Using Your Airline Miles To Get To Europe

We love traveling and TransAtlantic trips are extra special. Living on the east coast of the U.S., flights to European cities are not much longer than trips to the west coast. While I’ve made the trip in economy class, making the overnight flight there in a lie flat business class seat is just so much better. You actually might even sleep on the flight and arrive for your big vacation well rested.

Unfortunately, I will never have the time to try all of the airlines that fly between the United States and Europe. Lucky for me, The Points Guy has just posted a list of all the airlines and comments on the business class service available on each one on this page of their blog.  They also pick what they feel are the Top 10, based on factors like availability, service and cost.

I’ve only flew a few of these but will give my quick opinion of each. I did my research before all of these flights and picked out what seemed to be the best airline available to fit our needs. I actively avoided airplanes which had bad reviews but did not go out of my way to book a particular airline/airplane/seat type. I can say that I was happy with all the flights. None were amazing beyond compare but we had much more comfortable flight than we would have had in economy while soaring over the Atlantic Ocean on all of them.

Aer Lingus

This was how we got to London on our most recent trip in the fall of 2016. I was able to get flights in business class from Orlando to Dublin, then onward to London in economy. We were even able to arrange for a 10 hour layover so we got to leave the airport and spend the afternoon in Dublin so we could eat at one of our most favorite restaurants, Gallagher’s Boxty House. The seats were very comfortable and I even managed to get several hours of sleep on the flight. Since Aer Lingus is a partner with United Airlines, I was able to book the one way ticket for 70,000 United  miles + $23.80 each.

 American Airlines

This was our airline to get us home from Europe in 2016. Since we hopped around a little bit, we needed to fly home from Austria. I was able to get a ticket from Salzburg, Austria to London to Miami and finally to Orlando, all in business class.

I managed to get us seats on an American 777-300ER, which is one of their newest planes, for our flight from London to Miami. It had lie flat seats, everyone had aisle access and a really big TV screen. We were flying home during the daytime so I didn’t sleep very much on the flight but did enjoy reclining to read. To book the tickets, I had a healthy stash of American miles. At the time, this award cost 50,000 American miles (now it costs 57,500) and $200.20 each.

 Virgin Atlantic

I love the vibe of Virgin Atlantic. We flew them back in 2013 in Upper Class from Orlando to London and then home from Manchester to Orlando. Flying there, we took a 747 and were the first two seats in the nose of the plane. It was so cool. Apparently it was so cool that we didn’t want to appear silly taking a bunch of pictures. This was the only one I could find.img_0040

Flying home from Manchester we were on an Airbus A330-300. The seats were jammed in much closer and it wasn’t as luxurious a trip back. I guess that’s why we have no pictures of the flight.

That trip was the first time I used some miles and points tricks without help from others. I booked this flight using miles from ANA (All Nippon Airways). They are partners with Virgin Atlantic and only charge 68,000 miles for the flight. I was able to get ANA miles by transferring points to them from my American Express Membership Rewards account. This was good for me because back then I didn’t have a big stash of miles to spend. The kicker was that they do charge taxes and fees which ended up costing $1100.00 per ticket. I viewed it as if I was paying cash for a premium economy ticket and the miles I used was the cost to upgrade to Upper Class.

Delta Airlines and Air France

We flew these airlines to Ireland back in 2011. The information about the flights and such are really out of date. Flying up in front of the plane was also still a new thrill for us. Apparently the only thing that excited us was the amount of legroom we had as these are the only pictures I can find of the flight.

To book this flight, I used an award booking service I read about in a magazine called Book Your Award. Using a service to take advantage of your miles was a new idea back then. They are still around and I will refer people to them if they need help to book a complicated award ticket with miles.

