Category Archives: Trip reports

Miami, no vice

Miami, no vice: Planning
EVA Air Business Class SIN-TPE
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
Orlando: Disneyworld and other distractions
Jetblue Economy MCO-JFK
EVA Air Business Class JFK-TPE
EVA Air Business Class TPE-SIN


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!)

Image result for kennedy space centre visitor

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.

On the road again to Rio: A review of SQ’s new business class

On the road again to Rio: Introduction
Singapore Airlines Business Class SIN-FRA
Lufthansa Premium Economy FRA-GIG
Sheraton Grand Rio Hotel & Resort
Star Alliance Lounge Rio
Lufthansa Business Class GIG-FRA
Sheraton Frankurt Airport Hotel
Singapore Airlines Business Class FRA-SIN


map

My trip to Rio was broken up into 2 legs- the first a 13 hour flight to Frankfurt, the second a 12 hour flight to Rio. For the first leg, I had managed to upgrade my premium economy ticket to business (as per SQ’s new upgrade policy, upgrades to business are only possible from premium economy, unless said aircraft does not offer premium economy). For the second, absolutely no space had opened up in business class so it looked like I’d be front loading my champagne intake…

The T3 SilverKris lounge was deserted when I got there, because amazing people would rather choose to visit relatives on the 2nd day of CNY than fly off to exotic locales. There were a few special items for CNY on the buffet spread, so I helped myself to some fishball noodles (probably the best fishball noodles you’d find in public that day) and made myself at home infront of one of the festive plants.

There’s been some redecorations done around the lounge ever since the Rio Olympics with SQ looking to milk every bit of its involvement

Oh hai Joseph Schooling call me maybe.

I’ve written before about the static displays that SQ is setting up in its lounge to partner with advertisers. I know that some people find these tacky but I’m fine with them insofar as they give guests the chance to try some new product or service. I mean, this was way better than the inoperable clothes steaming closet SQ had in its T2 lounge the last time I flew that was just standing there taking up space

Boarding started on time and I was one of the first to board. There was time to snap a quick photo of 9V-SWB.

9V-SWB, of course, has SQ’s latest cabin products including the 2015 Premium Economy seat and the 2013 Business Class seat. You can always refer to this thread on SQTalk that details which cabin configuration each of SQ’s aircraft have.

SQ has 48 flatbed seats in business class on this configuration of the 77W, in a 1-2-1 configuration.

Note that unlike the older 77Ws (without PY), there isn’t any mini cabin at the front anymore. I mean, there is, but it’s now 12 people instead of 8.

new configuration, front “mini” cabin
old configuration, front “mini” cabin

I arrived at my seat, 18K, only to see this sticker placed on the seat. I asked a cabin attendant about it and she removed it and relocated it one seat behind. In any case, the cabin that day would be more than half empty so seating wasn’t exactly at a premium.

The 2013 Business Class seat is an incremental evolution, rather than revolution, of the 2006 seat that came before it. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because the 2006 seat was truly ahead of its time when it first debuted.

Aesthetically, the seat is a beauty to behold. The finishings are classy and elegant, unlike Emirate’s ridiculously OTT bling. I love the neutral tones of the upholstery. You can really see JPA’s design philosophy behind this seat.

There’s plenty of storage space in the seat

To me, the best feature about the cabin is the amount of privacy it affords.  Compare the SQ seat to business class cabins you’ll see in other airlines-

Lufthansa
Image result for swiss business class
Swiss
Image result for turkish airlines business class
Turkish Airlines

With other airlines, you feel very exposed. You can stand up and see practically everyone else in the cabin. Turn to your left and you see your seatmate in all his/her dehydrated glory. Walk down the aisle and you’ll see your cabin mates prone in their seats sleeping.

Not so with SQ’s design. Stand up, and all you can see is the high walls of every other business class seat. Lie down, and it’s like you’re the only person on the plane. When moving up and down the cabin you can’t really see other passengers sleeping unless you make an effort to lean into their suite. It’s incredible, and more akin to what you’d expect in first class than business.

