U.S. Travel tagged posts

The Journey Home: BSB-MIA in AA Coach, VIP Club Brasilia, a Terrible MIA Centurion Club Experience & MIA-JFK in International Business, and JFK-DCA in Domestic F

Category: AirlinesTrip Reports Comments: 2 comments

American Flt. 214 Brasilia (BSB) to Miami (MIA)
Boeing 757, Main Cabin Extra
Sched. Dep. 10:55 PM    Actual Dep. 10:41 PM
Sched. Arr. 4:52 AM +1  Actual Arr. 4:27 AM +1
AA Flt. 2493  Miami (MIA) to New York-Kennedy (JFK)
Boeing 767-300, “First”
Sched. Dep. 7:10am        Actual Dep. 7:09am
Sched. Arr.  10:03am       Actual Arr. 9:51am

American overflies Brazil.  Even when an entire 767 flight to Rio was cancelled on my way down, the Sao Paulo flight was ½ empty.  In addition to the 2x daily to Rio and Sao Paulo from Miami, though, at the time I was flying, they were also the also flying to Belo Horizonte, Brasilia, Manaus, Recife, and Salvador.  Oh yeah, then they fly to Rio and Sao Paulo from New York.  And to Sao Paolo from Dallas and LAX.   AA has tinkered with this significantly over the past 10 or so years, and has started flying smaller planes (it also cut its route to Viracopos after only five months).   But now that TAM is a Oneworld partner, with nonstop service of its own from JFK and Orlando to 2 cities and from Miami to 7 cities, and Delta is amping up its Brazil service along with its partly-owned partner Gol, combined with a sluggish Brazilian economy, and there’s just too much.  And this is also why flights are consistently under $500.  So it was not surprising that, at the time of my March trip, AA had already announced getting rid of its Belo Horizonte flights, and since then have announced cuts of  Salvador and Recife.

I knew my flight from Brasilia to Miami would be pretty empty based on the seatmap.  AA flies its bleh 757s to the smaller cities in Brazil, and even at check-in, my entire row of Main Cabin Extra was empty.  The whole row – not just my side of the aisle, as was the row behind it.   The flight leaves at 11pm, and is a bit shorter than the flights to Rio and Sao Paulo, as Brasilia is to the northwest.

I left the Melia at 8:15, earlier than necessary but I didn’t really have anything more to do in the hotel.  I took an Uber for the whopping fee of 24 reais — $6.  Since the bus is 10 reais, that was a good move. The ride took about 20 minutes, and I was at the American check-in by 8:35.  There were four lines, and three contract agents-  full service main cabin, bag drop, elderly/handicapped/small children, and Priority/Business Class.  Maybe they brought out a fourth agent as it got closer to flight time, but maybe not.  Anyway, for some reason it took superlong for every person at the counter (except me).  As I’d seen in the past, in Brazil, anyone over 50 feels comfortable putting themselves on the elderly line.  Here, though, they were complaining, because one agent was serving priority/business, one serving the general line, and one both the general and elderly.  This could not stand.  So while I was next on the priority line, a woman in her early 50s with a gigantic suitcase edged herself out of the elderly line, so that even though I was clearly called by the agent, she pushed herself in my path.  She was a Russian-American, and did not seem to be in any hurry.

The agent apologized to me, and was very friendly, asking me about my suntan and commenting on my routing. My bag was tagged through to JFK, and I was on my way through the very short security line.  There was no line at immigration, but the agents (two in each booth) studied my passport and spent a lot of time on it for some reason.   The gate area was empty, unsurprisingly, as there was only one more nighttime departure, a 2:30am flight to Panama City on Copa.  TAM’s Florida flights leave midday.  I headed to the Aeroportos VIP Club, a Priority Pass (and the only) lounge one level below the gates, and was shocked by how nice it was.  It helped that I was literally the only person there, but the décor was smart, with varied seating, including a long bar with power outlets built in, round tables, couches, and arm chairs.  It must have been renovated recently, as everything was spotless and new.02-20160304_205603 03-20160304_205915

Aeroportos VIP Club Brasilia BSB

Aeroportos VIP Club Brasilia BSB

But the service was also phenomenal, unlike anything you see at an Admirals Club or most Priority Pass lounges.  The buffet was small, but varied with some small sandwiches, cornbread, soup, a cheese plate, cookies, and fruit, plus wine, beer, and soft drinks (there didn’t seem to be hard alcohol, but maybe you could ask).  A man was watching the buffet like a hawk, though, and every time someone went and took something from the buffet, he would make sure the tongs were l...

