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Monday I flew Allegiant Air in a Giant Seat, one of their First Class-sized seats up front, from Los Angeles to Honolulu.

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Allegiant Air is a Las-Vegas-based low-cost carrier that survives by selling bundled hotel-air-entertainment packages, charging a fee for almost everything, and keeping its costs low.

It was a First Class-sized seat at an economy-class price. Was it worth flying a budget-carrier with no frequent flyer program just to save a few bucks and get a bigger seat?

  • How was the check-in, security, boarding, food, and service with Allegiant?
  • What perks came with a Giant Seat?
  • Which Giant Seat should you choose (they have different leg room and recline)?

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Last week, I did a 2 day/1 night hike on the Great Wall of China near Beijing that included 10 miles of hiking on the Wall, several meals, transportation, lodging, and a massage. My brother and I paid $370 per person.

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Hiking the Great Wall was one of my best travel experiences ever. The history, the scenery, the outdoor exercise, and spending time with my brother were a potent combination.

I went with Great Wall Hiking (which gave me no discount and doesn’t know I’m writing this review), and I enjoyed the tour immensely. I wish it had been cheaper, and there may be similar options out there that are cheaper. I’ll give my experiences to help you plan your Great Wall adventure if you head to Beijing. (See also How the 72 Hour Transit Without Visa Works in Beijing, China and Award Space Home from the Great Wall.)

  • What was the itinerary?
  • How was the service?

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I just arrived in Los Angeles after 10 hours flying Asiana First Class on its brand new A380. I booked my seat last month for 70,000 United miles (at pre-devaluation prices using this trick.)

This is a really important trip report because Asiana First Class is a true luxury product that is extremely easy to book with miles!

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Champagne wishes & caviar realities in Asiana First

Award space on the Asiana A380 is wide open in Business Class and First Class between Los Angeles and Seoul, especially at the last minute. Here’s a search for 4 passengers between Seoul and Los Angeles for the next two months. The blue and green days all have award space in Business or First Class or both for 4 passengers on the same flight.

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This flight has 4+ Business Class and 4+ First Class award seats on the same Asiana A380.

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I very much enjoyed my Asiana First Class experience, though there are some things the airline can improve.

  • How was the seat, bed, food, service, lounge, and airport experience?

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Visa entry requirement change frequently. I will not update this post. Check travel.state.gov for the latest information.

I just spent 70 hours in the Beijing area without a visa using China’s 72-hour Visa-Free Transit rules.

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As a recap, you can stay in China for 72 hours without a visa if:

  • you fly into Beijing (PEK), Shanghai (PVG or SHA), Guangzhou (CAN), or Chengdu (CTU)
  • fly out of the same airport
  • stay in the city/province the entire time
  • arrive with an onward ticket to a third country
  • departing less than 72 hours after arrival
  • hold a passport from one of 51 countries including the United States

The key one not to overlook is that “third country” rule. You cannot fly into Beijing from one country and fly right back to that same country. For instance, New York to Beijing to Los Angeles doesn’t work. New York to Tokyo to Beijing to New York does work.

  • How did the 72 Hour Visa Free Transit work?
  • What did we do upon arrival?
  • Are Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau “third countries” for the purpose of the visa?
  • What did we squeeze into 70 hours?
  • Do I recommend using the 72-Hour Visa-Free Transit program?

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A few days ago, I hiked to Sai Wan Village and Sheung Luk Stream in Hong Kong on the advice of an American friend who’d done the hike last year. The hike, lunch, and cliff jumping made for my favorite day of activities in Hong Kong and a stark contrast from the urban activities that dominate Central and Kowloon.

The Sai Wan Village hike is quite famous with even a CNN article on the topic, but I couldn’t find one site with good directions, photos, and maps of the hike to Sai Wan village and Sheung Luk stream, so hopefully this post can be that resource as well as a trip report to inspire you for your next trip to Hong Kong.

