Friday, July 13, 2018

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 8- A Place Most Exceedingly Rare



I have a pet peeve about the current state of IFE on many airlines.  Actually I have plenty, but this pithy one is relevant to my life currently.  That is that each time you want to watch a program-  no matter if it's a 3 hour movie, or a 22 minute TV show, you have to watch an intro with several segments.  There's usually one about the airline, and then some adds from whatever company they currently have a contract with. 

Qatar takes this intro business seriously.  They currently have an add for a condo building/mall, and an add for the airline, as well as a full length add about Qatar itself.  The tag line is 'Qatar- A Place Most Exceedingly Rare,' which, when you watch it 20, 30, 40 times over a weekend makes you question their use of the English language.  I guess it sounds fancy, but what exactly does it mean?  Sure, this place by definition is rare-it's small, and until the currently diplomatic crisis, not many people knew where it was, but aside from that....?

They do a good job of giving it gravitas I suppose, but I personally think the prior incarnation of their propaganda video was better, and was possibly the best airline self promotion add I've ever seen.  I could watch it all day.

First course... on just a 4+ hr flight
 
Second course.
I landed back from Colombo safely around midnight.  It was a good flight, just over 5 hours.  I had the curry dish which, I kid you not, I have been thinking about since the last time I flew CMB-DOH.  It didn't disappoint.  After the meal, I fell asleep and woke up to the descent announcement.  I probably got around 3 hours of sleep, which was plenty to hold me over through the night.

Just finishing the flight off right.
What was notable about this trip was learning the changing visa situation for traveling to Qatar.  When I came through a year or so ago, there was just a simple paid visa on arrival that cost about $25.  This time, I had a few options, and used a different one by necessity each time.

The current visa rules and countries.
First off, Qatar now has a free multiple entry visa for US (and many other) citizens.  This visa just requires proof of onward travel, and 6 months at a minimum left on your passport.  However, at the time I went on this trip, this wasn't yet the case, and so I was encouraged to check out some of the workarounds.  These workarounds, even though the visa is no longer the issue, are worth knowing about still as they're a great way to get free night's accommodation and sometimes more.

What program you qualify for depends on the length of your stopover, with a few other rules thrown in.  You qualify for their first program, the "Stopover package" or "STPC" if you are flying on Qatar in higher economy classes (N and above), business or first, have a layover of between 8 and 24 hours, and ....this is the kicker... there is NO SHORTER connection you could have taken, even if that connection would have had a different fare.  Certain close destinations (MCT and KWI) are also excluded.

Why these rules are so strict, is that this package gets you not only a night at a good hotel (5-star in the case of business and above, 3-star for econ), but also a sizable food and beverage voucher that pretty well covers your meals, and free airport transfers.  Not a bad deal at all.  I did this package on my third and final night of this trip...so I'll be giving the details soon.

The other program to know about, which is likely more useful to most people since it has far fewer restrictions, is the "+Qatar" program.  This basically is Qatar's way of trying to get people to spend some time in the city on their way through. 

What Qatar is, at least to the limited outsider, is an oil and money drenched peninsula surrounded by desert and neighbors who currently don't like them very much.  What they have going for them, besides all that money that lets them turn this desert into architectural wonders (or eyesores, depending on your taste), is a truly world class airline and airport and they're painfully, painfully, proud of it.

Strong tea & Beautiful tails as far as the eye can see...
 In honesty, they should be.  I get that there's unfair advantage with their government throwing cash behind the investment, but everything, from the food, to the service, to the planes themselves is just a cut above most any other airline out there.  This is to say nothing of the airport, which is just beautiful start to finish.  They're so proud of it, that THIS VIDEO exists of the 'official song of Hamad International Airport.'  And yes, that fully is the big teddy bear in the background at 00:48.  Can you imagine what the symphony of... Newark airport.... would be???  I mean...

This is all to say that especially with the long running blockade in effect, Doha's tourism industry is playing to its strengths and using the constant influx of passengers to its advantage.  The +Qatar stopover program provides free one night's accommodations for passengers on layovers of more than 12 hours.  It lacks the food and transport, but is far less restrictive, and lets you pick your own hotel.  It also provides a free visa for travelers from countries not included in the new multi-entry program.

As a side note, the website appears to be asking you to build a multi-city itinerary, but each time I've done it a simple round trip that defaulted to the long layover time was fine. 


This can be an amazing deal, especially since the hotels are quite nice.  They include some high end and recognizable brand properties that I'd happily stay in even without this deal.  A second night can also be added for just $100, meaning you are getting a great hotel for $50 a night.

