Thursday, August 27, 2015

Review: Park Hyatt New York

Room:  Park Deluxe King
Price:  Free (two nights free as sign-up bonus for the Chase Hyatt Visa)
Category:  7

Having signed up for the Chase Hyatt Visa card earlier this year, I had two free nights to burn at any Hyatt property worldwide.  To maximize the value of my nights, I wanted to redeem them at a Park Hyatt, which is Hyatt's luxury brand.

Park Hyatt New York

The Park Hyatt New York (PHNY) seemed like a good choice -- standard rooms are routinely above $700.

Park King Room, 8/18/2015

So when I had an east coast trip for work, I was excited to book a two-night stay at the crown jewel of Hyatt's US properties. But my expectations weren't super-high, given that the FlyerTalk hive mind hasn't had very kind things to say about the property.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Supreme Court saves ACA subsidies; recognizes fundamental right to marriage

June is an exciting time for Supreme Court watchers; often, the most anticipated cases of the term get released in the Court's final week. In the past two days, the Court announced two of its most significant decisions of this term.

More analysis to come; here's a quick summary of the two cases:

Affordable Care Act: Saved Again
On Thursday, the Court issued its opinion in King v. Burwell (see my prior coverage), holding that the Affordable Care Act allows the IRS to provide for subsidies on the federal health exchanges (in addition to the state-run exchanges).

  • 6-3 decision, with Chief Justice Roberts writing (opinion), joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. The key provision in the ACA being challenged: "an Exchange established by the State under [42 U. S. C. §18031]" is ambiguous as to whether it covers exchanges established by the federal government. Chevron deference is not the appropriate framework; Court looks to the purpose of the ACA to conclude that Congress must have meant to include federal exchanges in the subsidies.
  • Dissent by Justice Scalia, joined by Justices Thomas and Alito.  The dissent thinks that the statute, by its terms, does not encompass federal exchanges, and accuses the majority of "interpretive jiggery-pokery" to reach the opposite result.

Fundamental Right to Marriage
This morning, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in the same-sex marriage appeal, Obergefell v, Hodges.

  • 5-4 decision, with Justice Kennedy writing for the majority (opinion), joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan.   The right of same-sex couples to marry is guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process and Equal Protection clauses. 
  • Separate dissents by each of the four dissenting justices. Chief Justice Roberts's dissent likens the majority's opinion to Lochner-style activism. (Lochner is a much-maligned 1905 opinion holding that there is a fundamental right to contract inherent in the Fourteenth Amendment). Justice Scalia denounces "the hubris in today's judicial Putsch" as "pretentious" and "egotistic."

Monday, May 11, 2015

Mooted by execution: the strange math of Supreme Court capital appeals

The day after the Supreme Court held oral-argument in the same-sex marriage case, it heard
Glossip v. Gross, a case about Oklahoma's lethal-injection drug. But when the case was appealed to the Supreme Court, the case name was Warner v. Gross.

The case name changed because eight days before the Court agreed to hear Charles Warner's appeal, it denied Warner's application for a stay of execution. Warner died later that day by lethal injection.

It may seem bizarre that the Court allowed Warner to die before his appeal got resolved. How did this happen?

It takes only four votes (out of nine) for the Court to agree to take the case (called "certiorari"), but five votes to grant a stay of execution. And only four justices voted to grant Warner's stay: Justices Sotomayor (authoring), joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, author of the Warner dissent
Source:  Wikimedia

Sunday, March 15, 2015

JetBlue Mint Expands: JFK to Aruba; Barbados

JetBlue has announced that it will fly its premium Mint product from New York-JFK to Aruba (AUA) and Barbados (BGI) beginning this November. (New York Times)

I had the pleasure of flying JetBlue's Mint product from San Francisco to New York-JFK last month and reviewed the product in a previous post. Mint is a 16-seat business-class product featuring lie-flat seating and an innovative tapas menu. Four of the seats in the Mint cabin are individual "suites" with direct aisle access and a sliding door.

JetBlue Mint Cabin

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Review: Park Hyatt Washington

Room:  Georgetown Suite
Price:  $125 (+10,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points; Diamond Suite Upgrade; $18.13 taxes) per night
Category:  5

Back during law-firm recruiting season, a firm I interviewed with housed me in the Grand Hyatt Washington. I mentioned to one of the recruiters that the hotel was very convenient; he replied: "Yeah, I know it's not the Park Hyatt, but it's so close to the office."

That piqued my interest, as the Grand Hyatt seemed perfectly nice to me. A few weeks ago, I finally got the chance to satisfy my curiosity with a two-night stay at the beautiful Park Hyatt Washington.

Park Hyatt Washington

Friday, March 6, 2015

Review: Andaz Wall Street, New York

Room:  Andaz Large King (Deluxe)
Price:  $155 per night (+ $26.37 taxes)
Category:  6

After the Hyatt Herald Square didn't have my reservation, I took a cab to the Andaz Wall Street in Lower Manhattan. Despite the hotel's name and address (75 Wall Street), the entrance is on Water Street.

