Monday, July 27, 2015

5 FREQUENT FLYER MYTHS, DEBUNKED

From my article in Afar Magazine-online here for the original: Afar Article


Diving into the frequent flyer game is tricky. Which are the best programs? When should you redeem points? Is loyalty to one airline worth the steep price? But once you’re in the game, the rewards can be rich. Todd Bliwise has been studying these things for years, and has it all figured out. He’ll be sharing his tips and tricks with us in this column, Speed of Flight. Today: 5 frequent flyer myths, debunked.

Myth #1: Having an airline-specific credit card is a good idea.
This, unfortunately, is totally not true. The days of airline-specific credit card benefits are in the past. Especially with all the changes happening around the ability to redeem miles in these programs, you really don’t want to focus on having a currency that isn’t liquid—meaning you cannot move or transfer it around to other programs (transferring between frequent flyer accounts is incredibly costly). American Express Membership Rewards Points and Chase Ultimate Rewards are some of the best currencies linked to credit cards out there now. Use those instead.

Myth #2: For the best deals, redeem your miles the second an award flight becomes available.
This myth seems to be floating around—if you sit in front of your computer 11 months before your trip as the clock strikes midnight, you will somehow get the best price for your award tickets. This just isn’t true for the majority of award bookings. Many airlines release staggered space throughout the year depending on load factors on those specific flights. Go back to sleep, take off those glass slippers, and relax! Unfortunately, there isn’t really any trick to finding the best deals throughout the year, but often last-minute award travel to Europe between seasons can be a steal.

Myth #3: Use your miles with the same airline you earned them from.
Actually, that’s the worst way to redeem your points. I live by this rule: The most costly way to use your points is redeeming them with flights on the same airline. The solution? Use your points and miles on partner airlines. It makes sense: Airlines would rather fill their own planes with customers paying actual cash. For example, redeeming Delta SkyMiles on a Seoul trip with their partner, Korean Airways (which is really the cheapest and most comfortable way to Asia).

Myth #4: Begging for an upgrade because of a wedding or special occasion will work.
Stop! Save yourself the embarrassment, because this will never work. There really isn’t any way to get free upgrades internationally anymore, and I actually applaud the airlines because it’s a sort of “rate integrity” for those that actually pay for the product. In general, when traveling domestically you can ask during check-in about upgrade offers for cash—as many of the airlines offer discounted upgrades at check-in depending on availability. The best method for upgrading, however, is using miles. Be aware that it varies substantially by airline, with Delta charging the most expensive “upgrade eligible” fares for international travelers out of any of the carriers. Upgrading using miles can also be good for travelers who are status-hungry and still want to fly in luxury—you still receive miles for your flight while bridging that gap between business class and coach. Many of the international carriers are starting to move towards international upgrades at check-in for cash as well, but clients should expect to pay a much larger charge for these flights to do so—anywhere from $500-$1500 per leg.

Myth #5: Booking one-way mileage tickets is more expensive than roundtrip.
This just isn’t true anymore. The key is to understand that mileage tickets and revenue (purchased) tickets are two completely separate animals all together. While booking an international one-way revenue ticket can be prohibitively expensive, this is not the case with mileage tickets and can often be a good way to piece together a multi-leg international with flights from many different programs.

This is far from a comprehensive guide for using your points and miles, but I’ve only just begun; come back soon for more advice. Remember, redeeming miles is like playing a game: there is always going to be a winner and a loser.

For more information please contact todd@avenueapart.com

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Speed of Flight comes to Afar Magazine!

Incredibly honored to announce that I am now a content contributor for Afar Magazine; sharing my travel and other air related tricks of the trade! Cannot wait to share my travel to a much wider audience!

http://www.afar.com/ 



Saturday, December 13, 2014

Press in Departures Magazine!

Im not usually one for short, information only based blog posts. After all, its hard enough convincing people that a blog is more than the Graffiti of writing. With that said, I felt this particular instance deserved its own rightful exception to the rule.

With that said I am incredibly honored and humbled to be featured as #17 in Departures Magazines '100 People, Places, and Things to know in travel for 2015"!! 


Monday, April 14, 2014

Around the world for the 9th time and countries 56-57! New Zealand, Tahiti ,Maldives, Australia, China...Part 1

Around the world for the 9th time and countries 56-57! New Zealand, Tahiti ,Maldives, Australia, China...Part 1

Disclaimer-no photo filters/alternations were used in this report-only a good camera! 




A trip full of fun, sun, work, and 2 more countries!

