Tim Foolery

Austrian Airlines – On Strike?

UPDATE: Looks like the Austrian flights to Chicago and Washington/Dulles have been cancelled. The JFK flight did leave a little more than an hour late. Austrian is currently trying to rebook passengers on other Star Alliance flights. Based on the flight loads and the time of day they started this rebooking process, there will be many US Bound passengers staying an extra night (or two) in Europe. There are so many worse things that could happen on your trip though. If you are stuck in Vienna another night, go back into the City. Grab a coffee and some cake and listen to some of the amazing street musicians.

Original Post:

Those of you who follow me on social media (Instagram, Twitter, Vero) know that I was in Vienna this past weekend. Evidently the Austrian Airlines is having some employment and service issues today. Dozens of flights have been cancelled throughout Europe. It appears that their long haul flights are just delayed.

The flight back to Chicago was delayed two hours and was supposed to (but didn’t) leave at 12h10 (vs. 10h10) – and that announcement was made last night. People are at the airport now and the information presented is that the “Worker’s Council” is meeting and more information will be available in an hours time.

I’d much rather be sitting here drinking champagne than be queued up waiting for a delayed plane because of a possible employee strike.

The website outlining the Flight Status has been just stair stepping the delay. I’m not sure what the underlying issues are with the flight crews, but it is quite a frustrating situation for passengers though.

We’ll have to see if the delay is long enough to trigger a EU Regulation 261/2004 claim – where passengers could be eligible for up to €600 in compensation for a delayed flight.

You can keep up to date on these issues on Austrian’s website, and check flight status here.

Are you stuck in Vienna or an outstation trying to get on an Austrian flight?

Luggage Warranties – Useful or Worthless? My Briggs & Riley Experience

Nicer luggage manufacturers often include a lifetime warranty. Have you ever needed to get your bags repaired and use this warranty? I’ve had a couple of instances where I’ve needed to have some work done – varying degrees of damage and extreme variations of satisfaction.

We’ve used different sizes of Victorinox luggage throughout the years and have had damage pop up, everything from a broken telescoping handle, to a crushed axle and wheel well. For these larger suitcases we’ve had really great results. We’ve dropped the bags off at a travel shop (found on the Victorinox website), paid a nominal fee (usually $25 or $35) and then a few weeks later we get a call that our bag is ready for pickup. We’ve even had the damage bag completely replaced before. I assume the luggage company does a quick cost / benefit analysis and realizes that it’s better if they just replace the bag than doing a repair job, which may just lead to another issue and additional repairs.

I’ve used a Briggs and Riley briefcase for about two years and really like it. It’s been to work with me every day, it’s been on more than 150 flights and while it is a bit worn, it works great. That is until I was walking out of my office one day and the metal clasp that connects the bag to the shoulder strap snapped. Down crashes my bag with laptop, tablet, phone and a bunch of work stuff. Nothing was damaged, but my shoulder strap was useless. I get home and research how to use the warranty, which was really straight forward. Basically, you complete an online form (outlining the issues with your bag) and ship your bag off. Briggs and Riley then completes the repairs and returns the bag to you – the return shipping is on them.

Just two weeks prior a friend was telling me about his roll aboard suitcase that broke and Briggs and Riley did an excellent repair job. He said he’d never buy another brand of travel bags again. While I hated the idea that my bag broke, I was excited to get it fixed.

I sent my bag off and after about three weeks it was returned. Man, was I disappointed. The main issue – the shoulder strap – had been fixed. The clasp had been replaced, but with one that was a different style and a slightly different color. The handles that had started falling apart (which was noted on my repair form) were sewn, but done in such a poor and sloppy fashion, it looks like I sewed it myself. One of the soft overlays on the handles ended up being sliced (perhaps when they opened the box I shipped my bag in). I sure wasn’t expecting a new bag based on the small amount of repair work needed, but I was expecting a bit more care than was provided.

Really shoddy sewing work.

The handle returned sliced.

I repacked this repaired bag and brought it to work the next day. In the elevator a colleague asked what happened to my bag – he had noticed the different color/style clasps. Hmmm – disappointing. I used this bag for the rest of the week, then I had to be on the road – Denver, Dallas, New York, Hartford and back to Chicago. On this series of flights I had THREE people comment on the bag. Two people mentioned the Briggs and Riley lifetime warranty and I should send it off. These people were shocked when I told them this was the work of Briggs and Riley. The third guy commented on the different clasps.

You will notice from the pictures that they are different, but I just thought my frustrated and discerning eye was paying too close attention. I guess not.

Mismatched replacement clips. Surprisingly obvious when on the bag!

