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, … Read more Monteverde Costa Rica 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 … Read more San Jose Blog
Four hours from the unremarkable capital San Jose you’ll find a beautiful natural paradise in Manuel Antonio National Park. We are staying in Quepos, a small town just 7km from the park entrance and an array of wonderful dark sand beaches. Public buses run every 20 minutes to a public beach outside the park. There’s … Read more Pura Vida in Costa Rica
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 … Read more The 10 Best International Places to Propose
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.
British Airways and Qantas Premium Economy Head to Head
I recently flew Melbourne to London return on a combined Qantas and British Airways Premium Economy fare and it was a great opportunity to directly compare the two One World carriers product.
QF: Melbourne to Singapore, 9 hours BA: Singapore to London & London to Singapore, 13 hours
QF: A380 BA: A380
QF: Priority check in and boarding. Smooth and seamless
BA: No priority for Premium Economy. Self serve check in and self serve bag drop at LHR with no one to help when the computer says ‘no’. A disaster and a frustrating start to our London Singapore leg.
Qantas wins hands down
QF: Premium Economy 35 seats. Definitely in need of refurbishment soon, but matches BA for comfort
BA: Premium Economy 55 seats. Fresher interior than Qantas, but more seats means less attentive service and more demand on the 2 bathrooms
A clear win for Qantas
QF: lip balm, eye mask, socks, toothbrush and paste in a Naopleon Perdis pouch
BA: eye mask, socks, toothbrush and paste, pen, in a plastic bag
Narrow points win to Qantas
QF: 2-3-2. We selected window seats as soon as our booking was live on Qantas. Free seat selection. Side storage bins are a bonus on the window.
BA: 2-3-2. We were assigned middle/aisle seats. Seat selection not included with BA PE fare. $85 per person to select window seats.
Qantas wins big here
QF: plenty of leg room and storage space. Good amount of recline makes sleeping easy enough
BA: as above with foot rests
BA wins narrowly, for the foot rests
QF: screen mounted in arm rests. Standard range of movies and TV. Typically laggy touch screens. Noise cancelling headphones
BA: screens on back of seats. Similar selection and lagginess. Noise cancelling headphones
It’s a draw
2 x 23 kg QF & BA
QF: Friendly and attentive, I suspect a better ratio of staff to passengers due to smaller PE section
BA: Unobtrusive but efficient service.
Excellent service from both, but Qantas a bit more friendly and welcoming
QF: 2 full meals on 9 hour flight to Singapore seemed generous. Both of excellent quality
BA: dinner and breakfast en route to Singapore. Not quite up to the Qantas standard
Points to Qantas
QF: standard range of beer and spirits, excellent Australian wines
BA: ditto for beer and spirits, wines not as good as Qantas
Narrow win to Qantas
These Premium Economy services made the long haul from Melbourne to London a very comfortable experience. We arrived early morning in Heathrow feeling quite fresh and rested – enough to spend the whole day on our feet exploring London, before retiring to bed at a respectable hour in the evening and avoiding jet lag.
However, Qantas was a clear winner: complementary seat selection, priority check in and boarding lanes, and a smaller Premium Economy cabin make Qantas’s Premium Economy decidedly more Premium than BA.
All in all, Qantas made us feel a lot more special than BA managed to do.
This app rewards you for walking! Synch it to your phone’s health app or step counter, set your daily and weekly targets and start walking. You’ll get points each day and week that you meet your target. The more steps you do the more points you’ll get.
You’ll get 150 points just for downloading and logging into the app. And then for a trial 28 day period you could earn 1500 points for being active. After the trial you’ll still earn points but at a greatly reduced rate.
There are extra points for healthy sleeping habits too.
And you can earn 150 points every time you successfully refer someone to the app – refer your partner and kids for instant points (points for you and points for them). Get onto to your extended family for more points.
Look, this is not going to get you that first class award flight to London but… its FREE POINTS! Here’s an example of what you (and your family) could earn in a year:
Points post trial
3 Family Downloads
If you have a Qantas Health Insurance product you will continue to earn points at the FULL rate after the trial period. (You should do you own research before taking out or switching to Qantas Health Insurance. It offers some very tempting bonus points, but unless it works out to the same price or cheaper, it may not be worth chasing this particular source of points.)
An added benefit of the Wellbeing app is that it effectively protects your frequent Flyer account from ever being wiped out by points Expiry (see Points Magnet Part 6). Points are credited roughly every week, so you only have to hit your step target one day a week and your Frequent Flyer points balance is safe forever!
Have you been on a family holiday? Do the kids have Frequent Flyer Points in their accounts, but otherwise don’t earn regular points?
Beware Points expiry!
Any Frequent Flyer account that doesn’t earn or spend points for 18 months will see all points in the account expire. No mercy, no leniency.
One way around this is to transfer all those smaller balances (ie the kids) into one primary account (ie Mum or Dad). Consolidate into an account that is regularly earning points and you’ll never have to worry about losing them.
Transfers require a minimum of 5000 points. If the kids’ balance is under 5000 points and expiry is imminent, consider transferring points from Dad’s account to the kids, and then transfer the kids points back to Mum.
Another strategy would be to join the whole family up to the Qantas Wellbeing app (if the kids have mobile phones) and safeguard your balances with a weekly flow of new points. More on Wellbeing in the next Points Magnet!
But most importantly, NEVER let points go to waste!
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
But he said yes, and I guess that’s all that matters.
So you’ve started to build up a useable QFF points balance and you’re wondering what to do with them.
With so many ways to use your points in the QFF program, it’s really important to understand what those points are worth before you start spending them. It will also help you to understand the value of a promotion (eg credit card sign on points bonus) or if it is worth paying a credit card surcharge to earn points on a purchase.
I value my points at 0.5 cents at the lower end, and 3.5 cents at the upper end. Let me explain how I arrive at those figures.
Lets start in the Qantas Store. You could buy the proverbial toaster with your hard-earned points. You’ll be down 31,070 points for a toaster that retails at around $149. That’s a miserable redemption value of 0.48 cents. Great value for Qantas, not such a great deal for you.
So let’s say we purchase Woolworths vouchers with our points. Seems like a sensible thing to do. The best value you can get here is a $250 voucher for 47,500 points. That’s a redemption value of 0.52 cents per point.
Points Plus Pay…
So let’s get some serious rewards…
I’ll be flying Sydney to Dallas later in the year. It’s a 17 hour marathon and I’ve booked an economy ticket (ugh). But I’ve also got enough points to REQUEST an upgrade to Business Class. Wish me luck. I’ve had some success in the past but this type of upgrade is never guaranteed. However, the difference between my Economy fare and my desired Business fare is about $3,100 and on this basis I’m calling a valuation of 3.1 cents per point. And that’s more than 6 times better than a toaster.
You could also go after a Classic Award flight. They can be a little tricky to find, and it pays to be a little bit flexible with your dates and routes, and you’ll still have to pay taxes and carrier charges. But here’s one I picked up recently and I’m pretty damn happy about it. Melbourne to Singapore on Emirates, one of the most highly regarded first class services in the air, with a ticket value of $3300 plus taxes. And I got this for 90,000 points. A redemption value of 3.6 cents per point.
So now you have an idea of how to value QFF points. You can use this information to assess the benefit of that 100K-sign-on-bonus-CreditCard with a $450 annual fee: At the lower end of my valuations, those points are worth $500 (specifically, you could cash them in for $500 worth of Woolworths vouchers). Or you could hold out for an upgrade or a Classic Award at the upper end of my valuation to gain a $3,600 benefit.
But the most important thing is…. don’t buy the toaster.
As a fan of the Qantas Frequent Flyer Program, it’s no surprise that I’m going to tell you to sign up (if you haven’t already) to Woolworths Rewards.
If you shop at Woolies and AREN’T signed up, then you’re crazy. Like it or not, those loyalty points are factored into the price of everything you buy – so you may as well collect the points! If you don’t, it’s like giving Woolworths a tip, or saying “keep the change” every time you shop.
Great, you’ve got a Woolworths Rewards Card. Set it up to transfer points to your QFF account. Now… get another Woolworths Rewards Card. And keep a regular check on your email account.
Whilst WR is a loyalty rewards program, the irony is that Woolworths is more likely to reward disloyalty. Stop using Card A for a while and watch the special bonus offers start to appear in your inbox (they think you’ve gone to Coles). Activate them. Use them if they make sense to you (but don’t buy stuff you don’t need just to get the points).
While you’re happily collecting bonus points on Card A, pretty soon you’ll be getting similar offers on Card B.
If the bonus offers dry up, consider getting another card.
Make sure everyone in your family is shopping on one of your cards to maximise your points. You can also collect WR points at fuel and bottle shop outlets, and Big W.
Notwithstanding those special offers, you’ll get 1 Woolworths Reward point for every $1 spent. Each WR point converts to 0.43 QFF points (2000 WR points converts to 870 QFF points, transferred to your Qantas account quarterly)
Let’s compare value:
2000 Woolworths points buys a $10 voucher/discount when used at Woolworths. 1 point is worth half a cent!
870 Qantas Frequent Flyer points is worth approximately $26 when used for points upgrades or awards flights at Qantas, based on my 3 cents per point valuation.
The Woolworths award can be used on life’s essentials, and is easily cashed in. The Qantas award is a lifestyle choice and is a little bit more difficult to cash – but so much more fun than buying toilet paper. It’s up to you, be sensible or be self-indulgent, but don’t miss out on the points!
Now, how many QFF points could you collect in a year from grocery shopping? Let’s say you spend $250 a week at Woolworths (not a stretch for family of four). And you activate and exploit all of those bonus offers. And you pay on a points earning credit card like the American Express Ultimate card that I have recommended previously.
Table 1 – $250 Weekly Grocery Bill
WR points: 13,000 converts to 5590 QFFpoints
Bonus Points: 40,000* converts to 17200 QFF points
(*based on 4 x 10,000 bonus offer for 4-weekly shopping targets)
Amex 1.25 points for spend 16,250 QFF points
Congratulations, you’ve just banked 39,040 QFF points towards your next award.
Shopping at Woolworths ONLINE via the Qantas Mall can increase your points yield even further, AND save you time in the supermarket.
It takes some planning and organisation, but I think it’s worth the effort. I use Woolworths online (via Qantas Mall) to buy the things I know I’m going to need for the coming week. It’s also a great way to browse the half-price specials and snap up those things you regularly use at a ‘bargain’ price. It won’t replace that dash to the shops for the bread and milk that you just ran out of, but if you can get into a routine you can easily get most of your groceries this way.
They pick and pack the groceries for you, so you save time in store. I also find that I am less prone to impulse buys (usually chocolate), so it’s arguably good for wallet and waist as well!
But back to the points… every time you shop at Woolworths online via the Qantas Mall, your spend is tracked by Qantas and they will reward you with 2 points (standard, sometimes up to 4 points) for every $1 spent. That’s 4 times the standard earn rate in store!
Table 2 Points Yield on $200 Online Grocery Shop
200 standard Woolworths rewards points (converts to 87 QFF points)
250 QFF points from your points earning credit card
400 QFF points from the Qantas Mall
If you were able to do $200 of your weekly family-of-four grocery shop online instead of instore, you’ll collect at least a further 20,800 QFF in a year.
Add that to the points from Table 1 and you are at around 60,000 QFFpoints – not for buying more stuff, just from buying the same stuff in a different way.
You could look at this as a $360 cash back on your groceries, or up to $1800 to spend at Qantas. (I’ll cover points valuations in more detail in another instalment)
Or you could let Woolworths and Qantas keep the points – it’s up to you!
Key Point Use different Woolworths Rewards cards to attract more bonus offers
Key Point Watch your emails and activate offers, track your shopping to reach your goals, but only buy stuff you need
Key Point Plan your weekly shop and do it online through the Qantas Mall to turbo boost your points yield