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What to Do in Iceland: South Coast

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Iceland is a bit of an enigma for us frequent flyers. It’s not that it’s hard to get to – it’s just a 4.5 hour flight from New York – but the only airlines that fly there are Icelandair, Wow Air, and seasonally… Delta. Flights are cheap enough. Wow had KEF on sale recently for about $200 R/T, and Icelandair/Delta are around $600 R/T, depending.

There are only a couple of chain hotels, and they’re all in the northernmost capital city in the world, which is Reykjavik. Club Carlson operates two properties – the Radisson Blu 1919 and the Radisson Blu Saga, 44,000 Gold Points per night and 38,000 Gold Points per night, respectively, and Hilton also has their Hilton Reykjavik Nordica property there.

Anyway, I’m hoping to kick off a little series about what to do in Iceland, and I’ll start with the South Coast. Originally, I was going to do a post called “What to Do in Iceland (Hint: Not Reykjavik)”, but then decided to expand and break down the individual sections, because they are all vastly different. So I hope you enjoy!

South Coast

When you get to Iceland, you’ll find there is one road that is constantly referred to: The Ring Road, or Highway 1. It loops around the entire perimeter of the island. There is no way to go through Iceland, only around. The interior is uninhabited, and uninhabitable. The land in there has never been tamed, and is severe. Aside from glaciers, there are deep fissures and crevasses that are extremely dangerous.

Iceland has always had and still has deep roots to fishing. It is a huge source of export for them, and as such, most of the population has settled along the coast over the centuries (remind you of anywhere else?).

The South Coast of Iceland only has one major “town”, if you can even call it that: Vik. The town is tiny, really just a collection of hotels and a gas station, and a few restaurants.

Arrive

You probably passed this driving into Vik (waterfalls of Iceland's South Coast)

You probably passed this driving into Vik (waterfalls of Iceland’s South Coast)

After driving in from (most likely) Reykjavik, Vik, will be your next big stop more than likely. Side note: “vik” means “bay” in Icelandic. Reykjavik translates to “smoky bay” and the town of Vik is simply “bay.”

Approaching Vik

Approaching Vik

On the way from Reykjavik, you will have most likely stopped at the “Golden Circle” and maybe explored Reykjavik and the Reykjanes peninsula a little bit. You are most likely going to Jokulsarlon (“glacier lake”), Vatnajokull (“vatn” is “water” and “jokull” is “glacier” – this one is Europe’s largest and is about 11% of Iceland’s total surface area), and to see the astounding black sand beaches and huge columns of natural basalt, and maybe the simple, understated and completely elegant lighthouses.

Black sand beach in Vik

Black sand beach in Vik

You are not going for the weather. Vik is very rainy. They receive about 3 times the precipitation that Reykjavik does, and about 5 times what the North Coast receives. But it doesn’t matter. Iceland has its weather and it’s worth going anyway. You are bound to hit a good patch of weather at some point.

Stay

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Just booked: IAD-ATL-DUB-ATL-IAD in May for $223 R/T A/I!

Per the Flight Deal, fares to Dublin (and several other destinations), Delta is aggressively attacking fares to United hubs.

How aggressive?

Base fares are pricing at $1 OR LESS. You are only paying the taxes and fuel surcharges!

IAD-ATL-DUB is pricing out at $323 for several days in early May and it’s still available. I got in on this and can’t wait to go (although not thrilled that it’s on Delta – I credited to Alaska for the first time).

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$1 base fare!

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I will earn ~4,500 Alaska miles by crediting to Mileage Plan even with the V fare bucket. You’d earn just 1,105 with SkyMiles

In addition to all of this, I had a $100 egift certificate I bought with my American Express Platinum back in the day and never used, which brought my total down to $223 round-trip and all-in. I’ve always wanted to go to Ireland, and at just over $200, I couldn’t say no!

If you want to get in on this, I’d recommend booking ASAP. I’m usually not one for breaking news, but I’m super excited about going to Ireland and wanted to share in case anyone else would like to go. Lots of other cities/countries/continents/airlines are included in this sale so play around get yourself a great deal – especially to a place you’ve always wanted to go!

Be sure to look at the Flight Deal links above and play with dates into and out of the hubs. A list of airline hubs is here and the best place to check out flights is the ITA Matrix.

Good luck and godspeed!

 

Taking another look at Alaska Airline’s MileagePlan program

You're interesting

You’re interesting

I’ve been curious about Alaska’s MileagePlan program for a while. Between trying out Delta, then racing to qualify for status on American, Alaska has always been that airline that I’ve known about but never really explored. MileagePlan was discussed quite a bit at April’s FTU, and since then, I’ve been looking into the program more.

Pros and Cons

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Canceled the PRG card and Amex let me switch credit allocations

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I just reviewed my latest post and I’ve written about Amex a LOT recently. This is neither a good thing nor a bad thing. Chase’s products are functioning smoothly and as they should; I still love the Arrival card; still jammin’ on my Club Carlson Visa. The only anomaly recently has been with Amex.

Smell ya later, PRG

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Trip Report: Delta First Class JFK-SLC-SEA and Business Class SEA-JFK

I was a bad boy for both flights and showed up at the airport in time to hop into the boarding lane and sit down at my seat. The events leading up to both points were harried. Teeth were knashed, hands were wrung, but I made it. I didn’t have time to make a visit to the new SkyClub at T4, though I was very close it. I’ve been there before and wasn’t overly impressed. If anything, I would’ve liked to’ve seen if the recent Amex Platinum Card changes have thinned the ranks somewhat, because last time was a crowded, near-hellish experience. And at SEA, I didn’t want to miss any of FTU so left as late as possible.

I do have to give it to Delta. They’ve got things figured out. Their operations are great, they’re profitable, and the flights I were on were damn near full. Good for them.

I wish Delta’s SkyMiles program was different. I wish they treated their partners like partners and not bastard stepchildren (American, by contrast, treats their partners very well). I wish they’d step off of this revenue kick they’ve been on lately and keep things like how they were before. But that’s all “wishful” thinking.

The flights

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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.