It’s often said that those who play the game of Miles & Points to a very high level are rewarded with immense freedom in their travels. At any given moment, if you have sizeable points balances on hand, you may decide on a whim to fly to another continent for the week… and in fact, I know quite a few people in the community who love doing exactly that.
I personally haven’t embarked this kind of spontaneous trip in the past, as I usually prefer to plan out my trips farther in advance, leaving very little room for any impulsive getaways.
But this week, a last-minute change of heart regarding a pre-planned New Year’s Eve trip forced my hand. While Jessy and I would no longer spend New Year’s in London, my reservation at the W Verbier could no longer be changed or cancelled without paying an exorbitant penalty charge. And so, in the ultimate manifestation of a first-world problem, it was time to devise a last-minute solo trip centred around a few days of skiing in the Swiss Alps.
Indeed, while I usually write these “Booked” posts prior to departure, I’m writing this one from Verbier itself, because I’m very much researching, planning, and booking this one on the fly.
The Trip (Part 1)
The Swiss Alps is no doubt a high-ranking item on the bucket list of anyone who’s into winter sports, and as an avid skier myself, I’ve been looking forward to spending a few days conquering the trails in this part of the world ever since I learned the parallel turn.
So when the W Verbier in Switzerland was bookable for only 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night prior to March 2019, I had made quite a few speculative bookings for various times in 2019 and 2020 that I could see myself visiting.
I eventually kept the booking for two nights shortly after New Year’s, but like I mentioned before, by the time I eventually needed to rethink the New Year’s trip, the 60-day cancellation window at the W had long passed.
Faced with the ignominy of paying a 3,000 CHF ($4,050) cancellation charge, I decided to plan a solo trip and visit Verbier anyway, inviting a London-based friend of mine to join me for a few days of skiing.
Once I decided to call off the New Year’s trip to London, I knew I needed to book a different flight to Geneva on short notice, soon after New Year’s Day, in order to arrive in time for my reservation at the W Verbier.
Thankfully, the last-minute travel window, starting about two weeks prior to the date of departure, tends to be when a very large amount of award space is available, since airlines tend to release their distressed inventory (i.e., seats they know are likely to go unsold) as awards.
I therefore had several options at my disposal, but my priority for this flight was to stay home with Jessy as long as possible before the trip and minimize unnecessary connections along the way.
The direct Montreal–Geneva flight on Air Canada would’ve been ideal, but since that wasn’t available, I found a routing on the Air Canada 777 to London Heathrow, followed by a flight to Geneva on a Swiss Airbus A220 (which would also be my first flight on the newly-introduced airliner formerly known as the Bombardier C-Series).
The only problem? As most of you know, Aeroplan redemptions on Air Canada tend to come with a hefty fuel surcharge, which in this case was north of $500. This was therefore an opportune time to call in a favour from a friend of mine who has Altitude Super Elite 100K status, since Super Elites are entitled to a fuel surcharge waiver on Air Canada-operated flights.
I’ll definitely be covering the next round of drinks and buck-a-shuck oysters. 😉
The Trip (Part 2)
In exchange to listening to her wishes and staying home on New Year’s, Jessy granted me license to fly around the world for a few extra days, so I essentially had free rein of where in the world to go.
Before calling off the original trip, I had conceived of a Lufthansa First Class adventure with Jessy in tow to return home after Verbier; now that it became a solo trip, I had the option of taking Lufthansa back to a North American city of my choice.
In particular, Mexico City was a very strong candidate, since I have very fond memories of my 24-hour layover there a few years ago and had been itching to return.
I even successfully found First Class availability on the Frankfurt–Mexico City route – but unfortunately, I couldn’t find a reasonable way to travel back to Montreal during the following days (I really didn’t want to pay $600 for a flight in Air Canada Rouge economy, after all).
In the end, after much deliberation, I decided to change course and use this unexpected time away from home to fulfill some of the goals I had in 2020 in terms of trying out new premium airlines and award chart sweet spots, thus making this trip a very fast-paced round-the-world affair…
At the very top of my bucket list for 2020 was ANA’s new 777 business class, which looks like a truly spectacular product and has been touted as the best business class in the world, rivalling and even potentially outranking Qatar Airways Qsuites.
Christened by ANA as “The Room”, every business class seat features a sliding door, as well as an incredible amount of width and an industry-leading in-flight entertainment screen. The spaciousness of the seat has even drawn descriptions as a “First Class experience in business class”.
ANA debuted these new business class seats on their Tokyo–London service last summer, and has more recently launched them on the Tokyo–New York JFK service as well. In addition, they’ll also be launching the product on the Tokyo–Frankfurt route as of February 1, 2020.
I had made a mental note that I gotta experience ANA’s new business class at some point in 2020, but since I already found myself in Europe, I thought, why not check this one off the bucket list early?
Indeed, ANA seems to be making a good amount of last-minute award space available on their London route as of late, so I set my eye on the London–Tokyo flight soon after my W Verbier stay.
Because I had originally planned to book Lufthansa First Class for Jessy and myself, I had booked train tickets from Verbier to Zurich, where I had intended to revisit the Swiss First Class Lounge there as a same-day Lufthansa First Class passenger.
Now, having changed my plans to fly to Tokyo instead, I’d therefore book a flight from Zurich to London to catch my ANA business class flight (and I also plan on sneaking in a side-trip from Zurich to the principality of Liechtenstein, just to use this unexpected trip to visit a few more interesting places).
I could’ve booked Zurich–London–Tokyo using 75,000 Aeroplan miles, but recently I had realized that I still had a stash of miles in Aegean Airlines Miles+Bonus, which I had earned from bygone days when I was Star Alliance Gold with Aegean for many years.
Aegean’s award chart has a few favourable sweet spots, and a Europe–Asia redemption would only be 65,000 Aegean miles, so I went ahead and burned up those miles, which were otherwise just sitting in my account, counting down the days until they’d expire.
Alas, at €195 ($282), the taxes and fees through Aegean seemed higher than if I booked through Aeroplan (perhaps Aegean levies a higher fuel surcharge on ANA flights?), but in the end I decided it would still be better to burn up the orphaned Aegean miles.
That leaves the question of how I’m getting back home from Tokyo. And since I’m planning this one on the fly, I haven’t actually made a booking yet, but my intention is to fulfill one of my other goals for 2020, which is to book a British Airways Avios multi-carrier award.
There’s exceptional value to be unlocked in Avios’s little-known secondary award chart, and having talked up the power of this redemption opportunity (as well as similar opportunities from Cathay Pacific, ANA, and Aeromexico) given the recent uncertainty surrounding Aeroplan and its Mini-RTW, I think it’s about time that I practice what I preach and actually try booking one for myself, so that I may share with you all the details of the booking process.
Whether I’m able to snag a seat on Japan Airlines First Class (which I last flew two years ago, and remains the best food and drink I’ve ever had in the air) or Japan Airlines business class (which was a flight I greatly enjoyed taking last year), I’ll be a very happy camper. And since I’m originating in Japan, the country’s fuel surcharge regulations will likely help my cause in terms of the added taxes and fees as well.
I’ll definitely provide an update on this final stretch of the journey very soon, once it’s booked!
The W Verbier is of course the star attraction of this trip. The highly unique property is the first ski resort within the W Hotels brand, and was named World’s Best Ski Hotel for four years in a row, so of course I was very interested in trying out this hotel back when Marriott’s top luxury properties were bookable for only 60,000 points per night.
(In fact, the W Verbier is the final booking I had made under that sweet spot, joining the illustrious ranks of the Hôtel de Berri Paris, St. Regis Bali, Mystique, Al Maha, and The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto in what turned out to be a very fruitful opportunity indeed!)
The W is located mere steps away from the main ski lifts at Verbier, with one of Verbier’s pistes leading directly to the W’s ski-in-ski-out bar (and in fact, I’m looking out over it from my desk as I write this). Even better, I had used Suite Night Awards to secure an upgrade to the Sublime Penthouse Suite, taking the experience to yet another level.
After Verbier, I’ll be spending one night in Zurich before venturing to Liechtenstein and then flying out the next day. I’ve decided to book the Kameha Grand Zurich, a very distinctive Autograph Collection property that’s only a Category 4 hotel within Marriott Bonvoy.
This particular date was designated as off-peak, meaning that a free night was only 20,000 Bonvoy points, which seemed like great value given the $250+ cash rates.
I think this’ll be a useful hotel to review, since I assume many of you might be flying through Zurich on Swiss on an Aeroplan redemption, and the Kameha Grand is positioned quite conveniently close to the airport for any overnight layover in Zurich.
Finally, Tokyo. Of course, Tokyo is one of those places where I simply can’t complain about spending any length of time there – which is a good thing, because I don’t actually know how long I’ll be spending there just yet, until I get my flight back home sorted out!
For the hotel, while I find it tempting to try out the highly-acclaimed Ritz-Carlton, I find it even more tempting to take this opportunity to check off yet another bucket list item: staying at one of Japan’s capsule hotels.
Each “capsule” at a capsule hotel contains a single bed, and maybe a small television and a tiny surface space. I’ve been intrigued by the concept ever since I heard about it as a young boy, and this oddball trip seems like the perfect chance to try out an oddball lodging option as well – after all, I definitely plan to be out and about, rather than staying in my hotel room, for as long as I’m in Tokyo, and I can always visit one of the WeWork locations in Tokyo for work purposes as well.
If anyone’s stayed at a Tokyo capsule hotel before, let me know if there are any in particular that you’d recommend! Otherwise, in keeping with the spirit of this trip, I’ll probably be booking one from the comfort of my “Room” on ANA new business class.
Like any eager traveller, I’ve long been intrigued by the idea of a spontaneous trip, planned one step after the other based solely on my whims and urges in the heat of the moment. And yet, it’s a genuinely bizarre feeling to actually embark on such a trip, and to be making all the decisions as I go along, rather than having everything laid in place months in advance.
Having said that, I’m glad I eventually got to try out this kind of adventure at least once, and I’m looking forward to making the most of the occasion with a day out in Liechtenstein, a flight on ANA’s new business class, a few days of ramen-joint-hopping (among many other gastronomic pursuits) in Tokyo, and an attempt at making the Avios multi-carrier award chart a reality.