 

This deal is technically time limited, and ends December 31, 2018.  However, when I used it last year, it was time limited then, but keeps getting extended.  If the blockade continues, I expect it will keep on rolling along.  I'm crossing my fingers that they push into next year as I have a nice long layover in Doha in January.

On descent into Doha at night.
What has changed though, and what made being in Doha in that perfect storm of Ramadan, summer, and blockade, was that the list of hotels participating was more expansive and had some options that were simply insane to get for free.  Which... is how on my second stop in Doha I was up all night at the Ritz Carlton, by myself.... for abso-frikkin-lutely free.

And that, my friends, is a topic for the next entry...

~CruisingAltitude

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 7: Dealing With Dragons

 
View from the DOH-CMB flight

It's the turn-around point!  But first, the story so far:

Yes, This Is Real Life - Preview

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 1 - Location, Location, Location

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 2 - Brits in Beantown

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 3 - Shades On, Wheels Up

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 4 - Welcome To Ghostport

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 5 - When You Layover During Ramadan...

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 6 - Birds In Doha

Welcome to Columbo, for the second time.  Last time I passed through here, I dealt with the trials of getting onward tickets from Sri Lankan for Qatar, and the entirely underwhelming absorptive properties of the towels in the shower at the UL (Sri Lankan airways) lounge.

This time, I had vague plans of actually leaving the airport.  There were a few attractions nearby, and while the CMB airport falls into the 'it's fine' category, it's not an epic lounge destination like HKG.  However, as I went on about previously, mileage runs are trips where you react in the moment to what simply sounds the best.  In this case, what sounded the best....was a nap.  So, we took a nap.

CMB Airport
 As it so happens, CMB is a great place for this because there's a small transit hotel right in the airport that doesn't require clearing immigration to get to.  This was even better, because another large factor in our staying airside was that they wanted someplace around $40 a person for a visa on arrival.  While that's not really all that much in context, it starts to feel obnoxious when there's two of you, and you only really have about 5 hours on the ground to start with.

The transit hotel hallway.  Nothing fancy, but perfect for a nap.
The day rate at the hotel was less than the visa price (bless cheap SE Asia), so we split a room for a shower and a solid couple hours of downtime.  To get there, head toward the exit, past the transit desk and shrine in the center of the terminals, and follow signs to the Hotel.  The rooms aren't anything fancy, but they're clean (enough) and quiet.  The timing couldn't be better for trying to stay away from heavy jetlag, since for 'us' it was still the middle of the night. 


This way...
Feeling better, we did of course go for a little lounge time before our outbound flights.  Here's where some shenanigans started up again.  Now, here's an (exceedingly) rare moment where I'll have to admit I was in the wrong.  I know it's impossible to believe, but stick with me.

The Oneworld rules for lounge access state that a OW Emerald, such as myself, gets 1st class lounge access "when the next onward flight is on a Oneworld owned and operated flight."  The same rule applies to guests.  They don't have to be on your same Oneworld flight, just a Oneworld flight.

There are actually a couple lounges up by the transit hotel, including the Emirates and a small Sri Lankan.  The bigger, better, Sri Lankan lounge is in the main terminal though.
Unfortunately this time, my travel companion and I were preparing to go separate ways after flying together up to this point.  I was headed back to Doha on Qatar, and he was flying back to the US by way of Dubai on an Emirates award ticket.  What this resulted in was us each having good lounge access, just to different lounges, and neither of us could rightly guest the other in.  This is not to say we didn't try at both places.... but it didn't work out.  I was hoping that given that the UL lounge was empty, and he did have his Oneworld card on him, we might slide by.  However, the lounge dragons, after some chatter amongst themselves, thought otherwise. 

As I said, I knew I was in the wrong here going in, so there was no point in protesting.  We said our goodbyes, and each spent a few minutes in our respective lounges before going to our gates. 

Bar at the Sri Lankan lounge.  I like the "airplane" motif.
My time at the lounge was, I'll admit, true to form for my jetlagged-delirious self at this point.  I was nearly the only one there, and there were few staff of any kind.  In a matter of about 30 minutes I managed to spill cylon tea on myself, raid the bar fridge and open my own bottle of champagne, and on account of not reading Tamil well, blow right past the sign that said the buffet was temporarily closed while they changed from lunch to dinner dishes, and help myself to the food, distributing my own serving utensils as I went.  Not super proud, but no regrets either.  Really, they should have let my buddy in as I clearly needed adult supervision.

Yeah.... I went there.
 
I ate whatever this was, even though they weren't serving yet.
After all of that, I said goodbye to Colombo and got back on my next Qatar flight. As was becoming the theme of this amazing weekend, I was once again nearly alone on my flight.  The plane was a 777-200, which Qatar has business class laid out in a 2-2-2 configuration.  On this one I had the entire row of 6 seats behind the bulkhead to MYSELF.  Basically a whole mini business class cabin.  Unreal.

