Monday, October 17, 2016

Recap: Routes Flown With Friends

With Matt en route to Atlanta on Delta...first class, baby!

Since 2007, I've had the pleasure of sharing the skies with friends. Travel with friends makes both the journey and destination even more fun, plus stories to share forever. Here are the who's, what's and where's...


LAS-LAX on US Airways with Dan


DEN-LGA on Frontier with Fernando
PHL-DEN on Southwest with Fernando


MSP-LHR on Delta with Gil
LGW-AMS on British with Gil
FCO-VCE on EasyJet with Gil
FCO-LIS-MAD on EasyJet with Gil
MAD-ATL on Delta with Gil


ICT-ATL-LGA-MSP-ICT on Delta with Matt
ICT-ATL-LAS on Delta with Matt
LAX-HNL on America with Fernando
HNL-OAK on Alaska with Fernando


LAX-HNL on American with Walter
DFW-OMA on American with Jennifer

Getting ready for Omaha-Chicago with Tara and Leigh


DTW-OMA with Jane
OMA-ORD with Leigh and Tara

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Take Back Your Status! Strategy For AAdvantage Members

With American Airlines' frequent flyer program going revenue-based in granting mileage earning and status attainment to their AAdvantage members, the big 3 of US airlines are now all in the same league of um, unapologetic greed. It's no longer distance flown, but rather the fare you paid, that determines how many miles you'll be allowed to earn. In addition, there is a dollar threshold to reaching elite status.

But fear not, disAAdvantaged flyers - I have just the solution for you to retain your alliance-wide status on oneworld and keep enjoying your elite benefits therein! I've compiled a list of all of American Airlines' oneworld partners and their frequent flyer programs' elite status requirements in terms of flight segments or tier points (a special points calculation formula that varies from program to program based on distance flown, fare paid and cabin of service ticketed).

Information valid as of August 2016

Even as a US flyer, you're free to join these other ones! Membership is free, except in the case of Cathay Pacific. I've also noted how on some frequent flyer programs there are minimum flight segments required on their native airline. You can skip these. Also, some programs have a reduced renewal requirement chart. Please check each individual airline's program for details by going on the oneworld portal website link below.

As you can see, Air Berlin Topbonus, Finnair Plus, Iberia Plus Avios and Malaysia Enrich are standouts when it comes to being easy potential replacement programs against your current AAdvantage membership. They have relatively low thresholds and no native airline minimums - just keep flying American!

Want to migrate out of AA? The answer may just be staring at you from the window.

Besides the usual elite-level benefits, withint the USA if you're at Sapphire or Emerald level on any of the above oneworld partners, you have access to all Admiral's Clubs as long as you have an AA (or other oneworld) boarding pass departing from that airport, regardless of destination. So even if you're just flying from O'Hare to Milwaukee on American Eagle, you can access both Admiral's Clubs at Concourse H/K and G.

So there you are, you can work around this new age of frequent flying. Enjoy!


Thursday, March 10, 2016

Train Review: Amtrak California Zephyr

Chicago-Omaha, part of the much longer Amtrak California Zephyr route

The final component of my very first round-the-world journey was a 9-hour train ride aboard Amtrak's California Zephyr. The Zephyr is an iconic long-distance rail service between San Francisco and Chicago, and I took it from Chicago to Omaha.

O'Hare easily connects to Union Station in downtown Chicago via the CTA Blue Line train, stepping off at Clinton Station and walking just a couple of blocks north. Union Station is a beauty! It has a lofty main hall, traveler services and a variety of restaurants in its food court upstairs.

The Great Hall of Chicago's Union Station

The Zephyr route is full service. There are options for family sleeper cars and showers. As always available for all riders, there is a café, dining car and lavatories. One standout feature of this train is the sightseeing glass dome car. It's a popular place to talk to other riders, or to just be alone with your thoughts while taking in the views outside. The route ran from 2:00 pm to just after 9:00 pm when we pulled into Omaha's Burlington Station.

Coincidentally, this long ride added enough points on my Amtrak Rewards balance to get me a free ticket on the same service! So a couple of weeks later, I booked my free ride going the opposite direction, Omaha to Chicago, to supplement the incredibly inexpensive United Airlines airfare from Chicago to Los Angeles.

More Information:

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Round the World! North America to Europe to Asia and Back

I finally had enough miles on my KLM and Korean Air frequent flyer accounts to fulfill my lifelong dream - in fact, any traveler's lifelong dream - of going on a round-the-world flight. At least, enough miles to lay the foundation with long-haul award flights and just supplement them with inexpensive, short feeder flights. Technically, this is Chicago to Chicago eastward.


Here is the breakdown, by airline:
IST-ATH-FCO on Aegean
FCO-WAW on Alitalia
WAW-PRG on Czech

Finally made it to hot and humid Hong Kong!

