Review: Singapore Airlines A380 Suites

Our way back from Frankfurt was probably the highest-quality flight that we took: the legendary Singapore Airlines A380 Suites. Essentially your own comfy cubicle room with a door (and window shades!), the service is amazing, the food is fantastic, and the in-flight entertainment is hard to beat.

We took a cab to Frankfurt International Airport and quickly found our check-in counters. On the way we were impressed to see a sign for a Jewish Prayer Room. We didn’t get a chance to check it out but were glad it was there. We also saw the massive board with all the flights listed: it was quite extensive and impressive to look at.

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Once checked in and through security we went to check out the two lounges we had access to: the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge and the Lufthansa Senator Lounge. Interestingly, the Senator Lounge is actually for its Business class passengers; the First class passengers have their own terminal in Frankfurt airport. We did not have access to it.

Both lounges were quite spacious and had wonderful amenities. We could sit back and eat breakfast at either (we chose the Maple Leaf Lounge as I had done some research and read the food was better; it seemed similar enough to us that it didn’t matter). The chairs were comfortable and there was plenty of space. There were separate sleeping areas in each lounge, presumably for those in transit; they were not whole rooms but separated areas with beds or lean-back chairs. They looked comfortable enough.

 

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We then took some time to look at the Lufthansa Senator Lounge. It was much larger than the Air Canada lounge but had similar food and drink options. The chairs were quite comfy and there were plenty of power options. Probably the biggest difference is that Lufthansa offered actual beds to sleep on while you waited between flights. They were not as private as in the Air Canada lounge, but looked much more comfortable. Additionally, there was a spa you could use for various fees.

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Then we boarded the plane. On our passes it said boarding was going to start at 8am but when we arrived at that time we were almost the last ones on! We found our Suites and enjoyed how luxurious they seemed. Wow – so comfortable and all the amenities right at your fingertips. The chair was leather and high-backed to support your head. There were storage areas everywhere: by your hips, on the desk area, under your footrest, etc. The TV was an amazing 23in big! There would be no way not to enjoy this flight.

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We were given a luxurious three course meal once the plane was in the air. We used Singapore Airlines signature Book the Cook service from which we chose a few specific options ahead of time. I had some lamb rangoon which was quite tasty. My wife had ordered fish but for some reason they didn’t have it recorded so she had an omelette instead. She was still quite impressed. We watched a movie while eating and chatted a bit before putting on our pajamas and getting ready for a quick nap.

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While we were in the bathroom changing the flight attendants brought the beds down. Singapore Airlines uses a chair whose seat back folds all the way down to provide the most comfortable style of bedding. We each had our own place to sleep but the beds were right next to each other. Still, it is not the same as a true double bed because there is a wooden divider in the middle and you are supposed to keep your seatbelt fastened while in flight. We slept for a good portion of the trip (although I woke up earlier than my wife and watched some TV due to stomach pain).

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Upon arrival into JFK our passing through security was easy and uneventful. Because we have Global Entry we had an easier time getting through customs and immigration as well. That being said, I imagine it would be quick for many First Class passengers in general due to disembarking from the plane before the other passengers.

I don’t know when the next first class experience like this will be but my wife and I have already started to accrue more points. Check out this blog for more info on travel hacking as well as the next post which will compare exactly how much we should have spent on these flights/hotels and how much we actually spent!

Cross-post: I’m in a podcast about Brians!

Before I left for my honeymoon I had heard about this amazing new podcast called All The Brians. I supposed I think it’s amazing because it’s a very specific topic that I happen to be a part of. That being said, I had a great time chatting with the host, Brian Alexander, for about an hour touching on two major topics: education and travel hacking. If you are interested in the education portion, just listen from the beginning. If you are interested in the travel portion, begin at timestamp 47:55.

Check it out!

Chase devalues point redemptions on Amazon.com

Some of you may know that you can use Chase Ultimate Rewards points to buy things on Amazon.com. It used to be that 100 points = $1.00 so you were using your points at $0.01/point. This is not remarkable as the standard cash back rate is the same. So, essentially, you were benefiting from the ease of use.

I just received an email, however, devaluing the use of these points. Now, instead of 100 points = $1.00, it will take 125 points = $1.00. So each point is now worth only $0.008 (or 8/10 of one cent). While I am glad they are giving advanced warning, this makes it so much worse to use your points for this purpose.

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Starwood’s More For You Promotion earns you points quickly

My wife and I returned from our honeymoon last Sunday so expect some posts soon on our travels. Photos and reviews coming soon!

In the meantime, I wanted to share with you a success and opportunity for you from Starwood’s More For You promotion that is upcoming. If you are a member of the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program like I am you have the opportunity to earn more points than usual if you stay at one of their properties.

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Before September 12, however, you have the opportunity to win a whole bunch of Starpoints very quickly. 1,000, 5,000, or 10,000 points are up for grabs! According to The Points Guy’s most recent valuation, that is worth $25, $125, or $250 dollars just for clicking on some links!

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I’ve been inputting my wife’s and my SPG number daily and was lucky enough this morning to win 5,000!

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You never know what you can win and these points will help us get either a hotel or flight to our next travel destination. Start clicking!

Arrival in Seoul and Korean Air A330-300

On our way to Bali my wife and stopped over in Seoul, South Korea for a day. Korean Airlines offers free stopovers and since ours lasted more than 24 hours we were able to get our luggage from baggage claim and use it while we were there (those transit passengers in Seoul for <24 hours have to through-check their baggage to their final destination).

For our time in Seoul we used our Marriott points (and credit card) to book a one-night stay at The Plaza, a new addition to the Marriott Autograph collection. I booked us a “Deluxe room” costing 35,000 points (a pretty good deal for the center of a major city) and when we arrived they actually upgraded us to the Plaza Suite, possibly because we mentioned it was our honeymoon. They even gave us a little rose!

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The Plaza Suite room was much larger than the Deluxe room we had booked and had a better view, more electronic amenities (i.e. the blinds were controlled from a cool pad next to the bed), and way more room. We even ordered some room service and easily sat down to eat it together. Right below the TV there was even a working fireplace (not that we needed it with 85 degree+ weather outside!). The bathroom also had a shower and separate bathtub (my wife loves those) as well as a bidet with controls next to the toilet. It was a really nice room.

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After our overnight and exploration of Seoul (there are so many palaces, food markets, and other things to explore) we were ready for our flight to Bali. We booked it as a part of the same ticket on the A380 so it was also in a high class of service. Unfortunately, when I booked the tickets there were no first class seats available so I voluntarily downgraded us to Prestige Class. Since we were flying on the A330-300 I assumed we were going to get the “Prestige Suite“, a new version of this class of service that is more like their First class without the separate sectioning. Unfortunately, the plane was a bit more dated and we only had their “Prestige Sleeper.” It was still incredibly comfortable but not their highest version so I was, of course, disappointed.

In the Seoul airport there were a variety of lounges available to the public. The Korean Airlines lounge is one of their bigger ones with a much wider selection of food than JFK and even access to showers. I really appreciated this last point as I had been sweating a lot during our walk around town. We didn’t have an enormous amount of time in the lounge but noticed that the two other lounges we could have used from Priority Pass (SkyHub Lounge and Matina Lounge) both seemed to offer better food. That being said, they were both fee-based lounges so they were overcrowded and we were not allowed in.

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It was a very easy 7-hour flight. The in-flight entertainment was the same as on the A380 and the meal service was similar. It was a shorter flight so we received a bit less food but could ask for anything at any time. There was no turn-down service and no pajamas, unfortunately, but the flight crew was still great. When I woke up from a 3 hour sleep the flight attendant immediately asked if I wanted the sandwich that I had missed. Honestly, there was not much difference between this class and first class (maybe a bit wider sleeper area at the feet) so we were not that upset about it. We arrived in Bali pretty well rested and got to our hotel just fine!

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An amazing start to a honeymoon: Korean Airlines A380

My wife and I recently began our honeymoon to various destinations worldwide and I brought a small netbook so I could document parts of our travel experiences. Originally, she was a bit skeptical of the work I did with miles/points to maximize our benefit but over the past year she has been “turned”, let’s say, to understanding how amazing it can truly be. With a little work (and a lot of patience) you can get some amazing things in the travel world. So, here is the first installment for our honeymoon: our time flying from New York-JFK through Seoul, South Korea, to Denpasar, Bali. I will focus just on the flights for now (with other anecdotes about our specific time in each place later).


I’ve spent about two years now accruing miles for the specific purpose of travel (as opposed to just benefiting from random purchases later on). I plan and scheme specific credit bonuses to get, clubs to enter, and referrals to get, all for the purpose of getting to far places for cheap. My first major version of this was booking our Korean Airlines tickets from New York to Bali.

In order to book award travel on Korean Airlines you need to start by signing up for a free SkyPass account. It’s not difficult – much like anything else it requires your contact information and some other details. Then you can search for the dates you want. Here is an example of the flight plan that my wife and I took (this is not the exact plan we took, FYI).

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We did take these flights but I called to book them in such a way that we had 25 hours in Seoul on our way to Bali. One of the nice things about Korean Airlines is their stopover rules on award travel. I’m not sure exactly how many are allowed, but we could have had multiple weeks between our flight to Seoul and then to Bali. Since our focus was Bali, we made sure it was only one day (more on that day on a later blog post). Also, if you have these kinds of layovers in Seoul, their tourism bureau offers some pretty amazing free bus tours and hotel stays.

One specific note about this award ticket before we go on: in order to get the ticket for my wife, I had to verify that we were married. I put the award ticket on hold (which you can do for up to 30 days on Korean Airlines) and then had to upload a copy of our marriage certificate and have them agree that it was valid before I could officially book it. It was a strange thing to do, but still worth it.

So, now, onto the main event. We arrived at JFK about 2 hours early in order to take advantage of the pre-flight lounge access we had. We breezed through check-in thanks to our tickets being in first class.IMG_5923 We then went to the Korean Airlines lounge and were given access to the prestigious First Class section (they differentiate between First and Business, also called Prestige class). It was not really much to write home about. Some small snacks, drinks, and comfortable chairs. The bathrooms were nice and there was a conference room you could use.IMG_5930IMG_5932

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Because it was not the nicest, we decided to utilize an important benefit of the Citi Prestige card that I have: access to Priority Pass lounges. Air France happens to also have a lounge in the same terminal so we went there and had a MUCH nicer time.

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The food and drink were way more plentiful and tasty and the views were spectacular. We stayed there for the duration of our wait. Unfortunately, our flight left at 2pm, otherwise we would have partaken in the complementary 20 minute spa package included in the lounge. Next time.

After waiting in the lounge for a while, we finally took it upon ourselves to board the flight.

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I was a bit surprised by the fact that there was one entrance for First, Prestige, and Economy class passengers. In the past I’ve read about different gateways, but I guess it was okay. What was more important was the seat we were about to sit in is one of the most comfortable in the world. It is large with an incredible amount of storage and we were given a wonderful amenity kit, Bose headphones, and pajamas for our flight.

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My wife and I have never experienced this kind of luxury in the sky. The food options for meals were incredible (and are more extensive if you need vegetarian or other limited options – just ask further in advance than we did). We had such nice meals and were able to watch their in-flight entertainment system without noise thanks to the headphones.

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The best past for us during this 13 hour journey was that we could really sleep. I changed into my pajamas quickly after getting on the plane and lied down for sleep after dinner. My wife slept longer than I did but it was very enjoyable for both of us. The seat flattens down and a pad is put on top followed by a very comfy duvet cover. Sometimes during the night it got a bit too hot with the duvet but mostly it was a great time.

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Since I woke up earlier than my wife I asked the flight attendants if I could have my second meal early and they happily oblige (side note: they were the most attentive attendants I have ever had. I don’t know if it is the same in Economy but it was incredible up front).

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Overall, the A380 is an amazing way to fly, be it on First Class or otherwise. But if you can get a chance to fly up front at some point, you should definitely take it!

Get 75K Jetblue points for free!

Today Jetblue announced a new promotion in concert with Virgin America that could earn you up to 75,000 TrueBlue points for doing something very small: having a certain amount Virgin Elevate points in your account and making one paid flight. Here are the steps:

  1. See how many points you currently have in your Elevate account. Then add some through transferring from Starwood, CitiBank, or AMEX Rewards to boost your balance. Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 3.12.21 PM
  2. Take a screen shot of your Virgin Elevate account with whatever amount of points you can muster.
  3. Send an email to pointsmatch@jetblue.com by July 4 with that screenshot and wait to hear you are registered.
  4. Book and fly a paid roundtrip JetBlue flight before 8/31/16.

This is also being reported by View from the Wing and DansDeals with some pretty amazing fanfare. I personally may take a mileage run from JFK-BOS just to get the 75,000 points. It will make for some cheap tickets to Florida this winter!

 

 

Death of the Mileage Run?

Two days ago American Airlines announced that starting on August 1, 2016 their frequent flyer program, AAdvantage, will become revenue-based instead of mileage-based. This is a move that follows the other major carriers, Delta and United, who have done the same in recent history. It is definitely a big move as AA is the largest domestic carrier in the US and now all three of the top domestic carriers have similar rules.

With these major carriers imposing these changes, it seems that there is another nail in the coffin of the mileage run, a practice of flying to distant locations for cheap fares in order to gain miles for use at a later time. With revenue-based earning, the price of the ticket matters a lot more than the distance flown.

So what does this mean more specifically? Here is an example of a flight from New York’s JFK airport to London-Heathrow.Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 9.16.27 PMScreen Shot 2016-06-08 at 9.16.33 PM

 

Under the former system, 100% of the miles flown would be added to the purchaser’s account in any Economy class, as shown below. Since the two airports are 3,452 miles apart (as calculated by TravelMath), the total miles earned would be 3,452 * 2 = 6,904.

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According to American Airlines’ new rules, however, for that same trip costing  $881, the number is significantly less. First of all, only the “Base Fare” and “Carrier-imposed Fees” count towards mileage determination. Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 9.18.12 PM

So, only the $195 + $458 count, totaling $653. With the example shared on their announcement website, a low-level member of AAdvantage (read: most of us) would earn 5 miles/dollar. That totals to a whopping 653 * 5 = 3,265 miles, not even half of what was earned before.Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 9.22.34 PM

So, with this information in mind, it’s important to consider a) if earning points from flying is actually worthwhile in the future and b) perhaps we should put our miles on foreign carriers to get more leverage from them in the future.

United’s cheapest award booking

My wife and I are going to Detroit in June to attend a wedding and so I’ve been trying to find the cheapest flights available that matched our criteria. New York to Detroit is a well-traveled route (although not by international standards) with plenty of options for flights. Since Detroit is Delta’s second-largest hub I thought I would try them but came up with flights at inopportune times for over $300 each roundtrip.

Instead, I opted to check out my award travel options on United, knowing that they fly a lot to Detroit and I have their MileagePlus Explorer Card, guaranteeing me more options of award tickets. I wound up finding a sweet spot on their award chart:Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 7.38.41 PM

That asterisk next to the 10 in the Saver award was very useful. For flights below 700 miles United allows Saver awards for 10,000 miles one-way.

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 6.45.06 PMI capitalized on this and immediately booked our flights. For a meager $22.40, we are going to Detroit for the wedding and getting free bags to boot due to award ticket rules!

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Win 350,000 miles on American Airlines (and get taxed for it!)

Right now American Airlines has an interesting promotion called Miles for Milestones with either no downside or a pretty strange downside. For the 35th anniversary of their AAdvantage program they are offering 35 people a chance to win 350,000 AA miles to use on any of their routes or award partner routes. In addition, each entrant earns 350 miles just for signing up.

The upsides: you could earn enough AA miles to go round-trip first class for free to anywhere in the world. Or you will definitely earn a small amount of miles to help you get to your next domestic flights.

The downside: in the terms and conditions at the bottom of the site, it lists the “total ARV of each Prize [as] $6,965.” This may sound like a windfall but it’s possible they will send you a 1099-MISC form requiring you to pay taxes on the “income” you received as part of the prize.

I would still recommend signing up for the promotion anyway because the benefits far outweigh the costs. Imagine spending 25k miles on each roundtrip flight inside the US and you would earn 13 free flights with this prize. I signed up for it this morning.

Good luck!