February 7, 2016

New Look for All the Right Points

You'll notice a handful of color/font changes on the blog this weekend.  I've tried to do a better job incorporating colors throughout the pages.  Hard to believe it's been almost a year since the last redesign!

Hopefully you all find the blog easier to read/navigate.  Please let me know if you do/don't.  And thanks for your patience while I made changes this morning!

February 6, 2016

First Class Birthday: Planning & Booking

Introduction
Planning & Booking
Sheraton Gateway Hotel Toronto
Air Canada 767-300 Business Class Toronto To London (LHR)
Andaz Liverpool
Etihad Airways Business Class Lounge London
Etihad A380 Business Class London (LHR) to Abu Dhabi
Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi
Etihad Airways Premium Lounge Abu Dhabi
Etihad A380 First Class Apartments Abu Dhabi to New York (JFK)
The New York EDITION

I've been grounded since November when we returned from our round the world adventure.  So I am really excited to get back in the air and travel somewhere.  Once we had our Etihad First Class Apartment booked from Abu Dhabi to New York, we just needed to build a trip around it.  We decided on London for a few days prior to Abu Dhabi and New York.  It's been a few years since we were in London and it's one of our favorite cities in the world.  So it was an easy choice.  Here's how I booked everything.

Hotels:

Given our day flight from Toronto, we needed to get there the night before.  There's a Sheraton attached to Toronto's Pearson airport which couldn't be more convenient.  I was able to book a AAA rate for $122 USD which seemed like a deal to me...thanks to the strong USD.

We'll see if we can make a change to Lufthansa first class within 15 days of departure.  That would certainly be more fun the Air Canada business class.  Either way, we'll be happy.

In London, we decided to stay at the Andaz which cost 75,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points, transferred in from Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

In Abu Dhabi, we settled on the Park Hyatt.  We arrive early in the morning (1AMish) and depart early the next morning (3AMish) so I booked two nights to guarantee we can be in the room the entire team.  Not the best use of points/cash but we'll be comfortable and given the overall cost of the trip, made sense.  I booked one prepaid night at a rate of $220 USD.  The second night cost 10,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points and $125.

In New York, we'll be staying at the New York EDITION for a total of 80,000 Marriott Points.

In total, I used 85,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points and 80,000 Marriott points.  The cash outlay will be $467 for 8 total nights.


Flights:

The flight from Denver to London cost us 140,000 United miles and $18.  London to Abu Dhabi on Etihad business class cost 60,000 American AAdantage miles and $530 in taxes and the dreaded UK premium departure tax.  We received 6,000 miles back for holding the AA Platinum Visa card.

The Etihad first class apartment flight cost us 170,000 AAdvantage miles after the 10,000 mile rebate.  We also paid $73 in taxes.

To get home, we paid cash for a United flight from LGA to DEN.  While the flight actually cost $410 for both of us, I paid with my Citi Prestige card which rebated $250.  So the total cash outlay was $160.

In total, I redeemed 140,000 United miles and 226,000 American miles.  We also paid $781 in taxes, fees, and airfare.

Summary:

Despite the heavy departure tax in London, I still put together a pretty sweet 8 night trip for less than $1,250.  I redeemed a total of 531,000 points and miles for all of the flights and hotel nights.    That compares favorably to our previous trip where we spent 654,000 points and miles and more than $2,100 in cash for a 9 night trip.  Stay tuned for the individual trip report segments coming next month!

How Many Ultimate Rewards Points Have You Redeemed?

I had to transfer some Chase Ultimate Rewards points to my United MileagePlus account this morning to book my flight home from Tokyo.  I noticed something new (or I've just missed it during previous visits to the activity page) which shows my total points redeemed since late 2011.  .That's about the time I got into this game and started applying for credit cards in earnest.

To see your total, click on Activity (top right of the screen) and scroll down to the bottom of the page.

Lifetime UR Redeemed

Thanks to 10 Chase Ultimate Rewards sign-up bonuses and amazing spend bonuses (Sapphire 7% dividend and Freedom quarterly bonuses) we've been able to earn and burn nearly 900,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards over the past 4 years.  I actually thought the number might be higher given the insane amount of points we've transferred to Singapore KrisFlyer, United, and Hyatt over the years.

Thanks to Chase for making this available - it was cool to see and something I'll check out again the next time I'm redeeming Ultimate Rewards points.

I'm Going to Tokyo!

