• A Real Round-The-World Trip – Part Three: One Night in Hong Kong

    by  • July 28, 2018 • Luxury Hotel, Miles & Points, Travel • 0 Comments

    Previous Trip Notes:
    A Real Round-The-World Trip – Part Two: CX 807, Take Two
    A Real Round-The-World Trip – Part One: The Setup

    We landed in Hong Kong at 8:30pm. By time we took hold of our luggage and cleared customs, it was close to 10:00pm. I had booked the Marriott Skycity hotel, as I thought I had remembered in being in the airport, and some of the online descriptions made it seem so; however, that is not the case. We hauled our luggage to the bus terminal to catch the free shuttle to the hotel. It pulled up within 30 seconds of getting there and was extremely convenient. It was, at most, a five-minute ride to the hotel, probably closer to 3-4 minutes. We arrived and checked into our rooms. NSPwife went to talk to the concierge about places we could get sushi or dumplings in Hong Kong. We wanted to grab a quick bite to eat, run by the promenade, and then call it a night. The concierge was disappointingly not very helpful. While it was late, they knew of only two places to eat and stated both were only mediocre quality. Great.

    We planned to take the airport express, but then decided to just jump in a taxi since it was so late. We headed towards one of the restaurants the concierge had suggested, but when we got there opted to walk around and see if anything caught our eye. We made our way up to the 11th floor of a food hall building, choosing it because it seemed popular. We got seated, and were immediately presented with our hotpot, dozens of utensils, and a Chinese-only menu. We ordered by just saying “yes” to almost every question asked. This is what we got:

    Hong Kong Hotpot Dinner

    Hong Kong Hotpot Dinner

    Hong Kong - Hotpot Dinner

    Hong Kong – Hotpot Dinner

    Hong Kong Hotpot Dinner

    Hong Kong Hotpot Dinner

    Hong Kong Hotpot Dinner

    Hong Kong Hotpot Dinner

    Wow. It was quite a bit of food. We realized we ordered the coconut shrimp broth and regular chicken broth. While the food was only OK, the experience was quite memorable. The 5 beers for $1 was also a nice touch.

    After dinner we headed quickly to the promenade:

    Hong Kong Promenade

    Hong Kong Promenade

    The hotel was nice, clean and convenient.

    Marriott Skycity Hong Kong Standard Room

    Marriott Skycity Hong Kong Standard Room

    Marriott Skycity Hong Kong Room View

    Marriott Skycity Hong Kong Room View

    Marriott Skycity Hong Kong Lobby

    Marriott Skycity Hong Kong Lobby

    Marriott Skycity Hong Kong Lobby Cafe

    Marriott Skycity Hong Kong Lobby Cafe

    Marriott Skycity Hong Kong Lobby

    Marriott Skycity Hong Kong Lobby

    Marriott Skycity Hong Kong Lobby Bar

    Marriott Skycity Hong Kong Lobby Bar

    And a pleasant surprise was that gold status (easily obtained with multiple credit cards given the Marriott/SPG merger) gave us lounge access. We all attempted to go to bed – although NSPpeanut, clearly experiencing jetlag, was a complete bundle of energy – and we were only allowed a few hours of sleep, soon to be a recurring theme of this trip. We woke up and hit the lounge:

    Marriott Skycity Hong Kong - Lounge

    Marriott Skycity Hong Kong – Lounge

    Marriott Skycity Hong Kong - Lounge

    Marriott Skycity Hong Kong – Lounge

    Marriott Skycity Hong Kong - Lounge

    Marriott Skycity Hong Kong – Lounge

    Marriott Skycity Hong Kong - Lounge

    Marriott Skycity Hong Kong – Lounge

    Marriott Skycity Hong Kong - Lounge

    Marriott Skycity Hong Kong – Lounge

    Marriott Skycity Hong Kong - Lounge

    Marriott Skycity Hong Kong – Lounge

    Breakfast was excellent, and the view of the airport was great:

    Marriott Skycity Hong Kong - Lounge, Airport View

    Marriott Skycity Hong Kong – Lounge, Airport View

    After breakfast we headed to the lobby to get on the shuttle. That’s when we realized catching the shuttle the night before was not due to the quick trip, it was just luck. The shuttle only departs the hotel every twenty minutes, and we had just missed it. Instead, we jumped in a couple taxis (only a few dollar ride), and headed to the airport.

    Overall a fun first night, and a prelude to the next ten days.

    A Real Round-The-World Trip – Part Two: CX 807, Take Two

    by  • July 26, 2018 • Credit Cards, Luxury Airline Travel, Miles & Points, Travel • 0 Comments

    Previous Trip Notes:
    A Real Round-The-World Trip – Part One: The Setup

    It’s been roughly six years of collecting miles and points. What was originally a play to collect 125,000 miles applying for both a 50,000-mile signup bonus for United and 50,0000-mile signup bonus for Continental airlines credit cards prior to their merger, plus 25,000 miles for depositing money into Fidelity for 90 days, turned into a complete obsession. My original CX 807 flight from ORD to HKG is partially to blame. At the time, it was a mere 62,500 American Airlines miles to fly first class on Cathay Pacific from the U.S. to Asia. You could easily earn that many American Miles in just a few weeks with the credit card offers at that time.

    I still remember the flight attendant, who when we presented our tickets, rushed us in the opposite direction of the rest of the passengers. I still remember the great sleep on the plane, so much so that I didn’t experience jet leg. I still remember thinking, “this whole flight cost less than $50 and was the most comfortable and convenient travel experience I ever had.” Since that time, NSPwife and I have experienced some of the best airline products in the world: showering at 38,000 feet on Emirates; having an executive chef on Etihad Airways; ice cream sundaes on United and LATAM, and many more. Despite all of these other experiences, Cathay still holds a special nostalgic place in my heart. So when I again handed my boarding pass to the flight attendant while stepping on the plane and was rushed to the left, I was in my happy place.

    We started off the day in the British Airways first class lounge. The lounge was small, too small for the number of passengers in there, and did not have many options for food.

    British Airways First Class Lounge - ORD

    British Airways First Class Lounge – ORD

    British Airways First Class Lounge - ORD

    British Airways First Class Lounge – ORD

    British Airways First Class Lounge - ORD

    British Airways First Class Lounge – ORD

    British Airways First Class Lounge - ORD

    British Airways First Class Lounge – ORD

    British Airways First Class Lounge - ORD

    British Airways First Class Lounge – ORD

    British Airways First Class Lounge - ORD

    British Airways First Class Lounge – ORD

    British Airways First Class Lounge - ORD

    British Airways First Class Lounge – ORD

    British Airways First Class Lounge - ORD

    British Airways First Class Lounge – ORD

    British Airways First Class Lounge - ORD

    British Airways First Class Lounge – ORD

    British Airways First Class Lounge - ORD

    British Airways First Class Lounge – ORD

    British Airways First Class Lounge - ORD

    British Airways First Class Lounge – ORD

    This was somewhat surprising given they also have a business class lounge; I would have thought the product in the first class lounge would have been upgraded a bit more. I wasn’t overly concerned, I had a Newcastle and was holding out for the meals on Cathay. And the view of the tarmac was pretty good:

    British Airways First Class Lounge - ORD

    British Airways First Class Lounge – ORD

    A quick unsuccessful side trip to try and buy a micro SD card (I snapped mine in half 30 minutes previously) for my GoPro, and it was time to board.

    On our first trip, we sat in 1A and 2A. We loved that side of the plane, as in first class the other four seats face one another, so the “A” side is extremely private. This trip, we were on the other side. As it turned out, Cathay’s seats still provide a lot of privacy, and I don’t feel the experience was downgraded by not sitting on the “A” side.

    Our flight attendants were amazing. Michael and Josie were everything you could hope for. Attentive, professional, and went out of their way to provide the best possible experience. They knew it was my birthday, and made sure that many people came over to wish me a happy birthday and great flight.

    After takeoff, NSPwife and I decided to dine together. I, of course, donned my pajamas before takeoff. These were different, though similar, in style. Despite requesting the same size, these new pajamas were a bit larger, and the previous set I had fit me better – which might also be why I believe the first set was a bit more comfortable.

