Category Archives: Trip Planning

So I’m about to do something a little crazy in Tokyo…

Every once in a while in this hobby you decide to do something a bit crazy because, well, you can.

Of course, what counts as crazy will vary from hobbyist to hobbyist. For some people, crazy is flying 33,000 miles in a week. For others, it’s buying 1.25 million miles through pudding. For yet others it’s taking wheelbarrows of coins to the bank to generate miles. I could go on and on with  stories of positioning yourself to strange lands to jump on cheap fares, flying in and out of a long haul destination on the same day just to try an airline’s new product (deliberately booking SQ’s oldest business class seat sounds mild by comparison) etc etc, but it’s safe to say that in this hobby, you can never be too crazy.

So when I tell you that I’m bringing back a few hundred cup noodles to finance an expensive meal in Tokyo, you really shouldn’t bat an eyelid…

Exhibit A: Nissin Nakiryu Dandan Cup Noodles

Can Michelin Star food be found in a Styrofoam cup? Well, that’s what Nissin is offering, in partnership with one-Michelin Star ramen restaurant Nakiryu in Tokyo. Since these babies were released at the end of May, they’ve been getting great reviews and hype up the wazoo.

Image result for Nakiryu ramen tokyo
photo credit: Yummy Japan

“But they’re just instant noodles”, I hear you say. Well, yes, but they’re Michelin Starred instant noodles. A reviewer for RocketNews24 had this to say:

It had a mellow chicken flavor that was perfectly complemented by the sesame. There were also intermingling sour and spicy flavors that were distinct yet refined, for a solid blend overall. One of the more memorable parts of Nakiryu’s Dandan was the delectably textured noodles, and much to our reporter’s surprise the cup noodle version managed to somehow recreate that! Just like in the restaurant, the thin noodles trapped in the broth for an even flavor in each bite. It was magnificent.

Image result for nissin nakiryu dandan
photo credit: Rocketnews24

Look, I have no idea how they taste, but the hype is going global and everyone wants to try them. Unfortunately, the noodles are currently only available in Japan, and buying them online incurs ridiculous shipping costs (not to mention they’re all sold out). Fortunately, I’m headed to Tokyo at the end of the month, which creates an interesting opportunity…

Exhibit B: AirFrov

Image result for airfrov

My first option would be to buy back a few cartons of these noodles, list them on Carousell and flog them off. But then I’d have to arrange meet ups with individuals, travel all over and respond to messages like this.

Enter Option B- I wrote about AirFrov a few years back when they were just starting up and since then the community has really grown.

For those of you who haven’t heard about it, AirFrov is a P2P delivery service that lets you monetize the luggage space you’re not using when you travel. People post requests for items they want from overseas, you negotiate an acceptable price, buy the items and drop them off at AirFrov’s headquarters when you return. The requester pays 7% plus S$2 as a service fee; the traveler doesn’t pay anything.

If you enter the code UID53 when you sign up for an AirFrov account, you get S$10 of credit which can be used towards paying AirFrov fees as a requester (I get S$10 too).

This will be my first time using AirFrov, but I’m satisfied there are appropriate user protections in place (you can read more about it here, but TL;DR- once you’ve agreed to buy something on someone’s behalf, the requester deposits money into an escrow account by AirFrov which is released upon delivery. Once you’ve bought the item, the requester can’t back out) so I’m not worried.

Singaporeans go crazy for the latest Japanese food trend, and it’s no surprise that these Nakiryu noodles are one of the most requested items on AirFrov with over 244 requests (each request can be for multiple units) as of right now.

So it’s now just a simple matter of figuring out how many I can carry back. Which leads me to Exhibit C…

Exhibit C: SQ First Class Ticket

To get back to Singapore, I’ve redeemed my miles for a First Class ticket on SQ (I also used the stopover trick to add another trip to Sydney a few months down the road (hopefully with SQ’s new A380 cabin products), saving 40,000 miles in the process).

SQ gives First Class passengers 50kg of luggage allowance. As a Krisflyer Gold member, I get another 20kg.

When the weight concept is used, number of pieces is irrelevant. I have 70kg in total, which I can spread across as many bags as I wish. Each of the noodle cups weighs 140 grams. I doubt I’ll have more than 20kg of personal items, so there’s plenty of weight left over to lug noodles back.

Actually, the restriction isn’t so much weight but volume. The noodles come in hard packaging measuring 12x11x11 cm. So unless I bring along a few cardboard boxes, I might have to do some Tetris-style packing. But that sounds like a problem for future Aaron.

The biggest logistical issue I see is getting these noodles to the Narita airport. I’m not sure how many I will be able to fit into two large expandable bags plus a duffel bag carry on, but if all else fails I’ll just get a trolley to wheel some cartons as well. This may be an issue if I take the airport limo bus because apparently every customer is limited to 2 pieces of luggage (they say on their FB page they’re happy to take excess baggage if there’s space though). Taking an Uber to the airport would totally burn up any money I make on the noodles, so I’m going to have to be smart about this.

Putting it all together

This isn’t going to be a great money-making venture for me insofar as these instant noodles have a rather poor volume/profit ratio. The noodles themselves retail at 200 JPY (~S$2.50) per cup, and the lowest price I’m willing to buy them at is S$5. That means a profit margin, on average, of S$2.50 a cup*. My goal for this exercise is to generate enough money for one nice (non-instant) Michelin Star meal in Tokyo.

*My actual margins will be different once I account for 7% GST. Yes, you do need to pay GST on items bought for AirFrov buyers because they’re not for personal use. On the other hand, some people are willing to pay more than $5 a cup so it does balance out.

As of right now I’ve committed to purchase 111 units (generating about S$344 of profit) which should be a right barrel of fun to get to the airport.

