Back to North America: NYC edition

Maybe Liechtenstein – Part 6 (March 2017)

Before leaving Switzerland, we spent a night out by the airport as we both had morning flights the next day.  We arrived at the Radisson Blu hotel and checked in for our last night in Switzerland.  I was looking forward to the stay as they have a huge vertical wine library in the center of the hotel.  After finding our room, which faced the inner courtyard (and the wine), we made our way down to watch the acrobats fetch requested bottles from the tower.  It’s actually a neat thing to watch and would suggest having a glass or two if you ever find yourself at this hotel or have some extended time at the airport (since it’s outside security.)

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Wine bar at Radisson Blu (Zurich Airport)

Sadly, the morning came and my friend left before the sun to catch her early flight home.  I was lucky enough to enjoy a wonderful breakfast before checking out to catch my flight.  My flight home, as you may recall, was a points ticket I’d found about 6 months earlier. I’d managed to snag an AA business class ticket home, although through a circuitous routing.  I was travelling Zurich to New York, with a long overnight layover, before hopping to LA on AA’s transcontinental First Class, then up to Seattle and a little hop home to Vancouver, both on Alaska.

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Breakfast spread at Radisson Blu

After spending some time in the lounge during a few small delays in Zurich, it was time to board the plane.  I settled in to seat 2A, which was actually the first row of the cabin.  This plane, a Boeing 767, has staggered seats, so if you want a true window seat, you want to sit in an even row number.  After some pre-departure bubbly it was time to say goodbye to Europe.  The flight was smooth and I did manage to squeeze in a nap as I was going to have a long day ahead of me once I landed.  I will say that I find the vegan/vegetarian meal options on AA to be very sad.  It’s usually just rice and veggies, no creativity in the dishes.

Landing at JFK, I quickly made it through customs (thanks Global Entry!) and grabbed the bag I’d had to check because of all the wine I was bringing home.  I then head up to departures to recheck it  so I wouldn’t have to lug it around all day.  Unfortunatly, this didn’t seem to work so well because my flight didn’t leave until the next day, and there’s a rule about keeping luggage overnight?  After waiting for a while, a lot of back and forth with the staff, and eventually getting a few supervisors involved, I was able to check my luggage.  I guess the solution was to send it on a flight that evening, as my bag made it to Vancouver well before I did.

Free of my luggage, I hopped on the train in to the city.  Getting in to town on public transit is doable, if somewhat time consuming.  First you hop on the “Airtrain” and get off at the Howard Beach/JFK Airport station to transfer to the “A-line.”  This will (eventually) take you into the city.  I hopped off at High Street and decided to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.  It was a bit chilly, but brilliantly sunny, so it was a fairly pleasant walk.

Making it to Manhattan, I didn’t really have a plan beyond visiting a few of the vegan hot spots.  I ended up making it to Moo Shoes, Orchard Grocer, and Confectionary! before hopping back on the subway and back to Brooklyn for dinner at Champs Diner.

Since my flight left very early the next morning, I decided to rough it in the airport for a few hours in the evening before security opened again at 3am.  I found a few chairs and cobbled them together into a makeshift bench and did manage to get a little bit of shut eye.  Once security opened (not until 3:30, ugh) I made my way inside and tried to find the correct lounge for American.  Of course I chose the wrong one and was told I could actually go to the First Class lounge, which was back by security.  There was construction going on, which made it very confusing as to which lounge was actually open.  Finally making it to the empty lounge, I enjoyed some coffee, a snack, and a shower, before heading to board my next flight, back to the west coast.

Because I had booked international business class, that actually included first class on the domestic leg.  The flight JFK-LAX was a transcontinental flight on the A321 (read fancy, updated plane).  I’m sure I looked slightly disheveled as I boarded the flight and took a seat in the first cabin.  Actually, unless I’m dressed nicely with professional looking luggage (aka not a backpack) I usually get side looks when I line up to board with business class folk… but you just gotta own it!  The lie flat bed definitely came in handy as I managed to pass out for a good portion of the flight.  I also had a really delicious breakfast meal, which was a nice surprise.

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Transcontinental on the A321

Landing in LA, I had a bit of time to kill before heading to Seattle.  Of course, the flight was delayed, but that just meant more time in the First Class lounge in LAX… which is really just a sectioned off the lounge with slightly better food and booze.  After we finally got around to boarding the plane to Seattle, I ended up having a pleasant conversation with the person sitting next to me which made the flight go by much faster.

Seattle was the last stop before the quick flight up to Vancouver and finally being home.  It’s always slightly frustrating to be so close to home, and yet so far.  Spent a little bit of time in the Alaska lounge before it was finally time to board my last flight of the trip.  The good thing about having the last flight of the night is that it’s a 737 for a 30 min flight.  I enjoyed my big lounge chair and had a bit of a cat nap before finally disembarking onto Canadian soil.

 

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Paris, tu m’as manqué!

