Have you entered my giveaway for a free Briggs & Riley TORQ suitcase?  All you need to do is send me a picture of your suitcase.  Extra points for funny pictures, but I will select a finalist or two randomly so it doesn’t have to be a beat up suitcase.

If you send me a picture, you’re giving me the right to use it as part of the blog.  I won’t send it anywhere else, but I am going to publish a bunch of the pictures.

Some of the pictures I received so far gave me a good chuckle.  I figured I would share just a couple.

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Thanks to Alexander for this submission, with his puppy Tascha.

And, this next one is from Mike, who believes if he had a suitcase his wife might not try to stow away so often.

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That suitcase is definitely over the weight limit.  More to follow this week.  Keep those pictures coming!  Don’t forget to enter!

 

Suitcases are such an integral part of business travel.  A bad suitcase is a thorn in your side, a great suitcase an invaluable asset.  Ryan Bingham schooled his protege in the movie Up In the Air on how to pack, and a lot of what he said rings true.  He was a TravelPro guy, which is a longstanding solid suitcase for travel.  Nothing overly flashy, just reliable.  Rimowa is at the high-end, with hardside polycarbonate spinner suitcases.  Samsonite is one of the mainstream brands that produce tons of low-quality suitcases.

I’ve been a Briggs & Riley guy for quite some time.  Briggs & Riley isn’t as big as Samsonite but they’re not a small player either.  My two favorite Briggs & Riley pieces are part of the Transcend collection, the 22″ carry-on and the rolling cabin bag.  I also really like that the handle sits on the outside of the suitcase, leaving a flat bottom for packing.  A few of my fellow travel enthusiasts decry this, saying it takes away some valuable space.  I actually find I can get just as much in my carry-on because I can fold everything neatly without having to navigate two bars running through the bottom of my bag.

And, my favorite Briggs & Riley benefit is their lifetime warranty, including airline damage.  If you can break the suitcase, they can repair or replace it.  If they can’t fix it, they’ll replace it.  I’ve had two instances where I needed to avail myself of the warranty.  I brought it into a store and my repairs were completed quickly.

Briggs & Riley has decided to jump into the hard shell case market with a pretty cool entry, the TORQ line.  Similar to Rimowa, these are hardside polycarbonate spinner suitcases in a few different colors and sizes. They’re also priced competitively to the Rimowa.  The International Carry-on is listed at $479 on their website and a couple other places I looked to compare prices.

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One of the things I think is unique and useful about the TORQ is a front panel that allows you to store some items in the front of your bag for easy access.  I don’t think I’ll be putting my iPad in there anytime soon but I think it’s a great place for me to keep my liquids.

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I’ve never wanted to venture into the polycarbonate spinner world because I’ve always enjoyed the comfort of knowing Briggs & Riley would stand behind my suitcase.  I also tow a backpack on my suitcase and I have yet to test a spinner that handles a backpack well while still rolling straight.  The TORQ says it does just that, so I’m willing to give it a try.

And, I’m giving you a chance to try it! I’m giving away one TORQ International Carry-On Spinner.

How do you win?  2 different ways:

1.  Send me a picture of the suitcase you want to replace.  I’m talking your actual suitcase.  No stock pictures, nothing from Google.  I want a picture of your suitcase.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be beat up, but it’ll give us a good chuckle if it is.  I’ll select a handful of pictures and put them up in a post for people to vote on the winner.  Send those pics to ed -at- milepoint dot come no later than Friday, May 17th.  Then, get all your friends to come vote for you!

2.  Once I have the voting post up, make sure to vote and leave a comment on my site.  I’ll randomly pick one voter and award them a $50 Amazon gift card.

 

Posted by: pizzainmotion | May 10, 2013

Hyatt News And Notes: New Properties, New Amenities

Lots of announcements for new properties at Hyatt these days:

Hyatt is converting an existing property in the Cherry Creek market of Denver to a Hyatt Place.  This used to be a Loews.

There’s already a number of properties in the Denver market but they don’t have a limited service presence in downtown.  While I enjoy the Hyatt Regency in Denver, I think adding a limited service Hyatt property closer to downtown is a definite plus here.

They’ve announced a Hyatt Regency in Uzbekistan, scheduled to open in 2015.

Expansion in Northern India with Hyatt Amritsar.

And, 3 new properties in Saudi Arabia coming up.

