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Slee

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An avid world traveller and an enthusiast of the aviation industry. Has been to over 50 countries, on paths well and less travelled. Always on the lookout for luxury travel at economy price.

Cathay Pacific Sale CAD697 Vancouver to Hong Kong Return

Hong Kong Harbour

Cathay Pacific has an excellent sale from Vancouver to Hong Kong.  6 days sales period only.

Return economy fare Vancouver to Hong Kong, from CAD697.
Outbound travel dates:
15 Mar 2018 to 24 May 2018
15 Aug 2018 to 30 Nov 2018

Minimum stay is 2 days, maximum stay is 3 months.
Book before 2 May 2018.

Fares to Hong Kong from Calgary or Edmonton is a tad higher at CAD810 return.

Excellent fare on a Skytrax 5-Star airline, especially on a 13 hour flight!

Once again, a reminder – book before 2-MAY-2018.

 

Hotel Points Buy Promotion: Hyatt, SPG, IHG and Hilton

Marriott Auditorium Madrid

At least four major hotel chains are currently offering bonus points or cash discount when you buy their points.

Hyatt Hotels
World of Hyatt is offering up to 40% bonus points when you buy at least 10,000 points. If you buy between 5,000 and 9,000 points in a single transaction, you will get 30% additional bonus points. If you buy 10,000 or more in a single transaction, you will receive 40% additional bonus points. 55,000 points are the maximum you can buy in one calendar year. This offer is valid for points purchased between 24-APR-2018 and 23-MAY-2018.
Promo gauge: 40% is about as good as it gets for Hyatt’s promotions.
Link: Hyatt Bonus Points Offer

Starwood Hotels and Resorts
SPG is offering 35% cash discount when you buy at least 5,000 points.
30,000 Starpoints are the maximum you can buy in one calendar year. The receiving account must have been opened for at least 14 days before you can make this transaction. Offer is valid for points purchased between 20-APR-2018 and 31-MAY-2018. Don’t forget, SPG points that you buy can be converted into Marriott Rewards points at a ratio of 1 Starpoint to 3 Marriott Reward points. From Aug 2018, SPG points will cease and they will be merged into Marriott Rewards points.
Promo gauge: Good but not brilliant, but this is the last time you can buy SPG Starpoints.
Link: Stock up on Starpoints

IHG Hotels
IHG Rewards Club is offering up to 80% bonus points. How much you get will depend on what is already personalised in your account. You have to login into your Rewards account to find out. 100,000 points are the maximum you can buy in one calendar year. This offer is valid for points purchased between 18-APR-2018 and 31-MAY-2018.
Promo gauge: We have seen offers as high as 100%, but it could be targetted to individuals.
Link: IHG Buy Points Bonus

Hilton Hotels
Hilton Honors is offering 100% bonus points. 80,000 points are the maximum you can buy in one calendar year. This offer is valid for points purchased between 20-APR-2018 and 07-JUN-2018.
Promo gauge: 100% bonus is the most you could hope for. The last targeted promotion back in Feb-Mar 2018 yielded 80% bonus points for most people.
Link: Hilton Bonus Points Offer

Should you buy the hotel points?
Just for the sake of collecting the points because they are on sale, then it is a resounding NO. However, if you have plans to utilise them, then it might be worthwhile. And I say ‘might’ because sometimes during room sales promotion, the nightly cash price could work out cheaper. Generally, lower category hotels that have high cash nightly rate, or luxurious hotels with expensive nightly rates, especially during peak season, are worth the trouble.

 

Hilton Honors Buy Points Promotion – Get 100% More : Is It A Great Deal?

DoubleTree by Hilton Melaka, Malaysia

Hilton Honors launched its 100% points bonus promotion today. When you buy at least 5,000 points, you will get 100% more. For example, if you buy 5,000 points, you will get a total of 10,000 points. If you buy 80,000 points, you will get a total of 160,000 points. 80,000 points is the maximum Hilton Honors’ members can buy in one calendar year. This offer is valid for points purchased between 20-APR-2018 and 07-JUN-2018.

