Ramon is the creator of Traveling Companion. He focuses on flight review, hotel reviews, and helping stretch your travel dollars, miles, and points further.
California Dreaming with Dad Trip Report
California Dreaming with Dad Overview
Delta 757 DCA-LAX Economy Class Review
Renaissance Los Angeles Airport Hotel Review
Exploring California's Central Coast
Exploring Los Angeles
Delta 757 LAX-DCA Economy Class Review
In February 2020, I had the pleasure of taking my Dad on a trip to California for his 70th birthday. This was the first time he had traveled to the West Coast of the United States. The planning of the trip began months before when I let my Dad know that for his 70th birthday I would take him anywhere in the world. He narrowed it down to two places he was interested in visiting California, and England. After a lot of discussion, we decided to take a trip to the Central Coast of California to see my wife's family and to check out the sites in the Los Angeles area. For this trip Christina and my Mom also decided to come along and it was the first time all four of us had traveled together. I was happy to have three traveling companions along for the trip.
This trip was truly eye opening my for Dad. He really loved the kindness of the people in the Central Coast of California, was surprised by the traffic in Los Angeles, and thought the beauty of the California Coast line was stunning. However, the most memorable line from our trip was him telling me he was shocked by size of California and couldn't believe it was all just one state! It also still amazes me that despite all of my trips just how much more relaxed the vibe is in California versus the East Coast.
For our flights we decided to book all of the flights into and out of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) because it allowed my parent's to only have one stop flight from The Bahamas. My parent's booked flights from Nassau Lynden Pindling International Airport (NAS) to LAX with a connection in Charlotte on American Airlines. This was the flight that had the best timing and ended up costing $426 per ticket. We had previously broken up with American Airlines and decided to match our American Airlines Gold status to Delta Silver in 2019. Since only American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and Delta offered non-stop flights from Washington Reagan National (DCA) to LAX it made our selection easy. One added benefit of flying Delta on this route is that it is a premium route so we would be served a meal even in economy and have the chance (an extremely small chance) to have a same day upgrade to Delta One lie flat seats.
Since we had few Delta miles and the mileage cost on this premium route was expensive, we decided to book with cash. Also, Christina had a work meeting back in Washington D.C. so we booked separate tickets. Her roundtrip DCA-LAX ticket was $413 and she earned 2,506 Delta miles which I value at $31. My roundtrip DCA- LAX ticket cost $473 and earned me 2,982 miles which I value at $36.
On our trip we needed to get to and from Los Angeles and Christina and I really don't like driving especially in the Los Angeles traffic. So, we decided to take the Amtrak Surfliner from Los Angeles Union Station to Santa Barbara and back. The cost was ~$30 for each of the three tickets and we redeemed Amtrak Guest Reward Points for one ticket.
We stayed with Christina's parents in the Central Coast and in hotels during our four nights in Los Angeles. Because my parents' flights arrived at about 11 pm and departed at 5 am we decided to stay in an airport hotel for all four nights in Los Angeles. Because of Christina's Marriott Platinum elite status we chose a Marriott brand hotel the Renaissance Los Angeles Airport Hotel. The cost was $167 for the first night and $474 for the second three-night stay. I thought both of these were quite reasonable for a California hotel and after our stay I would say this hotel offers very good value.
It was such an honor to take my Dad to California and even now I look back on the trip and it warms my heart. I also feel it was amazing timing since the following month the COVID-19 pandemic shut down most travel and we would have cancelled the entire trip. I look forward to sharing my reviews especially of some of the beauty of California and some interesting attractions in the Central Coast and metropolitan areas around Los Angeles.
Ramon is the creator of Travelling Companion. He focuses on flight review, hotel reviews, and helping stretch your travel dollars, miles, and points further.
First Class Honeymoon Trip Report
First Class Honeymoon Overview
Delta Sky Club DCA Review
Delta CRJ 900 DCA-JFK First Class Review
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse New York JFK Review
Singapore Airlines A380 JFK-FRA Suites Review
Singapore Airlines A380 FRA-SIN Suites Review
JW Marriott Hotel Singapore South Beach Review
Singapore Airlines 737-800 SIN-MLE Business Class Review
The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort Review
Etihad Airways A320 MLE-AUH Business Class Review
Al Maha, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa Dubai Review
The St. Regis Abu Dhabi Review
Exploring Abu Dhabi
Etihad Apartments A380 AUH-JFK Apartments Review
After a lot of planning and saving our miles and points Christina and I embarked on our amazing First Class honeymoon to Asia in May 2019. During our honeymoon we went to Singapore, the Maldives, and Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates(UAE). The goal of this trip was to get to the Maldives, an island nation in the middle of the Indian Ocean. I first heard about the Maldives in the documentary film The Island President in 2012. After being blown away by the beauty of the islands, I committed to one day visiting the Maldives. It wasn't difficult to convince Christina that this beautiful remote island destination should be the place for our honeymoon, that we should fly international First or Business Class, and that we should stopover in Asia since neither one of us had ever been to Asia. The changing political climate in the Maldives which moved closer towards dictatorship as our planning was underway almost led us to go to another destination such as Thailand or the Seychelles. In the end the Maldives held new elections in 2018 and we ended sticking with our original plan to go to the Maldives.
The Maldives was even more gorgeous than I had imagined. It was a great place for the seclusion we desired during our Honeymoon. However, some of the places we envisioned just being stopovers also left significant impressions on us. In the case of Singapore it was a very positive impression and it ended up being our favorite city we have every visited together. In the case of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) the impression was negative and we are unlikely to visit again.
For our honeymoon we set out well in advance saving all our our miles and points to ensure that we would fly the long haul segments to the Maldives in First Class and all of the shorter segments in Business Class. We also wanted to try out two of the best First Class products in the world for traveling companions; the Singapore Suites and the Etihad Apartments. Both of these products allow traveling companions to connect suites, sleep side by side on beds, and dine together. While I will leave the full details for the reviews I can tell you we were very impressed and neither product disappointed.