Istanbul (2)
Athens (1)
Rome (1)
Prague (1)

Feeder Segments:
OMA-ORD on American
ORD-OMA on Amtrak...more on that here.

That's it!


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Istanbul: Crossroads Of Intercontinental Transit

What's a round-the-world trip without stopping over at the Crossroads of the World, right? After thousands of years, Istanbul (Constantinople) straddles both Europe and Asia, and continues to intrigue, fascinate and take breaths away with its layers upon layers of history and drama.

It's a large metropolitan area, so I will break it down by district and their corresponding lines of service. You're welcome to purchase the official touchless card Istanbulkart at any station vending machine to make your fare payment more convenient.

Golden Horn (Old City):
Sultanahment Square, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace (Tram Stations at Cemberlitas, Sultanahmet or Gulhane)
Grand Bazaar, University (Tram Stations at Beyazit Kapalicarsi or Laleli Universite)
Valens Aqueduct Bozdogan Kemeri (Metro Station at Vezneciler or Tram Station at Laleli Universite)
Theodosian Walls (Metro Station at Topkapi Ulubatli or Tram Stations at Pazartekke, Topkapi or Edirnekapi)

The Grand Bazaar, in the Old City

Taksim Square (Metro Stations at Taksim or Nostalgic Tram Station at Taksim)
Galata Tower, Mevlevi Lodge (Tunnel Tram Station at Karakoy or Tunel or Nostalgic Tram Station at Tunel or Metro Station at Sishane)

Between Airport and City:
Metro Stations Ataturk International Ataturk Havalimani (IST) and Aksaray

Between Continents (European and Asian Sides):
Ferries from Tram Stations Sirkeci, Karakoy and Kabatas (Europe) to the Ferry Stations at Uskudar, Harem, Haydarpasa or Kadikoy (Asia)
Marmaray Rail between Stations Sirkeci (Europe) and Acibadem (Asia)
Bus between Stations Zincirlikuyu (Europe) and Bogazici Koprusu (Asia)

More Information:

Monday, February 29, 2016

Train Review: NS Rail (Netherlands)


Having a full day of connection time in Amsterdam, I decided to hop on an NS train (Dutch: Nederlandse Spoorwegen) to visit the seaside capital city of The Hague, right off of Schiphol Airport station.

The round trip train fare between Schiphol Airport and The Hague Central (or Den Haag Centraal) is fairly inexpensive, and the trains themselves are fast. With your valid ticket, you can hop aboard any train that services the route between the airport and The Hague at any time during that day. Just be mindful of the time and of course, that you're on the right train - remember, your ticket is only valid on trains touching both stations as listed on your ticket; Amsterdam Schiphol is not Amsterdam Centraal. Need to lighten your load for the side trip? Either use the airport lockers or simply check in your extra luggage with your airline if their check in desks are open (in my case, the airline was KLM and they're always open). That way, you simply head straight for the gate once you're back.

Enjoying the view aboard an NS Inter-City train

The Hague is technically the capital of the Netherlands, and much like its big sister Amsterdam, it's got stunning Dutch architecture, canals, bicycle paths, cafes and a major museum that houses the Mona Lisa of the North, The Girl With The Pearl Earring. The Hague's transport system is operated by HTM, and trams are the main mode. A one-day unlimited riding ticket is available for a low fare and it's valid on all tram lines.

More Information:

The Hague: You Can Take Those Clogs Off Now!

The Netherlands' coastal administrative capital, The Hague (Dutch: Den Haag) despite its small size still packs a punch when it comes to transport efficiency and world-class attractions. The mass transit system is operated by HTM, while intercity rail is provided by the NS national rail network.

The Victorian-era Hague Hollands Spoor (HS) railway station

If you have a long connection time between flights through Amsterdam-Schiphol, like I had, let's say 8 or more hours, you can definitely take a day trip to The Hague in addition to exploring a little bit of Amsterdam itself. Just lock up or check in your extra luggage at the airport, purchase an inexpensive round-trip ticket at the NS counter and then hop on the next Den Haag-bound train from the platform.

Most attractions are within walking distance of the modern Den Haag Centraal station, such as the Mauritshuis Museum (houses The Girl With The Pearl Earring) and Binnenhof.

Even in the winter, the North Sea puts me in a relaxed mood.

For that edge-of-the-continent photo op, Tram 9 (from Den Haag HS) and Trams 1 and 11 (from Centraal) all go to the seaside district of Scheveningen. Welcome to the North Sea! This area is buzzing with activity during the summer months; on the other hand it's also quite peaceful being here during the colder seasons.

Plan to be back at Schiphol at least 1.5 hours prior to your departure, so leave The Hague at the appropriate time that won't make you miss your flight.

More Information: