Showing posts with label Travel News. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Travel News. Show all posts

June 17, 2017

United Increases Service to Hawaii

Earlier in the week, United announced a massive increase in service to Hawaii.  United's long (this is actually the 70th anniversary of Hawaii service) had a large presence in Hawaii but this announcement takes things to the next level.

The airline announced both an increase in service from all United hubs as well as the introduction or lie flight seats on all overnight flights from Hawaii to the mainland to 5 United hubs including Denver!  While the flight from Hawaii to Denver isn't that long (~7 hours) the red-eye back home after a great vacation is always challenging.  The option to upgrade, purchase, or book an award ticket in first class with a lie flat bed is pretty awesome.  Denver's also getting a nice bump in service with seasonal service to several Hawaiian cities moving to daily, year-round.

May 6, 2017

Peloton Cycle and Westin Launch Partnership

I've had a Peloton bike at home for a couple of years and love it.  If you're not familiar, Peloton sells very high quality spin bikes with a 23" tablet mounted so you can enjoy live/on-demand studio style spin classes from home.

The bike runs ~$2,000 and the monthly subscription is $39.  It's not a cheap purchase but definitely worth it in my opinion.  We've had zero issues with our bike and the quality/production of the classes (filmed in their NYC studio) is excellent.

Peloton just announced a partnership where participating Westin hotels will make Peloton bikes available in their fitness centers and in-room.  This is pretty awesome.

I figured Peloton would partner with hotels eventually but never considered they would make bikes available in-room!

Given the "Peloton hospitality" branding on the site, I have a feeling Westin is not the last partnership for Peloton.  I'd highly recommend checking out Peloton next time you're staying at one of the participating properties.  I would definitely go out of my way to book a participating property knowing that there would be a bike available in the fitness center or in-room.  I'm curious how they are going to manage shoes for these bikes - is it BYOS or will they make them available in the fitness center?

Has anyone stayed had a participating Westin and experienced Peloton yet?

April 30, 2017

LAX Private Terminal Opens in May

It's no secret that a lot of celebrities fly in and out of LAX.  A couple years back, we flew with Zoe Saldana and her entourage on Singapore Airlines from Singapore to LAX.

LAX is a congested airport - traffic, security lines, lounges and public spaces are all places where celebrities or bit time executives can be photographed, bothered, or just generally inconvenienced.  One solution might be to fly private but that might be prohibitively expensive when flying to NYC or internationally.  The latest solution is a completely separate terminal - the PrivateSuite.

The terminal is schedule to open in just a couple of weeks.  Located on the other end of the airport, the members only terminal claims to cut the walk from curb to plane down from 2,200 steps to 70 steps.

Not sure why anyone with a Fitbit would want to lose 2,000+ steps especially before sitting on a plane for many hours...clearly I'm not the target market for this service.

As you can see, this service isn't cheap.

The terminal will have a dedicated TSA checkpoint and chauffeur members direct to plane with a fleet of 7 series BMWs.

Waiting rooms will feature seating, daybeds, a bathroom, views of the tarmac, and food/drink.

They claim to have sold more than 1,000 memberships already.  Only in LA!

September 24, 2016

Starwood & Marriott Merger Complete

The marriage between Starwood and Marriott is finally complete and the drama is over.  The merger closed yesterday and both companies have already made a lot of progress in terms of merger integration.

I worked for W Hotels in 2003 and have been a Starwood loyalist ever since.  While it's a bit sad to see the Starwood name go away and the company folded into the world's largest hotel chain (now with 30 brands!!) I was pleasantly surprised with the rollout on Friday.

Accounts linked

June 4, 2016

United Launches Polaris Business Class

United's long lagged the other major US carriers (American/Delta) in terms of business class offerings.  While United "BusinessFirst" is pretty great on the upper deck of the 747, the product is 8 across on the 777 with a 2-4-2 configuration!  That means 4/8 seats have to step over a neighbor to get to the aisle.  Terrible.  I haven't flown Delta or American in a premium cabin but both products are supposed to be far superior to United.

United does offer first class which is marginal at best and being phased out as the 747 fleet gets retired.

Earlier in the week, United held a customer event in New York to launch their new business class experience dubbed Polaris Business Class.  I'm not sure the fancy branding is necessary but at least someone got paid millions of dollars to come up with the name.  The seat will begin rolling out later this year on new 777-300ER aircraft.  It is going to take years (maybe 5) to add the new seat to the existing fleet but they claim that after 12/1/16, you'll be flying "United Polaris Business Class" even if you have the old seat.  That means the soft product should be the same across the entire fleet.

Polaris features a completely redesigned lounge experience with preflight dining at 9 global locations.

May 7, 2016

Emirates Begins Flying A380s to Prague and Taipei

Last week, Emirates continued their global expansion in laughing previously announced upgrades to their Taipei and Prague service.  Both cities will be served by the A380 direct from Dubai.

Taipei will receive the "dense" A380 configuration without first class.  Prague will get the "better" A380 configuration including first class.

Emirates First Class Caviar Setup

It's been a long time since I was in Prague but I loved the city and hope to go back at some point.  This is definitely the way to go as you can fly Emirates First Class from the US all the way to Prague.

Taipei 101 view from the W
We were in Taipei 16 months ago and very much enjoyed the city.  While there are better options to get there (EVA direct from many cities in the US with an outstanding business class product) I would definitely recommend a visit to the city and a stay at the W.

April 30, 2016

Review: Denver A Line Train to the Plane

After nearly 30 years of planning, twelve years since a successful ballot initiative, and six long years of construction, Denver finally has a rail line connecting downtown and the airport.

RTD's University of Colorado A  Line opened to long lines and great fan fare on 4/22/2016.  Note that the nod to CU in the line name comes from a paid sponsorship.

The commuter (heavier gauge than light rail) rail train leaves every 15 minutes for most of the day (30 minutes in the early morning and late evening hours) from both Denver's Union Station and Denver International Airport.

The entire ride takes 37 minutes, stops 7 times on the way to the airport, and costs $9 each way.

April 2, 2016

Alaska Devalues Emirates Award Chart

This has certainly been a week for big travel news.  First, Anbang withdraws their bid for Starwood.

And now this.

Without notice, Alaska Airlines massively devalued their award chart for redemptions on Emirates.  They did so without notice.  After significant backlash, they put out a blog post essentially blaming the travel blogging/hacking community for exploiting the rules.  They are the ones that make the rules and they can change them at their prerogative if that was truly the issue.  That's like saying one would be "exploiting" the law by smoking pot in our great state of Colorado.  The rules were's legal...I don't think that's exploitation.

Perhaps what they meant is "we see way too many people redeeming for first and business class awards and we need to change that."  Or perhaps Emirates told them exactly that.  Either way, they could have been WAY more transparent about the change and perhaps given some time for the changes to kick in  As Points MD notes, maybe there is a silver lining to this change?

I don't fly Alaska and don't have any loyalty for (or against) them.  I'm not even that upset as I will still be able to collect Alaska miles through a variety of means and hope to fly Emirates First Class again in the future.

Caviar setup in Emirates First Class

But blaming our community for "exploitation" seems like a bit of hyperbole.  The internet is a treasure trove of information.  There are lots of deals out there in the world.  Put the two together and it's natural that someone is going to write about a better way of doing something, obtaining a service, or purchasing a product for a lower price.

It will now cost 600,000 miles for a roundtrip first class award (for 2) to the Middle East/India.  I was able to snag that award for the equivalent (we only flew one way) 360,000 miles just 5 months ago.  That is hyper inflation!

Airlines/hotels are going to devalue - that is just part of this game.  They should do it respectfully and with notice.  Hopefully Alaska will learn from their mistake and won't repeat this in the future.

On to the next deal!

