Friday, April 7, 2017

Around the World in 80 Hours Part 6: A day and a night in KL. Or...All I want for breakfast is everything.


Daybreak from the Executive Floor of the KL Le Meridien Hotel
For the prior chapters of this adventure:
 
 
 
 
 
 
What HKG is to lounges, Kuala Lumpur is to good hotel deals.  KL is easily one of my favorite long layover cities.  It’s modern, shining, and yet very affordable.  We stayed at the Le Meridien in KL sentral, and it didn’t disappoint.  Our group of travelers included 3 Marriott/SPG platinum, and so we were able to assign the rooms easily enough for us all to have access to the excellent club lounge. 
 
We arrived off of our CX flight into KUL after midnight local time, and so we missed the last train into the city.  This didn't seem to be that big of an issue at the time, since Uber rides are notoriously cheap in KUL, there were 3 of us to split it, and it was only supposed to take about 45 minutes, which is only 15 minutes longer than the normal train ride.  
In case you couldn't tell from that set-up, there's a 'but' on the way here.  First off, our Uber pulled up and it was a sub-sub-compact car.  Even though we travel light, it was a tight squeeze to get all of us in along with our luggage, much of which ended up on our laps.  But it got worse from there.  As we drove along, it really seemed to be taking more time than it should to get to KL Sentral, which is on the closer side of the city to the airport. 
Our fears were confirmed when I looked out the window and saw the JW Marriott go by....which is not in Sentral, and we decided against specifically because it was less accessible from the airport!  By now, mind you, it's about 2am, and we're in traffic in downtown Kuala Lumpur in a clown car, being smothered by luggage.  What I wouldn't give to be back at The Pier right about then....

I took this same picture 15 months ago on my last mileage run through KL.  Traditions.
We finally got to the hotel by loading maps on our own phones and giving the confused driver turn by turn directions in broken English and and a fair amount of improvised sign language.  Mind you, he did have his own Uber app...but whatever...this is mileage running.  Local time is now closer to 3am.
Thankfully, the LM hotel at Sentral is beautiful, modern, and offers good service even in the early hours of the morning.  We got checked in, and after a quick shuffle to make sure we got our Platinum SPG members in the group signed on to the rooms for lounge access purposes, we were good to try and get some sleep.  By this time, it's closer to 4am, but finally we're comfortable.
Mind you, with the jetlag its' really about 11am for us, so even getting some sleep took a bit of adjustment.  I think I got about 4-5 hours' rest, before getting up to start again.  I had a lunch meeting at the Hilton next door, so I had to try and be somewhat human for the occasion.  Side note- I eventually got back from the meeting to find my travel compatriots still in the same place I left them in the lounge still chatting about planes & trying to figure out just what the heck was going on in the non-subtitled tv show playing on the nearest flat screen.  No one saw an issue with this.  Mileage run.
First stop, of course, when you need to recover from the ravages of mileage running is....back to a lounge!  In this case, the excellent club lounge on the top floor of the hotel.  As SPG platinum we had complimentary access, complete with a generous buffet that included made to order omelets, noodles, congee, and miso, as well as a full English breakfast, fruit, and any number of other dishes.  In the evening, they host a several hour happy hour with food and drinks. 

Part of the breakfast buffet

Dim Sum
We ate.  We ate a lot. (for free)  I won't lie, I felt the judgment of the chef preparing the made-to-order menu by the time I made my 3rd trip up to see him, but mileage running has made me largely immune to the scrutiny.  I figure if I'm flying around the world in a weekend, then how many kinds of soup I want to try for breakfast is really the shallow end of the potential life choices judgment pool here.
Congee & Soup fixings
 
1st Course (of three..about)
Given that we had a less than 20 hour layover, and were headed back to the airport that afternoon, we pretty much spent the time sleeping, hanging out in the lounge, and with a few cans of Carlsberg by the pool.  Absolutely no regrets were had.  Pro tip- anywhere in SE Asia just about, you can make a beer run for a fraction of the cost of hotel prices, even cheap SE Asian hotel prices.  Pro pro tip- there's a 7-11 in the KL Sentral train station across the street from the LM hotel.

