Early October, I flew Swiss International Air Lines First Class on the A330-300 from Zurich to Dubai. I used 62500 Miles & More miles and paid €208 in taxes & fees for my one-way flight. The price of a revenue ticket for my flight would have been €4705! SWISS First Class is rather hard to book with miles as you need to be a Miles & More Senator or HON Circle member to have access to the award seat inventory. Both elite status levels require a lot of paid Business or First Class flying to obtain them. I’m still a Senator from back in the days when you earned 3126 status miles with a €99 Brussels Airlines flight…those were the days! ;-)
My layover in Zurich was rather short which made I didn’t get to experience too much of the SWISS First Class lounge. After a quick glass of Champagne, I was ushered to the departure terminal in a black minivan. No fancy Mercedes-Benz or Porsche ride to the plane at SWISS. Overall the transit in Zurich felt less personal than what I’m used to at Lufthansa First Class in Frankfurt or Munich.
Today, the much anticipated Qatar Airways First Class Lounge Al Safwa opened at Doha Hamad International Airport. A friend of mine was traveling Qatar Airways First Class and had the opportunity to enjoy this amazing lounge on its opening day. Below are some pictures he made with his smartphone which give you a general idea of the lounge. For more details, check this Flyertalk thread.
Pic: Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge Entrance
Over the past few years, I’ve stayed numerous times at luxury hotels for free. Highlights include a night in the €2500 Dom Perignon Suite at InterContinental Amstel and suites at InterContinental Paris Le Grand, InterContinental Paris Avenue Marceau, InterContinental Dusseldorf, InterContinental Dublin and InterContinental Bucharest. All thanks to the Best Price Guarantee. Major hotel chains offer a price guarantee which states they will compensate you if you manage to find a cheaper rate for your hotel booking on a third party hotel booking website. (e.g. expedia.com) Most hotel chains will lower their prices to the rate you’ve found and will give you some loyalty points or an extra discount for your stay. The InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG) which includes brands like InterContinental, Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza and Hotel Indigo has an even better guarantee. If you find a lower price on a third party website you get the first night free and the other nights at the lower price. Yes, if you’re only staying one night, the stay is free! Ideal for weekend trips.
Back in November, I flew Air Berlin and Etihad Airways Business Class to Jakarta. I reported extensively about my flight experiences with both airlines, but didn’t write yet about the hotels I enjoyed in Bali. First up is Ayana Resort and Spa, a huge property with 368 rooms located on the towering cliffs above Jimbaran Bay which opened in 1996 as The Ritz-Carlton Bali but rebranded as independent resort in 2009. It shares 90 hectares of gardens with sister property Rimba which opened in September 2013. Combined, Ayana and Rimba feature 11 pools (!) and 15 F&B outlets. Rest assured, you won’t get bored at this place. I recommended Rimba as honeymoon resort to friends of mine. After a week long stay, they decided to extend their vacation!
Pic: Rock Bar at Ayana Resort in Bali (Nov 2014)
Ayana also features the famous Rock Bar which is located on natural rocks 14 meters above the ocean. The bar looks fantastic, but suffers a bit from its popularity. One year after it opened in 2009, the 106sqm bar it was already extended with an additional 600sqm of surrounding terraces and paved areas. Every afternoon long queues build up as everyone wants to witness sunset at the unique bar. Fortunately, in-house guests can skip the line but don’t expect a quiet setting.
Paying with the right credit card has many advantages including:
*Some countries have a black market currency exchange which offers much better rates than the official ones (e.g. Argentina), bringing cash might be a better deal. Also check if credit cards are widely accepted at your travel destination, cash might be the only option to pay.
Make sure to book the cheapest hotel rates using these 5 tips!
Don’t assume your favorite online travel agent (OTA) always offers the cheapest rates. Compare hotel rates using price comparison sites like HotelsCombined.com and Trivago.com to book the cheapest rooms.
On Sunday, I witnessed an amazing new World Record: 433 hot air balloons took off simultaneously at Lorraine Mondial Air Ballons (LMAB), the biggest international hot air balloons gathering in the world! The festival takes place every two years at former United States Air Force base Chambley-Bussières, 35km east of the French city Metz. Read More
Pic: Qatar Airways B787 Dreamliner Business Class Seat
Business Class fares have dropped significantly in the past couple of years. It’s not uncommon to see Business Class fares from Europe to Asia for ~€1200 or less these days. One of the airlines routinely offering extreme low Business Class fares is Qatar Airways, Skytrax 2015 Airline of the Year. In May, I flew Qatar from Brussels to Bangkok via Doha on the B787 Dreamliner (QR196 BRU-DOH) and A380 (QR836 DOH-BKK). The Qatar Airways B787 Dreamliner is serving Brussels Airport since December 2013.
Pic: Qatar Business Class – Pol Roger 2006 Rosé Champagne
Qatar Airways, renowned for its excellent inflight beverages, was serving Billecart-Salmon Brut and 2006 Pol Roger Rosé Champagne on my Business Class flight from Brussels to Doha. They also had the exceptional 1974 Kopke Colheita Port on the menu!
