Friday, September 28, 2012

Food Fridays: Dishes from the road

I'm not a big fan of doing full-on "meal reviews" like you would see in food blogs etc.  Frequently, when eating, I forget to stop what I'm doing and take pictures of the food.  My general inclination when handed a plate of food is to start digging in.  Despite this I do have a lot of pictures of food I've eaten while travelling that's either interesting or different or was really, really good. I'm going to start a (semi) regular feature on here: Food Fridays.

I thought I'd kick things off with a Hawaiian breakfast classic: Loco Moco

I ordered this at a food court restaurant in Waikiki.  It's basically white rice, a hamburger steak, and brown mushroom gravy topped with a sunny-side-up fried egg.  It was nothing fancy and, to be honest, nothing that should have been all that good.  In combination though it was excellent.

The key is to order the egg sunny side up so that you attain the maximum ooze factor.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

What would you have them do?

I'm not going to say that I feel sorry for Multi-Billion dollar companies raking in Billions in profit, but I do have some empathy for them given how the media is reacting to the news:

More fees, less choice for air travellers - As airlines are making money again. Joan Lowy,

U.S. Airlines set $1.7B baggage fee record. Damon Scott, New Mexico Business Weekly

The overreaching editorial here is that the airlines are somehow acting beyond the pale by collecting such obscene amounts of baggage fees from the poor, hapless passenger.  How dare they?

If anything, the airlines are finally making passengers pay for their portion of the weight that's housed in the cargo bay, something that wasn't as necessary before 2008 and the higher price of fuel.  To the airline's credit they knew, when this idea was hatched, that it would not be popular with the general flying public.  They first attempted to deal with this high cost by cutting.  Free snacks in coach, blankets, pillows.  Each new mini-outrage (seriously, was it so bad that you weren't getting that little packet of pretzels any longer, or those tiny pillows?) received breathless proclamations and editorials in newspapers that things have finally reached the point of no return.  Then came the bag fees, and the outcry.  What was missed is the story that the flying public has, for the most part, come to accept these fees as a cost of convenience.

Are they well liked?  No.

They're tolerated, kind of like your crazy uncle during Thanksgiving holiday.

The funny (and also under reported) thing is this:  If you do a little travel planning you can avoid paying most of the fees, unless you feel that you need to bring your entire wardrobe along for a 5 day trip.  If you want to avoid paying fees for bags consider the following:

1. Every airline has an attached miles credit card that allows for a certain number of free bags per flight.  I don't get paid for credit card referrals so I'm not going to pimp one card over the other here but they are available.  And I've said before that I think the perks are going to become even more plentiful in the future.*

2. Domestically, there are no baggage fee airlines.  Southwest being the most obvious but they're out there.  Note this though: Even Southwest charges for the third bag. The point is that, most fliers, DO have options, it's just that travel reporters are too lazy to go out there and look for them. JetBlue is also free for the first bag. Between those two airlines you can access a majority of the country flying with one bag.

3. If you travel even a moderate amount, join a frequent flier plan.  Not doing this is the biggest mistake many travellers make.  Even the lowest tier on the plan offers some type of free bag allowance.  You're not adding your FF number to your work trips?  Unless your company has a policy against it, why not?

4. Even the legacy carriers allow one free checked bag per ticket on International flights.  Again, do you really need that redundant hair dryer, five cases of make-up, 10 pairs of pants and five pairs of shoes and a baseball cap per day for a 5 day trip?

5. Piggy-backing on #4: How do you pack?  Many bag fees can be avoided simply by good packing. My carry-on luggage is a 20" TravelPro roller-board and a back-pack.  I can pack for up to 6 days in warm weather using both of those, 4-5 in cool or cold weather.  I've taken many Inter-continental trips where I haven't checked a bag.  Oh, and my wife has as well so this is not a gender thing.  You might want to consider buying some travel space bags.  Wonderful inventions.

I realize that, to those of you who travel, this is rudimentary and just common sense stuff but, reading the comments on many travel articles, it seems that common sense is a lot less common than we all want to believe.  At heart, this blog's travel posts are about making it work in the back cabin of the plane with the occasional pity bump into domestic First or Business.  As rudimentary as these things sound, I will be putting them into practice on my next trip to Rome.  I'm flying the "I hate my life" special on US Airways coach, an airline on which I have zero status.  The wife and I are going to be spending five days there and we will be checking one small bag, mainly so that we have some room for souvenirs on the flight back.  Since we're looking down the barrel at 10+ hours in US coach seating I'm fully planning on spending that saved luggage-fee money on some good seat-cushions and aids for sleeping on planes.  Priorities.