Ahhhhhhh......
Having more than learned our lesson on the way out, we took the train back to the airport.  It was indeed an easy 30 minute ride right to the terminal.  In short order, we got checked in for our onward flight to CMB on Malaysia Airlines, and headed out to the Golden Lounge for the next round of food & drink.  Remember what I said about my lack of shame when it comes to free mileage run food?  Well, it still applies.
Made to order service at the KUL Golden Lounge.  Whatever this was was delicious!
After this last stop in KUL, it was time to head out for our next flight.  After several phone calls, a call back from an agent in Malaysia at 4am Los Angeles time, and paying an additional $8, I'd secured an exit row for the next three hours, which was some welcome leg room.  On the more exciting side, this was our last economy flight, and took us to the first Qatar Business class flight of the trip!  But first, we had to negotiate our 12-3am Columbo layover.... which is coming up next.
~CruisingAltitude



Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Around the World in 80 Hours Part 5: Lounging Like There's No Tomorrow (Because Tomorrow Was Yesterday)


**Apologies for any font or format issues in this post.  Writing on multiple devices while flying around the world makes stitching posts together later somewhat obnoxious. 
HKG Airport- Come for the status, stay for the cabanas.
Where we've come from:

 
 
 

Where we're going to next:

Anyone who's done ultra long haul mileage running knows that if there's an art and a gospel to good Oneworld lounge planning.  I'd even going as far as to say that the lounge access is one of the biggest benefits to flying as a Oneworld elite, both domestically and abroad.  The other alliances don't come close to providing such a good network.  Star Alliance is probably second, and Skyteam is so far off you can't see them from here. All IMHO, of course.

If I was doing a promo video for the benefit, it would probably start with the words "Imagine a world where luxury comes standard...." and conclude with "....This is that world- Oneworld," all voiced over by a dulcet British accent, with just a slowly filling champagne glass in soft focus, and a 747 taking off in the distance. 

As an aside, yes I have been at the champagne bar.  And yes, this does explain a lot about this post, thanks for asking.


If there’s one other thing mileage runners agree on, it’s that the HKG airport ranks 1 or 2 on the list of all time best lounge airports.  The other contender is probably Sydney, but it’s generally not a place you find yourself on a mileage run thanks to the higher ticket prices. 
 
Anyhow, back to this particular excursion.  We headed back from the city in time to ensure a full 5 hours of lounge time, which we were hoping would be enough.  No, I'm serious.  This is serious business.  For serious.

We'd even devised a plan for where to go and what to do.  This is necessary when you want to hit up several lounges at HKG because it's a big airport, and you don't want to waste time backteacking on yourself.  You have to keep in mind that this is from the same people who have spent months plotting an around the world itinerary on a shoestring, all devised to maximize every last mile out of every last cent.  A little lounge strategy is nothing.

First up- The Wing. 

I've reviewed this lounge in several entries, but mostly HERE.  In short, this lounge is worth some significant time, especially if it's not overcrowded.  This time around I grabbed a cabana for a shower, and enjoyed plenty of time at having a few glasses of bubbly with the other mileage runners.  Never disappoints.



Second stop- The Qantas Lounge. 

This lounge is habitually overlooked and under appreciated by Oneworld flyers dazzled by Cathay's lounges. 

 
To get there from The Wing you go straight out, along the passport control entries, and keep going until you reach the far side of the departures terminal.  It's a bit of a hike, but you can cut back on the steps, you can sneak behind the food court on a narrow walkway/access corridor.  Don't mind the employees catching a few minutes on break, or the occasional trash cart wheeling through.  Just walk like you know where you're going. Just because you're going first class lounge hopping doesn't mean every minute will be glamorous.


The lounge is spacious, with great views of airport ops that The Wing can lack.  The service is also top notch- very friendly and personable.  We grabbed some spots at the bar, and they twisted our arms into trying the 'signature dish' of the day - BBQ pork, freshly sliced.  While there was a full bar on offer as well, most of us went with the Australian sparkling wine.  The lounge is full service, and also offers showers, a full buffet that changes through the day, and plenty of work and relaxing space.  It really is a best kept secret among the lounges, and is a great stop when The Wing gets crowded....or you're just in the mood for some planespotting and Aussie accents.

 Last stop was the lounge that's all in vogue this year- The Pier


 
The Pier is located at the opposite end of the main international terminal, a decent 10-15 minute walk using the moving walkways.  It happened to be just about as far as we could get from our actual next departure gate, and still be in the same terminal.  This was a fact that the incredulous agent at the door tried to explain rather forcefully to us several times.  She really couldn't sort out why we were there, since The Wing is right next to our gate.  "We just came from there, and we have a plan" didn't seem to make much sense to her. 
 
There's also a train down a level which can speed things up, but not by all that much once you wait for the elevators, and then the train.  Besides, we had to walk off the buffet at The Wing, and now the dish of the day at the Qantas lounge.  


Where The Wing is modern, open and airy, The Pier is cozy and tucked on the lower level, under the main concourse.  It's décor speaks more to a 'golden age' of travel, but still with the modern amenities, and plenty of well-maintained plush features.  Think leather high backed chairs, soft lighting, and wood paneled walls.  Oh, and a bar cart from which you can serve yourself a glass of port to finish your layover right.  


