A recent trip to Toronto

I recently took a trip to Toronto using Air Canada and was overall pleased with the service, comfort, with some oddities in how my trip occurred. Let me explain.

I booked the flight from LaGuardia to Pearson airport using my Barclaycard Arrival Plus Mastercard, a useful card if you want to get 2 miles for every dollar spent. These miles are quite versatile in that they can used for any kind of airline credit: ticket purchases, fees, etc. They are redeemed in quantities above $100, which is equivalent to 10,000 miles. So, after I paid for my trip using the card, I was able to immediately refund the money used. Here is what it looks like on my online bill:

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Very simple.

On my way there I noticed wonderful in LaGuardia: a pumping/nursing station! While I do not think breastfeeding needs to be a private thing (it’s a natural thing to do…), it is nice to have some privacy for those who want it. Apparently they were put there in May 2015 and are located in Terminal B.

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When I arrived at Toronto’s Pearson Airport I found myself on a huge and quick moving walkway. This was not the normal kind that simply rotates through – it actually extended and flexed in order to move people faster. I had never seen or experienced this before but it was fascinating! I took a video myself but the one in the article is better.

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Finally, a quick note about the actual plane travel itself. Air Canada is a professional carrier! Their in-flight entertainment aboard their small plane was quite wonderful. It was an Embraer 190 and had comfortable seats (if not an enormous amount of legroom) as well as wonderful cabin service. I got a hot tea and small snack on each direction of my journey.

The price of this airline is often more expensive than budget airline WestJet but that sometimes means it really is worth it. In this case, it definitely was!

Bereavement fares are important

What many people don’t know is that when unfortunate deaths occur many companies offer prices called “bereavement fares” in order to help you get to your destination and help the deceased to their burial or funeral location. Unfortunately, I had to go through this process recently when my grandmother died in Philadelphia and we attended her funeral in Montreal. While I was told to spend whatever I needed to in order to get there, I wanted to make sure that last minute travel would not be too much of a burden on who would be paying for it in the end.

I started by finding the best airline to fly directly from Boston to Montreal and, as it turns out, it was Air Canada. Their bereavement fare policy is actually quite generous and lenient in how you purchase tickets. I searched their website and found flights for $896 one-way in economy but when I called and gave them the required information, the costs dropped to either $441 or ~$250 one-way, a huge savings for when people are in need.

I also had planned Amtrak train travel using points before this all took place and had to get those tickets refunded. I called and was told that I could get all but a 10% refund as per their policy and if I faxed them an image of the obituary or funeral program I would get the last bit back. This is exactly what took place. Additionally, you should know that while not advertised easily, I found a site explaining that they will offer 25% discounts off tickets for bereavement.

Unfortunately, many American-based companies do not offer bereavement fares. A news article recently proclaimed the end of the program for a variety of the big domestic airlines. Delta still does, however, despite the fact that some of the fares may not be the cheapest (although they will be more flexible to changes).

So, in the end, it’s possible you will not be able to use these fares to help you get a loved one to their final destination, but it’s good to know to ask just in case.

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!

Getting into the miles and points game

Over the past few months I have begun my journey into the world of frequent flyer miles, travel blogs, points-gathering, and annoying my fiancée in earnest. I have signed up for a few credit cards, referred a few people to them, and am eagerly waiting the time when I can use these points/miles for their intended purpose: near-free travel.

I suppose I really entered this game in January 2014 when I left a conference and was convinced to sign up for the United MileagePlus Club Card by a friend. The card itself was a big bonus over most others in that every purchase provided 1.5 miles per $1 spent. As my friend said, “it adds up faster than you think.” While the $395 annual fee was daunting, there was a one-year fee waiver that I accepted because I signed up at a Chase bank branch near my house.

Since then I’ve accumulated about 110,000 miles with purchases made through the card or through rental agreements, dining out bonuses, and more. I used the card to get one free plane ticket to Toronto with Air Canada but have yet to use its benefit of free first and second luggage check. We currently pay our rent with the card, a service that nets us over 3,000 miles per month due to the large multiplier on standard purchases.

In full disclosure, however, I will be ridding myself of the card in December as the annual fee is not worth it for us now that I have a better understanding of other credit cards I can use.

Since then I have also applied for and received the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, the United MileagePlus Explorer card, the Chase Ink Plus card, and retained my old US Airways Premier World Mastercard. I’ve started learning about credit scores and their tracking through CreditKarma.com and make my Internet purchases through the Chase Ultimate Rewards shopping portal.

I’m so excited to start this blog and share with you stories of travel, transit, and miles/points accumulation from my view. We’ll see what turns up around the corner!