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I have flown thru Frankfurt airport (FRA) tens of times. Living in the DC area, it is one of the best connected cities in Europe with 4 flights every day – 2 each by United and Lufthansa. (London’s Heathrow (LHR) has the best connectivity with 7 flights per day, thru three airlines – United, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic). Given it is a Star Alliance airlines’ hub (Lufthansa), Frankfurt is my 1st choice to transit thru to destinations in Europe and India. Every time I do get to Frankfurt, I use one of Lufthansa’s many lounges. This time however, as I walking to the Lufthansa lounge closest to my gate, I happened to notice the Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge. Just for a change, I stepped in. I was glad I did.

First, it was not crowded at all. This was peak time in the early morning and the Lufthansa lounges are typically full to the brim. The Maple Lounge, not so much. The lounge had a vast selection of food. Having slept thru breakfast service on my incoming flight, I made my way to the food real fast.

The lounge was beautiful, with a ultra-modern decor that I loved.

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More importantly, it was spacious, comfortable, with a relaxed atmosphere and had good food and beverages. I am sure I will be stopping bye again on future flights that happen to leave from near the lounge.

Location: Frankfurt Airport, Terminal 1, Departure Area B.

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Other Airline Lounge reviews:

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Posted by unroadwarrior | 5 Comments

One of my favorite cards that I started using last year is the Barclaycard Arrivalô World MasterCard®. It earns 2x points on ALL purchases – travel related or otherwise. Most there cards give 2x only on travel related purchases or on their own websites/portals. There is also an ongoing promotion to earn 40,000 points after spending $3,000 within 90 days of getting the card. That is certainly a good kick-start!

Redeeming Points

I recently made my first redemption of Braclaycard points. It was straightforward as it could get. I redeemed points to my for travel expense I had already made. There are other options too, that I shall discuss later.

For redeeming points for travel expenses already made, you need to pick the option that says ‘Pay yourself back for travel’.

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When you go into this option, it takes you to a page that lists all the recent travel related expenses made on your Barclaycard card. All you have to do is select the expense you want to pay for with points and then follow the next steps to redeem. Barclaycard is currently giving 10% of any points you redeem back, for all travel expenses you redeem points for. That makes the redemptions even more attractive. The rate of redemption is a $1 for every 100 points redeemed, or at $0.01/point. This is not an excellent rate, which would be $0.015 or better, but is the best rate to get for such redemptions.

Another redemption option is for straight cash back. You get the cash back as a statement credit.

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The redemption rate for this is horrible. You get $0.5 for every 100 points redeemed or a rate of $0.005. I would never pick this option, unless I am really strapped for cash and needed to pay my credit card bill. Or at the end, when I am closing my card and have no travel related expenses to redeem some left over points on. Remember, you don’t get a check in the mail by picking this option. You get a statement credit on your card.

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Last set of options are for Gift cards and merchandise.

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Again, not good rates for these at all. The only benefit of these options, especially the gift card option is that you can redeem points for gifts. These include travel related gift cards. I can hence help pay for someone else’s travel, without charging my card. The options are not great, but a good selection.

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While Barclay Arrival card options for redemption are excellent, I would love to see one added – being able to redeem points for airline tickets directly. Just like I can do with SPG points. But the 2x earning on every kind of expense more than makes up for this limitation.

Apply Here:Barclaycard Arrivalô World MasterCard® – Earn 2x on All Purchases

 

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Posted by unroadwarrior | One Comment

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United has a massive lounge in Tokyo’s Narita airport. I had been to Tokyo on a couple of occasions before, but I was just passing thru and ended up using the ANA lounges, as I was flying ANA. On my last trip, I was returning to the US from Tokyo and was flying United. It was a late evening flight – actually the last flight United has out of Tokyo – to San Francisco (SFO). As I reached the lounge pretty early, I had several hours to kill, enjoy the lounge and explore.

The first thing I noticed was the size of the lounge. It is fairly large. United has a big presence in Tokyo – with multiple flights daily to all the US hubs and also to Singapore (SIN), Hong Kong (HKG) and Seoul (ICN). Until recently, there was also a daily flight to Bangkok (BKK).

