Saturday, December 13, 2014

Icelandair Starts Seasonal Service to Europe from Portland, OR (PDX)

Good news for Portlanders (Oregon) planning to travel to Europe in summer 2015. Icelandair will be initiating seasonal service from Portland, OR starting on May 20, 2015 running through October 21, 2015. During this period flights will depart Portland on Wednesdays and Fridays at 3:40 PM and proceed non-stop to Reykjavik, Iceland arriving there at 6:15 AM the next day. In Reykjavik, connections can be made to a host of destinations in Europe. (Return service from Reykjavik to Portland operates on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Flights depart Reykjavik at 5:15 PM and arrive the same day in Portland at 6:15 PM.)

On Saturday, December 13, 2015, I did a quick check on airfares and discovered the following prices for a one-stop itinerary Portland to Munich departing Portland on July 1 and returning from Munich on July 14.

$1,305 on Icelandair via Reykjavik (booked on Expedia).
$1,860 on Delta via Atlanta on the outbound and via Amsterdam on the inbound (booked at delta.com)
$1,880 on American via Philadelphia (booked at aa.com)
$1,890 on United via Washington Dulles (booked at united.com)

As you can see, the Icelandair flights are quite a deal when compared against Delta, American, and United!

When I first flew Icelandair to Europe back in 2003, I was underwhelmed with the service and stunned at the mass confusion and lack of organization at Keflavik Airport in Iceland. The last time I flew Icelandair to Reykjavik in July 2014, it felt like a different airline. Great service, on-demand seat-back entertainment in economy class and wonderful efficiency at Keflavik Airport.

Will be interesting to see how long this great fare on Icelandair lasts, or how long it will take the other airlines to match this deal (if ever).

Helpful Flight Booking Tools (especially for United frequent fliers)

Discovered some great flight booking tools recently. I was searching for a way to make sure that itineraries using Star Alliance airlines (other than United) ended up getting ticketed by United Airlines (i.e. ticket number beginning with "016"). United is now requiring that a certain amount of "Premier Qualifying Dollars" (PQD) be spent in order to achieve Premier status and you can accumulate PQD on Star Alliance flights only if the ticket is issued by United Airlines. I normally prefer to fly international routes on Star Alliance airlines other than United and found that some of these itineraries cannot be generated easily on the United website. I needed a way for Star Alliance itineraries NOT using United on any leg to show up on the United website. In that way I could have United issue the ticket on their ticket stock to make sure that the flights on Star Alliance carriers other than United qualified for PQD accumulation. Following?

So, for example, I wanted to have United Airlines ticket the following routing from Portland, OR to Tokushima, Japan;

  • Portland (PDX) to San Jose, CA (SJC) on Alaska Airlines (non-Star Alliance carrier)
  • SJC to Tokyo Narita (NRT) on ANA (Star Alliance carrier)
  • Tokyo Haneda (HND) to Tokushima (TKS) on ANA (Star Alliance carrier)
  • TKS to HND on ANA (Star Alliance carrier)
  • NRT to SJC on ANA (Star Alliance carrier)
  • SJC to PDX on Alaska Airlines (non-Star Alliance carrier)

You can't get this routing to show up by just using the United Airlines website. So, it you want United to ticket this itinerary (using the United website), how do you do this? Here's how:

Option 1

1. Use Hipmunk (hipmunk.com).
2. On Hipmunk, create a "multi-city" itinerary using the following specifications:

FROM: PDX::AS SJC NH
TO: NRT

[This means From Portland, OR (PDX) to San Jose, CA (SJC) on Alaska Airlines (AS), then one leg on ANA (NH) to Tokyo, Narita (NRT).]

FROM: HND::NH
TO: TKS::NH

FROM: TKS::NH
TO: HND::NH

FROM: NRT::NH SJC AS
TO: PDX

Select the appropriate flights from the results. When the itinerary is assembled, hit the "Book" button and Hipmunk will normally send you to the United website where the itinerary will be generated. You can then can book the ticket directly with United.

Hipmunk will not always send you to the United website for booking; it might send you instead to other booking sites such as Orbitz or Expedia. Where you get sent depends on the specific itinerary that you've built.

Option 2

If Hipmunk doesn't do it for you, you can also follow the instructions at the following webpage to generate an itinerary on the United website for booking.

http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/travel-tools/1623427-ita-purchase-fares-orbitz-delta-userscript-2.html

Though it's a little more complex, this option works well.

Happy booking!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Day 9: Mountain Hiking Holidays Shikoku Pilgrimage Group

A beautiful morning to start our hike from Nagaoji (Temple 87) to Ookuboji (Temple 88). The hondo (left) and Daishi-do (right) at Nagaoji.
Beautiful old tree in the temple compound at Nagaoji.
En route from Nagaoji to Ookuboji, we passed this stone monument along the pilgrimage route.
The pilgrimage route in the Kurusu Valley en route to Ookuboji.
Gentians blooming along the trail to Nyotai-san.
"This way to Ookuboji!" At stone marker (hyoseki) point the way up to the summit of Nyotai-san and Ookuboji (Temple 88).
The trail ascending to the summit of Nyotai-san.
Violets blooming on a sunny slope below Nyotai-san.
Almost there! The final pitch to the top of Nyotai-san. From there it will be virtually downhill all the way to Ookuboji.
Descending from the summit of Nyotai-san. You can see the henro shelter on the summit of the peak in the right background.
A well-maintained, stepped path descends to Ookuboji from Nyotai-san.
The hondo at Ookuboji. Temple 88! We made it!
Statues at Ookuboji.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Day 8: Mountain Hiking Holidays Shikoku Pilgrimage Group

A statue of the boddhisattva Jizo (Jizo bosatsu) marks the path to Yokomineji (Temple 60). Jizo is the guardian deity of children and travelers.
The descent from Yokomineji en route to Temple 61 (Kouonji).
The steepest part of the descent from Yokomineji ends here. Notice the walking staffs that others have left leaning against the signpost.
The stark, modern facade of the main building at Kouonji (Temple 61). This concrete and tile structure dates from the 1970s although the temple was founded in the 6th century.This modern building stands in marked contrast with the hondo we have seen at other temples.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Day 7: Mountain Hiking Holidays Shikoku PIlgrimage Group

Before setting off on our hike from Temple 44 (Daihoji) to Temple 45 (Iwayaji) today, we stopped for a visit at Ishiteji (Temple 51) since some of the group didn't have a chance to visit it yesterday. Here is part of our group at Ishiteji's main hall (hondo).
After our visit to Ishiteji, we drove to the Kuma Kogen ("Bear Plateau") area south and east of Matsuyama. We started our day's hike at this beautiful forest temple called Daihoji (Temple 44). It was lightly raining for most of the day, but the mist and drizzle added a lot of atmosphere to the walk.
From Daihoji, the route led us over a forested ridge before dropping to a small village in the Kuma Kogen where we stopped for lunch (out of the drizzle) in this thoughtfully placed henro shelter.
A soft, leaf-cushioned path leads through stately woods of Japanese cedars en route from Daihoji to Temple 45 (Iwayaji).
A section of the henro trail between Daihoji and Iwayaji passes through misty woods.
A particularly lovely stretch of trail atop the forested ridge-top between Daihoji and Iwayaji.
This sign reminds walkers to persevere. Ganbatte!
Giant Japanese cedars in the woods just before reaching Temple 45 (Iwayaji). You could almost sense the presence of the old forest kami (gods). Miyazaki's film Spirited Away came to mind...
Suddenly, the temple gate for Iwayaji appears!
The hondo (main hall) at Iwayaji is built against a towering cliff face.
Moss-covered statues at Iwayaji.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Day 6: Mountain Hiking Holidays Shikoku Pilgrimage Group

Today, we hiked from Temple 46 (Joruriji) in the south of Matsuyama City to Temple 51 (Ishiteji).
The group hiking through the rural landscapes between Joruriji (Temple 46) and Yasakaji (Temple 47).
At Temple 47 (Yasakaji). 
Henro John at the main gate of Yasakaji.
Our group arrives at Monjuin temple (also known as Tokuseiji), one of the twenty numbered bangai temples. The bangai are sacred temples that are not officially part of the 88 temple pilgrimage route. (Monjuin is bangai #9.) It is said that Monjuin is at or near the site where the merchant Emon Saburo refused to give alms to a monk whom he later realized was Kukai (Kobo Daishi). Following the deaths of his eight sons, Emon Saburo set off on foot circling Shikoku several times in search of Kukai in order to ask forgiveness for refusing to give alms. This is one of the stories that explains the origins of the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
The main gate at Temple 48 (Sairinji).
The main hall (hondo) of Temple 49 (Jodoji) seen through the main gate.
Lovely Hantaji (Temple 50) in later afternoon light.
Pagoda the Temple 51 (Ishiteji), the "Stone Hand Temple."

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Day 5: Mountain Hiking Holidays Shikoku Pilgrimage Group

Today we left the official 88 Temple Pilgrimage route for a hike in the mountains of the Tsurugi-san Quasi National Park in central Shikoku. Our hike started at this Shinto shrine at Minokoshi Pass.
The trail ascended steadily toward the summit of Tsurugi-san. The snow-flecked peak of Miune is in the left background.
Approaching the summit of Tsurugi-san.
This torii marks the final set of steps to the summit area.
The view from the summit of Tsurugi-san looking toward the east.
A series of wooden "terraces" wind across the broad summit area of Tsurugi-san. A sunny, cool and beautiful day...perfect!
From the summit of Tsurugi-san looking toward the west. The peak on the left is called Jirogyu.
Beginning the descent from Tsurugi-san along the ridge-top trail that leads to the neighboring peak of Jirogyu (at the left in this photo).
The trail from Tsurugi-san to Jirogyu. 
The joy of the mountains on the trail between Tsurugi-san and Jirogyu.
Contemplating the view from Jirogyu. We met no other hikers today once we left the summit of Tsurugi-san! Solitude in the mountains of Shikoku!
Following the ridge-top trail as it descends from the summit of Jirogyu.
Our group descending from Jirogyu.
The trail between Jirogyu and the peak of Maruishi.
The trail leading through a field of dwarf bamboo toward Maruishi (the small peak to the left in this photo).
From Maruishi peak, a long descent through the woods brought us eventually to the double vine bridges Okuiya Nijyu Kazurabashi. One of the bridges is considereg "male" and the other "female." This is the "female" bridge.
Vicki and Gail crossing the "male" bridge at Okuiya Nijyu Kazurabashi.