9 Tips and Tricks to Start Traveling with Miles and Points

A couple of things usually happen when people realize they can use miles and points to fly around the world. First, there is the excitement at the thought of all the possibilities. Maybe you’ll go to Hawaii... or Australia... or South Africa!

Then comes the next part. The overwhelmed feeling. This is totally understandable. But, why do we feel this way?

Where does one begin? No, seriously. There is so much information out there and tons of loyalty programs that can help you earn miles and points to travel that it can be totally overwhelming.

Take a deep breath. Slow down. 

To help you navigate the miles and points world confidently, I’ve put together 9 tips and tricks to keep in mind while you learn more about this world. With these in hand, you’ll set yourself up for some amazing travel and leave the headaches behind.

1. Set Travel Goals

Etihad Airways first class cabin on the Airbus A380, known as The Apartments, is an aspirational travel goal.

Before you even start worrying about which airline to fly, where to credit your flight miles, or which credit cards to use to earn miles and points, take a step back.

Forget all about the points and credit cards for a minute and give yourself some time to figure out where you want to go and how you can to get there. These are your travel goals. It might only take a few minutes. It might take an hour. However long it takes, this is key to getting yourself on the right path so you don’t stress out down the road.

Your priorities will likely change over time, and you can always adapt your approach to miles and points as you go.

To start, come up with a list of places you want to visit. If your dream vacation spots only require relatively short flights, this will play a big rule in determining your strategy.

Next, decide your cabin preference when flying: premium cabin (business class or first class) or economy class.

If your number one goal is to explore as many places as possible, you might not care about flying in business or first class. If your goal is to book aspirational flights complete with champagne, lounge access, and nice meals, you might want to use your miles and points on fewer (but luxurious) trips.

Finally, try to think beyond the next vacation you are planning. This is especially important if you live in the US, as credit cards are the best way to earn miles and points. Each US bank each has rules that can prevent you from being approved for cards, so make sure you have a basic understanding of these rules before starting.

2. Join Frequent Flyer Programs

Once you have a rough outline of your future award travel goals, make sure you create accounts with frequent flyer programs. This is easy. Just go visit the website of any given airline to set up an account.

Think outside the box here. For those with the ability to earn transferable points (we’ll discuss this in a minute), don’t just join the loyalty programs of airlines that operate out of your home airport. Other carriers can provide some interesting redemption opportunities as well as promotions with discount award prices.

3. Start with Transferable Points

The ability to earn credit card points that can be transferred to airlines is determined by the country in which you live. This is much easier in the United States than anywhere else in the world.

Transferable points such as Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points, and SPG Starpoints are tremendously valuable. Each program partners with a number of airline partners so that you can transfer the points directly to an airline to book award flights.

Chase only operates in the United States, but Citi and American Express both offer credit cards that earn transferable points in a number of other countries including Australia, Canada, France, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, and more. The programs have different airline partners and transfer rates depending on the country.

As most people don’t earn airline miles with one carrier through work travel, transferable points are much more useful to the average person as they provide access to award flights with multiple airlines and airline alliances.

4. Be Flexible with Your Travel Dates

Flexible travel dates make finding award space easier and some airlines such as Air France/KLM even let you search multiple dates.

Booking an award ticket is different than booking a cash ticket. If you’re booking a cash ticket, the airline is always happy to give you a seat if available. However, with award travel, a limited number of seats are released by the airline for award bookings. On some dates, you won’t see any award availability.

This is why flexibility can be so helpful. When you are considering an award booking, plan ahead and be flexible. It’s important to remember that award seats won’t always be available so don’t get too frustrated when your desired flight doesn’t have award space.

If you have a range of departure and return dates, you are more likely to find award space. Additionally, if you aren't trying to book an award during the busiest travel seasons of a respective country, your chances greatly improve.

For example, booking award flights between the United States and Europe during the summer and around Christmas can be tough as tons of people are booking these flights.

To make sure you have the best chance of getting an award seat, start your award search as soon as the dates are bookable - this could be 11 to 12 months prior to the departure date.

Now, this is not to say that planning a year in advance is the only way to do this. Some airlines release award space throughout the year and some have a tendency to release award space in the last week or two prior to departure if you can book last minute.

5. Tools to Make Award Costs Easy to Find

AwardHacker makes it easy to see how many miles many award flights will cost.

Check an airline's award chart to find the required number of miles for a particular route.

If you have transferrable points, you can see check your best booking options by using one of the several tools. These tools can help you determine which airline partner will be the best choice for you.

I generally use AwardAce and AwardHacker as you can select your departure and destination airports, class of service, and round-trip or one-way bookings. You will then be shown the number of miles required by tons of frequent flyer programs.

For example, if you search for New York City (JFK) to Frankfurt (FRA), you will be provided the number of miles required by different airline programs and on which airlines you can book. In this example, you could use Asiana Airlines miles to book a flight on their Star Alliance partner Lufthansa.

Keep in mind, neither of these tools is perfect. They don’t always include every airline frequent flyer program and, occasionally, they won’t provide the correct number of miles required. That being said, they are still great places to start your search to give you an idea of your options.

You’ll also notice that they both allow you to sort by transferable points program. These are US-based tools so the programs listed are US transferable points programs with their associated airline partners. Don’t rely on this section if you don't live in the US.

6. Book One-Way Awards to Make Your Miles Go Further

Most airlines don’t require you to book round-trip itineraries when booking award flights. If you have points in a couple of different frequent flyer programs, you could book your outbound flight with one program and the return with another program.

Many airlines charge exactly half of a round-trip award for a one-way award. Unless booking a round-trip award allows you to book a stopover (we’ll discuss stopovers later) and you need one, one-way awards can be a great way to book flights.

Occasionally, you won’t see award availability from your departure city, especially when booking long-haul flights on international carriers. In this case, you might need to search for the long-haul segment from the gateway airport then book a cheap cash or award ticket with a different program to get to that airport.

In other cases, you will be able to find the award space you want on both segments individually, but the online system won't let you book both segments together as one award without charging you extra miles. When this happens, you might be able to call the airline to book over the phone without sacrificing the extra miles.

For example, I wanted to use Delta SkyMiles to book a flight from Washington, DC (DCA) to London (LHR) and connect in New York City (JFK) so I could try the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at JFK. I searched on Delta’s site but couldn’t find the award space I wanted from DCA.

However, when I searched New York City to London, I found award space on the Virgin Atlantic flight to London. I then searched for an award flight from Washington, DC to New York City and found the required award space.

Now, all I had to do was call Delta or ask them via online chat to book the trip as one award by providing the flight dates, flight numbers, and class of service. It was an extra step, but took no more than a few extra seconds to find the award space on each segment. Booking through a Delta representative took (maybe) 15 minutes.

To return, I booked a separate award with Air France/KLM Flying Blue miles on a KLM flight. While KLM is a partner of Delta, it required fewer Flying Blue miles than SkyMiles to book the flight which made it the ideal choice.

7. Book Award Flights with Partner Airlines

Airline alliances give you access to award flights with airlines across the globe.

As you can see from the Delta example above, having airline miles with an airline does NOT mean you can only book award tickets for their flights.

There are three major airline alliances: Oneworld, Star Alliance, and SkyTeam. If you have miles with a Oneworld airline, you can book award flights on flights operated by their Oneworld partners. This applies to each airline alliance.

Additionally, airlines also form one-on-one partnerships with other airlines. American Airlines, for example, is a member of Oneworld but also has an individual partnership with Etihad Airways.

Speaking of Etihad, they are not a member of an airline alliance but have formed individual partnerships with a number of airlines around the world. Alaska Airlines is another carrier that has not joined an alliance but has an extensive network of airline partners.

These alliances are also very useful if you when you book cash tickets as many of these partnerships allow you to earn miles with a frequent flyer program that's different than the airline you are flying.

For example, if I paid for an ANA business class ticket and have the option of earning miles with any of their Star Alliance partners. In this case, I have chosen to credit this flight to Asiana Airlines. This can be especially useful for international business travelers who want to earn elite status with an airline that might not operate on all the routes they need but partner with airlines that do.

8. Use Stopovers and Open Jaws

If you’re flying to another continent, you might as well get the most out of the experience by utilizing stopovers and open jaws.

Stopovers are stays of over 24 hours in a connecting city. In fact, with a stopover, you could visit a city for a week before continuing to your destination. With an open jaw, you would arrive in one city but return home from another city.

These are both great ways to see multiple places with one award booking. Let’s take a look at a simple example.

Fly from Chicago to Munich (stopover)
Fly from Munich to Vienna (destination)
Take a train to Prague (open jaw)
Fly from Prague to Chicago

With an open jaw, you are free to get to the city from which you will depart however you choose. You can buy a cheap flight, take a train, drive, etc. That part is up to you.

Keep in mind, each airline has their own rules regarding stopovers and open jaws. In fact, not all airlines allow them.

United Airlines, Japan Airlines, Cathay Pacific, and Alaska Airlines are some examples of airlines that allow stopovers and open jaws.

Remember, it’s the frequent flyer program you are using to book the award that determines whether and how you can use a stopover and/or open jaw. This means if you use United miles to fly on Swiss Air and Turkish Airlines on one award, you need to know United’s rules not those of Swiss Air or Turkish Airlines.

Here are a few common stopover rules by airline:

  • Air Canada Aeroplan: Up to 2 stopovers; Up to 1 open jaw; rules vary by route
  • Alaska Airlines: 1 Stopover on one-way awards; only one partner airline per award
  • All Nippon Airways (ANA): Up to 1 stopover; 1 open jaw; rules vary by route and award type
  • Japan Airlines: 3 stopovers; Up to 2 open jaws; rules vary by award type
  • Singapore Airlines: 4 stopovers; 1 open jaw; rules vary by award type
  • United Airlines: 1 stopovers; Up to 2 open jaws; stopover is really a free intra-region one-way flight - known as the Excursionist Perk

I’ll have a post in the future with more details about stopover and open jaw policies, but this gives you a good idea of what to expect.

9. Be Aware of Taxes and Fees on Award Tickets

When booking cash tickets, you might have noticed there are a number of taxes and fees on many tickets. Taxes are determined by the country (and locality) from which you are flying, but some airlines also add carrier imposed-surcharges.

Unlike with the stopovers and open jaw policies mentioned above, a ticket's surcharges are determined by the airline with which you fly rather than the frequent flyer program you use to book the award ticket. Some frequent flyer programs will pass on those carrier-imposed surcharges on award tickets while others, such as United Airlines, do not pass on these surcharges.

British Airways and Lufthansa flights are notorious for having high taxes and fees. Part of this is due to local taxation in their hub cities, but most of it imposed by them.

If you book an award flight that departs from Brazil, Hong Kong, or the Philippines, you’ll notice that you won’t be hit with carrier-imposed surcharges even on British Airways. These surcharges aren’t legal in these three countries.

You’ll also notice that domestic flights within the United States and Australia don’t have these surcharges either.

Final thoughts

Let's get straight to the points...

Through the strategic use of credit cards that earn transferable points or airline miles and crediting your paid flights to the right program, you can earn the miles and points needed for your next big vacation.

This is by no means a comprehensive guide, but these 9 tips and tricks should make the learning process a bit easier.

If you have any questions, ask them below or email me.

See you in the sky!

A Morning In The President's Helicopter: A Behind The Scenes Look

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to President? To have your own helicopter - Marine One - take you wherever you need (or want) to go?

I know I have. How nice it must be to skip right by traffic jams and take a chopper wherever you need to go.

Needless to say, I was stoked to take a tour of Marine One a couple weeks ago and see how the President travels.

You're probably wondering how in the hell I stumbled into this amazing opportunity. Well, you might not realize this, but I'm kind of a big deal. And by that I mean I have a very generous friend who does cool things for a living who took pity on me and my fascination with all things that fly.

A few months ago, this friend of mine offered to get me a tour of Marine One  - He's definitely getting a bottle of whiskey for this.

I provided all the required info for a security check... then wondered what I'd done in my life that could cause an issue. But, hey, I wasn't flagged for anything. Victory!

Welcome to Quantico

After much anticipation, the tour day finally arrived. A group of us would get to take a behind the scenes tour of Marine One and the president's support team helicopters at the Quantico Marine Corps Base.

Naturally, I was running late that morning and rushing out the door. Nothing like a little adrenaline to kick things into gear.

I arrived at the base a few minutes early (victory #2!), provided my ID to a police officer at the gate, and told him I was there for an HMX-1 tour.

He replied, "I have no idea what you're talking about." I thought it was a joke. Ha. Ha.
It wasn't.

Lucky for me, my buddy got on the phone with him and straightened it all out. Hmm… maybe I’m not quite as big of a deal I thought.

Marine One: Going Behind The Scenes

So, we made it through all the security procedures and were finally allowed to see Marine One.

It. Was. Glorious. A massive hangar full of the President's helicopters.

Naturally, I was excited to jump in and take a joyride around the base. Yeah, that definitely didn't happen. If you were wondering, they take security quite seriously. If I didn't understand that from the outset, the two armed escorts made that abundantly clear.

They did, however, let us climb into Marine One to see its new interior. After seeing the 1980s interior of another one of the helicopters, this updated to a very modern 1990s style seemed like quite the upgrade!

No one is mistaking this for the glitz and glamor of Emirates first class. Still, it's actually much more spacious than you would expect for a helicopter. There's plenty of space on the couch/bench for staff and there are two individual seats - one for the president, obviously. Even the individual seats aren't that spacious. Bigger than economy class, but nothing crazy.

Oh, one more thing. They make you take off your shoes to enter Marine One. Wouldn't want to ruin the luxurious carpet! I like to think my feet left an indelible mark on Marine One.

If you're wondering why I'm not sharing any pictures of the interior, it's because that's a BIG no-no. And when your armed Marine escort says no. ya listen!

As the Marines often say, “Leave only footprints, take only memories.” Okay, that might not be what they say, but they probably were thinking it.

After touring the President’s helicopters, we were off to the next part of our tour - the V-22 Osprey support helicopters.
 

Presidential Support Helicopters

For only $90 million, you can buy your very own V-22 Osprey. - Image courtesy of Jeff Brownson, The Points Consultants

Once out of the secure facility, we were free to run wild.

If you like rollercoasters or are up for an adventure, the V-22 Osprey is your kind of helicopter. This thing is amazing. Can you imagine a helicopter flying from DC to Chicago in 90 minutes?! Well, you don't have to imagine it. The Osprey does it. Seriously, commercial aircraft take 90 minutes to get to Chicago from DC. It'd be a fun race!

Now, I don't know how I would feel after such a ride. I was told the pilots like to have quite a bit of fun while flying which can make for a rough initiation for newbies. Would I like to try it? You bet. Would I cry? Maybe.
 

Sitting in the cockpit of a V-22 Osprey. I'm not even moving and he's protecting the landing gear. No trust.

Once inside the Osprey, you realize that it's about performance, not comfort. It's bare bones. But, they can do amazing things like refuel while in-flight.

Final Thoughts: Marine One Is Awesome

Let's get straight to the points...

I've seen some pretty cool things in the last couple of years - mostly thanks to miles and points - and, while I might make jokes, this was one of coolest things I've ever done. 

Not only are Marine One and the Ospreys amazing in and of themselves, but the amount of work that goes into maintaining these machines and running this operation is simply stunning.

It might not be as easy to book a tour as it is to get a first class seat on Emirates but with the right friend, you just might be able to make it happen!
 

Earn Status Or Max Miles From Your Flight: The ANA Business Class Deal

On Saturday, I talked about booking a business class ticket on All Nippon Airways (ANA) for $675 roundtrip. This fare popped up and was gone within a few hours. For the lucky few of us who actually managed to find dates that worked and completed a booking, we must now figure out where to credit the miles we earn for the flights.

Usually, I'm focused on how to use credit cards to my advantage to earn miles and points since it is often the most cost-effective way to do so. However, if you book a cash ticket on a domestic or international flight, you want to make sure you credit the miles to a frequent flyer program you'll use.

Yes, you have options. You are NOT locked into the loyalty program of the airline you are flying. If you prefer, you can choose one of their partner airlines and credit the miles you'd earn to that program.

Frequent Flyer Program: Choosing The Right One

Before you decide which airline loyalty program to use, you have a few things to consider:

  1. Are you trying to earn status with a particular airline? If so, can this flight help you?
  2. How many redeemable miles will you earn and then use toward a future award flight?
  3. If redeemable miles are your priority, which airline miles are you most likely to use before they expire?

The Swiss Air business class lounge has a great view of the tarmac.

Which of these variables is most important to you will be determined by several factors. If you fly regularly on cash tickets, particularly if you do so for work, earning status with a particular airline will often be the number one concern. This is particularly true if you are flying internationally in economy class and want lounge access during your travels.

If you are like most people, earning status is probably pretty low on your priority list since earning with a company paying for it costs a nice chunk of change and involves a lot of flying. In this case, earning redeemable miles in a program you can and will use to book award flights (my favorite!) should be your goal.

ANA Business Class: Where To Credit This Deal?

That brings us back to the amazing ANA business class fare deal. If you regularly fly with Star Alliance partners such as United, Air Canada, Lufthansa, ANA (of course), etc., crediting the miles to your preferred program is going to be your first priority so you can earn status more easily.

Specifically, earning high enough status with a Star Alliance carrier to provide you Star Alliance Gold status will be important. For example, United Airlines Premier Gold status gives you Star Alliance Gold status which provides access to business class lounges and a bunch of other benefits when you are flying internationally even when you're in economy class.

Now, if you're looking for the best airline to credit these flights so that you can get a ton of redeemable miles, you can get some help from Where To Credit. This site will show you what percentage of the miles flown you will earn as redeemable miles. In many cases, this will also indicate how many status miles you will earn.

The flight miles for this ANA deal will be around 20,495. The business class ticket is a Z fare class so let's look at a few of our options.

SAS EuroBonus: Earn Star Gold Status

SAS EuroBonus could be a quick way for you to earn Star Gold status. - Image courtesy of SAS

The quickest path to Star Gold might be through the Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) EuroBonus program. SAS is not the most well-known airline in the US, but they operate routes to the US from Copenhagen, Oslo, and Stockholm.

To earn status, you need to earn 45,000 Basic Points. This ANA booking will earn 200% of your flight miles which means you can reach 40,990 Basic Points which is just 4,010 Basic Points from EuroBonus Gold. With that, you will have earned your Star Gold status and have access to Star Alliance business class lounges and a bunch of other perks.

Unlike many other airlines, SAS does not partner with any of the transferable points programs such as Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points, or SPG Starpoints.

This makes earning more redeemable points more difficult, so this option is probably best left to those who want a quick way to earn Star Gold status.

Aegean Airlines Miles+Bonus: Maintain Star Gold Status

Aegean Airlines is a regional airline based in Greece, but it is a favorite of many who want to earn and/or maintain Star Alliance Gold status. Aegean requires 72,000 miles on Star Alliance partners to earn Miles+Bonus Gold, which grants Star Alliance Gold, so it's not a super easy path to status.

However, this ANA business class flight will earn at a rate of 200% in crediting to Aegean Airlines which means you will receive roughly 40,990 status miles and redeemable miles with Aegean. That's over half way to Star Gold status.

Where Aegean really shines is if you already have Miles+Bonus Gold status. This ANA fare deal is even better since you only need 24,000 miles with Star Alliance partners to maintain your Aegean Miles+Bonus status. With this booking, you'll earn nearly twice as many miles needed to requalify!

For my friend, Julie, this is a fantastic way go. Julie flies in economy class the vast majority of the time and having Star Gold status means she can access business class lounges to relax before flights even though she's not flying business class.

Not only could she easily requalify and earn a bunch of redeemable miles, but she could also transfer SPG Starpoints to Aegean to give her account a boost. When you consider the SPG transfer bonus of 5,000 miles, transferring 20,000 SPG Starpoints is a great way to go!

Like SAS, it's not a commonly used program in the US, but it is a solid way to earn Star Gold status, an amazing way to maintain Star Gold status, and even has some interesting redemption options.

Asiana Club: Earn Redeemable Miles

As I don't have much use for Star Gold status like my friend Julie, earning miles to use toward my next award ticket is the priority for me. That means I'm looking at Asiana Club.

Asiana Club is another airline loyalty program that's not commonly used in the US (do see a pattern emerging?) but has great redemption options when booking with their Star Alliance partners.

If you credited the ANA deal to Asiana Club, you would earn 125% of the flight miles. That would provide you with 25,619 redeemable Asiana miles. This might not be as many as you'd earn if you credited your flight to Aegean Miles+Bonus or SAS EuroBonus, but Asiana's award chart makes it worth it.

For only 50,000 Asiana miles, you can book a one-way first class award ticket to or from Europe! Asiana does pass on carrier-imposed surcharges on its award tickets which can be a bit steep on Star Alliance partners such as Lufthansa, but it is still a solid deal and might I say, totally worth it!

Not to mention the fact that Lufthansa first class is one of the best flying experiences in the world. You can even relax in the First Class Terminal in Frankfurt before your flight. Note that I didn't say "lounge", I said "terminal"!

Lufthansa has become known for their First Class Terminal souvenir ducks.

Seriously, though. It is amazing! I just flew with them and cannot wait to fly Lufthansa first class again. I feel that it might become an obsession. Also, they have sweet souvenir ducks.

If business class is more your style, you can use 40,000 Asiana miles for a one-way ticket to or from Europe. You can book a flight with one of their partners such as Austrian Airlines which is known for their inflight catering.

Imagine a trolly of appetizers rolled down the aisle then plated right in front of you. If it seems over-the-top (and awesome), you're right. It absolutely is! From the appetizers to the main course to the coffee (something else they do really well), Austrian Airlines business class is a blast.

Thanks to Asiana's partnership with SPG Starpoints, you can easily transfer points into your Asiana Club account when you're ready to book an award flight. To top it off, Bank of American provides a co-branded card with Asiana Airlines that allows you to earn Asiana miles directly.

If it seems like I'm a total fanboy about Asiana Club, it's because I am. It's basically my pet obsession of an airline loyalty program.

Final Thoughts

Let's get straight to the points...

It's rare to get amazing business class airfare deals like this ANA deal. That being said, it was a good chance to consider how you handle any paid flights you might take. While I generally book award flights, I still want to make sure I maximize my return on my paid flights.

Remember, you don't have to attach use the loyalty program of the airline you are flying. If you are flying an airline that is a member of Star Alliance such as ANA, you can attach a loyalty program number from a Star Alliance partner to help you earn more useful redeemable miles or earn status. This also applies to flights on SkyTeam airlines and oneworld airlines.

Before you make a decision, consider what you want to get out of the flight. Is it progress toward elite status because you take a lot of paid economy flights? Are you like me and prefer to get useful redeemable miles? No need to feel pressure, though. You can change the loyalty program up until you check in for your flight.

With a just a few minutes of thought, you can reap the rewards.

Need some help figuring out where to credit flights? Leave a comment below and I'll see how I can help!

See you in the sky!

Garuda Indonesia First Class Review: Luxury In The Sky

Booking Garuda Indonesia First Class With Points

In December, Garuda Indonesia set the miles and points world on fire with a 90% off award sale. Initially, I thought this must have been a translation mistake and that Garuda Indonesia meant to discount award by 10% but, in fact, they really did mean 90% off.

The one caveat, you had to book in-person or over the phone. With exactly zero Garuda offices in the US that could confirm the booking and issue my ticket, my only shot was over the phone. Many bloggers reported that it had to be done in-person and even had other people visit a Garuda Indonesia office on their behalf.

I even wrote all about my efforts to prove them all wrong and get a ticket issued over the phone. Just 45 or so phone calls to make it happen.

Did I go streaking through my neighborhood with excitement? I guess you’ll never know.

I booked a round-trip first class ticket from Amsterdam to Jakarta for 38,000 Garuda Miles that I transferred from my Citi ThankYou Points account. Of course, I didn’t have a clue how I was going to get to Europe for the first flight at that point (we'll talk about that another time).

With that, let’s dive into flying Garuda Indonesia first class experience.

Garuda’s First Class Team Reaches Out

Three days before my flight from Amsterdam to Jakarta, I received an email from Garuda Indonesia's first class team to confirm some aspects of the service provided to first class passengers.

They requested information for my pajamas (size: tall athlete), dietary restrictions (keep it healthy… hahaha), limo service (yes, please!), and connecting flights (my private jet, obviously).

In our email exchange, I was told ground service (limo, lounge access, etc.) was not included at Amsterdam Schipol Airport (AMS) but I could book it for 300 Euro.

A glimpse of a most anticipated flight on Garuda Indonesia's Boeing 777-300ER

Hard pass. Uber is easy enough.

However, I was able to reserve my limo service upon arrival at Jakarta’s Soekarno–Hatta International Airport (CGK). Additionally, I was able to provide my connecting flight info when for my return flight to Amsterdam as I would be arriving in Jakarta on Singapore Airlines.

First Class Check-in in Amsterdam

The day of my first flight with Garuda Indonesia finally arrived and it was like Christmas morning. But, seriously. I think I could have sprinted from Amsterdam to Schipol.

I arrived about 3 hours before my flight just in case I could find a way to enjoy the KLM Crowne Lounge before my flight.

I found the Garuda Indonesia first class check-in line where there was a representative waiting to greet passengers.

She welcomed me and walked me to the check-in desk where I was greeted by name. I thought I was hearing things. Are you kidding me?! I realize Garuda takes great pride in customer service but was I stalked from the moment I left my Airbnb?

My first class ticket with an unexpected bonus - a lounge invite to the KLM Crowne Lounge.

No lounge access, huh? Garuda’s check-in staff disagree. Next stop: KLM’s Crowne Lounge.

Needless to say, I was hanging out somewhere on cloud 9 when I was handed my boarding pass and a lounge invitation to the KLM Crowne Lounge. Victory!

While I could have used my Priority Pass Select membership thanks to my Chase Sapphire Reserve Card (or one of the three other Priority Pass memberships I have from other credit cards) to access another lounge, the KLM Lounge has a much better food and drink selection.

The KLM Lounge was a lovely way to spend a couple hours before my flight. There were plenty of people but the lounge is so spacious that it never felt crowded. I had plenty of space to enjoy some sparkling wine and a few snacks and it was quiet enough to do a little work.

Garuda Indonesia First Class: Amsterdam to Jakarta

Overcast skies be damned, I was excited to be on board Garuda Indonesia.

I left the lounge with plenty of time to spare hoping to board first and see the first class cabin before other passengers arrived. Boarding was delayed a bit - figures - but I was in a position to board first.

Unfortunately, by the time I was on board they had already pre-boarded some other first class passengers. I have two questions: 1) who are these special people? And 2) why was I not considered special? Don’t they know I spent all of $350 for this first class trip… maybe that doesn’t help my case.

I’m not sure if they knew I booked through the 90% off promo but that was the beginning of an interesting flight.

Settling Into My Seat

My comfy first class seat with nicer pillows than I have at home.

Once on board, each member of the crew introduced themselves as I settled into my first class suite. I checked out the amenity kit and noticed it was actually one of Garuda Indonesia’s business class amenity kits - no fancy lotions for me.

I figured this was simply a case of Garuda running out of the first class amenity kit. Stuff happens.

One of the most amusing and over-the-top aspects I’d heard about the service on Garuda Indonesia is the white glove shoe/slipper service - they actually lay out a cloth for your feet, take our shoes, put them in shoe bags, and give you slippers.

Unfortunately, they must have forgotten about me.

I jammed my feet into the slippers with little success.

Not that my size 14 Wide feet can fit in the slippers that airlines provide anyway. Apparently, they don’t have a freak size and so I look like a fool. But dammit, I’m wearing the slippers.

Hot towel service, a nice glass of Billecart - Salmon Brut Rose, and warm macadamia nuts is an excellent way to start a flight.

Not to worry, champagne would make me forget that in no time. I quickly texted my friend and champagne expert, Gilbert from God Save The Points, to see if I had chosen well with the Billecart - Salmon Brut Rose. He approved. Apparently, it’s an excellent champagne.

First Class Meal Service

Champagne and caviar. Nothing like a little first class luxury.

Once in the air, the caviar course was served (I’m not classy enough for any of this) and I tried the other champagne option, Taittinger Brut Reserve NV - just for good measure.

Gilbert was right, the Billecart is amazing so I switched back after this. I mean, if they’re pouring, who am I to turn it away?

Next up, was the appetizer. I chose Tahu tek Surabaya on the recommendation of the onboard chef (really a crew member, dressed as a chef). Other than the cucumber - I try, I just can’t get into it - it was a nice start to the meal.

I followed this with a soup course and chose the Soto ayam Mudura (a type of chicken soup), which had a quail egg in the center. I found this to be quite good.

Garuda Indonesia shows that it's possible to have a nice in-flight meal.

After that, it was on to the main course. I chose the grilled lamb cutlets and was not disappointed. All in all, I really enjoyed the multi-course meal that Garuda Indonesia served. And let’s be honest, it’s way nicer than anything I make for myself when I’m at home.

Next up was the cheese course because who doesn’t have a cheese course when eating dinner? I regularly do this at home too… but it’s just a block of cheddar.

With that, it was time for dessert. Before it was served I ducked away to use the washroom. When I returned, my table had been cleared.

No dessert was served. Nothing. Not even a piece of fruit.

I was sad so I drank more rosé champagne.

My Seat Breaks

After meal service had concluded I decided to watch a movie. Now, my seat had been rocking a bit since takeoff but that wasn’t too big of a deal, I was just stoked to be there. So, I reclined my seat to get comfortable and settle in for the movie.

I’d share what I watched but I can’t remember. Guess it wasn’t that great.

When the movie was over I attempted to recline my seat into a fully flat position to get ready for bed. Nothing happened… I then tried to sit up and the seat made a horrible noise. So, I tried reclining again… noise but no movement.

You ever feel like you’re somewhere too nice for you and then you break something? Yeah, that was awesome.

I took a minute to think about it and concluded that it wasn’t me. I was, after all, just sitting there.

I asked the lead flight attendant if she could help me figure it out. She tried to recline it, heard the horrible grinding noise, and stopped. She retrieved a flashlight and basically climbed over top of the seat to find the problem. At one point, I thought a little turbulence might toss her over the seat!

After 10 minutes, we gave up on figuring out how to fix the problem. At that point, she offered to me the only open seat in the first class cabin where I attempted to sleep but failed miserably.

This doesn’t speak to a lack of comfort but rather the fact that I get excited to fly and have trouble falling asleep. Think… five-year old opening birthday presents.

Garuda Indonesia’s Ground Service In Jakarta

Upon arrival in Jakarta, all first class passengers had two first class assistants waiting to escort them through the airport. This is seriously the most over the top (and amazing) service offered by Garuda Indonesia.

One took my passport and walked ahead to immigration so by the time I reached the security checkpoint I could just waltz on through. No big deal. The other first class assistant walked with me and made small talk along the way. She apologized for having trouble with English. Are you kidding me?! If I spoke a second language as well as she does, I’d randomly use it just to annoy friends on a daily basis!

Once through the immigration checkpoint, I was taken to an arrivals lounge to relax while my checked bag was retrieved… have I mentioned how much they spoil you?

The water and cold towels thanks to Garuda's limo service were glorious.

From there, I was escorted to my “limo” (it was a van) where I found two bottles of water and cold towels that were very much appreciated. Two minutes outside in the sweltering heat in Jakarta and you’ll know what I mean.

Amsterdam to Jakarta Recap

The staff on the ground on both ends of the trip were very friendly and quite competent. The flight was frustrating because I had such high expectations - I’m not sure they could have been any higher.

So you don’t think I’m completely off my rocker. I actually did enjoy the flight. The crew were very friendly, the food was solid and I really enjoyed the fact that first class passengers have complimentary Wi-Fi. I’d like to see more airlines do this.

When you really think about it, the broken seat was the only real functional issue, but when you hear over and over and over again how amazing the in-flight service is going to be you start to expect everything to be perfect!

If you see everyone getting freaking white glove shoe/slipper service, you expect it! Do I need it? Hell no. Do I think it would be obnoxious and fun? Absolutely.

Also, why the business class amenity kit? That just seems like a silly oversight. Do you really run out of first class amenity kits for 7 passengers?

After it was all said and done, I was looking forward to my return flight and trying the first class lounge in Jakarta.

Garuda First Class Ground Service In Jakarta Part 2

My return trip actually started in the Philippines after spending a few days scuba diving off the coast with a few friends. I flew business class on Singapore Airlines back to Jakarta after connecting in Singapore.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived in Jakarta. No one was at the gate when I deplaned, but as I walked down a hallway just outside the boarding area there were two first class assistants waiting for me.

Just like my arrival in Jakarta a week or so earlier, my passport was hurried to immigration so by the time I arrived, I could just smile and continue to baggage claim.

I couldn’t find my baggage claim receipt in my carry on but somehow with just a basic description of my bag, one of the Garuda ground crew found it and we were off to security where we jumped the line and were through in a flash. Later, suckers!

What I find fascinating about the old terminal in Jakarta is that you only reach the check-in desks after you are through security. However, we didn’t bother with that. We went to a private entrance with quick access to the business and first class lounges where there was a dedicated immigration desk.

From there, we were off to the lounge! You enter a lobby and first class passengers are escorted down escalators to ground level. It was completely empty when I arrived and would remain so for several hours. The timing of my flight from Singapore meant I was going to have a very long lounge stay.

If it's not clear yet, nothing is standard about Garuda Indonesia first class. Not even a plate of fruit in the lounge.

When I arrived, I was brought a plate of fruit as a snack just in case I got hungry. Having just eaten a nice meal on my Singapore flight, I knew that wouldn’t happen for awhile so I sat back and relaxed to the sounds of a self-playing grand piano. Totally normal.

About an hour into my 8-hour stay, one of the first class assistant stopped by to say her shift was over and that Larizka and Harry would be helping me during the rest of my stay.

Larizka and Harry couldn’t have been more amazing. As quite the extrovert, sitting alone in a lounge can be a bit much after awhile. Larizka saved me from that personal hell.

She stopped by to see if I needed anything - big mistake if she didn’t want to chat. I took the opportunity to get to know a bit about her experience in Jakarta and working for Garuda Indonesia.

My excitement to be flying with Garuda must have been quite apparent as she offered to give me a tour of the new terminal. We found Harry and hopped on a bus to the new terminal and waltzed through security in no time.

Jakarta’s new terminal was only operating domestic flights at the time, but it was so cool to see it. It’s almost striking how modern it is compared to the older, more traditional looking terminal.

The new terminal is massive. Larizka joked that she was going to need a Segway just to get from the international and domestic gates.

She offered to take me to the new domestic business class lounge so I could have a look around since the new first class terminal wasn’t open yet. It has a movie theater. Enough said.

Okay, it’s large TV on the wall but the chairs are comfortable and recline. I mean, come on. A domestic lounge? What is the new international first class lounge going to have, a wine cellar and a 5-star restaurant… come to think of it, yeah that works for me.

If you’re wondering why I haven’t said much about the first class lounge in the old terminal, it’s because it was very sparse. As I learned, they were in the process of moving into the new terminal. Guess I’ll have to go back!

The seconds before I tripped off a curb because I was still plane-watching.

After having a blast touring the new terminal, we skipped the bus and caught a first class shuttle across the tarmac. Seeing planes from ground level still makes me unusually happy.

Back at the first class lounge, I had a quick shower and a small bite to eat before it was time to head to the gate. This was without a doubt one of my most memorable lounge experience.

Thanks to Harry and Larizka, the first class lounge experience was second to none.

As if making me feel more than welcome during my lounge stay, Harry and Larizka walked me through security and to the gate. Larizka snapped a quick selfie of the three of us and I said goodbye to Harry.

Larizka walked me onto the plane and to my seat. Let’s just take a second to take that in… someone walked me to my seat. I’m sure she was just worried I was clumsy and would fall over after watching me stumble off a curb.

Garuda Indonesia First Class: Jakarta to Amsterdam

After such an amazing experience in the lounge (and really the whole airport), it was time to see what round 2 in first class would be like.

I’ll spare you the details that overlapped - don’t worry, there was plenty of champagne - and hit on a few of the points that stuck out to me.

First impressions, a nice first class amenity kit was waiting for me and it was definitely an upgrade.

I’m sure you’re wondering, “what about the shoe service?!”

Thankfully, my beat up boat shoes would be protected in shoe bags for the duration of the flight.

Remember when I said it’s something I don’t need. That’s true. I don’t need it, but there’s no way I was passing up that opportunity. It was freaking awesome!!

My return flight was truly a great experience. I found it a little strange that they didn’t pass out WiFi passwords, but rather entered a password on my phone for me, but all in all it was great.

The seat wasn’t broken so I actually slept about 3 hours - I still don’t understand how people sleep so well on flights.

I enjoyed champagne after champagne, caviar, a lovely dinner. Yet, still no dessert. I know I’m not a small person but was Garuda trying to tell me something?! I kid, I kid.

Seriously, airline food doesn't have to be awful.

The crew was kind enough to accommodate my request for muesli in addition to my eggs and sausage for breakfast prior to landing.

We landed in Amsterdam on a slightly overcast morning and with that my time with Garuda Indonesia was done. It was time wander bleary-eyed to a Priority Pass lounge - really, it’s not as nice as the KLM Crowne Lounge - before catching a flight to Vienna by way of Munich. I’m really good at taking the long way.

Final Thoughts

Let’s get straight to the points.

This first class round-trip cost me 38,000 Garuda Miles (transferred from my Citi ThankYou Points account) + $325.16 thanks to what amounted to the deal of the year.

Like anything in life, our experience is shaped by our expectations. My first flight was fun but kind of a let down because I had astronomically high expectations. The ground experience in Jakarta was truly second to none. Larizka and Harry went above and beyond to make my stay not only pleasant but truly amazing.

The real question for me is if I’d fly Garuda Indonesia first class again at the standard award price of 180,000 Garuda Miles for a one-way ticket on the same route. My experience in the first class lounge and on the return flight really makes it tempting.

Would I go out of my way like I did to try it this time? Probably not. If I happen to be in Southeast Asia, have plenty of ThankYou Points to burn, and want to a fun experience and a stop in Europe… then yes, absolutely. With the way I travel, that might not be so far fetched.

When they’re on their game, Garuda Indonesia really does have stunningly good service.

Questions or comments about Garuda Indonesia first class? Let’s hear them below.

See you in the sky!

When Airfare Sales Aren't Really A Good Deal

Sometimes I have moments that remind me why miles and points really are the best way to see the world.

I got an email from Delta about their Australia Getaway “sale”.

Here are their cheapest round trip options from Boston and Los Angeles to Sydney in economy and business class.

(Other major U.S. cities had similar prices)

I’m left with one thought...

YOU CALL THIS A SALE?!?!

I’ll show you a sale.

I booked an 18-day trip AROUND THE WORLD with stops in the U.A.E. (Dubai and Abu Dhabi), Australia (Melbourne and Sydney), Singapore, and southern Malaysia.

Total cost? $917.

Not only was my trip $633 cheaper than my cheapest option in Delta’s Australian Getaway “sale” (never mind whatever they think they are doing with their business class fares), but I will see 4 countries, at least 6 cities, and my flights are on three of the highest rated airlines in the world.

That’s not just a sale, that’s an EXPERIENCE OF A LIFETIME.

Here’s a handy chart I made to really put this in perspective.

(All in, this flight cost a whopping $19.50)

Miles/Points for the WIN!!!

And you know what the best part is?

YOU CAN DO THIS TOO!!!

What's your experience with airfare sales? How does purchasing flights leave you feeling?

See you in the sky!

*Featured image courtesy of Delta