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Meandering the Macrocosm: Miami, Marrakech, Madrid and Maputo

Meandering the Macrocosm: Miami, Marrakech, Madrid and Maputo

Old Sep 29, 16, 6:26 am
  #1  
Hut
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Join Date: Jan 2016
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Meandering the Macrocosm: Miami, Marrakech, Madrid and Maputo

Introduction

So, I can’t remember when exactly I found flyertalk, but it’s been awhile and I every time I go on a trip I think – I really must write a trip report… and then I don’t. So this post is about starting to give back to a community that I truly value, with the added benefit of forcing me to actually write a trip report this time.

Part 1: Planning

This trip is about picking up an ex-JNB DONE4 which I had left in New York, heading back to JNB and then starting off another one. It was meant to be simple, depart Perth on an award, pick up the RTW ticket in New York followed by a week in the USA, a week or two in Europe and then stopping by Johannesburg on the way back to Perth, easy.

However, then I noticed the ridiculous LAX-PTY fares with AA… now, I’m shackled for better or worse to the QF frequent flyer programme and with an extra connection here and there I could collect 600 status credits, a new country, a flying visit to DC, and all for a bargain… sold.

Then, I was left contemplating what to do in Europe – so many places to see and so little time, fortunately Qatar announced they would start flying to Marrakesh and with oneworld’s unusual definition of Europe, not only could I go – but I’d pick up another new country and an extra 70 status credits. Iberia was pretty much the only way out so a couple of days in Madrid seemed sensible, followed by a quick trip to Frankfurt to catch up with friends and then onwards to JNB.

After that the only question was how to get home, recently the DONEx pricing ex-JNB has been pretty good, often a little more than from the surrounding countries, however the direct Qantas flight to Sydney generally saw convenience being worth the (small) premium. However, this time around the prices have gone up ex-JNB and flying ex-MPM was significantly cheaper – even with the higher base fare for flying past Asia from Europe (oneworld logic...), so home via Mozambique it is.

With the award over flying Cathay Pacific the final routing looked like this:



Maps generated by the Great Circle Mapper - copyright © Karl L. Swartz
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Old Sep 29, 16, 12:40 pm
  #2  
 
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Subscribing with interest!
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Old Sep 29, 16, 3:36 pm
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Originally Posted by obduro View Post
Subscribing with interest!
Me too..Interesting routing and ready to learn the art (complex) of ticket construction ^
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Old Sep 30, 16, 8:33 am
  #4  
Hut
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Part 1: Perth to New York

Living in the middle of nowhere has advantages… yeah, not really, but in the context of our hobby there is a silver lining. Lots of points when you want to go visit new places, unfortunately it also means burning a little extra holiday time.



Today the objective is pretty much travelling to the other side of the world, hence today is a travel day and starts at 5am for an early morning Uber to Terminal 1 at Perth Airport.

Qantas Business Lounge



The Qantas lounge in over in T1 is pretty good, a comfortable spot to wait for your flight, reasonable food choices, okay WIFI and nice staff. Doesn’t make you go wow, but I guess you couldn’t really expect any more from a lounge that only sees one or two international Qantas flights each day.

Coffee was offered at the front desk as I handed over my boarding pass, and it was almost ready for me by the time I got to the coffee machine, now that’s service I appreciate, especially at 6am!



Today’s crowd for the most part, it seems, is awaiting the imminent departure of CX136 or the slightly later timed Jetstar flight to Bali. In some places you might be able to spot who was travelling where with such different destinations, but in Perth it’s a little more difficult… I picked the guy with no shoes as a sure bet for the Bail flight – but it turns out he was joining us on the trip to Hong Kong!

Cathay Pacific CX136
Airbus A330-300 (B-LAD)
Perth (PER) -> Hong Kong (HKG)
Depart 7:18, Arrive 15:00, Flight Time: 7:42

Got to the gate to find boarding underway and as usual for CX in Perth a gatekeeper at the start of the (empty) premium queue who checked my boarding pass and pointed me in the direction of the gate, after a quick a scan of the boarding pass there, the computer confirmed it was all good and the adventure begins!



Cathay is one of my regular airlines and based on experience to date the best of the long haul airlines that I frequent (QF, QR, SA, LA), as we board the crew points me to my seat, and in less than the time it takes for a cheeky Facebook post, I have a pre-departure drink.



A little bit after our departure time we were pushing back, a short taxi followed, and we are underway!



On today's flight we will be having breakfast after take-off and then lunch prior to arrival.



For breakfast I went with the Stir-fired Shanghainese noodles.



One of the things I do like about Cathay is that they bring the food to you, I guess it is so you can see what you are getting? To me it generally means that should it be disappointing, I can take comfort in the knowledge that surely the uglier looking one would have tasted even worse! Fortunately, on this occasion, I was very happy with the selection, tasted pretty good and it was time to watch some movies!

Fast forward several hours and it’s Lunch, the crew have been pretty scarce over the past few hours, although when people pushed the call button they were there promptly, so certainly nothing to complain about.



The service began with drinks and nuts, I had my usual G&T.



For lunch I went with the Kung Po prawns.



The starter was great, the duck was excellent and it all came together really well.



The Kung Po prawns on the other hand were uninspiring, had a little bit and left the rest, but this wasn't an issue given I would soon be exploring the Hong Kong Lounges… best I leave some room!



Despite my best intentions, I was convinced that I really did need to have desert by the friendly flight attendant.

An hour or so later we were going around in circles, and then next thing you know we popped out of the clouds and were pretty close to the ground, in fact a couple of seconds later we were on it. One flight down twenty two to go!

Cathay Pacific Pier First Class Lounge



This being my 7th transit of Hong Kong in the last 12 months with oneworld I have become rather familiar with the lounge options... The Pier is certainly the favourite. We arrived at the western end of the terminal so I headed straight for transit security, and found myself in the lounge about 10 mins after getting off the plane.



It’s stated design objective is, apparently, to make you feel at home, and although I don’t really take much notice those arty descriptions, I think they got pretty close for a series of large rooms that you share with a hundred or so strangers.



They call the buffet the Kitchen, or the Pantry or some such thing, I call it Dangerous... after spending a couple of long layovers here I can attest to a wide range of delicious options, none of which are complementary to the waistline, oh and the bar is really good too - I mean so good that you ought to be careful that you won’t be needing a wheelchair to make your connection.

Knowing the dangers of the northern end of the lounge, I headed for the showers, which are excellent – not as cool as the big ones you can get in The Wing but I haven't encountered many others in an airport that are better.



After which the restaurant was next, the waitress promptly found me a nice corner table, and offered today's menu and a drink. Things are looking pretty good!



I noticed the Dan Dan Mian on another table and though it looked good, so I ordered that, and have to say it was excellent, in fact I almost asked for a second one!

The Wing First Class Lounge

With CX890 departing from gate 4 at the other end of the terminal, after an hour or so it was time to head for The Wing.



Although The Wing can get pretty crowded with the early evening departures, there are some upsides for avgeeks as they have long bar with seats overlooking the apron and runway, giving a great view of the controlled chaos that is a busy international airport. Fortunately, by the time I got there the weather had cleared up and there was a lot to see. Which was good, as the flight to Newark, along with it would seem half of Cathay's schedule was delayed, we were only pushed an hour, and a couple of drinks later it was time to board.



Oh, and the buffet is far less dangerous.

Cathay Pacific CX890
Boeing 777-300ER (B-KQL)
Hong Kong (HKG) -> Newark (EWR)
Depart 18:48, Arrive 21:50, Flight Time: 15:02

Boarding was from one of the sectioned off gate areas, which you access via a perfunctory security check point, but was fairly efficient despite what seemed like half of the plane having access to the priority queue.



The service on this flight was like the previous flight, with a meal - this time dinner - served after take-off and then a second one just before landing. The timing meant that they would be serving breakfast in the evening local time, but I guess that's the way it goes. In addition to the two meals there were snacks on demand.



The meal service started with drinks, the crew that I interacted with were nice enough – service was done with a smile but not much engagement, due I think, to their limited English, anything beyond what was printed on the menu was difficult. This seemed to reinforce what I have noticed over the past few years, which is a drop in the English of the Cathay flight attendants, making conversations a little more difficult.

This is more of an observation than a complaint, I mean my attempts at new languages generally start with passion and vigour and couple of weeks later once I can order a beer and maybe some food if I’m lucky, well that’s where they end… so yeah – maybe I should look into Cantonese or more likely Mandarin for my next language to fail at learning…



A little while later the starter came out - Cathay's finest scallops so fresh they are moving! actually it could be the turbulence, or maybe the multiple drinks... either way they tasted okay once they were on the fork.

The mains were brought around, but after having a late lunch and none of them looking particularly appetising I passed and decided it was best to get some sleep.



With an evening landing a few hours would be good, enough not to be exhausted but not so much I wouldn't sleep until the next morning! So when I woke up five or so hours later it was time to get up, and stay awake - so of course an espresso was required.



And a burger too!

Not really that much else to say - watched some movies, but was selective on the ones I would watch - given I have several Qatar flights coming up and the fact they fairly seriously censor the films they show - I wanted to watch the gritty ones on Cathay who don't really to that - or at least not that I've noticed.



Fast forward several more hours, and it’s breakfast.



Went with the scrambled eggs, was about as good as you would expect on a plane, but no better.



After another hour or so we were on the ground in New Jersey. Overall a great couple of flights - arrived alive and in good spirits, reminds me why I travel with Cathay as much as I do.

Rocked up at immigration to find the chattiest CBP agent I have ever encountered, we had a long chat about my travel habits, where I go, when, with who, normal stuff, but for 5 mins… It was friendly, and as a one time consultant who spent a fair amount of time extracting information from people, I could appreciate the way she keep the conversation going with a friendly banter, but still hit all the key points. Either way it ended with another stamp in the passport and I was on my way into the city.

W New York – Downtown

So, sometimes things change, when I initially set up this trip I was going to catch up with a good friend in Frankfurt, that is until she got relocated to New York for work, but with the Panama trip there wasn't a lot of flexibility – she was staying at the Marriott downtown until her stuff is shipped over, so plans we made for a Friday night catch up followed by a morning charity run in Central Park and then a day of eating and drinking.