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The second thing I noticed was the showers (see pictures). I had never had a shower in a lounge before and as I had time to kill and had a long flight ahead (after a long day at work), I decided to use the showers. They were spacious, clean and did not have a clock counting down the time I had, like they do on flights with showers. (Not showered on a flight till date either – thats next on my list, Emirates).  

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The lounge itself had traditional Japanese decorations all over the lounge. Pictures are attached. The food and drink selections were good, though not what I had experienced in the ANA lounges on my previous Tokyo trips. I was expecting a more filling selections. What they had were really snacks. Drinks included a good selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic options, and of course, being Japan – a good selection of teas.

And there was an excellent view of flight operations. A United a 747 was parked right outside with its nose almost in the lounge. There was also an ANA 787 parked a couple of gates over.

The United gate with my flight was an unexpectedly long way off. I was expecting all the United gates to be near by. If you are using the lounge, be sure to check and budget enough time to get to your gate.IMG_2028.jpg

Rating: 4 out of 5. Certainly one of the better United lounges.IMG_2025.jpg IMG_2029.jpg

Posted by unroadwarrior | No Comments

A new king has been crowned! The Longest flight in the world is now Sydney (SYD) – Dallas (DFW) by Qantas – flight QF7.

The previous ‘King’ was Singapore Airlines’ Singapore (SIN) – Newark (EWR) flight – flight SQ22. Singapore Airlines ended this flight last week – November 23rd, 2013, ending an era and extra-long haul flights. SQ 22 came in at 9,534 miles. QF 7, in contrast, comes in at a mere 8,578 miles. Singapore Airlines had flown this route with a Airbus A340-500 in an all business class configuration. Unfortunately, it was not profitable for them and they ended this route. This also ended all non-stop Singapore – USA flights. Singapore Airline used to fly two non-stop routes. Other than SIN-EWR, it also operates Singapore (SIN) – Los Angeles (LAX), using an A340-500 too. That route was terminated earlier this month too. Singapore Airlines had operated both these routes since 2004.Singapore-Airlines.jpg

Singapore – Los Angeles 03FEB04 – 20OCT13 (1 daily. SQ reduced service to 5 weekly from 01MAR09 to 30SEP10 and from 01MAY11 onwards)
Singapore – Newark 28JUN04 – 23NOV13 (Initially operates 1 daily. SQ reduced service to 5 weekly from 02APR09 to 18JAN10, 6 weekly from 01APR13 onwards)

(Courtesy: AirlineRoute.net)

I personally never had the opportunity to fly this route. The longest flight I have ever taken is Chicago (ORD) – Hong Kong (HKG) on United, which is 7,794 miles long. That route is also operated by Cathay Pacific.

Had you flown SQ23? How about QF7? What has been your longest flight? Leave a comment.

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Posted by unroadwarrior | 6 Comments

This was my first time in Japan. I got to spend three days in Tokyo. I stayed the first night in the Royal Park Hotel in Nihonbashi. The next two nights were at the Tokyo Hilton in Shinjuku (awesome!), which I shall review in a later post.IMG_1994   

Location

The Royal Park is a very nice hotel. It is conveniently located right next to the Tokyo City Air Terminal (TCAT). It is actually attached to the TCAT via a over street walkway. So, getting to it from Narita or Haneda is very convenient. I took the Airport Limousine from Narita. It was a long 50 minute ride. However, once I got there, the hotel was easy to walk over to.

Rooms

They did not have the room with a king size bed as I had requested. So, they upgraded me to a ‘large’ room with a twin bed. The large room was not that large… (See attached pictures), but was a corner room with a decent view and a corner sitting area. The bathroom was really tiny. So was the TV and room safe. In fact, the safe was so small that my 13” MacBook Air would not fit in it. That is small! The bathroom was small but had the typical automated potty one sees in Japan.

There was an option to pay a fee and get an ‘executive package’. That gets an upgrade to a room on the executive floor, free breakfast and access to the executive lounge. As I was staying just for one night, I declined that, so I cannot comment on its value.

One thing I personally did not like was the lack of an iron and ironing board in the room. I had to call room service to have it delivered. This to me is just a waste of time, if like me you like to be well dressed for every meeting. When I did ask for an iron, it was delivered fairly quickly. What I got however was a nice iron, but with a tiny ironing board. The type one has to seat on a table, as it has short legs.

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Dining

There are several restaurants in the hotel – that cost an arm and a leg – 700 Yen for coffee!! But the TCAT and the streets around have tons of restaurants for multiple cuisines, at decent prices.

There is also a beautiful restaurant on the top floor, with a view that was awesome. You could see the Tokyo lights from large windows. It was however closed when I went up for food, as it was Sunday and they closed early.

Lobby

The lobby was large and spacious, with multiple restaurants and a open floor lounge. The main central area of the lobby was multi-story high, with a massive chandler on the top (pictured, from the 3rd floor).

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Train/Subway

Other than the TCAT located next door, the hotel has a subway station right below, that can be accessed from the basement of the hotel. So, from an accessibility point of view, it cannot be beat.

Conclusion

The hotel is nice, but is dated. It feels like something from yesteryears that decided not to come in to the 21st century. The decor is old, however not worn out. The TV is flat screen, but tiny. The service is good, but not outstanding. The people are polite, but not the type who would go out of the way to assist you. The Tokyo Hilton where I stayed for the next two nights was much better.

Have you stayed at the Royal Park hotel before? Share your views. What hotel do you like to stay in, when in Tokyo?

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Posted by unroadwarrior | 2 Comments

I am not asking what the Global Entry program does – it is outright awesome – I am asking what the physical Global Entry card does. Do I even need to carry it around? Under what circumstances does it serve a purpose?logo-ge

For those of you not familiar with it, the Global Entry program allows travelers returning from overseas trips, to the US to bypass going thru the regular immigration and customs lines and pass thru by just accessing a kiosk. Special lanes for Immigration and Customs. No papers to fill out – at all. No agent to see. No waiting. It is awesome. All for a fee of $100 for 5 years. Also, you get TSA-pre on all domestic flights!

My question – when I applied for and got accepted, I got a physical card in the mail. I expected that it will be what I would use to access the kiosk, but it is not. At the kiosk, is used by sliding in your passport, not the card. So, there is no use I have found for the card. I have never been asked to use or show it. Is there a use?

Posted by unroadwarrior | 21 Comments

I ran across this very interesting article by Jason Paur of Wired, on the history and current state of supersonic air travel. It gives a good history lesson on high speed air travel. Typical commercial jet planes travel at a speed of 550 miles per hour (mph). This despite jet travel being capable of supersonic (faster than sound – 768 mph) since 1941! Other than the the Concorde, no commercial jet airplane has been brought into service that provides supersonic transport. With the decommissioning of the Concorde there is no commercial mode of air transport available that can go faster than 550 mph.

 

The Concorde

The Concorde

The reason, according to Jason, is that we are too cheap. We refuse to pay for faster air travel and in fact want to pay even less than we do. Faster air travel will cost more due to the extensively higher amount of fuel that would be needed to fly the same distances faster. Today’s jet engines are fine tunes for fuel efficiency at their cruising speed. The Boeing 787, which is the most efficient aircraft in commercial service focussed on making the aircraft lighter, so it used less fuel, and more comfortable for travel, but not faster.

Is that true? Would you be willing to pay more to travel faster? As someone who travels internationally (and beginning to get even more), I would answer Yes! Leave your answer as a comment below.

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Posted by unroadwarrior | 10 Comments

The sheer incompetence shown by the US Airways Express staff at Charlotte airport last night was almost hard to believe. Could an airlines operations be so messed up that their own Gate Agents and their supervisors would not know for over two and a half hours what the status of a flight was? Or was the gate staff just so incompetent and unprofessional that they just didn’t care? I do not know which one was the truth (probably somewhere in-between) and how this is even possible for a ‘major’ airline.

Background

The flight in question was flight US 2794 from Charlotte (CLT) to Washington Dulles (IAD), on July 17th. The flight was scheduled to leave at 7:59PM. I was in the US Airways lounge. My original flight, slated to leave at 6:02 PM had been cancelled and I was rebooked on this one. (US Airways cancelled the flight, called me with a recorded message with the info and never rebooked me on another flight. I had to stand in line at the lounge to get this done. Why they do not rebook passengers from a cancelled flight on the next one automatically, I have no idea. It just adds load on customer service agents. But that for another post). I had used the lounge pass I got from my US Airways credit card to get in the lounge once I knew I will be at the airport for a while. (They give one free pass every year).

So, at 7:20 I start the long walk over to gate E38 (the farthest gate from the lounge). I am already concerned because according to the usairways.com website, the first leg of this flight, from Knoxville, TN (TYS) had been cancelled. I am hoping they have another aircraft available they plan to use. As I reach the gate, the board above the gate shows flight is on time. Whew – I breath easy.

7:35 – no boarding announcement. Flights is listed as still being on time. All is well…

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7:40 – no boarding announcement still. No biggie. This is a shared gate. They are busy boarding another flight…

7:45 – passengers who were standing in line at the gate start wandering around talking about ‘waiting for a plane’. Board still says flight on time.  

7:50 – I am now in line to talk to the GA. I refresh my usairways.com flight status page (they do not have an App) and it says flight is ‘Awaiting takeoff’!

7:55 – I finally get to the GA (she is the supervisor, I find out). She says that they are awaiting aircraft. I ask if it is in the air coming in from somewhere? She says no, it is in the airport awaiting a tow to the gate… I show her the webpage with the status. She says she has no control over what the website says. I point out that the screen on her gate says the flight is on time. She says she has no control over that too.

8:05 – No aircraft. The board above the gate stops showing our flight. We ask, she says that the flight is not cancelled. She has no control over the board. The webpage still shows we are ‘awaiting takeoff’.

8:30 – Still no aircraft. I ask the GA again and she says they are waiting for the plane to be towed over. She does not know when. We ask if we should leave and get food. No response. Webpage still says ‘awaiting takeoff’.

9:00-ish – I find the GA wandering about and ask her what is the status. She says the aircraft is here and we should be leaving in ’15 to 20 minutes’. I ask her if that was her estimate or a formal statement? She walks away without responding.

9:10 – The GA picks up the announcement microphone and announces that the ‘plane is at the gate and we should be leaving in 15-20 minutes’.

9:15 – The flight re-appears on the board. Departure time 9:26.

9:30 – Boarding still not started. I ask again. She says she has no idea when the flight will leave as the full crew is not here. I ask her why she made an announcement that the flight will leave in 15 – 20 minutes. She replies she never made such an announcement! I point to other passengers saying we all heard the announcement. She then GA gets upset and started telling me that I am bothering her. Other GA gather around her. I ask why the board says leaving at 9:26? She repeats, she has no control over the board. Repeats she never said when the flight would leave.

9:35 – I speak to a pilot standing near the gate. He says he is the captain of our flight and they are awaiting a flight attendant. He has no idea where she is or when she would arrive.

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9:45 – Still no boarding. The board now says 10:09 departure. I ask another GA. (I was staying away from the one who got upset that she made an announcement everyone heard). He says they have no idea what was going on and they only say what operations tells them. So, it’s US Airways operations fault that we the passengers have been abandoned for over two hours? I ask. No, he says, operations only says what ATC (Air Traffic Control) tells them. So, we were stranded by ATC? Me says. He walks away.

9:55 – We finally start boarding.

10:05-ish – We are still on the ground. I fall asleep…

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11:40 – We land at IAD. I ask the GA at IAD if they were giving any compensation for a flight delayed by over 2 hours? She looks at me funny…

How can a real airline operate like this? Is no one responsible? Do they care?

