Turkey & Greece 2014: Return Trip from Istanbul

In this post I’m going to cover:

Istanbul to Brussels (SAW-BRU) in Turkish Business Class

Brussels to Washington Dulles in Brussels Business Class

The same car service that picked us up from IST dropped us off at SAW.  The cabs in Istanbul drive like bats out of hell (and made both of us very car sick every time), so a nice big van and driver with fewer dreams of becoming Jeff Gordon was an even bigger blessing than we realized–we mostly booked the service for simplicity.

SAW airport is located on the Asian side of Istanbul which we didn’t have an opportunity to visit on our trip.  Accounting for less time spent in traffic, it was actually only about 5-10 minutes longer of a drive than IST to the Park Hyatt.  SAW is also a regional airport with fewer flights, so we probably gained that 5-10 minutes back just dealing with a smaller airport.  Getting to see a little bit of the Asian side too–even just driving through on the highway–definitely made it worth it.

Unfortunately, while Turkish Airlines does have a large presence at SAW, they don’t operate their own lounge–which is a major downside given that their lounge at IST is considered among the best business class lounges in the world.  At SAW, all airlines use a contract/CIP lounge beyond security.  That said, for a contract lounge (which generally stink), it’s not actually terrible. [Read more...]

Turkey & Greece 2014: Park Hyatt Istanbul

We arrived very late from our delayed flight from Athens into Istanbul.  Despite being lowly coach passengers (we paid for these tickets at about ~$120 each one way), our bags were among the first out of the carousel.  We’d pre-booked our airport transfers (IST-Park Hyatt-SAW) with a van company for 70 EUR round trip, and my name was among the hundreds waiting outside of baggage claim — seriously, I’ve never even seen 10% as many names on placards at any other airport.  We actually had to split up to find the placard.

What’s interesting about IST airport is that the name placard cartel seems to be extremely haphazard.  The guy who had our name placard also had about a dozen other names he was responsible for–as did everyone else.  When we identified ourselves, he looked at our placard for additional info and then called a number to let somebody know we’d arrived.  He then walked us outside to another man (man #1 at this time, goes back inside to deal with his other 10+ placards), who then called our driver, and at that point we waited about 5 more minutes before the van showed up.  At that point, man #2 goes back to the door, presumably to wait on more arrivals.  My guess  after looking at the whole situation is that the guys at the airport are there all day and may be paid some nominal amount per placard but don’t actually work for the van company as they seemed to have tons of different information along with the various names.  In all, it was a very interesting display.

Even at a pretty late hour, there was bad traffic in Istanbul, so the ride took us about 45 minutes to the hotel.  The Park Hyatt is not located in the “Old City” part of Istanbul, but it is located in what seems to be the very high end shopping district.  Basically, the “Champs-Élysées” area in Paris terms.  A new St. Regis is being built right around the corner, as well, so we may check that out next time. [Read more...]

Giveaway: Brussels Airlines Amenity Kit!

I have a still-in-plastic amenity kit from Brussels Airlines from our recent BRU-IAD flight and I’m giving it away.

Brussels Amenity Kit

Brussels Amenity Kit

How do you win?

[Read more...]

Should You Apply for the 140,000 Point Ritz Carlton Offer?

Chase has an unusually high bonus offer right now going on for the Ritz Carlton card at 140,000 points.  The basic terms here are:

  • $395 Annual Fee NOT waived.
  • 140,000 points after $2,000 in spend after 3 months
  • $200 in airline fee credits
  • A few other perks I don’t value so highly like gold status, 3 club upgrades annually, etc.
Ritz Carlton Abama (Canary Islands)

Ritz Carlton Abama (Canary Islands)

How much is the bonus worth? [Read more...]

Start Today! 5 Cards to Get You Started

One of the most common questions I get is, “OK if I’m just starting out, what should I do?”  The short answer is: apply for credit cards and learn how to maximize their use.

But which cards?  

Here’s the 5 cards I’d apply for if I were starting today.  Not only are they good cards, but they’re good cards to get together for a few reasons as well.  The goal here is to earn a diverse portfolio of points with as mild of a spend requirement as possible, get you set up for daily spending, and to affect your credit as little as possible. [Read more...]

Greece & Turkey 2014: Blue Palace Hotel

Blue Palace is actually a hotel that was on our radar last Summer, when we went to Le Meridien Split in Croatia so we ended up following through with that plan this year.

As a category 6 hotel, 8 nights cost us 140,000 SPG points in total including all taxes and service charge.  Given the best rate of about 375 Euro + tax at the time of booking, we got approximately 3 cents per point (about 3.05, actually) of value from our SPG points.  Not a mind blowing value, but an acceptable redemption to be sure.

We arrived via the hotel’s car service, which at 90 Euro for a 1 hour trip in a brand new Mercedes sedan seemed like a very good deal.  I checked taxi pricing and it was similar, and the few private car companies I inquired with actually wanted more than 90 Euro.

One reason I always like to get the hotel car whenever it’s not ridiculously expensive is that the hotel knows when you’re coming.  So they can “pre” check you in, which puts you in front of all the guests that may have been on your flight or others arriving at similar times.  That’s crucial for high season upgrades which may be limited to 1-2 guests per night.

At check in, we were told that we’d been upgraded from a standard bungalow to a bungalow with pool, which was exciting news, and quite fortunate given the high season.  When we checked out, we were told the resort was at 100% occupancy minus only the 5000 Euro/nt “Grand Villa.”

Given the late hour (~9pm), the desk agent who escorted us to our room suggested a property tour the following day.

When we woke up, we were treated to an excellent view from our terrace:

View from Pool Bungalow terrace

View from Pool Bungalow terrace

[Read more...]

Greece & Turkey 2014: Getting to Greece

As I explained previously, we chose a routing through London and Munich to get to Heraklion Airport in Crete in order to fly BA first class.

As usual, the evening started with an Uber car from our apartment in Arlington to Dulles airport, which at a flat $80, tip included, is a steal.  That’s roughly the same cost as a taxi + tip (maybe $5-10 more), but infinitely more comfortable, on demand via app, earns 2X Amex points, and with a driver that doesn’t make me fear for my safety (which is more than can be said for Arlington cabs).

Dulles Airport

We got to Dulles around 9:00pm for our 10:35pm flight.  I knew from reading online that the main BA lounge is closed for refurbishment at the moment (it’s being expanded as BA is bringing their A380 service to Washington, and the current lounge isn’t big enough), so we didn’t want to spend too long in the airport. [Read more...]

Greece and Turkey 2014: Planning, Costs, and Intro

We love the Mediterranean in the Summer… it’s a very welcome, and crisp, change from DC’s muggy summers.  Last Summer we planned a trip around Croatia, and this Summer we wanted to go to Greece.

I spotted an SPG Property that looked good, and since we were staying 8 nights, being SPG Platinum saves us about 50 Euro/day in free breakfast.  We decided to stay at Blue Palace in Crete–which is known for beaches and sun.  [Side note, we've seen about 3 total clouds in the 7 days we've been here, so the sun part is 100% true].

Blue Palace Main Pool

Blue Palace Main Pool

[Read more...]

Getting to Israel in Business Class… this Summer!

One of the most popular requests of my award booking service is getting to Israel in premium cabins–often for families of 2-5 people–which can be a challenge with miles.  Add to that, that often they don’t contact me until a few months before travel, and it really becomes a challenge.



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Maldives Trip 2014: Hong Kong to Munich Lufthansa First Class

Chauffeur + Washington Dulles Airport
Dulles to Abu Dhabi Etihad Diamond First
St. Regis Abu Dhabi Nation Towers
Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Saadiyat Island
Abu Dhabi Airport and Etihad First Class Lounge
Abu Dhabi to Male Etihad Pearl Business
Conrad Lounge & Seaplane
Conrad Maldives
Male to Hong Kong Cathay Pacific Business Class (and Male Airport)
W Hong Kong
Hong Kong Airport
Hong Kong to Munich Lufthansa First Class
Munich Airport and Lufthansa First Class Lounge
Frankfurt Airport and Lufthansa First Class Terminal
Frankfurt to Washington Dulles Lufthansa First Class

I wasn’t too worried about the lack of food on the ground, because I knew that we had the first class cabin (all all the first class food) to ourselves for the 12 hour flight to Munich… my dream finally realized!  [Read more...]