Using Budget’s Fastbreak service at SFO

The San Francisco rental car center is both convenient and annoying at the same time. It has all the rental car companies and their cars located in one gigantic garage that is easily accessible by the AirTrain connecting all the terminals and BART stations. That being said, it takes a good 10 minutes to get to by AirTrain and you arrive with a large throng of people so getting to a good position in line for your rental car can be difficult.

Enter the loyalty programs and services like “Fastbreak.” As I’ve published before, oftentimes these companies show your name on a screen to ensure you know where to go for your car.

This time, however, Budget went old school and put our rental agreements on paper next to the station where no associates were standing. Since we were going to show our driver’s licenses to the exit attendant anyway, it didn’t matter that we didn’t check in with anyone. I just thought it was quaint to use paper instead of a video screen (which Avis was doing right next to the Budget station).

United DOES care (on a trip when your in-flight entertainment doesn’t work)

My wife and I took United flight 1513 from Newark to San Francisco last Thursday afternoon and were pleasantly surprised by the outcome of an unfortunate situation that occurred with the in-flight entertainment (IFE) system.

Essentially, since United decided to remove many of their IFE systems from planes to save on costs. The physical hardware requires maintenance and fuel in order to keep it in the sky. Many airlines are going in this direction so you should always check in advance if you need to download an app or a movie to make sure you have something to watch on long flights (that is, if you want to – there are also these paper-based items called “books” I’ve heard are having a resurgence).

Anyway, for the vast majority of our flight the IFE system was inoperable. My wife and I like to watch movies together on airplanes and were disappointed (as, I’m sure were parents of small children…). I read a book and took a nap, then discovered with about 45 minutes left in the flight that the IFE was working again.

Throughout this situation, were kept fairly well apprised by the flight attendants that there was nothing they could do and that they were sorry for the delay. Toward the second half of the flight we heard a message explaining that they wanted to make it right with us and we should go to this website in order to get something for our troubles. In the end, we were offered a choice that – to me – is a no-brainer:

5000 miles is worth about $50-$75 with how they are often used, so I opted for the $100 e-certificate for the two of us. That means our next flights are discounted by a pretty substantial amount. Since the plane tickets, themselves, were about $110 each for us, I’m impressed that we were able to get these certificates.

Also, I’m curious to know United’s math on this situation. According to this seating chart of the plane that we used (I think it was this model of 777-200) there were 364 people on the plane, meaning $100 * 364 = $36,400 of extra cost for United. I am very impressed at both the speed and ease in which this all took place. This definitely makes me like them a bit more than I had before.

Kudos, United. Thanks for the money back.

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.