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My First Pseudo Mileage Run

I started writing this post a couple of days ago just before departing Doha

I’m currently sitting in the airport about ready to board my first flight on what many people (including myself) might call a stupid trip.  I’m about to embark on a trip halfway across the world and back in less than 4 days.  I’ll be traveling a total of  53 hrs, about 37 hours of that in the air, and about 16 hours in layovers on 3 different continents.  That doesn’t even count the time I’ll wait at the airport prior to boarding my flights to the States and back.  Like I said, a stupid trip.  I’ve got my reasons, and I’ll get to those in just a minute, but first, here are the details (all times local):

Thurs Nov 28      Depart DOH 11:45 PM                   Arrive BAH 12:35 AM +1 Day
Fri Nov 29           Depart BAH 02:10 AM                   Arrive LHR 06:25 AM
Fri Nov 29           Depart LHR 09:45 AM                   Arrive DFW 02:05 PM
Fri Nov 29           Depart DFW 04:25 PM                  Arrive ICT 05:40 PM

Sun Dec 1             Depart ICT 10:35 AM                    Arrive ORD 12:25 PM
Sun Dec 1             Depart ORD 06:00 PM                 Arrive LHR 07:45 AM +1 Day
Mon Dec 2           Depart LHR 10:35 AM                  Arrive BAH 07:55 PM
Mon Dec 2           Depart BAH 08:55 PM                  Arrive DOH 09:45 PM

It's not pretty, but I'm looking forward to it.

It’s not pretty, but I’m looking forward to it.

It’s not pretty.  I’m quite interested to see how this goes for me.  I love to fly.  I really do.  Airports and planes are relaxing to me.  But at the same time, that’s a heckuva lot of flying in a very short time.  And the last time I flew from the States to the Middle East I was pretty much done with flying for a while.  And that was in business class.  This trip is all economy and there is even an extra layover.  There are really no signs that this is going to end up well except for… wait, there really are none.  I guess we’ll see.

So, when thought through logically, if this just seems like I’m punishing myself, why am I doing it?  Well there are 3 reasons, none of which alone makes this trip worthwhile, even in my slightly delusional mind.  Put them all together though, and it made enough sense (to me) to book that ticket.

First, American Airlines ran this somewhat ridiculous promotion that was supposed to be targeted to certain customers.  Somehow it was accidentally available to anyone who didn’t already hold status on American Airlines.  Anyone who signed up before they pulled the promotion got in on it.  It’s one of those things you sign up for whether you know if you’re going to use it or not, just in case.  The promotion allowed you to fly a greatly discounted number of miles to obtain status on American Airlines if you flew those miles between September 1st and December 31st.  As it turned out I had already booked both Dawn and my tickets to come home for the Holidays on American Airlines as it was the cheapest flight.  With that roundtrip ticket booked we’d already be flying over 16,000 miles which would give each of us Platinum status.  Usually you have to fly 50,000 miles in a year to earn that status.  There are some great benefits that come with Platinum status including 100% redeemable mileage bonuses, lounge access, extra baggage, priority boarding, etc.  So, all we have to do is take our holiday flights as planned – Dawn flying home for a little over a month over Thanksgiving and Christmas and me flying home for 10 days over Christmas – and all of a sudden we’ve got Platinum status.

American Airlines Promotion Table

Turns out this AA promotion was just too good to pass up

But then again if I flew another 14,000 miles over those 3 months, I could go from being a Platinum member to an Executive Platinum member.  There are some small advantages to being an Executive Platinum over a Platinum member, but the big one is that you earn 8 System Wide Upgrades (SWUs).  These certificates allow you to buy any economy ticket on American Airlines, and then upgrade yourself to a business class ticket.  All it would take to make Executive Platinum would be one more simple little trip back to the States.  Actually, it could be to any number of different places, but it had to be on American Airlines or a couple of their OneWorld partners per the promotion fine print.  As I knew I was headed home for Christmas I searched for a flight to Hong Kong, Australia, and all kinds of other places that would get me those miles at a decent price.  I soon realized that the best option to fly those miles at a decent price in a short amount of time would be to head back to the States.

So I began to search.  I stumbled upon almost the same exact routing that I’d be taking home for Christmas over the weekend after Thanksgiving for only $885 roundtrip.  It’s not a great true mileage run price in terms of cents per mile, but for this particular situation it really couldn’t have gotten any better.  Typically, I’ve seen flights back to the States from Doha anywhere from $1200 – $1800, so this was really an incredible price.  The fare was only available for flying over that weekend after Thanksgiving.

