Bart Lapers

Brussels – Johannesburg with Lufthansa A380 for 399EUR

An exceptional offer I couldn’t refuse.  Round trip Brussels – Johannesburg with the new Lufthansa Airbus 380 for 399EUR


Not an exceptional miles per euro ratio, but as Miles and More Frequent Traveller, it will still earn me 8.412 status miles.

Feel free to join me for this mileage run.  Book until April 19, 2011.

Hyatt Gold Passport: Status Match Challenge

Hyatt Gold Passport currently offers trial Diamond membership for top tiers of competitor loyalty programs.  Listed elite levels can request Hyatt Gold Passport Customer Service to participate in the Status Match Challenge.
Competitors Hyatt Gold Passport will match:

  • Hilton Gold VIP or Hilton Diamond VIP
  • Marriott Gold or Marriott Platinum
  • Starwood Platinum Preferred Guest
  • Priority Club Platinum

You will receive trial Diamond membership for 60 days. However, you must complete 12 nights in 60 days to maintain Diamond tier through February of 2013. Diamond level normally requires you to stay 25 times or spend 50 nights at Hyatt hotels in one calendar year.  Note: this is a one in a lifetime offer, you can only status match once.  Diamond membership provides you some valuable benefits:

  • 30% point bonus
  • Best room available including Regency Club or Grand Club rooms
  • Access to the Regency Club or Grand Club lounge featuring complimentary continental breakfast and evening hors d’oeuvres.
  • Four guaranteed suite upgrades annually
  • Special welcome point bonus or food and beverage amenity during each stay.
  • Complimentary in-room Internet access.

When you enroll for trial Diamond membership you’ll receive all of the above benefits during your challenge period.  As the Hyatt Hotels Corporation has some incredible luxury properties in it’s portfolio, this offers some great opportunities.  Have a look at the Park Hyatt, Grand Hyatt and Andaz hotels worldwide.

My Strategy

At the beginning of 2011, I set myself the goal of achieving Platinum level at PriorityClub, the highest (free) elite level at the InterContinental Hotels Group.  As 60K points were easily earned (signing up for all bonus points offers helps!), it took me less than three months to achieve this goal.

Today, the Hyatt Gold Passport Status Match Challenge offers me the opportunity to not only enjoy the benefits of my Platinum level at InterContinental brands (Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo, …)  but also have the perks of a Diamond at the Hyatt brands.

As I’ll be staying in Seoul next week, I have my first opportunity to collect eligible nights for the Status Match Challenge.  Generally Hyatt hotels aren’t cheap, in fact Park Hyatt and Grand Hyatt hotels can be very expensive.  My two night stay at Park Hyatt Seoul will set me back 500 euro.  That’s a lot of money for two nights luxury.  In exchange I’ll get a Park Suite King and all the Diamond benefits. Note: I upgraded my Park DLX King booking using a ‘Suite Upgrade Award certificate’.  As a Diamond you receive 4 of those certificates each year.  You can use them to upgrade a stay of up to 7 nights to a guaranteed Suite.

For the remaining ten nights of my challenge I did some research for Hyatt properties with low room rates but at nice locations.  I decided to go for the recently renovated Hyatt Regency Cancun with a room rate of 80EUR/day (10 night stay, 1168USD)  Using two Suite Upgrade Award certificates, I exchanged my standard King Room for a Regency Suite (Value 10 night stay, 2878USD)

Conclusion

After my 12 night challenge, I’ll have spend 1300 euro at Hyatt properties and used 3 out of 4 Suite Upgrade certificates for 2011.  This will provide me with Diamond status until Feb 2013 (best rooms, free internet, club access, free food & drinks, etc.. on future stays) and 4 new Suite Upgrade certificates in Feb 2012.  Is it worth it?  Well, I didn’t cover the loyalty points yet.  I’ll earn quite some points during those 12 nights.  Hyatt currently has the ‘Possibilities‘ promotion until end of June 2011:  10,000 Hyatt Gold Passport bonus points after you stay five nights and 5,000 bonus points for every two nights after that.  Additionally, the Status Match Challenge will provide me with 1000 bonus points per night for the first 6 nights.  Diamond status also includes 30% bonus on my base points.  You see where I’m going with this?  At the end of the 12 nights challenge, I’ll have enough points for at least two nights at the most luxurious hotels of the Hyatt portfolio! (Value: easily +1000EUR)

