Citi Prestige Trip Cancellation Benefit doesn’t cover miles refunds

In an attempt to recoup the value of a ticket my wife and I had to cancel I called the phone number on the back of our Citi Prestige card in order to file a trip cancellation refund request. We had used the card to pay the taxes on a mileage trip on Korean Airlines, whose generous refund rules allow you to recoup much of your losses for not that much money (miles, actually). That being said, they still deduct miles in order to process the refund according to this chart:

So, due to the international nature of our travel we each lost 3,000 Korean Air Skypass miles in the transaction (and we got the rest back, including the taxes). So, when I called Citi, I wasn’t necessarily expecting anything magical, but I was hoping they would refund some kind of dollar value of the 6,000 miles that we lost. Turns out the answer is no. They don’t refund miles. I’ve been a happy customer of Citi Prestige for a while and love all their insurance benefits but it turns out this one they don’t help with. It’s not that big a deal – 6,000 miles is a small price to pay to get everything back easily, but it’s annoying.

Good to know for the future, though, I’m sure.

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.

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!

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!