July 17, 2018

Step-by-Step Guide to Buy Shinkansen (Japanese Bullet Train) NOZOMI Tickets Online (Mobile App) In Advance [Tokyo-Kyoto or Kyoto-Tokyo]

Traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto and vice versa via Shinkansen (Japanese bullet train) is very popular. In fact, visitors are strongly recommend to purchase the train ticket in person at the station either through the agent or the automatic vending machine as there are several NOZOMI trains operate on a daily basis from Tokyo to Kyoto and vice versa. However, there are a few benefits with purchasing Shinkansen tickets in advance:
  • You are like me, you like to plan your trip in advance and not last minute. 
  • Being able to select preferred seat in advance. For example, see Mount Fuji from the train or not get stuck in the middle of the 3 seats configuration. 
  • The Ordinary car reserved economy seat is 200 Yen cheaper than buying at the station. 

Currently, it is not possible to purchase the Shinkansen NOZOMI tickets in advance, let alone online, but there's a mobile application that's developed by the JR transportation and it is 100% safe and reliable to purchase Shinkansen tickets in advance. Here are the steps:

Before proceeding, please note that you can only make a reservation from 10:00 am one month prior to boarding date, up to 4 minutes before the departure time shown for the train in the timetable for the given boarding date.

Step 1: On your iPhone or Android phones, download the app called "smartEX" from the App Store that looks like the picture below:
Step 2: First time, you are required to sign up. Follow the screen to sign up by providing your information, etc. Please note that it will also asks for your credit card information during registration and it's 100% secured. The credit card will be the one that will be used for the ticket purchase and ID verification. So be sure to enter the card that you will be taking with you to Japan.

Step 3: After the registration and account verification process, you should be able to log into the smartEX application.

Step 4: From here on, the process should be pretty straight forward. You can feed your train itinerary information into the search form. On the searched result page, select the NOZOMI train that you want. Ordinary car basically is economy seats and Green car is spacious and more comfortable business class seats. Make your selection on what type of car you want and whether it is reserved or non-reserved seat. The difference in price between reserved and non-reserved seat is pretty minimal, so I highly recommend that you do the reserved seat so that you sit in the seat that's desirable, for example, to see Mount Fuji from the train or to not get stuck in the middle seat of the 3 seats.

Step 5: Select the seat from the seat map and click Next.

Step 6: On the final purchase page, you are required to enter the security code of the credit card that you provided during registration. Click on Purchase button when you are done.

Step 7: You must pick up the ticket when you are in Japan before the train departure. Make sure to take the credit card that was used to purchase the ticket with you to Japan and do NOT lose it. Without that credit card, your reservation will be void and there's no way around it. Read more on important things to know below about using this smartEX service.

Important Things to Know:
  • Your purchase ticket should appear under the Reservation List. From there you can modify/cancel.
  • Refund can be made BEFORE the train departure time via the smartEx app and the following service fees apply:
    • Ordinary Car - Reserved Seat: 310 Yen
    • Green car (First class car): 310 Yen
    • Ordinary Car - Non-Reserved Seat: 310 Yen
  • The ticket must be picked up from ticket vending machines and dedicated pick-up machines at any Tokaido Sanyo Shinkansen station, as well as from the ticket booths at any main JR Central or JR West station.  Go here for the illustration of the ticket pick up process. Alternatively, if you prefer a live agent, you can pick up the purchased ticket at any main JR Central or JR West or Shinkansen stations:
    • Tokyo: Shinkansen Central Transfer Gate, Shinkansen South Transfer Gate, Yaesu Central Gate, Yaesu North Gate, Yaesu Central-North Ticket Gate, Yaesu Central-South Ticket Gate, Nihonbashi Ticket Gate
    • Kyoto: Shinkansen Central Transfer Gate, Shinkansen East Transfer Gate, Shinkansen Central Ticket Gate, Shinkansen Hachijyo Ticket Gate, Shinkansen Hachijyo East Ticket Gate, Centaral Ticket Gate, West Ticket Gate, Underground East Ticket Gate
    • Osaka: Shinkansen Central Ticket Gate, Shinkansen South Ticket Gate, Shinkansen Trasfer Gate, East Ticket Gate
    • More stations can be found here.
  • When you pick up your tickets you will need the credit card you used when you made the reservation and the password you use to login to the mobile application. If you forget your credit card you will not be able to pick up the tickets you reserved using this Service. There's no way around it so you must purchase a new ticket at the station. You also cannot use an IC card to pick up "tickets".
For more information on smartEx, go to the following website: https://smart-ex.jp/en

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July 5, 2018

Uzbekistan e-Visa and 5-Day Visa Free Transit Coming July 15, 2018 (USA is included)

Uzbekistan e-Visa
Starting July 15, 2018 citizen of 101 countries will be able to apply for an e-Visa to enter Uzbekistan by lodging an application online and paying a $20 application fee.

The e-Visa is a single entry visa valid for 90 days from the issue date for entrance, and can stay up to 30 days. Must apply 3 business days before traveling. Apply online for the e-Visa on https://e-visa.gov.uz/main.

Uzbekistan 5-Day Visa Free Transit
From the same date July 15, the same citizen of 101 countries will be able to transit through Uzbekistan through international airports and enter Uzbekistan for a period of not more than five days. The requirement is pretty simple that they must have a ticket to a third country through international airports (not border land), and the carrier must provide timely information on passengers to the units of the Border Guard Service of the State Security Service of Uzbekistan. There's no need to apply and pay any fees for the transit visa. 

Currently, eligible 101 Countries for e-Visa and 5-day visa free transit to enter Uzbekistan are:

Antigua and Barbuda
Argentine Republic
Cooperative Republic of Guyana
Czech Republic
Dominican Republic
Federal Republic of Germany
Federative Republic of Brazil
French Republic
Grand Duchy of Luxembourg
Italian Republic
Kingdom of Bahrain
Kingdom of Belgium
Kingdom of Bhutan
Kingdom of Denmark
Kingdom of Morocco
Kingdom of Norway
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Kingdom of Sweden
Kingdom of Thailand
Kingdom of the Netherlands
Latvian republic
New Zealand
Portuguese Republic
Principality of Andorra
Principality of Liechtenstein
Principality of Monaco
Republic of Albania
Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Republic of Bulgaria
Republic of Chile
Republic of Colombia
Republic of Costa Rica
Republic of Croatia
Republic of Cyprus
Republic of Ecuador
Republic of Equatorial Guinea
Republic of Fiji
Republic of Guatemala
Republic of Honduras
Republic of India
Republic of Lithuania
Republic of Maldives
Republic of Malta
Republic of Mauritius
Republic of Palau
Republic of Panama
Republic of Peru
Republic of Poland
Republic of San Marino
Republic of Serbia
Republic of Slovenia
Republic of Suriname
Republic of the Philippines
Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
Republic of Venezuela
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Lucia
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
South Africa
Sri Lanka
State of Kuwait
State of Qatar
Sultanate of Oman
Swiss Confederation
The Australian Union
The Bahamas
The Hellenic Republic
The Kingdom of Spain
The People's Republic of China, including the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China
The Republic of Austria
The Republic of Estonia
The Republic of Finland
The Republic of Macedonia
The Republic of Nauru
The Slovak Republic
The Socialist Republic of Vietnam
The State of Brunei Darussalam
Tunis Republic
United Arab Emirates
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

I love when a country makes it convenient to get a visa for travelers to go visit. Vietnam last year did the same by introducing e-visas for American passport holders, and Brazil started issuing e-visas ffor American, Canadian, and Japanese passport holders early this year 2018. 