The W ticked many boxes, a SPG property, good rate and right next to the Marriott. Booking online was a breeze but then the stay went downhill from there…

After a couple of drinks with my friend at a nearby bar, I dropped her off at the Marriott and the wondered over to the hotel where I got to watch the associate check his Facebook feed as he motioned he was busy. Note to those playing at home windows turn into mirrors in dark spaces... After what seems like 5 mins which was probably only 2 the associate then noted that the computers were down… No checkin for you, but no apology either!

Spent the next 20 mins making small talk with the couple who arrived one or two mins after me, which wasn't bad given they had been to NZ, I'd visited their hometown in Texas and we were both planning trips to Africa for New Years, so we actually were able to pass the time, it's just you know I generally don't expect it have to do that at premium hotel. At midnight.

Fortunately, once the computers were working the associate noted I'd already been upgraded… I like honesty but he really could have twisted the truth there to use it as an apology… Anyways I now had a corner room, a keycard and a hollow apology. Yay.

I wasn't particularly happy at this point and felt like giving some instant customer feedback followed by maybe a little coaching… however, given I'd been traveling for more 30 hours I figured that maybe I should hold my tongue, as it was unlikely to come across in a constructive format, and I am trying to be a nicer person.

Although clearly I have a lot work to do because I found it oddly satisfying when the couple I'd been talking to gave him both barrels so as I was walking to the lift...



The room was nice - a good amount of space for New York and the bed was comfortable, unfortunately the blinds didn't really do anything about keeping out the sunlight which is a pet peeve of mine.



Also, the bar in the lobby was loud enough you could hear in it the room, but I sleep thorough pretty much anything, so it didn't worry me too much.

Overall a disappointing stay, which as many options as there are in New York - I don't think I'll be back anytime soon.
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Old Oct 1, 16, 2:24 am
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Great start. Awaiting the rest of it. I think we could use some info on how you booked the entire trip too, if you don't mind.
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Old Oct 2, 16, 2:15 am
  #6  
Hut
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Originally Posted by obduro View Post
Subscribing with interest!
Thanks!

Originally Posted by Nomad98 View Post
Me too..Interesting routing and ready to learn the art (complex) of ticket construction ^
Originally Posted by avneeshj View Post
Great start. Awaiting the rest of it. I think we could use some info on how you booked the entire trip too, if you don't mind.
No worries,

There were five reservations that made this one up, which I’ll talk about below.

In general, for my travels I keep an eye on the flyertalk deal boards, use expertflyer to check the fare/routing rules, and then use the Matrix Airfare Search tool to play with the routings, check for availability and price things out.

In the past I have generally booked via the airlines wherever possible, and if not direct then via an OTA, however with the recent changes to the oneworld interlining rules I am in the market for a good travel agent who understands crazy flyers and knows how to attach revenue tickets to QF award bookings – so if anyone has some recommendations – please let me know!

For the oneworld explorer fares, I have been doing these for the past 4/5 years and will generally have one or two on the go at any one time. To figure out what I can do I mainly use a combination of the oneworld tool, mileage monkey and reading the fare rules to figure out what is legal… and normally the AA RTW desk will catch it if you are trying to do something you can’t – and often they will be able to suggest a solution if you need one.



Maps generated by the Great Circle Mapper - copyright © Karl L. Swartz

No 1

Route: PER-HKG-EWR

The first one covered the trip to New York and was booked via Alaska Airlines for a cost of 60,000 miles plus about 90 USD for taxes etc.
I found the space via the Qantas award search tool, confirmed via the JAL tool (as Qantas has a habit of showing phantom award space) and then booked via the Alaska call centre, from memory it was all sorted in 20 mins or so.

No 2

Route: JFK-MIA-LAX-DOH-RAK-MAD-FRA-DOH-JNB

The second one was an existing oneworld explorer fare (otherwise known as an DONE4 – signifying it was booked in business – D class, and covers four continents), that I had started in JNB last year, returned to Perth, and used to travel to the USA for the Christmas / New Year’s holidays. I had left the ticket in New York so to speak and that is why I went there - effectively so that I could catch the next flight on this ticket.

This one, as with most of my RTW tickets, was booked via the AA RTW desk – which in my experience is one of the best out there – I can’t actually remember what this one cost – I checked the ticket and it reckons its 12k USD – which it definitely wasn’t – I think it was closer to 6-7k AUD.

No 3

Route: LAX-PHX-DFW-DCA-MIA-PTY-MIA-SFO-LAX

The third ticket was the LAX-PTY special that has been much covered over in the Premium Fare deals section (here), it was booked via AA.com and I used the Matrix Airfare Search to craft the routing. The cost of this one was just over 800 USD.

You will probably notice that given the segment based earning model of Qantas vs the Mileage based model that AA uses/used… I forced a few extra stops in to maximise the earning potential, and an overnight in DC - well because I wanted to.

No 4

Route: JNB-MPM

The fourth ticket was booked with South African airways online which nicely priced it in AUD and came out at around 360 AUD – this one basically served as a positioning flight between the end of the first RTW ticket and the start of the next one below.

