Thursday, March 26, 2020

Testing for fever on arrival in the USA

I was tested for Corona fever on arrival in the USA. This was the second time that my temperature has been measured by health workers in protective masks and coveralls, on arrival at an airport. (H1N1 was the first.)

The airport is like a ghost town! I have never seen the New York EWR Polaris lounge so empty! It is usually packed full.  United closed the Polaris lounge on the 20th March and I took this photo on the last day. The other Club lounges closed prior to that.

These are unprecedented times where circumstances continue to evolve, due to COVID-19. American Airlines have also closed all their Flagship Lounges and Flagship First Dining, in addition to the Admirals Club closures but, American will maintain Admirals Club front desk customer service at some USA. airports and at London (LHR).  

The British Airways Business lounge was open in Amsterdam and London. It’s available for passengers who are: -flying on a scheduled British Airways flight in First or business (Club World or Club Europe class) Also to Silver & Gold Elite Members of the British Airways Executive Club. Food or drinks will not be available to purchase onboard short haul BA flights. However, BA will be offering free “light refreshments” and water. 

Most airlines are giving you a flexibility waiver. They require you to cancel but Delta is the exception, they will just refund you if you don’t turn up. United is not giving refunds.

United Airlines will cut International flights by 95% in April. I had hoped that Corona Virus would be a distant memory by April. -  I can't even remember when H1N1 swept across the globe in 2009, with 12,000 deaths. All I remember was that they checked our temperatures on arrival at Johannesburg airport and they did the same, last week when I arrived at NYC Newark airport. They are able to maintain a distance while holding the apparatus a couple of feet away to check for fevers.

Thank God!, that we got passed that. It was super stress, not knowing if I would be allowed to board my next domestic flight after arriving in NYC. Talk about quarantine in Newark was worrying, so I was relieved that they let us fly home and self-quarantine.  This is the notice I was given at the airport:

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Chaos as Corona, COVID-19 hits airports

There is an eerie feeling, walking through a deserted airport, with fear that I would not be able to board the 4 flights to get home.  It was like a pack of cards behind me as the flights from Europe then the U.K. and Ireland were cancelled and collapsed as I rushed anxiously. I was in Holland when I heard that flights had been halted between Europe but not yet the UK, so I thought my flight to London and on to Belfast would be okay. Then came the news that the White House said the travel ban would extend to United Kingdom and Ireland. Then they said that the USA would be closed!

I was staying at the Holiday Inn in Leiden, last week, becoming increasingly anxious about the unprecedented hysteria that we are experiencing in this global, crisis caused by the Chinese Coronavirus Pandemic COVID-19. This was not alleviated when I saw that my hotel in Holland had signs in English and Chinese. I assume that this is because many Chinese people like to visit the Medical Museum near the hotel. The Anatomical Museum of medical and biomedical LUMC is near the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. Luckily, I did not see more than 3 other guests staying there. But the 3 of them, all sat at breakfast tables next to mine when we could have been spaced 10 yards apart. The front desk was taped off like a crime scene, to prevent guests from getting too close to the receptionist. I was instructed to use the hand sanitizer before handing her my credit card. Wish I’d had tape to tape of my breakfast table ….

The next night I moved to the Crowne Plaza Hotel at Amsterdam airport, where I wondered if I would have to rent a bicycle to cycle to the Eurostar to London. The news that all flights to the USA from Europe had been cancelled, made me anxious, feeling envious of my friends experiencing cabin fever, while I was franticly trying to get home. I was worried that I would not be able to get on my flight to Heathrow Airport and then on to Belfast.

At the airport, people were unusually subdued, somber as someone mentioned that this is the Apocalypse. I do feel like I am living through a war as President Trump says the U.S. and Mexico will close border to non-essential travel amid the coronavirus. Trump also invoked the Defense Production Act to get critical medical supplies. We are in a much better position than Europe and other countries because we have 32 ventilators per 1,000 US citizens and the UK only has one, according to Senator John Barrasso .  I’m optimistic that the world has survived the Spanish Flu, West Nile Virus, Zika. Ebola. (Note; All named for places). 

The hotel to Amsterdam Airport bus blocked the first 2 rows of seats &; as well as the Translink bus I took to Dublin, does not allow people to sit near the driver as  Coronavirus cases top 15,000 in US. and we learn a new term “Social-Distancing".

