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Tim Foolery

Home » 2013 » August (Page 2)

Monthly Archives: August 2013

SPG Gold Status Gift

I recently re-earned @SPG Gold Status. When you hit this elite level Starwood gives you a gift – either 1) 25% of an Award Redemption or 2) Double Starpoints for a month.  Last year I qualified as Gold  a day or two before the end of the year and never got this gift, thus this is the first time I’ve had to make this selection.
My thoughts on these options:
1) I don’t really redeem Starpoints all that regularly. I’ve been building up a bit of a stockpile for some great award stay in the future.  Starwood does give you the 5th consecutive night free (for stays at hotels category 3 or higher) which can be stacked with this reward.  So if I were so inclined to take a week and stay at the same hotel someplace I could get it for only 60% of the required points (5 nights for the price of 4 minus 25%). Maybe I could stay at the Parker Palm Springs for a week, or cash in some miles and points and return to the St. Regis Bangkok or maybe one of the Starwood properties in Paris…or….
2) The idea of double Starpoints is, on the surface, pretty interesting. Unfortunately, I don’t get the choice of what month to select. I just checked and they offer the double points for me in October. I have ONE stay planned in October. What a waste. I was thinking that using double points in August could make sense since I’m (currently) staying 16 consecutive days at the Aloft O’Hare.  I’m getting a pretty good rate here and even doubling the points doesn’t get me all that far.  I’m usually more interested in the double points than the reduced redemption options.
Who out there has recently requalified for SPG Gold? What gift did you choose? What gift would you choose if you had to make this choice and why?

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Up to 50K Miles or 4 Regional Upgrades on United

Last week United sent me an offer for either 50K miles or 4 Regional Upgrades.  I’ve read that others received equivalent offers but most that I’ve heard about are maxing out at only 25K miles.  Why did I get a greater promotional amount? God only knows – but the one thing I do know is that this is the first time in 7-8 years that I don’t have ANY United flights in the queue.  Maybe United thinks I’m cheating on them and are trying to lure me back.

The promotion grants either 10K miles or 1 Regional Premium Upgrade for flying 1 qualifying round trip, 15K miles or 2 Regional Premium Upgrades for 2 qualifying round trips and 50K miles or 4 Regional Premium Upgrades for 4 qualifying round trips.

Seems pretty straight forward. The fine print is where they get you though. For economy tickets (I won’t even talk about First of Business class, because I’ve never purchased Business or First class tickets and I have no intention of starting now) you need to purchase a fare of Y, B, M, E, U or H. These are not the low cost tickets – and while I think this is a great promotion, I doubt I will actually earn anything as I usually buy the cheapest tickets.

The other kicker is that when registering you have to select either the miles or the upgrades and you cannot change.  Since I’ve got a TON of miles, I decided to opt for the Upgrades.

This is a targeted promotion, but I say give it a try and see if you can register (maybe your email got lost, right??) – Register here.

What option are you signing up for – Miles or Upgrades?

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TG 560: BKK-HAN (Royal Silk Class)

We landed about an hour late into BKK from FRA, meaning we had only 20 minutes to deplane, go through security / passport control and make it to our next flight. The BKK ground service got a bit confused and sent me and Mike to the First Class Lounge and said they’d be back to collect us in about 90 minutes. My first thought was our flight to Hanoi was delayed – which excited me since I wanted to have a massage in the first class lounge.  We checked the monitors and found that our flight was in final boarding (which is total BS – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a status of “boarding” just “final boarding”).  In any event, we had to hurry to our gate.

As we made it to the departure gate we ran across our Ground Crew Escort and she was very apologetic. She got confused on who was going where. Very frustrating.  We made it to the gate, which ironically was the gate immediately next to the A380 we flew in on from FRA.

