Want to know how to travel in style, just like the pros? We check in with frequent fliers to find out how often they fly, their favorite destinations and what they never leave home without.
Name: Gary Leff
Occupation: Chief Financial Officer for a university research center
Hometown: Great Neck, New York
Residence: Arlington, Virginia
Short Bio: Though he remains gainfully employed with a full-time job, Gary manages to write the View from the Wing blog – the original frequent travel blog, which turned ten years old in May and is also one of Conde’ Nast Traveler’s world’s top travel specialists for his mileage award booking service, BookYourAward.com. He co-founded frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, chairs nominations for the Freddie Awards, and helps to organize Frequent Traveler University and the MegaDO charter trips for frequent flyers.
How often do you fly: I don’t know? My current list of reservations at aa.com shows 9 active itineraries, though I have booked reservations on other carriers of course.
How many countries have you been to: Never enough time to visit as many as I’d like, I just had to add pages to my 2 year old passport though. I hit Asia at least once or twice a year, am just back from Iguassu Falls, and promised my wife Paris this year. My most-visited countries are Thailand and Australia.
Favorite American city: San Francisco, dim sum that rivals Hong Kong and a dream of re-creating the car chase scene from Bullitt.
Favorite international city: Wherever I’m going next – because I always get excited about experiencing something new, I can’t stop reading about it, the culture, the food, the politics, and then I’ll compare my experience to the literature and realize I had it all wrong.
Favorite World Heritage Site: The Great Barrier Reef. Closer to home, the Statute of Liberty, for what it stands for which we seem to have forgotten.
Favorite airline: Domestic – American, 100,000 miles earns their true top tier status, status trumps fare for domestic upgrades, and they upgrade Executive Platinums from any fare internationally. International – Cathay Pacific’s seat for sleeping, Thai Airways ground service, Asiana’s food.
Favorite aircraft type: I will forever love ascending the stairs of a Boeing 747-400. It will always be the most romantic plane in the skies. But the 777-300 is a smoother ride.
Aisle or window: Aisle. I need the incremental control over my own destiny that provides.
Favorite airport lounge: Thai Airways First Class Lounge and Spa in Bangkok, there’s nothing in the world like an hour long Thai massage before a long haul flight. Second place would be Lufthansa’s First Class Terminal in Frankfurt, for the wiener schnitzel and the car ride to the plane.
Favorite U.S. airport: DFW – modern, clean, great amenities. Now that they’re adding complimentary wifi, just grab a Starbucks and seek out comfortable seating in one of the Samsung lounges and it’s like an airline club membership for everyone.
Favorite international airport: Singapore, most people would say for the movie theatre or nature exhibits, I just love that they do security screening at the each gate. It’s a phenomenal place to transit.
Favorite hotel: Andaz 5th Avenue in New York feels like “home.” Best design goes to W Hong Kong with W Seoul a close second. Best-value favorites on points would be a tie between the Conrad Koh Samui (every room is a standalone ocean villa) and the Park Hyatt Maldives.
Favorite island: Hong Kong
Favorite fancy restaurant: Until recently it would have been El Bulli, I was fortunate enough to eat there before Ferran Adria announced its closing. I’ve been to the Fat Duck in Bray, Tetsuya’s in Sydney, Le Bernardin in New york, L’Atelier Joel Robuchon in Paris, and nothing else ever came close.
Favorite hole in the wall: Any of the stalls at the East Coast Lagoon Food Village in Singapore – you can get better Fried Kway Teow at the Airport Road stalls, but East Coast Lagoon is open air on the water and about the most pleasant evening imaginable.
Favorite food: Thai… Fortunately when I’m home, with months to go before returning to Asia, I can hit Elephant Jumps in Merrifield, Virginia.
Drink of choice (In the air and on the ground): Dom (but the ’03 has an almost metallic taste and should never have been made a vintage).
Favorite travel movie(s): Lost in Translation – not only is Bill Murray fantastic, but it takes place at the Park Hyatt Tokyo! — followed by the first half only of Up in the Air and the amazing dialogue in Before Sunset.
Favorite travel show(s): Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations – it’s a food show but my favorite way to experience and understand the world is through the markets and the cuisines of daily life. I’m nervous about what to expect from Bourdain moving over to CNN.
Favorite travel book(s): Thomas Petzinger, Jr.’s Hard Landing and everything by the great Robert Serling.
Right now I am reading: James Fallows’ China Airborne and Tyler Cowen’s An Economist Gets Lunch.
Five things you bring on a plane: Denon noise cancelling headset, Kensington empower adapter, Lenovo u300s laptop, Canon S95 camera. My carryon also has my Verizon MiFi, Monster compact power strip, international power adapter, and Tumi travel wallet. Ok, that’s two lists of 4…
What do you always seem to forget: To make a rental car reservation.
Most embarrassing/worst travel moment: When I tried to check into the Novotel Suvarnabhumi only to find I had made a prepaid reservation for the following month… I think I dropped a few travel hero notches in my wife’s eyes.
What’s your dream destination: I’ve done French Polynesia and the Maldives, most of North and South Asia, and Europe of course. Antarctica doesn’t hold special allure. So I’d have to say more exploration in Central Asia.
Favorite travel website(s) – besides JohnnyJet.com, of course!: Milepoint.com for a great community of frequent flyers, ITA Software to plan my flights, FlightAware to see where my aircraft is coming from, and the Great Circle Mapper to estimate flight mileage.
Best travel tip: Hang up, call back. Travel rules are complicated, travel providers get them wrong most of the time. When you ask for something and don’t get it on the first try, odds are if you ask enough times you will succeed (whether you’re entitled to or not).