January 13, 2018

Booked: SAS Scandinavian Airlines Business Class Intra-Europe Bergen to Stockholm, Business Class Airbus A330-300 From Stockholm to Los Angeles

At the beginning of this year, I have booked two Business class tickets from Chicago to Madrid to Lisbon with Iberia because they are having 25% off award sales. We are also taking this opportunity to hop to Germany and Iceland from Portugal. Because I only booked us one-way ticket, we need another ticket to come back to the United States.

While searching for award availability, I saw a few Lufthansa Business Classes available; however, we have flown Lufthansa Business Class before and therefore this time I feel that we should be trying a new European airline's Business Class product instead.

SAS - Scandinavian Airlines
After Iceland, we plan on going to Bergen, Norway. Bergen is the gateway to the beautiful scenic fjord in Norway. While searching for flights to come back from Norway to the U.S. using United miles, the availability was good and the flight time works very well with our plan. Our first segment will be from Bergen to Stockholm with SAS. We'll have a long layover in Stockholm before catching our next direct flight from Stockholm to Los Angeles. The flight time for that leg is scheduled to be 11 hr and 30 minutes long. Therefore, being able to fly in Business class is a very good thing as SAS flies the Airbus A330-300 with amazing looking pod seats products such as comfortable lie-fat bed and delicious catering. I am a fan of Airbus vs. Boeing.

SAS - Scandinavian Airlines Business Class Lie-flat Seat
How Did I Book It?
As I mentioned, I redeemed United miles to get two one-way Business class tickets from Europe to U.S. The entire trip costs 70,000 United miles + ~$60 USD in tax, so a total of 140,000 United miles + ~$120 USD for two tickets. That's a lot of miles, thankfully I applied for Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card early last year and got approved for the 100,000 Chase points sign up bonus. This huge bonus unfortunately has been discontinued and their current offer is 50,000 Chase points, which is still good. Then later last year, I also applied for the Chase's United Mileage credit card as I had planned on using miles earned from that card for this year's European trip. That card offered me 60,000 United miles sign up bonus. So my United's account had 72,000 United miles and then I transfer 68,000 Chase points to United. Thanks to their partnership, the miles got transferred instantaneously and I was able to score two one-way business class tickets from Scandinavia back to the States. I'll have a full review of the flight when I return. Until then, I am very much looking forward to experiencing SAS Business Class product in person.

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January 11, 2018

Norway Bergen Railway: From Oslo to Bergen or Bergen to Oslo via Train, Which Side of the Train to sit on?

The Bergen Railway between Oslo and Bergen or Bergen to Oslo is considered one of the world’s most scenic train rides. It does not matter when you go, summer or winter, the train operates all year round. The direct train from Oslo to Bergen takes approximately 7 hours long, but given it is a scenic ride, the time should fly by very fast while you are enjoying the Norwegian landscapes. This begs the question for most visitors - which side of the train to sit on to get better views?

Both Sides Are Good
Yes, believe it or not, both sides of the train will offer good view no matter which side you sit on. Either side is beautiful, so you can't go wrong with any. There's plenty of room for you to move around and view both sides. So, it comes down to what is your sitting preference, left or right?

Left Vs. Right Side
Those that cannot really pick side and still debate which side of train to sit on to get better views, if you are traveling from Bergen to Oslo, choose the left side. If you are traveling from Oslo to Bergen, choose the right side.

Don't get too hung up on which side to sit for better views, either side provides amazing views. Therefore, just make sure what side that you prefer such as facing direction the train goes, avoiding seats at the end of the car that has part of the view blocked, sharing seats with others across from you, etc. You can view seat map online when you try to purchase train ticket on Bergen Railway via NSB site.

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January 8, 2018

How to Ride Seoul's Subway and Everything You Want to Know About Seoul's Subway System

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Seoul is one of the cities that has modern and efficient subway system. This mode of public transportation provides the most convenient and fastest way to get around the Seoul city. Currently there are 9 lines and they are all color-coded written in Korean and English.

Subway's Operation Hours:
5:30 A.M. to Midnight.

Subway Ride's Fare
Seoul’s Subway fare is calculated based on the distance traveled. The fare starts at 1,150 won (~$1 USD) for distance less than 10km.

The basic fare allows you to transfer from subway to bus, bus to subway, or bus to bus up to 5 times for no additional basic fare. Make sure to transfer within 30 minutes after scanning your transit card (an hour from 9pm to 7am) at the exit of the last station or bus.

