If you’re a frequent flyer, fond of tracking your air miles and points and generally follow the aviation community closely, you know Gary and you know him well.
And if by some twist of fate you don’t, let me make it easier for you.
Gary Leff is the co-founder of Milepoint.com, a popular online community for frequent flyers. Gary also manages Freddie awards and blogs frequently at View From the Wing. In fact, Gary’s blog was the first to exclusively focus on frequent travel and loyalty programs and he’s been leading the way for over 11 years now.
Not just that, Gary has also served as a moderator of Flyertalk.com from 2003 till the beginning of 2011 and was the senior founding moderator of Flyertalk’s member-elected TalkBoard. He’s been cited and profiled in New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times and Washington post among others.
And in his “real day job”, He is the chief numbers guy for university research centers. Phew!!
Reading about him prior to our chat I chanced upon this. Read this and you will know why he is so revered within the aviation/frequent flyer community.
“Gary Leff is so proficient at the frequent-travel game that in 2008 he redeemed enough miles to fly first class with his wife from Washington, D.C., to Spain for dinner at the famous three-Michelin-starred El Bulli restaurant near Barcelona. After the meal, they turned around and flew home.” (Via Executive Travel)
Yes, he flew across the pond. For a dinner. Excerpts from our chat:
- What makes you travel? And why you love getting on planes?
Gary – It would take a really narrow focus or a lot of hubris to believe that wherever one is at a given time is the single greatest place in the world to be. There’s so much out there in terms of diversity of experiences, creativity and achievement, food and spectacle. We’re on the earth for such a short time, and experiencing as much as possible seems just so fundamentally…. human.
And I’ve had the great fortune to connect with people, I get on planes to reduce the distance and maintain that connectedness. And to try new things, broaden my horizons. My life is so much richer, so much more fulfilled because of travel. An early morning flight or a groping at security can’t begin to detract from that.
- No problems with early morning flights or groping certainly means you enjoy flying, if I hadn’t figured that one out yet. What has been the most unforgettable flying experience for you?
Gary – The destination will always be more interesting than flying, though flight itself is a tremendous achievement of humankind over nature and it’s certainly possible to enjoy getting there alongside being there.
I suppose my most memorable flight experience was circling New York airspace before I was a teenager, when the landing gear just wouldn’t go down. Until it did. Truly, though, in all of my flights few have really been that memorable which is to say that nearly all have been marvels of human achievement.
- Safe to say all that circling over New York airports is not always so pleasant. Which is your favorite airport and which airline is most impressive in terms of their first class/business class product?
Gary – There’s no question that the Singapore airport impresses me most. The amenities there are unrivaled. I like the Seoul airport, and though far from a favorite I think Bangkok is undervalued. I can’t think of any major airports in Europe that I like (though the first class terminal in Frankfurt is my favorite *terminal*). Dallas is a really good experience overall, and Rick Bayless’ Tortas Frontera almost redeems O’Hare.
My favorite international airline is Cathay Pacific. I love their first class product, it’s solid all around and I sleep better in their seat than anyone else’s. Their long haul business class seat is fantastic as well. My favorite domestic airline is American — overall good service, excellent treatment as a top tier elite, wireless internet across the mainline fleet, pretty good food, and a great new business class seat. Award redemption for international first class is unrivaled.
- Talking about award redemption, which is your favorite city to travel to?
Gary – My favorite city has to be Singapore, because it’s at once far away and accessible, and probably better for food at both the high and low end than anywhere else. Little matches sitting out at the beach in the evening at the East Coast Lagoon Village hawker center, open air, enjoying great food and a walk along the water.
- What about airports? Wi-Fi is becoming all too common. As a frequent traveler which other amenity you would like to see them incorporate within their premises?
Gary – Starbucks or similar (or higher!) quality coffee airside. There’s no excuse not to have decent coffee available near the gate in a world where the TSA continues to prosecute the War on Water.
- Do you consult any specific website before and while your traveling?
Gary – Milepoint.com – frequent flyer community, a friendly group of experienced travelers that are happy to share their advice and experiences.
- What counsel would you give to the average Joe? She/he wants to travel but is scared about incurring heavy expenses while doing so.
Gary – Though it’s possible to travel frugally, and to cover much of the cost of travel with points, it isn’t free. There’s nothing wrong with – and indeed tremendous virtue in — traveling on a tight budget. But if you’re in significant debt, well I’d strongly suggest paying off credit cards before making discretionary travel spend decisions. Don’t finance your travel on a credit card. That’s not only good advice; it’s also a way to travel much more in the future. Your travel experiences will pay dividends, but don’t incur interest to have them.
- That’s very well explained Gary. In the end, as this series is “GlobeTrotters on Twitter“, please tell us your 3 must follow twitter accounts?
Gary – @GlobeTrotScott for the latest airline news
@onemileatatime for witty commentary about the travel experience
@boardingarea updates from all the best travel blogs in one place
* If you liked this post, why don’t you join many other amazing readers who have followed this blog to receive blog posts via email. No spamming guaranteed 🙂
- GlobeTrotters on Twitter – an Introduction (vishal1mehra.com)
- GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Shashank Nigam (vishal1mehra.com)
- GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Johnny Jet (vishal1mehra.com)
- GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Ben Schlappig (One Mile at a Time) (vishal1mehra.com)
The earlier parts of this Report, where I wrote about Iberia’s domestic lounge in Barcelona is here, and where I documented my Trip report BCN-MAD-LIS, is here. Have a look at them for a thorough perspective. This is the third and final part of this piece.
I had intentionally chosen a long layover at Madrid Barajas, as explained in an earlier part of this series & straight away after disembarking I started exploring all the nooks & crannies of Madrid Terminal 4. Madrid is Spain’s busiest and biggest airport, and its wavy ceilings created quite a ripple in the airport world after opening in 2006. As I got done with my little terminal tour & a customary fridge magnet purchase from the duty free store, I proceeded to Iberia’s Business Class Dali Lounge.
Iberia’s lounges in Madrid are supposed to be better than the ones in Barcelona as Madrid is a bigger and a more important hub for Iberia. My first impressions after getting into the lounge confirmed those thoughts. The lounge was huge, as well as very impressive to say the least.
Divided into 2 areas, it had large areas of comfortable seating which was soothing for the eyes to see & muscles to relax, once seated. The central area shown above had a spacecraft design to it, with little chairs, and fountains inside it along with a wide selection of reading material catering to spanish literate audience.
After relaxing for few minutes, I grabbed myself a beer and started exploring the lounge. There were reasonable options for food, including salads, pasta, sandwiches, wraps and sushi rolls. I would have ideally liked to see more hot food options as well but as this lounge serves Schengen area flights with usually small layovers, Iberia has decided to serve ‘to-go’ options.
There’s also a large choice area of alcoholic, non-alcoholic drinks and a café.
Besides your typical coffee machine, the lounge served various pastries, croissants, cornflakes, milk and tea options. The lounge also had this much fancier version of the coffee machine, though I must admit I did not try it all.
Not to forget, one of the biggest USPs of this lounge is a dedicated wine bar, which also hosts regular tasting sessions. During the evening of my travel, there was no such session unfortunately. But I was still able to lay my palate on couple of reds.
Another impressive feature of this lounge is a dedicated quiet area in the back that had little beds for passengers opting to take a nap between their flights, along with a screen for entertainment.
This obviously is a very useful addition and other airlines would do well to incorporate similar features in their lounge offerings. The business area had few computers, a printer and a fax machine. Again very useful for the road warrior, catering perfectly to the needs of the corporate crowd.
And a TV lounge, which was largely unoccupied, barring one keen viewer. A very handy facility, underscoring the depth Iberia has gone to make this lounge a pleasant experience for all sorts of passengers.
One of the irksome bits of the lounge however was Wi-Fi. It was accessible only through 30 minute cards which the front desk gave with a smile, by the time I went for my 3rd card, the lady there offered to give me another one to save me the trouble of coming back which I graciously declined as my flight to Lisbon was due soon. This is something Iberia should definitely work on. Business passengers certainly won’t appreciate asking repeatedly for Internet access. As well as leaving their comfortable lounge chair to go all the way to the reception.
Overall, It was a very enjoyable experience at the lounge, and clearly one of the best that Iberia has to offer to its passengers. Iberia may be in deep financial mess but they haven’t spared any expense in making this lounge a comfortable experience for the traveler.
I must admit thoroughly relishing myself during these six odd total hours with Iberia minus few niggles. These six hours compromised of two lounge visits, in Madrid and Barcelona each, as well as two flights on Iberia’s A320, from Barcelona to Madrid and then from Madrid to Lisbon.
And all of this cost me 9000 avios and Rs. 5771. It’s a price I would pay happily for so many firsts every single time.
A slightly modified version of this piece is featured on Bangalore Aviation, a leading International website on Aviation News and Analysis.
- Flying Iberia – Barcelona El Prat (Domestic) Lounge Review (vishal1mehra.com)
- Flying Iberia: Barcelona-Madrid-Lisbon Trip Report (vishal1mehra.com)