All posts by Point A

Getting there is half the fun! Day Job during the -uhh Day- and Travel Blogging at Night. It's all about the journey …

Hyatt Regency Paris Étoile HOTEL REVIEW: New Year’s Eve in Paris

New Year’s Eve in Paris is another great experience resulting from my obsession with collecting Miles & Points (what I like to call Pointing). After spending a few days in Amsterdam, we hopped on the Thalys hi-speed train. Upon arriving in Paris’ Gare du Nord station, our car service was waiting to whisk us to the Hyatt Regency Paris Étoile. For our two-night stay, we dipped into our reserve of Hyatt Gold Passport points.

The Hyatt Regency Paris Étoile is a large conference hotel and, at 34 stories, is one of the few skyscrapers in this part of the city. Public transportation is easily accessible via the Port Maillot Metro and RER (regional commuter train) stations which are located in the shopping mall connected to the building.

Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile Lobby

The large lobby is modern and airy. Our check-in was handled quickly, efficiently and in a polite manner. However, given that the hotel was quite full for the New Year holiday and very busy there wasn’t much time for warmth or personalization. In fact, this interaction typified the service throughout our stay – business-like but not warm.

Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile Club Twin 1

Our assigned Twin Club room was small but efficient. The beds were comfortable and our space included an average-sized desk, which supported a flat-screen TV and a small cocktail table and side chair.

Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile Club Twin 2

Storage space included a large closet / wardrobe that, while deep and spacious, seemed to be oddly designed (e.g. in order to maximize the full use of the space one had to nearly climb inside to slide your belongs into the back compartment.)

Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile Club Room Closet Space

Another set of drawers and cabinets (which also contained the room’s mini-bar) provided additional storage space.

Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile Storage Space

The bathroom seemed a bit more spacious relative to the rest of the room and featured a toilet / bidet combination and a full-sized tub and shower. The walls of the tub were a bit high and could potentially represent a slight obstacle for individuals with mobility issues.

Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile Club Room Bathroom

Although our room was comfortable enough for our short stay, the furnishings seemed a bit dated and worn. Notable dings, scratches and missing pieces were evident on the desk, side tables and woodwork. In addition, the public spaces such as the hallways were dark and evoked a style reminiscent of what we envisioned the future looked like … back in the late-Eighties 😉

Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile Hallway

During our stay we had access to the Regency Club Lounge that featured plush red chairs and leather banquettes surrounding low cocktail tables. I actually found the décor of the lounge to be fun in that it straddled the line between French Old World luxury and Moulin Rouge style bordello.

Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile Regency Club Lounge

The lounge was a nice place to write postcards or have a cup of coffee. However, we skipped its breakfast offerings since the wait for seating in the morning seemed long with a line that extended out the door. To be fair, the hotel was booked extremely full which may have contributed to the crowding issues.

The Hyatt Regency Paris Étoile also offers a high-ceilinged fitness center with a variety of cardio equipment.

Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile Fitness Center

Floor-to-ceiling windows highlighted one of the hotel’s best features … the spectacular views overlooking Paris. For example, we enjoyed unobstructed views of the city from our room.

Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile Vew from Room 1

We were even able to spot the domes of Sacre Couer off in the distance. You can spot the famous church on the far right hand side of the horizon in the following photo.

Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile View from Room 2

Rooms on the other side of the hotel enjoy views of the Eiffel Tower. Although our lodgings lacked such a postcard vista, we were still able to gaze on this classic landmark in the hotel’s 34th floor Bar La Vue. During our stay, the hotel offered a New Year’s Eve package that included a bottle of champagne and a tray of canapés.

Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile Bar La Vue New Year's Eve Champagne

Our admission fee also entitled us to a couple of reserved bar stools on the upper level of the bar where we could observe the action below, await the night’s Countdown and watch the fireworks launched from the Eiffel Tower at the stroke of midnight. The “premium” seating option provided either banquette space or a seat at low cocktail tables closer to the window.

Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile Bar La Vue New Year's Eve

All in all we enjoyed our New Year’s Eve at the Hyatt Regency Paris Étoile and especially appreciated our short “commute” down the elevator and back to our room once the evening’s festivities were over.

Have you ever stayed at this Parisian hotel? What was your experience?

The British (Avios Points) are coming! Evaluating the 100K Bonus Points British Airways Credit Card Offer

I’ve been experiencing a bit of premium cabin travel envy lately. By using the bonus points he accumulated during last year’s American Airlines / US Airways credit card offers, I recently scored a seat for my Partner F in British Airways First Class for his recent trip to London.

British Airways First Class Lounge Chicago O'Hare ORD Entrance

Fortunately, the opportunity to potentially earn up to 100,000 British Airways Avios Points has recently surfaced.

British Airways Visa Credit Card 100K Bonus Avios Points Offer

However, are Avios points the best way for me to reach my aspirational Pointing goals? Read on …

British Airways Visa Card 100K Bonus Points Offer

Bonus points associated with the credit card are awarded once you meet specific earning thresholds. The specifics are outlined below:

100K Bonus Points British Airways Credit Card Offer

It has been about a year and half since the last time this bonus opportunity was offered so I decided to pull the trigger and get the card. However, although I have my own reasons for getting the card, should you as well? Before you go running out to sign up for this card, it’s important to have an understanding of how the British Airways Avios program operates.

