Fishing for Points and KLM-ing Home (Greg’s Flying by the Seat of our Points Journal)

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The Flying by the Seat of our Points challenge is done. What a blast we had! And many, many people have told us how much fun it was to watch the action as it unfolded. That’s what we were hoping for! Thanks go to Carrie and her sister for creating great Instagram videos; and to Nick for providing non-stop thriller-style action. Below you’ll find my final challenge diary…

Our 2024 team challenge Flying by the Seat of our Points tested our last minute award booking skills with a series of last minute travel challenges assigned and judged by Stephen and Carrie. Over the span of a week, Greg, Nick, and Tim used their knowledge, points, elite standings, and even upgrade instruments to tackle each challenge with the best combination of frugality and luxury they could, all before the next assignments were given. Final Scores: Tim won this challenge by the seat of his points! Calculations
Check out our contestant journals, recap videos, and more here. And follow us on Instagram, YouTube, and this blog to find out about our future challenges!

Wednesday June 12 (Challenge is done & I’m almost home)

Since my last journal entry, I flew Malaysia Airlines business class (see my review here); I inadvertently forced Tim to sleep a night on the floor at the Renaissance Kuala Lumpur (read why here); Tim, Nick, and I visited Batu Caves; we did a Durian tasting; and we greatly enjoyed a relaxing experience at the Cute Fish Spa (where bigger-than-expected fish were employed to give pedicures to spa clientele). We also conducted the final livestream of the competition. Watch it here if you missed it:

Yes, Tim beat me by a single point. No, I don’t mind. He deserved it! Yes, it was a gross misjustice that he earned more points for his Lufthansa 2x2x2 business class flight to Europe than I did with my KLM suite to Europe, but it was also arguably an injustice that my trip to L.A. earned more style points than his foodie drive down the California Coast. It all evens out in the fish pond. Nick? He came in last, but his consolation prize was to fly home in Japan Airlines first class. So, no, I don’t feel bad for him. Yes, he had the toughest assignment (Morocco), but that was fitting as he was the reigning champ based on the most recent past individual competition (3 Cards, 3 Continents). I imagine that Tim will get Morocco-ed next year. For those wondering, being Morocco-ed is different from being Macao-ed (a term we created during the Party of 5 Challenge). The former is a really tough assignment; the latter is when everything that can go wrong, does (this is also known as Murphy’s Law, but until Murphy joins the Frequent Miler team, we’ll stick with Macao-ed).

Fishing for points

As a reminder, my assignment in Kuala Lumpur was this: “This is a vacation, you’re supposed to be relaxing! (Find an activity that helps you all restore some energy.)”

So, I organized two very relaxing activities for the team:

  1. A guided meditation at a Batu Cave temple. I had the guys close their eyes while they imagined a perfect world where the LifeMiles website always works, airplane seats are like hotel suites, and Marriott 100% of the time fulfills its pledge to give free breakfast to Platinum Elites.
  2. A relaxing experience at the Cute Fish Spa. Here, we put our feet into the spa water where much-bigger-than-expected fish ate the dead skin off of our feet. We had all done something like this before but with tiny little fish. These “cute” fish were relatively huge! It didn’t hurt, but boy did it tickle! So, no, it wasn’t relaxing at all for us, but everyone else in the world should have felt relaxed knowing that they didn’t have to put their feet into that water.

For some reason the judges didn’t give me full points for providing a relaxing experience (strange that), but they made up for it by giving me bonus points for each activity.

KLM-ing Home

KLM 787-9 Business Class

Now, I’m on my way home. I used my Air France / KLM Flying Blue points to snag a 95K award flying KLM business class from Kuala Lumpur to Amsterdam and then to Chicago. There are so many flights between Chicago and Detroit (my final destination) that I figured it would be cheap and easy to book something for shortly after I land in Chicago. But it turned out to be harder than I thought. The KLM flight arrives in Chicago just after the early afternoon flights to Detroit depart. And, the next round of flights are all around rush hour and all were very expensive. My solution was to book a cheap Delta flight at another time of day and then I same-day-changed to the flight I wanted. Thanks to my elite status, I can change to a flight later in the day than the one booked. Since you can same day change up to 24 hours prior to the original flight’s departure, I booked the earliest flight in the day and was therefore able to change to the flight I wanted significantly more than 24 hours in advance of that flight.

I’ll write-up a review soon comparing my three KLM long-haul business class flights (777 from Vancouver to Amsterdam; 787-9 from Kuala Lumpur to Amsterdam; and 787-10 from Amsterdam to Chicago). For now, I’ll just mention that the 787-9 that I just flew from Kuala Lumpur seemed to be an older seat and it didn’t have a door, but it was still very comfortable and I slept very well. Food was good but not great.

Previous Journal Entries

May 20th 2024 (2 weeks before the challenge)

The 2024 team challenge is starting soon. It’s going to be a whirlwind of nearly non-stop action. I can’t wait!

