Greece 4th of July (Sometimes We Take Real Trips!)

As much as we love to push the limits on weekend trips, we do this in order to save vacation days for two to three actual vacations per year (i.e. a trip that’s at least a week). Our first “real” vacation in 2016 was to Greece for the 4th of July. In a previous post we detailed British Airways’ amazing business class sales. Since the deals were so good we booked two fares as part of that deal – London/Milan Memorial Day and a flight to Athens. We didn’t set out to plan a trip to Greece specifically (though it was certainly on our list) but to get good deals it’s important to be flexible on both time and location. Our flight to Athens (ATH) on BA wasn’t nearly as good of a deal as previously but still $2,026 RT is really solid for transatlantic business class, especially given that all flights were AA codeshares. In fact, at the time of booking, an economy round trip from SFO to ATH was $1800!

Our itinerary had us on BA’s earlier SFO-LHR flight leaving at 4pm on Friday, July 1st. We had a quick layover before arriving in ATH on Saturday evening. The return ATH-LHR-SFO departed and arrived back on Sunday, July 11th.

  • Total Cost = $2,026
  • Base Miles = 13,754 (e.g. “butt in seat” miles)
  • EQMs = 27,512 (business & first promotion)
  • Award Miles = 67,490 (business & first promotion)
  • CPM: 7.4 (based on EQMs)

OUTBOUND FLIGHT
On the outbound from SFO-LHR we decided to try a different seat configuration, with Sarah on the outside and David on the inside. Sarah’s seat is most dreaded of BA business class – perhaps even one of the most dreaded international business seats on any airline. You are extremely exposed with very limited privacy, though an advantage of this seat for couples is that you don’t have to stare at a stranger when the divider is down. Additionally, you have direct aisle access without having to climb over anyone’s feet/footrest. Bottom line: the outer seats aren’t terrible for couples but we still prefer the middle.

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For the LHR-ATH connection, we were pleasantly surprised to be on an older BA plane so that we could have a two-seater versus a three-seater for the three hour flight. Legroom was a bit better than the newer Club World seats but still very cramped (depending on your height :) ). The next time you complain about flying domestically in the US, just be happy that you aren’t flying intra-Europe.

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After consulting friends, travel guides, etc. we decided to split our trip between Athens and the island of Santorini. This meant that we’d be purchasing a separate round trip from ATH to Santorini (JTR), which brings us to one of the most unavoidably expensive parts of international travel: regional short haul flights. 100% of people strongly said to avoid Ryanair so we immediately excluded that option along with Volotea, another regional airline. That left us with Greece’s national airline: Aegean. Each round trip was $245 which is an awful CPM to go 272 round trip miles but you can’t win them all. Surprisingly, Aegean was a great experience with lots of legroom and quality snacks despite the 30 minute flight. We’d take this any day over BA Club Europe. During this trip, we learned that BA has a direct flight from LHR-JTR which would have saved us about five hours in travel time – for a future trip we’d prioritize this option.

SANTORINI
Generally when traveling to Europe, we opt to stay in Airbnbs over hotels for a two main reasons. First, we enjoy the idea of actually “living” in a particular city. Secondly, you can get a lot more space (kitchen, living room) compared to Europe’s notoriously small hotel rooms. Overwhelmingly, we had been happy with our Airbnb choices but Santorini was one exception. We underestimated the amount of time we’d be spending in the room due to the need to spend the hours of 3-7pm inside because of sweltering heat. And speaking of sweltering heat, we also failed to consider that our lack of a pool was a major issue (hot tubs aren’t very additive when it’s 95 degrees).

(Photos courtesy of Airbnb)Oia Airbnb

Oia Airbnb 2

Oia Airbnb 3

On the plus side, we did locate the hotel (pool) we’d like to stay at for a future visit!
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Our conclusion is that for heavy sightseeing cities where you’re out all day like London, Paris and Dublin, Airbnbs are the way to go. However, for cities that are more laid back and focused on relaxation, there are certain luxuries that only hotels can provide.

Santorini itself, and specifically the town of Oia, was amazing and definitely on our list of places to return. It is truly is beautiful and easy to see why it’s one of Europe’s top islands to visit. Additionally, it’s a great place to get fit because Santorini has A LOT of stairs – our Airbnb was 123 steps down the caldera!

Some of our favorite moments were sailing around the island, going for a 6am sunrise hike, and watching the incredible sunset each evening.

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ATHENS
We left Santorini mid-day to fly to Athens for a 2.5 day stay. Santorini’s JTR airport probably wins the award for our worst airport experience globally: extremely small, dirty, and lounge-less. We mistakenly arrived 2.5 hours prior to departure when we probably only need 30 minutes.

Not much plane spotting to do here…
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Onward to Athens, we were hoping that our lodging (in this case, a hotel) wouldn’t be another disappointment. Boutique hotels are really a hit or miss as it’s great to stay at a place that feels more local but the brand consistency that you get staying at a W or Andaz is lacking. After roughing it in our Airbnb Oia cave, our stay at the O&B Athens Boutique Hotel was a delight with the best part being our gigantic patio complete with a view of the Acropolis.

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Overall, we agreed with the general sentiment that Athens can easily be seen in 2-3 days. While we enjoyed our stay, it’s not someplace we feel a huge need to return to in the short term. One of the highlights was the Acropolis Museum along with the numerous restaurants that provided an amazing view of the Acropolis. Another pro is that Athens was extremely walkable – the only time we needed to take a taxi was to and from the airport.

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Pokemon Go was released mid-trip so sightseeing took a backseat…
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RETURN FLIGHT
We cleared customs very quickly for our morning flight out of ATH and waited at the door for the BA lounge to open. This lounge has definitely seen better days as evidenced by extreme wear and tear on the chairs. Unfortunately most BA lounges leave a lot to be desired, except for the LHR lounges which are amazing.

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This now concludes the summer of BA business class and our last international flight under AA’s current mileage earning system, where you earn redeemable miles based on the distance of the flight along with a bonus for your status. It’s been a good run the last couple years but come August 1st 2016, the party’s over. AA has changed their loyalty program to mimic United and Delta, where mileage will be awarded based on the price of the ticket regardless of the amount of miles flown. (e.g. Under the new structure a $500 flight from SFO-DFW and $500 flight from SFO-HKG would earn the same amount of redeemable miles.) The good news is that we’ll both be re-qualifying for Executive Platinum this year but our future after February 2018 is still uncertain. Stay tuned for upcoming posts as we navigate what these changes mean for our mileage running habits.

