Tim Foolery

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Monthly Archives: March 2015

Le Méridien Cyberport

I’m a Starwood guy.  Hong Kong has a few Starwood properties including the W Hong Kong, Sheraton Hong Kong Hotel & Towers and the Le Méridien Cyberport.  I always struggle with the W (anywhere in the world) – I dig them initially, but then get annoyed after a day or two after walking through the Lobby and seeing all the uber-cool people hanging out in the lobby bar/club. I’m no cool kid.  The service is often aloof which can be charming initially, but after a couple of days it wears a bit thin too.  That being said, I figured the W Hong Kong would be a fun place to hang out.  Unfortunately the rate was running about 350USD or 20,000 Starpoints per night.  A bit too rich for my blood.

The next option was the Sheraton – which is just feet from my tailor’s shop.  A couple friends flat out told me not to stay there.  They didn’t add any details to their recommendations, but I trust them.  Cross that off the list.

The final option was the Le Méridien Cyberport, which is on Hong Kong Island, but isn’t on a Metro Line and is quite far from the hustle and bustle of the Hong Kong life.  I did receive some very positive comments from friends about this hotel and they assured me that even though this property is off the beaten path you were still connected to the City.  The rate was about 200USD or 12,000 Starpoints / night.  Sold – for that rate, I’ll bite.

We landed in Hong Kong about 20 minutes earlier than our scheduled arrival time, we made a quick visit to my tailor and a dinner a few blocks from his shop – after which we hopped back into a taxi and headed to the hotel.  From the Sheraton it was a 20 minute taxi ride (with a fare of about 100HKD or ~12USD).  The first taxi ride out here was a little disconcerting — not having any idea where we were going or how much longer we had, made me a little uncomfortable.

We pulled up to the hotel around 22h30 and were greeted by lobby full of hotel employees – all with enormous smiles and very big personalities.  We headed to the reception desk and before I even reached the desk, I was greeted by name.  I assume, based on my check-in time, I was the only person expected that night who hadn’t already checked-in.  In any event, the check-in process was quick and easy:  scanned our passports, mentioned some of the hotel amenities (included Platinum breakfast, workout facilities, free wi-fi, etc).

Our rooms were on the 10th floor.  Our body clocks were all messed up – even though it was bed time in Hong Kong, it was morning in Chicago.  We decided to drop our luggage off in our rooms then head down to the bar for a quick drink.  The bar was pretty empty by the time we showed up and the service was a little spotty – I think everyone was ready to shut down and go home.  We ordered a couple cocktails then around midnight headed back to the room.

The rooms were very large — the property only has two suites – and my suite upgrades didn’t clear, unfortunately.  Luckily we each had a king room which was very sleek and modern.  There was a seating area near the large windows with a couch and a chair which got  a decent amount of use, considering how little time we actually spent in the rooms.

King Guest Room - Le Méridien Cyberport

King Guest Room – Le Méridien Cyberport

Main Guestroom - Le Méridien Cyberport

Main Guestroom – Le Méridien Cyberport

I had an ocean view room, with amazing views of all the shipping traffic coming in and out of Hong Kong.  I’m a big transportation nerd and watching this traffic kept me enthralled while I was in the room…with a glass of wine of course.

Ocean view at Le Méridien Cyberport

Ocean view at Le Méridien Cyberport

Opposite of the bed, there was a large desk and a moderately sized flat screen TV.  The desk area is much less blurry in real life than it is in the picture.  There was plenty of space to work comfortably at this desk — unfortunately I had to get a few hours of work done while on this little vacation.

Desk Space

Work Space

The bathroom was surprisingly large (hell, everything in this hotel was surprisingly large – considering the space constraints elsewhere in Hong Kong).  A separate shower and a very deep tub were the focal points of the bathroom.  The large vanity was topped with a glass counter top, which showed all sorts of finger prints and toothpaste stains once I was done with it – but the housekeeping service did an impeccable job of cleaning up after me.  I did not take a bath — the idea of bathing in a hotel tub creeps me out (even though I did take a bath in Paris in November).  The shower was HOT and the water pressure great — the issue was the drain.  Before you knew it, you were ankle deep in shower run-off.  Not good.  I complained to the front desk both mornings I was there, but nothing came of it.  At least it kept me from wasting water by taking a long shower.  EAD did not have the same issue, so it doesn’t appear to be a systemic issue with the building, just my room.

