Category: Destinations

JSX Review: The Private Jet Experience

You only live once, and sometimes you have to cross an item off of your bucket list. That’s why last month, I flew on a private jet to Las Vegas for the weekend.

JSX is a revolutionary product in the air-travel market offering a “private jet” experience for 30 customers at a time. With service between a dozen cities including Seattle, Oakland, Las Vegas and Phoenix, you can take your next flight without setting foot in a major airport.

JSX’s Promotional Advertisement

The Perks

The benefits of a private jet experience over a major carrier may seem obvious, but here’s how JSX will summarize them:

  • Comfortable leather seats
  • Business class legroom
  • Power outlets at every row
  • Full flight attendant service
  • Complimentary gourmet snacks, beer, wine and spirits
  • No overhead storage bins for a more spacious cabin
  • When you arrive, simply grab your bags and get going!

The Airports

  • (BFI) Seattle – Boeing Field 
  • (BUR) Burbank Bob Hope Airport 
  • (CCR) Concord Buchanan Field Airport 
  • (LAS) Las Vegas McCarran Int’l Airport 
  • (OAK) Oakland Int’l Airport 
  • (PHX) Phoenix-Sky Harbor Int’l Airport 
  • (SNA) John Wayne Airport, Orange County 
As shown in the JSX advertisement above, rates are far lower than you might expect when you can be flexible with travel dates and destinations.

The Process

Because you’re not flying out of a major airport, you will use rideshare or your neighbor to get dropped off at the smaller airport just 20 minutes before your departure time. That’s right – JSX doesn’t ask that you arrive until 20 minutes before your departure time! Because the boarding process is simple, intimate, and doesn’t include TSA, you’ll quickly settle into a lounge while you wait to board where complimentary snacks and drinks are available.

My Experience

Arriving was simple. The OAK airport had a jet departing every ten minutes on average, which made for a quick throughput in the terminal. I arrived with my suitcase, and checked in with the front desk. Similar to checking into a hotel, they looked at my ID, and then took my bag for me and invited me to relax in the lounge just beyond the counter until my flight departed.

The lounge was comfortable, but simple. There was a machine that made freshly ground coffee by the cup and bar nuts in case you needed a small snack. There were also restrooms available. It is notable that no food or alcohol was available for purchase in the space, so you would want to ensure you arrived well nourished.

Ten minutes before your flight’s scheduled departure, you’ll hear an announcement overhead made from someone within the lounge to board your flight. Using your boarding pass, you exit through the rear of the terminal and walk directly onto your jet. Your baggage, that you previously checked upon arrival, is already on the plane.

The jets are seated 2×1 across ten rows which makes for comfortable travel regardless of if you have a partner along with you or not. Since I was flying solo, I booked the single seat. Without overhead luggage bins, there is plenty of room as you enter and find your seat. With a maximum of 30 passengers on the flight, the plane is boarded in minutes and you’re ready to go.

No matter where you’re seated, you’ll enjoy ample leg room, a large tray table, and AC charging at your seat. You may also bring a small bag to stow under the seat in front of you. While on board, you’ll enjoy a complimentary cocktail, box of water (no plastic here) and a snack such as chips or graham crackers. Again, I recommend arriving well nourished.

Upon landing, there’s no need to wait for a gate. Instead, the staff will pull the luggage from the plane before you leave your seat, and line up the bags next to each other. Since they’re located between the plane’s exit, and the terminal’s exit, you will literally grab your bag on the way to your next destination. Without having to navigate a major airport, you can be driving to your final destination within five minutes of landing on the runway.

My Arrival into Las Vegas

I highly recommend arriving to Las Vegas on JSX. We practically landed on the Strip; it was so close. I paid $6 for a ride share that I hailed from the plane upon landing, and was checked into my hotel ten minutes later. Above all, JSX offers convenience and a no-nonsense travel experience that you cannot get with a major airline. To fly without TSA or the rest of the airport experience, was miraculous.

Takeaways

JSX offers convenience, rather than luxury. I would absolutely fly this way again if I valued efficiency above all else, but I would not fly in this manner if I wanted to impress someone with a lounge or inflight experience. It is also notable that WiFi is unavailable inflight which makes this a no-go for remote work. In addition, without a loyalty or elite status program, there is no incentive to book often with JSX. Additionally, it’s worth noting that American Express doesn’t recognize JSX as an airline purchase, so you will not receive the 10% back on your purchase as you would with a major carrier. However, if the airport locations are proximate to your home base, I’d highly recommend booking with JSX the next time you’re headed to one of their destinations. It is a unique and special plane travel experience, and with rates that are often as competitive as traditional airfare, there’s no reason not to try it out.

