Book by the 14 May and Air France are offering £259 fares, round-trip from London to Paris.

23-04-2014 07-39-09

Fare seems to be there in through June. Benefits enjoyed:

•Dedicated check-in areas
•Lounge access
•Priority boarding and disembarkation
•Additional baggage allowance
•Extra Flying Blue miles

Posted by MilesFromBlighty | No Comments

 
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The BBC is reporting that Heathrow Express staff have voted to strike for 48 hours from 03:00 on 29 April. This should finish the strike at 03:00 on 1 May.

Heathrow Express management say that they have a ‘robust’ contingency plan.

If you plan to travel on the HEX on these days I suggest you check their website in advance.

 

Posted by MilesFromBlighty | No Comments

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In a long running dispute about the closure of ticket offices, the main drivers Union has called two sets of strikes – both in the working week and both much longer than in the past.

At present they are:

28 April – 2100 for 48 hours (ending 2100 on 30 April)
5 May – 2100 for 72 hours (ending 2100 on 8 May)

Typically TFL runs some services with drivers not in this Union, or Management staff.

Check the web site before you travel.

Posted by MilesFromBlighty | 2 Comments

Some time ago I wrote about a visit to the Grand Hyatt Berlin. I won an online auction for 2 free nights and added a paid night so that the stay would count towards status. It has been a long time since I was in one hotel for three day and I was really looking forward to it.

I caught the U-bahn from my previous hotel and arrived at Potsdamer Platz around lunchtime.

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The walk from the train station to the Hyatt is about five minutes, keeping to the left of the entrance to the main station taking in a Rauschenberg sculpture:

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Just behind the sculpture is a short passage which takes you to the road with the Hyatt, at the far end. The Berlin was on and so the street was decorated and blocked off to control traffic access.

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I was a little early for check-in, but the room was ready. I had two free nights and a paid night, so could not use a suite upgrade.  However, Diamond status secured me a room on the Grand Club Floor. A standard, inside facing room was bright and airy, as many of the rooms are here, The Berlinale was on and as the Hyatt is close to some of the main venues, the hotel was busy for the three nights I was there.

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The hotel seem to have removed the desk I was used to having and so now a glass round table serves this purpose.

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The view of the courtyard was pleasant enough with lots of light on the days when the sun was out. There are electric blackout blinds fitted in case you want to make the room dark for a daytime nap.

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The bathrooms are spectacular at this property. Basically in the shape of a box inside the room, but with two entrances. The first to the hall and the second to the bedroom. A large bath, with a shower and wet area, toilet and wash basin are accommodated here, as is the large closet.

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During my stay Hyatt was running a small Twitter campaign which resulted in a bottle of champagne appearing in my room. It was a lovely surprise and I enjoyed it very much.

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I was delighted with this gesture and duly tweeted! The next day a small glass of whiskey and some chocolate turned up…

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And on my last night some macaroons and a model of a Trabant car arrived! The hotel really spoilt me and it made the trip very memorable.

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The car now sits in my office at work as a pleasant memory of the hotel.

The Grand Club is good at this property. I cannot say wonderful as they have reduced the service and food offerings since the early days. There are no warm items either in the morning, nor in the afternoon. This is disappointing. In the old days the staff used to meet you at your table and prepare your coffee; these days you are left to do it yourself. No big deals of course, but still a little bit disappointing. There is a large fridge in the Grand Club with soft drinks which you can access during the day.

The cakes for afternoon tea were pleasant, although it seemed that hardly anyone used the room then:

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Many people have commented that the hotel has become less friendly and flexible recently. Certainly the reclassification of the suites so that upgrades really only score a larger room was a disappointment. I did find the staff in the Grand Club less friendly than in the past – they no longer make your first coffee, nor produce your first glass of wine and are noticeably less about in the lounge. It’s still a good property – but watch out for room rate changes as the day of arrival approaches. They can drop significantly

Posted by MilesFromBlighty | 2 Comments

I wanted to give a Good Friday shout-out to the folks at the Hyatt centre in Omaha. I was lucky enough to visit some years ago and was able to recognise a number of the staff members I met there. The video, which seems to involve 100+ people telling the camera ‘Why we love Hyatt’.  (The office there is their Global Contact Centre.)

I am really impressed with it and would invite you to take a moment to watch if you can. It will give a face to that Gold Passport or Private Line Agent, the next time you call Omaha.

