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Marriott acquired Starwood in 2016 but had a very slow and methodical integration of their loyalty programs. Kudos to them. Doing it right is better than doing it fast. I’d prefer to remain an SPG member, but the changes that Marriott is making are pretty reasonable. These changes are much better than we’ve seen with other travel related acquisitions.
The new program launches on August 18 and with that there are changes in Elite Status, Earning Rates and Redemption Rates. I can’t do anything about Elite Status or Earning Rates, but I can use the Redemption changes to my advantage.
For example, I have another trip to Austria coming up later this summer and I found that my favorite hotel, the Hotel Bristol, is going to cost 14,000 points more per night. Now this hotel only costs 12,000 SPG Points (which are worth 36,000 Marriott Points). After August 18th, the hotel will cost 50,000 Marriott Points to book. Booking now, I’ve saved myself 14,000 Marriott Points — there are about 1,700 Marriott (and Starwood) hotels in the world were those 14,000 points could get my one or two free nights. I’d be a fool to ignore this savings!
This also goes the other way too. If you were planning on staying at the St. Regis San Francisco, that property will cost 30,000 points less than it does now! You can go ahead and book it now, but just know that you won’t automatically get those points refunded, you’ll have to call and ask for them to be credited back.
Marriott has a great website that helps you review their properties, how many points it takes now and how many it will take in the future. Go check out your upcoming travel plans and see if you should book now or after August 18th.
Where are you traveling and how are you favorite hotels working out with this change?
I kicked off this trip report noting that Belgium wasn’t high on our lists of locations to visit, but it was on the list. Extenuating circumstances pushed this Holiday in Belgium up a bit to this year. My expectations weren’t set especially high. I really didn’t do too much research before setting off on this trek. Looking back, I really enjoyed the extra long weekend we had in Flanders. Next time let’s head south so I can practice my French language skills.
The people were lovely and accommodating, the food was generally good and our selection of accommodations only had one hiccup (FYI: Booking.com did refund my money and I haven’t heard a peep from Lozercasteel since). I would highly recommend that anyone in the area to take a couple days and explore the City of Ghent, and if you can, do so by bike.
Before you set off for Flanders, take some time to read two books. These will help reset your knowledge of WWI and build on your understanding of the area: All Quiet on the Western Front and War and Turpentine. Lovely and intense reads. While exploring the WWI battlefields near Ypres, be sure to take a moment and read In Flanders Fields – these 97 words really have new meaning when you are standing near the front lines.
Have you spent time in Flanders? Any recommendations for your fellow travelers? I often like to hear about the things that one SHOULDN’T do at a location – maybe it is too touristy, too expensive without enough of a payoff at the end.
After the surprisingly long trip into the airport, the slow moving lines at the border and the dreaded SSSS on my boarding pass, I got to the gate after boarding had already started. I pushed my way through the disorganized crowds around the main boarding door and was greeted by a Brussels Airlines employee who scanned my boarding pass, took my roller suitcase (I thought he was going to check it), but he just took it down the gate for me and put it in an overhead bin. Now that is service.
I opted to sit in seat 5K, which is one of the throne seats – ample table space and no neighbors. A perfect way to spend about eight hours to New York.
As I was getting situated in my seat, you know, getting tablet and headphones out, finding reading materials and charging cables, one of the flight attendants came by with pre-departure beverage options. This was the most comprehensive beverage tray service I have ever seen. In addition to water (both sparkling and still), he was offering orange juice, champagne and a Kir Royale. My choice was easy, I’ll take a Kir any day of the week.
The amenity kits were distributed immediately after the drinks were delivered. The amenity kit was quite an embarrassment though. A poor quality spongy bag with an eye shade, socks, a pack with toothbrush and paste, ear plugs and a pen. I love to reuse an amenity kit – I’m currently using a simple canvas bag from Lufthansa to store my travel cables. This kit went right into the garbage once I got home. I did like the unique color and aesthetic design – it just wasn’t functional and it sure didn’t have any feeling of luxury about it.
Nearly 30 minutes after I boarded, the main cabin door closed. The flight attendants were making several announcements throughout the boarding process in English, Dutch and French. It always amazes me that foreign airlines can make the same announcement in three different languages and still be done quicker than US airlines. The Belgian captain welcomed us on board and announced our flight time of about 7 hours 15 minutes – 45 minutes shorter than booked. This time on the ground allowed me ample opportunity to explore the relatively light in-flight entertainment and the seat functions.
There were only 47 TV episodes available and a few dozen movies. That’s why whenever I travel, I always bring at least two-hours of pod casts and one-hour of video (TV or Movies) for every hour of flight. Never get caught without entertainment on a trip!
In general, I thought the seat on Brussels Airlines was pretty comfortable for the relatively short hop across the Atlantic, especially for a daytime flight. The biggest downside is the cubby where your feet go when the seat is in the bed position. To efficiently fill the Business Class Cabin, the seats are staggered. My throne seat had two seats in front of it and my feet had to fit into the small alcove between the two seats ahead of me. Check out the design on Seat Guru – this picture doesn’t quite to the tightness justice, but you get the idea. It really wasn’t a deal breaker for me, I’m on the taller side and often find that I need to sleep with bended knee on a flight.