Referral Booking Link

Interested in learning more, or booking a flight? Please visit JSX through my referral link.

London + Paris on Points!

Earlier this year, my wife asked me to keep an eye out for any opportunities for us to visit Europe in May 2020 to celebrate her milestone birthday. Accordingly, I tracked trends, and continued to save our points while I waited for a deal.

Our primary cards are the American Express Platinum, Gold and Blue Business Plus which means when we earn 4-10% back on our purchases, we earn those rewards in the form of American Express points (valued by TPG at $0.02/each). One of the things I like about these points, is the Point Transfer travel partners that allow you to convert your American Express points into various brands such as hotel points with Hilton or Marriott; or to airline miles with over a dozen airlines including Delta, Flying Blue (Air France, KLM), Hawaiian, Emirates and more.

Flexibility: The Key to Success

Flexibility is key when planning a big points redemption. Having an idea of where you’d like to travel (somewhere in Europe) rather than a specific destination, will allow you to best take advantage of sale opportunities. In a perfect world, your dates would be flexible too (sometime this Spring), but in our case, we had a very specific range of dates to work with as we balanced operational demands and advanced PTO approval with our respective employers.

Game Plan: Hotel or Airfare

With the versatility of our points, I began to develop a game plan for what we’d best pay with points. I may oversimplify this here, but I simply priced out airfare like I had to use cash to purchase it; I then mapped out lodging. In this case, the airfare was much more expensive while the lodging was quite reasonable when paying cash, so this helped shape my search.

Testing Valuation

I reminded you above that the valuation on our American Express points is $0.02/point. For that reason, this remains my goal when going into any redemption of points: Stay at or above the valuation for those specific points.

For example, let’s pretend we have 50,000 American Express points (valued at $0.02 x 50,000 = $1,000). I should be looking to receive $1,000 in value for anything I spend my points on.

You may also decide to do a dynamic review of your options: When trying to compare apples to apples, take the cost in cash for a hotel or airfare expense, and divide it by the number of points that you can redeem to pay for it instead. In the above example, let’s say we found a great flight that we could redeem 50,000 points for. When we go to book the flight on its own, we find that it would cost $500 in cash. $500 / 50,000 points = a $0.01 point valuation. In this quick fact check, we see we’re not maximizing the value of our points and should continue looking for better options since the proven valuation is at least $0.02/point.

Finding a Deal

I have a regular habit of checking for promotions on my American Express account. In early August, I logged in to find an offer for a 40% bonus on British Airways Executive Club Avios. At this time, I had just over 80,000 points saved up which means I could receive up to 112,000 Avios when transferring.

This promotion showed 1,000 American Express Points = 1,400 British Airways Avios

In order to see if this deal would work for us, I began shopping Avios redemptions online. I had never shopped with British Airways before, so I quickly created my free Executive Club account and obtained my membership ID number. Armed with my new credentials, I clicked “Shop with Avios.”

Stopovers

When redeeming your miles, many airlines will allow you to use stopovers at no additional charge. That means you can delay your connecting flight in order to enjoy some time in the connecting city before continuing on.

Originally eyeing Paris, I had searched for direct flights between San Francisco and Paris only to be disappointed that there were no direct flights available for reward travel; I had to connect through London.

I’ve booked stopover award flights before, but never with British Airways which proved to be one of the simplest user-interfaces to complete this complicated booking. As you can see in the screen below, the booking website even prompted me to book a stopover as part of my mile redemption!

With the stopover benefit in mind, I restarted my search. Rather than four days in Paris, what if we spent two days in London first since we would need to stop there anyway? Sure enough, the stopover itinerary was the same price! A total of 100,500 Avios for two round-trip tickets!

Thanks to the 40% bonus promotion, I could acquire 100,500 Avios for just 72,000 American Express membership reward points!

Points Transfer

Now that I had confirmed that I A) had enough American Express Points to transfer to Avios; and B) British Airways had an itinerary meeting our needs for that value, I began the process of moving my points!

This process of 1:1 Transfer advertises that it could take up to 48 hours to complete, but I’ve never had that experience. Though this transfer made me wait an excruciating four minutes, it ultimately was an instant transfer as my previous experiences had been.