Subway Tickets & Where to Get Them
Single-Journey Ticket
You can purchase a single-journey ticket plus a deposit of 500 won from the Automatic Vending Machine (a.k.a "Ticket Vending and Card Reload Device") located inside every subway stations. The instruction on the machine is in Korean or English. Upon arriving at your destination, you can get that deposit back when you return the card to the "Deposit Refund Device."

TMoney Card
If you are going to use subway a few times during your entire stay in Seoul but not multiple times a day, it is highly recommended that you purchase the prepaid card called TMoney Card. Here are some features of the T-Money card and its benefits:
  • Receive approximately 10% discount on the regular fare. 
  • It is prepaid. The price of the card is 3,000 won (~ $2.82 USD) and can put any amount on it. 
  • It can be purchased from the automated vending machine in every subway stations or at convenient store.
  • It has no expiration date and any unused balance will remain on the card until used. This is good if you are returning to Seoul in the near future. 
  • Visitors departing Seoul can get a refund for any remaining amount on the card that is less than 20,000 won (~$18.80 USD) at TMoney card's vendors such as the convenient store for a small fee. If the card has remaining balance more than 20,000 won, the refund must be made at the TMoney headquarters. 
TMoney MPass
If you are going to use subway multiple times a day during your stay in Seoul, getting the TMoney MPass card may make more sense than the regular TMoney card. TMoney MPass allows visitors to use public transportation in Seoul multiple times a day up to 20 times per day. The TMoney Mpass can be purchased at the tourist information centers located in front of exit 5 and 10 on the 1st floor of Incheon International Airport, the Myeong-dong Tourist Information Center, and the Gangnam Tourist Information Center.
TMoney MPass Card Type & Price:
  • 1 Day Pass: 10,000 won (~$9.40 USD)
  • 2 Day Pass: 18,000 won (~$16.92 USD)
  • 3 Day Pass: 25,500 won (~$23.97 USD)
  • 5 Day Pass: 42,500 won (~$39.95 USD)
  • 7 Day Pass: 59,500 won (~$55.93 USD)
The TMoney MPass card is good for one-month from the date of purchase, and will only be activated upon use. The card expires at midnight of the last day. For example, if you activate and use the MPass at 1 P.M. in the afternoon and your MPass card type is 1 Day Pass, the card is expired on that day at midnight and not 1 P.M. the next day.

How to Ride Seoul's Subway
Don’t over think it. If you are used to subway system in other countries, the process is pretty much similar.

Step 1: At the entrance of the subway’s turnstile, simply place your card over the TMoney scanner.
Step 2: Follow the color-coded signs to your desired train. The color-coded signs are written in Korean and English.
Step 3: After reaching your destination, you must place your card over the TMoney scanner again at the turnstile in order to exit. The machine calculates the distance you have traveled and charges your card accordingly.
  • If your ticket is a single-journey ticket, you can claim your 500 won deposit back by returning the card to any “Deposit Refund Device.”
  • In an event you have insufficient funds on your T-Money card or single-journey ticket, preventing you from exiting; you can add money by using the fare adjustment machines located near the turnstiles.

Subway Map

Map is written in both Korean and English.
You may download Seoul’s subway map here. Seoul's Subway Map LINK
Google Map also works in Seoul as far as public transportation goes, but does not work for walking guidance.

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January 7, 2018

Resort Review: Holiday Inn Resort Aruba Beach Resort & Casino

Our stay at the Holiday Inn Resort Aruba - Beach Resort & Casino was pretty pleasant. Our review will purely base on the location of the property that is beachfront and surrounds by many shops, restaurants and bars. The room and bed along with pillows are very comfortable for our 5 night stays down there. Moreover, we also love the fact that they give the privilege of reserving the beach hut (palapa) to IHG Elite Status such as Platinum and Spire Members for the entire stay without having to compete with other guests everyday to get the hut or queue up every evening to reserve the hut for the next day in which we'll talk about it later on.

Rating Summary
Location: ★★★★★
Comfort: ★★★★★
Service: ★★★★☆
Property: ★★★★☆

Planing in advanced allowed me to get a good cash deal to reserve 5 nights at the Holiday Inn Resort Aruba - Beach Resort & Casino. What wonderful about this cash booking is that, the timing was perfect for me as I signed up for the IHG Accelerate Promotion that any paid stays between September 1 and December 31 will give me additional 40,0000 IHG Bonus Points for completing each task below. I value IHG points 50 cents a piece, so 40,000 IHG Points equals to $200 value of savings. Check out Current Travel Promotions page for IHG promotions.

