Monday, August 25, 2014

REMINDER: Cathay Pacific Selling 2,014 Tickets for HK$100 (~$13 USD) TONIGHT 5PM PST

As I wrote about last week, in honor of Cathay Pacific being named the 2014 World's Best Airline by Skytrax, they will be selling 2,014 Business Class and Premium Economy tickets beginning at 8am on Tuesday, August 26th. While not explicitly stated, this is most likely Hong Kong local time, which translates to 5pm PST Tonight.

Tickets will be on sale to the following destinations and can be booked here:
  • Business Class: Bangkok, Cebu, Kuala Lumpur, Nagoya, Osaka, Taipei
  • Premium Economy: Chicago, London, Maldives, New York (Newark), Sydney
Good luck!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Add To Your "World's Longest Flights" Collection: Cathay Pacific Announces Boston Route

More exciting news from the 2014 Best Airline in the World, especially for those located on the East Coast. Cathay Pacific just announced that Boston will be added as their 6th US destination, with 4x weekly non-stop service to Hong Kong launching on May 2, 2015. Boston joins the other 7 North American destinations already serviced by Cathay Pacific:
  1. San Francisco
  2. Los Angeles
  3. Chicago
  4. Newark
  5. New York-JFK
  6. Toronto
  7. Vancouver
The Boston route will be serviced by a 4-cabin Boeing 777-300ER which features 6 First Class Suites, 53 lie-flat Business Class seats, 34 Premium Economy seats, and 182 standard Economy seats. As I wrote about recently, I've been flying Cathay Pacific more than any other airline recently, and have found them to be consistently excellent. I don't think I'm alone in proclaiming that they have the best Business Class seat being offered today.

Here's a look at the initial flight schedule, subject to government approval:

As an added bonus, for those of you looking to add a notch in your "World's Longest Flights" belt, based on my calculations the BOS-HKG flight will clock in at 7,970 miles with a flight time of 15 hours and 50 minutes. Looking at the current list of world's longest flights, it looks like this flight would slide in at #16. Interestingly enough, my initial intuition was wrong which was was that this would be longer than the New York and Newark routes which are ranked #10 and #11, respectively.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Napa-versary: Eating Sonoma

***This is part 5 of my "Napa-versary" trip report detailing a recent visit to Napa Valley to celebrate our 1-year wedding anniversary***

1. Eating Napa
2. Calistoga Ranch, An Auberge Resort Part I - Check-In, Our Lodge
3. Calistoga Ranch, An Auberge Resort Part II - Resort Facilities, Activities, and Food
4. The Restaurant at Meadowood + Meeting Chef Christopher Kostow
5. Eating Sonoma

After spending the day hiking around Calistoga Ranch, we cleaned up and got ready for dinner. The day before we had feasted at The Restaurant at Meadowood, so we had made plans to try something more casual the following day. Based on our research, everything we read and everyone we talked to kept coming back to Bar Bravas de Tapas in Healdsburg, which is located closer to the Sonoma side of wine country. After looking at the menu we were sold, despite the fact that it would be a 45 minute drive each way from where we were staying.

The drive from Calistoga actually wasn't too bad, with most of it on semi-windy country roads and a short stint on the 101 freeway. We headed into downtown Healdsburg, which is filled with shopping and restaurants. It really has a lot of charm, and we even made a mental note to stay in that area next time we visit Sonoma.

Parking was a breeze, and we walked over to the restaurant where we had made early dinner reservations at 5:30pm which is right when they open. The dining room isn't that large, and only seats roughly 30-40 people at a time, so I highly recommend that you make reservations ahead of time. They also have a huge, outdoor patio in the back where most of the walk-ins were sent.

Bar Bravas de Tapas in Healdsburg, CA

Bar Bravas de Tapas dining room

My wife in particular loves tapas since it means that we get to try lots of different things. The plates were actually perfect for two people, with most orders coming in 2's or 3's. The hardest part was deciphering the menu and figuring out how much to order, but once that was done we just sat back and enjoyed the amazing food.

For just two people, I wouldn't recommend ordering any of the family-size entrees since that really limits the amount of things you're able to try. We just stuck to the small plates, and for us big eaters, 7 orders was just right. For me, the highlights were the lamb sliders, tuna belly salad, and the crispy pig ears.

Iberico ham

Goat cheese tostada

Lamb sliders

Tuna belly salad

Fried crispy pig ears

Grilled octopus

Grilled quail

None of the desserts on the menu at Bravas jumped out to us, so we walked down the street and stumbled upon Noble Folk Ice Cream and Pie Bar for dessert. Along with a large selection of ice cream, they had 5 types of pies on the menu. I'm a sucker for pie, so as soon as I saw the menu outside I already had one foot through the door. The strawberry blueberry ginger pie is the most popular and was unfortunately sold out, but we ended up going for the salt-overload combo with the salted honey pie along with salted caramel ice cream. I love salted caramel ice cream, and this one was fantastic, even better than Bi-Rite's in San Francisco.

Noble Folk Ice Cream and Pie Bar in Healdsburg, CA

Daily specials

Salted honey pie with salted caramel ice cream

Afterwards, we walked around a bit more through downtown Healdsburg. There's a small park nearby, and we somehow ended up over at Mustache Baked Goods which has the same owners as Noble Folk. They've been featured on the Food Network, and we grabbed a cupcake and some macarons for the road.

Mustache Baked Goods in Healdsburg, CA

Overall, a fantastic side-trip over to Healdsburg, and Bar Bravas certainly lived up to the hype. While we had our hearts set on eating there on this trip, I wouldn't necessarily recommend it if you're in Napa since there are plenty of options over there without having to drive over an hour and a half round-trip.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Cathay Pacific Selling 2,014 Tickets for HK$100 (~$13 USD)

In honor of Cathay Pacific being named the 2014 World's Best Airline by Skytrax, they just issued a press release announcing the sale of 2,014 Business Class and Premium Economy tickets beginning at 8am on Tuesday, August 26th, 2014. While not explicitly stated, this is most likely Hong Kong local time, which translates to 5pm PST on Monday, August 25th.

Here's some additional information from the press release:

To celebrate the 2014 award, Cathay Pacific is offering 2,014 return tickets to 11 destinations travelling in either Business Class or Premium Economy Class. The fare for each ticket is just HK$100!* The destinations on offer are as follows:

Business Class: Bangkok, Cebu, Kuala Lumpur, Nagoya, Osaka, Taipei
Premium Economy: Chicago, London, Maldives, New York (Newark), Sydney

Each customer can book a maximum of two return tickets per transaction. The offer will be available from 8am on 26 August only at the “fanfares” website:

The fine print

All trips must originate and end in Hong Kong, so this works best for locals or if you already have a trip planned. It's referenced that this is for the "Hong Kong public", and in the Asia Miles section of the terms and conditions it states that it's "Valid for members residing in Hong Kong and Macau only. Residency is determined by the registered member’s preferred mailing address as registered with Asia Miles."

To get around this, you could use the address of your favorite family member living in Hong Kong, or maybe even the address of your favorite hotel.

Also, while the base fare is HK$100, additional fuel surcharges and taxes do apply, which are as follows:

  • For flights between Hong Kong and Southwest Pacific, North America, Europe, Africa, Middle East and Indian Subcontinent – HKD857 (~$110 USD) per flight sector 
  • For all other regional flights not mentioned above – HKD193 (~$25 USD) per flight sector
So taking into account the fuel surcharges, really you are looking at Premium Economy for around $233 USD  and Business Class regional flights for $63 USD.

Obviously, it goes without saying that these will go quickly, so good luck!

Monday, August 18, 2014

My Biggest Complaint About Alaska Airlines Miles...

Well, other than the fact that the system has been out of commission for the past 4 days (it's back online this morning). Actually, I didn't really mind since I had no pressing travel plans to make, and if anything got back the 30 minutes per day that I typically spend logging into my account and playing around with award availability.

Before I start complaining, as I wrote about in my mid-year report as a new Alaska Airlines MVP Gold, I'm really enjoying the program so far. Some of my favorite features of the program are summarized below:
  • Fee Waivers: An amazing benefit for MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75k members where call center ticketing fees and ticket change/cancellation fees are waived. While other airlines waive award ticket fees for elite members, Alaska also waives fees for revenue tickets a la Southwest. 
  • Use of Smaller Airports: Alaska uses smaller airports, which in the Bay Area include SJC and OAK, with flight schedules that are on par with larger airports such as SFO.
  • Upgrades: Since I’m primarily a leisure traveler, unlike business travelers I have the luxury of purchasing el cheapo fares well in advance of departure date. Most airlines prioritize upgrades by elite status, then fare class. Alaska prioritizes upgrades by elite status, then time of purchase which works out well for me.
  • Direct Phone Access to Friendly and Helpful Agents: I've called in several times, and each one has been answered directly after a couple rings without having to fumble through a phone tree. Also, each and every interaction I've had with Alaska's phone agents has been pretty darn pleasant. I've had to deal with my share of phone agents at other airlines that left me downright mad and angry, so don't underestimate the value in someone not ruining your day.

 At the time, I only had a handful of complaints about the program, if you can even call them that:
  • Route Network: This comes with the territory given that Alaska is a regional program, and flight service on Alaska to the Midwest and East Coast is limited. This is why they've partnered with American and Delta to fill in the gaps.
  • Airline Partners: While the list of partners is big enough to get you where you need to go for the most part, there isn’t a lot of overlap that the bigger alliances have which can yield multiple options for many destinations.
  • Upgrade Waitlist: When using guest upgrades, Alaska doesn't provide the ability to waitlist for upgrades, and instead "U" space must be available which dilutes the value of the guest upgrades
  • Mileage Posting Times: A minor issue, but in general I've had to wait 5-7 days for my Alaska flights to post, and over a week for my Cathay Pacific partner flights to post to my account. United flights would typically post to my account in 1-2 days

As is the case in any relationship, the more time you spend with someone or something, the more things you'll find to complain about. My relationship with Alaska Airlines has been no different, and as I'm trying to use my miles for an award redemption for the first time, there's a few things to add to the list:

  • Awards Must Include Travel To/From North America: This is my biggest complaint about the program. In theory, this doesn't sound like a big deal for those of us based in North America (which is probably everyone that uses the Alaska Airlines program). As you can see in the chart above, that's how the award charts for each airline are structured. But this is atypical compared to other programs, which usually allow you to book flights to/from any destinations that partners fly.

    For example, I'm in need of a flight from Seychelles (SEZ) - Dubai (DXB) and a one-way coach ticket on Emirates is coming in at a whopping $650 for the 4-hour flight. I'd love to be able to use my Alaska Airlines miles for this leg, but it just isn't an option given the structure of the program.
  • Travel To/From Domestic Gateway Only Available On Alaska Airlines: When booking award flights I totally get that it can be a bit of a crapshoot, and sometimes you just have to book a separate positioning flight. But Alaska only permits travel to/from your domestic gateway on Alaska-metal, which can be a pain if you need to position to the Midwest or East Coast. The reason they partnered with Delta and American was due to their limited domestic route network, and they should allow travel on these carriers to your North American gateway
  • No Mixed Partner Awards: related to the point above, but as you can see from the award chart everything is focused on each partner, as opposed to travel to a specific region/destination. Therefore, you are not allowed to mix-and-match partner awards as you can with traditional alliances in other programs, which limits the options for routes that need multiple connections.
Overall, I'm still really pleased with the Alaska Airlines program, but the issues I've found above have limited the flexibility in using my miles and is certainly part of the trade-off of being part of a smaller program.

I'll report back with any other updates, and am also interested in hearing about your experiences using Alaska Airlines miles.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Ever Wonder What Crew Rest Areas On Airplanes Look Like?

I stumbled onto a post on Flyertalk which links to an article detailing what the crew rest areas look like on various airplanes. As brutal as international travel is for passengers, it's even tougher on the flight attendants who are on their feet, working for a large portion of that time. On the 12+ hour long-haul flights, I've noticed that typically the crew will work in shifts with one group handling boarding and 1st meal service, with the next group coming in for 2nd meal service and landing.

For pilots, most airlines block off seats in Business or First Class, so you'll often see them shuffling in and out of the cabin to catch some shut eye. In fact, on all of our Korean Air flights, two First Class seats have been blocked off for pilots. I imagine that for all airlines this is a topic that comes up in pilot union negotiations, since the decision ultimately impacts seat availability and revenues.

Until now, the crew rest area is one area of the plane that I've never seen pictures of before, so I found this article particularly interesting. Here's a sample of the crew rest area on a Boeing 787, which provides a loft-like area that can sleep up to 5.

And as you'd expect, on the Airbus A380 with a larger crew, more crew rest areas are needed. Here's a graphical rendering of the crew rest area that was put into the Emirates A380 planes, which shows a super bunk bed-style crew rest area which can sleep more than 12 people.

If you're interested, a lot more detail in the link above. One of the commenters actually made an interesting point - would you actually prefer this style of cabin to the traditional Business Class cabins you find today?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Use As A New Way to Share Travel Recommendations

I recently wrote about how I've started to place less credibility in travel review websites like TripAdvisor, since the reviews can be so biased that they just aren't a reliable indicator of what a typical customer can expect. That's why its become so important to me to get travel recommendations from people that I trust. That includes my real-life friends, as well as a broader circle of people that tend to have similar travel tastes as myself, such as my "friends" on FlyerTalk.

We've all been there - someone mentions that they've recently been to a destination that you'd like to visit, and naturally you ask them to send over some recommendations on where to stay, what to eat, and things to do. Depending on the person, what they send over could be anything from a perfectly formatted spreadsheet to a stream-of-consciousness email comprised of random thoughts. And if you're lucky enough to get recommendations from multiple sources, it can be hard enough just to keep track and organize everyone's recommendations into a cohesive list, let alone transform them into an actual itinerary.

A new way to share travel recommendations - OneDay

That's where my friend Rebecca's website,, can really come in handy. I've found OneDay to be extremely useful for organizing, mapping, and ultimately sharing my travel recommendations with others. Here's how it works - after creating a username, you're taken to the main page (as shown above) which provides examples of maps created by others. There's a social component, as you can review, share, and comment on other people's recommendations. 

OneDay feeds in the entire database of user reviews from both Yelp and Foursquare. That includes reviews for all businesses (not just travel-related businesses like hotels and restaurants) across all worldwide locations. Using this huge database, you can then search for individual entries, and curate them into your own personalized map. That map may be based on a certain theme, or may include specific food, hotel, or activity recommendations for a particular destination. And since its a worldwide, you can even think bigger with maps such as:
  • Best restaurants with views in the world
  • Best hotels in the world for honeymooners
  • Best activities in the world for an adrenaline junkie
  • Best hikes in the world
  • Best ice cream shops in the world

For example, after our honeymoon last year, I had done a detailed trip report on our 72-hour food tour through Sydney which is outlined in this post. It's a lot to sift through, and doesn't provide a simple list of the places we ate at, and most importantly their locations.

Using OneDay, here's a map I created with the same information, presented  in a much more organized format. On the right-hand side, you'll see a listing for each places included in my report. For each one, you'll find user reviews from Yelp and Foursquare, the address, and even a space for my own comments. From there, each item in the list is then fed into the map on the right-hand side which is really helpful for visualizing and ultimately planning the most efficient route to take. 

Using OneDay for more than just travel recommendations

While I've focused on the potential uses of OneDay for travel recommendations, it has practical uses in every day life as well. Since basically any type of business that is loaded into Yelp or Foursquare can be added to your list/map, you can even use it for grocery stores, gas stations, and even for things like recommending a plumber or locksmith.

For example, here's another map that I've created which outlines my favorite restaurants in Silicon Valley. Since I recently moved away from San Francisco to the Peninsula, I'm still new to the area and always on the hunt for delicious places to try. While my list can easily be shared with others, the main purpose for creating this one was really for my wife and I to keep a running tally of our favorite go-to places to pick and choose from when we want to eat out.

For those of you that like to give travel recommendations to others, how are you currently doing so? I highly recommend that you give a try, and would be interested in hearing how the experience compares to what you're currently doing.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Emirates Begins Flying to Chicago, Award Availability Still Wide Open

Emirates has officially kicked-off its daily nonstop flights between Chicago and Dubai, with the inaugural flight taking place last week. The route is serviced by a Boeing 777-200LR which will features 8 First Class Suites, 42 Business Class lie-flat seats, and 216 Economy seats.

I've been in the early stages of planning a trip to the Seychelles, and the most efficient ways to get there from North America is by flying Etihad or Emirates. I haven't had much finding award space with Etihad (via American Airlines miles), so I've been spending a ton of time researching the various Emirates routes to/from the US which I plan to book with Alaska Airlines miles.

The Chicago route is of particular interest to me for a couple of reasons. First, the Boeing 777-200LR that services the route is one of Emirates' new ultra-long haul planes featuring true lie-flat seats in Business Class. The only other North American destinations that feature true lie-flat seats in Business Class are the DFW route which flies the same plane, as well as the A380 routes through JFK and LAX, which have very limited award availability. The Boeing 777-300ER that service SFO, SEA, IAH, BOS, and IAD has angled lie-flat seats which I've anecdotally heard are not that comfortable.

The second thing I've found is that Business Class award availability on the Chicago route is still wide open, and have found as many as 7 seats open on many flights which is fantastic if traveling in a large group. I've been primarily searching within the next 1-2 months, but even looking out to a random week in January, I'm seeing at least 6 seats available every single day of the week.

Wide open availability on ORD-DXB route

For those that are looking for premium cabin seats from North America to Dubai, here is my not-very-scientific ranking of the best routes for availability:

Everyday and twice on Sundays
1. Chicago (Boeing 777-200LR)
2. Houston (Boeing 777-300ER)
3. Washington DC-IAD (Boeing 777-300ER)
4. Dallas (Boeing 777-200LR)

Look hard, but it's there
5. Boston (Boeing 777-300ER)
6. Seattle (Boeing 777-300ER)

Good luck, you'll need it
7. San Francisco (Boeing 777-300ER)
8. New York-JFK (Airbus A380)
9. Los Angeles (Airbus A380)

Finally, as a reminder to those booking with Alaska Airlines miles, US-Dubai bookings in Business class will run you 72,500 miles one-way. But extending the booking to Africa is only an extra 5,000 miles and an extra 2,500 to fly to Asia via Dubai. To top if all off, Alaska will even allow a stopover in Dubai for free on one-way bookings. So take advantage of the extremely generous award routing rules that Alaska has to maximize your booking!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Fun iPhone Trick: See What Airplanes Are Flying Above You

There's a cool list of 20 Things You Didn't Know Your iPhone Can Do that I stumbled on today. A lot of the tips were new to me and will certainly be useful, including how to charge your phone faster (#1), using your phone as a level (#10), and how to see the timestamps on text messages (#16).

But there's one tip that jumped out to me that may be of interest to my fellow airplane nerds out there. Tip #4 shows you how to find out what airplanes are currently flying above you based on your location. To do it, activate Siri and simply say "what flights are overhead." On the screen, a list will show up which shows both commercial and private flights, along with each one's altitude, plan type and flight path. Everything is also plotted onto a cool sky map.

While this is more fun than anything else, I guess it could have some benefit if you're heading to the airport to pick someone up, and haven't been able to get reliable flight status information. To the extent that this data is accurate, you could estimate the remaining flight time based on the altitude and plan accordingly. Try it out!

Orbitz Expands Into Dining Rewards

I'm sure most of you already use one of the existing dining reward programs such as United's MileagePlus dining or American's AAdvantage Dining, which provide 1 mile to 'Members' and 3 miles to 'Online Members' per $ spent at participating restaurants. To be an 'Online Member' that just requires having a profile and receiving emails from the program, which is certainly worth it for triple the rewards. For those that have more than 12 transactions in a calendar year, there is a 'VIP' tier which provides 5 miles per $ spent.

Orbitz just announced that it will be launching Orbitz Rewards Dining, a new program that will allow Orbitz Rewards members to earn 5% in Orbucks on qualifying dining purchases, with the rewards jumping up to 7% when using the Orbitz credit card. The program has been launched with Rewards Network which has over 11,000 restaurants across the US, and is the same network of restaurants that United and American use.

Should you switch over to Orbitz Rewards Dining?

Since all of the programs use the same dining network, it really comes down to the value of the rewards. In terms of the pure monetary value, let's assume that you are currently earning 3 miles per $ spent in the airline frequent flyer program of your choice. Depending on the program, the value of each mile is probably in the 1.5-2.0 cents-per-mile (CPM) range, which would put the cash value of the return at 4.5%-6.0%. Orbitz is offering 5% which is essentially the equivalent of 1.67 cpm, so it is certainly competitive. Additionally, if you use the Orbitz credit card then you will be earning 7% which is higher than the returns from any of the existing programs in non-VIP tiers.

Based on this, I will continue to accrue dining rewards in my AAdvantage account, and won't be switching dining rewards at this time. But this certainly a great enhancement for those of you that are big into Orbucks, or are looking for a more flexible way to accrue and spend you dining rewards.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Would You Still Travel to Africa In Light Of Ebola Outbreak?

If there's one thing the media does well, it's fearmongering. I'm not trying to downplay the devastating impact that a potential widespread outbreak of Ebola would have, but the news media would have you believe that it is all but imminent. However, there's no ignoring the fact that this is the worst outbreak of Ebola in history.

As I mentioned last week, I'm beginning to plan a trip next month and our top choice is the Seychelles. I really wasn't worried about the Ebola news at first, since in terms of proximity, the Seychelles which is an island off the East Coast of Africa, is nowhere near the countries in West Africa, Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, where the outbreak has occurred. It would be similar to cancelling a trip to San Francisco, based on events happening in New York.

But there are news reports today that Ebola has spread to Nigeria, and even news of a 72 year-old woman dying on a flight to back London after traveling back from Sierra Leone, although she ultimately tested negative for Ebola.

Now, this has me re-thinking the idea of traveling to Africa entirely. The rational part of me has the following thoughts:
  • The WHO is throwing all resources at this to contain the outbreak, so the chances of Ebola spreading to the Seychelles should be relatively low, and if that did happen we'd cancel the trip for sure
  • The chances of contracting Ebola are low, since it isn't airborne and only spread through close contact involving bodily fluids. If we're vigilant about washing hands and avoiding contact in general, we should be OK
  • We still have 1.5 months before we leave, can continue to plan the trip and book refundable pieces of the itinerary while monitoring the situation
  • Technically, you could catch Ebola from anyone, anywhere in the world. If we are not traveling to Africa, we probably shouldn't travel at all until this is resolved

That's where my thinking was initially, that overall the risks are really low even if we traveled to Eastern Africa. But after reading about Ebola nonstop for the past couple days, here's my modified thinking:
  • This isn't just some run-of-the-mill flu or virus, it's FREAKING EBOLA [do yourself a favor and DO NOT Google image search "ebola virus"]
  • If you catch Ebola, you will bleed out of your eyes and die

So like I said at the beginning, I'm a bit torn. Am I just being paranoid, or are there real risks here? Would you still travel to Africa given this news?

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Weekly Summary: Biased Travel Reviews, Business Travel and Airbnb, Malaysian Airlines Changing Name, and More!

