Thursday, December 29, 2011

What a great 2011!

This year has certainly been a year to remember. I don’t think I’ve traveled so much before in a year and more importantly, gotten the chance to try out some of the best premium airlines and hotels in the world. It was only recently that I would envy those who sat up front and would have never imagined that it would be possible for us to do so.

Trips done in 2011
We visited a bunch of places throughout the year with some pretty unexpected and unique. We started off the year with Moscow. Maldives continues to be Maldives, i.e. a dream destination and we were very happy we made the last minute decision to visit Oslo. Our most memorable trip however was the “epic trip” to Almaty. We looked back and sure there were some minor stuff that we would have done differently but overall, it was perfect.

 Some of our favorite pictures from the year:

On Emirates F
On Asiana F
Celebrating Calvin's birthday in Almaty


A big shout-out and thank you to those who made all this possible on flyertalk and milepoint! Thanks also to you guys who keep coming back to our humble blog and leaving comments/emails.

Here’s hoping to a wonderful 2012 and to more mistake fares/deals! We're starting off the new year with a trip to Beijing and Harbin (Trip Report to follow as usual). On a personal note, I’m hoping that my possible move to the US mid of next year goes through.  It’ll certainly open up a bunch of opportunities from a travel perspective.

Happy new year!! 

Trip to Brisbane and Gold Coast: Return to Penang & Conclusion


Our Emirates flight to Singapore was scheduled to depart at around three in the morning. This has got to be one of the inhumane flight time since you have got to stay awake really late before getting the change to catch some shut eye on the plane. My cousin dropped us off at the airport around midnight where there was already a long line in economy waiting to be checked in. The line was much shorter for those who have already checked-in online and we didn't have to wait long before we were checked-in by the First Class desk. How I wish I was flying in first today instead of just being checked in by the desk!

We made our way through immigration where there was very little wait before proceeding to get our shopping tax refund. Brisbane airport was virtually dead at this time with the Emirates flight being the last flight to depart. There was no Priority Pass lounges so we just had to wait it out on one of the benches next to the Cathay flight that was about to leave. I hoped on the wireless from the nearby Qantas lounge and caught up on email where as my sister actually managed to get some sleep.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Trip to Brisbane and Gold Coast: Exploring Brisbane


We were only in Brisbane for 2 nights and with my cousin's wedding to attend, we didn't have much time to Brisbane. Brisbane city itself was pretty compact and easy to get around which allowed us to cover the major attractions like Queen Street Mall, Brisbane Square, Mount Coot-Tha lookout and Southbank.

View of city from Mount Coot-Tha


Trip to Brisbane and Gold Coast: Hilton Brisbane


We were informed during check-in that the hotel was fully booked during our stay so we they couldn't upgrade us to rooms on the executive floors. We were also offered a bottle of wine since they couldn't upgrade us which was much appreciated. We also had access to the lounge even though we didn't get the upgrade with the choice of continental breakfast either in the lounge or the full breakfast in the main restaurant. As usual, internet was complimentary for Gold members and was taken off the bill without prompting. When we came back the first night, the turn down service included another bottle of wine.

Lobby Bar that was always packed

Hilton Kuching King Executive Deluxe Room

We're back in Kuching for Christmas break and am staying at the Hilton to get the stays for the Q4 Free Night. We booked the cheapest available room and was upgraded to a King Executive Deluxe Room as a Hilton Honors Gold Member. Although not as spectacular as the suite upgrade we had on our previous stay, the room was still pretty nice. The only major difference with the suite is that instead of a separate living area, the living area is in the room itself.

Trip to Brisbane and Gold Coast: Exploring Gold Coast


Gold Coast was surprisingly quiet when we visited. Guess it was not quite yet the peak season yet. We spent a good part of one of the days just driving along the beach and stopping at various highlights a long the way. I was impressed that Gold Coast was so well planned - the roads were relatively wide, the clean beaches on one side and the modern and some high rise buildings on the other. Kinda reminded me of Miami.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Trip to Brisbane and Gold Coast: Hilton Surfers Paradise


I was deciding between the Sofitel or the Hilton for this trip and opted for the Hilton mainly due to Hilton Q4 free night promo and better overall reviews of the Hilton and it's location on flyertalk and tripadvisor. The decision to stay at the Hilton in Surfers Paradise turned out to be the right one as this is one of the nicer places we have stayed in before.

The "Tiny" Hotel Entrance
 The Hilton at Surfers Paradise is unique in that it is both a hotel and also a high end condo that you can purchase or rent. In addition to the "normal" hotel rooms, it also offers apartment style rooms equipped with a fully equipped kitchen and laundry facilities. We decided to book a one bedroom apartment thinking it would be fun (and possibly cheaper) to cook some of our meals during the stay.

We were checked in even though we arrived super early at 6 am. During check-in, I was informed that I had access to the executive lounge which serve continental breakfast, afternoon tea and evening cocktails and internet would be complimentary as well since I was a Gold member. The Hilton consists of 2 buildings and I was assigned to the Orchid Tower which was the same building as check-in. The executive lounge was also located in the same building but was only accessible via different elevators so we had to come down to the lobby and back up again if we wanted to go to the executive lounge. I believe the building itself is split between the "normal" hotel rooms and the apartment style ones which explain the different elevators.

