Fine dining with FHR at the Mandarin Oriental (Tim’s Flying by the Seat of our Points Journal)

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Selamat malam from Malaysia! The crew is back together again in Kuala Lumpur…and we’re ready to party with stinky fruit.

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!

June 10th, 2024 (stage 3, final day)

When is a sofa bed not a sofa bed?

All three of us were originally planning on arriving to our final destination on Sunday for our final hotel night, then use Monday (yesterday our time) to complete our group mini-challenges. Unfortunately, Nick was delayed until Monday, so we decided to push our final hotel competition night to Monday. Because of that, Greg and I decided to just stay together in Kuala Lumpur (KL) on Sunday night.

We originally planned on staying in a baller sweet at the Grand Hyatt KL, but it was booked out from under our noses while we were sampling squid ink and sausage in Europe. I thought about just booking us a twin room at the Grand Hyatt, but found a (seemingly) nice suite at the nearby Renaissance Kuala Lumpur for only $25 more. It had one bedroom with a king bed and a living room with a sofa bed, so it seemed like a good plan.

I didn’t feel right about making an elderly guy sleep on the sofa bed, so I was planning on taking it. Weirdly, when I checked in, the front desk agent seemed very surprised that I was going to use it sleep, but told me that “I was a good friend to do that.” I agreed, of course…but thought it was a little odd.

Greg went to bed first, while I tried to finish up some work. Finally, about 1am, I blearily went to the sofa to pull out my bed and get some much-needed rest.

At that point, I ran into a problem…there was no bed in the sofa. I spent the next few minutes desperately looking for anything that remotely resembled a bed, then gave up and went to the front desk and told them that I didn’t think our room had a sofa bed. The agent was very concerned and said that she would send someone right away.

Well, turns out that a Malaysian sofa bed is what we in the US would call a chaise lounge, effectively a loveseat that’s missing one arm. Not only would about half of my legs be hanging off the side, but it was sitting right next to the currently sleeping Greg the Frequent Miler, making it a relatively unappealing option. So, off to the floor I went, finally understanding why the front desk agent thought I was a good friend.

A Malaysian sofa bed

Challenging our brains with a festival of stinky fruit

Our last set of mini-challenges were for each of us to plan an activity for the whole trio. Mine was to do something that challenged our brains…which at our current level of fatigue seemed like we could accomplish with basic math. There were some great reader suggestions for things like mazes, escape rooms, mystery games, etc. They all would have been fun, but I felt like we could do one those activities anywhere, be it in Kuala Lumpur or Dallas, Texas. I wanted to do something that would have us learning about Malaysia in some way.

Several people recommend a cooking class, which I thought would be terrific. Malaysian cuisine is one of the best in the world, tightly woven into the country’s culture and history. And folks here are serious about their food.

I found a five hour cooking class that would involve us going to the market with a chef, learning about the various ingredients, then taking our booty back to the kitchen, where we would cook several Malaysian dishes together and then have lunch. I thought it would be a blast. Then Morocco happened. Nick was going to be delayed until mid-afternoon on Monday, so there was no time to do the tour. Greg and I originally considered going with just the two of us (“we can make it if we try”), but decided that we’d rather do our activities together.

That’s when durian entered the picture. For the uninitiated, durian is a notorious fruit grown in several countries in Southeast Asia, where many locals consider it the “King of Tropical Fruits” or the “Foie Gras of the Forest.” It’s a rich, unctuous, very unique experience in flavor. It’s also a, uh, unique experience in odor. These things stink…so badly that folks in Thailand are banned from taking them on public transit. Oh, and it’s also supposed to be good for your brain (ahem, Carrie and Stephen).

What Is Durian And How Do You Eat It?
Durian, the “King of Tropical Fruits”

I’ve met many Malaysians over the years that are crazy about the stuff, and they all claim that you haven’t truly eaten durian until you’ve eaten it in Malaysia. I found a farm with an outpost in KL that offered tastings where you could sample various types of durian, learn about how they differ and why the fruit tastes so different from place to place.

So, off we went. I’m not gonna lie, Nick’s face didn’t exactly light up when he saw what we were doing, but he was a trooper anyway. We got to sample four different varieties of durian, then we picked our favorite and opened a fresh one to share. We learned about the differences in farming practice between Malaysia and Philippines/Thailand, how it affects flavor and that it’s possible for durian to taste like…coffee?

It was a ton of fun and, I must say, I enjoyed eating it for the first time. The durian here was richer, smoother and less stinky than what I’ve ever had before. Or so I thought. When we got into our Grab (local equivalent of Uber), the driver immediately told us, “You smell like durian.”

Fine dining with FHR at the Mandarin Oriental

One of my favorite benefits of the Amex Platinum card is the annual $200 credit towards a reservation with Fine Hotels and Resorts (FHR), American Express’s curated group of fancy hotels around the world. When you book a property through FHR, you get an incredible list of benefits including: room upgrade, free breakfast for 2, ~$100 property credit, early check-in and late check-out. The problem is that, oftentimes, the room rates are astronomical.

Asia is one of my favorite places to use my FHR credits. The benefits tend to be extraordinary, the quality of the hotels is extremely high and you can often find rates between $200-$300/night, making it an excellent value when factoring in the Amex credit. So, when I heard that we were going to Kuala Lumpur, FHR was my first stop.

We had to be within a 20 minute walk of the Petronas Towers and the Mandarin Oriental, a terrific hotel brand that’s usually out of our grasp with points and miles, was right across the street. FHR rates started at $221 after tax, meaning I could spend as little as $21 out of pocket for the night…and get late checkout until 4pm the next day.

I also noticed that the next room class was only $10 more than the base room. It’s common for properties to only give you a one-class room upgrade, and that extra $10 would be just one level below a Petronas-view room, which was what I was hankering for. So I went ahead and splurged (sorry, Stephen Pepper).

When I arrived we found, not only do great minds run on the same track, but so do older, sleepy minds. Greg and I had both booked the Mandarin Oriental with FHR!

We found that our (now doubled) benefits included:

  • $100 in credit that could be used at the spa or any hotel restaurant
  • Daily breakfast for two at the over-the-top buffet
  • Two complimentary drinks per person at any of the hotel bars
  • Complimentary, um, eye pillow?

