I’ve owned some version of Bose noise canceling headphones for more years than I can remember. They have been an essential accessory for all my travels since the first pair I purchased, and not to sound corny, but I felt like they were kin to my Amex card…I never left home without them. I believe that Lucky was the first traveler I read mention of the new QC20 product. I was intrigued, but my QC15s were in good shape, and I don’t spend nearly $300 lightly.

Not terribly long ago, I was sitting in the Sky Club waiting for my flight and minding my own business. The gentleman on the next bar stool was a chatty sort, so I obliged by listening. Out of the blue, he brought up how much he loved his Bose QC20 earbuds. I forgave him for buying them with miles, but that’s another post. In any event, his fawning over the noise canceling capabilities of the QC20s really piqued my interest. Being an iDevice guy, I began looking at the QC20i which can control the functions of your various iDevices. Finally, I broke down and bought a pair a little over a week ago, and had to chance to test them in flight on Sunday. The verdict – they are #Awesome!!!!

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The earbuds are very comfortable, hold a charge for a loooooong time, and most of all, their noise-cancelling abilities are far beyond my wildest expectations. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say they do a better job than my over ear QC15s, but opinions vary on that. They offer an “aware” mode that works great if you’re wearing them for exercise around town that lowers their “noise canceling capability” a bit, but maintains sound quality. The most important feature for me beyond their ability to cancel noise……they take up so little space. They come in a small carrying pouch, and easily fit in most any little nook and cranny of your briefcase. Here they are in the case, compared to my Lufthansa F amenity kit now converted into a device charger carrier.

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The noise canceling capabilities of these earbuds is excellent, and the QC20i version can control your iDevices with ease. In the end, I think my investment in these great noise-canceling earbuds was one of my better travel investments. Any questions, just ask.

-MJ, July 22, 2014

Lately, I’ve been writing a weekly recap on Saturday, and a “this week” roadmap post for the week ahead on Sunday. Oh well… didn’t happen this time. I’ve taken Sunday morning flights so much earlier than 8:20am on a Sunday in my time, but getting ready to leave was extra challenging this week for some reason, and that flight came earlier than I expected. In short, I struggled to get ready to leave, and get the heck out of the house this morning! My upgrade cleared at the window for the internationally configured Delta 767 I flew from Atlanta to Seattle this morning, and I was stoked. It offered a chance to sample the 767 BusinessElite® seat, albeit with domestic service and catering. Suffice it to say that this flight to Seattle seemed remarkably shorter than the Delta flight I took to Seattle in coach 2 weeks ago! But I have a couple of constructive comments for Delta based on today’s flight that you’ll see in a post later this week. In the meantime, even this wide-bodied guy thought he could sleep in the 767 seat, but I tend to sleep on my side…YMMV. More this week. In the meantime, here’s the weekly recap and a look at the week ahead.

The Weekly Recap

This Week at MJ on Travel

  • Bose QC20i Review (#Awesome)
  • How I Learned to Stop Caring About the Game and Start Enjoying Myself
  • A Word on the Delta B767 BusinessElite® Seat
  • Reason # 785,642 Why I Love American Express

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

-MJ, July 20, 2014

 

 

 

 

I’ve had my eye out for a new travel wallet for a while. The Bolzano travel wallet I picked up when United was running its Amenity (I think that’s what it was called) travel club has been getting a little worn looking. While still serviceable, it was time for a change. Frankly, I am focused on reducing the amount of stuff that travels around with me, and I was looking for a wallet that would carry my most important travel cards, passport, and a little spare cash. A mention of All-ETT wallets by Points and Travel had caught my eye at some point, but I filed the information away for future reference.

A couple months ago, I had travel wallets on my mind when getting ready for a trip, so I took a look at the All-ETT website. They have a wide selection of wallets for men and women. The RFID Passport Wallet caught my eye, so I placed an order for one. Within a few days, it arrived and I immediately liked it. It is smaller than my previous travel wallet, but that is what I had in mind. It protects my passport, has slots for cards (that can be doubled up if you want), and an ID slot where I place my Global Entry card.

All-ETT RFID Passport Wallet

The wallet has clean lines, and appears to be well constructed to this leather goods non-expert. I was in the market for a travel wallet with a smaller footprint and this fits the bill….and my passport too. :)

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As I noted above, the card slots can contain more than one card, and the top slot is doubled up for me with my Amex Platinum card, and my company charge card for easy reach during my travels. There’s also a dual currency slot, which I use…one for cash, the other for drink coupons. The wallet is perfect for me, and easily fits in a front pocket slot in my briefcase for business trips, or my backpack for personal trips. I don’t begin to understand how threatened RFID passports are by identity theft, but the protection offered by the wallet is an added bonus. For me, it’s a perfect travel solution. I liked it so much I bought a Classic RFID Card Security Case to use as my walking around wallet. It has slots for 3 cards and a clear case on the backside for your driver’s license. I’ve found that it can accommodate two cards per slot as well, but I rarely need to do so. If you’re like me, you have a couple of cards you focus spend on with some in another wallet that get less use. This is a good solution if that’s the way you handle cards.

In the end, I really like the travel wallet, and the card case that I bought. Since this is a travel wallet review, here are the pros and cons of the wallet in my humble opinion.

Pros

  • Solid construction
  • Reasonable price
  • RFID protection
  • Smaller footprint than some travel wallets I’ve used
  • Fits perfectly in my briefcase

Cons

  • If you like to print your boarding passes and carry them around in your travel wallet, they will extend beyond the length of the wallet unless you fold them
  • If you carry a lot of elite status and other cards, etc with you, you may not like doubling up the cards as there are only 4 slots

If you’re in the market for a travel wallet, or any wallet, take a look at the products from All-ETT. I like the construction, and especially the thinness of their products.

-MJ, July 19, 2014

 

 

 

MrsMJ and I are taking a cruise next month. The thing is…we have not booked it yet. We usually take the same week in August off each year, and book a cruise for the week following a meeting she attends in Florida each year. Most years, we book well in advance, but this year is different. First, we haven’t had the luxury of knowing we would actually be able to pull this off (still aren’t totally sure). Second, without fail, for each year we’ve done this, prices have dropped in the days and weeks just before the cruise. We haven’t always had the luxury of being flexible, so we booked what we booked and dealt with it. This time, things are different. We live within driving distance of the port (I can drive down to join her, saving airfare), and if we happen to not make the cruise this year, there will be others. This flexibility and open-mindedness about the cruise enables us to capitalize on attractive pricing. I’ve been “stalking” the particular itinerary we want for weeks, and pricing has been static. Yesterday, it started to creep…down, and now I bring in my secret weapon – CruiseFish.net.

CruiseFish.net allows you to set up pricing alerts for itineraries you are interested in, and receive an alert via email when the price of a cruise drops below a certain point that you choose. The service isn’t free, but it is reasonable, and worth the effort to me. You can buy credits, with each credit being worth one price alert. I bought a package of 5 alerts for $4.95. You can review all pricing options here. Once you are set with credits, you can begin setting up your pricing alerts which is pretty straight forward.

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Clicking on “Finder” will take you to a list of cruise lines. Clicking on the cruise line of choice will offer a list of ships, and then you can get specific with the sail date you want.

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Your next choice will be a selection of cabin types. For this short cruise, I prefer the cheapest accommodations available, which are typically inside cabins.

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Clicking on the green price (279) takes me to the next screen where I can set up my alert. In my case, I want an alert if the price drops under $250 per person.

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After entering the information, click save. When you do that, the cabin category you’ve set the alert for turns pink.

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Now, you wait, and hope for the best possible result. :) Some travel agents are very good about doing price checks for you, and some aren’t. If you have one that routinely monitors pricing, that’s great. But I think this is a good insurance policy for achieving the best possible price for your cruise. Happy sailing!

-MJ, July 16, 2014

I received an email this morning from the folks at ExpertFlyer detailing some new tools that the service has begun offering. Highlights of some of the new items on offer are:

Flight Timetables – Timetable information, both for direct flights and connections, for different airlines between a pair of cities on a specific day or range of days. Most interesting to me, you can also search for all flights to or from a specific airport on a given day, though this is in beta test.

Aircraft Equipment Change Alerts (Premium Subscribers Only) – Set an alert to monitor for changes to the aircraft equipment code returned for the Seat Map of a flight. Could be useful for flights that are prone to this….I’m thinking Delta’s many 757 versions.

Interline Agreement Information – Display interline agreements with a specified airline.

Visa, Health & Passport Information – Visa/Entry Requirement information based on your departure country and citizenship. Always useful, and this could even prove useful for some of my cruises too.

I’ve been an ExpertFlyer subscriber almost continuously since its inception, and currently hold an annual subscription to the Premium version. It’s a fantastic service for flyers, and I use it for almost every trip. It’s great for checking inventory for standby/same day confirmed opportunities and upgrades depending on your carrier. Check it out at expertflyer.com.

-MJ, July 15, 2014

(On Soapbox)

I turned on the TV Saturday morning to find the morning talking head show heading to commercial break with the teaser “TERROR IN THE SKIES!!!!” My thoughts turned to my airline days and how annoyed I used to get when reporters overstated things a bit. Thing is – I still get annoyed. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m a little careful about using the word “terror” and airplanes in the same sentence. I wish reporters would follow the same policy.

The particular event the reporter was referencing involved a United Airlines B777 traveling to Guam from Hawaii. Now, it’s not clear exactly what happened, but from what I can glean from various online sources, an odor developed, perhaps a burning smell, and the pilots reported that they were losing electrical power to certain cockpit instruments, and they needed to divert to Midway Island where the aircraft landed safely. By the time this bit of news had reached the morning show I was watching, a loss of electrical power had turned into a “loss of power” and the pilots landing “without engines.” Something seemed off to me, and is it turns out….it was.

Now, I’ve been flying airplanes since I was 15 years old, and employed in aviation in one form or another for a bit over 20 years. I accept that I may be a bit desensitized when it comes to aviation matters. For sure, a burning smell, and the possibility of an electrical fire onboard an aircraft are bad news, especially when you’re over the ocean, many miles from a suitable airport. For passengers, some of whom may not fly that often, I don’t doubt that the experience was a bit concerning, even scary. What I can’t get past is a habit of some in the media who seem to have a bit of a fetish for using scary headlines when it comes to anything aviation-related, and can’t be bothered to get the facts straight before running with sensationalist headlines.

(Off Soapbox)

-MJ, July 14, 2014

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

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

 

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