Bathroom - Le Méridien Cyberport

Bathroom – Le Méridien Cyberport

WC - Le Méridien Cyberport

WC – Le Méridien Cyberport

Large Tub - Le Méridien Cyberport

Large Tub – Le Méridien Cyberport

Bathroom Amenities - Le Méridien Cyberport

Bathroom Amenities – Le Méridien Cyberport

We at breakfast in the hotel each morning and had the buffet.  I love breakfast buffets in Asia.  We had the option of ordering off the menu, but both decided the buffet made the most sense.  While this buffet wasn’t as fantastic as the buffet at the St. Regis Bangkok, it was moderately expansive with traditional Western options (pancakes, bacon, waffles, omelettes) and Asian fare (tons of fruit, porridge, noodle soup).  I had mostly fruit, dumplings and bacon — the pork pate sandwich was pretty tasty too.  If the buffet hadn’t been included as a Platinum amenity, I wouldn’t have eaten here – I’d rather just grab a pastry and some juice while out exploring the City.  It was a nice way to shave off some cost of the trip.

The hotel also offers a shuttle once an hour to the central train station.  The complimentary shuttle takes about 15 minutes.  The first day we missed the shuttle by about 10 minutes, so took a taxi into the central station.  I’d recommend you plan to take the shuttle, it’ll save you a bit of money and the shuttle is more comfortable than the taxis.  You can also get picked up by the shuttle at the station, but we failed to make it to the pickup point in time and ended up taking a taxi home each night.

I really liked this hotel.  The service was good, the rooms were (relatively) huge.  Everything was clean and despite it being 7km from Central Station, I didn’t feel separated from Hong Kong – quite the opposite actually.  It felt nice to be away from the busyness of the City – you could relax a bit more, but were still extremely close to all the action.  I would definitely stay at this property again.

My biggest complaints are that they have only two suites and that my shower drain was very slow.  We are stuck with the former issue, but the latter can easily be  fixed.

Where do you stay when visiting Hong Kong?  Do you think the Le Méridien Cyberport is too far away from the action to be worthwhile?

UAL 895 ORD-HKG (BusinessFirst)

Our flight to Hong Kong left early afternoon, so I was up early to pack and sit in on a couple of conference calls before we left for the airport.  I hate checking a bag, especially for such a short trip and moreso when we have to hit the ground running, so I packed my 21″ roller, leaving plenty of room to bring back my new tux.  We called for an UberX about 10h30 to take us to ORD where we planned on having a Bloody Mary (or two) then we’d stroll over to board the flight.

Late Wednesday morning in January is not a very busy time at ORD – we flew through Pre-Check and headed straight to my favorite United Club in Terminal 1 – near B14.  This is the second newest United Club at ORD and can be quite empty depending on when you are there (the lounge near B4 is always packed when I show up).  We head to the bar and order a couple Bloody Mary’s and talk a bit about what our goals are in Hong Kong — this is a common theme for me – planning the trip while en route to the destination.

United Club Bloodies

United Club Bloodies

Around 12h30 we headed off to the C concourse – arriving at the gate a few minutes before boarding began.  Like my other flights to China and various destinations in Asia, the line formed early, but people began pushing their way to the front.  The line wasn’t moving but other passengers had to get to the head of the queue.  One of my biggest frustrations with China.  We boarded though door 2L and turned left for the mini BusinessFirst cabin. This mini-cabin features 2 rows and 16 seats – while the main BusinessFirst cabin is a right turn from door 2L and contains 3 rows with 24 lay flat BusinessFirst seats.

Flight: United Airlines 895
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200
Seat: 7 A&B
Departure: 13h20 (13h22)
Arrival: 19h20 (19h01)

Shortly after we sat down, the folks across the aisle from us, arrived and started moving all the luggage around in the overhead bins — which frustrated me.  You don’t have to have your bags immediately over your head – and if you MUST, then you should board early.

We were served by a lovely middle aged stew who, even before we were settled in our seat, offered us our choice of beverage – of course, I opted for the sparkling wine.  She called in champagne – not so much, but there was no point in correcting her.  I continued to ask for sparkling wine throughout the flight, and she’d subtly correct me by saying “champagne” when she refilled my glass.  As long as the booze keeps flowing, she can call it whatever she wants.

"Champagne" in a plastic cup en route to Hong Kong.

“Champagne” in a plastic cup en route to Hong Kong.

Our friendly stew begins to pass out the BusinessFirst amenity kits.  I was surprised when I found out they were still using the commemorative tins featuring several United destinations.  I received NRT and EAD picked up DXB.  The amenity kit itself featured the standard components – eye mask, lip balm, hand lotions, socks – all mid-level quality, but a hell of a lot better than you get in coach (which is nothing).

United BusinessFirst Amenity Kit

United BusinessFirst Amenity Kit

We pulled back from the gate and I finished my second class of sparkling wine and our friendly stew picked up our (plastic) glassware.  After a quick taxi to the runway and no queuing, we were airborne. As we pass 10,000 feet, our stew brings us hot nuts and another glass of sparkling wine — this time, in an actual glass.

