New Zealand tagged posts

New Zealand Conclusion:  LAX Admirals Club and LAX-DCA in American Main Cabin Extra

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This is the conclusion of my 16-part series about my November 2016 trip to New Zealand, booked off a $215 mistake fare.

I’ve actually never connected at LAX before.  Particularly if you have luggage, I don’t recommend an international connection there.  Landing at the Tom Bradley International Terminal itself wasn’t that bad, and there was no line to clear immigration at Global Entry.  A lot of people were trying to go through Global Entry when they didn’t have Global Entry, causing a bit of a backup at the desk where you leave the kiosk area.  (As with MIA, it slightly defeats the purpose of Global Entry to require interacting with a human on the way out of immigration itself.)

Bags had already started coming onto the belt when I got through, and mine came pretty quickly, eve...

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The Long Journey Home, Part 2: Sydney to Los Angeles (SYD-LAX), Qantas Economy A380

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This is part 15 in a series about my November 2016 trip to New Zealand, booked off a $215 mistake fare.

Sydney International Departures

I had a momentary panic upon landing at SYD, as the monitors showed the flight to LAX as canceled.  I soon realized, though, that it was the American flight that was canceled, not the Qantas one.  It was a long walk from where my AKL flight landed to the Qantas Business Lounge.  While the lounge is quite large, it was quite full.  (Still, I didn’t bother with any of the Priority Pass or AmEx options.).  The lounge staff actually made announcements asking people not to take seats up with luggage.   I had hoped to start to adjust my body to US time, where it was around 6pm, but unfortunately I had traveled back in time, so it was still a breakfast spread at the lounge.  The spread was basically a larger version of what I’d had on the plane and in the Qantas Club in Auckland, scrambled eggs, beans, tomatoes, sausage, hash browns – plus a bit wider variety of pastries.  There was a full self-serve liquor and soft drink display, a juice bar, and a coffee bar- which was the most notable difference from AKL.

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The Long Journey Home, Part 1:  Qantas Auckland to Sydney (AKL-SYD), Trans-Tasman Economy

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This is part 14 in a series about my November 2016 trip to New Zealand, booked off a $215 mistake fare.

Unfortunately, my great deal on my ticket to New Zealand required transiting through Sydney on the return, which added a significant amount of time to the journey – about five hours between the layover and three hour flight from Auckland to Sydney.  I decided against spending a day in L.A. on the return figuring I would just want to get home (not expecting that DC would be an entirely depressing place to be).  So that meant that if all went according to plan, I would have a travel time of 27 hours straight from my AKL departure to my arrival at DCA.

My flight out of Auckland was at 7:35am.  I had originally planned to take an Uber at 5:30, but I ended up leaving at 5, because when I tried to check in the day before I had gotten an error suggesting my US passport was not enough for me to enter back into the country.  Had the borders already tightened???  Was I blacklisted by America?   Upon arriving at AKL, there was a bit of a line at the Qantas counter, but the separate priority check-in wasn’t bad.  There was no problem checking me in, and the friendly agent explained where the Qantas lounge was, and gave me a sticker for Express Lane immigration and security as a Oneworld Emerald passenger.

There was a food court and shopping before immigration at the AKL International Terminal, but I decided to just go through. I didn’t actually use the express lane, because there was no line at the E-gates that U.S. passport holders can use.  That line led right into security, which had no real wait.  I then spent the last of my NZD on a gift, and headed to the Qantas Club.

Qantas Club AKL

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Exploring Auckland and Waiheke Island

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This is part 13 in a series about my November 2016 trip to New Zealand, booked off a $215 mistake fare.

As the largest city in New Zealand, it seems like Auckland would be great place to visit on a trip to New Zealand.  So I was surprised that a lot of folks told me to skip it entirely.  But as someone who likes exploring cities, I figured it was worth at least a short stay.  I allowed for about a day and a half with two nights, which ended up being the right amount of time – though if you want to explore the areas around the city a bit, you certainly can spend 4 days or more in the general area.  To be honest, though, my entire time in Auckland was filled with a bit of a post-election/end of vacation malaise.

Arriving in Auckland

By the time I got settled into my hotel and took a nap, it was already getting duskish on a Thursday night, so I walked over to the Sky Tower, an observation tower a few blocks from my hotel that stands out in the Auckland skyline.  I hadn’t realized it was part of the larger Sky City casino and hotel complex, and it was pretty schlocky. There are some activities you can do on the tower, including a bungee jump and a “skywalk” outdoors on a glass platform.  I kept it boring and just went to the observation deck itself, which was both expensive and crowded – 29 NZD just to go up, about 20 USD. The main observation deck is on the 51st floor, and then you can ride further up to the Skydeck on floor 60.  There’s also a café on the 50th floor, and fancier dining options on floors 52 and 53.  One thing that was not great is that the windows added a weird bluish hue to the view, as you’ll see in these pictures.  But you definitely could see the whole city.

