Burning Miles tagged posts

South Africa & Namibia Preview #1: Booking Award Travel to South Africa

Category: Airlines Comments: 13 comments

In a few weeks I’ll be traveling to South Africa and Namibia, which will be my first trip to the mainland of Africa.  (Back in 2014, I went to the Seychelles with layovers in Ethiopia.)  At this point, South Africa, China, India, and Japan are pretty much the only major global destinations I haven’t been, and South Africa seemed like the best to travel to alone – particularly in light of the favorable exchange rate.

I booked this trip back in August.  I had miles I could use on any number of programs, but getting to South Africa on miles basically comes down to the following options:

(1) Nonstop to Africa:   Two carriers fly to South Africa from the US – Delta from Atlanta and South African from JFK and Washington-Dulles.  The South African flight to and from Dulles, though, stops in either Dakar, Senegal or Accra, Ghana both ways.  Ethiopian also flies from Dulles (via Dublin on the return), Newark (via Lome), LAX (via Dublin), and Toronto (via Dublin on the return), but Addis Ababa isn’t really on the way, as you can see from the map below. (Delta also flies to Lagos, Accra, and Dakar, but it doesn’t have a partner to carry you onward to South Africa.)   Of these options,  the Delta flights had no business availability (they rarely do at reasonable rates), and the Ethiopian travel times were long.  South African had availability on the day before I wanted to return to JFK – but since United left JFK, getting back to DC is would be annoying – and then on the day after I wanted to return to Dulles via Dakar.  From reading reports online, it seems the Dulles flight is pretty unpleasant.  Its operated using SAA’s A340 with older-style lie flat seats in business class, and the one hour stop in Dakar is halfway through the flight in the middle of the night.  No thanks.

Mileage Options for flying directly from the US to Southern Africa

(2) Connecting in Europe:  Most award programs allow r...

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Hotel Review: Crowne Plaza Auckland

Category: HotelsTrip Reports Comments: No comments

This is part 12 in a series about my November 2016 trip to New Zealand, booked off a $215 mistake fare.

Auckland has no shortage of hotels, with several large international chains well-represented.  I originally was going to spend one night at the Hilton Auckland, which is perched at the end of a pier in the harbor and is well reviewed.  I had reserved a night for 70,000 points, but in the end just decided I’d book two nights at the Crowne Plaza for 30,000 points a night.  The Crowne Plaza was more centrally-located, had decent reviews, and wasn’t as exorbitantly priced.  Plus, I’m trying to minimize Hilton stays given my series of disappointments.  (As I write this, I’m at a Holiday Inn in Brooklyn I booked after canceling a Hampton Inn.)

Crowne Plazas are not really well-known members of the IHG family.  There aren’t a ton of them—only 400, but they tend to be full-service hotels, a step between Holiday Inns and Intercontinentals, created as the upscale/business subsidiary of Holiday Inn back in the 1980s. I haven’t stayed in many – just Montpelier, France, and Columbus, Ohio, I think.   I’ve seen some variation in size, though, and this was probably the largest I’ve ever stayed in- comparable to a Marriott or a Sheraton, I’d say.

Crowne Plaza Auckland

The property...

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Sick in the Air: Airberlin Business Berlin to Chicago, American ORD-MSP-DCA and the Escape Lounge MSP

Category: AirlinesTrip Reports Comments: No comments

Travel is unpredictable.  Award travel can be particularly so.  Add that in with the other variables that can upset a trip and a lot of it’s a gamble.  And, ooh, boy, did I have a terrible trip back from Berlin – not really the result of any airline behavior or anything, just luck.

My return ticket home from Berlin was booked for 50,000 AA miles, just before the most recent award price hike to 57,500 miles for US-Europe business class.  It used to be that Berlin was an easy place to fly from using AA miles, since Berlin is a hub for Oneworld partner Airberlin.  But when I was booking in the winter, literally zero Airberlin availability was showing—not just for transatlantic flights, but even for short flights like Berlin to Frankfurt.  Expertflyer showed plenty of availability, but it was invisible on the BA and AA sites for months.  AA’s response was the nonresponse “we understand it’s frustrating when the flight you want isn’t available for an award booking,” ignoring the fact that there was clearly an issue here for months. That made booking quite difficult, as the only partner availability out of Berlin was on BA, Iberia, and Finnair – and Iberia doesn’t show on AA.com, and flying through London involves expensive fees and surcharges.

Original routing: TXL-MAD-CLT-DCA

Original routing: TXL-MAD-CLT-DCA

Nonetheless, I was able to assemble a not terrible itinerary, flying Iberia from Berlin to Madrid at 7:25 in the morning, connecting to an AA flight from Madrid to Charlotte, and then up to DCA, all in business.  A few months before the trip, Airberlin availability opened up on its flights from Berlin to Chicago, and Dusseldorf to JFK and Boston.  But every time one of those opened up, there was no availability connecting from ORD/JFK/BOS to DCA.  And when my alert for ORD to DCA went off, the TXL-ORD availability was gone.