United making systems change October 1st *GULP*

Courtesy of Joe Brancatelli blogging on Seat 2B for The Business Journals.

Seven months after a disastrous computer switch sent it tumbling to the bottom of the government ratings in every operational category, United Airlines (NYSE: UAL) has scheduled another computer transition for this coming Monday, October 1. And just as it did in March, the world's largest airline has cloaked the transition in secrecy and given passengers no opportunity to plan for potential glitches.

Reading further into his story, the switch is going to move United gate agents into the 20th century allowing them to work on GUI interfaces instead of command-driven systems.

I've no doubt that, in the long run, this has the potential to be a wonderful, time-saving, experience.  Gone will be the days of making a request and then standing in front of a head-down agent for five minutes while they click away into the black hole of outdated technology despair.  This is a good thing.

Long term.

In the short term this should create just a little pause, especially given how chaotic United's last foray into IT Land turned out.  In his letter to customers in this month's Hemisphere's magazine Smisek promised that the company "know(s) what went wrong".  Let's hope, for the customer's sake, that they're telling the truth.

Because, despite some people still moaning and complaining, things are starting to get a lot better on United.  On Tuesday evening I had changes made to an existing reservation that was going to leave me and the wife stuck at SFO for seven hours.  A quick call to the United Premier help desk solved this and now I've got a 1 hour hold-over in DEN and am arriving at my destination 5 hours earlier. On the plus side, because this originated with a UA schedule change, I wasn't charged a change fee and the flights I'm currently on are now slightly cheaper than when I booked the original flight, I get the $100 back on my card.

THAT's the way customer service should be handled.  I had a problem, and a quick solution I cobbled together, but the CS rep (Debbie) was more able to review ALL options and found me one that's going to work even better then what I had planned for.  It was all done quickly, and efficiently, and with a smile that I could hear through the phone.

Just as things are getting better.....let's hope it's not "Here we go again".  C'mon United, get this one right.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

After the Train Ride, A Day in Seward

I described getting to Seward from Anchorage via train here.

After getting off the train you're dumped in the middle of Seward.  Great views.
Rush hour in Seward
The train ride is from 6:45 to 11:30 AM, so when you arrive it's lunchtime and you're pretty hungry, even if you overpaid for a $7 reindeer sausage breakfast taco on the train.  Along the water there are a handful of tourist shops and seafood restaurants, all of them pretty much interchangeable in appearance.  We decided to eat at Chinooks because it was a.) one of the first places we saw after we got off the train and b.) it looked open.
The food here was some of the best we had in Alaska.  I had beer battered halibut and chips and the wife had an Alaskan salmon salad.  Neither are pictured, you probably know what they look like.  We sat at the bar and my wife and the bartender started up a conversation about the bottle of Louis XIII that they had on the shelf and how much they charge per drink. (somewhere around $750)  Needless to say, we passed.  I had an Alaskan Brewing Company Summer and the wife had rum and OJ. (remember, she's celiac, so no beer for her.)

In retrospect I should have had the Halibut BLT that they had on special for lunch.  The person seated next to us got one and it looked delicious.  Not that the fish & chips I had were bad, they were actually very good, but that sandwich looked amazing.  They also had a very good clam chowder.

Miracle of miracles, it wasn't raining on us in Seward, from what we understand it's about 50/50 as to whether or not it will there, almost any time of year.  Our next stop was going to be the Alaska Sea Life Center but we decided to take the free bus to their because we were full and it was a rather long walk uphill.  It was only about a 15 minute bus ride to the center, although walking (with the roads and the winding way you had to go) would have taken around an hour.  Given our tight time-frame, the bus was the correct idea.

The Alaska Sea-Life center is exactly what you think it is, an aquarium with displays focusing almost entirely on Alaskan sea-life.  The highlights for us were the Puffins and the baby walrus. Not to mention some of the interactive displays which were geared for kids but not so elementary that they weren't useful for adults either.

Alaska Sea Life Center Entrance

Baby Walrus with keeper

It's hard to describe just how close we were to that Puffin in the picture.  He was maybe 18 inches away.  I could have reached out and touched him.  That would have been silly of course, but it was interesting never the less.