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My Brazilian NightmAAre, Part 1: Trying to Get to Brazil via Miami on American, DCA-MIA in F, MIA-GRU in Business, & the MIA Centurion Lounge

Category: AirlinesTrip Reports Comments: No comments

I’m back from my vacation to Brazil. Unfortunately, my trip down was extremely stressful due to several errors and customer service failures by American.   Not only did I not get to my destination on time, but my baggage was 3 days late, and I ended up crying in Sao Paulo International. After 30+ contacts with AA Customer Service, I did get compensation that I think was appropriate, though it took way too long. This is Part 1 of the story.
AA Flt. 1202 Washington-National to Miami
Boeing 737-800, First
Sched. Dep. 2:30 PM     Sched. Arr. 5:21 PM
Actual Dep. 2:23 PM     Actual Arr. 5:27 PM
AA Flt. 901 Miami to Rio de Janeiro (GIG)
Boeing 777, Business
Sched. Dep. 8:00 PM   Sched. Arr. 6:25 AM + 1
AA Flt. 995 Miami to Sao Paulo (GRU)
Boeing 777-300, Business
Sched. Dep. 9:55 PM Sched. Arr. 8:25AM + 1
Actual Dep. 11:00 PM   Actual Arr. 8:57 AM +1

My original flight plan was DCA-MIA-GIG on American, and then a connection on a separate ticket on their Oneworld partner TAM from Rio to Salvador. I had spent extra money to fly from Rio to Salvador on TAM because of AA’s rebooking policy for missed connections: If an AA delay causes you to miss a flight on another Oneworld flight, even if it is on a separate ticket AA will take responsibility for the connection. Remember this. At DCA, I was able to check in both myself and my suitcase all the way through to Salvador, getting my boarding passes for all three flights, which I thought was nice, although ultimately irrelevant.

I had been upgraded on both AA legs due to the generosity of a

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

Category: AirlinesTrip Reports Comments: No comments

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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Heathrow T3 Galleries First Lounge and LHR-PHL-DCA on US Airways

Category: AirlinesTrip Reports Comments: One comment

US Airways Flt. 729 London-Heathrow to Philadelphia
Dep. 12:05pm  Arr. 3:35pm
A330, Economy
US Airways Flt. 854 Philadelphia to Washington-Reagan National
Dep. 5:30pm Arr. 6:24pm
A319, Economy

After about 16 hours, it was time to head back on the tube to Heathrow. My train changed destinations midroute, so it took a little longer than the trip into the city. It was a long walk from the departure gates at T3 from the underground. I had printed out a boarding pass at the hotel, and it was a good thing, because there was a long line for check in at the small US Airways counter, even at the elite/business class line.

A friend and fellow traveler who lives in L.A. Happened to be in London for the long weekend as well, and we had gone out in London the night before. He happens to be an American Executive Platinum, flying on the nonstop American Heathrow to LAX flight leaving five minutes before my US Airways flight to Philadelphia. That meant that he had access to the British Airways Galleries First Lounge, as opposed to my meager access to the adjoining Galleries Club, and was able to guest me in.

LHR T3 Galleries First Lounge Champagne

LHR T3 Galleries First Lounge Champagne

20150120_103327

LHR T3 Galleries First Lounge Seating

LHR T3 Galleries First Lounge Seating

I met him at the lounge and it was fairly empty. The Galleries First Lounge is pretty large, with several different rooms, including a dining room with sit-down eating only for First Class passengers at dinner time. At 10:30 in the morning, the food spread wasn’t that different than I imagine the regular Galleries Club, as it just had some hot breakfast basics, including black sausage and scrambled eggs, and pastries. You could also order some breakfast from a menu, but wait staff wasn’t particularly attentive and inviting. The Bellinger champagne was delicious though!20150120_103034 20150120_103036

Breakfast buffet at LHR T3 Galleries First Lounge

Breakfast ...

