June 22, 2015

The Ultimate Business Class Experience...

...is on Emirates' A380 Business Class.

I just got back from my trip to Dubai, using the prize ticket I won from the airlines' promo in Chicago last year (click here for that), and I had a great experience flying Emirates. I will have a more detailed review later on but I just wanted to do a quick post about why I think Emirates' A380 Business Class is the ultimate Business Class experience.

Here's why:

1. The A380. Flying on the biggest passenger jet is still a novel experience for many. According to Wiki, there are only 159 A380s in service as of April 2015 -- operated by 13 airlines.

Some of the benefits of flying this modern marvel include the following: a roomier and quieter cabin, advanced mood lighting, improved air quality, extra space for additional passenger facilities/amenities (in Emirates' case, a shower for First Class passengers and an onboard lounge for  both Business and First ), etc.

Emirates is the biggest operator of this aircraft and flies them to over 35 destinations (5 in the U.S.) around the world -- so the choices of where to go on their A380 are pretty good.

2. The seat. Looking past the gaudy (but fun, IMHO) trim, Emirates' Business Class seat is pretty solid. Given how I flew the first iteration of the seat (introduced back in 2008?), it is amazing how I think it can still go head to head with the newer seats of the other airlines today.

The seats are well padded and very comfortable. Other than the 3 pre-set options, you can pretty much control the seat to any desired angle/position...

...the massage function actually works (unlike in Thai Airways' A380 Business Class), you get your own "mini bar", there's a separate touch-screen controller that doubles as a second screen so you don't have to pause whatever you're watching on the main screen, they provide a mattress pad for sleeping, each seat has aisle access and are pretty private by Business Class standards (especially true for the window seats).

3. The onboard bar. Is this the 70s or what? Gone are the heydays of flying in luxury and I am just glad that I get to experience this kind of "excess" in my lifetime. Hehe.

I am not much of a drinker but it was amazing to have that space to break the monotony of the 13-hour flight, be able to mingle with your friends and other passengers, and allow you to "stretch" and walk around and get the blood flowing. I think I visited the space 3 times during the flight and, it not only helped pass the time, it actually made the flight more enjoyable and the Business Class experience more unique.

4. The entertainment system. I don't think I've ever seen such an extensive menu of movies, shows, music, and games as what they have on Emirates. The system is called ICE which stands for Information, Communications, and Entertainment -- and they have everything from Hollywood to Bollywood (and everything in between). I was actually able to catch a couple of Filipino movies in between the Hollywood blockbusters and I could've seen a Dutch one if I wanted to, but that would've taken more effort on my part :-)

WiFi was free for the first 10MB and only a token $1 for an additional 500MB. The price was amazing but, unfortunately, the quality was mostly slow and spotty.

5. The chauffeur service. Emirates is one of only a handful of airlines that offer this service to their premium class passengers.

If being waited on by your chauffeur service from your hotel or the airport doesn't make you feel you're flying "premium", then I don't know what will.

If 5 reasons aren't enough...

Catering ex-JFK (c/o Do & Co) was amazing...

....although the food in their Dubai lounge and on the flight ex-DXB were kind of disappointing. More on that in my detailed review.

A little snooty, but I never realized boarding the upper deck direct from the lounge would make a difference, but it did....

...the "comfort factor" was continued uninterrupted from the lounge to the plane.


As much as this may seem like a love post to Emirates, there were definitely a few shortcomings (like the so-so service from New York). I will detail those in my review later on in this blog.

The experience as a whole, though, was so good that it makes the negatives seem unimportant (for the most part). It's not just the seat, the onboard bar, the car service, or flying on the A380. It is all of them together, and more, that makes flying Emirates' A380 Business Class the ultimate (Business Class) experience.

Can you imagine how I would feel after I fly their First Class? Emirates? Hehe.

June 1, 2015

I Won (Two) Emirates Tickets To Dubai...

...almost a year ago! And I am finally using it this week! Hehe.

Long story short, Emirates ran a promotion in Chicago when they launched their route between the city and Dubai last year....

Image from Emirates
Every week, the airline posted a photo taken in Dubai of a letter from the word "hello" and they asked people to send a corresponding one taken from Chicago.

Thinking that this was going to be judged, I really went the extra mile and thought out my first entry...

Image from Instagram
A sure winner, right? Hehe. 

I forgot what happened next but I didn't hear anything after that week and just thought someone else was already chosen as the winner. I decided to look into the rules closer and finally saw that the winner was going to be chosen randomly and was not going to be judged, as I originally thought. So for the next four weeks (and letters), I didn't have to worry anymore about getting a really creative and "judging-worthy" photo and just made sure to send a corresponding one. Hehe.

I also forget now whether they announced the winners all at the same time at the end of the promo or if they did it every week, contacting the winner directly -- but I was just over the moon one morning after my entry for the last week was tagged as the winner...