Singapore Airline's Suites are only on their flagship A380 aircraft. In the United States the airline only use this aircraft to serve New York John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) via Frankfurt International Airport (FRA). This meant to start off our trip we had to fly from Washington D.C. to New York JFK. For this flight we booked a Delta First Class tickets for 12,000 SkyMiles and $5.60 taxes and fees. You should know that SkyMiles fluctuate in price generally based on the actual cost of the ticket. These tickets were selling for $161.20 each meaning we got a value of 1.03 cents per mile which was a mediocre value for SkyMiles. However, at the time we didn't plan to fly Delta for a while and the overall SkyMiles cost was low so we went ahead and used our SkyMiles.
For the next leg of the trip in the Singapore Suites the only redemption option was utilizing Singapore Airlines Kris Flyer miles. We booked the tickets from JFK-FRA-Singapore Changi (SIN) for 120,000 Kris Flyer miles and $65.80 SDG (~$49.22 USD) each. These tickets were selling for $8,415.78 USD each meaning we got an amazing value of ~7 cents per mile! For the complete details on how we booked these tickets you can read my post on the booking process here. Since the time we booked these tickets the cost on this route has increased to 132,000 miles per ticket which I believe is still a great value.
To get to the Maldives from Singapore we flew in Business Class on Singapore Airlines affiliate Silk Air since there were no First Class flights available on this route and the timing of the Silk Air flight worked better than the mainline Singapore Airlines flight. For this flight we booked the tickets using 39,000 Kris Flyer miles and $49.80 SDG (~36.88$ USD) in taxes and fees each. These tickets were selling for $1,416 USD each so we got a great value of 3.54 cents per mile.
For our flight from the Maldives to the UAE we chose to flying Etihad from Male Veleana International Airport (MLE) to Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH). Even though we were heading to the Dubai desert for this leg of the trip, we decided to fly into Abu Dhabi because Etihad had a non-stop flight from MLE and we could use our AAdvantage miles. We booked this flight for 30,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles and $51.40 in taxes and fees. These tickets were $1,480 per person meaning we got a great value of 4.76 cents per mile.
Etihad's Apartments are only on their flagship A380 aircraft and JFK is their only U.S. A380 destination. For this flight we booked the Apartments using 115,000 AAdvantage miles and paid $49.31 in taxes and fees. The tickets were selling for $8,535 meaning we got an amazing value ~7.38 cents per mile. For the complete details on how we booked these tickets you can read my post on the booking process here.
For the final flight to Washington Regan National (DCA) from JFK we bought two First Class tickets on Delta. We chose Delta because the timing of the flights gave us a buffer in case our Etihad flight was late, the Delta terminals at JFK are near the Etihad's terminal 4, and we could access the SkyClub during our wait. We booked these two First Class tickets for $197.30 each. We each earned 855 SkyMiles, 750 Medallion Qualifying Miles, and 171 Medallion Qualifying Dollars.
For our Honeymoon we chose to stay only at Marriott luxury hotels since Christina has Marriott Platinum Status. In Singapore there are numerous Marriott hotels bookable with points including The St. Regis Singapore and the W Senosta Cove. However, for our trip we decided to book the JW Marriott Singapore because of its central location. We booked the JW Marriott Deluxe Room for $436 SDG (~$322 USD) per night. Christina earned 50,082 total Marriott points.
Marriott has multiple luxury properties in the Maldives including the W Maldives and the JW Marriott Maldives. However, for our stay in the Maldives we chose to stay at The St. Regis Maldives Volmmuli which is considered one of the best points hotel in the world and one of the best hotels overall in the Maldives. This hotel is located on a secluded atol about a one hour seaplane ride from Male, Maldives. We booked the Garden Villa for five nights at 60,000 points per night with the fifth night free, for total of 240,000 points, along with $1,450 in taxes and fees including the cost of the roundtrip seaplane ride. The cost of the Garden Villa was $1,473 excluding taxes and fees meaning we got a fantastic value of 3.7 cents per Marriott point. Please note that in the intervening time Marriott has implemented category 8 and peak and off-peak pricing. This means that the price of an award redemption at The St. Regis Maldives can range from 70,000-100,000 points. We also booked this reservation as a part of Marriott Points Advance which allowed us to lock in the price of the room before it increased. However, in the intervening time Marriott has Points Advance to only allow the member to hold a room and not lock in the price.
Marriott has a large number of luxury hotels in Dubai including the Ritz Carlton Dubai and the W Dubai-The Palm. However, we decided to stay at Al Maha located in the desert about an hour outside Dubai because we wanted the seclusion of the desert experience and looked forward to enjoying the all inclusive food and activities. We booked a one bedroom Bedouin Suite for 60,000 Marriott points per night, for a total of 180,000 points, plus 60 AED (~17 USD) in taxes and fees for the whole stay. The cost of the garden villa was $870 per night excluding taxes and fees meaning we got a great value of ~1.5 cents per Marriott point.
Finally, for our stay in Abu Dhabi there were a number of Marriott luxury hotels available including The Edition Abu Dhabi and The St. Regis Sadiyaat Island Resort. However, we decided to stay at The St. Regis Abu Dhabi so we would have an opportunity to easily explore the city. We booked the Superior Room for $590 AED per night (~$142.33 USD). Christina earned 6,773 Marriott points.
We had an amazing time on our First Class Honeymoon! We can't wait to share the photos, videos, stories from Singapore, the Maldives, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi! We felt very blessed to have had this experience and hope sharing some of our adventures will inspire you to travel when it safe to do so again or just bring a light hearted story for you to enjoy during your day. Let the First Class Honeymoon trip report begin!
Ramon is the creator of Travelling Companion. He focuses on flight review, hotel reviews, and helping stretch your travel dollars, miles, and points further.