    CX 807, 2013

    CX 807, 2013 “A-Side”

    CX 807, 2018

    CX 807, 2018 “Non-A Side”

    We started with cavier, always delicious. NSPwife opted for the truffle potato leek soup to start, while I decided to pace myself and skip an appetizer.

    CX 807 - Potato Leek Soup

    CX 807 – Potato Leek Soup

    CX 807 - Cavier

    CX 807 – Cavier

    The warm bread was fantastic, accompanied by salted butter.

    CX 807 - Bread Starter

    CX 807 – Bread Starter

    For our main courses, NSPwife ordered the Maine lobster while I went with the beef filet.

    CX 807 - Maine Lobster

    CX 807 – Maine Lobster

    CX 807 - Filet

    CX 807 – Filet

    Later NSPwife tried the burger:

    CX 807 - Burger

    Cathay First – Burger

    While we started the trip with the renowned 2004 Krug Champagne, I went with the 2006 Chateau Branaire-Ducru Saint Julien and NSPwife the 2016 Framingham F-Series Sauvignon Blanc. My red was particularly delicious. Of course, the meal was finished with some chocolate:

    CX 807 - Chocolates

    CX 807 – Chocolates

    At that point, I went back to my seat to watch a movie – opting with The Last Jedi, which I had not seen before. After a few minutes, I had an awesome surprise. NSPpeanut was carrying a birthday cake to me!

    CX 807 - NSPpeanut bringing me a Birthday Cake!

    CX 807 – NSPpeanut bringing me a Birthday Cake!

    CX 807 - Birthday Cake

    CX 807 – Birthday Cake

    Cathay charges $38 for a cake, and has to be ordered in advance. The crew let NSPpeanut and NSPbabysitter hang out with us for a while, which was really nice.

    NSPpeanut hanging out in Cathay First Class

    NSPpeanut hanging out in Cathay First Class

    NSPbabysitter Hanging out in Cathay First Class

    NSPbabysitter Hanging out in Cathay First Class

    NSPpeanut was so well behaved, they let her hangout throughout the flight:

    NSPpeanut hanging out in Cathay F (with her own food)

    NSPpeanut hanging out in Cathay F (with her own food)

    I then decided to take a nap. My original plan was to sleep for about six hours, which would allow me to quickly acclimate to Hong Kong time when we arrived. Maybe it was the wine, or maybe I caught a bug, but I woke up nine hours later! I couldn’t believe I had wasted time experiencing the flight. When I sat up, I quickly felt nauseous and laid back down. After sucking down about 10 bottles of water, and lying down for another hour, I started to come back to life, although never to the point where I could experiment with more wine or food – terribly disappointing as I wanted to try the lobster or burger options. I did opt for one of their great cappuccinos:

    Cathay First - Cappuccino

    Cathay First – Cappuccino

    The rest of the trip was nice, the crew, as mentioned before, was always completely on top of their game, and even gave me a bottle of wine to enjoy for after the flight. Overall, another extremely memorable experience, and I can’t wait for take three.

    Menu & Wine List:

    CX 807 - Menu & Wine List

    CX 807 – Menu & Wine List

    CX 807 - Menu & Wine List

    CX 807 – Menu & Wine List

    CX 807 - Menu & Wine List

    CX 807 – Menu & Wine List

    CX 807 - Menu & Wine List

    CX 807 – Menu & Wine List

    CX 807 - Menu & Wine List

    CX 807 – Menu & Wine List

    CX 807 - Menu & Wine List

    CX 807 – Menu & Wine List

    Amenity Kit:

    Cathay First Class - Amenity Kit

    Cathay First Class – Amenity Kit

    Cathay First Class - Amenity Kit

    Cathay First Class – Amenity Kit

    Pajamas:

    Cathay First Class - Pajamas

    Cathay First Class – Pajamas

    A Real Round-The-World Trip – Part One: The Setup

    by  • July 21, 2018 • Cash Back, Credit Cards, Luxury Airline Travel, Luxury Hotel, Miles & Points, Travel • 0 Comments

    I’m up. I can’t sleep. A mix of anxious worry that I’ve forgotten something and gitty excitement. Oh, and happy birthday to me. My 36th birthday is about to begin, and there’s much to be excited about. The to-do list is racing through my head:

    • Pick up my malaria prescription
    • Buy micro SD cards for drone/go pros (I found out around 11pm the night before my card was corrupted and upon further research discovered a faster SD card would be better suited)
    • Transfer a few Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, and Howie Day shows to my phone
    • Pick up rental car
    • Buy a suitcase
    • Oh ya, and pack

    I pull myself out of bed at about 6:00am to start the tasks, methodically checking things off the to-do list I made the night before. To be fair, I’ve been planning this day, and the following 11 days for the past nine months, so I’m pretty sure I have everything down – from the minute by minute plans, to the Canadian flag patches we might have to sew onto our backpacks in case our Uniter-in-Chief decides to bomb someone while we are a bit closer to the Korean Peninsula.

    I grab a quick workout and at 11:45am pull out of the driveway with NSPwife, NSPpeanut and NSPbabysitter. We rented a car for the hour drive, picking it up at a Hertz two miles from our house and dropping it off at O’Hare, just a few minute shuttle drive to International Terminal 5. We rented the car knowing that Uber is roughly the same cost, wanted to make sure the luggage would fit (needing an SUV), and to make sure we would be on our own schedule. The four of us are about to head around the world. While NSPwife and I have been to the other side of the world a couple of times, we’ve never truly traveled around the world. That’s about to change.

    The first leg is Chicago to Hong Kong on one of my favorite flights: Cathay 807, First Class. I didn’t necessarily book this flight due to it being my birthday, but one First Class and Three Business Class seats aren’t necessarily easy to come by – and it happened to be one of only three dates to choose from with that award availability and seemed to work from a work schedule perspective. Luckily, a second First Class seat opened up about 10 days before the flight, so NSPwife and I will both be sitting up front.

    After an 8:20pm arrival in Hong Kong and a quick planned jaunt into Kowloon, we will be staying at the Marriott Skycity hotel next to the Hong Kong airport, and take an 8:45am flight to Kuala Lumpur. NSPwife and I will be sitting in Business while NSPpeanut and NSPbabysitter have economy. This will be our first time there, a city that has long been on my bucket list, and I’m excited to try as much food as possible. It’s a quick 2.5 days in Kuala Lumpur, staying at the Grand Hyatt.

    Then it’s on to Phuket, Thailand, one of NSPwife and my happy places. We are staying at the Hilton Arcadia, and while a bit dated, we love the location. Karon beach is a little less party-central, which is nice for NSPpeanut. It’s also a few minute walk to a number of local restaurants, shops, tailors, and massage places. I can’t wait to stock up on custom suits, get multiple massages, authentic Thai food, and lay by the pool and beach. We are risking it a bit by traveling at the start of the rainy season – but hoping the occasional scattered thunderstorm is all we have to deal with.

    After Phuket, we make our way to Siem Reap by way of Bangkok on Bangkok Airways. I chose Bangkok Airways for two reasons: first, the times were excellent with an early morning flight and arrival into Siem Reap, and second, they don’t charge checked bag fees which would definitely add up after accumulating some extra baggage at the custom tailors and shops 😊. We will be staying at the Park Hyatt for our two days there and then make our way back to Bangkok. We arrive in Bangkok around 11:00am and booked the Grand Hyatt for the “day.” We’ll explore the city again for the day and hopefully grab a nap.

    At 2:00am we work our way back around the globe, Bangkok to Abu Dhabi, with a five hour layover, and onto Washington Dulles. It may be a painful trek, but I’m hoping we sleep the entire way to Abu Dhabi, in Etihad Business Class. I’m hoping there is enough time in Abu Dhabi for a quick trip to Emirates Palace for breakfast, and then we head back to the States, NSPwife and I in First Class and NSPpeanut and NSPbabysitter in Business Class.

    11 days, 21,391miles. It’s another whirlwind trip, but I learned from our last one that a relaxing beach destination in the middle is extremely rejuvenating, and added a fourth night (instead of only three) to the middle of the trip.

    Our Travel Map, courtesy of gcmap.com

    Our Travel Map, courtesy of gcmap.com

    As you might surmise, the vast majority of this trip utilized miles and points. A quick breakdown is below:

    Flights

    • ORD to HKG: 70K Alaska Airlines for First Class and 50K for Business Class, totaling 240K miles. Taxes & Fees totaled $22
    • HKG to KUL: 20K British Airways miles Business Class and paid economy tickets, totaling 40K miles. Taxes & Fees totaled $518
    • KUL to HKT: 23,676 Citi Thank You Points. Taxes & Fees totaled $11
    • HKT to BKK to REP to BKK: $943 for four seats inclusive of taxes and fees
    • BKK to AUH: 40K American Airlines Miles and 197,088 Etihad Guest Miles. Taxes & Fees totaled $554
    • AUH to IAD: 298,500 American Airlines Miles and 120,121 Etihad Guest Miles. Taxes & Fees totaled $326
    • IAD to MDW: 26,487 Southwest Miles transferred from Ultimate Rewards. Taxes & Fees totaled $22
    • Total miles used: 985,872
    • Total cash paid: $2,397

    In addition, we utilized $200 Travel Credits on both our Barclay Arrival and Bank of America Travel Reward cards, bringing the total to $1,997.

    Hotels

    • Marriott Skycity, Hong Kong: 1 night, 2 rooms, 31,815 Citi Thank You Points
    • Grand Hyatt, Kuala Lumpur: 2 nights, 2 rooms, 2 Annual Certificates from the Hyatt Credit Card ($75 annual fee) + 15K points per night, totaling $150 and 30K points
    • Hilton Arcadia, Phuket: 4 nights, 2 rooms, 19K points per night totaling 152K points
    • Park Hyatt, Siem Reap: 2 nights, 2 rooms, 15K points per night totaling 60K points
    • Total points used: 273,815
    • Total cash paid: $150

    There are a few things to mention about our itinerary. First, there are probably multiple ways we could have worked our way around the world with much fewer miles; however, after misconnecting with Matthew from Live & Let’s Fly a few times, I decided to just pull the trigger and book this itinerary. Business Class and First Class seats tend to go quickly, and since I booked the Cathay Flights, we were relatively locked in unless we wanted to delay our trip (which we didn’t). NSPwife’s reselling business also helps generate nearly 100,000 miles/points a month, so coupled with my past extreme credit card churning, we were, and are, flush with points, and setting up an itinerary to the desired schedule was more important than saving miles.

    NSPwife is also a Hyatt Globalist member, and status matched to Hilton Diamond. So hoping there’s an upgrade or two along the way. And of course free breakfast at every stop at each hotel due to status and the ability to crash airport lounges with NSPwife’s Priority Pass membership that came with her American Express Ameriprise Platinum Card (no annual fee for year one).

    Second, I really blew it with the HKT > REP > BKK flights. I kept waiting, and waiting, and waiting to make the reservation. I had assumed I was going to jump on an AirAsia or other ultra-low-cost carrier, and since tickets were just $45ish dollars, didn’t have a burning desire to book. Instead, about 45 days out when I tried to book, those flights doubled in cost, and with baggage fees were actually quite expensive. In hindsight, I should have transferred miles to Asia Miles and used Cathay Pacific to book on Bangkok Airways on a multi-city ticket. That would have been 15K miles per person, rather than the $250 per person (or 50% of our total cash outlay!!). Oh well. The one bummer was that when trying to book the flights with the Chase Portal to save 25%, they were pricing out the tickets at $757! Even the supervisors couldn’t manually ticket the flights, which was surprising, and frustrating. I mean, nearly a 300% price increase to book through Chase, that’s just insane, and frankly, disappointing that Chase would try to tack on that type of increase.

    To put the value of these miles and points in perspective using just a microcosm of the travels, here is the cost of a single First Class Cathay flight alone:

    Cathay First Class Ticket - Cash Value

    Cathay First Class Ticket – Cash Value

    So, yes, it’s 5:00am and there’s a bit to be excited about.

    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 9 – Qatar Airways Business Class & CPT > DOH > JFK & Finale

    by  • July 14, 2018 • Luxury Airline Travel, Miles & Points, Travel • 0 Comments

    Previous Trip Notes:
    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 8 – Cape Town & Radisson Blu Waterfront
    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 7 – JNB InterContinental & SAA Economy to CPT
    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 6 – Mauritius & Hilton Resort & Spa
    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 5 – Emirates First Class Lounge Dubai & EK703
    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 4 – Dubai, Al Maha & Sheraton Mall of the Emirates
    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 3 – IAD & EK232
    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 2 – Trip Report Setup
    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 1 – Planning

    We were about to embark on a relatively crazy flight schedule:

    • Leg 1: 4,616 mile, 9.5 hour flight to Doha
    • 3+ hour layover in Doha Airport
    • Leg 2: 6,705 mile, 13.75 hour flight to JFK
    • 2 hour layover in JFK Airport
    • Leg 3: 213 mile, 1.5 hour flight to DCA
    • Hour drive home to Baltimore
    • Bed.

    That’s roughly 26 hours in a plane in a 31-hour time-span. Cape Town’s airport was relatively easy to navigate, although the guys who rushed up to assist us as we unloaded our 1 million bags scoffed at the fairly good tip and tried to hard-sell for more money. Once we got past security, we headed to the Servisair Lounge, which overlooks part of the terminal. It was a nice lounge with the typical food & beverage offering. NSPwife did some final shopping, and then we all headed right downstairs to our gate.

    Servisair Lounge, Cape Town

    Servisair Lounge, Cape Town

    Servisair Lounge, Cape Town

    Servisair Lounge Food, Cape Town

    Servisair Lounge, Cape Town

    Servisair Lounge, Cape Town

    Servisair Lounge Food, Cape Town

    Servisair Lounge Food, Cape Town

    Servisair Lounge Food, Cape Town

    Servisair Lounge Food, Cape Town

    Servisair Lounge Bar, Cape Town

    Servisair Lounge Bar, Cape Town

    Servisair Lounge, Cape Town

    Servisair Lounge, Cape Town

    Servisair Lounge, Cape Town

    Servisair Lounge, Cape Town

    Understanding this was going to be rough, we booked NSPpeanut and NSPbabysitter in Business Class with us, which they learned upon entering the plane. The 777 plane we were on did not have pod seats, rather, they had very large and spacious open seats. This turned out to be perfect with an infant.

    We started out with some Champagne to close out a successful trip.

    Pre-Departure Rose Champagne, Qatar Airways

    Pre-Departure Rose Champagne, Qatar Airways

    The food and drink on the plane was good, but nothing that stood out as exceptional; however, the service was indeed fantastic.

    It’s amazing how much great service helps out when traveling with an infant. Being proactive, offering assistance, and being playful with the baby really make a difference, and our flight crew was exceptional. While this plane did not have enclosed suites, the “open” seats were actually perfect for flying with an awake infant:

    Qatar Airways Business Class Seats

    Qatar Airways Business Class Seats

    Qatar Airways Business Class Seats

    Qatar Airways Business Class Seats

    Qatar Airways Business Class Seats

    Qatar Airways Business Class Seats

    Qatar Airways Business Class Seats

    Qatar Airways Business Class Seats

    The amenity kits, warm towels, and food were all standard, but welcomed:

    Qatar Airways Business Class

    Qatar Airways Business Class

    Qatar Airways Business Class

    Qatar Airways Business Class

    Qatar Airways Business Class Dinner

    Qatar Airways Business Class Dinner

    Qatar Airways Business Class Cappuccino

    Qatar Airways Business Class Cappuccino

    We landed in Doha around 1am, and as we exited the plane, I approached a Qatar Airways representative asking if their Business Lounge was open at this late hour. She seemed disgusted at the insinuation that it might be closed, and replied: “of course is is open.” Ahh, the greatness of international travel. And boy was the lounge open.

    This lounge was bigger than many airports I’ve been to. Two floors. a reflection pool, multiple buffets, nap rooms, made-to-order food, game room, bathrooms with attendants who hand you towels. And hundreds of people. We were exhausted, so did not get to take full advantage of the fare (and missed some photo opportunities).