The combined $200 in property credit completely covered a splash out dinner for Greg, Nick and I (ok, were were 50 cents over) and we’re having Nick back this morning for breakfast as well. Greg and I were able to enjoy a nightcap at the bar and still have one certificate left for a post-checkout happy hour cocktail today. And, icing on the cake, my upgrade strategy worked:

View from my room at the Mandarin Oriental

Previous Journal Entries

June 9th, 2024 (stage 3)

Suspicions Confirmed: Kuala Lumpur

Greg, Nick and I all had a very strong suspicion that our final destination would be either Malaysia or Indonesia. In fact, I was so confident in our sleuthing that I actually tried to book a multi-stop itinerary from the US-Europe-Southeast Asia using Aeroplan points when I was trying to get to Switzerland. I could’ve had the entire trip for 92,500 points, but Aeroplan had other ideas. First, it was showing me a bunch of “phantom” inventory from Switzerland to Bangkok on Swiss Air and then, after hours of searching, I finally found available flights that worked, but I had to book it through the Aeroplan call center…and it was closed (see the June 6th update, “The Phantom Menace”).

As a result, before our last destination was announced on Friday night, I had already been looking for options to the main airports in Indonesia and Malaysia: Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur (KL). I had found excellent options for both, so when Carrie finally told us where we were going, I was prepared. There was a terrific itinerary available on Austrian Air and Thai Airways that was business all the way to Bangkok, then a short economy leg from Bangkok to KL. Each layover was less than two hours, so the whole thing got me from Zurich to KL in just under 17 hours.

And the best part? There’s currently a 15% bonus from Amex Membership Rewards (MR) to Lifemiles, so I could get the whole thing by transferring only 64,000 points and paying less than $80 out of pocket. Even Stephen would have to be impressed by value like that.

What could go wrong?

Tim flying by the seat of his pants
Artist’s rendition of me attempting to make a Lifemiles booking.

Lifemiles might be the death of me: a cautionary tale

Park Hyatt Zurich, 9:30 PM local: I had the whole itinerary on my screen within 2 minutes of the livestream ending, ready to book. I was pumped. I was going to have my trip squared away, be able to go out for a quick dinner in Zurich and still have time to finish my post and be in bed by midnight. HOT. DOG. I transferred the Membership Rewards to my Lifemiles account and they appeared almost instantly. I put in the details of the company credit card, hit “book,” and immediately started thinking about how good that cold beer was gonna taste at dinner. Then, a hitch in the giddyup: Lifemiles told me that it couldn’t process my credit card and I should try again. So, I tried again. Declined.

9:39 PM: No worries. I’d been having some issues with the company card while traveling (somewhat ironic since the card is for Frequent Miler), so I grabbed one of mine. Declined again. Uh-oh. I’m starting to get worried.

9:52 PM: I’ve now tried five different credit cards, including at least one from every major issuer. I’ve tried using a VPN. I’ve tried using the app. Nothing works. I try starting over again with a new booking and a VPN. No dice. As much as I dread it, the time has come to go nuclear: I have to call Lifemiles.

9:58 PM: I Google “Frequent Miler Lifemiles phone number” (which is how I get most of my information) and find Nick’s very useful post about dealing with Lifemiles manual bookings. After dialing the number and working through the phone tree, I’m put on hold.

10:09 PM: I’m listening to Lifemiles’ hold music on speaker, wondering how late restaurants in downtown Zurich stay open on Fridays, when I finally get a phone rep. I explain the issue and provide one of my two failed booking reference numbers. She looks them up and tells me that my bank declined the charges and I need to call them to get it cleared. I explain that I actually have used cards from six different banks, so it seems unlikely that all six have denied the same $76 charge. She disagrees. There’s no use arguing, so I just ask if we can make a booking over the phone. She says, “Sure, but there will be an $80 phone booking fee.” I ask if they can waive it since there’s obviously an issue keeping me from booking it online. She says no, because it’s the bank’s problem, not Lifemiles. “All six banks’ problems?” I ask. “Yep.” Alrighty then.

10:31 PM: An hour after the end of the livestream and I’m still trying to get this thing done. Anyone who’s ever had to do a Lifemiles booking over the phone knows that it can be excruciatingly slow. The agents aren’t allowed to hear your PIN or your credit card information, so they have to go through a series of prompts that fail about half the time. After 25 minutes or so, I think we’ve finally gotten there. She reads the taxes and fees, and they seem higher than I expected. The reason: late-booking phone charge, something that, until that very moment, I didn’t realize existed. I don’t even consider trying to argue.

10:35 PM: Transaction fails. According to the rep, once they get a decline for a bank decline, they can’t re-try over the phone. My only option? The website. I look at my phone to check the time and see the title of the latest FM on the Air podcast: “Learning to love Lifemiles.” I make a mental note to talk to Nick later about how much I love Lifemiles.

10:42 PM: I make one, final, desperate attempt with my Schwab Investor Debit Card, which I have along exclusively for fee-free ATM withdrawals. Now, it’s doing double duty as my last, best hope to get something to eat before midnight. Rejected.

10:50 PM: This isn’t going as expected. As much as I hate to admit it, I have no more ideas for how to complete this booking through Lifemiles. I’ll have to pivot to Aeroplan, even though I’m going to end up spending 17,000 more points if I book it there (I can feel Stephen’s disapproving frown).

10:58 PM: The good news: Aeroplan sees all the flights that I want. The bad news: It won’t put them on the same itinerary. I can book the business portion to Bangkok or I can book economy all the way to Kuala Lumpur. However, I can’t get the business portion to appear with the last economy leg. I feel a shudder pass through me. There’s only one option. I have to call Aeroplan. Again.

11:00 PM: Luckily, the number for Aeroplan is still on speed dial from Wednesday night. I call and am put on hold. While I’m waiting, I do a Google Maps search for open grocery stores nearby, as I don’t think dinner out is in the cards for me tonight. The Google search comes up empty. I eat both mini chocolate bars from the turndown service at the Park Hyatt.

11:25 PM: After “only” 25 minutes, I get a rep on the phone and explain the situation. We slowly go through the entire itinerary, then do it again because he accidentally deletes the first one. He has the same result as me, he can’t get the three segments to show up as a married itinerary. We talk for a bit and I can tell he’s getting more and more passionate about my case. This dude is my ally and, together, we’re going to book this flight.

11:35 PM: “Hey, I think I got it!” I’m shocked out of my hunger and sleep-deprived stupor. Finally!! Success! I’m singing his praises, thanking him profusely for going to war with me. I’m starting to feel a bond that only come from having been in the award-booking foxhole together.

“Uh-oh.” What’s “uh-oh?” I ask. “It’s all in economy.”

11:52 PM: My Aeroplan Amigo decides to call ticketing to see if they can somehow piece the itinerary together. He puts me on hold for fifteen minutes, then comes back to say that ticketing is baffled as well. No one can figure out how to sell me this ticket, even though they can see every leg. He says that my only option is to book it as two separate tickets. However, he has another idea. He found business space on a non-stop Zurich to Bangkok Swiss Air flight that he CAN pair with the economy leg to KL. It leaves me with  seven hour layover in Bangkok, but I figure I can go out for some tasty food and get a cheap massage to make Nick and Greg jealous. My heart leaps with joy.

