Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Turkish Airlines new commercial featuring legendary pro athletes Kobe and Messi

Kobe Bryant, the best basketball player of the 21st century, and Lionel Messi, arguably the best soccer player of all time . . . it'd be the moment of a lifetime just to fly with one of them.  But both of them??  Turkish Airlines sure knows how to market by besting two of the best professional athletes in the world with their business class ice cream dessert.  Check out their new commercial:
Although incomparable against Asian heavyweights Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, etc., Turkish Airlines has been voted the best airline in Europe for two years straight.  Their premium class hard product and service excels as a Western carrier, and their mileage program easily trumps most U.S. and Asian carriers' programs.  Elite status is easy to earn, and they're currently offering a status match with other carriers with no challenge threshold requirement.  If you're a mid to top tier elite member with another airline, you can request a complimentary status match to their program, which Gary Leff has outlined.  Note: Kobe and Messi are not included in every flight.

Sunday, December 9, 2012 offering 200,000 free seats for travel from Jan. 9 to Feb. 28, 2013

Now adays, flying trumps ground transportation due to the significant speed factor which comes at a reasonable price.  For most travelers, it just doesn't make sense to pay $52 for a 9-hour Greyhound ride from SFO to LAX when a 1-hour flight can be attained for $70.  But what if you were to drop the bus price down to a couple of bucks and make it nonstop and doable in 7 hours?  That's exactly what has done in an effort to re-win all that ground transportation business that fell prey to the airline industry decades ago.
Megabus, which initiated service in 2006 for the East Coast and Canada, has officially launched hubs in San Francisco and Los Angeles.  With 6 daily buses between SFO and LAX at an average price of $3 and a sitting time of 7 hours, they've officially made ground transportation a viable and cheap option again.  What's more?  They're currently offering 200,000 free seats for travel from Jan. 9 to Feb. 28, 2013!!  You really can't complain about a free city-to-city ride no matter how long it takes.  Since space is limited and capacity controlled, book your free seats now.  Even if you miss out on this deal, at least it'll only cost you 6 Washington's for a roundtrip bus ride from SFO to LAX.
It should be noted that Megabus does not allow changes or refunds for bookings.  They do, however, offer free WiFi, power outlets, and restrooms to pass the time at ease.  Free luggage allowance includes 1 large <50-pound bag and 1 carry-on personal bag.  This is a good opportunity to bypass long and tedious security lines with incompetent TSA agents and avoid United Airlines' crappy service.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Why the Chase Ink Plus Business Card is the best credit card for churning points

Earlier this year, Chase introduced their Ink Plus Business Card, which offers a generous 50,000 point sign-up bonus.  The sign-up bonus became even more lucrative this past month when Chase lowered the spending threshold requirement from $10,000 to $5,000 within the first 3 months.  This is in contrast to the 40k points after $3k in purchases offered by their Sapphire Preferred card, which still stands as the best card on the market for everyday purchases.  Both cards carry the same annual fee that is waived for the first year ($95), no foreign exchange transaction fees, and Ultimate Rewards points earnings which can be transferred to various frequent traveler programs at a 1:1 ratio.  However, the Ink Plus card has a definitive edge when it comes to points accrual as you earn 5X at office supply stores and on cell phone, landline, Internet, and cable TV services along with 2X on gas and hotels.  The Ink Plus also carries a 0% intro APR for the first 6 months.  And no, you don't actually have to own a business to be eligible for the card despite its label as a "business card".
Whereas a 50k sign-up bonus is already lucrative in itself, the Ink Plus is also one of the few cards that offers the potential for continuous churning.  Many office supply stores, such as Office Depot, Staples, and Office Max, sell credit card gift cards for a nominal fee.  For example, you can purchase a $500 Visa gift card for as low as $504.95, which would land you 2,525 points for a cost of $4.95, or 0.196 cents each.  Seeing how 100k points can land you a free roundtrip business class flight to Europe by transferring your Chase points to United Airlines miles, that's like paying $196 for a business class ticket that would otherwise cost thousands of dollars.
As with all credit card offers, use but don't abuse.  Though it's uncommon, Chase has closed accounts and voided all points for churners who were deemed as abusers.  Over the past few months, churners have taken advantage of Vanilla Reload cards from Office Depot, which allowed them to land points for <0.157 cents each.  However, Office Depot recently pulled them likely due to abuse from churners.  That being said, pick your spots carefully, and you'll be off on a free roundtrip biz class flight to Europe in no time courtesy of your Ink Plus Card and your local Office Depot(s).
Lufthansa's, a United Airlines mileage redemption partner, transatlantic business class hard product: definitely worth your $196 in credit card churning.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Shop Small today with your American Express card

