Tag Archives: Featured

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?

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?


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

Transatlantic Trifecta – Comparing United’s First, Business and Economy Class Service

United is my hometown airline.  The carrier is my primary Pointing vehicle (see my earlier post on What Kind of Pointer Are You? for what this means) and its MileagePlus program is one of the most useful and versatile frequent flyer programs in the industry. Over the past year I’ve flown quite a bit with United and have been able to experience all three of its service classes (First, Business and Economy).

On New Year’s Eve I flew from Chicago to London in BusinessFirst (Business Class) and on the way back in Economy.  This past June, I “turned left” and was able to try out service in GlobalFirst (First Class) from Chicago to Frankfurt on our way to Italy (see my post on What I Did On My Pointing Vacation to see what I … well did).  So how did these experiences compare?


I have the United MileagePlus Club Card that gave me access to the airline’s lounge located in O’Hare’s C Concourse.  You can also use the lounge if you’re flying on an international Business Class ticket.  The lounge is huge but can get quite busy during peak travel hours.

United Club Chicago

Traveling on an International First Class ticket gave us access to the Global First Lounge in Chicago which has a similar layout and décor but is smaller and MUCH quieter.

IMG_0837United Global First Lounge Chicago

In London, we had access to the Star Alliance Lounge which, like the United Club in Chicago, also had a “buzzy” (e.g., busy!) atmosphere.

Star Alliance Lounge London

The United Club offers bar service and free beer, wine and basic spirits.  Champagne and more premium options are available for purchase.  On the other hand, the Global First Lounge offers a nice “self-service” selection.

United First Class Lounge Chicago Bar

There is similar “pour your own” access in the London Star Alliance Lounge.

Star Alliance Lounge London Bar

Lounge food options in the United Club usually consist of a simple selection of cheese, crackers and fruit.  Of course, I also manage to sneak a few (e.g. several handfuls) of Pepperidge Farm Milano and Walker’s Shortbread cookies into my carryon for a nice mid-flight snack.  My United Club pre-flight meal usually looks like the following …

United Club Food Options

You can find a more substantial spread in the Global First Lounge which includes a mini-Las Vegas buffet style shrimp option …

United First Class Lounge Chicago Food Options

Leaving Heathrow, one nice touch in the London Star Alliance Lounge was the opportunity to partake in a traditional English Breakfast before boarding our flight back to the States …

Star Alliance Lounge London Heathrow Food Options

Onboard Seating

After we boarded our 777 aircraft to Frankfurt we settled nicely into our seats. I’ve flown United’s First Class product in the past.  However, this was my first experience with their updated First Class Suite.

United GlobalFirst Seat

Source: Courtesy of United Airlines

The seat was spacious, comfortable and reclined into a fully flat bed that had some nice storage compartments and power outlets …

United First Class Seat Storage

… and a diverse selection of In-Flight Entertainment.  On the way over I watched Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn … very appropriate since we were on our way to Italy!

United GlobalFirst In-Flight Entertainment IFE

In addition, United recently launched a turn down service in GlobalFirst (see this article for more details) that provides a special sleeping cushion and duvet cover for the flatbed suite.  This service is available “on request” but I was pleasantly surprised when the purser proactively offered to make up the bed for me.  The added amenity of the sleeping cushion certainly did make the seat more “bed like.”

Our 767 Business Class flight to London also featured completely lie flat seats.  However, BusinessFirst lacks significant in-seat storage.

United Business Class Seat

The on-demand In-Flight Entertainment system was similar to the one in First Class although I did like the fact that the screen seemed closer and more accessible to your seat.

United Business Class In-Flight Entertainment

In the fully reclined position the seat felt significantly narrower than the First Class Suite but was still comfortable.  On our transatlantic flight I managed to get several hours of solid sleep.

A lie-flat seat was less necessary on our return home from London to Chicago since it was a daytime flight. Even though we were unable to secure extra legroom Economy Plus seats, the flight was still perfectly comfortable.

Economy Class Window View

In addition, the smaller seat got me closer to the window where I was able to take in the view.

In-Flight Meals

Even with all of my pre-flight snacking in the lounge prior to boarding the plane, I still manage to squeeze in a full meal on every flight that I take.

United GlobalFirst’s dinner service was a multi-course affair starting off with a selection from the bread basket and a coconut crusted chicken skewer and eggroll served with a spicy chutney.  Although “not bad” the quality of this course was squarely in the Whole Foods frozen appetizer category.

