Mileage Running – A Play by Play

1 Nov

The day has arrived! I will be live-blogging and tweeting the following mess:

Miles. I must have them.

MCI-CLE-SFO-LAS[19hr layover]-SFO-CLE-MCI

The Las Vegas layover is sponsored by a sweet deal found on Travelocity. Night at a non-Strip (but within 2 blocks) all-suites property and (full size) car rental for less than $65 hours total.

Check back starting at 11:30am CT and keep an eye out on Twitter for up to the minute hilarity events!

11:30am CT:

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All checked in, ready to go. Wondering how come Cleveland always gets ignored in all weather maps? I’d be reading the cities and it’s usually Chicago, Detroit and Pittsburgh. No love for Cleveland.

Maybe Chicago Bulls’ superstar Joakim Noah was right?

3:10pm ET:

Arrived safely at CLE. Joakim was right, I’m afraid. Nothing but factories out here. Gloomy weather as well. Not a pretty picture.

Currently in the United Club trying to not eat over 1,000 calories worth of trail mix and Milano cookies. Maybe this United Club has a signature Cleveland beer?

3:14pm ET

No local beers. Only 50mins until boarding to SFO starts. Can’t wait.

4:45pm ET

What I have access to for being Star Alliance Gold.

Could be worse, I guess?

On an Airbus 320. May be the first time all year. Noticed a sticker that said this plane has been “air worthy since 2000.”

Didn’t see an expiration date.

8:15pm PT

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Aboard CLE-SFO. The Colorado Rockies around sunset.

Flight arrived 25mins early. Everything is going flawless so far! I’m almost tempted to bet in Vegas (but I won’t).

Visited a couple United Club lounges and almost made it to the Singapore Business Class Kris Lounge but they weren’t open yet. Bastards.

Looking forward to going in tomorrow night before the red eye back to CLE.

How awesome is the SFO airport, by the way? Haven’t been here in 3 years but it sure is an automatic favorite. Up there with JFK’s Terminal 8 and Miami’s Terminal D. LAX sucks all over and ORD is too cramped.

I guess IAH/DFW are also cool in their everything-is-bigger-in-Texas way.

Taking off to LAS at 8:35pm PT.

8:33pm PT

Near full flights all day and 3 for 3 on empty middle seats! I really have to gamble now.

11:10pmPT

This is my 6th (or 7th) visit to Las Vegas since 2008 and the airport is now a completely different beast. Or at least Terminal 3 is. With direct routes to Seoul (Korean Air), London (British Airways), Dusseldorf (Air Berlin) and even Panama City (Copa Airline) LAS is now a major US player. 

The rental car shuttle was a quick 10-min ride away and once I a vehicle was secured immediately headed over to some truly local fare, courtesy of Yelp:

Not your typical Taco Bell visit.

I was like, “Carnal! Dame cuatro tacos diferentes! De lo que sea!” and they delivered. Above you have, pork, beef, tongue and brains. Plus a bunch of other stuff. Best (most authentic) tacos I ever had.

3:52am PT

After some Vegas-ing made it to the room before dawn. The 65$ spent on Travelocity (including car) where now looking better than ever.

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Adding a resort fee ($15) and $8 spent in gas the Travelocity deal of room + car ends up at $87. Still a pretty, pretty good deal.

November 2nd

8:07am PT

One of the perks of traveling west is your body is still running on CT/ET time. Waking up mildly refreshed after ~4hrs of sleep is something you get used to real quick in Las Vegas.

One of my Mileage Run rituals  is getting a workout at the final destination. In part to check out the local Gold’s Gym, in part to meet locals. Let’s see if I can pull it today.

12:51pm PT

No visit to Gold’s Gym but did manage to get a quick full body workout in preparation to a visit to The Strips’ newest buffet. The Bacchanal at Caesars Palace.

Good food but nothing you couldn’t have at the Bellagio, Wynn or any of the better buffets on the Strip.

3pmPT

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Bodies. Permanent exhibition at The Luxor.

With a couple of hours to kill before the airport, I finally got a chance to visit Bodies, The Exhibition. Always wanted to check it out but time never permitted it. Pretty fascinating stuff to see. It used to go around cities but now has been banned in several states and countries. If you get a chance to see it in Vegas or otherwise, I highly recommend it.

5:30pm PT

Let’s do this again.

On Friday afternoon folks are usually arriving  to Vegas so security was very quick. There were also no less than 8 lanes in this new terminal!  I’m confident even on a busy Sunday night things should move along relatively fast. Considering size and time spent, this may currently be the best airport experience in the US.

The inbound flight was slightly delayed so I made the 2-mile trek to The Club at LAS.

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Located by gate E2. AKA the furthest gate you can walk to.

I’m a fan of The Club at DFW and this is a bigger, upgraded version. Also offering premium drinks and made-to-order sandwiches.

We may have to thank Korean Air for getting this one done?

8:48pmPT

Arrived in SFO where I walked  another mile to the International Terminal just to be denied entry at the Singapore Silver Kris Lounge. I get access to it as a Star Alliance Gold member but only when flying internationally. Major letdown.

Off to the United Club and more crackers and trail mix.

10:48pm PT

Full flight to CLE. Crap. Bring on the redeye pain. At least I have Channel 9.  THE ABSOLUTE BEST THING ABOUT FLYING UNITED. Hands down.

November 3rd

6:22am ET

I’m back at Cleveland.  I feel like I’ve been in planes for a week. But it’s only three two days. I have to go from concourse F to concourse D and this is what I have in front of me. Of course.

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10:33amCT

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Perpetuating the Kansas stereotype. Landing at MCI. (Missouri)

48 hours later, another mileage run adventure ends successfully. Very impressed with the United operations. 5 of 6 flights departed but better yet all arrived as scheduled or earlier. And again, channel 9 is just too awesome for any aviation geek. 