Miiiiiine, all mine...
So I flew out alone, right back to another sleepless night in Doha....

~CruisingAltitude

Up next- A Place Most Exceedingly Rare: My triumphant return to Doha (again), thoughts you didn't ask for about IFE, and a primer on Qatar transit visas.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Scandi Running Part 3: An American From LA Reviews Danish Bicycles

Rain, shine, or ice... Copenhagen is a biking city.
To see how I got here, also check out my review of British Airways World Traveller Plus

Yep.  This is happening. At this point, I think the only time I actually ride a bike is when I'm in Denmark, or someplace similar.  So clearly, you need my review of this.... because I am a super expert.

I’ve been to Denmark 4 times now, and each time I have to rent a bike.  To be in Copenhagen without a bike is like being in Los Angeles without a car, or in Boston without feet.  It’s not done, or it shouldn’t be done.  You won’t see the city as it should be, or as much as should be seen.  You also won’t understand the struggle of finding bike parking, or getting caught in bike land rush hour.  Or just… learning how to make a left turn.


No bikes, just Orstedsparken in the sunshine.
So, anyhow… The first time we came to Copenhagen we rented from a shady place around the corner from our hotel in Centrum.  There were extenuating circumstances at work, namely that we needed bikes and didn’t’ want to cough up the US $35 a day per bike the Radisson wanted.  There are any number of more or less reputable independent rental places in Copenhagen, but what I’m really here to talk about are the two most prevalent bike share companies in the city.

Since our first time there a few new options for people visiting Copenhagen and needing transportation and flexibility. 

Byckylen is Copenhagen’s take on the citybike model that’s popping up all over.  There are stations all over the city, and they’re easy to find. 


Bycyklen bikes at a docking station.
You can pay as you go, or buy a block of minutes in advance.  I opted to buy a block of 300 minutes for the year, since this let me be flexible and not buy hours at a time.  It turned out to be great, as like I said, Copenhagen is small and you simply don’t need too many minutes to get where you’re going.  A full weekend of cycling only used up maybe 60 minutes of use.

Pros:

-The bikes are quazi-motorized.  This is honestly a super fun way to roll around the city.  If you use the ‘countryside’ or ‘hill climb’ settings, the barest of pedaling will shoot you forward up to 25kph and in short order you’ll realize just how small Copenhagen is.  I can’t overemphasize how fun this is. 
-They are also e-bikes, and sport an android tablet with navigation that can guide you around the city and help you find pick up and drop off locations. 

The cons:

-They’re heavy, due to the motor and whatnot, so I can imagine trying to take one on and off trains and such could be a pain.

-You have to pay for ‘parking’- the bike’s minutes are ticking down even if you’re not riding when it’s not in a docking station.  This results in planning a bit around going docking station to docking station so you don’t run your minutes down too fast.  This wasn’t a big deal since there were so many stations, but if you’re thinking of taking one a bit out of the metro area, you will burn through your subscription. 
Now….I was all good with using Bcyklen for all three of my planned weekends here, and the 300 minutes was going to be plenty to get me through.  However, when I got to town none of the bikes were working!!  I checked in with the company and they, go figure, were hacked the exact night before I arrived.  Their entire network was down, and no bikes could be removed from any docking station.  Massive fail.  From what Twitter tells me, they were up and running again the day after I left.  Of course.

But, like I said, in Copenhagen you need a bike so I had to go to plan b, which brings me to...

Donkey Republic

Now, I remember seeing these pop up on Google Maps last year when I was in Denmark with family and not really getting that this was a bike share, rather than a chain of rental shops.  What it is is a service more akin to the LimeBikes now scattered around the US.  The major difference is that, as Scandinavia tends to be, it's more organized.  The bikes can only be picked up and returned to designated spots, which have bike racks, so they don't clutter up the city.


Bright orange and simple Donkey Republic bike
How it works is you download the app, set up and account, and then can reserve, check out and return the bright orange bikes throughout the city. 

Pros:

-You rent by the day, not the hour or minute, so there's not that rush to return the bike to a docking station.

-Simple app and simple operation.

-Reasonably priced daily rate.

Cons:

-They actually could be hard to find.  You do need to reserve one before you set out to the pick up location, or someone else may get to it first.  Once you reserve it, that bike has a number on it and will only unlock with your code on the app once you get into Bluetooth range.

-No fun motorized zipping around the city like with Bycyklen.  The bikes didn't really seem to have gears much either, so you actually have to pedal.

The bikes are numbered, so you know which one you reserved.
Either way, it's a good idea to look into these services before you go if you're planning on using them.  Make sure there are docking stations/pick up points near where you're staying and the attractions you want to check out.  All in all, it's great that Copenhagen has let these companies set up shop in the city, since they can be a great and less pricey option for people staying there for a limited time.  I'm looking forward to one more weekend doing just that in October when I wrap up my three weekends of Scandi Running!

~CruisingAltitude

Monday, May 7, 2018

One Million Miles To Vegas

 
 
**Deep Breath**

I don't think I quite had realized until recently, though I well should have, that this weekend's mileage run would conclude with my crossing my Million Mile threshold.  Today as I fly over the Nevada desert on the way back from London, someplace over Las Vegas, I will have completed a million- yes a million - miles on American airlines and its partners.

It's been over a decade of many, many, journeys in the making.  This million has touched on every continent Oneworld flies to, and over 20 countries and counting. 


As a practical matter, crossing your millionth mile in the AAdvantage program comes with some modest and lasting benefits along with the bragging rights.  For starters, they toss an extra 35,000 miles into your account.  It's not a million, but with miles ever harder to earn on low fares, I'll take it.  It also comes with Gold Elite status for life.  Sure, Gold benefits are minor, but it's the thought that counts I suppose.  "Elite for life" sounds nice, doesn't it?

Practicalities aside, milestones are times to look back and see what you've learned and also wonder where to go from here.  I am not being cliché when I say that these million miles have been life changing.  I appreciate both the expansive experience of the world, and its smallness and vulnerability.  Our entire planet, our entire home can be circumnavigated on a 777-300 in a long weekend, and that includes time to get out of the airport and have some Dim Sum.

I feel like it calls for some kind of celebration, I'm not entirely sure what's appropriate.  Once again, alone in a crowd and on the way from somewhere to somewhere else entirely.  Maybe this is exactly appropriate after all.

As I wing over Vegas, few 'thank yous' are probably in order.  As much as I've dedicated words and pages to complaining about the changing AAdvantage program, I'll be the first to also acknowledge that it's this program that has shown me the world, and let me share it with my family.   Speaking of family, I'm eternally grateful for Mrs. CruisingAltitude for indulging this bizarre compulsion with only the slightest amount of side-eye when I explain my plan to start a mileage run in Sri Lanka, as if that's a perfectly normal human thing to do.


I also am eternally in debt to the crazy friends I've met along the way who are also plagued by this curious affliction.  These are the friends who when I ask who's up for flying to Sri Lanka just to fly home again, are always up for it.  Flying around the world for the hell of it is fun, but doing it with a bunch of other crazy flyers is amazing.  They're the ones I've flown with to Africa to pet lions, toasted life with at the world's tallest bar, and stood with watching the sun come up over the Persian Gulf from hotel balconies, all just for the sake of the journey.

As for where to go from here?  Anywhere, I suppose.  The next level is two million.  Maybe next decade..... but who really knows. 

As always, fly safe, travel well, and live for the journey.

~CruisingAltitude

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Scandi Running Part 2 - British Airways World Traveller Plus Review

 

The background:

Preview: The Scandi Run

Part 1: So this is how it all begins

(Disclaimer- Writing this in a notes file and moving it over is apparently beyond Blogger's limited capability, so any strange formatting I apologize for in advance)
 
What do I think about British Airways Premium Economy (branded as World Traveller Plus)?
 
So far- 6/10
 
This rating is based on a comparison to other PE offerings... not anything better.  


Let's begin at the beginning, why don't we?  I'm currently on the second half of the first itinerary of the Scandi Run season, which is the third flight and the second ticketing and also the second weekend of fun.  Decode that.  I dare you. 
 
 
 
The real point is, this is my first flight on British Airways' a380 World Traveller Plus, and it's going fine.  I have a nice bulkhead seat in the front row of the cabin, which is on the upper deck behind Club World.  The only seat in the cabin I'm coveting is the one next to me- 61A, which is the same but is along the window so has control of two impressively large storage compartments by the window.  For what it's worth, my charming seatmate is sharing well, but that's to be expected as he boarded wearing a Hawaiian shirt (as he's British I can only assume it's authentic) and a fanny pack, so no huge shock.  (He will later turn out to be a lovely and well traveled ophthalmologist and we will forgive him the fanny pack).

Point of order- avoid the last row in the cabin as I can't imagine dealing with the bathroom door constantly opening and closing.

Further point of order from several hours into the flight- row 60 and row 61 bulkhead are the place to be.  The recline, while nice, is extensive and if you're not careful you'll have the person in front of you in your lap.

Premium economy, I will say is better than regular economy.  The seat is closer to domestic first/business plus a little more recline and a footrest, which I have currently augmented with my Briggs & Riley cabin bag to create a bit more support.  

 
 
I boarded with group 1 due to status, so I had plenty of time to settle in.  Bin space, even later on, was fine.  The cabin is laid out in a 2-3-2 configuration, so unless you're planning on cuddling with your travel companion, the center seats are to be avoided.  The bulkhead seats do seem to have the best legroom, and if the fact that the, admittedly hilarious tipsy, women behind me rattling my seat whenever they get up is any indication, the best pitch.  The seat also comes with a small amenity kit and a likewise small pillow.
 
 
Now to the nitty gritty- we pushed back on time, and the plane handles the bumps well.  The service started with hot towels and menus, followed by a first pass with the drink cart and a bag of pretzels.  

Point of order here that's bugging on me- here's how it went:

(Lovely and funny) FA: Something to drink?

Me: Gin and tonic please.

FA: would you like wine with your dinner?

Me: Yes, please.

FA: Red or white?

Me: White please.

FA: Pinot or Sav blanc?
Me: Sav blanc.

(FA hands over he G&T, followed immediately by a bottle or wine and a glass)

Me: o_0 

Please note the dinner service is a fair bit off.  So I'm left with a tray table packed with wine, water, tonic, two bottles of gin (don't judge), and pretzels to boot.  Not classy.
 
 
On to dinner, and they serve front to back so I order the beef.  It's fine.  Along the lines of AA domestic 1st, witch doesn't say much, but I had the beef cheeks and pork chop at the Qantas lounge, so I'm all good. 


There's really no follow up service.  After giving my seatmate with the now abandoned fanny pack my 411 on where to go in the world, I'm forced to wade back through main cabin proper to ask for another G&T before ny-ny. (It's at this time that my seatmate-now-buddy feels the need to tell me he's not a tea totaler despite the lack of wine with dinner, and I don't exactly know how to take that... so I decide to take it well.).
 
 I also get to enjoy a lovely discussion about tax credits for electric cars, and the feasibility of said electric car exchangeable batteries and the physics thereof, including the guy across the aisle.  Please note this isn't a sarcastic comment, I quite enjoyed the diversion. 

Before landing they served a breakfast.  It wasn't good, but I ate it. I needed to fortify myself before being dumped headlong into the LHR chaos at what was about 1am my time.  


BA is a study in how the mighty have fallen.  In the past, it was a truly good airline with better products and service, but budget cuts have lowered their standard to the point that most competitors hard and soft product is much better.  AA, CX, QF, etc all have slightly-to-much better Premium Economy on similar routes, and BA's Club World (Business class) seat likewise pales in comparison. 
 
In the end we pulled up to the gate 15 minutes early, and I was happy to be on my way.  All in all, it was fine, especially since I was flying on a cheap fare.  The bulkhead seat is decently comfortable, but I wouldn't want to be really anywhere else in the cabin.  In any case, I'm getting to Denmark safely and on time, so I could have much bigger things to worry about. 
 
Travel well,
 
~CruisingAltitude

Friday, March 9, 2018

Scandi Running Part 1- So This Is How It All Begins

Da Plane...
Get the background: The Scandi Run- Preview

I'm a big proponent of 'firsts.'  I love first tries, first place, first class.  That makes this weekend fit right in.  It's the first of at least three mileage runs that follow more or less the same pattern.  It's good then, that right after firsts with me, comes familiarity.  I'm aiming to have this thing down to a science by October. A kind of science that, sure, will be thrown way out of whack by weather, crew delays, and loose bolts, but there's a science to all that as well when you think about it.

It's a first for the Scandi run, and also a first inasmuch as it's going to be cold.  The potential level of cold really didn't hit home until today when I saw a picture of the ice burgs currently floating past Nyhavn canal.  Until this point, I'd been way to confident in my ability to suck it up for a couple days.  I've lived in Boston before, I survived, it's in the 30's, come on...

After that, I threw in an extra (couple of) coats, stopped at REI to buy better, more waterproof, and less 'I don't remember what snow looks like' gloves (REI in Los Angeles is the most pathetic place to buy winter gloves, FIY.), and pretty well gave up on my romantic and responsible goal of running a 5k through Norreboro the morning after I arrived.

Granted, the 30 degree weather may be considered by the Danes to be a 'heat wave' this time of year, but I'm a cold pansy at this point, and I'm pretty much going to have to come to terms with it.

I love to be invited...
I'm currently sitting at the bar (as one does) at the Qantas First Lounge in LAX awaiting my flight to London.  It's delightful as per always, and not yet overcrowded as I'm several hours before the late night flights to Sydney, Melbourne, and such.  So far, all's well.  As I've realized it's a published EXP benefit, I tried out the LAX Flagship Check in for the first time, and it was all kinds of line cutting fun.


