Monthly Archives: May 2012

Good News: Use HawaiianMiles to Redeem (and Earn) on JetBlue; Bad News…

Back in January we noted that Hawaiian Airlines and JetBlue were codesharing and that it was just a matter of time before you could redeem HawaiianMiles for travel on JetBlue.

That day has come. And the news is mixed:

Yes, you can redeem HawaiianMiles on JetBlue. However, the redemption rates are based on the amount you would otherwise for the ticket. That’s good on the one hand because if there’s a seat available, you can get it. That’s bad because redemption rates are expensive. There’s a range (for some reason) for each level:

Up to $99: 10,000 miles
$100-$179: 15,000-20,000 miles
$180-$259: 25,000-30,000 miles
$260-$339: 35,000-40,000 miles
$340-$419: 45,000-50,000 miles

What does that mean? It means a ticket to Florida from the East Coast will cost you between 35,000 and 40,000 miles most of the year. Sure, during off-season it could cost you as little as 20,000 miles. But for nearly all routes this isn’t a great option. That’s a shame, since Hawaiian miles are so easy to come by through their credit card signups.

It’s mixed on the earning side as well. You’ll earn 100% HawaiianMiles on all JetBlue flights EXCEPT O, U and S fares (ie, the cheap fares). That’s not great either. However, JetBlue’s frequent flyer program is sufficiently terrible that I would always take the HawaiianMiles over the True Blue points (if only because those HawaiianMiles are transferrable to Hilton at 1:2).

If you’re interested in earning True Blue points on Hawaiian flights (um, why?) you can see the details here.

The bottom line? I’m just happy to have an earning partner on JetBlue that’s slightly useful. Shame, though, that the redemptions are so poor.

Logical Discussions with Airport Security, Deodorant Edition

Arrive at Auckland’s airport. Go through security. I have this discussion:

Security Gentleman: May I look through your bag to check for creams or gels?

Me: Certainly.

SG: (Holding up deodorant). Well, this is a gel and it says 4 ounces on it. You can only have 3 ounces.

Me: (cursing myself for forgetting to take obviously dangerous anti-smell gel out of my bag prior to flight) Well, it’s only about 1/3rd full. There’s clearly not 4 ounces in it.

SG: I know, but we go by what is on the label. The label says 4 ounces.

Me: OK, but there’s obviously not 4 ounces in it.

SG: That’s true.

Me: Then why can’t I bring it?

SG: Because the label says 4 ounces.

Me: Can I cross out the label and write, “just about 2 ounces” on it?

SG: No.

Me: Why not? I thought the label matters.

SG: It does, but it has to be printed on there.

(seriously, I had this conversation)

Me: So the ban isn’t on the amount of gel in the container, it’s a ban on what’s written on the label?

SG: No, it’s what’s in the container.

Me: But there isn’t 4 ounces in the container.

SG: No, there’s not. But I’m going to throw it out.

And so he did.

Marriott Will Acquire Gaylord Hotels

Your Marriott Rewards points just became ever-so-slightly more useful:

Marriott announced that it will acquire the small Gaylord Hotel chain, which includes 4 hotels that cater to conventioners and families. You’ll eventually be able to redeem your Marriott Rewards points for stays at the Gaylord Opryland, Gaylord Palms in Orlando, the Gaylord National (near DC), and the Gaylord Texan, which I’ve personally experienced in suburban Dallas and which I do not need to return to again without children.

Gaylord will continue to own the hotels, but the properties will be managed by Marriott.

American to Resume Haneda Flights

Quick note: American, which had dropped its service to Tokyo Haneda during the tourism downturn, is now resuming the flights beginning tomorrow (or, as I’m writing this from Australia, where it’s already tomorrow, they will resume the flights today. Which is tomorrow. But not here. OK, June 1st).

JAL will fly the JFK-Narita route while American will take the JFK-Haneda trip. Flights depart JFK at 655pm, arriving at 1015pm (due to slot restrictions at Haneda, international flights arrive at off hours); then depart at 650am, arriving exhausted for the day ahead at 640am in New York.