But now, I need to prepare…

In a team meeting, I suggested that we each post about how we’re preparing for the challenge. Nick and Tim stared back at me blankly. How does one prepare for a challenge like this? We won’t know anything about where we’ll be going nor what we’ll need to do once we get there until about 2 days before we need to get there (wherever there is) and do that (whatever that is). But there are things we can do to prepare. I haven’t yet been actually doing these things (don’t tell Nick or Tim), but I figured that writing this post would be the kick in the pants I need to get going…

There are things that I should be doing to prepare for the upcoming challenge. I just need to actually do them! I can take inventory of the things I have (points and such), grease the wheels (make sure I can log into all relevant programs and apps; study award charts for sweet-spots; test out ideas; make sure I know how to search for awards with relevant programs; and best of all, I can practice…

Taking Inventory

As I write this, the one thing I’ve done so far is to take inventory. I noted down all of the relevant stuff I have: points, free night certificates, upgrade certificates, elite statuses, rental car points or free days, etc. In doing this, I found that I don’t have many Alaska miles. So I went ahead and linked my Bilt account to my Alaska account. That will smooth the process if I need to transfer any points from Bilt to Alaska during the challenge. Also, I don’t have a huge number of Bilt points. I’ll do my best to add to my Bilt total on June 1st (Bilt doubles all points earned on the first of the month for up to 10K extra points).

  • To Do: Earn more Bilt points on June 1

I also found that I have Singapore miles expiring in 6 months. With Singapore, account activity doesn’t renew your miles and I don’t otherwise have a plan for using them. Yikes.

  • To Do: Scour Singapore’s award charts for any remaining sweet-spots (over the years they’ve systematically killed off the one’s I was aware of).

I’m also in a weird predicament with respect to Avios. I have 64,000 Qatar Avios which I can easily move around to British Airways, Air Lingus, and Iberia as needed. That might not be enough. But I also have 267K Finnair Avios. Those will become more useful once they enable the ability to move Avios from Finnair to other programs. That capability is expected any day now. But will it happen in time for the challenge? The current Citi to Qatar Avios 30% transfer bonus ends May 31. Should I take advantage of it if I still can’t move my Finnair Avios by May 31st? I don’t think I will. Instead I’ll roll the dice that either Finnair will enable transferring points by the time I need them or that there will be a new transfer bonus to Avios (hopefully from Membership Rewards points where I’m particularly flush with points).

  • To Do: Keep checking Finnair’s website for the ability to move Avios to other programs. Once enabled, move points around to make sure it works. Perhaps I’ll even make sure that I have about 70K Avios within each major program so that there may be enough for whatever I need when the time comes (assuming I end up using Avios at all, which is not a given).

You can find my full inventory near the end of this post.

Greasing the Wheels

When the challenge starts, the last thing I’ll need is to find that I can’t log into a particular rewards program; or I can’t figure out how to search or book awards with a program; or I have trouble moving points to where they need to go; etc. My goal here is to make sure I can log into all major programs that I’m likely to use; make sure I know how to search for awards with that program; make sure I can move points around (such as moving Avios from one program to another); etc. Here are some specific things I plan to do:

  1. Make sure I can still move Avios from/to Aer Lingus, BA, Iberia, Qatar, and Finnair. For Finnair, I need to wait until they enable that ability (hopefully by the time the challenge starts).
  2. Test searching for awards in major programs that I don’t use regularly:
      • Aer Lingus
      • Iberia
      • Cathay Pacific
      • Emirates
      • Etihad
      • Singapore
  3. Make sure that I’ve installed apps (and can log into the apps) for the programs that I’m most likely to use during the challenge

Mastering Award Tools

Since I last published updates to my posts on flight award search tools and hotel award search tools, there have been many changes. Authors of these tools and others seem to email me daily with updates. I haven’t been able to keep up!

  • To Do: Deep dive into major flight and hotel award search tools.

Practice makes Better

This is probably the number one thing I should do, but I haven’t yet done it. I should come up with multiple possible scenarios so that I can practice finding and booking awards with conditions similar to what I’ll experience during the challenge (e.g. pretend that I have about 48 hours to get to the next location and to check into a hotel).

  • To Do: Practice!

Plan for Maintaining Sanity

Once the challenge kicks off, I expect a high octane whirlwind of near non-stop award searching, award booking, traveling, and running around trying to complete random challenges that will be thrown my way. This will be crazy fun, but it will also be exhausting.

My competitors each have a superpower that’s going to make them tough to beat. Nick’s superpower is that he doesn’t need sleep. Not much of it anyway. That’s going to come in very, very handy in this challenge. Tim’s superpower is his iron commitment to working out daily. During our Party of 5 Challenge, Tim somehow managed to hit the gym pretty much every day no matter how exhausted we were and how little time we seemed to have. Regular exercise is incredibly important for keeping one’s physical and mental acuity, but I rarely pull it off when traveling.

To function normally, unlike Nick, I actually need a solid block of 6 to 7 hours sleep. That’s going to be tough to achieve. I also need to pay attention to my eating. When my blood sugar drops, I feel it big time. I get extra shaky and I can’t think straight. Eating healthily and exercising helps prevent that.

