Award Travel

All Nippon Airways B777-300ER First Class Tokyo Narita to Houston

Exploring Asia Overview
Cathay Pacific B777-300ER Business Class San Francisco to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Lounge Review: The Cabin at HKG
Cathay Dragon A330-300 Business Class Hong Kong to Beijing
Lodging Review: Regent Beijing Hotel
Beijing: Dongcheng District
Beijing: The Great Wall
Beijing: Run-ze Jade Garden
Beijing: The Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs
Beijing: The Legend of Kung Fu
Beijing: Tiananmen Square
Beijing: The Forbidden City
Beijing: Hutong Tour via Rickshaw, Tea Tasting, Flying to Xi’an
Lodging Review: Hotel Shangri-La Xi’an
Xi’an: Qing Dynasty Terra Cotta Warriors
Xi’an: Tang Dynasty Dinner and Show
Xi’an Wrap-Up, Flying to Lhasa, Lhasa Home Visit
Lodging Review: Shangri-La Hotel Lhasa
Lhasa: Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Market
Lhasa: Canggu Nunnery and Sera Monastery
Lhasa: Potala Palace
Leaving Lhasa and Flying to Chongqing
Viking Emerald
Shibaozhai Temple
Cruising the Three Gorges
Three Gorges Dam
Jingzhou City Walls Tour
Wuhan: Hubei Bells Performance and Provincial Museum
Shanghai: Shanghai Museum
Lodging Review: Fairmont Peace Hotel, Shanghai
Shanghai: Old Shanghai and Yuyan Gardens
Lodging Review: The New Otani Tokyo Hotel
Tokyo: City Tour
Mt. Fuji and Hakone Tour Returning by Shinkansen
ANA Suites Lounge Review, Tokyo Narita
All Nippon Airways B777-300ER First Class Tokyo Narita to Houston

Date: October 24, 2017
Flight: NH 174 NRT-IAH
Seat: 2A (ANA Suites)
Aircraft: B777-300
Depart: 11:15 AM

We departed from gate 56, which was a 3-minute walk from my seat in the ANA Suites lounge. It was just a brief escalator ride down one level and a very short walk to the gate.

Boarding was scheduled to begin at 10:45 AM so I left the lounge at 10:30 AM just to have a look around the gate area. We had a nice nose-on view of our aircraft but for some reason the photo I tried to take didn’t work.

About 10:40 AM an announcement was made indicating that boarding would begin soon. I loved how civilized it was, with separate boarding lanes for First (and Star Alliance Gold), Business Class (and Star Alliance Silver) and Economy. There were about 5-6 (really young looking!) agents in the area working the flight and monitors overhead let everyone know they needed not only their boarding passes, but also their passports open to the photo page.

Once pre-boarding of one wheelchair and one family with small children was complete, precisely at 10:45, those of us in First Class were allowed to board. I was a bit amused that after passing the gate agents, we turned a corner to reach the jet bridge and there were another half-dozen gate agents – and even some ramp/maintenance workers – and they all bowed to us as we walked through. Once on the jet bridge, two doors were being used for boarding – 1L for First and 2L for everyone else. It was one time I didn’t mind turning right after boarding!

I was promptly greeted and escorted to my seat, 2A. The Flight Attendant, Mami, was just lovely and informed me that since only 3 of the 8 First Class seats were occupied, she would make my bed across the aisle in 2D. Wow, two suites just for me! Neither 1A nor 1D were occupied so I had the whole left side of the plane to myself.

ANA First Class Suite

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Categories: ANA, Award Travel, Star Alliance | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Cathay Dragon A330-300 Business Class Hong Kong to Beijing

Exploring Asia Overview
Cathay Pacific B777-300ER Business Class San Francisco to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Lounge Review: The Cabin at HKG
Cathay Dragon A330-300 Business Class Hong Kong to Beijing
Lodging Review: Regent Beijing Hotel
Beijing: Dongcheng District
Beijing: The Great Wall
Beijing: Run-ze Jade Garden
Beijing: The Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs
Beijing: The Legend of Kung Fu
Beijing: Tiananmen Square
Beijing: The Forbidden City
Beijing: Hutong Tour via Rickshaw, Tea Tasting, Flying to Xi’an
Lodging Review: Hotel Shangri-La Xi’an
Xi’an: Qing Dynasty Terra Cotta Warriors
Xi’an: Tang Dynasty Dinner and Show
Xi’an Wrap-Up, Flying to Lhasa, Lhasa Home Visit
Lodging Review: Shangri-La Hotel Lhasa
Lhasa: Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Market
Lhasa: Canggu Nunnery and Sera Monastery
Lhasa: Potala Palace
Leaving Lhasa and Flying to Chongqing
Viking Emerald
Shibaozhai Temple
Cruising the Three Gorges
Three Gorges Dam
Jingzhou City Walls Tour
Wuhan: Hubei Bells Performance and Provincial Museum
Shanghai: Shanghai Museum
Lodging Review: Fairmont Peace Hotel, Shanghai
Shanghai: Old Shanghai and Yuyan Gardens
Lodging Review: The New Otani Tokyo Hotel
Tokyo: City Tour
Mt. Fuji and Hakone Tour Returning by Shinkansen
ANA Suites Lounge Review, Tokyo Narita
All Nippon Airways B777-300ER First Class Tokyo Narita to Houston

About 10 minutes before boarding time one of my companions and I left our third companion in The Cabin (his flight was an hour later) and headed back upstairs to our gate, which was only about two gates away from the entrance to The Cabin.

Boarding started on time and we entered through door 1L, turned right and went through the small (8 seats) first class cabin and into the first of the two business class cabins.

KA 900 – HKG-PEK
Departs: 8:00 AM
Arrives: 11:15 AM
Duration: 3h 20m
Aircraft: A330-300
Seat: 12C (Business Class)

Though our flight was on Cathay’s regional subsidiary, Dragon Air, I can’t imagine there was much difference between this plane and the Cathay B777 our friend flew an hour later.

I didn’t seem to get a photo of the seats though they reminded me a bit of those in Turkish Business Class. Seat controls were built into the side of the armrest, above the magazine holder.

Seat Controls

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Categories: Award Travel, Cathay Pacific, Dragonair, OneWorld | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Cathay Pacific B777-300ER Business Class San Francisco to Hong Kong

Exploring Asia Overview
Cathay Pacific B777-300ER Business Class San Francisco to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Lounge Review: The Cabin at HKG
Cathay Dragon A330-300 Business Class Hong Kong to Beijing
Lodging Review: Regent Beijing Hotel
Beijing: Dongcheng District
Beijing: The Great Wall
Beijing: Run-ze Jade Garden
Beijing: The Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs
Beijing: The Legend of Kung Fu
Beijing: Tiananmen Square
Beijing: The Forbidden City
Beijing: Hutong Tour via Rickshaw, Tea Tasting, Flying to Xi’an
Lodging Review: Hotel Shangri-La Xi’an
Xi’an: Qing Dynasty Terra Cotta Warriors
Xi’an: Tang Dynasty Dinner and Show
Xi’an Wrap-Up, Flying to Lhasa, Lhasa Home Visit
Lodging Review: Shangri-La Hotel Lhasa
Lhasa: Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Market
Lhasa: Canggu Nunnery and Sera Monastery
Lhasa: Potala Palace
Leaving Lhasa and Flying to Chongqing
Viking Emerald
Shibaozhai Temple
Cruising the Three Gorges
Three Gorges Dam
Jingzhou City Walls Tour
Wuhan: Hubei Bells Performance and Provincial Museum
Shanghai: Shanghai Museum
Lodging Review: Fairmont Peace Hotel, Shanghai
Shanghai: Old Shanghai and Yuyan Gardens
Lodging Review: The New Otani Tokyo Hotel
Tokyo: City Tour
Mt. Fuji and Hakone Tour Returning by Shinkansen
ANA Suites Lounge Review, Tokyo Narita
All Nippon Airways B777-300ER First Class Tokyo Narita to Houston

Three of us were flying to Beijing on Cathay Pacific from San Francisco via Hong Kong. Two of us bought positioning flights and arrived a day or two early while our third companion was able to get economy award seats all the way from Nashville. By early afternoon our luggage was in storage at our airport hotel and we spent the afternoon enjoying a late lunch and just killing time at the mall until we could go to the airport.

Our flight was due to depart at 12:50 AM and the Cathay counter doesn’t open until 8:30 PM. We’d arrived at the airport a bit before that so had to hang out and wait for the counter to open. After seeing the chaos that was the Economy check-in line, we were so glad to be in premium cabins – one of us in first, the other two in business.

As there are only six first class seats, our companion seated there was through the check-in process quite quickly. It obviously took a bit longer for the two of us in business class but the line still moved quite efficiently. We all received our invitations to the Cathay lounge and were directed to the A gates security line.

While there was a priority line for premium cabin passengers, it didn’t move all that quickly as there were flights by several airlines leaving at the same time and there were language barriers as well, with many non-English speakers moving through. They were having everyone move through the nude-o-scope machines until the line got so backed up that they allowed ten or so of us to go through the regular metal detector. I was thrilled to be in the right place at the right time for that.

We made our way to the Cathay lounge and were granted access. After walking around all day, a couple of us wanted to take showers and that was so refreshing. The shower rooms were clean and plenty big enough that your clothes didn’t get splashed while you were showering. It really made a difference for the long flight ahead.

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Categories: Award Travel, Cathay Pacific, OneWorld | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Trip Report: Exploring Asia

Exploring Asia Overview
Cathay Pacific B777-300ER Business Class San Francisco to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Lounge Review: The Cabin at HKG
Cathay Dragon A330-300 Business Class Hong Kong to Beijing
Lodging Review: Regent Beijing Hotel
Beijing: Dongcheng District
Beijing: The Great Wall
Beijing: Run-ze Jade Garden
Beijing: The Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs
Beijing: The Legend of Kung Fu
Beijing: Tiananmen Square
Beijing: The Forbidden City
Beijing: Hutong Tour via Rickshaw, Tea Tasting, Flying to Xi’an
Lodging Review: Hotel Shangri-La Xi’an
Xi’an: Qing Dynasty Terra Cotta Warriors
Xi’an: Tang Dynasty Dinner and Show
Xi’an Wrap-Up, Flying to Lhasa, Lhasa Home Visit
Lodging Review: Shangri-La Hotel Lhasa
Lhasa: Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Market
Lhasa: Canggu Nunnery and Sera Monastery
Lhasa: Potala Palace
Leaving Lhasa and Flying to Chongqing
Viking Emerald
Shibaozhai Temple
Cruising the Three Gorges
Three Gorges Dam
Jingzhou City Walls Tour
Wuhan: Hubei Bells Performance and Provincial Museum
Shanghai: Shanghai Museum
Lodging Review: Fairmont Peace Hotel, Shanghai
Shanghai: Old Shanghai and Yuyan Gardens
Lodging Review: The New Otani Tokyo Hotel
Tokyo: City Tour
Mt. Fuji and Hakone Tour Returning by Shinkansen
ANA Suites Lounge Review, Tokyo Narita
All Nippon Airways B777-300ER First Class Tokyo Narita to Houston

For the last several years a small group of us have taken trips together, mostly to Europe, like our cruise down the Danube last year or our Rhine cruise in 2014. This year we decided to look to the other side of the world and visit Asia. In Europe, even if I don’t speak the native language, I usually feel like I can muddle my way around because there are typically English-speakers, I have retained a little of my high school French and often I can figure out foreign words based on their spelling. But exploring Asia without a guide was not something I was comfortable doing. Although I know lots of people have disdain for guided tours, I’ve come to appreciate them and enjoy the extras that can come with traveling as a group.

