Lounge Life – Delta Sky Club Edition

Why hello there! I’m cheery today because I’m coming to you live from the Delta Sky Club in SFO. It’s kind of an interesting lounge, since Delta barely serves SFO, so it’s odd that they’d spend the money to make a lounge so nice. But they did, and I’m certainly not complaining. Outside of Amex’s lounges, this is the nicest US lounge I’ve been to, if you’re judging only by interior design. (Also, I just learned today that it’s Sky Club as two words, and not SkyClub, as I’ve been writing. I suppose this is to be expected from an airline whose full name is Delta Aerial Linears.)

Also, this blog has had a bunch of new readers lately, so it’s a good time to remind everyone of my scientific 80-point scale to assess lounge quality. I haven’t seen this scale spread across the point/miles blog industry yet, but I expect it to catch on any minute. I’ve determined that these eight categories are the most important markers of a lounge’s overall quality, and I feel that they can be used worldwide with no modifications.

Okay? Okay. Here we go…

Delta Sky Club (SFO)

image

(I just took this photo with my iPad. Go find Lucky’s review on One Mile at a Time if you want more photos.)

Furnishings: Oooh, they’re giving Amex Centurion lounges a run for their money. Very sleek and modern, but not to the point of having angular furniture that’s uncomfortable to sit on. While the dividers create the illusion of a larger space, I should note that they would be nightmarish for a trypophobic person. 9/10
Cookies: I was going to give it a higher score, but my wife provided a second opinion, which was lower than mine. The good: lots of choice. Lemon bars, brownies, and two types of cookie. The bad: the cookies are middling, and not nearly chewy enough. But the lemon bars are outstanding. 9/10
Snacks: Points for effort and creativity. While most US lounges just have shitty snack mix and banana-chip-heavy dried fruit mix, Delta at least tries to create a diverse spread. I’ve noticed their effort in the Salt Lake City lounge as well, although there are more total dishes on offer here. Unfortunately, they’re all terrible, so I’m managing to subsist on lemon bars and some hummus. OH YEAH AND DON’T WORRY, THERE’S SOUP. There’s also a good dine-for-pay menu, but I don’t count food that isn’t free in these scores. 4/10
Alcohol: A good amount of free alcohol, although I’m taking off points for Delta’s audacity to encourage people to spend SkyMiles on champagne. 7/10
Views: Great views! The only downside is that you face away from the international terminals, so you don’t get to see any of the heavies. In fact, most of your view is of Virgin America planes, but you also get a nice view of planes taking off and landing. Plus, the slightly skewed perspective makes planes on parallel runways look like they’re going to crash into each other, which is fun. 8/10
Bathrooms: I just got back from them, thanks for asking. Stalls have lots of privacy, which is something that’s oddly lacking in other lounges. They also have these fancy red sinks and brand name toiletries, so you come out smelling fresh as a rose (a rose who just used a fancy sink to wash its hands). 9/10
Outlets: Ubiquitous. 10/10
Other amenities: This lounge is great. The only issue is that it’s kind of small – bigger than the Centurion Studio in Seattle, but smaller than the Centurion Lounge here at SFO. It’s fairly crowded in the early afternoon on a Wednesday, so I could imagine it being packed during peak times. What else? They have a display of Taschen art books to peruse, they have a coffee machine that makes hot chocolate, and they even have a jar of mini marshmallows that you can use as a garnish. It’s the little touches, you know? This is a lounge worth getting to the airport early for. 10/10
Final score: 66/80

Now, as an extra added treat, I’m going to let my wife Justine add her two cents in a brand new feature called Justine’s Corner. So Justine, take it away!

This place is laaaaame.  That is all. 

 

 

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?”