My plan to keep my sanity during the challenge is to eat relatively healthily, to exercise regularly, and to avoid drinking too much alcohol. I’m hoping that publicizing these intentions will help me stick with them! These things should help me get solid sleep. But, in case I can’t get enough sleep naturally, I will have some Ambien with me. And if my blood sugar drops, my backpack will be pre-stocked with emergency rations. Let’s just hope that my backpack doesn’t get stolen again. This time I’ll be holding onto it like my life depends on it.

May 30th 2024 (4 days before the challenge kicks-off)

Now that Finnair Avios can be moved to other Avios programs (details here), I completed one of my preparation to-dos. I greased the wheels by spreading out my Avios points across each program: British Airways, Qatar, Iberia, Finnair, and Aer Lingus.

Spreading out my Avios wasn’t as easy as I had hoped. First, I ran into errors when trying to link my Finnair and British Airways accounts. After trying again and again, without changing anything, the accounts eventually linked successfully. Next I tried moving all of my Finnair Avios to British Airways and kept getting an error. Finally I reduced the number to move to a few thousand. That worked! After that, I found I could move any number of Avios back and forth without trouble.

The second problem I had with moving Avios around is that BA’s website didn’t work for me for moving points to Iberia or AerLingus. When I pressed the button to combine Avios, the same page I was already on would simply reload. Finally I got around the issue by logging into my Iberia account. There, I was able to successfully pull Avios from BA and push them to Aer Lingus.

My new Avios totals at the moment are:

  • Aer Lingus: 25,000
  • British Airways: 85,680
  • Finnair: 75,000
  • Iberia: 75,000
  • Qatar: 70,428

I didn’t spend much time deciding how many Avios to put into each program. The real goal was accomplished: I set everything up so that I can now freely move points around as needed. Point transfers among Avios programs happen instantly.

Now that the Avios’ tasks are done, I still need to get moving with these to-dos that I identified last time:

  • To Do: Earn more Bilt points on June 1
  • To Do: Scour Singapore’s award charts for any remaining sweet-spots (over the years they’ve systematically killed off the one’s I was aware of).
  • To Do: Test searching for awards in major programs that I don’t use regularly (I’ve done some work with LifeMiles, but need to especially practice with Asia miles).
  • To Do: Make sure that I’ve installed apps (and can log into the apps) for the programs that I’m most likely to use during the challenge.
  • To Do: Deep dive into major flight and hotel award search tools.
  • To Do: Practice! (I did practice a little recently with my real-life experience: United-ing Divorced Segments with United’s Excursionist Perk)

Other stuff:

  • I just now remembered that I have 10,800 Citi ThankYou points expiring in August (due to product changing a card away from a ThankYou card) so it would be great to use those during the challenge.
  • More AA and Bilt points credited to my accounts since my last journal entry, so I’ve updated those totals in the Inventory section of this post.

June 2nd 2024 (1 day before the challenge)

Yesterday I made progress on my final pre-challenge to-do list. On Rent Day (when Bilt point earnings are doubled, up to 10,000 extra points), I earned Bilt points by buying a large gift card at my favorite local restaurant, and I paid for a bunch of Kiva loans. Additionally, I practiced searching for awards bookable through Cathay Pacific Asia Miles. There, I was surprised to find that AA awards appear to be bookable online through Cathay Pacific. That’s great news! I also practiced a couple of likely destination scenarios. Most of all, though, I combed through Singapore Airline’s award charts to find sweet-spots that I can hopefully use during the challenge. My 171,000 Singapore miles are set to expire in about 6 months and so I’d love to use some or all of them during the challenge.

I started by Googling for Singapore’s award charts. That was a mistake. The Star Alliance award chart I found was full of great sweet-spots. I started documenting each great deal as I found it. I was getting excited by the possibilities until I realized that I was looking at an old award chart. After finding the right award chart, I had to throw away my previous results. Almost all of the gems were now gone. So, I wrote down the few not terrible uses of Singapore miles that I could find and called it a day. Some of the findings are very unlikely to be usable with the current challenge. For example, Star Alliance business class from South America to Central and South Africa for 57,500 miles sounds pretty good, but I very much doubt that we’ll be sent to either location let alone both. Probably the most useful finding was in the award chart for Singapore’s own flights: Business class between Africa/Middle East/Turkey and Singapore/Malaysia/Indonesia/Brunei/Philipines/Thailand/ Vietnam/Myanmar/Cambodia/Laos costs 56,500 miles. Depending on the specifics of where we’d be coming from and going to, that could be an excellent deal.

So, that’s it for my preparation. Time is almost up!

Tuesday June 4th 2024 (Domestic Convergence)

Last night we found out where we need to be by Wednesday at 9PM ET / 6PM PT: Los Angeles. Fortunately for me, AA flights were widely available for 13K one-way economy or 25K one-way business class. I booked business class in case I couldn’t find anything better. But I thought it was a boring solution. I would have arrived at LAX before 3PM and, thanks to the stage 1 rules, that would mean that I couldn’t leave the airport until 3:30. Not a big deal: it would simply mean that I’d have to share a room that night (if you saw last night’s livestream this would all make sense). Still, there wasn’t anything particularly exciting about the booking. It was a good price but not amazing. And the flight itself would be nice enough but not extraordinary. I really wanted either something amazingly posh or amazingly cheap. The AA itinerary was neither.

I worked all morning and into the afternoon today trying to find a great lie-flat option. The ideal scenario would have been an itinerary where I could use a BLADE helicopter flight along with my JetBlue Mint upgrades. And I found various options that would have accomplished that but each one would have required a separately booked flight going east from Detroit in order to catch a west-bound flight. And the options weren’t cheap. It was hard to justify paying far more for this, and flying much farther, just to add bling to my journey.

I used PointsYeah to find this result

The best lie-flat option I found overall was flying AA from Boston on Wednesday morning and paying 35K Alaska miles. But I’d have to separately get to Boston and I wouldn’t be able to get there in time on Wednesday morning so I’d have to fly in the evening and I’d have to book a hotel, etc. This option would cost a lot more than 35K points.

Then, early this afternoon I stumbled upon a very different option. Detroit to Houston to LA was available today, flying United business class, for 15,000 Turkish miles. Well, hello! Yes I’d have to book a hotel tonight but I didn’t want to let that opportunity pass. United domestic business class is hardly ever available to partners. The Turkish sweet-spot award has always seemed mostly hypothetical to me, but here it was! I had to grab it.

The only remaining problem was due to my competitiveness. If I flew into LA today, I’d be penalized half an hour for the race to the meetup hotel. Instead of leaving the LAX airport as early as 3:00 on Wednesday, I’d have to wait until 3:30. And since I’d be at a different hotel the night before, I’d have to go to the airport, wait around, and then leave at 3:30. That didn’t sound like fun.

But I found another option. I found a flight that would get me to the west coast today, but not to LAX, in business class for the same 15K Turkish miles. It’s totally ridiculous that I chose this option because it will require even more travel, but it set me up (I hope) for an ideal entrance to L.A. tomorrow. I’ll reveal those details tomorrow.

I transferred 15,000 points from Citi to Turkish so that I could book the flight. The points transferred instantly. And thanks to a 50% transfer bonus in place right now, I should get 7,500 Turkish miles back by June 15th. So, in a way, this award would cost me only 7,500 Turkish Miles!

After the transfer was complete, I searched Turkish’s website again for this Star Alliance award. And I breathed a sigh of relief when it came up again. I clicked to book it, filled out some info, changed my phone number on file to my mobile number (bad idea!), and pressed continue (or something). And, I got an error message. The flight couldn’t be booked. Yikes!

I logged out and back in and tried the search again. This time, Turkish couldn’t find the flight anymore! Oh no! I tried several times and always with the same result. How about to LAX? Nope. Finally it dawned on me that my previous attempt (the one that resulted in an error) must have held the seat for some period of time. After 10 or 20 minutes, I tried again. This time it found the flight again! I went through the steps of booking the award, but this time I left alone the original phone number in my account. That was the trick: they use that phone number to send a 2 factor code. I got through that and finalized the booking!

I then hopped over to United.com to manage my booking. There I was able to pick seats and add my known traveler number in order to qualify for TSA PreCheck. But when I checked-in for the flight (which by now was boarding within 2 hours!), the system told me that I wasn’t qualified for PreCheck. Whaaat? I saw that Turkish had my first name down as GREGORYMICHAELMR. I can only assume that the “MR” part was “Mr” and that the TSA system didn’t like that part of my name since it didn’t match their records. Oh well, that problem would have to wait. I needed to pack first!

By the time I started packing, I calculated that I had about an hour before I needed to leave for the airport. Packing probably took me about 20 minutes (it would have been less, but I had to fold clothes that were fresh out of the dryer). Then I called United about the boarding pass and PreCheck. An agent answered promptly (I think my Silver status helped). She acknowledged that my name on the ticket was probably the problem, but said there was nothing they could do about it. But then she decided that it was worth checking if their support desk could do something. It took quite a while, but they could and they did! While I was on hold, I called for a Lyft (Uber was much more expensive), and the United call ran right up until a minute or two before my Lyft arrived. And they got it done! I now had PreCheck on my boarding pass.

I arrived at the airport about 15 minutes before boarding was set to start. The security lines were huge. Even the regular PreCheck line was long. But, luckily, I have CLEAR and the PreCheck CLEAR line was nearly empty. I sailed through (until I was stopped for a random body scan). Finally, I made it to my gate just as they called for Zone 1 boarding (and my business class ticket gave me Zone 1). I’m now writing this up from the sky. We’ll be landing soon in Houston and then I’ll be off to my next interim destination later tonight.