After the mad Black Friday shopping dash, it's time to support your local small business that has worked so hard to stay alive against big bad Walmart.  As I mentioned in my previous post, American Express is offering their annual promo of a $25 statement credit for spending $25+ at a small business today.  If you have registered your Amex card for the $25 statement credit, be sure to hit up a small business today and spend $25+ to get your free credit.  Check out Amex's Shop Small map to find an eligible small business near you.
Now get out and support your Mom and Pop's small biz.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

American Express Small Business Saturday $25 statement credit

It's that time of year again: Thanksgiving, which means that American Express' annual Small Business Saturday promo is back.  Spend $25+ at any small business on Saturday, November 24th with your Amex card and receive a $25 statement credit.  Amex corporate, prepaid, and gift cards are not eligible, but pretty much all Amex personal and small business credit cards including but not limited to the following are: Costco True Earnings, Platinum, Gold, Blue, Green, Centurion, Starwood, Hilton, Delta, AA, JetBlue, etc.  Registration is required and limited, so register your Amex card(s) now.  Only one $25 statement credit per card, but you can register and receive multiple $25 credits if you have multiple Amex cards (ie. register both Costco and Starwood card and spend $25+ with both and receive $25 credits for both cards).  Use Amex's "Shop Small map" to find a qualifying small biz near you.
Last year for Small Biz Saturday, I treated my friend to a nice sushi buffet in San Jose with my two Amex cards.  Which small biz are you going to shop at to earn your $25 statement credit?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Air New Zealand's ingenious safety video staring Peter Jackon's The Hobbit

You tired of watching the same boring and uneventful airline safety videos over and over again before takeoff?  Air New Zealand has decided to make the taxiing portion of your flight an epic adventure with their new safety video staring characters and actors from Peter Jackson's upcoming movie: The Hobbit.
This ingenious safety video will actually get passengers to pay attention instead of dozing off or illegally fiddling with the iPhones.  Air New Zealand's new slogan: The airline of Middle-earth.  Gandalf won't need his ginormous eagles anymore with these new wings.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Hurricane Sandy donations update

A couple of days ago, I posted about United and American Airlines offering bonus award miles for donating to several non-profit relief groups.  United, who originally pledged to match the first $50,000 donated to the Red Cross, AmeriCares, and Feeding America, has since upped their pledge to match the first $100,000 donated to the relief groups.  Red Cross donations blew through the $100k threshold, but AmeriCares and Feeding America are still significantly short, so if you haven't done so already, I'd recommend donating to them as your donation will be effectively doubled by United.  Not only will you be helping millions of people in desperate need, you'll also receive 250 award miles for donations of $50+ and 500 miles for donations of $100+.
Hilton has since joined in on their effort to encourage their customers to donate to Hurricane Sandy disaster relief by partnering with GlobalGiving and offering 10 Hilton Honors bonus points per $1 donated.  Like United, Hilton will also match the first $100,000 donated.  The maximum you can receive is 100,000 bonus points, which amounts to $10,000 in donations. Since there's no minimum requirement aside from the $1, this is ideal for members wishing to donate <$50 as AA and United will only offer bonus miles for donations of $50+.  Regardless, it's encouraging to see all these travel corporations getting involved and encouraging us to do our part in making a positive difference.

Friday, November 2, 2012

American Airlines offering double elite/redeemable miles through end of year!!

