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 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.
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.
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.
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…
The crazy day trip to San Francisco turned out to be a great success and a much needed distraction in my life right now.
Was it worth the cheap price and all the effort? Absolutely! Let me tell you how it all went, and why I’d highly recommend doing something like this every once in a while in anyone’s own busy lives.
I could not sleep at all the night before the early morning flight. But thankfully the flight was long enough (6 hours) that I managed to take a bunch of naps in the process. The weather in San Francisco was perfect. Sunny, warm and much better than the freezing cold in the Northeast. I met up with a fellow CouchSurfer visiting from Japan, and we embarked on a foodie experience of the city. The first day though we kind of failed at public transport waiting ridiculously long for an F-car along Market Street to take us to Fisherman’s Wharf so we resorted to walking. And the one trip up hill on the way back towards Chinatown kicked my ass. Later we discovered it was possible to walk around the hill by following the main street diagonally away from the Pier 39 area, but the workout was great even though it was tiring. Especially since the views from the steep steps leading uphill were stunning and we saw a beautiful hummingbird along the way, pretty close.
The next morning we decided to take full advantage of the $17 day pass for the Cable Cars, by far my favorite activity in SF. To our surprise though Obama was in town so they were only running the until 2pm which made us hustle a little. In reality though the California Street Cable Car stopped running closer to 11am, and the Hyde Street line stopped running even sooner because the cable went down. So instead we used other public transport to first visit the Cable Car museum, Chinatown, then head over to Ghirrardeli’s, then to Japantown and finally to Mission for some amazing Mexican food. While in Chinatown we tried my favorite Hong Kong Hot Pot, then bubble tea and I also took advantage of the opportunity to buy my nephew a cool traditional Chinese costume just in time for Chinese New Year. For the price I paid it was well worth it, cheaper than a onesie or a t-shirt I’ve bought in other parts of this country (Savannah for example). After Mission and a little walk around there that found us at a farmer’s market with a live performance by a young musician that sounded really good, we headed back to Ghirrardeli’s via the Hyde Street Cable Car that was surprisingly running, for some hot chocolate. Then back to Fisherman’s Wharf for delicious crabmeat and at that point I started worrying about making my flight. So another F-car ride down the Embarcadero we headed back towards the BART system.
The flight back to the East Coast was also uneventful. Sleeping was easier on the red-eye but instead of heading home to NYC I actually went via Fort Lauderdale. Though that visit was far less exciting than California even though I genuinely like South Florida much more. Ft. Lauderdale in the morning was freezing cold. I took public transport to Las Olas Blvd for some breakfast, but few places were open. The Floridian which seemed to be buzzing didn’t really have good customer service, or at least I could not find a table near an outlet to charge my phone and the staff was a bit rude about helping me with my request, so I walked out. A few blocks later I found an awesome cafeteria that made an exception to the rule (while serving breakfast) and made me a Cubano sandwich to go. Another short bus back to the airport and a quick trip through security saw me eating my sandwich at the gate just before take off.
Back in New York I once again hopped on the Subway to Long Island City to pick up my Jeep at the transmission shop. They called to tell me it was ready while in San Francisco and in typical New York style tried to explain it was going to cost more because of a bunch of parts they had to replace. $1650 bux lighter on the pocket I decided to hit Chinatown in New York as it was close to 5pm rush hour and I figured I’d be sitting in traffic heading back to New Jersey anyway. Before going to Pell Street to my favorite soup dumpling place I made a quick visit to a canolli shop on Mulberry Street in Little Italy, another one of my favorites. And at that moment I realized that I take NYC for granted living in NJ. The only time I get to visit is when I fly to places like San Francisco on a day trip. So my Chinese New Year resolution is to visit NYC more often! Waiting out traffic in the city didn’t really work, I was still stuck for over an hour trying to get to the tunnel, changed my mind and went for the bridge, and was stuck in gridlock again. When I got home I discovered my credit card was being used at a bunch of locations in Houston while I was in SF. So my journey ended by me cancelling my credit card. It’s amazing to see how nonchalant the credit card companies are towards fraud in this day and age, I should be considered lucky I guess, as my charges at Popeyes and Wendy’s in downtown Houston were minimal compared to what they could have been.
Anyway, the trip was great! As I said before, a much needed distraction to the problems of everyday life. Cold winter weather, hospital visits, broken cars, and other everyday bullshit. I wish I could travel more in the future… it’s one of my favorite hobbies.
Spending a week in Detroit with a sick car and no particular place to go sightseeing as I’ve pretty much done it already on my last two visits here in the past two months I had plenty of time to research my options for the trip to the Red Bull Indianapolis GP / Moto GP at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a few weeks. I’m happy to say I’ll be flying. I’m also quite happy I found a nice deal on American Airlines though not directly to IND – Indianapolis International Airport, still cheaper than flying there direct. Some may find it crazy but with the savings on different route options out there I’ll instead fly to DTW – Detroit Wayne County International. Rent a car, and drive 4 hours down to Indy. I’ve done the drive before, spent about $60 on fuel round trip, so it should work out in the end. Car rentals in Detroit have been reasonable of late, in fact I paid something along the lines of $17 a day during my last visit here in May for the Detroit Belle Isle GP. Granted checking it today the cheapest rental is $42 a day but I’ll keep checking and searching for discounts. No matter what the car I’ll have won’t have a coolant leaking problem like my personal car does at the moment which was driving me crazy all the way on my last road trip there.
A few more trips left to book for the future include NYC-ATL for Petit LeMans in October which would also involve a rental car, and NYC-AUS for United States F1 GP in November.
Some other flights I have booked already, though using frequent flyer miles, include the NYC-SIN trip on Singapore Airlines A380 for the Singapore F1 GP. Which are actually JFK-FRA-SIN-KUL a positioning flight after a 10 hour layover in Singapore to drop off my luggage. Before proceeding to Kuala Lumpur where I have several flights booked to celebrate my 30th birthday in Thailand while I am back to Southeast Asia. I will be flying KUL-HKT-BKK-SIN, with two days spent in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, two days in Phuket, Thailand and two days in Bangkok, Thailand before returning to Singapore for the Formula 1 race. On the way home I’ll return to Kuala Lumpur for the night on a cheap Air Asia freebie flight where I only paid tax and fuel surcharge (gotta love those quick SIN-KUL flights) then connect to JAL – Japan Air Lines flight KUL-NRT-JFK with another stop over in Tokyo Narita airport (to pick up some more cool Japanese gifts for my folks at home).
Looking forward to some more flying again. I really miss New Zealand and Asia where I was flying at least once every week, sometimes more. (One crazy week this March I spend flying every day on various day trips, with two flights per day from Auckland and back, that was nuts!)