About Nick

Nick brings the perspective of the infrequent but savvy traveler who finds that getting there is actually less than half the fun, but you might as well fly business class on the way and get a good night's sleep. Despite a relatively sparse portfolio of flown miles and hotel stays per year that would never otherwise qualify for status, Nick manages to leverage credit cards, promotions and points to secure elite status and increase his chances for that sought-after upgrade.

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Review: New United Club LAX

United Club LAX

While most readers know me as the lone (consistently) pro-Delta voice on the blog, I recently flew United Airlines out of Los Angeles. (In truth, I’ve long since requalified for Diamond Medallion, Delta doesn’t offer a nonstop from Los Angeles to Washington just yet, and during the holiday season United flies internationally-configured 777s between Washington Dulles and Los Angeles/San Francisco, so using miles I was able to score a “Polaris First” seat for the four-hour flight.)

Given the new United Club lounge that just opened at LAX’s Terminal 7 (which is in the midst of a remodel, if a rather generic one), I took this as an opportunity to review the new space. Tiffany generously offered one of her United Club passes that come as part of her perks as a Hyatt Diamond.

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First Look: Delta’s Gorgeous New SkyClub At SeaTac Airport

Delkta SkyClub Seattle

Delta’s $21 million new SkyClub at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport opens tothe public today between Concourses A & B, and at 21,000 square feet, not only is it enormous, but it’s a stunner.

This club supplements and largely supplements Delta’s existing SkyClub in the South Satellite gates at Sea-Tac.

I was invited to the opening preview yesterday, and it’s clear Delta is very proud of this particular SkyClub. And they have every right to be. The new-ish SkyClub at SFO is pretty roundly regarded as wonderful. The new Seattle SkyClub is another league above.

Words won’t do it justice, so I tried to include as many pictures as possible, though of course the uniquely Pacific Northwest mix of gloom with bursts of sunshine doesn’t quite let on just how airy the space is.

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Delta’s New LAX-DCA Route Will Have Lie-Flat Seats

Delta One 757 seats

I somehow missed this news on Friday (I mean, to be fair, I think we all missed every bit of news that was not Donald Trump and his love of Tic-Tacs and unwanted sexual advances on Friday), but Delta has made another game-changing move in its battle for dominance with American and United at LAX.

Currently Delta has no nonstop service to Washington, D.C. from LAX, which is both odd and frustrating for me, personally, since I live in one city and have family in the other. (Typically, I’ll either fly Alaska and credit my miles to Delta, but with no hope of an upgrade, or I’ll connect in Salt Lake or Atlanta.)

However, on Friday Delta not only announced new nonstop service beginning April 24, 2017 between Los Angeles and Washington-National — thus, directly competing with both American Airlines and Alaska — but announced that its new DCA service will be on a Delta One-configured 757-200 aircraft with 16 lie-flat seats. Presumably, this is the same aircraft configuration Delta occasionally flies between New York and Los Angeles and San Francisco, which means the seats don’t all feature direct aisle access.

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Is This The Best Option For International Data?

Skyroam

There’s no doubt that staying connected while traveling abroad has gotten exponentially easier in the last few years. While options for local SIM cards and rentable My-Fi devices have expanded, U.S.-based cellular carriers have started offering competitive packages that allow you to use your phone as you would in the States, affordably.

Ben’s a fan of T-Mobile. Tiffany prefers her Google-Fi.

As for me, I’m a Sprint customer, and have been pretty delighted with Sprint’s international travel packages this past year. With Sprint’s Open World plan (which is free), voice and texting in the entirety of the Americas – North and South – is free, and 1GB of high-speed data is included (with overages charged at $30 per GB, billed in KB increments). In most of Europe, Australia, and parts of Africa and Asia, calls are just $0.20 per minute, texts are free, and high-speed data is billed at $30 per gig, in KB increments.

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Review: St. Regis Houston

St. Regis Houston floral arrangement

I recently had a last minute work trip to Houston, which is perhaps the only sort of trip one takes to Houston in the summer, as it’s not a popular leisure destination in August given the typical summer climate there. Nonetheless, hotel rates varied fairly widely, with the St. Regis (which is located in the Galleria area, near where I needed to stay) and the Four Seasons (in downtown Houston) being both the two top options, and the two priciest.

