California Dreamin’ (A Tale of Going West): Trip Planning
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class SIN-SFO / SFO-SIN
Parc 55 San Francisco – A Hilton Hotel
Big Trees Lodge, Yosemite National Park
The Majestic Yosemite Hotel, Yosemite National Park
Hampton Inn & Suites Merced, also any other U.S. Hampton
Hilton San Diego Airport Harbor Island Hotel
Virgin Airlines A319 Business Class SAN-SFO
Hilton San Francisco Airport Bayfront
Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge SFO
Once upon a time, an amateur travel hacker (#notthemilelion) heard about a new non-stop flight operating from Singapore to San Francisco. “Well,” he thought, “this seems like an awesome way to make use of those miles I’ve been gathering. I’ve never been to San Francisco, the flight is long (and thus premium seats are much-desired) and it sure would be swell to check out the new hardware!”
Excited by the idea, he sought concept approval from his immediate superior. “Oh hey,” replied The Wife, “maybe we can go to Comic-Con!”
Having previously been unable to make the pilgrimage to San Diego in July, the amateur travel hacker agreed with the suggested course of action and got down to planning the trip.
The remainder of this series will focus on the usual flight and hotel reviews, but since this was such an experience I thought I’d just briefly share about some of the highlights even while describing the planning process.
Transport & Accommodation Plans
Plans begun about a year in advance, beginning with the conversion of credit card point to KrisFlyer miles followed by the booking of award business tickets as soon as they were made available. In a tremendous stroke of luck, room inventory at the Hilton San Diego Airport Harbor Island Hotel had not been totally locked at the time (San Diego hotels usually block them out during Comic-Con) and so accommodation for the duration of the convention was settled really early.
Accommodation was generally secured on cancellable Hilton MVP rates with searches set up on tripBAM to generate notifications should prices drop along the way. We decided to fly in and out of San Diego, in a bid to avoid traffic jams that were likely to appear around the time. Before then, we mostly drove around the west coast of California, and we rented a car for a week.
The trickiest thing about making plans to visit California and do Comic-Con a year in advance is that you don’t actually get to confirm your convention tickets (badges) until about three months before. This led to the crazy situation of making the plans without knowing if we’d actually get badges for the convention. In the end, we decided to just go ahead with the planning and just visit San Diego anyway, regardless of whether we got badges. There’d be plenty to do outside the convention centre then, we reasoned.
Getting badges was a nightmare. Essentially, it’s down to online balloting – each (registered) person can purchase three badges, even if not actually attending. Someone’s calculated the odds of a first-timer scoring a badge at about 6%, and even with the help of some friends entering the ballot for us, we initially didn’t get anything.
Thankfully, a mutual friend managed to get us hooked up with some other Singaporeans who were balloting as a group and we managed to get badges for two of the four days.
It was an experience. Ultimately I didn’t love it all that much due to the insane crowds (and queues) over there, but I’m glad to have managed to attend it.
Yosemite National Park
Somewhere along the way, the decision was made to visit Yosemite National Park. I didn’t expect it then, but this turned out to be highlight of the trip for me.
This was made even more enjoyable by our one-night stay at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (aka the Ahwahnee Hotel). I was rather enticed by the idea of a heritage luxury hotel in the middle of the valley and decided to splurge to stay just one night – I ended up booking the cheaper Big Trees Lodge for another night in an attempt to strike a balance between (comfortably) maximising my time in the park while not bankrupting myself.
As it turns out, Hilton was offering triple points to Diamond members during this trip so I’m now in a pretty good position to redeem some high-value hotel stays. I’d also tried my luck requesting for a status challenge earlier in the year and managed to re-qualify for Diamond until Mar 2019.
I doubt I’ll be able to stretch it beyond that, but three years as a comped Diamond isn’t half bad!
(Addendum – Singapore Airlines Lounge SFO)
When I’d started this trip report, I initially planned to include a review of the SQ lounge at SFO. As it turns out, it’s a good thing I took so long to do up the report, as I later realised that I could save myself the effort since the lounge would be permanently closed from 1 Oct 2017.
Which is just as well, since I was distinctly unimpressed with the lounge.
Whoever said procrastination didn’t pay off?
All in all, this trip offered great experiences both in the realm of flight/accom as well as elsewhere; unfortunately, it was also heavier on the budget than usual. Perhaps some cup noodles would help tide my wallet over till the next voyage abroad…
And now, back to our regular (travelgeeky) programming.