June 20, 2015

Brothers in Asia: Planning & Booking

Introduction
Planning & Booking
Sheraton Gateway LAX
Cathay Pacific 777-300 ER First Class Los Angeles to Hong Kong
The Wing Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge
Cathay Pacific A330 Business Class Hong Kong to Bangkok
Le Meridien Bangkok
Thai Airways First Class Lounge & Spa
Thai Airways 747-400 First Class Bangkok to Hong Kong
Conrad Hong Kong
Air India 787-8 Business Class Hong Kong to Seoul
Asiana A380 First Class Seoul to Los Angeles

Booking this trip was actually more difficult than expected.  Finding availability from the west coast to Asia over the weekend proved to be difficult.  I was able to find availability on Monday so we decided to spend the weekend in San Diego and Los Angeles visiting family before taking off for Hong Kong Monday morning.

Hotels:

We needed an overnight at LAX and I originally booked the Hilton LAX for around $150 AI.  I checked last week and found the Sheraton Gateway LAX (stayed here in 2013) was selling for $130 AI.  We'll spend Sunday night there before heading to LAX early Monday morning.

Bangkok is a challenging hotel city given the extremely low cost (comparatively speaking) of luxury hotels.  It typically doesn't make sense to redeem points given the price and this trip was no exception.  I booked an Executive Deluxe room at the Le Meridien (also stayed here in 2012) for $150 USD per night.  The rate includes breakfast and evening cocktails/appetizers which made the rate even better.  


Le Meridien Bangkok Lobby

In Hong Kong, I booked the Conrad for 80,000 points per night.  As a HHonors Gold member, we should receive access to the executive lounge (with complimentary breakfast) which is supposed to be one of the best in the system.  Given that cash rates were selling for $500USD+ I got a great value for the last of my Hilton Honors points (at one point last year, I had over 700,000).

Total Hotel Costs:  240,000 HHonors Points and $430

Flights:

I've become a huge Cathay Pacific fan so I was excited to grab two first class seats on Cathay's morning service from LAX to Hong Kong.  We'll then continue on Cathay's regional business class service to Bangkok after a few hours relaxing in one of Cathay's first class lounges.  At 67,500 American Advantage miles and $68 in taxes and fees for each ticket, this is one of the best mileage redemptions out there.  I was able to find space using the British Airways website.  Once I found space, I called AA to book the ticket.


Cathay All Day

While not the best redemption in the world, I'm sitting on a ton of United miles so decided to redeem 35,000 United miles (and $21) each to fly Thai's 747 first class service to Hong Kong.  Cash tickets go for about $650 (on Thai, Cathay, and Emirates) which is a great deal but still would have cost us a lot of money for a really short flight.  Booking online was really simple and I had plenty of miles in my account for both of us.

I'm really excited about our flights home.  For 130,000 United miles each (and $42 in taxes) we confirmed Air India's 787 Dreamliner service from Hong Kong to Seoul Incheon.  I don't know anyone that's flown Air India so I'm looking forward to what should be a unique experience.  In Seoul, we'll connect to Asiana's flagship A380 first class service to LAX.  The product is similar to the 777 which we flew last year.  I was able to book both of us online using a combination of miles from my account and Emily's.

I booked my positioning flights (to San Diego and home from LAX) on United for $350 in cash.

Total Fight Costs:  465,000 American/United miles and $612 in taxes and fees

Summary:

For about $1,000 and 700,000 points and miles, I was able to put together a week long trip to Bangkok and Hong Kong.  That's 6 total hotel nights, 30 hours of first class flying, and another 8 hours of business class flying for two people.  We're off on Monday - follow along as we head to Asia!

June 14, 2015

Brothers in Asia: Introduction

Introduction
Planning & Booking
Sheraton Gateway LAX
Cathay Pacific 777-300 ER First Class Los Angeles to Hong Kong
The Wing Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge
Cathay Pacific A330 Business Class Hong Kong to Bangkok
Le Meridien Bangkok
Thai Airways First Class Lounge & Spa
Thai Airways 747-400 First Class Bangkok to Hong Kong
Conrad Hong Kong
Air India 787-8 Business Class Hong Kong to Seoul
Asiana A380 First Class Seoul to Los Angeles

I have one more post to write about our trip to Europe which I will try to complete this week.  Next weekend, I'm mixing it up travel companion wise and taking my brother Jonathan (who lives in San Diego) to Asia for the week.  He turned 30 late last year and has never flow international first class or been to Asia and we both figured this would be a good time to check both of his list.  Emily and I have now flown 11 international first class segments together - it is going to be fun to show someone else the ropes.