Relaxing in Cancun Report
Relaxing in Cancun Overview
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse Washington Dulles Review
Delta 737-800 IAD-CUN Flight Review
Hyatt Zilara Cancun Review
During early 2019, I decided to escape the cold in Washington D.C. and head to Cancun, Mexico for my bachelor party. This was my second time in Mexico, after our amazing trip to Mexico City. I chose Cancun because I wanted a warm weather beach destination that I had never visited. I can confidently say it was one of the best vacation decisions I have ever made. On this trip I had the opportunity to try out an all-inclusive hotel, the Hyatt Zilara Cancun, for the first time. I left impressed by Mexico's beaches, with the Hyatt Zilara brand, and several of the airport lounges I tried on this trip.
One of the main reasons I chose Cancun, Mexico was because I had the opportunity to try an all-inclusive hotel for the first time. I wanted a vacation where I didn't have to worry about constantly pulling out the checkbook and my traveling companions would know the vast majority of the cost upfront. There are several all-inclusive options in the Cancun area but I chose the Hyatt Zilara because it was an adults-only all-inclusive and gave me the opportunity to earn points and use my Hyatt Discoverist status.
There are a several things to bear in mind when booking the Hyatt Zilara Cancun. First, as best as I can tell the standard rates are more for marketing purposes and tracking the rate for our January trip it never got close to the standard rate even a week before the trip. Second, the rates at this hotel vary significantly depending on what time of year you book and how far in advance you book. I booked about six months in advance and kept checking for a cheaper rate. Over time the rate fell from $448 per night for one person to $398 per night. Also, the hotel was definitely not full during our stay so I assume that my rate was on the low end for the resort. Third, the rate varies depending on the number of guests and the sweet spot is two guests in a room, however, I ended up having to book a room for one since there was a person who dropped our at the last minute. For example, my room was $398 for one person while a double room with two people came out to $276 per person. Fourth, while these rates may seem high for Mexico they include not just the room but all the food, all drinks including alcoholic drinks, and gratuity. When you consider this the cost per person per day is a good deal. Fifth, the all-inclusive does not include the cost of transportation to or from the airport. Because there were five of us traveling together we booked a car for $270 roundtrip. Since I booked the stay directly with Hyatt I ended up earning 3,392 base and 339 bonus World of Hyatt points.
Southwest, Spirit, United, and Delta all offer non-stop flights from Washington D.C. area to Cancun. At the time of booking I had elite status with American Airlines but because I was only going to spend three days in Cancun and the non-stop flights offered reasonable prices I decided not to book with American. While I did not have have status with Delta at the time I had positive experiences with the airline in the past so decided to book with Delta. I booked the non-stop Saturday-only Washington Dulles (IAD) flight to Cancun and came back to Washington Regan National (DCA) with a connection in Minneapolis (MSP). Since I flew this flight in January 2019 Delta moved its non-stop Saturday-only Cancun service for the D.C. area to Baltimore Washington International (BWI) airport. While I was nervous connecting in Minneapolis during winter I ended up not having any problems.
To top it all off I got the best deal I have gotten since our sub-$200 tickets to Mexico City. In the end this flight was $271 which was a steal for a non-basic economy fare to Cancun! Because of the high taxes and fees which amounted to 49% of the ticket cost and my lack of Delta elite status at the time I would have earned only 695 Delta SkyMiles. Instead I credited this flight to Delta's partner Virgin Atlantic where I earned 1,973 Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles.
Cancun was the perfect winter escape and left me with a great impression of the Mexican beaches, Hyatt's all-inclusive hotels, and several of the airport lounges. I look forward to sharing my experience and the many reasons why I enjoyed my travel experience to Cancun and my time in Cancun.
Ramon is the creator of Travelling Companion. He focuses on flight review, hotel reviews, and helping stretch your travel dollars, miles, and points further.
Las Vegas Strip Trip Report
Las Vegas Strip Trip Overview
Aria Resort and Casino Deluxe Queen Room Review
Aria Resort and Casino Dining and Activities Review
Exploring the Las Vegas Strip
American Airlines Boeing 737-800 LAS-DCA Review
During the summer of last year, I headed without Christina, to Las Vegas for a bachelor party. This was as my third time in the city, my first trip to Las Vegas during the summer, and my best trip to Las Vegas yet. However, I left the city having had a fun time but with the feeling that I don't want to go back to Vegas for a while. This feeling was driven by the several factors including the fact that this was my second year in a row going to Las Vegas, the dire summer heat, the high prices of going out in Las Vegas.
In my last post I talked about the benefits and the process for booking hotels through the Luxury Hotel and Resort Collection. In this trip report I will show you how we were able to save a significant amount of money booking the Aria through the Luxury Hotel and Resort Collection. I plan to focus this trip report on my review of the hotel and my overall impressions of Las Vegas, and the experience flying out Las Vegas McCaran (LAS) airport.
In my last tips post I talked about the benefits and the process for booking hotels through the Luxury Hotel and Resort Collection. In this trip report I will show you how we were able to save a significant amount of money booking the Aria through the Luxury Hotel and Resort Collection. Having been to Las Vegas two previous times I knew the importance of staying on the strip because of savings in both time and money. Las Vegas blocks are large and staying as close to the center of the strip as possible was particularly important in the summer heat.
On my previous trips to the city I stayed at Bally's, which was cheap but unimpressive, and at the Cosmopolitan, where we got a great group rate and I was impressed. However, on this trip I was looking forward to putting the benefits of the Luxury Hotel and Resort Collection to use. I searched for hotel's located center strip with good benefits through the program. I ended up going with the Aria which was a fantastic decision. We ended up paying $549 per person over the course of our three night stay. While this price was on the higher end for Las Vegas hotels we were dead center on the strip, staying a luxury resort with lots of amenities, and were able to save money by booking rooms with two beds and using the Luxury Hotel and Resort collection benefits. Booking through the program offered an array of the benefits including free breakfast for two daily (maximum $30 per person), and $100 food and beverage credit per stay. I found all of these to be very valuable and the benefits ended up savings us about $140 per person on dining over the course of our stay. In my upcoming posts I will walk through how to maximize each of these benefits. At check-in I also added my World of Hyatt number hoping to earn Hyatt points through the MLife and World of Hyatt partnership. In the end the stayed booked through Luxury Hotel and Resort Collection was eligible for World of Hyatt points and I earned 9,631 base points on my eligible spending for both rooms and 963 bonus points due to my Hyatt Discoverist status.
