Mileage Run

I really wanted a better view than this.

Back to Johannesburg, with a stop in London

  • Back to Johannesburg with a stop in London
  • Sightseeing in Joburg and our trip home

I had made my first trip ever to the African continent and wanted to go back, particularly with a r/t price of just over $1,000; that is a good price for more than 21,000 Elite Qualifying Miles and 42,000 Redeemable miles.

This trip would be different from my previous trips: there would not be any flights on American Airlines, the whole trip would be on British Airways. Thanks to their membership in the oneworld alliance, we would earn just as many miles as if we had been on American all the way.

The trip would start with BA’s new non-stop service from Austin to London on the 787 Dreamliner. Then, an Airbus A-380 to Johannesburg, a 747-400 back to London, then the Dreamliner back to Austin. We scheduled the trip just like our last one, leaving Austin on Friday evening, returning on Tuesday evening, with a one-night stay in Johannesburg.

I was most excited about the flights on the Dreamliner. I had seen it two years ago when it made its first trip to DFW and had wanted to fly one ever since. The Austin-London route is the first major international route from Austin: the only other international flights have been to Mexico, this is the first of what I hope will be many trans-Atlantic routes to serve Austin.

My friend and I arrived at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, cleared security, spend some time in the Admirals Club, and then made our way to our departure gate.

I looked forward to again seeing the beautiful 787 up-close, but was out of luck.

I really wanted a better view than this.

I really wanted a better view than this.

The alignment of the terminal and gate to the plane did not provide much of a view. But, if that was the worst thing to happen to me, I could deal with it.

We soon boarded the plane for our 9+ hour flight.

Bravo to BA. EVen in coach they profided us with a blanket, pillow, headphones, and a small amenity kit.

Bravo to BA. Even in coach they provided us with a blanket, pillow, headphones, and a small amenity kit.

BA's inflight entertainment was outstanding!

BA’s inflight entertainment (IFE) options were outstanding!

The ultrasharp resolution on the IFE monitor helped provide a clear view of where we were. In this case, still at the gate. :-)

The ultra-sharp resolution on the IFE monitor helped provide a clear view of where we were. In this case, still at the gate. :-)

We departed Austin on time at 8 p.m.

I was happy to see that the plane was completely full: the more passengers fly this route, the greater the chance of Austin getting additional overseas flights.

The 787 is a large jet, but took off like an almost-empty MD-80. Some aircraft lumber down the runway, slowly gaining speed before they take off. Not the Dreamliner, it raced down the runway and we were airborne much sooner than I expected.

Boeing did a wonderful job with this aircraft. (Disclaimer: I own stock in Boeing.) Boeing builds the plane, and then it is up to the airline to decide how the interior will look. Will it hold 150 passengers or 180? Will the seats be 7 across or 9? Will there be much legroom?

I’m sorry to say that BA chose to cram as many seats into the plane as they possibly could. The seats were narrow, with virtually no legroom.

My friend sat across the aisle from me and even with the seat in front of him in the up position, he had no legroom at all.

My friend sat across the aisle from me and even with the seat in front of him in the up position, he had no legroom at all.

Padding? The seats had very little: I ended up sitting on my pillow to make it more comfortable. I looked forward to seeing Boeing’s innovative LED lighting system that changes color to match the time of day, but I was out of luck: that lighting was only in the World Traveller Plus section in the front of the plane, we appeared to have standard lighting in the coach section.

Enough of the disappointments. The flight was one of the smoothest I have ever been on; the flight attendant said it was because the 787 flies at 40,000 feet rather than the standard 30,000-35,000 feet and is thus able to avoid a lot of turbulence. I found that to be true on both of our trans-Atlantic flights.

The 787 also has higher cabin air pressure, the equivalent of 6,000 feet above sea level instead of the 8,000 feet pressure that other aircraft have. Boeing says that this change will cause passengers to feel more refreshed at the end of their trip. Again, I found this to be true.

BA did a great job with the inflight entertainment. We had a huge selection of movies and television shows to watch, a much larger selection than I had seen on our previous flights.

The beautiful 787 wing. It's not very ovbious in this shot, but it bends upward in flight so that the wingtips are above the top of the fuselage.

The beautiful 787 wing. It’s not very obvious in this shot, but it bends upward in flight so that the wingtips are above the top of the fuselage.

With its unique carbon-fiber construction, the 787 can have much larger windows than those that you will find on other aircraft.

