Sunday, May 22, 2011

Crisis Management with Miles: Why one-way awards exist.

In my last post, I mentioned that Iceland was making my life difficult (yet again). Last year, my flight to Shanghai was shanghaied by the volcanic ashcloud and this year another ashcloud is causing problems for one of my relatives who was supposed to be on a plane to Reykjavik (KEF). They've been rescheduled for tomorrow, but who knows if that's going to happen at this point.
The lava fields of Helka, another volcano in Iceland, which was once called the "Gateway to Hell".
This one hasn't erupted since 2000, so if I'm really lucky maybe it'll erupt in 2012 and ground one of my planes then too.

Travel disruptions like this are annoying, but this is a good chance to show off what miles and mileage are good for. While I'm still hoping that Icelandic Air will pull through and be able to put planes in the air tomorrow, just in case I've got a one-way ticket for if the cloud gets worse on hold. The total cost? $30 plus 27,000 miles (which I just about earn on a roundtrip back to Seattle from here with my indirect routings and elite bonus). Plus, with United you can hold award reservations without buying them for a little while, so if the planes fly this insurance policy will have cost about 20 minutes of my time and nothing more.

Overall, that's a great deal. If you were to buy a one way ticket right now, the same flights would run you at least $1,100.

Knock it off, Iceland

Iceland is erupting again, just like it did last year. I seem to have the worst luck in the world with them. Last year,  my flights were cancelled (resulting lost frequent flyer miles!) and this year, I have relatives who are supposed to be flying through KEF today. Don't do it, Iceland Air! Don't cancel that flight!

Update: Yup. Cancelled.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Food Fridays: Food in the UAE

The foreign born population in the UAE is massive in comparison with the native Emiratis. As a result, there is actually a fair amount of variation in the food, with great Indian and Pakastani restaurants all over the place as well as Lebanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Western style cuisine. My friend and I tended to end up at Lebanese places or other restaurants serving kebab or shawarmas, but here's a run down of some of the different inexpensive (and good) places that we ended up trying. No meal here was more than $15.

The Riviera Restaurant: Nicely presented and tasty, but also slightly touristy. Some of the other lebanese places we went to felt like they were more authentic.

The standard spread, plus muhammara and hammos.

Muhammara: A slightly spicy paste with the same consistency as hummus. The dark drizzle is a pomegranate syrup that gives it some sweetness as well.  

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Transit Pass Collection: Istanbul

When I touch down in a place, nine times out of ten I'm going to be getting on some form of public transit to get where I need to go. I rarely rent cars and love taking the train or bus perhaps more than most, which also means that I end up with a lot of transit passes over my travels. Today I want to share with you one of the most unique I've seen thus far: The Istanbul AKBIL.

The AKBIL, which is a shortening of "Intelligent Ticket" in Turkish is a keychain pass which functions as either an e-purse (stored value) or time limited pass. It's pretty comfortable to hold, and gives you a substantial discount on transit trips in the Istanbul network. Most notably, when you use this you can transfer between services, while normally you pay every time you step onto a vehicle. It also works on rail, bus, and boat.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Flight Report: Back to Sweden on Lufthansa

I've previously talked about how to make flying in economy class more comfortable, including ways to get consistently better food on long haul flights but also tricks to get more room, such as my A/C trick. When travelling with two people it's a technique that uses known preferences to discourage people from sitting beside you, giving you a sort of "Business Minus" flight experience.
Air New Zealand's "Skycouch" in their 777-300ERs. Looks nice!
However, for long haul flights, and especially red eyes, the ultimate economy luxury is a row to yourself. If you manage to a get row to yourself, you can sleep across all four seats in enviable luxury. In fact, airlines are taking note of this and Air New Zealand is even offering up a new product which some have dubbed "cuddle class" based on this. Before checking in online, I noticed that based on the seat map it looked like I might have a shot at my own sleeper class. Take a look after the break, plus pictures of Frankfurt and Stockholm...

Friday, May 06, 2011

Food Fridays: Fauchon in Dubai

Dubai is something of a Disneyland. A place where money flows (even now after the crash) and where the luxuries of the world are found in the malls beside buildings unburdened by pesky details. One of the places I was surprised to see available in the Mall of the Emirates was a friend from Paris: Fauchon.

Fauchon is known as a trendy and upscale Parisian p√Ętisserie that focuses on high quality breads and sweets. Given their reputation for high quality, the allure of French desserts, and the expendable income here, Fauchon is a natural fit for a place like Dubai. Chocolates, cookies, mousse, and cakes are all on the menu, but my favorite are their macaroons.

All flavors are wonderful, but for the UAE they have added a flavor I haven't seen elsewhere. Across the UAE an extremely popular and refreshing drink is lemon with mint, and at the Fauchon here they have a macroon that is exactly that. I give to you, the lemon-mint macaroon from Fauchon, Dubai (along with a raspberry macaroon and their Number 6 chocolate truffle).

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Abu Dhabi: Other Scenes from Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi: The Grand Mosque

A few photos from the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which opened in 2007. It's a massive complex made out of marble and has cost more than $500 million to build. This is the definition of opulent.

Abu Dhabi: The Autopia Captial of the UAE

Ford Prefect: Didn't you think it was strange I was trying to shake hands with a car? 
Arthur Dent: I assumed you were drunk. 
Ford Prefect: I thought cars were the dominant lifeform. I was trying to introduce myself.
-From The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

A few weeks ago I wrote about Amsterdam and how transportation choices hundreds of years ago shaped the city that we know today. When it comes to transportation there is no technically "right" answer, but the transportation choices that we decide upon have distinct trade-offs. Abu Dhabi is an example of a city that is heavily invested in the automobile. Ford, an alien in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, mistook for our cars for local sentient species on earth. During the day in Abu Dhabi, it would be easy to make the same mistake. 

What you see here is shot from Google Maps and each of those white dots is a car. Two eight lane roads (four lanes in each direction) meet and define the super-block within which we more cars sitting in wait. Most of the inner city is like this, although there are parks and open space elsewhere, especially along the waterfront.

In the area that I was staying in, this was the scene. The traffic in Abu Dhabi, a city of about a million people, does flow smoothly, but this is the cost: Every major street is at least four lanes wide and here we have two seven lane one-way roads to move traffic. Driving is stressful, but at the end of the day traffic does move. Outside of downtown, traffic is less hectic than here, but in Abu Dhabi one thing is for sure: The car is the king.

More urban pictures and transit talk after the break...