Before you leave the center, make sure to walk out onto the upper deck and spend a few minutes looking at Seward Cove:
Seward Cove
The plaques and informational signs tell about how the area was affected by the big earthquake, and you can look down and still see some of the ruins underneath the observation deck.

After leaving the Sea Life Center, we started to meander back through downtown Seward to get closer to the harbor master's building, which was where our bus was to collect us for the ride back to Anchorage.  Since it was still only 3:00ish and our bus wasn't scheduled until 6:30, we had plenty of time to stop by Sweet Darlings where we purchased some salt-water taffy and The Seward Ale House where I found two Alaskan beefs that I really liked the Midnight Sun Brewing Co. Panty Dropper (11.5% ABV) and the Moose Tooth Amber.  We also decided to play the local lottery game, which the locals called "rippies".  They were basically three window cards with pull tabs that you pulled back to expose whether or not you had won.  While we were drinking, two locals won $300 on $20 wagered.  We thought this circumstance might be contagious so we each played $10 ($20 total) and won.....$5.  We turned in that fiver for 5 more rippies ($1 each) and continued that way for a few more minutes until we were done.  Fortunately, it was now time to leave to get on our bus for the ride home up the Seward Highway, so we left there and walked to the pick up point.

At this point I'd like to tell you that I have several pictures of the Seward highway through bus-window glass but I don't.  To be honest, after the early start, the train ride, the walking and the food and drink, both the wife and I snoozed for most of the way home.

One last Alaska post coming....Saturday in Anchorage.

Rest In Peace: Andy Williams

Sad news:

National Treasure Andy Williams dies of Bladder Cancer at age 84,

Crooner Andy Williams has died at the age of 84.
"Legendary singer Andy Williams passed away last night (Tuesday) at home in Branson, Missouri following a year long battle with bladder cancer," his rep said in a statement to
Williams built the Moon River Theatre in Branson in 1992, naming it after his most popular song.
Williams said in November 2011 that he had been diagnosed with bladder cancer.

The Wife worked for 2 years at the Moon River Theatre in Branson in 1997 & 1998.  I got to play a round of golf with Williams, his brother and a local Branson comedian during the time.  I used to see him almost every night when I'd go and pick up my wife from the theater after shows.  He'd hop into his Lexus with his two German Wirehaired Pointers and drive off down the hill.

One weekend, my parents and family came up to Branson to visit and watch the Wife in the show.  When Andy heard our family was in town he invited us to come backstage after the show and meet w/him in his dressing room.  My Mother was a big fan of his and was very excited.  As we walked into his (very nice) dressing room we were greeted by his two dogs.  In a few minutes Mr. Williams came in wearing a bath robe, and cowboy boots.  We laughed and talked with him for several minutes, he was a gracious and kind host.

When we left the room my Mom realized that she had been carrying her camera in her hand for the entire time but had forgotten to take a picture.  We still laugh about that one.

My thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends and other loved ones.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Dream the impossible Dream.

It's finally coming. United has taken delivery of it's first Boeing 787 "Dreamliner" and will be deploying it to Houston soon...

United's Dreamliner due in Houston Later this Week. Kiah Collier,

United Airlines announced Monday it took delivery of its first Boeing 787 Dreamliner over the weekend.
The long-awaited aircraft will fly from Boeing Field in Seattle to Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport sometime later this week, the Chicago-based carrier said.
The inaugural commercial flight, from Houston to Chicago, is scheduled to depart at 7:25 a.m. on Nov. 4.

This is great news for IAH, and Houston.  Coming as it does after a run of bad United news the Chron.commenters are really letting it fly.

Some examples:

1:30 PM on September 24, 2012
Wow. What has Nigeria got that other countries do not have?

Oil, for one.  Chevron oil operations more specifically.  A direct flight to Lagos on the Dreamliner would probably be a big deal to the many oil & oilfield services companies in Houston doing business there.

2:05 PM on September 24, 2012

Wait a few months ago United was saying if SW got approval for int'l flights out of Hobby that they were going to be laying people off and cutting the number of flights out of Bush airport. Now they are bringing their premier aircraft to Houston?

