It suddenly occurs to me that the year is half over…..wow. Or WOW! Lots going on. I’m in the office this week, but on the west coast the week after for work, returning just in time for dinner with DeltaPoints and a handful of DeltaPoints readers. Let’s see if I can fit 5 days of suit and tie combinations into my small carry on. Challenge accepted. :) I’m a little stoked about this trip because its scheduled to be on a 767-300 with the new BusinessElite seats. It’s questionable (doubtful) whether or not I clear the upgrade as just a Platinum Medallion flying from Atlanta to Seattle, but at least I’ll get to snap a few photos. The joys of blogging! In the meantime, let’s take a look at the weekly recap for this week.

The weekend is here, so whatever you do, make it a great one! Enjoy your Saturday evening.

-MJ, July 12, 2014

I recently completed a 2-night award stay at the Residence Inn Vancouver Downtown, and wanted to share a mini-review with you. The hotel is standard Residence Inn stock (city high-rise version), clean, comfortable, and just happened to be convenient to family we were visiting. Staff were friendly, breakfast was good, and it even had a little bar called Cavino attached – coffee by day, wine by night. :)

Getting There

We arrived in Vancouver by Amtrak rail and then took Vancouver’s SkyTrain. We boarded at Main Street-Science World, which is just out of the main train station’s doors and to the left, and took the train to the Granville station. We then walked several blocks to the hotel. We could have changed to the Canada line at Granville (actually – walk out of Granville and over to City Center Station) and taken the Canada line south to Yaletown-Roadhouse, but after a 4+ hour train ride, we needed the walk.

Checking In

There were two gentlemen working the front desk attempting to assist some of my fellow countrymen in finding their way somewhere. This resulted in at least a 5 minute wait to check in, but beyond that, we were pleasantly assisted, and on our way to our 8th floor room in short order.

The Room

Our room was clean, comfortable, and typical of most Residence Inn’s. There was a kitchenette, a little seating/bar area, big closet, and nice bath. The work area was equipped with power outlets, and the wireless internet worked well in the room. I snapped a few photos for your review.

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I don’t recall ever seeing a robe in the closet at a Residence Inn. Perhaps I just didn’t notice. But MrsMJ appreciates them. Bottom line, the room and hotel were perfect for our stay. We didn’t need luxury, we needed practical, and this was a 20 minute walk or $8 CAD cab ride from family.

Around the Hotel

As our focus during the weekend was family, we did not do a great deal of exploring….something I’ll correct on our next visit to Vancouver. The hotel is located near Granville Island, a pretty popular tourist district. We walked around but found ourselves under the bridge to the island and not where we could walk across. There’s an easy solution – The Aqua Bus, a water taxi which can take you from Hornby Street to the island. We didn’t do a lot of “eating out” this trip, but did manage to make it to the island the evening before we left. I can recommend one restaurant and one beer. We enjoyed our dinner on the patio by the water at Whet. And Granville Island Brewing makes great beer. :)

The Bottom Line

I’ve often heard Vancouver, BC called the most beautiful city in North America, and I can’t say I’ve seen anything that would lead me to disagree. I did not get to explore Vancouver a great deal on this trip, but I’ve seen enough to know that I want to go back. The Residence Inn Vancouver Downtown was a perfect hotel solution for our stay. Staff were friendly, accommodations were comfortable. I’d stay again.

-MJ, July 12, 2014

Cruise line dining elicits a lot of emotion. I find people fall into one of a very few camps such as:

  • I don’t like a company telling me when to eat
  • If I don’t have a set time, I won’t get there
  • I never go to the main dining room

With that said, I found this tiny little snippet of info from Cruise Critic quite interesting. It seems that the cruise line that pioneered “Free Style” dining is now taking reservations. While still optional, Norwegian Cruise Line is now accepting reservations in the main dining room. A Cruise Critic member reported the news for an upcoming Pride of America cruise. Apparently, you can make reservations 90 days before your cruise or once you are onboard.

Frankly, I don’t care one way or the other. I tend to mix it up when I’m on a cruise with going to the main dining room and at least one or two (if not more) specialty restaurants. Funny thing is, I usually book those specialty restaurants for the same time as late main dining…..it helps with planning. What say you? High time for reservations with free style cruising, or a bad development?

-MJ, July 11, 2014

I subscribe to a lot of email services, and one in particular, the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) SmartBrief, caught my eye today. It referenced a USA Today article about a new offering from Marriott Rewards, LocalPerks. LocalPerks will be a part of the Marriott Guest Services app, and will offer a traveler particular services based on their location within participating hotel properties. While it gives me a feeling of “big brother” watching, younger travelers are a little more wedded to their smartphones. Likely a fantastic idea for forward thinking marketers, and who am I kidding? I’m as wedded to my smartphone as anyone. It appears that this initial effort is aimed at Apple customers and their “i devices.” Yeah, that’s me.

Additionally, according to Marriott Rewards Insider, they’ll be introducing Marriott Rewards Flash Perks on Monday.  According the Insider website, they’ll be offering limited quantities of our very best hotel deals, travel experiences and merchandise. The sales will only be live for 24 hours, or until the inventory is depleted, and only available on the Flash Perks website. And some of these deals are so good that you’ll want to be first in line when the doors open!”

Interesting stuff from Marriott Rewards. How do you feel about “location based services?” Too big brother, or not soon enough?

-MJ, July 11, 2014

Last weekend, when I was mapping out things I planned to discuss on the blog for the week, I envisioned this post title to be “Getting Out of a Loyalty Rut.” Now that I’m writing it, I realize that’s not what this is about at all. I’m not in a rut, I’m just being reflective, and it’s probably not a bad idea for all of us to reflect on our loyalty habits from time to time. I go through this at least once a year, it just seems a little more pronounced than usual this time around. Perhaps it’s because of all the “news” out of loyalty programs over the last year, perhaps it’s just me facing a little reality. This is not a slam on Delta, SkyMiles, MileagePlus or any other program. You know how I feel about “revenue based” programs.

I am a Delta SkyMiles Platinum Medallion. I like being a Platinum Medallion. It’s proven to be a real sweet spot in status for my travels, even while living in Atlanta, Delta’s largest hub. Would Diamond be better? Sure, but I’ve managed without it. I will re-qualify for Gold Medallion in a couple weeks, and in just a few months after that, Platinum again for next year. Further, it looks like I’ll do all that without the need for an MQD waiver from SkyMiles Amex charges. Some would say I’m losing the game with that result, and if all my travel were personal, I’d say you’re right. Oh, I’m close enough on the MQD waiver ($25K in spending) that I’ll cross that threshold just for grins, and the 10,000 MQM and redeemable bonus that come with it, but what about next year? In the end, I stopped playing “the game” a while back. Flying is not a hobby, it’s a necessary requirement of my work. My personal travels, whether paid for with money or points, are gravy.

It’s been a journey, but I’ve come to grips with the idea of not placing such a value on miles, points, and the elite status that comes with them that I am willing to go significantly out of my way to ensure I attain a certain point balance or elite status. 2014 will likely be the last year that I try to attain elite status. I’m a lot less interested in the art of the deal than I am in the art of travel, and if I have to fly coach more often, I’ll survive. I’ll take the status I earn from my butt in a seat or my head in a bed, and I won’t spend one nickel on any particular credit card just for the sake of getting a slightly better metallic named status card from an airline or hotel. None of this is to say that I don’t love a good deal, or won’t capitalize on a big bonus mile/point opportunity when one comes around, believe me, I will. I’ll even go on a mileage run (maybe even two) if I’m close to a new elite threshold.

While I believe that revenue based programs are coming to all the airlines, and happen to think that spend is a better way to reward, it doesn’t mean that I’m just going to sit still. I will be more focused on programs like Membership Rewards, Ultimate Rewards, and Arrival Miles for card spending in the new year. Of course, a lot of what happens with the airlines hinges on what American does with AAdvantage. What do you think will happen, and are you planning to change your loyalty habits in the face of a new revenue based reality?

-MJ, July 11, 2014

 

Commenter # 5, Kevin, who says that winning the code will allow him to put off buying the monthly Delta GoGo pass for another week. Kevin, you’ve got mail! Reply, and I’ll get the code to you asap.

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I posted last month about the awesome time I had learning the ins and outs about Delta Air Lines at the #InsideDelta event. Delta generously offered the attendees three complimentary GoGo inflight wi-fi codes. I gave the first one away last month, and now I want to give the second away. I like keeping things simple so here’s how to enter.

  • Enter by commenting to this post (say anything as long as it isn’t profane, but travel tips are always fun)
  • You must include an email address in the email address field so I can contact you if you win
  • Enter only once
  • The contest closes at 11:59PM EDT here in the USA tonight, July 10, 2014
  • I will choose the winner randomly via random.org sometime Friday

That’s all. If you want to like my Facebook page, or follow me on @Twitter, so much the better, but certainly not required to enter. Tell a friend about the opportunity to win too!

-MJ, July 10, 2014

Contest Closed – Winner TBA

I recently completed a 1-night stay at the beautiful Hyatt at Olive 8 in downtown Seattle. Relatively speaking, MrsMJ and I don’t get to travel together that often, so I wanted to do something special for our night in Seattle. I sprang for a suite upgrade, and that turned out to be the only wrinkle in the experience. I called the Diamond desk, the upgrades were available, but whoever was answering the phone at the hotel was having real issues processing the upgrade. The Diamond desk agent kept checking in with me, and finally we agreed that they would just email me when it was taken care of….. it took a total of 40 minutes to get it done. Not cool. But that was the one and only problem of the stay and of the trip. I’ll stay at the hotel again, it was very nice, the staff I interacted with were great, and it’s in a great location for access to all Seattle offers.

Getting There

This was an easy one – Seattle is an Uber town. I lucked out with getting a car just a few doors away, and the driver was outside in just a minute or two. We were off to the hotel. Flat rate fare – $55.00. A little more than a cab (which happened to cost us $40 with tip from the train station back to the airport 3 days later), but well worth it. Trip time – 21 minutes.

Checking In

Upon arrival, we were immediately greeted and offered assistance with our luggage, which we didn’t need. We walked inside to find no queue for the desk, and were assisted by a polite front desk attendant. I was thanked for my loyalty as a Diamond member, and offered my choice of amenities – I went with points this time. Then she said something that bugged me, “we’ve upgraded you to one of our large king rooms.” But what about the suite? I decided to play this one by ear and see what happened. With that, we were off to our room, 1467.

The Room

Upon opening the door, I realized this wasn’t just any old large king room….it was a suite afterall. Not only was it a suite, it was bigger than 3 of my first apartment, and the space may have rivaled the livable square footage of our home in Atlanta!

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Just after turning left from the entry way

The suite was large and inviting, offering all the comforts of home and then some….minus cooking capabilities. It was a 1.5 bath, king suite with comfortable furnishings, great Hyatt bed, living area, bedroom area, dual closets, a hall closet, and a really awesome bath. MrsMJ was pleased with my hotel choice. I win. :) I shot a few more photos for your review.

Suite living area with view of downtown

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 Desk with audio panel and power outlets

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Wet bar

Passing from the living area into the bedroom, one finds a nice king bed and sitting area. Split closets adorned the hallway leading into the main bath area. Just the bed and bath were larger than most hotel rooms.

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Bedroom

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Closet with an identical one on the other side of the hall

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Bath robe

One of my favorite features of the room was the bath area, complete with dual vanities, television in the mirror, large tub, and separate walk-in shower.

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Bath tub

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Awesome walk-in shower

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Separate toilet area

If you couldn’t tell, we liked the room! :)

Around the Hotel

I would not have burned an upgrade, were it not for celebrating the opportunity to travel with MrsMJ. It was worth the upgrade cert. The room was awesome. The only bad thing was not getting to spend a great deal of time exploring, so I’m going to default to a couple of my favorites from trips past. For restaurants, I always stop by The Brooklyn whenever I am in Seattle. One of the most fun places to sit is the kitchen bar (it probably has a fancier name) where you can watch chefs at work. If you have a car, or want to venture beyond walking distance and head to Salty’s Alki Beach. Great seafood, and even better, the views of downtown Seattle. Unfortunately, I did not sample the hotel restaurant/bar scene during this trip…a situation I will correct next time.

The Bottom Line

The hotel is a great property in a great location. I enjoyed the stay, and I will be back.

I recently completed a little planes, trains, and automobiles (ok busses) adventure to Vancouver, BC via Seattle. It wasn’t the most direct route to Vancouver, but it enabled me to utilize the companion certificate that comes with the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Credit Card from American Express, experience a new train route, and best of all, visit family…especially our 2-year old nephew. His new best friend, LOL Elmo, joined us for the trip.

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You can probably pick up a sample of the accommodations in that photo. The coach chairs were big and comfy. Here’s another photo courtesy of Amtrak Cascades.

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Business Class is offered on the route, and I caught a glimpse of the car on my way to the cafe. Seating is 1 x 2, with wider chairs, newspapers, and fewer people. We paid cash for our tickets $40 or so each way. Business was only a little over $20 more based on some internet searches. It was sold out for our particular ride. If you use Ultimate Rewards and transfer them into Amtrak Guest Rewards, you can buy these tickets for 1500 points in Coach, and 2000 in Business each way.

The travel experience itself was leisurely and comfortable. In addition to big cushy chairs, there was wi-fi that I wouldn’t bet money on, but did work, and power outlets. Life was good. In short, I quite liked the train, even if it did probably take longer than driving. We traveled early and enjoyed the breakfast sandwich, coffee, and….well…wine. Hey, MrsMJ said surprise her, so I did….with a half-bottle of Chateau St. Michelle Chardonnay we saved for a little later. There was a selection of regional craft beers too, but even I have my limits. You clear Canadian immigration at the train station in Vancouver. There were 4 agents working, and we were through in about 45 minutes after arriving. There was still quite a queue behind us, so I expect it took an hour or a little more for folks unlucky enough to be in the last car. If you are returning to Seattle via train, you pre-clear US immigration at the station as well. We took a different way back.

There are only two Cascades services each way, so we purchased bus service through Amtrak for our return. I have to tell you that I was not looking forward to that, but it was the best way to maximize time in Vancouver and still make our redeye out of Seattle Sunday evening.

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You board the Cascades motor coach service outside the main entrance of the station towards the north end, so there’s no need to go inside unless you need to pick up your ticket. In the end, the bus was on time, and actually gets you back to Seattle about 1 hour faster than the train. The downside, no cafe car, and you have to do immigration at the border stop. Busses have their own line, and it wasn’t excessively busy heading south this Sunday afternoon. The whole thing took about 45 minutes from beginning to end and we were back on our way to Seattle for an on-time arrival at King Street Station.

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Tips to Make Your Amtrak Cascades Experience Better

Get to the station a little earlier than you might otherwise for a train. Unlike the open seating situation I’m used to in the northeast, Amtrak actually assigns seats for the Cascades routes. I don’t know if it’s a boarding crossing and keeping a little better handle on who is onboard or not? They have sticker charts like the old days at the airlines. I say get there a little earlier than normal so you can assure yourself a seat on the lefthand side of the train when heading northbound. The scenery is beautiful all around, but especially so when facing towards the bay and the Pacific beyond that. I missed a lot of great photographic opportunities because I was on the wrong side of the train. While there is not a tremendous increase in amenities for Business Class, I think the low price differential is worth it for the bigger chair and a shorter line to get your seat assignment….. way shorter.

If there’s anything I miss about DC vs Atlanta, it’s the absence of frequent and reliable rail service to cities in the region. Amtrak Cascades was a great way to get to and from Vancouver from the Seattle area, and I wouldn’t hesitate to use the service again. Sometimes it’s good to slow down a little bit.

-MJ, July 9, 2014

 

When news hit that the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® was being tweaked to include Chip & PIN capability, I dutifully ordered mine the minute the option became available on the website. At the time, I knew my next most likely opportunity to try the chip capabilities would be on a then forthcoming trip to Canada. Now, when you receive the card, the materials that come with it refer to the card as Chip & Signature with PIN capability. They also say that you must sign for your first transaction in an international location, but then you should be able to use your PIN.

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After enjoying a first lunch in Canada, I used my Arrival+ to pay. The card machine had both chip reading and swipe capability, so I went for the chip slot. Having watched the patrons paying prior to me from a distance, I could see that all used chip cards, and no one signed receipts. I worked through the menu, and out came a receipt for me to sign. Worked like a charm. I thought the next transaction might offer the PIN option, but that did not happen, again, I received a signature slip. This repeated itself for each transaction during the weekend, and not once was I offered the PIN option when making a purchase. I experienced no issues with any merchant except one. On Saturday afternoon I was dispatched to the local store to purchase wine for dinner. It was clear that the clerk had not seen a signature slip for a card purchase in a long time. That led to a request for my driver’s license. After providing that, there were some strange stares at the merchant receipt, looking for what, I do not know, then I was told to have a nice day.

In the end, the trip went fine, and the card worked flawlessly, even if it never did default to the PIN when making a purchase. I do not know enough about EMV technology to understand why this might be the case. Our neighbors to the north likely see enough Americans in most cities to not be surprised when they see a signature slip. Nonetheless, chips are coming to a credit card near you very soon if they haven’t already. Here’s some interesting reading aimed at merchants faced with the conversion to EMV.

-MJ, July 9, 2014

Disclosure: The Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® is a favorite card of mine, and is available for application on this page under the Featured Credit Card Offers banner. If you apply for and receive a card through my link, I will receive a commission.

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