On a separate note (and a positive one) for Diamond members of Hyatt’s Gold Passport program, Hyatt has formally announced the expansion of choices for Diamond welcome amenities internationally.  This was announced on Milepoint a bit over a month ago, but they’re now sending out e-mails notifying all Diamond members.

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More choices is always better.  I suspect this is one of those technology issues that Hyatt has been dealing with in terms of being able to more effectively implement benefits consistently across all properties.

I definitely regard Hyatt as my favorite chain right now, and Hyatt Diamond as my favorite hotel status.  Seeing Hyatt continue to expand globally is a welcome sign.

 

The Lufthansa Premier Miles & More World MasterCard®

Q:  I’m not a member of the Lufthansa Miles & More program.  Why do I want this card?

A:  There are a few reasons, but the bottom line is Lufthansa is a member of the Star Alliance which means these points can be used for flights on any Star Alliance carrier.

The offer:

Earn 20,000 miles after your first purchase

Earn an additional 30,000 miles after you spend $5,000 in the first 90 days after you open your account

There’s a $79 annual fee, but there’s also an annual companion ticket on Lufthansa.  If you find any value at all in the companion ticket that should more than cover the annual fee

The Star Alliance network is currently the biggest network in the world (though oneworld will do some serious catch-up when US Airways drops from Star and joins OW as part of the American merger).  That means you can use your Lufthansa miles to do any of the following:

Book a domestic US ticket on United.

Book travel from the US to Europe on Lufthansa, United or other Star Alliance carriers.

Book travel from the US to Asia or anywhere else the Star Alliance travels.

So, how to go about using those 50,000 miles?

You can book a couple of domestic coach tickets.  60,000 miles (an additional $5,000 spent on the card or 5,000 Lufthansa miles from another source) gets you a coach ticket between North America and Europe.  Or, if you’re a bit more adventurous you can save up some Lufthansa miles for business class and first class tickets on Lufthansa (they have a great product for both, IMO).

There aren’t a ton of sign-up bonuses if you are trying to amass points to use on Star Alliance carriers.  The majority of the United credit cards are issued by Chase which generally means you only get the sign-up bonus once.  The Lufthansa Miles & More card is issued by Barclaycard, which has been reasonable with approvals as of late and gives you an extra chance to add points for a relatively low minimum spend.

Keep in mind you can also use these points for one or two tickets of a family trip and book the rest using United miles, though you’d be on two separate reservations.  Combining miles from different carriers in the same alliance is a great way to leverage free travel for the whole family.

I don’t think this is the best card for everyday accrual of miles to use on Star Alliance carriers, but 50,000 points is a nice bump for any collector of miles and points!

50,000 mile Lufthansa sign-up offer.

I do receive a small referral credit if you are approved using the link in this post.  This is currently the best offer I’m aware of for this product and I do appreciate your support.

I’ve been a big proponent of TSA Pre-Check since its inception. No doubt, the TSA gets a lot of flack for things they do poorly. But, I think they’ve done a solid job with Pre-Check. Here’s why:

TSA saw a need when the original iteration of CLEAR became popular. Whether they saw that need because of CLEAR or on their own doesn’t really matter.

The initial roll-out had bumps and bruises and wasn’t widely available. But, it was a starting point. It was just a few airlines’ customers invited at that point, but it grew to most of the major domestic carriers.

Then, they added the ability to qualify for Pre-Check if you we’re a Global Entry/Nexus member.

Added to that was an expansion to more major hub airports. Then secondary market airports.  Finally, there was a robust list of places you could rely on Pre-Check. But, there were still complaints.

And, they started integrating with CLEAR, making for a super experience in their test airport, Denver.

People were upset that they didn’t know ahead of time if they would qualify for Pre-Check on a specific flight. They said this mitigated the time savings because they still needed to plan for a full security screening.

The TSA addressed that by rolling out a pilot program notifying people on their boarding passes if they qualify.

Critics also noted they couldn’t use Pre-Check on international itineraries. So, TSA rolled out that ability as well, albeit on a limited basis right now. Scott McCartney, who writes the Middle Seat for WSJ has a bit more detail.

Pre-Check isn’t perfect. But, the TSA took an idea and continued to make changes, improving the program at every step. I have no reason to believe there won’t be more improvements/expansion in the future.

If you haven’t found your way into Pre-Check yet, what are you waiting for?  If you haven’t been invited by an airline to enroll, sign up for Global Entry. It’s only $100 for 5 years and will change how you think about security and customs clearance for your travels.

