Research by Destination Analysis earlier this month showed that more than half of Americans consider traveling a priority right now. With the dollar at an all-time high against the pound and euro, there’s arguably never been a better time to travel abroad. But what’s the best way to travel comfortably and maximize the number of points you pick up along the way?
To answer these and other questions about luxury travel, we spoke to Stephen Au, senior points contributor at Upgraded Points. Stephen is also the founder of AuPACs, a points and travel consultancy, and has dedicated his life to ensuring passengers get the most out of travel. USTN spoke with Stephen earlier this week about his best tips and tricks on how to make your points go further, as well as his favorite ways to travel in style.
Could you please describe your perfect flying experience? Real or otherwise.
My perfect flying experience would consist of a pre-arranged chauffeur transfer to the airport, expedited security through an exclusive line or VIP meet and greet service, lounge access with a full cocktail bar and sit-down, white tablecloth dining, and a shower before boarding the flight. This should be followed by a lavish, spacious, private first class experience with top-shelf alcohol, Michelin-star dining, warm service, and plush bedding to help me get enough sleep. Upon landing, I would utilize a VIP meet and greet service to meet me as soon as I deplane, expedite customs and immigration, and assist with luggage. I would then be escorted to my chauffeur, who will transport me to my final destination.
Your site, upgrade points, is known for its reviews of frequent flyer programs and credit card rewards. Which credit card, would you say, is the golden ticket when it comes to luxury travel?
The golden ticket to luxury travel is absolutely the Amex Platinum card. It has the best luxury travel benefits like airport lounge access, hotel elite status, and so much more!
Which US airline has the best lounge?
The best lounge is offered by American Airlines with their Flagship First Dining experience paired alongside their Flagship Lounges. These are in hub airports like LAX, JFK, DFW, and MIA.
Based on the flight alone, if you could travel to any place with any airline, where and who would it be?
If I could travel to any place with any airline, I would choose Singapore Airlines A380 First Class Suites with double beds from my home airport (LAX) to the Maldives, my favorite
destination in the whole world.
People often talk about a ‘golden age of flying’, when passengers got dressed up to go on an airplane and customers were treated to fine dining on board. Do you wish air travel were more like this or do you think the current experience is better?
I prefer air travel to be more casual and give more freedom to the individual traveler. If they feel more confident dressing up, more power to them. I'm all about comfort --- and if I'm flying internationally in first class on a $10,000 plane ticket, I expect the crew to respect whether I wear sweatpants or sport shorts.
Have you ever seen anyone get a free upgrade? What’s the secret?
We've seen countless upgrades, and we've also helped arrange tons of upgrades for our clients. Sometimes, it's as simple as reaching out to the hotel and informing them that our clients are celebrating a special occasion. There is no secret --- the method you should use ultimately depends on what upgrade you're trying to secure --- flight upgrades are different from hotel upgrades, which are different from car rental upgrades.
What are some things you never get on a long haul flight without?
I cannot board a long-haul flight without my noise-canceling AirPods Pro, my laptop, passport, phone (which has credit cards and debit cards), and a comfortable set of clothes. I can survive without everything else.