Monday, August 27, 2012

UK Departure Taxes Pinching BA

British Airways must be feeling the pinch from the UK's crazy high departure taxes.  They have started to organize political action to repeal the tax burden with their (and 30 other travel related organizations) website:  They even emailed international Executive Club members to spread the word.  I think they have a valid complaint because they are being priced out of the long haul connection market and must be hurting. I know I'm avoiding London stop overs if possible.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

United Degrading Lifetime Benefits

As recently as 9 months ago, United Airlines gave lifetime Red Carpet club access to two million mile flyers.  Now they give an iPod or a golf club.  Lifetime 1K is gone and replaced with lifetime Premier Platinum.  My Dad was about 125,000 miles short of the two million mark when the merger happened and missed out big time.  He had his sights set on lifetime lounge membership.
United Is Devaluing Their Brand and Most Loyal Customers

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Hilton Vienna and Wien

I love Vienna.  It is my favorite capital in Europe (Lisbon is a close second). My first trip to Wien was three years ago and I’ve been telling everyone to go since.  Vienna (or Wien as local signage says) has a great old town and many beautiful sights.  The city was the seat of power for the Holy Roman and Austrian Empires.  It is also a great walking town with a tram and subways system when you don’t want to.  The architecture is great, people friendly, and street food second to none.

My first time to Vienna I stayed at the Hilton Vienna Danube on a points stretcher award.  That hotel is not remotely close to the city.  This time my friend and I were staying at the Hilton Vienna downtown.  It is a great location.  One block from subway and tram stops just off the ringstrasse and next to Stadtpark.  The rooms are normal size by US standards and large by European.  Even with just Hilton silver status, we were upgrade to a suite. 
Hilton Vienna Suite
Hilton Vienna Suite
The room rate included breakfast and the hotel has a very nice spread (Sunday is more of a proper Sunday brunch set up).  The service was good, coffee better, and food great.  There was also a large Asian spread available.  It was all very nicely done and allowed us to start our day off right (and caffeinated).

Schönbrunn Palace was the summer residence of the emperor and the royal family.  It is magnificent (more subdued than Versailles) and still restrained.  The tour is great and runs about an hour.  Another hour can be spent touring the grounds around the place.  It is easy to get to with its own subway stop, but arrive early as the lines grow very quickly.
Schönbrunn Palace
The Treasury Museum is stunning.  It puts the crown jewels in the Tower of London to shame really.  On display are the trappings of 1,000 years of empire. You have to see the collection for yourself.  It is truly awe-inspiring and well worth the visit.

I like a good tram ride, especially as a way to explore a city.  Vienna has a special tourist tram that runs in summer around the rinstrasse (it's the yellow one, can't miss it).  For EUR2 (it does not accept normal tram tickets) you get an audio tram tour of the city.  The regular tram system is extensive and a great way to explore Wien.  Some of the best food in town is found at tram and subway stops too.
Tram in Vienna
Tram Stop Food, Yum
My friend participated in equestrian events as a kid and said we had to take a tour of Spanish Riding School.  There are no shows in the summer so the tour was the only option.  It lasts about an hour and shows the stables, where you can get very close to the horses, the arena, and other areas.  Our tour guide was friendly and funny.  After the tour, we lucked out because the horses in town (most are send to a farm in the mountains over summer) were let in the arena to play around.  This was a free show open to anyone passing by.  I was able to watch from the royal box; a truly unique experience.
Spanish Riding School as Viewed From the Royal Box
Vienna is great and everyone should spend a few days there.  Saltsburg is great too, but only a day trip, as I was soon to find out.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Plane Spotting at FRA

I've on the move today and had a great day of plane spotting from the bus taking me to and from the stand parking at FRA.  I saw my first 787 and caught the 747-800 taxing out.  As a bonus, I found the only Starbucks in Finland.
Lufthansa's New 747-800 at FRA
The ONLY Starbucks in Finland

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Barcelona to Vienna on Austrian Airlines

It is only a 20 minute taxi ride from the Four Points by Sheraton Barcelona to the new Barcelona airport terminal (RyanAir and EasyJet still use the old terminal).  The new terminal is massive, giant, and huge.  Way more than I was expecting and larger than the current traffic needs.  I do like the architectural style of it, large windows, high ceilings, and long sight lines, but the layout means you are walking a lot to get anywhere.  There is also prominent mall to walk through before you see any gates.  None of this mattered at first because the Austrian Airlines check in line was massive.
New Barcelona Airport Terminal
With only one flight about 2 hours away, the line looked like the entire plane had arrived to check in at once.  It was awful, there were two desks and one was preoccupied with a family having visa issues.  Luckily I saw Star Alliance Gold members can check in at the business class line with no one in it (my non-status friend was able to check in with me and skip the line).  I waited my turn, expecting the visa issue family in front of me to take forever, but the economy desk agent waved me over in front of tons of people to check in.  The process went quickly and no one in line attacked me for jumping to the front.
Huge Check In Line for Austrian Airlines
A quick trip through the security line and we were off to find the Star Alliance lounge, except there isn’t one.  There is just one large shared lounge for all the intra-Europe flights.  It also wasn’t well marked (it’s to the far right of the giant mall after security).  Once inside I grabbed a coke and my Economist.  My  friend made good on his new year’s resolution to drink more Champaign and had two glasses before our 10am departure.  There was also some light snacks available to munch on; I just had breakfast at the hotel so I did not partake.
Barcelona Airport Lounge
When boarding time arrived, we walked to our gate.  And walked. And Walked. Only to not see a plane parked, but find a bus waiting for use.  I dislike boarding buses and going to stand positions, especially when there is a perfectly good jet bridge available.  The buses slow everything up and add stress that isn’t needed (You can get some good pictures though).  I prefer to be the last person on the last bus that leaves.  That way I get a window spot at the bus door and am the first one off and up the stairs to board (don't worry about bin space, Europeans rarely fill the overhead space).  We waited at the gate for everyone else to go and then we were the last ones on the bus.
Austrian Airlines Retro A320 Jet
The aircraft was an A320 in a retro Austrian Airlines livery.  Inside, the plane looked new with Lufthansa Group’s slim line seats.  These seats are super narrow, weigh less, and have redesigned seat back pockets and tray tables.  They let the airline fit more rows on board while giving customers a greater feeling of space.  The flight left late and arrived early.  I had the first exit row, so plenty of leg room, but the seat did not recline at all.  Service was prompt and included a sandwich and drink for the two hour flight.  I was able to do some reading and enjoyed the quick hop to Vienna.  After a quick taxi to the gate we were off to see Vienna, but not before grabbing a few Austrian Airlines post cards first.
Austrian Airlines Slim Seat Back
Austrian Airlines Slim Seat Profile
Austrian Airlines Snack in Economy

