Traveling again! [but loyalty is dead]

We finally have time to travel again! Cara and I have been busy building an indoor cycling studio in Charlottesville, VA, so we’ve been taking a break from extended travel. We did get back to Ravello, Italy–where we got married a couple years ago–last Summer for our anniversary, but it was a quick trip and then right back.

Tomorrow we leave on our first extended vacation in a couple years, and a lot has changed in the miles & points game since then. On the airline redemption side, the biggest change for me is the 2 cent per point redemption available to American Express Platinum Business card holders. With the continued fare sales putting international business class fares in the $1500-2500 range, you’re really talking about similar points as before — sometimes even less — with the added benefits of mileage earning and more availability.  Other than that, it’s mostly same ol same ol… just slightly higher pricing, which is always to be expected over time … and why I’ve always been an “earn and burn” guy when it comes to points and miles.

On the hotel side, though, the major change is that loyalty is basically dead to me. I’ve been a Starwood Platinum for the last 4 years–expires today, but we didn’t re-qualify in 2016, so 2017 will be our first year without top tier hotel status in a while… and I don’t really care.

As leisure luxury travelers, the benefit of elite status to us was essentially being treated like a valuable guest even though we were giving the hotel very little money by redeeming points (and obviously by “we,” I mean the loyalty program’s low-ish reimbursement rates for point stays). Breakfast at a St. Regis resort, for instance, can easily run upwards of $50pp per day once all is said and done, and on an extended stay, you’re talking about hundreds of dollars. Room upgrades can easily cost hundreds per night–though whether they’re worth it to the extent that we’d pay cash for it is obviously a valid question.

It wasn’t always perfect, though.  We were definitely made to feel like freeloaders and second class guests at the Conrad Maldives, for instance.

That entire dynamic changes, though, when you actually are giving that hotel a lot of money.  For one, it’s my experience that at resort properties in particular, most OTA (online travel agency – like Expedia, Orbitz, etc) even the cheapest rates include breakfast as it is. Furthermore, requesting an upgrade — which is subject to availability anyways — strikes me as easier to justify from the hotel’s perspective when a guest actually is giving you a lot of money–as most luxury leisure properties cost.  Indeed, for our upcoming stay (detailed below) I emailed the resort manager to inquire about an upgrade, and she indicated she’d be pleased to give us one should it be available at check in.

And giving the hotel real money is exactly what you’re doing when you book with a card like the Bank Americard Travel Rewards card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve — both of which for me offer well in excess of 2% of return on spending.  It’s exactly 2.625% on the BofA card and Chase varies with spend (since some spend is bonus-ed up to 3x) but it’s always 1.5c per point on the redemption side, so the effective rate is likely somewhere in the 2’s. Not only that but you don’t have to worry about base/redemption rooms being available, nor do you have to limit yourself to one particular chain — or a chain property at all — which may be strong in one region of the world but weak in another.

In this instance, it’s also allowing us to stay 11 nights at a world class luxury property in Trisara which would otherwise be unattainable on points — or only at a very poor redemption rate several years ago.

The view we’ll be waking up to!

So with that in mind, here are the upcoming details of our trip — and associated mileage/point costs — which I’ll try to report as accurately and thoroughly as possible.  All costs are for 2 travelers:

  • ANA First Class Washington to Tokyo-Narita (215,000 American Express points transferred to Aeroplan – total for 2 passengers)
  • ANA First Class Tokyo-Narita to Singapore (included in the above)1 ThankYou Points transferred to Singapore Krisflyer Miles)
  • 11 nights at Trisara Resort (Roughly 800,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points)
  • Thai Airways Business Class Phuket to Hong Kong (50,000 United Miles)
  • Singapore Airlines First Class Hong Kong to San Francisco (140,250 mix of Citi ThankYou and American Express points transferred to Singapore Krisflyer Miles)
  • American Airlines First Class San Francisco to Charlotte (~65,000 Citi ThankYou points)
  • American Airlines Economy Charlotte to Charlottesville (included in the above)

All in all, we spent about 1.3 million different miles and points on this trip.  This is the most we’ve ever spent on a single trip–usually we spend closer to ~400-500k, and there’s also certain things we could’ve done to keep that amount down.  We could’ve spent ~5,000 SPG points per night – a total of about 50,000 accounting for the 5th night free – on a property like Westin Siray Bay.  But at this point in our careers/lives, time is a more scarce resource than points.  We have almost enough points to do it all again next month but are unlikely to have enough time until next year at the earliest–if not longer.  This is much different than when we were taking 5-6 intercontinental trips per year and were forced to economize.  In this case, we wanted to stay at the absolute best place regardless of price.

