Last week, I had the pleasure of staying at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, which is located about 1 hour from San Francisco in the heart of wine country.
As I had posted earlier in the month, both nights at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn were FREE because I signed up for the Fairmont Credit Card from Chase.
By signing up for the card, you get 2 free nights and 4x $25 breakfast vouchers!
In addition, as a cardholder, you get an automatic upgrade to Premier Status in Fairmont’s loyalty program. As a Premier Member, you are given a Suite Upgrade, Room Upgrade, and $50 food / spa credit annually.
The Suite and Room upgrade can be used on the 2 free nights that you earn with the Fairmont Card, so we were able to upgrade ourselves to a Wine Country Junior Suite for free!
Had we paid for this stay out of pocket, it would have been around $519 a night or over $1,040 for 2 nights.
In addition, the rack rate (or the most the hotel can charge for this room), was listed in the room as $1,500 a night!
While I had expected the property to be secluded and surrounded by vineyards, it is actually just located off the main street going into the Sonoma town square.
Since you do have to drive to this property, thankfully there is free self-parking.
I am not sure what the property used to be before it was a Hotel, but for some reason the huge water tower reminds me of Warner Brothers Studios or Alcatraz.
In addition to the Hotel, there is also a golf course and separate spa on the grounds.
The guest rooms are spread out across the property in clusters, with the hallways being outdoors.
Depending on what Room or Suite you receive, you might have an entire patio or balcony to yourself.
We unfortunately did not have either : (
As for the Junior Suite, it was fairly large but as you can see from the images below, the furniture definitely seemed a bit dated.
My 2 favorite things about the Suite were that it came with a real live working fireplace with wooden logs that you could burn AND it also came with a free bottle of wine!
Nothing like relaxing by the fire after a “hard” day touring Napa…
While there is a Michelin starred restaurant on the premises, you unfortunately can’t use your breakfast vouchers there so we settled for their casual restaurant on the property called The Big 3 Diner.
Typically when I hear the word diner, I tend to think of Denny’s but The Big 3 Diner was surprisingly delicious and fairly affordable even if you didn’t have $100 in vouchers.
I got the breakfast burrito and some of their famous lemon cottage cheese pancakes. Both were excellent.
While the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn is definitely dated and shows its age, overall I found it to be a great property and would happily return.
Unless you are going to a Hotel only to stay in your room, in all the categories that matter, Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn delivers.
The location is excellent for doing wine tastings (even if you are doing Napa), the spa amenities looked amazing, and there were both fine dining and casual dining options to suit all tastes.
If you are visiting Sonoma or Napa and are looking for a relaxing experience in wine country, then I highly suggest burning your 2 free Fairmont night certificates here. You will not regret it!
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Lufthansa A380 First Class – Frankfurt (FRA) -> Tokyo (NRT)
Thai 747 First Class – Tokyo (NRT) -> Bangkok (BKK)
Thai First Class Lounge & Royal Orchard Spa – Bangkok (BKK)
Thai 747 Business Class – Bangkok (BKK) -> Bombay (BOM)
Air India Economy – Bombay (BOM) -> Udaipur (UDI)
Site Seeing – Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaipur
IndiGO Economy – Jaipur (JAI) -> Bombay (BOM)
Bombay Airport Clusterf$#%
United BusinessFirst – Bombay (BOM) -> Newark (EWR)
Washington Dulles Airport (IAD)
After deboarding my ORD–IAD United Flight, I took the train from the Domestic Terminal to the International Terminal.
I have never connected through IAD before, so I was really surprised at how nice the International Terminal was.
This may not sound like a big deal, but the fact that there was both a Chipotle and Pot Belly right next to each other was mind blowing since O’Hare’s food selection is quite terrible (with the exception of Rick Bayless’sFrontera).
I honestly had to refrain from getting Chipotle and bringing it onto my First Class flight. Real classy, I know!
Before heading to the Gate for my Flight, I ducked into the Lufthansa Senator Lounge.