We walk down the jet bridge to find that we are actually boarding a bus and are being schlepped clear across the airport.  Our flight to Hanoi was on a very old A300 which was an amazing change from flying Flagship Service from FRA to BKK on the A380.
We were seated in the first row of Business Class (and the first row of the plane) in seats 11A and 11B.  We were greeted by a much less polished stew crew but were offered champagne to start.  I didn’t have the heart to ask them if they were serving 2003 Dom on this flight.  We did get a tall pour, but it tasted much more like sparkling turpentine than champagne. Such a change.
That’s not a 2003 Dom Perignon…
Mike checking in with our friends in Hanoi.
Check out that old monitor in the center bulkhead!

After two red eye flights (even in Business and First) we were feeling a bit exhausted and the sparkling wine didn’t really aid that feeling.

It seemed like about 4,000 people boarded the flight to Hanoi, but business class was only about 75% full.  The pitch in these seats was pretty bad. I couldn’t stretch my legs out — that’s the problem with bulkhead seating. We just didn’t plan this leg properly.

A breakfast of fruit, beef noodle and a pastry was served and I have to tell you, the beef noodle was GREAT!  I’m not usually a breakfast guy, but since I’d been flying for two days it didn’t really seem breakfast time to me, so the beef noodle was perfect.

Beef noodle breakfast
There was no IFE and all the large screen on the center bulkhead showed was the map – which I’m usually OK with.  At this point, I just wanted to get to Hanoi take a real shower and start the land portion of our trip.
Up to this point, we hadn’t really put any final plans on the land portion of our trip so after breakfast we pulled out our guide books and started making a plan for Hanoi.  We started our initial decent about 25 minutes out of Hanoi and there was a little bit of chop as we came through the clouds.
Coming into Hanoi
Farmland near HAN
Touchdown
Hanoi was very hazy. Once we landed we taxied around the runway quite a bit. It was fun to see all the Vietnam Airline planes. There wasn’t really any other airline there when we landed.
Hazy taxiway
Vietnam Airlines taxing
Hanoi Airport and ramp crew
This flight was the worst of the trip to Hanoi, but that’s to be expected considering the two other flights we took to get here.  The flight itself was perfectly fine. Service was a definitely unpolished but on a quick 90 minute flight to Hanoi I don’t necessarily expect a great experience. If I was flying this route again, I’d totally take Thai versus the competitors (Vietnam Airlines).
Have you flown an old A300 recently?  Did it remind you of flights when you were a child?  Do you feel cheated when you are in business class, but the leg room is so bad you can’t even stretch out your legs?

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TG 941: FRA-BKK (Thai Royal First Class)

Our escort dropped us off at the door to Thai’s A380 and bid us adieu. The two flight attendants greeted us with a bow, hands in prayer position and a soft “Sawasdee Ka” (which in Thai is kind of like Aloha – meaning: Hello, Good Bye, Good Morning, Good Evening, etc).  Our hand luggage was taken by the Stews and we were escorted to our seats.  I was assigned to seat 1A and MS was in seat 1E.

Mike taking photos as we get settled in.
Less than flattering photo of me in 1A
I moved from 1A to 1F so we could chat easier

 

Our new home for our 10 hour flight to BKK
Seat 1A including large screen IFE, duvet and ample storage

As the rest of the plane boards, the Stew asked me if I would like a pre-departure beverage, which of course I asked for champagne. She immediately apologized: “Oh, Mr. Nickerson, I am so sorry. We are only serving a 2003 Dom Perignon while on the ground. Is that Okay?”   Uh, yeah, I think I can slum it with a 2003 Dom…

Pre-departure 2003 Dom…

Another Stew came up and asked if I wanted an “M” or an “L”.  This confused me at first, but I looked more closely at what she was talking about – the Thai First Class Pajamas.  “L” please.

Enjoying my pre-departure beverage
After the beverage service was finished we were handed Thai branded noise cancelling headphones.

Headphones

As mentioned earlier, there was a bit of a snow storm in FRA so we were delayed about 30 minutes waiting to be de-iced. Never have I been so excited for a delay.  Our champagne was collected right as we turned onto the runway for take off. Enjoying the drink until the very last minute was perfect.

We had what seemed like a very long and very slow take off roll. The A380 was super quiet and we slowly ascended.  After about 10 minutes the seat belt sign was turned off and our Stews delivered more Dom, an amuse bouche and the full menus. The amuse was two bite size slices of bread one with cheese and the other topped with beef and veg.  Very tasty.

First serving menu
Anytime meal menu

Our tables were then fully set for the dinner service with multiple wine glasses, salt & pepper shakers, water and butter.

Dinner setting

Our Stew, who said her name was too hard to pronounce, asked us to call her Popcorn (that’s kind of what her name sounds like, she said). Popcorn delivered us each a bread basket with a couple rolls and a cheesy flat bread cracker.

Individual bread basket.

After bread, we were asked if we wanted to start with the caviar service, which was served from a trolley.  I of course agreed and enjoyed all the standard accompaniments including red onion, cheese and lemon.  The plating was done individually, so if you wanted more onion, all you had to do was ask.  Of course I opted to include the ice cold vodka with this course.

 

 

 

MS Caviar service. Popcorn is the Stew not facing the camera
Rillette of Crab / Grilled Prawns / Salmon Roe

Everything up to this point was really great. For the entree, I selected the Grilled Beef Tenderloin and Mike chose the Chicken with Eggplant Green Curry. My beef was flavorful, but very tough and over done – honestly disappointing. Mike’s curry was top notch. I am very jealous I did not choose as he did.

Flavorful yet dry beef.
Chicken and Eggplant Curry
The cheese course followed with a nice selection of fruit and cheese – which of course I paired with a nice port (a very tall pour too).

For dessert I had the pineapple cake, which was a bit dry. I’m not a really big dessert person, unless it is chocolate of course.

 

After meal service (which took about 90 minutes from start to finish), the cabin lights were dimmed and I opted to change in to my Thai pajamas.  When I left the lavatory, Popcorn was standing outside the door with clothes hangers. She took my items, hung them up and placed them in my individual closet at my seat.  When I made it back to my seat, the crew had already converted my seat into a bed.
The PJs were quite comfortable and fit very well.  I ended up using them throughout much of the trip and once winter sets back in in Chicago, I’ll probably bring them out again. They’re holding up quite well so far.
In PJs getting ready to relax and sleep a bit

I wasn’t really sleepy yet, so I decided to watch Argo after dinner.  Interestingly enough, the film finished up right as we were over Iran.  I really enjoyed Argo, it was very well done and if you haven’t seen it yet, go watch it…what are you waiting for?

Air show over India.
About 90 minutes out of Bangkok, breakfast was served. We started off with individual pastry baskets and sliced fruit.  The pineapple was quite amazing and who doesn’t love a big buttery croissant in the morning…
First course of breakfast

For my full breakfast, I decided to have a crepe with a grilled tomato, asparagus and bacon. This was by far the best airline breakfast I’ve ever had.  I actually wanted a second full serving of this plate!

Savory breakfast crepe

 

Tail camera on landing

 

Tail camera after touchdown.
We had only a 1 hour and 25 minute connection time in BKK and with out delay out of FRA it was not a foregone conclusion that we’d actually make our flight to Hanoi.  Popcorn let us know that we’d have ground services waiting for us to escort us through security and passport control.  As we deplaned, we noticed the flight attendants were blocking the business class passengers from exiting. When one protested, Popcorn said “Sir, I am sorry, First Class passengers are still aboard – once they deplane you will be allowed to leave.” Love it.

Our plane post landing in BKK.

I had been looking forward to this flight for nearly a year. I had done a ton of research so I’d know what to expect. This was by far the best flight I have ever been on. The service was top notch, the food (except for my entree selection) was great. The seats and the IFE were near perfect for me. My biggest complaint – other than not wanting the experience to end – was the temperature. It was sweltering when we tried to sleep.  It was so hot that we really couldn’t sleep very much.  I did venture to the back of the plane and it was down right freezing back there.  I do wish there was a way to better regulate the temperature.

Would  I take this flight again? In a heartbeat. The ticket (ORD-FRA-BKK-HAN) cost 70K UAL miles and was worth every one of them.  I absolutely loved every aspect of this flight and I cannot wait to try this flight again. The service here also makes me very excited to try the A380 First Class Service on other carriers too (Lufthansa, Air France, British, Emirates, Qantas, etc).

What is the best flight you’ve ever taken? When going to Southeast Asia, do you choose to go the wrong way around the world just to try a new product or experience fantastic service?

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UAL 959: LHR-ORD (Economy Plus)

The worst day of vacation is when you wake up and realize you are going home in a few hours.  After a late night out in Exmouth Market with some friends we woke up, packed and headed out for some breakfast.  A dreadfully inattentive group of servers at a pub near the hotel had us leaving for Heathrow about 20 minutes later than we originally wanted.  
We decided to take a taxi to Paddington and use the other end of our round trip Heathrow Express ticket. MS was heading to Heathrow to pick up a rental car while I was heading home.  We didn’t properly estimate the traffic mayhem that the London Marathon would cause – and our driver didn’t seem to know any alternative routes.  After 50 minutes of this 20 minute ride, we hopped out of the taxi and took the tube to Paddington.  Honestly, I was concerned that I would miss my flight.  Worst case scenario I stay an extra day in London…but I wanted to go home at that point. An extended travel day would not be ideal.
By the time we made it to Paddington, it was 14h04 and my flight departed at 15h20. Heathrow is not the easiest of airports to navigate either.  Although we had a very tight connection over Thanksgiving and the Heathrow United Ground Crew did a phenomenal job.  The train to Heathrow leaves at 14h11.  I love the Heathrow Express. We were at Heathrow at 14h28 — and my flight began boarding at 14h30.  While I did not run, I was as close as I could get to it without actually running.
After a brief hiccup with my mobile boarding pass and the United check-in crew saying I couldn’t make the flight, I managed to get to security. Heathrow Security seems to be much more inconsistent that what TSA even doles out in the US.  Shoes on or off, depends on the person. Tablets in or out of the bag. Liquids following US rules or no rules. Required to keep passport in hand or required to keep it in your bag. It’s like a crap shoot with these people.
And as always, my United flight left from the gate at the very far end of the terminal – I think if you look hard enough you can see Cardiff from that gate.  I made it to the plane and was actually sitting in my seat at 14h48.  I can’t believe I made it from Paddington Station to be sitting in my seat on board in 37 minutes. I’ve said it before — I love the Heathrow Express.
Carrier: United Airlines (LHR-ORD)
Flight: UAL 959
Seat: 25H
Departure: May 27, 2013 – 15h20 / 15h22
Arrival: May 27, 2013 – 18h30 / 18h02
Travel Time: 9 hours 10 minutes / 8 hours 46 minutes
Flight Miles: 3,953
This blog post is really about the flight home, but honestly, there is nothing to write about regarding the flight itself. It was very uneventful. The service was standard United Economy international service. My seat mate kept to himself.
I did have the vegetarian lentil entree (which was not an offered choice, I had to ask for it) and it was quite good. Not “order in a restaurant good”, but “airline food good”.
We landed a bit early and I headed to Customs and Border Patrol and using Global Entry, which my American Express Platinum card paid for, I was in the arrivals hall right around 18h20 and walking in my front door right around 18h50. All in all a pretty good travel day, even if there were some hiccups along the way, everything worked out pretty smoothly.
My weekend in London was quite enjoyable – and I still think London on a three day weekend is quite doable, assuming you aren’t trying to hit ALL the tourist attractions. Go visit some friends, grab a pint have some afternoon tea (and if the weather cooperates, rent a bike and go for a lovely ride).
Do you take the Heathrow Express in London? How much do you love Heathrow?
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