Sunday, July 29, 2012

Summer of Travel 2012: Germany (Part 3 - Le Meridien Munich)

(Don't forget to check out Part 1, Getting to Hamburg here and Part 2, Hamburg here)

Upon arriving in Munich, I hopped in a taxi and made my way to the Meridien Munich. It was the closest hotel to where I needed to be for work, and fortunately enough, also happened to be in a great location for exploring the city during my downtime!

I checked in, and was upgraded to a Junior Suite. It was a nice room, but I always get a chuckle out of the use of the term "suite" in these cases. In my experience, "junior suite" is more accurately translated as "over-sized regular hotel room".

Junior "suite" at the Meridien Munich...
...aka "over-sized regular hotel room"
It had a view of what looked to be a very nice interior courtyard, though I didn't spend enough time at the hotel to have an opportunity to check it out:

View from the room

Saturday, July 28, 2012

17,560 Delta SkyMiles for Buying Pet Food!

Earlier this week, Deals We Like broke the news that PetCareRx was offering 40 Delta SkyMiles for every dollar spent. Unfortunately, the deal is now dead - but for those that were able to get in on it, it offered tremendous bang for your buck. I value SkyMiles at about 1.25 cents each (and that's a conservative estimate), so 40 miles is easily 50% back off the purchase price!

While some took full advantage by buying an abundance of non-perishable pet supplies, and then flipping them around on eBay or other sites, I opted to go a bit more conservative, and just buy as much food as I knew we'd be able to use in the next year or so. The total came to about $439, which should've netted 17,560 SkyMiles. Sure enough, checking my balances this morning there they were:

(click image to expand)

That was fast!

For context, it takes 25,000 to book a domestic flight using SkyMiles, 35,000 to book a flight to Central America or the Caribbean, and 60,000 to book a flight to Europe (round trip economy for all, assuming availability at the low redemption level).

As a bonus, this purchase is a big help toward hitting the spend minimum on my new BofA Hawaiian Airlines Visa. $1000 in the first 4 months nets an extra 15,000 Hawaiian Air miles miles, on top of the 20,000 I got after my first purchase. This card was one of three I just opened in my last round of credit card applications, which you can read more about here.

If you want to hear about these types of deals before they get shutdown, make sure to follow me on Twitter, where I post more frequently than here.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Summer of Travel 2012: Germany (Part 2 - Hamburg)

(Don't forget to check out Part 1, Getting to Hamburg here)

The first leg of my trip was in Hamburg, and I stayed at the Royal Meridien Hamburg. As the only Starwood hotel in town, it was a pretty easy decision to make - and the great rate I was able to get certainly didn't hurt!

I checked in, and received a slight upgrade to a lake view room due to my Platinum status with Starwood. Unfortunately, the dreary weather didn't allow me to take in the full effect - but it was still a pretty nice view!

View of the lake from my room

The room itself was pretty nice, and had some unique design elements that I thought provided a nice touch.

Spotted in the wild: A proper bed in a European hotel!
As evidenced by the last two photos, they really have a thing for angular chairs

Time to Update Your Bookmarks

Hi there boys and girls.

I've been going at this blogging thing for a few months now, and it's been a lot of fun so far! The response has also been really great (thank you all for that), and so I decided to go ahead and upgrade the site to its very own, shiny domain. Please update your bookmarks to the new web address:

Can't wait to see what the next few months bring!

Monday, July 23, 2012

American Airlines Announces Impressive Fleet Upgrades

(via Twitter)
American Airlines just announced some seriously impressive fleet upgrades, in a seriously impressive video. I haven't been excited about flying a US carrier in quite some time - let alone flying one domestically!

Aisle access from all seats in international business class! Swivel chair in international first class!

Your move, United.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Summer of Travel 2012: Germany (Part 1 - Getting to Hamburg)

My summer of travel continued with a business trip to Germany. For those of you who don't know, much of my job involves market research, so I was off to Hamburg and Munich to attend some focus groups and interviews.

The trip started with an overnight flight to Frankfurt on a United 777 (legacy Continental seat arrangement). My seat was 8E in BusinessFirst, which I had specifically chosen back when booking the flight a few months ago, as I'd heard it was supposed to be the best seat in the front cabin. There really isn't a bad seat, but in addition to being in the middle section (which means that unlike the two window sections, there is direct aisle access for both people), the fact that it's a bulkhead seat was supposed to provide a somewhat larger cutout for your feet when the seat is fully reclined into the bed orientation. I certainly noticed the difference, and was greatly appreciative of it, as I'm 6'6" and have size 15 feet!

View of the cutout in seat 8E on a United 777 (legacy CO layout)

For comparison's sake, here's what the cutout looks like in seat 3E, from a flight I took earlier this year:

View of the cutout in seat 3E on a United 777 (legacy CO layout)

I had a long day ahead of me after arriving, so wanted to try to get to sleep ASAP after our 7:30 departure. I started watching The Hunger Games pretty much right away, and asked for the Express Meal Service, which would enable me to get my whole meal all at once, instead of it coming out course by course. I had the pork chop - it was a bit dry, but still tasty (and the sauce certainly helped). The mixed appetizer was nice as well, but the salad was pretty mediocre.

Express Dinner Service, United BusinessFirst

After dinner, I changed into a pair of shorts, tucked myself in, and fell asleep almost immediately. The next thing I knew the lights were coming on and the captain was announcing that we were starting our descent into Frankfurt!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

United's Four Mile Mania Lingers On

Update 2: Got my email from United a few hours after seeing that my itinerary had been cancelled. Dear United: You got the order wrong on that one.

Update: No official contact from United, but it looks like the cancellations are starting to roll in...

For anyone not in the know, the latest story making it's way around the frequent flyer community is a glitch that happened on the United website this past weekend, which allowed award tickets to be booked to Hong Kong from anywhere in the US for just 4 miles + taxes and fees, including tickets in first and business class. A round-trip business class ticket is supposed to be 120,000 miles, and a round-trip first-class ticket is supposed to be 140,000 - and those figures are subject to capacity controls (the no restrictions awards are 300,000 and 320,000, respectively!). Needless to say, as soon as word started to spread, people went nuts. I happen to need to be in Hong Kong in September, so decided to join the party:

My itinerary: round-trip from EWR to HKG in Business Class
Total price paid: 4 miles and $63.70
Countless other people got in before United figured out what was going on and shut things down. Since then, there's been a lot of pontificating about whether they were going to honor the tickets, or just cancel them en masse. Obviously, the thread on FlyerTalk has exploded - at the moment, the thread is over 1500 posts long, and has over 140,000 page views! It's also been dissected on all the major blogs - see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here (to name a few). In fact, word spread so much that the story eventually got picked up by major news outlets like ABC News, USA Today, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, and many more. Despite all the discussion, the matter has yet to be settled - and many believe that that is due to this being one the first major goofs that is really testing a new DOT policy (emphasis mine):

Section 399.88(a) states that it is an unfair and deceptive practice for any seller of scheduled air transportation within, to, or from the United States, or of a tour or tour component that includes scheduled air transportation within, to, or from the United States, to increase the price of that air transportation to a consumer after the air transportation has been purchased by the consumer, except in the case of a government-imposed tax or fee and only if the passenger is advised of a possible increase before purchasing a ticket. A purchase occurs when the full amount agreed upon has been paid by the consumer. Therefore, if a consumer purchases a fare and that consumer receives confirmation (such as a confirmation email and/or the purchase appears on their credit card statement or online account summary) of their purchase, then the seller of air transportation cannot increase the price of that air transportation to that consumer, even when the fare is a “mistake.”
Personally, I actually kind of hope that it doesn't end up working out. A number of people have said that a strict enforcement of the policy by the DOT would be a good thing for consumers, because it would force airlines to invest in their IT in order to avoid these costly mishaps. I'm all for improving the IT systems, but at the end of the day, I would expect those costs to get passed along to consumers in the form of higher ticket prices. The policy impacts any route that has a US city in one of the legs, so it's not like foreign carriers would be immune, and the notion of paying higher fares to eliminate minimize the possibility of something like this happening again doesn't sound all that appealing to me.

What's your take?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Eating Out in NYC: Birreria

This year for the 4th of July, I decided to stick around close to home, and so met up with a few friends at Birreria - the rooftop brewery at Eataly, here in New York. It's a really interesting place in that it's a beer garden (so feels German), but it's at Eataly (so also feels Italian). I'd been meaning to check it out for some time, and this was a great excuse to finally get my act together!

Birreria - where they serve beer in wine glasses

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Why I'll Gladly Grab Points on Obscure Frequent Flyer Programs

I signed us both up for BMI's Diamond Club a few months ago because they were offering 1000 miles for new members. What can you get with 1000 Diamond Club miles? Nothing. Was I ever expecting to get more miles on BMI? No. So why did I do it? Well, for one, they were free. For two, it had already been made public that BMI was being bought by BA, and it seemed reasonable to assume that Diamond Club miles would eventually be converted to BA Avios.

Sure enough, it is now possible to transfer miles between the two programs. So what can you get with 1000 BA Avios? Nothing. But what can you get with 4500 Avios? A one-way flight from NYC to Toronto (or any other destination serviced by AA within a 650 mile radius). So for nothing more than the time it took to register, we each got 1/9th of a roundtrip flight to Toronto!

BMI Diamond Club miles now transferable to BA Avios

Which obscure programs are offering free points/miles for signing up right now? Unfortunately, I can't seem to find any. But I'm sure there will be more promotions in the months ahead, and we've got a small handful of miles on Air Canada, Alaska Air, Frontier, Kingfisher, Jet Airways, LAN, and Virgin America just waiting to be put to good use :)

Anyone else have any rogue balances with obscure programs, or programs they never have any intention of using? What are you planning to do with them?

Summer of Travel 2012: Princeton, NJ 2

Last weekend, I ventured down to Princeton, NJ for the second time this summer (check out the highlights of my trip down for Princeton Reunions here). A good friend was getting married, and it provided a great excuse to revisit many of the sites from my own wedding of a couple years ago.

We took NJTransit down to Princeton, and then hopped in a cab over to the Westin Princeton. Thankfully, we were able to check-in early, and while we didn't get the Presidential Suite this time around, we did get bumped up to the top floor. Nothing super special about the room, but the upgrade did provide free bottles of water in the room and a complimentary "grab and go" breakfast.

Our room at the Westin Princeton
The Westin has a complimentary shuttle that services the local area (especially helpful in Princeton, where the cabs are outrageously expensive). Unfortunately, while we had made a reservation for 12:30pm, there was no shuttle to be seen by 12:45, and we were about to be late for the wedding. We hopped in another cab, and made our way over to the Princeton University Chapel.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Backdoor Domestic Lounge Access via Turkish Airlines

One of the great benefits of being a Platinum Premier on United is Star Alliance Gold status. That means I get some nice perks like priority boarding, extra baggage allowance, etc. when traveling on Star Alliance partners. It also means lounge access when traveling internationally (including Canada!), which is probably my favorite perk.

What is does not provide, unfortunately, is lounge access when traveling domestically. Yes, as a United elite flyer, I can get access to lounges from all the non-US-based alliance partners (Air Canada, Lufthansa, Thai, etc.), but not the United Club - unless I'm traveling internationally. Even stranger is the fact that elites on non-US-based alliance partners do get access to the United Club, even when on domestic tickets in the US.

Club memberships run a few hundred dollars, and I'm a little too frugal to fork that over. My next best option? Figure out how to get elite status on a non-US-based alliance partner.

Easier said than done though - I wasn't about to start crediting my Star Alliance flights to anyone other than United, and alliance members generally don't do status matches for partners (that wouldn't be very alliance-like, after all).

Enter Turkish Airlines.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

It's Credit Card Time Again!

For the longest time, I had just one credit card - the Starwood Preferred Guest Amex. I love this card, mostly because I love Starwood, and I couldn't imagine wanting to earn anything but SPG points for every dollar I was spending on a daily basis.

A little over a year ago, I was debating the merits of the Starwood card vs. other cards out on the market with a friend of mine. He was thinking about signing up for the Continental OnePass Plus card, which was offering 50,000 OnePass miles after first purchase. I decided that I needed to have a non-Amex card, for those places that don't accept it, and the sign-up bonus sounded great (50,000 miles for a single purchase!). As I started to research different options, I came across The Frugal Travel Guy blog, and a number of other blogs written by seasoned frequent-flying miles-mavens (see the list I keep down the right side of the page). I'd been eager and enthusiastic about "points" for some time, but I'd stumbled onto the mother load. The tips, tricks, and hacks I found on these blogs and on FlyerTalk were beyond my wildest imagination. I was (even more) hooked!

While many tricks have gone the way of the dodo, credit card sign-up bonuses have exploded, and are often the primary way many points pros pad their balances. I ended up getting that OnePass card and the 50,000 miles that came with it - and then 50,000 more Marriott points soon thereafter. And then the floodgates opened...