Details can be found here:
https://secure3.hilton.com/en/hh/customer/account/purchase.htm

Should you buy Hilton Honors points during this promotion?
Absolutely yes, if you have travel plans lined up. The best bang for your bucks is where the Hilton property has low redemption rate, ie 5,000 or 10,000 points per night. Or where the money rate per night is sky high for lower category Hilton hotels.

During this promotion, you are essentially buying one point at US 0.5 cent (half a cent US currency). If you need 10,000 points for your next stay, you only need to buy 5,000, as you get another 5,000 free. All these (5K buy + 5K free) will set you back by US$50 plus applicable local taxes in the country you reside.

As an example, let’s take DoubleTree Hilton Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia; check in 17-JUL-2018 for 1 night and 2 people. It requires 10,000 points per night. To acquire 10,000 points during this promotion, it will cost you US$50. The beauty about using points is that you do not have to pay for hotel service charges and government taxes where the hotel is located. In this case, 10,000 points is all that are required at a cost of US$50 (ignoring the taxes you paid for the points).

If you are to pay by cash, the rate per night (at time of writing) inclusive of taxes and charges is MYR359 (MYR308 for the room, MYR20 for taxes, MYR31 for service charge)  or US$92. That gives you an immediate saving of US$42 per night, or in percentage term, a very nice 46%.

Be mindful that not all the Hilton properties will work out as good as that.

Marriott Rewards, SPG and Ritz Carlton Rewards Merged Into One Program

In Sep 2016, Marriott completed its US$13 billion acquisition of Starwood Hotels, making it the world’s largest chain. They continue to run their loyalty programs separately. However, on 16th April 2018, Marriott announced that all the three programs will be merged into one account, starting from August 2018. All earning and spending benefits will be unified, and some time in early 2019, Marriott will give the unified program a new identity (name).

The new Marriott program will have five elite tiers:

  • Silver Elite: 10-24 nights
  • Gold Elite: 25-49 nights
  • Platinum Elite: 50-74 nights
  • Platinum Premier Elite: 75-99 nights
  • Platinum Premier Elite with Ambassador service: 100+ nights plus US$20,000 of qualifying spend

The earning and redemption structures will also be changing. There are too many changes to mention in this post. You can get full details on Marriott website:
https://members.marriott.com/marriottrewards/

I have a vested interest in Marriott Rewards by way of American Express Platinum card. Through the latter, I gained SPG Gold, which in turn, after linking my Marriott Rewards with my SPG Gold, I automatically gained Marriott Gold Elite. As is today, Marriott Gold is extremely valuable because it guarantees executive lounge access, breakfast and 4pm late check out.

However, when the unified program comes into effect, SPG Gold will become Gold Elite (new). The new Gold Elite does not extend benefits such as lounge access, free breakfast and 4pm check out. In order to receive these benefits, you have to be at the new Platinum Elite level. My travel pattern simply does not allow me to get close to staying 50 nights in the Marriott chain annually. This means my patronage of Marriott will trickle to almost nothing. Well, it was fun while it lasted.

But all is not lost with American Express Platinum. We still have Hilton Honors Gold, although it is a pale shadow of the existing Marriott Gold. Hilton Gold guarantees you breakfast, and sometimes, when you are lucky, you will get rooms on executive floor which in turn will grant you access to the lounge (especially true in Asia).

Flight Review: Lufthansa A340-600 Munich to San Francisco Business Class

Lufthansa Airbus A340-600 in Munich Airport

It has been a while since I last flew on a Star Alliance long haul flight. I managed to steal a bargain on Lufthansa when in early Sep 2017, I bagged a business class return ticket for just €745, flying from Munich to San Francisco return.  It was a non-stop flight on an Airbus 340-600. This was very timely, because recently on 4th December 2017, Lufthansa was awarded Skytrax 5-Star airline. This made Lufthansa the first European airline to receive the five star recognition; the other nine are all Asian carriers. It was an opportunity for me to assess Lufthansa against other five star Skytrax airlines.

