Matt Dotson

Mobile Payments Evangelist, USC Football Zealot, Travel Missionary, BBQ Puritan

January 4, 2011

5 Tips to Travel in Luxury

Here are 5 tips I use to make it feel like I’m traveling in luxury for just a few more bucks.

#1 Private Car Service

Your trip starts and ends with how you get to the airport, so you might as well make this a good experience.  Private car service (usually a black towncar or SUV) gives you a luxurious ride to the airport.  In most places there’s a good car service company for about 20-25% more than taking a cab, and much less than parking your car at the airport for more than a few days.  For that little bit extra you get more leg room, a more comfortable ride, plus you can skip the taxi line on your way home.  Make sure to create an account with your company of choice, and you won’t have to deal with paying in cash. Having an account that charges to your credit card is great for business travelers because it’s easier to expense. Also, once you have an account, some companies will start to remember your preferred locations.  When I scheduled my last car, I just said that I wanted to go from the airport to my house, and when I got in the car the driver already had my home address ready to go in the GPS.  You also might find it easier to schedule a car when out of the country if your car service accepts reservations by email.

#2 Ask for a Better Seat or Room

It would be nice to be in first or business class, but these tickets can be ridiculously expensive.  You can get some of the same benefits for free though.  One of the best parts of business class for a big guy like me is the extra leg room, and fortunately there are a few seats in economy with the same amount or even more leg room: the emergency exit row and the bulkhead.  Some airlines let you choose these seats when you book your tickets, and some reserve them until the day of the flight.  When you’re checking in, ask if these seats are available.  Even if you can’t manage to get these seats, there are always a few seats to avoid like the row right in front of the exit row which doesn’t recline.  Plus some seats have perks like an outlet to charge your electronics or a good view of the common TV, that others might not have.  Use to find the best seats for your flight, and ask for them.

Just like on your flight, you should ask for the best rooms when you check into your hotel.  What constitutes the best room is subject to personal preference, but for me it’s a corner room on an upper floor.  Corner rooms usually have different layout than normal rooms, and often this means more square footage.  They also might have more windows and a better view. And finally they’re usually far away from the elevator which means less traffic and a quieter room.  You might have different requirements than me, but the point is to ask for the room you want; you just might get it for free.

#3 Airport Lounges

Sometimes you have to wait for your flight, and if you’re going to have to wait then you might as well make it a refreshing experience rather than watching the 15 minute loop on the airline news channel in an uncomfortable chair with babies crying and people running over your toes with their bags.  The airport lounges are free for customers with business and first class tickets, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only ones allowed.  You can purchase access to some of the airport lounges on a one time basis, and if you use the service regularly, then you can purchase a annual pass.

If you have an international layover, then lounges are a great place to take a nap for a few hours or take a quick shower to freshen up.  Turn your layover into a mini-vacation.

#4 TripIt

You don’t have a personal assistant to track all your travel plans?? Well don’t worry about that, signup for and organize all your travel plans in one place.  The software will keep track of which flights are late, and even alert you once you get off the plane where your next gate is, or which baggage claim to pickup you luggage at.  If you fly Southwest then you know the importance of checking in early and getting an A boarding pass, and TripIt sends you a text the moment check-in opens.  I used to forget to check-in and get a C pass which usually means a middle seat or a seat in the back of the plane, but since getting TripIt my worst boarding pass was A32. It’s awesome with the iPhone app to refer to you itinerary while on the go, and I’ve even used it to clear immigration in China to prove I had a connecting flight since I forgot to get a printed itinerary.

#5 Expert Traveler Security Lanes

Nothing says luxury like getting privileges that other travelers don’t get.  TSA is rolling out different lines for more experienced travelers that don’t need help going through security.  These lines used to be reserved for first class and customers with status, but now they’re open to everyone.  The cool thing is that most people don’t use this line, and you can cut down your wait in security checkpoints if you do.

October 11, 2010

First Day in Hong Kong

After a few months of waiting, I’ve finally arrived in Hong Kong to begin my Southeast Asia vacation.  The 15 hour Air China flight from LAX to Beijing to Hong Kong was surprisingly pleasant for an economy international flight.  The Hong Kong Loft I rented is absolutely awesome.  The loft (designed by Candace Collective) is bright, open, comfortable, and very stylish.  It’s in a great neighborhood with lot’s of excellent restaurants and interesting stuff within walking distance.  It’s about a block from Man Mo Temple.

Since I got in around noon, the first thing I did was head out an look for some good food.  The first thing I found was Kau Kee Noodle Shop on Gough St, which was easy to find because it was the only place on the street with a line out the door.  I ordered the Beef Brisket with noodles in curry sauce (#18) which was absolute perfection.  It was spicy, with a depth of flavor from the curry, and the beef was as good as any brisket I’ve had. It was a great meal to start out my gastronomical tour.

I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the streets and seeing the stuff that the street vendors had to offer.  Before coming here I thought that shark fin was a delicacy that isn’t that prevalent, but after being here it’s astonishing how many sharks they kill to sell their fins.  There are bags and bags of just fins.  Along with the fins, there are tons of dried and salted seafood, and as someone who’s not a big fan of seafood to begin with, the smell is overwhelming.  I love the selection of mushrooms and other interesting dried goods they have.  They have cinnamon and cassias bark that is huge, and smells amazing.

After walking around for so long I was hungry again, and decided to follow a recommendation from Candace and went to 208 (a trendy pizza spot).  The pizza was a good take on authentic Italian pizza I had in Rome or Florence, and was definitely the trendy hangout for British, Aussie, and Kiwi ex-pats.  I was the only American I noticed, but I’m sure that there are a few that frequent this place as well.

About now is when jet-lag hit, and I had to (uncharacteristically) go to bed early :(

September 23, 2010

Southeast Asia Trip 2010

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It’s a good problem to have to be forced to take a vacation.  That’s the situation I found myself in when I noticed my 200,000 United miles were going to expire at the end of the month.  I had to figure out where I wanted to go and fast.  I’ve always liked this whimsical type of travel.  So I kind of left it up to a spin of the globe to figure out where I was going.  I knew that United is notoriously bad about availability for reward bookings (that’s part of the reason I still have 200K miles sitting around from 5 years ago), so I decided to pick a few places and leave it up to United roulette to determine where I would actually end up on the dates I wanted to travel.  On the list were Burma, Egypt and Israel, Southeast Asia, Tibet, and India.

Right away Burma is out, no availability and getting a visa to Burma would have been interesting.  Next on the list was Southeast Asia, with a stop over somewhere.  First on the list of stop overs was Tokyo, but no dice there.  Next was Singapore, but that wasn’t happening.  Finally, Hong Kong … yeah Hong Kong would work, but … there were no non-stop flights with availability, so I’d have to go via Beijing.  Well I guess I wouldn’t mind getting a mainland China stamp on my passport so that works.  Now we needed to figure out where to end up in southeast Asia. I’d already been to Bangkok, so that was out.  How about Saigon? Yeah, that would work if I spent some more time in Hong Kong, so I added a few days there.  Now I just had to get back on the date I wanted. No problem right?  I’ll just get the flight back through Hong Kong, but no dice.  Somehow the receptionist found a route through Shanghai and Tokyo on various airlines, so I guess that’s how I’m getting home.  I now have a 6 leg flight to 2 destinations (I better get some good seats), but the outline of my trip is scheduled.

Once on the ground I’ll probably try to hit Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and maybe try to make it up to Luang Prabang in Laos because I’ve heard great things about it’s unspoiled beauty. I’d also really like to make it over to Hanoi and Ha Long Bay.  As you might have figured out I’m kind of a World Heritage Site junkie. The more research I do, the more I’m starting to realize that I need 3 months and not just 3 weeks to do all that I want to do here.  I guess I’ll just have to figure it out on the ground like I always do :) I’m excited for this trip to start, and I’ll plan on posting more about it as I travel.