Posts by Arthur Hsu

Beer tasting at Four Peaks Brewing
Today marks the end of the inaugural Microbrew Madness, and after 3 weeks of viewer voting for America’s favorite craft brewery, the winner is Four Peaks Brewing Co. in Tempe, AZ. This beer lover’s oasis is a must-visit destination on your next trip to Arizona.

The brewery offers excellent, award-winning beer that appeals to all connoisseurs, ranging from the Kilt Lifter Scottish-style ale to the Hop Knot IPA. For seasonal beers and cask-conditioned ales, be sure to visit a Four Peaks pub. And if you love a game of darts, stop and play a game — the loser may just have to down an entire Oatmeal Stout shake.
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Aaron's

Photography by Aaron Goodwin

There’s no better time than summer — the air is warm, the sun is shining and vacations are tempting you to explore America. Get out and experience your hometown again — like Adam Richman explores Brooklyn — or stop by Sam, Andrew and Bert’s favorite beaches for a barbecue. While you’re on your great All-American vacation, don’t forget your camera to snap the perfect shot.

If you’re not confident that you have the skills to take The Perfect Shot, join Ghost Adventures’ Aaron Goodwin on this new video web series to learn the craft behind taking the perfect photo. Aaron travels around Las Vegas with professional photographers to learn how to use different cameras, from the professional dSLR to the consumer point-and-shoot to the ubiquitous smartphone. READ MORE

Over the last 2 months I’ve managed a couple of fun vacation runs — a variation of a mileage run that involves actually leaving the airport and exploring a city — to Moscow, Paris and Johannesburg. My trip to Moscow was a weeklong vacation, while my runs to Paris and Johannesburg were just extended weekends. A little crazy, I know, but the experiences and sights were well worth the expense and travel time. And besides, or perhaps most importantly, I earned a LOT of miles, ate caviar and saw elephants.

Total Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM): 29,043
Total Redeemable Miles (RDM): 58,086
Flying Time to/from Moscow: 23h 13m
Flying Time to/from Paris and Johannesburg: 37h 40m

Saint Basil's Cathedral

Photography by Arthur Hsu

This year, I’m hoping to earn 150,000 SkyMiles in order to book a round-trip business-class award ticket to Australia — a ticket that would normally cost approximately $16,000 (yes, you read right). I was inspired to book both of my recent “vacation runs” after I saw posts about cheap tickets on FlyerTalk. Another great site to follow is The Flight Deal, which gathers airfare deals that make the most of your miles and money.

When booking mileage runs, be sure to check your fare class.  Some fare classes don’t earn miles or only earn a reduced number of miles. For my trips, I flew Delta T class and KLM/Air France R class, both of which earn full Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQM). Both trips also had a low cost per mile (CPM), which is important for a great mileage run. Typically, you want the CPM to be under 5 cents per mile.

Moscow Cost per Mile: $0.0347
Johannesburg Cost per Mile: $0.0420

A mileage run is a trip solely for earning EQM, so oftentimes you never even leave the airport. But in this case, I turned them into vacations.

My trip to Moscow was the first time I used Global Entry, a Customs and Border Patrol program that expedites the immigration process when returning to America, which I was approved for the week before leaving for Russia. Thanks to this program, it literally takes less than 1 minute to clear customs. If you don’t have it, I recommend you apply since it also includes TSA Pre-Check, which gets you through security quicker and with fewer hassles.

Overall, Moscow is a beautiful city with many activities, but in my experience, it is also very expensive. I stayed at the Hotel National, where Lenin stayed while the Kremlin was under construction. It’s also a Starwood property, with which I have Gold elite status, and so I earned 8,852 SPG points thanks to my stay.

Hotel National, Moscow

Photography by Arthur Hsu

While in Moscow, I enjoyed the various sites such as Saint Basil’s Cathedral and a day trip outside the city to Troitse-Sergiev Monastery. If you find yourself in Moscow, be sure to explore the metro system — the various stations are truly beautiful, each with a different design. I also enjoyed proper meals, including a 10-course omakase meal at Nobu Moscow. Don’t worry, I also sampled iconic Russian cuisine such as caviar and borscht.

Komsomolskaya Metro Station, Moscow

Photography by Arthur Hsu

My trip to Johannesburg was a much shorter and farther excursion, with a 12-hour layover in Paris and about 37 hours in Johannesburg. With such a short amount of time in Paris, I made my way into the city and used a hop-on/hop-off tour bus to see the major sites before I returned to CDG and grabbed some food and Scotch whisky in the Air France Salon to await my flight to Johannesburg.

Once in Johannesburg, I took the Gautrain, Africa’s first rapid rail system, to the Radisson Blu Gautrain hotel, and shortly after, my guide arrived to take me on a tour of Joburg. I liked the sound of Cashan Private Day Tours, which offered custom city tours, and I was able to book a half-day tour with Penny Cashan. Our first stop — and most surprising and enjoyable element of the tour –  was the Market on Main, which occurs every Sunday at the Arts on Main in the Maboneng Precinct, with great food and various art galleries. I had no idea that Joburg has such a thriving art community.

The next and last day in Joburg, I booked a 1-day safari with Felleng Tours to the Pilanesberg Game Reserve. This turned out to be a great experience, since we were able to take the time to find 2 of the Big Five– the white rhino and the African elephant — along with many other amazing animals and sights. Fortunately, the daytime temperatures were low, so the animals weren’t hiding in the shade.

Elephant in Pilanesberg Game Reserve

Photography by Arthur Hsu

Back at O.R. Tambo Airport, I headed to the Air France Salon before deciding to check out other lounges in the airport thanks to my Priority Pass membership, which gives me access to lounges around the world where I do not have elite status. Properly hydrated and nourished, I headed to the gate to catch 2 flights home — just short of 22 hours with a connection in Amsterdam. Now I need to start thinking about my next mileage run.

Watch Mommy Points‘ tips to earn airline elite status.

I’m an avid fan of traveling, so aside from the occasional business trip, I frequently travel for leisure — usually for a rock climbing adventure. But my ultimate goal, other than having fun and exploring diverse culture, is to obtain miles and elite status. One method of obtaining miles is by taking a “mileage run” (MR). I try to turn a mileage run into a mini-vacation, like my trip to Stockholm; however, during my latest trip, I encountered a little snow in Amsterdam, which limited my amount of time in the city. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth it.

Snow at AMS

Photography by Arthur Hsu

You may be asking “what’s a mileage run?” It’s flying for the sole purpose of earning elite qualifying miles (EQM) and redeemable miles (RDM). Each airline uses different acronyms, such as Delta’s Medallion Qualification Miles (MQM), so make sure to check with your own frequent-flyer program. The EQMs help frequent flyers earn or maintain their elite frequent flyer status, while the RDMs can be used to book award tickets and pay for upgrades.

If you’re new to frequent-flyer programs and want to learn more, there are several active forums and blogs that discuss the programs such as FlyerTalk, milepoint and Mommy Points. Check out Mommy Points’ video series on TravelChannel.com for her tips for earning and using points.

Usually frequent flyers wait until the end of the year to take mileage runs, but this January, I decided to get a head start on maintaining my Delta Platinum Medallion elite status with a globetrotting extended Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend. Using Google Flights, I found a ticket to Istanbul with a low cost-per-mile (CPM), which is ideal for a mileage run. Generally, for a mileage run, you want to search for flights that cost no more than 5 cents per mile.

I usually prefer direct flights, but the additional connections for this trip added a few thousand extra miles, so I booked the ticket — flying from DC to Amsterdam to Istanbul to Paris to Minneapolis and back to DC.

Total Time in Transit: Nearly 48 hours, including 12 hours in Amsterdam.

 Unlike my last mileage run, I flew this entire trip in economy. Luckily, due to my elite status, I was able to pick seats in Economy Comfort, which provides extra legroom and seats closer to the front of the plane, allowing me to exit sooner and make it through passport control quicker. When I arrived at Schiphol airport in the early morning, I went to the KLM Crown Lounge for some breakfast and espresso before heading out into the city. It was a cold day in Amsterdam, around 21°F, made a little worse by high winds. In the afternoon, it started to snow, but I continued to wander the city before finally surrendering and going back to the Schiphol to enjoy my last few hours in the KLM Crown Lounge.  Sitting in the lounge, I could see the snow falling, and the word that flyers most dread — “cancelled” –started to appear on the flight status monitors. Luckily, my flight was only delayed.

As we approached Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport (about 3 hours late), I had a great view of the city lit up in the darkness. Once we landed, I went to the Millennium Lounge for some snacks and beverages for the 2 hours before my next flight that would take me Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport. That flight was also my first time flying on Air France, and I missed the service I generally find on Delta or KLM.  Although the flight attendants were polite, the food and beverage offerings were very limited — they didn’t even have sparkling water!

Istanbul at Night

Photography by Arthur Hsu

Once at CDG, I proceeded to the Air France Lounge for a shower and a few glasses of Taittinger Champagne before boarding my Delta flight to MSP. Although I wasn’t sitting in their Business Elite seats, I was again happy in my Economy Comfort seat. A perk of international Economy Comfort is the complimentary spirits, so once the plane reached cruising altitude and beverage service began, I requested some Woodford Reserve Bourbon, served neat, of course. With a final stop in Minneapolis, I relaxed in the Delta Sky Club before boarding my flight back home to DC.

After spending most of the time in airports and on airplanes, with a snowy and windy layover in Amsterdam, this trip was worth the miles.

Total Medallion Qualification Miles (MQM): 11,765

Total Redeemable Miles: 23,530

Should you go on a mileage run? That depends on your situation. You shouldn’t do MRs if you can’t afford the trip, or if you would be leaving a family behind. There’s no advantage to having elite status and plenty of miles if you go broke, but as with everything, YMMV (your mileage may vary).

Watch Mommy Points‘ tips to earn miles.

Some people said this was a crazy trip for a crazy person: Fly from Washington, DC, to Stockholm, Sweden for dinner … and then fly home early the next morning. But in my defense, there was some reasoning and thought behind this, as I am a somewhat-sane “mileage runner” — a person that flies for the sake of earning miles.

The Friday before New Year’s Eve, I decided that I wanted to reach Delta’s Platinum Medallion frequent flyer elite status. The status was well worth the expense and time since I was planning a climbing trip to Paris the next year. Don’t understand elite status? Mommy Points explains the benefits. I was short 8,634 Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQM) from the required 75,000-mile target and had just 4 days until the yearend deadline. A plan was needed quickly.

I immediately started searching for low fares that would yield the needed miles. A great tool is Google Flights which shows you destinations around the world and allows you to filter for specific airlines and alliances, in my case, SkyTeam. I already expected the ticket price would be high since this was a last-minute purchase, so my goal was to maximize miles earned for a reasonable cost. I finally settled on a ticket to Stockholm, which would net me 9,170 MQM and departed Dulles International Airport on Saturday at 6:20 p.m. to arrive at Stockholm Arlanda Airport on Sunday at 7:00 p.m. after a layover in Amsterdam. I’d be back in DC by 3:30 p.m. on Monday.

Total Time in Transit: Nearly 34 hours with 11 hours in Stockholm!

After packing a change of clothes, I headed to Dulles, parked in the economy parking lot and went off to Departures. (Travel tip — put your parking spot in your calendar. After your return flight,  this makes it easy to remember where your car is.) I made a quick stop at the check-in counter using the SkyPriority lane (another benefit of elite status), grabbed my boarding pass and learned that my flight was delayed 2 hours. No big deal — I could wait in the Air France Lounge until my flight and enjoy some snacks and Bordeaux wine — another advantage of having Delta Gold Medallion status.

Once boarding started, I headed to the SkyPriority lane where they actually have a different gate for elites, so I was sipping champagne in my business-class seat within a couple of minutes. After eating my 3-course meal — served on a white table cloth and porcelain plates — I went to sleep so I’d be able to walk around Amsterdam for a few hours before my connecting flight to Stockholm.

KLM Food

Photography by Arthur Hsu

After landing in Amsterdam, I took the Schiphol Express train to Central Station and wandered around the city for a few hours before grabbing a quick meal of poached eggs, smoked salmon and espresso at Vinnies Deli. The deli was located next to Dampkring, which I remembered seeing in an episode of The Layover, but when I looked at the Layover App, I realized I had ended up in a different cafe. Either way, it was packed with people. I continued to wander along the canals before heading back to the airport for a short flight to Sweden.

Amsterdam

Photography by Arthur Hsu

After finally arriving in Stockholm, I was excited to have a nice meal. But first, I checked into Jumbo Stay, a hostel built into a Boeing 747. I typically don’t stay in hostels, but I made an exception since the novelty of sleeping in an airplane was a somewhat unique experience  (granted, I slept the night before in a Boeing 767).

Jumbo Stay

Photography by Christian Skovgaard

Next, I headed back to the airport to catch the Arlanda Express train to Stockholm Station for dinner at Rolfs Kök. I grabbed a seat at the bar and decided to start with some Bellota pig tartare. This was my first time eating raw pig and it won’t be my last, as you could actually taste the acorns that made up the Bellota pig’s last meal. My main course was perfectly-cooked loin of cod with anchovies. And for dessert, I enjoyed a glass of Ardbeg Ten Years Old single-malt scotch (no ice, of course). After dinner, I wandered the streets before heading back to the train, catching some sleep and leaving for the airport at 5:00 a.m. for my return home.

With my quick trip to Stockholm, I netted 11,104 MQM, (with the 150% class bonus for my business seat), which helped me secure Platinum Medallion status through Feb 2014. I also earned 9,170 bonus miles as part of the 100% bonus miles Medallion benefit for a total of 20,274 miles! All in all, I had a great flying experience, a delicious meal and I ended the year with enough miles to book 2 business class award tickets for a bouldering adventure in November to France’s Fontainebleau, one of the top bouldering spots in the world.

If you want to learn how to earn airline elite status, watch our video. Be sure to also catch our web series, Mommy Points’ Family Travel Deals, to learn more about earning miles and making the most of your points.

 

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