 

Posted by: pizzainmotion | May 8, 2013

Meh. CLEAR Coming To San Antonio

I’ve been a proponent of CLEAR for quite some time.  I’ve been hoping for 2 things:

1.  More integration with TSA Pre-Check.  They did this in Denver recently and it makes a nice difference when the Pre-Check line is a bit long on the morning.  As TSA expands the number of eligible passengers for Pre-Check, the lines have gotten a bit longer.  They definitely move a ton faster and are more convenient than a regular line, but the CLEAR integration in Denver makes life easier in the mornings.

2.  More airports rolled out as part of CLEAR.  They’re only in a handful of airports which makes the value proposition a thin one.

That’s why I was excited to see this subject line in my inbox, “CLEAR’s newest airport is…..”.

Bleh.  Non-event.  Sure, I go through San Antonio a couple of times a year.  But, I have yet to see anyone in line at security.  Even at peak times.

CLEAR is valuable, but not relevant.  They need ubiquity quickly in the domestic US or I’m afraid it will die.  Again.

Posted by: pizzainmotion | May 7, 2013

Lots Of Miles For Mother’s Day Flowers

Just a quick reminder that the online florists generally pay out tons of miles per dollar if you go through one of the various shopping portals.  I’ve included a list with links.  This is nowhere near comprehensive, but should give you a good idea what’s available out there:

American Airlines AAdvantage:

30 miles per dollar from FTD.  Elite members of the AAdvantage program earn an extra 100 miles per order.

30 miles per dollar from 1800-Flowers

 

United Airlines Mileage Plus:

30 miles per dollar from FTD

 

US Airways Dividend Miles:

25 miles per dollar from FTD

20 miles per dollar from Teleflora

25 miles per dollar from 1800-Flowers

 

Delta SkyMiles:

30 miles per dollar from 1800-Flowers

30 miles per dollar from FTD

 

The Ultimate Rewards portal has an FTD offer that appears to be 15X.  While I do highly value my UR points, I don’t value them anywhere nearly as high as some of the values you’ll see from the other programs listed above.

Do something nice for your mother/wife/mother-in-law/grandmother while doing something nice for your mileage balance!

 

Related articles

It’s been a bit over a month since I enjoyed Hard 8 BBQ with my friend Scott.  Good BBQ is something I didn’t start to appreciate until later in life, but I’m definitely here now.

Just over a week ago I had a scheduled trip to fly in to Austin.  I had a scheduled lunch before a drive to San Antonio.  Austin is one of those cities where I’ve rarely (maybe never) had a bad meal.  My lunch partners chose a nice restaurant where I enjoyed a great fresh lunch and headed on my way to San Antonio.  But, then the magnetic pull of BBQ took over.  It was a bit coincidental that my good friend Gary had posted earlier in the day about his most recent foray to Lockhart, TX, a very small town South of Austin that’s been described as the epicenter of BBQ.

What to do at a time like this?  Well, I called Gary and asked for directions to his favorite haunts in Lockhart.  Luckily, he answered.  Shortly thereafter I showed up at Black’s.  It was recommended as one of the more consistent (if not necessarily best) BBQ joints in Lockhart.  I was showing up later in the afternoon so I was a bit nervous that the meat might not be at the peak of freshness.  That wouldn’t be an issue.

I took quick cruise around Lockhart before ending up at Black’s.  I knew I was close to good BBQ because I saw the first wood pile.  Good BBQ doesn’t happen in an oven with gas or electric.  You need a slow fire with quality wood that transforms normal every day cuts of meat into slices of heaven.  To do that every day, you need a lot of wood.

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There’s not much of a “main drag” in Lockhart.  Even so, Black’s wasn’t on anything you could consider the main road in town.  I did see a big sign that pointed the way and pulled up moments later ready for lunch #2.

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I walked inside and faced a cold buffet line to get started before I got to the counter where they served the BBQ.  Since this was my second lunch, I had only one purpose and it didn’t involve anything on the cold buffet.  I considered snapping a picture of it for a moment but the anticipation of a plate of ribs and brisket got the better of me.  To the meat counter we go!

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Take note of the top left part of the menu board.  Lean brisket?  I don’t think so.  Some fat, please.  And, definitely have to add some ribs.  Hmm, while you’re at it, let’s add some chicken.

