2017 Year in Review

What an incredible week it’s been here in Bali! Both Bambu Indah and the Ritz-Carlton have provided phenomenal experiences, and I’m not quite sure how I’ll do them justice in reviewing my stay. Unfortunately, though, I contracted quite a nasty stomach flu somewhere along the road, so I’m hoping that gets better before New Year’s Eve rolls around.

As I sit aboard today’s Thai Lion Air service from Bali to Bangkok, I’d like to share a few words on 2017 as the year draws to a close. It’s been a fantastic 12 months of travel, and I feel as though my efforts in learning about Miles & Points in previous years have finally paid off in spectacular fashion this year. Let’s take a look at my picks for this year’s…


Top Travel Destination

I haven’t written about my time in Bali yet, but it’s no doubt the most amazing place I’ve visited in 2017. The lush, picturesque natural beauty of the island and the effervescent Balinese culture is something that I won’t forget in a long, long time. I read up on Bali quite a bit before my trip and knew of the many great things other travellers had to say, but experiencing this place in person was quite something else and far exceeded the already high expectations I was harbouring. 

 Campuhan Ridge, Bali

Campuhan Ridge, Bali

An honourable mention for my trip to the sunny island of St. Kitts, as well as my harrowing tour of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps – places I was fortunate to visit which greatly enriched my year.

 Brimstone Hill Fortress, St. Kitts

Brimstone Hill Fortress, St. Kitts


Best Flight Experience

Lufthansa First Class. Hands. Down.

Part of it is the fact that every blogger who writes about travelling on points likes to talk up the coveted “LH F” experience, to the point that it’s almost become a rite of passage for those who are interested in this game. But there’s a good reason for that, since the flight undeniably lives up to the hype.

I’ve written several articles on this, from the superb lounges in Zurich and Frankfurt to an in-depth review of the flight itself. I’ve also penned a tutorial on the best ways to book Lufthansa First Class for yourself.

I’d also have to give an honourable mention to EVA Air business class, which I flew twice between Taipei and Toronto (once in each direction). As far as I’m concerned, its marketing slogan of “The Best Link to Cross the Pacific” could not be more accurate. I’ll have another post up soon, focused on my more recent flight from Toronto to Taipei, describing why I think EVA’s business product is among the best in the world.


Best Hotel

Once again, Bali takes the cake here. Both the places we stayed at were absolutely dazzling in different ways. Bambu Indah, a boutique eco-lodge located inland in Ubud, was a natural paradise straight out of magical fantasy land. Meanwhile, the stunningly grand Ritz-Carlton resort on Bali’s southern coast takes the luxury beach vacation concept to the next level.

 Bambu Indah, Bali

Bambu Indah, Bali

But what makes these hotels the best of the year is the outstanding Balinese hospitality that I had read so much about. As travellers, we often delight in things that we’d consider “above and beyond”; in Bali, those things are the norm. I’m excited to review my stays in greater detail, but like I said, I can only hope to be up to the task of doing them justice!

An honourable mention in this category goes out to the Hotel Bristol Warsaw, which made for an enjoyable (albeit short) stay in Warsaw’s Old Town. I like it because it’s one of the few upscale properties that retains its connection to Warsaw’s troubled history, and its interior aesthetic was quite stylish and memorable as well.

 Hotel Bristol Warsaw

Hotel Bristol Warsaw


Best Points Redemption

I’d have to say that splashing 75,000 Alaska Airlines miles on business and first class on Japan Airlines, from Hanoi to Chicago via Tokyo, was the best redemption of the year. I’m not travelling on this flight until a couple of days into the new year, but I’m beyond excited to try out Japan Airlines’s first class product and check another big one off my list.

75,000 miles is an extraordinarily attractive price point for trans-Pacific first class these days – a similar redemption on Aeroplan would cost 105,000 miles! (Of course, Aeroplan miles can be considerably easier to earn than Alaska miles, which must be taken into consideration as well.)

The other fantastic sweet spot in Alaska’s partner charts is 70,000 miles to Asia in Cathay Pacific First Class, with the possibility of continuing on to South Africa in business class for no additional mileage! This is a flight I’m close to lining up for 2018 as well, and it’s in these redemptions that the value of Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan really shines through.


Worst Points Mistake

Oh boy, this was quite the facepalm moment. 

Sometime around late September, I somehow managed to commit THE most basic Miles & Points faux-pas. A violation of the most elementary cardinal rule. The easiest thing to avoid, and one of the first things you learn when you start playing the game.

That’s right, I accidentally let 51,000 IHG Rewards points expire. Yep, just like that. At least $250 (and quite possibly $500+) in hotel value – poof! All gone.

I had even received an AwardWallet notification a month prior to the expiry date, informing me of the impending deadline. Extending the validity of the points would have been as simple as making a dummy hotel reservation and then cancelling it immediately. But my silly self decided to put it off until later, and then I forgot about it, and didn’t realize until it was several days past the deadline, the points having unceremoniously disappeared into thin air.

 A potential free night at the InterContinental Amstel Amsterdam gone to waste...

A potential free night at the InterContinental Amstel Amsterdam gone to waste...

Efforts to persuade the IHG Rewards support team to reinstate the points – via phone and live chat – were met with steadfast refusal. And why not? We know the rules of the game, and we’re here to maximize our winnings while working within those rules. IHG clearly advertises a 12-month points expiry policy, and it’s entirely my own fault that I failed to take action. So let this be a cautionary tale – no matter how experienced of a points collector you are, make sure you never forget the basics!


Exciting Developments

This year, we came to learn of several game-changing developments in Miles & Points. Quite possibly the biggest story was the announcement of the big Air Canada–Aeroplan breakup in 2020. While this is undeniably bad news for Aeroplan, I’m confident that the new Air Canada program will eventually prove competitive, and will retain the valuable relationship with American Express and its associated earning power. In the meantime, it’s my view that there’s little need to panic about your existing Aeroplan miles, since you’ve got plenty of time to burn through them in the intervening years, and Aeroplan’s desire to remain a competitive force as a loyalty program may well stave off any massive devaluations.

We also saw the confirmation of the Marriott–Starwood merger and some early signs of what that might mean for the loyalty programs going forward. While it’s too early to say what will happen in Canada, news from the US indicates a significant possibility of Amex maintaining the financial relationship, which is great news given their relative generosity in awarding points. We’re sure to find out more in 2018 about the future of the program – a crucial one for those eager to travel on points – so fingers crossed for positive changes, if any! 😊

Some other notable shifts in the points landscape include the introduction of the American Express Cobalt Card, bringing with it a whole new way to earn points, the various shake-ups in the Amex referral program (most of which have sadly been negative), and the emergence of Paytm as a viable competitor to Plastiq to make bill payments with credit cards.

In the wider realm of travel, Trump’s Muslim ban stirred up plenty of controversy, several countries – including Argentina and Brazil – relaxed visa requirements for Canadians, and Dr. Dao, the hero we don’t deserve, helped to redefine denied-boarding procedures across the continent.


My 2017 Flight Map

Legend
Economy
Business
First
map1.gif


Conclusion

2017 was a great travel year, and I’m pretty amazed at how well it all turned out. I’ve made countless memories all over the world which I’ll look back on fondly. Now it’s time to round out the year with a frenzied couple of days in Bangkok and Ko Samui, and then it’s onto many more adventures in 2018!