Monthly Archives: August 2017

California Dreamin’: A Tale of Going West

  • California Dreamin’: A Tale of Going West
  • Singapore Airlines Business Class SIN-SFO / SFO-SIN (A350)
  • Parc 55 San Francisco – A Hilton Hotel
  • Big Trees Lodge
  • The Majestic Yosemite Hotel
  • Hampton Inn & Suites Merced, or Just About Any Hampton in the States
  • Hilton San Diego Airport Harbor Island Hotel
  • The Comic-Con Experience
  • Virgin Airlines Business Class SAN-SFO (A319)
  • Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge SFO

Prologue

Once upon a time, an amateur travel hacker heard about a new non-stop flight operating from Singapore to San Francisco. “Well,” he thought, “this seems like an awesome way to make use of those miles I’ve been gathering. I’ve never been to San Francisco, the flight is long (and thus premium seats are much-desired) and it sure would be swell to check out the new hardware!”

Excited by the idea, he sought concept approval from his immediate superior. “Oh hey,” replied The Wife, “maybe we can go to Comic-Con!”

Having previously been unable to make the pilgrimage to San Diego in July, the amateur travel hacker agreed with the suggested course of action and got down to planning the trip.

The remainder of this series will focus on the usual flight and hotel reviews, but since this was such an experience I thought I’d just briefly go through some of the highlights alongside the planning process. 

Transport & Accommodation Plans

Plans began about a year in advance, beginning with the conversion of credit card point to KrisFlyer miles followed by the booking of award business tickets as soon as they were made available. In a tremendous stroke of luck, room inventory at the Hilton San Diego Airport Harbor Island Hotel had not been totally locked at the time (San Diego hotels usually block them out during Comic-Con) and so accommodation for the duration of the convention was settled really early.

Accommodation was generally secured on cancellable Hilton MVP rates with searches set up on tripBAM to generate notifications should prices drop along the way. We decided to fly in and out of San Diego, in a bid to avoid traffic jams that were likely to appear around the time. Before then, we mostly drove around the west coast of California, and we rented a car for a week.

Comic-Con

The trickiest thing about making plans to visit California and do Comic-Con a year in advance is that you don’t actually get to confirm your convention tickets (badges) until about three months before. This led to the crazy situation of making the plans without knowing if we’d actually get badges for the convention. In the end, we decided to just go ahead with the planning and just visit San Diego anyway, regardless of whether we got badges. There’d be plenty to do outside the convention centre then, we reasoned.

Getting badges was a nightmare. Essentially, it’s down to online balloting – each (registered) person can purchase three badges, even if not actually attending. Someone’s calculated the odds of a first-timer scoring a badge at about 6%, and even with the help of some friends entering the ballot for us, we initially didn’t get anything.

Thankfully, a mutual friend managed to get us hooked up with some other Singaporeans who were balloting as a group and we managed to get badges for two of the four days.

It was an experience. Ultimately I didn’t love it all that much due to the insane crowds (and queues) over there, but I’m glad to have managed to attend it.

Yosemite National Park

Somewhere along the way, the decision was made to visit Yosemite National Park. I didn’t expect it then, but this turned out to be highlight of the trip for me.

This was made even more enjoyable by our one-night stay at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (aka the Ahwahnee Hotel). I was rather enticed by the idea of a heritage luxury hotel in the middle of the valley and decided to splurge to stay just one night –  I ended up booking the cheaper Big Trees Lodge for another night in an attempt to strike a balance between (comfortably) maximising my time in the park while not bankrupting myself.

Hilton Synergy

As it turns out, Hilton was offering triple points to Diamond members during this trip so I’m now in a pretty good position to redeem some high-value hotel stays. I’d also tried my luck requesting for a status challenge earlier in the year and managed to re-qualify for Diamond until Mar 2019.

I doubt I’ll be able to stretch it beyond that, but three years as a comped Diamond isn’t half bad!

All in all, this trip offered great experiences both in the realm of flight/accom as well as elsewhere; the following posts shall, of course, focus on the former travelgeeky topics.

(Addendum – Singapore Airlines Lounge SFO)

When I’d initially started this trip report, I’d planned to include a review of the SQ lounge at SFO. As it turns out, it’s a good thing I took so long to do up this report, since I later realised that I could save myself the effort as the lounge would be permanently closed from 1 Oct 2017.

Which is just as well, since I was distinctly unimpressed with the lounge.