One of my travel goals for the year is to head somewhere solo.  Most of my international travel has been with Emily.  While I couldn't ask for a better travel partner, I've wanted to travel by myself for a few years.

I've been playing around with dates, cities, and flights for the past couple of weeks and finally decided on Tokyo in late May!

I am super excited.  I have the flight home booked flying ANA Square first class to Chicago and then home on United.  I'll be working on the hotels and the outbound flight over the next few months.

ANA "Square" 777-300ER First Class

I'd love to hear from you guys in the comments in terms of hotel, restaurant, and activity recommendations.  I'll have 3-4 days in the city and am really open to anything.

In addition to this trip, we're only about a month away from our trip to London and Abu Dhabi.  Some awesome trips over the next few months.

January 31, 2016

Review: Singapore Airlines 777-300ER First Class Singapore to Hong Kong

Introduction
Planning & Booking
American Express Centurion Lounge DFW
Emirates A380 First Class Dallas to Dubai
Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa Dubai
Emirates First Class Lounge Dubai
Emirates 777-300ER First Class Dubai to Male
Transfer to Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa
Park Hyatt Maldives - Resort & Park Villa
Park Hyatt Maldives - Water Villa
Transfer to Male
Singapore Airlines 777-200ER Business Class Male to Singapore
Grand Hyatt Singapore
Singapore Airlines The Private Room Singapore
Singapore Changi Airport 
Singapore Airlines 777-300ER First Class Singapore to Hong Kong
Singapore Airlines 777-300ER First Class Hong Kong to San Francisco

We made our way over to the gate and through security (done at individual gates) around 5 minutes prior to the scheduled boarding time.  Boarding was delayed maybe 10 minutes so we had a 15 minute wait in the gate area.  Not the worst thing in the world but because the airport and lounge are so awesome, you want to delay getting to the cramped (with no services) gate area as much as possible.

Boarding was called and we were the first people on the plane.  We had both been expecting Singapore's "old" 777 first class as we thought they had been flying the "new" 777 first class solely to London.  We were pleasantly surprised to find the new version of the seat upon entering the aircraft!  To make it even more exciting, this flight is tagged SQ2 which to complement the SQ1 tag  we flew to Hong Kong last year.  Pretty awesome to have flown flight 1 and 2!!!

Singapore Airlines 777-300ER "New" first class

We were warmly welcomed by the crew and very impressed by the new cabin.  Quilted leather is so hot right now. 

Booking Marriott Awards When You're Short On Points

Earlier in the week I wrote about booking Marriott PointsSavers.  I was roughly 15,000 points short needed for the redemption.  Marriott will let you book the reservation without sufficient points which is an amazing part of their program.  During the booking process you can either purchase additional points (bad deal) or earn the points through another source (good deal).  I knew I had points coming from the Chase Marriott Visa and that my statement would be closing in a week or so.

I made the booking as normal.  You can see the on-screen messaging around not having sufficient points in the screenshot below.



Everything about the reservation processed normally.  I received an email confirmation and was able to see the reservation in my account.  A week later, the points posted to my Marriott Rewards account and I was able to order the "e-certificates" for the free nights.


Kudos to Marriott for offering this feature.  I'm not aware of any other major hotel loyalty program that allows members to do this.  Locking in a hotel award is a key part of trip planning - especially since you can typically cancel fee free.  Being able to do so without sufficient points is even better!

January 27, 2016

Booking Marriott PointSavers

After our trip to London and Abu Dhabi, we're going to spend a couple of days in New York.  Both of us have stayed all over NYC and haven't really found a favorite hotel.  The W Union Square is great but a pricey points redemption.  The Andaz Fifth Avenue is another favorite but we're blowing 85,000 Hyatt points in London and Abu Dhabi so we were looking for something in one of our "other" programs...meaning Hilton, IHG, or Marriott.


Fairfield Inn or New York EDITION?

I loved my stay at the New York EDITION and the London EDITION is one of our joint favorites...anywhere in the world.  We are hoping to check out the Miami EDITION as somepoint in 2016.  I had 65,000 Marriott points in my account so figured that wouldn't be sufficient.  The hotel is a category 8/Tier 3 hotel meaning it would normally cost 50,000 points per night.  Thanks to Marriott's PointSavers, (a program I didn't even know existed) the hotel is actually discounted for the dates we were looking at to 40,000 points per night.  So 80,000 points gets you a $500 per night hotel room for 2 nights - that's basically 1.25 cents per Marriott point - WAY higher than a typical redemption.  You can see that the Fairfield Inn is also pricing at 80,000 points for 2 nights yet the cash rate is 50% of the New York EDITION.