Unfortunately, Airport managers are slow to learn about “Social distancing”. Schiphol Airport always has lines for immigration, even though many of the checks are done by machines. This time it was a Mega mess! Even though there were only a few passengers, they huddled us all together, confined in snake lines at immigration control. It was a confined, claustrophobic space, with a low ceiling. Appalling to do this at a time when social distancing is required.
The same happened at Dublin Airport! United told us to get to the airport at 6 am then we had to line up, all packed together in a small space for an hour, waiting for US customs to open, then they did not even let us clear customs in Dublin. We had to clear customs in EWR. The USA customs officials simply asked us a couple of questions and those that did not fit the criteria, were taken to a back room.

United are to end all long-haul flying amid this pandemic. The Star Alliance carrier will suspend 95% of its international flying, including all of its flights to Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe and South America by March 28, CEO Munoz that “even more cost-cutting measures will be required soon to keep our company afloat.” Sounds ominous. I hope that does not mean that they will not refund my ticket booked in May.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Hawaii is the most popular use of miles

It is also the most popular place to fly to, on a mileage run, to make an elite threshold before the end of the year. A good use of miles for flights and also Hotel points. I enjoyed a real vacation on the Island, It's a long 8 hour flight, though! I'm used to flying from New York EWR to Europe on the 7 hour flight. I used to live in Hong Kong and often stopped in Honolulu to minimize the long flight to the USA. It's easy, clean and relaxing, so it was always a joy to arrive at HNL airport. Asia is just not as spacious, that's why its' relaxing to get away from intense, crowds to an island that is just one big resort.
It took a long time to check in to the at Sheraton Princess Kaiulani. They don't have a dedicated Elite check in area to speed up the process. Many Bonvoy hotels, do have a sign up, where elite members  bypass the can bypass the line. Sheraton hotels used to treat their Elite members very well , but Since they merged with Marriott, Bonvoy Platinum benefits have diminished. Business hotels treat repeat visitors better than vacation hotels.  Ther is no club Lounge for Elite members, but the Receptionist did give me a voucher for 2 free drinks at the bar, but when I got to the bar, the bar tender said that we would have to pay for one drink because the receptionist was mistaken. The Sheraton charges a $40 Resort fee, above the price quoted for a room, as most Honolulu hotels do. Even the Holiday Inn Express, charges an extra $25, which is great if you have kids, because they have activities for children, like a game room. I don't consider a hotel with just a pool, a resort. I expect a beach or golf course and Spa, before I feel I'm in a Resort, and the Sheraton is across the road from the beach with no Spa.  The Sheraton claims that the fee includes MiFi rental and a GoPro Camera, that I was not interested in. Neither did I use the coupon booklet that it includes. Last time I was in Hawaii, I rented a car but this time I thought I would avoid the extra $35 a night self-parking fee.

I decided to move to a hotel with closer beach access, the next night. This turned out to be a pleasant adventure on the 2 hour Public bus trip along the spectacular edge of the shore. It cost $6, but the return trip cost over $100 with Uber because the Island bus did not run due to a blocked road. (The Uber taxi took the route around the other side of the island.) This is the only place I have ever seen true free Range chickens! They wonder around all over the place and I'm curious how their owners can claim them? Dogs come if you call them, do hens? I'm a city girl... what more can I say....

I was really glad that I moved to the Courtyard Hotel Oahu North Shore, it was much more like a Resort but there was no resort fee. they gave me Elite welcome gifts and delightful perks. The hotel is near several popular destinations, including the Polynesian Cultural Center, and Kaukauna Point. The rooms are spacious and the Bistro Hotel restaurant is nice, and there is a McDonalds, next door if you want a quick bite, after Kayaking with sea turtles . If you want to learn more about the Pacific Islands, the place to go and Wander through 42 acres of tropical Luau entertainment and restaurants at the Polynesian Cultural Center. I did go there when I had young children because there is so much to learn about the culture of music, dance, and traditions. I think the beach at the Courtyard, is one of the locations that they filmed the TV show "Lost" at, the palm trees are so high.
The Courtyard pool was a relaxing place and I was captivated, chatting to a man who had been a child when Pearl Harbor was attacked . He experienced that historic event, that unfolded on December 7, 1941. Tourists like to visit the USS Arizona Memorial, a deeply moving and emotional experience, but it was amazing to hear about it from someone that had been there.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

It pays to be Loyal to Loyalty programs

It pays to be loyal to a Hotel chain. I’m Platinum elite with IHG, so they give me extra points for each stay:
I got this email before I checked in: –“Thank you for being an IHG® Rewards Club Platinum Elite Member.     This email has been sent to notify you that points have been deposited into your account by InterContinental . Point Deposit Type: Welcome Amenity
Points Deposited: 600 “

My Marriott Platinum status is more rewarding because it allows me to go to the club lounges, where I get free  hors d'oeuvres and breakfast. IHG does not offer this perk. (Marriott Rewards is now called Marriott Bonvoy.) most Hotel loyalty programs get you to earn “elite level” benefits including room upgrades, bonuses, and gifts.

