Setting sail on your first cruise soon? Welcome to the blog! I’m a cruise enthusiast, and I’m glad you’re search for tips to maximize your cruise vacation adventure has brought you here. I have quite a bit of cruising content here, and working on better organizing it to make it more useful for you. Today, we’ll focus on information available for first-time cruisers. I’ve added a menu button to the MJ on Travel homepage entitled “Cruising for Beginners.”

cruise tips, first time cruiser, first cruise, first cruise tips

 

Click the “Cruising for Beginners” button for a series of posts on picking a cruise line, booking, and even packing tips.

Cruising with MJ – Setting Sail on Your Own the MJ Way

Cruising with MJ – A Word on Picking the Right Cruise Line for You

Cruising with MJ – You’ve Booked Your Cruise So Now What?

Cruising with MJ – Let’s Get Packed

Cruising with MJ – It’s Almost Time to Cruise! What Do I Do Now?

Cruising with MJ – Three Days Until Sail Away

Cruising with MJ – Embarkation Day (It’s Time to Play)

While this is aimed at beginners, there’s useful information for cruisers of all experience levels looking for a refresh or just a look at the way others enjoy their cruise. I’ll post updates as I reorganize the rest of my cruise and travel-related content access on the home page menu with an eye on making information accessible and easier for you to use. Thanks for reading, and enjoy your cruise!

-MJ, October 30, 2014

OK, I know this is random, but a buddy of mine just forwarded an email from Uber that I couldn’t help but share.

uberkittens

 

In select cities, including San Francisco where my friend is from, Uber has teamed up with the ASPCA. For $30, Uber will deliver an adoptable kitten to your door today between 12pm and 4pm in San Francisco. You get 15 minutes with the kitten, and can choose to start the process to adopt if you wish. In any case, the proceeds go to the Anti-Cruelty society. Follow these steps:

  • Open your Uber app between 12pm & 4pm.
  • Request the “KITTENS” option in your app!
  • $30 gets you 15 minutes of cuteness and cuddles.
  • All proceeds will be donated to the Anti-Cruelty Society.
  • PRO TIP: Make sure to have an enclosed space purrfect for playtime!
  • If you fall in love with a furball, it could be yours. Every kitten is eligible for adoption!

Spread the word with the hashtag #UberKITTENS.

-MJ, October 29, 2014

 

Yesterday’s announcement about the 2015 AAdvantage program was met with a big sigh of relief by a lot of American frequent flyers, including this one. There had been a limited amount of speculation that American would announce a revenue based program like Delta and United have done. An email I received last night piqued my interest.

Subject Line: Shot Across the Bow

Content: Do you think AA keeping FFP in tact will cause Delta and United to have second thoughts?

MJ’s Answer

No, I don’t. First, whether you agree with revenue-based programs or not, switching to them is not a small feat. A lot of work has been going on behind the scenes to prepare for the change. On January 1, 2015, Delta is going revenue-based no matter what happens with AAdvantage, and United will follow in March. Second, in my opinion the biggest reason that the new AAdvantage looks so similar to the old AAdvantage is that is what AA’s IT systems will allow for now. AA is focused on integrating the two airlines and their loyalty programs, and that is the correct priority in my book.

Now, the benefit of going last in the round of mergers is that you have the advantage of seeing those that go before you screw up or get things right. My thoughts on the inevitability of revenue-based programs are widely known, and made fun of by nearly every blogger on earth. You know where I stand on that. But hey, if I’m wrong, and the programs flop…..AA will have the benefit of time to watch the others fail and measure the amount of business it gains by being different. In the near term, at least, I don’t see AA’s announcement having any impact on what Delta and United are planning for next year. Anyone feel differently? Share your thoughts.

-MJ, October 29, 2014

 

 

 

new AAdvantage, Loyalty, cruising rewards, cruising, cruise vacations

 

Most of the feedback I’ve read about today’s AAdvantage announcement is positive. That said, I admittedly tend to look at things through the eyes of a longtime AAdvantage member, and no doubt, my own thoughts on the coming 2015 program are positive. I don’t doubt that my feelings are impacted by the fact that the combined program is going to look a lot more like what I currently know as the AAdvantage program than anything else. I think that’s a good thing. Not everyone agrees, and they have their own very valid reasons.

new aadvantage program, combined aadvantage program, 2015 aadvantage program,

  • Reader Dan frequently flies between JFK and CLT, a route measuring 514 miles. That’s 14 miles beyond the new 500 mile complimentary upgrade threshold, thus requiring 2 upgrades (earned or purchased) when AA and US are on a combined reservation system.
  • Reader Joe rarely flies less than 500 miles.
  • Reader Jon, an AA Gold member prefers using “stickers” to upgrade and fears that he’ll frequently be locked out of premium cabins on shorter flights.
  • Fellow BA blogger Jeanne at Heels First picked up on an important change for Dividend Miles members that did not get a lot of coverage today.
  • By far, my favorite alternative view point is that of Carolina Travel Girl, a longtime US Airways customer.

All are very reasonable viewpoints that I have some empathy for, even if I feel like the 2015 AAdvantage program is the best possible outcome for the largest number of American and US Airways customers right now. And “right now” is a point that needs to be emphasized. We may have seen the majority of changes that will take place in 2015…..and perhaps 2016, but sooner or later these two airlines are going to be one, and they’re going to be on one IT platform. More on that later.

-MJ, October 28, 2014

 

 

Royal Caribbean International took delivery of the line’s newest ship, Quantum of the Seas, from Meyer Werft today in a ceremony in Bremerhaven. The ship, referred to as the industry’s first “Smart Ship” is now on her way to Southampton, UK where she’ll depart November 2, 2014, with her first guests bound for New York.

quantum of the seas, quantum, royal caribbean, quantum class, quantum of the seas delivered, smart ship

According to Royal Caribbean, “Quantum-class ships are the world’s most technologically advanced in the world with “boatloads of bandwidth” which allow the cruise line to offer unprecedented connectivity – 500 times more than any other cruise ship; easy-to-use systems that expand guest choices and simplify schedules, plus, RFID technology that speeds up the boarding process and allows guest to track their luggage every step of the way.” The MJ on Travel team will board Quantum in early December for an 11-night Caribbean cruise, and no, we’re not stoked at all. :)

Quantum promises to be a unique cruising experience all the way around, and will likely be a real leap forward for the Royal Caribbean brand. I know I have some reservations about Dynamic Dining, but I’m approaching things with an open mind, ready to be WOW’d. Cant’ wait to cruise aboard this beautiful ship.

-MJ, October 28, 2014

This morning, I posted that American Airlines has announced the details of the 2015 AAdvantage program. Overall, I think the news is good. AAdvantage will remain a program that most American Airlines loyalists recognize. Further, while there are some pockets of potential disappointment for US Airways elites, I think that on the whole, there’s good news for them too. I posted most the highlights this morning, but it never hurts to review a few details.

  • The new AAdvantage will maintain three status tiers, Gold, Platinum, Executive Platinum. For legacy Dividend Miles members, their four tier system will transition to three with Silver transitioning to Gold, Platinum and Gold transitioning to Platinum, and Chairman’s Preferred transitioning to Executive Platinum.
  • Effective January 1, 2015, the requirement to qualify for Executive Platinum by segments will rise to 120 from 100 for the 2016 membership year. Other qualification requirements remain unchanged for the AAdvantage program.
  • Once the programs combine in the second quarter of 2015, all elite members will receive complimentary, auto-requested upgrades on eligible American-marketed and operated flights less than or equal to 500 miles(emphasis mine)

new aadvantage program, combined aadvantage program, 2015 aadvantage program,

Where Flyers May Be Disappointed

  • No more “just over” 500 mile exemptions for upgrades on the AA side.
  • The 75K Platinums on the US side will ask where’s the incentive to fly beyond 50K.
  • No more complimentary upgrades at the low and mid tier for US flyers for flights over 500 miles.
  • The extra 20 segments may be a struggle for some legacy Executive Platinums.