Using the 40% bonus promotion, I transferred 72,000 American Express membership rewards points in exchange for 100,800 Avios (you are required to transfer in multiples of 1,000).

The Value

After deciding to book this redemption, I took my own advice and priced out the same exact itinerary using cash instead:

We booked this itinerary to London and Paris at a valuation of $0.05468/point; 2.7X TPG’s valuation for American Express membership reward points!!

The cost for two round-trip tickets was $4,550.96. When we used 72,000 American Express membership reward points, we only paid $613.98 in surcharges! That means that the 72,000 points paid for $3,936.98 of the trip; a valuation of $0.05468/point or 2.7X the usual valuation of those points. That made this a great redemption for us.

Note: The fuel surcharges we incurred are typical for British Airways which charges large fees compared to its competitors. For this reason, when booking your redemption you may try to avoid using British Airways if possible.

A Weekend in Vegas

Ever since I added the Hilton Aspire card to my wallet, I knew I’d be using it to go to Las Vegas. Vegas, and all that comes with it, is undoubtedly my favorite vacation spot. As ridiculous as that sounds, it is an adult playground and I will never get enough of it. To celebrate a milestone birthday later this year, I took advantage of some perks in my arsenal to develop a quick weekend with flair.

Airfare

Because I have MVP Gold status with Alaska Airlines, I have the ability to complete same day flight changes for free. I also am awarded some first-class advance-award tickets on select flights each year. For my departure, I found a great mile redemption of just 7,500 miles for the one-way ticket. I booked it, and even though the flight departs at an ungodly evening time (arriving after midnight), I have no intention of taking the flight. Instead, I will fly space-available on one of the earlier flights that day for free. What’s a trip to Vegas if it doesn’t start with a gamble, am I right?

On the return trip, I elected to book the first flight out on Monday morning. Though it is very early, it happens to be eligible for one of my free advanced-confirmation first class upgrades. This not only allows me to reduce my time out of the office and make the most of my weekend, it allows me to count on a luxurious return trip and free breakfast in-flight; even if I lose my shirt the day before.

Out the door, I confirmed round-trip airfare (including a guaranteed segment in first class) for just $147 and 7,500 miles. Because of my elite status, I am placed on a wait-list for a free first class upgrade for the first segment as well.

Hotel

Because I have the Hilton Aspire card from American Express, I not only receive one free weekend night a year, I also receive $250 in resort credits (good for room charges) each year. In Las Vegas, these credits can be used at one of six properties including the Elara, Tropicana and Flamingo. For my two night stay, I took full advantage of each of these perks:

Night One

After a quick set of queries, I determined that my first night in Vegas was going to be more expensive than the second. Accordingly, I aimed to redeem my free night for night one. I booked a room at the Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas. The standard room cost for this evening was over $600 including resort fees and taxes. Instead, I booked it for free.

Night Two

For my second night in Vegas, I was intent on booking a stay at one of Hilton’s six resorts to take advantage of the $250 credit. I found a King City View room in the Paradise Tower (preferred) of the Tropicana overlooking the Strip for a total of $245.45 including taxes and fees. After my $250 credit is applied towards the room charges, my stay will be free!

Summary

Because of my status with Alaska Airlines, and my credit card with Hilton, I will enjoy a weekend trip in Las Vegas, flying first class (at least on the way home), and spending the night in two premium rooms on the Strip for a total of $147. If I wanted to book the trip without using status, the same trip would have cost $1,069.51 (86% off). In addition, I was able to use some American Express Platinum membership reward points to have my wife join me from Nashville (a redemption worth $400).

Now to go make back that $147 at the Sports Book.

8 Nights in Tokyo + Airfare for $237

Earlier this year, we enjoyed a trip to Tokyo, Japan for nine days and eight nights. My wife, mother and I flew round-trip with just one connection, and stayed in the heart of Tokyo’s business district at a 4.5 star hotel in Shinjuku. We stayed on the executive floor and enjoyed access to the Executive Lounge offering breakfast, snacks and cocktails; and we did it all for less than $237/person.

Breakdown

Service Value Paid
Hotel – 8 nights w/ Exec Lounge $4,861 $95
Round-trip Airfare for 3 $4,129 $615
Sum $8,990 $710 (92% off!)
$236.67 / person

The $710 paid was a result of taxes incurred, and annual fees associated with credit cards we acquired solely for this trip.

