Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Iggy Itinerary: Lounge Report - Star Alliance First Class / Business Class Lounge, LAX

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The big morning After eating breakfast at The Concourse Hotel at Los Angeles International Airport, I got onto the hotel's complimentary shuttle to the terminal.

"What airline?" asked the driver.
"Singapore," I replied.
"You're going far! At least the airline will probably feed you," said Dave, a good-natured bro headed to upstate New York.
"You have no idea, Dave," I thought.

After a five-minute ride, the shuttle pulled in front of the Tom Bradley International Terminal, the departure point for almost all international flights out of LAX.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

King v. Burwell: The latest Obamacare battle in the Supreme Court

Imagine filing a lawsuit so that the IRS will be forced to deny you a tax credit that they wanted to give you. A group of Virginia residents did just that. King v. Burwell is the case, and it’s one of the most significant cases for the Supreme Court this term.

The Supreme Court is no stranger to litigation related to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly called the ACA or Obamacare).

NFIB v. Sebelius was a landmark 2012 decision in which Chief Justice Roberts shocked many Court-watchers by voting to uphold the constitutionality of the ACA’s individual mandate. In 2014, the Court issued Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, declaring that the ACA’s contraceptive mandate violated for-profit corporations’ free-exercise rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

Both NFIB and Hobby Lobby were decided 5-4. Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito voted to strike aspects of the ACA in both cases; Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan voted to preserve those aspects.

The Supreme Court recently decided to step back into the ACA arena when it granted review in King v. Burwell. What’s at stake, and can the beleaguered ACA survive another challenge?

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Iggy Itinerary: Booking

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I first learned about the “miles game” from absorbing information on the FlyerTalk forums, then later from reading travel blogs such as One Mile At a Time and View from the Wing. These resources were invaluable to me, and I hope this post can help some others figure out how to book award tickets successfully.

Bloggers love extolling the virtues of using credit card sign-up offers to earn points. Of course, they have a financial incentive in the form of referral revenue. But they’re also correct.

It takes an awful lot of flying to amass the 100,000+ miles needed for a one-way award in first class. Earning a couple of 50,000 mile sign-up bonuses for opening a credit card and putting big-ticket items on the cards is the easiest way to plump up your points balance for “aspirational” award travel on the “good” airlines’ first class (Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa, and Singapore Airlines are among the favorites; Swiss, Thai, ANA, Korean Air, Asiana, and Air France also receive strong reviews.

Lufthansa's 747-400 First Class

The Hyatt Diamond Challenge: Retrospective

My Hyatt Diamond Challenge

I recently completed Hyatt's recently deceased Hyatt Diamond Challenge, a generous program allowing individuals to attain top-level Diamond status in Hyatt's loyalty program. The Diamond Challenge gave individuals Diamond status up front during the 60-day challenge period. To retain Diamond status for the year, one would have to stay 12 nights in Hyatt properties during the challenge period.

Hyatt discontinued the program at the end of October 2014. The program was far more generous than the comparable programs offered by Hyatt's competitor hotel chains. It's unclear whether Hyatt will offer the program in a different form in the future, but for now, it's muerto.

Meadowlark Suite at the Hyatt Regency Wichita

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Review: The Concourse Hotel at Los Angeles International Airport

Hotel:  The Concourse Hotel at Los Angeles International Airport
Room:  Standard King (I think?)
Price:  $111.20 (+ $17.31 taxes)
Category:  3

It's cheesy, but I can't land at LAX without thinking of Miley's pre-Wrecking Ball anthem to patriotism and YOLO / getting turnt before those were a thing:

"I hopped off a plane at LAX with a dream and my cardigan,
Welcome to the land of fame, excess, woah, am I gonna fit in?"
   Miley Cyrus, "Party in the USA"

Unsurprisingly, there are lots of hotels near LAX. The Concourse probably wouldn't ordinarily be my first choice, but it's convenient and seemed like a good way to complete the Hyatt Diamond Challenge.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Iggy Itinerary: Introduction

Introduction  |  Next >

"I'm so fancy, you already know
I'm in the fast lane from LA to Tokyo"
   - Charli XCX, from "Fancy" by Iggy Azalea

Singapore Airlines currently operates its beautiful A380 super-jumbo on two US routes: JFK to Frankfurt and LAX to Tokyo-Narita. On those routes, the airline replaced its traditional First Class with an ultra-fancy version called Suites Class, which Singapore advertised as "a class beyond First."

And for a little over 24 hours, I'll get to experience the magic that is Suites Class like this rich old dude watching golf.

Review: Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa, and Casino

Hotel:  Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa, and Casino
Room:  One Bedroom Suite
Price:  $95.20 (+ Diamond Suite Upgrade; $20.00 resort fee; $15.63 taxes)
Category:  5

Regardless of the time of year, the Lake Tahoe area is an idyllic wonderland. It's the closest ski destination to Northern California, and I have fond memories of annual dorm ski trips to Tahoe with hundreds of us packed into cabins designed for twenty people.

The only Hyatt property in the Tahoe area is in Incline Village on the north shore of the lake. It's a sleepy town on the Nevada side of the border with California that seems totally reliant on tourist traffic (like much of the area). It's a sprawling property decorated in a ski-lodge style.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Review: Hyatt Escala Lodge Park City

Hotel:  Hyatt Escala Lodge Park City
Room:  Premium One Bedroom King Suite
Price:  $127.20 (+ Diamond Suite Upgrade; $15.00 resort fee; $16.85 taxes)
Category:  4

The last time I was in Park City was over New Year's Eve almost six years ago. It was like a fantasyland - the people are rich and beautiful; the food is delicious; and the town looked like a beautiful Swiss alpine village.

Park City in the off-season is weird, though - the ski slopes, usually beautiful and white, are ugly and bare like a hairless cat. But the off-season also means hotel rates are much more reasonable. And the hotel is picturesque even without the snow.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Review: Grand Hyatt Denver

Hotel:  Grand Hyatt Denver
Room:  Executive Suite
Price:  $127.20 (+ Diamond Suite Upgrade and $18.76 taxes)
Category:  3

The Grand Hyatt Denver and Hyatt Regency Denver Convention Center are just three blocks away from each other, and there is a healthy debate about which property is better. To break up the chain of Hyatt Regencies that I had stayed at the past few days, I decided to book the Grand Hyatt. It's a beautiful hotel.

Review: Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center

Hotel:  Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center
Room:  Premier King (switched into Standard Double upon request)
Price:  4,000 Hyatt Gold Passport Points + $55.00 (+ $8.12 taxes and $10.00 parking)
Category:  2

The Denver Tech Center is about 13 miles south-southeast of downtown Denver, and is home to a bunch of telcos and other assorted tech firms. The Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center, while very convenient for those companies, is not a good choice if you're hoping to go downtown. But the hotel is inviting and spacious.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Sixth Circuit creates same-sex marriage split

The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (which covers Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee) issued an opinion today reversing federal district courts in all four states that had declared unconstitutional their respective states' bans on same-sex marriage.

Last month, the Supreme Court declined to review the decisions of the Fourth, Seventh, and Tenth Circuits that had declared bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Justice Ginsburg's remarks suggest that the Supreme Court declined review because there had been no split of authority among the federal appellate courts.

Shortly afterward, the Ninth Circuit joined the other three circuits in declaring the bans unconstitutional. But the Sixth Circuit's decision now creates a split that could force the Supreme Court to wade into the issue.

The case, called DeBoer v. Snyder, was decided 2-1 with Judge Jeffrey Sutton of Ohio writing for the majority.

Review: Hyatt Regency Wichita

Hotel:  Hyatt Regency Wichita
Room:  Vice Presidential Suite
Price:  2,500 Hyatt Gold Passport points + $50.00
Category:  1

Almost every Category 1 Hyatt property is a Hyatt Place or Hyatt House. Although these are generally new and clean properties, they're not usually anything to get excited about.

In the United States, there are 8 full-service Hyatt properties that fall in that Category 1 sweet-spot (free night for 5,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points or 2,500 points and $50):
  • Hyatt Regency Suites Atlanta Northwest (GA)
  • Hyatt Lisle near Naperville (IL)
  • Hyatt Regency Schaumburg (IL)
  • Hyatt Regency Wichita (KS)
  • Hyatt Regency Albuquerque (NM)
  • Hyatt Regency Tulsa (OK)
  • Hyatt Regency Greenville (SC)
  • Hyatt Regency North Dallas (TX)
Of those 8, I stayed at 3 on my Hyatt Diamond Challenge (all with Points + Cash redemptions). The Hyatt Regency Wichita is, by far, the best of the 3.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Review: Hyatt Regency Tulsa

Hotel:  Hyatt Regency Tulsa
Room:  Standard Double
Price:  2,500 Hyatt Gold Passport points + $50.00
Category:  1

Tulsa, just a short hop from Oklahoma City on Interstate 44, is arguably the more cosmopolitan of the two major Oklahoma cities (locals speak of Tulsa admiringly as the "Austin of Oklahoma").

