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Tim Foolery

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Tag Archives: Elite

Courtyard Marriott Toronto Downtown

I travel to Toronto for business at least once a year. Each of these trips, I am surprised at how expensive hotels are.  It’s tough to find a decent hotel in downtown Toronto for less than $400CAD.  For this trip, I searched and searched and the most inexpensive Marriott I could find downtown was the Courtyard Marriott Toronto Downtown, on Yonge Street.  I’m just a few more nights away from retaining Platinum Status for 2019 with Marriott – so I had to choose a Marriott Property.

I’ve stayed at this hotel many years ago, during a loud and frustrating renovation.  I’ve never heard of a hotel renovation starting before 06h00, but it did. It was torture.  The renovation is now complete and the hotel is quiet again.  I arrived at 11h00 and waiting behind several people attempting to check in.  Each of those guests were reminded that check in was 16h00 and they’d have to come back.  I approached, expecting to drop off my bags and working in the lobby before my meetings.  Without missing a beat, the woman working reception told me my room was available and I could check in immediately.

The groups in front of my, who were denied a room, were still milling about the lobby and became very frustrated and pushed back up to the check in desk, demanding a room.  I quickly headed toward the elevators to the relative peace of my room.

Courtyard Marriott Toronto Downtown

The main room of the Courtyard Marriott Toronto Downtown

Courtyard Marriott Toronto Downtown

The small but utilitarian bathroom of the Courtyard Marriott Toronto Downtown

Courtyard Marriott Toronto Downtown

I haven’t seen Paul Mitchell products in years

My room was a standard king room on the eighth floor. My view was of one of the dozens of construction sights in Toronto.

Courtyard Marriott Toronto Downtown

View of one of the many construction sites in Toronto

I hadn’t stayed in a Courtyard Marriott in several years. I’d been focusing most of my stays with Starwood, but now that the merger is complete, I’m open to branching out across the super chain.   I slept remarkably well the two nights I was in Toronto – probably the best hotel sleep I’ve had in years.

Have you stayed at the Courtyard Marriott Toronto Downtown before?  What is your favorite Marriott property in Toronto?  Where should I stay on my next visit?

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United Premier 1K Status Just Got Harder to Achieve

Changes to the MileagePlus program, most notably the United Premier 1K Status have been announced.  MileagePlus offers six levels of status to frequent flyers: General Member, Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, Premier 1K and Global Services.  Basically, the more you fly the higher your status.  I’ve been a Premier Platinum member for a few years now.  To earn this status I must fly at least 75,000 miles annually, plus spend $9,000 with United.

Historically, United Premier 1K Status has been awarded to members who fly 100,000 miles annually and spend $12,000 with United.  I’ve never flown enough paid miles (miles flown on award tickets don’t count in this tally) in a given year to earn 1K Status.  I’m pretty content with my simple Premier Platinum too.  Each year, I do the math and see if it makes sense to accelerate travel to earn 1K status. I never has, for me.

United just announced a change in the earning requirements for Premier 1K Status.  In addition to flying 100,000 miles annually, you’ll have to spend $15,000 with United.  That’s a 25% jump year over year.  Now this is effective for status starting in 2020.   Therefore, you’ll have to fly the same number of miles, but spend quite a bit more money just to keep (or earn) your Premier 1K Status.

United BusinessFirst Amenity Kit

United BusinessFirst Amenity Kit

United has been making some other changes recently too.  In addition to the changes to their boarding process, they are also changing the earning bonus on one of their premium fares.  You can check out their dedicated website for all the details.

Are you currently a Premier 1K?  How does this change impact your travel plans for 2019?  How easy will it be for you to requalify for this lucrative status.

United Airlines’ New Boarding Process

United Airlines just announced changes to their passenger boarding process. Every couple of years it seems like the airlines (not just United, of course) try a new method for boarding their planes. For a while, it seemed like every airline had an elaborate queueing process, with half a dozen or more boarding zones. These zones caused people to line up long before boarding actually began. Sometimes the passengers getting off the arriving plane were met with a wall of people eagerly lined up to board. It was a mess.

United is trying to fix that issue. How many of you have been to O’hare, SFO, or EWR recently and had your path obstructed by dozens of people in the boarding line, snaking into the main concourse? Well, United’s plan to fix this is simple. Passengers should only line up if they are in Boarding Groups 1 or 2. Groups 3-5 remain seated and then they’ll be called once the first two Groups are on board. That part of the plan seems fine, although I really don’t think it will work. See, if you are in Groups 3-5, you’ll end up boarding through Lane 2…which means you’ll likely still be fighting for your spot in that line.

