Thursday, December 19, 2013

On The Twelfth Day....

I don't know why, but for some reason last night my brain decided, instead of trying to rest and get a good night's sleep before work, that it should instead make up a convincingly sing-able (or at least hum-able) 'Traveler's 12 Days of Christmas.'  Yeah, I don't get it either, but here we are.... so just go with it. 

"On the Twelfth Day of Christmas, My Travels Gave to Me.....

Twelve OneWorld Lounges,
Eleven Hours on GoGo,

Ten Across In Econ,
Nine Upgrades Clearing, 

Eight Tight Connections, 

Seven Times Through PreCheck

Six Weather Re-Routes
!!!Five Years Elite!!!

Four Pre-Flight Drinks, 

Three Mileage Runs, 
Two Rollaboards, 
And a Handful Of Club Candy!!*

Anyone else's snapshots of the qualifying year look like mine??  Happy Holidays everyone, and best wishes for clear skies, and plentiful bonus miles in the new year!


*Photo courtesy of Mrs. CruisingAltitude on her way to DFW this afternoon.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Its own reward...

The rewards that make the delays worth it-
 Breathtaking sunlight through clouds on approach to NRT

I'm so glad I took that advice from 1500's.  So, so glad.  In particular, that suitcase full of patience I've got properly stowed in the overhead bin has come in very handy of late.  It's what's kept all the little trials of mileage running from upping my blood pressure this weekend.  I've had my phone 'eaten' by my J seat for the better part of my 14 hr inbound flight (took 3 flight attendants and nearly a mechanic to get it back), navigated the Maglev and Shanghai subway system, and white-knuckled it more than once worrying over my 'transit without visa' status getting into China.  So far, however, I've made it through in pretty good spirits.

I slept well last night, after exploring a little down at The Bund yesterday evening and enjoying my corner room at the Sheraton Hongkou.  Now, I'm currently on my 4th of 7 segments on this weekend's marathon mileage run.  It's JAL flight 872 from Shanghai Pudong to Tokyo Narita.  We're en-route...finally, after a 2.5 hour ground delay in PVG due to heavy fog.  Honestly, considering I believe I heard (things get lost in translations and accents) that at least briefly all runways were closed.

Riverfront walk- Shanghai skyline at night
To get an idea of how much of a mess closing even partial runways at this airport would be, let me put it this way- at least from my limited time there PVG makes a place like SFO or SEA look like a municipal field with one windsock.  The place is huge- dizzyingly tall sloping ceilings, never ending walkways & lots and lots of flights.

All in all I'm counting myself lucky on this one- we're in the air & my connecting flight back to ORD is much later today, so I'll still have some time on the ground in NRT.

Plus, I'd heard about JAL's reputation for great customer service, and I haven't been disappointed.  One thing of note was that they boarded on time and the delay kept us on-board for 2 hours before we pushed back.  Sounds like shades of the issues that prompted the 'passenger bill of rights' awhile back, no?

"Smogged in" in PVG
Except, it wasn't that bad- definitely not as bad as being on a US domestic flight in a similar situation (I'm looking at you JetBlue at 1am in JFK in the snow).  The attendants were professional and friendly, and we were offered drinks, snacks, and even our meal service prior to take off.

In seat entertainment was active, and I tried (for the second time this trip) to watch Elysium....but still only made it part way.  Next flight, provided I can sort out the fast forward.  I'm conflicted about this one though- Jodie Foster's character is supposed to be the villain, and out of habit I want to take her side anyway.  She's had me since Ellie Arroway :)

The flight deck kept us updated, and the time passed pretty quickly.  It also didn't hurt that the Y cabin is fairly empty, and they let me move back to an empty A-C row for some extra space.  Besides, they passed out extra rice crackers. I love rice crackers.

I will say though, I'm glad to be on my way and above the layer of smog and clouds that covered everything in Shanghai.  Up at 30,000ft it's a beautiful day over the water as we make our way Northeast, around the coast of South Korea.  The sky has given way to a broken ceiling of puffy clouds that reflect off the blue-green water benieth.

Beautiful day up here - over the water PVG-NRT

Up next- hopefully a view of Mt. Fuji & then the JAL 1st lounge for a bit before heading back across the Pacific!

Here's to the journey!


Endnote- posted from the JAL 1st Lounge in NRT.  We made it (finally) and I'm enjoying some food and drinks before my massage time. to the next segment & hopefully a good night's sleep back to ORD.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

How to pack for a journey...

I'm not sure those will fit under the seat in front of me....or in the overhead bin.

It's that time again already, CruisingAlitiude is packing for the next (and final!!) mileage run.  I thought now would be an opportune time to take some advice from people who've done this before.  Where better to go than history?

Here's some advice on how to pack for a journey, circa 1480:

"[A traveler] should carry with him two bags: one very full of patience, the other containing two hundred Venetian ducats, or at least one hundred and fifty... furthermore, he should provision himself with good Lombard cheese, sausages, tongue, and other cured meats of every sort; white biscuits, some cakes of sugar, and various confections, but not a great quantity because they spoil quickly. Above all he should take plenty of fruit syrup, because that is what keeps a man alive in extreme heat; and also ginger syrup to settle his stomach if it is upset by too much vomiting." 
Santo Brasca, Viaggio in Terrasanta (1480)
I'm not sure how Chinese customs agents would feel about the cured meats and good Lombard cheese, but I've got my suitcase full of patience. Well, full of patience and the rest of my stuff.  You didn't think I was going to check it, did you?  Plus I agree wholeheartedly on the ginger.  I've got syrup, caps, name it- good for the stomach, motion sickness, and circulation.  But, does anyone know where I can get about a hundred Venetian ducats?  Are those accepted where they don't take AmEx?  Maybe I'll just try changing some money in PVG....