Like this post? Please share it! We have plenty more just like it and would love if you decided to hang around and clicked the button on the top (if you’re on your computer) or the bottom (if you’re on your phone/tablet) of this page to follow our blog and get emailed notifications of when we post (it’s usually just two or three times a day). Or maybe you’d like to join our Facebook group, where we talk and ask questions about travel (including Disney parks), creative ways to earn frequent flyer miles and hotel points, how to save money on or for your trips, get access to travel  articles you may not see otherwise, etc. Whether you’ve read our posts before or this is the first time you’re stopping by, we’re really glad you’re here and hope you come back to visit again!

This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

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#TBT: Alaska ’09 Trip Report: Part 2 of 9

Part 2 of 9: On board the ship & getting my bearings.

In August of 2009, I (Sharon) deserted my husband Joe and our puppy Dobby (at the time we had had her for about a month and a half) to go on a cruise to Alaska with the choir of which I was a member at the time (we were booked to sing on the ship). Some of my writing style has changed since 2009, some of my snark is exactly the same and heaven knows that cameras and photos have improved in the past 8 years, but here is the trip report I wrote about those adventures…the good, the bad and the ugly! To get up-to-date on the trip, click here for Part 1.

Saturday, August 15, 2009 (Going On Board)

I  woke up at 8am and went to the Starbucks in the hotel (did you hear that? A Starbucks IN THE HOTEL! Joy of joys! [Modern day note: friendly reminder that in 2009, there were not NEARLY as many Starbucks around as there are nowadays]) and got coffee. I finally got the rest of my stuff packed up, put my cruise information on my suitcases and went downstairs to meet everyone.

This was my first trip with this choir and the first time I was meeting the vast majority of the 50-something people with whom I was traveling. We were told to wear specifically-designed shirts for identification though, so it was easy to pick other choir members in a crowd – all of whom were British, save for 3 of us from Orlando and 2 from Tampa. So every time I bumped into one and said hi, I was greeted with, “Oh, you’re one of the alaskabusAmericans!” It was kinda fun (grin). There was one woman who said it before I even said anything – I was like, “Does it show?” But it was only because she knew everyone else on the trip and I was “new”.

So we all loaded onto the bus and away we went. It was a quick trip (15 minutes, tops) and when we arrived we had to wait on line for Immigration since we would be traveling from Canada to the US. The wait for that was pretty long – lots of people going on cruises! But eventually we got through and were allowed to board the ship.

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The Lido Buffet

We were told that our cabins were not quite ready so we were invited to have lunch at the Lido Restaurant. It was a buffet, with salads, sandwiches, roast beef and rotisserie chicken. I got a salad and some chicken, along with an herbal green tea that was much better than I anticipated. I ate with a handful of British choir people – as always, I’m horrible with names but they were all very nice.

Once they announced that our cabins were ready, I found mine (6027) and since my luggage wasn’t delivered yet, I started wandering the ship to sign up for stuff and get a general lay of the land. I signed up for a few Spa treatments, checked out some of the bars, etc.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur emergency drill was scheduled for 4:15pm. After I put on my lovely orange flotation device (it was stored on the top shelf of my closet…what a trip it was to try to reach…how I wished I had a roomie who could have gotten it for me! I miss you, Joe! LOL!), the alarms went off and I went to Deck 3, as instructed.

Once we were done with the emergency drill, I went back to my cabin, to see that my luggage had been delivered so I spent some time unpacking, organizing, etc. I had no idea I had brought SIX pairs of shoes (not including slippers or the shoes I was wearing. Just call me Imelda Marcos, I guess!).

We left port not long after that, so I went up to Deck 9 to hang out with everyone while we began our trip in earnest. I bumped into Caroline and Sue again (we’ve bumped into each other no less than 5 times so far – I’m not sure who is stalking who, LOL!), plus several other Sing Live Brits (Colin, Ian, Ann, Jean, Pauline, Sue, Jane, etc.) and Celeste and Esther from Tampa (BTW, we discovered that us 5 Americans have our own table…we figure it’s so we can understand each other, what with the language barrier and all, LOL!).