11:58 PM: The “Phantom Menace” strikes again. Turns out, that Zurich-Bangkok nonstop wasn’t real award space, just another Swiss Air-induced hallucination. My new buddy is heartbroken. I console him, letting him know that the same thing happened to me two nights ago. He’ll get through this. He tells me, “you sure do book a lot of award travel.”

12:05 AM: I’m back on my own, having finally ended my 60 minute call to Aeroplan with nothing to show for it. I’ve decided that I’m just going to book the award to Bangkok and figure out how to get to Kuala Lumpur later. I’m starving, I’m tired, and I still need to actually finish my post that needs to go out in a couple of hours.

12:08 AM: The Austrian award space to Bangkok is gone. I selected the flights, put all my info in and hit “book,” only to be told that the flight is no longer there. Oftentimes, when you make a booking with Lifemiles and there’s an error, it keeps the inventory that you’ve selected for some length of time while you rectify the issue, which is thoughtful of them. It’s also extremely frustrating now. There were three seats available when I started this whole journey almost three hours ago. One was taken by my unsuccessful website booking, one by my app attempt and the third by the failed phone booking. I can feel panic coming on and wonder if Lifemiles and Aeroplan are colluding to try and get people out of the points and miles business.

12:15 AM: I decided to walk to the closest open grocery store, about 25 minutes away, to give the inventory being held by Lifemiles a chance to be released and to give me a chance to step away from the abyss.

1:05 AM: Unfortunately, the grocery store that Google thought was open 24 hours actually closes at 9pm (understandable mistake). However, I was able to find a liquor store that also sold ramen cups and I make it back to the Park Hyatt with two beers and a large, spicy Cup O’Noodles. I’m both very grateful and also curious if anyone has ever used the hot water kettle at the Park Hyatt Zurich to make ramen before.

In-room dining at 1:00 AM in the Park Hyatt Zurich

1:15 AM: The inventory’s back! I successfully book Zurich – Bangkok on Austrian Air for 80K miles and ~$95 in fees. Four hours ago, had you told me that I’d be thrilled to pay 17,000 more points for 2 out of the 3 legs that I originally found, I wouldn’t have believed it. But, I’m overjoyed.

Now to get to work on that post…

Outhustled on Austrian Air

If you’re still reading after all that, you may have lost track of the fact that I actually booked a flight: business class from Zurich to Bangkok on Austrian Air. I’d never flown Austrian business and was excited to give it a try. It ended up being a great flight with terrific food…and I got more sleep than at any one time of the challenge so far.

Austrian has an open cabin with alternating 2-2-2 and 1-2-1 rows. The seats are very comfortable, have excellent length and footwell space and even come with a massage function (although Austrians must not like very firm massages). Because the of the alternating seating configurations, every other window seat is a “throne,” meaning it’s by itself with two large storage bins to either side.

Review: Austrian Airlines Boeing 777 Business Class Sri Lanka to Vienna
Austrian Air 777 “throne” seat

These seats were all taken when I booked my flight because, you know, I did it at the last minute. However, when I arrive, the throne directly behind me isn’t occupied. Two flight attendants are coming down the aisle, one older, one younger. I ask the younger one if I can change to that seat and she seem unsure, but says she would ask once boarding was complete.

I turn around and noticed that the guy in the seat in front of me also has the same idea. Instead of asking the younger flight attendant, he asks the older one. She confidently says that they haven’t finished boarding but it’s unlikely to be taken, so he can go ahead and grab it. He’s thrilled. I’m not.

#socialengineeringfailure

June 8th, 2024 (stage 2)

Parking it at the Park Hyatt Zurich

Yesterday, I left off with the breeze blowing through my increasingly unkempt hair in Basel, Switzerland. After tromping around Basel and getting some surprisingly delicious South African Braai, I jumped back on the train for the quick, ~50 minute ride to Zurich. My destination? The Park Hyatt (PH) Zurich.

I was actually trying to avoid staying at the PH, because it seemed like such a stereotypical move. “Blogger visits Switzerland and immediately goes to a Category 8 Hyatt.” In fact, I was initially trying to find a way to avoid Zurich all together, as I’d always heard it damned by faint praise from hip, in-the-know travelers (who I should realize are not always terribly reliable). But, I searched around the entire country using Hyatt, Marriott, IHG, Hilton, Choice, Wyndham, Preferred Hotels, Leading Hotels of the World and even Airbnb. There wasn’t anything that was reasonable for me to reach that caught my eye, and redemption values were weirdly abysmal across the board.

I decided to just give in and do the PH. I had previously seen that there was a standard suite available that was selling for ~$2400 (!) the night I was going to be there. I could snag it with a 40K Hyatt points redemption along with using one of the suite upgrade awards that I get each year for Milestone Rewards. The problem is, when I made that decision, there was a standard room available to book. When I woke up in the morning ready to book that standard room, it was gone. My only option was spending 61,000 points to book the room directly. I thought Stephen might forgive me for spending 40K Hyatt points given the cost of the room and the ability it gave to show readers a suite at the property.

61K? I’d be banished to Pepper Prison.

In the past, I’ve had occasional luck with asking a property to open up a standard room so that I could book into an available suite using an upgrade award. I contacted the Hyatt concierge team to see if they could contact the property and ask if that was possible. They politely told me to pound sand and even included a cheery emoji in the rejection note:

I decided to reach out to the property directly. They understood the situation and opened up a twin room so that I could book into the available suite with my upgrade. Mischief managed!

A welcome gift with my name on it

Let me be clear straight away: I’d have a very hard time finding the hotel room that I think would be worth spending $2400 for one night. The Park Suite at the Park Hyatt Zurich is not an exception to that rule. That said, it was a lovely place to spend the night.

I’ll be writing a full bottom line review on the property once we return, but overall, it’s a very nice property. Park Hyatts tend to be minimalistic in design as an attempt towards elegance, but I sometimes feel like they can walk the line of feeling a bit sterile. The PH Zurich managed to more or less stay on the elegant side and, I have to say, I think that’s partially because of the service. Greg had stayed there previously and told me that what really stood out for him was the staff. I’d have to agree.

There was really a remarkable balance that the PH Zurich struck with never making me feel doted or fussed over, but anticipating needs in really unique ways.

When I arrived at the hotel, the greeting was very nice, but I was surprised to not find a welcome gift in the room, something that’s fairly standard at most of Hyatt’s higher-end properties. But, I hadn’t been in the room more than five minutes when there was a knock on the door. I answered and was met by a staff member who gave me a fruit plate and a wrapped, black box with a ribbon that she simply described as a “gift to welcome you to the hotel.” I’ve received boxes from many hotels and, invariably, they include chocolate truffles.