Image from Instagram
Yay! I won two free tickets on Emirates to Dubai! :-)

Aside from the ticket certificate, Emirates also sent along these goodies...

Anyway, fast forward to this week - I will be flying Emirates for the first time, this will only be my second time on the A380 (the first one being on Thai Airways), and it will be my first time traveling to the Middle East and to Dubai! Exciting!

Emirates has been very generous by providing the winners "Space available Business" tickets so I am crossing my fingers that there will be empty Business Class seats on my flight this week or the one back to the U.S. from Dubai next week -- so I can try out the airline's popular Business Class. Hehe. Either way, I will be posting about my flights (and the trip -- I booked a stay at the current tallest hotel in the world, JW Marriott Marquis) here in the blog.

It has been a lucky past year for me with regards to winning contests/promos -- I won this, a stay certificate from Hyatt Place, and a collectible from ANA. So far, the only one I've won this year was the Conde Nast Traveler Shorties Film Festival (6 second category) Third Place (click here for that) but I'm optimistic that more will come in the next half of the year :-)

Lastly, I have a lot of backlog and have a lot of hotel reviews pending (including the new Loews hotel in downtown Chicago and Seattle's new Kimpton hotel, the Palladian) so expect those in the next few days along with some snippets of my upcoming Dubai trip as they happen.

Thanks, Emirates!

May 27, 2015

I Won 3rd Place at Conde Nast Traveler's Shorties Film Festival...

...in the :06 (6 second-) Category.

...a few weeks ago. 


Image from Conde Nast Traveler
Late post. Anyway, I just thought I'd share that I placed third in Conde Nast Traveler's recent Shorties Film Festival. The mechanics were a little bit confusing and I wasn't sure how much editing could be done given that it was supposed to be taken with our "mobile device" or something (to that effect). So I just whipped up a "shortie" of my Shinkansen ride from a previous Tokyo trip and cut it into parts to try to impart the experience to the viewer in :06 or 6 seconds.

This was my entry. Pardon the "amateur-ness". Again, wasn't sure how much editing could've been done and I did this in less than half an hour, at the most. I think. Hehe....


Pardon the video quality. Just did a quick upload for this post.

Anyway, if I knew I could've added sound and text and all that, this would actually have been my entry...


Not saying this was a winner but I thought it had a better chance. Hehehe. It is a very cheeky vid.

Anyway, you can check out the rest of the winners in the official page, here. You can find mine at the very bottom and end of the page :-)

In all seriousness, thanks to Conde Nast Traveler. I think there were at least 30 (yah? Hehe) entries in my category and I don't even know how I made it to the Top 3. Hehe.


April 28, 2015

Where to Donate your Miles and Points for the Earthquake Victims in Nepal

If you are wondering where you can donate your miles and points for the earthquake victims in Nepal, I've come up with a list below similar to the one I did back in 2013 for the typhoon victims in the Philippines.

The following organizations have stated that they have activities to help out the victims. I will be listing the airline and hotel loyalty program under the organizations they work with so you can decide where to donate and which of your miles/points you can use. Just click on the loyalty program name and it should direct you to their official page. I am not sure what the monetary equivalent of the miles are but, for sure, every donation helps -- no matter how small or large. Lastly, unless the miles/points to be donated were purchased, I think most donations are non tax-deductible.

So without any further ado...

Not sure about the minimum miles required

Minimum miles required is 3,000 and in increments of 1,000 thereafter

Minimum donation is 10,000 miles and in increments of 5,000 thereafter

Minimum points donation required is 500 points. 500 points = $2

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles - through HK Red Cross
Minimum donation is 10,000 miles with increments of 5,000 thereafter

Minimum donation required is 3,000 points and in increments of 1,000 after

Minimum donation is 1,000 Finnair Plus points

Minimum points donation is 4,000 points and in increments of 10,000 thereafter

Minimum donation required is 2,500 points

Not sure about the minimum points required

Minimum mileage requirement is 500 miles

You used to be able to donate your miles directly to the American Red Cross with US Airways. But since the merger with American Airlines, you can only donate your miles now to their in-house umbrella programs. According to the airline, though, their "Miles of Hope" program benefits organizations like the Red Cross -- so if you wish to donate your American Airlines AAdvantage Miles, you can  do so by visiting their donation page at www.aa.com

Incidentally, they are currently running a promotion with the Red Cross that ends this month where you can earn bonus miles for your cash donations. Earn 250 miles for a donation of $50 and 500 miles for $100. The bonus miles is capped at 500. To learn more, visit their page here.

