I’ve blogged from time to time about Royal Caribbean’s newest ship, Quantum of the Seas. To say I’m excited about this ship would be an understatement. In fact, MrsMJ and I are cruising aboard Quantum in December.  The ship will feature many new innovations like an onboard skydiving simulator and bumper cars. Among the biggest innovations are the new dining changes, including eschewing traditional dining for multiple dining rooms with different themes, a concept known as Dynamic Dining.

We’ll still enjoy Royal Caribbean’s newest ship in the New York area later this year, but in May 2015, she’ll reposition to China. According to Royal Caribbean CEO Adam Goldstein, “every trend we are seeing in China tells us we can achieve real long-term competitive advantage and appealing returns on our investments in this fast-growing market by accelerating our presence there.”

According to RCL’s press release, Quantum of the Seas will debut in November 2014, and will spend its inaugural season sailing from Cape Liberty in Bayonne, N.J., before repositioning to China in May 2015. Beginning late June 2015, the ship will sail three- to eight-night itineraries year-round from Shanghai to Japan and Korea. Liberty of the Seas will then arrive to Cape Liberty to sail to Bermuda, the Caribbean, and Canada and New England for the 2015 summer and autumn seasons. The Freedom-class ship will be the company’s newest and largest ship to offer cruises to Bermuda from the New York-metropolitan area.  Finally, Quantum of the Seas’ sister ship, Anthem of the Seas, which launches in April 2015, will complete her inaugural Europe season from London (Southampton), U.K., before arriving to Cape Liberty in November 2015 to continue Quantum-class cruising to the Bahamas and Caribbean for the winter 2015-16 season.

Interesting moves by my favorite cruise line. I’m not surprised by the focus on China. As a shareholder, I think it’s a great move. Excited to see other Royal Caribbean ships in the New York area too. Otherwise, I’m most curious to see which ship they replace Majesty of the Seas with in the short cruise market from Miami.

-MJ, April 16, 2014

Gary wrote a good post (as usual) this morning, “What Additional Changes Can You Expect from American and US Airways?” He ran through a lot of things that I won’t repeat verbatim, but a combined award chart, changes to systemwide upgrades, and most importantly for a pedestrian domestic traveler like me – the domestic upgrade system were high on the list.

I’ve written my own list of things that I think will, won’t, and I hope will change at the new AA, but not surprisingly for an ex-airline guy, they centered around things that airline ops guys might care about more than mileage junkies. I haven’t done the accuracy test on things that have already happened, but I know I lost the tail art war. Just as well, it’s actually begun to grow on me.

All this said, it got me to thinking….what do I really care about? What really impacts me as a 75K to 100K, mostly domestic, mostly business traveler? Living where I live (Atlanta), I don’t fly AA that much anymore, but not flying that much is not the same as never flying. Not to mention, I tend to think ahead….way ahead. One of these days I’m not going to travel as much on business, I’m not going to live in Atlanta….but live in Miami instead, and I have lifetime AAdvantage Gold status. Here’s what I really, really hope stays the same about the new AA.

1) Three Tiers – Airlines are very complicated, their relationship with their customers should not be. AAdvantage has already identified ways to reward high dollar, high mileage fliers without adding some new, not that mysterious award tier. KISS.

2) The Upgrade System – Reward your highest mileage fliers with complimentary upgrades. For the rest of us, the current system is fine. The more we fly, the more comp upgrades we earn. The desired effect here – the rest of us request upgrades we care about. The result – the rest of us have a better chance of getting the upgrades we care about.

3) Systemwide Upgrades – Eight upgrades on any fare is probably generous, but now that Delta has finally caught on, just two is stingy. Find a sweet spot here.  I think you will, but just in case you thought I didn’t care…..I do. :) Thinking about the future, ya’ know.

If you had to pick three things you hope will not change with the new AA and AAdvantage program, what would they be?

-MJ, April 15, 2014

 

As you might remember, Delta is eliminating complimentary guest access for those who access the Sky Clubs using a credit card product (Amex Platinum, Delta Reserve). As of May 1, 2014, guests will cost you $29 each, or you’ll need to join the club at the pricey “Executive Membership” level for $695 per year (discounts available for Gold, Platinum, and Diamond members that vary by status through March 1, 2015). An “Individual Membership” option is coming soon with a price of $450 per year.

For a bit of time, buying an Alaska Airlines Board Room membership was seen as a workaround for the forthcoming changes. Unfortunately, Delta will require Board Room members to pay $29 per guest when entering the Sky Clubs effective May 1 as well (Hat Tip – FlyerTalk). I can’t say I am all that surprised by this change. The only thing surprising to me is that they didn’t announce it when the other changes were rolled out.

The Amex Platinum Card is now the best way to gain access to the Delta Sky Clubs in my opinion. At $450 per year ($475 for the Mercedes Benz version), the cost is the same as an individual membership in the Sky Club, and you have access to the other benefits including status in car rental programs, SPG Gold, Cruise Privileges, Fine Hotels and Resorts, etc. too. One has to wonder if a change could happen here too? I think it could, but it’s a lot less likely given the relationship between Delta and Amex. I’m keeping my Amex Platinum for now.