Heading to Las Vegas on a summer weekend from Washington D.C. can be quite expensive and since I had been burned the year before waiting for a price decrease that never came I booked about three months out this time around when I found a reasonable price. There are non-stop flights to LAS from Baltimore Washington International on Spirit and Southwest, Washington Dulles on United, and Ronald Regan Washington National (DCA) on American Airlines. Since DCA is my home airport and I had elite status with American Airlines I decided to go with the non-stop flight on American Airlines for $560 roundtrip. While this was a lot for a domestic economy ticket it actually was a good deal on this route since it was about $150 cheaper than my ticket the year earlier to Las Vegas, which included stops. Moreover, during the summer non-stop tickets with American Airlines on this route can be over $700 even when purchased months in advance. I ended up earning 2,475 AAdvantage base miles plus 990 bonus miles due to my American Airlines Gold elite status.
In this trip report I plan to utilized the tips I shared in my post on the Luxury Hotel and Resort Collection in order to demonstrate how you can get value from the program. I also plan to share my thoughts on Las Vegas as a destination, share the activities I participated in while in Las Vegas, and my thoughts on flying non-stop out of LAS to DCA. I hope will you enjoy coming along with me on my adventure to Las Vegas.
San Juan Condado Trip Report
San Juan Condado Trip Overview
American Airlines Boeing 767-300 Economy PHL-SJU Review
AC Hotel San Juan Condado
Avianca VIP Lounge
American Airlines Boeing 737-800 Economy SJU-PHL Review
American Airlines A319 First Class PHL-DCA Review
In the Spring of this year Christina and I headed to San Juan to check out potential event venues near Condado Beach. We booked these tickets about six months after Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria and with all of the reports of devastation we did not know what to expect when we arrived on the island. However, I am a Boriqua and really wanted to support the island where I spent so much of my childhood so we decided to head to Puerto Rico. We are so glad that we decided to go. What we found in San Juan was a city that had been through a serious disaster in Hurricane Maria but recovered faster than the rest of the island and was ready and eager to welcome tourists.
Despite the fact that I have been to Puerto Rico numerous times I still get excited coming back. The food is amazing, the people are friendly, and the beaches are beautiful. I can tell you that Hurricane Maria did not change any of these things. This was Christina's first time ever visiting Puerto Rico so I was really excited to have her along as my traveling companion. In this report she is going to share with you some of her first impressions of San Juan. This trip report will focus on some of the very interesting flights we took to and from San Juan and our great hotel stay along with Christina's impressions of Puerto Rico.
In the past year I have seen some amazing sub $300 deals to San Juan and when we decided to go to San Juan in the Spring we were able to score one of these great deals from Washington D.C. We booked two regular economy roundtrip tickets on American Airlines for $266 each. While not quite as good as my sub $200 deal to Mexico city I was pretty proud of finding such a good deal on a full servicer carrier. For more tips on finding cheap airfare check out this post. We were also happy that our trip started and ended in our most convenient airport Washington Regan National (DCA). We ended up leaving from DCA and connecting through Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) in both directions. Because the flight from DCA-PHL is so short and there was nothing of note I am going to skip that flight review. However, I am going to include the review of our flight from PHL-DCA since we got upgraded to First Class and it is my first time ever experiencing American Airlines domestic First Class. Overall, American Airlines got us from Philadelphia to Puerto Rico but I was really unimpressed with both the inflight and ground experience at Philadelphia which I will talk about more in my flight reviews.
On my most recent trips to Puerto Rico I spent most of my time in Dorado a city with a beautiful beach about 30 minutes west of San Juan. However, this time around I was excited to check out Condado, a neighborhood in San Juan were I hadn't spent much time on my previous trips. We chose to stay in the Condado neighborhood of San Juan because most of the hotels in this neighborhood are on or steps to the Condado Beach and it has a strip of hotels, bars, and restaurants we could explore by foot.
We only looked at Marriott hotels since Christina is a Marriott Platinum member, which at that time was called Marriott Gold. There are three Marriott hotels in Condado two of which have direct beach access, La Concha Renaissance and the San Juan Marriott Resort, and a third which is one block from the beach the AC Hotel San Juan Condado. When we booked our hotel La Concha and the San Juan Marriott were completely sold out so despite our poor experience with the AC hotel brand in Barcelona we decided to book the AC Hotel San Juan Condado which ended up being a great decision. In total we paid $680 for our three night stay including taxes and a daily 18% resort fee. Our rate also included two signature cocktails and two tickets to the Museum of Art of Puerto Rico. We ended up really enjoying our stay at this hotel and I thought we got a good deal considering the location and amenities.
In between our event planing we really enjoyed our stay in San Juan. It was great to introduce Christina to Puerto Rican cuisine, check out a new area of San Juan. Any down time we had we spent enjoying the great food, hotel pool, and Condado Beach. San Juan is open for business and I strongly encourage everyone who has not been to check out Puerto Rico and support the recovery. I hope you enjoy this trip report and thank you for reading.
A Weekend in Mexico City Trip Report
A Weekend in Mexico City Trip Overview
Delta A321 DCA-ATL Review
Delta Boeing 737-800 Economy ATL-MEX Review
Hilton Mexico City Reforma Review
Exploring Mexico City
Delta A319 Economy MEX-ATL Review
Delta A320 Economy ATL-DCA Review
In April 2018 we headed to Mexico City for a quick weekend trip which was prompted by an amazing fare deal from Washington D.C. to Mexico City on a Delta flight operated by AeroMexico. In this trip report I plan to focus on how we implemented some of our tips for saving on airfare and utilized hotel points to stretch our travel dollars further.