Just to expand a little more, the award attracted many controversies. Many were negative because Lufthansa still lags behind its competitors on hard and soft products (to name a few – business class have no direct aisle access for every seat, smaller seat pitch, mediocre food and average in-flight entertainment). Lufthansa has plans to refurbish and update its premier cabins, but that will not happen until 2020. Having flown quite regularly with airlines such as Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Qatar Airways – all recipients of Skytrax 5-Star, it would be nice to assess whether Lufthansa has what it takes to be in the club.

Check In

Lufthansa Business Class Check-In Counters in Munich Airport

The check-in was very speedy. There were eight dedicated business class check-in counters opened, and I was through in under ten minutes. After that, it was the security and that went fast too, probably because it was a Sunday late afternoon traffic. There was no dedicated lanes for Business class passengers (although there was for First class).

Lounge
I used the Lufthansa Business Class Senator Lounge. It was of decent size, modern, bright, well maintained and very clean. It did not exude the luxurious feel but definitely fell into the comfortable category. The food was nothing much to shout about, unless Bavarian meat loaf, pumpkin soup, chili con carne, salad and sandwiches are your thing. The lounge was well equipped with an eating area, sitting lounge, sleeper chairs, computer work stations, showers and washrooms.

Lufthansa Senator Business Class Lounge Munich Airport

 

Lufthansa Senator Business Class Lounge Munich Airport – Dining Area

Boarding
Priority board was enforced. There were a few priority autogates, manned by Lufthansa ground staff. It was orderly and quick, but then, I always try to board first to beat the queue.

Cabin & Seating
The business class layout in this Airbus 340-600 was 2-2-2. The initial impression was that it looked packed and crowded with every inch of the cabin space utilised. If you were seated by the window, you will have no direct aisle access. If you were seated on on the aisle by the window side, you will have to get used to your neighbour jumping over you for access.

Lufthansa A340-600 Business Class Seats

 

Lufthansa A340-600 Business Class Seats

The middle column seats had direct aisle access, but they were angled towards each other in the direction of the footwell. Expect your big neighbour’s legs to cross path with you during sleeping hours. There was almost no privacy in this business class cabin. The seat transformed into 180° lie flat bed. There were preset modes, but adjustments were needed to find a comfortable position; the controls for the seat were pesky but manageable. Overall, I did not find the seating totally comfortable.

Inflight Services
A menu was handed out early in the flight.  It had a decent selection but nothing out of the ordinary. I chose the snapper with massala spicy sauce for my main. The fish was bland and tasteless. An hour or so before landing, we were served with soup and salad. Again, not appetizing at all.

The cabin crew were actually very friendly and courteous. I was addressed formally by my last name. They went around the cabin regularly to offer drinks and snacks during the snoozing hours.

On the inflight entertainment, there was a good selection of the latest movies. I managed to watch three of the latest Hollywood movies. The IFE was equipped with a good Bose headset and a smallish 8-9″ screen (by today’s standard), controlled by a wired remote control. I was unsure if it had touch-screen. If it had, mine was definitely not working. My neighbour’s IFE was totally not functioning and the cabin supervisor spent a lot of time trying to fix his IFE. In the end, my neighbour was given a form to claim for compensation. (Tough one – 11 hours without IFE!)

There was an inflight wifi by Telekom Flynet, which I did not use. The charges were 1 hour for €9, 4 hours for  €14, and for the entire flight at €17.

Summary
Overall, point to point, it was an efficient and competent flight experience with friendly crew. The aircraft was well maintained despite its age. The inflight experience was average at best. The business cabin and seating were not the top shelf. If you value privacy and direct aisle access, Lufthansa is definitely not for you. In summary, Lufthansa is good and competent airline but to give it a 5-Star rating, is a little too generous. Maybe a four star would be more in line.