Now that my journal entry is done, I need to figure out where I’m going to sleep tonight…

Thursday June 6 2024 Sauntering in style to Croatia (Stage 1 complete, Stage 2 begins)

Wow, everyone on the Frequent Miler team is doing a fantastic job with this challenge! And, by everyone, I mean not just the contestants but also the judges: Stephen & Carrie. And, I also mean Carrie’s sister Annie who was recruited to help Carrie create videos for social media. Annie did an amazing job constructing this Stage 1 recap video (If you haven’t already seen it, watch it now!):

My Stage 1 Travel Recap

For those who don’t like to watch videos, here’s a recap of my stage 1 travels:

  • I booked United first class Detroit to Houston to San Francisco for a total of 15,000 Turkish miles for this ~$1000 flight.
    • I transferred 15,000 Citi points to Turkish.
      • This was a great deal for me because I had 10,800 Citi points set to expire in August. They had to be used before then. This was a GREAT use!
      • Another reason this was a great deal is that there is a 50% transfer bonus from Citi to Turkish happening now. I should get 7,500 Turkish miles added to my account in about a week.
      • And finally, since I have the Rewards+ card, my Citi transfer to Turkish resulted in  a 1,500 ThankYou point rebate!
    • In total, in exchange for transferring 15,000 Citi points, I got or will soon get:
      • A near $1,000 first class flight to San Francisco
      • 7,500 Turkish miles to be deposited to my account soon
      • 1,500 Citi points back
      • While it’s not really fair to count Turkish miles as equivalent to Citi points, it’s fun to summarize that I spent 15,000 total points and will get a total of 9,000 points back. That means a net expenditure of only 6,000 points!
  • My first-class flights to San Francisco went well. I wasn’t impressed with United’s food, but at least I was comfortable! In Houston I had time to relax in the Centurion Lounge. The lounge was very crowded when I first arrived, but soon enough it emptied out (I had a 10PM flight from there to San Francisco).
  • In San Francisco, I stayed at the Hyatt Regency SFO. I used a Hyatt category 1-4 cert that was set to expire in September and I had no other plans for it, so that was a great option.
  • In the morning, after enjoying a great breakfast (included for free thanks to my Hyatt Globalist status), Chris Hutchins of All the Hacks picked me up to take me to his recording studio where I was the guest for an upcoming All the Hacks podcast episode (Nick posted about our previous guest appearances on Chris’ show, here). It was really fun doing the show in person!
  • After the podcast recording, Chris dropped me off at the airport. I breezed through security thanks to CLEAR and PreCheck and went to the Centurion Lounge (thank to my Amex Platinum card) for lunch.
  • Next, I flew United nonstop economy to LAX. The flight was scheduled to arrive exactly at 3PM. The flight was fine but unremarkable. Thanks to my United Silver status, I flew Economy Plus (which is only marginally better than regular economy). The ticket price was $153.47. For the first time ever I had a chance to use the United $25 credit from my IHG card (which is issued and expires every 6 months), so my net cost was $128.47.
  • We landed 10 minutes early and I hurried out of the airport after requesting an Uber Black. Thanks to reader tips I knew that Uber Black cars pick up curbside at LAX which is far, far faster than having to trek all the way to the rideshare lot!
  • I arrived at the hotel at 3:18PM. First on the scene! Nick arrived about 20 minutes later. Tim arrived a couple of hours later. It was fantastic seeing Nick and Tim again in person!

Stage 1 Livestream Check-In, Scoring, and Assignments for Stage 2

At 6PM Pacific Time, we huddled around my laptop for the stage 1 livestream recap where points were awarded and where our next destinations were revealed. It was super fun! If you missed it, you can watch it here:

In the livestream, we saw that every contestant did an amazing job in stage 1. The judges awarded us points for value and comfort and also gave us bonus points for various things. Thanks to my exact 3pm scheduled arrival at LAX, and my lucky Turkish/United find, and by having the closest guess for the next destination (each of which earned bonus points), I’m the point-leader. For now. I’m happy about that, but I’m equally happy that each one of us has a legitimate argument for having put together the best trip so far!

Stage 1 Scoring

After dolling out points, we were given our next assignments. The goal is to get to these countries in time for our Friday 2PM ET livestream. My assignment is Croatia. Nick needs to get to Morocco. And Tim needs to get to Switzerland. Can we do it?

We were each also assigned Exploration Challenges at our destination. Here are mine:

  • Eat something that either still has eyeballs, still has tentacles…or both.
  • There are many ways to enjoy the water in Croatia – show us one of them.
  • Teach us what makes Croatia’s black risotto black.

My Stage 2 Trip is Booked!

Finding great flights from LAX to Europe turned out to be extremely difficult due to the requirement that we check-in by 2PM ET on Friday at our destination. After the Wednesday evening livestream, Tim, Nick, and I hammered away at our laptops looking for opportunities. Most of the time when we found something that looked good, it would arrive too late. At one point Tim found a good flight from Chicago and tried to book it but it turned out to be phantom award space. Nick finally threw in the towel and booked a red-eye flight to Chicago that evening with the hope of finding a good option in the morning.