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June 11, 2018

Flight Review: ANA (All Nippon Airways) NH005 First Class Boeing 777-300ER Los Angeles LAX to Tokyo NRT

Los Angeles - Tokyo (Narita)
DEP 12:25 ARR 16:25 
Duration: 11h 40m
Seat number: 1K First Class
Aircraft: NH005 Boeing 777-300ER
Miles Redeemed: 89,670 Avianca's LifeMiles + $44.81 in tax

Flying from Los Angeles to Tokyo was not a short distance. The entire journey took almost 12 hours. Being able to fly First Class with ANA did make a huge difference and let me tell you that I did not want to get off the plane at all. The comfortable spacious First Class suite seat, attention to detailed customer service, delicious Japanese meals, refreshing sake, and seemingly endless hours of entertainment were truely amazing.

ANA First Class Suiteat
I was greeted at the check-in area by a bright red carpet that spells out "First Class" words on it. There was no line. I got checked in and quickly retrieved my boarding pass with an invitation to access the Star Alliance First Class Lounge at Los Angeles International Airport. After having a wonderful relaxing time at the lounge, it was time for me to head to the gate and started boarding along with other passengers that hold elite status with ANA.

ANA First Class Check-In Red Carpet
Suite Seat
It was my first time flight to Japan with ANA First Class. I was very fortunate to sit in ANA's huge First Class seat and I honestly did not want to leave. There are 8 open suites in the First Class cabin. The seats configuration is 1-2-1. I assigned myself prior to checking in with seat 1K. I was stoked to get into the seat and check out all the amenities that come with it. I have never seen a plane's seat that comes with so many compartments along with power outlets, USB chargers, seat controls, etc. Each suite is a spacious square cabin with high-panel walls that provides comfort and privacy. In a way, the square cabin reminds me of a work cubical, in a fun and luxurious way. The only one complain that I have about the seat is that you can't really look out the window because the high-panl wall blocks one of the windows by design, you have to lean forward a little bit to look out, which was not a big deal to me at all.

Suit Seat Square Cabin With High-Panel Walls
Comfortable Seat
Each Square Cabin Looks Like Work Cubical
Samsonite Amenity Kit
After takeoff, I wasn't looking forward to getting to my destination as I always did when I was flying in coach. I was still enjoying sitting in my assigned seat and checking things out. I opened the Samsonite amenity kit and found eye mask, ear plugs, toothbrush, cotton, and a bag with a varitey of lotions and moisturizers. Meanwhile, I was also offered the pajamas by a lovely flight attendant.

Entertainment TV & Amenities

Samsonite Amenity Kit
Inside Samsonite Amenity Kit
Customer service provided by the ANA crew was truly outstanding. The crew in First Class were super courteous, friendly, and attendtion to detailed needs. Whenever I got up from my seat to do something, they were there to ask if I needed something. Atlhough their English wasn't perfect, it was good enough to communicate my needs. Overall, I was very pleased with the crew's top-notch customer service.

Drinks & Food
The true indulgence really began when the flight attendant came by and offered me the extensive dirnks selection. For that was a Japanese carrier, I asked the flight attendant if she could recommend a glass of sweet sake. She wasn't sure and suggested I sampled all three available sake. I agreed and my favorite ended up the sake that contains the ripe apple flavor. Meanwhile, another flight attendant presented me with the food menu. The food menu is a multicourse meal that contains so many items. I wasn't sure if I needed to pick and choose, but turned out all I had to decide was whether Japanese or Western style. I decided on the Japanese style. When it arrived, each item on the menu was in a small portiion in a small bowl that was beautifully presented over the course of meal. The flight attendant would do her best to explain what was in each dish, but for me all I really cared was the taste and let me tell you that it was incredible. Here are some pictures of the Japanese style dish that I ordered.

