Paris Trip Report – Notre-Dame de Paris, Catacombs

Paris Trip Report – Arrival and Eiffel Tower Paris Trip Report – Notre-Dame de Paris, Catacombs Paris Trip Report – Louvre & Musée d’Orsay Paris Trip Report – Versailles Paris Trip Report – Departure

Notre-Dame de Paris

Making use of our Navigo passes, we hopped on the RER and found ourselves deposited right across from Notre-Dame de Paris. Being a place of worship, admission is always free and the line to enter the cathedral itself is fairly quick moving. There is, however, a fee to climb the towers (and this has a much longer line). I am not a religious individual, but I appreciate the skill and dedication displayed throughout the cathedral. Seeing the morning light come in through the stained glass windows was truly magical. A short walk from Notre-Dame is Sainte-Chapelle – another cathedral with stunning stained glass windows. Unfortunately we weren’t able to duck in on this outing, but we were able to appreciate it from the outside.

Catacombs of Paris

Hopping on another train, we made our way to the Catacombs of Paris. Seeing the line here, we were very glad we purchased tickets in advance! The line wrapped around the central island and was starting to make its way toward the metro stop. While the experience was amazing, it is definitely not something that is recommended for people with limited mobility or taller individuals (you will be bending your neck forward if you are more than 68 inches tall, and if you are more than 72 inches, it will be thoroughly uncomfortable). It is also a great deal of walking on uneven ground and the stairs leading both down to the catacombs and back up are spiral – not great for people that get dizzy easily.

Paris Trip Report – Arrival and Eiffel Tower

Paris Trip Report – Arrival and Eiffel Tower

Paris Trip Report – Notre-Dame de Paris, Catacombs

Paris Trip Report – Louvre & Musée d’Orsay

Paris Trip Report – Versailles

Paris Trip Report – Departure

As I wrote about earlier, I managed to score a couple of inexpensive (relatively speaking, of course) tickets to Paris that I managed to confirm upgrades on from Economy to Delta One by using my Global Upgrade Certificates. Out of curiosity, I looked at what Economy vs. Delta One tickets would go for across another holiday — the 4th of July. Two tickets in Economy cost almost as much as one ticket in Delta One; not a bad savings, eh?

Business Class over 4th of July (1 pax)

Economy over Fourth of July (2 pax)

A few days before it was time to depart, my girlfriend and I received an email to pick our meals prior to departure. I opted for the bass while my girlfriend opted for the beef.

Meal Selection

JFK SkyClub and SkyDeck

Since we were flying on an international flight, my girlfriend and I were able to visit the JFK SkyClub in Terminal 4 on status alone (my Diamond and her Gold). This offered us a chance to get a quick bite to eat and see the planes come and go from the SkyDeck.

Whenever I route through JFK or ATL and weather permits, I make sure to take a detour to the SkyDeck. As an AvGeek, it is a wonderful experience!

JFK-CDG

Finally, it was time to make our way out of the club and to our gate. Thankfully it wasn’t a long walk (B38, with the club being at B32), and we grabbed another snack before boarding.

The Delta One cabin on the Airbus 330-300 is configured in a reverse herringbone configuration. I prefer this to the Boeing 767-300 configuration – not only are the seats more comfortable, you have much easier access to personal temperature control and a more user-friendly tray table.

Though the LSTN headphones are not active noise-cancelling, keep in mind that you need to use an adapter if you want to use your own headphones with these seats.

Once we were situated, the purser greeted us and distributed menus. Not all passengers pre-selected their meals so she collected orders and double-checked that nobody wanted to change their minds. Thanks to a helpful tailwind, we made the flight in just over 7 hours.

Icing on the cake: the flight was equipped with GoGo’s Ku (not 2Ku) WiFi.

The food was excellent, as I’ve come to expect from Delta, and the flight itself was smooth and we arrived without any issues at CDG. Though there are a variety of mass-transit options available from CDG to the hotel we were staying at, we opted to grab an Uber because of the number of bags we were traveling with. The route took us right by the Concorde, though!

Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile

Hyatt reached out to me a few months ago to inform me that the hotel that I was planning to stay at would be undergoing renovations and wouldn’t be ready for my stay. They were kind enough to rebook us at the Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile, however, and I was able to modify the booking to a club-level room.

The hotel is attached to the Le Palais des Congrès de Paris, a major exhibition center, and also had easy access to the mall there. It also offered ready access to both the Metro (line 1) and RER (line C). One of the first things we did was pick up a pair of Navigo cards for easy access to all public transport in Paris – since we were staying through Sunday morning, it worked out perfectly.

We knew we would be taking a chance since our flight was arriving at 7 AM and check-in time was 3 PM, but we were very pleasantly surprised that not only was a room available, but it had a view of the Eiffel Tower!

Not a bad view, right?

The Regency has two restaurants: Mayo and Windo, as well as a Regency Club. Thanks to the Club access upgrade I purchased, we were able to visit it for snacks in the evening as well as breakfast.

The Room

The room we got was on the 33rd floor of the building, with the Regency Club and Windo located on the 34th floor. Given the height of the building, the Hyatt Regency has an innovative elevator solution. The elevator alcove on each floor has a series of touchscreens where you enter your floor number before you get on an elevator. The screen will then tell you which elevator will take you there. This way, the work is more evenly distributed between the elevators and riders get to their destinations in a more timely manner. I hope more buildings take a page from their book and implement similar systems!

A word to the wise: these rooms are fairly tight fits for two for an extended period (particularly for storing clothes), and the bed might be a little firmer than what travelers are used to at American hotels. Overall quite a nice room, though!

The Regency Club

The Regency Club offers breakfast, snacks, and Aperitifs throughout the day, so once we were functional, we knew a visit was in order. Needless to say, we were thoroughly spoiled by the convenient access to excellent meat and cheese.

The Fitness Center

The fitness center at the hotel was more comprehensive than any I have seen. Not only were there treadmills and bicycles, there were also rowing machines, weight machines, free weights (dumbells as well as kettlebells), and a cable cross machine!

Arc de Triomphe

Though not visible from our room, the Arc de Triomphe is a short one mile walk from the hotel. We passed it on our way to the Eiffel Tower, though we never ascended to the summit.

Eiffel Tower

Before arriving, I noticed that virtually every visitor to Paris recommended buying skip-the-line tickets to attractions. I cannot emphasize the importance of this. Though not as long at the Eiffel Tower, lines at other attractions (like the Louvre and Versailles) can easily eat up hours of your day. Don’t make that mistake – buy tickets in advance and walk right in!

From the summit, we were treated to expansive views of the Paris skyline. They also offered champagne! Warning: they only take cash.

Back at the room, we managed to see the Tower lit up – truly a marvelous sight.

Experiencing @WestJet as a @Delta Frequent Flyer

Over the recent weeks I have had the opportunity to fly WestJet from Toronto-Pearson (YYZ) to LaGuardia (LGA). On these flights, I was able to experience both their Boeing 737-800 and Boeing 737-600 cabins, as well as the check-in process.

Check-In and Perks

Since I purchased these tickets through Delta, the Passenger Name Record (PNR) from Delta was not the same as the one that WestJet sees. Because of this, I had to reach out to Delta ahead of time to get my WestJet PNR to check-in. If you purchase the ticket directly from WestJet, this step won’t be necessary.

As WestJet is a “low cost carrier” (LCC), seats are not assigned prior to check-in unless you call in and purchase the seat in advance. This was a pretty big change from what I was used to from flying with Delta – granted, I was fairly spoiled by Delta. On both my flights, the WestJet Plus (the premium economy cabin, similar to an inter-Europe business class cabin) cabin was completely booked, so I wasn’t able to purchase an upgrade at the time of check-in.

Though no Delta representative was able to offer details on what benefits are available to Delta Medallion flyers on WestJet flights, even with the widely publicized “transborder joint venture”, WestJet support on Twitter was helpful enough to explain that I would receive free checked bags if I provided the agents at the counter with my Delta Medallion information to show my status. I was slightly disappointed that free seat selection for preferred seats was not available for WestJet operated flights as with SkyTeam partners (AirFrance, for example).

In-Flight Experience

YYZ-LGA

A curious fact – with how short my flights were, liquor purchases were not allowed. The beer and wine were offered complimentary, however, which was a nice touch. I sampled both of the white wines offered  between my flights and was pleasantly surprised by their quality.

On all WestJet flights, you will be asked to remove all headphones and pay close attention to the safety demonstration prior to take-off, so don’t be surprised if you are asked to take yours off when they start to demonstrate things.

B737-600

WestJet currently has 13 Boeing 737-600s in service. This and the 737-700s (of which there are 54) make up the bulk of WestJet’s fleet. Both the -600 and -700 share similar layouts within the cabin with no seats having any power. Thankfully, my flight was a relatively short 350 miles, so it wasn’t a huge issue. This would be rather frustrating on a longer flight, though. With how common USB outlets are on planes, I have definitely been spoiled.

The satellite television was a little spotty because we were crossing the border, but I was able to catch the tail-end of an episode of Murdoch Mysteries before we lost signal.

B737-800

In stark contrast of the smaller -600, the -800 (non-MAX) variant offers individual power in every seat. This is very different from what is available on most planes in the US because each seat has their own 110V outlet, instead of having to share two between three seats. This was a very nice surprise. The downside is that there were no in-seat screens for entertainment, but with available power it is much less of a concern. There was also more under-seat storage on this plane than the -600. As I have been traveling with two laptops and associated accessories, this has become a major concern for me, and was also a very pleasant surprise.

Closing Thoughts

Overall I quite enjoyed my WestJet flights and I can see myself using them again in the future. I will be paying close attention to the further developments for the joint venture between Delta and WestJet for any new perks for elites of both programs (particularly around seat selection). I look forward to giving WestJet’s Plus cabin a go, as well!

A Bay Area Jaunt – Hyatt House San Jose/Silicon Valley

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit the  San Jose area for work. Spotting a conveniently located Hyatt property, I jumped at the opportunity to diversify my points (having spent most of the last few years between Marriott and Starwood properties).

The Hotel

Located in a convenient cluster of restaurants and  stores, the Hyatt House provides a great deal of convenience to travelers. Though the parking is complimentary – there is a sizeable parking structure behind the hotel – there is shuttle service offered to and from the airport as well as other locations nearby. There are quite a few restaurants within a mile or so, as well, which makes for a nice walk when it comes to dinner!

The rooms are just what you would expect from an extended-stay property – a comfortable bed, sitting area, and kitchenette. Nothing that really stands out, but not a disappointment by any means. The fitness center, located behind the in-house restaurant, offers cardio equipment, free-weights, and a cable cross machine.

The in-house restaurant also offers a breakfast buffet as well as an omelette bar. Though you can build your own omelette each morning, they do have a daily special as well.

The Rok

Next door to the hotel was what grew to be one of our favorite dining spots: Rok Steakhouse and Grill. Local to San Jose, Rok is known for offering a grill-your-own experience at your dining table… on a rock. Though a little pricey, I can’t recommend it enough. My coworkers and I wound up going back twice. It certainly didn’t hurt that they had WhistlePig Old World.

A nice touch with their drinks menu is that they list the notes you can expect with their liquors, making it easier to get a feel for what you might like to sip on with your meal! They also offer whiskey flights (which I regret I wasn’t able to sample during this visit).

Sendo Sushi

A short (2/3rds of a mile) walk from the hotel is Sendo Sushi, which we discovered purely by chance. Very reasonably priced having excellent food, I’m very confused why the ratings are averaging to 4.2/5 on Google. Don’t let that number dissuade you! The portions are adequate and the presentation will blow you away.

The Club at SJC

After a very long week, I was finally flying home. Unfortunately the TSA Pre-Check line was closed when I got to the airport, so we had to use regular security at the time.

The San Jose airport has only one lounge, but it is easily accessible between Priority Pass and a variety of other partnerships. As with other “The Club” locations, everything is complimentary. This is a nice change from some lounges that insist on up-selling you for everything.

Though the number of outlets was severely lacking and the WiFi wasn’t the greatest, the lounge itself had a nice atmosphere and the attendants were very friendly. I can definitely see myself returning here on future trips to the area.

Surprising Offers from @United

This week I received two curious promotional emails from United. One was for a mileage promotion where I could spend $400 for 7,800 (bonus) miles, or $900 for 19,900 (bonus) miles. Certainly not bad for topping off an account! Granted, I have a hard time rationalizing flying on United where my status is complimentary thanks to their relationship with Marriott versus Delta where it’s earned with butt-in-seat miles.

If I were Premier Gold, where the Economy Plus seating was available at booking, and Economy Plus offered the same perks as Delta’s Comfort+ Seating I would definitely be open to taking United up on this offer. It certainly doesn’t hurt that SFO, IAH, and LGA have Centurion Lounges in their United terminals.

Not a bad boost!

The second email I received was from a new partnership between United and BP that allows you to earn miles whenever you fill up your tank. The frustrating thing here was that even though I attempted to register, it insisted that I couldn’t. Guess I’ll stick to discounted gas at BJs!

Has anyone else received these offers? Going to take United up on their offers?

[24]7.ai Cyber Incident and @Delta ‘s Response

Delta has been sending out letters to inform customers that they have been notified of a security breach of [24]7.ai, the chat service they (and other companies) use. At this moment it’s unclear just how many customers were affected, but there is the potential that it could be several hundred thousand customers.

Incident Timeline from Delta.com

The good news is that no passport or government ID information was impacted, and the scope of the breach is limited to the customer payment information. The culprit seems to be malware present in [24]7.ai’s software that was present between September 26 and October 12, 2017 that allowed for unauthorized access to form-fields when manually completing a transaction on any delta.com desktop platform at the time. The specific form-fields that were targeted were: name, address, payment card number, CVV number, and expiration date. This breach was limited to the desktop platform. The FlyDelta app, mobile delta.com site, and other systems were all unaffected.

The better news is that Delta has informed us in a timely manner (they were told on March 28th, they released the response website on April 5th, and they have been sending letters to SkyMiles members since). They have also reached out to AllClearID to offer complimentary two year credit monitoring for all SkyMiles members as a precautionary measure.

AllClearID Details

As always, keep a close eye on all your credit card statements and get in touch with issuers if you see anything questionable!

The Oncoming Storm: Marriott/SPG Merger Information

As much as I was upset by the news of the merging of Starwood with Marriott, and I’m still not thrilled by the prospect, the recent news really is the best case for what we could hope for from an SPG member perspective. There are definitely some frustrating points involved, particularly for partner members (Delta and United alike), those that receive status from credit cards (American Express Platinum, for example), and those that focus on stays over nights to attain status.

Adding a spend “qualification” to receive Ambassador service does make sense given the property footprints of Starwood versus Marriott, but putting the price in USD is questionable as Gary points out. For those that spend a lot of time in countries with drastic currency conversion rates, it might require a ridiculous number of days to attain this tier of status. Bundling Your24 with this tier is also a little frustrating, but again with the substantially increased footprint, I can understand wanting to make this more exclusive.

Given Marriott’s relationship with United, the announcement that the relationship with Delta will be ending soon isn’t really a surprise. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed earning points with both at the same time, so this will be missed. With old Platinum Premier Elites, when this tier was invitation-only, receiving Untied Gold, it’s unclear if there will be a new influx of United Gold members as well.

I appreciate that the new Lifetime Status qualifications are based on nights and years, not on points/spend. Plus: breakfast at more properties which can save a decent chunk of change. All things considered, it could be much worse!