The Elusive Upgrade

Happy New Year!

We are back home in Abu Dhabi after a really great travel day last week. On Thursday morning, Tony packed up and left Geneva for Paris. He booked our flights on points and for our return flight there was not reward availability for all three of us to book the direct flight Geneva to Abu Dhabi. Instead Tony booked two business class seats on that flight for Matteo and I, and then booked a three leg flight path for himself that would take him home by going Geneva back to Paris, then to Doha, Qatar where he would have a 7 hour layover before flying to Abu Dhabi on Qatar Airlines. Tony genuinely enjoys flying and had not yet flown on Qatar Airlines so he was excited for the chance to check it out — especially since he was able to book first class seats for the latter two legs of the trip.

Tony left in the morning, leaving Matteo and I the majority of the day to pack and relax. Our flight was at 8:30 pm, so there was no rush to get to the airport. Our Airbnb host kindly let us move check out from the default 11 am until 4 pm — which we greatly appreciated! We were lucky that there was not another guest scheduled to come in on the same day. I scheduled an Uber to pick us up from the apartment shortly after 4pm and Matteo and I made our way to Geneva International Airport.

The airport was very busy with holiday travelers, but we found the staff kind and professional. Because we were so early for our flight, we had to wait for about an hour before we could even get in line to check our suitcase with Etihad, but we passed the time as best we could. Matteo hung out in his stroller (we still love our City Mini!) and watched some downloaded episodes on his iPad while we waited. Once it hit 5:30, three hours before our flight, we were able to check in for our flight, make our way through security, and go to the lounge to wait. The lounge had light snacks and beverages, wifi, comfy chairs and bite sized swiss chocolates that kept Matteo happy while we waited.

When we got to our gate to board our flight, we were quickly called for boarding. Upon giving our boarding passes to be scanned, the Etihad employee asked me to step aside as they needed to print new boarding passes for us. I just reminded them that I was traveling with a minor and asked that they make sure our seats were together — he double checked the computer, smiled, and let me know that our seats were still together, but we were being upgraded from business class to first class.

I was so excited! I knew the flight wasn’t sold out, and even though I’ve heard of frequent fliers being upgraded before, I’d never experienced it for myself. This was a great flight for it too — I was flying by myself with a 4 year old, and it was an overnight flight where the added comfort meant a far better chance for sleep. When we boarded the plane, we excitedly checked out the first class cabin. Matteo and I definitely got some skeptical and worried looks from fellow first class passengers, and I totally understood as we all know that a small child can be a wild card on a flight. I was so proud, though, as he quickly showed his skills as a frequent flyer. He sat down, fastened his seatbelt, enjoyed a water and a cookie, and was asleep before the plane even took off.

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Just boarded and settling in to his first class seat

I stayed awake longer than I would have had I not been seated in first class, but I wanted to experience it! The Etihad service is phenomenal — kind and attentive. They were so helpful with Matteo too. Noticing that he was already asleep, a flight attendant grabbed me right after take off (when the crew is up and moving, but passengers are required to remain seated) so that we could recline Matteo’s sleep in to the bed position and get his sheets and blankets right away. I thought that was so kind! It worked too — Matteo was asleep from before take off until I had to wake him upon descent in to Abu Dhabi airport.

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Trying to get back on schedule! I try to wake him, he tries to sleep.

Longer trips are definitely harder on Matteo now as compared to when he was younger. We arrived last Friday morning, and as I write this on Wednesday morning we are still struggling to get him in bed before 11 pm Abu Dhabi time — and we are only dealing with a 3 hour time change between here and Paris/Geneva. Thankfully, we still have until January 8th before Matteo has to go back to school, so there’s still time to adjust. Getting back in to the routine of school will be great for him — he is really missing his friends.

It is always nice to be home, but made even more so as we returned to Abu Dhabi at its prime season — lovely mild weather and tourists everywhere. To our family and friends who are/will/might consider a trip here — whether to visit us or not — this is the time of year to do it! It is gorgeous!

We don’t have any trips booked yet for 2017, but have some ideas we’re working through and will be excited to share them as they are booked. For now, we’re ready to enjoy January here in Abu Dhabi, and plan to do some activities here as we enjoy the city that will be bursting with tourists for the next few months.

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Arriving in Paris

Bonjour from Paris!

