Tim Foolery

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Monthly Archives: January 2016

Vienna: A Quick Weekend

In November, I had the opportunity to visit Vienna.  My husband was in the Czech Republic for work and we decided to take a couple days for ourselves.  I had never visited Vienna (or Austria for that matter).  My College had a study abroad program for the German language studies in Vienna, so many friends have spoken very highly of the City.  Unfortunately, since I get only 3 weeks of vacation a year, I decided to take just a single day off from work. I left Chicago on Thursday afternoon and returned on Sunday – taking off only Friday.

The only direct flight from Chicago to Vienna was on Austrian Airlines. The fare was quite reasonable, but I found for 70,000 United MileagePlus miles I could fly one way to Vienna, in Austrian Airlines Business Class.  I’ve been wanting to try Austrian Business for a very long time and this seemed like a great opportunity.


Classic Viennese Architecture Beautifully Lit at Night

I then had to find a way to get home.  Booking a one way VIE-ORD was running about $3,400 in coach!  Absolutely unreasonable.  One way in Business was $4,800 – which is utterly nuts.  So I decided to book a round trip from VIE-ORD-VIE, with the return to VIE scheduled for the Wednesday before Labor Day – yes 10 months out.  This airfare – $505 including taxes and fees.  It was in coach, which is perfectly acceptable to me.  I decided to book the round trip – and if we decide to go to Europe again for Labor Day great – I’ve got a ticket, if not, I’m not really out anything.

I’ll provide some details on this trip from planning to execution over the next handful of blog posts, including:

  • OS 66 ORD-VIE (Business Class)
  • Hotel Bristol Vienna (SPG Luxury Collection)
  • Vienna: Sights and Sounds
  • Vienna State Opera (Weiner Staatsoper)
  • UA 906 FRA-ORD (Economy Plus)
  • Vienna: Final Thoughts

Have you been to Vienna?  Where did you stay and what did you do?  How did you get there?

SPG Platinum: Your Benefit. Your Choice

Laet year, Starwood made a change (improvement?) to the Platinum Benefits SPG members enjoy.  If a member logs 25 stays throughout the year, they earn SPG Platinum status. With 50 nights under your belt in a given year, you earn Platinum status and SPG would give you an additional bonus: 10 Suite Night Upgrades.  These upgrades could be redeemed anytime after you booked your room up until a few days before you stayed.  These upgrades were NOT guaranteed and they only clear a couple days before arrival. If you wanted a confirmed suite, you’d need to pay for it (either wish cash or extra points if you were booked on an award stay).

My luck with these upgrade instruments was absolutely abysmal for domestic stays, but phenomenal for foreign travel.  I’ve never once had a Platinum Suite Night Upgrade clear in the US or Canada, but in Europe, we’ve been upgraded to great rooms at the Alfonso XIII in Seville, Prince de Galles in Paris and the Bristol in Vienna.  I’ve been Platinum (with 50+ nights) for a few years now and I usually end the year with 4-6 unused Suite Night Upgrades.  It kills me.

I think many Platinum members were in the same boat. Perhaps SPG was tired of us all complaining about it in person and over social media, so they decided to give us some additional options once we reach 50 nights in a calendar year:

SPG Platinum Choice

I love choices and I really hate when you get pigeonholed into just a single choice that hardly ever works out for you.  So instead of earning 10 Suite Night Upgrades, one could choose:

  • The ability to give SPG Gold Status to a Friend/Family Member
  • Have SPG give $100 to UNICEF
  • A $100 Amazon.com Gift Card
  • TSA Pre-Check (an $85 value)
  • 4 Uber Rides worth $25 each

I like choices.  These choices suck.  Basically SPG is valuing the 50 night bonus at about $100.  Even though I end up wasting most of my upgrades, I still value the two or three nights a year I get upgraded to a fabulous suite at more than $100.  I’m sure you are waiting with bated breath to hear my thoughts on each of these alternate choices, so here they are:

  • Gift SPG Gold to a Friend
    • This isn’t too bad – I’ve gifted Gold or Silver Status in other programs before and you get some great Karma points.  There are other ways to get the status (having the AmEx Platinum Card) or the benefits of the status (booking through certain Travel Agents get you free internet, or breakfast or if you use the SPG AmEx card you get extra points).  Unless I’m trying to gain something from someone, this gift really doesn’t deliver to me.
  • Have SPG make a gift to UNICEF
    • Nothing against UNICEF, but 1) I don’t trust that a donation would actually be made and 2) I want to maximize my value here and I value the other items much more than $100.
  • Receive a $100 Amazon.com Gift Card
    • See above, RE: Value Proposition. It’s a loser.
  • TSA Pre-Check
    • I really think that if you are staying 50 nights a year with SPG you are by definition a frequent traveler and unless you are driving everywhere, you are likely flying a lot.  If you fly a frequently, you already know the value of Pre-Check and already have it.  I got my Pre-Check as an Elite with United many years ago.  Pre-Check is already included with Global Entry (which costs just $100 for a 5 year membership) and several premium credit cards already reimburse you for Pre-Check (and Global Entry).  Back to the value proposition – if I think $100 is a rip off, then an $85 value is a big-rip-off.
  • Four Uber Ride Credits (@$25 each)
    • Most of my Uber Rides are less than $25, so I’d almost automatically be losing out on this game and again, back to the value proposition: maximum value of $100, but likely less.  This is a loser too.

As I crossed the 50 night mark in 2015, I opted to keep the 10 Suite Night Upgrades.  I just hope that my luck abroad continues to hold true.  If I end the year with 10 unused Suite Night Upgrades I’ll be pissed that I didn’t just cash in some free Amazon bucks to buy some digital content to keep me entertained while I’m stuck in my standard room.

If SPG calls me up tomorrow and asks what I think would be a better option, I would not hesitate.  I’d say make these instruments confirmable at time of booking.  Even if that means reducing the number of Nightly Upgrades they give you.  In an ideal world, they’d switch them to STAY Upgrades (valid for multiple night stays) versus the NIGHT Upgrades.  Even if they only gave us 3 or 4 of these (and cap them at 7 nights max for each upgrade), I’d consider this a HUGE win.

What did you (or what would you) choose as your 50-Night Platinum Reward?  If you could add one more item, what would it be?  I’d love to know how many people are choosing the UNICEF donation, wouldn’t you?

Travel: 2015 Year in Review

A year ago, I was commenting how how good 2014 was for travel, but 2015 shaped up to be pretty damn great too.  Let’s review, shall we

By the Numbers: (2015 / 2014 / 2013)

Total Miles Flown:  72,293 | 53,322 | 73,825
Total Segments Flown: 41 | 37 | 44
Cabin Segment Breakdown (F/B/C): 2/5/34 | 0/5/32 | 7/4/33
Total Airlines Flown (new airlines bolded): 5 (United, American, Austrian, Lufthansa, Air Canada) | 4 | 7
Total Hotel Nights: 67 | 56 | 71
Total Hotel Stays: 47 | 32 | 31
Total Airlines Miles Redeemed: 155,000 | 37,500 | 105,000
Total Hotel Points Redeemed: 283,500 | 134,000 / 13,400
Countries Visited (new Countries bolded): 3+2 (Hong Kong-SAR, Italy, UK, Austria, Canada) | 6+1 | 8+1
Longest Single Segment: ORD-HKG @ 7.787| MUC-ORD @ 4,535 | ORD-PVG @ 7,056
Shortest Single Segment: CVG-ORD @ 264| YUL-YQB @ 145
Northernmost Airport: LHR (Heathrow) | ARN (Stockholm) | LHR (Heathrow)
Southernmost Airport: HKG (Hong Kong) | MCO (Orlando) / SGN (Ho Chi Minh City)
The most frequent non-home airport: BNA (Nashville) | YYZ (Toronto) | BNA (Nashville)

I flew enough miles to:
Circumnavigate the world: 2.9 times | 2.0 times
Make it a third | a fifth of the way to the moon

How was your 2015 travel? Did you meet all your travel goals?  How is your 2015 experience impacting your 2016 plans?