This weekend is part 2 of this mileage season.  Tomorrow I've got positioning flights LAX-SFO-ORD.  LAX-SFO has cleared for the upgrade, but I'm still waiting on the second longer segment.  The good news is the following day my ORD-PVG (Shanghai Pudong) flight has already cleared into J (business) class.  Thank God, since it's an impressive (if I do say so myself) 14.5 hr flight.  The angle-lie flat seat will make a world of difference.

From there, I have an afternoon in Shanghai and a night at the Sheraton before flying onward to Tokyo (NRT) on JAL, and then enjoying the F lounge for awhile before heading back on my NRT-ORD-DFW-LAX marathon on Sunday.  Upgrades for those are still pending, so wish me luck!

Maybe those 14 hours will be a good time to finally finish my trip report for the last MR.  Like I've said in recent posts, JNB and back was a blast (yes, including the passport mishap and jetlag).  In the mean time, here's a few pics from our trip to Lion Park - totally worth the 48 hours of flight time!  (The 22.6k miles didn't hurt either)

This giraffe was displeased with waiting for his treat until after I took the picture.
Incidentally, this is the exact same expression on most mileage runners' faces when
they hear 'first class has checked in full, please board with your assigned groups.'  

They let you play with lion cubs- this one got fresh and bit my jacket for awhile.
I and the jacket survived, don't worry. 
Fly Safe,


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Lows And The Highs....

BA 747 from JNB to LHR.  Big birdie...

CruisingAltitude has discovered the key to mileage run happiness.  Currently, it's comprised of a BA WT+ Bulkhead seat, Bose headphones, nice single malt, and a cup of ice.  

Okay, that needs some explaining....or....we'll not really, but I'm going to anyway.
BA still has Glenlivet 12 in
minis...come on, AA!

The next chapter in this weekend's mega mileage run has its highs and lows.  It starts with waking up, wide awake at 3:45 in the morning, Jo'Burg time, then finally getting back to sleep at 6 to wake up at 8:30 (half an hour past my alarm) to a message my meeting had been moved to half an hour earlier than expected.

The meetings were successful...though I was starting to feel the 24 hr flight time & 10hr time change with a vengeance.  I actually started to think maybe the turn around was the easier option.

And got worse.  Upon arriving back at O. R. Tambo airport, I walked toward the check in desk, only to have that sinking, sickly feeling that I was missing something.  I was.  My passport. 

Dammit.  Times infinity. 

My safety first, cunningly smart international traveler plan to lock my passport up in the safe had backfired. It was safely locked up in my hotel room 30km away at the Hilton Sandton.  

Luckily, I was early enough to handle the s#%t out of this dilemma.  I hopped on the Gautrain (which, by the way, I recommend taking...and while I'm on the subject, I'd like to just say that my current homecity of LA should be ashamed.  Their public transport system has officially been surpassed by a city in Africa that was previously the most dangerous place outside of an active warzone.  Yes really.)

JNB Gautrain station 
 Annnyway..... Like I was saying, after asking a stranger to look up the hotel phone number for me, two train rides, a round trip shuttle to the station, and meeting a Delta pilot and the head of the Cape Town transport department later, I was back at JNB and ready for check in.  (No, the pilot really plays no part in this story ....but I thought it was cool)

So this brings us to check in.  Remember at this point I've had a day of being heavily let lagged, lost passport, and such.  I head to the nice BA premium line and get my boarding pass...which shows my carefully selected exit row bulkhead has been changed to row 42...something.  Cue embarrassing frequent flier breakdown.  

I'm not proud, I think I've made that blatantly clear in many of these posts.  This though...this was a new low.  I was tired, and coming down from the panic of 'Oh my God I've lost my passport and am going to live in Africa forever I don't love giraffes THAT much!!'

I must have looked like the saddest and most upset kicked puppy in the world.  I was trying ever so hard to not be 'that traveller' but I had no poker face left.  After a few minutes of 'but I picked that row a month ago' and 'is there anything else left in an exit row?' I actually had the experience of the agent looking worried and asking in heavily accented english if 'I was going to be ok?' I think the next words out of her mouth were going to be 'do you need a tissue?'

Officially. Embarrassed. 

Long story short, I sulked off through security to the Galleries First lounge (report later- small in size, but nice offerings and tom yum soup that was the first thing my stomach could handle well all day).  And prepared myself for a cramped 11 hour third long haul flight.  

Then, miracle.  When I handed my boarding pass over at the gate, it beeped.  Not that normal beep....but that beep that means something's up.  Something was up- an operational upgrade to world traveler 'plus.' Thank OneWorld status and whatever saint is in charge of travelers.  These seats come with extra space, pitch, added footrests, and marginally better food choices.

The other flyertalker on the flight got a similar upgrade, and I don't think I've seen two happier people I recent history.  I think we were near to jumping into each other's arms out of relief, actually.  He had even more reason for appreciating the extra space- as he had spent his 15hour JNB layover sleeping on and off on BA Galleries lounge chairs, recovering from a bout of food poisoning on his inbound flights!
WT+ Boarding Pass- Day. Saved.

