Pic: Partially frozen Horseshoe Falls, Niagara Falls (Feb 2015)
Weekend trips can be so awesome! Friday morning, I flew Jet Airways from Brussels to Toronto for the weekend. Very reasonable travel times of 8h 45min for the outbound flight and only 6h 16m for the inbound flight thanks to the strong jet stream over the Atlantic.
Pic: Bart at Table Rock, Niagara Falls, Canada (Feb 2015)
My day trip to the Niagara Falls on Saturday was originally booked with BG tours, but as they didn’t have enough participants they rebooked me with King tours. At $67 Canadian dollars, the 9am till 6pm tour was excellent value. Glad I avoided renting a car and battling the 240km (roundtrip) of icy roads!
Pic: Breakfast at Early Bird, Toronto
Avoided the expensive hotel breakfast buffets and enjoyed a fantastic start of the day at Early Bird in the hip Queen Street West neighborhood.
Pic: King room at Trump Hotel Toronto
Friday night, I had booked Trump Toronto using HotelTonight, where even Donald Trump himself was expecting me! ;-)
Pic: Social media welcome amenity at Trump Toronto
Pic: The Moon & Toronto CN Tower
Another magic moment of my weekend in Toronto: blue hour at the famous CN Tower! It was the World’s tallest tower (553m) until the Burj Khalifa (Dubai) was finished in 2007.
Pic: View from the CN Tower in Toronto, Canada
Pic: Deluxe room at InterContinental Toronto Centre
On saturday night, I had a fantastic view from my deluxe room 2327 at the InterContinental Toronto Centre.
Pic: View from InterContinental Toronto Centre (Feb 2015)
Pic: CN Tower seen from InterContinental Toronto Centre
Pic: British Airways Galleries First at Heathrow Terminal 3
For my year end trip to Australia, I used 150K US Airways Dividend Miles which I bought for $1702 (€1288). I managed to buy these miles at 1.1 dollar cents during their fabulous 100% bonus on shared miles promos back in Oct 2013, Dec 2013 and Apr 2014. I paid an additional $370 (€285) in taxes and fees to book Amsterdam (AMS) – London Heathrow (LHR) – Dubai (DXB) – Melbourne (MEL) – Sydney (SYD) roundtrip with the long haul flights in First Class and short haul segments in Business Class. My total airfare was €1573 for a trip which could have been easily €8280 booked as revenue ticket!
Pic: Taittinger Prelude Champagne at BA Galleries First
After an uneventful British Airways Business Class flight from Amsterdam to London on Saturday afternoon, my Qantas Chauffeur drove me from Holiday Inn Express Heathrow T5 to Terminal 3 on Sunday morning. As Qantas First Class passenger, I had access to both the British Airways Galleries First Class lounge and the Emirates Business and First Class lounge.
Pic: Breakfast at the BA Galleries First Class Lounge
As expected, the service at the BA Galleries First Lounge was lacking. Nobody to welcome me at the First Class dining area, tables with stains and greasy spots, ages before someone took my order, etc… still a lot to improve British Airways!
Pic: No. 1 Traveller Lounge & Spa at LHR Terminal 3
As a Qantas First Class passenger, I was entitled to a 15 minute Spa treatment (menu) at the No. 1 Traveller Lounge & Spa . Fortunately, my ‘Fix It Massage’ session was a bit longer than the advertised 15 minutes. The therapist was friendly and professional, the treatment room rather small, as is the case with most airport spas.
Pic: Breakfast at the Emirates lounge, LHR Terminal 3
For my second breakfast, I visited the Emirates Business and First Class lounge at London Heathrow Terminal 3. The lounge didn’t have a separate area for First Class passengers, which gave it a less exclusive feel. However, the food and beverages buffets were quite extensive.
Pic: Qantas Airbus A380 Kangaroo
Around noon, it was time to board my flight QF10 from London to Melbourne (via Dubai). After reading a number of Qantas A380 First Class seating guides, I had selected seat 4A. The best seat in the house (3A) was already taken. The Qantas A380 First Class cabin is rather crowded with 14 suites, e.g. Lufthansa has 8 seats in First Class, but you can make it a bit more exclusive by selecting a seat in row A. Why? As a passenger in row A, you share the aisle with only 4 other passengers as there’s a divider between row A and F.
Pic: Qantas A380 First Class Seat 4A
Pic: Qantas A380 First Class Seat 4A
Pic: Qantas First Class Amuse Bouche and Taittinger Champagne
First Class flight attendant Alex welcomed me on board with a glass of Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2000. The drinks menu read as follows: Champagne, wine, cold beverages and hot beverages.
Pic: 2000 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs
Pic: Bart at A380 Qantas First Class London to Dubai
I didn’t have high expectations of the inflight catering, as Qantas doesn’t have a caviar service, something most other airlines offer in First Class. There were two menu’s for this 7 hour flight: a Tasting Menu and Lunch Menu. I went for the tasting menu of which the main course stood out: the Rockpool Bar and Grill style herb crumbed lamb cutlets with roasted carrots, cauliflower gratin, harissa and seeded mustard. It was one of the best lamb dishes I ever had… so delicious!