Being on the lower level, it also gets you up close and personal with the planes and airport ops in a way that our first two lounge stops didn't.  You feel like you're in a staring contest with a a380 from half of the windows.  The Pier also offers massage services, but you'll need to sign up well before your flight. It's easy to see how this lounge is a favorite of frequent travelers.  I easily could have given this place another hour or two and still not have been ready to leave.  Next time, next time....

 
Like The Wing, The Pier also has a sit-down, made to order restaurant with a full menu all day.  Their specialty are the Dan Dan noodles, and having heard plenty about them from other frequent flyers online, I had to give them a try.  So, this now probably counted as my third or fourth dinner of the day, to say nothing of the heavy dim sum lunch we'd taken in in Hong Kong just before heading to the airport. 

All too soon, it was time to roll out of there and head to the gate for our CX flight down to KUL.  As it was a partner flight, we were slumming it for the next 4 or so hours in coach.  No pain, no gain.

Up next- an aging CX 330, a long-ass Uber ride in KUL & some quality time by the pool.

~CruisingAltitude 

Monday, March 6, 2017

We Need To Talk



I realized what was missing from my blogging life, and maybe my life in general.  That is a place to air my pithy but, to me, SUPER IMPORTANT gripes about travel. I have a lot.  I usually forget them within a day or so, but nevertheless, the truth must get out!

So, without further ado, I give you...

"We Need To Talk"
Yes, I'm talking to you.
American Airlines, We Need To Talk about the alleged new boarding times.  For eons, when to get to the gate was quite simple- 30 minutes ahead was boarding, and no getting there less than 10 minutes before or risk having the aircraft door slammed on your face.  This I could live with.  Now, when I roll up to the gate exactly on time, like I did today, you're boarding Group 8 and there's no overhead space.  I don't want to pull a DYKWIA here, but if you're in 1st, you shouldn't have to get to the gate 45 mins or more ahead to claim space and then sit on the plane for that much longer. 

At the very least, if this is our new world order, just say so.  Make an announcement that we now board 40 minutes ahead and let us plan for that.  Common courtesy people, come on.

This is what an upgrade looks like
Marriott, We Need To Talk about what the term "upgrade" means.  You seem to be under the impression that an upgrade is just the exact same room on a different floor, with no added benefits.  This isn't a thing in my book.  Overall, your room upgrade treatment of elites is painfully bad in comparison to SPG, which you're now gobbling up.  Please try to learn something along the way.  Or if you won't, just tell me straight up you're not giving me a better room, own it & move on.

Yes, KAL, you have the best pavilion view & plenty of seats, but you still need soy sauce
KAL Lounge at LAX, We Need To Talk about the fact that you serve sushi, but there's no soy sauce.  First off, you're KOREAN air lines.  You know the score.  Secondly, your 'sushi' NEEDS soy sauce.  This is not an opinion.

Oh, and I thought I was done....but wait, there's more.

Sushi bar at the ATL Airport Marriott, We Need To Talk about the fact that you served me marginal miso soup with a TEASPOON.  It's taken me like 30 minutes to eat.  Soup spoon, or just let's pretend it's the NRT location, and I'll just drink it like you're supposed to.

And on that,

~CruisingAltitude out.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Around the World in 80 Hours Part 4: Hello Hong Kong, My Old Friend


On approach after a 15 hr flight
The story so far:
 
 
 
 
And now, the next chapter:
 
A 'short' 15 hour flight, 7 hours of sleep, some TV re-runs, 3 meals & great service by the flight crew later...We made it to Hong Kong! Since this flight touches down at 8am local time, and our onward flight to Kuala Lumpur doesn't leave for another 12 hours, we spent the day in the city (well about half of it.)  Luckily for us there’s a reasonably price luggage storage facility at the airport, and a fast train into town. 
 

Let me just take a moment here to say that it did take all 4 of us frequent flyers to collectively sort out where all we needed to go to take care of the luggage, get a shower, and catch the train.  Plus, we'd all been there before.  This is to say that HKG airport is big, and if you're not as familiar with the domestic terminal, its easy to get turned around.  First off, there’s no arrivals lounge available for Oneworld emeralds unless you’re on CX in Business or First.  However, there is a Priority Pass lounge past immigration between terminals one and two, in ‘the tunnel.’  It's a basic Plaza Premium lounge, not nearly up to par with Cathay's real lounges on the departures side, but for this brand of lounge it was sufficient for a quick stop.  It's also close…ish…to where the luggage storage is. 