Cheap Fares to Istanbul Are Back

Travelzoo just sent out an email noting that October to December fares to Istanbul have dropped to about $525 round trip from New York on most airlines. Istanbul has been an interesting market because sub-$700 fares have been intermittently available for quite some time, making it, for whatever reason, one of the cheapest (if not cheapest) cities to fly to in Europe, despite being just about the farthest flight to Europe from New York.

Just an FYI…

United to Drop Un-Launched Houston – Auckland Because Southwest Will Fly to Mexico (?)

In a memo this week, United Airlines told employees that it will not launch its planned Houston – Auckland service because Southwest Airlines has been permitted to start Mexico flights from Houston Hobby Airport.

I know, that makes no sense. Follow me on this: Continental originally announced this route as a way of trying to convince the government that its merger with United would bring new service to airports, not the reduction in service that many feared would be the result of the merger. It felt like a suspicious choice to me — that is was being used to make a point, not because they would ever actually fly Houston – Auckland.

The route was, again, used as a pawn, this time to prove to city officials in Houston that if they permitted Southwest to fly to Mexico from Houston Hobby, that it would lead to a reduction in flights from Houston Bush Intercontinental.

A few days ago Southwest was granted the right to fly internationally from Hobby and, lo-and-behold, United pulled the route they were never going to fly in the first place and, for good measure, announced they would cut 1,300 jobs in Houston. Said United CEO Jeff Smisek, “Unfortunately, the city of Houston will suffer the consequences of this decision for decades to come….you f***ed with the wrong Marine!” (Oh that’s right, Colonel Jessep said that in a Few Good Men, my bad…)

Don’t bother following the logic on that.

Just know that Continental made a big show of announcing new routes from Houston prior to the merger to provide that service reductions and job loss were not going to result from the merger. Yet, they’ve chosen to do just that.

A Quick Air New Zealand Spaceseat Review

I flew down to Auckland Monday night on an Air New Zealand 777 in Premium Economy and I realized afterwards that every review of the Air New Zealand Spaceseat that I had read beforehand was wrong…or at least they missed some key information.

Prior Spaceseat reviews suggested 2 things:

1) When the seats were first installed (and when everyone reviewed them), there wasn’t nearly enough legroom. After less than a year ANZ took out some seats and people were then left with ample legroom.

2) The Spaceseat is “business class lite.” Perhaps, but not exactly.

Longtime OTR readers know I basically only care about whether a seat is comfortable (I’ll leave it to the other bloggers to write about food, service, whatever else). But since you’re here: the food served in Premium Economy is the same as that served up in Business Class, and it seems odd to me that they would serve giant, heavy meals at almost midnight. I’m not sure why airlines try so hard to present a full meal at odd hours. A light snack would have more than sufficed. I took the appetizer (some prosciutto and cheese) and, much to the dismay of my flight attendant, skipped the mains (short ribs; cod over couscous; or some sort of chicken. “Don’t you want to eat SOMETHING????”). It was fine. Breakfast was cereal (I ate), croissants (didn’t eat) and choice of hot entrée (eggs or waffles, I had neither).

I never comment on service, but I found this part striking enough to mention: the breakfast service was very strange. It went like this: flight attendant puts down tray with breakfast appetizers (yogurt, bread, banana) on the traytable of the person next to me. She then asks him if he wants cereal. He responds affirmatively, and she leaves, then returns with cereal. She asks if he wants milk. He says yes. She leaves and returns with milk. Same with juice. Then with smoothie. Then if he wants something hot to drink (she brings mug). Then asks what hot thing he would like to drink. All told, she asked 7 separate questions, departing and returning after each one. I was mesmerized. Moving on…

With iPads most people have their favorite movies and TV shows with them all the time. That said, their entertainment system was chock-a-block with TV shows (an entire season of Arrested Development…woo!) and movies.

Let’s jump to the important part: how were other reviewers wrong about the seat?

First, they look great – they look like business class seats. I actually walked through the cabin, got to the end, walked into Economy, and then realized I had walked through the Spaceseat cabin thinking it was Business Class. I was very happy at that point.

(those are the middle seats)

The seat is wide – wide like a real business class seat. There is plenty of legroom – most of the seats have cutouts to put your feet into, and those cutouts are plenty large.