March 31, 2016

Anbang Withdraws - Marriott Wins

This may be the it.  Multiple news outlets are reporting that Anbang has withdrawn their offer for Starwood Hotels & Resorts citing "market conditions."

W Taipei - a Starwood Hotel

That means Marriott is the likely winner in the bid for Starwood.  While I'm not surprised, I was hopeful that Anbang would figure it out and Starwood would stay independent.

London EDITION - a Marriott Hotel
I know it's been all Starwood news, all the time over the last couple of weeks.  I have new posts coming this weekend that will focus on several other hot topics including today's Alaska devaluation of the Emirates award chart...stay tuned.

March 29, 2016

Anbang Tops Marriott's Offer

The Marriott/Starwood merger saga continues.  Anbang has topped Marriott's previous offer with a $82.75 cash bid.  It doesn't look like Starwood's board has accepted the offer yet but I can't imagine them not accepting a superior all cash bid.  The only reason not to accept would be concern over regulatory authorities (in China) blocking the deal.

St. Regis San Francisco
If you haven't followed the story, here are previous posts:

Marriott tops Anbang's bid

Starwood signs deal with Anbang

Marriott buys Starwood

It seems Marriott has put a press release basically stating that they won't top the bid and shareholders should continue to vote for the Marriott/Starwood tie-up given greater potential for long term shareholder value creation.  While that may be possible, the better short term deal is clearly Anbang's.

March 23, 2016

Marriott Leading the Chase for Starwood

I'm a couple of days late with the news that Marriott is once again in the lead to acquire Starwood Hotels & Resorts.  Marriott submitted a revised offer to Starwood's board on Monday and they accepted.  The cash and stock bid trumped the previous all cash offer from the consortium led by Anbang.

This is after Marriott signed a deal to purchase Starwood back in November.

New York EDITION - Marriott property

Will Anbang counter?  According to everything I've read, they probably will. It still may not be enough as Marriott's offer is significantly larger than their original offer and there may be regulatory concerns on behalf of the Chinese (go figure).

St. Regis Bali - future Marriott?

I'm optimistic that Starwood stays independent but also interested to see what Marriott would do with the company.  The combined enterprise will have north of 30 brands.  Marriott held an investor call earlier in the week and outlined some of their plans by brand (keeping W and EDITION separate, potentially merging Luxury Collection into Autograph Collection, etc...).

Anbang has 5 more days to counter so it's not over yet!

March 18, 2016

BREAKING: Starwood Signs Deal with Anbang

I celebrated my birthday earlier in the week and my birthday wish was for Starwood to stay independent and not become part of Marriott.

Well it looks like Starwood has made my wish come true.

This morning they signed a deal to be acquired by China's Anbang Group for $78 a share.  That trumps Marriott's original bid...Marriott now has 5 days to respond.

While I still think the Marriott purchase could turn out okay for Starwood loyalists, it would be far better for SPG to stay independent and retain the qualities (notably the amazing loyalty program) that have drawn many of us to the chain for years.

This will be some interesting corporate M&A drama to watch.  Stay tuned!

March 14, 2016

Starwood Back in Play

Back in November, I wrote about Marriott reaching a deal to purchase Starwood Hotels & Resorts at around $72 per share.  While the deal has been making progress (receiving key regulatory approval recently) the deal wasn't expected to close for another 3-6 months.  There was also a  provision in the deal which enabled Starwood to receive competing bids from other firms.

Well this morning, there is news circulating that Starwood received an unsolicited bid from a Chinese firm at $76 a share.  The name of the Chinese firm has not been disclosed.

Update:  The name of the firm has been disclosed and is Anbang Insurance Group who recently purchased the Waldorf Astoria in New York for about $2B.  Anbang is also working on purchasing's Blackstone's hotel portfolio in a bid said to reach $6.5B.

While this wasn't out of the realm of possibility, I figured if it was going to happen, it would have happened months ago.  The provision enabling Starwood to receive competing bids expires this week (3/17).