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My 15 Hour Arduous Journey on US Airways from DC to London: Trip Report DCA-CLT-LHR

Category: AirlinesTrip Reports Comments: No comments

US Airways Flt. 2041, Washington to Charlotte
A319 Economy
Sched. Dep. DCA 3:30pm Actual Dep. 3:27pm
Sched. Arr. DCA 5:02pm Actual Arr. 4:50pm
US Airways Flt. 730, Charlotte to London-Heathrow
A330 Economy
Sched. Dep. CLT 6:05pm Actual Dep. 11:05pm
Sched. Arr. CLT 7:05am Actual Arr. 11:00am
US Airways A330 Coach

US Airways A330 Coach

Back in the late spring, I seized on a good airfare deal to Budapest for Martin Luther King Day weekend. Budapest was one of the first cities I ever visited abroad as a “grown-up,” back in 2010 on my first business class mileage redemption, using Delta miles to see Istanbul, Budapest and Prague. I had really enjoyed Budapest and figured it was time to go back.

Booked on an American ticket, the flights were actually all on US Airways and British Airways. Out of DCA, I’d fly to Charlotte, then to Heathrow on US, and then onto Budapest on BA. On the way back, I’d have a 21 hour layover in London, and connect via Philadelphia on US. Although it is a little out of the way, I figured Charlotte would be a better place to connect in winter than Philly, right?

My reservation was a bit of a mess, as US Airways had renumbered and moved my flights multiple times in the intervening eight months since booking. So when I went to check in online the day before my flight, I got an error message telling me I needed to call US Airways and tell an agent my reservation was “out of sync.” That call didn’t take too long, and I was then able to check in online.

The process for u...

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A Bad Travel Day Gets Worse: Almost Stranded by AA and the Sainthood of My Parents

Category: AirlinesTrip Reports Comments: No comments

We left off with my arrival in New York after barely making it on to my Air Berlin flight due to the overzealous chemical screening at Tegel. The flight had calmed me down a bit, but I was still looking forward to going home. Alas home was many hours away. The only award availability from JFK down to DCA was on the 9:45pm flight, the last of the day. I figured it wouldn’t be a terrible layover, as six hours allowed me enough time to meet my family on Long Island for dinner, and then head back to the airport, before getting home, getting to sleep, and heading to my 9am meeting at the not-colored residence. Man plans, American Airlines laughs.

We landed in JFK about 45 minutes late, but I zipped through Global Entry and began to wait for my bags. And then I waited some more. My bag did not come out with the first batch of priority bags, nor the second, and then the carousel just stopped. 10 minutes later, an agent radioed asking what was going on, and then a full hour after I had deplaned, my bag rolled onto the carousel. Gotta love AA’s JFK ground service. My parents had been waiting for me at the cell waiting lot this whole time, so I rushed through customs, and redropped my bag off for its connecting flight.

I was supposed to land at about 3:45pm, but after the delay and baggage debacle, it was then 5:30 on a Tuesday, and we were heading Eastbound on the Belt and Southern State Parkways. For those not familiar with New York, trust me, that’s not good. The 20 minute drive to my sister’s place took a full hour, leaving me about 90 minutes with the family.

But by the time I got t...

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La Concha v. El San Juan – Comparing hotels and 2 lazy days in San Juan

Category: Hotels Comments: No comments

San Juan is an interesting vacation destination, in that there are three main clusters of hotels, and each provides a completely different vacation experience. From West to East, there’s Old San Juan, which is charming and full of historical, colonial buildings, forts, and older charm, right on a peninsula in the ocean. Then there’s Condado, with a walkable street with shops and restaurants, and a lot of hotels right on the beach. Finally, there’s Isla Verde and Carolina, closer to the airport, and full of self-contained resorts, where you will be ensconsed by mainland tourists wearing bikinis and sipping overpriced fruity drinks from the poolside bar.