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Hotel Review: Crowne Plaza Auckland

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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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2016 Index and Year in Review

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I won’t belabor the point, but 2016 was pretty terrible.  My travels were pretty good,though.  I still owe you all a few posts from my November New Zealand adventure, but as we say goodbye to the dumpster-fire of 2016, here’s a look back at my year in travel.  For previous years’ retrospectives, check out 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011.

2016, yeah!

I’ve kept the blog as a travelogue, continuing to blog less and less about things other than my personal travel given how crowded the space is for “hacking” and “free” points.  Going into 2017, I’ve requalified for American elite status (Platinum), and let my hotel status’ drop down to be those I have via credit card (Hyatt Platinum/Discoverist, Marriott/SPG Gold, Hilton Gold, IHG Platinum) and Intercontinental Ambassador.

So, what were my tra...

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Mini-Report:  Air New Zealand Queenstown to Auckland

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This is part 11 in a series about my November 2016 trip to New Zealand, booked off a $215 mistake fare.

Air New Zealand Flt. 644
A320, Single-Cabin Economy
Sch. Dep. 2:30pm        Sch. Arr. 4:20pm
Act. Dep. 2:50pm        Act. Dep. 4:43pm

Queenstown International Airport (ZQN)

The Queenstown airport is pretty small.  I really could have taken an extra hour exploring Queenstown, as it took me 20 minutes to fill up the rental car tank, drop the car at Ace, and walk across the street to the terminal (no bus required at Ace’s Queenstown location as opposed to Christchurch).   I did obtain my post-election survival kit at the gas station:

I recommend a peanut slab.

Check-in and bag drop was easy, with no waits at the Air New Zealand kiosks.  The airport only has nine gates, and no jetways.  The

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Hotel Review: The Disappointing DoubleTree Queenstown

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This is part 10 in a series about my November 2016 trip to New Zealand, booked off a $215 mistake fare.

I’ve explained before why Hilton HHonors is pretty much the worst loyalty program.  Being a Diamond member for the past year has pretty much been no better than being a Gold, and I’ve started to shift away my stays to SPG/Marriott and IHG.   I had high expectations for the Doubletree Queenstown, but the property seemed to be determined to shatter them.  When I initially booked the hotel, there was only points availability for one of the two nights I was in town, so I booked a revenue night for one (an expensive one) and a points one for 30,000 points for the other.  As time got closer, I thought about changing to the Crowne Plaza in Queenstown, since I’m tired of giving Hilton money, but since Diamond Standard Award availability had opened for the second night, switched to that, as Operation Burn HHonors Points continues.

The Doubletree is in a complex with a Hilton, located on the Frankton Arm of Lake Wakatipu, outside of downtown Queenstown.  There was a lot of traffic getting there, as the bridge is closed and the temporary bridge only goes one direction at a time, and the signage is poor.  Despite the whole complex being only a few years old and in a fairly empty area, I was a bit surprised that the hotel buildings were built one on top of the other, and there wasn’t even a loop to pull in for the Doubletree, just a narrow “Drop-Off and Pick-Up Only” curb that was occupied by a delivery truck.  So I pulled into the parking garage and found a spot two flights down after going round and round.  I schlepped my stuff up the elevator, and made my way to check-in.

Hilton compound on Lake Wakatipu

It’s not good when you’re thanked for being a “member” of a loyalty program, with no reference made to your elite status.  I had to ask about the gym, which she said was free me since I’m a Diamond, and is located in the Hilton (although it actually appears the gym may be free for everyone, but not the pool).  I had hoped to email the hotel before I arrived about linking the two reservations, but unlike the Hilton next door, the Doubletree has no email address on its website.  The hotel had linked them on their own, though, so at least I didn’t have to deal with getting assigned one room for two nights.

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Trip Report: Wanaka, Queenstown, and Doubtful Sound

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This is part 9 in a series about my November 2016 trip to New Zealand, booked off a $215 mistake fare.

My trip to New Zealand had five segments, and the only one that wasn’t particularly good was my time in the Queenstown area.  There were three reasons: (1) I had a very disappointing stay at the Doubletree Queenstown, which will get its own post; (2) spending a day going to and riding around Doubtful Sound ended up not being a waste of a day; (3) the trip back from Doubtful Sound involved a break down (literal, of a bus) and a break down (more metaphoric) as election returns came in...

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Trip Report: Lake Tekapo, Mount Cook, and the Aoraki Court Motel

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This is part 8 in a series about my November 2016 trip to New Zealand, booked off a $215 mistake fare.

Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook are southwest from Christchurch, with Lake Tekapo pretty much equidistant from the coasts of the South Island, and Mount Cook further west.  There are several routes inland, though they all meet up for the last 90 minutes or so, so I decided to just go with the shortest one, which Google estimated at 2 hours 40 minutes from the Rydges to Lake Tekapo.

The drive started out fairly boring, with industrial parks, followed by lots of farms and cows and sheep on flat land. Once out of the greater Christchurch area, it was pretty much all 2 lane highways, with passing lanes every 5 km or so...

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