IHG Rewards Club has just announced its Fall 2014 promotion called Into the Nights. Similar to previous ‘The Big Win‘ promos, you need to complete a number of ‘Offers’ before the end of 2014 to earn extra IHG Rewards Club points. When you logon to https://intothenights.ihg.com/ you’ll see your personalized offers. Here are mine:
Great news for all Belgian and Dutch travel enthusiasts! We just launched our new travel community TravelMagic.be. After the successful events TravelMagic 2012 and TravelMagic 2013, it was time to offer an online platform to share and learn the best travel tips & tricks among fellow Belgian and Dutch travel friends. Come and join us… let’s plan our next dream trip!
Early August, the Jordan Tourism Board invited me to discover their country. Despite being bordered by Iraq, Syria and Israel, Jordan has proven to be an island of security in the Middle East turmoil. At no point during my trip I felt unsafe. Together with 2 Belgian and 4 Dutch bloggers, I flew Royal Jordanian direct from Amsterdam to the Jordan capital Amman. After a night at Le Meridien Amman, we drove to Petra where we had the pleasure to stay at the Mövenpick Resort located at the entrance of the Petra Visitor Center.
Pic: Bart Lapers at the Treasury, Petra, Jordan (Aug 2014)
Petra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985 and one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, is Jordan’s most-visited tourist attraction. The highlight of this hidden city is Al Khazneh (“The Treasury”) which was carved out of a sandstone rock face at the beginning of the 1st Century AD. I was initially disappointing by the colors of the sandstone, as the sunlight was too harsh during the early afternoon. I managed to make better pictures with almost no other visitors around in the late afternoon (5pm).
Pic: The Monastery in Petra, Jordan (Aug 2014)
After our Petra guided tour had ended with a lunch near Colonnaded Street, I started hiking a nearby trail not knowing where it would lead me. To my surprise, a similar building to the Treasury called Ad Deir (“The Monastery”) was located at the top of the mountain. The views from the nearby peaks were just amazing!
Pic: The Monastery Petra – Panoramic View (click for full size)
Pic: Petra by Night in Jordan (Aug 2014)
After dinner, we returned to Petra for a spectacle which takes place 3 times a week: Petra by Night. The Treasury as well as the Siq leading to Al Khazneh were lit by hundreds of candles creating a unique atmosphere.
Pic: The Treasury – Petra by Night, Jordan (Aug 2014)
Pic: The Treasury – Petra by Night, Jordan (Aug 2014)
Pic: Wadi Rum desert in southern Jordan (Aug 2014)
After a full day at Petra and a night of sleep at the Mövenpick, we headed south for the Wadi Rum desert. Jordan, being a relatively small country, allowed us to travel from one highlight to the next in just a few hours. At the Wadi Rum desert we stayed at a Bedouin camp (no luxury here!) and discovered the desert by 4×4 and camel ride.
Pic: Ships of the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan (Aug 2014)
Pic: Swimming Pool at Kempinski Hotel Dead Sea (Aug 2014)
Fortunately, we were booked at the Kempinski Ishtar Dead Sea after our dusty night in the desert. This 5 star luxury hotel situated on the edge of the famous salt lake (which is the lowest point on earth – 427m below sea level!) provides uninterrupted views across the vast Dead Sea towards the West Bank.
Pic: Panoramic view from Kempinski Dead Sea (click for full size)
With 34.2% salinity, the Dead Sea is one of the world’s saltiest bodies of water. The unusually high salt concentration means you can easily float in the Dead Sea due to natural buoyancy, something I had to try! :)
Pic: Swimming Pool & Beach at Kempinski Hotel Ishtar Dead Sea
Conclusion: Looking for a sanctuary in the Middle East? Visit Jordan. A safe, liberal and friendly country with several amazing highlights located close to each other. Perfect for a one-week vacation!
Brussels Airlines is relaunching its Miles & More credit cards with a very attractive limited time offer: double sign-up bonus for friend referrals. To receive a personalized sign-up link for this offer, please complete the form below.
