Arrival in Vancouver

June 3, 2016

Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and today was the end of our second Alaska cruise. Since this was a one way cruise, we ended our trip in Vancouver, Canada. The first time we took this cruise, we opted to take the Amtrak to Seattle for cheaper flight options. This year, however, we were able to get a better deal out of Vancouver.

The turnaround time for a cruise ship is fairly quick; new passengers can embark as early as 11AM. Because of this, we had to be out of our room by 8AM and we were off the ship fairly soon after. Our flight wasn’t until 4PM, so we decided to visit the Vancouver Lookout for some cityscape views and then to take our brothers out for some yakiniku at one of our favorite restaurants.

From the Canada Place cruise ship dock the Vancouver Lookout is only 5 blocks away so it was a very short walk. Considering we had all our luggage with us this was definitely appreciated. As always, the views from the Lookout where amazing and it was a very enjoyable start to the day.

Once we had finished at the Lookout we grabbed a cab and went to Gyu Kaku. This is a chain yakiniku restaurant (Japanese style Korean BBQ) where you order various cuts of raw meat and grill them yourself. Each table has a gas grill in the middle and it’s a really fun experience to do in a group. Gyu Kaku is a major chain in Japan that has started to spread internationally, and we tend to visit whenever we are in a city that has one.

After enjoying our last lunch together this trip, it was time to catch a cab to the airport. Our second Alaska cruise was just as amazing as the first, and I’m certain it won’t be our last.

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Selected Excursions in Vancouver from our partners

Closed Loop or One Way Alaska Cruises

Seward has some amazing views, but they aren’t available on most Seattle based cruises

The Alaska Cruising season is in full swing, and here at Adventures With Anthony we are celebrating Alaska Week. Come back everyday this week for a new article about Alaska Cruises, and find out why Alaska is not only our personal favorite cruise destination, but also the most popular cruise destination for our clients.

Today’s post is all about the differences between round-trip and one way Alaska cruises. Read on to learn which cruise is right for you.

Why the different types of cruises?

Simply put, cruise lines have to abide by the Passenger Vessel Service Act, sometimes erroneously called the Jones Act. We touched briefly on the PVSA in our post on Hawaii cruises, but essentially the PVSA means that cruise lines have to visit a “distant foreign port” if doing a closed loop cruise. Closed loop is just a fancy term for a round trip cruise; the cruise starts and ends at the same port making a full loop.

Seattle is much closer to Canada than Anchorage is, so ships can easily leave Seattle, visit a port in Canada (often Victoria, British Columbia), and return to Seattle on a 7 night cruise. Cruises departing from Seward (or Whittier) Alaska, on the other hand, cannot. Therefore, these cruises have to either be 14 nights, or a one way cruise that does not start and end in a US port.

What are the differences?

The main difference right off the bat is of course the departure and arrival ports. One way Alaska cruises also often visit more ports than their closed loop counterparts, in part because they don’t have to budget time for the return trip. The two cruises also share many ports of call, but also have a few different stops, and the prices can be quite different on the two cruises as well.

Common Ports

Whale watching is very popular in Hoonah, but Seattle based cruises often miss this port

Both closed loop and one way Alaska cruises often stop at Juneau, Ketchikan, and Skagway and include a “glacier experience”. Cruises from Seattle often visit Glacier Bay, although some will visit Tracy Arm Fjord, Sawyer Glacier, or Hubbard Glacier. Seattle cruises also typically visit Victoria, British Columbia, often for a very short stop. This stop is pretty much just to meet the PVSA requirements, and it isn’t unheard of for a ship to only be in Victoria for a couple hours.

One way Alaska cruises can often visit Icy Strait Point, also called Hoonah. This native village has arguably the best whale watching of the typical Alaska ports, but is rarely visited by Seattle based cruises. The departure/arrival towns of Seward or Whittier are also not often visited by Seattle cruises.

Different Ships

Like we mentioned yesterday, both Norwegian and Royal Caribbean have big ships coming to Alaska. Both of these new ships will be sailing round trip from Seattle. Seattle is just able to handle much larger ships, so this will likely be a trend we see continuing. This is not necessarily a good or a bad thing. We absolutely love sailing Alaska on the Radiance of the Seas, a much smaller ship with a lot of viewing space.

Cruise Tours

We will discuss cruise tours in more detail on Friday, but only the one way Alaska cruises offer a land portion option. These cruise tours add a few extra days onto the Alaska end of your cruise for a guided land tour. The exact tours vary, but often they take time to visit Denali National Park and a few other areas around Alaska that can’t be reached by ship.

