I’m about a week late with this post, but for good reason. I just returned from a week-long trip to Hawai’i with the entire family. Not to worry, I’ll have several posts on that soon enough. In the meantime, following in Brad’s footsteps, here’s some highlights of last year, and a look ahead to 2020.
Lots of Time In the Air, Many Goals Accomplished
I ended up logging quite a bit of time in the air in 2020. Most of it for blog material, of course. 🙂 The final tally: 57,209 miles over 37 segments, covering 5 foreign countries and 24 airports.
All that flying also yielded six new airports: Salt Lake City, Nashville, Burbank, Vancouver, Toronto, and Hilo.
In the process, I ended up accomplishing most of what I set out to do at the beginning of the year. Some of this involved three excellent First Class products, by Lufthansa, Korean Air, and ANA. Korean Air probably offered the best hard product, with the fantastic Kosmo Suite 2.0.
Meanwhile, Lufthansa offered the best ground service, with the First Class Terminal in Frankfurt.
And finally, ANA offered the best meal with a sumptuous 9-course Japanese feast en route to Los Angeles.
Oh, and the 17-year old Hibiki was no slouch, either.
I didn’t limit my blog boondoggles to First Class, though. I also set out a goal of reviewing more Premium Economy products, and added several to the ledger. My trip in search of a Lufthansa FCT duck began with a flight in Air New Zealand Premium Economy. Air New Zealand provided a nice PE product, coming in on the “Business Lite” end of the spectrum.
Later, in October, I sampled two more Premium Economy products (trip report coming soon). This began with a flight in Cathay Pacific Premium Economy, on their unique New York – Vancouver fifth freedom route. (Unfortunately, Cathy plans to discontinue this route in March.) This product left me quite impressed, again feeling like a “Business Lite” product.
That trip continued with a flight in Air Canada’s transcontinental Premium Economy which – underwhelmed. AC unfortunately provided a rather AA-ish level of service. The seat on the 787-9 is comfy, though.
As for a few odds and ends, I mixed in a couple of trips on new* aircraft. The first was a flight on Delta’s swanky new
Bombardier CS100 Airbus A220-100. While I planned on flying one of the launch flights from DFW on January 31st, the government shutdown unfortunately delayed it. I had to reschedule for April, with a flight in Main Cabin to New York. Although initially skeptical of the hype, I must say, I think Delta has a winner on its hands. The A220 provided an excellent experience in the back of the bus.
As for the asterisk, I put that there for my test of United’s new CRJ-550. It’s not “new”, in the sense that it’s just a repurposed CRJ-700. But like the A220, I think United has a winner on its hands with this aircraft. The experience is quite nice, even back in deep coach. Perhaps more importantly, the flight attendants really impressed me with their hustle and service ethic. I’ll have a review up soon, but suffice to say, it’ll be a good one.
I also set a goal of (finally) trying American’s A321T First Class and Flagship First Dining. Mission accomplished, with both piggybacked off of my A220 flight. While the on-board meal disappointed, American mostly delivered on the rest of the experience. Although the price premium results in questionable value, it is the most comfortable way to fly across the country.
I also used 2,500 United miles to attend a preview of the United Polaris Lounge at LAX the day before its official opening. United’s certainly done a nice job with their flagship lounge at Los Angeles. Though I do wonder about crowding in the dining room during peak periods.
Last but not least, my son enjoyed the privilege of sitting up front on the short hop from Honolulu to Hilo. Yes, it’s a short flight, but I’m proud of him for acting like a true gentleman.
A Truly Aspirational Hotel Redemption
I generally don’t get all that excited about hotels, but I booked a true aspirational award redemption last year. As part of my First Class review trip to Japan, I enjoyed two nights at the Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo. Quite possibly one of the best uses of Marriott Bonvoy points in my lifetime.
Besides that, a plain vanilla Bonvoy credit card free night certificate turned semi-aspirational. I booked a standard room at the Delta Toronto, but received an upgrade at check-in to a ginormous corner suite. Why they gave me this room, I have no clue, but I didn’t complain. Especially with this view.
