Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bangkok Hotel Hopping Weekend: Introduction


This was supposed to be the week we headed to Sao Paulo, Brazil thanks to the Turkish Air mistake fare but we opted out of it when we found the mistake fare on Emirates to Maldives. Wish we could afford both the time and money to do both! We had already bought our positioning flights on Air Asia to Bangkok for the cancelled Sao Paulo trip and since the flights were non-refundable, we headed to Bangkok for a couple of nights for a much needed short break (Work was killing me for the last couple of weeks and I was working even till the night we got to Bangkok).

We ended up staying at 3 different hotels the 3 nights we were in Bangkok! We needed a night in the Hilton to make up the 3 qualifying stays for Hilton Gold Status till March 2013 thanks for a Visa Signature Challenge. The Hilton was on high end of our budget and we needed another place to stay for the other 2 nights. Accor was having it's annual Super Sale during the time we were going to be in Bangkok and we decided to split the stay between the Vie Hotel and Pullman due to supposedly Aclub Gold Status recognition and perks at these hotels. (Only Mgallery, Pullman and Sofitel hotels offer room upgrades for Aclub premium guests).

Staying in 3 different hotels in nights was somewhat of a hassle having to move hotels everyday after lunch. I wouldn't recommend doing this for "pure" tourists hoping to do sight seeing and other touristy stuff. Having been to Bangkok before, this short trip was mainly focused on eating, lounging by the pool, shopping and the cheap massages in Bangkok so the moving around did not actually bother our schedule that much. At the end of the day, we were happy to try new hotels that we never stayed before and we're pretty sure next time we're back in Bangkok, we will be staying in the Vie Hotel. Details to follow...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Penang to Portland & Austin: Short review of Embassy Suites Austin Town Lake


The choices of “company approved” hotels that we can stay in Austin are pretty limited. There are a bunch of hotels in North Austin but god knows why one would one to stay there. There are however two hotels in downtown Austin on the list – the Radisson and the Embassy Suites Town Lake. Being a Hilton guy, the Embassy Suites is my preferred hotel when visiting Austin.

The rooms are the typical Embassy Suites style rooms with a separate bedroom and a living/work area. The hotel went through some minor renovation a couple of years back with the televisions switched from CRTs to LCDs. The furniture however it slightly dated. 

Work Area

Living Area

Penang to Portland & Austin: Heading back home


After 2 weeks in the US, it was time to get back home.  Having never flew internationally out of San Francisco, I decided of a AUS-SFO-NRT-SIN-PEN routing. The AUS-SFO was actually the killer flight. The flight was scheduled to depart Austin at 6am meaning I had to wake up around 3.30 in the morning to get to the airport in time. I made a quick stop at the Continental President's Club before the flight and wasn't too interested in the bagels and muffin they were serving for breakfast. I was not really awake at this time and wasn't too bothered about the details or to take pictures. All I remembered was that the flight was operated by a CRJ-700, I had the seat next to me empty and there was a drink service. 

Arriving in San Francisco, at 7.30am I was dead hungry (wish I had those bagels back in Austin!) and made a quick stop for a teriyaki chicken bowl right by the gate that I got into. After breakfast, I headed to the SFO Red Carpet Club where I would spend the next couple of hours drinking beer and catching up on work/email.

View from the RCC Bar

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Penang to Portland & Austin: Portland to Austin; First Bump ever

I got to airport around 9 am to catch my 11 am flight to San Francisco.  I got in the Business class/*A Gold line to speak to a check-in agent to get my BMI Diamond Club added to the booking. While waiting in line, I notice there was a long line of economy class passengers waiting to speak to the check-in agents and what was even more shocking was that there was a United Airlines employee serving them drinks while they stood in a line. When did United start having such good service? Was this only at Portland airport? I approached the employee who was handing out drinks on when this perk started and she just smiled and said that the folks in the line have been waiting for about 3-4 hours and there was a United wide computer/networkshutdown earlier in the morning. This was going to be a “fun” day of flying especially for people like me who weren’t in a rush to get to their destination!  

I was originally scheduled to fly Portland – San Francisco – Austin but due to the network shutdown, my San Francisco flight was delayed for about an hour and that would make me miss my connection to Austin. The reservation systems had protected me and rebooked me on Portland – San Francisco – Los Angeles – Austin. I asked one of the check-in agents if they needed volunteers but they said this was only done at the gate – kind of figured she just wanted me out of there.

