Friday, October 31, 2014

Trip Report: American Express Centurion Lounge at LAS

***This is part 19 of my "Camels, Bats, and Bloggers" trip report detailing a recent trip to Dubai and Seychelles, with a final stop in Las Vegas to attend the 2014 BAcon conference hosted by BoardingArea***

1. Introduction - Camels, Bats, and Bloggers
2. Emirates Lounge at SFO
3. Emirates First Class San Francisco to Dubai
4. Conrad Dubai
5. Old Dubai, Ski Dubai, and At the Top
6. Emirates Terminal B First Class Lounge at DXB
7. Emirates First Class Dubai to Mahe, Seychelles
8. Four Seasons Seychelles
9. Air Seychelles Economy Class Mahe to Praslin
10. Raffles Praslin Seychelles
11. Island Hopping - La Digue
12. Island Hopping - Praslin, Cousine, Curieuse, St. Pierre
13. Hilton Seychelles Northolme Resort and Spa
14. Emirates Business Class Mahe, Seychelles to Dubai
15. 7-Star Luxury at the Burj Al Arab
16. British Airways Lounge at DXB
17. Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai to Los Angeles via Hong Kong
18. 2014 BAcon Conference in Las Vegas + Mandalay Bay Hotel
19. American Express Centurion Lounge at LAS

With a couple hours to kill before our final flight home, we made our way over to the American Express Centurion Lounge located near gate D1 in Concourse D at Las Vegas airport. This would be my first visit to a Centurion lounge and was excited to see what the hype was all about.

American Express Centurion Lounge at LAS

All of the bloggers at BAcon were given complimentary access to the lounge, but we also had the American Express Platinum card which would have given us access to the lounge. There was an interesting vertical garden inside featuring the American Express logo.

The LAS Centurion Lounge was unlike any domestic lounge I'd been to. It featured extremely stylish decor, and while many other lounges which can feel like dungeons, this one was filled with natural light. Sundays are one of the busiest days at this lounge, and it was hard to find seating at first.

The lounge is centered around the bar and buffet area, which featured additional restaurant-style seating.

Since people were coming and going frequently, after hovering for a few minutes we eventually scored a comfortable booth with perfect views of the TV in order to keep track of all the NFL action.

The food at the lounge is really top-notch. Each of the Centurion Lounge menu's are curated by a celebrity chef, and Scott Conant takes credit for the menu at LAS. Among the hot food, there was a pasta dish along with roasted potatoes. Having watched Scott critique countless numbers of contestant's pasta on Chopped, I was ready to do the same to him, but the pasta was cooked perfectly and really delicious.

There was also a fancy salad bar featuring things like kale and quinoa, along with a selection of sandwiches.

But this guy absolutely stole the show - an amazing lamb meat pie covered in yogurt sauce. I simply lost control, and couldn't even tell you how many I ate. It's one of the best things I've eaten at an airport, and would have been happy to order this at any restaurant.

There are some international lounges that are worth going to the airport early for, and it's extremely rare to fine a domestic lounge that falls into that category. In my experiences, along with the Emirates Lounge at SFO, the Centurion Lounge at LAS is simply one of the best lounges you'll find in the US, and can't wait for the opening of the Centurion Lounge at SFO in early November!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Booking The Singapore Suites Double Bed: Finding 2 Seats Was Surprisingly Easy

Earlier this week I began putting the wheels in motion for a trip to Japan in early 2015. I had my heart set on finally flying Singapore Airline's Suites Class, and transferred enough Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards points over to make the booking.

As I summarized here, this does not happen instantaneously and there was a human element involved for transfers from Chase and Amex to Singapore Airlines' KrisFlyer program. It took 38 hours for the miles to finally show up and I immediately put them to use. I had already found award availability, and a few minutes later I had 2 confirmed seats in Suites Class from Los Angeles to Tokyo.

During those 38 hours, aside from continually refreshing my AwardWallet account, I spent a good amount of time on the Singapore Airlines site searching for award space over the next 11 months.

Interestingly, it's very easy to find 1 seat in Suites Class on virtually all of the routes that Singapore flies its A380. However, what people really want is 2 seats, since after all, what's the fun if you can't share the double bed with someone else?

