Monday, October 10, 2016

Update to the latest Airbnb Saga

https://airsicktravel.blogspot.com/2016/10/more-airbnb-issues.html

As an update to the post above, the host initially said they'd refund us the money but then later changed her tune and asked us to cancel and that she'd give us a full refund.

Either she's ignorant that if we cancel we get hit with the severe penalties (50% of our money + we don't get the airbnb fee back) that she has in place or thinks we're stupid.

So we just escalated to Airbnb and sent them a note explaining the location is incorrect in her listing and that we want to cancel and surprisingly Airbnb quickly responded overnight and gave us a full refund plus a token $22 coupon (original booking was $220) to use for a new reservation.  The Airbnb rep also assured us that she would talk to he host and make sure the location gets corrected.

I'm surprised that with hundreds of reviews she has for her place that no one really complained that it's in a completely different location vs what is advertised.  Initially I was afraid the host would use that line of defense (but hundreds people have never complained...) but I'm glad to see Airbnb acknowledge the misrepresentation and correct it.

So key takeways, raise your concerns even if you see hundreds of other people just grin and bear it.  And secondly, it's tricky to find where you can contact Airbnb.  For this type of issue you can submit the message like this:

From this page:
select - traveling - issues with host - trouble with host

then type in your message, I included screenshots (hosted on imgur.com) of the wrong location + the actual location from her house checkin instructions in the message.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

More Airbnb Issues...

I've previously written about 1 downside of Airbnb: https://airsicktravel.blogspot.com/2016/08/1-major-downside-of-airbnb-bookings.html

I'm running into another right now for a property in Seoul, Korea.

Basically, the location is not where the listing says it is.  On a listing, you have these teal circles which represent the area where the property is located.  I wanted a place next to Seoul Station and the title of the listing also said "SEOUL STATION" (amongst other words).


So I get the directions to the place and it's actually farther south than the map above and it's actually further south than the Namyeong subway station that you can see at the bottom of the picture.

The main reason I booked this place is to take 1 train from the airport directly to Seoul station (the main central station in Seoul) and just walk to the apartment.  Now I have to switch from an airport train to a subway and go an extra stop and worst of all, I may not have elevators or escalators at the subway station and need to carry my luggage up the stairs to street level.  I know Seoul Station has elevators and escalators to street level and was another reason I booked this place.  And now I found out the location of the listing is completely misrepresented in the listing.

The listing does have positive reviews and no one among the first few pages of reviews complained of the wrong location.

I am getting really tired of Airbnb...  I am messaging the host to ask about this.  If she wants to cancel, that'd be ideal since that way she gets penalized.  If she does not want to cancel, then I have to involve Airbnb for an inaccurate listing and get them to cancel it for me and to correct the listing.  Will update on what happens...

Friday, September 23, 2016

An alternative to getting home from the airport vs Uber/Lyft with surge pricing

Quick summary: look into 1 way car rentals vs high priced Lyft/Uber/Taxi at peak times, it might be cheaper

Recently I landed in SFO at 11PM on Labor Day Monday and I didn't want to inconvenience anyone at that late hour. (how considerate of me)

I had planned on taking a Lyft or an Uber and thought it might cost about $60 or so.  But boy, was I wrong.  When I first opened Lyft and saw that the price for a Lyft Line (shared ride like Uberpool) to San Jose was $110, I thought I put in the wrong address but nope, the price for a shared ride was $110.  The price for a regular Lyft was around $140 and UberX was similar.

I had never taken a taxi from SFO to San Jose but upon my quick search, it seemed like it would be around $120-130+.

At this moment, I had this idea of booking a 1 way car rental instead.  And lo and behold, I was able to make a booking for a 1 way rental at around $63 including all taxes/fees using my corporate code.  I suppose it might be higher without a good corporate/discount code but it's definitely worth a look.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A good way to get a taste of local life

While I was in Panama over this past weekend (along with spending the day in NYC and a long layover in Miami), I had a chance to go to a few grocery stores, ranging from a tiny corner store to a big, air conditioned, modern supermarket and while a lot of what's in the big market is already Westernized (and particularly Americanized in the case of Panama), it's still an interesting look into how the locals really live.

Then I remembered I also enjoyed going to grocery stores in other countries.

One note is that at the supermarket, there was a security guard who was totally eyeballing us and following us (me and my girlfriend) around the store.  The thing is it was like he was almost trying to be as conspicuous about it as possible.  But again, that is part of the cultural difference that makes things interesting.  I have to say their bathroom was spotlessly clean.

But in summary, visiting a grocery store is a good way to get a look into the local culture.  And a good way to pick up local snacks to bring back as souvenirs.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Why no flat beds in airport lounges?

So we've had flat beds on planes for a while now.  So why don't we have beds or loungers where people can nap while they wait for their flights?  When I have a long layover in between flights, the thing I'd like to do most is (aside from getting a massage) sleep.

Some lounges have sleeping areas, such as the Qatar 1st class lounge in Doha, where they have individual small rooms which resemble a small hotel room with a bed, bathroom, desk, TV but even in regular lounges, it would require just buying some day beds and setting aside a section of the lounge, pretty easy to implement.  This is something I'd like to see airlines implement.

