Tag Archives: Award Travel

Don’t Mess With Agricultural Inspection at the Airport

Reentering the country can be hard, but you don’t have to make it as hard as I did this past week. I had an interesting first time experience coming back to the states that not only served as a reminder, but I think is also worth sharing with you all.

First a few facts. I was clearing customs and exiting in Miami, from having flown in from Europe. It’s not at all an airport I’m familiar with. Also, as is my habit, I usually take a few pieces of fruit with me in my carry-on, in case there are delays or I get hungry after deplaning. I don’t generally check the US Customs and Agriculture rules regarding which country I’m flying from and which, if any, fruits/vegetables are allowed or not allowed. And I usually remember to leave the fruit on the plane if I think it will be an agricultural issue.

My Previous Experience

Prior to this week, even with all the flying I do each year, I only had one experience with fruit and clearing agriculture inspection. A few years ago when the Global Entry program was just getting started, a friend and I were coming in to Hawaii from French Polynesia. When we got close to the baggage claim carousel he realized he had an apple with him. He decided to eat it rather than declare it. As we were waiting for baggage an officer approached us. We received some threats regarding a mark on his passport and a lecture regarding the laws and how we should know better given our Global Entry privilege. In the end, perhaps because he is Canadian, he was issued a warning rather than a fine, and that was the end of it.

Remembering this incident, and having forgotten to leave my fruit behind on the plane, when I got to the Global Entry window my thinking was that I’d just toss my fruit in the garbage. As I handed the woman my passport I told her I had an apple and a banana and was going to toss them in the garbage. She promptly told me I couldn’t do that, filled out a form and told me to wait by the side of the counter and that someone from agriculture would come get me.

Oops. I had no idea what any of this meant, or what would happen next, and was just hoping it would all go quickly so I could get on with my day.

After a few minutes a security guy came to fetch me and his job was to escort me to my next stop, which he said would be agriculture. But it was not. My next stop was baggage claim BUT on the opposite side of the carousel and walled off from the general waiting area where all the other passengers were. The first thing I noticed is that there were NO toilets on this side of the building. And I was the only passenger. This area had a separate guard who I engaged in friendly chit-chat, but who of course would not let me use the toilet on the other side.

What Happens If You Try and Sneak Fruit Through

I asked the agent about people who do try to come in with fruit in their bags. I wondered what usually happens. He said the patrol dogs sniff every bag and everyone. The fine is hundreds of dollars and marks you for life with customs and agriculture. I did observe the dogs being used even at this very UNbusy time of day. Given it was the middle of the afternoon, there were no other incoming flights so perhaps this all wouldn’t take too long. Finally my bags arrived. My next stop was finally agriculture inspection.

Whew, no one was there but me. The agents took my baggie and fruit, inspected all my bags thoroughly (at this point who’s going to hold anything back?). Given that there were six guys at the desks ready to process people, I think they were happy to have a customer! They did react well to my jokes and pleas to not take my chocolate!

I asked the agent a few questions and found out two interesting things. One was that if you leave the states with an apple (or piece of fruit) and return with that fruit and it is still labeled and clearly from the states, you can enter with it. Interesting, no? Also, since the agricultural rules as to what’s allowed and from where do change quite often, the inspectors don’t keep up with them. They tend to know the generalities and look up what they need to know more specifically.

Finally my bags were inspected and the inspector said, “Welcome home.” Though my experience was fairly smooth and went as quickly as these situations can go, I imagine there are times when the this could be a slow, long, and frustrating experience.

Hope this recounting of my experience serves as a reminder to pay attention to what you’re bringing through agriculture and customs when you enter the states. I’d be curious to know if I’m the rare traveler who has had this happen or has this happened to you?

Buy Miles/Points Promos: United 70% Bonus, IHG 100% Bonus, American 42.5K Bonus & Choice Hotels 40% Bonus

Good afternoon everyone.  I was working on my Buy Miles & Points Page and found a few new offers.  Always check the math to make sure that buying miles & points makes sense for you.  Do not buy miles & points speculatively unless you have a use in mind.  With that said, I have 4 promos to share with you.  First up, United Airlines has a tiered bonus where you can get up to a 70% bonus on United Airlines miles.  This offer expires on October 16.

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Is Overtourism Ruining Countries?

Is overtourism ruining countries? It’s an interesting question that some countries, particularly Japan, are facing right now. I actually had no idea tourism in Japan was booming. My own relationship with Japan started some 30 years ago. I went there multiple times to attend a Japanese art and culture program. Back then when I traveled outside of the major Japanese cities, many Japanese people had never seen an American before. Continue reading

I Need Restaurant / Activity Recommendations for Santa Cruz

Good afternoon everyone.  This coming Monday is Columbus Day and I am taking my girlfriend to Santa Cruz for the long weekend.  I’ve been to Santa Cruz a handful of times, but not in the last couple of years, and not with my girlfriend. I did some research on hotel options in Santa Cruz, but there are not a ton of great options.  There are a handful of Marriott properties charging 35K Marriott points / night, but I decided to stay at the Hyatt Place Santa Cruz instead. Paid rates are $300+ as of today (they were a little cheaper a week ago), but the points rate is a bargain, by comparison.

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Got Citi Thank You Points? Here’s How to Book Flights!

Turns out I’ve accumulated a rather large stash of Citi Thank You Points, and have recently decided to start spending them on flights. I don’t put much spend on my Citi Prestige Credit Card EXCEPT for using the card at hotels for the 4th night free hotel benefit. Since I’ve been using that perk for a few years now, I was pleasantly surprised when I logged into my Citi Thank You account and saw my accumulated total of Citi Thank You Points.

Citi Thank You Points are earned through credit cards issued by Citibank and can be redeemed for a variety of rewards. I’ve looked at using points at hotels, but I’ve decided that redeeming them for flights makes more sense. This meant I had to learn to use the site to book flights. When I learn something new, I like to share it with you all too, so this post focuses on redeeming Citi Thank You Points for flights.

I consider Citi Thank You Points to be almost the same as cash. I say almost because, on some occasions, tickets might cost slightly less on sites like Kayak, Expedia, or Travelocity. It’s always good to check the other OTAs to compare prices. And remember, using your Citi Thank You Points does earn you frequent flyer miles for the tickets you book, so I’ll show you below how to filter for specific airlines.

How much are Citi Thank You Points worth?

The value of Citi Thank You Points toward flights depends on which Citi credit cards you have:

  • Citi Thank You Credit Card & Citi Thank You Preferred Credit Card: 1 cent per point
  • Citi Thank You Premier Credit Card: 1.25 cents per point
  • Citi Prestige Credit Card: 1.25 cents per point

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