2018 Year in Review

Hello from Paris! I hope everyone’s having a wonderful holiday season, whether you’re spending it on the road discovering new destinations or enjoying quality time at home with your loved ones. 

I’d like to share a few quick words on 2018 as the year draws to a close, and reflect on another unbelievably rewarding 12 months in terms of travel, earning & burning points, and running the website. Let’s take a look at my picks for this year’s…


Top Travel Destination

Looking back at the trips I took in 2018, I can’t help but feel immensely grateful for the opportunities I’ve had this year to visit new places and fulfill my dreams of seeing as much of the world as possible.

In total, I visited eight new countries this year, making decent progress in my “Road to 193”: Argentina, Uruguay, Panama, Mexico, Russia, Mongolia, Austria, and Estonia. 

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires, Argentina

It’s so difficult for me to pick out a single favourite destination that I visited this year. I’ve never had a bad day in Tokyo, for example, and my trip there this summer was no exception. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Portland as well, and that little getaway only strengthened my desire to make as many pilgrimages to the Pacific Northwest as possible in the future. As for Oktoberfest… well, it might take the cake if only I could remember much of what happened! 😉

And of course, as a huge football/soccer fan, I was overjoyed to attend matches at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and the memories from those few weeks of World Cup fever are ones that I’ll cherish forever.

Nevertheless, if I had to choose a single place from this year’s travels to call my favourite, I’d have to go for the incredible Iguazu Falls on the border of Brazil and Argentina. I’m someone who’s probably overly enthusiastic about waterfalls, and I could watch them do their thing for days on end. 

Visiting one of the world’s most famous waterfalls was therefore a truly special experience, made even better by the fact that the Brazil and Argentina sides both made for fantastic days out, and both provided spectacular views of the falls from their own unique angles.

If I close my eyes, I’m transported back to the viewing deck on the Argentina side, thousands of metric tonnes of water thundering down the Devil’s Throat all around me. I can’t wait to go back. 


Best Flight Experience

This is another difficult one. I went on a bit of a First Class bender at the start of the year, flying back-and-forth to Asia on Japan Airlines, ANA, and Cathay Pacific First Class within a few months, all of which left a deep impression.

Then in August I did Asiana Airlines First Class, which was again a tremendously luxurious experience. An honourable mention must go to SAS business class as well, which I flew on my way to Oktoberfest – I thought the Scandinavian airline delivered an impressive business class flight, and I’d rank them among my top business class choices for transatlantic travel.

(Reviews for those two will be coming early in the new year – I promise I’ll be catching up on these!) 

SAS business class

SAS business class

Ultimately, though, Cathay Pacific First Class has to rank as the best flight of 2018, and indeed the best flight I’ve ever taken.

Between The Wing and The Pier, the ground experience in Hong Kong is among the world's best. The intimate six-person First Class cabin gives each suite an unparalleled amount of personal space. The multi-course meal was delightful to the extreme, and it’s probably the flight on which I consumed the largest quantity of food and drink. And the onboard service was outstanding as well, with every single request of mine being met with an “of course” and a big smile.

I’m convinced of the fact that Cathay First remains one of the most amazing experiences you can treat yourself to using points, since it only costs 70,000 Alaska miles for a one-way trip, and I’ll definitely be looking to do it again in 2019.


Best Hotel

I’m writing this post a little too early for my round-the-world trip full of luxury hotels, so those will have to enter into next year’s Year in Review post. (And with the killer sweet spot of top-tier hotels for 60,000 Marriott points lasting well into 2019, that title promises to be a hotly-contested one.)

Among my 2018 hotel stays, I’ll have to give plaudits to the St. Regis Moscow Nikolskaya and the W Suzhou, both of which were my first-ever stays with their respective brands. Both brands have their luxury touches down to a tee, and I look forward to sampling more of their hotels around the world now that they’re under the Marriott umbrella.

I’m going with the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel London for my favourite hotel of the year, mainly because of the incredible Harry Potter-esque aesthetics, the intimacy of the Chambers Club lounge where breakfast, afternoon tea, and evening canapés were served every day, and the fact that they took care of me wonderfully for an entire week! 

As a Category 6 hotel, it’s also one of the cheaper options in London for redeeming free stays on points, and its location right on top of King’s Cross St. Pancras tube station also makes it a great base for exploring all that London has to offer. If you’re planning to spend any time at all in one of the world’s great cities, I’d recommend giving the “St. Pancras Ren” a chance.


Best Overall Trip

This one’s easy, isn’t it? Out of all the trips I took in 2018, my 12-day journey from Moscow to Beijing along the Trans-Siberian Railway was hands-down the most fulfilling.

I’m always looking to push my own boundaries as a traveller, and embarking on an audacious train journey like this proved to be challenging and rewarding in many ways.

From figuring out the finer aspects of the Russian Railways website in planning the trip, to getting accustomed to the day-to-day realities of life onboard long-haul trains (it’s certainly a change of pace from flying everywhere all the time, that’s for sure!), I had my work cut out for me pretty much every step of the way.

Nevertheless, arriving in Beijing after 12 gruelling days hopping on and off the train was one of the most satisfying feelings I’ve ever had as a traveller.

Even looking back on it now, I can scarcely believe that it happened, and that I got to check off one of the great bucket list items while seeing some of the world’s gems that few travellers ever get to see. Again, I’m quite simply overcome with gratitude to have had these amazing opportunities.


Best Points Redemption

The easy answer here is Cathay Pacific First Class for 70,000 Alaska miles one-way – it’s simply an unbelievable price point for transpacific First Class, given that a similar redemption with Aeroplan would run you 105,000 miles. 

But of course, I’ve already mentioned this one up above, so I’ll give this one to the Marriott Travel Packages of the legacy Marriott Rewards program prior to August 2018. Back then, you could exchange 270,000 Marriott Rewards points for 120,000 airline miles in a variety of programs, PLUS a 7-night stay at a Category 1-5 hotel. 

The value here was simply insane. You were basically converting hotel points to airline miles at a very favourable ratio, and then getting seven free hotel nights on top of that. Ahh, the good old days…

I expect that many of you had gotten in on the action as much as possible – I myself had burned my entire Marriott Rewards points balance on Travel Packages prior to the merger, given the spectacular value that they represented. The only question now is what I’m going to do with all these seven-night hotel certificates I have lying around before they expire in late 2019…


Exciting Developments

2018 was a pretty major year in the Canadian travel, aviation, loyalty, and credit card space. By far the biggest development would have to be the massive-scale merger of Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest. Originally announced in April, the coming together of the two programs took place in August, and won’t be complete until early 2019 when a new program name takes effect.

Both programs played a significant role in helping Canadian travellers secure free hotel stays prior to their merger, and I expect the combined program to be instrumental in the optimal points strategy going forward.

We also got more clarity on the future of Aeroplan, Canada’s leading frequent flyer program. After many months of will-they-won’t-they, it was finally announced that Air Canada would be buying back the program upon the expiration of the current contract in June 2020. Existing Aeroplan members and miles would therefore be transferred over to the new program and no longer need to worry about their miles becoming “worthless” as originally speculated.

Nevertheless, we still don’t have any information as to what the Air Canada program will look like, and that’ll be what we’re all watching for in 2019. Will Mini-RTW trips persist in some form? Let’s hope so!

Lastly, I must say that 2018 was also an exciting year for WestJet. Traditionally viewed as a low-cost leisure alternative to the more major-league Air Canada, the Calgary-based airline has launched their new Boeing 787 Dreamliners and begun their transformation into a global full-service airline in earnest. I’m excited to see what the future holds for WestJet and consequentially for the Canadian travelling public.


My 2018 Flight Map

Legend
Economy
Business
First


Best of Prince of Travel 

Lastly, let’s talk about the website. 2018 marks the first full calendar year of Prince of Travel’s existence, and I’m quite simply blown away by the growth in readership and engagement over the course of the year.

I’m so encouraged that you guys keep coming back to read my stuff, leaving comments, sharing your experiences, and sending me emails, week in week out.

Soon after launching Prince of Travel, I had realized that running it and writing for it was something I genuinely loved doing. 153 articles this year later, my resolve and desire has only been strengthened, and I’m excited for what the future holds.

In case some of you might find it interesting, here are the 10 most-read articles on Prince of Travel over the past year:

  1. Getting US Credit Cards for Canadians

  2. 9 Useful Aeroplan Tricks

  3. The Aeroplan Mini-RTW, Part 1

  4. Review: EVA Air Business Class Taipei to Toronto

  5. Review: ANA First Class Los Angeles to Tokyo

  6. How Does the New Amex Cobalt Card Compare?

  7. How to Spend One Perfect Week in Croatia

  8. MBNA Alaska Airlines MasterCard

  9. The Complete Guide to Booking Lufthansa First Class

  10. The Amex Business Cards from Canada Post

Some of these are a little surprising, while others make more sense. I’m not sure why my EVA and ANA reviews get so much more eyeballs than my other ones, for example. Meanwhile, a lot of these articles were written last year or early this year, giving them more time to rack up the hits compared to my more recent ones.

And of course, articles on lucrative deals will always be popular, so US credit cards and the Aeroplan stuff are naturally up there. And the Canada Post offers, well, those were one hell of a deal alright…

2018 also saw some new additions to Prince of Travel as I work on making it your #1 Canadian resource for all things travel- and points-related. The YouTube channel, where I share my perspectives via video. Resources, a central collection of information for earning and redeeming points. And Knowledge Base, an encyclopedia of common beginner questions with simple answers for those of you starting out.

As the website continues to grow, I’ve got a few more exciting changes and improvements lined up for 2019. Look out for a post in the new year with all the details!


Conclusion

It’s a wonderful feeling to draw a line under a fruitful year of travel in 2018 and look forward to the adventures that 2019 will bring. Maybe an Antarctica expedition or a trip into space? A traveller can dream 😊

I’d encourage you to take a moment to look back on your own travel year – what were your favourite trips and proudest moments?