As we’ve done in the past, we booked with Viking River Cruises and signed up for their Roof of the World tour that includes stops in Beijing, Xi’an (home of the terra cotta warriors) and Lhasa in the mountains of Tibet. From there we flew to Chongqing where we boarded the Viking Emerald – a much larger ship than we sail in Europe – and floated down the Yangtze River to Wuhan and from there flew to Shanghai to end our tour. Three of us decided that since we were flying to the other side of the world anyway, we might as well take the extension to Tokyo for an extra four nights.

Roof of the World tour itinerary
(image courtesy Viking River Cruises)

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Categories: Asia, Award Travel, China, Japan, River Cruise, Viking | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Danube Trip: Budapest to Chicago

Danube Trip: Chicago to Brussels
Danube Trip: Brussels Adventures and Getting to Prague
Danube Trip: Marriott Courtyard Prague
Danube Trip: Prague, Czech Republic
Danube Trip: Boscolo, Autograph Collection
Danube Trip: Prague to Nuremberg
Danube Trip: Viking River Cruise Boats – the Njord and the Bestla
Danube Trip: Nuremberg, Germany
Danube Trip: Weltenburg Abbey and Danube Narrows
Danube Trip: Regensburg, Germany
Danube Trip: Passau, Germany
Danube Trip: Wachau Valley and Göttweig Abbey
Danube Trip: Vienna, Austria
Danube Trip: Budapest, Hungary
Danube Trip: Hilton Budapest (Castle District)
Danube Trip: Budapest to Chicago

My return flight left Budapest at 6:30 AM.  I had booked this leg of the trip using my Miles & More points, hoping that shortly before I left Budapest, Lufthansa would open up space and I’d be able to fly first class via Frankfurt.  But the space never opened up so I had to “settle” for business class.  Poor me.

My friend and I shared a taxi to the airport even though she was returning on Turkish Airlines and her flight was nearly three hours later.  Sure enough, when we arrived she couldn’t even check her bags as no one was at the Turkish counter that early.  So we said our goodbyes and I headed through security to the lounge.

The lounge I was directed to was very small and nearly full.  It did have free wi-fi but didn’t even have its own restrooms.  It was a contract lounge, not a Lufthansa lounge and while it was better than sitting the terminal and had some free beverages, I was completely under-whelmed.

Eventually though we boarded our flight for the relatively short flight to Frankfurt, which was very uneventful.  Like many intra-Europe flights, business class was simply economy with blocked middle seats and nice service.  We did get an edible, if unremarkable breakfast.  Before long we were in Frankfurt where I was able to enjoy the lounge for  a couple of hours.

When I got to the gate, I admit I was surprised.  Where was the German efficiency I so appreciate?  With Frankfurt being a Lufthansa hub, there are naturally a lot of people with elite status who are not flying in First or Business class.  So they hover around, waiting for priority boarding to be called instead of queuing up. I don’t think I’ve ever seen priority boarding be so chaotic, though my experience is not that widespread.  At any rate, eventually I boarded through door 1L and found my seat.

LH 430
Frankfurt (FRA) – Chicago O’Hare (ORD)
Depart 10:40 AM
Arrive  2:10 PM
Duration: 9h 30m
Boeing 747-8
Seat 6D (Business Class)

As I was traveling solo for this leg I selected a seat in the middle section so I wouldn’t have to worry about climbing over anyone or being climbed over.  Waiting for me at my seat was a blanket and this pillow.  I loved the color scheme.