In any case, it’s a trip we’re very excited about taking and make sure to follow me on Instagram if you want to see some live photos.

Italy 2015: Dulles to Munich Lufthansa First Class

This is probably my favorite flight to Europe from DC because it leaves so late (10:30pm). It’s very hard for me to sleep on the 5-7pm ~6 hour flights to Europe that basically land at 1am “body clock time.” Munich is also “deeper” into Europe, so it’s more like a 7-7.5 hour flight, too, which is nice. The downside, of course, is that you arrive in Europe on the later side–particularly if you have to connect where you’re pretty much going to lose the whole day and probably not end up in your hotel room til about dinner time.

In our case, we didn’t really care, though, since we just needed to be in Naples by the following morning, and had no real desire to spend much time in Naples which is known for the smell, the petty crime and the pizza–pizza being something we could get elsewhere.  Instead of a ~2 hour layover and arriving mid-evening, we actually planned a ~9 hour layover and planned to take the train into Munich, go for a run, grab some German food and beer, and then just fly to Naples to sleep.

We arrived at Dulles around two hours before departure and found the first class line (around the backside of the business and economy check in counters) unstaffed.  Luckily, there was only one party ahead of us in the business class line. so not too much of an inconvenience, and they even had first class ticket jackets to give us.

My golden ticket

My golden ticket

[Read more…]

Italy 2015: Preview & Costs

During this trip report, I’ll be reviewing:

  • Lufthansa First Class IAD-MUC
  • Lufthansa First Class Lounge & MUC Airport
  • Lufthansa Business Class MUC-NAP
  • Hotel Excelsior Naples
  • Santa Caterina Hotel Amalfi
  • Palazzo Avino Hotel Ravello
  • Lufthansa Business Class NAP-MUC
  • Lufthansa First Class MUC-IAD

It was an amazing trip–probably my favorite we’ve ever taken, though perhaps because we visited the town in Italy where we’re getting married later this year (Ravello).  I really think Ravello is my favorite place I’ve ever been–just so relaxing and charming, but I’ll get to that later on.

Ravello, Italy

Ravello, Italy

It was also the only trip we’ve been on recently where most hotel costs were out of pocket instead of on points, but there aren’t many chain hotels on the Amalfi Coast, so we pretty much had to.  So with that said, the trip costs were:

[Read more…]

Dubai & Mauritius 2014: St. Regis Mauritius

We were the first ones through immigration thanks to disembarking first. After collecting our bags, which took a little longer than I hoped, we met the St. Regis representative. I read in advance that St. Regis transfers were a little more costly than taxis (roughly $100), but much more comfortable.  The hotel offered either:

  • Luxury Coach – 5500 MUR (~$150)
  • Audi Q7 or Range Rover – 8000 MUR (~$220)

We chose the Luxury Coach (described as a minivan via email), but we were upgraded to the Range Rover at no additional charge.  I saw the Q7 on property, in fact we were “upgraded” to it on the way back to the airport, but I never saw a van, so I’m skeptical whether or not it actually exists or whether they are just happy to take an extra $70 from some people who don’t know better…

St. Regis Mauritius Range Rover

St. Regis Mauritius Range Rover

The ride to the St. Regis Mauritius Resort took just over an hour and the sun set toward the end of the drive–most of which was through the middle of the island and not terrible picturesque, though the last 20 minutes or so were mostly along the water.  Our driver, I forget his name but he’s pictured here in the right of the frame was awesome.  As we found out on the ride back, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a smooth ride, and this was great.  Not only that, but he gave us a great history of Mauritius and lots of info on the island.  The hotel also provided a complimentary hot spot in the car which was nice given that data pricing is outrageous there.

