Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Dublin for Thanksgiving 2012: IAH - LAX on 787 and back home to Austin


Yes, we could have just flown on an earlier 30 minute flight back to Austin and be home hours earlier but what’s the fun in that when we could try out the United 787 in business class for the same price. I’m also not complaining for the extra miles!

Boarding was almost completed by the time we got to the gate but I did manage to get a picture of this beauty.

I got giddy once I got onboard and started taking pictures and playing with the seat controls and IFE. 

Since we were in the forward cabin, I noticed the cockpit door was still open and asked a flight attendant if I could go take a picture. Not only did the captain allow me to take a picture, he even told me to take a seat while he took a picture of me! 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Dublin for Thanksgiving 2012: DUB - FRA - IAH


There was a family occupying the sole First Class/Business Class/Star Gold counter at Dublin. It didn’t look like there were going to be done soon so we just proceeded to the empty online check-in counters. We had already checked-in online and with no luggage to check-in we had our boarding passes pretty quickly with instructions on how to get the lounge. The fast track security lanes opened right as we got through security which was much appreciated since the normal lines were 7-8 people deep.

We headed to the lounge hoping to get some breakfast. I had at this point been awake since 1am getting disappointed watching USC lose to Notre Dame and was relatively hungry. Oh what a disappointing season for the Trojans but I digress. We were welcomed at the contract Lufthansa lounge by signs that they were only going to be open at 6am. Ouch – would have expected check-in agent to at least informed of us that the lounge was still closed instead of trying to be helpful and providing us directions.

The short 1.5 hour flight to Frankfurt was uneventful. The Euro style business class seats were okay for the relatively short flight but would not want to be stuck on them anything longer than a couple of hours. I was hoping for some hot food and too my disappointment, there was only a cold selection for breakfast. Pretty disappointing day so far..

Our plane was parked at A Pier in Frankfurt but was not allowed to disembark directly to gate – must have been some immigration/security arrangement I didn’t understand. We were bused to the B pier before making the LONG trek back to new Z gates. We had only about an hour layover and if we didn’t have Gold status for the shorter lines and walking briskly, we might have not made the connection. Now I understand why so many people complain about transiting through Frankfurt. If only we were flying First Class with a car waiting on arrival taking us straight to the lounge.

We walked by Senator Lounge on the way to the gate but didn’t have time to check it out. There was a long line of people trying to get in and we were five minutes from boarding. By the time we got to the gate, there was already a business class long line. 

This would be our first time on Lufthansa’s A380. Having flown on Singapore Airlines and Emirates A380, I would concur with most feedback that Lufthansa business class seats on the A380 is just plain horrible. Even United’s business class seats that we had couple of days ago were much more comfortable. The seats were not lie flat which usually doesn’t bother me since I actually prefer to sleep at an angle but I just couldn’t find a comfortable position to sleep or lie in. The TV screens were also tiny. The only positive would be airy, spacious cabin with plenty of storage space. 

The service started off on the ground with the usual pre-departure champagne and hot towels. After take-off, the flight attendants came around with another round of drinks and nuts before lunch being served about 1.5 hours after take-off. 


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Dublin for Thanksgiving 2012: Exploring Dublin


With only a day and a half in Dublin, we made to visit what was important to us - booze and fish & chips. We were somewhat tired on the day we arrived and took is easy by just exploring the nearby Grafton Street and Temple Bar area. The weather was being nice to us with the sun out despite of the cold temperature. Later at night, we had prebooked a pub crawl but there were not enough people to run the tour. Would have appreciated them informing us earlier though.

After a hearty Irish buffet breakfast at the hotel, our second day started off with a tour of the Old Jameson distillery. The tour lasted about an hour where we walked through the original distillery with the enthusiastic guide explaining the process of making whiskey and making sure to highlight that Jameson whiskey's are tripe distilled giving it the extra smooth taste. I was one of the lucky guest of the tour to be able to compare Jameson whiskey against Johnny Walker and Jack Daniels. I must say that Jameson whiskey came up on top. All other guests were given a Jameson drink at the end of the tour.