As an aside, the best perk (aside from the room at in Doha) in a lounge for me was the free masseuse at the Phuket Priority Pass lounge.  You should tip the masseuse a bit but even ) with the small tip (I guess equivalent to a $1 for a 15 minute massage, it was great.  Now the Centurion Lounge in Miami has 15 minute free massages.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Visiting Panama for 42 minutes: Quick Note on doing the same plane turnaround in PTY

TL;DR - 42 minute connection in PTY perfectly doable as long as AA allows you to book it but you'll go thru gate security

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On 9/3/16, as part of a vacation/EQM run, I had a 42 minute connection in PTY.  The incoming flight would land at 2:59PM and the outbound would leave at 3:41PM.

Both my flights had the same flight number and they were both the same plane type (Embraer ERJ-175) so I was pretty sure it would be the same plane and therefore zero chance of me not making the connection.  I even had the same seat on both flights and wished I could have just sat on the plane but of course, they don't allow you to do that (I actually did ask the FA for confirmation).

I actually met the 2 bloggers from www.nomascoach.com after they noticed my Flyertalk luggage tag.  This was the first time someone talked to me about it.  I've only had the tag for a couple of months though.

So once we landed, I got off the plane but I couldn't go directly into the waiting area.  It's roped off. So I went directly to the gate security check area and went thru the security.

Every time I've gone thorough, they're really annoyingly thorough/picky and this time was no different.

So no need to go thru customs or immigration, just the gate security. And 42 minutes is way more than enough but not enough time for me to consider going to a lounge.

Then when I got on board again, (they announced business class first), the FA was surprised when I said 'nice to see you again' and she asked what I'm doing.  She hadn't heard of mileage running so I was explaining it to her when another Flyertalker boarded and overheard what I was saying, turns out we had exchanged messages on Flyertalk previously about being on the same flight, we had a nice chat.

On both the flights, it was nice to meet who understand you and what you're doing, rather than tell you you're crazy.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

1 MAJOR Downside of Airbnb Bookings

TL;DR: Be aware hosts can cancel on you as the traveler on Airbnb and you get a small coupon to rebook a property but most likely that won't be enough to find a comparable property.  To look out for hosts who cancel, look for reviews that look like the image at the bottom of this post.

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For the most part I like using Airbnb, I've stayed at probably 40-50 different properties through the years and for the most part, I've had good experiences and usually are cheaper than getting a comparable hotel in a comparable area.  (Hotels are usually in commercial neighborhoods vs Airbnbs in residential neighborhoods)

However, this has happened to me twice now, when the host cancels the reservation on you, we, as the renters, are kind of left high and dry.  Just today, we had a booking in NYC for mid-September that was cancelled by the host because she is having work done on her house and that's the only date available for the work to be done (her words, not mine)  Whatever the reason, Airbnb offered us a paltry $16 coupon to book something similar.

$16 is nowhere enough, even if I expanded my price range to $50+ the original booking, there's nothing remotely similar at this time.  That's because unlike hotel rooms, Airbnbs are each unique homes, apartments, etc and once 1 person books that listing, it's gone.  So that when you look for places close to when you need them, you'll be getting the leftovers.

I had the same thing happen for a property in Prague over Christmas/New Years, the busiest time of the year in Prague for hotel bookings, and the host cancelled pretty close to the actual travel date.  Back then (Winter 2014) Airbnb offered a 20% credit but I had booked the room originally 6+ months out.  And lots of hosts had ridiculous demands for bookings during that week (as in ridiculous long minimum stays, jacked up rates etc.) So imagine what slim pickings there was when I had to find something about a month out.  20% was not even close to try to get something similar.  I still had to pay extra just to find a decent place that was further out from the city center.

In retrospect, I should have complained more but I didn't.

So you may want to have a refundable booking at a hotel as a backup if you have an Airbnb booking in a popular location. What I've found is sometimes hosts will have their places listed on multiple sites and if they think they can get a better rate vs what was originally booked, they may cancel on 1 site and list at a higher rate on a different site.  (note Airbnb does not allow hosts to relist on the same dates once they cancel)

And I feel like Airbnb does not do enough to protect consumers and seems to favor hosts (and themselves), as hosts can set pretty strict cancellation penalties.  There is no way for the consumer to be able to cancel without some kind of a penalty.  I do not know if hosts can penalized monetarily for cancelling a booking but they should if they are not already.  And much more than 12.5 or 20%.

Here's a way to protect yourself against this, if you see a listing and if you check the reviews (and you always should) and you find reviews like this, you should be very wary as this means the host cancelled on the guest.  If there are multiple reviews that look like this, I would stay away.

HTH.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Yet another post on Citi Prestige Concierge

I am truly astounded at Citi's incompetence.  I opened a Citigold checking account several months back and it was a royal pain to get everything set up.  I had read online that it would be and anything that they can mess up, they will.  So I wasn't surprised but I was still unhappy as a consumer.

And then Citi actually closed a credit card without my approval and all they said was tough luck.

But I still opened a Citi Prestige and for the most part, the card has been fine, but my experience using their concierge has been atrocious.

