Tag Archives: AAdvantage

Ciao Roma!

I’m an #Avgeek to an extent. I read the frequent flyer forums like FlyerTalk.com and MilePoint.com and take advantage of the amazing deals people find on there to do most of my traveling. If not for FT or MP I wouldn’t be able to volunteer internationally, it’s as simple as that. But where I differ from other Mileage Runners out there is that I actually get out of the airport and check out the place I’ve flown into on a layover. The trip to marshal Spa 24h was a perfect example of this, where I attempted to stop over in Rome on a few hour layover. And spend a night in Chicago on the way home.

While I’m sure others would be weary of attempting a sightseeing tour of Rome after arriving at 7am and connecting to a 3pm flight, but I went for it. The Leonardo da Vinci airport is about an hour away from Rome using public transport, and at that hour of the morning rush hour traffic is guaranteed. However I got pretty lucky and made it to the city by 9am, by the time the flight arrived at the gate and I cleared customs it was 8am. The beauty of the bus ride is that it was great for sightseeing in air conditioned environment. For one, it passed right by the Colosseum (both on the way there and back along with a number of other historic sites that I know little about). But seeing that the Colosseum is in a hilly area I changed my plans of staring my tour from there and instead took the metro a few stops from Termini stations to Piazza di Spagna.

ciao roma spanish steps piazza di spagna

Took a quick shot with the famous Spanish steps, and continued in the direction of the Pantheon.

ciao roma citroen mitsubishi electric police car

Along the way spotted a cool police car, a badge engineered Citroen version of a Mitsubishi electric city car. (which always looked like a four door version of the Smart ForTwo from Mercedes-Benz… and knowing that Daimler-Benz was a stakeholder in Mitsubishi when this car was designed, I’m sure there was some collaboration).

Before I could reach the Pantheon I stumbled into a neat gelato store which offered some much needed relief for the rising temps outside, both with the air conditioner and delicious gelato. Rome went up to 36 Celcius during my visit and I was melting while running around for the three hours I spend in the city… my jeans were soaking wet.

ciao roma pantheon

After the obligatory selfie at the Pantheon I followed advice from a fellow FT’er from Germany to check out the classic salumeria in the square for a sample of their prosciutto and panini. It was delicious! I tend to compare foodie places to something I’m already familiar with, and my regular lunch place outside the office: Cosmo’s salumeria in Hackensack, NJ offers comparable experience as the authentic spot in Rome. I was very pleased discovering that.

ciao roma salumeria pantheon

While making my way towards Piazza Venezia and the Roman Forum I spotted a familiar car badge engineered to represent the home country.

ciao roma lancia thema

This Chrysler 300 was wearing a Lancia badge which calls it Thema. And the limo driver behind the wheel did a great job trying to avoid me running after it with my cell phone camera.

Eventually I made it to the Roman Forum, which was incredible.

ciao roma roman forum

These are several thousand year old ruins from the peak of Roman Empire. The sense of history is overwhelming in Rome, I highly recommend it for anyone even remotely interested in discovering things you learn in history books… experienced in real life.

The final stop on my tour was of course the Colosseum.

rome road trip

My plans did include a visit to the Vatican, but with my flight departing late from NYC and arriving slightly behind schedule after catching up some time in the air, there just wasn’t enough time to venture across the river. So I left it for next time. Rome definitely deserves another, longer visit in the future!

With buses running only twice an hour between Termini and FCO I decided to leave Rome at noon to make sure I don’t jeopardize my flight at 3pm. Of course once I arrived at the airport the sightseeing didn’t stop as I was pretty impressed with the Automotive dining options there.

ciao roma mercedes-benz cafe pizza fco

Yes, there is a Mercedes-Benz Cafe in the terminal. Conveniently it was right next to my departure gate for Brussels. And as much as I was craving the authentic thin crust pizza sold by the slice on a beautifully crafted long plate adorning the Mercedes-Benz star, I was not at all hungry and still had most of my panini and prosciutto left to finish. So I took the picture instead of buying more food.

I used my Delta Sky Miles frequent flyer program miles to book the flight to Brussels via Rome on Alitalia. On the way home I used American AAdvantage miles to fly Finnair via Helsinki. But the NYC flight was completely sold out, so I finagled a routing via Chicago and American was kind enough to throw in a freebie leg from Chicago to NY which was a day after arrival. That gave me a couple of hours in the evening and almost the whole day next day to explore Chicago downtown. Which I totally turned into a Foodie Tour while sightseeing.

chicago deep dish pizza

First stop on the itinerary was Giordano’s deep dish pizza the evening of my arrival. It was delicious. Absolutely delicious. Though at $18 quite pricey and way too big for me to finish at around 10pm at night. But it was so good.