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Barcelona Bound:  AA Business Class DCA-PHL-BCN

Category: AirlinesTrip Reports Comments: One comment

This is part two in my trip report series from my July 2016 trip to Spain.  For an introduction, visit this post.

I was scheduled to fly from DCA to JFK on a Tuesday evening, then on Wednesday evening fly JFK to Madrid on American, followed by Madrid to Barcelona on Iberia.  Not an ideal route, but not terrible for an award.  I had set an alert on Expertflyer, though, for AA’s JFK-BCN, CLT-BCN and PHL-BCN flights, and sure enough, on Monday availability opened up on all three.  DCA-PHL-BCN all on Wednesday was a no-brainer to switch to; it wouldn’t be on AA’s newest business class product, but the pre-merger US Airways Envoy A332 seating is perfectly fine, as I had flown it last summer on PHL-ATH and MUC-PHL.

Arriving at DCA was frustrating.  I was checking a bag, so appropriately went on the First Class line.  Unfortunately, it was not moving at all after 7 minutes, as there was one agent and one customer who seemed to have a complicated problem.  The for-some-reason-separate Priority line was moving at a normal pace, though, with two agents, and only 3 customers in line, so I switched to that queue.  Although she hadn’t approached anyone else, an agent came over to me and said “Can I see your record locator?”  How friendly.  I had checked in on my phone so pulled up my boarding pass, and she said “Come with me,” and then just pointed me to the self-service kiosk.

If I had wanted to use the self-service kiosk, of course, I would have.  But I didn’t.  And there’s no reason an agent should have forced me to do so (it wasn’t like it was a long line on the Priority queue).  Moreover, I was the only one she pulled out, and she was rude in doing so.  Had she said “If you’d like to save some time, you’re welcome to use the self-serve kiosk,” that would have been totally fine.  I asked “Why do I have to use the kiosk?”  “That’s the first step in the process.”  Incorrect.  It is the first step in a process, but not the only first step and one I was entitled not to use.

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Summer in Spain:  Trip Preview and Anatomy

Category: Trip Reports Comments: 7 comments

Since my Brazil mini-vacation, I haven’t stopped traveling, with trips to Minneapolis, New York, and Lubbock for work and family.  I’m glad to be at home in DC for a few weeks, but it also means I need to start turning my attention to my only real vacation of the summer.

For each of the past six years, I’ve taken a transatlantic summer trip for 10 days or so.  Summer mileage redemption to Europe in business class can be very hard, so I actually started planning in October for a July trip.  I love Spain, and have been three times, but actually haven’t been in the summer since my first trip there – back in 2003.   And although I’ve been to both Madrid and Barcelona each twice, I haven’t seen a lot of the rest of the country.   So I decided it was time for a return trip. 478568

I’ll be starting out in Sitges, a beach town just outside of Barcelona, before heading into Barcelona for three nights, then making my way to Basque country and seeing San Sebastian and Bilbao.

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2015 Index and YWW Year in Review

Category: About YWWAirlinesHotelsTrip Reports Comments: One comment

It’s a bit late, but here is my 2015 travel year in review post.  It was a huge travel year for me, as I hit 5 continents and did more long-haul flying than I’d ever done before. It was a lot of mileage redemptions, and low on the mileage earning front.  I re-qualified for American Airlines Gold status. I thought about going for Platinum but it was a busy enough fall and winter that the marginal utility was not enough to outweigh the financial and other costs.

As for the blog, I have kept it as a personal travel diary rather than changing to something else, but hopefully folks find it enjoyable, useful, or both.   My philosophy is the same today as it was in my 2013 year in review post: “I will never stop loving travel, but business class and nice hotels isn’t the point of life.”

So, what were my travel patterns and accomplishments of 2015? I’ve put indices of the places, planes, and hotels I’ve reviewed at the bottom of this post, and have some statistics as well. It was a heavy year of international travel, with only one domestic purely leisure trip.
6
Total continents visited: 5
New continents: 1 (Australia)
Total countries (excluding U.S.): 10
New countries: 5 (Australia, United Arab Emirates, Korea, Taiwan, Brazil)
New states: 1 (Missouri)

New airlines: 7 (Qantas, Etihad, Asiana, TAM, Virgin Australia, Germanwings)

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Seoul (ICN) to Taipei (TPE) on Cathay Pacific Business Class

Category: AirlinesTrip Reports Comments: No comments

A 9:20am flight isn’t that early, unless you are flying out of Incheon, which is basically like flying out of Baltimore if you live in DC.IMG_4414

I woke up at 5:15am, checked out of the Holiday Inn Express and headed to the Metro. My original plan had been to take a taxi to Seoul Station, and take the Airport Express train from there. But I realized that getting a taxi at the HIX would not be easy, and that the subway ride to Seoul Station wasn’t that bad.

