Monday, May 27, 2013

Kauai/Kalalau Trail May 2013 - The Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas

***This post is part 3 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***

After driving up from Lihue, I arrived at the Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas around 3:00 pm. Located on the North Shore of Kauai, Princeville is a planned community of resorts, hotels, condominiums, and single homes catering to locals and tourists alike. Although the neighborhood has a very non-paradise feel to it, its proximity to Hanalei and other North Shore attractions makes the Westin a perfect base for exploring the area.

The lobby was elegantly decorated and provided views of the resort grounds behind the main building. There was a separate check-in line for SPG members with status, which was much appreciated. I wasn't given an upgrade despite my Gold status, but it didn't matter since all the rooms were basically junior suites or better. In addition, I was offered a $10 voucher to be used at any of the resort restaurants for declining housekeeping the following day. A welcome amenity of 250 Starpoints was also provided.

The resort was very large, with seven buildings spread out among four different pools and golf courses on either side. I re-parked the car closer to my building and carried my luggage up to the second floor. Upon entering, I was pleasantly surprised at how spacious it was. Practically a small apartment, the room had features not seen in typical resorts, including a washer/dryer and kitchenette with a full-size refrigerator, mini-stove, and dishwasher. The best part was that they even provided detergent, dishwashing liquid, paper towels, and all the utensils and cookware you could ever need. This was definitely the perfect place to stay for families and groups of friends.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Kauai/Kalalau Trail May 2013 - Alaska Airlines 321/873 Economy Class (SJC-SEA-LIH)

***This post is part 2 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***

I've written extensively about Alaska Airlines on my previous trip report covering Fairbanks, so I will dispense with some of the minor details here. As I mentioned in the introduction, my direct flight from SJC-LIH was canceled a few months prior to departure. In fact, the daily non-stops have been trimmed down to four times weekly since the first of May. My itinerary was then rerouted through SEA, which added a couple of hours to the journey, but it wasn't a huge deal in the end.

Terminal B at SJC has become like a second home to me these past few months, and I still think it has a very cool and modern vibe to it. Unfortunately, I had an issue with checking in online, so I arrived at the airport before 5:15 am, hoping to get my large backpack checked in and print out my boarding pass. At $20 for the first checked bag, Alaska is still slightly cheaper than the other legacy carriers.

As luck would have it, a huge tour group literally swarmed the queue just as I was entering the terminal. What would have probably been a five minute wait turned into more than half an hour. Luckily, I got through with just enough time to spare and made my up to security, where it took no more than ten minutes to arrive airside. I walked over to Gate 27, and within a few minutes, boarding began.

Alaska Airlines 321
Boeing 737-800
San Jose (SJC) - Seattle (SEA)
Wednesday May 1, 2013
Departure: 6:30 AM (scheduled) / 6:21 AM (actual)
Arrival: 8:26 AM (scheduled) / 8:28 AM (actual)
Duration: 1h 56m (scheduled) / 2h 7m (actual)
Seat: 11D (Economy)

It was a light load on our short flight up to Seattle. There were plenty of open seats, and the spot next to me remained empty. Learning from my experience last time, I avoided row 15 because of the non-reclining seats. With a quick and efficient boarding process completed, we departed the gate almost ten minutes ahead of schedule.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Kauai/Kalalau Trail May 2013 - Introduction

***This post is part 1 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***

The Kalalau Trail along the famed Na Pali Coast on Kauai is consistently named one of the most beautiful hikes in the world, and even the most beautiful coastal hike period. Although I had already been to the island a number of times before, I knew I had to make another journey there just to see Kalalau Beach at the end of the 11-mile trail with my own eyes.

Luckily, armed with a sizable amount of Avios in my British Airways account and also some SPG points, I knew I could make this trip a lot more affordable than the typical traveler. One of the best uses for Avios are domestic short-haul flights on American Airlines or Alaska Airlines, since the British Airways award chart is now based on the distance traveled. As such, direct flights from the West Coast to Hawaii actually come at a huge discount when compared to the typical number of miles charged by legacy carriers (25,000 Avios vs. 35,000-45,000 miles).

Alaska Airlines has tons of direct flights to many of the islands from the Bay Area, and since I was booking nearly ten months in advance, I easily found round-trip award space for SJC-LIH. Taxes came out to a whopping $5, and I was even able to convince them to waive the phone fee since Alaska Airlines award flights cannot be booked on the British Airways website.

Unfortunately, one of the hassles of booking so far in advance is the likelihood of schedule changes. And about four months prior to departure, I received an email stating that the direct SJC-LIH flight had been canceled, and I was being rerouted through SEA. Even though this increased my travel time by more than two hours, I didn't really mind, as British Airways didn't charge me more Avios or taxes and fees. Luckily, the LIH-SJC return flight remained unchanged.

For lodging, I used SPG points to book two nights before the hike at the Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas on the north shore, which is relatively close to the Kalalau trailhead. For the two nights after, I booked the Sheraton Kauai Resort in Poipu on the south shore just to experience a different part of the island. Luckily, I did all of this prior to SPG's major Cash & Points devaluation and comparatively minor category changes in March 2013. The Westin moved up to Category 6, while the Sheraton stayed at Category 5.

Most frustrating of all was the inclusion of the dreaded resort and parking fees, along with taxes on the cash portion of the redemption. I'm glad to say that the Westin still doesn't charge a resort fee, but they do have a $13/night parking fee along with taxes. Sheraton charges a $31.25/night resort fee (including parking) along with taxes. Both provide in-room WiFi, thankfully.

Lastly, in order to camp at Kalalau Beach, you must have a permit purchased from the State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources website. The cost is $15 for Hawaii residents and $20 for non-residents, along with a $2 online fee. Permits for the Kalalau Trail go fast, especially during the summer high season, so be sure to purchase them far in advance. In all, total out-of-pocket cost for airfare and lodging came out to $422.82.

Kalalau Beach - May 3, 2013

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Kauai/Kalalau Trail May 2013 Trip Report

Earlier this month, I took a quick five-day trip to Kauai. The main purpose was to hike the Kalalau Trail along the famous Na Pali Coast. Kalalau has consistently been named one of the most beautiful hikes in the world, and I was very excited to finally be able to see the spectacular scenery in person after wanting to visit for so many years. Although I was slightly nervous about doing the two-day hike on my own, things turned out alright, and I met some great people along the trail. Read on for all the details:

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Northern Lights March 2013 - Alaska Airlines 182/88/328 Economy Class (FAI-ANC-SEA-SJC)

***This post is the conclusion to a full trip report. The index can be found here***

I left for the airport around 6:00 am and arrived while the sky was still pitch black. Returning the car to Alamo was a quick and easy process: simply park the car in the lot right in front of the terminal and drop off your keys inside at the rental car counter. With no baggage to check, I just had to reprint my boarding pass and head through the security screening, which was virtually empty.

Fairbanks Airport is small, but beautifully designed. Airside reminded me of a rustic ski lodge, with plenty of wood beams and hardwood floors. There were a couple of fast dining options just past security. After a brief wait at the gate, boarding commenced slightly early at 7:30 am. I could tell it would be a fairly empty flight going to Anchorage.