Using British Airways Avios Points

When using this program, it’s important to note that British Airways employs a “distance-based” formula that requires more points the farther you fly. In addition, BA is notorious for charging very high fuel surcharges on it’s own flights.

When booking an Avios award, you’re given multiple points / surcharge options. If I were to try and minimize the amount I spend on the surcharges, here’s how much it would cost to fly round-trip from my hometown of Chicago to London:

Economy:       26,000 Avios Points plus $701
Business:        100,000 Avios Points plus $1,186
First:                  136,000 Avios Points plus $1,186

Alternatively, because British Airways is part of the Oneworld airline alliance, by flying on one of its partner airlines you can take advantage of a few “sweet spots” on the award chart. For example, British Airways Avios points can be a good value when flying on American Airlines short and medium-haul flights within the U.S.

Chicago to New York (Economy):              15,000 Avios Points plus $11
New York to DC (Economy):                            9,000 Avios Points plus $11

You can also blunt the effect of some of those extra fees by grabbing a seat on such Oneworld carriers as Air Berlin, Cathay Pacific or Japan Airlines.

Chicago to Berlin (Business):                  150,000 Avios Points plus $136
Chicago to Tokyo (Business):                  180,000 Avios Points plus $263
Chicago to Tokyo (First):                           240,000 Avios Points plus $263
Chicago to Hong Kong (Business):      210,000 Avios Points plus $127
Chicago to Hong Kong (First):               280,000 Avios Points plus $127

British Airways also offers a couple of ways for a household to pool their efforts in order to redeem an award. For example, the airline’s Executive Club frequent flyer program allows you to set up a Household Account with up to six people who live at your same address. In addition, holders of the British Airways Visa Card who make $30,000 in purchases in a single calendar year receive a Travel Together Ticket. This perk allows the holder to book two seats for the Avios points price of a single award. The Travel Together Ticket is valid for two years but requires that each traveler pay the taxes, fees and surcharges associated with each individual ticket.

Should you sign up for the British Airways Visa Card?

A 100,000 points bonus looks really tempting since those types of offers don’t come up too often. However, if you’re a beginner to the miles and points accumulation game (what I like to call Pointing), I’d recommend holding off on signing up for the card. There are better loyalty programs and accumulation methods that I’d try to tackle first.

For example, other than the 3X bonus you receive on British Airways purchases, the card only awards a single point for all other spending. As I’ve written previously, you want to make sure that you’re maximizing your points earning capabilities by using cards that provide you with bonuses for your daily spending such as travel, dining, gas and grocery expenses.

In addition, you need to protect yourself against future loyalty program devaluations. Therefore, it would be prudent to understand how the major points currencies operate. As part of your education process, you should evaluate the cards that would enable you to earn those currencies.

So why did I sign up for the British Airways Visa Card?

There are a number of reasons I decided to sign up for this credit card. For example, another way to look at the 100K points bonus is that you’re receiving a 5X bonus for ALL of your spending up to $20,000 for the first year that you hold the card. In addition, BA’s U.S domestic award “sweet spots” will be great to use for quick short-to-medium haul weekend getaways. Finally, the Travel Together Ticket associated with the card provides a nice way to make an aspirational travel experience more attainable (e.g. you can effectively receive a First Class seat for the price of an Economy ticket).

I consider British Airways Avios a “niche currency” that I’ll use for specific types of awards. The program is just one element in my arsenal of Pointing tools. What’s your view of taking advantage of the British Airways Visa 100K Points Bonus?


Disclaimer: Please bear in mind that I am NOT a professional financial advisor by any means. My discussion of credit card strategies or other financial matters are based on my own personal experiences and financial situation. In addition, I am not an employee of any of the financial institutions that issue the cards discussed nor do I receive any compensation for discussing these products. The reader is solely responsible for any financial actions that he/she may choose to undertake. Make sure you read of the “fine print” in the Terms & Conditions for all of the offers mentioned.

Thalys Comfort 1 Review: From Amsterdam to Paris on the Little Red Riding Train

High-speed trains link most of Europe’s major cities. It’s often faster to hit the rails rather than fly since you’re able to avoid the delays associated with clearing security and making the trek to and from the airport. After our stay at the Doubletree by Hilton Amsterdam City Center, we rolled our suitcases next door to the Centraal Station which was only a five minute walk away. We were ready to begin the next leg of our journey.

Thalys Amsterdam Centraal Station Departure Board

Our trip on the Thalys high-speed train from Amsterdam to Paris would take us only 3 hours and 17 minutes and whisk us from city center to city center.

Thalys Amsterdam to Paris Centraal Station

The carriage’s rich red interior matched it’s exterior. Seats on the train’s Comfort 1 (First Class) section are arranged in a 2-1 configuration.

Thalys Comfort 1 Car Interior Amsterdam to Paris

The seats are of a comfortable, though standard, width and are upholstered in plush fabric.

Thalys Comfort 1 Seat Amsterdam to Paris

Controls allow you to recline the seat and pull down footrests let you to stretch out a bit. However, I found the legroom to only be average and might be a bit tight for a taller passenger. I’ll have to say that the space on the Thalys was no way near the ridiculously generous amount of elbowroom provided on our previous journey in Italy’s Frecciarossa Executive Class.