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Free WiFi on US Airways

US Airways and GoGo are giving away 15 minutes of free wifi on flights from August 15 through September 11.  15 minutes is enough to check your email, twitter, and flight location on  It's also the only form of in-flight entertainment US Airways offers on domestic flights.  Enjoy!
US Airways E190 and XA 737 at LGA

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Frontier Airlines August Discount Promo Code

The fine print on this offer sums it up nicely:  9% discount applies to base fare only, not to fees or taxes, and requires purchase at using promo code LABORDAY. Discount applies on domestic fares for travel within the continental United States. Tickets must be purchased by 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on August 17, 2012, for travel August 29, 2012, through September 4, 2012. Certain flights and/or days of travel may be unavailable, especially during busy travel periods. All fare rules apply.
Sunrise are Denver International Airport

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Barcelona Spain and the Four Points by Sheraton

I made a deal with my friend that I would cover the flights if he covered the hotels.  As part of this arrangement, I picked the flights and he picked the hotels.  I was partial to the W Barcelona, but since it wasn’t my dime, we were at the Four Points by Sheraton Barcelona (FPBS).  We anticipated spending most of our time sightseeing, so it should not make much of a difference.
Barcelona Spain
The Air Canada flight landed around 8AM and we were quickly through customs and to the taxi stand.  We went to the hotel to drop off our bags, grab a map, and start looking around the city.  The FPBS is in a business area of town and four subway stops away from city center.  The room was a normal sized room by European standards with a weak air conditioner that was loud and clunky.  I picked the free breakfast SPG Platinum amenity and enjoyed the morning spread.  There was usually a long wait at the front desk, but the agents were friendly and somewhat helpful.

Antoni Gaudí is an architect that left his mark on Barcelona, a very unique mark.  The three places to go and see his work is the church of Sagrada Familia, Parc Güell, and Casa Batlló.  Sagrada Familia is a basilica that is still under construction.  The church is beautiful and worth the €10 to visit.  Parc Güell is a large park in the north of town.  It has some very unique design elements and the world’s longest bench.  Casa Batlló is a house built, and completed, by Gaudi on the main shopping boulevard.  It is an amazing architectural sight.
Sagrada Familia
Sagrada Familia
Sagrada Familia
Sagrada Familia
Sagrada Familia
Parc Güell
Parc Güell
Parc Güell
Casa Batlló
Casa Batlló
Picasso worked in Barcelona for some time and there is a decent Picasso museum in the old town.  It follow’s Picasso’s works through his life.  There aren’t any iconic works on display, bigger museums and private collectors have those, but it is still an interesting collection that shows his evolving style over time.
Church Close to Picasso Museum
The Old Cathedral in downtown was my favorite spot in Barcelona.  I will always go into an old church and always be impressed.  The Barcelona Cathedral has a lovely courtyard off the side and it is peaceful and relaxing.  I grabbed a seat and cleared my mind.  It was a wonderful experience.

The beach at Barcelona is a big deal.  Like its why most people visit Barcelona.  It’s huge and packed with people.  My friend and I were on a sightseeing trip, not a beach holiday, so we didn’t spend much time on the sand.  It looks like a great spot for a beach holiday and I want to return and be a beach bum for a few days on another trip.  If you are doing the beach, stay at the W Barcelona.  It’s on the beach and looks like an amazing hotel.

The monastery at Montserrat is a day trip into the mountains.  It has a beautiful church and miles of trails through the hills with breathtaking views.

Barcelona is a great walking town with numerous cafes that all look great and are worth a visit.  Jamon Ibiricos is plentiful, though up to $100 per pound, and a taste is required on any visit.  We stopped at Pernil 181 and had our picture taken in front of the wall of hams.  We also picked up 100 grams of ham to have in the park outside.  It’s only a few blocks (downhill) from Parc Guell and worth a stop.

When our three days in Barcelona were over, we headed back to the new terminal at BCN to continue the trip to Vienna.  I need to return to Barcelona and do a proper beach holiday; definitely staying at the W Barcelona, but maybe not in July or August.
Not the Four Points by Sheraton Barcelona, but Close By

Friday, August 10, 2012

US Airways Company Store August Sale / Discount Code

20% off all full price merchandise at the US Airways Company Store.  Use the coupon code SUMMER20 at checkout.  Free shipping on orders over $75 too.  Offer expires August 17, 2012.
20% with code SUMMER20

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

August 2012 US Airways Miles Bonus

US Airways is running a 100% bonus on purchased mile promotion.  Again.  This promotion seems to pop up every few months.  I would not buy the miles unless you have a trip in mind.  Even then, call up reservations and have the trip put on hold before you buy miles.  I have a feeling this promotion will appear again before the year ends, so no rush.
US Airways Airbus at LGA