Lounge Life, Part 3

Because you can’t and will never be able to get enough, I’m back with another round of my very popular lounge reviews. It’s really gratifying to see my 80-point scale become the standard across the point & miles blogging community, since I really do think it’s the best representation of lounge quality. So, without further ado, let’s dive in…

Amex Centurion Studio (SEA)

Furnishings: Centurion-chic. My one concern as Amex opens up more and more of these lounges is that they start to run together, thus making them more mundane through repetition. Still, though… nice. 9/10
Cookies: Macaroons. I LOVE macaroons. 9/10
Snacks: I was here in the morning and had some oatmeal for breakfast. This lounge has like 10 different types of seeds you can put in your oatmeal to make it more crunchy. You know how people use “crunchy” as a word to describe hippies in Seattle and Portland? They’re literally talking about how many seeds those hippies put in their oatmeal. Supposedly Amex brought some of those crunchy hippies in to consult on all the various seeds they wanted to put out in the lounge. 7/10
Alcohol: Craft beer on demand… 10/10
Views: Okay views, but they suffer for not being through floor-to-ceiling windows. You kind of have to crane your head over a half-height wall of frosted glass to see the airfield. Lotsa Delta on view too… talk about a boring livery. I suppose every livery is boring if you see it all the time, but Delta’s just screams “Live John Tesh Concert” to me. 5/10
Bathrooms: Clean single-stall bathrooms with lots of space, really thick paper towels (seriously, they’re like bath-towel thick), and L’Occitane products to wash up with. Only complaint is that there are only two, and there’s sometimes a wait. 7/10
Outlets: Ample. 10/10
Other amenities: This lounge really is tiny, so it’s sometimes hard to find a seat. I had a good time watching some football in the little TV area (where there are three chairs), drinking beer, and eating crunchy oatmeal and macaroons. Here’s my one issue with this lounge – more and more, every Centurion lounge becomes a referendum on how worthwhile the Amex Platinum card is vs. other cards that offer lounge access. And while the Centurion Studio is unquestionably nicer than Alaska’s Board Room, it isn’t *so much nicer* that I’d want to keep the Amex card just to access it. Especially since the Board Room will probably get remodeled any time soon. So while it’s a much nicer lounge, it isn’t a world apart or anything. 7/10
Final score: 64/80

United Club (SFO, domestic gates) – sorry I don’t have pics, but if you’ve ever been to a United Club, you can picture it.

Furnishings: If I were worried about lounges running together, I guess I shouldn’t bother going to United Clubs, right? Close your eyes and think of the furniture in the lobby of a Marriott Courtyard hotel in the mid-90s. You just pictured any United Club. 3/10
Cookies: Brownie crunch. 4/10
Snacks: I’ve discussed this before, but because I had just come to this lounge from the Centurion lounge at SFO, I’m giving it a low score. 3/10
Alcohol: I didn’t even ask… 1/10
Views: Here’s where this lounge shines. It’s a long room, with floor to ceiling windows all the way across, meaning you get panoramic, unobstructed views of the airfield. And not just United planes, either. 10/10
Bathrooms: I’m just going to go out on a limb and say “not great.” I didn’t use them. 7/10
Outlets: I had to hunt a little bit for one, which I hate doing. They’re around, though. 7/10
Other amenities: Okay, so I had a realization at this lounge. I had planned to spend my time at the Centurion lounge before my United flight to EWR, but it was crowded, and I was flying in first class and would have a meal on the plane. The only open seating was at a table in a not-so-comfortable chair, and I almost started to feel claustrophobic in the small space with no windows to the outside. I left and decided to try the United Club (which is included with a premium transcon ticket), which, for all its United Clubby shabby drabness, was exactly what I needed. It wasn’t crowded, it was quiet, the lights were pretty low, and I could sit in a comfortable chair and watch planes go back and forth until my flight. My realization was that, while Amex lounges are definitely “nicer,” in terms of food/decor/amenities/etc, if you just need a lounge to relax in before the flight, there may actually be better options out there. Given I had had a really stressful morning and was able to chill out a little bit before a long flight, I’m going to give this lounge a 10 here. Oh, also – there’s a long hallway that leads you to the check-in desk, and there are pictures of tall ships on the wall. I’m all like, “You’re an airline, United! Where are the planes?!?!?!?!” 10/10
Final score: 45/80

Treat Yo’self: Reviewing the Amex Platinum Card

As I’ve stated before, if you want to have a successful travel blog, you need to stuff it full of reviews. When people travel, they don’t want any aspect of the travel to be something they haven’t already read a review of on a travel blog. My wildly popular “Lounge Life” posts are a testament to that – this blog had almost no traffic at all before those posts went up, and now… Well let’s just say it still has almost no traffic, but that I expect a major uptick any moment now.