It’s a lot of work to read the small print, but doing your homework can earn extra hotel or airline points. Occasionally, Hotels send out promotional offers to earn extra points. IHG Hotels sent me some good offers. Elite members' points don't expire, plus many other benefits of being elite. You can reach spire elite IHG status with 73,000 +  qualifying points or 71 more qualifying nights. IHG elite status starts with Gold then Platinum then Spire Elite and the highest is InterContinental Ambassador status

I booked a Cash + POINTS stay because I had received an offer to get extra points for that Cash + POINTS stay offer, but, to my annoyance, I discovered after my stay that I did not get any points for this stay. It was a “Non-Qualifying Stay: Discounted Rate **” If I had seen the small print, I would not have made this reservation because the rates were cheap on that date and it would have counted as a stay:
Non-Qualifying Stay: Discounted Rate ** † Non-qualified spending. Points are calculated based on total qualified spending less any applicable fees and taxes.
** Thanks for staying with us. Because your room rate was discounted, it's not eligible for points.
You can combine your points with cash to redeem for a Reward Night at your choice of IHG® hotels and resorts, starting at 5,000 points. BUT DON’T TRUST THE TRICK TO DO THIS, if you are doing this from an offer to earn extra points. You will not get any points for the paid (cash) part of the points & cash
I actually like the least expensive brand the best. the Holiday Inn Express, because they have free breakfast. I stayed at the Glasgow Airport, Glasgow, last week and enjoyed the wonderful breakfast. It is a short walk from the airport to the Hotel and the Scottish Staff are all very nice. They even let me take my airport trolley up to my room, despite signs posted to the contrary.  It’s also nice to have luxury at the InterContinental hotels, if I have time to enjoy it.
IHG REWARDS CLUB offer points at these hotel BRANDS:

Glasgow Holiday Inn Express is a practical Hotel

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Listen up Elites; Change is in the Air

Marriott Bonvoy is the new name for Marriott Rewards®, Elite program for Hotels : Marriott, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® and SPG®.
And United airlines has a new cabin.

I may be wrong. but I suspect this will be centered on Marriott hotels because I have had 2 SPG hotels move out of the program in the last month. I had booked The Sheraton Providence (PVD) airport, but it has left the group. Now yet another hotel that I stay at, is leaving. The Hotel Des Indes, a Starwood Luxury Collection property will join Leading Hotels of the World, which does not offer many benefits.

Bad news for United Elite members, no more free upgrades to premium economy seats. 

United will launch Premium Plus on 20+ Long-Haul Routes.

in March Premium Plus will be a new service on international routes as United’s new full-service premium-economy cabin. Seating will have up to 19 inches of width, 38 inches of pitch and 6 inches of recline. Flights like the 787-10 Dreamliner, will come with Saks Fifth Ave. pillows and other amenities but fewer amenities than in first class or Polaris. Details Premium Plus Launch on 20+ Long-Haul Routes
Not much to smile about, but you will be able to select Economy Plus free of charge on all connecting segments that do not have a premium-economy cabin. Sitting in the slightly larger than economy seat (economy Plus) on a flight to Newark from Houston if you are buying a ticket to Europe, is a long part of the trip to be in a seat 2 inches wider, but I suppose every inch counts. On the connecting flight, you won’t have Club lounge access on Premium Plus tickets. I know a couple of men whom, do not fit in economy, so will have to purchase the next class up.
Premium Plus fare will be O,A,R,ON,RN fares. So if you want to fly cheap you can buy a basic economy fare but will not earn miles on your flight. The next up would be regular economy then Premium Plus then Polaris. I don’t think they will have first class on flights anymore, looks like it will be the 3 cabins on international flights.
You can not use a Global Premier Upgrade (GPU) to upgrade from economy to business class on S, T, K, L, G or N fares, but you will be able to upgrade to seat in Premium Plus from the afore mentioned fares, (Except basic economy “N” fares).
If you book a Premium Plus fare, you will be prioritized above all economy passengers for waitlisted Polaris business-class upgrades. Not that there is much chance of that upgrade happening.