Sampling Three Selections of Sake

Sky Bed
After feeling full and bubbly from sake, I decided to go change into pajamas. While I stood up to make my way to the lavatory to change, the flight attendant courtesouly informed me to wait while she went to check if the lavatory wasn't occupied. There are two lavatory in First Class. One is bigger than the other. It makes perfect sense that the bigger lavatory is mainly used for changing. Once she confirmed it was available for me, she guided me to there and let me change. When I was done and came out of the lavatory with my clothes in one hand, the same flight attendant was there and offered to take my clothes from me so that she could fold them up for me. At my suite cabin, another flight attendant was making my seat into a fully flat bed with mattress, blanket and a more comfortable pillow than the one that was already on the seat. I finished my sake, put on my eye mask and enjoyed my sleeping bed in the sky. It was truly indulging.

Flight Attendant Was Making My Sky Bed
Comfortable Sleeping Bed in the Sky
Before Landing & More Food
When I woke up to go to bathroom during the middle of the flight, the flight attendant came to greet me and asked if I would like something to drink. I asked for a glass of water and as I began feeling a little hungry, I opened up the Light Dishes Anytime menu and ordered a bowl of Japanese udon noodles garnished with deep-fried tofu. It was delicious. Afterwards, I tried to fall back to sleep in my comfortable sky bed. Approximately couple hours before landing I woke up, breakfast was being served and I ordered the Japanese style cuisine that consists of rice porridge, miso soup, and other various Japanese items. I was completely rested and full by then.

Udon Noodle

Rice Porridge

Miso Soup
After breakfast, I asked the flight attendant if the lavatory was available for me to change into my regular clothes. She went to check and after the lavatory was confirmed available, she handed me my nicely folded clothes that she took from me earlier back and let me go changing. When I came out refreshed and went back to my seat, I noticed that my seat had been put back to the upright position and I missed seeing my sky bed already. Upon seated, the flight attendant came over to hand me a bag that contains my pajamas for souvenir.

Pajamas Souvenir
Before I knew it, we had landed in Tokyo's Narita airport. I could not believe how refreshed I was. The overall experience was really excellent. ANA and crew did a tremedous job on providing excellent customer service and preparing delicious cuisine. The suite seat is definitely one of my favorite First Class hard products and I will never forget this amazingly comfortable experience.

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June 10, 2018

Everything You Want To Know About Using Japan Airlines (JAL) Mileage Bank for Emirates First Class & Other Partner Airlines

Flying in Emirates First Class on A380 that features suite seats with privacy door, shower at 43,000 feet above, and hang out in the onboard lounge bar is one of bucket lists for aviator enthusiasts out there. This shower class suite can cost more than USD$20,000 a seat easily. Thanks to Japan Airlines Mileage Bank, you can redeem miles for one of those seats and pay just the taxes.

Emirates First Class Onboard Lounge Bar
Photo Credit: Emirates

It's worth noting that, currently JAL mileage program is the only one program out there that still offers the best values for Emirates flights redemption as Alaska Airlines Mileage terribly devalued its redemption program for Emirates flights in the past. If you consider redeeming JAL miles for Emirates & its other partner airlines, here are the things that you want to know about using JAL miles.

Distance Based Award
Japan Airlines's award chart for partner airlines is distance based. It basically means that you redeem miles for the entire distance that you fly.

Partner Airlines vs. Oneworld Award Chart
Japan Airlines has 3 types of award charts: JAL, Partner Airlines, and Oneworld award charts. Don't get confused with the partner airlines and oneworld airlines. Emirates, for example, is included in the list of the partner airlines, but is NOT included in the list of the oneworld airlines. So if you want to use JAL miles for Emirates First Class flight, you will look at the Partners Airlines Award Chart and not the oneworld.

The airlines that are NOT on the oneworld airlines list are in bold text.

Currently partner airlines are American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific/Cathay Dragon, Finair, Iberia, LATAM Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian, S7 Airlines, SriLankan Airlines, Air France, Alaska Airlines, Emirates, Korean Air, China Eastern Airlines, and Bangkok Airways.

