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A couple weeks ago I posted my 2016 Travel Year In Review and I’ve done so for the past several years (2015, 2014, 2013, 2011 – yeah, I don’t know what happened with 2012). I thought I’d share with you my most popular blog posts from 2016. Let’s look at that metric two ways 1) The most popular post that was issued in 2016 and 2) The most popular post from any period in 2016.
Interestingly enough, both of these posts are reviews of premium cabin airline travel. First, let’s take a look at the most popular post I wrote and released in 2016. This post comes from February 2016 and goes into the details of my flight in Business on Austrian Airlines from Chicago to Vienna (OS66). Such a great flight and a perfect way to kick off a long weekend in Vienna.
The most popular post of all time (and the most popular post viewed in 2016) is another airline review. This time it is on Asiana’s unfortunately named Business Class called Quadra Smartium from Seoul to Chicago (OZ236). I had two disappointments on this flight – they weren’t serving bibimbap (breakfast service only) and the outlandish fact that they ran out of champagne midway through the flight).
I’m not sure why these two posts are the most popular – I figured my flight from Frankfurt to Bangkok (TK 941) in First Class would have been the number one post. They were some of my favorite flights I’ve taken and perhaps they are more approachable – business class seats cost fewer dollars and fewer miles than first – plus usually there is more availability for award seats in business class than in first.
Last night we closed out 2016 and as is a tradition for me, I like to provide a Travel Year In Review. I’m not sure if you’ve all noticed this yourself, but the disparity between paying for a coach seat and paying for a business or first class seat (at least domestically) has shrunk pretty dramatically. I found myself actually purchasing domestic first outright a couple times – often the difference between a coach seat and United’s domestic first has been just $100-$150 round trip (and that’s between ORD and LAX/PDX/SFO). You get double the Premier Qualifying Miles and a bit more on the your Premier Qualifying Dollars too. Thanks to these pricing changes, I was able to cross a new threshold with United this year – I’m now Premier Platinum (more on that to come). Here’s how my year ended up – with the previous 3 years included as a comparison.
By the Numbers: (2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013)
Total Miles Flown: 68,278 | 72,293 | 53,322 | 73,825
Total Segments Flown: 45 | 41 | 37 | 44
Cabin Segment Breakdown (F/B/C): 8/5/32 | 2/5/34 | 0/5/32 | 7/4/33
Total Airlines Flown (new airlines bolded): 5 (United, LATAM, Avianca, Air France, Air Canada) | 5 | 4 | 7
Total Hotel Nights: 69 | 67 | 56 | 71
Total Hotel Stays: 35 | 47 | 32 | 31
Total Airlines Miles Redeemed: 0 | 155,000 | 37,500 | 105,000
Total Hotel Points Redeemed: 106,000 | 283,500 | 134,000 | 13,400
Countries Visited (new Countries bolded): 2+2 (Peru, Bolivia, Canada, France) 3+2 | 6+1 | 8+1
Longest Single Segment: ORD-CDG @ 4,153 | ORD-HKG @ 7,787 | MUC-ORD @ 4,535 | ORD-PVG @ 7,056
Shortest Single Segment: CUZ-AQP @ 195 | CVG-ORD @ 264| YUL-YQB @ 145
Northernmost Airport: CDG (Paris) | LHR (Heathrow) | ARN (Stockholm) | LHR (Heathrow)
Southernmost Airport: LPB (La Paz) | HKG (Hong Kong) | MCO (Orlando) | SGN (Ho Chi Minh City)
The most frequent non-home airport: Tie between EWR & LAX (Newark and Los Angeles) | BNA (Nashville) | YYZ (Toronto) | BNA (Nashville)
I flew enough miles to:
Circumnavigate the world: 2.3 times | 2.9 times | 2.0 times
Make it a quarter | a third | a fifth of the way to the moon
How did your 2016 Year in Travel turn out? Did you keep your status – upgrade your status? Were you able to check off one – or more – of your travel bucket list items this year? What is in store for 2017? Do you plan on taking that one big trip you’ve been talking about, or are going to take many smaller trips to visit friends and family? If you want my advice, it doesn’t matter where you go, just go. Enjoy the journey. Experience the destination. Share a drink, a meal and a laugh.
Growing up, each year, we would always take a vacation and that vacation always included air travel. Those trips also always meant we were going to see my mom’s family in West Virginia. We would often spend a week with my grandparents then hit the road with my mom’s younger sister. Our road trips usually had us visiting some historic site, en route to an outlet mall. I said we vacationed and flew annually, I didn’t say it was glamorous.
We would make our way to historic Williamsburg, VA and stop at the outlet malls halfway from Richmond. We would visit the Amish near Lancaster, PA and stop off at the mall near Reading. We would stay in normal motels, nothing fancy. Rarely was it a hotel proper, more often it was a roadside motel, but it was always clean, safe and with A/C.
Our meals on this trip were always exciting for me. Growing up in rural Oregon in the late 1980s and early 1990s, we didn’t have the haute cuisine you can find underfoot now. Hell, we didn’t even have many nationally recognized chain restaurants. Fast food we had a plenty, but casual eat in places were at least 45 minutes away. On these road trips I was happy, no…I honestly looked forward to eating at Cracker Barrel, Olive Garden, Bob Evans and if my cousin and I were good and kept the fighting limited, we would hit Red Lobster once on the trip. I loved their biscuits.
This type of travel was what I grew up with. It was also more than many of my school friends did. Most of their families were close by. Some couldn’t afford the luxury of air travel. I was fortunate in that regard.
A few times we took an overnight trip to the Oregon Coast, where my mom, dad and I would share a motel room. We would eat at local seafood restaurants, we would browse the shops and yes, we would even visit the Lincoln City outlet mall.
We never took a grand vacation to Disney or Hawaii like some of my friends did. We didn’t have a lot of money. My dad worked as many shifts as he could at the various mills just to try to get ahead. His only real travel experiences, other than the West Virginia excursions included a train trip to Kansas City in High School and to Vietnam. The latter was not his choice.
He said that he always wanted to visit Auatralia. He said once he retires hes going to take two weeks and visit Sydney. He never explained why. Perhaps he knew a girl from there and he wanted to see if it was as lovely as she claimed. Perhaps he thought since it was on the other side of the planet it would be totally different (but the common language would make it easier to get around). Perhaps it was because it seemed like an unattainable goal and he always wanted to work toward something. We will never know why he yearned for Australia. He died before he could fully explain and more importantly he died before his trip ever happened.
Australia was his once in a lifetime trip. “Just wait, once we save a little more and I retire, we will see Australia” he would say regularly. It was sad to hear, especially towards the end. He hung onto that goal forever.
After he got sick, I tried to find a way to make that trip work, but he didn’t want to miss his chemotherapy, maybe this next round would do the trick. He felt awful a lot of the time and I think we can all agree that nothing is worse than being really sick away from home.
It is because of my dad and his unacheived goal, his once in a lifetime trip, that I choose to travel. I found that you can have these once in a lifetime trips more frequently. You don’t need a ton of money, you need planning and the nerve. You’ve heard the phrase “On one’s deathbed, no one ever wishes they spent more time in the office.”
I have been fortunate to take several “once in a lifetime” trips. We’ve done Southern Africa, Southeast Asia, countless trips in both the US and Europe. We’ve always got something in the hopper. If we don’t have flights for our next adventure booked when we are returning from our current trip I am angst filled.
Our next “once in a lifetime” trip is to Peru and Bolivia. Two weeks away from work, seeing the amazing sights of Machu Piccu, eating too much world class food in Lima and cycling the North Yungas Road (a/k/a Death Road) outside of La Paz.
You never know when your time will be up. Take every opportunity you can to live your dreams – be they travel related, food / cooking, cocktail / wine, writing, running or learning. Whatever your goal just do it. Talk about it. Get excited, get others excited. Ask for help on how to achieve whatever it is you are striving for.
My first flight ever from the International Terminal at O’Hare left from the farthest possible gate. Once I finally arrived at the gate, I was surprised at how many contract workers were milling about with portable luggage scales, weighing peoples hand luggage and requiring them to check their bag. Mine was definitely overweight, but a quick flash of my business class boarding pass was enough to frighten them away.
At 15h35 we boarded – it was the model of efficiency too. After announcing pre-boarding for families or people needing additional time (which no one took them up on), Business Class was announced and every single person in the gate area hurried to board. I had to push my way through the crowd – the contract workers weren’t letting economy passengers on, but they weren’t moving them away from the boarding door either.
Flight: Austrian Airlines 66 (Business)
Aircraft: Boeing 767-300
Departure: 16h20 (16h35)
Arrival: 08h35 (08h25)
I stowed by bag in the overhead bin directly above my seat. The bin was already full of extra pillows and blankets, but I still just shoved my bag in there. I took out my tablet, my Bose headphones and my charger and stowed my laptop bag as well. I had no intention of working on this flight – I wanted to enjoy the seat, the food and the entertainment.
We boarded through door 1L, which meant the entire plane had to walk past me. Which also meant that the stew couldn’t make his way back to me with the drink tray for quite a while. I had probably been in my seat for about 25 minutes before the drinks arrived. The tray had orange juice, water and sparkling wine. I grabbed an orange juice and a sparkling wine. Imagine my surprise when the sparkling wine turned out to be apple juice. Now, I don’t mind apple juice, but I do mind when I think it is wine. Let’s just say I was shocked. Unfortunately, they weren’t serving any booze on the ground at ORD. If you open a bottle on the ground you have to pay taxes on that bottle, so I had to wait until we were airborne before I could cocktail.
As I perused the menu, which was waiting for me at the seat, as was the amenity kit, I struggled with my selection. Too many things looked good. I reached out on Facebook for guidance – and to rub it in that this was how I was spending my evening, while they were all hanging out at home.
Austrian Airlines employs an actual chef on board as well. When there was a bit of a lull in the boarding of coach passengers he made his way through the cabin asking about our dining preferences. I was really keen on the steak. He said the steak was an amazing cut of meat and so full of flavor. He also said that if I enjoy my steak anything less done that medium well, I should steer clear. He tried to explain why he had to cook it to that temperature, but something was lost in translation. In any event, I was happy he provided that guidance. I would have been very disappointed he hadn’t.
I made my decision and the chef shook my hand and said I would not be disappointed.
The door closed at 16h25 and we pulled away from the gate 10 minutes later. My juice glasses were collected as we taxied to the runway. We were second in line for takeoff and were int he air by 16h45. We had a bit of turbulence and were kept in our seats, as were the flight attendants, for the first 30 minutes of the flight. As soon as it was clear, the flight attendant serving my aisle immediately brought me a glass of French sparkling wine. It was a nice touch since he hadn’t taken orders from anyone else yet – I think he was trying to make up for the shock I endured when drinking the apple juice. Very nice.
Warm nuts and a bread basket were delivered when everyone else was getting their drinks. I opted for a pretzel roll. For my main appetizer I selected the smoke salmon carpaccio, mostly because of the prawn and mango ceviche. I’m not a big fan of salmon in general, but I figured I should push myself. It as about 30 minutes between the time the nuts were served and the salmon was delivered. I decided to have the soup as well as the salmon and it was really good. It had a great fall flavor with the squash and pumpkin seeds.
I was looking forward to the food, the drink, the IFE (in flight entertainment) but also the sleep. A fully flat bed is a fantastic way to visit Europe, but with a late afternoon departure, I’m really in no mood to sleep. By the time I’m getting ready for bed (whilst on land), is the time we’d be getting breakfast served before landing. I was hoping the dinner service would be quick, but not rushed. I wanted to curl up into bed and rest/relax while watching some movies.
Appetizers were cleared pretty quickly and dinner was served just 15 minutes after the appetizers were placed in front of me. I decided to have the pasta for my entree. The chef had steered me away from the steak and I was really torn between the fish and the pasta. It was the eggplant and the cherry tomatoes that pushed me over to the pasta.
The pasta was perfectly prepared – it didn’t have those hard crunchy edged nor was it so over cooked it just fell apart, two common issues with airplane pasta. I do wish there was just a little more sauce – I am a tomato whore, I just can’t get enough of them.
The dinner was quick as well – I had finished the course and it was cleared at 18h20, just 10 minutes after it was served. I didn’t feel rushed at all, it was just the natural course of the meal. I took notes on the timing only for this post and as I look back it seems rushed on paper, but not at all in person.
We had a long break between the dinner plates being removed and the cheese and fruit course being delivered. The cheese was delivered via cart and I could pick out various cheeses and fruits. The other courses were plaeted in the galley and brought out individually. I opted to skip the cheese as I was getting pretty full, but I still wanted the fruit and the dessert, despite the fact that I’m not a big dessert guy. I had the crumbled almond cherry cake with vanilla sauce, which was wonderful. The portion size was perfect any larger I think it would have been just too much – the law of diminishing returns, you know.
With dessert I asked the flight attendant for a recommendation on wine – throughout the flight I had been nursing both a sparkling wine and a light red from France. I don’t remember, nor did I make not of it. In any event, it was tasty. For dessert I had a nice dessert wine from a region just outside of Vienna. It paired really nicely with the dessert, but it wasn’t something I would want to continue to drink all night. Sweeter wines only go so far for me.
At 19h00 the final plate from the dinner service was cleared and I turned my seat into a bed and finished watching the remake of Vacation, which I had been watching throughout the dinner service. After that I continued to enjoy the sparkling wine and rest while watching various TV shows. I enjoy watching reruns of Big Bang Theory while on flights – since I’ve already seen most of these episodes, I find that I can doze while watching the shows and wake up and not feel that I’ve really missed anything.
Unlike our flight in Thai First, the temperature in the cabin was reasonable and I could sleep pretty comfortably, even though it wasn’t even near bedtime. That flight on Thai was like a sauna.
When I spoke with the chef while still on the ground in Chicago, he had taken my breakfast order and had asked what time I wanted to be woken up for breakfast. I opted for the last possible second, so if I were sleeping, I could get a bit more rest.
Breakfast was served at 00h20 (CST), just over 5 hours from when the dinner plates were cleared. For breakfast I chose some orange juice and some more sparkling wine to start. I grabbed a croissant from the bread basket, which was very tough and cold and disappointing. For my hot breakfast I had a grilled tomato, with a ham, cheese and veggie omelette. Since these omelettes are made to order, I got mine cooked “dry” – I hate runny eggs. The chef did a great job and I really loved the omelette. Unfortunately, the flight was so short, I wasn’t really hungry for breakfast, but I forced myself to eat it anyway.
The cabin was prepared for landing at 01h15. The sun was barely poking through the heavy cloud cover as we approach Vienna. I was excited to hit the ground and make it to the hotel. We landed at 08h25 (CET) and were at the gate just 7 minutes later. Most of the gates at the small Vienna airport were occupied by Austrian planes, but I also saw some Lufthansa and British Airways planes plus a Croatian Airlines plane as well. I love seeing planes that are uncommon to me, planes that aren’t in Chicago or the US.
The door opened almost immediately once we reached the gate and I was off the plane in a matter of minutes. We weren’t given priority customs cards (like I’ve received at Heathrow) and all the economy fliers were in a near sprint to the customs and immigration areas – I was concerned they knew something I didn’t and I sure as hell didn’t want to be stuck in a slow moving line at 08h45 in the morning, so I kicked it into high gear. There was no reason to fear, there were at least half a dozen agents available and the lines moved very quickly. I was through customers/immigration by 08h45 and on my way to the express train into the City.
It was a bit of a walk to the train station and as my luck would have it, I just missed the train into the City and by JUST missed it, I mean the door closed on my face and the train pulled away. I had to wait 15 minutes for the next train.
Have you flown Austrian TransAtlantic Business Class? What was your favorite part? Do you did the seating configuration or do you have another airline configuration you prefer? Do you think I was nuts to spend 70,000 United MileagePlus miles on a one way ticket to Vienna in Business?
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.
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?