OK, about the only good thing that I can say about last week is that it’s over. It’s been a minute since I was that overcome by events… I apologize. I’m in Colorado this week, and there are rumors of an appearance at the House of Miles tomorrow by MJ on Travel. Yes, indeed! Thank you for your tolerance. Here’s a look at what’s up for this week, and yes, I realize most of this is from what should have been last week.

  • A Word About the Delta B767 BusinessElite® Seat
  • Hotel Reviews – Residence Inn Seattle-Tacoma
  • Credit Card Inventory

These travel topics, and no doubts at all about posting a few more too, this week at MJ on Travel.

-MJ, July 27, 2014

How often does this happen? The winner of the GoGo pass chosen via Random.org is Up&Away, commenter # 1! Up&Away will use their promo code on a trip in about 2 weeks. Congratulations! And you’ve got email.

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My apologies for the dearth of posts this week. OBE or overcome by events would be an apt description of the week I’ve had. I’m at Sea-Tac now waiting for my flight home to Atlanta, and I’m about to board a very nice internationally configured 767. The problem? No GoGo! The ideal opportunity to catch up on blogging will pass me by for nearly 5 hours. But that doesn’t have to happen to you on your next flight. I have one more GoGo day pass code to give away courtesy of my participation with the #InsideDelta event last month. The rules are the same as always.

  • Enter by commenting to this post. Travel-related is nice, but say anything you want as long as it isn’t profane.
  • Enter only once.
  • The contest will close at 10:00AM EDT tomorrow, July 26, 2014.
  • The winner will be chosen randomly via Random.org.
  • Include your email address in the email block so I can contact you.
  • Respond within 24 hours after I contact you.

That’s it. Now GoGo!!! :)

-MJ, July 25, 2014

Contest closed, winner TBA.

While I’m out of pocket this week, I’ll be posting some “best of” content to fill in the blanks during a time of limited posting ability. One of my most often asked questions revolves around cruise line elite status. Here’s a quick primer, and links to the scoop on several cruise line loyalty programs.

There’s more to elite status than meets the eye. Most readers will be intimately familiar with the benefits of holding elite status with airlines, hotels, and even rental car companies. But did you know cruise lines offer elite programs as well? Not unlike the programs you are more familiar with, the more you sail, the more elite you can become. You’ll recognize a lot of elite benefits with cruise lines, especially the level names like Gold, Platinum, and Diamond. No, they don’t call their levels helmsman, second mate, chief mate, and Captain! :) The benefits are even similar like priority check in and boarding, upgrade opportunities, and even lounge access. That’s where the similarities end. I’ve toured the bridge of the largest cruise ship in the world thanks to my elite status. Can’t think of any cockpit tours I’ve received thanks to my elite status with airlines. Other elite benefits run that gamut from complimentary shoe shines to free laundry. We’ll cover them all here.

With cruise lines, your progress towards elite status is cumulative for life. OK, sure, they can change the benefits, but you need not requalify each year. In other words, once you hit a certain elite level, you’re there. You only need to worry about getting to your next level, and once you hit that mark, it’s yours from then on no matter how often you cruise.

In this series, I’ll cover the elite programs of the big cruise lines, and wrap things up with a summary of elite reciprocity amongst brands. In other words, Royal Caribbean owns Celebrity and they offer elite reciprocity between the two lines which we’ll talk about here. Much like air travel, I find that I’d rather cruise with elite status than without it. Feel free to ask questions along the way.

-MJ, July 23, 2014

Introduction — Status Matters – A New Cruising with MJ Series

Cruising with MJ – Elite Status with Carnival

Cruising with MJ – Elite Status with Disney

Cruising with MJ – Elite Status with NCL

Cruising with MJ – Elite Status with Princess

Cruising with MJ – Elite Status with Holland America

Cruising with MJ – Elite Status with Celebrity

Cruising with MJ – Elite Status with Royal Caribbean

Cruising with MJ – Elite Status Reciprocity with Affiliate Brands

Cruising with MJ – Elite Status Summary

I’ve owned some version of Bose noise canceling headphones for more years than I can remember. They have been an essential accessory for all my travels since the first pair I purchased, and not to sound corny, but I felt like they were kin to my Amex card…I never left home without them. I believe that Lucky was the first traveler I read mention of the new QC20 product. I was intrigued, but my QC15s were in good shape, and I don’t spend nearly $300 lightly.

Not terribly long ago, I was sitting in the Sky Club waiting for my flight and minding my own business. The gentleman on the next bar stool was a chatty sort, so I obliged by listening. Out of the blue, he brought up how much he loved his Bose QC20 earbuds. I forgave him for buying them with miles, but that’s another post. In any event, his fawning over the noise canceling capabilities of the QC20s really piqued my interest. Being an iDevice guy, I began looking at the QC20i which can control the functions of your various iDevices. Finally, I broke down and bought a pair a little over a week ago, and had to chance to test them in flight on Sunday. The verdict – they are #Awesome!!!!

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The earbuds are very comfortable, hold a charge for a loooooong time, and most of all, their noise-cancelling abilities are far beyond my wildest expectations. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say they do a better job than my over ear QC15s, but opinions vary on that. They offer an “aware” mode that works great if you’re wearing them for exercise around town that lowers their “noise canceling capability” a bit, but maintains sound quality. The most important feature for me beyond their ability to cancel noise……they take up so little space. They come in a small carrying pouch, and easily fit in most any little nook and cranny of your briefcase. Here they are in the case, compared to my Lufthansa F amenity kit now converted into a device charger carrier.

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The noise canceling capabilities of these earbuds is excellent, and the QC20i version can control your iDevices with ease. In the end, I think my investment in these great noise-canceling earbuds was one of my better travel investments. Any questions, just ask.

-MJ, July 22, 2014

Lately, I’ve been writing a weekly recap on Saturday, and a “this week” roadmap post for the week ahead on Sunday. Oh well… didn’t happen this time. I’ve taken Sunday morning flights so much earlier than 8:20am on a Sunday in my time, but getting ready to leave was extra challenging this week for some reason, and that flight came earlier than I expected. In short, I struggled to get ready to leave, and get the heck out of the house this morning! My upgrade cleared at the window for the internationally configured Delta 767 I flew from Atlanta to Seattle this morning, and I was stoked. It offered a chance to sample the 767 BusinessElite® seat, albeit with domestic service and catering. Suffice it to say that this flight to Seattle seemed remarkably shorter than the Delta flight I took to Seattle in coach 2 weeks ago! But I have a couple of constructive comments for Delta based on today’s flight that you’ll see in a post later this week. In the meantime, even this wide-bodied guy thought he could sleep in the 767 seat, but I tend to sleep on my side…YMMV. More this week. In the meantime, here’s the weekly recap and a look at the week ahead.

The Weekly Recap

This Week at MJ on Travel

  • Bose QC20i Review (#Awesome)
  • How I Learned to Stop Caring About the Game and Start Enjoying Myself
  • A Word on the Delta B767 BusinessElite® Seat
  • Reason # 785,642 Why I Love American Express

These travel topics, and no doubt a few more, this week at MJ on Travel.

-MJ, July 20, 2014

 

 

 

 

I’ve had my eye out for a new travel wallet for a while. The Bolzano travel wallet I picked up when United was running its Amenity (I think that’s what it was called) travel club has been getting a little worn looking. While still serviceable, it was time for a change. Frankly, I am focused on reducing the amount of stuff that travels around with me, and I was looking for a wallet that would carry my most important travel cards, passport, and a little spare cash. A mention of All-ETT wallets by Points and Travel had caught my eye at some point, but I filed the information away for future reference.

A couple months ago, I had travel wallets on my mind when getting ready for a trip, so I took a look at the All-ETT website. They have a wide selection of wallets for men and women. The RFID Passport Wallet caught my eye, so I placed an order for one. Within a few days, it arrived and I immediately liked it. It is smaller than my previous travel wallet, but that is what I had in mind. It protects my passport, has slots for cards (that can be doubled up if you want), and an ID slot where I place my Global Entry card.

All-ETT RFID Passport Wallet

The wallet has clean lines, and appears to be well constructed to this leather goods non-expert. I was in the market for a travel wallet with a smaller footprint and this fits the bill….and my passport too. :)

All-ETT RFID Passport Wallet Open

As I noted above, the card slots can contain more than one card, and the top slot is doubled up for me with my Amex Platinum card, and my company charge card for easy reach during my travels. There’s also a dual currency slot, which I use…one for cash, the other for drink coupons. The wallet is perfect for me, and easily fits in a front pocket slot in my briefcase for business trips, or my backpack for personal trips. I don’t begin to understand how threatened RFID passports are by identity theft, but the protection offered by the wallet is an added bonus. For me, it’s a perfect travel solution. I liked it so much I bought a Classic RFID Card Security Case to use as my walking around wallet. It has slots for 3 cards and a clear case on the backside for your driver’s license. I’ve found that it can accommodate two cards per slot as well, but I rarely need to do so. If you’re like me, you have a couple of cards you focus spend on with some in another wallet that get less use. This is a good solution if that’s the way you handle cards.

In the end, I really like the travel wallet, and the card case that I bought. Since this is a travel wallet review, here are the pros and cons of the wallet in my humble opinion.

Pros

  • Solid construction
  • Reasonable price
  • RFID protection
  • Smaller footprint than some travel wallets I’ve used
  • Fits perfectly in my briefcase

Cons

  • If you like to print your boarding passes and carry them around in your travel wallet, they will extend beyond the length of the wallet unless you fold them
  • If you carry a lot of elite status and other cards, etc with you, you may not like doubling up the cards as there are only 4 slots

If you’re in the market for a travel wallet, or any wallet, take a look at the products from All-ETT. I like the construction, and especially the thinness of their products.

-MJ, July 19, 2014

 

 

 

The Platinum Card® from American Express ($450 or $475 Mercedes Benz version with a better points bonus) has caught a bit of heat over the last couple of years. It started with the loss of the Continental lounges in the merger with United, hit a fever pitch as American and US Airways lounges dropped out, and then there was the crescendo when Delta announced Sky Club access changes for those who enter via a credit card relationship. There were other things along the way like the loss of Membership Rewards transfer partners like Continental and Southwest. All of these things combined led many travelers to question the value of the card, and some dropped it for other options. Yet here I am, with the Platinum card still occupying the top slot in my travel wallet, and I’m still calling it “the one in the one-two punch for travelers.” I think that is most true for Delta flyers like myself, but it’s still possible to piece together some real value and make the card pay for itself for others too. For me, the primary benefits of the card are:

  • Access to Delta Sky Clubs (MrsMJ has her own Platinum Card for this as well)
  • Priority Pass Select membership (the additional cardholder gets this too)
  • Access to American Express Centurion lounges (Currently DFW and LAS, with SFO, MIA and LGA coming soon)
  • Airspace Lounge access (BWI, CLE, and JFK)
  • The $200 annual airline fee credit
  • Reimbursement for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee ($100 or $85, every 5 years)
  • Cruise Privileges Program

Now, these are not the only benefits, they’re just the most valuable to me and MrsMJ in our travels. Of course, there’s Starwood Gold status, elite rental car memberships with Avis, Hertz, and National. There’s also the Fine Hotels and Resorts (FHR) program that I do not personally use often, but know many really leverage that for maximum benefit. For MrsMJ and me, we are looking at annual fees of $450 plus $175 for the additional card, a total of $625. For us, considering that I would buy a Delta Sky Club Executive membership otherwise, the Sky Club access makes the Platinum Card worth the fee all by itself. Backing out $200 for the airline fee credit, and another $200 or so annually in value from Cruise Privileges, I’m looking at $225 per year, well worth it for us….and that’s not even counting reimbursement for Global Entry every 5 years.

In all cases, you need to do your own math, and figure out what works best for you. If you don’t travel enough to justify a lounge membership or take advantage of the card’s great benefits, you’ll be better off shopping for a less expensive card. While the Platinum card is a great one for travel benefits, it’s rarely the best for everyday spend and that’s why I refer to it as just part of a one-two punch for travelers. The Platinum card combined with another card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card®, or the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® (I carry both) work together for benefits and earning valuable rewards points for your spend. For me, the Platinum card along with my Sapphire Preferred and Arrival+ are the perfect one-two (three?) punch for maximum travel benefits and rewards. YMMV.

-MJ, July 18, 2014

Disclosure: The Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® is available for application on this website under “Featured Credit Card Offers.” If you apply for and receive a card through that link, I will receive a commission.

 

I had a post set to launch around the lunch hour, but I’ve decided to delay that until tomorrow. Events like the tragic crash of MH 17 in eastern Ukraine have an uncanny way of putting things into perspective. In short, it makes a discussion about miles, points, credit cards, and whatnot seem kind of small. It will wait. In the meantime, prayers for those impacted.

-MJ, July 17, 2014

 

MrsMJ and I are taking a cruise next month. The thing is…we have not booked it yet. We usually take the same week in August off each year, and book a cruise for the week following a meeting she attends in Florida each year. Most years, we book well in advance, but this year is different. First, we haven’t had the luxury of knowing we would actually be able to pull this off (still aren’t totally sure). Second, without fail, for each year we’ve done this, prices have dropped in the days and weeks just before the cruise. We haven’t always had the luxury of being flexible, so we booked what we booked and dealt with it. This time, things are different. We live within driving distance of the port (I can drive down to join her, saving airfare), and if we happen to not make the cruise this year, there will be others. This flexibility and open-mindedness about the cruise enables us to capitalize on attractive pricing. I’ve been “stalking” the particular itinerary we want for weeks, and pricing has been static. Yesterday, it started to creep…down, and now I bring in my secret weapon – CruiseFish.net.

CruiseFish.net allows you to set up pricing alerts for itineraries you are interested in, and receive an alert via email when the price of a cruise drops below a certain point that you choose. The service isn’t free, but it is reasonable, and worth the effort to me. You can buy credits, with each credit being worth one price alert. I bought a package of 5 alerts for $4.95. You can review all pricing options here. Once you are set with credits, you can begin setting up your pricing alerts which is pretty straight forward.

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Clicking on “Finder” will take you to a list of cruise lines. Clicking on the cruise line of choice will offer a list of ships, and then you can get specific with the sail date you want.

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Your next choice will be a selection of cabin types. For this short cruise, I prefer the cheapest accommodations available, which are typically inside cabins.

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Clicking on the green price (279) takes me to the next screen where I can set up my alert. In my case, I want an alert if the price drops under $250 per person.

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After entering the information, click save. When you do that, the cabin category you’ve set the alert for turns pink.

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Now, you wait, and hope for the best possible result. :) Some travel agents are very good about doing price checks for you, and some aren’t. If you have one that routinely monitors pricing, that’s great. But I think this is a good insurance policy for achieving the best possible price for your cruise. Happy sailing!

-MJ, July 16, 2014

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