Yesterday I returned from a five week vacation that saw me visit three countries and ten cities. During my travels I encountered both positive and negative experiences, and figured some of you planning your next trip may find the following travel report card beneficial.
I must stress, I have no biases or allegiances to any place or organisation that will be mentioned. I also believe that vacation outcomes can vary based upon one's individual expectations and circumstances, so everything you're about to read should be taken with a grain of salt.
There's every chance that you will encounter different experiences with these airlines, airports and hotels - but for the record, these were mine.
I took a total of ten flights during my travels on a range of different airlines. These included Qantas, United Airlines, American Airlines, South West Airlines and EasyJet.
Amazingly nine out of my ten flights were delayed, which seemed to be a recurring theme on this trip. The reasons given included 'mechanical issues', 'inclement weather', 'airport congestion' and the search for a missing pilot (who was having an extra long lunch) - I wish I was kidding.
United Airlines, to my surprise, provided by far the best flying experience. I was compensated with a $200 travel voucher due to a delay in our take off time. Their Customer Relations team saw one of my tweets about the hold up, got in touch via Direct Message, and helped me get a credit for a future flight. This all took place while we were stationary on the tarmac.
Good customer service like this goes a long way. In addition to that, their international flight entertainment system was one of the best I'd ever seen in Economy class, and their aircraft staff were particularly friendly.
I was satisfied with the other airlines, except for Qantas (whom I am a Frequent Flyer member with) and Southwest. There was no sympathy from either about the delays and almost everything was self service - which is understandable from a budget airline like Southwest, but you expect a little more from a premium company like Qantas.
My Airlines Scorecard:
United Airlines: 9/10
American Airlines: 7/10
Southwest Airlines: 5/10
I visited several different airports on my travels, including Sydney Kingsford Smith, JFK, Laguardia, Newark, Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, Mykonos and Nashville.
There were several terror attacks while I was away -one of which occurred at an airport in Istanbul - so security was something I was mindful of.
Heathrow led the way, with a strong security presence in all parts of the premises. It was also the cleanest airport with spotless floors and pristine bathrooms. To top everything off, it offered the best range of eating and shopping choices.
The worst of the airports I visited was in Mykonos, which wasn't unexpected given that it's a remote destination. After landing and exiting the aircraft in this picturesque part of the world, the airport staff kept us waiting outside in the heat. Only one person manned the customs desk, so an hour and two litres of sweat later, we arrived at baggage claim with dehydration and a minor bout of heat stroke.
The US Airports were also quite disappointing, except for Nashville which was surprisingly impressive for a small city.
My Airports Scorecard:
Heathrow Airport: 9/10
Sydney Airport: 8/10
Nashville Airport: 7/10
Newark Airport: 6/10
Overall I had good experiences in most of the places I stayed at. I visited a variety of different hotel chains, but my best experiences were at the Petasos Beach Hotel in Mykonos and the Hilton Garden Inn in New York.
I was particularly impressed with the Hilton Mobile app that allowed me to select my exact room before arriving, check in and check out from my mobile device, and even use my phone as a room key.
WIFI coverage in the hotels was mixed. I had decent coverage in only a handful of the places I stayed at, which was quite disappointing. Even though it's only a small component of a stay, we are so connected to our devices nowadays, that it becomes quite important to have reliable WIFI access.
Twelve months is a long time in the travel industry and some of the places I stayed at a year ago were not as impressive this time around.
TripAdvisor is your friend when it comes to reviews and photos, so make sure you do your research before making any bookings.
My Hotels Scorecard:
Petasos Beach Club: 10/10
Hilton Garden Inn: 8/10
Affinia Dumont: 7/10
Four Points Sheraton: 6/10
Laguardia Plaza Hotel: 6/10
Country Inn and Suites: 6/10
Premier Inn: 5/10
So that completes my travel report card.
If you happen to be flying those airlines or visiting any of those places in the near future, you now know about my recent experiences.
If your's happen to be better or worse, drop me a note on twitter and let me know, as I'm usually willing to give things a second try.