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Review: T4 Delta SkyClub at JFK

I had pretty high expectations of the new brand new SkyClub at the recently opened T4 extension at JFK, if only because of its newness and the fact that Delta is trying hard to expand its presence in NYC.

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For starters, the T4 extension is LONG. I was leaving out of gate B20. The SkyClub is located near gate 33ish. It sounds close, but involves numerous moving walkways, just FYI. It’s located in the center of the B concourse, which has over 50 gates. Get your walking shoes on!

But whatever, I don’t mind walking, and I was looking forward to seeing what ol’ Delta had up their sleeve. The exterior of the club is a blue glass sliding door, and a rep was stationed downstairs instructing people to… go up the stairs.

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First impression was that the space was light-filled and lovely. The design and layout is fantastic, and floor-to-ceiling windows afford great views on the tarmac and planes in nearly every direction.

After processing that little thought, I head to the bathroom. There was a line inside the bathroom for both the urinals and stalls. There were 2 stalls and 3 urinals – yes, that’s the extent of the men’s bathroom. The place is big enough to hold over 1,000 people and they skimped out on the bathrooms. Whatever, I didn’t have to pee that bad so I went to the bar to get a drink. Trying to get to the bar area was a project. The place was PACKED. While seating was ample, nearly every one was taken. The bar had a line. All the seats near outlets were taken, and the only open seats had tablets encouraging me to order a $15 chicken salad. “We’ll bring it to you,” the screen saver said in flashing letters.

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Among all the people, I saw the usual Delta stuff: the packaged cheese, the olives, and Bischoff wafer cookies, Dasani water, etc., etc. In that regard, this SkyClub was like every other SkyClub. There was nothing to signal that this was somehow a flagship location or expanded operation other than its size.

I found an open seat near a busy walkway with no outlets or table and balanced my beer on my knee. In the end, I practically chugged it just to be able to rid myself of the glass and get out of there.

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But the SkyDeck! That was a big selling point of this new SkyClub. It was fine. Nothing to write home about. A nice, small little area right outside. When I went today, I was alone out there, but imagine it could get packed during nice weather.

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After seeing that, I waited in line to pee, then left. On my way out, I chided myself for not going to the Wingtips Lounge instead since I was in T4 again after only a couple of weeks. Drat.

By the by, if you are the kind of person who would go to the Wingtips Lounge over the new Delta SkyClub, you get me and this blog is totally for you.

Oh! one more thing. While chugging the beer, I opened my Feedly and saw that Skymiles devalued AGAIN today. After a less-than-stellar visit to the new Skyclub, I was thankful Delta is no longer getting my MQDs. Please, for the love of god American, never change. Or, when you change, keep the program mostly intact. You’re the only good one left.

This lounge gets about a 3 on a 10 point scale. Nice try, Deltoid, but no dice.

Done with Delta

delta-sucks

 

I read Rene’s blog post about this year’s changes on Delta Points and it got me thinking. Not about Delta, but about American. How they haven’t cut anything from their loyalty program this year. How good they are about upgrading elites. And how nice ‘n’ easy it was to achieve Platinum status after only one trip this year. In all reality, I will hit Platinum again for next year, although Executive Platinum is my stretch goal. And even if I don’t, their Elite Rewards program makes me want to continue flying with them even if I don’t hit the 100K mile/point threshold.

Delta, by contrast, has fierce upgrade competition in New York, despite expanding their presence and perhaps because of it (I’m thinking the new T4 @ JFK). They’re switching to MQDs in 2014. And they have American Express as a credit card partner.

At this point, the only downside to being loyal to American is the inability to transfer in miles from an outside program, like you can with United and Delta (from Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards, respectively). American will be the only legacy airline that doesn’t have an outside transfer program linked up to it. That, and the tiny regional jets they like to fly out of JFK. But that’s soon changing as they beef up their fleet.

