Impulse trip to Atlanta

Prologue to this trip:

In the Delta domain of the frequent flyer world, the single biggest complaint is the ability to redeem miles for a low mileage award.  For a domestic roundtrip, that means finding an itinerary for 25,000 miles.  Many times its 32,500 miles and up.  The main two ways to possibly score a “low” award is to:

  1. be a Medallion member (elite status)
  2. book relatively last minute

Neither way guarantees you low pricing, but they both certainly do help; last minute booking being more successful than the former.  Heavy traffic routes like JFK-LAX can be extremely difficult for everybody at anytime.  Lucky for me, I had both going on my side.

One of the best benefits of making Gold Medallion status is waived fees for Same Day Confirmed travel (usually $50).  That benefit allows you to change your flight for free within 3 hours of your desired new flight, assuming its on the same calendar day.

For example, I have a flight departing at 2pm, but I want to get to my destination earlier.  There is a flight at 11:30am I want to take.  At 8:30am, I can either call in to Delta to change my flight, or get it changed at the airport.  As long as there is ONE seat available in the same cabin I originally purchased (or lower, but why would I do that?) I can get on that flight.

The good thing is that this also applies to award tickets, as well as revenue (or paid) tickets.  So I just redeemed for a flight that was later than my ideal flight, AND for only 25,000.  My ideal flight was for 32,500.  I get to Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) and painlessly switch to my new flight at 2:15pm.  There are a few downfalls to changing flights the day of.

  • If you are a Medallion and already had a confirmed upgrade to First class, you are back in Economy and up to the luck of the gate upgrade gods.
  • If you were able to snag the last couple seats on a flight, they are probably middle seats.  Depending on the length of the flight, rough trade-off if you turned down your upgraded seat.
  • If you checked a bag (depending on when your new flight is) you run the risk of your bag not being there when you arrive.
  • If you want a flight after your original flight, you run the risk of having no seats available on all succeeding flights for the rest of the day, being stuck and SOL.

Before boarding, I pass by the Newark Delta Skyclub and check in using my American Express Platinum to get the free 300 Membership Reward Points.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read this post where I discussed this promotion.  After a quick visit, I board the plane and take my middle seat on the McDonnell Douglas DC9-50.  At least I’m in the 5th row of coach and not in the back.  After my recent fligths all over the world, this 2 hour flight was cake.  Despite waiting about 20 minutes after landing to get to our gate, we still arrive 2 minutes early.  This happens to me alot, where I think “oh good, we’re here early.”  Air Traffic Control usually knows what they’re doing, at least when they’re awake.

As soon as I deplane in the B terminal, I immediately begin my tour of every lounge in ATL (Atlanta) to collect more free points; there are 8 total.  Just in case, I buy a ticket departing ATL to an arbitrary location so it seems I’m a departing passenger, and not an arrival passenger.  There are plenty of self service kiosks in the terminals which allow me to print the boarding pass.  I told Patrick this, and estimated to be done in about 30 minutes.  Man was I so wrong.  I felt bad checking in to a lounge, getting my 300 point certificate, and immediately leaving.  So I at least pretended I use the lounge for some business then left.  I spent an average of about 3-4 minutes in each lounge, which already adds up to 24-32 minutes, and doesn’t include travel time.  Oops.  If you are planning on doing this lounge run, allot at least 60-70 minutes.  I took a little longer because I started in the B terminal.  If you start in the T terminal, then go in order from A to E terminals, you probably save 5 minutes by not back-tracking.

The B terminal SkyClubs, especially the one near B10 used to look especially drab.  But since the renovation, it’s a much nicer place to relax, get some work done, and wait for your flight.  It has the same white/red design similar to the lounges in Philadelphia or Los Angeles…contemporary, sheik, but a little institutional.

ATL B Terminal Delta Skyclub near B10

Restrooms. I thought the hallway kept going and almost walked into the mirror.

Updated bathrooms

Even though there is a a new decor, I would still rather to go to C erminal Skyclub above the Chili’s (they also have 6 beers on tap, vs. only 3 in the B terminal), or one of the larger E Terminal lounges.

Second club in the E Terminal near gate E15. The one farther from TGI Fridays.

View from the E15 lounge. The Air France B777 was so close I could almost touch it.

Not that I needed a vacation, but spontaneity makes life more fun.  It was a lot of fun just hanging out with Patrick and his friends & family in his neck of the woods.  The most eye opening experience was going to the Harrison Wind Ensemble benefit concert.  My main trade is teaching music, and I was absolutely floored at how good this ensemble was.  I found myself constantly comparing it to my college wind ensemble (I went to school for music performance at a fairly well known music conservatory).  What a group, what a job that director does.  I did also enjoy time in the pool along with a few beers, playing some tennis, and capped the stay with the company of several friends, family, and neighbors drinking and having a great time around a fire.

Harrison HS Wind Ensemble. David Vandewalker, director

A gift from Patrick from his Bahama trip

Life is good

Unfortunately, all good times must come to an end.  Fortunately for both of us, that time was not now.  On Saturday, Patrick was flying to teach the Cadets Drum & Bugle Corps, touring all around the country, and not coming home until mid-August.  And I had a great chance at one of the best domestic upgrades Delta offers, in addition to making another lounge run.

