Travel Diary (OAK Escape Lounge, Alaska Airlines, SEA Centurion Lounge, Grand Hyatt Seattle, SEA Delta Sky Club)

I’m on a work trip right now, and I wanted to jot down some thoughts about different aspects of the trip. I don’t really have enough about each individual item to warrant a full post, so I decided to combine everything into one long post, SEO be damned.

My trip started in Oakland yesterday with a very early (for me) 9AM departure for Seattle. I got to the airport around 15 minutes before my flight was going to begin boarding, and I figured that the airport wouldn’t be that crowded early on a Sunday. Well, I was wrong, and the place was a ZOO. Worse, it was all leisure travelers going to Hawaii or Orlando or other such sunny places, meaning that the crowds were both voluminous and disoriented. At security, the TSA Precheck line was enormous, but the premium/first class line was completely empty, meaning at least I didn’t have to wait in line. However, Oakland security won’t let you go through the Precheck lane from the premium line, meaning you have to choose one or the other. Wait in an insanely long line or breeze through only to take off your shoes and underpants and go through the nude-o-scope. I don’t know if other airports do this or not, but it’s nuts to me that Oakland forces you to forego either the premium line or the Precheck lane – especially when the premium line is for frequent flyers who most likely also have Precheck. Oh, and they were real dicks about it too, which put me in a good mood to start the day.

Anyway, once I was through security, I decided to check out the Escape lounge, which is the first (and only) lounge at OAK. It recently opened up to Amex Platinum cardholders, which is a really nice bonus for me, being based out of Oakland. The agent at the entrance checked me in quickly and seemed well-aware of the new access policies. My flight was already boarding at this point, but I wanted to get some bottles of water before heading to the gate. I sat down for a minute to enjoy the lounge, and it was surprisingly nice, especially for an independent lounge. The food spread was pretty basic but looked appetizing, and the furnishings were clean and modern. There was also a nice view of a Hawaiian A330 right outside the main window. Is this the biggest plane to serve OAK? I can’t remember which is bigger between the A330 and the 787.

IMG_2589

When the new Amex access policies were first announced, I read a couple blogs that expressed concern that the Escape lounges would become overcrowded with the new influx of users. At least on a Sunday morning at 8:15, that was definitely not a concern. In fact, there was only one other person in the lounge (although a couple was in the process of checking in as I was leaving).

IMG_2590.JPG

At the gate, I had missed first class boarding, so I got stuck behind a scrum of people jockeying to get on the plane early enough to still have overhead bin space available. I got settled in my seat near the end of the boarding process, only to find out that there was a maintenance issue that would end up delaying us by about 90 minutes. The captain was really forthcoming with the info, although that didn’t stop an irate woman from berating the flight attendants about how her cruise wasn’t going to wait for her if she was delayed. (Maybe don’t schedule your flight to arrive 30 minutes before your cruise leaves if they’re that inflexible???)

This was only the second time I’ve flown in Alaska’s refurbished first class (and the first time without horse-level doses of anxiety medicine), and I liked it. The seats were really plush – easily the cushiest first class seat I’ve had in recent memory (compared to Virgin’s roomy but worn-out seats, Delta’s new 717 seats, and United’s new A320 seats). I was in the bulkhead, and the wall was a little closer than I would have liked – United gives you an impressive amount of room in the bulkhead row, while Delta puts the wall inches from your nose. Alaska wasn’t nearly that bad, but I didn’t have room to extend my legs. In-flight, that turned out not to be so bad, though, since I was able to get into a pretty relaxing position by putting my feet up on the wall. As always, the flight attendants were great, and as I deplaned, they apologized profusely for the delay.

IMG_2591
One of Alaska’s special liveries at the gate next to me in SEA. You can’t really see from the photo, but inside the green stripes is the signature of every employee who works for the airline.

I landed in Seattle and decided to get some food at the Centurion Lounge before I headed into the city. Note that they’re no longer referring to it as the Centurion Studio – they’ve added some square footage and a full bar, so I guess it’s a full-on lounge now. I had complained about the view in the past, but the new section faces the south satellite, which is where all the interesting planes depart from. The construction work around Delta’s new Sky Club doesn’t obstruct the view anymore either.