Here's a recap:


Part 1: https://airsicktravel.blogspot.com/2016/08/my-experience-booking-hotel-through.html
Part 2: https://airsicktravel.blogspot.com/2016/08/update-on-booking-hotel-in-japan.html
Part 3: https://airsicktravel.blogspot.com/2016/08/hopefully-last-post-on-booking-japanese.html

And now, that confirmation I was supposed to get, never came, so I had to call to get it sent.  Then when it finally did come, the dates were wrong.  So I had to call again to verify the dates are actually correct and to have a new confirmation email sent to me.  But by now I have absolutely zero confidence they even made the right booking at the right hotel. They spelled the name of the hotel wrong but got the address right at least.  So I emailed the hotel directly with the confirmation number and am now waiting for them to confirm I actually have a reservation.  Until they confirm, I'm not cancelling my backup booking.

Bottom line:  If you use the concierge to book hotels outside the US at non-US chain hotels, be prepared for a world of incompetence, lack of follow-up, and lots of phone calls and wasted time.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Hopefully last post on booking a Japanese hotel with Citi Prestige concierge

Being the glutton for punishment I am (as well as being a cheapskate) I have continued to find what I think are suitable hotels then calling the concierge to get it booked.

I found a hotel that had rooms available on booking.com and had their own official booking page that didn't require registration and called the concierge again then they told me the room was not available for my dates and that booking.com buys a bucket of rooms and then resells them.

But yesterday (8/22) I tooled around on their own website and found availability so I called in again.  I had to coach the concierge through going to their official page and having to use Google Chrome to translate the Japanese booking page to be able to go through the booking process.  It took a while navigating the less than user friendly page that's also being translated via Google to finally make the booking.  Supposedly.  And he confirmed that I'll get the 4th night credit once the booking is paid for.

So I'm supposed to get a confirmation email within 24 hours (it's been about 18 hours so far), until I get that email, I don't think I can actually assume it'll happen.  Let's see what happens.

Overall, it's taken about 6-7 separate phone calls each lasting about 20-30 minutes and my time looking up suitable hotels.  I'd be saving US$165 on a US$740 booking.  I guess it's still worth it...  barely.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Update on booking a hotel in Japan through Citi Prestige Concierge

As an update to this post: https://airsicktravel.blogspot.com/2016/08/my-experience-booking-hotel-through.html

It's been 36 hours or so since I first made the call to the concierge.  And after 3 calls, the bottom line is that they can't make the booking since they're strict in Japan about booking hotels over the phone.  The concierge said they won't allow bookings over the phone and they only allow it online but the concierge can't create an account so they are poop out of luck.

This has totally not been worth my time spent babysitting this.  I've had 2 evenings go by where they were supposed to call an make the reservation but both times, there was no response of any sort, no confirmation, no contact telling me they couldn't do it.  I had to chase them down both times to see what happened and each time the rep said, well the reservation wasn't booked and there are no notes on here.

To be fair, the last rep I got was good about actually getting back to me to let me know what happened but the lack of ownership and follow-through with the other 2 reps is very diasppointing.

Seems like I have to find a hotel that allows people to make an online reservation without creating an account to be able to use this benefit in Japan.

Oh Japan, I like many things about you but sometimes your strict, draconian adherence to rules annoys me.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

American Airlines Amenity Kit Giveaway!

I've been getting some heritage amenity kits from my many flights on American over the past couple of months.  I have no use for these really.  So I'd like to give these away to folks who leave a comment on this blog.  You have to be within the continental U.S (the lower 48 states) and the first 3 comments will receive these free of charge and I'll pay for shipping as well.  These are all unopened and sealed and are your American Airlines business class international amenity kits.

The first comment will receive a set of 3 different themed kits (the first picture), the second and third comments will each receive one of the kits in the second picture.  If it ends up being only one person comments, that person will get all 5.  Unless you don't want that many.



My experience booking a hotel in Japan through Citi Prestige concierge to take advantage of the 4th night free benefit

I recently got a Citi Prestige card (note lack of referral link!) and I'm in the middle of trying to book a 5 night stay in Tokyo to take advantage of the 4th night free benefit.

The thing is you have to book through the Citi Prestige concierge at 1-561-922-0158

So I found a hotel I wanted. https://www.booking.com/hotel/jp/super-hotel-lohas-akasaka.html

Then I called the number but she could not find the hotel.  Turns out she's looking at the hotel's website here: http://www.superhoteljapan.com/en/s-hotels/akasaka/

And when she goes to the booking link, this hotel isn't on the list of available hotels on the English page.  If you go to the Japanese page and have it translated it shows up but since neither of us read  Japanese, she could not go ahead with booking this hotel.

I had already made a reservation using my dates just to hold a room so I have a backup.

Then I found this hotel which was showing up on the Super Hotels' English website:

https://www.booking.com/hotel/jp/super-hotel-akihabara-suehirocho.html

So today, I called the concierge again to try to book this hotel.  And while she was able to find the hotel, it required her to create an account to be able to book a room so she said she'll send this to one of her colleagues who speaks Japanese to call them overnight and try to book the room and get back to me by tomorrow.

So the catch is there is only one room type I want that is available on my dates, so I cancelled the reservation about 10 minutes before I made the call but now I'm left with someone potentially taking my room before the concierge is able to call and book the room.  Well, in my favor, it's middle of the night in Japan but then again the US is wide awake at this hour.  So I'll just not make another booking and just hope that the room is still available by the time the concierge makes the call.

