Trip Reports

Category Archives for Trip Reports.

Review: American Airlines First Class 777-200 Dallas to Tokyo-NRT

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Back in January, American released a whole bunch of First and Business Class award seats on routes to Asia. It was pre-devaluation, and I was starting to think of ways to burn some AA miles before the late March deadline. Awards to Asia in particular went up quite a bit.

It reminded me a lot of when I booked Lufthansa First Class to Frankfurt for Oktoberfest before the United devaluation – similar timing and concept.

Our bird from Dallas to Tokyo - the old livery

Our bird from Dallas to Tokyo

I saw routes were open from Dallas (where my new condo is) to Tokyo – a place I’ve always wanted to visit. Dates were open in early April – prime cherry blossom time! 

Even more serendipitously, I had to be in Texas around that time anyway for a week-long work meeting.

Of course, booking flights to catch the cherry blossoms is always a bit of a crapshoot. But, I’m happy to report, we arrived just in time to see the beautiful blooms.

This flight was an excellent pre-cursor to a lovely stay at the the Hilton Tokyo in Shinjuku.

I’ve been meaning to post about it for a while, so let’s hop to it.

Grabbing the space

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Hotel Review: Hilton Tokyo Shinjuku

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To start, I wanna say, I loved this hotel! The location, ambiance, and staff were all wonderful. Getting out at the Shinjuku station and walking to the Hilton Tokyo with the lit-up neon lights is an experience I’ll never forget.

Hilton Tokyo review

Entrance of the Hilton Tokyo

But first things first.

Landing at NRT

I’ll do a review of the flight over soon.

I was nervous about flying into NRT because it’s a solid 90 minutes from Tokyo no matter which method you choose to get to the city: train, bus, or taxi.

We landed around 5pm, so I figured the train was best to avoid rush hour traffic. The airport is incredibly well-signed. But once you get to the trains, you’re bombarded with a zillion options and routes. I looked at the JR lines, the Tokyo metro, and rapid transit to another station.

To sort through it all, we entered the options into the individual machines until we found the best routing and price. All told, it took 15 minutes to price out 3 or 4 train tickets. We paid a little more to get there a little faster. From NRT, the faster you go, the more it’ll cost. But even the most expensive ticket was only ~$40.

Arrival and check-in

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Vipassana Part 2: My Experience on the Path of Dhamma

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OR,

Learning Through My Legs

OR,

Busting Through Samkaras

OR,

Vipassana: A Magic Cushion Ride

Note: This post is text-heavy and has nothing to do with points and miles. I’m writing about it here for the same reason I write Trip Reports – to share a new experience. That’s what travel is really about anyway!

In you haven’t yet, be sure to read Vipassana Part 1 to get some background info on an experience like this.

During my time at the Dhamma Siri Meditation Center in Kaufman, TX, the weather actually perfectly mirrored the entire experience. It was uncanny how perfect it was.

Days begin at 4am:

Vipassana Timetable

Vipassana Timetable

You’ll hear the loud gong of a bell at 4am. Then again at 4:20am – your signal to head to the Meditation Hall.

At the Center I attended, they have the light switch next to the bed. That first morning, I flicked the switch – and had no idea what I was really in for.

I got up, one foot in front of the other, and shortly before 4:30am, headed to the Meditation Hall for the first time.

Days 1-3: Going Inward (Rainy AF)

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Review: Sala VIP Miro Lounge @ BCN Terminal 1

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“Yo, dude, Harlan. Haven’t you been back from Barcelona for like, 2 months? When you gonna wrap up the Barcelona posts?”

“I knowww. This is it. Last one, I promise!”

But for real. As I get ready to head to Tokyo, I figured I should finally put the lid on the Barcelona series. For now at least. :p

Before flying back to New York in American Airlines Business Class, I made sure to put my Priority Pass (that came with my Citi Prestige card) to good use by making a visit to the Sala VIP Miro lounge @ BCN.

Sala VIP Miro lounge

Sala VIP Miro lounge

I was able to access it with a guest for free. I added this visit to the Citi Prestige by the Numbers page.

The Sala VIP Miro lounge

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Vipassana Part 1: Getting There and About the Course

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Last week, I completed my first 10-day Vipassana course at the Southwest Vipassana Meditation Center in Kaufman, Texas.

Now I’m back in New York and beginning to process the whole experience.

The Wheel of Dhamma

The Wheel of Dhamma

There were so many intangible things. It’s nearly impossible to describe the tactile and transformative qualities. After speaking with a few others about the impacts, I’m realizing how radically different everyone reacts to a course like this.

So I’ll outline my experience. Yours might be similar in some ways, but totally opposite in other ways.

I’ll start with some background and info about Vipassana and the Center I attended. Then, in a second post, talk about the coursework.