Looking for free stays on IHG Rewards Points instead? The Holiday Inn Resort Aruba Beach Resort & Casino requires 35,000 points per night. It is going to go up to 40,000 points per night some time this year. Therefore, it's better to book now while the increase change has not been in effect yet.
My IHG Accelerate Promotion - 40,000 IHG Bonus Points
Getting There From Aruba Airport
Holiday Inn Resort Aruba - Beach Resort & Casino doesn’t provide any airport shuttle service. Most resorts there in fact do not have such service as Taxi is the most practical and recommended method to get from Aruba airport to hotels and resorts on the island. We used the Taxi option to get to the Holiday Inn resort from the airport for $25. Taxi service there is operated under fixed price based on the distance or region, so there's no need to negotiate the price or worry about being ripped off by the taxi drivers. For more information on Getting From Aruba Airport to Hotels and Resorts.

The location of the Holiday Inn Resort Aruba is outstanding. It's located in Palm Beach along with other high rises hotels and resorts such as Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, etc. What makes this property's location very special is that it is right on the beachfront. The property is strategically built so that each room has ocean view. The white sandy beach are just a few steps away from the property. Nearby, there's a plaza that's full of souvenir shops and various restaurants. If you stroll along the boulevard just outside the resort, you will find additional restaurants. There's also a nearby mall that has restaurants inside and a few shops. The food court inside the mall appears to be closed though when we were there. At night time, they even have water light show and performance going on in that plaza to entertain Aruba visitors as well.

Beachfront Holiday Inn Resort Aruba Beach Resort & Casino
Plaza Nearby & Along the Boulevard Outside of Holiday Inn Resort
Water light show and performance going on in the nearby plaza
The check-in process went fine. It's worth mentioning that if you hold Elite status with IHG, there's a line that's dedicated for Elite members in case there's a long queue at the regular check-in desk. I did not realize that and went straight to the regular desk as it wasn't busy at the time. The girl at the reception desk recognized my IHG Status as a Platinum Member. She tried to sell us the “all-inclusive” option but we declined as we wanted to wander around to grab something to eat and drink instead of being stuck at the resort. If you plan on just eating at the resort, the all-inclusive is better option as the food and drinks price at Holiday Inn are outrageous. Anyway, after checking in was completed, she provided us the wrist band to indicate that we are guests at the resort. She then handed me also two room keys, a charge card that has room # and my last name for charging anything to the room, and finally a beach towel card for two beach towels. The card also gives us access to reserve the beach umbrella/hut (a.k.a Palapa) for our entire stay there as a Platinum Member. All we had to do is go get our beach towels and reserved the hut's spot that is available. We'll talk about this more later on.

Beautiful Sitting Area & Lobby
The Holiday Inn Resort Wrist Band
Beach Card for Towels & Beach Huts
Charge to the Room Card
Room & Amenities
I can't recall if I requested room upgrade or not in my reservation. As an IHG Platinum Member, if the property is not fully booked and the preferred room is available, the property should upgrade Platinum status guest at no extra cost. In our case, we did not get upgrade. The agent at the reception told me that if we wanted "oceanfront" type of room, the upgrade is $40 extra. Our room is partial ocean view but let me say that, it was perfect for the view. We enjoy overlooking the beach, ocean, palm trees, and two swimming pools. We stayed in the building 6 and our room is on the 4th floor that has a balcony. The highest floor is 6th but we were very happy with our floor and the view. This Holiday Inn property is strategically built that each room has ocean view.

Our Room's Balcony
I found the bed and pillows along with the sheets and comforter were super comfortable for me. The room even has a couch to sit on and relax so it is a pretty good size room with 1 king bed. Out on the balcony, there are two chairs and a small table. Bathroom is alright and gets the job done though the water pressure is a little bit too low to my liking. Overall, we were pleased with our room. It also has an electronic safe box to store any important information. Wi-Fi has pretty good speed inside the room to stay connected and throughout the resort though the connection was spotty at the beach area within the resort.

Swimming Pools
We were there in December time frame. The pools are closed by 7 P.M. for cleaning every night. They have one pool for children and two pools for adults. They also have two Jacuzzi pools. We did not get to enjoy the pool at night which was a really bummer for us. Should Holiday Inn Resort Aruba change this policy, perhaps they can earn more money on drinks when people are lounging in the pool at night as well. My two cents!

Beach Lounge Chairs & Huts (Palapas)
Beach lounge chairs and huts (a.k.a Palapas) are free. If you are an IHG Platinum or Spire member, you will get to reserve the hut for your entire stay. After checking in, all you have to do is stop by the towel hut with your beach towel card and reserve the hut. There will be someone there with a diagram of huts location to help you out and let you know what spots are still available for you to pick. Once you make a pick, that spot belongs to you for your entire stay; however, you must be at the hut prior to 10:30 A.M. every morning or it belongs to someone else.

