat their systems.

The Points Guy’s less detailed (but still helpful) recap

Airfare Watchdog’s “Top 10” ways to prevent miles expiration


Keeping track of your miles

I use AwardWallet.com to keep track of all of my miles and points. You enter your frequent flyer numbers and passwords, and it shows you all of your balances and expiration dates on a one-screen dashboard. A truly awesome and essential tool for anyone juggling multiple airline and hotel rewards accounts. It supports every frequent flyer, hotel and bank rewards program, storing your login info and allowing easy 1-click login to all program websites. However, with Southwest and United you have to manually refresh your point balances, but those two are the only exceptions so they are not too hard to remember.

Lastly, friends don’t let friends’ miles expire. Help a brother out and spread the word about how easy it is to keep them active.

The AMAZING value of 35,000 United miles in Africa (and the Middle East)

*Note: These awards used to cost 25,000 miles before the 2014 devaluation, so some of the screenshots still show 25,000. But they will be 35,000 miles now, which is still a great deal!


Unlocking the value of 35,000 United miles 

17,500 United miles will get you a one-way trip anywhere in Sub-Saharan Africa.

35,000 United miles will get you a round-trip anywhere in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The one-way awards are a great value in itself. For example, Seychelles to Cape Town for 17,500 miles and $30 is a screaming deal. BUT that is still child’s play compared to the ridiculous (and mostly unknown) value in United miles for round-trip awards that I am about to show you. The key to the round-trip awards’ value is United’s more flexible routing rules.

Routing rules for one-way flights = No stopovers and no open jaws allowed.

Routing rules for round-trip flights = 1 stopover and 1 open jaw allowed.

A stopover means you can stop for more than a regular layover (i.e. more than 24 hours) at any point during your journey and then continue on to your final destination. So you can stay as long as you want at TWO destinations instead of just one. This means that you can get HUGE value for 35,000 miles in Africa. Here are some examples:


Example 1: Nairobi –> Walvis Bay, Namibia –> Cape Town –> Nairobi (map of actual routing) for 35,000 miles + $169.60

I actually intend to fly this itinerary because I really want to go to Namibia’s Skeleton Coast and South Africa’s Garden Route. In the screenshot below, you can see that this itinerary would cost $1,421 without miles. With 35,000 miles, it costs $170. So that means that you are using your miles for 3.6 cents per mile (=($1,421-$170)/35,000) which is incredibly good value.


Compare that value of 3.6 cents per mile with the 1 to 2 cents per mile that most United customers are getting out of their miles: 25,000 miles for a domestic US round-trip that would probably cost somewhere between $250 and $500.


Example 2: Nairobi –> Tel Aviv –> Seychelles –> Nairobi (map of actual routing) for 35,000 miles and $114.07

Today I just discovered how to trick United’s award system into giving you a stopover in the Middle East for an African destination. A simple Nairobi-Tel Aviv round trip would be 70,000 miles round-trip. But if I add a side trip to the Seychelles, the system thinks that my final destination is in Sub-Saharan Africa and treats Tel Aviv as a routine stopover. Voila, 35,000 miles instead of 70,000 and a free jaunt to a tropical island in the Indian Ocean. Feast your eyes on the screenshot below.


This redemption yields a whopping 5.6 cents per mile (=($2,071-$114)/35,000) which is downright jaw-dropping even for the most expert of miles nerds.


Example 3: Nairobi –> Accra –> Dubai –> Nairobi (map of actual route here) for 35,000 miles and $163.20

Same concept as previous example; see screenshot below.



How does one search for and book award itineraries like this? 

Go to united.com and look for the box on the left-hand side of the page that looks like this:

United4-Home page menu

Then, if you are doing a simple one-way or round-trip with one destination, just tick the appropriate box and be sure to select “Award Travel” at the bottom before clicking Search. When the results appear, always search for the green and yellow days on the calendar, which mean that 17,500-mile “saver” flights are available. Many flights will not have the lowest level award prices available. Don’t buy those; just look for other dates.

If you want to try a round-trip with a stopover like I have done in the examples above, click “Multiple Destinations” at the top and it will bring you to a page where you can add as many one-ways as you’d like and put them together. To get the 35,000 mile price, you will need to put together a 3-flight itinerary like this where BBB and CCC are either both in Sub-Saharan Africa or one is in Sub-Saharan Africa and one is in the Middle East (which United generally defines as Egypt to Afghanistan).