I had also tweeted the @usairways during the ordeal. They responded with a weird tweet which said nothing. Next tweet was ignored.

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Posted by unroadwarrior | 16 Comments

I just read this excellent interview of Mark Gerhick, former chief counsel of the FAA about a book he wrote: ‘Full Upright And Locked Position‘ (I have not read the book. The full interview (on NPR) can be found here in both written and audio form. Here are some key points he makes:

Traveling in Economy is getting worse:

No objection to that statement at all. While some airlines now have Economy Plus or ‘better’ Economy seats for their Elites or for a fee, most economy seats are getting closer to the ones in front of them. Most regional carriers are terrible. Mainline carriers like US Airways in the US are absolutely the worse.

Traveling in Business or First is getting better:

Now he means International Business or First class. Domestic First is not gotten any better. I cannot speak for International First. Like the author I have not had firsthand experience. International Business class – Yes, it is awesome. Over the last nine months I have flown internationally in Business Class on United, Lufthansa and Swiss. All experiences were great. My personal measure is how I feel when I get off the plane. Do I feel like I need a massage followed by a long nap or fresh and rearing to go. With the Business Class flights it has been the latter.

Quote from the article:

“First class is getting to be really first class. And I speak not from a lot of personal experience, but the airlines have realized that this is where a great deal of their revenue comes from. One airline once said that 25 percent of the passengers provide 75 percent of the revenue. So if you get that premium cabin filled, you’re going to do well. … Some of the upscale foreign carriers — Emirates, Singapore, long-haul Asian carriers — have thrown tremendous amounts of money into first class. … What’s in store is that some of the Middle Eastern airlines are putting bidets in their bathrooms, and Emirates has a couple of showers on their A380. So you can have a five-minute drenching … in their spa shower. Some of the airlines have new privacy pods which they’re putting in their ultra-first-class A380, where you [have] basically 7 or 8 feet of space, your own large-screen television and private minibar, and it’s an enclosed space, with a full bed. At the high end now we’re talking $10,000 or $20,000 a ticket, so it’s not exactly available for everybody.”

I hope so… I would love to experience International First sometime soon! Any airline wanting to offer up a free upgrade to First on my next International Trip, I will blog about it…

 

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Posted by unroadwarrior | No Comments

Last week I got a chance to fly over lower Manhattan. I was flying from Washington Dulles (IAD) to LaGuardia and the plan had to go around Manhattan for a Southwards landing into LaGuardia. It was a perfect opportunity to get a picture of the Freedom Tower which had just received its Spire. I also got a great shot of the USS Intrepid. You can see the Concorde there on the pier. Does anyone know if the Space Shuttle is there too? Could not see it from the air.

Enjoy. If you have any pictures (from the air) of the Freedom tower, do share.

Freedom tower.jpg Inrtepid.jpg

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Posted by unroadwarrior | 4 Comments

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One of my readers Jack asked a question after I posted my post on Earning United Miles on Jet Airways flights. In the article I talked about how I did not pay attention to the booking class I was being booked into on Jet Airways and I earned no United miles, as a result. His question was how does one pick a booking class when using online search engines. The answer is that it depends on the search engine. If you are using a generic search engine like Expedia or Orbitz. the answer is no, you cannot pick the booking class. You can however call the travel agency after booking and ask to ‘fare-up’ to a higher booking class, if you get booked in one that does not earn miles (or less than 100% miles). Some airlines do allow picking a booking class when you book directly with them. United and Delta are two examples of those that do. US Airways, for example, does not allow you to pick fare classes, just whether it is an Elite Upgradable fare or not.

The attached screenshot shows how you can pick a booking class on delta.com.

To go back to the question of Jet Airways, they do not allow you to pick a booking class at the time of booking. However, it tells you which class you will be booked into (see attached picture). You can then call the airline and have them book you into a higher class, that does earn you miles (some airlines require a booking fee for using the call center.Screen Shot 2013-04-20 at 2.00.26 PM.png

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Posted by unroadwarrior | 6 Comments

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