Dublin for Thanksgiving 2012: Hilton Dublin Airport


We decided to stay the second night at the Hilton Dublin Airport since it was one third cheaper than the Conrad and we had an early 5.30 am flight. After collecting our bags from the Conrad after a day out, we took the bus hoping to save a couple of Euros. We were 15 minutes during the journey when a pre-planned driver change took place. The new driver refused to drive saying there was something wrong with the brakes. We sat there for a couple of minutes before I figured saving those few Euros was just not worth it. We hailed a cab and eventually got to the hotel at the some cost if we had taken a cab from the start.

The hotel itself wasn’t too exciting. We were again upgraded to a Deluxe room but could definitely tell the difference between a Conrad and a Hilton. The bathtub was tiny, the bed wasn’t as comfy but you get what you get for.

There was nothing really around the hotel except for a Tesco couple of minutes walk away. I wouldn’t recommend staying here if you’re going to explore Dublin. 

We took the first complimentary shuttle leaving at 4am for our 5.30am flight. We were at the airport in 10 minute drive.

Dublin for Thanksgiving 2012: Conrad Dublin


We splurged the first night at the Conrad since it had the better location than the other Hiltons in Dublin. The Conrad is close by to St Stephen’s Green and a ten minute walk to the shopping and dining Grafton street area.

We were checked in even though we arrived before check in time. Was upgraded to a corner deluxe room. Despite some negative reviews on tripadvisor and flyertalk, we didn’t have any issue with the hotel.  It was definitely more upscale than a typical Hilton with marble bath rooms, huge bathtub, excellent toiletries and a nespresso machine in the room. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Dublin for Thanksgiving 2012: IAD – BRU – DUB


One of the best thing about flying through IAD is the Lufthansa Senator Lounge. We took a much needed shower before catching up with emails while enjoying some beer, coffee and the tarmac views.

Austrian flight arriving
We moved to the United RCC dump that was closer to our departure gate an hour before departure. It was crowded with nothing interesting to eat or drink. With nothing better to do, we proceeded to the boarding gate with the gate agent got on the PA informing us that there were running into mechanical issues and that it would take at least 30 minutes. She tried comforting us with information that saying that worst case, there was a substitute plane available.

With the delay, we were most probably going to miss out BRU-FRA-DUB connection. We headed back to the United lounge trying again to change to the 747-8 LH flight but was informed that the flight had already closed. We pleaded saying we were going to miss our connection and just had hand luggage and would run over but there was nothing the agent could do. The agent protected us on a direct Aer Lingus BRU-DUB flight.

45 minutes after the scheduled departure, we were informed that boarding. Hooray! We might still be able to make the connection.

We got settled into our seats. Whoever decided on a 2-4-2 configuration in business should be shot. The business class cabin felt cramped and thankfully we had the 2 window seats. I would not want to be in the middle seat. It was pretty interesting first time for us seating in the backward facing seats. Pre-departure, we were served some champagne in some “classy” plastic glasses. 

More bad news followed when the captain came on board informing now that we now had some issues with the radio and they were trying to fix it as soon as possible. Some passengers got pretty feisty and started ranting to the pursuer. After another 30 minutes the doors were closed and we thought we were finally on our way or so we thought. A couple of minutes later the doors were re-opened and were left wondering on what next now. A business class passenger got his stuff and at this point, wanted to be offloaded. A flight attendant did convince the passenger to stay at a couple minutes of later, the doors were closed and we were finally on our way.

The flight attendant came around taking dinner order after take off with dinner served an hour or so after take off. 

Dublin for Thanksgiving 2012: Exploring Washington D.C


On arrival at IAD, we started off the day with a Starbucks latte before taking the shuttle to the National rental car station. National wanted $75 for a one day rental but thankfully we had a free day cert thanks to the "rent 2 free 1 day promo".