Need some miles for travel or status? Go ahead, give it a run.

More Mileage Running and Status Matches

25 Oct

Talking about miles and travel hacking cracking

Back in February I introduced you to the concept of mileage runs. Those insane trips to somewhere and back for the sole purpose of accruing miles.

I have traveled a lot this year but besides my introductory post, I have only done one other pure mileage run during 2012. During the summer, Frontier Airlines offered a status match to Southwest’s frequent flyers in Colorado. Frontier is based in Denver and they do it to entice customers to switch carries without losing their “top privileges.” American Airlines did it this year as well, matching top United flyers.

Frontier’s matching was targeted for Colorado residents but I proceeded to (conveniently) ignore that fact and emailed them something along these lines:

“Hello, I am based in KC and even though I’m AA Platinum, there are many times when Frontier has great fares. If you were to match me to Summit (Frontier’s highest status) I would gladly pick your airline over the competition.”

Short, sweet and actually really honest. They wrote back a couple of days later telling me I was being granted top status for 60 days and had to flight 6-segments within that period to keep my Summit status until February 2014.

I ended up flying to Phoenix for a previously booked trip and decided to check on Frontier for the return. Luckily, they had a very good sale going on (they often do) and I managed to grab a PHX-DEN and a DEN-MCI, both for around $105 total.

That left me with about a month to complete my status challenge. With no domestic trips in the agenda at the time, I had to do a last minute mileage run (or in this case, segment-run) and booked MCI-DEN, DEN-OKC, OKC-DEN, DEN-MCI. I actually booked them as four separate one-way tickets just to be safe on the segment situation. The language wasn’t really clear on the challenge letter.

The day came and I flew back-to-back-to-back-to-back over 16 hours. I even managed to get some exercise in while at it. Two 200-meter sprints across the Denver airport.

Securing Summit status until Feb 2014 cost me about $240. I expect this to pay dividends over 2013 as I schedule flights FLL (great fares to Miami), MCO, SFO and MSY (now a new direct flight from MCI). In fact, carrying my Summit card has already worked tremendously. At MDW in Chicago, showing my card pre-security allowed me to skip a monstrous line just a couple of weeks ago. (Even though I was not flying Frontier at the time….ahem….* wink*)

More matching stories

About six months ago, [one European Star Alliance airline] offered to status match flyers in other alliances. However, this offer was only open to people living in [certain Asian countries]. Being a smart, envelope-pusher individual, I contacted a colleague living in one of those certain Asian countries and he agreed to let me use his home address in my registration. 2-3 emails later and I was matched to Star Alliance Gold. Awesome. (Two weeks later I went online and updated my profile’s address so I could receive the actual card.)

Status matches are not that uncommon. Aegean Airlines and Turkish Airlines (also Star Alliance members) usually have them year-round but I decided to go with the [one European Star Alliance airline] because their offer was temporary and extremely limited.

Why do it? Well, having top status with Star Alliance allows me an added freedom when it comes to picking who to fly with. Now I can truly look for the cheapest fares knowing I don’t HAVE to fly American Airlines (or other One World member) or Frontier. It’s a great thing to have…but unfortunately, also hard to maintain year after year.

As part of my match to top status with this [one European Star Alliance airline], I have to fly 50,000 miles (with any Star Alliance airlines) before May 2013. Fifty thousand! The same amount I’ll also have to fly during all of 2013 with One World alliance airlines in order to keep my American Airlines Platinum status. On paper, it sounds like a lot…and it is!

No, honestly, it’s relatively manageable when you run the numbers. Thanks to Copa Airlines (Panama) and Avianca/Taca (Colombia, Peru, Costa Rica) joining the Star Alliance (and because I already qualified for PLT with American Airlines), I’ve already racked up some airtime and stand at close to 15,000 miles.

Status matches are not exclusive to airlines. Some hotel chains offer some sort of challenge (stay 6 nights over the next 3 months)  while others may even just give it to you straight up!

You really have to like flying

Airplanes and airports are absolutely fascinating to me. I’m sure you realized that by now. Every arrival to a new airport is exciting, every take-off, every landing (knock on wood so they’re always the same number!), even just the process of booking the ticket itself is exciting!

A few weeks ago, doing a common random 2am ITA Fare Matrix search, I ran across an excellent Kansas City to Las Vegas fare. Round trip, everything included, for $160.34 on United. The merger with Continental earlier this year was probably no big deal for the casual traveler. To be honest, it wasn’t to me either until I started flying United again and realized more hubs = more potential miles!

Through some internet magic, I managed to dig and book MCI-CLE-SFO-LAS-SFO-CLE-MCI for that exact same price. I could have easily flown MCI-IAH-LAS for a more direct routing but I don’t want a direct route! I want to maximized my mileage per dollar spent (Cents per Mile, CPM). I also greatly improve my chances of running into overbooked flights that may be paying for people to  take a later flight  in exchange for a three-digit voucher. With no checked bags and an open schedule, it’s a no-brainer.

This “optimized” routing will earn me ~6500 miles. A very nice amount considering for only 10,000 miles I can fly one-way from/to Caracas to/from other South American cities, including Lima, San Jose and Bogota. These tickets are usually over $500 when purchased one-way. Nonsense, I know.

Those cities are also major hubs for LAN and Avianca/Taca, in case I need to to reposition for future flights (see? It’s all connected!).

Live blogging the experience

This madness starts Thursday (November 1st, 2012). Departing KC at 11:30am CT, eventually arriving in Las Vegas before 11pm PT. After 17 hours on the Strip in the city, I’ll hop on 3 more planes and if all goes as planned, land back in KC before 10am Saturday. Mileage runs are great when you can pull them over a Friday-Saturday but sometimes you gotta burn a weekday in there.