I decided to send a note off to Briggs and Riley’s customer service expressing my disappointment in the now mismatched clasps and the poorly sewn handle. Ten days later I got the following note:

Only one of my comments was addressed. I replied to their email. No response. I called  customer service.  The rep took my info and had to go do some additional research then call me back.  I’ve never heard back.  What a disappointment.

I guess at the end of the day, what I’m saying is, buy a bag because you love the bag and it is sturdy – don’t buy a bag because it has a lifetime warranty – you might just end up getting some real crappy repair work and dismal customer service.

Off to the store to find another briefcase.  Do you have any recommendations?


My First Airbnb Stay

I mentioned recently that I needed to be in Oregon last weekend and that hotels were unreasonably expensive. This pushed me to try Airbnb for the first time, as the rates were nearly half that of the hotels. I was able to find a place, exactly where I wanted to be and the reviews were positive. I mentioned to people that I had never used Airbnb before and they were shocked – for someone who travels as frequently as I do, how could have never tried such a common lodging option?

So for the place I picked the location and the price were spot on, but the room it self was awfully small.  The worst part of the apartment I chose was that there wasn’t really a place to sit other than the bed.  The other room in the apartment was more of a kitchen and you could sit on the uncomfortable dining chairs, but that wouldn’t last too long.  I just wish there was a couch, a lounge chair or even a desk chair.

This was the only real seating area in the apartment. Not conducive to relaxing, is it?

The bedroom was small, but a perfectly acceptable size and the bed was quite comfortable.

The funky layout was fine for a single traveler, but would be rough for two people- even two people who were really close. I think it would be awful with two people.

The whole Airbnb process worked fine, from downloading the app, to searching for a place, to gaining access to the building, not an issue popped up. I only stayed one night at this property, but I know if I stayed two, I would have missed the daily maid service. I did feel a little disconnected since there was no staff to assist with anything (I didn’t need assistance, it was just a security blanket thing, I think).

I don’t think I will be changing my travel lodging preferences – I’ll keep staying in hotels, but I think I may at least check Airbnb options, depending on the city I am visiting. What do you love about Airbnb? What do you absolutely hate about the program?

The Allison Inn and Spa, Newberg Oregon

We spent Thanksgiving in Oregon. We flew in, brought my mom in and the in-laws drove up from Arizona. Our plan had us staying a couple days in the Willamette Valley, then moving to Portland for the final days of the holiday. Our plan was simple, pick a nice hotel where we could relax and enjoy Thanksgiving and have a great holiday meal. There aren’t many options that offer everything we were looking for, but we found the Allison Inn and Spa and it checked all the boxes.

Main Entrance to the Allison Inn and Spa

The Allison – Through the trees.

We knew of the Allison for a few years now, but never had the opportunity to visit. The restaurant on site, Jory, gets high praise too. The hotel is located in Newberg, Oregon, which is about an hour from Portland. This 85 room hotel is situated in the rolling hills just a few minutes outside of town. As you pull on property, the winding road takes you by the Hotel and you loop around to the complimentary valet parking. You can self park, if you prefer, but why would you?

You walk into the main lobby where several employees are waiting at reception. You get a total Pacific Northwest vibe from this place, with the slate floors and abundance of wood grains throughout. Check-in was quick and except for a member of our group complaining about the room rate (which was about $350/room/night). They let us know about the walking trails on property as well as the hours of the spa, restaurant and the bar (really the most important info about a hotel stay).

The Allison is often used for local corporate events – rumor has it Nike and Intel often book the whole property. That being said, this isn’t your stereotypical conference hotel. It isn’t sterile and bland like the traditional conference space. During our stay we didn’t really feel like we were at anything but a nice hotel in the Oregon Wine Country.

Past reception is the main lobby (you know, I hate how at some hotels you have to walk through the maze that is the social lobby just to check in at some hotels, this wasn’t the case here). The lobby area has ample seating around a big beautiful fireplace. We spent many an hour here, enjoying the fire, chatting and working our way through the cocktail and snack lists. We waited no longer than one minute from the time we sat down in the lobby before we were greeted by a server who brought us water, menus and these wonderfully spiced hazelnuts (or as we locals call them, filberts). The service team here was really top notch. While they may not have been the most polished, they were genuinely concerned about your happiness and really pushed to make your stay memorable.

The cozy fireplace in the lobby – with excellent bar service.

We were given ground floor rooms with small patios. We looked out on the hotel grounds which were in the throes of autumn color change. Red, yellow and orange leaves accompanied the beautiful evergreens making a truly picturesque view. It was unseasonably warm during our visit (15C/60F), so we spent quite a bit of time outside on our patio, walking the grounds or cocktailing by the outside next to the main bar.