It's all about the lows that make the highs better, am I right??  Once we hit altitude, I felt great.  Either it was the relief of a comfortable seat, or by this point I'm just addicted to artificial pressurization.
BA WT+ Seat and amenities

Well, that just about brings us, for some reruns of the Big Bang Theory, a little reading, and hopefully....some sleep before arrival in LHR.


(Note- posted from DFW on the way home, so spoiler alert-Im alive.  Rest of posts to follow.)

Out of Africa...

First off, please forgive the title of this post...I couldn't help myself.

Second, this is just a quick layover update on my way back home.  There's far too much to get written in the next 20minutes before I head out of the LHR FL to check out my upgraded J seat on the 77W to Dallas. much fun is that picture?  That's what 8 mileage runners look like after flying 2 consecutive 11hr redeyes.  Pretty darn good, if I do say so myself.  This weekend was a blast, less some serious jetlag.  Met some great new people, and a lion or 2.  

Full post to follow.

Fly safe - CruisingAAltitude

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Good morning Jo'Burg....

Good (early) morning from Johannesburg, South Africa!

Mileage run half way done!  It's 5am local time, and I'm wide awake.  The 10hour time difference is taking its toll, but I'll survive.  I'm relaxing in my (upgraded, thanks AmEx Plat) room at the Hilton Sandton, and watching soccer on one of the only 10-ish channels the hotel has.  I'm not quite sure who's playing...but I'm rooting for the guys in blue.  

Yesterday was a blast, even if we were all incredibly tired.  I arrived with the 5 other mileage runners on my flight from LHR and met up with a few others who were on the other BA flights.  We made our way out to Sandton via the Gautrain, and then hired a tour guide to take us out to 'Lion Park.'  My photos from the tour are stuck on my phone since the Hilton only allows one device on the free wifi, but I'll do a full trip report when I get home.  The short story- fun experience, you get up close and personal with the animals (several lions walked right up to our van, and at one point we had to wait for a herd of antelope to cross in front of us).  Plus, we had a chance to pet and play with lion cubs....and yes, I did get to feed that giraffe.

Most of my companions headed back to the airport last night to catch the outbound back to LHR.  I'll be right behind them tonight, but luckily my upgrade just cleared for the second and third flights, so it looks to be a much more comfortable return.  Can't wait to check out the 77W business class product!  

Review (definitely) to follow.


Saturday, November 23, 2013


Ready to board- 777-300ER at LAX

It begins..... Mileage season 2013.

And we're off!  I'm writing this from AA136, the first of 4 long haul flights in this year's first (and longest) mileage run.  So far, so good.  No, my upgrade didn't clear, but I've got a comfortable aisle MCE seat on the brand new 777-300ER and am enjoying a little IFE before trying to get a little sleep before landing in LHR (I watching Planes as a matter of principle).
Hey, that guy looks familiar!

(Okay, maybe one complaint, which has two parts- 1- GoGo doesn't work internationally, and 2- the service they do offer doesn't seem to want to take my money.  Long and short of this is this will have to be posted from LHR.)

Upon arriving at LAX I got my first chance to check out the AA Flagship Lounge.  No complaints there either.  Except maybe one small one- how can you have not one, but three nice silver tequilas...and no lemon or lime juice to mix?? Priorities people, come on!
Buffet at LAX FL

Well, we've cleared some moderate turbulence, which coincided with dinner service (of course) and they just brought down the (pretty LED) cabin lights.  Time to relax and see if I can get a little sleep over the Atlantic.  Have another long day of lounges and row 29k on deck for tomorrow.  Plus, I found a place that'll let me feed a Giraffe for $3.  Well, I have to pay to get to the park first, but the giraffe food really is a pretty good deal...

Wish me luck,


Addendum- made it safely to LHR and am FULLY enjoying the BA Galleries First lounge.  I've had a shower, some lunch, and some 18yr Glenlivet. I've had worse days :)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Anatomy of a mileage season....

This season's flight paths, yes really.
(via Great Circle Mapper)

Last weekend Mrs. CruisingAltitude and I had some friends over for our, now annual, 'Fall in California' party.  You can read more about it from her [here] at our 'grounded' blog.  Turns out if you put enough pumpkin and cider into it, even an 80 deg  SoCal day by the beach can take on a convincing seasonal shift.  My point in bringing this up is that, after a few glasses of hard cider, someone asked what 'the deal was with my travel thing.'

A slight look of worry then crossed Mrs. CruisingAltitude's face as she warned our unwitting friend not to ask that question if they didn't actually want the whole answer (or lecture as it might be).  However, they laughed it off and said they really did want to know.  In short- can open, worms everywhere.

From meeting other miles and points junkies and addicted travelers, I know I'm not alone in this particular proclivity. Whether it's the latest flight deal or best card offer, when asked we really can't help but give a full....some might say exhaustive... answer.

Maybe it's our personal excitement over the subject, maybe a little pride in having caught that great deal, or maybe it's just simply that none of this stuff lends itself to a short reply.  I mean, honestly, if anyone's devised a way to explain the concept and execution of manufactured spending or valuation of elite status in a charming, witty, cocktail party-appropriate manner please god let me know.  Immediately.  