I lucked out. I eventually found a KLM business class flight from Vancouver to Zagreb via Amsterdam for 72,500 Flying Blue miles plus $262.10 in fees. I first checked to see if there were convenient flights to get from LAX to Vancouver (there were) and booked the flight. I got an error when booking through KLM so I tried instead through Air France and that worked. I’m excited to fly KLM business class again. I loved it the last time I flew it! And I’m looking forward to collecting another Delft house.

I then booked a WestJet flight to Vancouver for Thursday (today). Since it was the same price either way, I booked through Delta and was able to use Delta e-credits to pay for most of the flight. The ticket price was $264.50 and my e-credits covered all but $16.40 for the ticket.

The best part about the flights I booked is that I have a super easy laid-back itinerary…

  • Thursday morning: My WestJet flight wasn’t until 11:50am. I had plenty of time to relax this morning, work out at the hotel gym, have a leisurely breakfast, Uber to the airport, and hang out in the Delta SkyClub’s awesome outdoor deck (where I am now writing this update).
  • Thursday afternoon: My WestJet flight is scheduled to arrive in Vancouver almost 3 hours before the KLM flight. What luxury to not have to worry about a tight schedule!
  • Friday: My KLM flight will touch down in the morning in Amsterdam and then the next flight is scheduled to arrive in Zagreb at 3:30PM. That should give me plenty of time to  knock off one or two Exploration Challenges before the 2PM ET check-in (8PM in Croatia).

The downside? My Exploration Challenges were designed by Carrie and Stephen with the assumption that I’d be in a coastal city like Dubrovnik or Split. Both of which I’d love to visit. But the more I think about it, I don’t think that it’s practical for me to get to either before departing on Saturday (or even Friday night) for the final destination. I’ll make the most of a visit to Zagreb and then I’ll try to engineer my Saturday flights so that I can spend at least a few hours in Dubrovnik before journeying onward. I have my doubts about that working, but I can try!

Saturday June 8th (Wrapping up stage 2, Flying to stage 3)

I’ve lost the lead! On our Friday check-in, judges Stephen and Carrie assigned stage 2 points based on what we had accomplished so far. For me, that meant that they judged me based only on my travel to Croatia and my hotel in Croatia. My flights to Croatia were fantastic. My WestJet flight from LAX to Vancouver was better than expected since I had an entire exit row to myself. But the star of the show was the KLM flight to Amsterdam where I had a suite with a door and very good service… I think. I’m not really sure how good the service was because after dinner I fell asleep and didn’t wake until the landing announcements. I have never, ever slept so well on a plane before. Finally, the KLM City Hopper regional flight from Amsterdam to Zagreb was just OK. I’m used to business class within Europe being nothing but economy seats with middle seats blocked off, but in this case, it was really just 2×2 economy seating with better legroom and better service. Luckily it wasn’t a very long flight. It’s funny that I was much more comfortable in economy on WestJet flight than in business class on the KLM City Hopper. Anyway… Tim had great flights too and although Stephen had a hard time deciding, he ultimately gave 3 points to Tim for both value and comfort and 2 points to me for each category.

Revised Stage 2 Summary
Totals are after the stage 2 check-in, but before we were done with all of stage 2

Next, Tim racked up a bunch of points and bonus points because he had already completed all of his Exploration Challenges in Switzerland. That’s what put him ahead. At the time of the livestream, I hadn’t yet tackled two of my three stage 2 mini challenges (and I wasn’t required to by that time). And I think that I absolutely knocked the black risotto challenge out of the park. So, I may catch up to Tim, or at least be very, very close by the time the judges add my mini-challenge scores and any bonus points I may have earned along the way. Here’s how I tackled each mini-challenge:

  • Eat something that either still has eyeballs, still has tentacles…or both: Before the livestream I had dinner at a seafood restaurant where I thought I’d knock of both this and the black rissoto challenges. I ordered a whole fish which had its eyeballs intact and I even ate an eyeball (I don’t recommend them).
  • There are many ways to enjoy the water in Croatia – show us one of them: I filmed people all over Zagreb enjoying fountains in different ways: playing around one, napping next to one, dining beside one, smoking near one, etc.
  • Teach us what makes Croatia’s black risotto black. To get a point here, I felt that I needed a local expert to explain squid ink on camera. My original plan was to ask the waiter at the seafood restaurant to explain, but he didn’t speak English well enough. So, the next morning I searched for and finally found a real fish market. There, I found someone who spoke English well and was happy to explain not just why the meal is black, but also why he doesn’t eat it even though he likes the taste. It’s pretty funny. Click here to watch it on YouTube.
Greg being schooled in the art of black risotto preparation

What about Nick? He made it to Morocco by the skin of his teeth (that’s a weird phrase when I think about it) and so not only did he score poorly with his flights, but he also hadn’t had a chance to do any of his Exploration Challenges in time for the livestream. He’s firmly in last place as I write this, but don’t write him off — he’s a tough competitor who will go all out. I’m certain that he has plenty of points coming to him for his Exploration Challenges as well as some bonus points.

