Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Winter Travel

My Crazy Weekend Adventure

Sometimes I spend months planning a trip. Other times I throw one together in a matter of hours. Such was the case when I planned a quick weekend adventure.

I had three fairly weak reasons: get myself home from the Bay Area after our California company holiday party, use the Centurion lounge pass I won in MommyPoints’ giveaway, and hopefully be able to volunteer to get bumped from a flight so that I would receive another voucher. Did I need to use the voucher? No, not quite yet. Could I have used the voucher to simply fly home? Sure. Or I could have driven.

But booking a ticket from SFO-DEN on Saturday and a return DEN-SFO-ACV on Sunday sounded like much more fun. And it cost like $12 more than the single leg to Arcata, so why not.

As it turned out, I was selected as a contributing writer to Points with a Crew before the trip rolled around, so the time at SFO airport all day Saturday allowed me to kick out my first posts.

Starting My Crazy Weekend Adventure

I arrived at the airport fairly early via BART (SEE: 4 Reasons to consider BART while visiting the Bay Area) and made it through security is only a few minutes. I was incredibly glad I did not have to check any bags, as the United ticket counter lines were ridiculously long. This is one of the main reasons I prefer to travel with only a carry on when traveling solo.

Entrance to the Centurion SFO

Entrance to the Centurion SFO

The Centurion lounge was easy enough to find in Terminal 3. It’s also fairly close to International Terminal G.

I had no issue using the pass, presenting my new SPG business Amex card along with it (access to the Centurion requires you to be an American Express client). I have heard that lounges sometimes refuse to take one-time passes during busy times.

Breakfast at the Centurion SFO

Breakfast at the Centurion SFO

The Centurion SFO was insanely busy when I arrived, which made me all the more grateful that they took my one-time pass. I found a place at a large table, grabbed breakfast, pulled out my laptop, and started writing.

I would have taken more pictures, except that I feel really awkward snapping photos with people all around. It feels like an invasion of their privacy. So….I hope you’re content with the shot of the exterior and one of breakfast. There are plenty of other great reviews of the various Centurion lounges on other blogs. Overall, I thought it was certainly the nicest lounge I have visited (out of my extremely limited experience).

Over the next several hours I did nothing except write and eat and chat with people on the PWAC Slack channel. Finally, around 6:00 I packed up my laptop and headed down to the gate.

My flight was (of course) delayed. The inbound aircraft was a little overdue, and they they had to pull the one sitting at the gate away and bring in ours.

Due to weather in Denver (I would assume), one of the earlier flights from SFO had been canceled, causing some cascading overbooking. I went up to the counter to discuss volunteering to get bumped, but the next departure wasn’t until 10:40. That didn’t sounds like fun, as I would get less than 3 hours of sleep if I took it.

My Mistake Heading Into the Flight

Instead of thinking on my feet, though, I simply said thank you and left. Looking back, I should have tried to bargain my seat in exchange for both a United voucher and a hotel voucher, as long as United could keep  me booked on just the SFO-ACV leg on Sunday. Probably a long shot, but I lost the opportunity to even ask. You never know what might happen. They did need 7 seats.

We then boarded, and the flight went smoothly. I did a little more writing on my post about little-known BA routes with low fuel surcharges.

Things got interesting after landing at DEN. The jetway wouldn’t attach to the aircraft. It turned out we were parked wrong, and the plane had to be repositioned. It wasn’t exactly fun to spend an extra 45 minutes on a plane, watching the clock tick past midnight.

But I was finally off and headed to the hotel. The only miserable part was the time spent standing in -4°F weather outside the terminal. Hey, I guess it was a reminder of our trip to Canada. Soon I was at the Marriott Denver Airport Gateway (for crazy cheap via a BRG!) and fast asleep.

The Return

Morning came too soon with the 1 hour time difference, and I was one my way back to the airport in no time. Security was quick. The United terminal was fairly empty, but I am sure the Frontier one was in much worse shape after their weekend meltdown.

My flight was delayed by an hour due to operations and an aircraft swap, so I decided to burn another United one-time lounge pass to grab breakfast. The sun came up while I was sitting in the lounge, and it was a gloriously beautiful day.

Denver Airport Morning - Lounge View

A lovely crisp morning at DIA

About 8:30 I headed down to the gate. Boarding went extremely quickly as there were only about 70-80 people and we were on a wide-body! Our original aircraft had been replaced by a Boeing 777, and it was set up for a long-haul flight. Pillows and all!

Empty Boeing 777

A very empty Boeing 777!

I am simply happy that United ran the flight at all, rather than rebooking us on later flights.

I loved the snow covered airport and the Front Range in the distance. It made me want to visit Colorado again soon.

Snowy United Terminal at DIA

Snowy United Terminal at DIA

There was a decent amount of turbulence after takeoff, but things mellowed out as we hit cruising altitude. I snapped a shot of Boulder and the Front Range as we started over the Rockies.

Two hours later we were landing again in San Francisco. It was a crazy quick back-and-forth, but thoroughly enjoyable for me.

Wrapping Up My Crazy Weekend Adventure

Since my flight from SFO back to Arcata was seriously delayed, I spent some time being an avgeek, snapping photos of the the 747s I saw.

United Boeing 747 - SFO Terminal G

United Boeing 747 – SFO Terminal G

Unfortunately, due to the time of boarding, I missed the Lufthansa A380 in Terminal G. I saw it out the Terminal 3 windows just minutes before we were to board.

The final leg to Arcata was quick and uneventful. A good friend of mine picked me up at the airport, and I was soon home to my wife.  🙂

WOW $99 California To Iceland Fares: What This Means

Today I received an email from WOW Air, Iceland’s low cost airline, advertising $99 fares from California to Iceland. With a subject of “California! Europe is only $99 away!”, it was a bit misleading. I should have figured they meant $99 to Iceland (yes, technically Europe), but fares were still on sale to other major cities like London and Paris. Albeit a bit more.

wow_99_iceland

The $99 to Iceland is a first. It honestly blew me away. That is a crazy price for a nearly 9 hour flight.

I have repeatedly seen fares on Norwegian hit as low as $179 between Oakland and Stockholm. The new Gatwick-Oakland route hovers around $220 one-way at its lowest. But the sub-$100 from the U.S. West Coast is a first for me.

wow_199_europe

Along with the phenomenal price to Iceland were offers of $199 fares to London, Paris, Amsterdam, or Frankfurt. These are just as fantastic.

Availability for all the flights ranges from November through early April, although prices are higher around the holidays. Book soon. These fares are only available for a few more hours. 

What does a sale like this really mean? For one, it shows the true level at which low-cost airlines can really compete. Increased competition is nothing but a boon for consumers. I am glad that WOW Air and Norwegian are aggressively attacking the trans-Atlantic market.

My takeaway is that we have yet to hit the cost floor on trans-Atlantic fares. Bjørn Kjos, the CEO of Norwegian Air Shuttle, is on the record saying $69 one-way flights across the Atlantic are in the works. Sub-$300 round trips could soon be common.

Kjos plans to make this possible through the use of fuel-efficient Boeing 787 and 737 MAX jets. The updated version of the 737, a staple aircraft for many carriers, will be able to make the hop across the pond.

I honestly can’t wait for this to happen. It may be foreboding for legacy carriers like the “Big 3” in the United States, but it can be nothing but good for consumers. The older airlines will just have to adapt to the new model. United is introducing “basic economy” fares. Delta has already been selling a similar product for a few years.

What is really shows is that many passengers simply care about getting from point A to point B. Forget all the perks, upgrades, elite status, and everything else. Price is king.

Now I just wish that I had a week available to visit Iceland…

Header image courtesy of Anna Zvereva via Wikimedia Commons.

2 Must-Visit Restaurants in Quebec City

Old Quebec City is magnificent. It is like a tiny piece of Europe has been transplanted onto north America. There is nothing else comparable in any American city I have visited, and it is truly unique. It is a cultural site on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, which is a well-deserved recognition. The Chateau Frontenac, the centerpiece building of Quebec City, is perhaps one of the most photographed buildings in North America. Although not as old as much of Old Quebec, the architectural style fits extremely well.

chateau_frontenac

Le Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City

My wife and I had an absolutely wonderful 5 nights and 4 days visiting this winter. We chose to cook for ourselves most of the time during our stay, since we booked a studio apartment through AirBnb, but we ate out on three occasions. Two of these restaurants were fantastic, and both were located in Old Quebec.

2016-01-02 14.50.36

Bistro Sous le Fort – Cozy bistro with a warm, inviting atmosphere situated in Basse Terre, the lower part of Old Quebec.