Here's a summary of some of my findings.

Close-in award availability

As you can imagine, close-in award availability which is typically within 2 weeks of departure, is quite good. This is common to see across all frequent flyer programs and airlines. To the extent that you have already have other placeholder bookings in place, once you are within the T-14 day departure window you should definitely check to see if you can switch over to Singapore Suites.

As an example, below you'll see 2 seats aboard the LAX to NRT flight in Suites Class departing two weeks from today. Over the next two weeks, as of right now I'm counting 4 days with multiple seats available.

Far-out award availability

Similar to other frequent flyer programs, if you can plan far in advance you'll be rewarded with some of the best award availability. Singapore Airlines is no different.

For example, looking out to August 2015, literally every single day of the week below has availability for 2 seats in suites class. For the most part, that trend continues into September all the way up to the end of the booking window 11 months in advance.

The in-between award availability (2-8 months)

This is the period of time when I made my booking, and is typically the hardest time to find premium cabin award availability for coveted products and routes, for which Singapore Suites certainly qualifies. The key to successfully booking within this window is flexibility - you're rarely going to find the exact route you're looking for, on the exact dates.

As expected, award availability for the next few months from December through February was sparse, and I found only a handful of days with multiple seats during those months.

Surprisingly, once I got into March things looked really good. In fact, nearly every week in March and April had at least one day with multiple seats available, on both the LAX-NRT and LAX-SIN routes.

In general, the most common days with availability were Thursdays and Sundays.

Here's an example from March:

And one from April:

How to book

From LAX, you will need 91,375 miles per person to SIN or 74,375 to NRT for Suites Class which includes the 15% discount for booking online. Additionally, Singapore charges fuel surcharges which came out to $188 per person for my booking from LAX to NRT.

As I mentioned earlier, make sure to plan ahead especially when transferring points from Starwood SPG and over the weekends as it may take longer for your transfer to complete.

And lastly, if you find availability, why not book it as a placeholder? Singapore has a fairly generous change fees structure with no fees to change dates, $12-$20 fees for flight/route changes, and only $30 fees to re-deposit miles which is significantly lower than the fees charged by other airlines.

#TBT - Honeymooning RTW In Australia, Maldives, Sri Lanka, And Dubai

What I enjoy writing, more than anything else, are trip reports. I'd like to think that I've come a long way in terms of the production value of my reports, and strive to get better with each and every trip.

While some of my earlier works are just painful to read, my first mega-trip report from 2013 which detailed our 3-week round-the-world honeymoon to Australia, Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Dubai is one of my favorites.

We stayed at some truly phenomenal hotels, including the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island and Amangalla in Sri Lanka. But my absolute favorite of the trip was the Emirates Wolgan Valley Spa and Resort near the Blue Mountains in Australia, which is outlined in the post below.

Here are the other portions of the trip in case you're interested, and for all the future honeymooners out there feel free to reach out for advice or questions on how to make that once-in-a-lifetime trip truly special.

Part 1 - Getting There and Arrival/Check-In

As we were planning out the Australian portion of our honeymoon itinerary, we were very interested in visiting a hotel/resort in a picturesque setting that would also allow us to be active. I looked into resorts that are primarily considered beach destinations (Qualia, Sothern Ocean Lodge, etc.) but since I had already booked a stay at the Conrad Maldives with my Hilton points, I focused instead on finding a non-beach setting. I actually hadn't heard of Wolgan Valley before, but after seeing a trip report in this forum it was exactly what we were looking for (was also considering Tea Trails in Sri Lanka). I worked with DavidO who took care of all of the booking/reservation details for me.

We left SFO and flew direct to Sydney where we spent a couple of rainy days before leaving for Wolgan Valley. After spending a few minutes figuring out how to drive on the "wrong" side of the road, for the most part the drive up to the hotel was pretty easy and took us a total of 4 hours. We were slowed down due to heavy rain and also made a couple of stops along the way to check out some of the vantage points near Katoomba. We weren't too impressed by Katoomba as it was absolutely flooded with tourists and the whole town just screamed tourist trap.