Whoever said procrastination didn’t pay off?

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Hotel Review: Hilton Garden Inn Singapore Serangoon (King Deluxe)

When I’d first heard that a Hilton Garden Inn would be opening in Singapore, I was rather intrigued that cheaper accommodation in the Hilton family would finally be available here. When award stays became available at 10,000 points (about US$50 value), I quickly made a reservation to check it out for myself.

(Unfortunately, award stays have since been repriced to 20,000 points closer to the opening, in case you were thinking of doing the same…)

The initial few posts in the FlyerTalk thread make a big deal of its supposedly unfavourable location – without tackling the probably racist sentiment (though there’s much to be said there) it’s worth noting that the property is located in Little India, making it easy to check out the ethnic enclave’s wares and food options. It also has many migrant workers in the area, especially over the weekend when crowds will likely make claustrophobics uncomfortable. Overall, it’s still relatively centrally located, with Little India MRT just a short walk away.

Whether these factors make it a desirable location to you or not, I leave to your personal judgement. Personally, I rather enjoyed exploring the area, something I usually don’t.

Checking in

Check in took forever (about 30min, perhaps?). I’m not sure if it was because it was still around the first week of operation, but the front desk staff didn’t seem that certain of how to navigate the system.

On the plus side, the check in area was relatively bright and cheery.

Just round the corner from the front desk was a little unmanned shop – I’m guessing you take what you want and get it charged to your room at the front desk.

 

Perhaps because of how long the process took, I got a one-class upgrade to a King Deluxe room (from the basic King Guest room) – the front desk officer was quick to remind that it was not standard policy for HGIs to give status upgrades. As far as I can tell, they aren’t really all that different – the only difference in the descriptions on the website seems to be that the Deluxe room has a racecourse view. Yay?

Even the floorplan doesn’t seem to indicate much difference in room size; I wouldn’t be surprised if the bulk of the rooms are pretty much identical (though the 16th floor rooms are supposed to come with balconies).

The Room

The room itself is nice enough, especially being a new property. Everything looked spick and span – I’d have been surprised (and displeased) if it was anything else after just a few days of operation. The bed was pretty comfortable. Approved.

Other than that, it was equipped as a mid-priced non-luxury hotel might be. Here’s complimentary bottles water (something I wish more hotels provided) and a Hilton Honors welcome card..

The room was equipped with an open closet, safe, mini-fridge and a rather basic pantry (no Nespresso machines here).

Bedroom slippers were provided, but with almost laughably thin soles.

New hotels also come with new toilets. New, clean toilets. It’s pretty functional, with a small single sink and a shower. But it was clean.

You might have noticed that I enjoy clean toilets. Hope they’re able to maintain that state of cleanliness for some years to come, at least!

A number of seating options with a small work desk, cushioned bay window and another window-side seat.

 

…also allowing you to comfortably take in that apparently deluxe racecourse view.

 

Connectivity was pretty good. Having the modern traveller in mind, the rooms come equipped with plenty of electrical points – the wall plugs even allow you to plug USB cables in directly.

Wonder what will happen as USB-C becomes more common, though?

I also appreciated how easy it was to connect personal devices via HDMI to the room TV.

Breakfast

Breakfast is complimentary for Gold/Diamond members if you select it as a MyWay benefit (as opposed to getting points for the stay). Do remember to select it before checking in, if that’s your preference.

It’s served at the poolside restaurant, so we got to check out the pool despite it not being open yet, at the time of the stay.

There’s a rather large range of food available for breakfast, especially considering that it wasn’t quite a full-service hotel. I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking, starting with the coffee machines…

Pastry selection…

Fruits and cereal…

Juices…

Indian hot food…

Noodle station (and dim sum)…

Salad and cold cuts…

Omelette station…

Pancakes, waffles and the usual wester breakfast fare…

All in all, it makes for a pretty tasty breakfast.

Other facilities

On the way out I snapped a picture of the hotel gym located on the ground floor. I can’t say I have personal experience, but it looks perfectly pleasant and functional.

Conclusion

A very respectable low/mid-range property if you don’t have any reservations about the location (personally, I don’t think you should), especially if you qualify for complimentary breakfast with Hilton Gold/Diamond.

I probably wouldn’t stay again (20,000 points is still very affordable, but I’d rather save up for other purposes), but would consider for mattress runs or recommending to foreign friends, should the need ever arise.