The first was Bistro Sous le Fort in the lower part of Old Quebec. Just steps from beautiful Petit Champlain Street, the Funiculars, and the Levis ferry, the restaurant was exactly what we were looking for on a cold winter day. My wife ordered a red deer medallion steak served with blueberry sauce, and I ordered and elk burger with brie. Both were first rate. The service was good and the atmosphere was perfect. The seating in the restaurant was limited to probably only 24 people, and, combined with the brick walls and fireplace, it was very cozy. The price tag on the meal was about $50 USD, with no appetizers, alcohol, or dessert, and including tax and tip. Bistro Sous le Fort is currently #26 on TripAdvisor among restaurants in Quebec City.

chez_boulay

The exterior of Chez Boulay along Rue Saint Jean

The second restaurant was Chez Boulay Bistro Boreal in the upper town,  along Rue Saint Jean. I looked the place up beforehand on TripAdvisor, mainly looking for a menu that my wife could handle due to a strict diet, and it looked very promising. I would return later to see that it is rated #12 among all restaurants in Quebec City, and deservedly so! We ordered both an appetizer and dessert since this was going to be one of the few gastronomic splurges that we were going to have on the trip. The appetizer was arctic char carpaccio, followed by the restaurant’s classic blood pudding duo for me and a steak with vegetables and creamed squash for my wife, and choux pastry with maple cream for dessert. My wife unfortunately could not enjoy the final item.

2016-01-03 18.22.45

The blood (black) pudding duo. Fantastic.

I tend to order dishes that are unique, new (to me), ethnic, and/or regional when traveling. I had never had carpaccio, blood pudding, or choux pastry, and all were excellent. When I asked the server for advice after narrowing down my choices to 2-3 items for each course, she always pointed me in the perfect direction. The flavor and presentation of everything was exceptional.

2016-01-03 18.56.192016-01-03 18.04.292016-01-03 18.03.45

I have rarely enjoyed a dining experience that rivals this one. The service was excellent, the food amazing, and the overall experience is unforgettable. The bill set us back $80 USD after tax and tip, which is an exceptional deal considering the experience. If you are ever in Quebec City, give both of these restaurants a try. I am sure you will not be disappointed!

Montreal Here We Come!

Early tomorrow morning my wife and I start our three-leg flight from our local airport across the continent to Montreal, Canada. And by early I mean really early. Like, we have to get up at 3:00 a.m. It will be awful. But we used miles, and the award flights were slim pickings by the time I started booking things. I am lucky we even got a flight at all. Tuesday was the only day left in a 2 week window with any award availability. Our economy flights are on United on the first two legs, and Air Canada on the last. Cost us $11.20 in fees in total. We even get two checked bags free since my wife has the United MileagePlus Explorer card, and winter apparel is rather bulky.

Mount_Royal_Montreal_Lookout

Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Albeit the overly early wake-up call, we are extremely excited about the whole trip. Tuesday will probably be fun once we are in the air, but I expect that we will get tired of flying (and just in general) somewhere about the middle of the United States. This is why on Wednesday I plan to let my wife rest at our hotel near Montreal Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport while I try to get some work done. Our next day will be spent seeing an overview of Montreal while staying at Le Centre Sheraton Montreal. We are then off to Quebec City that evening (but will return to Montreal for 4 more nights at the Hyatt Regency, all on points!).

As I mentioned in a previous post, we wanted to get away this Winter to experience real Winter. Not this half-hearted attempt that northern California offers. Enter Canada.

2 Reasons I Want To Get Away This Winter

My wife and I had a seriously amazing summer trip, approximately 40% of which was paid for on miles and points. It was a real adventure, albeit too fast-paced during the middle on our whirlwind tour of eastern Canada through The Maritimes and Newfoundland. We enjoyed ourselves immensely. Fast-forward six months, though, and I am definitely itching to get away again, mainly for two reasons:

  1. A desire to enjoy some snow and ice – I know…most people travel in the winter to get away from these, but we can’t wait to head to the cold and snowy destination I have picked. We live in Northern California where the nearest snow is an hour away (and is on the order of inches, if any), and the nearest skiing is 5 hours. The average winter low stays around 43° F. We want real winter for two weeks this year.

    1024px-Winter_in_Canada

    Source – Wikimedia Commons – User Balachand

  2. Unknown family situation from April onward – About two years ago my wife and I started the process of adopting children internationally. We just submitted our dossier to Costa Rica for this purpose, and the earliest we could possibly be matched will be April. We know that life is going to change drastically, and we want to take another trip now since we may not for a while after the kids come home. All of our love and attention will be needed to bond with our children as we become a family.

The adventure involves three locations, travel by train and by airplane, and hopefully some skiing and ice skating. Details to follow starting after Christmas.