All in all, this is not really a smooth process, if the hotel is a local brand overseas and doesn't have a good website.  If it was a chain hotel like Marriott or Hilton, this should be very smooth I'd imagine.  I'll update if the reservation runs into further issues.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Travel Annoyances

#1.  Why do hotels have to have their room doors slam shut?  I'm talking about those auto door closers (whatever they're actually called) that will automatically close the door so it doesn't stay open.  Very rarely, I will run into one of those that closes the door gently.  The vast majority of them slam the door.

I try to be considerate especially during early morning or late nights and slow down the closing so it doesn't slam but 99.999999999999999999999999999999999999% of people care about no such thing and the doors all over hotels are being slammed left and right.

Friday, July 1, 2016

How to explain mileage running to family and friends and coworkers?

Since I started mileage running this year, some people look at me like I have three eyes when I tell them what I'm doing this weekend or that I'm going to Panama X times in X months. I don't really care what acquaintances think, and friends just shake their head but they knew I traveled a lot anyway even before I started running so they at least understand kind of why I do it.

But recently my new boss asked me what I'm doing the 4th of July holiday weekend and I told him I'm making a quick trip to Panama (I forgot I told him that I was in Panama a month ago) and he asked why I'm going again. So I told him I'm doing it to get miles. He seemed interested and I explained it to him but some coworker friends (in a different group) later told me that he may think I have too much time and money on my hands or subconsciously think in his mind that I'm always on vacation (even though I'm not taking vacation on most of the trips).

I think they do have a point so I'll be more careful about sharing my hobby and all my premium cabin flying in the workplace.

If you take mileage runs, how do you explain your hobby to those around you? Or maybe you don't even mention it. I don't like to lie but I guess I could have just answered my boss that I'll be just hanging around this weekend. Not mentioning that I'll be hanging around in planes and airports.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Instantaneous posting of Amex MR points to Singapore Krisflyer!

So normally it seems like it takes about 24-36 hours for Amex MR points to post to Singapore Airlines and that was my experience the last time I transferred points a couple of months ago.

Tonight I transferred some more points and I'm happy to report that when I just checked a couple of hours later, the points were already in my Singapore account.

As a side note, this was to add a flight for my girlfriend who'll be traveling with me to Asia.  And as such, I'm changing my flight from SFO to HKG to start from LAX to ICN (Seoul).  The reason for this is that there is only waitlist Saver First Class award space on the flight to HKG for the 2nd seat while on the LAX-ICN flight there are 2 seats open in Saver First Class.  Even though on the HKG flight there are 8 seats in the cabin while the ICN flight only has 4 seats with 1 already being taken.

And why does a shorter flight to ICN (12.83hrs) cost more in miles vs a longer HKG flight? (15.5 hrs)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Flying 6 times with an ear infection

I woke up with an earache in my left ear.  I would be flying from SFO to JFK later that afternoon as the beginning of my trip to Panama over Memorial Day weekend.  I would fly on 6 flights.  I was very concerned about flying with pain in my ear.

I was able to find an appointment around noon with an Ear, Nose, Throat doctor (ENT).  Later I'd find out why she had so many open appointment slots even on the same day.  (Spoiler alert: she's not very good).  After my visit (for which she'd bill my insurance $720), she said I have fluids in my ear and prescribed steroid pills + nasal sprays.  When I asked if I can fly, she said there was risk of a rupture and damage but that I should be ok.

Being the risk taker I am, I went on with my trip.  I did consider canceling the trip, all the hotel bookings were cancellable except for 1 night at an Airbnb near JFK and with a doctor's note I thought I might have some chance of a free cancel on the flights (but going by my experience trying to get my dad's flight cancelled for free on United and United flat out refusing to do so, saying unless it's a life and death issue, a doctor's note doesn't matter.  So apparently potentially losing your hearing is not a reason where you can cancel your flight).

So anyway, I went ahead and flew, I can talk about the trip itself later but the Centurion Lounge at SFO was packed as I had heard it would be.  But we did manage to find 2 seats (I was traveling with my mom.)  The food was pretty good.

At this time, my ear felt very full and in slight pain.  When I took off it was fine and during the flight, no issues.  But as the doc said, it was painful upon descent and I was scared of something popping and me losing my hearing permanently.  By this time, I couldn't hear much out of my left ear and you'd think you just lose 50% of your hearing ability but it felt like much worse, perhaps it's an exponential loss but frequently I could not make out what people were saying to me.

The next morning, I dreaded my next 2 flights, JFK-MIA and MIA-PTY.  Both flights were a similar experience but landed in Panama without anything bursting but still in pain and half (or 3/4) deaf.

Then over the next 3 days in Panama, all the while taking the steroids and using the sprays, absolutely zero improvement.  I had suspected all along that this was an infection and that I should have been given antibiotics and not steroids but I didn't want to visit a doctor in Panama while on vacation so I waited until I would be in NYC to schedule another ENT visit.  The flight to MIA then the flight to LGA were perhaps a bit better and by this time fluids started coming out of my ear.

So the ENT in NYC confirmed it was indeed an infection and treated me accordingly and prescribed antibiotics and eardrops (which was $200 even with insurance).  At that moment, I knew my first ENT back home would blame me flying for it turning into an infection, rather than admit a misdiagnosis.  I suppose it's possible that flying in a plane would turn fluids in the ear into infection where there wasn't an infection before but I somehow doubt that.  Even though I'm not a doctor.