This trip would the second large trip of 2014 and would take me around the world for the 9th time. Unlike the last few around the worlds, this trip would be shorter in length (5 weeks) and would feature return trips to Australia, New Zealand, China, Hong Kong, and the Maldives, while at the same time visiting 2 new countries, 56 and 57, Tahiti and Qatar.

Without further adieu...

Day 1: April 1st, 2014. ATL-New York 

The trip began with 2 days of work enroute to Australia. The first stop was 1 night in NYC to meet with Absolute Travel and continue my monthly visits. Its always nice to stop by the office and see familiar faces!

Typical domestic 2 hour First Class flight with Delta had me at the Intercontinental Times Square, a property that I generally do not do a whole lot with but had never seen despite hearing good things. It was a nice evening in NYC and the top floor room afforded great views of NYC. Off to bed fairly early tonight in anticipation of an early and long day of work tomorrow!


Day 2: NYC and Business Elite to LA!

Good morning NYC!



Today began with a 9am breakfast and site inspection at the property. I was actually VERY impressed with the IC times square. Often ICs can have a very corporate feel but this property did a really good job of evoking a more high end leisure feel than that of a typical business hotel. The penthouse suite was breathtaking! 




After breakfast it was off to Absolute Travel for a day of work. Not too much to report here-managed to make it to JFK in plenty of time to catch my 9pm JFK-LAX BusinessElite flight with Delta. This continues to be the best experience on a domestic flight afforded by US carriers. The lie-flat bed and good food do a great justice to an otherwise very long domestic flight. Arrived in LA after midnight thanks to some strong headwinds. Tomorrow was to be another day of work that also started quite early!

Day 3: LA to Melbourne, Australia back in Virgin Australia Business! 


Had to take care of some personal business today before CJ arrived from ATL (he would be joining me for the first 2 weeks of this RTW). Managed to get all my work done and despite the dependably horrific 405 traffic, picked Chris up nearly on-time. We headed back to my old stomping grounds to enjoy a few drinks before our 11pm flight back to Australia.This would be my 4th trip to Australia but first to Melbourne.

Tonight I would be flying one of my favorite airlines again and by far the best Business Class (The only true First Class is Qantas on their once daily A380 flight) option to Australia. Never been a big fan of Qantas business class to be honest. The unique nature of this flight is that it was to be on the longest nonestop US-Australia flight, LAX-Melbourne, which at nearly 8,000 miles is only 3 miles shorter than the might ALT-Johannesburg flight. This was of course intentional to make sure I could enjoy the full 15 hours of bliss that this flight affords with VA!

Today would be my first time using the new International TBIT terminal at LAX and I was very much looking forward to using the new facilities. Despite not being a member of any alliance, Virgin Australia does allow its premium guests use of the fabulous new Star Alliance lounge, which was much appreciated prior to the 1140pm departure. Thanks to poor planning and execution once again but the horrendous ground staff at LAX, we were presented with a lovely bus gate that required 15 minutes on a bus with all the pre-boards (this means screaming children for those not familiar)  to reach the might 777-300ER.

It was another fabulous flight on V-Australia, featuring fine wines, an on-board bar, turn down service, friendly (young) flight attendants, and a myriad of entertainment choices to keep in the most restless individual plenty occupied for the 15 hour 5 minute flight to Melbourne. This was the first flight on Virgin Australia for CJ and he was absolutely blown away!

 Huge engine on the 777-300ER

Enjoying a cocktail at 35,00ft

Nightsky once the beds are made

Bed is made!

Goodnight Pacific! 




Day 4:  Melbourne, Australia

Treated to a very nice sunrise over the South Pacific today after a solid 8 hours of sleep.


Finally over Australia..

 We touched down right on time and were soon off in a Taxi to the Park Hyatt (another one to the list!) that would be hosting for the night. The hotel is right smack in the middle of a great area of Melbourne, near tons of restaurants, shops, sites of interest including the touristy but nonetheless pleasant riverfront area. It was a perfect 70 degree fall day in Melbourne which was nice as we headed out to explore the downtown area prior to my meeting and site inspection of the property in the afternoon.

Room:

The Iconic Park Hyatt exterior


Around Melbourne-


 St. Patrick's Cathedral
For dinner CJ and I had to keep our tradition in tact and knowing how structured the next 2 weeks would be, knew tonight was the night for our Chinese food outing. We found a fantastic restaurant walking distance from the property that offered the perfect selection of new world Asian fusion with tradition favorites. Great food and a fantastic way to end the day back in Australia!


