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PHL-SFO-HNL is why I keep flying United

I’ve flown the PHL-SFO leg on United’s Airbus A319 four times in the past four months (and I can’t remember how many more times previously) and it’s the flight that got me partway back to Hawaii for the holidays this time around. Since I’m so fond of the routine I’ve come to associate with the flight, I’ll run through the details of this uneventful trip (uneventful is a good thing).

1. I booked PHL-SFO-HNL using 40,000 United miles (as opposed to 20,000 since it’s winter and everybody seems to want to get to Hawaii) and spending 5 dollars in fees.

2. I chose my favorite seat after glancing at SeatGuru.

SeatGuru plan for A319

That would be seat 7A in Economy Plus. Snagging a window seat means I’m less likely to get motion sick and throw up on my seat mate. Row 7 on the A319 is also directly behind the First Class section and therefore bulkhead seating. The pitch in Economy Plus is typically 35 inches (as opposed to 31 in Economy), but there’s of course even more room in row 7. If you’re unfamiliar with SeatGuru, green is good and yellow is not so good. Avoid red.

As I already am fully aware and as SeatGuru will tell me, the armrests contain the tray tables and are therefore immovable in row 7. That’s fine, I’m traveling alone so I won’t be cuddling up to the person sitting next to me. (Unless they’re irresistibly cute or nice smelling. Just kidding.)

3. Having Premier status in 2011 means I’ve had access to Economy Plus (aka ghetto first class) seating at no charge and at booking, but the chart is changing next year. The 2011 status chart can be found here which you may compare to the 2012 program overview here. For the new lowest elite level, Premier Silver, Economy Plus will only be available at check-in and only one standard bag may be checked for free. This will mean one of two things for me: I’ll either fly United a whole lot more on revenue tickets to get higher status or I’ll be flirting with American. Elite qualifying miles can only really be earned by flying. All the other miles earned from shopping, dining, checking in on Facebook, etc — are redeemable miles and do not count towards status.

4. As my departure looms, I pack and prepare.

packing my hand-carry

preparations

5. Check-in online 24 hours prior to departure, show up at airport before the crack of dawn, drop off two tiny bags at check-in counter. (My cousin had borrowed my long-trip suitcase when she visited me last month. She maybe shopped a little too much. She’s lucky I don’t have to pay to check bags.)

6. Having elite status also means I don’t have to wait in line to get through security and this morning the line was super crazy long. I felt a little bad for the people in it who were wailing about potentially missing their flights.

7. Once boarded, I settle into my seat. I’m a rather small person (but large in personality) and I have so much legroom I’m quite literally flailing. It’s impossible to properly curl up in my seat (I fly like a sleeping cat) so I mostly just sprawl, which works, too.

stretching out a booted foot

I know, I’m more or less a complete waste of extra legroom, but I do get claustrophobic and then faint (you can always tell the quality of a flight attendant by how nicely they revive you). Access to United’s Economy Plus seating makes things soooo much better.

8. We get into SFO ahead of schedule so I have time to stop at Tomokazu to pick up a moderately thrilling and mildly yummy bento box for my next flight.

moderately thrilling pork katsu "deluxe bento" from Tomokazu

9. SFO-HNL on a Boeing 777. I like this flight a lot. People on it are generally quite cheerful. They are, after all, going to the most beautiful and most awesome place on earth. The flight attendants may be aged, but many still wear fake plumerias in their hair and treat you like you’re a human being. They’ve accepted my expired drink chits and called me “sweetie.” I have never fainted or vomited on this flight.

10. I did not win the Halfway to Hawaii game (the prize this time was a Lonely Planet guide to Hawaii. I wanted it.). I have never won the Halfway to Hawaii probably because I have no math skillz whatsoever and always try to cheat off of the person sitting next to me.

11. We arrive in Honolulu half an hour early. As usual, the air smells like flowers and rainbows.

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The Awesome Nerd at Yuchun Korean Restaurant (Honolulu, HI)

And as we’ve recently acquired a nerd correspondent permanently based in Hawaii…

Annyeonghaseyo! (Wassup!)

Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of K-Drama a.k.a. ‘the Young and Restless’ for Asians on television. It’s from these shows that I’ve learned many helpful Korean phrases such as “Sarang hae” (I love you); “Ige eolmayeyo?” (How much is this?); and “Nae hoebuhkeurapeuteuneun changuhro kadeuk cha isseyo” (My hovercraft is full of eels). You know, useful phrases that I can more or less incorporate into my everyday life.

Although I love being Japanese, lately I’ve asked myself, “Self, how else can you become more Korean? How can you make your pretend ancestors proud?” And then it hit me like a steaming bowl of bibimbap…to become Korean, I must eat as the Koreans do!

Which brings me to my review of Yuchun Korean Restaurant…

To be honest, I walked into the restaurant apprehensive of two things:

#1 Eating noodles that were black.
#2 Eating noodles that were black, in soup that was ice-cold.

Yobo (sweetheart) and I ordered “Set A” ($30) off the menu which included (2) bowls of Naengmyoen (which is a dish made up of black arrowroot noodles, topped with a boiled egg, thinly-sliced meat, daikon/veggies, in a savory ice-cold soup) and a sizzling plate of Kalbi (Korean BBQ shortribs). I ordered the spicy noodle bowl, while Yobo decided to try the regular bowl.

Naengmyoen

First they brought out some Korean side dishes to share and gave me a small bowl of cold soup. For a while, I could only stare at this bowl of frosty broth in wonder. But before I could ask what happened to the noodles, the waitress brought out the rest of our meal. Apparently, when you order the “spicy” Naengmyoen, they give you the soup on the side.

kalbi

So we ate. And OM-Go Seok Bin (a character from my favorite show), everything was delicious!! Of course, my Japanese taste buds also made me order an obligatory bowl of bap (rice) to eat with the kalbi, but other than that my meal at Yuchun was pure perfection. The food tasted as though it was cooked from the heart, and I know this because Koreans got Seoul!! LOL, we will definitely be eating here again!

P.S. You’re welcome.

 

Yuchun Korean Restaurant

1159 Kapiolani Blvd

Honolulu, HI 96814

(808) 589-0022


Tweeting and Liking

I was fairly resistant to twitter for a long time until recently, when I started to see how following travel bloggers and airlines and reading their tweets was just as beneficial to me as playing Words with Friends. Interpret this as you will, but as my grandpa says about his crossword puzzles, “Keeps the mind sharp.”

(My grandpa also complains to no end about the young guys on the golf course messing up his game and generally being rascals. When I asked him how old these “young guys” were, he looked at me and said, “75.” But that’s another story.)

I’m eventually starting to see twitter as a really useful tool in finding out about flight delays (airlines tweet a lot and this could be helpful for those of you traveling during bad weather. Twitter also gives you another outlet to complain to the airline directly. Seriously, tweet them) and about promotions, especially time-sensitive ones.

Here are a few ways Twitter can enhance your life:

1. Follow airlines on twitter. @AmericanAir, @united, @cathaypacific, @delta, @USairways, @KLM and so on and so forth. Flight delays out of O’Hare? You’ll be the first to know.

2. Follow travel bloggers / sites to hear about promotions, news, etc. (and this is in addition to @flyingnerdily). @boardingarea is a one-stop shop for most, but I recommend following @frugaltravelguy and @thepointsguy as they’re always tweeting helpful info.

3. Link your HawaiianMiles account number to your twitter account and get 500 miles here.

Now what sort of promotions you might be asking and how time-sensitive?

Well, twitter often leads to Facebook  — like ___ and get ___, as in this post I noticed on Oct. 26. And quickly jumped on to get 5,000 Club Carlson points. I also learnt of the 50,000 points Club Carlson was giving to the first 50,000 registrants in a sweepstakes and signed up for that, although that required staying in any Radisson hotel through the end of the year. I debated over this particular deal for a while. 50,000 points on anything is kind of a lot, but I didn’t have any need for another hotel room anywhere and it didn’t fit into my schedule. Also, there’s no Radisson in Hawaii. So I figured I’d just have 5,000 Club Carlson points to do nothing with and oh well. Until I noticed this email in my inbox today.

Dear Flying Nerd,
You have 5,000* points and we have rewards for you.

Redeem some of your 5,000* points now.

*As of December 15, 2011

Turns out Club Carlson partners with a number of airlines that I fly: United, KLM, Cathay, Delta, Japan and more. The exchange rate isn’t at all fantastic, as you’ll see below, but considering my Club Carlson points were free and pretty much only required a Facebook like, I can make off with a few hundred miles to be put to good use elsewhere.


Dining out for miles

Just as you can earn extra miles on top of whatever you spend through online shopping, you can also do so through one of Rewards Network‘s dining programs, which are associated with specific airlines. Focus on which airline(s) you want to increase your mileage account at and register for their dining accounts (sometimes there are bonus miles to be had just by signing up. Have your mileage account number handy. Currently you can receive 1000 miles as a sign-up bonus):

AAdvantage Dining

MileagePlus Dining

SkyMiles Dining

Dividend Miles Dining

All you have to do is eat at a restaurant on a dining program’s list and pay with a registered credit card. You can register up to five credit cards, but be aware that since these programs are all run by Rewards Network, you can’t register the same card in two different dining programs. Therefore, I have my Chase Sapphire Preferred registered with MileagePlus dining, so I can’t go and register it with AAdvantage Dining.

After the payment is processed a few days after you dine, you’ll receive an email from the dining program telling you to fill out a review. Fill it out. It’s short and multiple choice. About a week or so after that, your miles should post to your mileage account.

A surprising number of restaurants are part of the dining program and they’re not just crap ones. I take advantage of getting extra miles by defaulting to dining program restaurants in my neighborhood, but I’ve also been surprised by receiving miles for going to places I just plain wanted to go to and didn’t realize they were part of the program. For example:

1. Tiki’s Bar and Grill by Waikiki Beach. Okay, there was a certain amount of shame involved in my coming here, but I had a strange and powerful urge to drink something fruity out of a snarling head that was likely to cause much intoxication. And so I did.

sometimes tourists get a little wild at Tiki's

2. Lulu’s Lahaina Surf Club and Grill on Maui. They had some great happy hour specials and I was so depressed after eating at Aloha Mixed Plate (They serve their lomilomi salmon in tiny little thimble-sized containers! There was barely any mac salad! They gave a tiny spoonful of poi! The ono was dry!) that I needed several beers. Getting several miles helped, too.

Mixed plates at Aloha Mixed Plate in Lahaina.

3. McGarry’s Pub in Midtown Manhattan. The Neurotic Nerd and I were waiting in the rain for the megabus. It didn’t come. I needed to pee. Solution: We went to the nearest bar. We ordered two shots of vodka. And then a few days later, I got an email telling me I earned United miles.

Anyway there are plenty of restaurants that are registered with the network and I was quite upset at first that some I went to frequently were. All this time I could have been earning extra miles. Plug in your zip code or whatever city you’re traveling to into the search box and a list of nearby restaurants will pop up. There is also an app you can download to search for restaurants while you’re on the move. Bonus points for you (literally) if you can organize a school or conference dinner at a registered restaurant, for which you can put on your registered card and will be reimbursed for. (I did this. It was a huge bill that also helped me make a minimum spend. I got a boatload of United miles.)

How many miles can you earn? You get 3 miles per dollar spent (that’s including tip, tax, etc) as an online member and 5 as a VIP member (after you’ve completed 12 dines in a calendar year).

You may be thinking, oh Flying Nerd, that is a heck of a lot of dines to get to VIP status. Yikes. But worry not! I made it to VIP status faster by simply splitting the check between 2 cards that were both registered under the same account. So if you split the check two ways each time you dine, you’ll make it to VIP status in 6 dines. I guess you could be a jerk and split a check onto three registered cards, but I am not a jerk. “Dine” simply means transaction — that includes a single drink at a registered establishment. Get drinks at the bar. Settle up. Then sit down at dinner, split the check, etc.