Not this time.

I looked inside and found a white, fabric bag with the inscription, “Luxury is Personal.” I opened it up and there was a very nice, leather, black pocket-case for credit cards and IDs that was made by the upholsterers for Rolls-Royce. I thought it was nice, then turned it over and saw that it had been monogrammed with my initials.

I know that they do the same thing for other folks and probably have a system worked out to order them in advance of Globalists coming. I also get a little tired of the overused phrase, “surprise and delight.” But, that’s what it felt like…I was surprised and delighted. What a great touch; a small, most likely very inexpensive, way to make someone immediately feel special.

I owe an apology to Zurich

Finally, there’s an apology that I need to make. I wasn’t terribly excited to go to Zurich (probably because of those hip, in-the-know travelers that keep leading me astray). I’d heard that it was a boring, unremarkable, large European city whose main role in life was to keep people from getting to the Alps as fast as they’d like.

But I was wrong. After only a day of exploring Zurich, I found myself wishing that I had more time there. The mountain-backed lake is magnificent, the canals that cut their way through the downtown core feel like a smaller, “more-rivery” Amsterdam. The old town is charming, there’s terrific (if insanely expensive) food and the gothic architecture and the soaring spires are quite something, especially when seen from above. I really enjoyed my time there.

So, Zurich, please forgive me. You know what happens when a guy assumes. I hope that we can see each together again some time.

June 7th, 2024 (stage 2)

Lufthansa Business Class

I finished yesterday’s journal update from the gate for my Lufthansa flight. In fact, I had just written the last of it before they closed the doors. I have to admit, I wasn’t terribly excited about Lufthansa biz; it’s sort of the ugly stepchild of lie-flat business in the points and miles community…if lie-flat business can ever really be considered an ugly stepchild. I’d actively avoided flying it previously, so this was actually my first time.

I have to say, I kinda liked it.

In the arms race that is the world of ever-more-private closed-door suites and community seating pods that is international business, I’m often left feeling like something’s been forgotten: the actual seat. Especially for a tall guy like me, a lot of these seats leave something to be desired when it comes to comfort. Can we have some padding and a wider footwell please?

That’s what I really liked about Lufthansa. There’s absolutely no privacy, the video screens look like something from old Star Trek reruns and there’s not much in the way of in-seat storage. But man, that seat is comfy. Notably comfy. Not only does it have copious amounts of padding, you can actually adjust the firmness of the entire back of the mattress, like an airborne version of a Sleep Number bed.

And the length! I could stretch out my entire six feet and three inches, lay on my stomach, put my feet out and still have room to put my arms above my head. I very rarely experience that while traveling. I slept well and woke up without any of the achiness that sometimes comes from sleeping on an airplane seat.

I’m a little sheepish to say it, but I actually enjoyed Lufthansa.

“You threw away a perfectly good flight!”

Today, after a shower at the welcome lounge in Frankfurt, I did something that you should never, ever do if you’re trying to impress Stephen Pepper and Carrie Yoder: I threw away a perfectly good flight.

I knew that my time in Switzerland was going to be short, and I wanted to see a little more than just Zurich or Geneva. I had a three hour layover staring me in the face, meaning that, including flight time, I’d have another 5ish hours before I was finally out in the hills of Switzerland. So, I decided to skip that pesky connection and take a train instead.

I was able to catch a non-stop train to Basel, a historic town on the banks of the Rhine River as well as the home of tennis great Roger Federer and the ancestors of our own Carrie Yoder. I’d be able to spend a few hours there, have lunch, take a second, hour-long train to Zurich and still be there about the same time as with my connecting flight. I was sold. Even at the last minute, I was able to book the whole thing for just under $70 thanks to an old German BahnCard that I had left from a trip last Summer that provides 25% off a 2nd class German rail fare. That felt like a great deal for a train through Switzerland with a stop in Basel.

Boy, am I glad I did it.

I was so tired and knew I had work to get done, but being able to spend 3ish hours ambling around Basel was totally worth it…and I got to work in front of a window on a train riding through Europe, instead of spending hours at a Frankfurt Lufthansa Lounge (which can be pretty good, by the way). At one point, I got to take a ride on a 170-year-old ferry system that navigates the Rhine River without a motor, strictly by using the current to guide it. It was a sunny day, the breeze was blowing and the cathedral loomed directly above it all. What fun…and what a treat to be able to experience these sorts of things just because of all this points and miles funny money.

The Leu Ferry

June 6th, 2024: First Class and a coastal train (stage 1/2)

Driving a Malibu to Malibu

First off, let’s do a quick recap. My last update was written yesterday from seat 3A in Alaska first class between Seattle and Santa Barbara (truthfully, I actually finished it in a grubby coffeehouse in Santa Monica, but it sounds better the other way). My goal was to rent a car and drive one of my favorite parts of the California Coast between Santa Barbara and LA, enjoying beaches and sampling the culinary riches on offer along the way. Each food choice was meant to provide an opportunity to discuss one possible guess at where Carrie and Stephen might be sending me next. Here’s a quick summary of the various stops along this marvelous stretch of highway:

  • Arroyo Burro beach – This was my first beach walk of the day and my first stop after getting the rental car. The marine layer was in full effect; the walk was windy and wild.
  • Tacos Pipeye, Santa Barbara (Possible destination: Mexico) – Ok, I didn’t really think they would send me to Mexico, I just wanted an excuse to visit one of the great taco spots in California: Milpas Street. There’s an embarrassment of tortilla-wrapped flavor publicly flaunted by the terrific taco shops that line Milpas. I stopped at Tacos Pipeye, a former taco truck that’s now a brick and mortar. They make their tortillas fresh to order, the chorizo is on point and I was transported to taco bliss.
  • Topanga Beach – The second of the three beach walks and one of the best beaches in the LA area, IMHO. Yes, Malibu is known for its uber-wealthy denizens, but this is no Beverly Hills.
  • Bay Cities Italian Deli And Bakery, Santa Monica (Possible destination: Italy) – These folks have been stuffing Santa Monica full of sweaty Italian meats and fresh-baked bread for 99 years. The undisputed classic is “The Godmother,” a gut-busting combination of four different meats and provolone on warm Italian bread. Extra mustard and hot peppers are all the secret sauce they need to make it the best sandwich by the beach.
  • Venice Beach – The final beach stop of the day and a feast for the eyes and the ears with its cacophonous blend of skateboarders, breakdancers, drag queens, street musicians, fortune tellers and, famously, muscle-bound weightlifters. I’m not sure that anything feels more quintessentially Los Angeles than Venice and Santa Monica.
  • Rico’s Empanadas (possible destination: Argentina) – A hidden gem of an empanada stand tucked away just off the main drag of the beach walk drag. The meat-filled pastries are fresh-baked, come with a mouthwatering homemade chimichurri and might just be the best bite of food on Venice Beach.