-MJ, April 15, 2014

What on earth am I talking about? The thing everyone is talking about – the now famous Tweet to a customer from @USAirways today that included a unique new instrument approach procedure for the 777. You know the one I’m talking about. You can read more about that here at ABCNews.com. For fairness, here’s the apology the airline Tweeted after the incident.

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 7.28.32 PM

Likely a little IT accident, but I’m trying to imagine what kind of day the people that run their Twitter account had after this got out. But hey…it got people off the topic of the AAdvantage-Dividend Miles devaluations for a few minutes. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

MJ, April 14, 2014

 

Well, that was an interesting week. AA rolls out pictures of forthcoming retrofits to the 777-200 fleet, and the world rejoices. The next day we learn that these fancy new seats weren’t being installed so they could be given away. The result – we are using words like trust and betrayal in conversations so touchy you’d think we were talking about a torrid love affair gone wrong. Maybe we are. But alas, a new week is here.

The Week in Review

This Week at MJ on Travel

  • Make Loyalty a Oneway Street – With YOU in the Driver’s Seat
  • Cruise Review – Disney Fantasy

These topics, and no doubt more, this week at MJ on Travel.

-MJ, April 13, 2014

I love helping people discover cruising. It’s my favorite kind of vacation, and I love it when people are able to use the content here to help them enjoy their cruise, especially their first cruise. I received the following email last night.

“Hi Marshall,

My husband and I just returned from our very first cruise. It was on the Enchantment of the Seas on Royal Caribbean. Before we left, I found your article reviewing this particular ship. The information you gave was spot-on, and was very helpful, especially for a couple of newbies!

We took your advice and skipped the Windjammer until the second day. We got the Roast Beef from the Park Cafe, excellent! We ate in the main dining room (My Fair Lady) every night except for our last night treat to the Chops Grille. The staff receives very high marks from us. Friendly, courteous, and posted everywhere to answer any questions we had. There were plenty of activities to occupy us, and plenty of time to just laze around.

Thank you for your willingness to share your experiences.  When we book another cruise, we will look for your review again!

Thanks”

I love emails like this and I love talking and writing about cruising. If only I had the time for more cruises. :) I’ll publish my review of Disney Fantasy next week, which I’d originally hoped to have for you this week. The AAdvantage news took precedent. Keep cruising!

-MJ, April 12, 2014

I was going to say a couple words about the J class upgrades to American’s 777-200 product earlier this week. I set the post to go live on Tuesday morning, and it was a bit of an #AvGeek thing for me. Then AA announced its devaluation. Deval or not, everything I said in the original April 8th blog stands true for the most part. I’m happy to see AA investing in its product again. So here it is, in its entirety, right down to the date in the signature. ^MJ

This is a bit of an #AvGeek piece so be warned. American’s release of details about its forthcoming B777-200 retrofit were widely discussed on numerous blogs Monday, but for the sake of review here are a few shots of the new interior. All images courtesy of AA.com.

1-entryway-business-class-bar

2-americans-new-business-class-seat

3-americans-new-business-class-seat

4-main-cabin

I love the new Boeing mood lighting and bar by the entry door. I’d be duly impressed if it was a tended bar, but I digress. :) The new business seats look great, and I’m looking forward to flying a similar seat on a different AA aircraft type very soon. Main cabin looks nice, and the enhanced entertainment and power options at every seat are a welcome change, 10 abreast in coach not so much. The 777 is a widebody, and so am I! You can check out AA’s website for more details.

But About the #AvGeek Thing

I’ve had my ups and downs with American since I left and became a customer instead of an employee. I split on good terms, leaving for “greener pastures,” and have wished nothing but the best for the company, and especially my former colleagues, many of whom still remain. As one of my old bosses once told me, I’ve still got “a little red, white, and blue blood in me.” For a while there, it seemed like every time I flew AA, I was delayed. Missed connections, hours long delays for maintenance, etc. It got to be a little much for me, and I decided to try other airlines. All the while, I followed the company closely, right into the long awaited bankruptcy.

I know that was a hard time for the company, the rumors of a merger, employee cuts…more cuts, etc., but somewhere along the way things began to turn….and it started under prior management. The company began to invest in its product again. New aircraft, new seats, new services. It was almost as if the AA I remembered was coming back, and I think they are. It’s gratifying to watch the new American take wing, and continue these product improvements. The jury is no doubt still out on “the merger,” but for now, there’s something to celebrate, and a new premium product to aspire to fly. Here’s hoping it continues.

-MJ, April 8, 2014

Registration is now open for the 2014 Chicago Seminars, to be held October 17-19. This will be a truly great event for old and new miles/points hobbyists, and I think you’ll find the $95 fee to be a very fine investment. Click here to register.

Confirmed Speakers are:

Rick Ingersoll the Frugal Travel Guy
Brian Kelly The Points Guy
Rene from DeltaPoints.com
Ben Schlappig from One Mile at a Time
Summer Hull Ms. Mommy Points
Daraius Dubash Mr. Million Mile Secrets
Greg the Frequent Miler
Rene from Delta Points
Captain Denny Flanagan
Stefan of Rapid Travel Chai
Marshall Jackson on Cruising
Bikeguy with Rookie Bootcamp
Howie Rappaport with Managing Family accounts
Cara Kretz ITASoftware by Google
John Lopinto of ExpertFlyer
Marathon Man & Manufactured Spend
Cliff Stratton with Computer Tips and Tricks
Scott Mackenzie from Hack My Trip on Alaska Airlines
Geoff from NoobTraveler on Southwest & The Companion Pass
Best Rate Guarantees with Angelina Aucello
Scott Grimmer from MileValue
Ari Charlestein from AwardMagic
Jeff Brownson of IndulgeTheWanderlust on VRBO & AirBNB

You can keep up with news about the event on this FlyerTalk thread.

 

I’ve read a bit more of the reaction around the blogs and boards about the sudden changes made by American AAdvantage a couple days ago. Let’s start our conversation with a comment I made on the Points, Miles, and Martinis blog the other day. Words in parenthesis are added by me after the fact.

“I have a few thoughts on this topic set to post in about 15 minutes. I, for one, am not surprised by the changes themselves, but am surprised by the timing and the way they were introduced. While I continue to consider an AAdvantage mile to be superior to a SkyMile, this change narrowed the gap a bit. A lot of people will jump on the blame Parker bandwagon, and some of the emotion will be predictable (I should have said understandable too). No matter what, AAdvantage was going to change a bit….as is the new American. The question is, just how much? AAdvantage remains my favorite program for the foreseeable future, even if I don’t fly AA that much anymore. I still hold quite a few miles between US and AA….but you can bet that I won’t sit on them for very long. Which takes me back to a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately – is it time for some of us to break up with elite status, miles (I should have elaborated here), and focus on cash (maybe) and the proprietary points programs like UR?”

As I said yesterday, AAdvantage should have done a better job of communicating this. There are a lot of people that view this merger with trepidation, and missteps like this do not help assuage any fears. Overall, the changes that were announced were not that far out of line with anyone else. What happened here was a failure to communicate, and as I said yesterday, I think AAdvantage deserves the benefit of the doubt in that regard. But all of that is neither here nor there.

I joined my first mileage program in 1987, the Piedmont Airlines Frequent Flyer Bonus Program. The next one I joined was American AAdvantage in 1991. I’ve used miles to experience things I never would have experienced otherwise. I’m grateful for the opportunities they’ve afforded me in the past, and I’m sure I will experience in the future. Yes, there is a future. It’s taken me a long time to get here, but I have reached the conclusion that is time to break up with the old idea of loyalty when it comes to the airline mileage programs. I read a lot of comments that end with something like “loyalty is a two way street.” Really, it isn’t. It’s a one-way street and the “one” in this should be you. Do what’s good for you.

Take advantage of the big bonus offers when you can. While it took me a minute on my example, one should probably go for the big offers as they come around and your personal situation allows – think 100,000 AAdvantage miles for the Citi AAdvantage Executive card. Take advantage of all the miles offers you can as long as you aren’t going into debt to do so. Diversify. Elite status only matters if you fly enough miles to earn it without going too far out of your way to get it, and/or a high percentage of your travel is contractually obligated to a certain carrier. Right now, that fits my travel patterns. The minute it doesn’t, I change the way I fly and collect miles.

In the end, a take from a line in the movie Wall Street seems to apply here – “never get emotional about stock.” My advice – never get emotional about miles. Coming soon – the whatnot in all this, cash and the other rewards programs.

-MJ, April 10, 2014

I’ve posted a bit on the partnership between Royal Caribbean and MGM M Life. The majority of those have been about Royal elites getting M Life status, but I’ve certainly posted about going the other way as well – M Life to Royal Caribbean.

A reader wrote today to ask if I’d tried getting M Life benefits applied to a Royal Caribbean cruise lately? I haven’t because I earned my M Life via my Royal Caribbean status. Early on some readers reported difficulty getting benefits applied to their cruise if they received their M Life status via a matching program like Hyatt’s match to M Life. However, when I checked into it, the terms restricting benefits applied to the free cruise offered to M Life big spenders. After some fits and starts, some readers were able to obtain the onboard benefits like drink chits, and a specialty restaurant dinner for cruises they were paying for.

The reader checked in with Royal Caribbean and they pointed him to the terms and conditions of the offer which have unfortunately been updated to specifically exclude any benefits for those who obtained their M Life status via a status match program. Specifically, the terms and conditions now state “Guests that earned tier through 3rd party relationships are not eligible to receive onboard benefits.” You can review the terms and conditions here. I’m glad some were able to take advantage of this while it was available. Of course, if you’re an M Life spender anyway….and I know some of you are, don’t forget to take advantage of this offer.

-MJ, April 9, 2014

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