And I managed to make my final flight to SFO feeling a bit better still and when I went back to the first ENT, she did as I had predicted and blamed me flying for the infection.

So anyway, it's been exactly 2 weeks since that morning and my hearing is back to about 75% in my left ear, the draining has stopped and I think I'm well on my way to a complete recovery.

Which is good since tomorrow morning I fly out again.  On the same SFO-JFK transcon on the AA321t, except this time in first class, rather than business class.  This will be my first time in the transcon first, so I'll see how it compares.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

An app to swap seats on a plane

There is an app called Seateroo http://seateroo.com/ that allows passengers on a plane to swap seats with each other for a fee.  And Seateroo takes 15% of the fee the 'buyer' pays to the 'seller' of the desired seat.  But if the transaction doesn't happen, they will refund the entire amount to the 'buyer.'

I like innovation and think this is a good idea but it needs the blessing of the airlines or the airlines could do this themselves.  Without enforcement this will never work.

A couple of scenarios:

1) If a buyer and seller agree to a price and they swap seats, then the buyer claims the transaction didn't take place once they land and have reception again, the buyer gets the money back and got to sit in the better seat for free. 

2) Or if the seller won't move after receiving payment, who is the buyer going to complain to?  The airline won't care and this may even be against the airline's rules to receive payment for swapping seats.

Also, you need internet connection to make this work, which means you need to do the swapping before the flight takes off, what's to stop the seller from initially swapping seats, then once in the air, goes to the flight attendant and says 'hey this person is in my seat' shows her/his boarding pass and gets the buyer kicked out.  Again, the airline isn't going to care about an app.

I suppose you could have an eBay type of rating system for rating buyers and sellers.

Perhaps the app builder is just looking to get acquired by an airline or someone else.  (like 500% of startups are)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Business Class sale from US/Canada to Europe

To go along with my very timely post from yesterday, here's such a deal where you can use the AARP discount on top of a sale to Europe.

http://www.britishairways.com/en-us/offers/premium-leisure

If you pay with a Visa card and enter promo code "CARDOFFERU" you can save another 10%!  This is supposed to for British Airways Visa cardholders but I have successfully used this with a Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa card.

The fares are close to $3000 from the West Coast but with the 10% off, it's around $2270.  Which is a good (but not great) fare from the West Coast to Europe in business class.

Also in addition, there's currently a 25,000 bonus from American Airlines on flights to Europe through July.

https://www.aa.com/i18nForward.do?p=/promo/us-canada-europe-offer.jsp&initNetSAAver=TRUE

So the way it works is, you can fly on BA but in the frequent flyer number field, you'd put in your American Airlines Aadvantage # to earn miles on American.  And if you register for this promo, you'd earn an additional 25,000 American miles on top of what you'd earn for the flight itself.

So for the flight itself, if you credit it to American, you'd earn around 16,101 miles.  Roundtrip distance is 10,734 miles, and for booking in discount business class you earn 1.5X actual miles so thus 10,734 * 1.5 = 16,101 miles.  Then when you add the 25k miles bonus, you'd earn a total of 41,101 miles.  You can fly roundtrip within the 48 US States for 25,000 miles, so you can also get a free trip within the US plus 16,000 miles left over.

I'm not booking this trip as I have booked up every single remaining vacation day for the rest of the year.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Why I'm an AARP member (no I'm not that old)

I am not yet retired and while it's debatable that I'm old, I'm still on the better (?) side of 40.  So why am I a member of AARP?  (American Association of Retired Persons)

I originally joined last year because on British Airways, you can take $400 off most any business or first class flight, including promo/sale fares.  Last December, there was a cheap fare from NYC-Paris on OpenSkies which was made better by taking another $400 off.  (I think it was around $1300-1400 roundtrip after the discount)  I booked the trip but ended up cancelling it (within 24 hours you can cancel flights on most airlines if booked in the US, some airlines allow holds for 24 hours instead) due to realizing it'd be a bit too much to travel again so soon after coming back from an 8 week trip, which included going to Paris/France.

Here's more details on the $400 off business/first class fares.

http://advantages.aarp.org/en/offer.british-airways.10047.html

http://www.britishairways.com/en-us/offers/partners/aarp-member-benefits

This would definitely make it worth the $16 annual fee to join AARP, even if you book an economy flight where you'd save $65.  Plus you get a magazine and discounts similar to what you might get with AAA.

Which brings me to something I didn't think of earlier.  While looking for a hotel to stay in in Panama, I had booked an overnight stay at a Crowne Plaza next to the airport for a quick overnight turnaround.  I had paid about $108 including taxes/fees for a corporate rate I get through my company (which is lower than even the non-cancellable rate) but I noticed that when I put in the 'senior rate' among the rate options, the rate dropped to $82 including all taxes/fees!  Even without booking a flight, I've already paid for my AARP membership fee.

Here's an example and where you can select the Senior Discount option:


Here you see the cheaper fully refundable Senior rate that's $21 cheaper than even my super duper corporate rate, which is lower than the lowest non-refundable rate.


You may notice that it says proof of eligibility required so if I click on the rate details:

You'll note that I artistically highlighted that you need to be really old (as in older than me) OR show the membership ID of a retired person organization.

Fortunately, AARP doesn't care how old you are, they are happy to take your money so even only semi-old people like me can join.