The view out the window: compare the size of the windo to the man's head - it's huge. You can also clearly see how the wing curves upwards.

The view out the window: compare the size of the window to the man’s head – it’s huge. You can also clearly see how the wing curves upwards.

Before too long dinner was served. I chose the lasagna

Dinner on our flight to London.

Dinner on our flight to London.

I fell asleep soon after dinner, and was glad I was able to sleep for several hours, Saturday would be a long day!

Our breakfast snack before arriving in London.

Our breakfast snack before arriving in London.

We arrived at London Heathrow at 9:37 on Saturday morning. That gave us a bit more than 8 hours until our 6 p.m. flight to Johannesburg. We intended to take advantage of the opportunity by leaving the airport and going into London.

When we told the customs and immigration agent that we were going into town and would only be in London for a short time, he  recommended a place we could go for lunch. Then we went downstairs where we were able to store our rollerboards for £5 pounds each.

Then we made our way to the subway, the famous London Underground!

The trains were modern and sparkling clean.

The trains were modern and sparkling clean.

Thanks to Google Maps (Siclaimer: I also own stakc in Google) I already knew we needed to take the Picadilly line.

Thanks to Google Maps (Disclaimer: I also own stock in Google) I already knew we needed to take the Piccadilly line.

It took us about an hour, with one change of trains, to arrive at the Westminster stop, on the Thames, across the street from the Houses of Parliament. We did not have much time to spare, so we had to do as much as we could in a short period.

My first view of Big Ben, easily one of the most famous structures in the world.

My first view of Big Ben, easily one of the most famous structures in the world.

Beautiful view of the intricate design of the clock at Parliament.

Beautiful view of the intricate design of the clock at Parliament.

My "picture postcard" shot of the day.

My “picture postcard” shot of the day.

It was cold and windy, when we arrived, with light rain falling. Normal weather for London at that time of the year. We made our way towards Parliament and saw that the police had blocked off some of the streets for a protest march.

The Socialist Workers Party held a peaceful protest.

The Socialist Workers Party held a peaceful protest.

The marchers went past a statue of Sir Winston Churchill. He seems none too pleased by it all.

The marchers went past a statue of Sir Winston Churchill. He seems none too pleased by it all.

The London Eye, which opened in 2000, is London's most popular paid-for tourist attraction.

The London Eye, which opened in 2000, is London’s most popular paid-for tourist attraction.

We had a wonderful view of the London Eye, the 443-foot tall Ferris wheel located across the Thames river. Its 32 capsules give passengers a 25-mile view from the highest point.

Passengers inside a capsule on the London Eye.

Passengers inside a capsule on the London Eye.

We crossed the bridge to the other side of the Thames: the clouds had disappeared and it was turning into a beautiful day.

We saw this statue on the opposite side of the Thames.

We saw this statue on the opposite side of the Thames.

The plaque on the pedestal of this statue says, “This lion modelled by W.F. Woodington and made in Coades artificial stone stood from 1837 on the parapet of the river front Lion Brewery Lambeth.  It survived the  surrounding devastation in the war of 1939-1945, and when the site was cleared for the building of the Royal Festival Hall was preserved in accordance with the wishes of His Majesty King George VI.”

We crossed back across the river and came upon the Battle of Britain memorial.

The monument, on the banks of the Thames, has various sections that tell the story of the Battle of Britain.

The monument, on the banks of the Thames, has various sections that tell the story of the Battle of Britain.

B-Brit3

B-Brit2

B-Brit4

B-Brit3a

Prime Minister Winston Churchill, speaking of the Royal Air Force fighter pilots and crews said, " Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."

Prime Minister Winston Churchill, speaking of the Royal Air Force fighter pilots and crews said, ” Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Farther down the river we came to another memorial, this to the air crews who served in 1914-1918.

Farther down the river we came to another memorial, this to the air crews who served in 1914-1918.

We soon came to the Tattershall Castle, a restaurant located on a ship on the Thames, which the agent at the airport had recommended to us.

A;though many people were deck eating, it was too cold for us and we decided to eat indoors.

A;though many people were outside on deck eating, it was too cold for us and we decided to eat indoors.

The ship is not docked, not tied up to a pier. Instead there is a gang-plank that goes from the shore to the ship. Since it was not secured to anything else, every time another boat went by we bobbed up and down in the ship’s wake. Maybe not the best place to eat a meal.

My lunch, British Fish and Chips. We never figured out what the green food item was.

My lunch, British Fish and Chips. We never figured out what the green food item was.

My lunch beverage. Some say British beer is served warm - this was not, it was chilled.

My lunch beverage. Some say British beer is served warm – this was not, it was chilled.

After lunch it was time to say good-bye to this part of London and make our way back to Heathrow for our flight to Johannesburg.

As we walked back to the Underground, I took this shot of a BA A-380 flying over London. Coincidentally, our flight to Johannesburg would be on a BA A-380.

As we walked back to the Underground, I took this shot of a BA A-380 flying over London. Coincidentally, our flight to Johannesburg would be on a BA A-380.

Disclaimer: I own stock in Boeing, Google, and American Airlines.


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I really like the livery on the tail of the Alaska Airlines planes.

Anchorage Mileage Run

Earlier this month I did my first really long mileage run of the year, all the way to Anchorage, Alaska. It was special because of all the miles I earned at a great price, and also because my friend joined me on his first ever run.

The day started early, he picked me up at 4:30 a.m. and we went to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. After a short stay at the Admirals Club, we went to our departure gate for the short flight to DFW.

This was my first visit to an AC in many months and I was glad to see that they had updated the coffee service. In the past your choice was regular or decaf and that was it. Now they have one of the newer machines that also offers cappuccino, latte, and mocha. For me, that is a welcome addition to the club.

We had an uneventful trip to DFW and quickly went to the Terminal A Admirals Club. Our DFW layover was 4 hours 45 minutes. I knew there was an earlier flight to Seattle and I hoped we could get changed to that one. The AAngel behind the counter gave us stand-by boarding passes for the earlier flight and told us to go the gate and see if they had any seats.  My hope was that we that we would make that flight and then also get an earlier flight from Seattle to Anchorage.

As we walked to the gate I saw a familiar face, Tom Horton, the CEO of AMR Corporation, American Airlines parent company, whom I had met last year when I went to the 787 Dreamliner event at DFW. I said hello to him and he spent several minutes talking with us. He had no entourage, was dressed casually, and seemed very excited about where the company was going, and expressed confidence that the Justice Department lawsuit blocking the American / US Air merger would be tossed aside. I was not only impressed by his enthusiasm, but also the fact that he stopped to talk with us and did not blow us off. Thank you sir!

We arrived at the gate and asked the gate agent if there was room for us on the flight. I suppose he was dealing with numerous issues at once, his attitude told us he was too busy to deal with us now, he told us to wait. My friend said to me, “We were just treated better by the CEO of a mufti-billion corporation that we were by a gate agent.!” He was right. But once the GA got all of the other things take care of, he was much nicer to us.  Everyone boarded the aircraft and he told us there were two seats remaining, we got them without having to pay a change fee (having elite status does have its benefits!) and we boarded the flight to Seattle. I had a first class upgrade on the original flight and ended up in coach on this one, but I was glad to give it up to get this earlier flight.

I sat in the front of the coach section, which AA calls Main Cabin Extra. The extra legroom was a pleasant surprise, I appreciated being seated in that area.

We arrived in Seattle and went to the Alaska Airlines Board Room club where I hoped we could be moved to an earlier Anchorage flight. This was when I found the benefit of my American Airlines elite status, and what it meant to not be able to use it. The very friendly Alaska staff said we could probably be moved to another flight, but we had to see a ticket agent, they could not help us. They also added that there would be change fees involved.  Change fees? With that news, we decided to stay at SeaTac for 4 hours and get our regularly scheduled flight to ANC.

We ate some snacks in the club, then decided to visit the food court for lunch. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: the food court at SeaTac is one of the best places in the nation to watch planes depart and arrive.

You get your meal and then watch the show at the SeaTac food court. They have tables right by the window; if you are lucky you even get the chance to sit in one of the rocking chairs they provide.

You get your meal and then watch the show at the SeaTac food court. They have tables right by the window; if you are lucky you even get the chance to sit in one of the rocking chairs they provide.

I really like the livery on the tail of the Alaska Airlines planes.

I really like the livery on the tail of the Alaska Airlines planes.

Always great views from the SeaTac food court. This Lufthansa flight had just taken off.

Always great views from the SeaTac food court. This Lufthansa flight had just taken off.

We soon made our way, by train, to Terminal N, the remote terminal that Alaska Airlines uses. We looked at the people waiting to board and said “Don’t they realize they are going to Alaska?” These people were in shorts, t-shirts, no jackets. We joked that they obviously thought they were going to Anchorage, Florida. How wrong we were.

We boarded: my original reservation said that I was in 9C, an aisle seat, but my boarding pass said 9B, the middle row. Again, another issue with not having elite status on Alaska Airlines. Fortunately, the two gentlemen I sat with offered pleasant conversation and the flight passed quickly.

We landed on time at Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage and made our way to the People Mover, the bus that goes downtown once an hour. As soon as we stepped outside I was stunned at how gorgeous it was. Clear skies, no wind, moderate temperatures, just wonderful!

Beautiful flower beds greeted us as we stepped out of the terminal.

Beautiful flower beds greeted us as we stepped out of the terminal.

Almost all of the documentaries I see about Alaska show it as cold, remote, barren. That was the picture I had in my mind, it just never occurred to me that Alaska would have mild temperatures and flowers in bloom. As they say, that’s my bad, I should have known better.

We took a cab downtown, that cost $20. The public transit system has a bus, The People Mover, that goes downtown, but it only runs once an hour and we did not want to wait another 45 minutes for it to arrive, time was short.

We arrived downtown and walked near the water's edge, just amazed at how beautiful a day it was.

We arrived downtown and walked near the water’s edge, just amazed at how beautiful a day it was.

We got out of the cab at the Captain Cook hotel land walked a few blocks to the water’s edge where we walked through a park and I saw one of the most clever signs about dogs that I had ever seen.

When I got home I read the bottom part to my dog, she seemed to understand. :-)

When I got home I read the bottom part to my dog, she seemed to understand. :-)

By now we were hungry, very hungry. A guidebook had recommended The Glacier Brewhouse on 5th Avenue; we were nearby so we decided to stop there for dinner. We were led to our table after a short wait. Living in Central Texas we can visit seafood restaurants, although Red Lobster can get sort of old. One of the things I like about visiting a town on the coast is the seafood, it always tastes so much fresher. I reviewed the menu and decided on the Wood-Grilled Alaskan Salmon, cilantro marinade, seared crab and rice cake, skillet roasted corn relish, fresh lime hollandaise, and grilled fresh asparagus. I was glad I did.

My dinner: wood-grilled Alaskan Salmon with crabcake and vegetables.

My dinner: wood-grilled Alaskan Salmon with crabcake and vegetables.

I was glad I made that choice. The salmon was tender and full of flavor, but I really enjoyed the crabcake, easily the best I had ever had. I ordered their Barvarian Hefeweizen as my beverage, it was wonderful. My friend ordered a different beer, I don’t recall what it was, but they brought it to him in a wine glass, explaining that it was so high in alcohol content that they could not serve it in a larger glass.  He and I each had one sip and decided that was enough.

Once dinner was over we spent a few hours walking through downtown, we really did not have any specific goal, we just wanted to see the area.

Anchorage is a fairly good-sized city with a population of more than 300,000. Thus, while walking around downtown, we really don’t get a feel for being in Alaska, it just feels like another medium size city with department stores, fast food chains, etc. Other than the mountains in the distance, we could have been in Omaha for all I knew.

We bought some souvenirs, then found a place that a friend had recommended called Humpy‘s on 6th Avenue. We had a late night snack and some more of their home-brewed beer, which we found to be tastier than what we had at our previous location. We stayed quite a while, enjoyed the live music, then got a cab back to the airport. It was past 11:30 and our flight to Seattle would depart at 2 a.m.

By now we were thoroughly exhausted; it had been almost 23 hours since we had left my house and while that was not a challenge back in our college days, well, let’s just say we are not as young as we once were at leave it at that. :-)

There was a very long line at the security check-in which normally would not be an issue, but since we were flying out on Alaska Airlines we did not have elite status, thus no priority access and we had to wait on the security line. At least that made me appreciate my AA status even more.

We cleared security, went to our gate and soon thereafter were on our flight to Seattle. Once we arrived at SEA-TAC we went to the Alaska Airlines Board Room for coffee, juice, and pancakes. Fully refreshed, we boarded our AA flight to DFW. Once we arrived at DFW we were able to switch to an earlier flight to Austin, getting in 2 hours ahead of schedule.

It had been a very long weekend, but it was worth it. I earned 14,428 miles from a ticket that cost $355: that came out to 2.46 cents per mile, one of the best rates I had gotten in a long time. I also earned 7,260 EQMs It was worth it. And at that great price we have two more Anchorage trips scheduled — we’ll rent a car and get out of Anchorage on those trips.