At 5:45am, the trains aren’t super frequent, so I had a bit of waiting for both of my trains, but I was at Seoul Station by 6:10am. There are two different trains to Incheon (and Gimpo) from Seoul Station. There is the “All stops,” which takes about an hour and works basically like the rest of the metro system and costs about $4, and the “Express,” which only stops at the two airports, and costs about $8 for a 45 minute ride. Valuewise, the All Stops might be the better option, but since I was already feeling I was leaving too late, I aimed for the Express train. The downside is that the Express train runs far less frequently, about every 30 minutes, making me nervous about making the connection. (Although, I could always have taken the next All Stops train.)

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Korea and Taiwan: Starting with a Rare United Flight, Domestic First Washington-Dulles (IAD) to San Francisco (SFO)

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United Flight 424 Washington-Dulles to San Francisco
A320, Domestic First
Sched. Dep. 8:15 am       Actual Dep. 8:13 am
Sched. Arr. 11:10 am       Actual Arr. 11:00 am

Woohoo! Cathay got me my computer back only 4 days after I lost it. Onto the trip reports.

This is Part 1 of a series of blog posts about my recent trip to Korea and Taiwan. Here’s the overview:

1: United Domestic First Washington-Dulles to San Francisco
2: Asiana Smartium Business Class San Francisco to Seoul and China Airlines Lounge SFO
3: Exploring Seoul and the DMZ
4: One City, Three Hotels: Imperial Palace, Four Points by Sheraton Seoul Namsan, and Holiday Inn Express Seoul – Euljiro
5: Escape to the South: Two days in Gyeongju, KTX, and the Gyeongju Hilton
6: Cathay Pacific Business Class Seoul to Taipei
7: Exploring Taipei
8: The Landis Hotel Taipei
9: Returning Home (Mostly) in Luxury: Cathay Pacific First Class Taipei – Hong Kong – Chicago, AA Coach Chicago-DCA

(I don’t usually do trip reports on domestic legs, but I was surprised to see there was little coverage of United’s IAD-based transcons on the web.)

When I first booked my trip to Korea, I had booked an award from DCA to Chicago on United, connecting to Asiana business class from Chicago to Seoul. I had neglected to realize, though, that Asiana operates its older, non-lie-flat business class on that route. Given how much United charges for partner business and the length of the flight, that seemed like a waste, so I paid the $75 change fee and rebooked via San Francisco. The biggest downside of the new routing, though, was that it meant flying out of Dulles instead of DCA, on an 8:30am flight.20151007_110432

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Off I Go: US Airways Envoy Class Washington to Philadelphia to Athens

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US Airways is one of only two carriers with nonstop service to Greece from the U.S. (along with Delta from JFK), with a seasonal 5x/week service from Philadelphia. This means you can get into Greece in the morning rather than in the afternoon. Unfortunately, Oneworld service to the Greek Islands is terrible, with only Niki service out of Vienna and British Airways service out of both Gatwick and Heathrow. I tried to book an award that got me all the way to Mykonos, but there was no way without an overnight in Vienna or London, which would defeat any cost savings. So I booked a separate ticket from Athens to Mykonos on Olympic Airways, to be discussed later.

US Airways A330

US Airways A330

To get to Philly, I had a short hop from DCA up to Philly on US Airways Express. It’s a super-short flight that I’ve done a few times before. After I booked, there was an equipment change to a plane without First Class, which for some reason led AA to rebook me on an earlier flight . . . which also didn’t have First Class. So I had to call to be put back on my original flight, as the 2 hour connection in provided in Philly was probably long enough, and would allow me to work in the morning.

As usual, the tri...

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Finally: LAS-DCA on US Airways First, and the AmEx Centurion Lounge at LAS

Category: AirlinesTrip Reports Comments: 2 comments

We’ve finally reached the last post about my 2 week trip to Australia, only 3.5 months after I returned. I’ve had a busy few months in between, with lots of domestic travel for family, work, and other commitments. But in 10 days I’ll be leaving the country again, heading to Mykonos in Greece, which is great timing. I’ll try and post a preview post shortly…

US Airways Flt. 478  Las Vegas to Washington-National
Dep. LAS 10:30am  Arr. DCA 5:50pm
Domestic First, A321

When I landed from Honolulu at Las Vegas, I was surprised to discover that most of the First Class cabin was actually connecting onto other flights. There aren’t that many destinations served out of Las Vegas by Hawaiian’s partners, and most are served directly from Honolulu on Hawaiian or its partners.

On the ground at LAS

On the ground at LAS

Though Vegas seemed like a weird connection point for me, there were two pluses compared to some other routings (beyond the fact there was award availability). First, LAS has an American Express Centurion Lounge – better than an Admirals Club or an Alaska Board Room where any other connection would put me. Second, LAS has nonstop flights to DCA, whereas other connecting points only had flights in Dulles  or BWI.

Centurion Lounge LAS

Centurion Lounge LAS

My Haw...

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