Why Flyers Should Not Be Disappointed

  • Complimentary 500 mile upgrades for all elites is an enhancement on the AA side, and in my opinion, a great compromise for US flyers. (Factoid: AA tells me that the percentage of flights with a 2-class cabin on routes of 500 miles or less that are eligible for a complimentary upgrade is 34 percent of departures.)
  • Executive Platinums will get 8 VIP upgrades good on any fare. US Chairman’s Preferred will get their 2 Chairman’s upgrades, and then 8 VIPSs when the programs merge.
  • US mid tier elites (former Gold and Platinum) will receive 100 percent bonus miles for their flights rather than 50 percent, and 75 percent respectively.
  • Lower tier elites will have a better shot at longer-haul upgrades they care about most.

Last week, I made some predictions (really, just guesses for the sake of discussion) as to what the new program might look like. I came pretty close. I missed on the 3 tier vs 4 tier elite system, and I did not foresee comp 500 mile and less upgrades for all. On the whole, I think there is much more here to like than dislike. I think that AAdvantage is taking the right approach here, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. That’s not to say we won’t see more change down the road, but I feel like this is the best approach for the near term as the airlines integrate their operations and their loyalty programs? MJ says: brAAvo! :)

-MJ, October 28, 2014

 

 

 

 

Well, it’s official, we’ll see a new AAdvantage program in the second quarter of 2015. From my perspective, there’s a lot more to like than dislike. In fact, I can’t think of anything I dislike at this point, but I’m writing that from the perspective of a legacy AA member, with preconceived notions of what I like. For the record, I think there are things to like for legacy Dividend Miles members too. Let’s look at the highlights.

  • Beginning in January 2015, members who have accounts with both programs will be offered the opportunity to match their accounts. This is not a status match in the historical sense of the word, but an opportunity to let AAdvantage know that you have an account with US Airways.
  • The new AAdvantage will maintain three status tiers, Gold, Platinum, Executive Platinum. For legacy Dividend Miles members, their four tier system will transition to three with Silver transitioning to Gold, Platinum and Gold transitioning to Platinum, and Chairman’s Preferred transitioning to Executive Platinum.
  • Effective January 1, 2015, the requirement to qualify for Executive Platinum by segments will rise to 120 from 100 for the 2016 membership year. Other qualification requirements remain unchanged for the AAdvantage program.
  • Once the programs combine in the second quarter of 2015, all elite members will receive complimentary, auto-requested upgrades on eligible American-marketed and operated flights less than or equal to 500 miles. (emphasis mine)

Those are the highlights, so let’s look at things in greater detail.

Elite Status

Elite status tiers will mirror that of the current AAdvantage program, with the segment requirement for Executive Platinum status rising to 120. This is a win against unnecessary complication in elite tiers that have crept into the industry for unknown reasons in my opinion. Here are the elite status tiers and requirements for the new program.

aadvantage elite, aadvantage, new aadvantage program, aadvantage elite status 2015

Elite Upgrades

Executive Platinum members will continue to qualify for 8 VIP upgrades per year, and complimentary upgrades on all domestic flights as is current practice for American. When the programs combine in 2015, American AAdvantage will introduce unlimited, auto-requested complimentary upgrades for Golds and Platinums on flights of 5oo miles or less. For flights greater than 500 miles, Gold and Platinum members will need to use earned or purchased 500-mile upgrades for flights over 500 miles. Between now and when the programs combine in Q2 2015, things will work much as they do today. When the programs combine, the upgrade process will evolve. Here’s how things will work on American Airlines operated and marketed flights.

aadvantage elite, aadvantage, new aadvantage program, aadvantage elite status 2015Until American and US Airways move to a common reservation system later in 2015, upgrades for elite members on US Airways marketed and operated flight will work like this.

aadvantage elite, aadvantage, new aadvantage program, aadvantage elite status 2015

Once American and US Airways are on a single reservation system, all elite upgrades will follow the policy for travel on American Airlines noted above.

