Category Archives: Lounges

Review: Priority Pass in Dulles Airport

The Priority Pass lounge card gives you membership in a network of 900-plus lounges all across the country. It now comes free with several credit cards, including the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Citi Prestige card.

In the past, I have primarily used Priority Pass in Europe, where the lounges are more plentiful, but I was excited to try out Priority Pass in Dulles since we flew economy to Iceland.

Here’s the catch: Due to the influx of new members, many priority club lounges have placed limits on when you can enter. For example, the KLM lounge in Dulles’s Terminal 1 (closest to Iceland Air) is only open to Priority Pass members from 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m to 8:30 p.m. The British Airways lounge is only open to Priority Pass members from 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. We arrived at the airport  at 5:00 p.m. during peak travel time. So we headed off to the Turkish Airlines lounge – the newest Priority Pass lounge.

It was great! While on the small side, there is a fantastic spread of food and drinks, comfortable seating, outlets, showers, and even a nap area. While Priority Pass is not a perk I use everyday, it is the perfect perk to alleviate the pain of flying economy on an international trip.

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IMG_9627As Priority Pass becomes increasingly popular, it may become increasingly useless for members, but for now, we were able to make it work.

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Part #9: First Class Baby!

Part #1: How I Quietly Fell in Love with Japan
Part #2: Getting Around Kyoto
Part #3: Bamboos Galore!
Part #4: The One in Which I Did Not Get Attacked By a Monkey
Part #5: In Search of a Geisha
Part #6: The Not-So Silver Silver Pavilion
Part #7: Orange I Glad I Made it to Inari?
Part #8: The Very Gold Golden Pavilion 

After two and half weeks in Asia, it was time for me to return home. I had a great time, but I was looking forward to my apartment, my bed, my television, etc. I was also looking forward to flying first class – YES, FIRST CLASS.

First class on United was only an extra 10,000 miles over business class – 80,000 miles and $61.40 – which was a no-brainer to me. For years, I’ve drooled over reviews of over-the-top first class products on Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa, etc. United’s first class does not live up to that standard – not terribly surprising given United’s mediocre business class product. It was more like an extremely luxurious business class seat, but it was still lovely.

First up, I visited the lounge in Osaka’s airport.

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I had a short stopover in Beijing and sprinted to the first class lounge to take some pictures and stock up on diet cokes. The lounge was spacious and lovely. I wish I had a little more time to revel in the luxury.

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Finally, first class, or, FIRST CLASS!

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What Happens in Vegas… Ends up on the Blog

My boss and I went to Las Vegas for work… or that’s what we told people. In truth, we both really wanted to check out the Centurion Lounge in Las Vegas.

It was awesome.

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Part #1: Off to China!

Two weeks ago, I set off for my second trip to Asia. My itinerary included four days in Beijing, six days in Shanghai, and five days in Kyoto, Japan.

Itinerary map

Step one: Getting to Beijing. My sister and I booked Saturday night flights (me from DC, she from NYC) that had us meeting in Frankfurt. My first leg was United business, and while comfortable enough, it was one of the worst international business products I’ve tried.

Now, I almost feel bad writing this. Flying in business class is a luxury most people can’t afford, and the only reason I can afford it is with miles. And the truth is, as long as I can lie down and sleep, I’m pretty happy. And by that extremely low bar, United passed with flying colors.

But I’ve flown several different business class products now, and my newfound knowledge demands an honest comparison.

The seats were lie-flat with a two-four-two configuration. Some of the better products – like Cathay Pacific – have a one-two-one configuration. At the very least, most planes have a two-two-two setup. While the seats lay flat when fully extended, they were only 20 inches wide. I was fairly close to my neighbor and did not have a lot of personal space for my stuff. Many of the newer products have pod-like seats that afford greater privacy and space.

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That said, the movies were good, I slept about three hours, and it sure as hell beat economy.

Air China was surprisingly better. For starters, they offered a two-two-two configuration, with wider seats (22 inches of pitch) and a lot more space and privacy. Unfortunately, the English movie selection left something to be desired, but the hard product was a significant improvement over United.

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And, they provided slippers! I love when airlines give me slippers so I don’t have to put my shoes back on every time I go to the bathroom.

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Part 1: Getting To The Sacred Valley is Not Easy

[Note: We are still in Peru and we are having an amazing time. Although few people speak English, we are getting by and it is beautiful. But more about all that later.]

