As I mentioned over here, Kona!, I took a weekend trip to Kona. Thanks to some good friends on FlyerTalk, I found a great deal for a round-trip from San Jose (SJC) to Kona (KOA. Instead of going direct from Denver (DEN), I was able to fly DEN-SJC-LAX-KOA-SFO-LAX-SJC-DEN, which maximed the amount of miles that I earned. Total Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) earned was 8,271, while I also eaned 16,542 Redeemable Miles (RDMs). The total price for the round-trip from SJC-KOA was just $70! Out of the seven flights that I took, I received five upgrades to First Class. SFO-LAX was operated by an A319, with only eight seats in First, and due to the flight being at 6am on a Monday, it had already filled up. Once we got to LAX, the aircraft that we flew from LAX-SJC did not have a First Class cabin, although it did not matter too much, as I slept through the entire flight..
For the deal to work, I had to fly from Denver to San Jose on Friday, and then spend the night. With the help of the people that I was traveling with, I booked a room at the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara. For a property in Silicon Valley, this was a very enjoyable stay. With a big dance competition in town, the hotel did not have any suites available to give me, but I was upgraded to a corner king room. This room had a nice balcony, which allowed me to see across the bay to San Francisco.
The flight from Denver to San Jose was my first of the year, and I was very excited to be back in the Friendly Skies. During the boarding process, I noticed that we were flying on the Oprah Jet. Due to Oprah's final season, she and United got together and repainted one of the United Boeing 757s with a custom livery. More information about the Oprah Jet can be found here. UA's Oprah Winfrey Show Special Livery 757 [N542UA]
After take-off, the real fun began! As the purser came around for meal orders, she said "Mr. Palen, I remember you from a flight in May! What can I get you for lunch?" One thing I always love about flying on United is when the flight crew remembers you from a previous flight. The options, today, were a turkey salad, or the ham sandwich. Both meals came with Minestrone soup, and a freshly baked cookie. I've noticed that when I am on-board a plane, I can never refuse a chocolate chip cookie. :)
After the meal, I spent close to thirty minutes with the crew. From FlyerTalk to Jeff Smisek and the UA/CO merger, all three of us enjoyed the final portion of our flight.
Upon arrival at SJC, I was picked up by my friend, and taken to the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara. This hotel is in the heart of Silicon Valley, so I got to see the corporate headquarters for a number of technology companies, such as Google, Cisco, Yahoo!, McAfee, and Apple.
The Hyatt is a fairly large hotel, with twelve floors of guest rooms. For the first time, in a very long time, I noticed that the hotel a 13th level, complete with the button! It seems as though every hotel I stay in skips the 13th floor..
Check-in was quick, and my Hyatt Diamond benefits were honored. I was given the choice of 1,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points (GP) for my Diamond Amenity, or a fruit, cheese, and wine plate. I chose the tray, which was delivered to my room about an hour before I left for dinner. My Diamond benefits also allow me access to the Regency Club lounge, which is a great part of the Hyatt Diamond program. Many hotels will offer three meals per day, and snacks during the down times.. Many elites are happy when the lounge is closed on the weekend, as it means that the Diamond member is eligible for 2500 bonus GP points. The room was a standard Hyatt King, so after watching a movie, it was time for sushi with my friends. The night went by very quickly, and before I knew it, I had to get some sleep. With a 6am departure from SJC, I had to be in the hotel lobby at 4am...
The morning rolled around, and before I knew it, I was starting my journey to Kona! The flight from SJC-LAX was uneventful, and with only an hour until our 757 to Kona boarded, I enjoyed some light snacks and some plane spotting from the Red Carpet Club.
As we got settled into our seats for the flight to Kona, I noticed that the demeanor of the flight attendants (FAs) was opposite of my experiences on regular domestic and international flights. My first reaction was the friendliness of each FA. Many people would agree that the flight attendants on the Hawaii flights are better than the ones on domestic flights. So far, I'd have to agree with them.
After take-off, the FAs handed out cards for United's "Halfway to Hawaii" game. The objective is to determine the exact time that the flight will be halfway to Hawaii. I had thought about playing, but figured that catching up on sleep was more important. The FAs also came around to offer the standard domestic F meal options. As expected, the omelet with turkey sausage and potatoes were offered, which I accepted. Once our meal service was completed, I reclined my seat, and fell asleep for two hours. Woken up by the strong Pacific turbulence, I grabbed my iPad and killed another hour with some video entertainment. After another short nap, I was happy to learn that we were only 30 minutes from landing in Kona! Here are some of the pictures that I took during our approach and landing.
Kona is an interesting airport, in terms of arrivals. With no jet-bridges, and no real terminal, the aircraft just taxi up to the "gate area", and passengers are able to disembark via Air Stairs. This was a real treat for me, as I was able to grab some great photos of our ETOPS 757-200. To the right of our 757, there was a UA 767, about to depart for SFO. After taking the photos of the 757, my journey in Kona began!
Unlike Honolulu, we decided to rent a car. In Honolulu, we were able to take the bus from the airport to the Hyatt Waikiki Beach. In Kona, everything is spread out, so the car would be very handy.. On the way to the hotel, I was able to pick up my first Hawaiian shirt, which, to my surprise, was made in Honolulu! It's certainly been a long time since I've owned something that was made in America. As it was time for lunch, we decided to pick up some Ahi-Poke (pictured below). This is something that I had never tried before, but I'm sure glad I did!
Throughout the drive to the hotel, I was simply amazed at the amount of water in Kona. Born and raised in Colorado, I've been used to living in a land-locked state. However, Kona was simply, open.
After our delicious lunch along the water, we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the hotel, and discovering the various amenities that Kona has to offer. With only a few more hours until dinner, we both returned to our respective rooms, and had some time to relax. Around 8pm, it seemed as though it was time for dinner. A local restaurant, Table Steaks, was chosen for our outing, and there is no way that we could have gotten a better dinner! For only $8, I received a large amount of rice, several pieces of steak, a few pieces of shrimp, and a fresh salad. This was probably one of the best dinners that I have ever had. And for only $8, there is no way you can beat it. The meal was so good, that we went back for breakfast, the following morning.
After an amazing dinner at Table Steaks, we returned to the pool area to view the sunset. There are no words to describe the beauty of the sunsets in Hawaii!
With the amazing first day in Kona behind us, I decided to grab a bit of sleep. I'm disappointed that I forgot to leave my balcony door open. With the sounds of the ocean outside, it would have made for a great night's sleep!
As with most of my trips, I was only staying for two days, which was unfortunate. I could see myself moving to Hawaii!!
With another trip to Table Steak for breakfast, I was once again happy with the meal. For only $4, I received a large portion of spam, eggs and rice, which really hit the spot. I can definitely see why this restaurant is so popular with the locals..
Although we only had ten hours left in Kona, there were still a number of places to visit. We visited the volcanic land around the Kona airport for a few hours, and then settled on a delicious sushi dinner. The restaurant that we visited gives 50% off 95% of the menu, as long as you order from 4-6pm, on Sunday. This was a great idea, and I left Kona with a very full stomach.
Before I knew it, we had to head back to the mainland. This trip was extremly successful, and as mentioned before, I look forward to my next trip to Hawaii! This is one of the best places in the world, and I am prooud that I have been able to visit, twice.
From everything that I saw on our first day in Kona, I was simply amazed at life in Hawaii. I look forward to returning! Althought, with air fare as expensive as it currently is, I doubt I'll be returning to Hawaii for a while. The airlines are happy to pass along fuel surcharges to passengers, and on top of the normally high prices to Hawaii, I'll keep my eyes out for some good deals. I am hoping that some of the other US airlines will start a price war with United, causing the prices for Hawaii to drop.