Actually, they did cut some routes and lay-off people.  As a matter of fact, they cut the IAH-AUK direct flight that was scheduled to be Dreamliner metal.  What they never did say was that they were pulling out of the IAH altogether.  Many of us (who paid attention to the whole mess) were hoping that IAH having the 787 training center and base of operations wasn't going to change.  This move appears that it will not.  This then, is a good thing.

At least no one suggested that United should go out of business.  That's been a recurring comment by many.

Another commenter complained that didn't offer fare information, a curious complaint since that wasn't the point of the article. However, a quick search shows that, for travel leaving 11/04/2012 and returning to Houston 11/07/2012, the price for an economy seat on the Dreamliner is around $619/person.  About double that of a regular flight for Chicago during the same time.  Such is the price for riding on a plane's inaugural flight.

Under the "for what it's worth" category, looking at the available seating the plan appears to be working.  The inaugural flight is already around 3/4 of the way sold out, with all first and business class seats (and most of economy plus) sold. (or given to company personnel etc.)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Short Haul Flights (09/20/2012)

The back from vacation (but sick) edition.....

The issue over purging the dead from voter rolls is still very much alive ChronBlog's protestations to the contrary.

If you want to see the Colorado model in a real-world setting then take a peek at this glowing profile of US Senate candidate Paul Sadler (D-Tx) and the InterLeft's use of it.  This report was so glowing of Sadler that his campaign thanked the Trib reporter for running it on Twitter.

I wonder if certain political groups will take umbrage with this incursion of corporate interests into politics?  My early guess is "no".

Maybe Smisek should worry about the performance of his business rather than hosting political galas?

Oh, and United's revenue is falling as well.

Maybe it's just me, but the idea of an out-of-shape Mayor telling a city to "get healthy" screams hypocrisy.

There's a fine line between cheer leading and reporting. Currently, ChronBlog is trampling all over that line in it's rah-rah coverage of Trader Joe's.  Speaking of that, where are their chastisements for TJ's not opening up in a "food desert" like they've done to Krogers and other grocers?  Why is this company getting a pass?

Mixed economic results for Houston I'm surprised ChronBlog didn't lead with "We're better than Dallas!"

Fiona Apple busted for hash possession in Texas? Nah, you mean she's on drugs?

A French publication publishes anti-Mohammad cartoons More riots against Americans to come soon.

And finally ladies and gentlemen.

I give you the 1% 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Train Ride: Anchorage to Seward

On our recent trip to Alaska the wife and I decided to take a day trip down to Seward from Anchorage.  There are several ways to get there, rent a car and drive down the Seward Highway, hop on a charter bus, take a float plane ride,  or take the train.

We opted to take the train South to Seward, and then ride back up North to Anchorage via bus.  This would allow us to see both the train route and the Seward Highway.

The train to Seward left early, 6:45 AM to be exact.  Fortunately, the Anchorage Downtown Hotel where we were staying offers free shuttle service to the station.  So we hopped on the train and were greeted almost immediately by blue and pink mountains reflecting the rising sun.
Blue and pink mountains in the early morning.
The train cabin is pretty nice, the seating arrangement is 2X2 across and there is a ton of legroom. The base cabin seats are at least as wide as airline domestic first class seats with way more recline.  There's a bar/food car in the middle of the train that serves snacks and breakfast.  I had a reindeer sausage breakfast burrito that was pricey ($7.00) but tasty.  I didn't want to eat too much however because we had planned lunch in Seward.

The views on the train ride down are amazing:
Turn Again Arm.

The front of the train passing a glacier

Mama Black bear - her babies stopped the train b/c they were on the track

The pictures don't do this glacier justice.

Dead trees from the big quake of 68
 The intercom barker on the train gives you a good idea when to get your camera ready, and when the best photo ops are coming, and what side of the train they're going to be on.  The picture with the front of the train and the glacier was one that she warned us was coming.  You pass 4 glaciers on the trip, and all are beautiful.  You also pass a lake where icebergs have calved off of the glacier into the water.  I've said before, it was the most naturally beautiful place I've ever been.

The dead trees in the last picture are interesting, they died as a result of the big earthquake in 1968 due to the permafrost liquefying and the ground dropping 7 feet.  This caused seawater to rush in which got to the roots and the trees died. In Alaska's cold climate they estimate it will be 100 years before they fully decompose.

