Royal Caribbean is very close to taking delivery of Quantum of the Seas. The promises many exciting new features. While not a new feature, Royal Caribbean appears to be turning things up when it comes to maintaining your fitness routines onboard. In this video, Quantum experience advisor, Dhani Jones, and Royal Caribbean’s CEO discuss Jones’ role in preparing new fitness activities for Quantum guests.

As you may know, I presented at this year’s Chicago Seminars. While I normally fly Delta, a couple of circumstances came together a few weeks ago that led me to book American Airlines for my roundtrip flight from Atlanta to ORD. Both flights were on large RJs, both flights were in first class, but both flights could not have been more different. My trip began with a visit to the American Admirals Club in Atlanta on Friday. The lounge staff is pleasant, seating and power outlets were mostly plentiful, and they offer a decent menu of sandwiches and salads for a reasonable charge. I arrived early so I could get a bit of work done, finding the bar the least crowded, I took a seat there. The bar in the club is equipped with power outlets. Charge up!

ATL-ORD, CRJ-700 operated by Envoy Air dba American Eagle

I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t catch the fact that I’d booked the one Envoy operated flight to Chicago on my day of travel. I really wanted to fly the EMB-175 that predominates on the route for American, but I digress. One could do worse than a first class seat to Chicago on Friday, even if I did have to valet my carry on thanks to the CRJ-700’s small bins. The tone of the flight was set when a passenger in coach offered his first class seat to another passenger so he could sit with his spouse. The flight attendant happened to pick up on the conversation and would have nothing of it. When the lucky passenger tried to take her now upgraded seat, the F/A responded with something to the effect of “that’s nice for you, but I cannot let you do that.” She did offer that the two passengers could go work it out with the agent. At least she managed to offer pre-departure waters.

We departed on time, and the flight was smooth….and incredibly fast. One feature of the Eagle inflight service I had not anticipated in light of American’s recent meal changes did delight me.

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They weren’t warm, but I still love them! :) We landed early, waited for a gate, waited for a jet bridge operator, and then waited for our valet bags. In the end, I walked off the jet bridge only 10 minutes after our scheduled arrival, so all was well, but it served as a reminder of why I seek to avoid RJs where possible.

ORD-ATL, EMB-175 operated by Republic Airlines dba American Eagle

After spending a bit of time in the Chicago Admirals Club, I made my way to our gate on the L Concourse. No G madhouse. Within a minute or two, an announcement was made that the flight was oversold and they were seeking volunteers in exchange for a $500 travel voucher. Yes, please! In the end, they did not need a volunteer so we boarded a tiny bit later than scheduled, but still with plenty of time to depart on time. I walked onto a very new EMB-175, was greeted warmly by a polite flight attendant, and took seat 4A, the last seat on the left in first class. Pre-departure waters were offered in the midst of a rushed boarding, and we were buttoned up and ready to push on time. I was pleased with the legroom and comfort of the seat. I was further impressed that there were no pen marks….must’ve been a really new airplane.

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Soon enough, we were on our way to Atlanta. Shortly after takeoff, the flight attendant was in the aisle checking on passengers and taking beverage orders. No mixed nuts on this flight. :(

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Admittedly, the second flight seems to be most in line with American’s posted snack offering for the flights I took.

Conclusion

This wasn’t my first flight on either aircraft type, but it was my first for the EMB-175 under the American Eagle brand. The flight experience was much better than the CRJ-700, which wasn’t unexpected. Being in first class, it’s hard to compare, but I didn’t see anything that changed my opinion that the EMB-17X-19X aircraft are as comfortable as any airliner in the marketplace for domestic flights.

Something caught my eye this morning – a week aboard the beautiful Celebrity Reflection for as little as $399 per person. The cruise departs Miami on November 29, 2014, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, but hear me out. Some air travel deals are still out there for the big day itself, the Friday after Thanksgiving, or even Saturday morning. (Note – I always recommend arriving a day early if you can.)

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If inside cabins aren’t your thing, Veranda’s are as low as $599 and Celebrity’s MJ recommended Aqua Class is starting at $899 per person. Trust me, if I weren’t setting sail on Quantum of the Seas 2 days after this cruise begins, I’d have to think about this one. Click here for more cruise details.

A BusinessWeek article caught my eye this morning as the topic was about Delta’s “Bare-Bones” E Fares. There has been quite a bit of chatter about E-Fares across the internet over the last few weeks as Delta is removing the ability for elite Medallion members to upgrade if they are traveling on one of these fares on February 1, 2015. According to the article,

“After a hiatus of several months, Delta is resurrecting its lowest economy class ticket as it seeks to keep bargain carrier Spirit Airlines Inc. from luring away leisure travelers. The bare-bones “e-class” ticket will not allow passengers to get seat upgrades or make same-day flight changes and they will board last.”

I had missed the fact that E fares had disappeared for a period of time….probably because I don’t routinely travel in markets where Delta offers them. While I suppose one could see the removal of upgrade availability as a real benefit reduction, I have to wonder how many Medallion flyers were actually buying E fares. I haven’t….and now I know I won’t be.

I don’t want to discuss Delta’s pricing habits, but the marketing aspects of this are interesting to me. With Spirit, I can (at least) buy up to a Big Front Seat™. I suppose Delta could argue that if a Medallion wants an upgrade, they can buy any other fare other than E class and rock on. They’d be correct. I’ll wait and see, but I’m betting the dollar-difference in fares between E fares and others isn’t nearly enough to justify losing just about every Medallion benefit there is for that specific flight. The market for most E fare sales is likely to be a passenger who could care less about Medallion benefits or miles in general. E fares and the changes in Medallion benefits for those who buy them aren’t going to cause this Medallion to think twice. What about you?

-MJ, October 20, 2014

Hat Tip – FlyerTalk

Some threads on a message board are more likely to catch my eye than others. Here’s one of the more interesting I’ve seen in a while courtesy of the Delta Air Lines forum – “Rumor: DL removing complimentary upgrades”. You can imagine the discussion that has ensued. The gist of which seems to revolve around this.

  • The original poster is a troll
  • The rumor is not true
  • Someone is confused because Delta is removing comp upgrades for Medallions who buy E class fares
  • A trial balloon is being floated by Delta
  • There is less competition so Delta is coming to get us

MJ’s Take

Any of the reasons I listed could be true. This could be someone having fun on the internet….or more. In truth, I don’t know….but…. I think it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Delta could eliminate “complimentary” upgrades for elite Medallion members. Back in “the day” the airlines credited you with upgrade “certificates” for every 10,000 or so miles flown with each one being good for 500 miles worth of premium cabin travel. This is a system that American Airlines still offers its elite AAdvantage members with top tier Executive Platinum members receiving complimentary upgrades that have to be requested. It’s also the best way to manage elite upgrades in my ever so humble opinion.

I didn’t major in economics but I did pretty well in the courses I took. It’s been a minute since college so I’ll ask forgiveness if I don’t get the terminology just right. Here’s the deal. When you offer a limited amount of product for “free” you create a lot of demand with a limited supply. I know I’ve blogged about it before, but I much prefer the AA way of doing things when it comes to upgrades for elites. With a system that requires “payment” for a service, you’ll find that lower level elites have a better opportunity to upgrade because all elites focus on requesting upgrades they really want. The 50 person and longer upgrade lists at Delta have gotten a little ridiculous. It’s almost a joke among elites at the gate.

My conclusion – this might absolutely be a false rumor, but it’s also entirely possible that Delta is finally wising up to the folly (yes, I said folly) of “complimentary” upgrades for all elites, and looking at a return to the way things used to be. I really doubt that they are considering removing upgrade opportunities all together. If they are, I’d have to write a very interesting blog post.

-MJ, October 20, 2014

I was honored to present at the 2014 Chicago Seminars on my favorite topic, cruising. I’m trying a slightly different method of sharing my presentation on the blog this year, and appreciate any feedback on how well it works. I converted the presentation into a movie. If you see a slide of particular interest to you, just click pause. I’ll include a link for a .pdf file as well. For those that were there, you’ll see the fun pictures of me with great looking hair are missing. :)

Of course, I know the context of the session is missing so please email or comment if you have any specific questions. I’m also including link to a .pdf file containing the presentation. The .pdf file includes links to content referenced during the presentation.

Click here for the presentation – 2014 Chicago Seminars

Reference Materials

 

Hello from the 2014 Chicago Seminars! I arrived yesterday, and it’s been great seeing old friends and making new ones. I’m presenting this afternoon on my favorite topic, cruise vacations! I hope to see you there. Now, let’s take a look at our week in review.

And this week at MJ on Travel –

  • A Look at the Bankcard Rewards Programs and Cruising

This, and no doubt more, this week at MJ on Travel.

-MJ, October 18, 2014

I’ve read multiple articles in the last several weeks about how awful travel was this summer. Delays, cancellations, problems. I’ve opined before that I didn’t get the drama. I did not have a quiet summer when it comes to travel, but I had none of the issues that I’ve seen multiple journalists write about. I finally figured out why I’ve led such a charmed travel life this summer. I haven’t set foot on an RJ, and I haven’t transited Chicago.

Today, I flew American Eagle CRJ-700 service to Chicago in first class. Check in was easy on my iPhone, and the Atlanta Admirals Club was great as always. We boarded right on time, launched on time, and got to Chicago early…..very early….and waited for our gate. Then when we got to the gate there was no agent. When we finally got off the plane, our gate checked luggage was late. When the first batch of gate checked luggage arrived, it was for only half of the airplane. And so on……

My little walk on the wild side away from Delta was interesting, but the experience was a good look at how we can all get used to a certain way of doing things. I’d truly forgotten what it was like to gate valet my carry on and wait for it an excessive amount of time on the other end! Couple that with the fact that it’s a Friday afternoon at O’Hare, and you’ve got yourself one special experience. :) Moral of the story – avoid RJs and O’Hare. :) Trip report coming soon. Now, it’s time for the Chicago Seminars!

-MJ, October 17, 2014

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My friend, The Weekly Flyer, posted about the latest twist in the Ebola scare this morning. Apparently, a Dallas healthcare worker who handled a lab specimen from the US’ first Ebola victim departed Galveston, Texas aboard the Carnival Magic on October 12. Here is a quote from Carnival about the matter.

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Weekly Flyer says he would pack his bags and leave. He’d be in for a long swim.

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That’s the current position of Carnival Magic according to marinetraffic.com. According to KHOU, the government of Belize refused a request by the US government to allow the individual to disembark and be flown home. Depending on who you consult, the ship is in anchorage off shore, and no guests are being allowed to disembark. I wouldn’t leave the ship to fly home, and being a poor swimmer isn’t the only reason. First, the “patient” hasn’t exhibited any symptoms, and is quarantined in her room. And if the news reports and Cruise Critic are to be believed, the person in question is actually a supervisor at the lab and didn’t actually “touch” any lab specimens. That won’t stop the media and anyone else from talking about this.

Certainly, I’m not a physician or epidemiologist. I’m a blogger that likes to cruise. I claim no expertise in this except the knowledge that ships are really good at quarantining people when they need to, but I doubt they’re equipped to deal with Ebola. Of course, I don’t think they need to in this case, but let’s get hysterical anyway. Not! Now…all this isn’t to say that the handling of the entire Ebola experience in this country hasn’t been botched from the get-go, but that’s for someone else to pontificate about.

-MJ, October 17, 2014

Introduction

Cruise Line Loyalty – Carnival Cruises

Cruise Line Loyalty – World’s Leading Cruise Lines (Other Carnival Corporation lines like Princess and HAL)

Cruise Line Loyalty – NCL

Cruise Line Loyalty – Royal Caribbean MyCruise Rewards (including Celebrity and Azamara)

Cruise Line Loyalty – How the Bank Rewards Programs Stack Up

Highlights

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines Ltd. owns several cruise lines. The three best known are Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, and Azamara Club Cruises. We’ll focus on those today as they participate in the MyCruise® Rewards program and offer multiple credit card products that tie together in a common points currency. Beyond cards and points, these three lines offer elite status reciprocity, the closest thing to status matching in cruising, and an imminently useful benefit if you would like to experience different styles of cruising but not start over at the bottom of the elite ladder on a new cruise line. I’ve covered the elite status programs at Royal Caribbean and Celebrity previously in my status matters series.

Since then, Celebrity has restructured its elite status program and changed the way points are earned, which I reviewed here. I did not include Azamara in the series, but I recently wrote about their elite loyalty program here. Personally, I am Diamond Plus with Royal Caribbean’s Crown & Anchor Society, and enjoy reciprocal status with Celebrity at the Elite Level. As a result, I’ve enjoyed the benefits of elite status on Celebrity even though I’ve only taken 3 cruises with them. I have not yet made the phone call to match over to Azamara Le Club Voyage Discoverer status. It’s worth the call! But what about the points?

MyCruise® Rewards Credit Cards

MyCruise Rewards is a credit card point loyalty program shared by Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Azamara. I don’t have hard data on this, but I would speculate that the Royal Caribbean card is the most popular of the MyCruise points cards, so I will focus on that and then get into why the Celebrity card may be the most beneficial.

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Royal Caribbean offers a Visa Signature card that currently features the following benefits and bonuses:

  • Earn double MyCruise Points for every $1 spent on Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises purchases
  • Earn one point for every $1 spent on your everyday purchases
  • 10,000 bonus points after your first qualifying transaction — redeemable for $100 onboard credit
  • Zero Liability for Fraudulent Charges, which helps protect you from fraudulent transactions
  • Discounted companion airline certificate† after $3500 in card purchases within the first 90 days with the Visa Signature card (students, Platinum Plus® and Preferred accounts are not eligible)
  • Perks like Visa Signature Concierge Service*, lost luggage protection, emergency cash worldwide, common carrier travel accident insurance and more
  • No annual fee

At the moment, they’re also offering a $75 credit in addition to the 10,000 (worth roughly $100) bonus point offer if you make $1,500 in purchases in the first 90 days. So, with not much effort you can get $175 in value towards a cruise. Like most cruise points programs, MyCruise Rewards is a “penny per point” earn and burn program with the exception being you earn 2 points per dollar for spending on your cruise. On the redemption side, there are a few sweet spots where you can achieve 2 cents per point in value. For example, for 50,000 points you can purchase a 3 or 4 night cruise for two up to a maximum of $1,000 in value.

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Of course, the value per point depends on how close you get to maximizing that $1000 price point. Could be useful around holidays, but most of the time, you can buy the same cruise for under $200 per person. There are other nuggets like this. You can review the entire award chart here. I won’t pretend that there aren’t better cards out there for many miles and points enthusiasts….even cruise enthusiasts. But I do believe the MyCruise Rewards card products are the best of the bunch for a couple of reasons. First, there’s a common points currency across multiple cruise lines, focused on different experiences. Second, there’s one card product out of the bunch that offers some benefits that make it worth carrying if you cruise Celebrity.

The card includes a $69 annual fee, but for the right kind of Celebrity cruiser, the card will pay for itself before you ever use a rewards point. The basic earning scenario is the same, you earn 2 points per dollar spent with Celebrity Cruises as well as Royal Caribbean International and Azamara Club Cruises, and 1 point per dollar on all other charges. You’ll also receive a 10,000 point first purchase bonus which is worth a $100 onboard credit. The real beauty of this card is the extra benefits it comes with.

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You can read the fine print here. I ran some numbers using our last Celebrity cruise as an example. MrsMJ and I purchased the Premium Alcohol package for a 14-night cruise. The price was $54 per person per day (plus gratuity). 54 x 14 = $756 per person before gratuity. If I had carried this card at the time, I could have gotten $75.60 back per person which more than pays the annual fee. The specialty restaurant discounts can add a few bucks to the total value of the card as well. That’s just one cruise. A regular Celebrity cruiser would achieve greater value.

In closing, I find MyCruise® Rewards to be the better of the cruising credit card points loyalty programs. That said, even an average miles and points enthusiast like me can find better values in other products. We’ll conclude the series next week with a look at the bank card products and how they measure up for saving money on your next cruise.

-MJ, October 17, 2014

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Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.