I happen to have a good friend who is a Houston-based Virtuoso adviser, and my friend Will wanted to place me at the St. Regis, but my work budget wouldn’t allow it. And this is where an excellent travel adviser works his or her magic, particularly when he or she has a good working relationship with a property: he asked what my budget was, and was able to find a rate that I hadn’t seen that fit my needs. Better still, he was able to secure me complimentary breakfast, a room upgrade, late checkout (which I wouldn’t be taking advantage of), a special amenity, and a partial food and beverage credit.

(Of course, it goes without saying having a locally-based Virtuoso adviser is always a plus, but any good Virtuoso agent can work magic — as Ford, for instance, often does. Still, when your travel adviser has a specialty or a connection, take advantage of it!)

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Review: Andaz Wall Street New York

Andaz Suite king bed

The Andaz Wall Street, in Lower Manhattan, is a foundation of Hyatt’s Andaz brand, being the third hotel to open under the Andaz flag (following the chain’s West Hollywood and London locations). There are no shortage of reviews of the Andaz Wall Street on this site (or on any other miles-and-points site), in particular because the hotel can represent an incredible value, especially on the weekends, when room rates can dip to around the $200/night mark (and sometimes drastically below).

Since its opening in 2010, the Andaz Wall Street has seen Hurricane Sandy inundate its lower floors, and it’s undeniably challenging for a 6-year old hotel to have had to undergo major renovations just to recover from a devastating flood.

I’ve personally stayed at the Andaz Wall Street twice before, in 2011 and in 2014. In 2011, pre-Sandy, I recall a bona fide luxury hotel with warm, personable service, endless amenities, and a quiet but convenient neighborhood. My prior stay, in 2014, I found the hotel to have weathered the storm fairly decently, with the overall modern style of the hotel intact.

I stayed at the Andaz Wall Street recently, however, and was a bit disappointed to discover a markedly different experience (and a general sense of downhill slide that others have telegraphed in foreboding terms).

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An OMAAT Chat: Tiffany & Nick Discuss Hotel Design

Concourse-hotel-LAX-renovated-15

If there were an animated movie entitled “The Secret Life of OMAAT Contributors,” it might just be 90 minutes of a Pixar-rendered Tiffany instant messaging with similarly animated versions of Travis, Andrew B., Mike, Matt, Ford and myself.

Because both Tiffany and I stayed at renovated hotels recently with very noticeable design directions — Tiffany, at the Concourse Hotel LAX, which was redesigned with a “mid-century aviation” approach to great success, and me, at the Fairmont Olympic Seattle, a former grande dame whose renovation was executed in the “Z Gallerie Outlet, but slightly cheaper looking” aesthetic — we found ourselves in a discussion about what we like and dislike in hotel design.

Tiffany’s also currently staying at a Fairmont property, so we discussed the peculiarities of that chain — one we both really like, but one that’s hard to pin down.

So here goes, against Tiffany’s every instinct, our first (and possibly last!) installment of “An OMAAT Chat” – a nice, open-minded back and forth between Tiffany and me. But, as always, OMAAT is about the readership — so consider this just the beginning of a conversation, and please add your thoughts to the comments below!

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Review Update: Fairmont Olympic Hotel Seattle

Generic guestroom at the historic Fairmont Olympic Hotel in Seattle

Back in November I stayed at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in Seattle and was thoroughly impressed — so much so, in fact, that I felt compelled to write a review for OMAAT detailing my experience there.

When I stayed at the hotel in November, I noted that the rooms were slated to be refreshed. The guestrooms certainly called for an update, since they featured a “classic” decor that didn’t feel dated so much as rickety — they hadn’t been materially updated since the days when the hotel was a Four Seasons, pre-2003.

I stayed there again this past weekend, in a renovated room — in fact, it’s my understanding they are nearly all renovated at this point. The public areas have yet to be renovated, though I was told that was to happen shortly.

Since I reviewed the hotel in depth before, I won’t rehash the basics — the excellent service, the historic and charming public spaces — but will instead focus on how the hotel has changed.

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Cookiegate 2016: Live Reporting From The Delta SkyClub

Delta-Cookie-Jar-768x1024

It seems the deceitful not-a-chocolate-chip-cookie / chocolate chip cookie at the Admirals Club has created one of the most controversial, thrilling, must-watch cookie situations since the delicious Cookie on Empire.

Reporting live from the front lines on rival territory — aka the Delta SkyClub at Terminal 5 — I can report that the reason Delta seems to be perpetually better, operationally speaking, than American Airlines is because they label their damn cookies.