Park Hyatt Wall Street

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

King v. Burwell - Oral argument summary

The Supreme Court heard oral argument today in King v. Burwell, the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act.

I've posted previously about the case (here). Briefly, the IRS treats federal exchanges and state exchanges identically for purposes of ACA subsidies. The challengers argue that this treatment misinterprets the phrase "an Exchange established by the State" in the Affordable Care Act.  If the Court sides with the challengers, the bill's supporters believe that the consequences would be devastating.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Overbookings at Hyatt Herald Square

Last week, after a fantastic flight to New York on Jet Blue's innovative new Mint product, I took an Uber to the Hyatt Herald Square.

Hyatt Herald Square
Source: Hyatt

But the check-in agent told me that he couldn't find my name in his reservations system. That's bad.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) bonuses (including Uber)

The Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty program (SPG) recently announced two potentially lucrative bonuses. SPG is one of the largest loyalty programs, covering (among others): Four Points, Sheraton, Westin, aloft, W, and St. Regis brands. SPG points transfer 1:1 to most airlines, including American, Emirates, Singapore, British Airways, and Virgin Atlantic.

W Los Angeles - Westwood

The first promo is an innovative partnership with Uber, the popular private-car-on-demand service.

Lounge Report - KLM Crown Lounge, Houston (IAH)

Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) is a major United hub - United has over 75% of its market share. As a United loyalist, I often find myself with layovers in Houston. Unfortunately, United frequent fliers on domestic itineraries don't get lounge access in Houston, and the free terminal wi-fi is spotty.

Priority Pass (a lounge-access program), which is free with the American Express Platinum card, gives cardholders access to the KLM Crown Lounge in Houston regardless of airline or class of service. I visited the lounge a few days ago during a two-hour layover.

KLM Crown Lounge Entrance

Saturday, February 21, 2015

JetBlue Mint - San Francisco > New York-JFK (Airbus A321)

In June 2014, JetBlue launched a product called JetBlue Mint on its flights between Los Angeles and New York's JFK Airport. Mint is a 16-seat business-class cabin with lie-flat beds, available starting at $599 each way on specially configured aircraft. JetBlue expanded the product to its flights between San Francisco and JFK in October 2014.

JetBlue Mint Seat

Most airlines operating the LAX/SFO-to-JFK routes offer some sort of premium business-class product that's better than "normal" domestic first class. The seats are usually lie-flat beds comparable to what you'd find on an international business-class route. (For a comparison of the premium products in this market, see my previous post).

Mint is priced significantly lower than its competitor products on the route. So on my most recent trip to New York, I was eager to try it out.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

New Hyatt benefits: United Club passes (and more)

Hyatt recently sent an email describing new benefits for members with elite status in Hyatt's Gold Passport loyalty program.

As a reminder, Hyatt Gold Passport has three levels:

  • Gold (general member)
  • Platinum (5 stays or 15 nights annually)
  • Diamond (25 stays or 50 nights annually)
Source:  Hyatt

None of the benefits is monumental, but they're all useful and generous (considering Hyatt doesn't have to provide any of them to remain competitive).

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Ninth Circuit slams prosecutorial misconduct (video)

This is Judge Alex Kozinski.

Judge Kozinski is a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He's famous for his brilliance, wit, and "well-known libertarian leanings."

And if you become a target for Judge Kozinski's wrath during oral argument, you're in a lot of trouble.  That trouble was on full display in a recent Ninth Circuit argument.

The best parts of the video -- after the jump.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Men lactating? Misleading headlines misstate Supreme Court's denial of review

Perhaps you've seen the inflammatory headlines:

Seeing these headlines might make you think that the Supreme Court just issued a ridiculous opinion that flies in the face of common sense. But the headlines are misleading - in fact, the Supreme Court declined to consider the appeal (as it does with over 99% of its cases).

2,500 Hyatt point promo: Hyatt Herald Square

The Hyatt Herald Square is offering 2,500 bonus Hyatt Gold Passport points for stays through the end of March 2015 with the promo code NY2500.

Hyatt Herald Square
Source:  Hyatt

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Premium Transcontinental Market (JFK - LAX/SFO)

San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. These three cities are the epicenters of the global technology, entertainment, and finance industries.

They're also the terminals of two of the domestic aviation industry's most popular and lucrative transcontinental routes. Understandably, the demand for premium-class fares on these routes is strong.

Of the five domestic airlines operating non-stop service from New York-JFK to San Francisco and Los Angeles, three offer a unique premium product particular to those routes; four offer flat-bed seating (a rarity on domestic flights).

Here's a chart comparing the New York < > California non-stop offerings. More details on each product after the jump.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Religious Freedom and Beards: Unanimous SCOTUS tackles hairy issue

A Muslim prisoner in Arkansas named Abdul Malik Muhammad says that his faith requires him to maintain a beard.  But the Arkansas Department of Corrections's grooming policy prevents prisoners from growing beards (with a 1/4"-beard exception for prisoners with diagnosed dermatological problems).  As a compromise, Muhammad offered to keep his beard at 1/2", but the Department refused.