I’ve stayed at three different hotels before in San Juan, two in the Condado area and 1 in Isla Verde/Carolina. The first was the Caribe Hilton, which I got on Priceline in my pre-blogging, pre-elite days. It was a very nice property, though it’s location is a bit isolated, and a long walk to the heart of Condado. The second was the Radisson Ambassador in Condado, which I reviewed here, and is a wasted opportunity for Radisson as a brand, as the location is great but the property is lacking. The third was the disgusting Verdanza in Isla Verde, reviewed here.

For my two nights this time, I ended up splitting my stay between La Concha and the El San Juan, two large chain properties despite their names.

On each of my two prior stays I had thought about staying at La Concha, a Renaissance resort (in the Marriott family), in Condado and right on the beach. It is one of the hipper hotels in San Juan by reputation, but also kept in very good condition, with a great location on Ashford Avenue.IMG_1057

I was able to grab a night us...

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Mini-Trip Report: Hopping down to San Juan on US Airways and American, and my first attempt at AA elite standby

Category: AirlinesTrip Reports Comments: No comments

DC to San Juan Mini-Trip

US Airways Flt. 4036 DCA to PHL
Dep. 6:00am  Arr. 6:50am
US Airways Flt. 770 PHL to SJU
Dep. 7:45am  Arr. 11:45pm
AA Flt. 1613 SJU to MIA
Dep. 3:35pm Arr. 6:30pm
AA Flt. 916 MIA to DCA
Dep. 8:30pm Arr. 10:55pm

Earlier this spring, I took a short last-minute trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico. I was going to skip posting blog posts about it, but I realized they were already almost all written on my computer, so here you’ll get a bonus two pre-Israel posts: one on flights (US and AA), one on hotels (La Concha and El San Juan).  It’s a short boring post, especially since I had zero lounge access, but was interesting to compare US and AA on the SJU routes.

I had a few extra days to go somewhere, but my passport had been sent off for extra pages to be added, so I didn’t have a ton of options. San Juan was pretty affordable, with flights on US Airways and American going for $145 each way. On the way down, I booked via Philadelphia on US Airways – not for the extra miles (though that’s nice), but for the timing – a 6 am departure that would have me in San Juan for lunch. On the way back, I was on American via San Juan, which allowed a 5:45pm departure, routing through Miami – and the Main Cabin Extra would be nice.

The flights were pretty uneventful. The US Airways Express flight from DCA to PHL is super short, and there wasn’t a beverage service or anything, though the lone flight attendant took the flight to bang away at a bag of ice, presumably for a later flight. You stay at a pretty low altitude, which made for some good views, as you could follow the flight path up over Baltimore, into Maryland, then crossing the Delaware and into Philadelphia.  It was pretty as the sun began to rise, even from the old Dash-8 we rode in on.  20140401_062602

Chasing the sun-ish

Chasing the sun-ish

The luxurious one-cabin US Dash-8

The luxurious one-cabin US Dash-8

I had initially been a little ...

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Trip Report: 24 Hours in Little Rock

Category: Mileage RunningTrip Reports Comments: No comments

Before my excursion to Little Rock, I had never been to Arkansas before. I’ve always had an interest in seeing some of the nation’s smaller cities, particularly in the South, as they often have interesting racial and industrial histories that are more well-preserved than those of bigger cities. In addition, I will probably always have a soft spot for Bill Clinton as he was the President of my childhood. He was elected just before my ninth birthday, and left office my senior year of high school. (In fact, I played the role of Al Gore in our high school’s mock Presidential debate.) So Little Rock was a good place for me to spend a day.

After settling in at the Holiday Inn and a quick workout, I walked over to Little Rock’s “River Market” area, to explore a bit and get a light dinner. The area is a pretty recently gentrified area, centered around the city’s River Market, which was like a smaller version of Boston’s Quincy Market in my estimation. By the time I got there, most of the stalls were closed, but I feel I still got a pretty good feel of the place.

Little Rock River Market

Little Rock River Market

Little Rock River Market

Little Rock River Market

Interior Little Rock River Market (closing time)

Interior Little Rock River Market (closing time)

There were a bunch of bars and rest...

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