Favorites

A fan/reader (ahem, my sister — hi Jules!) suggested I write a post all about travel favorites/memories from the year 2016. I loved the idea and think its a great way to reflect back on such a fun year.

So here goes, all answers are 2016 travel specific:

What was your favorite city/location?

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Our Airbnb in the Highlands — this beautifully renovated Oat Mill set us up for an experience that made both of us list this location as our favorite of 2016. I think we’ll be talking about that trip for the rest of our lives.
  • Tony: After thinking about it silently for a few moments, he finally settled on the Scottish Highlands. He was debating between there and Paris.
  • Jen: Same answer for me, the Highlands! It was just otherworldly, misty and cool, green and lush. I’m sure it helped that we visited in the summer and stayed at an amazing Airbnb. Also, Paris was a close second. We had great weather for the end of December and really loved the beauty of the city at Christmas time.

Where/what was the best meal?

  • Tony: KöD Copenhagen. The meal was a splurge, but was so worth it! The steaks were fantastic.
  • Jen: I loved the fantastic breakfast I had in Paris at a cafe called The Hardware Société. I don’t know if its just because I was so hungry, or the excitement of being out and about exploring on our first day in Paris, but the breakfast blew me away. All of the food in Paris was fantastic.

Most memorable travel moment?

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Tony in his first class, Etihad “apartment”
  • Tony: The chance to fly in the Etihad first class apartment to and from London in the spring. A once in a lifetime experience — made possible through the wonders of booking on points!
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Standing outside Guerlain
  • Jen: I know it will sound silly to some, but I really loved my morning exploring the Guerlain Perfumery on the Champs Elysses in Paris. It was amazing! So amazing, that even though I was there just to look, I ended up going back two days later and purchasing a bottle of their perfume, one who’s scent I couldn’t stop thinking about. For a beauty lover like myself, exploring that store with decades and decades of beauty indulgence was perfection.

Most kid friendly location?

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Exploring in Amsterdam, summer 2016
  • Tony: Amsterdam. We didn’t go out and do too much because of the terribly jet lag, but overall there was a lot to do with kids.
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Happily playing with cousins in the USA last summer
  • Jen: The USA is what first came to mind — mostly because Matteo had the chance to play with family, specifically cousins who shared their toys! Non-family trips though, I think my answer is Copenhagen. I felt like we could take Matteo pretty much anywhere with us, the Danes were very friendly, and the city itself felt very accessible with a stroller. They also had a GREAT children’s exploratorium/museum. None of the locations we visited  were outlandishly unfriendly for kids — the worst was probably Malaysia as the time change/food choices were rough for him.

Where do you want to go next?

  • Tony: When I asked him this, I got an audible sigh back. He hates hypothetical questions! But with a little prodding, he answered with this list: The Balkans, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Zanzibar, stating that they are all currently on his travel hacking radar.
  • Jen: Croatia and Iceland are at the top of my wish list, with New Zealand not far behind. I would also welcome another trip to France, maybe in warm weather and venture out in to the countryside this time.

 

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Geneva, Switzerland

On Monday the 26th, we packed up our things and prepared to leave Paris. The second stop on our Christmas vacation was Geneva, Switzerland.

Tony booked tickets on the high speed railway, leaving Paris and arriving in Geneva in just about 3 hours. The train made for a very comfortable trip! It was so fun to watch the scenery change from the city of Paris, to a more industrial area, to finally countryside for the remainder of the trip. According to the screen at the back of the train car, the majority of the trip was travelled at 290 km/hour.

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Matteo and Tony on the train

 

We arrived at the train station in Geneva on time and ready to make our way to the Airbnb. While we had good weather for Paris in late December, much of the trip was under gray skies so it was a welcome change to see sunshine and blue skies staring at us. Our Airbnb host had told us which tram to take to get to her place, a short 10 minute ride away.

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Our Airbnb in Geneva

The airbnb Tony selected from this trip is one of my favorites (nothing can beat the renovated Oak Mill in the Highlands, though!). It is far larger than I was expecting for a centrally located city apartment. Well decorated and comfortable, with a better than average stocked kitchen for a vacation rental, I knew we would feel right at home here. Matteo was so happy to have a place to run around and play, and a HUGE bathtub to enjoy too.