    Qatar Airways Business Lounge - Doha

    Qatar Airways Business Lounge – Doha

    Qatar Airways Business Lounge - Doha

    Qatar Airways Business Lounge – Doha

    Qatar Airways Business Lounge - Doha

    Qatar Airways Business Lounge – Doha

    Qatar Airways Business Lounge - Doha

    Qatar Airways Business Lounge – Doha

    Qatar Airways Business Lounge - Doha

    Qatar Airways Business Lounge – Doha

    Qatar Airways Business Lounge - Doha

    Qatar Airways Business Lounge – Doha

    Qatar Airways Business Lounge - Doha

    Qatar Airways Business Lounge – Doha

    Qatar Airways Business Lounge - Doha

    Qatar Airways Business Lounge – Doha

    Qatar Airways Business Lounge - Doha

    Qatar Airways Business Lounge – Doha

    Qatar Airways Business Lounge - Doha

    Qatar Airways Business Lounge – Doha

    After a bit of food and drink, we headed to our gate, albeit with a short detour to visit one of the world’s largest teddy bears:

    Doha Airport

    Doha Airport

    We arrived outside our gate, only to find some pretty extreme security measures to get into the boarding area. While NSPwife, NSPpeanut, & NSPbabysitter had to endure standard security measures, NSP-yours-truly was randomly selected for secondary (intense) security screening. This included taking every. Single. Thing. Out of my backback. This included swabbing every. Single. Page. On each each of my notebooks. My screening alone took nearly 20 minutes, and found that it had taken so long the plane had already begun boarding. We all boarded the plane, again all in Business Class. This plane did in fact have pods, which turned out to be OK, as NSPpeanut slept peacefully in her seat for the first six hours of the flight.

    Qatar Airways - Business Class DOH > JFK

    Qatar Airways – Business Class DOH > JFK

    Doha from the Air

    Doha from the Air

    Qatar Airways - Business Class DOH > JFK

    Qatar Airways – Business Class DOH > JFK

    Qatar Airways - Business Class DOH > JFK

    Qatar Airways – Business Class DOH > JFK

    One relatively cool experience was that I woke up at some point in the early morning hours, looked at the map, and saw that we were somewhere over Spain. Qatar offered 10MB of free data on their wifi, so I logged in to see what the score of game seven of the world series turned out to be. I pulled up CBS Sports, saw that the Cubs had blown a lead, but then won in extra innings. Wow. A guy was pacing the aisle, and when he saw me on my phone, he asked: “Are you on the internet.” I responded that I was, and he said “is there any chance you can check the score of the world series game.” I asked him who he was cheering for. When he responded the Cubs, I congratulated him. He seemed in shock, walked back to the “bar area,” poured a glass of Champagne, and promptly shotgunned it.

    Qatar Airways Business Class "Bar"

    Qatar Airways Business Class “Bar”

    I went back to sleep for a few hours, then spent the rest of the flight watching movies, and enjoying some food and drink. While again not a world-class experience, the food, drinks, and service were all good, and it was a very enjoyable trip.

    Qatar Airways - Business Class DOH > JFK

    Qatar Airways – Business Class DOH > JFK

    We landed at JFK, exhausted, but we just made it to multiple continents on many flights without the slightest hitch. And we only had one more short hop to go. That’s when it all began to go downhill. It started with us trying to hustle, praying that we could get on the earlier Delta flight to DC. We should have been able to make it as long as we didn’t dilly-dally. We make it to customs, and waited for our bags. All of our bags came quickly. Except 1: NSPpeanut’s airport carrier, which NSPwife and NSPbabysitter decided to GATE-CHECK FOR THE FIRST TIME while I was getting secondary-security-screened in Doha. So we waited. And waited. And waited. 45 minutes later, with a crazy infant in tow, we showed our passports to the customs officials, and took a few steps past the customs podium. We did a quick check, only to realize we left one of NSPpeanut’s carry-ons next to the carousel. Whoops. Of course, since we took a couple steps past the exit point, NSPwife had to spend the next hour waiting for a special customs agent, describing the bag, having the agent go find the bag, then get re-screened. Welp, we weren’t making that earlier flight.

    Meanwhile, I was moving the full cargo which we had amassed which was piled high out of a cart. When trying to get into the train to move from one terminal to the other, the cart wheel got stuck in the track, and some degenerate started yelling at me to hurry up. As Taylor Swift would say: “Welcome to New York.” Luckily my quick wit didn’t dwindle with exhaustion, and I made sure they knew I could give it right back at em. That was fun. Almost as much fun as getting off the train, only to find the terminal was under construction, so had to navigate an off-roading type of track with the cart full of stuff. Luckily, the service elevator (the only one in operation due to the construction), couldn’t fit a cart in it. Oh, great. I had to take 50-pound bags off the cart, and stack them in the elevator, then taken them to the next floor, unload them, head back down to get the cart, and pop back up…hoping no one would take anything. At that point, I may have preferred is someone pilfered one of the bags so I had less to move.

    I finally made it to the Delta counter, disheveled, sweating, and exhausted. I had some Delta Gift Cards that I had planned to use for the checked bag fee. Oh, really Delta? You don’t accept gift cards for checked baggage. That makes sense. And then the agent – piling it on – stated, you are going to have to check “that” bag, pointing to one of our carry-ons, which we carried on for all previous 24,000+ miles of flights without problem. I very politely stated that it easily fits in the overhead, but she wouldn’t hear it. She wouldn’t give me my ID back and stated that she would needed payment for that bag. I told her I was just going to throw it away. Somehow that worked, as she gave me back my ID. We then went through security, with the carry-on, and had no further problems with it.

    NSPpeanut was fairly tired, and let it be known that she wanted chicken nuggets from Wendy’s. We bought some chicken nuggets and french fries, and then went up to the Delta Skymiles Lounge:

    Delta Skyclub - JFK

    Delta Skyclub – JFK

    The check-in attendant was very nice, but told us that outside food was not allowed, even for infants. At that point, it was time for NSPwife to have her mild meltdown. She simply turned around, went right outside the doors, and sat on the ground with the infant and started to eat. The Skyclub attendant was borderline horrified, and then said we could go in as long as we sat in the back corner until we finished the food. Alas, we conquered the lounge and had a fortunately uneventful final couple hours.

    It was a whirlwind of a trip; the longest we’ve ever taken in terms of miles. The first one with a kid. But it was well worth it, and the memories (and photos & videos) will last a lifetime.

    Full Trip in Review:

    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 8 – Cape Town & Radisson Blu Waterfront

    by  • May 28, 2017 • Credit Cards, Luxury Hotel, Miles & Points, Travel • 0 Comments

    Previous Trip Notes:
    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 7 – JNB InterContinental & SAA Economy to CPT
    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 6 – Mauritius & Hilton Resort & Spa
    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 5 – Emirates First Class Lounge Dubai & EK703
    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 4 – Dubai, Al Maha & Sheraton Mall of the Emirates
    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 3 – IAD & EK232
    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 2 – Trip Report Setup
    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 1 – Planning

    We landed in Cape Town, took some cash out of the ATM while waiting for our bags, then made our way to the taxi stand, where there were many unsanctioned transportation providers. We managed to find the proper mini-van taxi and took off to the Radisson Blu hotel. The taxi ride was more expensive than I thought it would be, but according to Maps.Me they took us on the most direct route.

    We arrived at the Radisson Blu well before check-in time, but they managed to get us in one room. We dropped off our bags and walked over to the V&A Waterfront Mall. It was a huge shopping center – both indoor and outdoor. The weather was coolish/warm, with the sun shining, so the 10-15 minute walk pushing NSPpeanut in a stroller was nice. With the famous Table Mountain as one backdrop right beyond the large soccer stadium built for the 2010 World Cup, and the Cape Town harbor on the other, the sights did not disappoint. And little did we know it would only get better from there.

    After strolling around for a while, we grabbed lunch at an admittedly touristy lunch spot, and then went down a level to buy some groceries at the Pick n Pay (and by saying “buy groceries,” I mean beer and wine). This grocery store was great. Beer was cheap, and wine even cheaper. They had tons of baby food pouches, baby wipes and diapers that we were running low on. The pouches even had some South African focused flavors to help change up NSPpeanut’s routine of Beef Medley, Chicken Casserole and Vegetable Bake.