After Venice, I stopped by a liquor store for some cold champagne to share with Nick and Greg (since last year, an annual annual challenge tradition). There we got the final tally from the judges and I learned my next destination: Switzerland.

Aeroplan’s award search tool

I battled Aeroplan and Aeroplan won (The Phantom Menace)

The minute the livestream ended, Nick, Greg and I started feverishly scouring airline websites and search tools for some way to get to our respective countries by 2pm EST on Friday. I knew we were in for a rough night: almost all of the European-bound flights from LA and San Francisco leave in the afternoon, so we were too late to fly out the same night. Given that we had to be at the next check-in point in 42 hours, that meant that we had a very tight window of flights that we could catch, make connections, and still be there on time.

Within an hour or so, I thought I had my winner. Aeroplan was showing three seats available in business from Chicago to Zurich non-stop on Swissair, leaving the next evening at 7:15pm. Plenty of time to get to Chicago AND business class that I’d never flown before. Even better, I was able to find availability on the 8th from Zurich to Bangkok on Lufthansa (I’m guessing that our last stop will be in Southeast Asia). Because Aeroplan allows you to add a stopover for only 5,000 points, that meant that I should be able to ticket the whole thing for 92,500 points with every segment in business…only 22,500 points more than the Europe flight alone.

Unfortunately, Aeroplan had other plans.

As per usual, the multi-stop itinerary didn’t price correctly online, meaning that I had to enter that quagmire of frustration that is the Aeroplan Customer Contact Center (or ACCC!!!). Unusually for Aeroplan, I only had to wait 30 minutes before being able to talk to a rep…who wasn’t able to do award tickets. So, she transferred me to another rep…who was very, very confused about what was happening (“so you don’t want to actually fly Air Canada?”). He could find the flight Bangkok, but couldn’t find the original flight to Zurich. His lack of confidence wasn’t exactly inspiring, so I kept asking him to recheck…until I refreshed my screen and saw that all…three…seats…were…gone.

This is called phantom space, when an airline’s website shows you award space (usually on partners) that that it doesn’t actually have…but you don’t realize that until you’ve already spent 2+ hours building a multi-stop itinerary and another hour waiting for Aeroplan to answer the phone, transferred 95,000 Membership Rewards and actually tried to book the award. United showed me that same space to Zurich, so I thought, “hey, maybe I can get it here.” Unfortunately, once I got to the booking screen, Mileage Plan just pointed its finger at me and giggled. I had been the victim of the phantom menace. Almost four hours in and I still had no flights.

After another hour of searching, a seat finally appeared on Lufthansa Business through Seattle all the way to Zurich. I had just enough energy to call the ACCC!!! again in order to try and book my value-ridden, multi-stop passage to Bangkok. I waited another 40 minutes on hold…only to find that the award-booking portion of ACCC!!! was closed for the night and wouldn’t be open for another five hours.

You win Aeroplan, you win. On to Switzerland.

June 5th, 2024: First Class and a coastal train (stage 1)

When I heard that LAX was our first Flying by the Seat of our Points destination, I knew that I would have to think creatively to compete with the fancy-pants transcontinental awards that Nick and Greg would likely be booking.

My immediate thought was to use it as an opportunity to take a trip on the Pacific Surfliner, a marvelous coastal Amtrak train that operates between Santa Barbara and San Diego.

Pacific Surfliner Train | Amtrak
Pacific Surfliner Train (Image courtesy of Amtrak)

Checking the train’s schedule, I saw that there were departures from both San Diego and Santa Barbara (SBA) that would get me into LA with over an hour to get to the hotel, so I began looking to see which of the them had the best redemption options using miles. I was especially intrigued by SBA, as I knew that Alaska had a nonstop flight from Seattle on the E-175, a regional aircraft that has a 1-2 business class seating arrangement, meaning that there are two seats on one side of the plane and and one seat on the other. That solo aisle/window seat is probably my favorite domestic first class that’s not lie-flat, because it gives you tons of room, direct aisle access and your own window. It’s 6’3″ bliss.

Checking availability through both AwardTool and PointsYeah, I didn’t immediately find any options that were terribly inspiring to San Diego. Everything was expensive, had lengthy connecting itineraries, or both. Santa Barbara was another story. That non-stop flight from Seattle that I was hoping for was insanely priced on Alaska…65K in first class. Economy seats were “only” 15K, and given the amount of available first class seats, I was fairly confident that I could get an upgrade…but I really wanted my flight to be cheaper than Nick and Greg’s, so I needed it to be less than 15K.

Luckily, both search tools also saw that same Alaska flight on Iberia, and at a price of only 11,000 Avios. However, I didn’t want to actually book the ticket using Iberia, as its partner awards are non-cancellable and non-refundable and I wasn’t 100% certain that I’d be put on the Alaska first class upgrade list if I was flying on an Avios award. Probably 95% of the Alaska reps you talk to will tell you that you don’t get elite status when flying on a partner award, but I’ve found that’s usually incorrect.

Neither tool found the Alaska flight using British Airways Avios, but I knew that it should theoretically be there, so I went to the website. Sure enough, it was:

I jumped on the booking, knowing that if I had to cancel, I could do so up to 24 hours before departure and only be out $5.60 in fees.

Now, it was time to see if I get my Alaska 100K status associated with the ticket – which I thought would get me a confirmed upgrade to first class. Unfortunately, tickets booked with BA Avios automatically add your BA Executive Club number, and there’s no way to change it online. However, there’s a bizarre workaround where you can access Avios bookings via certain other oneworld airlines’ websites and then change your number. Finnair.com is one of those sites, so I went there, selected “manage booking,” and from there I was able to change the frequent flyer number from BA to Alaska:

But did all that work?

After I exited the ticket on Finnair.com, I went to my Alaska account and saw the flight was listed there, along with my 100K status and an automatic upgrade to premium class!

About an hour later, as I hoped, I got an e-mail that I had been upgraded to first. Eureka!

I selected my seat, ordered what I wanted for breakfast and was on my way. I thought that I was completely set: I had a great first class award for only 11,000 Avios and a business seat on the Pacific Surfliner for 2,000 Amtrak points…and it was barely 90 minutes after finding out where we were going. Easy-peasy, right?

Not. So. Fast.

This is why we can’t have nice things

Right after I booked my flight, Stephen e-mailed us the location of the hotel that we were meeting at today and it was almost an hour’s drive from the train station. And I’d be arriving at 4:48. In rush hour.

LA metro ran to a stop that was only about 400 feet from the hotel, but Google told me that the trip would take just over an hour. If everything ran right on time, I’d get to the hotel 4 minutes before our livestream. If anything was delayed, which was highly likely given the combination of Amtrak and LA public transit, I’d get there after our livestream started and get a big DQ with no points for stage one.