Airline Review: LH458 Lufthansa A340-600 Munich to San Francisco Business Class
Date Flew: 28 Jan 2018

Lounge Review: Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge London Heathrow Terminal 3

This Cathay Pacific lounge in Heathrow Terminal 3 is brand new, recently opened in Nov 2017. Suddenly, frequent fliers are spoilt for choice at LHR Terminal 3. One World fliers have a choice of Cathay Pacific First & Business Class Lounge, British Airways Galleries First & Club, American Airlines Admirals Club, or Qantas Lounge. The latter is also brand new, opened in Nov 2017 as well.

I had the opportunity to visit and patronise Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge three times since its opening. On all occasions, I was not disappointed.

The lounge is located on the upper floor. There is a common reception check-in counter. The receptionist is attentive and even addressed you by the last name.

The lounge has two completely separate sections – one for First Class and the other is for Business Class. If you are travelling on First class or if you are One World Emerald (even if travelling in economy), you will be invited into the First Class lounge. If you are travelling on Business class or if you are One World Sapphire, you will be shown to the Business Lounge.

I will just say it outright. The first class lounge is very impressive.

Restaurant
The fine dining beats all the airlines’ lounges in Heathrow. It features a three course sit down meal with full table service. The menu is pretty impressive with good selection of foods and drinks. The service was prompt, the food were dished out in timely manner, and plated beautifully.

Fine Dining Menu CX Lounge LHR T3
Wonton Noodles and Three Types of Dim Sum Dumplings – CX Lounge LHR T3
Desert – Chocolate Fondant – CX First Class Lounge LHR T3
Desert – Seasonal Fruit Plate – CX First Class Lounge LHR T3

Sitting Areas
Apart from the restaurant, it has good size sitting areas with comfortable sofas, equipped with power supply and USB charging outlets. If you are lucky enough to get the lazy chairs, they offer nice views of the airport.

Sitting Area – CX First Class Lounge LHR T3
Sitting Area – CX First Class Lounge LHR T3
Sitting area – CX First Class Lounge LHR T3

Bath and Shower Room
If you are in need of a shower, you are in good position. It is luxuriously fitted, akin to the first class lounges in Hong Kong airport. It is surrounded with natural stone tiling, no cheap plastic moulds.  A full complement of toiletries is available as standard (no need to ask the reception). Showers have very good water pressure, making the shower very invigorating indeed.

Shower Room – CX First Class Lounge LHR T3
Shower Room – CX First Class Lounge LHR T3
Shower – CX First Class Lounge LHR T3

On all my three visits, the First Class lounge was moderately occupied, rendering it a very comfortable and pleasant place to relax while waiting for the flight.

Summary
My conclusion is that if you are flying from Heathrow Terminal 3 on first class or have One World Emerald status, I would not spend my time anywhere else but this Cathay Pacific First Class lounge. If you are on Business class or have One World Sapphire status, I would go to Cathay Pacific Business Class lounge or the Qantas Lounge.

 

Lounge Review: Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge London Heathrow Terminal 3
Date Visited: Nov 2017, Dec 2017, Jan 2018
Entry: BA Gold / One World Emerald

Lounge Review: Plaza Premium Lounge Vancouver Airport

I usually use British Airways Galleries Lounge when flying from Vancouver Airport, but this time I decided to revisit the Plaza Premium Lounge in Vancouver Airport (YVR), International Terminal.

In the previous five or six occasions that I used this lounge, it had been very busy, to a point that I questioned its comfort level. During summer months, when British Airways Airbus A380 flights are packed with their first and business class passengers, British Airways would send their Gold and Silver passengers travelling on economy to Plaza Premium. But on this quiet November day, the lounge was almost deserted, probably less than ten guests were in there. The atmosphere was calm and unhurried.

