Category Archives: Activities

Bucket List Activity – Fly a Helicopter (through Chase Ultimate Rewards Mall)

This is a guest post written by frequent contributor B.Positive.

“Learn to Fly a Helicopter” Experience from (via Chase Ultimate Rewards Mall)

Happy October!

If you’re a Chase customer and are looking for ideas for adrenaline filled activities, the Chase Ultimate Rewards Mall (accessed through my Chase Freedom card) has an Experiences section which you can browse through. I found the “Learn to Fly a Helicopter” in the aviation section of the rewards mall and decided to give it a go. Here’s how it went:


I was bored at work and felt like my life was stuck in a rut so I decided to look for things to fill the big void in my life. Being a Chase Freedom credit card holder since early 2010 and have been accruing points – enough points to cause me to wander onto the Ultimate Rewards Mall to see what goods, services, and/or experiences I could consume to help me feel less miserable about my life. That’s when I stumbled across the “Experiences” section of the Ultimate Rewards website and found plenty of awesome activities to purchase using points, cash, or to bid on (for those experiences that are being auctioned off).

I’ve never flown a helicopter before and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so. An hour of flying a helicopter for 25,900 points or $259?  Considering how expensive maintaining, insuring, and renting a pilot to fly a helicopter with you, I considered this to be a fair price and took the bait. (Update – the 1 hour flight price has been increased to $305 on Cloud 9 living’s webite as of 10/18/2012).

An important note on purchasing Ultimate Rewards: The rewards mall doesn’t give you any kind of points leverage when purchasing goods or experience straight through the rewards mall. The points redemption rate of this experience was $0.01/point. You might as well save your points to transfer to airline miles for cheaper flights (refer to marZ’s articles on the value of leveraging points to purchase flights for cheap).

Once I signed up for the flight lesson via the ultimate rewards mall for a lesson at the Long Beach Airport (this location no longer seems available as of 10/18/2012), I received a confirmation email and a nice receipt enclosed in its own case from Cloud 9 Living. (I didn’t actually know what company I was paying for the experience until after the experience was booked – a good move on Chase’s part to avoid having consumers go straight to the retailer). The experience with Cloud 9 was pleasant overall and I’d recommend going straight to Cloud 9 Living to look for and book experiences unless you’re adamant about spending points at a terrible redemption rate. (To improve your redemption rate, try gift card churning or buying gift cards at 5 points per dollar on the Chase Ink card before buying this experience).

Getting to the Airport and Orientation

I arrived at the airport on the day of my lesson and actually had a very difficult time finding the person I was supposed to contact for my flight. At the airport, there was a giant hangar with no sign out front to tell me where to go. This experience really isn’t advertised (I later find out that these “experiences” are done as a promotional offer at cost to the flight company to help promote awareness of the company and to encourage customers who get serious about learning to fly to sign up for private lessons there).

After running around and panicking I finally find my instructor and get our 30 minute class portion started.

The instructional portion revolves around introducing me to the basic mechanics of how and why a helicopter is able to fly and to provide me with the layout of the controls and how they affect the helicopter’s ride. Bottom line is, a helicopter is an inherently unstable aircraft (let go of the controls and you will crash and burn) and requires constant attention to ensure that the helicopter is on course and not getting itself into a dangerous situation.

After a (very) brief introduction to the instruments and controls, we head out to the runway to meet our ride (a 2-seater Robinson 22). The cabin was very cozy – imagine sitting in a cramped Mazda Miata (if you have never been in one, imagine sitting in the middle seat between two sumo wrestlers). The instructor filled the fuel tank, did the systems check, and took off from the airport before handing the controls over.

Flying a helicopter. For Reals.

After flying  a safe distance from the airport, the instructor handed me the controls. This being the first time flying a helicopter, it’s safe to say I experienced a massive sensory and information overload. It feels like driving a car for the first time – you’re so worried about the road, your speed, and other cars that you forget that your blinkers are on, your emergency lights were accidentally pushed, and you’re worried that your sweat soaked palms are going to slip off of the steering wheel and cause you to veer  into a pole. It’s kind of like that except that you are 1000 feet in the air and have to also worry about wind speed, yaw (helicopter angle), elevation changes, and many more things that affect the aircraft’s behavior in the air.

Thankfully, with the help of the experienced instructor who seems to keep his cool no matter how terribly I’m directing the flying Miata.

View of PCH around Palos Verdes

The hour long helicopter ride afforded us the opportunity to head out of Long Beach with a sweeping loop around Redondo, Palos Verdes, and then back to the airport. The views were even more incredible provided the fact that I was seeing the California coast from a very unique perspective.

Back at the airport, I witnessed (tried not to pee my pants while seeing) an emergency landing maneuver that felt more like the drop of a roller coaster and was able to practice hovering a few feet off of the ground. Hovering may look easy, but I can assure you it is not. Again, because of the sensory overload, I struggled to get the Robinson from burying its rotors into the ground or keeping the helicopter level, straight, or even at the same height. (This is why helicopter training is so important. And expensive ~$19,000 to get licensed).

Final Thoughts

Overall, this was an amazing experienced referred to by Chase and provided by Cloud 9 Living. I’m incredibly glad I got this off of my bucket list and has only strengthened my desire to become  a pilot. The freedom, exhilaration  and the experience of flying is like no other. I found this experience to be totally worth the price (don’t pay in points) and would recommend this to ALL of our readers interested in flying.

Until next time,


P.S. The GoPro Hero3 is out. Not only has their cameras gotten better but so has their commercials. I want to go do everything they’re doing in this video!


San Diego: Things to do and eat

Thanks to marZ’s detailed post on the logistics, lodgings, and points, I’ll do my best not to cover the same points. Let’s cover this weekend in a chronological fashion starting with Sunday. The trip covers our activities from Sunday morning through Tuesday afternoon (our return).

Sunday: (Hungry Bear Sub Shop, SD Safari Park, Julian County)

10 a.m. take-off. I get a range of about 360 miles to the tank and did not have to refuel for the entire trip, making the traveling much more wallet friendly than flying. Before getting to the zoo (about 1.5 hours SE of the O.C. when driving like a fugitive), we stopped by Hungry Bear Sub Shop (4.5 stars out of 227 reviews on Yelp as of 7/14/12) and got this:

Hungry Bear Sub Shop - BBQ Steak Sandwich

BBQ Steak Sandwich. It’s like a Subway Steak and Cheese on steroids.

Most of our food places are found on Yelp on the way and this was our Sunday’ lucky winner. The place lives up to it’s Yelp hype and the only complaint I have is that the place smells like burnt steak and toilets. Needless to say, we ate outside.  A short drive later and we were at the SD Safari Park.

Here’s a few interesting things I got to do at the park:

SD Safari Park - Cheetah Sign

SD Safari Park - Marble Earth Globe

We watched 5 year old take control of the world.

Visiting the San Diego Safari Park (which is in ESCONDIDO, not San Diego) was fun and a different experience from going to the San Diego Zoo. As imagined, the part is much more open and the layout of the park is designed to give priority to the animal’s living requirements rather than maximizing the animal-per-space ratio to give visitors’ the most bang for their buck. This picture below should show how spacious the park really is (kidding. kind of.)

SD Safari Park

Look how spacious the park was!

Although the San Diego Zoo is bigger with a wider selection of animals, I’d definitely check out their Cheetah runs (5:30 p.m.) and take a tram tour of most of the park. The tram is the big attraction and you see things like…

SD Safari Park - Giraffes


…and you’ll see other stuff. If you shell out a little more, you can go on the truck tour that takes you right next to these giraffes and probably let’s you call it names. And feed it. SD Safari Park overall is worth going to at least once. It’s kind of out of the way, but it makes a great opportunity for you to go try apple pie from Julian county. It was good, but not something to go back for (since they sell these at albertson’s in SD).

Julian County - Apple Pie.

They also sell this at some alberton’s grocery stores in SD.


That was it for Sunday. Went to the hotel, paid for parking ($15/day at the parking structure literally across from the SD Westin on 400 Broadway) and then watched a TON of TV. No pictures of the hotel room unfortunately. I’ll remember that for next time.

Monday: (Kayaking in La Jolla, Hash House, Neighborhood)

Ate this for brunch:

marZ's brunch - Hash House Agogo

marZ’s brunch. French toast, Eggs, Potato wedges, and stuff.
Note: Hash House serving size for 1 person feeds 2 – 2.5 people..

Every time I go to hash house, I always get too much food. After this, we went up to La Jolla to catch the OEX Dive & Kayak tour for the 7 caves kayak tour. Note that I’ve done the 7 caves tour with the competing La Jolla Bike and Kayak Tour which is located right down the same street the previous month. This time, the waves were calm and we were actually allowed to go into the caves which was cool, but underwhelming. If you do this tour and don’ t get to go in, La Jolla Bike and Kayak will give you a voucher for a free walk in tour to the 7 caves which is as good. Funny story – after we got out of the water, we noticed a couple news vans going to the beach and later discovered that there was a 14-foot great white shark near this beach AT THE TIME WE WERE KAYAKING. Omg, if I knew this was coming to find some lunch (me), I would’ve pooped my pants. (link:

After this, we found Neighborhood on Yelp and went for a test drive..of food. The meal consisted of a mission viejo hefeweizen, spicy mac and cheese, and STEAK FRITES. Let me recount the details in order. Hefeweizen – good, Mac n’ cheese – overrated (save your $ and don’t get this), and STEAK FRITES! The steak frites are like carne asada fries with guacamole, except the fries are sweet potatoe fries. I’d go back to SD just for this dish (and maybe to say hi to the great white).  It was that good. The lighting was horrible so I didn’t end up getting any worthy pictures of this amazing dish. AMAZING! After that, ralph’s,  hotel, sleep, rinse and repeat.

Tuesday (Phil’s BBQ, Balboa Park):

I learned from my last SD trip that Phil’s is closed on Mondays. this is what we ordered:

Phil's BBQ

Turkey Burger – bland, dry, and gross.

Phil's BBQ - Beef Ribs
Beef ribs and veggies.

A tip for the imaginary readers: If you go to a place known for its ribs, don’t get the burger. (So much for being adventurous). For those who’ve had Lucille’s in long beach and haven’t had Phil’s BBQ – you aren’t missing a whole bunch.

To wrap the trip up, a short stop at Balboa Park where everything worth seeing (and those not worth seeing) costs money. I did touristy things like:

Balboa Park - Lily

Took a picture of a water lily.

Balboa Park - botany guest sheet
saw an interesting entry from a Dublin tourist. Look at the writing – it looks medieval.

and last but not least…

Balboa Park - jump shot (me)

Acted like a tourist.

All in all, a fun weekend using minimum $$ and maximum points (refer to marZ’s article for the points). Let’s hope for more entries, imaginary readers. Yay!


p.s. Wanted to leave you with a bit of inspiration. Be positive.