Cathay Pacific Business Class for $1800 NZD – Two Minute Travel

I enjoy puzzles. Recently the puzzle I’ve been playing around with is Airline frequent flyer programmes. If you’re from New Zealand, you’re probably well familiar with Air New Zealand Airpoints. There’s not really much ‘point hacking’ you can do with the programme. One Airpoints Dollar equals one NZ Dollar.

But not all airlines have such simple programmes. My current favourite is Alaska Airline’s Mileage Plus programme. You can buy Alaska Airline miles, and occasionally, they have bonus purchases. The best offer I’ve seen is get 40% more miles. So I ended up purchasing 60,000 Alaska Airline miles for around $1800 NZD.

Next, have a look at redeeming those miles with Alaska Airline partners using their redemption chart. The best value redemption for 60,000 miles is a return flight from Auckland to Hong Kong flying business class. And that’s what we booked!

Now, this is a saving of about $4000 NZD compared to buying a business class flight. But there are some caveats of course. First, availability isn’t very strong. Use the British Airways website to find out when there are seats available on a particular flight. Once available, call Alaska Airlines to do your reservation. Another concern is buying points in advance. Points aren’t cash – airlines can devalue them, cancel partners, change their programme at will. So we waited until there was a good sale, then looked for seats we could buy, then while on the phone to Alaska Airlines reservations, we purchased the points online.

And as for our Cathay Pacific experience? A really nice hard product, i.e. the seat. And an OK soft product, i.e. the people. We flew up Air NZ the day before and they weren’t worried about our carry on bags. But Cathay Pacific wanted to weigh ours! Turns out one bag was 9kg, and we had to remove some stuff from it. Also turns out that Business class passengers are allowed 10kg for carry on. So a mark down there for a lady giving us grief over something she wasn’t correct about.

The lounge access was for the Air New Zealand Koru Lounge. You really can’t complain about it – it’s very nice, the food is fine, and oh my goodness, the showers. SO GOOD. Shower pressure was intense, and there was a rain shower! You can’t beat that.

On board the flight, things were OK. The seat and surround is really good, but the food was a bit average. Ho hum bircher muesli tasted like cornflakes sitting in milk getting soggy for two days. Maybe that’s just what bircher muesli actually tastes like? The sausage and egg omelette tasted generously like that of an airport hotel. The omelette was next to mushrooms, and so the omelette turned grey in colour. The entertainment system is really nice, with live streaming CNN. And there’s WiFi onboard – a reasonable $20 USD for the 10 hour flight, which is a good deal.

Victoria Peak, and the Ngong Ping Ropeway

I’m so tired. It’s 9.52pm and there’s no one else in this 12 bed dorm. It doesn’t help that I keep getting up at 6am. Travel takes it out of you always. You wouldn’t think it would but you cram so much new information into your brain in such a small amount of time I think it gets tired.

Anyways, headed to Victoria Peak today with some of my travel buddies. So far I’ve met a Canadian Teacher, a Canadian Animator, a Canadian Student, a Finnish Paper making Scientist, an American Structural Engineer, and a Russian Waitress. It’s going to be a good New Years with a wide variety of people.

First we headed to the mid level escalators. These go from around Central station 800m up a hill and are considered to be one of the longest escalators you can catch. These were interesting, but no one said that every third one would be out of service, forcing you to climb a pretty steep hill. At the end they just finish at a road, which I guess is a little anti climatic.

From here you can walk about 20 minutes towards the lower peak tram station. This tram and the view from Victoria Peak are considered a must do when in Hong Kong. Clearly every tourist had gotten the message as the line for the tram was one hour long. I like trams as much as the next guy, but an hour is a long time to wait in line. Like most things in Hong Kong, you could pay more and skip the line.

In the end we made it to the tram which appears to be a 10 minute trip. If you’ve every caught the Wellington Cable Car then this is a similar experience. I was a little underwhelmed to be honest.

The view from Victoria Peak however was amazing. With a 360 degree view of the city, being able to see the contrast between the super developed side of Hong Kong island with it’s skyscrapers upon skyscrapers, compared to the green bush of the peak of the mountain and the relative quiet of Stanley and Repulse Bay was interesting. Of corset you can also see across to Kowloon, and some of the outlying islands.