A Little Road Trippin’, But Not What I Hoped
Late in 2018, I sketched out a couple of long road trips I hoped to take during 2019. Specifically, to the Upper Midwest in summer, and a few National Parks of the Southwest in late fall. Unfortunately, for various reasons, I had to put both trips on the shelf. But I did check one big bucket list item off my list – driving on the derestricted autobahn in Germany. I reserved a morning just for that during my weekend in Mainz. While the autobahnen aren’t the 180-mph racetrack some might imagine, it’s still pretty exciting. I managed to hit Ludicrous Speed in the 110-125 mph range a few times.
I also snuck in one shorter road trip in late October. This one took me and my family to the White Sands of New Mexico, and Guadalupe Mountains National Park in far West Texas.
I guess to most people, a nearly 1,500 mile road trip is a big deal, but to me, that rates as a disappointment…
Anyway, the shimmering White Sands are truly magical at sunset.
And give pretty much any 3-year old boy a giant sandbox, and they leave happy.
Meanwhile, in the Guadalupe Mountains, we enjoyed a short stroll with El Capitan providing an iconic Texas backdrop.
A Year-End Family Vacation to Hawai’i
To close out the year, my entire family – us, mom, siblings, nephews – headed to Hawai’i for a family reunion of sorts. I won’t spoil the eventual trip report with too many details. But suffice to say, we had lots of fun. My mom seeing the sunset at the top of Mauna Kea probably ranked as the highlight.
Food Around the World
Of course, I used my travels as an excuse to showcase #foodporn from around the world. The goodies ranged from schnitzel in its native habitat in Germany…
…to sukiyaki houtou in Japan…
…poutine in Toronto…
…and last but not least, malasadas on the Big Island of Hawai’i.
A Look Ahead to 2020
So what’s on tap for 2020? A lot, actually. Here’s a few highlights of what to expect:
More Premium Economy Reviews
Personally, I’m a fanboy of Premium Economy products. When you don’t have a practical way of accumulating several hundred thousand miles for multiple award tickets in Business Class, PE provides a decent compromise at a doable price. Already on the docket for this year: WestJet Premium and Virgin Atlantic on the upper deck of the 747.
Four Business Class Points Reviews
Along with Premium Economy, I currently have four Business Class award trips already booked:
- British Airways Club Suites on the A350-1000 (early February)
- EVA Air
Premium LaurelRoyal Laurel Class on the 777-300ER (mid-May)
- Qatar Qsuites on the A350-1000 (mid-May)
- British Airways old Club World on the upper deck of the 747 (mid-May)
(Thanks to Brad for reminding me that EVA uses Royal Laurel, its reverse herringbone product, on the 77W. I can never keep the names straight.) The last three are part of an ambitious around the world routing; it takes me to Houston, Taipei, Hong Kong, Doha, London, and New York before returning to Dallas. Why the old Club World product? I’m on a mission to fly as many 747s as I can before they head to the boneyard for good.
An Alaskan Fly/Drive/Rail Adventure
This summer, I’ve decided to try a combo fly/drive/rail vacation. We’re going to fly to Alaska, then drive around the state for 10 days. We plan to fly to Fairbanks, then drive up to the Arctic Ocean at Deadhorse and back. Then, we’ll spend a few days at Denali National Park. Finally, we plan on catching the famous Alaska Railroad Denali Star from there back to Anchorage before heading home.
The most…interesting…part of this trip promises to be the drive from Fairbanks to Deadhorse and back. If you’re a fan of Ice Road Truckers, you’ll recognize it as the Dalton Highway. The show’s seasons 3-6 featured winter runs on the remote highway; any vehicle can use the road, though. The 495 miles of road includes just one pit stop in Coldfoot, and only basic accommodations in Deadhorse. Don’t expect any high-value award redemptions, in other words.
You’ll notice no mention of a cruise. I contemplated booking one last year, but it looked unlikely given everything already scheduled. Right now, it looks unlikely in 2020 as well. We’re seriously considering a big, big trip to India in early 2021; that way, we can take Ashok during off-season before he starts grade school. That makes any significant travel after our summer Alaska trip unlikely.
Once Again, Thanks for Reading
I’ll end once again with a sincere thank you to my loyal readers. I appreciate all of you, and hope you enjoyed the content in 2019. Here’s to an exciting start to the new decade!