A staple of Royal Caribbean ships since the 1970’s, the Viking Crown Lounge has graced the upper decks of Royal’s ships all the way back to Song of Norway and Sun Viking. On most Royal Caribbean ships, the lounge sit up high, either around the stacks or looking down on the pools. Many appreciate the lounges because of their stunning sea views. They can be a great place to watch sail away if temps are chilly or weather is inclement. MJ on Travel has been known to enjoy a libation or two in the Viking Crown from time to time.

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Well, it seems that the traditional dining room is not the only thing that’s changing with Royal Caribbean. According to this Travel Weekly article, the recent refit of Oasis of the Seas will see the end of the traditional Viking Crown Lounge on that ship. The ship’s Viking Crown has been converted into a lounge and restaurant for suite guests. In honesty, I didn’t even make it to the Viking Crown aboard Oasis’ sister ship, Allure of the Seas, until the last night of 2 weeks on board. There are just too many other things to do! However, I was struck by the views of the sea as the Viking Crown was one of a few places, other than ocean view cabins, where you could enjoy great views of the ocean. (Image of Oasis of the Seas in dry dock courtesy of Royal Caribbean)

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Quantum of the Seas and her upcoming sister ships will not have a Viking Crown, but the Two70 lounge will offer great views, and fabulous entertainment too. All in all, I’m not too stressed. Things change, and there are plenty of other Royal ships that offer the Viking Crown for now.

-MJ, October 15, 2014

I was just looking at delta.com after a couple weeks away from the airport, and a few changes caught my eye. First, when you’re booking a flight, the choices between award booking or pay booking are a little more intuitive – it’s “money” or “miles.”

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And if you choose the “miles” option, the old tick box for “I am traveling” appears.

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But visually speaking, the biggest change was on the pricing page. The information is the same, but the information is a little softer on the eyes…. round edges and all.

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And better yet, when I clicked on “View Seats” the seat map appeared, and not just another little box inviting me to click the same thing again. Maybe it’s just me, but delta.com even felt just a tiny bit faster as I was surfing around shopping for flights. Have you noticed these minor tweaks to delta.com? What did you think of them?

-MJ, October 15, 2014

In another push towards product improvement, United Airlines is adding GoGo wi-fi and live streaming entertainment aboard its large regional jet fleet. According to United, they expect their first wi-fi enabled RJ to fly later this year. The airline will equip its CRJ-700, E-170, and E-175 fleets with the new options. Early next year, they expect to add the live streaming capability.

More from the press release – “The launch of regional jet Wi-Fi and personal device entertainment is United’s latest investment in its customers’ in-flight connectivity. The airline also offers:

  • More than 340 aircraft with Wi-Fi, including nearly two-thirds of its mainline domestic fleet, with plans to install Wi-Fi on the entire mainline fleet by mid-2015; and
  • More than 180 mainline aircraft with personal device entertainment, including all Boeing 747s and Airbus aircraft and nine Boeing 777s that primarily fly between the continental U.S. and Hawaii. United plans to offer personal device entertainment on more than 200 mainline aircraft by the end of this year.

MJ’s Take

It’s good to see United stepping up the game across the board. This makes them more competitive with Delta, and I expect American will expand wi-fi to it’s large regional fleet at some point as US Airways had already done with its larger EMB 17X fleet. Shockingly enough, we may have United to thank (and some constructive criticism from customers) for American’s tweaks to its first class meal policies since United recently announced some positive developments in that regard. Now, if they can just get wi-fi installed and working consistently across their mainline fleet. I’ve wondered from time to time if we might see more service improvements in an era of fewer pricing wars? Aside from squeezing so many seats into the airplanes, it seems like airlines are making some amenity improvements like wi-fi, entertainment, and even food. We can hope.

-MJ, October 15, 2014

Southwest Airlines carries more domestic US passengers than any other airline last time I checked. Not to mention, they have a bit of a presence here in Atlanta. I posted a while back that Southwest and I were going to be spending a little more time together over the next year. While I generally have some flexibility in carrier choice as long as the fare is the same, there’s no doubting that I’ll be flying Delta a little less and Southwest a little more. (Image courtesy of Southwest Airlines)

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It’s been a while since I’ve written about Southwest. Frankly, I find them to be just fine for flights of less than 3 hours. Early Bird Check-in resolves a lot of my boarding fears, and it’s entirely likely that I’m A-List by this time next year. But as I ponder the year ahead, I’ve been thinking that there are two things Southwest could do that would assuage nearly any apprehension I have about flying with them –

  • An enhanced legroom coach product
  • Power outlets

Of course, as far as I know, they have no plans to offer either. I know that the extra legroom product goes against the current philosophy of shoving as many seats as possible onboard, but it would seem to me that the up-sale potential here is at least worth considering. If managed and marketed correctly, an extra legroom product could (should) be revenue positive.

And then, there’s my #1 wish for any airline, power outlets. My preference for shorter Southwest flights negates the value of this, but the fact is that Southwest is flying some fairly lengthy trans-continental flights. The availability of power for work and play enroute is an issue, and is one that I consider when choosing which airline to book.

Certainly, each of these wishes come with a cost, but they have potential to be revenue positive if handled correctly. That’s especially true for an enhanced legroom product. Will my wishes be granted? I doubt it, but it couldn’t hurt to wish on a Wednesday morning, could it?

-MJ, October 15, 2014

Of the many unique features of Quantum of the Seas, none is more unique than North Star. I can think of no better way than a mechanical arm with a gondola attached, but I’ll go with Royal Caribbean’s description – an engineering marvel that takes guests to new heights in a jewel-shaped glass capsule that gently rises more than 300 feet in the air, taking guests on a spectacular journey and delivering awe-inspiring, 360-degree views. Here’s an image (courtesy of Royal Caribbean) of the newly installed North Star on Quantum of the Seas.

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I’d call it a novelty more than anything else, but it’s a novelty I’m looking forward to trying when I board Quantum of the Seas in December. Like most things cruise ship, there’s more to designing and installing North Star than meets the eye. Here’s an excellent video describing the process.

I debated with myself on whether to post about the exciting Target REDcard. First, it’s seen enough press. Second, I’m a junior varsity innovative spender strategist. Finally, I already have had a BlueBird account that I’ve gotten some use from. All that being said, I’m rolling with the REDcard, and I wanted to share my reasons why.

  • I really do not like Wal-Mart, and that option has become more difficult to manage anyway.
  • I really do like Target, and I can walk to one of their stores.
  • Credit card reloads.
  • I can walk to Target. (oops, I already said that)

And that’s enough reasons. The only issue is that REDcard is not yet available everywhere, including Georgia. Should I go ahead and serve with something else, or sit tight? I’ve posted recently that I’ve taken a little break from what some of us call “the game” but I’m almost ready to get back in. The question is….should I move sooner rather than later on this, and I’ve decided to wait. I really, really, really want a REDcard. The possibilities are endless, from paying my next cruise bar bill to paying for the flights to the cruise. This is one option that I’m watching closely, has great potential, and rumor has it we may not have to wait long to procure one here in GA. Waiting has its own risks, I know, but there’ll be other options. In the meantime, I may just have to take a little detour to a Target on my next trip out of town just to experiment. I haven’t been this tickled since I figured out which Vanilla reload was the right Vanilla reload. :) No matter what happens, I’m studying everything FrequentMiler has to say on this.

-MJ, October 14, 2014

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One of the more chatter-provoking events in the airline industry in recent weeks is American’s announcement that it would begin daily flights from Los Angeles (LAX) to Atlanta (ATL). Many expressed surprise. The armchair CEOs pronounce it impossible to make money. MJ raises an eyebrow and says “hey, I thought these guys didn’t compete anymore?!” Yuh huh.

The fallback comment to anything said about airlines re-engineering their “loyalty” programs revolves around something like…. they’re only doing this because they can…and the mergers….and no competition. Less competition than before does not equate to no competition, and there’s no better example than this one little route announcement. Nonstop flights between two of the largest cities in the country isn’t necessarily news, but it seems to be in the airline world. I think that’s because many had begun to get comfortable with the idea that the big airlines were going to retreat to their corners and play with their toys. That ain’t going to happen.

American has the data on this. They know their loyalty membership numbers, and they know their corporate contracts. I do not. I do know that Atlanta is not an unimportant market, even if it’s dominated by Delta. Add in an opportunistic management with manageable costs, fleet availability, attractive airport real estate in ATL (T concourse gates and an Admirals Club), and I’m not the least bit surprised AA is trying something different – even if they have to compete with Delta and Southwest. I’m pretty sure AA is not doing this so they can lose money. We’ll have to talk about the news that AA is calling LAX a hub in another post.

-MJ, October 14, 2014

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I’m a lifelong student of the airline industry. My primary interest has always been the operations side – making things click with the right fleets and schedules. Now that I am on the customer side of the counter, I still study airline operations, marketing, loyalty, etc, but something of increasing interest to me is passenger experience. In other words, the hard product like seats and inflight amenities. IFE gets a lot of attention for reasons that I’ve never quite figured out. JetBlue started the buzz with TVs at every seat, and airlines have been fighting internal battles about the way forward ever since.

Many airlines have installed fancy IFE systems. I’ve been most impressed with American’s system that I experienced on its A319 and A321T service recently. Delta has a fairly nice system on its 737-900s too. Delta has also invested in making more entertainment options available via live streaming, a feature that I think has potential across the industry. On the other hand, US Airways, now part of American Airlines removed all of its domestic IFE, and disabled power systems on legacy US Airways aircraft.

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Maybe I’m an outlier, but I carry a laptop, smartphone, and tablet device on all of my trips…business or pleasure. These devices are loaded with entertainment options. What they aren’t loaded with is limitless battery life. While I enjoy IFE systems from time to time, if I were forced to choose, there’s no doubt that I’d rather have reliable electrical power with a standard outlet than any other inflight amenity I can think of. Couple that with live streaming video, and I think you have a viable IFE option on most flights.

I have no idea how much weight a modern IFE system adds to an airplane, but I would think its considerable. No doubt, the airlines that are in the process of adding these systems have some solid data behind their decisions to install these systems, but I’d much rather have power at every seat than a “TV”. I thought a reader poll might be fun. You know how I’m voting. What about you?

-MJ, October 13, 2014

What is your most desired airline amenity?

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There are a number of little idiosyncrasies in my business travel life that help solidify my place in the “contrarion” category when it comes to the miles and points space. Living where I live, I think flying Delta is the easiest to forgive, though one could argue that I should wise up and start crediting to Alaska MileagePlan. Then there’s the other side of the business travel coin – hotels. Marriott Rewards always wins a lot of awards so it must not be so bad, but it catches a lot of flack in the bloggerverse for being among the least rewarding hotel programs. Appropriately, I spend most of my hotel nights in a Marriott family hotel. :)

Travel Update reported this weekend that Marriott’s cancellation policy will change on January 1, 2015, from a “cancellation deadline from the day of arrival (e.g., 12:00, 4:00 or 6:00 p.m.) to 11:59 p.m. local time on the day prior to arrival.” For whatever reason, a lot of my business travel is last-minute. Likewise, a lot of my planned business travel changes at the last minute. As a result, Marriott’s admittedly generous cancellation policies at most properties were a benefit to me. Frankly, it is one of the reasons that Marriott.com is usually the first place I look for hotel accommodation in any city I’m traveling to.

When I look at things through the eyes of a revenue management analyst, I can see the benefits for hotels being better able to manage inventory and price distressed inventory appropriately. Then there’s the cancellation fee possibility as well. However, I’m not a revenue management person for a hotel, I’m a business traveler, and this is not a positive development in my travels. I’m not the type to wail on about any little change sending me somewhere else. The truth is that I’ll still be spending plenty of time at Marriott in 2015. BUT this one little change alone will cost them some business from me as there are other hotel properties in cities I frequent that I prefer, and I no longer have the better cancellation policy to sway me towards Marriott. End of the world? No. End of defaulting to Marriott without looking anywhere else? Definitely. Will Marriott’s change in cancellation policy impact your hotel decisions?

-MJ, October 13, 2014

Now that I have your attention, it occurred to me last night that one little thing has been lost in all the buzz about an increase in MQD requirements for the 2016 program year for SkyMiles Medallion status. Delta did something right in this, they gave advance notice of the change. Rather than wait until Christmas Eve, they let us know that the requirements to maintain status in 2016 will be changing come January 1, 2015.

While I’m not particularly bothered by the changes, I know some are. I think a lot of angst about frequent flyer programs in general could be resolved by being transparent and giving advance notice of changes. In this case, Delta did that, and I have plenty of time to adjust strategies for 2016 IF that’s what I want to do. But in reality, this changes very little for me. If I’m only able to manage Gold Medallion in 2016, so be it. At least I know what I’m getting into.

-MJ, October 12, 2014

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