Manufactured Spending Tournament – Introduction

Matt @ Savercity, along with Frequent Miler are putting on a Manufactured Spending Tournament.  This is a follow-up to Frequent Miler’s Million Mile Madness (summarized and linked extensively here) last year.

Matt outlines the tournament in the above link so I won’t rehash things.

Let me be clear: I write QuickCityVisits to share my travel, I want to get to the point where I’m sharing other insights relevant to travel, the travel industry and airlines, but I’m not there yet. I manufacture spend as a hobby, and it helps support my travel hobby.

So, I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring here, primarily because I thought I could learn something, and maybe help others who enjoy the challenges of this hobby. I’m going to lean toward providing vague details here on QuickCityVisits, with a preference for caution over full disclosure, but I’ll tweak that as I better understand what the judges expect, and try to keep it in line with the competition.

I really liked The Free-quent Flyer’s approach to his introduction, and I think mimic is the ultimate compliment, so I’ll offer my thoughts in similar fashion here.

My Advantages:

-        I’m taking an approach to work novel approaches to MS, I’ll be competing against myself just as much as the other competitors, as I try to figure out newer, more efficient ways of generating spend.

-        I’ve been doing this for a while, I have some of the necessary instruments already in place, such as reselling, which has been a bigger focus of mine already this year. This gives me a chance to kick it up another notch.

-        I’ve used less than $100 of my available $1500 of 5x on my Freedom; its small, but leveraging all the 5x that I can is going to be key here.

-        I’m a relative no-body in the community, maybe a dark horse?

My Disadvantages:

-        I’ve already purchased Vanilla Reloads for my March Bluebird and H&RBlock Emerald cards, so I’m already starting a bit behind there.

-        I’ve got some travel already planned to locations where it’s virtually impossible to manufacture spend, so I’ll be behind with respect to utilize all the time. In addition, I have a full time job, further restricting time. – Neither of these are unique to myself, but they are still disadvantages.

I think I’ve laid out the what, the why, but I’ll be vague about the how.

I’ll finish this off with a bid of good luck to all the competitors, many of which are bloggers that have become part of my daily reading.

Seychelles Saga: Emirates First Class Lounge Milan-Malpensa Airport

Emirates First Class Lounge Milan-Malpensa Airport

We departed the hotel for the walk to the airport (a whole 5 minutes), shortly before 8am, primarily because we wanted to balance the time we would have to wake up, with enjoying the lounge. It worked out well.

We already had our boarding passes (they were printed for us at the lounge in JFK), so we proceeded right to security / immigration, which was pretty quick.

On our walk to the lounge, we got the first look at our ride for the next 4-5 hours to Dubai.
Emitrates plane

Also on the walk, a pair of opposing alarmed doors just kind’ve stood out. I’m not sure why, but it just seemed a bit odd to me. Take a look:

Exit door

And, as far as random things – I’m feeling like there may have been some F1 fans, because they even had a Pit Stop…

pit stop

Needless to say, we skipped the pit stop and headed to the Emirates Lounge, which was one floor up and had a reasonably good view.
The Emirates Lounge

We found a table / seats, and really enjoyed the table display.

Flowers

I neglected to take any photos of the lounge, sans the entry-way area.

emirates lounge

There were plenty of drinks, and a pretty nice food spread.

Drinks:
drinks

drinks

Espresso:
Espresso

For food they offered omelet’s made to order, cheese sandwiches, a handful of other options, and a Frittata (which always reminds me of Harrison Ford in Morning Glory

food

And of course, they had some fruits and fruit juices, cereal, milk, etc.

food

And cold meats.

food

Before long it was time to board. This was a nice surprise, because Emirates has “gates” that directly connect to the jet way (by elevator, not necessarily directly to the aircraft).

jet way

Year in Review, Goals for the New Year, and a Giveaway

Year in Review It has been a pretty interesting year for me on the travel, mile and point front. Perhaps the biggest thing this year was that I finally launched this blog! This past year my travel decreased by more than a third compared to 2012, but still came in at a healthy 91,490 butt in seat miles. Much of it being award travel. 123113_1255_YearinRevie1.gif

 

 

 

I tried to color code best I could given the numerous trips:

Red was the start of the year, where we spent New Years in Singapore, then headed to our favorite, J.W. Marriott Khao Lak

Navy was our mid-year trip A Seoulful Adventure.

Neon Green (which is hard to see), was a weekend trip to Panama (still working on that report)

Grey was a handful of domestic trips, including down to FTU Tampa, Jacksonville to see family, and Seattle to see friends.