So here’s my review of the Amex Platinum card. By making it especially specific to me, my hope is that this review holds no relevance whatsoever to your own situation.

Bonus: Usually a 40,000 point sign up bonus after $3000 spent in the first three months. Recently, a 100,000 point bonus was available, and I took advantage of that, which finally righted the wrong I inflicted upon myself when I threw a targeted offer for 100,000 points in the garbage last summer. I don’t think 40,000 points is a terrible bonus in any case… it isn’t huge, but it’s still competitive. Citi offers 50,000 for the Prestige card, and I think Membership Rewards points are better.

Screen grab from travelcodex.com

Earning: 1 point per dollar. In other words, this card is a terrible earner, which is bizarre to me. I think Amex’s target customer is the person of considerable means who gets the Platinum because it has a bunch of fancy benefits, and who doesn’t really consider the overall earning potential of the card. I doubt most of the customers for this card have a big portfolio of other cards, especially since the fee is really high. So if you spend a lot of money and don’t really care about points except as an afterthought, then a card that earns 1 point per dollar is fine for you. Still, for their most premium publicly available card, I wish Amex provided some incentive to actually use the card once you get it. Since I get at least 1.5 points on everything from my Everyday Preferred card plus travel/restaurant bonuses from various other cards, the only time I’d ever use this card would be for international transactions (since the Everyday Preferred has foreign transaction fees). And even then, if it were foreign travel or restaurants, I’d use the Citi Prestige or the Chase Sapphire Preferred and get category bonuses there too. Bottom line, you get this card to buy your way into the benefits it offers, not to build up a rewards balance.

Mitigations: When I evaluate cards, I always look at mitigations first – these are any benefits that help pay back the annual fee. A true mitigation should be an amount I would have spent anyway – for instance, the Citi Prestige card offers a $250 airline reimbursement good on tickets, plus a fourth night free benefit for any hotel stay. If you would normally spend $250 on airfare and stay in a hotel for four nights in a row in any given year, the Citi Prestige mitigates its entire annual fee. The Amex Platinum reimburses $200 toward airline “incidental” fees, like baggage charges, in-flight purchases, or lounge access, but not ticket sales. Until recently, it also reimbursed gift cards, despite the fact that the terms of the benefit are written to exclude them. This may or may not be the case going forward, though, and I’m going to assume for review purposes that gift cards are no longer covered. Now, I almost never check bags, and I rarely make in-flight purchases, so the fee credit ceases to be much of a mitigation at all. I think I’m just going to buy a bunch of day passes for airline lounges and sell them on eBay – maybe I’ll get $50 or so, but the annual fee is still pretty hefty even with that mitigation.

Misc benefits: This card has tons of miscellaneous benefits that are nice to have but not worth it to me. I could take or leave concierge service, the free magazine, the Fine Hotels and Resorts collection of hotel perks (most of which are way too expensive for me anyway), the private jet discounts, and so on. Some of the benefits are definitely useful, like rental car elite status, but the Citi Prestige offers these as well. In fact, there are very few things that the Amex Platinum offers that the Citi Prestige doesn’t offer. Plus, the Citi Prestige has a better lounge access policy, since it includes free guests where the Amex doesn’t. Free Starwood Gold status via the Amex platinum is probably pretty sweet for some, but I’ve already signed my life over to Hyatt and IHG, so I won’t get much use out of this benefit either. (Plus, if you’re loyal to Starwood, you probably already have Gold status anyway.)

bread
This image is from an article about fancy bread in Departures magazine, a free magazine for Amex Platinum cardholders. Bread!

Okay, so at this point, it should be pretty clear that I’m not a huge fan of this card. If you’re comparing premium cards, the Citi Prestige is objectively better in just about every way. It earns points more quickly, has a higher sign-up bonus (most of the time), great mitigations, and an awesome suite of benefits that offers the same or better than Amex. There’s one problem.