Oneworld airlines are American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific/Cathay Dragon, Finair, Iberia, LATAM Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian, S7 Airlines, and SriLankan Airlines.

Japan Airlines Partner Airlines Award Chart Japan Airlines is going to devalue their mileage program starting November 20, 2018 which reflects on the chart below. So you still have some time to take advantage of lower miles redemption before then.

Oneworld Airlines Award Chart

Distance Calculator
Great Circle Mapper is a great tool to help you calculate the distance from one airport to the next airport. You simply go to that site then put in each airport code into the input box. You must provide all the airport codes that you will be flying in, whether it's just a connection or not, to calculate the distance. For example, you want to get from New York to Bangkok via Dubai with Emirates, you will put in JFK-DXB-BKK. Compare the shown distance with the above chart to see how many JAL miles needed.

Japan Airlines also has its own Japan Airlines Distance Scheme Award Calculator that I also find useful. I actually prefer it over the GCM as it's developed by Japan Airlines and they will use it to determine the distance. Take the JFK-MXP as an example. GCM shows 3,995 miles but Japan Airlines calculator shows 4,007 miles. So the miles required for that route is in the range of 4001 - 6000 distance and not less.

Either way, both tools are very useful in determining the distance. If you prefer Great Circle Mapper, make sure to double check with the Japan Airlines calculator as well.

Rules For Partner Airlines Award Booking
  • One-way is allowed.
  • No requirement to return to origin country.
  • Cannot transit via the origin country.
  • Maximum of 3 stopovers allowed, but maximum 1 stopover per city. 
  • One city can be included or transited 3 times for the whole itinerary. 
  • One open-jaw is allowed.
  • Mixed cabin awards price at required miles for the highest cabin. 
  • Mixed partner airlines is not allowed. One airline per partner airlines award booking. 
I do want to mention too in regards to the last rule about the mixed partner airlines. With oneworld airlines award, you can mix airlines, but miles required will base on the oneworld award chart and not the partner airlines award chart. If you want to fly Emirates, unfortunately you cannot mix airlines as Emirates is NOT on the list of oneworld airlines.

Miles Expiration & Surcharge Fees
  • JAL Miles expire after 36 months or 3 years. 
  • High fuel surcharges on award booking on Emirates if you originate from United States. Consider originating from other none or low fuel surcharge fees cities such as Hong Kong, Sydney, Colombo... The fee will then be based upon the origin city. It doesn't matter anymore whether your destination is United States, transit or stop over in high fee city. You can use ITA Matrix Airfare Search tool to determine the surcharge fees. On the site, put in the routes, date, and class of cabin to search. On the result page, select the Emirate flight and that takes you to the cost break down page. Pay attention to the "EK YQ surcharge" section. That's what you will be paying for out of pocket. 
  • Changes to award booking is allowed free of charge as long as you do not change the origin and destination. Otherwise, approximately USD$28 fee apply. That $28 fee also applies too if you want to cancel the entire booking and redeposit the miles.
  • Ticket service fee is $20 and is non-refundable. 
Family Club
You can't just use JAL miles to book an award ticket for just anyone. So no friends and girl/boy friends. Japan Airlines has Family Club program that allows the pooling of miles within the family members only. They define the family members are immediate family members that also includes the parents in laws of the primary member. For more information on how to enroll, click here for the Japan Airlines Family Club

How To Earn JAL Miles
Besides flying, JAL miles is not easy to accrue miles quick. Your best option is to earn miles through SPG credit card spend. You can transfer SPG points to JAL miles at 1:1 ratio. For 20,000 SPG points transfer, you will receive 20,000 JAL miles plus additional 5,000 miles. You can only transfer up to 79,999 SPG points or 79,9999 miles per 24 hours. So if you need more than that amount of miles, transfer 60,000 SPG points per 24 hours and that will get you 75,000 miles which is under the maximum amount of transfer points allowed by SPG. Repeat the process after the 24 hours mark.