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Visiting St. Pierre Cathedral

As tends to be the case, after a week of traveling Matteo was starting to feel fatigued, so our time in Geneva has been far more relaxed and slower paced than Paris — which is fine, because its a much smaller city. We have taken advantage of the opportunity to simply wander the streets of this picturesque city — taking in the natural beauty that surrounds it. It reminds both of us a bit of both Salzburg and Innsbruck, Austria though has a distinct charm that is all its own. The not-as-big city feel is always my preference, so of course I’ve spent the last several days dreaming about what it would be like to live here.

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The Jet d’Eau fountain behind us

Today is our travel day. Our flights home were booked on award points, and unfortunately there wasn’t availability for all three of us to fly direct from Geneva to Abu Dhabi, so while Matteo and I will take that flight this evening and arrive early Friday morning, Tony will first fly back to Paris and then have a layover in Doha, Qatar before landing in Abu Dhabi mid day on Friday. I don’t love that we’ll be traveling separated, but it is what it is — I am glad that we’re all flying on points rather than $$ (thanks travel hacking!)

Once back in Abu Dhabi, we’ll  welcome the New Year before Tony returns to work on the 2nd. Matteo has more time off, as school doesn’t start until the 8th for students. I’m hoping to plan some play dates for him next week as he greatly misses his friends from his class.

It’s been a wonderful Christmas vacation. Two weeks in Europe — we feel so lucky! Of course, this is what we had in mind when pursuing and accepting the position in Abu Dhabi, and that has meant sacrificing time with our family and friends in the US, whom we certainly missed over the holidays. Lots of love to you all — we’re excited to see everyone in summer 2017!

Oh, What A Summer (London)

What a great summer.

We have been absent from the blog because Tony, Matteo and I have been traveling for the past 6 weeks. Leaving a few days after Tony’s last day of work for the 15-16 school year in early July, we first flew to London (from Dubai, and via Amsterdam) before landing at Heathrow airport. After an uneventful, but not particularly restful overnight of flying, we were so exited to arrive in London and begin our week of sightseeing.

That excitement had to be contained for a bit, as we were dismayed upon arrival to have to wait a full two hours to get through the incredibly long, congested line at passport control. Something we should have anticipated we were arriving in London for the very busy summer holiday season. Once through passport control, we collected our bags, hailed an Uber and made our way to the Holiday Inn where we would spend our first night in the city. After the first overnight, we moved to the beautiful Andaz London Liverpool StreetAndaz London Liverpool Street — a beautiful, 5-star hotel that exceeded all of our expectations for comfort and relaxation.

While this was my first trip to London, it was Tony’s third and he already had a good feel for the tube routes/stops we would need to know. Tony wanted to make sure I got to see the bulk of the iconic London sights — Big Ben, the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, etc.

The first day of our arrival we had warm temperatures and plenty of sun, the rest of the trip was a bit more typical of London weather with intermittent haze, spitting rain, and cooler temperatures. Coming from the heat and humidity of Abu Dhabi, all of these changes were WELCOME.

It would be take far too long to describe everything we did while in London. If you followed along on Facebook or instagram, you probably have a good idea of what we were up to, but for now I’ll highlight three of our favorites from London.

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If you aren’t traveling with young children, it might be tempting to skip this paragraph thinking its not for you, and technically you’d be correct — you can’t get in to the playground area unless you’re accompanying a child — but if you find yourself in London on a beautiful day, go to Hyde Park! Within Hyde Park is the Princess Diana Memorial Playground, and our family easily spent several hours playing at the playground and wandering the park. There is a beautiful carousel, ice cream, plenty of space for a picnic, gardens to tour, and a gorgeous expanse of green space to soak up in the middle of wonderful London. We happened upon the playground on a particularly beautiful day with lots of happy children, and giggled as we watched Matteo make fast friends with a little Brit named James.

HIGH TEA

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We knew we wanted another High Tea experience (our first was in Dubai, at the famed at.Mosphere restaurant atop the Burj Khalifa) while in London. A quick search on Groupon led us to a good deal at the London chain Patisserie Valerie. Tony ordered tea, I ordered coffee, and we enjoyed a simple, yet lovely, traditional English tea together. The finger sandwiches, scones, and sweets were all delicious.

