Hi, I’m Chuck Brackett and this is my first ever blog post. I spent over 21 years in the Navy and I’ve spent the last 8 as a Navy spouse so I’ve seen a good bit of the world.  Much of it from the deck of a warship, but I’ve also been flying for a lot of years and I stumbled across/started following travel blogs several years ago.

 

I have found a lot of value in reading what folks such as Glenn (thanks for the guest blogger opportunity!), Rene, Lucky, Ed, and many others on Boarding Area too numerous to mention (but check HERE for a complete list of BA bloggers) have shared.  I think Glenn’s post from August 2013 was when my wife and I learned about AMEX waiving annual fees for military folks and that really got me paying attention.  What a great introduction – now if only Chase was so generous.  But I digress.

 

Sooo, after reading these folks for a few years I finally decided to stick my toe in the water and give it a try. I mean, how hard can it be, right?  Right???  We’ll see.

 

My first trip that I want to write about has gotten off to a really rocky start. Back a couple of months ago I saw a cheap, ~$760, flight from New York to Bali via Shanghai (JFK-DPS via PVG) on China Eastern (MU).  As you’ll see in a bit, I unfortunately caused myself a problem by buying that ticket directly with MU, then I took a Delta positioning flight from IAD.  If there’s a next time I’ll probably buy from Delta even if it costs a bit more.

 

I’d already made Delta Platinum for 2018 by May courtesy of some heavy work travel between the US and Africa, and I figured I might as well shoot for Diamond since I needed “only” another 40K MQM and I want those Global Upgrades. This trip today plus another one to Singapore coming up in Nov will put me over the top.  I wouldn’t need this trip for MQM – though I’d still be making the trip for other business purposes – except that I allowed my Flying Blue account number to get tagged on one of my flights to Africa and didn’t notice it until it was too late, so here I am sitting in the food court at JFK Terminal 1 on a Sunday afternoon.

 

And that’s the first problem. I’ve been in the food court since about 9AM and it looks like I’ll be here till 9PM or so waiting to check in for my 145AM flight tomorrow morning.  Turns out that you can’t get to JFK Terminal 1 from the other terminals inside security.  You have to exit, walk down the road, and then clear TSA again.  Except, you can’t clear TSA without a boarding pass, and you can’t get a boarding pass from China Eastern until 3 hours before your flight is due to board, as I learned when they opened their check in counter to begin servicing a flight departing at 1645.  And Delta can’t give me one because it’s not their ticket.

 

All that information is probably available online if you search for it, but I didn’t and I stupidly left the Delta Sky Club in Terminal 2 staffed by the nice lady at the front desk without asking, after spending less than 30 mins in there to have a cup of coffee and get a paper. Grrrr, rookie mistakes, but in my defense I’ve never split tickets between airlines before.  You can bet this fiasco won’t happen again.

 

So far I’d say I’m batting about .200 on this trip, and only because I got to IAD in plenty of time (thanks for the early morning shuttle, honey!) and didn’t have to rush through the airport, and my Delta Connection flight was smooth and uneventful.

 

Update, I went back to the MU check in counter after the crush of the flight they serviced when they first opened the counter and a very nice and friendly MU supervisor at the check in desk over ruled the ‘no boarding passes more than 3 hours before your flight’ rule, partially due to my Elite Plus status, so I only spent 6 hours in the food court. Nice!  But I won’t rely on it happening again.

 

I’ve read reports of MU flight crew smoking in flight HERE, HERE, and a response to a previous blog HERE promising to look into the issue.  I’m hoping they’ve successfully snuffed out this problem more than a year later. We’ll see how the China Southern flight works out in the back of the plane, and I’ll send that trip report out as soon as I hit Shanghai.

 

You’ll remember I need both of these flights to make Diamond because of my carelessness with Flying Blue, I’ll be happy and eternally grateful to hear if anyone has a trick for getting FB to push miles to Delta several months after a flight has completed. I like AF and look forward to flying them again but Skymiles is my program, at least for now.

 

Thanks for reading!

Posted by glenn | No Comments

I received a surprise email from AMEX that my credit limit on my SPG Business Card had been increased.  Along with the email, they gave an interesting offer:

$3,000 in a month would be a lot for me, but maybe would apply to Christmas shopping.  However, I know there are those of you who do MS and this would be easy to achieve.  Plus, Starwood points are some of the most valuable points out there.  You can transfer them to Marriott at a 3:1 ratio or get a 25% bonus when transferring them to one of their many airline partners.  Of course, I like to use them to actually stay for free at Starwood hotels – that’s the best value in my book.

Now that I enrolled it will not let me get back to the offer page to post it for you, but be on the lookout to see if you get this or a similar offer.

 

 

 

Posted by glenn | No Comments

I had three free night certificates burning a hole in my pocket.  They came from getting the sign-up bonus from the Chase Ritz-Carlton credit card and would expire in mid Sept.  Ritz-Carlton nights are not to be spent unwisely, unlike the free nights from Marriott or Hyatt where the category level was limited.  I plotted for months and finally came upon a grand vacation – four nights in Budapest!  Now you may be asking, why four nights if I only had three free nights?  That’s because I could use the fourth night free benefit of the Citi Prestige card.  Now that benefit used to be better and would have given me the whole fourth night free, but Citi got wise to that too good to be true benefit and now only give you the base rate divided as a average of the four night stay.  That was still a pretty good discount, so I took it.  That fourth night was a charge of 304 Euro which demonstrates the huge value I was getting for the three free nights.

Arriving on Lufthansa, we went through the Budapest airport pretty quickly, but not before grabbing the Mini-Bud (great pun on a mini-bus) service to the hotel.  The counter is located right at baggage claim.  It cost 9800 Hungarian Forint (~$40), for a round trip ticket for my wife and I.  Maybe I could have gotten a better deal from a taxi, but I had heard horror stories of taxis ripping off tourists and trying to get $40 just for a one way ride.  The service worked out well and we got to the Ritz-Carlton 30 minutes later.

There was even a guy playing piano!

Pretty nice digs, but what did you expect for a Ritz-Carlton?  I made a rookie mistake though.  They said that even though I was a Marriott Gold, I was not entitled to the Club level, meaning no lounge access for me.  Unless, I wanted to pay $120!  I said no problem, I had three Club level upgrades with the credit card.  However, after a long call to Marriott/ Ritz-Carlton rewards, they said that I couldn’t use my certs to upgrade as there was no availability on the Club level.  I said I was fine with my room where it was and didn’t need to be on that level; I just wanted Club access.  They said no can do, since they wanted to restrict access to the Club.  OK, so I couldn’t use my free cert to get access, but if I paid them money then the overcrowding issue suddenly went away?  Pretty lame and I took a pass.  Figures we could eat on the economy for that much money and have more fun.

Our upgraded room was fantastic and a really good example of what can be done with renovating an old hotel.

The bathroom was equally nice.

I loved this antiquated touch.  There was a box in the closest where you could leave your shoes and have them back spit-shined by the morning.  Darn and I didn’t have my jump boots with me!

The hotel had a nice, but small gym, a restaurant that we didn’t try (looked expensive), a breakfast that was definitely expensive (~$39 for full breakfast) and a cute bar.

Despite some minor criticisms, we actually loved the hotel.  The location was perfect for a tourist – very central to everything.  We would love to come back and stay here again – we just have to figure out how to get a way to do it for free/ low cost!

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

This was supposed to be a review about Swiss Air Business Class, but things turned out very different than planned.  The wife and I were going to Budapest on vacation for four days by using United miles to fly DCA-EWR-ZRH (with a six hour layover)-BUD.  Everything was all set until Tropical Storm Irma came rolling up the Eastern Seaboard.  Having it rain all day in D.C. is pretty unusual for August, but it didn’t rain that hard.