At this point I loved the idea of buying the ticket, but I still couldn’t totally justify it.  $885 to be home for only 40 hours?  Yeah, I’d get the upgrades to use next year, but would I actually be able to use them?  Hopefully, but maybe not since they have to be used on AA metal.  By buying the ticket I’d already be Platinum by the time I took the December flight.  With the 100% mileage bonus on that flight and the miles from this flight I’d earn $640 worth of AA miles back (if I value AA miles at 2 cents per mile), maybe more depending on when my Gold status shows up.  So, if I wanted to, I could justify it that way.  But, then again, who knows when I’ll be using those AA miles and if I’ll really get that value out of them (especially now with an impending devaluation coming – which I didn’t know about at the time).

The real kicker would be that I’d be able to surprise my parents for Thanksgiving dinner.  Sure it’d be the Saturday after, but we’ve celebrated Thanksgiving on that Saturday plenty of times in the past.  Being able to get the entire family together for Thanksgiving while I’m living so far away was too good of an opportunity to pass up.  Plus, Dawn thought it was a good idea.  If she was buying into my madness I pretty much had to book that ticket.  After kicking the idea around for about a day (slightly risky as the flights might not have still been there the next day) I booked it.

Once booked, I let my brothers know I was headed home.  I got them to set up a Thanksgiving dinner with my parents for the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  Stephen was already working on Thanksgiving, so it was a pretty easy to get them to bump back the family dinner until Saturday.  As long as they had my parents all booked up I didn’t have to worry about them making other plans for the day.  Dawn was going to be in Iowa with her family for Thanksgiving, so she is planning to drive back on Friday to pick me up from the Airport and then drive to my parent’s house to surprise them there.  It’s a pretty epic trip in a lot of ways, and I’m quite excited about it.

Now in Chicago

I’m now sitting in an American Airlines Admirals club in Chicago a little halfway through my trip.  So far, the trip has certainly been more than worth it.  The flights in weren’t too rough, and I got a decent amount of sleep on my BAH – LHR leg.  Thanks to the new American planes in flight entertainment (IFE) I was able to catch up on 4 or 5 movies, plus a couple of TV shows.  My goal of staying on Qatar time throughout the trip hasn’t panned out so much, but I’m not hurting too bad yet.  I hear flying East is tougher than flying West, so we’ll see how it goes when I get back to Doha tomorrow night.

Surprising my parents was great, and their reactions alone were worth the trip.  To say they were shocked would be a bit of an understatement.  Getting to spend the holiday hanging out with my brothers, my brother’s wife, and my nephew, when we live so far away is priceless.  Being able to split up the time my wife and I are apart over her thirty some days in the States certainly made the trip even more worthwhile.  It’s pretty incredible to think what we can do these days in terms of travel, and I’m so blessed I’m able to take full advantage of it by spending valuable time with my family.

Well worth the miles flown

So far, it seems that my pseudo mileage run has been quite successful in multiple ways.  Lets hope these last couple of segments go well.

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Cambodia and Vietnam in Style

If I’ve learned anything from my time in the miles and points world, it’s if you can’t get what you want, hang up and call back.  If I’ve learned two things, the second would be jump on a deal quickly when it comes up because it may not last long.  I’ve read quite a few stories about dirt cheap mistake fares and incredible mileage redemptions, but I was never able to take advantage of any of them.  That was until a couple of days ago.  I read about a deal that might actually work out quite well for Dawn and me.  It certainly wasn’t as lucrative as some of deals I’ve read about previously, but I also felt more confident that this particular deal would be honored and the tickets wouldn’t be cancelled.  

Looking forward to flying in one of these seats again soon.

Looking forward to flying in one of these seats again soon.

The basic summary of the deal is that you can get a one way ticket from Phnom Penh (PNH), Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City (SGN), Vietnam for only $245.  The two cities only require a 40 minute flight to travel from one to the other, and so it appears that flights between the two cities are typically fairly inexpensive.  The kicker for this particular deal is that for $245 you can fly through Doha (DOH) to get there, which just so happens to be about 3600 miles away.  And it’s in Business Class.  I found the deal from reading View From the Wing, and Gary does an excellent job explaining the details of it here from the perspective of mileage running.  As I’m not really into mileage running, I’m much more interested in the fact that this deal allows us to visit a couple of places that are quite high on our travel list – Vietnam and Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

The fare doesn’t get me to Cambodia; it only gets me home from Cambodia and onto Vietnam.  Also, it only allows you to book that one way flight from PNH-DOH-SGN for $245 if you have less than a 24 hour layover in DOH.  The price bumps up to $430 if you take a stopover (anything longer than 24 hrs) in DOH.  Being based in Doha and not really feeling like back to back 11 hr and 7 hr flights I opted for the ‘pricey’ option of a 2 month stopover in DOH.  This allows us to spread out our 2 trips and not just hang out on planes all day (although I might enjoy that – Dawn, not so much, even in business class).  We’re headed to Cambodia in mid-November and Vietnam in mid-January.

So after I booked our flight from PNH-DOH (November) and our flight from DOH-SGN (January), it was time to figure out how to get to Cambodia, and how to get home from Vietnam.  Originally, I thought I’d be able to book SGN-DOH-PNH (the opposite of the first flight I booked) for the ‘deal’ price, but I couldn’t get it to work out.  Eventually, I gave up and just booked PNH-DOH-SGN again to return from Vietnam in January.  Since PNH is in Cambodia and not Vietnam we’ll have to book ourselves a separate, cheap flight from wherever we are in Vietnam at the time back to PNH before our long haul business class flight home to DOH.  Once we arrive in DOH, we can either hop on the next segment of the flight to SGN or we can just conveniently miss that segment of the flight… and then head back to our apartment in Doha.  As that last segment from DOH-SGN isn’t as important to us, I was able to book the ticket for the lower, non-stopover price of $245.

So, now that our return from Vietnam is taken care of, I just need to figure out our ticket to Cambodia.  Since the main focus of the trip is to visit the ruins of Angkor near Siem Reap (REP) I’ll probably book our flights from DOH-REP.  That ticket is looking like it’ll cost around $700.  We’ll spend a few days there, and then fly the 45 mins to PNH (about $130).  There will be plenty to see and do to fill up a 4-5 day trip between both places.

For the Vietnam trip, with both the long haul flights there and back booked, all we have left to figure out is what to do with our 10 days there.  We’ll certainly spend a few days in Ho Chi Minh City, and since Halong Bay is on Dawn’s list, we’ll most likely head north for a few days as well.  With the time left over we may visit a beach town or maybe we’ll take a quick flight over to Bangkok or somewhere else in Thailand.  The possibilities are almost endless, and that’s what I really love about planning these trips.  So many options.

Here’s what the Cambodia trip looks like:

Cambodia - DOH-REP-PNH-DOH

Cambodia in November: DOH-REP-PNH-DOH

And here’s what the Vietnam trip looks like for now:

Vietnam:  DOH-SGN-PNH-DOH

Vietnam in January: DOH-SGN-PNH-DOH

They look the pretty much the same, don’t they?

In the end, this is what the end cost of the two trips will most likely look like without any additional SE Asia flights for the Vietnam trip:

Cambodia
DOH-REP     Economy     $700
REP-PNH     Economy     $130
PNH-DOH    Business       $215 (split between the two segments)

Vietnam
DOH-SGN     Business     $215 (split between the two segments)
SGN-PNH     Economy   $150
PNH-DOH    Business     $245 (including the ‘unused’ portion back to SGN)

Total flight costs for 2 vacations:  $1655/person

The price will probably jump a bit as we start to add intra-Southeast Asia flights for the Vietnam trip, but not significantly.  It’s was a little bit of work to figure out all of the right flights that were needed, but it was worth the time and effort.  It may seem like a lot of money to some, but when you consider we’re flying long haul business class on one of the top airlines in the world, it’s a pretty good deal.  It’s nothing earth shattering, but I’m pretty excited about it.  Booking similar trips in economy without the ‘deal’ flights would cost about $2400/person.  The normal cost of flying Business class on those same trips would be about $5400/person.

It seems like our list of places we want to visit while living here in Doha is constantly changing (as my mind has a tendency to change quite a bit), but I’m pretty excited that I was able to jump on a deal for a couple of places that were on our travel list from the very beginning.

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A Travel Blog Years in the Making

Like all grand plans I have, this blog has finally come to fruition after living inside of my head for quite some time.  Whether it’s starting a blog or buying a big screen TV, the ideas in my head must be analyzed, scrutinized, and contemplated upon for long periods of time before I’m able to make the commitment to actually pursue that effort.  It takes me way longer to let it toss and turn in my head than it should to actually just complete the task, but that’s not how I do things.

About the only thing I rarely hesitate on is travel.  Fly to Seattle and back in a day?  Sure, why not.  Travel for over 3 days by boat and plane just to visit a mostly deserted continent?  Sounds like a good time.  Move halfway across the world?  Let’s do this.  And that’s where I am today.  Who knows what will come next.