I headed to the Red Carpet Club where I asked the sole agent working the lounge that day to put me on the volunteer list. I figured the chances were good considering the morning flights were cancelled. She originally put me on a later flight to Los Angeles but might be overbooked as well. I could have probably gotten away “double bump” but negotiated instead to leave on the red-eye to Houston connecting to Austin but in first class instead. After a couple of phone calls to what I assume was Continental about releasing the first class seats, she gave me my first class tickets and $400 USD United vouchers for being bumped. 

My "home" in the RCC for the afternoon:

Monday, July 18, 2011

Penang to Portland & Austin: Portland and review of Hilton Portland


Portland, Oregon is one of my favorite cities to live or visit at least during the summer months. I missed the long days of summer, amazing scenery, great hiking and wonderful restaurants having lived in Portland for a year a couple of years back. It was good to be back. The weather during this visit however was on the chilly side (~15-20 Celsius) even though it was already July – at least the sun was out and it wasn’t raining.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

1st Mattress Run: Review of Hilton Kuching

We went back home to Kuching to visit family this weekend. Decided to have 2 stays of a night each at the Hilton Kuching (instead of staying at home) to keep Hilton Honors Gold Status till March 2013 thanks for the Visa Signature "offer/challenge". Hilton/Visa is offering Gold status until August 2011 if you have a Visa Signature and if you have 3 stays with them before August, the Gold status will be good till March 2013.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Penang to Portland & Austin: Singapore to Portland on United Airlines


To get to Portland, Oregon, I decided to route my flights through Tokyo to enjoy the United and ANA lounges and Los Angeles to meet up with college friends from USC (go Trojans!) who I haven't seen in more than a year. 

Got up at end ungodly 4.30am and after a quick shower (the water could have been much hotter) in the common bathroom, I headed to the transfer counter in terminal 3 to reconfirm my luggage was on the flight and to add my BMI frequent flyer number onto the ticket. For some unknown reason, I couldn't do this via the United website successfully. I next headed off the Krisflyer Gold Lounge, the designated *A Gold lounge in terminal 3 for some breakfast.


Friday, July 15, 2011

Penang to Portland & Austin: Penang to Singapore on Silkair


 The first part of the trip consisted on a short hop on Silkair, Singapore Airlines regional subsidiary from Penang to Singapore. To catch the early morning United flight from Singapore to Tokyo, I flew on the last Penang-Singapore flight reaching Singapore at about 11pm. Silkair currently flies 4 times a day on the Singapore-Penang-Singapore route.

This route used to be served by Singapore Airlines proper but got switched to Silkair a few years back after low cost airlines were allowed to fly it. The annoying part of the switch is that Silkair is technically not part Star Alliance which meant I did not have priority check-in, boarding or the use of the lounge even though I had *Gold thanks to Asiana Airlines. Gold members on Singapore Airlines frequent flyer program still gets all the benefits though. Silkair does not provide their business class or elite customers any lounge use in Penang but instead issues a rm15 voucher for use in a couple of cafe or restaurants at the airport.

With the dedicated on-line check-in line available, I was able to get done with check-in pretty quick. I was pleasantly surprised that the agent could issue all my boarding passes all the way to Portland in Penang - first time it has happened to me. I also insisted on priority business class luggage tags after showing my *A Gold card.

The flight itself was as expected ~95% full with mostly what I thought were passengers traveling for business. Even though it is only ~1 hour flight, Silkair does a snack and drink run which a pretty good tasting chicken pie served on the night run.
Chicken pie on Silkair

Penang to Portland & Austin: Introduction


This trip report isn't going to be as exciting as the previous trip reports. There would be no exotic destinations or front of the plane experiences to share this time round (except for the unexpected bump to First on Continental). Figured I blog about anyway for those who are still interested or might have to suffer the same fate as me to having to travel from Asia to the US in economy on United Airlines.