STAMFORD BRIDGE

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Stamford Bridge is the home of Tony’s beloved Chelsea Football Club. As Chelsea FC is one of the reasons for Tony’s previous trips to London, I was excited to visit this spot myself. We decided to walk the majority of the way to Stamford Bridge, which happens to be in the middle of a rather lovely (and expensive) area of London. While there, we were able to visit the fan shop and take a few pictures outside. It was fun to share Tony’s passion for an afternoon.

London was fantastic! We thoroughly enjoyed our time here, though I think we both walked away with the opinion that it might be a better city to revisit once Matteo is old enough to walk several miles on his own, rather than drag the stroller everywhere. While it was doable, that part of the trip could have been more enjoyable, if that makes sense. But there’s a reason why London is one of the most visited cities in the world — it’s magic!

 

The Copenhagen Card

If there was one takeaway to give you after our trip to beautiful Copenhagen, Denmark last week, it is this: GO THERE.

We loved it. We have been incredibly fortunate over the last year of purposefully pursuing travel to visit some really cool locations. In the US, we visited Austin, San Antonio, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle and since moving to the UAE in September we’ve added Muscat (Oman), Istanbul (Turkey), Vienna, Salzburg, Innsbruck (Austria), Munich (Germany), Ras Al Khaimah (UAE), London (England — just Tony) and now Copenhagen (Denmark). While we loved just about every location on that list, Copenhagen has pulled forward as both Tony and my favorite place to date.

It’s just a beautiful city. It was very “toddler travel” friendly with super high walkability/public transport, as well as being easy to navigate. Tony and I will take turns writing about some specific parts of the trip, including our top list of sites to see, but for now I wanted to start with how we travelled to an expensive city without blowing our budget.

Scandinavia in general is considered an expensive place to visit. With the help of travel hacking, we started this trip ahead of the game. The 7 day hotel stay was covered with a credit card award earned last year — the only hitch was we had to stay at the same hotel property for the full 7 days. Typically, we like to hit more than one city on a stay that long, so we wanted to pick a city where we felt like we wouldn’t run out of things to do and see. Copenhagen delivered on that front. Our flights were booked on points, although we had to deal with a less than ideal route to make that happen (we flew Abu Dhabi > Rome > Paris > Copenhagen). Because we stayed at the Marriott Copenhagen with elite status, we had access to the hotel’s executive lounge giving us free breakfast each morning, as well as afternoon snacks and a hot hors d’oeuvres each evening. This bonus alone insured we could easily keep our spending in check on our trip.

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The other big cost saver for us was the Copenhagen Card. Benefits of the card include:

Tony purchased the cards for us at the Copenhagen airport. You choose the card based on the length of your stay — options include 24, 48, 72, and 120 hours. With Matteo under 10, and thereby covered by the purchase of an adult card, we only needed to buy two adult cards. The cost came to just under the equivalent of $245. I know that might sound steep at first glance, but don’t forget that it includes our transportation (including to and from the airport) for 5 days and admission to so many museums and attractions!

By using the list of attractions covered with the Copenhagen card, we were more easily able to narrow down what we saw and did each day. We visited both Experimentarium City and the Zoo — without the Copenhagen card, entry to those two places would have cost $65 and $66 respectively. That’s nearly half the cost of the Copenhagen card right there. We also visited three different castles, and the Viking Ship Museum with free entrance under the Copenhagen card. Adding all of the entry fees to the costs covered, we ended up saving about $40 overall buying the card rather than paying admission charges upon arrival. That savings does not take in to account the public transport we used — mostly, because I can’t remember all of the buses/trains we took, and charges varied depending on where you were going (i.e. more expensive to go to the airport than to the center of the city). Had Matteo been a little older and able to handle longer days, the savings would have been even greater as there were several museums we didn’t get to visit due to him holding us back (kidding! well, not really, but that’s travel with a  three year old).

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Glad to have the option for public transportation when the wind made walking feel too cold to our desert sensibilities

So that’s the Copenhagen Card! They can be purchased online at http://www.copenhagencard.com/buy-copenhagencard or do what we did and pick one up at the airport. How you get the card isn’t important, what is important is that you GO TO COPENHAGEN. You’re going to love it!

 

 

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.

The Grand Hyatt Istanbul

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View of the pool

For our time in Istanbul, we stayed at the Grand Hyatt Istanbul. The hotel is located right outside Taskim Square, with lots of restaurants and shops nearby and easy access to the city’s public transportation.  We had a choice between this Grand Hyatt and the Park Hyatt which was about 1 km away from Taksim Square.  Both hotels had excellent reviews and the Grand Hyatt was $100 per night cheaper than the PH, additionally it was closer to most of the attractions we wanted to visit so it made for an easy decision.

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Diamond status = fruit, candy, and wine upon arrival

The hotel was great. Thanks to our diamond member status, we received priority check in on the 8th floor lounge area, the Grand Club Lounge. The staff at the Hyatt was professional, courteous, and accommodating. I always appreciate when staff at a 5 star hotel don’t cringe when they see that you’re traveling with a toddler, and that was certainly the case at the Grand Hyatt. The staff spoke to Matteo, asked him questions, and made him feel special.

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The sitting room/dining room/Matteo’s room

Once we were all checked in, we made our way to our 7th floor room suite. The room was fabulous. It was split into two large areas — the first a sitting room/living room with a roll away bed already set up for Matteo, a desk, TV area, table and chairs, closet and half bath. The bedroom area was large with a chaise lounge, TV, large walk in closet, as well as a huge bathroom with separate soaking tub and large shower stall.

 

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The Master Bedroom
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Master bedroom

The room was tastefully decorated with sepia toned photos of Istanbul from decades past, matted in large frames. The furniture was comfortable and clean. The carpets were a little worn, but nothing terrible.

When you’re traveling with a toddler, having two separate spaces in your hotel accommodations makes everything more comfortable for everyone. When Matteo needed to rest, he could do so in “his room” while Tony and I could hang out in the bedroom without worrying about waking him. It was awesome to have a table and chairs set available, as even when we’re traveling we tend to eat out as little as possible. Speaking of food, the room service prices at the Grand Hyatt Istanbul were extremely reasonable (many options running between $10-$15), especially when you’re accustomed to room service prices in the states. The food and selections was excellent too!

A huge perk for us staying at a Hyatt property with our diamond status is taking advantage of the lounge available for diamond/platinum members (for free) and anyone who books a room on the Grand Club level. Instead of providing food at breakfast in the lounge, the hotel instead gave us breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant. That was a great deal, as we had hot food options (egg station) as well as an assortment of pastries, cheeses, nuts, cereals, etc. to choose from. We enjoyed large breakfasts every morning and then would have a large, late lunch/early dinner later on in the day.

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The Grand Lounge

The Grand Lounge always had small candies/cookies as well as beverages (coffee, soft drinks, water, etc.) available and we took advantage of them throughout the day. Then in the evening, beginning at 6 pm, hors d’oeuvre were set out — items like caprese salad, breads, cheeses, hummus, finger sandwiches, and desserts. The evening selections was lovely.

The hotel was lovely. The staff was always friendly and the epitome of hospitality. We are already dreaming of a return trip to Istanbul, and would not hesitate to stay at the Grand Hyatt Istanbul again.   Overall the service was first rate especially they way they treated Matteo and the location was near public transportation making it easy to explore the city.

Spring in Copenhagen

For our first big trip of 2016, we are planning to make our way to Copenhagen for the last week of March during Tony’s Spring Break from work.  While Scandinavia may seem an odd choice for a trip in Spring, Copenhagen will be far less crowded than many warmer destinations (and if we wanted warm weather we could simply stay in Abu Dhabi).  For this trip we booked two separate, one way awards tickets via the One World Alliance program using American Airlines miles, and one ticket on Skyteam Alliance using Delta Skymiles.  The reason for the combination purchase simply boils down to award space availability, and trying to best utilize some of the miles we had in both accounts.

When we first started searching for flights, we found that there was extremely limited award space availability for our flight date in March to Copenhagen using Oneworld (American Airlines miles), and no availability using Star Alliance (United miles) so instead we opted to use Skyteam Alliance (Delta Skymiles) for the trip.  We were able to book Alitalia business class tickets to Copenhagen from via Abu Dhabi-Rome-Paris-Copenhagen.  

While, with two stopovers this route is not ideal, it was the only real option available to us if we wanted to book with award miles. To book, we combined Delta Skymiles that we had accumulated and then transferred some American Express membership rewards in to Skymiles at a 1:1 transfer rate. The transfer got us to the magic number of 42,000 miles per person, the going rate for the one way business class ticket. While this redemption is not quite as good as the American Airlines award price of 30,000 miles per one way in business class, it is still reasonable for us given the fact that we have built up many Skymiles in our Delta accounts. It also helps to consider that Delta no longer has a fixed award chart; they moved to a variable award chart that charges miles based on demand and occupancy at time of booking (something going against us at peak travel times like spring break). For the same trip to Copenhagen on other dates/times, the cost runs as high as 85,000 miles per person. The fees for this award trip were minimal and come to a total of only 260 AED ($71) for three tickets in business class. The price for this same one-way flight in business class is currently going for $6,560 — for the three tickets we would need, the total cost would be $19,680!

American Airlines policy allows one-way award ticket redemptions. The cost for a one way trip between the Middle East to Europe in business class runs 30,000. Between our two accounts we had just over 90,000 American miles and we figured this was a great time to splurge and spend an extra 10,000 miles per person to fly back Abu Dhabi in business class.  The route from Copenhagen to the UAE had much more award availability in both economy and business classes and we were able to find a great British Airways flight from Copenhagen to Dubai (with a brief stop in Heathrow) in their Club World business class seats.  The cash price for the ticket is $2,756.45 — consider again that we need three tickets and the cash price for the tickets would be $8,263.35 for our family. The only drawback to this route is that award flights through London come with higher fees than most award routes, meaning that each flight will cost us $235 in fee charges.  

Breaking down the costs of our spring break flights, we will fly business class to and from Copenhagen for an out of pocket cost of 127,000 skymiles, 90,000 AA miles, and a total of $776 in award fees. If we weren’t using points/awards, our total out of pocket cost for these flights would be $27,943.35.  Obviously we (and most others) would never consider of shelling out close to that much money for flights — it just  goes to show the tremendous value that on can capture by using miles and points to travel.

For our lodging in Copenhagen we decided to leverage a unique option with Ritz Carlton/Marriott Reward points program and purchase one of their “Flight+Hotel” packages.  Last year, we both signed up for the Ritz Carlton Visa card which on top of many benefits (lounge access, room upgrades, and airfare reimbursement each year), came with a hefty sign up  bonus of 140,000 points (each) last January.  The sign up bonus combined with points gained from some spending at Marriott last year meant that once we combined our points into one account (a perk allowed between spouses), we were sitting on a balance of 340,000 Marriott/Ritz Carlton Reward points.  This allowed us to book a package that includes seven nights in a Category 8 Marriott hotel (Marriott hotels are organized in to categories 1-9, with 1 requiring the fewest points to book and 9 requiring the most) as well as giving us 100,000 American Airlines miles.  This particular redemption was a good use of points because Copenhagen is a fairly expensive city to visit. Even though the end of March is far from peak season, the hotel rates at the time we booked were $295/night at the Copenhagen Marriott.  For a 7-night stay that equates to $2,065.  There are no award or resort fees for us to pay at this property and since we already achieved Marriott/Ritz Carlton “Gold” status (by having their credit card).  Our “gold status” also entitles us to a room upgrade based on availability, a late check out of 2:00 pm, and access to their executive lounge during our stay with breakfast, cocktails, and snacks for the entire week.  

As if all of that wasn’t enough, we booked our stay during the fall when American Airlines offered a 20% bonus for purchased miles — that means that we were credited 120,000 miles instead of the originally intended 100,000.  Lucky for us, 120,000 miles is the precise number of miles it takes to purchase three tickets to fly round trip to Europe from the Middle East (which will come in handy for our tentative plans to visit France for Christmas 2016).  To give you an idea of this value, consider that if you wanted to purchase 120,000 AA miles right now, the miles alone would cost $3,128 from American Airlines direct. 

This has been a somewhat lengthy and drawn out post, but the bottom line we want to drive home is that travel hacking WORKS! We have booked a luxurious trip to Copenhagen, flying business class, spending 7 nights at one of Mariott’s nicest European properties, and simultaneously banking the airlines points to pay for three round trip tickets to use on a later trip, all for under $800 out of pocket.  The price tag on this trip for the “rack rate” exceeds $30,000!  The credit card sign up bonuses and miles earned did convey some costs, but we have been able to gain enough utility from the credit card sign up fees to more than justify their use based solely on this trip. The ins and outs of these awards can be a bit difficult to understand at first; there is a lot of leg work up front to research best options based on schedule limitations and award availability, but in the end all of this time and effort will hopefully make for an amazing week in Scandanavia.