Showing posts from 2018

Warning: new Uber payment bucket breaks Amex Platinum credits

While I do love me a good Amex Offer as much as the next person, I despise how they rely on "breakage" for so many of their card benefits – i.e., they intentionally erect flaming hoops customers have to jump through with the hope that most people won't be bothered.

The Platinum card's Uber benefit is a prime example – a $15 credit (with a one-month expiration date) is added to your account at the beginning of each month. Since upgrading to the platinum six-ish months ago, I've had nothing but trouble trying to use this credit. Considering many people only use Uber for expensive rides to the airport, i'd vastly prefer a $90 credit every six months to this ridiculous setup.

(Sidenote: since you can only use this Uber credit for rides in the US, I'd prefer it be a Lyft credit)

I'll spare you my tale of white lady woe and just warn you that they recently made another big change that thwarted me yet again – they added a payment option called "Uber Ca…

Korean Airlines availability

I love Korean Air's Skypass mileage program, and let me tell you the top 3 reasons why: availability, availability, availability. Sadly, booking award travel with most airlines usually involves major compromises on dates. If you want that Saver reward seat on the cool new plane with the lie-flat seat and the fancy champagne and the amazing lounge, it means you're going to have to cut your trip short by several days, or waste a day and a half of your trip flying a 2-stop itinerary through cities you don't want to stop in. With Korean, there was always at least one flight every single day with open Business or First seats so you never had to compromise like that.

Furthermore, Incheon airport's luggage storage service meant you could intentionally schedule yourself a 10-hour layover and then hop into Seoul for a graze through the Namdaemun market and a stroll through Cheonggyecheon before heading onward to Tokyo or Manila or Taipei.

Well then the Sapphire Reser…

I saved $400 on a domestic flight by BUYING Amex points

I needed to go from NYC to Louisville, KY and I couldn't find dates and times on the direct flight I wanted for less than $735 in Economy. I looked at other options, but even a 2 stop itinerary at crappy flight times was still well north of $500.

I poked around a bit on British Airways' website and found a great 15,000 point option for a direct American Airlines flight with exactly the dates and times I wanted. But there was one small problem: my BA and Amex point balances were both near zero.

I'd read recently that Amex started selling Membership Rewards points again (they'd stopped for a while) so I called in to inquire about buying some. The agent informed they're 2.5¢ each and there's an annual cap on how many you can buy. He also told me you can only do this by phone and only as part of an actual points transfer to an airline that the Amex rep initiates for you.

With that awesome 40% transfer bonus happening right now, I only needed 11,000 miles for this …

Time to re-evaluate our credit card lineup

Despite being active on Reddit's credit card churning forums, I don't actually churn very often. Our vacation time is throttled by work, and if I earn too many points beyond what I need, I get tempted to do stupid things with them.

The other looming variable on the horizon is that JetBlue's Mint has become so wildly successful that United's competing P.S. service is now occasionally pricing out well below Mint in my husband's employer's travel portal, which might mean he'll have to start flying United again

Right now I have:
Platinum AmexChase Sapphire ReserveJetBlue Plus Mastercard Authorized User card on my husband's account My husband has:
an Authorized User card on my Amex Platinumhis own Chase Sapphire ReserveJetBlue Plus cardStarwood Luxury card  JetBlue, verdict: Keep The nice thing about the JetBlue card is that it's from Barclays, and it supports a mode called "Chip + Signature with PIN backup". In my personal experience, this l…

Using Amex transfer bonus for great intra-Asia redemptions

We're going to Japan to ride the Shiki Shima train and I've booked the long legs of the trip: New York to Hong Kong and then Taipei to New York (we're bookending the trip to Japan with long weekends in two of our favorite places). But now we need to book the short legs between those two places and Japan.

One of my weak spots with booking award travel is doing crazy-but-legal routings and stopovers. I'd used British Airways points for the Hong Kong leg, and BA prices all award travel by leg so there were no points to be saved by spending an hour on the phone with a call center trying to get an agent to book me a single flight with a multi-day layover in Hong Kong en route to Japan. (TIP: There's a great online Avios calculator here).

Hong Kong to Tokyo I priced out the flights and found a lot of Ultra Low Cost Carriers (ULCC) offering this flight for US$150-ish (a.k.a. $350 once you pay the surcharges for seats, bags, oxygen, and toilets), but we wanted to fly in B…

Getting to Japan for the Shiki-Shima trip

Given that we paid for the only big international trip we've taken this year, our points balances have been growing. When we got the good news about the Shiki Shimi lottery, our point balances totaled 1.3 million across all programs. Since the mantra is "earn and burn", it was time to blow some of these before the next round of devaluations happens.

Buy My normal process is to hit up Google Flights to make sure we aren't missing a great deal. Long story short: there were no great deals, even with us being super flexible about how we got there – Manila, Seoul, Singapore, Hong Kong, or Taipei all would have been great connection points.

At this point I should mention a couple of general rules about purchasing flights to Asia:
One ways cost as much as (or more) than round-trips, so make sure you have some kind of plan for how you're getting back if you decide to buy only one leg on points.Direct flights always cost more. Fly to Manila through Taipei: $2500; fly that…

Sweet! We won the Shiki Shima lottery!

Japan has a number of fun, tourist-oriented excursion trains – vintage steam locomotives, open-air summer trains, Sanrio and anime-themed trains, and high-end luxury "cruise" trains.

A couple years ago, the latest and greatest version of the latter was announced – the four seasons Shiki Shima cruise train. Rather than relying on vintage looks, the Shiki Shima is boldly modern. There are two "cruises" you can take – a 2 day and a 4 day. There's a view car, a gorgeous restaurant, a bar, and the entire train only holds 34 passengers!