There are always ways to earn bonuses in addition to this basic miles earning, you just have to register for them. Once registered for the program, you’ll either get an email about bonuses or you can log into your account and click on the bonuses tab at the top of your screen. Right now, the Sweeten the Deal bonus is running until the end of the year. After you spent $125 at program restaurants, you’ll receive an extra 3 miles for each of those dollars. So if you’re a VIP member, that means 8 miles per dollar spent.

Last week, we went to our usual BYOB pizzeria and split the check, which meant I finally made it to $125 to qualify for the Sweeten the Deal bonus for my MileagePlus Dining account and the boyfriend was closer to making the $50 spend required for his 1000 mile sign-up bonus for his MileagePlus Dining account. The only unfortunate aspect to this was that we ran out of wine and respectable craft beer to take along to dinner and I had to sheepishly smuggle in some errant PBRs in my purse and pour them into our glasses when the server wasn’t looking. Oh yeah and when I tried to fill out our separate online reviews, I forgot the password I had set up with his account, entered the wrong one too many times, got his account locked and then unsuccessfully tried to impersonate him on the phone with MileagePlus Dining. Lesson here: add self as authorized user to every account you to control.

Dog nap in Athens

Six dogs were piled into a tiny travel agency’s office in Athens. One didn’t fit.

Athens


This is Sparta


This was actually Athens.


Chinese New Year on miles

Chinese New Year comes early this time around and this year I can actually join my bunch of wayward, America-dwelling family members on their New Year trek back to the motherland. Roundtrip coach tickets from the East Coast to East Asia can start at around $1200 but even the promise of red envelopes can make buying a ticket pretty daunting. 16 hours straight in coach on say, Continental (as opposed to Cathay), makes the prospect of the trip even more terrifying. Especially if you’re like me and spend the entire trip simultaneously trying to thwart motion sickness and dreading the obligatory criticism received upon arrival such as: “Aiya! You got fat! Are you pregnant? You look pregnant.”

I am not pregnant.

(Incidentally, I will also get yelled at whenever I fail to eat to the point of exhaustion. My family is seriously, seriously into food. And the more endangered, the better.)

New Years decorations in Yau Mai Tei

I digress. So I’m headed back to Hong Kong for Chinese New Year. (The frequency at which I am headed back somewhere causes me great anxiety. This is what happens when you’ve lived in too many places.) I applied for a British Airways visa back in April when they were offering a whopping 100,000 Executive club miles as a sign-up bonus. Hell. Yes.

The annual fee of $95 dollars was not waived the first year, but it was still totally worth it. I received 50,000 miles after my first purchase and another 50,000 after spending $2500 in the first three months (made possible in part by charging me and my boyfriend’s summer airfare to Athens, which of course I was promptly reimbursed for by our respective travel grants). Also the card has no foreign transaction fees, so I’ve used it everywhere. As mentioned in the last post, 28,000 miles went towards a trip to Hawaii, but that left me with over 75,000 miles (over because I also receive 1.25 miles per dollar spent).

Knowing that on Nov. 16, British Airways was switching its Executive Club program into a program with a new distance-based awards chart, as opposed to the region-based one, I knew I wanted to burn those Executive Club miles. (The new program is called Avios, which many have referred to as Adios, as in Adios to awesome redemptions, which is not ENTIRELY true, but more on that later.)

That is how I am flying to Hong Kong on Cathay Business class. (!!!!!!! 🙂 🙂 and I never use emoticons!!!! I think they’re dumb!!!!! 🙂 :-)). BA is partners with Cathay, my favorite airline. JFK-HKG cost me 50,000 Executive Club miles and $148 in fees. Looking up a similar itinerary for March on the BA website, I’m seeing it costing 120,000 Avios miles and $268.91 in fees. As a further point of comparison,the Cathay site is showing my exact one-way itinerary in business class at $4,352.50. I believe when I was booking in early November, I snatched up one of the last award tickets in January.

Nian gao, lai see and panda dumplings, here I come! (Just kidding, we don’t eat panda.)

Central, in the lanes