Third night free with the Visa Signature Hotel Collection

Remember that awesome (short-lived) one-for-one deal that was running last year? If you’d missed it, here’s your chance to get acquainted with its lesser cousin, which offers a potential 33% discount in place of last year’s 50%.

In this new promotion, you’ll get the third night free at Conrad, Waldorf Astoria and Curio hotels if you book by 30 Sep 2017 and stay before 31 Oct 2017. However, this promotion targets weekends and is valid only for stays beginning on Thursday, Friday or Saturday.

If you’re staying for longer, there’s nothing stopping you from booking three nights on the Visa Signature platform and adding separate consecutive bookings elsewhere (e.g. if you can find a cheaper rate, or with a points redemption). It’s also possible to chain this promo if you have multiple guests in the room, e.g. booking a total of 6n under two different guests’ accounts/cards/names – Hilton points earned will be deposited into separate accounts if so, though it’s now possible to transfer Hilton points for free between accounts anyway. Hotels are usually able to combine the bookings and make it a seamless experience for you; you can also email the property ahead to request for this, though in my experience it’s not been necessary to do so.

Booking process

To make use of this deal, you’ll need to make use of the Visa Signature Luxury Hotels booking platform that Aaron’s previously written about.  You get extra benefits such as…

  • Automatic room upgrade when available
  • Complimentary in-room wifi
  • Complimentary continental breakfast daily
  • USD$25 F&B credit
  • 3PM check-out when available
  • “VIP” guest status

Most of these are stuff you’ll already enjoy if you are a Hilton Gold/Diamond member, though the extra US$25 credit is still an added bonus.

I wasn’t able to make use my Visa Infinite card on the system last year for some reason, but local Visa Signature cards seem to work (I used a DBS Altitude Visa).

The reservation email lists the total price of the booking, but upon check out they will discount the third night from your final bill. Based on what I experienced with the previous promo, that discounted sum is charged to Visa and you still get points accrued from the complimentary night, which is especially great if you’re staying at an expensive property like Conrad Koh Samui.

Silkair promo synergy

The current 50% redemption promo for Silkair flights is valid for travel between 1 July and 31 October 2017 (book by 11 July), so there’s a nice possible overlap if you’re able to align reservations for:

  • Bali
  • Koh Samui
  • Xiamen
  • Maldives

Conrad property reviews

There are many eligible properties on the list, but for your reference here’re some that we’ve visited:

Low risk – book first?

The bookings are generally cancellable until the day before the stay , and charges are only made upon check out, so if you’re worried that they might pull the promotion early again this year, there’s nothing stopping you from making multiple reservations first and cancelling those you won’t be utilising. Do read specific terms for your targeted specific before pulling the trigger, though.

Check out the full details of the promotion here!

The Milelion’s RTW Trip 2017: American Airlines Arrivals Lounge LHR

Introduction: It’s the most wonderful time of the year
A Tale of Two Lounges: SATS Premier T2 and the Qantas SIN Lounge
Malaysia Airlines B737 Business Class SIN-KUL
Malaysia Airlines Business Class Golden Lounge KUL
Malaysia Airlines A330  Business Class KUL-NRT
Japan Airlines Business Class Sakura Lounge NRT
Japan Airlines B77W Business Class NRT-LAX
The Westin LAX
The Westin Westminster
Aloft Boston Seaport
The Consolidated AA Domestic First Class Experience
American Airlines Flagship Lounge JFK
American Airlines B772 Business Class JFK-LHR
American Airlines Arrivals Lounge LHR
The Great Northern Hotel, London
Sheraton Grand London Park Lane
Westin Paris Vendome
Courtyard by Marriott Madrid Princesa
Four Points by Sheraton Barcelona Diagonal
The Consolidated Intra-Europe Business Class Experience
Sheraton Casablanca
The Casablanca Lounge CMN
Royal Air Maroc B737 Business Class CMN-ACC
Labadi Beach Hotel, Accra
Ethiopian Airlines B772 Business Class ACC-ADD
Ethiopian Airlines Cloud 9 Business Class Lounge ADD
Ethiopian Airlines B737 Business Class ADD-DAR
Protea Hotel by Marriott Dar Es Salaam Courtyard
Tanzanite Lounge DAR
Qatar Airways A320 Business Class DAR-DOH
Westin Doha
Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways A350 “First” Class DOH-DXB
The Grosvenor House Dubai
W Doha
Qatar Airways B772 Business Class DOH-BLR
The Ritz Carlton Bangalore
Cathay Dragon Lounge Bangalore
Cathay Dragon A330 Business Class BLR-HKG
W Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific’s HKG Lounges
Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class HKG-SIN