This post isn’t meant to bash Delta, but rather to extoll American. Which means, by default, that I guess I’m done with Delta. I tried it, but it didn’t work. I loved how they have a nonstop from LGA-MEM (my hometown), their aircraft, and route network. And I’ve got to give it to them: their on-time performance is amazing. 

Their airline partners are “just OK.” American, though oneworld is a much small alliance, has more premium partners (Cathay Pacific, Qantas, British Airways, Etihad, JAL, LAN) and they have generous earning privileges when flying them. Delta really wants you to stick to Air France, KLM, Aeromexico, or Virgin Atlantic (the ones they co-own!), otherwise you get… pretty much nothin’.

That’s the root of it all right there: American is generous and Delta is getting more and more stingy. No doubt there will be further hacks to Skymiles in 2014. I have hopes for AAdvantage, merger and all.

For now, the images below can summarize my feelings for me. So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen.

 

delta-fuck-off

 

fuck-you-delta-ted

Booked: London on Virgin Atlantic in October

I’m a HUGE Tori Amos fan, and have been looking forward to seeing the musical she’s been working on, The Light Princess, for a while now. Well, tickets went on sale this past week and I was able to snag some good seats to both her talk beforehand and the show itself – in London. Which meant I had to get myself to London.

Luckily, ol’ Deltoid just entered into a partnership with Virgin Atlantic – and award space (in economy) is great. I had the pick of about 5 different flights each day, all at the low-level cost. There was nothing in business or Upper Class as it’s called, but that’s fine because I’d like to hoard my Skymiles to go down to Patagonia on Aerolineas Argentina in the near future anyway.

And the point – to get to London – was quickly addressed. I booked some great flights on Virgin Atlantic and cannot WAIT to see the musical. My out-of-pocket cost was 120,00 miles and $369 for two flights. Not bad for crossing the Atlantic.

Cheep! (Most of it is GB tax.)

Cheep! (Most of it is GB tax.)

This, for me, is the true value of points and miles. Being able to pop over to London for the weekend to see this show is something I’ve been looking forward to for a few years now. The day came, I bought my tickets, and I’m able to go without paying very much at all. Now we just need to find a place to stay for two nights, which should be pretty easy. Then head to JFK, enjoy the flights – and the show!

Looking forward to flying on VA metal. It’ll be my first time. Trip report and show report to follow! October 18th!

 

First upgrades on American as a Platinum

I took two flights on American last week as part of my courier work: IND-ORD and ORD-LGA.

It was booked into K class, which doesn’t earn complimentary upgrades. I arrived at IND a little early and asked to get on the next flight. The agent re-booked me into Y class (as a full fare) for the entire trip back and took four upgrade “stickers” out of my AAdvantage account.

Whatever about the stickers. I knew she was wrong, but loved being re-booked into a higher fare bucket.

Then when I got to ORD, I was actually supposed to fly back to EWR, which I despise. I noticed a shit ton of flights headed for LGA and asked if I could do to SDC onto the next LGA flight. The agent rebooked me (staying in the Y fare bucket), and my upgrade cleared instantly. I flew first class on both segments with instant upgrades both times. Easy peezy (and to LGA).

I knew they should’ve used three upgrade stickers instead of four. I called the Platinum desk, they answered on the first ring, and gave me back two certs instead of just one – for the trouble – although flying in first was really no trouble at all. I took the certs and enjoyed the upgrades.

All-in-all, loving American’s service. They seem more willing to do more “behind the scenes” stuff for higher tiers than Delta will, and with no cost. Delta is all about the nickeling and dime-ing these days.

Content to stay with American.

Although, I must say, Delta makes it so freaking easy to earn MQMs with credit card spend. Especially with the newest offer to get 20K MQMS with the Platinum Biz card. Damn, that’s nearly Silver right there. But oh well, can’t win ’em all, right? At least American lets you qualify on points instead of just miles – which might end up being my saving grace if LAN keeps pumping out these cheap deals to South America.

 

Platinum on American…

…with only one trip this year!

