Monthly Archives: June 2014

Rhine Runaway – Houston to Amsterdam

Other parts of this series so far:

Rhine Runaway – Booking Process

My trip from Memphis to Houston was on a regional jet with no first class, so nothing special to write about.

It was my first time to transit IAH so I was most concerned about getting to where I needed to be.  I got to Terminal E in plenty of time and had a chance to visit the United Club.

It was quite large and quite busy.  Still less hectic than the terminal, obviously, but not a quiet oasis.  I found some empty high top tables to the right of the bar and set up shop there.  After picking through the measly food offerings (basically cookies and a bit of carrots/celery & dip) and getting some water I went back to the tables.  I then realized why nobody was sitting at these tables despite their being next to electrical outlets – the outlets didn’t work.  I tried two or three different outlets and had the same result with all of them.  I finished up my cookies & carrots and moved to the business area, where at least I was able to recharge my phone and plug in my laptop.  I don’t recall hearing any gate announcements so I left of my own accord.

I arrived at the gate about 5 minutes before boarding started and was promptly allowed on once boarding commenced.  The business class cabin is divided into two sections.  I’d selected 10B, an aisle seat in the second cabin.  When I was checking the seat map in the club there were still tons of empty seats in my section and I naively thought I might get an empty seat next to me.  Of course that was before they’d processed all the upgrades and there wasn’t a single empty seat in the cabin by the time we took off.  We boarded via door 2L which meant I turned right for my seat – and all the folks in economy streamed past me.  Next time I’d either go for the forward cabin or at least for a seat on the other side of the plane.

Departs: 15:40
Arrives: 08:20 + 1
Boeing 777-200
Seat: 10B (Business Class)

Knowing it never hurts to stay on the good side of the flight crew.  I’d brought a rather large baggie filled with chocolate & candy for the flight attendants.  I had several of them thank me for it and was always treated with great courtesy at every interaction.  To be fair they seemed to treat everyone that way.  They seemed to enjoy their jobs and working together.  I don’t know for sure but imagine this was an ex-Continental crew and if they’re typical I’ll be happy to fly with them any time.

Seat 10 B

Seat 10 B

On the seat were a pillow, a blanket and the amenity kit.  Headphones were conveniently stored up over my left shoulder (between the two seats) next to the headphone jack.  I liked that by storing them up there the cord was out of the way.

The amenity kit contained a pen, a comb, an eyemask, lotion, a cleansing pad, tissue, compression socks, toothbrush & toothpaste and a flosser.  The kit bag itself wasn’t particularly noteworthy but I can forsee it having great use as a place to store electronic cords, adapters, etc. while traveling.

Business Class Amenity Kit

Business Class Amenity Kit

We were served beverages while on the ground.  I just had some ice water.  I don’t drink alcohol so can’t report on any of the offerings there though I will include the wine pages from the menu.

Not long after takeoff we were served dinner.  The menu (click any photo to enlarge):

United 58 Menu Starters

United 58 Menu Starters


United 58 Main Course

United 58 Main Course

United 58 Dessert & Breakfast

United 58 Dessert & Breakfast

United 58 Beverage & Bar Service

United 58 Beverage & Bar Service

United 58 Featured Champagnes

United 58 Featured Champagnes

United 58 Featured White Wines

United 58 Featured White Wines

United 58 Featured Red Wines

United 58 Featured Red Wines

United 58 Regional Selections 1

United 58 Regional Selections 1

United 58 Regional Selections 2

United 58 Regional Selections 2


I had the short ribs and they were quite good!  I didn’t take photos (hey, I’m still new at this whole blogging thing) but finished off the meal with ice cream & chocolate sauce.  That’s one of my favorite desserts anytime, anywhere.

I’ll admit to hurrying through dinner as I wanted to get as much sleep as possible.  There’s only a seven hour time difference between Houston and Amsterdam and the flight was only a bit over 9.5 hours.  Discounting the time for dinner and breakfast that only left about 6 hours for sleeping.  I felt fortunate to get about 4 hours of sleep.  It wasn’t great quality sleep but that flat bed was terrific in comparison to sleeping in coach!