Day 5:  Melbourne, Australia back to Auckland, New Zealand 

An early start was made even earlier due to my insistence on getting in a pre-dawn workout. Of course, this was aided by the jet-lag which meant I was awake at 4am anyway. Good workout, good breakfast, and soon we were headed back to MEL for the onward V-Australia flight to New Zealand!

This was my second trip to New Zealand but my first visit in 2011. This country quickly became one of my top 5 and it was nice to be back. 3 hours and 20 minute later touched down to a perfect fall day in Auckland!



Tonight we were hosted at the wonderful Langham Hotel up the hill from the harbor but still in the center of Auckland. We had dinner with our ground partner in Auckland tonight at a fantastic seafood restaurant that served as a great way to not only get to know her, but also to kick off the next 4 days which were to be very, very full. Balancing between multiple site inspections, flights, hundreds of miles of driving, and work with clients stateside, I knew the week ahead would be an intense but enjoyable.

Day 6:  Auckland, New Zealand to the Bay of Islands and the north island of New Zealand 

Having done a substantial amount of the south island and the southern/internal part of the north island 2 years ago, I was really looking forward to experiencing the dramatic vistas and rolling green hills of the north. Not to mention the amazing properties up there!

The day started with a 7km run through the park in the pre-dawn light with about 100 other joggers. Its always nice to be in a city where people are out exercising at all times of the day, taking advantage of whatever free time they might have; it was very reminiscent of London (yes rain OR shine). Despite almost getting hit by 2 cars, it was a great run and a fantastic way to start the day.

The 30 minute flight north was easy and short and after picking up our rental car we headed out to the first site inspection of the day about 100kms from the airport. The drive was beautiful and slow paced (welllll with me driving and us being late due to a directions mix up, not that slow) but nothing could prepare me for the beauty that awaited this property. Breath taking vistas, crystal clear water, and opulent accommodations all did their part to take your breath away at this awe inspiring and exclusive property-called "The Landing". I will let the pictures do the talking.







Mel, the host at The Landing was nice enough to fix us lunch and then offered to let us take the kayaks out on the bay for a few hours. Of course, with an offer like that who can resist! We headed out on the Bay Of Islands for some kayaking and swimming. What a great first full day in New Zealand.

By 4pm and facing at least another hour of driving ahead, CJ and I knew it was time to hit the road. We thanked Mel and got back in the car for our drive a bit further north to the one and only Kauri Cliffs property. The property offers by far the most dramatic views of any in the area and is on an amazing golf course. Each guests receives their only villa which are tucked into the treeline to afford the up most in privacy and comfort. This is a property that continues to (and should be) on everyone's list traveling to this part of New Zealand. Despite arriving just about dusk, it was evident how incredible the views were here.


 Our Villa-what greets all guests when they enter the room for the first time!


Dinner was on property tonight and featured probably the best Lamb I have ever had, perfectly cooked. Tomorrow was unfortunately another early morning and another flight/drive combo to see more properties!

Day 7: Bay of Islands to Rotorua, New Zealand and all the properties in between!

Another early morning greeted us on what was my week mark into this around the world trip. Fortunately, I was witness to one of the most fantastic sunrises I have probably ever seen in my life.





After a good breakfast and despite needing to depart for our flight back to Auckland, we knew the views on the beautiful fall day at Kauri Cliffs had to be seen. Well, when you're on a golf course, you have limited time, and you have a lot of ground to cover, whats the best way to do that?! Why, by speeding reckless golf cart driving of course! The views were worth the near death experiences.


This view shows the Villas that make up the guest accommodations at Kauri Cliffs: 



Made it to the airport in less than an hour (which was said to be impossible) to board our massive aircraft back to Auckland. The flight was delayed due to heavy traffic on the tarmac........

those are both lies, though it was a great day for flying.


Arriving back in Auckland meant picking up our Budget rental car for the 2 hour (more like 4 hour...) drive to our first remote lodge/property of the trip-Solitaire. The drive was very easy. Wide open roads, no traffic, and hardly enforced speed limits. Good times were had by all! We did make a stop at a good (well lets say adequate) restaurant in a remote farming town about an hour outside of Auckland on our drive south.

 Making good time...

We arrived at Solitaire early evening and were unfortunately greeted by a very rainy and cool day.  The property is very small, but featured elaborate accommodations and fabulous food. The remote nature adds to the overall feel of the property and while not the most luxurious feel to the dining/social experience, the rooms and amenities were far sufficient for a five-star client. The property also has its own yacht that can be used freely by the guests to go exploring in the bay.



