Mistake to Madrid: Westin Palace Madrid


Westin Palace Madrid

After chowing down on croissants and beautiful pieces of jamòn and downing 1 Euro beers, we walked the rest of the way to the hotel. It’s a real looker when you come upon it.

Westin Palace Madrid

Westin Palace Madrid


When planning this trip, there were plenty of hotels to choose from in Madrid, but this one seemed to be the grandest. I decided to burn some of our Starpoints.

At 4,800 points and $90 per night, this hotel offered great value. The rooms were consistently going for over 200 Euro (almost $300) so each Starpoint ended up to be worth about 3.8 cents. That beats the pants off 1-2% cashback!

About two weeks prior to our stay, I had emailed the GM to ask about upgrade options. He promptly replied with two options:

  1. A free upgrade to a “premium view room”
  2. A Junior Suite for 7,500 Starpoints per night

I did some research, particularly on Oyster, to see if the room would be worth it to us. Ultimately, I told the GM that we would take the upgrade for 7,500 Starpoints per night. Why not, at the time we had about 160k burning a hole in our pocket anyway. We were confirmed for a Junior Suite for a total of 22,500 Starpoints (3 nights).


Upon arrival, the agent at the front desk brought out the Manager who explained that we had been upgraded to the Executive Suite for free! Now THAT’S the way to start a trip. Not bad for an SPG Gold.

The front desk agent also thanked me for being a Gold member and asked which welcome gift I’d like – 250 Starpoints, complimentary Internet, or a complimentary beverage. Normally, the Internet is the best value, but since we were traveling with an international MiFi device, I chose the Starpoints.

Our keys were made and the Manager had a bell hop take our bags to our room. She was going to show us around the hotel. She brought us through the grand lobby, the hotel restaurant, and the other facilities.

Finally, she brought us to our Executive Suite. She walked us through each part of the room and then left us, but not before giving us a few maps and brochures and one thing that I thought was very thoughtful – a new 2012 edition of the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide. Funny because Joann borrowed that same book (older edition) from a coworker.

The Executive Suite

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RTW to Bali: Swiss First Class Zurich – Montreal


ZRH (Zurich) – YUL (Montreal)
3 SEP 2012
Airbus A330-300
First Class

Seats 2D, 2G


After being dropped off by our luxurious Volkswagen van, we walked through the terminal and to our gate. We were called first to board and entered through Door 2L (in the middle of Business Class). The FAs were still prepping everything, pouring orange juice and champagne for the Biz passengers. One smiled at us and took a look at our boarding passes, instructing us to turn left towards the front of the plane, through the mini-Business Class cabin and into First Class.

Our ride to Montreal

Our ride to Montreal

Settling In

We got to our seats and started to put our carry-ons in the overhead bins. There are only bins above the window seats, none in the middle section. It definitely helps when airlines do that; it makes the cabin feel roomier.

Only 2 rows of First Class

Only 2 rows of First Class & No overhead bins in the middle

I chose the two middle seats for us, which are the best for couples in this configuration. Joann was in 2G on the right and I in 2D on the left.

Cabin from in between our seats 2D + 2G

Cabin from in between our seats

The lead FA introduced herself to us and asked if this was our first time in Swiss First. We replied that it was and she was excited for us and assured us that we’d have an amazing time, starting off with a glass of Laurent-Perrier champagne and a canapé.

Laurent-Perrier champagne

Laurent-Perrier champagne

Salmon cake-like bite + cheesy bread sticks

Salmon cake w/mango salsa + cheesy bread sticks

On the armrests of the suites were unisex amenity kits by Bally’s. The bags themselves were good quality and sturdy. Inside, the best part was probably the La Prairie skin care products.

As far as the amenity kits go on this trip, Thai’s Tumi bag was nicer, but the contents of Swiss’ Bally’s kit were better.

Bally's amenity kit

Bally’s amenity kit

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RTW to Bali: So Long Hyatt, Hello Komaneka at Tanggayuda!


Leaving the Bali Hyatt

All good things must come to end, as they say. On our 4th and final day there, we packed our things and prepared for our next stop on Bali.

I had arranged for a car service for our transportation from Sanur to Ubud through Hyatt. It was there waiting when we went to the front desk to check out.

This was the only real blemish about our stay. We must have been checking out at the peak time because the front desk was hammered with several guests departing. They were very unorganized and we waited almost 30 minutes to finalize our stay there. It was rather unfortunate that this was the last memory we had of the Bali Hyatt, but we wouldn’t let it taint our experience.

While we were sad to leave the amazing service of the Bali Hyatt, we were excited to leave the somewhat sleepy beach town of Sanur and head 45 minutes northwest to the cultural center of Bali, Ubud.

