Tagged: Frequent-flyer program

Review: Turkish Airlines A330-300 Istanbul to New Delhi

Turkish Airlines A330 - Istanbul gate

Turkish Airlines A330 – Istanbul Airport

It was hard to come out of that traveller heaven also known as Turkish Airlines Lounge, at Istanbul but the prospect of missing flight back home wasn’t so attractive either. It was a 13 minute walk from the lounge, through the maze of Istanbul’s Duty free shops to our Gate. At the gate, the scenes were pretty chaotic with no proper queues in-sight, but we were able to dodge it and the friendly agent at the gate counter helped us through quickly.

Related Trip Reviews: Tripping through Scandinavia

Train on a Ferry!

Turkish Airlines A330-300 New Delhi to Istanbul

Turkish Airlines A320-200 Istanbul to Zurich

SAS Business Lounge, Stockholm Arlanda

Turkish Airlines A321-200 Stockholm to Istanbul

 

Turkish Airlines 716

Istanbul Ataturk (IST) – New Delhi (DEL)

Sunday, July 27th

Departure: 20:06 hours (11 minutes late)

Arrival: 04:35 hours (+1 day) local time (15 minutes late)

Aircraft: Airbus A330-300

Seat: 6A

The crew greeted us warmly as we boarded the aircraft. My folks turned left and I went…  to the right. I was able to secure seat 6A on the phone with the Turkish Airlines customer service. It is certainly not Business Class but it probably is the best Economy seat in the cabin. The 2-4-2 cabin layout is a big positive and the ample leg room takes this economy seat a notch above the rest of the cabin, though some folks may find the proximity to the lavatory bit bothersome.

Turkish Airlines A330-300 Economy Seating

Turkish Airlines A330-300 Economy Cabin and Seating

Turkish Airlines A330 - Economy bulkhead Legroom

Turkish Airlines A330 – Economy bulkhead Legroom

There was a slight delay in departure, though I made good use of our extended ground time in Istanbul. The aircraft scenery out of the window was beautiful, not as scenic as a Turkish evening by the Marmara sea, but the Jets around were soothing to the #AvGeek eyes.

Turkish Airlines Aircraft at Istanbul airport ramp

Turkish Airlines Aircraft at Istanbul airport ramp

Pushback started 11 minutes behind schedule and it was a very busy time at Istanbul Ataturk Airport to say the least. I could see a long queue of Planes ahead of us, waiting to jet-off.

Istanbul Airport Ramp

Istanbul Airport Ramp

Istanbul Airport - Take off Queue

Istanbul Airport – Take off Queue

Turkish Airlines A330 - Nose Cam

Turkish Airlines A330 – Nose Cam

Heavy incoming and outgoing traffic at the airport meant plenty of opportunities to put my photography skills to test and for my aviation imagery database to increase. Somehow clicking aircraft pictures always gives me a different kind of high.

Istanbul Airport Runway - Aircraft

Istanbul Airport Runway – Aircraft

One of the disappointing aspects during this delay was no incoming information from the cockpit or the cabin crew, although I could see the “reasons” in front, I doubt if all passengers were able to figure that out. We finally rotated into Turkish skies around 2030 hours local time, the views of the city and the sea were terrific.

Turkish Airlines A330 - Istanbul Aerial View

Turkish Airlines A330 – Istanbul Aerial View

After only about 9 minutes the crew was back in action and serving “Turkish delights”, a local savory which I never seem to get enough of. and Rightfully so.

Turkish Airlines Delight

Turkish Airlines Delight

Another 9 minutes later, a crew member came by my seat to give the Economy travel kit. It consists of a pair of socks, earbuds and an eye patch. For an economy cabin, this is a pretty decent offering.

Turkish Airlines Economy Amenity Kit

Turkish Airlines Economy Amenity Kit

Another 8 minutes passed before we were handed out our Dinner menus. For Turkish Airlines to do this is indeed very thoughtful, even on a medium haul five hour and forty minutes flight. The planning for these services seemed done to the T. As a traveler, I appreciate this more because being a red-eye flight I would want the “mandatories” to be done as soon as possible to get some rest before an early morning arrival in New Delhi. Of course it also helps the crew in their time/work management as well, So its a win-win.

Turkish Airlines A330 - Economy Class Dinner menu

Turkish Airlines A330 – Economy Class Dinner menu

Dinner service started another 30 minutes after the menu distribution and I ordered a Grilled Chicken Breast from the menu, which was the only non-vegetarian choice. It was served along with sautéed vegetables and some potato purée. The selection and its presentation were very average and the taste left me un-satisfied, unfortunately I misplaced meal pictures to share here. Chana Salad and Breads were served as well but what I really liked was the Mango Panna Cotta dessert, besides the Efes Beer 🙂

The vegetarians on the flight had two options between Aloo-Gobhi and Channa Colaw Paneer as their main, and from my conversations with fellow passengers, they certainly were the better tasting dishes.

The crew were friendly and attentive throughout the flight though I had to request twice for lights to be dimmed after the meal service. Every body seemed ready for their quick naps but I guess nobody in the cabin crew thought of turning the lights down 🙂

The final service for the flight was done 3 hours into the flight and about 2:30 hours before landing as everybody was given a small bottle of water. I don’t know if the crew was waiting for this only to dim lights as they were turned down after this round. Our scheduled arrival into Indira Gandhi International Airport Terminal 3 in New Delhi was 04:20 hours, and we touched down with a slight delay of 15 minutes. The Long taxi from the runway to the gate meant we could only alight after another 25 minutes, marking a happy end to my trip through Scandinavia and Northern Europe.

 

 

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Review: SAS Business Class Lounge, Stockholm Arlanda

Stockholm Arlanda Airport - Exteriors and ATC

Stockholm Arlanda Airport – Exteriors and ATC

Our flight from Stockholm Arlanda to Istanbul was scheduled to depart at 1145 hrs, so after having breakfast we decided to check out of Hilton Slussen at 0800 hrs to have enough time to experience SAS’s Business Class Lounge at Arlanda Terminal 5.

Related Trip Posts:  Tripping through Scandinavia: Introduction

Turkish Airlines A330-300 New Delhi to Istanbul

Turkish Airlines A320-200 Istanbul to Zurich

Train on a Ferry!

Turkish Airlines A321-200 Stockholm to Istanbul

 

My family got a taxi from the hotel, while I preferred to catch the nearby metro to Stockholm CityTerminalen. We were hopping on the FlygBussarna to Stockholm Arlanda and the City Terminal was the nearest stop from the hotel. There’s a coach every 10 minutes, with “Free Wi-Fi” – useless for those who don’t know swedish language or have a local phone number. I thought that was a big let down and defeated the whole purpose of Free Wi-Fi for travellers. The website says no login is required but I can assure you of its lie. Nonetheless, the journey was otherwise comfortable and the bus dropped us in front of Terminal 5 in about 45 minutes. I had bought my tickets via Viator at 10% discount.

Flygbussarna Stockholm Airport Bus - at CityTerminalen

Flygbussarna Stockholm Airport Bus – at CityTerminalen

We quickly found the Turkish Airlines counter, and fortunately, the business class counter was free, while the economy counters had about 20 odd waiting passengers. Advantage of flying with business class passengers, even though I was traveling in economy I guess. Though I found it strange that I had inserted my Jet Privilege number already while checking-in online, it was somehow not showing up at the counter. Overall it was a quick and courteous check-in for us and we were off to security.

Call it the Sunday morning effect, but even security at Arlanda was efficient and quick. There were no preferred lanes for business class passengers, and in spite of that we were done in 5 minutes flat. The security folks were respectful, like most of the people we encountered throughout our Scandinavian trip.

Arlanda Airport seemed to be pretty well functioning. I thought it had pretty much all essentials for travellers. Sure, it wasn’t the Changi or the HKIA of the world, but for a mid-tier European airport, it ticked pretty much all boxes in my book.

Swiss Air A319 - View from the Loo at Arlanda Stockholm Airport

Swiss Air A319 – View from the Loo at Arlanda Stockholm Airport

Including great tarmac views from urinals. This is much better than those stupid little screens you see where they play useless commercials or try to be funny.