SFO DEAL ALERT: Hong Kong For The Weekend

A big part of our travel strategy is to take advantage of great fares on weekends while taking minimal vacation time off. Although we can’t capitalize on every deal, we want to highlight great deals for others as well. In fact, if you are needing qualifying miles or just looking for a fun weekend trip in September, we’d highly recommend you jump on this $500-600 deal to Hong Kong (we’ll break out the math later in the post). In fact, if you think you might go you should just book the flight. All US airlines have 24-hour cancellation policies so you can always change your mind later tonight (but the flights might not be there later).

Why we like this flight

For any readers of The Points Guy or The Flight Deal (both great websites by the way and highly recommend you read them in case you don’t already), you may have already seen this particular deal alert but we want to highlight it because it’s exactly the type of fare we typically seek out for a couple of reasons:

  1. Great location

For our international weekend trips we typically look for places that are 10-13 hours away. If you think about a weekend which has 48 hours, factoring in travel time that conveniently leaves you ~ 1 full day in an international location. If work is flexible enough for you to take a Friday off (especially in the summer months), even better since that leaves you with 2 full days instead.

Furthermore, Hong Kong (13 hours away) is a really great candidate for a weekend visit. When most people talk about Hong Kong, the two things that stand out the most are the great food and the amazing nightlife. 1-2 days gives you the perfect amount of time to hit your top food spots and spend a night in LKF.

  1. Great fare / full qualifying miles

It doesn’t take a travel blogger to realize that <$600 to Asia is a great deal. But what makes this flight really unique is that all the flights on sale are on domestic metal i.e. United/American/Delta.

Unfortunately for travel hackers, a major trend of the last 24 months is the lowering of partner earning rates (especially that of Asian airlines which most frequently discount flights). Whereas previously most partner airlines earned full miles now it’s rare to find any partner airlines that earn full miles on discount economy which is the bread and butter of the long haul miles game.

As you’ll see below, this flight prices in the 3-4 cents per mile (CPM) range depending on your airline and your interest in mileage running.

  1. Friday night departure

Besides being a catchy name, a Friday night departure is really key. Most Friday night flights depart between 4-10pm, which means that you can gain 12 additional hours vs. a Saturday morning departure. When you’re only there for 24 hours sometimes, that could be a 50% increase in the time you’re at a location (with no additional hotel costs!).

Flight details

Now on to the actual deal itself. Google Flights has a terrific interface for looking at dates at a glance and you can quickly see that there’s tons of availability across September and October (LKF for Halloween anyone??).

SFOHKG Flights - Dates

If you’re a normal person in San Francisco, you probably fly United which is great since there’s a nonstop to HKG on United on sale. Unfortunately, you have to take a half day off on Friday, but you get a full 40 hours in Hong Kong. Additionally, this flight earns 13,854 qualifying miles which is just over 4 cents per mile (!) and would get you halfway to the next tier (aka Silver if you had not flown a single United flight this year). Most flyers we know have the United credit card so the spend requirement is waived.

SFOHKG Flights - UA

On the other hand, if you are a masochist (like us) and fly AA, here’s your best option. A little cheaper but with a layover in LAX and much less time in HKG. We would only do this flight if we sorely needed the miles (15,520 qualifying miles which gets you 60% of the way to Gold status) since you’d only get 12 hours on the ground. This flight is 3.7 cpm (an amazing deal for a weekend trip).

SFOHKG Flights - AA

18 Hours in London + 24 Hours in Milan

For all our previous trips we’ve gotten ourselves into business class by one of two ways: (1) booking an economy ticket and using AA’s systemwide upgrades or (2) using miles to book a business class award ticket. Our hope is that at some point in our lives we can outright book business class tickets using cash, but we’re not there yet! The average business class ticket to Europe from SFO runs anywhere from $5k to upwards of $8k, which is close to our airline budget for an entire year. When British Airways (BA) had a $1100-$2000 business class airfare sale in October last year, it was clear we needed to drop everything and start booking. Quite literally we did drop everything, because the number one mistake people can make booking flights is to not book soon enough. Fares can change drastically on a per-hour or even per-minute basis. So the next time you find a great airfare don’t wait to go home that evening and discuss with your friend or significant other – most airlines will give you the option to put a fare briefly on “hold” for a small fee and, of course, federal law requires that all US airlines provide a refund on any flight within 24 hours.

To that point, by the time we reacted (slight disadvantage being on the west coast) many of the fares were not actually ticketing, despite showing up on Google Flights. At that point we started frantically putting multiple flights on hold, grabbing whatever fares we could get our hands on at a reasonable price. Originally we found President’s Day flights to Barcelona and Edinburgh for $1470 and $1648, respectively. However, since the sale spanned so many different cities and also included the summer months we decided to be a bit pickier and passed on those flights (Barcelona we wanted to do a longer trip and Edinburgh…well, our hearts weren’t exactly racing to go there).

Eventually we settled on on a quick Memorial Day trip to Milan via a London layover along with a week in Greece over the 4th of July (the latter we’ll cover in our next post). Our London-Milan itinerary departed SFO Friday at 7pm to arrive in LHR the following day at 1pm. That Saturday was technically a layover before departing LHR at 7:30am Sunday morning to arrive in Milan (MXP) at 10:30am. We’d then have exactly 24 hours in Milan as our departure flight was at 10:30am on Monday, putting us back in SFO around 8pm Monday evening. The entire flight (minus the quick hop from LHR-MXP) was fully lie flat so we’d be refreshed to head back to work that Tuesday. The SFO-LHR-MXP outbound was operated by BA while the return MXP-JFK-SFO was operated by AA The round trip per-person fare was $1442, an incredible deal since economy fares to Europe routinely exceed this. To break down the metrics of this flight:

  • Total Cost = $1,442
  • Base Miles = 12,532 (e.g. “butt in seat” miles)
  • EQMs = 22,089 (the return AA portion of the flight earned double EQMs since it was a paid business class ticket)
  • Redeemable Miles (David) = 29,843
  • Redeemable Miles (Sarah) = 61,843 (she somewhat accidentally registered for a business & first promotion on AA.com that turned out to be very lucrative)
  • CPM: 11.5 cents per base mile (a “retail” priced flight if you’ll recall), <7 cents per EQM (a great deal given the painlessness of the flight)

Apart from the math, we were excited about this itinerary for several reasons. First, London is always a good idea for the food / bar scene, global culture, and ease of getting around via the Tube. Certainly London deserves a week of sightseeing – time we had dedicated last November – but it’s also a great place even if you only have a few hours. Secondly, neither of us had been to Italy before but from what we’ve heard Italy really has an embarrassment of riches as far as sightseeing goes and on a typical 10-12 day itinerary we might have been able to spend a day or two at most in Milan anyway. As such and given our travel schedule didn’t permit any vacation days at this particular time, this was the perfect opportunity to take advantage of the long weekend without impacting our work schedules.