We were scheduled to queue up for dinner at 7:45pm so I left around 7ish to (A) find the Internet Cafe for further reference (they had a special where you got an extra 20 minutes if you signed up before 10pm) and (B) change my clothes and get ready for dinner.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADinner was on the 3rd floor, in the Vista Dining Room and, as I said, us 5 Americans had our own table (#63). There were several choices of salads, soups, appetizers and main courses, with wine by the bottle or the glass. The food was really, really good. I got the mussels in a wine sauce for an appetizer, almond encrusted salmon (with shaved zucchini and mashed potatoes) and coffee and a baked Alaska for dessert (covered in raspberry sauce. I never saw a baked Alaska that wasn’t flambe, but this one wasn’t. A “ship thing,” I’m sure. It was still good, though).

After dinner was done I went up to the Internet Cafe to sign up for my plan and get some blogging done so I could go to bed. And so it is.

The Problem With Hotel Thermostats (And What To Do About Them)

I know I’m not the only one to ask if it feels warm in a hotel room after checking in.

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Here is a picture of me thinking I could change the temperature in the room.

You arrive after a day of traveling and get to your room. After you put your bags down, you notice there’s a lack of air circulating in the room. First thought, find the thermostat. Turns out that pressing that temperature down arrow might not help your situation any.  Hotels are coming up with smarter and smarter ways to save on energy bills by putting you in less, or sometimes without any, control of the temperature of your room.

I remember our first encounter with an energy efficient room was on a trip to London. There was a slot near the door into which you had to insert your room key card so that the lights, television and air conditioner would turn on. This was fine if you were staying in the room but as soon as you left, everything went off. Our first solution, since we were a couple and had 2 room keys, was to leave one of our keys in the slot. Not the best solution but at least our room was cool when we returned. Then we sought other solutions. Were there other cards in our wallet that would work? Credit Card?  Those worked but we were not leaving one of those  in there while not in the room. An AAA card worked but we might need that for the places that gave discounts. How about our library card? Bingo!  It worked to keep on the lights and we didn’t need it during the day.We left a nice tip each day, kindly asking housekeeping not to remove the key from the slot after cleaning the room. Eventually we just kept a random hotel card key in our wallet at all times for rooms with such a system.

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Insert room key in order to get electricity and A/C

This experience was almost a decade ago and technology has improved a great deal since then. Hotels are now using motion detectors, infrared sensors, sound detectors and door monitors to tell if you are in the room and then change the temperature settings accordingly. The issues with the lack of control given to guests because of the new “smart” room technology seem to be increasing because I’ve read 4 articles on the subject recently.

I first remember reading an article on the subject back in 2010 showing you  how to “hack” your thermostat. I tried using tips from this post but was never in a room with the same type of thermostat.  More recently I’ve seen that mainstream publications like The Wall Street Journal  and the Los Angeles Times have written articles on the subject. The latter even gave some ways to trick the most complicated of sensor arrays.

Alas, those systems that rely only on motion sensors are not always guest-friendly. Unless they’re sleepwalking, guests who are abed aren’t moving in a way that a motion sensor can detect.

The solution for immediate relief is to buy a Mylar balloon (sturdier than a regular balloon) that trails strings or ribbons and let it move around your room, triggering the motion sensor.

Now I do admit, the idea of walking into every stay at a hotel carrying a Mylar balloon and then having it fly around my room all night are two of the most absurd images I can think of.  However, I do know one or two friends (and they know who they are) who, I have no doubt, might try this idea after reading this post.

The final thought on this issue is if hotels think we don’t care that the temperature in the room is out of our control, they will keep setting it to whatever they want. The solution is to complain to the hotel. Do so while you are there and the hotel may adjust the room temperature, thereby making  your stay more comfortable. If no relief is given, then a mention of this fact in an online review or survey will show them this is an issue that guests care about and can no longer be ignored.

Like this post? Please share it! We have plenty more just like it and would love if you decided to hang around and clicked the button on the top (if you’re on your computer) or the bottom (if you’re on your phone/tablet) of this page to follow our blog and get emailed notifications of when we post (it’s usually just once or twice a day). Or maybe you’d like to join our Facebook group, where we talk and ask questions about travel (including Disney parks), creative ways to earn frequent flyer miles and hotel points, how to save money on or for your trips, get access to travel  articles you may not see otherwise, etc. Whether you’ve read our posts before or this is the first time you’re stopping by, we’re really glad you’re here and hope you come back to visit again!

 

#TBT: Alaska ’09 Trip Report (Pre-Day 1)

PART 1 of 9: In August of 2009, I (Sharon) deserted my husband Joe and our puppy Dobby (at the time we had had her for about a month and a half) to go on a cruise to Alaska with the choir of which I was a member at the time (we were booked to sing on the ship). Some of my writing style has changed since 2009, some of my snark is exactly the same and heaven knows that cameras and photos have improved in the past 8 years, but here is the trip report I wrote about those adventures…the good, the bad and the ugly! 

Friday, August 14, 2009 (Pre-Day 1)

After waking up at 6:30am on Thursday morning and going to bed at midnight. I woke up at an ungodly 4:30am. It was so early that even Dobby, my daily 7:00am alarm clock in the form of a 4.5-month-old toy poodle, looked at me as if to say,  “what are you doing up so EARLY?” (I did admittedly take some small bit of satisfaction at ME waking HER up for her morning potty, for a change – and to say goodbye, of course).

Joe drove me to the airport and I met up with my singing friends “Carlene” and “Stewart” while I was waiting on line at Starbucks – but not before I saw the brand-spanking-new (well, to me – I don’t know how long it’s actually been there) Famiglia Pizza in Terminal A. Yay, we finally got a straight-from-NYC Famous Famiglia Pizza in Orlando again, after the one near Walt Disney World closed! Unfortunately, it’s in the terminal Joe and I hardly ever visit. Sigh.

Our plane took off on time and, joy of joys, whoever was supposed to sit between Carlene & I either didn’t show up or sat somewhere else. So we had plenty of extra room for our “stuff.”

img_0895They served breakfast around 10am. Well, they sold breakfast, anyway. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a nearly 6-hour flight; if you want something more substantial than one 1.4 oz oatmeal raisin cookie and a 1 oz bag of pretzels and soy beans, you’re going to have to pay for it. And, sucker that I am, I did. For $6 I got hash browns, sweet sausage and reconstituted egg product. Let’s just say the hot tea was good.

The rest of the (long, LONG) flight was thankfully uneventful and we arrived in Seattle around the time we were supposed to, if not a little earlier. We had reservations for the QuickShuttle shuttle bus but with a little more than an hour to wait for it, I took the opportunity to buy a salad, apple and Dasani water to go (lest anyone think I made 100% healthy choices, I also got a package of chocolate & peanut butter M&Ms, too).

img_0900img_0896img_0898I have no idea what our route was to Vancouver – I’ve never been to Washington State, let alone Seattle (nor Vancouver, for that matter) so short of the one famous needle-topped building and chain stores, I have no idea of anything about where we were or to what places we went. I saw signs that said we were on I-5 for quite a while, if that means anything to anyone. But otherwise, the trip to Vancouver was alternating cities, towns, mountains and naps. Oh, and the little old Spanish-speaking lady in the front row who never shut up. Ever. For the whole trip. She yak yak yak’d with her daughter(?) for the entire trip. ¡Ay, Dios mio!

