Chase Ultimate Rewards dropping Korean Air as transfer partner

I have read all the posts recently about Chase dropping Korean Air Skypass as a transfer partner for Ultimate Rewards points and been incredibly saddened by the idea. My wife and I travelled to South Korea on the way to our honeymoon two years ago and very much look forward to returning to the country in the future. Their availability of first class awards and generous hold policy meant we had more time to get the points necessary for their product, which is quite comfortable and spacious. While this may not change a lot of our strategizing with miles/points it will definitely have an impact as we want to use their routing rules to return in the future.

EL AL Policies have shifted around in regards to religiously-inclined seating requests

As a frequent traveler I find it is very important to know and understand the religious and cultural values of the country to which I am traveling. Unfortunately, when it comes to my own background as Jewish person, I am sometimes dismayed at how those values can be warped and twisted. Case in point: women sitting next to religious men on an airplane.

Airplanes are obviously close-quarters. Airline owners are pondering daily how to cram more people in to make more money. So, when (as often happens) an ultra-orthodox Jewish man is seated next to a woman in a seat on a plane, the man often asks flight attendants to move the woman so he won’t break his interpretation of Jewish law. The actual law is called Shomer Negiah and I have plenty of religious friends that follow it but still sit next to women on airplanes.

Enter: Renee Rabinowitz, a Holocaust survivor and 81-year-old woman who was sitting in business class, yet still had the same request made of her. Back in 2016 she filed a lawsuit and in 2017 she won it. El Al, the Israeli airline, was now mandated to come up with a more specific policy on how to deal with these situations, and not one that would be negative towards women.

The more specific policies were implemented (women are not to be asked to move anymore) but an ad showcasing them was blocked for being too political in origin.

Then, finally, on June 24, El Al Chairman Gonen Ussishkin announced Monday that any passengers refusing to sit next to other passengers will be immediately removed from the aircraft. I am truly curious to see how this will work going forward. Will the ultra-orthodox just choose a different airline and have the whole issue pop up again? Or will they stop flying at all? I wonder…

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom with Korean Air Skypass Visa

The day finally arrived and my friend and I went to go see Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Due to my membership with the Skypass Visa card, I was given two free tickets, free popcorn + drinks, and an exclusive screening of the movie.

I’ll say a little about the movie first: it was entertaining but I’m glad I didn’t pay full ticket price to see it. I really thought the first Jurassic World film was good (and might even buy it on Blu-ray for $5-$8) but this one was just not at that level of quality. The storyline was a bit derivative from Jurassic Park: Lost World and it didn’t have any new pizzazz, really. So, I recommend you wait until it’s on Netflix or Amazon Prime to watch it.

Now for the experience at the theater: my friend and I were greeted by folks at a desk and given our tickets and concession vouchers. 

There were signs all over the place welcoming us to the movies and guiding us to our theater. Additionally, there was a cute photo booth wherein you could take your photo with blow-up dinosaurs. I couldn’t resist!

There were a couple of speeches by folks from US Bank (the issuer of the card) and Korean Air Skypass (the mileage program) and then the movie got started. Afterward, there were giveaways of posters and bags. I only took a bag because I am surely not going to advertise a movie I don’t think others should pay for!

Overall, it was a fun experience. Not only did I get a 45,000 mile bonus by meeting minimum spending requirements on the card, I also got this free screening. Sufficed to say, however, I cancelled the card the very next day. Since I don’t plan on using Korean Airlines exclusively and I don’t travel to South Korea often (although my wife and I will be there this summer) it didn’t make sense to keep it. Luckily, I used the points I had accumulated before closing the card, otherwise those would have been forfeit, too. Good thing I called!

Free screening of Jurassic World sequel from a credit card? Weird.

After arriving home from a weekend trip to Toronto, I was greeted by a mailer from my Korean Airlines SkyPass Visa card. It was interesting because I don’t normally get anything from them since I don’t use it ever(I got the card for the special 45k miles bonus). This one, however, had a special invitation to view the upcoming Jurassic Park sequel for free! And in 3D, no less!

I love how these companies sometimes do random things for their members. AMEX has its offers section (which can be very lucrative on purchases at chain stores); airlines have shopping portals (also useful); and more.

While this doesn’t rival the time I went to do a test drive at a Chevrolet dealership for 7,500 AAdvantage miles, it’s still a good story.

Plaza Premium Temporary Lounge in Toronto leaves something to be desired

On the way home from Toronto on Monday I was ready to spend some relaxing time in the Plaza Premium Lounge in Terminal 1 of the Toronto Pearson Airport. My wife, sister, and brother were all with me and we would get some free food, drinks, and nice bathrooms to tide over the hour we had to wait for the plane. Unfortunately, we were greeted by this banner upon getting through customs on our way to the lounge.

Apparently the lounge is going through renovation and so we were only able to get access to a temporary lounge using the Priority Pass Select membership granted to us by the Citi Prestige card that my wife and I hold.

The lounge is located essentially in what should be the regular seating area between gates F55 and F57. Instead, they have put up some partitions, placed some higher-quality chairs, and set up a buffet with some food. There were more limited selections than usual but the food was tasty. They also had a variety of drinks, although a smaller variety than normal. The one major gripe that my family and I had was the the power ports on the chairs were taped over and disconnected from any kind of power source.

