Everyone wants to travel; as they should. Travel is the greatest education that anyone could get. But there are a number of travel myths that I feel like we should confront.
Travel Myth #1: Checked bags cost an arm and a leg
There are a number of ways you can get some amount of checked bags without cost. For starters, nearly every airline has a co-branded credit card that gives you at least one checked bag free. For example, two out of three American Airlines AAdvantage Credit CArds provide a free first checked bag:
In addition, Southwest Airlines doesn’t charge for checked bags – so you don’t even need a credit card!
Travel Myth #2: You must have a rental car
If you’re like me, you are a bit of a control freak. It’s natural. But, more and more I’m finding, and I believe others are finding, that even as control freaks, driving isn’t necessary. More and more cities are served by Uber or Lyft or other providers of the sharing economy. In fact, Bloomberg notes that Uber has overtaken rental cars among business travelers. If business travelers can give up the need to drive themselves everywhere, you and I can. Often times, I’ve found Uber to be cheaper, and much less of a hassle. Besides, there are a number of places overseas that you probably don’t want to drive anyway.
Travel Myth #3: You won’t be able to sit with your loved ones unless you pay
I fly a bunch, last year I flew over a hundred thousand miles, like the year before, and the only times I didn’t sit with my wife or family that I was travelling with, were when we tried to get on an earlier flight, or otherwise changed plans last minute. Often times, you’ll try to select your seats and see a cost. While it’s not a guarantee that you can select seats in advance to sit with your loved ones, more often than not, people are willing to switch. I’ve sat in middle seats in economy a handful of times to be the nice guy, as I’m sure many readers have. Dia Reports that Congress passed a bill last year, attempted to make it easier for families to sit together. I’m not sure how that ended up. But, the fact remains, people are still people, and as long as travelers retain some shred of humanity, with a little politeness and gratitude, you should have no problem sitting with your loved ones without paying an arm and a leg.
Travel Myth #4: Traveling overseas is dangerous
Despite being in Thailand when the Thai military declared first Martial Law, and then a Coup, I still feel traveling overseas is safe. Yes, you have to keep your wits about you, and it might even require some planning. But, the fact remains, international travel is not like the movie No Escape. Full disclosure; I watched this movie on an Emirates flight (where else?), and it was very jarring. But, having been to 41 countries, I’ve never seen anything close to that.
There are numbers of places that are probably more dangerous than others. Joe Cortez–editor emeritus– has written about a few countries that might not be the safest. I can say that I’ve been to at least a couple of those countries with no problem. I think this highlights the value of a travel checklist. Really, as long as you prepare, you’ll be good to travel nearly anywhere, within reason. Now that said, don’t walk the streets of Moscow with a t-shirt saying “I love the USA” and a fanny pack. I mean, there are just some things that you shouldn’t do.
Travel Myth #5: Pets aren’t allowed in hotels.
On the contrary, a number of hotels are in fact very pet friendly. My wife and I have taken #indydog (search that on Twitter and you’ll have overwhelming cuteness, trust me) to a few hotels, including the Hyatt Regency Crystal City. Often times you’ll have a cleaning cost, since some folks can be very allergic to pet allergens, but, overall, Pets are welcome in many hotels. I’m sure there’s a limit, unlike airlines, where you can take your falcon onboard.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I had the opportunity to visit the United Polaris Lounge in Chicago. We were flying on an award ticket from Liberia, Costa Rica, and weren’t quite sure if we could get in, but figured that we’d try none-the-less. It was a bit out of the way, but it was well worth the extra steps.
There were a variety of areas with places to sit and work.
The United Polaris Lounge also boasts shower rooms, which is a necessity for any world class lounge in my opinion.
There was also some self-serve food and beverage stations available (Some more plentiful on a Sunday night than others)
Perhaps the best part of the United Polaris Lounge was the bar, which was gorgeous.
There was also a small area that was a self serve whiskey bar:
And the quality of beverages being served did not stop there. My wife enjoyed a wonderful glass of Laurent-Perrier Rose
It even had a special wall of lockers for the elite of the elite–I think Global Services, but I’m not sure if its even more exclusive than that–housing their preferred beverage.
Final Thoughts of the United Polaris Lounge
I have to admit, I was impressed. United has definitely set a new standard with respect to premium lounges. I really hope to see more of these lounges, maybe even one at my quasi-home airport of Washington-Dulles; which I hear is planned, just not sure whether we’ll see it before or after true United Polaris Business class seats fly to and from Washington-Dulles.
Have you had the chance to visit the United Polaris Lounge? What did you think?
This is a selfish post, I’ll state that first and foremost. Not because this is a brag post. Really, this is a Thank You post. You see, My Year of Travel, has been an amazing experience, and has included so many folks, and so many great suggestions for you all.