We had a really late night partying, and we weren’t about to leave the house at 6:30am to go to the airport for Patrick’s 8:45am flight.  Same day confirmed saves the day!  I check in in the Sky Priority lanes, and also get Patrick (currently no airline status) to check in here too.  I like to think that I helped save him $140 ($50 for same day confirmation onto a later flight, and $90 for being a few pounds overweight) by using the Priority lanes.  But maybe he could’ve had the same results with a similar nice agent in the regular lines.

Instead of flying direct ATL-EWR, I chose to change my flights ATL-DTW(Detroit)-EWR.  Specifically, the 11:00am Delta flight #505 that is on a Boeing 777-200LR.  This plane is usually for international routes.  After Detroit, it continues on to Hong Kong.  It is a wide-body plane with two aisles, 3-3-3 seating in economy, 3 or 4 rows of the new Economy Comfort seats, and 14 rows of the Business Elite lie-flat seats in a 1-2-1 Herringbone configuration all with direct aisle access!  AND Detroit has 2nd most number of SkyClubs (4 lounges) so more 300 point certificates for me!  Another great benefit of being Gold Medallion or higher is that you also get free upgrades on award tickets too!  I was on my way to sampling one of the lie-flat seats for almost nothing.  SCORE.

We may have slept a little longer than planned, and only got to the airport with only about 25 minutes before our flights, so we barely had any time to enjoy a lounge, and I only had time to visit 2 lounges.  Or what should have been two lounges, except one of the lounges in the E terminal didn’t open until 2pm.  So only one Skyclub American Express certificate for me from ATL.  😦

I inquired from the Skyclub what my chances were for the upgrade.  I was first on the list with 12 seats open, with only 50 minutes until my flight.  Doesn’t get much better than that.  Much to my surprise when I went to board, as I expected the machine to spit out my new upgraded seat, nothing happened.  I begrudgingly walked to the back of the plane, seat 56E, and aisle seat in the second to last row of the plane.

Delta Boeing 777-200LR

The new Economy Comfort seats with more recline and more legroom. Keep walking. Your seat is all the way in steerage.

That was like the anti-upgrade.  I lobbied my case to a flight attendant in the back galley area.  She said she couldn’t do anything with upgrades….if there any seats left, the gate agent will come on board and give you the upgrade.  At this point, I start chatting it up with all the pilots sitting around me beginning to accept my fate in the very back of the bus.  After about 10 minutes, I spy my saving grace.  A flight attendant with a few boarding passes in his hand.  He gave one to a passenger about 15 rows in front of me, then that passenger got up and walked forward.  “HERE WE GO!”, I thought.  The attendant was down to his last boarding pass….he kept walking back and hesitated next to me.

“Mr. Gow?”

“That’s me!”

I took my boarding pass, grabbed my things, and took my new seat in 14A.

🙂

Herringbone configuration where all seats have aisle access

View from 14A

14A

Seat controls

In bed mode

In Flight Entertainment screen. Its a good size, though I've had bigger.

This is premier seat Delta offers among its entire fleet.  But honestly, I wasn’t that impressed.  Having direct aisle access at every seat is really nice, but the operation of the seat was really difficult.  The controls are simple, but they don’t exactly control the seat in a manner you expect.  This kind of turned me off.  I also didn’t have a window I could look out of when the seat was in its chair position.  The only window I had was behind the seat, and could be looked out of when it was a bed.  Don’t get me wrong, these were still great seats.

First time ever having this kind of seat belt latch on an airplane

Pretty decent legroom. 🙂

The mini ottoman is pretty nice, though it can’t support much weight so you can’t have an in-air meeting with somebody else.  And they have an adjustable headrest that can tilt forward to give a little higher headrest when sleeping, a cool feature I’ve never encountered before.  It was nice to take a nap on my back & side on a usually upright journey.  14A has a little more privacy than most (and reciprocally 14D on the other side of the plane).  There is a wall that has some storage in it so if somebody was in the aisle near the back half of your seat, they couldn’t peer down onto you.  One odd thing, maybe due to the fact that this crew does not usually work on a B777, but many of the window shades in BusinessElite were down during takeoff/landing and there was no enforcement of opening these on the flight.

As we were sitting at the gate in DTW, I was also granted a viewing of the pilot rest area.  Unfortunately, they said I couldn’t take any pictures for security reasons.  But on a B777, its located just behind the front lavatories, and the door opens to a mini staircase where there are 2 recliner seats, and behind them are 2 capsule-like areas where they can lie down and sleep.  There was also a sink and mirror halfway up built into the stairs.

Again, in Detroit, there were two of the lounges that were closed, so I only scooped up two more certificates.  One please surprise in the center DTW A Terminal lounge was the service of hot food.  Ok, only soup, but its still more than the normal offerings in a SkyClub.

Cream of broccoli and Monterrey Jack cheese soup

And my flight DTW-EWR was already upgraded so I took my First Class seat, and slept.  An uneventful flight, the standard domestic First Class non-meal service was given.  Free alcohol, snack basket/fruit basket passed around.  We arrived about 15 minutes early, and I swung by the EWR lounge to pick up my last 300 Membership Reward point certificate.

This trip may have cost me 25,000 miles and $7.50 in taxes, but I got to:

  • hang out with Patrick before he leaves for tour
  • enjoy the warmer Atlanta weather
  • hear a performance of the Harrison Wind Ensemble
  • experience a lie-flat seat in BusinessElite
  • view the pilot rest area on a B777
  • 3,900 free American Express Membership Reward points

baller

I think it was a well worth tradeoff.

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