How To Redeem JAL Miles for Emirates & Other Partner Airlines
All said and done, the only way to use JAL miles for Emirates and other partner airlines at this time is to call up Japan Airlines call center. The U.S. number is 800-525-3663. The call's waiting time can be quite long and unfortunately there's really no magic way to go around it.

Here are little tips to get you through the call quickly though:
  • Study the rules and understand the fees that I put together here in this article before hand can really make your phone calls easier. 
  • Search award availability before jumping on the call. If you want to fly Emirates First Class, use Alaska Airlines, Qantas, and Emirates sites to search to ensure there's a space for the award ticket. You can use Qantas and Emirates to search for any routes that Emirates fly, just make sure you pick points for Qantas and classic rewards for Emirates. Alaska Airlines is also useful but it only allows award search that originates from or ends in USA. For instance, if you want to search from Hong Kong to Dubai, you cannot use Alaska Airlines for that. The trick here is that instead of searching from Hong Kong to Dubai, search from Hong Kong all the way to a U.S. airport. On the search result page, if available look for the flight in particular that leaves from Hong Kong to Dubai segment. That tells you the award seat is available. As a rule of thumb though, never rely on only one award search program. I always use Emirates award search in conjunction with either Qantas or Alaska to search for Emirates award availability. This way ensures that Japan Airlines will be able to see the available seat too. 
  • Call up 800-525-3663, press 1 for English, and press 4 for Award reservation, and # sign to bypass putting your JAL miles numbers if you don't want to. After that, it's just a matter of luck if you get to an agent quickly or not.

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May 16, 2018

I'm Going to Australia in An $11,000 Seat Next Year 2019

Hello mate! Australia is calling.... it's about time I need to check off my Great Barrier Reef's bucket list next year.

Qantas Airways is an Australian carrier and photos of its First Class seat in the Airbus 380 look amazing.  Qantas is really stingy when it comes to releasing award seats to partner airlines. In miles and points community, we refer to that as "unicorn!" So consider yourself lucky if you are able to grab one First Class seat with Qantas using miles of partner airlines such as American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Brith Airways, etc.

Photo Credit: Qantas
An $11,000 USD Seat
I have always wanted to try out Qantas Airways First Class. Believe it or not, every airline does not create First Class equally. I have flown a few and still have more that I want to try. I am very excited that I was able to snatch a seat on Qantas today for its First Class from Sydney to LAX. The retail price for this ticket is about $11,000 USD see screenshot below. Yes, that's insane and trust me I will never pay for that.

First Class is amazing but I don't think it's worth that much. This is why using miles is the way to go.

Qantas's One-way First Class Seat Costs $11,178 
The best partner airline miles to use to redeem for Qantas Airways First Class is actually the Alaska Airline miles. It requires only 70,000 miles one-way from US-Australia or Australia-US. To top that, Alaska Airline mileage program also allows a free stop over without costing additional miles. This is why my itinerary ends up being:

  • Cairns - Sydney (stop over a few days)
  • Sydney - LAX

The whole itinerary costs 70,000 Alaska miles + $118.71 in tax. $118.71 USD sounds much better than $11,000 USD, doesn't it?

Why Cairns? That's a gateway to the Great Barrier. Now I just need to be creative on finding another premium class to Australia, or maybe New Zealand!

How to Book Qantas First Class Using Alaska Airlines Miles
  1. Create a mileage account with Alaska Airlines if you don't have one yet. I'd assume you do already since you need miles to redeem. If you don't have miles yet, you can still search. 
  2. Sign in and click on Book -> Flights
  3. Select one-way and check "Use miles" and "Award calendar"
  4. Input the "From" and "To" 
  5. How many adults (the more people, the harder it is to get an available First seat).
  6. Select the date of travel and click Find Flights
  7. Once the calendar appears, select First Class on the left hand side under Filter Results. If seat is available, it will say 70k in green. You can play with the calendar to check availability for the other month too. 
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