December 22, 2014

Video of A350s Flying in Formation

Airbus is getting pretty close to putting the A350 into production.  In fact, Qatar Airways will be taking delivery of the very first A350 today!

I just saw this video over the weekend (Thanks Lucky!).  As a promotion for the launch of the A350, Airbus put together an "airshow" of sorts with five A350s flying in formation.  Keep in mind these aren't fighter jets (i.e. Blue Angels) but massive, wide-body commercial airliners.

I definitely prefer Boeing (if it ain't Boeing, I ain't going) but will make an exception for the A350.  The A380 is pretty sweet as well.  Anyway...this video is just awesome. 

I would love to see something like this in person although the video captures the background of how they put it together which is pretty neat.


December 21, 2014

Pickup an Amazon Kindle for $29

I usually bring two "real" books for each longhaul trip.  Sometimes I'll throw in a travel book which makes three.  I'll typically ONLY finish one of the books but I like having more than one option.  That said, bringing multiple books eats up a lot of space in my carryon and adds some unnecessary weight.  So replacing "real" books with an e-reader makes a ton of sense.

I've looked at getting an Amazon Kindle a few times but for whatever reason never pulled the trigger.  Today, Staples is selling Kindles for $59 with a $30 Visa Gift Card.  That drops the effective price to $29.  That was good enough for I bought one this morning.  I went through the Chase Ultimate Rewards shopping portal (2x points) and used my Chase Ink card (5x points at office supply stores) to earn an additional 420 Ultimate Rewards points.  I value those points at about $8 so the Kindle was really about $20.  What a deal.

A great last minute holiday gift for friends, family, or yourself.

December 16, 2014

2014 Year in Review: Hotels

I recently posted about my 2014 year in flight.  You can also read about my 2013 hotel stays here.

In 2014, We stayed in really great hotels although didn't receive as many "upgrades" as in prior years.  I'll end the year with ended the year with 57 total nights (I was at 55 last year) across Starwood, Hyatt, Hilton, IHG, and independent brands.  Interesting to note that 5 of our stays and 13 of our nights were at independent properties where we were unable to earn/burn points.

None of the nights were business travel although 10 of the "nights" were credit from the Starwood American Express cards and two additional nights were "mistakes" credits.  So I actually stayed in hotels 45 nights during 2014.  I will be dropping from Starwood Platinum to Gold (lifetime) which I'm okay with.

December 15, 2014

Chase Hyatt Credit Card Rocks

One of the best cards from Chase that I have yet to write about is the Hyatt Credit Card.  Over the last couple of years, I've become a big Hyatt fan after awesome stays at the Park Hyatt in Istanbul and Andaz Fifth Avenue in NYC.

Two free nights - for $1,000 in spend and no annual fee

The card offers two free nights at any Hyatt in the world (all brands) after spending $1,000 on the card.  The annual fee is $75 but that's waived for the first year.  If you are planning a honeymoon or a special trip of any sort, you should get this card.  You can redeem your nights for the Park Hyatt in the Maldives, Paris, Tokyo, NYC, etc...those properties can go for $500 - $1,000 per night so you're getting a ton of value for a very low spend threshold.

Beyond that, the card offers (for the $75 annual fee) a free night in a category 1 - 4 property.  There are some pretty great hotels on the list but we had been unable to use the certificate (which expires at the end of the calendar year) which I was kind of bummed about.

A few days ago we changed our outbound flight for our trip to Asia.  It's Christmas night so hotels are real cheap.  All Starwood properties (Westin, Le Meridien, W, Palace) with the exception of the St. Regis were under $160/night.  That is phenomenal for San Francisco.  But I remembered I had an expiring Hyatt certificate and checked to see if there were any category four hotels in the city.

Hyatt Regency San Francisco lobby

The Hyatt Regency San Francisco is a category four and I was able to use my certificate without an issue.  I'll have a future post on how easy it is to redeem the free anniversary night.  For some reason, paid rates were a lot more expensive than other (arguably nicer) hotels in the city.  We did some searching and found out that the property has a massive Christmas display in the lobby atrium.  In fact, the hotel has make the Travel and Leisure "best hotels for Christmas" list! 

The anniversary night really worked out.  Clearly a nice return on the $75 annual fee to end up with a $200+ hotel night.  Thanks Hyatt and Chase for making our Christmas.  We are pumped!

December 14, 2014

How I Got Started - Part Two

In case you haven't read part one, here's the link...

So I started getting serious about credit card “churning” in 2012.  Meaning I applied for a round of credit cards every 90 days or so.  I wish I would have discovered it earlier as I would have saved myself a lot of flying.  Leveraging credit cards to earn points and miles can be FAR more lucrative than actually flying.  In fact, over the past three years, Emily and I have collected more than 3,500,000 points and miles from credit card sign-up bonuses.  That doesn’t include points and miles for everyday spend, bonus categories, special offers, or retention bonuses.  Friends, family, and even blog readers have been skeptical.  My credit score has never been higher and my “AwardWallet” account has never been fuller.

Is that a mermaid or a lion?

A week before our wedding we were in Boulder doing what else…preparing for the wedding.  I woke up Saturday morning and checked my email and started reading about how Singapore Airlines had been undergoing a system conversion and mistakenly released all premium award availability to United.  People were booking premium trips (not inventory normally available to MileagePlus members) like crazy.  In business class, first class, and suites class.  I woke Emily up and asked here if she wanted to go to Singapore.  In a haze she asked me what I was up to.  "Seriously - want to go to Singapore next year - it’s a long flight but it will be comfortable.  Here…watch this video of Singapore Airlines First Class.”  After watching the video of the seat, food and service all she could say was “Um, okay!”  So we booked the “mistake” award to Singapore and flew international first class on a real airline together for the first time.  We sat next to Chelsea Clinton.  We explored Singapore and we made plans to return.  Which we did earlier this year.

December 13, 2014

How I Got Started - Part One

A few readers have asked that I provide a bit of background on how I got started with this hobby.  It's a bit lengthy so I broke it up into two parts.  Here's part one:

It all started in college.  I didn’t realize it at the time but I was about to embark on a life long obsession with traveling for free (okay for cheap).  I did what typical college juniors do.  I flew home a few times a year, I visited friends at other campuses, and I studied somewhere else (Washington D.C.) and I took a random trip to New York to see my college roommate Dana on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”  Dana would get the third question wrong (although he would later return to show without me and win $64,000) because we were out late the night before partying but the frequent flyer miles I racked up during the year made me a newly minted United (what is now Premier Silver) frequent flyer for flying 25,000 miles in a calendar year.  It was 2003 and that was my first taste of elite status.

The next year, I graduated from college and worked on a political campaign.  I mailed in a copy of my college transcript proving that I graduated (unfortunately the program has been discontinued) and United gave me 10,000 MileagePlus miles.  Seriously.  Emily (now my wife) was still in school at Lehigh University.  One fall weekend, we met in Philly for a weekend and I had to ask my parents to borrow some SPG points to pay for the hotel and they were kind enough to help out.  The next year, I moved to Washington, D.C. and started a job at the Corporate Executive Board and picked up my first Starwood American Express.  I worked with a guy who had previously sold Westin timeshares and he told me this was the best credit card I could get.

In 2006, I was promoted and started a job as a traveling outside salesman.  I spent over $100,000 on my corporate credit card in one year.  I stayed nearly 100 nights in hotels.  I met Emily in Europe while she was studying abroad and we had a wonderful long weekend at the Westin Paris courtesy of all those SPG points.  I flew over 100,000 miles and made United 1K in 2007 for the first time and gifted “Premier Associate” status to my 21 year old girlfriend.  Upgrades were easier back then and I flew first class most of the time at 25.