Dark Green was a weekend EQP run to Delhi and Agra, India so I could meet my AA Executive Platinum Match.

Dark Blue (a little difficult to distinguish from the Navy) was the Star MegaDo 5. Giddy for Points wrote a nice summary.

Indigo was the Seychelles Saga.

In total, I visited 6 new countries (South Korea, Panama, India, United Arab Emirates, Seychelles, and Ireland), giving me a good start to a longer term goal of seeing another 30 countries by age 40.

Status-wise, I was able to maintain Hyatt Diamond and Marriott Platinum. I made the decision to abandon my United 1K status based on some of the “flyerfriendly” changes United made earlier in the year, and instead parlayed my current status into an Executive Platinum status match on American. I’ve been very happy with my AA status thus far.

Overall, it’s been a fun travel year!

Goals for 2014:

This is perhaps a shorter list than it should be, but I’m sure I’ll add more to it as the year goes on.

-        Re-qualify for Executive Platinum on American

-        Re-qualify for Marriott Platinum

-        Re-qualify for Hyatt Diamond

-        Fly the Emirates A380 in First

-        Fly the 787 Dreamliner (booked on LAN’s 787 on Friday)

Giveaway:

So, this is my first shot at trying to give something away, but I there is a first time for everything:

I have two United GPU’s that will expire 31 January 2014. If you have a trip before then on United that is eligible for a GPU (e.g. booked in fare class M, H, B, Y, I think there may be others), please leave a comment on this post.

Note: Global Premier Upgrades for flights booked in fare class Z, P, S, T, L, K, G or N are not available. Please leave a comment no later than 5pm Eastern Time, 2 January, and I will select a winner at random.

Happy New Year!

Seychelles Saga: Sheraton Milan Malpensa Airport Hotel & Conference Centre

Seychelles Saga

Seychelles Saga: Sheraton Milan Malpensa Airport Hotel & Conference Centre

When we had planned our stop in Milan, we had done so with the idea that we might go into Milan, but we just weren’t sure how we were going to feel. Long story short, we had been coming off a few weeks of hard work, so our 20 or so hour stay ended up being significantly catch up on sleep, and wandering through the landside of Milan Malpensa Airport.

We have SPG Gold status, and this was our first time at SPG staying with it. I’m not sure I could tell anything different, other than free internet, I didn’t notice much different. I still believe free internet should be a standard now, but I digress.

The lobby was fairly modern, spacious, and clean looking.

Loby

There was also an espresso set-up in the lobby.

espresso

We were given room 1105, which was a standard room, looking away from the Airport.

The room, while standard was pretty spacious. Looking back toward the entry, there were a couple of closets.

clothest

Just after entering the bathroom was to the right.

bathroom

The toiletries were nice as well.

toiletries

After the bathroom, on the right was the bed.

BED

and across from the bed was a nicely wall mounted TV, as well as a small workstation, and coffee / tea set-up.

TV

Overall, the hotel was nice for an Airport hotel, but I would really have to consider whether I’d make the trek into the city instead next time… Especially if I had Emirates premium transfer service each way.

 

SAMSUNG CSC

Seychelles Saga: Emirates First Class – New York-JFK to Milan, Italy

Seychelles Saga

Emirates First Class New York to Milan

The gate was already significantly crowded, but we found a side-route to board. While we were not the first to board, I think we were the first First class passengers to board.

SAMSUNG CSC

Onboard we were pleasantly surprise with an amazing looking cabin, much like the one on the A380.

SAMSUNG CSC

SAMSUNG CSC

The seats were great too:

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SAMSUNG CSC

As we were settling in, I noticed the mini-bar, and quite honestly thought to myself — wow, this is extravagance, who needs a mini-bar in First Class? Later in the trip, it became quite apparent how nice it is, to have a place to grab a water or soda from, during times when the cabin crew are seated (e.g. taxi, take-off, landing, etc.).

SAMSUNG CSC

And of course, there was pre departure bubbly.

SAMSUNG CSC

Pre-departure champagne was Vueve Clicquot, which was what they had in the lounge. They broke out the Dom Perignon (I think 2003) once we reached cruising altitude.

Soon after, the cabin crew came around with amenity kits, pajamas, slippers, and eye shades.

SAMSUNG CSC

I will note that the Mrs.’ amenity kit was much smaller than mine. Mine (inside the brown bag) looked like an old leather dictionary cover. Really, really nice, but large.

SAMSUNG CSC

Once we were in the air, the cabin crew came around with more champagne and some warm nuts. As you can see, there was a pretty good selection of them.

SAMSUNG CSC

After that, we each had a selection of sandwiches. They were alright, but I was looking for something more.

SAMSUNG CSC

The alternative (and I think they pulled it from either Business or Economy Class) was a small pizza. I clearly had not eaten enough in the lounge, nor done my research as far as the extent of the meal service.

SAMSUNG CSC

The Mrs. Had some stuffed potatoes and some sweets. I can attest to the great quality of the pink macaroon (aka, it was great).

SAMSUNG CSC

Afterwards we were tired enough that we really just wanted to sleep, so unfortunately I didn’t get photos of the bed made up. Briefly described: the seat was reasonably comfortable as a bed, the mattress pad however was too narrow for the seat and didn’t help all that much. Not to be picky, but a second pillow would’ve also helped, but the one was at least of a size that I could double it over.

About 90 minutes before arrival, we got our wake-up, and had a small breakfast. I opted for the Crepes, which were good, but nearly as phenomenal as my crepes on Qatar Airways Business class to Singapore.

SAMSUNG CSC

The Mrs. had an egg dish, which she enjoyed.

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Before we knew it, our descent had begun and our great flight was almost over. The views were great though, with snow covered mountains among the clouds.

SAMSUNG CSC

Before long we were on our way to the Sheraton for our brief visit in Milan.

Seychelles Saga – Emirates First Class Lounge

Seychelles Saga

We really started out at Reagan National (DCA) in DC, but since that was a CRJ700, I won’t spend really anytime. It was a quick flight anyway. Once to JFK, we made the trek to the Skytrain, then onward to check-in.

Checking in was smooth until the agent noticed that our boarding passes hadn’t printed with lounge access. They had to dig into the reservation, because apparently Alaska Air awards look like travel agent and employee tickets, and the latter two don’t get lounge access (not sure why).

The agent finally gave up and called the manager of the lounge and let them know to expect us.

We proceeded to security. This was a nice surprise, because the First Class line also happened to be TSA PreCheck. We were through almost as fast as we could push the folks (who didn’t know the PreCheck process) in front of us.

When we made it to the lounge, we were still a few hours before our flight, so the agent at the entrance pretty much knew who we were. The lounge was great. It was overtop of two A380 gates, and even had boarding from the lounge.

The lounge was really nicely done in earth tones. It didn’t look especially opulent, but still very nice. The food was plentiful and quite good.

We had a “Light” meal in the lounge, which was a good thing because the flight only had “light bites” and then a full breakfast. I will note that the champagne in the lounge was Vueve Cliquot and quite good.

There were also some nice views of the A380 flight that was to leave after us but go directly to Dubai.

Before we knew, it was time to board. Unfortunately we didn’t get to board from the lounge, so we had to navigate the masses to board, but such is life.

Seychelles Saga: Intoduction

Seychelles Saga

This trip started after finding a mistake fare on FlyerTalk that we speculatively bought, figuring it wouldn’t last. Well a couple of months went by and folks started reporting successfully flying the fare, so we decided we would start filling in the pieces.

The first step was actually getting there. We didn’t start thinking about this until August or so. Our options were Ethiopian via ADD, Emirates via DXB, or Etihad via AUH. I think Kenya Airways and South African Airways have flights but none that worked with the type of miles we wanted to use or our dates.

Initially I was leaning toward ADD, because I generally have no problem earning UA miles, but, there was no premium cabin availability, and it was ADD (not judging but, it didn’t seem as nice as the UAE). Ultimately things worked out, where I flew my folks to Europe on United (Global First out, Business back), and they had some spare Diners Club points that could be transferred to Alaska Airlines, thereby we booked Emirates First Class to the Seychelles.

Since our trip back was already partially booked on Etihad, at least to Dublin, I booked a placeholder on Lufthansa. Then a few days before we left, I ended up changing from DUB-FRA-IAD to DUB-FRA-YYZ-BWI, because I could guarantee two seats in F and access to the Lufthansa First Class Terminal. Ending in BWI vs. IAD was actually better, since we are only 20 minutes away from BWI, so the additional transit time saved sitting in traffic.

Ultimately, our itinerary looked like this:

The red is American Airlines, DCA to JFK, Gold is Emirates, Green is Etihad and Navy is Lufthansa.