This is something of particular concern as I'm on 'short final approach' to a whopper of a mileage season.  This year, as last, I'm just under 40k shy of Executive Platinum status with American.  This is, yes, a lot.  Last year they ran a end of year DEQM, making qualification much simpler.  This year, however, it doesn't look good, so I'm doing things the old fashioned way.  I went back and forth for months about whether or not to re-qualify given the numbers involved.  In the end, I left it to fate and passively cruised for deals in case it could be done reasonably.  And, as it turns out, it can.  ('Reasonable' being a very relative term here)

The goal was to get it done in a minimum of weekends away, and little to no time off work.  The result of my search is the following two weekends:

Trip 1- 'The Real Test Of Resolve.'
This is a 5 segment, 3 continent, 22.6k mile round trip itinerary from LAX-London Heathrow-Johannesburg, South Africa-London Heathrow-DFW-LAX requiring around 48 hours of flight time.  Yes, once again, I'm serious.  It is, however, not a 'true' mileage run by purist standards as I have a night (on cash and points) at the Hilton Sandton in ZA and the better part of two days on the ground.  I know, I know, serious bad form there ;)

-Well, 48 hours of flight time, at least 24 of which must be in Y (coach) as they're a British Airways codeshare with no option to use a SWU.
-Parts of Jo'burg require some situational awareness while sightseeing.
-Likely stuffed to oversold flight on the outbound to LHR in all classes.

-Long flights means lots of miles with fewer possibilities for misconnects.
-Both TATL segments on American's new 777-300ER (aka Tripp from 'Planes'!!) meaning MCE at worst, and lie-flat business class at best.
-Quite a few other mileage runners are going the same weekend- safety in numbers, and a chance to meet some new people.
-No visa requirement
-Totally new destinations/airports/planes - AA Flagship lounges, Arrivals & GF lounge in LHR!
AA's new metal- 777-300ER
& Animated counterpart (above)
Trip 2- 'Just A Little Jaunt Across The Pacific'
The second round, though a little dwarfed by the first, is pretty hefty in it's own right.  However, some hardcore mileage runners would consider it little more than a rambling tour of the Pacific Rim in 36 hours.

It takes 7 segments, and nets right around 18k EQMs.  It starts with a positioning flight LAX-SFO-ORD, with an overnight at the Aloft Rosemont, before a morning flight ORD-Shanghai Pudong.  Then I have a night at the Sheraton in Shanghai (hoping for a nice Platinum upgrade here) and some time to sight see, followed by an early flight Shanghai- Tokyo Narita, 6 hours to enjoy the JAL First lounge, then the long haul of Tokyo-ORD-DFW-LAX.

-Quite a few segments to make connections on.
-Early flight out of PVG may require a taxi ride rather than the train (more expensive).
-Final day is 18+hrs of flying consisting of 4 segments.

-Almost entirely on AA metal, with a high chance of upgrades clearing, and therefore, grabbing some actual sleep along the way.
-2 real hotel nights, one of which should result in a nice upgrade and free food and drink.
-Some high end lounges and time to enjoy them, especially in NRT.
-Segment to NRT allows me to waive the $150 Chinese visa.
-Maglev train to Shanghai (300+ mph!!)

All in all I'll fly 12 segments, to and/or through 8 airports, on 3 different Oneworld airlines, in 6 plane types.  If I call it 'extreme flying' does it make it better.....or worse?  True, I'm probably going to be exhausted once the adrenaline dies down, but from my past experience I'll say there's nothing like walking off that last jetbridge at your home airport knowing you've hit 100k, made a ton of miles, and had an adventure along the way.

Planespotting from the LAX AC

One thing I think people don't emphasize enough when they try to tell others about this pass time ( choice?) is that there are so many reasons to do a trip like this, and you can't really separate them out or give them value independently from the other.  Sure, there's the status and the miles themselves, which we always mention.  They're the tangible benefit- something you can try to put a price tag on.  But the rest matters too, maybe even more in the long run (pun intended).

When I look back on previous mileage runs what I actually remember are the 'war stories'-  The gamble on tight connections, solving the puzzle of how to get from point A to point B in C number of miles for under D price, and the fun insanity of a weekend in the closed off world of airports, lounges, and planes - the only place you can be sitting down to a 6am orange juice and cereal, then have someone next to you order up a Heineken and no one even bats an eye.

But there are also the real, personal, memories- like having the chance to meet up with friends in distant cities as if you lived just one town over, walking through an early snowstorm in the Boston Common when it's 80 degrees back home in LA, or sitting down next to a stranger in row 10 of your second transcon of a Saturday, feeling a little silly when you tell him the reason for your trip....only to have him start to laugh, saying, 'Me too, and I've been doing this since Thursday!!'

It's a strange thing, this flying we do, but it offers some of the most unique experiences one can have.  I've had long conversations with people I never would have otherwise met, seen places I'd never have otherwise considered going, and I've worked, dreamed, written, schemed, and had epiphanies all along the way.

So, my point...should I choose to get back to it... is no, I still don't know how to give the cliffnotes version of 'what's up with my flying thing' without it being either unintelligible rambling about cents per mile, or sounding like a ridiculous excess waste of time and money.  I have a hard time getting the charm of it all across.

However, Mrs. CruisingAltitude had some advice- "Maybe you should work on making the explanation sound funnier."