Earning airline miles is not limited to flying, you can earn miles with almost anything these days. One of the easiest ways to earn extra miles is signing up for a credit card. You will receive a number of miles just for signing up for the card and you will get 1,25 or 1,5 miles per euro spent. American Express also provides a bonus when you spend a certain amount in one year. Unfortunately, the number of credit cards earning airline miles is very limited in Belgium. Still, they can offer you a great opportunity to travel the world in luxury on a budget. For Belgian residents, the credit card offers are limited to one program, Miles and More of the Lufthansa group. Miles of this program can be used to book (and upgrade) flights of any Star Alliance carrier.
Brussels Airlines offers three Miles and More credit cards: the Preferred MasterCard, the Preferred American Express and the Premium American Express. I don’t detail the MasterCard in this posts as it comes with only 2000 welcome miles. I signed-up for the Brussels Airlines Preferred American Express Card back in 2008 and switched to the Premium American Express card in 2011 earning me a total of more than 400,000 miles! The key to earning the maximum amount of miles is to pay as much as possible with your credit card. Pay all your bills and purchases (both online and offline) with your credit card, every euro counts! Shopping (including groceries), dining, gas, electronics, hotels, airline tickets, … almost everything! Some payments might even result in an extra bonus. Example: Paying your cellphone bills with your Brussels Airlines American Express card gets you 2000 bonus miles!
The yearly fee also includes a number of insurances:
Full details of the Brussels Airlines Preferred and Premium American Express insurances.
How much are those miles worth?
It all depends on what you spend them. In my opinion, only long-haul Business Class and First Class flights are worth spending miles on. These allow you to maximize the value of your miles as Business Class flights easily cost >€2000 and First Class flights >€8000. Airline loyalty programs will do everything to make you spend your miles on less valuable options e.g. use miles to buy goodies in their online shop, book hotel nights or rent a car. You really don’t want to do that! Miles and More is currently selling miles with a 20% bonus, which is still way too expensive, but it gives you an idea how they value the miles.
Signing up for the Brussels Airlines Premium American Express earns you 12,000 miles which are being sold for €245 by Lufthansa.
Include the 2000 extra miles you get for paying your cellphone bill with American Express, and you have 14,000 miles which are being sold for ~€290!
How do I maximize the number of miles earned?
I would recommend to sign-up for the Brussels Airlines Premium American Express card now to get the 12000 miles. Complete the form to pay your cellphone bill with the card and earn an additional 2000 miles. Next year, you could cancel the Premium card and switch to the Preferred card. You would earn the sign-up bonus again (this time for the Preferred card, which is 6000 miles via the friend referral) and you would earn another 2000 miles when you register to have your cellphone bills paid with the Preferred card. That’s 22,000 miles in one year, just by signing up for these cards!
What are the pitfalls?
I’m not yet a Miles and More member, where do I sign-up?
You can enroll at the Miles and More website.
To receive a personalized sign-up link with double welcome bonus, please complete the form below.
Pic: Emirates First Class Lounge Entrance in Dubai
After a two night stopover in Dubai, it was time for the second part of my Emirates A380 First Class adventure: The World’s longest Airbus A380 flight!
Dubai (DXB) – Los Angeles (LAX)
Tuesday April 29, 2014
Distance: 8,339mi (13,420km)
Aircraft: Airbus A380
Seat: 2K (First Class)
Pic: Emirates First Class Lounge, Concourse A, Terminal 3 in Dubai
I had my hotel pick-up (Emirates Chauffeur-Drive service) scheduled early in the morning to make sure I had enough time to discover the massive Emirates A380 Hub. Concourse A is 645m long, has twenty (20!!) A380 gates and a dedicated First Class floor with seating for 1491 First Class passengers. Note that an Emirates A380 has only 14 First Class Suites, multiply that by 20 and you realize there can only be a maximum of 280 First Class passengers present at any given time. They like to think big in Dubai! :)
Pic: Emirates First Class Lounge Duty Free Shopping
After a quick look at some of the dedicated First Class Duty Free Shops, I headed to one of the à la carte fine dining restaurants for breakfast.