There are 6 seats across. The two on the left side of the cabin angle left; the two on the right side of the cabin angle right; and the two in the middle face away from each other. You absolutely want seat 23B or 23J. Let me repeat that: the best Spaceseat on the plane is 23B or 23J. You have much more legroom than anyone else, and you’ve got plenty of privacy because the seats are staggered. Your seatmate is enclosed in his little shell seat, so you don’t have to look at his ugly mug all night.

The other benefit of the shell seat is that you can recline without bothering the person behind you.

But that’s where the similarity to Business Class ends. The seat really more slides forward than it does recline (though they say it’s a 6” recline vs. 3” coach recline). Sure, it reclines a bit, but it occurred to me after a few hours: although the seat is wider, it’s still a coach seat –it doesn’t recline or offer the leg support you might hope. They provide a little beanbag thingy for your feet, but even after I stole a 2nd one, it wasn’t enough. It felt like sleeping in a coach seat because there was no leg support. It’s basically a business class seat in every way except your feet cannot be elevated (nor is it like an old recliner business class seat). It’s wide; there are little compartments for your stuff; there’s a large tray. But the sleeping situation is rough. Even lounging for a while is rough because I felt like my legs need to be elevated a bit. That said, there’s enough room in the cabin to walk around a bit. I was just a bit taken aback because the seats look like business class seats. They just aren’t – they are dressed up coach seats.

The two seats in the middle in my row were empty, so after trying to sleep for a bit in my seat, I gave up and lay down across D&E to sleep. You can’t do that in the AB or JK seats because they are staggered. D&E are not staggered so you can pretty much lie across both seats. Still, my feet hung off the end, and I got a helluva whack in the middle of the night when a flight attendant went by pushing a cart.

(Sidenote here: this is the same problem with the SpaceBeds you may have seen, where you get 3 coach seats together basically for the price of two, and you those 3 seats turn into a bed of sorts. “Of sorts” because your legs hang off the end, and you have to sleep scrunched up, which is fine for a nap and less fine for an actual night’s sleep.)

A positive note: the person in A and in K can get out pretty easily, as the seats are staggered a bit. And I actually feel I have more privacy than I do in the United business class lie-flat seat, because I’m set back from the person next to me and he is enclosed in a bit of a shell.

In short: I feel like they were very, very close to coming up with an amazing product. It’s not cheap: LA-Auckland is $3000+ roundtrip in Premium Economy (vs. $5k or so in Business Class), and while the seat is in some ways great, in more ways it behaves too much like a regular coach seat. You really do need some leg support, and I was disappointed that there wasn’t anything resembling a leg rest on the seat.

Mind you, I’m complaining a bit about this seat now, but I’m currently scheduled to fly back on an ANZ 747 that has the old(er) Premium Economy seats. That older seat may actually be more comfortable, based on what I’ve read in other reviews. That said, ANZ gives you a chance to bid on an upgrade (when you buy a Premium Economy ticket through them), and I bid the lowest amount ($350), which I just found out did not get me the upgrade. That is causing me a bit of upset, but not so much upset that I’d actually pay more than that.

(I thought this wallpaper they put in the bathroom was kinda cool):

ON A SLIGHTLY SEPARATE NOTE…

Here’s how I tortured my children before this trip (for the sake of simplicity I have combined the 2 girls into 1):

Me: Want to hear something weird?

Daughter: We’re studying earthworms.

Me: Oh (I’ve learned that responses from a 6-year old don’t necessary match the question asked of them). I leave Monday night for my trip, but I land on Wednesday morning.

Daughter: You fly all day on Tuesday?

Me: No, that’s the crazy part (I don’t know if that is really crazy, but as a child I had a fascination with the International Date Line. Apparently by daughters do not share that fascination). I leave on Monday night, but then it’s Wednesday because of time zones and the international date line (diversion to discuss what that is…and we’re back).

Daughter: But what are you doing on Tuesday?

Me: There is no Tuesday.

Daughter: Yes there is! Where will you be Tuesday?

Me: I don’t have Tuesday this week.

Daughter (increasingly agitated): Daddy stop it. Just tell me, what are you doing on Tuesday.

