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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Great Business Class Fares Ex-Canada!

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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

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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

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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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“Travel” Vs. “Vacation”

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Sometimes we at OMAAT get philosophical and ponder some of the more personal issues relating to travel and aviation, the 30,000-foot-overview (so to speak) stuff that’s deeper than, say, the differences between an angle-flat seat, a lie-flat seat, a reverse herringbone seat and a seat that just shakes you until you fall asleep, like a baby in a rocking cradle (that’s the best feature of American’s new business class in my opinion).

Mike has posted recently about how he manages to travel within the limited timeframe of a typical U.S. paid vacation allotment (keeping in mind, Mike’s 6 weeks is actually a lot; many folks don’t get more than 2 weeks). And that got me thinking.

My travel this year started January 1st on a Delta flight from Nice, France to New York — and while it slowed down a bit for the remainder of the winter, it’s about to ramp up quite a bit. I’ve got a trip to France planned in April, a trip to Spain planned in May, and a trip to Southeast Asia planned for November. Given that blogging is a side activity and not my day job — I actually do need to be in the office on a daily basis! — that’s a ton of international travel coming up.

Last year, I traveled constantly: I was in Argentina, Mexico, Madrid, Amsterdam, London, Tokyo and France in 2015 — and that was just my international travel.

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What Will Alaska’s East Coast Presence Be Like?

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Count me among the many people who are utterly confounded by the $2.6 billion Alaska-Virgin America merger (or as I’ll call the silly airline from here on out, Allergen America). I don’t need to rehash the numerous reasons why this is a strange choice for Alaska and an odd fit overall, but given that Alaska is touting this as a step toward becoming a West Coast powerhouse, it’s worth looking at what this new route map will look like from the other side of the country.

Of course, Virgin America serves the gamut of East Coast cities from its San Francisco hub, so Alaska will gain those routes and its presence in those cities will remain limited to its role as a carrier to and from SFO (and, to a lesser extent, LAX). What’s interesting to me is to see how suddenly the landscape changes in the New York area and in Washington, D.C., assuming no divestment or swap of existing routes.

In New York, Alaska will have a fairly notable presence:

— 5 nonstops daily from JFK to San Francisco
— 6 nonstops daily from JFK to Los Angeles
— 3 nonstops daily from Newark to San Francisco
— 3 nonstops daily from Newark to Los Angeles
— 1 nonstop daily from JFK to Seattle

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A Roundup Of Pretty Good Business Class Fares

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As the U.S. economy gets better and the airline industry has started to prosper, it’s no secret that miles and points availability is lackluster at best, with devaluations in full gear, and airlines particularly stingy about releasing award seats.

At the same time, we’re finding that while premium fares abroad are still generally quite expensive, there are a handful of unadvertised fare sales every few months that make purchasing a business class ticket outright a tempting proposition. Indeed, Ben has noted that if anything is devaluing the miles-and-points game in the near future, it’s the decent availability of reasonable business class airfares: rather than hunting and pecking for available dates, and struggling to find award space for more than one person, travelers can now opt to shell out cash for the exact dates they need.

We haven’t seen anything quite on the level of a gangbusters fare sale (say, West Coast to Europe for $1,500 in business class) in quite a while, but it’s worth noting — especially if you have summer travel on the horizon — that there are some relative deals out there. I figure it’s worth posting a quick roundup of deals available now — these aren’t red-alert, drop-everything-and-buy-now deals, but at the same time these deals represent substantial discounts off the “normal” price of airfare.

I’ll start with the fare I just booked this week:

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An Open Letter To Hyatt: Your Toiletry Game Needs Work

June Jacobs Spa Collection toiletries

Dear Hyatt,

Hope you’re doing well! I just got back from a stay at the Grand Hyatt Seattle — and I’ve got to say, fabulous job there, honestly. I’m iffy on most of your domestic Grand Hyatt properties because they tend to be cookie cutter conventioneer factories, but the Grand Hyatt in Seattle is different — it feels like one of the nicer international Grand Hyatt properties. Huge, thoughtfully laid-out rooms. Terrific views. Nice, techie touches — love the bedside shade controls.