Christmas vacation is here! That means we get to spend ten days in Paris and three in Geneva!

Before the vacation could begin though, we had to get to Paris. Fresh off of practically 24 hour travel days getting to/from Malaysia, I was so relieved that this time we would only have to deal with one direct flight Abu Dhabi to Paris. Utilizing our American Airlines points, Tony was able to secure Business Class seats for the 7.5 hour flight.

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Frequent Flier

When booking an Etihad flight with American Airlines points, you don’t get to choose your seats and so while we ended up with two seats next to each other, the third seat was four rows up and on the opposite aisle. Up in row 8, Tony got to relax, sip champagne and watch movies while back in row 12 with Matteo, it took me 4 hours to get through a 1.5 hour long movie, and I ended up logging about 1,000 steps according to my Withings watch with only 2 steps between my seat and Matteo’s.

I kid, I kid. Honestly, Matteo was great on the flight, but he was busy; wanting/needing snacks, distractions, the iPad, his headphones, his batman toys, activity pack, stickers, all at different times and then back out again once I had put them all away. Oh well, he still does GREAT flying and for that we are so grateful.

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Matteo outside the beautiful Notre Dame

We arrived in Paris at around 2 pm local time. Getting through passport control and collecting our bags was a piece of cake. My favorite part of flying business class with Etihad is their chauffeur service — a ride to/from the airport. By the time we left the airport in Paris, we were beginning to hit rush hour. It ended up taking almost 2 hours to get to our Airbnb apartment in the Opera district but we just got to sit back and relax.

The Airbnb we’re staying at is a first floor, 2 bedroom apartment with a kitchenette and tiny bathroom. We’ve been very pleased with the location. The only negative is that the washer/dryer isn’t working — which is a bummer as when packing as lightly as possible, we factored in being able to do laundry at the 2 Airbnbs we’re staying at on the front and back end of the trip. For what it’s worth, Matteo’s doing his part to lessen the dirty laundry pile by insisting on wearing the same superhero shirt for the last three days.

Each day, we choose a “big” attraction to see in the morning (when Matteo’s at his best) and then “secondary” sightseeing for the afternoon. So far we’ve been able to visit the Sacre-Coeur, Notre Dame, and we’ve taken a river cruise down the Seine as well as vintage shopping, visiting the Lego store, shopping at Galeries Lafayette, and browsing the shelves at the beautiful book store Shakespeare & Company.

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View of Paris from the Sacre-Coeur

The food we’ve sampled so far in Paris has been wonderful! One of the ways we save money when traveling is by only eating two meals a day (a late breakfast or early lunch + dinner) and thanks to the Airbnb, we’ve been able to grocery shop in order to avoid eating out every meal, but what we have had, we’ve enjoyed. Of note was a beautiful breakfast/brunch near the Sacre-Couer at a restaurant called Hardware Society. YUM. We’ve also indulged a bit in street food — there’s a crepe stand about a block away from our Airbnb. We also walked through the Christmas market at the Champs Elysees, and each sampled a treat along the way (Tony ordered mini pancakes with fresh strawberries, I had a beignet).

We are really enjoying our time in Paris so far. The good thing about being here for 10 days is knowing that we can take our time — our days don’t have to be packed from morning to night in order to see it all. And that slower pace is nice for Matteo too, who definitely needs a break now and then in order to stay happy as we travel (that, and a stready diet of Goldfish crackers and McDonald’s chicken nuggets).

Tomorrow we check out of the Airbnb and in to the Park Hyatt. It will be fun to get to see another Paris neighborhood and we know from experience that the Park Hyatt amenities will be second to none. I’ll be looking forward to sharing more of our trip over the coming week.

Au revoir!

p.s. Thank you to Tony’s high school French teacher, wherever you are. He retained enough knoweldge from his two years of French to do quite nicely ordering food and asking simple questions. I am so impressed!

Luxury to London

 

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Etihad Apartment on the A380

Abu Dhabi to London is neither a quick nor easy flight by most people’s standards with about 8 hours in flight time from runway to runway.  It certainly seems out of the way to go for an extended weekend break. Thanks to the world of airlines miles and points traveling, though,  this route can be a once in a lifetime experience on its own even without experiencing the destination. Having just returned from 4 nights in London, I can easily say that this trip served as a wonderful reminder of why we started earning miles and points and got into this travel hacking game in the first place.

For 40,000 American Airlines miles each way and about $350 in taxes I was able to find availability to experience the most luxurious and private cabin in air travel booking the Etihad A380 “apartment” in the sky en route to London to watch Chelsea take on Stoke City on March 5.  My trip began Thursday morning with a 9:00 am departure and finished on Monday night with an 8:30 pm arrival back into Abu Dhabi from Heathrow.  In between I was able to explore London, get a taste of a real winter, take in a Chelsea match, and take a day trip to Birmingham to visit some friends.

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Etihad Lounge Abu Dhabi 1st Class Section

 

The travel expereince began early on Thursday morning as I was greeted with a chauffeur at my apartment, picking me up in an Audi A4 — this pick up service is complimentary for all premium cabin passengers traveling aboard Etihad.  After a quick 10-minute ride to the airport, I was greeted curb side with a luggage porter who quickly grabbed my bags and escorted me to the private business/first class check in in Etihad’s dedicated Abu Dhabi Terminal.  At the first class check-in counter there was at least a dozen agents in the lobby and I was the only guest.  I was quickly greeted, offered a new boarding pass, and then escorted the 25 steps to a dedicated passport control agent.  Before I knew it, I was past security and on my way to the Etihad premium lounge.

The lounge itself was large and fairly crowded, but there was plenty of space to stretch out, relax, and order an omlette.  First class passengers were given a roped off area in the lounge offering more privacy and were also offered a complimentary treatment at the lounge’s Six Senses Massage facility — including the option of a haircut or shave in the barber shop.  At 8:00 am, I made my way to enjoy a wet shave prior to boarding — I had a wonderfully close shave with a straight razor — and then headed a few hundred meters down to Gate 10 where passengers were already boarding.

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Barber Services @ Shave
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View of the A380 from the jet-way in Abu Dhabi

Boarding the A380 was an unusual experience since it is a double decker plane; the premium cabin is on the upper deck and had a separate boarding gate from economy passengers.  Aboard the plane there are 8 private apartments and one 3 room “residence” which comes with a personal butler.  Of the 8 available apartments,  5 were occupied on my flight in addition to two passengers in the residence up front.  Upon arriving in my booked apartment 3K, I was blown away at the amount of space and the beauty of the cabin.  The color tone and designs worked perfectly together. The entire cabin was inspired by many of the design elements of Islamic architecture and the middle east that emphasize symmetry, patterns, and creative lighting.  The apartment is designed to have a seating area, that faces a long bench which can be folded out into a bed (made up upon request).  Additionally, there was a mini-fridge, a lit vanity, drawer for personal storage, personal coat closet, and 24” TV screen that rotates so it can be viewed while laying in bed or stays flush with the cabin wall for viewing while seated.

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One of 8 apartments aboard the A380
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Etihad A380 Apartment from the aisle
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My home for 8 hours, Apartment 3K
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Plenty of room

After taking in the beauty and luxury of the cabin, the flight crew came over one by one to introduce themselves and offer me a pre-flight drink.  I ordered a cappuccino that came on a beautiful silver tray complete with dates, a hot towel, and a hand written welcome note from the crew leader on board.  Shortly after I had my drink, the on board chef came by and went over the “on-demand” dining menu and I ordered an omlette to be served after takeoff along with a sparkling water.  I was also given my choice of timings for taking a shower during the flight and booked an appointment for an hour before landing.   As we reached cruising altitude I was served some tea, along with a dish of warmed almonds, cashews, and a few olives.  My omlette was delivered to my apartment about 30 minutes after we reached cruising altitude and the dining experience was nothing short of five stars with a table cloth, fine china, and Etihad branded designer flatware.

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Bench and Blanket
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Seat Control/Storage/Entertainment remote

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Wonderful Personalized Welcome

After breakfast the table was cleared and I scrolled through the in flight entertainment which featured live TV and radio stations in addition to hundreds of on demand movies and television shows for streaming.  The “E-box” selection was extensive and it included many new releases; during this flight I watched The Big Short and Apollo in addition to streaming BBC news and CNN international live.  About 4 hours into the flight, I had the bed made up and decided to get in a little nap and test out the bed. The crew made up the bed ,outfitting the bench with a mattress pad, sheets and an additional pillow for sleeping.  While they made up the bed I changed into my Etihad sleepwear which was handed out at the start of the flight.  When I returned the bed was made up and I got a quick hour of sleep.  I didn’t want to sleep too long since it was the middle of the day, but if this were a red-eye flight it would be easy to get hours of uninterrupted rest as I found the bed quite comfortable;  it was on the firm side which is perfect for me.