I’ll be live blogging on the way there and back. With so many connections and airports I’m sure there will be plenty of stories to share on here and on my twitter account.

Stay tuned!

Above & Beyond – Full live set (EDC Las Vegas 2012)

12 Oct

I had a chance to catch a live Above & Beyond show during their #GroupTherapy tour and it was one of the best shows I’ve ever been to. I wasn’t a major fan of Trance but along with catching up with Armin Van Buuren’s weekly A State of Trance shows, it’s really growing on me.

Through the miracle of the internet and hardworking people, it’s my pleasure to bring you the full video of their near 2-hour set at this year’s Electric Daisy Carnival. Enjoy!

(Thanks to Youtube user 702babyV6, we appreciate your effort standing there filming for two straight hours!)

Traveling by the Experts (DJ Paul Van Dyk)

27 Jun

Traveling by the Experts will be a series where some of the most frequent travelers in the world share their experiences. Some interviews I conduct myself, while others will be reposted from around the web. Personalities will range from international celebrities to athletes and fellow bloggers. In this first edition, world renown DJ Paul Van Dyk shared his traveling preferences with MAX, a German magazine.

The originally interview was first published in 2007. Through the magic of the internet and some linguistic help, I bring you the translated version.

My comments in blue and the bolding is mine. German is not a cheery language as you may say, so bear with me if things get a little clunky.

(All rights belong to MAX. Click here for the original interview in German. )

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Max Paul van Dyk, in the past year (2006) you have spent 792 hours on a plane and circled the earth 16 times. Actually, you could be just like a pilot, as they dont fly much more than you.

VAN DYK with the difference that a pilot is flying for work and my work only begins when I land somewhere.
 
MAX Since when do you pull this workload through?

VAN DYK In this form, since 2000. More would be counterproductive, I would need an extra day in the week. I am also unhappy that the Concorde has been abolished. I was able to save some time with it. 

(The comment about the Concorde makes total sense. He was able to save 3-4 hours of flying between the US and Europe alone).

MAX Are there types of aircraft that you avoid?
VAN DYK All by aircraft manufacturer McDonnell Douglas. So in the DC 9, DC 10, the Fokker 50 and so on, I do not get on.
(Fascinating, considering I’ve worked on this post aboard one of the 192 McDonnell Douglas airplanes still in the American Airlines fleet).
MAX Why not?

VAN DYK Good airlines such as Lufthansa or British Airways do not have these machines in the fleet and for good reason (these aircrafts seem to have quite a history). Avianca, for example, has very many of them (fortunately, this seems to have changed since). I avoid certain charter airlines, Air Birkin, for example. In Latin America, I prefer flying with Copa Airlines, are now , even if I have to take a detour via Panama. Copa has a modern fleet, mostly Boeing aircrafts. Taca is also a good Latin American airline. (Precisely Avianca, Taca and Copa are the newest members of the Star Alliance, which Lufthansa happens to be founding member of.)

MAX Are you afraid of flying?

VAN DYK Not really, because I’m trying to minimize the risk with my choice of airline. But there are still always strange occurrences. The last flight from Miami to Quito, we took three tries to start. We started to roll, then came the announcement that the papers were not ready yet. I.e. 20 minutes of waiting. The second attempt ended with an emergency stop, apparently because a door was not closed. The third launch attempt was announced, saying now that we would only lose time to make sure everything works. It can even be very uncomfortable.

MAX How to get safely to remote places in Central America?
(Being from Venezuela I find all this talk about flying to/from Latin and Central America absolutely priceless.
 
VAN DYK I usually fly first class to Miami and then from the Executive Airport in Opa-Locka with private jet to Bogota, Medellin and other venues.
MAX Then you have so much space.

VAN DYK That always sounds great, but how can 7 people fit in a Learjet? 2, you can fly comfortably, but 5 of us is tight.

MAX your travel costs must be enormous.
VAN DYK Yes, but it pays off. My daily journey is organized very tightly, so is also important that everything runs as smoothly as possible. There are also private jet charter companies with sky-wide price differences. Lufthansa offers the service “Executive Business Jet(more recent info in this link), which flies to exactly twice the money as my charter company in Berlin. It is worthwhile to look at the price.
MAX you are a member of Lufthansa’s Hon Circle (requiring 600,000 miles in two years). Is it true in Frankfurt they will take you with a chauffeured Mercedes S-class from the gate to the aircraft?

VAN DYK Theoretically yes, but not always practical work of service, and he became Senator client is available to fly, the economy. (We found this sentence rather confusing. Mentioning that someone always get the car so the idea of the s-class isn’t practical?) So the S-Class quota is exhausted quickly, and there is no car available when I need one. Therefore, I prefer to use the Fraport VIP Service. A little extra cost, but I will always be picked up from the aircraft to a lounge where the passport and customs check is done for me, saving much time. I’ll also be driven directly to the next plane back.

MAX We’re impressed. No, jealous.

VAN DYK It is very important for me to explain. That sounds all very crazy at first. But sometimes I only have five minutes to catch a flight, which is not under normal circumstances. I have had to cancel, perhaps, half of the tour because I would have arrived too late.

MAX First or Business Class?

VAN DYK I use first on long haul flights (seems like usually the talent flights on 1st, while the rest of the crew/management has to settle with business)Of the 100 percent of first-class travelers, I would say that maybe one percent do it for reasons of prestige. The rest are people like me who have to work or sleep, because they start working after the flight.

(This is completely understandable. If you have a gig starting at 11pm, the last thing you want to do is get there jet lagged and destroyed).