United First Class Appetizer

This was followed by a creamy corn chowder which was “tasty enough” but on the thick side.  Let’s place this course in the Campbell’s Chunky Soup category.

United First Class Soup

Next up was a nicely prepared salad.

United First Class Salad

For the main course I went with the beef option accompanied by a slice of garlic bread.

United First Class Main Course

The steak was tender and not dried out while the side of steamed asparagus tasted fresh.  The weak link in the meal was the side of gnocchi pasta that tasted a bit overcooked and “crunchy.”

I finished off the meal with a made-to-order ice cream sundae.

United First Class Sundae

In Business Class, the meal service is compressed with the shrimp and salmon appetizer coming out at the same time.

United Business Class Appetizer and Salard

The beef option in Business Class was somewhat similar to the First Class meal although this version sported a nice red wine sauce.

United Business Class Main Course

Dessert options included a cheese course (also offered in First Class)….

Business Class Cheese Course

… and the tried-and-true made-to-order sundae.

Business Class Sundae

Of course, I had BOTH!

Meal service in Economy was a much simpler affair with everything (once again the beef option) coming out all at once.

United Economy Class Meal

The food was passable though not memorable.  However, my biggest gripe was with the strangely shaped molded plastic serving tray that didn’t lay flat. I never was able to figure out the best way position it on the tray table so that it didn’t seem like it would accidentally flip over into my lap.  That said, a well-placed, misplaced elbow would certainly have resulted in some interesting Economy cabin aerial acrobatics.


Over the years, I’ve found the service on United to be hit-or-miss.  However, on this particular set of flights I’m happy to report that I experienced a pretty drama-free service experience.

The First and Business Class service experience was very similar. United’s crews on its international routes tend to fall into the “seasoned veteran” category.  Although I found the interaction with the flight attendants to be rather informal, everyone was friendly and seemed to be in generally good spirits.

The real standout, though, was in the service we received in the Economy class cabin.  The London-based British Flight Attendants worked the cabin with a “Lufthansa-like” efficiency (Note: To see what I mean, check out my series of “Love Letters to Lufthansa” here, here, here and here). Special kudos go out to this team who exhibited a crisp professionalism that made sitting in the back of the plane “not so bad.”

What’s Really Important

I’m glad I was able to experience all three of United’s service classes this year.  Comparing United First and Business Class, I have to say that if were to redeem points for future travel, I probably wouldn’t “pay” the premium to fly in First Class for a “relatively short” transatlantic 8-9 hour flight. Although the GlobalFirst seats are certainly more spacious, United’s BusinessFirst lie-flat seats are also pretty comfortable.  In addition, United Economy flying home on a daytime flight isn’t all that bad.  If I wanted a bit more comfort at the back of the plane I’d just pay the additional fee to lock in an extra legroom Economy Plus seat.

Of course, the TRUE test of the quality of an airline’s in-flight experience is how good you look in the obligatory pre-flight champagne toast photo.



What do you guys think?  Have you flown in different classes on the same airline?  What are your thoughts on the differences between the First, Business and Economy class experiences?



Royal Hawaiian Luau – Book It Danno!

My perception of Hawaii has been defined by television. The image of Don and Megan Draper sipping drinks on the beach in front of The Royal Hawaiian this past season on Mad Men is still very fresh in my mind.  Then, of course, there was that “very special multi-part episode” when the Brady Bunch took off for the Islands.  Finally, as I continue this past-TV-life regression, how can we ever forget the classic opening credits sequence of the original Hawaii Five-0?

Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai Bar

We were in Hawaii this past May to celebrate my Dad’s 80th Birthday.  Since this was our first visit to the Islands we wanted the quintessential Hawaii experience. In my mind, there’s nothing that represents “TV Hawaii” at its finest than Waikiki Beach with those stunning views of Diamond Head in the distance. In the middle of all the action and positioned to capitalize on this iconic scenery is The Royal Hawaiian.  Given the location, we felt that the hotel would be the perfect place for our first experience with another Hawaii classic – the Luau.

The Royal Hawaiian’s Luau “Aha Aina” (which according to the hotel translates to gathering for a meal) takes place only on Monday evenings on the property’s Ocean Lawn.