The entire ride takes around 4 1/2 hours, so you get to Seward around 10:45 - 11:00  Just about time to get your bearings and eat.
The train at the Seward station
With the schedule we had chosen we were going to have around 7 hours to explore Seward.  It's a very small town so that's plenty of time.  On my next installment I'll talk about some of the things we did there.

All in all it was a great trip from Anchorage to Seward in comfortable seats with decent snacks and some amazing views. Well worth the price ($79/each) of the tickets.  I freely admit to being a train ride junkie on vacation so your mileage may vary.  For the wife and I however the train ride was a high point of our trip.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Delta gives it's customer's using Award Wallet the finger

Points aggregator Award Wallet announced today that Delta Airlines has issued a cease & desist order preventing customers from using the site to access their accounts.

This follows a move by American Airlines who did the same.

Full disclosure, I have an Award Wallet account, but I don't have a Delta SkyMiles account because 1.) They are among the least valuable airline programs (their nickname is SkyPesos) and 2.) their routing network out of Houston is terrible.

There's a lot of speculation why Delta would do this, some of it with merit and some of it without.  IMO there are only two ideas that have any merit.

1. It's a money game.  The fact that Award Wallet is out there suggests to the airlines that there is money to be made in "scraping" websites.  Because of this the airlines want in on the action.  It's sad that an entrepreneur comes up with a good idea, something that would work, and the airlines are able to use blunt force tactics to shut down what is probably a small chunk of network traffic.  While I admit that it is, using a strict interpretation, outside of the terms and conditions, I also understand that these can be flexible things that are allowed in some instances if the customer interests are put first.  If it's not obvious to you by now the legacy airlines do NOT have the customer's best interests at heart.

2. It's a money game.  The big legacy airlines (Delta, American, United, US Airways) are spending a lot of money turning their websites into on-line shopping portals.  The less time you spend on their websites the less time you're going to spend looking at rental car deals, floral delivery et. al.  Not only does this cost the airlines value site hits, it lessens the amount of pass-through revenue they're likely to gain.

If the airlines had their way customers would do EVERYTHING travel related on their sites, from booking flights to hotel rooms to rental cars to birthday gifts you name it.  If they could swing it they would allow you to order the blood pressure you'll need after taking advantage of their lackluster customer service.

At the end of the day this is a bad deal for Delta customers who have decided to us an aggregator to keep track of their points.  Having a central site provide this service does have a value, it's just that it doesn't have a value that the airlines can profit from so they're going to do everything in their considerable power to shut it down.  Whether or not this is convenient for their customer base is irrelevant.  The fact is, they just don't care.

As you can imagine, the travel blog responses have been overwhelmingly negative:

The Wandering Aramean

View From the Wing

One Mile at a Time

United steps in it (again)

The (now) perpetual mess of an airline that is United has made another blunder today, removing from their website the ability to see available upgrade inventory and then offering a weak excuse why they did so.

United's Foolish Attempt to Shield Online Upgrade Inventory, Matthew,

Why would United make this move?
There are three theories. One, United got tired of the screen scrapers (Expert Flyer and KVS being the two primary culprits) who may have overloaded UA’s systems with frequent requests for information from people like me, who check R-space several times daily for myself and my clients.
Alternatively, United’s IT systems—as we all know—leave much to be desired and the availability being displayed did not actually match up to what was really available (I never found this to be the case personally…). Therefore, this space was removed to prevent confusion and cut down on the frequent calls to United checking on upgrade clearance (I wrote about United’s odd upgrade clearance system in a recent post).
A more sinister theory is that United wants to shield the upgrade space from savvier consumers like you and me in order to increase the number of paid upgrades sold at check-in. If we cannot see which flights have upgrade space, we will be less likely to book these flights and therefore more upgrades can be sold rather than given away on a complimentary basis.

I agree with Matthew that the goal here is to make it more difficult for MileagePlus members with status to see upgradable inventory in an attempt to increase upgrade sales instead of providing their most frequent of fliers with complimentary ones.  In the short-term, this seems like a decent idea, as United strives with every move to increase fee-based revenue increasing paid upgrades is a move that won't anger too-many people, in their opinion.  Long term however I'm wondering how much more United's beleaguered frequent flying community is going to stand?

After making all but meaningless (in comparison to credit cards) the lower levels of the program they're now making the first inroads into limiting the ability of their upper-tier elites to gain upgrades that are a reward for a lot of miles flown with the airline.  United's excuse (that the program was causing confusion) is an insult to it's customers intelligence and speaks volumes to how the airline views them.