Just so you know, if you’re looking for the storage place, follow signs for “left luggage.” Yes, this will be slightly hilarious to the jetlagged.  “Left luggage….not right luggage….get it??”  Come on, that’s funny…right?  The prices are pretty reasonable, about US $8 for our 5 hours for each bag, and the process was easy.  They take cards and you pay when you pick up your things.  Totally worth it not to have to drag a rollaboard each around the city.

Airport Express
Anyhow…. We did eventually make it to the airport express train.  I’ve said again and again in other posts how much I appreciate how accessible Hong Kong is from the airport.  It’s nearly impossible to get lost, and only takes 20 minutes.  We bought round trip tickets to Hong Kong (Central) station to save a few bucks.

Dim Sum Square
Upon landing, none of us exactly had a firm plan of what we wanted to get up to in the city, so we just played it by ear.  As tends to be the case with mileage running, leaving yourself open to new experiences and suggestions is the name of the game.  We had an impromptu meetup with yet another traveler doing a short trip to HKG.  On her good suggestion, we had lunch at Dim Sum Square, and a drink at Cottage off the Island Line MTR.  You always know you're in the right place when as you leave, there's a line out the door and down the street.
 
We'll take one of each.  Um, maybe two.
 
Dim Sum Square
 After that, and a little walking around the city on our way back to Central station, we headed back to HKG early to have some lounge time. This is about the point at which I’m willing to admit that this whole circling the world thing puts you in line for some punishing jet lag.  Since we didn’t get a day room at a hotel while we had our 12 hour layover, we essentially pulled an all-nighter as far as our internal clocks were concerned.

Hong Kong Central
I’ve often mentioned how it’s best to try to stay on your home timezone, more or less.  However, this run just isn’t making that entirely possible.  I’m anticipating some long naps on the upcoming flights as we circle back around through Sri Lanka and Doha.  Granted, probably not the best nap on the first flight, which is an economy award ticket on Malaysia, but I’m sure I’ll survive.  

If you’re going to travel around the world in a weekend, you might as well not sleep it away!
~CruisingAltitude

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Around the World in 80 Hours Parts 2 and 3: Over an ocean and past the Arctic...


Part 2: We're Off!  
 
First step- AA Priority Check in at LAX
Welcome to the first mileage run of 2017!  The good news: everyone I’m traveling with cleared their upgrades into business class!! This makes a huge difference, in case you weren’t aware.  In short, it’s the difference between sleeping sitting up in a dining room chair, or tucked into a bed.  You choose.  Really, go on, choose. 
 
Anyhow, here we are. All happy and headed to Hong Kong.  Which is good, because I just heard we’re in for the full 15 hr flight, so we must not have a fast tailwind tonight.  Still though, only taking 15 hours to cross the Pacific is pretty darn impressive.
Which brings me to an important point – possibly the most important point of the weekend.  This world is small, extremely so.  In the time it’s about to take me to get a good nights’ sleep and have breakfast, I’ll cross an ocean that once took travelers months.  And I’m doing it without much, if any effort, on account of the massive GE turbine engines powering this 777-300. 


Which is all to say, I love this crazy hobby.  I'm even managing to love this extra long taxi time at LAX courtesy of the massive overbooking of flights and gates that the AA/US merger has made us accustomed to.  (But don't even get me started on the painful arrival delays because there's never a gate when you need one) What it also has allowed though, is the passing out of pajamas and the taking of pre-orders for dinner.  This, I’m actually a fan of.  Give that it's now well past 1am here, anything that speeds up the meal service and gets us to sleep faster is good.  


What’s a new experience though, is that we’ve apparently become victim of a rare “wind shift” that’s added an extra 30 minutes of taxi time to our take off while we roll down to the other end of the runway for an eastward departure.  I suppose I should just call myself lucky that we’re getting to experience an over-city takeoff, right?  Right.  

Ground delay aside, this flight is showing promise.  They've stocked mattress pads in business class, and haven't gotten rid of the spicy Asian salad dressing on the first course.  So far, so good!

Wheels up (finally), lets' go!


Part 3: Halfway there....Somewhere over the Pacific.


So, 8 hours in, 7 to go.  I’ve gotten some decent sleep, but a few more hours wouldn’t hurt.  You know you mileage run a lot when you get excited about 3 new episodes of Big Bang Theory on the IFE.  Just so you know, there’s 3 new episodes! 

This is the first time I’ve taken this flight to Hong Kong that leaves around midnight, instead of the afternoon flight.  On the one hand it seems like it should make perfect sense and wipe out jetlag naturally- you leave late at night, and arrive in the morning.  Simple, right?  Well….not quite, as evidenced by the fact that I’m putting together this post smack in the middle of the flightpath.  Somehow…don’t ask me how, my body remembers that it’s actually 9am in Los Angeles.

