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Topics - zow

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61
SF calls it an error, but I wonder if it's just a sale fare?

http://www.secretflying.com/2016/04/error-fare-boston-many-european-cities-292-roundtrip/

62
"Soft" grand opening for this place that I plan to check out soon. Located in Stoughton, about 30min south of Boston, near the Sharon Jewish community.

They also had a recent Groupon.

This coupon is good only through 4/30, but really good only through this week, as they'll be closed for Pesach.

http://aperfecttaste.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/ONE.pdf

"Big" grand opening is planned for after chag, according to the owner.

63
Trip Reports / Mr. and Mrs. zow's Second Stamford Shabbaton TR
« on: April 11, 2016, 11:53:52 PM »
We just got back from our second weekend in a row at the Stamford Crowne Plaza. Love the Price Breaks!

Gotta give the CP another thumbs up. Again, we didn't ask for a special mechanical key. Instead, when we came back from davening Saturday afternoon, we just found a housekeeper, who let us in with our key card. Similarly, we went out later in the afternoon for a long walk and, upon returning, found another housekeeper who helped us. No issues.

This weekend, there was some kind of dance convention happening. There were some loud kids for a few minutes around 10 or 11 pm both nights but nothing terrible. There also was a Sheva Brochos shabbaton happening -- maybe 75 people, maybe more. We didn't crash at all, but the desserts they had out for shalosh seudas sure were tempting.

I davened at congregation Agudath Sholom, both Friday night and Saturday morning.  I liked it a lot. Very vibrant, progressive, modem orthodox. The rabbi, a yU grad afaik , gave his Dvar from the lectern that had built in microphone. The pews for men and women were at different levels-- reminded me of LSS-- but no mech itsa.   People were friendly and welcoming. Solid Kiddush: Tuna and egg sLad, crackers, cake, cookies, ice cream.

Hope this helps others. We will be on the lookout for PointsBreaks here in the future. It is a nice getaway.

64
Trip Reports / Mr and Mrs zow's Stamford Shabbos Mini TR
« on: April 03, 2016, 02:03:22 PM »
We grabbed PointsBreaks at the Stamford Crowne Plaza for last weekend and an upcoming weekend. Can't beat $35/night.

Arrived Friday afternoon about 2h before Shabbat. Immediate impression: tons of Yiddim. Turns out , there was a Yachad (GIYF) Northeast Family Shabbaton.  Must have been over 100 families, maybe 200, varying degrees of frum and varying degrees of disability.  They had a Shabbos elevator and separate times for men and women in the pool. And the whole common area atrium was consumed by Yahad. This was a great coincidence. I didn't realize on Friday night that i could daven with them, but I realized it later and useful for Shabbat Mincha and maariv motsei Shabbos.

Room was a standard room. King plus sofa bed. Curiously there was no coffee table, which would have been useful for our in-room dining (BYOK) but we improvised. Folding luggage rack with plastic trays on top was fine.

We got everything ready for Shabbos, including our hot plate (yes, am aware of safety issues). DW went downstairs and benched licht -- said there must have been about 200 pairs of candles set up. Food was heating while I was davening b'yachid. DW had prepared some awesome dinner for the two of us-- challah rolls, chicken, asparagus, fruited rice, banana cake, and a nice Cab.

Slept in, walked two miles to Chabad in the rain. Got there around 10:30--called for 9:30--and no minyan until almost 11. But it was haimish and the Shaliach Rabbi Moshe Shemtov and the Rebbetzin were wonderful. Funny and warm, genuinely glad to have us with them.  Kiddush lunch was delicious. DW and I sat next to each other, only soon to realize that men and women were separated.  But no one at all seemed to care or made us feel awk. Cholent was more like a stew-- delicious. Enjoyed our conversations.  Learned that I really do need to visit the Ohel....
 
Much nicer walk back in the sun. Lazy Shabbos afternoon. Found no one at the front desk but did find housekeeping supervisor and told her we needed assistance to enter our room. I had keys (Eruv up). She said no prob. Someone would meet us at our room. We went up ((Shabbos elevator) and housekeeping guy let us in.

I davened Mincha and maariv with the Yachad kahal. We had reservations at Soosh but cancelled, as by 9pm it felt too late for us old fogies to go out to dinner. 

Sunday morning worked out -- decent fitness center. A little worn/tired but I have seen much worse. Check out was easy. $10/night parking. We will be back IYH very soon!

Ps guy at the Chabad said that the CP has Jewish convention almost every week.

65
The zow Family's First Cancun Vacation Trip Report, 2/2016

Part 1 - Introduction and Planning.

First, I want to say thank you to everyone here who provided advice, either directly or via TR here, with special HT to shiframeir, Dan and DG613, Chapshnell, JayR, Mordyk, among others. I hope this report is as useful to others as theirs were to me.

We had been looking forward to this trip for a long time, made especially appealing by the weather at home the day before our departure:


Overview:
The five of us (zow, DW, DS, DD1, DD2) spent six nights in Cancun during the children's February 2016 school vacation. Trip was a mix of sightseeing, pool/beach, fitness and dining indulgence. We rented a car, which was useful for airport transfers, a Costco run, shlepping from Aloft to Lagunamar, and tiyyul to Chichen Itza; otherwise the R1 and R2 busses running up and down the strip were frequent, cheap and convenient.

Trip Planning:
As JetBlue is the only carrier to fly nonstop BOS-CUN, and I wouldn't expect any reasonably priced fares on the peak travel dates we wanted to travel, we would definitely need connecting flights. DW still has a CP on WN (Southwest), and we had a few hundred dollars in travel credit from Pesach weather-related delay, so traveling WN made the most sense. We stayed the first night at Aloft to save points and, IIRC, because our arrival date (but thankfully only that date) was sold out at the Westin Lagunamar, way back in March.

Flights:
Monday, 2/15: BOS-BWI-CUN
Sunday, 2/21: CUN-BWI-BOS
Reserved by phone with WN on June 30 (first day reservations opened for these dates).
Total about 36,000 WN +$80 taxes RT.
(One person was paid via WN flight credit and one person was on CP).
Many points were direct transfer from UR, which is instantaneous (impressive to the WN PR, who said, "where did those come from?"

A few months after reserving the seats, WN called and emailed to advise of a schedule change, making our departure from CUN three hours earlier (shortening our vacation ) and leaving us with a  five-hour layover in BWI.  I contacted WN but they appeared to have no availability on an earlier connecting flight and the PR, although sympathetic, was unable to award compensation, but recommended that I call customer relations. I did that, and they gave me $75 per person (for four of us, not for the CP) for our inconvenience.  A few days later, when I was looking carefully at all the itineraries, I realized that they had put three of us on the later connecting flight and two of us on the earlier one.  This must have happened because we had three or four separate itineraries. So, I got to looking carefully at the BWI-BOS leg, and it turned out at that time there was availability remaining on the earlier of the two BWI-BOS flights. So, I called again, and this time they were able to put all 5 of us on the earlier connecting flight. This resulted in a shorter layover (now just 2 hours), though it still meant we would not have the morning to hang out in the hotel as we had originally booked. Oh well, at least we got $300 compensation for that "hardship."

Hotel:
The whole point of this trip was to stay at the Westin Lagunamar (LM). When I first booked,  way back in March, they didn't have availability on the first day we wanted to arrive in Cancun. I originally booked two rooms for that first night at the HIE. But a few months before our trip, I was checking our plans and kept having difficulty looking at reservation details. When I tried to find the HIE online, Google said it was closed. Sure enough, when I called they were closed. I was hoping that maybe I could get IHG to put us up in the IC instead. Alas, they put us in the HI at a very good rate of something like $90 per room for the one night.  I hung onto that for a while until I realized that the Aloft, at 4,000 SPG per room per night was a better value. So, the plan was to stay in Aloft for the first night just to get our bearings, use the next day to gather provisions and prepare for our check in at LM.

For the LM, we originally booked a studio villa at a rate of 12,000 SPG per night X 4 nights, plus the 5th night free. Several months later I called and upgraded to 1br villa. In retrospect, I do think that we could have gotten the comp upgrade when we arrived, but with 5 of us traveling, I didn't want to take the chance on being "stuck" in a studio.

Car rental:
I had about four or five different rentals reserved.  Rental car pickup desks in the terminal were woefully understaffed. I was prepared to negotiate for best deal, as they are all walkable from the terminal. Ultimately went with Hertz, as I usually use them and figured my fake status ("gold plus"?) might help with upgrade. Got to the regular hertz office and they said, oh, you are Gold Plus or whatever, you need to go next door. Now, I'm thinking I'm going to walk into some lounge, with at least free water and soft chairs. But in fact , the "premier" office next door is more of a closet and less plush than the main office.  Whatever. I actually paid to upgrade from sedan to suv. Got a brand new Jeep.  A few minor scratches but otherwise pristine. Still, I took pix to be on safe side:




Total cost was $380, after the 5% discount for using debit card. I made the latter decision after returning and being told that car was fine, no damage or problems.  Btw, no stops from police, though I was driving pretty carefully re speed.

Aiming for more installments in next week or two....

66
Up In The Air / El Al JFK or BOS to TLV $899 RT, May-Jun 2016
« on: March 24, 2016, 01:09:19 PM »
Not the best deal in the world, but not terrible either.

http://www.elal.com/en/USA/Deals/Pages/Spring-Savings-160316.aspx

The details of the deal list 3 flights, all of which are from NYC, even though the website advertises (and the email promoted) flights from BOS, as well.


67
This S. Patrick's Day, you can request bagpipers to play a free, live performance at your doorstep. Treat yourself or surprise a friend—just make sure they're available.

Enter code BOSBAGPIPES in the app and request the Bagpipes option between noon and 4pm today.

(obviously will be very competitive to get this, but you never know. We got ice cream last year when they delivered from JP Licks.)

68
Trip Reports / zow's spontaneous JetSmarter NYC TR, 25Feb2016
« on: February 25, 2016, 11:27:08 PM »
Today was one of those days that I think I will remember for as long as I live. First, I owe thanks to several enthusiastic fellow DDFers, especially westman812, who prompted this trip, gave me assistance along the way, and even paid for part of my ground transportation. I will acknowledge the others in the TR thread. I also need to thank Mrs. zow, who told me several times that I am crazy but still let me go and check off some bucket list items and meet some new friends along the way.

The 14,000-foot summary (because that was our cruising altitude from BOS to HPN):

I woke up at 5:15 this morning, went to the J to work out, took my Metamucil, ate my egg, as is typical for me many mornings. I then rode the T in to see my Mom, whom I was accompanying to a routine doctor visit. The visit was routine, and B'H, she is doing well, until I got a personal message from xxx about this BOS-HPN JetSmarter flight. Seemed that he and AJK were going to fly up to BOS early afternoon with Avios, maybe grab some Milk Street, and then take the JetSmarter back to HPN. The kicker was that they would then take a helicopter (included with the private jet) into 30th street Manhattan. 

It was really noteworthy that westman812 reached out to me about this opportunity, especially considering that before today we had never exchanged any messages, and until tonight, had never met. I was thus really excited by the possibility of joining him and AJK on the flight. At a minimum, if I couldn't fly, at least I could join them at Milk Street. Alas, by the time I was able to engage (my mom doesn't walk so fast now, as she broke her hip two months ago), they had aborted their plan, mostly because they were worried that weather might delay their flight up to Boston so much that they would miss the PJ.

This was my moment of truth. I could have called the jam off for myself, too, and that would have been justifiable. After all, I had meetings scheduled, commitments to my wife for home stuff, and back logged projects. Plus, I knew that flying solo, even a PJ and heli, would be more fun with others. I'm not sure what compelled me to proceed. Probably has something to do with the fact that at work I am going to need to take on some new responsibility next week, which will likely (and, admittedly, appropriately) keep me off the DDF so much. I saw today as something of a "last hurrah," now-or-never moment. (I hope I'm wrong about that, by the way!)

Around 10:30, I pulled the trigger and "purchased" my JetSmarter. Air-quotes because it was free. I must have previously used the sign-up promo code and have some credit in my account.  They did ask for a credit card, so I used an old, almost empty VGC. And they never charged anything.

After maybe 30 minutes, I exchanged some in-app messages with JetSmarter, and before you can say, "Only on DDF," I had my confirmed itinerary, and a confirmation that they would get me a heli from HPN to 30th street, weather permitting, with a departure planned from BOS at 2:45pm.

My itinerary:


I then proceeded to work on my return itinerary. The obvious go-to is AA LGA-BOS, either with 7,500 Avios or 10,000 (IIRC) AA. Nothing was showing up as available this evening, though. My next thought was Amtrak, but I can't remember what points transfer to Amtrak. I'm pretty sure as of last month one can no longer transfer UR to Amtrak. And I couldn't easily find the answer. Fortunately, my guardian angel, westman812, once again stepped in and told me that there was availability on UA NWR-BOS at 8:45 pm. Great, I thought, I can transfer UR to UA in my sleep. 

I went to book the UA flight for 10,000 UA and I saw that it was not just 10,000UA but also $80+ due to "close-in" fees. I had heard about these fees in the past but had never had occasion to encounter them.  Kind of kills that deal for me. But once again westman812 came to the rescue and told me that Aeroplan has no close-in fees, though the price is 12,500 miles. I liked that much better. But I don't have Aeroplan miles, and in fact I didn't think I even had an aeroplan account. Once again, sensei told me that i could transfer MR to Aeroplan instantly.

I have transferred MR to other partners in the past, such as Avios, so I was comfortable that this would work out. Not so fast, kimosabe. I was able to register for an Aeroplan account no problem. But I couldn't get my Amex MR to link it properly. It kept asking me to change my address to something only alphanumeric, even though it already was. 

By now, I had gotten to my office, had a few meetings, and postponed my late afternoon meetings. It was nearly 1:00 pm, and I knew I had to leave promptly if I wanted to be able to take public transit to the airport.  I still hadn't made my return travel plans, but I figured I would be able to link MR to Aeroplan when I met up with fellow DDFers at the DO. Plus I knew if all else failed I could always ride the Fun Wa or MegaBus back tonight (I know, I know: "at Dan's Deals we don't do buses."). So off I went to Logan!

I had taken the MBTA bus from my mom's to my office, and I knew I would be hopping on the T in less than 2 hours, so all I had to pay to get to the airport was the $0.50 transfer fee.  I rode the Green Line to the Orange Line to the Blue Line (sorry I didn't remember to get a picture of the latter).

Green Line Train:


Orange Line Train:


Elvis sighting at Downtown Crossing:


Once at Airport, I walked about 10 minutes to the Signature Flight Support terminal.  There, I checked in, took a pic of the complimentary coffee, met the Captain and my one fellow passenger, and then proceeded to board.

Boarding is very easy. The captain, who works for Delta Private Jets, asked to see my ID, shook my hand, made some small talk, and then we put our stuff through the X-ray and walked through the metal detector. From there he walked me and my fellow pax, a JetSmarter member, to the plane.

The terminal and waiting area:



My ride to HPN:


The Captain apologized in advance that the flight was going to be bumpy. Not gonna lie: I was pretty nervous. I am a much calmer flyer now than maybe 20 years ago, but I do get pretty tense and start saying tehillim when the flight is like a roller coaster. Fortunately, except for our landing, it wasn't really wicked bad turbulence.

They had Fiji waters available, and I had one. They normally have cider available but apparently the ground crew dropped the ball. The copilot (whose name was Roger, even though the pilot's name was not Captain Over) apologized that they didn't have any ice. They apologized that they didn't have any soda. They didn't say anything about alcohol. Here is where it would have been helpful to have  westman812 or another veteran with me. I was kind of nervous and didn't want to seem like a schnorrer (even though I was taking free PJ and heli from them), so I didn't ask. I also understand now that if I had wanted, I could have gotten up and helped myself. Live and learn.

Interior views of the Cessna Citation:




Out the window:



The flight itself was fun.  I was struck by how quickly we were airborne. We accelerated for maybe a second or two, and then we pulled up and away. A little bumpy on the way up, but nowhere near the worst I have experienced.  Once over the clouds, we were smooth sailing.

The landing in HPN was a little scary. Pretty bumpy. I the sensation is magnified by being able to see out the front of the pilots' window.  After we landed I heard Roger say something to my fellow pax, who was an entrepreneur but also had flown similar planes, about wind shear. Nice concept to have in mind as I contemplated the next leg of my journey, the helicopter to Manhattan.

The private jet service company had a shuttle driver to take me and the other pax from the plane into the terminal and then to take me back to my heli. Turns out that this driver had previously shuttled Justin Bieber and the Bieb invited him to cut a track with him.  Apparently there is a YouTube video with over a million hits, and this guy recently signed his own record contract as a result of it. (My fellow pax recognized him and called him out. I would never have  known and he certainly wasn't bragging. ). I wanted to take his picture for you all but he said he couldn't do it as he was in uniform (company policy) but he gave me one of his demo albums!

My private driver:


I hadn't gotten any written confirmation of the heli, so I was a little bit nervous, wondering if I would need to find my own ground transport to NYC from HPN. I contacted JetSmarter, and they told me the heli should be there and they apologized that I had to wait! After not more than 5 minutes my driver said the heli was here and he drove me out.

In my excitement and nervousness, I didn't remember to snap a photo of the heli. I did get one later in NYC, but it's mostly obscured by the fence through which I was peering.

Poor pic of the heli:



I met my heli pilot. Her name was Kim.  I think she was Aussie. She warned me that the flight would be a little bumpy until we got to the (Hudson) River but then it should be smooth. I would say the heli ride was never really awful bumpy. For certain, I had the sense that we were like a little bug being buffered by the wind, but it wasn't like a roller coaster.  The views from the heli were incredible:



And here is a video of the landing:

(Author note: video seems not to be loading. I will try again. )

The ride from HPN to 30th Street was probably about 25 minutes. After landing, I didn't really know where to go. But I knew that CXXC and others were planning a DO! I stated walking toward midtown and then, after getting instructions, circled back to the Javits Center, and found the subway station for the #7 train. I probably could have gotten to midtown faster by walking (I was actually already at 30th and 9th avenue when i turned back!) but live and learn. Turns out the subway had a mechanical issue and was delayed. But no worries, as I had to daven mincha.

Eventually, at 5:15, I arrived at the appointed place (Schnitzel Express), met up with Incendia and ShwarmaBob, and we were later met by westman812, followed by EJB. I enjoyed my chicken salad with garlic mayo and a diet Sunkist. I think the prices at that place are a little steep, but I guess it's Manhattan. After a while, Incendia and then EJB had to bolt. ShwarmaBob and westman812 very generously and patiently waited as I then figured out my return flight!

By this time, it was after 6pm. I tried and again failed to link my Aeroplan to my MR. But once again, westman812 came through with more info:  JetBlue had availability.   Now, everyone knows that JetBlue does not have a lucrative points program.  Although I knew I had a True Blue account, I didn't think I had any points in it. But again sensei comes through with the guidance that one can transfer MR to B6. Who knew?!

So, with westman812 and ShwarmaBob patiently standing by with encouragement, I proceeded to set up the linkage and transfer.  Of course, I didn't have either of my MR Amex cards with me, but fortunately my dear son was home and was able to find the card and read me the CVV and CSC codes, twice actually.  After a few more minutes, I completed the transfer of about 16,000 MR to B6, and on logging into B6, I realized that I had already had enough points for the flight. Doh!

No worries. We packed up, and westman812 was kind enough to escort me on the subway to Queens (and pay my fare) where I transferred to the E and then the AirTrain. Once in T5, the security lines were ridonculous. Why on a Thursday evening? The long waiting and borderline inhumane treatment by the staff  served as a stark contrast to the VIP treatment I had received in BOS and HPN earlier in the day. 

As I write, my B6 flight is about to land in BOS, where I began this journey less than 8 hours ago.  In some ways, I feel like I have "gotten this out of my system," and in others, I can't wait for the next travel-deal-adventure.  Until next time, thanks for reading and for including me in this special community.

Shabbat shalom.

70
Trip Reports / Mr. and Mrs. zow's weekend in Paris TR
« on: January 12, 2016, 06:24:49 AM »
Many others have written about Paris, and I am grateful for all their information and all the other guidance that DDFers provided in planning this trip. I will try to stick to highlights and pearls that may add new info or clarify prior ambiguities.

Timing:
Depart BOS Thursday afternoon, return BOS Monday evening.

Flights:
AC glitch, $215pp, all in Y :(
BOS-YUL-CDG-YUL-CDG

Hotel:
PHP 30k/night, had Diamond status

Thursday:
Got to BOS early in hopes of spending time in Admirals Club--same terminal as AC departs. But AC departures/arrivals are in separate wing, no lounge access, and actually a pretty schlocky area. Quick flight to YUL was unremarkable.

YUL transit was easy.
No lounge for us , and actually no time for it.
YUL-CDG full flight.
Not bad seat/space for Y.
Meals were pretty good. See photos. Then I will continue TR later today or tomorrow, B'H.
Dinner:

Breakfast:

Both:


Last photo for now is from the AA lounge at CDG...I think it is calling my name:


71
Hi, it appears that Holiday Inn Express Cancun is now permanently closed.
I'm holding a one-night reservation in February, our night of arrival, before Westin Lagunamar.
It's weird that I never heard anything from IHG about this reservation.
It still shows up in my online account, but when I click on View Details, I get an error message.

So, when I call IHG, I'm thinking I can I ask them to put me up at the Intercontinental for the same price. Is that crazy? Any other play here? (Yes, there is also a regular Holiday Inn, and they'll probably offer it.)


72
Black Friday Bash starts now! Take an additional 4% off the entire site with coupon code BLACKFRIDAY

ETA: working fine now. (thanks for the DDMS posting!)

73
Tech Talk / ISO: best in-ear (or on-ear) headphones for iPhone use
« on: November 19, 2015, 11:12:11 AM »
Hi, I'm looking to buy headphones/earbuds (with microphone for cell phone use) for my dear wife. Those that came with the iPhone always slip out of her ears.  Suggestions?  Not looking to spend more than ~$30, I hope.

74
Receive a solid plush fleece throw for free when you purchase $100 USD or more in merchandise!

Limited time offer-first 2000 customers to purchase $100 USD or more in Lands’ End merchandise shall receive a free Lands’ End solid plush fleece throw (style#473149). Applies to purchases made online or by phone only (excludes buy more and save pricing, monogramming, gift boxing, gift cards, shipping, taxes, duties, Lands' End Business Outfitters purchases, and excluded items as marked). 4-6 business day delivery to most addresses. This offer has no cash value and is not redeemable for cash. Promotional savings shall be deducted from returns. Offer valid through 11:59 p.m. Central, October 27, 2015. Not valid on previous purchases or when combined with any other promotional offers.

The promotional code is THROW and the PIN is 2050.

Free shipping for spending $100 or more.

Lands End has an excellent return policy (can return in person at Sears).  ;)
I don't know what it means that promotional savings shall be deducted from returns...that they'll deduct the price of the throw?


75
Most others I found were selling for more than $20.  This same one at Staples was also over $20.
At Amazon.com, $9.99.
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00ZWLJH88?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=od_aui_detailpages00

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