Trenitalia Frecciarossa Executive Class Cabin

Frecciarossa Executive Class

Other amenities in Comfort 1 Class included at-seat power ports and free Wi-Fi.

Thalys Comfort 1 In Seat Power Plug Port Amsterdam to Paris

The internet service was speedy and enabled my Partner F and I to avoid conversation and engage in a non-stop Facebook and Instagram session while onboard. Sigh, yes we’ve become one of “those” couples.

Thalys Comfort 1 First Class Lunch Meal

Our viewing of cat videos was interrupted by a quick lunch served at our seat. A cold pasta and vegetable dish was accompanied by a small green salad, bread and wine.

Thalys Comfort 1 First Class Dessert

Our meal was simple but of good quality and well prepared. We also appreciated the attention to detail in the presentation and enjoyed the chocolate dessert stamped with the Thalys logo.

Before we knew it, we were soon pulling into Paris’ Gare du Nord train station. Another benefit offered in Comfort 1 Class is the ability to pre-book your taxi while onboard. In theory, you’re supposed to be met once you arrive. However, there was a bit of confusion and we weren’t quite sure what to do once we left the train. Thankfully, a helpful train attendant who served us onboard escorted us to the kiosk where we could pick up our taxi. I found this particular service to be of limited value since taxis at the station seemed plentiful and Paris is well served by Uber.

With the sun beginning to set in the City of Lights, we were ready to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Paris. Have you taken the Thalys high-speed train service? What was your experience like?


Summer Shopping through Online Portals

Summer has finally kicked off here in my hometown of Chicago. Just as every diehard Cubs fan believes that THIS YEAR could be the one where we make it to the World Series, the start of the summer offers the hope of limitless possibilities. Of course, the potential for scoring some significant Miles & Points (what I like to call Pointing) is a bit more realistic than my Cubbies hitting those elusive home runs.

Sunset at Wrigley Field April 11 2015

The key to successful Pointing is to build Miles & Points accumulation into your daily routine. One such method is to use Online Shopping Portals to purchase items that are already on your shopping list.

Many of the major airlines and hotel chains maintain sites that enable the shopper to earn points by patronizing a variety of online retailers. In order to use a shopping portal, you simply login with your loyalty number, identify an online retailer that’s of interest to you and “click through” to the retailer’s regular website where you complete the transaction as you normally would. The portal notes the transaction and awards you bonus points for the purchase. Although you can use any card to make your purchase, you can maximize your Pointing by paying with your favorite awards earning credit card. In other words, you earn points from shopping through the portal AND points associated with the card that you’re using.

Some of the major Online Shopping Portals include the following:

Air Canada
American Airlines
British Airways
Chase Ultimate Rewards
Hawaiian Airlines

In addition, many online retailers periodically offer extra bonus points and the Shopping Portals run special spending promotions. For example, through June 15 United’s MileagePlus Shopping portal is awarding up to 2500 bonus award miles for hitting certain spending goals.

United MileagePlus Shopping Award Bonus Summer 2015

As you can see below, you can quickly rack up bonus award miles by shopping through an online portal.

United MileagePlus Summer Shopping Award Bonus Transactions 2015

To determine which retailers offer the best bonuses, I find to be a very helpful resource. This online directory of shopping sites allows you to make side-by-side comparisons of your various rewards options.

With the Father’s Day, Graduation and Wedding gift-buying season upon us, this would be the perfect time to try out an Online Shopping Portal. Have you ever used an Online Shopping Portal as a part of your Pointing efforts? What has been your experience?

DoubleTree by Hilton Amsterdam HOTEL REVIEW: Modern Lodgings in a Centraal Location

One of the great things about my Miles & Points collecting hobby (what I like to call Pointing), is that it has enabled my Partner F and me to establish an annual tradition of “getting away from it all.” Each year, after celebrating Christmas with families, we jet off to some fun location to spend some quality “couple time” together. Cashing in our Points Kitty has taken us on some pretty awesome vacations over the years.

One such trip involved spending a few days in Amsterdam before making our way to Paris to ring in the New Year. I recently wrote about our Business Class experience on United Airlines and Lufthansa. Once we made it across the Atlantic, we mixed and matched award redemptions from each of our hotel accounts to take care of our accommodations. The first stop on this journey was the DoubleTree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station hotel.

After landing at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport, we took the direct train link to Centraal Station, the city’s main rail and public transport hub. As its name implies, the DoubleTree is a convenient five minute walk from the station (turn left upon exiting the building).

Doubletree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station Lobby

The Doubletree’s lobby was bright and modern. We arrived at the hotel mid-morning and were pleased to learn that our room was ready. However, as the official check-in time wasn’t until 3:00 pm, we were informed that it would cost 40 Euros to occupy our room early. Although, we were a bit put off by the extra charge (most hotels have provided me with an early-check in as a courtesy if the room is available), we wanted to just get settled right away so we accepted the offer. Fortunately, this charge never ended up appearing on our final bill. Nevertheless, the hotel’s Front Desk staff was helpful, professional and efficient. We also received a pair of the Doubletree’s signature warm chocolate chip cookies upon check in.

Doubletree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station City View from Room

Our room featured floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the River IJ and an unobstructed view of the Amsterdam cityscape. Tripadvisor reports that these rooms are preferable to other options that face the noisy railroad tracks of the Centraal Station next door.

