Tag Archives: First Class

Would you let a bird shit on you for 75,000 points?

Like many, I got in on the JetBlue points match promotion they offered a few months ago wherein they gave out millions of free points by matching Virgin America frequent flyers’ point balances. This was one of those “if it’s too good to be true, it’s because JetBlue’s marketing department didn’t think this through” situations, because there was literally no downside. Except getting shit on by a bird.

The crazy thing is that I had JUST transferred over and redeemed 50,000 Virgin America points the day before JetBlue announced the promo. I assumed I was out of luck, since I didn’t have enough Starpoints left to do another big transfer, but I emailed JetBlue anyway, practically begging them to show mercy. I included my Virgin Elevate account transaction history so they could see that literally the day before, I had around 58,000 points in my account. To my great shock and surprise, I got a response back a few hours later that they had matched me to the old balance, so I was in for 75,000 JetBlue points as soon as I took a round-trip flight. I expect that if I hadn’t emailed within minutes of the promotion’s launch, I wouldn’t have been so lucky. I don’t think JetBlue realized how easy it was for people to load up on Virgin points by transferring from SPG, but kudos, props, and big-ups to them for not changing or “clarifying” the terms of the promotion mid-course.

I last flew JetBlue 10 years ago to go to a job interview, and when I didn’t get the job, I decided to blame JetBlue rather than my own lackluster resume. I always remembered them being pretty nice, though, so I was excited to give them another go around. I booked SFO to Long Beach, which is a great airport – primarily because they don’t have gates, so you get to walk on the tarmac outside the plane. I firmly believe that flying would be magnitudes more fun if you always got to see the outside of the plane before boarding, rather than walking down a sterile jetbridge.

One consequence of the airport’s open design, however, is that birds can fly in and out, and they like to congregate on the light fixtures above the food court. I was cheerfully eating my hummus and pretzel combo pack when I noticed a blob of bird shit on the table next to me. I stood up to move to a different table after realizing what was afoot, although it was too late, since I apparently sat in a pile of it without first noticing it on my chair. A friendly JetBlue flight attendant pointed it out and even offered me some wet wipes he had in his suitcase, which makes me appreciate the service JetBlue offers – even outside the airplane!

I know it’s good luck if a bird shits on your head (although I suspect that people just started saying that because of how much it sucks when a bird shits on your head), but what about when you sit in it and get bird shit all over the seat of your pants? Well, I can provide you with a “data point” that it certainly isn’t bad luck, since I had an entire row to myself on the way back and my 75,000 points posted about a week later.

Looking at the actual goal of the promotion – to wean me off Virgin America’s slick, black leather teat – I did come away with a lot of warm fuzzies about JetBlue. The big con would be the route network, since they just don’t fly very many places direct from SFO. If they offer a direct flight and I know I’m flying economy, I’ll definitely pick JetBlue. The leg room is better, and I like the DirectTV they offer better than Virgin’s IFE, since most of the channels on Virgin don’t work. Flying premium becomes more of a toss-up. Price being equal, I prefer Virgin’s Main Cabin Extra to JetBlue’s extra legroom seating, since Virgin gives you unlimited free movies and snacks. However, because Virgin considers Extra to be a separate fare class, it’s often more expensive than the Even More Space upgrade. I suppose it would depend on the cost difference and schedule. As for first class, even though I’ve never flown JetBlue’s Mint, I’m sure it’s better than Virgin’s first class, which I love. Pricing for transcons looks similar, so I can almost guarantee that I’ll fly Mint instead of Virgin First the next time I’m planning a trip and can spring to sit up front. Otherwise, obviously I’d fly Virgin if I wanted to fly in first, since JetBlue doesn’t offer first class on most flights.

What do you think? Did you fly JetBlue to get 75,000 points? Has a bird ever shit on you? Do you know of any other points/miles blogs that have used the phrase “slick, black leather teat?”

What do Alaska, Hong Kong, New York, and Vancouver Have in Common?

EDIT 1/18/17: This post is pretty outdated now… like how I talk about crediting miles to AAdvantage instead of Alaska? What a moran! Oh, and I never did end up taking the NYC-VAN flight on Cathay with my younger brother, although I’m sure I’ll get around to it at some point. Anyway, now that this post has been linked from higher-traffic pastures, I figured I’d mention this at the beginning so you know that I’ve matured as a Windbag Miler in the year and a half since this was originally written.

Disclaimer: I wrote most of this post longhand while I was flying last weekend, since the guy in front of me reclined his seat, and I didn’t have enough room to open my laptop. Due to my issues with flying (which I’m sure I’ll talk about at some point), my mind is kind of weird when I’m on a plane, and that’s reflected here… although I swear I kind of meant this to be tongue-in-cheek. Enjoy!