Royal Hawaiian Luau Front Lawn View

Aha Aina is Waikiki’s only oceanfront sit-down dinner.  Guests are seated at comfortably-spaced tables of ten and are served dinner and drinks at their seats.  Unlike other some of the other luau dinner show options, there’s not a need to line up at buffet for your meal.  The views of Waikiki beach and Diamond Head are spectacular.

Royal Hawaiian Luau Lawn View Rear

The evening started with welcome drinks inside the hotel’s vestibule as our party was checked in.  A brief announcement and ceremonial procession kicked off the festivities as we were guided outdoors.  We paid an additional supplement for Premium Seating which gave us a table in the front row and a Kukui Nut Lei.

Royal Hawaiian Luau Group Photo

As the beverages flowed (Mai Tais and Pina Coladas were our drinks of choice and were included in the price of the meal) we wandered the grounds as the performers demonstrated traditional Hawaiian crafts such as cloth making, poi-pounding and the tending of tools.

Royal Hawaiian Luau Traditional Craft Demonstration

Next, we were all draped with fresh flower leis …

Royal Hawaiian Luau Family Photo

… and, following the sound of a pu (conch) shell being blown to signify the start of the feast, we were seated at our tables for dinner.  As we started our meal, the performance began with a storyteller sharing the significance of various Hawaiian traditions.  Later the emcee made the rounds of the tables to call out various guests who were celebrating special occasions including my Dad  …

Royal Hawaiian Luau Emcee

Of course, I think she got a little nervous when my Dad took hold of the microphone and started to tell his life story.  That said, she was very gracious and let my Dad “run with it.”

The meal was very well-prepared and centered on a “surf and turf” Sake Braised Short Rib and Kona Lobster Tail (the full menu can be found at this link). However, my personal favorite was the dessert …

Royal Hawaiian Luau Dessert

… The Royal Hawaiian Signature Pink Haupia Cake.

As the sun began to set, the show started in earnest with an appearance by King Kamehameha

Royal Hawaiian Luau King Kamehame

… and traditional dances …

Royal Hawaiian Luau Dancers 1

Royal Hawaiian Luau Dancers 2

Over the rest of the evening song and dance commemorated Hawaii’s culture and traditions with homages to the Royal Hawaiian’s Beach Boys

Royal Hawaiian Luau Dancers 3

A whole lot of hula …

Royal Hawaiian Luau Dancers 4

Royal Hawaiian Dancers 5

Royal Hawaiian Luau Hula Dancer

… and of course a classic Fire Dance!

Royal Hawaiian Luau Fire Dance

I used my Starwood Preferred American Express Card to reserve and pay for the luau and received double Starpoints for my purchase.  Check out my earlier post, Starwood Starpoints Starstruck, for more details on the value of the Starwood Preferred Guest program.

The manicured grounds of this beautiful vintage hotel and its perfect location on the beach provide the ideal setting for the evening’s festivities.  The table service (e.g. “non-buffet”) format provides for an upscale, relaxed and more gracious dining environment.  In addition, the performances are family friendly and offer broad appeal to a variety of audiences. The Royal Hawaiian Aha Aina Luau may seem a bit “old school” to some people.  However, that’s precisely why I chose it.  And now, let’s continue with a very special episode of From Point A To in Hawaii …

Have you ever attended a luau in Hawaii?  What was your experience?


Lufthansa First Class – When Will the Honeymoon End?

Our private Mercedes dropped us off at the 747-400 that would be taking My Partner F and I home on the last leg of our European Summer Vacation.  Our itinerary was Frankfurt to Chicago to Reality. Since this was our first experience with Lufthansa First Class, my mind was still reeling from the great experience that we had in the First Class Terminal (see my last post for details).

After the driver escorted us to the doorway of the aircraft, we realized that boarding of the flight was well underway.  We made our way through the Business Class cabin to the stairway that led us to First Class.  I’ve flown on the upper deck of a 747 before (years ago in United Business Class on a flight from Los Angeles to Sydney).  There’s always something special about being up there.  The cabin isn’t that large so you immediately get a sense of privacy and exclusivity as soon as you enter.

Lufthansa First Class Upper Deck 747-400On the 747-400, the upper deck of the Lufthansa First Class Cabin consists of only 8 seats.  A German couple and their two teenage kids occupied the four seats in front of us.  In back of us was a woman who had just been upgraded from Business Class (lucky her!).