Given that Japan is a nation of train nerds, demand was insane despite the sky-high prices. They implemented a lottery system for people hoping to buy tickets. With both of our 50th birthdays coming up, I decided to enter for a shot at this amazing experience. I've been on pins and needles for the past 3 months, but the email arrived a couple of days ago:

I had originally planned to keep this a surprise, but given the vast number…

Sad Trombone: JetBlue is adding Basic Economy

JetBlue posted on their blog today that they're going to continue the race to the bottom and add Basic Economy. (I predicted this would happen). While this makes me sad, we've seen mountains of data that show most passengers won't pay extra for a nicer experience in the cabin.

They haven't figured out all of the details yet, but it sounds like their messaging is going to be about letting people have JetBlue's superior experience for the same price as flying Spirit or Frontier. While I'm sure it'll be cheaper than JetBlue's regular fares, I've found that Basic Economy on the legacy carriers is still priced higher than flying an Ultra Low Cost Carrier.

The unfortunate reality is that their existing customers will be getting a taste of that ULCC spirit when JetBlue finishes retrofitting all of their old A320 planes. Their industry-leading 34" seat pitch in Economy is dropping to 32", and they're shrinking the lavatories to accommodate a d…

TRIP REPORT: Alaska Airlines 737 Newark to Portland in Business Class (EWR - PDX)

Unremarkable domestic trans-con flight in 38” first class recliners. Friendly flight attendants, uncommunicative pilots.  
ProsAlaska miles are versatile Power at seat in Business ClassFree messaging on wi-fiSalt and Straw ice creamFriendly FAsSnack basket + candy before landing ConsNewark terminal has indoor porta-potties instead of bathrooms No seatback entertainment, they hand out a small tablet PC instead. 70 minutes from boarding to wheels up with zero communication from flight deck about why we were delayedNo food choice (I guess I'm having the vegetable pasta!)Complimentary upgrades means Business Class is always fullAlaska refuses to enforce the "use the lavatory in your ticketed cabin" ruleWi-fi is very expensive: $39.99 for Gogo's slow-go internet TipsSit near the front of the Business Class section if you'd like to have a choice of meal How I did it$502 for a one-way flight. I chose this primarily due to the flight time clicking well with my schedule i…

Alaska Airlines has reached peak doublespeak

I honestly have no words to explain the email I got from Alaska Airlines today. It's an email proudly announcing the removal of the big First Class recliners (with 58" of legroom!) from the ex-Virgin America planes and their replacement with run-of-the-mill 38" slimline (i.e., minimal padding) seats. But y'know, the airline industry has gotten so Orwellian in their marketing lately that I wouldn't have otherwise made a fuss over it.

But then I read THIS paragraph:

Now at this point, I actually starting poking at the email headers to make sure it hadn't come from The Onion or some other news satire site. Is this what we've come to? Giving people a glass of water on a plane is now cause for a customer-wide email with this as a pull-quote?

We can't be more than a few months away from this now, can we?

Crazy Rich Asians tour of Singapore!

I've been wanting to go to Singapore for years and two big things have been pushing me toward finally doing it: the return of the world's longest flight (NYC – SIN), and the blockbuster summer movie Crazy Rich Asians. (Go see it if you haven't yet!) I would have seen the movie even if one of my besties wasn't in a starring role, but I think him being in it did get me interested in reading the books that the movie is based on.

Fair warning: those books make you huuuungry, so don't read them on an empty stomach! If you follow my Instagram you probably know that food is a huge part of why I travel, and I want to go everywhere in the book and graze for days! Of course some enterprising folks in Singapore have already put together a "Crazy Rich Asians Tour" that probably has some similarities to the "Sex and the City" tours that we occasionally run into here in New York.

It's called artistic license, Brian As I mentioned in my Trip Report, I was …

Tokyo's Tsukiji Market is moving Oct 11th

The amazing Tsukiji market is one of Tokyo's biggest tourist attractions. We've been hearing for years now that it's going to move because of the Olympics. Then it wasn't. Then it was, but to a totally different place much closer. Well, now that we have an official date less than 3 months away for the move, I'm thinking it's about time to start accepting this as reality. 

If you look at the map it's moving to a nearby infill island called Toyosu 40 minutes walk from the existing market. There are quite a few other attractions out in this area, so maybe visit the Miraikan science museum or the giant Gundam while you're there. The two main ways to get there are: Take the Yurakacho line to Toyosu station, then switch to the Yurikamome line for Shijo-Mae station.Take the Saikyo line to Kokusai-Tenjijo and then transfer to the Ariake station on the Yurikamome line to reach Shijo-Mae. If you're on Tokyo's west side (e.g., Shinjuku) this option has few…

Hotel Review: Hilton Waikoloa Village

We unexpectedly needed a hotel near Waikoloa for 2 nights and booked the Hilton Waikoloa Village day-of largely due to it being the cheapest on Kayak.

In one sentence:If I had kids I might consider staying here. But if you don't, I wouldn't.

Our room was listed at $256 but at checkout the rate was actually $100 more due to mandatory resort and parking fees and other miscellaneous charges

This hotel is the size of Disneyland, so the walk from the parking lot to our room was fully 20 minutes for able-bodied pushy New Yokers :) Yes, there's a super-cool tram from reception, but at 10pm the wait for the tram was 15 minutes.

This hotel is clearly aimed at people with kids. The bar in our wing of the hotel closes at 10pm. If you want to walk 15 minutes back to the main wing, the bar there stays open until midnight. After that, and you have to drive back into town.

Despite this hotel being very popular with Japanese tourists, the beautiful spa/onsen closes at 8pm, so …