Mattress pad, blankie, all tucked in for the 'night'.
No one ever said mileage running was easy on the body and mind, and I'm not about to start now.  Tylenol PM, a snack, and let’s see if I can get a nap before landing.  I’ve got to be as human as possible for our layover.  As I’ve hinted at in the past…many times, I love Hong Kong and I’m looking forward to a few hours in the city, as well as some time lounge hopping at the airport before heading down to KUL. 

I suppose I should back up for a minute and report that the international lounge scene at LAX was great as always.  Qantas’ lounge is still the best in town, especially since the Admiral’s Club is currently under renovation and so they lack much space.  Hopefully, if the JFK Flagship Lounge is anything to go by, the pain and crowding may eventually be worth it.

Current offerings at the Flagship Lounge (self-serve)
So anyhow, a good time was had, and it was a great meetup place to collect the mileage running party together.  This weekend we’ve got two of us from LAX, one from DCA, and one from PHX.  Yes, by the way, in this world you’re known by your airport code.  Because I said so...as of right now, 35,000 ft over Mongolia (or something).  

It looks like we've got a great group for this trip.  Some I've 'run with' and some not.  It seems like just about everyone who's anyone in the mileage running community is headed East this weekend or next, getting a jump on 2018's qualification & probably burning some of their last expiring Systemwide Upgrades in style. 
Pork belly salad at the Qantas First lounge.  As I'll talk about later, apparently this month is all about pork at QF.
Back to the Qantas lounge though, I had a new experience this visit- We closed the place down.  I learned they actually have last call, and then 20 minutes later turn the lights up to kick everyone out, club-style.  Rude.  However, we had a midnight flight to catch, so I suppose they're excused.  At least we made the most of the time....and the free food!

Next up: A day in Hong Kong.

~CruisingAltitude

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Around the World in Eighty Hours Part 1: In the Clear!


Note: I had fun on my last trip trying to keep posts going as the journey progressed, so I'm going to do my best to try that again, foreign internet issues notwithstanding.  I'm calling this trip "Around the World in 80 Hours" because...why not? I think it's going to take me closer to 94 hours to actually get all the way back home again, but that just lacks a certain ring.  Artistic license, right?

Part 1:

As it turns out, flying around the world takes a fair amount of planning.  Who knew?  All in all, the weekend is made up of six flights, on four separate itineraries, on 4 different Oneworld airlines.  Though technically this isn't the most flights I've packed into one mileage run - that award goes to 2015's Tokyo-Jakarta-Malaysia trip, this is definitely the most logistically complex because there are so many different itineraries to keep track of, as well as different mileage earnings and seating and upgrade rules. 

The good news is that my upgrade on AA to Hong Kong just cleared, so I only have two segments in the 'back of the bus,' one being a 4hr flight from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur on Cathay, and the other being a connecting award flight on Malaysian Air from Kuala Lumpur to Colombo.  I actually have had good experiences in coach with both of these airlines in the past, so I'm not dreading it too much.  They're both airlines that offer service that exceeds US standards, and okay yes, MH did loose a couple 777s awhile ago, but that could happen to anyone.  Forgive and forget, right?  As long as they give you lounge access.

As I said, the most important part of all that is that MY UPGRADE ALREADY CLEARED going to Hong Kong.  It's a 15 hour flight on one of AA's best planes, so I was really crossing fingers and doing the upgrade dance (patent pending) for this one. 

This is a big upgrade over the 'back' for 15 hours.
I'll probably do a brief guide to upgrades here, or at Altitude Consulting soon, but the short story about getting an upgrade on a long haul flight on AA is that you're most always waitlisted, sometimes for months and it goes right up to the moment you board before you really know if it'll work out.  There's a lot of strategy, and possibly voodoo, that goes into divining what's likely to clear, but really it's hard to predict with any kind of certainty. 

Luckily though, this flight is fairly new, whereas the DFW-HKG flight has been around much longer.  So the loads are still on the light side for this popular route, and there's more competition for paying business class customers with Cathay Pacific, who flies several flights out of LAX daily. 

This is all just a rambling set up to paint you a picture of just exactly how my Valentine's Day evening went.  I had an alert set from ExpertFlyer that would text me if upgrade space became available.  Doing this is hit and miss, since the program has a delay and whatnot, but it's generally worth giving a shot to try and confirm in advance.. 

