Penang to Portland & Austin on United Airlines

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  1. calvinoeh
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    This trip report isn't going to be as exciting as my previous trip reports. There would be no exotic destinations or front of the plane experiences to share this time round (except for the unexpected bump to First on Continental). Figured I blog about anyway for those who are still interested or might have to suffer the same fate as me to having to travel from Asia to the US in economy on United Airlines.

    The full trip report will be available via my blog with the installments below:

    Introduction
    Penang to Singapore on Silkair
    Singapore to Portland on United Airlines
    Portland and review of Hilton Portland
    Portland to Austin; First Bump ever
    Short review of Embassy Suites Austin Townlake
    Heading back home - Austin to Penang on United Airlines
     
  2. calvinoeh
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    Introduction:

    This trip report isn't going to be as exciting as the previous trip reports. There would be no exotic destinations or front of the plane experiences to share this time round (except for the unexpected bump to First on Continental). Figured I blog about anyway for those who are still interested or might have to suffer the same fate as me to having to travel from Asia to the US in economy on United Airlines.

    I typically to travel 1-2 times a year to the US for work from Penang. This was what got me started on finding ways to use miles, flyertalk, lounges, etc. When I started having to the US for work, it used to be always on Singapore Airlines (SQ), albeit in economy class. When the recession happened a couple of years back, management bad a huge stink about flying the lowest fare available which they never took back. This threw SQ out of the list on most trips with Cathay Pacific (CX) being the airline recommended by the company appointed travel agent. With my *A Gold status, I refused to travel on CX but chose United for my trips to the US instead so I could still use business class lounges and have priority check-in and boarding.

    This 2 weeks trip would take me from Penang to Portland, Oregon and Austin, Texas on Silk Air, United and an unexpected flight on Continental.

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  3. calvinoeh
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    Penang to Singapore:

    The first part of the trip consisted on a short hop on Silkair, Singapore Airlines regional subsidiary from Penang to Singapore. To catch the early morning United flight from Singapore to Tokyo, I flew on the last Penang-Singapore flight reaching Singapore at about 11pm. Silkair currently flies 4 times a day on the Singapore-Penang-Singapore route.

    This route used to be served by Singapore Airlines proper but got switched to Silkair a few years back after low cost airlines were allowed to fly it. The annoying part of the switch is that Silkair is technically not part Star Alliance which meant I did not have priority check-in, boarding or the use of the lounge even though I had *Gold thanks to Asiana Airlines. Gold members on Singapore Airlines frequent flyer program still gets all the benefits though. Silkair does not provide their business class or elite customers any lounge use in Penang but instead issues a rm15 voucher for use in a couple of cafe or restaurants at the airport.

    With the dedicated on-line check-in line available, I was able to get done with check-in pretty quick. I was pleasantly surprised that the agent could issue all my boarding passes all the way to Portland in Penang - first time it has happened to me. I also insisted on priority business class luggage tags after showing my *A Gold card.

    The flight itself was as expected ~95% full with mostly what I thought were passengers traveling for business. Even though it is only ~1 hour flight, Silkair does a snack and drink run which a pretty good tasting chicken pie served on the night run.


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    Chicken pie on Silkair​

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  4. calvinoeh
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    Singapore to Portland:

    To get to Portland, Oregon, I decided to route my flights through Tokyo to enjoy the United and ANA lounges and Los Angeles to meet up with college friends from USC (go Trojans!) who I haven't seen in more than a year.

    Got up at end ungodly 4.30am and after a quick shower (the water could have been much hotter) in the common bathroom, I headed to the transfer counter in terminal 3 to reconfirm my luggage was on the flight and to add my BMI frequent flyer number onto the ticket. For some unknown reason, I couldn't do this via the United website successfully. I next headed off the Krisflyer Gold Lounge, the designated *A Gold lounge in terminal 3 for some breakfast.

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    Breakfast​
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  5. calvinoeh
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    Portland, Oregon is one of my favorite cities to live or visit at least during the summer months. I missed the long days of summer, amazing scenery, great hiking and wonderful restaurants having lived in Portland for a year a couple of years back. It was good to be back. The weather during this visit however was on the chilly side (~15-20 Celsius) even though it was already July – at least the sun was out and it wasn’t raining.
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  6. calvinoeh
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    I got to airport around 9 am to catch my 11 am flight to San Francisco. I got in the Business class/*A Gold line to speak to a check-in agent to get my BMI Diamond Club added to the booking. While waiting in line, I notice there was a long line of economy class passengers waiting to speak to the check-in agents and what was even more shocking was that there was a United Airlines employee serving them drinks while they stood in a line. When did United start having such good service? Was this only at Portland airport? I approached the employee who was handing out drinks on when this perk started and she just smiled and said that the folks in the line have been waiting for about 3-4 hours and there was a United wide computer/networkshutdown earlier in the morning. This was going to be a “fun” day of flying especially for people like me who weren’t in a rush to get to their destination!

    I was originally scheduled to fly Portland – San Francisco – Austin but due to the network shutdown, my San Francisco flight was delayed for about an hour and that would make me miss my connection to Austin. The reservation systems had protected me and rebooked me on Portland – San Francisco – Los Angeles – Austin. I asked one of the check-in agents if they needed volunteers but they said this was only done at the gate – kind of figured she just wanted me out of there.
    I headed to the Red Carpet Club where I asked the sole agent working the lounge that day to put me on the volunteer list. I figured the chances were good considering the morning flights were cancelled. She originally put me on a later flight to Los Angeles but might be overbooked as well. I could have probably gotten away “double bump” but negotiated instead to leave on the red-eye to Houston connecting to Austin but in first class instead. After a couple of phone calls to what I assume was Continental about releasing the first class seats, she gave me my first class tickets and $400 USD United vouchers for being bumped.
    My "home" in the RCC for the afternoon:
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  7. calvinoeh
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    The choices of “company approved” hotels that we can stay in Austin are pretty limited. There are a bunch of hotels in North Austin but god knows why one would one to stay there. There are however two hotels in downtown Austin on the list – the Radisson and the Embassy Suites Town Lake. Being a Hilton guy, the Embassy Suites is my preferred hotel when visiting Austin.
    The rooms are the typical Embassy Suites style rooms with a separate bedroom and a living/work area. The hotel went through some minor renovation a couple of years back with the televisions switched from CRTs to LCDs. The furniture however it slightly dated.


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    Bedroom​

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    Work Area​



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    Living Area​
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  8. calvinoeh
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    After 2 weeks in the US, it was time to get back home. Having never flew internationally out of San Francisco, I decided of a AUS-SFO-NRT-SIN-PEN routing. The AUS-SFO was actually the killer flight. The flight was scheduled to depart Austin at 6am meaning I had to wake up around 3.30 in the morning to get to the airport in time. I made a quick stop at the Continental President's Club before the flight and wasn't too interested in the bagels and muffin they were serving for breakfast. I was not really awake at this time and wasn't too bothered about the details or to take pictures. All I remembered was that the flight was operated by a CRJ-700, I had the seat next to me empty and there was a drink service.
    Arriving in San Francisco, at 7.30am I was dead hungry (wish I had those bagels back in Austin!) and made a quick stop for a teriyaki chicken bowl right by the gate that I got into. After breakfast, I headed to the SFO Red Carpet Club where I would spend the next couple of hours drinking beer and catching up on work/email.
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    View from the RCC Bar​
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