The goddamn motherfucking Centurion lounges. I LOVE THEM. The Citi Prestige card can gussy itself up all it wants, but it isn’t going to get you into these lounges. It may not matter to most people not based near a Centurion lounge, but I fly out of SFO and thus have tons of occasion to use the lounge there. And every single other lounge in the US is a piece of shit compared to this lounge (probably)… except the other Centurion lounges, which I can’t wait to visit. (I should point out that Centurion lounges cost $50 with any other Amex, so theoretically I should count how many times I actually visit them over the next year. If I don’t go at least 8 times, then I should cancel the card and just pay to get in instead.)

The bottom line is that the Amex Platinum is a not-great product with one huge megaperk that no other card offers. By all rights, I should just get rid of it after the first year, but I think I’m gonna keep it, basically paying $450 a year for Centurion lounge access. Although I tend to focus fairly obsessively on value, the simple fact is that I like to travel, and I like things that make travel more fun for me. Even if it’s not a great deal, my plan is to close my eyes and plug my ears and pretend the fee doesn’t exist so that I can sit on lime green chairs eating fancy canapés and drinking expensive alcohol “for free.”

Well there you have it… I guess this has been less of a review and more of me justifying to myself why I should keep the card even though it’s a waste of money. Check back in a year to see if I was successful. Final rating on this card: 98 Centurion Lounges out of 100.

Requisite question designed to spur a flurry of responses in the comments section: What reason could there possibly be for YOU not to cancel your Amex Platinum card?

Lounge Life (Part 2)

Who wants more lounge reviews? For someone who hadn’t been to an airport lounge before this year, I feel like I’ve seen a lot of them this year. This crop of reviews will bring me up to date, although I’ll get to see the new Centurion Studio in Seattle next weekend, so if you were sad that this would be it for lounge reviews for a while, don’t worry. Here we go:

This is a different United Club at ORD. It looks nicer than the one I’m reviewing here.

United Club, ORD (Terminal 1, C Gates)
Furnishings:
worn down and could use a refresh, but overall comfortable for waiting out a layover. Just like the one in SFO and most lounges in the US. 6/10
Cookies: some weird brownie crunch stuff. Not bad, but still lower-tier. Fun fact: United Airlines is the largest consumer of brownie crunch stuff in the world. 4/10
Snacks: Hummus and Skittles, but not mixed together (unless you’re a dick and want to ruin it for everyone).7/10
Alcohol: Or should I say “Alcohol”… 1/10
Views: Great views of multiple runways, not just planes at their gates. Also a good place to view the thunderstorm that overtook ORD and gave us a 3-hour delay (a delay that was much more enjoyable to pass in the lounge than in the terminal). 8/10
Bathrooms: More stray urine than I like to see in a bathroom. 4/10
Outlets: I didn’t have a problem finding an outlet, and the lounge was pretty packed due to the delay. 8/10
Other amenities: This is a big lounge, which is good when everyone descends on it at once. There’s also a customer service counter with multiple agents, so if you need to rebook, you won’t have to wait very long. 7/10
Final score: 45/80

If I’m going to keep reviewing lounges, I better start photographing the fuckin things or this is going to get really repetitive.

Delta Sky Club (SLC)
Furnishings:
 Diversity! There must be 20 different types of chairs in here. None are particularly comfortable, though. 6/10
Cookies: I mean, would it kill them to have a basic chocolate chip cookie? The chocolate-chocolate chip one was pretty good, but if I wanted oatmeal raisin I’d call the… uhh… Quaker Oats guy? 6/10
Snacks: Man, since when did all airport lounges decide that hummus would be their go-to? Delta has it too, but it’s prepackaged and not as good as United’s. They also had multiple soups because SOUP IS TERRIBLE. 5/10
Alcohol: I can’t remember, since I only had a diet Dr. Pepper. I’m going back in January and will update this, because I know everyone is so concerned. I think it’s better than United/American, so I’ll give it a provisional 4. 4/10
Views: Unless you like Fox News, the views in this lounge are terrible. 1/10
Bathrooms: Clean and fancier than you get in the terminal. What else do you need? 7/10
Outlets: I’ve seen reviews praising the outlet situation in this lounge, but I had to hunt for one. 5/10
Other amenities: I like the multiple seating areas, which are good for the various moods in which you might find yourself. You’ll also remember that you’re in a red state by the multiple TV monitors playing Fox News. Bottom line is that I can’t fucking stand SLC airport, so anything that isn’t the main terminal is an improvement. The Southwest concourse is maybe my least favorite area of any airport I’ve ever been to. Plus there are low ceilings and a smoking lounge where you can look at smokers like they’re zoo animals or something. God I hate that airport. 8/10
Final score: 42/80

