Sunday, May 29, 2011

Second Honeymoon in Maldives: Low Cost Portion


We opted for AirAsia to get us to Colombo.  We would take the last Penang to Kuala Lumpur flight of the day arriving in Kuala Lumpur at midnight.  AirAsia's flight to Colombo leaves Kuala Lumpur at 6.15am and gets into Colombo at 7.15am giving us a whole day to explore Colombo. There's not too much to say about both the AirAsia flights as it was the typical AirAsia flight - uneventful, packed, horrible leg room and can't wait for the plane to land. Kind of regretted not booking a *A redemption on either Thai or Singapore.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Second Honeymoon in Maldives: Introduction


We love the Maldives - the sun, the beach, the snorkeling. It’s one of our favorite holiday destinations.  Having just been for the first time for our honeymoon a couple of months ago last October, we were not planning on going back to Maldives that soon. 

We stumbled onto a mistake Emirates first class fare when finding out that they offer a relatively cheap first class flight on the Colombo  - Male – Colombo route giving an affordable way to experience first class on Emirates albeit on a 1.5 hour flight only. (This was before the fare was posted on flyertalk). For some unknown reason, the emirates website was allowing a Colombo – Dubai – Male routing for the same price hence making it an 8 hour first class experience.  We initially hesitated to book as our holiday plans for the year were pretty much set with the trip to Sao Paulo (TK mistake fare which we eventually cancelled), Kazakhstan and Harbin later during the year. We were running low on time off and money for another holiday. The kicker was when Emirates started offering bonus miles for flights in May and June.  For a return first class Colombo – Dubai – Male flight, we would have enough miles to redeem a one way first class ticket on the A380 (the private suites, the on board shower!) on the  Bangkok – Hong Kong flight. The redemption ticket and the amount of Dom we were planning to drink would pay for the ticket itself and the experience to try out Emirates First Class for the first time:)

Novotel Kuala Lumpur Review

This would be our first time staying at the Novotel in Kuala Lumpur.  We booked an Executive Room and my understanding was that this are the rooms on the executive floors but without the lounge access.  We were going to try to upgrade for free for the lounge access with my Aclub Gold Status (even though this was not an official perk) and/or the free upgrade vouchers from Accor Advantage Plus.

The hotel seemed to be really busy when we arrived at check-in at around 6pm.  We inquired about the upgrade and was told that the hotel was pretty full and that they might not be able to accommodate the request.  We also found out that the upgrade was for the room only minus the perks for the room like the lounge access, minibar, etc. At the end of it, we really just wanted the lounge access so they provided us the lounge access but kept us to the same room type we booked in.

The room we had was a corner room and it was pretty spacious. The bed and pillows was one of the most comfortable beds we've slept in.

Weekend in Kuala Lumpur with Firefly

Lydia and I had to go down to Kuala Lumpur (KL) for the weekend to get our passports back from the Kazakhstan embassy and to attend a friend's wedding. We decided on flying down instead of driving or taking the bus.  Instead of flying the AirAsia, we decided to use Firefly Airlines.  Firefly is a Malaysia Airlines subsidiary that serves a couple of regional routes like Singapore, Koh Samui, Phuket, etc.  Even though Firefly were slightly more expensive if compared to AirAsia when we bought the tickets, it was worth it for a couple of reasons.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Booking Award Travel

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Kazakhstan Visa

Just got our Kazakhstan visas for our trip in late August this year.  Will blog more on the trip and the reasons why we're going after we take the trip itself but I wanted to quickly share about our experience on getting the visa since it's not too well documented. Might help whoever is as crazy as us to visit land of Borat :)

The application process itself isn't too hard and expensive if compared to other countries like Russia or the US.  The Kazakhstan Embassy in Malaysia has a pretty good website that documents what is needed and what forms to fill out. A couple of things to point out though:
  • There's a bunch of countries that do not require invitation letters when applying for visas.  This include Malaysia which really helped on the costs - hotels and agents in Kazakhstan were asking for $100 USD a head for visa services including to issue the invitation letter. 
  • You don't have to personally show up at the embassy. You can get a travel agent to do it for you if you can find one.  We tried looking for one in Penang to do it for us to safe us the trip to Kuala Lumpur but the responses we got from the travel agents were like "Where do you want to go? Kazakhstan? Where's that?".  I ended up going down to Kuala Lumpur and applied for both of us.
  • On top of the application form, we turned in our flight itinerary and hotel voucher.  We were prepared with financial statements showing we could afford the trip and travel insurance but they were never asked.
  • Payment for a tourist visa is $25USD and I think only cash in US dollars are accepted.
  • Visas are ready for pick up only after 5 working days. For those planning to do in person (like for us), you would need to make another trip down to Kuala Lumpur to pick up the visa & passport.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Accor Advantage Plus Review

With our increasing stays at hotels under the Accor group especially in Asia, I recently purchased a Accor Advantage Plus membership.  Accor Advantage Plus is a paid membership that comes with additional perks when staying at a hotel under the Accor group in the Asia Pacific region which includes even Australia, New Zealand and French Polynesia.

Per their website, the yearly membership comes with the following “standard” perks:
  • Discounts when dining at restaurants in hotels under the Accor group. The discounts range from 25% when dining alone, 50% when two people are dining, 33% when three people are dining and etc.
  • 15% discount for drinks at hotel bars & restaurants
  • Aclub Silver Status – not very significant perk as the only gain from this are the additional points for hotel stays.
  • 1 free night voucher for a stay in any Asia Pacific Accor Hotel.  There have been complains online that this voucher was hard to use with very poor availability.  On the contrary, the free night voucher can be booked online and base on some dummy bookings for China, Bora Bora, Hong Kong & Bangkok on random dates in 2011, availability seems pretty good.
  • 10% off room rates.  This include sales rate and even during the yearly “50% off super sale” that Accor hotels have. 
  • Guest Member cards for friends & family.
  • Free birthday cake when dining during birthday month
The membership fee varies per country.  I bought my membership through the Malaysian office for about ~$150USD which I thought was pretty reasonable.  The free night and the 50% off meals will easily pay off the membership fee.