Pic: Breakfast at the Emirates First Class Lounge in Dubai
The menu read as follows:
Intro, A la carte Breakfast page 1 and 2, Appetizers & Soups, Main Courses, Sandwich & Cheese Selection, Desserts & Hot Beverages and Bar Service.
I had a bottle of Moët, cappuccino, fresh orange juice, poached eggs with white toast and waffles.
Pic: Emirates Airbus A380 First Class – Suite 2K
Upon boarding I was welcomed by first class flight attendant Joon who escorted me to my seat. A few moments later, in-flight purser Ben introduced himself. I was quite surprised he knew I was a travel blogger. The social media folks at Emirates must have informed him after they noticed my live tweets and instagramming on my AMS-DXB flight.
Pic: Emirates A380 First Class – Suite 2K Seat
I was excited to see the A380 featured the ‘new’ First Class suites with 27-inch HD screen and an iPad like In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) & Seat Control tablet. Note: The Emirates ICE system features 1600 (!!) entertainment channels including over 300 movies, hundreds of TV choices and thousands of music tracks.
Pic: Emirates A380 First Class Suite IFE & Seat Controls Tablet (2012 version)
Pic: Emirates A380 First Class BVLGARI Amenity Kit
I was provided with an Emirates ‘beach bag’ containing pajamas, slippers and BVLGARI amenity kit.
Pic: Emirates First Class – Arabic Coffee and Bateel Dates
As first pre-departure drink and snack, I was offered Arabic coffee and exclusive Bateel Dates. Followed by a
glass bottle of Dom.
Pic: Emirates First Class – Dom Perignon 2004 as pre-departure drink
The Emirates First Class menu read as follows: Bar Service 1, 2 and 3, A la Carte Dining 1 and 2, Sweet Delights & Cheese Selection, Hot Beverages & Light Bites, Champagne, White and Red Wines, Dessert Wine & Port. I started with a First Class classic, Iranian Caviar with Grey Goose wodka.
Pic: Iranian caviar with Grey Goose wodka and Dom Perignon 2004 Champagne
My personal flight attendant Kinga went great lengths setting up my dining table in a perfect manner!
Pic: Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron 2003 Pauillac
I had several meals during my 16 hour flight, here are some of the highlights:
Pic: Emirates First Class – Almond and Artichoke Soup
Pic: Emirates First Class – Seared Tuna
Pic: Emirates First Class – Ricotta Cheese and Spinach Tortellini Pasta
Pic: Emirates First Class – Chocolate Molten Cake for Dessert
Pic: Emirates First Class – Coffee and Tea Selection
There was even a separate menu for Coffee and Tea at Emirates First Class.
Pic: Emirates First Class – Hennessy Paradis Cognac
Emirates is the only airline in the world serving this extremely rare cognac crafted from several hundred eaux-de-vie aged from 25 to 130 years old. Hennessy Paradis retails at ~€550 ($750) per bottle.
Pic: Emirates A380 First Class Suite with full flat bed
My culinary highlights were followed by a few hours of rest in the privacy of my suite with closed doors.
Pic: Emirates First Class A380 Suite with Full Flat Bed
The ICE in-flight entertainment system with 27 inch HD widescreen was awesome to watch movies!
Pic: Emirates A380 First Class Suite with closed doors
Before my arrival in LAX, I refreshed with a fantastic inflight shower Spa session (check my previous Emirates First Class trip report for pictures). Traveling for 16 hours in economy class must be quite a challenge, but when in Emirates First, you wish the flight would be even longer! I hope to have the opportunity to fly more with Emirates in the near future, preferably in First. ;-)
PS: A special thank you goes out to purser Ben, flights attendants Kinga & Joon and their colleagues for the excellent service & hospitality.