Love, love, love the bathrooms. White marble. Spacious. Awesome shower pressure. An enormous soaking tub with one of those high capacity faucets that fills the tub in 2 minutes flat — it feels like a Four Seasons! I almost can’t believe I’m in a Grand Hyatt.

Dare I say, the Grand Hyatt Seattle feels unabashedly luxurious?

Except for one thing.

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Delta Improving Diamond Upgrade Benefits In 2017

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Delta Air Lines certainly gets is share of rightful flak around these parts for making “innovative changes” to (read: gutting) its SkyMiles program. Even as a Delta loyalist, I can’t help but anticipate any changes to the SkyMiles or elite Medallion program with dread.

When American announced an alignment of its AAdvantage program to more closely resemble SkyMiles, Ben pointed out one catastrophic change to AAdvantage: where 2015 Executive Platinums receive a total of 8 Systemwide Upgrades (with more upgrades given out to hyperfrequent flyers), Executive Platinums who qualify in 2016 will receive 4 Systemwide Upgrades. That’s a truly devastating change to the AAdvantage program.

This morning I logged onto my SkyMiles account because I’m considering cashing in one of my Diamond Medallion “choice benefits” to get 4 Global Upgrade Certificates (basically, Delta’s version of systemwides), and I noticed a change in wording that immediately made my heart sink.

Until I read it again. And again. And realized it was actually a good thing.

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Europe Via SkyTeam, Take Two: A Mini-Trip Report

Virgin's refreshed A340

Happy New Year!

Last year was my biggest travel year ever. I woke up on January 1, 2015 in Buenos Aires, Argentina and spent the last hours of December 31, 2015 in Aix-en-Provence, France.

In between I went to, among other places, Madrid, Amsterdam, London, New York, and Tokyo. I flew SkyTeam a lot — and wrote about my experiences on Virgin Atlantic in Upper Class on the A340, and Delta’s Delta One business class on the 767.

For New Year’s Eve, I went on a last minute jaunt to the South of France using Delta SkyMiles. I booked a one-way award ticket from Los Angeles to London Heathrow in business class using 62,500 miles, but finding a decent return was tricky.

Ultimately I could cross the Atlantic in business class for another 62,500 miles out of London again (I had found availability to Washington and Miami on Virgin, and to Las Vegas on Virgin out of Gatwick). But tickets to and from continental Europe, especially France, to London were outrageous — $800 and up, in economy. So I would be paying through the nose simply for a positioning flight, and I’d have to pay again for another flight to take me from my U.S. gateway to Los Angeles (which, on New Year’s weekend, wouldn’t have been cheap). And that would be two connections.

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My Experience With Alaska Beyond

Alaskan Cod, trumpet mushrooms and potatoes  in Alaska First

Happy holidays, everyone!

As many of you know, I’m OMAAT’s in-house Delta apologist. I think Delta offers an incredibly reliable operation with superior hard product and soft product and generally excellent recognition of its top-level elite members. The threshold may be low, but in my experience it’s miles (heh) more enjoyable than United or American. And Delta’s food has always stood out as generally superior for a domestic operation.

Last April, OMAAT’s Seattle correspondent Alex wrote about Alaska’s new “Alaska Beyond”-branded soft product, which is the airline’s attempt to distinguish itself from mainstream competition (and mostly Delta, it’s Seattle competitor).