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It’s a simple enough ordering process.  You tell the folks at Black’s how many ribs you want (or slices of brisket), they throw it on a scale and charge you appropriately.  Shortly after, I was sitting down to enjoy that plate full of anticipation.

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Knowing this would be my second lunch in less than 2 hours, I worked strategically, starting with the brisket.  Brisket is “make or break” for me with any BBQ joint.  It needs to be juicy and at least a little bit fatty.  I started there, figuring if it was dry I had the ribs to rescue me.  But, the brisket was great.  Easily one of the top 5 briskets I’ve ever had.  Unless you’re really watching your cholesterol, I’d always order the “with some fat” brisket.  You can cut around the fat if you like but it does enhance the flavor.

I moved onto the ribs next.  They were interesting.  Dry smoked, at first blush I thought they were too dry.  But, the meat melted right off the bone in my mouth.  Finally, I conquered the chicken.  Chicken isn’t usually something I target when I order BBQ.  Nothing against chicken, but brisket and ribs are the cornerstones of my barbecue feasts.  The chicken was outstanding.  Easily the best BBQ chicken I’ve ever had.  A bit smoky and yet incredibly juicy.

The restaurant had located a bottle of BBQ sauce on the table but it turned out there was no need to moisten anything or drown it in sauce.  Everything had a great flavor and was still moist.

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There are definitely two camps of hardcore BBQ fans.  “Sauce” and “You’re nuts if you put sauce on BBQ”.  I generally fall into the second category, though not a diehard.  My general feeling is if the ribs and brisket can’t stand up on their own without sauce, I probably won’t go out of my way for another meal at that restaurant.

After wolfing down my meal I got up to waddle to the car before my food coma set in and I couldn’t drive.  I snapped a few pics on my way out of Black’s.

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As you can see, Black’s is very informal.  Circa 1960s metal folding chairs, plywood table, checkered table cloths.  Paper towels and a few condiments, but other than that just real estate to devour BBQ.

I walked out of Black’s smelling just a bit smoky even though I washed my hands well on the way out.  I had a new appreciation for Texas BBQ after this stop, and I’m sure I’ll be back to draw my own comparisons of various Lockhart BBQ joints.  This is serious barbecue.  No holds barred, nothing fancy, just great food at the epicenter of the BBQ world.  As I climbed into my car I was a bit mournful I didn’t order some sausage as well.  Just more motivation for a future stop.

On the way out of town I took one more tip from Gary.  He mentioned that he had driven a brand new highway when he was there, one not even on Google Maps.  I was sure he was joking, but sure enough, nothing popped up on my Google Maps where he said the highway was.  Just as described though, a brand new highway to nowhere popped up on my way out of Lockhart.  The cool thing for me was the speed limit sign.

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I wasn’t entirely sure where the road led, but I figured it was likely I’d end up in San Antonio at some point if I headed South.  Lockhart itself is an out of the way place.  Once on the highway, I think I saw all of a half dozen cars, each of which passed me like I wasn’t even there.  It’s the only time I can really recall being in the Internet Age and having exactly no idea where I was going but was perfectly happy with the drive.

This was a toll road nicknamed the “Pickle Parkway“.  It was devised as a way of dealing with all the congestion between San Antonio and Austin, of which a reasonable amount can be attributed to NAFTA.  All the toll points were automated and I never slowed down from the time I got on the highway.  Just 4 straight lanes of asphalt and concrete made for an easy, quiet drive and some time to digest my second lunch of the day.

I was working on a reservation last night just like I normally do on AA.com.  After selecting my flights, I continued to the screen where I could select seats and request upgrades.  I immediately thought I had been transported to the land of United Airlines.

See, United has been selling upgrades at time of booking for as long as I’ve been traveling them regularly (about 2 years).  And, they do a pretty poor job of pricing them.  As an elite who is supposed to be on that upgrade list I’m always frustrated when they price those upgrades at $500 and above.  I’ve been a part of discussions with folks at United when they’re asked why the pricing seems to be higher for elites than the casual flier.  They claim it’s a glitch, but it seems to be a glitch they’re in no hurry to fix.

While I have an official sample size of one, the offer American pitched me last night didn’t seem unreasonable.