End of April, I flew Emirates First Class from Amsterdam to Los Angeles via Dubai on the A380. The revenue price of my ticket would have been €14988 ($20432), but thanks to Alaska Mileage Plan, I was able to book it for €1644 ($2241) using 100,000 miles. It was Ben Schlappig (OneMileataTime) who taught us at TravelMagic 2013 how to buy Alaska Miles on the cheap and use them to book Emirates First Class.
Pic: Emirates First Class Chauffeur Drive Service
Emirates Business and First Class bookings include complimentary Chauffeur Drive service. I had the pleasure to enjoy a ride in a brand new Mercedes-Benz S-Class from my hotel in downtown Amsterdam to Schiphol airport. A great start of my Emirates First Class journey! At check-in, I was offered the choice between lounge access or a €45 Food & Beverage voucher which could be used at any restaurant at the airport. I chose the latter, as Emirates doesn’t have a dedicated lounge at AMS and their partner lounge at Schiphol is known for its poor quality. As I wasn’t hungry, I used the voucher to pay the meals of a random family at a pizza place. You should have seen the looks on their faces, they were convinced it was a scam. :-) Instead of having a meal, I relaxed with a nice Spa treatment at XpresSpa.
Pic: Emirates Airbus A380 First Class Cabin
Upon boarding, I was welcomed by one of the First Class flight attendants who escorted me to suite 3A. The Emirates First Class cabin is at the front of the A380 upper deck with 14 suites in a 1x2x1 configuration (seat map). The suites are slightly staggered to avoid looking directly into somebody’s else’s suite. Suites 1A and 1K have less space around them due to the proximity of the First Class bar and Shower Spas. Similar case for suites 4A and 4K due to the proximity of the lavatory and galley.
Pic: Emirates First Class Suite 2A (2008 edition) on A380
Emirates has two First Class suite versions on the A380, the original 2008 suite with 23-inch IFE screen and the in 2012 introduced version with 27-inch Panasonic HD Screen. Other minor differences between the two First Class suites versions are:
1) wireless IFE and seat control unit (looks similar to iPad in the 2012 version)
2) position of the lamp located next to the IFE screen
My EK148 flight from Amsterdam to Dubai featured the ‘old’ First Class suite, whereas my EK215 flight from Dubai to Los Angeles had the newest First Class suite.
Pic: Emirates A380 First Class Suite 3A Seat
Pic: Bart flying Emirates A380 First Class from Amsterdam to Dubai
With only 4 out of 14 suites occupied, flight EK148 had a light load in First. Flight attendant Gretta used the opportunity to snap some pictures of me. :)
Pic: Emirates First Class Suite 3A – ‘Do Not Disturb’
Pic: Veuve Clicquot was served as pre-departure Champagne
Pic: Vanity mirror with kit consisting of Temple Spa branded toiletries
Pic: The Emirates A380 Shower Spa menu
Before take-off, a flight attendant distributed the Emirates A380 Shower Spa menus (page 1,2,3,4,5,6) and made a round through the cabin to take reservations. I had my shower session scheduled two hours before arrival in Dubai. The Emirates A380 has two Shower Spas located at the front of the First Class cabin which are serviced by two dedicated Cabin Services Assistants. Yes, you read that correctly, two crew members whose sole job is to make sure the Shower Spas are in top notch condition at all times during the flight!
Pic: Dom Perignon 2004 with nuts, olives and feta cheese
After take-off, it was time for the more expensive champagne, Dom Perignon Vintage 2004. I was also provided with the extensive Emirates First Class menus (Intro, Bar Service p1 p2 & p3, A la Carte Dining) and Wine menu (Champagne, Red, White, Dessert & Port)
Pic: Emirates First Class – Chilled Iranian Caviar Service
A First Class flight isn’t complete without perfectly prepared chilled Iranian caviar presented with a traditional selection of finely chopped onion, chopped boiled egg, sour cream and lemon, served with crisp melba toast and soft blini pancakes.