Okay, funnier, here goes:

".....So a 737, a ERJ 145, and an Airbus fly into a bar....and the bartender says..."

Well... maybe not, I'll keep working on it.  Luckily I'll have plenty of time at 36,000ft to do so.  If I can't figure it out by the last of these segments, it's probably a sign the world's not ready.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

[Retro Report] From Jackson to Washington....

It's weekend again already!  This week just flew past (with no actual flying done this time).  However, I thought it was a good time to post a trip report I didn't get around to finishing up and formatting for quite awhile.  What would that be called?  Retro review....?

Anyhow, without any more delay, I take you back to early Sept, 2013.  The setting- a freshly painted 737, Seat 6A.  We see a somewhat tired-looking, yet content, frequent flyer pull out her iPad after crossing 10,000ft and start to write....

Fresh paint on my 737- View from DCA Admiral's Club

It's been a long week of work and travel,  and now it's finally wrapping up with flight 245 back home to LAX from DCA direct.  Given that my day started off at 4:45 to get to my first flight out of Jackson Medgar-Evars, and it's a good two segments later, even I'm okay with that.  I've done my miles-earning duty more than adequately.

It also helps that The flight's off to a good start- upgrade confirmed yesterday, on a nice 737 with the new lights and modern cabin. The friendly flight crew is serving EFBO, we've got a favorable tailwind, and they've got some Glenlevet on board (a limited quantity now that they're discontinuing the singles AA's been serving).  Plus the hot towels didn't even smell like 'eu de old coffee pot,' so consider me a happy flyer.

RJ from DFW-JAN.
Don't call her small, she prefers 'sporty'
This week's trip consisted of flights LAX-DFW-JAN to start off.  My upgrade cleared at the gate for the first segment, and the  later Eagle flight had a great flight attendant who said I was her only EXP and then almost aggressively offered me everything on the cart, even trying to get me to take some wine 'for later' when I declined the first time (I was on the clock...).  Once again, no complaints.
JAN 'Work Station'- no lounge, no problem ;)

However, my complaints did start once I left AA's control.  At National, I just got beat by a few steps to the only premium car in the aisle (a new-looking Genesis) and ended up with a Fusion with 8k on it.  Okay, okay, I've had worse....Ford's been doing some good tech upgrades and the XM Radio was still active, but I've had better.  Overall, the car is fine and responsive at low speeds, but painfully underpowered.  Merging on highways was dicey at times.

I stayed, for the second time this year, at the Embassy Suites by Hilton in Ridgeland, and was significantly underwhelmed this time.  Had I gotten myself together (as I still might) to do a trip report for my first stay here, they would have gotten a much better review.  I know, I know, my lowly 'Blue' level with Hilton entitled me to nothing....but after my year of SPG Platinum treatment, I have a hard time not complaining about a 2nd floor room next to the laundry room with a view of a brick wall.  Seriously, just a brick wall. Oh, and my TV didn't work in the bedroom.
Kitchen and work space-ES Jackson Ridgeland

Bedroom- ES

Before I pan the stay entirely, I will say that the property has some features that made me a repeat customer-Open bar happy hour nightly from 5:30-7:30, free hot breakfast, free parking, Internet, and plenty of space to work.  All room types really are suites, and are 2 rooms, with a sitting area, kitchenette with sink, microwave and mini fridge, and work space.  Plus, it's in an area of town I was advised would be conducive to the out of towner, safety-wise.

Lobby and entry- Embassy Suites
(Quick Glenlevet after is hard)

In short- National at JAN: 4/10 (had a better car last time).  Embassy Suites: 6/10 (one good stay, one not so great).  So that's that then....

Anyhow, even with the early start, today's been fun.  My layover in DCA was about 5 hours, which was a little long even for me to stick around in the airport.  Though it is a beautiful airport all things considered- architecture, water views, and GREAT staff at the (small but big-hearted) Admiral's Club.  They held my bags and sent me off to take the train into town.

DCA Terminal
I love, love, love airports that have quick access to their metro areas, a lot.  It's too bad they're so few and far between.  Of my regular stops, only BOS, DCA, and if you have a little more time, MIA and SEA are doable.  Besides great views on final approach, it makes long layovers so much better.  As much as I love planes and airports, there's something fun about going to a city 'for a few hours.'  Today I walked down the National Mall, visited some monuments, and took a look at the air & space museum (had to). Plus, it felt great to stretch between flights.
AA Flagship- Air & Space Museum

All in all, it's been a successful trip- work went well, as have my 5,600 miles.  Adding them to the 'bank' on the way to 100k this year.  There's plenty more to share, but it'll have to wait until the next segment.  Until then, fly safe, and take time to explore along the way!

On short final into DCA
P.S.- I have some pretty impressive mileage runs coming up, if I do say so myself.  YOU JUST WAIT for this year's mileage season trip reports....

Friday, November 1, 2013

Here we go again....

The 'Goal'....and yes, also an obnoxiously large flyertalk tag behind it.

Well friends, flyers, lost guests who thought they were clicking on something more interesting.... guess what it is again?

Friday? Correct.  Half-price Halloween candy day? Also correct.  The day both LAX got shut down AND United devalued their miles hugely.... correct and correct.  However, the answer I was looking for is 'Start of 'official**' mileage season.

Yes, here we are again, been awhile hasn't it?  Days are getting longer.  Sanity and cents per mile are being tested.