There are so many places to see in Asia it is sometimes hard to decide where to go.  I wanted to head to cities that I had been to previously but also places that I considered my favorites.  So naturally Bangkok and Hong Kong fir the bill.  Once we had destinations picked out, I set about finding award flights for both of us.  With enough miles to go roundtrip on either Star Alliance or OneWorld carriers, we had plenty of flexibility.  But it was actually tricky to find an outbound flight leaving on Sunday from LAX to Asia so we settled on a Monday morning outbound.  That will give us a couple of days in Bangkok and 3 days in Hong Kong.


Our routing courtesy of the Great Circle Mapper

This actually worked out great as I will get a couple of days in San Diego and LA visiting family before overnighting in LA and leaving the next morning.  I was able to secure a couple of first class seats on Cathay Pacific's direct service from LAX to Hong Kong.  A great first experience for my brother as Cathay's first class is one of my favorite products.  We'll also make sure to check out the Qantas OneWorld First Class lounge at LAX which is supposed to be spectacular.

After our flight from LAX, we have a few hours to clean up and chill at The Wing.  Cathay's new first class lounge (The Pier) is slated to open prior to our departure so I hope to check that out as well.  After a quick hop to Bangkok, we'll start our adventure at the Le Meridien Bangkok.  Emily and I stayed here during our honeymoon and loved the hotel.  I'm excited to see what's changed over the past few years.

The bar at The Wing Hong Kong

Getting back to Hong Kong was hard.  Well it was easy but there are lots of fun ways to fly.  We could have paid cash (~$650 each) to fly Emirates first class and shower at 35,000 feet.  But I decided to forego the cash, use miles, and fly Thai's 747 first class service which will get us an hour long massage in the Royal Orchid Spa prior to departure.

In Hong Kong, I've previously stayed at the W and Grand Hyatt and wanted to check out something different.  So we have three nights booked at the Conrad Hong Kong.

After exploring all that Hong Kong has to offer, we'll head home on Air India (can't wait for this one) to Seoul followed by Asiana's A380 suites service to LAX.  I'm really excited to fly Asiana again - our last trip was awesome.  It will be Jonathan's first time on the A380 (also first time on the 747) which should be fun for both of us.

I am really looking forward to this trip - will post the Planning & Booking segment prior to our departure.  Thanks for following along!!

What's in My Wallet - June 2015 Edition

It's been awhile since I've posted about the credit cards currently in my wallet.  I'm going to try and keep this up quarterly.  You can check out other posts here:

What's in My Wallet?  March 2015

What's in My Wallet?  October 2014

What's in My Wallet?  April 2014

Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below.

1)  Citi Prestige

I've yet to write about this card but have it on my list to do so.  I am almost done with the $3,000 minimum spend to earn the 50,000 Thank You point bonus.  While the card comes with a hefty $450 annual fee, you can easily make that up (and then some) as there's a $250 annual travel credit that credits automatically and can credit against air fare. So but a $250 ticket, get $250 credited back to your account.  I've already redeemed my credit for 2015 and will look forward to another $250 credit in January of 2016.

2)  Chase Freedom

The Chase Freedom card offers "rotating" 5x spend categories by quarter.  For this quarter (ending 6/30/15) Freedom is offering 5x at restaurants.  This is a pretty easy 7,500 points as it's not hard to spend $500 per month at restaurants when you include coffee, lunches, dinners, bars, etc...I'm pretty close to completing my 7,500 points and we're working on getting Emily there by 6//30 for a total of 15,000 bonus UR points this month.

3)  Chase Sapphire Preferred

All of my extra (not contributing to signup bonuses) travel and dining spend goes on the CSP.  I've had the card for over 3 years and gladly pay the $95 annual fee given my credit history, limit, and the earning power of the card.

4)  Amex Starwood Preferred Guest

This card is perpetually in my wallet and the card I leverage for all non-bonused spend.  So if I still have spend to hit a sign-up bonus (as I do above) I'll wait to put additional spend on this card until that's been complete.

June 7, 2015

Day Trip to Reims

On our recent trip to Paris, we spent an awesome day Champagne tasting in Reims (pronounced like Ronce).  I don't typically write a ton about destinations but this was such a fun (and easy) day that I figured I'd post about it.

We booked our 1st class train tickets ahead of time online for ~$55 roundtrip each.  The TGV train between Gare de l'Est and Reims takes about 45 minutes.  To go nearly 100 miles meaning its a high speed train.  There was a stretch on the way to Reims where we were clearing 320km/hour which is very close to 200mph/hour.  Certainly a fun way to travel.