No 5

Route: MPM-DOH-PER…

So this one was also a oneworld explorer fare and was booked again via the AA RTW desk, and it was a pain! I generally get Leo or Dwayne when I call (who are excellent BTW!) and this one took several calls to get it done, between accidently asking them to price it in USD, Qatar cancelling segments, and the AA Rate Desk not reading the rules properly it took almost two weeks to get done. This one came out at 5,600 AUD.
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Old Oct 2, 16, 3:53 am
  #7  
 
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A very promising start to what looks like an interesting journey.

Thanks for sharing.
Fredrik74 is online now  
Old Oct 2, 16, 3:20 pm
  #8  
 
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Originally Posted by Hut View Post
No 5

Route: MPM-DOH-PER…

So this one was also a oneworld explorer fare and was booked again via the AA RTW desk, and it was a pain! I generally get Leo or Dwayne when I call (who are excellent BTW!) and this one took several calls to get it done, between accidently asking them to price it in USD, Qatar cancelling segments, and the AA Rate Desk not reading the rules properly it took almost two weeks to get done. This one came out at 5,600 AUD.
I am guessing the price you mentioned is not just for the MPM-DOH-PER..correct?

Thank you for the detailed explanation on the itinerary
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Old Oct 3, 16, 7:58 am
  #9  
Hut
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Part 2: New York to Miami

The domestic air market in America is well, confusing for me, I find the competitive forces that shape it fascinating, the sheer volume impressive and the points earning potential rewarding, but what you have to put up with to take part… like I said, it’s confusing. As a result, I generally have low expectations when travelling with American carriers, in fact arriving alive and with my baggage being a bonus is generally where they are set.

After hearing of the long TSA lines I thought I should get there at least 90 mins before departure, and traffic was good which meant I was there 1 hour 45 mins early, however after arriving at security, there was virtually no line, a smiling TSA agent and I was told to leave my shoes on and not to take anything out of my bags because there were no trays.?!?

I found myself standing on the other side of security less than 2 mins later wondering if I'd imagined it, I mean it was a bit like going to the dentist and then been told your fine, no fillings and the receptionist telling you there will be no charge. Bewildered, I headed for the lounge.

American Airlines Flagship Lounge

I arrived at the Admirals Club to find it under renovation, but the Flagship Lounge was open, and the agents kindly pointed me in that direction.

Lounges in North America, what can I say? Well, my first thought was the Air Niugini in Port Moresby is nicer, and on reflection, it is. Went in search of a seat, and managed to find the last one, dumping my stuff to clearly mark my territory, I then went to look at the food options as I’d only had a earlyish brunch and it was now almost 4, tried a couple of rolls – they weren’t great, but I was hungry and couldn’t be bothered going in search of overpriced food in the terminal.

Overall – a very crowded place to wait for the plane, but it had power and WIFI, so I was happy – certainly nothing worth arriving early for.

American Airlines AA235
Boeing 757-200 (N188AN)
New York (JFK) -> Miami (MIA)
Depart 17:14, Arrive 19:30, Flight Time: 2:16



Old school ski ramp seat, fine for a couple of hours, probably wouldn't be as happy on a red eye over to Europe or South America, no PDB, but the drinks started flowing once we were airborne and were kept topped up - crew was nice. Having indulged in far too much food on the flights over and having eaten a little in the lounge, I skipped the meal.

Have to say the state of the plane was pretty poor – fixtures broken, seats were pretty dirty, in need of some care and maintenance.



A short while later we found ourselves on the ground in Miami, although it took another 25 mins before we were at the gate. Overall a pretty good flight, exceeded my expectations for a domestic USA flight.

The Westin Colonnade Coral Gables

Took a 15 min uber to the hotel, no Westin branding outside but the driver assured me we were in the right spot and the GPS agreed, so in I go.
The team on the front desk were lovely, scored an upgrade to a corner room and then went in search of dinner.





Nice room, lots of space and in a pretty good location relative to the airport, especially as I was catching up with a couple of mates a place just around the corner for an early lunch the next day. In fact, I’d seriously consider it in place of an airport hotel in the future, if the rate was right and I had a long enough layover.
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Old Oct 3, 16, 3:28 pm
  #10  
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Originally Posted by Hut View Post
Nice room
Indeed, nice design
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Old Oct 5, 16, 6:05 am
  #11  
Hut
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Originally Posted by Nomad98 View Post
I am guessing the price you mentioned is not just for the MPM-DOH-PER..correct?

Thank you for the detailed explanation on the itinerary
Yes - the fare allows for 16 flights as you make your way around the world,so I have 14 left if I use them all... there are a range of rules about the number of flights that you can take per region.

As it currently stands the ticket will get me back to the USA/Central America, then onward to Europe, followed by South Africa, but as I plan out my next trips, the routing will likely change.
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Old Oct 5, 16, 7:53 am
  #12  
Hut
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Part 4: Miami to Washington DC

There are many ways to get from Miami to Washington DC, the route less travelled is likely a stopover in Los Angeles followed by connections in Phoenix and Dallas. My friends think I’m crazy, but I imagine one or two readers might be able to relate the attraction of cheap miles and status credits…

Took a uber back to the airport, as I was travelling on September 11 I figured that I should leave extra time for security.



Things started at the airport with the flag at half mast, followed by a police checkpoint on the way in which seemed to be more for show, as we rolled through almost without slowing down.