When we entered the cabin, the Flight Attendant hung up our jackets and offered to stow our carry on baggage for us.  She took our cases to a small storage area just off to the side of galley. Although there was a nice storage compartment near the base of my seat, space for our carry-ons was limited.

Lufthansa First Class Storage Compartment

Now about that seat … here’s where things start to get pleasantly surreal.  This particular flight featured Lufthansa’s New First Class design.  Note: You can check to see whether or not your individual flight will be sporting the New First Class cabin by checking out this link on Lufthansa’s website. On the 747-400, each First Class passenger receives both a comfortable and spacious recliner AND their own full-sized bed!

Lufthansa First Class Seat

The In-Flight Entertainment screen was large.  However, I found the offerings to be a bit limited.  That said, I really didn’t spend much time on this flight watching videos since I wanted to focus as much of my attention as I could on the service experience.

Lufthansa First Class In-Flight Entertainment IFE

As we settled into our seats, the Flight Attendant offered me a glass of 2005 “Comptes de Champagne Rosé Brut, Champagne Taittinger and a dish of macadamia nuts as my pre-departure snack.

Lufthansa First Class Pre Departure Drink

Soon after that, the Purser (who sounded remarkably like a German version of Julie Hagerty from Airplane!) stopped by each individual seat to personally welcome us aboard and handed me menus (separate ones for wine and the food) on which had been written my name.  What impressed me was the tone and body language she used in addressing each of us.  She kneeled slightly so she could speak to each passenger at eye level and communicated a genuine sense of warmth and graciousness.

After we were airborne, the in-flight meal service began. There were two Flight Attendants working our cabin.  We really only saw one since there seemed to be a division of responsibilities with one FA working the “front of the house” while the other worked “behind the scenes.”

First, we were offered a rose scented warm towel (one of the nicest I’ve ever had) to freshen up.

Lufthansa First Class Warm Towel

Next came the drinks … Coke Zero and a 2010 Pouilly-Fuissé, Cristophe Cordier Chardonnay to start.

Lufthansa First Class Drinks

Next up, was an amuse-bouche consisting of a ground oxtail purée served with a savory mousse foam covered in a mystery orange sauce (sorry folks, my description not Lufthansa’s … I didn’t quite catch the official description).

Lufthansa First Class Amuse Bouche

While certainly creative, the amuse-bouche didn’t set off any fireworks in my opinion. It did look pretty though!

The Flight Attendant then prepared my setting for the meal.  Of course, it wouldn’t be a high end dining experience if there weren’t freshly cut flowers on the table.

Lufthansa First Class Table Setting

Other nice touches included a separate dipping bowl for olive oil and the individual salt and pepper shakers.  No, I didn’t pocket them. I already had my Lufthansa Rubber Ducky as a souvenir!  Plus, the garlic bread wasn’t too shabby either!

Lufthansa First Class Garlic Bread

I also figured I’d go all out and have my first taste of Caviar with the Traditional Garnishes.

Lufthansa First Class Caviar

I ended up liking the caviar more than I thought I would.  This is surprising since I’m the guy who gets a bit grossed out when a dusting of tobiko ends up on my California Roll.

If that weren’t enough, a Choice of Appetizers from the Service Cart was on the way.

Lufthansa First Class Appetizers

I went with the Marinated Norwegian Salmon with Lime Cream and Keta Caviar, Herb Crusted Tenderloin of Beef with Caesar Salad and Green Pea Mousse on Buffalo Mozzarella Cheese in Tomato Basil Vinaigrette.

At this point I was started to get both full AND tipsy.  Remember, we just had a meal of Wiener schnitzel with a bottle of prosecco in the First Class Terminal.  Of course, I decided to “take one for the team” and forged ahead with the Main Course.

Lufthansa First Class MealSince I wanted a “lighter” meal I opted for the fish course which consisted of Sole in Lemon Sauce filled with Lobster accompanied by Green Asparagus and Couscous.  The fish was tender and not dried out and the veggie was surprisingly fresh tasting.  However, the lobster seemed a bit chewy.  Overall, the meal had more of “neutral” flavor and consistency.  Not that I’m complaining … hey, it’s still lobster at 30,000 feet!

Of course, there’s always room for dessert …

Lufthansa First Class Dessert

Feeling dark and luscious I went for the Black Forest Cake “Joachim Wissler” with Chocolate and Licorice Sauce and paired it (very nicely!) with some Niepoort Portwein LBV Port. I was in a full-on feeding frenzy at this point so I’m glad I was able to take a photo prior to inhaling this course.

I decided to wind things down with some Baileys and a few chocolates I chose from a selection offered by the Flight Attendant.

Lufthansa First Class Dessert Chocolates

Of course, I restrained myself and maintained an appropriate sense of decorum by NOT going through the box and squeezing each piece to figure out which ones had nougat in them.

At this point, I fully intended on taking some time to write in my travel journey.  However, with my eyes getting heavy I decided it was time for a nap.  Earlier in the flight, we were offered a set of van Laack cotton pajamas consisting of a pair of beige bottoms and a button up charcoal grey top.

Lufthansa First Class Pajamas

The PJs are pretty comfy and I’ve already spent a couple of lazy Sunday afternoons lounging around the condo in them.  Yes, you do get to keep them!

I’ve flown long haul flights in flat bed seats (both in First and Business) in the past.  However, sleeping in a true “bed in the sky” was a really new experience for me.  The mattress was firm yet comfortable.  Despite the fact that my mind was swimming with the thought that “I’m in a freaking bed at 30,000 feet” I did manage to drop off and get about 3 hours of sleep.


When I woke up it was, of course, time to eat again!  The Flight Attendant rolled out the Service Cart and hand assembled my customized salad selection that consisted of …

Lufthansa First Class Pre Arrival Meal

Lettuce and Wild Herb Salad, Grilled Red and Green Bell Pepper, Olives with marinated Feta Cheese, Roasted Pine Nuts, Brown Mushrooms, Yogurt and Mango Dressing, Escalope of Veal Vienna Style and Pretzel bread.  Finished off with at Pistachio Tart with Nuts for dessert.

Lufthansa First Class Dessert Tarte

Of course, all good things must come to an end.  As our flight made its descent towards Chicago, the Purser once again came through the cabin and thanked us individually for flying with Lufthansa.  She was, yet again, waiting for us at the foot of the stairs where she held back the Business Class passengers so that we could exit the plane first.

I have to admit that I nearly froze as I approached the cabin door.  I wasn’t quite ready for all of this to end. Could I really face the Real World again?  After my Lufthansa First Class experience it has been hard adjusting to normal life. I was almost late for work one day as I sat in our condo waiting for our Doorman to come collect me, escort me to a sedan and drive me to the corner.  Of course, once there I would expect to see my personal Chicago City Bus patiently awaiting my arrival … and of course breakfast would be served onboard.

Sigh, that’s just not going to happen is it? Well, I guess I better start collecting some more miles and points! The love affair with Lufthansa continues. Can’t wait for our Second Honeymoon.


Through Baggage Claim and Around the Taxi Ranks to the Lufthansa First Class Terminal We Go

Let the gushing over Lufthansa continue. My last two posts covered our recent experiences with Lufthansa’s short haul Intra-European service and a couple of the airline’s lounges in Frankfurt.  However, at the end of our recent European vacation, we upped the ante and had the opportunity to try out Lufthansa’s First Class Services.

We had originally been booked to fly home on Air Canada from London in Economy.  Since I was hoping to switch into a premium cabin for our journey home I regularly checked for award availability on United’s reservation site in the hope that something would turn up.  Most airlines start to release more award space as a flight’s departure date approaches. At some point, the airlines’ computer programs make the determination that it is unlikely that they will be able sell the seat to a “paying” customer and release space into the award inventory.

As I was doing my research, I spotted that one possible routing home would be to fly Lufthansa from London to Chicago via Frankfurt.  Although this option involved some minor backtracking, I realized that this itinerary opened up the possibility of not only flying home via Lufthansa First Class but also the opportunity to experience the Lufthansa First Class Terminal.

It’s actually quite easy to get a seat in Lufthansa First Class.  All you need is about $9000 per person for a one way ticket. Of course, the OTHER option is to do what we did and cash in some frequent flyer points.  Lufthansa is a member of the Star Alliance so we were able to use United’s MileagePlus program to secure two First Class award seats home to Chicago for a total of 135,000 miles.  One thing to keep in mind about Lufthansa is that the airline only releases First Class award space to its Star Alliance partners at the most 15 days in advance of departure.  In my case, I was able to book our tickets 9 days before we left.

Lufthansa’s First Class Service and Lounges were awarded the independent Skytrax airline rating institute’s top Five Star ranking in 2013. Our First Class tickets provided access to Lufthansa’s First Class Lounge in the airport. However, I had my sights set on a much loftier goal. Specifically, I wanted to experience the Lufthansa First Class Terminal (FCT).  As you can see from the map below, the FCT is a standalone BUILDING dedicated solely to Lufthansa’s First Class and Top Tier HON Circle Frequent Flyer passengers.

Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 1.26.36 AM

In order to access the FCT you need to actually leave the main airport terminal.  After our connecting flight from London landed in Frankfurt, we followed the signs to Baggage Claim.  Since we had arrived from another EU country, there was not a need to clear customs.  However, we did still have to get our passports stamped by German Border control.

Our bags were checked all the way through to our final destination of Chicago.  Therefore, we didn’t have to stop by Baggage Claim. We proceeded to the Exit and turned LEFT after exiting the building.  My Partner F started to get a little nervous since it wasn’t exactly clear just where the FCT was located.  However, in advance of our journey I had done EXTENSIVE research on how to get to the FCT.  Specifically, the travel blogger universe was a great resource in obtaining step-by-step directions for getting to the FCT. I knew the drill:

After Baggage Claim EXIT the terminal and TURN LEFT. Walk past the taxi ranks. Walk past the place the break area where the taxi drivers are smoking. After about maybe a 5 minute walk you will see this …


There’s a Main Entrance on the upper level where people arriving at the FCT by car, taxi or limo are greeted.  However, once you cross the street ( … and shimmy around that traffic gate) ….


…. You will see a small (usually unmanned) reception area.  Turn to your left and you will see an elevator that will take you up to the FCT.


Now here’s where it gets good.  Do you remember that scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the original one with Gene Wilder and not the kinda scary version with Johnny Depp) where you get that first glimpse of the magic that lies within (here’s a link to that scene to get a sense of what I’m talking about)?

However, instead of some Ooompa Loompas, we were greeted by at pair of tall, blonde and angular Personal Assistants… lets just call them Hans and Franz ….who warmly greeted us to the FCT.  We were first guided to a private security screening area (no lines … just us!) and then our passports were collected.  We were told that one of our Assistants would come find us once our flight was ready to board. Not needing to avail ourselves of the private Duty Free shop, our Assistants gave us a tour of the FCT and let us loose to enjoy the facility.

There are a number of comfortable lounge areas spread throughout the FCT …


… with a lot of great snacks within easy reach …


Of course, I thought it was a bit ironic that I was drinking champagne as I thumbed through the Water Bar menu.


There was a full bar which featured just about ANYTHING you could possibly want to drink  ….

IMG_1397… along with a pretty outrageous candy selection if you have a Sweet Tooth (umm, just where are those Oompa Loompas?) …


F booked a Quiet Room with a daybed to take a disco nap (after I was done with my photo op) …

IMG_1398 Meanwhile, I took off to book a Shower Room to freshen up …


Unfortunately, the hot water heaters were out of order in the FCT that day.  However, that development didn’t dampen my spirits since after a “brisk and refreshing” cold shower I was able to get one of these …


The Lufthansa First Class Rubber Ducky is a “must have” tchotchke in the world of the miles and points fanatic. I made F get one as well since I didn’t want mine to get lonely.  Note: On this particular day the Duckies were under lock and key so we did have to ask the Shower Room Attendant for one (hey, persistence pays off!).


Rubber Duckies procured, F and I went for a bite to eat in the FCT’s restaurant. A nice buffet was available …

IMG_0630However, F and I decided to order from the menu.  The waiter asked us what type of champagne we’d like with our meal and I think he was a little disappointed that we ordered the prosecco since he very politely inquired … “Aren’t you sure you wouldn’t like to take a look at our champagne menu? We have some very fine ones available.”  At this point, F and I were feeling a little overwhelmed and since we were still in an Italy state of mind and didn’t want a fancier bottle to go to waste … we went for the “cheap stuff”! Oh yes, you get a full bottle along with your meal …


F ordered a very nicely prepared chicken curry …


And since we were in a German-speaking country, I went for the Wienerschnitzel

IMG_1411 And finished off our meal with some strudel for dessert …


All the food was fresh and excellently prepared.  As we were wrapping up our meal, we were approached by Hans (or was it Franz?) who indicated that they were having a shift change (blush, I built a 5-hour layover into our itinerary so we could maximum our time in the FCT).  He introduced us to … let’s call her Helga … who would be taking over as our Personal Assistant.