Arriving at DCA several hours early, things were already in a mess with United.  We were just supposed to take an RJ up to EWR and then get on our real flight, but that looked increasingly unlikely.  The United Club agents were watching things very carefully for when flights actually took off from other airports so they could be sure they would arrive at DCA and then presumably take off for other destinations.  The agent actually moved us up to an earlier flight since she knew it would arrive.  However, just before boarding time they announced it was cancelled “due to ATC”.  Well, the Government doesn’t cancel flights so that told me that United had decided that that plane needed to fly somewhere else and later flights to EWR could take the passengers there instead.  There were several other flights that  night, but that would cut it extremely close as we would theoretically be landing at 2115 for a connection departing at 2210.

The agent realized this and found an alternate flight leaving out of Dulles (IAD) on Lufthansa and going through MUC to BUD.  I hated to lose the six hour layover in ZRH, but did value making sure we got there and with our luggage, both of which would have been jeopardized on the original route.  She arranged for the flight and to have our bags retrieved.  I had asked her about seats and she said I would have to go on Lufthansa’s website to pick them out.  Lucky I did because I found out she had booked us in Economy!  I went back to her and she had to get on the line with Mileage Plus to get it straightened out.  Took her 30 minutes on the phone – you would think they have a more direct line than customers like me, but nope.  We have plenty of time to catch this new flight, but then she tells us that UA won’t pay for our cab to get to IAD because it was due to ATC!  I’m going to dispute that one, but this was not the time to do it with the clock ticking.

We got to IAD $80 later and had no problem except that I noticed they booked us in seats 1D and 1G.  Looking at SeatGuru.com for an A330-300 I saw that these were bulkhead seats which I am not a fan of.  After we arrived at the Lufthansa Lounge (after a side trip tot he outstanding Turkish Lounge),  I asked about changing the seats.  The agent there was great and explained that there had been an aircraft swap and our seats were actually First Class seats, but with Business Class service.  Cool!

We even had the First Class sign!  Compare this with Lufthansa Business Class seats.

If we had been back in regular business, it would have been fine, but only “fine”.  Really happy to have the chance at Lufthansa’s lie-flat First.

Champagne and nuts were led off with the menu.  While my wife went with the prosciutto-wrapped filet, I noticed they had crab cakes.  Can’t say that I have ever had crab cakes on a plane before, so I went with that.  Turned out to be a good choice.

My wife enjoyed her filet and I found my crab cakes were actually quite good.  Not the best I had ever had by a long shot, but pretty good for airplane food!

After getting not enough restful sleep on the lie-flat bed, I awoke to the breakfast.  It was good, but I am still not used to the German “cold cuts for breakfast” philosophy.

My wife is getting used to First Class a little too easily.  I can see the argument coming next time I book her in “only Business Class”.

Landing in MUC and then on to BUD was uneventful.  More to follow on Budapest in the next few days.

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

I was fortunate enough to travel to the French Riviera earlier this month and was very impressed.  Made me homesick for California where I grew up.  Flying out of Nice, I was able to experience one of several very nice private lounges which can be accessed by Priority Pass.  Even though Nice is one of the larger cities in France, the airport is fairly small by American standards.  If you have Loungebuddy, finding one of the four lounges there shouldn’t be a problem.  They all have cute little names such as the Levity Lounge or Library Lounge.  The one I reviewed is called the Infinity Lounge.

You will see an elevator up to the lounge, but I would advise not to waste your time.  I waited five minutes and finally ended up taking the stairs to the left in the photo.

Once up the stairs, the checking in process was very easy.  Didn’t even need to sign like with most Priority Pass visits.

The space inside is very eclectic, like four different architects designed it.  I kind of liked the rattan swing chairs.  Although the section with a bajillion power points was great for all you “connected” flyers.

Food and beverages were pretty decent.  Nice pastries and packaged foods.  Plenty of booze for those who want to start the day early.

I was very happy with my caffeine and chocolate croissants!  On the whole a nice little lounge to bide your time in while waiting for your flight.