MAX You sometimes fly economy?

VAN DYK Yes, on short flights. Easy Jet from Schoenefeld to Liverpool to Ibiza in the summer or with Condor from Dusseldorf. I could also fly directly from Berlin to Ibiza with Air Berlin, but I do not like them. The seats are so close, in my experience, one has to sit uncomfortable with their knees pressed against the seat. (Welcome to my life, Van Dyk!)

MAX Do you ever wake up in a hotel and don’t know where you are?
VAN DYK Yes, it happens again and again. I always sleep two or three hours before my gig. Then, when I get the wake-up call, I’m just confused at times.
MAX Which hotels do you prefer? (Way for it, it gets better)
VAN DYK If there is a Mandarin Oriental, I can only recommend it to everyone. This is no a tip for tourists but for businessmen who are under extreme stress conditions and need a bit better services than the usual first-class hotel. The Four Season’s is great too. At the Hyatt Regency one must be cautious (so honest!). Grand Hyatt and Park Hyatt are the premium brands and I’ve had good experiences. Especially with the Park Hyatt in Sydney and Hong Kong. However, the Park Hyatt in Shanghai and Beijing are also great.
(Here’s one recent review of the Park Hyatt Shanghai, courtesy of Ben at One Mile at the Time.)

MAX Is a bad hotel reason for you to leave right after you perform?

VAN DYK Of course. There are so many inconveniences on the road, but one of the most disgusting things is a filthy carpet or when bedspreads are dirty. Sometimes I have been already dressed on the bed and just waited until I was able to check out.
(Pretty sure we have all gone through this at some point, no?)

MAX In your opinion, what does a top 5 star hotel offer?

VAN DYK It must be squeaky clean. I also need to have food available around-the-clock. And not just a warm sandwich that is made by the porter.

MAX Room or suite?
VAN DYK I usually book a slightly larger room or Junior Suite Executive.
MAX How do you use your hotel room? When?

VAN DYK I’m mostly in after the soundcheck. Around 7:30pm-8pm I head to the hotel, sleep for four hours, shower and then leave at midnight or 1 o’clock to the gig. No matter where in the world, my day usually runs quite the same. Get up, airport, fly, arrive, soundcheck, interviews, sleep, wake up, gig. That changes depending on flight time or travel disruptions.

MAX What do you do in the hotel when you’re free?

VAN DYK I sleep. This is the most important thing. And I use the mini-bar, because I do not want to wait half hour, until they bring me a bottle of water.
MAX in-room service or restaurant?
VAN DYK Only Room Service. (Following many DJs on Twitter, you’d be surprised to know almost all always order room service).
MAX shower or tub?
VAN DYK I prefer to shower in a bathtub because you never really know if that was cleaned well. (FYI, German is really tough to translate).
MAX Have you ever left with something from the room? (Is there a nicer way to ask if you ever stole anything?)

VAN DYK No. What I need, I always have, everything else is just more baggage.

MAX You have breakfast in the hotel?
 
VAN DYK Not really. I usually sleep until late in the morning and then check out immediately.
 
MAX How much do you tip the maid?
 
VAN DYK nothing for housekeeping, but of course for the room service, and if someone helps with luggage.
(I’d concur here. Is not like he’s trashing the room every night.)
MAX What currency do you take for cash with you?
 
VAN DYK mostly dollars and euros. In the beginning the euro was not as popular, but now it has become common knowledge that he is worth more than the dollar.
 
MAX Trendy hotels or more classic ones?

VAN DYK I like them classic, like the Mandarin Oriental or Grand Hyatt. But not so techhouse and spun like some design hotels. I was recently in Mexico City at the W hotel and it was the most impractical room I’ve seen for a long time.The shower was in middle of the room and looked like an oversized coffee-cup of milk. To turn on the tap, you had to get out of the tub. The curtain was hanging around outside. So if you got out of the tub, you were sure to slip. Or if you try to shave at the Sanderson Hotel in London, then that’s one mess. The sink is on one side, the  mirror on the other side. You must race back and forth with the razor. 

(I’m a fan of Starwoods hotels and a Platinum member and that’s one of the most dead-on, funniest reviews of a trendy hotel room I’ve seen. Ever).

I’m still laughing!

Sanderson Hotel:

Ha! Where’s the mirror?

MAX Are there always surprises when traveling?

VAN DYK Most problems were from entering a new country.  Rule number one: We must never contradict the immigration authorities. (Listen up, international Mileage Runners!). No matter how wrong they are. In South Korea, I was sometimes paid directly by the club at the immigration police, because the organizers had not informed my office that the country had changed the entry and exit conditions. I had my passport taken away from me and had no control the next day when I wanted to fly home. 

MAX It helps to have good contacts.

VAN DYK At times. For example, my wife and I had four days after a tour in Cancun, Mexico, and of course I had to left my equipment there. The Customs wanted to keep my suitcase and locked it in a room because they thought I was going to sell my equipment. I’ve only got everything back quickly because I know someone who owns half Cancun.

MAX For your trips, what are the “must haves” in addition to your equipment?

VAN DYK In any case, my phone and my Blackberry.

MAX your favorite airport?

VAN DYK The Changi Airport in Singapore (this seems to be the general consensus amongst all international celebrities), because it offers a good mix between rest zone and the gates and shops are easily accessible. There is also the best lounge, the one by Singapore Airlines (I have had that lounge and airport on my must-visit list for a few months now). They have a great restaurant with a light Asian food, which is of course much easier to digest than a fat pig roast or packaged sandwiches from British Airways. (!!!)

MAX Which airline has the most beautiful stewardesses?

VAN DYK not so much the appearance of the stewardesses – but I think the uniforms of the Asian airlines are very pretty. The flight attendants of Singapore Airlines are indeed seen as representatives of the country and therefore they dress very typical for the country.

MAX Have you made interesting travel acquaintances?

VAN DYK Actually, only involuntary, because I admit, like most first-class travelers I pay the extra money so I can have peace and sleep. (If you happen to sit next to a celebrity in first class, this will usually be the case. It’s not because they’re rude or a-holes as it is because they need the rest). But there’s always a few exceptions, such as the three Russians who were sitting behind me. As soon as we were in the air, one of them took a folding chair from the luggage compartment, placed it in the aisle and then they proceeded to play Bingo three times.  In another flight a drunken Austrian sure wanted to talk to me. He asked me what I was reading, I was amused a bit because he laughed at every joke in the movie. But then the whole thing ended when he said, “We are a fun pair, like ying and yang. You are quiet and asleep and I’m taking everything.”  I don’t think I have ever been as rude to a man in a plane. 

(Hey, they’re Europeans…I’m sure something got lost in translation there).

MAX Does this non-stop traveling around really takes it out of you?

VAN DYK Naturally, I try not to get sick with the constant stresses. Especially when I’m in Berlin. Where I can lie flat for 2 days. 

MAX How long  do you want to keep this up?

VAN DYK The process of traveling, this waste of time and waiting is already uncomfortable and not at all glamorous. Even if you fly first class. But these gigs in foreign countries to experience the cultures and to stand as in San Salvador, with about 10 000 people, that’s like a flash, and then it is worth the whole ordeal again.

Interview: Annette Utermark

Many thanks to RG for helping with the translation.

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Some may think he comes off rather cocky and pretentious but when you get paid tens of thousands of dollars to play songs for a couple of hours you earn the right to request first class seats and five star hotels. In fact, I believe that’s standard practice in the music business at this point.

Thoughts or comments?

Part 4: London to Brussels on BA (+ Aloft Brussels) And shopping?

29 May

Part four of the Spring Break Trip Report 2012:

Part 1: KC to Minnesota with Delta to NYC with AA (+ the W Minneapolis)

Part 2: PP lounges at JFK and JFK-CCS in AA J (+ Venezuelans being Venezuelans)

Part 3: Venezuela to San Juan to JFK with AA to London with British Airways (+ Sheraton Heathrow)

Part 4: London to Brussels on BA  (+ Aloft Brussels) And shopping? 

Part 5: The journey to Hasselt and Sensation White Belgium! (+ Marriott Brussels)

Part 6: Brussels-London on BA business class and the NASCAR experience on air

Part 6: London. Greatest City on Earth? (+ Radisson Edwardian Heathrow)

Part 7: London-Houston-Dallas-KC (+ Park Inn DFW)

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Note: Somewhere around Part 2, this blog transformed from being a place where to write about traveling, to a place where to share my adventures.  I fly solo most of the time and for better or worse, a lot of stuff just seems to happen. Don’t believe me? Take a look at Lucky’s blog. Where not even luxury can stop crazy.

After a fun late night in London and being jet lagged (not a good combo, fyi) out my mind, I overslept and missed my 10:30am flight to Brussels. In my defense, however, I’m 90% sure I had set up a wake up call but never got it.

Waking up at 11am to that horrible “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO, dangit,” feeling you may or may have not experienced. Immediately gathered my stuff and sprinted to one of the free computers available in the lobby. I knew there were several daily flights available but this is Sensation White. I cannot miss it for the world. And besides, the concert was in a town no less than one hour away from Brussels. I needed to move ASAP.

Logged in to Britishairways.com and was happy to see award seats available in 3 more flights that day. Using Avios (bless them) I was able to get on the next flight leaving at 2pm. If you’re not familiar with the Avios system, they are basically BA’s (and Iberia’s) miles. The advantage (and disadvantage) of using Avios is award tickets are priced according to distance. Brussels is only like ~220 miles away so at the end my potentially devastating blunder “only” cost me an extra 4500 miles Avios and $20 in taxes.

The flight I missed wasted was also an award ticket, so technically I ended up paying 9k Avios and $40 for a quick flight to Brussels. Not that bad considering round trip tickets were going at 200$ during that weekend.

Out of the Sheraton Heathrow, hopped on the community bus shuttle again (~6$ each trip to the airport) and was very fortunate to arrive to a surprisingly empty Terminal 5. Checking in was a breeze as was security thanks to my Platinum status with AA. Platinum with AA is sort of a medium status (2nd out of 3) and translates to Sapphire within the Oneworld Alliance, meaning I was cordially invited to enter two British Airways lounges in the terminal.

As I expected from the British, the lounge was awesome. It’s not a First Class or Business lounge (wait until I get to those) but absolutely blew out of the water any lounge I have ever been to. Keep in mind, I’m comparing them to Admirals and United Clubs in the United States as they are similar in terms of type of passenger served (mostly domestic, intra-Europe). But how awesome was this lounge?

No amount of blurry pictures will do it justice.

There’s one thing Europeans can’t leave without

Never been so tempted to have a wet breakfast.

I don’t have to tell you I ate everything in sight (GTT, Gotta Try That), drank enough coffee to kill a small child and even took a shower. Yes, shower. My best lounge experience to date. Access to these type of lounges was the #1 reason  I was so desperately trying to become AA Platinum before heading to Europe.

The almost two hours I spent in this British Airways lounge made the mileage runs (and the miserable times spent sitting in coach) absolutely, positively worth it.

Boarding time approached and I left the lounge like a new man. As the relentless genius that I am, I headed over to a BA customer service counter to request a paper copy of my whole itinerary in case immigration in Belgium wanted proof that I would eventually depart the country. But as usual, in good Tripping to the Beat MO, nothing went as planned. Turned out I had an AA record locator and BA needed their own and they couldn’t find it, so they called here and there and all over.

Once they had my information they had to print the itinerary inside some other office in the terminal (how’s that?). So the lady RAN (in heels!) to get it for me just as I was supposed to be boarding already. I got my paper itinerary showing I would indeed, be leaving Belgium and sprinted to the gate. I ended up being the last one to board the plane.

4pm

After a quick flight, immigration thankfully went well (I’m a 6’1, 250lb, shaved-head Venezuelan with a temporary US visa, if I get in anywhere without my papers being double and triple checked is because the planets are aligned) and in less than 20mins I was outside the airport. Things were happening, I could feel the #SensationMode in the air.

I had called my hotel in Brussels a few days before and was told the best way to get there from the airport would be to take the bus. The one I needed went from the airport, right trough the middle of the city and in front of the hotel. All I had to do was get off at Schuman. A 30-min ride with no transfers, they said. Cake.

Excited and distracted by the new city I was really lost disoriented. I was sort of paying attention to the 14ish stops I had to past before mine. Unlike a train, there was no stopping in this bus unless you absolutely needed to get off. About 10 minutes into the ride, I met a half Spaniard half Russian blonde woman that happened to work for a very famous European wine maker. I don’t know about you, but when *I* get talk to a Maria Sharapova look-a-like, that happens to speak Spanish with a full accent and lisp from Spain, I stare and listen….and that I did.

Then it happened. I saw my hotel and the Schuman stop! But I must have pressed the button too late. The thing kept going forever. Now I’m ignoring the Spanish Sharapova. I have no internet, GPS, not even a paper map. The bus finally stops and I know I’m no less than 10 blocks from the hotel. Crap.

4:40pm

Lost in a strange city, rolling bags around. Not my kind of tripping. I walked a couple blocks towards a square and ended up in front of the European Parliament. The square served as taxi station so I was saved. Or so I thought. The driver at the front of the line was an older gentleman obviously 100% European. I could tell he spoke nothing of what I spoke. I thought showing him the name of the hotel would be the best solution.

No dice. After 5 mins of trying to say “Aloft Hotel” in every possible tone and entonation to make it sound Flemish/German/French one of his colleagues finally saves the day and tells him where it is. An awkward (and silent) 6min ride later and I made it. 5 euro ride, another potentially, financially-fatal bullet dodged.

5pm

Finally at the hotel, I walk to a lobby full of Americans and ask the front desk dude what’s the deal with the foreigners?  “Oh, they’re all going to the Sensation. Are you going too?” “You know it!” I said. I’m really feeling good know. I dropped all my stuff in the room and immediately headed back down. I’m going to Sensation White and because I like to make things difficult, I’m missing the white outfit! You gotta have a white outfit.

Seriously. No white, no entry. It’s printed on the ticket.

My original plan was to get something at Heathrow…but yeah…that didn’t work out. In the lobby I asked for directions to some stores and after some rather unclear route planning, immediately started running to the subway station. I get to Schuman and now: 1. Have no idea how to pay the fare. 2. The station is functioning while under construction. 3. There are 4 different entrys with no signs.

To make matters worse, I was told stores close “early.”

Looks easy, no?

5:45pm

Somehow found my way to the right train and after 15 mins made it to station I needed, De Brouckere. Right in the middle of the fun part of town. Tourists all over, bars, restaurants. Even saw some dudes, fully dressed in white, already pre-gaming at a bar. Not a good sign.

There was a mall with a few stores I never heard of. The only white things in stock seemed to be made to only fit Euro-skinny kids. My fears were realizing, what if I don’t find anything white? Went in one cool store and was able to score an XL v-neck for 7 Euros, things were looking up!

Back on the street, wandering in a sea of tourists and foreign languages, ran across a doorman outside one of the hotels and asked him for the “street with all the stores.” Turns out it was just 2 blocks way. Zara, H &M and even a Foot Locker. All the usual suspects present. Definitely an odd combo but I was determined to pull something together.

6:25pm

I had been through every single store in the block and nothing. White skinny jeans? Pass. Anything with the word skinny? Double pass. Right before stores closed and with no more hope, ended up the most expensive Nike white sweat pants from the Foot Locker. Sweat frickin’ pants.

But adding this, at least now I was complete:

Extra shirts are a must.

7pm

Rushed back to the hotel once again to a lobby full of Sensationers, except now everybody is in full attire. There are dorms doors open all over, music coming from all directions. Like good college-aged Americans, these people wasted no time to party. Some departed at 8pm with a shuttle they had hired, while the rest of us stayed back.

(The Aloft Hotel was as advertised. A fun place where young people stayed. I didn’t get to explore it much but would recommend it to everyone. Plus, it can often be found under 70 euros p/night. A great deal for the area.)

The show would start at 9pm and would have 6 DJs playing. I really didn’t care for the first three so I was OK with getting to Hasselt around midnight. I left the hotel around 10:30pm and took the subway to the main train station. A round trip ticket from there to Hasselt ran at about 12 euros. Not bad for a one hour trip.

Brussels and Hasselt. Not quite right next to each other.

 

Once at the big train station it was very reassuring to see people all over wearing white. At least I knew I was in the right place! They were all heading to lane #17 and without hesitation so was I!

We waited for a train that was supposed to leave at 11:36pm…

To be continued….

Part 3: CCS to San Juan to JFK with AA to London with BA

19 Apr

Part three of the Spring Break Trip Report 2012:

Part 1: KC to Minnesota with Delta to NYC with AA (+ the W Minneapolis)

Part 2: PP lounges at JFK and JFK-CCS in AA J (+ Venezuelans being Venezuelans)

Part 3: Venezuela to San Juan to JFK with AA to London with British Airways (+ Sheraton Heathrow)

Part 4: London to Brussels on BA  (+ Aloft Brussels)

Part 5: The journey to Hasselt and Sensation White Belgium! (+ Marriott Brussels)

Part 6: Brussels-London on BA business class and the NASCAR experience on air

Part 6: London. Greatest City on Earth? (+ Radisson Edwardian Heathrow)

Part 7: London-Houston-Dallas-KC (+ Park Inn DFW)

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

After a few days back in the homeland it was time to head to Sensation White Belgium (!) Of course, what better way to maximize your mileage per $ than going from Venezuela to Europe via the US?

First up, a quick 40min ride from my hometown to CCS on this massive aircraft:

Trust me. Compared to what some other companies have this is a Dreamliner.

The itinerary had me going CCS-SJU-JFK-LHR-BRU, arriving the next day (Friday) in London at about 7am and in Brussels a few hours later. The concert was on Saturday so I had plenty of time. Or so I thought.

I wanted to leave late Thursday and AA’s CCS-SJU worked perfectly with an afternoon departure. The usual routing would have you going straight to JFK (with a 10am departure) or to MIA but I always try to avoid MIA, if possible. As main port of entry for Latin America countries, in MIA you will find lots of people…lots of security checks…lines too long and looks too dirty. Even for me.

But if you’re a US citizen, I hear it’s not too bad.

AA has about 4-7 daily flights from Caracas to the US, depending of the day of the week. 4 of those flights are the world famous CCS-MIA, which as a round trip ticket routinely runs over $1200. According to rumors, it’s one of the most profitable routes for American Airlines, out of ALL the AA routes worldwide.

One of the early morning CCS-MIA flights got canceled so they threw everybody on that flight on my CCS-SJU airplane. Good thing I had secured my exit row seat the day before. While at the airport in Caracas, I had about 3 hrs until my flight so I decided to use my PLT status with AA to visit the Admirals Club.  This AC is small by all standards and although it could be much worse, I’m pretty sure it’s been under renovations…for ever? There’s the usual variety of sodas + alcohol (including Venezuela’s traditional drink, Scotch) so that’s good.

With the huge amount of Venezuelans living in Miami, the conversations you hear in the AC in CCS could easily keep afloat the Twitter hashtag #FirstWorldProblems. Which is ironic, considering Venezuela is no world class super power.

“The [insert European fashion brand] store in Aventura Mall is closed? Queeeee? Nooooo. Y por que?”#FirstWorldProblems

Hours went by uneventfully and we finally got to board. If you are wondering, what happened at JFK on my last boarding, also happens here. But it’s fine because we were among friends now. I’ll admit, security is not the best, but is it necessary for this sign to be in the Kansas City airport?

US not a fan of Venezuela.

Please explain to me:

1. Why do you have to call us out like that?

2. Why the Kansas City airport when there are no direct flights to or from Venezuela?

3.  How come I haven’t seen this sign at any other US airports?

4. Whether I’m Italian, Japanese, American or Venezuelan, what am I supposed to do with this information?

Anyways, we departed on time and were landing at SJU in less than two hours. Because it was “short flight,” there was no meal service.

At SJU I had about 75 mins to catch my connecting flight to JFK. With no checked bags my chances were good.  My flight to London was to depart from JFK at 11:55pm, and with a 6pm departure from SJU I would have plenty of time to catch it. Immigration and custom lines in SJU were relatively short and after my smoothest experience ever coming into the US (SJU is now my favorite port of entry to the US) I was ready to sprint to the gate for my JFK flight!

Except…the flight to JFK was now delayed by two hours. TWO FULL HOURS. Apparently there was an issue with the crew so they had to fly one in from somewhere else.

I hung out at the AC in San Juan while the AAngels tried to find alternatives for me to get to London. After much searching, we agreed I should just hang tight. The SJU-JFK flight was slated to land at 11:40pm and there was a small chance the British Airways 11:55pm flight to London could be delayed.

6 pm finally came and after my upgrade did not clear, I got stuck in coach. 4+ hours in coach are not fun. Packed flight. No food. No entertainment. One lady even tripped and fell after hitting my foot on the aisle. Not cool. Thankfully, the people around were able to calm her and make her understand that it was her fault an accident. I even had nightmares on that flight. Like, plane crashing nightmares. Worst. Flight. Ever.

We landed at JFK around 11:30pm and it was time for me to run! I had 10 minutes to go from Terminal 8 to Terminal 7. I ran to the Airtrain and when I got there it was closed. So I had to run outside to catch one of the connecting buses. Keep in mind this is JFK International Airport. EVERYTHING is miles away.

I kept an eye on my flight using Flight Aware and by the time I got to Terminal 7 it was 11:55pm. My plane was close and ready for take off. The British Airways counter was completely desolated. I went over to the Cathay Pacific counter (Oneworld alliance, they share the terminal and to some extent, some of the same personnel) and one of the ladies checking people for the CX flight to Hong Kong (on my to-do list, by the way) was able to get the BA gate agent for me.

She already knew who I was and how I had been delayed in San Juan so after a couple of phone calls they put me on the next flight out (9am departure), checked me in for it, and gave me a night at a hotel. Through all of this I tried to call AA and they were absolutely useless. Not even kidding.

I can’t stress enough how BA went above and beyond to make it up for AA.

Airport shuttle to Federal Circle followed by ANOTHER shuttle to the hotel and I was ready to crash at 1:30am.

Who gets room 212 (area code) while in New York? This guy.

After 4 solid hours of sleep, I was back at Terminal 7 by 7:30am. Security only took a brief 30mins, leaving me about 20mins to check out the BA Terraces lounge. Didn’t get a chance to take pictures as I was desperately searching for a hotel in London, but it’s incredibly spacious and without a doubt, a major step up to anything I had seen at the time.

Plane boarded in time and after walking at least 50 yards I was finally at my seat.

Thankfully we were at about 65% occupancy, leaving me a whole middle row for my slender figure.

Speaking of slender figures, here’s breakfast:

BA "American Breakfast." I tried to also have the "English." They refused.

While roaming around 39,000ft above the Atlantic ocean. Got a chance to talk to one of the flight attendants. Interesting conversation. Lady in her mid-to-late 30s.  French born and raised. Speaks French, Spanish, English and Japanese. Best of all? She learned them all by moving to those respective countries. She told me how she had just recently worked a LHR-EZE flight and as the only Spanish-speaker in the crew she was in charge of all the talking at restaurant and bars (they go out all the time). It’s not secret Argentinians are not fans of the British because of the dispute for the Falklands Islas Malvinas. She said wherever they went as a group, as soon as she made clear she was French, she was treated completely different than her British colleagues. Crazy how things can get…

About 3 hrs into the 6+ hour flight, I started flipping through the Duty Free selection and found this gem:

London's Finest

Making a tremendous sacrifice for my readers, undoubtedly GTT:

1000 calories of chocolate and champagne? Somebody has to do it.

We finally landed at around 10pm GMT (or whatever the hour was at the time) and I immediately got the privilege to witness the zoo experience that is Terminal 5 at Heathrow. Stairs and elevators and belts and more stairs and finally, immigration. Absolutely incredible how it feels like 10 full planes arrived at the same time. Actually, that may have been true. I’m not a fan of immigration officers anywhere (except Puerto Rico), not even in my own country, but the London folks are tough. I said I was in transit to Belgium and I’m pretty sure I got a 1-night visa.

When I first went to London in 2009 with a school field trip, I was the only non-US citizen in the group…and let me just say our time spent at airports was always longer than it should have been because of me. Damn, that’s still traumatizing…but I digress.

I got lost but finally made it out (Terminal 5 literary has 5 floors). My tweeter homeboymate Dan picked me up and after dropping my bags at the hotel we were in the city before midnight.

Nighttime London

One of the things I learned from my first visit in 2009 was that while being one the greatest metropolis on earth, NOTHING is open 24 hours. Ok, almost nothing. NYC kicks London and San Francisco’s asses in this area. Which is a total shame. On the other hand, hey, no traffic!

I imbibed in a few £4.50 pints (ouch), including a Guinness or four (miraculously properly poured, but that’s another story) and called it a night. Let me tell you something, jet lag + slight alcohol intoxication + being on the other side of the road on the driver’s side with no steering wheel + not knowing where the hell you are it’s a very, very, surreal and disturbing combo. I got back to the Sheraton Heathrow around 2am, got my bags ready and set up my alarms (plural) for 6:30am so I could catch my 9am flight to Brussels. Keep in mind, it’s 2am in London. 24hours from now I would be in Belgium, in one of the greatest parties on earth. It would really suck if I missed that 9am flight.

The Sheraton Heathrow is a business hotel. No doubt about it. The lobby is nice but that’s about it.

Website picture as I was...indisposed. FREE INTERNET!

Rooms are small and be aware, a double room means two TWIN beds…but hey, that’s London for you. If you can get a night for under $130 you have done well. Nobody said London was a bargain.

 

On Part 4, I learn my lesson but manage to make it to Brussels 5 hours before Sensation starts. I drop my bags and head downtown desperately looking for something white to wear (it’s called Sensation White). Turns out European clothing it’s not particularly intended for XL dudes and on top of that, shops close at 6:30pm.

 

I told you. It’s an adventure.

America’s Most Popular Nightclubs

15 Apr

Here’s a list of America’s Top 100 Nightclubs (Clubs, bars, lounges, etc), ranked according to revenue.  The list’s been out for a couple of months and is released yearly by Nightclub & Bar in partnership with Technomic (a research and consulting firm).

Not surprisingly, 8 clubs out of the Top 10 are in Las Vegas. Even more interestingly, >90% of these nightclubs exclusively play EDM.


Top 30 bars in 2011. + 70 MILLION $ for Marquee!

A few comments:

- The Wynn alone has 3 spots in the Top 13. Looks like XS, Surrender and Tryst had a combined revenue of 120,000,000$ – 150,000,000 MILLION in 2011.

- Avalon in Hollywod, CA is 16 on the list. Either they’re barely making profit or that money is going straight to rent. Have you seen the place?

- LAVO NY’s and LAVO Las Vegas’ revenue both listed as 25,000,000 – 35,000,000$ million? I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.

- Drai’s Afterhours in Las Vegas ís listed at 21! Arguably the most reliable after hours option in Vegas. It’s not fancy but does the job. Money talks.

- Tengo Sed Cantina at KC’s Power & Light came in at 71 with an estimated revenue of 5,000,000 – 10,000,000$. For KC that’s amazing.

There are definitely a few gems on that list. You’ll be surprised.

Here’s a description on the methodology used to collect these numbers:

“The 2012 Top 100 list was developed by Nightclub & Bar in partnership with Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based hospitality market research firm, using primary and secondary research. An online survey of operators was conducted from Oct. 13 to Dec. 1, 2011, and yielded primary data from 817 nightclub, bar and lounge locations, from which key information and insights were generated. Secondary research involving public databases and sources, scans of major metropolitan markets and industry resources provided additional data points. Total revenues are presented in ranges for calendar year 2011; specific ranking is determined by estimated midpoint of annual revenue. Concepts included can operate in no more than five locations and must be operating all 12 months of the 2011 calendar year.”

Full list below:

Click here to see the full list as a PDF document.

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