Thanks to my Etihad Guest Gold status and a Double Miles offer, my Air Berlin & Etihad Business Class trip to Jakarta earned me an amazing 46,050 Etihad Guest miles! This included 34.402 Guest Tier Miles which is only 5598 miles short of requalification for the Eithad Guest Gold tier!
Excited by the high number of miles earned, I started browsing Etihad’s award availability for their newest product, the A380, which will start serving the Abu Dhabi – London route as of December 27, 2014. As expected, astronomical amounts of miles were required to book The Residence. For the first half of 2015, First Class Apartments were only available at First Suite Saver level requiring more than four hundred thousand miles. Yes, 400000! And then this happened…
For whatever reason, it was possible to book the new Etihad A380 First Class Apartments at Guest First award level for flights on Saturday October 10, 2015. Other days in 2015 required more than 400,000 miles to book the same seat! With 13,453 miles from my Etihad Business Class flight back in 2012, my total Etihad Guest balance was 59,503 miles. Enough for this amazing award redemption. I didn’t hesitate and booked immediately. There was Guest First availability in both directions, but I selected the AUH-LHR flight as its air time is 50 minutes longer. Taxes were also lower for departures from Abu Dhabi, 80 AED (€17) compared to 190 GBP (€240) from London. The revenue fare for my flight was €4813 ($5955).
As Etihad Guest miles seemed to be quite valuable, I opted for the Miles + Cash option which allowed me to buy an extra 13,935 miles for 460,69 AED (€102) during the booking process. Afterwards, I also noticed there was a promotion for Etihad Guest redemptions until Dec 10, 2014 which would refund 25% of the redeemed miles after the actual flight! What a deal! Let’s hope Etihad doesn’t delay its A380 services any longer, fingers crossed!
Pic: The Lobby, Upper Deck, Etihad Airways A380
Key success factors for amazing redemptions:
Pictures & Video: Etihad Airways
Pic: Air Berlin A330 new Business Class IFE Screen (Nov 2014)
Mid October, Air Berlin published a really cheap Business Class fare from Oslo, Norway to Jakarta, Indonesia. An opportunity I used to try their new Business Class and to visit Bali. The fare from OSL to CGK via TXL (Berlin) and AUH (Abu Dhabi) was $1018 (€818). For the positioning flight, I booked Lufthansa via Munich at €170. The first leg of the Air Berlin ticket wasn’t really exciting, as it was just a short-haul ‘all economy class’ flight from Oslo to Berlin. The layover at TXL airport was only 1 hour, so I didn’t visit the lounge. In fact, there wasn’t much time to do so, as I had to change terminals at TXL. An annoying experience as you arrive at the ‘temporary’ low-cost terminal C and need to walk outside to terminal A. Unfortunately, it might take another 5 years before the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport opens. Anyway, I was glad to board the Air Berlin A330!
Pic: Air Berlin A330 new Business Class Seat 2K (Nov 2014)
The Air Berlin Business Class seat is very similar to Etihad’s Business Class product. The main differences are the color scheme (obvious), seat pitch and bed length. With 59 inch (150cm) seat pitch at Air Berlin versus 73 inch (185cm) at Etihad and 71.3 inch (181 cm) bed length at Air Berlin versus 73 inch (185cm) at Etihad, taller travelers might prefer the Etihad seat. My Air Berlin A330 flight had a different Business Class configuration compared to the one seat map you find online. I was in seat 2K which doesn’t exist on the SeatGuru map, but in fact was the right front row seat with a lot of extra space in front of it. Not sure what triggers this different Business Class cabin layout.
Pic: Air Berlin Business Class Meal Service (Nov 2014)
The crew on the outbound flight AB7494 from Berlin to Abu Dhabi on Nov 7 was outstanding. However, I had the opposite experience on the inbound flight AB7495 from AUH to TXL on Nov 14. I’m used to this on Turkish Airlines flight, were crews are a hit or miss. Future Air Berlin flights will tell me if they have a similar thing going on.
Pic: Air Berlin new Business Class – Full flat seat in bed mode
My Air Berlin flight arrived early in the morning at Abu Dhabi airport where I was lucky to shoot this awesome picture of Ferrari World from my seat window!
Pic: Ferrari World as seen from my flight upon landing in Abu Dhabi
Pic: My trip to Guam and Palau in the Pacific Ocean
Earlier this year in April and May, I made a trip around the World which included stopovers in Dubai, Los Angeles, Guam and Palau. I published two extensive trip reports about my Emirates A380 First Class experiences (Amsterdam to Dubai and Dubai to Los Angeles) but didn’t write yet about the rest of my the trip, so here we go…
Pic: Rooftop pool at SIXTY Beverly Hills (Apr 2014)
After my arrival at Los Angeles Airport (LAX), an Emirates First Class chauffeur drove me to SIXTY Beverly Hills which I had booked using the HotelTonight app. There wasn’t much time to rest, as I soon got a message from my fellow American travel bloggers who were ready to meet-up.
Pic: Meeting American travel bloggers at Santa Monica Pier
Omar, Tahsir and Amol shared some of their newest tricks and latest adventures while we were strolling along Santa Monica Beach. The highlight of the evening was burgers at the world famous In-N-Out near the LAX runway, a plane spotter’s heaven! For my flights from Los Angeles to Guam, I used a trick of the LifeMiles frequent flyer program. For just 25K miles, it was possible to fly United Business Class from Los Angels (LAX) to Guam (GUM) via Tokyo (NRT). The reason behind this was GUM being an American airport triggering LifeMiles only to charge the required miles for a US ‘domestic’ flight. With 18K LifeMiles in my account, which I had bought for $270, I paid $128,37 extra for the remaining 7K miles + a $25 booking fee and $24,93 in taxes & fees making a total of $448,30 (€332,37) for my business class flights from LAX to GUM via NRT. The revenue fare for this trip was €2285!
Pic: The beach at Tumon Bay in Guam (click for full size)
For the first weekend of May, hotel rates were extremely high at Tumon Bay as Koreans and Japanese, Guam’s main visitors, had a long weekend. For my first night, I booked a Premier Garden King room at Hilton Guam Resort at $177. Thanks to my Hilton HHonors Gold status, I could enjoy complimentary breakfast and internet access. For my second night, I used 15K Hyatt Gold Passport points to book a Twin Room at Hyatt Regency Guam as the revenue rate was $430 (excl. taxes!) And for my third night, I bought 10K SPG points at $297 (15% off promo) to book The Westin Resort Guam instead of paying $395 revenue rate. Yup, that was a really expensive weekend in Guam!
Pic: Regency Club Twin at Hyatt Regency Guam (May 2014)
At Hyatt Regency Guam, my room was upgraded to a Regency Club room, which meant I could enjoy complimentary breakfast with a view.
Pic: Breakfast at Regency Club at Hyatt Regency Guam (May 2014)
Pic: The Deli at Hyatt Regency Guam (May 2014)
To be honest, there wasn’t that much to do at Guam apart from enjoying the beach, so it was just a relaxing weekend before heading to Palau.
Pic: Sunset at Hyatt Regency Guam (May 2014)
Pic: Tumon Bay view from Westin Resort Guam (click for full size)
Pic: Bart at Westin Guam Resort (May 2014)
Pic: The Tumon beach at Westin Resort Guam (May 2014)
Pic: Guam (GUM) to Koror, Palau (KOR)
For my flight from Guam to Palau, I redeemed 12500 United MileagePlus miles +$2.5 instead of paying $461 for a revenue ticket.
Pic: ’70 Islands’ seen during scenic Cessna flight in Palau (May 2014)
The Republic of Palau must be one of the most unique island countries I’ve ever visited. Part of Micronesia, it offers incredible diving sites and mind boggling views from the air. The scenic flight with a Cessna from Smile Air Inc. ($180 / 30 min.) was one of the highlights of my trip! The Palau reefs are one of the Seven Underwater Wonders of the World.
Pic: The amazing limestone island of Palau (May 2014)
As there are no chain hotels in Palau, I stayed at the fabulous new Ms. Pinetree’s Hostel / Bed and Breakfast.
Pic: Bart at Long Beach, Palau (May 2014)
Pic: Carp Island, Palau (May 2014)
Pic: Yap Stone Money at Carp Island in Palau (May 2014)
Pic: Swimming between thousands of jellyfish in Palau (May 2014)
Pic: Jellyfish lake in Palau (May 2014)
Another highlight of my trip was swimming between thousands of Golden jellyfish. The Palau Jellyfish Lakes are unique in the World.