YouTube Preview Image

Posted by MilesFromBlighty | One Comment

united logo 2

I am travelling from Rome today on United, via a rather complex routing. I noticed that my flight was slightly delayed from here, due to the inbound aircraft being late arriving, because in turn there was a mechanical problem in Houston yesterday!

T5 at FCO is a large single story secure shed some distance away from the main terminals and is used for airlines that require enhanced security – United, Delta, El-Al, American. After a ‘shorter than Paris’ questioning session I was advised to go to check-in, even though I had printed my boarding passes already.

The Alitalia (United seem to use them for ground services) employee gave me new passes, stamping on the lounge access instructions (which she then dried so the ink would not stain my shirt!). Just as I had left the desk she called me back.

- Please can you wait a few minutes the Concierge would like to see you.

- Of course, but if it’s about my flight I am sure I can make the connection still

- No Sir, I think it’s nice

Well there is no GlobalFirst out of FCO so its not an upgrade, so I wondered what it was. After a few minutes the Concierge arrived and said:

- We have been given this information about you.

Showing me a printout she said – ‘Congratulations you have been a MileagePlus member for 25 years this month’.

Goodness, could it be ?

I thanked her for taking the time to come down and it got me thinking about my first United flight, that I had been a member for just under half of my life, that United isn’t what it was, (but what is?), and I marvelled that United would know this and make the effort. I doubt I’ll be travelling when I get to 50 years (I’d be 78!), but it was nice to know that someone somewhere had decided to put in an application that tracked these things and then got their staff to say ‘Thank You’.

As I look back over the miles  (currently 3,480,548 miles with United), I wonder where all the time went.

There was no marching band, nor dancing girls of course; no instant upgrade to Global Services, but then, just for 5 minutes in a shed in Rome I felt the warm glow that I used to feel flying United. It’s going to be a good day!

Posted by MilesFromBlighty | 2 Comments

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I had never stayed at the ‘All Suites’ IHG brand ‘Staybridge Suites’ before and I was keen to try it. In search of a 4th brand for my IHG Big Win I selected this property as I needed an early start nearby.

The property is located at the Stratford International end of the huge Westfield Shopping Centre at Stratford, home of the Olympic Park. There is no direct road access to the hotel but the closest road is about a 5 minute walk from the hotel.

The building which houses the hotel also houses another IHG brand – a Holiday Inn. The Holiday Inn occupies the lower floors and the Staybridge Suites, the upper floors. The Reception for the HI is on the ground floor and the Staybridge is on the upper floor. There are separate lifts.

I tried to check-in at 2pm, but there were no rooms available. This was odd as I had checked on the web site and they were not sold out that night. So I went away and came back an hour later when the room was ready. The Agent noted that I was Priority Club Platinum, but no upgrade was offered. The property does not participate in the IHG Welcome programme, so in fact nothing was achieved by being Platinum.

The agent did give me a code for the WiFi which gave me the Premium Internet for free. Standard Internet is a perk of Platinum, but with previous experiences it was welcomed that this was offered. In fact this turned out to be the only benefit of Platinum status the entire stay.

The room was a few floors down towards the end of the corridor. The property it seems, has only a small number of basic rooms and these seemed to all be at the end of the corridors.

Opening the door I was greeted by the kitchen area:

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There was microwave, fridge, hob, and dishwasher. A nice idea if you were here for a long stay. There are plenty of places to buy food to cook in the adjacent shopping centre so you could avoid room service. Room service is provided by the adjacent Holiday Inn as the Staybridge has no restaurant. There were plates, cups, cutlery and pans in the room.

The room was light and bright with a big window affording views of the Olympic swimming centre and the Orbit.

The bed was comfortable and I slept well. The window does open but there is a lot of outside noise.

The bathroom was small with only a shower:

I slept well but had to leave before breakfast.

When I raised the lack of upgrades or points for Platinums, the hotel manager told me that the hotel was full the night I stayed and that they did not do the welcome points, nor were they required to. In an exchange of emails he finally offered that perhaps their hotel was simply not for me. I tend to agree.

If I was looking for somewhere to stay for a week this could be on the list. The kitchen is nice, but the rooms are small. The comfy chair had to be moved in order to watch the TV. There were not a large number of TV channels available, but there were some non-UK channels so foreign language speakers would ok. My taxi had the most terrible trouble finding the hotel for, as I mentioned, there is no direct road access. In the end I gave them the address of the pub on the corner and they found me that way.

Posted by MilesFromBlighty | No Comments

On my recent trip from Paris to New York I was able to visit the Admiral’s Club, whilst on the connection back to London I went to the Cathay Pacific Lounge, located next door.

The lounges are located on the 1st floor of the terminal, above Duty Free and are reached by two lifts. Once you exit the lift turn right and the two lounges are opposite you across a ceiling void:

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(The Emirates and Etihad lounges are there also).

Admirals Club

Upon entering there are three podiums with members of staff who check your right to access and then invite you in to the lounge. There are lots of seats and work areas, as well as some seats facing the runway.

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View of runways

There were lots of electrical sockets between the seats and free WiFi.

Hot and cold food was self-service, with eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes on the hot plate. Rolls, cereal, yoghurt, cheese, ham and a wide range of drinks were laid out.

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Two large TV’s were quite noisy, and as most AA flights leave around the same time, the lounge got pretty busy until the first flights started leaving. It was a 10-15 minute walk to the gate for my JFK flight through a busy terminal.

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Cathay Pacific Lounge

BA uses the Cathay lounge for its flights and so I got to spend a few hours here waiting for my return connection to Heathrow. Whilst there were about 20 people there when I arrived, they cleared out as soon as the agent announced boarding for the early BA flight to London.

Fairly soon I had the lounge almost to myself. A very typical Cathay design – bright, light and white with wood finishes the lounge did not disappoint.

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There were lots of seating areas:

Computers were available for passenger use:

Hot and cold food was available. The hot items were the same as in the Admiral’s Club but there was a wider selection of cakes, muffins etc.

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Drinks were self-service.

The lounge enjoyed the same expansive views of the runway as next door. The inbound aircraft for my BA flight arriving:

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My inbound American Airlines plane in view from the lounge:

If you have a choice then pick the Cathay lounge, it was a have of tranquility in comparison to the Admiral’s Club.
 

Posted by MilesFromBlighty | 2 Comments

How often do you open a copy of the inflight magazine and notice that someone has left a crossword with a couple of clues unanswered?

A good friend of mine has recently set up a web site which is getting massive numbers of visits from people stuck on crossword clues. I would heartily recommend it for that last couple of clues. Cryptic or otherwise.

2014-03-19_02-59-58

The link is here.

The site provides more than ‘What word is this?’ o?er???itled (Clue: What United says about its elites).

You can search for meanings and synonyms, as well as anagrams. The site is pretty clever in that you can enter the letters in any order and it will sort it out for you.

Of course, you can use the site to settle Travel Scrabble disputes as well as an ‘aid’ when playing ‘Words with Friends’.

Posted by MilesFromBlighty | No Comments

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In search of a few extra British Airways Tier Points, I spent a day with American Airlines, my AAwAAy dAAy – OK that’s too much!

The flights were booked with a 40 minute turnaround at San Diego and used American’s Regional Jet service to/from LA and San Diego.

My early start at SFO was not eased by TSAPre, as it appeared I did not qualify this time.  The line took about 30 minutes to clear at around 5.30am on a Saturday. There was also no Priority Line operating at this time.

Luckily the Admiral’s Club was open, and pretty empty. The staff were able to print all four boarding passes for my flights which helped. After a reasonable coffee and a couple of sticky buns I was ready for the day. I had left most of my luggage at the hotel and just had my iPad and book with me.

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The flight was not very full in First and I was able to switch to a window seat where there were some great views over the bay – You can see Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge in the pics below if you look carefully:

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It was a clear day and there were some reasonable views over California. We approached LA from the West, flying past the airport before turning and landing.

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On landing I had to catch the shuttle bus to AA’s remote terminal where all of its Commuter flights depart. AA operates buses to/from this facility which is basically a large shed. You do get some decent closeups of planes from the bus, but they tend to be crowded with 20-30 people standing for the 10 minute trip.

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The gates themselves are around three sides of the building and have seating areas at each door.

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However, as we got closer to boarding time it transpired that the pilots taking us to San Diego did not like the wear on the door pins of the aircraft and so asked for them to be changed. There is no Customer Service Desk in the remote terminal, but as there was another flight leaving about an hour later than mine had been supposed to leave, I asked about moving to that. The Gate Agent sent me to the gate where the second flight was leaving indicating that there were only three First Class seats left on the plane.

