24 Hours in Anchorage

I’m posting this after completing a short, weekend trip to Anchorage, Alaska as part of a mileage run to hit the American Airlines Executive Platinum Status Challenge. Anchorage is a great place to spend a day, and obviously a fantastic hopping off point to explore more of Alaska, including Denali, the Kenai Peninsula, or even an Alaskan cruise. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend you actually spend some time in Alaska – certainly more than 24 hours. I’ve been fortunate enough to take two cruises to Alaska, so I’ve been able to experience the majestic scenery of the Last Frontier. I also spent a couple days in Anchorage last summer for a quick, weekend trip.

With that said, there’s no shortage of things to do if you have a short time in Anchorage – whether it’s a free day after a cruise, a hopping off point before or after a fishing trip, or if you find it amusing to fly almost 10,000 miles in a weekend, like me. Continue Reading →

Meeting the AA Executive Platinum Status Challenge… In One Month!

I previously wrote about the details of the Executive Platinum Status Challenge with American Airlines for which I recently signed up.  Well, I didn’t just blindly agree to the challenge — earning 25,000 elite qualifying points (EQP) in three months is no small feat, after all!

Before I even asked for the challenge, I carefully planned out the least expensive way for me to accomplish this challenge.  My two limiting factors in this endeavor were both time and money.  I had a very busy fall already with trips planned to Europe, Asia, and South America to go along with a wedding, a bachelor party, a weekend with the parents, a trip to Auburn for a football game, and a trip to Vegas for the BAcon Boarding Area blogger conference.  Adding to that, pretty much all of my vacation time has been either used or earmarked for the trips mentioned above.  This left me only three weekends between September and mid-November that I could use to hit this challenge. Continue Reading →

Elite Status Challenges with American Airlines

Airlines – particularly legacy US carriers — value their elite passengers.  These passengers are widely viewed by the airlines to be some of their most profitable passengers, and as such, those passengers are extended numerous perks such as priority boarding, free checked bags, and first class upgrades.  For quite some time, most airlines offer published and un-published opportunities for elite passengers of its competitors called status matches or status challenges. The basic premise of a status match is that an elite member of Airline A would request and be granted equal status with Airline B once their elite credentials were verified.  A status challenge is where an elite member of Airline A is granted equal status with Airline B provided that the member flies X amount of miles/points/segments in Y amount of time (months).Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 9.06.54 PM

What is an American Airlines Status Challenge?

American Airlines currently offers varying levels of status challenge opportunities for elite passengers of rival carriers –  primarily United and Delta, though YMMV with other carriers.  There are currently three levels of status challenges: Continue Reading →

United’s Premium Service Business Saver Award Availability is Much More Sparse than its Competitors’

It’s been widely documented that United Airlines has implemented a series of devaluations to its MileagePlus loyalty program.  First, there was the move to add a dollar spend amount to Premier Status qualification through the added criteria of “Premium Qualifying Dollars.”  Then, United announced a major devaluation of their award chart which hit premium international travel particularly hard.  It also created essentially a separate, more expensive chart for travel redeemed on one of United’s Star Alliance partners — the partners that supposedly make membership in Star Alliance so valuable.  Finally, last week, United announced their new plan for accruing redeemable miles in its 2015 MileagePlus program — it will based purely on ticket price, and not on the mileage flown, which is essentially bad for anyone who is somewhat price-sensitive, and is buying their own tickets.  This revenue-based system appears to be a carbon-copy of the same plan that Delta announced this past February, leading many to accuse United of simply copying Delta on things that arbitrarily “sound like a good idea.”

To counteract these devaluations, one might think that United may increase award availability so it’s not all bad for the consumer.  Alas, that is not the case.  Though United continues to have pretty good saver award availability on international awards, it has become increasingly hard to find a saver award — particularly for a premium cabin on a transcontinental domestic flight.

Case in point:  United’s Premium Service flights from New York (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO).

These flights are operated by two-class Boeing 757-200s with a special, two-class configuration featuring 28 lie-flat, business class seats.  I was alerted by a friend that the availability of these seats is absolutely dismal, so I looked into it and then decided to compare it with the availability of “saver” level award seats in both Delta and American’s programs.

What I found was much worse than I thought.

United Premium Service Award Availability

Below are the availability calendars for United’s Premium Service Saver-level award availability for JFK-LAX for the entire schedule.
*Yellow denotes saver economy space is available.  Blue denotes BusinessFirst is available, and Green denotes both economy and BusinessFirst is available.