For lunch, I opted to have the Kung Pao Chicken, which was surprisingly bland and flavorless.  I don’t have high expectations for United food, but this was very disappointing.  EAD had the pork chop. When he asked the stew for guidance on the meal, she was extremely enthusiastic about how “fine” the pork chop was.  She wholeheartedly called it “fine”.  He should have known better, but he ordered it. It looked pretty good, but he needed a power saw to cut the meat.  Eating this pork chop is like eating celery – you burn more calories by eating it (sawing through it) than you gain by consuming it.

Bland Kung Pao Chicken

Bland Kung Pao Chicken

Leathery Pork Chop

Leathery Pork Chop

I decided to continue to gorge myself on mediocre food by having a cheese plate and an ice cream sundae.  I paired these desserts with a couple glasses of port.  There is only one port option on the flight and it is a syrupy sweet port that reminds me a lot of NyQuil — which isn’t all that bad if you have another 13 hours onboard to kill.

Cheese Course and Port

Cheese Course and Port

Lunch was finished by around 15h30 – two hours into the flight.  I then settled in to explore the IFE (In-Flight Entertainment) – which had a decent selection of films and TV shows.  My biggest pet peeve with the TV shows was that they mostly had just a single episode of some shows – I’d a few episodes to keep me entertained before moving off to another program.

I (over) loaded my tablets with TV shows for the flight too — I watched just a few hours of what I brought, then put on my eye mask and turned my seat into a bed.  The seat and bed are pretty comfortable (better than the angled flat seat on Lufthansa, but not as good as First in Thai or Business on Asiana).  My one major complaint about the bed is that it is so narrow. I’m not a big guy (width), but I felt a bit claustrophobic while trying to sleep – it was pretty tough to turn over too.

I slept off and on for a few hours of the flight. About half way through the flight, I was awake and was served a mid-flight snack of Chinese Noodle Soup…which was fantastic.  It looked like (and I called it) Dirty Dishwater Soup – but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I spent another few hours of off and on sleep and TV.  We watched the sunset twice on the flight too.  About 90 minutes from Hong Kong we were served breakfast — which I had a croissant and some cereal with milk.

We landed in Hong Kong about 20 minutes early.  The airport was quite deserted compared to what I was expecting, but that meant we made it through customs and immigration without a single moment delayed by standing in line.  We stopped off in the Arrivals hall to get some cash then hopped in an old red taxi and headed straight into Kowloon to visit our tailor.

It always surprises me how time passes on these super long haul flights.  Granted, being in BusinessFirst is a nice bonus, but I’ve done this same trip to Shanghai in EconomyPlus and it wasn’t all that torturous either.  Sometimes I feel the flight to LA from Chicago is more arduous than a flight to Europe or Asia.  Maybe because the destination excites me more than a domestic trip.  Do you have the same feelings as I do, or are you utterly miserable being on a plane for 16 hours?

Hong Kong Weekend – Trip Introduction

You may not know this, but I’m getting married in May.  It will be a formal affair, so I needed to get a new tuxedo.  I’ve got a Hong Kong tailor who comes to Chicago once a year and I buy a handful of shirts from him each visit.  I was never really happy with the one suit I got from him though – it just didn’t fit right.  I knew I couldn’t do a suit fitting from afar, so I decided that I’d fly to Hong Kong, bring my best man along and get us a couple custom tuxes.  The problem?  From Thanksgiving through mid-February, work is so hectic, I really can’t get away for very long.  There is a sweet spot each January where I can usually escape for 2-3 days.  I’ve used this golden time on the January calendar to visit Shanghai and Stockholm before.

We didn’t have much time, so we decided to leave on Wednesday and return on Sunday.  We are fortunate enough to have a couple direct flights daily between ORD and HKG (UAL and Cathay).  I wasn’t sure if I wanted to cash in American miles for Business or First on Cathay, or United Miles – then my best man (EAD) mentioned that he had four Global Premier Upgrades (GPU) expiring at the end of February.  I did a quick check and found that our upgrade would clear immediately on the outbound, but we’d be wait listed for the return. I decided let’s go ahead and book a cash trip on United and apply these GPUs to move us from economy to BusinessFirst.  I figured that about 17K EQMs would be a nice way to start off the year too.

I did forget a key issue with applying GPUs — they aren’t valid on all fare types.  So the $890/person round trip in economy wouldn’t allow me to upgrade.  The cheapest upgradable fares were $1,500 each.  A total of 32 hours in the air for an additional $610/person (or $20 additional per person per hour — SOLD).   I booked the tickets and our GPU cleared immediately into BusinessFirst.  We were able to snag two seats together (United’s 777’s BusinessFirst cabin is in a 2-4-2 seating configuration) on the two seat side of the plane – unfortunately, our seats were backward facing.  This doesn’t bother me at all and while in the air, I don’t even notice that I’m flying backwards.  EAD has a mild motion sickness issue, so we were a bit concerned that this might be a rough flight for him.

Our trip was 16.5 hours to Hong Kong, 63 hours on the ground and then 15.5 hours back to Chicago.  We had to be efficient, that’s for sure.    Over the coming couple of weeks you’ll be able to read about the following aspects of our trip:

Have you been to Hong Kong?

Quick Tip – Booking Awards on United.com

As you know, each year we take a trip for Thanksgiving – not a family trip, but just an “us” trip.  We’ve gone to Ireland, Mexico City and most recently France/Switzerland.  Usually we’ll wait until summer to book — or if we hear of a great fare sale.  This year we are trying something a little different  – we aren’t going abroad, we’ve decided to stay in the US – again, skipping the family events though.

Once of the reasons we love traveling abroad over the Thanksgiving holiday is that flights in the US are outrageously expensive, while trips to Europe (and even Mexico) are cheaper than usual and often just a few bucks more than domestic flights.  For example, we toyed with the idea of going to San Diego last Thanksgiving.  The airfare was going to be nearly $850 — while our flight to Paris for the same days were basically the exact same price.  I love San Diego, but I love Paris much more.

Since we are traveling in the US over a hugely busy travel weekend, we decided we’d start looking now.  We’ll be spending time in Colorado and needed to fly into a smaller airport away from Denver (we didn’t want to have several hours of driving after our flight to Denver).  We did a quick spot check on the fares — which were running about $700 for less than ideal times and $950 for our preferred times.  I can’t pay that much for a domestic flight – something in my DNA won’t allow for that.

We flipped the switch on United.com to search for award space. Our outbound flight was coming in at 12,500 miles while the return was coming in at 50,000 – a total of 62,500 in economy.  I’d rather not spend that many miles for domestic flight either.  We decided we’d just hold off and see if the cost comes down.  Then it clicked.  MS wasn’t actually logged into United.com – he was searching as a guest.

Screenshot from UAL.com -  "MileagePlus Premier members may receive better search results by signing in."

Screenshot from UAL.com – “MileagePlus Premier members may receive better search results by signing in.”

United.com even offers a warning that Premier members may receive better search results by signing in.  A little “benefit” for being an Elite Flyer that I almost forgot about.  We signed in and managed to find the exact flight we wanted for only 25,000 miles each – coupling that with our outbound for 12,500 our trip would cost 37,500 miles per person versus the 62,500.  That savings of 25,000 miles means that I can take another cheap domestic flight in the future.

My advice – always make sure you are logged into United.com when you start your search for award seats – you’ll need to log in to use your miles, so save yourself some heartache during your search.

In Flight Conversations Part Two

As I’ve noted before, I’ve been flying to Nashville several time this year and these flight are served by a United Regional Jet — tight quarters and prone to delays.  Last time I mentioned a bit of a discussion I had with a woman who wanted my seat and how we then ended up sitting next to each other for the whole flight back to Chicago. Well, I had another equivalent experience on Friday the 27th of February.

Our flight was delayed about an hour – which was great for me because I ended up leaving the office about 45 minutes late and if the flight hadn’t been delayed, I would have missed it.  I board the plane and I see a man kneeling in seat 9A and his carry-on bag sitting in my seat, 9B.  Our conversation goes like this:

Me: Hello. I’m in 9B
Would you mind changing seats (I thought he wanted to sit with a friend of his).
With whom? Where is the new seat?
Here – my seat. 9A (window).
Oh. No, I’m sorry, I prefer the aisle seat. I get up a few times on each flight and it gets really annoying for my neighbor if I have to ask them to move.
As a fellow gold flyer, I’ll ask you again.
I don’t know if you are a drinker, but if you are, I’ll buy your booze on this flight?
I do like a drink, but I’d really prefer my original seat.
I’m sorry, I’d really prefer to keep with my originally assigned seat.
9C (9A’s travel companion):
Don’t worry about it. At this rate, there is no way we are making our connection. We’ll be staying the night in Chicago.
You are wanting to change seats because you have a tight connection in ORD?
Yes. Does that matter?
Absolutely! I thought you just didn’t want a window seat – I hate the window myself, but if it can help you to make your connection, I’ll swap.
I don’t follow the logic, but thank you…

Am I off base here?  I don’t want the window and I’ll do almost anything to avoid it. It is just too tight on these little RJs, I like the false feeling of freedom an aisle seat offers.  If this guy would have started off by saying he had a tight connection and asking to swap seats, I’d have agreed immediately.  We’ve all had tight connections and being able to spring to the door and save those few seconds can make the difference between going home to see family or staying another night in a hotel.

Am I nuts (the answer is yes, but I mean specifically in this instance)?  Do you give up your seats if asked? Do you need a good reason to swap or do you agree instantly?  What are valid excuses for you? To sit with friend? Tight Connections? Other?