I couldn’t risk it. It was time for plan B.

There was no other option to take the train from Santa Barbara that didn’t require me getting in the night before (a non-starter, since the grinch Stephen would penalize me for adding an unnecessary overnight to a two-hour flight). San Diego had a fine option for the train departure, but the flight redemptions were crap: there was no space on BA or Iberia and first class was nearly full on every flight I could find.

a man wearing a dog mask
Stephen’s expression when I asked him if I could have a grace period of 10 minutes to arrive at the livestream.

So I pivoted.

Looking at rental cars, I found a one-way option from Santa Barbara to LAX that I could book using 950 Hertz points. Perfect! Not only could I do a relaxed road trip down one of my favorite parts of the California coast, I also had my transportation to the hotel AND to the airport afterwards paid for (assuming, of course, that Hertz didn’t arrest me first).

I was finally good to go.

But what are you actually doing today?

I now what you’re probably thinking, “Enough already! Can you just get to what you’re doing for stage 1!”

Why yes, I can.

I’m currently writing this from seat 3A on my Alaska flight to Santa Barbara. Once I arrive, I’ll pick up my rental car…and that’s when the fun starts.

Rare image of a blogger in flight

Carrie and Stephen gave us a fun mini-challenge: after landing, we have to eat a meal from the country that we think we’re going to next. Whoever’s guess is closest to their actual destination will receive 3 points for the challenge, whoever’s guess is second closest will get 2 points and whoever whiffs the worst will get 1 point for participating.

Thing is, I’m torn. Even more to the point, there’s a lot of great food between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. So, I’m going to use this mini-challenge as an excuse to take us all on a food tour of the California Coast, hopefully with a beach walk (or two) thrown in. At each stop, I’ll explain which country/region the food that I’m having represents and the reasons why I think that might be where Carrie and Stephen are sending me. Those following along on Instagram will the see the action in real-time, but I’ll summarize what went down on tomorrow’s journal entry. On tonight’s livestream, before Carrie and Stephen announce our final destination, I’ll winnow down all the options to my final, winning guess.

June 4th, 2024: On the way to LA-LA Land (stage 1)

While LAX might seem like a great destination for a Seattle-based traveler, it’s deceptively tricky with some significant pitfalls. Nick and Greg have access to all sorts of lie-flat transcontinental space from the East Coast and Dallas, as well as several tranches of First Class, Capital One and Centurion Lounges between there and LA. Although they’re all the way across the country, I think it will actually be easier for them to get some sexy redemptions (especially Nick, who has access to some smaller airports that often get better deals than the big ones).

Seattle’s proximity to LAX means that I don’t have access to any of those lie-flat routes, without first going to Hawai’i, Denver or Dallas. The judges stated very clearly last night that over-complexity for its own sake won’t be tolerated: if we make a complex itinerary, it has to have an enjoyable reason behind it. For Nick and Greg, scheduling through Dallas to get AA First Class and a Capital One Lounge visit is sensible from where they’re starting. For me it’s waaaaay out of the way. Worse, many programs will price my awards from Seattle at the same level as Nick and Greg’s because they’re all domestic, so racking up a gaudy, high-value redemption for me will be a challenge indeed.

That said, I still think I have a chance to compete. I have a few ways that I’m thinking about how I might be able to wow the judges, and where I may be able to sneak an advantage in:

  • I want whatever I book to be excellent value. My flight has to be cheap in miles and expensive in cash. Ideally, I’ll be able to leverage my status or one of my upgrade instruments to bling up an economy award, as opposed to paying full-price for business. I also will be looking to utilize a program with a distance-based chart to take advantage of my proximity to LA.
  • My trip needs to be a journey. Nick and Greg undoubtedly have an advantage in flight selection, but I also have one in that I don’t necessarily have to spend as much time in the air. So, the time that I have, I need to use to create an adventure that brings some of the “panache” that Stephen and Carrie are looking for. At the end of the day, I want them to look at my day and say “that looked like fun,” not just, “he did a good job getting from A to B.”
  • Just because I can’t do lie-flat doesn’t mean I can’t do fancy. Even though I don’t have convenient access to lie-flat seats, that doesn’t mean that I can’t get something better than a standard 2 x 2 domestic recliner. I’m going to try and route myself in such a way that I can get 1-2 seating, where one seat is both the aisle and the window. It’s my favorite domestic first class seating that isn’t lie-flat, and I want to be able to show it off tomorrow.
  • I don’t care about arriving at the hotel first. This feels like the cornucopia at the beginning of The Hunger Games…a distraction that actually ends up causing more problems than it solves. I’m not at all concerned with arriving at the hotel first. I’ve shared rooms with both Nick and Greg. One snores more than other (I’ll never say who), but I can deal with either one. That’s why the good lord made ear buds. If I have three hours that I can use to explore the destination and show the judges that I took a big, tasty bite out of Southern California, I’ll take it…and I’ll sleep just fine sharing a room with either of them afterwards (and, who knows, I may even be back on a plane tomorrow night, so it might be a non-issue).

I already ran into one snafu, where I thought I had the perfect trip worked out about an hour after our livestream ended last night, but then got the address of the hotel from Stephen and found out that it was further away than I realized, making it tough for me to get there in time. So, I’m back to square one. But, I’m confident that there’s still a killer trip out there waiting for me.

June 3rd 2024 (start of challenge)

How I’m NOT preparing for Flying by the Seat of our Points

Candid image of me not preparing for the Flying by the Seat of our Points challenge.

A couple of weeks ago, Greg wrote the following in the intro to his challenge prep post:

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?

I’ll admit, he’s right on. My stare was about as blank as could be (but that’s normal). However, what I was actually thinking was “should we prepare for a challenge like this?” We already have one big leg up on anyone who would have to do a similar trip to what we’re attempting here: we know that it’s going to happen. Our schedules are cleared, our families know what’s up and we’re aware of the general timeframe that we’ll be travelling. Given that, I thought it would be fun to try to, as much as possible, maintain the same conditions that existed for me at the exact moment we decided to do this challenge.