Doubletree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station Queen Room

The room’s furnishings sported clean modern lines and made efficient use of the room’s space. A compact easy chair was paired with a small coffee table. Our Queen-sized bed was firm yet comfortable.

Doubletree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station Desk and Work Area

A desk provided sufficient though not overly generous work space. A nice feature of the room was the iMac which in addition to providing internet access served as the room’s television.

Doubletree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station iMac

Wi-Fi in the room and throughout the hotel was speedy and we encountered no access issues during our stay.

As with many boutique style hotels in Europe, the bathroom was highly space efficient. Though small, the room seemed to stop just shy of feeling cramped.

Doubletree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station Bathroom Toilet

Although our room lacked a tub, the shower stall was clean, updated and provided strong water pressure.

Doubletree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station Bathroom Shower

During our stay, we had lunch in the hotel’s Lobby Bar which served drinks and light meals. We were pleased by the healthy, well-prepared and hearty portions of our selections.

Doubletree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station Lobby Bar Meal

The space’s sleek dark wood finishes still managed to impart a warm feel to the space.

Doubletree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station Lobby Bar Dining Area

In addition, the room’s “Library Wall” seemed to encourage lingering with a glass of wine or a warm beverage.

Version 2

We also had access to the hotel’s Executive Lounge.

Doubletree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station Executive Lounge

Like the other public spaces in the hotel, the Lounge featured large picture windows that gave the room an open and airy feel. Pastries and cold cuts were offered for breakfast in the morning. Wine and simple hot appetizers and snacks were available in the evening.

Other dining options include the hotel’s City Cafe for a more substantial meal as well as a Starbucks located on premises.

Doubletree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station Exterior Hotel View

Overall we enjoyed our stay at the Doubletree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station. The hotel was modern, clean and comfortable. The service was also professional and efficient. However, although the hotel was very well situated from a public transportation perspective, we felt that the Doubletree’s location put it on the outer edge of “tourist Amsterdam.” In addition, the five minute walk from Centraal Station could prove difficult if you’re traveling with a significant amount of luggage.

How about you? Any recommendations for other places to stay in Amsterdam?

Best Credit Cards for Dining and Groceries – Bonus Points for Fine Restaurants and Frozen Dinners

Anyone who takes a lookat my Instagram or Facebook pages might get the impression that I never eat at home. Yes, I’m one of “those people” constantly taking pictures of plates of food. However, I can’t eat out ALL the time. Therefore, trips to my local grocery store are essential to taking the strain off my wallet … and my waistline!

Dining and Grocery expenses comprise a large part of my household budget. I’ve previously written about the importance of incorporating miles and points accumulation strategies into your daily routine (what I like to call Pointing). Thankfully, there are several credit cards that offer everyday spending bonuses for these categories.

For example, recently American Express announced several new bonus categories and benefits (effective June 1, 2015) for its Premier Rewards Gold card.

American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card New BenefitsWhat’s particularly noteworthy is the introduction of a 2X points spending bonus on Dining. Along with the existing double points I earn on groceries, the new benefits associated with this card makes it a more powerful tool in my Pointing arsenal. There are also several other cards that offer spending bonuses in these categories. Here’s a chart that summaries some of your other options:

Best Credit Cards for Dining and Groceries - Grocery and Dining Bonus Points

However, what makes the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card special is that it earns you Membership Rewards points which are one of the major flexible points currencies. Not only do such points provide you with a variety of redemption options, but they also serve as a hedge against future award program devaluations.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred and various Citi ThankYou cards also offer a variety of spending bonuses. However, the additional benefits and bonus categories make the Premier Rewards Gold Card a compelling option for any Pointers interested in focusing their spending on just one or two cards.

So whether you’re dining out …

Caffe Pitti Florence Restaurant across the street from the Pitti Palace Firenze

… or just hitting the wine section at Whole Foods

Whole Foods Wine Section

… make sure you’re armed with the right card to maximize your points earning. Have I missed any cards on my list? Are there are other cards out there that offer points bonuses for dining and groceries?


Disclaimer: Please bear in mind that I am NOT a professional financial advisor by any means. My discussion of credit card strategies or other financial matters are based on my own personal experiences and financial situation. In addition, I am not an employee of any of the financial institutions that issue the cards discussed nor do I receive any compensation for discussing these products. The reader is solely responsible for any financial actions that he/she may choose to undertake.



Comparing Lufthansa and United Airlines Business Class – Transatlantic Business to Business

In advance of last year’s major devaluation of United’s MileagePlus program, My Partner F and I raided our Household Points Kitty for a New Year trip to Amsterdam and Paris. In addition to ringing in the New Year in view of the Eiffel Tower

Celebrating Ringing in the New Year's Eve Bar La Vue Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile

… we scored a couple of Business Class seats to Europe before the cost to redeem our miles shot up. You see, when you play the Miles and Points “Game” (what I like to call Pointing), you need to constantly be mindful of the principle of Earn and Burn.

United is my longtime “home airline. However, after a taste of luxury in Lufthansa’s Frankfurt First Class Terminal and stretching out in a private bed on upper deck of one of one its 747s …

Lufthansa 747-400 First Class Seat

… I’ve developed a bit of a crush on the German carrier. Fortunately, my Pointing hobby enabled me to compare the two airlines on the same trip. So how did Lufthansa and United compare?

