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


Toward the end of each year, I love opening my camera roll and reflecting on all the pictures and videos I took during the year.

It might not surprise you that most of my pictures and videos are taken during my travels, so it’s a great way for me to recap my top experiences and relive the monumental moments from each year.

I just did this exercise and can assuredly say that 2023 was a blockbuster year for me and my adventures. From a travel perspective, it was the first year since 2020 that felt decidedly back to normal since the onset of the pandemic. Thanks to 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, such as Kenya, Taiwan and Brazil.

From a personal perspective, I also started an MBA program at Wharton in Philadelphia. I not only moved from New York, but I’ve also traded many airplane trips for train rides back and forth from New York City. In fact, this is my first year ever earning Amtrak status.

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

2023 travel stats

Zach Griff’s 2023 flights. 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 Masai Mara (109 miles)

Unique airlines: 26

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Unique airports: 51

Elite status earned: 7 (Amtrak Select Plus, American AAdvantage Executive Platinum, United Premier 1K, JetBlue Mosaic, Hilton Diamond, Marriott Platinum, World of Hyatt Globalist)

2023 highlights

A historic Middle East tie-up


Flying a major U.S. carrier to the United Arab Emirates wouldn’t have necessarily been on my 2023 bingo card.

That’s because United Airlines, along with “Big Three” U.S. rivals Delta Air Lines and American Airlines, spent much of the mid-to-late 2010s unified in protests against the Middle East (ME3) carriers: Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways. They alleged that these fast-growing Middle Eastern airlines took subsidies from their respective governments, which enabled the airlines to provide superior service at a competitive price on long-haul routes to the U.S.

However, this year, United reentered the Dubai 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 many of United’s first flights, it made for 12 hours that I won’t forget anytime soon.

Marriott’s first luxury safari lodge


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

I was one of the first travelers to make a redemption at the property when bookings opened, and I scored a once-in-a-lifetime deal that I wrote about in my full review. But even if I had paid a rack rate, I would’ve 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 Aman or Four Seasons resort (and then some).

Setting the new domestic standard


While the U.S. airlines spent much of the last few years perfecting their long-haul business-class offerings, this year was the first time some of them, particularly United, leaned into a new domestic experience.

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

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

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

LAX gets even better


In the past few years, many U.S. airports have received big facelifts.

Perhaps none are as noteworthy as what’s happening at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), where the airport has gotten (or is getting) some new and renovated terminals, a people mover, a consolidated rental car facility and more.

Delta’s new LAX terminal is one of the shining stars of the entire redevelopment project, and I loved checking out the new private Delta One check-in facility during the opening festivities in May.

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

Gear upgrades


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

Later in the year, I reviewed some of the best noise-canceling headphones, and my favorite pair might not necessarily surprise you. The good news is that more and more airlines are adding support for Bluetooth connectivity, so no matter which pair you end up with, the odds of connecting them to the inflight entertainment system are getting better.

But my favorite gear upgrades this year were in the travel tech department. Apple’s iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro families are a major upgrade for travelers — just read my review — and I’ve loved playing around with the new Double Tap feature on the Apple Watch that’s 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’s sure to 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


The competition between credit card issuers has officially entered the airport.

Not only do Amex and Capital One operate airport lounges, but now Chase does too. Dubbed the Sapphire Lounge by the Club, these outposts are pretty swanky.

I loved checking out Chase’s first domestic lounge in Boston on opening day, and I’m incredibly impressed by all the amenities — especially the massage chair room — and the tasty food and drink options.

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

A premier way to cross the pond


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

However, when irregular operations struck on a trip from Paris to New York, I was able to rearrange my schedule and rebook onto a flight to Washington, D.C., that featured this legendary first-class cabin. I managed to purchase a last-minute upgrade from business class for 1,639 euros, and boy, what an experience it was.

From the free-flowing Champagne to the luxury predeparture experience to the private onboard suite, La Premiere lived up to the hype (and then some).

What’s on tap for 2024

Now that I’m in business school, my travels look slightly different. I’ve been taking more group trips and don’t necessarily have the 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 lined up, such as Patagonia and skiing in Europe, and I’m excited to possibly join one of American’s or United’s big European inaugurals this summer.

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

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

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