Next up, we need to converge in Kuala Lumpur in time for the Monday 9PM ET check-in. And, there, we have each been assigned our own challenge to coordinate with whoever else has landed in Kuala Lumpur by then. My challenge is this:

This is a vacation, you’re supposed to be relaxing! (Find an activity that helps you all restore some energy.)

Booking my travel to Kuala Lumpur was a piece of cake. When I was planning where to stay in Croatia, I had considered leaving Zagreb for Dubrovnik or Split on Friday evening or Saturday morning. But first, I checked award availability from each of those three cities to the middle east for Saturday afternoon. I didn’t know where we would be going next, but I figured that there are great flights to pretty much anywhere in the world from the middle east. I decided to stay in Zagreb when I discovered that Qatar had business class availability from Zagreb to Doha on Saturday afternoon. Perfect! And it turned out that it was perfect. I was able to book a one-stop journey to Kuala Lumpur for only 75,000 Qatar Avios. And a really cool thing about the itinerary is that the second leg is on Malaysia Airlines. I’ve never flown them before but I’ve been eager to try them out!

I wrote most of today’s journal entry from the Qatar flight. Despite it not having wifi, the flight was awesome. Actually, maybe the experience was enhanced due to no wifi? Even though this A320 flight’s business class featured seats in a 2 x 2 configuration, the seats were still lie-flat and extremely comfortable. Plus, I didn’t have anyone sitting next to me so I moved from the aisle to the window for extra privacy and to see out the window. But the best part of the flight was the service. The service on this flight was easily comparable or maybe even better than the service I experienced on Qatar QSuites (which I reviewed here). The food was outstanding too. Bravo Qatar!

Dessert!

Inventory (Points, Certificates, and Credits)

Last Updated: 5/30/24

Transferable points

  • Amex: ~1.3M
  • Bilt: ~47K
  • Chase: ~500K
  • Citi: ~500K (10,800 expire in August)

Airlines

  • Air Canada Aeroplan: 126K miles
  • Air France / KLM Flying Blue 350K miles
  • Alaska Mileage Plan: 46K miles
    • MVP 100K / oneworld Emerald
    • 4 lounge passes
    • 4 MVP® Gold Guest Upgrades
  • American Airlines AAdvantage: 622K miles
  • Avios
    • Aer Lingus: 25,000
    • British Airways: 85,680
    • Finnair: 75,000
    • Iberia: 75,000
    • Qatar: 70,428
  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles: 382K miles
  • Delta: 600K miles
    • Diamond Medallion (SkyTeam Elite Plus)
    • 2 Global Upgrade Certs (but should have zero)
    • ~$250 flight credits
  • Emirates: 5K miles
  • Etihad: 2,500 miles
  • JetBlue: 347K miles
    • Mosaic 3 Elite status
    • 4 Mint Upgrades (can be used to book economy and fly business class)
    • Travel Credit $855.98
  • Singapore Airlines: 171K miles (expires in 6 months)
  • United Airlines MileagePlus: 484K miles
    • Premier Silver status
    • TravelBank: $25 (thanks to my IHG card)
  • Virgin Atlantic: ~1M points

Hotels

  • Choice Privileges: 125K points
  • Hilton: 234K points
    • Gold status
  • Hyatt: 230K points
    • Globalist Elite status
    • 4 free night category 1-4 certs
    • 3 suite upgrade awards
  • IHG: ~500K points
    • Diamond Elite status
    • 3 40K free night certs: 2 top-off-able, 1 not
  • Marriott: ~600K points
    • Titanium Elite status
    • 6 free night certs: three 35K, one 40K, two 85K
    • 4 Nightly Upgrade Awards
  • Wyndham Rewards: 105K points
    • Diamond Elite status
  • Other hotel related stuff
    • Fine Hotels & Resorts: $200 rebate
    • Chase Sapphire Preferred: $50 hotel rebate

Car Rental Programs

  • 1,532 Enterprise points
  • 1 National Car Rental free day

Join Team Greg (Subscribe to this Post)

When the challenge begins, I’ll be updating this post regularly. This will be my daily journal where I’ll document my plans, successes, and failures as I go along. I’ll also welcome help. Once we find out where I need to get to, you may have ideas that you’d like to share with me. Perhaps you’ll know a particularly great sweet-spot award to get me there. Or maybe you’ll know a great hotel deal in the destination city. Or maybe you’ll have other advice for the destination city: how to get around, where to eat, etc. If you’re interested in helping me, then commenting at the bottom of this post is how to do it. Also, by subscribing to this post’s comments, you’ll get emailed whenever someone (including me) adds a comment.

Each of the contestants will have a post like this one where everyone is welcome to participate by making suggestions in the comments. You can pick a single team to join (Team Greg, Team Nick, or Team Tim) or, you can click back and forth and help us all. Either way, we’re eager to hear from you!

