Thursday, July 28, 2016

American Family Association livid with Hilton for ad showing two men together

I don't normally post much about hotels, but we do have a bunch of Hilton Honors points because the nearest hotel to my husband's office in California is a Hilton. It's always nice when the place you chose without much research turns out to be "a friend of the family".

Hotel points always have such a wide range of potential redemption values which can make using them maddening... But I managed to find a great one last week when we went to Portland for unexpected family business – 20,000 points per night for a hotel that would have otherwise been $184 per night. That's about 5x better than any of the redemption options I was seeing when looking for a place in London for our August trip.

More info over on Towleroad.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Wall Street Journal speculating that JetBlue will add flights to Europe

Wall Street Journal is speculating that JetBlue's options for new A321LR planes could mean they're entering the transatlantic market. Discount carrier Norwegian Airlines has ordered these planes for their "short long haul" routes.

I would love to see JetBlue do for transatlantic travel what they've done for domestic transcontinental service with their Mint product: raise the bar for service, comfort, and amenities while offering dramatic savings over legacy carriers. Honestly the entry of Norwegian, WOW, WestJet, and other low cost carriers (LCCs) hasn't been interesting at all to me. If I'm flying from the East Coast to Western Europe I just want a nighttime flight with a stiff drink and a lie-flat bed and none of the LCCs are offering anything in this space. In fact, I actually find it irritating that Norwegian and Iceland Air show up in Google/Kayak's Business Class searches when what they're offering is obviously Premium Economy.

JetBlue would probably need to expand their partnerships so they could offer connecting service from Dublin, London, Paris (or wherever the range of this plane permits), but I'm thinking if they offer Mint starting at $799 each way it would be an absolute no-brainer even without good connecting options. I could just transfer to an LCC for the final 1-ish hour flight to my final destination.

I mean, I love you Iceland Air but this isn't Business Class...

I'd love a transatlantic Mint suite!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

JetBlue Virgin points match showed up PLUS new Alaska routes

A few months ago, JetBlue and Alaska were both vying to purchase Virgin America. In the end, Alaska won but most people think they overpaid by about half a billion dollars. Both airlines' responses since the purchase have been, uh, interesting.

A few weeks ago, JetBlue decided to run a points match challenge, where people with Virgin America miles could email them a screenshot of their Virgin account and if you took one JetBlue round trip before the end of August, JetBlue would match the miles in your Virgin account (with a few very reasonable asterisks here and there). Well, my status match came through today and my recent flight to Portland yielded me around $500 worth of free JetBlue points!

Free $500? Yes, please!

In other, somewhat-related news, Alaska just announced that they'll be taking advantage of newly-opened slots at Newark (EWR) and adding 4 new flights there from the West coast. Then, a couple days later, Virgin announced they'd also be adding additional Newark flights! I don't quite get the logic here, since Virgin already flies out of Newark and Alaska doesn't... like why not just add Virgin flights to those routes? Narrow-body planes on a transcontinental flights aren't fun to begin with, but at least Virgin has a vastly better First Class on their planes than on anything United (or Delta) is flying to those destinations. Alaska's planes have the same Crappy Domestic First that most of United's do. No idea what the thinking is here. I'd heard one person float the idea that all of Virgin's planes could be refreshed to lie-flat First + Premium Economy configuration and have it be a luxury brand while leaving Alaska to be the "work horse" airline. Can I just say that I'm totally in favor of that :)

Start date
City pair
Nov. 10, 2016
6:55 a.m.
2:55 p.m.

3:55 p.m.
7:05 p.m.
Nov. 21, 2016
San Diego-Newark
9:55 a.m.
5:55 p.m.

Newark-San Diego
7:00 p.m.
10:00 p.m.
Mar. 12, 2017
San Jose-Newark
6:30 a.m.
2:55 p.m.

Newark-San Jose
4:05 p.m.
7:40 p.m.
May 14, 2017
11:50 p.m.
8:06 a.m.
May 15, 2017
9:30 a.m.
12:25 p.m.

I love the idea of Virgin becoming a boutique luxury brand!

Friday, July 22, 2016

a couple quick notes about my JetBlue JFK – PDX "Even More Space" flight

I don't usually do a trip report for a domestic Economy flight, but I wanted to make a couple of quick notes about our recent flight between New York (JFK) and Portland, Oregon (PDX). The plane leaves NYC in the early evening, flies direct to Portland then turns around and comes back as a redeye. We took advantage of my husband's Mosaic status to upgrade to Even More Space for 800 JetBlue points per leg. Our September flight to Seattle was nearly identical. 
  • The old Airbus A320 had no at-seat power, but it did have fast, free Wi-Fi. According to this post, only 31 of their 230 planes have at-seat power in regular Economy Class seats (the planes with Mint First Class cabins)
  • Hot/fresh food for purchase in Economy is available only on Mint planes. A snack box it is…
  • Regular Economy seats on JetBlue have as much legroom (34") as United/Delta/AA have in their Economy Plus cabins. 
  • JetBlue's Even More Space option gives you 38" – as much as most domestic First Class has
  • While we love the legroom, it's a world of difference when there's only two of you in the row
  • Despite what their program guide tells you, their DirecTV does show the Tour de France!
  • My seatback TV was broken so the flight attendant let me drink for free the whole flight
  • They take Apple Pay on board
  • You get half off in-flight purchases when buying with your JetBlue Mastercard
  • Neck pillows and blankets for sale
  • Free eyeshades and earplugs in Economy on redeye flights. Lots of their eastbound transcons are redeyes. 

JetBlue's regular A320 planes (no First/Mint class)
38" seats in Even More Space

Gah! only on Mint planes have hot food! As of July 2017, there are new snackboxes

Yay Tour de France! (and yes, me and the hubby shared one set of headphones and watched it together on his TV)

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

People in your JetBlue Family Pool can use your companion discount

Random corner-case trivia note here, but I was fairly certain this wouldn't work when I first set out to try...

  • My husband and I have a JetBlue family pool. 
  • He has Mosaic status, I do not. 
  • I have a JetBlue credit card, he does not. 
  • As one of the perks of the JetBlue Master Card, I get a $100 discount on a companion fare.
  • But since he's Mosaic and we love the 800-point upgrades to Even More Space, we usually try to book under his account when we travel together 

I'm pleased to report that my companion discount worked just fine when we logged in and booked the tickets from his account. So yes, other people in your JetBlue family pool can use your JetBlue Master Card companion discount. 

Hiton Honors Point transfers with Amtrak now Elite-only

I just hung up with an Amtrak phone rep and she informed me that their transfer program to Hilton Honors is now only available to people with Elite status with Amtrak. If you look at this chart, I guess you could sort of infer that the blank space means that it's not possible...

Amtrak moved to a more revenue-based model for their points system last year. Points are now worth around 2.5 to 2.9¢ each. While the program changes were generally all bad, at least they got rid of their blackout dates.

Given how little domestic NE travel we've been doing, I wanted to transfer the points over to Hilton before they expired. We aren't big chain hotel people, but my husband ends up with a ton of Hilton points due to his work so we occasionally spend them once we have the 100,000 points you need to get a single night free 😜.  Hilton's website doesn't mention the restriction, but their website is so terrible that it doesn't surprise me at all that it's out of date.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Planning for a summer wedding in England

A dear friend is getting married in the English countryside in August so I waited to buy my ticket in anticipation of the usual Business Class fare sales that happen in spring. Sadly this year they didn't really come – there were lots of little bits of availability from specific airlines here and there, but none for my dates and destination. For this trip, I'd probably pay cash if I could find a Business Class seat for $2000-ish or less.

Headed to the English countryside...
The flight from New York City to London is honestly too short. Even if you eat before takeoff the most you'll get is about 4 hours of sleep. (Though when I took the crazy cool London City flight, I opted for the complimentary arrival service and managed to sneak in an extra hour of sleep at the spa...) Thanks to low fuel prices British Airways has kept many of their old 747s on this route, and there's few things I like more than getting my 4 hours of sleep the upstairs Business Class "tree fort". While I'm really unhappy with British Airways' credit card (canceled), astronomical reward co-pays, and horrible Customer Service systems, we still have one of their near-useless Travel Together certificates in our account so I made sure I checked that option in addition to all the others. 

I saw over on Lucky's blog a couple weeks ago that BA had great Business Class fares so I checked my dates and, alas, the best I could do for a direct flight in Business was around $3200 per person. I tried lots of different options and just couldn't get anything with a reasonable dollar or points redemption.
Sidenote: can I just say that it seems somewhat dishonest that Kayak shows Iceland Air and Norwegian Business Class fares for this route side-by-side with the other carriers? They both offer something called Business but it's clearly Premium Economy...
So after lots of poking around I ended up using the Travel Together certificate + 130,000 miles and + $2300 in fees for a Business Class there, First Class back flight for two of us (i.e., 65,000 Avios + $1150 per person). Most of the flights back from London are daytime flights, so you can actually appreciate the better food and service in First Class. We did this a couple years ago and really enjoyed it so we decided it was worth the extra miles.
$3200 per person last week
A friend once said, "the stock market is like Vegas except you get to see what happened at the table after you left and there's no free drinks". Sometimes I feel that way about point chasing... Not a week had gone by after booking my fare and I see an announcement that BA was expanding their summer Business Class fares... So of course I looked and yyyup! ouch! Business Class on my dates is now $2200. I've often said this is a hobby for people with more time than money and at I definitely don't have the time (or the patience!) to spend an hour on hold trying to get through to BA's legendarily-horrible customer service line. Further, since I transferred Amex points into my BA account, I'd end up with a pile of BA miles rather than the much-more-flexible Amex points I started with. Oy. Well, you win some, you lose some :)

Argh! One week later and the flight is $1000 cheaper!