In short, Smisek & co. have decided that we're all not that bright, and that we're willing to swallow a lot. It almost borders on enmity to the MileagePlus community, who United is now obviously taking for granted.  This might work out OK for a while, but if American and US Airways merge, and the new airline gets it's feet under them, then a new strong airline might be able to take advantage of a staggering airline with deteriorating customer service, an aging fleet, unhappy staff and a terrible IT interface that's now even less usable.

Think about this:  Does United REALLY want to compete on the basis of price and service?  That's a losing proposition for Smisek's toy.  I wonder how long it will be until someone reminds his crew of that?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Delta slowly strangles it's frequent flyer program

(Or: Why United is STILL the best bet for travelers out of Houston.)

Even though United has had their problems, and despite some shaky recent news, they do seem to be, slowly, getting a little better, I'm still holding the opinion that, for the Houston flier, they are the best option for the frequent Houston traveller. Most of my reasoning behind this is tied to their still relatively attractive Mileage Plus frequent flier program.  For the family flying once a year or the occasional traveller I recommend price shopping, and taking advantage of package deals.  For many, with bag fees added, this means that Southwest is a viable option and other discount airlines.  For many in Houston, I understand that your personal feelings regarding the loss of Continental is too much to bear.  For you United will NEVER be an option because of how they "dissed" the City of Houston. Whatever. I might also submit that this blog is probably not for you.  I'm writing more for those who make their travel decisions with their head (and wallets) and not their hearts.  If you travel frequently the numbers still fall out in United's favor. In terms of route network, alliances and benefits, United is a clear number one.

That gap grew recently as Delta has seemingly decided to decimate their SkyMiles program (and offer up a
rather ham-fisted excuse for how they handled it.  The driver behind this is the coming move to revenue-based frequent flyer programs where, instead of miles flown, you receive "points" based on how much (or little) you paid for your ticket.

I've stated before that I believe something like this is inevitable, that the executive floors at most major airlines are currently incapable of seeing the forest for the trees. While there are a Million theories about why revenue based FF programs will be BAD for the airlines (and the traveller) with a few tweaks here and there I think they can be a positive, IF you're willing to accept a certain amount of risk and are willing to invest in a few credit cards.

First, this is NOT a blog post suggesting you should run out and start churning cards.  I don't believe in that & I don't think that, for most people, this is a good idea.  Second: I'm not going to provide any "referral" links to apply for credit cards because I don't receive any.  If you want to go help a starving blogger feel free.  Third: The credit cards that I'm going to talk about dont' yet exist. That's very important, this is speculation blogging, a peek into what I believe will become future air-travel.

The first thing to discuss is the move to revenue-based frequent flyer programs.  I don't think any of these are going to be worth the money.  If you think the airlines treat the mid-to-lower tired elites poorly now, wait until there's a financial number pinned to it.  If (when) this becomes the norm my brand loyalty is 100% done.  I plan to fly the cheapest option available and don't care who's metal is getting me there.  (Except Spirit, I refuse to fly them because eventually they're going to charge me for being stupid enough to fly them)  The good news is I believe that, once the mid-to-lower tier benefits go the way of the Dodo, you'll see a lot of other travellers abandon their plans as well and start price shopping in earnest.  This *should* increase competition and result in moderately lower prices across the board.

The wild card in my vision are Mileage-based credit cards, and this is where I expect we'll see the biggest change.

One of the largest carrots that the airlines hang over the heads of frequent fliers are cabin upgrades. Early boarding and mileage bonuses are nice, but what people really want is the opportunity to fly Business or First class at economy prices.  Even a free nudge up to economy plus is welcome.  I believe that upgrades of this type are going to be the first thing to go from frequent flyer plans.  When airlines start paying a lot of attention to how much people actually spend with them (they are paying attention now, and the tiered upgrades plans are evidence of this) then they're going to quickly move away from providing Business and First upgrades to mid-to-lower tier elites.

I believe they're going to outsource these upgrades to cards with higher annual fees to pay for them.  Just as they currently do with miles, the banks will pre-purchase upgrades which will come along with the card.  The higher level of card, the more upgrades are available per year. (including International and partner upgrades, expect to see a Star Allaince, OneWorld and Skyteam card with system upgrades).  As a flyer you'll have to align your travel cards with whatever you would use the most.  If you don't want to play this game then economy will probably be your best option, there are things you can invest in to make sleeping possible, and the seats more comfortable as well.