THE FLIGHT
Part of the fun of flying business or first (or flying economy internationally with high airline status) is to take advantage of airline lounges. Unfortunately, our Friday evening departure from SFO was uneventful. The BA lounge at SFO is quite sad / small and was so full that we struggled to find a seat. Popping over to the Cathay Pacific lounge next door wasn’t any better as they weren’t serving food on that day (typically all CX lounges have a made-to-order noodle bar which is always a nice pre-flight meal).

In the travel blogging community, there is a LOT of complaining about BA. From the service to the seats, it’s hard to find anyone who has a positive thing to say apart from the price. BA has an enormous international business class (or as they call it “Club World”) with anywhere from 56 to a whopping 97 seats. It’s no wonder that they have to heavily discount in order to fill the seats; we were certainly happy to take advantage of the sale and form our own opinions.

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The single biggest complaint that people have about BA Club World is that you’re packed in there like sardines and there are few private seats, especially as a solo traveler (often the case for business travelers). As you can see in the picture above, the seats are arranged in a 2-4-2 layout. As a solo traveler your only attractive options are the window seats (in the aisle seats you’re practically sitting IN the aisle and have flight attendants constantly reaching over you and in the middle seats you have almost no privacy with your seatmate). On top of that, because of the alternating back and forth seating, during taxi, takeoff, and landing – when the middle divider must be down – you get to awkwardly stare into the eyes of a complete a stranger. Luckily, as a couple, the middle seats are quite nice once the dividers were down and there was a lot of privacy and made it easy to talk to each other.

Speaking of service, we echo the general sentiment that BA isn’t out to win any awards. Sarah was dismayed to learn that her gin and tonic would not be pre-mixed, something even domestic carriers do.

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Separately, a tomato juice was ordered but received an hour later because the flight attendant “completely forgot.” Bottom line: flying BA isn’t an experience like it is on some of the other carriers and, all else being equal, we’d likely choose business class on AA over Club World on BA. BA’s idea of an amenity kit is a cloth bag as opposed to an actual “kit.” However, it gets the job done and once you get to LHR their Terminal 5 is fantastic as are the BA lounges. While security is a real obstacle course at Heathrow, it’s key to note that if you have OneWorld status you can go in fast lanes in many areas.

LONDON
2 Hours In: 3pm Saturday
We arrived in London’s Soho district after an hour ride on the Tube. We purposely chose to stay on the Piccadilly line so that we had direct access to LHR without having to change trains. Typically we opt to stay in an Airbnb in Europe but for such a short trip it wasn’t worth the hassle. The Nadler Soho did the trick and while we barely had room to lay out suitcases flat on the ground (unfortunately a common occurrence in European hotels) we would only be spending about 7 hours in the room.

4 Hours In: 5pm Saturday
David’s favorite restaurant in London is a Spanish restaurant called Barrafina (HIGHLY recommend). The line builds early and they only have counter seats so we camped out around 4:30 and it was well worth it – if you miss the first seating you have to wait 1.5 hours.

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6 Hours In: 7pm Saturday
Perhaps the best part about visiting Europe in the summer is the abundance of daylight. The sun officially sets around 9pm but you still have light until after 10pm. This is in stark contrast to winter; last November it started getting dark around 4pm. Since it was a beautiful evening we strolled around Soho going nowhere in particular. We happened upon Grosvenor Square Garden which, ironically, is a bit of an ode to the US In the garden itself is a statue of FDR and September 11th Memorial Garden; next door is the US Embassy along with a statue of Ronald Reagan. The garden was a great example of a small corner that we would have missed (and in fact did miss) on a longer trip with a packed itinerary of all the major sights.

*NOTE* This was our first trip using the GoPro for static photos and (clearly) we are far from experts at this. We promise to keep practicing and that subsequent posts will have much better selfies.
London / Milan Memorial Day 2016

London / Milan Memorial Day 2016

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7 Hours In: 8pm Saturday
It was time for a second dinner as Barrafina proved challenging for Sarah’s dietary restrictions. We decided to repeat Sagar, an all vegetarian South Indian restaurant, that was discovered on our last visit to London. The food was solid and a reminder that Indian food in the US is sadly lacking in comparison to Europe. One of the other things we really like about short trips is that you don’t feel as bad repeating restaurants. Versus a 10 day trip where you want to eat somewhere new every night, if you’re just visiting for a weekend (or a day) you typically just go to your favorite spots.

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8 Hours In: 9pm Saturday
We strolled around Soho looking for a place to grab a drink and eventually settled on a French wine bar. Walking around just a few blocks there are so many different types of cuisines and languages being spoken (as well as a few very British pubs). As great as the food scene in SF can be, it doesn’t quite stack up to a truly international city like London.

9 Hours In: 10pm Sunday
With a 7:30am flight and a full day ahead of us in Milan it was time to call it a fairly early night.

Calm before the pre-Brexit storm…
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15 Hours In: 4am Sunday
Neither the Heathrow Express nor Tube operated early enough on Sunday morning so we took an UberX from our hotel to LHR. London transportation has really been transformed by UberX. As anyone who has been to London knows black cabs cost an arm so, for many tourists, the Tube has been the primary mode of transportation. With UberX (similar to SF), travel by car is now much more affordable.

16 Hours In: 5am Sunday
We arrived at LHR with plenty of time to spare which gave us time to check out the BA lounges in LHR Terminal 5. These lounges can get packed but luckily Sunday AM is slow time at LHR. As OneWorld Emeralds we had access to the BA first class lounges which didn’t disappoint. They had an ample breakfast buffet, including eggs benedict made to order. As part of our fact-finding mission, David sampled some of everything and Sarah appreciated that certain items were labeled “suitable for vegans”.

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18 Hours In: 7am Sunday
Full but tired, we were looking forward to passing out on the short LHR-MXP flight. Not having done research on this, we assumed that “Club Europe” (i.e. intra-Europe business class) would be similar to US domestic first class – two seater vs. three seater and more legroom than economy. It turns out that Club Europe seats are the exact same as economy but with the middle seat blocked off for the entire cabin. Objectively speaking, these may be the worst business class seats we’ve ever seen (Main Cabin Extra seats on AA are better in our opinion).

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MILAN (the clock resets)
1 Hour In: 11am Sunday
Upon arrival we hopped on a direct train to our hotel, which was directly adjacent to the main train station in Milan. For short trips such as this it’s key to minimize transit time as much as possible. We stayed at the Excelsior Hotel Gallia, which is part of SPG’s Luxury Collection. Booking via AMEX Fine Hotels and Resorts gave us an early check-in when available, upgrade when available, and 4pm late check-out. Unfortunately neither the early-check in nor upgrade were available and we wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the late checkout as we had a 10am flight to JFK. We did however have an 85 EUR food and beverage credit (in addition to free breakfast) which we planned to take advantage of.

