Review: Park Hyatt Shanghai

First of all, I’ve made no secret of my love for Park Hyatt properties.  I feel that they are some of the nicest and well-done properties in the world, and are certainly amongst the best hotels in which I’ve stayed.  Before my trip to Shanghai, I’d previously stayed at Park Hyatts in Tokyo, Dubai, Melbourne and Zurich, and all four of them ranked at or near the top of my list of favorite hotels.IMG_9170

The Park Hyatt Shanghai easily joined the very top of that list.

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Review: THAI Royal First Class Munich to Bangkok

We arrived at Munich’s Franz Josef Strauss International Airport over three hours before our flight since we were just ready to relax a little bit before the flight.  There was already a queue formed when we arrived, but we were the first guests in line for Royal First Class.  On this flight was myself and two friends — one of who would be accompanying me in First Class, and the other who was holding down the fort in economy.  Once check-in opened, we were processed first and headed through security and immigration before heading to the Lufthansa Senator Lounge.  Unfortunately, Thai First Class passengers are not granted access at Lufthansa’s First Class Lounges, so the Senator Lounge had to do.  It, of course, was fine — as we primarily just used the space to relax with a light meal and a few drinks before our flight to Bangkok.

About 45 minutes prior to departure, we made the short walk to our gate and took a couple pictures of our B747-400 in the unique THAI livery.  As we were called for boarding, we entered the plane at door 1L and was greeted by the Purser.

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Review: Le Meridien Munich

For the first time in four years, I opted to stay at a hotel for Oktoberfest not named Four Points Sheraton Munich Central.  And the result?

A mixed bag, really.

The Le Meridien Munich is located pretty darned conveniently – especially for Oktoberfest.  The property is literally across the street from the south entrance of the Haufbahnhof Central Station, and an easy, fifteen minute walk to the center of the city, Marienplatz and the Glockenspiel.  Though it’s not nearly as close at the Four Points Munich Central, the Le Meridien is only about a ten minute walk (4-5 blocks) to the front gates of Oktoberfest at the Theresenwiese.

We attempted to check-in relatively early, due to our morning arrival from the States, but not surprisingly, we were informed that our room would not be ready until 2pm.  Okay, not a big deal.  We then were informed that a roll-away would cost us 60 euros extra PER day.  This was not what the details of our reservation said when I booked the room, and luckily I’d printed out all the confirmation details and had them with me.  The front desk staff member was extremely nice and agreed that our rate did, indeed state that there was no fee for a roll-away…. score! Continue Reading →

Review: United Global First Class Chicago to Munich

I started out my around the world trip with a Transatlantic flight from Chicago to Munich in United Global First Class.  After a longer than usual flight from Washington-DCA to Chicago, I arrived at O’ Hare and met up with my good friend, who would be joining me for the entire trip to Europe and Asia.  IMG_8624We spent an hour or so at the United Global First Class Lounge in O’Hare, primarily finishing up some last-minute bill paying and calling loved ones before we departed.  Finally, it was time for boarding, so we ventured to the gate where boarding had just commenced.

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A Long Weekend in Iguazu Falls

After much internal debate, I’ve finally decided to go through with my trip this coming long weekend to Iguazu Falls via pretty much every major airport in South America.

Am I insane?

Probably.

Back this Spring, LAN offered a very, very cheap rate from New York to Iguazu Falls on both LAN and TAM metal.  Naturally, I made a game of finding the most absurd routing possible to get to Iguazu Falls.  That seemed like a fun thing at the time.  It was also one of the cheapest routings, to boot.

And Now?

Yeah, I’m pretty much dreading the flights.  Over 32 hours of flying in coach, on FIVE flights to get from DC to freakin’ Foz do Iguazu, Brazil at 1am, only to have to taxi into Puerto Iguassu, Argentina in the wee hours of the morning.

Five flights?  Four transfers?  A late-night border crossing between Brazil and Argentina?

What possibly could go wrong?

In the end, I’ve decided that an opportunity to see one of the Natural Wonders of the World – Iguazu Falls – is just too good to miss, despite the absolute absurdity that I’m putting myself through to get there.  Oh yeah – I’ve also already put too much of a financial investment in this trip to just see it go to waste.

During my time there this weekend, I plan on seeing the Falls from both the Argentina and Brazil sides, as well as spending some time in Puerto Iguazu.  Since I’m rockin’ this trip solo, I’ll be staying at a hostel in order to keep costs down.  So I’ll for sure get to Brazil and Argentina on this trip.  If I play my cards right, I may be able to get into neighboring Paraguay for a bit, but we’ll see how that goes when I get down there.  Mix in the quality time I’ll get to spend during my layovers in Lima, Peru, and that’s possibly four countries in one weekend (though I hesitate to count Peru if I don’t leave the Lima Airport).

 The Routing

Yeah… it looks like this:

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 7.07.41 PM Yup.  That’s:

  • DCA-JFK on AA (my upgrade to First Class cleared!)
  • JFK-(LIM)-SCL on LAN in economy (stopover in Lima)
  • SCL-GRU on TAM in economy
  • GRU-IGU on TAM in economy

Return

  • IGU-LIM on LAN in economy
  • LIM-JFK on LAN in economy
  • JFK-DCA on AA in economy

So, over 13,000 miles of flying in a weekend.   Not bad.  Slightly insane, but not your typical weekend.  Whatever happens, it’ll be an adventure.  And for that, I’m thankful.  Now, about streaming the Auburn vs. Texas A&M game…


 Update:  This trip did NOT go as planned… the trip report is linked below:

A 36-hour Trip to Nowhere:  An Iguazu Fail

 

2015 Combined AAdvantage Loyalty Program Announced

This morning, American Airlines announced its 2015 AAdvantage Loyalty Program for the combined American and US Airways.  As an American elite, the program remains largely un-changed, and that’s a great thing!  With that said, there are a few changes to the program that I’ll highlight in this post.  The theme of the whole deal is that the combined carrier will run one loyalty program (AAdvantage) for two separate airlines and reservations systems at American and US Airways.  This is a bit awkward, but if they make it work like it’s laid out here, it should be fine.