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Etihad Apartment in Bed Mode
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A lovely Rose
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Fried Tomato 

After my brief nap, I ordered the salmon lunch which was delicious.  Along with the Salmon I had a glass of Duval Leroy Brut Rose along with a glass of sparkling water.  The salmon was phenomenal and the entire presentation was amazing again.  After the salmon, I had a cheese tray along with a glass of 12 year Glenlivet.  Shortly after lunch, I was given a towel and taken to the shower suite as it was time for my designated appointment.  Last summer on our Amtrak trip from LA to Seattle, we had a shower in our train cabin, and while this shower was larger than the Amtrak option, it was not large by any means.  The shower was a bit of a novelty but it was also quite refreshing to arrive in London showered and ready to explore the city.  Though not large, the shower’s water pressure was good, the body wash and shampoo were terrific, the water was hot and the experience was memorable.  After heading back to my apartment, I ordered a gin and tonic (of course) and settled in for the last 45 minutes or so of the flight.

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Cheese & Scotch

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A380 Shower
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Shower View
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Arrival into London
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Chaueffer at Heathrow 
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Ride into Town

The flight arrived in London early and by the time we were at the jet way it was about 12:15. All premium passengers were given fast track cards for passport control and this allowed me to breeze through the airport stopping only briefly at the passport counter and then waiting an additional 5 minutes for my checked bag to arrive.  At Heathrow there was an Etihad counter with the chaffier driver’s ready to take passenger’s to their final destination and this was complimentary up to 100-mile radius of the airport (an additional charge for anything past 100 miles).  My chauffer met me and escorted me to a beautiful BMW 7 series and we headed into London to my Airbnb in the Victoria neighborhood.  It was about a 45 minutes ride with traffic and it was great to head straight to my destination without having to bother with the Heathrow Express into town.

By 1:00 pm I was at my destination and ready to begin the next leg of my weekend adventure in the UK.  Overall, I was thoroughly impressed with every aspect of the flight and transfer in both Abu Dhabi and London. Etihad has really spared no expense or detail when it comes to their premium 1st class product.  It was a memorable experience and it made me excited to try again in a few days time upon my return from London.

Ringing in the New Year @ 36,000 Feet

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Etihad A330 Business Class Cabin

So far since our move to Abu Dhabi, we have booked two award trips as a family which allows to save money while still traveling in more comfort than we could reasonably afford other wise.  We originally booked a return from Munich on Air Berlin and had a long layover in Dusseldorf.  A few weeks before we left for the trip I was able to find a direct flight to Abu Dhabi on Etihad Airways in business class.  This upgrade cost us an additional 10,000 American Airlines miles each — the award ticket is 30,000 miles one way for business class as opposed to 20,000 miles in economy from when flying from Europe to the Middle East.

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Chocolate Santa’s in the Atlantic Lounge @ Munich Airport (not our Chanel bag)

Upon arrival at the Munich  airport we were fast tracked through check in, bag drop, security, passport control, and boarding (though admittedly none of these areas had any delays or lines since the airport was pretty quite at 7:00 pm on New Years Eve).  We found ourselves in the Atlantic Lounge in Munich in no time at all with more than 1.5 hours to spare before boarding.  While we enjoyed the pre-flight treatment traveling in business class, we would have had lounge access anyhow thanks to our priority club membership. The real reason we wanted this flight was for the onboard experience of Etihad business class.

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Toasting to the New Year at Altitude 

Remade our way to our departure gate at about 9:00 pm where we quickly boarded through the jetway and made our way to the business class cabin. The cabin was configured in a 1-2-1 formation allowing direct aisle access for every seat.  Jen and Teo had two adjoining seats, angled into each other which allowed her to help him with his meal/ipad/bed without having to move around the cabin to reach him thanks to the “honeymoon” style setup.  I was seated in the row in front of them with my seat facing out towards the aisle which gave much more privacy even though the seat next to me was empty the whole flight.

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Couldn’t wait for his “bed seat”

We have flown Etihad economy half a dozen times the last year and have always been impressed with their crews, service, and attention to detail.  We had another wonderful service experience by the business class team who paid attention to every last detail and made sure to give special attention to Matteo (including giving him a special children’s amenity kit which he loved).  Pre-flight drinks were immediately handed out and my champagne flute was refilled every time I turned around.  As soon as we reached cruising altitude, the crew sprang into action with a 3 course dinner service that started with a ramekin of warm nuts, followed by a starter, main course, dessert, and finally a cocktail or coffee/tea.   I chose the Artichoke soup as my started (which was delicious), went with the salmon main dish (good but a touch  over cooked), and finished with a cappuccino and some strawberry ice cream.

After watching some TV episodes on the expansive Etihad in flight entertainment during the meal, we all fell asleep for a good portion of the flight and before we knew it we were prepping for our landing. We were ready to get home to Abu Dhabi as it was now 7:00 am local time after losing 4 hours through the night to time changes.  We were given fast track passes to go through immigration and once we landed we flew through immigration, collected our bags which were awaiting us at the carousel and then headed to the Etihad Arrivals lounge.  We stopped to freshen up and grab a quick snack for breakfast.  One of the nice touches of Etihad premium cabin tickets is that it includes chauffeur service to anywhere in the UAE upon arrival.  We didn’t have to worry about a cab or airport pickup as we had a brand new Audi A6 awaiting us to quickly shuttle us home in style.  Overall we had a terrific flight home which was possible only through earning points and redeeming them for terrific value.

An Apartment in the Sky

Following Chelsea and travel hacking are two of my favorite hobbies, and this March the two will converge into a ridiculously luxorious weekend in London.  Though this season has been a bit difficult for a Chelsea supporter, I am ecstatic for the opportunity to make my way to Stamford Bridge to take in my first Premier League game at the bridge.

Last year I was fortunate enough to watch them in the Champions League, but the quality of opposition was not exactly the highest standard (sorry Maribor).  This March I will be in attendance when Stoke City visit Chelsea and I am looking forward to making a proper day of it.  I’m secretly hoping for a dreary cloudy London Saturday (that shows I’ve been living in deserts for the past 8+ years).

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My First Visit to Stamford Bridge October 2014

Most of you (hopefully) know that London is a quite a distance from Abu Dhabi and is not exactly within striking distance for a quick trip. For the 8 hour flight I have managed to travel hack my greatest prize to date.  Abu-Dhabi to London aboard Etihad’s flagship A380 in their first class “apartment” in the sky.  In an earlier post, I mentioned that American Airlines announced a devaluation of their award program. Consequently, i decided to book this route round trip for a mere 80k miles.

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Etihad’s First Class Apartment (image courtesy of etihad.com)
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Etihad A380 Apartment (image courtesy of onemileatatime.boardingarea.com)

Etihad flies their A380’s on three routes from Abu Dhabi; in addition to London they also fly to Sydney, and New York. Finding award space can prove to be difficult on many of these routes.  Fortunately the route to London in early March did have room each direction so I called up American Airlines Australia and booked the trip.

Being able to travel to and from Abu Dhabi in this cabin will make for an amazing journey.  We recently flew Etihad business class back from Munich to Abu Dhabi which was a real treat aboard their A340 with great service and great amenities (full review to come soon) but even that will pale in comparison to what is arguably the nicest first class cabin available in the sky.  What makes this more amazing is that my match ticket and 4 night stay in a London Airbnb will cost more than the flight.  This whole ticket round trip cost me  about $400 Australian due to taxes and award fees which are steep in London.

Another great perk of booking Etihad business and first class is the complimentary chauffeur service that come along with the ticket.  This means a private car to and from the airport in each direction which is a huge plus in London as Heathrow is so far out of city center. Finally, the lounges in both Abu Dhabi and London are supposed to be first rate and I am looking forward to spending a bit of time pre-flight and hopefully stopping in the arrivals lounge in Abu Dhabi for a complimentary shave after my flight. 

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Etihad Arrivals Lounge Barber Abu Dhabi (etihad.com)

Stay tuned for a full trip report complete with tons of pictures as I will be anxiously awaiting the trip for the next two months.  I am also looking for one good day trip from London, and a list of must-sees in London since I will be solo and able to visit a few more museums and sites than is normally possible with a 3 year old.