Once inside, I checked in at one of the self service kiosks and headed for security which was a 5 min affair and I was though into the terminal with tonnes of time to spare.

Admirals Lounge Miami Airport



As with New York, the lounge here was under renovation however, the parts that where open looked to be the renovated parts.



New leather seats and power points everywhere looked nice enough.



There were also some of these pod / throne hybrid seats - which looked good, but felt a little uncomfortable when you sat in them.



The renovations might give the lounge a face lift but the food options remain dire.



It's a nice place to wait for your flight when its not too crowded, but at peak times - well I prefer the terminal.

American Airlines AA2435
Airbus A321 (N144AN)
Miami (MIA) -> Los Angeles (LAX)
Depart 15:43, Arrive 17:40, Flight Time: 4:57

Boarding was a little difficult as it seemed everybody had a full sized carry on and a number of bags had to be checked.



I was surprised to find menus, amenity kits (which were a nice thought but useless) and fairly decent blanket/pillow package.

It took a while to get everyone onboard and then once we closed the door, we sat there and waited... and waited, and after what seemed like 10 mins - I wasn't really paying attention at first - the Captain sort of has a vent about an aircraft that pushed back behind us, then started up - and is now having some sort of mechanical issue and wont move... so we aren't going anywhere!

A short while later we were moving and then after a scenic tour of MIA we were off!



Once we were airborne, the service started as usual with drinks and nuts.



Which was shortly followed by some green stuff which was a little meh.



For the main event I went with the beef which I was surprised to find still had a little pink in it... I'd be unhappy if I got that at a restaurant, but for a plane it exceeded expectations.



Desert was okay.

Fast forward a few hours and we landed, and a little after that - we were at the gate - called the aloft for the details on the shuttle, and was told where to stand and to expect it in 10 mins, however about 5 mins later I was aboard and after a quick stop at terminal 6 we were on our way.

Aloft El Segundo - Los Angeles Airport



So my first stay ever at an Aloft hotel - not much to write about, nice room for the night, I didn't get a lot, but didn't pay a lot – so I was happy with the result. Bed was good, blinds kept the light out and the shower worked as advertised.

As we wondered into the lobby there was an awkward gathering of 20 year olds, first thought – a tour is starting – and after a brief chat, it was their second night and there were no dinner plans, so I made some new friends…

Quick and efficient check in, dumped my stuff in my room and headed for the bar to plan the night with my new friends. As I was heading out, I resolved to behave and be back in a few hours… an early start and 3 flights the next day would not be fun with a hangover. Of course I returned at 3.30 for an hour of sleep prior to catching the shuttle to the airport.

Got to Terminal 6 about half an hour before boarding and was confronted by the TSA that I know and love, a 20 min wait for a chat with officer grumpy followed by a complementary cavity search from office angry. Just what I need to start the day.

American Airlines AA1899
Airbus A321 (N538UW)
Los Angeles (LAX) -> Phoenix (PHX)
Depart 06:19, Arrive 07:13, Flight Time: 0:54

Boarding was underway by the time I got there, but luckily there was space for my stuff in first.



Short flight, not a lot to say – basket of food brought about drinks offered, orange juice received, hangover nursed.



There was a beautiful sun rise to watch - so it wasn't the end of the world.

Once we got into Phoenix, stopped briefly by the lounge, it was a zoo, had some water and then left for a walk about the terminal.

American Airlines AA649
Airbus A321 (N543UW)
Phoenix (PHX) -> Dallas (DFW)
Depart 09:31, Arrive 13:24, Flight Time: 1:53

Another US Airways A321 – more food this time, very friendly cabin crew but boarding was a cluster.

So, there was this guy who boarded pretty much last and found a lady in his first class seat, normally you would ask them to move to their assigned seat, but in this case the lady also had a boarding pass for the same seat. This was brought to the attention of the crew who checked their tablet which gave the seat to the guy but the ground crew got involved and were adamant it was the ladies, as they had upgraded her into an empty seat… This went back and forwards a few times, and as voices started to get raised the captain came out and suggested, rather sensibly I thought, that perhaps they could work the problem outside the plane, as this wasn't a good look in front of the passengers.

Several minutes later there was a game of musical chairs, which I gather solved the issue, with a pilot travelling in economy ending up in the jump seat, the first class upgrade heading back to economy and the late boarding guy ended up in the seat… needless to say we were late getting underway.

In the middle of all that the crew were offering drinks and keeping us entertained by checking each of our boarding passes to make sure there wasn't anyone else sitting where they shouldn't be.



Once we were underway we got breakfast which was pretty basic, but did the job. Not really that much more to say - the plane came back down and then we were in Dallas.

We arrived in DFW right the end of terminal C and with the departure from the middle of terminal A, it was actually a fairly long way away! I had the time, so I walked and was struck by how many people there were! It was crazy!

As expected, I guess, when I stopped by the lounge in terminal A it was packed and I left straight away – the gate areas in the terminal that were empty were much nicer.

American Airlines AA2553
Boeing 737-800 (N963NN)
Dallas (DFW) -> Washington (DCA)
Depart 15:39, Arrive 19:14, Flight Time: 2:35

I arrived at the gate a little early to find the first class boarding announcement underway, and ended up about 7 or 8 deep in the queue to get aboard; just when I was about to hand my boarding pass over to the agent I got cut in a fairly aggressive form by an AA agent escorting an ex-Australian PM, indeed if I didn't have 20kgs on the agent I reckon she might have shoulder charged me! PM who I really didn't like was pretty nice thanking the agent escorting and was even nicer to the crew on board… so full marks there – still don’t like her politics tho.



Drinks were offered after takeoff - I was feeling much better by now, but stuck to orange juice...



Nothing much else to report on the flight, got one of the newer 737s with the personal IFE which helped to pass the time, dinner was forgettable, fortunately there was photographic evidence to remind me… It looks like meat – was probably okay.



I don't know what it is about Washington DC, it feels like a special place to me, and I have no idea why… Maybe it's because it's often the seething for some of my favourite tv shows and books? One of the things I do love about flying into DCA is flying down the river on approach, today it was at sunset and the view was awesome.

Sofitel Washington DC
I have no idea what was going on in Washington DC on the day I was staying there - the days before and after the rates at SPG properties were steep, but not unreasonable, the day I’m there… ouch.

This resulted in a stay at the Sofitel, as you see the corporate rate was very attractive, now I’m not sure if the Accor revenue management system didn’t notice what all the others did, or I need to thank the nameless corporate contracts folk who negotiated this rate, either way it worked out pretty well.

Checked in, team manning the desk were lovely, confirmed that my French is rubbish and kindly sent me on my way.





Loved the room, good size for DC, great shower, and the first toiletries of the trip that I was tempted to take with me.



I have to say I was very happy there and even though there are a fair few choices in DC, I think I might be back some time soon!
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Old Oct 9, 16, 7:10 am
  #13  
Hut
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Join Date: Jan 2016
Posts: 164
Part 7: Washington DC to Miami (via Panama)

Checked out of the Sofitel and retraced my steps on the metro back to DCA, TSA was a breeze and after a brief wonder about the terminal, stopped by the lounge.

DCA Lounge



The lounge I visited was actually pretty good, it wasn't crowded when I was there, the staff were nice and had a good view over the apron.



Also saw Marine One, it's clone and a couple of black hawks fly past… kinda cool.

American Airlines AA1533
Boeing 737-800 (N960NN)
Washington (DCA) -> Miami (MIA)
Depart 13:04, Arrive 15:54, Flight Time: 2:50

Ended up flying another 737 with IFE which was good - crew was also very friendly - not quite the AA I remember...



Dinner was some sort of chicken salad, which was much better than expected, drinks stated flowing and were kept topped up. All up a good flight.​



Cookies where on offer for desert... and I couldn't resist. I don't know what it is, back home I never have cookies, and am never tempted, in fact I don't even really like them - but on a flight it seems the rules are different. Maybe its because its free and smells good?

American Airlines AA959
Boeing 737-800 (N955NN)
Miami (MIA) -> Panama City (PTY)
Depart 18:05, Arrive 19:30, Flight Time: 2:26



This 737 didn't have IFE so I mainly read a book on the way down. Less nice crew, some sort of lasagne which was bad. Really bad, one bite and done bad. Next thing you know we are in Panama.

Le Meridien Panama City

Took a taxi from the airport driver was nice, car was clean, trip was … Efficient. Indeed, in the interest of arriving alive I asked the driver to slow down. Twice.



Check in was slow but ultimately successful and I got an upgrade to a 'better' room - no idea what the difference was? The room was okay - clearly dated, but at a good price point it was still value for money.

American Airlines AA4434
Embraer 175 (N402YX)
Panama City (PTY) -> Miami (MIA)
Depart 15:45, Arrive 19:26, Flight Time: 2:42

Headed out to the airport after a day of exploring, turns out they don't really do the air conditioning thing in some parts of the terminal, but others were freezing - which was sort of weird. Maybe it was broken? Flight was late getting in - which meant we were a little late getting underway - but no real harm done.



A good flight - food was meh - desert excluded - I noticed they didn't warm up the nuts - maybe they can't? Crew was a little less nice and more functional than I had experienced so far this trip - however the drinks were kept topped up and we got there safely so I guess it was a good flight!

Royal Palm South Beach

Hmmm... So, I'm not sure what I was expecting, however I didn't get it. The hotel had a weird vibe. Overall, I left feeling as though they expected me to be thankful for having the privilege of staying there.

Things didn't get off to a good start when they tried to convince me the resort fees were the best deal out there... As in you'd be silly not to take them up on such a great deal! Oh, its optional? Well… No they tell me. Then don’t sell me stuff you've already made me buy.





Got an upgrade, which sort of made up for the resort fees thing, and it was better than I was expecting.

Avis South Beach

I rented a car on the second day, mainly so that I could visit some friends that evening and go shopping during the day, booked for 8am and rocked up at Avis at South Beach at the appointed time to find a queue of two disgruntled customers whose cars weren't there… After a brief wait and watching the fireworks it was my turn to learn my car wasn't there either.

I had booked a full size SUV – why you ask – well it came down to the way our corporate rate works with personal rentals, for some weird reason with a full size SUV the rental comes with all of the insurance included, so while it's more than a compact when you option that with insurance there is only a couple of dollars in it!

I was given was given the option of a smaller car but at a higher rate!?! What rate you ask, because I did too, only to learn that the agent doesn't know, as she needs the system to tell her but she's pretty sure it will be more, oh and it will kill the existing reservation and rate in the process. Otherwise, I could wait an hour for one to be delivered from the airport, I had planned to have breakfast in Coral Gables but I figured I'd just settle for Miami Beach and come back later.

So after an uber down the road a little breakfast and returning to the hotel I called back to confirm if the car was there, it was, so I took an uber back to find another disgruntled customer who was actually on the phone to Avis asking for a supervisor because they were so unhappy with the rather extreme level of don't give a .... on display from the onsite agent. Oh and by the way no SUVs in sight.

20mins later a battered and dirty Toyota Sequoia arrives and given I've wasted 90 mins I go with it, oh and panels inside are falling off. Great.
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Old Oct 21, 16, 10:00 pm
  #14  
Hut
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Join Date: Jan 2016
Posts: 164
Part 14: Miami to Doha

An early start to the day, roads were empty on the drive to the airport, Avis return guy spots the dents at 50 paces and asks if I did that, no it was like when I got it I say… he looks at the pink slip and says hold on to that, they might try and charge you for it! Excellent…

Took the train from the rental centre to the terminal and got checked in. Tried my luck getting checked in on the onwards Qatar flight from LAX, the agent had a go but apologetically explained the computer said no.

Headed for security, where the TSA was efficient and friendly, maybe I need to adjust my expectations about them, have they gotten better in the last few months or maybe I have adjusted my minimum expectations? Still not sure.

Stopped by the lounge – which was as empty as I have ever seen it, and soon it was time to head to the gate.

American Airlines AA167
Boeing 737-800 (N968NN)
Miami (MIA) -> Panama City (PTY)
Depart 07:42, Arrive 10:24, Flight Time: 5:42

Having had two meals, menus and a comically bad amenity kit on my previous transcon from MIA to LAX, I had expected similar for this flight. It turns out that's not the case, standard AA domestic. Is that only a LAX thing or maybe due to the early morning departure?

Boarding took forever as there were several musicians on this flight carrying on their instruments in interestingly sized cases, as they didn’t play nicely with a standard sized bag, we ran out of space quickly and a number of bags needed to be gate checked much to the disappointment of their owners.



Once we were all settled it was a shortish taxi and we were on our way to San Francisco, this was, again a 737 with the IFE, which was greatly appreciated on a 5+ hour flight. Service started with drinks, followed by Breakfast which didn’t do that much for me, the fruit was especially bad.



The flight was smooth, the crew friendly and a couple of movies later we were landing in San Francisco.

American Airlines AA6041
Embraer 175 (N209NN)
San Francisco (SFO) -> Los Angeles (LAX)
Depart 12:53, Arrive 13:46, Flight Time: 0:54

When I initially booked the Panama trip, AA as far as I knew, still ran an airline that was relatively on time and disruptions were the exception, plus OneWorld still had its friendly checkin policy. So, the planned 4 hour layover in LAX wasn't necessarily by good planning as much as a consequence of forcing a connection in SFO to maximise the points, however it ended up being very useful.

When we landed, the flight down to LAX was on time, and tripit happily announced a 58 minute connection. So, as I checked online to see what aircraft I would be travelling on, I was surprised to find it hadn’t even left the gate at LAX, hence boarding would not be in 30 mins… Not a lot of info from AA, but Expertflyer had some comments that seemed to indicate it was due to ATC restrictions. With the current timing, I would still have a 2 ˝ hour connection at LAX, so I wasn’t too worried.

I stopped by the AA lounge which was furnished beautifully, but it was also packed and had the standard inedible food options. So, I headed back out into the terminal for a walk, found some food and sat by a window with views over the runway and watched the world go by.

I tracked the inbound flight all the way from LAX and watched it land, 20 or so mins later I headed for the gate and soon after boarding began. Everything was going well until one passenger came up the aisle and out the door faster than the cabin crew could catch him, although I gather he encountered the ground staff who returned him to the aircraft…

Not sure what it was all about, but he was offered the option of, being offloaded, taking his seat or if he wanted to continue arguing he could do so with the SFO police which would likely be followed by a tour of some areas of the airport that are not usually seen by passengers. Sensing defeat but unwilling to admit it he noted that he would file a complaint…

Of course, when you are late, nothing ever goes to plan… Took forever to get pushed back, then even longer to taxi... As I am sitting there, watching the connection time go from comfortable to much less so, I started looking online to see the impact of missing the flight... basically it will wreck the Marrakesh leg, so maybe it could be switched for a last minute flying visit to London to see some friends. First world problems I guess.



On the bright side, once we were airborne when circled around past the airport which is always cool when the weather is nice.

Not really much to report on the flight, drinks and a basket of food were offered. A little while later we were over LA and landed shortly after. Now that I was on the ground and had just under 2 hours for the connection, I was less worried, a long taxi to the terminal taking the scenic route because we landed on the other side of the airport. Took the bus to terminal 4, walked over to terminal 2, and checked in 1:20 prior to departure.

Didn't even bother with the Air Canada lounge, having been there before I wandered the terminal at little before boarding which started about 10 mins after I cleared security.

Overall, on this trip through the states I took 10 AA flights in Business/First and they exceeded my expectations, the crews where on the whole friendly and did the best with what they had. The hard product on the older planes need some work - no power on the exUS A321s... that needs fixing, but the newer ones were fine. Only the last flight was significantly late, the rest were close enough that it didn't really matter.

Qatar Airways QR740
Boeing 777-200LR (A7-BBE)
Los Angeles (LAX) -> Doha (DOH)
Depart 16:29, Arrive 17:22, Flight Time: 14:53

Welcomed aboard, was surprised to find the front cabin filled with three families travelling with their young kids, a while later when talking to the cabin crew they mentioned it's the start of the holidays in Qatar so they were likely travelling home for that.



The Qatar 777's have a 2-2-2 configuration with lie flat seats in Business, so there is tonnes of leg room, fortunately I have had a fair amount of practice at climbing over seats when they are stretched out, so the window works fine for me.

On the ground we were offered pyjamas, amenity kits and drinks. Had an interesting conversation with my neighbor who was from Melbourne and shared a few interests, but once we got underway it was time noise cancelling headphones and sleeping.



As we pushed back, the FBI it seems came by to say farewell, and followed us out towards the runway... never had that happen before.



The menus looked lovely, and with Qatar's dine on demand option, you could have whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted it - or at least that's how it reads. In practice, it means you should reserve whatever you want when they take the orders before/after takeoff, so that it would be available later in the flight.



The strategy for this flight was basically watch a tv show or two and then sleep for a few hours, then stay up for the last 7 or so hours so that I would have the energy to go out in Doha when I got in, but no so much that I wouldn’t want to sleep at all.



Service started with drinks and nuts, most others then went onto dinner, however I changed into the pyjamas, and asked the crew to help out with the bedding.



As the sun went down it was time to slide the seat back and I was out in what seemed like seconds, even with a very poorly behaved kid screeching.



I mush have been tired because I woke up 8 hours later to find chocolate next to my seat and a quiet and dark cabin. A quick look outside revealed it was light and there was a thick cloud cover - with little else to see.



I then asked for the pancakes I had reserved for breakfast, which were excellent - I almost asked for more! After a coffee which was very good for something you get at 40,000 ft, I started watching some movies.



Fast forward several hours and we are over Turkey and it was lunch time - I had reserved a Lamb Patty which tasted much better than it looked!



And desert, which was excellent!

Next thing you know we are on the ground in Doha, and it been almost 15 hours! That's a long flight...

Arrived at the boarder to find agent actively hostile manning the desk I ended up at – he spoke in one word sentences and was clearly not having a good day. Things started badly when I handed him my passport and he told me not to give it to him until he was ready… Ok then.

After a minute he was ready for the passport but gave me back my onward boarding pass with a scowl and a reminder not to give him things he hasn't asked for… Then he demanded to see my hotel booking – so I showed him on my phone, no he says paper only… Fortunately I print these things out and he looked very unhappy when I handed over the appropriate sheet of paper. Then he wanted to see proof of the next flight, so I handed back the onwards boarding pass to Marrakech, no he could only let me into Doha with the eTicket? Well after a little more shuffling and another piece of paper he reluctantly took my credit card and charged 100 riyals for the privilege of entering the country.

As I jumped into the Uber I reflected on that encounter and the way I interpreted the situation he was looking for a reason to make trouble. Weird. Where is that happy / sad face customer feedback system when you need it?

St Regis Doha

It's just a quick stopover in Doha, and I would have preferred to stay at the W, it was both closer to the airport and a little cheaper, but I need a St Regis stay to collect all 11 Starwood brands so the St Regis it is. Took an uber there and was surprised how far it was from the airport it was at a 30 min drive with no traffic.



As expected I guess, it was over the top, massive entrance, marble everywhere, and more staff than you could imagine they would ever need. Check was warm and efficient, got an upgrade, and was offered an escort to the room, but declined.





The room was large, expensively furnished, had a good shower and an excellent bed. About 5 mins after arriving the head butler arrived to introduce himself, and offered a range of services I really didn't need, but I guess that's in the job description.



I did, however, appreciate that the early morning wake up call came with complementary coffee… It wasn't the best I'd ever had, but given timing it was perfect!



Given it was early, and I might have been a little jet lagged I wasn't really paying attention when I got into the lift headed for the Ground Floor. I was heading towards reception, thinking wow, this isn't as grand as I thought it was... when I got in the entrance was was like 20m high, now its not even 10m!



Turns out reception is on Level 1... and its every bit as grand as I remembered.

After my experience at the border the day before I was curious on how it would go, I got agent indifferent, who stamped me out without fuss or even a glance in my direction.






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Old Oct 23, 16, 2:35 pm
  #15  
 
Join Date: Jul 2013
Location: JNB
Programs: Flying Blue, Miles and Smiles, Hhonors, ICHotels
Posts: 1,200
Oh Wow!!! This really is a TR of such intricate proportions. Am absolutely loving it, and am following with great interest. ^
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