View from Govett's Leap

Kangaroo and wombat crossing

The final 30 minutes of the drive to the resort is quite steep and windy, and I had to do my best to not drive too recklessly fast as I could barely contain my excitement. The entrance to the property is marked by a pair of gates which lead up to the main gate which is staffed with a guard. After checking-in with the guard, the gate opens up into a small parking lot where you leave your car. We were shown to a small waiting room until another staff member came to get us and take us back to the main resort.

It's a brief 5-minute drive to get to the main resort building where we were led inside to check-in. The main building is also where the breakfast/dinner restaurant and Country Kitchen for lunch are housed. After arriving we were provided with warm towels and a glass of bubbly, and felt completely relaxed while enjoying the amazing views. The check-in process is a breeze with just a credit card taken for authorization, and then we had a brief overview of the property, the facilities and activities, dining options, and confirmation of Virtuoso benefits (60-minute spa treatment up to $185 AUD value, other standard benefits such as upgrade/free breakfast not really applicable here). After checking-in, we headed down to the Country Kitchen for lunch before heading to our suite.

Resort entrance off of highway

Main gate

Small waiting area at main gate

Rotunda at main buildling

Check-in area/lobby

Part 2 - Our Suite and the Surrounding Property
As we finished lunch and walked over to our suite, it was impossible to not feel completely relaxed. The property is absolutely stunning and the views really do take your breath away.

Morning fog rolling in

View of the property

Main building

The 40 villas form an S-shape around the property, and we were assigned suite #36. We found our suite to be extremely private as it is after the main walkway and therefore got very little foot traffic. The resort was at less than 50% capacity which also contributed to the feeling of privacy. My recommendation would be to request one of the suites #32-40 as these are at the end of the S-shape and away from the walkway leading to the main building.

The 1-BR suites have a "cottage" feel and felt very welcoming. Upon entering there is a small foyer which is also where the mini-bar is setup. There was a fully-stocked fridge with wine, soda, juice, and water along with a tea and coffee machine. There is also a snack drawer filled some chocolates and cookies/biscuits should you desire a snack in between meals. Everything is inclusive aside from a few bottles of hard alcohol.

Our suite #36

Front porch with our mountain bikes

Snack selection

The suites are quite large and definitely more than enough room for a couple. There is a living room area which is separated from the bedroom by a fireplace. Off of the living room is an entrance to the private pool and outdoor deck area. To be honest, we barely utilized the private pool and actually only used it for the novelty of it. It actually felt a bit claustrophobic and the water was quite chilly. We spent most of our time at the main pool and spa area.

The bedroom is equipped with the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in, as well as a large walk-in wardrobe with a sitting area. Past the bedroom is the bathroom which features double sinks, a large soaking tub, and a rain shower with a skylight. There is also a deck area which looks out over the property and has a couple of rocking chairs.

Living room

Fireplace and desk

Amazingly comfortable bed



Shower with skylight

View from the tub

Private pool
Part 3 - Resort Facilities and Activities
The resort's facilities included everything that we were looking for, but were definitely not the highlight of our stay. But to be fair, it's hard to top the natural setting and views around the property.

The upstairs of the main building houses the lobby, a small gift shop, and the bar and dining room where breakfast and dinner is served. Downstairs is the Country Kitchen where lunch is served.

Main dining room

Just outside of the main building are the remaining facilities which include the spa, gym, indoor steam/sauna and cold plunge pool, and outdoor pool and hot tub. Being the good husband that I am, my wife got to use the complimentary massage as part of the Virtuoso benefits and she reported back that the spa facilities and massage were fantastic. We actually wanted to get a couples treatment, but they were fully booked over the duration of our stay and couple only accommodate one of us. So if you are interested in utilizing the spa, I would definitely recommend booking ahead of time.

The outdoor pool area had approximately 15-20 lounge chairs and actually got quite crowded during mid-day. I can imagine when the resort is at full capacity that this area would be very crowded. The thing we enjoyed most was actually the indoor sauna/steam room and the cold plunge pool. At least a couple hours during the trip were spent going back and forth between hot and cold. The gym looked like it was seldom used and was pretty basic.


As part of the inclusive rate, two free activities are available per day. There are several other activities that can be purchased at an additional cost, but none of them looked appealing enough to us to purchase. We ended up participating in only 3 of the 6 activities that were available to us, which were the wildlife safari, night safari/stargazing, and horseback riding. We enjoyed all 3 of the activities, but our favorite was definitely the night safari as we were able to see a ton of animals (kangaroos, wallaroos, and wombats). The guides were very knowledgeable and we actually learned a good amount about the history of the property and the wildlife that inhabits it. We found that horseback riding was by far the most popular activity, and we were lucky to grab a time slot on our last day. Again, if this is something you're interested in would recommend booking prior to arrival.

Wildlife safari vehicle

Mob of kangaroos/wallaroos

1 of 5 albino wallaroos on the property

Wallaroo with joey in pouch

Wombat spotted during our night safari

Horseback riding

The activity that we enjoyed most was actually mountain biking around the property. There are two main bike trails - one is a 7KM trail to Platypus deck, and the other is a 16KM loop around the entire property. Both of these trails are very easy to do unguided, and we were able to stop at several of the designated viewing points along the way to enjoy the views. It also allowed us to get up close and personal at times with the kangaroos/wallaroos. We considered doing some hiking but the flies were constantly swarming and stopped that from happening. Overall, we definitely felt like it was an active holiday and really enjoyed all of the activities.

Part 4 - Food & Beverage
Our favorite part of the trip! Every single meal we had was delicious and very high quality - the resort takes pride in using ingredients from their on-site garden as well as from other local farms. For the most part there was a good variety to choose from, for both lunch and dinner there would be specials that were changed each day, along with "classics" that did not change for the duration of our 3-night stay. We didn't partake in any of the additional cost options, but heard that the in-suite Australian BBQ was one of the popular choices.


Breakfast is available from 7-10am (11am on weekends/holidays) in the main dining room. There is a buffet with pastries, meats, fruit, yogurt, and juice as well as a menu with available hot options. The hot options did not change for the duration of our stay. Each of the hot entrees alone is plenty of food, and on the first day we made the mistake of eating too much at the buffet before getting our entrees. The breakfasts are definitely on the hearty side, which makes sense since most people are off to activities in the late morning.

Breakfast menu

Buffet sampling

Eggs Ormiston

Valley Breakfast


There are a couple options for lunch - one is have a picnic basket packed for you to bring out to the destination of your choice, but this was not an option for us due to the swarming flies. The other option is to eat at the Country Kitchen in the main building, which serves lunch from 12noon-3:30pm each day. Because guests are on different schedules at this part of the day, there was never more than a couple tables occupied at any given time. We're actually not used to have a 3-course lunch and found that in general 2 courses (appetizer/main or main/dessert) was more than enough, especially after a big breakfast. The food we had during our 3 lunches were fantastic, with the duck confit being one of the big highlights.

Sample lunch menu

Sample picnic lunch for 2

Duck confit

Tempura soft shell crab



Deconstructed passion fruit cheesecake

Pistachio mousse

Dinner is served in the main dining room from 6:30-10pm each night. Since the resort was not at full capacity, the dining room never filled up at any point in time, but during busier periods of the night we did find that the service could be spotty. I can't imagine how it would be if the resort was at full capacity, unless there are additional staff at those times to handle the crowd. Dinner was very enjoyable and each night would be approximately 2-3 hours from start to finish. There is an extensive wine list with a page dedicated to local wines that are inclusive, and several pages of foreign wines that are an additional cost. Overall we absolutely loved the local wines and even wrote down the names of a few for purchase later on.

Prior to dinner, for those that would like to enjoy the sunset, the outdoor terrace was available for drinks and canapes. Similar to lunch, each day there was a "classics" section that did not change, as well as a daily tasting menu. For the most part we stuck to the tasting menu, with the exception of the last night where I went with the classics section. The tasting menu also has suggested wine pairings which we got each time. Also, each night there was a completely different selection of cheeses to choose from which were delicious.

Pre-dinner canapes

Table setting

Sample "classic" dinner menu

Sample "Taste of Wolgan" tasting menu


Poached scallops

Sorbet palate cleanser

Main course- barrumundi

Special ice sculpture with ice cream to celebrate our honeymoon

Chocolate cake dessert

Cheese selection

Sample tasting menu #2



Trio of pork

Pineapple "ravioli"