August 14, 2012
We’re back from our big summer vacation trip to Alaska. I wrote about our plans last month in the post “I get by (and to Alaska) with a little help from my friends.” Here was the itinerary we followed:
- Fly Detroit to Anchorage on United, domestic first class
- Stay one night at the Anchorage Downtown Marriott
- Ride Alaska Railroad from Anchorage to Seward
- Cruise 7 nights on the Celebrity Millennium from Seward to Vancouver
- Stay one night at the Renaissance Vancouver Harbourside hotel
- Fly Vancouver to NYC on Cathay Pacific, internationally configured business class
- Stay one night at the InterContinental New York Times Square
- Fly Newark to Detroit on United, coach class
Thank you for the time off
Before leaving for vacation, I wrote and scheduled posts to be published almost every day. During the trip I had limited internet access, time, or energy to respond to reader questions and comments. I was delighted to see, however, that when readers posted questions, other readers were almost always quick to jump in with great answers and helpful suggestions. The title of this post was supposed to be a thank you to all who jumped in to help. But, the geek in me couldn’t help changing the “thank you” in the title to a geeky Hitchhiker’s Guide reference.
Points, status, and more
Here is a quick rundown of points used, points earned, elite status benefits, and more:
United, Detroit to Anchorage: We converted Ultimate Rewards points to United miles to book 2 tickets for 25K points each and 1 ticket for 50K points (since only 2 were available at the saver level). While I don’t like paying 50K for a domestic one-way flight, I justified it in my mind by thinking of the average: 33.3K points per ticket – not too bad, especially for such a long trip. Review: The flights were all fine. As usual with domestically configured first class, there was nothing super-exciting about being in first, but we did get decent meals. We had stopovers along the way in Denver and Seattle. Disappointingly, only the last leg included a video screen, and none of the flights offered Wi-Fi. Overall, it was a long day of flying and we were all glad to have the extra comfort of first class. One hiccup: one of our checked bags decided to sightsee in Denver and missed the connection. The bag was delivered to our Anchorage hotel overnight.
Anchorage Downtown Marriott: Thanks to the fact that this was booked by a friend with Platinum status, we were checked into a club level room where I happily wolfed down a few fish-cakes and a soda at the lounge. At the check-in desk I was able to change the stay to my account (so that I would earn points and stay credit) and upon check-out I was able to use a Marriott gift card that I had bought in the spring for 20% off. Review: The hotel was fine, but unexciting — perfectly adequate for a one night stay. The hotel was a pleasant half-mile walk from the Alaska Railroad station. If you want to stay closer, there is a Hilton right by the station.
Alaska Railroad: We checked our bags at the train station with a Celebrity Cruise person who promised that our bags would be delivered directly to our Cruise stateroom. We were a little nervous after almost losing one bag on United, but we were happy to not have to lug around our bags anymore. Review: To me, the ride from Anchorage to Seward was actually the highlight of the entire trip! The scenery was breathtaking. The train cars had large picture windows throughout. Railroad personnel acted as tour guides and were friendly and informative. Seating in the dining car for breakfast was well organized and stress-free. When it was our turn to dine, we were notified and brought to the dining car where we ate an excellent meal while watching the amazing scenery roll by. If you’re ever in Anchorage, I highly recommend this trip regardless of whether you plan to take a cruise.
Celebrity Millennium: Upon boarding, we found our way to our stateroom where our bags were waiting for us – all, except the one that had previously disappeared in Denver. We asked about this, but were assured that the bag must be on its way. Finally, we received a message that our bag was being held on the bottom floor for additional inspection. When we went to retrieve the bag we learned that they thought it contained a knife (it didn’t). After opening the bag to prove its knifeless-ness, we were allowed to bring our cursed bag back to our room. Review: The ship was great and there were amazing things to do and see on this one week voyage. That being said, all three of us agreed that cruising is not our favorite mode of travel. I’ll follow up with an in depth review in the future.
Renaissance Vancouver Harbourside: This turned out to be a perfect choice for our after-cruise stay. Earlier in the month, I had signed up for Marriott’s Platinum Challenge which gave me temporary Platinum status. The hotel was a short walk from the dock and thanks to my newly found Platinum status they allowed us to check in at 9 in the morning! As with the Anchorage Marriott, I paid with a Marriott gift card that I had bought for 20% off. Review: I’ll post a full review later, but I’ll quickly note that the hotel was great, in a great location, and with great views.
Cathay Pacific, internationally configured business class: We used 25K British Airways points (Avios) per person to book Cathay Pacific business class from Vancouver to JFK. This was an overnight flight that left at about 11PM and arrived in New York at about 7 am. Review: Wow! We all loved the amazing seats. “Seat” doesn’t even seem to be the right word. Each of us had our own almost private “roomette” with lie flat seats, 15” entertainment screens, Bose headphones, storage cubbies, and more. See this interactive page to see for yourself. Once in the air, we were served a full meal which was quite good. After eating and watching a bit of TV, I turned off my TV and light, lowered my seat to its full lie-flat position, put on eyeshades and fell soundly asleep for the rest of the flight. Note that the flight is only 5 hours long, so don’t expect to get more than 2.5 to 3 hours of sleep if you stay up for the meal. Overall, despite the limited sleep time, this flight was a great experience and an amazing value for 25K British Airways Avios!
InterContinental New York Times Square: We used the annual free night that I get from my Priority Club visa for this stay. Since the card costs only $49 per year, this was an incredible value! Review: We loved the hotel. I’ll post a full review later.
United, coach class: We had booked this flight from Newark to Detroit at the milesaver level: 10K miles per person. We originally booked an evening flight home, but we were tired and wanted to come home early so we called United to check our options. Luckily, the flight had been booked by my friend Scottrick (HackMyTrip) who has high level United status (1K). As a result, itinerary changes were free. Without any trouble, we were able to confirm a change to an earlier flight that suited our schedule. Also thanks to his status, were were able to check our bags via the priority line, go through the priority security line, and board early. Upon arrival in Detroit our checked bags were among the first to appear (thanks, I believe, to the priority stickers United applied to the bags). Even the cursed bag appeared without any issue.
Back to work
I’ve missed the daily excitement of the points and miles world while I was away. I missed jumping in on the mistake fare to Israel. I missed getting in on Milepoint’s new premium option. I have yet to buy Sears gift cards for 10X. And, I haven’t even checked local rental car rates to see if I can buy AA miles for a very low price. In the next few days I’ll be digging through emails, taking care of miscellaneous stuff that has gone un-done, but most of all re-engaging in the points & miles world. I’m glad to be back!