Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Beware hotel resort fees


During our recent trip to Hawaii, we found ourselves suddenly in need of a hotel in Kona. I fired up Kayak and Hotel Tonight and Hilton Waikoloa Village was the cheapest option. But once we arrived it became clear that quoted price of $256 was just the beginning.

The hotel has a mandatory $30 a day "Resort Fee" per room. For that $30 you get:


On top of the resort fee, you have to pay $30 a day for parking. Since it's on a private road there's literally no option to park in a public space and then walk to the hotel. The only parking lot is a full 20 minute walk from our room, so it's clear that you're supposed to spring for the valet option which costs even more. (And if you're not a complete cheapskate, you can also add in a tip for the valet each time s/he fetches the car for you as you come and go).

Now, given how far away your car is, you're also somewhat captive there, and they completely take advantage of this fact: a single, Don Julio silver margarita was $17 before tax and tip. So you're going to be paying midtown Manhattan prices for literally everything.

Now, add standard hotel and sales tax, and our price out the door (without bar or food tab) was more like $330 a night.

When we booked our previous hotel in Honolulu, I used my AARP discount to save as much on our base hotel rate as the resort fee they tacked on. Unfortunately Hilton's AARP rate for same-day, peak reservations wasn't any cheaper than the normal rate. I wish hotels and rental cars were subject to the same laws that airlines are about publishing prices, but given our current political environment, I doubt this will happen anytime soon.






Sunday, March 19, 2017

Trip Report: New York to Honolulu on Delta 495 JFK-HNL First Class

PROS
  • Wi-Fi (with some freebies for T-mobile customers)
  • Very competitive fare in First
  • Lie-flat seat
  • Great service
  • Surprisingly good food and bev
  • Personal air vents
  • Convenient time – leave JFK at 9am, land HNL at 3pm. Direct 10 hour flight

CONS
  • Lots of vacationers = Noisy flight
  • Seasonal, so both United and Hawaiian's prices jump up when service ends in mid-March

(NOTE: the return flight was nearly identical – crew, plane, and even a bunch of the passengers, so no need for a separate review. It's a redeye leaving HNL at 5pm and landing JFK at 9am. Menu from that flight is in the food section)

 

How I did it

$1712 per-person round-trip. Details here, but the short story is that there's basically zero premium cabin award seats on this route, and none at the Saver level. I'll earn a total of ≈ 8,000 Delta miles and 7,000 American Express points for this flight (i.e., around $225 worth of points).

 

Boarding

The gate agent was fantastic at managing the chaotic gaggle of gate lice into two orderly lines: premium and everyone else. Disabled and Diamond Medallion members were allowed pre-boarding.

We boarded at the center of the plane so that made boarding a bit more calm than on, say, JetBlue Mint where everyone boards by walking through First. That said, it's still a 40 person First Class cabin with lots of tourists, families, and old folks so it was still pretty hectic. This 767 has an updated cabin with modern overhead bins and lie-flat seats. Delta's seats are very open so they don't feel as private as some of their international competitors. The window seats in odd-numbered rows feel a bit more private than the even-numbered ones.

A Westin pillow and blanket were waiting for me at my seat, as was a Tumi amenity kit, a bottle of water, and a packet of almonds.

Pre-departure Mai-tais, orange juice, and water were served (Who cares if it's 9am!) Menus came out and I was greeted by name when the FA came to take my order.

Westin pillow and blanket, Tumi amenity kit, headphones, almonds, and water at our seats

an ethernet jack?!

yay for gaspers!
40-ish people in the First Class cabin

seats are fully lie-flat but the leg hole is a little tight...

Mai-tai at 9am? Don't mind if I do!


This plane also has new, higher-speed GoGo Wi-Fi – $9.95 for a whole-flight pass or $3 for 30 minutes. T-Mobile users get free text and chat plus one free hour of internet access.

T-mobile customers get a few free Wi-Fi perks

Food

Lunch was served about 90 minutes into the flight. The flavors were more interesting than I was expecting... maybe all this Food Network mania in the US is finally improving the national palette. I had the lamb and it was quite tasty. I also had the ice cream because nothing on vacation has calories, right? The tray table is innovative, but its design requires you to move everything off of your workspace to open it.

Lunch menu (click to enlarge)
Beverage menu
I had the lamb

Cuban sandwich for pre-landing snack
Chocolate ice cream
An hour or two after the first meal service the flight attendants came through with a snack basket. For the pre-landing lunch I had the cuban sandwich and another Mai Tai, both were tasty. Delta's food has been hit and miss for me, but their hot sandwiches have all been consistently good.

The return flight is a redeye. We had a 3 hour layover from our flight from Kona, so I decided to skip the in-flight meal and instead eat at the fabulous Nico's Pier 38 (which is quite close to the airport, actually). Once we were airborne I went straight to sleep. Besides taste, the other reason for skipping in the flight meal is that a 3pm dinner in HNL is right around my normal 9pm dinnertime in NYC and I've found that the timed-fasting thing really does help with my jetlag.

Had some fairly restful sleep and woke up 90 minutes before landing.  Gotta say the breakfast was the best I've ever had on an American airline. The fruit was so perfect I thought I was on ANA or Korean!

Pre-landing oatmeal breakfast
Return flight menu

On both flights we all got chocolate-covered macadamia nuts just before landing.

aww nuts!

On the ground

Lyft and Uber are both quite popular in Honolulu. Lyft isn't allowed to pick you up at the airport; neither is Uber, but apparently they're doing it anyway.  Both can drop you off at HNL no problem. Prices are similar to New York or San Francisco.





Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Next trip to Japan on ANA with Virgin Atlantic miles?

We love Japan and have been wanting to go back, but it's tough with American employer standards for annual vacation days 😜. At this point we're hoping for a couple of weeks in Autumn and I suuuure wouldn't mind repeating our ANA First Class flight! We're both fresh out of United miles, though, so that means we'd need to either:
  • transfer Chase points to United and do a partner redemption, or
  • transfer Amex points to ANA and redeem with them or
  • something a bit more obscure...
Well, looking through one of Reddit's travel forums today I was reminded of an option I'd completely forgotten about: Virgin Atlantic. Not only are their partner redemptions for ANA very reasonably-priced, Virgin can accept incoming transfers from both American Express AND Chase Sapphire. According to this link and this link, the transfers are instantaneous.

Apparently people are using United.com to check individual dates for ANA availability and then calling Virgin to book (they don't have online partner reward booking yet on Virgin's site). Again, I've never done this myself (this person has), but it sounds like a great option despite their recent devaluation and new peak dates policy.

So I created a new Flying Club account, searched United for Saver First Class availability on ANA and called Virgin's main US number. I had a live person on the phone with about a 5 minute wait and he was able to confirm the availability and price: 120,000 Virgin miles + US$85 for a round-trip flight in First! (United charges 220,000 points + $11 for that same ANA flight!). The agent offered to put the flight on hold for 72 hours until my points could be transferred in.

Sadly, though, a family emergency arose and the dates I'd chosen didn't work any longer, but I wanted to mention it since it's such a great deal compared to booking that very same flight with United.

Once I get new dates for the trip I'll definitely keep this option in mind!





jetBlue Plus MasterCard 10% point rebate is for primary cardholders only

One of the perks of the JetBlue Plus MasterCard is a 10% rebate any time you redeem JetBlue points for travel. My husband and I are in a family pool, and I'm a cardholder on his MasterCard account. I was looking at his points activity, and yep, his 1100 point Even More Space upgrade had a rebate a few weeks later called "B6 CoBrand Card Redemption Bonus".


A few months ago, I had redeemed 42,000 points for a trip but saw no such rebate. After a call to both JetBlue and Barclays I can confirm that only the primary cardholder gets the 10% rebate. ☹️

As I've mentioned before, we set up the family pooling with me as Head of Household, and that was a mistake. The customer service folks at JetBlue were very kind about helping me finally fix that mistake today, but they made sure to point out that doing all of this point moving and changing the Head of Household was something they only did for people with Mosaic status. Non-Mosaic members can only change their family pool once a year, so they'd have to just close the family pool altogether and open a new one under the new Head of Household member's account.


Mosaic has a few unwritten perks...

Related
Which JetBlue card should you get?



Sunday, March 5, 2017

BEWARE: Deceptive advertising on American Express Travel's website

I have an American Express Premier Rewards Gold card which I often use for airfare because it has a 3x category bonus for airfare. Amex offers an additional point if you book your flight through their travel portal, giving you a total of 4 points per dollar spent on airfare. When I was booking our Hawaii trip, I noticed that one of the itineraries has this "Featured" box around it, indicating that I'd get 2x points (versus the normal 1x point, I thought). Imagine my surprise when the trip only earned the normal amount of miles...

Well, after a long and drawn out conversation with the staff at American Express, it's their position that the wording in this box does NOT mean 3x points + 2x points for 5x points. They stand firmly by the fact that I was only entitled to 4x points on this trip – the exact same amount I would have earned for a non-"featured itinerary". I was logged in as myself when I booked, so there's no excuse for singling out certain flights as earning more when they don't.

As far as I see it, Amex tricked me out of 3424 points (I bought two tickets at $1712 each). The searches I screen-capped here are from today, so they're still doing this.

Itinerary listing – some are highlighted as earning more







When you click the question mark in the listing, this is the explanation


UPDATE: And their explanation from their Twitter account after seeing this post:
So I get 4x no matter what, and the "Featured" means nothing...




Friday, March 3, 2017

I'd forgotten all about those Plenti points!

With "gamification" being a huge buzzword across so many industries these past few years, it seems like nearly every business now offers some kind of rewards program. There's always a "time/effort versus payback" calculation with things so when I looked at American Express' Plenti program a couple of years ago, it definitely fell into the "not worth effort" column.

We do spend an ungodly amount of money on our AT&T cell phone bill, so I thought, "well, I'll sign up for Plenti and link the AT&T account and maybe 3 years from now I'll have enough points for a latte"… Fast forward to yesterday. I'm by a Rite Aid and think, "we're almost out of Tide" so I pop in there and the guy says, "would you like to pay with your Plenti points?" and, well:


My Tide and my Cascade were free! and I still have $30 left in my account. (Do note that you have to go to RiteAid.com and sign up for their Wellness+ account and then link it to your Plenti account to redeem).


Signup for JetBlue double-base points


JetBlue announced a promo where you get double base points (base points also count toward Mosaic status). Register and book by March 23rd, fly by April 30th. Registration is required. If you're not already a member, they're currently running a 5000 point signup bonus. They also routinely have great fare sales like this one.




Thursday, March 2, 2017

Amex polishes up their platinum card to compete with Chase Sapphire

Ever since the Chase Sapphire Reserve came out, people have been waiting for Amex to respond. A few months back they bumped up the airfare bonus on their Platinum card to 5 points per dollar, but we've all been expecting a bigger announcement to generate some actual word-of-mouth buzz among the travel nerd community.

Well, last night they announced their new Platinum card and the general response this morning has been, "Wait, really? Oh. Um... No."

The fee goes up $100 a year, but you get $200 a year in Uber driving credits now. As I've said many times, one of the things I love about the Chase Reserve card is how easy they make it to spend your annual travel credit and how refreshing it is compared to Amex's hokey requirements that seem designed to bamboozle you out of using them. The bamboozling continues with this new card:
  • Uber credits are only good in the USA
  • You get a $15 credit each month that expires at the end of that month
  • The credit is aimed at attracting Millennials but didn't anyone notice the big Delete Uber movement last month? 

The card is made of metal now. Lots of cards are made of metal now so I don't think the Vegas VIP lounge waitress is going to swoon for your faux Centurion card, sorry. Sidenote: I forgot my card at a restaurant while traveling. I'd already canceled and replaced the card but when the manager offered to just "cut the card up and toss it" he kinda couldn't do that. Yes, the card comes with a return mailer, but that wouldn't have helped here.

5x on Hotel spending. The problem here is that you have to book through Amex's travel portal, which means you won't earn any points with the hotel's own loyalty program. Further, one of the biggest perks of getting a platinum card is for Amex's Fine Hotels and Resorts program but guess what? No 5x on those!

New Centurion lounges. Philly and Hong Kong are getting American Express lounges. While they've generally gotten good reviews from frequent fliers, they're also prone to overcrowding. Furthermore, at a big airport most people don't want to go to a pre-security lounge that's likely in a different terminal than the one they're departing from.

What they don't grasp is that when the Chase Reserve came out it was such an absolute no-brainer. If you'd like a no-brainer Amex Platinum:
  1. Make it easier to spend those annual credits
  2. 100,000 signup bonus
  3. Minimum 3x category bonuses for all travel and dining
  4. One "hot" category – like their 5x on airfare.
  5. Centurion and Priority Pass access
  6. Something innovative in their point redemption process: for example, I'd love a super-quick portal where I could compare and book airline reward tickets (not those 1-point-per-dollar ticket purchases, I mean actual award tickets) that let me completely skip all of the cumbersome searching and point transferring.
For now, I'm keeping my Premier Rewards Business Gold card, largely because my company does a lot of shipping and it has a bonus on FedEx spending.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Fantastic point transfer chart

Somehow I missed this amazing chart that's been floating around for a couple of years now!

It's a visualization of all of the airlines (grouped around the edges by alliance) and the transferable points programs in the middle. Lines connect the various programs so you can quickly see which points can go where. 

Somehow this manages to both make my head hurt AND clarify a complex tree all at once.

Here's the master post (scroll down after the click to view)
Very cool welltraveledmile.com!

Click thumbnail to visit the original post and view full-size...