 

Posted by glenn | One Comment

I flew a redeye on BA for my recent trip to Nice, which of course means a stop at London Heathrow Airport (LHR).  I was actually looking forward to the trip just to be able to try out BA’s lounge there.  How did I get access?  Not through flying Business unfortunately, nor through a lounge membership like Priority Pass.  I got access through a little secret: Alaska MVP Gold and Gold 75K’s get free lounge access  when traveling through LHR.  Here is the reference page in case you want to verify.

I went to one of the two in Terminal 5 although they also have one in Terminal 3.

It was all the way at one end of the terminal and the other one is all the way at the other end, so you can find one no matter which direction you go.  I posted the other ways to get in such as being an elite on One World.

The lounge is quite large, which is good because it was very popular even on a Sunday morning.  There is an “outdoor” section which I think is meant for families.  It is not air conditioned, but is still within the terminal building.  Good views of the tarmac from there for you AvGeeks.

The breakfast had a very good selection of cold food or pastries.

There is plenty of unguarded booze for those of you who want a different type of breakfast.  The way they guard the alcohol in U.S. lounges makes you think we are a nation of alcoholics that the airlines are trying to save us from ourselves.  Europeans have much more mature attitudes about drinking than we do.

Showers are available for those of you who want to refresh.

And there is a desk for help with your BA Flights if needed.  I note how small this desk is.  I guess that must be because there are very rarely problems with them.P

On the whole a pretty good lounge to pass the time in.

Posted by glenn | No Comments

I rarely fly out of Terminal B at Newark, so I researched lounges that I would qualify for using the Loungebuddy app.  Turns out Priority Pass gave me access to a strangely named lounge – “The Art & Lounge”.  I made the mistake of going through security and looking for the lounge, but couldn’t find it.  Turns out if I had paid attention to Loungebuddy, the lounge was before security near the Duty Free shop.  It wasn’t that hard to find once I learned to follow directions.

Although Priority Pass is the easy access here, you can see that Norwegian, Polish LOT, and French LaCompanie also can give you access presumably if you are in Business or First.

Inside the lounge felt tight but that’s because it is subdivided into many rooms.

Turns out that this lounge has a mission – to highlight art and be a gallery to appreciate local art.  Almost all the walls are covered by various pieces of art or all type.  I didn’t ask, but I am sure you could arrange to buy a piece that you really love.  If you are an art lover, this would be a great way to pass the time waiting for your flight.

Of course, if you are slightly less into art, like me, there is always the food and drink.  They have a self-serve bucket o’ booze and a fairly good buffet of various foods.

All-in-all a very different type of lounge than we usually encounter.  I spent four hours there doing work with very good wifi.  Check it out, especially if you got one of those ridiculously cheap Norwegian fares and are flying out of Terminal B at Newark.

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

Although it has been open since June 30th, I only just got a chance to visit the new Alaska Lounge in Terminal C of the Seattle Airport.  It was certainly worth the wait – I was very impressed by the modernity and thoughts on customer comfort and convenience.  Getting into an Alaska Lounge is a little unique, you can qualify one of five ways:

  • Have an Alaska Lounge membership
  • Have an American Airlines Lounge membership
  • Have a Priority Pass membership (warning: if the lounge is overcrowded, they will stop accepting this)
  • Fly First Class, either paid or as a mileage award, but not if you were upgrade to First due to status.
  • Buy a Day Pass for $45 (again, they will not allow this if the lounge is crowded)

Getting there is a little tricky if you don’t know where to look.  At the end of Terminal C are about a dozen gates making it a very crowded area.  You have to look over in the Western corner to spot the Alaska Lounge sign.

You can go through the door shown and take the stairs, but the elevator is a better bet.  We arrived from ANC at 0437 so had to wait until 0500 for them to open the doors.

The lounge fits in a narrow area above the gates, but it is well designed.

They have a variety of seating with power ports built-in for both 110v and USB.  The higher walled seats are similar to those found in AMEX Lounges and you can enjoy extra privacy from the noise or lean against the side to sleep.

For food, they have the usual good Alaska fare along one side of the lounge, including the famous pancake machine!  I like that someone finally figured out that they need a larger coffee cup.  Yeah, I’m talking about you United!

The bathroom was very modern and a break from the usual utilitarian Alaska style.

The area they selected was ideal for plane spotting and we sat and enjoyed the dawn with a good breakfast.  If you are there later, they have a full wall bar which I strangely forgot to take a picture of.  The 0500 arrival time must have had something to do with that.

I was very impressed at the utility and style such as power ports in each seat, three different style seats, a modern bathroom, and the general bright décor.  Hopefully, this is a model for the future permanent N Terminal Alaska Lounge coming next year.  Be good if they adopted this model and went back to renovate the D Terminal Lounge as well as the Anchorage Lounge just like this.

Posted by glenn | No Comments

Received a very enticing email today for American:

10,000 miles per night?  Yes, please!  However, when checking out the details it was not quite so lucrative.  I checked for a trip to Honolulu that we are planning for January.  The Booking.com site lists the number of miles earned depending on the hotel.  Here is an example of the disparity that you may find:

So pay $939/ night and you’ll earn the 10,000 miles/ night advertised.  However, the second listing shown is just as likely where you will only earn 1 mile/ $.   Not to say that you can’t find some bargain deals.  Here is one that looks good from Sheraton:

A very nice hotel for a good price and 3,000 AA miles/ night?  Yes, I would say this is a good deal.

You can experiment on your own by going to AA’s site here.  Let us know if you find some great bargains out there.

Posted by glenn | No Comments

I was unaware, but MGM Resorts has a Veterans Employee Network Group.  They have developed a special program associated with the M Life Program called the Military & Veterans Program or MVP.  It is open to active military, veterans and their spouses.  All you need is a military ID to sign up at any MGM property.

How is this different from anyone else who just wants to sign up for M Life?  Here are the additional benefits for M Life’s MVP Program.

– Start at the second level of M Life known as Pearl (10% bonus on points)

– Complimentary self-parking at MGM properties

– 10% Discount on dining and merchandise

– 10% Discount on rooms at all their properties including the newest one in D.C., along with Detroit and Biloxi

Here is their official release:

The MGM Resorts Military & Veterans Program is available to all U.S. active duty, guard, reserve, retired military, veterans and spouses of eligible military personnel. Current M life Rewards members can sign up for the MVP card at any M life Rewards Desk at M life Rewards destinations: Bellagio, ARIA, Vdara, MGM Grand, The Signature at MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, Delano Las Vegas, The Mirage, Monte Carlo, New York-New York, Luxor, and Excalibur in Las Vegas; Beau Rivage and Gold Strike in Mississippi; MGM Grand Detroit, MGM National Harbor in Maryland and Borgata in Atlantic City.

It was also great to see that MGM is a big supporter to their military employees, including full pay if they are deployed, along with their veteran hiring goals.

If you want to check it out on line, go here.

Let us know your experiences if you try out the program.

Posted by glenn | One Comment

I have the best daughter in the world.  Yes, I know some of you think the same thing, but I am confident that mine is the best.  She is in her fourth year at Med School, her big upcoming activity is flying around the U.S. this fall to interview for residency programs.  As such, I have been saving up plenty of miles and points to help her out.

She tells me that many of her fellow students with less points & miles  savvy parents and are on their own to fund these travels.  Being smart – they are future doctors after all – they are tuned in to the benefits of getting credit cards for the free points & miles.  I questioned her on how they could get qualified since they are full-time students with no time for a job to get qualifying income.

She said they had researched the rules for what qualified as income and found that student loans are considered income by most CC companies.  Kind of makes sense since the money is available to the student for whatever their needs are including rent, car loans, food, etc.  Several of her friends have successfully received cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve.  I thought this was a good tip to pass along in case you, or your kids, are in the same boat.

Posted by glenn | 6 Comments

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