...constantly searching to find the best travel deals and places to visit. A never-ending quest for adventure!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Primera Air - another option to Europe for $99!

While I tend to stick to the mainline carriers (and subsequent large-body aircraft) when traveling to Europe, I've been intrigued by Norwegian Air and its recent low fare offerings to Europe.  Another player in the game will also be offering $99 flights from both New York and Boston:

Primera Air

The $99 only gets you the seat and extras cost more including advanced seat assignment.  But if you're looking to get to Europe on the cheap and aren't concerned about points, miles, or aircraft type, this may be a great option!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Plenty of fall travel ahead

My fall is shaping up to be busy and travel-filled - both of which I am grateful for.  I went into the year thinking that I probably was going to end up scaling back on much of the typical travel I've done in past years, but some very fortuitous opportunities presented that I couldn't pass up.  Right now I have a few busy months ahead - some highlights:

August: Illinois
September: UK/Italy
October: Switzerland/Belgium
November: Czech Republic/Switzerland
December: Wisconsin/Vermont

October in particular is a highlight - I'll be attending the 59th IMTA Conference followed immediately by the International Leadership Association Global Conference.  I especially look forward to networking and connecting with colleagues from past conferences.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

American/Alaska Earning Partnership changing

One of the best partnerships I've used for travel east coast to west coast is Alaska Airlines and American.  The ability to fly Alaska (on their ticket) and credit both miles and elite qualifying to American helped me retain my Executive Platinum status in years past.  Unfortunately, American will be changing the parameters of the partnership and its not to the better.  From the notification:

Starting January 1, 2018, American Airlines AAdvantage® award miles, Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs), Elite Qualifying Segments (EQSs) and Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) will be earned on Alaska Airlines only when the flight is marketed by American Airlines. 

Elite benefits on Alaska Airlines, such as priority check-in, priority boarding and complimentary checked bags, will be discontinued.


The complete information outline can be found here.

Thank goodness mileage earning is not being eliminated altogether, though I will say that in general buying the AA-marketed flights tends to be more expensive.  Given American's addition of an Elite Qualifying Dollar requirement, I can't say these changes surprise me.  I'm disappointed that another good option for flyers is being eliminated.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

4th of July trip update

Update: my email to United Customer service is answered!  In fact, I received a phone call (which I believe is the first time that United CS has reached out this way - typically it's through email).

Along with a refund of my original ticket, they also included a voucher for future travel.  Very nice of them to recognize what happened and try to make it better.  It doesn't completely make up for losing time at home but I can look for another weekend to travel coming up.  The CS agent also described the cancellations as a possible "schedule reduction".  If that's the case, then someone at United isn't thinking: why would you do that on a holiday weekend??

Sunday, July 2, 2017

My 4th of July trip home that wasn't

Very rarely do I get frustrated about air travel in general. There are often variables that can't be controlled and generally I've had great success with getting to places around the world (case and point last November when we went around the world with no cancellations/delays).  This weekend, though, was an exception.

I was due to fly home for a family get together, picking up my grandparents along the way since they can't drive.  We had planned this trip for some time and with holiday flight costs being high I carefully planned to take advantage of the time.

The NJ transit train to Newark went quickly and so did check-in via Pre Check.  I was just about ready to do the bus transfer to Terminal A when Tripit showed that my flight to Milwaukee was cancelled.  Just like that.  No bad weather at the time.  Beautiful sun on the horizon.

I hopped off and went back into Terminal C and the customer service desk which honestly was a terrible idea.  There were only 5 of us in line and four agents.  Except the four agents became three and 45 minutes later I was still in the same spot in line with about 100 people having joined.  I decided United phone support was probably going to be faster and made the call.  20 minutes later a nice agent answered but I found out quickly she was not at all informed.  Example (in paraphrase):

Her: Hm, yes, so, let me see what I can do to get you to Milwaukee.  Right now I'm not seeing anything until July 3rd.
Me: O'hare or Cleveland would be options but I looked already and didn't see any airlines showing to Milwaukee.
Her: Hm, ok, sir. Well.  Would Austin work for you on the 2nd?
Me: Austin? As in Texas?
Her: Yes.
Me: I don't think that's a possibility.  How do I get to Milwaukee from there?
Her:  Oh. Ok. Well, let me look.  Hm.  Well, sir, how about LAX, is that close for you?
Me: LAX?  Los Angeles?  No, that is not a close option. I would have to fly across the country and back.
Her:  Oh, ok, sir.  Let me see...

Needless to say this was quite a poor experience.  And I don't blame United for the plane issue since this is a holiday weekend with many people traveling, though I'm perplexed to know why they would cancel three out of five flights to Milwaukee.  They can do better.  I'm really bummed that my grandparents and I couldn't get up north after all this planning.  Hopefully I can find a time in the coming weeks to go back.


