Priority Pass tagged posts

Trip Report: South African Airways New A333 Business Class Johannesburg to Sao Paulo, Sans Camera

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This is part 18 of my series exploring my March 2017 trip to South Africa and Namibia, which started here.

South African Airways Flt. 222 Johannesburg to Sao Paulo – Guarulhos
Sched. Dep. 11:15am              Sched. Arr. 4:00pm
Actual Dep. 11:07am                Actual Arr. 3:30pm
A330-300, Business Class

My trip back home was an unusual, but not that illogical, route using Aeroplan miles, flying South African Airways from Johannesburg to Sao Paolo, then United from Sao Paolo to Dulles.  It’s about the same length as a routing via Europe, and was available on the day I wanted to travel in business class.

You may no notice that I have pretty much no pictures of my trip from Johannesburg to Sao Paolo, for reasons that will be explained later...

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Air Namibia Cape Town to Windhoek:  Shenanigans, or the 2 Hour Flight That Became an All-Day Journey

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This is part 10 of my series exploring my March 2017 trip to South Africa and Namibia, which started here.

Air Namibia Flt. 704  Cape Town to Windhoek (via Walvis Bay)

Sched. Dep. 11:30am    Actual Dep. 1:09pm
Sched. Arr.  1:20pm   Actual Arr. 4:30pm
A319, Coach

In the aftermath of Unitedgate, where everyone became an expert on the ins and outs of the airline industry, consumer protection law, the history of regulation in America, and police brutality, and became attuned to bumping of one guy as the great moral crisis of our time, someone told me I didn’t have any knowledge about the airline industry, as my blog is just about business class flights.  Now none of my last five blog posts had anything to do with flights at all, but this one will be – but don’t worry – it was in coach.  The only other thing I’ll say about what’s going on with United?  It reminds me of a famous saying: “Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one.”  Now onto Air Namibia….

I had two nonstop options to get from Cape Town to Windhoek: Air Namibia and SA Airlink. They both fly two flights a day.  Air Namibia has an 11:30am flight, and an evening flight; SA Airlink has a 6:30am flight and a 2:55pm flight.  Neither airline is known as phenomenal, but they’re not fly-by-night operations. (Air Namibia’s IATA code is SW, going back to the country’s days as South West Africa).  Air Namibia is a pretty small airline, fully owned by the Namibian government, with a fleet of only 10 planes – 4 A319s, 4 ERJ-135s, and 2 A330-200s.  The A332s are used for its one long-haul flight, to Frankfurt, whereas the A319s and Embraers fly out of Windhoek’s Hosea Kutako International (WDH), Windhoek’s smaller domestic Eros Airport, and Walvis Bay.

I decided to go with the Air Namibia midday flight as it would allow me a few hours in the late afternoon to explore Windhoek, and paid a bit more than the 2:55pm Airlink flight. Alas, that was for naught.

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Turkish Airlines Washington-Dulles Lounge and Air France Business Class Washington-Dulles to Paris  (IAD-CDG)

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This is part 3 of my series exploring my March 2017 trip to South Africa and Namibia, which started here.

Air France Flt. 55  Washington-Dulles to Paris
B777-300ER, Business Class
Sched. Dep. 6:35PM   Actual Dep. 6:29PM
Sched. Arr.  8:00AM +1    Actual Arr.  7:38AM +1

It’s been awhile since I’ve flown out of Dulles.  But this experience reminded that Dulles isn’t a terrible airport to fly out of… once you get there.  I decided to take the 5A Metrobus over the rail; though they take about the same length of time, the bus takes you straight to the terminal in one shot, as opposed to a long metro ride transferring to a bus.  (The Metrobus option is also significantly cheaper.)  I left my office at 3pm, and Uber-ed to the bus stop at L’Enfant Plaza.  Despite traffic, the ride took only a little over an hour, and everyone on the bus had a seat.

As a reminder, I was flying Air France from DC to Cape Town via Paris, in business class, on a Delta Skymiles redemption.  When I got to the Air France/KLM/Korean Air counter at around 4:35, there was no line on either the Sky Priority or regular line.  The agent wasn’t particularly friendly, but was fine as she took my bag and printed my boarding passes.  Air France doesn’t participate in Precheck, but there was basically no line at regular security, on either the “premium” or regular lane.  I was through quickly and on the train to the A concourse.