So, in the hopefully true spirit of “last minute travel,” I’ve tried as best I could to not do anything out of the ordinary to prepare in advance. This includes:

  • I’ve not transferred or earned any points or miles with the purpose of using them in the challenge. What I have, I have. What I’ve gained, I’ve gained through normal activity, without trying to change my earning patterns to accommodate the challenge. Those rewards programs that have extended transfer times will be out of reach for me.
  • I haven’t read Carrie and Stephen’s post about how they’re going to score the challenge. There are two reasons for this: 1) I don’t want to allow myself time to strategize beforehand and 2) I don’t want the scoring rules to affect how I think about my primary goal: booking the most luxurious flights and hotels at the best value that make the most sense logistically based on our destinations. Anybody who watches tonight’s livestream will come in knowing more about how the gamemasters will be judging us than I will.
  • I’ve not spent any time poring over award charts or program rules in order to prepare for short-in booking. What I knew when we decided to do the challenge is what I know today…and let’s be honest, given my age, I might even know a little less!
  • I haven’t done any research on routes, schedules, weather or destinations.
  • I haven’t practiced booking short term awards nor done any searches to see if/which programs are releasing close-in award space currently.
  • I haven’t purchased any accessories or tools for use on the challenge, nor have I changed my subscriptions on any award tool services.

Now, those who’ve already read Nick and Greg’s posts about what they’re doing to prepare will notice that my approach is a little different. Will my dedication to observing both the letter and the spirit of the challenge rules give me any additional brownie points in the eyes of either the British or West Virginian judges (Stephen and Carrie)?

Probably not. They’re a tough crowd.

However, I hope that it will make all this business just a teensy bit more fun.

Flying by the Seat of our Points - Last Minute Travel Challenge points scoring
Artist’s rendition of Carrie and Stephen critically appraising our points redemptions.

Things I hope will help me during Flying by the Seat of our Points

One advantage that Greg, Nick and I have with last minute bookings is that all of us travel a lot…and we book more flights and hotels with points than the average Jan or Joe. As a result, we all have practices that we’ve developed over the years that will hopefully help us wow the judges this week. Here’s a few of mine:

  • Travel light, pack well: It normally takes me under ten minutes to pack for a trip and I organize things so that I rarely have to worry about forgetting something day of (which I would undoubtedly do otherwise).
    • For this one week trip, I’ll only bring two pairs of quick dry pants, one jacket (that I’ll be wearing), one pair of shoes (that I’ll be wearing) and one or two long-sleeve shirts. I tend to work out daily, so the bulk in my carry-on will be socks, underwear and undershirts that allow me to exercise and still live life as odor-free as possible.
    • I have a travel toiletry kit that duplicates everything that I use at home in small bottles. I replenish it when I get back from a trip so that, when I need to leave, I just put the whole kit in my bag and know that I’m good to go.
    • I do the same thing with power cords and try to have a duplicate of everything that I need, including a travel adapter, hanging out in my suitcase so that I’m not moving cords back-and-forth.
    • I try to keep my carry-on electronics to a minimum: laptop with extra cord, Kindle, two sets of earbuds (because I lose them constantly), charging cable and a backup cellphone battery.
    • I don’t need to waste time retrieving checked baggage. I’ll fit everything into a bag that I can take with me onboard almost all airlines.
    • I always travel with my Schwab Investor Checking debit card, which waives ATM fees worldwide. This has the dual function of eliminating fees so I can carry less cash (by making smaller withdrawals) and also keeps any potential loss to a minimum should I fall victim to some sort of ATM scam/skim. I usually keep a couple hundred bucks in the account so that I automatically know there’s something in there when I arrive at a new destination (as there’s a four-day waiting period for deposits to be credited after they’re initiated – and I’m not transferring anything additional in advance for this trip because, you know, it’s last minute).
    • I always have and bring some sort of prescription traveler’s sickness medication (ie, Cipro). I rarely need to use it, but on those occasions that I have, it’s been a lifesaver…and I won’t have time on this challenge to stop for a day or two because my tummy’s ruffled.
  • Usefully diversify points and miles: As you’ll see from the inventory below, I always try to keep my points and miles spread around a variety of programs, keeping redeemable amounts in all the big hotel chains, domestic airlines and transferable currencies (and away from smaller, more obscure programs). This is mainly so I can book fast if I find an award I want and don’t have orphaned miles in programs I rarely use. I think that it will also be handy here, when both price and available inventory will likely be stretched.
    • Note that I highlighted “redeemable” above. If you don’t earn a bunch of points/miles throughout the year, it will usually be better to concentrate them into usable amounts within fewer programs. That’s not my situation, so I want to spread everything out just a bit more.
  • Use the tools I have: When it comes to being a walking, talking award chart, neither Greg nor I can hold a candle to our friend, Nick Reyes. Nick seemingly has photographic memory when it comes to these sorts of things, and can instantly recall the intra-Asia 500-1000 mile business award price for obscure programs at the drop of a fedora. That’s not me. There’s a reason that I write this stuff down. What I do have is award search tools that I know well and use often. These tools allow me to search multiple programs, alliances, regions and routes fairly quickly and with a high degree of accuracy. My favorites (that I will be using during the challenge) are:
    • Seats.aero – probably the search tool that I use the most often as it allows me to search broad swathes of program-specific availability incredibly quickly
    • Pointsyeah and Awardtool – great for drilling down on specific routes over a shorter window of dates
    • MaxMyPoint – excellent for hotel availability, with a good mix of search filters (see: Tools for finding impossible hotel awards)
    • MaxFHR – the best that I’ve found to quickly look at Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts availability, filterable by price range

Ways that I’ll be challenged during Flying by the Seat of our Points

There’s a few things that will keep me on my toes (literally) over the next 7-8 days. Here’s a couple that I’ll need to negotiate; one by birth, one by choice.

  • Sleep: As Greg noted in his prep post, Nick is made for these sorts of trips. Not only doesn’t he need much sleep to begin with, he has the uncanny ability to almost instantly fall asleep the moment he sits down in a plane, train, car, boat or ox cart. Greg does need a good amount of sleep each night to avoid turning into The Frequent Pumpkin, but he shares Nick’s gift of being able to sleep when opportunity strikes (as you can see here). Unfortunately, I’m the exact opposite. I have an occupationally inconvenient inability to fall asleep in any sort of upright position regardless of how tired I am. I can even struggle to sleep for a decent amount of time in lie-flat seats. Because of this, I know I’ll probably be tired after a couple of days. The primary way that I plan to combat this is to exercise daily and, like Greg, I’ll have some sleep aids with me in case I need them on flights or while jet-lagged in hotels.
  • Avios: Confession time. My Avios programs are a mess. This is most likely because, when I set each individual program up, I probably used slightly different info in the registrations. What this means now is that I can’t transfer between any programs except for British Airways and Qatar. I was going to fix it months ago, but there was that whole not preparing thing. So I left it broken and won’t be able to consolidate Avios for the challenge and will need to rely on separate transfers if I want to use any of the Avios programs.

a plane and ticket falling from money

Inventory (Points, Certificates, Credits, Lounge Access)

Last Updated: 6/3/24

I feel pretty good about where I’m at with my points and miles balances currently. I’ve got a good chunk in each transferable currency, as well as in all of the major hotel programs – which should come in handy when it comes time to book lodging.

