Tag 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.

First Class for the Family: Hacking the SQ waitlist

First Class for the Family – Melbourne 2017

Hacking the SQ Waitlist
SIN MEL 777-300ER First Class Review
Krisflyer First Class Lounge Melbourne Review
MEL SIN A380 Suites Class Review


Hacking the SQ Waitlist

We have all heard of the adage, ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’. Well, my wife and I certainly do not plan to spare the rod with our head-strong 2 year old. Besides, I can think of much better ways to spoil her than ‘sparing the rod.’ Flying her First Class for her 2 year old birthday trip could certainly count as one of those ways!

Planning travel with a young child can be challenging. One of the primary considerations for parents is the timing of the flight. Do you fly red-eye and arrive at your destination tired from the relatively poor quality of sleep, but increase the chance of your child sleeping through the flight? Or do you pick a day flight and risk spending the entire ride chasing after a bored infant, giving embarrassed and apologetic looks to everyone in your cabin. My wife and I (and most of the parents with young children we know) prefer the former. Of course, flying premium does help mitigate the part about the poor quality of sleep on a red-eye.

Whatever your preference is, chances are you will face a lot more restrictions on your travel time compared to the average traveller. As we all know, this can’t be good when considering award availability.

We only got around planning this family trip to Melbourne in about early January, about 2 months out from our intended date of travel. Although there were still scattered availability for 2 adults here and there, it was no surprise that saver awards for most of the flights were on waitlist on both Business and First class. At that time, the only available tickets to and fro was an outbound arriving on Monday, and an inbound departing on Thursday. 3.5 days for a holiday doesn’t exactly sound very enticing, but sometimes you’d do anything to get out of the country.

Now I’ve previously written about the SQ Waitlist here.  Aaron has a pretty good overview article here, and has also done some pretty good analysis on award availability here .

If you find yourself in my situation and the current available flights are not ideal, and/or you’d like some more time to think about it while putting the available award flights ‘on hold’ without subjecting yourself to change fees later on, here’s a nifty little trick you can use to ‘hack’ the waitlist.

For example, I wish to fly to NRT around the middle of August this year. The only available First Saver award is on the 17 of August, but I’d prefer to fly earlier or on a weekend if possible. For now, I would like to hold this available saver award.

I first make a reservation for this saver award on the 17th of August as one normally would, going through all the steps (including seat selection) until the payment page.

Selection of the only available flight

After entering your details, go to seat selection, and then proceed on to the payment page.

After entering your details, go to seat selection

When you’ve reached the payment page, exit the booking process by closing the page, or clicking any of the links on the SQ toolbar. I usually just click the Singapore Airlines logo on the top left hand corner of the page.

Now, head to the ‘Bookings’ tab under your account profile. You should see a booking reference number for that flight, even though the transaction wasn’t completed.

Booking Reference number for the ‘sham’ booking

If you attempt to select the ‘Manage Booking’ tab, this will return an error message and prompt you to complete the booking process offline.

Proceed to make the same booking again. This time, the flight should be on waitlist.

Same flight now on waitlist

Proceed to waitlist yourself on the flight. In about 15 to 20 minutes, the first reservation you’ve made should be automatically cancelled by the system after the ticketing time limit has lapsed. You will know this has happened when the booking reference disappears from the list of reservations under the ‘Bookings’ tab of your Krisflyer account. Almost immediately, you should receive a text message telling you that your waitlisted flight (the second reservation) is now available for confirmation. This is because you should be the next in line for an available award ticket on that flight.

Usually, when a waitlisted flight is made available for confirmation, you are given about 3 days or so to pay the miles / taxes and ticket your flight. Just like that, you have now bought yourself another 3 days to think about whether you want that flight or not. If you choose not to ticket in the end, just let the time lapse or cancel the waitlisted booking. There is no penalty for doing so.

In practice, I’ve found this useful to hold a suboptimal ticket while waiting for my waitlisted tickets on my preferred flights, especially for this trip. I held tickets for the Monday / Thursday flight, and eventually better flights opened up which I then ticketed on.

Theoretically, I guess one could repeat this process infinitely to hold the award for weeks, but you run the risk of someone else of higher Krisflyer status also waitlisting or buying a Standard level award on the same flight, thus beating you to the available ticket.

Experiment a little and see what works best for your travel plans. Of course with all things, use with consideration for others who may also be eyeing travel on the same flights as you. Stay tuned for my review of the SQ 77W First Class coming up!

On the road again to Rio: Sheraton Frankfurt Airport

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


Ah, the airport hotel. The subject I could (and indeed have) spend 4,428 words waxing lyrical about.

My flight from Rio landed in Frankfurt at 2pm, which was too late to catch the 11.40am SQ25 back home. The next flight to Singapore would be the 9.55pm SQ325, but unfortunately that was booked solid. My only option was to wait until the following day to catch SQ25 back home, which gave me slightly under 24 hours to spend in Frankfurt.

I was originally intending to explore Frankfurt during this layover, before I realised it was the dead of winter and I didn’t have a stitch of warm clothing on me.

Now this normally would not bother me, because I am a very manly man, and manly men have copious amounts of body hair to keep them warm in deepest darkest winter. I mean, I often wrestle shirtless with polar bears in Arctic conditions as part of HIIT (it’s all on my dating profile, ladies). But I was also very jetlagged and needed my beauty sleep.