Me: Nothing. There is no Tuesday.

Daughter: DADDY STOP! JUST TELL ME!

Me: I AM telling you (I’m realizing this was funny when Abbott and Costello did it, but this conversation is less amusing in real life).

Daughter (suspiciously close to tears): TELL ME!

Me: (pause) I’ll be on the plane on Tuesday.

Daughter: But you said there was no Tuesday.

(And…scene)

A Few Notes from Today’s Flight to LA

I’m on my way to Australia (JFK-LAX on United in business; LAX-Auckland-Sydney on Air New Zealand in Premium Economy SpaceSeat; Sydney – Gold Coast on Jetstar in scrunchy class), and I thought I’d share a few thoughts from the first leg of the trip:

– The actor who played Mr. Chow from The Hangover was on my flight with his family. That will probably be the highlight of this trip.

– No, wait, back it up. The highlight of this trip will be the guy who sat in front of my on the train from Penn Station to JFK (well, to Jamaica) and was yapping at full volume to someone about attending (or not attending, in this case) Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Also, he was rather upset about the mooching habits of someone he knows. To wit, “I’m-a make it clear she can’t come to my house and eat my fish every day. Cost me like $80.” That begs more questions than it answers.

– A flight attendant did one of the smallest nicest things for me: I was waiting to use the bathroom, and he called up to the First Class flight attendant and told her to let me come up and use that lavatory. That sounds kinda pathetic when I write it, but at the time it was a very nice small gesture.

– The in-seat power did not work with my MacBook. The purser told me this was a common problem with Macs. I’ve never had this problem with a Mac. Anyone?

– Bloggers can take all the pictures they want of the food they are served on an airplane, but it is still airplane food. The beef, chicken or ravioli were all on par with food that we were served at my Little League Banquet when I was 9. I brought a sandwich from Lenny’s on 84th and Columbus. It was awesome.

– United’s P.S. service is fascinating. It was, if not revolutionary, quite a leap forward when they rolled it out in 2004. Today, it seems very, very dated. The idea is still fantastic, but the seats are old and they hand out DigiPlayers (DigiPlayers!) like it’s, what, 2004? They do have Internet, but I don’t do anything important enough to warrant spending $18 for Internet access (shouldn’t that be free up front?) The staff was great, though. But I’d be pained if I spent $4,000 (?) on a first class ticket and ended up with that seat. It’s like the world has blown by P.S. and they never noticed (or it’s exactly what it’s like to fly American).

– I will not share photos of the Air New Zealand lounge with you, but do know that it’s in LAX Terminal 2, which has virtually nothing to eat in it. The lounge, which is perfectly fine (all lounges are perfectly fine — even schmancy first class lounges in Asia are still just lounges, even if they offer you a massage), does have some really good crab salad.

Apologies for the Larry King USA Today column format today…just wanted to share a few thoughts.

El Al to Roll Out Economy Class Plus (Premium Economy) in July

El Al is jumping on the Premium Economy bandwagon beginning July 1st when it rolls out its Economy Class Plus cabin on its 747-400 aircraft. The new product, which will be located in rows 5-8 in the front of the aircraft, will offer 4 inches of additional legroom (36″ pitch) and 33% more recline, as well as an amenity kit; business class pillow & blanket; and power ports by the end of the year (welcome to 2006, El Al!)

Here’s the good news: if you have Top Platinum, Platinum or Gold status in their frequent flyer program, you will be upgraded when you purchase a coach ticket. Companions of Top Platinum members will also be upgraded. It also looks like full-fare economy tickets (Y, S and M class) will also be upgraded. Even if you have no status, they’ll sell you an upgrade on a long-haul flight for just $150, which seems like a steal to me (or you could use 300 Matmid points).

Air Pacific Will Change Its Name to…

Fiji Airways.

The airline actually used to be called Fiji Airways until 1970, when they tried to broaden their appeal by changing to Air Pacific. Now they believe they will be most appealing by saying, “screw you, rest of the Pacific!” and focusing on bringing passengers to Fiji.

The new livery will be introduced late this year, and we’ll see it on their new A330-200 aircraft that will be rolling out in the middle of 2013.

Just thought you’d like to know.