My 2019 Frequent Flyer Report Card

I accumulated 752K QFF points last calendar year, and not many of them from flying. Here’s how I did it….

And what are the points worth? In the last year I made the following redemptions:

Qantas Business Class Upgrade Singapore to Melbourne

Qantas Business Class Upgrade Perth to Melbourne

Emirates First Class Award flight Singapore to Melbourne

Qantas First Class Upgrade Melbourne to Los Angeles

I redeemed 204,100 points. Based on fare price/fare differences the cash value of the redemptions is about $9795.

That’s a redemption rate of 4.8 cents per point ($9795 divided by 204,100)

And by that calculation, the 752K points I collected during just one year is worth about $36,000 in Qantas award flights and upgrades!

And every time I step onto a business or first class suite, I am reminded how much I love the Qantas Frequent Flyer program!

Monteverde Costa Rica Blog

Monteverde is a small, windy town high in the Costa Rican “cloud forest”. It is essentially a tourist town, hub for hiking, mountain biking, horse riding and extreme sports.

Parts of the town are typically Costa Rican, with makeshift store fronts and dogs roaming the streets.

But the centre has developed a decidedly hipster vibe, with a number of good restaurants and even something of a coffee culture. Cafe de Montverde will serve you just about the best cappuccino you’ll find outside did Melbourne.

Something I’ve also discovered about Costa Rica is that they are cake masters. And Cafe Orchid in MV has a mouthwatering selection of cheesecakes.

Selvatura Adventure Park is just 10 minutes from town and boasts the longest zipline in Central America at 1.5km. It’s an unforgettable experience, soaring over the rain forest canopy like a bird, and not being able to see where you started from or where you’ll finish.

Another popular activity is the night jungle walk, led by an experienced guide who will point out many of Costa Rica’s exotic wildlife. We were lucky enough to see a mother sloth (sleeping) and her more active baby high in the canopy. Our guide spotted many other creatures we would never have found on own.

Costa Rican red eyed frog

Katydid

Scorpion under blue light

San Jose Blog

Ah San Jose, what can I say about you? You’re not the prettiest capital city I’ve ever seen…. but you just might be the ugliest.In fairness, arriving on New Year’s Day when everything is closed and the clean up from the night before is still to begin, probably won’t make the best first impression for any city.We explored downtown SJ fortified by Starbucks coffee. Having seen the pigeon infested squares and parks, it was clear you need to look a little harder for this city’s charms and points of interest.There seems to be a thriving graffiti culture. Street art manages to lift some otherwise depressingly decrepit buildings and street scapes.There are also some interesting brutalist buildings in the city, nonetheleast being the gold museum underneath the Plaza de la Cultura.The Gold Museum’s pre-Columbian displays are interesting, but the space itself was the star for me.IIf you’re still struggling to engage with the city then do some research on some of the cooler restaurants and bars. Prices are reasonable and there is some great locally influenced cuisine to be had.Restaurante Azoteca Calle 7 is excellent with a lovely rooftop bar. And the neighbourhood around Barrio Escalante on Calle 33 for a great selection of bars and eateries.

My First Time Flying First

An Emirates First Class Review

It may sound trite to say that the journey is just as important as the destination, but try flying first class with Emirates and you’ll have a new appreciation of Emerson’s oft-quoted platitude. 

Early in the year (whilst surfing Qantas’s booking engine – as I often do) I stumbled on a First Class Award flight, Melbourne to Singapore, on Emirates on a date that worked for me. I’d had no plans to visit Singapore, but the lure of my first ever first class flight was more than I could resist. It would prove to the best 90,000 points and $300 (taxes and carrier fees) I have ever spent in the air. 

Flight day and we’re at the airport early to make full use of our first class lounge privileges. In Melbourne, Emirates partners with Qantas to give first class passengers access to the Australian airline’s first class lounge – and I can tell you it is a massive step up from business class. 

The Qantas lounge is a sanctuary of style and serenity away from the crowds and queues of the International terminal and departure gates (dare I say, away from the common people?) – and its’ all  free with a first class ticket. 

We staked out a vantage point in the restaurant where we could watch the take offs and landings, sip some pre-flight cocktails, and peruse the Neil Perry menu.  The lounge offers genuine 5 star dining, the likes of which I never thought possible in an airport, and the wine list is pretty impressive too.  

Here’s a tip: put your name down as soon as you arrive for a massage or facial in the spa. That’s right… there’s a luxury spa in the lounge. I had the men’s detox facial and returned to the lounge feeling even more blissed. Seriously, I don’t know how anyone travels without a pre-flight spa treatment.  

Spa bookings are limited, but even if you miss out you could still freshen up with a shower before your flight. The bathroom facilities are replete with ASPAR toiletries.  

As tempting as it was to try all the cocktails in the bar and every dish on the menu, we knew that Emirates had plenty of culinary delights in store for us on the plane. And so it was time to head to the gate and make our way onto the Boeing 777-300ER.  

The welcome is gracious as we are introduced to our cabin crew and directed to our suites. There are 6 first class suites on this Emirates 777-300 and on this flight we are the only two passengers! The crew tell us we are welcome to use any suite we like, even to eat in one suite and sleep in another. 

The greatest luxury when flying is space, and the Emirates first class product gives you plenty of it. But they also deliver many more surprises to keep the wow factor going. My suite is furnished with a personal mini-bar and generous snacks, I have a wardrobe, a privacy screen for sleep time, and a huge entertainment screen and noise cancelling Bowers and Wilkins headphones. 

Complimentary amenities include Byredo facial products, a Bulgari pack of toiletries and perfume, a writing set, and a luxurious package of pyjamas and slippers.  

I’m still exploring the loot when the pre-take-off Moet is served and the crew explain some of the seat and suite functions. Once in the air and we have levelled off, the Dom Perignon is served. Don’t mind if I do! 

This really is next level luxury, and way beyond what you really need for an 8 hour flight to Singapore – but I can’t deny that I’m loving every minute of being treated like royalty. 

The food service commences with some tasty amuse bouche, followed by a mezza plate specially tailored to my vegetarian preferences. It includes two types of egg plant dip and a selection of warm breads that any fresh bakery would be proud of.  

I select a 98 French red wine, knowing nothing about French red wines but it sounds expensive so I go for it. After nodding my approval at the first sip, the host decants the rest of the bottle into a carafe and leaves it at my table! 

I’m encouraged to also have the caviar plate from the apetisers menu, and, paired with a Belvedere Vodka, it is absolutely divine.  

The food service is al a carte and on demand. I’m only half way through my French red when I order the pumpkin ravioli for mains – it’s delicious but more than I can finish.  

Sitting at adjacent suites we both watch the same movie together. Tea service is provided and we have a chocolate clairefontaine for dessert.  

Our host turns down the bed for a few hours of sleep before arrival into Singapore. Really nothing is too much for the crew, and they help to ensure that every aspect of our first class experience is an absolute delight. After we’ve safely landed, part of me doesn’t want to farewell the crew and leave this flying palace behind.  

Flying home in Economy is going to be tough! 

  • ** Brett and Stef flew MEL-SIN First Class on an Emirates 777-300 on an award flight using Qantas Frequent Flyer points. They flew home on a paid Qantas Economy flight.  

The 10 Best International Places to Propose

Voted on by no one in particular and selected by no particular authority other than me. I’ve been to all of these places – but I’ve only proposed at one of them.  

10 Hot Air Ballooning over the Serengeti 

Your special partner will never forget a proposal floating above herds of giraffe or zebra, followed by a champagne breakfast on the plains. I’ve ballooned over the Serengeti and it is indeed spectacular – though I did not propose to anyone. You might want pay for exclusive use of the basket if you don’t want to be sharing the experience with random strangers. 

Be careful if you are proposing to your same sex partner – same sex relations are illegal in Kenya.  

Serengeti circa 1988

9 On a Gondola in Venice 

Pop the question as you float under the Rialto Bridge. Kitsch? It probably doesn’t get kitscher. But memorable… definitely. I’ve been to Venice a couple of times but I was too cheap for pay for a gondola ride.  

8 In an Overwater Bure in the Maldives 

There’s nothing as romantic as listening to the water lapping underneath your bedroom floor at night, or sipping cocktails as you dangle your legs from your private balcony in the crystal clear water. There are some incredibly indulgent resorts to choose from, but some are going to cost more than the engagement ring.  

Same sex relations are illegal here – you can pop the question but you can’t marry your same sex partner.  

Coco Bodu Hithi

7 The Taj Mahal, India 

Proposing at a mausoleum might seem a bit macabre. But the Taj was built by the Shah Jahan as a symbol of his everlasting love for his wife Mumtaz Mahal. Actually Mumtaz was the Shah’s favourite wife, not his only wife. India may have turned its back on polygamy but they are yet to embrace same sex marriage.  

Still, the Taj Mahal is one of the most beautiful buildings on earth. 

Sunset at the Taj, circa 1985

6 Top of the Empire State Building 

An iconic view from an iconic building. Surely more romantic than its modern-day viewing rival, One World Tower. If you happen to be in New York with your loved one, the Empire State affords a golden opportunity for a Proposal to Remember. Consider making your partner watch An Affair to Remember before you go – just for added impact. Whether you’re a Deborah or a Cary, the US had had marriage equality since 2015. 

View from the Empire State 2006

5 Top of the Eiffel Tower 

Paris, city of lights, city of romance. If you find yourself in Paris when the time is right, it would be hard to go past the Eiffel Tower. I’d recommend doing it at night to enjoy the lights. Same sex proposals welcome here! 

4 The Shard in London 

Arguably offering the best view of London, the Shard also offers a unique Proposal Package. A whopping 640 GBP gets you an exclusive 30-minute hire of The View from The Shard, in a private area decorated with hundreds of rose petals & candles. You’ll get champagne and chocolates and a dedicated concierge to ensure all goes smoothly. You’ll have to pop the question yourself though. 

3 Hawaiian Sunset Cruise 

Hawaii is a great place for a honeymoon. It’s also a great place for a destination wedding. So why not the whole package? Utter those four little words on a romantic sunset catamaran cruise from Waikiki or Maui and – if he or she says yes – spend the next day scoping out some wedding options. Return one year to the day for a wedding and honeymoon to be remembered. 

2 Make a Grand Statement with a Helicopter Flight into the Grand Canyon 

Your partner is sure to be impressed with a helicopter flight over and into the Grand Canyon. The only decision to make is whether to propose on the canyon floor or up on the rim. And if you’re in a hurry you could get a quickie marriage back in Vegas on the same night. Helicopter flights aren’t cheap but you’ll save a bomb on the wedding! 

1 The Whispering Gallery, Grand Central Station New York 

This acoustic marvel will allow you to whisper sweet nothings in your loved one’s ear while they listen 30 feet across the hallway. This was where I attempted to propose but I lost my nerve – so I popped the question under the Christmas Tree in Rockefeller Centre instead. Not a bad fallback plan.  read more

The Perils of Popping the Question in Public Places

In late 2017 I concocted an elaborate plan to propose to my boyfriend Stefan. Same sex marriage wasn’t even legal in Australia at the time, but I was in no doubt that I wanted to marry this wonderful man who had miraculously appeared in my life just two years earlier, and I was aiming for a proposal he would never forget. 

Winter can be a great time to visit New York

My long game was that I knew exactly WHERE I wanted to propose – we had a trip to New York booked for the week before Christmas and in the course of my “things to do in NY research” I’d stumbled across the Whispering Gallery in Grand Central Station – more on that shortly. 

But first we needed to survive the deplorable Marriage Equality Plebiscite hatched by right wing conservative nut-jobs (why I should have to ask every Australian’s permission to marry remains a mystery to me). And even a YES vote didn’t even guarantee passage of the legislation through parliament.  

I also needed a plan in New York to lure Stef to Grand Central Station at some obscure hour when it would not be packed with commuters – I was planning a proposal, not a public performance piece. 

To help make this a trip to remember, I had secretly upgraded our flights to Premium Economy, and put in a points bid for a Business Class upgrade.  

So as you can see, I needed a few cards to fall my way if my plan was to proceed perfectly. 

On November 15th Australia voted YES to Marriage Equality – tick. On December 9th most of Parliament (with the notable exception of some of the same nut-jobs who dreamed up the plebiscite) voted marriage equality into law – tick. And on December 18th my hopefully-soon-to-be-fiance was gob-smacked when he learned he was about to fly Business Class for the first time (thankyou Qantas!) 

He celebrated by eating about a plane load of hash browns in the Melbourne Business Class lounge before the flight. 

Some 23 hours later (many of them in a lie-flat bed) we arrived in New York, refreshed and excited. Mid-December in the Big Apple is a great time to visit – the Christmas atmosphere is like nowhere else. Decorations, window displays, light shows, ice skating and carolling make you feel like you’ve stepped onto the set of a Christmas movie.  

Not that I had time for ice-skating – I still had the key part of my plan to execute. On our second day I manoeuvred us to Grand Central so that I could do some reconnaissance.  

The Whispering Gallery is located below the main concourse just outside the famous Oyster Bar. There also happens to be a Shake Shack (burger and milkshake specialists) nearby – store this information for future reference. 

The ‘gallery’ consists of four arched entry ways in a square formation. Stand at diagonally opposite corners of the archways and an astonishing acoustic phenomena allows a soft whisper to be heard 30 feet across the gallery despite the din of passing crowds. Your whisper travels up the curved wall, across the domed ceiling and back down the wall to the ears of your companion.  

It’s the same acoustic trick that can be experienced in the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral in London or the Gol Gumbaz Mausoleum in India, or many other ‘whispering galleries’ around the world.  

Having scoped out the site, I determine to return the following evening, after a Broadway show, for the big reveal. 

Our third day in Manhattan is distinguished by mile after mile of walking, enjoying beautiful crisp winter weather under a pale blue sky. Up Park Avenue, down Broadway, across Central Park, it feels like New York is putting on a show for us. 

In the evening we see Waitress on Broadway and leave the theatre floating on albeit aching feet.

True story: I met Jason Mraz in a restaurant before the show!

I suggest some more sight-seeing, maybe a walk to Grand Central… Stef is not keen, he says he’s tired. “What if I take you to the Shake Shack at Grand Central?” I innocently ask. So easy. Putty in my hands. Pretty soon we’re marching down 42nd street as fast as our tired feet will take us. 

We arrive at Grand Central and head down stairs. My plan is working, the gallery space is relatively quiet. But I also know I won’t be able to hold his attention while he has burgers and shakes on his mind, so to Shake Shack we go – burgers, fries and a seriously good peanut butter milk shake. 

Nothing like Shake Shack to make you forget your aching feet

Leaving Shake Shack I see that the gallery is clear and the corners are free – time to do this thing, my heart rate is up a bit. We approach one of the arches and I tell Stef to stand there, and then – his phone rings. His sister Skyping from home. He takes the call while I wander around trying to compose myself. 

While Stef’s on the phone I see two girls obviously trying to fathom the secrets of the whispering gallery. And this Skype call seems like it’s never going to end – I’m getting mad with Stef, his sister, and the two girls who can’t figure out how a whispering gallery works.  

I approach the girls. “Hi, are you here for the whispering gallery?” I ask, maybe a little brusquely.  

“Oh my gaarrrd yaaasssss, do you know where it is?”  

I can almost hear my own eyes rolling in my head as I proceed to explain the gallery to the two Americans.  

“You: stand over there and face the corner. And you: stand in that corner. Then start whispering.”  

The girls obey and are suitably impressed by the magical acoustics. 

Eventually Stef gets off the phone, but the idiot Americans are STILL whispering to each other!  

Stef wants to know why we are hanging around. I tell him to wait, that there’s something I want to show him. “You’re being weird,” he says. 

At last the girls tire of whispering to each other, and I place Stef in one corner of the gallery. I go to the other corner and whisper a greeting to him. “Wow, that’s amazing,” he whispers back.  

“It’s called the Whispering Gallery,” I tell him. “The Whispering What?” he asks.  

“I brought you here to ask you something.” 

“Say again?” I hear his disembodied voice from the other side of the arch. Seems like the Whispering Gallery is having an off night, and I’m starting to lose my nerve. What I’ve got to say, I only want to say once. Time to think of a plan B. 

We leave Grand Central and I suggest we swing past Saks to see the Christmas light show, thinking this might afford a romantic opportunity. Sadly, its more crowded here and I’m really not vibing the location. 

Stef wants to Subway back to the hotel, but I suggest we walk through Rockefeller Plaza. Carols are playing on the PA, the ice skating rink is filled with people, and the iconic Christmas tree is twinkling above it all. 

Rockefeller Plaza

“Yeah it’s nice, can we go now?” asks Stef.  

“Not just yet.” I usher him to a bench roughly under the Tree, with not too many people around. We sit for a few minutes before I go into my more or less prepared speech, drop to one knee and ask the big question.  

Considering that he’s been asking me when I’m going to propose for about the past year, I don’t understand why he is so shocked and surprised. 

Plan B, but it worked

But he said yes, and I guess that’s all that matters.  

Honeymoon Booked!

Costa Rica here we come…

Still sorting out some of the finer details, but we are very excited about going to Costa Rica at the end of the year for our honeymoon.

Flying Qantas and American Airlines (booked economy, fingers crossed for points upgrades) via Dallas, its about a 30 hour journey to the capital San Jose.

Then we pick up a G Adventures 16 day tour exploring jungles, volcanoes, and tropical beaches, hopefully seeing monkeys, turtles and sloths.

After roughing it around the country, Stef is likely to kiss the ground when we arrive at the Four Seasons to wrap up our Honeymoon in the lap of luxury.