As such, I wholeheartedly recommend joining AARP mainly to be able to save on BA premium cabin fares but to be able to save at least on IHG hotels.  I have not yet tried this with other hotel chains but I suspect it should also be possible.

1 final note: since the really good flight sales may only last a few hours, you may want to sign up for AARP now before you actually need to book a flight, since by the time you sign up for AARP, the fare may have already disappeared.

------------------------------- switching subjects --------------------------------- (again so artistic)

As an update, I have went full speed ahead with booking my status runs.  I was able to find someone at my company's internal forums selling USAir's Take Flight Certificates for 10% off.  And he was selling 2 certificates worth $850 total.  I told him I'd take both for 20% off so I was able to also take off $170 in booking my status runs.  So far I'm going to Panama City 3 times.  Over each holiday weekend, Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day.  On my Labor Day trip, I'm landing in Panama City and staying for 1 whole hour before going back to Miami on the same plane.  But I do spend 2 nights in Miami so I'm not just on flights the whole weekend.  I will still be about 24000 EQM short of Exec Platinum so I'll likely do 1 more Panama or Central America run + take a short domestic trip to make up the rest.

I get interesting reactions when I tell people what I'm doing.  I wonder if this is one of those things better to not just tell 'regular' (as in sane) folks.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Signs you might be traveling too much

1. You call an airline and the agent says 'wow, you have so many flights coming up!'

2. You're not sure when you'll have time to renew your passport because you'll be traveling internationally every 1-2 months the rest of the year.

I recently found out that as a US Citizen you can have 2 passports.  2 US passports.  Not 1 US and another country's passport.

https://passportinfo.com/second-passport/

These are the conditions for getting a 2nd US passport:

  • You have two upcoming international trips, with visas required for the second trip, or
  • You have Israel stamps in your passport and have travel planned to a country that may deny entry, such as Iran or Syria.

So it seems like I don't qualify since while I have about 6 international trips booked, none of them require a visa and I've never been to Israel.

For me personally, I think I should try to expedite getting one between early July and early September when I have about a 2 month gap between trips.  Actually now that I think about it, my September trip to Panama is actually more of a trip to Miami.  I land in Panama City then one hour later board the same plane back to Miami so I won't even need to go through immigration in Panama.

However, now that I think about it more, I'll need a passport on the US side to even get on the plane I think.  It's late and I'm tired, going to sleep.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Flight Report: Korean Air First Class aboard the 747-8i

Flight Report: Korean Air First Class aboard the 747-8i

Scheduled Departure: Nov 24, 2015 4:10PM KST from ICN (Seoul-Incheon)
Scheduled Arrival: Nov 24, 2015 9:35AM PST in SFO (San Francisco)
Flight duration: 10h 25m (scheduled)
Flight 23
Seat(s): 2A and 2J

This is cross-posted from Flyertalk.  http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/trip-reports/1727312-korean-air-flight-23-new-747-8i-first.html

This was the last flight of an 8 week long vacation around the world where I had 19 flights.  Now I'm too lazy to type out the entire list of flights so I'll just say the F flights of interest vs this flight were the BA F flight from JFK-LHR and the F QR A380 flight from DOH-BKK (after sleeping in the new DOH 1st lounge)

Ground Experience

I learned that if you're flying on Asiana, Korean and Jeju air, you could check-in, drop off bags and go thru immigrations at the Seoul train station before taking the AREX express train to ICN.  I was nervous whether the bags would make it safely or if they'd be able to tag the luggage as priority but they did have a separate F/C check-in counter (but no separate F counter) and they were able to tag the luggage appropriately.  She offered to wrap our luggage which we accepted.  At NRT, they also wrapped our luggage on a NRT-ICN F flight.  At the least, it makes id'ing your bag on the carousel really easy.

In SFO, our bags were indeed #1 and ~#5 on the carousel, and it seemed like the Asian carriers (JL, HX) seemed to actually put out the priority bags first.  Whereas USAir and BA seemed to actually put them out last if at all.  :rolleyes:  (BA lost my bag once)

I had taken the regular (all stops) AREX train on the way in to Seoul and I would try to avoid it even if it's cheaper (we're talking 8000won vs 4x00won, so like ~$3 difference, also the 8000won gets discounted to 6900 if flying on KE, OZ, Jeju too I suppose) as the trains are subway style and you can only check in and drop off your bags if you're on the express train but they didn't check in our case.  Also, sometimes the schedule doesn't align and it may sometimes be faster to take the regular train in, which is what we did.

After getting to the airport and going straight to the nearest security checkpoint, we asked where the crew security lane was and was told it was over there but since the line here is short, it would be faster to just go through here.  Biggest mistake ever!  The agent (a different one later after the x-ray machine) would end up taking out every single little thing out of my backpack and there were lots of things in my backpack.  At least she offered to put them back in which I declined.

After that, we didn't have that much time in the lounge, I had read reviews of the KAL first class lounge so I knew about what to expect so wasn't surprised by anything, the food I thought was ok but agree that it's not really fitting of a first class lounge in the home airport of a major int'l carrier.  I ate the hot items which were ok but not good and had a shower while they made our luggage tags and also used the massage chair (they only have 2) before checking the time and got to the gate as they were just beginning to announce final call.