    We headed back to the hotel and relaxed for a little bit outside at the pool, which sits right along the cape. It was very tranquil and beautiful. Tired from two days of traveling, we decided to eat at the hotel restaurant. While the food was pretty good, service took forever. With a 15-month old in tow, you would think they would try to push the kitchen a little. Instead, it took ten minutes to come over and acknowledge us. Ten more minutes for water. Ten minutes to come back to take our order. 25 minutes for appetizers (and finally the chicken nuggets and fries for NSPpeanut), and then another 45 minutes for dinner. We felt bad that NSPpeanut decided she had enough and wouldn’t sit in her high chair any longer, but we had been waiting for over 90 minutes before our meals even came out! We had ordered dessert in advance, and by time we had finished eating, the meal clocked in at over two and a half hours! We were exhausted, and went to bed early, as we had planned a two-day private tour starting at 9am the following morning.

    We researched various tour guides for weeks before settling on Cape Town Private Tours. The only downside was that they did not take a credit card (and thus no discount by using the Barclay Arrival card). We opted to go with this tour operator despite not being able to use a credit card for a few reasons. First, their response time and insight when we emailed them were great. They said they could take us on the routes we asked for, but they proposed a different schedule as well their reasons for changing it up a bit. In the end, we took their recommendations and were very glad that we did so. Second, they were extremely knowledgeable – it was a husband and wife duo – Charl and Erna, and Charl had a PhD in history and could answer every question we had. Third, they were willing to be flexible, something that was much needed with a 15-month old.

    Charl greeted us at 9am in his Mercedes, was patient as we loaded in NSPpeanut, and we took off heading south. The first stop was at Boulders Beach. We were super excited for this stop, as NSPpeanut’s favorite animal was a penguin, and here she was about to see hundreds of penguins on the beach. While she couldn’t talk yet, she certainly showed her excitement at seeing her favorite friends.

    Boulders Beach - South Africa

    Boulders Beach – South Africa

    Boulders Beach - South Africa

    Boulders Beach – South Africa

    Boulders Beach - South Africa

    Boulders Beach – South Africa

    We grabbed a coffee and pastry at the gift shop and then continued down south. We pulled off the side of the road a couple times to take some pictures, and then went to an Ostrich Farm right outside the entrance to the Table Mountain National Park. It was a quick 30-minute tour, and while not exactly cheap, was very educational.

    Standing on an Ostrich Egg

    Standing on an Ostrich Egg

    NSPpeanut with Ostrich Babies

    NSPpeanut with Ostrich Babies

    Lavender at Ostrich Farm

    Lavender at Ostrich Farm

    At that point we headed in towards the Cape of Good Hope. Charl dropped us off at the restaurant as he searched for parking. He had reserved a table in advance, overlooking the cape. Oh. My. God. It was beautiful.

    View from Restaurant

    View from Restaurant

    We splurged on a large sushi lunch, paired with some South African wines, and took in the setting. Food in South Africa is cheap, and despite the fact that we were eating sushi, drinking wine, and were in a tourist restaurant, the bill was still amazingly inexpensive.

    After lunch, we headed up the mountain. We opted to walk in lieu of the cable car, a decision that halfway up we regretted. But the views just kept getting better and better. After seeing the Tetons in Jackson, Wyoming, the beaches in the Maldives, the dunes outside of Dubai, and the Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, these views topped the list.

    Cape of Good Hope, South Africa

    Cape Point, South Africa

    Cape of Good Hope, South Africa

    Cape Point, South Africa

    Cape of Good Hope, South Africa

    Cape Point, South Africa

    Directions from Cape of Good Hope, South Africa

    Directions from Cape Point, South Africa

    Cape of Good Hope, South Africa

    Cape Point, South Africa

    Pictures just don’t do it justice. Sadly, drones were illegal in all National Parks in South Africa, so I couldn’t get any aerial coverage. We did opt to take the cable car back down, and then headed over to the Cape of Good Hope where we spotted some wildlife:

    Wild Ostrich

    Wild Ostrich

    Cape of Good Hope, South Africa

    Cape of Good Hope, South Africa

    Sadly a dead whale was washed up on the beach:

    Dead Whale

    Dead Whale[/caption

    We then took off and started our way back to Cape Town, stopping at some other beautiful landmarks, such as the 12 Apostles mountains:

    [caption id="attachment_2704" align="aligncenter" width="500"]12 Apostles, Cape Town, South Africa 12 Apostles, Cape Town, South Africa

    Overall the day was fantastic. And when we got back to the hotel, we had arranged for massages. Cheap to begin with, but coupled with the 50% Barclays and boy was it a steal!

    We relaxed for a little bit and then headed back to the V&A Waterfront for dinner. We selected a South African restaurant. Again, it is amazing how cheap the food was at restaurants. NSPpeanut was fantastic, as she fell asleep before the food even came out, so we had a very nice and relaxing dinner. Afterwards we packed it in, as we had another early start the next morning.

    Charl met us again in the morning, and we took off for Stellenbosch, a great South African wine region. We started by hitting up a vineyard on the way to Franschhoek, a cute little town with botiques and cafes. Both the vineyard and Franschhoek were great.

    NSPpeanut Admiring the Vineyard Grounds

    NSPpeanut Admiring the Vineyard Grounds

    First Vineyard Stop

    First Vineyard Stop

    Views in Franschhoek

    Views in Franschhoek

    On the way back we stopped at Simonsig. The wine tasting and scenery was amazing:

    Simonsig Wine Estate

    Simonsig Wine Estate

    Our next step wasto the one place I wanted to visit for months: The Thirsty Scarecrow. This is a restaurant within a strawberry field. I thought NSPpeanut would love the pick strawberries. And I couldn’t wait to try their strawberry beer lager…hoping it would be similar to my all-time favorite: Abita Strawberry. Alas, neither were meant to be. The strawberry patch, although plentiful, was not open for picking. And they had run out of strawberry beer. I opted to try another strawberry drink, but it wasn’t anything special.

    By that point, the wine and beer and food had been flowing for hours, and it was time to call it a day. NSPwife and NSPpeanut fell asleep in the back of Charl’s Mercedes E-Class, and I setup the GoPro.

    The Radisson Blu Waterfront was very nice, with a very inexpensive spa and restaurant.

    Infinity Pool, Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town

    Infinity Pool, Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town

    Infinity Pool, Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town

    Infinity Pool, Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town

    Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town

    Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town

    NSPpeanut Chillin on the Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town, Patio

    NSPpeanut Chillin on the Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town, Patio

    Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town - Restaurant

    Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town – Restaurant

    Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town - Breakfast Buffet

    Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town – Breakfast Buffet

    Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town - Breakfast Buffet

    Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town – Breakfast Buffet

    Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town - Breakfast Buffet

    Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town – Breakfast Buffet

    Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town - Breakfast Buffet

    Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town – Breakfast Buffet

    Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town - Breakfast Buffet

    Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town – Breakfast Buffet

    Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town - Breakfast Buffet

    Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town – Breakfast Buffet

    Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town - Breakfast Buffet

    Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town – Breakfast Buffet

    Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town - Breakfast Buffet

    Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town – Breakfast Buffet

    Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town - Breakfast Buffet

    Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town – Breakfast Buffet

    Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town - Patio

    Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town – Patio

    Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town - Lobby Entrance

    Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town – Lobby Entrance

    Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town

    Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town

    Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town

    Radisson Blu Waterfront, Cape Town

    We were so exhausted, and NSPpeanut was near-delusional, that we opted to try our hand at dinner again. This time the service was much better, and faster.

    We woke up the next morning, grabbed the breakfast buffet and headed to the airport. Soon would be the long slog, Cape Town > Doha > JFK > DCA. Over 11,500 miles in roughly 24 hours:

    Our Long Flight(s) Home

    Our Long Flight(s) Home

    There was a surprise, however, in the waiting…

    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 7 – JNB InterContinental & SAA Economy to CPT

    by  • March 29, 2017 • Credit Cards, Luxury Hotel, Miles & Points, Travel • 0 Comments

    Previous Trip Notes:
    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 6 – Mauritius & Hilton Resort & Spa
    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 5 – Emirates First Class Lounge Dubai & EK703
    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 4 – Dubai, Al Maha & Sheraton Mall of the Emirates
    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 3 – IAD & EK232
    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 2 – Trip Report Setup
    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 1 – Planning

    We landed in JNB right at sunset:

    We were in the front of the plane, and I was itching to get off, grab our bags, check into the hotel, and watch the final three quarters of the Michigan vs. Michigan State football game. We made it to the baggage claim in record time, and then waited. And waited. And waited. Luckily, the airport offered 10MB of free WiFi, and I was able to follow along with CBS Sports Twitter feed. But we just waited soooooo long. Finally, about 45 minutes after arriving at the baggage claim, our bags arrived. At least, most of them. Another 10 minutes and our final bag came. We lugged them through customs, which was rather quick, and followed signs to the InterContinental – attached to the airport.