We spent the day at “the mall” enjoying the cold weather and various monuments that DC is famous for. We were overly ambitious and wanted to walk the entire area but gave up half way through and just drove the rest of the way.

Hello Mr. Lincoln

Whjte House from a far
We ended the day in D.C. with some comforting dim sum thanks to recommendation from yelp. We were lucky to have just missed the crowd as the lines were long by the time we were done. The dim sum was definitely better than what we get in Austin and the roasted BBQ pork belly was one of the best we've had in the US. 

Since it was still too early when we got close to the airport, we decided to park the car at the cellphone area and got a one hour nap right in the car.

Dublin for Thanksgiving 2012: AUS-SFO-IAD


The trip didn’t start out on in a good way. I started to feel to sick with a sore throat after lunch at work. Looks like we missed the Thanksgiving crowd with airport was empty when we got there at 6pm. The check-in machines were being cranky and we needed an agent to help us get our boarding passes. The computer started spitting out some weird visa requirements at check-in for Dublin – Visa required except for Malaysian passport holders. Hmm.. how about the rest of the world?

The flight itself was uneventful. I had a beer predeparture thinking it would help with the sore throat. With nothing to do , I slept most of the flight waking in the middle of the flight for some snacks.

We arrived on time in SFO and I was starting to feel peckish. We shared a pretty good chicken soup at one of the food courts that again I was hoping to help with the sore throat. 

By the time we got on the plane for our red-eye to IAD, we were pretty tired. I'm pretty good at sleeping up right and slept most of the flight where as Lydia pretty much stayed awake and watched the complimentary directTV in domestic first class.

Dublin for Thanksgiving 2012: Introduction

It is common every year for several airlines offer good deals in business class from the US to Europe during the Thanksgiving holidays due to minimum business travel during this time. Having relocated to the US, this would be my first time taking advantage of this deal.

Dublin being one of the two cheaper options with ~$2000 roundtrip tickets in business class from Austin on a combination of United and Lufthansa. The flight routing rules seem to be pretty flexible and allowed for backtracking to the west coast. Yes, it was crazy to flight back west ward but hey, more miles are always good and would help in my UA *G requalification.

I had researched flight options for a couple of weeks and was planning on flying Lufthansa via Frankfurt on the 747-8 on the outbound and A380 from the inbound but did not pull the trigger as I was not sure if I could actually make the trip due to work commitments. The fare was non-refundable and there was a nasty change fee so I had to be 100% sure.

When I did finally wanted to make the purchase, there was no longer availability on the 747-8 flight in the required fare class for my ticket. Dang! They did open up some more seats later but I couldn't change to it unless I wanted to pay the change fee. We'll wait for another time to try the 747-8.

Due to work commitments again, I couldn't take extra days off and have the entire week off. At the end, I settled for a routing AUS-SFO-IAD leaving right after work on Wednesday with a day to explore Washington D.C. before continuing on United and Lufthansa to Brussels and Frankfurt/Dublin respectively. On the trip home, I manage to tagged on a IAH-LAX flight to try the 787 before turning right back to AUS to get me home late on a Sunday just in time for work on Monday.

I waited until pretty late to pull the trigger on the hotels and got lucky thanks for the Hilton sale with close to 40% discount. We opted to stay one night at the Conrad in the city center and another at the Hilton Dublin airport since it was not only way cheaper but we had super early 5.30am flight and I needed the extra stay to try to quality for Hilton Honors Diamond.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Hilton La Jolla

Another long overdue post. We spent my birthday this year in the San Diego/Los Angeles with one night spent at Hilton La Jolla. The room was only ready an hour later after arriving at 3pm at the hotel. Sort of annoying but gave us a chance to explore the hotel.

Lydia pulled a surprised by calling the hotel ahead of time trying to arrange an upgrade.I was shocked that we were upgraded to a massive suite with an amazing view of the adjacent golf course.

Balcony from the suite