Comparing Lufthansa and United Airlines Pre-Departure Service

The boarding of our overnight United flight from Chicago to Amsterdam was a bit rushed. We received a quick yet professional “welcome aboard” as we cleared the jetway and entered the BusinessFirst (what United calls International Business Class) cabin.

United Business Class Seat

It took awhile before someone offered to hang up our coats. However, once we were settled we were served a pre-departure beverage and I opted for some sparkling wine. Having something to wet my whistle was a nice touch. However, serving my drink in a plastic cup knocked some of the “ambience” out of sitting in a premium cabin.

United Airlines 767 Business Class Seat Chicago to Amsterdam

On the way back, we flew home from Paris via Munich. I’ve written previously about Lufthansa’s Intra-Europe Business Class Service so I’ll skip the details for now about our pleasant but uneventful Paris to Munich segment. For the purposes of this blog post I’ll focus on our experience on our Munich to Chicago flight.

Lufthansa A340-300 Munich AIrport bound for Chicago

Our flight out of Munich was delayed about an hour. However, once boarding commenced we found that the Lufthansa crew greeted us with friendly smiles and immediately took our coats once we reached our seats.

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class Cabin Munich to Chicago

Although champagne wasn’t offered, the crisp white wine I chose as a pre-departure was served out of true glassware …

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class Pre-Departure Beverage Munich to Chicago

… and set more of an upscale tone for the rest of our flight.

Comparing the Lufthansa and United Airlines Business Class Seat

Awaiting us in our United Airlines BusinessFirst seat was a pillow, blanket, headphones and amenity kit.

United Airlines Business Class 767-200 BusinessFirst Seat Chicago to Amsterdam

The seat was comfortable and reclined into a fully flat 180-degree position. Although the compartment felt a bit narrow and “coffin-like” at times, I have to admit the privacy afforded by this seating configuration was appreciated and allowed me to get a solid block of sleep on our transatlantic flight. However, one minor gripe is that there really isn’t a lot of storage space available at you feet so you’ll have to stow your gear for takeoff and landing.

United Airlines Business Class 767-200 BusinessFirst IFE Inf-Flight Entertainment System Chicago to Amsterdam

United’s In-Flight Entertainment options were plentiful and the video screen was large and easy to navigate / operate.

I found the Lufthansa seat to be fresh and modern looking. That said, this is their “old” business class seat and a new version is currently being rolled out across the fleet.

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class Seat Munich to Chicago

Once again, we found the standard pillow, blanket, headphone, and amenity kit combination waiting for us on the seat. A bottle of water was also ready-to-go in a small nook to the rear of the armrest. Lufthansa’s seat is more open and lacks the privacy you may want if seated next to a stranger for a long flight. In addition, although the seat reclines flat, it does so at an angle. As a result, you may find yourself sliding down the seat when trying to get some shuteye.

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class IFE In-Flight Entertainment System Munich to Chicago

I did appreciate that the seat featured more ample storage in front of you. However, the In-Flight Entertainment screen seemed smaller and less sharp than its counterpart on United. In addition, the system’s offerings were more limited and its navigational controls were a bit clunky.

Comparing Lufthansa and United Airlines In-Flight Meals and Service

Once we were settled in our seats, the United Purser swung by to take my dinner order. She was gracious, polite and referred to me as “Mr. A.” Subsequent interactions with the Flight Attendant crew were more informal though I was addressed as “Sir” throughout the flight. In general, the crew was cheery, friendly and in good sprits.

United Airlines Business Class 767-200 BusinessFirst Cocktail Service and Warm Nuts Chicago to Amsterdam

The evening’s meal started with pre-dinner cocktails and warm nuts. A variety of spirits were available and I opted for a glass of red wine and a Diet Coke.

United Airlines 767-200 Business Class Appetizer and Salad Course BusinessFirst Chicago to Amsterdam

The chilled appetizer consisted of smoked salmon and shrimp. It was served along with a fresh seasonal greens salad with roasted tomatoes, Kalamata olives, baby mozzarella and a choice of blue cheese or balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Bread was served on a separate plate. The presentation of both the appetizer and salad was simple. Although the starters weren’t all that creative, I still found them satisfying and executed well.

United Airlines 767-200 Business Class Main Course Beef Entree BusinessFirst Chicago to Amsterdam

For my main course, I selected the short rib of beef which was served with a red wine sauce, mashed potatoes, green beans and carrots. As is typical of “airline steak,” the meat was dry and a bit stringy. My Partner F selected the fillet of salmon with lump crabmeat and unfortunately that entrée suffered the same overly dry fate. That said, the accompanying vegetables were nicely cooked, flavorful and not soggy.

United Airlines 767-200 Business Class Cheese Course BusinessFirst Chicago to Amsterdam

I wrapped up my meal with a fairly standard selection of cheeses …

United Airlines 767-200 Business Class Dessert Sundae BusinessFirst Chicago to Amsterdam

… along with a customized ice cream sundae (I went the strawberries and chocolate route). I have to admit, there’s always something fun about having ice cream while flying at 40,000 feet.

United Airlines 767-200 Business Class Pre-Arrival Meal BusinessFirst Chicago to Amsterdam

Prior to landing in Amsterdam, a light breakfast was served. The chilled deli selection consisted of Swiss cheese, Black Forest ham, Genoa salami and turkey. Fresh fruit, a croissant and yogurt rounded out the meal.

United BusinessFirst also offers an Executive Dining option that allows you to be served your main meal followed by dessert based on your own schedule.

Turning to Lufthansa, I’ve heard others comment that Business Class service on the German carrier, while efficient, can sometimes be less personable and even “robotic” in nature. On our flight from Munich to Chicago, I noticed that several members of the crew, although professional, seemed to lack a “warm and fuzzy” quality. Fortunately, the Flight Attendant serving our seats provided us with a great deal of personal attention and was quite engaging and attentive.

Our experience on this flight may have actually been an early “trial run” of Lufthansa’s Business Class Signature Service. This concept has each flight attendant focusing on only a limited number of passengers in an effort to personalize the in-flight experience. Blogger Lufthansa Flyer wrote a more detailed post on the Lufthansa Business Class Signature Service, which is continuing to roll out in additional markets.

I kicked off dinner with cocktails and found that Lufthansa’s spirits menu was more extensive than United’s.

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class Cocktail Munich to Chicago

Drinks were served off of a cart and I opted for a Campari and Soda. However, I was surprised that packaged nuts, in contrast to the warmed option served by United, accompanied the cocktails.

Appetizers consisted of Aniseed marinated Salmon with Potato Salad, Basil Vinaigrette and Cream Cheese Mousse with Chives.

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class Salad and Appetizer Munich to Chicago

The small Seasonal Leaf Salad was less “hearty” than United’s option. However, it’s simple presentation was actually a nice compliment to the more creative appetizer. The quality of Lufthansa’s bread selection was better than that of United’s. I chose the Pretzel Roll which was served on a separate plate.

Since I was having trouble selecting a wine to go with dinner, the Flight Attendant cheerfully suggested that I have a “wine flight” and served me all the options that were being offered that evening.

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class Main Course Beef Entree Munich to and Wine Flight Chicago

Just as on my inbound United flight, I went for the beef option and chose the Fried Tenderloin with Chocolate Red Wine Sauce, Potatoes us Gratin and Green Beans. Although the beans were a bit soggy, I found the meat sauce and the potatoes to be rich and highly satisfying. In contrast to United’s beef option, Lufthansa’s tenderloin was juicy and flavorful. However, it was served a bit more on the rare side than some diners might enjoy. That said, I prefer my meat “Joan Crawford bloody” (just watch Mommie Dearest and you’ll know what I mean) so I thoroughly enjoyed my meal.

A cheese plate, that was a bit more refined than United’s course, was served to wrap up dinner.

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class Cheese Course

The selection for the evening consisted of Ashed Goat Cheese, Morbier and natural Yogurt Cheese with dried Apricots.

Dessert was a Mascarpone Pear Cake with Passion Fruit Sauce.

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class Chocolate Snowman Dessert Munich to Chicago


Unfortunately, the pastry was so delicious that I had scarfed it down before remembering to take a picture. Therefore, you’ll all just have to settle for this photo of my Lufthansa Chocolate Snowman which was all that remained of the dessert course.

Since our flight was landing in the late afternoon in Chicago, Lufthansa served a pre-landing meal that was much heartier than the breakfast option provided on United.

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class Pre-Arrival Meal Munich to Chicago

A hearty Belgian Goulash Soup with Apple Wedges accompanied a Mixed Leaf Salad with Quinoa, boiled Egg, Zucchini, Cherry Tomato and Red Radish served with Yogurt Lime Dressing. A savory Bread Twist and Chocolate Raspberry Cake rounded out the meal.

Just like on United, Lufthansa offers an “Express Service” meal option for those passengers who prefer more time for working or sleeping. The multi-course meal consists of a cold entrée, appetizer, salad, cheese and dessert upon request.

Conclusion – Comparing Lufthansa and United Airlines Business Class

Service on both airlines was generally friendly. However, I have to give the edge to Lufthansa which seemed to offer a more personalized and warmer experience. That said, since the United leg of my journey was an overnight flight, some allowance needs to be made for the fact that the Flight Attendant team was likely moving expeditiously through the service in order to maximize their passengers’ sleeping time.

When it comes to food and drink, Lufthansa also takes the lead. The quality, variety and creativity of the meal selections were definitely a notch above that of United. Although I would place my hometown carrier’s meal service in the “not bad” category, it was hard getting past the more “institutional kitchen” flavor of the food options.

Comparing Lufthansa and United Airlines Business Class

Where the Friendly Skies comes out ahead is in its “hard product.” I much preferred United’s true 180 degree lie-flat seat to the “angled” lie-flat seat on Lufthansa. United’s BusinessFirst seat offers you the best shot at getting an uninterrupted block of sleep on an overnight flight. That said, Lufthansa’s new business class might soon level the playing field.

How about you? What’s your favorite Business Class product?

What kind of Pointer are you?

I’ve used airline and hotel reward points many times to not only get from Point A to Point B but also to enjoy travel experiences I would never otherwise have been able to afford.

Lufthansa 747-400 First Class Seat

Lufthansa First Class

Yes, points have allowed me to attain my travel goals. Yet, it may seem to others that I’ve been a bit obsessive in my pursuit of points. Rest assured my friends, there has always been a method to my madness.

So what exactly is a Pointer?

  1. Anything that points or is used for pointing.
  2. A needle-like component of a timepiece or measuring device that indicates the time or the current reading of the device.
  3. A breed of hunting dog.

To this definition I’d like to add:

  1. A traveller who expresses a passion for the collection and redemption of loyalty award points; Pointing – process of collecting and redeeming loyalty award points.

Yes, I’m definitely a #4. I’m a Pointer.

Any discussion of points accumulation and the associated strategies for attaining those points needs to start with a close examination of one’s own personal motivations. All of your efforts should really begin with a round of introspection and the asking of the question: Why?

I’ve found that the asking of the “Why” question helps the budding Pointer figure out not only the best ways to accumulate points but also the most effective ways to spend those points. Moreover, the spending of points should go beyond what’s most “efficient” and should also factor in what would be the most valuable to you from a personal, professional and/or experiential perspective.

With these thoughts in mind, I think it’s important to ask yourself the following questions to help guide your Pointing strategies. These are all questions that I’ve asked myself and they’ve proved very useful to me as I plot out my own accumulation and redemption strategies. As you work your way through these …. Umm, Points, I’ve provided my own answers so that you can start to get a sense for who I am and the thought process behind my Pointing efforts.

Why do you want to collect points?

I know that’s a ridiculously simple question. However, unless you answer it you won’t have a starting point. For example, should you be working towards an airline award


United Global First Class Lounge Chicago ORD O'Hare Airport New Lounge Design

United Global First Class Lounge Chicago O’Hare Airport

or a hotel reward

Andaz Liverpool Street London Atrium View

or a combination of the two?

My focus is on airline points with my secondary goal being the accumulation of hotel points.

What kind of travel experience are you seeking?

Some people are just looking to get from Point A to Point B and traveling in economy is just fine.

United Airlines new Slim-Line Seats 737

United Economy Plus

Others are saving up for a Trip of a Lifetime. For example, my Partner F and I recently mixed and matched our Household Kitty of points and miles to take a “dream vacation” to Thailand.

During this trip our various award redemptions allowed us to travel in luxury and ….

Thai Airways A380 First Class Seat Suite Frankfurt FRA to Bangkok BKK

Thai Airways A380 First Class

… fly Thai Airways’ new A380 in First Class

Royal Orchid Sheraton Bangkok New Year's Eve Fireworks Celebration Display on the Chao Phraya River

Royal Orchid Sheraton Bangkok

… celebrate New Year’s Eve in Bangkok

Sheraton Krabi Beach Resort Infinity Pool

Sheraton Krabi Beach Resort

…. relax on the beach in southern Thailand

Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge The Wing Hong Kong Champagne Bar

Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge in Hong Kong

… enjoy a bit of pampering in Hong Kong

Cathay Pacific First Class Seat Suite Hong Kong HKG to Chicago ORD

Cathay Pacific First Class

… and fly home in style in Cathay Pacific First Class

Therefore, I guess I’d fall into the aspirational award category since I like to be REALLY comfortable when I travel.

Where do you live? Who do you fly?

The answer to this question helps determine who might be the best travel partners for you. For example, do you live near one of the Major Airline Hubs? Someone from Minneapolis, Detroit or Atlanta might best be served by aligning with Delta. On the other hand, those travelers living near Dallas might want set their sights on American Airlines.

I’m a Chicago guy who benefits from living near O’Hare so I have a great deal of choice with all the major carriers flying into my city. In my case, I’ve aligned with my hometown airline of United. By declaring a “home” airline I’ll be able to focus my limited time, travel and financial resources.

Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that airline frequent flyer programs change very regularly. For example, last year United’s program implemented a major devaluation that greatly increased the mileage requirement for redeeming awards.

Therefore, it would be prudent to maintain frequent flyer accounts with all the major airlines in order to diversify your holdings. For example, I also hold accounts with American and Southwest. Although I fly those airlines less frequently, every mile I do earn adds up after awhile. In addition, I’ve found that great Pointing opportunities can still arise on airlines that I never fly!

How much do you travel now?

Travel provides the opportunity to earn the “currency” of award travel, the loyalty reward point. Are you a Road Warrior who travels significantly for business? Are you the occasional leisure traveler? Have you never left your hometown? Who do you think will earn the most points? Anyone and everyone.

I don’t travel at all for business. I do take 4-5 leisure trips a year which provides me with about 25,000 miles annually. However, as you’ll soon see, you don’t have to spend that much (or any) of your time in the air in order to reach your Pointing goals.

What’s in your wallet?

Credit cards have changed the landscape of the travel reward industry. Period. These will prove to be a major tool in the Pointing strategies for most people.

Beginner Credit Cards for Earning the Big Three Points Currencies

One of the best ways to accumulate points is by signing up for cards that earn one of the major points “currencies.” Flexible points currencies provide a way to hedge against potential award program devaluations by allowing you to transfer the points into your preferred loyalty programs only when you need them. In addition, the bonus points these cards provide for your daily spending will enable you to quickly earn the miles and points you’ll need to reach your award goals.

However, the most important concept associated with using “credit card spend” to achieve your Pointing goals is this: NEVER carry a balance and ALWAYS pay your bills off in full every month!

What kind of Pointer am I?

Well from my answers to these questions you can see that a Profile of me has emerged. These characteristics influence the subject matter that I cover in my blog.