The beautiful fall colors on the grounds at the Allison.

The rooms were large and had a king bed, a love seat sized window seating area, a comfortable chair, an adequately sized desk which could be used as an in room dining area too.

The comfortable king sized bed. Not too many pillows – I hate hotels with tons of pillows on the bed.

The lounge area / window seat in our room.

The bathroom was very large, with separate shower and tub. The soaking tub called to me, but since we were traveling with family, lounging in the tub with a bottle of wine by myself didn’t seem to make much sense. Next time.

The bathroom was quite large, with double vanities.

The WC and the walk-in shower.

The toilet was in a separate WC – which was needed since the bathroom had a window opening to the main room.

A view across the bathtub into the main room. Why do Oregon hotels have windows into the bathroom?

Too few hotels offer washcloths.

The mini bar was quintessential Pacific Northwest, which included chocolate covered filberts, nutrition bars, chips and filtered water. The water wasn’t bottled per se, but was filtered and kept in a refillable glass vessel, which was much more environmentally sound than all those wasted bottles we toss while at hotels. The mini bar was complimentary, but unfortunately we never got our chocolate covered filberts restocked…that was probably a good thing, considering how much I ate on this visit.

The minibar – with amazing chocolate covered filberts.

We booked spa appointments months in advance as we weren’t sure how busy the Hotel would be. Would they book up, or would they close the spa for Thanksgiving? We got massages on Thanksgiving morning. The facilities were relatively great. There aren’t a lot of high end spas in the area to compare this to. It was very clean, with proper lockers, both a dry and a wet sauna and a couple showers. The spa was separated into male and female areas, but there was a coed waiting area if you prefer. Honestly the massages were really great. Hotel massages can really be hit or miss and the team at the Allison really hit it out of the park. 90 minutes just flew by.

We ate three meals at the hotel, lunch and dinner on Thanksgiving, plus breakfast the next day. Only lunch on Thanksgiving wasn’t without issues though. We grabbed a casual lunch in the bar, knowing that we had a large tasting menu planned for Thanksgiving dinner…plus all those wonderfully spiced filberts during afternoon cocktails. I had the mac and cheese, while the others all had the smoked salmon wrap. It was a really delightful lunch.

Dinner, at Jory, was an interesting endeavor. We booked our rooms in March – we wanted to make sure that we had a place to stay. Shortly after booking, I emailed the hotel to make proper Thanksgiving Dinner reservations. I was greeted the next day with a response saying that it was too early to make those reservations, but Jory’s manager would reach out as soon as it was possible to make reservations. I followed up again in August and got the same response. Again, I followed up in September and was told that Thanksgiving dinner was sold out and there was NOTHING they could do. I was frustrated and absolutely livid. After nearly half a dozen emails we finally got it squared away and managed to get dinner reservations at 19h30 – a little later than we wanted, but it was much better than grabbing a sandwich at the Safeway. After this interaction, we were a little concerned with how the actual stay would go (remember, this issue popped up two months before we set foot on property). We had long conversations about changing our plans. Ultimately they fixed it, but it took some strong language and the threat of cancelling our whole stay with them before it was resolved.

The kitchen at Jory.

Fast forward to Thanksgiving dinner. The five of us were seated and we had been studying the menu all day, so once we sat down, we were ready to rock and roll. The tasting menu had traditional Thanksgiving selections that were both individually selected and shared for the table. Everyone else selected the turkey dinner option, while I chose the ham. The turkey wasn’t a turkey in the traditional sense, it was more of a turkey roll, which disappointed most of our table. They enjoyed it, but they all felt it seemed a little processed and the easy way out. My ham was quite fatty and salty, but I do believe I made the best selection.

The next day we wanted breakfast at the hotel, before we went out wine tasting. We arrived at 09h30 and asked about breakfast and were told that breakfast was no longer being served – despite the fact that people were just going in to be seated. As an alternative, we were offered the snack menu at the bar – which only had four-top tables for the five of us. It was suggested that we sit at different tables, or one of us could sit at the bar, while the other four sat at a table. I was really surprised at these suggestions.

I asked to speak to someone else, the manager, the supervisor, someone. With my previous issues with the restaurant team here, I knew that dealing with the manager on duty would get more traction. Usually I don’t ask for the manager, I work with the front line people and almost always we come to a positive resolution. The manager let me know that we couldn’t be seated at the five-top table in the restaurant because it was reserved…for a party of four….at 13h00. They intended on holding the table for 3.5 hours. I told the manager that we had plans to go wine tasting and had no intention of sitting around that table for 3.5 hours and if we were still sitting there at 12h00 she could personally remind me and I’d make sure we left. She balked. I truly felt this was unreasonable, so the discussion continued. They eventually relented about 20 minutes later.

