Thursday, March 26, 2015

One of the most useful amenity kit items EVER!

I flew JetBlue's new Mint product last month (and last summer) and I found their Birchbox amenity kit to be more of a product sampler for Birchbox than it was a true collection of things you might need during the flight. That said, on my latest trip they did add something that I think everyone else should copy: device screen wipes. We all know that our iPhone screens have more bacteria than most toilet seats yet I'm personally a bit afraid to clean them with anything other than a dry microfiber towel for fear that I'll mess up the screen coating with alcohol or acetone or Windex... I really liked having something I knew was safe to use to give my phone a cleaning at the same time I used the hot towel to clean my own hands...

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Major delays in 2015 at JFK

Gothamist is reporting long delays for JFK flights due to construction and upgrades. The disruption is supposed to last through the end of 2015. Put that "Search nearby airports" button on Kayak to work!

Sadly this was the year that we decided to switch to JetBlue for all of our transcon flights. JetBlue's official statement is here. I've often thought that the coast-to-coast redeye is actually too short of a flight when you have a comfortable bed like JetBlue Mint Class has... If only they could hurry up and get FAA approval for these new seats that allow you to recline during takeoff, I wouldn't mind an extra two hours in my seat :)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Emirates JFK-Milan 2-for-1 special is back!

Emirates is running a 2-for-1 promo for summer travel on their direct JFK-Milan flight. That works out to:

$650 per person in Economy
$1900 per person in Business Class

and they've just put an A380 on this route, so you'll have the full double-decker experience. It's a great price for summer fares to Europe. Book before March 26th for travel this summer (June 27 - August 22). These are special fares so you can't upgrade them.

Details are here.

business class

economy class

Sunday, March 15, 2015

JetBlue expanding their Mint First Class network

Per this link, it looks like JetBlue is going to be expanding the network for their new Mint First Class product. It's unquestionably the best First Class product for USA domestic flights and now they're expanding it to the Caribbean.

UPDATE 4/2016: They've announced yet another expansion!

My trip reports for Mint are here and here.

Closing-door individual suites

Friday, March 13, 2015

Canada getting its own "Fancy Domestic First"

Great news! It looks like Air Canada is going to start offering a lie-flat product on domestic transcontinental flights. Other than the JFK-YVR flight on Cathay Pacific, there aren't a whole lot of options for an internationally-configured plane on a domestic North American run. The official announcement is here. A breakdown of all the flights is here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Alaska flights no longer earning MQDs

The Delta – Alaska 'Battle in Seattle' continues... Now Delta has decided that as of April 1st, flights on Alaska will no longer earn Medallion Qualifying Dollars.

Details here.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Visiting Washington DC Cherry Blossom Festival

(updated March 2017)

I'm a big fan of 花見 (hanami), the Japanese custom of viewing sakura cherry blossoms in spring. It's a great way to enjoy the beginning of spring, shake off winter, eat some sakura mochi, and (if you're doing it according to custom) reflect upon the ephemeral and fleeting nature of life – the "peak" blossoms only last about a week.

The National Park Service announced its official prediction
for the start of DC's peak bloom:
🌸 19th of March, 2017 🌸

In 1912 the mayor of Tokyo gave 3,000 cherry trees to the city of Washington DC as a symbol of friendship between the two countries. With 100+ years of sakura history, it's no surprise that DC has the USA's largest cherry blossom festival. 

Given the fickle nature of the actual bloom date, the festival itself is nearly a month long. Many of the events are fun even without the flowers. The events calendar is here. There are countless official guides for this beautiful event, but I'm not here to re-invent the wheel, just to give a few of my personal tips.

I'll take SWORDS for $600, Alex
J-pop fans everywhere!
JR model train exhibit

The trees are planted across the city, concentrated on the tidal basin near the Jefferson Memorial. The park service map of the trees is here. Once the date gets closer, the park service makes daily updates showing the current status of the trees.

If you can swing it, try to do your viewing midweek! Ideally on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Last year we went down on Thursday morning, had plenty of space to chill and enjoy the blossoms, and then spent Friday going to museums and generally avoiding the millions of people who appeared overnight. You can do it as a day trip if you don't mind getting up early and can easily sleep on the train.

Amtrak's Acela Express is the quickest way there from most of the east coast.  The Northeast Regional is slower but is usually less than half the price (from NYC: 2h 50m and $153 versus 3h 25m and $52). You can transfer Chase Sapphire points 1:1 to Amtrak Guest Rewards to redeem for either train. Sadly, Amtrak changed their mileage plan over to a fixed value plan in 2015 so the best you can expect to get 2.5¢ per point on Acela and 2.9¢ on certain fares on other routes... Not great but not terrible, either.

On the topic of value, I've taken the Acela in First Class and it's not worth the extra dollars or points. It still has no reserved seating, the seats are almost identical to the normal ones, and while the staff really do try, they're serving you high school cafeteria food on cute china. Free liquor, though... Also, DC's Union Station is gorgeous – a world away from the hell hole that is Penn Station.

The BoltBus/MegaBus situation here in NYC has gotten a bit nicer as well. The new 7 train station at Hudson Yards opened up and the discount buses operate a well-organized chaos right outside of it, across from the Javits center.

Acela express is faster and fancier, but 4x the price of the Regional.
Hotel-wise I really like the Kimpton Monaco and the Kimpton Rouge. It's reasonably priced, next to the metro, great amenities, free wine at happy hour, close to a bunch of good restaurants, and is across the street from the National Portrait Gallery. If you want to stay closer to DuPont circle, the Kimpton Rouge is good.

Check out a Capital Bikeshare bike. There are tons of bike paths in DC and on the weekends it might help you escape to a less crowded viewing location. Also, with DC's general layout and metro grid you end up frequently walking fairly long distances. The bikeshare is an ideal way to traverse the city without killing your feet.

Use the City Mapper app and website. It's an amazing tool for finding your way around big cities (including DC) by foot, bike, metro, or taxi. If you're doing bikeshare, it'll even show you docks with bikes near your origin and empty slots near your destination!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Long haul flights coming to LaGuardia?!

For a big chunk of the New York city population, LaGuardia is vastly cheaper and faster to get to by car/taxi than JFK or Newark. When it's not rush hour I can be there in 20 minutes from my house. JFK is twice that. Newark is even more. While it has crummy public transport options and is a complete dump, there's something to be said for a small airport that's close to home.

One of the big downsides to LaGuardia, though, is that there's a perimeter limit on the airport – Denver is about as far as you can fly. The Wall Street Journal says that this rule might be lifted soon though.

I'm really curious what routes this could enable. People thought Virgin America was crazy when they decided to launch Newark–Los Angeles service when they already offered JFK–LAX flights, but the Newark flights quickly became profitable, so I'm wondering what the conventional wisdom here even is. Given that, I'm wondering if the fancy domestic First Class planes might do well there (United PS, JetBlue Mint) considering how business people love LaGuardia's quick access to midtown by cab.

The article mentions that it could become a destination for international flights from airports with USA pre-clearance facilities (e.g., Montreal, Dublin). Now if only they could actually build this beautiful proposed update to the place! Oh, and put in an AirTrain to Jackson Heights, NOT Willets Point and we'd be all set!

Monday, March 2, 2015

JetBlue Mint, 6 months in...

I've been a cheerleader for JetBlue Mint since it launched in Summer 2014. The legacy carriers had all upgraded their premium SFO/LAX-JFK service to lie-flat beds in the past 2 years when JetBlue came along and one-upped them by adding closing-door suites on their first foray into premium cabins. I snagged an introductory $499 flight from LAX back in August and I flew them again on a round trip this past week, JFK-LAX was at 11am, the flight home was a redeye that landed at 5:07am.

Here's a few of the things that changed between August and February:
  1. United, Delta, and American have all dropped their fares on this route from $3500 round-trip to about $2300. I love competition!
  2. JetBlue listened to feedback and upgraded to much better headphones (Brooklyn-made Grado SR60e headphones)
  3. The LAX departure gate now has several of the JFK T5-style high counters with lots of power plugs so people can charge their devices and work while they wait.
  4. They've added a coat check service to T5 so you don't have to schlep your coat around with you when you fly from JFK to warm destinations.  UPDATE: This closed late 2015
What hasn't changed:
  1. Service, food, Wi-Fi, and seats are still unquestionably the best of any US carrier.
  2. The legacy carriers are still racing to find new ways to nickel-and-dime even their best customers while offering a substandard experience in the air. 
  3. JetBlue still doesn't offer lounge access.
  4. The Birch Box amenity kit still has an odd assortment of things, most of which you don't need in-flight
This was my first redeye flight on Mint and I should point out that they have limited, 3-item "prix fixe" menu on those flights, followed by a hot breakfast sandwich with fruit prior to arrival. The seats also have a "do not disturb" button in case you'd like more sleep instead of a sandwich :) I arrived just as the coat check was opening and had no trouble jumping right into a cab back to Manhattan, even at that early hour. 

RIP: JFK T5 coat check

new Grado headphones!

lunch appetizer


semi-pursuant to this post, i decided to ask for seconds on the beets :P

lunch menu

lunch drinks

redeye menu

One of the most useful amenity kit items EVAR!