Cost

This is always a concern of cruisers, but is the hardest to really pin down. The one way cruises are often quite a bit cheaper than their closed loop cousins, but at the same time airfare is often cheaper for a round trip flight to Seattle. On the one way Alaska cruises, you have to purchase two one way plane tickets since your cruise does not start and end at the same place. Flights to Anchorage are often more expensive than flights to Seattle, and since the port is not actually in Anchorage, you also have to pay for transportation between Anchorage and Seward or Whittier. Our personal favorite method of transportation to the port is the Alaska Railroad, and in my opinion that is well worth any additional cost.

Mirror Lake is one of the highlights of the train ride between Anchorage and Seward

The exact costs of cruise and airfare can vary widely from cruise to cruise, so make sure you reach out to us to figure out what your best bet would be.

How Chase Ultimate Rewards Saved Us over $50,000 on Plane Tickets

No, that title is not a typo. Recently Luis and I booked two flights using credit card rewards points. The first flight was a one way flight in business class on Iberia Airlines, non-stop from Boston to Madrid. The second was a round trip flight in first class on board All Nippon Airlines, non-stop from San Francisco to Tokyo Narita. If we had paid cash, those same redemptions would have cost us $53,495. Now, being completely honest, we would never pay that much for a flight. Truthfully, I don’t think many people ever actually pay the full ticket price for first class tickets. Still, it is an amazing feeling to see those numbers when you don’t have to pay them.

Earning the Points

There are several different points programs, and picking the right one for your situation can be difficult. If you always or nearly always fly on a single airline, then it usually makes the most sense to join that airline’s frequent flyer program. Luis and I, however, will fly whatever airline works with our destination, dates, and budget. On our trip to Shanghai, we flew with Asiana. Singapore, we flew United. Iceland we are flying on Delta. On other recent trips we have flown on Jetblue, Miami Air, American Airlines, and Alaska Airlines. We just aren’t loyal enough to justify investing in any airline specific credit cards.

Instead, we decided to invest in a travel rewards program that could be used for a multitude of airlines. The three main points programs that are available include Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and Citi Thank You Points. Each program has different strengths and weaknesses, and different partners, but in the end we decided to go with Chase Ultimate Rewards.

The Ultimate Rewards Cards

The three cards we used to get our free flights. Chase Freedom, Sapphire Preferred, and Ink Business Preferred

Ultimately, we have four cards that are able to earn us Ultimate Rewards. The first is the Chase Freedom, which does not earn Ultimate Rewards points on it’s own, but can transfer points to another card which does earn points. We then have a Chase Ink Business Preferred, and we each have our own Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Sign Up Bonuses

The bulk of our points came from initial bonuses just for getting the cards and reaching a minimum spend amount. These bonus points are not repeatable, but they do offer a very large head start towards reaching your first redemption. The Chase Ink Preferred business card came with an 80,000 point sign up bonus. The Chase Sapphire Reserve originally had a 100,000 bonus, which I was able to take advantage of, but it currently only has a 50,000 bonus, which is what Luis received. Still, for the three cards that was 230,000 points. Enough points for the first class ANA redemption, which runs 220,000 points.

Intelligent Spending

Aside from the sign up bonuses, the other way to quickly earn a lot of points is to maximize the bonus opportunities. The Chase Freedom has rotating categories; every quarter a few new categories will earn 5x points. The Sapphire Reserve, on the other hand, has a set of static bonus categories; 3x the points on all travel and dining purchases. By consistently using the right card for each purchase, you can rapidly earn the points needed for a redemption.

The Redemptions

Now, for the fun part! Once you’ve earned enough points it’s time to start planning some trips. Now, just because Chase is not affiliated with a single airline does not mean you can transfer to anybody; Chase currently partners with only 9 airlines. Still, with the proper planning and knowing about alliances, your options are nearly limitless. The 9 airlines Chase can transfer points to include: British Airways, Air France, Singapore Airlines, United, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, Korean Air, Iberia, and Aer Lingus.

Business Class on Iberia Airlines

Since Iberia is partnered with Chase, we were able to easily transfer points from our Ultimate Rewards account directly to Iberia. Iberia has an award chart that varies by route and time of year, but for BOS-MAD in October the normal fare would be 34,000 points per person from the east coast or 42,500 points from the west coast, each way. We were able to find a special deal, where our flight would only be 25,500 points each, but we had to fly from Boston.

Since we live in Nevada, Boston is quite a ways away for a flight, but a deal’s a deal. A quick check on Google Flights, and we were able to find a flight from Salt Lake City to Boston for only $100 per person on Delta in basic economy.

Business Class for 2 on Iberia would have cost us $13,000 had we paid cash

The cash price for a first class ticket from Boston to Madrid on our travel dates is currently $13,024.80 for two people. Instead, we booked it for 51,000 points, $180 in taxes, and $206 for a flight to Boston. Our total savings? $12,638.

First Class on ANA

Unlike Iberia, ANA is not a partner with Chase. However, three of Chase’s partners have the ability to book ANA flights: United, Singapore, and Virgin Atlantic. Each option has pros and cons; United has the lowest taxes, Singapore allows you to book one way awards, and Virgin Atlantic offers redemptions for the fewest points.

