Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Site selection....

I’m on my way back out west after a great weekend in Boston. It’s flight 607, which is service from BOS to LAX….with a nice little stop in ORD on the way…just to keep things interesting. And yes, I’m busy preparing for that always enjoyable decent and landing into the windy city. Before I get to what I want to actually write about, first a note on a new find this weekend.

Finally made it to “Drink” this weekend. Within the first 10 minutes it promptly became my new favorite bar in Boston. And given that Boston is known for being a city with more than a few famous places to get well drunk, that’s saying something. I’ll admit that I was nearly turned off at first brush by the line creeping up the stairs. I’m not usually one to have much patience for waiting in line to stand around. However, Drink is different, and completely worth the wait.

Its less your typical Boston bar, and more like a restaurant that serves primarily alcohol. They don’t take reservations, but don’t just open the doors and fill the place to capacity. When you get in, they make sure you have space to sit, or lean at least, bring over water and glasses and proceed to serve amazing drinks at a leisurely pace. If you walk in with a craving in mind, they’ll be more than happy to oblige, but you’d be missing out on the point.

Drink doesn’t have a printed cocktail menu, but the staff are extremely well-versed in their trade and the ingredients are amazing. This is a bar that squeezes their own juice, makes their own infusions, and picks herbs in front of you to be crushed in your drink. We took advantage of the experts and asked for suggestions. Saying something like, “I’m in the mood for vodka and maybe something citrus,” might get you any number of drinks but all of them will be unique and impressive. To say they have a wide range of options would be a gross understatement, and the bartenders take it seriously. It’s not a place to go if you’re looking to drink for the sake of getting drunk, but the atmosphere is amazing and if you’re looking for an enjoyable and memorable night out I recommend it completely.

And yes, wait in the line, you won’t regret it. The one unfortunate thing, however, is that when your cab driver asks you where you’re going, and you say “to drink,” you’re going to have to back that up with an address.

So…. First maven moment over for tonight.

And here’s the next one: Websites. Yes…you heard me. As if you didn’t already have enough to keep you distracted…

My reason is that after writing about the extensive and useful world of flyertalk.com last week, I came up with several more that I know, love, and thought were worth mentioning. As the plane has now been unloaded, re-boarded, doused in sucrose, and zipped back up into the sky, it seems like a good time to finish this and pay them a quick tribute, so here I go:

1) TripAdvisor.com
This is your basic vacation, location, travel, etc site. It’s all purpose, and you can get information on hotels, resorts, restaurants, etc and usually with very candid reviews and photos. Doesn’t need too much explanation really, but it gets my vote and I’ve found the reviews to be useful.

2) Flighttrack.com
This is actually a fun little App for the iPhone that is reasonably priced (they have several models, but mine was $4.99). It does a reliable job of keeping track of your flight time, gate information, etc down to the minute. I save all my upcoming flights for the month just to keep it all organized. If you’re expecting a visitor, it’s even more fun, and will give you their flight time, as well as let you see their current altitude, speed, and a map of where the plane is as it moves across the country or around the globe.

3) Seatguru.com
Probably the best place to get advice on where to sit. The site includes detailed and color-coded seating charts by plane model, variant, and airline. It will tell you not only the dimensions and layout, but also little but important details like which seats don’t tilt, or whether they have an obscured view of the in-flight entertainment.

4) Gateguru.com
This is a fun site and app that lets you know instantly what’s in any terminal you might stumble into. It works like a giant mobile wiki for frequent fliers. Users get points for adding or reviewing amenities in the airports themselves. It’s especially useful when you need to know, say, if there’s a place to get a smoothie in DFW terminal D…or if you need to grab that before taking the terminal link to terminal B. (Note…there’s multiple options in both). The one annoyance with this app is that they reset the point totals each month for those adding to it, thereby limiting your bragging rights (I was top of the list for LAX last month and now have been relegated to the bottom of the pile again).

