Posts

Showing posts from 2014

*Sad Trombone* Kimpton is being acquired by IHG

I generally prefer B&Bs to big hotel chains, but if I do have to stay in a hotel, I just stay at a Kimpton if one is available. They're reasonably priced, each one is unique, they have free wifi if you sign up for their loyalty program, there's decent free coffee in the lobby in the morning, free wine in the lobby before dinner, emergency condoms in the amenity kit, and some of them have free loaner bicycles.

Welp, it looks like they just got acquired by IHG. All discussions of hotel points aside, any time a small, unique, innovative, tightly-run business gets acquired, all of the things that made it unique and attractive are the first things that get cut. Maybe it'll be different this time, but I doubt it. 

Thankfully Virgin is launching a hotel chain, so at least there's a new entrant to that space... 

YESSS! Amex transfer bonus to British Airways is back!

Image
For the past few years, Amex has offered a monthly(ish)-long promo where you get bonus points when you transfer Amex Preferred Rewards points to British Airways. They don't publish a schedule, so whenever the first of the year rolls around people start speculating if, when, and how long the bonus will be this year.
Well wait no longer! Until 31 January 2015, you get a 40% bonus when transferring.
I'm still waiting to get more information about my brother's spring party in Tokyo, so I'll probably wait a bit before transferring anything. The main beauty of transferrable point cards like Amex Premier Rewards and Chase Sapphire is that you can transfer them, usually instantly, to an airline Frequent Flyer plan when you've found available award seats. It lets you keep points in a "neutral" place until right before you need them, and you can usually transfer into most of the big airline alliances so they're a great defense against getting tricked into loyal…

Virgin launching a hotel chain

Image
UPDATE: it's open now! review here.

I'm not a big hotel person. Most travelers roll their eyes at people who go to another country and then eat at McDonald's, but that's kind of how I feel about people who travel and stay at a Hilton, Westin, or other big hotel chain. Ideally I stay with someone local. My favorite thing about traveling is seeing people's day-to-day lives and taking part in it. If that's not an option I'll look for a small B&B or guest house so I have the chance to get to know the proprietors. If that's not an option, I'll look at AirBnB. Failing that, then I look to a local pension. 
If I end up having to stay at a big chain hotel, I just stay at a Kimpton if one is available. They're reasonably priced, each one is unique, they have free wifi if you sign up for their loyalty program, there's decent free coffee in the lobby in the morning, free wine in the lobby before dinner, emergency condoms in the amenity kit, and some…

Delta rebranding their cabins

Delta announced that they're re-branding all of their cabins. I've complainedtalked about about this in the past and today's changes are even more obfuscated than before. As I've said in the past, use SeatGuru when you're shopping so you know what you're paying for!

Basic Economy - even shittier than Economy, you won't earn miles, can't pick your seat, and no changes are permitted

Main Cabin - Virgin America has used this phrasing for their Economy Class for a long time now, I wonder if that had any influence on Delta's choice here.

Delta Comfort+ - I think Premium Economy has a different name on every single airline. Again, they're copying Virgin in that they're including free drinks, better food, and free movies along with the extra 4" of legroom. Let's hope they don't copy Virgin's ridiculous pricing to buy these seats.

First Class - The standard USA domestic first you've seen for years. 38" recliner seats, usually w…

La Compagnie

Image
Back in June I mentioned La Compagnie – an all-Business Class airline brought to you by the same folks who founded Openskies. Six months later, they're still in business with their one Newark - Paris route.

They've just announced a new route to London (the press release makes it sound like it'll be to Gatwick).

I've not flown them before, but I did fly Openskies back when it was an all-Business Class airline and I liked it. The big pro with these flights is that they give me cheap access to the one thing I want most: a seat I can comfortably sleep in. In La Compagnie's case, $2600 for TWO roundtrip Business Class tickets is unheard of. It's cheaper than many big airlines' economy tickets. They also offer pre-departure lounge access and, because they're french, the onboard liquor won't be a disappointment :)

There are, of course, downsides. If anything goes wrong with the plane, well… they don't have any other planes to put you on. You don't…

Buying up to the next elite tier...

Yes, I often rail about how airline loyalty is meaningless these days as airlines gut their elite benefits and keep raising the bar on all of the tiers. But for some people (e.g., people who fly a lot for work) it makes sense to try and make elite status if for no other reason than having a shot at a slightly less miserable year in the air next year.

I'm often surprised how many of my friends who fly 50,000+ miles per year for work often have very little idea about how mileage plans work. Though to be fair, I think the airlines do their best to make sure that the rules are as difficult as possible to understand.

With that said, I just wanted to point out that typically in December, airlines will let you directly buy Elite Qualifying Miles/Dollars to top off your account and ensure that you make the next tier up for next year.

DeltaUnited (United requires you to buy the points in conjunction with a flight)American There's more info over on The Points Guy, but keep in mind that p…

Tokyo in spring?

Image
So it's looking like my brother has settled on Tokyo Sakura Festival as the site for his big 4-0 celebration. While the whole country goes nuts celebrating the arrival of the cherry blossoms, it's definitely on my bucket list to brave the crowds and do that in Japan once in my life. The big challenge on this is that he can't commit to specific dates until February at the earliest. This makes finding award seats challenging. I'm thinking my only real hope is snagging some of the award inventory that airlines sometimes release at the very last minute (like less than 5 days from departure). But if you're going on a 3 week trip, that means you'll depart without a return ticket and you'll have to get up every day of your vacation and poke around award inventory and hope you can find yourself a seat home. Not exactly a relaxing proposition. Also, flights to and from Asia tend to be priced such that one way tickets are often more expensive than round-trips, so if…

And with this tiny footnote, United likely ended my husband's loyalty to them

Image
If you look at item 1 at the bottom of this page, you'll see the power of a single footnote.
Premier members who request a MileagePlus Upgrade Award on or after February 1, 2015, for a p.s. route between New York JFK and Los Angeles or San Francisco will no longer be exempt from the co-pay. For several years now, my husband's work has paid for his JFK< >SFO flights in Economy and he upgrades those flights to United P.S. BusinessFirst with miles out of his personal account. One of the things he's really liked about post-merger United is that doing this is a piece of cake — no need to call customer service, just tap a few buttons on the website and it all happens automatically. 
But now, his upgrade to BusinessFirst is going to cost him 40,000 of his own miles plus $500 of his own dollars on top of whatever his company paid. While United miles are probably the most valuable of the US carriers, he essentially runs a deficit — he spends way more miles upgrading each fligh…

Newark Food options improving

Image
Several people sent me this article about Newark Airport where we're told:
Say goodbye to pre-made sandwiches and hello to haute cuisine from the likes of Alain Ducasse, Mario Carbone, Amanda Cohen and other big name chefs, plus some high tech menu and ordering systems that employ iPads instead of waiters. As a Manhattanite, I hate Newark. If I take a car I have to crawl through Soho to the tunnel, which can literally take hours if you're flying anywhere near rush hour. Or I schlep my bags to the F train, walk two avenues over to Penn Station (hope it's not raining, snowing, grey slushing, or sweltering hot out!) get on the line for a ticket machine, wait up to 30 minutes for a Newark Airport-bound train, then switch to that verkachte Monorail thing that has a top speed of 7 miles per hour while praying that my terminal isn't at its last stop because it's literally 25 minutes between the first stop and the last stop. (FYI, this amazing 1960s technology is coming soo…

LINK: A great piece in the New Yorker

A friend send me this link from the New Yorker on Friday... pretty much hits the nail right on the head.
On the “new” United, seats got smaller as the airline jammed more people into the same tube; upgrades, to escape the sardine effect, seemed to become harder to book. The number of boarding groups began to resemble something like a caste system; “change fees,” which have always been outrageous, grew higher(two hundred dollars for domestic, three hundred dollars for international), while baggage fees soared to as high as a hundred dollars. The cross-country flights somehow seemed to all be on old, broken-down planes, while gate agents and flight attendants all just seemed crabbier. Yet, I remained, through the indignities, the outrages, and the general descent into lousiness. Getting rid of competition is rarely a good thing.

United Mileage Plus does another copy-paste from Delta.

Image
Now that the economy is booming again, air travel demand is up, but the capacity cuts made during the recession have not been restored. Prices are up, fees are up, benefits are being slashed, elite thresholds keep getting moved higher as airlines look for ways to extract more profit from their customers.

Delta led the pack by doing two major things over the past year and a half:  changing how you earn elite status by basing it on dollars spent instead of miles flown, and rewarding points for each flight based on how much the flight cost instead of the distance  To some extent this makes sense: if I paid $8000 for a seat, I'd want more points than the person who paid $1400 for an identical seat on a super-discount promo. Likewise, it's irked me that people make Gold who've spent half as many dollars with the airline as I did and I only made Silver.

The part I find amusing about all of this is that United's management has essentially been copy-pasting Delta's mileage …

Europe for Thanksgiving...

Image
Normally Thanksgiving week is a great time to find cheap Business Class fares to Europe from the US. I'm guessing it's because most people have that week off from work, and the people who are traveling are going so to see family within the USA. One way or the other, it's usually a great time to find round-trip fares to Europe for well below $3000.

As I mentioned here, I earned 9600 United miles and 11,000 Amex points for a trip I took on a cheap summer Business Class fare. I always take a look at the coach fares too, so I have some idea of how much extra I'm actually paying. I the case of my Singapore Airlines flight, I paid an extra $500 for Business and got a boatload of miles on top of getting a much nicer flying experience. 
Right now I've been keeping an eye on the Thanksgiving fares because I might end up trying to meet my brother in Prague for turkey day (though I'm guessing in Prague it'll end up being more of a goose day). Unfortunately I won't…

On not chasing elite status

Image
For people like me who fly entirely for vacations on their own dime, I'm convinced that chasing airline elite status is a lot like going to Vegas: "the house always wins". Yes, you get a couple of thrilling payouts along the way but ultimately you lose because you'll spend heaps more money to make sure you stay in the high rollers club.

This last trip we took (JFK > SFO > JFK > YUL > JFK > SJU > JFK) was one of those times when "the house" got to rub my nose in my decision :) My husband has to fly ≈8 transcons a year for work (work pays), so he's usually United Platinum and I'm still a lowly Silver (though with their new Delta-style rules, he'll drop to Gold and I'll drop to nothing next year). We both bought economy tickets on United's PS service and then immediately submitted a request to upgrade our flights with miles to their Fancy Domestic First class (called BusinessFirst) for 20,000 miles per person, per segment.

SHARE: Domestic Routes with International Business and First Class

I've talked about how generally lame US Domestic First is, and I've mentioned the "Fancy USA Domestic First" options that exist almost exclusively on the JFK — LAX/SFO routes.

Today, there's a great article over on The Points Guy about other domestic USA routes outside the LAX/SFO/JFK market with Fancy First.

Check it out!


JetBlue and Porter announce interline agreement

Image
I love Porter Airlines. They have a fleet of Q400 planes that fly out of a tiny airport (YTZ - Billy Bishop) on a tiny island in the harbo(u)r right in front of downtown Toronto. The whole terminal is theirs and it feels like a giant Business Class lounge. And until the tunnel is finished, you get to take the world's shortest ferry ride to get there.

The route map is fairly regional (but they have big expansion plans) and all flights start or end in Toronto. If you live in one of their larger markets (Chicago, NYC, Montreal) you wouldn't take a connecting flight with them, but if you're in a smaller market and have to connect anyway, you could potentially do a one-stop itinerary with them.

you live in one of the larger cities they serve, you can probably just get a direct flight to your destination if you're going someplace else within their network. 

They just announced an interline agreement with JetBlue to allow combined JetBlue + Porter itineraries through Boston. …

United.com adds LOT booking support

Image
LOT Polish Airlines is in Star Alliance and they have some fancy new 787's flying between North America and Warsaw. In years past, you've had to phone them to redeem United miles but that's finally changed.

A round trip in Business Class will set you back 140,000 United Miles (sorry, I'm still in post-devaluation shock and that number seems ridiculously high). When we took their 787 flight in 2013 it was 50,000 each way, so it's not *that* different, but still... 
All that said, you might still want to call them. I'm seeing virtually no Business Class availability in the coming 12 months (a few dates in Jan/Feb, but trust me, you really don't want to go to Warsaw in February...) but when we booked our flight we were able to talk the phone rep into opening up another reward seat for us. Tip for their US call center: make sure you use the phone prompts to route you to the Business Class booking center – shorter hold times.

Warsaw's airport just had a majo…

Paying for domestic First Class

Image
"First Class" flights within North America sorta deserve the quotes I just put around them. While there are a few exceptions1, the majority of these flights feature recliner-style seats with 38" of pitch (remember, economy has 32"), 20-ish inches wide, no lounge access, limited alcoholic beverage selections, and if there's food at all it's likely to remind you of a high school cafeteria - overboiled mystery meat (or gluey pasta) served with a side of surliness. Let's just call this "Crappy First Class™"

Meanwhile many of these same airlines have upgraded the seats in their long-haul international planes to be fully lie-flat beds with 60+ inches of pitch while simultaneously re-branding them as Business Class seats! Delta had the sense to name their crappy First Class product "Business Class", whereas United stuck with the First Class moniker (except when the planes fly to Mexico — all of a sudden that same cabin is now called Busines…

and some days the bear gets you...

Image
As I've mentioned before, chasing points is generally for people with more time than money. Yes, I frequently get lucky and manage to snag a great redemption entirely via the web with minimal planning and zero time on the phones.

And then there's yesterday...

So I'm trying to get to Puerto Vallarta for a wedding 4 months from now. Since I know there's no direct service on the day I need to fly, I'm opting for a touch of glamour by flying through Mexico City on Aeromexico's new 787 and then connecting after a 2.5 hour layover.

I don't have Aeromexico (AM) points but I do have American Express Premier Rewards points that I can transfer. For most of their Airline partners, those transfers happen instantly. But Aeromexico transfers take up to two weeks. One way First Class is 30,000 points1 plus $125 in fuel surcharges and taxes. Not too bad for a flight that prices out at US$1000 (meaning i earn 2.75¢ per point).

By the time my points showed up in my AM account…

puerto vallarta

Image
I put together a visitor guide for Puerto Vallarta over on Medium.com. Check it out!

My 'getting to Vallarta' post is here.

Trip report: American Airlines' new Flagship First JFK > SFO

Image
My friend George shared this report about his recent flight in American Airlines' new transcontinental Flagship First from New York to San Francisco. 
My husband and I were able to use our miles to book American's new transcontinental First Class product from JFK - SFO over Labor Day weekend. I was very excited to get to experience this as I had read about the service from a few other sources.
We arrived at JFK and proceeded through security. One does have the option of using Flagship check-in, but as we didn't have any checked baggage and use our phones as boarding passes, we wanted to just spend more time relaxing in the Admirals Club.
Speaking of which, as a Transcon First Class traveler, one is escorted into the Flagship lounge part of the Admirals Club. This separate section has an open self-serve bar and decent nibbles. Two Negronis later we boarded the flight, which actually left on time and took off about 20 minutes after leaving the gate (that *never* happens at …

Tips and gotchas when using American Express' travel portal

Image
American Express offers 3 points per dollar when you purchase plane tickets with their Premiere Rewards card. They offer an additional bonus point when you purchase through their online travel portal. 
As I've previously advised, make sure you comparison shop on Kayak.com and make sure that their prices are competitive before you book. I've found that they're usually more expensive by a few dollars, but I do the math to make sure I'm not overpaying for my extra bonus point.

Their site has improved in recent years, but buying through their travel portal is almost always slower and less convenient than booking directly through the airline's own site. For example:

It doesn't remember your passport numberIt doesn't remember any frequent companion information, only yours. It doesn't have a way to enter Known Traveler numbers for Global Entry/TSAPre, so you have to call the airline to add it after you bookIt doesn't let you enter a partner airline frequen…

Warsaw to JFK on the 787

Image
The layout engine here on Blogger.com feels a little clunky and 1998... Honestly why have 400 themes when you can't get a blank template right?

*Le Sigh*

Since so few people fly through Poland, I had a friend ask me to write up a trip report for our 2013 trip on LOT Poland's new 787. I decided to put it on Medium.com since it looks so much nicer and the editing process is so much less clunky. Check it out :)


Getting to Puerto Vallarta

Image
I wanted to post a few quick tips for people flying to Puerto Vallarta (Airport code PVR). My city guide is here.

Last update Jul 2017

This chart on Wikipedia lists every direct flight destination to/from Puerto Vallarta. Some are seasonal (i.e., only in winter). This is a good reference point if you're confused about why you're not finding a flight you wanted. Many of the flights aren't 7 days a week!United sometimes stocks margarita mix and tequila on flights to/from Mexico but they run out fast so order early :)American citizens need to have a passport to go to Mexicofrom NYC United offers direct service from Newark 2 days a week on Saturdays (2 flights: one leaving JFK at 8am and the other leaving at 5pm) and Sundays (one flight at 8am). It's a 6 hour flight. Delta no longer offers direct service from the New York area.It's nearly impossible to leave NYC early enough to fly via SFO or LAX. Though due to 2016's big blizzard, I can now say with first-hand exper…

Aeromexico 787 trip report

Image
As a food-loving aviation nerd with bad sinuses, I've been really excited about the 787 ever since I first heard about its groundbreaking cabin humidity and air pressure levels. We've made a bit of extra effort to get flights on the 787 whenever (reasonably) possible and I definitely find myself less fatigued from the journey and the food does seem to taste a bit better.

For our annual flight NYC – Puerto Vallarta last year, we decided to route via Mexico City to try out Aeromexico's new 787s. (My PV guide is here). We celebrate both our birthdays, our anniversary, and Valentines in one big annual blowout trip but sadly the First Class options to Mexico don't offer much opportunity for glamour: all direct service has 38" domestic First recliner seats with limited food and alcohol choices. (Nearly all of the PS/Mint/Flagship routings via LAX or SFO require an overnight stay).

We needed to come back on a direct flight, so we took one of United's twice-weekly (Sa…