The Doha Skyline - My New City

The Doha Skyline – My New City

When the idea of starting a travel blog starting bouncing around in my head a couple of years ago, the force behind it was much different.  Years before the idea of starting a travel blog idea came about, I stumbled on an article on BudgetTravel.com about a guy who had quit his job to travel the world for a year.  He worked as a TV producer for HBO, and had been sent on an overseas assignment in Asia.  He met a couple of guys who had taken a year off from working to travel.  At first, the idea seemed crazy to him, but a few months after returning to the States he got the urge to do the same thing.  In order to justify the trip to himself, he decided he’d take along a video camera and make a documentary about the experience – both his personal experience as well as a number of round the world (RTW) travelers’ experiences he met along the way.  When I got the chance to watch A Map for Saturday I was exposed to a whole different type of travel.

Traveling around the world with just a backpack for a year or so was an incredible idea, and really seemed to fit me.  Of course, even with great ideas there are downsides or at the very least, opportunity costs.  First of all, it would be an extremely expensive trip no matter how often I couchsurfed or how cheaply I ate.  To be honest, though, this wasn’t a major concern of mine.  Sure, I’d have to save quite a bit, and then drain the savings I had already accumulated, but there will always be money to be made somewhere, somehow.  Second, there was the job factor.  When I first starting contemplating a RTW trip, I was working in Florida and really enjoying my job.   My co-workers were a great group of people, and I enjoyed the work.  Of course, the job couldn’t beat hiking Machu Picchu, visiting Petra, or diving the Great Barrier Reef, but it certainly paid better.  I did feel confident that if I were to quit my job I would either be able to rejoin my old company or find something similar when I came back.  However, I did know that a year away would put me at a disadvantage in my career path.  Sure, there’d be some skills I’d gain on the road, but I’d definitely be a few steps behind when jumping back into the corporate world.  Thirdly, I was also in the process of buying a house.  At the time I figured I’d be in Florida for the long haul, and the real estate market seemed to be bottoming out a bit (boy was I wrong).  It seemed like the right time to buy a house before prices started to rise again (did I mention I was wrong?).  None of these things in themselves convinced me not to make the plunge, but put them together, and they at least got me to delay the decision.  

While the idea of world travel continued to bounce around in my head, as tends to happen, life went on.  I soon met a girl, and the idea of world travel got put on the back burner for a little while.  This girl happened to live in Kansas City, and I was living in Orlando at the time.  As we dated I soon found out that she loved travel as much as I did.  We began hopping on planes every month or so to visit each other.  I love to fly, and the idea of heading to the airport to go see her made me love flying even more.    Eventually it was time for one of us to move, and for many reasons it was an easy decision which one of us it was going to be.  Soon, I was on my way to Kansas City.

I once asked her, if she had the money to do so, would she quit her job and travel the world for a year.  When she replied, “Absolutely”, I knew she was the girl for me.  We got married last spring, and late last year we had decided we were going to make this RTW trip happen.  We were going to save our money for the next year, and take a six month long trip around the world starting in January of 2014.  It was quite a ways off, but it was about the right time to make sure we focused on saving for such a large trip and to start getting a rough idea of where we wanted to go.

At the beginning of this year, while continuing to procrastinate the planning of our RTW trip, I ran into a coworker I had graduated college with.  He had just moved his family back from Doha, Qatar after spending 2.5 years there.  I had seen pictures of the trips he had taken while working there, and I started asking him about both his travel and job experiences.  It turned out that they needed a replacement for his position in Doha, and suggested that if I was interested to talk to my wife about it.  Long before she met me, she had wanted to live somewhere outside of the States for a year or so.  If she had her choice of locations, I don’t think that Doha would be at the top of her list, but this certainly was an opportunity to look into.  It would mean putting our RTW trip on an indefinite hold, but it would allow us to see many of the places we wanted to visit on our RTW trip anyway.  We wouldn’t get to experience the slow pace of travel I was looking for on the RTW trip, but not only would I not have to quit my job, I’d be able to gain some incredible experience that should help me in my career later on.  With a travel stipend, our modest stash of miles and points, and the fact that many of the places we want to visit are so much closer and cheaper to get to over here our travel could be done quite economically.  We decided we’d go for it if the decision makers that be decided I was the right guy for the job.  The process of knowing if we were going to get to move or not stretched out over a month or so and was a bit up and down.  Eventually, though, we had our plane tickets and started the packing and moving planning process.

I’ve been here exactly a month now, and I really enjoy it.  It’s certainly different, but I haven’t experienced the huge culture shock that everyone seems to suggest I should be experiencing.  I don’t know if that’s because the culture shock they experienced doesn’t really affect me, I just haven’t noticed it, or I’ve just gotten lucky so far.    But again, I’m just a month in.  We’ll see how things are going in six months or so.

I’ve got plans and goals for this blog, but I’ll leave those for another post.  I enjoy hearing people’s stories on how they got to where they are in life, and so before I shared those plans and goals, I wanted to give you a little of my travel back story.  I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and there will be more travel related posts coming soon.

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