I’m starting this one out of sequence, primarily because I’m writing it from the Seychelles and want to try sharing updates faster than the May trip report I’m still writing.

I hope you’ll enjoy reading as much as I enjoy writing this, cheers!

Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok

A Seoulful Adventure 2013

The taxi ride to the Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok was uneventful, as you might expect. Checking in, however, was anything but. Note that this was our second visit to the Grand Hyatt Erawan. But, nonetheless this, visit would be substantially different. For starters, upon check-in, I had mentioned that I had wanted to use a Diamond Suite Upgrade. The reception attendant (not sure what the appropriate title is), said that there were no Hyatt suites available, but she could upgrade us to a spa cottage. Now, while she was looking, I had noticed a small digital photo-like display just to the side, highlighting the upgrade possibilities and attributing costs. The Spa cottage was mid-way down, implying that it was in fact, a substantial upgrade. So when we were offered that, while the Mrs. hesitated, I did not. She later saw the same display, and lets just say, a pat on the back was had.
The Spa Cottage was on the same floor as the pool. Essentially, you take the elevator to the spa, walk out, as if you are going to the pool, but, go to your room. The cottage was broken up almost into quadrants. To the left of the door, was a sitting room, behind that a bedroom, from 12-3 o’clock (with ones back to the entry door) is the bathroom, from 3-6 o’clock was the treatment room. It’s a pretty cool deal. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

Approaching the Spa Cottage.

Approaching the Spa Cottage.

Door to the Spa Cottage.

Door to the Spa Cottage.

To the left was the sitting room.

Sitting Room.

Sitting Room.

TV in sitting room (with entry door in background).

TV in sitting room (with entry door in background).

Walking to the left past the sitting room was the bedroom.

Bedroom view.

Bedroom view.

Bed

Bed

 Bed at turndown

Bed at turndown

From the bedroom, you walk past the water closet.

 Toilet. (note the Japanese style)

Toilet. (note the Japanese style)

To the bathroom that included extra areas for various spa treatments, and a soaking tub.

Sink.

Sink.

Soaking tub.

Soaking tub.

Treatment Table (I think)

Treatment Table (I think)

Spacious shower.

Spacious shower.

Then walking back from the bathroom to the front door, is the treatment area (and why they call it a spa cottage).

Treatment room

Treatment room

In the spa treatment room was also a selection of teas:

Teas.

Teas.

And finally, a very nice touch by the door were two hats:

Hats.

Hats.

Another really nice touch was what I would call a “beach bag” but, given the context here, it was probably a “pool bag.”

Pool bag.

Pool bag.

Pool bag.

Pool bag.

We missed the first nights evening hors d’oeurves, instead heading to meet up with some friends at the wine bar that was at street level (a level below the lobby).

 Wine Bar.

Wine Bar.

We came back to a small desert snack in our room:

Evening turndown snack.

Evening turndown snack.

Our second (and last) night, we were able to par take of the evening snacks. Because the lounge was being renovated, it was moved to the hotel’s “Tables” Restaurant. Having experienced the lounge the last time we were at the hotel, this was a treat, although obviously the view wasn’t as good. A section of the restaurant was cordoned off for elite or club level guests, and the spread was nice, not the best I’ve seen at a Hyatt, but substantial enough.
First, it is hard not to note the table decoration (and our iPads on the side):

Table decoration.

Table decoration.

Evening snacks.

Evening snacks.

Evening snacks.

Evening snacks.

Evening snacks.

Evening snacks.

Perhaps the best part were the desserts.

Desserts

Desserts

Then, of course, we had to make our own selections.

Snacks.

Snacks.

And then a close-up of the main attraction.

Desserts and awesome macaroons.

Desserts and awesome macaroons.

And, just for completeness of a review of the hotel, below are some photos of the lobby (which was gorgeous and spacious).

 Lobby seating area.

Lobby seating area.

 Lobby (and cool looking staircase).

Lobby (and cool looking staircase).

The second night we came back to a different set of snacks which were a treat:

Second night snacks.

Second night snacks.

Our last day started early, and we were unable to partake of breakfast at Tables (aka the temporary lounge), so we requested it be delivered to the room (aka spa cottage), it was a very nice spread. This hotel has been the most memorable of our “early morning breakfasts,” as we had one the last time we visited as too.

 Breakfast in the room.

Breakfast in the room.

Overall, the Grand Hyatt Erawan is an amazing hotel. I don’t have any other Bangkok hotels to compare it to, but, the way the Mrs. and I have been treated, it has been really hard to look elsewhere.