I’m well aware that there are other things I could help bring back from Japan which would have much better volume/profit ratios, but buying just one type of item allows me to limit the amount of time I spend hunting things down. Besides, I love bringing food to people; I’m a giver that way. Also, the thought of building an instant noodle fort in my seat and doing the world’s first in-air taste testing of Michelin Star cup noodles complete with Krug and caviar gives me big boy feelings.

The other issue (which I probably should have mentioned first) is that the popularity of these noodles means they’re all sold out in stores. Fortunately, I know a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy, and a few phone calls were made. The catch? For it to be worth his while, I’d have to place a large order. Like 11 cartons large.

“That’s too much to bring home”, said brain.

“Shut it. This will be good for upper body development,” said biceps.

And that was that. That’s how 132 cups (11 cartons of 12 units) now sit in my hotel, awaiting my arrival.

And no, I’ve not forgotten about you, dear readers. Although the people on AirFrov will have to pay theirs the hard way, readers of The Milelion are a special, hunky bunch. So I’ve set aside 10 units for readers, to be given away in 5 sets of 2. No charge.

If you’d like to get your hands on a pair of Nakiryu instant ramen cups, simply sign up for the mailing list on the left of your screen AND leave a comment below and I’ll put you in the draw that will take place at 12pm SGT, Wednesday 30th August.

If you’ve already subscribed to the mailing list, congrats! Nothing for you to do but leave a note below commenting how monumentally stupid this idea is.

So yes. 132 cups of Michelin Star instant ramen. One SQ First Class seat. This’ll be fun.

The Milelion’s Round the World Trip, 2017 edition

It may surprise you to know that neither travel hacking nor womanizing is The Milelion’s primary occupation. Although he excels at both. Oh no. By day, The Milelion is a mild-mannered management consultant (careful not to transpose the u and l) and works tirelessly to realise synergies, optimise efficiency and produce 300 slide decks for great justice.

But once in a while, work takes you to an interesting place or two. Or three. Or 15, in this case. We’ve got a recurring engagement that requires us to make several site visits to locations around the world. You might remember me writing about this last year in the 2016 edition of The Milelion’s RTW trip.

Well, it’s that time of year again! This year’s engagement requires travel to

  • Denver
  • Boston
  • London
  • Paris
  • Barcelona
  • Madrid
  • Casablanca
  • Accra
  • Addis Ababa
  • Dar Es Salaam
  • Doha
  • Delhi
  • Ahmedabad
  • Bangalore

Or visually-

map

Now, the average person might look at such a routing and feel somewhat intimidated. I, on the other hand, feel something approximating arousal.

Planning the 2017 RTW trip

My default choice for RTW tickets would usually be Star Alliance, but given the spread of cities this year I’ve decided to go with One World instead.

Image result for oneworld

It’s strange in a way, because Oneworld is the smallest airline alliance, yet it offered me much better options than either Star Alliance or Skyteam for where I needed to be.

American Airlines covers US domestic routes plus connections to Europe, BA and Iberia can cover the UK and Spain, Qatar can connect me to both Delhi and Dar Es Salaam from Doha. It’s true that OneWorld connectivity is non-existent in India and Africa, but I’ll buy cheap budget flights for India and do a surface sector with Ethiopian Airlines for the intra-Africa legs.

I remember that last year after I wrote about my RTW trip, Shyh Jie over at Cardcow pointed out that I could have saved thousands on my trip simply by starting from a different country.

So that’s exactly what I’m doing this time round. When I priced my OneWorld RTW business fare from Singapore, I was getting a quotation of S$15,945. The same itinerary starting from Tokyo? S$9,457 (to put things in perspective, my fare last year was just over S$20,000- but then again last year I did 5 continents and this year I’m doing 3. Even after you factor in surface legs and what not, I’m still coming out way ahead)

To top things off, starting from Tokyo means that when my trip is over I’ll have a spare one way business class Singapore-Tokyo ticket that I can use any time within the RTW ticket validity (up to 1 year). If I want to, I could change it to any other city in Japan for US$125.

The Oneworld booking engine

Oneworld has its own version of the RTW booking engine that you can use to plan your flights.

It’s terrible.  It’s full of bugs and sometimes hangs, requiring you to start from a previously saved point. It sometimes disallows 4 hour connections on the grounds of not meeting MCTs. It allows illegal routings. The most frustrating feature of it is that every time you change your routing (eg add a new city, remove an existing city) the system changes all your previous flight choices to the default ones. So if I’m flying A–>B–>C–>D–>A and I add E in between D and A, all my flight choices for A–>B–>C–>D will disappear. This FT thread documents a host of other frustrations with the engine.

I bought a type of OneWorld RTW ticket called “Explorer” which isn’t limited by miles travelled but rather segments. It allows you a maximum of 16 segments including surface segments (those where you find your own way between two airports), and the pricing is ultimately a combination of fare class, number of segments, airports visited (some have higher surcharges) and number of continents visited.

As with all RTW tickets it’s all about rule, rules, rules. You can read the full rules here, but to summarise the key points-

  • In general, you need to start and end in the same country, though not necessarily the same city. There are explicit exceptions (eg you can start in Malaysia and end in Singapore because same same)
  • You can only cross the Pacific and Atlantic oceans once
  • Your trip must be a minimum of 10 days and a maximum of 12 months
  • You can backtrack within a continent (Zurich to London when moving West to East) but not between continents (Delhi to London when moving West to East)

It also appears that the OW booking engine lacks an online payment function (or at least it didn’t let me pay online). After you confirm your flights and click book, you are given a PNR and instructions to contact the American Airlines office in the city your trip begins in to make payment.

