(let’s not talk about brexit…)
This year my wanderings were restricted to Europe, and my country count was low – apart from changing trains in Belgium, I only visited Norway, the Netherlands and Spain (in the shape of Gran Canaria). But nonetheless I ticked off a bucketlist item in travelling further north than I ever have before – or am likely to any time soon – reaching 78.6N in Pyramiden. As it happens, visiting Maspalomas at 27.7N also marked the furthest south I’ve ventured. (To complete my bounding box, furthest west was last year, 123.1W in Vancouver; and furthest east at 18.1E was Stockholm way back in 2008.)
For 2016 I set myself the goal of recording everywhere I went using Trip Advisor – I soon realised that was ambitious for cafes/pubs/restaurants, so restricted those to places which weren’t part of a major chain and where I had a proper meal. But the rest, plus every hotel I stayed at and tourist attraction I visited got a review, which you can find here. I don’t think I’ll be repeating this project for 2017, but I’ll continue to cover the highs and lows.
At 14 flights I travelled on a few more planes than last year, but given the lack of longhaul the mileage naturally fell short, coming in at 11 thousand or so. Still, I collected plenty of novelties – my first flights with Transavia, Iberia Express, Cityjet and KLM Cityhopper, plus a return to Norwegian after a seven year gap. There was also a new equipment type, as a quirk of the summer schedule meant I could sample BA’s midhaul A321 Club World product as a Club Europe service from Oslo.
This was also my most disrupted year – a KLM strike caused a LHR-AMS booking to be cancelled on 22 hours notice, and nearly meant a six hour reroute via Frankfurt until I negotiated my way onto a cityjet departure from LCY instead. More extreme, Finnair cancelled all of their flights between Helsinki and Longyearbyen, forcing an extension of my time in Svalbard instead of continuing on to Finland.
I only flew business twice, but I did manage to claim the front row of a domestic too 🙂
Paid stays (be that cash or points) dipped a little versus 2015, but I still spend effectively a month a year away, with 32 nights across 17 stays in 2016. As usual, my loyalty was flexible, and with no obvious earning targets this year half my nights were with non-chain properties. As a side effect of all my Norwegian travels, Club Carlson got the most attention, with 8 nights across 5 stays, and was the focus of my earning and burning activity (helped by laying the groundwork last year). IHG claimed four nights and Accor three, whilst in a reversal from last year, Hilton barely got a look in, with just a single night at the end of November.
Miles, points and loyalty
For stays with those three I’ve generally been making use of industry discounts for cash savings; such rates aren’t eligible for points earning but I have a wedding to pay for next year! So most of my loyalty programme accounts are still languishing on low 2015 balances – the Club Carlson stockpile was effectively drained for two nights at the Radisson Blu Polar. That was easily my biggest redemption of the year – without it, I don’t think the trip would have been possible – but my best value was rather more mundane. I needed 2 nights in Southend at short notice (due, unfortunately, to a family funeral) and a king room at the recently built Holiday Inn at the airport could be had for 15K points instead of £77.85. Representing over £5 of genuine savings per thousand points, this maintains my interest in IHG rewards, even none of this year’s accelerate promotion targets were viable for me. At least that avoided any mattress running for 2016…
I must also take a moment to mourn the passing of the British Midland American Express / Visa duo cards from MBNA. Although I never flew BMI, this card was my gateway into the world of points through spend: with an easily triggered 20,000 point welcome, and ongoing rates of 2 points per £ on the Amex and 1 for the visa, I collected over 60,000 avios across the years. We’re unlikely to see the likes to those again, so now I have to decide whether to start churning or accept this route is less lucrative than it used to be. This year I’ve also stumped up the hefty annual fee for the Amex platinum. But without the introductory bonus going forward I need to come up with a sensible way to value the hotel statuses and lounge access it grants – I’ve already determined that the travel insurance is too restrictive to be of use – to decide if the price is worth it.
Airline-wise, I’ve opened accounts with both Flying Blue and Norwegian reward as small balances are still useful for ancillaries or a token bit of cashback, respectively. But BA exec club remains my main focus. This year I’ve burnt my way through 78K avios on a combination of redemption flying (notably two business tickets from Gran Canaria) and part-payment against (already discounted) revenue fares. I recovered about 17K of those through a mix of flying, the last of those BMI earnings, and various promotions ranging from usual suspects like Topcashback and Tesco through to the Sunday Times travel magazine.