So, I thought it was a good time to talk about what it's all worth in the end.  This year, as last, I'm flinging myself into mileage season to hit 100k on American and earn back my Executive Platinum status.  And this year, so far anyway, there's no DEQM deal to make it easy.  This means we're doing things 'the hard way'- 100k But In Seat 'BIS' miles.
Here's a gratuitous shot of the new AA paint
from the jetbridge for no reason.  Enjoy.

My breakdown of flying for the year is about - 25% business, 35% planned personal (vacation, family visits, friends' weddings, etc), and the rest left to mileage runs.  I've got it locked and loaded- two massive weekends on cheap fares with some of last year's SWUs to make them less grueling.  One per month, some new airports, plane types, and meetups planned.  And yes, while I was in the planning stages my notes of routing, schedules and columns of miles did look something like a scene out of 'beautiful mind' of the slightly disturbing ones, that is.

But, as I said above, for now I want to talk about the bottom line here.  I may not have been a savant at math in high school....or.....ever, but I do take an interest in getting a good deal, or at least 'justifying the crazy.'  

So, here's some of the tangible benefits of hitting 100k to put a price tag on:
1) Double all your earned miles for the year.  Same as the Plat level, but worth noting.

2) The 'big' one- 8 Systemwide Upgrades.  Valuation here is tricky, but my best stab at it is to not go by what paying for the business or first ticket would cost over the econ ticket....because would you REALLY cough up the extra, say 8-10k for a TATL upgrade?  Rather I value by how I would achieve those upgrades- meaning the co-pay and miles route.  This means they're worth $75 + 15,000 miles for domestic use, $150 + 25,000 miles to Hawaii (where some of mine went this year) and $350 + 25,000 miles for international (where I'm hoping to use the rest).  So if we value the miles conservatively and take an average there.... somewhere between $350-$800?? Even taking the low end there you could talk these reasonably up to a collective $3000+.

3) The other 'big' one- Free domestic upgrades + companion upgrades at top-level status.  Also varies by the person and route, but I'm batting 80-90% on the year, on 30+ segments.  What would you pay to sit in front for that many hours?  Could be hundreds, could be thousands, depending on your flight plan.

4) Expanded availability for Milesaaver redemption- this depends on how many award tickets you're doing per year and how lucky you get, but figure on an average year it could save a few hundred worth of miles?

5) Oneworld First Class Lounge access- This matters far more if you're traveling internationally on Oneworld flights.  But a visit to Qantas's premium lounges in Sydney, or Galleries and Arrivals lounges in LHR are definitely worth something!

6) Service- there's definitely value to the EXP desk, premium check in, top priority standby, etc.  These things are hard to value, but if it fixes even one trip that was going south due to a mechanical- throw some dollars there.

7) Intangible or little things that still can matter if you care (I do...I'll admit it): EXP luggage tags, bragging rights, the lot.... (yeah yeah, shallow I know...but it's there).

8) I'm sure there's tell me.

Here's another gratuitous pic- sunset over DFW.
You earned it by reading through all that 'math' up there.

One last point here is that when mileage running you're (obviously) also earning the miles as you go (and possibly some bonus ones due to this year's elite awards at 40, 75, 125, and 150k).  My flights for this mileage season are averaging 4.5 cents per mile (qualifying) and 2.25ish redeemable, and 1.9 when you factor in the elite award mileage.  I've seen people value AA miles between 1.8 and 2.5 cents these flights are somewhere in the neighborhood of "even money" at market value. Plus they 'come with' all of the above, and a chance to meet some new people and see some new places.

The math aside, I often 'check myself' by asking if I'd take the trips anyway if someone offered to give me the flights, even without the miles.  If my reservations about the itinerary, destination, or timing make that a tough call, I usually wait for the next deal to come along (case in point skipping the three hour turn in Dubai in favor of an overnight and time to explore in S. Africa for this year).  

In short, I've decided it's all a go for one more season.  Even if the concept is crazy (depending on who you talk to), the numbers might not be.... right??  ....Right???  Besides, there's plenty of adventure to be had along the way, especially when the destination isn't the reason for the journey in the first place.

Until the next departure, fly safe-


**Official mileage season, as declared by me, falls on the non-holiday weeks from the start of November through December.  Cheaper fares, lower business travel, and the perfect time to scramble for those last miles. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

'Bloody Good Choice.....' PreFlight Post

I really should be editing a 'totally serious and insightful' trip report, but I'm not.  I'm having a Bloody Mary in the LAX club before my LAX-DFW-EWR trip to a good friend's wedding.  Had initially considered trying to hop an earlier flight to DFW to check out the NEW Centurion Club that my Plat. Amex gets me into (very very excited about this...very), but earlier today my upgrade cleared for my 767 flight to Dallas, and I'm not about to sacrifice a lie-flat seat on a domestic flight.  The Centurion will have to wait for another (hopefully soon) date.  

Wait, what was this post supposed to be about?  Sorry....distracted by a shiny new club for a second there...

Right, Bloody Marys!  In short- one of my favorite pre- and post- departure beverages.  Couple reasons- socially acceptable many hours of the day (although anything generally goes in airports), low on the sweetness factor, heigh on flavor, and some article awhile ago that I half remember seemed to say they were healthy....ish.  

