The Thanksgiving holiday is upon us, and soon after that Christmas bells will ring. This Thanksgiving promises to be one of the busiest for air travel in years, and of course, I’m flying on the busiest day of the year – the Sunday after Thanksgiving. I thought a few tried and true holiday travel tips from this ex-airline guy might be in order. Most of these apply all year too and some you’ve seen here before.

Fly early – This was the advice I offered in one of my very first blog posts, and it still holds true. I recommend this in the summer, and frankly, it holds true throughout the year and especially the holidays. Airlines are very focused on getting their morning launch out of the gate on time. Flying early helps you better avoid possible delays that build throughout the day.

Pack lightly, but do pack patience – If possible, try and travel with carry ons only. I have a 20″ TravelPro carryon that has become my go-to bag. I supplement this with an Eagle Creek “Quirk” Travelpack, which I have found to carry an amazing amount of stuff and still fit underneath the seat in front of you. Sticking with carry ons will offer you an enormous amount of flexibility during your trip. If you wind up with a cancelled flight, and getting rerouted, the assurance of having your bag with you is wonderful. Now, about patience. Air travel during the holidays can be a test of anyone’s patience. The balance of experienced vs inexperienced travelers is way out of whack. Be nice to the airline staff, and they are more apt to help get you out of a bind. If you are stuck waiting for a flight, don’t visit the counter every 3 minutes to ask about the flight.

holiday travel tips, travel tips, holiday travel

Patience is good, but don’t let that stop you from being proactive – It’s always good to be informed. Be proactive by checking the weather along your route of flight, and across the country really. It is entirely possible for an early winter storm in Chicago to impact your flight from Dallas to Dayton.   Take a minute to research possible back up plans if your flight is delayed or cancelled. Sometimes it can be helpful to have that back up plan in your pocket if you’re working with an airline agent to get rebooked. You may think of things they don’t.

If you’re flight is cancelled or delayed and you are standing in a long line of customers waiting to be rebooked, be proactive by calling the airline’s 1-800 number and working on alternative arrangements. By the time you get to the front of the line, you may already have everything worked out, and just need to pick up a new boarding pass. As a Delta flyer, I love @DeltaAssist for help with making alternative arrangements during a delay. They are awesome! If you’re on a flight with wi-fi, you can probably access your airline’s website for free. Start looking at your options before you land, and you may even find that you’ve already been taken care of for the next leg of your trip.

Consider a travel concierge – I consider myself an experienced traveler who has no problem navigating the landmines that holiday travel can lay in your way. However, if you are not a routine traveler, and are taking a trip of a lifetime, or at least your very valuable annual vacation time, you might consider investing in a travel concierge to watch things for you. I have used the services of Cranky Concierge on important vacation trips before, and they are worth every penny.

Invest in a day pass to the airline lounge – If you aren’t a lounge member, or don’t carry a credit card product that grants access, the price of a day pass to the airline lounge may be worth the price of gold. Airline lounges are typically staffed with the most experienced agents who can help you get on your way sooner rather than later. If nothing else, you can at least wait for your flight in comfort with access to beverages and snacks.

Be nice – Right up there with patience, is politeness. As frustrating as air travel delays can be, taking those frustrations out on airline personnel are not going to help you get home faster. And you don’t need the extra stress either.

-MJ, November 21, 2014

MJ Logo5

News that JetBlue is dropping a free checked bag for those who purchase its cheapest fares is making the rounds. Speculation had been running rampant that the airline would make such a move with a drumbeat of analysts and pundits wondering why the airline was continuing to leave money on the table by not doing so. Personally, I’ve always liked JetBlue’s model when it comes to bag fees. I think one bag is (should be) an inherent part of the travel experience and it should be included in the fare. Obviously, the rest of the airline industry in the USA disagrees with me, except Southwest. And that leads me to ponder…..will they add checked bag fees?

I don’t think there’s any near-term chance that Southwest does so. They’ve built a considerable bit of brand awareness around “bags fly free” and there may be value in that. However, as an airline with costs that aren’t exactly the lowest in the business, the revenue attraction may prove too difficult to ignore in the longer term. What’s standing between Southwest and checked bag fees? Well, there’s that “bags fly free” brand awareness I mentioned, which my very well have bought them some business. I can imagine the Twitter uproar that comes if they make a change. What else? I can’t help but wonder whether the airlines well-known antiquated IT issues prevents them from charging for bags even if they wanted to do it.

In the end, I doubt we see bag fees from Southwest anytime soon. But the perception that the airline is just leaving money on the table that it could be collecting may prove too difficult to ignore over time. What do you think?

-MJ, November 20, 2014

southwest airlines, southwest bag fees, bags fly free

Multiple news sources are reporting that Delta Air Lines is about to announce an big order for Airbus wide-body jets. According to Reuters, the order will be “split between the all-new A350-900 and a recently announced revamp of the current-generation A330.” There is no formal announcement from Delta or Airbus at the moment. (Image courtesy of Delta Air Lines)

delta, delta air lines, delta airbus order, delta a330, delta airbus orders

MJ’s Take

Delta already operates a large number of A330 aircraft with more current generation A330s on order. From an operational perspective, more A330s make sense, especially with the more efficient new engine option. The biggest surprise in this from my perspective is the A350 order. Delta has a history of going with proven airframes. This leads me to think that Airbus must’ve made a pretty sweet deal to get Delta to purchase these new aircraft. My next question? Will Delta ever take delivery of the 787s it has orders for that were leftover from NWA?

-MJ, November 20, 2014

Carnival Corporation has announced that it will launch its first-ever multi-brand marketing campaign on Monday, November 24. The initiative, which will encompass multiple digital and social media elements, will involve all nine of Carnival Corporation’s brands. Carnival’s goal with the new campaign is to introduce more people to cruising, with a focus on those who have never cruised before.

“Across our portfolio of nine brands and more than 100 cruise ships visiting over 700 destinations around the world, Carnival Corporation carries more than 10.5 million guests a year, accounting for one out of every two people who cruise anywhere in the world,” said Carnival Corporation CEO Arnold Donald. “With so many distinctive experiences offered by our industry-leading brands, we truly believe the Carnival family has a cruise for everyone. Our job is to help people understand why cruising is such a great vacation, and to help them find which of our nine cruise brands is the right one for them.”

The website WorldsLeadingCruiseLines.com will serve as the marketing hub for the campaign. Here, consumers will have an opportunity to view several advertising concepts and vote for their favorite. One lucky person will win an annual free cruise for life! You can also check out Carnival’s innovative new CRUISE-A-NALITY tool. According to Carnival, the new tool is “a fun and easy way to find out which of our cruise brands is the best fit for their personality.”

carnival cruise, carnival cruise lines, worlds leading cruise lines

According to Carnival’s press release, the marketing initiative will include the following elements aimed at growing awareness, consideration and demand for cruising among consumers:

  • The “World’s Leading Cruise Lines Marketing Challenge”:Carnival Corporation CEO Arnold Donald and celebrity emcee Cedric the Entertainer will invite consumers to “join” the Carnival Corporation marketing team and help select creative elements for the marketing initiative. On WorldsLeadingCruiseLines.com Mr. Donald will introduce six distinct advertising concepts and ask consumers to help further shape the stories, as well as vote for which ad concept does the best job of both dispelling misconceptions about cruising and bringing the cruise experience to life.
  • CRUISE-A-NALITY:One aspect of WorldsLeadingCruiseLines.com allows vacationers to find their “CRUISE-A-NALITY,” which is an interactive tool to help consumers find their individual cruise persona — type of cruiser based on likes and dislikes — from a total of 30 personas. After answering six simple questions, the CRUISE-A-NALITY tool provides consumers with their persona, cruise brand recommendations and links to find more information to begin planning their vacation – with a reminder to contact their travel agent for additional guidance on which cruise is right for them. Once visitors know their CRUISE-A-NALITY, they are encouraged to call their travel agent as well as share their results through their Facebook and Twitter social media channels.
  • Twitter Contest: Carnival Corporation will kick off the launch of its new Twitter handle, @CarnivalPLC, on November 24with a contest encouraging consumers to share what they love about cruising. In addition to instant prizes for tweets at 50,000, 150,000, 250,000, 400,000, 500,000 and 750,000, one individual will be selected at random to receive, for themselves and a guest, 100 days of cruising on their choice of Carnival Corporation’s U.S.-based brands to be used at their discretion.
  • WorldsLeadingCruiseLines.com:This site – which promotes the company’s nine brands – serves as the hub for both the campaign and an information source on cruising options and experiences on Carnival Cruise Lines, Cunard, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Seabourn in the U.S.; AIDA Cruises in Germany; Costa Cruises in Italy; and P&O Cruises (Australia) and P&O Cruises (United Kingdom). The site will help serve as a continuous communication platform for consumers and travel agents.

All sweepstakes rules and eligibility information will be available at WorldsLeadingCruiseLines.com.

MJ’s Take

I think this is the first joint marketing campaign I’ve seen from a multi-brand cruise company. You know I think that cruising represents a great vacation value, and I like the way Carnival Corporation is highlighting the different vacation experiences across all nine of its brands. I really like the CRUISE-A-NALITY website tool. One of the top questions I get from prospective cruisers is “how do I pick a cruise line?” I like the idea of an online tool to offer tips on that. And who doesn’t like an opportunity to win a free cruise?! Good show by Carnival Corporation. One thing I hope we see in the future from Carnival is some form of elite status recognition across all of its brands.

-MJ, November 19, 2014

Over the weekend, I took my first flights on US Airways in a few years. I didn’t leave US Airways, I left DC and moved to Atlanta. I fly a bit on business, supplemented a reasonable amount of personal travel too. Delta was and is a logical choice for me, their well-publicized mileage program issues aside. Delta remains my first choice of airlines, but I’ve wondered aloud in the last several months, “could a 30 minute flight to Charlotte be a cost of doing business?” With that question, I mean could I become so disenchanted with SkyMiles that I might just have to look at the 30 minute flight and an extra connection as a necessary aspect of my travels so I can participate in a loyalty program that works? After my weekend in flight, the short answer to that question is….. “yes, but….” :)

The Basics

US Airways treated me pretty well this weekend, in spite of the snag I encountered with them recognizing my American Airlines elite status. My trip began in Atlanta with a stop at the American Airlines Admirals Club. Suffice it to say, things were relatively quiet so early on a Saturday morning.

IMG_1746

IMG_1747

The Admirals Club is located on the T Concourse near legacy AA gates, so I had to depart early for my US Airways flight from the D Concourse. I arrived to find a beautiful A321 in new American colors. When we boarded, that new plane smell was still there.

The Charlotte Hub

We launched on time for a fast morning flight to Charlotte. Our flight went a little too swimmingly and we had to wait for a gate upon landing, but still managed to block in early. I purposely booked a slightly longer layover than necessary to check out the lounges and the Charlotte airport itself as it had been a few years since my last visit. It was much as I remembered – a remarkably pleasant place to change planes. The regional gates on the E Concourse can be a bit of a hike if you have a tight connection, but other than that….heck, even with that, I still find the Charlotte terminal to be a superior travel experience.

The clubs at Charlotte have been rebranded as Admirals Clubs. I checked into the primary club at Charlotte, the C/D Admirals Club. It’s a big lounge with very nice views of the ramp and one of the runways. My general feeling is that if you’ve been in one US Airways Club, you’ve been in most of them, so I didn’t bother with pictures. My primary interest was asking an agent if they could fix that “snag” I mentioned. The agent really spent a lot of time trying to figure out what was wrong, even taking the initiative to grab available upgrade space on my return flight. But no luck… as far as US Airways was concerned, I was just a “plain vanilla” AAdvantage member (my term). Oh well, off I went to the main terminal to check out some of the options for lunch.

I elected to dine at First in Flight. The sushi was OK…certainly not bad….just not mind blowing. Good enough….perhaps even pretty good for an airport. I didn’t much care for the plasticware they used, but this is probably the world’s coolest plastic wine glass.

IMG_1750

If I’d really been paying attention before sitting down at First in Flight, I might’ve chosen to dine at Beaudevin Wine Bar (emphasis mine). Since I’d eaten already, I did not bother to look at the food menu. Perhaps I wouldn’t have eaten anyway. They had me at Caymus Cabernet. I went for the Old World Red flight at $23 as opposed to the 9 oz. pour of Caymus at $40. Whether I topped my flight off with a small pour of Caymus or not shall remain between me and my Maker. Suffice it to say that if connections in Charlotte were to become a fixture in my travel life, I would spend a lot of time here. That is all.

The Aircraft

My four weekend flights on US Airways were operated exclusively by A321s with the exception of one leg from Charlotte to Raleigh which was operated by an E190. I found the A321 to be very comfortable in both F and Y. My Y seat over the wing was comfortable….and by any standard, including my 5’11”, 235 frame, much preferred to most any narrowbody aircraft. I usually like the E17X/19X products, but for some reason, even my short flight to Raleigh was a challenge. I think it may have had more to do with the weekend clientele than anything else, including the angry old coot sitting in front of me who griped about everything and everyone. In all cases, the aircraft were clean. What was missing? The same thing that is missing from every US Airways flight – power outlets and IFE, not that I missed either on these short flights.

Miscellaneous

I’ve bragged on the RDU Admirals Club before, and I’ll do so again. Very pleasant staff. Nice facility. In fact, RDU’s Terminal 2 may be one of the prettier airport terminals in the country. RDU is one of the cities that had both an AA and US club previously. They’ve closed the old US club and consolidated to the original Admirals Club, but have placed a US representative in the club. She tried to help me with my status issue too. No luck, so I just enjoyed a coffee before my flight….almost alone so early on a Sunday morning.

rdu admirals club

A quick repeat of my flights, minus the E190, in the reverse direction, and I was home. No issues on the return other than the RDU agent being unable to list me for the upgrade due to my “non status” status.

A Question Answered

Could a 30 minute flight to Charlotte just be a cost of doing business for me? Heck yes! My small sample of flights was fine, the aircraft were clean, service pleasant, etc. But will it? The answer – not yet. The ability to fly nonstop to nearly anywhere I could possibly ever want to fly is powerful. Not to mention, Delta runs a really good airline. SkyMiles is a secondary consideration for me at the moment. That said, if American and US Airways can get to a consistent elite experience across both airlines, they could be a compelling option if SkyMiles really becomes too much to tolerate. I’ll keep you posted on my luck with getting AA and/or US to fix my elite status snag.

-MJ, November 19, 2014

The post, “The Amex Platinum – Still the One in the One-Two Punch for Travelers” originally appeared in July 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.

I’m currently in the last week of a 3-week travel sprint. I’ll be posting new content throughout, but filling in a few slots with “Best of MJ” content from time to time. How does a post get designated as “Best of?” Pageviews, comments, and intuition. 

This week’s deal is just for Celebrity Captain’s Club members. Celebrity has announced that Captain’s Club members at the Classic tier and above, enjoy exclusive, newly lowered fares and save up to $1,500 per stateroom on Europe cruises and up to $1,000 on Alaska cruises. Celebrity’s offer is valid on ocean view and above staterooms on cruises that depart April – October 2015. You’ll need to book by November 30, 2014.

cruise deals, celebrity captains club benefits, captains club discounts, celebrity cruises discounts, celebrity cruises deals

You’ll need to book at Celebrity.com, and be sure to add your Captain’s Club number to the reservation to get the best deal. I noticed some decent cruise deals on Alaska itineraries, but I think the 12 night Greece and Turkey cruise may speak to me the most.

Offer Terms

Prices are per person, cruise only, for stateroom category 08 and based on double occupancy. Loyalty Discount Offer “Offer” applies to Europe and Alaska cruises departing Apr. – Oct. 2015 (“Offer Cruise”). Cruise must be booked Nov. 12 – 30, 2014 (“Offer Period”). Offer is applicable to Captain’s Club members Classic level and above. Offer is based on itinerary and sail nights; Alaska cruises and Europe 7-9 nights: ocean view and standard verandas $500 per stateroom; Concierge Class and AquaClass staterooms $750; suites $1000 per stateroom. Europe 10 nights or more: ocean view and all verandas $750 per stateroom; Concierge Class and AquaClass staterooms $1000; suites $1500 per stateroom. Offer is applicable unrestricted standard cruise fare per stateroom, based on category booked; applicable to ocean view and above categories. At least one person in the stateroom must be a Captain’s Club member, Classic tier or above.

Valid membership number must be provided at time of booking. New members may book onboard without a membership number but must provide the membership number by Dec. 10, 2014 to be eligible for the Offer. Offer is available to individual and non-contracted affinity and promotional groups, which must be named and deposited during the Offer Period. Offer is not applicable to charters, incentive, meeting or contracted groups. Offers are limited to one per stateroom and apply to cruise fare. Unless stated otherwise, all prices and offers apply to new individual bookings, are subject to availability and change without notice, capacity controlled, not combinable with any other offer, including, but not limited to, 123GO, Pick Your Perk, air offers, Exciting Deals, Category specials, Seniors, Resident, Interline, travel agent, and employee rates. Single occupancy guests are eligible for offers. Refer to celebritycruises.com for complete terms and conditions.

I posted over the weekend that I was conducting an experiment with US Airways. In summary, I took my first flights with US in a few years on Saturday and Sunday in search of an answer to the question – “Can a 30 minute flight to Charlotte just be a cost of doing business?” I’ll soon post an answer to that question, but in the meantime, I wanted to share the details of an “issue” I experienced during my weekend quick trip with US Airways.

aadvantage 2015, aadvantage, dividend miles, new aadvantage program, aa us reciprocal upgradesAs background, I am an American AAdvantage lifetime Gold member. Along with that comes Oneworld Ruby too. As you are likely aware, AA and US are offering reciprocal elite upgrades until AAdvantage and Dividend Miles are merged next year. The way it’s supposed to work for an AA elite flying on US Airways is that you are presented the opportunity to upgrade when checking in if upgrade space is available, or you can add yourself to the upgrade list. When I booked my reservation, I dutifully inserted my AAdvantage # into my reservation, and all was well until I attempted to check in online the day before my flight. It was my lucky day as there was lots of upgrade space available – for $79. I’d read on one of the blogs, which one I’m uncertain at the moment, you go through the upgrade process, and it looks like you might get charged, but when you select a seat, you get a “$0″ balance owed. Don’t quote me on that, because it didn’t work out that way for me. Instead, US Airways wanted $130 to upgrade my entire trip. No way around it.

Once I arrived at Charlotte, I spoke with an Admirals Club (US Airways) agent about my reservation. She confirmed my suspicion, US Airways was not “seeing” my AA Gold/Oneworld Ruby status. She tried deleting, and re-adding my AAdvantage number. Frankly, she tried a couple of times, and could not have been nicer and more helpful. Upgrade space was available on my next flight, and she confirmed it for me. I tried again at the RDU Admirals Club Sunday morning. They have a US representative in the club, and again, she could not have been more helpful….but no luck. She could not even put me on the upgrade list for my flight because US did not “see” my Gold status. She even confirmed I was showing up correctly in AA’s computers with one of her colleagues. I was stuck with my Zone 5 boarding pass, but I presented my AA Gold card along with my boarding pass when they called for Oneworld Ruby/Gold/US Silvers and all was well.

I’m speculating this could be a bad data push of AA elite data to US. It could also be something on the US side. One thing is certain, I’m apparently the first case of this being a problem that any of the agents I spoke with were aware of. I’ve reached out to AA via Twitter, and I’ve stumped them too. I’m going to give the AAdvantage folks a call on Monday, and I’ve emailed US Airways too. My advice – if you have a US reservation that you’re crediting to your AAdvantage account, call US and see if they have your correct status. I’ll let you know how this gets fixed.

-MJ, November 17, 2014

MJ Logo5

The winner of the two United Club passes is commenter #45, Ed. Ed will compare and contrast the United Club to the Centurion Lounge in a satirical review. Love it!

Screen Shot 2014-11-16 at 8.27.21 PM

Screen Shot 2014-11-16 at 8.27.57 PM

My short-haul domestic life has begun to wear on me. :) I’m typing this at the RDU Admirals Club. Today, I’ll fly home to Atlanta via Charlotte, then off to DCA in the morning. Thankfully, I’m home the week of Thanksgiving, before leaving on our Quantum of the Seas cruise! I’m past due for a vacation. It’s been a busy week here at MJ on Travel, let’s take a look.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

-MJ, November 16, 2014

« previous home top next »

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.