At first we were nervous visiting Mexico City because of the reports of crime and the major earthquake which took place in September 2017 which killed over 200 people. However, I can tell you that Mexico City is amazing and I would strongly recommend going. This was my first trip to Mexico and Christina's first trip to Mexico City and on this short weekend trip we barely scratched the surface of everything to do in the city. At the end of our trip I was left impressed by the art, music, food, and history in CDMX (Mexico City).
In my last post I shared tips on booking cheap flights and for this trip I used one of those tips to book the cheapest flight I have every purchased. Specifically, I saw a link on a travel blog to The Flight Deal which advertised flights to Mexico City from Washington D.C. for under $200. Christina and I had no plans to go to Mexico City in 2018 but with such a good deal we decided we had to take advantage and go. We ended up booking our roundtrip economy tickets non-stop from Washington Dulles (IAD) to Mexico City International Airport (MEX) for $166 each! I was so happy that we were able to book such a good deal and ended using the trip as a birthday celebration for Christina.
Our original tickets were booked through Delta Airlines on a flight operated by their codeshare partner AeroMexico in which Delta has a 49% stake. However, a few months after our original tickets Aeromexico made a major schedule change and our flight which was supposed to arrive in the early morning would now arrive late a night. This was completely unacceptable for our quick weekend trip. Because the schedule change was over 90 minutes we could have requested a refund of our ticket. However, we were determined not to let this fare go to waste so called Delta hoping to change from the non-stop flight operated by AeroMexico to a flight with connections operated by Delta. However, when I called the Delta call center the wait was several hours long so I asked for a call back and ultimately we were successful switched from IAD non-stop flight to a flight with connections out of our preferred airport Washington Regan National (DCA) which would have cost several hundred dollars more. This was an example of how to utilize schedule changes to your advantage and something I plan to talk about in a future post. Below is a map of our final routing.
Christina credited her flights to Delta SkyMiles and because the actual fare minus taxes and fees was only $30 roundtrip the mileage earning was minimal. In total she earned 3,756 Medallion Qualifying Miles, 30 Medallion Qualifying Dollars, and 150 SkyMiles. Because of the low fare I decided to credit these flights to Delta's joint venture partner Virgin Atlantic's Flying Club. These miles can be transferred from all the major transferable currencies and these flights earned me 20 Virgin Atlantic tier points and 1,888 Flying Club miles.
One of the incredible things about visiting Mexico City as an American is how incredibly cheap it is and this definitely carried over to the hotel room pricing. There were numerous hotels located in the center of the city pricing at under $100 making this city much more accessible than European destinations. Generally, at these prices we would pay cash for our stay. However, Christina had Hilton Honors points which were expiring because we switched our loyalty to Marriott so we decided to try and use those points for our stay. Hilton Honors does not have an award chart which means that their award prices are completely variable and generally vary with the cash price of the hotel. Because Mexico City is so large covering an area of over 570 square miles we decided to focus our short stay on one area the Centro Histórico. After looking at the hotels in the area we settled on the Hilton Mexico City Reforma because it was a full service hotel within walking distance of the historical sites.
At the time we booked this hotel it cost 30,000 points per night but Christina did not have sufficient points for the stay so we used Hilton's "money and points" option. This option allows you to pay for your stay with a mix of points and cash starting at a minimum of 5,000 points and increasing in 1,000 point increments. In total we ended up paying 58,000 points and $10.47 for our two night stay. This meant that all in all we spent less than a $180 per person for flights and a hotel!
The deal we got to get to go to Mexico City was fantastic and despite only spending 3 days and one night in Mexico City this trip was amazing! We really loved the city and would love to go back in future. Thank you all for reading and I am excited to share our fun adventures with you all!
First Class Honeymoon Trip Report
Booking Singapore Suites
Booking Etihad Airways Apartments
Christina and I have never flown international business class or first class. However, this blog aims to help you stretch your travel dollars further and provide advice for travelling companions. Travelling in international first class with miles is one of the best examples of how to accomplish both of those goals. One of the best ways for travelling companions to both save money and travel comfortably is to use miles and points to book international business and first class travel. Miles and points are a currency just like any other except they generally have the best value when used for travel. Just like dollars you want to get the maximum value out of your currency and you simply can't beat the value of flying business or first class with miles and points. For economy travelers, like Christina and I, with a limited budget it takes the same discipline as a putting together a good travel budget.
After two years of travelling together my travelling companion (aka fiancée) Christina and I accumulated a large number of frequent flier miles, hotel points, and credit card points and have saved them for one blowout honeymoon in two of the best first class airline products in the world for couples the Singapore Airlines Suites and Etihad Airways First Class Apartments. Both of these first class products feature actual beds in the sky which can be joined together to offer a double bed perfect for travelling companions.
In May I shared the experience of booking our first leg of our honeymoon in the Singapore Airline Suites. Now I can share that last week we booked the flight back to the US from honeymoon in the Etihad Airways First Class Apartments! As you can see in the screen shot below these one way tickets in Etihad Airways First Class Apartment on the Airbus A380 normally cost over $8,500 each and we booked them for 115,000 American Airlines miles and about $49 in taxes and fees each. This means that we got a value of more than 7 cents per mile!
In this post I am going to update you all on our honeymoon itinerary, share some of the features of the Etihad First Class Apartment, and let you know how we booked this flight. Another goal of this blog is to share our adventures and I am looking forward to sharing a full trip report next year. Thank you again for reading and please subscribe to our new Facebook page and our mailing list to keep up to date on our adventures.
Below is our likely route for our honeymoon next year. So far we only have the first long haul leg on Singapore Airlines Suites and the return long haul leg in Etihad Airways First Class Apartments booked. Since my last post on our honeymoon covering the Singapore Suites our route has not changed. However, what has changed is the length of our honeymoon. Our honeymoon will now be three weeks long instead of two weeks and this equates to 17 nights on the ground and two days and one night in the air. We are currently planning to spend five nights in Singapore, five nights in Koh Samui (Thailand), five nights in Bangkok, and two nights in Abu Dhabi but we are also debating whether we need to add another stop to another location such as Changi Mai in Thailand and shorten the Bangkok stay.
Etihad Airways Experience
So I know what you are thinking what is the experience like flying in Etihad Airways First Class Apartments? Well I have included a few highlights below:
1. The Apartments feature a 6 foot ten inch bed. Some of which are interconnected and as Etihad Airways describes them as "perfect for when you’re travelling with a companion" and we will definitely put that to the test.
2. The Apartments features a separate chair and a 24 inch television allowing you to stay entertained throughout the flight.
3. My favorite feature is that it has an onboard shower! I imagine this is going to be a surreal experience showering in the air.
4. First Class Lounge in Abu Dhabi features a la carte restaurant dining, a fitness center, and a spa.
Booking Etihad First Class Apartments
Etihad Airways is based in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates and is considered one of the Middle East Three (ME3) airlines along with Emirates and Qatar. These airlines are major international players in particular when it comes to business and first class travel in part because of their favorable geography. Etihad Airways First Class Apartment is the airline's flagship first class product only available on its A380 (the world's largest commercial passenger aircraft). The Apartments are so luxurious that they were named by Skytrax as the best first class seat in the world in 2017. Etihad is not a part of any major alliance and the best way for US-based travelers to book award tickets on Etihad is through American Airlines AAdvantage because the airlines partners with Etihad. A flight between the United States and the Middle East costs 115,000 AAdvantage miles in First class.
Etihad Airways award tickets cannot be booked on AA.com. This is common for American Airlines. In fact, only seven of American Airlines 25 partners can be booked online. If you are only searching for award availability on AA.com you are missing out on a significant number of American Airlines partners. To search for Etihad award space you should go to the website of their frequent flyer program Etihad Guest and select book flights now. To book the Etihad First Class Apartments I went to the website and entered my departure point Abu Dhabi and my destination New York JFK. Then I selected First Class, two adults, and miles as my form of payment.
This brought me to a new screen where I was prompted to login into my Etihad Guest account but I selected "proceed without logging in". The new screen showed that two seats were available in Guest First on the flight from AUH to JFK (which means they are also available to book via Etihad's partner airlines). Etihad generally has little to no award availability when booking this route out of New York-JFK but typically releases two first class seats on the route when booking well in advance from Abu Dhabi to New York. This makes this route ideal for couples travelling together but difficult for larger groups of travelling companions. For groups larger than two I would recommend booking Etihad's business class or economy if you want to travel on this route. Also, Etihad has recently struggled financially, primarily due to bad investments in partner airlines, and in response reduced the number of daily flights from from JFK-AUH from two daily to one daily making this redemption more difficult but still possible with advanced planning
With the knowledge that our flight had two available award seats Christina and I called American Airlines AAdvantage Reservations. Compared to my last experience booking the Singapore Suites our experience booking the Etihad Apartments was a breeze. The most difficult part was getting past the computerized prompts which continually tried to direct us back to the website to book the ticket or get additional information, though Etihad Airways is not bookable online. Once we were able to get through the computerized system we gave the agent our flight information and she transferred us to the international desk. Once we reached the international desk we once again gave the agent our information and she quickly found the availability and booked us two first class tickets on the flight. I was surprised how easy it was to find this availability since other bloggers have reported that U.S. based American Airlines agents continue to have difficulty finding Etihad award space. Our reservation immediately showed up in our American Airlines accounts but actually ticketed about six hours later.
If there is SAAver availability American Airlines allows you to add on a free connection within the North America which we could have used to get back from JFK to DCA. However, there was absolutely no SAAver award space on American Airlines between JFK and DCA in either First Class or Economy despite looking nearly a year in advance. American recently has substantially tightened award availability on its own flights and often requires you to connect to redeem a domestic award. It ironic that the award availability has gotten so bad on American Airlines that it was easier finding an international first class ticket than a domestic First Class or Economy ticket. In fact for us to get back to DCA from JFK in business class using miles it would have cost 75,000 miles each, enough to get us back to Abu Dhabi in business class! This is for a flight that is 1 hour and 45 minutes and costs $174 in business and $84 in economy. Sometimes it is easier to just to buy the ticket.
ne piece of advice is to make sure to ask for the Etihad Airways record locator because American Airlines is unable to make seat selections on Etihad Airways flights. We asked for our Etihad record locator and called their customer service number to choose our seats. Once again we ran into a very confusing computerized system which kept trying to hang up on us. However, after selecting the number two for "existing reservations" we were able to reach a customer service agent. Similar to my Singapore Airlines booking experience the language barrier was challenging. When it comes to selecting seats couples will want to select seats 3A and 4A, 3K and 4K, or 1H and 2H since these seats are connected to one another and have a screen which can be lowered between two beds allowing couples to share beds in the sky! Seats 3A and 4A were already taken which was surprising since we booked so far in advance. However, seats 3K and 4K were available and we selected these seats in adjoining "Apartments".
This process was much more straightforward than booking the Singapore Suites. What I believe made the process much easier was that we booked through a US based airline and we are already American Airlines frequent flyers so American Airlines had all of our information on file. We are super excited about our trip and I imagine it will be a once in a lifetime experience!
First Class Honeymoon Trip Report
Booking Singapore Suites
Booking Etihad Airways Apartments
After two years of traveling together my travelling companion (aka fiancée) Christina and I accumulated a large number of frequent flier miles, hotel points, and credit card points and have been saving them for one blowout honeymoon in two of the best first class airline products in the world for couples the Singapore Airlines Suites and Etihad Airways First Class Apartments. Both of these first class products feature actual beds in the sky which can be joined together to offer a double bed perfect for couples. I am happy to report that we booked the first leg of our honeymoon in the Singapore Suites last week! As you can see below these one way tickets in Singapore Suites normally cost over $8,000 each and we booked them for 120,000 Singapore Airlines miles and about $49 in taxes and fees each. This means that we got a value of 7 cents per mile significantly more than the 1.5 cents per miles if we had use our points booking directly through the Chase portal.