American Airlines is at it again: fessing up to their mistakes and rewarding their customers for their loyalty.  Through December 31st, 2012, AA is offering double elite qualifying miles (EQMs) for all flyers and double redeemable miles (RDMs) for all elite status flyers.  Non-elite flyers also earn double RDMs for flights from November 16th through November 26th.
This is easily the most generous airline promotion of the year as travelers closing in on their next tier of elite status will be able to do it with a breeze.  Assuming you're starting with zero miles for the year, AA Gold elite status, which includes perks such as priority access, 25% bonus miles, and 2 free checked bags, can be attained with a single roundtrip flight from Chicago to Tokyo or 2 1/2 transcontinental flights.  Similarly, AA Platinum, which includes additional perks such as lounge access and double RDMs, can be attained with 2 flights to Tokyo or 5 transcontinental flights.  This is also a good way for you to stock up on RDMs as Executive Platinum and Platinum members will be earning an astounding 300% RDMs on all flights!

All previous flights qualify for this promo as long as you flew after November 1st.  Codeshare and partner flights are not eligible; only AA metal, which includes AA, American Eagle, and American Connection are eligible.  Registration is required at AA by using code AATHX.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Earn miles for Hurricane Sandy donations

By now, you've most likely seen the severe devastation that Hurricane Sandy has wrought upon the East Coast.  In an effort to encourage you to make a difference, American Airlines and United Airlines are offering 250 bonus miles for donations of $50+ and 500 bonus miles for donations of $100+ to the American Red Cross.  United is also partnering with AmeriCares and Feeding America and matching the first $50,000 donated to all the relief groups.  And if you have award miles to spare, The Salvation Army accepts donations of United and Delta miles.
Do your part to make a difference, because we're all in this together.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

$25 cashback for buying a $100 Costco gift card with your American Express card

As part of their Link-Like-Love campaign, American Express is offering $25 cashback for spending $100 at Costco, which includes the purchase of gift cards.  All you have to do is sync your Amex card with Amex's official app on either Facebook, Twitter, or Foursquare and "register" (on Facebook, "Like") for the appropriate Costco promotion.  Then spend your $100 at Costco and Amex will issue you a $25 statement credit, usually within a week from your date of purchase.  For more information and the actual step-by-step process, check out dealswelike's post.
You can churn this offer if you have multiple Amex cards, but you'll also need multiple social networking accounts as only one Amex card can be registered per social networking account.  That being said, take full advantage of this offer as Amex is basically giving you $25 for free for every Amex card that you have, and Costco gift cards are arguably the best and most flexible gift card currency on the market.  Of course, your purchases at Costco aren't limited to gift cards, so feel free to buy a new camera or your Thanksgiving dinner there.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Today only: American Express Business Gold Rewards card with 75k sign-up bonus

Sorry for being late in posting this deal because it's 1-day only.  Amex is offering a 75k sign-up bonus for their Business Gold Rewards card with a minimum of $10,000 in spending within the first 4 months of card membership.  Amex's Membership Rewards program is arguably the best credit card reward programs out there with their tremendous flexibility in point redemptions and countless partners.  For more info, check out The Points Guy's post.
Things to note about the card:
-3X points on airfare, 2X on U.S.-based advertising, gasoline, and shipping, and 1X for all other purchases
-$175 annual fee waived for the first year
-Amex's unparalleled purchase protection benefits

This is easily the best credit card sign-up bonus out there right now.  Too bad it'll only last for a couple of more hours.  Amex has been known to release this offer for 1-day only bimonthly, so if you miss out on this one, you'll likely get another chance, albeit for 24 hours.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Travels in Nagoya

I was given the opportunity to experience Nagoya for a couple of days last week for Japan's "Health and Sports Day" holiday.  As the third largest city in Japan, Nagoya boasts a wealth of traditional Japanese architecture and national attractions.  Nonstop roundtrip flight from Sapporo to Nagoya cost a measly 9,000 British Airways Avios points, which is perhaps the best redemption value possible as fares regularly run in excess of $800 USD.
 The first one on the plane as a One World Emerald member.  Too bad I could only land a middle seat.
Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium
Located at the mouth of the Port of Nagoya, the aquarium houses one of the largest displays of marine mammals in Japan.  Three orcas share a pool too small for even a single orca calf to be happy in.
Better in a small tank than on your daughter's school lunch menu.
The bottlenose dolphins are given a much larger tank in the Main Pool stadium.  However, the non-performers are permanently stationed in their miniature hideouts.  The Pacific white-sided dolphins are given entry to the stadium at showtime, but are forced to retreat to their hideout at show's end.

