Tuesday, October 14, 2014

10 Absolutely Insane Ways To Blow One Million Starpoints

Are these absolutely insane ways to blow one million Starwood Preferred Guest points? You bet. But oh what I wouldn't give to have the opportunity ;)

W Maldives Retreat & Spa

What would you do if you had a million Starwood Preferred Guest points to blow?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Australia September 2013 - Qantas Airways 1940 Economy Class (AYQ → ASP)

***This post is part 19 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***

Originally, I had planned on flying directly from Ayers Rock to Perth, bypassing Alice Springs completely. However, in late 2012, Qantas cancelled their non-stop AYQ-PER service, and I was forced to detour through ASP. Complicating matters more, the flight schedules made it impossible not to overnight in Alice Springs. While this wasn't an ideal itinerary, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to see an isolated part of Australia I'd otherwise have skipped.

It was a hectic morning driving all the way out to Kata-Tjuta for the sunrise and back, but I actually made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare. I returned my Hertz rental inside the terminal and paid for the additional kilometers driven. While I expected this to be a pricey rental given the remote tourist destination, I was still a bit astounded to pay over $120 USD for a 24-hour economy car rental. To say Ayers Rock is an expensive place to visit is a gross understatement.

Ayers Rock Airport check-in area

A short lined had already formed for the QantasLink check-in counters, but the wait was quick enough. After my large backpack was tagged to Alice Springs, the agent printed out my boarding pass and directed me to the security checkpoint towards the left of the counters.

QantasLink counters

Security was an effortless affair, as it always is in these tiny, far-flung locations around the world, and I was airside within minutes. There wasn't much to see or do in the two-room departures hall, and I swiftly exhausted the few options I had, including perusing the surprisingly extensive gift shop and checking out the only dining option at the airport.

Departure gates and gift shop

Quick service dining option

Gate 1

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Flying The City-To-City Business Routes Of East Asia

Anyone who has lived in East Asia or traveled there for work knows of the city-to-city business routes between the major metropolitan areas of Shanghai, Taipei, Tokyo, and Seoul. For those planning a visit for the first time, however, it is worth emphasizing just how much more convenient these secondary airports are when compared to their more famous counterparts.

City-to-city business routes in East Asia

City airports almost always started off as the main international gateways to the urban centers they serve. In Asia, these smaller airports were often old military airfields converted into civilian use after World War II. As the economic boom of the 1960s through the 1990s fueled unprecedented growth in the region, major East Asian cities began constructing larger, more modern international airports capable of handling the massive increase in passenger traffic.

Trouble was, space came at a premium closer to town, so most new airports were built on plentiful land far outside of the urban areas, where future expansion was also possible. In a strange twist of fate, however, as business connections grew over time between these interdependent economies, more and more commuters found the newer airports to be far too inconvenient.

Time is money, of course, and if an executive needs to fly from Seoul to Taipei for a half day meeting, the last thing she needs is to spend an hour or more in traffic each way commuting from the airport to the downtown office. If that same executive flew from and to the city airports of Gimpo and Songshan, however, a potential two hours or more could be shaved off the travel time.

In the table below, I have compiled a comparison of the distances between each airport and the corresponding city centers. I've also included approximate driving times as calculated by Google Maps, assuming there is no traffic. Note that many of these airports also have metro connections, which can be faster than driving, depending on the time of day.

Distance and driving time comparisons

The distance and time savings can be considerable. Consider Taipei Songshan, for example. The airport is actually located within downtown Taipei, and reaching central destinations takes only a matter of minutes. Similarly, Tokyo Haneda is infinitely more convenient for those heading into downtown Tokyo compared to Narita, which is located more than 35 miles outside of the city.

While these routes make life a lot easier for business travelers, they can also help the casual visitor heading to East Asia for vacation. Of course, if you plan on solely transiting through one of these major cities, it makes sense to use the same airport (anyone rushing between Tokyo Narita and Haneda can attest to just how painful it can be). However, if you plan on actually stopping over in two or more of these destinations, consider searching for the city-to-city routes when planning your itinerary. It could potentially save you several hours of travel time and a bit of money.

Award availability is quite plentiful on these routes, as fewer travelers worldwide know about them. Out of all the possible routings between these four cities, the busiest by far continues to be between Tokyo Haneda and Seoul Gimpo. A quick search on the United website revealed six daily non-stop flights operated by ANA and Asiana, with tons of seats available in both economy and business:

HND → GMP award availability

Oddly enough, United no longer recognizes Taipei Songshan Airport (TSA) in its search tool, so I headed over to the ANA website instead and investigated award availability further. A search for the Taipei Songshan to Seoul Gimpo, Shanghai Hongqiao to Taipei Songshan, and Shanghai Hongqiao to Tokyo Haneda routes revealed decent availability in both economy and business:

TSA → GMP award availability

SHA → TSA award availability

SHA → HND award availability

Over on the Oneworld side, a search using the British Airways website revealed decent award availability (at least in economy) on Japan Airlines between Tokyo Haneda and Taipei Songshan. Don't forget that using distance-based Avios on short flights such as these can be a great value. Be aware that British Airways does collect mild fuel surcharges for Japan Airlines award tickets.