This season, the Qantas lounge is doing lovely things with radicchio...Is a sentence I never thought I'd type...
Compared to CLEAR, it's basically a nicer version with a dedicated ticketing counter, and a concierge who rolls your luggage for you to the front of the pre-check screening.  It definitely saved me a few minutes, but it was more about the experience. With elite benefits being axed left and right, it's still a nice gesture.


With my several hours before boarding, I have to actively hold back and pace myself as I work through the menu.  I'd prefer not to admit that I also had a stop at the Flagship Lounge in T4 on the way here for a bowl of pho, but I will admit it, because mileage run, and that stuff was tasty.  Pro-tip- if you like it spicy, there's siracha on the bar by the bloody mary fixings. 


T-2 hours, and my incoming flight is about to land, the weather in the vicinity of London and Copenhagen airport looks passable, and so far I've only forgotten my power cube (remote power bank), so things are looking good to go.  Plus, I've got a lovely bartender serving me something called the 'Garden Party' which has mint leaves in it.  Granted, I've already expended my first flyer acquaintance, possibly by unnervingly confusing him by trying to explain what, exactly, I was actually seeking to accomplish by flying to Denmark 3 times for now reason, but that's not really a huge concern.  And really, he's here to 'talk about bonds,' so what does he know.  Besides, it happens more often, or possibly exactly as often, as you might think.

BA 747 "Queen of the Skies," in repose in the background.
Come on, let's go....

~CruisingAltitude

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Scandi Run: Preview

Photo from my accommodations.  Adorable, yes?
I never mileage run to Europe.  Not kidding.  I have been to Asia, South America, Africa, you name it.... but never Europe.  There's a few reasons for this historically, most having to do with it simply not being far away enough to make sense, and Oneworld not having the most hub cities there. 

This is not to say I don't jump at the chance to go, it just tends to be a destination I get to by using my miles, not on account of earning them, and I try to stay awhile.

But, as they say, we live in interesting times.  As I tried to lay out some time ago, when AA switched the system up and effectively ruined mileage running for long distances on low fares, it was a choice of giving up or getting creative.  Guess which one I (and my friends I've met along the way) went with??

(I'm now going to go on about how this actually works, rather than random facts about airports, and hijinks I stumbled into in random cities.  If you're not interested in this, I suggest jumping down about 3 paragraphs where I'll get back to my thoughts on 36 hours freezing to death in Denmark in March)

The new strategy to still earn plenty of miles is to stalk the deals for cheap fares in premium cabins of other Oneworld airlines.  This usually means business class on Qatar, or premium economy on British Airways, and occasionally Cathay Pacific.  The further bit of intrigue, is that these deals almost never originate in the US.  So to take advantage, one has to first get to the city of departure.  What this further means (if you're still reading this at all) is that it's in your best interest to buy more than one of the deals when you find them at a time so you only have to get one 'positioning flight' per year, or per deal.

Let's put the plan into context, shall we?  This year, there have been some premium economy deals on BA out of most all of the Scandinavian countries to the US, and specifically, to LAX which is clearly convenient for me in particular.  To further sweeten the deal, there have on occasion been some crazy cheap economy deals on AA from LAX to various European cities, including....Scandinavia.  You see where I'm going with this?

The deal has been good from Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo, and on occasion Helsinki, which all adds up to it getting coined (yes, by me) the 'Scandi run' since the destinations are interchangeable, more or less, for the same prices and miles earned.

100% Denmark- bikes, bricks & spires.  Nothing's overly tall in Copenhagen, so it's nicknamed the city of spires as they're the defining feature of the skyline, if you can even really call it that.
What it all adds up to for me this year, is flying out to Copenhagen on AA in March, and then 'returning' on that ticket in October, and flying back and forth on BA premium economy tickets on scattered weekends in between all year.  3 weekends, to be exact, though I'm thinking of adding one more at the end, and then flying back on an award ticket.  We'll see.

So.... this all results in my getting to say I GET TO GO TO DENMARK 3 TIMES.  Sure, each time is only for about 2 nights, and I have to brave 12+ hours of slightly more comfortable economy to get there, but after 16+ hours in coach to Hong Kong a few weeks ago, I'm feeling pretty bulletproof.  I'm honestly more worried about how in the heck to pack light on a mileage run for actual winter conditions.  I'm quickly realizing that all my other runs were to hot, and many times insanely hot, climates. 


A particularly famous spire- Christianborg
My outbound flight is on AA (the first half of the 'positioning flight') and so I'm playing the upgrade game to Heathrow.  After a stopover for some food and a shower at the excellent lounges there, I'll make the quick hop to CPH and take the metro into town. 