Getting to Lima, Peru is not a big deal. If you live in any major city you can probably find a non-stop flight to Lima, or a flight with a short stopover (as was the case for me).

Getting to the Sacred Valley requires a lot more effort.

First, the flight to Panama City was pleasant and comfortable. I flew Copa Airlines which uses the Lufthansa lounge in Dulles Airport – the same Lufthansa lounge I used on my trip to Paris in 2012. The seats were comfortable, the food and drinks were plentiful, and the wifi worked. No complaints here.

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The business class seats were more like domestic business class seats – wider seats, deeper recline – but no lie-flat seats. My flight took off at 4:30 p.m. so going to sleep wasn’t much of an option anyways. I downloaded a couple of books on my iPad and enjoyed the luxury of being able to sit comfortably and actually move my feet.

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Apologies for the crappy iPhone picture.

I was a little nervous about my 47 minute connection in Panama, but the flight landed on time, and as I disembarked, the gate for my connecting flight to Lima was literally next door. My entire visit to the Panama airport consisted of me getting off one plane, walking a couple of feet to buy an obscenely expensive bottle of water, and then getting on another.

When we landed in Lima at one in the morning, that’s when the real fun started. I went through immigration and got my luggage easy enough, but I had a 7:30 a.m. flight to Cusco, and all I wanted to do was recheck my luggage, find the lounge, and go to sleep.

The check-in area was a mess. I speak exactly four Spanish words/phrases (hello, thank you, what’s your name, and bathroom). I finally found someone who spoke enough English for me to understand that Avianca check-in was closed and would open in half-an-hour. So I got on line. As I waited, I noticed weary travelers sleeping pretty much everywhere and in every contorted position possible. I prayed the lounge would be more comfortable.

As soon as the line started moving I made a beeline for an Avianca employee and said “business class.” She took me to the front of the line, and I silently thanked my miles for allowing me this luxury.

Finally, after checking in and going through security, I found the domestic lounge. I did my research in advance and discovered that the Lima airport has a Priority Pass lounge in the domestic area, so I called up Chase and asked for my free Priority Pass card – just one of the perks of having the Chase Ink Bold credit card. I’m allowed two free Priority Pass visits (all subsequent visits are $29), so I planned to use one on the way to Cusco, and one on the way home from Lima.

But when I get to the domestic lounge, my heart sunk. It was tiny – the size of a crappy New York City studio, or maybe even smaller. To make matters worse, there were three televisions and they were all playing Spanish soap operas – at two in the morning!

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Spanish soaps!

I did the only thing I could. I moved two chairs together, set my alarm, plugged in my earphones and nodded off to sleep. Lo and behold, when I woke up at 6 a.m., the Spanish soaps were still on!

The Avianca flight to Cusco was similarly pleasant. Business class looked very much the same, and I had the row to myself. The short one-hour flight is filled with stunning mountainous views, and I managed to take a few pictures despite my sleep-deprived state.

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The Cusco airport is pretty much a big room with conveyer belts for baggage and a bunch of tourists companies, taxis, and hotels hawking their services in Spanish. [Not to Peruvians: I am pasty white. There is an excellent chance that you can tell I don’t speak Spanish just by looking at me. If you want to increase your chances of me listening to your pitches, make them in English.]

When my friend arrived an hour later, we went through our usual routine of complaining about how exhausted we were and then went outside to find our driver. I had arranged for a driver and made a $20 deposit via pay pal with KB Tours, a very respectable tour company according to trip advisor.

He wasn’t there, so we waited. And waited. And waited. We tried to call, but the phone number listed in our Lonely Planet book didn’t work, and there is no phone number on the website. Half-nervous and half-pissed, we went back inside and asked the representative for our Urubamba hotel for some advice choosing a taxi. We had read enough accounts of people getting kidnapped by rogue taxi drivers – which is why we had arranged for a driver in the first place. [Note: KB Tours refunded our deposited very quickly after we emailed them.]

He was incredibly helpful and informed us that the woman in the yellow vest will put us in an official taxi. She pointed out to us the taxi’s official ID number and I took pictures of his ID number and license plate just to be safe (paranoid much?).  The one-hour drive was pleasant and the views were beautiful.

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Not a bad photo for shooting out the window of a taxi as it winds its way down a mountain.

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Needless to say, we were not kidnapped, and one hour later, we arrived at our amazing hotel exhausted, but otherwise in one piece. Our adventure had begun.

 

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Part 2: Only 18 Hours to Go (AKA SFO – REP)

Part 1: When you wake up at 3 am for a 6 am flight…

We had a three hour layover in San Francisco and I was excited to see the Asiana lounge. I’m sorry to say I was a little disappointed. The lounge was very small with an outdated decor. There were few comfortable seats in the business class room so I slipped into the first class lounge and no one batted an eye.

On the plus side, the first class lounge had a couch (remember, I was going on four hours of sleep), had decent wireless and an endless supply of free diet cokes.

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Business class lounge

Asiana’s business class product more than made up for the lackluster lounge: Comfortable lie-flat seats laid out to maximize space and privacy. There was plenty of space, movie options, and of course diet coke on demand.

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Asiana even gives you comfy slippers!

Due to our short layover in Seoul, I only had five minutes to check out the Asiana lounge at ICN airport, grab a free drink and snap a photo. My cursory impression was very favorable. Too bad I didn’t get to enjoy more than five minutes.

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Finally, the last leg of our flight: From Seoul to Siem Reap. At this point, I was thoroughly exhausted and could barely keep track of what day it was. Asiana’s business class from ICN – REP is more comparable to domestic first class in the United States — not the lie-flat seats that we had on the SFO-ICN leg. Even without lie-flat seats, I was so tired, I managed to sleep for a majority of the flight.

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And finally, at 11:00 p.m. local Siem Reap time, we arrived in Cambodia. As we disembarked, the first thing we noticed was how steamy and tropical the weather felt. We were clearly a long way from New York’s freezing temperatures. The Le Meridian offered free air port pick-up and I was awfully glad I had made arrangements to take advantage of it before the trip. Our driver was waiting for us outside, and the long journey to Asia was finally over.

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When you wake up at 3 AM for a 6 AM flight…

Our big trip to Asia started with about 1 hour of sleep. That was okay because we had 25 hours of plane time ahead of us and not much to do but watch movies, check the airplane map and sleep.

Check-in at JFK was relatively painless. There were no lines, but it took 20 minutes to convince United to check our luggage all the way through to Cambodia. After security, we were off to the lounge, which, to my surprise, was open at four a.m. in the morning.

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But the best part of our flight leg to San Francisco was United’s new transcontinental business class seats. Domestic business class seats are usually nice, but not meant for heavy duty sleeping. And by the time we boarded the plane, I desperately needed some heavy duty nap time. Luckily, United’s new transcontinental business class seats are comparable to international business class, complete with a full array of media options, lie-flat seats, outlets for our many gadgets, comfortable blankets, etc.

This was just what I needed. Somewhere between New York and Colorado, I managed to sleep for three hours.

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JFK Lufthansa Business Lounge!!!

Yes, the title really does warrant three exclamation points.

One of the beneifits of traveling business class is the awesome business class lounges I get to hang out in prior to the flight. Comfortable chairs, free food, wireless, free newspapers and magazines – it is an easy life to get used to. Now, I’ve only been to a few lounges so I am still filled with child-like giddiness everytime I get to check out a new one. A few years ago, Lufthansa invested millions to renovate its JFK lounge so I was especially excited.

My thoughts: It is very NICE, though not that different from my Lufthansa lounge experience at Dulles airport in Virginia. (Am I starting to sound like one of those obnoxious travel snobs? If so, I’m sorry, but I probably won’t do anything about it.) The lounge is spacious and airy, and the food spread is decent, but the lack of power outlets near the most comfortable seats is annoying and seems like an obvious oversight. The wifi is also unreliable. Thank God for 3G.

Here are some photos:

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Greetings From The United Club At Newark Airport

I just landed in Newark Airport with a two-hour stopover until I take off for Bermuda. Pause for celebratory cartwheels. I’m flying economy this trip, but thanks to my United credit card, I received two free United Club passes in the mail. I’ve been scratching my head wondering when I would have cause to use them, and here I am!

It’s not the fanciest lounge, but it’s nice to relax in big, comfy chairs, have access to free snacks and drinks, and enjoy free wireless (which, it turns out is unreliable.)

Some eveidence of my temporary luxorious lifestyle:

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