Nits and Noids

  • AAdvantage Executive Platinum members will continue to receive a complimentary adult beverage and snack when seated in coach.
  • Starting Jan. 1, 2015, before the programs are combined, bonus miles for AAdvantage members on Business Class tickets on American and US Airways will increase from 25 to 50 percent to align with what Dividend Miles members receive today. Executive Platinum and Chairman’s Preferred members will also enjoy complimentary same-day flight changes on American Airlines.
  • When the programs combine, former Gold and Platinum members of Dividend Miles will roll into 100 percent tier bonus earning that mirrors the current deal for AAdvantage Platinum members. That’s a win.
  • Per my conversation with AAdvantage officials, the 500 mile threshold for upgrades will equal 500 miles. In other words, the exemption for for flights just over 500 miles that resulted in only one upgrade being deducted from original AAdvantage member accounts goes away. A 515 mile flight will require 2 upgrades from a member account for Gold and Platinums. A 500 mile (or less) flight will be eligible for a complimentary upgrade.

MJ’s Take

The new AAdvantage program is a win for AA flyers, and frankly a lot of US flyers. You know where I stand on “complimentary” upgrades on domestic flights, and I think AAdvantage somehow managed to find the near perfect compromise. I don’t have the statistics, but I’d bet that a large number of US elite flyers average 500 miles or less per segment. There’s no minimum revenue requirement per se, but Elite Qualifying Points remain as a way of rewarding higher spenders. Overall, at first glance, I like the new combined program and think that it is a positive development in the frequent flyer space for many travelers. More details on AA.com.

Coming up – a look at how I did with my “predictions” for the new AAdvantage.

-MJ, October 28, 2014

aadvantage elite, aadvantage, new aadvantage program, aadvantage elite status 2015

It is clear that Citi will be THE issuer of American AAdvantage credit card products in the USA when the AAdvantage and Dividend Miles programs merge. However, it’s just as clear that Barclaycard intends to offer its existing Dividend Miles card members compelling reasons to stay when the combined program emerges sometime next year because they will be able to maintain their existing card accounts. There will be a Barclaycard AAdvantage card going forward.

HT: The Points Guy

Barclaycard is now offering two card products for existing US Airways card members. First up is the AAdvantage Aviator Silver World Elite MasterCard. It offers compelling benefits for its $195 annual fee which include:

  • 3 X miles on US and AA flights.
  • 2 X miles on hotels and rental cars.
  • 1 X miles on other purchases.
  • 5,000 elite qualifying miles on $20K in purchases, and 5,000 more when you reach $40K in purchases. (10K max per year)
  • Free checked bag for yourself and up to 8 other travelers.
  • 10 percent redemption rebate up to 10K miles per year.

There’s also the AAdvantage Aviator Red card, which at an annual fee of $89, will be the most recognizable/familiar to existing Dividend Card members. It will offer:

  • 2 X miles on US and AA flights.
  • 1 X miles on all other purchases.
  • Free checked bag for yourself and up to 4 other travelers.
  • 10 percent redemption rebate up to 10K miles per year.

The list of benefits for both cards is not meant to be all inclusive, and there are other benefits including companion travel, EMV chip, and companion travel benefits that vary by card.

MJ’s Take

I’m impressed that Barclay card is offering some compelling benefits to its existing Dividend Miles cardmembers. The Aviator Silver card is difficult to ignore. with its 3 X miles on AA and US purchases, elite qualifying miles, etc. It depends on your needs and habits, but I think the more expensive of these two cards would be my pick. The 3 X miles and 2 X on hotels and rental cars is attractive to me. I don’t currently have a Barclaycard US Airways product, but this may be enough to move me towards applying while I still can.