2 Hours In: 12pm Sunday
While we originally planned to do some light sightseeing but Milan was pouring rain the entire day. We walked passed the Duomo but an extremely long wait coupled with crowds visiting for UEFA final made us head for the adjacent shopping center. Shopping was in fact our top priority for Milan as we try to purchase any and all of our luxury items in Europe. Not only is the Euro (and now Pound also) super weak currently versus the dollar, but you also get 10-12% back in VAT refunds, which effectively means everything in Europe is on sale. Milan has a beautiful covered shopping center so we spent a couple of hours there, taking advantage of the prices for Italian designers like Tod’s and Armani.

London / Milan Memorial Day 2016

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6 Hours In: 4pm Sunday
At this point we had already been up for 12+ hours and were tired, hungry, and wet so we took the train back to our hotel to have a nice dinner that evening. We called the hotel concierge and asked them to make a dinner reservation for us around 5pm. We were politely informed that the restaurant didn’t open until 7:30pm – silly us, of course only Americans (sans New Yorkers) eat that early! Since we did have an American sized hotel room, we took a couple hours to rest and freshen up.

10 Hours In: 8pm Sunday
We arrived at the hotel restaurant to find it completely empty as we clearly were the first seating. We had an excellent waiter who provided us with free wine and dessert. The chef made an off the menu simple pasta dish for Sarah, as the standard menu was full of dairy and egg. Our entire dinner was nearly three hours; we kept waiting for the bill to arrive and finally had to ask our waiter to bring it over. (Again, impatient Americans who always rush through meals!)

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13 Hours In: 11pm Sunday
After an excellent dinner it was another early-ish night as we were tired and there wasn’t any nightlife in our immediate area (we are old souls).

20 Hours In: 6am Sunday
We caught the train early to allow plenty of time at the airport as we had to visit the tax refund center. Our gate didn’t open until three hours prior to departure and we had to spend roughly an hour of that time waiting for our tax refund. Cash in hand we headed to another uneventful non-airline affiliated business class lounge.

24 Hours In: 10am Sunday
After our BA experience, this MXP-JFK flight felt more like Cathay Pacific than AA! We got an actual amenity kit, as opposed to a cloth bag, as part of AA’s new partnership with Cole Haan. Additionally, we realized that AA has an entirely different magazine for their international premium cabins – Celebrated Living versus the standard American Way. The former is catered to individuals paying full price for business/first class so the magazine featured things like $10k-per-night water bungalows and generally other destinations/experiences that were just a tad out of our price range.

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The flight landed in JFK right in the middle of Memorial Day so immigration, customs, and security were a mess. Fortunately for us, we have Global Entry/PreCheck and were in and out in just a few minutes and off to the Admirals Club (if anyone reading this does not have Global Entry/PreCheck stop reading and go apply right now). We had a three hour layover in JFK and then boarded our final leg to SFO, which is always a comfortable flight in business class.

This was our second international three-day weekend (first was President’s Day in Tokyo) and based on these two trips, we expect to do many more to come. As long as you find a way to fly in a premium cabin, it’s really not very tiring and in many cases the flight itself is part of the trip. We’re currently in the planning stage for President’s Day 2017 so be on the lookout for details in a future post!

31 Hours in Tokyo

In our previous post, we reviewed our last minute efforts to plan a President’s Day / Valentine’s Day long weekend getaway to Tokyo. TL;DR – we left off with two Japan Airlines (JAL) award tickets on hold: SFO-LAX-NRT in first class for the departure and HAN-SFO in business class on the return. These tickets weren’t ideal for a couple of reasons:

  1. The departure flight left on Saturday meaning we’d lose an entire 12 hours in Tokyo.
  2. The first flight landed at NRT which is much further from the center of Tokyo versus HAN.
  3. The HAN-SFO return flight was in business. We’d flown business already and were eager to fly first, especially given that it was only 12,500 additional miles each way.

With a couple weeks til the departure date, Sarah was tasked with checking the British Airways website multiple times a day to monitor changing award availability. The ideal ticket was a direct SFO-HAN leaving Friday (technically Saturday AM) at midnight, which would get us into Tokyo at 5am Sunday versus our current itinerary which got us in 5pm on Sunday. While this flight never became available, two first class tickets popped up on our return HAN-SFO which we quickly grabbed.

Route Fare Class # of Tickets Miles Redeemed Per Person Total Miles Redeemed Cash Cost Per Person Total Cash Cost
SFO-LAX-NRT First 2 62,500 125,000 $5.60 $11.20
HAN-SFO First 2 62,500 125,000 $38.06 $76.12
TOTAL 250,000 $87.32

We’d now be redeeming 250,000 American Airlines miles. With the upcoming AA devaluation on March 22nd, this itinerary would soon cost 320,000 AA miles. The math made sense from a points perspective but we were still a little skeptical – was going to Tokyo for 31 hours (closer to 24 hours actually in the city) a bit too crazy…even for us??

Clearly not :)

Saturday February 13th we had a 7am flight from SFO to LAX. The 3.5 hour layover gave us time to check out both One World International lounges in LAX – Qantas First Class and the One World Business Class.

Qantas First Lounge
Qantas First Lounge

While the Qantas First lounge was certainly nice, it was not on-par with other first class lounges we’ve been to (notably in HKG and HAN). The table service dining was a nice touch and the breakfast menu looked enticing but given our upcoming first class flight, we decided to pass on eating anything substantive (David had some muesli). Other than the dining area, the lounge was rather sterile. All in all, next time we’d probably skip the lounge entirely in favor of the One World Business lounge.

OneWorld Business Lounge

OneWorld Business Lounge

The One World Business lounge had a much more chic feel to it, almost like what you’d find at a W Hotel or a Virgin America lounge. The food was buffet style instead of a la carte and despite our upcoming flight, we couldn’t resist the temptation of polishing off a plate or two of tater tots.

Tater Tot Temptation

After about two hours of eating, drinking, and relaxing, we headed to our terminal to board JAL’s 777 for some more eating, drinking, and relaxing.

As we mentioned in 2015 Year in Review, we had flown JAL Business on our Christmas trip to Vietnam/Cambodia. We had a terrific experience on the business product and had high expectations for JAL First. Despite the high expectations, we were blown away by how much nicer the experience was up in front.