Looking at all the airlines, popular routes, mileage programs, and credit card options for earning points, a complex tapestry emerges. I’m reminded of Deleuze and Guattari’s essay on smooth vs. striated space, and how points/mileage enthusiasts find themselves wedged between the two (or, more accurately, lost in the fluidity between the two). It’s tough to think of any space smoother than the sky, but the way we traverse it in direct lines overseen and organized by a vast traffic control infrastructure converts what was previously thought to be smooth into striated space. In the same vein, the rules, terms, conditions, charts, redemption amounts, and everything else I try to memorize (or at least familiarize myself with) takes the freewheeling act of travel and imposes a rigid set of steps I have to follow in order to undertake a trip. However, in the sheer volume of information, including counterintuitive or contradictory rules and policies — that’s where the fun lies. And so, the mess of numbers, programs, the whole ball of wires that makes up “the hobby” starts to feel like Deleuze and Guattari’s famous quilt, which simultaneously consists of the orderly arrangement of fibers at the same time that it expands outward until the wide-angle view reveals a structure that doesn’t seem to follow any defined rule or pattern.

See what I mean? I wasn’t on drugs or anything, but my mind was going in a bizarre direction. Sure, it’s a great book, but I’m not convinced it belongs here…

Okay, that was a long, probably boring way to make two points. First, it’s really fun to dig into all these programs to try to find hidden gems, and second, you’re never going to know all there is to know, so the best thing to do is just to never stop digging. With that in mind, I started digging into Alaska’s Mileage Plan program, since I fly to Seattle on Alaska at least a few times a year. (I choose Alaska mostly for the occasional $50 upgrade and the fact that Alaska flies out of SFO’s international terminal, so the plane spotting opportunities are much better.) I always credit my flights to Amercan, since one of my longer-term plans is to bank AAdvantage miles slowly and then augment my balance with a big sign-up bonus before using my miles for a long-haul business class redemption of some kind. It goes against the conventional wisdom of earn and burn, but truthfully, I’m not earning enough for the inevitable devaluation to really hurt that bad.

But, I wanted to see what I was missing out on with Mileage Plan, since it’s so highly regarded in the points and miles world. Plus, it was on my mind after writing that post about Starpoints. Most of Alaska’s more interesting redemptions are on carriers I don’t really have occasion to use, specifically because I don’t have any immediate plans to fly to Asia or the middle east. However, when looking through their partner award chart, a particular redemption caught my eye:mileageplan

Cathay Pacific first class is one of those products that gets reviewed amazingly well from just about everybody. They don’t have an on-board bar or shower suite, but the seat looks divinely comfortable, and the service is supposed to be pretty good too. (Also, I know everyone raves about the novelty of showering on a plane, but I’m severely put off by the not-unlikely prospect of hitting turbulence and sitting belted-in on the shower’s safety bench nude and dripping wet while the plane lurches to and fro.) Plus, true first class is kind of a forbidden fruit for me, since I have very eurocentric travel goals, and one of the bummers about flying to Europe is that first class is tougher and tougher to come by… and when first class cabins do exist, it’s either difficult or prohibitively expensive to book awards in them.

So, imagine my delight when I found that Cathay Pacific runs a fifth freedom route (a route on which neither the origin nor the terminus is in a carrier’s registered country) between JFK and Vancouver. Cities I love and would happily travel to in order to enjoy a premium cabin I otherwise wouldn’t get to experience. (Fifth freedom routes are pretty cool in general, and at some point my goal is to fly in first class on both Emirates (NYC to Milan) and Singapore (NYC to Frankfurt).)

You know what I just realized? None of these premium cabins have overhead bins!

After some more research, I realized that both Lucky and The Points Guy have written about this route, but I missed it – again, due to the sheer volume of information that’s out there. Then, once I realized that the route exists, I found out that I can book it with Asia Miles (for 40,000 miles), which I can earn via transfers from Citi or Amex (meaning that the whole detour into Alaska miles wasn’t even necessary). Given the ease of earning Thank You/Membership Rewards points, it’s probably easier to book this way, although I’m hoarding points in those programs right now. As a result, I decided to do a Mileage Plan blitz and found myself with 39,000 Mileage Plan points almost overnight. (How did I do this? 25,000 points came from getting the Alaska Airlines Visa card, which awards the miles without requiring a minimum spend. Then I got the other 14,000 from my Chicago hotel stay, which I booked on Rocketmiles. Almost 40,000 Alaska miles in a weekend, and nary an SPG Amex in sight!)

I’m planning the trip for next June, and I’ll be traveling with my younger brother, since he’s the only person I know who appreciates premium cabins as much as I do. He’s based in Chicago, so we’ll meet in New York (which I’ll probably fly to on a paid Jetblue ticket so I can check out their Mint class), travel to Vancouver on Cathay, and then hang out in the Pacific Northwest for a while before returning home. It seems kind of crazy to fly to Vancouver via New York, but I’m the guy who started a blog post on points and miles by talking about French poststructuralists, so crazy is more or less the unifying theme here.