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After Chile and booking the Xmas trip

American was kind enough to let me complete a status challenge. To achieve Platinum, I had to accrue 10,000 points in the three months following May 16th (my start date). Well, on May 18th, I headed down to Chile and was Platinum by the time I arrived in Easter Island.

Now that I’m back, I have a nice amount of activity in my AAdvantage account:

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The Easter Island trip netted me 15,088 EQMs, 22,634 EQ points, 4 upgrade “stickers”, and a lot of redeemable miles. Beyond that though, it really makes me want to hit 50K miles on American this year to keep the status. And this, combined with Delta’s move toward a revenue-based system and other assorted asshat-ery makes me want to stick withAmerican from here on out. I’m also highly unimpressed with Amex, Delta’s credit card partner, as has been noted often.

I also really liked redeeming 81K miles (90K – 10% back) for business class MEL-AUH on Etihad yesterday. I dunno. I’m warming up to it. My only regret is not buying another $900 ticket to Chile while I had the chance…

I have my first revenue flight on American in August to Anchorage (and maybe sooner!) and am really curious to see the Platinum benefits in action. Already, I’ve experienced better phone service. To book the award last night, I got a great agent after only one ring.

Yes, I think I’m going to kick damn Delta to the curb. Two final thoughts:

  • The little things.
  • Devil’s in the details.

🙂

AAdvantage Miles and Thoughts on American

So I am love love loving the AAdvantage program the more I get into it. I recently discovered that American has what’s called an “Explorer Award” – an award that permits one to make 16 stops in a RTW ticket for 150,000 AAdvantage miles.

That would be a great reason to take a few months off of work to just travel. It’s pie in the sky  for me at this point, but considering my balance is about half of what’s needed, I still have some time to think about it. I do, however, think it’s a tremendous value, and a way to see many cities for dirt cheap and save a lot of miles doing it.

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So far, I have about 77,000 AAdvantage miles. So I’d need 73,000 more. That sounds like a lot, but it’s totally do-able. The motivation is definitely there.

Orrr, I could make an award booking, like a weekend in Vancouver on Cathay Pacific, or maybe pop over to Europe for a long weekend this summer. But nothing beats the intoxicating thought of traveling all the way around the world.

I’d wanna hit Prague, Vienna, Tokyo, Sydney, Auckland, Cape Town, Buenos Aires, Santiago, and some great Canadian city before slithering back to New York. My heart explodes just thinking about it.

 

The other thing is that this, along with my upcoming trips to Easter Island and Alaska on American, have got me really considering switching my loyalty over. I just dread what the US Airways merger is going to bring. But in another way altogether, I’m genuinely curious, too. American also just released some awesome elite rewards, so more than ever, I’m considering challenging for Platinum status.

Delta continues to spiral down while American seems interested in being a better airline. Sure, they both have their pitfalls. American can be stingy with upgrades for lower elites, but on Delta they’re pretty much impossible. There’s the issue of American’s tiny regional jets out of NYC. But their miles are a hell of lot easier to redeem. Harder to earn, true, but the fact that Delta partners with Amex really bugs me because Amex is a stingy, bitchy little company (more on that later).

Anyway, thinking of all these wonderful options, including an award redemption Delta could never touch, makes me think about what I want for myself in the future. I did slash do like Delta, but I can feel myself starting to sing a new tune. After my upcoming trips, there will be a few really fierce trip reports… then more comparisons. The only wild card here in US freaking Airways. I said it one and I’ll say it again: I Hope US Airways Doesn’t Ruin American’s Culture.

American Express Vs. Chase: Why Chase Is Winning

Quite simply: signup bonuses with no BS.

I’ve been hating on Amex a lot lately, and with good reason. I now have four Amex cards, three with Amex as the actual issuing bank, and with two of those three, I’ve had to make numerous phone calls, write emails, and send tweets to their support team about not getting a signup bonus. After a lot of back and forth, they usually award me a fraction of what I missed out on as “good will”, but it always leaves a bad taste behind and is like pulling freaking teeth with them.

