Saturday, September 29, 2012

Denver to Frankfurt and Helsinki - Lufthansa A340 & A320 Business Class

“I flew around the world last week” is fun to say. Give it a try, I’ll wait. Earlier in the year I booked US Airways’ around the world award (on the award chart as a round trip to North Asia) and ever since I was patiently waiting for this trip. Once my departure date finally came, I arrived at Denver International Airport early and I was almost jumping with excitement when I saw the aircraft taxi to the gate in Denver.
My Trip Map, from
The first flight was on Lufthansa’s A340-600 aircraft from Denver to Frankfurt.  I was eager to fly a new airplane model (for me) and this one is special; it is the longest Airbus made.  It looks cool from the outside, but the plane feels crowded, even in business class.  I took a lap of coach and it seemed to be a never ending expanse of seats, all filled. 
Pretzel Roll and Tender Steak Appetizer 
Back in business class, the seat is flat, but at a noticeable angle, 30ish degrees, to the floor (more detail in my MUC-NRT post).  It is more than six feet long and has decent, but not great, padding.  Each seat has its own video on demand system with a mix of music, movies, and tv shows.  A bottled water and amenity kit are waiting at each seat when boarding.  Lufthansa knows this business class seat (First class is a large recliner, even more dated) is at least one generation behind the current marketplace standard and will be upgrading their fleet with the new seats similar to those on the 747-800.  There are a few A340's with these new seats, but I didn’t luck out.
Business Class Steak Entree
Cheese Plate and Another Pretzel Roll
I didn’t sleep well on my flight; I tossed and turned for a while then just watched a few movies before breakfast.  Sun rise came quickly and I had an omelet.  It was a little bland, but the tater-tots and coffee were both great and picked me up.  
Lufthansa's Business Class Breakfast
Once on the ground, I quickly cleared customs (thank you Irish passport) and went straight to the arrivals lounge.  Lufthansa has an welcome lounge for business and first class passengers on the ground floor in FRA (Lufthansa and SWISS passengers only, Star Alliance Gold won’t help).  It has showers, good food spread, and comfortable seating.  It is on the ground side of security, so you’ll need to leave early to clear security and find your gate.  I left a little premature and went to the business class lounge by my gate.  It was crowded, but had a hot dog cart with good German mustard, so I didn’t care.  I also had an ice cream cone and a Scotch.  Not a bad lounge really and not a bad way to circle the globe.
Lufthansa FRA Business Class Lounge Hot Dog Cart
Crowded Lounge in Frankfurt
Lufthansa has invested in their intra-Europe inflight experience with new seats and upgraded meals.  European business class seats are just coach seats with the middle seat empty.  The seats are comfortable for a 3 hour or shorter flight too.  The flight attendants were friendly and very attentive on this flight.  The meal was a delicious currywurst paired with a salmon something and mint chocolate dessert.  It was a very enjoyable flight and I read up on Helsinki on the way. 
All Delicious, But No Pretzel Rolls
Once the flight landed, I headed straight for the tourist information desk to buy a Helsinki Card and then catch the Finnair City bus into town.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Tips for Reaching the Minimum Spend for a Credit Card Sign Up Bonus

The fastest way to boost your mileage balance is with credit card sign up bonuses.  I get three or more every year and it helps me travel as often as I do.  The problem here is that some cards have a minimum spend before the miles are awarded.  Hitting $500 in three months isn't a problem, but $5,000 in three months (Chase Ink) is a serious challenge.  Here are some tips to boost your credit card spending, without buying anything more than you would already purchase.
  • Use your new card whenever possible.  The more you spend with it, the faster you reach the minimum spend mark.  Simple first step that may be all you need.
  • Prepay your cell phone / internet / cable / etc. bills for a month or two.  AT&T et al won't mind if they get your money early.  This lets you move spending forward; you aren't spending more.
  • Buy gift cards to places you shop regularly to move spending forward.  Grocery stores and other retailers with large gift card displays are great locations to pick up a bunch of cards in one stop.  Safeway lets you buy gift cards with Safeway gift cards, so you can retain some flexibility.
  • Car insurance is an opportunity.  If you are up for renewal, pay the six month rate; it is usually cheaper and you bring all that spending forward.
  • Buy American Express Gift Cards.  Accepted everywhere Amex is taken.  Some cards don't have a purchase fee.  It works out as and even trade, so you are just turning part of your savings account into Amex gift cards while earning points and moving closer to the minimum spend mark.
  • Do your Christmas and birthday shopping early or treat yourself to that thing you want, but are waiting for.  If you were going to buy it anyway, it's not really an extra cost.
  • Put dinner with friends on your card.  Lots of people just toss down cash for their part of the check, you can put the bill on your card and pocket the cash.  It also saves on trips to ATMs. (I also hate to see those potential points vanish)
Keep track of how close you are to the spending mark.  Returns are deducted from your total, so remember to subtract that from your tracking spreadsheet.  Remember, if you carry a balance on your credit cards, this game is not for you.  Rates on rewards cards are much higher than other cards.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Pretty Picture, Just Because