I had to fly from L.A. to Washington, D.C. this week for the holidays, which always leads to a bit of a quandary for me. Even though LAX is a Delta “hub” (to the extent LAX is any airline’s “hub,” which is to say marginally so but never dependably so), the market between Southern California and the Nation’s Capital is notably not served by Delta. Alaska, however, flies nonstop to L.A. and credits to Delta SkyMiles. More interestingly, a paid ticket in first class on Alaska — which, to D.C., is fairly reasonable since it’s a very competitive market — earns 200% MQMs on Delta, which is better than a paid First ticket on Delta metal, which only earns 150%. 😉

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Review: Fairmont Olympic Hotel Seattle

Overhead view of lobby from Mezzanine

Last time I ventured up to Seattle, I had a bit of a hard time using my free Chase Hyatt Visa award night at the Hyatt Olive 8. I actually ended up staying at the Grand Hyatt Seattle, which I thought was surprisingly luxurious — especially since a “typical” domestic Grand Hyatt tends to read as a boring, cookie-cutter convention hotel to me.

I had an unexpected business trip to Seattle last week that put me up at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel downtown. The Olympic is famously Seattle’s grande dame hotel, and was in fact refurbished by and branded a Four Seasons from 1981 through 2003, when Fairmont took over the hotel’s management contract.

Though it was just for a quick one-night stay, I was excited to try the hotel given its pedigree, even if the photos of the hotel’s guestrooms on Trip Advisor showed that the decor was a bit on the fuddy-duddy side.

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A Firsthand Account Of Air France’s Emergency Diversion

JR and his husband Tim getting comfortable on the conveyor belt

After commenting in response to Nick’s post regarding the Air France flights diverted on Nov. 17th, he asked if I would write a bit about the experience.

My spouse and I were on our way to Vienna via Paris. We had actually been booked on KLM World Business Class, but were moved over to Air France because the entertainment system on the KLM flight was not working. We enjoy Air France business, even if the seats aren’t great, so we obliged. We figured we’d rather have the angled seats with entertainment, than a flat seat with no entertainment.

The flight boarded as departed on time… nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The flight attendant had just placed my entree on my tray, and was grabbing my spouse’s, when suddenly he stopped. The attendants quickly rushed the carts back to the galley. In the next several minutes, we watched crew members running down the aisles, and quickly taking away any service items. We noticed a rapid descent. While picking up our plates, one of the flight attendants apologized profusely, and said “we have been asked to land.” Within a few minutes, the crew made an announcement that we would be making an emergency landing in Salt Lake City. No explanation was given.

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BREAKING: Multiple Air France Flights Diverted Because Of Security Concerns

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File this under breaking, and sure to be breaking further.

A little past 7:05pm California time it was reported by the Guardian as well as KSL-TV that AF 65, which is Air France’s A380 flight between Los Angeles and Paris, was diverted to Salt Lake City International Airport because of “security concerns.” KSL-TV, a local Salt Lake station, is reporting a bomb threat.

Just now CBC Nova Scotia reports that an Air France flight from Washington to Paris has just been diverted to Halifax, and the passengers have just been deplaned. While CBC reports no reason has been given for the diversion, presumably it also involves a bomb threat or other credible security concern.

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I’ve Made Diamond Medallion on Delta!

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Those of you who have followed my writing on OMAAT know I’m the resident Delta booster (slash apologist), always there to point out where Delta does things right, and generally there to point out when Ben’s American fAAnboy-ism gets in the way of fair and balanced blogging.

You’d also know I’m not quite the frequent flyer Ben and Tiffany and Travis are, and that, while I’d been Delta Gold Medallion and Delta Silver Medallion in the past, I’d never actually flown enough butt-in-seat miles to attain a higher status. So while Ben and Tiffany luxuriated in their ExecPlat status, all I could count on were upgrades from, like, Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

But you’d also know 2015 was my year of setting myself a goal (among many other goals; I’m not that one-track-minded) to become a Diamond Medallion on Delta. Delta’s highest tier. At a 125,000 mile threshold, in fact, the highest published mileage-based tier of any U.S. airline. (United’s 1K and American’s Executive Platinum are both reached at 100,000 qualifying miles.)

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