The lounge agents didn't announce boarding and they didn't tell me they wouldn't be announcing it.  I forgot to ask and it's not a big deal as I don't rely on it anyway but would have been nice to either be told to watch the time on my own or have it be announced.

The shower in the lounge, I just noticed the uneven triangular fold on the TP ;)
Shower room in the Korean Air First Class Lounge in ICN

Luggage tag
Luggage Tag from the First Class Lounge in ICN

On Board

Korean Air's First Class in the 747-8i is on the lower deck (the upper deck is entirely business class) in the very front.

Korean Air 747-8i seating chart (source: Korean Air)



Korean Air 747-8i First Class Cabin (source: https://thedesignair.net/2015/08/28/korean-airs-new-747-8i-offers-new-flagship-seating/)

Seat 2A which would be my home for the next 9h 42m.  I had 4.5 windows to myself, but it's a lot of work to close them all by hand.  ;)  QR and BA had automatic shades.

The cabin is laid out in a 1:1 3 row pattern on the pointy end on the lower deck so the seats in the 1st row are closer to each other and row 3 they are the farthest apart but there is also a protruding table/shelf between the seats on row 3 so it's not like you can do gymnastics like I was expecting to.

Also, the 2 bathrooms aft of 1st class are closed off to C, so the C lav on the lower deck has to be shared between 26 pax.  2 bathrooms (I don't know why they are called lavatories on planes) for 6 people, not bad... ;)  Our flight had 1 other person who looked like a middle-aged Asian businessman who I never really even knew was there aside from seeing him asleep while we were boarding.  So the load was 3 passengers out of 6 seats.  Although I'm sure I could have, I didn't bother to have an empty seat made into a bed and just had my own seat made into a bed when it came time to sleep as I intended to sleep the whole way after eating.  (which I was able to do)

The bathrooms are nothing spectacular, it's a bit bigger than a regular Y bathroom with a fold-down seat for changing.  But it's big enough where it doesn't feel cramped.  I think it's bigger than the BA F bathroom but much smaller than the gigantic QR A380 F bathroom.

My mom and I sat in 2A and 2J and when you're sitting, even with the door open, you can't see anyone else.  Even when you lean forward a lot, you just see the legs of the passenger on the other side.  It was on my bucket list to fly in a seat with a door but now I really don't see much point at least not the way it's on this plane.  You can still see the heads of the FAs as they walk by when you're sitting and you already can't see any of the other passengers anyway.  I do suppose when you're lying down it would maybe block the view of people walking by (but I was out shortly after lying down so I didn't really have a chance to tell).

On the BA and QR flights I think a door would have made more of a difference, but this is a testament to how private the seats are on this Korean plane.

the door closed
The suite doors closed, the lights were out, phone pic with flash

There are no overhead compartments, instead they have a spacious closet at each seat.  Actually I don't know if they have a separate area where they could store your carryons if you have a proper carryon.  The FAs always offered and did put all my clothes on the hangers, both my jacket at first as well as the bags and later after I changed into my pajamas, they hung my clothes on the hangers as well even when I said I can do it myself.

Here's the amenity kit with Davi branded products, pajamas and the Bose headphones

There are also slippers in a nice big bag (not pictured) which make it easy to put back in.

The amenity kit is nice but was missing earplugs and socks.  The pajamas are the best of the 3 between QR, BA and KE.  I got a BA small, a QR S/M (they only have a combined S/M size) and a KE medium.  They all fit well but the QR's felt a bit too slim-fit, and I'm a pretty slim guy, BA's fit well and had pockets in the pants while the other 2 didn't, but KE's had the best material feel and were the most comfortable.

Also, the flight itself wasn't noticeably hot.  I did wake up once where I was too warm but the comforter is pretty thick, so I just kicked off parts of the comforter to make myself cooler and slept without incident except for....

turbulence!  We were told before taking off that we'd have turbulence the whole flight but this was the strongest, most violent flight I've experienced.  Thankfully, I kept going back to sleep after being jolted awake a few times.



No seatbelt on the ottoman.  I asked if I could dine with my mom on the same table but they said the table would be too small to do so.  Later I'd see why this was, not because the table was small but the spread was pretty big with lots of banchan (side dishes.)





Seat Comfort

The seats on this flight were the most comfortable out of the 3 F flights.  With the most comfortable bed.  QR's bed was pretty close and the BA's bed frankly felt a bit angled to me and were the least comfortable but I was able to still sleep on all 3 flights without incident.

The seats between this and the QR flight are about the same in size both while sitting down and lying down while BA's is the least spacious but I don't think that's a surprise to anyone.  The seats themselves can move forward while dining, it didn't seem like the table itself moved.

I also didn't find the color scheme to be a bother, it's just pleasantly neutral where I didn't really notice it even after reading some FT'ers saying it looked like a hospital from the pictures.

IFE

The remote is responsive (I didn't try to see if the monitor itself was touch screen, it would be pointless as it's too far away anyway) and the cameras that look down and forward worked.  (they didn't work on the QR flight)

The movie/tv selection was somewhat limited but they had a good selection of recent hit movies.  There were Korean/Japanese/Chinese options as well.