My Year of Travel
First off, I had a bunch of trips to South America. This was partially because my wife and I enjoy Brazil, and also partially because The Flight Deal shared this awesome Business Class deal from Sao Paulo. The fact of the matter is, I love a great business class deal. I also really enjoy Rio de Janeiro. It was great to check out the new Grand Hyatt Rio de Janeiro. Even better, in advance of the Olympics, Brazil opened a very impressive Terminal 3 at Sao Paulo’s International airport. For me, Sao Paulo’s airport went from the worst airport I’ve ever flown through, to on par with Bali’s airport.
Of course, my wife and I found a way to make it to Bali, We tend to enjoy a few days in Bali, just to decompress. That trip was also our first long haul Japan Airlines First Class flight, and yes, you remember correctly, I took a pair of shoes specifically to get them shined in the JAL First Class Lounge at Haneda.
July was a ton of fun, I’ll get to some of it later, but, a weekend trip to the United Arab Emirates with friends was a total blast. In fact, Diamonde the Giraffe — our compadre– even had a tour of the Grand Hyatt Dubai, despite a disappointing experience a few weeks before.
Memorial Day saw my wife and I mileage running in a far flung attempt at flying the cycle. That was a lot of flying, but was a ton of fun.
Perhaps the most meaningful trip of the year was a trip that I’ve not yet had the chance to write much about. In July, I had the chance to travel with my Father and Brother to Dubai, Singapore, Melbourne, and Sydney. It was 13 days, and our wives were saints for letting us–especially my sister-in-law who had 3 kids to entertain all by herself!
This year’s travel took me roughly 146,000 miles, to 5 of the 7 continents, and to 12 countries. I think that’s the least amount of miles I’ve flown in the past few years. But this year is perhaps the most special year of travel I’ve had. I can’t quite put into words just how special the chance to share how I travel with my father and my brother. I think Dia may have quoted me at some point in saying, that Family Travel doesn’t just mean travel with kids… it’s more than that. And travel with family is special. I dare say, as a parent–speaking as not being one–you want to show you kids the world. As a child, you want to give back to your parents, which is something that not all of get the chance to do. I am grateful for that opportunity though. I’m also very, very grateful, for the chance to travel as much as I do, and for the chance to be part of such an awesome frequent traveler community.
How was your year of travel?
- Weekend in Taipei: Introduction
- Review: Eva Air 777-300ER Houston to Taipei
- Review: Grand Hyatt Taipei
- Weekend in Taipei: Touring Taipei
- Weekend in Taipei: Taipei’s Taoyuan International Airport
- Review: Cathay Pacific Taipei to Hong Kong
- Review: Cathay Pacific Hong Kong to Chicago
- Weekend in Taipei: Conclusion
To set the stage, I was yearning to get on a plane. It was the end of October, and I hadn’t been on a true long haul flight since the end of July. The end of July! I was getting stircrazy. Searching the British Airways Search tool, Searching United.com, Searching ExpertFlyer, searching for flights someplace that we could do a reasonable visit of in no more than 2 days off of work.
I was originally looking to go to Cambodia, but the flights just didn’t want to line up. I also really, really wanted to fly EVA Air. So, rather than make things complicated—as I am known to do—I decided to go the simple path. EVA Air is one of Taiwan’s more widely known airlines, they are a Star Alliance member, which meant I could redeem some Ultimate Rewards points via United, or Membership Rewards points via Aeroplan, or nearly any transferrable currency via Singapore KrisFlyer.
My next concern was where to stay. Despite the World of Hyatt news, this frequent leisure traveler is determined to requalify Diamond and become a Globalist—I think I’m going to put that on my business card. So, my next concern was that the Grand Hyatt Taipei was rumored to be haunted. How appropriate that we were staying there over Halloween weekend!
A quick turn to the Oracle of Twitter allayed my concerns.
Next, I needed to get home. A week earlier, my wife had jumped at the chance to fly Cathay Pacific First Class, we had done that last year and very much enjoyed it. Alas, that space was phantom, but, I ended up finding space in the 4 days between when we booked Business Class, and left. I only found 1 seat though, and ExpertFlyer was showing F2 (and went down to F1, meaning Cathay Pacific was only selling 1 seat in First Class). I put my wife up in First and accepted my likely fate in Business Class.
Alas, the day before we were due to leave, I took to twitter on my T-Mobile Apple iPhone 6, and low and behold, the American Air team was awesome, just proving that if you don’t ask, you don’t know.
Overall, the trip was a great weekend, if only 50 hours on the ground in Taipei, it was well worth the miles, and proved to be a very memorable trip.