    The directions were not the best, often forgetting to place wayfinding at critical decision points. Add that with the fact that their luggage carts are specifically designed to be used on ESCALATORS, and it was quite the adventure:

    Escalators Designed for Luggage Carts

    Escalators Designed for Luggage Carts

    After getting lost once, we were finally given good directions and made our way to the hotel.

    The hotel itself was extremely nice. Beautiful lobby. 24-hour gym and pool. And the rooms were nice as well.

    InterContinental JNB

    InterContinental JNB

    InterContinental JNB

    InterContinental JNB

    InterContinental JNB Check-In

    InterContinental JNB Check-In

    InterContinental JNB Lobby

    InterContinental JNB Lobby

    InterContinental JNB Room Welcome Foyer

    InterContinental JNB Room Welcome Foyer

    InterContinental JNB Bathroom

    InterContinental JNB Bathroom

    InterContinental JNB Room with Crib

    InterContinental JNB Room with Crib

    InterContinental JNB Room Seating Area

    InterContinental JNB Room Seating Area

    InterContinental JNB Room Desk

    InterContinental JNB Room Desk

    I logged into my VPN and was able to watch a victorious 4th quarter while eating room service. Life was good. We had an early morning flight, so we put the baby to sleep and followed shortly thereafter.

    We woke up rather early and walked back to the airport. We made it to South African Airways check-in, and made our way to the check-in counter. We received our 3 boarding passes but nothing for the lap-child pass. I asked if we needed a pass for the baby and was told we did not. That didn’t sound right, but I had never traveled in Africa before.

    So we headed to the security queue, which was rather lengthy and made it to the front. And BAM. No lap-child pass, no entry. So now I had to run back to check-in, which had a massive line, and we were starting to race against the clock. Luckily a manager was walking by and I explained what had happened. She quickly took me to a computer, only to find out that the baby had been book on her own flight later that afternoon! Needless to say, it was fixed – and rather quickly – and I made it back to security, but at that point we were moving with haste.

    I flew down to the Bidvest Premier Lounge to grab some snacks and coffee for the plane. It was a nice lounge, and grabbed enough to hold us over on a relatively short flight in (gasp) economy. There were plenty of pastries, cheeses and drinks. While I wasn’t in the market for alcoholic drinks in the morning, the alcohol was locked up, apparently not being offered in the morning.

    By the time we arrived at the gate, they had begun boarding. We jumped on the flight, which was similar to any domestic economy class flight, except they did provide a small breakfast.

    It was a quick 11 hours in Johannesburg, that consisted of the airport and an attached hotel; however, we were on our way to three nights in Cape Town, with plenty of exploration planned.

    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 6 – Mauritius & Hilton Resort & Spa

    by  • February 24, 2017 • Luxury Airline Travel, Luxury Hotel, Miles & Points, Travel • 0 Comments

    Previous Trip Notes:
    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 5 – Emirates First Class Lounge Dubai & EK703
    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 4 – Dubai, Al Maha & Sheraton Mall of the Emirates
    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 3 – IAD & EK232
    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 2 – Trip Report Setup
    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 1 – Planning

    We arrived at the Mauritius Airport around 5pm and had booked taxi-service in advance through taxismauritius.com. Prices were very reasonable, and we made sure to reserve a mini-van given the amount of stuff we had. The driver was waiting at the arrivals area with my name on a placard, and we took a quick walk to the taxi. It was bright as could be, and since the drive was only about 45 minutes away, I thought we might be able to chase the sunset and watch it from our room similar to our experience in Costa Rica.

    Boy was I wrong. Within twenty minutes, it was completely dark outside. It was amazing how quickly the sun had set, so by time we arrived at the hotel, we were all exhausted. When we arrived, we were greeted by a gong:

    Welcome Gong

    We went to check-in, which was where we first realized that despite being thousands of miles from the Caribbean, Mauritians also set their watches to island time. Thirty minutes later we were checked in and they were showing us to our two adjoining rooms. The hotel was pretty booked up, so despite the fact that they were selling multiple suite types when we checked in, I didn’t hold my breath for an upgrade – and luckily so. Again, my streak as a Diamond member without a single upgrade continued.

    The rooms were nice, very similar to the Grand Hyatt in Bali; somewhat dated, not a ton of space, but there was a spacious balcony which would allow me to watch the sun go down and smoke a cigar. What more could you ask for?

    The grounds were fantastic. Sprawling pools, great landscaping, and ample beach chairs which always had availability. There was also a decent sized hot tub, perfect for NSPpeanut, particularly when it got cool in the early morning and evening. Upon check-in, we received a “towel key” for every person, and you have to turn in the keys to the pool desk to receive your beach towels. Given the location of the pool desk, it wasn’t an inconvenience and was easy then to trade out the towels whenever you wanted.

    Hilton Mauritius – View from Room Balcony

    Hilton Mauritius – Beach View

    Hilton Mauritius – Plenty of Beach Chairs

    Hilton Mauritius

    Hilton Mauritius – Lobby Bar Area

    Hilton Mauritius – Main Pool

    Hilton Mauritius – Infinity Pool

    Hilton Mauritius – Infinity Pool Bar

    Hilton Mauritius – Towel Check

    Hilton Mauritius – Main Pool Waterfall

    Hilton Mauritius – Hot Tub

    Hilton Mauritius – Main Pool Bar

    Hilton Mauritius – Main Grounds

    Hilton Mauritius – Check-In Area

    One of the highlights of staying at the Hilton were the complimentary water activities. This included everything from paddleboarding and kayaking to water-skiing and kite-surfing (although the winds were never low enough to be allowed to kite-surf given I was a beginner). We took advantage of the water-skiing, which was a great feeling to be doing so in the Indian Ocean:

    Hilton Mauritius – Complimentary Water Activities

    Hilton Mauritius – Complimentary Boat Ride to Water Skiing

    They also had land-based activities such as beach volleyball and ping pong tournaments:

    Hilton Mauritius – Beach Ping Pong

    Hilton Mauritius – Ping Pong Champion!

    Breakfast was mediocre at best. Of course it is difficult to provide an amazingly fresh robust breakfast when on an island in the middle of ocean; however, one of the downsides was the complete lack of variety each day. The one item they changed on our last day was the inclusion of home fries. I ate a couple entire plates, just because I was struggling to eat another chocolate croissant or vegetable curry.

    Hilton Mauritius – Breakfast

    Hilton Mauritius – Breakfast

    Hilton Mauritius – Breakfast

    Hilton Mauritius – Breakfast

    Hilton Mauritius – Breakfast

    Hilton Mauritius – Breakfast

    Hilton Mauritius – Breakfast

    Hilton Mauritius – Breakfast

    Hilton Mauritius – Breakfast

    Hilton Mauritius – Breakfast

    Hilton Mauritius – Breakfast

    Hilton Mauritius – Breakfast

    Hilton Mauritius – Breakfast

    Hilton Mauritius – Breakfast

    Hilton Mauritius – Breakfast

    Hilton Mauritius – Breakfast

    One day we arranged for a taxi driver to give us a half-day tour. We decided to head south, where we visited a number of local landmarks. We first went to the Chamarel waterfall, located within a national park. The waterfall was stunning, over 100 meters tall, and the views around it just as amazing. We then drove a few minutes to Seven Coloured Earths. It was an extremely cool experience and well worth the trip.

    Chamarel Waterfall – Mauritius

    Chamarel Waterfall – Mauritius

    Seven Coloured Earths – Mauritius

    Seven Coloured Earths – Mauritius

    On the way back to the hotel, we made two side stops. The first was to the Black River Gorge. This was upon request, as I wanted to fly my drone to get some videos of Mauritius, since drones are illegal in their national parks. The views were just amazing, and this was the first place we saw tourist-trap tents selling various wares. I of course had to pick up a Phoenix Beer t-shirt and pure sugar cane drink.