Menus





Details of the Hansik Jeongchan which I had

There was a page with how the chicken was organically, humanely raised with organic caviar as its diet etc etc



Champagne list (all wasted on me since I don't drink)
  

Meal service



The seared scallop with black mushroom with spicy orange sauce, I think it was ok but I don't like mushrooms
Bread


I requested the caviar service, even though it doesn't come with the Korean Hansik option


 

I have no idea if this is good caviar or not :o

I did enjoy this caviar more than the one I had on the QR flight but I prefer the eggs and onions to be separate like it was on the QR flight.  There was no caviar on the BA flight.


wild sesame soup with stuffed bean curd, pretty good, I'm no food critic so that's about as descriptive as you're going to get.  :D


salad.  They make it by your seat, I asked for everything with the Korean soy-sauce based dressing, she said it's salty so she'd put a little in.  I didn't like the dressing but the salad was fresh.  I had already eaten before I remembered to take this pic.


side dishes (look at menu post above) + braised chicken stew + rice
the side dishes tasted fresh and carefully prepared, I especially liked the walnuts.  The chicken stew was very tender and good, looked like it had egg.








Spicy vegetable soup and spicy braised hairtail added, it was a little bit spicy and true to the 1 pepper rating on the menu.  Both were good and tasted authentically Korean but not sure if they'd agree with a typical Western palate.  If you like Korean food, you'll like it, if not, then maybe not but you should usually get the Asian option on an Asian carrier.  I had the salmon on the prior flight on KE and it was bland while my mom's bibimbap was good.  If you look at the menu carefully, I could have had bibimbap instead of the hairtail on this flight.

Fruit and cheese, fruit was fruit, I didn't like any of the cheeses but I'm not a big cheese guy


sweet potato balls in red bean paste, the balls were good, the red beans were ok but I hate red beans


Green tea (bag), you can see the effects of turbulence in the tea cup.

Breakfast

I was woken by my mom with about 45-50 mins left in the flight and served breakfast after they cleaned up my bed while I changed.


Omelette with bacon, it was fine, not memorable, bacon not crispy


Croissant with jam/olive oil


Fruits

Overall, the dinner service took a while but it felt about the right pace, I think we were 3 hrs into the flight by the time everything was cleared.  Also, they weren't as careful about placing the utensils as I had read in other TRs. My tablecloth was upside down (the plane design was upside down) and my plates were consistently placed a bit to my left and not quite centered.  But these are truly first world problems and nothing that bothered me, just something I noticed.  I think QR and BA were both more careful.

Conclusion

Realized I didn't wrap everything up.  This was the flight I looked forward to the most on my trip and as a grand finale, it certainly did not disappoint.  Even with the violent turbulence, I had a great sleep and after landing at 9AM SFO time, had a good day where I felt drowsy in the afternoon (which normally happens anyway but not to this degree) but managed to stay awake until 9:30PM.  It was certainly the best flight out of the 19 flights.  The hard product is excellent.  The service is very good and attentive but not as polished as QR where the service was the best I've experienced.  The food was very good. Overall, a wonderful end to a wonderful trip.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Man pees on a plane, gets arrested for destruction of aircraft

Per http://www.wdrb.com/story/31820270/ky-man-accused-of-urinating-on-floor-of-american-airlines-flight-to-nc

A man was arrested for urinating on an American Airlines flight from San Francisco to Charlotte.  The article describes him as arching his back before urinating which is an interesting detail.  I guess when you gotta go, you gotta go.  Although not sure if the lavatories (why don't they just call them bathrooms) were full necessarily.

Quick thoughts 4/26/2016

Went down to Orange County for the weekend to spend some time with the family.

Flew Southwest roundtrip.  Mostly leisure flyers on Saturday afternoon and Monday evening flights.  Don't fly WN as often as I used to and today the seat pitch seemed a bit close but got used to it quickly.  On the way down, had the only (or one of the only) empty middle seats, also empty middle seat on the way back home.

Visited The Lounge at SJC for the first time, despite flying out of SJC numerous times.  Went in just as the ANA passengers were leaving, the food spread was cleared out mostly, was able to grab some of the breakfast items still there, things like bacon, eggs.  Good view of the planes from the lounge.  I ordered the miso soup and the tomato soup, which never came.

Crowne Plaza Costa Mesa - fine hotel, again mostly leisure travelers over the weekend, was upgraded to a suite on the 2nd night, an interesting suite set-up with a 2nd adjoining room that is closed off if the room is being used as a regular king room, and opened up with a room with a sofabed (and no bed) + desk, tv and its own bathroom (so 2 full bathrooms) if being used as a suite.  I had booked a cash+points stay so it shows up as an award booking.  Asked for late checkout without specifying a requested time and got a 2PM checkout (vs noon) but left around 12:45PM.  Got 2 drink vouchers at the bar when being upgraded to the suite.  The service from the bartender not very friendly.  All other staff very nice.  Couldn't hear any noise from other rooms, either next door or from above.  Not sure if this is due to good soundproofing or low occupancy.

Visited the United Club at SNA, didn't even take any pictures, very small, domestic lounge in an open space setup on the 2nd floor (you can hear sounds from below in the terminal).

Random thoughts: things to not say outside Flyertalk in real life:
1. "I don't want to fly there in economy." (speaking about going to New Zealand)
2. Currently debating whether I want to spend $200 or 28,800 IHG points (32k pts -10% rebate due to the IHG MasterCard) for Intercontinental Ambassador status.  May do a post on this soon.