Maybe Liechtenstein – Part 1 (February 2017)

This trip started way back when I thought I would need a ticket back from Europe in March. I found some award space on American Airlines from Zurich to NYC to LAX and home. As it turns out, I ended up not being in Europe, so instead of cancelling the ticket I looked for a flight to get me over to Europe instead. I lucked out and found a points flight from Vancouver to Paris! It’s been so long since I have spent more than a day in Paris, I took it as a sign and booked it on the spot! And then I was able to tag on a flight to Zurich on the same ticket which made it easy to get back home again.

Unlike many of my trips, this one involved a direct flight 😮 Air France YVR-CDG on a 777-200 with the new business class! These seats are reverse herringbone seats so they’re nice and private even though they’re not entirely sectioned off. I was able to score a single window seat (the seats are arranged 1-2-1) which made it even better!

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5 Tips for Maximizing Your Points

I get asked often how I travel so much, but really there’s no simple answer to that.  It’s a combination of many things: keeping an eye on flight deals, searching message boards, taking crazy routings, and last but certainly not least, using points.  Points tickets have allowed me to make some spectacular trips, but I do spend a great deal of time trying to optimize them.

For many years I was a loyal Aeroplan customer, part of the Star Alliance network.  However, after continued devaluations of the program, and the fact that United was the partner in the US, I made the jump over to Alaska Airline’s Mileage Program.  Although the program is not part of an alliance, they have many great partners you can redeem on.  I feel that this program is the best for me in terms of point redemption opportunities, but everyone is different. Continue reading

3 ticket, 6 fights, and 56 hours…

In order to get a good deal on tickets, I’m willing to fly a bit out of the way; okay a lot out of the way.  My flight home from Sweden was not only long, but ended up being longer than anticipated.

The journey started out decently.  I found a cheap flight to Istanbul on AtlasGlobal which arrived late on the Saturday night, with plenty of time to make my connection.  Since these were two separate tickets I wanted to allow for a lot of time in case something went wrong; luckily, it didn’t.  AtlasGlobal is a discount carrier based in Turkey, but they are much better than any other “discount” airline I’ve flown, such as EasyJet or Ryan Air.  The flight from Stockholm to Istanbul was on time, and fairly pleasant.  With free food, free drinks, and a row to myself, it was a lot better than many flights in North America.  I will say that someone was allowing their children to run up and down the aisle, jumping on seats.  Some people just have no clue.  I was close to saying something, but then the drink cart came by and blocked them in the back of the plane for a while… and the wine also helped. Continue reading

Heading to Stockholm

So if you remember from one of my previous posts (Stockholm for a Whole Week!) I had a trip planned to visit my friend in Stockholm; well I’ve finally gotten around to typing up our adventures!

Firstly, the trip over went fairly well.  I made all my connections, got to check out a number of lounges and made it to Stockholm just under 24 hours later 🙂  My voyage started bright and early (well not really that bright) in Vancouver as I had booked a separate ticket down to SFO to start my international trip.  Luckily I was upgraded on my SEA-SFO flight (thanks Alaska!) and got a few other surprise things (free Starbucks card!) which made this a great start to my trip.

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The long road home… via Japan.

My original plan was to fly home from Melbourne via LAX.  I was very excited because I’d manage to score a first class ticket on Qantas!  Unfortunately, with my change in plans, I ended up having to cancel the ticket 😦  So instead, my flight home ended up taking me back through Japan on Japan Airlines (known as JAL), luckily in Business Class.  the best part about it is that you get to skip the lines at the airport! Continue reading

Musings from 36,000 ft

Sometimes there are moments when you travel when stuff just hits you. Running back and forth to another continent for a weekend is fun, but it can also be stressful. I’m not sure why, but on my recent flight back from London, I had one of those experiences. And I wrote about it it the moment
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It’s been a roller-coaster weekend when it comes to my emotions, but I have to say the capper is happening right now. I’m currently speeding 36,000ft above the earth at over 900 km/h over the coast of Greenland. Most would say this is an odd place to have a “moment,” and generally I’d agree. I’ve flown over this spot likely tens if not a hundred times, but this is the first time it’s had an impact. Continue reading

New Zealand… South.

So after my short stop in Auckland it was off to Queenstown!  I actually booked these flights only a few days before since I wasn’t sure what the plan would be until I met up with my company peeps in Sydney.  There wasn’t a whole lot of price variation, so I booked a Jetstar flight on the way down and Air New Zealand on the way back to Auckland.

I would compare my experience with Jetstar to be similar to my flights with Easyjet.  I had to pay extra for a checked bag (since I had so much in my little carry-on it didn’t meet weight restrictions they have in New Zealand and Australia) and a seat, so I chose to buy the “Starter Plus” package which included the checked bag, seat selection, $10 in flight voucher, Qantas points, and no change fees for date, time, and name up to check in.  While those last two weren’t particularly great, I still used the first three!

After a long ride to the airport, I checked in for my morning flight without any major problems and went through security… WITH MY COFFEE!!!!  I was convinced I would have to throw it out, but I guess domestic flights in NZ aren’t that picky!  Hooray!!  I didn’t have all that much time before the flight so I just went to sit at the gate and wait for boarding.