United Airlines' New Boarding Process

United Airlines’ New Boarding Process

Reorganization

My biggest issue is how the new Boarding Groups are organized. I’m a Premier Platinum flyer with United, meaning I fly 75K+ miles each year and spend $9K with them. Currently, I board in Group 1. Group 1 consists of Premier 1K (100K mile flyers), Premier Platinum and First Class Passengers. We are the first to board the plane after the pre-boarding folks (Uniformed Military, Families with small children, Global Services and people with mobility issues). This is great for me. I board and get situated; I never have a problem finding overhead bin space near my seat for my roller bag. Group 2 included Premier Gold (50K mile flyers), Star Alliance Gold, and certain credit card holders. When I use to board with Group 2, I had a hard time finding space for my bag near my seat – often times I’d need to go back 4-5 rows to properly stow the bag. Now I don’t usually need my bag while in flight, it is just problematic when we deplane. Swimming upstream to get my back is always a pain the neck.

The New Process

The new process adjusts who is in Group 1. Now Premier 1K is part of pre-boarding. Group 1 consists of Premier Platinum, Premier Gold, Star Alliance Gold and Premium Cabins (First and Business Class passengers).
Now I know that on the grand scheme of things, this is a minor issue. The most important part of flying is arriving safely and close to the schedule. One of the benefits for hitting 75K miles each year was to board a bit earlier. If I’m not traveling with my roller bag, I don’t board early.  I wait until the bitter end as I don’t want to sit on the plane any longer than I have to.

The best part of this change is that it keeps the credit card passengers a Group behind us. Once I get a couple more trips under my belt, it may all work out just fine and I’ll actually enjoy this new structure. I’m not sold on it now though.

If I were designing the boarding Groups (purely for selfish reasons of course), I’d have Global Services continue to pre-board. Then Group 1 would be First Class, Premier 1K and Premier Platinum. Group 2 would be Premier Gold, Star Alliance Gold and credit card people (I believe that United makes decent money off these folks). Group 3 would be Premier Silver, Star Alliance Silver and people who purchased Priority Access. The rest of the Groups would remain unchanged.

How will this change at United Airlines impact your travels? Are you boarding sooner or later? Do you not care at all because you just check your bag and don’t have to worry about it?

EVA Air Infinity Lounge

After hurrying off the flight from Chicago, I quickly made my way to the EVA Air Infinity Lounge.  EVA Air has several lounges available in Taipei, but I decided to visit just one.  As I made my way to the lounge, I was struck by how absolutely dead this major airport was at 04h15.  Empty hallways as far as the eye could see!

The Airport

The Departure Board

The departure board – no flight departures for hours.

Empty hallways at TPE

Early morning and empty terminal

Empty hallways at TPE

Soon these halls would be filled with excited travelers, not so much at 04h30.

Entering the EVA Air Infinity Lounge you are greeted by several staffers, plus an inquisitive robot.  The robot seemed mostly to distract people entering the lounge.

EVA Air Infinity Lounge

EVA Air Infinity Lounge

The Lounge

My first order of business was to grab a shower.  It had been nearly 20 hours since I had last showered.  While I wasn’t working out, I did feel quite gross.  Maybe the gallons of champagne I drank had something to do with that.  I immediately swapped my boarding pass for a shower key.  Every time I take a shower at TPE, I struggle to figure out how to actually enter the shower area.  I can’t offer guidance either, as I try a dozen different ways to get in and then it finally clicks.  Just ask for help. I’m too stubborn to do that though.

The shower room isn’t anything fancy, but it is clean and has hot water.

Accessories in the shower room

The private shower room is stocked with fresh toiletries and towels.

Bulk Products in the Shower

Bulk shampoo, conditioner and body wash were waiting in the shower.

Private Shower Rooms must have a toilet, right?

Not too fancy of a toilet, but it did have several bells and whistles, that I didn’t try out.

After the shower, I felt like a new man.  I wasn’t very hungry, but I did force myself to grab some water, more champagne and some ice cream.  The lounge was relatively quiet this early in the morning, which allowed me to get a little work done and relax before my next flight.

Video Arcade or Lounge?

EVA Air Infinity Lounge looks like an arcade from the 1980s.

Video Arcade or Lounge?

The EVA Air Infinity Lounge has ample room for guests.

I had spent the last 15.5 hours eating and drinking, so I wasn’t too keen on the idea of breakfast food.  Plus, I had another 5 hour flight in Business Class in just a couple of hours.  I’ll skip this meal.

Self-serve beverage station.

Self-serve beverage station.

Breakfast Pastries

The breakfast pastries weren’t all that appetizing

Chilled Breakfast Case

Yogurt, butter and other chilled breakfast items

En Route to the Gate

I got a little tired of just sitting around the EVA Air Infinity Lounge, so I headed off to explore TPE and make my way towards the gate.

Pilot Hello Kitty

I don’t understand the infatuation with Hello Kitty, but I do dig the aviation themed kitty.

Boeing 777-300

My flight from TPE to SIN. Love this Boeing 777-300.

Sanrio Planes Crack Me Up

While not exactly THE Hello Kitty Plane, this Sanrio livery was hot.

I’ve never had much time to spend exploring TPE, but I’ve been pretty pleased with my time there.  Unfortunately, EVA Air doesn’t offer any stellar ground services like Thai Airways, Singapore or Lufthansa does, so there really isn’t any reason to push for a longer layover.

Have you spent much time in Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport?  What should I be on the look out for next time I transit?

Preflight at O’Hare. Lounges and Why Does T5 Suck?

Our flight departed at 00h30. EVA doesn’t allow you to print boarding passes at home for flights out of Chicago, so that means I had no way of getting into the Polaris Lounge (usually flying Star Alliance Business Class will gain you entrance, but the lounge closed before the EVA desk even opened up). I’ve written before about how the other Star Alliance and Priority Pass Lounges are just awful at O’Hare’s International Terminal. So this trip, I didn’t leave the house until 22h00.

EVA Air Check-in Counter

EVA Air Check-in Counter

There was no traffic and I rolled into Terminal 5 at 22h25. One man was in front of me for check-in at EVA and he was finished within 90 seconds. My check-in couldn’t have been smoother. The agent was confused as to why I wasn’t flying back home with EVA. After his colleague explained in intense detail how this is indeed allowable I was on my way to security.

I never go through the full body scanners. I’ve always joked that if you want to see my junk, just ask, you don’t need to have a fancy nude-o-scope to do the dirty work. Plus it is a bit of a non-violent protest to security theater in the US. Usually It doesn’t matter because Pre-Check works fine for me. EVA does not participate in Pre-Check, so it was either the nude-o-scope or the pat down. I opted for the pat down, as always. The frustrated TSA agent started to explain how the nude-o-scope is perfectly safe and I should just deal with it.

Nope.

Frustrated more at me now, he decides to let me go through the metal detector. An interesting choice, but one I am okay with. Now if that isn’t security theater, I don’t know what is.

Empty Terminal Five at ORD

Terminal 5 at O’Hare on a Tuesday night was quite dead.

Departure Board

The departure board is quite disappointing on a Tuesday night.

Norwegian Airlines

EVA Air 777-300

EVA Air 777-300, my ride to Taipei.

EVA Air 777-300

EVA Air 777-300, my ride to Taipei.

Through security and into the duty free area by 22h35 left me 90 minutes before boarding. I walked around the terminal, checking out the restaurants – not that I would want to eat before my flight, but I sure didn’t want to sit in the dismal lounge for an hour and a half.

Restaurants in Terminal 5

Post security food outposts

Restaurants in Terminal 5

The Food Court after security theater.

Restaurants in Terminal 5

Post security food outposts

Restaurants in Terminal 5

Post security food outposts

After a while, I decided to hit up the lounge, because now EVA boards lounge passengers directly from the lounge. Now if that isn’t a little piece of heaven, I don’t know what is. I snag an uninspiring glass of prosecco and wait for my flight.

Pre-Flight Champagne

Kicking off the long trip with a glass of sparkling wine.

EVA uses the Air France / KLM Lounge for their flights. Unlike the last time we flew EVA this lounge was pretty empty. Evidently the Friday night flight is much more full. The lounge was quiet and allowed me to get some work done.

The lounge food is abysmal

The KLM/Air France Lounge had dismal offerings.

Boarding started promptly at 23h50. We queued up in a very civilized manner (sometimes flights to China can feel a bit like Lord of the Flies when it come to boarding or deplaning).

Do you have a preferred lounge in T5 at O’Hare? How do you kill time at this disconnected terminal?