Enjoy this United Airlines 737-900 picture I grabbed with my iPhone when I was on an early flight out of Denver.  "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." - F. Bueller
United 737-900 at DEN
I'm working on a series of posts for my round the world trip and a weighty discussion on customer experience, both just around the corner.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Buy US Airways Miles with a 100% Bonus

US Airways is selling miles with a 100% bonus again.  You can earn an extra 50,000 miles with this offer until September 30th.  This is a common offer from US, so do feel rushed to buy.  It is a good way to top off the account for a specific award you have in mind, like the RTW trip I took for 90,000 miles in business class.
US Airways E195 Jet

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Starbucks Rewards Changes Announced In Advance

Starbucks is changing their My Starbucks Rewards program next month and told all their members about the changes well in advance.  This is how award program changes should be handled; a clear explanation of what's new and what's gone provided well in advance of the change.  Airlines and hotels often make the change and then (not always) announce it.  Customers fear change, but when it is clearly explained in advance, it lessens the impact and helps create a positive customer experience.

Monday, September 17, 2012

US Airways Company Store Discount Coupon Code

When dropping into the US Airways Club in PHX, I noticed a nice merchandise display from the US Airways Company Store.  I also noticed a coupon code.  Use promotion code USCLUB to save 10% your order.  There wasn't any fine print on it, but I tested it and it worked on regularly priced items today.
US Airways A319

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Star Alliance Round the World Planner

Looking for a great way to kill time at work?  Want to plan that dream trip?  Try out the Star Alliance Round the World Trip Planner.  This web app lets you build, price, and buy RTW fares on Star Alliance carriers.  It's great fun too.  
United's Star Alliance Livery 757
The Round the Word fare includes up to 29,000, 34,000 or 39,000 miles. Your journey has to start and end in the same country, but not necessarily in the same city. You have to include 3 to 15 stopovers (stops greater than 24 hours). The prices are based on distance and home country (full terms and conditions).  Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Frontier Airlines September / October Discount Coupon Code

Frontier Airlines is offering 5% off flights in the continental US with coupon / promo code FRONTIER.  Book by 10/12 and fly by 3/17.  Use the code as much as you like. 
Frontier Airlines September Promotion

Monday, September 10, 2012

Bad Airline Coffee Epidemic

United Airlines once had good coffee, just last year actually.  US Airways had a decent brew too.  From recent experience, airline coffee, both in the air and on the ground, has been either bad or undrinkable.  This is a serious problem that is growing out of control.  How hard is it to get some Dunkin' grounds and add hot water? I doubt it costs that much more for good coffee than bilge water. Airlines need to fix this quickly because I need a strong cup of Joe before I land, but I can’t grab coffee before takeoff or I can’t sleep. Alaska Airlines just started serving Starbucks on board, so they may be the lone exception to this despicable trend.
US Airways Club Coffee
United Club Coffee