And also like, wow.

What’s Vipassana?

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Review: Air France Lounge JFK @ Terminal 1

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Before I headed down to Martinique to stay at the Hotel La Pagerie (with the 4th night free!), I had to get to JFK to experience my first Norwegian flight, departing out of Terminal 1.

What lounges are there? The Air France Lounge and the KAL (Korean Air Lines) Business Class Lounge – Priority Pass gets you into both.

I’ve been to the KAL Lounge before and was underwhelmed. Plus, the Air France Lounge was literally right next to my departing gate (Gate 1). Perfect!

I got free admission for me and up to 2 guests thanks to the Priority Pass I got with Citi Prestige. But day passes are between $35 and $50, depending on time of day. I brought Jay with me, so I peg this visit for at least $70, and have updated the Citi Prestige by the Numbers page to reflect this visit.

The lounge

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Hotel Review: Alexandra Doubletree Barcelona, Dream Suite

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I wrote about my experience arriving and checking-in to the Alexandra Barcelona, a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel.

Lobby of the Alexandra Doubletree Barcelona

Lobby of the Alexandra Doubletree Barcelona

It couldn’t have been better. I was upgraded to a Dream Suite worth ~$1,660 as a Hilton Diamond member.

Now, I want to show you the Dream Suite and review the hotel more in-depth.

The Dream Suite at the Alexandra Doubletree Barcelona

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Trip Report: Aer Lingus NEW Business Class DUB-BOS

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Happy to continue my Ireland series after the good news that the country is moving to legalize gay marriage. I saw the signs up everywhere when I was there to “Vote Yes” or “Vote No” and it seems that they’ve collectively decided to lead the 21st Century. Congratulations to Ireland!

If you’re interested in the new Aer Lingus business class product, you’ll want to also read my review of the BOS-DUB flight.

The key difference is that BOS-DUB is a red-eye whereas DUB-BOS is a daytime/lunch flight.

After an amazing flight over, I was excited to see how the finer points of service would differ during the day flight.

Flight details:

  • Aer Lingus Flight 137
  • May 5th, 2015
  • Depart: 11:50am
  • Arrive: 1:45pm
  • Duration: Duration: 6H, 46M
  • Aircraft: Airbus A330-200
  • Distance: 2,983 mi

First impressions

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Trip Report: Aer Lingus NEW Business Class BOS-DUB

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After staying at the Hyatt Regency in Boston, and hanging around in Bean Town for the better part of the day, we headed to the airport around 6pm for the 9pm flight. Check-in and security went quickly, and after only about 20 minutes, we were in the Aer Lingus Gold Circle Lounge in Terminal E waiting to board. After enjoying the small lounge for a short while, we boarded around 8:20pm.

First impressions

There’s something so great about experiencing a brand new product. Aer Lingus recently refreshed their business class cabins (late April, according to the booklet at the seat).

We were assigned to seats 3D and 3G, both aisle seats in the middle of the cabin. I had 3G.

First impressions were… WOW. It looks so fresh. The cabin is done up in shades of gray with splashes of emerald and lime green, which is gives it a very distinct, chic look. They made sure to put their clover branding all over everything – it was done well and added cohesion. It looked and felt very modern, and I was positively giddy to have this flight experience.

The plane was an Airbus 330-300 and right away, I started to feel a little more Irish.

It was a dark overnight flight, so forgive the graininess of some of the photos below!

The seat

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Review: Aer Lingus Gold Circle Lounge @ BOS

By the time you read this, I will be in the air on Aer Lingus headed to Dublin (assuming you read this within the next 7 hours. Hmmm… that opening line doesn’t hold up well to posterity).

I booked the coveted BOS-DUB award with 50,000 British Airways Avios for a round-trip ticket. And now, I’m in Boston at the Aer Lingue Gold Circle Lounge.

A few notes

The Boston airport is super cute. I’m sure I’ve been here before, but my travels pre-Out and Out are such a jumbled blur in my mind that I can’t remember where, when, or how. It reminds me of AUS airport somehow, although with way more international flights. I spotted Icelandair, WOW!, Swiss, Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic, and British Airways in Terminal E. I… had no idea that there were so many routes out of here. Very cool.

The Aer Lingus lounge is super small. It’s really just one open room. They do a good job of squeezing in a lot of seating, and it doesn’t get seem like it gets too crowded. There are no bathrooms in here though, and definitely no showers. Very limited services and limited hours, too. Just 3:30pm-8:30pm. I’m thinking they’re only open for the BOS-DUB and BOS-SNN flights, then they close up shop.

The Boston airport is easily accessible to/from the city via the T Silver Line. It’s literally 20 minutes to downtown Boston. I didn’t know this before this trip. If you’re keen to take public transportation, I’d recommend looking into this option!

