Sunday, January 26, 2014

Thanksgiving 2013 in Maldives: Austin to Frankfurt


      It was freezing cold in Austin and most of the United States the week of Thanksgiving and we were happy and excited to be getting some sun and warmth in the Maldives. We had booked a revenue flight on American to Denver via Dallas as part of hitting the 30k miles required to hit Executive Platinum.

      I was looking forward to switching over to AA/Oneworld after United hugely devalued their miles but we've been having constant flight delays on AA flights we were taking which I'm partly blaming on the aging MD80 fleet. It was no difference this time as there was a water leak in the forward galley but thankfully they managed to get it fix with "only a 45 minute" delay to Dallas. The delay ate into our layover time in Dallas but we still did manage to squeeze a early lunch in the Amex Centurion Lounge. 

      Early lunch in the Amex Lounge
      Thankfully the flight to Denver was uneventful but more importantly, it left and arrived on-time! It would have really sucked to have the flight delayed or cancelled and missing the Frankfurt flight. After a quick check-in with no issues having our luggage short checked to Rome, we headed for the American Airlines lounge which we got in thanks to my Amex Platinum card. I knew ahead of time that the United lounge that Lufthansa uses was nothing special and the AA lounge was actually way close to the Lufthansa gate.

      Lufthansa Check-in Area

      AA Lounge
      We arrived at  the departure gate right as boarding was about to begin. There was a sizeable crowd that we manage to squeeze through to get into the first class line and soon enough we were in the exclusive confines of the upper deck of the 747 taking us to Frankfurt today.

      Thanksgiving 2013 in Maldives: Introduction


      Another long overdue report! :( Hopefully, I'll finish this as soon as possible.

      After only visiting Conrad Maldives last Christmas and already visiting twice before that (reports here and here), we were not planning to return to Maldives that soon. Yes, it's one of our favorite places on earth but it can be expensive to make it a yearly tradition.

      We had gone on the whale shark excursion during the last visit and had signed up to the non profit Maldives Whaleshark Research program mailing list/facebook page that ran the excursion since we wanted to learn more about the maginificent whale sharks. Early in 2013, there ran a silent charity auction for a stay at the Conrad Maldives which we ended up winning much to our surprise!

      We had initially booked a more direct Turkish Airlines Houston to Male via Istanbul in business class through my United miles to get to Maldives. I was reasonably happy with the redemption since it would give us a chance to try Turkish Airlines and their much acclaimed lounge in Istanbul.

      Two weeks prior to departure, I got restless and managed to come up with a much long winded way of getting to Maldives albeit in First Class:

      • Austin to Denver on revenue tickets on American Airlines
      • Denver to Frankfurt in Lufthansa First Class and onto Rome
      • Rome to Bangkok in Thai First Class
      • Bangkok to Maldives via Singapore on Thai and Singapore Business Class
      Although the flight experience wasn't new having tried both Lufthansa and Thai in first class before, we decided the difference in miles and the additional day traveling required was worth it since it was first class for the most part (First is still First :)), we got to take a Porsche out for a drive during our layover in Frankfurt and had a day for a quick look in Rome.

      For the flights back to Austin, we opted for one of the ex-CMB AA fares since we needed the AA miles for the AA 30k EXP challenge that both of us managed to sign up for. By the time we got around to booking the ticket, the first class fare was no longer available and routing on AA metal or codeshare was somewhat limited which resulted in another long winded multi-hop flight back:
      • Male to Colombo on Srilankan Airways
      • Colombo to Manchester via Abu Dhabi on Etihad in Business
      • Manchester to Austin via Chicago on American Airlines in Business 

      Ritz Carlton Kuala Lumpur


      Lydia and I had to spend a night in Kuala Lumpur on our recent trip back to Malaysia (full trip report coming!) to get your US visas renewed. Instead of staying at our usual Doubletree or Hilton Kuala Lumpur spots, we decided to stay at the Ritz Carlton due to a pretty good deal from booking with American Express Platinum Leading Hotels & Resorts program. As part of booking with Amex, we would be getting a room upgrade, complimentary breakfast and guaranteed late checkout till 4pm. On top of those perks, Amex offers a hotel specific perk like a free lunch or spa credit. In our case, it was a $100 USD dining credit per stay which was the kicker for us considering the room rate was $180 USD after taxes. A $80USD per night rate at a Ritz Carlton seems like a awesome deal!