We were able to book two tastings online/via email at Veuve Cliquot and Vranken Pommery.  We checked out maps of Reims and it seemed that everything was close enough to walk.  More on this later.

We walked from the Park Hyatt to Gare de l'Est which took about 30 minutes.  We arrived around 10:15 for our 10:30 train, grabbed coffee and breakfast and waited on the platform until our train was called.  Train travel in Europe is awesome.

Paris Gare de l''Est

June 6, 2015

A Week (Euro) in Amsterdam and Paris: Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome

Introduction
Planning & Booking
British Airways 747-400 First Class Denver to London
British Airways Concorde Room LHR
Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam
Andaz Amsterdam
Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome
Singapore Airlines A380 Suites Class Frankfurt to JFK

The Thalys train from Amsterdam Central to Gare du Nord took a little over three hours.  There was wifi (although it was barely useable) and a couple of light meals and beverages (including wine) throughout the journey.  We passed the time eating, drinking, figuring out our Paris itinerary and watching movies on our computers.  We had paid a little extra (~20 Euros each) for Thalys "Comfort One."  One of the amenities is a taxi reservation upon arrival enabling you to skip the taxi line.  Reading the fine print, this was going to cost us another 12 Euros so we decided to take our changes with the queue.  We walked out of the station and found a taxi within about 7 seconds - so I wouldn't recommend paying the extra money for a taxi reservation - although nearly everyone in our train car chose to do so.

The taxi to the Park Hyatt took about 15 minutes.  It was a weekday afternoon and it had just finished raining and Paris was clogged with cars and people.

Paris is pretty

The Park Hyatt is located in the 1st Arrondissement (Louvre) which is basically right in the middle of the city on the Right Bank of the Seine.  Being centrally located is a double edged sword.  While the hotel is located right next to multiple metro stops, Place Vendome, Louvre, Tuileries, etc... you're also in the middle of tourist hell.  Which in Paris means lots and lots of people.  While we loved this hotel, next time we would definitely like to try something a bit more removed from the chaos.  On to the review...

June 1, 2015

A Week (Euro) in Amsterdam and Paris: Andaz Amsterdam

Introduction
Planning & Booking
British Airways 747-400 First Class Denver to London
British Airways Concorde Room LHR
Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam
Andaz Amsterdam
Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome
Singapore Airlines A380 Suites Class Frankfurt to JFK

After a great two night stay at the Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam, we made our way over to the Andaz.  While the walk was gorgeous, I lost some points for making us walk with all of our bags.  Little did we know that I would make up those points (and then some) once we were shown to our room.  The building housing the hotel used to be the public library on the Prisengracht canal (Prince's canal) and is situated in the Jordaan neighborhood of Amsterdam.

Andaz Amsterdam Exterior

Andaz Amsterdam Check-In
Andaz has a great setup for check-in.  Instead of a "formal" check-in desk they have a handful of stations with laptops where they process check-in formalities.  I had booked the single night with Hyatt Gold Passport points (25,000) which I thought was a great deal given that we'd be rebated 20% of those due to Hyatt's current 20% promotion.  So a net cost of 20,000 points for a standard room selling for 635 Euros.  That works out to about $725 USD with tax - over 3.5 cents per point.


May 31, 2015

A Week (Euro) in Amsterdam and Paris: Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam

Introduction
Planning & Booking
British Airways 747-400 First Class Denver to London
British Airways Concorde Room LHR
Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam
Andaz Amsterdam
Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome
Singapore Airlines A380 Suites Class Frankfurt to JFK

Arriving at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport is far better than Europe's other monster gateways (London, Paris, Frankfurt).  By comparison, the airport is far smaller and easier to navigate.  Immigration was a breeze and our bags were among the first on the carousel.  We walked out of the terminal around 8:30 PM to find a bright blue sky - still 2 hours of daylight left - awesome!

There really isn't a "cab line" in the traditional sense as you can just grab any cab - they're all the same price (~45 Euros).  So of course we opted for the blue Tesla Model S and were on our way to the Waldorf in a matter of minutes.  Our driver was super friendly (perhaps overly friendly) but explained a few sites on the way in and warned us to watch out for the cyclists that dominate the city's streets.

Amsterdam is really a gorgeous city and both of us were glued to the windows as we marveled at canal after canal.  The Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam is located right on one of the canals in the center of the city - just a couple of blocks from Rembrandt Square.

One of many canal shots