The Hyatt Regency Tulsa is one of Hyatt's few Category 1 full-service (i.e. non-Hyatt Place, non-Hyatt House) properties. The hotel is in the heart of downtown Tulsa and within walking distance of most of the stuff you would want to see here.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Review: Hyatt Place Oklahoma City Airport

Hotel:  Hyatt Place Oklahoma City Airport
Room:  Standard King
Price:   2,500 Hyatt Gold Passport points + $50.00 (+ $6.94 taxes)
Category:  1

Oklahoma City has two Hyatt properties - the Hyatt Place Oklahoma City-Northwest, where I stayed earlier on this trip, and the Hyatt Place Oklahoma City Airport.

The latter is a bit of a misnomer; it's about 3.5 miles from the airport. The airport itself has one hotel (the Four Points Oklahoma City, a Starwood property). This Hyatt Place, like most of OKC's nominal airport hotels, is on a wide street that has every chain hotel, fast food, and casual dining establishment you've ever heard of (and some off-brand ones).

The hotel is set off from the main street and gets no street traffic noise.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Review: Hyatt Place Oklahoma City-Northwest

Hotel:  Hyatt Place Oklahoma City-Northwest
Room:  Standard King
Price:  $95.20 (+ $13.21 taxes)
Category:  1

I first passed through Oklahoma City while driving to law school. At the time, I thought I'd never return. But after law school, I accepted a judicial clerkship in the pride of the Sooner State. While I was working here, I drove a guest speaker from the airport to this Hyatt Place; that's how I knew how to find it (it's hidden off the street despite being right off an interstate exit).

The end of the Hyatt Diamond Challenge?

The world of points is buzzing with the revelation that Hyatt is ending its Hyatt Diamond Challenge.

The blog reports:
I have been able to confirm with Hyatt that as of 10/31/14 they no longer offer Diamond Status challenges or status matches. That's not to say that they absolutely won't match again in the future or re-introduce a challenge, but in it's current format, the Diamond Challenge is no more.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Review: Hyatt Regency St. Louis at the Arch

Hotel:  Hyatt Regency St. Louis at the Arch
Room:  Regency Club King, Arch View
Price:  $109 (+ $16.46 taxes)
Category:  2

When driving into St. Louis from the north on Interstate 55, the top of the Gateway Arch emerges from the horizon about six miles from the Illinois-Missouri border. It's a 630-foot monument to the Manifest Destiny - ostentations, sturdy, and quintessentially American.  And the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at the Arch offers unparalleled views of the Arch.

View from Regency Club

Hyatt exterior
Front Entrance

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Review: Hyatt Regency Schaumburg

Hotel:  Hyatt Regency, Schaumburg, IL
Room:  Regency Club King (corner)
Price:  $71.20 (+ $9.97 taxes)
Category:  1

Schaumburg, a suburb about 30 miles northwest of the Chicago loop, is known primarily for having one of Illinois's two IKEAs and a large mall called the Woodfield Shopping Center.  It's also home of the least expensive Hyatt property in the Chicagoland area.

Hyatt Regency Schaumburg
Hyatt Regency Schaumburg

What can you do with Hyatt points?

As a non-status'd member of the Hyatt loyalty program, you earn 5 points per dollar spent; as a Diamond member, that rate jumps to 6.5 points per dollar. On a $150 stay at a Hyatt as a Diamond member, you could earn (6.5 * $150) = 975 points, plus another 1,000 points as a check-in amenity. So what does one do with all these Hyatt points?

Free nights
Redeeming points for free nights at Hyatt properties is one of the best money-value uses for the points. The number of points required for a redemption varies based on how Hyatt categorizes the property.

Hyatt classifies its properties into Categories 1 through 7. Category 7 is the top tier - almost all of these are luxurious Park Hyatts in first-tier cities such as New York, Paris, and Tokyo. Category 1 includes many properties in not-exactly-glamorous cities such as Pensacola and Corpus Christi, but also includes non-luxury properties in major cities such as Dallas and Atlanta.

The redemption rates for standard rooms by category, according to