It's hard to know exactly if this deal would be "better or worse" as far as SPG members go.  I would have to imagine keeping Starwood intact would be better...and given Starwood's strong presence, growth, and loyalty in the Asia Pacific region, I would have to think that would be the firm's objective.

We'll have to wait and see at this point...but certainly an interestingly development!

March 13, 2016

Richard Quest on MH370

It's hard to believe it's been 2 years since MH370 disappeared.    I've followed the story as lead after lead seemingly came up empty.  How such a large (and historically safe) modern jetliner could go missing without a trace is beyond my comprehension.

If you watched CNN in the days and weeks following the tragedy, than you know Richard Quest.  He's been a CNN reporter (primarily on aviation and business subjects) for many years yet received a lot of attention during the MH370 incident as he coincidently flown (for a CNN piece) with MH370's first officer just a couple of weeks prior to the incident.

I've long admired his reporting and thought he did an excellent job helping to anchor the CNN coverage of MH370.  He did more than just fill time as many of the other anchors did.

Quest is out with a new book on the subject which I just started in London.  I haven't finished the book yet but highly recommend it based on what I've read thus far.  Even if you're even a little interested in the story.  He has an unique perspective given his 25+ years as an aviation journalist and the personal connection to the story having flown with one member of the crew right before the plane went missing.

You can pick up the Kindle version for $13.99, (as I did) hardcover version for $18.39 or Audible audiobook for $23.95.  I'll post additional thoughts when I finish reading.

November 20, 2015

Starwood & Marriott Make it Official

By now you've all read about the merger between Starwood Hotels and Marriott International.  Starwood's been for sale all year and it's been a pretty crazy time with plenty (IHG, Wyndham, Hyatt, etc...) of suitors mentioned in the news.  Interestingly enough, I never once read about Marriott being a potentially acquirer.

Everyone's speculating about what will happen to Starwood's brands, SPG program, and the current American Express credit card relationship.  While it's great to speculate, this is a $12B+ merger and it's going to take years to fully integrate both companies.  Marriott's been coy about their plans for all of the above and I expect it will take quite some time before we learn more.  The merger isn't expected to close for 6-9 months and if the airline integrations of the past few years are any indication, it's going to take awhile to even come up with a plan.

Marriott is a giant company with nearly 3x the hotels, 20 brands with many in the limited service category.  Starwood has the better loyalty program, credit card, and is focused on the higher end market.  So the merger makes a ton of sense in that both companies are complimentary to each other.

It's highly likely that the Marriott loyalty program survives and the Starwood American Express relationship (another blow for Amex) is shuttered given that Marriott is the acquirer and will essentially be the surviving entity.

If that happens, I'll be sad to see the program (wonder what will happen to my lifetime gold status?) and the longest tenured credit card in my wallet go.

But this is business and we knew it was coming all year.  I hope Marriott decides to keep Starwood as a brand but not sure that's the best long term business move.  At this point, all that we can do is speculate on what will happen and continue to earn/burn as normal.  I'm doing just that at the moment - wrapping up a phenomenal stay at Al Maha (more on this later) outside of Dubai.  What I wouldn't do is panic and blow all of your points.

Al Maha Dubai bedroom

I'm not going to change my loyalty or credit card approach in light of the merger.  Starwood will still be my primary program and the Starwood Amex remains in my wallet until further notice.

November 10, 2015

SLS Las Vegas Joins Starwood

A pretty big announcement from Starwood yesterday.  The SLS Las Vegas (currently affiliated with Hilton's Curio Collection) will be joining the Starwood family as a Tribute Portfolio property.  One of the current SLS towers will be re branded as the W Las Vegas.  Even more impressive, the property (with 1,600+ rooms) will expand Starwood's global footprint by .50%.

SLS Las Vegas
I'm pretty excited about this announcement.  Emily and I checked out the hotel last fall (although we stayed elsewhere) and really liked the place.  It is a bit far removed (a few blocks North of Wynn) but if you are able to earn/burn points there and enjoy the amenities onsite, it could be really cool.