Air France/KLM/Korean Air check-in at Dulles

I had forgotten that I actually wanted to go to the B concourse, though my flight was leaving out of A.  The two are just different sides of one of the midfield terminals (one straight line with gates on each sides), which is Dulles’s nicest terminal, and home to pretty much all airlines but United and a few other randos (Frontier, Air Canada, and even some United Express flights).  The terminal is modern, with lots of food options, and with increasingly fancy shopping over the years.

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

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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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A Short Hop: Airberlin Copenhagen to Berlin-Tegel (CPH-TXL) and the CPH Lounges

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Despite a late night out in Copenhagen, I still made it up with my first (of 2) alarms at 7:30am, showered, had breakfast, and was on my way to the airport.   It was a five-minute walk from the Hotel Hebron to Central Station, and I had to wait about 15 minutes for the next train to the airport given it was early on a Saturday morning.  The train was an older one, so it didn’t have wifi like my train from the airport had, but it was still a painless journey and by 8:55am I was at the airport for my 10:55am flight to Berlin.

Copenhagen Central Station

Copenhagen Central Station

My Airberlin flight was pretty cheap, about $60, and I didn’t pay for any extras, knowing I’d just have a carry-on and it was a short flight.  Interestingly, when I booked the ticket, the fare class I purchased (Z) would not have earned any miles in American’s AAdvantage program.  But one strange positive change from the devaluAAtion of August 1 was that I would now receive 25% base miles and 50% EQM. (Once the EQD system kicks in, I would be credited at a rate of 5%.)  So as a 213 mile flight, that means I’d get 50 miles! Yippee! (AA doesn’t give an elite bonus on AB flights for some reason- perhaps its membership in the Etihad alliance?)

As a Oneworld Sapphire member, I had access to Fast Lane security, which went smoothly, and then dumped me into a big duty free shop.  The shop is run by Heinemann and Co., a German operator of duty free shops throughout Europe.  If you join their loyalty program, you actually get a 10 Euro voucher every year on your birthday, good for an entire year with no minimum purchase.  Unfortunately I didn’t see any toys, but I was able to buy two bottles of water and some candy for my office and for my nephews – and they actually gave me 10 Euro cents cash in change.

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Vueling BCN to BIO and onward to San Sebastian

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

After spending a week in Catalonia, I headed to Basque Country for the rest of my time in Spain.  You can take a train from Barcelona to San Sebastian in about 5.5 hours, but I decided to fly instead in order to maximize my time.  While Vueling, a low cost carrier owned by IAG, the owners of British Airways and Iberia, flies BCN to San Sebastian, there is greater frequency in flights to Bilbao, which is a larger airport and has easy connections to San Sebastian, and the flights are also cheaper.   My “Optima” fare, which included a checked bag, seats in the front of the plane, and the ability to earn Iberia Avios points, came to 57 Euros with all the fees.  Paying for the Optima fare is a no-brainer if you’re checking luggage; not only does it include baggage but also the ability to earn Iberia Plus Avios points (500 for me).20160727_085933

Despite several public transit options, I took a taxi from the Melia Sarria due to my 9:50am flight and wanting to maximize sleep. The cost estimate of the app and Google was a bit off, though, probably mostly due to surcharges, and it came to over 30 Euros for the 20 minute ride.  But it was still probably worth it rather than an hour trip with changes of buses and trains.

Vueling check-in at BCN T1

Vueling check-in at BCN T1

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Four Nights in Brazil, Part 2: the Priority Pass Lounges of SCL and SCL-GIG on TAM

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This is Part 2 of a series of trip reports on my November trip to Rio de Janeiro and Iguazu Falls.

I had remembered from the one other time I connected at SCL that, despite the terminal being just one long corridor, it’s a long walk from the plane to security for connecting passengers. After an insane 5 schedule changes, I had a nearly four hour layover, though, so who cares. I was through security by 8:30. If I hadn’t checked a bag, I would have tried to get onto the 10:10 flight to Rio. (I had tried to before leaving but was told I’d have to pay the change fee.) Thankfully, I had lounge access in the pretty boring Santiago airport; there are actually four different Priority Pass lounges –three operated by Pacific Club, an independent lounge operator, and one operated by Avianca...