5) Jetsetter.com
This is my new love as far as travel sites go. Jetsetter offers its members significant discounts on stays at hotels and resorts in every corner of the globe. The discounts range from ‘nice’ to ‘its like stealing,’ and the range of locations at any given time is truly impressive. For example, within the last week there have been offerings in New York, Chicago, Santa Monica, Miami, and Paris, as well as more exotic locations such as: ski lodges in the Alps, a resort where you can have high tea in Bermuda, and adventure-based stays in the mountains of Chile, or even Easter Island. This isn’t the place to book your regular night at the Westin, the site caters to boutique or luxury properties mostly.

The catch to all this is that both space and days are limited. The sales only last a few days, and it’s first come-first served for reservations. But if you happen to be flexible in your planning, or what they’re offering matches your schedule, you might be able to book a great vacation at 30%-60% off the advertised rate. The further catch is that you must be a member to use the site, and membership is by invitation only. However, don’t let this stop you, you can “apply” on the homepage, and I don’t get the impression it’s a tall order to be accepted yet.

The site itself is beautiful. They go so far as to say that the site is “curated” rather than designed. There are beautiful pictures of the properties on auction, and of their locations put together with reviews that give useful details about the resort or hotel, and also about the area. All in all, worth a look.

Well….so far it’s been a decently smooth flight, and despite being seated behind a couple who seem to have mistaken Row 4 on this 737 for the hotel room they just checked out of, no complaints so far. And yes, if you must know, I did just tuck the chips that came with my meal into my bag for lunch tomorrow. When you’re logging 10,000 miles a month and still working overtime, it leaves precious little time for grocery shopping. Speaking of which, I’ll be grounded for the next few weeks due to work and changing apartments….but I’m sure I’ll be back at it soon enough.

Until then, safe travels.

The early bird....

Well, here’s a shock…I’m back in the air. This time it’s flight 222, which is the sunrise flight out of LAX to Boston. It’s really not so bad to have to get to the airport at 6am….as long as you lie to yourself and pretend it’s 8.

Really though, I’m not sure anyone was feeling up to being suave and charming this morning. I say this because in the few rows near me there was not only the obligatory crying child, but also an unhappy barking dog who was less than thrilled with having to lie down to fit under the seat for the next 5 hours. This, combined with the man in the seat next to me who promptly removed his shoes, and cleverly stuffed his pillow in the arm of his coat and then put the other sleeve back on to hold it in place while he slept his way across the country, led me to decide no one felt they got enough rest last night.

And this plane’s occupants are far from alone in this. Due to the massive snowstorms that left 75% of the country under snow this week, thousands of flights were cancelled and their passengers left to fend for themselves. Speaking of which, I had the …pleasure…I guess… of meeting several of them in my hotel last night.

A few of them who were trying to get back to ATL had a few drinks in the lounge, and then spent quite a good deal of time trying to impress me (why me I’m still not sure). They thought that this could be accomplished by calling the “new age life” conference that had taken up residence in the attached conference center an “alien convention” and warning me that “one or two of them might be in the lounge even as we speak.”

Now, in all honesty, I wasn’t about to go join the convention either….and the guy attending who probably should have been wearing more than light sweatpants in the lobby made me slightly uncomfortable. But the bottom line is that its Southern California…and anything goes, and that’s the beauty of it. Besides, if there’s one attribute that the vast range of people who might be attending this conference might share, it’s a genuine peaceful “niceness” that was severely lacking in my impromptu lounge companions.

What’s more, upon walking onto my floor from the elevator (before the above incident), I was nearly accosted by a woman looking for the executive lounge because she desperately needed to make it there for the free food before they stopped serving. I was looking for the same thing, and so we shared an elevator down the one floor. In this time she managed to tell me emphatically that she was a) stranded (also) trying to get back to Atlanta due to the unusual snow, and b) that she didn’t like Los Angeles because the people were rude and self-obsessed. After smiling and nodding a bit, and the obligatory “but you can’t beat the weather,” I excused myself to a table (whereupon I met the above ‘gentlemen’). Later that night I came back to my room, and found her on the floor of the hall more than a little drunk….belt unbuckled….and claiming that she was having “A good time.”