We spent about 45 minutes waiting in the lounge and enjoying the food and drink. It was definitely better than paying for food and the chairs had nicer cushions, but this is not the kind of lounge I am used to at this point in my travel career. I hope they complete renovations quickly so that the next visit we have to Toronto has a better lounge for us to access.

Review: Cathay Pacific First Class Vancouver->New York

I recently had a very quick but wonderful experience in Cathay Pacific‘s first class seat. What some don’t realize is that there are airlines out there that fly something called a “Fifth Freedom” route, meaning they start and end in a country other than from where they hail. Cathay Pacific’s home base is Hong Kong and they fly a beautiful 777-300ER plane from there all the way to Vancouver, and then continue with the same plane to New York’s JFK airport a few hours later. I was lucky enough to score a seat on that flight using British Airways miles that were going to expire soon after that = a great redemption value.

So let’s start by looking at the lounge in Vancouver Airport. Even though it is not a hug of the airline, Cathay Pacific still has a lounge in the airport that they run, so it has a host of amenities. While not as big as their lounge in Hong Kong, it still sports a Noodle Bar, plenty of seating, free wifi, places to work, and ample space to spread out.

The food options were pretty spectacular for such a short flight, too. The Noodle Bar offered free hot dishes made-to-order (so I asked for a beef burger – it was done quite tastily). Their buffet has a few other tasty options and in the refrigerators are all kinds of cold drinks and desserts.

Finally, the lounge has a few bathroom/shower rooms for you to use before the overnight flight. Of course, I took advantage of one, and enjoyed getting physically ready for a short overnight nap.

The flight was getting ready for boarding when I arrived a few minutes in advance. Luckily, despite some snow that day there were no delays. I had a wonderful view of the plane from the gate area.

And then I was inside. The seat is one of the best first class seats in the world! It has so much legroom, arm room, and places for storage. The 777 first class cabin is a bit odd with a 1-1-1 arrangement, so the seat that I chose was opposite the a small wall from the middle seats. For this reason it is not the most ideal cabin if flying with a partner – you would generally not see them! That being said, there were also electrical outlets of various types and the in-flight entertainment system was usual on the ground.

They also passed out an amenity kit (different for binary gender-options) and gave me some pajamas. While I don’t have them pictured here, just know that the pants are currently my favorite: they have an elastic waistband as well as pockets and are made with a wonderful cotton fabric.

The food on board was quite tasty. Despite the fact that it was less than a five-hour flight I still had the option of receiving two meals. I opted for just the one since I wanted to get some sleep and didn’t want an upset stomach upon coming home. But the menu had a good variety of options and I enjoyed myself thoroughly. I’ll end this post by saying that Cathay Pacific First Class is a sight to behold and I hope I get the opportunity to take it again someday, albeit for a larger amount of time.

Review: Amtrak Cascades from Seattle to Vancouver

I have a third cousin who lives in Vancouver who I hadn’t seen in years when I went on my trip to Alaska and Seattle so instead of flying home from SeaTac I decided to seek out another flight on a wonderful airline from British Columbia, instead. While I will write the review of that flight later on, I want to focus on my train ride from Seattle’s King Street Station to Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station. Amtrak offers its twice daily Cascades service with a four hour ride with customs completed on board.

The first thing to note about taking this train is that, unlike on the Northeast Corridor, your ticket is not the only thing you need to board the train; there are reserved seats. My train was scheduled to leave at 7:45am so I assumed that I would get as good a seat as any if I arrived 15 minutes earlier. Unfortunately, that wasn’t true. I waited in a small line when I arrived and was given an inside seat because I was later than I should have been. The lesson here is: get there early if you want to look out the window.

When the train came up to the track the first thing I noticed was its size: a tall, double-decker train, but with only three carriages: Car A, Car B, and the Dining/Viewing car. I guess this makes sense as it is not so much of a commuter train.

I arrived at my seat (an aisle, unfortunately) and quickly noted my surroundings. The width of the seat is similar to that of the Northeast Corridor but the legroom is significantly larger. It was quite comfortable for the four-hour ride. I had great lighting above for the book I was reading and had I wanted to use the tray table, it went all the way down to where I wanted it. Finally, there was a small lever to pitch my seat-back a few degrees for added comfort.

 

One of the more interesting things that I noticed on the ride was how many restrooms there were. On the bottom floor of the double-decker car wasn’t more seating: it was luggage storage and places to “do your business.” There were five bathrooms in each seating car. While they were not as spacious as those on the Northeast Corridor, they still fit the bill. Sometimes people were making louder phone calls down in the area in front of the luggage storage place but otherwise it was mostly empty.

The viewing deck / dining car was also quite wonderful. Towards the front of the train there was plenty of seating if you wanted to eat something, talk a bit, and look out the window.

Finally, when we were close to the Canadian border the conductor got over the PA system and announced that for about 10 minutes there would be no movement from seats allowed (i.e. no bathroom usage) and those who were in the dining or viewing car would have to stay where they were for a customs check. Conductors came through the cabin and checked passports briefly to make sure everyone was ready to get across the border. It was really was quick and painless.

Once we arrived at the train station in Vancouver we exited the train and had to wait in a brief line for customs officials on the Canadian side to ask us questions about our travel and what we were doing visiting Canada. It took a few minutes to get through and then I got picked up by my cousin for a great 10 hours visit!

I hope to get back to Vancouver when it’s a bit less snowy – apparently it was covered for the first time in ages. Maybe next time I’ll get to stay over!