Zach Griff’s 2023 tour highlights, elite status earned and tour stats – LSB

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At the end of each year, I like to open my camera roll and reflect on all the photos and videos I’ve taken during the year.

It may not surprise you that most of my photos and videos are taken during my travels, so this is a great way to relive my best experiences and memorable moments from each year.

I did this exercise and can definitely say that 2023 was a blockbuster year for me and my adventures. From a travel perspective, this is the first year since 2020 that has felt a return to normality since the pandemic began. Thanks to the lifting of nearly all COVID-related travel restrictions and the reopening of major airline routes, I’ve been able to reach some far-flung destinations like Kenya, Taiwan, and Brazil.

From a personal perspective, I also started an MBA program at Wharton in Philadelphia. Not only did I move from New York, I also took a lot of air travel to take the train from New York City. In fact, this is my first year earning Amtrak status.

There were many more travel-centric highlights this year, so I’ll recap some of them below and share what’s on the horizon for 2024.

2023 travel statistics

2023 Flight of Jack Grief. GCMAP.COM

Total miles flown: 191,271 (2022: 185,780; 2021: 152,033; 2020: 133,796 miles; 2019: 205,985 miles)

Longest Flight: Newark to Dubai (6,844 miles)

Shortest Flight: Nairobi Wilson to Maasai Mara (109 miles)

Unique Airlines: 26

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Unique Airport: 51

Achieved elite status: 7 (Amtrak Select Plus, AmericanAdvantage Executive Platinum, United Premier 1K, JetBlue Mosaic, Hilton Diamond, Marriott Platinum, World of Hyatt Globalist)

2023 highlights

A historic Middle East deal

Jack Grief/The Points Guy

A major US carrier flight to the UAE wouldn’t necessarily have been on my 2023 bingo card.

Because United Airlines, the “Big Three” spent much of the mid-to-late 2010s protesting against US rivals Delta Air Lines and American Airlines, the Middle East’s (ME3) carriers: Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways. They alleged that these fast-growing Middle Eastern airlines received subsidies from their respective governments, which enabled the airlines to offer superior service on long-haul routes to the United States at competitive prices.

However, this year, Dubai re-entered the market with a new daily nonstop from Newark as part of a once-unthinkable partnership with Emirates. I was on the inaugural flight, and like United’s first flight it made for 12 hours that I won’t soon forget.

Marriott’s first luxury safari lodge

Jack Grief/The Points Guy

Until this year, the world’s largest hotel chain had not operated a luxury safari property. That changed with the opening of the brand new JW Marriott Masai Mara in Kenya, a luxurious 20-tent lodge in one of the world’s most famous game reserves.

I was one of the first travelers to redeem at the property when bookings opened, and I had a once-in-a-lifetime deal that I wrote about in my full review. But even if I were to rate a rack, I would have been impressed with my stay.

The property wasn’t just physically stunning—the service, amenities, and culinary offerings resembled something you’d find at an Amon or Four Seasons resort (and then some).

Setting new domestic standards

Jack Grief/The Points Guy

While US airlines have spent much of the past few years perfecting their long-haul business-class offerings, this year marked the first time some of them, notably United, turned to a new domestic experience.

Dubbed United Next, the Chicago-based carrier has introduced a new flagship onboard experience for short-haul flights on the Airbus A321neo.

It’s United’s first new Airbus jet in nearly a decade, and it’s sure to impress the most discerning of flyers. From 4K TVs to fast Wi-Fi, this jet is a harbinger of good things to come in the United inflight experience.

United has also been busy retrofitting existing jets with these new cabins, such as the Airbus A319, A320 and Boeing 737, but the A321neo is the first plane that appears to be purpose-designed for this next-generation onboard product.

LAX is even better

Jack Grief/The Points Guy

In the past few years, many US airports have received major facelifts.

Perhaps none as significant as what’s happening at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), where the airport got (or is getting) some new and renovated terminals, a people mover, an integrated rental car facility and more.

Delta’s new LAX terminal is a shining star of the entire redevelopment project, and I love seeing the new private Delta One check-in facility during the opening festivities in May.

This private lounge is probably the most exclusive way to fly commercial from an airport, short of paying a few grand to use the nearby PS facility.

Gear upgrade

Jack Grief/The Points Guy

I started the year with a major travel hiccup — my away backpack broke during the trip. I spent the next few weeks testing out some of the best replacements and rounded up my findings in a story on the best business travel backpacks.

Late in the year, I reviewed some of the best noise-canceling headphones, and my favorite pair might not surprise you. The good news is that more and more airlines are adding support for Bluetooth connectivity, so whichever pair you end up with, your chances of connecting them to the inflight entertainment system are getting better.

But my favorite gear upgrade this year was in the travel tech category. Apple’s iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro families are a big upgrade for travelers – just read my review – and I’ve loved playing with the new double tap feature on Apple Watch which has already streamlined my travel routine.

And finally, the MacBook Air, one of the world’s best travel laptops, now comes in a larger, 15-inch design that will be a hit with travelers who want a larger screen.

Here at TPG, we’re always providing timely coverage of all the best travel gear, so stay tuned for more in 2024.

Chase’s first airport lounge

David Slotnick/The Points Guy

Competition among credit card providers has officially entered the airport.

Not only do Amex and Capital One operate airport lounges, but now Chase does as well. Dubbed the Sapphire Lounge by the club, these outposts are quite stunning.

I loved checking out Chase’s first domestic lounge in Boston on opening day, and I was incredibly impressed with all the amenities — especially the massage chair room — and the delicious food and beverage options.

I can’t wait to see what 2024 brings for Chase (and its competitors).

A premier way to cross the pond

Jack Grief/The Points Guy

I didn’t think 2023 would be the year I could fly in Air France’s La Premiere first-class cabin.

However, when erratic operations hit on the trip from Paris to New York, I was able to rearrange my schedule and rebook on a flight to Washington, DC, which featured this legendary first-class cabin. I was able to purchase a last-minute upgrade from business class for 1,639 euros, and boy, what an experience it was.

From free-flowing champagne to luxurious predeparture experiences in private onboard suites, La Premiere lived up to the hype (and then some).

What’s on tap for 2024

Now that I’m in business school, my journey looks a little different. I’m taking more group trips and don’t necessarily have time to jet off for a few days in the middle of the week.

The good news is that I already have a few bucket-list trips, like skiing in Patagonia and Europe, and I’m excited to possibly attend American or United’s big European opening this summer.

In the world of gear, we’re getting closer to the release of Apple’s Vision Pro headset, and I can’t wait to see how this device can revolutionize the inflight entertainment experience.

I’m sure many more plans will pop up throughout the year, so stay tuned to TPG for much more exciting coverage in 2024 and beyond.

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