Amex Centurion Lounge (SFO)

Furnishings: Class all the way. Tons of different options, my favorite being the padded love seats each with a power outlet built into the arm. I sat in one and read “Departures” magazine like the yuppie piece of shit I’ve always wanted to be. 9/10
Cookies: Okay, there weren’t cookies per se, although there is a rotating dessert selection that included a peanut-butter brownie that was fucking amazing. I wanted to stuff the whole tray into my carry-on, but I felt that might be frowned upon. 10/10
Snacks: As a vegetarian/vegan, I never have very high hopes for food spreads in places like this, since I know I’m not the target customer. However, I chowed down on some excellent roasted potatoes and had a great salad as well. Oh and don’t worry, they serve soup. 7/10
Alcohol: I knew that everything in this lounge was free, but I still expected to be charged for a very generous glass of Port Charlotte whisky that would go for at least $15 in a normal bar. Drinking high-end single malt before a flight is an experience I hope to repeat over and over again in this lounge. I’m not a huge wine drinker, but the wine tasting wall is pretty cool too. 10/10
Views: This lounge doesn’t face the airfield, so you don’t get any plane views, but you do get views of people in the terminal not having as good a time as you’re having. 2/10
Bathrooms: I’m mad at myself that I didn’t look at the bathrooms, because I bet they’re swanky as hell. I’m just gonna leave it at a 7 for now, but that’s probably doing it a disservice. 7/10
Outlets: Oh they’ve got outlets, don’t worry. 10/10
Other amenities: I love this lounge. Honestly this was first lounge I went to that was actually fun to visit in its own right and not just a better option than the shitty terminal. It makes sense if you think about it: given the relative shittiness of many airports, lounges are pretty complacent, but Amex upended that thinking with the Centurion concept. 10/10
Final score: 65/80

Requisite question designed to spur a flurry of responses in the comments section: What’s YOUR favorite dessert you’ve had at a Centurion lounge?

Lounge Life (Part 1)

Aside from a trip to the Admirals Club when I was in high school, I had never been to an airline lounge before this year. What a year of firsts! My current lounge credentials are obtained through credit cards: Priority pass lounges and American Admirals Club access through the Citi Prestige and Delta Sky Club and Centurion lounge access (plus a redundant and guestless Priority Pass membership) through the Amex platinum. I also get two United Club visits per year via the annual free passes that are included with the Mileage Plus Explorer card. You want reviews? I know you do. Every travel blog reviews stuff – I even found a review for a fucking bag of snack mix the other day. Conclusion: if you want readers, you gotta review. So here you go.

Overall, I think lounges are funny, in that (at least in the US, and I haven’t visited any of the fancy international lounges yet), their only value is determined relative to the rest of the airport. Most lounges would make shitty hotel lobbies, for instance. Pretty much any mid-level hotel will have nicer seating and furnishings in its lobby than you’ll find in the average airport lounge, but given that waiting out a 2-hour delay in a crowded terminal is a soul-suckingly awful experience, even a shitty hotel lobby is preferable. Therefore, I’m not reviewing a random Admirals club as it compares to the Emirates first class lounge in Dubai. Instead, my ratings are based on the following criteria, each worth ten points: furnishings, cookies, other non-cookie snacks, alcohol, views, bathrooms, outlets, and other amenities.