Hope everyone is having a great weekend! It was a busy week at work didn't have the chance to blog quite as much, but in case you missed it here are some of the top posts from the past week:
  1. My research project for the week: I dug into the human psyche to identify the top 8 types of biases that work their way into travel reviews on sites like TripAdvisor
  2. Airbnb wants to increase its market share with business travelers, will they be forced to embrace Airbnb in the near future?
  3. In response to the MH17 and MH370 disasters, Malaysian Airlines has decide to change its name and restructure its business
  4. Churn the Bank of America Alaska Airlines credit card for the companion passes which helped me save over $1,500 on a trip later this year
And lastly, I'm in the early stages of planning a 2-week trip next month. I have the miles to basically travel anywhere, so I'd love to get recommendations from others on destinations to visit. Drop me a comment or email with your suggestions!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Help Me Decide Where to Go Next Month

This is why I absolutely love points and miles. My wife and I have two weeks blocked off for vacation in September, and as of today have no flights or hotel reservations booked. The old me would most certainly have non-refundable air reservations purchased already, or would be completely freaking out if I hadn't booked anything yet with just 1 month to go.

But nowadays, this type of situation actually gets me excited. I pretty much have enough airline miles to fly my wife and I anywhere in the world, and maybe that's actually a bad thing to have that much choice since it has been hard to narrow our focus. We've been noodling on a few different itineraries, in particular Seychelles and Bhutan, but generally we are open to any type of trip anywhere in the world.

The problem that I'm running into is that I'm in no-man's land in terms of award availability, having missed the really early booking window (~330 days out) and the just early enough window (~3-6 months out), but am too early for the last-minute window (~14 days out). So it's been challenging to find any award availability that will allow us start the booking process and begin building a trip.

My Account Balances

That's where I could use some help from y'all! What are some of the top destinations that we should be considering for our 2-week trip in September? Here is a summary of my current points and mile balances:
  • Alaska Airlines: 155,000
  • American Airlines: 154,000 (account 1), 75,000 (account 2)
  • Lifemiles: 52,000 (only 40% of miles are required for bookings, so this is effectively 130,000 by purchasing the difference at ~1.5 cpm)
  • Korean Air: 30,000
  • Singapore Air: 21,000
  • Chase UR: 86,000
  • Amex MR: 52,000 (account 1), 53,000 (account 2)
  • Hilton: 100,000 (account 1), 50,000 (account 2)
As you can see my account balances are decent but certainly not as robust as they were this time last year. Also, I have a lot more airline miles than hotel points, so I know that I'll be paying out-of-pocket for the majority of my hotel nights on this trip.

Some Initial Ideas

As I mentioned before, Seychelles and Bhutan are high on our list, but ultimately it will depend on where the award availability gods want to send us. To be prepared, here is a general framework of some of the possibilities that have come to mind based on my current balances:
  • SFO-DXB-SEZ or SEZ-DXB-SFO on Emirates Biz Class using Alaska miles, free stopover in DXB
  • SFO-DXB-CMB on Emirates Biz Class using Alaska miles, free stopover in DXB. ex-CMB fare back to SFO
  • LAX-AUH-SEZ or SEZ-AUH-LAX on Etihad Biz Class using AA miles
  • SFO-Asia on Cathay Pacific First Class using AA miles or Alaska miles
  • SFO-Asia on ANA or Asiana Business Class using Lifemiles
  • SFO-Europe on Lufthansa or Austrian Business Class using Lifemiles; KLM or Air France using Alaska miles
  • Transfer Chase UR and Amex MR to Singapore Airlines, use to book 2 seats in Suite Class (likely available routes will be Singapore to Europe (CDG, FRA, ZRH) or Australia (SYD, MEL))
  • If need be, can use ex-DXB paid Business Class fare on Cathay Pacific for $1,900 one-way to get home (will be big help for Alaska MVP Gold re-qualification)
If anyone has recommendations on better ways to maximize my miles, or other destinations that we should consider, please let me know!