LH 430 Business Class Seat

LH 430 Business Class Seat

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Categories: Award Travel, Lufthansa, Star Alliance | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Danube Trip: Chicago to Brussels

Danube Trip: Chicago to Brussels
Danube Trip: Brussels Adventures and Getting to Prague
Danube Trip: Marriott Courtyard Prague
Danube Trip: Prague, Czech Republic
Danube Trip: Boscolo, Autograph Collection
Danube Trip: Prague to Nuremberg
Danube Trip: Viking River Cruise Boats – the Njord and the Bestla
Danube Trip: Nuremberg, Germany
Danube Trip: Weltenburg Abbey and Danube Narrows
Danube Trip: Regensburg, Germany
Danube Trip: Passau, Germany
Danube Trip: Wachau Valley and Göttweig Abbey
Danube Trip: Vienna, Austria
Danube Trip: Budapest, Hungary
Danube Trip: Hilton Budapest (Castle District)
Danube Trip: Budapest to Chicago

I took an early morning flight from Memphis to Chicago where I met up with my travel partner for the next two weeks.  She lives in the area so she picked me up and we had lunch with a mutual friend before returning to the airport for our evening flight.

Our visit to the United Club was the last day before one of the other clubs in a different concourse reopened after remodeling, so the club that was right across from our gate was absolutely packed.  It was so full that there was actually a line outside the club and people had to leave the club before they’d allow others in! We had some soft drinks but nothing to eat (not that there was a lot on offer) knowing that we’d be fed on our flight.  We couldn’t even fully enjoy the free wi-fi as the signal kept getting used by all the people in the club.

When it came time to board we only had to step across the hall to our gate, which was nice.  I was actually very impressed by all the lanes United had set up to separate the boarding groups and the boarding process proceeded in a relatively orderly fashion.

UA 972
ORD-BRU
Boeing 777
Seats 6J & 6K (BusinessFirst)

We entered via door 1L and proceeded through the galley to the far aisle before turning right through First Class and into Business Class.  United uses a 2-4-2 seating configuration in Business Class. I guess that middle section can actually be good if you’re traveling with several people but would be odd with strangers.  In addition, every other rows faces the opposite way.  So our seats faced forward but those in the middle beside us faced backward.  It was just weird. Our seats were the first row of BusinessFirst on the far aisle as we boarded.  In our seats were a blanket, a pillow and a set of headphones.

ua-972-seat

UA 972 BusinessFirst Seat 6J

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Categories: Award Travel, Star Alliance, United | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Trip Report: Danube River Cruise

I have a group of friends that like to travel together and one of them knew of another small group that was doing a Danube River cruise with Viking River Cruises.  Having cruised the Rhine with Viking a couple of years ago, we were excited to join that group for another European float.

One of my good friends who lives in Chicago agreed to be my travel partner for this excursion. We looked at the trip extensions Viking offered: a pre-trip extension in Prague before the cruise began in Nuremberg, and post-trip extension in Budapest, where the cruise ended.  As we looked at what was offered, we decided to do our own versions of these extensions and use our hotel points (mostly) to pay for our rooms.

Naturally we used airline miles to cover our flights in business class.  We both used United miles to fly to Prague with a long layover in Brussels.  My friend also used UA miles for a return flight from Budapest on Turkish Airlines via Istanbul.  I used my Lufthansa Miles & More miles via Frankfurt, hoping to be able to upgrade to First Class as the time for our flight grew closer, but it wasn’t to be.  No first class award seat ever opened up on the FRA-ORD leg on my flight date.  Note to self: in the future, don’t fly on a Monday.  Loads of business travelers!  I saw award seats on both Sunday and Tuesday around my date but by then the rest of our plans had been set so I had to “settle” for business class.