It was Helga, who then came to collect us in the Lounge when it was time to board our flight.  She accompanied us downstairs to another private area that had a dedicated Passport Control station where our documents were stamped and we were escorted to a waiting Mercedes Benz.


We were then driven out to the tarmac where we parked alongside the 747 that would take us home to Chicago.  The driver escorted us to a private elevator that exited onto the jet bridge.  General boarding was wrapping up at this point so he brought us directly to the aircraft door and we were on the plane in no time.

Of course, the fun was only beginning.


Keep any eye out for my next post in which I describe our first experience with Lufthansa First Class.


Lufthansa Lounge Lizard: A Reason to Stay Grounded – Lufthansa Lounges Frankfurt Airport

Diet Coke. A comfy chair. Wi-Fi.  Preferably in that order. My needs are simple.  And those are the needs I sought to fulfill after my Partner F and I landed in Frankfurt on the first leg our recent European adventure.  As soon as we exited the plane we were off in search of the airport lounges.

We arrived at the new A-Plus Pier in Terminal 1.  This concourse went into operation on October 10, 2012 and is home to some of Lufthansa’s newest and largest airport lounges. Since we had arrived in United First Class and were continuing on Lufthansa in Business Class we were entitled to use the airline’s Business Class Lounge near Gate A13 and the Duty Free Shop. Here’s a map of Lufthansa’s lounge locations in Frankfurt:

Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 1.26.36 AM

Source: Lufthansa Lounges in Frankfurt

The lounge is just under a year old and features the “new” design that was developed through extensive focus groups and customer feedback. Although it’s now missing that “new lounge smell,” I found the space light, airy and efficient.  The use of materials such as leather and oak serve to soften the design’s modern edges.




Of course, all that thoughtful design went unnoticed as my caffeine levels started to drop and simultaneously my “snippy-ness” quotient began to rise.  Thankfully, the lounge’s extensive self-service food and beverage options came to the rescue.


I skipped the wine and champagne … too early in the morning … even for me!


… and parked myself under the Diet Coke dispenser.  I was starting to feel human again ….

IMG_0869Of course, during this whole time my Partner F respectfully kept his distance.  F has learned (through trial and error) that in my jet lagged state it was probably best to NOT ask the question “Do you REALLY need another hard boiled egg?!?!”


The lounge was VERY busy when we entered.  However, with so many people coming and going, we didn’t have too much trouble finding a pair of comfortable leather chairs where we could “nest” during our four hour layover.  With my first two basic needs met, I was then able to enjoy the lounge’s speedy (and free) Wi-Fi to incessantly Facebook.

In addition, to food, drink, comfy chairs and Wi-Fi, this Lufthansa lounge also provides the weary traveler with shower facilities and even a “quiet space” with chaise lounges were you can take a “disco nap” as you await your next flight.


About a week later, on our flight from Florence to London, we again transited through Frankfurt and were able to sample another Lufthansa lounge.  This time, we were leaving out of the B Concourse so we popped into the lounge near Gates B24-B28.  On this leg of the journey we were traveling in Economy and wouldn’t have ordinarily had access to the lounge.  However, since we are both card-carrying members of the United Club Visa, we were granted access to the Lufthansa Business Class lounge (note: Only primary card members are allowed entry using this method – no guests).

The look and feel of this lounge was slightly different from our first experience.  This area of the airport wasn’t as busy which probably explained why the lounge was so empty while we were there.  Although this particular lounge was a bit darker than the first, it seemed to project a “warmer” atmosphere through its more earthy color palette.




The self-service food and beverage offerings were nicely presented …

IMG_1298 And I was pleasantly surprised that hot dogs were being served!


However, I unfortunately realized only after the fact that I was eating a TURKEY wiener (insert HORRIFIED look here) ….


You just don’t do that to a Chicago guy!

