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!
UPDATE OCTOBER 2014: THIS OFFER IS STILL VALID!
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.