My experience booking an Emirates flight with Virgin America Elevate points

Emirates is an extremely aspirational airline for mileage redemption because A) they have very “glamorous” premium cabin offerings, and B) because it’s generally not the easiest thing to do–they only have a few partners, and none of them are the “traditional big 4″ programs in the United States with big bank tie-ups and easy mileage accrual.

Emirates Business Class Bar

Emirates Business Class Bar

You can redeem for Emirates flights with:

  • JAL Miles
  • Korean Air Miles
  • Alaska Airlines Miles
  • Virgin Elevate Points
  • Qantas Miles [Read more...]

Transfering and showering in London…

Last week I flew British Airways first class via London (Dublin to Washington DC via London) after a fun St. Patrick’s Day weekend in Dublin.  And after “enjoying” Copper Face Jacks until 4am, the first thing I wanted to do after landing in London–both for my sake and my fellow passengers on the long haul segment–was to shower.

Unfortunately, connecting in London Heathrow is the travel equivalent of a triple root canal–even when connecting to intercontinental first class.

[Read more...]

Maldives Trip 2014: Hong Kong Airport

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

The coolest part about HK Airport (my opinion) is the in town check in counters available at the Airport Express station.  You do need an Airport Express ticket in order to access the space (they have subway-style turnstiles), but it’s free to use with the ticket.  Not only can you get boarding passes here, but you can actually check your bags as well.  So from the moment you board the airport train, you’ve only got your hand luggage with you.

In Town Checkin

In Town Checkin

We got to the airport and walked past the Lufthansa counter where the first class line was, predictably, empty.  We were scheduled to be the only passengers in First on the HKG-MUC flight, and while the HKG-FRA flight leaves at basically the exact same time, it also had a pretty light load in First.  So had there been a line at the train station, we’d have been better off just taking our checked bags to the airport.

Security was pretty light, and we took the train out to the farther gates.  I looked online and the United Club was just a quick walk away from our gates, so we decided to use that lounge.   [Read more...]

Maldives Trip 2014: W Hotel Hong Kong

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

We decided to skip the arrivals lounge and risk it at the W, which in retrospect probably wasn’t very smart on a week day… though we did end up lucking out.

The W is extremely convenient as it’s located directly above the Airport Express train station and mall, so we arrived around 10am–well before check in time.

Entrance to the W from the mall

Entrance to the W from the mall

We were expecting to just leave our bags at the bell desk and start exploring our favorite city, but to our delight and surprise, they had our [upgraded] room available for us.  We were assigned room 3701–a “fabulous suite”–and escorted up by the check in agent.  I used a SPG Platinum Suite Night Award to get the upgrade.

The room opens into a walkway to the living room with an entrance to the bathroom immediately on the right. [Read more...]

Maldives Trip 2014: Male to Hong Kong Cathay Pacific Business Class (and Male Airport)

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

The seaplane back to the airport was exactly the same as the way there, but without the stop this time. We had a full boat from Conrad and left around 6:15pm (5:15pm airport time as the resort’s time is 1 hour ahead). Unfortunately, about half of the seats were occupied by an Italian family who all seemingly gave each other the plague. They were coughing and blowing their noses the entire way there.

The Conrad also allows usage of the lounge for departing passengers, though only arriving passengers get it for free. At $80++ per person, it was a bit steep, but I’d not read good things about the airport lounge, and due to the large number of airlines but very small terminal, we wouldn’t be allowed into the airport itself for about 3-4 hours if we didn’t spring for the Conrad Lounge. Throw in a hot dinner, and you’ve got me convinced. [Read more...]

Maldives Trip 2014: Conrad Maldives

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
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

Happy Super Bowl Monday!

We arrived at the dock and were quickly escorted to the “lobby” area where fresh coconuts were waiting for us.

Hydration

Hydration

At that point, we were introduced to our host Nizam.  I can not say enough good things about him.  Anytime something went wrong he went above and beyond to fix it and go to bat for us with management (more on this later).

We booked a base category room, which at the Conrad is a “beach villa” and were assigned room 208.  Each beach villa structure is shared with 2 rooms.

Villa 208

Villa 208

The room featured a king sized bed:

Bed

Bed

…as well as a desk area and large outdoor porch.

King Beach Villa

King Beach Villa

[Read more...]

Maldives Trip 2014: Conrad Lounge and Seaplane

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
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

After arrival, we quickly found the Conrad representative among the dozens of resort reps waiting just after immigration.  He escorted us directly to the Trans Maldivian counter where everything but our hand luggage was checked in.

Cara at the TMA counter

Cara at the TMA counter

I took this time to head to a nearby kiosk and purchase a local SIM card for my travel phone which ended up being a lifesaver (more on this next post).  As soon as I finished up, the rep escorted us to a private van to take us to the seaplane lounge.

The Conrad is one of two hotels which offer lounge access to their own private lounge at the seaplane terminal, so that’s a tremendous benefit that many other resorts don’t offer.  [Of course, many other resorts are reachable by speedboat from Male and others still require a domestic flight from the main terminal, so this doesn't necessarily mean Conrad is one of the two best hotels in the whole country, just one of the two most generous hotels who use the TMA seaplane terminal.]