Let the mileage runs continue! :-)

 

 

I always enjoy the view of the mountains as I fly to the West Coast.

Austin to Portland – My First Mileage Run of the Year

Late February — it was about time for me to have my first mileage run of the year. Last year I had completed almost a dozen trips in January alone, the triple EQM award to San Fransisco was a great incentive. This year there weren’t any comparable deals, so I kept looking. I eventually found a trip I had taken many times before, Austin to DFW to Seattle to Portland to DFW to Austin for $240. Not great, but not bad either. I’d leave Austin early in the morning (6:10 a.m.) and be back by 10:30 p.m. It would be a long day, made even longer by the the fact that this was a mid-week flight and I would have to be up early the next morning to go to work.

The day started well, I got to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and got word that I had been upgraded to First Class for the AUS-DFW segment. Normally I would not be overly excited about an upgrade on a flight that lasts less than an hour, but I had a short layover at DFW and sitting in the front of the plane would get me off and on my way to the next flight more quickly.

I had an uneventful flight to DFW, got to my departure gate and was glad to see that I was number one on the upgrade list to First Class. An upgrade for a 4.5 hour flight, that’s nice!

My upgrade came through and I boarded the Boeing 737 for the flight to Seattle. I was looking forward to one thing: watching a movie. I got a Kindle Fire HD tablet for Christmas and had loaded some movies on there for the trip. The first was a classic movie, an all-time great, that I had never seen from start to finish: The Godfather. I set the Fire on my food-tray, plugged in the headphones, and started to watch it. The only problem was that I did not realize The Godfather was a three-hour movie. By the end of the second hour, I was hoping someone, anyone, would make Don Corleone an offer he could not refuse if it would end the film. :-)

While I joke about it, all it all I was pretty happy with the experience. The Fire was easier to carry around than a laptop, gave me an HD picture, and still had 70% power left when the movie was over. So, it was a good experience.

I did have to pause in the middle of the movie for a delicious breakfast.

Breakfast was a cheese quesadilla, potatoes, fruit, biscut, and coffee. It hit the spot.

Breakfast was a cheese quesadilla, potatoes, fruit, biscuit, and coffee. It hit the spot.

I always enjoy the view of the mountains as I fly to the West Coast.

I always enjoy the view of the mountains as I fly to the West Coast.

 clouds

The Sun highlighted unique patters on the clouds.

It was soon time to land at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEATAC). It had been a smooth flight and we arrived a few minutes ahead of schedule. I had a 90 minute wait before I took my Alaska Airlines flight to Portland. I spent that time in the Alaska Airlines Board Room, eating some snacks and catching up on my email.

It was such a dark and grey day in Seattle that this photo almost looks like it is in Black and White, but no, it's a color photo on a day lacking in color.

It was such a dark and grey day in Seattle that this photo almost looks like it is in Black and White, but no, it’s simply a color photo on a day lacking in color.

I soon made my way to the Alaska Airlines departure area for my short one hour flight to Portland aboard a Dash 400.

dash400

I’m always impressed by how well Alaska Airlines manages these flights. Although the flight is only one hour long, the flight attendants serve snacks, beverages, and complimentary wine or beer.

We landed on time in Portland. leaving me with another one hour layover. Shortly after we arrived though I received a call from AA flight status letting me know that the Portland-DFW flight would depart 30 minutes late.  I had a one hour layover in DFW for my Austin flight, would this delay cause me to miss my connection?

I called AA’s Executive Platinum desk and explained my concerns. The representative listened as I explained my story, then laughed and said “You don’t have anything to worry about sir, your flight to Austin is also going to be late.”.

I received the upgrade to First Class for the Portland-DFW flight which left 35 minutes late. We had a smooth flight to DFW where I connected to my Austin flight which also departed 35 minutes late. I should have been on the ground in Austin by 11 p.m., but it was almost 11:30 when we finally landed and well past midnight by the time I got home. This might have been okay for a Saturday flight, but on a Tuesday when I had to get up for work the next morning, it was not much fun.

But I did earn 4,775 EQMs and a total of 9,548 miles, so it all had a purpose. I never left the airport — my next mileage run however will give me almost a full day in Seattle, so I look forward to that. In the meantime, I continue to look for good deals, which appear to be few and far between. But I’ll keep looking! :-)