In my opinion, if an Amex cardmember holds the Platinum Card, their most premium card offering with a hefty $450 annual fee, any other cards should automatically come with an enhanced signup bonus. Something extra. Instead, we see this sentiment in a lot of the T&C:

Eff u 2!

Eff u 2!

What?! Why? That’s so stupid to punish people for wanting to open more cards. This is where Chase excels.

They have a few cards that feed into their Ultimate Rewards program the same way Amex has multiple cards that can be linked to Membership Rewards. But Chase doesn’t impose rules on signup bonuses with multiple cards. You can get a Freedom, a Sapphire, an Ink, and whatever else you want to get and get the FULL bonus on all of them. If anything ever goes awry, just give them a call and it’s taken care of almost instantly.

Not with Amex. They’re notorious for their Financial Reviews and for not awarding bonuses… at all. They’re also really slow and claim to have to “research” your claim. Not only that, but their Membership Rewards program has lost a few key transfer partners in the past couple of years, along with a few other consumer unfriendly changes while Ultimate Rewards continues to improve.

There are a few sweet spots with Membership Rewards. For me, it’s the British Airways Avios. They’re a transfer partner for both Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards, which is pretty fantastic. Membership Rewards also transfer instantly to Delta, which would help me out a LOT with my dream trip to Australia if Amex would ever give me the points I deserve as a customer and card holder.

It goes beyond this, though. It’s about how the customer starts to view the company after a while. I’ve been screwed over by them a few times by now to the point where I’m thinking of switching all my spend over to Chase and giving Amex the finger. I wish it weren’t like this, though. Delta is pretty much forcing their customers to have a co-branded Amex to avoid the upcoming dreaded MQD component of the SkyMiles program, and I love having lounge access with the Platinum Card. But Chase always treats me so right while Amex continues to kick me to the proverbial curb.

So to Chase, I’d say keep doing what you’re doing. It’s working, and it’s so great. I have such a positive association with the company at this point. And Amex. Oh, Amex. Step up your game, because you’re getting your butt beat. I look forward to the day where I’m down to just the Platinum Card. In fact, Delta’s bid for more revenue is kinda sorta slowly driving me over toward American. But that’s a post for another day, and that post will be highly speculative.

When I think of Chase: I trust them, like them, want more of them.

When I think of Amex: Starting to shudder, need energy to deal with them, apprehensive about continuing to use their products. TOO. BAD.

Winner = Chase, hands down. Thoughts, anyone?

The Feeling of Travel

It occurred to me today as I stepped on Delta metal after being on United and Aeromexico flights the past day or so. It felt right.

There are so many options when it comes to carriers. I think people who travel often should sample a wide variety of them before committing. I’m sort semi-dating American right now though I do like Delta a lot. The feelings I like when I’m on Delta are of being assured, feeling safe, and stepping into an old habit or groove. I feel like I can relax as the MQMs are flowing in. I understand the (arguably shitty) SkyMiles program, and know what I want to use it for (hint: trip to Australia later this year). I know the hubs, the routes, how to wring blood out of a stone AKA book an award flight with them. I dunno, it just felt natural somehow.

That’s the feeling I seek when I travel. That sense of rightness, and of exploration, and of comfort. I know my upgrade chances are always slim with Delta, and I wish that would improve, but I always look forward to the SkyClubs. Delta giveth and Delta taketh away.

On the contrary, being on United metal felt kinda icky to me. It’s a shame because I love Chase Bank so much. Their credit card signup bonuses are the best in the industry. If Chase partnered with Delta, that would be the best-case scenario. But they don’t. They have United. Bleh. I avoid giving them revenue whenever possible. I would really only use them if I were flying free or booking an award on another, better airline. Why don’t I like United?

Just in that same way that Delta jives with me, United just doesn’t. I find the FAs and CSRs to be almost kind of spiteful and vindictive. It’s like there’s this mean streak running through the core of the company and I can’t quite place, but that shows up from time to time. And each time, like yesterday, I’m reminded why I avoid United. Some people love United, and that’s great. Maybe they live in Houston or Chicago, or just really like the service or clubs or destinations.

There are many reasons why people like the things that like. But some of them just can’t be placed.

Am I off here? I love being up in the air. Love it. But more and more lately, I’m becoming very aware of the company I’m sharing the experience with.

Trip Report: Aeromexico Economy LAX-GDL

First, I need to start this post with a cringe. I cannot STAND LAX. Oh my god. So when I landed at Terminal 7 on United’s flight from DEN, I set about immediately transferring to Terminal 2, where the international departures happen. To do that, I have to completely leave the terminal (bad), go through security again (bad), but didn’t have to recheck my bag thanks to United’s interline baggage policy (very good).

As I wandered through the fog outside LAX toward Terminal 2, I was reminded of why I can’t stand LAX, or LA in general. The airport is poorly designed, it’s literally falling apart, and each new process feels like pulling teeth, which kinda ties into the bad design.

When I arrived at Terminal 2, it was pretty easy to find the Aeromexico desk. I could hear it before it saw it. A cacophony of screaming Spanish. The occupy the old Northwest space. I know so because I could still see where they crossed out Northwest a few years ago and put up Aeromexico.

I waited in a long line to get my boarding pass, and credited the flight to Delta. Since it was a Q-class economy fare, I’ll get full mileage credit. The agent was friendly and efficient, but my god the people. It was a completely full flight.

The gate on the boarding pass read 24A. When I got to the gates, I checked the monitors like always and saw they’d changed it to 28. Fine. When I got there, people were lined up waiting to speak to the gate agents. Gross. Some of them were crying. Like, convulsing crying. Did I miss something? Was the gate change that dramatic? I heard a lot of people bitching about it while waiting in line.

The boarding process was almost comical. There were FAs literally showing people to their seat and stowing away baggage for the customers. First time I’d ever seen that happen. Even still, people were lost and confused. Watching the boarding process in an aircraft always makes me lose faith in humanity.

Aeromexico felt grimy, like they’d never cleaned the planes. The FAs were thorough, modern, and cultured, but the other passengers were like animals. I had three Mexican men in contact with me as they slept, snored, and randomly jerked. I was also the aisle bitch and was bumped CONSTANTLY. Jesus. I am not a big person. It takes effort to hit me. Also, every time someone came down the aisle, they clutched my headrest for dear life, which of course made my whole seat go back. This happened over and over and over. I won’t even mention the quantity of crying babies because you all know how much that thrills me.

The ride to GDL seemed like forever. It finally touched down at 6am. They did that Euro thing where they plop the plane down and make people take a bus to the terminal.

Bus to terminal at GDL

Bus to terminal at GDL

Customs was a breeze. My company hired a broker specifically to get me through customs. All I did was present my declaration and touch a button. Within minutes, I was at the Delta counter receiving my boarding passes to ATL and EWR. After the hellish experience with Aeromexico, and um, I guess I’m now classifying it as hellish, I was thrilled to see those dark blue and brick red kiosks.

Final take on Aeromexico: right up there (down there?) with Alitalia. Wouldn’t be my first choice for travel, in any cabin. Why do all of Delta’s SkyTeam partners SUCK?

 

Trip Report: Delta Economy GDL-ATL-LGA

View of mountains in Guadalajara from GDL

View of mountains in Guadalajara from GDL

I’m on a roll on this GDL-ATL flight, and can see Texas below me. This flight was exactly what I’ve come to expect from Delta: solid, reliable, easy.

Just sat down on Delta's GDL-ATL flight

Just sat down on Delta’s GDL-ATL flight

Only bone: they had me in Zone 3 boarding. Really, Delta? I’ve got the card and everything. But other than that, this flight has brought back warm and fuzzy memories after being on United and Aeromexico the past couple of days.

Also, this flight really solidifies Delta Vs. American for me. I like them both equally. Dust, please settle.

Lots of people on here have cute Southern accents and it reminds me of home. Flying out of GDL was gorgeous. Guadalajara looks cute from above, and the mountains and canyons beyond the city were stunning. I wish I could’ve spent more time there.

