Sunday, February 19, 2017

Newcastle to London in Virgin East Coast Rail First Class

For the next step in our journey we drove across the north of England, paying a flying visit to Housesteads Roman Fort on Hadrian's wall and to the Twice-Brewed Inn (in Once Brewed, Northumberland). We returned our rental car at Avis' Newcastle Airport office and headed into town to catch our train.  Fortunately, there is light rail service from Newcastle Airport to the Newcastle Central Station where we'd be boarding our train.

Britain has a system of passenger rail companies that operate various regional routes, all of which operate under the National Rail moniker. In our case, we were travelling with Virgin East Coast Rail, in First Class.

Being in First Class we had use of the First Class Lounge at Newcastle Station. This is no airline lounge, so there's not much to report here. It was a pretty basic space, but featured better seating than the platform:

An espresso machine and a cooler of drinks (water and juice):

And some shortbread biscuits:

There's also a private bathroom down the hall.

The train experience itself was pretty basic, but comfortable. First class seating was arranged in a 1-2 configuration with some seats facing forward and some back.

During the week, East Coast's First Class features hot meals with alcohol, but on the weekends the selections are much more limited. There was a choice of wraps and sandwiches with crisps, etc. They were surprisingly tasty:

All that, along with lovely weather for travel, made for a nice trip from the North to the South of England:

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Club at ATL - A Priority Pass Club and Bottled Water Inside Security!

On a recent trip, I had longish layover in Atlanta and decided to take the opportunity to visit The Club at ATL, one of the many lounges that you have access to if one of your credit cards (such as Platinum Amex, Chase Ink, Citi Prestige, etc.) offers a Priority Pass Membership. Thanks to a tip from Lucky at One Mile at a Time, I knew that I could use the Priority Pass App to access their lounges, provided I set things up ahead of time.

The Club at ATL is located on the mezzanine in the International Terminal, and you can spot it pretty easily as you come up the escalators from the tram.
I headed up the elevators and walked up to the front desk, where the agent scanned the Priority Pass card on my app with no problems:

This is, by no means, a swanky lounge. In fact, the food offerings when I visited where markedly inferior to those at the nearby Delta Skyclub. However, it does cover the basics.

There's a bar, with a decent selection:

A buffet (that was pretty picked over when I was there around 10:30):
Seating with a view of the tarmac:
And a small business center:
The one area in which this lounge stands out is that it is the only place that I know of that you can get complimentary bottled water inside the Atlanta Airport. That's no small thing, particularly if you are getting ready to head out on an international flight where staying hydrated can be a challenge. The Club has two fridges, the one below had 500ml bottles of spring water:
And there was another fridge towards the front that had smaller bottles. This is a nice feature, and I'll probably returning to the Club for this reason alone!

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Cubs win the Pennant! The Cubs win the Pennant! - And Starwood is there!

Image result for chicago cubs logo

Just in case you've been living under a rock, or are a Sox fan (which might be worse than living under a rock), the Lovable Losers just won the National League Pennant. If you're a Cubs fan who's travel plans are more flexible than mine (and if you have a heckuva lot of Starpoints) you might want to check out Starwood Moments TODAY. Starwood is auctioning off seats in their Luxury Box at Wrigley for Games 3, 4, and 5 of the World Series. For game three, they will have Andre "Awesome" Dawson on hand to sign autographs.

The Luxury Box is pretty nice and you will definitely have a great view of the game.

I took my dad for a game a few years ago and reviewed the Luxury Box experience HERE. As of press time, all of the auctions are north of 250,000 Starpoints. But, good heavens man, this is the Cubs in the Series. This isn't just a once-in-a-lifetime event, it's a once-in-several-lifetimes event!

If your Starwood balance isn't that healthy, there are also some other Series-related auctions.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Booking Awards- A Useful Post from View from the Wing

The ur-points-and-miles blogger is Gary Leff over at View from the Wing, at least in my book. That's why his blog is always on my sidebar, it's a great source of information. This morning's post on award booking is no exception, since it offers some useful guidance for using all those miles you've saved up. It's worth a read and a bookmark.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Bumbershoot 2016: The Rock Emerald VIP Experience with Starwood Moments

The Blind Boys of Alabama at the Starbucks' Stage with a Seattle icon in the background.

I've written about Starwood's excellent "Moments" program before. In 2013 I was able to take my Dad to see the Cubs in Starwood's luxury box at Wrigley. While there have been some fantastic auctions on the Moments website, none have them have fit in with our schedule. That changed earlier this summer when I saw an auction offering two "Rock Emerald VIP" passes to Seattle's Bumbershoot festival, one of the longest running arts and music festivals in the country. We'd never been to Seattle before, so I was intrigued.