From here we decided to catch the number 15 bus to the Central pier. Great bus ride, and a good price at about 10 or 20 HKD.

From here we caught the high speed ferry to Lantau Island again. Today I would be playing the tour guide, and showing Oxana the big budda and taking the Ngong Ping ropeway, something I didn’t get a chance to do last time.

The ropeway also had a one hour line, which of course you could skip if you paid more money. Finally in the cabin, the views over Lantau I think have been the highlight of the trip. With the sunset in the background it was very scenic and I wished my wife could have been there to see it with me. Sure she would have hated the one hour line, but the views more than made up for it.

Once at the peak we the descended towards the airport crossing a huge channel of water perhaps 50 or a 100m in the air. Privately I thought to myself bad time for a earthquake.

Finally we were back to the Citygate outlet mall and the MTR station, where it was time for a teppenyaki dinner for 89 HKD, and then back to Causeway Bay and the hostel.

I fell asleep straight away. Until 3am when a bunch of drunk douches came in being loud and waking everyone up.

Doing the kiwi beach thing, in a place where looks matter

Yesterday was my relaxing day ange getting to know my fellow hostel travellers. After a late start, an American and I headed to a local coffee house to have breakfast. Along the way I asked him a few pointed questions about America – what’s it like with the high unemployment, how’s the healthcare, why is Fox News a tv channel, and he painted a pretty bleak picture. He is a structural engineer who studied at the University of California Berkley, and now, is the only of his friends with steady employment. He gets two weeks annual leave, and pays his own health insurance. If he becomes unemployed, there is 1.5 years of unemployment benefit, then you’re on your own.

Personally I think the worst is the healthcare system. Health in New Zealand is seen as a right not a privilege, and generally not something to make money off. Even Russia has a better healthcare system for poor people.

A few of us were heading over to the other side of the island, a Canadian called Tobin who teaches Geography in English in China in a small village of 4 million, and a Russian called Aksana, which isn’t just a name on Shortland Street.

On our way Aksana bought an amazing leather jacket and jeans from high end brands I’d never heard of. She spent more on this stuff than my budget for everything for a week. It turns out in Moscow looks are everything, much like Hong Kong or Dubai. If you have wealth you should look the part, with people buying one or two Vertu phones, multi thousand dollars phones from Nokia that do no more than your current phone, but show people you can afford to buy them. I commented that in New Zealand people with wealth tend not to show it off, wanting to be modest, and also a bit of tall poppy syndrome too.

Anyways, next it was time to head to the other side of Hong Kong island to see the beaches. We caught the MTR to Central, and then the 6X to Deep Water Bay for a swim.

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Like a traditional kiwi summer I headed to the beach. It was near empty. The weather was sunny, it was 22 degrees, the water temperature was warmer than Raglan on a good day. But it is Winter here in Hong Kong and people are wearing puffy costs and scarves and people think that anyone swimming would be mad. It was awesome, the water was amazing!

After a while it was late lunch time so we walked along the bays to reach Repulse Bay. Sadly there’s only a Pizza Hut there, so we caught the bus to Stanley.

Stanley is the home of the markets, so if you want an iphone case made of fake diamonds, you’ve come to the right place. It is also the most western part of the island in my opinion. We ended up eating at a traditional english pub, that was actually just full of white people. Not an Asian in sight, except for the employees. The menu – awful british pub food. If you’ve been to the Londoner, you’ll feel right at home.

Finally it was time to head back to Central. Tobin left us to go to the Happy Valley Night Horse Races while Aksana and I headed to Citygate outlet mall to look around and do some shopping. But in all honesty, things weren’t cheaper than New Zealand, and in most cases generally more expensive. I ended up buying nothing, though I do love the look of that Macbook Pro.

Now it was home time, so we headed back to the hostel, via the Sogo Japanese supermarket. It was amazing, I loved it, it was just like being back in Japan! Gifts a plenty will be bought here!

My day on Lantau with a random tour guide

I didn’t have an itinerary planned on this trip so each day I’ll take it as it comes. I caught the MTR to Central saying farewell to Odead at Admiralty. While eating breakfast at McDonalds it was time to decide what to do. Wikitravel is a great travel resource for those who don’t have a Lonely Planet guide. It recommended a good day trip to Lantau, so I caught the ferry.