In this post I am going to share with you our tentative route, how we booked the tickets, and some of the features of the first product the Singapore Suites. Over the next year I will post as we book each leg of the trip, share advice for other traveling companions on how to book these trips, and of course write up a full review of the trip on the blog. This will be our first international business or first class experience and we are so excited to share it with you all! Also, we would like to announce a new URL for the blog travellingcompanion.ramonbullard.com. Thanks to Christina for the new URL and all of our readers for coming along on our adventures as we share our experience traveling as a couple around the world.
Tentative Honeymoon Itinerary
Below is our tentative route for our honeymoon next year. So far we only have the first long haul leg on Singapore Airlines Suites booked. Our current thinking is that we will spend two nights in Singapore, five nights in Koh Samui (Thailand), two nights in Bangkok, and two nights in Abu Dhabi but this could change as the trip evolves. A significant part of the trip will also be spent in the air since the flight from New York JFK with a stop in Frankfurt and on to Singapore is about 22 hours and the flight back from Abu Dhabi is about 14 hours.
Booking Singapore Suites
Singapore Airlines was voted as the world's best airline at the 2018 World Airlines Awards meaning it was rated as one of the 10 best airlines in the world. Singapore Suites is the airlines flagship product only available on its A380 aircraft which is the world's largest commercial passenger aircraft. New York JFK is Singapore's only U.S. A380 destination which makes this award one of the most difficult to book. Singapore Suites from JFK to Singapore can be booked for 120,000 miles each at the Saver award level and 225,000 miles at the Advantage level. Suites can only booked using miles from the airline's KrisFlyer frequent flyer program. In this case I logged into my Chase Ultimate Rewards account and clicked on Redeem Rewards and then clicked on transfer your points. I scrolled down to Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer and clicked on Transfer Points.
I then entered in my KrisFlyer number and after a few additional screens transferred 239,000 points to KrisFlyer. Because of a promotion earlier in the year my account already had 1,000 Kris Flyer miles. This was definitely the easiest part of the experience as Chase makes transferring miles very easy. However, after this the nervousness ensued. The vast majority of transfers from Chase process instantaneously but KrisFlyer can take up to two business days. I was nervous because even nearly a year from departure the New York JFK-Frankfurt-Singapore is one of the most difficult routes to book at the saver level and if the transfer took too long I might miss my opportunity.
The vast majority of the time, even a year out, when you try to book the Singapore Suites at the Saver level you will see the message below saying that you can waitlist for an award or another message showing that their is no availability. Waitlisting for an award is essentially your expression of interest and is unpredictable. However, when I logged into my account last week Monday I saw rare instantly confirmable Suites Saver space out of New York in May, however, my 239,000 points had not yet transferred.
I was extremely nervous and felt my one chance at booking the Singapore Suites slipping away. In the past month of watching Singapore Airlines space I had only seen one flight with two instantly confirmable Suites awards out of JFK and the timing of this award in early May would likely work very well with our tentative April wedding date. My response was not to panic but to turn back to my research. During my research some people said they had success holding award space when they already had miles in their account and told agents that they were waiting for their miles to transfer. I went to the Singapore Airlines website and called up the Singapore Airlines office in New York. I was only hold for what seemed like an eternity but realistically was about 20 minutes when an agent answered. Throughout this conversation I my nervousness only increased in part because I had serious communications issues with the agent as she only spoke limited English. At first the agent was very resistant to holding an award for me and asked me why I wanted to hold the award and said that they typically only do so if you already have the sufficient number of miles in your account. I explained to the agent that I transferred the miles the day before but had not yet received them in my account.
The agent asked for my transfer number and after verifying that I had in fact transferred the miles agreed to put the award on hold. However, I ran into an unforeseen issue which was the nomination process. The agent said that I could not book an award for anyone unless I had nominated them. In all of my research I did not see anyone mention the nomination process. The agent said if I did not complete the nomination process right away I would have to hang up and call back. I said that I would complete the process right away and logged into my account and she walked me through the process. Nominating a person for your Kris Flyer account requires logging into your account and clicking on your profile, redemption nominees, and filling in the person's information. I would advise anyone calling in to be patient and to complete the nomination process in advance so that you are able to quickly complete a booking.
Finally, the agent completed the booking process and but the reservation on hold. She said that I would receive an email with the confirmation number and needed to call back once the miles transferred to my account. I logged into the account and saw the sweet sweet image below showing that my award was reserved. A few hours later about 25 hours after my initial transfer my points showed up in my account I called back Singapore Airlines and the airline ticketed my reservation!
I read numerous blog posts about the process transferring points and booking international first class experiences but what shocked me about my first experience was just how nerve racking it was! Seriously, I hadn't been this nervous doing anything in quite a while but ultimately I remained calm followed my research and was able to snag what may be a once in the life time experience to start our First Class Honeymoon. My advice to couples trying to book a first class experience with miles is to plan, do your research, and be ready for unexpected. I was only able to book this route because I booked nearly a year out on the day that Singapore Airlines released their award space on this route. I know that on the majority of trips you won't be able to make plans this far in advance but if traveling in first class is one of your goals you should begin planning at least one year in advance.
Singapore Suites Experience
Now that we have the Singapore Suites booked what do we have to look forward to? First, as I mentioned earlier the attached suites feature a double bed in the sky. Given the difficulty I typically have sleeping on a flight this is the perk I am most looking forward to enjoying. Second, the Singapore Airlines serves both Dom Pérignon and Krug champagne onboard. Third, Singapore Suites has book the cook where you can select from a large menu of restaurant quality dishes in advance including prime beef, New York strip steaks, and rack of lamb. Fourth, on the ground at JFK Suite's passenger have access to the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse lounge which some people consider the best airport lounge in the United States and features sit down a la carte dining, games, and a spa. Needless to say we are very excited for this experience and look forward to sharing it with you all.