My office with a view!

Day 8: Solitaire lodge, a day of site inspections, and finishing New Zealand with the Iconic Kape Kidnappers. 

Fortunately we didnt have to leave too early this morning which allowed a leisurely breakfast and start to the day. Today on the 200km drive to Napier and the Kape Kidnappers property, we had 2 other site inspections to attend to along the way. I will skip the boring details, but The Manse and Huka Lodge were both great properties that are perfect for our clients but are definitely very different in nature. The Manse is very, very small and designed for 1 or 2 couples at most and resembles much more of a home stay style environment (but still 5 star) whereas Huka Lodge is a wisely known 5 star lodge right on the river affording the ultimate in tranquility and high end service.

 Huka Lodge:
 Huka Falls!

After driving for what seemed like forever in the late afternoon CJ and I reached the quiet seaside town of Napier. We stumbled across an AMAZING seafood restaurant that served all kinds of fresh seafood for cheap prices. It was the perfect way to end a long day of driving, as Kape Kidnappers was less than hour from Napier.


Unfortunately, by the time we reached the Kape, it was so covered with fog we couldn't see our hands in front of our face. The accommodations were incredibly luxurious which made lounging around and catching up on work in front of the fire a necessity.



Another fabulous Lamb dinner finished off a great trip in New Zealand. Tomorrow it was off to Auckland where a dream would finally come truth as I boarded my Air Tahiti Nui business class flight to country 56 and Tahiti!


Day 9: New Zealand to my 56th country-Tahiti! 

The Tahiti portion of this trip is a very special one for me personally. Years ago, when I was 14 and long before I ever got in this industry and picked up a magazine that told stories of the South Pacific by boat. There was one particular article in the magazine that caught my curious attention. The article spoke of sailors who during WWII that wrote in their journals, hundreds of them, about a mysteriously beautiful island in the middle of the Pacific where they spent a few days. The journals spoke of untold beauties, colors of blue that had never been seen or experienced before, and about a certain unspoken power of a place so mysterious and so beautiful it had to be seen by ones own eyes to understand. When I read about these journals, I then googled (oooh wait, that didnt exist 11 years go, I believe then I "yahoo'd? Is that a thing?) Bora Bora, the famed island to which the article was addressing. What followed were weeks of reading, looking at pictures, and an untold (and relaitvely unusual) fascination with one particular place. I knew at that moment I would have to see it in person.

Over the next 11 years through all my travels I had more than 1 opportunity to visit the island, which is not particularly easy to get to-situated 1 hour by plane from the main island of Tahiti in the South Pacific, 9 hours from LA and 6 hours from Australia. Despite these opportunities, I didnt want to visit Bora Bora until it was right, until I could stay at the right places, arrive by the right flights, and truly "do Bora right" as I said. This year I decided it was finally time and I made the decision to book the flights and make it a pivotal part of ARTW#9!

The first half of the day was relatively uneventful making our way back to Auckland via the small airport in Napier. Some intense thunderstorms made for some pretty good turbulence in our prop plane up to Auckland.  The excitement really set in after checking in and getting my onward boarding pass for Papeete, Tahiti! The beautiful blue plane was right on-time today and it was an incredibly long 4 hour and 30 minute flight to Tahiti, mostly because I was so excited to get there I could hardly sit still! ATN business was okay, not great, but not horrible either. The food however did leave a lot to be desired. 




Touched down in Tahiti marking my 56th country and our transfer was waiting to take us to the Intercontinental Hotel on Tahiti, the most commonly used "layover" property on the main island. Nice but definitely more functional than luxurious. Sleepless night tonight in anticipation of Moorea the next morning!

Day 10: Tahiti to Moorea

Affording the best views and authentic Tahitian experience, we decided on taking the boat from Papeete over to Moorea. The crossing takes little more than 30 minutes and despite the rough seas, was definitely the preferential method over a 7 minute flight despite the brevity. Todays accommodations were at the Hilton Moorea, probably not the best property on the island (I would give that nod to the Intercon) but very nice nonetheless. After a brief site inspection in the afternoon we had the rest of the day at leisure, which was spent primarily catching up on emails and kayaking through the coral filled shallow waters. Truly a spectacular number of stingrays in the water here as well.






Hello little friend! 




Dinner tonight was at the main restaurant on property and while we were satisfied, we cannot say it justified the north of $250 price tag for 2 courses and a drink. Oh well, it is Tahiti, this is prevelant everywhere. 