Pic: Monte Vibiano Balsamic Condiment and Olive Oil
Pic: Emirates First Class – Traditional local Arabic Mezze
Following the caviar service, I had the renowned Emirates Traditional local Arabic mezze: The Flavours of our home, presented as a generous spread of traditional Arabic savoury dishes, including hommous, moutabal, tabouleh, muhammara, labneh with herbs, makdous, marinated pickles, vine leaves, lamb bil ajeen, and falafel, complemented by local garnishes and breads.
Pic: Emirates First Class – White Chocolate Croissant Pudding
For dessert, I had the White Chocolate Croissant Pudding accompanied by a glass of Château Suduiraut 2007.
Pic: Emirates A380 Onboard Business Class Lounge
After lunch, I visited the Business Class bar located at the back of the A380 upper deck. Unfortunately, I didn’t meet Cristiano Ronaldo nor Pelé! ;-) I did have an interesting conversation with a Dutch business man traveling on Emirates on monthly bases. He confirmed the superiority of the middle eastern airlines (Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways, …) versus the ‘traditional’ European and American airlines.
Pic: Emirates A380 Onboard First Class Bar
The First Class cabin has its own bar at the front of the A380 upper deck. It isn’t as spectacular at the Business Class lounge, but features a number of premium brandies (e.g. Hennessy Paradis) which not available at the Business Class bar.
Pic: Emirates First Class – Suite 3E with seat in flatbed mode
After all the eating and drinking, it was time for some rest. I requested the flight attendant to prepare the bed in the Suite next to mine, as the flight had such light First Class load. The bed was really comfortable with an additional mattress put on top of the seat in combination with a duvet.
Pic: Emirates First Class A380 Shower Spa and Restroom
The absolute highlight of my Emirates A380 First Class flight was scheduled at the end: showering at 40,000 feet, what an exhilarating experience!
Pic: Fresh Flowers at the Emirates First Class A380 Shower Spa
Pic: Emirates First Class Shower Spa
The Shower Spa had heated flooring creating a warm atmosphere. Aside from complimentary Timeless Spa products, I found fluffy towels, toothbrushes, shaving kits, cotton buds, combs and shower caps. There was even a hair dryer!
The Emirates First Class Shower Spa Experience lasts for approximately 20-30 minutes. The system is designed to give you a set shower time (5 minutes) which starts when you turn on the shower. You can maintain and control the water usage at your leisure. There is a time indicator located inside the shower cubicle so that you can check how much time is available. To let you know that the end of your shower time is approaching, the system will automatically pause the water flow with one minute remaining.
Pic: First Class Shower Spa – Mirror, sink and plenty of towels
Pic: Emirates First Class Shower Spa – BVLGARI amenities
Pic: Signature Shower Spa Tea & Fresh Detox Juices on request
Conclusion: My first Emirates First Class flight was a truly sensational experience. An amazing hard product combined with an excellent & attentive cabin crew makes Emirates First Class one of the best airline products I have ever flown! Next time I fly a competitor’s First Class cabin, my first question will be “Where are the showers?” ;-)
PS: A special thank you goes out to the First Class crew of flight EK148 (Apr 27, 2014) for their excellent service.
Pic: InterContinental Amstel Amsterdam, The Netherlands (Apr 2014)
In October 2013, InterContinental Amstel opened the World’s first Champagne Suite by Dom Perignon. Last week, I had the pleasure to enjoy this ultimate luxury suite in Amsterdam.
