Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

 

BLUF: This four-part AAR covers the journey, destination, and activities of our trip to Iceland. Iceland is full of amazing wonders: waterfalls, geysers, wildlife, and fresh air. Over the past five years, Iceland has become one of the most popular destinations for tourists. In turn, Iceland’s tourism infrastructure has risen to the challenge to accommodate that influx with new hotels, bars, restaurants, and a fantastic airport. I recommend a visit, but more than most places, seasonal differences in airfare, room rates, activities, and crowds prevail. Definitely do your research.

 

Today’s AAR takes us to Iceland.

 

Iceland is volcanically and geologically active, and the main reason tourism has boomed over the past years. Despite its name, Iceland sits entirely south of the Arctic Circle, and its climate is heavily-regulated by the warm North Atlantic Current. Even with its subarctic weather, Iceland has distinct seasons and an abundance of flora and fauna.

 

 

The most popular tourist activity is the Golden Circle route. This approximately 300 km route hits three of the main geological attractions easily accessible from Reykjavik during half-day tours.

 

The first stop along the route is the Thingvellir National Park. The park is home to glacier-formed lakes and the visible rift between the North American and European tectonic plates. Tourist can dive the lake, hike along the rift, and view glorious waterfalls and running streams.

 

 

The second stop along the route is the Geysir geothermal area. As the name suggests, this geothermal active area is home to both the Geysir and Strokkor geysers. The Strokker geyer is the more reliable of the two and erupts every 6-10 minutes to approximately 50-60 ft. This area is also the most developed with a hotel, restaurants, and gift shops.

 

 

The third (and usually last) stop during a half-day tour is the Gullfoss Waterfall. Feed by the southern flow of the Hívíta River, this massive waterfall has viewing platforms both along the canyon edge and from river-level. The water is always cold, so be prepared for icy mist and slippery footpaths.

 

 

Rather than make our way directly back to Reykjavik, we opted to drive the full circle and make our way back to KEF. With an early morning flight back to FRA, we chose to stay at the Aurora Airport Hotel, a quick five-minute walk from the terminal building. A very simple hotel with minimal amenities, saving ourselves the very early morning drive on our day of departure was the smart option.

 

By continuing on the route, we were able to visit the Kerid Crater. This intact caldera formed by a volcanic eruption over 3000 years ago is full of water and lined with red volcanic rock. The crater serves as a very dramatic back drop, and we even saw a young couple having what looked like engagement photos taken along the edge.

 

 

As mentioned, the Golden Circle route is immensely popular, so the two-lane road can often experience traffic jams due to tour busses and campers driving slower than the posted speed limit. Luckily, during our Sunday visit along the route, traffic was minimal. Again, most tours drive from Reykjavik to the Gullfoss Waterfall and back to the capital, so traffic is heaviest along that route. Mobile phone coverage (LTE and 3G) was pretty good along the entire route.

 

 

In sum, a visit to Iceland has been on our European bucket list since 2013, and we’re very glad to have finally completed the trip. Whether based in North America or in Europe, Iceland is along your flight path as you traverse the Atlantic. I encourage you to visit (preferably in the off-season to capture some flight and hotel deals) as Iceland offers a lot on both short and long visits.

 

Happy Travels!

 

Vr,

Albert

 

Albert Guerrero, USAF, Ret.

“Let’s Travel Farther, Together!”

 

Follow my travels on Instagram: @albert_traveler

 

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

 

BLUF: This four-part AAR covers the journey, destination, and activities of our trip to Iceland. Iceland is full of amazing wonders: waterfalls, geysers, wildlife, and fresh air. Over the past five years, Iceland has become one of the most popular destinations for tourists. In turn, Iceland’s tourism infrastructure has risen to the challenge to accommodate that influx with new hotels, bars, restaurants, and a fantastic airport. I recommend a visit, but more than most places, seasonal differences in airfare, room rates, activities, and crowds prevail. Definitely do your research.

 

Today’s AAR takes us to Iceland.

 

The Avis counter reminded us multiple times to observe the posted speed limit during our stay. Icelandic police are unforgiving to speeding tourists especially during the 45-minute journey from KEF into Reykjavik. Without incident, we made our way into downtown Reykjavik (thanks, WAZE!) and to 101 Hotel, a Member of the Design Hotels (a Marriott brand).

 

 

The quirky, boutique nature of the Design Hotel made our stay in downtown Reykjavik a very walkable one. Located near old town and the marina, 101 Hotel offered great amenities (a full-spa and whirlpool; wifi; and continental breakfast) but no dedicated parking. We found street parking for our stay. Of note, hotels are not cheap, but before the summer rush, they are reasonable. The 101 Hotel room rate was $250/night. By late May, the rate would increase to $420+/night.

 

The room was small but comfy, and the décor was slightly weird but in an arty way. We kept the windows open to breathe in some fresh air and enjoy the city sounds. Our room faced a park and the amazing Harpa Concert Hall.

 

 

From the 101 Hotel, we were able to walk everywhere to visit some key landmarks and take some nice pictures. We wandered the charming streets of downtown and old town, enjoyed a Thai dinner (it was NOT spicy at all!) and some good after-dinner baked goods. Reykjavik is full of coffee shops and bookstore. It reminded us of Portland, Oregon with everyone in big sweaters and wool hats.

On Saturday, we booked a whale watching tour. We opted for a luxury three-hour tour aboard a converted yacht with a full snack bar. Another option was to ride a speed boat and chase down whale sightings. Even though it was April, the weather was still quite cold and rainy on the water, so speed boating around the coast was not an option for us. The guide and the crew were very nice as was the boat. Sadly, we didn’t see any whales, but we did see puffins who were migrating back north for the summer. The puffins fly fast and low along the water alternating between landing on rocky outcrops and the water.

Reykjavik has a lot of bars and pubs read-made for live music and good times with friends. With the daylight still visible at 10:30pm, the city remains lively for both young and old. Another plus to the rise in tourism is the popularity of pop-up restaurants. Pop-up restaurants are food truck-like establishments with small and concentrated menus. We found Ramen Momo, the first ramen house in Iceland. Made up of one long counter and a small kitchen, the staff prepared some outrageously good ramen. Again, even when asked for, spiciness does not seem part of the Icelandic palate. Still, the ramen was fresh and full of flavor.

 

Opened in May 2011, the Harpa Concert and Convention Center is a massive structure designed by a Danish architectural firm. The 28000 square meter facility houses one large concert hall and three smaller venues and is the center of culture in Iceland. The windows are geometric-shaped octagon, hexagon, and pentagon glass panels in hues of greens, blues, and oranges. As the outer wall leans outward from its base, when inside, one gets the sensation of tipping over as you enjoy the views from the upper floors.

 

In sum, Reykjavik has a lot to offer. Staying in the city center is the best way to sample the city without having to drive. The city center is slightly hilly but relatively small. If you plan a shoulder season visit, you’ll likely find the best hotel and tour deals.

 

 

Next, Part 4: Waterfalls, geysers, and moonscapes…

 

Happy Travels!

 

Vr,

Albert

 

Albert Guerrero, USAF, Ret.

“Let’s Travel Farther, Together!”

 

Follow my travels on Instagram: @albert_traveler

 

Posted by glenn | No Comments

Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

 

BLUF: This four-part AAR covers the journey, destination, and activities of our trip to Iceland. Iceland is full of amazing wonders: waterfalls, geysers, wildlife, and fresh air. Over the past five years, Iceland has become one of the most popular destinations for tourists. In turn, Iceland’s tourism infrastructure has risen to the challenge to accommodate that influx with new hotels, bars, restaurants, and a fantastic airport. I recommend a visit, but more than most places, seasonal differences in airfare, room rates, activities, and crowds prevail. Definitely do your research.

 

Today’s AAR takes us to Iceland.

 

Iceland is approximately a three-hour flight from continental Europe. From FRA, the non-stop choices are Lufthansa (LH) or Icelandair (FI). If you recall my ALL HANDS post on the most useful airline status in Europe (Star Alliance Gold via United Airlines Gold), flying LH FRA to KEF is where I started my search, but it’s not where I landed.

 

 

In May 2018, Joey and I were in the Iberia Premium Lounge Velázquez at the Madrid–Barajas Airport (MAD) Terminal 4S finishing up an amazing Memorial Day weekend in the Spanish capital when I started thinking about spring 2019 travel. At end of 2017, I refocused our loyalty toward Alaska Airlines. With its diverse partners and incredibly generous accrual bonuses, the Alaska Mileage Plan frequent flyer program is my favorite program.

 

 

While I’m still a fan of United Airlines, the Icelandair and Alaska partnership offered an outsized accrual opportunity. With an Icelandair Saga Class “A” fare (discount business class), I could earn 125% elite and redeemable miles within the Mileage Plan program based on FRA-KEF-FRA number of miles flown. With my Alaska MVP Gold status, I’d earn an additional 100% redeemable mile bonus. So, I was looking at a hefty haul of Alaska miles for the trip.

 

In the Iberia Lounge, I used Google Flights to search dates in April and May 2019 for a long-weekend with a reasonable FI Saga Class fare. For $600 each ticket, I purchased two roundtrips from FRA-KEF, Friday to Monday. The total trip was 2758 miles, so with bonuses, I earned 6206 redeemable miles in Mileage Plan. I also earned 3448 elite miles toward maintaining Mileage Plan MVP status. If the numbers are losing you, for me and many in the points and miles world, the travel experience is the journey, the destination, and the math!

 

If you’ve flown a U.S. carrier in their domestic First Class, Saga Class offers essentially the same large recliner seat. Included with Saga Class is lounge access (in FRA, it’s the Air France Lounge in Terminal 2; in KEF, it’s the fantastic Saga Lounge). We were offered lunch on the flight to KEF and breakfast on the return, and we could pre-order our meals via Icelandair’s website before the flight. I highly recommend this as it offers more options than the plane’s menu. I had the beef loin; it was delicious.

 

 

Saga Class also came with Icelandair-branded noise-cancelling headphones to enjoy with the seatback entertainment. I’m not an audiophile by any means, so I’m not as particular about headphones as some. Still, the headphones were great for the ride, and noise-cancelling enough for watching BROOKLYN NINE-NINE, BOB’S BURGER and FRESH OFF THE BOAT episodes.

 

 

Like most European airports, KEF has both Schengen and non-Schengen zones. From Germany, we landed in the Schengen area, so no immigration was required. The Saga Lounge (the only one in the airport) is in the Schengen area between the A and C gates but very close to the non-Schengen border control gates. If you have access to the Saga Lounge, I highly encourage you to visit, and if flying to a non-Schengen destination, give yourself enough time to reach your gate after the border.

 

 

Duty Free is extremely popular at KEF. Lots of people were stocking up on wine, beer, and spirits after baggage claim. We rented a car for our stay. The Avis counter line was about 40 people. Luckily, our Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card confers Avis Preferred status, so we skipped to the front of the line and departed the airport with minimal delays. With no checked luggage, I’d estimate 20-25 minutes from landing to reaching and starting our rental car.

 

In sum, Icelandair was a great way to get from Germany to Iceland. Without WOW, Icelandair has an almost complete monopoly on airfare and facilities at KEF. Deals through other European and U.S. carriers can be found, but you have to be extra patient and flexible to find them. All and all, FI’s big recliners and Saga Class service was a great way to start our Iceland adventure.

 

 

Next, Part 3: Reykjavik and (almost) midnight sun…

 

Happy Travels!

 

Vr,

Albert

 

Albert Guerrero, USAF, Ret.

“Let’s Travel Farther, Together!”

 

Follow my travels on Instagram: @albert_traveler

 

Posted by glenn | No Comments

Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

 

BLUF: This four-part AAR covers the journey, the destination, and activities of our trip to Iceland. Iceland is full of amazing wonders: waterfalls, geysers, wildlife, and fresh air. Over the past five years, Iceland has become one of the most popular destinations for tourists. In turn, Iceland’s tourism infrastructure has risen to the challenge to accommodate that influx with new hotels, bars, restaurants, and a fantastic airport. I recommend a visit, but more than most places, seasonal differences in airfare, room rates, activities, and crowds prevail. Definitely do your research.

 

Today’s AAR takes us to Iceland.

 

 

While Iceland has, for many years, been a top destination for whale and Northern Lights watching, getting to the small North Atlantic island nation proved expensive. In 2012, WOW Airlines changed all that. This “ultra low cost carrier” provided incredibly cheap airfares from the U.S. and Europe to Keflavik International Airport (KEF), the main airport for Iceland. Suddenly, both WOW and Icelandair (the national flag carrier) began offering “stop over” service: the ability to connect between North American and Europe with a multi-day stop in Iceland at no additional cost. This strategy was the catalyst to jumpstart Iceland’s tourism boom.

 

 

Many argued the WOW and Icelandair rivalry and “price war” grew too fast and saturated the island (pop. 358,000 in 2019) with too many tourists too quickly. In 2010, KEF tracked just over 2 million passengers in and out of the airport. By 2018, that figure was almost 10 million. This in an unprecedented number of non-locals looking for hotel rooms, dinner spots, souvenirs, and tours. Plus, once outside of Reykjavik, the capital and largest city, roads become two-lane and prone to overcrowding due to tour busses and campers heading to geological hotspots.

 

As previously mentioned, I’ve been in stationed in Germany since July 2013. Iceland has been on and off my travel calendar many times. The first couple of false starts in planning were likely due to too much written about how, frankly, crowded and “hipster” the location was. Reportedly, the initial flood of tourists were eco-tourists bringing with them shaggy beards, craft cocktail recipes, veganism, and traffic. Not entirely fair, I know, but nonetheless, I delayed visiting until 2019.

 

WOW Airlines ceased operations in March 2019. As many in the tourism industry predicted, WOW was stretched too thin with its ever-expanding network and lack of new capital investment. The airline’s demise is definitely a speed bump to Iceland’s tourism. However, every cloud has a silver lining as WOW’s demise in March 2019 decreased the number of tourist during our April 2019—likely to be felt for at least a year.

 

 

In sum, I’m happy a trip to Iceland finally landed on our travel schedule, and I’m excited to share the experience.

 

Next, Part 2: The “Saga” begins…

 

Happy Travels!

 

Vr,

Albert

 

Albert Guerrero, USAF, Ret.

“Let’s Travel Farther, Together!”

 

Follow my travels on Instagram: @albert_traveler

 

Posted by glenn | No Comments

ALL HANDS: Mandatory Fun (Travel Inspiration Edition).

 

Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

 

BLUF: Anything can inspire you to travel. Whether it be price, a movie, schedule, or word-of-month, traveling is about having a great adventure and an enjoyable time on your terms and no one else’s.

 

Today’s ALL HANDS focuses on how to inspire yourself to travel.

 

I recently asked a millennial friend of mine what inspires him to travel. He was quick to say, “Price!” While he’s a no-fear, no-holds-bar traveler, he lets price dictate where he goes and for how long he stays. Over the past year, he’s been exploring Eastern Europe since it’s both incredibly affordable and diverse. With price as his guide, he looks for hiking, kayaking, cross-country skiing, and cultural opportunities within his means. He purposely budgets a set amount each month for travel and commits to it. After each trip, he’s inspired to keep traveling within his allocated funds and to never miss an adventure.

 

Another friend of mine (father, married, two young sons) coordinates his travel around his and his wife’s work schedule, and, most importantly, the sons’ school schedules. Here, “time” is what primarily drives his travel inspiration. While the school year is filled with hockey practice, science projects, and, of course, work, Spring and Summer Breaks are packed with family travel. Whether it’s a trip to an amusement or water park or a visit to Orlando, he and his family don’t let the crowds or price (within reason, of course) deter them. They have the drive and energy to travel during these times, so they buckle down and get moving.

 

For me, I take a more comprehensive approach to travel. As a kid, I was always fascinated by the amazing locations I saw in movies and tv shows. Whether it was James Bond visiting a underground baccarat game in Shanghai or a nature show tracking kangaroos in the Australian bush, the world always seemed so big and out-of-reach. Still, I knew I had to see it.

 

As a young adult, thanks to the US Air Force, I was stationed both in Guam and Italy, so those locations were ideal for jump-starting travel adventures. Back then, commensurate with budget and energy level, I got a taste of Asia-Pacific and European destinations. I visited Australia, Japan, and many European capitals.

 

Now, as a married and not-so-young (ha!) adult, my travel inspiration is sparked from a myriad of people and places. It was a work colleague who, while at his going away, talked about South African wine country and Table Mountain which got that trip moving. It was a prolific travel blogger writing about a mileage redemption sweet spot on Thai Airways Royal First between BKK and SYD which pushed me to book an Australian and a New Zealand trip. It was an interior designer posting on social media about his favorite refreshed hotel club lounge at the Le Meridien Kuala Lumpur which put the Malaysian capital on my calendar. It was an article in an inflight magazine highlighting Easter Island’s airport as the most remote in the world which started my planning on how to get there.

 

In sum, let anything and everything inspire you to travel. Get out there and have an adventure.

 

Happy Travels!

 

Vr,

Albert

 

Albert Guerrero, USAF, Ret.

“Let’s Travel Farther, Together!”

 

Follow my travels on Instagram: @albert_traveler

 

Posted by glenn | No Comments

Albert has found time on his vacation in Thailand to send in a couple more posts:

 

Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

 

BLUF: Many times, the most affordable business class airfare is not from your home airport to your desired travel destination. Often, an inexpensive positioning flight to another location can save you $100s.

 

Today’s TTP is on using positioning flights to save money while stationed in Europe.

 

Travelers, I began writing this TTP mid-way through two weeks in Thailand. After a very busy start to 2019, I’ve joined Joey who’s in the middle of a month-long tour of SE Asia. He’s already enjoyed some time in Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Singapore.

 

A few friends have inquired how we afford to fly to Asia in business class as often as we do. First, this is not an inexpensive hobby; we spend money on it. Though, I plan our spending and strategize our travel very early and a bit obsessively to ensure we don’t spend beyond our means. Second, travel and travel experiences are a priority for us. Not everyone can do that, so a bulk of our “fun funds” go to travel. Finally, I understand and exploit how different airlines price their flights out of different cities in Europe.

 

The final item is a great TPP to exploit. For example, I purchased this trip’s Cathay Pacific business class ticket from Brussels roundtrip to Bangkok rather than from Stuttgart or Frankfurt, my two “home” airports.

 

In the fall 2017 (when this trip’s planning began), I found a $2099 RT business class ticket from Brussels to Bangkok. While I usually fly out of Stuttgart or Frankfurt, all business class tickets were upwards of $3000, which despite what people think, is outside my spending comfort zone. Ha!

 

My love for Cathay stems from how great the food is (dim sum for breakfast!) and the ability to credit flights to Alaska Airlines (a subject for another post). I also enjoy transiting HKG, Cathay’s hub, for it’s amazing selection of lounges with showers, noodle bars, and creature comforts.

 

Was flying out of Brussels worth the $900 savings (from STR) when I had to get to Brussels? Absolutely! For way less than $900, I bought an inexpensive RT Swiss flight through Zurich and a single night at the Sheraton at Brussels airport on the front end. While not everyone values their time equally and may choose to fly a more convenient route, for our two tickets, I “saved” $1800. (Full disclosure: I’ve paid for convenient routes, too!)

 

Remember, we wanted to go on this trip, in business class, to SE Asia. Given those parameters and my price point comfort zone, I made it happen. Money well spent!

 

Here’s a little more insight into more of my travel thinking: I understand how each travel action can offer me value. To explain, the Swiss flights credit to my United Airlines account and help maintain my United Gold status and therefor my Star Alliance Gold status for great lounge access and other benefits. My Sheraton stay adds to my nights and points balance for Marriott inching me closer to maintaining Marriott Bonvoy Platinum status and with that, its great benefits. A lot of moving pieces, but worth it to me.

 

In sum, travel planning is simple; travel planning well is not. By opening up the aperture of where you start your airfare search, you can possibly save a good bit of money. So, perhaps, you can spend a night in Stockholm before catching your Emirates flight to the Maldives, or enjoy some goulash in Budapest before enjoying a luxe flight on Singapore for a holiday in Bali. Europe is small, and a short positioning flight may make all the difference in price.

 

(In sum PS: positioning flights also work well in Asia and North America, but as I focus more on Europe, I’m more familiar with those.)

 

Happy Travels!

 

Vr,

Albert

 

Albert Guerrero, USAF, Ret.

“Let’s Travel Farther, Together!”

 

Follow my travels on Instagram: @albert_traveler

 

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

Even old hands like me occasionally learn new tricks. This is why it is worthwhile to experiment when searching for flights. Recently, my wife needed to make a flight with less than a week’s notice which made paying for it with cash extremely pricey. This is why it is always a good idea to keep a stash of miles (as opposed to “earn and burn”) for last minute trips since the number of miles stays the same even though the cash price rises dramatically as the flight date approaches. After getting her flight, my wife asked if we could apply one of our Gold Guest Upgrades to get her into first class. I replied “tut, tut, my dear, that’s not the way it works. You have to pay more miles to get into first class”. But I thought, hmm, what if…

Normally, you are going to search as shown below:

And get this result offering you economy or first:

But if you try selecting the elite upgrade selection on the search page (highlighted in blue):

You’ll get this result showing three columns:

Note the colored in “F” like you would see if you tried to use a Gold Guest Upgrade on a paid ticket. Select that flight in the middle column and you will get an instant upgrade to first without it costing you any more than the economy ticket in miles. This also put my wife on the upgrade list for the first leg of the flight and she was upgraded at the airport so ended up in first for both legs.

I know some will remark on the high cost of 50K for a one way award flight, but that is pretty normal on most airlines for a flight within the next week. At least flying in first should make it less painful and this method saved 20K in miles over just selecting a first class seat. Remember this next time you are booking an award on Alaska.

 

 

Posted by glenn | 3 Comments

ALL HANDS: Loyalty Status Levels (Part 2, Hotels).

 

Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

 

BLUF: Marriott Bonvoy Platinum (or higher) level is one of the most useful hotel status levels when traveling around Europe.

 

Today’s ALL HANDS will review which hotel status level brings the most value with it as you travel around Europe.

 

First, many folks really like AirBnBs or other shared-economy lodging options. Second, the appeal of a secluded guest house or non-chain boutique hotel cannot be denied, and many travelers only opt for these accommodations. If you’re among these groups, stop reading and start planning you next trip now!

 

I’m a hotel person. I like King-size beds, fresh towels, concierge desks, and, when in the mood, room service. Being stationed in Europe for over six year, one of my travel strategies is to sample not just great locations but also great hotels.

 

For me, I default to Marriott-branded hotels when I travel. Marriott has the largest global hotel footprint (over 6,500 properties), and their portfolio consist of 30 different brands, from luxury to value options. So, usually, there is a Marriott hotel where I travel.

 

Of course, maintaining 30 brands, some independently-owned and other owned by Marriott Inc., mean benefits are not standard across all brands. This is a source of frustration to many, but after military life, I’m pretty good at rolling with the punches and adapting when needed. Do your travel research!

 

Here, I’m specifically focused on the breakfast and executive lounge access benefits. For example, when I visited London in May 2018 as a Marriott Platinum, I booked a USG/military-priced room for $190/night for two nights at the Marriott West India Quay in Canary Wharf. While not in central London, this Marriott is very convenient to public transit. Plus, the Canary Wharf area itself is full of restaurants and other amenities, so I find it a great location.

 

With that entry-level priced room and with my status benefits, I received executive lounge access. The executive lounge offered tea, coffee, and soft drinks all day, and, at tea time, offered some sweet cakes and scones. At cocktail hour, wine and spirits were offered along with heavy appetizers. I enjoyed the view and the snacks at the lounge throughout my stay.

 

For breakfast, most Marriott-branded properties offer a continental (sometimes very continental) breakfast in the lounge. However, West India Quay closes their lounge for breakfast and invites Platinum members to enjoy the full buffet in the main restaurant. Here, you can have made-to-order omelettes, a healthy selection of breakfast meats, waffles, juice, and fruit. I definitely enjoyed my “Full English Breakfast” complete with tea, eggs, toast, sausage, and baked beans.

 

In sum, these two Platinum-level benefits are my favorite of the Marriott Bonvoy program. I greatly value a free breakfast (even if it’s only tea/coffee and a croissant) and access to a lounge to enjoy some free snacks and beverages. Remember, not all Marriott properties offer the benefits exactly the same nor do all properties have lounges, so do your homework.

 

Happy Travels!

 

Vr,

Albert

 

Albert Guerrero, USAF, Ret.

“Let’s Travel Farther, Together!”

 

Follow my travels on Instagram: @albert_traveler

Posted by glenn | No Comments

ALL HANDS: Loyalty Status Levels (Part 1, Airlines).

 

Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

 

BLUF: While most folks have a favorite airline, airlines which confer Star Alliance Gold (*G) status are among the most beneficial when traveling around Europe.

 

Today’s ALL HANDS will review which airline status level brings the most value with it as you travel around Europe.

 

Living in Europe, we understand how amazing it is to hop on a plane and, within just an hour, visit difficult cultures, foods, and environments. However, with all the traveling, how can we make the journey a little more comfortable and even luxurious? By understanding airline loyalty status levels.

 

For me, Star Alliance Gold (*G) status is the most useful airline status to have while stationed in Europe. To review, an airline alliance is a group of airlines who band together to offer reciprocal benefits and broader networks. Currently, I’m a United Airlines Gold Premier, and this status level confers automatic *G. United Platinum and 1K offer the same.

 

As one of its perks, *G gives access to Star Alliance airline member lounges. For United, this occurs only when flying on an “international itinerary.” Since I credit all Star Alliance member flights to my United frequent flyer account when I travel in/around Europe, I’m on an international itinerary per United’s terms and conditions.

 

At most German airports, Lufthansa maintains both Business Class and Senator Lounges. *G travelers are granted access to Senator Lounges. While they have similar food and drink offerings, Senator Lounges are a bit more exclusive. At my home airport of STR, the breakfast and lunch offerings are particularly great in the Senator Lounge.

 

In Zurich, Swiss also maintains two lounges with the Senator Lounge for *G travelers. The Swiss Senator Lounge in the E Gates (for intercontinental flights) is my favorite Star Alliance member lounge. This Senator Lounge offers not just great food and a 200+ whiskey tasting bar but also a terrace overlooking the gates for some awesome plane-spotting opportunities.

 

Of the three airline alliances, Star Alliance has the most airline partners within Europe, and each of those airlines maintain a lounge at its respective hubs. You’re never too far from a nice lounge with *G status. At non-hub airports, Star Alliance usually contracts with a particular lounge for its *G travelers. If you remember my Malta AAR post, I had access to the great La Valette Club with my *G status while flying Lufthansa.

 

As an added benefit, *G travelers are offered Priority Boarding on Star Alliance flights. If like me, you’ve experience the various levels of chaos during the European boarding process, this is can be a nice way of securing overhead space.

 

Of course, flying a Star Alliance member airline may not always match your budget, your time, or your needs, so you have to take that into consideration. I usually weigh the ticket price from another airline against the benefits I gain from my *G status.

 

In sum, I’m not ashamed to admit I often favor my *G benefits while traveling over price. The ability to have a meal and a comfortable place to sit and recharge my devices is of high value to me. Others may make different choices. Understandable, just educate yourself on your travel options and benefits.

 

Happy Travels!

 

Vr,

Albert

 

Albert Guerrero, USAF, Ret.

“Let’s Travel Farther, Together!”

 

Follow my travels on Instagram: @albert_traveler

Posted by glenn | No Comments

Techniques, Tactics, and Procedures (TTPs):  Frankfurt International Airport (FRA) AirRail Check-in Center.

 

Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

 

BLUF:  The FRA AirRail Check-in Center is conveniently located between the FRA Fernbahnhof (long-distance train station) and Terminal 1.  Here, you can check-in and drop your luggage before making your way to the gate.

 

Today’s TTP is on how and when to use the FRA AirRail Check-in Center.

 

Previously, I wrote about our trip to Cape Town, South Africa.  The ticket I purchased included a Deutsche Bahn (DB) train ticket to take us from the Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof (main train station) to the Fernbahnhof and then onward to Cape Town.

 

Once we arrived the Fernbahnhof, we made our way to the FRA AirRail Check-in Center.  Located in the walkway between the Fernbahnhof and Terminal 1, the center allows you to check-in and drop your luggage at kiosks and counters.  For those in premium classes or with frequent flyer status, designated check-in lines are available. 

 

While no US carrier is hosted in the center, Lufthansa (LH), Swiss, and Austrian are some of the major airlines offering check-in services.  If your departure airline staffs a counter, you can use the center.  You do not need to be on a train ticket associated with your flight.  For example, if I would’ve purchased the DB ticket separately from the Cape Town ticket, we still could’ve checked-in and dropped off our luggage with LH.

 

Using the AirRail center is a very convenient option on your departure.  However, on your return, it is less so.  On the return, when connecting onto a linked DB train (your train ticket is part of your overall airline itinerary, a common option on the LH website), airlines can tag your luggage directly to the AirRail center for pick-up.  

 

With this option, you can walk right by the regular luggage carousels and head directly to the AirRail center.  The wait, though, can be long as the ground crew prioritizes the carousel.  Plus, the crew has to load the AirRail-designated luggage on a cart and roll it over.  Given the option, I would tag return luggage to the carousel only and make the walk to the Fernbahnhof, avoiding the AirRail center on the return trip altogether.

 

In sum, the FRA AirRail Check-in Center is best used when arriving at the FRA Fernbahnhof to check-in and drop off luggage before you head to the gate.

 

Happy Travels!

 

Vr,

Albert

 

Albert Guerrero, USAF, Ret.

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AAR: The Western Cape, South Africa, June 2017 (Part 6…the end)

 

Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

 

BLUF: This six-part AAR covers the journey, the destination, and activities of our trip to South Africa (our second!) while stationed in Germany. This trip focused almost exclusively on wine and food. While far from almost everywhere, the Winelands outside Cape Town have one of the largest concentration of wine estates for both seasoned and novice wine drinkers. It’s much more affordable than France and has better mountain views than Germany.

 

Today’s AAR takes us to the Western Province of the Republic of South Africa.

 

Part 6: Waddles and Waves.

 

South Africa offers so much for wildlife, food, wine, and culture tourists. And while an African safari is still on our bucket list, nothing compares to the colony of comical African Penguins at Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town. This unique, land-based colony houses almost 3,000 penguins who live and swim and hunt off the beach. For a $5 conservation fee, visitors can walk on raised platforms to the beach to watch the birds swim and goofily waddle their way onto the warm sand.

 

 

Once you enter the reserve, I recommend you turn right and walk on the platform that winds through the penguins’ habitat before it reaches to the beach. On this walk, you can see penguins sleeping in old metal milk pitchers, rubber tires, and plastic tubs. If you’re lucky, you may even see some baby penguins who have yet to molt their gray fluffy feathers for the slicker, water-proof black and white ones.

 

 

As the penguins are natural performers, they put on quite a show for the onlookers. Even though they are used to people, warning signs are everywhere advising you to not touch the birds since if threatened they will impale curious hands with their razor-sharp beaks. Parking around the reserve is tough, but patience—as well as tip money for the locals holding parking spots for you—is essential.

 

Before the Suez Canal, merchant and war ships used to traverse the ironically named and extremely dangerous Cape of Good Hope at the southwestern tip of Africa. Today, Cape Point is national park on which sits an old lighthouse with views of False Bay and the southern Atlantic Ocean.

 

 

Take the funicular up to the base of the lighthouse, then make the hike up to the top for some more amazing views. Roundtrip tickets can be bought on site for $5.50 or buy a one way and hike down. The Two Oceans Restaurant has a deck overlooking False Bay and has amazing sea food. Should the wind become too strong or the baboons too brave, deck eaters will be asked to move inside. Cape Point is a top tourist site, so reservations should be made at the Two Oceans to guarantee you scenic lunch spot.

 

 

A short drive from Cape Point is the official Cape of Good Hope. While it doesn’t have a gift shop or any facilities to speak of, a large sign announces its significance. In my experience, tourists tend to be courteous enough to cycle through quickly for the requisite photo.

 

 

In sum, we had a blast during our time in the Western Province. For us, the region remains one of our most cherished vacation spots. We hope to return to South Africa to explore the Garden Route along the southern coast and Kruger National Park for a safari. Until then, we will continue to enjoy South African wines and try to be as joyful and self-possessed as our friends on Boulders Beach.

 

 

Happy Travels!

 

Vr,

Albert

 

Albert Guerrero, USAF (ret.)

Follow my travels on Instagram: @albert_traveler

Posted by glenn | No Comments

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