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 8.42.52 PM Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 8.50.18 PM Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 8.50.45 PM Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 8.51.08 PM Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 8.51.32 PM Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 8.51.58 PM

That’s right.  For the entire year, there is award space for only three dates for BusinessFirst — and all are within the next three days.

The availability is much the same for the opposite direction:  LAX-JFK:  3 dates in the next year; ironically enough including Christmas Eve.

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 8.53.46 PM Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 8.55.20 PM Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 8.55.43 PM Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 8.56.00 PM Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 8.57.44 PM Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 8.58.02 PM

I then decided to look at the other United Premium Service route to San Francisco, only to find similar results (I’ll spare you all the calendar shots.)

JFK-SFO:  Slightly better, with 6 days of BusinessFirst open

SFO-JFK:  The worst of the whole bunch:  only 2 days with BusinessFirst saver open, and very little economy space open at all.

After seeing this paltry availability for United, I figured that surely it was probably just as bad for Delta and American.

Notsomuch…

Delta Transcontinental BusinessElite Award Availability

Upon studying the Delta award availability (which is much more difficult to navigate than United’s), I found that on its JFK-LAX premium route with all flat-beds in its Transcontinental BusinessElite product, there was actually pretty good availability for saver-level seats after September.  In fact, in October, it’s pretty wide open (the Green dates indicate Saver availability).  The same was true with return flights from LAX-JFK.

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Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 9.25.46 PM

Delta’s Domestic Award Chart

It is worth noting that Delta has a couple different levels of “Saver” awards, based on seasonality, so a Saver award could cost you either 50,000 or 65,000 round trip (since no one-way awards are offered on Delta).  Delta’s online award search engine is also vastly inferior to that of United, so there’s always that.

American Airlines A321T Award Availability

American Airlines had a simllar pattern of availability as did Delta.  Though this summer’s business or first class “MileSAAver” level availability was slim-to-none, it looked pretty good after August.   Below is American’s chart for Business class MileSAAver awards on its non-stop JFK-LAX route on its new A321T, 3-class “Flagship Service” flights.  It’s also worth noting that first class availability was just as readily available after the summer time.

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 9.30.15 PM

 So what does this tell us?

For starters:  don’t plan on being able to use your United miles to fly on its Premium Service flights anytime soon.  This is just another deficiency that’s a result of a littany of #flyerUNfriendly “enhancements” to United’s formally industry-leading MileagePlus loyalty program.

Though it faces major competition in a continually evolving US air travel market,  United seems to cherry-pick the things that it copies from other airlines, such as Delta’s Skymiles medallion qualification and revenue-based earning program.  At the same time, it seems to ignore other very important things such as creating operational efficiencies by decreasing the reliance on regional carriers, and rewarding customers with at least making premium transcontinental flights obtainable with miles.  It could always mean that United is filling all these high dollar seats with paying customers while their competition is not, but given United’s recent reports of profitability (or lack thereof), I really doubt it.

How to Use American Miles to Book US Airways Flights to Europe

I recently enjoyed a US Airways business class flight in their Envoy Suite from Philadelphia to Venice, which I mentioned that I booked with American Airlines AAdvantage miles.  Now that US Airways has officially joined OneWorld, and is in the process of integrating operations with American Airlines, it is very easy to book award space on US Airways flights using your American AAdvantage miles!  The ability to do this is especially advantageous for transatlantic flights from the US to Europe.

Envoy Suites class on US Airways A330-200

Envoy Suites class on US Airways A330-200

Before the addition of US Airways, your options for flying to Europe with American miles were relatively limited.  Most of the options involved a connection at London-Heathrow on either American or British Airways.  Aside from the headache involved with transiting one of the World’s busiest international airports, these flights include significant taxes and fees that significantly decrease the value proposition of redeeming your miles.  Other than this, American does offer some non-stop flights from the US to other gateways in Europe, but those seem to be increasing difficult to find on points.

This is where US Airways comes in.

Since they started to merge with American earlier this year, US Airways non-stops to Europe are also bookable online on American’s site.  Since you’d be using American miles, you would use the American partner award chart.  American charges 20k-30k in economy (based on the season), 50k in business, and 62.5k in first class for a one-way flight between the US and Europe or vice-versa.   Since US Airways only has economy and business class, we will be focusing on business.

I will search for a flight to Venice from Philadelphia (though the mileage price would be the same from any city in the US — you’d just need to change planes).  To search for these awards on the American site, it’s important to check the “Redeem miles” checkmark.  I usually search one-way awards, and if a round-trip is needed, book it as a round-trip once I’ve verified availability.Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 2.11.15 PM

By default, economy class will be chosen.  I’m interested in business class seats, so I’ll select the blue, business class button and the available dates will be populated in the calendar.  Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 2.12.58 PM

I select Friday, May 30th, and voila — there’s availability on the route in US Airway business class on the same flight I took — US Airways flight 714 from Philly to Venice!Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 2.14.54 PM

This is available for 50k miles + $2.50 per person (please note that if the reservation is made inside of 21 days, there will be an extra $75 charge per person for passengers without elite status on American).Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 2.18.57 PM

As I mentioned in my previous post, I consider the product on US Airways to be one of the best business class options to cross the Atlantic (on their A330-200 and A330-300 aircraft).   American offers a similar, but newer product on their new B777-300ER aircraft, but these currently only fly to Europe between New York-JFK, Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles and London-Heathrow with very limited award availability.  American seems to be releasing this very comparable business class award space on these US Airways non-stops  even mores than some of their own flights to Europe.

US Airways currently operates the following routes to Europe, which are all bookable using your American AAdvantage miles:

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Charlotte to: Dublin, London, Brussels, Paris, Frankfurt, Rome, Barcelona, Madrid, and Lisbon.

 

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Philadelphia to: Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dublin, Shannon, London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Frankfurt, Munich, Paris, Zurich, Venice, Rome, Barcelona, Madrid, and Lisbon.

*Be sure to check the operating aircraft, because the Envoy Suites product is only offered on their A330 planes.

All in all, it’s pretty easy to do this if you have a bunch of American miles.  Even if you don’t, it’s easy to accumulate American miles through generous signup bonuses for one of many Citibank AAdvantage credit cards.

 

Review: US Airways Business Class (Envoy Suites) Philadelphia to Venice

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland

Introduction
Planning
US Airways Business Class (Envoy) Philadelphia to Venice
Two Magical Days in Venice
Boscolo Venezia Hotel in Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Introduction, Itinerary, and the Pinnacle Suite
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Katakolon and Athens
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Istanbul, Mitilini, and Kusadasi
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Santorini and Argostoli
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Sailing into Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Cruise Review
Ryanair Economy Class Venice-Treviso to Dublin
Two Days in Dublin
The Aran Islands and Galway, Ireland
Driving the West Coast of County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher, and Bunratty Meadows B&B
Aer Lingus 757 Business Class Shannon to Boston


After a quick and uneventful, yet pleasant flight from Washington-National Airport, we arrived in Philadelphia with about two hours to spare until our scheduled departure time.  We were welcomed into the Terminal A US Airways Envoy Lounge where our passports were checked and we were issued two premium drink certificates apiece.  The lounge offered a great view of the evening European departures from Terminal A.

I felt it was a very solid lounge for a US domestic carrier – probably one of the better I’ve seen domestically.  Boarding for our flight to Venice was announced around 6pm, so we proceeded to the gate and arrived as some of the last passengers to board.

US Airways (US) 714
Philadelphia (PHL) – Venice (VCE)
Aircraft:  Airbus A330-200
Seat:  4F (Envoy Suites)
Tuesday, April 28, 2014
6:45PM – 09:15AM (+1 day)
Duration:  8:30

My initial impression of the business cabin was that it looked awfully spacious and nice with the wood paneling on the bulkheads and tables.  The US Airways A330-200 features only twenty business class seats (or “Envoy Suites”) as five rows in a a 1-2-1 configuration.  The reverse herringbone configuration of these seats is a scaled down version of the same seats used by Cathay Pacific in their international business cabins.  Though they lack some of the storage of the Cathay seats, these Envoy Suites are some of the most spacious and nicest business class seats one can fly across the Atlantic.  Certainly, they’re currently the best hard product on an US carrier (with the exception of the new American 777-300ER cabin, which are the same type seats as these Envoy Suites).   The 1-2-1 business cabin is quickly becoming the standard among airlines, and US Airways deserves some credit for being the first airline to introduce this seat a few years ago.  I had more than enough room to stretch out.  While fully flat, I was able to stretch out without hitting the wall of the foot well .  This is pretty spectacular since I’m 6’4”.

We were offered champagne as soon as we took our seats, as well as a newspaper, an amenity kit, and brand new Bose QC15 noise-canceling headphones.  I was quite impressed by the Bose headphones, as I’m used to a much inferior offering on United.   They featured American Airlines branding, so they’re on of the first signs of the integration of the two airlines.  Menus were distributed and orders were taken prior to departure.

About ten minutes after takeoff, the flight attendant delivered a vodka tonic with warm mixed nuts.

The starter featured a pesto shrimp dish, which was excellent.  The salad was quite small, and came on the same plate as the shrimp.

For the entree, I selected the panko-crusted tilapia with mashed potatoes and green beans.  The fish was  a much larger portion than I was expecting.  It was tasty enough, and the mashed potatoes were delicious.

I had the tiramisu AND the Ben & Jerry’s chocolate brownie  ice cream for desert – both of which were excellent.  My girlfriend ordered the cheese plate and enjoyed that.

 

Dinner was quite good overall.  It was not overly memorable, but was certainly adequate for a business class dinner.

After dinner, I attempted to finish a movie, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” but didn’t last more than ten minutes, as I fell asleep in the lay-flat bed.  For whatever reason, I didn’t sleep particularly well that night though the seat itself was quite comfortable.  I finally gave up trying after about four hours or so of on-and-off sleep.  Not too long after that, the flight attendants started preparing the cabin for breakfast – about 75 minutes prior to scheduled arrival into Venice, as we flew over Paris.  There was a choice of fruit and yogurt, or a mushroom and sausage quiche.  I opted for the fruit and yogurt while my girlfriend chose the quiche.  The fruit was fresh and tasty.  The quiche was excellent – easily one of the best egg dishes I’ve sampled on any flight.

After breakfast, I changed and prepared my things for landing.  We arrived into Venice about ten minutes ahead of schedule with a beautiful view of the city, the lagoon, and Murano our the starboard side of the airplane.

Overall, I was very impressed with US Airways.  I was expecting a very solid hard product, and that’s exactly what I got.  The Envoy Suite is an excellent choice for crossing the Atlantic, and it blows away most other US carriers’ offerings as far as comfort is concerned – namely United’s BusinessFirst products and American’s old business class.  Admittedly, I had somewhat low expectations for catering and service, but I was pleasantly surprised.  The flight attendants working the business class cabin were friendly enough and very efficient – not necessarily memorable, but they certainly provided good enough service.  The catering was overall quite good, and I enjoyed a change from the somewhat standard United BusinessFirst menu that I’m used to.

I certainly recommend the US Airways Envoy product, which is found onboard their Airbus A330 fleet.  I would choose it again if the choice was between US Airways and /or United.  At the end of the day, the 1-2-1 configuration is clearly the most comfortable business class configuration out there, and is one of the best business class options across the Atlantic.

How I booked it…

I was able to book this cabin using 50,000 American Airlines miles and $5 per person for the one-way North America to Europe award ticket.  Award availabilty for US Airways flights is easily available via the American Airlines website.  An added benefit of using American miles for flights on US Airways is that it presents a Transatlantic option that avoids London-Heathrow and the significant taxes associated with such a flight.  There are also no fuel surcharges on US Airways flights, as opposed to the hefty surcharges that exist when flying American’s other transatlantic partners British Airways and Iberia.

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland – Planning the Flights

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland

Introduction
Planning
US Airways Business Class (Envoy) Philadelphia to Venice
Two Magical Days in Venice
Boscolo Venezia Hotel in Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Introduction, Itinerary, and the Pinnacle Suite
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Katakolon and Athens
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Istanbul, Mitilini, and Kusadasi
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Santorini and Argostoli
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Sailing into Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Cruise Review
Ryanair Economy Class Venice-Treviso to Dublin
Two Days in Dublin
The Aran Islands and Galway, Ireland
Driving the West Coast of County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher, and Bunratty Meadows B&B
Aer Lingus 757 Business Class Shannon to Boston


When the Aunt and Uncle invited us on the cruise, it didn’t take too long to accept their invitation.  The good thing about this vacation is that the cruise itinerary is set… so right there, I didn’t need to worry about planning the bulk of the vacation.  The variables that I had to contend with were now arriving and departing Venice (VCE) around the cruise dates, vacation time, and finding air deals and/or redeeming miles.