Requisite question designed to spur a flurry of responses in the comments section: What’s the most ridiculous routing YOU’D take just to fly a product you’ve never tried before?

Thoughts on Premium Cabins

The thing about reviews is that most reviewers almost have too much experience for their experiences to be relevant to people like me who just don’t have enough time off to try every product in the sky. I realize that the point of most reviews is to be as in-depth as possible precisely because people who take a once-in-a-lifetime vacation in first class want to make sure they aren’t wasting their money (or miles). Still, some of the “bad” reviews I read make me laugh, given that they really don’t sound that bad to me.

I really have very little experience with first class – the first time I sat up front is when I had food poisoning and upgraded to AirTran’s first class because it was only $100 and I thought that sitting in Economy while trying not to barfpoop would just be too miserable. For anyone who never got that opportunity before AirTran disappeared, my review is that the seat is wider and they give you a snack. Definitely worth $100 given the circumstances, but not exactly “premium.” I’ve also flown Virgin America first class a few times, since their same-day upgrades used to be really cheap. I think I paid $150 to upgrade BOS to SFO (almost 7 hours in a headwind), and that flight was probably awesome. I say “probably” because I took too many sleeping pills while waiting at the gate, and I barely remember the flight. I was so zonked that, despite sitting in 1A, I was the very last person off the plane.

My wife and I flew “business class” on Norwegian from OAK to OSL last summer, which is more or less premium economy on most carriers. My review of that flight is that the seat is wider and they give you a snack. (I’m being snarky, but Norwegian is actually one of my favorite airlines, and that flight was amazing. Seeing the Hudson Bay and Greenland during the midnight sun from the Dreamliner’s oversized window was incredible. I’ve flown Norwegian both long haul and short haul, and their planes are spotless, their staff is always friendly, and Gardamoen airport in Oslo has the best candy selection of any airport I’ve ever been to. However, their planes are painted to look like dog penises, which is odd.)

That’s a plane in the photo, not a Samoyed getting excited.

Other times I’ve been in first class were just on short legs, so nothing to write home about. I flew Alaska Airlines first class from SEA to SFO a few months ago on one of those $50 upgrades I bought myself as a treat. My review of that flight is that the seat is wider and they give you a snack. (A quick aside – a friend of mine had asked if I could bring back some of Alaska’s bloody mary mix, since it’s supposedly really good. I hate bloody marys so I wouldn’t know. Anyway, I asked the flight attendant for some, and she very politely declined, explaining that it comes in a big carton, not individual bottles. But, after the flight as I was deplaning, she poured some into a lidded cup for me. I thought that was really nice, and it makes me like Alaska Airlines just because a flight attendant has never been that nice to me before. Once I got off the jetbridge, I stood over the garbage can right by the gate and decanted the cup of bloody mary mix into an empty Aquafina bottle… I can’t even imagine what the other passengers on the plane thought I was doing as the saw this upon deplaning.)

Alaska is going to run this plane on their new Seattle to Tulsa route just to fuck with little kids.

Okay, so anyway, back to my original point about reviews… I’m taking a trip to New York in a few months, and I used 50,000 United miles to book it in first class. Normally I wouldn’t waste the miles, but SFO – EWR on United is on their fancy “premium service” trans-con 757, so I thought it would be worth it. This will definitely be the nicest hard product I’ve ever flown, and I’m pretty excited. Plus, 50,000 miles for a $1200 ticket is over 2 cents per mile, which isn’t bad for a domestic redemption… especially when I don’t have a spare $1200 sitting around (or even really a spare $400 for economy).

Once I booked the flight, I excitedly looked up reviews of United’s trans-con premium service, ready to read how mind-blowingly amazing it is… and most reviews aren’t very positive. The gist of them is that the seat is nice enough, the food is meh, and the service is blah. Picky picky. First of all, I’m vegan, so I won’t be able to eat the food anyway. Second of all, I have a lot of social anxiety and don’t enjoy when people go out of their way to talk to me, so I don’t really care if the service is aloof. Maybe I should ask them for some extra bloody mary mix as a sort of controlled experiment. One review I read even criticized United’s snack bar, saying something to the effect of “hopefully you like Milano cookies and pretzels.” My response when reading this was to say, “Yes, I do like Milano cookies, and you’re telling me that there’s a snack bar where I can get Milano cookies whenever I want?” Different expectations indeed. (I realize Milano cookies aren’t vegan. I should have said I’m mostly vegan – don’t tell PETA.) My only concern about this flight now is that I booked a window seat, and if the person on the aisle goes to sleep, he’s going to be annoyed with me crawling over him every half hour to get Milano cookies.

I don’t really plan to review travel products on this blog, but I’m sure I’ll talk at length about how great United’s trans-con service is, since it will have been the first and only time I’ve been on a flat bed seat on a plane. This is like the Emirates shower suite for me, seriously.

Requisite question designed to spur a flurry of responses in the comments section: Do YOU like Milano cookies, and do you know what flavors United offers?