At the risk of flogging a dead horse, SQ really, really, really needs an arrivals lounge*.

*(I know that Solitaire PPS members can use the First Class area of the Silver Kris lounge in SIN as an arrivals lounge, but that’s about it. Everyone else, be they First Class, Business Class or PPS members get nothing)

I get that they’ve probably looked at this before and some beancounter has come to the conclusion that it doesn’t make financial sense for them. And perhaps they’re right- SQ’s onboard product is so head and shoulders above the competition that people are willing to accept a relatively inferior ground experience. In any case, no other airline is operating an arrivals lounge in SIN. Also, I can’t imagine any businessman saying “you know what, I’m going to take United from SFO to SIN instead of SQ because SQ has no arrivals lounge”

Image result for united airlines dreamliner business class
UA’s non-stop SFO-SIN J product
Image result for sq a350 business class
SQ’s non-stop SFO-SIN J product

But an arrivals lounge is such a valuable amenity to business travelers for so many reasons

  • It allows them to maximize rest on the plane by taking breakfast on the ground instead of onboard
  • It allows them to freshen up and shower before heading directly for meetings
  • It provides a nice place to wait for colleagues who may be joining from separate flights
  • It allows people to sync their emails and sort out their admin matters before leaving the airport, rather than huddling in a coffee shop in the public area trying to find a signal

Case in point: the American Airlines arrivals lounge in LHR, which I made a beeline for after clearing immigration and customs.

The lounge isn’t difficult to find. Once you claim your bag and leave the secure area, just look out for the signs for lounges.

The AA lounge is located one floor above the arrivals area. You can take the lift or stairs up.

The pleasant agent checked my boarding pass and welcomed me to the lounge. The AA arrivals lounge isn’t just for AA flyers of course. You can access the lounge if you’re flying into LHR on BA, Qantas or Cathay Pacific long haul first or business class flights, as the access rules below show.

click to enlarge

The first order of business was to get a shower. I was a bit kancheong about this because morning is peak arrival time for transatlantic flights and I imagined there’d be a long queue if I tarried.

My concerns were unfounded, however. The showers area was deserted. I didn’t see a single other soul in the carnivorous corridors

And showers are in plentiful supply, 29 of them in total (sounds like a lot, but BA has an incredible 94 shower suites in its arrivals lounge!)

I should also note that there were no staff on hand to assign cubicles, but given that it was so empty it wasn’t really needed (I did, on the way out, bump into a rather surly staff member who saw me taking photos and asked if I was lost)

I settled on cubicle 27, just because there was no 42 (need to start inserting more Hitchhiker references in these posts…)

The suites are tastefully finished with marble (or marble looking) fixtures. There’s a thoughtfully-provided luggage rack (you’d be surprised how many lounges don’t have these in their showers), wall-mounted hairdryer and large, well lit mirror.

Compare the decor here to that which you’d find in BA’s arrivals lounge and you can see the difference immediately. BA’s showers remind one of a hospital ward

Image result for british airways lounge shower arrivals lhr hospital
photo credit: airportbliss.com

There was plenty of counter space to put your barang barang.

By default, toothbrushes and shaving kits aren’t provided. You have to request for them. I find that an annoyance, although minor. But at least they come in atas packaging

Amenities like cotton buds, mouthwash, shower cap and cotton balls come standard, however.