We eventually made it over the border (Border Patrol Dude: “Why are you coming to Canada?” Me: “Because that’s where the cruise ship leaves from”) and they did indeed let us in. I even got the Border Patrol Dude to stamp my passport – something he says he never does. But hey, I asked, LOL!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter stops at a few other hotels AND Vancouver’s airport, we finally arrived at the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre Hotel, where we were scheduled for a 1-night stay and where, at some point, we would hopefully meet the rest of the choir.  It was a REALLY nice place, with two towers that were each 30-something stories high. We were in the South Tower, on the 14th floor. My room, which was originally supposed to be a double (long story), was an interesting L-shaped corner room with 2 double beds that overlooked a busy section of Vancouver.

After dropping off our stuff, Carleen, Stewart & I went in search of food, since all of our meals all day had been small and far between…so we were starving! The only problem was that we didn’t know the city at all so we pretty much just picked a direction and started going straight. We bypassed some icky-looking places that sold pizza, paninis, Viet-Tai, etc., checked out the place that a homeless woman recommended (no, really!) and eventually came upon a nice restaurant called the Bacchus Restaurant & Lounge, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAlocated at the Wedgewood Hotel & Spa. There were LOTS of people in the main dining area – so much so that we were seated in the back. Or so we thought. But it eventually dawned on us that our sitting so far away from everyone else may have been less so because of lack of space and moreso because we were very underdressed for the establishment. Think a tiny step above a “nice” restaurant that’s “dressy casual” and then there was us, in varying degrees of jeans, sneakers, stretchy pants, polo shirts and Hawaiian shirts. Fortunately, they were still willing to take our money, LOL! Anyway, the food was delicious…I had a steak, Stewart had the NY Strip and Carlene got the duck – we didn’t have a complaint about any of it.

We wandered back to our hotel and, after spending some time on the free internet (YAY!) on the 3rd floor, I walked around and looked for fellow choir people – ANY choir people because, if nothing else, we had no idea of what time or where we were meeting the next morning, to travel to the ship. I finally met up with “Caroline” and “Sue” at the bar (most of the choir people were from the U.K. Two British people at the bar? Coulda knocked me over with a feather…). and they gave me the lo-down…have the bags ready inside our rooms at 11am, tags attached, and meet outside at noon. Got it! Went back to the room, called Carlene and Stewart to let them know the plan and then, with most of this blog mostly written, I could FINALLY go to bed!

Next Throw Back Thursday: Driving to the ship and our first day at sea!

Why We Had Never Been to Harlem Before & What We Did When We Went

Since we grew up in the NY area, and because we visit Manhattan at least once a year, it’s hard to find things to do “in between Broadway shows.” We’ve done all the touristy things and a lot of the museums and other things that might interest us. But for this trip, we decided to do something we had never, ever done before – go to Harlem!

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Harlem in the late 1970s. Photo by Manel Armegol

Going to Harlem nowadays isn’t such a big deal but from the 1920s until the early 2000s, Harlem was generally a low income area and not the safest of neighborhoods. Growing up in Brooklyn and then Staten Island, “Don’t go to Harlem; you’ll get killed!” is the kind of thing I heard my whole life. Now, I don’t know whether or not that was really true, but the point certainly scared me enough, as I entered my teens, 20s and 30s, that Harlem wasn’t on my short list destinations to visit, except in a “forbidden fruit” sort of way – part of the reason why I wanted to go because it was suggested I couldn’t/shouldn’t. I’m such a rebel, LOL!

But it’s 2017 now and Harlem had become safer over the past decade or so. Meanwhile, I really wanted to go to a church service in NYC where they sang black gospel, because I truly do enjoy that kind of music; the more hand-clapping and foot-stomping, the better! So I did my research to see what churches in Manhattan had gospel music and which would be the best for visitors, and First Corinthian Baptist Church (FCBC) made the top of the list – so we got an Uber and off to Harlem we went.

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First Corinthian Baptist Church

Sunday worship services were at 7:30am, 9:30am and 11:30am, and it was suggested that visitors arrive early. “Early” is subjective, I’m habitually early as it is, and our Uber took less time than we anticipated, so we wound up arriving for the 11:30am service at a couple of minutes before 10am. It was cold out and we didn’t want to hang out outside for an hour and a half so we decided to join the 9:30am service, even though it was already in progress. I felt badly about that, but the gentleman at the door assured us it was OK.

As visitors, we were directed upstairs. And it was a LOT of stairs. See, FCBC is housed in what used to be the Regent Theater, a landmarked, historic building built in 1913 (yay, more old architecture!), and visitors are encouraged to sit the balcony. So we had to climb up a HUGE flight of steps. But once we made it to the top and had caught our breath, we saw that the view of the pulpit was awesome from up there!

The praise team was in the midst of singing when we arrived, so I was immediately happy and in my musical element. Reverend Dr. LaKeesha Walrond then led the sermon, “How Much Is Enough?,” which dealt with being more in tune with loving and sharing, rather than being focused on having, as she called it, “stuff.” Neither Joe nor I are Baptist, so attending a service that included a video of George Carlin’s classic “A Place For My Stuff” routine (one of the few “clean” George Carlin routines, LOL!) and a reading of Shel Silverstein’s “Hector the Collector” was refreshing and entertaining for both of us.

With a few more songs from the praise team, the service was over. As it turned out, their music was not exactly the type of gospel choir music I had been looking for, but their voices were great, their harmonies were tight and the sermon was enjoyable, so I was still very happy we went!

After church, Joe suggested we go to Hamilton Grange National Memorial, which is the home Alexander and Elizabeth Hamilton built in Harlem in the early 1800s – it’s currently part of the National Parks Department and is the only national memorial that was built by the person who it memorializes. For those of you who are Broadway buffs, it’s referred to in the song “It’s Quiet Uptown” from the stage musical Hamilton. The church was on 116th Street and the Grange was on 141st; we decided to walk it. It was a long walk, especially with temperatures in the mid-30s, but it was fun to see all of the different architectural styles of buildings we passed on our way.

grangeoutside2When we got to the Hamilton Grange, we signed up for a self guided tour. The building is relatively small so only a limited number of people can visit the upstairs rooms at one time. We bided our time by watching a short movie about Alexander Hamilton and looking at a timeline of his accomplishments, which were on 2 rooms on the first floor. After 10 or 15 minutes or so, our name was called and upstairs we went.

Public domain photos courtesy of the National Parks Department. For more photos and information, visit the Hamilton Grange pages of the National Parks Service.

The upstairs was a group of 3 large rooms and a couple of smaller spaces. Since the house had had variety of uses (including as a church) over the past 200+ years, to say nothing of the entire building being moved 2 times (!!!), details of the original house and furniture are limited, so it’s been filled with artifacts that Hamilton once owned, as well as some reproductions and the types of things the family might have owned during their time there. The space was done very well, complete with a hand-painted floor in the entry foyer that was in the style that was done at the time of the very early 19th century. A Parks Department representative remained in the middle of the space to answer questions, and she really knew her stuff!

With a quick visit to the gift shop (Hello, “It’s Quiet Uptown” T-shirt!), we took a train back downtown so we could have lunch. Our visit to Harlem was over. But what a fun day it was! I look forward to visiting the area again one of these days, preferably to get a tour of the Apollo Theater!!!

Like this post? Please share it! We have plenty more just like it and would love if you decided to hang around and clicked the button on the top (if you’re on your computer) or the bottom (if you’re on your phone/tablet) of this page to follow our blog and get emailed notifications of when we post (it’s usually just two or three times a day). Or maybe you’d like to join our Facebook group, where we talk and ask questions about travel (including Disney parks), creative ways to earn frequent flyer miles and hotel points, how to save money on or for your trips, get access to travel  articles you may not see otherwise, etc. Whether you’ve read our posts before or this is the first time you’re stopping by, we’re really glad you’re here and hope you come back to visit again!

This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary