Zach Griff’s 2023 travel highlights, elite status earned and trip stats

As the end of the year approaches, I find myself eagerly opening my camera roll to reflect on all the pictures and videos I captured throughout the year. For someone like me, who loves to travel, this exercise allows me to recap my top experiences and relive the monumental moments from each year. Looking back at 2023, I can confidently say that it was a blockbuster year for me and my adventures.

From a travel perspective, 2023 was the first year since 2020 that felt decidedly back to normal since the onset of the pandemic. With the elimination of nearly all COVID-related travel restrictions and the resumption of key airline routes, I was able to reach some far-flung destinations that had been on my bucket list for a while. Kenya, Taiwan, and Brazil were just a few of the countries I had the opportunity to explore.

On a personal level, 2023 also marked the beginning of my MBA program at Wharton in Philadelphia. This meant not only a move from New York but also a shift in my mode of transportation. Instead of frequent airplane trips, I found myself taking train rides back and forth from New York City. In fact, this was the first year I ever earned Amtrak status, a milestone I was proud to achieve.

Looking back at my travel stats for 2023, I flew a total of 191,271 miles. This was a significant increase from the previous years, with 2022 seeing 185,780 miles, 2021 with 152,033 miles, 2020 with 133,796 miles, and 2019 with 205,985 miles. I took 26 unique airlines and visited 51 unique airports. Additionally, I earned elite status with seven different loyalty programs, including Amtrak Select Plus, American AAdvantage Executive Platinum, United Premier 1K, JetBlue Mosaic, Hilton Diamond, Marriott Platinum, and World of Hyatt Globalist.

Now, let’s dive into some of the highlights of my travels in 2023.

A historic Middle East tie-up:
One of the unexpected surprises of 2023 was United Airlines’ reentry into the Dubai market with a new daily nonstop flight from Newark. This partnership with Emirates, a once-unthinkable collaboration, marked a significant shift in the aviation industry. I had the privilege of being on the inaugural flight, and it was an experience I won’t forget anytime soon.

Marriott’s first luxury safari lodge:
In Kenya, I had the opportunity to stay at the brand-new JW Marriott Masai Mara, the first luxury safari property operated by the world’s largest hotel chain. This 20-tent lodge, located in one of the most famous game reserves in the world, offered a truly remarkable experience. From the stunning physical property to the exceptional service and culinary offerings, it exceeded all expectations.

Setting the new domestic standard:
While U.S. airlines have been focusing on perfecting their long-haul business class offerings, 2023 saw United Airlines leaning into a new domestic experience. United Next, the airline’s flagship onboard experience for short-haul flights on the Airbus A321neo, brought a new level of comfort and amenities to domestic travel. From 4K TVs to speedy Wi-Fi, this new aircraft showcased the future of domestic air travel.

LAX gets even better:
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) underwent significant renovations in recent years, and 2023 saw the completion of several projects. Delta’s new terminal at LAX, in particular, stood out as a shining star. I had the opportunity to check out the new private Delta One check-in facility during its opening festivities, and it was an exclusive experience. The airport’s overall redevelopment, including new and renovated terminals, a people mover, and a consolidated rental car facility, has transformed LAX into a world-class travel hub.

Gear upgrades:
Throughout the year, I had the chance to test and review various travel gear. From business travel backpacks to noise-canceling headphones, I explored the best options for travelers. Additionally, I delved into the world of travel tech, reviewing Apple’s iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro families and the new MacBook Air. These gear upgrades enhanced my travel experience and made my journeys more enjoyable.

Chase’s first airport lounge:
In the world of credit card issuers, the competition has extended to airport lounges. Chase joined the fray in 2023 with the opening of the Sapphire Lounge by the Club. These lounges offer a swanky and exclusive experience, complete with amenities like massage chairs and delicious food and drink options. I had the pleasure of visiting Chase’s first domestic lounge in Boston on opening day and was thoroughly impressed.

A premier way to cross the pond:
Unexpectedly, 2023 presented me with the opportunity to fly Air France’s La Premiere first-class cabin. Due to irregular operations on a Paris to New York flight, I rearranged my schedule and rebooked onto a flight to Washington, D.C., featuring this legendary cabin. The experience, from the luxury predeparture service to the private onboard suite, surpassed all expectations.

Looking ahead to 2024, my travels will look slightly different due to my MBA program. However, I already have a few bucket-list trips lined up, including Patagonia and skiing in Europe. I’m also excited about the possibility of joining one of American or United’s big European inaugural flights this summer. In terms of gear, I’m eagerly anticipating the release of Apple’s Vision Pro headset, which has the potential to revolutionize the inflight entertainment experience.

Overall, 2023 was a year filled with remarkable adventures and memorable experiences. It was a year of exploration, growth, and new beginnings. As I embark on a new year, I look forward to continuing my travels and sharing more exciting coverage with readers in 2024 and beyond.

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