NYC’s “Hair” District

In my wandering around New York City today, I apparently went right through the heart of 100% Genuine Human Hair district..

100% Human Hair

And, when I saw that this next shop had some “new arrivals,” I started to wonder where it comes from..

Newly Arrived Hair

Newly Arrived Hair

These were not two anomolies.  These shops covered a full city block.  You have to love NYC for it special shops!

Delta Airlines – Flight Notes

After several months of blogging regularly on my travels, I have come to the conclusion that flight recaps are probably boring to both of us.  Unless something really unique happens or it is an unusual trip, such as the ATL-JNB flight, there just usually isn’t too much to differentiate one flight from another.  As a result, I’m going to change to posting periodic notes and comments about my flights instead of detailing every single one. 

I just got done with several trips on Delta including roundtrips to London, Dallas, and Newark.  Here are some random thoughts from these flights.

  • I had one of the last flights to London Gatwick and Delta has now consolidated all their service to Heathrow.  I’m sure that makes sense but I’m going to miss Gatwick as it was so easy to navigate, there was a nice arrivals lounge with showers, and it was certainly easier to get through passport control there.
  • I had the good fortune of getting bumped up to Business Elite on the Gatwick flight but it was the old 767 configuration and it is clear that lie-flat, herringbone configurations have completely spoiled all of us.
  • The Purser on the Gatwick flight was outstanding and I was pleased to give her a “Great Job” certificate. I think Delta’s flight crews are typically very good.
  • Newark airport is just as bad as it was 12 years ago when I flew in and out of it regularly due to living in the area.  I cannot imagine being a United/Continental customer there and having to deal with it every week.
  • I still have 100% upgrade success this year domestically.  If there is a FC cabin, I have been in it and have usually cleared well before the flight.
  • My on-time performance has been very good.  There was s delay for mechanical issue a couple of months ago and one for a sick passenger in the past few weeks, but those have been the only exceptions on the record this year.

As you can see, I’ve had some pretty good experience on Delta this year and their in-flight product has been very good.  I’ll share more thoughts after my next set of flights.

Hilton Green Park – London, UK

Hotel Review

If the Metropole was large, busy, and a little impersonal, the Hilton Green Park is just the opposite.  It is small, quaint, and quiet.  However, that brings other issues.  In retrospect, I think I was a little nostalgic about this hotel.  This is where I rode out most of the volcanic ash disruption a couple of years ago and maybe I was influenced by that experience.

What is good about Green Park?  It is in a great location on a quiet side street next to Shephard’s Market and close to Mayfair and Piccadilly.  It has character.  The staff is very responsive.  It has a very nice bar and restaurant.

Downsides?  No executive lounge.  Small rooms.  No fitness facilities.

Would I stay here next time?  Maybe.  The Green Park tends to be lower price than some of the other Hilton properties in London.  The competition would probably come from somewhere like the Strand Palace which has comparable rooms at a slightly lower cost and in a more central location for the West End.

Final Grade: B-

Points and Dollars

My total spend for my two nights was $553 (rate of $214 USD per night).

For this, I earned 4,545 base points plus my “Points and Points” bonus of 2,272 and my Diamond bonus 2,272.  I got my Diamond “MyWay” bonus of 1,000 plus the AMEX on-line booking bonus of 500.  The Q2 Double Points bonus netted me another 4,545.   By charging it all to my HHonors Surpass card by AMEX at 9 points per dollar, I will earn another 4,977.  Total HHonors earnings equals 20,111 points.

London Photo Journal

Here are a few photos from my recent trip to London that turned out nice enough to share without taking the time to do any editing.

While I was in London, I had the chance to attend a reception at the House of Lords.  Of course, it was very nice, but the best part was getting some access to the terrace right on the Thames.  This gave me the opportunity to get a few shots from a different angle than most are usually able to shoot.

Terrace at House of Lords

Terrace at House of Lords

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was also able to get this shot of the London Eye and County Hall from across the way as the sun made its final descent in the horizon.

London Eye at Dusk

 

 

I had arrived for the reception a bit early so had a chance to stroll around the parks and streets just south of the Houses of Parliament.  My first discovery was an edition of Rodin’s “Burghers of Calais” scupture in the Royal Gardens adjacent to Parliament.  This is one of my favorites of his but I did not know they had a copy here.  Then, I strolled around the side streets and was able to get the following shot.

Houses of Parliament

Houses of Parliament from side street.

Travel Executive Summit Recap

This morning’s Travel Executive Summit was well-attended and featured a couple of high powered panels moderated by Randy Petersen.  The morning session was a robust debate about the role of loyalty points and whether they will evolve into something like currency.  I tend to side with the folks who think this movement would significantly degrade their role in program loyalty.

