Category Archives: Recent Stories

The Boarding Door Is Now Closed…

I woke up a few weeks ago and I had a slight feeling of dread about writing something for OTR that day. This site, as I’ve written before, is a labor of love. I’ve been writing it for 10 years, and I love the little community it’s created and the interaction with the readers. But when I woke up a few weeks ago, writing felt like a job.

This happened a few years back when the whole credit card thing exploded, and the site started to generate a little revenue and I felt like I constantly had to feed the beast. I enjoyed the revenue, but I hated the feeling that this thing was work. I pulled back from the credit card stuff, and I started writing less frequently as a way to start enjoying this again.

As my girls have grown older I’ve been trying to spend more time with them in the mornings. And they stay up later so I spend time with them in the evenings. And after they go to bed I actually like to talk to my wife for a bit. And at my job I have my job stuff to do. Which is all to say – the time I used to spend thinking about the site and actually writing has now been filled with family time. And I’m incredibly happy about that.

Which is all to say that it’s time to turn out the lights at the OTR. I have the email addresses of those of you who have signed up for the newsletter, so if I decide to write from time-to-time I’ll let you know (and please – sign up for the newsletter…I may write on occasion and I’d like to have someone to send it to). But for now, we’ll be closing up shop.

You can always email me at jared (at) onlinetravelreview.com. And I’ll Tweet once in a while. Or maybe more than that. Follow me on Twitter! (Link is to the right).

I’m on Instagram at jblankoh.

Don’t delete the feed – if I decide twice a year that I have something to say, you’ll get it.

I’ve left a list of my favorite pieces of in the right-hand column so if you ever want to revisit the subway trip report or whatever, it’s there.

And I’ll leave with these last few thoughts:

- Don’t be an idiot about credit card churning. Stay within your limits.
- Don’t be afraid to fly coach and save your miles so you can take more trips.
- That business class seat is just a shitty version of your couch.
- Go and travel. And take your kids with you. I know this whole thing sometimes feels like it’s about the points. It’s not. It’s about traveling.

Thanks for reading.

United Is Upgrading Premium Cabin Food on Domestic Flights

Did you want the salad with chicken or shrimp?

Anyone who flies United in domestic business class frequently will no longer have to answer that question (no complaints, mind you – on the occasion when I’m upgraded I take my shrimp and shut the hell up).

United is upgrading salad options in the front cabin on domestic flights, as they note in this press release:

Among the changes:
-New, premium salads beginning this month for customers flying United First and United Business within North America;
-New, premium sandwiches and wraps, beginning Sept. 1, for United First and United Business customers within North America;
-Addition of Prosecco sparkling wine in premium cabins beginning this fall;
-Introduction of premium-cabin meals to flights of shorter duration, beginning in 2015; and
-Fresh meal options for premium-cabin customers on United Express flights, beginning in 2015.

Beginning in the middle of next year, flights longer than 2 hours and 20 minutes or 800 miles will get upgraded meals in premium cabins. United Express flights will see the snack boxes replaced with actual food. In addition, they’ll upgrade international economy meal service.

Now let the whining about everything United does commence!

This 3 Sentence Conversation Kinda Sums Up What It’s Like to Be a Husband

My wife is on the way to LaGuardia for a flight. She’s in a cab, and calls me at home.

Wife: What terminal am I going to?
Me: Hm. What airline are you flying?
Wife: I don’t know. *

(and…scene).

* to be fair, she was flying different airlines out and back and couldn’t remember which was which…and neither could I.

Apparently You Can Churn the Chase Fairmont Visa Card

Just a quick one:

A friend (and reader) just let me know that he and his wife both received a second bonus on the Chase Fairmont Visa Signature credit card (2 nights stay with breakfast). He and his wife had each gotten the card a bit over a year ago. They earned the free nights after $3,000 spend in 3 months. They closed the account after 11 months, then opened another card a month or two later. They received the free nights again after they hit the bonus.

Anyone else have this same experience?

