• Luxury Airline Travel

    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 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.

    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

    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 3 – IAD & EK232

    by  • November 26, 2016 • Luxury Airline Travel, Travel • 0 Comments

    Previous Trip Notes:
    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 2 – Trip Report Setup
    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 1 – Planning

    Today was the day. About a 6:30am alarm, needed as much as a kid needs a wake-up on Christmas morning, went off, and NSPwife and I started getting everything ready to wake up NSPpeanut. We spent the night at NSPwife’s parents’ house in northern Virginia, making the easy 20-minute drive from their house to IAD:

    I packed majestically. You literally could have fit everything I packed into a backpack, with the exception of my DJI Phantom 3 drone. NSPpeanut, however, packed like she was orbiting Mars:

    Yes, we were truly a disaster, and I knew we would have to rely on mini-van taxis wherever we went. Sigh.

    Checked Luggage – Not Including the Stroller or Car Seat

    First Class check-in was a breeze. They advised us that the plane was extremely empty, and that rather than a bassinet seat, they could give NSPpeanut and NSPbabysitter an entire 5-seat row. Awesome. The check-in agent said we did not qualify for lounge access given our ticket type (not true), but I wasn’t overly concerned, as the lounge Emirates uses in Dulles is the Air France lounge which is a member of the Priority Pass network, and we adjusted one of NSPwife’s AMEX Platinum’s authorized users for the trip to NSPbabysitter. There was no line at security, and less than ten minutes later we were all sitting in the lounge, directly across from our gate, enjoying breakfast, coffee and champagne.

    Emirates Utilizes the Air France Lounge at IAD

    Air France Lounge – IAD

    Air France Lounge – IAD

    Air France Lounge Bar – IAD

    Air France Lounge Food – IAD

    Air France Lounge Desserts – IAD

    It was getting close to boarding time, so we packed up our things and were about to leave the lounge. The Emirates attendant mentioned that we weren’t boarding yet, so I asked her if she could confirm that the entire row was still available. I handed her all four boarding passes, at which point she looked incredulously at me and asked why we didn’t present our First Class tickets earlier. Apparently there is a first-class section of the lounge, albeit small, that provides better alcoholic beverages. She then showed us in there and said she would let us know when it was time to board.

    Private First Class Section of Air France Lounge – IAD

    Our Huge, Beautiful, Bird

    We hung out for about 20 more minutes – the plane seemed to be boarding fairly late, and then we were escorted to the front of the boarding line. They let NSPwife and I head directly back to economy class to settle in NSPpeanut. There was, however, one. Major. Problem. “Bunny” was missing. We looked everywhere, and NSPwife went charging back to see if she could go into the lounge to find “Bunny,” NSPpeanut’s best friend. Emirates, of course, couldn’t let NSPwife off the plane, and the flight attendants, babysitter, all passengers in economy, and NSPparents were going to have to face the soon to be presented wrath…but more on that soon.

    30 minutes later, NSPpeanut wasn’t happy when we left her, but the 2006 Dom wasn’t going to drink itself. I settled into the First Class suite, ordered my champagne, and explored the suite.

    Obligatory Suite & Champagne Shot – EK232

    Pure bliss. Delicious, bubbly, bliss. Emirates A380 planes have phones in all seats, and you can call each seat. PERFECT. NSPwife could check-in whenever she wanted, without even having to get up!

    Take-off was the smoothest I’ve ever experienced. As opposed to the Boeing 747, which feels like it is fighting every bit of God’s intended gravity to launch towards the heavens, the Airbus A380 seemed to lift its wheels off the ground at about 50 MPG and just glide up on angels’ wings. A very cool, and unique, experience.

    I decided on Caviar (of course) for my first dish with a filet for my main course, and they offered a very good amuse bouche:

    Amuse Bouche

    Caviar Appetizer

    Filet for Lunch

    While the food was good, it was not on par with my experience traveling on Etihad First. Given Etihad also had its own dedicated lounge, Etihad started at 2-0 for the Battle of the Big Gulf Carriers.

    NSPwife and I stopped at the bar for a drink:

    Emirates Business Class Bar

    We then headed down to say hello to the baby…a big mistake. It would set off a terror unknown to mankind. So bad that the attendants asked if NSPbabysitter could take her up to the Business Class bar to hang out with us, and maybe that would calm her down. Done.

    We hung out upstairs for quite some time.

    And then decided it was time to take a nap. I woke up about 1.5 hours later only to find NSPpeanut inside the suite with NSPwife.