Another benefit is that most of “check in” was done at the reception desk for the lounge including paperwork and credit card authorization.  For our 8 night stay, they pre-authorized nearly $5000 on my credit card for F&B and other charges.

Lounge check in

Lounge check in

The lounge itself was very spacious and comfortable.  It had lots of seating/loungers and a reliable wifi connection.

Seating 1/3

Seating 1/3

[Read more...]

Maldives Trip 2014: Abu Dhabi to Male Etihad Pearl Business

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
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

Etihad’s narrow-body business class is in a 2-2 style similar to a domestic first class, but with a little more leg room and recline, plus an automatic leg rest.  It’s no flat bed, but it’s more than adequate for a ~4 hour flight.

Pearl Business Class

Pearl Business Class

Despite having originally picked seats in the second row, at check-in, we didn’t have seats assigned, so we picked the only two seats together which were in row 1–usually my least favorite row of a narrow-body first class cabin. [Read more...]

5 Cards You Should Consider Now-ish

These are roughly in the order in which I would prioritize them personally, but your calculation may be different based on the pro/cons of each.

1.  Citi Executive AAdvantage Card – 100,000 AA Miles - 100,00 mile offers are pretty rare these days, so being able to rack up enough miles for a round trip business class ticket to Europe or Japan in one card application is pretty killer.  The catch is that the $450 annual fee is NOT waived the first year, however they do offer a $200 “statement credit” which seems to mean the annual fee is effectively $250.  Given that it gives you full Admirals Club membership (and, you know, 100,000 miles), however, that’s a very good deal–particularly for Amex Platinum Card customers who will be losing access in just a couple months.

Link - Citi AAdvantage Executive 100k Offer

2. Bank of America Alaska Airlines Card – 40,000 Miles - This is a large bonus and represents a 15,000 mile premium above the “normal” offer for this card.  Alaska miles are tremendously valuable due to the large number of partners they have.  We used Alaska Airlines miles to book 2 first class tickets to Seychelles on Emirates for this Summer.  The $75 annual fee is not waived, but if you’re a Bank of America wealth management client (which you may even be eligible for if they are your mortgage provider) they may give you an offsetting statement credit if you call the wealth management department.

Link - Alaska Airlines 40k Offer

3. Barclays US Airways Card – 30,000 Miles - This isn’t an eye popping number and doesn’t represent a bonus compared to the normal offer, but this one is based on merger timing.  The post-merger credit card picture is a bit murky.  So far, Barclays says they’re not going to re-brand this card as an Arrival or other non-cobranded card.  So that means you may still be eligible for grandfathered benefits even after this card is no longer issued… including a 5,000 mile discount on all award bookings.  Given that the Citi Aadvantage cards also offer 10% of redeemed miles back (up to 10k), stacking the two discounts could be extremely lucrative.  A 100,000 mile business class ticket comes down to ~85,000 in that case.  Another interesting thing to watch is whether you’ll continue to get the $99 companion certificate.  I’ve personally [re-] applied for the card hoping that all of the above is the case.

Link - US Airways World Mastercard 30k Offer

4. Citi American Airlines Business Card – 50,000 Miles - Who knows how long this card will be around, but to me the most valuable benefits of this card are: 1) It doesn’t sit on your personal credit report because it’s a business card, so applying for it has very little effect on your credit and doesn’t really preclude you from applying for other cards; 2) you can apply for and receive this card and the bonus several times (I have 3 and have gotten the 50,000 mile bonus each time); and 3) the retention offers are, in my experience, much better than the retention offers on the personal card and very much worth the annual fee.   I would consider it now if for no other reason than so you can get it again sooner.

Link - American Airlines Business 50k Offer

5. Barclays Arrival Card – 40,000 “Miles” - With United’s devaluation beginning tomorrow and US Airways leaving Star Alliance, our options for redeeming Star Alliance miles without fuel surcharges gets pretty bleak very soon.   I think this makes ANA, Aeroplan and Singapore miles the currency of choice for some redemptions going forward, though unfortunately all of them impose fuel surcharges on many Star Alliance carriers.  I think Arrival miles, which can be redeemed against the cost of fuel surcharges, are going to be a pretty compelling option for lots of folks.  Not to mention the double miles on every purchase and 10% rebate on every redemption (raising the effective total to 2.2 miles per dollar assuming you redeem 100% of your miles).

Link - Barclays Arrival World Mastercard 40k Offer

Maldives Trip 2014: Abu Dhabi Airport and Etihad First Class Lounge

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
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 asked the concierge at the Park Hyatt to confirm our chauffeur pick up with Etihad for 7:30am (for a 9:35am flight), which was taken care of with no problems at all (that I knew of, anyway…).

We figured that with free breakfast in the lounge and $80 breakfast at the Park Hyatt, there was no need to get up painfully early for breakfast.  At 7:25 the front desk called us to inform us the chauffeur arrived and asked if we needed a bellman.

After a thirty minute ride to the airport, we arrived at the “exclusive” first and business class check in area at Abu Dhabi airport.

Cara walking into the premium check in

Cara walking into the premium check in

[Read more...]