For help on your destination and routing possibilities, check out the Star Alliance Route Map. Theoretically, any route displayed there should be bookable with United miles, but there are some flights that just never have award space available. You will most likely have to route through Addis Ababa or Johannesburg no matter where you are going, since Star Alliance’s two main African carriers are Ethiopian Airlines and South African Airways.


How does one get United miles?

1. Fly United or Star Alliance airlines and credit the flight miles to your United MileagePlus account.

2. Apply for the Chase United Explorer credit card for 50,000 miles. There are actually 2 United cards–the personal and the business versions, so you can get 100,000 miles pretty quickly. But, as always, read this guide before applying for any cards.

Note: Do not settle for the 30,000-mile credit card offer–everyone can get the 50,000 offer (if you really can’t access it with the link above, email me and I can help).



1. If you have United miles and you are living in Africa, redeem them to explore the continent because you will never find a better value for your miles than this.

2. If you are living in Africa and don’t have United miles, get them.

3. If you want my help in getting United miles and/or booking awards like this, email me at pointsforgood@gmail.com

Fly from USA to Nairobi, Kenya for $72

Step-by-step: How to fly from the USA to Nairobi (NBO) on miles for just $72

I’ll just start with this screenshot:

I just moved to Kenya, and many people have asked me how they can earn and use miles to visit. This will be a (very long) comprehensive post detailing how to rack up the miles and fly to Kenya. If done right, you can get to Kenya with less than 10 hours of work and $72. If you can beat that, well done! This process doesn’t happen instantly—it takes at least 6 months from now until the day you can get your flights. You need to apply for cards, earn the miles, and probably redeem them a few months in advance, so you should start ASAP if you’re serious about it.


There are three main ways to get to Kenya with miles:

Option 1: 80,000 United Airlines miles and $72-150.

Option 2: 80,000-100,000 Alaska Airlines miles and $325-500.

Option 3: 75,000 American Airlines miles (and US Airways miles since they are merging) and $150-700.

*These prices are round-trip, but you can do one way with each option for half the price, so mix-and-match is possible.


Within each of these options, there are two main steps necessary to make this happen:

  1. Earn the miles
    1. Apply for credit cards with signup bonuses
    2. Meet the minimum spending requirement for each card
    3. Wait for your miles to be credited into your account
  2. Redeem the miles
    1. Know your routing options
    2. Search for award flight availability
    3. Book award flights

I will explain these steps in detail for all three options listed above, as they are different for each airline and credit card. All of my examples will be from San Francisco (SFO) since that is where most of my readers are based, but these tools can be applied to go anywhere from anywhere in the US.

**DISCLAIMER: Before applying to any credit cards for their benefits, know the risks and learn how to avoid the potential pitfalls. Start by reading the Credit Cards page, including the links at the bottom. Don’t be afraid of credit cards; be informed.**


Option 1: 80,000 United Airlines miles and $72-150.