Day 11: Moorea to the main event, Bora Bora!

The day was finally here, April 11th, 2014, nearly 11 years ago after first discovering the magical island, today I would finally arrive to her magical lagoon.

6am came and went fairly easily today, my excitement nearly palpable.  Its true I travel a lot, but there are few places on Earth that I have ever been this excited for.

Took the 8am boat back to the main island where we boarded our 1020am flight to Bora Bora. The 45 minute flight is incredibly scenic, humorously with everyone sitting on the left side of the plane as this is typically the side that affords spectacular views of Bora Bora on approach. After passing my 2 other islands, our decent began just as the last bit of breath left my lungs...Bora Bora!

Leaving the main island of Tahiti


 Passing Moorea from the air


 Passing nearby Huahine

And finally, Bora Bora comes into view.




Touched down to the absolutely perfect day in Bora Bora


 Boat to the St. Regis-property number 1



After a quick site inspection and checking out the magnificent property, it was time to relax in the Over Water Bungalow that were made so famous by Tahiti. This was the same property that was used in the (awful) movie "Couples Retreat" and I found it hilarious that the property played this move on repeat on an entirely separate channel.  The over water bungalow was larger than the ones I am used to in the Maldives with much more glass in the floor, allowing for unparalleled views of the turquoise lagoon below.






Great day spent relaxing and taking in the sun and sand. For dinner tonight we ate at the signature restaurant at the St. Regis which was very, very good. we both felt that the price for this dinner while high, was much more justified than the one we had in Moorea the previous night. A bonus was a spectacular sunset behind Mt. Otemanu.


Day 12: More of Bora Bora-St. Regis to the Four Seasons. 

Today started off beautiful, but by noon a massive thunderstorm had taken its hold on the island. It was blinding rain that didn't stop for nearly 9 hours. Its always interesting to me to see how people deal with poor weather at destination such as Bora Bora where everyone goes for outdoor activities, when the weather turns poor. Most people spent the day at the spa, while CJ and I spent our time watching TV, catching up on reading, and sitting in our over water bungalow enjoying the still beautiful scenery. We did manage to get across to the Four Seasons prior to the rain, which meant a few quick photos. For dinner tonight we ate at the fantastic all you can eat seafood buffet at the Four Seasons which was not only incredibly good, but also VERY reasonably priced. We definitely got our moneys worth too! Finished the day the only way that felt right-Cuban Cigars and a great bottle of Champagne.

Four Seasons room and bungalow:








Dinner


Day 13: More of Bora Bora and The Four Seasons. 

 For as rainy and imperfect as yesterday was, today was the opposite and was the greatest day in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Literal perfection in paint by colors. Photos are the only way to show the day and property.






 For dinner tonight we were not only treated to an amazing dinner at the Four Seasons' signature restaurant, but also to a spectacular full moon on a cloudless night. What a perfect end to a perfect day in Bora Bora. Tomorrow we have the whole day on the island before catching a late afternoon flight back to the main island and heading back for a short layover stateside.







Day 14:  Final day in Bora Bora and closing to part 1 

Sunrise on the final morning:


In Closing, Bora Bora was everything in more. The colors here closely resemble those found in the Maldives but I can honestly say I have never in my wildest dreams seen the colors of blue here. The lagoon truley is the most spectacular body of blue water in the world. It has to be seen to be understood, to be appreciated. 

With respect to the atmosphere and place itself, it is a little different than my other favorite island destination on Earth, the Maldives. In the Maldives its much, much more isolated. One of the prevalent downsides of course to global expansion and especially luxury tourism has been the inherent explosion of luxury 5-star resorts on Bora Bora. Since Bora Bora does not benefit from being spread out like the Maldives, you notice it more. It seems every 2 minutes another speedboat goes by with the large "St. Regis/Four Seasons, etc" writing plastered on the side signifying the next arrival of guests to this paradise. Looking out over the water its impossible to not have a photo filled with Over Water Bungalows or luxury properties. You don't get this in the Maldives. With hundreds of islands dotting a wide expanse of shallow coral ocean, you rarely see another boat, property, or if you choose to human being. Both are equally as beautiful and awe inspiring, but are very different. To truly experience the most beautiful island scenery in the world, you have to see both. With that said, either one will steal your breath, and as you leave, you can be certain a small piece of you will stay behind on the spectacular shores of these locations. 

Today was spent around property before heading back to PPT and the onward Business Class flight with Air Tahiti Nui. With a birthday in 4 days, its going to be a great week ahead and layover to RTW #9!