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Asiana Business Class SFO to ICN and the China Airlines Lounge at SFO

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Asiana Flight 211 San Francisco (SFO) to Seoul-Incheon (ICN)
Boeing 777-200, Business Smartium Class

I’d never connected at SFO before and was a little nervous when I booked my 90 minute connection. Asiana flies out of International Terminal A, with airlines like Sun Country and JetBlue, while the rest of the Star Alliance carriers fly out of International Terminal G. This has two practical effects. One, International Terminal G is connected airside to United’s terminal 3, while International Terminal A is not. Two, International Terminal G has Singapore, Eva, and United lounges for Star Alliance premium passengers. International Terminal A has no Star Alliance member lounge.

Your choice of Korean carriers

Your choice of Korean carriers

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Killing Time at ATH and Olympic Airways Athens to Mykonos

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My 9:15am arrival in Athens had me landing at the same time as a Turkish Airways flight from Istanbul, jam-packed with Chinese tour groups, and an El Al flight from Tel Aviv. By walking with purpose, though, I managed to get ahead of most of them on the immigration line and breezed through into the baggage claim. I went on the airport’s free internet while I waited for my bag, which didn’t take very long, and then headed upstairs to the departures area where I re-checked my bag for my Mykonos flight.

There are 9 daily flights from Athens to Mykonos, 8 of which are on either Aegean or its wholly owned subsidiary, former state carrier Olympic. The flight times don’t line up great with the PHL-ATH flight, unfortunately. The first flight after I arrived was at 10:50am, which was too short to book when traveling on separate tickets, so I went with the 1:25pm, operated by Olympic on a turboprop Dash-8. After my 6 hour delay on my last US Airways transatlantic flight, I made sure to buy a “Flex” fare, which drove the cost of the ticket up to a silly amount of 167 Euros, but had no change fee and also included a checked bag. And the ability to change to a later flight is important when booking on separate tickets. (I also did some currency hedging here and smartly bought at the Euro’s lowest point in the spring.)

After checking in, my first stop to kill time was to head to the Germanos electronics store, where I bought a data sim card for 15 Euros, which got you the card plus a 10 euro credit. For 10 euros, I could get a 5 day pass with 4 GB, so pretty easy. The best part? They took my 100 Euro note without batting an eye.  They said it would take 2 hours for the card to activate, which was fine since there was plenty of internet in the airport.20150716_130228

Melina Merkouri Lounge, ATH

Melina Merkouri Lounge,...

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19 Hours in Milan: Alitalia CTA-LIN, the Hilton Milan, and exploring the city

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This post is in two parts- (1) Catania Airport and my flight on Alitalia from Catania to Milan, and (2) my stay at the Hilton Milan and brief exploration of Milan

Catania Airport and Alitalia Catania to Milan

IMG_1970After two days in Sicily, it was time to make our way back to the U.S., via Milan. Since the Milan-JFK flight leaves in the morning, the cheap fare included an overnight layover in Milan. Both involved flying from Sicily to Milan-Linate, the closer in of Milan’s two airports, and flying out of Milan-Malpensa, the larger airport farther outside the city. Since there was an airport change involved, there really wasn’t much to be gained by taking an evening flight to Milan and sleeping at an airport hotel, so instead we took an early afternoon flight, which would give us half a day to explore the city.

The cab ride to the airport was a lot faster than our incoming ride, and a little cheaper, totaling 27 Euro. The Catania airport was definitely an experience. Security was pretty nutty, as lots of Sicilians stood in the beginning of the security line shouting and crying as their friends and family wound their way through the rest of the line. The same yappy dog that had been our flight from Zurich was on the security line (I recognized its yelp), but thankfully, it seemed to be flying back to Zurich on Air Berlin. There was no special line for Skyteam Elite passengers, but it moved at a decent clip, but for the wealthy Italian women in front of me who had knee high boots and tons of jewelry that were definitely not TSA-friendly.

Catania Airport security

Catania Air...

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