Mixed Cabin Tickets To Europe

It goes without saying that flying in premium economy or business class can greatly improve the comfort of long haul flights. It can, of course, also increase the cost significantly and sometimes a premium cabin ticket just isn't in the budget.

Mixed Cabin Tickets

An alternative to a straight premium economy or business class ticket is a mixed cabin itinerary and this can be a great way of upgrading yourself for the legs of your trip that are the longest or the ones that are the most important for you to get a good rest on.

There are several ways to construct mixed cabin itineraries and below is a quick summary of the different ways these tickets can work.

Switching Cabins At A Transit Point

Many airlines will allow you to change cabins during your journey at transit points. So, for example, you could fly from Sydney to Dubai (the longer half of the trip) in business class and then Dubai to London (the shorter half of the trip) in economy. Or you could fly from Australia to Asia in economy and then from there to Europe in premium economy. The benefit of splitting the journey up this way is that it means you can arrive in Europe better rested and fresher than you would had you flown the whole way from Australia in economy.

Splitting the journey this way is perfect for holidays where you have limited time on the ground. While it's often nice to have a stopover in Asia for a night or two on the way to Europe to split up the journey, if you only have two weeks off work, you may want to maximise the time on the ground in Europe. Having said that, you're likely to lose a day of your holiday if you fly straight through due to fatigue when you arrive from 24 hours flying.

Upgrading one section of your itinerary to premium economy can be very affordable and when you factor in the value of gaining a day on the ground, it can represent incredible value.

Switching Cabins At The Point Of Turn Around

Changing the cabin of service you're flying in at the point of turn around is another way to construct mixed cabin itineraries. What this means is flying from Australia to Europe in economy and then flying back in business class or premium economy or vice versa.

This approach to mixed cabin airfares is far more widely available and almost all airlines allow this. The hardest part when constructing this sort of mixed cabin itinerary is deciding which half of your ticket to upgrade! The best way to make this decision is basing it on the duration of your holiday. Less than two weeks - upgrade the outbound journey as you want to arrive fresh and hit the ground running and just deal with the jet lag on your return. More than two weeks - get the jet lag out of the way when you arrive and make the post-holiday blues as manageable as possible on the way home.

There may well be other factors that help you make this decision. If you have a meeting or an activity planned soon after you arrive in Europe, you'll want to upgrade the outbound journey. If you've totally maxed out your annual leave and are going straight to work when you get back home, upgrading the inbound journey is probably a great shout.

Example Itineraries

Tom illustrate how affordable some of these mixed cabin itineraries can be below are a couple of examples:

Example 1: One Sector Upgraded To Premium Economy

The below itinerary is all in economy except the flight from Bangkok to Germany, which is upgraded to premium economy and the total price starts from just $2297 including taxes (as at 6 Feb 2017)

  1. Sydney to Bangkok - economy
  2. Bangkok to Frankfurt - premium economy
  3. Frankfurt to Sydney - economy

For this exact itinerary all in economy, the total price is $1567. So upgrading a 12 hour flight can cost just $$730 per person. When you consider that on a short trip you may well be effectively gaining an extra day's holiday, that can be a really great deal!

Example 2: Upgrading Half The Itinerary To Business Class

The below itinerary has economy all the way to Europe and then business class from there to the USA and from the USA back to Australia:

  1. Sydney to Paris - economy
  2. Paris to San Francisco - business class
  3. San Francisco to Sydney - business class

The total price for this itinerary starts from $4197 including taxes (as at 6 Feb 2017), which is about $2000 more than doing the whole thing in economy. Considering that that's upgrading two very long flights all the way from economy to a fully flat business class bed, that's a pretty great upgrade option!

There are many ways to construct these itineraries and we're always happy to go through all the options and upgrade possibilities for your next trip.

 

 

 

Quick Guide To Choosing A Maldives Resort

The Maldives is a true paradise on Earth and is right up the top of any list of "aspirational travel" destinations you might come across. White sand, crystal clear azure water, warm climate, incredible underwater scenery and luxury overwater accommodation; it's a perfect place to visit for a honeymoon or to celebrate a round anniversary.

It's often referred to as a once in a lifetime holiday but that's not necessarily the case. Have a read of any Tripadvisor forum about the Maldives and you'll see how many people return year after year, absolutely addicted!

Choosing a resort in the Maldives can be an intimidating task. Even if you're a seasoned traveller and have no problem picking a hotel in most destinations, the Maldives can be tricky. There are a few reasons for this and below are some tips on how to navigate your way around the amazing variety of Maldives resorts.

Chain Hotels Aren't Necessarily The Way Forward

Whilst most hotel chains are represented in the Maldives, they're not necessarily going to be the easy choice they can be elsewhere. Starwood, Hyatt, Hilton, IHG and Accor all have properties there but even if you're a die hard loyal customer of one of these brands, for varying reasons, their properties may not be the best bet for your Maldives adventure. That's not to say they won't be, just that you shouldn't jump straight to the Park Hyatt or the Sheraton because they're your usual go-to brands.

Budget

This is the big one for the Maldives. Accommodation choices in the islands range from very basic backpacker style accommodation all the way up to some of the most pimping luxury villas in the world.

If you're visiting for a special occasion, you'll likely be looking at properties in the 3 to 5 star range depending on your budget. Depending on the season and what deals are available, it's possible to get a nice beach villa in the 3 star category for as little as $100 a night including breakfast but at this price point you can't expect luxury. Anywhere from about $300 a night can get you a beach villa at a property in which you could expect a fairly nice level of service and comfort. $500 a night and up and you're looking at luxury accommodation with breakfast and starting from about $800 a night you can get a 5 star over water villa on an all-inclusive basis, meaning all your meals and drinks are included in the price. There are of course options that cost many times this and if you're in the market for a $10,000 a night villa, you'll still be spoiled for choice. 

One way that you can find particularly good deals is by looking at resorts that are yet to open. As resorts often have "soft opening" rates, you can get some fantastic deals this way! And there is no shortage of new properties opening up in the Maldives. During 2017 alone, there are several brand new resorts welcoming guests, such as the Mercure Kooddoo and the tiny Kudadoo Island Resort, and you can bet that as soon as they get a few 5 star reviews on Tripadvisor their rates will jump up!

Inclusions

It won't come as a shock to anyone who has done even a little research that food and drinks in the Maldives tend to be expensive. So what's included in the rate of your room is an incredibly important consideration especially as the resorts are mostly on their own islands so you don't have the option of going off resort to grab a cheap meal up the shops. Thankfully, the resorts in the Maldives are actually great about publishing menus for their restaurants on their websites, much better than in most destinations. This means that you can calculate, to a reasonable level of accuracy, the cost of any meals not included in your room rate and even drinks. It's worth taking the time to have a look at this as it can make a massive difference to the total cost of your holiday. If you're planning on drinking cocktails all day and are a big eater, staying on an all inclusive rate could save you some seriously big bucks. If you don't drink and a big buffet breakfast is likely to get you through to dinner, then half board options may work out to be better value. Either way, just make sure to factor in an estimate for anything not included in your room rate when comparing rates.

Understanding Tripadvisor Reviews In The Maldives

While it is of course important to check out some reviews when deciding on a Maldives resort, you need to understand that the ratings need to be viewed a little differently to those for other destinations. The reason for this is that they are all extremely high! When people first visit the Maldives, they are invariably blown away by the natural beauty and are mostly going to rate their experience as 5 stars. This isn't to say that their reviews should be any lower, after all they have just had a genuinely 5 star experience, just that there is a very broad range of quality and luxury within the 4.5-5 star average rated properties.

Transfers

Once you arrive into Male international airport, you're going to need to get to your resort and I'm sorry to say that Uber is not going to get the job done.

Depending on the location of your resort and the distance from Male, your transfers between the airport and the resort will either be by speedboat, by sea plane or by a domestic flight followed by a speedboat. 

A direct speedboat from the international airport is only available for resorts that are reasonably close to Male. These are often less costly than the other transfers, as well as less hassle. They can also pick you up and drop you off at any time which is great if your international flight arrives into the Maldives after sunset. There are some drawbacks to the resorts that offer speedboat transfers though. Some of them are close enough to Male that you will be able to see the capital from the beach on your island and in some cases from your villa. For some people this will be of little concern whereas some find that having the "real world" visible from their resort can take away from the Maldives experience. 

If you're looking at staying in a resort that requires sea plane transfers, you need to be aware that these only operate during daylight hours. This generally means that if your international flight arrives after about 4:00pm or departs earlier than 9:00am, you'll need to spend a night close to the airport. Male international airport is on an island just next to the actual island of Male called Hulhumale. If you need to do an overnight by the airport due to the arrival or departure times of your flights, your best option is to stay on the island of Hulhumale rather than on Male as it will be easier and quicker to get between the airport and your hotel.

The sea plane transfers in the Maldives are an amazing experience in themselves and even though they are generally more expensive than speedboat transfers, quite often it's not a huge jump in price and the marginal cost is probably worth it for the experience of the flight alone.

With regards to resorts that require a domestic flight and then a speedboat, well that's definitely going to take up some of your valuable Maldives time and is generally going to be expensive. If you have your heart set on a resort that requires this type of transfer then you just have to accept that it is what it is. Once you're there, no doubt you're going to feel like it was worth the effort but it isn't advisable to choose an island that requires this type of transfer if you're visiting for less than a week.

Robinson Crusoe Or P Diddy?

Image from Mirihi's website

Image from Mirihi's website

Luxury in the Maldives comes in many forms but one decision that is worth making before you get too deep into picking a resort is what general style are you after. While islands like Mirihi are all about a "no news, no shoes", Robinson Crusoe escapism version of 5 star luxury, other resorts such as Amilla Fushi are all about pimped out pool villas with every conceivable modern amenity. 

Image from Amilla Fushi's website

Image from Amilla Fushi's website

This is a very important distinction as it will have a big impact on how your time in the Maldives is spent. Do you want to be on an island with as few as 20 rooms, where you can find a beach all to yourself with no noise but the gentle waves lapping at your feet? Or would you prefer to have the option of a bit of nightlife? Maybe even an underwater nightclub like Subsix at Niyama island? Do you want your Maldives experience to be one of utter, uninterrupted tranquility or do you fancy having the option of taking a jet ski out for a spin should you feel like it?

Image from PER AQUUM Niyama's website

Image from PER AQUUM Niyama's website

House Reef

For many visitors, the number one reason they're in the Maldives is for the snorkeling and diving. The underwater scenery of the islands is unparalleled and on many islands all you need to do is look over the edge of your overwater deck to see white and black tip reef sharks, turtles and manta rays.

Some resorts have spectacular house reefs where those so inclined could spend weeks exploring the world underneath the sea without getting bored. Some require a short boat trip to get to better areas for snorkeling and some are just more about the beach than coral reefs.

If you're planning on doing a two tank dive every morning, you're going to want to pick an island with a top house reef such as Park Hyatt Hadahaa, which is often said to have the most colouful and interesting coral formations in the Maldives (which would automatically make it a contender for the best worldwide). If you're planning on spending most of your time on the beach or by the pool and are just planning on the odd half hour of snorkeling, you may be better off looking at islands with a shallow lagoon and beaches with fluffy white sand. Or even better, a long sand bar like the one at Finolhu.

Image from Finolhu's website

Image from Finolhu's website

 

Once you've made decisions (and agreed on them with your travel partner!) about these considerations, you'll find that the field has been dramatically filtered and deciding on a resort will be far less intimidating.

Getting There

Getting to the Maldives from Australia has never been easier! There are many easy, one-stop routings with both Asian and Middle Eastern airlines, such as Singapore Airlines and Emirates and during sales, return economy fares can be had for under $1000. You can get there for even less with no frills airlines like Scoot and Air Asia!

The Maldives is also an easy addition to a round the world itinerary, particularly with either Emirates or Swiss Air so why not visit paradise on your way home from New York and Paris!!

 

Review: Cathay Pacific Business Class

I recently flew Cathay Pacific business class from Sydney to Hong Kong on an A330 and then on to New York on a 777-300er. 

The Seat

Cathay's business class seat on their A330 and 777 aircraft is absolutely awesome! The herringbone layout and 1-2-1 configuration allows a fantastic sense of privacy and the storage space and ample surfaces make it really easy to set yourself up and get comfortable for a long flight (HKG-JFK is around 16 hours).

(Image from traveller.com.au)

(Image from traveller.com.au)

Cathay don't offer mattress pads like some of their competitors but when flat, the seat makes a very comfy bed. The pillows and blankets are great and I managed a good few hours of sleep on both legs.

As I was travelling with my partner, we chose seats in the middle section of the cabin. The seats can track forward when they're in the upright position to make conversation easy. When travelling on your own, any seat in the cabin would allow you sufficient privacy. Solo travelers will find that a big plus.

Really, the only complaint I can muster with regards to the seat, is that the IFE screen doesn't tilt. This means that watching a movie isn't very enjoyable when you have the seat fully flat. A minor gripe though, as there are still plenty of comfortable positions to watch TV in. 

The Service

The service was efficient and professional. Meals were offered in courses off trolleys and were fantastic. The drinks menu was pretty comprehensive, with a couple of exceptional options. Cathay serve a couple of signature cocktails that were an unexpected treat and they serve Johnny Walker Gold Label, definitely a step up from the omnipresent Black Label.

Lounges

In Sydney, Cathay use the Qantas business class lounge, which has a decent breakfast spread that tastes better than it looks and they have a coffee cart set up in the morning. There isn't any sort of view from the lounge and it can get pretty busy.

In Hong Kong though, the lounges are absolutely stellar! They have four business class lounges (plus an arrivals lounge, which I didn't use but what a great idea for those heading straight to meetings in the city) and two first class lounges. I tried out The Wing and The Cabin, both of which served fantastic food, offered panoramic tarmac views and free flowing Moet!

The Long Bar in The Wing was a killer spot to drink champagne and reflect on a great couple of days in Hong Kong.

Conclusion

I was definitely impressed with my first trip on Cathay Pacific's business class and certainly wouldn't hesitate to fly with them again. The hard product was one of the best business class offerings I've flown and the lounges in HKG were incredible! 

Cathay Pacific can be used as part of Swiss Air and Lufthansa round the world tickets, oneworld round the world fares and also on their own amazing fares that allow round the world travel. If you'd like to learn more about Cathay Pacific round the world itineraries, please CLICK HERE.

 

Multi-Stop Pacific Island Flights With Fiji Airways

It's probably not too surprising to anyone that Fiji Airways allow stopovers in Fiji on the way from Australia to Hawaii but there are two additional options available that may interest some.
Fiji Airways offer three weekly services from Nadi to Honolulu:

•    Sundays - direct service
•    Fridays - via Apia, Samoa
•    Tuesdays - via Christmas Island, Kiribati

On many of their fares to Hawaii, Fiji Airways allow two free stopovers in each direction. This means that if you really wanted to check out a bunch of Pacific paradises, maybe for an epic diving/surfing trip if that's your thing, you could visit Hawaii, Fiji, Samoa and Kiribati all on a return ticket to Hawaii!

Itineraries combining stops in all four destinations can be had for as little as $1528!

Just keep in mind that the flights between Kiribati and Fiji only operate once a week so the duration of your stopover there can only be in increments of weeks, not days.

 

Getting To Las Vegas Like A Rock Star!

Los Angeles to Las Vegas is roughly the same distance as it is from Sydney to Jindabyne. So it's pretty easy to assume that it's a cheap, straight forward trip. And it definitely is, if that's what you're after. You can hop on any number of economy class flights for about $100 and 45 minutes per direction or you can hire a Hyundai Getz or similar and drive the four odd hours through the desert. Just a heads up, Friday and Sunday afternoons take significantly longer due to the traffic.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with either of these options but there may well be occasions that warrant a grander entrance to Sin City. A bucks weekend, for example, springs to mind.

So what might be a little more fitting for this sort of occasion, when a bit of extra outlay is totally acceptable??

A business/first class flight perhaps? Well sure, a 45 minute hop in the front couple of rows on an American Airlines 737 or similar will get you domestic lounge access in LAX and a drink during the flight. That's a definite step up from the back of the plane but it doesn't exactly scream once-in-a-lifetime.

You could also pay a small premium on your car hire and get a Mustang or Camaro convertible instead of an economic class lead-in car. They're both great cars to drive, look awesome and have the key factor for this iconic drive, no roof. This is a fantastic option really. The only thing is, both these cars are everywhere in Southern California and if you're going for something really special, stopping at a set of lights and having four of the exact same car you're in around you might not be ideal.

So what about a private jet for the short trip? Now you're talking! JetSuite offer a private jet service from Los Angeles to Vegas in Embraer Phenom 100s for about US$4400 one way.
This covers 4 passengers so makes the cost per person about US$1100. Now, that's an expensive trip from LA to Vegas but you never know, maybe you can win it back once you arrive!

(Image from Jetsuie website)

(Image from Jetsuie website)

JetSuite also offer discounted rates called SuiteDeals. These are basically last minute re-positioning flights that JetSuite need to operate regardless, so they offer some dirt cheap prices. These can start from around US$1000 total for 4 passengers!

You'd have to really be a gambler to plan around being able to get a deal like this on the exact date and route that fits your schedule but you could always have a rental car booked and then if the stars align and there is a SuiteDeal available that fits your itinerary just cancel the car and fly in a private jet!

If you're actually seeing the drive through the desert as an integral part of the whole Vegas experience though, you might consider renting something a little fancier than a Ford.

If the US$1100 per person wasn't too hefty a price tag but you'd rather spend it on a car, you can totally max this thing out and hire a Rolls Royce Dawn convertible from www.exclusivecarrentals.com for the four hour blast through the desert. The dawn seats four people and would cost you a total of a little over US$4500.

(Image from Rolls Royce website)

(Image from Rolls Royce website)

Now, let's dial all this back a little and have a look at an option for getting to Vegas that sits somewhere in the middle. After all, it doesn't have to be a Rolls Royce to make heads turn.
How does a classic 1965 Mustang GT289 sound? www.simplyrac.com rent them out for a daily starting rate of US$349!!! On top of that you would expect insurance and mileage surcharges but between a few of you it's going to be pretty affordable.

(Image from Simply RAC website)

(Image from Simply RAC website)

In a perfect world, my opinion is that you'd want to do the drive to Vegas in an awesome car and then land a SuiteDeal on the way back to LA. On the way over you're all excited and fresh and coming through the desert seeing the bright lights of Sin City appearing is an awesome start to the trip. Plus that way you get to pull up to your hotel like a rock star. Then, on the way back, when you're dusty from all the partying, having a nice quick hop in a private jet back to LA, toasting champagne to the awesome time you've just had would be a beautiful way to finish off the trip.

 

 

Review: The New York EDITION

For the first three nights of my last trip to New York, I stayed at the New York EDITION hotel in the Flatiron district. EDITION hotels are Marriott's 'lifestyle' brand, so their answer to Starwood's W chain and Hyatt's Andaz brand. They were offering a special rate on three consecutive nights, that was actually cheaper than booking two nights, which I was initially considering in order to try somewhere else for the third night. It was my first time staying at an EDITION hotel and I'm now keenly eyeing up their property in Miami Beach, which looks fantastic.

Location

Shake Shack

Shake Shack

The property in New York is at the very south end of Madison Ave right near the Flatiron building and across the street from Madison Square Park. A nice thing about being so close to the park, beyond the obvious benefit of being across the street from a park, is that the original branch of Shake Shack is there! Just on the other side of the park is Eataly, which is well worth checking out. Decent coffee, by American standards, for the morning and a great rooftop bar for the evenings. There was also a nice dingy sports bar by the hotel which was a great place to move onto tequila shots after we felt it was time to graduate from Italian wine and local craft beers.

It's a fun and friendly part of town and I was glad to have spent the three nights there. It was right by the subway and handy enough for anywhere in the city. The building the hotel is housed in is the Metropolitan Life Insurance tower and was the tallest building in the world when it was built in 1909. Being able to spot your building when you get a little disorientated is certainly a positive.

The Room

Image from EDITION Hotels website

Image from EDITION Hotels website

We stayed in a lead-in room and it was on the smallish side but definitely fine by NYC standards. As the hotel had only been open a few months, everything was new and shiny. The rooms are modern and sleek and we had a great view. We could even see the One World Trade Center from the window.

The room was stocked with Le Labo toiletries and seriously comfy bathrobes with hoods. 
The room was everything you would expect from a hotel of this standard and we didn't have any complaints at all.

The Service

The staff at the New York EDITION were friendly and professional almost to a fault. It's fairly business-like service but the staff are all beautiful and smiling and every request is taken care of promptly.

Conclusion

It's a great business hotel and has a lot going for it, the best part probably being the location. Would I return? Probably, depending on the nature of my visit to New York. The only downside that could potentially be a reason to look elsewhere is that it's a little bit vanilla ice-cream. If I was in New York for a fun weekend I would probably stay somewhere else. Maybe somewhere with a pool like the Trump Soho or a kick-ass rooftop bar like the Refinery.
All-in-all though, it's an excellent hotel.

Quick Guide To Visiting The Seychelles - Part 2. La Digue

My favourite of all the islands, La Digue is the place to go for the ultimate Seychelles experience.

 

Just a short 20-minute ferry ride from Praslin, when you step off the jetty it immediately hits you just how laid back this little island and its people really are. The smallest of the three main islands, La Digue has a tiny population of just 2,000 people. In fact, the only way to get around is by foot, bicycle or golf cart.

Hot tip: Brush up on your French! The locals are incredibly friendly so expect to be greeted with “Bonjour Madame/Monsieur! Ça va?” everywhere you go.

Rolling our suitcases along, we finally came to our villa and were greeted by Frank and his son Blaise. An American expatriate, Frank moved his family to the Seychelles four years before to open up the beautiful and quaint, O'Soleil Chalets guest houses. Extremely roomy with high ceilings, the villa had a full kitchen, separate bedroom and powerful air-conditioning (thank god!)

Just 25 metres away from O'Soleil Chalets is the beautiful Anse Severe. A swim at this beach became a daily staple and later, a place to watch the sun set with a drink in hand. It was here that we were lucky enough to experience one of the most incredible sunsets we had ever seen.

 

On day two we hopped on our hire bikes and cycled towards Anse Caiman, a very secluded beach that is amazing for snorkelling. You can cycle along the road until a certain point but then it stops short and you’re forced to walk in the low tide around the granite boulders. It was a bit tricky, but we finally got there and enjoyed an afternoon watching the likes of Bat, Butterfly and Parrot Fish swim by.

Heading back was interesting…

Hot tip: Don’t try and hike over granite boulders at high tide. It is not fun.

 

 

La Digue is renowned for being home to one of the most iconic beaches in the Seychelles, Anse Source D’Argent. One of the most photographed beaches in the world, this is the beach that has characterised the Seychelles with its iconic granite boulders and crystal clear water. We were warned by Blaise to get there early before the mad rush, but we soon found out that a ‘mad rush’ in the Seychelles means about ten people.

 

A National Heritage site, Anse Source D’Argent is located inside L’Union Estate and you have to pay a small entrance fee upon arrival at the gate. After that, you’re welcome to explore the estate and La Digue’s history, including walking around landscaped gardens where you’ll find the old Plantation House, a traditional copra mill and kiln and the cemetery of the early settlers.

The beach itself was, as we expected, absolutely stunning. With knee-deep, crystal clear water for about 100 metres out, it’s an incredible experience to walk amongst a variety of fish and even feed them! They are pretty tame and will come straight up to you if they think you have food.

Having worked up quite an appetite from all the cycling and swimming, we ventured out to spoil ourselves with dinner at the Fish Trap Restaurant. One crab curry, one chicken curry and about a thousand cocktails later we walked (stumbled?) home past the pumping music of the outdoor nightclub and several locals enjoying a beach bbq. I could stay here forever!

The next day we said ‘adieu’ to La Digue and were on our way to Mahè.

Quick Guide To Visiting The Seychelles - Part 1. Praslin.

Seychellois Life
More than 1,000 miles off the east coast of Africa, the Seychelles is renowned for its spectacular beaches - think white sand, dazzling turquoise water and gigantic granite boulders that flank each beautiful cove. Topped with a rich marine life, lush nature reserves, breathtaking sunsets and the warmest ocean water you will ever dip your toes in, it’s easy to see why many call it paradise on earth. 
 
An archipelago of 115 islands, we chose to visit Praslin, La Digue and Mahè during our two-week stay.
 
First stop – Praslin!
After flying for more than 20 hours (with a brief stopover in Abu Dhabi), landing at Victoria Airport on Mahè seemed a world away from the hustle and bustle of inner city Sydney. Hopping onto a tiny Twin Otter propeller plane operated by Air Seychelles, we were on our way to Praslin!

When our plane landed 15 minutes later, the pilot turned around and said "You have arrived in Paradise, you have chosen well. I wish I could stay here with you,". 

Hot tip: You can get to Praslin either by flight or inter island ferry. Both work out fairly similar prices and both are totally unique experiences. Why not fly one way and ferry back?
 
With a population of 6,500 people, Praslin is the second biggest of all the islands and home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, as well as the exotic Coco De Mer. This naughty looking nut is a protected species that only grows in the National Park and nearby Curiese Island. Poaching is a big problem as one nut will go for around $150 Euros on the black market.
 
Accommodation options in Praslin include a few large scale resorts or independent, self-catering villas. We chose the self-catering option and absolutely loved it! Our modest little villa was located halfway up the mountainside, overlooking the beautiful Anse Possession. Our balcony had an amazing view of the entire cove and our favorite thing to do at the end of a hard day of swimming and sunbaking was to relax on the deck chairs and watch the amazing sunsets roll over.
 
We also discovered that our closest neighbours also happened to be two giant Aldabra tortoises that live on the property we stayed at. 
 
Arriving in the late afternoon, we decided to head out in our little hire car and find a bite to eat. Seychellois have a unique Creole culture so expect to see lots of seafood and curries on the menu of any restaurant you visit (you’ll also find your standard burgers, pizza and pastas so fussy eaters are catered for too).
 
Hot tip: Restaurants in the Seychelles are expensive! A standard meal for two is usually upwards of $80 so if you’re travelling on a budget, keep an eye out for takeaway shops where you can grab a tasty fish or chicken curry with rice for a fraction of the price.
 
After a sunrise swim at Anse Possession, we were ready to get out and start exploring the rest of the island. With the sun and temperature rising, we set off in search of the infamous Anse Lazio.
 
Side note: Driving around Praslin is quite an experience! You will encounter some of the steepest hills you have ever seen in one of the tiniest cars ever made, so turn off your air-conditioner and gun it.
 
Anse Lazio. Imagine sparkling turquoise water, white sand and not another tourist in sight - we were in absolute heaven.
 
Back at the villa, our lovely hosts told us about another famous beach – Anse Georgette. A private beach within the 5 Star Lemuria Resort, we were instructed to call ahead to put our names on visitor list as they only allow a certain amount of people in a day. Deciding it would be more fun to sneak in, we set off across the mountain that divides Anse Lazio and Anse Georgette. A fantastic view from the top but I would only recommend it to the adventurous! It is a long, hot and humid trip with no clear pathway. Just put your name on the visitor list and save yourself from inevitable heatstroke.
 
Anse Georgette turned out to be the most ridiculously beautiful beach we have ever seen in our lives! This is a must-see beach during on your stay on the island. 
 
Hot tip: Hire a car so you can beach hop – there are so many to visit! If you don’t drive, there is also an excellent bus service that will take you around the island.
 
Next stop: Diggin’ La Digue…..Part two coming soon!

Best Ways To Use Qantas Frequent Flyer Miles Part 2: Emirates Trans Tasman Business Class

Today I’m discussing a subject that excites me immensely. Using points to fly return to Auckland with Emirates Airlines in business class. This is a very fun way to spend 72,000 Qantas points!

I don't fly enough to accrue large amounts of points but when I started earning miles through credit card sign up bonuses, I found myself with a large stash in a short amount of time. I started researching different ways to use my points and this is definitely in my top 3. 

If you live in Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne you have the opportunity to fly direct to Auckland on the Emirates A380. This beautiful aircraft is equipped with 14 private first class suites, 76 flatbed business class seats and 399 economy seats. The upper deck of the A380 is 100% dedicated to first and business class guests. 

If food is your thing, you won’t be left unsatisfied with Emirates' blend of local and Middle Eastern cuisines. Their food is absolutely beautiful and prepared perfectly. Choose a drink from your personal mini-bar and sit back and enjoy award-winning entertainment on your personal screen. If you feel like a nap, just recline your seat into a fully flatbed topped with a comfy mattress.

Another feature of this aircraft is the fully equipped bar at the rear of the upper deck. This little gem is just for first and business class passengers and it's a perfect place to kill a few hours on your way to Auckland. It’s a good spot to spend time with your travelling companion or mingle with the other guests. The bar is fully stocked with premium wines, beers, spirits and most importantly, cocktails! 

Before the on-board experience begins, make sure you check-in early so you can enjoy some time in their new business class lounge. For someone that doesn’t get to fly in business class every day this is a great way to prolong the experience. The three cities all now have their own dedicated business class lounges. The 'gourmet buffet’ selection offers hot and cold dishes that will satisfy even the fussiest eater.

A quick side note for Qantas Frequent Flyers holding either Gold or Platinum status, you'll also be able to use the new Emirates lounges, provided you're booked onto an Emirates or Qantas flight. The same goes if you're flying in first or business class with Qantas. 

Booking Emirates Business Class Across The Ditch

So, booking a return business class flight from Sydney/Melbourne/Brisbane to Auckland comes to 72,000 points + tax. 

When I calculated the CPM value based on a number of dates I checked, it worked out at an average of about 0.019 cents per mile which, when compared to upgrading domestically (which can be as high as 0.6c per mile) doesn’t look great. The real value in using your points this way though, comes from the ability to enjoy a premium experience for a completely realistic amount of Qantas miles. Australia is so far away from Asia and the Americas, so booking a trip on an aircraft of this quality would usually cost you hundreds of thousands of points.  

Hope you enjoyed this, like us on Facebook for more tips on the best ways to use your QANTAS Frequent Flyer points. 

 

 

 

Quick Introduction To Qatar Airways And Privilege Club

Qatar Airways are widely considered to be one of the world's best airlines. They are rated 5 stars with Skytrax and have won their Airline of the Year award on several occasions and are currently ranked 2nd, behind only Emirates.

Qatar have an amazing onboard product and were the launch customer for Airbus' newest aircraft. The A350-900 is a cutting edge long haul aircraft and below is a virtual tour inside Qatar Airways A350 so you can have a look around!

They only began flying into Sydney this year so, to many Sydneysiders, aren't quite the known entity that some other carriers who have had years to build their brand here are. Qatar have been flying into Melbourne and Perth for a few years and are very well regarded in those markets as well as in their other more well established international destinations.

Qatar Airways have one of the youngest fleets in the sky and since September this year have begun operating their Sydney service on their flagship A380-800 aircraft. Qatar's A380 has three cabins (economy, business & first) as well as an onboard bar/lounge and  the business class product is consistently ranked among the world's best.

Qatar's hub airport in Doha, the newly opened Hamad International, is a fantastic transit airport and is home to Qatar's incredible Al Mourjan business class and Al Safwa first class lounges. These can be accessed both by premium cabin passengers and by oneworld Sapphire and Emerald members respectively.

Privilege Club

Qatar Airways' loyalty program, Privilege Club, operates a little differently to Qantas Frequent Flyer and Velocity. As with most programs, there are two "currencies" that can be accrued when flying with Qatar and their partners, which are basically redeemable miles and status credits. They also have a third currency which can only be earned by achieving elite status with Privilege Club.

Qmiles

QATAR AIRWAYS A350 BUSINESS CLASS (IMAGE FROM QATAR'S WEBSITE)

QATAR AIRWAYS A350 BUSINESS CLASS (IMAGE FROM QATAR'S WEBSITE)

Qmiles are Privilege Club's redeemable miles currency. Qmiles can be used to book flights on Qatar Airways as well as their partners and also to upgrade Qatar flights. One big difference between Qmiles and the equivalent currencies attached to most airlines' loyalty programs is the disparity in redemption rates on Qatar as opposed to partner flights. As an example, a one way business class flight from Sydney to Doha on Qatar Airways is 70,000 Qmiles whereas a one way Sydney to Singapore business class flight operated by Qantas (which is a much shorter flight, about half the distance) will cost 100,000 Qmiles. Based on this, it's obviously ideal to try and redeem Qmiles on Qatar operated flights.

Another benefit of Qmiles redemptions on Qatar flights is that they don't levy fuel surcharges on award tickets so the payable taxes are generally going to be less than $100, depending on the route.

The number of Qmiles earned on flights is based on miles flown and booking class (extra miles are also credited if the passenger has elite status with Privilege Club). As an example of the earning rates, Sydney to London in discount business class would earn 27,342 Qmiles, which is flown miles x 125% class bonus.

It's worth noting that Privilege Club run constant promotions offering bonus miles. These promotions can be incredibly lucrative, sometimes offering double or even triple Qmiles!

Qpoints

A350-900 ECONOMY CLASS (IMAGE FROM QATAR'S WEBSITE)

A350-900 ECONOMY CLASS (IMAGE FROM QATAR'S WEBSITE)

Qpoints are Privilege Club's version of status credits and are earned by flying on Qatar and partner airlines. They work in much the same way as status credits with Qantas Frequent Flyer or Velocity. The number of Qpoints required to achieve Silver status (oneworld Ruby) is 150, Gold status (oneworld Sapphire ) is 300 and Platinum (oneworld Emerald) is 600.

As an example of Qpoints earning rates, Sydney to London return in discount business class would earn 150 Qpoints.

ECONOMY CLASS IFE (IMAGE FROM QATAR'S WEBSITE)

ECONOMY CLASS IFE (IMAGE FROM QATAR'S WEBSITE)

In much the same way as Privilege Club run promotions offering bonus Qmiles they sometimes offer bonus Qpoints (though much less frequently). In the past they have run promotions offering double or even triple Qpoints. As you can see from the above, if you book and fly with Qatar Airways during one of these promotions, it's possible to achieve Gold status in one business class trip to Europe.

Qcredits

AL MOURJAN LOUNGE (IMAGE FROM QATAR'S WEBSITE)

AL MOURJAN LOUNGE (IMAGE FROM QATAR'S WEBSITE)

Qcredits are a unique offering of Privilege Club and aren't directly earned by flying, the way that Qmiles and Qpoints are. Instead, Qcredits are given to members when they achieve Gold status (40 Qcredits) and Platinum status (60 Qcredits).

Qcredits can be used in a variety of ways including purchasing extra luggage or duty free shopping in Hamad International Airport. The best way to use them though, is upgrading Qatar Airways flights.

The 40 Qcredits earned by achieving Gold status is enough to upgrade a one way economy flight to business class from Sydney to the Middle East as well as some destinations in Africa or Europe. It won't quite stretch to London or Paris but is enough to upgrade all the way from Sydney to Istanbul or Athens for example. As such, Qcredits are a fantastic perk for Privilege Club members and are valuable in a very tangible way.


 

 

Best Ways to Use Qantas Frequent Flyer Miles - Part 1: Domestic Upgrades


You’re not alone in being unsure of the best ways to use your QANTAS points! For most Australians accruing points is a hobby, for many it's even an obsession. Credit cards, health insurance, shopping, running, flights... the list of ways we accrue miles goes on and on! So when it comes to using the points you’ve worked so hard for, you need to make sure you're getting the maximum value for all your effort.

Through this series, our Airfare Geeks will go over the most important dos and don’ts for redeeming your QANTAS Frequent Flyer points. 

A QANTAS Business Class lounge (photo from QANTAS website)

A QANTAS Business Class lounge (photo from QANTAS website)

To be able to quantify the value for each redemption, we're going to put things in terms of cents per mile (CPM). So, as an example, if you were to use points to upgrade a domestic flight you'd already bought for $100 to business class for 10,000 miles and the price of purchasing a business class seat on the same flight was $700, it's pretty easy to calculate the value you're getting from your points. In this example, the upgrade from Sydney to Melbourne would give you a value of 6 cents for every one point, or 6 CPM, which is fantastic!

 

Upgrading Domestic Flights 

Upgrading a domestic flight is a great way to use a relatively small amount of points for great rewards. For example, on a flight between Melbourne & Sydney or Sydney & Brisbane, it’s only 10,000 points to upgrade yourself into a business class seat and into the lounge. If you can spend your points on upgrading flights between Sydney & Melbourne, or between Melbourne or Sydney and Perth, these are usually great redemptions for the reasons below.

QANTAS 737 Business Class (photo from QANTAS website)

QANTAS 737 Business Class (photo from QANTAS website)

1. Why Melbourne/Sydney & Perth? Most flights that QANTAS operate around Australia are operated by their 737-800 aircraft. These planes are great but the business class is not going to blow you away. 

However, on some flights between Melbourne/Sydney & Perth, QANTAS operate an Airbus A330 with fully flatbed business class suites. This is an international style business class and it costs no extra points to upgrade to compared to Boeing 737-800 flights. 

QANTAS A330 Business Class (photo from QANTAS website)

QANTAS A330 Business Class (photo from QANTAS website)

It’s often also easier to upgrade on the A330 flights because it has 28 business class seats compared to the 12 seats on the 737-800.

2. Booking and confirming your upgrade at the same time. If you’ve ever upgraded an international flight with QANTAS, you’ll know that it won’t be confirmed or declined until 48 hours before departure (unless you have elite status). Luckily the same rules don’t apply when flying domestically. The following advice should work the vast majority of the time. The only time I've seen it fail is for large groups of people trying to upgrade on the same flight. It has never failed me, but then I generally fly alone.

Firstly, before you book your ticket through Airfare Geeks, log into your frequent flyer account and attempt to book a reward seat. Booking a “reward seat” is just using points to book the ticket outright.  

Find an A330 flight that has a reward seat available (see reward seats below with black arrow). If there's a reward seat available, it means that it’s likely an upgradable seat is also available. Once your airfare is booked you log back into your frequent flyer account and go to “manage bookings”. Click on “upgrade me” and follow the prompts.  It’s really that easy. 

3. Cents Per Mile (CPM) Value
As previously mentioned, when spending your QANTAS Frequent Flyer miles you're going to want to maximise the CPM value in your redemptions. QANTAS point redemptions can vary wildly in value and you need to figure out what value you place on your miles so you know when you're better off cashing in miles or just paying for your ticket or upgrade outright. As a very general rule, I would say anything over about 3 CPM and it's a good use of your points. The value in redemptions  usually varies between 0.5 CPM and 6 CPM but there are definitely redemptions with significantly higher and lower returns. The worst use of your miles will usually be buying goods on the QANTAS store and the best is generally travel in business or first class.

Upgrading domestic flights with QANTAS, you'll often get 6 CPM or more in value. On the transcontinental flights mentioned above, between Sydney or Melbourne and Perth, the value can be as high as 8 CPM which is absolutely incredible.

If you ever have any questions or concerns, ask your Airfare Geeks consultant for a hand when booking your flight.

Quick Guide To Planning A Multi Continent Or Round The World Itinerary


Planning a big round the world trip is a pretty massive task and requires a stack of research. Going through your destinations, country by country or even continent by continent, you're likely to keep coming across more and more sights you want to see and places you want to visit. And why not? Round the world trips are often once in a lifetime. Taking the amount of time it takes to cross off a bunch of items from your bucket list in one big adventure is not usually all that easy to organise, so you may as well make the most of the opportunity while you've got it!

Having said that, while it's often tempting to look at a trip like this and think "When's the next time I'll be going back to this part of the world?" and try and fit every single point of interest into your itinerary, sometimes it's best to be a little selective. If you have a really generous amount of time, maybe six months or more, then you can certainly max your itinerary out. However if you have less time, it's often more enjoyable to miss some of the destinations that aren't in your must-visit list and spend a bit more time in your key destinations. If you book a massive trip and you're flying every second or third day, you'll definitely see a lot but spending too much time in the air and in airports can get pretty tiring and can end up taking up too big a proportion of your holiday time. It's much nicer to have an extra couple of days in destinations. Miss out two days of travelling and you've scored an extra day at two of your must-visit spots.

Apart from organising the time to travel, the other concern that can take a fair amount of planning is money. Obviously, if you're looking at a backpacker style budget, researching and planning out how much you'll need per day in each destination is very worthwhile and every bit of extra cash you can save on your airfare is a big help. Booking your round the world ticket by using the smartest fares can save you a huge amount of money, which means more cash to spend in your destinations!

Booking an around the world airfare can be a daunting task if all you're armed with is an internet connection and a rough plan. It can also be a very costly mistake to book your flights this way. Usually this type of trip can be much more effectively booked by utilising the skills of a good travel agent and here are a few tips on how to best attack the rough planning stage for a round the world itinerary.

1. A geographically logical itinerary

In the vast majority of cases, the most cost effective way to travel around the world is to actually travel around the world. By this, I mean by continuing in the one direction, either East or West, the whole way. So you might travel from Australia to North America to Europe to Asia and back to Australia. Or Australia to Africa to South America and back to Australia.
The order of the North and South parts of your travel can still make a difference but aren't quite as important. For example, if you are looking at visiting both North and South America, the order in which you travel between these two continents won't usually matter too much but you wouldn't often try and visit North America then Africa then South America. There are always exceptions to these rules of course.

2. Keep Europe in the middle of the itinerary

This point follows on from the first but there's an additional reason for this. On top of the alliance round the world fares, there are quite a few other ways to construct a round the world itinerary and the cheapest way is often on a return fare to Europe with stopovers in other continents. Most fares to Europe go via Asia or the Middle East but there are also a few airlines that allow travel via the Americas in one direction. This routing is known as AP, which stands for Atlantic Pacific, as travel via the Americas to Europe means crossing both those oceans.

So, if you construct a fare using half of one of these fares and half a fare that goes via Asia, you've got around the world itinerary all on a return fare to Europe! Using these fares, it's often necessary to add on separate tickets, depending on where you want to go. This is because these fares have routing paragraphs that must be followed rather than just being mileage or continent based as the alliance fares are. The routing paragraphs often have the bigger cities included but not smaller destinations.

For example, Los Angeles will always be an option but Austin, Texas will not. So if you want to use one of these fares but also visit Austin, you could fly into LA on the main (return to Europe) ticket and then just purchase a separate ticket from there to Austin.

This might seem a little complicated but it can make a huge difference to the price of your flights. One thing that is definitely worth being aware of is that where separate tickets are being used, the connection is not going to be guaranteed. When there is a transit on the one ticket, the airline guarantees the connection. So, if your first flight is running late and you miss your next flight, they'll look after you and get you on the next available service. If you're travelling on two separate tickets, they will not take responsibility for your transit so if you miss the second flight, you'll be stuck!

On the back of this, it's is highly recommended that you have at least one night in the city you're connecting through. Realistically, this shouldn't be a chore. Even once you factor in the accommodation for the night you will often still be way out in front in terms of your cash outlay compared to just booking an alliance RTW ticket. Plus it means you get to check out an extra destination!!!

Some examples of airlines that have fares to Europe that allow you to route via the Americas are Qantas, Lufthansa, Swiss Airlines & Finnair. Each of these carriers' fares have pros and cons with regards to pricing and what can be done with them. 

3. Close it with a golden key

Some destinations are all about exploring and some are about relaxing. Think your way through the flow of your itinerary and make sure you book in a relaxing destination at the end. Not only does this mean you'll arrive back home feeling recharged, it also gives you a chance to reflect on your round the world adventure before you get back home to normality. It's definitely worth splurging on your accommodation in your last stop as well. In Brazil they call this "closing it with a golden key". 

4. Book some experiences before you leave

Even though building some flexibility into your itinerary is a great idea, you don't want to miss out on any experiences that are important to you. If you're a football fan and you're going to Spain, check the Real Madrid match schedule before you lock in your flights and book some tickets to a game before hand. If you want to catch a particular Broadway show in New York, book some tickets before you leave. Sometimes getting some experiences locked in before ticketing your flights can save some disappointment and/or the hassle of changing your flights.

More airfares that can be used to get you around the world

There are also some airlines that have fares that can get you to Asia, Europe and the Americas all on a return ticket that's much cheaper than an alliance RTW fare that don't follow the exact formula outlined above. Emirates and Etihad both have return fares to the Americas that allow routing via Europe! In addition to their direct Dubai to New York services, Emirates actually fly daily from their hub city, Dubai to Milan and on to New York, back to Milan and back to Dubai. Using this service it's possible to have a stopover in Milan on a return ticket to New York!

Utilising the rest of their route map it's possible to, for example, fly Sydney to Bangkok to Milan, to New York then make your own way to Boston and fly from there to Dubai to the Maldives to Sri Lanka to Singapore and back to Sydney all on a return ticket to the USA! 

Etihad don't operate any flights between Europe and the United States themselves but they partner with American Airlines and allow you to use some trans-Atlantic flights on their tickets. So, for example, you could fly to Paris with Etihad and from there to New York with American Airlines and back to Sydney with Etihad via Abu Dhabi.

There are plenty of other ways to construct these sorts of itineraries! Cathay Pacific allow add-ons to be built into their tickets with British Airways, American Airlines and Swiss Airlines. How these ones work is by flying from say, Sydney to London and then back from Vancouver to Sydney all with Cathay Pacific and then using a British Airways add-on flight from London to Vancouver.

So that's a reasonable introduction to some of the better fares that allow a round the world itinerary to be built using a more cost effective return ticket.

Sometimes the cheapest way to construct your itinerary might be with a series of one way tickets. As an example, if you had a cheap Jetstar flight from Sydney to Bali and another cheap Jetstar one way from Honolulu back to Sydney and added in a one way from Bali to Hawaii that allowed a stopover in Europe on the way, you could be looking at a very competitively priced round the world itinerary.

Booking a trip like this, you'd have to be a bit bonkers to try and do it all yourself on the internet. Most of these smarter fares can't be booked online and need to be constructed by a travel agent using a GDS (global distribution system). The reason for this is that the quoting logic used to price tickets always tries to quote the whole itinerary to the carrier with the longest single sector on the itinerary and with this sort of trip, the longest flight is pretty much always going to be the one between Australia and the Americas but this is almost never going to be the airline whose fare is being used.

Where Airfare Geeks come in

At Airfare Geeks, we're all incredibly passionate about constructing complex itineraries such as round the world trips. We can save you huge amounts of time and money by putting our expertise to work and giving you the best advice, the best flights and the best price. We can also advise you on which loyalty programs you should sign up to and where to credit your flown miles. When you're flying the whole way around the world you definitely want to get the most possible value from these programs.

Quick Guide To Visiting Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is somewhere that's perhaps not on many Australians' wish lists but it absolutely should be. North Americans flock to San Juan and its tourists enclaves of Condado Beach and Isla Verde, which are a lot of fun and offer all sorts of great accommodations, nightlife etc.

There is a lot more to Puerto Rico though and I'm going to go through some great spots to stay and visit, particularly on the small island of Vieques.

Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the USA. This means they use American dollars and that flying there from the United States is basically domestic travel. Americans don't need a passport and security at the airport in both directions is significantly less tedious than international travel to/from the USA.

San Juan

San Juan has a charming old town which is dripping in Spanish colonial awesomeness and is full of great restaurants and watering holes. It also has two main tourist districts called Condado and Isla Verde. These two areas are home to the bulk of international chain hotels such as the Intercontinental, Ritz Carlton, several Hilton and Marriott properties etc.

The Hilton Caribe in San Juan is the birthplace of the Pina Colada and is also the setting for much of the novel The Rum Diaries by Hunter S. Thompson.

The San Juan Water & Beach Club Hotel in Isla Verde is a great choice for those looking for a bit of nightlife. It has a fun rooftop bar looking out over the Caribbean and really cool modern decor throughout.

One restaurant I'd recommend that is a must-visit when in the mood for an absolute pig-out is Raices in the old town. This place was featured on Man V. Food if that gives you some idea of the feed I'm talking about. They do a giant pork chop which is basically a deep fried two inch thick whole bacon rasher that comes with all the traditional Puerto Rican sides like rice and beans. This is obviously subjective but in my eyes it's a two man job.

San Juan is great for a few days but the real selling points for Puerto Rico are the two smaller islands of Vieques and Culebra.

Culebra

Culebra is home to Flamenco Beach which is a permanent fixture on any top ten beaches in the world list you might come across. As such it can get quite busy during the peak Caribbean holiday season of the northern hemisphere winter. Culebra is a gorgeous island and absolutely worth checking out but it is missing one key ingredient. There aren't really any 5 star luxury resorts.

Vieques

Vieques was, until not long ago, mostly a US military base but is quickly transforming into a popular tourist destination. When I say popular, it's not Patong or Kuta but there is definitely a steady growth in visitors and development. Much of the island is still sparsely developed and populated though, and it really has that special-something paradise factor for it.

There are plenty of accommodation options on the island but the jewel is the W Retreat and Spa. This property has mercifully come down in price over the last few years and is actually quite affordable these days, particularly when you take into account the experience that is on offer at this fantastic resort.

The W in Vieques boasts two private beaches, one of which is adults only, a couple of pools and huge beautifully landscaped grounds. The rooms are fantastic and those with ocean views are absolutely worth the extra money. The property provides guests with snorkels and flippers and a variety of other non-motorised water sport equipment at no charge and has a car rental place that only rents out Jeep Wranglers. This is important when on Vieques. You need a car and a Jeep seems completely appropriate.

The reason you need a car is that you're going to want to explore the island and get to the best beaches. While the W Retreat has two of its own, these pale in comparison to the perfection on offer a short drive away. Most of the beaches on Vieques have two names, one being the Spanish name and one being the US military's name. The US names are all colours, so Blue Beach, Red Beach, Yellow Beach and so on.

My favourite is Red Beach also known as Playa Caracas. Wow. Just wow. It's really beyond words how amazingly perfect this beach is, it's a true paradise and only a 15 odd minute drive from the W. Maybe a twenty minute drive if you stop off at the Sol Food van on the way for a three cheese and ham empanada. Definitely worth the detour.

Apart from all the amazing beaches, Vieques is also home to the most active bioluminescent bay in the world. The bioliminescence is a natural phenomenon that results from plankton in the water that light up when disturbed and is one of the most surreal things to witness. People travel half way around the world to Vieques for the sole purpose of experiencing it.

One thing worth noting about Vieques is the wild horses. The island is inhabited by horses that roam freely and you encounter them constantly. Most of the time this is amazing! Waking up and having your morning coffee watching a bunch of horses and calves grazing on the grass below your balcony in front of a dramatic Caribbean panorama is very nice. Driving down a main street and having ten horses stampede across the road in front of you unexpectedly is not.

The west coast of Puerto Rico is a surf mecca during the northern hemisphere winter months as I'm sure anyone reading this that is interested in such pursuits is well aware. I'm not going to go into any detail on that part of the island but am going to just touch on one other resort back on the east coast that works perfectly as a last stop on the way back to San Juan, the continental USA and home.

St Regis Bahia Beach

The St Regis Bahia Beach is ridiculous. It's an absolutely top end property closer to the Ceiba airport than SJU. When you arrive at the St Regis there's a big security gate and then, you have arrived! Driving from the gate to reception takes about 10 minutes and every square inch you cover is manicured to within an inch of its life. It's truly spectacular. Once checked in you can expect world beating service and amenities at every turn, it's truly top end in every regard. The beach is honestly not all that good, especially after Vieques, but the pools, grounds, rooms, bars and everything else available at the resort will have you not even noticing the beach. The rates at the St Regis can be a little heavy but you can score some great deals there from time to time.

The St Regis is also pretty close to an awesome strip of food outlets at Luquillo Beach that's well worth a visit and gets pretty lively at night. It's hard to explain but it's basically a strip of kiosks selling all sorts of awesome greasy Puerto Rican food and beer.

Flights from San Juan to Vieques

The short flights between San Juan and Vieques are only operated by a couple of small local and regional carriers including Cape Air and Vieques Air Link. When I say "short flights" I mean it. From San Juan to Vieques the flight takes about ten minutes and from Vieques to Ceiba on the east coast takes six minutes. VAL operate these routes on little 8 seater aircraft and these flights are fun!!!

They're also really cheap. San Juan to Vieques can be had for as little as about US$70 one way but is more commonly about US$120.

The shorter flight to Ceiba usually costs around US$35. Pretty awesome for such a great experience.

You can catch ferries between the main island and Vieques for less cash but getting to the port in Fajardo, queuing up for tickets, queuing up to board and all the rest of the hassle involved in this mode of transport in Puerto Rico is absolutely not worth it.

Another great thing about the flight to Vieques is that the W Retreat & Spa has its own arrival and departure lounge at the tiny airport that has a bar stocked with Puerto Rican rum and snacks, fast wifi and comfy seating where you can get checked in and have a drink before your free transfer to the hotel arrives.

Getting to Puerto Rico

Flights to Puerto Rico aren't usually all that expensive from Australia as they are usually common rated with many cities on the East Coast of the USA.

At the moment, depending on seasonality and availability, return flights from Sydney to San Juan with American Airlines start at about $1550 per person including taxes. It's also possible on these fares to add stopovers in the continental USA for a small amount of additional taxes. So for example, you could visit Los Angeles on the way out and Miami on the way back. Or New York on the way out and San Francisco on the way home. We can obviously construct your airfare exactly the way you want it to make sure you're getting the holiday of your dreams for the best price.

Please feel free to give us a yell if you'd like to have a chat about booking a trip to Puerto Rico!