Trip Overview: European Adventures 2018
Flight Review: American Airlines A330-300 Economy CLT-LHR
Hotel Review: London Marriott Regent's Park
Food in London
Flight Review: British Airways A319 Economy LGW-BCN
Hotel Review: AC Hotel Irla Barcelona
Train Review: Renfe Clase Turista Barcelona-Valencia
Exploring Life in Valencia
Exploring Life in Barcelona
Flight Review: American Airlines 777-200 Economy BCN-JFK
Flight Review: American Airlines A321T Business Class Seats JFK-DCA
Christina and I headed to Europe for our longest and furthest trip together yet, a 9 day vacation in February. This was my first trip ever to Europe and Christina's first trip to the United Kingdom and Spain. Our plan was to spend three days and two nights in London which would give us a chance to see some of the tourist sights and visit friends in the city. We then planned to spend five days and five nights in Barcelona with a day trip to Valencia to see Christina's cousin. We booked this trip back in July so our excitement was building for months. I was especially looking forward to checking out La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona which I remember studying as a child, but it was even more stunning than I imagined and I would recommend anyone visiting Barcelona to get a ticket in advance for a tour.
Booking Flights and Train
I was able to find a deal for two tickets departing out of Washington National (DCA) to London Heathrow (LHR) through Charlotte (CLT) and returning from Barcelona (BCN) to DCA through New York John F. Kennedy (JFK). These tickets cost about $616 each a great fare for a full-service carrier to Europe and it even allowed us to begin an international trip at our home airport DCA. This fare was part of a trend of fare sales to Europe in 2017.
Full service carriers such as American Airlines lowered their transatlantic fares in order to compete with low-cost carriers such as WOW, Norweigan, Icelandair, and AerLingus. The competition is making transatlantic travel accessible to more people. The down side is that the unbundling of airfare form ancillary charges such as baggage fees, meals, and seat selection can result in higher overall prices. American Airlines announced this month that they will be introducing their own version of a "basic economy" fare on some flights to Europe starting in April. When booking your ticket on any airline, take into account these additional fees because the airfare is only one aspect of the cost. American Airlines did not offer basic economy on this route so we did not have to worry about any of these fees.
After booking our tickets to London and our return from Barcelona we looked at our options to get from London to Barcelona. The route had a choice of Ryan Air, Norwegian, EasyJet, Vueling and "full-service" carrier British Airways. Because British Airways and American Airlines are both part of the One World Alliance, we chose British Airways so that we could get free seat selection in advance and earn miles. We paid 52 pounds each (about $66 at the time) for the one-way tickets which included one piece of checked luggage each. British Airways also offers cheaper tickets which include carry-on luggage only. We needed to check luggage, so the more expensive fare made the most sense. In total we earned 9168 Elite Qualify Miles, 570 Elite Qualifying Dollars, and 3,984 Award Miles for all of the flights. Below is a map of our final routing.
Finally, we booked our train tickets on Renfe from Barcelona to Valencia using Loco2. I tried to book the fare directly on Renfe's site and found the website difficult to navigate . After spending a long time navigating and numerous unsuccessful attempts to pay, I booked the tickets via Loco2. I recommend that you save yourself the hassle and use Loco2. Renfe offered two classes on our train to Valencia Clase Turista (Economy Class) and Clase Prefente (First Class) which cost nearly double Clase Turista. We booked two tickets in Clase Turista for 33 euros each (about $38 at the time).
In total we needed seven nights rooms, two in London and five in Barcelona. We only looked at Marriott hotels since Christina needed nine more nights for the fast track to Marriott Gold status promotion. London has numerous Marriott hotels but the city is also notorious for high hotel prices. The prices were high during our stay even though it was the off season. In order to save money, we ended up booking a pre-paid hotel reservation at the London Marriott Regent's Park at a cost of 228 pounds (about $302 at booking) for two nights.
We planned to stay at an AC Hotel in Barcelona, as I mentioned during my review of the AC Hotel New Orleans. Originally, we planned to stay at the AC Hotel Barcelona Forum but we ended up changing our reservation to the AC Hotel Irla. I will detail why it was a decision we would later regret.
During this trip report I plan to review four flights, two hotels, and for the first time a train.This trip report will also include my first time ever in a lie-flat seat (though it was for only about one hour). Christina will also be joining Travelling Companion and blogging about our experience with food in our destinations. We plan to post reviews over the next two month so please subscribe by clicking the subscribe button at the top of the blog so that you can see our latest post. Hope you enjoy coming along on our adventures!
Winter in New Orleans Trip Report
Winter in New Orleans Trip Overview
AA E175 Main Cabin Extra DCA-MSY Review
AC Hotel New Orleans Bourbon/French Quarter Review
Active in New Orleans
We headed to new Orleans in January 2 for our first trip of 2018 to escape the cold in Washington D.C. and celebrate my birthday. Little did we know that the temperatures would only climb above fifty degrees for one day during our time in New Orleans. New Orleans proved to be a city with a diverse of set of influences including French, Spanish, Southern, and Caribbean and truly is a unique city within the United States.
Because this was a special occasion we booked this flight in June about seven months before we actually took the flight. While this may seem really early this is actually one of the best ways to get flight deals. It also provides the opportunity (with some luck) to utilize a schedule change to your advantage. In this case that is exactly what happened when the itinerary we originally booked changed by one hour on the leg returning from New Orleans. We were able to reschedule the inbound to leave at 11:40 am instead of our original flight time 3:30 pm. In this particular case that allowed us to spend more of the day in New Orleans. The flights cost about $245 and we credited the flight to our AAdvantage accounts which earned us 1,938 elite qualifying miles, 202 elite qualifying dollars, 505 base miles, along with 202 bonus miles because of our American Airlines Gold status.
For this stay in New Orleans we booked the AC New Orleans Bourbon/French Quarter which is part of the Marriott Group of hotels. We originally planned to stay at the Q&C Hotel Bar New Orleans, however, Christina received a special promotion offering a fast track to Marriott Gold elite status for two years with just 11 paid nights instead of the normal 50 nights. We re-booked a few weeks out at the prepaid rate of $193 for the first night at $108 for the last two nights.