$8,000 ! Really? Who knew I was flying in a seat worth that much.

An interview with American Airlines recently indicated that seats on my flights can go for as much as $8,000. Little did I know this as I arrived at JFK for my trip to Cabo.

A recent fare sale in First Class on AA, when using the early departures (6am), to and from Cabo gave a fare of about $900 but allowed access to their new(ish) First Class Cabin on their new(ish) A321 3-class aircraft.

Scroll forward to about a month ago and AA made a number of schedule changes to the Cabo flights meaning that I had to be rebooked a day earlier, and snagged the 4pm departure and had a night in LA at my expense.

Check-In
As a passenger on a 3-class plane I was able to use the Flagship Check-in at JFK. After the agent at the entrance checked me on her PDA I was through to collect my boarding passes. The only passenger in the area I received person attention, including boarding pass to for the connection to Cabo.

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Security
When you exit the Flagship Check-in you arrive directly at Security. Have managed to secure TSAPre the AA agent moved me to the front of the Pre queue! A little embarrassed, but through security in 30 seconds.

Flagship Lounge
As a passenger in F on a 3-class aircraft you can secure access to the Flagship Lounge at JFK (and LA for the return).
The lounge has been reviewed endlessly and is pretty nice. However, at the time I was there it was pretty busy.

Lounge Food offerings:


Aircraft and Boarding
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The plane pulled in to a gate near the lounge which made the walk much shorter. Boarding started a little early with First Class being offered a chance to board. All passengers through Door 1 and so walk through the First and Business Class cabins.

The plane filled quickly as it is relatively low density and we were soon ready to leave. However, the last passengers to board were a mother and teenage son – one in Business and the other in First. The son chose First and Mum went down the aisle.

The Seat
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The seats are arranged 1-1 in First Class (and 2-2 in Business). I had Row 2 on the right hand window.

It is a little hard to capture the seat but these images may help:

It faces in to the window, with the back of the seat in front holding the entertainment monitor:
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There are various storage areas on the side of the seat as well as the seat  and video control, and the amenity kit that AA gives out on these flights and a bottle of water.

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An interloper!

Shortly after take off the crew took pity on the late-boarding mother seated in Business. Clearly being separated from her teenager for 6 hours was just too much to ask and upgraded her to the remaining First Class seat – in Row 1 just in front of me.

This wouldn’t have been too bad, but most of the flight was then spent with them shouting to each other across the aisle. Sigh! A nice gesture from the Flight Attendants that backfired and caused the whole cabin to lose its air of peace. Not sure who the mother/son were but I wonder if they were standbys as they boarded last.

Food / Drink
Shortly after take off the flight attendant came around to take food orders from the Menu.
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Starter:
Smoked Salmon and Seared Tuna
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Salad
Spinach and Romaine Mix with Hearts of Palm, Strawberries and Pecans

Entree
Gorgonzola Crusted Beef Filet with Red Wine Sauce, roasted potatoes and broccolini

I had pre-ordered my entree but other options were:
Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breast
Wild Rice and vegetable stuffed Portobello Mushroom

Dessert
Speciality Sundae – vanilla ice cream with caramel sauce and praline pecans
Gourmet Cheese Plate
Grand Marnier Fruit Salad
Traditional Ice cream Sundae

No pictures mean that I was good and passed on dessert, trying to get a couple of hours sleep over the noise of the folks in Row 1.

Snacks were available during the flight, although primarily consumed by the Flight Attendants it appeared.

Wine
A lot has been written about how AA have reduced the quality of the wine on this service. I offer you this list so that you can do your own research if this is an area of interest.

  • Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Carneros Brut
  • Project Paso Chardonnay
  • Ceibo Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Graham’s Six Grapes Port NV. Duro

Crew
The crew were lack-luster in truth. They were hardly ever in the cabin except during specific meal service and if you needed anything you had to search them out. The old crews on the 767-200′s seemed to make a real effort, and oddly made it feel like the old days of flying. Not sure if the crews dislike the plane, the service or the passengers, but there is a big difference in the tone of the service.

We arrived on time at LA and were off the plane and out the terminal in quick time as I had my connection to Cabo the next morning.

Had I known that I was sitting in an $8,000 seat I might have been a bit more demanding.

Posted by MilesFromBlighty | 5 Comments

American Airlines A321S

Miami to Los Angeles

A few months ago my Miami to LA flight was switched to be operated by one of AA’s ‘A new plane a week’ A321′s with a two class configuration.

On boarding there was a bit of that ‘new plane smell’ and the new cabin interior – complete with entertainment was present.

American Airlines A321S interior

Boarding started a little earlier than the advertised time, and whilst there is plenty of overheads, the sheer number of people on the flight meant a few bags needed to be checked.

One customer had a little tizzy with the crew as he thought that it would be the three class plane used from LA/SFO to New York. He was waving his phone about showing the pictures from the AA web site. I wrote about the confusing way that AA numbers its plane types on its web site – you can read about it here. It was interesting to see the confusion being worked out on the plane.

I chose row 2 as it wasn’t clear how good the leg room would be in Row 1. (These planes start their row numbering from 1, which is not always the case for American’s smaller planes).

AA Entertainment System

The legroom was fine, and after my seatmate had settled in I had a rummage through the movies. Pretty much they were the same as those I had from Chicago to London last month. Whilst scrolling through the movies my monitor froze and after three attempts at resets, I was stuck with a non-working screen. The crew suggested that we wait until after take off to see whether it sprung to life.

The entertainment controller is in the arm rest although the screen in touchable.

It didn’t. However, one of the crew knew a trick where is they reset the whole row it sometimes works. After consulting the rest of the row we were reset en-masse, and it worked.

Dinner passed fairly quickly and there were ice-cream sundaes with toppings (or cheese) for dessert.

The video system froze again somewhere over the mid-west whilst watching the map, but as everyone was watching their movies I left it and napped.

We landed early at LAX but the gate was occupied and so we sat for 30 minutes until the maintenance crew towed the plane at our gate.

Los Angeles to Las Vegas

The next day the same crew were working my connection to LAX on a different plane. This one was its third commercial flight and felt very new.

This time I sat in Row 1 and the legroom is excellent on the right hand side. There is an inclined bar running the width of the two seats to allow you to rest your feet. This time the snack basket was offered (Fig room, chocolate biscuits, nuts, chips/crisps) and a drink round was done from the cart in both cabins. The entertainement worked fine the whole way to Vegas.

Overall
A nice plane, decent food and (semi-) working entertainment. I have to end by praising the crew – they were a delight. Nothing was too much trouble and they were through the cabin all the time.

Posted by MilesFromBlighty | One Comment

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As many of you may know, the second annual meeting of the Boarding Area bloggers (BAcon) is currently happening in Las Vegas. To get there I found a good fare from Dublin, via the Dominican Republic and LA, to Las Vegas.

Booked many months ago, American Airlines then rescheduled their flights so that I could not get to Punta Cana on the same day as I arrived in the US. Having stayed overnight at Miami Airport Hyatt House, I was on an early flight to Punta Cana.

The crew were probably the grumpiest I had met on AA in a long time.

My connection time, just over an hour, was going to be a challenge as their in no transit facility here. Despite emailing the airport and the station manager no one was offering to help me short circuit the process.

So, once the door opened I sprinted off the plane, and down the stairs to the tarmac. Directed by a member of staff to walk along the edge of the apron I came across immigration in about 2 minutes. A 3 minute wait to pay the compulsory $10 tourist fee, I was then had to join a queue for immigration. 5 minutes there.

I went as fast as I could through Customs – stopped by a Customs man who had a couple of questions as I seemed not to have enough luggage. I had been advised to leave by Exit B and about 10 minutes later was in the departures part of the airport.

Here at least I was able to use the FastTrack queue – and whilst waiting to put my stuff through the machine I could fill in the exit card. A 10 minute wait at Immigration was cutting my time close.

Through I then had to walk to Gate 10. This was forced through at least 2 Duty Free shops and then I was at the gate! Phew. About 15 minutes after boarding time, I squeezed on to the second of three buses going the 500 yards to the plane.

I bounced up the stairs, there was still overhead space (phew!), and I was back in the same seat as the on the way back. Queue surprised air crew.

As you can imagine there was no time for photos but I think I lost a couple of pounds racing around the airport.

Needless to say, it’s not a Mileage Run target airport for anyone.

 

Posted by MilesFromBlighty | One Comment

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Pre-clearance of US Immigration and Customs in Ireland has long been one of my favourite travel experiences. I have done it at Shannon several times as part of the BA flight from London City, which stops off there to re-fuel.

I wrote about this some months ago. You can read about this experience here.

However, I noticed recently that they have changed some of the area about in the latest video from the TSA explaining the process.

You can watch the video here.

The major change is that you go through the TSA-approved (Shoes off, laptops out) security before joining the US immigration lines. This is better as there are more staff to do the screening.

However, they have changed the location of the Global Entry line to the non-US residents side of the hall.

This is a disaster!

It means that people who clear through Global Entry have to join a line full of non-US residents giving their fingerprints, answering questions etc. It took 30 seconds to do the machine yesterday and about 20 minutes in line.

Plus the Immigration Inspector does all the normal questions, most of which you have already answered on the machine.

My experience yesterday was that the agent didn’t know that non-Green Card Holders could enroll in Global Entry – I had to spend 10 minutes explaining this process to him, how I managed to get enrolled, what the process was, the UK Police checks etc. All in all, the experience took longer than if I had been in the non-US residents queue.

So, Dublin pre-clearance, which was excellent is now a poor experience.

Posted by MilesFromBlighty | 3 Comments

Radisson operates it’s frequent guest scheme – Club Carlson – in a way similar to IHG. Lot’s of promise and no delivery in my recent experience.

Two recent stays, both at airport hotels (JFK and Dublin) provided exactly ZERO benefits from being an elite member. No room upgrade, no breakfast, no thank you. Indeed the agent at Dublin Airport went out of his way to point out that I had not been upgraded.

To confess, I am a status match Gold Member so perhaps that’s why it counts for so little.

When I complained to JFK they said that the hotel was sold out. Odd, that simply checking their web site showed that not to be true. Then they promised a few extra points as an apology. They never came.

Dublin put me in the room I booked – fair enough – but with furniture like this:

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It’s at times like this I need a CSI-style lamp – heaven knows what the bed’s like. Ignorance is bliss. And by the way, no I didn’t sit in those chairs.

What’s your most useless elite status?

 

Posted by MilesFromBlighty | 11 Comments

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As the referendum in Scotland approaches (Thursday for anyone who has missed it), people living in Scotland (only) will decide whether to leave the United Kingdom. As pro- and anti-campaigns rally their final supporters I wanted to think what might happen on Friday, if Scotland decides to go it alone.

Let me start by saying that my father is from Glasgow although he has not lived there for anything but the first 18 years of his life. The remaining 72 years he has resided in England. So, selfishly I might be able to secure a second passport, if Scotland leaves. I do understand the frustration of people in Scotland which has typically been more left wing than the rest of the UK. A colleague tells a story of going to Midnight Mass one Christmas and getting a lecture about the importance of voting for the Labour Party from the pulpit.

I know that frustrations with politicians is not confined to just Scotland, many people in the UK dislike what the current Government has done. Leaving the Union would be a one-off decision which is probably irreversible and would plunge both Scotland and England/Wales/N. Ireland in to a financial crisis which is likely to unpick much of the recovery we have seen. Living standards for the working- and middle-classes have not recovered anywhere in the UK, not just in Scotland. Scotland will have to establish all of the offices of state which it doesn’t currently have to provide – Embassies, Defence, Vehicle Licensing, Passports, Tax and Benefits offices, Pensions to name just a few.

What happens if the vote is very close at the end. That would mean the decision would fail to represent about half of Scotland – not good news. For England and Wales it might be a new start too – of course we’ll have a Conservative Government for the next 50 years, but that is perhaps the price we will have to pay. There will be extra controls on immigration to and from Scotland. Domestic UK flights will not longer be that – arriving in the Immigration Hall rather than domestically.

Of course, there are a lot of unknowns -

  • Will Scotland keep the pound (The Bank of England says ‘No’) ?
  • Will Scotland be in the EU (every other member country has to approve) ?
  • Will there be border controls on the line between Scotland and England (Labour says ‘Yes’) ?
  • Will Scotland have to use the Euro (New member countries to the EU are required to do this) ?

So, dear reader in Scotland, think carefully how you vote on Thursday, what you think you want you may not secure.

Just where will I be living on Friday?

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Posted by MilesFromBlighty | No Comments

Hyatt Logo

Seemingly unnoticed by many, Hyatt issued a press release that has me really excited. They announced that they are planning a 170 Bed Park Hyatt at Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil. To quote the press release:

Park Hyatt Foz do Iguaçu will offer the brand’s signature personalized services with 170 luxury rooms and suites, four restaurants and bars, a spa, a fitness center, an outdoor pool, and more than 16,146 square feet (1,500 square meters) of meeting and event space. The hotel is located 15 minutes from downtown Foz do Iguaçu and approximately six miles (10 kilometers) from Foz do Iguaçu National Park.

Opening in 2017, I am excited as I have always wanted to visit the falls.

Located in Patong, Phuket will boast a Hyatt Place:

Hyatt Place Phuket, Patong will feature 161 guestrooms with balconies, a swimming pool, a fitness center, a restaurant and bar, a business center, and more than 2,400 square feet (225 square meters) of flexible, high-tech meeting/function space

This one is expected to open in 2016.

For more information visit the Hyatt Press Release site.

 

Posted by MilesFromBlighty | 4 Comments

TFL2

For several months now you have been able to pay using a Contactless Credit or Debit card on London’s buses. From tomorrow, contactless payments will be extended to Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground and most National Rail services in London.

Check whether your debit/credit card supports this technology by looking for this symbol on the face of the card:

13-12-2012 07-37-26

Be aware that some pre-paid debit cards are now accepted, but most UK issued cards are usable. Internationally, this is a helpful guide produced by TfL:

15-09-2014 06-04-01

Posted by MilesFromBlighty | One Comment

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I cashed in some American Airlines miles as I needed a one-way from Paris to PHL recently. After a nice overnight stay at the Hyatt Regency Charles De Gaulle, I used one of the Hyatt Little Green Cars to take me to the US check-in area.

Check-In

Like many european stations for US carriers there is enhanced security even before you get to the check-in desk. I had this on my American Airlines flight to JFK from Paris earlier in the year and it was a vile experience. Ready as I was for a similar problem this time, I was pleasantly surprised that the security agent was civil and to the point. The big issue, as always, is that I am a single man on a one way ticket. Faced with the need to produce my return ticket all too often, I now print everything off and so could offer it to the agent.

About a 10 second chat with her supervisor produced the magic sticker and I was off to the check-in desk.

For some reason, the agents in France always ask what your final destination is, although they can clearly see it when my reservation is pulled up. With no bags to check I was off to security in about 2 minutes.

Security

US gives its premium passengers cards for the No1 lane which is effectively Fast Track. I usually use the passport reading machines for which you have to pre-register, but they were all off this morning. I was able to nip through passport control after about 10 minutes as despite there being a No1 there was only one French Immigration inspector on duty. Security also has a No1 lane (where they collect your card), but was moving fairly fast.

Lounge

In the terminal where US leaves there is both an American Airlines Admirals Club and a Cathay Pacific Lounge. You can read about them here. The Cathay lounge is much nicer.

Gate

CDG is a funny airport, well at least this part of it is. The gates are basically at the corridor where you walk to get to other gates, making queueing annoying for everyone.

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Boarding

Boarding started early. US has two flights out of CDG, one to Charlotte and the other to PHL. Unfortunately my PHL flight didn’t get the gate that morning and we had to be bussed to the plane. The Charlotte flight however, got all the at-gate security inspections and I was fairly quickly on the bus and off to the plane.

Strangely they parked the bus some distance from the plane, rather than at the bottom of the steps and so it was a decent walk to get on the stairs to the door.

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Seat

At some point I had selected 1A which is a single window seat at the front of this aircraft. I had never been able to change it for some reason and after the climb from the ground I was fairly quickly at my seat.

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There is no overhead bin at the window seats in row 1, so you have to stick your carry on above the middle seats.

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The foot well goes a long way on the cupboard in front. If you thrash your seats whilst you sleep I would not recommend this as you would get bruises!

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One great thing is that US give you a 1 litre bottle of water right in your chair’s arm.

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Taxi and Take-off

Fairly soon we were ready to leave, and although booked to go earlier, we followed the Charlotte flight to the runway. Lots of plane eye-candy on the way.

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Service

The crew were pretty friendly and did a pre-lunch round of drinks with warmed nuts.

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They distributed amenity kits and AA branded Bose Headsets for the entertainment.

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Amenity Kit contents:

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US doesn’t offer the AA option of pre-booking your entree, but they did not seem to have United’s problem of running out of choices as they only took one option per passenger.

Food

Appertiser:

Sliced grilled chicken with balsamic glaze and a goats cheese fritter – absolutely superb!
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Salad
Spinach salad with strawberries and walnuts – lime yoghurt or balsamic vinegar dressing.

Main Meal

Beef Tenderloin:

Marinated Chicken Breast
Sesame Crusted Cod
Seven Cheese Agnolotti

Dessert
Cannoli
Cheese Plate
Ben & Jerrys Vanilla Ice Cream with toppings

Seat Adjustment

I was able to get comfortable for a couple of hours sleep after lunch.

Pre Arrival Meal
I had heard things about the second meal – Turkey Burger Sliders or Large Salad and so picked the Sliders. They were a little disappointing in truth – a bit dry:

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Arrival
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We arrived on time (more about the delayed connection later), but ended up at a gate some distance from US Immigration. In addition we were at the opposite end of the immigration hall from the Global Entry machines. So after a 15 minute walk, and I was though in to the queue for TSA to make my connection. For whatever reason I did not get PreCheck and indeed am not sure it actually was available at the connecting point from international arrivals.

Hence a 15 minute wait at TSA was my lot.

Summary
I am not a frequent traveller with US, but was pleasantly surprised by this flight which I though was a good solid comfortable seat with some decent (airline) food served. The bussing is a PITA, but this can happen anywhere.

Posted by MilesFromBlighty | 6 Comments

Hyatt Regency Charles De Gaulle

Some months ago I wrote about an overnight stay at the Hyatt at Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport (CDG). I recently did a quick return visit and found a few things had changed, so I am providing an update here.

1. The bus arrangements have changed
Rather than Hyatt having a small mini-bus just to itself, they now have a larger coach that they share with the Ibis etc. properties next door. If you board at T2 TGF station be careful as there are two signs for pick-ups for the Hyatt. One – the centre island – is for the Little Green Car (more later), whilst the side – overlooking the station – is for the coach. This is what the coach looks like:

Hyatt Regency Charles De Gaulle shuttle

2. You can get a little green car for EUR10
For ten Euros you can get picked up or dropped off in a little green electric car. This is new, and a great deal. On the morning when I left the buses were packed so I got the car and was dropped off right by my check-in area. A good idea.

Hyatt Regency Charles De gaulle green cars

3. They are still offering breakfast in the restaurant at weekends.
One of the nice deals here is that they close the Regency Club at weekends and give you breakfast in the restaurant which has a great spread.