Lufthansa Senator Lounge: B+
Overall I was really impressed by the Lufthansa Senator Lounge.
The Lounge was kind of small and fairly packed but it was probably the nicest Lufthansa Lounge I have seen outside of Germany (although the JFK one is also really nice).
There was a wide selection of food and drink including beer, alcohol, sandwiches, cheese, nuts, soups, salad, and even some entrees.
Although I had some snacks on the United Flight, I still ate a few mini sandwiches and wasabi peas, but was careful not to fill up before my Lufthansa Flight.
After spending about 30 minutes in the Lufthansa Senator Lounge, I headed to my gate which was conveniently right next door.
Boarding began promptly on time, and my months of anticipation for flying in First Class were about to turn into reality.
Lufthansa – Flight 419
Washington D.C (IAD) – Frankfurt (FRA)
Monday, December 10, 2012
Depart: 5:40 PM
Arrive: 7:40 AM (+1 Day)
Duration: 8hr 0min
Aircraft: Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental
Seat: 1K (First Class)
I have never flown on the 747-8 Intercontinental in Economy or Premium Cabin, so honestly pre-trip, this was the flight I was most excited for.
The First Class Cabin on the 747-8 is in the nose of the Plane, so upon entering I turned left and was instantly greeted by the Purser (aka the Person who takes care of the First Class Passengers).
The Purser showed me to my Seat, which again was 1K.
She also showed me all the storage options, including my own overhead bin, ottoman storage, and a personalized compartment in the rear of the Cabin that could be locked.
“Rear Lockable Storage Compartment”
The Purser took my jacket and hung it up in my personalized compartment.
I also opted to put my Carry On Bag in there, which conveniently allowed me to discover the Lufthansa First Class emblemized Garment Bags. Let’s just say that my Suits now have a new First Class Bag to travel in…
After I stowed away my Luggage, the Purser offered me a drink from the huge Alcohol spread in the middle of the Cabin. I gladly accepted a glass of champagne.
Given the intricacy of the spread, I assumed it would be out during the duration of the flight however it was promptly removed before take off.
I was the first passenger to board, so I took full advantage by snapping too many photos for my own good.
I am fairly certain that I gave away that this was my first ever International First Class flight, as the Purser was just giggling at me. Notice in the picture below, she opted to turn away from the Camera.
After the other Passengers boarded, we were offered re-fills on Drinks as well as Macadamia Nuts.
I am all for nuts on Planes, but from this entire First Class experience, it seems that all the food on board is extremely salty. Not sure if it has something to do with your taste buds while in the air, but just something I noticed.
Amenity Kit: D-
Before Departure, we were also offered Amenity Kits, Pajamas, and Slippers.
Being my First International First Class Flight, I don’t have anything to really compare the Amenity Kits to besides Thai’s, but the Lufthansa’s Amenity Kit was really basic and far from remotely cool. It is currently serving as a case for my Kindle.
Even the United Amenity Kit on my flight back from Bombay was better than Lufthansa’s…
Thankfully the Lufthansa Pajamas were nice. I found the Shirt to be extremely soft, while the Pants are basically just grey scrubs.
After receiving my glass of Champagne and Amenity Kit, I settled into my Seat and prepared for Take Off.
Seat / Cabin: A+
The only way to describe the First Class Cabin on the 747-8 is elegant.
If I ever buy a house, I plan on trying to mimic the Lufthansa First Class Cabin ambiance. It isn’t flashy or pretentious, but at the same time it has a very refined and sophisticated feel about it.
Case and point, Lufthansa even went as far as draping the walls with a soft “velvet like” texture. I wouldn’t have even noticed it if I wasn’t playing around with the Windows, but it just shows that Lufthansa is willing to take that extra step.
As for the actual Seats, they are extremely comfortable.
It is really hard to tell from the photos, but these First Class seats are enormous and have a good 6+ feet of space.
What is also really great is that the Ottoman can be moved by remote, so you can slide it closer to you to use as a foot rest.
The Ottoman also doubles as a large storage compartment, which is where I opted to keep my backpack.
Although I was traveling by myself, if I was traveling with someone else I would really like the option of being able to sit next to each other and talk.
The great part, as you will see below, is that there is a Privacy Screen that can open up between the Seats.
Basically once you have had enough of your Significant Other, you can just raise the screen and be done with them ; )
“Automatic Window Shades”
“View From My Seat”
The only 2 “complaints” about the Seat are that the Seat Lighting was terrible (as demonstrated by the poor lighting in the food photos) and the lighting knobs were difficult to find / operate.
The other thing that I thought was weird was that the In-Flight Entertainment Television isn’t in HD. Clearly these are #FirstWorldProblems, but just something I noticed.
Dinner Service: B-
Once we got into the Air, the Purser brought around a Hot Towel infused with Rose Water, which I thought was a very nice touch, as well as the Dinner Menus.
To start our Dinner, the Purser brought everyone a Salmon Starter while we were looking over the menu.
Items that are Italicized & Underlined are what I got.
Choice of Hors d’oeuvres
Caviar with the traditional Garnishes
Nantucket Scallop with Jam and Split Pea Puree
Seared Beef Tataki with green Papaya and Peanut Sauce
Beet Ravioli stuffed with creamy Goat Cheese and toasted Pistachios
Seasonal Salad with dried yellow Tomatoes and green Bell Pepper Julienne presented with a delicious Dressing
Choice of Main Courses
Tenderloin of Beef with Sweet Potato Hash and Ginger Plum Chutney
Poached Lobster Tail and Claw in Saffron Reduction with simmer Mushrooms and Butternut Squash
Semolina Potato Cake with Tomato Cream Sauce and fresh Vegetable Ragout
Braised Chicken Breast with Tamarind Sesame Glace, Quinoa friend Rice and Bok Choy
Selection of Cheese and Dessert
Sage Derby, Parmesan, Gruyere, Cambozola and Humboldt Fog Cheese garnished with Grapes
Warm Chocolate Cake with Yogurt Ice Cream
There was also an extensive drink menu, but it is too long to type out and the pictures I took are too difficult to read.
You will just have to take my word that any high-end wine, champagne, or liquor that you wanted, they had and that your glass would never be empty.
I was debating between the Braised Chicken Dish or Poached Lobster Tail, so I asked the Purser which one was better. Given she saw my earlier picture taking, she said she would be happy to bring out both dishes so I could sample each!
For the Hors d’oeuvres, you can actually order all of them, so I did just that. The 4 dishes came out on this really cool looking tower, but I will just say that the tower looks WAY BIGGER in photos than it actually is. Each dish is more like a Tapas Plate with a few bites.
I really enjoyed the Seared Beef Tataki with green Papaya and Peanut Sauce and the Beet Ravioli stuffed with creamy Goat Cheese and toasted Pistachios. The Nantucket Scallop with Jam and Split Pea Puree was served as a cold dish and was not very good.
I also had some Caviar with the traditional Garnishes which I have never had before. I wasn’t sure what to expect besides something fishy, but I was surprised that Caviar doesn’t really have a taste. Instead it is extremely light and basically melts in your mouth.
Although it wasn’t something I would eat on a normal basis, it was pretty good.
After the Hors d’oeuvres, I had the Salad.
I normally enjoy salads, but this one was highly questionable given the use of Bell Peppers.
For my first Main Course, the Purser first brought out the Poached Lobster Tail and Claw in Saffron Reduction with simmer Mushrooms and Butternut Squash.
The dish was alright but sounded and looked much better than it tasted.
After sampling the Lobster, the Purser brought out the Braised Chicken Breast with Tamarind Sesame Glace, Quinoa friend Rice and Bok Choy.
The Tamarind Sesame Glace was delicious, especially with the Quinoa, but I was not really digging the Braised Chicken.
For Dessert, I went with the Warm Chocolate Cake with Yogurt Ice Cream & my customary Baileys on Ice. Both were absolutely delicious!
After Dinner, I got up and reclined my seat all the way into a Bed, and went into the Bathroom to change into my Pajamas.
The Bathroom in the 747-8 is not as large as in the A380 (as you will see in the next Report), but once again, it was extremely elegant. It is not often that you see a Toilet Seat cover draped in Leather.
Also the Sink was motion activated and I especially enjoyed the Fresh Rose on display.
In the drawers there was mouthwash, combs, make up remover, shaving cream, and razors.
The most shocking “feature” (which I quickly picked up on in all my Flights going forward), was that even though this is a BRAND NEW plane, Boeing included an Ash Tray in the bathroom.
Now outside of a few Russian East Bloc Domestic Airlines, no Airlines allow you to smoke on the Flight, so I don’t know what purpose these Ash Trays serve. Feel free to share if you know.
Having Ash Trays on a Plane is about as practical as offering Passengers a seat with a built-in gun holster. Who knows if in the future Passengers will be able to carry guns onto a Plane…
After I returned from the Bathroom, the Purser had gotten the hint and had made my Bed for me.
As part of “making your bed”, the Purser puts down a Mattress Pad and give you a real comforter, so my Seat was surprisingly comfortable “bed”.
The other really cool thing that I loved about these Seats is that they have a retractable privacy shield. So when you sleep, you can throw it up and your seat essentially becomes a mini enclosed suite.
“Privacy Shield Activated”
I slept for a good 4-5 hours and had asked to be woken up for Breakfast before landing.
Breakfast Service: A-
Breakfast consisted of the following:
Fresh Orange Juice
Farmer’s Frittata with Mushrooms, smoked Bacon and Tomato Olive Ragout
Everything was surprisingly delicious and the freshly squeezed orange juice was a great touch.
Before landing, I made sure to change back into my normal clothes and not make the mistake of being “that guy” who goes through the Terminal in their First Class Pajamas.
Overall the 747-8 Flight was fantastic and I really enjoyed the experience. It was the perfect mix of elegance and class.
As for the actual Plane, it was probably the smoothest flight I have ever taken. I couldn’t even tell that we were flying.
In terms of Seat design, not only are the Seats extremely comfortable, Lufthansa has also thought of everything from Automatic Windows, to Privacy Screens, and even a moving Ottoman.
While I give points to Lufthansa for making an enormous effort to try and get the food right, unfortunately in the air, things just do not taste very good. The 2 best parts of my meals were the Garlic Bread and the Ice Cream Sundae. They weren’t exceptionally spectacular, but instead they had the most flavor and resembled their counterparts on the ground.
After this Flight, I can legitimately understand why everyone talks about Lufthansa’s service. After experiencing both Lufthansa Business and First Class, I can say there is a night and day difference between the two.
After weeks of procrastinating being busy, I am finally ready to start the Trip Report for my India Trip.
As you can see it is going to be a massive 12 Part Report, however I have been working feverishly to try and get it all done. I am hoping that I can post 1 part of it everyday but that might be a little too ambitious.
The title of this Trip Report comes from the Seinfeld clip below and basically sums up my feelings going forward, that I am too good to sit in Economy ever again!
I talked about booking the trip in detail here but basically I upgraded to First Class on the leg going to India for 80,000 United Miles and then did Business Class coming back for 60,000 United Miles.
If this Ticket was paid for out of pocket, due to the insane First Class routing, it would easily be over $30,000+. I paid $200 in taxes…
All in all, this entire routing clocked in at 23,734 Miles and had me spending around 65 hours either flying or at Airports (45 Hours going to India, and 20 Hours coming back).
United Global First – Chicago (ORD) -> Washington (IAD)
As most of you know, this trip was my FIRST EVER trip in International First Class. For years now I have been reading Trip Reports from Lucky and just salivating at all his First Class Trips. I had enough Miles to fly Business Class (120,000) and since it was only an additional 20,000 Miles for First Class One Way, I decided to throw caution to the wind and go for it.
Similar to my Parent’s issue with their United Tickets, before I could even start my trip, when I checked in at the United Counter at O’Hare, they once again were having issues pulling up my Itinerary. This was due to the fact that my ticket included 3 Star Alliance Carriers (United, Lufthansa, and Thai) and the fact that some of my flights weren’t going to start until a full 2 days in the future.
I got the old run around saying to go try and Check In with Lufthansa (which didn’t work), followed by “Meh just get your Boarding Pass for the Lufthansa and Thai flights at the Lufthansa Desk at IAD, it will be fine…”. To make matters worse, United couldn’t even check my bags thru to Bombay! They told me to just collect them in Bangkok and re-check them to Bombay.
Luckily in the end, it all got fixed but was mostly just annoying and not an ideal start to the trip.
I was so anticipating the Lufthansa and Thai First Class flights, that I basically wrote off my United positioning flight to get from Chicago to Washington Dulles to “start” my journey.
United Airlines – Flight 242
Chicago (ORD) – Washington D.C (IAD)
Monday, December 10
Duration: 1hr 45min
Aircraft: Boeing 767-300
Seat: 1K (First Class)
Typically if United is flying a 2 Cabin Plane, then their “First Class” is basically just Economy Plus Seating with a Snack Box and free Alcoholic Drinks. Nothing really special.
Since ORD to IAD is a relatively short flight, I didn’t even bother checking what Plane it was and basically would have been happy in Economy. Honestly I wasn’t even planning on including this flight in this Trip Report…
So you can imagine my surprise when I walked into the Cabin of the Boeing 767-300 and was greeted with this.
“Not A Bad Way Start To My 45 Hour Journey”
Immediately upon being seated in Seat 1K, I was offered some “Pre-Departure” Water and Hot Nuts.
“Pre-Departure Water > Regular Water”
United Crews are very hit or miss, but this Crew was definitely a hit.
They seemed genuinely nice and as I was snapping pictures of the Seat like a Japanese Tourist, one of the Flight Attendents asked me “Are you building a Private Plane?”. I explained no and that it was for a blog, and she was so interested that she asked for my Card which I thought was cool.
Although my overall expectations were extremely low prior to getting onto the Flight, I was definitely impressed by the Seat.
“The One Thing United Doesn’t Suck At”
United Service might not be up to par with Lufthansa or any of the Asian Carriers, but I find United has some of the best Premium Class Seats in terms of design. The only downside is that the cloth seats can seem kind of cheap in comparison to the leather seats most other Airlines use in their First Class Cabins.
Not only was the seat a full Lie-Flat seat, it also had tons of storage. It is had to tell from the photo, but that bin located in the side of the seat was probably 2 feet deep and probably could have fit an entire carry on suitcase.
“A Great Place To Store A Crying Enfant”
Also another great feature of the Seat was the fairly large television, with some awesome programming like Curb Your Enthusiasm, Californication, Entourage, Anthony Bourdain, and my new favorite show which I started watching on the Plane, “Downton Abbey” (or as my Brother likes to mockingly call it in his fake British Aristocrat accent, “Downtown Abbey”)
“After Watching Downton Abbey, I Wondered Why I Didn’t Wear A Tuxedo Onto The Plane”
Since the Flight was only 1:45 Hours, there wasn’t time for a full meal, so we were offered snacks. A Flight Attendant came around with a basket of Pop Chips, Toblerone Bars, and Nature Valley Granola Bars.
“Delicious & Nutritious”
Although most of you are going to laugh at this, I genuinely enjoyed these snacks as they are normal snacks, that normal people eat. Not to mention they were delicious.
Why more Airlines don’t serve food like this, I am not sure.
My expectations were so low for this flight, that I am sure it strongly influenced how I perceived this flight, but overall I really enjoyed the flight.
It was the absolute perfect set up for the rest of my flights on my 45 hour journey to India.
Although the flight experience was not fancy and did not have the luxury or elegance of the upcoming Lufthansa and Thai flights, the United Crew was great, the Seat was great, and the Food was great.
So for a United Flight, I really could not have asked for anything more.