I typically to travel 1-2 times a year to the US for work from Penang. This was what got me started on finding ways to use miles, flyertalk, lounges, etc.  When I started having to the US for work, it used to be always on Singapore Airlines (SQ), albeit in economy class. When the recession happened a couple of years back, management bad a huge stink about flying the lowest fare available which they never took back. This threw SQ out of the list on most trips with Cathay Pacific (CX) being the airline recommended by the company appointed travel agent. With my *A Gold status, I refused to travel on CX but chose United for my trips to the US instead so I could still use business class lounges and have priority check-in and boarding.

This 2 weeks trip would take me from Penang to Portland, Oregon and Austin, Texas on Silk Air, United and an unexpected flight on Continental.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Second Honeymoon in Maldives: Conclusion


Overall, this was another wonderful holiday with several new experiences like Emirates First Class, exploring Dubai and Colombo.  Some final thoughts:

The Emirates First Class is awesome although not perfect.  In the air, the service was excellent although the food offerings could be better.  On the ground, the sit down restaurant and the spa service in the first class lounge was good.  However, it still lacked the “wow” factor one would get when visiting the Lufthansa First Class terminal.  We would rate it on par with the Thai First Class Lounge in Bangkok.  In addition, we liked the complimentary limousine transfers for premium class passengers.

The Maldives continue to be paradise to us.  Overall, we were not “wowed” with Eriyadu which we attributed to not having an overwater bungalow, which we had at Dhiggiri.   However, the excellent snorkeling at the easily accessible house reef made up for most of the slight disappointment.  During the week in Eriyadu, we sort of promised to not return to Maldives after another few years but after just return to Penang, we definitely already miss the Maldives and might break the promise hopefully soon.  We can’t explain why Maldives is so addictive to us but we definitely want to be back there sometime soon and this time in an overwater bungalow. 

We also don’t think we would be returning to Sri Lanka.  It was good to visit Colombo and Negombo for the first time for a day but there’s really nothing much else to see or do.  For those who have long layovers in Colombo, we would recommend just taking a taxi straight to one of the Jetwing hotels in Negombo for drinks or food to kill time. The beaches, churches and other tourists attractions aren’t simply that interesting..

For those who are interested, the approximate breakdown of cost for this trip:

Emirates Flights: ~$500 USD per person
Air Asia Flights: ~$200 USD per person
Malaysia Airlines Flight: ~$ 200 USD per person
Eriyadu: ~$250 USD per night for 2 persons with full board meals.

Man, we miss the Dom and the fishes we left in Eriyadu… 

Second Honeymoon in Maldives: Getting home on Malaysia Airlines


We arrived back at Colombo airport about 4 hours before our departure time. We were stuck in the land-side waiting area as the check-in counters for Malaysia Airlines (MAS) did not open until about 3 hours before departure.  When the counters opened, we were the first few to get checked-in.
After clearing immigration, we proceeded to the Lotus Lounge thanks to our Priority Pass card. We took a much needed shower after being hot and sweaty from the day in Negombo. The lounge itself was pretty similar to the Araliya lounge visited earlier during the trip.

This flight on MAS to Kuala Lumpur would be our first international flight with them in a couple of years. We have primarily been flying Star Alliance carriers or Air Asia for our regional travels. I was pretty excited upon boarding that we got one of the newer 737-800 planes on this flight instead of the in-famous 737-400 planes.  The load in economy was about 75% full with several passengers moving to the back after the doors closed.  We had an entire row to ourselves which made the flight more comfortable. 

The service on this flight even in economy class was excellent. There was a round beverage and peanut service before supper was served. This however did made sleeping for those passengers who just wanted to sleep on this red-eye a bit more difficult with the cabin lights left on until after the supper service.

Second Honeymoon in Maldives: Negombo, Colombo


It was sad to leave the Emirates flight as it would be the last premium sector of this trip. We arrived in Colombo around 1.30pm giving us another 10 hours before our flight home to Malaysia later that night.  Having already visited Colombo in the earlierpart of the trip, we decided to visit Negombo this time round. Negombo is a coastal town 30 minutes from the airport.  Negombo is actually closer to the airport than Colombo is.

After getting done through immigration, luggage and customs formalities, we proceeded to rent a car with a driver from one of the tour desks after the exiting the arrival hall. We paid about $75 USD for the use of a car and driver for 6 hours which seem pretty reasonable to us. 
Buddhist Temple in Negombo
Church in Negombo