The Changes

Elite Qualification

  • From an initial scanning of the new program, the biggest change is an increase in the qualifying criteria for qualifying by segments.  The new program features an increase of Elite Qualifying Segments (EQS) for Gold / Platinum / Executive Platinum from 25/50/100 to 30/60/120.  The qualification criteria on Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM) and Elite Qualifying Points (EQP) remains the same, and that’s a HUGE sigh of relief.
2015 AA Elite Qualification Criteria

2015 AA Elite Qualification Criteria

Elite Benefits Flying on American

  • For Gold and Platinum elites, 500-mile certificates will still be needed to upgrade on flights over 500 miles, but upgrades continue to be unlimited for Executive Platinum members when flying American
    • Previous US Airways elites will receive 500-mile stickers based on their qualification history so they can upgrade on American flights

Elite Benefits Flying on US Airways

  • When flying US Airways, complimentary upgrades will be cleared automatically, based on status (up to 2 /3 /4 days for Gold / Platinum / Executive Platinum)
  • Integration of Auto-upgrades at US Airways (AA elites will be auto confirmed on US Airways instead of at check-in) — this is great!

General Elite Benefits and Notes

  • All AA elites are now eligible for unlimited complimentary upgrades on flights under 500 miles
  • Executive Platinum Systemwide Upgrades (SWUs) can now be used on US Airways flights, too
  • Addition of free same-day changes for Executive Platinum Members!
  • Mileage balances, elite qualifying miles and  segments, and lifetime miles will be combined in early 2015

Mileage Earning

  • There are no changes to the mileage earning schemes other than:
    • The mileage earning bonus for business class tickets will increase from 25% to 50%.

You can read all the details on the changes here:  2015 AAdvantage Program

The Timeline

Here’s a high-level timeline on when benefits will be available to AAdvantage members:

Right now

January 2015

Second quarter of 2015 (when programs are combined)

More detail on the timeline can be found here:  2015 AAdvantage Integration Timeline

Initial Thoughts

I am very happy with the changes.  As an American Executive Platinum member, I view these changes to the 2015 AAdvantage Loyalty Program as all positive (other than the increase in segments needed for qualification).  Since I will likely qualify via EQM, this does not affect me.  The benefits also increase a bit for Gold and Platinum members, but the level of benefit for those members pales in comparison to what Executive Platinums get.

I was very worried about the addition of a revenue requirement, but that was not included…. for now.  We’ll see what happens after the two airlines are fully integrated.

Note:  I’ll continue to analyze some of these changes throughout the day and provide more commentary, as needed

Weekly Round-Up in the World of Points

Well, it’s been an insanely busy week for me, as I got back into the swing of things at work, and in life in general.  As such, I didn’t get to write as much as I wanted to, so here is a weekly round-up of some of the goings-ons in the World of travel, points and miles.  I’ll try to call out the top four or five stories on a weekly basis in the future.

Atlantis Resort becomes a Marriott Rewards Partner

This week, the uber-popular Atlantis Resort and Casino in the Bahamas officially joined the Marriott Rewards program.  The incredible resort is now bookable with Marriott Points at the following levels:

  • Beach Towers – 35,000 points per night (category 7)
  • Coral Towers – 35,000 points per night (category 7)
  • Royal Towers – 40,000 points per night (category 8)
  • The Cove – 45,000 points per night (category 9)

While a little steep, it is a great resort, and if you’re sitting on a stockpile of Marriott points, it’s a definite option for a Caribbean vacation.  The property is marketing each tower as a separate hotel.  While the Cove and maybe Royal Towers could be a deal, I don’t think the Beach and Coral Towers are particularly good values considering that a night here can routinely be had for les than $150 per night.

The fact sheet regarding points redemptions can be found here.  Keep in mind that with Marriott, when you redeem for four nights, you receive the fifth night free. Continue Reading →

How to Book an Around the World Trip with US Airways Miles

US Airways Dividend Miles are some of the easiest miles out there to accrue, and at least for now, the airline has a very rewarding award chart with several awesome hot spots that one can exploit to derive maximum value from their miles.

Perhaps no award on the US Airways chart has more value than the business or first class award from North America to North Asia for 110,000 miles in business class or 120,000 miles in first class.   US Airways defines “North Asia” as China, Hong Kong, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macau, Mongolia, South Korea, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.   US Airways’ liberal routing rules allow one to really exploit this award and turn it into a de-facto around the world ticket.

In this post, I will demonstrate:

  • The mechanics and details of a US Airways award ticket
  • How to book a US Airways Award ticket on oneworld partner airlines using American’s website
  • How to book a US Airways Award ticket on oneworld partner airlines using British Airways’ website
  • How to book a US Airways Award ticket on oneworld partner airlines using Qantas’s website
  • The proper way to call a US Airways and book this award

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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 →