The second panel featured senior level reps from several hotel loyalty programs including upscale Hilton HHonors and Starwood Preferred Guest.  It was clear in listening to them, that the decisions they make and the motivation behind their plans are to reward and show value to their loyal customers.  That may sound a more than a bit obvious (after all, they are called loyalty programs) but if you read enough flaming posts on the internet about these program you might need to be reminded.

Tonight, it is the opening reception of Frequent Traveler University with two jam-packed days of information ahead.

Hilton Metropole – London, UK

Hotel Review

I’ve stayed in London many times but never had the occasion to stay at this particular hotel but had the chance to experience it as part of a business conference that was held at this location.  Located near Paddington Station and the Edgware tube station, the Metropole is a busy location.  It does not feel relaxed or comfortable, but, rather, has a feel of hustle and bustle.

The area around the hotel is heavily Arabic and, as a result, there are lots of ethnic restaurants in the area that are worth a try for good Middle Eastern food.  Baker Street is a close walk in one direction and Oxford Street can be reached on foot in about 10-15 minutes walk.

There were lots of things this hotel did well.  The staff was very friendly and thanked me for my business on multiple occasions.  The business facilities were good, the internet was fast, there is a nice fitness center and pool, and the room was fine.  The Executive Lounge was good, not spectacular.

But, I didn’t particularly care for this location.  They didn’t do anything wrong.  It’s me, not them.  I just never felt relaxed and didn’t feel the hotel had any personality.  So, the rating below is still good and not a reflection of the service levels.

Final Grade: B

Points and Dollars

My total spend for my four nights was $1,186 (rate of $149 per night for first two nights and $235 per night for second two nights).

For this, I earned 9,541 base points plus my “Points and Points” bonus of 4,770 and my Diamond bonus 4,770.  I got my Diamond “MyWay” bonus of 1,000 plus the AMEX on-line booking bonus of 500.  The Q2 Double Points bonus netted me another 9,541 and, for some reason, I still occasionally get a 2011 Any Weekend bonus of 1,000.  Plus, the first two nights were paid in advance and registered in the Facebook 24 Hour bonus event so I will see another 2,500 points there plus 10,674 from charging it all to my HHonors Surpass card by AMEX at 9 points per dollar.  Total HHonors earnings equals 44,296 points.

“Priority Pass” Success

There are several cards I carry around in my bag that I rarely have a reason to use.  Two of my primary examples are my Priority Pass card and my Regus card.  In both cases, I’ve actually received memberships/cards due to affiliate programs but rarely have the need to use them.  However, my Priority Pass answered the call this weekend.

On Friday, I took one of the last Delta flights into Gatwick.  After today, Delta will be consolidating all London flights into Heathrow.  At Gatwick, Delta has used the arrivals lounge in the Sofitel Hotel for elite members and Business Elite customers but, given the impending shut down of Delta operations, I was not sure if it would still be available.

I arrived at the lounge and found that it was still in operation but no signage indicating that Delta was still be served.  However, it did have a notice for Korean Airlines, a Skyteam member, so I thought I might perhaps have access through my Sky Club membership that I get for free as a Diamond Medalliion with Delta.  However, the desk agent said that did not qualify.

Having never used my Priority Pass card, I gave it a try and it worked.  The agent gladly accepted this for admission and I was able to get a hot shower and breakfast before heading into London.  Thank you Priority Pass!

AAA Discounts on Hotels

I’ve written about this before and explained why AAA membership is an absolutely no-brainer for me but wanted to give a quick reminder.

Today, I booked a one-night stay at the Hilton Hotel at Newark airport.  The “Best rate” was $219, but by simply entering my AAA number, I saved $22 for one night.  This just represents why the membership pays for itself over the course of just a few stays at hotels.  And, it’s not just hotels.  Earlier I was picking up some mail at the UPS Store and the person next to me was getting significant savings on an outbound shipment because of their AAA membership.

Hilton Sandton – Johannesburg, South Africa

Hotel Review

As part of a week long trip to South Africa with my family, we were going to have a couple of nights in Johannesburg on each side of a trip to Kruger National Park.  Johannesburg has a reputation, not without cause, for crime and danger so my primary concern was finding a well-located and secure location for my family.  Almost everyone recommended the Rosebank or Sandton areas which are in the northern part of the metropolitan area and home to many large companies, upscale shopping and dining, and a wide selection of hotels.

While the Hilton Sandton is more of a business and conference hotel, it was located conveniently in Sandton and I was certain that I could know what to expect and my Diamond status would accrue the normal benefits while on-property.  Additionally, the rate was outstanding (see below for details).

In advance of our stay, I worked with the concierge desk to arrange a private tour for my family to visit downtown Jo’burg and historical sites in Soweto.  The concierge desk was responsive and was able to answer my questions, give me options, and book the tour for me.  Check-in was smooth and we were given rooms on the Executive level.  There was nothing specatular about the rooms but they were clean and the internet service was good.

We used the Executive Lounge for breakfast on two days and evening drinks and canapes.  The breakfast selection was excellent with a wide range of choice but the evening hors d’ouevres and canapes were not very robust.  The service from the lounge host was excellent on all occasions.  We also ate dinner in the Tradewinds Restaurant and had an excellent meal with good service.  This Hilton particpates in an environmental campaign and, as a result, turns their lobby and restaurant lights out from 8:30 – 9:30 p.m. so we had a very nice dinner by candlelight.

The hotel runs a free shuttle to the Sandton Mall located just a few minutes away.  This mall has an extensive selection of shops and restaurants and we could have easily spent a full day there after six days in the African bush.  The hotel also offers airport transfers and has a Hertz Car Rental desk in their lobby although we did not use it.  We were also able to exchange money at the front desk with no problem.

All in all, I would certainly recommend this location as long as you don’t mind being a few minutes away from the mall and other attractions.

Final Grade: A

Points and Dollars

This was one of my best reward redemptions ever as I used the “Points & Money” rate for both of the stays.  Like many European hotels, the rooms here are not really capable of accomodating four people so I needed two roooms for each night.  The going rate per room was over $250 per room or I could redeem 30,000 HHonors points for each room.  However, the Points & Money option allowed me to book each room for $25 USD plus 15,00o points.  So, for two rooms for two nights, I spent $100 plus 60,000 points instead of $1,000 or 120,000 points.

But, it gets even better.  At about the same time I was booking this hotel, Hilton was running a 30% “Get Points Back” promo so I have received 18,000 of my points back into my account.  Plus, I was able to earn points for the “money” component of the rate plus incidentals charged to my account.  I transferred the folio charges from my second room to my primary room so all my spend would be eligible for base points.

As a result, I earned 3,750 base points, 50% bonuses for my earnings preference and my Diamond status, 2,000 points as my Diamond amenity, 1,000 points for booking on-line with my AMEX, and 2,584 points for the Q2 Double Points promo.  This brings my total HHonors earnings to 13,084 plus I’ll receive 9 points per dollar spent since I charged the rooms to my HHonors Surpass Card by AMEX.  With incidentals, my spend was $430 (dinner and a organized tour charged to my room) so this brings in another 3,870 points to bring the total HHonors earnings to 16,954.

Therefore, I spent $100 USD and a net of 25,046 HHonors points (60,000 less 18,000 Get Points Back less 16,954 earnings) for a rooms that would have cost me over $1,000.  Using the $1,000 figure, this works out to a value of 3.6 cents per point!

Delta Airlines – LEX – ATL – JNB Roundtrip

Flight Review

This year, I had the opportunity to take my family on the “trip of a lifetime” to South Africa to go on safari in the African bush.  As a result, we also got to fly Delta’s longest route – Atlanta to Johannesburg – which tallies about 15 hours flight time on the outbound and 17 hours on the return. 

Due to the long nature of the flight and the expense of business class tickets, I used 945,000 Skymiles to put my wife and two kids in the forward cabin – 315,000 miles for each seat.  While this redemption was not great, I had limited flexibility on dates, as we were timing the trip to our kids’ spring school break, and I wanted to lock in the arrangements well in advance.  I purchased an economy ticket that was not eligible for a SWU but I was able to pick an Economy Comfort seat due to my Diamond Medallion status with Delta.

These routes are serviced with Delta’s Boeing 777-200LR aircraft.  On these planes, Delta’s Businesss Elite class features lie-flat beds in a herringbone pattern that allows every passenger direct aisle access and quite a bit privacy.  My daughhter really liked the 14A seat since it puts you back in a corner that gives an even greater sense of privacy and seclusion when reclined.

Of course, my family enjoyed the flights a lot more than I did but, as I’ve noted in previous posts, the economy comfort seats do offer more rooom and a bit more recline.  While I generally have a hard time sleeping in a reclined position, I did find out that I can do it if tired enough.  Since I just got back from China on Weds. and left for South Africa on Friday, I was able to sleep some on the flight.

Service was competent on all flights and our on-time performance was pretty good.  For only the second time this year, I did have a slight departure delay due to a sick passenger that had to leave the plane in Atlanta.  However, Delta was very quick in getting the passenger’s checked bag off the plane and we were about one hour late in depating.  But, it is hard to fault Delta on this issue.

Final Grade: A

Points and Dollars

My ticket cost $1691.  For this, I earned 17,866 MQM’s plus my Diamond bonus miles of 22,332.  Add in the 3,382 miles I’ll get from charging it to my DL Platinum AMEX and my Skymiles total comes to 43,580.  When you put this in context, it is the same as purchasing Delta Skymiles at 3.9 cents per mile and having the flight thrown in for good measure.  Delta normally sells their miles for almost 3.8 cents each.  Now, I’m not saying that is a great deal but the miles earned on this route were pretty attractive for the cost of the ticket.

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