We taxied for another 25 minutes and were airborne at 10h52. Unlike many other flights, my Kir had been refilled after the door closed and while we were taxiing. It wasn’t the best Kir Royale I’d had (it was a little warm), but it was the best on a plane and a great kick off to this flight.
After a choppy climb out of Brussels, the menus were delivered – we were a good 30 minutes into the flight and just a little north and west of London. I was quite excited to see what the menus had to offer as I knew Brussels took pride serving Belgian specialties and had a nice Belgian beer list.
Another round of drinks were served with a couple amuse bouche, which I thought were surprisingly good. The Smoke Eel Rillette was a great way to kick off the lunch. I selected the King Crab and Lamb Saddle. The King Crab was stellar. Not only did it look great, but it tasted wonderful – I’m not usually a big King Crab guy, but this was prepared perfectly and the addition of artichoke made my day. I wished it was a bit bigger though.
As I moved from the seafood to the meat course, I switched to red wine, from bubbles. Unfortunately they didn’t stock the Pinot Noir that was advertised in the menu, but they swapped it out for a bold Zinfandel that was just too much for the lamb, so I decided to drink a Bordeaux This wine wasn’t stellar, but it did pair much better with the lamb than I think the Zin would have.
After the entree, I switched to the Oregon Chardonnay, which I thought would go nicely with the cheese course. I’m not a traditional Chardonnay guy either, but I do love Oregon wines and I find the style of Oregon Chardonnay is much easier on the palate than a Californian wine – it’s all personal preference though, so taste, try and drink!
The meal service took just about two hours (11h25 – 13h45) from the time the first in-flight drinks were served until the final dessert plate was removed. I enjoy a leisurely lunch in flight – especially on a daytime flight. In the evening, especially to Europe, I’d like to speed things up and hopefully allow me to get a bit of sleep.
Speaking of sleep, I did manage to nap off and on for a few hours on this flight. I didn’t want to sleep too much as I wanted to get a full and proper sleep at home and start the day off right for work the next day.
The champagne continued to flow throughout the flight and despite the menu indicating there was a mid-flight snack of ice cream, it also wasn’t on board. I did prefer the other snack that was left out from the time before we menus were distributed until after we were deplaning. Two 64 piece Neuhaus Chocolate boxes were left for Business Class passengers to enjoy. Each time I made a trip to the lavatory I snagged a couple chocolates going and coming. When the boxes were about half empty, the flight attendants replaced them with brand new boxes, then walked through the cabin asking if anyone would like the chocolates from the first box. This happened twice while we traveled. Yes, I ate a TON of chocolates on this flight. They were superb.
I visited the lav more than I normally would, just so I’d have an excuse to eat more chocolate. The lavatory was a standard airplane lavatory, but it had some pretty strange mood lighting. Very blue. Very strange club like. But the bath products were a minor upgrade from traditional lavatory options.
We landed in New York at 12h02 and arrived at our gate at 12h32 a full 20 minutes early. As we were deplaning each Business Class Passenger was given a large box of Neuhaus Chocolates – containing 16 pieces of dark chocolate. It was a surprise that I loved. The lady deplaning in front of me didn’t want hers, so I asked for Stew if I could have hers and he was only too happy to oblige. SCORE. Since I didn’t have any time at the airport to pick up gifts for the office, I used one for the office and one for me.
Is the Business Class service offered by Brussels an innovative experience? No. Is it fun and unique? Absolutely. The food and beverage (and the chocolate) service was definitely better than I’ve had on most other trans-Atlantic Star Alliance Flights (Austrian is better though). The seats are much better than Business Class on Lufthansa or United (especially because United is still flying that awful eight-across business class product on their B777s). Other than the tight foot cubby, my only other issue with Brussels is that they don’t fly to Chicago and I hate having to make another domestic connection when traveling.
I wanted to fly Brussels before Lufthansa (who just recently purchased the airline) makes changes to the product. I don’t know if they have any plans to do so (Swiss and Austrian remained pretty much intact), but I didn’t want to risk it.
Have you flown Brussels Airlines before? What did you love the most about it? Anything that you utterly hated? Did they lose your luggage – I’ve heard that they have some tough times keeping passengers and luggage together.
I often make a point to stop off in a grocery store when traveling. I started this habit when I was in Portugal in 2010 and have always loved popping in and taking a few minutes to see what is being sold. In general you see the same things you’ll see in the US, but some areas are dramatically better. I love European Supermarkets!
The meat and cheese counters often have a much wider selection than you can get back home.
Another wonderful area to scope out – the prepared food area. A little grab and go section is often right up front in these small markets in large European cities. Here you can find quick ready-to-eat meals for busy city-dwellers. This isn’t fast food, it’s so much better.
Do you have any strange traditions while you travel? Do you love foreign grocery stores or markets as much as I do?