Our outbound flight connected in Brussels and I have a Twitter friend who lives in Belgium.  Though we’d never met in person, she was kind enough to drive down to Brussels and meet us for lunch and take us on a walk around the area near the train station.  I love the way the world gets smaller with social media!

danube-flights

My flights in red, my friend’s flights in cyan, joint flights in green

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Categories: Austria, Award Travel, Cruises, Europe, Germany, Hungary, Lufthansa, River Cruise, Star Alliance, United, Viking | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A South Pacific Birthday Trip

SPB Trip Planning
SPB Qantas First Class to Sydney
SPB Park Hyatt Sydney
SPB Sydney Opera House
SPB Around Sydney
SPB Flying to/from Uluru
SPB Emu Walk Apartments
SPB Uluru and Kata Tjuta
SPB Park Hyatt Melbourne
SPB Around Melbourne
SPB Flying to Fiji
SPB Hilton Fiji
SPB Snorkeling Trip
SPB Fiji Air Business Class to Los Angeles
SPB Hyatt Regency DFW

 

I have a couple of friends I like to travel with and over the years we’ve all had a birthday that ends in a zero (with different leading digits!). Our tradition has become whoever has the “zero birthday” gets to pick the vacation spot and we try to do it up right. About two years ago I first got into the miles and points game and it wasn’t long before I set a goal of celebrating my next “zero birthday” in Australia and using miles and points to pay for as much of it as possible.

My dad, who’s a 2 million miler on American, offered to give me whatever AA points I needed to make my trip happen. That left me a goal of helping my friends accumulate the miles they’d need to fly Down Under too. Then, of course, there would be points needed for hotel rooms. Lofty goals but with two years to get things planned, we were able to accomplish it relatively cheaply – well, cheaply as compared to what it COULD have cost!

The itinerary

I had visited Australia before, in 2006, and was eager to go back. One of my friends had been there as well but the other had not. So I knew that meant I’d need to re-visit some of the iconic places but I also wanted to be sure to visit some places I’d never been. My prior trip had involved stops in Sydney and Cairns, which is up near the Great Barrier Reef. While I would have loved to have gone back to the GBR, there were other places I wanted to visit as well, and with a total trip length of two weeks, we just couldn’t squeeze everything in this time around. In the end we flew from the US to Sydney and stayed there four days. Next we flew to the Red Centre of the country and visited Uluru (Ayers Rock) for a couple of days. Then it was down south to Melbourne for a bit more than two days.

During our trip planning we had talked about stopping off somewhere a little more exotic on the way back, somewhere we could just enjoy the beach, the sun and the surf. Since we’d be using primarily American Airlines miles, I quickly realized that due to their routing rules we’d need to stay in Oceania for our beach time. That led us to look at Fiji as our final stop before heading back to the US.

My friends and I each make our homes in different cities in the US so here is how our trip worked out:

The various routings for our trip. Map made on gcmap.com

The various routings for our trip. Map made on gcmap.com

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Categories: American Airlines, Australia, Award Travel, Chase, Fiji, Fiji Air, Hilton, Hotel, Hyatt, Oceania, OneWorld, Qantas, Sapphire Preferred | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Getting back in the swing of things

It’s been awhile since I posted but I went on vacation so when I returned to work last week I had to pay for taking time off.  That’s the way it always works, isn’t it?

One thing I look forward to each year is taking my ski trips. I aim for two week-long trips each year, usually one in January and the other in February. I know a lot of folks like the warmer spring skiing in March but (to a point) I don’t mind the cold and since I’m not locked into a school schedule, I like skiing when school is in session and not out for spring break.

I typically travel with a ski club which means the only thing I can use points for is my airfare. But I don’t mind. I’ve been skiing with the club for over 20 years and have made a lot of new friends this way. And no matter who is in my condo, we’ve always had a good time – and this year was no exception.

I’d used Delta miles for my flight which meant I could either route via Atlanta or Minneapolis for my trip to Colorado. While it may seem counter-intuitive to travel east to go west, in this case it made more sense to route via warm Atlanta instead of potentially snowy MSP.