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Hyatt Credit Card Signup bonus changing 6/29/17

One of the better credit card signup bonuses available for the last number of years has been the Hyatt Card from Chase.  By signing up and meeting the spend requirement you receive two free nights that can be used at any Hyatt worldwide.  This includes Category 7 properties such as the Paris Vendome or my preferred hotel in Europe, the Park Hyatt Zurich.

It appears this bonus is changing 6/29/17 - per CC Guide.

Changing to points will mean less value since the point value to redeem for Category 7 rooms will be more than the bonus change.

Take advantage now and sign up before the two free nights deal is gone!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Breaking News: Qatar to buy stake in American?

Just reported, Qatar Airways has expressed interest in buying up to a 10% stake in American Airlines.

More to come...

Update: An excellent article providing more analysis of this news is available here.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Castles and Scotland

One of my still to do items in the UK is to visit Hadrian's wall - while I've shared this in a prior post, I also enjoy finding and visiting castles.  I've never been to Scotland though recently found an excellent resource if you're looking for castles to visit in northern England:

From the Culture Trip: Castles

Flying into Heathrow for these is still a bit expensive for both miles and/or regular tickets. It may be easier to find a deal to get you into Manchester or Edinburgh and then drive to many of the locations. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Place of the Day: Montenegro

There are quite a few European countries I still want to visit, and one of them is Montenegro.  In a prior posting I talked about visiting the Bay of Kotor, though I recently found a property that is certainly a place not to miss:



Yes, that "island" is the place to stay.  It is a former fortified village dating back to the 15th century.

My previous post details possible avenues to arrive, including via Dubrovnik. Since I wouldn't mind visiting the walled city one more time this wouldn't be too bad of an itinerary.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Travel Update: Qatar

It pains me to report on this, since Qatar is a special place for me and one where I spent time doing research for my dissertation working with students and Qataris at Education City.  In the last 24 hours relations between Qatar and many other nations in the Middle East have soured - so much so that diplomatic relations have been suspended.

In addition, many of the airlines in the region have also suspended flights.  From Doha News:

Dubai-based Emirates, Abu Dhabi’s Etihad, Air Arabia and the low-cost airline Fly Dubai all confirmed this morning that they will cease routes to Doha from tomorrow (June 6) until further notice.
Saudi’s Jeddah-based national flag carrier Saudia also joined, announcing in Arabic on Twitter this morning that it too is stopping flights to Qatar.
Stay tuned for more information. I'm holding out hope that this is a temporary halt based on recent hacking that took place on several Qatari websites and not related to anything else.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

New TSA screening processes on the horizon?

Lines are already long at airports for security, and now a new report is out that the TSA may be looking to adjust screening for larger electronic devices.

From CNBC here.

It appears that testing is already underway.

I'm not opposed to changes that make flying safe for all - I just hope they take into account how the process is already affected for those without Pre Check or GlobalEntry.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

100k Ultimate Rewards points for a new mortgage?

It appears Chase is getting pretty creative with how to get business - this time, offering up to 100k Ultimate Rewards points for a new mortgage.  From Marketwatch:

Chase offering UR for Mortgage

Not sure I would go this route, but I'd take a look to see if it made sense with interest rate, points, etc.  And only available through August 6 if you had a card as of May 7th.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Fare Alert: Newark to Ho Chi Minh City for $574 in fall

Fall travel alert!

Fares are at fantastic rates for fall travel to a number of locations, one of them being SGN (Ho Chi Minh City).  Here is one option for a potential PQM mileage run Oct 30-Nov 1 (just under 20k PQM):

https://goo.gl/flights/c2QM

$574 is a great deal!  Longer stays are possible.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Family trip: visiting Murren

Mom specifically requested a trip to Switzerland and the Alps, and I was more than happy to plan and share one of my favorite places: Murren.  I was wondering how the weather would hold this time of year and we were treated with amazing sun, warmth, and snow!



It was the first time visiting the Eiger Guesthouse and the room did not disappoint.  I also liked its close proximity to the BLM station.


We had time to take a hike on one of the lower trails and had nice conversations with a local man also on the same path before finding dinner at a Rick Steve's recommended restaurant, Hotel Restaurant La Grotte.



Sunday, April 9, 2017

Treating Mom: Flights and stays

I had my eye on flights to get us over to Switz for some time, but the challenge is to find mileage options along with a paid ticket itinerary that matches (and doesn't make you break the bank in the process).  Thankfully, mom's flight options were fairly straightforward - I also needed to get her to Newark to meet me before we took off for Zurich.

American miles to get mom to EWR: 54,000
United miles to Zurich: 180,000 (a surprise: Polaris Business class!)

For places to stay I once again used Booking.com and found some fantastic deals.  We'll be staying at the following locations:

Eiger Guesthouse

Hotel Alpha

Park Hyatt Zurich

The best way I've found to get around Switz is to use the train system - fast, efficient, and always on time.  As luck would have it, a March promotion was happening on RailEurope that took 30% of tickets purchased through 3/27...and made the cost of a 2nd class pass the same as 1st class.  Score!  Quantities were limited and I'm fortunate we could take advantage.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

New Chase Freedom Bonus Categories

Don't forget!

If you have and use a Chase Freedom card, the 2nd Quarter bonuses are now in effect (provided you clicked enroll for this quarter).  As a reminder, Chase offers 5x points on all purchases at grocery stores and drug stores up to $1500 until June 30.

The 5x points you earn are transferrable to Ultimate Rewards if you also have a Chase Sapphire Preferred, Reserve, or other premium card.

I'd be happy to refer you if you're interested. Or you can also use the following link and receive the bonus on sign up:  Chase Freedom

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

World of Hyatt suite upgrades need some work

Earlier this month Hyatt rolled out its new loyalty program called World of Hyatt.  At the time they touted this as an upgrade to an already existing loyalty program that would enhance benefits for members.

For those members staying at least 60 nights the benefits are fairly robust including the ability to receive unlimited suite upgrades on checkin (based on availability).  For others at that level (or Diamond members who were grandfathered in the first year) four suite upgrades are also available for use ahead of time.  Gone are the 1000 point Diamond welcome amenity as well as the ability to qualify based on stays.

Hyatt still has work to do in my opinion with this entire new system, especially the ability to use suite upgrades ahead of a stay.

Over the weekend I made my first attempt to confirm an upgrade for an upcoming stay I have at a Park Hyatt property, and the experience itself was less than stellar and took three calls.  My first call to new World of Hyatt number was answered by a lady who was clearly upset about something and extremely short in her responses - a shock since every agent I've interacted with up to this point has been extremely professional.  When I asked to confirm the upgrade, I was put on hold for five minutes abruptly and then told it would be taken care of.  I asked for an email confirmation and was assured I would receive one.

After 24 hours and no confirmation, I called again and talked to a different agent.  Apparently the new system is difficult to use/navigate and agents are increasingly finding it difficult to help customers with no help from the Hyatt team.  She confirmed that the suite upgrade had been processed in the notes but was concerned about the missing notifications and said "the system is completely different" and they were still tweaking things.  In addition the changes to upgrades would mean no notification of confirmation as had been in the past.  She said she would try resending.

I did receive the second try but the email itself was incorrect - it said "change" at the top but only confirmed my initial reservation and not the upgrade. Clearly they have form work to do in their notification system.  Not only that but upon checking my account I had two suite upgrades deducted instead of one.  That required a third call to an agent to get one returned which was successful.

Hyatt, clearly you have work to do.  How about working to improve your notification system so that upgrades do not require a phone call to confirm?  You're risking a negative impact to your existing relationships with your most loyal customers by not having a program system in place to correctly handle these changes.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Upcoming trip: treating mom!

Back in 2013, I had an opportunity to take my dad to Norway and we really enjoyed exploring Oslo - I'm hoping someday I can get back to do more work on family genealogy.  When I had planned that first trip I also knew that I would do a similar trip for mom.

Well...very soon I will be back on the road with mom on a trip to Switzerland!  Seeing the Alps was one of the things she wanted to do so we'll be visiting the Bernese Alps region and a few other places along the way.  As in the previous trip, I was able to use all miles for mom's tickets and found a matching itinerary for myself that had good value.  We'll be flying United on the way over though mom will be connecting through O'hare on American to get to Newark.

I have some writing to complete before we leave, though with a 4/7 deadline it will be wrapped before we take off.

Looking forward to the fun!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Winners of United Miles Giveaway

Have you ever received the emails from various airlines running promotions for miles giveaways and wondered "does anyone ever really win these things"?  A recent United giveaway made me think this same thought and after clicking on my submission, also encourage me to seek out the terms and conditions.  All of these giveaways offer you the chance to see the winners list though I've never asked for one...until now.

If you're at all curious and happened to sign up for United's Billion Mile giveaway, here is the list:



Unfortunately, I was not a winner...

Friday, March 3, 2017

No longer three beeps but one…

I enjoy traveling and over the last number of years have taken advantage of the opportunity to fly to numerous countries around the world.  One thing that has helped me immensely has been using Global Entry.  It allows for Pre-Check when flying domestically and the easy use of global entry kiosks when flying back into the United States.  During domestic travel, one of the easiest (and early) ways to know that my global entry/pre-check notation was correct on my boarding pass was the sound of three beeps when the pass was scanned by TSA.  Though it appears something has changed.  At least, I think it has.

Over the last bunch of months while traveling (and using Pre-Check) there has been an interesting adjustment.  Instead of three beeps, the machine at the TSA checkpoint is now only beeping one time before I’m waved through.  Normally I wouldn’t notice this type of change but I’ve seen some curious facial expressions now from several TSA agents during my last few flights after the single beep.  In fact, they all curiously read whatever is being shown on the box and then wave me through (usually faster than others they are checking).  

Maybe I’ve missed something in the course of all my travel work, but does anyone have an idea about what this change might be?  Have I been put on some alternative travel list?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Already March...and Lent


I apologize for the length of time between posts – this semester so far has been one of the busiest I can remember.  Between normal work and other travel in between, I’ve also been working on several education initiatives and teaching opportunities.  In fact, I just returned from an Ivy+ meeting at Stanford where my group completed its second meeting.  I’m grateful that there has been such excitement among my colleagues from the other institutions about our work to support faculty, students, teaching, and learning.   

More posts to come!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Maldives: Food and Activities

When visiting the Park Hyatt Maldives, it helps if you arrive with Hyatt Diamond Status.  In particular this affords you the opportunity to take advantage of free made-to-order breakfast each morning saving almost $40 per person.  The breakfast area is open to the outside and we found it very pleasant. In fact, it was one time during the day where we saw other guests - for the most part everyone tends to disappear while onsite:


If you time this properly, you can have a hearty breakfast/brunch mid-morning thereby avoiding a separate cost for lunch.  This worked well for us and we also brought snacks along to get us through the day if needed.  

In the evening, we decided on several food options for dinner including the Beach BBQ in The Island Grill and The Bar.  Menus for all contained local favorites and we appreciated the variety during the BBQ.  We especially liked the Short Eats selections at The Bar and visited several times.  It is possible to arrange these before you arrive as some only take place on certain days:


In addition to our choices you can also reserve special beach-side dining options or even request to eat in-room. Some of these contain additional costs though we found the main offerings by the Dhoni to be excellent.  

Friday, January 13, 2017

2017: My Travel Year Ahead

Happy New Year 2017!

I really enjoyed the travel opportunities that presented last year - between New Zealand, the Maldives, and even trips back home I was fortunate in the amount of flying I could fit in to my schedule.  Looking ahead to this coming year, I will have the chance to fly but I may be more judicious in scheduling:

United

Being so close to Newark meant that fare sales were plentiful on my shorter jaunts and I ended up qualifying for Silver status in 2017.  It's actually nice to be back flying United - when living in San Diego it was my primary choice for travel due to much lower fares compared to other airlines.  With some business travel coming up this year, I may have a shot at Gold status (and access to Star Alliance lounges).

American

What a year to have Executive Platinum status - I was grateful for the many upgrade opportunities and the ability to rebook and change mileage flights was valuable.  Unfortunately I fell short of re-qualifying mainly due to increased flying on United due to close proximity to Newark.  I'll have Platinum status for 2017 and can use mileage upgrades as needed though I suspect I won't be flying much on AA due to the adoption of Elite Qualifying Dollars mimicking United and Delta.  And even worse...my AA Citibank card won't count for EQD accrual (only the Barclaycard options do).

Hyatt

Various stays throughout the year meant I was able to once again qualify for Diamond status in 2017.  Changes upcoming for Hyatt Gold Passport means that I will most likely only have top status one more year, so hopefully I can make good use of the upgrades and deals that present.  I'm sure I'll keep whatever status comes via the Hyatt credit card once the year turns.  And I wonder which new properties I'll be able to visit!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Maldives: Rooms

As part of our plan for the trip, I used 100,000 Hyatt points for the four nights at the Park Hyatt Maldives.  It's a great value considering how much the per room cost tends to be.  In addition I was able to snag a one night upgrade to an over-water villa for our last evening.  It's definitely worth it.  The ability to go out and snorkel right from your room or just stay and enjoy the lounge deck is great.  I should also mention that the house reef at the Hyatt is one of the largest and most colorful in the Maldives.

For the first few nights we stayed in a regular Villa (no upgrades possible due to occupancy).  We were very impressed:



We had no real issues with air conditioning or the room - each side had sliding doors that allowed us to control the sun and light during the warmest part of the day.  The outside shower was also a nice feature.

The overwater villa was quite a highlight though:





Sunset from our deck was spectacular!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Spend your £1 coins by October 15th!

The UK is rolling out a new one pound coin in the new year, which means that if you have any on-hand for trips this year make sure you spend them by October 15th.   After that date old coins will no longer be accepted.

Read more about the change here.