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Delta Business Class

May 4, 2017

Is Tumi better than Saks Fifth Avenue? That’s the main branding difference between United’s Polaris thing and Delta’s Business Class. All told, NPS still prefers the Virgin Atlantic business class to Europe experience. All of this is complicated by the fact that Virgin America was bought by Alaska in 2016. Every one of the alliances is re-aligning. No real loyalty left out there in airplane-land for NPS.

Delta and Tumi are a thing

The Delta pods are not quite as advanced as the United pods are these days, but they do lay flat. The tiny just out of reach touch screens need some ergonomic work (or a remote control).

Delta business class pod

The Virgin arrivals lounge at Heathrow (a Delta partner) is worth a visit. Hot showers and food that is slightly better than what you get on the airplane.

So delta will do. Pods make all the difference.

You know how we feel about United airlines here on this blog. They squeezed every single iota of loyalty out of us during the ill-fated Smisek years. Our 1.6 MILLION miles meant nothing to United. So we stopped flying United three years ago.

Is it time to forget and forgive? Well, not exactly. But sometimes we just fly whatever airline will get us where we need to be when we need to be there.

The world colluded to put us in United Polaris across the pond to Frankfurt.

The United pods on a 777-200 are nice. They are easier to manage than the Virgin Atlantic pods and don’t require shenanigans to get into bed mode. In practice, that means with expedited meal service you can get right to pretending to sleep.

Saks Fifth Avenue? Ha ha ha. United and dime stores.

Pod view with a large screen entertainment system running linux

Mimosa and propaganda

On this trip the crew was great, the wine was passable, the flight was bumpy and we arrived early. Well, what you gonna do.

Then there was the indignity of the bus at Frankfurt. No no no no.

Anyway, you get what you overpay for on United Polaris!

No Fly Noël 2016: Kinda

December 3, 2016

Regular NPS readers and lurkers know all about “no fly July” and “no fly Noël.” The idea is simple. Stop. Rest. Think. Read. Get out of the hubbub of everyday modern life, sit by the fire, and exist.

This year’s No Fly Noël is much needed as 2016 was about the most stressful year on record for NPS in 17 years. It was a great year in the end, but boy are we glad it is over.

So, how did the year look? Kinda like this (according to the tripometer).

The 2016 NPS tripometer

The 2016 NPS tripometer

Travel according to the new regimen is trending nicely low. The goal for 2016 was 20 trips and we came in 15% high at 23. Well, almost. Looks like we have to throw off the chains of No Fly Noël and hit the road one more time in December to strategize with the corporate overlords. Or maybe that is overlord with the corporate strategists? Something like that anyway. Stay tuned for those data. (And make that 24 trips and a 20% overrun.)

In other news this year, the Elevate Gold status on Virgin America is a good thing. We switched the firehose from United to Virgin America in 2014 and there is no looking back. NPS likes main cabin select. NPS also likes using points to upgrade to Europe. How that will work going forward is a good question!

Fly too much?  Try Virgin America.

Fly too much? Try Virgin America.

Of course since NPS is based at Dulles, there is no avoiding United. Honestly, they did better this year. Flying United was not great, but it did not completely suck. So maybe the Smisek effect is finally washing out.

And then there is Kimpton which remains the NPS go to hotel chain of choice even after the disaster that is the San Francisco Kimpton property crater. Years ago we helped to start the Kimpton Intouch program (which is now the Kimpton Karma program). We do what we can to stay qualified without calling in air support from Mike Defrino. You go Kimpton!

Inner Circle?  Why yes, we'll have some

Inner Circle? Why yes, we’ll have some

NPS flies all the time, and our current airline of choice is Virgin America. We’re sad about the upcoming merger with Alaska which will make yet another crap job of a platypus of an airline. Remember what happened to both United and Continental when they merged? Disaster. But that’s all domestic. We’re talking Europe in this post.

We aimed the points firehose at Virgin America this year and accumulated vast piles of points which we have cashed in to fly West for college looking and East to Europe. Getting a Virgin Atlantic ticket in upper class with Virgin America points was non-trivial but not that onerous.

NPS has flown Virgin Atlantic across the pond and back twice. Upper class does not suck.

Virgin Atlantic

Our special ops NPS spy also flew upper class but 10 days later.

Lufthansa

Internally, after some nice train rides (including the Disney Eurostar to Lille), it was back in the air for Frankfurt to Prague. Being a Star Alliance Gold member does not do diddly for seating on Lufthansa.

When in Frankfurt there is always a large chance of bus.

KLM

To get from Prague to AMS, we flew KLM which was very Dutch about the whole thing. Most uncomfortable flight of the entire trip.

The AMS hop was not much better, but the seating mistake was our fault.

It was nice to get to Oslo and find some modern world again.

We ended up in Bergen via train.

SAS

Complex scheduling craziness ended up with SAS from Bergen feeding Air France. Avoid this complexity even if it costs more cash.

Air France

Then it was Oslo to Paris on Air France, which just plain sucked. The flight was fine, but they lost one of our key bags for 4 days. When they found it, we were already back in the states. Amazing that it took Air France so long to rectify their mistake. They’ll be paying for some clothing and for the very expensive VAT refunds we could not get when we left London since the goods were not with us. Big fail Air France, you are now off the list.

Virgin Atlantic

After 20 days in Europe and perhaps just a few too many cocktails the night before, it was back home on an 8 hour flight from London. Upper class continues not to suck.

Access to the Virgin Atlantic Club comes along with an upper class ticket as does an interesting checkin procedure at Heathrow.

The Zetter Townhouse is our favorite boutique hotel in London. We’ve been many times. One last night in London before flying home in the very swanky upper class on Virgin Atlantic rounded out the twenty day trip.

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Room eleven got a workout this time when the bathtub was actually used!

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But by far the most fun was hanging out by the cat in the bar until all hours. Much fun was had.

Five showerheads and a long recovery over the ocean for the Zetter Townhouse and it’s fine bar.

NPS is briefly in London again, staying at the Zetter Townhouse. As it always goes on international travel days from the States, we showed up way early for check in. Way way early.

Never fear! Though the Zetter Townhouse was filled to the gills, the kind general manager Fabian Sanchis at the Zetter found us a room to crash in. So incredibly cool. Thanks Fabian.

It really is nice to be recognized when you arrive at a hotel.

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Room 102 is a tiny little high style room with two important features: a bed and a shower. After a long, fitful pod ride on Virgin Atlantic, the bed was most welcome. Yes, a nap was had. We must be getting old.

So how does Virgin Atlantic Upper Class stack up against United BusinessFirst? Though it pains us to say this, things are pretty much about the same with an edge to United. Food? Airplane bad. Typical blitzkrieged steak. Well, maybe it started as steak?! Cheese? Good (the same). Wine? Decent (the same). Pod? Nowhere near as comfortable on Virgin Atlantic. The pod design does make for a flatter bed that is a bit flatter and more padded though not as wide, but in order to transform to bed mode, you have to get out of the seat and recombobulate everything. And seat mode lacks a left armrest, has an uncomfortable tilt mode, and is pretty cramped. In the age of sophisticated transformer toy design, there is really no reason for that.

Breakfast is better on Virgin Atlantic for sure, and the crew is much friendlier and seems more professional. So all in all it’s a surprise major toss up between United and Virgin Atlantic.

International travel beats domestic hands down for sure, but rumors that the Virgin Atlantic experience is something astounding turn out to have been greatly exaggerated. Mostly that’s because the United international experience in business class is actually (still) very reasonable.

Pile on the fact that Virgin Atlantic and Virgin America don’t really have a seamlessly integrated frequent flyer system, and you have a problem if you travel internationally very often. That is, you can’t use your status or points on Virgin America to upgrade on Virgin Atlantic (though you can book an award trip in Upper Class). That sucks.

Live and learn.

Anyhoo, back to room 102 and awesomeness at the Zetter.

102 is temporarily bright and sunny

102 is temporarily bright and sunny

102 bed with stylish pink lighting or is that fuschia?

102 bed with stylish pink lighting or is that fuschia?

Excellent shower featuring hot water and a drench shower head

Excellent shower featuring hot water and a drench shower head

So now we’re rested, showered, and up, and the sun is temporarily out, and life seems almost close to normal. Just in time for a (admittedly very early) business dinner at the Chiltern Firehouse.

Five showerheads and a big thank you to the Zetter and to Fabian.