2019 is pretty much over, and what a fascinatingly “big” year it’s been in travel. Big hotels moved towards boutiques, big airlines launched new seats, big riots dominated destination news and just about every loyalty program had some kind of big change. I saw more new things launched this year than any year I could possibly recount. Here’s a collection of my favourite memories from it all…
ANA’s “The Room” New Business Class
I couldn’t believe my luck. I was captivated by ANA’s new business class seat from the moment they unceremoniously put out a low key press release stating its future existence. It wasn’t years away, either. I knew that the first ever flight was scheduled for August 4th from London Heathrow to Tokyo and I watched award space availability like a hawk.
Much to my surprise, they released a seat on the first ever flight just two days before, and one coming back for the very next day. I booked using 95,000 Virgin Atlantic miles and about £350.
The seat was extraordinary. I instantly called it the world’s best, besting the Qatar Airways Qsuite, and that sentiment has since been echoed in other reviews. It’s private, it’s huge, it feels first class and perhaps most impressively, both crews were totally aware of how to use it from day one. That can’t be said for some European airlines who launched seats this year.
It’s not often that I am fully buzzed on a flight without a drop of alcohol, but I just couldn’t believe what a triumph the seat was, nor could I believe I managed to get on the first ever flight using points. I hope you can get a chance to try it this year. Here’s a full review.
Giving Into Santorini
Where do you take the man who’s been almost everywhere? Santorini. After years of avoiding Santorini on the basis that everyone wants to go, every honeymooning couple does go and that peak summer travel is my version of hell, I gave in. We did a three night four day escape the world break to Santorini and all I can say is that it’s too beautiful for people to ruin.
We stayed at an incredible place called The Vasilicos that I paid through the nose for, but I’d pay double to see the views every night as the sun set over our balcony while heavenly bread, tzatziki and fresh catches from the sea were brought to the table.
Santorini is mostly as you’ve heard: crowded, expensive and in need of some kind of capacity controls due to the cruise industry. At the same time, if you find yourself a beautiful place to stay, you simply don’t care, because the beauty of this incredible volcanic island is unmatched. I loved the boat trips by day, the quaint tavernas by night and really – just staring out into the endless blues, as the orange sunset filled the skies.
I made a guide for anyone thinking about it as well…
My First Time(s) To Tel Aviv
Growing up in New York I had lots of friends that went to Israel for vacation and while it always had some appeal to me, I was perhaps like many of the ill informed that expected it to be conservative and perhaps even intimidating. In Jerusalem, that’s pretty true. In Tel Aviv, it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Ever curious to experience new things, I booked myself a seat on Virgin Atlantic’s first ever flight to Tel Aviv, and ended up loving it so much that I went back only about a month later. To say that Tel Aviv is on the short list for any sunny getaway from London is an understatement now. With flights times under 5 hours, truly outstanding food and equally nice weather, Tel Aviv is a must.
It’s as laid back culturally as Santa Monica, but with the exciting food and little thrills of being smack dab in the middle of the Middle East. I made a 48 hour guide with good tips, just in case you’re thinking of going yourself.
Flying Emirates A380 First Class, Again
Between work travels, trying new seats and commuting often between New York and London, I spend more time in business class than I can recount. I’m very lucky, and I love it – but it’s mostly “samey” for me these days. First class however, is like a once a year treat, at best though.
I really just can’t often justify the 2x miles needed over business class, and I can really never justify the price (or usually afford it) via the cash route. With that said, I had a rare opportunity to book Emirates First Class for some work related activities and wow, what a pleasure it was – again.
Some things just blow you away and even years on, Emirates A380 First Class is truly wowing.
It’s nothing at all like flying even the greatest business class and with the added benefit of an on board shower, you just find yourself laughing. They nail the food, the beverages (hello Dom Perignon P2 2002) and everything just feels surreal. I had 14 hours to soak it up between Dubai and New York and it just made me realise what an incredible “golden age” of aviation we’re living in. Cash in those miles and get some for yourself…
Re-Grouping In Australia, My Happy Place
It was a rough start to the year and 2019 is one I can’t wait to put in the history books. It’s never good to escape your problems, but once you’ve dealt with them, travel can be the ultimate therapy. I found a good business class deal from Stockholm to Melbourne, returning from Brisbane on Cathay Pacific, and Laura and I left the world behind.
I can’t tell you how much I adore Australia. To me it’s like the best of New York or LA’s hip food culture on steroids, but with the banter and work life balance of the UK, with the inimitable weather that in my opinion makes it the best of all cultures for overall enjoyment. From shopping to eating to beach hikes it’s the best.
For me, Melbourne may be the greatest city in the world. Sydney always holds a special place for me for beach hikes, speakeasy drinks and great shopping and the surprise joy of the trip was Brisbane. I thought it would be a bit sleepy, but wow, Brisbane really is a melting pot of ideas and all things hip. Here’s a Melbourne guide, and a Sydney one as well…
This trip was the first time I’ve ever let loose, ignored “the budget” and just let life be fun, turning off work emails and experiencing life from a fresh perspective. Whatever it cost, I’m richer from it and mentally it was priceless.
Whether it’s a road trip with a friend on a shoe string budget or a full on blowout trip that breaks the bank, travel really can be the ultimate “get over it” helper and I feel very privileged to help try and steer people towards opportunities to do so. This was the highlight of my year, and now I just need to find a way to make Australia at least annual. Every time I go, I come back wanting more…
Thanks for sharing! Sometime in 2020 I hope to finally try the new ANA business class seat. For me, I tend to hoard my miles for first class experiences (or for aspirational business class experiences like the ANA one or VS upper class new suites.) Have a great time in Australia! I’ll be going to MEL in two months!
Thanks as always, for sharing and doing what you do. I’ll be off to Melbourne in February with Qatar Business class out of Oslo. If you keep finding the deals I will take advantage of them and visit my youngest so your efforts mean the world to me. Happy New Year!
Hey Gib, how do you book ANA flights using Virgin miles online as I thought you had to phone Virgin for availability which is always a pain!
Thanks and happy new year from sunny Florida!
Same to you. You search on United.com for space and then call Virgin to book over the phone.
Tel Aviv is fascinating, especially Jaffa, and the food is fabulous!
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