Value

It pays to use points for airfare and hotel expenses because not only are the exchange rates favorable, you typically aren’t charged the same high taxes and fees. In the screenshot below, you can see Hilton charges nearly $900 USD for what it calls “Taxes” and a “Service Charge” on this eight-night stay.

Airfare

Using 50,000 Alaska Airlines miles each, we redeemed our mileage through the Airline Partners program. This is the lowest round-trip redemption available so you’ll need to be flexible with your travel dates to ensure you’re redeeming the best value. The fees on this redemption are listed, and are your only costs incurred on the transaction. They vary by itinerary, but for the example below, would run you $82/person.

Mileage Redemption
Flexibility is key when booking travel because some days will not have the best redemption values available.

Hotel

Again, flexibility is the name of the game. In fact, despite booking this same hotel for 50,000 points / night for these dates a year ago, the asking value is currently triple what we paid. For that reason, you must be fluid with your planning in order to find the best value for your points. We selected the Hilton Tokyo at the time because of its value offered, but also because Hilton offers a 5th night free promotion for point redemption; effectively allowing you to take 20% off a 5 or 10 night stay.

Capture

Hilton Tokyo
Our room included a beautiful city view, traditional shoji screen and fusuma, and accommodated an additional twin bed.

Hilton Gold

Automatically earned when you’re carrying American Express’ Hilton Surpass card or Platinum card, Gold status is what prioritizes you for a room on the Executive Floors. This is valuable, especially at this property, because you’re granted access to the Executive Lounge which happens to be a light-fares restaurant on the top of the high-rise hotel. Complete with a full breakfast in the morning, hors d’oeuvres throughout the day and a full bar at night, this complimentary service will not only enhance your trip, but save you money.

Executive Lounge
The executive lounge boasted a fresh omelette chef to round out each morning’s breakfast.

Collecting Your Points

When you’re planning a massive point redemption like we did, it’s never too early to start accumulating the right points and miles. As you do this, be mindful of terms and conditions associated with earning and using your rewards. For instance, American Express strictly enforces its “once per lifetime” rule that stipulates you can only earn each of their promotions once in your lifetime. However, Hilton recently offered the ability to pool points with friends and family at no-charge so this can be an effective way to combine signup bonuses.

Cards to Consider

I am never compensated for my recommendations. But for your reference, here are some of the cards we found helpful to collect when planning this trip:

  • Hilton Aspire Card from American Express (link)
  • Citi ThankYou Premier Card (link)
  • Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card (link)

We were also able to take advantage of two Hilton cards offered by Citi bank, but due to a new exclusivity deal between Hilton and American Express, those cards are no longer available.

In Conclusion

When planning a trip this large, you’ll only be successful if you can stay adaptable and book with the properties/airlines offering the best deal on the dates they stipulate. It can be a daunting treasure hunt, but the rewards are plentiful. Happy travels!

Enhancing a Trip with Plastic

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Next week, we depart for a week-long stay in Cancun, Mexico! In late 2014, Alaska Airlines added nonstop flights to Cancun from Seattle; making it one of the more luxurious itineraries available. We also couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stay at one of Hyatt’s newer properties in the area which opened around the same time.

14500
First Class on Alaska Airlines feature five inches of recline, a complimentary selection of fine wines and a meal, as well as entertainment players.

This trip took some planning, but we were each able to secure our airfare for just the cost of the fees ($75.00) after redeeming 60,000 miles in exchange for roundtrip, nonstop, First Class tickets! These same pair of tickets would have cost us nearly $2,500 otherwise.

As for the miles, they’re easily attainable through Alaska’s 25,000 mile bonus upon approval. For the bold: We had some luck explaining to the bank our desire to separate transactions. This resulted in us being approved, and receiving the bonus miles, for multiple cards.

Hyatt Zilara is an adults-only Montego Bay all-inclusive resort with luxury suites, and exceptional dining and bars.
Hyatt Zilara is an adults-only Montego Bay all-inclusive resort with luxury suites, and exceptional dining and bars.

Hyatt is one of our favorite hotel groups, so we couldn’t pass up the chance to stay at Zilara which opened in late 2014. Surrounded by beach, Zilara requires its guests to be 18+ as well as to partake in the all-inclusive package which includes all the food, beer and premium liquor your heart could desire. And thanks to our Hyatt credit card (which carries Platinum Member status), we expect to receive a room upgrade upon arriving.

It doesn’t get better than Cancun, until you enhance it with plastic.