Pic: Kayangel island, the northernmost state of Palau (May 2014)
Pic: From Koror, Palau to Brussel, Belgium using LifeMiles
For my return trip from Koror to Brussels, I used 65K LifeMiles to book Business Class with Asiana Airlines and Lufthansa. With 30K LifeMiles in my account which I had bought for €330, $550.54 (€446,83) for the remaining 35K miles at the time of booking and $46.87 in tax, I paid a total of €776,83 for my comfortable return home.
Pic: Lufthansa Boeing 747-8 Business Class (May 2014)
Pic: LH B747-8 Brandenburg, the bird which flew me from Seoul to Frankfurt
Pic: King Deluxe room at Hilton Sukhumvit Bangkok (Jul 2014)
End of July, I spent a week in Bangkok, a city which I tend to visit at least once a year. For my first 5 nights, I booked the new Hilton Sukhumvit Bangkok using 120K Hilton HHonors points. The hotel was 30K points per night, but as HHonors Gold member, I got my fifth night for free. Additional benefits were Executive Lounge access, complimentary breakfast and WiFi. A very nice hotel with attentive staff which shows in their excellent tripadvisor reviews.
Pic: Executive Lounge at Hilton Sukhumvit Bangkok (Jul 2014)
Pic: Maggie Choo’s Speakeasy bar at Novotel Bangkok (Jul 2014)
Another great discovery was Maggie Choo’s located beneath Novotel Bangkok Fenix Silom. An awesome speakeasy hidden behind a Thai-Chinese restaurant with very authentic interior.
Pic: Maggie Choo’s Thai Chinese restaurant at Novotel Bangkok
Pic: Bubble Girl at Maggie Choo’ s Speakeasy in Bangkok
Pic: Bart at W Hotel in Bangkok (Jul 2014)
A new hotel I definitely had to visit was W Bangkok. I wasn’t too impressed by their futuristic outdoor pool, but the AWAY Spa looked cool. The global jetsetter atmosphere at WOOBAR makes it a great nightlife venue.
Pic: Treatment room at AWAY Spa, W Bangkok (Jul 2014)
Pic: Relaxation aria at AWAY Spa W Hotel Bangkok (Jul 2014)
Pic: Octave Rooftop Lounge & Bar at Marriott Bangkok Sukhumvit
My new favorite rooftop bar in Bangkok is called Octave. Amazing views guaranteed. Other rooftop bars I can recommend are Above Eleven, Sirocco at Lebua and The Speakeasy at Hotel Muse.
Pic: Stormy clouds above Octave Rooftop Lounge & Bar (Jul 2014)
Pic: The Siam Hotel Bangkok – An Urban Luxury Resort (Jul 2014)
Finally, I had the pleasure to enjoy a tour of The Siam hotel near the Chao Phraya River. The hotel features an incredible collection of antiques and has professionally equipped Muay Thai boxing gym!
Pic: The pool at The Siam Hotel Bangkok (Jul 2014)
Pic: Lufthansa Business Class Breakfast on BRU to FRA flight (Jul 2014)
End of July, I booked a last-minute trip to Bangkok using 135,000 Lufthansa Miles & More miles + €544,41 in taxes and fees. Not my best redemption to date, but due the last-minute nature of my trip, a better option than paying >€2000 for a revenue ticket. My trip started with a Lufthansa Business Class flight from Brussels to Frankfurt on which a delicious muesli breakfast was served.
Pic: Lufthansa Senator Lounge B, Terminal 1, Frankfurt Airport (Jul 2014)
Pic: City Lights Lufthansa Senator Lounge at Frankfurt Airport (Jul 2014)
In Frankfurt, I visited Lufthansa’s flagship Senator lounge with features the ‘City Lights’ bar and a modern wellness area with luxury facilities that include ten showers and two spa rooms.
Pic: Comfortable seating at Lufthansa Senator Lounge in Frankfurt
As I had already flown Thai Airways A380 First Class twice (TG920 BKK-FRA and TG676 BKK-NRT) and as there was no award availability for Royal First this time, I used the opportunity to try the Thai Airways A380 Business Class cabin. At the time of booking, only middle aisle ‘honeymoon’ seats were still available. (see Upper Deck, Thai Airways A380 seatmap) Middle aisle seats form alternating pairs which are directed inwards or outwards. The inwards directed seats are so called ‘honeymoon’ seats which are great for couples, but not if you’re traveling solo. The outward directed seats are known as ‘divorce seats’. Fortunately, I had honeymoon seats 19E and 19F for myself.
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!