Did you know that several of the countries that compete in the Olympics open up hospitality houses?  The houses try to create an environment that feels like home for the athletes and their families, with everything from large screen TVs tuned to the Games, bars, local food, free phone calls back home, and nightly celebrations for the day’s winners. Typically, parts of the houses are open to the public for free or a nominal fee, while others are only available for athletes and their friends and family.  The houses themselves have become a sort of competition amongst the countries as to who can top the others (yes, sort of crazy with today’s economy). Last week I blogged about my visit to Club France and this week I cover my visit to the USA House.

The USA House was located at the Royal College of Art opposite Hyde Park. Unlike the majority of the other houses, the USA House was closed to all non citizens.  US citizens were allowed to present ID for entry into the Team USA Olympic Store, though access to all other areas was restricted to the athletes and their family and friends, as well as the corporate sponsors. I was eventually able to talk a few USOC members into granting me media access into the USA House (using my Boarding Area credentials) and was even offered a private guided tour!

Welcome to the USA House

Team USA Olympic StoreThe USOC Team USA Olympic Store Manager mentioned an impressive 130% increase over sales at the Beijing Olympics. This might be due to the Nike USA Olympic Team jacket found in pictures 3 and 4,  priced at $450 USD and completely sold out in all sizes but XXL. “The ultra-reflective shell makes you visible even under subtle lights”, we tested this by turning off the lights and snapping a picture in the XXL, it really did glow in white light but at $450 it was a pass for me…

United Lounge

Coca-Cola Courtyard – An outdoor “tropical themed coca-cola thirst quenching chill area”

Bud Deck - My favorite part of the USA House, a top floor Bud Deck with great views, ample seats, and an open bar of Budweiser, Bud Light, and wine.

Main Hospitality Area

HHonors Concierge to check bags, get directions, make reservations, etc.

 

AT&T Charging Station

 

Athlete, Family, and Friend Dining Area

 

Team USA - Signed by each Olympian and sent back to USOC HQ after the Olympics

 

Open Bar of Beer (Budweiser & Wine)

 

What's more American than Coke Floats?

 

So, was it Club France, not really. What house could live up to french catering each night, a private wine sommelier, live music, a nightly DJ set, VIP lounge bottle service, and an amazing view of Tower Bridge? However, besides the restrictive access policy, I really liked the USA House.  The food was very good, everyone was extremely friendly, and I guess I might have been a little partial to the team!  The Bud Deck was fantastic for enjoying the view and weather, while still cheering for Team USA on several flat screens that were set up. Up next, a quick review of houses from Belgium, Brazil, and Denmark.

Flight to London

Hotel in London

Tickets to the events

Chase VIP Lounge & Morimoto Dinner

Olympic Hospitality Houses – My VIP Visit to Club France – A Picture Tour

Posted by Adam | One Comment

Did you know that several of the countries that compete in the Olympics open up hospitality houses?  The houses try to create an environment that feels like home for the athletes and their families, with everything from large screen TVs tuned to the Games, bars, local food, free phone calls back home, and nightly celebrations for the day’s winners. Typically, parts of the houses are open to the public for free or a nominal fee, while others are only available for athletes and their friends and family.  The houses themselves have become a sort of competition amongst the countries as to who can top the others (yes, sort of crazy with today’s economy).

On a tube ride back from an athletics event at the Olympic Stadium I was asked for directions.  It turned out that I was assisting a member of the French Parliament who was a hotel and airline enthusiast!  He told me how nice the French house (Club France) was and that he could try to get me inside. Here’s what the Guardian had to say about the French house -  The French house is perhaps the most splendid – the Old Billingsgate Market on the Thames transformed into Club France, hosting the largest, although temporary, French restaurant in London, as well as screens, activities and a river-facing terrace. I took him up on his offer and we proceeded to Club France. The line outside was enormous as French citizens lined up to pay ?40 to get inside (admission is only ?5 prior to the nightclub conversion at 7pm). Admission gets you into the first level of Club France which includes several sponsor areas, two cash bars, and the main stage where the winners of the day are interviewed and celebrated.   A rotating live band takes to the stage after the celebration and a DJ comes on late night.

After some convincing my chaperone was able to get me inside for free, though my badge would only allow me access to the first floor public area.  He decided to push the envelope a little more and pressed for VIP access to the private dinner and wine service downstairs.  Of course as we scanned my badge an alarm when off indicating that I was not allowed into the cellar.  After some further parliamentary backed negotiations, I was allowed to proceed and without the ?299 guest fee!  Boy, was I happy that I didn’t eat too much at the stadium.  I was informed that the Chef was brought in directly from Paris and normally caters all state events.  A choice of wines was provided by our waitress and a bottle of each of our selections was placed on the table along with sparkling and still water and champagne.  The food was absolutely fantastic as was the service.  I’m not a dessert person but I had the best creme brulee of my life and a great raspberry dish and lemon tart. The cellar area was nicely designed as well and it got crazy when the Olympians arrived.  They each took one of the longer tables with family and friends and posed for pictures and received congratulatory hugs.

After a two hour dinner we headed back upstairs for the on-stage medal celebration followed by the live band. When the DJ came on stage we pressed our luck one last time and headed upstairs to the VIP bottle service area.  The area is reserved for Olympians and VIPs and had three separate bars and table service overlooking the stage and the DJ performance.

The French definitely know how to party and do a hospitality house right, even the mobile network changed to local carrier Orange inside. Not a bad night for giving some travel advice on the tube!

Up next…. USA House, not an easy house to get into…even for an American

Flight to London

Hotel in London

Tickets to the events

Chase VIP Lounge & Morimoto Dinner

 

Posted by Adam | 4 Comments

I’m writing this entry from the Chase Visa VIP Lounge which is located at the Institute of Directors club at 116 Pall Mall, an easy walk from Trafalgar Square and the Charing Cross station. Your Visa Card issued by Chase is your ticket to the VIP Lounge during the London 2012 Olympic Games. Enjoy complimentary amenities and unique experiences every day at this private club-like retreat during your trip to the Olympic Games. The club allows any Chase Visa card member to enter with up to 5 guests from 10am – midnight every day until the closing ceremonies.  I arrived on Sunday and have been at the VIP Lounge almost every day, the amenities are fantastic.

  • There is very good complimentary food throughout the day including breakfast, lunch, and dinner and an open bar with beer and wine from 11am onwards. Soft drinks, coffee, water, and snacks are also provided throughout the day.  Beer selections are Heineken, Amstel, and 1664.

  • There’s wifi throughout the lounge and large flat screens projecting the games.  The main level was very busy the first few days and they opened up another room upstairs when there was no longer sufficient seating.

  • As a Visa Chase Cardmember you have the unique opportunity to meet Olympic Athletes at the VIP Lounge every day from 2-4PM. These sports heroes will be available to sign autographs, pose for pictures and share their most memorable stories.  I did RSVP to the majority of these events but Chase has been extremely generous and essentially anyone who arrives by 2pm is allowed to participate in the meet and greets.  Each athlete speaks for about 45 minutes including a Q&A and then takes pictures with the audience.  The athletes were open to answering just about any question which made for much more interesting sessions.  I met Nadia Comaneci & Bart Conner (very interesting Bart did all the speaking and greeting and Nadia sort of just smiled hah, anyone else attend this one?), Greg Louganis, and will try to get to the Carl Lewis event tomorrow.

  • Throughout the Olympic Games, Visa Chase Cardmembers are invited to taste from a selection of Chef Morimoto’s creations at the VIP Lounge. Celebrity Chef Masaharu Morimoto joins the VIP Lounge in London to bring a series of unique culinary experiences during the Olympic Games. Feast on small bites from around the world — from his mouthwatering sushi and other popular Asian dishes to some personal favorites, including his take on classic American and British cuisine. The dishes vary by night but generally include:  Rock Shrimp Tempura; Crispy Lamb Chops; Spicy King Crab; Hamachi Tacos/Tuna Pizza; Vegetable Tempura; Crab Wonton Soup; Angry Chicken Wings; Shu Mai and Gyoza Dumplings; Beef Carpaccio; Corn dogs; Sticky Beef Ribs; Wagyu Sliders; Braised Black Cod; Ribeye Carving Station; Morimoto Mac & Cheese; Duck Fried Rice and Soba Noodles.  There’s also a raw bar of oysters, mussels, clams, shrimp, and scallops on weekends. I’ve only gone once for the Morimoto dinner but the cooked food was excellent and the sushi was decent. My favorite dishes were the sticky beef ribs, braised black cod, mac & cheese, and the wagyu sliders. This is one of the coolest free amenities and I met several families who had dinner here every night throughout their stays.  I also met several locals who had heard about the lounge from friends and were stopping by on their way home from the office.  Chase sticks to the reservations for the Morimoto dinner between 6-9 but generally allows anyone in without a reservation from 9 – 10 as long as you have a Chase Visa.

  • One of the coolest things about the Olympics is just how friendly everyone is in general.  Last night at the Chase VIP Lounge I met Christina who lives in London but is originally from New York.  After the Morimoto dinner we decided to head over to the Brazil Olympic House where we ran into Frances from New Zealand and Tom from the UK. The house was closing early which led us to meet Evelyn at the exit gate, a Californian who is now living in London.  We all decided to take a taxi over to the Danish House together where we met a few additional new friends.  Ultimately we all ended up heading to a bar in SOHO for the rest of the night, a random but extremely fun night!

Overall, Chase and VISA have created an amazing benefit for cardmembers and are creating both buzz and goodwill, I met several individuals who didn’t have a Chase card before but were applying after attending one of the events with friends (I of course recommended the Sapphire card).  I’ve been giving back by using my Chase Sapphire Visa card everywhere for just about every purchase thanks to no foreign exchange fees.  OK, time to leave the lounge, stay tuned for  future Olympic posts on:

Getting into the VIP France House (Club France) and the full service dinner that easily outshines the Morimoto experience as well as the after hours party.
A tour of the private USA House, yes I was able to convince the USOC staff that BoardingArea qualifies for media credentials.
A summary of my favorite events, the venues, Olympic Park, food offerings, and transport to and from the games.

 

Posted by Adam | 3 Comments

After booking my flight using Delta miles and getting a killer rate for my hotel stay, it was time for what I imagined to be the toughest part of the trip planning process, finding reasonably priced tickets to the events.   As I arrived after the swimming events were completed, I decided I wanted to see Athletics (Track & Field), Basketball, Diving, Synchronized Swimming, and Volleyball.  Tickets had been on sale since May 23rd so I was starting my search about 2 1/2 months late, though I was hoping for the best.

The official website for the London 2012 Games, divides buyers into three groups:

  • Residents of the UK – Allowed to use the official website to obtain tickets.
  • Residents of designated European countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, etc) – Also allowed to use the official website to obtain tickets.
  • Residents outside the UK or designated European countries – If you are not a resident of the UK or a designated European country, regardless of citizenship, you will need to apply for tickets via your National Olympic Committee (NOC) or NPCs may appoint an Authorised Ticket Reseller (ATR) in order to help the general public obtain tickets and services relating to the London 2012 Olympic Games.

As a US resident I was unfortunately relegated to the final group and was not eligible to purchase tickets on the London 2012 ticketing site.  Instead the US Olympic Committee had engaged the ticketing services of CoSport who had extremely limited availability, tickets were all priced at ? 295 ($461 per ticket) or higher, completely out of question.  They were also the designated ticketing representative for several other non European countries and were having major problems in terms of confirming orders and actually getting the tickets to purchasers. I spoke to a few other bloggers who used their services and paid the $461 or more per ticket but that seemed a little crazy to me.  The Olympic Committee had designated a 5 tier pricing system for events that generally listed prices as:

Qualifying / Quarter / and some Semi-Final Events
?150.00 – A
?95.00 – B
?65.00 – C
?40.00 – D
?20.00 – E

Some Semi-Final, Basketball & Final Events (Medal Ceremonies)
?450.00 – A
?295.00 – B
?150.00 – C
?95.00 – D
?50.00 – E

Ticket brokers were charging way over the designated prices, though I still stuck to my goal of obtaining face value category C-E events.  Here’s how I got them:

  • eBay – Completely overlooked by most as it was illegal to resell tickets to the Olympics within the UK,  EBAY’s UK and European websites actually restricted local users from using the Buy It Now feature for any Olympic tickets.  Good news for the non-Europeans!  I immediately found face value tickets priced in USD for sale by US residents who were no longer able to attend.  Better yet, you could make a best offer below the listed face value price.  Using EBAY I scored a Synchronized Swimming category B ticket for $120 (about $30 below face value), Athletics category C ticket for $109 ($7 above face value), and two Basketball quarter-final category E tickets for $220 ($44 above face but with a very high probability of the USA Dream Team playing…which I was lucky enough to see last night). All in I spent $21 above face value on my EBAY purchases, was able to use PayPal to guarantee protection, used a credit card to earn points, and got delivery straight from the US to my US address.  I was also excited that the Athletics and Synch Swimming tickets would guarantee me admission to the Olympic Park, with Athletics gaining access to the Olympic Stadium and Swimming getting me into the Aquatic Center.
  • The Official Site – The official London 2012 ticketing site had been sold out for months but seemed to be continuously releasing returned tickets and VIP seats that were previously held back. During my tracking of the website, I saw multiple times per day where tickets were becoming available.  I contacted the hotel concierge to see if they had any access to tickets from the London website and whether they would be willing to purchase them on my behalf.  They suggested that I simply register for the website using the hotel address as my home address.  Definitely not in the spirit of the ticketing website rules, I gave it a shot and within a few moments I was officially registered and able to search for tickets.  Tickets could only be purchased using VISA, the official sponsor of the games, which was great for my Chase Sapphire usage.  The most tickets seemed to be released at 7pm EST or 12am in London each night.  That first day I pulled semi-final category D Women’s Volleyball tickets which will end up being today’s USA v Korea match.  The site was maintained by Ticketmaster, which meant it was a disaster!  Once a ticket is released you can select to put it into your cart, however unlike the normal Ticketmaster site, this does not remove it from inventory and thousands of other users are probably also pulling the same ticket.  After waiting 15-20 minutes, you’d receive a message that the ticket was no longer available.  It was a frustrating process but in the end I was able to secure three tickets using this method. Upon arrival in London I pulled a cheap Athletics and Synchronized Swimming ticket.  Better yet, you could choose to print e-tickets which meant there was no concern with shipping to the hotel.  I received PDF files for all three ticket purchases.
  • Trading/Swapping via Craigslist – I used the category D Synch Swim ticket my first day and while it was interesting to see, I knew I didn’t need to attend the event a second time later in the week.  I posted it on Craigslist asking to swap for a diving ticket in a similar category.  I received responses right away and agreed to a deal which would get me into the 6th row for Diving!  I also had a second basketball ticket that I was able to swap for an upgraded Athletics ticket. Meeting individuals from Craigslist is never the most ideal situation, though these individuals were both visiting from the US as well and one was even staying in the same hotel.  The other ended up living across the street from me in New York.  Both tickets were used this week with no problems.

The events have been fantastic and I’m having a great time.  Yesterday was a very tight schedule – Met with Nadia Comeaneci & Bart Conner care of the Chase VIP lounge, attended Diving, and then saw Team USA Basketball take on Australia.  I’ll have a full summary of the events, the Chase VIP Lounge, and some of my favorite London moments so far in future posts.  I even scored an invite to Club France, the French Olympic House, which included a full course served dinner (Chef travels with the Olympic Committee), open bar,  great wine and champagne, amazing French desserts, a DJ party, and bottle service with the French athletes.  More on all of these later… off to Volleyball and a Chase Meet & Greet with Greg Louganis.

Posted by Adam | 6 Comments

Welcome Million Mile Secrets Readers!  I’ve been a huge fan of Daraius and his site since the beginning and it was great to take part in his interview series.  I’m really looking forward to earning with all of you! Feel free to subscribe to the blog by clicking the comments link in any post, scrolling to the bottom, and selecting “notify me of new posts by email”, you can also follow the blog on Twitter @pointme2plane or like it on Facebook for updates. 

 

About two and half weeks ago I received the awesome news that I was going to have the opportunity to attend the London 2012 Olympics.  I was psyched to see up-close the sports that I somehow only pay attention to every four years – Swimming, Athletics (Track & Field), Volleyball, and Diving. I was also excited to see some Team USA basketball. I decided that I would look for flights and hotels upon returning from work that night, though I definitely had some trepidation that I wouldn’t be able to find any reasonable availability…boy was I wrong.

My first step was securing flights and I wanted to use some of my Delta SkyMiles.  I have an insane amount of SkyMiles, though I find myself constantly redeeming awards with my AA and UA miles instead, refusing to book a medium or high level award on Delta.  Delta has three direct flights a day from JFK to LHR, but I was even willing to accept a connection at the low level.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that all three direct flights (for all three potential departure days) had low level award availability at the 60k round-trip pricing.  Business class was pricing at the medium level of 200k round-trip, though I could have grabbed a combo Low/Medium award at 150k with a 5 hours layover in Paris via Air France on the way there and a 9 hour layover on the way home.   I went ahead and booked the economy flight at the low level for 60k miles and created a reminder to check each morning for business class availability.  One day later, business on all three flights opened up on both the departure and return and I changed my flight for an additional 40k miles and about $100 in additional taxes.

Well, two weeks later and it’s more of the same, not only on Delta but UA and AA as well.  Seats are available to the Olympics at the low level in Economy or Business for most of next week:

Delta

United

American


I expected to see a big tax difference when comparing the AA flights to BA flights, though I was surprised to see Delta’s fees when advancing to the final screen as compared to the other carriers, despite the graphics above (not sure why they are being displayed at $2.50):

AA – Economy ($89.40 each way), Business ($134.20 each way)
BA – Economy ($219.70 each way), Business ($347.70 each way)
Delta – Economy ($88.15 each way), Business ($139.20 each way)
United – Economy ($89.40 & Business ($134.20 each way)

Any readers aware of what the correct pricing for the Delta flights should be?

Anyway, the takeaway here is that low level award flights are easy to obtain, even this late in the game.  I found hotels to be just as easy, some of the rates were so low that i didn’t even bother using points, though point options were readily available, more on this in tomorrow’s post. It sure seems like there is excess inventory for both flights and hotels. Event tickets as well have been easy to secure. I was given tickets to a few events but wanted to purchase some others.  I had no problems finding cheap options on the official London 2012 site (where tickets are sporadically released) and on eBay, full updates on event tickets tomorrow as well.

Posted by Adam | 17 Comments

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