I woke up in time to get cleaned up and awake before the breakfast service started.  I had the Swiss Cheese Omelette with broccoli-potato gratin and turkey sausage.  I’m not much of a sausage person, except when it’s on pizza, so I skipped that but the rest of it was pretty good, if not especially memorable.

Upon arrival in Amsterdam I stopped at an ATM to get some Euros.  I used my Charles Schwab account which meant I didn’t have to pay any ATM or foreign transaction fees.  I highly recommend their product!

Not knowing when I might have a chance, I stopped to use the facilities while still airside so by the time I arrived at Customs there was a bit of a line.  But my bag arrived fairly quickly and soon I was moving through the final checks and into the arrivals area.

I’d booked my transport to the ship via Viator. I’d booked a group transport but I was the only one.  Though I could have checked two bags free on my business class flight, the Viator terms & conditions state that only one bag + one carry-on per person is allowed.  Not that I needed two checked bags or more carry-ons but I was glad I had noticed this before I packed!  I met up with the driver and we walked out to my ride – a pretty black Mercedes.  I’m not a car geek so I’m just happy to remember what brand it was.  He was quite courteous and answered my questions about things we passed along the way.

Since it was after 9 am at this point, traffic was not bad at all and we pulled up to a building in the port area about 40-45 minutes later.  It was awfully quiet – even the driver thought so – so he offered to go inside with me.  Sure enough, we were at some sort of administration building for the port area and not where we were supposed to be.  He had a chat (in Dutch) with the person at the front desk.  There was much gesturing and pointing and finally we went back to the car, turned down a side street and across the bridge until we saw a Viking longship.  The river cruise boats were actually stacked about 3-4 deep but the one closest to the parking lot was a Viking so I felt sure we were in the right place.  I sent the driver on his way and approached the ship, which had several staff members standing around as passengers were disembarking.  I asked how to get to my ship, the Bestla, only to find it was not docked here – and I’d already let my driver go.

In various reviews I’d read to be sure not to let the driver go until you’re sure you’ve found your ship so I’ve no one to blame but myself.  However I admit I was disappointed that the driver (or his company) hadn’t done further research ahead of time to find where the ship was docked.  The cruise company cannot tell us in advance as it’s up to the harbormaster on any given day to determine where ships will dock. I had assumed (my mistake) that the car company would have done that.  I didn’t save that much money over buying my ground transport through the cruise line and I think that next time I will book through the ship, because they will definitely know where to find the boat!

The cruise director of the other Viking ship did call a taxi for me and direct him to where my ship was docked.  I was so glad I’d grabbed some cash from the ATM as I exited the airport – because it didn’t appear he took credit cards.  All in all, several lessons learned from this experience!

The Bestla’s cruise director was waiting at the drop-off point and warmly greeted me and other arriving passengers.  I was glad there were porters for my luggage as we had to get to our boat by boarding another boat, climbing up and down stairs before finally arriving at what would be our home for the next week.  It was going to be a beautiful, cool day in Amsterdam and I couldn’t wait to get started.


Next up: Amsterdam and cruise highlights

Categories: Europe, Star Alliance, United, Viator | Tags: , | Leave a comment

US Airways MasterCard 30% Bonus for July-August


I carry the Barclays US Airways Dividend Miles MasterCard.  It offers some terrific benefits like a free checked bag for the card holder and up to 4 traveling companions on the same ticket, Group 1 boarding and bonus miles on US Airways purchases.  Today I received a promo where I can earn a 30% bonus on miles this summer if I spend at least $2000 during the July 1 – August 31 timeframe.  That’s really pretty easy to do, especially if you put your regular spend on this card in addition to manufacturing some spend.  Here are the offer details:



[Edit: there are also offers for a 20% bonus but no minimum spend.]

In addition, if you use this card for purchases outside the US during this timeframe, your foreign transaction fees will be reimbursed!

There’s a max bonus of 10,000 miles for this promotion.  The miles will post 6-8 weeks after the end of the promotion, which works out to mid-to-late October.  Will you be taking advantage of this promotion?