    Black River Gorge – Mauritius

    Black River Gorge – Mauritius

    Black River Gorge – Mauritius

    Lastly, we visited Ganga Talao, a natural pond/crater lake that is formed at the top of a mountain and which is now a sacred Hindu site.

    Ganga Talao – Mauritius

    Ganga Talao – Mauritius

    Ganga Talao – Mauritius

    We arrived back at the hotel and hung out at the pool for awhile until we went out for dinner. We decided to go to Domaine Anna, and we were not disappointed. While more on the “Chinese” spectrum than “Mauritian” – as far as food style goes – the restaurant is laid out in the middle of a sprawling pool of water, offering a very majestic feel. The food was also very good, and not very expensive. During our stay, we also ate at Ginger (a couple of times), the Thai restaurant at the Hilton:

    Hilton Mauritius – Ginger Restaurant

    The last morning I woke up early, around 6:30am. I headed out to the lobby area and was pleasantly surprised to see a fully stocked coffee bar. I helped myself to a couple coffees, but when I went for a third cup at 7:30am, it was completely gone and an afternoon water & juice station was set up! I thought that was strange, but not a huge deal since the breakfast buffet had a full coffee bar. Just something that was a bit unusual.

    Juice Replaced Coffee at 7:30am

    On our last day, at around 9am I asked the front desk if we could extend our check-out from noon to 12:45pm (45 minutes). They told me that unfortunately the hotel was sold out and they couldn’t accommodate. One of the supervisors wasn’t around, so I decided to head back to the room to begin to pack up and check back later. We packed up the rooms and headed down to breakfast (and the full supply of home fries). At about 10:30am on our way back, I again stopped at the front desk to see if we could check out at 12:30pm. Again I was told it wasn’t possible. I asked if I checked out of one of my two rooms right then (at 10:30), if we could have 30 extra minutes in our second room – again without a positive outcome. That was disappointing, and made our stay rushed to get a 15-month old packed up and ready to go. While not Earth-shattering, I just can’t believe the lack of basic accommodations for a top-tier level guest, and I’ll be content being a Hilton Gold in the future with no desire to chase Diamond status.

    Pro-tip: While we received conflicting information from various concierges, you in fact can charge taxis to the room, and the hotel will pay the taxi driver. Why is this important? A solid 50% discount on all travel-related charges with the Barclays Arrival card, of course!

    We headed back to the airport with the same taxi service that picked us up, and made it to the terminal. We were set to fly, gasp, economy, from Mauritius to Johannesburg. It’s just under a 5 hour flight, and NSPpeanut had her own seat. I had booked the tickets for 10,000 British Airways Avois + $44 per person in taxes. When checking in, I was told that for an additional $80 per person, we could upgrade to club class. Why would I want to do this? Michigan was playing Michigan State in football, and if I could get priority tags for my checked luggage, it would have been worth a million dollars to me so I could watch as much of the game as possible (I knew I would miss the first quarter no matter what).

    We upgraded and then headed to the Priority Pass Lounge. It was actually a pretty nice lounge for being in a very small airport (I’m still shocked that an A380 can land there!!).

    MRU - Salon Nenuphar Priority Pass Lounge

    MRU – Salon Nenuphar Priority Pass Lounge

    MRU - Salon Nenuphar Priority Pass Lounge

    MRU – Salon Nenuphar Priority Pass Lounge

    MRU - Salon Nenuphar Priority Pass Lounge

    MRU – Salon Nenuphar Priority Pass Lounge

    MRU - Salon Nenuphar Priority Pass Lounge

    MRU – Salon Nenuphar Priority Pass Lounge

    MRU - Salon Nenuphar Priority Pass Lounge

    MRU – Salon Nenuphar Priority Pass Lounge

    MRU - Salon Nenuphar Priority Pass Lounge

    MRU – Salon Nenuphar Priority Pass Lounge

    MRU - Salon Nenuphar Priority Pass Lounge

    MRU – Salon Nenuphar Priority Pass Lounge

    MRU - Salon Nenuphar Priority Pass Lounge, Gate Overlook

    MRU – Salon Nenuphar Priority Pass Lounge, Gate Overlook

    Before we knew it we were on board ready to rock and roll. As it turned out, the club seats were a good idea (again, the $80 per person is really $40 per person when using my Barclays Arrival card), as NSPpeanut was quite the terror, and we really needed the blocked middle seat that was utilized to “create business class.” We arrived on time, had to wait forever for luggage, and then headed right next door to the Intercontinental airport hotel. Overall, Mauritius was beautiful and well worth the visit. That really leaves Seychelles as the last island in the Indian Ocean that NSPwife and I would like to visit!

    *I realize I wrote a couple times about how I receive 50% off through the Barclays Arrival card. You can read the economics of this in this article.

    The Status Match Goal

    by  • January 27, 2017 • Credit Cards, Luxury Hotel, Miles & Points, Travel • 0 Comments

    I’ve status matched and status challenged a number of times in the past decade. My first ever was a Delta status match from their Japan web site that was live for a couple of days. At the time I was a United Premier member (lowest on the totem pole), from the great days of double EQMs on every flight. During the one year I was a Delta Silver Medallion, I took exactly one Delta flight. Probably not the best use of a status match (particularly if matches are only “once in a lifetime”), but my experience on that single (short) flight from IND to MSP left me wanting Delta status if I ever moved to a Delta hub city. My complimentary upgrade cleared, and having complimentary adult beverages and snacks after a 3-day camping binge on the way to a wedding, the space and refreshments provided a sense of relief that I can still emotionally feel, close to a decade later.

    When I put that into comparison for a couple other recent status matches, I wonder what the executives were thinking, and hoping, by providing status matches. A few years ago I took the Hyatt Challenge – which incentivized me to actually move into a Hyatt for a few weeks in the middle of a work relocation. Win-win for everyone. I fell in love with the Diamond status benefits – again, the espresso machine and light snacks in Baltimore’s Hyatt Regency lounge weren’t life-altering, but when working 18+ hour days for a few weeks, to wake up and be able to grab 3 double-espresso lattes in to-go cups with 2 croissants in under a minute, the benefit felt life-altering. I’ve been a committed Hyatt fan since – staying at Hyatt’s across the globe, both on points and cash stays.

    Compare that to Hilton Diamond status, which I matched to late last year. I’ve been a Hilton Gold member for years through varying credit cards. And I LOVE the breakfast benefit. I decided to match to Diamond for a couple reasons: first, I knew we were heading to Aruba, and while we would spend a few nights at the Hyatt, I was interested in seeing what the Hilton Diamond status would provide. So we booked one night at the Hilton in Aruba. You can read my post about it here. Wow. What a letdown. First, let me start out by saying I always ask if an upgrade is available, but I don’t press it. At all. I didn’t earn the status through paid stays, and I don’t feel entitled to upgrades if they aren’t available. But in this case, we were staying for 1 night, arriving rather late in the afternoon, and the hotel was selling multiple suites. No upgrade? OK. Score +1 for Hyatt and the confirmed suite upgrade I was getting for the next few nights. If you read further into my trip report, for breakfast we received a pastry and orange juice. It was a joke. -1 for Hilton Diamond Status. Maybe it was just the Aruba property…we’ll see.

    A few stays at various Hilton properties throughout the year, nothing earth-shattering, no room upgrades, nothing that made me feel that Diamond status was better than Gold status.

    And then my most recent Hilton stay. I’m writing this post after a 3-night stay at the Hilton Resort & Spa in Mauritius. It’s a nice property – the grounds reminded me a lot of the Grand Hyatt in Bali. Very spread out, somewhat dated rooms, but overall quite nice. We arrived around 7:00pm. Check-in took nearly 30 minutes (you know, island time), only to be given a welcome letter when we get shown the room, with the employee inviting us to a GM reception cocktail hour…from 6:30pm-7:30pm. I asked: “So the reception is over?” And they responded that yes, unfortunately we have missed the reception by a couple of minutes. I’d understand if the welcome letter was left in the room; however, the letter was handed to us with an explanation of what it was. I asked if we could attend the one the following night, which they replied unfortunately it was only valid on the date you arrived.