We were seated for breakfast, waters and menus were delivered, then interestingly enough, it took 30 minutes before anyone returned to even take drink orders. It was 10h30 at this point.

The breakfast menu was interesting, as it had a few left over items from the Thanksgiving Dinner, including Turkey Stuffing Bread Pudding and Turkey Eggs Benedict. We were all pretty content with our breakfast selections, but were tired of the service issues at Jory and were ready to make a move.

My mom and the in-laws spent a few hours after breakfast in the main lobby, near the fireplace, reading and chatting while we headed off to hit a couple of wineries. Thanksgiving and Memorial Day weekends are huge tasting weekends in the Willamette Valley. After spending time out enjoying the wineries, we returned to pickup the family and head off to Portland. The lobby was bustling and I sat down to see how the parents enjoyed their time by the fire, the server who had helped me each day, arrived with seasoned filberts and a negroni – the drink that I had started off my cocktail hour(s) with each day. She remembered and delivered without me even acknowledging her. It was lovely. I had no intention of grabbing a drink then, but it would be rude not to enjoy the drink…wouldn’t it?

Our time at the Allison was over. It wasn’t without hiccups, mostly relating to the team at Jory. The hotel itself was quite lovely, especially for the area and in general the service was stellar. Our biggest issues, really came from the front line service leadership at Jory while everyone else was on point. The views from the hotel are so relaxing for me. I grew up just a few miles from the Allison, so it really felt like home and was just what I was looking for in a Thanksgiving break with family.

How do you spend your Thanksgiving breaks? Do you work hard to spend time with family at home, or do you take a trip somewhere…or do you take your extended family with you somewhere? While it was a great time and I thoroughly look forward to another stay at the Allison, I will say, I’m not looking forward to another big family holiday road trip soon.

Is Airbnb for me?

I love to travel.  When I do travel, I love to live like a local. I want to eat where the locals eat. I want to take buses and subways and ride bikes.  I want to find a dive bar or a hidden gem bar that isn’t on TripAdvisor or another guidebook.  I don’t (necessarily) want to be viewing a city from a multi-room suite, high above the residents of that city.  Don’t get me wrong, I do love a beautiful suite upgrade, but if I’m trying to experience a city like a local, why don’t I live like a local?

I’ve never once stayed at an Airbnb.  To be more clear, I’ve never stayed at any sort of short term rental arrangement like Airbnb, VBRO, FlipKey, Wimdu or any other the others out there.  I have no problem with other aspects of our “share-economy” – I use Uber/Lyft all the time.  I can’t even remember the last time I took a traditional taxi someplace. I just have never pulled the trigger on an Airbnb.

I have dozens of friends who’ve stayed under these arrangements before. They swear by them too.  I can’t quite put my finger on why I’ve shied away.  Maybe it’s be cause I like daily maid service when I travel.  Perhaps I like the idea of a full service bar/restaurant in a hotel (even though, I rarely dine at the hotel in which I stay).  Perchance I have an unhealthy fear that someone will come into this property and rob/murder me.

Well, all this is about to change.  I have to go back to Oregon this weekend – I’ll be in a small town that does have a couple of hotel options, but they didn’t appeal to me.  A couple were in the Super 8 class of accommodations, plus those were out of town, more on the highway. I want someplace where I can walk to grab a bite to eat or drink, if the mood strikes me. You know how much I loathe driving.  One option required me to share a bathroom with an adjoining room – it’s a great hotel and I love the concept (a rehabbed turn of the century hotel in a historic downtown setting), but I am not going to fight a neighbor for a shower or a toilet — and I am sure as hell not going to walk down the hall to use the toilet…and wait in line for the privilege to do so.  One final option, was to stay at a loft hotel, one where I’ve stayed before – but the rates were nearly $300 per night.  Which is utterly nuts, if you ask me.

That left me with an Airbnb option.  Friends that I’m meeting this weekend are also staying at another Airbnb – and they stay in them all the time.  So I downloaded the app, created a profile and booked a room.  The rate was almost a third of the hotel costs.  It’s right where I want to be.  It has good reviews and appears to fit my needs.

Quaint Downtown

Now don’t you see why I wanted to stay here?

It’s just one night – how bad could it be?

Am I nuts for not trying Airbnb before?  What advice do you have for a newbie?  What are your Airbnb horror stories?