To the very end on the right hand side is the self-serviced dining area. There is a noodle station where you can order whatever that is on offer, typically prawn wonton or laksa. Other self-help offerings on the day I visited included red bean soup, barbecued pork buns and prawn dumplings. At the other food station, there were sweet and sour pork, Thai red curry, rice and various sandwiches and cakes.

Plaza Premium Lounge Vancouver Airport – Dining Area
Plaza Premium Lounge Vancouver Airport – Snack/Desert/Drinks area
Plaza Premium Lounge Vancouver Airport – Sweet & Sour Pork with Thai Curry Sauce
Plaza Premium Lounge Vancouver Airport – Malaysian Laksa with Fish Balls
Plaza Premium Lounge Vancouver Airport – Sitting Area
Plaza Premium Lounge Vancouver Airport – Sitting Area

The sitting areas are divided into three sections, all equipped with decent and comfortable sofas.

It does not have a shower facility, but the washrooms are located inside the lounge.

The staff were cordial, friendly and polite.

Personally, I think the YVR Plaza Premium lounge is better than the British Airways Galleries lounge. The BA lounge is newish but small and can be crowded. Definitely a better choice at Plaza Premium on a quieter day.

Date Visited: Nov 24, 2017
Entry: Priority Pass – courtesy of American Express Platinum card

Cathay Pacific Black Friday Sale CAD634 Vancouver to Hong Kong Return

Cathay Pacific still has sale to Hong Kong.

Return economy fare Vancouver to Hong Kong, from CAD634.
Outbound travel dates:
12 Jan 2018 to 06 Feb 2018
13 Feb 2018 to 18 Feb 2018
02 Mar 2018 to 05 Mar 2018
19 Mar 2018 to 05 Apr 2018

Inbound travel dates:
19 Jan 2018 to 08 Feb 2018
09 Mar 2018 to 14 Mar 2018
14 Apr 2018 to 18 Apr 2018

Minimum stay is 2 days, maximum stay is 3 months.

Excellent fare on a very good airline. Book before 30 Nov 2017.

If you want to venture beyond Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific has the following offers for a return trip:

Singapore CAD 937
Cambodia CAD 938
Vietnam CAD 933
Bangkok CAD 936
Kuala Lumpur CAD 928

Good fares, but not earth shaterring.

Once again, a reminder; book before 30th November 2017.

 

Should You Accept The Check In Upgrade Offer from British Airways?

It seems like British Airways is now actively selling Upgrade Offers at check-in counters. (They were not before.)

Due to a last minute arrangement, I could not get a decent Club World fare from Vancouver to London, then returning from Dublin to Vancouver.  Instead, I booked into economy (World Traveller) for CAD 907; actually I only paid CAD 707 by using my American Express annual credit of CAD 200.

At the BA check-in counter in Vancouver Airport, I was offered an upgrade from World Traveller (economy) to World Traveller Plus (premium economy) for CAD 520 one way, or Club World (business) for CAD 905 one way. There was a printed sheet listing out the prices, displayed openly on the counter. The check-in staff explicitly asked if I want to pay for an upgrade. On top of the Avios points, you will also get the full BA tier points.

I was tempted but I declined, primarily because of the hard product. BA flies a fleet of aging 20+ year old Boeing 747-400 on this route for most part of the year (only replacing them with Airbus A380 between May and Sep). I have flown on these 747 aircrafts in Club World quite a few times, and regretably, I do not have much good words for them. The sooner they retire this fleet, the better. Firstly, although the Club World seats are lie-flat, they are not comfortable, and very narrow. And I especially do not like the reverse seating of the neighbour. It is very odd to be inches away from the face of your neighbour, particularly amongst strangers. The inflight entertainment is equally poor and must be at least 2-3 generations behind. With the exception of a few Club World seats, most do not have direct aisle access. Either you have to climb over someone’s legs, or someone has to climb over yours.