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Let’s break down the value here real quick (best we can, at least).  This was for a trip to New Orleans (MSY), so my routing was IAD-DFW-MSY-DFW-IAD.  Let’s just say I was a Gold or Platinum member of AAdvantage.  f I had to go purchase stickers at $30 a clip, this itinerary would cost $180 (6 stickers).  I’d get most of the other amenities on the list if I was an elite, but 25%-50% more miles adds a bit of value here as well.  25% more miles would be 836 including elite minimums, which I would value at roughly $16.  50% more miles would be worth roughly $32.  I couldn’t find any T&C link to explain how many bonus miles I’d receive with this offer, so that’s a bit of a gray area.

Let’s call it $200 in value for the price of the stickers and roughly $20 worth of extra miles.  Is it worth it to pay an extra $70 to secure your upgrades up front?  As an Executive Platinum member with a virtually 100% upgrade rate over the past 4 years it’s certainly not.  But, I see two scenarios where this can be extremely valuable at these prices:

1.  Lower elites/non-elites booking flights.  Assuming these prices scale with distance in a reasonable fashion, I’ve always felt the 500-mile upgrades were an affordable way for lower tier elites to score upgrades at a high percentage with American.  At these prices, you’re essentially paying a bit more to guarantee you get that “sticker” upgrade.

2.  If American did start selling a lot more F seats this way, I could see myself considering this option on longer transcontinental flights.  For example, IAD-LAX is a tougher upgrade for me to get.  I clear my upgrades regularly on that flight, but almost always within 24 hours of departing or at the airport.

As I said earlier, I have virtually no data on this, so my assumptions are based on one occurrence.  I tried to get this to pop up again this morning but 3 test itineraries didn’t yield any joy.  I’m excited/nervous to see what happens next.

Has anyone else seen this yet?

I’ve never seen this on AA.com before.

Posted by: pizzainmotion | May 4, 2013

News And Notes For Saturday, May 4th 2013

It didn’t take long, but now all the major US carriers have raised the change fee for non-refundable domestic tickets from $150 to $200.  United started things off, and Delta, US Airways and American followed shortly thereafter.

Some fellow members of the blogosphere are commenting that this change makes American Airlines’ Choice Essential and Choice Plus fares an even better deal at $68 and $88, respectively.  Buyer beware, as $68 isn’t really $68 as I outlined here a month or so ago.

On the other side of the change fee spectrum….

Southwest makes a small but meaningful change to its cancelation policy, as detailed by MommyPoints.  It used to be that you could just not show up for a flight and Southwest would give you a travel credit.  Now you have to tell them first.  Not a complicated hurdle to overcome, and still much more generous than the other major US carriers.

Wandering Aramean details Frontier’s most recent changes, including that they’re going to charge customers that book through online travel agencies (OTAs) to carry-on a bag, while leaving it free for people who book directly with them.  They’re also further reducing mileage earning on OTA tickets from 50% to 25% and charging for in-flight beverages if you buy the cheapest tickets.

I understand why an airline wouldn’t want to pay outsize fees to an OTA.  And, I even agree with the logic to reduce the miles earned for such tickets.  As a general rule, I would expect infrequent fliers to use OTAs more frequently, thus the miles earned are not usually the driver for their choice (price is).  Those same infrequent travelers are probably more likely to have outsize luggage requirements, though I have no idea how much more likely that is.  So, most of these changes shouldn’t unwittingly affect the business traveler or frequent travelers, as I think they’ll adjust their behavior accordingly if more miles or free carry-on bags are important.

But, charging $2 for a beverage just strikes me as a dumb idea.  I’ve gotta think that significantly slows down beverage service on a flight.  And, if they’re accepting credit cards for those payments (I’m sure they are), then they have to overlay fees on that $2.

As Seth says, these changes aren’t likely to go over that well.  But, I’ve got to think that if they’re willing to drop mileage earning on OTAs from 50% to 25% they feel confident they can do it without much impact.  We just have to wait and see if they’re right.

Finally, the TSA has made PreCheck (one of my favorite travel pluses) more usable by notifying you when you print your boarding pass whether you’ve qualified for PreCheck on that specific flight.  I think I tend to have valued PreCheck a bit more highly than my fellow bloggers in the past, with one of the key concerns I”ve heard  was the unpredictable nature of PreCheck since you never knew for a specific flight whether you qualified thus couldn’t plan to head to the airport any later than you normally would.  This change seems to solve that issue.  The only peculiar item is that American Airlines was missing from the announcement (for now, only United, US Airways and Delta will show this indication on your boarding pass).

Hope you’re enjoying the weekend!

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