Which hut to pick? It really depends on the availability and your preference as far as proximity to the beach goes. The diagram shows the pool at the bottom and the ocean at the top.

The Towels Hut
Huts Diagram
If you do not hold any elite status with IHG, the process is that you go to the towel hut at 4 P.M. each day as that is when they start giving out the hut for the next day. Usually people start lining up at 3 P.M. as they want a good hut's location. The queue could get long especially on the weekends and holidays.

Restaurants & Bar
As I mentioned earlier that the check-in agent was trying to sell me the all-inclusive option during our entire stay at the Holiday Inn Resort. My recommendation is that if you don’t plan on trying food and drinks anywhere else, then go for the all-inclusive option as the food and drinks at the hotel can get really pricey and each check contains a 15% service charge. They have a few restaurants and a beach bar there. You can either pay there or give the servers your charge to the room card.

Holiday Inn Resort is located around several restaurants. Nearby, there are several restaurants along the boulevard just outside of Holiday Inn. There's also a mall that has restaurants inside. Our couple favorite restaurants are the Chicken & Lobster and The Lazy Turtle. Grouper with Fried rice at Lazy Turtle is delicious and so is the rotisserie chicken at Chicken & Lobster. Try to go before 7 P.M. for their special deal. The special price menu is a lot cheaper than the regular menu. We found the Iguana Mexican Restaurant just okay and would not recommend it. We also do not recommend the Pelican Pier, the food is just so so. |You pretty much pay for the view there and their bill also includes 15% service charge. For drinking, head over to The Beach Bar. It's a short stroll from the Holiday Inn via the boardwalk. The atmosphere there is amazing, but what makes this bar really special is their staff. They are super fun and very friendly to everyone. The drinks are wonderful as well with early Happy Hours time "Buy One Get One Free!" Here are some pictures.

Shops & Restaurants Along The Boulevard Outside of Holiday Inn Resort
Get Grouper At The Lazy Turtle
Half Chicken Chicken & Lobster

Buy One Get One Free At the Beach Bar (Not Part of the Holiday Inn Resort)

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January 6, 2018

Discounted Hyatt Cash Portion on Hyatt Points + Cash Bookings

Not sure if this is a system glitch at Hyatt or Hyatt is going to introduce new Hyatt Points + Cash system based on the property.

Normally, you can combine Hyatt Points + Cash for an award stay. Hyatt has the chart for that as shown below:

Hotel CategoryStandard Room
Points Per Night
Standard Room
Points + Cash Per Night1
15,0002,500 + $50 USD
28,0004,000 + $55 USD
312,0006,000 + $75 USD
415,0007,500 + $100 USD
520,00010,000 + $125 USD
625,00012,500 + $150 USD
730,00015,000 + $300 USD

Via Extreme Hotel Deals, there are some Hyatt properties that charge the "cash" portion lower than what's shown in the above chart.

For examples:
Hyatt Place Chicago/O'Hare Airport. This is a category 2 hotel and thus the points + cash should be 4,000 + $55 USD. However at the time of this writing, it is shown as 4,000 points + $31 USD.

This does not just work for Hyatt Place properties only, it works also for Grand Hyatt, Park Hyatt, Andaz, and possibly more.

Andaz London Liverpool Street - 12,500 + $134 USD.

The Grand Hyatt Muscat costs only 7,500 + $63 USD.

Hyatt Place Cleveland/Westlake/Crocker Park, $17+ 2500 points
Hyatt Place Canton $17+2500 points
Hyatt Place Jackson/Ridgeland $17+2500 points
Hyatt Place Charleston Airport/Convention Center $28+4000
Hyatt Place Chicago/O’Hare Airport $30+4000
Hyatt Place Buffalo/Amherst $31+4000
Hyatt Place Minneapolis/Eden Prairie $32+4000
Park Hyatt Hyderabad $34+4000
Grand Hyatt Jakarta $50+6000
Grand Hyatt Muscat $60+7500
Park Hyatt Zanzibar $80+10000
Park Hyatt Chicago $100+12500
Hyatt Union Square New York $100+12500
Andaz London Liverpool Street 134 + 12500
and more.....

Whether this is a system error on Hyatt end or not, if the property that you are interested in costs less cash for the Hyatt points + cash option, I'd book it now. The good thing about Hyatt points and cash booking does provide free cancellation. Start searching...

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