Copenhagen is extremely easy to get around on public transportation, just about anywhere you want to go.  I had initially thought of staying by the airport in the AC Sky Bella hotel in Orestad, which is a newer, planned area of Copenhagen by the Kastrup airport, but after realizing it is really only a 15 minute train into town, and I could save 50% by booking an Airbnb in the center of the city, my choice was easy.

Christianshavn
I'm now staying in Christenshavn, which is a truly adorable part of the city on a series of canals, in a flat with my hosts Magnus and Mikkel.  Awesome.  It's central to many attractions, full of cafes and bars, and you can walk/bike just about anywhere in a few minutes. 

This, however, also brings up the fact that on arrival I'll likely have to answer the age-old question of why I'm in Denmark in the first place, and further, why I'm only there for about 36 hours before turning around and going right back where I came from.  It may surprise you, but many people find this just a tiny bit strange.  Hotels don't ask, but I get the feeling that my host(s) just might.

I've thought from time to time about coming up with a reusable story to explain myself, other than having to dig into the whole logic (or illogic) of mileage running.  But what to say?  Most business travelers don't come into town just for a Sunday, of all things.  They also don't stay up late/get up early to stay on their home timezone, and they definitely don't wander in looking very much like they've just spent 15 hours in economy and somehow still are enjoying their lives.

In any event, it's a work in progress.  I'll let you know.

I expect there may be snow on all of this when I get there.
For more details of things to do in Copenhagen, we're currently writing up our adventures from the Summer over at Baby Flyer Blog.  On these shorter, colder, trips, I'll probably try to get to some favorite places like Honen & Aegget and Den Vandrette in Nyhavn for tradition's sake, but other than that I'm looking forward to playing my one real day in town by ear.  I have no delusions of elaborate castle tours, or getting a table at Noma.  That's not what mileage runs are all about.  Get there, see a thing or two, chat with some locals, and get safely back home again.

My flight out on Monday is plenty early (7am!) which with the time change is about.... 11 at night back home?  You can't think too hard about these things, just get to the plane.  The return flight from London this time around is on BA's, and the world's, largest passenger jet, the a380.  They're smooth and modern, and I was able to preselect a good seat without paying extra on account of the Oneworld Emerald status I'm flying so far to keep up.  I do have the potential option to try for an upgrade by using some Amex points, but I think this time around I'll let it go and see.  It's only 12 hours, anyway.  Easy.

So, that's the Scandi run in a nutshell.  I hope it goes as I think it will in my head, seeing as how I'm doing it at least three times this year.  Wish me luck.

~CruisingAltitude

Monday, February 19, 2018

See One Thing: HKG-The Dragon's Back

 

I made it back alive! 

It was another memorable trip to and from Hong Kong over a weekend.  First off, no, I didn't clear my upgrade for the long...long....outbound flight.  For a brief second on Friday it was looking possible, but then a group of four booked into business class on a prior flight misconnected and had to be re-booked in the last few available seats.  Disappointing, sure, but honestly it went fine.  I had a main cabin extra seat with unlimited leg room, watched some movies, and slept about half the way there. 


Feet up, painful comedy on tap.
I'd seen this coming, so I geared up for the flight.  I had my Briggs & Riley cabin bag with me, so aside from takeoff and landing, I had it in front of me to use as a footrest, which worked great.  I also panicked a few days out, and ordered a Turtl travel scarf, which is basically a neck wrap with a plastic insert that supports your neck.  It honestly worked pretty well, and after a few more flights, I'll  probably do a real review.  I didn't have the usual sore neck when I woke up this time around like I usually would dozing in economy.

8 hours down, 8 to go....
This was my 6th time through Hong Kong, and the more I go, the more I appreciate the city.  It's one of the densest places on earth, and yet because of the surrounding waterways and parkland covered by steep green hills, doesn't feel overwhelming. 


Hong Kong Island from the Sheraton.  No complaints.

As usual, I took the airport express into town when I arrived, checked in at the Kowloon Sheraton.  I'd paid some points to upgrade to the Towers part of the Sheraton, which is a kind of hotel within the hotel on the high floors.  It has a separate check-in, lounge, and elevators, as well as some other fringe benefits. 

Video from the Towers elevator- Hong Kong skyline & Nathan Road



Since the timing worked out, I enjoyed hanging out with some other flyers from the US there for the fare deals as well.  After the Sheraton happy hour, we moved over to Ozone, which is the 'tallest bar in the world' on top of the Ritz Carlton tower.  Always good for one drink, but not much more as you're there for the view, not the prices. 