Monday Roundup: Hawaiian Airlines to SFO; Delta Shuttle; Alaska Airlines Bathrooms

- Hawaiian Airlines will launch 4x weekly service between Maui and San Francisco on November 20th, moving to daily service on December 17th. Remember about 5-6 years ago when Aloha closed down and ATA closed down, it ended a bunch of West Coast service to Hawaii and the feeling was that it would never return. I guess we were wrong about that.

- Delta is moving its LaGuardia to Boston shuttle operations from the Marine Air Terminal to Terminal C on November 2nd. As part of the move they’ll upgauge the plane from an Embraer 175 to a Boeing 717. Washington DC shuttle operations stay at the Marine terminal and will continue to be serviced by the Embraer.

- A couple is suing Alaska Airlines because they were not allowed to use the First Class bathroom when they were flying in coach.

- Want to read a short interview with the founder of the new PeoplExpress?

Here’s How You Avoid Checking a Bag

I just fully Jedi-Mind-Tricked the check-in people at TAM Airlines in Sao Paulo.

Person at TAM Counter: You’ll need to check that bag.
Me: It’s hand luggage.
Person at TAM Counter: I’m sorry it’s too big you’ll need to check it.
Me: It’s hand luggage.
Person at TAM Counter: Hand luggage is under 5 kilos. That is bigger than that.
Me: It’s hand luggage.
Person at TAM Counter: That is a roller bag, it is not hand luggage.
Me: It’s hand luggage.
Person at TAM Counter: OK, go ahead.

In Case You Were Wondering How Bad the Traffic Is In Sao Paulo…

On the 4-lane highway to the airport there were people standing in the highway – not NEXT to the highway, IN the highway – selling crap. On a highway. In the middle of the highway. Because the “highway” moves at 5 mph. So people can stand IN the highway. I’ve never seen that anywhere.

Asuncion Junction, What’s Your Function? (Or, Here’s a Quick Trip Report)

The thing about being stuck in coach is that, perhaps unlike being stuck in business class, I don’t want to remember every part of the experience. I’d like the trip to be over with as quickly as possible, so while others can write 5,000 words about their flying experience, I prefer to keep mine to 2: I slept.

I feared my TAM 767-300 would be ancient with no onboard entertainment, but I was pleasantly surprised to see they had (at some point in the recent past, as Seatguru shows this plane as having no seatback entertainment) installed a back o’ the seat video that offered a wide array of choices, including the entire first season of Veep, which occupied me for the first 4 hours of the flight until the Ambien kicked in.

Two areas of note:

1) They divide the boarding into 3 groups – business class, the first 30 or so rows of coach, then the last rows of coach. God bless the Brazilians and all, but they are not a people that embrace the idea of a queue. So there was a boarding scrum as new arrivals to the boarding area would go to the front of the line, which is exactly the opposite of how a line works in, say, every other country on earth.

2) I don’t know why they needed to turn the cabin lights on at 11:15pm for dinner service. It would seem, even on a 9 ½ hour flight, that at that hour people would like to sleep. People may like to sleep at that point, but TAM was having none of it, instead keeping the lights on for another hour as they handed our beef or pasta.

The GOL flight to Asuncion was perfectly fine, noteworthy for these 2 things:

1) While everyone complains about airlines in the US, our flight was 30 minutes late in boarding. For reasons I’m not sure of, they tell passengers to go to the gate 1 hour in advance of take off. Then we stood there. And stood. And the boarding time came and went without comment, something that in the US would have caused a) a riot; and b) a barrage of angry Twitter posts. Nobody said anything.

2) There is a women-only bathroom on the Gol 737. I’m not sure why women get their own
bathroom other than, and forgive me, men’s bodily waste must be so pungent that Brazilian women refuse to subject themselves to that odor. I do not blame them.