We searched for over 10 minutes trying to find the signage for Lounge and ultimately had to ask one of the airport employees. The SAS Business Class Lounge is located pretty far for non-Schengen gates, and it was almost a 12 minute walk to reach the lounge.

SAS Business Lounge Map - Stockholm Terminal 5

SAS Business Lounge Map – Stockholm Terminal 5 (Photo Courtesy: Official Website)

 

The SAS Business Lounge is open from 0530 hrs to 2300 hrs, Monday-Friday and Sunday. The Lounge timings are 0530 hrs to 2030 hrs on Saturdays.

SAS Business Lounge Entrance

SAS Business Lounge Entrance

The Access for the lounge is open to passengers holding Star Alliance Gold Status with same day flight on an Alliance carrier. Also to, SAS Gold card members with SAS or partner airline flights and Business/First Class ticket holders travelling on a Star Alliance carrier flight. As we were flying Turkish, a Star Alliance Member, the lounge reception staff warmly welcomed us.

 

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Entry and Staff

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Entry and Staff

Before I veer off to other points about my lounge experience I want to highlight and acknowledge SAS staff at the entrance. Both the ladies at the front desk (silly me forgot to take note of their names) were as warm and friendly as it gets, and it looked like they genuinely loved their job and interacting with people. Not just us, I was able to notice their conversations with other passengers as well, and they were simply fabulous. So SAS thank you for choosing such great ambassadors in your lounge. Kudos. (SAS Folks, the easiest way you can identify them would be to see who worked the morning shift on 27th July 2014)

We entered the lounge around 0940 hrs and the staff was in the process of setting up food items. The selection wasn’t fully served till 1010 hrs. The first impression of the lounge is quite fancy, and modern with its furnishings and decor.  On the immediate left, a big compartment of major world newspapers is available. Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Daily Telegraph, along with Time Magazine was some of the major ones.

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Newspapers

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Newspapers

 

There are plenty of seating options across the lounge, with a mix of sofas, lounge chairs and bar stools.

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Seating and Layout

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Seating and Layout

 

There are more seating options in the back with convenient access to power ports, overlooking the arrivals section of the terminal.

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Seating

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Seating

SAS Stockholm Lounge - View towards landside

SAS Stockholm Lounge – View towards landside

 

There was a 40 inch television screen with local news on one side of the lounge. The breakfast cold buffet spread was middle-of-the-road in my book. Apart from a selection of breads, there was ham, condiments, biscuits, chips, greens and salad sauces.

SAS Stockholm Lounge -  Breakfast Breads

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Breakfast Breads

SAS Stockholm Lounge -  Breakfast Salad and Fruits

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Breakfast Salad and Fruits

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Snacks and Chips

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Snacks and Chips

 

For those interested, the lounge even had a menu on display, which displayed part of their selection.

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Menu

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Menu

 

The drinks selection was slightly better for me. Apart from tons of Carlsberg, the lounge offered Apple and Orange juice (which kept running out), selection of tea, local beers on tap, couple of red & white wines on tap, along with the Coca-Cola family of soft drinks.

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Beers and Juice

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Beers and Juice

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Beers on Tap

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Beers on Tap

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Wine on Tap

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Wine on Tap

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Soft Drinks

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Soft Drinks

 

The lounge also boasted of couple of coffee machines (which I never tried), one of them was dedicated to serving organic coffee.

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Coffee Machines

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Coffee Machines

 

There were total of 5 macintosh computers with working Internet connections in the open business area of the lounge, along with printer/copy and fax facilities, which I thought was a pretty reasonable arrangement for those who still value such facilities. Needless to say, the lounge had a working wi-fi connection for private use as well. In my roughly 45 minute usage, I found it had decent download speeds, enough for a traveller/executive on-the-go. Though far from optimal if you are looking to stream HD content.

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Business Center

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Business Center

 

One of the things, which stood out for me in the lounge was the small yet dedicated kids play area in the lounge. Apart from story books, it had plenty of soft toys to keep the little ones engaged. The walls also featured graffiti and drawings done by past occupants of the area, which I thought was a great touch. For families traveling together, play areas can be great comforting zones and I wish more airline and lounge operators incorporated it in their planning process.

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Children Play Area

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Children Play Area

 

The lounge also had another zone, to the left of the reception, which featured more seating options and similar food/drink items. There was another large 40 inch TV, which had the local news channel turned on. I did encounter a half-functioning beer fridge and a second newspaper/magazine stand. The beer selection consisted of Tuborg Green, Tuborg Gold and non-alocholic Carlsberg (???). I went with the safe option of  Tuborg Green and chips 😉

SAS Stockholm Lounge - More Seating

SAS Stockholm Lounge – More Seating

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Beer Fridge

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Beer Fridge

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Magazines and Newspapers

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Magazines and Newspapers

 

The rear portion of this side of the lounge featured a more private, cordoned-off area, which I guessed could be designated as a quiet zone or a meeting area, depending on the occupants.

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Private Area

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Private Area

 

The lounge unfortunately had no tarmac area views, barring the entry area, which has partial and hindered views of the tarmac and the runway in the distance. I was able to snap a close-up picture of a LOT aircraft on our way out.

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Airside view

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Airside view

LOT Embraer 170 at Stockholm Arlanda

LOT Polish Airlines Embraer 170 at Stockholm Arlanda

Overall I would rate the lounge good mainly due to three reasons:

1) Great staff

2) Plenty of seating/Kids play area

3) Decent Wi-Fi

Although I would like the Lounge to improve its cold buffet selection, may be adding a hot item could do the trick or maybe that’s just the hot-breakfast-loving-Indian in me talking. We left the lounge around 1040 hrs for our flight at 1145 hrs. I thought we would make it comfortably to the gate, alas I never knew what was in store for us next at the Passport Control.

 

 

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GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Rick Ingersoll (Frugal Travel Guy)

GlobeTrotters on Twitter 2

Rick Ingersoll, the founder of FrugalTravelGuy explains the mission of the blog quite simply as “helping regular folks see the world at prices one can afford”. And at that very moment I knew that I had to speak to this retired mortgage banker turned global frequent flyer and pick his brains.

Since founding the blog in 2007, Rick and his entire FTG team have helped out regular folks to travel the world upfront and in style. He has also authored a handbook aptly titled “The Frugal Guy Travel Handbook”. Rick and his wife Katy have been on two “Around the World” Rick Ingersoll - The Frugal Travel Guyitineraries in either J (Business) or F (First) class, using points, miles or vouchers. He has collected over five million frequent flyer miles and currently has over 1.5 million of them. The Frugal Travel Guy blog has also been awarded the best budget travel blog over 3  years, in 2009, 2010 and 2011 by tripbase.com.

Excerpts from our chat:

  • Rick, why do you travel?

Rick – The people. We have been blessed to visit over 60 countries and met amazing people. They have made our experiences and shared their world with us. Getting on planes is a requirement to see the world. As long as we have a comfortable seat and can safely get to our destination we’re happy to get on the plane.

  • I know you enjoy and encourage people to travel in style, in the front of the aircraft. Any interesting instances while flying?

Rick – The journey is part of the experience, but our eye is on the prize at the end, the destination. Our memorable experiences have most always been at our destination. I’ve met several readers of the blog on at the airport or on a flight which is always fun. Meeting fellow travellers leads to great conversation. A few years ago I met Dave Winfield in an airport terminal and spoke about travel and our experiences. We’ve kept in touch; he’s a great guy.

  • Do you have a favourite airport?

Rick – Hilton Head and Savannah are our current home airports. Easy in and easy out makes it a plus for us.

  • Talking about airports, what addition/s you would like to see them adopt? (besides Wi-Fi)  

Rick – More quiet spaces. Airport lounges are a fantastic place to relax but in places where there are none, quiet places to read are relaxing

  • Do you have a preferred airline and a favourite aircraft?

Rick – The airline that gets me to my destination safely and comfortably. American has treated me well in the past few years, but I’ve flown just about all of them.

As far as favourite aircraft is concerned, as a big guy every bit of space helps. For those long haul flights any plane with a flat seat so I can sleep is a winner in my book

Kauai 03 007

Kauai (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Which is your destination of choice?

Rick – We love the island of Kauai.  Perfect weather, beautiful scenery and wonderful people. I like to call it FTG west headquarters. Our time with family and friends that we’ve been able to share has been some of the best.

  • This is going to be right up your alley. I know how much you love to help out folks with their travel, what advise would you give to all those who want to travel the world frugally?

Rick – Write down your goals and priorities, and make them tangible. Make sure you hit one of your goals within a year. If you have good credit, use that excess good credit to make it affordable. It has worked for us for years and anyone can do this.

  • Which website, guide book etc. you refer before and while your traveling? What’s your study for a country/city like?

Rick – I talk to my friends and family that may know about the destination and always look through the forums on flyertalk. The US State department has a great site for information on foreign countries as well which I recommend

  • What role do you think social media/twitter has played in propagating Travel?

Rick – I think it has done some fantastic things for customer service with almost immediate access to people empowered to help solve problems.

  • And finally, as this is GlobeTrotters on Twitter, which are your three must follow accounts on twitter

Rick – @GlobeTrotScott, @DeltaAssist, and of course @FlyerTalk

 

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GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Devesh Agarwal (Bangalore Aviation)

GlobeTrotters on Twitter 2

When I asked Devesh what led him to start Bangalore Aviation, his answer was simply because his friends and family increasingly started coming to him for all aviation related advice and discussions, he noticed the absence of an India specific aviation blog, thus the idea of Bangalore Aviation was germinated. When your a global frequent flier with over 4 million miles against your name, all that is naturally supposed to happen.

Devesh posing Inside Boeing 787 Dreamliner Cockpit

Devesh posing inside Boeing 787 Dreamliner Cockpit

My personal view, knowing him for few years now, is that and more. I think it’s a cocktail of what he describes as well as what he doesn’t. You see Devesh loves to share his wealth of knowledge, and those who know him would describe him as a larger than life, social and jovial man who loves his food and flights. Through a blog he found just the right outlet to vent out. Other parts of the puzzle just fit in their places perfectly.

Bangalore Aviation is described by him as “By aviation enthusiasts, for aviation enthusiasts”, started on March 14, 2008, with the intent of being a “no-spin” zone of Indian aviation media.

Like many leading bloggers, managing Bangalore Aviation is not Devesh’s day job.  He is a technology product management expert and has been awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010.

Devesh also has been recognized as one of the must follow aviation pros on twitter in Mashable for good measure.

Enjoy this conversation:

  • Devesh, what has been your personal motivation to travel and to fly?  

Devesh – From childhood I have loved planes, the magic of flight, the physics of flying. I also have a pair of glider pilot wings, and I just love to fly. I still remember my first flight as an eight year old boarding Air India Boeing 747 Emperor Ashoka. It is fascinating that we can travel to countries on the other side of the earth in less than 24 hours, a feat that was fraught with danger less than 60 years ago. It is a pity that air travel over the years has become less glamorous and there are many airlines in the world today, which treat passengers as “self-loading cargo”, but thankfully there are also those that do not.

  • So your not a fan of Ryan Air, I’m actually yet to meet someone who is. I believe you would be the sorts to enjoy your plane ride. Any memorable experience?

    Air hostesses for Singapore Airlines. January ...

    Singapore Girls: Also known as Devesh’s perpetual saviours (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Devesh –  I was on the inaugural Los Angeles-Singapore non-stop A340-500 Singapore Airline flight. The inbound flight from Singapore was four hours early due to favourable winds, which meant the winds would be against us while going back. The pilots decided to take an equatorial route, which was longer than the polar route but had less opposing winds and were nearer to major airports should we need to land to re-fuel.

During another of my SIA flights between Frankfurt and JFK. About 25% of the business class seats stopped working, two passengers fell ill midway, and one in fact died from a heart attack. All this while the crew was being audited and inspected by an in-flight quality control auditor. Hats off to that crew for their performance. They were on their feet for the full eight hours and running back and forth the entire length of the B744 and not skipping a beat on their very high service levels while still attending to the passenger emergencies and seat failures.

These are just two of my long list of experiences, by Indian newspaper standards I have had more “miraculous escapes” than the proverbial cat.

  • All that makes my next question redundant, I was going to ask your favourite airline…

Devesh – Yes, it’s Singapore Airlines. The service level is simply unmatched. On a Singapore to JFK flight, my nine year old son spilt a full glass of coke on himself. My wife had forgotten to pack a change of clothes for him. The crew brought a Givenchy pajama suit they give to first class passengers, and altered the pajamas by hand stitching to fit the young boy!!!!! I have never heard of such an experience on any other airline. To top this off, my wife and children were flying, without me, and on an award business class ticket. So no FFP or revenue influences.

English: Singapore Airlines Boeing 747-400 (9V...

Singapore Airlines Boeing 747-400 (9V-SPP) in Star Alliance livery at Singapore Changi Airport. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • That actually sounds quite incredible, which would be your preferred airport?

Devesh – It’s Singapore Changi of course, due to their hyper-efficient immigration, baggage delivery, and customs. Even with checked baggage, you are out of the airport within 15 minutes.

  • All right Singapore fan boy (just kidding!!), tell me about your all time favourite aircraft.

Devesh – Without a doubt, Concorde. I was very sad to see her being retired. For the first time in history we went backward in technology as there is even till today no replacement aircraft for her, and none appears to be for the next 20 years.

(Vishal’s note: Read my flashback story on the Concorde, as well as Devesh’s great piece on it.)

  • Let’s get slightly more specific now; which airline according to you has the best economy, premium economy, business and first class products?

Devesh – Best Economy – Singapore Airlines

Best Premium Economy – Cathay Pacific

Best Business Class – 1-2-1 configured Singapore Airlines beats most first class. Also the Upper Class of Virgin Atlantic and their fantastic Club House, and those ladies in red.

Best First Class – The old Pan Am Boeing 747s with the upper deck lounge. Currently, I think Emirates A380 takes the crown. Their seats are narrow compared to other airlines, but any airline that has a shower spa on board and serves Hennessy Paradis cognac (about $850 a 750ml bottle) has to take the “Over the top” crown.

  • Lets come back to airports for a second, is there any particular addition that you would like airports to adopt? (Besides Wi-Fi)

Devesh – Restaurants serving real food, not the fast food fried or ready made nonsense. I think with growing travel, appreciation for good food, and airline’s cutting back, a fine dining restaurant at airports will do well.

  • You have a successful career and run a successful website, what advise would you give to those who want to travel the world without breaking their bank balance?

Devesh – The travel itself is not expensive. Depending on where you travel the boarding and lodging is. For most I would recommend using a tour package from one of the reputable companies.

  • Is there a go-to website, guide book etc. you consult before and while your traveling? What’s your research for a country/city like?

Devesh – Apart from BangaloreAviation.com? :), I go through Lonely Planet, Frommers, but my first choice is my business colleagues and friends in the destination country/city.

  • That was a clever plug Devesh 🙂, what role do you think social media/twitter has played in propagating Travel?

Devesh – Social media has brought more world cultures to the attention of more people, and hence the desire to travel to what, ten years ago, would have been an unknown place for someone. Same goes with meeting people. Personally I have met some great people, initially online, but then also in person. You are one person where our virtual friendship has transformed in to a real one. Other friends include Shashank Nigam (Simpliflying), and others.

  • Finally, as this is GlobeTrotters on “Twitter”, your 3 must follow twitter user accounts?

Devesh – @mashable for all things social media and gadgets

@avweekrupa, @apexmary, @simpliflying – people with great insight and thoughtful tweets

@breakingnews – global developments

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GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Gary Leff

GlobeTrotters on Twitter 2

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)

13000 kilometers for a Dinner, eh?

13000 kilometers for a Dinner, eh?

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

 

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