So anyhow, Mrs. CruisingAltitude and I are enjoying a low key dinner at home, mostly just watching 12 month old BabyFlyer throw her food onto the ground tiny piece by tiny piece while laughing about it, when my phone pings.  Mrs. CrusingAltitude picks it up, looks confused, and hands it over.  Sure enough, it's THE alert.  So I leap up (seriously, I almost never move that fast) shouting that I have to call AA, and start tapping in the EXP line's number from memory.

Meanwhile, Mrs. CrusingAltitude, sensing the panic and feeling the need to assist, tries to help by pulling up my itinerary....and poor BabyFlyer just freezes midway through launching another steamed carrot off her plate to try and sort out what the heck is going on, and whether she should laugh or cry about it.

So, basically, just another night in the CruisingAltitude house. 

But, the upgrade cleared thanks to a great AAgent on the phone!  16c --> 12A, yes and thank you!  That's one more seat assignment I can stop worrying about.  This is a relief, because mileage runs under the 'new system' have plenty to worry about.

Flying an itinerary like this with so many foreign airlines, codeshares, and separate segments makes getting the finer details sorted out start to feel like one of those riddle-turned-math questions from the 6th grade: "If Jimmy uses Amex points at a 1200:1000 ratio to buy Avios with British Airways for a restricted economy Malaysian Air flight, can he get an advance seat assignment in the exit row, and who does he need to call for it?"

The answer there: 1- Yes, maybe.  2- Call everyone & pay 40 MYR for it, which is about $9.   These are the kinds of things that keep me up at night.  I know you're jealous.

The truth is, though, that mileage runners take a kind of perverse pleasure in just these complexities, and sorting out how to best utilize the airlines, alliances, and hotel rules to their advantage.  That, along with planning out exactly how many extra hours to devote to airport lounge time, what hotels have the best elite treatment, how many tiny bottles of Woodford Reserve SHOULD be catered to each flight, and much more. 

These are the kinds of details that make any sane traveler throw up their hands and proclaim the entire industry makes no sense, is out to get them, and charges too much while they're at it.  Maybe they're right, but my only point is.....

......my upgrade ALREADY CLEARED!!!

~CruisingAltitude

Up next: The final approach, what to bring, and 'live from LAX.'



Monday, February 13, 2017

The World Citizen's Dilemma....

Fair warning: This post is more of an opinion piece than is my usual style in this space, but it's becoming more apparent to me of late that 'not talking about' current events because not everyone agrees with you has its own consequences.  Therefore, I took a solemn oath to myself that I would try....sometimes....to do that a little less.  If you'd rather skip this, feel free.  The next post will be up shortly & have plenty of rambling thoughts about airplanes in it.

#Oneworld
I'm just shy of a week until my first international trip of the year.  As I wrote about HERE, I'm very excited about this one.  It's probably the most complex trip I've ever booked, and takes me completely around the world via Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Sri Lanka, and Doha.  It's arguably the piece de resistance of my mileage running career....thus far.


 
A preview of what will be my final descent on Monday- Approach into LAX

While I'm really looking forward to this adventure and have been planning the details and logistics of it for months, I have to admit I can't shake a sense of concern as I get packed.  It's not so much that I don't think that all will be fine, but there's a lingering disappointment with the current state of our reputation abroad. 

I've made my fare share of jokes about buying some Air Canada bag tags to avoid awkward conversations about politics abroad, or what choice phrases I'd now need to learn in a combination of Mandarin, Tamil, and standard Arabic, but joking aside, there are actual potential issues to be discussed.

Formally, this site is not an opinion piece unless we're talking about my long-winded opinions on airport lounge décor, or tray table etiquette.  It is however, at it's most basic level, a how-to guide on getting the most out of travel in any number of ways.  Like any good guide, it also needs to be honest and cover relevant topics, and I'm posting this commentary with that sentiment in mind.  


First stop of the upcoming run- HKG!
It's intrinsic in travel that as you roam around the world you'll encounter new places, people, and ways of thinking.  This is really the entire point of the journey, miles and points aside. In the past I've found myself having all manner of discussions with strangers turned short-term friends about their lives, their homes, their families....and much more. 

This all makes the current state of affairs in the US somewhat worrisome as I contemplate circumnavigating the Earth this weekend.  I'm heading to extremely foreign lands (if, in fact, we consider the term 'foreign' to be subject to gradation) and it can't be ignored that from the airport agents, to people you may encounter on a train or at a restaurant, when you're someplace you've never been before you are subject to, and on occasion at the mercy of, the understanding and acceptance of locals. 