Asuncion is a dusty capital city that smells of burning garbage due, I’m guessing, to the piles of burning garbage I passed on the way to my hotel, the Paraguayo Yacht and Golf Club. I will now list the pros and cons of this establishment:

PROs
- It is beautifully situated on a river separating Paraguay from Argentina. It’s quite relaxing to just sit and watch the river flow by. See here:

river

- My room, which was large and newly renovated, was $85.
- There’s a very nice health club, a ton of tennis courts, and a golf course that offers spectacular views of the river.
- Nearly* entirely devoid of prostitutes.
*I only saw one hotel guest escorting a prostitute back to his room.

CONs
- The hotel was basically the real-life version of the hotel in the Shining. Or an episode of Scooby Doo. Huge, decrepit ballroom? Check. Large grounds with only myself as a guest? Check. Dimly lit hallways that led to locked doors? Check. Scatman Crothers bartending? Check.

That's a spooky ballroom, don't let the light fool you

That’s a spooky ballroom, don’t let the light fool you

Nice pool.  I'm sure it will be lovely when it's not a pile of wood.

Nice pool. I’m sure it will be lovely when it’s not a pile of wood.

That's the empty poorly lit hallway that leads to my certain death.

That’s the empty poorly lit hallway that leads to my certain death.

- I asked the front desk (well, I think I asked this as I had to speak Spanish, and my Spanish is limited) about options for where I could eat. He mentioned 2 restaurants in the hotel. I told him there were no people in those restaurants. He said there would be later. I ate at 8:30pm, and there was not a soul in the place. Spooky.
- Although situated on a river with beautiful views, there is actually nowhere currently open to sit and enjoy said views.
- If you were looking for prostitutes, you would have been disappointed, as noted above, that I only saw 1. That said, I only saw 4 sets of guests at the hotel. 1 was a couple. 1 was me. 1 was a single guy. And 1 was an older Japanese woman and, I’ll guess, friend. So that leaves 2 options for who could get a prostitute (single guy and me), and I did not get one. So there is a 50% chance that guests who could get prostitutes would get them.

Paraguay is a poor country – according to whatever I could pull up on my work-issued 47 year old Blackberry, it’s probably the 8th poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, hovering in poverty right around Honduras. If I were dropped on earth and told that Paraguay was a developing nation and that they are still at the point where citizens are opening businesses that only cater to the most base needs of the country, I would assume that the country only needed auto repair shops and cell phones, as every store I passed for half an hour featured one or the other.

It’s winter now, so temperatures were pleasant in the morning and in the mid-70s during the day. It was still smelly and dusty despite the climate, which made me think about what was going on here during the summer months when it hits 110. That’s not an exaggeration. It regularly hits 110 degrees, which mixed with the burning garbage and dust must make turn this into, certainly, worse than the 8th worst place in the Western Hemisphere.

To sum up: I would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for those meddling kids.

The One Statistic That Sums Up Pittsburgh Airport

From the NY Times article today about how the airport will generate more than 20% of its operating budget by allowing fracking on its land:

The terminal was built for 30 million passengers a year. The peak was just under 21 million, in 1997. Last year, there were eight million.

Ouch.

The Most Underrated Flight Amenity Is…

I arrived in Sao Paulo this morning after the overnight flight in coach (as always: not as terrible as everyone makes it out to be). I’ll write a bit more about that later, but I wanted to point out what is actually the most underrated flight amenity:

The shower in the arrival lounge.

Even when I fly up front, after overnight flights I generally feel (and look!) like I’ve been run over twice by a truck. The in-flight experience is what it is, and even in a lie-flat bed I get a pretty crappy night’s sleep. So I was thrilled when I came into the Admirals Club lounge at Sao Paulo’s airport (thanks, AA Exec credit card!) and used their shower facility. Now I feel like a million bucks. A million bucks that slept about 4 hours sitting up, but a million bucks nonetheless.

I’m not sure why whether the airline adds a slice of lemon to your Diet Coke gets more mentions on blogs than the lounge shower, but whatever….you can keep your lemon and I’ll just take a shower.

(Side note: the much, much reviled United Club at Sao Paulo closed down in June. For those who have sat on the floor for hours while 600 other people squeezed into a space meant for 175, I had a little tinge of sadness when I saw they had shut its disgusting doors for the final time…)