It’s time for my annual tradition, a review of my year in travel. Here’s the 2013 edition. Although I had thought this would be a relatively quiet travel year, at least on the personal level, it turned out to be anything but! Read on to see how we braved road trains, kamikaze kangaroos, the Gaza War, hectic airline schedules and Ebola to complete some epic birding trips!
One quiet month, just needed to finalize the bookings for the Aussie birding trip. No credit card apps this time, I needed to let the dust settle after going strong last year. Wyndham devalued their conversion to airline miles rate.
We flew to Perth and picked up a rental car from Hertz for a 2 week trip around Western Australia. The birds were amazing! The trip was not without risks as we dodged humongous road trains and dodged kangaroos on the road who kept jumping out in front of us. Thankfully we completed the trip without injury to us or the car!
Continuing on, we had a brief layover in Melbourne and saw several nice birds, then spent a week in Tasmania. The highlight was Melaleuca where we saw highly endangered Orange-bellied Parrots and flushed a Ground Parrot while walking to the boat excursion. Then we had a week’s excursion to Outback Queensland where we visited Bowra Station and Girraween National Park for more birds like Budgerigars, Cockatiels, Major Mitchells and several Rosellas. More kangaroos played “chicken” with my rental car but I managed to avoid them again. (trip not blogged yet)
Garuda joins Skyteam, most welcome as now we can use Flying Blue to book one way domestic awards!
Towards the end of March, US Airways and TAM officially joined OneWorld.
Shock-horror in the miles & points community as AA eliminates North American gateway stopovers and does away with the OneWorld Explorer ticket – a popular way to travel around the world. And NO notice given so people couldn’t even squeeze in their last tickets!
Every airline and their brother was doing some kind of buy miles get bonus miles promo. Americans weren’t biting as they can manufacture spend but they proved popular with Aussies and other travelers around the world.
Sri Lankan Airlines officially join OneWorld. The annual Daily Getaways promo is announced but no bargains to be had since Wyndham points no longer transfer to airlines at an attractive rate. In the face of devaluations and airlines changing their programs with no notice, I decided to bring forward the two trips planned for 2015 which would become impossible if the programs changed.
The French Polynesia trip relies on Air Tahiti Nui remaining a partner of the “new American” since Air New Zealand doesn’t release seats between AKL & BNE and very rare seats between AKL & PPT. I brought the planned Feb 2015 trip forward to June 2014.
The Africa trip relies on no more United devaluations and the use of stop-overs and open jaws and would be way more expensive if these perks went away. I bring the trip forward from Aug/Sept 2015 to Nov 2014.
We travel to the Marquesas and Rimatara to see some of the most beautiful lorikeets in the world. Meanwhile Daily Getaways tanks with most point packages going begging due to devaluations. Information about the AA/US merger starts trickling out.
Dramas with the award tickets booked on US Airways/Star Alliance for the upcoming trip to the World Parrot Conference at Loro Parque. Our planned stopover in Israel is in jeopardy when airlines pull out of TLV because of the Gaza War. I’m stressing big time when Turkish Airlines also pulls out. They later reinstate the flights but cut back the schedules. Meanwhile, Singapore Airlines cancels our PEK-SIN segment and rebooks us on an earlier flight that kills our quickie trip to the Great Wall. More stressing since US is no longer partnering with SQ since they changed to OneWorld. I manage to get the tickets reissued and communicated to all airlines involved after several hours on Skype.
Air India joins Star Alliance.
On the bright side, ANZ finally does a good deal on the Qantas card and I pick up 50k QF points with no annual fee! I scramble to meet the minimum spend domestically before the Israel/Europe trip as the card has a hefty forex fee. Bills are prepaid through December, one less thing to stress over!
The war in Gaza continues and I have to plan an alternate stopover in Turkey just in case things get worse by Sept when we will be there and we can’t go to Israel. I am not worried about the war as we won’t be anywhere near Gaza but the war could either spread or cause airlines to pull out again or leave us stranded in Israel if it happens while we are there. Ceasefire is declared on 26 Aug, less than 3 weeks before our trip. People on Trip Advisor advise that Israel is safe for tourists. The damage to the tourist industry is done and TK cancels the morning flight we are on and rebooks us on an afternoon flight so we now will arrive late into Jerusalem and miss a valuable sightseeing time. Once again, we need to have our tickets revalidated, more time on the phone and more time to make sure all airlines got the memo.
I send our passports to the Ghana Embassy in Canberra for the visas for the Nov trip and stress about them getting back in time and not getting lost. Thankfully they come back with visas in good time. Now I get to stress over the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia possibly spreading to Ghana.
In my spare time I have to pre-write 80 blog posts (mostly birding trip reports and bird profiles) to cover my one-per-day schedule while we are in Europe and Africa! I bet no one even noticed I was gone!
Because of Ebola, Ethiopian Airlines pulls out of Monrovia and Conakry, both of which were routed via Accra. They cut back Accra to one flight a day and of course it is OUR flight that gets cancelled and rebooked to the other flight. I guess I should be glad they rebooked us! So yet another round of ticket reissuing and calling airlines to make sure they all get the new ticket numbers.
We fly to TLV via BKK and IST (fantastic lounge) and get the suites between BKK-IST on the wetleased plane! Mini-first class experience. Once we finally arrived in TLV, we found that one bag had gotten lost. We waste time filling out forms and stressing out as our evening clothes for the gala party at Loro Parque and the cruise are in the lost bag. The prodigal suitcase is delivered the next day to the Crowne Plaza Jerusalem while we are at Masada much to our relief. We enjoy the rest of our visit in Israel (which was perfectly safe), the stopover in Nice and the conference.
After the conference, we fly to Venice and boarded an NCL ship for a Grand Mediterranean cruise. This cruise won’t be blogged since it doesn’t fit the eco-tourism theme but it was the worst cruise I have ever taken. Incompetent service, cancelled Mykonos port, live animals in the magician act and lack of activities during sea days.
Cruise continues, ports were great but we were exhausted as we DIY’d everything to save money. We did get to see most of the European sights we targeted. The stress doesn’t end with the cruise. Swiss Air has two late flights and we barely make it in time for the Air China flight FCO-PEK, huffing and puffing and praying the bags are on board. We stay in the Air China lounge since now we don’t have enough time to go to the Great Wall. SQ flight in J on the A380 is fantastic! We finally catch a break when the SQ transit desk lady manages to swap us onto the red-eye to BNE, sparing us an overnight in the albeit wonderful Changi Airport.
Avianca Lifemiles devalues their awards.
No rest for the wicked as I bite my nails and watch Ebola reports online. So far Ghana remains Ebola-free as does the rest of Africa. With shortened nails, I breathe a sigh of relief. I have 3 weeks to catch up on everything that happened while we were traveling and then we set off again for JNB via TPE & PEK. I have noticed the declining availability of J class awards lately so am relieved we are doing this epic journey in biz.
The African trip is amazing! I’ve only started blogging about it and am up through Port Elizabeth but in the New Year will finish blogs on the rest of South Africa, Mauritius, Madagascar, Ghana, Addis Ababa (layover) and Tanzania!
Realizing that we need to cool it on the long-haul trips next year since I have burned most of our miles squeezing in French Polynesia and Africa I cut back next year’s travel to only one overseas trip – South-east Asia and a week in Rarotonga so my husband can see his family and friends. I burn the last United miles we have to book a killer itinerary that totally maximizes the United routing rules – 2 open jaws and a stopover! BNE-BKK-CNX-BKK-USM /-KUL-BKK-PVG-AKL-RAR. I use Virgin Velocity to close the circle with RAR-AKL-BNE.
Air New Zealand announces service to Buenos Aires late next year. I am not holding my breath for award seats!
So there it is! We survived a stressful but fulfilling year of travel and birding!
How was YOUR year?