The dolphin show featured some nice stunts, but was on the shorter side.  Surprisingly, the trainers didn't enter the water with the dolphins, which is a practice even the Osaka Aquarium performs despite not even having a dolphin show.  The rest of the aquarium featured sea turtles, penguins, belugas, tuna, sharks, and the like.  Not bad for a discounted 1,800 yen with the all-day subway pass.

Nagoya Castle
Nagoya is one of the few Japanese cities that boasts a full-scale castle that once belonged to a shogun.  However, the actual castle built in 1610 was destroyed by the U.S. Air Force during World War II, so today's standing structure is a rebuilt version.

The Japanese government and the city of Nagoya did a formidable job in rebuilding the national treasure.  However, the refurbished structure will never be as good as the original, and the interior has been modified into a museum, thus ignoring much of the traditional rooms and weapons storage that once stood.

Despite its elegant appearance, Himeji Castle in Kyoto, with its undamaged original design and interior, definitely leads Nagoya Castle by a landslide.  The U.S. Air Force definitely left an internal scar here in Nagoya's treasured heritage.

Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology
Nagoya is the birthplace of Toyota Motor Corp., the largest automobile company in the world in terms of annual production.  The Toyota Commemorative Museum was the actual headquarters of Toyoda Spinning & Weaving Co., where Sakichi Toyoda pioneered the textile machinery industry that paved way to the most successful car company in the world.  The museum featured a vast array of textile machinery followed by Toyota's storied automobile history and modern production lines.
Since the museum is owned and operated by Toyota Motor Corp., demos with live personnel as well as interactive machinery abounded.  On the other hand, Nagoya Castle lacked both due to their meager government funding.

Although Nagoya can't compare to Tokyo's nightlife or Kansai's national treasures, the city still houses a good blend of attractions and cultural heritage that should not be missed.  The subways are crowded, but they're nothing like Tokyo's, where you fight for ever square millimeter during rush hour.  And the subway system has extensive coverage and convenient running times, unlike Sapporo, where it's the luck of the draw.  Oh, and the food is good too.
Handmade kishimen noodles, Nagoya's famed staple food source

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Southwest offering 40% discount through Thursday, other airlines matching

You are now free to move about the country, because Southwest is offering a 40% discount code for travel from Nov. 28 through Dec. 12, 2012, and Jan. 7 through Feb. 14, 2013.  Booking must be completed by 11:59 pm PT on Oct. 11, 2012 with promo code BigDeal40, so book now.  Full terms and conditions are available on the promo page.  The best thing is that other carriers have seemingly matched the deal.  So go to Google's Matrix Airfare Search to see if your desired flights have been matched by any of the other carriers.  All U.S. carriers (including Southwest) are required by law to include a free 24-hour cancellation or airfare hold policy for their bookings, so you can always purchase/hold the fare for now and cancel within 24 hours if you change your mind.
Wanna get away?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

5 things to love about Japan

In my previous installment, I exposed of all Japan's serious shortcomings that require immediate attention.  In this second and final installment, I'll bring out all the good news on how Japan is one of the world's premier countries.  So now that you've heard my rough criticism, it's time for the good news on the 5 things to absolutely love about Japan:

1. Food
Sushi and sashimi.  Need I say anymore?  Yes: ramen, udon, soba, tempura, okonomiyaki, yakitori, etc.  The list goes on and on as Japanese cuisine is easily the most unique and delectable in the world.  People around the globe flock to this country to get a taste of Japan's renowned delicacies.  Tokyo alone boasts a total of 17 Michelin 3-starred restaurants, the holy grail ranking of fine dining.  To put that into perspective, the entire U.S. only has 10.
Master Jiro Ono, the best sushi chef in the world and owner of the famed Michelin 3-starred Sukiyabashi Jiro restaurant in Tokyo, completes a masterpiece tuna nigiri.
2. The best public transportation system in the world
Tokyo to Osaka (350 miles) in 2 1/2 hours.  Missed your train?  The next one to Osaka departs in 7 minutes.  Japan invented the high-speed Shinkansen (aka Bullet Train) nearly half a century ago with a "pedestrian" speed of 130 mph, a feat that the U.S. has yet to come close to attaining even to this day.  Japan Railway (JR) has since improved the Shinkansen's speed to 186 mph with plans to reach 200 mph in the near future.  And no matter where you are, the JR has you covered.  Add that to the most comprehensive intercity subway and bus system in the world and you get public transit that's second to none.  Car ownership is so American and so unnecessary.
JR's legendary Shinkansen lineup: the most advanced high-speed train system in the world.
3. Healthcare
Ever get sick but decide against seeing the doctor to avoid monumental wait times while paying outrageous fees?  Not a problem in Japan, where 1,920 yen (~$24.40 USD) per month gets you universal healthcare with 70% coverage for nearly all visits.  Getting my teeth checked and cleaned came out to a measly $15 USD and the follow-up check was an astounding $3.95.  And that's after a 10-minute wait time.  Dermatologist with cryogenic operation and orthopedic doctor with ankle cast molding cost a whooping $15 and $46, respectively.  Japan is a good place to get sick, if you must.
Welcoming smiles aren't exclusive to the hospital.
4. Service
Smiles and warm welcomings.  Japan is a service-oriented country where the customer actually comes first.  It's a tradition that flows through their blood, from restaurants to hotels and airlines.  Although the employees' attitudes are often superficial, their smiles and constant willingness to help end up bringing a smile to your face after a long difficult day of working in the office.  If American waitresses held these kinds of attitudes, I'd be inclined to up my gratuity to 25%.  Oh, and gratuities are not accepted in Japan, so the price of your selected meal is also the price out the door.
Even Hello Kitty bows for you.
5. Safety
If you're 6 years old, never walk out alone at night in Japan, unless you want to go somewhere within walking distance.  Because you're better off taking the convenient subway, where your ticket is half price.  Japan is the only country in the world where felons willingly turn themselves in to the police.  You're more likely to get stuck by lightning on a clear day than to get kidnapped on your way to school.  Crime just isn't part of the Japanese culture, where the letter of the law is followed intensively.  So who commits all those ultra-rare crimes?  Japan likes to call them foreigners.

As with living in any country, there are countless pros and cons.  The best way for a foreigner to live out life in Japan is to always take the bitter with the better.  So before you criticize their staunch obedience to the law, remember that your 6-year-old daughter can safely walk back from school every night or take the subway for half price.  And when you sink your teeth into that sashimi, all your gripes about your boss being your king outside of work seemingly fly out the door.  It's a nation to be reckoned with, and in light of all their shortcomings, Japan still boasts one of the highest standards of living in the world.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Easy fastrack to Star Alliance Silver or Gold status

Aegean Airlines, a Star Alliance member and Greece's largest carrier, is offering a free 2,000-mile sign-up bonus for their frequent flyer program, Miles&Bonus.  The 2k bonus miles count towards elite status, and Blue Card status (Star Alliance Silver) can be attained by earning only 2k more miles (4k total miles) by flying on any Star Alliance carrier.  So why is this big?  First off, you'll need over 12 times that many miles (25k) to earn equivalent status with United, and Star Alliance Silver gets you 1 free checked bag on United, US Airways, and Air Canada as well as priority check-in, expedited security line, and early boarding.  Star Alliance Gold, where the real benefits kick in (see below), can be attained by flying on an additional 18k miles (20k total).  What's truly amazing is that elite status with Aegean is lifetime as long as you credit miles to your account at least once every 3 years, which even the rarest leisure traveler should have no problem accomplishing.
Star Alliance, the largest airline alliance in the world, is home to United, US Airways, Air Canada, ANA, Singapore Airlines, and 23 other major international carriers.  One of the benefits to flying with a Star Alliance carrier is alliance-wide status recognition.  For example, if you attain Star Alliance Gold status with Aegean by earning 18k miles, you'll be recognized when flying with the rest of the carriers with benefits that include the following:
  • Airport Lounge Access - available worldwide for you and a friend when you travel with any Star Alliance member airline, regardless of your class of travel.
  • Priority Airport Check-in - allows you to check-in at the Business and/or First Class counter.
  • Priority Boarding - enjoy the freedom of boarding at your convenience along with First and Business Class passengers.
  • Extra Baggage Allowance - an additional 20 kg (44 pounds) where the weight concept applies, or one additional piece of luggage where the piece concept applies.
  • Priority Baggage Handling - like you, your bags get priority treatment and are among the first to be unloaded.
  • Priority Reservations Waitlisting - when there aren't any seats left on your preferred flight, gives you priority should a seat become available.
  • Priority Airport Standby - gives you top priority when standing-by a flight at the airport.
For more info, including advice on how to earn Star Alliance Silver and Gold status with Aegean as well as key benefits and limitations, check out New Girl in the Air's post or comment below.

Monday, October 1, 2012

5 things that Japan needs to improve on (aka what I hate about Japan)

In commemoration of reaching my 6-month anniversary here in Japan, I have decided to produce a dual installment on the bests and worsts of Japan.  Having lived here for half a year, I felt it necessary to expose the inherent strengths and weaknesses of this venerable country.  Bad news should always come before the good news, so here are the 5 areas that Japan desperately needs to improve on (aka what I hate about Japan) along with my justifications:

1. Hierarchy reigns like a monarchy
"All men are created equal" will always be the motto of America's treasured heritage initiated by our revered Founding Fathers.  It has been replicated around the world by perhaps every first world country with the single exception of Japan.  In Japan, status reigns supreme.  Your boss at work is your king, whether you're at work, at home on your Playstation 3, or at the year-end party.  And you want to leave work early because you're done?  Too bad, your boss is still here.  Arrive at work after he does or leave before he does and you're scorned as a disloyal and lazy servant.
Emporer Akihito ain't your only king in Japan.  Your office boss can be even more powerful.
2. Treatment of women
Equal-opportunity is a misnomer in Japan, where PhD women sit at home as housewives, serving their male  Don't expect to keep your job after you've conceived, as the culture of Japan now establishes you solely as a caretaker.  Oh, and what does your husband do after work?  You guessed it, all that overtime pay went into sleeping with hookers.  And there's nothing you can do about it but stay at home and be a faithful housewife.

3. Indirect connotations and poker faces
"That will be difficult" and "I'm not sure about that" mean a blatant "no".  You'll never know what's really on their mind because they don't express it.  There's a reason why those ANA and JAL flight attendants are the nicest on the planet.  Those service employees are incapable of frowning. What your heart believes is never shown by what you say, unless it's positive, and even that's exaggerated.
Love those smiles!  Deep down inside, they're sick and tired of all my constant food and alcohol requests.
4. The utter enforcement of the letter of the law
Japan is a society based upon the complete submission to any and all rules.  Whereas this practice has led to one of the lowest crime rates in the world, it has also disemboweled the slightest bit of common sense when it comes to accounting.  You're the only guest at the hotel and you want to checkout at 11 am?  Sorry, rules specifically state that the checkout deadline is at 10 am, so get out or face a severe additional service charge.  Want to transfer funds from your Japan bank account to a U.S. account so that your equity can be accessed in the States?  Not a good enough reason; transfer denied.  But your mom in California needs money!  Mmmm, according to the rulebook, that's a valid reason; transfer approved.  I don't want onions in my burger . . . sorry, the cookbook says that the chef needs to include them.
Even Calvin knows when the spirit of the law applies.
5. Pride of the culture
Nothing wrong with being proud of your country, but everybody makes mistakes, and that includes even Japan.  After over 70 years, the Japanese government still denies their country's involvement in the Nanking Massacre (aka the Rape of Nanking).  Whaling is unethical and bluefin tuna are on the brink of extinction, but these endangered species continue to fall in mass quantities at the hands of the Japanese fishing fleet due to their culture, which takes precedence over all rationality.  Japanese people are arguably the most proud of all nationalities,  so sacrificing the smallest bit of their culture is completely unacceptable.  Being Christian means being "unJapanese", which serves to explain the country's sadly low 0.5% Christian base.
The Nanking Massacre was an absolute myth.  This picture?  It must be Photoshopped.
Bottom line
Japan has much to work on.  From unfair treatment to utter denial of previous wrongdoing, Japan often embodies the attitude of a 6-year-old spoiled brat.  But, as you'll see in my next installment, the worst can occasionally lead to being the best.  What do you think?  Am I missing anything or am I being way too harsh?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Barclays NFL credit card with $400 sign-up bonus

As the NFL welcomes the return of their hallowed original referees, the Barclays NFL credit card is seemingly celebrating by offering a 40,000 point sign-up bonus after $1,000 in spending within the first 90 days.  40k points = $400 statement credit or $400 credit towards travel (airfare, lodging, car rentals, cruises, etc).  For all of you NFL fans out there, points can also be redeemed for NFL team jerseys for 12k and two regular season game tickets for 25k.  The card also offers a 20% discount at and 2X points on NFL purchases, whether online, at team pro-shops, or in-stadium.  Whereas NFL points aren't worth nearly as much as American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards points, this card carries a much lower $1,000 spending requirement and no annual fee.  So this is a good card whether you care about the NFL or not.
Which team logo are you going to select to have on your card?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Tokyo Haneda to Sapporo on Japan Airlines

This is the second and final installment on my trip to Tokyo last weekend for the "KeirĊ no Hi" holiday.  For my return flight, I flew from Tokyo Haneda (HND) to Sapporo (CTS), which is the busiest air route in the world with 9 million passengers carried last year.  This is due to the fact that Sapporo is the only major city in Japan that is inaccessible via Shinkansen, Japan's renowned Bullet Train.  So what could be done in as little as 3 1/2 hours on the Sinkansen is extended to 10+ hours on conventional trains.

HND airport check-in
HND is the busiest airport in Japan and the second busiest in Asia.  It serves as the main domestic hub for ANA and JAL, Japan's two legacy carriers.  Both carriers operate an astounding 34 daily flights between HND and CTS mostly on jumbojet Boeing 777 and 747s, combining for 68 planes flown.  Although my flight was full, I was able to secure a bulkhead aisle seat with expanded legspace, so I didn't bother to pay the extra 1,000 yen to upgrade to J class.
I arrived at HND 45 minutes before my departure time and headed for JAL's First Class check-in counter.  Normally, this would spell danger, especially for a primary hub like HND.  But as usual, I was the only passenger in line.
JAL's exclusive first class check-in "room"
JAL not only has a First Class check-in counter, but an actual First Class check-in "room" dedicated to domestic first class passengers and Oneworld Emerald members.  The room exits right into a security checkpoint, which had no line and took all but a minute to pass.  Upon passing the security checkpoint, you are greeted with escalators taking you up to JAL's Sakura Lounge and the Diamond Premier Lounge.

Diamond Premier Lounge
The Diamond Premier Lounge is JAL's exclusive flagship domestic lounge dedicated to first class passengers and Oneworld Emerald members.  Although it doesn't come even close to comparing with JAL's international lounges, it still offers a unique environment with exclusive amenities such as sofa suites, massage chairs, and French pastries.

Although the Diamond Premier Lounge was significantly better than the Sakura Lounge @CTS, it still serves as more of a place to relax and catch up on email since the food and drink offerings don't excel.  In other words, go to one of the ramen restaurants in the terminal if you're hungry.

Flight experience
Since it was a Monday night at the end of a long weekend, the terminal was an absolute madhouse.  There were over a hundred people in line at the gate before boarding even began.  This is where elite status comes into play as I got to cut in front of everyone as one of the first to board.
The bulkhead aisle seat was better than what I expected.  Instead of facing a wall, it's the first row behind J class, and you're afforded with double the seat pitch as a normal economy class seat.
The seat even featured underseat storage, which is usually a sacrifice that emergency exit and bulkhead passengers make.  Looking behind me, this was by far the best economy seat in the house.

I was glad I didn't upgrade to J class as this was one of the best economy seats I've ever sat in.  Along with expanded seat space, you're also the first to be served in your cabin.  As usual, JAL makes their check-in and boarding process seamless for their elite passengers, which is amazing considering how it's the airline's biggest hub in the second busiest airport in Asia.  Facing a saturated terminal was actually the last thing I expected upon exiting the lounge as the check-in room and lounge were nowhere near full.  For a domestic airport, HND is joy to fly out of as it maintains the elegance and efficiency of the Japanese service industry.
Back in Sapporo, where the flower fields roam . . . in July