HND → TSA award availability

There are many SkyTeam airlines that fly the city-to-city routes as well, including China Southern, China Eastern, China Airlines, and Korean Air. It can be difficult to search for SkyTeam awards, however, and your best free option is probably the Air France Flying Blue website, although I have found the award search tool to be clunky and quite buggy. Alternatively, the subscription service ExpertFlyer displays award availability for all of the airlines listed above. If all else fails, those who are curiously masochistic still have the option of calling Delta SkyMiles.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Testing The New Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner's Limit

Captain Randall Neville, chief model pilot for the 787 program, along with Captain Mike Bryan, chief pilot for the 787-9 variant, pushed the limits of the new aircraft on Monday at the Farnborough International Airshow outside of London. Watch as the Boeing 787-9 completes some spectacular maneuvers during a six and a half minute demonstration flight:

While definitely not as insane as the barrel roll test pilot Tex Johnson pulled off in a Boeing 707 prototype way back in 1955, I think most people would probably be losing their lunch after that incredibly steep takeoff. The aircraft was pitched just shy of 30 degrees, although it looks a lot steeper from certain angles. In addition to the remarkable takeoff, the pilots also conducted a 60-degree banked turn, a very fast side-to-side roll, and a beautiful touch and go takeoff, banking sharply to the right in the process.

Just last week, Boeing delivered the very first 787-9 to launch customer Air New Zealand. This plane is a stretched version of the original 787-8, with an extra 20 feet in length. It is capable of carrying 280 passengers (40 more than the 787-8) while extending the range by an extra 300 miles. And just in case you have any doubt regarding the authenticity of the above video, here is the same flight in full from a different view:

Monday, July 14, 2014

Metropolitan Area Airport Codes

Large metropolitan areas around the world often have unique codes designated by the IATA to include multiple airports serving the same region. Depending on the booking engine, this can make searching for cheap airfares a much simpler task, especially if travelers are somewhat flexible with their departure and arrival airports. Searching across several airports for award availability can also greatly increase the probability of finding open seats.

While metropolitan area codes often simplify the search process, one frustration is the lack of uniformity and consistency across different booking engines. For example, QSF is recognized in Expedia and Travelocity (Sabre) to represent all three San Francisco Bay Area airports (SFO, OAK, and SJC), but it is alternately recognized as Sétif International Airport in Algeria by Priceline and Orbitz (ITA).

Different OTAs gather their flight database information from a variety of sources, and they can further customize search parameters to suit their own needs. To make the process easier, and to return as many relevant itineraries as possible, many sites now automatically include nearby airports, along with the option for users to filter their results afterwards (e.g. Kayak). I have found that virtually all booking engines now incorporate the largest and most commonly searched-for metropolitan areas, such as London (LON), Tokyo (TYO), New York City (NYC), and Washington D.C. (WAS).

When searching for itineraries with multiple connections, be careful to note if the inbound and outbound flights are using the same airports. If not, costly and time-consuming ground transportation may be required. Also, travelers may need to retrieve non-interlined checked baggage and obtain travel visas in order to enter foreign countries.

I was surprised to see a very long list of metropolitan area airport codes included in the Wikivoyage page, which may come in handy for more obscure searches. Some codes, such as Istanbul (IST), Bangkok (BKK), Kuala Lumpur (KUL), and Shanghai (SHA) appear to be identical to specific airports in the region. In these cases, it depends on the individual booking engine whether results correspond to the entire metropolitan area or only to one specific airport. I have tested all of the codes below and included additional notes where they apply:

  • Bangkok, Thailand - BKK
    • Suvarnabhumi Airport - BKK
    • Don Mueang International Airport - DMK
  • Beijing, People's Republic of China - BJS
    • Beijing Capital International Airport - PEK
    • Nanyuan Airport - NAY
  • Jakarta, Indonesia - JKT
    • Soekarno - Hatta International Airport - CGK
    • Halim Perdanakusuma Airport - HLP
  • Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - KUL
    • Kuala Lumpur International Airport - KUL
    • Subang Airport - SZB
  • Nagoya, Japan - NGO
    • Chubu Centrair International Airport - NGO
    • Komaki Airport - NKM
  • Osaka, Japan - OSA
    • Kansai International Airport - KIX
    • Osaka - Itami Airport - ITM
  • Sapporo, Japan - SPK
    • New Chitose Airport - CTS
    • Sapporo Okadama Airport - OKD
  • Seoul, South Korea - SEL
    • Incheon International Airport - ICN
    • Gimpo International Airport - GMP
  • Shanghai, People's Republic of China - SHA
    • Shanghai Pudong International Airport - PVG
    • Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport - SHA
  • Taipei, Republic of China (Taiwan) - TPE
    • Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport - TPE
    • Taipei Songshan Airport - TSA
  • Tokyo, Japan - TYO
    • Tokyo Narita International Airport - NRT
    • Tokyo Haneda International Airport - HND
  • Tehran, Iran - THR
    • Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport - IKA
    • Mehrabad International Airport - THR
  • Berlin, Germany - BER
    • Berlin Brandenburg Airport - BER (Opening 2016)
    • Berlin Tegel Airport - TXL
    • Berlin Schönefeld Airport - SXF
  • Bucharest, Romania - BUH
    • Bucharest Otopeni International Airport - OTP
    • Bucharest Băneasa Airport - BBU
  • Istanbul, Turkey - IST
    • Istanbul Atatürk Airport - IST
    • Sabiha Gökçen International Airport - SAW
  • London, United Kingdom - LON
    • London City Airport - LCY
    • London Gatwick Airport - LGW
    • London Heathrow Airport - LHR
    • London Luton Airport - LTN
    • London Southend Airport - SEN
    • London Stansted Airport - STN
  • Milan, Italy - MIL
    • Milan Malpensa Airport - MXP
    • Linate Airport - LIN
  • Moscow, South Korea - MOW
    • Sheremetyevo International Airport - SVO
    • Domodedovo International Airport - DME
    • Vnukovo International Airport - VKO
  • Oslo, Norway - OSL
    • Oslo Airport Gardermoen - OSL
    • Sandefjord Airport Torp - TRF
    • Moss Airport Rygge - RYG
  • Paris, France - PAR
    • Charles de Gaulle Airport - CDG
    • Paris Orly Airport - ORY
    • Le Bourget Airport - LBG
  • Rome, Italy - ROM
    • Leonardo da Vinci International - Fiumicino Airport - FCO
    • Ciampino - G. B. Pastine International Airport - CIA
  • Stockholm, Sweden - STO
    • Stockholm Arlanda Airport - ARN
    • Stockholm Skavsta Airport - NYO
    • Stockholm Bromma Airport - BMA
  • Tenerife, Spain - TCI
    • Tenerife North Airport - TFN
    • Tenerife South Airport - TFS
  • Warsaw, Poland - WRW (Not recognized by booking engines)
    • Warsaw Chopin Airport - WAW
    • Warsaw - Modlin Mazovia Airport - WMI
North America
  • Chicago, United States - CHI
    • Chicago O'Hare International Airport - ORD
    • Chicago Midway International Airport - MDW
  • Dallas, United States - QDF (Not recognized by booking engines)
    • Dallas Love Field - DAL
    • Dallas / Fort Worth International Airport - DFW
  • Detroit, United States - DTT
    • Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport - DTW
    • Coleman A. Young International Airport - DET
    • Willow Run Airport - YIP
  • Houston, United States - QHO (Not recognized by booking engines)
    • George Bush Intercontinental Airport  - IAH
    • William P. Hobby Airport - HOU
  • Los Angeles, United States - QLA (Sabre, Expedia, Travelocity)
    • Los Angeles International Airport - LAX
    • Ontario International Airport - ONT
    • John Wayne Airport - SNA
    • Bob Hope Airport - BUR
  • Miami, United States - QMI (Not recognized by booking engines)
    • Miami International Airport - MIA
    • Fort Lauderdale - Hollywood International Airport - FLL
    • Palm Beach International Airport - PBI
  • New York City, United States - NYC
    • John F. Kennedy International Airport - JFK
    • Newark Liberty International Airport - EWR
    • La Guardia Airport - LGA
    • Westchester County Airport - HPN
  • San Francisco, United States - QSF (Sabre, Expedia, Travelocity)
    • San Francisco International Airport  - SFO
    • Oakland International Airport - OAK
    • Norman Y. Mineta San José International Airport - SJC
  • Toronto, Canada - YTO
    • Lester B. Pearson International Airport - YYZ
    • Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport - YTZ
  • Washington D.C., United States - WAS
    • Washington Dulles International Airport - IAD
    • Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport - DCA
    • Baltimore / Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport - BWI
South America
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina - BUE
    • Ministro Pistarini (Ezeiza) International Airport - EZE
    • Aeroparque Jorge Newbery - AEP
  • Rio de Janerio, Brazil - RIO
    • Antônio Carlos Jobim (Galeão) International Airport - GIG
    • Santos Dumont Airport - SDU
  • São Paulo, Brazil - SAO
    • São Paulo / Guarulhos International Airport - GRU
    • São Paulo / Congonhas Airport - CGH