However, besides there seems to be some science behind the case that bloody marys are delicious in flight.  It turns out that the same altitude symptoms that shut off about 30% of your taste buds at 35,000ft, also take some of the acidity out of the flavor, making them taste even better at cruising altitude. That, combined with the already bold flavors, make it a good choice.

That said, here's a quick rundown of where (and where not) to order one: (Can't write a travel blog entry without giving unsolicited advice)

1- Alaska Airlines Board Room, Seattle.
For some reason, this place consistently makes the best airport Bloody Mary I've had.  No clue why....maybe it's the rain....

2- Admiral's Club, SFO.
Great bar staff (great staff in general), plenty of kick.  Plus, if you're in the mood for something else, ask for a skinny marguerita (can't get these in LAX).

3- Admiral's Club, LAX (or DFW, or BOS).
Standard fare, no complaints, plus it's free.  Varies day to day.

4- On the plane!
As said above, altitude helps.  I've had them mixed and doctored up by the FAs on occasion, but on shorter flights you're looking at a bottle to Titio's and a can of Mr&Mrs T's.

5- Alaska Airlines Board Room, LAX.
Not sure what's up with theirs, but I wouldn't do it again.  Too sweet...but strong enough I didn't need a second...for sure.

Time to finish up & head out.  Until the next 'round,' fly safe!



Monday, August 26, 2013

Mileage Running: "Oh my God, why would you do that?"

So....this is what comes up when you google image search 'lounge dragon.'  Okay, now you KNOW you have to read the rest of this post to find out what the little guy's doing here, don't you??

The following is because it’s Monday, and because ‘why not?’.....

A few months ago, while cruising around for some travel gossip, I came upon this YouTube video wherein the author reenacts through animation himself trying to explain mileage running to a coworker.  I know, I know, it's dated as Continental no longer 'exists' as such, and the new United/Continental mess has basically eliminated mileage running with their oh so painful 'revenue requirement,' but still... (link also here- )

I laughed, I laughed a lot.  Then I promptly shared the link with friends, most of whom did not laugh….well, maybe a polite chuckle here and there, but that’s about it.

After reflecting on this, and possibly while trying to decide whether I have the nerve to try and get the rest of my 100k miles on AA this year by flying to Dubai and back ('s a great deal, promise) without leaving the airports (insert ‘oh my God, why would you do that’ here),it occurred to me that a little insight, and definitely levity was needed.  So I thought the best way to do this, was to try to find a little common ground with others who might share my affliction.  So, without further delay- weather, mechanical, or otherwise, I give you…...

“You might be addicted to travel status if:”

-You’ve started to believe that your trifecta of chosen airline, hotel chain, and car rental companies really says something about ‘who you are as a person,’ but you have no idea what that is.

-You watched “Up in the Air” and took no issue with Ryan Bingham's goals or compulsions, just the fact that no one in their right mind carries their rollaboard up that circular staircase in the Admiral’s Club STL when you know there’s a perfectly good elevator around the corner.

-You get a little thrill from hitting ‘Find Flights’ or similar buttons on ticket search engines, akin to spinning the roulette wheel in Vegas.  

-Being denied TSA PreCheck leads to a microcosm of the 5 stages of grief, especially the anger and bargaining ones as you (somewhat politely) stomp off to the regular screening line.   

-When someone asks for advice on what credit card to apply for, and you solemnly reply that that’s a complicated question, and start asking them about their life goals, travel patterns, and astrological sign before offering an answer.  

-You’ve ever wished your airline’s website offered an ‘at LEAST __ stops’ option on the search page.

-You know what a ‘lounge dragon’ is, and it has nothing to do with comic books or multi-sided dice.**

-You know the difference between a TATL, TPAC, and a Transcon and can estimate the CPM for each when given a price.

-You revel in the minutia of airline and airport trivia, and will explain 'fascinating' things like the difference in seat plan between a 767-200 and a 767-300 until someone aggressively changes the subject. 

-You sometimes feel you’re the only one who adequately respects the sanctity of shared overhead bin space.

-You have very, very strong feelings about the metaphysical and psychological differences between preference for ‘window or aisle.’

-Simply hearing the word ‘upgrade’ in just about any context raises your pulse at least 5 bpm.

-You honestly consider a ‘destination airport’ to be a legitimate draw when planning a vacation, as in- “Sure I’m looking forward to going to Sydney to see the opera house and maybe pet a kangaroo, but what I really can’t wait for is to check out the Qantas First lounge at SYD.”

-The thought of checking luggage causes an immediate and uncontrollable facial tick.

Well, did it work?  What did I miss?

Okay, maybe that didn't come close to explaining the whole ‘flying for the miles’ thing….but it was fun anyway, right?


PS, I have some legitimate and hopefully informative trip reports on the way….so bear with me.  

**For those still wondering about the cute lizard up top, 'Lounge Dragons' are the agents at the front desk of airline clubs in airports who make sure you're entitled to enter.  They're not known for their rule-bending or compassion about your 8 hour layover if your membership isn't current. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Report from the return ....

How it ended- Sunset flight DFW-LAX
This week I was sent off to Philadelphia for work.  Well, about an hour south of Philly to be precise.  The trip included two stays a different Sheratons I hadn't been to before, a rental from National's executive selection at PHL, and flights from LAX - MIA - PHL and then PHL - DFW -LAX.