Ultimately, because of the amazing value, we went with Virgin Atlantic for our redemption. Virgin Atlantic can book first class on ANA for only 110,000 points round trip from the west coast, or 120,000 points from the east coast. Compare this to United which charges the same amount of miles for only one way. That puts Virgin Atlantic in a very sweet spot for Asia redemptions. There are a couple of downsides; you have to book a round trip ticket, it has to be non-stop (which means there are only a small handful of eligible US airports), and seats only become available 336 days out. There are only 2 seats on each plane available for these reduced rates, so it is possible that travelers booking directly with ANA or with another partner have already booked all the available award seats. Still, if your dates are somewhat flexible and you can book almost a year in advance, Virgin Atlantic offers an amazing redemption opportunity for ANA.

Round trip First Class tickets on ANA would have cost us over $40,000 if we had paid cash

The cash price for a first class ticket from San Francisco to Tokyo and back on our travel dates is currently $40,470.44 for two people. Instead, we booked it for 220,000 points, and $513 in taxes. Our total savings? $39,957.

That’s a grand total of $52,595 in savings over two trips.

Do I Need a Visa?

Planning an international trip is a very exciting time but it also takes a lot of preparation. You may want to learn a few key phrases in the local language. You might want to stock up on some local currency or map out your planned stops. A passport is definitely a must-have, but is a passport enough? Nothing would be worse than getting to the airport, excited and ready to see another country, and being turned away at the check-in counter. “I’m sorry, but you can’t board. You need a Visa.”

A Visa issued to visit China

What is the purpose of a Visa?

A Visa primarily serves as a way for a country to control who can and cannot enter. Visas often have certain restrictions on them, such as duration or purpose of visit. The specific Visa, if any, required for international travel will depend on three factors. 1) The country where you have citizenship. 2) The country you are traveling to. 3) The reason for your visit. It is important to note that you will need to apply these rules to every country you will be entering, even if it is not your final destination. For example, some countries will require a Visa even if you just have a short layover while flying to another country.

How do I know if I need a Visa?

We will be happy to help you determine the Visa requirements for any travel, but the best and most up to date source is your country’s immigration or consulate department. For United States citizens, this resource is the State Department. You can search for any country on the State Department’s website and find nearly all the travel information you will need. Not only will you find out if you need a Visa, but it will also display any travel advisories that are in effect, how long your passport has to be valid for, how many blank pages are required in your passport, and any monetary limitations on entering or exiting the selected country.

It is important that you check the rules for the country listed on your passport. It does not matter what country you are traveling from, or where you live. The only thing that matters is where you are actually a citizen.

How do I get a Visa?

Typically in order to get a Visa you must make an appointment at an embassy or consulate of the country you are visiting. Some countries also allow for you to apply for a Visa online or when your flight arrives in the country. If you are visiting a country that does not support Visa on Arrival or e-Visa programs, you may also be able to hire a Visa service. These are special companies located in major cities that are home to several embassies and consulates. They can take your passport and Visa application to the embassy in person and complete the process on your behalf. These services do, however, add some significant cost to the Visa application process. Still, if you do not live near an embassy it can be necessary.

Why you Should Stay at an All-Inclusive Resort

Private Pool area at the Chic Mansion in Punta Cana

The world is a stressful place; the last thing you need is a stress filled vacation. Stress can’t necessarily be completely avoided, but one vacation that promises to minimize your stress is staying at an All-Inclusive resort. All-Inclusive resorts are certainly not for everybody. They are typically one of the least adventurous types of vacations you can take. In fact, when staying at an All-Inclusive resort you never even have to leave the property if you don’t want. Still, the number of US travelers who stay at an All-Inclusive resort is on the rise. According to PhoCusWright, in 2010 8% of all US travelers stayed at an All-Inclusive resort. In 2012 that number rose to 14%.

So why are All-Inclusive resorts gaining in popularity? I believe it is because people are finally starting to see past the old misconceptions. The fact is, there is an All-Inclusive resort option for every kind of traveler. And as an added bonus, with an All-Inclusive resort there is no second guessing your budget. Unless you choose to go off-site or get a spa treatment, you will know upfront exactly how much your vacation will cost. And here at Adventures With Anthony, we can easily package your resort and airfare into a single purchase, saving you even more.

Newly constructed Royalton Bavaro has a lazy river and a FlowRider surf simulator

All-Inclusive resort packages are cheaper than you might think

When you figure in all the various costs of any vacation, an All-Inclusive resort can become an excellent deal. When you book an All-Inclusive resort through us, the price includes round-trip airfare, transportation to and from the airport, and the resort itself. At the resort all of your meals and drinks are included, as well as a number of on-site activities. Price can vary based on location, time of year, and specific resort, but it is not unheard of for a 4 night package to be as low as $500 per person from select US cities.

Even if you aren’t lucky enough to snag one of these special deals, the regular price of our packages are extremely reasonable. For example, a 6 night package in a 4 and a half star resort from Salt Lake City to Punta Cana in August is only $1,239 per person. That’s $2,478 for two people to fly internationally, spend 6 nights in a suite, and have all meals and drinks included. If you were to book this trip separately, the airfare alone would cost $1,594. That is for the same exact JetBlue flight included in the package. The resort itself, the Grand Palladium Bavaro, starts at $239.70 per night. That’s a total of $1,438.20 for the entire 6 night stay. The transfer from Punta Cana airport to the resort would normally cost an additional $20 per person. That puts the grand total of the vacation when purchased piecemeal at $3,072, almost $600 more than booking one of our packages.

Even when compared to a more traditional hotel, the value of an All-Inclusive stands out. A typical 4-star hotel will run around $100-150 per night. Lunch at a fast food restaurant for 2 can be around $20-30, and dinner for 2 can range from $60 to well over $100. Alcohol is harder to budget, depending on your personal habits, but two cocktails or glasses of wine with dinner could easily add another $25. That would mean on the low end you could spend $180 per day on food and lodging, up to $300 or more. For this same 6 night vacation, avoiding an all-inclusive would cost between $2,674 and $3,394.

You aren’t trapped at the resort

Chichen Itza, one of the world wonders, is only 4 hours away from Cozumel

While many resorts have plenty of activities to keep you occupied, you are free to explore if you want. It will cost extra, but you can book transportation to local sights or even book an off-site excursion. Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic offers trips to Saona Island, snorkel and scuba trips, a canopy zipline, and the famous Coco Bongo nightlife experience. Cozumel is close to 6 different Mayan ruins, including Chichen Itza which was recently named as a world wonder. You can book these excursions in advance, although I would personally recommend waiting until you arrive at the resort. That way you will have a better idea of how much time, if any, you want to spend away from the resort.

There is a resort for everyone

When many people hear All-Inclusive, their mind tends to jump to a couples retreat. A romantic getaway to a Sandals or a Beaches resort. Something expensive and reserved for a very special occasion. Your honeymoon or a milestone anniversary, perhaps. That, however, is just one type of All-Inclusive resort. There are also resorts that cater more towards the hard partying Spring Break crowd. There are elegant, 5-star resorts with fine dining and private golf courses. If you are traveling with kids, there are family friendly resorts complete with an entire on-site water park. There is even a Nickelodeon Resort in Punta Cana, and a second one under construction in Riviera Maya.

AquaNick at the Nickelodeon Resort is a great escape for families

It doesn’t matter if you want an adults only or a family friendly resort. One that has less than 100 rooms or more than 1,000. Budget or extravagant. Reach out and we will be happy to help find the perfect resort for you.

Travel Hacking: Mileage Run Explained

Flights to Nowhere – With a mileage run the destination doesn’t matter, only the distance

Origin of the Mileage Run

If you are experienced in the points and miles game you are likely already aware of mileage run. Originally mileage runs were a way for flyers to get a large number of frequent flyer miles. People could find a long haul flight for a relatively cheap price and fly round trip to rack up the miles. Recently, however, airlines have mostly switched to a revenue based model. This means that instead of earning frequent flyer miles based on distance, you earned them based on the ticket cost. This could have been the end of mileage runs, but instead they just evolved.

State of the Mileage Run Today

Today mileage runs are utilized more for gaining or maintaining status. Even though a cheap long haul flight will no longer earn many redeemable miles, they still count towards elite status. To earn elite status with an airline you need two things; qualifying miles and qualifying spend. Unlike redeemable frequent flyer miles, qualifying miles are still granted based on distance. Mileage runs can help build up these elite qualifying miles, although they still won’t help with the spend requirement.

Because of this limitation, a mileage run only makes sense for a few specific types of travelers. First, is a traveler who makes many short but expensive flights. This could be a business traveler who books flights in first class or on a fully refundable fare. These flyers will often have a high spend but a low total mileage, so completing a mileage run at the end of the year could be perfect.

The other type of traveler who could benefit from a mileage run would be one who utilizes an airline credit card. Spend on an airline branded credit card, even for expenses not directly related to a flight, counts towards an elite spend waiver. The total spend is much higher when using a credit card, typically around $25,000 a year, but if a passenger is spending that much every year then they can reach the spend requirement without hitting the mileage requirement. In this case a mileage run could be their only opportunity to reach elite status.

Value of Elite Status

Even if you could earn elite status using a mileage run, you are still looking at several hundred dollars in otherwise unnecessary costs. In order to determine if a mileage run is worth the cost and time you have to put a value on the status you can reach. Elite status is more valuable the more you fly with perks such as free upgrades, bonus miles, and fee waivers. Typically, this means that the people who will get the most out of a mileage run are frequent flyers who spend a lot, but need a small boost of miles to reach a higher tier of status.

American Airlines May Have a Pilot Shortage This Holiday Season

Due to a technical glitch, American Airlines is finding itself short on pilots for the upcoming holidays. The airline uses a computerized scheduling system to handle pilot vacation requests, and there appears to have been a bug. The software is designed to process all leave requests and either approve or deny based on seniority and flight coverage. Unfortunately, the software had an issue that resulted in too many requests being approved from December 17th through the 31st.

According to Bloomberg the pilot’s union is estimating over 15,000 flights are currently affected. American Airlines has acknowledged the shortage but has refused to discuss the number of flights. American Airlines believes that the issue will be resolved and that no cancellations will be necessary.

To resolve the issue American Airlines is offering any pilot willing to give up their time off 150% of their normal hourly salary. The Allied Pilot’s Association, however, this deal was made in violation of the union contract. As a result the union has filed a grievance to find a solution that will not violate their labor agreement.

At this time there is no reason to panic. Chances are American Airlines will come to a solution that will leave everybody happy, and no planes on the ground. If you haven’t made your holiday travel plans yet, contact us today.

Basic Economy Across Airlines

Airfare is notoriously expensive and as a result airlines have begun focusing on no-frills service. Often this means that the cost of your ticket includes nothing more than the ticket itself. Over the past decade this has become more common, with many airlines starting to charge for checked bags. This also led to the rise of “Ultra Low Cost Carriers”, or ULCCs. ULCCs would charge extra for just about every service. Choosing a seat, checking a bag, drinks, snacks, and even carry-on bags would cost extra.

This model is most commonly associated with dedicated ULCCs, including Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant in the United States. However, the larger legacy carriers have recently implemented their own version of this concept. Enter “Basic Economy” fares.

Basic Economy Comparison Table

Spirit Frontier American Delta United
Seat Assignment Pay or Auto-Assign at check-in Pay or Auto-Assign at check-in Pay or Auto-Assign at check-in Choose or Auto-Assign at check-in Auto-Assign at check-in only
Carry-ons Pay Extra Pay Extra 1 Personal Item Only No Restrictions 1 Personal Item Only
Ticket Changes Pay Extra Pay Extra Not Allowed Not Allowed Not Allowed
Seat Upgrades Pay Extra Pay Extra Pay Extra Not Allowed Not Allowed

Ultra Low Cost Carriers

Frontier Airlines

Frontier is based out of Denver and often offers the cheapest tickets when flying from the Western United States. Often one way tickets can be found for less than $100, but nearly everything comes with an additional fee. Carry on bags stored in the overhead bin start at $30 each way if you purchase online. All of Frontier’s baggage fees are higher if you purchase at the airport on the date of travel. Change fees are $99 plus any additional difference in ticket price.

Passengers are free to check-in online 24 hours before their flight, or at the airport the day of their flight.

Spirit Airlines

Spirit is very similar to Frontier; bags, drinks, snacks, and seat selection all cost extra. Just like with Frontier, paying for your bags when you book the ticket will be cheaper than paying at the airport. Basic seats on Spirit have only 28 inches of legroom, the smallest on any American carrier. The extra cost “Big Front Seats” have an impressive 36 inches of legroom but can cost up to $200+ for each leg of your trip.

Also like Frontier, Spirit offers free check-in online or via their mobile app 24 hours before your flight. Checking in at the airport will cost an additional $10.

American Airlines

American Airlines was the last of the legacy carriers to adopt the basic economy model, starting in February 2017. American is the middle of the pack between Delta and United; more restrictive than Delta but not as bad as United. Seat assignment is available for purchase 48 hours before your flight, or will be automatically assigned at check-in. You can check-in online or via the mobile app 24 hours before your flight.

Upgrades to Premium Economy can be purchased, but will not be complimentary, even for elite members. All passengers who purchased a Basic Economy ticket will board last, even if they purchase Premium Economy or have elite status. No changes or refunds are allowed on Basic Economy fares, but they do still earn frequent flyer miles.

Delta Airlines

Delta has the least restrictive basic economy offering of the legacy carriers. You are free to check-in online or via the mobile app 24 hours before your flight, and can select your own seat at check-in. Upgrades to Premium Economy are not available, even for purchase, and basic economy passengers will be the last to board. Unlike American, if you have elite status with Delta you are free to board with the other elites, even with the basic economy ticket. Best of all, basic economy passengers on Delta have the same baggage allowance as other passengers. You are free to carry-on a personal item as well as a larger carry-on for no additional charge.

No changes or refunds are allowed on Basic Economy fares, but they do still earn frequent flyer miles.

United Airlines

United basic economy is… it’s just the worst. If you are not paying to check a bag you cannot even check-in online with a United basic economy fare. Without a checked bag you must check-in at the airport, and you have to wait for a United agent to sign off on your check-in. My last time flying United in basic economy, this actually caused me to miss my flight. It took us close to 20 minutes to get an agent over to the kiosk to approve our check-in and by that time it was too late for us to complete the check-in process and receive our boarding pass.

United does not allow a large carry-on for basic economy passengers, and automatically assigns seats at check-in. You will still earn frequent flyer miles, but unlike Delta and American, these flights do not count towards earning elite status.

Considerations When Booking Basic Economy

For my personal travels, United is the only airline that I refuse to fly in basic economy. With every other airline, it is something that I will at least consider if the price is right.

Understand the Rules

The fact that United does not allow online check-in was not widely publicized. If I had known how difficult checking in would be we might have pushed to arrive at the airport earlier, or avoided booking the ticket all together. For ULCC’s like Frontier and Spirit, knowing that bag charges are cheaper online can save you significant costs. Also, knowing that they do not offer snacks for free means you can purchase a drink or snack in the airport before boarding.

Use Them for Short Flights

For particularly short flights the restrictions placed on basic economy fares will be less noticeable. If you are flying on a smaller regional jet that only has four seats across, you can’t end up in a middle seat. Less legroom would also be more tolerable on a short flight, so the inability to upgrade your seat may not be a big concern.

Be Careful if Travelling in a Group

Without the ability to choose your own seats there is no guarantee that members of your party will be seated together. Even on American and Delta where you can choose your own seat at check-in there is no guarantee that there will be adjacent seats available. There is a new law, the FAA Extension Security and Safety Act of 2016, that will require airlines to make accommodations for families travelling with children 13 and under, but this is not active yet. Until this is officially implemented, it would be best to avoid basic economy if you need to sit with your family.

Double Check Before Booking

When booking a flight directly from the airline’s website the ticket will be clearly labelled as basic economy before you purchase. If you use an online booking engine, however, it might not be as obvious. Even with basic economy fares, you can cancel without penalty within 24 hours of purchasing, as long as your flight is more than a week away. Make sure that you pay close attention to what you are purchasing so there are no surprises when you reach the airport.

Asiana Airlines Smartium Economy

Luis and I recently had the pleasure of flying on Asiana Airlines from San Francisco to Shanghai, via Seoul. As this was our first international flight, we upgraded the first leg to Asiana’s premium economy product, Smartium Economy. Smartium Economy is a fairly new product, which Asiana launched this past May on their newly delivered A350s. Since it is so new, there was not a lot of information available when we were first booking our flights. We were very excited to try this new product, even without knowing fully what to expect. We also wanted to see what the standard economy product was like on Asiana to compare the two offerings. With this goal in mind, we purchased the upgrade to Smartium Economy for the first of our four legs; travelling from San Francisco to Seoul. We were also able to get a very good deal on the flights by combining Google Flights with the travel rewards bonus of the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Smartium Economy

The first important thing to note is that the seats in Smartium Economy are the same seats as in standard economy. Both Smartium Economy and regular Economy are configured 9 seats across, in a 3-3-3 setup. The seats are 18 inches wide in both cabins, which is nice as some airlines are shrinking seat width to 17 or even 16 inches. There are 4 rows of Smartium Economy seats, row 10 through row 14, for a total of 36 available seats.

Benefits

What Smartium Economy offers over it’s cheaper alternative is an additional 4 inches of leg room; increasing from 32 inches in Economy to 36 inches in Smartium Economy. Smartium Economy also offers an in-flight amenity package that includes an eye mask, toothbrush, tooth paste, and business class slippers, as well as a blanket and pillow. Standard economy seats, on the other hand, offer only the pillow, blanket, and economy slippers. I personally always travel with my own sleep mask, and did not feel that there was a particularly noticeable difference in the slippers offered in Smartium versus economy.

Smartium Economy Amenities

On the ground there were a few additional benefits as well. Smartium Economy passengers receive priority boarding at most airports that Asiana serves, and also qualify for access to the Asiana lounge at Seoul. This latter perk does come with a fairly major caveat, however. You are only entitled to access if you are booked in Smartium Economy for a long haul flight departing Seoul. This would be a flight to the United States, Europe, or Oceania. This means that even though we had purchased Smartium Economy on a long haul flight, since it was from San Francisco to Seoul, we were not permitted into the lounge. This was disappointing, especially since the cost of a Smartium Economy seat is the same inbound and outbound but the offered perks are diminished.

Cost

Smartium Economy is currently on a flat rate pricing structure. Long haul flights, which are any flights outside of Asia, are $150 US per seat. Flights within Asia are either $30 for Japan, China, and northeast Asia, or $60 for flights to or from the rest of Asia. This is pretty much on par with the cost of economy plus or premium economy seats on US carriers. For example, prices for Economy Plus on an upcoming United flight start at $159 for transpacific, and $49 for domestic.

Value

Ultimately I did not feel that Smartium Economy was worth the cost, especially when flying from the United States. We never really used the additional amenities, and I did not really notice a difference in the slippers offered in economy versus Smartium. Surprisingly, I also didn’t really notice the extra leg room. Normally I feel fairly cramped on airplanes, but the 32 inches of leg room offered in regular economy felt comfortable. Many American carriers now have a seat pitch of only 29-31 inches, so Asiana’s standard offering already felt like an upgrade. Priority boarding also felt unnecessary. Despite the large number of passengers needing to board, the process was incredibly quick and smooth. Also, the A350 offers ample storage space for bags, so boarding early did not offer much of a benefit.

The best potential benefit would be access to the lounge in Seoul, but the value of that perk depends largely on how long of a layover you have. It is also important to note that the lounge accepts Priority Pass. That means you may already have access, even without spending the $150 on Smartium Economy. I highly suggest you apply for a travel card with Priority Pass as a benefit if you don’t already have one.

The Asiana Experience

Overall, Asiana was an excellent airline to fly. Compared to the legacy carriers common in the United States, Asiana was significantly nicer. The seat size, even in standard economy, was comfortable at 18 inches wide and 32 inches deep. Boarding was also very quick and efficient. We started boarding 30 minutes before takeoff, with one line for Smartium and one for economy. In less than 20 minutes everybody was in their seats and the flight attendants were making their initial rounds to prepare us for an on time departure. The flight attendants were also very professional and friendly. They did not all speak fluent English, which was not unexpected on a Korean based airline, but there was never any problems with communication.

Meals

On the transpacific flight we were given two full meals as well as a snack. The first meal was offered shortly after we reached cruising altitude, and was a choice between a Korean bibimbap or a steak and veggies dish. Both entrees were served with a biscuit, shrimp slaw, and a small desert cake. We were served the second meal two hours before our scheduled landing. We had a choice of a fish meal or a chicken lasagna. The snack was finger sandwiches and was offered midway through the flight. The meals on the return flight included a spicy beef and rice dish for the first meal. Since we were landing in the morning, the second meal offered was a breakfast omelette.

Meals Offered on Our Flights

The flight from Seoul to Shanghai was significantly shorter, just over 2 hours. Because of the short flight time I was not expecting anything more than the standard offerings of peanuts or cookies that we expect domestically. Instead we were given a snack that included a yogurt and a pig in a blanket. On the return flight the snack was a beef and rice dish served with a muffin and fruit cup. The meal offerings were plentiful and spaced perfectly throughout the flight. The seats in economy, and even in Smartium Economy, were a little cramped when trying to eat a meal, but nothing too unpleasant.

Asiana Snacks

In Flight Entertainment

Each seat had a 12 inch touch screen entertainment center in the seat back in front of them. The entertainment center had options for movies, tv shows, music, games, flight map, and communication. A remote was also offered which was useful for some of the games, but for the most part I found the touch screen to be most convenient. The movie selections were excellent, with a variety of options ranging from recent blockbusters to classics. There were several movies with English, Korean, Chinese, or Japanese audio and enough selection for me to spend the entire flight watching movies. I have a hard time sleeping on planes, so I ended up staying up and watching movies for the entire 12 hour flight. There was a total of about 30 English movies available.

Asiana’s In Flight Entertainment Options

Asiana also offered earphones in each seat, although I found the audio quality to be lackluster and ended up using my personal earbuds the entire flight. The entertainment center had a USB slot next to the headphone jack to charge a device. There was also a universal plug between the seats for devices that couldn’t be charged via USB. The games available on the entertainment center included several casual puzzle games, such as solitaire and sudoku. There was also a golfing game and a couple of basic platformers. These games seemed to work much better with the available remote than the touchscreen. Wi-Fi was available for the duration of the flight, ranging from $12 for 1 hour to $22 for the entire flight.

Wi-Fi Pricing Options
Complimentary Headphones

The Airbus A350

Asiana’s Airbus A350 was an extremely comfortable plane. The bulkheads offered ample storage which made the boarding process extra smooth. People could easily find space near their seats and quickly store their carry-ons. Take off and landing was also incredibly smooth, probably the smoothest experience I have ever had on a plane. Despite the large engines the noise was almost non-existent.

The one main downside to the plane was the climate control. Unlike most other aircraft, seats on the A350 do not have individual climate control. Instead, the entire cabin’s climate is controlled by the flight attendants. On our flight to Shanghai I was quite comfortable, but it depends highly on the crew. Our return flight was much warmer than I am used to on a flight. I walked past the galley on a trip to the bathroom and was able to see the thermostat. The economy cabin was set to a rather toasty 78 degrees. Personally I would much rather having my own control over air to my seat, or for the cabin temperature to be colder. It is easier to add blankets or a jacket to warm up when cold than it is to cool down when the plane is too warm.

Conclusion

Overall our experience on Asiana Airlines was exquisite. The seats were comfortable, the food plentiful, and the in flight entertainment was vast. Despite the extremely long flight, the journey was comfortable and we were entertained throughout. Asiana’s economy product was more than comfortable enough for a transpacific flight. I would not hesitate to fly Asiana again, although I most likely would not pay for the Smartium Economy upgrade next time.

Searching Multiple Airports With Google Flights

There are several tools that can help the discerning adventurer make the most out of their travel budget, but when it comes to finding the best deal on flights there is perhaps nothing more powerful than Google Flights. This is the second in a series of articles highlighting the various tools and techniques that you can use in Google Flights to get the best possible price on your next adventure. Today, we will be focusing on how to use Google Flights to search for airfare from multiple airports. You can also see the other tips and tricks for using Google Flights like a master below.

  1. Using the Low Fare Calendar to Find the Bet Days to Fly
  2. Search Multiple Airports to Get the Best Deal
  3. Explore Destinations to Decide Where to Fly (Coming Soon)
  4. Tracking Flight Prices to Know When to Book Your Ticket (Coming Soon)

We have already seen how Google Flights can help you pick when to take your next vacation. However, when you take your vacation is not always so flexible. Maybe you are taking a cruise, going to a wedding, or have limited days when everybody can take time off. In these situations the Low Fare Calendar loses much of it’s usefulness. Still, being flexible is a great way to score a deal, and searching multiple airports could be the key. To learn how to master this skill, watch our video below or keep reading.

Many online travel tools allow you to search airports that are near your home, but they are typically very limited. For example, Orbitz gives you a dropdown with a list of up to ten of the closest airports. This list could include small, general aviation airports that have no or very few commercial flights. There is no easy way for you to specify a list of airports that you are willing to travel to or from.

The list of nearby airports as provided by Orbitz
Orbitz lists the closest airports by proximity with no option to customize

Searching Multiple Airports With Google Flights

When using Google Flights on the other hand, searching multiple airports for the best deal is as easy as listing the airports. In both the departure and arrival fields you can list as many airport codes as you like, separated by commas. The first airport that you enter will auto-complete, but after that you need to know the code for each airport you want to consider. If you are unsure on an airport code, just list that city first and let Google auto-complete. If you are unsure on multiple airports you can find several resources online by searching for “IATA Airport Code Lookup.”

Comma Separate Multiple Airports on Google Flights
Just list the airports you want to consider, separated by commas

You can also click the ‘+’ sign in the airport text box, or select “Nearby Airports” in the airport dropdown. Doing this will provide a list of airports by distance similar to the list provided by Orbitz, but with two large benefits. First, Google takes into consideration all the airports you have already entered. Second, each airport has a checkbox, so you can select as many of the airports as you want.

List of nearby airports provided by Google Flights
Selecting “Nearby Airports” gives you a list of airports close to any airport you have already entered.

Finding Multiple Airports Using the Map

While knowing the airports you want to consider or being able to find a list of nearby airports can be great, sometimes it’s more beneficial to be able to see the airports. Google Flights has you covered in that department as well. At the top of the flight search page, just to the right of the date and airport selections, is a map. You can quickly see the destination airports you have chosen on this map, but it’s real strength shows when you click on it.

The Google Flights Destination Map
Just to the right of the airport and date selections is a map showing your destination(s).

When you click on the small map you are taken to a page with a fully functioning Google Map. This larger map shows all airports as red points, and you can hover over them to get the airport name. You can zoom in and out and pan the map, and many of the larger airports will have the price for your flight dates displayed. Clicking on an airport will reset your destination to the selected airport. You can then see the cheapest flights to that airport on the left of the screen. You can also quickly see any airports that don’t have available flights, as their pins will be gray. This could help you find additional airports you didn’t originally consider, or eliminate airports that are too far away.

A Google Map displaying airport locations
Google Flights also has a full size map showing all airports with available flights.

Limitations of Google Flights for Multiple Airports

While Google Flights is extremely powerful and useful, it does have some downsides. First, when searching for multiple airports you have to have exact dates. There is currently no way to combine either flexible dates or the extremely powerful Low Fare Calendar with multiple airports. Also, additional airports after the first don’t auto-complete, so you need to know the airport codes you want to consider. The map can only be used to select a destination airport, and overwrites any currently selected airports. This means that there is no way to use the map to select multiple airports, or change your departure.

It is also important to note that while this can help you get the best deal on airfare, there are other costs you must consider. Driving to an airport further away can require gas, time, and parking or rental car fees. You also need to be mindful of timezones if you book a flight from an airport in a different state. If you want some help planning an adventure, reach out to us today.