Pic: Sydney New Year’s Eve = seven tonnes of Fireworks! (Dec 2014)
After celebrating New Year’s Eve on Times Square in New York and at the Big Ben in London, Sydney was next. I flew Qantas First Class from London to Melbourne via Dubai and connected to Sydney in Qantas Business Class. (more on that later) As you might imagine, hotels were really expensive for NYE. Instead of paying 2813AUD (~€1986), I used 150K IHG Rewards Club points to book a Superior Cityside room for 3 nights at InterContinental Sydney. Another great points redemption! ;-)
Pic: View from InterContinental Sydney (Dec 2014)
Nope, that wasn’t the view from my room. I took this picture from the swimming pool at InterContinental Sydney. My room was facing city side and an upgrade to harbour view would have been 500AUD per night extra! Add another 1000AUD per night if you wanted Club Lounge access. Yup, New Year’s Eve prices are insane.
Pic: New Year’s Eve Welcome Amenity at InterContinental Sydney
Pic: The Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney (Dec 2014)
I started the last day of 2014 with a morning run at the fantastic Royal Botanic Gardens. The complete park was fenced off to ensure a safe New Year’s Eve celebration, but to my surprise, a security guard invited me in to enjoy my run in the park. Only a few other joggers were present in the park, which made enjoying its beauty a unique experience!
Pic: Sydney Opera House seen from The Royal Botanic Gardens
Pic: Jogging at The Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney (Dec 2014)
Pic: A.S.N. Warehouses, The Rocks, Sydney (Dec 2014)
When celebrating New Year’s Eve in Sydney, you want to watch the fireworks up-close. But you’re not alone, hundreds of thousands of spectators gather around the harbour with the same purpose. So what would be the best strategy to secure a good spot? After some research, I learned people started lining-up at the public viewing spots as early as 7am! After my 9 hour wait in the blistering cold on Times Square in 2010, I didn’t feel like a 16 hour tanning session at Sydney harbour. With a group of friends, it could be fun, but as I was traveling solo, I wanted a different solution. First alternative, buy a ticket for one of the vantage point parties. NYE Under the Stars was selling tickets at 395AUD (€277) to sit on the lawn. Park Hyatt Sydney charged 595AUD (€418) for their Rooftop Cocktail Party with limited Sydney Harbour Bridge views. After a few hours of reading blogs and forums, I learned the best opportunity was hiding in plain sight: Sydney Opera House! Turned out they were still selling tickets for their New Year’s Opera Gala Concert mid December. I ordered the cheapest ticket in the house (Choir row 2!) at 264AUD (€181). The ticket would give me access to the Opera Gala performance with a 9pm break to see the “family fireworks” and allow me to see the midnight fireworks from the Southern Foyers. The Opera’s Midnight Party, which required an additional ticket, was already sold out when I checked mid December. The extra benefit of the party was access to the Opera House Northern Foyers which have terraces providing 180 degree uninterrupted views of the Harbour Bridge and surroundings, free flow of drinks….and birds eye view on the Lord Mayor’s New Year’s Eve party!
Pic: Early morning spectators at Sydney Harbour bridge (Dec 2014)
I called the Sydney Opera House ticket desk on the morning of December 30th and boy was I excited to learn they had exactly 1 ticket left for the Midnight Party! Apparently a number of tickets get booked but not collected in due time and are released again. Add an additional 279AUD (€192) for the Midnight Party and my total for the night was 543AUD (€373)… an expensive night out in Sydney!
Pic: Ready for the Opera Gala Concert at the Sydney Opera House
Pic: New Year’s Eve Gala Opera at Sydney Opera House
Pic: New Year’s Eve Fireworks at Sydney Harbour Bridge
The Sydney Opera House Northern Foyers vantage point offered amazing views, but to be honest, my experience of the New Year’s Eve fireworks in London in 2012 was more intense. In fact, those were the most spectacular fireworks I ever witnessed.
Pic: New Year’s Eve Fireworks seen from Sydney Opera House
Pic: New Year’s Eve Fireworks Sydney Harbour Bridge (Jan 2015)
Pic: New Year’s Day started at this beautiful villa at Point Piper
Aron, an Australian friend of mine whom I got to know at the Athens 2004 Olympics, invited me to join him and his friends for some boating at the Sydney harbour on New Year’s Day.
Pic: Boating in Sydney – Paul Allen’s Super Yacht ‘Octopus’ (Jan 2015)
Also present was Microsoft’s co-founder Paul Allen with his super yacht Octopus.
Pic: A packed Milk Beach on New Year’s Day in Sydney (Jan 2015)
Pic: Enjoying the views on Sydney accompanied by Christine (Jan 2015)
Thanks for the awesome day on the water Aron, Adrian, Josh, Christine & friends!
Pic: The World famous Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House
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.