  1. Earn the miles
    1. Apply for credit cards with signup bonuses. You need 80,000 miles, so you can get any two of the three cards below and you’ll be set. The Ink Bold and Ink Plus are business cards, which are totally attainable even if you don’t have a formal business. Check out this post on how to legally apply for a business card without legally owning a business. Chase generally allows you to get 1 personal and 1 business card every 3 months, but sometimes they will even allow you to get 2 personal cards on the same day. If you want to spread your spending out, you should get the United Explorer first, and then 95 days later, get one of the others below.
        • 50,000 miles after $2,000 minimum spend in 3 months; annual fee waived first year. This offer is not generally publicly available (it is only advertised to United elite status members), so there is an extra step to get the full 50,000 miles. Just apply for the 30,000-mile offer and then send Chase a secure online message (from your online account when you log into chase.com) saying: “Hello, I recently applied for the United Explorer card but I saw a better offer for 50,000 miles. Can you please match my application with that offer? Thank you.” I have never heard of this method failing; Chase is very good about matching offers.
        • 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (transferable 1:1 to United miles) after $5,000 minimum spend in 3 months; annual fee waived first year.
        • 40,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (transferable 1:1 to United miles) after $3,000 minimum spend in 3 months; annual fee waived first year.
    2. Meet the minimum spending requirement for each card. These Chase cards all have pretty high minimum spends, so unless you are a high roller (or a fully-grown middle-class adult with normal bills), you’ll probably want to set up your Amazon payment account before you get the cards.
      • Amazon Payments is great. It is like Paypal but without fees (full explanation here). You can send someone $1000/month and they can send you $1000/month, and then you each transfer the $1000 that you received into your linked bank account, and then pay the credit card off with that money that is now back in your bank account. It is a hermetic cycle of awesomeness for meeting minimum spends. Just don’t send money to yourself with two separate accounts—they’ll shut you down. The $1000/month rule is done by calendar month. So in the 33 days from August 30 to October 2, you could actually rack up $3,000 in spending. 
      • If you’re desperately trying to meet the last bit of minimum spend, you can buy all-purpose Visa gift cards at CVS/Walgreens with your credit card.
      • Offer to pay for stuff at work and get reimbursed.
      • See some other ideas on how to meet minimum spending requirements here.
    3. Wait for your miles to be credited into your account
      • Miles generally post within 4-8 weeks after you have completed the minimum spend. If you’re worried, just call the number on the back of your credit card and ask the bank when they will transfer the miles into your frequent flyer account.
      • Transfer points from Chase Ultimate Rewards points into United MileagePlus miles
        • Log into the Ultimate Rewards website and look for the option to transfer points. You will need your United MileagePlus number to make the transfer, and you can only transfer into your account. The transfer happens instantly at a 1:1 ratio, and there are no fees to transfer.
  2. Redeem the miles
    1. Know your routing options
      • One-way awards are allowed and bookable for 40,000 miles, so you could do one way with United miles and then the other leg with another one of the options below.
      • On international round-trip flights, United allows one stopover and one open-jaw. The “stopover” means you could spend a few days or a few weeks in Paris, Istanbul, Rome, Zurich, Cairo, or any other logical stopover point on your way over to (or back from) Kenya. The “open jaw” means you can either fly back from a different African city or back to a different US city.
      • The best routings from the West Coast using United miles are:
        • SFO-ZRH-NBO on Swiss
        • SFO-IAD-ADD-NBO on United and Ethiopian
        • SFO-JFK-CAI-NBO on United and Egypt Air
        • LAX-IST-NBO on Turkish
    2. Search for award flight availability
      • United has a very convenient online award flight search tool. On the homepage of United.com, you can search for flights, and just make sure you click the “Award Travel” button below the dates and above the search button.
        • Make sure you go for “Saver” award availability which is indicated on the calendar by yellow and green shading, and which is shown in the search results as the left-most blue button. Each one-way between the US and Africa should be 40,000 miles for a total of 80,000 round-trip. Using double miles for non-“Saver” flights is a travesty—email me if you are ever contemplating such a rash decision and I’ll help you through it.
        • The default number of search results is 25 itineraries, but if you want to change to 50, click on “Advanced Search” and click the option to display up to 50 itineraries.
    3. Book award flights
      • Check out the screenshot at the top of this post for an example of what your final product should generally look like (80,000 miles) when you’re ready to book.
      • United’s online system will book straightforward itineraries with no problem. And if you’re going to get creative with a stopover and/or open jaw, it will generally calculate the correct price but sometimes it has glitches. If you’re having trouble, you can always call United’s customer service line to check availability and book flights.


Option 2: 80,000-100,000 Alaska Airlines miles and $325-500 ($225-300 in credit card fees and $100-200 in award taxes/fees).