I’m a non-Road Warrior who’ll be responsible for funding my own travel. Since I live in Chicago, as a matter of personal preference I’ll by relying heavily on United Airlines. However, I’ll always be sure to DIVERSIFY my Pointing activities in order to avoid getting burned by award program devaluations. Along those lines, I’ll orient my daily spending around using cards that earn the major points earning currencies. In addition, I’m all about the “aspirational” trip and you’ll see from my trip reports that I like to be pampered and will work very hard to get to my destination in the most comfortable manner possible!

The wealth of information available is simply staggering. I’ll take the approach of relaying to you what I’ve learned as it applies to my own situation. I plan to personalize the whole Pointing process and give you concrete examples. In some cases, I’ve not done things in the most efficient way and I’ll be ready to share those instances with you so that you can learn from my mistakes. I’m hoping to make Pointing a much more accessible and understandable endeavor. This blog will likely be best suited to the budding Pointer who’s trying to sift through a lot of information and is trying to make sense of it all.

I won’t try to be all things to all people. In addition, there will be times where you’ll be learning things right alongside me. However, I feel I’ve learned a lot over the last several years and would be happy to share it with all of you as I do. Consider me “that guy” in the office that everyone seems to turn to for travel advice.

Oh yeah, I guess I should also add a #5 to the definitions that started out this post:

5) Pointing / Pointer – a quick shorthand and misuse of the English language that will enable me to more quickly and concisely express the process of collecting and redeeming loyalty award points. I’m not trying to be clever. I’m just too lazy to use a thesaurus to come up with new ways to express this concept.

With that, let the blogging continue … and please, be gentle with me …

– From Point A

United Club San Diego Airport LOUNGE REVIEW – From Terminal to Terrace to Tarmac

After spending a great week on the beach in San Diego’s North County, I was a bit melancholy about leaving town. Fortunately, I had one last opportunity to enjoy Southern California’s sunny, wide-open spaces in United Airline’s new lounge at San Diego International Airport.

The 5,842 square-foot United Club is located is located on the upstairs Mezzanine level of the airport’s newly expanded Terminal 2 West.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge Entrance

Immediately past the check-in desk, is the Club’s modern bar area.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge Bar Area

The San Diego lounge is the third club to feature the airline’s new design concept. Clean-lined modern furniture complements the space’s beige, cream, grey, stainless steel and marble-look finishes. The overall feel of the place is light and airy. The color palette is calming and spa-like.

Behind the bar is a dining area with café tables and lounge chairs.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge Dining Area

Adjacent to this space is a self-service snack area. Since we were leaving on a morning flight, the food options consisted of bagels, cereal and doughnut holes. Coffee, tea and juice were readily available. In addition, a refrigerator below the counter contained small cans of juice and milk.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge Food Options

Beyond these areas, additional banquette and café table seating is available under a large vintage aviation photo.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge Cafe Seating

This section overlooks a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows that open out to my favorite aspect of the San Diego United Club.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge Outdoor Terrace Seating

An airy terrace overlooks the terminal’s new Sunset Cove atrium food court. From this Mezzanine level vantage point you can enjoy panoramic views of the airfield and the nearby Point Loma seaside community.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge View from Outdoor Terrace

Comfortable lounge chairs with convenient access to electrical outlets are arranged in conversational groups of four.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge Seating

High top bar chairs provide additional seating and power ports at a countertop that runs along the perimeter of the United Club’s terrace.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge Seating Overlooking Tarmac

The fresh look and open spaces of the new San Diego United Club make it one of my favorite lounges in the airline’s network. Have you visited this lounge before? What are your thoughts?

Using Online Shopping Portals for your Holiday Gift Buying – Taking Advantage of Tardy Tuesday and Beyond

Whenever I can, I try to align my daily spending patterns with my Miles & Points accumulation (aka Pointing) efforts. The Holiday Season represents the perfect chance to exercise my Pointing skills as I buy gifts for my family, friends and office colleagues. Although I skipped the frenzy of Black Friday, I haven’t missed out on any earnings opportunities. In fact, I’ll probably earn more points by shopping online than by physically stepping foot inside any store.

Galleries Lafayatte Christmas Store Window Display

Many of the major airlines and hotel chains maintain sites that enable the shopper to earn points by patronizing a variety of online retailers. In order to use a shopping portal, you simply login with your loyalty number, identify an online retailer that’s of interest to you and “click through” to the retailer’s regular website where you complete the transaction as you normally would. The portal notes the transaction and awards you bonus points for the purchase. Although you can use any card to make your purchase, you can maximize your Pointing by paying with your favorite awards earning credit card. In other words, you earn points from shopping through the portal AND points associated with the card that you’re using.

Some of the major Online Shopping Portals include the following:

Air Canada
American Airlines
British Airways
Chase Ultimate Rewards
Hawaiian Airlines
US Airways

In addition, many online retailers offer extra bonus points during the Holiday Season.

Galleries Lafayette Christmas Tree

To determine which retailers offer the best bonuses, I find to be a very helpful resource. This online directory of shopping sites allows you to make side-by-side comparisons of your various rewards options.

Therefore, I wouldn’t feel too upset if you missed out on either Black Friday or Cyber Monday. You can still rack up some significant Miles & Points totals by shopping on “Tardy Tuesday” and beyond.

Do you have plans to use an online shopping portal for any of your Holiday Shopping?