Categories: Credit Card Promos, US Airways, US Airways MasterCard | Leave a comment

Rhine Runaway – Booking Process

Back in April 2013 some friends contacted me about joining them for a cruise down the Rhine river.  They were considering a cruise with Viking Cruises which was running a special deal: if we signed up for a 2014 cruise before 30 April 2013, we got 2-for-1 pricing.  Having never been to that part of Europe before I was on board immediately.

As I was flying from a different city from the rest of the group, I handled my own airfare.  It just so happened that in the fall of 2012 US Airways was running one of its targeted sales that offered a 100% bonus on purchased miles.  I had made two purchases of 25,000 miles (+ 25,000 bonus miles) during that sale.  I was able to buy both at the beginning and the end of the sale which split the charge over two credit card cycles for me.  The total for both purchases with taxes was ~$1800 and left me with a 100K US Airways Dividend miles balance.

Since the time I purchased those miles I’ve learned not to buy miles speculatively (without a pre-planned purpose).  But it was great to have those miles in reserve when I needed them!  I would not typically use these miles on a domestic fare (unless it was really expensive) but $1800 is a great price for a business-class ticket to Europe.

At the time I used these miles US Airways was part of the Star Alliance.  That gave me a great number of choices to get to Europe.  Our cruise departed from Amsterdam (AMS) and ended in Basel, Switzerland on a Thursday.  Not really wanting to fly back to the States for one work day, one of my friends and I decided to take an extra couple of days and take the train to Zurich (ZRH), spend a couple of days and fly home from there.

US Airways allowed one stopover of more than 24 hours OR one open jaw on an award ticket.  (An open jaw is where you fly into one city and out of another.)  My ticket would be an open jaw since I was flying into AMS and out of ZRH.

Even though I had US Airways miles, I knew that the United Airlines award search tool was MUCH better.  At the time, the US Airways search tool did not display any Star Alliance partner award flights, which made it useless if US Airways did not fly into that city.

Using the United search tool I found a one-stop flight to Amsterdam from my home in Memphis via Houston on United.  Sadly, United only flies one-cabin regional jets out of Memphis so no business class for me on the MEM-IAH leg.  But that was the only one!  In Houston I connected to a United flight that took me non-stop to Amsterdam in a flat-bed business seat.

For the return trip I had to make a couple of stops.  I originally looked only for flights with flat-bed seats.  This led to a complicated itinerary with two stops in Europe before landing in Chicago where I would have taken another one-cabin regional jet home – and I didn’t land until quite late.  After I booked this ticket I began to think more about the route I was taking and started looking for alternatives.  I eventually settled on a Lufthansa flight to Munich (MUC), connecting to another Lufthansa flight to Charlotte and then a US Airways flight back to Memphis that got me home several hours earlier than the trip I’d originally booked.

I called US Airways and changed the flights.  There was a $150 fee because I’m not an elite US Airways member but I’d decided it was worth it.

My flight from ZRH to MUC was on one of Lufthana’s CityLine planes, meaning a short flight in a regional jet.  But since I had a business class ticket, I had an empty seat beside me and that was fine for the short flight.

I connected to one of Lufthansa’s Airbus A340-600s for the flight to Charlotte.  I’d originally avoided this plane since it only has angle-flat seats in business class but I later realized that since this was a daytime flight, I probably wouldn’t be sleeping much anyway – and indeed I did not.

My flight from Charlotte to Memphis was also on a Canadair regional jet that featured a first class section.

Flights for this route. Map courtesy of

Flights for this route.
Map courtesy of

So that’s the “how” I booked the trip.  Next up: the actual flight to Amsterdam.

Categories: Award Travel, Europe, Lufthansa, Star Alliance, United, US Airways | Leave a comment


Hello and welcome!  There are about a million other travel blogs out there but I’m adding my voice in hopes that I can share my trips and explain how I used miles & points to do so. If I can help you use your miles and points for your next trip, all the better!  Feel free to email me at if you have questions or would like me to help you.

First up, a recent trip to Europe for a cruise on the Rhine river!

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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