  1. Earn the miles
    1. Apply for credit cards with signup bonuses. You will need 80-100,000 miles for this option. Each card comes with a 25,000-mile signup bonus, which means you will need at least three and probably four of these cards, both of which are issued by Bank of America. BofA generally allows one personal and one business card every 90 days, and there is a very specific best practice for getting these cards. On Day 1, apply for one business and one personal. Spend at least $1 on each card. On Day 95, apply for both cards again and spend at least $1 on each card.
      • Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Personal Card by Bank of America
        • 25,000 miles after spending $1. The $75 annual fee is NOT waived.
      • Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Business Card by Bank of America
        • 25,000 miles after spending $1. The $75 annual fee is NOT waived.
    2. Meet the minimum spending requirement for each card
      • Wendy’s $99-cent frosties are a superb option for meeting this minimum spend. However, if you are in a state that does not charge sales tax, you are out of luck.
    3. Wait for your miles to be credited into your account.
      • Miles generally post within 4-8 weeks after you have completed the minimum spend. If you’re worried, just call the number on the back of your credit card and ask the bank when they will transfer the miles into your frequent flyer account.
  2. Redeem the miles
    1. Know your routing options
      • One-way awards are available for half the miles, so you can do one way with Alaska miles and the other leg with one of the other airlines discussed here.
      • Alaska Airlines allows one stopover per international round-trip ticket, which means you could spend a few days or a few weeks in Amsterdam or Dubai on your way over to (or back from) Kenya.
    2. Search for award flight availability
      • Alaska has a great online search tool for partner award availability. Alaska miles can be used with several partners who fly into Nairobi: KLM, Emirates, and British Airways (BA). BA charges fuel surcharges which will cost you about $700 round trip so I’m just going to discard it as an option. KLM and Emirates don’t charge fuel surcharges, so their total round-trip taxes should be less than $200.
      • Here are your partner redemption options with routings and prices:
        • KLM: SFO-AMS-NBO for 80,000 miles + $100ish
        • Emirates: SFO-Dubai (DXB)-NBO for 95,000 miles + $86.40
    3. Book award flights
      • These should all be bookable online, but if you’re having trouble with complex itineraries with stopovers and such, you can always call Alaska’s customer service line to check availability and book flights.
      • Here is a screenshot of an Emirates award booked with Alaska miles:

Alaska Emirates


Option 3: 75,000 American Airlines miles (and US Airways miles since they are merging) and $150-700.

  1. Earn the miles
    1. Apply for credit cards with signup bonuses. I did a post about these cards a few months ago. The cards below are issued by Barclays and Citi. Barclays allows one personal and one business application every 6 months. And they are probably going to discontinue these cards in mid- to late 2013 as the AA-US merger advances. Citi allows one personal AAdvantage card application every 18 months, but you can re-apply for a new AAdvantage business card every 6 months. I generally encourage people to apply for both the AAdvantage personal and business cards on the same day, and they’ll be set for a while. US Airways and American Airlines are probably merging their frequent flyer programs in late 2013 or early 2014, so these miles will be one and the same sometime soon. You can mix and match these cards however you want to get your grand total of 75,000 miles. The offers below are constantly changing, so go here for the latest and best application links.
      • US Airways Dividend Miles Premier World (or Platinum) Personal Mastercard by Barclays Bank
        • 35-40,000 miles after spending $1-750; annual fee waived first year. 
      • US Airways Dividend Miles Business Mastercard by Barclays Bank
        • 35-40,000 miles after spending $1-750; annual fee waived first year.
      • American Airlines AAdvantage Platinum Select Personal Mastercard by Citi
        • 40-50,000 miles after spending $2,500-3,000; annual fee waived first year.
      • American Airlines AAdvantage Platinum Select Business Mastercard by Citi
        • 40,000 miles after spending $3,000; annual fee waived first year.
    2. Meet the minimum spending requirement for each card. These Citi cards all have pretty high minimum spends, so you may want to set up your Amazon payment account before you get the cards.
      • Amazon Payments is great. It is like Paypal but without fees (full explanation here). You can send someone $1000/month and they can send you $1000/month, and then you each transfer the $1000 that you received into your linked bank account, and then pay the credit card off with that money that is now back in your bank account. It is a hermetic cycle of awesomeness for meeting minimum spends. Just don’t send money to yourself with two separate accounts—they’ll shut you down. The $1000/month rule is done by calendar month. So in the 33 days from August 30 to October 2, you could actually rack up $3,000 in spending.
      • If you’re desperately trying to meet the last bit of minimum spend, you can buy all-purpose Visa gift cards at CVS/Walgreens with your credit card.
      • Offer to pay for stuff at work and get reimbursed.
      • See some other ideas on how to meet minimum spending requirements here.
    3. Wait for your miles to be credited into your account
      • Miles generally post within 4-8 weeks after you have completed the minimum spend. If you’re worried, just call the number on the back of your credit card and ask the bank when they will transfer the miles into your frequent flyer account.
      • I don’t know exactly know what the merging process will entail, but it is likely that in the next 6 months American Airlines and US Airways miles will be exchangeable or maybe even merged completely into the same mileage currency.
  2. Redeem the miles
    1. Know your routing options
      • One-ways are permitted for half the round-trip price. American allows one stopover per one-way ticket in the “gateway city” which is the transit city from/to the US from/to Europe. This is good if you want to stop and visit the East coast, or also if you want to tack on a free one-way (if you can return to the US at your final destination). For example, for 37,500 miles you can fly NBO-LHR-SFO. But you can also do NBO-LHR-SFO (stopover for 6 months) and then a SFO-Hawaii one-way whenever you decide you want a Hawaiian vacation in the next 365 days (and can find “MileSAAver” availability). This free one-way trick can be done to anywhere in the US or Canada.
      • More details on free one-ways on AAdvantage miles here, and see the screenshot below for an example.
    2. Search for award flight availability
      • American miles can be redeemed for travel with two of their partner airlines who fly into Nairobi: British Airways and Etihad Airways, based out of Abu Dhabi (AUH). BA has the best routing, SFO-LHR-NBO, but once again, their fuel surcharges of about $650 round trip make them a last resort option. Then again, the convenience of a one-stop flight and a free one-way anywhere in the US or Hawaii from SFO might be worth the extra $500 to some people.
      • To search for BA availability on AA.com, use the homepage search function but make sure to tick the box for “Redeem Miles.” The cheapest 37,500-mile one-way flights will be marked in bright green on the calendar and called “MilesAAver”.
      • Here are a few sample routings using Etihad to get to Nairobi:
        • SFO-JFK on American; JFK-AUH on Etihad; AUH-NBO on Etihad
        • SFO-DUS on Air Berlin; DUS-AUH on Air Berlin; AUH-NBO on Etihad
    3. Book award flights
      • BA award flights, as well as stopovers, can be searched and booked on AA.com. Unfortunately, Etihad award flights can only be found by calling AAdvantage reservations at 1-800-882-8880.
      • Here is an example of a crafty routing with a free one-way tacked on that makes the BA fuel surcharges easier to stomach:

AA 638


Wow, that was exhausting. Good luck, and let me know if you have any questions!

HUCA: My favorite acronym in the world

The Art of HUCA

Traveling for free, especially the steps leading up to it (stocking up points and making reservations), often requires a good amount of time spent on the phone. Despite the fact that many plans can be made online, sometimes you need pick up the phone to:

There is always a person on the other line who is making the decisions. Much of the time, those decisions are set in stone, bound by the rules of the bank, airline or hotel. But sometimes there are situations where it is obvious that the phone representative has the power to either:

  1. Give you what you want, or
  2. Not give you what you want

In these situations, if #2 happens but you think #1 was possible and the rep was just not being cool with you, then you need to follow up on your hunch. You can’t let one bad-mood rep get you down. Countless times I have been shot down for a credit card reconsideration or seat/room upgrade or whatever, and then instead of taking that as the final verdict, I call on the wisdom of my favorite acronym. WWJD? Nope, but very close because we all know JWD this any day. My favorite acronym is actually HUCA: Hang Up, Call Again.

Hopefully when you call back, you’ll get another person who is having a better day. Before you even ask him/her for anything, ask the rep how they are doing and just be super nice (not many people are actually nice to them) so that they will go the extra mile for you and do everything in their power to get you that upgrade or credit card. This has worked for me sooooo many times. It pays to be nice and it pays even more to be persistent. If you do need to HUCA, don’t be mean about it. You’ll never talk to them again, true, but I believe in a little thing called karma. At least come up with an excuse that doesn’t make them feel bad, aka don’t just hang up in their face. Sometimes when you call back, they will say, “oh well I see that you just talked to a customer service rep; what happened?” In this case, just explain that you got inadvertently disconnected somehow.

So then what if the second rep denies you too? HUCA if you really think there is a chance of doing better. One time I wanted to book a Star Alliance flight with my US Airways miles and I knew with 99% certainty that there was availability on a particular Star Alliance flight because United’s site was showing availability. I must have HUCA’ed 4-5 times before I got an agent who was able to book my award flights properly. I HUCA’ed last weekend to get a sweet upgrade at the San Francisco Grand Hyatt.

Moving beyond the frequent flyer realm, the wisdom of HUCA can solve most of life’s problems. Fired? HUCA. Dumped? HUCA. Pneumonia? HUCA. Feeling down? Listen to the “HUCA Chaka” song and sing along with David Hasselhoff: