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Have Cards, Will Travel

Reward yourself with amazing airport experiences

These airports might make you forget about your long layover or unexpected flight delay with some one-of-a-kind amenities

Summary

Is it true the reward is in the journey, not the destination? These airports seem to personify that ideology – to the point where you might even hope for a flight delay.

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It’s easy to love most parts of traveling, but one thing that makes many travelers go mad is extended transits and inevitable airport delays.

You can’t prevent delays, but how can you handle the hassle? Use points to book flights via the world’s most interesting airports.

Believe it or not, some airports have amazing offerings you may miss if you’re just hustling between gates.

I’m not suggesting you’ll want to book a flight just to experience an airport, but why not have just as much fun on your airport layover as you will in your destination.

Here are five of my favorite airport experiences from around the world that could make your next transit better.

Note: None of the items listed below are lounges – each attraction is accessible to all airport passengers (applicable charges were noted).

See related: How to use rewards points to travel to hard-to-reach destinations

1. Visit the World’s Best Airport

Singapore’s Changi airport (SIN) has been named the “World’s Best Airport” for the seventh straight year by Skytrax. If that’s not enough to pique your interest, its amenities certainly will.

Boasting the world’s tallest indoor waterfall, the Changi airport spares no expense when it comes to entertaining its delayed travelers. The airport is also home to the world’s largest kinetic sculpture, Kinetic Rain, along with several gardens worth exploring – butterfly, sunflower, cactus and orchid to name a few.

There’s also a 24-hour cinema, a five-story forest valley, over 300 restaurants and stores and nightly light shows at the rain vortex waterfall. There’s so much to take in, you might forget you’re in an airport.

These are just a few of the hundreds of reasons why Changi is ranked as the top airport in the world year after year. SIN is the only airport in the world where I’d encourage you to download the app before your visit, so you don’t miss the crystal garden, the giant indoor slide, or your flight.

Get there with points

Fly anywhere via Singapore Airlines and you’ll be sure to transit via Changi. Transfer points to the Singapore KrisFlyer program from Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards or Citi Thank You. Take advantage of the free stop when booking Singapore Airlines if you want to ensure time for the whole airport experience.

See related:  How to spend your next long airport layover

2. Learn on your layover

Use the time you’re spending at the airport to get smarter when you transit via Amsterdam Schiphol. It is hands down, my favorite airport in Europe.

Schiphol has its own library, an in-house science museum and 10 original Rembrandts on display in the airport’s very own satellite Rijksmuseum. But don’t forget to leave time to shop for tulip bulbs, Gouda cheese and stroopwafels.

Get there with points

Nearly all KLM international flights, as well as many European Delta connections, transit AMS. Use FlyingBlue miles to book reward flights on KLM with rewards points transferred from Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards or Citi Thank You.

3. Experience retro runway views and an architectural icon

Practice plane-spotting from a runway-adjacent rooftop infinity pool, or step back in time and sip cocktails in a restored ‘58 Lockheed Constellation aircraft at the Trans World Airlines (TWA) Flight Center at New York’s JFK airport.

The newly opened TWA flight center at Terminal 5 (T5) boasts a 512-room hotel, a retro restaurant complex and an aviation museum. All were recently recreated within the original 1962 TWA terminal, which was made famous by its iconic architecture and chili pepper red carpeting.

Time on your hands? Book a room for the night, a day room for 4-8 hours, or a pass for the fitness center and pool. Alternatively, grab a seat in the famous TWA sunken lounge and sip the “Fly Away with Me” cocktail inspired by Frank Sinatra.

I have yet to experience the TWA hotel, but this very terminal was the location of my very first airport delay on a TWA departure to LAX at age nine. I actually can’t wait to go back and stay a little longer. Thank goodness I’m old enough for cocktails this time.

Get there with points

Nearly every airline in the world flies to JFK, so you shouldn’t have any trouble getting here – no matter which credit card’s points you’re collecting. The TWA flight center is adjacent to JFK’s T5 – making it the most convenient for flights arriving or departing on JetBlue, but it can be reached by the (free) AirTrain from any terminal with a little extra time.

The TWA Hotel is JFK’s only on-airport accommodation and is bookable solely via the hotel’s independent website. Use a cash back travel card like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard to pay for your reservation using reward miles.

4. Hug a $6.8 million teddy bear

OK, you definitely can’t hug the teddy bear – or Lamp Bear as it’s so aptly called – in Doha International Airport (and please don’t try), but Qatar is the only place I know of in the world where you can take a selfie with a 23-foot canary yellow, 35,000-pound, $6.8-million stuffed bear.

Assuming your layover is more than the 10 minutes it will take you to process why an airport would spend nearly $7 million to feature a bear with a light coming out of its head as the centerpiece to its departure hall, you can spend the rest of your time at DOH getting some exercise.

The in-airport fitness complex offers a gym, indoor lap pool, hydrotherapy facilities and squash courts with rackets, balls and shoes available. Viewing the Lamp Bear is free, but entrance to the gym is 175 QAR or 48 USD.

Get there with points

You’re most likely to transit via DOH on a flight operated by Qatar Airways, the national airline of Qatar and a oneworld alliance partner. Qatar flights from several US gateways to DOH, offering connections onward to Africa and across Asia, can be booked via American using miles earned from the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard.

5. Walk the “insta-famous” PDX carpet

Sure, Portland, Oregon, isn’t exactly an internationally acclaimed airport, but it’s my home airport and it has great coffee.

PDX’s claim to fame is that it’s been named the best domestic airport six years in a row by Travel and Leisure, and most importantly, the airport’s iconic carpet has become an Instagram legend – #PDXCarpet.

After you post the perfect feet and carpet selfie, grab a free seat at America’s only in-airport movie theater. If you get hungry, eat doughnuts, dine at one of the in-airport food cart offerings, or use the Priority Pass benefit from your Chase Sapphire Reserve card to do a local whiskey tasting at House Spirits Distillery.

Get there with points

PDX is more of a destination than a hub, but you might find yourself here on transit if you’re using your Alaska Mileage Plan points to get yourself to Hawaii, Anchorage, or to a smaller West Coast airport.

Even if you don’t live on the West Coast, the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card has a great sign-up bonus that could help make your Hawaiian dream trip a reality.

You don’t have a choice if you get stuck in an airport, but you do have a choice on which airports you transit. Why not pick the most fun ones and enjoy the journey?

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Published: June 21, 2019

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