Alaska Airlines Board Room, SEA
Furnishing
s: worn down and could use a refresh, but overall comfortable for waiting out a layover. 6/10
Cookies: cinnamon animal crackers. Will do in a pinch, but disappointing. 2/10
Snacks: pancake printer is nice for the novelty, but it prints fairly rubbery pancakes. Maybe it needs new toner (AKA dough). Salads always look gross. Haven’t tried the soup, because I’m not generally a soup fan, AND WHY DO LOUNGES ALWAYS SERVE SOUP? 4/10
Alcohol: actually I haven’t had any alcohol here, but you get good beer and cocktails for free, so I’ll give this one a high score. 9/10
Views: great tarmac views, although you only see Alaska’s planes, so it gets a little repetitive after a while. 7/10
Bathrooms: clean, fairly private. Didn’t smell like piss the few times I’ve used it. 8/10
Outlets: most seats have outlets available. Why every lounge isn’t just a sea of power strips is beyond me, but whatever. 10/10
Other amenities: nothing really jumps out at me here. I’ll give it a few points for having a good division between the quiet area downstairs and the party atmosphere upstairs. 3/10
Final score: 49/80

I couldn’t find any pictures of the United Club at SFO, so you get this graphic instead. The United Club SFO is not this nice, so don’t get excited.

United Club, SFO (International Gates)
Furnishings:
worn down and could use a refresh, but overall comfortable for waiting out a layover. (Yes, I copied and pasted this from the last one. It’s a pretty universal description of most lounges.) 6/10
Cookies: some weird brownie crunch stuff. Not bad, but still lower-tier. 4/10
Snacks: Good hummus, and I like that there are Skittles. Don’t Skittles seem like the kind of food that kids eat? It’s fun watching all these distinguished looking business people chomp down on some Skittles, reminding them of the childhood they lost and will never get back. This gets a high score for that alone. 7/10
Alcohol: Piss beer for free, everything else you pay for. Don’t insult me with your Coors Light, United. $600 per year for a membership and you can’t even give me Sam Adams? Fuck you. 1/10
Views: some good angles, but heavily obscured by its position in the terminal. 5/10
Bathrooms: Didn’t use, but this lounge gets really crowded, so I’m skeptical. 6/10
Outlets: One section has good access, the other doesn’t. 6/10
Other amenities: The lobby of this lounge is really nice. In fact, the first time I went to this lounge, I was really excited for what I’d find simply due to how nice the lobby is. The resulting disappointment could either be viewed as a positive or a negative. 4/10
Final score: 39/80

Unlike the United Club banner, this actually is the Admirals Club at SFO.

Admirals Club, SFO (International Gates)
Furnishings:
 Newer than the other two, but surprisingly worn given that it was refreshed recently. Looks like it gets a lot of use, even though it was pretty empty while I was there.  7/10
Cookies: Excellent chocolate chip cookies. Not “artisanal” or anything fancy, but a good, utilitarian cookie can really hit the spot. 9/10
Snacks: Not great once you’re done with the cookie. Yogurt pretzels and dry fruit mix abound, and the food for purchase is way worse than what’s out in the concourse. Also, the dried fruit has a really high banana chips to everything else ratio – personally, I hate banana chips and adjusted the score accordingly, but you may want to take this into account. 7/10
Alcohol: Same deal as United. 1/10
Views: Very nice, and a good amount of window seating, too. Although you mostly look out at United planes (ironically), you can still catch the big boys taxiing by. I saw an Emirates A380, which was pretty impressive next to a bunch of 737s and the like. 8/10
Bathrooms: Pretty decent, but Terminal 2 at SFO has strangely clean bathrooms, so it isn’t a huge benefit. 6/10
Outlets: Good overall access. 8/10
Other amenities: From an ambience perspective, I like this lounge. They tried to do something different with the fake trees and the circular layout in the middle, so it doesn’t feel as generic as some of the other lounges. Especially given some reviews I’ve read of other Admirals Clubs, I have a feeling this is one of the nicer ones around. 7/10
Final score: 53/80

Stay tuned for more lounge reviews in part two of this gripping post!

Requisite question designed to spur a flurry of responses in the comments section: What’s YOUR least favorite lounge in the US?

