A few weeks ago I posted about upcoming changes to Azamara’s loyalty program, Le Club Voyage. Azamara announced some fairly significant changes to its program at that time that met with a bit of protest among its loyalty program members. Specifically, it seemed that the removal of complimentary internet minutes and complimentary laundry services for higher tier elite members really raised the ire of program members.

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In a prime example of how customers’ feelings can matter, and companies can listen, Azamara has announced further changes to its program that correct many, if not most of the issues that loyalty program members had raised. In summary, Azamara has reinstated the following benefits:

  • One complimentary bag of laundry per week for Explorer level and above members
  • Internet minutes based on tier level

Newly added benefits:

  • Additional earned complimentary nights rewards for every 750 points earned once you reach the Discoverer Plus level and above—in addition to one-time awards
  • Singles now earn double points on every voyage

You can review the benefits of each tier level in detail here. These are real enhancements, and the management team at Azamara deserves some kudos for recognizing a problem and taking swift action to make things right. I don’t know when I will cruise Azamara, but I’m searching for the right itinerary and look forward to cruising with them!

-MJ, October 1, 2014

You’ve likely heard by now that Chase is offering a limited time 70,000 Ultimate Rewards points bonus for new Ink Plus accounts. This is a pretty awesome deal. To get the 70,000 point bonus, you’ll need to meet the minimum spend requirement of $5,000 in purchases during the first 3 months after account opening.

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In addition to the bonus miles, you’ll receive the following points bonuses for routine purchases.

  • Earn 5X points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 2X points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and hotel accommodations when purchased directly with the hotel each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases—with no limit to the amount you can earn.

I know most people that read blogs and forums don’t need me to say this, but 70,000 Ultimate Rewards bonus points is a good deal. Ultimate Rewards have saved me hundreds, if not thousands of dollars through their transferability to British Airways Avios alone. That’s just one of their benefits. Transferability to United, Hyatt, Marriott, and many other programs tops the list of why Ultimate Rewards are my favorite points currency.

I have the Ink Bold card, and could apply for the Ink Plus. However, I’m following my own advice and not pursuing any new offers at the moment – even offers that are this good. If you’re in a position to act on a card offer, you should take a look at this one. I do not have affiliate links for Chase, so please pick your favorite blogger, and go from there if you’re interested in this great card offer.

-MJ, September 30, 2014

 

 

If you’re looking to top off your Dividend Miles account to redeem an award you’ve had in mind, you have a few more days to collect up to a 100 percent bonus. US Airways has extended its bonus offer until October 12, 2014. Click here for buying, or here for gifting. You’ll find terms and conditions after the links as well.

My advice on buying miles is always the same. Don’t do it…unless you are topping off your account for a specific award.

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When I arrived at the gate in Atlanta on Friday, I noted on my Twitter feed that for the first time in nearly 2 months, I’m not flying next week and I’m not all that sad about it. James at The Forward Cabin blog asked if I was feeling OK? :) I am. I’m certain that I’ll be twitching in my office chair by Friday afternoon, but I need a week in town. My office is in shambles. My home office is in shambles. Frankly, I need an admin week, and most of all….I need a week at home. It happens to the best of us. Heck, maybe I’ll even manage to blog more. I’m not sure about the rest of us, but for me, it seems that traveling for work can sometimes be an inhibitor to blogging. That’s probably a case study for another time. Here’s a look at last week.

….and this week at MJ on Travel.

  • Thoughts on Customer Service
  • Cruise Line Loyalty – NCL
  • Cruise Line Loyalty – My Cruise Rewards (Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Azamara Club Cruises)

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

-MJ, September 28, 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

The World’s Leading Cruise Lines is the marketing “moniker” for the Carnival Corporation owned lines. These companies include Costa Cruises, Cunard Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Seabourn, and of course, Carnival Cruise Lines. We’ll focus on Holland America and Princess in this post because they offer a credit card product. Last week, we looked at Carnival with its Very Important Fun Person (VIFP) Club loyalty program, and it’s FunPoints® program based on The Carnival™ MasterCard®. We’ve reviewed the elite status loyalty programs of Holland America and Princess in this space before. Holland America’s Mariner Society has 5 status levels, with qualification being based on days at sea.

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On the other hand, Princess Captain’s Circle is based on days at sea OR the number of cruise you have take. Further, Captain’s Circle members have just 4 status levels to work through.

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Like all the cruise line loyalty programs, the perks you get rise along with your status level. You can review the Holland America program in detail here, or the Princess program here.

About the Points

Like some other cruise lines, both HAL and Princess offer co-branded credit cards that allow you to earn points that you can redeem towards discounts, onboard credits, or even a “free” cruise. Unfortunately, like most of the other cruise line credit card programs, these are mostly straight penny per point programs that do not offer great values unless you happen to live on a cruise ship. :)

The Holland America Line Rewards Visa® is available, and it does have some redeeming qualities like no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees. It currently offers a 5,000 point first purchase bonus. You earn 2 points per dollar for purchases with Holland America, and 1 point per dollar for other purchases. In perusing the benefit brochure, I found that you can actually get 1.25 cents in value if you redeem towards a cruise. The example given was a $500 statement credit when redeeming 40,000 points towards a cruise purchase. There are better deals out there that we’ll talk about soon.

The Princess Cruises® Rewards Visa® Card is remarkably similar to the HAL card. It is free of an annual fee and carries no foreign transaction fees. You earn 1 Princess Point per dollar for routine purchases and 2 Princess Points per dollar for all Princess Cruises purchases. Currently, the card offers a 5,000 point first purchase bonus. You can get 1.5 cents in value if you redeem a remarkable 200,000 Princess Points for a $3,000 discount towards a cruise purchase. You can review the rewards example guide here. Other examples were straight penny per point redemptions like 5,000 points for a $50 beverage credit or 50,ooo points for a $500 airfare credit.

The Bottom Line

I don’t want to rag on these card products too much. If you rarely fly, live near a port, and cruise a lot….and could use a no-fee card with no foreign transaction fees, then one of these products might be OK for you if you’re brand loyal. There are better deals in the bank programs and cash back if you want to use points to pay for your cruises. We’ll power through the remaining cruise line points programs this week and next, then tie things up with a look at the one branded cruise line credit card that might be worthwhile for certain cruisers. Finally,  we’ll cap things off with the bank program cards.

-MJ, September 27, 2014

I know it barely shines through, but I’m seriously stoked for our upcoming cruise aboard Quantum of the Seas. I posted about her conveyance down the River Ems, and the ship is now undergoing sea trials. There have been a lot of Quantum videos, but I think this is my favorite. Video using an unmanned aircraft (aka drone), this video is very well done. Quantum of the Seas is a beautiful ship, and I can’t wait to sail. Enjoy your Friday night, and enjoy this great video!

-MJ, September 26, 2014

In truth, I fly for a lot of reasons. Business. Vacation. Transportation between points on a map. But on this Friday, I glanced out the window at just the right moment and caught a glimpse of the real reason I fly.

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Contrails, clouds, sunshine, and blue sky. Good times. Enjoy your weekend!

-MJ, September 26, 2014

This morning, I was in a taxi enroute to the airport. My flight time was at 09:20. The time this blog post occurred to me: 06:00. In other words, I was arriving at the airport early. I knew there were at least two flights prior to my scheduled flight. Once upon a time, I would:

  • Reach for my iPhone
  • Click on ExpertFlyer
  • Punch in my origin and destination information (in the unlikely event I did not already have that saved)
  • Look at inventory and the seatmap
  • Make a decision on whether to call or not call or see an agent for SDC
  • Move on with my life

But as a near exclusive Delta flyer, I can no longer do that. Instead, this happens.

  • Reach for iPhone
  • Click on FlightStats.com
  • Punch in origin and destination
  • Find flight before mine
  • See limited inventory information, but enough to learn that I may want to think about the 08:20
  • Switch to Fly Delta app for iPhone
  • Realize I can’t look at seat maps unless I’m booked on a flight (if anyone thinks I’m incorrect on that, please let me know in the comments. I’ll admit here that I did not try the “change” flight option. Don’t know if I can see seat options with that or not, and I’ll admit it here if I’m wrong about this.)
  • Close Delta app
  • Feel sad
  • Go to club, boot laptop, see lots of empty seats on Delta.com for 08:20 flight, including good coach seats
  • See agent for SDC
  • Clear upgrade, and feel happy again

This weekend I enjoyed talking to a very nice gentleman who works for Delta. He asked me something to the effect of what couldn’t I get from Delta that I was getting from ExpertFlyer. The gist of my answer was really useful information that people who fly a good bit want. This is my example…..posted from a Delta flight.

-MJ, September 24, 2014

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There’s been quite a bit of back and forth on American’s meal changes that went into effect September 1. The overwhelming majority of what I’ve read online has been negative, not only about changing meal windows, but the quality of the meals themselves. For these reasons alone, I was looking forward to my first flights on AA in a while. Best of all, one of my flights was scheduled for lunch. I pre-ordered the new beef dish.

I knew we would have a good flight when the flight attendant was greeting passengers by taking their pre-departure beverage order. PDBs are something that I have found American to be institutionally unable to accomplish on a consistent basis. When the customer behind me asked what his options were, the reply was something to the effect of “I don’t have a blender, otherwise we’re good.” That made me smile. I was even more impressed that this flight attendant managed to accomplish a full PDB even with our late (and rushed) boarding. Soon enough, boarding was over, and our old-school 737-800 departed the gate in Seattle bound for DFW.

Beverage orders were taken soon after takeoff. I was so happy to reunite with my old friend. No, not the wine! The warm mixed nuts.

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Flying Delta a lot has some advantages, but I miss these! The pace of service was just about perfect. There was time for refills, and offers of more mixed nuts which I somehow managed to turn down. And then, it was time for the main event.

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Let’s start with the good. The salad was fresh and tasty. I’m a big fan of the pretzel roll. The chicken appetizer was excellent. Really, that and a slightly larger salad would have made for a nice enough lunch. However, after hearing so much about the main course, I had to try it. The verdict – it tasted better than it looked. Frankly, it was fine. The broccoli (I like broccoli) was good, the mac and cheese was acceptable for airline food, and the beef wasn’t that bad. It was pretty tender, but I couldn’t quite figure out what kind of cut it was. I finally settled on basic pot roast. The sauce or gravy or whatever that stuff was turned out to taste OK to me, but I think they could improve the looks of the entree by cutting the amount of it in half. The quality of the beef wasn’t the best I’ve ever tasted, but I did finish it. The meal was topped off with something I’ve never had on an airplane, red velvet cake. It wasn’t like my grandma used to make, but I liked it.

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Overall, I thought the meal was perfectly acceptable. Good, even. After eating it, I did not even need dinner on my connection. I’d never really talked to a flight attendant about meal service before, but I took the opportunity on a stretch break. I mentioned that I’d been hearing a lot of complaints about some of the new meal services. She didn’t seem to be aware of any issues. She then took the time to go through the presentation of the meal, showing me the paperwork that comes with the catering, complete with color pictures of the food. We both agreed that it was a lot of food, and that the chicken appetizer was really good.

The Bottom Line

I know that many are not happy with American’s meal window changes and entree changes. I’ve read more than one complaint about the specific lunch I had. While I’m admittedly no connoisseur, I can’t say I have any real complaints with this particular mid-con lunch entree other than a little too much sauce. The beef quality seemed about one notch lower than my tastes as well, but that did not stop me from eating it. YMMV. The new plating struck me as OK too, but I’m admittedly accustomed to meals on a tray from Delta. It’s been a while, but I think the silverware may almost be of proper size which strikes me as a positive.

Have you tried any of the new meals, or this meal in particular? What did you think of it?

-MJ, September 23, 2014

I’m admittedly unbothered by the changes American made to its meal windows earlier tis month. First, I don’t fly the airline that much. Second, the changes don’t seem horribly out of line with the competition though we’ll see how United’s new menus change things. With that in mind, I found something quite interesting last night on my first American flight in a while. I was flying from DFW to ATL on an A319 in first class. This is a route that served meals prior to September 1, but no longer does.

The flight attendant came around with drinks, and the new snack basket, which I thought was fine. However, as I watched my movie, something caught my eye in the galley. I noticed the F/A placing two rolls in the oven. I thought I had smelled food cooking, but this confirmed it. Then, I noticed that the F/A was plating food on a meal tray…..two meal trays. I couldn’t tell what the main entree was, but there was a salad, bread, and entree. There could’ve been an appetizer too, but I didn’t see it.

A beverage cart was rolled in to block the aisle, the cockpit door opened, and two meals were handed over. Things that make you go hmmm. Before anyone asks, I’m all for well-fed pilots.  I know that cockpit crew meals are part of American’s pilot contract, so I suppose I should not surprised that the pilots were still fed while the first class cabin was not. I just thought this was an interesting little wrinkle in the meal changes.

Coming soon – a word on this AA domestic first lunch. Hint: it wasn’t that bad.

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-MJ, September 23, 2014

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