The coolest feature of the suite by far was the double door that allows you to send your clothes for ironing. Again, this makes so much sense. Business travellers coming off a long haul flight with crumpled clothes can send them off for complimentary pressing and hit the road running.

The double door is behind the entrance door.

Simply open the outer compartment and look! An escape room esque interior.

Hang your clothes there, lock the compartment again and press the button below for service.

Your clothes will be magically picked up, pressed and returned by the time you step out of the shower. And all without the need for human interaction. What a time to be alive.

I was pleased that AA was using the same brand of toiletries here as they were in the Flagship lounge at JFK. 

The shower itself is excellent with good water pressure.

After showering I went to explore the main lounge. It’s not a huge facility to be frank, but there were still plenty of empty seats to be had.

  

But you’re not here for the seats, you’re here for the food!

There are two components to the food options- a buffet, an an ala carte menu.

The buffet has all you need to assemble your own English breakfast

No one breakfasts like the English. Could have used hashbrowns though.

Lighter options like fruit, cereal and pastries are also available.

Where drinks are concerned, you have juices, soft drinks as well as a mini Moet champagne fridge.

Making your own mimosas was never this fun.

The ala carte menu is equally attractive, with freshly cooked items available.

I got the protein pancakes, which were presented very nicely.

Breakfast was had at a leisurely pace- I stayed in the lounge for a total of an hour, yet it never got very crowded (this was approximately 9am)

Finally, there’s a business centre in a corner of the lounge with printing facilities- useful if you need to print any last minute confirmations.

I found the AA arrivals lounge to be a very pleasant place to freshen up and grab a bite before heading out. There’s also a very serious value proposition for business travelers, and if you’re coming to London on CX anytime soon you should definitely check out this lounge.

How I’m dealing with the Qatar travel blockade

Everyone by now should be aware of what’s going on in Qatar and the broader region. I’m going to stay far, far away from any political commentary and talk about what this blog vertically integrated e-commerce media conglomerate is focused on- the travel implications.

As you may remember, I need to get from DAR to DOH for my RTW trip. I had identified that it was cheaper to fly DAR-DOH-DXB instead of directly from DAR-DOH.

DAR-DOH direct- $2.6K
DAR-DOH-DXB, $811!

At first I was thinking of throwing away my DOH-DXB ticket, but then realised that DOH-DXB was booked as First Class, as that’s the level above Economy on inter-gulf flights. That was fantastic, as it meant I would get a chance to review the Al Safwa First Class lounge in Doha. It also meant that I got to spend my weekend in Dubai instead of Doha.

Image result for qatar airways first class lounge

As you can guess, the current flight restrictions have wrecked that plan, with Qatar Airways banned from flying over or landing in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt.

I quickly worked out an alternate routing from DOH-DXB that involved transiting in Muscat and taking MCT-DXB via Oman Air. My understanding is that Qatar is working to rebook affected flyers to DXB/AUH via KWI or MCT. With this in mind I called up QR to see if they’d rebook my proposed routing for me.

Now, Qatar Airways’ official policy regarding the current situation is that rebookings for flights affected by this disruption can be done within 72 hours of flight departure. I say “official”, because it seems from what I’m reading online that this is a classic case of YMMV. But this is also a classic case of the benefits of HUCA (hang up, call again).

Case in point- I called up the Doha office at the 72 hour mark and got a CSO who insisted on rebooking me on DAR-MCT-DXB, entirely on Oman Air. This made no sense at all to me- wouldn’t QR rather keep the revenue they were earning on my DAR-DOH-MCT legs at least? Why would they want to do the whole flight on a different carrier? But she insisted there was nothing else she could do, and to top it all off the flight she proposed left from DAR one day later than I originally intended. I hung up.