Even if you snag one of the 2 seats in the middle, you’ve got excellent privacy from your neighbour. I think SQ expanded the privacy divider in the 2013 seat because when it’s extended you’d have to lean very far forward to see the person next to you.

For people like me who are deathly afraid of eye contact with strangers, this seat is a godsend.

Seat controls are on the panel next to the aisle. The seat design still isn’t one for reclining- you’d be better off flipping it into bed mode.

An oversized pillow is provided at each seat, with one more for sleeping located behind the seat (in the nook where you unlatch the seat and flip it over into a bed)

As expected, each seat had the usual assortment of connections, chargers and in-seat power.

And SQ’s high quality Phitek noise cancelling headphones were available too (I’ve noticed on some J routes they’re using the older cup around ear non Phitek design)

The crew came around with pre-departure beverages. I read, with much amusement, this entire thread on Flyertalk complaining about how SQ was stiffing customers by doing smaller and smaller pours of pre-departure champagne. I guess my glass was slightly less than half full, but I never knew why that’d be an issue. I mean, it’s not like Oliver Twist right?

The captain came on the PA to announce the flight time of just under 13 hours. We pushed back on time and taxied to the runway. Unfortunately there weren’t any exotic airlines to spot en route.

After takeoff, the crew started taking meal orders. I took out my tray in anticipation, only to find this-

There was some disgusting sticky residue on the latch for the table and inside the area where it was stored. It immediately awoke the hypochondriac in me, because if they missed cleaning that, did they even bother to clean the rest of the table?

I moved across the aisle to the seat in the middle and checked the table, where I found this.

I wasn’t in the mood to change tables again, so I called the crew over. They cleaned up the table as best they could and promised they’d report it to the ground staff. I’d just pass it off as no one really wanting to work during CNY.

The crew served drinks and warm nuts before the meal started. SQ is still serving Charles Heidsieck champagne in business class.

SQ had a special CNY menu for the February period

There would be two meals served on this flight- lunch would be served after takeoff, and dinner before landing in Frankfurt.

Normally these meal services start with satay, then a salad type dish, then the main, then dessert. Today, however, I realised there was no satay service, and wondered if it had anything to do with the caterer running a tighter ship manpower-wise during CNY.

There was a passable rendition of yusheng served. Unfortunately no chopsticks were provided so I couldn’t see how high in the cabin it was wise/prudent to toss the contents.

For  the main, I ordered the steamed cod fish Thai style, a dish I really enjoyed on my SIN-BKK flight a few months ago

Steamed Cod Fish Thai Style

A traditional dish of cod steamed with spicy lime sauce, served with shredded white cabbage, carrot julienne, Chinese sliced celery, fried garlic and steamed rice

However, the minute it came I knew the caterer had goofed up the order. This is what I got-

And this is what the dish should be.

20160902_191305

What I was served instead was the Chinese Style Cod with Fried Rice (Served with seasonal oriental vegetables, Chinese black mushrooms and egg fried rice. Designed by Singapore Airlines International Culinary Panel Chef Zhu Jun). I know because I had the exact same dish on a different flight.

I mean, the cod was still excellent, but I was confused as to how the order got messed up. I would imagine all these things are automated behind the scene and each dish has a unique ID tag. It’s not like someone telling the chef- “prepare a cod dish” and the chef is confused because he doesn’t know which one. It’s more like a manifest is printed with the exact ID number of the dish to be made, and some alert should go out if the wrong dish is loaded. That at least would make sense to me.

I really didn’t fancy any of the dessert options on offer so I asked if the crew could get me some ice cream from economy class. I do remember when SQ used to serve Haagen Daz in economy class…

The fruit cart came by and I helped myself to some grapes and melon. Pralines were also offered.

Bottles of water were distributed after meal service as most passengers prepared for a nap.

Not me, though. I had work to do. And so I connected to the Wifi in the plane, only to discover to my horror it was the dreaded OnAir and not the T-Mobile Wifi.

OnAir charges based on volume, unlike the T-Mobile hotspot passes which are based on time.

The basic plan starts at US$7 for 15MB, but seriously, what is 15MB. I think the typical Milelion trip report is probably larger than that.

So I went with the pro at US$20 for 50MB. Which I needed to renew 3 times during the course of my 4 hour working session. SQ’s OnAir Wifi offerings are simply not competitive with other airlines, and it needs to fix that asap. Volume-based Wifi is unnecessarily punitive towards customers

It was now well past the midway point of the flight. I don’t think SQ’s snack menu is particularly great (it’s basically variations on instant noodles plated nicely), so didn’t request for anything mid-flight. Had I opted to, I could have chosen from the following

Instead of ordering, I wandered to the galley to check out the snack basket. And I’m glad I did, because that’s where I met Gerard.

Gerard was the chief steward on the flight that day. I sympathized with him for having to work on CNY, a sentiment he reciprocated for me.

I soon found out that he was an SQ veteran, with 18 years of flying experience under his belt (I guessed 5 years, flattering him immensely). To put things in perspective, he was here even before the Big Top and Mega Top days- he was rated on the A310, an aircraft that disappeared from SQ’s fleet around 2001.

Image result for a310 singapore airlines

Here’s the only interior photo of SQ’s A310 cabin I can find.

Image result for a310 singapore airlines

Anyway I had a great time geeking out about all things aviation with Gerard. We talked about the impending launch of SQ’s new cabin products, about the older SQ fleet, about pretty much everything SQ related.  He had such a passion about him for making passengers happy, and I guess you really need to have that to stay in a job that requires you to be away from home 2/3rds of the month for 18 years. After a lovely chat, he loaded me with SQ paraphernalia  (playing cards, postcards and two more bears for my collection) and suggested I catch some rest before slumming it in PY for the next leg.

I went back to my seat and made the bed for a nap. The new business class seat mirrors the 2006 version in that you need to flip it over to convert it into a bed. I personally prefer a seat that allows you to select exactly what angle you want to recline at, but there’s nothing wrong with SQ’s execution either.

I find the padding on the 2013 version of the business class seat slightly better than the 2006. However, if you have large feet, you might find the cubbyhole where your legs go a bit cramped. If you fall into that category you might want to consider one of the bulkhead seats where you can lie straight, rather than at an angle

The crew woke us up 3 hours before landing for dinner. Personally I thought they’d have let everyone maximise their rest and start proceedings 2 hours before, but I wasn’t really sleeping much anyway. According to Gerard, it’s the prerogative of the inflight supervisor when to start meal services. If they’re getting a lot of requests from passengers for snacks, they’ll assume it means people are hungry and shift the service up a bit.

The second meal was termed “light dinner”, although it didn’t look any different from the regular dinner service SQ does on long haul routes.

It’s kind of funny because you can really see the caterer trying to simplify the menu for the festive period. The starter was a trilogy of salmon, featuring smoked and poached salmon (plus one other indeterminable style). The smoked salmon was the base ingredient used in the yusheng starter. Indeed, for quite a few of the meals you could see repeats of ingredients used elsewhere- the lounge was serving fishball noodles, and sure enough that was one of the items on the lunch menu.

There were no mistakes with the BTC this time- I got my chargrilled soya beef. I keep saying I’m swearing off airline beef for good, but keep coming back believing that this time’s the time my luck changes.

I wouldn’t say it was the best beef I ever had on a plane, but it was at least still moist and juicy, as this cross section shows.

I did opt for the dessert this time, having a rather excellent chocolate cheesecake.

By the time the meal was over it was time to prep for arrival. I remembered that I absolutely needed to take a photo with Gerard. Before that, however, he insisted that I take one with his crew. Who was I to refuse this request?

And so it was that this photo came into being.

And at this moment it dawned on me, that I had not elected for the life of a ruffian, but instead the life of a ruffian did choose me.

Once Gerard took the first photo, I insisted he join for the second. And because I felt awkward sitting down like some sort of dowager, I decided to get up.

“I stand up for SQ girls”, I said, before realising that came out wrong.

SQ326 landed on time in FRA, and although I was dreading the next 12 hours, I did feel well rested enough to take them on.