Even making payment was a challenge- I called up American Airlines in Tokyo, only to get bounced to the office in Dallas, only to be told that the RTW desk kept different hours and wasn’t open right now.

When I got through to the RTW desk, I was told that they had to reprice the booking and give me an American Airlines PNR (the RTW engine defaults to booking your trip with the carrier of your first flight segment, in my case Japan Airlines, which is why AA couldn’t recognise the PNR), which required a further 24 hours.

I called back after 24 hours and found the pricing desk had priced in USD, meaning they’d only accept USD-denominated cards and “you have to be an elite member to use an international credit card” (add that to the list of perks!), meaning they had to reprice it again in SGD.

And after I submitted my payment details they sent me an email telling me that one of my segments had violated some rule or other but wasn’t flagged by the online booking engine. Apparently, you cannot stop in the Middle East on the way to Asia, if you’re starting in Africa. I dunno. So I swapped that to a surface leg and they repriced it (this, incidentally, was what lowered the overall fare by S$2K. Since I was no longer “visiting” the Middle East (no stopover there from the OW POV)

But finally, it was done.

11 flights, all in business class, for S$9,457.40. I think that’s pretty good value, all things considered.

No RTW ticket is perfect, and there are always going to be gaps in your alliance’s coverage, or ridiculous layover timings that make it impractical to use. Therefore it’s expected that you’ll have to plug some gaps with one-way tickets. Once you factor in the additional flights plus the connections, the final route looks something like this

map

I’ve basically added

  • A one way ticket to NRT to position myself to start the trip
  • A round trip ticket between MAD and BCN (why can’t I use Iberia as part of the RTW ticket? To do so would be to have 5 stopovers in Europe, more than the 4 permitted)
  • A one way ticket on Ethiopian to get from ACC to DAR
  • A one way ticket on Qatar from DAR to DOH because Oneworld didn’t let me stop over in the Middle East en route to India
  • A series of budget flights within India, where Oneworld has no coverage

All these additional flights added ~S$4-5K to the total cost.

The Airlines

Image result for oneworld

One of the comments I’ve received is that it’d be nice if this website expanded its focus beyond just SQ or Star Alliance carriers. And with the recent Krisflyer devaluation, those seeking to jump ship to Cathay might be interested in knowing what sort of Oneworld partner awards they can look forward to redeeming.

Well there’ll be plenty of that now, because on this trip I’m going to review…

Malaysia Airlines A330 Business Class (KUL-NRT)

Image result for malaysia airlines a330 business class

Malaysia Airlines has recently finished installing its new full flat business class product across its 15 strong A330 fleet. With this new arrangement, 90% of seats get direct aisle access.

Early reviews of the seat look very promising, and I’m looking forward to trying the famous satay course that MH serves (supposed to be way better than SQ’s anyway) as well as their flagship lounge in KLIA (for which I elected for a 3 hour layover instead of a 50 minute one).

Malaysia Airline’s recent troubles have forced it to sell its premium cabin at deep discounts, especially for flights not originating in KUL (they need to try and attract as much ex-Malaysia business as they can). Securing a one way business class ticket for S$913 was already a fantastic deal, although, when MAS goes on sale you can fly return business to Tokyo for S$1,070…

Japan Airlines B77W Business Class (NRT-LAX)

Image result for jal sky suite

Ever since 1-2-1 became the industry standard for business class, 2-2-2 configurations have become indicative of an airline that (1) urgently needs fleet upgrading or (2) has willingly settled for a lesser product. Until the Apex Suite was designed.

Image result for apex suite layout airline

These seats are 2-2-2/ 2-3-2 configured but because of the slightly staggered design, each seat gets direct aisle access. It also means that the window seats in this configuration are among the most lucrative, given the high degree of privacy + direct access to the aisle.

Image result for apex suite window

I’ve never flown JAL before so I’ll be quite keen to see how the product (food especially!) compares to ANA, which I’ve reviewed many times. Perhaps they’ll have muskmelon…

American Airlines B772 Business Class (JFK-LHR)

Image result for american airlines 772 business class

Believe it or not, but I actually deliberately took a connection in JFK instead of flying direct from BOS to LHR just so I could avoid BA. BA’s business class product, by all review accounts, is simply bad.

BA Club World Business Class | Photo credit: View from the Wing

BA has gone for a 2-4-2 config (I know this section is supposed to be about AA and I’ll get to them in a sec) in business class (Club World, as they call it) which means really narrow seats plus everyone having to step over someone/be stepped over at some point in the flight.

On the other hand, American Airlines is retrofitting its 772 aircraft with this new full flat business class seat (the old aircraft had angled flat seats) that has all aisle access

Image result for american airlines 772 business class

It’s an interesting layout because some seats face forward and others backwards in a diamond formation. But I like the high walls and if nothing else, I’m going to try one of those ice cream sundaes and see how it compares to United’s. I know that service on US airlines can be hit or miss, but I’d take a solid hard product with a substandard soft one over a substandard hard product.

Even better, American operates an Arrivals lounge in LHR. (I don’t know why SQ is so opposed to the whole Arrivals lounge concept- it’s a real plus for business travellers. How hard would it be to open the Silverkris lounge for those arriving in the morning who need a shower and a quick bite?). The AA arrivals lounge operates from  5am to 330pm and looks like it has everything

Champagne bar? For a 6am arrival? Where do I sign?