    Baby in Emirates First Class

    Uh oh. This wasn’t good. The look NSPwife gave me could have killed. NSPpeanut was not welcome on the plane. And nothing could soothe her. She wanted Bunny, and if she couldn’t have him, there would be hell to pay. While she was fairly subdued in the suite, the Purser asked us to take her back down to economy. We did, but I had to head up for my shower. NSPwife wanted to cancel hers.

    The shower was unreal. A heated floor. Running water with great water pressure. The five minutes of water was plenty…in fact I finished washing up in about two minutes, and then just relaxed until the water ran out.

    Shower Amenities

    Emirates First Class Shower

    I convinced NSPwife to go take a shower. While I was sitting on the floor. Of economy. Trying everything in the world to have NSPpeanut stop screaming.

    Unhappy Baby on Emirates

    With about an hour to go, NSPwife and I moved back upstairs. The NSPpeanut had simmered down, slightly. I had a quick “breakfast” – which was fairly good, although not great, and relaxed until we landed. I will say, however, that the cappuccino was delicious:

    Emirates Cappuccino

    Upon landing, they gave us an extra fast track immigration voucher for NSPbabysitter, so we could get NSPpeanut out of public as soon as possible:

    Fast Track Immigration

    Overall, I can’t speak more highly of the flight attendants. From the ones in economy trying to help in every possible way, to the business class “bartenders,” service was phenomenal. While the First Class attendants weren’t quite as attentive as Cathay Pacific, and the food quality not quite up to the level of Etihad (with an executive chef on the plane), the service really made the flight stand out. We were looking forward to another A380 experience in 50 hours on our way to Mauritius.

    Emirates Flight: IAD > DXB

    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 1 – Planning

    by  • November 21, 2016 • Cash Back, Credit Cards, Luxury Airline Travel, Luxury Hotel, Miles & Points, Travel • 0 Comments

    NSPwife and I welcomed NSPpeanut into the world on July 14, 2015. As one can expect, she quickly earned her first set of “wings” on United, traveling from Washington Dulles to San Francisco when she was three months old. We decided to fly in economy, but purchase a seat for NSPpeanut. It turned out that she didn’t mind any part of the flight, napping for most of it, and being genuinely well behaved when she was awake. A guy sitting directly behind her gave me a high-five when we were getting off the plane and loudly declared: “best baby ever.” Although biased, we agree.

    A couple weeks later she learned what it was like to fly as a “lap-baby” on her way from Baltimore to St. Louis, and then a month later did the same from Baltimore to Detroit. We decided to “lap-baby-it” from Baltimore to Aruba a couple days after New Years (a 3-for-1 flight, given we have a companion pass). The plane was 100% full on the way down, and 4 hours was a little much for NSPwife. On the way back there were extra seats, and the nice flight attendants didn’t take issue that we kept the baby in a car-seat in her own seat next to us. I luv Southwest.

    During these fall travels, it became clear that if we were going to take our annual “big trip” in 2016, NSPpeanut would have to tag along. As we discussed places and options, we decided to take Asia out of the mix (we are still set on returning to Thailand, and visiting Malaysia and Japan in the near future). We wanted a mix of relaxation and adventure, all that would be baby-appropriate. As we had hundreds of thousands of Alaskan Airlines miles burning holes in our accounts, that left the best use of those miles for Australia or a trip on Emirates (taking out Cathay Pacific). Both NSPwife and I have been to Australia, so we started to look into maximizing our trips should we take Emirates. In first class.

    The flight from Dallas to Dubai is 8,040 miles (just shy of 15 hours in the air). While nice, when you are on an A380 decked out with a shower and bar, you want to maximize that time. We decided to head down to Cape Town, adding Dubai as just a stopover. Unfortunately, we could not find a single flight with award ticket availability from Dubai to Cape Town! After some additional research, we found that we could fly from Dubai to Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean just east of Madagascar – another 3,000 miles and seven hours with the ability to drink Dom and shower at 38,000 feet. The beauty of this ticket is that by using Alaskan Airlines miles, the ticket in first class cost 100,000 miles from the US to Mauritius – and the 2-day stopover in Dubai cost no extra miles.