I looked into the festival a bit more and learned that a couple of bands that we liked were playing, after checking our calendar and talking with Mrs. Points Ninja, I pulled the trigger and started bidding. I'd set a bid ceiling for myself, and ended up getting the package for around 25,500 Starwood Starpoints.  I value Starpoints at around 1.5 cents per point (CPP), so, by Points Ninja Math, I paid $382 for a pair of tickets that retailed at a minimum of $1,400. Not bad!

Well, now that I had the tickets I wanted to figure out exactly what I'd gotten. For the first three decades of its existence, Bumbershoot was run by either Seattle citizens or the city government. Then, a couple of years ago, AEG Live events took over the management. Among the changes that they made, in addition to raising prices (and the ire of Seattleites), was to introduce a VIP option. The description of just what "Rock Emerald VIP" meant was pretty sparse:

One of the more amusing items on the list is the invitation to the Mayor's Arts Awards Ceremony, because, as the Seattle Mayor's website makes clear, that event is open to the public. Well, as we later learned, there was a nice reception at the Seattle Science Center after the Arts Awards at around 1:30 on Friday afternoon, and our tickets got us on the guest list.

There was music, a pretty decent buffet:

and several local beers on offer. It was a nice little event, and I got to ride the death-defying, pendulum bicycle:

Video to come, I promise!

The VIP lounge was open-air, and located on the rooftop just behind the Fisher Green Stage, but that didn't matter on what turned out to be a pretty nice weekend:

There were a number of seating options, including some sort of air-filled bean bag thing (that had a tendency to blow away every time the wind blew).

There was an open bar all-weekend that had a variety of offerings, from mixed drinks to some classic Northwest beers:

The Emerald Lounge also featured food at various times throughout the weekend.  Top Pot Donuts where typically available in the early afternoon, along with breakfast tacos (a bit strange, but, presumably, some guests had just rolled out of bed). Later in the day there was Sizzle Pie pizza and a variety of Chipotle burritos. Snacks of various kinds were always available.

There was a second, smaller, lounge at Memorial Stadium, that offered massages, food, sodas, and a few other attractions.
Sadly, I never got around to having a massage.

Commemorative t-shirts, screen printed while you wait!
 But, of course, getting close to the bands is what music festivals are all about, and event organizers did a good job of providing un-crowded VIP areas, at least on Friday and Saturday.

By Sunday, the VIP areas where packed as organizers began letting vendors, artists' hangers-on, and various others into the VIP area.

It was a good event, though the VIP operation felt a bit disjointed at times. I wouldn't be happy if I'd paid $1,400+ for the tickets, but I expect they'll get the hang of it in future.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Always Check Your Amex "Offers" - Up to 25,000 Membership Rewards Point Bonus for Amex Business Gold

I was looking at my Amex Business Gold account page to check the Amex "Offers" when I saw an offer that mentioned the possibility of earning an extra 25K MR points. I was intrigued and followed the link that led me to the landing page for the offer:
5,000 bonus Membership Rewards Points for each $5,000+ purchase (up to 25,000 ) from now until December 15. Now, this offer is only valuable to folks who can make large purchases like this, but fortunately, I just happen to know a way to make that happen.

UPDATE: Just looked at the Ts&Cs:
Since this offer appears to be restricted to the Business Gold Rewards card, it might be worth delaying any plans to take advantage of the an offer of 50K MR points to upgrade from BGR to Business Plat.

UPDATE: While the full Ts&Cs indicate that gift card purchases don't count, I'm aware of some data points showing that they do actually count.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Seeing Jon Snow in London: Review of the Duke of York Theatre Box Seats

During our visit to London, Mrs. Points Ninja and I had the chance to see Jon Snow... er, Kit Harrington, doing his take on Dr. Faustus. Discount theatre tickets are fairly easy to come by in London; but, since we were there for only a short time, I decided to plan ahead.

Dr. Faustus was playing at the Duke of York Theatre, a smallish house in the West End that was an easy walk from the Conrad St. James. I wanted to make sure that we had good seats and a good experience, so I agonized over seat selection. Fortunately, there's at least one decent resource for figuring out which seats are "good" in various London Theatres. Theatremonkey, for instance, is a great resource. 

In the end, I chose Box C in the Royal Circle at £60.00 each, which included "the Ambassador experience." The Duke of York's has two boxes on each level, each with two movable chairs. 

Our box, circled in red.

Apologies for the poor photo!

Boxes E, F, H, and O.
The benefit of "the Ambassador experience," is that you will find in your box a champagne bucket with two splits of cava, a ramekin of nuts, a ramekin of chips, and a small box of (quite good) Belgian chocolates. Having a nice glass of bubbles was definitely a good way to get ready for the show.

Mrs. Points Ninja enjoying her cava.
Our view was unobstructed, but at an angle. 

To my mind, the chief benefit of booking a box was that there was absolutely no concern about having our view blocked by other theatre-goers. It wasn't cheap, by any means, but including a little booze in the price dulled the pain somewhat!