I bet you can guess which property we picked.  Marriott will even let you book an award stay without sufficient points in your account.  In this case I was 15,000 points short but knew I had points coming.  More on this in a future post.

Thanks to Marriott for saving us 20,000 points on this awesome redemption!

January 23, 2016

Review: Singapore Changi Airport

Introduction
Planning & Booking
American Express Centurion Lounge DFW
Emirates A380 First Class Dallas to Dubai
Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa Dubai
Emirates First Class Lounge Dubai
Emirates 777-300ER First Class Dubai to Male
Transfer to Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa
Park Hyatt Maldives - Resort & Park Villa
Park Hyatt Maldives - Water Villa
Transfer to Male
Singapore Airlines 777-200ER Business Class Male to Singapore
Grand Hyatt Singapore
Singapore Airlines The Private Room Singapore
Singapore Changi Airport 
Singapore Airlines 777-300ER First Class Singapore to Hong Kong
Singapore Airlines 777-300ER First Class Hong Kong to San Francisco

After a great meal in The Private Room, we set out to explore the airport.  I don't normally write reviews of airports but Changi is among the world's best and a logical stopover for many traveling to Asia.  We've visited the airport multiple times but until this trip, hadn't properly explored all that the Changi has to offer.

We left Singapore's lounge facility located in Terminal 3 and headed left at the bottom of the escalator.  Emily did some duty free shopping as we made our way through the terminal to the skytrain.


Airtrain view of Changi's control tower

Getting TSA Precheck for Free

One of the must have travel tools these days is TSA Precheck (stylized with a check mark for some unknown branding reason).  I've saved countless hours breezing through security while my shoes stay on, and my liquid bag/laptop stay in my backpack.  It's amazing.  For international travelers, Global Entry is a life saver.  No waiting in immigration lines to talk to an officer - you hit the kiosk, answer some questions and snap a selfie.  You're through in a handful of minutes.  This has enabled us to make tight international to domestic connections.  A huge benefit when you're tired and just want to get home.  Both Emily and I have TSA Pre with our Global Entry.  You can get TSA Pre on it's own but if you're going to take even one international trip (it's good for 5 years) in the next 5 years, you should apply for Global Entry.

The fee is $100 and I think worth it.  You can do better than that though.  There are a couple of credit cards that provide a $100 credit towards the fee every 5 years.

American Express Platinum:


Citi Prestige:


Both Emily and I are in the middle of our 5 year "term."  My parents are headed to Europe this summer for their anniversary and they have a tight connection coming home.  I suggested that they get Global Entry for their upcoming trip which will also give them TSA Precheck for their domestic travel.  We both used our fee waivers from previous cards so had a couple left.  My parents applied and they put one application on my Amex Platinum and the other on my Citi Prestige.  The fee credit is applicant "agnostic" so you can "sponsor" a friend or family member if you already have Global Entry or TSA Pre.

My Amex Platinum credit has already posted.


While this benefit is often trumpeted as a $100 credit, in reality you can only get it once every 5 years.  So if you're keeping the card and paying the annual fee, it's more like $20 a year.  That said, I was happy to save my parents $200 and I know that there travel experience will be much improved once they are fully enrolled for Global Entry!

January 17, 2016

Review: Singapore Airlines The Private Room

Introduction
Planning & Booking
American Express Centurion Lounge DFW
Emirates A380 First Class Dallas to Dubai
Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa Dubai
Emirates First Class Lounge Dubai
Emirates 777-300ER First Class Dubai to Male
Transfer to Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa
Park Hyatt Maldives - Resort & Park Villa
Park Hyatt Maldives - Water Villa
Transfer to Male
Singapore Airlines 777-200ER Business Class Male to Singapore
Grand Hyatt Singapore
Singapore Airlines The Private Room Singapore
Singapore Changi Airport 
Singapore Airlines 777-300ER First Class Singapore to Hong Kong
Singapore Airlines 777-300ER First Class Hong Kong to San Francisco

Arriving at the first class check-in facility in Singapore is pretty awesome.  The cab pulls in and instantly there are multiple people surrounding you.  Opening doors, grabbing bags, confirming that you obtained everything from the cab, and then escorting you into the beautifully appointed facility.


Singapore Airlines First Class Check-In

Orchids

Check-In desk on the right