    On our honeymoon, NSPwife and I stayed a night at Al Maha. It was by far the nicest place we’ve ever stayed, and at the time made a commitment to each other that we had to return within five years. 18-months later and we’d be back watching the sun set over an endless sea of sand in a remote desert near Oman. Pure euphoria. At 60,000 points per night, this is not a cheap award; however, for the past two years SPG held a “fall promo” that discounted the rooms to 39,000 points. We speculatively booked at 60,000 and hoped for the best. A month before our stay, I received the much anticipated email. 15 minutes later, we were booked for 39,000 points per night.

    There was, however, an extraneous factor at play on this trip. NSPpeanut, our 15-month old baby. And when researching “lap-babies” on the Google machine, we found out that on most international itineraries, an infant fare is charged at 10% of the adult fare. At $22,000, a lap-baby would still cost over $2,000 to sit with us in First Class!

    Emirates IAD > DXB > MRU Cost

    In addition, Al Maha does not allow in anyone under 21 years old. So, we had to make a decision (and remember, NSPwife was clear that NSPpeanut was NOT staying in the U.S.). Ultimately, we decided to bring along one of NSPpeanut’s babysitters. So were all four of us going to be in First Class on Emirates? 100,000 miles for a 15-month old? No thanks. The babysitter and NSPpeanut were riding in the back, but we did get each of them their own seat, and made sure to book a bassinet seat. In Dubai, we booked a room at the Sheraton Mall of the Emirates. We did this for a couple reasons. First, using the Starwood Business Card for the reservation, it gives access to the lounge, which is nice in the morning and during happy hour for the babysitter to get a much needed glass of wine. Second, the mall can certainly entertain a 15-month toddler for 2 days. There are plenty of stores, entertainment and, of course, penguins! Most importantly though is McDonald’s. NSPpeanut lives on chicken nuggets, and we knew she would be happy as a clam strolling around a mall watching penguins and people, while munching on her chicken nuggets.

    So queue up our next stop. The original goal was to travel to Cape Town, South Africa, on the same ticket. So on to Plan B. I didn’t know much about Mauritius at the time; however, after researching the island, it was immediately clear that it was a place we wanted to visit. 18 months ago we visited the Maldives, and adding a trip to a 2nd island in the Indian Ocean seemed like a pretty great idea. And boy did the research of the island back it up. Amazing beaches. Great tourist sites. Great infrastructure. It was a no-brainer. Throw in the fact that the Hilton Resort & Spa was only 40,000 points/night, and accommodations would be easy (particularly given one room could have a Gold guest and the 2nd room a Diamond guest…maybe there would be a chance for an upgrade?!?!).

    The interesting thing about Mauritius is the complete lack of daily airplane service to/from the island. So at that point our hands were essentially dealt. Arrive on a Wednesday and depart on a Saturday. We opted for a late flight on Saturday to arrive in Johannesburg, South Africa. Given the current safety concerns with J-burg, we decided to stay at the Intercontinental Airport Hotel. 2 annual certificates from the IHG credit card made this $75/night (due to annual fee) a fairly worthwhile redemption. And the following morning we would make our way to Cape Town via South African Airways. Given this last flight would be a “domestic flight” – NSPpeanut could lap-baby it up. A few days in Cape Town, followed by the craziest of all return flight plans, and we would finalize our trip.

    What is this crazy return flight? Cape Town > Doha > JFK > DCA. Ouch. Given the painfulness of 11,000 miles in just over 24 hours, we splurged and got NSPpeanut her own Business Class seat. Here’s to hoping we get a little bit of sleep…

    Wrapping up, planning was fairly straight-forward:

    1) Emirates A380 required
    2) Maximize #1 by adding a segment…Mauritius it was!
    3) British Airways Avios to get to Johannesburg
    4) South African Airways ($70/ticket) to get to Cape Town
    5) Qatar Airways, via American Airlines miles, to get home

    Overall costs:

    Flight Costs for Four Passengers

    Hotel Costs for Two Rooms

    Other Costs for Four People

    Overall, airline costs for 4 people wound up costing $646.24 in total, hotels $650.50, and other costs – mostly food & drink, and good food & drink at that, $1,210.00.

    An 11-day vacation, showering on planes, drinking 2006 Dom Perignon, 1986 Ducru Beaucaillou Bordeaux, 5-star private villas with private pools, spanning three continents and ALL IN costs for FOUR people: $2,500. Not bad.

    Only one minor hiccup. About 7 months after booking the trip, Emirates pulled the A380 out of Dallas. WHAT?! NO SHOWER ON A PLANE?? THE HORROR. Luckily, Alaska Airlines allows one free change to award tickets, and there just happened to be availability on the new Washington D.C. > Dubai route, ON AN A380. While this cut almost two hours of flight time, it also saved us from having to make our way to Dallas, saving both time and money. In the end, a great – and lucky – change.