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-MJ, October 27, 2014

Disclosure: I offer a link to The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard® here, and under the “Featured Credit Card Offers” tab. If you apply for that offer through a link on this page, I will receive a commission.

I’m just reporting the facts, not commenting on the validity (or lack thereof) of what has happened. By now, mow travelers are aware that the states of New Jersey and New York have adapted stricter rules regarding the return of anyone into the USA that have been in contact with Ebola patients in Africa. This afternoon, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal announced the state of Georgia’s own tightened rules. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Gov. Deal has declared that –

“any traveler entering Georgia who has had direct contact with an Ebola patient will be “subject to quarantine at a designated facility.” In addition, health care workers who have treated Ebola patients will be “visually monitored” — either by video or home visits — for 21 days.”

Of course, Atlanta is one of five US airports where travelers returning from west Africa are limited to returning to, and that are screening for symptoms of ebola. So, do you think this reaction is overblown, or a necessary precaution given the circumstances?

-MJ, October 27, 2014

I once called Allure of the Seas “Shockingly Awesome.” Allure, along with her sister ship, Oasis of the Seas, are the largest cruise ships in the world, and they’ll be joined by a third Oasis Class vessel sometime in mid-2016. When I last cruised on Allure in 2011, she was a relatively new ship, and there was quite a bit of pent-up demand to sail on these enormous ships. There still is.

Allure of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas, Oasis cruise reviews, allure cruise reviews

The statistics of these ships can seem daunting – over 6,000 guests and over 2,000 crew, 20+ dining venues, etc. The onboard spaces are visually stunning, if for not other reason than it is immediately obvious that these ships are huge. While there are a lot of things you can do to maximize your enjoyment of your Oasis class cruise, I think three tips rise to the top.

Do your homework – research the options available. It is entirely possible (likely) that there will be areas of the ship you won’t even see in 7 days. That’s one reason MrsMJ and I booked a back to back. :) Pick your favorite activities and focus on those. You can read my review of Allure of the Seas here and there is plenty of additional information available on other cruise-related websites.

Book your entertainment in advance – Oasis of the Seas debuted a reservation system for entertainment. You can certainly attend a show without a reservation, but that will be on a space available basis, meaning you’ll be waiting in a queue until 15 minutes prior to show time when they release open seats. Even if you’ve seen the show before (Cats on Oasis or CHICAGO on Allure) there’s something about seeing a Broadway style show at sea. Don’t miss the aquatic show either. I really enjoyed Blue Planet (Allure) as well. If you’re going to partake of the zip line, complete your waiver in advance too.

Allure of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas, Oasis cruise reviews, allure cruise reviews

Keep an open mind on dining, and book most (but not necessarily all) of your specialty (and Dynamic) dining in advance – Currently, Oasis and Allure offer traditional dining with specialty options. Oasis will soon switch to Dynamic Dining, and Allure will follow next year. Dynamic Dining is an unknown for me, but I will rectify that next month when I sail on Quantum of the Seas. Assuming you intend to try one of the specialty restaurants on board, go ahead and book it in advance online, and rest easy knowing you have your desired restaurant and time. Here’s where the keep an open mind part comes in – if your desired time is not available, book something that you can tolerate (or don’t book at all) and then head to that restaurant on embarkation day. They hold some reservation times for onboard booking. In keeping with the open mind concept, don’t just follow the crowd to the buffet on embarkation day. Multiple venues are open, some free, some not. Many swear by Park Cafe. Solarium Bistro is a favorite of mine on Allure. We also enjoyed Rita’s Cantina on our first embarkation, the peace and quiet were well worth the modest upcharge.

I could say more, but I believe taking these three tips to heart in advance will accomplish the most for you in ensuring a well-enjoyed Oasis-Class cruise. These ships are like no other currently sailing, and I highly recommend at least one Oasis-Class experience for most cruisers. Cruised Oasis or Allure before? What would you add to these tips?

-MJ, October 27, 2014

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Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.