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