    Let the games begin…

    A Friendly Trip to Costa Rica: Part 2 – MIA Centurion Lounge & MIA > SJO

    by  • May 2, 2016 • Luxury Airline Travel, Miles & Points, Travel • 0 Comments

    Previous Trip Notes:
    A Friendly Trip to Costa Rica: Part 1 – AA DCA > MIA

    We landed at gate D10, the perfect gate to meander across gate D12 to access the American Express Centurion Lounge. NSPwife upgraded to an AMEX Personal Platinum card about 3 months ago. The $450 is a steep annual fee, but having Southwest Airlines gift cards count towards the $200 Airline Reimbursements, it’s actually a no-brainer. As NSPwife also has a Southwest Companion Pass, the $200 of gift cards gets us $400 worth of travel. It also offers reimbursement for Global Entry (and thus TSA Pre-Check). Right there and you have $500 of value for the fee. Throw in access to many airport lounges – from Delta to Priority Pass to Centurion, and you have a good deal. We actually paid $175 to add 3 authorized users – and “gifted” two cards to my sister and her husband so they could access lounges and also get TSA Pre-Check. The 3rd authorized user went to…me! Each Platinum Card member can bring up to two guests in with them, so between NSPwife and me, the four of us could access the lounge.

    AMEX Centurion Lounge – MIA

    AMEX Centurion Lounge Terminal Access – MIA

    When we checked in, the receptionist let us know they were serving a gourmet breakfast at the time, and that we could book complimentary spa services such as a massage or manicure. We decided to pass on the spa services but took advantage of the breakfast, which included sausage and potatoes, pancakes, muffins, quiche and huevos rancheros. The meal was pretty good, and since we were on day one of our vacation, took advantage of the premium bar.

    AMEX Centurion Lounge Entry – MIA

    I’ve been to the Centurion Lounges in both San Francisco and Las Vegas, both which were extremely nice, although crowded. And I had read in many places that the lounges are at all-time highs in terms of capacity, so much so that it can be hard to find seats. Luckily it was relatively empty. While nice, it wasn’t quite as “advanced” as SFO (with their wine tastings) or LAS (with large food offerings). It was cool to overlook the tarmac though.

    AMEX Centurion Lounge – MIA

    AMEX Centurion Lounge – MIA

    AMEX Centurion Lounge Gourmet Breakfast – MIA

    AMEX Centurion Lounge Gourmet Breakfast – MIA

    AMEX Centurion Lounge – MIA

    AMEX Centurion Lounge Complimentary Spa – MIA

    It was now time to head to our gate. We had arranged 4 seats across in business class, on a domestic style 737. The service was fairly poor for business class. No beverage service before take-off, no introduction of crew. Once in the air the service was fine, The meal that was served was ok – choice of chicken salad or lentils. The chicken salad included corn, black beans and lettuce. It was served with a roll and a cookie.

    AA Business Class Meal (at least I got a picture of part of the cookie!)

    AA Business Class MIA > SJO

    The flight was relatively short, and we started our descent about five minutes after The Big Short ended. Excitement was high.

    One thing that I wish was adopted world-wide is Fast-Track Immigration Passes. We were the first off the plane, being seated in the front row, 3A-3D. Things were looking good with no other passengers in view…until our final turn. The immigration queue was lengthy, clearly at least two planes had landed a mere minutes before us. To add insult to injury, after waiting for about 15 minutes, the customs agents decided to open up a second queue, of course filling it with people from the back. So 40 painful minutes later, we cleared customs. Not a huge deal, but we had hoped to visit Plaza Fieras for their farmer’s market, which now was out of our reach time-wise. We picked up a bunch of wine and liquor at Duty Free (fyi, the limit is 8 bottles per person). Prices were pretty good, and it was more for convenience than price. We then grabbed some local currency from the ATM and headed to the National Car Rental counter.

    The fun was about to begin…

    A Friendly Trip to Costa Rica: Part 1 – AA DCA > MIA

    by  • May 1, 2016 • Cash Back, Credit Cards, Luxury Airline Travel, Miles & Points, Travel • 0 Comments

    NSPwife and I have been extremely fortunate. In the past four years, we have visited South America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia (twice) and the Maldives. We’ve flown in business or first class most of the time. We’ve stayed at 5-Star Resorts such as the Park Hyatt Hadahaa and Al-Maha. And we’ve paid pennies on the dollar. But one thing that has played true for every trip is that it has been only me and NSPwife (although to be fair, NSPpeanut was around in the belly-days). Last April, NSPwife and I had some of our best friends visiting us in Baltimore, and for the first time we convinced them to apply for some credit cards in order to plan for a trip roughly 12 months later.

    We had them sign up for the following:

    • 2 x Barclays U.S. Airways credit cards at 50,000 miles each
    • 2 x Citi American Airlines credit cards at 50,00 miles each
    • 1 x Chase Sapphire credit card at 40,000 Ultimate Rewards

    They wound up applying the following week (they needed a week to build up their courage), and of course made a couple errors. They had applied for:

    • 1 Barclays U.S. Airways card
    • 1 Barclays Arrival Card
    • 1 Chase Sapphire Card
    • 2 Citi American Airlines Cards

    Not the worst mistake in the world, but Barclays was in their last week of issuing the old U.S. Airways card that would fold into American Airlines miles. 8 months later we had one of them apply for another Barclays Arrival card. What was the final haul?

    • 150,000 American Airlines Miles
    • 45,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards
    • $880 Travel Reimbursement

    Here was the criteria for the trip: Could not go over the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean, and must be able to get back to the U.S. relatively quickly – as there were 3 children being left at home with grandparents…for the first time. That left only a few possible destinations: Iceland (OK – so does not follow the Atlantic Ocean rule, but is close enough), Central America and Northern South America. We wound up choosing Costa Rica – a place that had been on my “Top 5 List” to visit for close to a decade. Now it was time to find flights. Our friends were flying from Chicago and we were flying from Baltimore. One thing to note: our friends did not know where we were going, even through the first segment of the trip.

    Something I found out: Spring break is tough to get award tickets to Costa Rica. For the life of me I couldn’t find a flight leaving early Saturday that arrived in San Jose by early afternoon. Every flight was going through Miami, with an overnight stay, arriving in San Jose early the next morning. While a night in Miami was somewhat intriguing, as I read more and more on Costa, I needed that extra day. So I waited. And waited. One morning, four Saver AAward tickets became available flying out of DCA at 6:59am, with a 2-hour layover, arriving in San Jose at 12:24pm. That worked. Let’s do it. A nice sale fare got NSPfriends from MDW to BWI for about $100. But the fun with the fares was far from done. Checking daily, ultimately four Business SAAver fares opened up on the MIA > SJO segment. Boom. We’ll take it – for many reasons: first, priority security access is important during spring break. Second, lounge access in DCA would be nice. Third, well, business class seats. With the new AAdvantage award chart, you are talking only 10,000 extra miles per person. So I pulled the trigger with a voluntary downgrade, thinking I would have a fairly good chance at finding availability later to upgrade the DCA > MIA segment.
    Roughly a week before our flight date, four Business SAAver award tickets opened up from BWI to MIA at roughly the same time. THIS IS PERFECT. We wouldn’t need to take a car to DCA. We wouldn’t have to worry about potential D.C. traffic. We would be in Business Class the entire time. So I called American Airlines. Whoops – BWI wasn’t considered a co-terminal. There was no way to change DCA to BWI without paying $600 in change fees…well, that wasn’t going to happen. At least I could confirm that we would be on the upgrade list. Wait, no? Why not? It seems that American does not put Award Tickets on upgrade lists, they just can’t do it. Even a supervisor can’t manually change it (or at least refused to with almost a dozen HUCAs). I was told this could only happen at the airport, and with upgrades processing automatically, there was no chance of us getting upgraded. OK – so be it.

    We arrived at DCA without issue and proceeded to the Admirals Club.

    Friends in the Admirals Club – DCA

    Admirals Club – DCA

    Admirals Club Breakfast – DCA

    Admirals Club Breakfast – DCA

    We got in around 5:50am and was told the bartender would be in at 6am. Around 5:55am, one of the desk agents came back and told us the bartender would probably be late and offered us drinks. Given we were on an international business fare, premium drinks were available.

    Admirals Club Champagne – DCA

    Admirals Club Bud Light with a Splash of O.J. – DCA

    Four champagnes, a bud light+orange juice and sunrise later, with a quick bagel, we were on way to the airplane. The flight to Miami was quick, mostly filled of sleeping, and we landed in Miami with about two hours before our next flight.

    Our friends still didn’t know where we were going, and it wasn’t quite time to tell them. Onward now to the Centurion Lounge…