We've been staying at the Venetian/Palazzo given the IHG affiliation and the fact that we've been able to stay for free.  The hotel is getting a bit dated so am excited to give the W Las Vegas a shot in the future.

October 31, 2015

Lufthansa's Denver to Munich Service is Back!

Denver International Airport (my home airport) has been on a tear of late.  United's service to Panama City was announced last year although has since been scaled back to a seasonal route.  British Airways upgraded their service from a 3 class 777 to a 4 class 747.  We had an opportunity to fly the route in May and it was pretty awesome to take a long haul flight from our home airport.

Lufthansa A330 First Class

And now Lufthansa is set to bring back direct service (previously cancelled in 2008) from Denver to Munich (in addition to current service to Frankfurt) on a 4 class A330.  We flew the aircraft in first to Frankfurt in 2013 and were wowed by the entire Lufthansa experience.  The service will start in May of 2016 - I look forward to a long weekend in Munich at somepoint in the future.

DIA's been working hard to expand international service for both tourism and business purposes.  This is pretty phenomenal route in that it opens up direct service to Munich and yet another option for 2-stop service to a number of locations in Europe.

May 3, 2015

Starwood on the Block?

I've been a huge fan of Starwood for a long time.  In 2003, I worked at the W San Diego for a summer.  In 2004, I picked up my first Starwood Preferred Guest Amex card.  I've been an SPG Platinum for 5 out of the last 10 years and I became a lifetime Gold SPG member last year after 250 nights in Starwood properties.  I've also been a "HOT" (Starwood's ticket symbol) investor a handful of times over the last 10 years.

One year "HOT" chart

In their earnings release last week, Starwood announced that they're "exploring strategic alternatives" which is code for "maybe we'll sell the company or buy someone else."  IHG has long been mentioned as a good merger fit.  The stock rose nearly 8% on the news.  There's been a lot going on at the company this year.  Earlier in the year, the company replaced their CEO over growth concerns and announced a spinoff of the timeshare business.

SPG is the best loyalty program in the business and on one hand, it would be a shame for the program to be diluted when combined with another program.  On the other hand, expanding the footprint and providing members more access to global properties could make the program even more valuable.

Since I tend to redeem my SPG points for higher end properties, the best outcome is likely for Starwood to stay independent and continue to build out their luxury property pipeline.  But from an investor perspective the best outcome is likely a sale.

October 13, 2014

Singapore Suites on ABC

Last week, ABC did a story on Singapore Suites.  One of their reporters had the really challenging job of flying Singapore Suites from JFK to Frankfurt on a ticket provided by the airline.  I wonder how he returned to New York?

The video provides some additional perspective on the size of the seat, bed, food quality, etc...

Singapore A380 Suite

June 10, 2014

United Guts MileagePlus

Today's big travel news was United's absolutely destruction of (formerly the best frequently flier program in the country) their MileagePlus program.  The program will move to a full revenue based program (taking a giant leap from this year's baby step into the revenue based world) starting in 2015.

Instead of earning miles based on the distance flown, MileagePlus members will earn a ratio (pretty much identical to Delta's program) per dollar spent (on their ticket) depending on their level in the program.  Ratios range from 5x for general members up to 11x for Premier 1K members.  United is making some other changes to the program (nothing really earth shattering in terms of value to the consumer) which you can read about on their website.  It is important to note that this change will not impact Premier Qualification which (as of last year) requires miles flow and dollars spent to qualify.

While this was widely expected, it still sucks for most people.  The exception would be business travels spending heavily on United or people flying very short routes.  In some cases, they will benefit form this change.

I have been a pretty big United fanboy for a long time but this change definitely hits hard...loyalty only goes so far.  To that end, I likely won't spend any extra effort (time or money) to qualify for Premier Gold or higher for 2015 and instead leverage my significant mileage stash to fly for free or look for the cheapest fare on another carrier.  When it does make sense to fly United, I will.