Once I got to the gate there was a single, very flustered agent, trying to issue a discounted ticket to an FAA employee. She was at this for some time, getting assistance on the phone. As she issued the ticket, apologising again for the delay to the FAA man, she upgraded him and his family to First. This took away the last seats to which I could have moved.

Luckily about 10 minutes later, AA  decided to switch planes and we boarded an alternative aircraft. The original plane (pic at top of post), was still under repair as we pulled away.

AA has three rows of First Class on these jets in a 1-2 config. (UA only has two rows but with better legroom).

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Overhead space is at a premium, with there being only room for a small bag above the A side. Other bags were red-tagged and collected and delivered plane side. The First Class was about 1/3rd full.

Beverages were served with the crew coming round for second servings on the 30 minute flight. We landed at San Diego still delayed and as I got off the plane I approached the ground agent to explain that I was going right back on the same flight. After checking the boarding pass she told me to wait at the steps of the plane, help off anyone who needed it and she would go and get the other passengers. An amazing turnaround time was achieved and I was soon back in 2A to the consternation of the crew.

We flew back to LA, although it became clear that I was not going to make my connection. I had already called AA when the original delay was announced and so knew that, apart from a 3 hour wait, I would be back that day in San Francisco.

Upon deplaning the ground agent called three names, and told us all the same story – ‘Your original flight left on time but here is a new boarding pass for your new flight’. I was impressed – proactively meeting a flight with new boarding passes.

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So, I took the bus ride back to the main AA terminal at LAX and popped up to the Flagship Lounge. It’s been written about before, so I was delighted to get a hot lunch (Turkey and Stuffing) and to enjoy their wide range of drinks, courtesy of my BA Gold Card.

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Some great views from the lounge, including one of AA’s 321′s bound for New York. (I get to try this plane later in the summer).

My new flight back to SFO was on time and the 737 had the new AA seating.

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Again, I had no one next to me and pretty soon we were landing in SFO. Using UBER-X I located a driver nearby and 6 minutes after landing was in his vehicle heading back to the city, three hours late, but still in time for snacks in the Regency Club at the hotel. An eventful dAAy but it could have been worse.

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I flew recently from Paris (CDG) to New York, JFK with American Airlines. I am planning to write later about the lounge, and I wrote yesterday about the over-zealous security checks at CDG.

AA uses a 767-300 aircraft on its routes from Paris using their old seats which are angled lie-flat. Seated in 2-2-2 in the Business cabin, there is a bit of shortage of overhead space, as large bags only fit in the side bins – even the new larger ones.

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Each seat had a bag with a large pillow and duvet and the amenity kits were in the shoe well between the seats. I was lucky that the adjacent seat stayed empty for the trip to New York as this made it more restful.

It turned out that the inbound plane (from Chicago), had not been loaded with the power chargers for the tablets which AA issues in Business Class. This meant that there was no entertainment available, except the same, large screen available in Coach. (An email to AA elicited a $100 certificate for future travel as compensation.)

Food
The food, I find, is often pretty good on AA. I like that I can book my entree 30 days in advance of my trip via their web site and find it often nicer than on UA.

Starter and Salad:
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Main Course (beef):

Dessert:

The food was hot and tasty. The bread was super and the staff were attentive throughout the service, bringing more win and water as needed.

(Other entree options were Rosemary Cumin Chicken, Crab Cakes or Buffalo Mozzarella Torteletti Pasta)

I watched some of the movies I had on the iPad and fell asleep for a while.

About an hour before landing the staff brought around the second meal, with a choice of a four cheese and pesto pizza or a grilled chicken cold plate.

We landed mid-field at gate 41, and had the long walk down, along the connecting corridor and back up to the US Immigration hall. Global Entry machines are on the far right and I was the only one using them. There was no queue at the normal immigration lines. A long queue at the Customs inspectors was by-passed using the special GE exit. About 2 minutes later I was back upstairs looking at the most enormous security line, which stretched from the TSA lines to the front of the terminal. Luckily TSAPre has been recently extended to non-US citizens and I had been selected this time. One other person in line meant 1 minute through TSA, and literally 10 minutes after landing I was in the Flagship Lounge looking at the aircraft I had arrived on.

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The FL was fairly quiet and had a small selection of snacks – soup and chilli were the warm offerings.
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I had about an hour to wait before my connection. Enough time to use the WiFi, have a drink and prepare myself for another 6 hours to San Francisco International.

AA Amenity Kit:
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