Or maybe that’s just a by-product of their superiority, not a reason for it, depending on your stance re: carbs.

But seriously: IT’S CALLED A LABELLED JAR and it clears up a lot of confusion and prevents a lot of disappointed cookie monsters.

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Welcome To The Dark Side, Ben

Delta One cabin

If you haven’t yet seen the bombshell news, Ben is (finally) considering calling it quits with American Airlines, and considering moving his elite business over to Delta.

For regular readers of OMAAT, this is something equivalent to, say, Sarah Palin endorsing Hillary Clinton for President.

I’m not going to rub salt into his Executive Platinum wound, but I did figure this was a good opportunity to remind Ben — and, by extension, all the other disenchanted AAdvantage loyalists in our readership — why I, personally, enjoy flying Delta, what I get out of the elite Medallion program, and how I make the most out of my SkyMiles.

Last year I wrote a piece called “In Defense Of Delta,” so I’m going to try and expand on that rather than duplicate what I’ve already written.

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The Curio(us) Case Of A Copycat Brand

Westin-Diplomat-1

Last week Ben (humorously) speculated that Cathay Pacific might be joining Star Alliance soon, since Star Alliance is using a photo of Cathay’s first class cabin as part of its own marketing campaign — even though you can’t fly Cathay on Star Alliance. 🙂

May I suggest that the graphic designers behind Hilton’s new Curio brand seem to suffer from that same sort of brand confusion? In this case, they seem to be copying both Marriott’s and Starwood’s distinctive marks.

I happened on the website for the Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood, Florida, which was a Westin property up until a few years ago. Now the Diplomat is affiliated with Curio, Hilton’s “hip, independent” brand.

Trouble is, no one bothered to change the Diplomat’s branding. The hotel is still branded using the Westin font, which, while not proprietary, is instantly recognizable to any frequent traveler.

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Great Business Class Fares Ex-Canada!

Air-France-Business-Class-777 - 16

Last month, I published a roundup of interesting “affordable” (relatively speaking, of course) business class and premium international fares which were available at the time.

I was all set to do a similar roundup today, until I realized there are actually some truly excellent deals out there for summer travel pretty much anywhere in the world if you are willing to depart from Canada.

Now, we’ve seen some decent airfares from Canada for the last several months, but in my opinion we’re now seeing something exceptional.

I’d suggest you play around with Google Flights to find the combination that works for you, but I’m seeing amazing airfares on Star Alliance and SkyTeam carriers out of Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal (and potentially other Canadian gateways, as well).

How does $1,840 for a roundtrip business class flight from Toronto to Johannesburg sound?

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JetBlue To Dramatically Expand Its Mint Service

JB_MintMap_Release-2_(1)

Big news for the nation’s two hip, upstart airlines this month! While Virgin America’s brand of sly, white-leather-upholstered bravado is living on borrowed time, about to be swallowed whole by Alaska Airlines’ no-nonsense khaki ethos, the original upstart, JetBlue, is going in the opposite direction.

JetBlue just announced a major expansion of its signature Mint product, a super-premium service right now only available on the JFK-LAX and JFK-SFO transcon routes, on its BOS-SFO route (with planned BOS-LAX service already announced) and on select Caribbean routes from JFK.

On its face this news is actually quite groundbreaking. Once known for its democratic all-economy class flights, JetBlue now intends to offer super-premium cabins — which is to say, cabins with lie-flat seats, enhanced meal service and individual suites, appreciably superior to “domestic first class” on American, Delta and United in every way — on a host of new cross-country routes between:

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Delta Axes @DeltaAssist Handle

Delta-Economy

One of the perks of living in our hyper-social-media-connected era is that we often can avoid wasting hours on the phone with customer service, thanks to Twitter. For whatever reason airlines have staffed up their social media response team to provide prompt responses and solutions via Twitter, even though their phone support teams remain relatively understaffed.

Delta, one of the pioneers of leveraging Twitter for customer service uses in the airline industry, has long had its @DeltaAssist Twitter handle, which I find works tremendously well. This account is separate from the airline’s more “corporate” account, @Delta.

Or, it was.

As of Monday, Delta has merged @DeltaAssist and @Delta into one account. In theory, nothing will change from a customer service perspective although Delta claims the merging of accounts will offer a more “seamless” experience (how?). Presumably, it’s just more intuitive for people to tweet @Delta — and presumably, people have been tweeting customer service complaints to @Delta for years, anyway.

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