Yeah, I know that if I were flying BA I’d get access to their Elemis Spa at the arrivals lounge in LHR, and that’s mighty tempting, but I’d rather not end up with one of these seats. Good luck if you don’t know your travel companion. It’s no wonder BA charges for advance seat assignments in business class…

Image result for british airways business class
Photo credit: One Mile at a Time

Ethiopian Airlines B772 Business Class (ACC-ADD)

Image result for ethiopian airlines 777 business class

Image result for ethiopian airlines 777 business class

Ethiopian Airlines, of course, isn’t part of Oneworld. But in the absence of any Oneworld connectivity in Africa, I need to figure out how to get from Accra to Dar Es Salaam, and Ethiopia seems to be somewhere in the middle.

For us in Singapore, airlines probably don’t get much more exotic than Ethiopian. But in fact, Ethiopian has a range of pretty solid business class products across their fleet.

Here’s their A350

Image result for ethiopian airlines business class

And their 787 (it looks angled flat but it’s full flat)

Image result for ethiopian airlines business class 787

It’s certainly not market-leading, but I think they deserve a lot more credit than they’re given. I mean, Emirates doesn’t even have lie flat seats in business in any aircraft except the A380!

Perhaps you may never have the opportunity to fly Ethiopian Airlines (although they do a fifth freedom flight between SIN and BKK where you can try out their lie flat product), but hopefully this will give you an idea of what service, food and product you can expect if that day ever comes.

Qatar Airways B787 Business Class (DOH-DEL)

Image result for qatar airways 787 business class

Image result for qatar airways 787 business class

Qatar Airways has a reverse herringbone business class configuration in its 787 aircraft. I don’t know why Lucky raves about this so much given that it looks more or less similar to other reverse herringbone seats I’ve reviewed, but I’ll withhold further comment until I try it out.

Unfortunately I’m not going to have a chance to review this new business class

Qatar-Airways-New-Business

Image result for qatar airways qsuite

The QSuite, as it’s called, only launches in June on the Doha London route before being retrofitted to the rest of the QR fleet. I won’t lie, I thought of really convoluted routings that would place me on a LHR-DOH flight in June, but I just couldn’t make it work.

Image result for qatar lounge doha

The lounge in Doha is supposed to be excellent, with 2 full service restaurants, an F1 racing simulator, multiple PS consoles and a spa (that is, unfortunately, not free. Or cheap. 30 minute treatments start at US$110). Too bad I’ll be in Qatar during Ramadan, because that means no booze in the lounge (aircraft booze, however, is still ok).

In addition to these headliners there’ll also be a scattering of domestic US, intra-Europe narrowbody aircraft. I don’t expect those too be too exciting, but reviews will follow nonetheless. Oh, and I’m tentatively scheduled to fly on CX’s new regional business class too, but I’ve just transferred a bunch of Asiamiles into my account and am considering switching to a flight with First Class just so I can use my miles to upgrade myself.

Looks like May will be rather interesting…

Miami, no vice

Miami, no vice: Planning
EVA Air Business Class SIN-TPE
Decoding the lounge situation in Taipei
EVA Air Business Class TPE-IAH
Red Roof Inn IAH Airport
United Economy IAH-MIA
Renting with Sixt Miami
Element Miami International Airport
Miami, the Keys and everything inbetween
Jetblue Economy MCO-JFK
Revisiting the Taipei lounges


Image result for miami spring break

When I first told my colleagues I was headed to Miami during Spring Break, questions were asked.

“Are you going to party on the beach?”

“No”

“Are you going to party on the beach with booze?”

“No”

“Are you going to party on the beach with booze and drugs?”

“No”

“Are you going to party on the beach with booze and drugs and topless college girls who have not learned the value of true self-worth?”

“No. Although I might drop by to pass out bottles of water to ensure no one gets dehydrated and everyone gets home safely”

It’s normally around this point that people lose interest in the conversation and ask me to ensure my files are handed over properly.

The thing is, the Milelion is a paragon of virtue, and such concepts are strange and foreign to him. Miami might be the town of Tony Montana (paraphrase: this whole town is akin to a bride awaiting consummation), but the Milelion is determined to take a walk on the mild side.


I first put together my Miami plan back in December last year when March seemed so far away. But now March is here, and even though I’d painstakingly put together v1 of the Miami plan, I’ve spent the past 48 hours taking it apart and reassembling it because of some interesting opportunities that have come up.

The Flights and Hotels

My original plan was to try out SQ’s new A350 aircraft with its 2013-edition business class seats on SQ52 from SIN-MAN-IAH, before transiting to a cheap American Airlines flight to finish off the journey to MIA.

Image result for sq a350

The problem? SQ52 departs at 0215 from Singapore on Saturday. By the time I arrive in Miami, it’d be close to 9pm on Saturday. No time to do anything but check into the hotel and try to fall asleep. And it’s not like I have a lot of leave this time round- my trip, sans travelling time, is only 8 days.

I always thought that you gain a day when you fly to the States, but what was happening in my case is that I’m actually overshooting Miami by going to Houston. Then add in a 2 hour layover and a 2.5 hour flight back, and there goes your Saturday.

And besides, SQ’s A350 business class product is more or less the same as the one you’ll find on the newest 77Ws, which I reviewed recently (I know there have been some complaints that the cabin’s a bit too narrow however). And I’ve already reviewed an A350

So I was looking for a way to depart from Singapore earlier on Friday. And lo and behold, I found a business class seat on BR216 for a 4pm departure to TPE before connecting on BR52 to IAH and arriving at 10.40pm on Friday.

But haven’t you already reviewed EVA? you ask. Yes, I have. But I’ve not reviewed BR216 before.

BR216, you say? Why does that sound familiar…

Image result for eva air hello kitty 777

It sounds familiar because BR215/216 is the flight pairing of the Hello Kitty  777 that is operated between SIN and TPE (and will be until 31 May 2017).

So yes, I am going to review the Eva Air Hello Kitty jet. Fortunately, I have such a surplus of rampant manliness that I think we’re all gonna be just fine.