First off, you get a substantially larger amount of space, both length and width. As we’ve shown below (JAL First on left and JAL Business on right), you can see that there’s a substantial difference between the two. Second, while both are completely lie-flat and have a comfortable mattress pad, the first class seat is effectively a real twin-sized bed (a really comfortable one at that) whereas the business seat reminded us of the experience of sharing a bed with one too many people (comfortable, but not really much room to maneuver).

JAL First vs Business

Furthermore, the cabin feels much more intimate with only eight seats in first compared to 30+ in business. Despite having only eight seats, there were four first class flight attendants. Needless to say the flight attendants were extremely attentive. Upon boarding we were asked if we wanted to change into the complimentary JAL pajamas. Our standard long haul plane wear is athleisure anyway but we figured we might as well take this opportunity to get extra comfortable. At the end of the flight, they encourage you to take them with you, so we are now the proud owners of four sets of JAL-branded pajamas.

#JALSWAG
Sarah’s Note: Area of improvement would be to provide feminine fit jammies.
David’s Note: Pretty sure Sarah was the only female in the cabin both times, as the cabin was mostly older business travelers and other mile-hoarders like ourselves.

The food was excellent. You get served a full meal upon takeoff in addition to an “Anytime You Wish” menu being available for the length of the flight including delicious late night munchies options such as udon, ramen, curry rice, ice cream, among others. Between the dizzying array of food options and the nice bed + unlimited high-end champagne, it’s hard to decide whether to sleep or stay up! Finally, you get served breakfast before the flight lands in Tokyo.

Filet Mignon

Caviar

La Piece De Resistance (if you're vegan that is)

Upon landing in NRT we were out the door and on our bus in a matter of 10 minutes since Japan is the most efficient country on Earth, and their airports are no exception.

2 Hours In: 7pm Sunday

We checked into the Park Hyatt Tokyo and headed straight for Valentine’s Day drinks at the New York Bar (aka the “Lost in Translation bar”). The drinks are not cheap but the ambiance is unbeatable (there’s a jazz singer there in the evenings) and the bar has some of the best night time views of the city. There’s typically a cover charge after a certain time but if you’re staying at the hotel it’s waived.

NY Bar @ PH Tokyo

4 Hours In: 9pm Sunday

One of the main reasons we stayed at the Park Hyatt Tokyo was its close proximity to Shinjuku, our favorite Tokyo neighborhood and in close proximity to shopping in Shibuya and great street food in Harajuku. After drinks we decided to take a stroll in the unseasonably warm weather and walk around Shinjuku in search of some delicious late night yakitori. After finally finding Omoide Yokocho (a street full of tiny yakitori pubs), we chose one crowded with a lot of locals and had our first meal in Tokyo. We had a full next day ahead of us and were in bed by midnight.

12 Hours In: 5am Monday

We woke up at 5am thanks to the time zone and the natural light from our huge windows. For this reason, we actually find it much easier to sightsee in Asia as opposed to Europe. As an added benefit, we even had time to take some obviously staged photos of the sunrise.

Park Hyatt Sunrise

14 Hours In: 7am Monday

We walked to Yoyogi Park in the center of West Tokyo near Harajuku. We hadn’t been to this park on previous visits to Tokyo which goes to show that shorter trips can allow you to uncover hidden gems since you aren’t so busy fitting “everything” in. The park was incredibly peaceful since Monday is a work day, with only a handful of people walking through the park on their commute to work. Because we got there early, we were able to see the morning ritual from the shrine’s caretakers.

Meiji Shrine

Fountain for washing your hands and mouth before entering

Sake Barrels

17 Hours In: 10am Monday

We were getting hungry so exited the park to nearby Harajuku. We then realized that it was a tad early to be eating since most of the restaurants didn’t open until 11:30 for lunch so we popped into a local coffee shop for some morning pastries (something Tokyo does really well) and also some badly needed wifi (navigating Tokyo is very hard without Internet).

Harajuku Cafe

18 Hours In: 11am Monday

By 11am we were starving so walked over to the nearest Ichiran. For all you ramen enthusiasts, Ichiran, while definitely not the best ramen in Tokyo, is absolutely the most convenient source of quality ramen in the city. With dozens of locations spread throughout the city, no matter what neighborhood you’re in, you should be able to find one within walking distance. You order through a vending machine (with English translations) at the front and when it’s your turn you sit down at a stall, give them your order and your ramen appears a short while later, exactly to your specifications. Additionally, if you’re having trouble locating it, you can ask almost anyone on the street and they’ll know where the nearest one is.

Ichiran

Note for Vegans/Vegetarians: only pork broth here, so Sarah ate a bowl of rice with nori seaweed as David loudly slurped his ramen in the adjacent stall.

Ichiran

Ichiran

After lunch we decided to walk through Harajuku’s famous Takeshita street. As the cultural center of Tokyo’s teen fashion world, you can typically find some pretty outlandish looking outfits. However, since it was a Monday and most teens were presumably in school, we just went for the delicious street desserts. Having had the crepes before, David decided to try something new and had one of these churro-looking things.

Harajuku Snacks

Harajuku Snacker

20 Hours In: 1pm Monday

After Harajuku, we took the subway back to Shinjuku to explore the malls a bit and people watch (as well as pick up some food court snacks for Sarah).

Subway Rider

Food Court Snacks

Afterwards we hit up numerous liquor stores in search of Yamazaki 18, David’s favorite whiskey. As recently as two years ago, you could pick up this whiskey duty-free at the Tokyo airports but lately it’s been impossible to find after a string of international awards for Japanese whiskeys. After our thorough search it’s safe to say that this label is probably sold out worldwide. Multiple store owners chuckled when we walked in asking for Yamazaki 18, as I’m sure we weren’t the first naive tourists who thought we could get our hands on some of this stuff. Fortunately, David was able to pick up two bottles of Kavalan, a highly underappreciated Taiwanese whiskey with many of the same qualities as Japanese whiskey but a much lower price tag.

22 Hours In: 3pm Monday

Time for a second lunch at the excellent Sushi No Midori in the Mark City mall near Shibuya crossing. The line was 45 minutes at 3pm on a Monday, making us question if Japanese people do in fact work as hard as everyone thinks they do. David has been here several times before and it’s his go-to spot for “value sushi” (something you typically want to avoid in America) as his meal clocked in at less than $35 USD. Comparable quality sushi in San Francisco would easily clock in over $100.

Sushi No Midori

25 Hours In: 6pm Monday

At this point jetlag is suddenly starting to kick in. We are both quite literally falling asleep standing up and the temperature is about 20 degrees cooler than the previous evening. We came, we saw, we ate and even though our flight was not until midnight we decide to head to the airport early and enjoy the first class lounge.

26 Hours In: 7pm Monday

Our bus from the Park Hyatt to HAN took 45 minutes (compared to 1.5 hours to NRT); we made a mental note to only fly into HAN when possible. Security was a breeze because, to reiterate again, Japan is the most efficient country on earth. There was a separate first class security line and our shoes were presented to us on a platter by someone after we passed through the metal detectors – full service!

27 Hours In: 8pm Monday

The JAL first class lounge at HAN is an excellent experience all around. This is probably our second favorite lounge, only after Cathay Pacific’s “The Pier” first class lounge in Hong Kong. As AA Executive Platinums / One World Emeralds, we get first class lounge access while traveling on any international flight. Of course, the first class lounges are best enjoyed by actually flying first class :) The lounge has complimentary massages, an abundance of comfortable seating, lockers for luggage, a hot buffet, a chef making made to order food, and a cool champagne chocolates room with vintage relics from JAL’s history.

JAL First Lounge

JAL First Lounge

JAL First Lounge

JAL First Lounge

We knew the return flight would be difficult timing; we were completely exhausted and the flight was taking off at midnight Tokyo time, which was 8am San Francisco time. As we had to be at work on Tuesday there was no time for jetlag. We took a short nap in the lounge and tried to stay awake for as long as possible on the return flight.

31 Hours In (Midnight Tuesday)

We had different seats for the return versus departure, across the aisle from each other on the departure and together in the middle on the return. Both had pros and cons for a couple traveling together. It was easier to talk when we were next to each other in the middle, but more difficult to go over and “visit” the other person’s seat as you’d have to walk all the way around through the flight attendant’s gallery (definite first world problems, we realize, but when you’re splurging for first class, it makes sense to optimize each detail).

The return flight flew by, clocking in at just 8.5 hours. We – sadly – arrived in SFO 30 minutes ahead of schedule just before 5pm. This was excellent timing as we still had a few hours to enjoy our President’s Day before heading back to work. Given that our journey was so comfortable we weren’t tired and went to bed Monday evening at a normal time. Overall, this weekend was a lot of fun and well worth the 250,000 miles that we redeemed for our two first class tickets. Of course there is still much to do and see in Tokyo, and we’re hoping that one of our next actual vacations will be a week or two exploring other places in Japan such as Kyoto, Osaka and Hokkaido.

A Whole New World
Sarah watching Aladdin on the return flight. JAL First is the closest she’s ever gotten to a magic carpet ride.

14 Hours in Orlando

We are always on the look-out for cheap flights for a weekend getaway. In July 2015 FlyerTalk alerted us of a $186 round trip rate from SFO-MCO (Orlando) for February 2016. $186 for a cross country flight is an amazing deal so we jumped on it immediately. FAA regulations require airlines to give either 24 hour cancellation or 24 hour hold (AA has holds) so we immediately put two tickets on hold for a weekend that worked.

Back to our flight, the routing was SFO-DFW-MCO / MCO-CLT-SFO and would earn us 5,245 elite qualifying miles and 10,490 redeemable miles. At a price of $186 this equaled out to a 4 CPM. Anything below a 5 CPM is entering into mileage running territory so this flight was a no brainer. We were set to depart SFO @ 5am on Saturday, arriving in MCO @ 3:30pm. Our flight out the next Sunday morning was at 5:30am, giving us just enough time for an evening in Orlando.

A week or so after booking the flight we realized that it was Super Bowl weekend. We knew the 2016 Super Bowl would be held in San Francisco so it was very convenient that our flight landed at noon, just a couple hours before kickoff. This jogged our memory that we also went on a semi-mileage run during Super Bowl weekend in 2015. After monitoring other airfares that weekend closer to the date it’s safe to make the assertion that Super Bowl weekend is a very cheap weekend to travel…anywhere except the Super Bowl that is. Domestic routes all seemed below average in price so if you aren’t a football fan mark your calendar for February 5, 2017 and start planning a weekend getaway to anywhere but Houston.

While typically we would factor a hotel room into our mileage run costs, Sarah’s parents are Disney Vacation Club members so we were able to stay at a nice Disney hotel at no additional cost. While most people go to the parks at Walt Disney World or Universal Studios while in Orlando, the short duration and time of year made that less appealing. Instead, we decided to make a reservation at the highly-touted Victoria & Albert’s located at Disney’s Grand Floridian. While Michelin doesn’t rate any restaurants in Florida, V&A has been a nominee for James Beard’s “Best in the South” award 8 of the last 9 years. Known as the hardest Disney dining reservation to get, we tasked our handy Amex Platinum Concierge to call them repeatedly right when they opened 180 days in advance to secure the reservation.

With a flight landing at 3:30pm and a high end dinner less than three hours afterwards we seemed a bit crunched for time. It was clear we needed to take advantage of one of our favorite AA perks for Executive Platinum members – free same day confirmed change. Luckily AA’s earliest SFO-DFW route departs at 12:30am so we were able to push our 5am flight to 12:30am, along with an earlier connecting DFW-MCO flight. Had this redeye actually been on Friday night, say departing at 11:59 pm, we would have been out of luck. Also, thanks to status, we were first on the upgrade priority list on all four segments and were upgraded both directions. (Generally non-transcon domestic upgrades aren’t that exciting but AA was repositioning one of their international A330s so we were fully lie flat on the short 1-hour hop from CLT to MCO!)

Lie Flat

Now arriving in Orlando at 10:30am on Saturday morning, our 14 hours in Orlando became 19 hours. We landed at MCO, traveled to our hotel, took a mid-day nap and then the monorail over to our amazing V&A’s dinner. (Unofficially, we give this place two Michelin stars.)

V&A's 3      V&A's 4     V&A's 2

When most people go to Orlando they’re focused on visiting the Disney theme parks or Universal Studios/Harry Potter and, as a result, oftentimes overlook or can’t squeeze in something like Victoria & Albert’s which is outside the parks. This was a great case where the short time on the ground was actually additive to our enjoyment of a trip since we were able to leisurely enjoy our dinner then go back to our hotel to watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks from our room, rather than scrambling around in the park and waiting in long lines. (Note for the future: request a higher level room to avoid the parking lot.)

Bay Lake Fireworks

Tune in for our next post where we’ll cover our 3-day weekend trip to Tokyo in Japan Airlines First Class!

JAL First Class (David eating)

President’s Day is Two Weeks Away and We Have No Plans

Holiday weekends are a great opportunity to take an extended trip without using any vacation days. With three days off from work even going to East Asia or Western Europe isn’t out of the question. We’ve been monitoring President’s Day 2016 flights (which, this year, falls on Monday Feb 15th) for a while and nothing jumped out at us. A road trip from SF to LA seemed like the best option until we decided to think bigger – a quick weekend in Tokyo or Hong Kong.

 Airline status is a vicious cycle where you must fly thousands of miles every year to maintain top tier status, thus accruing even more redeemable miles; however, you don’t want to use miles for too many award tickets because then you don’t earn any qualifying miles. Confused yet? We’ve broken it down using our specific travel situation as an example:

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In short, we have quite a few AA miles to redeem, particularly considering that all of our planned flights year to date have been paid for in cash. Many people look for quick wins with miles – getting a so called “free” domestic economy flight. The reality is that unless a route is extremely expensive (think $800+) it’s better to pay cash for domestic flights and free up your valuable miles for international business or first class.

American is part of the OneWorld alliance which, although the smallest, offers two great partner airlines – Japan Airlines (JAL) and Cathay Pacific (CX). This past Christmas in Vietnam we flew JAL business class from SFO to Tokyo Haneda (HND) but are anxious to try first class on that same route. Likewise, we flew regional business class from Tokyo Haneda to Hong Kong (HKG) but would love to fly business or first on their transpacific route from SFO to HKG.

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Disclaimer: Searching for OneWorld Award availability is not for the lazy traveler. You can’t book tickets online and there is no one-size-fits-all search engine. The Points Guy wrote a post about Searching For One World Availability so we won’t aim to duplicate this great guide. As people who typically book international flights 10 months out the idea of booking an international trip (and an award ticket nonetheless) two weeks out was a tad out of our comfort zone. Award availability is extremely unpredictable; so much so that different flights/cabin classes were available Saturday night versus the next Sunday morning versus the next Monday afternoon. This is actually one case where booking last minute travel can pay off as partner airline award tickets are priced at a flat rate and more award seats can open closer to the date, depending on how full premium cabins are.

Below is our flight criteria:

  • Cannot take any vacation days off so flight must leave after work on Friday Feb 12th or Sat Feb 13th and return on/by Monday Feb 15th.
  • Direct flights are ideal though we are open to one reasonable connection in LAX.
  • Cathay Pacific or JAL-operated flights are preferred though we’d consider AA-operated flights in first class if it’s on a newer plane.
  • Final destination is either Tokyo (Narita or Haneda) or Hong Kong.

We ended up finding two first class tickets from SFO to Tokyo Narita (NRT) via LAX and two business class tickets from Tokyo Haneda (HAN) to SFO on the return. As Executive Platinums we can ticket these and redeposit the miles back into our account at any time (essentially they are “fully refundable”). This allows us to periodically monitor award availability for different routing.

Let’s take a look at the total cost of these flights:

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While 112,500 miles per person for a weekend trip seems like a lot, at the retail value of the flights ($13,076 pp), we were definitely getting our money’s worth (11.6 CPP aka cents per point). Acknowledging that most people (including ourselves) would never pay for a business or first class cash ticket, here’s how we think of the actual value we’re getting:

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Everyone values premium travel differently; some don’t value it at all, preferring to to take double the amount of trips in economy versus half the amount in business. For us, getting there is half the fun and the level of fun is the same whether it’s a weekend trip or a three week long trip.

Whether your preferred cabin is economy, business, or first award availability is easiest to find when you have a flexible schedule (i.e. you are a full time travel blogger!) and there some routes that we have yet to make work – Europe in the summer being one of them. However, you can find award tickets that work with even a limited amount of time and vacation days, sometimes even on holiday weekends.

As mentioned, our plans are tentative so we’ll do a follow up post in a couple of weeks with our final routing/city and how we maximized time/minimized hotel nights to enjoy a quick weekend away in Asia, all in time to be back at work Tuesday morning. If everything else falls through we can still always drive to LA; we still haven’t figured out how to earn redeemable miles through driving (if anyone knows how to, please let us know!)

2015 Year In Review & Inspiration

Some might say that airline miles brought us together as a couple. Within a month of dating we embarked on our first vacation to Hong Kong: David purchased 90k US Airways Dividend Miles for $1,800 to fly business class around the world, while Sarah on the other hand, new to the world of award tickets and airline status, paid $1,500 for a last minute one-way economy ticket from SFO-HKG and used 60k of David’s miles for a return one-way ticket in economy (debt still unpaid, David notes). There is nothing quite like walking to the back to your United economy seat which you paid an exorbitant price for to fly 14 hours without TV or outlets, and passing your significant other lounging luxuriously in business class. From that moment on it was clear that we needed a joint points plan so that we could travel the world, in the same cabin, together.

Fast forward two years and if you ask either of us what our weekend plans are, you don’t get the standard Bay Area answer of Tahoe or Napa; more commonly we’re off to NYC, Hawaii, or on a seemingly crazy mileage run. We aren’t consultants, we don’t work from home, and we aren’t trust fund babies (though we wish we were!). We’re two professionals in our mid-twenties with normal jobs in tech and finance where our companies grant us the standard American three weeks of vacation time. Despite this, here are all the places we traveled together to in 2015: Paris, Denver, Dallas, Cabo, Honolulu, Puerto Rico, New York, Miami, Houston, Portland, Austin, Toronto, Los Angeles, Nashville, Vegas, China, London, Dubai, Vietnam, Cambodia.

In 2015 we each achieved American Airline’s highest (minus the invite only Concierge Key) level of status: Executive Platinum, which we qualified for by flying a total of 100k miles in a calendar year. These trips cost each of us a grand total of 15 days days off work and <10% of travel came from work-related trips. By effectively utilizing weekend travel, credit cards and our best friend, Google Flights, we’re able to travel significantly more than conventional wisdom should allow. For this first post we’d like to share our top five travel hacks from 2015 (in chronological order):

#1 – Cabo San Lucas, Mexico Mileage Run (January 2015)

January is great time of year to find low airfares since it’s typically a low travel season as everyone has returned to work after the holiday break. Additionally, Cabo San Lucas was hit by a hurricane in 2014 so many resorts were on sale as they rebuilt. Perusing Google Flights one day we found a solid deal: $308 from SFO to Cabo, but we’d have to layover in Dallas for a night. As a geography refresher, Cabo is on Mexico’s west coast and a 3-hour direct flight from SFO. Flying via DFW was thousands of miles out of the way so no normal traveler would want to book this flight. However, this was a great flight for us for three reasons:

  1. Flying SFO-DFW-SJD would earn us 4,974 miles (almost the same as flying to NYC!) for $308 which works out to 6 “cents per mile” (we think of a “retail” flight as 10 CPM and a reasonable fare as 8 CPM. Last year we averaged 7 CPM across all flights). We were trying to frontload the year with miles to help us hit our 100k goal so this would be a great way to start the year.
  2. The layover in DFW was long enough to see family on both ways so we incurred no additional cost by spending Friday night in Dallas.
  3. Neither of us had been to Cabo before so it seemed like a nice way to spend an otherwise dreary Saturday in San Francisco.

#2 – San Juan, Puerto Rico Mileage Run (May 2015)

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In April 2015 we went on a group trip with friends to Puerto Rico for four days. With no direct flights from the west coast, AA travelers will need to connect in either DFW or MIA. A plus about visiting Puerto Rico, versus other Caribbean islands, is that you don’t need a passport since it’s a US territory. For some reason flights to SJU from SFO on AA are always very reasonably priced and we found an opportunity to fly this same route again in May, this time for a mileage run. At $415, we’d earn 7,260 miles for a 6 CPM – sign us up!

Our original flight had pretty terrible flight timing: Friday night red eye, 4.5 hour layover in MIA, 5 hour layover in SJU, then back to MIA landing at 11pm and flying back MIA-SFO at 7:30am Sunday. The layovers weren’t long enough for us to actually leave the airport and we were much more interested in going to Miami versus our actual destination of San Juan! However, as AA Platinums (at the time), we were entitled to same day standby – meaning, we could waitlist for an earlier flight and if seats were available our itineraries would be changed at no cost. Luckily, mid-May was a low travel weekend and our plan succeeded: upon arriving in MIA from the redeye we stood by for the first flight to SJU and also had the gate agent put us on standby for the next flight BACK to MIA from SJU. We were in-and-out of SJU within 30 minutes and arrived back in MIA around 2pm – MUCH better than our original 11pm and we met up with some friends at a pool party in South Beach.


#3 – China: San Jose Airport and Labor Day Are Underrated (September 2015)

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Most people plan a large summer vacation in June or July as that is thought of as the typical vacation season. However, unless you’re working around school schedules there is really no reason to travel in the summer: flights (particularly to Europe) are very expensive and many popular tourist destinations are crowded. This brings us to the importance of Labor Day: weather is close to perfect nearly everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere and building a vacation in during Labor Day allows you to take advantage of that three day weekend without needing an extra day off work. We were able to find a round trip flight to China for $868 and our routing of SJC-LAX-PVG-PEK-DFW-SJC would earn us a whopping 15,394 miles for 6 CPM! Normally someone would have paid about $1200 for this flight so we managed to lower the cost two key ways:

  1. We flew out of San Jose versus SFO. The great thing for Bay Area travelers is that we have three airports: SFO, OAK, and SJC. SFO is the most convenient to get to for people who live in San Francisco and also has the most international flights; in fact the majority of our flights are out of SFO. However, it’s always worth checking all three airports for alternate routes that may save you money or even have better routing. As AA loyalists we connect a lot in LAX; for this trip flying the LAX leg from SJC vs. SFO saved us $300 round trip per person, which more than made up for the $75 UberX from San Jose to San Francisco.
  2. Flying into Shanghai and out of Beijing was cheaper than round trip LAX-Shanghai and since we were planning on visiting Jinan in the middle, we commuted through China on their excellent high-speed rail system. In countries/regions that can be traveled by train, always check flights into one place and out another.

An additional perk was getting to fly AA’s new Dreamliner which at that point was only on the DFW-PEK route! Google Flights makes it very easy to book “multi-city” itineraries such as the one we booked.


#4 – San Francisco to London via…Dubai? (November 2015)

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London is a consistently expensive destination for several reasons: lots of commercial activity between the US and the UK, very approachable international destination for Americans due to the common language/culture, and incredibly high airport taxes that the UK imposes. We chose to fly over Thanksgiving week, a busy period for domestic travel but a great time to travel internationally if you can deal with chilly weather. You have the added bonus of being able to take an entire week off work with only 2.5 – 3 vacation days (who really works on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving?!). When we originally checked flights from SFO-LHR, they were in the $1,500+ range; this is a price that most travelers are willing to pay but given that this route is only 10,734 miles this was over our 10 CPM threshold. We decided to look at the Google Flights map for the prices at other nearby destinations around the same time, given that LHR is such a massive BA hub with lots of connections. Lo and behold we could fly SFO-LHR, then continue onto Dubai for a round trip cost of $1,167. This SFO-LHR-DXB routing meant that technically we were on a 5-day “layover” in London. This routing earned us a 2015 record of 17,574 miles for a single trip coming in at a 7 CPM. Dubai was a city both of us had been curious about and it was an easy redeye flight (in this case a Thanksgiving Thursday night red eye) from London, giving us all day Saturday and all day Sunday to explore before flying back DXB-LHR-SFO at 2am Monday morning.


#5 – Vietnam: Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines Business Class (December 2015)

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Prior to the merger of US Airways and American Airlines, US Airways offered round trip business class award tickets from the US to Asia for 110k miles. This amount has since gone up so we seized the opportunity to book international business class 10 months out. We were both low on airline miles so we used three different tactics to acquire them:

  1. At the end of 2014, US Airways had a sale on their Dividend Miles where you got a 100% bonus on any purchased miles (note that we rarely advocate “buying” miles from the airlines as it’s usually a poor value but there are exceptions). Purchasing 30k miles plus the bonus of 30k miles meant that 60k miles cost  $1,129 which meant we were paying 2 cents per point (CPP) – not a great value usually, but pretty good given that we were going to redeem them for a Christmastime business class flight to Asia (~$5,000 or ~4.5 CPP).
  2. We both signed up for the US Airways Dividend Miles credit card which has since transitioned to an American Airlines AAdvantage card. At the time, this card offered a bonus of 40k miles.
  3. We had previously signed up for a Starwood AMEX, with a signup bonus of 30k SPG points. US Airways was a transfer partner of Starwood so we each transferred SPG points to cover the balance.

The 60k purchased miles + 40k credit card miles + 10k SPG points converted to miles gave us 110k miles needed to book the flight. The total “cost” for our ticket including purchasing the miles and taxes/fees was $1,216 – far from free but still a great value for lie flat international business class on Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines. More details to come in a later post but international business class seems to make all the domestic mileage runs worth it in the end :)


In 2016, we’ll be sharing stories of our travels near and far. We’ve got some exciting stuff planned; as quick preview: 13 hours in Orlando, 24 hours in Milan, British Airways’ amazing business class summer sale, and why AA’s SFO-DFW painful 3.5 hour redeye is (unfortunately) becoming one of our most common flights. Unlike many travel bloggers, we work full time jobs so the majority of our trips are very achievable as they involve a Friday night flight after work that returns on Sunday evening. We hope that Friday Night Red Eye informs our readers about how to become more efficient and strategic with travel and, most importantly, inspires everyone to live (as Cathay Pacific says) a “life well traveled.”