Friday, September 7, 2012

14 Hour Layover in London and 6 Hours in Moline, IL

As the final part of my trip, I scheduled a 14 hour layover in London (stops less than 24 hours don’t count as your free stopover), 2 hour stop at O’Hare, and a 32 minute layover in Moline, IL (MLI).  The London layover was great because I could leave the airport, see a friend, and enjoy London just before the Olympic games started.  The Moline layover was the only way to fly to Denver.  It wasn’t the same aircraft for both segments, so there was a serious chance I would miss my connection (I’ve flown tight connections before on the same plane, making it impossible to miss your next flight).
Olympics Greater
London was great! After reading The Economist, I was expecting long lines at every point in the airport. There was no line at customs and LHR was packed with friendly volunteers to point you on your way. 
What is it?
London was putting on their best for the world.  Everything was lit up, there was a large public art display, and most people were exceptionally friendly.  I really enjoyed walking along the river at night.  There was some much happening, great places to eat, and brilliant sights.  There were also dozens of the Olympic statues painted in different ways scattered about town.  The mascot was ugly, but some artists did great work despite the handicap.
Sunset by Arsenal's Emirates Stadium
Lottery Fund Public Art
The blue Tube line doesn’t run 24 hours, so don’t plan on taking the Tube for a very early departure. We decided to play it safe and take a cab; all the horrors of LHR were supposedly in full effect and a minimum of 2 hours was needed. The check in and security line the next morning was miniscule.  We made it from to cab to the Star Alliance lounge (showers, wifi, and a decent breakfast spread) in less than 20 minutes.  This might be the first time The Economist was wrong. I doubt the speedy LHR experience or The Economist being wrong will be repeated soon.
Star Alliance Lounge at LHR
The flight from LHR to ORD on a United Airlines 767 was pleasant.  We booked (yes, my friend still wanted to sit next to me after a week of travelling together) the second exit row on the plane and had plenty of space.  Breakfast was a tasty waffle (adding a pound of sugar to it helped) and I settled in attempting to watch a movie and fall asleep.  Neither activity went well.  After a quick sandwich before landing, we were at O’Hare.  My friend was heading into Chicago and we parted ways.  
Seat 21A on a United Airlines 767 from London
United Airlines Coach 767 Breakfast From London
I saw a departures board and it seemed like every United Express flight was delayed.  I went to the United Club to get some help going to Denver, but a direct flight was cancelled and there were no seats through connection points.  I was left to cross my fingers that my ORD-MLI would arrive in time to catch the MLI-DEN flight.  I missed it by 15 minutes.  After 6 hours of killing time (free wifi, walking the terminal, starting a fire, etc.) the last flight out started boarding and I was heading home. A fast trip that felt interminable at times had come to a close.
Empty Terminal at Moline, IL
My E170 to Denver

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Good Morning From IAD

Sunrise is a pretty time to be at the airport, stop for a moment and enjoy it sometime.
Sunrise at IAD

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Salzburg and Vienna to London on Austrian Airlines

The friend I was travelling with wanted to have a Von Trapp style experience while in Austria so we took the train to Salzburg.  It’s about a two hour trip from Vienna and $75 each way.  Our train out was delayed over an hour, so don’t plan on punctuality.  Salzburg has a quaint old town with expensive hotels.  Luckily there is a Crowne Plaza and HolidayInn less than a 10 minute walk away.  The Holiday Inn had a friendly staff, recently renovated rooms, flakey free wifi, and gave a nice platinum welcome gift of a bottle of Austrian wine.  The price was right too.
Salzburg and the Funicular, Take It, Don't Walk
Nice Park
More Nice Parks
Salzburg’s highlight real includes the castle at the top of the bluffs (take the funicular railway), a lovely park on the other side of the river, Die Weisse (best food and best beer on the trip), and the old town with shops, restaurants, churches, and the Mozart house (and a NORDSEE).  This can all be done in a day with an overnight stay as to not feel rushed and enjoy an evening in town.
Die Weisse Was Amazing
After two full days, we went back to Vienna to catch a flight to London.  We took the CAT, City Airport Train, to Vienna Airport and were able to check in and check out bags at the train station (the train ride is about half the price of a taxi to the airport).  The train was comfortable and we glided to the airport with ease, went through a fast security lane, had our passports stamped by customs, and settled in at the Austrian Airlines lounge.
Check In Desks at City Airport Train Station in Vienna
Austrian Airlines recently opened a newly renovated terminal at Vienna International Airport with a new check in area, new lounges, and new gate areas.  The lounge had plenty of seating, fast wifi, good drinks selection, and tasty food.  I also checked out the Priority Pass lounge (thank you Palladium card) which didn’t have a view and had similar food.
Austrian Airlines Lounge at Vienna Airport
Priority Pass Lounge at Vienna Airport
Boarding for the flight to LHR was delayed for no obvious reason and no information was given.  Once boarding started I was first down the jet bridge (Star Gold status perk) and settled into my own row.  About a dozen Austrian Olympians were on the flight.  I talked briefly with a swimmer, so I checked “talk with an Olympian” off my London to do list.  The flight boarded and departed quickly. 
VIE to LHR Flight Map
The cabin crew was very friendly and started the service quickly.  I had a soda and half a sandwich (it had an odd taste, but was free).  The flight went smoothly and we quickly arrived at LHR (The Economist makes time fly).  On approach we went up the Thames and saw all the classic London sights.  I was prepared for a long queue at customs, but there was no wait at all.  Further, the arrivals hall was full of helpful and cheery volunteers, a great experience at LHR, especially since I read about nightmarish conditions leading up to the games.  We were able to get a fast start to out 14 hour layover in London and we walked to the Tube station and headed to the Arsenal station.
Austrian Airlines Coach Meal in Europe