May 16, 2015

Singapore Airlines Book the Cook

Many airlines offer a chance to pre-select meals in premium cabins.  Asiana, Thai, and Singapore to name a few Asian carriers offering the service.  In the US, American has a version of this service where premium cabin passengers can select their meal choice from the menu - to ensure they get their first selection.



Singapore Airlines' "Book the Cook" program seems to be the most comprehensive of these services. We've flown Singapore Airlines First Class several times (trip reports here and here) and we've been pleasantly surprised with our "Book the Cook" entrees each time.  From what I have read, SQ is offering the service in First, Business, and Premium Economy - so this is an option a lot of passengers not the plane have access to.

A sampling of First Class Book the Cook offerings

For our upcoming flight home from Frankfurt to JFK, we selected our meals online from the menu.  The hardest part was deciding what to order!  I selected the Lobster Thermidor - I had it on a previous flight and it is spectacular.

Lobster Thermidor SQ Suites SIN - LAX

You can access the book the cook menu for your flight by logging into your KrisFlyer account, navigating to your booking and clicking on the "select meals" icon on the right hand side of the screen.  Menus for departure cities and cabin class can be found online here.

British Airways 747 - Row 1

Prior to departure, I'll double check our seat assignments to see if anything "better" has opened up.  Initially we had selected the first row of "couple seats" on BA's 747 service from Denver to London.  That's row 4 in the image below.  Row 4 means no window for either of us and considerable foot traffic in the aisles as the galley and lavatories are both behind the first class cabin.

BA 747 - courtesy of Seatguru.com

Typically, BA reserves row 1 for elites and then opens the seats up for the masses a few days before departure.  We must be lucky because I checked the other day and both seats in row 1 were open!

Seatguru has these seats as yellow because of the closet in the middle and the lack of overhead bin space.  But I'll take those two downsides for the chance to sit even further forward then the pilots.  The two "curved" windows also provide an opportunity to look a bit forward while flying - something both of us have had on our travel bucket list.

May 10, 2015

A Week (Euro) in Amsterdam and Paris: Planning & Booking

Introduction
Planning & Booking
British Airways 747-400 First Class Denver to London
British Airways Concorde Room London Heathrow
British Airways A320 Club World London to Amsterdam
Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam
Andaz Amsterdam
Thalys Comfort 1 Amsterdam to Paris
Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome
Sheraton Frankfurt Airport Hotel
Singapore Airlines A380 Suites Class Frankfurt to JFK

We're just one week out from our trip to Europe and we're both getting pretty excited.  Booking travel to Europe is generally easier than Asia.  There are tons of options to choose from both getting across the pond and transiting the continent once you're over there.  For this trip, we decided to limit the flying as much as possible to maximize our time on the ground (and because flying within Europe generally sucks).

Flights:

We are both eager to try British Airways' first class (a new addition to Denver service) direct to London.  The flight leaves around 9PM Denver time so we'll get the entire day at home to pack and relax before the flight.  We'll then continue on BA to Amsterdam after several hours at London Heathrow's Concorde Room.  I booked these flights back in October leveraging both Avios and American Airlines miles (we are booked on separate tickets).  Total cost was 84,000 Avios, 62,500 in AA miles and ~$1,000 in cash.  The BA fuel charges really suck but the cash outlay is still far cheaper than a paid (even in coach) ticket.

Within Europe, we're be flying Lufthansa from Paris to Frankfurt the night before we fly home.  Since the flight is only an hour, we spent 25,000 miles and $70 on two tickets.  In hindsight, cash probably would have been the way to go here but given our United mileage balance, we figured saving the $500 would be a good idea.

On the way home from Frankfurt, we'll be flying Singapore Airlines Suites to JFK.  This will be our fourth Singapore Airlines First Class experience and second in Suites.  We were lucky enough to snag two seats in the center of the cabin so we'll get to enjoy the famed "double bed" after a great meal and some excellent wine.  We paid 114,750 Singapore Airlines Krisflyer miles (transferred in from Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express MR points) and $575 in taxes and fees (more fuel surcharges).

Singapore Airlines "double bed"

Getting home to Denver from JFK proved to be a bit of a challenge.  We'll be transiting over to La Guardia (not looking forward to this) to fly United economy home.  We paid cash for these tickets which cost $282.

We definitely spent more than we usually spend on flights.  It is great to get flights to Asia without fuel surcharges - premium cabin travel to Europe makes it a bit more challenging to do so.  I'm still pleased with our itinerary given that we are flying roundtrip first in two great products for less than the cost of a coach ticket.

Total Cost:  286,250 miles and $1,927


Trains:

Amsterdam and Paris are pretty close so flying really didn't make sense.  We were able to find Comfort One (first class) paid tickets for only $87 each.  The premium over second class was minimal (~$15) and I figured it would make for an interesting trip report.

Total cost:  $175


Hotels:

I was able to get a couple of nights at the Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam at 80,000 points prior to the devaluation to 95,000 per night.  So I was pleased with that redemption.  We added a third night to our stay and needed somewhere else close to the Waldorf for the last night.  I didn't want to pay cash as rates were north of $800 USD.  The Andaz Amsterdam was available and I was able to book it for 25,000 Hyatt Gold Passport Points.  Given Hyatt's "20% off" promotion that will rebate my account 5,000 points after the stay, this was a really great deal.

In Paris, I was able to get 4 nights at the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome.  I used a combination of free nights from the Chase Hyatt card and points (30,000 per night).  With the rebate, I'll get back another 12,000 Hyatt points.  Given that rates were going for north of $1,000 per night, this is still on of the most aspirational redemptions out there.

Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome paid rates

For our last night before flying home, we'll be staying at the Sheraton Frankfurt Airport where I was able to get a rate of $139.

Total Cost:  228,000 hotel points and $139

In total, we burned 514,250 miles/points and spent $2,241 in cash.  Not bad for all the flights, train transportation, and 8 hotel nights.  To compare, our most recent trip to Asia cost us 790,000 miles/points and $600 in cash.  Follow the blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates during the trip!

May 3, 2015

Starwood on the Block?

I've been a huge fan of Starwood for a long time.  In 2003, I worked at the W San Diego for a summer.  In 2004, I picked up my first Starwood Preferred Guest Amex card.  I've been an SPG Platinum for 5 out of the last 10 years and I became a lifetime Gold SPG member last year after 250 nights in Starwood properties.  I've also been a "HOT" (Starwood's ticket symbol) investor a handful of times over the last 10 years.

One year "HOT" chart

In their earnings release last week, Starwood announced that they're "exploring strategic alternatives" which is code for "maybe we'll sell the company or buy someone else."  IHG has long been mentioned as a good merger fit.  The stock rose nearly 8% on the news.  There's been a lot going on at the company this year.  Earlier in the year, the company replaced their CEO over growth concerns and announced a spinoff of the timeshare business.

SPG is the best loyalty program in the business and on one hand, it would be a shame for the program to be diluted when combined with another program.  On the other hand, expanding the footprint and providing members more access to global properties could make the program even more valuable.

Since I tend to redeem my SPG points for higher end properties, the best outcome is likely for Starwood to stay independent and continue to build out their luxury property pipeline.  But from an investor perspective the best outcome is likely a sale.

Long Weekend in Vancouver: Shangri-La Vancouver

Introduction
Planning & Booking
Cathay Pacific 777-300ER First Class New York (JFK) to Vancouver
Fairmont Pacific Rim
Shangri-La Vancouver

The walk from the Fairmont Pacific Rim took about 7 minutes.  We were staying on an Amex FHR thanks to our American Express Platinum Card.  One of the benefits of the FHR program is early check-in (and late check-out).  We arrived at 12:45 and proceeded to the underground lobby.  The associate helping us went over the FHR amenities (complimentary breakfast, $100 on-property credit, room upgrade) and noted that our room would be ready at 1PM.  So we relaxed in the lobby for 15 minutes and she came over exactly at 1PM with our room keys.

Shangri-La Vancouver bed, desk, vanity

Looking out to Vancouver

We headed upstairs and were pleasantly surprised with our room.

Shower and sink

Lots of dark wood in the hallway

While it wasn't a suite, the room was finished beautifully with a pronounced Asian theme.  The best part was the balcony that ran the length of the room.

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Two hotels and two balconies!  Pretty rare for city hotels.

We didn't get to experience the entire property during our 24 hour stay but what we did experience (that room, lobby bar, room service) we very much enjoyed.  You really can't beat the location or the FHR rate (<$220 USD) given the "value" of all the benefits.  While the Fairmont Pacific Rim blew us away, I would gladly return to the Shangri-La for business or pleasure.

April 25, 2015

That Pajama Moment

Last week I posted about our Cathay Pacific First Class flight from New York to Vancouver.  There were a few pictures that I somehow missed when posting the trip report that seem worthy of posting here.

There's something about pajamas on an airplane that makes me feel like I'm 5 years old again.  I realize that this is not something most people will experience crammed into an economy seat with total strangers sleeping all over you.  But that's the point of this blog - the experience is totally accessible with a little effort and organization.

While I typically won't wear them on the plane, (they are too warm) I do have a pretty fantastic collection that I get use out of at home.  That said, it is perfectible acceptable to wear them on the plane and most of other passengers (including Emily) seem to go that route.  But for me, just receiving them is a pretty amazing experience.

Of the 10+ pairs of first class pajamas I've received, Cathay's are the best.  Here's the before.


And the after.  Also a great shot of the open cabin with just 6 total seats.


And a bonus shot of the brand new female amenity kit, (male kit is the same - just a darker color and different products) menu, and pre-requisite glass of Krug.


Long Weekend in Vancouver: Fairmont Pacific Rim

Introduction
Planning & Booking
Cathay Pacific 777-300ER First Class New York (JFK) to Vancouver
Fairmont Pacific Rim
Shangri-La Vancouver

After a great flight from New York, we arrived at the Fairmont Pacific Rim around 1AM.  Check-in formalities were processed very quickly given the hour and the fact that we were likely the last guests to check in for the "previous night."  Our keys were ready and we were on our way to the elevators and ready for bed.  The Fairmont Pacific Rim was built for the 2010 Winter Olympics and is a gorgeous hotel.  The lobby bar was still packed and had we not been so tired would definitely had come back down for a cocktail.



Thanks to the Chase Fairmont Visa Signature Card both of our room nights were free and we had been upgraded to a giant "junior suite."  I put that in quotations because there was nothing junior about this suite.  Upon entering our 6th floor room, we found the bedroom on the right with a full bathroom.  On the left was a second full bathroom.  Straight ahead was the living room, dining area with a table and 4 chairs, and an amazing balcony with dining table and another 4 chairs.  I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.