The lounge

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Trip Report: Riding On Amtrak Business Class NYP-BOS

Whew!

I’ve been a bad boy here lately with the updates. Between the Airbnbs, real estate, freelance articles, and other bits of life, I’ve had to neglect my posting schedule. The upshot, though, is that I’ve been getting ready for my first trip to Ireland, and am now writing this on an Amtrak train from somewhere in Connecticut.

Tomorrow is the day of the British Airways devaluation, and I was lucky to’ve booked BOS-DUB on Aer Lingus in business class (there is still some availability in October and Novermber FYI!). It’s an award I’ve long wanted to redeem, and in light of the devaluation, I decided to go ahead and pull the trigger. I was already going to Ireland anyway (on a Delta attack fare), but then when this happened, I pushed up my trip and redeemed some British Airways Avios. This particular award will be increasing from 50K round-trip to 75K round-trip. Still not bad for business class to Europe, but less is obviously better.

Anyway, being based in New York, I had to get myself to Boston. Getting back from Boston was easy: 4,500 Avios BOS-LGA and boom. But going to Boston, availability was dismal.

Redeeming Ultimate Rewards for Amtrak

NYC is Amtrak heaven. New Yorkers can get to nearly anywhere in New England, the Northeast, or Mid-Atlantic in just a few hours with relative ease.

The last time I rode Amtrak was probably in 2008 when I went down to DC for a weekend – but my memories of it don’t exactly allow for a full trip report. 😉

This time, however, I’m in business class at a seat with a table, connected to the (very very spotty) wifi, and writing a blog post with a rum and Coke Pepsi from the snack car next to me. Safe to say life is pretty good right about now.

There are blackout dates on Amtrak. Luckily, April 27th isn’t one of them. The blackout dates are centered around the holidays: New Year, Easter, July 4th, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, with a couple random dates through in throughout the year. If you want to travel any time that isn’t a holiday, you’re pretty much golden.

To boot, their zones are large and generous, and redeeming Ultimate Rewards for a bedroom or a business class ticket can make since if:

  • You want to experience the country by train
  • You have time to take the train
  • The train experience to where you wanna go will be roughly equal to flying (ahem, NYC-BOS or NYC-WAS)
  • You have to travel and simply must stay connected to a cell network
  • Flights aren’t available but the Amtrak availability is wide open (my case)
Amtrak zones

Amtrak zones

Here is a the Amtrak zone map and here is the list of award redemptions by zone.

NYP-BOS falls into the Northeast zone, so a regular ticket is 4,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points. However, I redeeemed 6,500 points to be in the business class car. It was only a little more and still met my 2 cents per point minimum, so I went with that.

Screenshot 2015-04-27 12.13.49

Northeast zone chart

Note that you can only redeem points for one-way tickets. So if you need a round-trip, you will have to redeem for two one-way tickets.

My ticket selection

My ticket selection

The photo above is the price for two one-way business class tickets AKA 13,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points. That’s still 2.2 cents per point, and a great stopgap when flights from NYC-BOS were over $400 for a one-way and there was no award availability on American or US Airways with Avios! And also better than paying cash…

Over $400 for a one-way

Over $400 for a one-way

$431 for a one-way flight that’s a little over an hour? No way. Amtrak was the best option for this trip.

The experience

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Trip Report: Swiss A330-300 Business Class JFK-ZRH

I paid for this fare after seeing it pop up on The Flight Deal as a fare attack by Star Alliance on Skyteam hubs. It cost me $1,487 R/T for Business Class on Swiss and the routing was JFK-ZRH-VCE-ZHR-EWR.

Now, when I see fare deals like this, I’m always torn between being totally impulsive and trying to think it through. This deal was on a multitude of Star Alliance partners, so I wanted to pick one that A). I’d never flown before and 2.) that would credit well to United.

Why United? They have a non-stop flight from EWR-MEM (only one of two – the other is Delta from LGA-MEM) and those flights can be either dirt cheap or prohibitively expensive. I knew I wanted to go see my Mom in the near future, and thought I could use the miles I’d earn from this booking to book the most expensive leg of a round-trip ticket, which is exactly what ended up happening.

Screenshot 2015-01-25 10.46.05

I earned 12,493 miles from these flights – 7 miles short of a free domestic one-way

The flight to go see my Mom for Christmas was pricing out at around $450 each way on United – yes, over $900 round-trip.

I redeemed all the miles earned on these Swiss flights for a Christmas trip to visit my Mom on United and got a value of ~4 cents per mile, which is awesome. I also picked up a REDbird card while I was down there. And I got to go to Venice for my birthday – thanks to this fare.

Free flight to Memphis

Free flight to Memphis

Anyway, that’s the story behind the booking, back to Swiss business class.

The flight

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