Want to learn more about miles and points? Subscribe to email updates or check out our podcast on your favorite podcast platform.
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[…] 毫不掩饰的是:从凯莉说“摩洛哥”的那一刻起,尼克就面临着严峻的挑战。以至于 常去英里的格雷格创造了“摩洛哥风情”一词 描述一个非常艰难的任务,没有一件事情是顺利的。尼克在环游世界的过程中,几乎没有什么事情是顺利的……事实上,凯莉的妹妹安妮(她做了我们的 精彩视频回顾)最终给他取名为“尼克” […]

Murphy

Wait, there’s an opening just for me on the FM team?!? Where do I apply? 😀

Grant

I am looking forward to my upcoming AMS-LAX KLM business class flight this summer and hopefully getting a tiny Delft blue house. Hopefully you picked up a few on your KLM flights. Safe travels home, Greg 🙂

tleo

Might have missed this earlier but why is Greg’s max points at 60, while Tim’s and Nick’s at 50?

David Brown

Greg really did nail the squid ink challenge but with a lot of luck. It seemed like a pretty straightforward and downright boring interview until that last sentence!

LarryInNYC

To be fair, he did have to locate and visit the market which looked like a great stop even absent the TMI interview.

tgbm

RE water challenge:
1) Plitvice is phenomenal. However, unless you’ve got an international driver’s license, I wouldn’t advise renting a private vehicle – and I’m not aware of a way to take a bus there with points.
2) If you can get to the coast and back to Zagreb before the flight to IST departs, do it.
3) Ask your hotel concierge for directions to Dubravkin Put. It’s a walking path that follows a stream from the mountain above the city.
4) There are fountains outside the Cathedral and Lisinski Concert Hall. Participate in the city’s coffee culture while you’re there.
5) Lakes and river.

Robert

Greg, The only way to pull out of the hole is to really get a slam dunk on the water challenge. The one advantage of being in Zagreb and not Dubrovnik is you are much closer to Plitvice Lakes National Park, arguably the country’s top attraction. River walks, waterfalls and boat rides await!

Danny

Greg, you could probably find a fountain in Zagreb to meet the water challenge.

Raghu N

Greg, have everyone climb the Petronas towers.
That should get the energy flowing

LarryInNYC

It sounds like the judges were really expecting you to be in Dalmatia. My experience matches your thought that Split is a difficult place to fly out of last minute (Dubrovnik was impossible).

But if you DO make it to Split then the train station is at the waterfront/ port and you’ll be well positioned for all three challenges. You could spend the day in Split taking care of those and researching your next flight. If nothing is available from Split and the OBB train is running you could get back on it in the evening, giving you access to flights from both ZAG and VIE, the latter of which sometimes has availability when the rest of Europe is difficult.

Otherwise you’ll be doing those challenges in a part if the country not known for seafood or watersports.

ECR12

Surprised no one has suggested Plitvice… You might not have time but its only half as far as Split and an easy way to check off the water challenge…

Robert

Acknowledging my independent suggestion is nevertheless after yours and…right??? Traditional restaurant there is excellent too.

Andrew

It’s too bad WestJet never has any award availability with Delta close in – 12.5K points for a $250+ ticket would have been a great use of Sky Pesos, even if the only option is economy. Great way to use up the Delta e-credit instead!

George K

Hi Greg, long time reader here that happens to be driving to Zagreb later this afternoon from Slovenia for the last night of our family’s Croatia and Slovenia vacation!

Agree with previous comments about staying in Zagreb. My Rick Steves guidebook says Zagreb is a really great city to visit as the Old Town area is walkable and fairly compact. Probably only a 20 min Uber from ZAG. DBV is 30-40 min south of Dubrovnik itself and we did not find many direct flights between ZAG and DBV. Split has more flights between it and ZAG but again still about 30-40 min away from the Split airport to it’s downtown core. And ZAG likely has the most flights out of all 3 airports (certainly NOT DBV).

Anyhow I’m enjoying reading about this year’s Challenge. If you have time to kill before the next leg of your challenge and are in the Old Town area, my family and I would love to meet up with you. Regardless, best of luck to all of you with this year’s challenge and I’ll be eagerly waiting to read about the next destination.

Raghu N

In the spirit of international divergence, please fly into Split or at least do the video checkin from Split

Last edited 18 days ago by Raghu N
tgbm

1) For any visit this brief, just stick to Upper Town or the Green Horseshoe, however you won’t find any squid-ink risotto (nor the Adriatic for the photo challenge).
2 or 3) Complete the challenges quickly, then take the last flight back to ZAG. Do not take the train.

tgbm

Strike 2 or 3 from consideration – the only opportunity you had was to fly direct to DBV from EWR.

tgbm

Black cuttlefish risotto – https://www.restoran-korcula.hr/menu

tgbm

You could check out either the Sava River or Jarun Lake in Zagreb.

tgbm

Yes. Tram #17 runs every 7-9 minutes between Jarun or Savski Most (Sava Bridge), the restaurant, and the main square (Jelačić).

Nancy B

Highly recommend Split. The old town is built within the ruins of Roman emperor Diocletian’s Palace. Very cool to walk around the palace walls. I had one of the best meals of my life there: grilled stuffed squid, amazing!