Tim Foolery

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Monthly Archives: February 2014

Quebec City – Help Me Travel

I’m heading off to Quebec City soon and I need your help.  We’ve booked our room – we’re staying at the Chateau Frontenac, which I’m super stoked about.  We booked through Hotels.com which had the lowest rate out there (lower than other Online Travel Agents and lower than the hotels website – even for the fully prepaid rate).  We don’t stay at Fairmonts often (ever??) so we aren’t concerned about hotel loyalty points for this stay.

Photo Courtesy of BonjourQuebec.com

Chateau Frontenac

I need your help with activities, restaurants and shopping.  I’d like to spend most meals eating traditional French / Quebecois.  I’ve got a couple restaurants I’m looking at – do you have any experience at any of these:

  • Panache
  • Le Saint-Amour
  • Restaurant La Cremaillere
  • Le Hobbit
  • Bati Bassak (Cambodian)
  • Le Hobbit

I’ll be bumming around the City by myself during the day – as this is a ski trip and I don’t ski – so I’m also looking for great little lunch places.  Also I’m looking forward to using my French in a practical  format – not just in class.

If you had 2 full days in QC, what would you do?

Annual Starwood Category Change

Each year @SPG adjusts what Category certain hotels are. This really only impacts redemption of points for stays and doesn’t alter the quality or service at the hotel (although one may lead to another and vice versa, but on the surface this is a points issue).  This isn’t a devaluation per se either. Some properties are increasing a category (from 2 to 3, for example) while others are dropping.

About 20% of the SPG portfolio are changing categories effective March 4.  Just a couple weeks ago I booked several hotel nights in Spain and I wanted to see if those hotels were changing….and as luck would have it, they are not.

If you have an award stay booked and your hotel is increasing in category, don’t fret, your rate is currently locked in. That being said, if your hotel has dropped, I suggest you rebook at the new lower rate. Why not save a few points?

I also booked a room at the Nines in Portland over the summer today because this hotel is going up a category.  If my plans change I can always cancel – no harm.

You can see all the hotels that are changing here.

I think it is great we get this notification and can plan accordingly. What are your plans? You going to make some speculative bookings before the new rates kick in?

TG 656: BKK-ICN (Royal Silk Class)

After our less than stellar departure from the St. Regis Bangkok, we headed to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport.  I wanted to spend a bit of time in the lounge, try the food, do some shopping and spend a few minutes exploring the airport.  We took a cab and ended up arriving at the airport around 20h15.  The business class check-in area was nearly empty and we were quickly checked in for not only the flight that evening but our connection in Seoul as well. We were presented passes to the business class lounge as well – although the pass wasn’t needed since we were flying business (our boarding pass would let us in) and we have Star Alliance Gold Status with United (and I have it on Turkish too).

We were presented with a completely empty Security and Immigration area – so from the time we exited the cab until we were air side was approximately 10  minutes.  Pretty great.  We decided to lounge-hop, trying out the various business class lounges in the terminal.  The food was pretty dismal at each outpost though. I guess only the First Class Lounge, which we didn’t get a chance to experience, had the top notch cuisine.  We did manage to get a complimentary foot massage in one of the business class lounges though.  I think I had more massages (full body or foot) in this two week trip than I had over the past 5 years.

The plane that would take us to Incheon was parked at a remote gate – so we loaded into a bus and headed to an outstation.  There were two sets of stairs leading to the plane, one at 1L and one at 2L — Business Class boarded though 1L.

Carrier: Thai International Airways (BKK-ICN)
Flight: TG 656
Seat: 12B
Departure: March 30, 2013 – 23h30 / 23h31
Arrival: March 31, 2013 – 06h55 / 06h45
Travel Time: 5 hour 25 minutes / 5 hours and 14 minutes
Flight Miles: 2,283

MS prepped and ready for our flight to ICN

MS prepped and ready for our flight to ICN

We were one of the first people aboard the plane and were greeted by a stew who offered us each an amenity kit and a pre-departure beverage (yes, we opted for champagne, it was better than what we got on the way to Hanoi, but not as good as the 2003 Dom — even though the 2003  isn’t all that great of a vintage).  The seats on board were the old style angle flat seats, which were better than we’d flown here, here, here, here or here, but not nearly as good as here.

We didn’t even opt to have the meal on the plane since we left close to midnight and were hoping to get some shut eye.  The business class cabin was about half full.  Once we told the stew that we were going to skip out on the late night meal, she made sure we had a full glass of mediocre champagne for the first hour, but then was gone (which is when we decided to sleep).

I woke up slightly before 05h00 and decided to watch some TV shows on the IFE before breakfast.  As soon as the stew saw that I was awake, she was over very quickly asking if I needed anything and delivered a bag of cookies…although I didn’t see these anywhere else in the cabin, nor did I see any other passengers with them — maybe they were just from her purse, in any event they were tasty as I was getting hungry.

About an hour before landing, breakfast was served. I decided to have the fruit plate, which was again mediocre at best.  The worst part — no more champagne (even if it was run of the mill).

When booking this flight, I was surprised that Thai had two flights from BKK-ICN leaving within 30 minutes of each other, plus one Asiana flight leaving at the same time. Three Star Alliance flights within 30 minutes of each other seemed out of the ordinary to me — obviously there is quite the demand, eh?

This flight was perfectly acceptable. The flight itself was pretty empty (at least in Business) and the service was relatively attentive (but left us alone when  we wanted to be left alone).  The champagne was disappointing (but a near midnight departure shouldn’t have passengers up all night boozin’).  I would have preferred fully flat seats — I was spoiled on Thai’s A380.  I really find the angle seats to be tough to sleep comfortably on as well.  All in all, this was a perfectly acceptable flight.  I’d take it again if the timing and availability worked out.

Have you flown this or the other midnight flight from BKK-ICN on Thai?  What about the Asiana flight or the Korean Air flight on this route?  How do you handle the running out of Champagne on a flight???

My Bluebird Spend Strategy

I love Bluebird by American Express. It easily allows you to rack up points/miles at a minimum cost.  With the electronic bill pay feature you can pay your mortgage or a student loan and earn travel points (if you load your Bluebird via credit card).

Which card I use to fill up my Bluebird is based solely on what current promotions are available during a given month.  Last year my US Airways card offered double miles at pharmacies (I buy my Vanilla Reloads at CVS) sometime over the summer (maxing out with $5,000 spend). This was a no-brainer for me.  If a lucrative special promotion is at play, that’s my second choice.  What is my first choice for Reload spend?  Meeting Credit Card minimum spend.

When you sign up for a new credit card you often get a sign up bonus if you meet a certain spend threshold in a finite period (usually a couple months). I always focus on meeting minimum spend before anything else.  I don’t play the credit card churning game (signing up for credit cards every few months just for the lucrative sign up bonuses then cancelling before the next annual fee comes do) like many of my other points/miles enthusiasts do.

I did however just get the CitiAdvantage World Elite card which offers 100k American AAdvantage Miles after $10k in spend in 3 months.  Utilizing Reloads and Bluebird, I can easily meet this requirement.

What do I do if I don’t have any minimum spend requirements or special bonus opportunities? I usually will just use a card that provides a nice return on a flexible point currency – either Chase Ultimate Rewards or Starwood Preferred Guests Points. Both of these points can be transferred to various other programs (Chase can transfer to United, Hyatt, Marriott or others and SPG can be transferred to a multitude of airlines too – or used to stay at their hotels).

More often than not I find myself using my SPG AmEx to reload my Bluebird.

So, my strategy for Q1/2014 is as follows:

January – SPG AmEx (no promotions, nothing else pressing, just a standard point filling month)
February & March – New CitiAAdvantage World Elite card (to meet minimum spend and bank 100k bonus miles-plus the 10k miles earned from the actual spend)

What will Q2/2014 bring? If nothing new pops up, I will revert back to my SPG AmEx.

Do you use Bluebird? Do you plan out your spend in advance or do you just go with it?

Bangkok: Sights

We worked with the concierge from the St. Regis while we were in Cambodia to plan a half day tour of Bangkok. I wanted to see the important sites of the City, but I also wanted to have some down time – some time to get a massage, sit by the pool or just sit and relax. The concierge team at the St. Regis was really great – we told them of our interest in history, architecture and food and they coordinated a tour with a private guide to try to combine all of these interests into a half day tour for us.  I don’t believe they put anything special together for us, I think they just coordinated a pre-planned half day trip with an outside tour group.  In any event, it worked out well for us.  The tour cost 4,500 THB per person and included transportation, bottles of water (as needed — and it was hot, so we needed a bunch), an English speaking tour guide and admission to all sites we were to visit.  This fee did not include gratuity or meals and alcoholic beverages (lunch).

Our tour guide picked us up in the lobby of our hotel at 08h30.  He was a bit confused on where to actually meet us – in the lobby or on the first floor main entrance.  We finally found our guide. He was a 6’5″+ man named Opal — but with his thick accent it sounded like this name was Opal — heavy accent on the O…when he pronounced it sounded like he was saying O’Paul (Irish).  He was very friendly but very robotic too.  He led us through the crowds very efficiently (read as he was good at pushing his and our way to the front of the venues and ensuring that we had the proper vantage point to take any photos we wanted).

The Golden Buddha Temple

Golden Buddha Temple

Golden Buddha Temple

The Golden Buddha himself

The Golden Buddha himself

Flower Market

Flower Market

Flower Market

Temple of the Reclining Buddha

Temple of the Reclining Buddha

Grand Palace and Temple of the Reclining Buddha

Us outside the Temple of the Reclining Buddha

Us outside the Grand Palace and the  Temple of the Reclining Buddha

It is almost impossible to get a good photo of the Reclining Buddha – the building is just big enough for the Buddha and there are just so many people around it makes it nearly impossible.  The Reclining Buddha is quiet amazing though.

The Reclining Buddha

The Reclining Buddha

After a morning of site seeing we went to a pretty crappy place for lunch. It looked like every tour guide who was taking Westerners out for private tours ended up here.  We specifically asked if we could go to a place that locals frequent and this is what they gave us.  I would not ever recommend visiting this place.

We ate at this bad cruise ship style restaurant on our tour. Disappointing.

We ate at this bad cruise ship style restaurant on our tour. Disappointing.

After a mediocre lunch our final item on our tour was to take a long boat ride on the Chao Phraya.  This wasn’t all that great of an experience.  Basically, we hopped in a narrow long boat that is diesel powered (smelly and pretty loud).  The river itself has quite a bit of traffic and was pretty rough when we were there.  Unlike a traditional river cruise or tour, there was no commentary while on the boat. Basically it was an alternate mode of transport for us.  The worst part — once we got to our destination we had to wait about 45 minutes for our original bus to come and get us since the driver and the guide had a major miscommunication and the drier had no idea where he was supposed to pick us up.  We ended up sitting in a hotel bar and having a cocktail while the driver made his way to us.  We left some gear in the tour bus – otherwise we’d have just cabbed it back to our hotel.

All in all, the I was pleased with the tour – it was far from perfect, but it met most of our goals for a quick half day tour of the City.  I must say, I don’t think I’d either recommend or not recommend this group. It was perfectly fine – no more no less.