    OK – not a big deal, but when you are the highest status of a loyalty reward program, you expect the highest level of convenience. Everyone should get great service, so you shouldn’t be given better service – but rather convenience. A Diamond member was set to arrive, and instead of pre-checking in the rooms, we had to wait for nearly 30 minutes (after a seven hour plane ride and hour taxi ride). Again, the mythical upgrade was not to be found despite the hotel selling three different suite types at the time of check-in. This again isn’t a knock on the property or made the stay any less enjoyable, but I would assume the goal of a status match is to make the guest want to remain at their matched status level. I would assume it is used as a tool to show potential high-value guests that their offering for elite members is better than their competitors. But apparently there is no difference between a Diamond and Gold member in the World of Hilton. I have zero reason, whether for business or personal travel, to try to attain Diamond status. I’m better off chasing Hyatt/Marriott/Starwood, as I already have Hilton Gold, and there’s nothing I get for increasing my loyalty. I couldn’t even receive a 30-minute late check-out for one of my two rooms (I even offered to check-out 2 hours early for one of my rooms). That’s not convenience – and if I had actually earned the status through paid stays, I’d never stay at a Hilton property again after that level (or lack there of) of service.

    One benefit that Hilton Diamond status allows is a “room guarantee.” I found that perk name to be quite misleading. On multiple occasions throughout the year, I needed a room at a hotel and was unable to book them. On the occasions that I was able to book them, one was for a DoubleTree in Charlottesville, Virginia, and one was for a Hampton Inn outside Iowa City, Iowa; however, I had to check the Hilton app about 3-4 times a day for weeks until finally they opened up a room, and in both cases just day(s) before the stay. Both of those worked out OK for me…worst case was that I would crash in a friend’s room somewhere else where they were staying. But again, top level elite status is about convenience. If I were not a fly-by-last-minute-is-ok type of guy, I would have booked a room somewhere else. And certainly checking constantly for weeks does not spell out convenience.

    I would assume that during the beginning of this year, Hilton will perform analysis on all guests with whom they offered a match at the end of 2015, also taking into account what program/level they matched from, to see if there was any lift in trips and/or revenue from these guests in 2016. My guess is that they will see anywhere from 1-2 stays – essentially trials, at which point then there isn’t a meaningful bump. I’d also be interested to see how their 2018 analysis of these guests are in 2017. The fact is, Hilton Diamond status offers nearly nothing beyond Gold – and any type of “Status Chasing” that I might have tried this year, be in through stays or credit card spend, went out the window. In Hilton’s case, they actually lost potential future revenue from me, given that I’ve seen there’s no wizard behind the curtain.

    Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe my experiences throughout the year are all anomalies. If not, Hilton just said: we’ll incent you to stay with us to prove that we have inferior top-level elite benefits compared to our peers. I’m not sure what the executives in their loyalty program were thinking. At the very minimum, if they are trying to compete with their competitors, a competitor assessment needs to be made for their top tier level.

    Have you had better experiences as a Diamond member? Will your status match result in increased spend within the Hilton brand in 2017 and beyond? I’m just baffled and am wondering if I just had some unfortunate experiences throughout this past year.

    That Bar is Going to Remain Quite Low - I'm Not Chasing to Get Back to DIA Status

    That Bar is Going to Remain Quite Low – I’m Not Chasing to Get Back to DIA Status

    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 5 – Emirates First Class Lounge Dubai & EK703

    by  • January 9, 2017 • Luxury Airline Travel, Luxury Hotel, Travel • 0 Comments

    Previous Trip Notes:
    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 4 – Dubai, Al Maha & Sheraton Mall of the Emirates
    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 3 – IAD & EK232
    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 2 – Trip Report Setup
    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 1 – Planning

    The category 5 hurricane that we refer to as NSPpeanut necessitated we catch up on as much sleep as possible, so the original plan of waking up at 4am and departing Al Maha early in order to spend as much time as possible experiencing Emirates First Class Lounge was changed, and we opted for a couple more hours of sleep. We used the car service from Al Maha to the Sheraton Mall of the Emirates, which wasn’t a bad price at about $75 – particularly since we could charge the taxi + sparkling waters we drank to the hotel and essentially receive a 50% discount by using our Barclaycard Arrival miles.

    At the Sheraton, we picked up NSPbabysitter and NSPpeanut, switched taxis to a large minivan, packed up the hundreds of bags that we brought, and headed towards DXB. Traffic was worse than I had expected, and we arrived only about 2 hours before our flight. A couple airport porters took our bags and escorted us to the special First Class check-in area. Five minutes later we were on our way through a short security queue, and about 90 minutes before our flight we were checked into the Emirates First Class Lounge, which in size, resembles the size of Cleveland’s entire airport.

    The Emirates First Class lounge is actually an entire floor above the main terminal, and spans the entire length of the terminal. In addition to standard drink areas, there are shops, Duty Free areas, a Cigar Lounge, kids play area, snack areas and a full-serve complimentary restaurant offering a la carte ordering or a buffet.

    Emirates First Class Lounge Restaurant, Dubai – Wagyu Burger

    Despite being around 8am, I asked if I would be able to order something off the lunch and dinner menu. The server had to check with the chef, but came back and said it wouldn’t be a problem. After a Wagyu burger and grilled prawns, we set off to our personal first class boarding area, separated from everyone else boarding the plane.

    Unlike our previous Emirates flight which was more than half empty, both economy and business class were 100% full. I had luckily booked the very first bulkhead row for NSPbabysitter and NSPpeanut, allowing for a very quick walk from our seats right upstairs.

    The Second A380 in as Many Days

    The next thing that happened was just amazing. The purser said that the approved airplane seat we had brought for NSPpeanut wasn’t allowed to support NSPpeanut during take-off, so she would have to come up with us. He also stated that since we had bought her own ticket, she was more than welcome to stay with us upstairs – allowing NSPbabysitter her first sleep in 48 hours, and also calmed NSPpeanut down to the point where she took full advantage of her upgrade:

    NSPpeanut Resting in Emirates First Class

    The flight attendants were again phenomenal. Attentive, helpful and provided a great experience. Of course I took my 2nd shower on a plane in almost as many days, and rather than a 2006 Dom Perignon, opted for the 1986 Ducru Beaucaillou Bordeaux. Absolutely amazing.

    1986 Ducru Beaucaillou

    While nearly seven hours, the flight flew by, and before I knew it, we were descending toward Mauritius.

    Again, I can’t emphasize how awesome the flight attendants were. This truly is what set Emirates apart from other airlines. Next stop, our second Indian Ocean island visit in two years…

    2016 Flights in Review

    by  • January 1, 2017 • Credit Cards, Luxury Airline Travel, Luxury Hotel, Miles & Points, Travel • 0 Comments

    What a year. Even with two road trips, one from Baltimore to Kiawah Island and back, and one from Chicago to Iowa City and back, I flew nearly 45,000 miles. The only flights purchased on cash fares were:

    • Baltimore to Indianapolis (about $150) on Southwest
    • Johannesburg, South Africa to Cape Town, South Africa (about $100) on South African Airways

    All other flights were made with points. Taxes totaled a few hundred dollars. Most flights on Southwest included a free ticket thanks to NSPwife’s Companion Pass. My flight back from San Luis Obispo was cancelled due to mechanical issues, so everyone was given a voucher for $200.

    Overall another great year – primarily due to Alaskan Airlines miles courtesy of Bank of America.

    2016 Flights

    2016 Flights – courtesy of gcmap.com

    Top 10 List:

    1. First Class BWI>SFO with wine tasting in SFO Centurion Lounge
    2. Companion Pass for 2 International Destinations: Aruba & Costa Rica
    3. Dom and 1986 Bordeaux in Emirates First
    4. First Class MIA>SJO for four of us with MIA Centurion Lounge
    5. Al Maha in the UAE, take two
    6. Andaz Papagayo in Costa Rica
    7. Qatar Business Lounge in Doha
    8. South Africa; all of it
    9. El Silencio Lodge & Spa in Costa Rica
    10. Showering on Emirates – twice