The next morning the foodie tour continued. I made a list of about five places that I had to sample, Chicago Hot Dogs was represented by a few iconic places. There was a joint selling Chicago style fries with cheddar cheese which was not my favorite especially after being on a fry diet in Belgium for a week. But the hot dog places rocked.

chicago hot dog double

I followed the Chicago River as I visited one eating establishment after another and really enjoyed the Rivewark, Michigan Avenue and Millenium Mile. I’ve been to Chicago a few times before, but somehow I never managed to find the famous Bean until this time. It was hiding from me in plain sight:

chicago road trip

What an impressive piece of art work. And I was super glad to finally discover it for myself with the obligatory selfie to keep for my memory.

The two side trips on this Motorsport Road Trip were as exciting to me as the Spa 24h race. I love taking advantage of opportunities to see something that I would otherwise not have a chance to experience. I always tried in the past to piggyback a visit to Thailand whenever working Singapore or Malaysia events. And I’m especially looking forward to visiting the Cook Islands on my next trip to Australia and New Zealand.

Bon voyage everyone! Happy Travels…

 

The Logistics Behind Planning a Trip to Australia, New Zealand and the Cook Islands

Very excited to say that the 2016 Grand Prix Road Trip of a lifetime has been booked! This post is a follow up to the previous two posts I made on the subject while planning the trip, and it’s nice to see the evolution of the plan over a period of time. Have a look at the previous post at the start of the planning stage here: “the logistics behind planning a trip to Australia & New Zealand,” and a follow up here when I discovered it’s cheaper to fly home from the Cook Islands via New Zealand than directly from New Zealand: “booked a flight to Rarotonga, Cook Islands.”

the trip should look something like this, image from Great Circle Mapper
the trip should look something like this, image from Great Circle Mapper

The planning process went from a mock-up above to the actual route depicted below on this beautiful Great Circle Mapper image. The difference being the addition of Hawai’i stopover on the way to SYD.

dream trip to exotic pacific cook islands australia new zealand
the trip will actually look like this, image from Great Circle Mapper

For those that didn’t read the previous planning posts I’ll explain the process of selecting the routes based on the frequent flyer programs I used. Initially my plan was to burn some Virgin America frequent flyer points I had accumulated on a redemption on Virgin Australia to fly from Los Angeles to Sydney. I’ve determined that that was a poor use of those points, so instead I’ll save them for next year to fly on Singapore Airlines A380 between NYC and Frankfurt for one of the European events. Instead, I used American AAdvantage program to book the trip. My dilemma was that I had already used up 8,000 miles in rebates from booking this year’s European trips, and that 1,750 miles would be wasted as I would only get 2,000 back with the 10% rebate that AA offers for AA credit card holders (10,000 max/year). But in the grand scheme of things I’d rather waste 1,750 AA miles which I could earn back relatively quickly (use one of the many AA video promos or dining promos that give 1,000 bonus) instead of paying money on a connecting flight between NY and LA to position myself for the Virgin Australia alternative that I had dismissed earlier. The two options with AAdvantage were to fly Qantas from JFK-LAX-SYD or Hawaiian Airlines JFK-HNL-SYD. And while I was very much looking forward to another flight on Qantas on one of their soon to be retired Boeing 747’s, I chose the stopover in Honolulu instead. I’ve flown Hawaiian before on the way back from the Korean Grand Prix (ICN-HNL-LAX) and always wanted to step out of the Honolulu airport to see a little bit of the island, and now I’ll finally have that chance… I’ll spend the night in Honolulu arriving at 4pm and departing 12pm noon the next day.

kirribilli australia sydney
G’day Australia! Sydney Opera House from Kirribilli

The trip back home is just as convoluted as on the way over. I’ve blogged before that I booked a $21 USD flight from Auckland to Rarotonga and that was done for positioning purposes. You see, to fly from Auckland to New York requires 40,000 Mileage Plus miles to fly Air New Zealand, a United partner in the Star Alliance. Whereas it only takes 35,000 miles to do the same trip from Rarotonga to NYC. So it seems like a no-brainer, Kia Orana Rarotonga! The caveat is to fly home from the Cook Islands you actually fly via New Zealand, and a further caveat it is possible to spend the entire day in Auckland before heading home (with a 5am arrival and a 10:45pm departure). So I was absolutely sold on that deal. But since I didn’t have enough Mileage Plus miles in my own account, I asked mom for help. Signed her up for a new United credit card, spent very little time charging all the house renovation expenses on her card, and in a month I had the mileage at my disposal with enough miles left over in her account to book a round trip flight within the US. Great deal all around.

I have yet to book a flight between Australia and New Zealand mainly because the flights are quite pricey right now ($300+ with AirNZ direct or $149+ with AirNZ through a third party like Expedia). I will wait closer to the travel dates to book that leg of the trip hoping to use the remainder of my soon to expire AirNZ Airpoints. Luckily they’re spoiled for choice with connecting flights between the two countries, so if SYD-AKL doesn’t work out I can do SYD-WLG, MEL-AKL, MEL-WLG, etc.

auckland skyline new zealand nz
Kia Ora Aotearoa! Auckland Skyline from Westhaven Marina

So, compared to the previous trips I took to Oceania/Pacific with my numerous flights to Australia and New Zealand, I think this will be by far the most exotic one I’ve ever done. I’ve read great things about the Cook Islands and look forward to that being the highlight of my trip. But I’m also very excited to see my Aussie and Kiwi friends on their turf. Bathurst 12h is going to be an amazing event. Unfortunately I won’t get a chance to do the NZ V8 Supertourers (or just V8 Touring Cars since competing NZ V8 Supertourers and NZV8’s series merged), but I’m sure there will be a club event I could attend at Pukekohe or Hampton Downs while on the North Islands.

It’s going to be awesome!

For anyone needing help planning their next trip using a combination of frequent flyer miles and other cheap flights, please get in touch… I love a challenge.

 

Some stats on this trip, total mileage flown: 24,098 miles according to the Great Circle Mapper.  Honolulu is almost exactly half way from New York to Sydney, JFK-HNL 4,983 miles vs. HNL-SYD 5,066 miles. I will depart Auckland at 10am on a Monday morning and arrive the Cook Islands at 4pm Sunday afternoon, the day before! (giving me an extra day to spend on the island). Caveat: I will celebrate two Valentine’s Days one in Auckland and one in Rarotonga…

Frequent Flyer Miles

There isn’t a dollar that I spend that doesn’t earn me some frequent flyer miles. What’s my obsession with airline miles/points? It is my means of transportation to events far and wide to volunteer. Most people I tell have a hard time believing the fact that the last time I paid for a flight to Australia was the very first time I flew there on a working holiday. I don’t think I have ever paid outright for a flight to Asia, and over the past few years I’ve been to Singapore a number of times, typically in the luxury of the Singapore Airlines A380 to boot.

How is that possible?

Doesn’t it usually take thousands of miles to fly? And for an infrequent flyer it takes forever to earn those miles while paying for flights. Sure it does. But you don’t need to fly to earn miles. I’ve been a FlyerTalk.com and MilePoint.com evangelist for ages but most people I preach this information to simply don’t believe me. Let me say it again, you don’t need to fly to earn miles, especially if you live in the US. I take advantage of just about any promotion out there to earn miles. No matter how many miles I earn, it will all be useful at some point in time. No amount is too small or too big.

Currently, and probably for a very limited time, there is a generous promotion from American Airlines and Cadillac celebrating their partnership in offering service, giving you 7,500 FREE AAdvantage miles just for test driving a Cadillac of your choice. There are three Cadillac dealerships within 10 minute drive from my home, so you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll head over to one in a jiffy!

aa caddy

Here’s the link: http://www.aa.com/i18n/urls/aad-cadillac-offer.jsp

Such offers are rare though. But you must keep a look out and take advantage of opportunities as they come up. Obviously, you must not wait for a killer offer to come around because they are very unpredictable. You may however participate in various promotions on things you buy and do everyday to earn miles. One such example is Dining. In the past few months I’ve accumulated nearly 20,000 miles from several dining programs by taking advantage of their promotions. This included spending some money, but like I said it is for stuff that I buy anyway, so why not get some extra miles while doing it. I am of course speaking of the AAdvantage Dining promotion of 10,000 for 10 dines at $40+ apiece. Not the cheapest thing out there, but considering you earn miles for the money you spend on food anyway, between 3 and 5 miles per $1, you actually earn enough miles from the promotion to fly one-way anywhere in the continental US that American or USAir flies. That’s a ridiculously good deal. I’ve also used a similar promo to get United Airlines miles and am currently working on getting 7,500 Delta miles.

Remember you can double and triple dip on the mileage you earn. For example, I often book a car rental using a promo code from an airline or AAA to get a discount. Pay for the car with my Delta or American Airlines credit card to earn their miles, and credit the mileage earned for the car rental itself to a third airline, like Southwest for example which has one of the more generous earning capabilities with the car rentals. Considering that you can use a significantly smaller number of Rapid Rewards points to redeem free flights on Southwest, it makes perfect sense to do this. Using airline shopping portals is a great avenue of earning more miles for things you buy anyway. Recently I got more miles for purchases at auto-parts stores to do some maintenance on my personal vehicles, for buying parts than I earned for actually flying a short hop on that airline. It is amazingly generous.

The most generous airline frequent flyer miles/points earning potential is signing up for the airline credit card. This is mostly available for people living in the US. And many factors dictate if you qualify like your credit score. But when you can, definitely go for the generous sign up bonuses. It could mean the difference between paying $1,000+ for a flight to Singapore and flying for $60 (where you only pay a portion of the tax by redeeming miles).

Do it, do it… do it!  And if you need help, get in touch, I’m happy to share information about what I’ve learned so far…. Good luck!

Top photo credit: American Airlines – AA.com