Hang Up, Call Back

It's amazing how many airline phone agents lack basic understanding of their airline's policies.  On our upcoming trip to Hong Kong and Taipei, we were booked on United's 6AM departure from Denver to San Francisco.  That segment was in coach and we had a give hour layover before our long haul flight to Hong Kong.  Certainly less than ideal given that we'd have to wake up at about 3:30 AM the day after Christmas to get to the airport.  So I've been gardening.

I found availability in first class on Christmas night - departing Denver around 7PM and getting into SFO at 8:30.  We've always wanted to fly on Christmas and have found that waking up and having a somewhat normal routine prior to a long haul flight helps us adjust upon arrival.

So I called United and asked to make the change.  I fed the agent my confirmation number and fed the new flight number and seats we'd like.  From there, the conversation went something like this:

Agent:  "I see the available seats on the DEN - SFO segment but I can't make the change."

Me:  "Why not?"

Agent:  "There must be availability for ALL segments to make a change to an award.  And there isn't availability on the SFO - HKG segment."

Me:  "That's weird.  I've made lots of changes to awards in similar situations.  When did that change?"

Agent:  "I don't know.  During our last computer upgrade.  Our new software doesn't let us make changes like that anymore."

That explanation made absolutely no sense.  So I thanked the agent for her time and called back later in the day.  Same script - much different result.  The agent thanked me for being prepared, for my loyalty to United and had the change made in about three minutes.

Moral of the story is that some agents just don't know the rules.  Most are awesome and happy to help.  So hangup and call back!!

December 11, 2014

I Will Be Back!

Hope everyone is enjoying their December.  I've taken a hiatus of sorts from posting lately but will be back shortly.  We are still dealing with the aftermath of the flood in our house, (5 weeks and counting) recovering from a two week sickness that won't seem to go away, and a wedding last weekend in St. Barth's which was awesome (congrats Michelle and Sam!).

I hope to spend some time this weekend catching up on posts and preparing for our upcoming trip to Asia which is just 2 weeks away.

Until then - enjoy the rest of your week!

November 29, 2014

2014 Year in Review: Flights

Happy Thanksgiving!  I spent some time over the weekend compiling a few stats from my 2014 travel.  These numbers include my December travel.  You can read about my 2013 flights here.  In 2014, I didn't travel at all for business and flew on half a dozen award tickets so I will be losing my United Premier Gold status early next year.  I still managed to fly over 65,000 miles after flying 87,000 in 2013 and 107,000 in 2012.

I redeemed United, Singapore Airlines, and American miles for an awesome trip to Bali and our upcoming trip to Hong Kong and Taipei.  I flew Singapore Suites, Asiana Suites Class and will be flying United's 747 Global First in addition to American's Flagship First on their new 777-300 ER.

Here are a few of the highlights:
  • Visited 8 countries (2 new)
  • Visited 2 continents (Europe & Asia)
  • Flew on 6 airlines (United, Singapore, Thai, Asiana, and Winair, and Cathay Pacific)
  • Flew 40 segments
  • Flew 65,418 miles
  • Visited 22 airports in 13 countries including 7 US States
  • Shortest flight will be St. Marteen to St. Barth's at 20 miles
  • Longest flight will be San Francisco to Hong Kong at 6,927 miles
  • The best flight of the year was definitely our Singapore Suites flight from SIN to LAX
And the visuals courtesy of the Great Circle Mapper:

Boring 2014 Domestic Travel Map

Much More Exciting 2014 International Travel Map

November 28, 2014

Starwood Gold for Life

Starwood sent me a nice note a couple of days ago after I qualified for SPG Lifetime Gold.  250 nights over 10 years in the program means I've averaged 25 nights per year since joining.  While Starwood Gold is pretty easy to obtain through spend on the Amex SPG card or holding the Amex Platinum card, it's great to get it for "free" for life without jumping through any additional hoops.

I've had some great stays over the years.  A few recent stays include the St. Regis in Bali, St. Regis in San Francisco, and the Grosvenor House in Dubai.  Earning 3x points on all stays, free internet, and the chance at an upgrade will definitely keep me loyal to Starwood...even in years when I don't qualify for top tier Platinum stays which will be the case in 2015.