Fortunately there were two Starwood properties available at Frankfurt airport- the Sheraton and the Element.

The Sheraton was only about 9 Euros more expensive than the Element, and had the benefit of being physically connected to the airport (the Element requires a 5 minute taxi ride or 20-25 minute walk in the cold)  so it got the nod.

If you’re ever transiting through Frankfurt, it might interest you to know that the Sheraton also has day use rates if your transit is shorter. The silly thing is that the day use rate can often be almost as much if not more than the best available overnight rate, as you can see in this example below.

En route to the hotel, I got excited when I saw signs for the Lufthansa Welcome Lounge. But upon reaching I realised that it only opened between 0500-1300. Those crafty Germans. I suppose it’s meant more for passengers who fly over on transatlantic red-eye flights and need to freshen up before heading to meetings.

The Sheraton is connected to Frankfurt Terminal 1 through this umbilical cord of a walkway.

As you progress through the walkway the building comes into view. The Sheraton building conjures all the charm of brutalist 1960s Eastern German architecture (yes, I know Frankfurt was part of the West)

All the tips I read about the property on the Flyertalk thread told me I should avoid the queues in the lobby and head up to the executive lounge on the 9th floor to check in (as is the entitlement for Platinum members). However, the lobby was completely empty. I think it was a function of the time I arrived- it was after the rush of early/mid-morning check outs and too early for the arrival of the late afternoon flyers.

Check in was fast and before I knew it I had my two keycards, 500 welcome points, a letter about lounge access and was headed up to my room.

I was given a room on the 8th floor (there are a total of 9 floors). Airport hotels, for obvious reasons, aren’t built very tall. It seems that every room in this hotel is “special” in that there are club room floors, SPG floors (a marketing initiative started by SPG where rooms on those floors get like 2 free bottles of water or something) or a tower room (whatever that is).

How was the room? Let me put it this way. It was a Sheraton room. It looked like a Sheraton room, felt like a Sheraton room and you’d be hard pressed to pick it out from a line up of Sheraton rooms.

And that’s not a bad thing, per se. Just that if you come here looking for creative inspiration you’ll be sorely disappointed.

The annoying thing is that Germans (and Europeans in general) do not believe in the concept of air conditioning during the winter. Only the heating function in the room worked. I know what you’re wondering- why do you need air conditioning when it’s 0 degrees outside? And the answer is simple- ventilation. With the heater off there’s no air moving inside the room and it gets stuffy. In the end I resorted to turning on the heater and putting it on the coldest setting. That at least got some circulation inside the room.

The room had two bottles of free water at the minibar. The water felt infinitely classier by the fact that it came in glass bottles.

There’s a large work desk with a comfortable chair for getting work done. One glaring anti work feature was the fact that the on-property Wifi didn’t let you log into more than a single device at once. It could just be that I wasn’t doing it properly, but if that’s a feature rather than a bug it’s an appalling way to try and squeeze out more money from guests.

I’m not sure if my room just didn’t have it or whether the property didn’t have it at all, but I couldn’t find the room service menu anywhere.

Puzzlingly for an a airport hotel, the sockets were not multi-country friendly.

Bathroom wise, nothing to see here folks. It’s your usual Sheraton line up.

I’d like it if someone from Europe can explain to me the idea of the half glass partition you find in showers at European hotels. I’ve never understood this. It doesn’t particularly stop the floor from getting wet, it’s not nearly as effective as a shower curtain, the thing keeps looking like a potential safety hazard. What is the point of this?

The big draw of the hotel is the fact it has a lounge. In fact, you can purchase lounge only access at a rate of 99 euros a day without booking a hotel room. Again, that rate makes no sense, given you can get a room for 94 euros.

The lounge isn’t 24 hours, but is a good place to spend most of the day working or grabbing a snack.

This is the standard layout during non happy hours. You can see that alcohol is available by default, as opposed to many other club lounges where they only bring it out during happy hour.

The lounge views aren’t exactly inspiring…

I visited again during happy hour and they had some additional items, namely a salad bar and a single hot item (spring rolls). They also added a decent German sparkling wine to the mix.

In the morning there’s a small breakfast spread with made to order eggs and some meats.

There’s a gym on the 9th floor too which was deserted when I got there. No swimming pool, sadly. I think great joy is being able to stretch out with a swim after a long flight, and any airport hotel with a pool instantly goes up a few notches in my mind.

When checking out I took a brief tour of the lobby. There’s a mini business centre in the lobby with printing facilities.    

And a Starbucks cafe with plenty of seating.

The lobby restaurant is doing a game promotion. As in, edible game, not video.

Although the F&B choices in the hotel weren’t amazing, there’s a decent selection of restaurants in the airport and in the office complexes surrounding the airport. I went to The Squaire, where there are a few restaurants in a semi alfresco setting

I’d like to believe the yin balances out the yang.

At the end of the day the Sheraton Frankfurt Airport is meant to be a passing through kind of place. If you stayed there any longer than 24 hours I’d imagine you’d go mad with boredom, but as a place to recharge and recuperate before your next flight it gets the job done.

My job now was to get back to Singapore and do one more review on SQ’s old business class seat before it starts disappearing in 2017…