No reason for this one, it's just a pretty distraction amidst all this serious talk.
This is really all prelude to saying that anyone who travels, whether they realize it or not, are dependent upon, and directly either helped, or encumbered by their society's image in the world.  Statements and actions by those with authority have consequences for you, whether you agree with them or not.  When you step off the jetbridge you are a representative of your country, your state, and your hometown and you should expect to be treated with the level of respect that your country extends to others.  It was already hard enough to be a 'perfect stranger' when hopping continents, and now it has potentially become even more so.

This is not to say that I'm really much more concerned for my physical safety or the logistics of my trip, per se.  Mileage running already requires a fair amount of thoughtful planning with an eye toward security, and the ability to navigate places safely that you've never been before.  What I am bemoaning at a basic level is a considerable step back from the sense of 'world citizenship' ......let alone the possibility of increased screening and suspicion at airports.

When viewed from above, this world is smaller than you realize, and other people and cultures are more intertwined and accessible than many will admit, if we choose to keep the freedom of travel and adventure as a basic human right as it has been through history, and still should be.   


TBIT Pavilion- LA's gateway to the World
Anyhow, now that I've said what's been rattling around in my mind I can look forward to this trip, which I really am thrilled about!  I'm traveling with some friends I've taken amazing adventures with in prior years, and am looking forward to making some new friends on the road.  As I've said many times, the people with whom I share this strange hobby have on many occasions turned out to be uniquely fun, adventurous, and independent travelers. 

In travel as in life, the people, as well as the destinations, make the journey worth taking.  This is something that I hope we all keep in mind each time we put our passport in our bag, and set off in search of new experiences.

Travel safely, travel well,

~CruisingAltitude

PS: I'm hoping to stay connected enough this weekend to do 'live updates' as we go 'around the world in 80 hours.'  I hope you'll follow along!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Fare Deal: LAX to Liberia, Costa Rica

Impromptu trip to Costa Rica?  You could do worse....
 
** Note: this fare deal is good as of the time this was published.  These generally only stay active for a limited time, especially for certain dates.  If you're interested in this deal, I encourage you to hold your tickets as soon as you can!**

I don't usually post specific flight deals on this site, unless I'm in the process of planning for or taking the trip.  However, I've gotten multiple requests to share some examples of trips I'd recommend.  Usually I feel like my itineraries aren't for the casual traveler, as they're aimed at maximizing my miles and perks.  However, sometimes a deal pops up that serves both purposes of earning some serious qualifying miles, and having a great and comfortable trip too. 

This week's Los Angeles - Liberia, Costa Rica deal is one of those rare ones.  For around $670 round trip, including all taxes, you can fly to Costa Rica.... In business class!  Aside from having a good destination to spend a weekend, this trip will be comfortable start to finish, and earn 13,770 elite qualifying miles.  That's a good chunk of the miles needed to reach AA's Gold and Platinum levels, and doesn't hurt in your quest for the higher status levels either.

How to book it:

Both the AA.com site, and Google Flights are showing plenty of availability currently. To search for this fare, put in LAX as the starting point, and LIR as the destination.

Google flights showing tons of availability !


AA.com as well!
For bonus points, once a day American flies their biggest, nicest, plane between LAX and MIA.  For the same price, you can choose these flights and have a very comfortable lie-flat bed for most of this trip.  Just look for the flights (see photo above) that show "777" or "77W" as the plane type. 

This trip is similar to last year's Panama City and Quito deals, but comes even cheaper, with only a couple fewer miles.  All in all, this one's a great option. 

Happy travels!

~CruisingAltitude

If you want to know more about miles and points, or get help with booking tips like these (or any other travel) I'm happy to help.  Check out altitudeconsulting.net for more info!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Mileage Runing 2017 Season Opener Preview: Best Worst Decisions

"Somewhere Up There"
(I keep getting distracted by how beautiful the colors are in this picture, and it's making this post hard to write!)

2016's mileage runs ended with a satisfying requalifying run to Quito wherein all the highs and lows of mileage running were had.  There were some beautiful flights, very nice planes, even nicer lounges, and also a fare share of delays and missed connections.  It was also bittersweet, as it was the last year of 'good old fashioned' mileage running, before the new requirements kicked in. 

In case you missed it, starting in 2017 AA has made some fairly drastic changes to their elite program, including adding a qualification level, making the elite tiers 25k, 50k, 75k, and 100k, respectively, as well as adding "Elite Qualifying Dollars" to the mix.  Under the basic letter of the law, this means to qualify for elite status, you ALSO have to spend 3, 6, 9, or 12 thousand dollars to reach your target level. 

This, as I've written about [HERE] is only the basic letter of the law applied to flights on American itself, which makes flying partner airlines a good workaround to those new spend thresholds if you know where to look.  My plan for trying out this new system is to scour the Oneworld airlines for highly discounted fares in premium economy and business class.  Because many of these fares do not originate in the US at all, this requires a healthy (err...I use that term flexibly) sense of adventure.