Conclusion…people who aren’t used to getting stranded due to snow clearly have no idea how to handle themselves on such an occasion. That or I just picked a bad weekend to hit up the Hilton LAX.

Now…. Where was I going with this?

No idea.

Onwards and upwards then I suppose.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Still airborne, in good company...

First off, wishing you a late happy new year. I'll admit I started and didn't finish several entries over the last few
weeks but finally buckled down today and put this together. And yes, getting to "100,000" is everything I hoped and more :)


So, here I am again on a flight from Seattle/Tacoma back to LAX after a short weekend at “home.” I haven’t been as good at updating here in the new year. Would you believe that its because I’ve been too busy flying?

No? Well, it was worth a shot.

I’ve been doing some rather long distance flying, necessitating some short nights and long Mondays. This weekend, however, is turning out to be a nice break from that. Thanks to Alaska’s multitude of flights between these cities, not only was I able to take an earlier flight without paying a change fee, but as a bonus I got a nice bit of exercise on my brisk run through terminal C. I ascribe both of these benefits to, as well as the above, my cunning use of FlyerTalk.com, along with its community of ultimate flight mavens.

Let me go back now and explain. Earlier today I realized that I had cut my airport timing a little close (or so I thought at the time) and spent some time trying to figure out how to shave precious time off of the check-in process. Now usually I wouldn’t even think twice about this, knowing how much time it takes and counting on the short(er) AA priority access lanes. However, as I have before ranted on about, American Airlines does not fly between LAX and SEA, choosing instead to codeshare with Alaska. Hence, all of the hard-earned benefits I generally expect (upgrades, club access, priority access and boarding, etc) are no longer available. Further, SEA can have some killer lines.

Enter FlyerTalk.com …

This website is home to the travelers who know it ALL….seriously. They also in large part are the rare breed who consider travel to be the goal in and of itself. These are the people who can put me to shame, the ones who think it completely reasonable to fly an itinerary from BOS-LAX-BOS-ORD-SAN-BOS without leaving the airport, or to fly for a week and sleep 5 of the nights on planes, especially for events such as DEQM. What’s that you say? This acronym doesn’t just jump right off the page at you as blatantly obvious? DEQM is the magical pot of gold at the end of the frequent flyer rainbow, the piece de resistance that tops off the airline calendar, the mysteriously announced “Double Elite Qualifying Mile” offer. A DEQM offer near the end of the elite qualifying year especially will lure these flyers into “milage run” itineraries that make the average person airsick just thinking about.

But I digress…DEQM will do that to a person… *breathe* Okay, as I was saying before, I was wondering how to get to my flight in SEA quickly. To that end I logged on to FlyerTalk.com and asked if anyone had a suggestion and was nearly immediately rewarded with several replies. One in particular read: “Keep you BP (boarding pass) in your pocket and go to the elite lane at the far right hand end, show the first officer your AA EXP (Executive Platinum) card and if they give you any trouble say the ticket counter told you it was fine.” Good advice. I followed it to the letter and successfully line-jumped, getting through security early enough to take the 2:15 instead of the 3:00 (with a little terminal jogging, but hey, I won’t need to go to the gym today.)

The moral? There isn’t one really. But if one were to exist it might be that perhaps even the most scattered of people, the ones who spend so much time seemingly isolated on planes racing around the world, and jumping from one rental car to another, still manage to be there for each other at the drop of a hat…or the click of a mouse.

Well, we’ve begun our decent so it’s time to sign off. Thanks for reading, and special thanks to my anonymous advisors today, hope sometime I’ll know enough to return the favor.