I ended up booking this flight through Krisflyer for 97,500 miles and about S$370 in surcharges and taxes. The surcharges and taxes ended up being quite a bit more than I expected (SQ charged S$411), owing to the fact that EVA levies fuel surcharges (S$285) on redemptions.

I know I could have used Lifemiles and avoided the fuel surcharges, but I’m currently empty and would rather use some of my “free” Krisflyer miles than Lifemiles that I shelled out actual money for. Was this the best use of miles? Well, I spent 25K additional miles to start my vacation a bit earlier and review a new cabin product. I know there will be those who disagree with that assessment, but in my current situation I value time over miles, so this was an acceptable trade off for me.

Unfortunately, I arrive too late in Houston to catch an immediate connection to Miami. So I’m going to overnight at a dumpy Red Roof Inn near the airport for a grand total of S$88 (less 10% cashback with Shopback- there’s a special sale going on now with Expedia that upsizes the regular 6.5% cashback on hotels to 10% till 23 March).

I mean, the official photos look ok, but we all know that this is going to be a graceless airport property. That said, this seems to be one of the better ones in the area (the other budget motels have reviews that would make your skin crawl)

Image result for red roof inn iah

Image result for red roof inn iah

The next morning I’ll be taking an early flight out to Miami on United and reaching at 1040am. This one is the real pain point- the flight cost me S$335, and there wasn’t any award space that I could redeem a cheap Krisflyer Star Alliance award for. I played with many different permutations (including flying with legendary Spirit Airlines to FLL), but in the end the additional time and bag fees just didn’t make sense.

Now I suppose you could say that the net net effect is I’m paying just over S$400 for an additional 12 hours of vacation. I’d argue that it’s more like 24, because if nothing else, getting into Houston earlier allows me an additional evening in a proper bed to try to acclimatize to the time change. It’s definitely not a trade off I’d recommend for everyone, however.

Once in Miami, I’ve booked the Element Miami International Airport. An airport hotel isn’t the most intuitive of places to stay, but I’m going to have a car, so the distances don’t bother me that much

Image result for element miami international airport

Miami Airport Accommodations - Executive Corner Suite

Miami Airport Accommodations - One Bedroom Suite

Besides, the property is a mere 7,000 points a night with the 5th night free. So I’m paying 28,000 points for 5 nights, and getting a room that’s significantly bigger than what I’d have in downtown Miami. And it has a kitchen. If I’m feeling creative.

After Miami I’m heading to Orlando, where I’ll be staying in an AirBnB property. I’ve been buying more than a few AirBnB gift cards with the 20% off promotions that we’ve seen recently, and combining this with referral credit (thanks guys-here’s S$50 in credit for you if it’s your first stay) means I’m paying about S$82 in total for 3 nights.

From Orlando it’s a S$214 Jetblue flight to JFK, and from JFK I’ve booked myself back home with EVA again (really racking up those Rimowa amenities kits!). The cost: 78,000 Lifemiles and US$6 of taxes.

(random thought: should I be crediting my miles from Star Alliance flights to Lifemiles, since the non-existent surcharges mean that it’s going to be better value than Krisflyer post the devaluation? Of course there’s the whole issue of not being able to book SQ award space but hmmm…..)

The Ground Transportation

I mentioned I had a car for the trip. And indeed, I have. But I’m deeply suspicious because the deal I got sounds too good to be true.

That’s right, Sixt Miami (who have some rather dodgy Yelp reviews, although the majority of those seem to be from people who are incapable of reading fine print) is offering me a rate of about US$48 a day for this. It even includes SLI and CDW with a $0 deductible (if you’re thinking about rental car insurance beyond that covered by travel insurance, try this)

Now I get that it’s a “or similar” dealie, but this isn’t the base level convertible where they could easily substitute a Ford Mustang or a Chevy Camaro for a continental car. This is the premium level convertible, where “or similar” means a 4 series BMW convertible or an Audi A5 convertible.

General rule: if a deal sounds too good to be true, it is. So I’ve made a backup reservation with National for a rather pedestrian full sized car.

Let’s see how this plays out…

The Sights

I’ve put together a litany of things to see and do in Miami, which I won’t spoil here but will try to write about in as much detail as possible as this trip report goes on. I hope that if any of you are headed to Florida in the future, you might find the things here useful.

Image result for florida keys

Some highlights in Miami will include visiting the famous South Beach area with its Ocean Drive Art Deco buildings, the Design District, Wynwood, Coral Gables, the Everglades and the Keys (please tell me some of you watch Bloodline). Thanks to those of you who have reached out with travel suggestions, really appreciate it!

Image result for miami masters tennis

And, of course, who can forget the Miami Masters tennis, which I’ll use to fill evening time when all the cool kids are partying on the beach (did I tell you I’m going during Spring Break?)

Image result for disneyworld

In Orlando it’s all about Mickey as Walt and friends bend me over and charge me US$212 for a 2 day pass. Who’d have thought that the happiest place on earth could also be the most expensive? They want a further US$20 a day for parking, but I believe I might have found a way around that. I’ll report back on this. But, perhaps more interestingly, Orlando is 1 hour away from the Kennedy Space Center on the Florida coast. You can bet I’m heading there (they even offer the chance to see a launch on certain days!)

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Conclusion

All in all this is shaping up to be a fantastic trip. I’ll try to keep the articles and updates flowing. Remember, you can follow The Milelion on Instantgram and be the first to see his photos of relaxing at 8pm in the hotel and avoiding a potentially interesting neighbourhood because scary.

How to get from Singapore to Miami, or why March can’t come soon enough

I finally had time to sit down and plan my leave for 2017. Although the vast, unexplored spaces of South America and Africa beckoned, I consider myself to be pathologically boring and decided to visit the USA (again). But just so no one could call me predictable, I decided to explore the great state of Florida this time round.

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Florida, aka America’s wang

Miami would be my first port of call. My virgin US open experience had whet my appetite for more high quality tennis and the Miami Masters were scheduled to take place at the end of March/start of April.

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But Miami is also known for great beaches, beautiful art deco buildings, Cuban and Argentine influenced cuisine and much more.

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And since I’m in Florida, it only made sense to visit Orlando too. I do love theme parks and the idea of visiting the theme park capital of the world, excites me to no end. Orlando boasts Disney World, the Epcot Centre, Discovery Cove, Universal Studios, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, Legoland. Seaworld…the list goes on and on.

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I’ll definitely do a separate writeup on Orlando and Miami with things to do ala my DC trip report, but let’s first look at the higlight of the trip- getting there!

Getting to the States

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It’s not that straightforward to get from Singapore to Miami on miles (if you’re wiling to pay revenue prices you could fly SIN-LHR-MIA, with the LHR-MIA leg operated by Virgin Atlantic). The closest major international airports to Miami were Houston and New York, both of which were about 2.5 hour connecting flights away from Miami. SQ25/26 is one of the hardest routes to clear award flights on, so I decided to look at Houston instead.

SQ recently announced that it would start routing its IAH flight through Manchester instead of Moscow, presumably due to the downturn in the global oil sector leading to less oil-related travel between Houston and Moscow. The flight is currently operated in a 3-class 77W (with the 2006 premium cabin products) but eagle eyed observers noted that from 1 Jan 2017 First Class space was no longer available for redemption or revenue bookings. The most logical conclusion was that SQ has identified this route for deploying the A350.

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I’m going to fly Thai’s A350 in December from Bangkok to Singapore, but this will be my first long haul A350 experience and I’m really excited.

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SQ’s A350 has its newest (2013) business class seat, and although there are some complaints out there about how narrow the cabin is, I think it’ll still be a great trip report to write. The cost of a one-way redemption was 72,250 miles + S$412 of taxes.

Once I land in Houston I have 90 minutes to make my connection to a domestic flight to Miami. It’s a short connection for international-domestic and some might say I’m playing with fire, but I’ve recently been approved for Global Entry which gives me a good feeling about this. What could possibly go wrong!

Here’s where I took advantage of one of the great sweet spots on the Krisflyer partner award chart– the ability to redeem domestic US tickets for only 12,500 in economy.

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I did so because the one-way ticket prices from Houston to Miami that matched my schedule were in excess of S$400. 12,500 miles and S$8 of taxes got me my United economy ticket. It’s a 2.5 hour flight and since Netflix now lets you download movies to watch offline, I figured I’d be just fine.

Getting back to Singapore

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The next problem I faced was how to get back from the States. I had two options.

I could fly back to IAH and take EVA back to Singapore. The problem was that flights between Orlando and Houston were expensive and didn’t suit my timings. The most workable option was to fly with United, but that would get me into Houston at 5.55pm for a flight that took off after midnight.

And that would be an awkward kind of layover, because it’s too long to stay in the airport and too short to go out and explore. Plus, I didn’t really fancy paying US$70 for an Uber roundtrip to downtown Houston for just a couple of hours, with my bags in tow.

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So I looked at option 2 instead, which was to fly to JFK and take EVA’s 1.25am flight home. And that solved it- Jetblue was offering S$219 tickets one way from Orlando to JFK (with a bag included- any FYI, Jetblue flights now earn Krisflyer miles) that got me into JFK at 11pm. That was plenty of time to make the connection.

Despite hearing so many great things about Jetblue, this is actually going to be my first time flying with them, It’s unfortunate I couldn’t take advantage of their great points matching promotion not too long ago, but I’m nonetheless excited to see why this LCC is so much more loved than the legacy carriers in the states.

The only downside of this arrangement is that EVA operates its Hello Kitty service to Houston but not New York.

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High on my to-do list is try one of the EVA Air Hello Kitty flights at some point in the future. But I guess that’ll have to wait until I travel one of the follow routes…

Sidenote: I cannot access the EVA Air Hello Kitty website from my office. why? Well…

The flight cost me 78,000 Lifemiles +$30 of taxes for a total outlay of about US$1,100 (I bought my Lifemiles at 1.375 cents during the last sale)

My only regret is that I really wanted to try a new cabin product this time round. I suppose SQ’s A350 sort of counts, but I was secretly hoping there’d be award space on Asiana’s Business/First class or something available with one of the European carriers.

Has anyone been to Miami/Orlando? Any highlights/must dos?

Google Trips: A simple travel planner for the Gmail user

Louis believes he caught the premium travel bug after attaining KrisFlyer Elite Gold and occasionally being upgraded while shuttling between the UK, Singapore and Japan (in economy class). These travels have led to a wonderful marriage, as well as a burning desire to maximise his frequency of travel in business class or better.

He travels with a gryphon plush toy, Griffles, which often stands in for him in vacation photos. Griffles continues to amuse (and confuse) air stewardesses, hotel staff and just about everybody else, all around the world.


Earlier this week, the Google Trips app for Android and iOS was launched, promising to save hapless travellers from situations like finding a goat instead of accommodation where you expected your hotel to be.

Other than being a “Hilton man” (as Aaron puts it), I am also a bit of a Google fan, so I was quite eager to see what travel assistance our Google overlords have to offer those of us who have willingly surrendered our data in exchange for free email (i.e. Gmail users).

I’ll let the official Google blog do the honours of listing all its advertised features, and will zoom straight to my general impressions of the app.

The Good

Automagically-populated trip info Things to do (For you) Day plans Food & Drink  Saved place in Google Maps

  • Convenience – Google’s social contract with users is that we offer it our personal data so it can deliver more targeted ads to us, while it delivers us products and services that make our lives… better? This is where Google manages to deliver rather well – with access to my various reservation confirmation emails, Google Trips was automatically pre-populated with my trips (upcoming as well as past) when I launched it for the very first time!
  • Simple itinerary planning – I found the “Things to do” section pretty useful. There’s even a targeted ‘For you’ section that presumably makes use of your email and search history to surface places you might be interested in – Tsukiji Market appeared as the first item for me while looking at suggestions for my recent Tokyo trip, presumably because I’d searched for it while planning previously. The ‘Day Plans’ section also offers suggested itineraries with map locations, while the Food & Drinks section is, of course, indispensable to the average Singaporean traveller.
  • Google Maps integration – I particularly like the fact that places saved from within Google Trips are also starred in Maps, allowing for easy navigation later.
  • Extensive information – essentials such as transport (even on info such as bike rentals) and tipping culture are all covered, easily accessible within the app.
  • Offline access – the ability to pre-download and later access information when offline is a useful one, even though I usually get data roaming / local SIMs these days.

The Bad

Missing flight information Missing flight information even after updating in Inbox

  • Limited manual entry – the app is great when it works, but when it doesn’t… there’s nothing much you can do about it. I noticed that for some of my trips, there was some missing information – after fiddling for some time with the app, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only edits you can make are to the trip name, destinations and dates. That suffices for itinerary planning, but I was hoping that it could also be used as a quick reference for my reservation details so I can refer to things like flight details as required. The ability to key in details manually would help with that.
  • Troublesome manual entry – from what I understand, Google Trips evolved from the Trip Bundles feature within Inbox by Google – since they use the same data set, you can add/remove associated trip-related emails by accessing inbox.google.com, which is rather troublesome and hardly an ideal solution. What’s more, even after adding the correct relevant email, Google sometimes fails to recognise information, like a shared itinerary from SIA (I suspect the formatting differs from a typical booking).
  • No Google Flights integration – I find Google Flights to be an awesome resource for searching through airfares and even tracking prices. I think it’s a bit of a missed opportunity that Google Trips doesn’t integrate some of this functionality to allow users to look for cheap flights while building their itineraries!

The Ugly

Incorrectly ordered hotel stay in Trips Incorrectly identified year for hotel stay

  • Errors in automatic data recognition –  I have one particular trip scheduled for next year where the final hotel stay was incorrectly listed first. Puzzled, I took a look and realised that Google had somehow registered it as a 2016 stay, even though the reservation email clearly states that it is for 2017! I’m rather puzzled by this anomaly.
  • Inability to amend details – Limited data entry capability is bad, but when there’s no way to correct errors, I think it’s turned ugly. This is not limited to errors – sometimes, reservation details simply change (e.g. change in flight timings). Google sometimes captures and updates this data, but not always. Where it reflects outdated reservation information, there doesn’t seem to be any easy way to correct it.

Conclusion

All in all, the app feels more like a beta version than an actual polished product (i.e. typical Google). It has its strengths – I like being able to easily generate itineraries  – but its reliance on algorithms to extract reservation information can be really annoying.

If you’re at all concerned about accuracy of reservation details, you might be better off using alternatives like TripIt or WorldMate instead. On the other hand, I fully expect Google to eventually get its act together, so if you’re feeling up to being an early adopter, do feel free to give it a whirl!

The New York Gameplan

I wrote in April about how I’m heading to the USA in September to watch the US Open and revisit New York. I thought it’d be a good time to share a bit more about how that trip is shaping up and how you can plan a similar one if you’re into tennis the way I am.

The Flights

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To recap: I used 99,000 Lifemiles and US$92 of fees to  book a SIN-BKK-HND-NRT-ORD first class ticket with SQ, TG and ANA, and then a separate ORD-EWR ticket on United. This routing will let me experience Thai Airway’s first class product on its 747 as well as its first class spa in Bangkok, which I’m really looking forward to. It’ll also be a chance to try ANA’s excellent first class product again.

SQ Regional Business Class
Thai B747 First Class
ANA First Suite
United Economy. Saul Good, man.

If you’re going

I imagine you’re not keen on joining in with the fiasco that is SQ’s waitlist, so I’m going to talk about some other options here.

I see on Lifemiles that award seats are available to JFK (albeit on weekdays) during this period. You might want to play around with routings to EWR, BOS, ORD, perhaps even as far afield as IAH and see whether you can get a cheap domestic flight from there.

You might also want to try booking with Cathay, which charges much lower surcharges on award tickets than SQ.  They don’t require miles in your account to waitlist so it’s worth throwing your hat in anyway.

The Hotels

In New York I’ll be staying at the Sheraton New York Time Square hotel, a very average Sheraton property, for 5 nights and 48,000 points (12,000 points a night, 5th night free with SPG)  It does have a club lounge, but it’s the typical stingy US-based approach to lounges with a very small selection of food and alcohol for sale.

You can’t beat the location though, it’s right smack in the middle of Manhattan and near the Theater District. And although I’ve done all the touristy things in NY to death already, it’s always good to be central.

Because the typical rate for a 4 Star hotel is upwards of US$300 during this US Open period, I’d say I’ve got a pretty good deal here. I briefly considered staying somewhere closer to the US Open in Flushing (Queens) but decided that the better quality of F&B in Manhattan and my greater familiarity with that area made it a safer bet. Also, it wasn’t worth losing out on the 5th night free by breaking up the stays.

If you’re going

If you have no hotel points and  you’re looking for a cheap deal you might be a bit out of luck now given how close we are to the actual event, but there’s still hope yet! Try doing a blind bid with Hotwire and Priceline. Use the tricks I wrote about for Priceline to feel out the market, edging your bid up a bit at a time without triggering the time penalty (if none of that makes sense to you, read the article!). You might also want to consider staying outside of Manhattan, where hotel rates tend to be much lower (stay near a subway, and use common sense. Brooklyn is generally ok but Queens might be a bit more hairy. Don’t get me started on the Bronx).

If you’re a real risk taker, and I mean real risk taker, try a last minute OTA like HotelTonight. This app gives you last minute deals on hotels for tonight, the day after or 7 days from now. Presumably the best prices will be for tonight, and anecdotally I’m seeing hotels in Manhattan available for as low as S$190 (I’m assuming the rates will go up as September approaches though). If you use my sign up code you get S$27 of credit, with a minimum spend of S$160.

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You could also try Booking Now (by Booking.com), which has a much bigger selection of hotels. The prices I saw here were generally below US$200 around the 57th Street area.

The Tennis

SPG is a sponsor of the US Open and as such offers special experiences that money can’t buy on its SPG Moments site. I’m normally a big proponent of the mantra that SPG points should only be spent on hotels, but this is one major exception to the rule.

From reading around, I understood that SPG offers several different packages for the US Open. I’d been refreshing the site daily since June waiting for the packages to go live. They eventually did go on sale, but unfortunately the price was double what it was the year before. Instead of 25,000 for a pair of tickets to the SPG Luxury suite, it was 50,000. I agonized long and hard (10 hours) about this decision- I really valued those 50,000 Starpoints (the experts tell me those are worth more than $1K USD) but I knew that I’d never be able to afford luxury suite tickets by myself.

This was exactly the value vs access argument I talked about a long time ago when I outlined the value of travel hacking. In the end I went with access, knowing that I’d be able to share an amazing experience with my dad that money couldn’t buy.

I’ve read OMMAT’s report on the SPG luxury suite from the 2015 US Open and now I’m super excited to experience it for myself. (off topic: if anyone out there is NTRP 4.0+ and fancies a match please let me know in the comments. Always great to meet a reader!)

Otherwise, I thought the Louis Armstrong courtside seats were phenomenal value (15,000 for 2 tickets, when courtside seats usually start at US$200-300 plus for one ticket) but stupidly I’d bought my tickets already in a fit of kiasuism.

The Arthur Ashe tickets, well, I was a bit more indifferent. For 55,000 Starpoints you’d get seats in the Luxury Suite which, granted, may not be as good as courtside, but still offer a great view plus catering.

There are a couple of other unique experiences that you can bid for, like getting breakfast in the players’ dining room

Or playing an actual tennis game against some Pro-Am (former champions) pairs. I assume they have to let you win some points if you’re going to be paying upwards of 100,000 SPG points for the experience…

If you’re going

I believe you can still get grounds passes for the first week, which represent good value because they give you access to all the courts except Arthur Ashe. You can also go for the qualifying rounds which are absolutely free. Yes, you won’t see the big names, but I assure you that the quality of tennis you see will be much higher than anything you’ve ever seen in Singapore.

Bonus Material

I was only going to be able to catch the second week of the US Open because of work commitments in the first week, but I had two weeks in the States in total. That posed the question- what to do in the second week?

My first thought was to head across to the West Coast for more of the same old, same old, but then I realised- what about DC? I could finally put all that House of Cards trivia to good use.

The competition on the New York DC route means that you can find return airfare for just under S$200, which I thought was an ok enough deal. I could also take the train, but the journey time is about 3.5 hours.

 

In Washington DC I had another issue- should I spend 40,000 points for my 5 night stay at the Le Meridien Arlington, or go with something more economical like AirBnB? My SPG points account had already taken a huge beating from that 50,000 US Open redemption plus 48,000 points for the NY stay.

I decided to go with AirBnB and I was pleasantly surprised to find some very good, cheap options for private rooms which worked out to be ~S$100 a night including all fees and surcharges. When I was booking, I realise I had quite a bit of credit from Milelion readers who had used my link to sign up  (earning $33 of credit for themselves too!). Thank you everyone, I really appreciate it.

Although the Singapore bank- AirBnB promotions have since dried up, there are still a few tricks you can take advantage of. For example, add your work email to AirBnB and get a $50 off your next AirBnB stay.

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Work email here is really loosely defined, most people online say any non Gmail/Yahoo/etc mail address will work. You can click on your existing reservation to change it to a business stay (see below)

There’s of course plenty to do in DC, like visiting all the monuments and the Smithsonian museums. You can also (surprisingly) book tours of the Pentagon (fun fact: Singaporeans cannot book tours to the DMZ in Korea because apparently we are too close to China that we pose a security risk. I’m cereal), but not the White House. As per the White Houses’ official website, foreigners can contact their embassy to get access, but the SG embassy in Washington DC refutes this.

As for going home, I decided it was time to burn some Krisflyer miles. I later realised that it takes the same number of miles (93,500 for First) to fly JFK-FRA-SIN as it does JFK-FRA-SIN-BKK, so I booked the latter for the heck of it. Even though SIN-BKK doesn’t have First class, you’re allowed to access The Private Room when arriving in First class so long as you have an onwards connecting flight on Singapore Airlines. I’ll also have the chance to revisit the very excellent Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse in JFK which I last visited in 2004. I’m very keen to review that too (you can get a haircut in the lounge, apparently)

The only issue now is that I’m in waitlist purgatory for the JFK-FRA-SIN leg. Nothing a lot of persistent calling can’t fix though. I hope.

If anyone is heading to the US Open this year, please connect with me. Would be awesome to meet some readers on the road!