[FoRK] [TRAVELMAN] Munich, Innsbruck, and Salzburg for the weekend

Rohit Khare <rohit at xent.com> on Thu Jun 7 17:43:15 PDT 2007

So if you look up the Wikipedia entry for this little burg in the  
Tyrolean Alps named Kitzbüehl [1], just before listing among its  
tourist attraction the "the aerial tramway with the highest span in  
the world", it says:

> The city is also home to the historic Grand Hotel Kitzbühel, a  
> private resort, training and conference facility owned and operated  
> by the worldwide management consulting firm McKinsey & Company.  
> Access to the Grand Hotel is generally limited to members and  
> alumni of the firm and their families.

So my better half is out there for training for a few weeks, and  
typically the ground rules are no spouses or other distractions. I  
have to admit I was looking forward to seeing this place, but since  
that wasn't in the cards -- and even with the cheapest "e-fare"  
specials from JFK-MUC coming in at over $1000 -- I extended my trip  
out to California for Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference by a  
week to keep moving the ball forward on the latest startup ideas I've  
been kicking around. As a result, neither of us were home to welcome  
Kragen and Beatrice on their US break from their South American  
adventures, though we are glad they're house-sitting for us  
nonetheless! I'm at least looking forward to catching up with them in  
San Francisco...

Of course, as soon as they handed out the agenda for the course, we  
found out there *was* a social break for the weekend, to break out in  
teams and go explore nearby villages or whatnot. So now the TRAVELMAN  
challenge rejoined in earnest: could I get to Munich, Innsbruck, or  
Salzburg (the 3 closest airports) by Friday afternoon and still be  
back for Steve's keynote on Monday morning?

Retail prices had since spiked to ~$2800, so that wasn't happening.  
So the first stop was United's website to see if there was a  
reasonably-priced award ticket to be had. Not surprisingly, like our  
last-minute jaunt to Australia in February, last-minute economy is as  
scarce as 330-day out biz or first... except for the revenue- 
management loophole for finding International First Class seats  
within the next day or two that can open up... so for 120,000 miles,  
I had a saver award routing booked SFO-ORD-MUC. Unfortunately, it  
left early enough to run into some meetings I had planned on Thursday  
morning, and more importantly left early on Sunday morning,  
essentially wasting a day. Not really worth it.

What I should have done is worked backwards from the timetables. It  
turns out the latest departure from the West Coast is from LAX-FRA at  
6:30pm, and the latest returns are 3:50PM MUC-SFO or 5:25PM FRA-SFO  
(on LH and UA, at least - though several other airlines I checked  
also tended to the 'standard' hours. SFO's website, in particular,  
links to an OAG page that returns useful flight data (and you can  
change the url to 'lax' and while it loses its pretty sfo skin, it  
still works). The Star Alliance timetable on their website is  
thorough, too -- too thorough: it repeats every flight combo with  
every code-share flight label (sometimes 3-4x per segment).

So now the hunt refocused on getting those flights, which happened to  
be Lufthansa metal and hence invisible to the United FF booking  
engine. Deep in the bowels of FlyerTalk, however, I recalled that  
many folks who can't stand dealing with interminable call-center  
conversations found that All Nippon Airways (ANA) has a members-only  
online booking engine that *can* reveal inventory on partner airlines  
[2]. So a few minutes later, I have yet another FFP membership and a  
much cheaper 50k-mile Coach ticket on that 3:50PM Sunday MUC-SFO  
return, making the trip really viable for the first time.

On the other hand, the itinerary now rubbed my nose in the 11+ hours  
inflight I'd be spending just before WWDC. In Coach. Without even  
UA's "Economy Plus" extra 5 inches.

But I also couldn't stomach paying 70k miles more for 1) an earlier  
United First flight on Sunday and 2) the godawful 767 United First  
seat (not the bed! but a leatherette recliner that's outclassed even  
by UA p.s. business class domestically... sigh. New suites with iPod  
integration aren't coming until 2008.)

And then I remembered:

Two years ago, Lufthansa built its own First Class Terminal in  
Frankfurt.

That's right, a terminal of one's own. Not a lounge, the kind of  
barroom that originated with the postwar American Airlines Admirals'  
Club in LaGuardia:

> You're absolutely correct...it was the CAB and not DOT. I was just  
> a kid then but I remember my father telling me to keep my yap shut  
> about private club rooms and about being given things like courtesy  
> tickets for Pan Am's helicopter service from JFK to Battery Park (I  
> can still remember that we'd depart from Gate 8 directly across  
> from the 2nd Floor Clipper Club...Pan Am had two amazing clubs at  
> JFK that were swankier than even the Playboy Club). Your memory is  
> right on about the celebrities that were whisked into and out of  
> the clubs. I got to chat to Dick Van Dyke at LAX about a week after  
> Mary Poppins had just started playing in movie theatres and felt  
> like I had met royalty; I saw other celebrities but usually didn't  
> know exactly who they were. But I was never more star struck than  
> when I was sitting in the Club at JFK and recognized my boyhood  
> hero chatting on the telephone. I asked my father if it would be OK  
> to say hello and ask him for an autograph. My dad said it would be  
> improper because he wasn't a TV or movie star and he deserved his  
> privacy. Two years later he was running for president. The man was  
> Senator Robert Kennedy. [3]

(apt, given I'm watching _Bobby_ at this very moment)

Not just that the FCT has the same facilities as the intercontinental  
first class lounge in Terminal A -- the restaurant, the showers, the  
bar, the cigar lounge, the wifi -- no, not just that it has its own  
building and raises the ante with laptops, soaking tubs, dayrooms,  
and ~90 whiskies. It's that if you think about it, that means there's  
no jetways to the airplanes. They put you in your choice of Porsches  
and drive you straight to the plane :)

Now, the rules on admission to the FCT are quite specific [5] and  
they require a Lufthansa-metal F flight, and it must connect to an  
onward partner flight. And the only flight out of Frankfurt that  
wasn't blocked by UA -- you see, just because ANA can see free seats  
doesn't mean you can get one with Mileage Plus miles! -- was a  
DeHavilland Dash-8 turboprop to Innsbruck, Austria. So while it may  
look ludicrous to a take a 911 to a plane that barely seats a few  
more passengers, at least it promised a travel treat rivaling that  
last great splurge, a final flight on the Concorde...

... but it still required finding a free F seat on an LH metal flight  
out -- the FCT wasn't going to do me any good on the return flight,  
since I wanted to spend as much time with my wife as possible, so I  
needed to catch the 5:25p UA 777 out of FRA (with the bed pods). Even  
if the MUC-SFO LH nonstop shockingly opened up, the second FCT in MUC  
won't open until the Fall. So I checked out every LH gateway city in  
North America: the flight out of Denver was only a 2-class A340; the  
flight out of Newark was a one-class 737 PrivatJet (all-biz); and the  
LA flight still got me into FRA at 2PM, leaving me no time to  
actually lounge around the lounge without cutting into her Friday 2p- 
Sunday evening pass.

What was tempting was the Chicago-Frankfurt 747-400, where the upper- 
deck is dedicated to F beds -- but once again, just because ANA  
showed it as available, UA couldn't book it. Well, not the first 4  
times I called the 1K desk :) So once I snagged that seat, all I  
needed to do was make it to Chicago by the 3:10PM departure. Sure,  
the 6:10a SFO run was sold-out, but there was a seat on the 8:11a out  
of SJC that left me 50 minutes, a barely-legal connection. All I  
needed to do was return my rental car to SJC instead.

Which Priceline screwed me over on by demanding a $217 one-way  
dropoff penalty!

While I kept calling to see if the SFO-ORD leg opened up, I finally  
got the oversold truth out of 'em. I was going to have to go to SJC.  
And there was no Hertz rental manager on duty to grant a waiver until  
7 AM, far too late to be helpful. But on the good side, the FRA-MUC  
leg magically opened up. So instead of flying into a dinky 4-gate  
cowshed (ostensible headquarters of Austrian Airlines' commuter  
affiliate, Tyrolean Air [4]), I land in a real airport and wait for  
my bride  (in another F lounge, hopefully) to schuss up the autobahn  
to pick me up for the weekend

And that's where the tale catches up: Got up at 4, headed out the  
door at 5, raced around SF desperately trying to hail a very-early- 
morning shuttle to San Jose to avoid the $150 cab fare, and made it  
there just in time for... a ground hold due to crosswinds at ORD. On  
the good side, that only came to 15 minutes before we took off. Since  
I only had carry-ons that left me in a jolly mood to enjoy a  
spectacularly clear takeoff.

I've sat through enough SJC takeoffs to be jaded, but this one was  
just shockingly clear: A perfect morning, spiraling over the Bay  
twice for a view of Infinite Loop, Hangar One, the 'Plex, Sun  
Quentin, the colored mosaic of all the Alviso salt ponds and algal  
blooms and reclamation plants; and my aunt and uncle's house directly  
below, and on the second pass my in-laws'. You could see all the  
buildings of downtown SF, the planes on the tarmac at SFO and OAK,  
the Tracy windmill farms, and Lake Tahoe... why, it was all as  
shockingly real as a Google Earth flyby! :)

So after a reasonable ham-and-eggs breakfast -- skipping all the  
booze to leave room for Lufthansa's Vinothek later on -- I was pretty  
relaxed and unfazed by the prospect of spending 30 hours traveling to  
spend 48 hours with my dear wife... dozing away until I realized we  
were circling over Lake Michigan. And circling. And circling....

and then it hit me: what if I freakin' missed this connection?!  
United was doing its damnedest to rebook me on their own, later FRA  
flight, and if I missed this 3:10 connection, there would go all the  
sugarplum dreams of a tub with rubber duckies :( [6] (and no dice on  
the Kempinski dayroom (paying pax only, [7]) nor on booking seats in  
advance [8] either). So as we circled and circled, I started fearing  
the distinct possibility of having paid 70,000 extra miles without  
touching any of the single malts :(

So when we finally saw the plane doors open at 3:06pm, I just hoped  
that the honkin' LH 747 parked 5 gates over was mine, and ran. Ran,  
right into a phalanx of a dozen LH agents calling my name and busily  
holding off a fellow SJC pax in economy who was desperately insisting  
his elderly spouse was "just behind me" (and the LH agents dryly  
complaining they "couldn't see her"). Suffice it to say, the plane  
was moving before I even plopped down in my seat. I hope the other  
couple made it, too...

And so, from somewhere south of Greenland, best wishes
   -- TRAVELMAN

PS. Advice on whisky tasting notes welcome -- I'll be online ;)

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitzb%C3%BChel
[2] https://aswbe-i.ana.co.jp/p_per/sky_ip_per_en/preAwdSearchLogin.do
[3] http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/showpost.php?p=7189546&postcount=2
[4] http://flyertalk.com/forum/archive/index.php/t-594913.html
[5] http://www.innsbruck-airport.com/index.html/_a/346694/_sa/346865/ 
_lang/en/_static/lage
[6] http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/archive/index.php/t-555490.html
[7] http://www.lufthansa.com/online/portal/lh/us/info_and_services/ 
at_the_airport?l=en&nodeid=1771224
[8] http://flyertalk.com/forum/archive/index.php/t-506974.html
[9] http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/showthread.php?p=5650395 (90)

Final itinerary:

Thu, Jun 07, 2007 - San Jose, CA (SJC) to Chicago, IL (ORD)
United 0968 	Depart: SJC 8:11	Arrive: ORD 14:20 	Non-stop
4h 9m	Boeing 757-200
1,829 miles traveled 	Booking class: XF

Thu, Jun 07, 2007 - Chicago, IL (ORD) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Lufthansa 0431	Depart: ORD 15:10	Arrive: FRA 6:20 Next day Jun 8 	Non- 
stop
8h 10m	Boeing 747
4,342 miles traveled 	Booking class: O

Fri, Jun 08, 2007 - Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Munich, Germany (MUC)
Lufthansa 0970	Depart: FRA 12:35	Arrive: MUC 13:30 	Non-stop
55m	Airbus A320
195 miles traveled 	Booking class: I

Sun, Jun 10, 2007 - Munich, Germany (MUC) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Lufthansa 0975	Depart: MUC 14:25	Arrive: FRA 15:30 	Non-stop
1h 5m	Boeing 737
195 miles traveled 	Booking class: I

Sun, Jun 10, 2007 - Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to San Francisco, CA (SFO)
United 0927	Depart: FRA 17:25	Arrive: SFO 19:52 	Non-stop
11h 27m	Boeing 777
5,698 miles traveled 	Booking class: XF

Total award miles: 120,000 miles
Total taxes, fees and surcharges: USD 97.80



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