Komaneka at Tanggayuda

Komaneka at Tanggayuda is one of four Komaneka resorts in Bali. We picked the one at Tanggayuda because it was just outside the craziness of the city, yet only a 10 minute drive away.

When we arrived at the open air lobby (just about everything here is open), we were greeted by the front desk concierge and a very friendly bellman.


Like the Hyatt, we were brought cold scented towels along with welcome drinks.

Sariti, the concierge, told us she would be also our personal assistant for our 5 day stay. Our bags were already on the way to our room while we relaxed and waited.

When she was finished checking us in, the concierge asked to show us around the resort and then to our room.

The Facilities

Sariti walked us around the lush grounds, showing us the infinity pool, the cafe that overlooked it where we could take complimentary afternoon tea, the spa, and the restaurant.

During our stay, we took advantage of almost all the on-site amenities and they were all great.

Also, surprisingly enough, they weren’t overpriced like we’re used to when staying at luxury resorts.

infinity pool at Komaneka at Tanggayuda

Infinity Pool

The infinity was absolutely breathtaking. It overlooked a valley and a span of rice terraces along a hillside.

Cafe overlooking the infinity pool at Komaneka at Tanggayuda

Cafe overlooking the infinity pool

Local snacks at complimentary afternoon tea at Komaneka at Tanggayuda

Local snacks at complimentary afternoon tea

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RTW to Bali: JFK-HKG Cathay Pacific First Class


Our first ever long-haul flight in an international premium cabin… Cathay Pacific First Class. Pure ecstasy in the air.

This is going to be a LONG post with LOTS of pictures… and it’s all worth it.

After walking through the throngs of people hovering around the gate, we were among the first to board. As I handed my 1A boarding pass to the flight attendant at the door to the aircraft, he directed me to the left and all the way up. We were finally here!

JFK (New York) – HKG (Hong Kong)
25 AUG 2012
Boeing 777-300ER
First Class

Seats 1A, 2A

The Suite

The first thing that went through my head as I walked to the very front of the plane was “WOW.” I’d seen plenty of pictures prior to this but being here in person was actually a surreal feeling. Right then, I knew all the planning, credit card churning, and overall points hustling had all been worth it.

Right away, we both got to exploring our own suites and taking pictures with every device imaginable – iPhone, Canon 300 HS (our point & shoot of choice), and my Canon 40D digital SLR.

Easily, the best parts about the suite are the privacy (only a step below completely enclosed suites) and the seat width. The seat is 3 feet wide; Joann and I even watched a movie together sharing it.

This command center of an airplane seat also had plenty of storage compartments for your small travel gear, a closet,  and a dual-purpose ottoman – 1) to extend the bed when fully flat and 2) to act as a seat for a visitor.

One thing to note if you have a chance to fly this plane (and you should try your hardest to) is that the left side of the cabin will be the most private.

Check out the seating chart. Each row has 3 seats, but both the D & K seats access the aisle on the right. Therefore, only 1A and 2A access the left aisle so it’ll feel a bit more private.

I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves, but I assure you, they don’t do the suites any justice.

cathay pacific first class jfk hkg hong kong bali

First Class Suite… private!

cathay pacific first class jfk hkg hong kong bali

From the reverse angle…

cathay pacific first class jfk hkg hong kong bali

The behemoth of an airplane seat… 3 feet wide

cathay pacific first class jfk hkg hong kong bali

Ottoman that doubles as a visitor seat for couples dining

cathay pacific first class jfk hkg hong kong bali

Noise cancelling headphones

cathay pacific first class jfk hkg hong kong bali

Everyone else settling in; our side was most private b/c of this wall. And there’s Mama ‘Just Another Points Traveler‘ on the left!

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Let’s Plan: Another Birthday Back in South Beach


American Airlines New York (LGA) – Miami (MIA)
King & Grove Tides and Z Ocean Hotel
South Beach Diet
Delta Airlines Fort Lauderdale (FLL) – New York (LGA)


Around this time last year, this whole frequent travel hustle really started to ramp up for me. One of the first real trips utilizing some of the tips and tricks that I’d been learning (and points that I’d been earning) was a trip to South Beach for Joann’s birthday. It was just a simple redemption on Delta (if there is such a thing), but it was really the start of many great things to come. So why not go back to Miami for the weekend of Joann’s birthday? She does love her South Beach.

Since all my vacation days are either gone or booked (wedding/honeymoon + Bali), I could only be in Miami for two nights. The plan for this trip was, as usual, budget travel and budget lodging. We wanted to spend as little cash out of pocket as possible.

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