I'm currently on the last leg of the flight and I concur with the pilot's recent PA announcement- it is 'a beautiful night to fly.' We've got calm skies and a beautiful red and orange sunset to fly off toward.   The flight was delayed a few minutes due to some weather from the Midwest that kept the equipment (an endangered 757) from getting to DFW on time.  I've decided not to let it bother me, all in all the trip has been successful thus far and I don't have a connecting flight to worry about.

HOWEVER, they took orders for dinner correctly- this is an odd numbered flight, and they started at the back, but they're serving from the front.  I'm in 6F and hungry for my chicken and....whatever else it was she said.  Yes, this would be the best example ever of 'First World Problems.'

Back to the topic at hand.  As far as frequent traveler perks go, I'm feeling fairly solid on this trip- 4 for 4 on the upgraded flights, 1.5 for 2 on the hotel rooms, and a definite (at least two category) upgrade on the car.  Oh, and the actual reason for the travel went well also...

It started off with a surprise gate upgrade for the overnight LAX-MIA, which was more than welcome.  4 of us on the standby upgrade list cleared on a sold out cabin.  Thank...somebody....for minor miracles.  The flight was even at the gate twenty minutes early, giving me time for a shower and a few of those little muffins in the MIA Admiral's club.  That is, of course, once I found it.  I spent a good five minutes walking in small, pathetic circles in Terminal D, dragging my carry-on behind me before realizing the sign was right there all along.

The shower rooms were nice, though I had to wait a few minutes for one to free up.  Like in LAX they have great amenities.

Shower suite-MIA Terminal
The MIA-PHL leg was upgraded as well.  I also believe it was delayed an hour, mostly after boarding due to 'paperwork issues.'  However, it still being nighttime in Los Angeles, I don't remember much of it.....just the pilot apologizing as we finally left the gate, and sometime after takeoff the flight attendant nudging me to ask if I wanted eggs or cereal.  Not a bad way to ride out sequester-induced slow downs.

It was my first time in Philly in recent memory, and I wish I'd had more free time to see something other than my hotel rooms.  I mean, running to and from the car I did notice some lovely cobblestone streets and cherry blossoms....  But this is a frequent flyer the hotel rooms are a major feature, aren't they?

Before I get to that though, this was my first rental from National at PHL.  I'll start off by saying the prices were outrageous.  This seems to have been a City-wide supply and demand issue.  When I boarded the shuttle (Monday morning) the driver was telling inquiring customers that they were reservation only, as were Hertz and Alamo.

Now, here's the thing about National- its my new love car-rental wise with the executive membership though AmEx.  I love picking out my own car, and the row tends to have some fun finds.....but when you get off that packed bus and head toward the ES row it's suddenly like Lord Of The Flies, but everyone is tastefully business casual and towing a rollaboard.  For my part, I go in with a plan- I know the high end options- Genesis, 300c, Buick, Camaro, Maxima, Avalon, higher end SUVs and certain trim options....but...

....I'm also not proud. This time I threw my bag in a Lacrosse (with 16k on the ODO) took the keys, and went to check the mileage on the Enclave parked behind it.  The Enclave won- less than 300 miles, working XM, and all the options.  I did feel silly with just my one suitcase and myself in it, but the seats were heated and PHL was a whole lot colder than LA.

2013 Enclave from National
Annnnyway..... the first night in town I stayed at the Sheraton Society Hill.  The hotel was fully committed, according to the front desk and so the only upgrade they could offer was to a room on the club floor (3rd out of 4).  Being a slightly obsessive flyertalker I gave a quick look to the website on check-in, and there were no suites still for sale.  I don't have any pictures because it looked like every single other standard Sheraton room.  Soothing earth tones and 'Shine' amenities.

Sheraton Society Hill lobby from the Club Floor
Sheraton Society Hill

The hotel itself is on the small side, but well kept up.  Staff were pleasant, but I didn't get the 'going above and beyond' feeling from them.  My one real complaint was that my room was so far from the only elevator it took forever to get downstairs.

The second night, as I couldn't get a room in Philly to save my life (some major convention no one seemed to know the name of was in town) I got a room at a great rate on our company's SET at the Sheraton Wilmington South.  Now, while this location lacks the charm of Society Hill, it was the clear winner for me in amenities and service.

For the business traveler passing through, it's easy to find. It's right off the highway, but asking for a room on the far side will take away any noise issues.  Overall, the entire staff, from the check in desk to the bartender had a serious case of 'trying too hard.' This is literally the best compliment I can give.  Even though they too were fully sold out for the night, I was already double upgraded to a deluxe suite- three rooms, kitchenette, jacuzzi tub, on the top floor. The property was clean and modern, club lounge was well stocked for both evening and breakfast, if lacking in square footage.
Deluxe Suite Bedroom

Sheraton Wilmington Deluxe Suite
The trying too hard followed all the way to check out the next morning when I was asked about 4 times how my stay was, and nearly chased down the hall by the manger to ask if I might have time to write a TripAdvisor report.  Now, one could say this is all excessive, but I have to admire a staff who realizes that traditional advertising now pales in comparison to first hand reviews and social media status.  (they'll be getting that review)

As for the return trip, I have some unsolicited opinions about the PHL airport, both good and bad.  However, the sunset has faded out in front of us and it's about time for dinner. I don't want to risk getting whatever it is tonight all over my keyboard, so my feelings about Philly's security lines (NO pre-check!!) will have to wait.

Until the next segment....

Fly Safe,