One downside of skiing is that you often fly into small mountain towns with limited/seasonal service and therefore the airlines can gouge you on pricing. In this case I was flying into Hayden, Colorado which is about 45 minutes outside Steamboat Springs. I have miles on the three major airlines that fly there but none had low-level availability when I was looking for airfare this summer. American wanted something ridiculous like 80K miles for an economy seat and United wanted 50K. Delta seemed a bargain at 45K – and I’d rather save my AA & UA miles for international travel anyway. I’d originally planned to vacation from Saturday to Saturday, arriving home in the 7-8 pm hour, just in time to go into work at 11 pm Saturday night. Then Delta changed the flight such that I wouldn’t land in Memphis until just after 10 pm. Uh, no, that was not going to work.

In the end, a few days before I left for vacation I changed my flight to return on Friday. I hated to lose the day of skiing but was able to sell the last day of my lift ticket and had a much easier day on Saturday because of it and since the flight on Friday was a bit cheaper, I got back 5000 miles. That didn’t make up for the pain of the $150 change fee, since I’m not elite, but it helped a little.

Next up: a review of our slopeside lodging in Steamboat

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Booking Flights To Turkey

Turkey Trip Overview
Booking Flights To Turkey
British Airways First Class Lounge IAH
British Airways 777 First Class IAH-LHR
Transiting Heathrow and British Airways A320 Business Class LHR-IST
Marriott Courtyard Istanbul Airport
Pegasus Airlines Istanbul to Izmir and Back
Ephesus, Mary’s House and Basilica of St. John
Swissotel Efes
Pamukkale Bus and Preiene
Ritz-Carlton Istanbul
Major Sites to see in Istanbul
Radisson Blu Bosphorus
Turkish Airlines Lounge Istanbul
Turkish Airlines 777 Business Class IST-IAH

 

I live in Memphis and my two traveling companions live in the Chicago area and in Southern California. With access to large, hub airports it’s easy for them to be able to get flights anywhere. Flying from my midsize airport sometimes means an extra stop along the way.

Though I’ve only been in the miles and points “game” for a couple of years, already I’d heard about the wonders of the Turkish Airlines lounge in Istanbul and put it on my mental list of places I wanted to check out. When my friend announced he was taking the apartment in Turkey in August and September I realized here was my chance. I’d saved up a bunch of United Airlines miles and planned to use them to fly Turkish Airlines. But last winter we started hearing about how United was devaluing their miles and how many more miles it was going to cost to fly on partner airlines. So on the very last weekend before the devaluation hit, my friends and I got together on the phone and got our dates in order.

My original plan had been to fly to Turkey on Turkish and back on another airline. But as I got to thinking about it, I realized that if I wanted to enjoy the lounge at the Istanbul airport, I’d need to fly back on Turkish. This actually worked out very well because we really wanted to arrive at the same time and go through Customs together. While I’d had a couple of ports of call in Turkey while on a cruise several years ago, my friends had never visited. So I was aware of how western much of Turkey is – though it certainly has a much more Islamic influence than what we’re accustomed to here – but my friends were being a little more cautious and wanted to be sure we were all on the same flight into Istanbul.

As it turned out I’d recently acquired one of the American Airlines Executive MasterCards when they were giving out the 100,000 mile bonuses, so I had plenty of miles to spare. I was able to find two premium award tickets, a business class seat on American from Chicago and a first class seat on British Airways from Houston. Since my Chicago friend was also using miles, she took the business class seat and I flew to Houston (via Dallas) on American and then to London. My friend in SoCal purchased an economy ticket on BA/AA non-stop to London.

I used 62,500 American AAdvantage miles and just over $500 cash for my first class ticket. This is because both my flight from Houston to London and the flight from London to Istanbul were on British Airways and BA passes along fuel surcharges (which are distance-based). Still, for a first class seat that retails for over $11000, I’m ok with the fuel surcharges. My friend from Chicago flew her trans-Atlantic segment on AA metal and thus her fuel surcharges were only about $250.

In the end, here is our flight map as we all met up at Heathrow:

Map drawn with gcmap.com

Map drawn with gcmap.com

Categories: American Airlines, Award Travel, British Airways, Turkey | Leave a comment

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