Should Muhammad be allowed to grow his beard?  Last week, the Supreme Court said yes.  More after the jump.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Reinstated: Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer to Korean Air SkyPass

Chase Ultimate Rewards is probably the most versatile credit-card rewards program, with transfer partners ranging from Hyatt to British Airways to Amtrak.  I booked my recent Los Angeles > Tokyo > Singapore > Shanghai trip in Singapore Airlines Suites Class by transferring points from Chase Ultimate Rewards to Singapore Airline's KrisFlyer loyalty program.

(With the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, you can earn two Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on dining and travel, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere.  Chase Freedom points transfer 1:1 into the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, but only if you have the Sapphire Preferred or Ink cards).

In late November 2014, Chase abruptly dropped Korean Air as a transfer partner without an explanation.  But as of today, Korean Air is back as a transfer partner.

Chase Ultimate Rewards Airline Partners
Source:  Chase

Monday, January 19, 2015

United makes me an offer that I can't refuse (not)

For the past few years, I've been a Premier Gold member with United (50,000 miles per year).  But in 2014, I came short of requalification, having flown 43,908 miles.  That's only enough for Premier Silver (25,000 miles per year).

United just sent an email offering a buy-up to Gold status for 2015.

But at what price, United?  At what price?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Supreme Court to hear same-sex marriage appeal

Earlier today, the Supreme Court decided to grant review of the Sixth Circuit's same-sex marriage decisions.  Back in November 2014, the Sixth Circuit became the first federal court of appeals to uphold states' bans on same-sex marriage.  Four other federal appellate courts have struck down the bans as unconstitutional.

The Court's order stated that it granted review for two questions:

  1. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?
  2. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?
The Court has not yet set a date for oral argument.  But the final briefs are due April 17, and the Court's final oral-argument session is from April 20 through 29.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Abortion & Same-Sex Marriage: Fifth Circuit's week of hot-button cases

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit enjoyed some unusually newsworthy appeals last week. It held held oral argument in high-profile appeals involving state laws restricting same-sex marriage and abortion facilities.

The Fifth Circuit, which the American Bar Association describes as "staunchly conservative," hears appeals from federal district courts in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

What are these cases about?  Find out after the jump.

Fifth Circuit Courthouse in New Orleans

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Lounge Report - The Centurion Lounge, Las Vegas & San Francisco

One of the best benefits of the American Express Platinum card is complementary access to The Centurion Lounge.

The Centurion Lounge is a breath of fresh air for flyers accustomed to stale baby carrots and trail mix at the United Club. And it's not just the physical beauty of The Centurion Lounges that differentiates them from the Delta SkyClubs of the world.

The Centurion Lounge, San Francisco

The Centurion Lounge, Las Vegas

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Foie gras relegalized in California

Earlier today, a federal judge on the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, issued an order preventing California from enforcing its ban on selling foie gras.

The case is Association des √Čleveurs de Candards et d'Oies du Qu√©bec v. Harris (opinion here).  The plaintiffs argued (and Judge Stephen Wilson agreed) that California's state-law ban on selling foie gras is preempted by federal law.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Iggy Itinerary: Air Canada rouge - Premium rouge Class, Vancouver > San Francisco (A319)

< Prev  |  Air Canada rouge, Vancouver to San Francisco

When booking an exciting itinerary with Lufthansa First Class and Singapore Suites Class, the short flight from Vancouver to San Francisco wasn't something I researched.

For non-stop Star Alliance flights, I could choose among United, United Express, or an Air Canada product I had never heard of called "Premium rouge" (with a lower case "r"). I booked the latter but didn't bother looking it up, assuming that it would look like United/Delta/American's domestic first-class products.


Source:  Air Canada rouge

"[M]iddle seat blocked for your comfort"?

The Iggy Itinerary: Lounge Report - Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge, Vancouver

< Prev  |  Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge, Vancouver  |  Next >

Vancouver International Airport is the only airport I've been to that has different customs requirements depending on your arrival airline.

Some airlines' passengers have to clear two rounds of customs when transiting through Vancouver to the United States. First, they clear Canadian customs; next, they clear American customs (so their onward flight arrives as a domestic flight).

Passengers on other airlines (including Lufthansa) can skip Canadian customs and proceed directly to the American customs line. Much, much faster (even though Global Entry is only available to the double-clearance group) - which got me to Air Canada's Maple Leaf Lounge even faster.

Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge, Vancouver

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Iggy Itinerary: Lufthansa First Class - Frankfurt > Vancouver (747-400)

< Prev  |  Lufthansa First Class, Frankfurt to Vancouver |  Next >

Lufthansa First Class on the iconic Boeing 747-400 used to be 16 seats in the plane's upper deck - four rows in a 2-2 configuration.

But in May 2011, Lufthansa designed to remodel its first-class offerings fleetwide. The color scheme evolved from blue and silver to brown and tan.

Lufthansa 747-400 New First Class

And they decided to eliminate the eight window seats and replace them with standalone beds.