In my last post I wrote about the great experience I had on a couple of Lufthansa’s Intra-European flights.  That experience continued on the ground, as the Business Class lounges are very much an extension of the airline’s brand, aesthetics and service culture.  Of course, the Business Class lounges are just the tip of the iceberg for Lufthansa’s Premium Services.  In my next post I’ll talk about my experience with Lufthansa’s First Class services … starting with the famed First Class Terminal in Frankfurt.


Stay tuned …


Flying Lufthansa Intra-Europe – Taking Service (and the SPORK) to a New Level

As I indicated in an earlier post, a few weeks ago, my Partner F and I cashed in 270,000 United MileagePlus miles for two First Class Tickets to Europe. Our itinerary gave us the chance to not only fly Lufthansa for the first time but also sample THREE of the airline’s service classes.


We fly United Airlines pretty much exclusively. Although my service experience with UAL has had its ups and downs in the past, I’ve generally been satisfied with the airline’s performance over the last year or so.  That said, when it comes to most U.S. carriers I’ve learned to “manage my expectations” in an effort to avoid disappointment and reduce the possibility of having one of those “air rage” moments that might result in a full ground stop of traffic at O’Hare.

Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised by how civilized our experience was on our three intra-European hops on Lufthansa.  For this trip we flew Frankfurt to Naples and London to Frankfurt in Business Class and Florence to London (via Frankfurt) in Economy.


I guess I was expecting service on Lufthansa to be stiff, formal and well …. maybe just wee bit authoritative.  Predictably, I didn’t experience any informal folksy Southwest Airlines-style “friendliness” on any of my Lufthansa flights (e.g., there was no hint of a German version of “y’all” or “honey” during my interactions with the flight attendants).  However, on all three of my Lufthansa flights I found the entire crew to be highly professional, genuine and earnest in their desire to provide great customer service.  For example, in the Business Class cabin the flight attendant serving the bread basket implored “Don’t be shy, feel free to take another roll if you’d like” (“… why I don’t mind if I do, you can never have too many pretzel rolls in one sitting”). This same sense of graciousness was also present when we flew Economy. When F asked if there was any chamomile tea available, the Flight Attendant answered, “Are you not feeling well?  We don’t have any in Economy but I will get you some.  I shall have it made for you.”  Which brings me to another point … we were actually FED on all of our flights.


Although, each of our flights was under two hours, Lufthansa managed to get us fed before landing.  In Business Class, we had a nice selection of cold cuts and cheese:


Business Class Meal – Frankfurt to Naples


Business Class Meal – London to Frankfurt

While in Economy we got a nice egg and cheese sandwich:

IMG_1294Economy Class Meal – Florence to Frankfurt 

Even on our short Economy flight to London we received this little snack:


Economy Class Meal – Frankfurt to London

As you can see, my trust in Lufthansa was so high that I was confident enough of the quality of the food to wolf down a Coach Class, mayonnaise laden, egg salad concoction with a side of smoked salmon in the middle of July without batting an eye.


What’s interesting about Lufthansa’s seating on its short and medium haul flights is that the seat is exactly the same.  The only difference is that in Business Class the airline blocks the middle seat so that you have more elbow room:

Screen Shot 2013-08-01 at 12.35.35 AM

Source: Lufthansa Business Class

The seats themselves sport a “slimline” design that is designed to provide you with more legroom.  For example, the magazine rack on the seat is shifted up and away from your legs creating more space.  There are also nice little touches such as a little hook on the seat in front of you where you can hang your jacket.


As “slim” as these seats are (e.g., minimal cushions), they are still surprisingly comfortable. However, I could see how for a flight longer than two hours you may be wishing for padding in (ahem) a few more places.  That’s getting to the bottom of it, isn’t it?

Spork 2.0

Finally, in a testimony to the longstanding tradition of high quality German engineering, I’d like to make note of this little baby that accompanied my egg salad and salmon snack:


Is that cool or what?



Of course, there’s much more to my first experience with Lufthansa than plastic serving utensils.  Keep an eye out for this upcoming post:

My Experience as a Lufthansa Lounge Lizard – A Reason to Stay Grounded

In that post I’ll be talking about Lufthansa’s Ground Services, which include not only their Business Class Lounges but also the world-renowned Lufthansa First Class Terminal.


You’ll need to jump through a few hoops (actually, it’s more like skirting around a few fences) to gain access.  However, I’d be happy to show you the way. And of course, there’s Lufthansa First Class and that famed “Bed in the Sky”


Stay tuned folks …