Planning the flight USA to Italy

As soon as we accepted the invitation to take the cruise, I assessed my mileage balances on  various airlines.  At that time, my United balance was pretty much zero-ed out since I’d just burned a whopping 320,000 miles for a trip to Australia over Christmas and New Years.  However, I had just enough American miles for two, one-way flights from the USA to Europe in economy class for the girlfriend and me.  As luck would have it, there was availability flying economy on American for the dates that we wanted DCA-LGA/JFK-MXP.  This would put us into Milan(MXP) the day before our cruise.  We then planned to take a train Venice in time for our cruise.

US Airways Envoy Suite

US Airways Envoy Suite

Fast forward to two weeks ago.  As the months dragged on, I began to dread the long flight in economy on American.  My last two experiences on American in the back were not too pleasant, so I had reason to be concerned.  At 6’4″, I’m uncomfortable in pretty much any economy seat, but the B767-300s on American seem to be extra brutal and cramped.  Around that same time, my mileage bonus from the Citi AAdvantage Executive card posted, increasing my balance to a cool 120,000 miles.

Out of sheer curiosity, I checked the American website for business class availability — just in case.  Sure enough, there was availability on a flight directly into Venice, AND it arrived a day earlier, allowing us an extra day in Venice.  Upon further review, this entire flight was on US Airways from DCA-PHL-VCE in their Envoy Suites business class cabin.  This is the same basic hard business product that I enjoyed on Cathay Pacific last summer (here and here).   For an extra 30,000 miles per person, this seemed like a no-brainer.  The ability to stretch out and get some sleep on our flight, an extra day in Venice, and the fact that I prefer to burn my miles instead of hoarding them made it an easy move — we were going business class to Venice!

DCA-PHL-VCE on US Airways:  50K AA miles per person in Business Class

DCA-PHL-VCE on US Airways: 50K AA miles per person in Business Class

Getting Home After the Cruise

At the time I initially planned the cruise, I didn’t have a big point balance to work with, since I tend to burn my miles pretty soon after earning them, simply because airlines tend to devalue their programs as time goes by.   Knowing my point limitations, I knew that a sweet spot in the British Airways Avios award chart was Ireland to Boston on BA’s partner, Aer Lingus for only12,500 Avios per person in economy, or 25,000 per persons in business, each way.  This is an incredible value, and may be the single most valuable use of points in any program.  The existence of this award made it apparent that we needed to transit Ireland on the way home, so we decided to spend a few days in the Emerald Isle en route. My girlfriend and I are both Irish, after all!

SNN-BOS-DCA on Aer Lingus and US Airways:  12,500 BA Avios per person in Economy (25k in Business)  + $90 for the US Airways segment

SNN-BOS-DCA on Aer Lingus and US Airways: 12,500 BA Avios per person in Economy (25k in Business) + $90 for the US Airways segment

We decided that we wanted to spend a couple days in Dublin before driving across the country to Galway and the Aran Islands.  After a trip to the Inis Mor on Aer Aran Islands, we plan to visit Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher before ending our trip in Shannon.  After checking for availability and spending an hour on the phone with British Airways, we were able to book our return tickets at the aforementioned price point of only 12,500 per person in economy from Shannon to Boston.  At the end of the day, 25,000 total for TWO people to fly Transatlantic is a STEAL.  So return trip home, booked.

First, I needed to get to Ireland from Venice.

After a brief Internet search, it was immediately clear that European discount carrier, Ryanair was the way to go.  They offered a perfectly timed flight from Venice-Treviso Airport (TSF) to Dublin for under 50euros per person.  Even after we selected seats and paid for checked bags, this option was still about 100euro per person cheaper than the next cheapest option.  No brainer.

TSF-DUB on Ryanair for under 50euros per person

TSF-DUB on Ryanair for under 50euros per person

The last piece of the puzzle was getting from Boston to Washington at the end of the trip.   After monitoring for cheap rates via various methods, I noticed a cheap ($90 one-way) fare between Boston and Washington-National airport with perfect timings, so I pulled the trigger on that, and viola!  We had ourselves an itinerary!

Red:  US AIrways Yellow:  Ryanair Green:  Aer Lingus

The Whole Enchilada:  Red: US AIrways; Yellow: Ryanair; Green: Aer Lingus

 

 

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago?: Review: LAN Economy Class – Santiago to Sao Paulo

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


I was not looking forward to this segment of the trip simply because it was breaking pretty much every rule I set for myself when it comes to earning miles by flying.  Simply put:  it earned no mileage.

None.

Normally, I would not write about a short flight in economy class, but since this was my first time flying LAN, I decided to write about it.

I’d originally booked my ticket in November through Orbitz, and TAM changed the schedule a number of times.  Ultimately, for the Santiago – Sao Paulo segment, I ended up on a TAM-marketed, but LAN-operated flight.  What does that mean?  Well, based on the mileage earning rules for United, the miles get awarded based on the award chart set for the Star Alliance operating carrier.  In this case, LAN Chile is not even a Star Alliance partner, so that meant no United miles.   My backup plan was to credit these miles to my American account, but its mileage rule is that the award chart is dictated by the OneWorld partner airline who is the marketing carrier.  In this case, TAM – who is not a OneWorld carrier.  So essentially, I was in no-man’s land as far as mileage earning was concerned.

Anyway, I arrived in plenty time to deal with any potential complications that this codeshare ticket may have.  As it turns out, there were no  problems, but I did have to check in with LAN, as the TAM personnel at SCL were non-existent.   My next problem was that I was holding a ticket on LAN Chile – an airlines whose inclusion in the OneWorld alliance does absolutely nothing for my Star Alliance Gold status as far as lounge access was concerned.

Santiago is without a doubt, OneWorld country.  LAN dominates the airport along with its partner airlines.

Luckily, I recently acquired a one-day American Admirals pass from a friend, and was ultimately able to enter the Admirals Club at Santiago with my LAN ticket.

 

American Airlines Admiral Club in Santiago

American Airlines Admiral Club in Santiago

Admirals Club SCL spread

Admirals Club SCL spread

This was a nice space, and was barely even populated.  I almost had the lounge to myself.  It was a very comfortable space to pass a couple hours and get some work done.

LAN Chile Airlines (LA) 750
Santiago (SCL) to Sao Paulo (GRU)
Aircraft: Boeing 767-300ER
Seat: 12C (Economy)
Sunday, June 16
3:25PM – 8:25PM
Duration: 4:00

My first impressions upon boarding my LAN 767 were that the interior was brand new.  I walked through the extremely spacious and sparkling business class to my bulked aisle seat in the first row of the economy section.  From here I was able to look into the business class cabin for much of the flight.

My aisle, bulkhead seat 12C

My aisle, bulkhead seat 12C

Plenty of legroom - not really restricted by bulkhead

Plenty of legroom – not really restricted by bulkhead

Now, I’ve seen pictures of LAN’s business class before, but in person, it really did look like a fantastic product.

 

Business class from my seat

Business class from my seat

The economy product wasn’t too shabby either, as it featured the new, slimline seats and Panasonic IFE systems similar to what United has been installing in its international fleet.  The interior of the plane was very fresh looking, and provided a very good initial impression of the airline.

Entertainment System

Entertainment System

The meal consisted of a sandwich and some bread – not the highlight of the flight, as it was pretty tasteless.

A blah sandwich and an okay dessert

A blah sandwich and an okay dessert

After a little less than four hours of flight time, we touched down in Sao Paulo, and I proceeded through transfer security.

Flight path:  SCL-GRU

Flight path: SCL-GRU

Overall, I was pretty impressed with LAN.  Though I was still upset I didn’t earn any miles for this portion of my trip, I was definitely glad for the opportunity to try LAN.  Maybe next time I fly LAN, it will be in the front cabin to somewhere really cool – Easter Island, anyone?

 

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago?: Emergency Landing: United 787 Dreamliner, Denver to Tokyo… I mean Seattle

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


United Airlines (UA) 139
Denver (DEN) to Tokyo-Narita (NRT)  Seattle (SEA)

Aircraft: Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner
Seat: 4E(BusinessFirst)

Tuesday, June 18
12:35PM – 3:30PM (+1 day) 4:05pm
Duration: 11:55 ~4:30

Well… that was different.

So I’ve been looking forward to my Denver – Tokyo flight on United’s brand new 787 Dreamliner for quite some time, and was hoping it would be a memorable flight.

United 787 Dreamliner in Denver

United 787 Dreamliner in Denver

Dreamliner in Denver

Dreamliner in Denver

The intended destination

The intended destination

Well, United sure did deliver.

I’m writing this blog entry neither from Denver, nor from Tokyo.  As it turns out, I’m in Seattle.

About three hours into the flight today, just after dinner service, I noticed an unusual, hard right turn and a significant decent in altitude.  I paused the movie I was watching to check out the flight map, and sure enough — we had just made a 180-degree turn just north of Vancouver Island, BC.

Flight map moments after we turned back

Flight map moments after we turned back

I inquired to a passing flight attendant, and she responded that they had just been requested to prepare the cabin for arrival, as we may be diverting to Seattle.

Sure enough, about five minutes later, the Captain came on to inform us that we were, indeed diverting to Seattle due to a concern with the oil pump in one of the engines.  Soon after that, he advised us that we would be dumping fuel to lighten the load for landing in Seattle.  Well, this provided some awesome pictures.

Dumping fuel over the Pacific from a United B787-8

Dumping fuel over the Pacific from a United B787-8

Fuel dumping

Fuel dumping

The next 45 minutes were pretty typical for a plane getting ready to land — sure, people were frustrated that they wouldn’t be making Tokyo as scheduled, but things were remarkably… normal.  Then about five minutes before landing, the Captain came back on to inform us that emergency vehicles would be meeting the plan upon landing, and that he would try to get us to the gate, but he had concerns about our brakes, which we had some overheating issues with after takeoff from Denver.

I’ve flown a lot.  I mean, a whole bunch.

I’ve never had an emergency landing until now.  I also know that when the Captain expresses concern to the cabin about the brakes, that’s not necessarily a good thing.  So I gathered my important things (passport and such) and put them in my pockets in the event that we’d have to evacuate the plane upon landing via slide.

We touched down in an extremely “normal” landing, and as we exited the runway, a flotilla of fire trucks and emergency vehicles flanked us.  I tried to get some good pictures, but sitting in the middle section of Business class limited my view.

One of the many firetrucks escorting us to the gate

One of the many firetrucks escorting us to the gate

Then, we proceeded to the gate like nothing happened.

After twenty minutes at the gate, we were informed that we would not be continuing on to Tokyo, and that we would need to deplane.  United officials then directed us to the check-in counters at SeaTac where they had an army of agents to assist us with figuring out how the hell we were getting to Tokyo.

I had a unique problem.

I’d planned to connect to Cathay Pacific in Tokyo about five hours after we landed.  This flight was to take me to Dubai via Hong Kong.  Well, since United and Cathay are in different alliances, and are in no way partners, I figured I was pretty screwed.  I called the United Premier Desk as I was walking to the ticketing line, and was informed three times that United could not “take over” my ticket since it was an award ticket purchased through American Airlines for travel on Cathay Pacific (complicated, I know).

After about 15 minutes, I finally got to the agent at the counter in Seattle.  He informed me that I could either take the 9:30pm Delta flight to Tokyo-Haneda, or I could take the 9:30 or 12:30 United flights the following morning to Tokyo-Narita — all in business class.  I let him know my situation, and he agreed to protect me on all those flights until I had details worked out with American and Cathay Pacific.

American was incredibly kind after I explained my situation to them, and they worked with Cathay to get me re-booked on my same flights a day later.  They were not able to accommodate me from Tokyo-Haneda without necessitating a 15 hour layover in Tokyo, so I opted out of that choice.

I informed Untied of my new flights, and they gladly booked me on the 9:30am flight for Wednesday morning to Tokyo-Narita, again on another 787 Dreamliner.  Just in case, I am also booked on the 12:30pm flight on a B777.  They then issued me a hotel voucher for the SeaTac Airport Hilton and several meal vouchers.

Given the situation, I think United handled the situation pretty well.  I will be missing a full day in Dubai, which is disappointing, but I’m sure that there will be further compensation coming from United because of this whole ordeal.

At the end of the day, it was certainly an experience.

Up until our problems, it truly was a wonderful flight.  In all seriousness, the flight up to the engine problems part was phenomenal.  The service was unbelievably good.  The BusinessFirst seat was great.

United 787 BusinessFirst cabin

United 787 BusinessFirst cabin

Plenty of room with all my goodies they gave me

Plenty of room in seat 4E.  The bulkhead rows 1 and 4 on the 787 have more room in footwell area

Dinner was fantastic.  I was very impressed:

Sushi Tray

Sushi Tray

 

Sushi appetizer

Sushi appetizer

Salad

Salad

Tenderloin with gnocchi and asparagus

Tenderloin with gnocchi and asparagus

Cheese Plate

Cheese Plate

Ice cream sundae tray

Ice cream sundae tray

My dessert -- just before the plane decided it wasn't going to Tokyo

My dessert — just before the plane decided it wasn’t going to Tokyo

Others around me were wondering if this was actually a United flight — it was seriously going that well.

And then everything fell apart:

  • Fuel Dump.
  • Emergency landing.
  • Unplanned night in Seattle.

Here’s to making it to Tokyo in the morning!  Time to give the Dreamliner another shot!

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago?: Review: TAM Economy Class – New York JFK to Rio de Janeiro

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


TAM Airlines (JJ) 8079
New York (JFK) – Rio de Janeiro (GIG)

Aircraft: Airbus A330-200
Seat: 29C (Economy Class)

Thursday, June 13
7:10PM – 6:05AM (+1 day)
Duration: 9:55 

I arrived at JFK about three hours before my flight.  Checkin was a breeze at Terminal 8, and I headed to security.  Since the only priority line was for OneWorld elites, I had to trudge to the back of the security line — it took about 15 minutes, so it wasn’t the end of the world.

I proceeded to the American Airlines AAdmirals Club to kill some time before my flights.  This was a bit strange considering I was given a lounge invitation by TAM because of my Star Alliance Gold status.  American is in OneWorld, so it’s just strange how that all worked.  Last time I flew TAM, it was out of JFK Terminal 4, and I used the Swiss Lounge — that made way more sense.  Anyway, I entered the AAdmirals Club with no issues, sat down to get some work done and have some drinks.  The lounge was very crowded, and it took entirely too long to get a drink.

Admiral's Club, JFK Entrance

Admiral’s Club, JFK Entrance

Crowded lounge

Crowded lounge

As I was finishing up some work and a drink, I watched my A330-200 get towed to the gate — that was my queue to start gathering my things and head to the gate.

My ride to Rio:  a TAM A330-200

My ride to Rio: a TAM A330-200

Before my flight, and again at check-in, I had requested a “Space +” seat, which was essentially an exit row.  They said there were none available, and that I couldn’t sit in an exit row since I don’t speak Portuguese.  Interestingly enough, they gladly booked me in an exit row on my return, and I sat in exit rows on TAM the last time I flew them to South America — so I’m not really sure what their policy actually is.  What this did mean though was that I would be cramped in standard economy for close to ten hours.

TAM economy class

TAM economy class

How cramped?

9.5 hours of this -- my knees were not pleased

9.5 hours of this — my knees were not pleased

Yeah.  Pretty miserable.

We taxied and waited for our takeoff slot for about 45 minutes, and soon enough we were airborne.  Food and beverage service did not begin until about two hours into the flights since we were encountering moderate turbulence as we flew through the nasty front that had just passed by the east coast.  I passed time before the meal by watching “Side Effects.” 

The IFE was on-demand, but looked pretty ghetto

The IFE was on-demand, but looked pretty ghetto

I selected the pasta for dinner, as I usually do in economy — it’s pretty hard to compeltely screw up pasta.  It was surprisingly decent.

TAM Dinner Pasta

It actually tasted better than it looks

After dinner, I watched another movie, “Snitch” before going to sleep.  It was not a comfortable rest, but I somehow managed to get about 4.5 hours of decent sleep.  I awoke about the time the sun was rising and movement started again around the cabin.  The flight attendants came by for breakfast service about 90 minutes prior to landing, while we were approaching Brasilia, Brazil.  The breakfast was a sandwich and fruit.  The fruit was fine, but the sandwich was barely passable as food.

Breakfast sandwich, they say

Breakfast sandwich, they say

After breakfast, we finally began our decent into Rio de Janeiro. Everything was pretty uneventful from there.  We were about 20 minutes early, so that was fine by me.

Approaching RIo!

Approaching RIo!

Overall, this flight was decent.  It certainly was not comfortable, but then again, no economy flight is comfortable for somebody who is 6’4″.  The service was fine, and the food was edible.  The flight attendants were friendly enough, and spoke enough English to provide satisfactory service.  The inflight entertainment was on-demand, and decent, though the physical IFE unit was pretty dated.  Considering the low price of this flight, it was completely acceptable, and I was perfectly happy with it.