NerdWallet released a study on the 10 best airports for holiday travel yesterday, and it presents an interesting insight.
First, about the methodology
The Nerdwallet team analyzed US Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), for November and December of 2013-2015 of the top 50 airports. From this, they then added in Yelp reviews for restaurant quality. As far as their scoring:
- Delayed Flights accounted for 40%
- Cancelled Flights accounted for 40%
- Restaurant Quality accounted for 20%
The conclusions, based on the above scoring aren’t terribly surprising, so lets get to them:
The 10 best airports for holiday travel
As you read through the below list, think about what these airports have in common:
- Honolulu International, Honolulu, HI
- Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Atlanta, GA
- Phoenix Sky Harbor International, Phoenix, AZ
- Seattle-Tacoma International, Seattle, WA
- Miami International, Miami, FL
- Tampa International, Tampa, FL
- Portland International, Portland, OR
- Louis Armstrong New Orleans International, New Orleans, LA
- Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International, Fort Lauderdale, FL
- Logan International, Boston, MA
The first thing you might notice, is that the top 5 airports for holiday travel all happen to be airline hubs. This isn’t terribly surprising, an airline can wield more influence to ensure that their aircraft gets out on time, they also might have aircraft available to “swap out” in the event of mechanical or other delays. The hub and spoke network is still very much alive for many airlines, and you can see how that is a strength.
Of course what you will also notice is that not all of the “major” hubs are in the list of the top 10. In fact Philadelphia was ranked 32, JFK was ranked 34, Denver was ranked 44; Chicago O’Hare was ranked 47, and DFW was ranked at the bottom of the list at 50.
Its not terribly surprising, many of these airports are in the north, susceptible to winter weather.
You can read the full report here.
How can this data help, if you are still planning your holiday travel? Well, it might inform your choice of destination, unless going home for the holidays chooses that for you. This data can also help in your choice of connections. If you’re flying on American Airlines, you might choose to connect in Miami rather than Dallas, or if you’re open to a variety of airlines, you might give preference to Delta Airlines.
Does data like this sway your opinion one way or the other when making travel decisions?
Australia is one of my favorite countries in the world to travel to. Sydney, as the most popular city, is often the city most folks go to for their first experience of Australia. Taking that into account, I thought it would be helpful to share my top five things to do in Sydney. If you plan well, you could do them all in 80 hours like I did in 2010, or, spread them out, and enjoy them over a longer visit.
Five Things To Do in Sydney: Take the Sydney Ferry to Manly
Five Things To Do in Sydney: Visit the Sydney Opera House
Five Things To Do in Sydney: The Rocks Friday Foodie Market
The larger events are even more awesome, like Vino Paradiso
Five Things To Do in Sydney: The Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour
Five Things To Do in Sydney: Paddy’s Market
Invariably you will want some sort of souvenir from your trip, perhaps its a boomerang, a t-shirt, or a stuffed koala, well, Paddy’s Market may just be your place!
Sydney is an excellent city for a visit. While I only identified five things to do in Sydney, there are still a ton more awesome things to do. Bondi Beach–and they have a weekend market at least sometimes–and so much more is available. Sydney isn’t my favorite city in Sydney–Melbourne is–but there are just so many awesome things to see, some of which are serious bucket list items, like the Sydney Opera House.
There has been a lot of discussion about emotional support animals. What with the emotional support duck a few weeks ago, I thought it would be appropriate to share how you can bring your falcon on your flight to Doha on Qatar Airways.
As it turns out, while a Falcon may not necessarily be an emotional support animal, you can bring your falcon on your flight to Doha, as long as it is on Qatar Airways.
Here is Qatar’s cost per Falcon in the Economy cabin:
Now, lets say you want to fly via Abu Dhabi, on Etihad Airways – well apparently, they will allow you to fly with your Falcon as well. Mind you, however, that if you want to bring more than one falcon onboard, you’ll need to be in Business or First Class… but please don’t (as I selfishly proclaim):
Now I’m sure what you’re wondering. I’ve talked about Qatar and Etihad, what about my favorite airline, Emirates? Well, they have their own rules. Apparently they do not permit animals in the cabin:
with the exception of falcons between Dubai and certain destinations in Pakistan, and Guide Dogs for the Blind – please see our information on passengers with special needs.
So, there you have it, you might get exception for guide dogs. Falcons, also get exception. Yet, it is not entirely clear whether Falcons can fly in the passenger cabin. Personally, I don’t see why not, but, each airline to their own.
