Feb 242018

A had a little bit of time in the morning before catching my train to Hamburg, so I decided to do one quick last sight in Berlin. I’ve always been interested in the story of how the U-Bahn and S-Bahn were partitioned during the divide of Berlin, and had read that the Nordbahnhof S-Bahn station was one of the best places to see examples of this. From 1961 to 1990 the station was closed, since the exits were into East Berlin. West German trains still passed through the station, however, but for 30 years did not stop.

Entering the station, the old script was still in place:

There was an exhibit in the station (a bit difficult to find) with lots of cool photos and maps. This is the U-Bahn network, with the “ghost stations” in East Berlin shown on a black line with the thick grey line representing the wall:

Outside the station, just 50 meters away, the wall was marked on the ground:

Along with an exhibit of posts showing where it had stood:

Entrance to the Nordbahnhof station:

From Nordbahnhof the S-Bahn took me back to Friedrichstra├če station, and a quick walk to the Westin where I checked out and did the short walk in very light snow to the U-Bahn where I caught the train to Berlin Haupbahnhof. I was a bit early, so to keep warm I walked a few laps of the station (also to get some credit towards the Fitbit steps, of course) until it was time to board the train to Hamburg.

The train to Hamburg was right on time, and incredibly empty today. By this point I had finally figured out that empty train = ignore seat assignments as long as nobody is getting on during your trip, and find somewhere comfortable like a set of four seats around a table so you can spread out a bit. Normally when I travel I select single seats whenever possible because I hate climbing over people or being climbed over, but I’ll always take a set of two seats together to spread out if they’re free!

Train ride was a bit under two hours, which was once again enough time for a snack and to do the day’s Duolingo study. Directions to the U-Bahn were very clear once arriving in Hamburg, and on the train I had found the local app and bought a one-way eticket. It was a direct shot and only like five stops to the Baumwall station which was about a 10 minute walk from…yes…you guessed it…the Westin Hamburg.

The Westin sits on top of the Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall, and occupies its top floors. Unfortunately it was dark when I arrived so I couldn’t enjoy the view. Unfortunately, because, the property had noted it was my 500th lifetime night with Starwood, and marked obtaining Lifetime Platinum Status with the Starwood Preferred Guest Program.

To celebrate the milestone, I got a really nice suite with floor to ceiling windows, despite the hotel being sold out:

Unfortunately work and being tired caught up with me, and I just couldn’t muster the energy to go in the evening. Yes, this is foreshadowing, but it’s like my body was trying to tell me “stay in and rest…you’re on vacation…resting is ok….you can always see the city another time….”

So, up to the executive lounge I went, where they had a fantastic spread of appetizers for cocktail hour:

Look at that variety of sweets!

Mini quiches, prosciutto skewers…

There was more than enough food and drink to make a dinner out of, and with Happy Hour lasting nearly four hours that’s exactly what I did while I rested and caught up on some work.

Off to bed early, and told myself I’d try and wake up super early to have coffee and then do a boat tour of the harbour. Mother Nature, however, had her own ideas…

Mar 072015

So, earlier this year United made two changes to its Mileage Plus program which I consider fairly major. The first is that they raised the qualifying requirement for 1K status from 100,000 qualifying miles and $10,000 to 100,000 qualifying miles and $12,000. Now, $2,000 is plenty of money on its own, but 20% is semi-ridiculous when you consider it’s nearly seven times the rate of inflation. Couple this with the fact that this year I’m checking off many more obscure countries…which will be harder to use United tickets to…and I really wasn’t sure it was worth another year of pursuing status.

The other major change was the way miles are earned. Don’t get me wrong, if you’re rewarding your “best” customers this is the way to do it, but I think they have the multiplier wrong. It’s now based on a combination of how much you spend and your status. Unfortunately, unless you’re buying tickets that cost approximately 18 cents per mile as a 1K, you won’t break even. Now, you need to pay 12 cents per mile to get your 100,000 / $12,000 qualifying, so do the math. It’s a major downgrade.

Then, there was the “London mistake fare.” Yes, it was too good to be true. You can debate if it was unethical. But United outsourced some web coding, resulting in a mistaken exchange rate being used on its website. To me, the lesson to take away from this is if United screws up they can refuse to honour it, while if I screw up…too bad. Pay the change fee, and that’s your option. The game has gotten much less fun, and the airline clearly holds the upper hand…in most cases.

Add to this the fact I became a United million miler a couple years ago, meaning United Gold status for life, and the incremental benefits of 1K are free redeposit of award tickets, a few more miles, and priority free upgrades domestically, which I haven’t seen in over three years. If I want first domestically now I pay for it, because I just never get it.

So, in summary, I just didn’t see a point in 1K status anymore. I resolved to get some new experiences, fly whoever had the best discounted business fares, and just be happy with that.

Then, the shoe dropped…or should I say the wrench got thrown in the plans.

It’s looking like some Transpacific work travel will be coming up, for which our preferred carrier is United. That should likely get me at least halfway to the qualifying miles/dollars targets, making it much more attractive to consider it. Combine that with the fact I’m off to Turkmenistan this September, and there’s some very attractive D fares (business that can be upgraded to first with certificates) back to the US, and it puts me within mileage running distance. Ugh!

So, thoughts? What are others doing about for 2016 status?

I had almost nothing booked a month ago, but now my tentative plans for 2015 look like this. All tentative of course, but:


…over 100,000 miles already planned for the rest of the year, with more likely to come. No rest for the weary!