Pic: Bedroom of Dom Perignon Suite at InterContinental Amstel Amsterdam (Apr 2014)
My booking was an Executive City View Suite at €855, but thanks to IHG’s Best Price Guarantee, my stay was free! I had jokingly tweeted InterContinental Amstel requesting an upgrade to their exclusive Dom Perignon Suite. To my surprise, the hotel answered “Let us see what we can do ;) #youneverknow”. And yes, after some confusion at check-in, I was assigned the Dom Perignon Junior Suite room number 122. As IHG Rewards Club Platinum member, I was entitled for a one level upgrade to an Executive River View Suite. I assume the hotel appreciated my photography and provided me this exceptional upgrade. Note: I didn’t have access to the full Dom Perignon Executive Luxury Suite which is even larger and has a separate dining area and can be combined with the Junior Suite via connecting doors. (102 sq. meter)
Pic: Dom Perignon Suite at InterContinental Amstel Amsterdam (Apr 2014)
Pic: Living room at Dom Perignon Suite, InterContinental Amstel Amsterdam
Pic: Illy Coffee Maker at Dom Perignon Suite, InterContinental Amstel Amsterdam
Pic: Living room of Dom Perignon Suite at InterContinental Amstel Amsterdam
Pic: Dom Perignon Towel Rack at InterContinental Amstel Amsterdam (Apr 2014)
Pic: Bart Lapers at the Dom Perignon Suite of InterContinental Amstel (Apr 2014)
Pic: Swimming Pool at InterContinental Amstel Amsterdam (Apr 2014)
Video: Elliot’s Cafe, Borough Market, London
Pic: Double Room at Town Hall Hotel in East London (Mar 2014)
For my Friday night stay in London, I used last-minute booking app HotelTonight which had Town Hall Hotel in hip East London on offer for €156. Thanks to the promo codes I published in February (+ referral credits), my stay was free. Unfortunately, most promo codes are no longer valid, but you can still get €20 or $25 discount on your first booking using my referral code BLAPERS. I expect more HotelTonight promo codes to surface in the next months, so make sure to follow my blog, twitter account and TravelMagic Facebook page for instant updates.
Pic: Swimming Pool at Town Hall Hotel in East London (Mar 2014)
As points & miles addicts, we tend to stay at chain hotels most of the time. The beauty of alternative booking apps like HotelTonight and Airbnb is the fact you often end-up with independent hotels and B&Bs what can result in surprising experiences… Town Hall Hotel was one of them. What an amazing Art Deco property!
Pic: The Pool at Town Hall Hotel in East London (Mar 2014)
Did you know only 64 out of 1069 hotels in London have a pool? Well, Town Hall Hotel is one of them and gosh is it beautiful!
Pic: Corner Room at Town Hall Hotel in London (Mar 2014)
Another exceptional venue at the Town Hall Hotel is their restaurant ‘Corner Room‘ where I had an excellent breakfast served (menu) in a great atmosphere on Saturday morning.
Pic: Breakfast at the Corner Room, Town Hall Hotel London (Mar 2014)
Pic: Poached Eggs with Streaky Bacon at the Corner Room, Town Hall Hotel London
Pic: Shangri-La Hotel at The Shard in London (Mar 2014)
A visit to The Shard was on my todo list for a while now, as it will be hosting the much hyped Shangri-La The Shard hotel on floors 34 to 52 offering beautiful views of The City. The hotel will officially open on May 6, but don’t get too excited as rooms start at £450 (€540) per night! Lets hope HotelTonight adds it to its portfolio. ;-) Anyway, you don’t need to stay at the Shangri-La to enjoy The View from The Shard. You can access viewing platforms on the 69th and 72nd floor (244m) for £29 (bloody expensive!). Make sure to make advance reservations (e.g. early morning on the day of your visit) as sunset hours tend to sell out fast.
Pic: Tower Bridge as seen from View from The Shard in London (Mar 2014)
More nice venues I discovered during my weekend trip:
Bistrotheque (Dinner, walking distance from Town Hall Hotel)
Elliot’s Cafe (Borough Market, walking distance from The Shard)
I had dinner at both venues seated at the bar (I was by myself) and really loved the suggestions made the bartender at Elliot’s Cafe (menu). Make sure to try the Pig Head Kromeski with tartare sauce and the Sweetbreads, Black Pudding & Caramelized Apple!