Mauritius Sunset

Mauritius Sunset

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Dubai & Mauritius 2014: DXB to MRU Emirates A380 First Class

If I’m honest, a real factor that influenced our decision as to destination was the ability to fly in first (as opposed to business) class all the way there.  It’s actually not doable that often when you’re talking about leisure destinations–and it makes sense that airlines do that.  Premium aircraft should be used on routes that command premium fares.  But for whatever reason (probably mostly because they can), Emirates runs a double daily A380 service to Mauritius.  Considering they only fly to DC once/day–and with a 777–that’s remarkable.

I was really excited for another segment in Emirates A380 first class–particularly on a completely day time flight where I didn’t plan to spend much time sleeping (Dubai and Mauritius are on the same time zone, so I wanted to stay up and not confuse my body any more).  And just as much I was looking forward to checking out the full A380 terminal that Dubai airport built for Emirates (though codeshare parter Qantas also uses it).

Emirates Chauffeur

Emirates Chauffeur

Our Emirates provided chauffeur picked us up right on time, and brought us right to the premium check in area of Dubai airport. [Read more…]

Dubai & Mauritius 2014: Grosvenor House Dubai

This was our second trip to the UAE after visiting Abu Dhabi last year (St. Regis and Park Hyatt reviews), and we were much more looking forward to our Dubai trip since we found Abu Dhabi a little boring.

Despite our early arrival, the hotel gladly checked us in to our pre-upgraded room.  The room featured a separate bedroom and living room which is always nice–I really don’t like the word “junior suite” because it’s a contradiction (discussion for another day).

Bedroom

Bedroom

Living Room

Living Room

There was also a small kitchen/bar area and breakfast nook-type space off of the living room:

Breakfast Nook

Breakfast Nook

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Dubai & Mauritius 2014: JFK to Dubai Emirates First Class Suites

We boarded from the lounge and the entire time down the jet way to describe me as a kid in a candy store would be a vast understatement.  I’ve flown some amazing products in the past few years, but I’ve never been more excited for a single flight than this one. It’s basically the definition of an aspirational redemption–completely unnecessary in every way but just awesome.  That said I’ve read some reviews that paint a picture of Emirates as being style over substance, so I was anxious to see if I find that to be true.

Spoiler: We completely didn’t think so at the end of the flight.

The Emirates first class cabin consists of a 14 suites in a 1-2-1 configuration on the upper deck.  The center suites form a nice pair with a retractable wall between the seats which we found great for traveling in pairs.  We were easily close enough to speak to each other with just a slight head turn.

Emirates Suites

Emirates Suites

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Dubai & Mauritius 2014: Emirates Lounge JFK

Our chauffeur was a nice lifetime New Yorker (when he heard I was from Virginia, he recounted a tale from decades ago of going into a grocery store in Richmond and only finding a single brand of marinara sauce that was in the “ethnic food” section … whereas in New York of course there’s almost a whole aisle of marinara sauce) and very funny guy. Based on the Flyertalk thread which reports lots of SUVs, I was expecting a Suburban/Escalade, but we were picked up in a late model Cadillac sedan which was just fine.

He dropped us off in front of the terminal, and we made our own way to the single first class check in desk.  According to our driver, there was supposed to be “bell staff” to help us with our luggage, but we couldn’t find anyone, and our suitcases had wheels anyway.  We checked in, got boarding passes, and were given directions to the lounge located on the second floor above the terminal.

Emirates Lounge JFK

Emirates Lounge JFK

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Dubai & Mauritius 2014: St. Regis New York City

We flew to New York the day before our departure to Duabi for a few reasons, but mostly because with a morning departure out of New York, we didn’t want to mis-connect on a separate ticket.  US Airways has excellent award availability on the DCA-LGA route with more daily frequencies than you can count, and at 4500 British Airways Avios per person, it’s a great deal.

NYC

NYC

I tried to book an Uber when we landed at LGA, but he wanted us to walk about 2 miles to him, and with 2 weeks of luggage that wasn’t happening, so we hopped into a cab and quickly (for New York, anyways) arrived in Manhattan at the St.Regis.

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Dubai and Mauritius 2014: Preview

We just got back from our last (I think?) intercontinental trip of 2014 where we visited the UAE and Mauritius.

Mauritius

Mauritius

I’ll have a full report coming in the next few days (week, max!), but I wanted to briefly preview what’s upcoming as well as their associated costs. [Read more…]