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A quick update from my travels

I’ve been having a wonderful time in Stockholm visiting my friends and even had a chance to jump over to Helsinki for the day on the infamous “Party Ferry”.  While the trip over was relatively painless (except for the pure number of stopovers), the trip home is a different story.  I left my friends around noon, which is 3am in Vancouver on Saturday morning.  I will not arrive home until just around midnight on Sunday evening.  Almost 48 hours of travel.

Now don’t feel too bad for me, all flights -except the first leg on a discount carrier – are in business class.  Plus I have the recent addition of my Priority Pass (which I’m currently using to relax in the lounge in Stockholm) so I doubt it will be too hectic.  Unless some of the storms hitting the Pacific Northwest affect my flights.  But that’s a whole other issue.  So for now I will just sit back, relax, and enjoy my 45 hour journey home.

view from the plane window

The Great Barrier Reef aka Found Nemo!

I know it’s been a while…So I’m going to skip over the two days I spend in Sydney and jump up to my trip to the Great Barrier Reef!

I had gotten a late night flight up to Cairns (pronounced CAHNS or something like that… I still don’t have it right) Thursday on Qantas and was supposed to leave early morning Saturday to head off to Auckland.  But that all ended up changing (more on that later).

The flight itself was great!  Nothing spectacular about the seat, just a regular economy seat, but they do provide headphone as you’re getting on the plane, in case you forgot yours.  I also got a full meal!  I was expecting a little snack, but instead I got a rice and veggie dish, with fruit and a bar/cookie thing for dessert.  All in a handy little Qantas bag.

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Flying over Sydney
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Meal on Qantas… in economy… on a 2.5 hr flight

They have a decent entertainment system which you have to download on to your own device, but it’s got a few free fun shows on it; I can’t remember if the movies were free as well.  I think they also had a movie playing overhead, but I didn’t end up watching it.  Be sure to download the app prior to getting on the plane as I don’t think you can download it while on-board.

After a quick and uneventful flight, we landed at Cairns fairly late in the evening.  It was after the shuttle from my hostel did its last pick up, so I ended up taking the paid airport shuttle into the “terminal” for $4 and walking to my hostel from there… the other option was to pay $15 for a drop off, but it was only a 10-15 min walk from the “terminal” so I decided to save the money.  The terminal consisted of a typical bus stop at the north side of town, so I’m not sure I’d call it that, but apparently it’s where all the other buses congregate when they’re running during the day.

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Welcome to the reef!

After arriving and checking in at my hostel, the Calypso Inn, I was a bit miffed to find out that I was unable to get a towel since they were rentals and locked away during the night shift.  I pointed out that the website said that towels were included and eventually ended up getting on the next morning.  I had gotten a single room since I wanted somewhere I could leave my stuff without worrying too much and didn’t want to disturb anyone with getting up early (My original flight was leaving at 6am…).  It was only slightly more than a dorm room, so it worked out pretty well.  The room was very basic, but had air conditioning, linens, and the bed was decently comfortable.  Don’t really need much more than that.  The downside was that I couldn’t get onto the free wifi network, only the paid network was available since I was too far from the lobby.

After a quick sleep, I was up early to catch the shuttle into town (it’s about a 20 min walk from the “centre” of the city, but the tour I booked included pick up) in order to get my cruise out to the reef.  The shuttle dropped us off at the marina and we were probably about half way through the arrivals.  We were whisked onto the boat and everyone was settled as we got ready to depart.  I was able to confirm my vegan meal for lunch later on in the day and was seated with the other single travelers at a table inside.  This actually worked out well as we all hit it off and ended up hanging out over the next 2 days.

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Leaving the mainland behind

I booked the tour with Reef Experience and would definitely recommend them if you’re by yourself or want to try scuba diving.  The first 15 min dive is included in the price as was a lot of fun!  We went to two different reef locations and saw lots of fish, turtles, and sharks (oh my).  The crew was great, the lunch was decent, and the people were a lot of fun.

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After a long, exciting day, we arrived back at the docks and posed for our group picture on the boat!  I really can’t put into words how amazing the reef is, it’s definitely one of those things you just have to do yourself!

Our Group

Our little ragtag group of solo travelers went for some drinks and dinner and hung out that evening.  I didn’t last too long though as it had been a very long and tiring day and eventually made my way back to tuck myself in for the night.

The next morning I woke up early and managed to get a picture of the sunrise over the water with a pretty serious looking line of clouds on their way out to sea.

Sunrise in Cairns

As I had to change my flight, I ended up having a whole 2nd day in Cairns (well, until 2pm anyways) to explore, so once again met up with people from the tour the day before and went wandering around Cairns.  It was a beautiful warm day and perfect for exploring. It was neat to see all the little shops and there was a market where we ran into our photographer from the reef the day before.  We finished up by chilling in the park for a while and then a nice long walk along the boardwalk.  I was not expecting it to be summer there, but really it’s so far north in Australia, that I don’t think it’s ever not summer.


After saying goodbye to my new friends, I went back to check out of my room and catch the hostel shuttle to the airport for the next leg of my adventure.