IMG_2592

The new space in the lounge (sorry, no photo) is still pretty small, so I’m glad Amex is trying to get even more room. At peak times, I would still expect seating to be an issue. It’s nice that they have a full bar, though, including Bruichladdich and Port Charlotte whisky (same as other Centurion Lounges), which are both outstanding.

I also didn’t get photos of the Grand Hyatt, since I don’t like photographing hotels, but overall I was impressed. It’s not going to win any design awards, but the rooms do the “warm and luxurious” thing pretty well. The bed and chair are both comfortable, it has good blackout curtains, and the bathroom is enormous, with a giant soaking tub (even in a standard room). As a Discoveratrix, I was “upgraded” to the quiet floor, but that was it. I was only in town for a night, though, so I didn’t really care. I used my free night from the Hyatt Credit card, which ended up being a great deal given the cash rate of around $350 per night after tax. (It’s possible to get this hotel for much cheaper – this weekend just happened to be expensive.) Seattle is a great city to redeem the free night, since both the Grand Hyatt and the Olive 8 right around the corner are Category 4 hotels. The location is pretty good too, since it’s only a couple blocks from the Westlake Link station and less than a mile walk from Capitol Hill.

When I booked my return flight, I picked a later departure, since I usually like to hang out in Seattle after my work stuff is over. However, all of my meetings today were in Kent, south of the airport, and once I was done with them, I was way too tired to bother going all the way into the city and then back to the airport for my flight. Instead, I came straight here and went directly to Delta’s new Sky Club, which I’ve been excited to try out. Holy shit, you guys… this place does not disappoint. There are plenty of posts with great pictures, so I’ll just post these couple to give you an example of the view you get through the two-story floor-to-ceiling windows.

IMG_2593

IMG_2594
Overlooking Southwest gates is blah, but there are some interesting tails back there…

The lounge is humongous, and not even remotely crowded on a Monday afternoon. The upstairs mezzanine section is closed, but I imagine they’d open it up if things started to get busy. There are tons of food options, including a couple of really nice vegan salads as well as a tasty-looking non-vegan pasta dish, cold cuts, etc. Even better, they have normal chocolate chip cookies…. this is big for a Sky Club, given that ever other one I’ve ever been to tries to fancy it up with some macadamia nut white chocolate bullshit.  I’ve been sitting in a chair right in front of the window for the past 2 1/2 hours, and it has been really tranquil and relaxing – way better than the low ceilings and bustle of the Centurion Lounge nearby.

I booked my return flight on Delta specifically because I wanted to try this lounge, and at the time, I thought it was a silly thing to do. Normally I prefer Alaska, since their miles are better, and the service is always top-notch. Without a Sky Club membership, though, flying Delta is the only way I can get access to their lounges (via the Amex Platinum). After spending some time here, I’m actually considering going out of my way to fly Delta home from Seattle in the future because I like it so much. When I first reviewed the Centurion Studio, I talked about how it was a referendum on the Amex Platinum card, since plenty of cards include a Priority Pass membership that grants access to Alaska’s Board Room (ergo, I reasoned, to justify the additional cost of the Amex Platinum, the Centurion Studio would need to be miles ahead of the Board Room). My original conclusion was that the Centurion Studio was nice, but not so far ahead that it would be a reason in and of itself to carry the Platinum. (This was also back when Delta’s Sky Club was inconveniently located in the South Satellite and wasn’t anything to write home about in the first place.)

However, with the opening of this new Sky Club, and with the Alaska lounges starting to restrict access to Priority Pass due to overcrowding, the Amex Platinum is now the undisputed champion for lounge access in Seattle. I’d even go so far as to say that this is the nicest lounge I have ever been to, although I suspect its reign at the top will be short-lived, since I’ll be visiting the Polaris lounge in Chicago next week. (I also haven’t been to *any* of the world-famous lounges, so taking my top spot isn’t that great of an accolade.)

I’m flying home in a couple hours, but I’m going to post this now, since I’m not expecting anything about my flight on Delta to be notable. I’ll update later if something cool happens, though.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s