- Planning the trip
- US Airways Shuttle to New York and the Sheraton JFK
- Cathay Pacific First Class, New York – Hong Kong
- The Pier Lounge and Cathay Pacific Business Class, Hong Kong – Bangkok
- Conrad Bangkok Deluxe Suite
- Bangkok Airways Business Class, Bangkok – Koh Samui
- Conrad Koh Samui, 2 Bedroom Ocean Pool Villa
- Conrad Koh Samui, Resort
- Bangkok Airways Business Class, Koh Samui – Bangkok
- Cathay Pacific Business Class, Bangkok – Hong Kong and Marriott SkyCity Hong Kong
- Cathay Pacific First Class Hong Kong – Chicago
- United Airlines Back Home
There’s little detail to share about the start of the trip. Since we’d be taking the morning Cathay Pacific flight, a 9am departure, we flew up to New York the night before. Since I was using British Airways miles (in their pre-Avios incarnation), I wasn’t going to combine partners on an award. The ticket was Cathay Pacific only, which meant I had to make it on my own to the international gateway, as Cathay doesn’t serve DC.
We grabbed the 6pm US Airways Shuttle, now 6pm departures to New York can be dicey. On a day with borderline weather even more so. Low visibility throughout the day meant planes stacking up trying to enter and leave New York airspace.
Since I was checking bags, I showed up at DCA around 4:45pm. Breezed through security after opting out (the US Airways pier has three lanes, only two of which have nude-o-scopes, but the middle lane without the scanner was closed). Stopped by the news shop and for a Five Guys burger, it was going to be better than my options on the other end, and we skipped the lounge.
Boarding was on-time, and quick, it wasn’t a full flight. My wife and I had 6A and 6C, no upgrade, my only US Airways elite qualifying miles for the year are the ones I earned from the Grand Slam. My short-haul US Airways segments get credited to bmi for their 600 mile minimums (plus status bonus), and I’ve re-qualified for Gold mostly on the basis of those US Airways short hops.
In hindsight of course I’m regretting that decision. British Midland miles have been really valuable, with their cash and points award chart and one-way awards allowing stopovers. They’re a great program for crediting premium cabin fares given the generous class of service bonuses. And being Star Gold in a non-US program has meant no need to buy a United lounge membership.
But with British Airways acquiring bmi, I expect my precious Diamond Club points to become Avios and to no longer be a Star Alliance Gold member through a non-US program. I’m hoping, of course, that the program continues to run as a standalone at least long enough to redeem my miles efficiently, and ideally that Star Alliance would run a status match offer to try to retain bmi elites.
Everyone was ready to go and we pushed back a few minutes early. Then we pulled off the active taxiway and the pilot told us we’d be sitting for about half an hour, cell phones were permitted which was great because a reporter was trying to get hold of me for a story on credit card signup bonuses.
After an hour’s delay we were on our way, flight time is usually about 35 minutes but after about 20 we started circling. And circling. And circling. Then we’d inch north, and circle again. Without United’s channel 9, and with a fairly uncommunicative pilot, we didn’t know how long we’d be. Shortly after 8pm we landed. And the pilot came on to let us know that we had no gate to go to, and wouldn’t be allowed to taxi across the airport. So we sat. And we sat. Half an hour went by and we hadn’t moved, planes were stacked side by side in close proximity. After an hour had passed we were released, and we made it over to a gate around 9:30pm. Even if the three hour tarmac delay rule added departure delays and arrival delays, US Airways would have been in the clear. I’d have loved to have had more updates, but otherwise it wasn’t terrible, the only real annoyance being the lack of cushioning on those US Airways coach seats!
A quick wait at baggage claim, hop in a cab, and we were off to the Sheraton JFK.
JFK really is a hotel wasteland. The last time I needed an airport overnight there I stayed at the almost-adequate Hilton Garden Inn, this Sheraton wasn’t yet built and is right next door. It’s close to the airport, and new, and that puts it head and shoulders above the JFK competition. Which means that it’s able to pull $250 a night room rates. I burned some points, not the greatest use of 10,000 I’ll admit. I didn’t want to head into the city only to try to make it back out to JFK for a 9am international departure. The proximity was attractive, and really how bad could it be?
We were at the hotel a little bit after 10pm, checkin was quick and I was assigned a room at the very end of the hall on the 6th floor.
It was the smallest hotel room I’ve ever been in, smaller than I’ve had at the W New York (the one on Lex) and smaller than at the Hilton Tokyo. The bathroom though was reasonable enough.
There were two main problems, though. First, the room faced the freeway and there was virtually no soundproofing. The circling winds and the cars below were loud. And second, the internet signal didn’t really reach the end of the hall and I had no connectivity.
I did mention both of these things when asked in the morning how my stay was. The clerk proactively offered me 1000 points as an apology (nice gesture, but seriously, 1000 points? There are two things I was looking for from my stay – a peaceful night’s rest, and the ability to be productive, I had neither.)
Still, if I had to stay at JFK again I’d probably do the Sheraton, because it’s arguably marginally better than the Hilton Garden Inn next door, and there really are no other options.
More likely though I’d grab a room at the Holiday Inn Long Island City, it’s a little further from the airport so not really an airport hotel, but it would provide a clean, restful night’s sleep while still avoiding morning traffic out of the City.
The shuttle driver was prompt for the 7am departure to the airport. It was a really ratty van, with fraying seats and tape on the liner along the top of the sliding passenger door. But it did the trick, and after stops at a couple of other terminals along the way we made it to terminal 7 by 7:20, nearly two hours before our departure.