I called again and got a CSO who was perfectly ok with the routing I proposed, but said that they were not able to book this for me until 24 hours before departure. 72 hours is already cutting it way close but 24? I asked about the 72 hour policy and he said that where rebooking was happening via other Middle East airlines, the policy was 24 hours as they’d seen airlines like Etihad/Emirates cancelling bookings that were done by Qatar.

I called again (a day later) and got an extremely cheerful CSO who listened to my proposed flights, said “no problem sir” and after a 5 minute hold told me it was done. I got the e-ticket shortly after hanging up. The whole call took less than my wait time.

My revised itinerary looks like this:

DAR-DOH Depart 1630 Arrive 2345
DOH-MCT Depart 0730 Arrive 1010
MCT-DXB Depart 1425 Arrive 1540

Why would I do such a long layover in Doha? Counter-intuitive as it sounds, it’s so I can get a better rest. I could easily have connected to a QR flight that departed DOH just after midnight, done a 5 hour layover in MCT (at 330am no less) and reached Dubai around 9am, but that would leave me knackered (plus, a 5 hour layover in MCT is no joke).

My new arrangement allows me to spend the night not in a transit hotel, but in the QR First Class lounge. That’s right, one of the cool features of the Al Safwa lounge is that it has sleeping rooms. Not darkened areas with recliner seats, but proper, hotel-style private rooms with beds and an attached bathroom.

Image result for qatar airways first class lounge bed

My reading of this FT thread tells me that –

  • No reservations for the rooms are allowed, they’re allocated on a first come first serve basis
  • Rooms are only available if you have >4 hours till your flight leaves
  • A maximum of 6 hours use is allowed, beyond which QAR 450 is payable for another 6 hours
  • Only bottled water is allowed in the sleeping rooms.

All of which suits me just fine. The only beverage I’d take to bed is champagne, and now that it’s Ramadan the QR lounges in Doha are dry anyway…

So assuming I make it to the lounge around midnight, I can do a 6 hour stay and wake up to grab breakfast, take photos and then head on over to catch my flight to MCT. And I save one night of hotel expenses.

The other interesting development, aviation-wise, is that QR is now operating a different kind of A320 on the DAR-DOH route. Qatar used to operate the version that had your standard regional business class recliner seats, which aren’t great for a flight that’s decidedly medium-haul.

Image result for a320 qatar airways business class
photo credit: airlines and me

But because of the blockade, QR1348 now needs to take a longer route from DAR-DOH, adding about 90 minutes to a flight blocked at 5h 50 mins. You can see the diverted route here:

I don’t know if it’s an aircraft range issue or just QR wanting to redeploy narrowbody aircraft it can’t use on intra-gulf routes anymore, but the A320 on this route has been switched to the version that has full flat seats in business class.

Image result for a320 qatar airways first class
photo credit: one mile at a time
photo credit: bangalore aviation

This is the same aircraft that normally plys intra-gulf roots and which premium cabin is sold as first class, but because of the current restrictions is getting redeployed elsewhere (sidenote: it does seem like such a waste of resources that QR would normally deploy a flat-bed seat aircraft on routes that are 2 hours or less)

Image result for oman air b737 business class
oman air business class

I’m not thrilled about a 4 hour layover in Muscat, but at least I’ll get to review the Oman Air lounge in Muscat and try their 737 regional business class. Hopefully their lounge is decent enough to get some solid work done.

It’s amazing if you sit back and think about our supposedly connected world. By denying Qatar air links and passage with its neighbours, what should have been a no-nonsense 1h flight between DOH and DXB stretches to almost 5 hours including transit. And involves flying in the “wrong” direction between each destination.

No one has any idea how long this will last, but it’s sure to have an impact on your travels if you’re heading to the region anytime soon. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail and we’ll see a restoration of something approaching normality soon.

In the meantime, if you’ve got a QR itinerary that’s been affected by what’s going on, it’s good to call up customer service with alternative routes already in mind. And if the first CSO tells you no, don’t take that for a final answer. Keep trying until you find a CSO who can accommodate you.

Travel Better for Less