Over Mexico

Over Mexico

Oh! I should give thanks to Amex because I’m using some of my $200 airline credit this year to buy myself a margarita.

I have an evil plan for when I get to ATL. I want to get bumped, get a voucher and put on a flight that instead arrives at JFK. I hate flying into EWR. HATE it. I checked on the Fly Delta app, and my chances are 70/30 at this point that I’ll get bumped. So fingers are crossed.

Will report more from ATL SkyClub, which will be my first time there! Let’s keep this buzz goin’, Deltoid.

Another stamp on the ol' passport

Another stamp on the ol’ passport

 

So I’m safe at sound now and wanted to update on the final flight, ATL-LGA. It was supposed to be to EWR, but I despise that airport and asked the agent the agent at the SkyClub if I could fly into LGA instead. Since the flight to EWR was delayed anyway, the agent was able to put me on the next flight to LGA. Score. Cheaper taxi ride!

Since the flight was in a different terminal, I headed over there to imbibe a drink instead. The SkyClub in Terminal A was HUGE, but man was it packed. I tried to go to the bathroom, and there was a line. The little bathroom only had two stalls, yet the SkyClub is built to accomodate about 200. Stupid. I left and went to the bathroom in the airport, which was actually emptier and had no line, then went to the SkyClub in Terminal T.

A vast improvement. Ample seating and much less crowded. I promptly grabbed a rum and coke and chilled for a sec.

When I fly for over 24 hours then have a drink

When I fly for over 24 hours then have a drink

It was really nice. I left soon after to go board. The boarding process was easy enough, and I got all settled into seat 29F. After everyone was on, the pilot announced that we’d have to deplane to change aircraft. The whole point of changing my flight was to get to New York sooner, not later. Anyway, after we boarded again, we sat on the tarmac for a while before we departed. Then, a couple of hours later, I was finally home after a long and crazy run out to GDL. The flight was quick, lots of turbulence, and I nodded off a lot. I felt so gross and tired when we finally landed, and hopped right into a taxi.

Back in the snow

Back in the snow

I did notice that when I got put onto the LGA flight that the agent knocked off the GDL-ATL segment, so I anticipate having to call about the missing miles and MQMs in a few days. The weather has sucked lately, Mercury is in retrograde, and pretty much all of my flights were delayed. But, I’m back in the NYC and looking forward to my next trip, wherever it may be.

 

Trip Report: Madrid 2013

I went to Madrid February 1-4, 2013.

Booking Madrid

The ticket was only $281 R/T in economy thanks to an awesome deal described in this post from The Points Guy. I was actually in the middle of putting together The Points Game guide, so this was a real opportunity to put some of the things I’d learned from the blogs into practice.

The currency conversion came to $281

The currency conversion came to $281

I bought the ticket for a number of reasons:

  • As a Silver Medallion on Delta, I was entitled to a 25% RDM bonus
  • The itinerary was JFK-FCO-MAD-FCO-JFK – over 10K MQMs and nearly 13K RDMs
  • The end result was 2 cents/mile – a screaming deal

Screen shot 2013-03-03 at 7.28.18 PM

 

Multiply this times two

Multiply this times two – I credited the flights to Delta’s SkyMiles program

 

I paid for the ticket with a no-foreign-transaction-fee credit card (my Amex Platinum Card) since I had a credit with them after bitching for a solid week in September.

And I’d always wanted to visit Spain. You can’t beat a $281 R/T ticket that comes with ~13K RDMs. It would also be my first chance to utilize my Global Entry (coming back to JFK) that I got through the Amex Platinum Card.

Departure

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Looky What I Just Got

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So it’s official. I’m FO on Delta.

Deciding where I want to place my airline allegiance. Should have American Platinum or even Executive Platinum status by the end of May. 2013 will definitely see a lot of programs get a good shake out. It’s definitely between Delta and American. Waiting for the dust to settle a bit before I commit to either, though.