Hyatt Regency Charles De Gaulle Breakfast

Hyatt Regency Charles De Gaulle

Hyatt Regency Charles De Gaulle

4. You can ask for a coffee machine.
One of my irritations with the hotel is that there is no kettle or coffee maker in the rooms. After my last stay I emailed and asked if they could supply one.

Lo and behold:

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However, I had to ‘steal’ some milk from the Regency Club the previous evening in order to enjoy my morning coffee.

5. The Room are as comfy as always
Had a great nights sleep:

Hyatt Regency Charles De Gaulle Room

Hyatt Regency Charles De Gaulle Room

6.You still get the same lemony tart, rather than an option of 1000 points

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7. The lobby is as lovely as always

Hyatt Regency Charles De Gaulle lobby

Hyatt Regency Charles De Gaulle Reception

Hyatt Regency Charles De Gaulle

Hyatt Regency Charles De Gaulle

Although it is a bus ride from the airport, you can get great rates, especially at weekends. The Sheraton which is a short walk from most of Terminal 2, has much higher rates which I guess is the price you pay for their location.

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Posted by MilesFromBlighty | 3 Comments

2013-03-23_06-24-06

The generous Hilton offering earning miles on Virgin Atlantic is back. The offer, for stays to 30 November is tiered as follows:

- 1st stay: 1,000 bonus miles
- 2nd stay: 2,000 bonus miles
- 3rd stay: 3,000 bonus miles
- 4th stay: 4,000 bonus miles
- 5th stay: 5,000 bonus miles

You must register here.

———————-

Full terms and conditions:

Terms and Conditions:
To be eligible for this offer, you must (1) be a member of Hilton HHonors; (2) select Virgin Atlantic Airways as your preferred Double Dip® Points & Miles™ Partner in your Hilton HHonors account profile, (3) select Points and Miles as your Double Dip Earning Style within your HHonors profile; (4) register online at www.HHonors.com/fcstaymore prior to completing your stay; and (5) complete an eligible stay at a participating hotel from the Hilton Portfolio from September 1, 2014 through November 30, 2014 (“Promotional Period”).

Bonus Flying Club miles: Members will earn 1,000 Flying Club bonus miles for each of the first through fifth stays at Hampton by Hilton, Homewood Suites and Home2Suites for a maximum of 5,000 Flying Club bonus miles. Members will also be awarded the following Flying Club bonus miles per each eligible stay at any other Hilton Portfolio hotel and resort:

•   1st stay: 1,000 bonus miles
•   2nd stay: 2,000 bonus miles
•   3rd stay: 3,000 bonus miles
•   4th stay: 4,000 bonus miles
•   5th stay: 5,000 bonus miles

 

Bonus miles will not be awarded under this offer for stays completed prior to registration for this offer. A “stay” is defined as the total number of consecutive nights spent at the same hotel, whether or not a guest checks out and checks back in again.È

Example 1
Example 2
Example 3
Stay
Brand
Bonus Miles
Brand
Bonus Miles
Brand
Bonus Miles
1st Stay
Hilton Hotels and Resorts
1,000
Hampton by Hilton
1,000
Hampton by Hilton
1,000
2nd Stay
Waldorf Astoria
2,000

Waldorf Astoria

2,000
Hampton by Hilton
1,000
3rd Stay
Hilton Hotels and Resorts
3,000
Homewood Suites
1,000
Hampton by Hilton
1,000
4th Stay
DoubleTree by Hilton
4,000
Hilton Hotels and Resorts
4,000
Hampton by Hilton
1,000
5th Stay
Conrad Hotels and Resorts
5,000
DoubleTree by Hilton
5,000
Hampton by Hilton
1,000
6th Stay or more
DoubleTree by Hilton
0
Waldorf Astoria
0
Hampton by Hilton
1,000
Total
15,000
13,000
5,000

Posted by MilesFromBlighty | One Comment

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