Turns out it’s a public holiday today so all the prices are more expensive. Coupled with the fact o caught the fast ferry rather than the slow ferry means I paid 40 HKD rather than 10 HKD. Still only 6 dollars is a good deal. While wandering around the fast ferry wondering if you can go outside, a woman told me this was not possible. We struck up a conversation and before you know it she was offering to tour me around Lantau Island.

Our first stop was the beaches around the ferry terminal. If all you’ve seen of Hong Kong is Hong Kong Island, then Lantau will be a whole new experience in relaxing and quiet. The white sand beaches were clean and inviting though bring winter the water was silly cold.

From here I headed with Clara to her friend’s place. This is where I lost my kidney. Jokes. We had a green tea with her best friend and then was played the Chinese Guitar. I also helped them with their email problem. Always on tech support.

Next we headed to the giant budda on the island. I must love giant buddas since I’m always seeing them. But first we had lunch at a Vegetarian restaurant run by the buddists. My guide paid for me which was amazingly nice, and we talked about how China is driven by economics rather than ethics. The soup reminded me of water vegetables had been boiled in, and the tea was pretty metallic, but I figured that’s what tea tastes like here.

Next was the budda itself. Only two hundred stairs to the base of the statue. It was slow going. Everything in Hong Kong is bilingual which its awesome. It’s like the China for foreigners. At the top we took some photos and looked at the awesome view over the islands.

Met a couple of foreigners on the bus, a German who had been studying for 6 years to become a lawyer, and a Japanese Architect who moved to Sendai after the earthquake to rebuild the city.

Next it was a stilt village to see how fisherman survive using ancient traditions. Evidently without refrigerators or health and safety concerns. But there are two ways to know your seafood is good to eat, it’s either still alive or dried. The smell was what you could imagine. The food, crazy. Who’s going to eat Starfish? Which bit is the tastiest? Alas I did not find out.

And that was it. We parted ways at Central station, with my promise to email her the photos of our day together.

I did but a Hong Kong sim card so finally I have data with me, the card is 88 HKD and 7 days of unlimited internet is 78 HKD.

Staying in Hong Kong with a post it note as my guide

Going through Hong Kong Airport is a quick and painless experience. Did have to wait in line for about 10 minutes for customs, but other than that no holdups, I was on the otherside.

There’s two main ways to get to Hong Kong island, the train and the bus. The train is quick and expensive, the bus slower and cheaper. I caught the A11 Cityflyer bus to Causeway Bay on Hong Kong island for 40 HKD. 10 HKD is about 1.66 NZD, or 1.50 NZD if mental maths is hard like for me. So the bus for 50 minutes was 6 NZD.

Hong Kong is a city of lights, lights everywhere, on all buildings, celebrating and selling Christmas. There must be a hundred power plants in China burning coal and melamine to power this city. It’s bright and amazing.

Got off and did a quick walk to the hostel. No signage externally at all. I did Google street view the place back home so I knew where it was, but seriously this was just a block of flats. Someone left so I could snark through the security doors and head to level 9.

To be presented with like a fire escape corridor. After wandering around I saw one apartment security grille with a post it note next to the buzzer. It was Pandora After 80s, the place I’m staying at. The toilet doesn’t fill with water so you have to use the showerhead to do it. That’s fill the toilet not take a dump.

Had dinner with an Israeli called Odead. Went to a Japanese place. I was weary of drinking the water, went for a fanta instead. There’s a safety pro tip for you. And now it’s 3.50am and I think it’s time to sleep and see what tomorrow has in store.

Our eyes made contact – my experience with a famous person in Premium Economy

I was standing in the departures hall waiting for the last few minutes to tick over before I could check in,which so happens to be next to the Air New Zealand Sales Counter. And I went for it. I knew I had a bit of Airpoints up my sleeve, so decided to see if I could do an upgrade. Turns out I could, and so I found myself going Premium Economy. The cost was about $240, which for an 11 hour flight works out to be about $21 an hour. It first starts at check in. Unlike the poor people flying Jetstar (go Business – there was no one in that line, and the economy line could have snaked outside the airport), Air New Zealand was pretty quiet for check in. But still, you get to use the special check in, and it’s nice. I was served within two minutes, and two minutes later was catching the lift through to Customs. There’s a special person put aside just for premium passengers, and so I was served immediately. You then merge for security.