Expect detailed reports and pictures of my upcoming Hyatt stays. 😉

20K *A miles + 3Y The Economist for 352 euro

I’ll be up-to-date with World Economic news for the next three years, all because of my quest for more Lufthansa Star Alliance miles

Collecting airline miles can be tough.  My latest Turkish Airways flight Istanbul – Brussels (booking class Q) was ‘rewarded’ with 125 status miles.  The amount of Star Alliance miles for many discounted fares is just ridiculous.  Next time, make sure to check the booking class of an airfare.  You might have the option to select a different flight which is slightly more expensive but offers you a lot more miles.

If flying alone doesn’t offer you enough miles to obtain that First Class award you’re looking for, alternative options might help you out.  Unfortunately, we Belgians can’t rely on Credit Card sign-up bonuses of tens of thousands of miles like our US travel friends.  There’s only the MasterCard or American Express card by Brussels Airlines Miles and More (part of Lufthansa, Star Alliance).  They earn you 1 0r 1.5 miles per euro spent and come with a maximum sign-up bonus of 3000 miles.  In comparison, our US travel companions can count on sign-up bonuses of up to 150,000 miles!

If you take a look at the miles earning opportunities on the Brussels Airlines Miles and More website, you’ll notice none of the offers are really appealing.  You’ll realize saving miles as a frequent non-business traveler is hard.  But sometimes an acceptable offer comes along, if you look hard enough.

One of the offers on the Brussels Airlines website is 5,000 miles for a three-year “The Economist” subscription.  That same three-year subscription via the German Miles and More website offers you 20,000 miles (offer valid from March 1 to May 31, 2011) As the terms and conditions do not state you have to be a German citizen, Miles and More members worldwide can enjoy this offer.

Now how valuable are those 20,000 miles?  If you’re going to use them for an economy reward flight, they are definitely not worth 352 euro.  On the other hand, if those 20K miles are going to be used to top-up your balance to obtain a business or first class award, it might be money well spent.  At least it’s a better option than buying miles directly for Lufthansa Miles and More.  You can buy a maximum of 12,000 miles per year for 290EUR.  Even with the 20% bonus which was offered 1Q2011 on buying miles, you would still only get 14,000 miles for 290 euro.

As I’m saving miles for a First Class award, I signed-up for this miles boost.  My Brussels Airlines Miles and More credit card was charged 352 euro and 20,000 miles were posted 6 days later on my Miles and More account.  Oh yes, almost forgot, for the next three years I’ll receive a weekly issue of The Economist too.

Planning: City trip London

  • What? An overview of the workflow used to book flights and hotel for a London city trip.
  • When? Wednesday May 25 – Friday May 27
  • Why? Gumball 3000 Launch Party & Start Grid

Brussels – London: By plane or train?

For most travelers the cheapest (fastest?) way from anywhere in Belgium to London is by train.  B-Europe.com is the recommend starting point to book your Eurostar (and Thalys, TGV, ICE) tickets for departures from any train station in Belgium.  People living near Antwerp can also rely on Cityjet.com to connect to London for reasonable prices.

As Brussels airport is only a 5 minute drive away from where I live, I prefer to fly.  That’s not the only reason though, travel by air just feels more comfortable and enjoyable to me.  Brussels Airport is a paradise compared to the train stations of Brussels.  Not to speak of the security issues at Brussels South (aka Bruxelles Midi/Brussel-Zuid)  Earlier this month, I had to chase two guys who had stolen my camera bag at this station!

A British Airways newsletter reminded me I still had 6000 miles sitting on my sleeping Executive Club (One World) account.  Now, 6K miles doesn’t buy you much, but a short-haul flight like BRU-LHR could offer opportunities.