Transposing the upgrade offers, on the Club World, if I had taken up the offer for the entire trip, it would work out to CAD 2,717  ($907 + $905 + $905). At this rate, this is not a good offer. This is pretty much a standard Club World fare.

If I had taken up the World Traveller Plus, it would work out to CAD 1947 ($907 + $520 +$520). Once again, this is a very poor offer. This is a standard published premium economy fare. With British Airways, the premium economy is anything but premium. It is just not worth paying that sort of money for something that is really sub-par. I have nothing good to say about BA’s World Traveller Plus on its Boeing 747-400 fleet.

Our position with respect to considering whether to accept check-in upgrade offers: know the hard product first.  If it is an Airbus A380, A350 (not in BA fleet yet), Boeing B787 or B777 (some), it is worth considering but only if it represents some great discounts from the standard fares. In the examples above, they clearly were not. Avoid Boeing 747-400 and Boeing 767 – they are very dated.

PS – At London Heathrow Terminal 5 First Class check-in: when I was checking-in for Heathrow to Dublin flight, I was offered £79 to upgrade to Club Europe one way. This was an easy decision. A big NO. BA Club Europe is really a standard seat; there are three seats in a row, they block the middle seat. That’s all. But you do get complimentary food (but for frequent flyers, they probably have loaded up in the lounge prior to the flight). The flight is only 50 minutes – what’s there to enjoy? Nothing. Not even a short documentary.

Part 3: Is It Worth It? Mistake Fares and Great Business Class Deals

Yes, but it all hinges on how much you paid for the flight.

Let us state it outright. It almost certainly does not work for economy flights because repositioning flights and overnight costs will easily outweigh the savings, unless of course, you purposely want to explore a new city or country.

For premium travel, in business and first class cabin, it makes a lot of sense.

Take this real example (in 2017), to illustrate:

We paid €640.47 each for business class for a trip to Japan from Europe. It was not a mistake fare, but a flash sale hidden in an advertised main January sale.

Our actual flights on Qatar Airways
Amsterdam to Doha               20OCT, departure 1625, arrival 2340, Boeing 777-300ER
Doha to Tokyo                           21OCT, departure 0645, arrival 2230, Airbus 350-900
Tokyo to Doha                           28OCT, departure 0001, arrival 0550, Airbus 350-900
Doha to Amsterdam               28OCT, departure 0745, arrival 1340, Boeing 777-300ER

A typical Economy Saver fare for the above would be €880, and the Business Value fare would be €3536. To snag it at €647 was truly a dream!

Our base was in London. We used our British Airways Avios points to reposition ourselves from London to Amsterdam and return. This costed us 9,000 points plus approximately €37 in taxes and fee each. The total cash amount was a meager €684 each! We did not have to stay overnight in Amsterdam both ways due to the friendly departure and arrival times of Qatar Airways (we allowed 4-5 hours layover).

Apart from the really good fare, what else that made it so worthwhile? Qatar Airways!

The hard and soft product of Qatar Airways are truly amazing. They are head and shoulders above any other airlines. You fly in the latest aircrafts with absolutely great lie-flat beds, with equally attentive inflight services. Qatar Airways was voted the World’s Best Airline in 2017 (Skytrax). The business class lounge (Al Mourjan) in Doha Airport is simply outstanding too.

But above all, it was the fact that we did not have to spend a total of 35 bum hours in a tight, crammed seat of the economy cabin. No snobbery intended.

And if you are in the pursuit of an elite status with a frequent flyer program, these four flight segments will contribute a total of 560 tier points (140 x 4) with British Airways Executive Club.  Another 40 tier points elsewhere will get you BA Silver, equivalent to One World Sapphire. (You have to fly four qualifying segments of BA operated or BA coded flights in order to get Silver). BA Silver (One World Sapphire) is worth pursuing because it gives you access to airport lounges, priority check-in, priority boarding, seat selection at time of booking and fast track immigration (where available).