Although there were some issues with the catering and cleanliness of the aircraft, Gerard and his amazing crew more than made up for it. Unfortunately, the quality of SQ crew is becoming more hit and miss now (I’ve been on other J flights where crew don’t do basic things like memorizing passenger names), but this crew was exceptional. And I’m not saying that just because 4 pretty stewardesses agreed to take a photo with a balding guy.

It’s thinning. Not balding.

On the road again to Rio: Introduction

On the road again to Rio: Introduction
Singapore Airlines Business Class SIN-FRA
Lufthansa Premium Economy FRA-GIG
Sheraton Grand Rio Hotel & Resort
Star Alliance Lounge Rio
Lufthansa Business Class GIG-FRA
Sheraton Frankurt Airport Hotel
Singapore Airlines Business Class FRA-SIN


I’ve often told friends that I probably have the best job in the world and the worst job in the world. On the one hand, it gives me the opportunity to do crazy RTW J trips. On the other, it finds me at Changi Airport Terminal 3 on the second day of CNY, about to embark on more than 25 hours of flying to Rio.

map

I couldn’t tell you the reasons work requires me to be in Rio without divulging confidential information. I can, however, assure you that it has nothing to do with Carnival and/or the Copacabana.

Image result for rio carnival

Rio could not possibly be any further away from Singapore. People talk about the Kangaroo route from London to Sydney as one of the longest in the world- but you could easily do that in 21 hours 40 mins, with one connection in Singapore. The shortest possible flight from Singapore to Rio would take you 27 hours. Let that sink in for a while (of course you should factor in connecting time, but even if you talk pure time in the air, SIN-GIG clocks in at around 25 hours)

Now, company policy allows for premium economy travel on flights 6 hours or more. The logical solution would be to fly with Lufthansa from SIN-FRA-GIG (with SIN-FRA a codeshare with SQ) and try to upgrade the tickets with miles.

IMG_20160123_144830

I mean, SQ has a great premium economy product, but even the best premium economy can’t beat the worst business class (well…maybe I’d pass on Air India…). Fortunately, I managed to get my upgrade to clear, and for 38,000 miles, swapped that for this.

Image result for singapore airlines business class

Although I’ve flown it many times, I realise I’ve not actually reviewed SQ’s 2013 Business Class seat. I’m sure you can find plenty of reports out there on the product (Mark over at The Shutterwhale has a great piece on the product, plus much better photos than I could ever hope to take), but nonetheless for completeness sake I will pen one of my own.

Unfortunately, the powers that be have not opened up award space on LH500, FRA-GIG, so it looks like I will have the distinct honor of writing a PY trip report for LH (from a middle seat, no less!)

Image result for lufthansa premium economy

Image result for lufthansa premium economy

Once in Rio, I’ll be kickstarting my 2016 Starwood Platinum requalification (and the final leg of my shot at SPG Lifetime Gold!) with 3 weeks at the Sheraton Rio. I’ll be mindful to take advantage of SPG’s Q1 2017 promo which will give me double the points.

Image result for sheraton grand rio

Image result for sheraton grand rio

I realise the resort looks like some sort of holiday chalet, but believe me when I say it is highly unlikely that any member of my team is going to see natural light for the duration of the 3 weeks. That said, it’s located right on the Copacabana beach, and I have half a mind to bring my laptop there to work, get mugged and thereby be tragically unable to do work while I’m there. I can only hope my bosses do not read The Milelion.

Other highlights will be doing a review of the spanking new Star Alliance lounge in Rio. As of right now, there are a grand total of 6 Star Alliance lounges currently open worldwide, and Rio is the latest addition.

photo credit: Ausbt

So here I am, finishing this article up in the car on the way to the airport. I should be very interested to see if the Silver Kris lounge has any special CNY items, and which poor stewardesses have been arrowed to work CNY. I shall share my commiserations with them in a socially appropriate manner.

Oh, I’m also missing the Australian Open Final. Let’s see if SQ’s onboard Wifi can support streaming.

Stay tuned and Happy New Year!