Transferable points

  • Amex: ~1.5M points
    • ~$150 in airline fee credits
    • 2 $200 Fine Hotels and Resorts credits
    • Centurion Lounge access
  • Bilt: ~2K points
  • Capital One: ~510K points
    • $300 in travel credit
    • Priority Pass access with restaurants
    • Capital One Lounge access
    • Plaza Premium Lounge access
  • Chase: ~150K points
  • Citi: ~350K points

Airlines

  • Air Canada Aeroplan: ~32K points
  • Alaska Mileage Plan: ~1.7M miles
    • MVP 100K / oneworld Emerald
      • International oneworld Business/First Class lounge access
    • 4 Alaska lounge passes
    • 12 MVP® Gold Guest Upgrades
    • 2 one way AA international upgrades
    • ~$900 in travel wallet (from Amex incidental fee credits)
  • American Airlines AAdvantage: ~850K miles
  • Avianca LifeMiles ~14K miles
  • Avios
    • ~64K with British Airways
    • ~50K with Iberia
    • ~2K with Qatar
  • Delta: ~390K miles
  • Etihad: ~4K miles
  • Hawaiian: ~3K miles
  • JetBlue: ~16K miles
  • Lufthansa: ~80K miles
  • Southwest: ~175K points
  • United Airlines MileagePlus: ~57K miles
    • Premier Silver status
    • TravelBank: $126
  • Virgin Atlantic: ~45k points

Hotels

  • Choice Privileges: ~45K points
  • Hilton: ~1.1M points
    • Diamond status
    • 2 free night certs
  • Hyatt: ~2.1M points
    • Globalist status
    • 2 free night category 1-4 cert
    • 3 suite upgrade awards
  • IHG: ~680K points
    • Platinum status
  • Marriott: ~500K points
    • Titanium status
    • 3 85K free night certs
    • 2 Nightly Upgrade Awards
  • Wyndham Rewards: ~315K points
    • Diamond Elite status

Car Rental Programs

  • ~2,600 Enterprise points
  • ~2,800 Hertz points

Join Team Tim (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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EruptingLoowit

Manderin Oriental KL is certainly a FHR sweet spot. We used a couple of them in tandem there a couple of years ago. Tower views are great, as is the breakfast buffet & the gym/spa facilities are simply amazing.

Luke

Really enjoyed following along your journey! wish you could have made it to the GH with Greg maybe you can have gotten into the Barbie Suite Kuala Lumpur Hotel Rooms | Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur

LarryInNYC

I feel you all should have gotten bonus points for achieving the inconceivable — spending $200 on a single meal in Malaysia.

Gigi

Any tips on how to get to 2.1M Hyatt points? Asking for a friend 😛

JohnB

Me too! Hyatt points are very difficult to earn.

Andy

This is how I did it, pretty sure Tim followed the same strategy:

1. Go to your local grocery store.
2. Purchase one packet of ramen noodles with your World of Hyatt card.
3. You should earn roughly 1 Hyatt point, depending on your local pricing.
4. Cook and eat your ramen noodles. Make sure to follow the instructions on the packaging, but it’s okay to throw out the sauce packet.
5. Lastly, transfer 2,099,999 points to Hyatt from Chase.

Voilà, and you’re done.

AlexL

I would love to see the cooking class, but the durian tour is fun too.
The workaround on the avios booking is so cool.
I am glad you enjoy LH biz and Zürich.
Finally, congratulation on your challenge win!

jason le

How were you able to get a one-way Hertz rental for 950 points? I thought it was 1900 points plus taxes/fees.

Mike

I, and others, also had issues with the Lifemiles website this weekend. I was unable to change the number of passengers on a search, and my credit card wouldn’t work. Finally got both to work by searching and booking everything in MS Edge.

Philipp

Hi Tim,
I just wanted to remember one of the unsung heroes at frequentmiler.
Miles and More allows you to forfeit the horrendous surcharges on their own metal (OS, LX, LH) paying with more miles.
E.g. Business Class from US to CH is available for 78000 Miles + 10.10 USD (eg a flight from Chicago to ZRH i will take at the end of july…). I know it is not “a steal” but wonder how you intend to use your 80k M&M Miles otherwise before they reach their hard expiry after 3 years..also for your European readership M&M might be their preferred miles program, considering the absence of Credit Card options for Aeroplan or Lifemiles on this side of the pond … another sweet spot is to use flights with avianca from BOG to Europe… 71k Miles + 100 usd in taxes 🙂

Daniel

Hey Tim,
I’ve encountered the same card issue this past week when booking with Iberia. They insisted it must be a bank error, and (after I called my bank(s) and confirmed there had not even been a charge attempted) agreed to call me back after they figured it out. It’s been a week.
My best guess is that they didn’t expect it to be a US card, because that did seem to surprise them, but one would think they would fix that.

Sam

Hey Tim.
You may have had issues with processing your Credit card because lifemiles has some sort of PIN entry when entering credit card details.
I have found that by entering any random numbers for that entry has worked for processing a booking.

Lee

Tim, great lesson you’ve taught everyone about partner awards. Thanks. (Just imagine if you had Turkish in the mix as well. Ha.)

Anthony

@tim I told you on your Instagram survey not to miss Zurich! I was just there by chance and roundabout itinerary to get to Italy after Flying SWISS business and really enjoyed Zürich! Definitely not to be slept on, But worth sleeping in!

Craig

Tim – Would you mind providing the reason you give when asking a hotel to make a standard room available to book? Do you tell them you want to use points or not?

LarryInNYC

I guess “why don’t you open the standard room and then upgrade me as a globalist without a certificate” is too big an ask?

Vi Vis

Tim, welcome to Switzerland! I’m big fan of Frequent Miler, so it’s really cool that you’re visiting here as part of the challenge. Enjoyed watching the room service delivery of the absinthe in during the live stream yesterday 😀

Hope you’re enjoying the time in Zurich. I would recommend a walk around the old town, then along the Limmat river, to the lake. If you have time, you can do a short boat cruise.

For the absolute best chocolate from Switzerland, get some from “Confiserie Sprüngli”. They have a nice cafe and restaurant at Paradeplatz, as well as several shops in and around the main train station. Enjoy!!!

Vi Vis

Awesome! Safe travels to Kuala Lumpur ✈️

Lee

For other readers, Sprungli was first famous for its bakery. Cakes, cookies, etc. Must do.

For an authentic, traditional Swiss dinner, there is the old armory whose name I forget. (Anyone?) Down home food. Reservations are a must.

Last edited 14 days ago by Lee
Origami

Which LH product did you get? Flew them (A340) recently and liked the service and the seat comfort, but the footwell was small and cramped.