On top of the “standard” perks, I was pleasantly surprised that there were additional vouchers and discounts when I received my membership pack.  This included upgrade vouchers for hotels in Malaysia, discounts for spa treatments & additional dining discounts. Some hotels are also unofficially upgrading guests with Advantage Plus membership. There are also reports online that some countries like Singapore are throwing in an additional one free night (for a total of 2) on the yearly membership. Should have negotiated harder with the sales agent!

Membership pack:

Overall, I think the membership is a good value that pays for itself for those in Asia.  A pretty good way to use the membership is to visit Bora Bora, where rooms can go up to $300-$500 USD a night using the free night vouchers (sign up for a membership for each member of the family J) and enjoying the 50% dining discount. We’ll continue to sign up for Accor Advantage Plus with upcoming stays in Bangkok, Beijing and Harbin going to Accor Hotels.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Accor Aclub Program Review

For the past few trips we have ended up staying in hotels in the Accor chain (Hong Kong, Bangkok,  Moscow).  This French chain has a big presence mainly Europe and in Asia. The Accor chain consists of high-end hotels like Sofitel & Pullman, mid-end hotels like Novotel and Mercure and the low-end hotels like Ibis and Formule1.

One of the main reasons we end up staying and looking at Accor hotels is the price. Our budget for our hotel stays is in the sub $100 USD per night range. We tend to not splurge on the hotels (except on special occasions) that we stay in and instead rather use the money on food or shopping when we travel. Most of the other chains such as Hilton and Starwood do not have the low/mid range hotels available outside of the US.

The good side of the Accor's loyalty program, A-club is that it is relatively easy to obtain elite status through various promos and status matches.  Recently, A-club was offering Gold and even up to Platinum status for holders of various elite frequent flyer programs.  I got an "upgrade" to Gold due to my SQ *A Silver Status.  Joining the Accor Advantage Plus program also gets a complimentary upgrade to Silver.  The A-club's status levels and their requirements:
  • Classic - entry level.
  • Silver - 10 nights or 2500 club points
  • Gold - 30 nights or 10,000 club points
  • Platinum - 60 nights or 25,000 club points
The downside of the program is the lack of perks of the A-club program.  Gold and Platinum members only get room upgrades & welcome drinks or gifts at Sofitel, Pullman and MGallery hotels. There have been mixed reviews on upgrades at the other hotels if requested during check-in but this is not an official perk.

The rewards of the A-club program are also very poor.  The earn rate is 2 A|Club points for 1 Euro spent during your stays at Sofitel, Pullman, MGallery, Novotel, Suite Novotel and Mercure OR 1 A|Club point for 1 Euro spent during your stays at Ibis and All Seasons hotels.  It is also important to note that they are some hotels as part of the Accor group that don't participate in the Aclub program so you don't earn points stay in those hotels. From a redemption perspective they don't offer room redemption for points accrued but instead only offers hotel vouchers. For 2000 points, one can get a 60USD voucher.

In summary, we will continue to use Accor Hotels due to our budget and perks obtained through our Accor Advantage Plus program.  Here's to hoping that they make the Aclub perks better in the future.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

wow.. another mistake fare

Wow.. Another mistake fare just got posted.  Turkish Airlines: HKG-IST-LAX in premium Economy for ~$800USD.  Was initially not too keen on this fare since we've both been to LA before.  We relented in the end since this offers a better deal than the SaoPaolo mistake fare (which we just cancelled :( ).  Will probably decide between Vegas or San Diego on top of LA. Booked our flights for November....

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Maldives Again!

Stumbled on a great Emirates screw up.  First Class travel on the cheap with stopovers in Dubai.  Will post more details when we do go on the trip.  Can't wait for the sun, beach and fishes in a couple of weeks...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Maldives Honeymoon: Conclusion


Going to keep this short.  Nothing much else to say except that this was, will and should be one of the most memorable holidays for both of us.  We broke the virginity on a couple of items on this trip:
  •  First time in the premium cabin of any flight/airline.  Singapore Airlines definitely earns it's reputation.  The new SQ regional cabin on the A330 sure beats their TG competitors.
  • First time on a sea plane.  Taking off and landing from the sea was some thing new.  The views were amazing.  Being dumped off to a platform in the middle of the sea was cool.  Don't think we'll be in a rush to do it again just because of the high price tag for a 30-45 minute flight
Maldives is now the place to beat in our opinion for the best snorkeling. We're going to try Manado, Red Sea and the Great Barrier Reef hopefully soon but we're pretty sure we'll be back in Maldives soon..

Maldives Honeymoon: Maldives back to Penang


After 5 days of bliss, it was time to head back to the real world :(  Our SQ flight to Singapore does not leave till ~11pm at night so we had almost a full day on Dhiggiri during our last day.  As usual, we don't get the sea-plane schedule until the day before.  We were initially scheduled to be picked up at 3pm but on the day itself, the pick-up kept getting pushed back several times till 5pm. We weren't complaining as this allowed more time to enjoy Dhiggiri one last time with some cold beer. 

Last few views of Dhiggiri and of the sea-plane picking us up: