As low as $2,003 round-trip for business class between San Francisco and Europe on American/British Airways

There are some great business class deals to Europe right now from San Francisco! I recently booked one-way from Paris, France to San Francisco (via Lisbon) on TAP Portgual’s new A330neo for $1,160, which I considered to be a pretty good deal.

But if you’re looking for round-trip travel, you’re in even more luck. Using Google Flights, I was able to find the following deals:

  • San Francisco to Barcelona for $2,003 (April 6-14, 2020)
  • San Francisco to Lisbon for $2,034 (April 7-16, 2020)
  • San Francisco to Budapest for $2,040 (January 1-9, 2020)
  • San Francisco to Brussels for $2,040 (April 7-16, 2020)
  • San Francisco to Milan for $2,063 (January 2-9, 2020)
  • San Francisco to Paris for $2,082 (April 7-16, 2020)
  • San Francisco to Berlin for $2,084 (April 8-16, 2020)
  • San Francisco to Mallorca, Spain for $2,129 (April 7-16, 2020)

These are just samples, and although the lowest prices are largely for the middle of April, you can find other fares for only a few hundred more within a few months of those dates.

This would also make for a great status trip run — the San Francisco to Paris deal above would net you 23,996 elite qualifying miles (EQMs) and 9,510 award miles on American Airlines.

Traveling to my 50th country

As I write this blog post, I’m waiting at airport about to accomplish something that I never thought I would – traveling to my 50th country.

Although I’m traveling what feels like all the time now – and almost always internationally – I didn’t get my first passport until the end of 2007. I came from a very modest background, and so it wasn’t until after my first year of law school, after completing a lucrative summer associate position, that I was able to afford one.

Even though I wasn’t able to travel much before then, I was always obsessed with travel. As a kid, I would memorize the Sunday travel section in the Philadelphia Inquirer (my local paper) and recite the prices of flights to my annoyed parents. I would spend time on most weekends checking out the latest brochures at the travel agency down the street and would order every free vacation video that I could (you used to be able to call Disney World and request VHS promotional videos).

My parents picked up on this, and they got me a subscription to Condé Nast Traveler for my 10th birthday. My aesthetic was always warm, tropical places. There was no place that I wanted to go more than the Turks and Caicos (something I accomplished in 2016!), though there was no place that I didn’t want to visit.

Turks.JPG
Picture taken in Turks and Caicos with a tropical storm off the coast (the storm largely stayed off the coast and I got some amazing shots!)

When I first got my passport, I went to some pretty typical destinations for Americans – Jamaica, Amsterdam, Paris, and Brussels were my first trips. I was based in Philadelphia at the time, so I went to Europe and the Caribbean the most, although I also went to Morocco (which was way outside of my bubble at the time).

After law school, I moved to Guam, and that opened up a whole new set of destinations for me. All of a sudden, Japan, Australia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, and more were all in easy reach. I definitely took advantage of this, which helped add to my country count.

When I moved to San Francisco, I still had the travel bug, but didn’t have as much free time as I was working at law firms (I was still able to hit up a few new countries, including Bosnia, Argentina, Italy, Germany, Chile, and Norway), but it was over the course of a few years. In fact, there was even a year where I went without taking an international flight.

Things changed dramatically when, in February 2016, I decided to pursue my own law firm full-time. Before that, I was running my law firm as a side-hustle, with a full-time (albeit, remote) job in-house at a startup.

One of the founding principals of my firm was that I wanted it to be entirely remote. Because of this, even though I was a litigator, I gave up that part of my practice since it would require me to show up in-person to court.

El Nido
El Nido, Palawan in the Philippines

Around that same time, I got a pretty bad infection in my leg and had a pretty serious health scare. I was told that if the infection spread that I would need to go to the hospital, and that in an extreme worst-case scenario, the infection could sometimes lead to amputation (luckily, it never got that far – the antibiotics I was given cleared it up after about a week of bed-rest).

This health scare made me realize that I needed to take advantage of my freedom and good health, because either could be taken away from me at any time. So, I decided to have a goal of visiting one amazing location every month and, with exceptions,I’ve kept that promise to myself until now.

So, with that as a background, I wanted to post a list of the countries I’ve so far visit. Note that my definition of country may be a little loose — there are some selections on here that some readers my disagree with (such as Turks and Caicos, which is a British overseas territory). But for my purposes, I considered places with different passport stamps and cultures to be separate countries.

For my list, I’ve also included these symbols: an asterisk (*) means that I’ve visited a country twice and two asterisks (**) means that visited a country more than twice.

  1. U.S.**
  2. Mexico**
  3. Canada*
  4. Bermuda
  5. The Bahamas
  6. Jamaica
  7. Aruba
  8. Barbados
  9. Dominica
  10. St. Lucia
  11. Antigua
  12. St. Kitts
  13. Honduras
  14. Belize*
  15. Costa Rica
  16. Chile*
  17. Argentina
  18. Morocco
  19. France*
  20. England*
  21. Spain**
  22. Switzerland*
  23. Belgium
  24. The Netherlands**
  25. Italy
  26. Austria*
  27. Germany**
  28. Denmark
  29. Norway
  30. Croatia
  31. Bosnia and Herzegovina
  32. The Philippines**
  33. Singapore
  34. Thailand
  35. Australia**
  36. Japan*
  37. Korea
  38. Fiji
  39. Hong Kong**
  40. Indonesia*
  41. Colombia**
  42. Turks and Caicos
  43. Portugal
  44. Vietnam
  45. South Africa
  46. French Polynesia
  47. New Zealand
  48. Hungary
  49. Czech Republic
  50. Cayman Islands

Close calls: Peru (slept in the airport for 1 night), Liechtenstein (train ride through)

I’m thrilled with what I’ve seen so far, and can’t wait to see more. In fact, I already have 3 new countries that I’ll be visiting by April 2020 – Qatar, the Maldives, and United Arab Emirates.

Also, I do realize it’s a little faux pas to count countries — many in the travel community think that counting countries discounts the actual value of travel; that by trying to “collect” countries, you are missing the actual experiences. I do understand this mindset and subscribe in part, but part of my goal is to see as much as possible and that involves going to different countries with entirely different cultures (and it’s fun for me to keep tabs!).

Anyway, I’m off to enjoy the Cayman Islands and the big 5-0!

Japan Airlines introduces seat map that tells you if you’re sitting next to an infant

With this announcement, Japan Airlines may now be my favorite airline in the world.

In a move that is sure to please almost every passenger, Japan Airlines has announced that they will now include an icon showing whether your seat is next to a child aged 8 days to 2 years old. The icon looks like this:

Baby

This benefits passengers who don’t want to sit next to a screaming a child and parents who don’t want to bother noise-sensitive travelers.

In a statement released on its website, Japan Airlines (JAL) said:

“Passengers traveling with children between 8 days and 2 years old who select their seats on the JAL website will have a child icon displayed on their seats on the seat selection screen.”

The only downside seems to be that the baby icon won’t appear for those who book their travel outside the JAL website (such as through the Chase platform or with partner award miles). That said, I think this is a great offering and hope other airlines follow suit!

How I scored an $18,425 Emirates First Class Suite for 85,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points

Well, this will probably go down in history as my best travel deal ever.

Earlier this week, after finding out that Emirates was added as a Chase transfer partner, I was able to score a First Class Suite (actually, two – more about that in a minute) on Emirates for an insane rewards redemption of 85,000 Chase Ultimate Reward points (and $192.60 in fees).

If you don’t know about the Emirates First Class Suite, it’s supposed to best product out there. In addition to having a door that closes with a “Do Not Disturb” sign, you have access to 2 bars on the plane, free caviar and Dom Pérignon (and other fancy alcohol and food) during the flight, and you even have access to a shower with spa products that you can reserve for 30-minutes at a time.

Emirates has a number of “fifth freedom” flights (routes that do not connect in the airlines hub) around the world that have the world-renowned Emirates First Class Suite. Two of these flights are based in the U.S. — a direct flight from JFK to Milan and a direct flight from Newark to Athens.

Emirates Suite
Soon to be me (credit: Emirates)

Emirates usually charges 120,000 Skywards miles (when you find availability) for direct First Class service between JFK and Dubai.  For the U.S.-based fifth freedom flights, Emirates charges 85,000 Skywards miles.

Emirates Flight 1

The flight from JFK to Milan is 7 hours and 55 minutes and, even though the First Class Suite looks amazing, I wasn’t really interested in this deal since it’s a red-eye flight and I wouldn’t have really had a chance to enjoy the amenities (aside from the amazing seat).

But while reading my favorite travel blog, BoardingArea (and sorry, I don’t remember the exact blog post I was reading!), I was able to find that for some select dates you could book JFK to Dubai to Milan for the same 85,000 Skywards miles rate.

I found availability on April 2, 2020 for 2 tickets and immediately created an Emirates Skywards account. I decided to sleep on it, though, because it involved a lot of travel — flying from SFO to JFK, then 12.5 hours to Dubai, approximately 8 hours to spend exploring the city and the lounge, and then a 6.5 hour flight from Dubai to Milan.

Emirates Flight
Confirmed flights for a First Flex Plus ticket
Emirates Receipt
Screenshot showing the cost of the First Class Suite between JFK and Dubai on April 2, 2020. Note that my ticket is Flex Plus, including free cancellation and changes, so I used that price for this blog post.

The next morning, after talking with friends, I realized I would be super upset if the ticket was taken, so I decided to book. I added my Emirates Skywards to my Chase Ultimate Rewards account and the points were transferred immediately.

Now, here’s when things got a little scary. After my points were in my account, I went on the Emirates.com website and was told that I had “Insufficient Miles” to book the flight (despite clearly having 85,000 miles show up in my account). My heart dropped and I called an agent, who let me know that the flight on April 2nd was no longer available.

When I kept insisting it was on my end, I pulled the “can I speak to your manager?” card, hoping that I didn’t just throw 85,000 Chase Ultimate Reward points down the drain. The manager was incredibly helpful, and while she said she couldn’t find the flight on her end she asked me to take a screenshot of the flights that I was seeing on my end and gave me her direct work e-mail address (I have *never* had an American-based airline give me a direct e-mail address to contact them at).

It turns out the confusion was that I wanted a transfer in Dubai and the agents were only looking at direct flights. The agent kept clarifying that I was fine with the very long flight times and layover, considering they did have a direct option, and I kept assuring her that I was — that was the point of this trip, after all.

During the hold times, I downloaded the Emirates app and found out the flight was bookable through it. If you are going to book an Emirates reward, I recommend using the app, and not the website. Nevertheless, the Emirates agent had put my reservation on hold, so I decided to work with her to finalize the booking.

The fee of $192 is a deal as well — Emirates actually is known for charging high fees for business class (around $500-600/ticket), but for some reason, the First Class Suite has the same fee as an economy ticket.

After booking the ticket and receiving confirmation, I messaged a friend of mine who I knew would have enough Chase or AMEX points to book the flight as well, and she booked it with me (and because there was only suite left, she booked her husband in business class using 65,000 Skywards points + $500-$600).

Although early April is a gamble with weather in Europe, I am so excited for this trip! I’ll be trying out the Qatar QSuite in November (which I got from Chicago to the Maldives for 70,0000 miles through American Airlines), so I will get to compare the two — something I never thought I’d have the chance to do.

I’m beyond excited for this flight and still can’t believe I was able to land such a good deal!

United MileagePlus miles will no longer expire

Effective immediately, your United MileagePlus miles will no longer expire (and if your miles were set to expire in July/August 2019, United will be re-instating them).

It’s interesting how United is switching its loyalty program to be more and more like Delta’s – first, by introducing dynamic pricing for award tickets and now by eliminating expiration dates for miles earned.

While it may sound good that your miles will never expire, United miles are now worth less because of the switch to dynamic pricing, so the recent changes are a mixed bag. Aside from that, Delta’s SkyMiles have the worst redemption values of all the miles of the major U.S. carriers, so United’s adopting of Delta’s reward model makes me a little nervous.

What are your thoughts on United making it so that MileagePlus miles never expire? Let me know in the comments!

Priority Pass eliminating non-lounge experiences for AmEx cardholders

Effective August 1, 2019, American Express cardholders who have Priority Pass memberships through their credit cards will no longer have access to non-lounge experiences, including discounts on dining at select airport restaurants.

This is a bit of a bummer, as I have Priority Pass memberships through both my AmEx Hilton Ascend and Hilton business cards. But good news if you have Priority Pass through your Chase Reserve — currently, there are no plans to cut back on non-lounge experiences for those members.

Have you used Priority Pass for a non-lounge experience? Let me know in the comments!

Should you travel to new places or go back to old favorites?

I often say that the problems I have now are the best problems I’ve ever had.

One of these “problems” is deciding between traveling to new, exciting locales or going back to locations that I already know that I love. Even as a remote-working digital nomad, my travel time is limited and precious to me.

My dream, and one of the reasons I travel so much, is to see as much of the world as I can. Travel has given me a great amount of perspective and really shaped my worldview, and I think I will also want to visit new places.

But that said, having been to 49 countries and most states already, there are so many places that I’ve loved and want to revisit (in fact, as I write this, I am on a flight to Maui, having just stayed there – at the same exact hotel – 4 months ago).

As a remote worker, it’s almost always easier to go to a location that I’ve been before, especially if I stay at the same hotel/Airbnb – I already know that there’s reliable WiFi, where to go nearby for quick meals, and will sometimes already have friends in those locations. This is one reason that I keep going back to Medellín and Puerto Vallarta, where I already have work routines in place.

Also, when my friends ask me to travel, just given all the places that I’ve been, it’s often to locations that are old hat to me. When that happens, I’ll usually look past the fact that I’ve been somewhere because the experience of going places with friends is usually worth the repeat in travel.

And just because I’ve been somewhere doesn’t mean that I’ve experienced it all. The third time I was in Medellín, for example, I took a tour that took me to some stunning places 2-3 hours outside of the city. Sure, I didn’t get to mark off a new country, but that trip was unforgettable.

So, for me, it’s a delicate balance and I usually try to split my travel 50/50 between places I’ve been and places that I want to go. Of course, when I was newer to travel, I was purely focused on new places, which I think makes a lot of sense if you’re just getting started – it’s very hard to tell what you’d like and what you wouldn’t if you only have a small sample size.

Do you prefer going to places you’ve been or to new destinations? Let me know in the comments!