American Horror Story

For years, I refused to fly American Airlines, because they are terrible. They’re terrible in a can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it way, but every flight I’ve ever had on American was always just a little more unpleasant than any other flight I’ve ever had. I even hated American when I was a kid (and my brother and I thought we were clever when we called the Super-80 the “Super-Sucky”). Those MD-80s are still in American’s fleet, by the way.

Life begins at 40?

I was motivated to start flying American again by two things: first, I can access the Admiral’s Club when flying American via my Citi Prestige card, so I thought that, all other things being equal, I might as well fly the shitty skies and get some free yogurt-covered pretzels. And, despite my overall disgust with how terrible American Airlines is, the Admirals Club at SFO is pretty nice – it even has some fake trees in it. Plus, it’s quiet, and Terminal 2 at SFO — which has been remodeled to feature upscale shopping and dining — does that “put all the gates in one place with an enormous waiting area that serves all of them at once” thing, making the at-gate experience a test of one’s nerves.

Pretty sweet lounge selfie.
Pretty sweet lounge selfie.

Second, American advertises on its website that it’s building “a younger, more modern fleet” and that they take delivery of an average of one plane per week. So, I thought to myself, maybe it’s time to give up my prejudice against American and take advantages of the things they do offer, including a loyalty program that actually awards miles at a rate that earns you a free ticket more than once a decade.

So, full of anticipation, I set out for Chicago flying American from SFO to ORD. Then, unfortunately, I stepped onto one of their planes, and that all went out the window. What. A. Shitbox. It’s almost appalling that American charges the same amount for their flights as other airlines, given their in-flight product. In first class, they’re proud to offer you “the worn-out chair your grandfather farted in 100,000 times before he died in it,” and in economy, you can enjoy American’s signature “Imagine the worst airplane seat you’ve ever sat on, only 10% worse, and you’ll still be ahead of these pieces of shit” class. I paid (!) for extra legroom, which on American is called, “give us $60 and we’ll spare you permanent knee injury.” And thank fuck I checked Seatguru beforehand, since 1/3 of the premium seats are in rows WITHOUT WINDOWS. Presumably this is so you don’t see the Scotch tape and staples holding the wings on.

Abandon all hope ye who enter here.

Okay, that was a cheap shot. American Airlines is clearly safe, both of my flights arrived early, and the pilots were very friendly both over the intercom and saying good-bye to passengers after the flight. Little things like that go a long way, especially when your butt cheeks are numb from sitting on seats whose padding gave out during Reagan’s second term. Oh, and if you tell me that I’m exaggerating and that these interiors aren’t that old, consider for a second what you’re really saying: that American Airlines recently chose these interiors on purpose. I think that might even be worse.

Also, here’s a weird thing that I’ve never really noticed before. The fuselage walls on American’s 737s are scalloped in such a way that the windows are deeply recessed from the rest of the wall. For most seats, this doesn’t really matter, since most of the wall next to the seat is comprised of one of these recessed areas. Here’s a good photo, which also happens to show the ultra-luxury of American Airlines first class. Look at how far the ribs in between the window panels stick out:

However, should you be lucky enough to sit in one of the rows without windows (which I was treated to on my return flight due to a happy switcheroo between different versions of the 737), you don’t get the recessed window panel, just the wall jutting out very uncomfortably so that you end up leaning on the person in the middle seat the whole flight. I’ve flown economy class all over the world, including configurations that people always rag on for being overly tight (like 10 hours seated in a 9-across 787), and I have NEVER been so cramped on a plane. And this was in a seat I paid extra money for, which was both insulting and infuriating.

Never again. I’m done with American, and I’m going to dump my Citi Prestige card while I’m at it, since the Admiral’s Club access benefit (one of the main reasons I got the card) is totally worthless to me. (Yeah yeah, I know the Prestige has tons of other benefits, but I’d rather get the Amex Platinum and hang at the SFO Centurion Lounge before comparatively living it up on a United.) Maybe I’ll come back in five years when the fleet renovation is done, but until then, I’ll fly literally any other airline and enjoy it more.

Requisite question designed to spur a flurry of responses in the comments section: How sore on a scale of 1-10 has YOUR butt become after flying on American?