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.

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.


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

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,


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