Flight awards cover fares only, you still need to pay taxes and fees.  This results in economy class rewards being the lowest value for your hard-earned miles.  The taxes and fees for a return economy class reward flight with British Airways would be a staggering €109.11  The full fare for my return ticket BRU-LHR would be €175.11  That’s a €66 discount in exchange for your 6000 miles, Sir.  No way.  After making all kinds of cash+miles/economy class and business class combinations, I figured out the highest value for my 6K miles.  The inbound flight LHR to BRU in Business class (called ‘Club Europe’ by BA).  The full fare €559.20 euro.  My miles+cash+taxes+fee fare €112.80  That’s a €446,40 value for my 6000 miles!  Of course, business class on a one hour A319 flight won’t be that impressive, but still, I’ll enjoy champagne at take-off and maybe a business class meal.  More importantly, I’ll have the opportunity to experience a business class treatment at the new Terminal 5 of London Heathrow and have access to the British Airways lounges.  A nice topic for a travel.bart.la blog post!

My inbound flight was booked, still had to figure out a way to get to London.  A one way train ticket would be €56, a one way flight €57 (BMI).  Easy choice.  Once again Bravofly.com demonstrated it’s power.  It not only combines regular and low-cost airlines, it also makes combinations of oneway tickets to find the cheapest fare.  Using this kind of ticket search engines, you might noticed intriguing pricing policies.  Example: That €57 one way BMI flight is in fact operated by Brussels Airlines.  Brussels Airlines sells the same flight for €88.  The base fare is €26 for both airlines, but there’s a €31 difference in taxes.  The reason behind this is the difference in fuel surcharges: a €36 fuel fee at Brussels Airlines versus a €5 fuel fee at BMI.  Both airlines have an additional fee for credit card payments: €6 at BMI and €7.5 at Brussels Airlines.  As BMI is a Star Alliance partner, I should be able to collect some miles on this flight too. (we’ll see about that)Picture: Bravofly.com screenshot shows Brussels Airlines flight sold cheaper by BMI

Final price comparison:

  • Cheapest round trip airfare €154 (BMI)
  • Cheapest Eurostar ticket €142
  • Cheapest CityJet ticket €202

I paid:

  • BRU – LHR British Midland Airways economy class €63,24
  • LHR – BRU British Airways business class €112.80 (+ 5900 miles)
  • Total: €176,04

Hotels in London

Hotels in London are incredibly expensive.  The timing of my trip made it even worst.  UEFA Champions League final 2011 at Wembley stadium on May 28. All luxury hotels fully booked or showing astronomical room rates, also on the days before the final.  Have a look at this HotelsCombined.com screenshot:

Picture: InterContinental London Park Lane – Lowest room rate per night for stays May 25-27,2011 = €707

As a budget traveler you would try to avoid planning trips at this time.  As a loyalty traveler it feels like time to cash in a reward.  So I did.  I used two free nights which I earned during last year’s PriorityClub.com Sweet Dilemma promotion to book the InterContinental London Park Lane.

Total cost of London 5* accommodation: €0 Value on March 29,2011:  €1404

Remark: I had to spend 4 nights (4 stays) at IHG properties to earn those two free nights in 2010.  So I did spend around 250 euro on 4 hotel nights of which two were mattress runs.

Radisson Blu Bucharest

Enjoyed a one night stay at Radisson Blu Bucharest last weekend.  Had checked the hotel’s public areas on a previous trip and was overwhelmed by the impressive Bla lobby bar.  I stayed on a Family and Friends rate (see Bucharest planning for details) which was 80 euro per night including breakfast for two and a 25% discount at the all-day-restaurant Caffe Citta.

Picture: My (small) King Size room at Radisson Blu Bucharest.

Overall, I was very impressed by this hotel, both infrastructure and service wise.  Modern high quality interior design and well trained friendly staff.  No wonder this hotel is rated #1 for business (and #2 for leisure) on Tripadvisor.

Advise for your airport transportation: book the Radisson shuttle service (43 lei/10 euro).  Every hour a shuttle leaves for the airport.  With a bit of luck you’re the only guest going to the airport which means a hotel’s Mercedes-Benz E-Class will drive you. (normally 160 lei/40 euro)