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Jumping in at Sheung Luk

The hike is an easy 45 minutes to one hour in each direction along a fully paved path. The main issue is the omnipresent heat and humidity in Hong Kong.

Along the way, you’re treated to views of the High Island Reservoir, and at the end of the path is a spectacular beach and ocean, a fishing village with delicious Chinese food, and a stream with natural pools and waterfalls.

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High Island Reservoir, from the trail
  • How do you get to the trailhead?
  • How do you get to the waterfall?
  • What are your return options?
  • Plus more pictures.

A few days ago I flew from Honolulu to Guam in United economy and got myself five seats in a row, so I could sleep during the flight.

Even at 6’4″, I only needed four consecutive seats for sleep. I raised the arm rests, collected a few pillows and blankets, and had some great sleep for a few hours after take off. Then I switched off with my brother and he napped for a few hours.

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  • How did I maximize my chances of getting an entire row?
  • How does a row in economy compare to one First Class seat?
  • How was my sleep?

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Yesterday, I flew a United 777-200 equipped with the carrier’s latest entertainment concept: I could freely stream hundreds of movies and TV shows on my own laptop or United’s iOS app. (Hemispheres magazine said that Android compatibility is coming soon.)

I had never seen a system like it, and it seems like the wave of the future as it’s much lighter for United to remove all of its monitors and let us use our own.

I tested out the system by watching the fantastic Searching for Sugar Man documentary on my laptop on my flight from Honolulu to Guam.

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  • How did I like the personal streaming entertainment?
  • What would I improve?
  • How many TV shows and movies were available?
  • Was there internet on my flight?
  • What has United done with all its monitors?

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This is the fifth installment of a round-the-world trip report that started here. We pick up in Hong Kong.

In late February, I flew into Hong Kong International Airport for a 23 hour layover that I spent in Macau. (Don’t worry, I’m going to Hong Kong proper in a few weeks!)

I flew into Hong Kong in Cathay Pacific First Class and out of Hong Kong the next day in Cathay Pacific Business Class. Waiting for that Business Class flight, I headed to The Wing, which is Cathay Pacific’s flagship lounge.

Anyone flying Cathay Pacific in a premium cabin can access the lounge, but I wasn’t sure if I’d be allowed into the First Class area since my only First Class flight had landed the day before.

I presented my First Class boarding pass upon entering the lounge and asked: “I flew in in First Class. Can I access the First Class part of the lounge?”

I was allowed into the First Class area and headed straight for the dining room.

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The dining room is large, but the tables are packed in tightly. The room was practically empty, so I would have preferred fewer tables for a more spacious feel.

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A waiter came and presented the a la carte menu, which featured standard Western breakfast dishes like eggs, sausage, bacon, and hash browns.

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I don’t like eggs, so I asked for an order of every side dish, all of which I love. I also ordered an orange juice.

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While I waited for my a la carte order, I checked out the breakfast buffet. The breakfast buffet has pastries, meats, and several Chinese dishes.

  • How is the food?
  • The lounge?
  • The bar?
  • The Cabanas?

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This is the eighth installment of a round-the-world trip report that started here. We pick up in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Angkor Wat is a 900 year old Hindu-turned-Buddhist temple complex just outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia. It is the world’s largest religious monument, and the number one tourist attraction in Cambodia.

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Angkor Wat is actually just the most famous of many temples in the area that are collectively known as the Angkor Temples, named after Angkor, the seat of the former Khmer Empire.

The Angkor Temples were the highlight of my six-week trip around the world in Cathay Pacific, Singapore, and Lufthansa First Class this winter. I spent four days in Siem Reap, going to the Angkor Temples for part of every day. Based on my experiences, I have suggestions for the best ways to enjoy your time in Siem Reap and the Angkor temples.

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  • When should you go?
  • How much time should you budget?
  • What miles should you use to get there?
  • How should you see the temples?
  • Where should you stay?
  • What else is there to do around Siem Reap?
  • Plus dozens of pictures!

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Saturday night I had the pleasure of flying Hawaiian Airlines First Class from Honolulu to Las Vegas.

I had an internet outage at home that day, so I headed to the airport about four hours early to try to get some work done on more reliable wifi.

Hawaiian Airlines has the largest check in area of any airline at Honolulu International Airport. When I arrived, I didn’t immediately see a First Class check in area, so I just used a kiosk to print my boarding pass.

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I did see a First Class and Premier check in right after that, and I went over to ask whether my ticket entitled me to lounge access.

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The agent’s answer was hilarious and prophetic: “Yes, but it’s more of a glorified waiting area.”

  • How was the lounge?
  • How was the flight?
  • How was the service?
  • How was the food?

3 47

This is the seventh installment of a round-the-world trip report that started here. We pick up in Cambodia.

I landed at Siem Reap International Airport and got my Cambodia visa on arrival. (Make sure to have $20 in cash and a passport-sized photo. Better yet, check current requirements.)

I had booked my first night at Le Méridien Angkor to test it out and because my preferred hostel was sold out.

Le Méridien Angkor is a Category 2 SPG property, which means it costs 4,000 Starpoints for a free night Sunday through Thursday and only 3,000 points for a weekend night.

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I was staying on a weeknight. Instead of booking a free night, I decided to book a Cash & Points night for 2,000 points + $35.

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Compared to a free night, this was like “buying” 2,000 points back for 1.75 cents each, which I was happy to do to stretch my super-valuable Starpoints balance.

Using points was the way to go with a paid night at the hotel going for around $140. (Every price you see in Cambodia is in dollars. Riel are really only used by tourists for change when a price is less than $1. Conveniently when I went, the exchange rate was basically exactly 4,000 riel to the dollar.)

Outside the airport, I was offered a taxi for $10 or a scooter for $3. I pack light, and the scooter sounded more fun, so saving $7 was an easy decision!

Le Méridien Angkor is about 8 miles from the airport, 3 miles from Angkor Wat, and 1 mile outside the heart of Siem Reap.

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Whether the location is a positive or negative depends on whether you want to be in the heart of the action or in a quieter area. Transportation options are so quick and cheap that I think it doesn’t matter much.

I arrived at the hotel in the early afternoon on a beautiful day.

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Entrance
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The Grounds
  • How was the room?
  • How was the hotel’s food?
  • How were the grounds?
  • How was the service?
  • Do I recommend Le Meridien as the place to stay when visiting Angkor Wat?

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This is the sixth installment of a round-the-world trip report that started here. We pick up in Singapore.

As the title of this series indicates, my trip was built around flying Cathay Pacific, Singapore, and Lufthansa First Class. I booked those long flights well before I had a plan for my time on the ground.

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When I looked into how I wanted to spend my time in Southeast Asia, I decided to spend eight days in Cambodia. I had to get there and back from Singapore, and the way to do that seemed obvious to me based on previous experience in Southeast Asia: low-cost carriers.

Similarly I decided to spend three days in Slovenia to get back to the Balkans, and I had to get there from London. I knew it was another chance to save my airline miles and book a low-cost carrier.

Both flights could have been booked with traditional airline miles like United miles or British Airways Avios. But they would have been inefficient redemptions where I was saving less than 1 cent per mile used. Instead I saved those airline miles for redemptions when I can get 2 cents of value or more. And I redeemed Arrival miles earned on my Arrival World MasterCard, which can be used for free flights on any airline. (Meeting the card’s spending requirement unlocks $500 in free flights.)

How can you find low-cost carriers on routes you want to fly? How can you book them? What fees do you need to be aware of? Are low cost carriers bearable?

8 39

This is the fifth installment of a round-the-world trip report that started here. We pick up in Macau, China.

I like Las Vegas in small doses, so I’ve always wanted to check out Macau, one of China’s two special autonomous regions (the other is Hong Kong). Macau is famous for being the biggest gambling destination in the world with revenues about seven times larger than the Las Vegas Strip’s in 2013.

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Macau and Hong Kong, 37 Miles Apart

I had heard that comparing Macau to Vegas was a mistake because while there’s a lot to do in Vegas from shopping to shows to just people watching, Macau is just gambling. I had even heard you could see Macau and get sick of it in a day.

That meant this was the perfect trip for me to go to Macau because I only had 20 hours in Hong Kong as part of an American Airlines award, and Macau is a short ferry ride away from Hong Kong International Airport.

I still haven’t spent time in Hong Kong itself, and I want to save it for a trip when I have several days to explore.

The day before heading to Macau, I had booked myself one night at the Grand Hyatt Macau, which usually goes for around $300 per night. The hotel is a Category 4 property, so I booked my night for free with 15,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points, the majority of which I had transferred instantly from Ultimate Rewards.

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I landed at 2:20 PM in Hong Kong, and I was feeling pretty good since I had slept eight hours on my flight from JFK in Cathay Pacific First Class.

I headed toward the ferry counters, which are well signed and before immigration. There are two ferry terminals in Macau, both of which are served from HKG for about $40. One terminal is called Macau on the north end (the Macau Peninsula) and the other, Taipa, is on the south end (on the island of Taipa.) Taipa was closer to my hotel, but I would have taken the first ferry to either because a cab from one ferry terminal to the other is only about $10.

I booked my ferry ticket for a 4 PM departure and boarded the one hour ferry to Taipa Ferry Terminal on Macau.

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How was the Grand Hyatt Macau? Is Macau worth a visit?

After a few days in New York last month, I took a 16 hour flight in Cathay Pacific First Class from New York-JFK to Hong Kong. It was the second best flight of my life (behind only Emirate First Class); I can’t recommend Cathay Pacific First Class highly enough.

That said, the ground services in New York were abysmal. (To skip them and get to the flight review, click here.) When I showed up at the Cathay Pacific check in area, I only saw Economy Class counters and this line out the door:

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An agent directed me to the First Class check in area that British Airways operates for Cathay Pacific.

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Check in and security were smooth, and I made my way to the British Airways First Class lounge.

The British Airways First Class Lounge is one of the worst First Class lounges I’ve been in.

It’s a lot better than your basic airport lounge, but it didn’t have the things First Class lounges around the world have:

  • Food to order, awesome buffets, or both
  • Waiters
  • Fantastic seating areas
  • Showers
  • Nap rooms
  • Quiet and seclusion (exclusivity)

Instead, it was a room a room with dozens of people in tight quarters who had access to a lackluster breakfast buffet and a small self-service bar.

The best parts of the morning buffet were the berries and the instant noodles.

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There was a good alcohol selection, but it was 7 AM, so I didn’t test it out.

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Everyone else in the lounge working hard, so I grabbed some fruit and cereal and used the speedy wifi to download a few shows for the flight.

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When it was almost time to board, I headed to the gate and saw the 777 waiting for me.

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Unfortunately boarding continued the theme of atrocious ground service. No queuing was evident as the mob waited. The ground staff was not able to board First Class first, and I was stuck behind 15 people on the way down the jet bridge.

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Finally, I got to the aircraft door though, and that’s where the story changes. If the ground services were worthy of Ryanair, the flight itself was worthy of the hype accorded to Cathay Pacific First Class, one of the world’s best commercial flying experiences.

Cathay Pacific 841
New York (JFK) – Hong Kong (HKG)
Depart: 9:00 AM on Thursday, February 20, 2014
Arrive: 2:20 PM on Friday, February 21, 2014
Duration: 16hr20min
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Seat: 2K (First Class)

The next 16 hours were spent relaxing, sleeping, eating, and being doted upon by an incredible crew.

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How was the seat, bed, food, entertainment, and service? (with tons of pictures)

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