Auckland Airport is one of the top ten airports in the world, and it’s pretty nice and efficient, and has a good flow. Maybe it wasn’t very busy the day I went, but from check-in to the shops it must have been about 10 minutes, five of those me emptying my pockets. There’s a MAC counter in duty free (it’s really just JR Duty Free), and Kathryn asked me to get some goods for her. One cool thing is being able to purchase on the way out, and then pick up on arrivals. It makes a lot of sense, which should I have to carry liquor or makeup all the way somewhere else, just to bring them back to New Zealand.

I happened to have a Koru lounge pass by spending too much on my credit card, so I took advantage of that. Look, the food is generally pretty ok, bordering on average. There’s free wine, beer, spirits, and soft drinks. There’s wifi, a TV lounge, a photocopier (great for making copies of the passport), but even if that all disapeared, I wouldn’t mind. The only thing I really like is the shower. Being able to have a shower to refresh yourself is amazing. If the airport just offered showers I’d probably take that instead. Still, the rest of it was nice.

Before boarding the plane, I was seated in one of those massaging chairs. People were giving me dirty looks like I was masturbating. Know me before you judge me. But seriously, those massage chairs are awesome, and since all the good chairs are always gone at an airport you can put a coin in, and then keep sitting there after the chair’s stopped working.

One of the other advantages of going Premium Economy is being able to board the plane first. And I did. I was the first passenger on the plane. Booyah! The seats are still the same width as Economy, but there’s a bit more leg room. If I had a foot rest I’d be able to put my feet up, but bare in mind I am a little person. Still, the extra legroom is delightful, as is the fact there’s hardly anyone up here, in my row of nine, there’s three people, one in each segment. They offer you a glass of bubbles while others are getting seated, and there’s a menu for the food, rather than the regular “Chicken or beef?” question.

Much to my surprise as I’m sitting there drinking some orange juice watching the passengers board, does my eyes lock with one famous Ido Trent of Shortland Street fame, and his beautiful wife. And they walk past. To Economy. I wonder if this is there honeymoon? C’mon Ido, at least I tried to upgrade Kathryn and I to Premium Economy. How much is Shortland Street paying these days? And I know you did that Woman’s Weekly spread. I smiled.

As I write this we’re 350km away from Port Moresby. Amazing. I’m thankful that that’s not my final destination. Six hours more to go.

Why public transport scares normal people

So I’m heading to Hong Kong today for a week. Thank you Grab A Seat, $999 return over New Years.

The flight is at 12.40pm, which means being at the airport by 9.40am – if there’s every a time in your life to be early to something, the airport and job interviews are those things.

Sadly, this means catching the only bus that will get me to the airport in time, the midnight bus, departing Hamilton at 5am, and arriving at Auckland Airport at 7.30am. This I felt was one of the more dangerous parts of my journey.

When you’re in a big city, one that has a lot of nightlife, being put and about at 5am isn’t that strange. But in Hamilton it is super strange. I can’t think of any good reason to be hanging around the streets of Hamilton at that hour of the morning, which is why I’d feel nervous if I encountered anyone on my way to the Transport Centre. Thankfully I didn’t, but I was on heightened alert. The same goes for the 15 minutes I’m hanging out in Manukau as well.

So as you can see, I have quite a bit of time to kill at the airport. Combined with the fact it was Christmas day yesterday which I found out when I was woken up at 5am, and partying last night until 11pm, means I’m super tired. Which is awesome! I find exhausting yourself before flying means that 11 hour flight becomes a 9 hour flight.

Anyways, I do have a Koru lounge pass, which will make my travel all the more pleasant. If you spend $15,000 on a Kiwibank Gofly credit card, you’ll get a lounge pass for two. Being able to relax, have a shower, and eat something that was once known as eggs is far better than being mindless waiting for your flight at the gate.

Speaking of which, the gate is another great place to not be late.