Pic: Lufthansa A333 First Class Champagne Bar (Jun 2015)
For my return from Canada to Belgium, I used 85.000 Miles & More miles (+€383 in taxes & fees, ouch!) to book Vancouver to Munich in First Class and Munich to Brussels in Business Class. The required miles were earned with my Brussels Airlines Premium American Express card. This wasn’t my first time flying the ‘new’ Lufthansa First Class, I had previously enjoyed LH F on the B747-400, A380 and A340-300. This trip added the A330-300 to the list with the B747-8i and A340-600 still to go.
Pic: Lufthansa First Class pre-departure Champagne
The ground services at Vancouver airport were rather disappointing. Lufthansa uses the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge for its First Class passengers, a business class lounge which doesn’t even have showers. Star Alliance partners ANA, Swiss and Air China must have realized how bad this lounge is as they invite their premium passengers to the nearby Plaza Premium Lounge which does have showers. I reported my disappointment to Lufthansa via Twitter and to the inflight manager. The latter must have filled a report, as I received a call from Lufthansa Customer Relations a few days after my flight to apologize and provide me with 7000 miles as compensation. Excellent service!
Pic: Lufthansa First Class seat 2K on A330-300
Once onboard, I settled in my favorite seat (2K) which offered a nice overview of the cabin. I immediately noticed the interior looked very new with no stains or scratches. I assume this A333 was one of the more recent aircraft which got retrofitted with the ‘new’ First. FYI As of June 27, 2015 all Lufthansa aircraft offer the new First Class.
Pic: Enjoying the spacious Lufthansa A333 First Class
I was welcomed by the cabin purser and offered a glass of Louis Roederer 2007 Vintage Brut. The menu read as follows: Dining menu intro, Dinner, Breakfast, Vinothek intro, Champagne + Aperitif, White Wine, Red Wine, Dessert Wine + Liqueur and Port, Spirits, Cold Beverages, Hot Beverages.
Pic: Bart at Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Canada
After my First Class flights to Los Angeles the journey continued to Calgary, Canada. I had booked Hertz’ cheapest rate but was lucky enough to receive a brand new car for my 3-day roadtrip (map) in the Canadian Rockies. When I arrived at Radisson Calgary airport on tuesday night, the weather was gloomy and the forecast wasn’t really encouraging. Fortunately, this turned out to be an advantage when the weather cleared up on Thursday. It was exceptionally quiet in the parks which offered me the opportunity to enjoy the sights without the summer crowds!
Pic: Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Canada
A short stop to buy a rain jacket at the town of Banff and off I went to beautiful Moraine Lake and Lake Louise in Banff National Park. I stayed at Paradise Lodge & Bungalows, a 5 minute drive from Lake Louise. Not the cheapest place to stay, I paid $228 Canadian dollars (~€165) for my last-minute booking of a Preferred Fairview Suite, but what a relaxing experience! Nothing feels better than a hot shower after hiking all day in the rainy woods!
Pic: Bart at Icefields Parkway, Canadian Rockies
On Wednesday, the weather cleared up right in time for The World’s Most Spectacular Journey: Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper. What a FANTASTIC route! Probably the nicest I’ve done in my entire life.
Pic: Etihad Chauffeur service to London Heathrow Terminal 4
One weekend, three A380 First Class flights, a personal record! On my way to Canada, I flew Etihad Airways A380 First Class from London to Abu Dhabi, Qatar Airways A380 First Class from Doha to London and British Airways A380 First Class from London to Los Angeles. For the Etihad flight, I burned 40,000 American AAdvantage miles, the two other flights were part of the British Airways First Class error fare from Dubai (~€1350 out-of-pocket, a fraction of the normal fare ~€7000). The revenue OneWorld flights earned me a total of 23,429 American AAdvantage miles.
Pic: Etihad Airways A380 First Class Apartment 4K (May 2015)
I had very high expectations for my Etihad A380 First Class Apartment flight from London to Abu Dhabi, but unfortunately those were not met. Was it because Martina was not part of the flight crew? Maybe. The ground experience at Heathrow was nice with a tasty breakfast (menu) and relaxing massage (Six Senses Spa) at the Etihad First & Business Class lounge. But onboard there were a number of disappointments: a less than enthusiastic welcome by cabin manager Bashar, a pre-departure drink served in a broken glass, mediocre inflight dining & service, a cramped shower, a lobby bar lacking the grandeur of its competitors, and more… All first world problems, but if you pride yourself on “setting a new standard for best in class”, expectations of your premium passengers are very high.
Pic: Etihad A380 connecting First Class Apartments 3K and 4K
Obviously, there were a number of positive features as well. The spacious ‘Apartment’ offering great privacy, the ottoman converting in a 2 meter bed, the huge IFE high definition screen, etc… check the Design Air Etihad A380 First Apartment trip report for more details and pictures. I’ll fly Etihad A380 First Class later this year again which hopefully will be an improved experience.
Pic: Etihad First Class – Bollinger La Grande Année 2005 Champagne