      Since we had a ton of luggage, we arrived at the Ritz from KLIA via taxi. A porter was on hand on greet us and help with the luggage. What was amazing was that the porter addressed me by name when he handed me the luggage stubs. I'm guessing the took a peek at our airline luggage tags to figure out our names - what great service to start.

      They did manage to find a room ready even though we arrived earlier than the check-in time at around nine in the morning. The front desk agent than went over our perks as part of booking with Amex and we were caught surprised that instead of the $100 USD dining credit, we were offered a afternoon tea instead. I didn't make a big fuss about it then since we were given lounge access even though this was not an entitlement.

      We did later found out that there was no afternoon tea available on the day we were at the Ritz which was really disappointing. Since it wasn't available, the front desk should have proactively swapped out the perk for something else. We eventually went back to the front desk to make a fuss about it and only after standing firm did the front desk manager "replaced" the afternoon tea with the $100USD dining credit.

      It looked like we had been upgraded to a next category room from the cheapest room that we had booked. It wasn't terribly large but I found the room nicely furnished and functional. I liked the fact that the TV was both in front of the sofa and bed allowing me to either laze in bed or relax by the sofa and watch the TV.

      The bathroom was huge and almost the same size as the bed room. It was stocked with high-end amenities and Ritz branded towels.

      We also noticed what looked like last night's turn down amenity left behind and not cleaned up when we checked-in. This was definitely another no-no as a Ritz.

      Last night's turn down amenity
      Since we had arrived early, we managed to sample breakfast at both the lounge and the main restaurant. The breakfast at the lounge was disappointing in that it was very chaotic with not enough tables and the staff having a hard time keeping up with cleaning up the tables and taking orders. The selection in the lounge was as usual, less than the main restaurant but what was supposedly a more relaxed atmosphere was supposed to make up for it. Definitely not in this case.

      Wednesday, January 1, 2014

      Goodbye 2013, Hello 2014!

      Overall, it has been an wonderful 2013. Most of my travels this year has been for leisure since the move to Austin has negated the need to travel from Penang to Austin for work. I did however was lucky to had to Guadalajara for a week on business which cultivated my taste for real Mexican cuisine and tequila.

      One of the the main highlights for the year includes the flying what was one the longest airplane route from Newark to Singapore before Singapore Airlines discontinued the flight late in 2013.

      We've also add Swiss Air and Singapore Airlines to the list of new first class flights that we've tried. We're also not in a hurry to fly Swiss Air again since they've made it a personal mission to not honor the ex-Rangoon first class fare.

      SQ Suites

      Swiss First Class

      Lydia and I have also managed to tick off some more places of our places to visit in the US in 2013 by visiting Miami, Washington DC, New Orleans and Philadelphia and enjoying some pretty good food along the way. The only city left on the list is Chicago and we hope to pay Alinea restaurant  a visit during that trip eventually.

      The most memorable trip and memory of 2013 has to be the unexpected return to Conrad Maldives during Thanksgiving with a scuba certification. Trip report to follow as soon as possible I promise!

      Major changes are coming for both Lydia and I in 2014. We're not sure if we're sticking around Austin in 2014 but more significantly we're expecting a baby boy sometime in late April/early May. We have 1-2 trips at most until we're grounded due to the baby but we've promised ourselves that the baby is not going to ground us and we look forward to sharing the different perspective of having to travel with a kid now.

      As always, thanks for reading the blog and looking forward to sharing our future adventures.

      Happy New Year!