We were pleasantly surprised that we were upgraded to a two bed room apartment since there were three of us. My sister was already planning to sleep on the couch. The apartment was nice, new and clean. Felt like we might have been the first ones staying here before!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Trip to Brisbane and Gold Coast: To Brisbane


The trip didn't get of to a good start as our Air Asia flight to Singapore was delayed for an hour because of late incoming aircraft. We had to sit and wait for another 15 minutes for a couple of flights to land before we had clearance to take off.  Typical of our Air Asia flight experience, the flight itself was uneventful and thankfully went by pretty quick.

We met our sister at baggage claim who had arrived on an earlier Air Asia flight from Kuching and by now, had waited for about 2 hours for us thanks to the delay. We proceeded to check-in and drop our bags off at the Emirates counter upstairs in departure. I was quoted a price of about $1500 SGD when I  inquired on paying for a cash upgrade to business which we thought was not worth the money for a 7 hour flight. Would rather suffer in coach and use that money on other stuff.

By now we were starving and only had about an hour and a half before departure. Instead using one of the Priority Pass lounges, we just had lunch at one of the Chinese Restaurant in Terminal 1. The food was surprisingly not bad but it might have just been because we were famish. Almost everything taste good when you're hungry.

A Hungry Lydia

We headed straight to the departure gate after lunch. I was surprised to see that the aircraft had not arrived yet and the cabin crew waiting at the departure gate. Another delay but a good one since we were not in a rush to arrive in Brisbane. We were scheduled to arrive at an odd time of one in the morning and we were just going to go cheap without a hotel room for that half a night. The longer the flight was the delayed, the shorter the time would be before we could check-in to the hotel.

The plane still had not arrived at the scheduled departure time of 3.15pm. There were no delay announcement made by the gate agents. I guess the delay pretty normal for this flight for no announcements to be made? The plane finally arrived and we were on-board an hour after for our first economy experience on Emirates.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Trip to Brisbane and Gold Coast: Introduction


Lydia and I have been "grounded" for the last two months and this trip in the next couple of days kicks start another round of flying for us for the next couple of weeks with the holidays around the corner. The main reason for the trip to Brisbane was to attend the wedding of a close cousin of mine who I grew up who now resides in Brisbane.

We were pretty limited with the options on getting to Brisbane for a number of reason. We had waited until quite late to finalize the trip as I wasn't sure if I could still get days off with all the holidays I already took this year. We had enough BMI miles for a business class redemption on Singapore or Thai which I was actually saving for a trip to Bora Bora. Even though it would have cost the same number of miles to Brisbane and Bora Bora, we could not "tag on" the trip to Bora Bora as we couldn't take that many days off. In addition, my sister was coming a long as well and finding 3 seats during this time of the year would be difficult if not impossible.

The cheapest option after searching for a couple of days ended being Singapore to Brisbane on Emirates for about ~$550 USD in Economy. (There was actually a Etihad mistake for the same flight that allowed routing via Abu Dhabi but I couldn't find availability for the dates I needed). Singapore, Thai, Malaysian and even Air Asia was more expensive. We've only flown Emirates once before but that I was in first class so it'll personally be something new for both us and should be interesting to compare with our recent experience with Qatar. The loads seem pretty high right now and here's hoping to some op-ups. As usual, we would be flying Air Asia from Penang to Singapore.

The current plan is to drive to Gold Coast when we get in for 2 days and then spend the last 3 days in Brisbane. We were too cheap to book a hotel for the first night since we would only get in at around midnight and with the driving to Gold Coast, would only be there around 2-3am. Figured we just kill him and hit the casinos before checking into the hotel. Anyone have better ideas? We would be staying at Hiltons at both Gold Coast and Brisbane to earn some free nights thanks for the Q4 Hilton Promo.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Buy AA miles promo

American Airlines is offering a bonus when purchasing AA miles till Dec 31 2011. For every 6000 miles, you get a 2000 miles bonus. 6000 miles cost $165 USD so with this bonus, the cost is about 2 cents per mile. This is actually cheaper than the in famous on-going promo by US Airways. What's even better this time round is that AA has increase the yearly limit of purchased miles from 40,000 miles a year to 60,000 miles a year. This means that you can earn a maximum of 80,000 miles through this promo.

This promo does not make it super cheap to buy but might be a good idea for those looking to top off their AA accounts for an award. I currently have zero miles in my AA account and am actually considering buying some miles myself as I might need a one way ticket to the US sometimes next year. For 67.5K miles costing about ~$1.3K USD, I can redeem a first class ticket on Cathay to the US for that one way trip that I need to make.

Will probably wait till close to end of the promo to pull the trigger..

Review: Toh Yuen Restaurant, PJ Hilton

On our last mattress run to the Petaling Jaya Hilton, we decided to have dinner at the in-house Toh Yuen Chinese restaurant since we could charge the meal to the room and earn some Hilton points out of it. We had previously tried the in-house Japanese Restaurant, Genji for lunch.

Toh Yuen was having an Imperial Peking Duck Promotion during this visit. You could order a whole Peking Duck but seeing that there was only 2 of us, we decided to order to duck inspired set menu instead. There were 2 set menus to choose from with one priced at RM99++ and the other at RM108++. The more expensive menu consisted of more expensive delicacies like shark's fin and dried scallops. We ordered both the set menus allowing us to try and share a variety of dishes.