How far are we away from this?

Well, Delta is starting it, but I think we're a good five years away from seeing it implemented in any large-scale way, the public is going to have to be made to accept it over time just as we've accepted no snacks in economy, fees for bags etc.  The lessons the airlines are learning is that the flying public will accept almost anything provided it's put in place on the sly and then the furor is allowed to blow over.  Their argument is that you always have a choice to change preferred carriers or stop flying at all, the reality is that air-travel is not a true competitive market and in many cases the second choice is often far inferior to the first.  We're now seeing in Houston what other markets have learned in the past.

Until that time however there are still major benefits for frequent travellers to apply to, and use, an airlines frequent flyer program.  On Delta however those reasons are getting fewer and fewer.  If you can, I might start looking around for other options. Expect a competitor to offer a status match soon.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Short Haul Flights (09/05/2012)

Moving quickly through a host of unimportant things.....

Remember way back when (OK a week ago) when the unions were claiming a "win" in court? - Those who said they really didn't win were right on the money.  Either the unions have bad leadership or incompetents translating the legalese.

Please, Please, PLEASE!! click my referral links. - This is the problem:
Overall, though, I prefer the Chase Ink Bold small business charge card and Chase Ink Plus business credit card which do offer referral credit to me.
Of course he does, because he gets money for them.  There's no way to tell if this is an honest evaluation of the program.  These types of posts do a disservice to the reader.

On another note: A good Texas BBQ round-up from the same author. - Yes, he makes some huge mistakes (always order from the fatty end at City Market in Luling for example) but he gets it about as right as a foreigner can.

How does Texas' Lockstep political media love the Julian and Juan Castro?  Let me count the ways:

1. Erin Ramshaw of the Texas Tribune gets doe-eyed. - Not that the Trib is really "news". (they're more news-ish) but this was so sugar-laced I almost had to prick my finger after reading it.

2. It's (temporarily) cured Wayne Slater of his Karl Rove obsession. Twice. - Of course, Wayne being Wayne will cause us to fire up the drinking game soon I'm sure.

3. Ever seen a grown man cry? - Look, Burka is bad and has been bad for a long time.  It's rare he writes anything that could be considered viable public opinion any longer.  He's mailing it in.

The sad thing is the speech itself, and Julian Castro's presentation of it, was not considered to be all that great.  Certainly not as good as speeches by Rubio and (possibly) Ted Cruz.  So the only conclusion is that Texas' Lockstep Political media is fawning over the brother's Castro is due to the fact that they are Hispanic, and Democrats and not due to the fact that they have any special talent (They have talent, for sure but, by all accounts it's nothing remarkable).  If you don't understand why that's a problem you're part of the problem.

As the scientific method gets thrown further down the hill, we're being saddled with some bastardized science-lite that focuses on emotions and trickery more than the actual scientific method.  This should concern the hell out of folks on both sides of the political aisle.  Sadly, it really doesn't.

Is this the election where the false journalism mask of neutrality is stripped away?  CNN is jumping in with the Dems and Fox News jumped in with the Republicans a long time ago.  MSNBC is not even a news source, they're straight (progressive) opinion now so I exempt them from this conversation.

Speaking of Bad Media. I've long been a critic of so-called "fact-check" journalism. It's as useless as the Pulitzer Prize that was awarded to the partisans that run Politifarce.  Now that it's on people's radar we're seeing just how ridiculous it really is.  Time to move "fact-checkers" to the back rooms, checking the veracity of stories" where they belong.

Possibly the worst media: I described the changes to as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Some witty idiot on Twitter took that literally and replied that the Chron is "not sinking to the bottom of the ocean."  Judging by this Houston Press story: Yes they are.

And finally:

Republicans are wrong:  Democrats didn't "remove" God from their platform. They replaced him with Obama. If you're not the party of Religion then this is probably not a bad thing.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Alaska 2012

Alaska 2012, a set on Flickr.

Finally got the Alaska Trip pictures uploaded and (sort of) cleaned up over the weekend.

All I can say is that Alaska is, without question, the most beutiful place I've ever visited. Enjoy.

Note: there are 190 something pictures in the entire set.  I'm not sure why flickr posts only a few here instead of just posting one and then the link.  Odd.

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