100+ floors up for a round of cocktails with new friends at Ozone

The next day, after the Towers Breakfast buffet at the hotel, I headed out to try something new.  Instead of my regular walk around The Peak, I got more adventurous and went for the Dragon's Back trail hike at Shek-O Country Park

This park is significantly further away from Kowloon than the peak, but you can still get there via the MTR in less than an hour if the bus connection is fast.  It took me a bit longer on the way out, for reasons I'll shortly explain.


The trail itself starts from a trailhead with signage on Shek-O road.  From there, it's a steep-ish hike up the path, including rocky areas and carved stone steps.  There are several places to stop and take in the view as you climb.  Part way up the initial climb, the trail branches and there's a shelter and benches.  To do the basic dragon's back, continue straight at this point.  As I went I noticed that the path is periodically marked with blue paint on the rocks. 


Eventually, the trail reaches the ridgeline of Shek-O, and proceeds through several rolling hills towards the peak, the "Dragon's Back" if you will.  At this point, panoramic views of the entire back side of Hong Kong island are constant, with the blue water all around.  Below, you can see the Shek-O golf course and Shek-O beach, and eventually Big Wave Bay. 


It's about 30 minutes, if you're moving along, to Shek-O peak.  There's a significant incline, and uneven terrain, so 30 minutes is enough to get some exercise in.  From there, you can continue on to either the trail down to Big Wave Bay, or go to the next trail intersection, and take a circle path that will eventually bring you back to the original trail, where you can get back to the road. 


There were plenty of people also doing the hike, but it was by no means crowded, especially since it was mid day on a Monday, and the weather was unseasonably cold and windy, even for winter in Hong Kong.

 
The view from Shek-O peak-



I seriously considered going on since it really was beautiful, but I knew at some point the jetlag was going to hit me hard, and it was threatening to rain.  I started back down the way I came, and stopped for a bit longer at a clearing to relax and take in the view by myself for a few. 


So, how to get there...

From Kowloon, take either the MTR to Admiralty, or if you're in the market for a little more walking and a trip on the water, take the Star Ferry and then walk to Central or Admiralty.  From there, take the blue 'Island Line' MTR toward Chai Wan.  Get off at the Kei Wan, and take the number 9 bus to the trailhead.  It's the most popular stop on the bus, so likely you can just follow along with everyone
else.

You have to take the Star Ferry at least once per visit.  That's the rule.

MTR to Chai Wan
I, however, misread the directions, and took the MTR all the way to Chai Wan.  Realizing what I'd done, I just went outside and got a cab to the trailhead.  It was faster, but probably cost an extra US $6 or so.  On the way back, I took the bus to the MTR as planned, transferred at Admiralty, and took the red line back to Tim Sha Tsui outside the Sheraton.

The Dragon's Back trailhead on Shek-O road.
It was definitely getting to be time for a nap, but by this point my adventuring made me hungry, so I wandered around Kowloon to see what looked good.  This part of Hong Kong is bustling, and the streets are lined with all kinds of stores and restaurants.  There's so many options, it's hard to pick.  I was making my way past Kowloon park when I saw a sign that looked familiar from my googling prior to the trip- for "Haiphong Road Temporary Market."


In and around Kowloon

I vaguely remembered something about the best....beef something... in Hong Kong for like $4, so I ducked inside.


The temporary market isn't so much temporary, as having been there for a long time, and isn't about to go away.  It's a mix of stalls selling all manner of vegetables, meats, and just about anything else, and on the lower level, a haphazardly laid out food court area serving mostly locals around crowded plastic tables and chairs.

The food court at the 'temporary market.'
This is not a place for the faint-hearted, as it requires passing by food hawker stalls actively butchering pork and chicken (not so much actual live animals...just recently live animals) to get to the food court on the lower level.  Once there, I was immediately accosted by an overly friendly vendor who would eventually convince me to get his special beef noodle dish, and then sit with me while I ate.  He practiced his English, I had some delicious noodles and learned a riddle about whether to choose to face down a murderer, a fire, or a hungry lion.  Spoiler alert- go for the lion...for some reason...he was still working on that English, and my Cantonese is limited to one word, and I'm not sure I'm even saying that right.


I got back to the hotel in time for a quick cup of tea at the lounge, and then took my customary daytime nap to try and somewhat stay on schedule before my body would 'wake up' for the night.  All in all it was a full and satisfying day in the city.  I'd fully recommend the Dragon's Back hike, and will be keeping it in mind to do again.

From noodles at the temporary market, to high tea at the Towers Lounge.  Living the mileage dream.
Up next in a few weeks... the 'Scandi run' begins.  Copenhagen, here I come (at least 3 times)!

Travel safely & enjoy the journey,

~CruisingAltitude



Bonus feature- a very jetlagged vlog clip from the top of Shek-O: