Jul 102016
 

After exiting the airport I called an Uber, which was slightly confusing to find. Las Vegas has an Uber waiting area in the parking garage, and the signs to find it aren’t great. I suspect the local taxi mafia is behind it, but in the end it worked out fine, and was a convenient way to get to the hotel.

When I booked my hotel, I had one primary motivation: don’t stay anywhere too exciting so I can manage to get a reasonable amount of sleep. I chose the Westin which was off the strip for this reason. Waited in line over ten minutes to check in, and when I did was told they were 100% full, so I ended up with an old unrefurbished room. Pretty poor platinum treatment, but they did offer 500 starpoints as an apology.

That said, the room was cold and functional, and I slept well, so can’t really complain. Best part…they was a Starbucks in the lobby which was great in the morning. I’d definitely stay there again for a quiet Vegas stay if the price were right, but overall for a Vegas hotel it was very, very unimpressive.

Uber to the airport in the morning, where I got a super awesome driver. She’s a kindergarten teacher who drives Uber in the summer “because I meet all sorts of fascinating people.” She was really awesome, and the first driver I’ve ever given a cash tip to! No line at security, and off to the packed Centurion lounge. Was super impressed to see dragonfruit, but the rest was awful. The waffle was rock hard and the eggs were awful, cold, and rubbery. At least there was Veuve…

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Small rant. The lounges are nice enough, but they’re way, way too packed. Maybe that’s expected with a Platinum Card, but they really need to do something for Centurion members. When you pay six times the annual fee, you shouldn’t feel herded into the same cattle lounge. Ok, end rant.

Delta flight 976
Las Vegas, Nevada (LAS) to Los Angeles, California (LAX)
Depart 11:03, Arrive 12:20, Flight Time: 1:17
Boeing 717, Registration N969AT, Manufactured 2001, Seat 3C
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 105,204
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,295,341

Nothing much to say about this flight. I’d originally booked on American, but it got delayed 90 minutes, so I bought a last minute ticket on Delta which was super reasonable. Short flight, and I recommend the firefly vodka and lemonade as a beverage ūüėČ

Thanks to the semi-new connector tunnel at LAX was able to walk to the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) without having to reclear security. My first time in the Star Alliance first lounge there, and was very nice. Small, but functional and plenty of space that even when it got full it didn’t feel crowded. The menu of to-order items:

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Nothing caught my attention so I decided to stick to the buffet and champers instead:

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Great cheese selection AND macarons? Best lounge in the US for sure!

Was offered an escort to the plane by the lounge agent, which I turned down because it just felt awkward. Should have taken it, because when I got to the gate there was already a huge line to board, and when I walked to the front I got yelled at by a couple of angry Europeans that “we’re all waiting in line here!” Rather than get in an argument I just ignored them and walked to the front of the queue, where the agent was happy to board me right away.

Lufthansa flight 457
Los Angeles, California (LAX) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 15:25, Arrive 11:20 next day, Flight Time: 10:55
Airbus A380, Registration D-AIMH, Manufactured 2010, Seat 1K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 111,010
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,301,147

Nice matronly crew today, and it didn’t take long for bubbles and macadamia nuts to appear:

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Today’s menu:

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Did something I never do, and changed into the pyjamas before the door closed. This was a long flight, and I wanted to be comfortable. Oh, and first was full today…three couples obviously on “once in a lifetime” trips and their excitement was contagious. They were all in their PJs the moment they got them, and I have to admit it kind of felt like a fun pyjama party up in there! Other reason is I was nervous Lufthansa would do it’s “turn up the heat to Mediterranean levels” thing, and I didn’t want to sweat through my clothes. Fortunately, nice and cool today, as it has been my last few flights.

Before the door closed amuse bouche was delivered…mmmm Spargelsaison!

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Shortly after takeoff the crew was quick to action, and it was caviar time:

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I’ve never had such a large portion, AND such an artistic presentation:

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Next, the appetizers came around, and I wasn’t given a choice. I was told I would try all three of them plus the salad. For once, they were all super tasty, and I may have finished it all…

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Took a risk and went with the filet and pork belly main, and it was delicious. The beef was even cooked medium well, which on a plane I consider a huge success! The veg was good, but too much sauce. It was easily avoided though.

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I can never say no to cheese, and today’s selection was super tasty:

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Since it was a long flight, I decided why not keep going. The tart was superb, and washed down with a couple of glasses of Johnny Blue it was delicious. Unfortunately, yet another crew who doesn’t understand “one ice cube.” Oh well!

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Before the meal, the flight attendant asked if I wished to be woken for breakfast. I told her no, on the off chance I was still sleeping. Since it was a far longer flight from the west coast I expected to be awake, but….seven solid hours of sleep, and I was woken up about 20 minutes from landing. Just enough time to get out of the pyjamas and guzzle a bunch of water. Another superb Lufthansa first experience.

After this trip is over, I’m going to do a comparison of first classes from this year, but so far Lufthansa hit another home run! Next up, the first class terminal and onwards to Dubai…

Jun 272016
 

Elite status with airlines is great. At a minimum, you can usually get a better seat on the plane. You also generally earn approximately double the miles each flight when you’re a top-tier elite member with most airlines in the US.

Then, there’s free luggage if checking bags is your thing. I know most top-tier elites go out of their way not to check luggage, but it’s certainly a nice benefit when you need it.

Did someone say upgrades? Most of the US airlines offer unlimited complimentary domestic upgrades to elites – space available of course – which is less and less these days. There’s also the ability to do international upgrades a few times a year with vouchers if you’re a top elite. Definitely a great benefit.

However, at least for me, while trying to do every country the single most valuable benefit is free changes on award tickets. Sometimes, I change tickets a lot because I can’t make up my mind. It’s good to lock things in when you find the availability in case it’s gone later, but other times there’s just a change of plans. Or, say 300 days out, you lock in the only routing available with miles…then closer in, better options open up. Free changes, and you’re good to go.

Then, there’s what happened today…

See, I’ve been wanting a flight on the Lufthansa A380. I got one once from Miami to Frankfurt on Christmas Day a few years ago, but I’ve been dying ever since to do it again. Lufthansa is probably my favourite first product, and doing it on the A380 is as close to perfection as it comes.

Once I decided to splurge the miles for a first award to Dubai to start my Turkmenistan trip, there was no question – I wanted the longest flight possible. Lufthansa generally doesn’t open up first awards until 14 days out, so booking United and changing to Lufthansa at 14 days is the best you can hope for. I did that, and at 12 days, lots of options opened up. Grabbing the Frankfurt to Dubai was a piece of cake. Question then was, how to get to Frankfurt.

DC to Frankfurt is a short flight, and wasn’t available anyways. Chicago to Frankfurt was, and surprisingly DCA to Chicago with United was there too. Put it on hold while I looked for something better. There was Houston to Frankfurt on the A380, but getting to Houston appeared to be a giant pain – and in the meantime the availability was gone. A week went by, and it looked like I was going via Chicago. Until this morning.

The longest Lufthansa flight from the US opened up this morning – LAX to Frankfurt! I grabbed it, not even thinking about how I might get to LAX. 11 hours on the A380 with Lufthansa in first was like a dream. Even managed to get an add-on with United from Las Vegas…but that’s as far as I could backtrack with miles.

I’m seriously short this year of requalifying with United in terms of miles. I’m only at around 50,000 booked so far, so am looking for United options whenever they come up. Found a shockingly cheap first fare from DCA to Las Vegas the night before, and I was set! No, this wasn’t how I expected this trip to go down, but, we have a new routing for the trip:

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So, plans change, and the only reason I could even consider this is due to elite status. So, bring on one night in Vegas…..and then LA where I will have 6 hours (side trip to In-n-Out Burger perhaps?) and then a super long A380 ride to Frankfurt!

May 052016
 

The last six months of work had been incredibly busy, some of the longest weeks I’d ever worked. That was combined with planning the end of my plans to visit every country, which was really two parts logistically: first, how to get to the remaining countries and when, and secondly beginning to organize the final country party for family and friends.

I knew the hardest of the countries remaining would be Tuvalu, and for that reason knew that when time allowed it was the one to finish first. Flights to Tuvalu only go three times a week, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. I decided it was best to do at the beginning of my trip, because if anything went wrong I would have the rest of the trip to keep trying. So, the plan was set. Fly from Fiji to Tuvalu on a Tuesday, inshallah, and return on Thursday. If something went wrong, I would try Thursday, return Saturday.

With those plans, I planned to arrive in Fiji on a Sunday (to give a cushion on the front side) and fly out on a Sunday – leaving me two real chances to get to Tuvalu. If those plans went tits up, I had a full extra week on the trip that I could start changing. However, should things go right, what should I do with Sunday to Sunday the second week? With American miles about to be devalued them, I found a way to redeem them for three of the coolest OneWorld experiences out there: Cathay Pacific First Class, Etihad First Class, and the Etihad Apartments.

Of course, just over a week before the trip began Fiji Airways eliminated the Saturday flight to Tuvalu – so there was no reason to stick around until Sunday. I replanned the back-end of Tuvalu, and planned to leave Fiji on Friday – giving me two extra days. That gave me a chance to go to Sydney, and then use some miles for a Thai Airways First award from Sydney to Hong Kong. I was really hoping this time Tuvalu would go much smoother, so that I could take all these awesome flights I had planned.

The day of the trip finally dawned, and I worked a half day before a leisurely trip to DCA for the initial flight. Short stop by the Admirals Club for some water and snacks:

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Also had a perfect view of my plane for the first flight from the lounge:

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Then, it was time to fly!

American flight 1533
Washington, DC, National (DCA) to Miami, Florida (MIA)
Depart 12:55, Arrive 15:34, Flight Time: 2:39
Boeing 737-800, Registration N931NN, Manufactured 2013, Seat 5E
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 52,330
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,241,855

Pre-departure beverages were offered and I took a glass of water. Shortly before departure, the seat beside me was still empty, and someone was beckoned up from economy as a last-minute upgrade. We ended up chatting a bit, and it turned out to be someone I had chatted with online before in a frequent flier group. What are the odds!

Lunch service began with mixed nuts, featuring cashews from Smisek’s Split-Cashew farm and a passable glass of red wine:

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Choice for lunch was a cold bbq chicken salad or lentil chili. I don’t think lentils or chili have any plane on a plane, and I’m opposed to airlines and their desire to push “brown meals” on us where the plate has no colour at all, so I went with the chicken salad. Perfect temperature, crisp lettuce, overall not bad fora $5 domestic meal!

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Since this was vacation – and I left my work laptop at home to prove it, I even took the chocolate chip cookie when offered for dessert. It went perfectly with another glass of red:

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Other than that, perfectly boring flight and we arrived a few minutes early. I had just over an hour connection in Miami, and fortunately not only were my gates only a one minute walk apart but they were separated by the AmEx Centurion Lounge! Just enough time to stop in for a glass…or two…of Veuve…

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Then, it was time to board my connection to LA.

American flight 275
Miami, Florida (MIA) to Los Angeles, California (LAX)
Depart 17:00, Arrive 19:34, Flight Time: 5:34
Boeing 777-300ER, Registration N726AN, Manufactured 2013, Seat 1J
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 54,672
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,244,197

This was my first time on American’s 777-300ER, and the business seats were pretty impressive. The flight had been showing sold out in first for weeks, so I had no hope of my upgrade clearing. Once I saw this seat, however, I didn’t feel too bad about it:

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Then, a full 20 minutes before departure, I noticed on the app my upgrade had supposedly cleared. This was too good to be true…I fully expected some sort of shenanigans where the app showed it but it wasn’t for real…but sure enough five minutes later the agent came on board with my new boarding pass for 1J! This trip was off to a fantastic start!

So, what’s to eat tonight?

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This is where things got disappointing. Apparently, they had only loaded eight meals, and I got last choice because my name wasn’t on their original manifest. I decided not to push too hard (not knowing the formal “rules” for meal order in American first) and ended up with the chicken which was far from my first choice.

Three wine choices were on offer tonight, and I went with the Malbec which was reasonably good…and another serving of mixed nuts:

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The duck starter was decent, but far from memorable:

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I asked for the balsamic with the salad, but the flight attendant insisted on bringing me a side of the Fuji apple dressing as well. He was absolutely correct, and it was a great combo…one of the better in-flight salads I can remember:

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The chicken was…well…chicken, and rather unmemorable as was the completely flavourless polenta. Honestly, the broccoli was the best part of the main:

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The caramelized pecan and caramel sundae, however, was fantastic:

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At that point…I passed out for a nearly three hour in-flight nap thanks to the comfy lie flat seats. I woke up to find not one but TWO chocolate chip cookies waiting for me. Not wanting to be rude, I of course had a few nibbles:

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Landing in LA was right on time, and I stopped by the American First lounge for a bit since I had a long connection. A bit nicer than an Admirals Club, but far from impressive or of international airline standard. After catching up on emails I headed over to the Tom Bradley (TBIT) International Terminal to catch my Fiji Airways flight. Thank God the connector between American’s terminal and the TBIT had opened a few weeks earlier, because from the connector you can see how awful the security line was tonight. Thanks TSA!

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I stopped in the Fiji Airways lounge for 5 minutes just to check it out, and it was rather crowded and unremarkable. The coolest part is it had an outside balcony that you could sit on which overlooked the terminal.

Shockingly, boarding for my Fiji Airways flight to Nadi was right on time!

Fiji Airways flight 811
Los Angeles, California (LAX) to Nadi, Fiji
Depart 23:30, Arrive 05:50 +2 days, Flight Time: 11:20
Airbus A330-200, Registration DQ-FJT, Manufactured 2013, Seat 2D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 60,191
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,249,716

There were only two empty seats in business tonight, and I had the good fortune to have the seat next to me empty tonight. Sparkling wine, warm towels, and amenity kits were offered. The amenity kids were rather sad, and a cool towel would have been nice, but overall not bad:

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Tonight’s route of flight:

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The menu had a fun cover…it seems due to the late departure we had the “light menu” tonight:

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Not bad for a light meal:

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Tick the box breakfast orders:

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The starter was odd and looked and smelled like it had been sitting around a while, so I gave it a pass. Anything with seafood and cream/mayo sauces that looks suspicious gets instantly avoided on planes by me:

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Now THAT is a substantial piece of beef on the salad. Yes, it was way overcooked for my taste, but extremely nicely spiced with a pepper rub. Plus, a whole bowl of cheese. For a “light meal” this was pretty darn good!

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The cheesecake for dessert was also quite good:

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With that, I passed out for a relatively solid eight hours of sleep. Yes, the seat was sloped lie flat, but I managed to sleep pretty decently despite that. Plus, I always manage to sleep really well on westbound redeyes due to the fact I’m usually exhausted upon boarding. Fortunately, I woke up about 75 minutes out of Nadi with just enough time for breakfast.

Quite the impressive breakfast, and the raisin bran and omelette were exactly what sounded good to me:

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With that said, I was in Nadi right on time and ready to unwind for 48 hours before heading to Tuvalu. Overall, Fiji Airways did a nice job of redeeming themselves in my eyes. Sure, the product was a bit dated, but I guess it’s all about expectations. My expectations were relatively low, and thus exceeded on this flight. Food was solid and substantial, crew was the Fijian version of United’s Old Longhaul Grannies, but nice and sweet, and most importantly the cabin was kept nice and cool. I had another longhaul Fiji A330 flight coming up on this trip to Sydney, and now I was looking forward to it. Sure, they’re no Cathay Pacific or Singapore, but they’re also not priced the same. Overall, a solid performance.

Now, bring on some relaxation in Fiji!

Jul 182014
 

December 2004 – over 100 countries ago for me – was the first time I had the honour of experiencing the gracious service of Malaysian Airlines, and it was an experience I’ll never forget. ¬†My first true premium international long-haul first class experience. ¬†I was saddened a few months ago when MH370 disappeared, but today made me sad beyond words. ¬†To see a company filled with such amazing and hospitable crew go through this, especially growing up with a family in the industry, has really saddened me. ¬†Prayers with the families of all those lost today and on MH370.

It’s really been a confusing experience, because in all honesty I’ll always associate Malaysian with my entry into this world of unlimited extreme travel, and now it feels like for them….they’re about to enter a very challenging era. ¬†Best wishes to the Malaysian Airlines family.

oz2005-031-jason new 747 oz2005-034-new mh first oz2005-038-satay oz2005-044-jason bed hippo oz2005-049-breakfast hippo oz2005-339-jason new mh first oz2005-352-satay

Apr 052014
 

It was spread a bit too widely to be a mistake fare, and Air Canada, Lufthansa, and Brussels Airlines matched the fares too, so it seems this one was intentional.  However, it was odd.  Fares from a majority of US cities, excluding United hub cities of course, to a variety of cities in Europe for $500 roundtrip plus taxes and fuel surcharges.  Depending on the cities it came to roughtly $1400 to $1600 total.

Of course, when I saw Honolulu was in the mix, I had to jump on it!

Problem was, since United massively devalued miles earlier this year, I cashed in around 500,000 so my travel year is packed. ¬†And this deal would only be valid in July and August, when I already had some other commitments. ¬†Early July was out, since I was already going to St. Kitts for a long weekend. ¬†Late July/Early August also wouldn’t be good time-wise…and I was to go to Vegas the last weekend of August for a bachelor party. ¬†Wait. ¬†Vegas is on the way from Honolulu to DC…kind of. ¬†This got me thinking….

Getting to Honolulu is easy…and can be done in one day. ¬† I found a routing that would instantly confirm with a United regional upgrade as well. ¬†So far this is working well.

Now, Hawaii to Europe on the business class deal… settled on HNL-IAD-CDG since it has a 10 hour layover in DC, enough time for me to repack bag, run any errands I might need to…or just be silly since it’s a Sunday.

I’d have just over 48 hours in Paris. ¬†From what I remember Paris is rather dead in August, so I won’t likely stay there…but I might. ¬†I’m also looking at buying roundtrip flights down to Toulouse, renting a car, and driving to Andorra for the night…the last country I need to visit in Europe. ¬†Any thoughts on this? ¬† I arrive into CDG around 6am and depart two days later around 10am.

On the way back, I’m doing the ultra-long CDG-SFO-HNL…going to be a very long day…and a very short night in HNL, because at 6am the next day I fly HNL-LAX which confirmed instantly with a regional upgrade, and LAX-LAS which wouldn’t confirm, so ended up paying like $40 more for a P fare. ¬†Bargain of an upcharge!

Then, the only decision was how to get back from Vegas. ¬†Since I’m looking to be a bit shorter on qualifying dollars than qualifying miles, I decided to go with the United P fare routing LAS-IAH-ORD-DCA. ¬†Probably should have skipped the ORD, but it was the same price…and what’s one more flight at this point?

In the end, here’s what it looks like:

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Total stats are:

27,128 butt-in-seat miles flown
11 days, 16 hours traveled
65,125 redeemable miles earned
37,542 elite qualifying miles earned
3,275 premier qualifying dollars earned

It should be an absolute crazy adventure…and I can’t wait!

Jun 252013
 

I was dropped on the head as a child, that’s pretty clear. I do things most sane people wouldn’t dream of doing. So, when I found out I had four days free over the upcoming holiday, I started looking for new countries to visit to add to my tally of 136 so far. Problem is, most of them are now too far away to consider for a four day weekend.

Backup plan…let’s see how many miles I can earn towards million miler. As a bonus, let’s see how many 787 segments I can theoretically fly now that it’s back in the air. ¬†A few days of planning, and insanity was born.

The final plan is:

Day 1:  Washington DC, National (DCA) to Chicago (ORD) to Houston (IAH) to San Francisco (SFO) to Los Angeles (LAX) with ORD-IAH on the 787

Day 2:  Redeye flight LAX back to Houston on the 787, continuing on the 787 to Chicago, then to Newark (EWR) and finally Panama (PTY) and sleep in a real bed

Day 3:  Morning flight from Panama to Washington, Dulles (IAD) then on to Houston on a 767, back to LAX, and finally ending up in San Francisco for a very short 6 hour night.

Day 4:  San Francisco to LAX early morning, then on to Houston on the 787, and finally home to DCA.

Final routing, assuming nothing goes wrong, and it almost certainly will:

DCA-ORD-IAH-SFO-LAX

LAX-IAH-ORD-EWR-PTY

PTY-IAD-IAH-LAX-SFO

SFO-LAX-IAH-DCA

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I’m pretty sure I’m not going to survive this. By the numbers:

1 redeye
2 countries
3 showers…hopefully
4 flights on the 787
5 widebodies
7 United Clubs (if I can figure out a way to access on domestic days)
8 airports
8 different aircraft types
15 segments
85 hours
16,624 miles flown

So far 14 of 15 segments confirmed in first/business class, with one pending what will hopefully be an easy 1K upgrade on a 757 on July 4th. Time will tell though.

I’ll definitely make a point to pack my Bro Tank in order to offend as many “properly” dressed FlyerTalkers as possible on this most ‘Merican of all holidays.

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Stay tuned…I’m pretty sure this adventure is going to have more twists and turns than gumby at a limbo convention!