Conclusion: Bring your falcon on your flight to Doha
I don’t have a falcon, personally. I’ve wanted to give Falconry a try, but, you know, we must live within our means. I would feel horrible if I had a falcon, and couldn’t properly exercise said falcon, or give said falcon the kind of environment that they need. But, if you do have a falcon, my opinion is, that you need to fly Qatar or Etihad, because they have pretty flexible policies, that would allow you to travel with your falcon in your same cabin. I know, if I had my way, I’d prefer to take my #indydog in the passenger cabin, so why not a falcon?
Have you ever seen a Falcon in the passenger cabin?
Westin Playa Conchal, Costa Rica
Mitra International Buffet
Our first experience of the food of the Westin Playa Conchal was the buffett, which had a great assortment.
My favorite part was the chips station, but I was more in a munching mood. They had a variety of sauces/dips, including Thousand Island, Salsa, and refried beans.
There was also a variety of “real” food, like steak, chicken, and quesadillas.
Faisanela Italian Restaurant
Our first dinner was at the Italian Restaurant attached to the Royal Beach Club. It was wonderful.
We started with some bread and olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Then moved on to our entrees (we could’ve had appetizers, but we weren’t terribly hungry). My wife had the lasagna.
I had the steak. It looks small, but it was more than filling.
Dessert was the true benefit though. I had a glass of Disarono Amaretto (my preferred aperitif), and the dessert was a cheesecake lite.
Bamboo – Asian Fusion Restaurant
Our second meal was at the Asian Fusion restaurant. We started off with some sort of wonton appetizer.
My wife chose a suishi appetizer, that proved to be far more than she was able to eat.
I on the other hand had chosen gyoza – they were good, I think I finished them all.
For the entree, my wife had the pad thai, it was better than the suishi. I ended up having the pad thai too. It was on par with the gyoza.
Dessert was fried ice cream. We both enjoyed that.
Our third night was a Mediterranean restaurant. The first was some sort of meatball dish.
Here was the naan bread:
I had a the beef kabobs:
My wife had the lamb, which was good as well.
We each had dessert, my wife had a chocolate cake and ice cream.
I had the creme brulee, which I enjoyed.
Overall, I don’t think the food was the Westin Playa Conchal’s number one draw. It was good, but I think the other aspects and amenities were really what shone through. The food was par or slightly above par, in my opinion.
Westin Playa Conchal, Costa Rica
We were very excited to be trying out the Westin Playa Conchal, having received a huge recommendation from our friend @Saianel. Perhaps that increased my expectations, but, our arrival experience was less than stellar.
We arrived around 1:30pm, after the hour or so drive from the Liberia airport. We were nearly immediately welcomed at reception, however the overall process of checking us in took a good twenty minutes.
Part of it could have been, that we had a 3 night stay, with 3 separate confirmation numbers, I get that can be complicated. Of course, after the 20 minutes, the receptionist tells us that the room is not ready, and that housekeeping was in the room cleaning it “now.” My response was “ok, how long are we talking?” and her response was that the room would be ready at 3pm. It doesn’t take an hour to clean a room. I later found out that there were only like 4 rooms taken in the Royal Beach Club towers, which left a bad taste.
So, we did as recommended and grabbed a light lunch at the buffet. We then returned at 3pm on the dot, to find that there was only a single receptionist. There were 3 couples waiting in line, all of us ostensibly just to get our room keys. Finally, we were able to convince one of the gentlemen at the porter station to help us. This took another 20 minutes.
Let me be clear: The arrival experience leaves much to be desired.
Royal Beach Club – Pool View Room
We were very happy to have received a space available upgrade to the Royal Beach Club. This is a mini-Adults only resort within the larger resort. There’s a dedicated restaurant, pool, pool bar, and lobby/lounge.
Upon arriving, the gentleman who drove us to the tower—the hotel has shuttles, as the property is sizeable–showed us around our room, and highlighted the different features. As he opens the mini-bar, he shook his head and said that the mini-bar is usually much better provisioned. It had but a few minis. He immediately called, and folks were by to resolve things quickly.
Of course, this isn’t a big deal, but I was left wondering, what on earth took over an hour to clean, when they couldn’t even ensure that the room was properly provisioned?
Aside from that, the room was wonderfully comfortable.
The bathroom was a nice size, with a stand up shower, a soaking tub, and a private toilet.
Of note, with the Zika concerns, bug spray was included as an amenity. This was a very wise move, and we ended up needing to request more bug spray during our spray. The cost is minimal, but the perception, at least that we received, was that the hotel accepted the fact of Zika and wanted to keep their guests safe. Sends a great message!
Overall, the arrival experience needs to improve. It wasn’t just us. But, once you get past the arrival experience, things are really nice, with nice attention to detail in the rooms — aside from the mini-bar. I think the inclusion of bug spray may make my list for the greatest hotel amenities.