Speaking of adventure, let me tell you about what I've got on tap for February this year:

It all started with a seemingly innocent tip-off from another mileage running friend about a pretty lucrative premium fare on Qatar Airways.  The basic itinerary was from Columbo, Sri Lanka (CMB) to Doha, Qatar (DOH) to Boston (BOS) and back.  A good long haul, available on weekend dates, mostly on Qatar's brand-spanking-new a350, and in business class on top of it all.  Can't go wrong with that!

Qatar's a350 business class.  Yes, please.

Yup, that's a walk-up bar in the business class cabin.
But....do you see the issue yet? 

Yup, I live in neither Boston, nor Sri Lanka.  However, the flight was available at the discounted price on a very limited basis, and for just a couple of days.  So I went for it and figured those pesky details (like where the flights actually come from, and where they go to) would most likely work themselves out.  You know, like geography has a tendency to do, right?

Best worst decisions, indeed.


Why hello, beautiful.  I'll be seeing you soon!
Once I booked the tickets, I set about the task of getting myself to Colombo, and home from Boston.  What's worth noting here, is that in February I'm only doing half of the CMB-BOS-CMB Qatar itinerary.  Since it would be entirely too much flying for my 'real life' schedule to do LAX to Colombo, to Boston, back to Colombo, and then all the way back to LAX in one go, I booked the outbound and the return on two separate weekends several months apart. 

So now I needed to "position" to CMB to get this thing started, and then just get home from Boston at the end.  Boston was simple enough, but CMB proved to be a little stickier.  The issue is that to get to CMB from LAX on one itinerary turned out to be too expensive for a mileage run.  However, because of Malaysia Air's Oneworld hub in Kuala Lumpur, there were some cheap fares to Malaysia, from which it was a short and cheap award ticket using some of my Amex Membership Rewards points to CMB.  Done and done.

What's even better, is that the flights allowed us to plan a full day (er..12 hours) in Hong Kong, and a full day and night in Kuala Lumpur. 

 
Oh Hong Kong, I'll see you again soon, my friend.
 
For the record, these are two of my absolute favorite mileage run destinations.  They have it all- good quality airlines, fantastic airport lounges, workable public transport, plenty of hotel options, reasonable public safety, and in the case of Malaysia a truly awesome currency exchange rate to the dollar!  It's stopovers like this that make an insane itinerary like trying to fly around the world in 4 days seem maybe a tiny bit more like a vacation.  Or, is that just me?  (Yeah, it's probably just me)

Le Meridien, KL Sentral- $68

Yasss, KL!  A night out at one of the top hot spots can run you as little as $25, all in.

What results from this kind of split ultra long haul booking is that you are able to fly COMPLETELY around the world with one continuous set of flights.  The trips is booked on four separate itineraries, so I'm keeping everything crossed that things go smoothly, at least as far as CMB.  After that, Qatar will have to get me to Boston somehow, and once I'm back in the US, AA will one way or another get me home. 

To protect against misconnects, most of the itinerary has very long stopovers so hopefully even a several hour delay shouldn't make the whole thing implode.  As much as I love travel, the idea of being stranded in Sri Lanka at 3am doesn't sound all that great.

I say again, Best Worst Decisions.

Long layovers also mean time to enjoy the airports and lounges- like the Golden Lounge in KUL
In any case, this is what my 'around the world' mileage run looks like:

Flight 1- LAX-HKG on American (cross the Pacific)
12 Hour stopover in Hong Kong

Flight 2- HKG-KUL on Cathay Pacific
22 hour stopover in Kuala Lumpur

Flight 3- KUL-CMB on Malaysian Air
4 hour stopover in Colombo

Flight 4- CMB-DOH on Qatar
2.5 hour stopover in Doha

Flight 5- DOH-BOS on Qatar (cross Europe and the Atlantic)
5 hour stopover in Boston

And finally, flight 6- BOS-LAX on American

Simple, right?

Plus, it only takes 4 days.  This is also the moment when I realize I just booked a 4 day trip, and only one hotel night.  Oh well, I never was good at math.  As crazy as it sounds, I'm actually really looking forward to this trip.  It's an even bigger challenge than I've done in the past, and at least half of the flights are guaranteed to be in business class.  Plus it puts me well on the way to requalifying for my EXP/Oneworld Emerald status for the next year.

Then in June...I do it all again, just backwards and in heels (so to speak.)  However, that's an (even more convoluted) story for another time.

Fly Well,

~CruisingAltitude