Minimum mileage requirement is 500 miles

Minimum mileage requirement is 1,000 miles

Minimum mileage requirement is 1,000 miles

Minimum donation is 10,000 miles with increments of 5,000 thereafter

Minimum points required is 2,000 points up to 10,000 points

Minimum mileage requirement is 1,000 miles

Minimum mileage requirement is 1,000 miles

Minimum donation is 10,000 miles with increments of 5,000 thereafter

Minimum mileage requirement is 1,000 miles

Minimum donation is 1,000 Finnair Plus points

Minimum points required is 2,900 points

Donation starts at 500 points 

LASTLY, similar to their efforts for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013, United has set up a crowdrise.com site specifically for donations to the victims of the earthquake in Nepal....

Image from United/Crowdrise
Here is the link: https://www.crowdrise.com/unitednepalrelief

United will award 250 bonus miles for donations from $50-$99; $100-$249 will receive 500 bonus miles; $250 or more will receive 1,000 bonus miles; up to a total of 5 million miles to be given away until May 15, 2015. On top of that, United will match up $50,000 in donations made by their MileagePlus members! Amazing! Thank you very much, United!

I will update this list when I find out more loyalty programs connected to the organizations helping out in Nepal.

Reminder: Depending on your loyalty program, donations to their charity partners may count as an eligible activity in your account -- which should, in turn, extend your miles/points' expiry date. Make sure to check out their terms & conditions, though.


March 23, 2015

Quick Pics: Loews Minneapolis Hotel

Here is another quick pics post. This one is sent in by a friend who recently stayed at the Loews Minneapolis Hotel.

In a nutshell, my friend said that he liked the hotel, that the location was good, but the service wasn't anything special. Anyway, he said he would stay there again the next time he finds himself in the city because he believes there are no other better options.

- End of friend's statement - :-)

I actually also just stayed at a Loews property (in downtown Chicago) and will post my review of the same later this week.

A great week ahead to everyone and enjoy the wonderful Spring weather out...

March 16, 2015

Hotel Review: Hyatt Place Madison (Wisconsin)

This review has been long overdue. I won a free night certificate from a Hyatt Place promo last year and decided to use it to go on a mini-getaway. The closest property they had where we would feel like we were on vacation was the one in Madison, Wisconsin. It was a two hour and a half drive from Chicago and people have been saying that it is really pretty up there at the peak of Fall. And it was (check my post about it here).

Anyway, just a quick note on that Hyatt Place promo. They ran a promo to celebrate their 200 locations by giving away 200 free night certificates last August 2014...

Image from Hyatt Place
I, luckily, won one of the certificates after having entered the contest numerous times. This was my entry that won....

Image from Twitter. Photo from Myself. Hihi.

Image from Twitter

And here is the free night certificate...

Not bad, right?

So without much further ado...


Check-in was quick and uneventful -- which is always good. The check-in staff was pleasant and efficient and we were on our way to our room after a couple of minutes.

Here are some photos of the lobby...

The Room

The room was huge and was compartmentalized into different areas, which is Hyatt Place's signature lay-out/look.

Right through the door is the living area...

Past it is the sleeping area...

To the left of the entrance, across from the living area is the mini-bar and work area...

And past it, across the sleeping area, is the shower area...

Now this is where I felt the layout sort of failed. I don't like the fact that the sink was exposed to the room and how the shower and toilet were cramped into a tiny dark corner. I am not sure if this was the standard throughout this property but I checked other Hyatt Place's and they seem to have more standard bathrooms

There is a tiny closet located in this area, where the iron & board is also kept...

Other than the awkward shower and sink layout and the dated look of the room (which makes it feel like any other mid-range hotel room in America), everything else like (again) its size, its condition, and how it was spotless was all good. Oh, I forgot to mention that the water pressure in the shower was kind of poor and Wi-Fi is free :-)

Other Amenities

Hyatt Place offers its guests free breakfast off its lobby area...

The offerings were good for a quick bite and they also served juice and coffee, too.

There was a small business center...

A tiny but clean gym...

And a (again) small but clean indoor pool...

There is also parking for the guests but I forgot now if there was a fee or if it was free, sorry.

Around the Area

The hotel is really close to the State Capitol,...

...the University of Wisconsin campus, and the surrounding commercial area with all of the food choices you may think of (that includes a very good Nepalese restaurant that you should try when you find yourself in the city)...


All in all, I liked my stay at the Hyatt Place in Madison. The hotel is clean and in good condition, the location is great, the staff are pleasant and helpful, and there is not really a lot to complain about.

It is actually a surprise to me that (as of this writing) this property ranks #20 (of 60 something) on TripAdvisor. Most of the properties in the area are in the same category so I wonder what makes them so much better than this property -- given how I thought that the Hyatt Place Madison was already considerably good.

With that said, though, even if I would stay there again -- I'd probably check out another property the next time I am back just to see what makes them rank higher than this hotel.
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