Grand Hyatt Baha Mar Set to Open in April 2017

The Caribbean isn’t exactly a hot spot for major rewards hotels like Marriott, Hilton, SPG, etc. So when a new hotel like the Grand Hyatt opens up down there, I consider it to be newsworthy. In this case, the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar is part of the Baha Mar development, an ambitious mixed-use development project on the island of New Providence in the Bahamas that poses a tremendous amount of potential, although it’s been through some tough times.

The billion dollar project, which will also include hotels by Rosewood and Morgans, was originally set to open back in March of 2015 but due to a series of issues, including Chapter 11 bankruptcy, construction was stalled. It was recently announced that it was expecting an opening in the spring of 2017, but now it looks like it will officially open its doors in April of 2016.

The Grand Hyatt sounds (and looks) like it’s going to be an impressive resort. There’s dancing fountains (with light show capabilities) and a 40 foot water wall that welcomes you to the property housing 1,800 guest rooms, including 227 suites. The hotel will also feature three restaurants, including a 200-seat main restaurant, a pool bar and grill and a jazz-themed lounge. In addition, it will feature an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature Design Golf Course, a 30,000 square foot destination spa and  tennis courts and other facilities. Oh, and don’t forget about the “20-acre beach and pool experience” that will be a part of the complex.

The press release states that “the Baha Mar Resort will open in phases, with initial operations at Grand Hyatt Baha Mar expected to begin in late April 2017.” The Baha Mar Resort is also going to be home to the Baha Mar Casino, which is to going to have 1,100 slot machines and 150 table games and the biggest and most state-of-the-art casino in the Caribbean. In addition, when the complex is completed, it will be the single largest resort in the Caribbean.

This is an exciting development but I won’t be visiting for a little while. I’ve learned that when it comes to large resorts, grand openings, or “soft openings,” often leave things to be desired. Forget the fact that there will always be issues to iron out with the staff and facilities, it’s often the case that large portions of a resort don’t immediately open and that’s exactly what’s going on here. In fact, it’s reported that only 200 rooms will open in late April and the remaining 1,600 rooms will open in phases through December 2017.

I’m sure this hotel will be a fantastic resort and probably one of the top properties in the entire Caribbean once it’s up and running but for now I’m going to sit back and wait for it to get a bit more running time and for the next phases to complete. This is definitely an exciting development for any Hyatt fan who loves the Caribbean, though, and it should surely give a much-needed boost to the declining tourism in the Bahamas.

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class A330 Retrofit Coming This Year

If you’re planning on flying Virgin Atlantic’s swanky “Upper Class” on an A330 any time soon you may want to try to hold off as retrofitted A330s will be rolled out in a staggered fashion throughout the year, depending on which airport you’re flying out of and which route you’re flying.

The impetus for the retrofit 

Virgin Atlantic unveiled its “Dream Suite” for the Upper Class on the A330 back in 2012. Unfortunately, Virgin Atlantic decided to implement a 1-2-1 layout versus the 1-1-1 layout found on the 787 and formerly found on the A340. This new design led to a much more cramped in-flight experience with less privacy and space, which made a lot of Virgin Atlantic flyers unhappy and eventually led to the need for change. In short, the dream suite was more of a nightmare suite.

As reported by Runway Girl Network:

A Virgin Atlantic spokesperson speaking on the changes stated, “We have taken the decision to reconfigure the Upper Class cabin on our A330 fleet to bring it in line with the 787…. This will improve consistency of experience for our Upper Class passengers and give more of them the opportunity to enjoy a product which has received excellent feedback from both our customers and our people on the 787.”

But why did Virgin Atlantic try this 1-2-1 configuration that seemed destined to fail?

As Runway Girl further states:

The Dream Suite was created to fix a problem: the existing Upper Class Suite, created for a 1-2-1 configuration in the main cross-section of the Boeing 747, wasn’t dense enough to compete economically on the narrower fuselage of the A340 and A330 — especially with British Airways’ Club World product, which went fully flat but didn’t (and still doesn’t) have direct aisle access.

So Virgin Atlantic tried to redesign a configuration successfully implemented in a 747 for an A330 in order to maximize revenue. The result was the overly cramped, narrow seats with little overhead bin storage space and a lot of complaints. It eventually got so bad that they decided to pull the configuration on the A330 in late 2015.

Photo: Virgin Atlantic.

The new retrofits

So fast forward to 2017. This is the year of the Virgin Atlantic A330 retrofits.

Business Traveler recently updated the projected schedule for these retrofits (that is running behind based on previous projections).

It looks like routes out of London Gatwick and Manchester will have the new Upper Class configuration on the A330s by the end of March. Many of these routes are to vacation hot spots like the Caribbean but Manchester has two routes to the US: SFO and BOS.

Then, from September 1, it looks like the new A330s will roll out from LHR on routes to DXB, EWR, some JKF routes, and IAD. Also, routes from MAN to ATL and JFK will have the new retrofitted aircraft. And then finally, more will come out after October 30, when the retrofitted A330s will be active on services between LHR and ATL and some routes to JFK.

What will the new configuration be like? 

I haven’t seen or heard any official announcements from Virgin Atlantic on what the new configuration will consist of. However, there are many reports from passengers who have booked future flights on the A330s that state that the seat maps for their flights are showing a 1-1-1 configuration. So it looks like it will be in line with that you’d find on the 787, but one has to wonder if we’ll see any other changes implemented?

Hilton News and Offers Round-up

There’s been a lot of news and a number of deals related to Hilton in the past week, so here’s a rundown of some of the offers and news. 

Rebranding to Hilton Honors

Hilton decided to rebrand its loyalty program formerly known as Hilton HHonors, and now just Hilton Honors. This rebranding came with significant changes to the program including eliminating an award chart, points pooling, a new points slider, and a few other key features. Some of the changes are positive while others have the potential to be quite negative depending on how things play out. Read more about the changes here

Status Match 

Hilton is offering status matches again! We utilized this last year to match Brad’s IHG platinum status and earn Hilton Diamond status. It only took us applying for one card and staying one night to do so, too! 

If you already have been matched you can extend your status the following ways: 

You’ll also have the opportunity to extend your status match through March 31, 2019,
when you stay with us over the next 90 days. If you’re matched to Gold status,
you’ll just need to complete 4 stays. If you’re matched to Diamond, you’ll need 8 stays

So we’d just need 8 stays (not nights) to get Brad to retain his Diamond status. However, we’re probably going to wait until next year to act on this since we have Diamond status until March of 2018. While Diamond status doesn’t offer you overwhelmingly valuable benefits, there are some nice perks which you can read more about here

2K everyday

Hilton is offering the following promotion: 

Earn 2,000 Points every day at over 4,800 hotels when you sign up and complete a stay from February 1 through April 30, 2017.

So with each stay you can net an extra 2,000 Honors points. Not bad and it’s super easy to sign-up.

Amex Offer: earn Membership Rewards 

Right now, you can earn 3,500 Membership Rewards when you spend $250 or more at Hilton Hotels and Resorts and Curio collections. The offer expires April 15, 2017. Unfortunately, this is a targeted offer

There’s also another offer for Hilton gift cards that might be targeted where you can get a one-time $5 statement credit by spending a minimum of $75+ in one or more transactions online at The offer expires April 30, 2017.

Final word 

Although Hilton points are one of the weakest reward currencies, I find them extremely easy to accumulate with the generous bonus earning rates from stays and from credit cards like the Citi Reserve and Amex Surpass. For example, as Diamond members, we earn the following rates for every dollar spent on Hilton properties:

  • 10 base points
  • 5 points for opting for “points and points”
  • 5 points for being a Diamond member

And since we cover our stays with the Amex Honors Surpass, we earn 12 more points per dollar spent! So that’s a total of 32 Hilton Honors points we earn every time we stay at a Hilton. At an estimated value of .4 cents per point, that’s like getting 13% back for every dollar spent at Hilton properties. Moreover, it seems like there are always Hilton Honors promotions going on that allow you to earn a ton of additional Honors points if your timing is right.  

Singapore Airlines to fly A350 from Houston to Manchester

I was pretty excited to hear about the new Singapore Airlines route from Houston to Manchester when it was announced some months ago. But now I’m really excited to hear about the route being serviced by a brand new A350-900XWB! Per Routes Online, this new service is replacing the 777-300ER and its inaugural flight is set to take off January 17th, 2016.

The route

Like the SIN-FRA-JFK route with the A380, the total flight path is also three segments total: Singapore – Manchester – Houston. The flights have the following flight numbers:

  • SQ52  SIN to MAN
  • SQ52  MAN to IAH
  • SQ51 IAH to MAN
  • SQ51 MAN to SIN
Manchester, UK. Photo by Zuzanna Neziri.

Business class on the A350

I’m excited about this because I recently flew business class (which is the highest class on this aircraft) on a brand new Singapore A350 from SIN to JNB, and I absolutely loved it. It’s one of the top business class cabins and arguably on par with several of the first class products on some airlines. So now Houstonians and others have an additional solid product for getting to Europe, and it’s on one of the best airlines on the planet. 

Singapore Business Class
Singapore Business Class on the A350.

What I really loved about the A350 was the freshly designed business class seats and even preferred those over the business class seats on the A380. To me, the business class on the A380 appear much more dated and definitely not at stylish as the newer business class.

Singapore Business Class A380
Singapore Business Class A380

Although I found the business class seats on the A350 to be much more sleek, I believe they may be just a tad bit more narrow. But if you know how oversized these seats are to begin with, the difference is negligible. Also, I recommend sitting in one of the bulkhead rows for maximum leg room.

Singapore Business Class

Definitely my favorite business class experience thus far. 

Singapore Business Class

While the hard product is a little different on these aircrafts, I found the soft product (dining, drinks, bedding, etc.) to be superb all around. If it’s your first time on Singapore Airlines, don’t forget to try out the Singapore Slinger! 

Singapore Business Class A380
Business class lunch on Singapore Airlines.

You can take a virtual tour of the aircraft here.

Redemption rates

When you book online, you’re offered a 15% discount on Singapore Airlines flights. This makes the miles required for this amazing product a true bargain. Below are the mileage requirements for round trips from Houston to Manchester with the discounts factored in:

  • Economy: 34,000
  • Business Class: 97,750

When you consider that Singapore Airlines Krisflyer is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase, American Express, Citi, and SPG, you see how easy it is to accumulate enough points to take advantage of these flights. With just one card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you’d have enough miles to take a round trip to Europe in Singapore business class. 

Booking with partners?

Singapore Airlines is one of those oddball airlines that limits partner booking abilities. Not only will you struggle to find their seats on many other websites, but Singapore Airlines limits premium seats to partners when it comes to certain aircrafts. While a route serviced by an A350 should be an aircraft where premium award seats can be made available, it’s likely that availability for business class seats will be scarce so I wouldn’t rely on booking these seats with partners like United.

Paying cash

  • Economy: $630 (Economy super saver)
  • Business Class: $3,842
    • One-way from IAH:$2,390
    • One-way from MAN: $3,040


The major problem with Singapore Airlines is that sometimes you have to deal with hefty fees and this is one route where the fees can really cut into your savings. 

Here are the total fees for economy:

Those fees are almost half the entire fees for the ticket! Factoring in the fees, this redemption of 34,000 miles comes out to just under 1 cent per point (.95 cent). Thus, I probably would just save my points rather than using them for an economy ticket for this route.  

Here are the total fees for business class:

This redemption is much more valuable as your value comes out to about 3.4 cents per point. It’s worth noting that the total fees are higher for the return flight from the UK. If you’re just booking a one way to get to Europe from Houston, then fees aren’t very bad at all (only $128 as seen below). And that redemption is even more valuable coming out at 4.6 cents per point. 

Again, considering the product level with Singapore Airlines business class, the fees aren’t horrible but they are still high enough that you’d want to consider your other options for getting across the pond. 

The alternatives

If you don’t care too much about the airline you’re flying on and just want to get to Europe and want to avoid fees, you should definitely consider other options for a cheaper solution. For example, while Aeroplan requires more miles for a roundtrip business class fare at 110,000 miles you can use Aeroplan miles to book a round trip with a partner airline like SAS or United and avoid high fees. If you can snag an all United itinerary with ANA miles, business class will only run you 88,000 miles total and fees should be more than reasonable. For more alternatives, check out my article on getting to Paris with miles and points

Aside from the fees, the other issue is that Singapore Airlines will require you to book an additional partner booking if you wanted to connect from Manchester to another city in Europe like Paris or wherever. Roundtrip award flights within Europe start as 50,000 Singapore Airlines Krisflyer miles, so that’s a lot of additional mileage required. And while budget flights from various cities in Europe are easy to come by, it does add some extra cost and hassle to your travels to jump on them. For this reason, the excitement for this route is curtailed just a bit. 

Final word

It’s great to see such a superb product now available for getting to Europe from Houston. I think what while the economy award redemptions aren’t the most valuable, the business class awards still offer great value despite the fees on a round trip award. If you really just want to experience Singapore’s great business class product, I think this is a great opportunity to do so, especially if you were just looking for a one way award to Europe or were already planning a trip to the UK. 

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