2017: Some Good, Some Bad, Some Meh – A Summary of Loyalty Program Changes

2017: Some Good, Some Bad, Some Meh – A Summary of Loyalty Program Changes

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2017 was a big year for loyalty programs that devalued, merged and changed, and for frequent travelers who had no choice but to adapt. The points and miles world isn’t stagnant and keeps evolving, so let’s go ahead and summarize the most important changes that happened this year.

 

Southwest Made It More Difficult to Earn the Companion Pass

While the smoke from fireworks was still in the air and half-full champagne flutes were still on the table, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards program announced it would no longer count points transferred in from hotel programs toward Companion Pass. Right out of the gate, the year did not start well for the points and miles enthusiasts. Shortly after, though, the airline extended eligible transfers for a few months, but one of the relatively easy ways of earning the Pass is now long gone.

 

Hilton Re-Branded Its Loyalty Program

Hilton Honors (formerly known as Hilton Honors) dropped the H from its name and has implemented a myriad changes throughout the year. The program allowed points pooling among members, introduced Points & Money payments, one-time status extension for Diamond members and let members use Hilton Honors points as currency when shopping on Amazon. Some positive, some negative and some meh, but in one year, that’s a lot of changes for one program.

 

Chase Restricted Sapphire Sign-Up Bonuses, Introduced Reserve Referrals

Chase has lumped all Sapphire-branded credit cards into the same family of cards and made them all mutually exclusive of one another for customers. In other words, cardholders can now have to pick one from the Chase Sapphire, Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve cards. Those who already hold one of those cards cannot get approved for another or earn its bonus, unless the card has been closed or downgraded and it’s been at least 24 months since receiving the sign-up bonus on the previous card.

Additionally, the bank introduced referral bonuses on the premium Chase Sapphire Reserve Card, which previously were not available. Cardholders can earn 10,000 Ultimate Rewards points for each successful referral, up to 50,000 points per calendar year.

 

Alaska Airlines / Virgin America Merger Underway

Since the two airlines have officially merged, there have been some changes for both loyalty programs. Starting in January, Virgin America Elevate members could start converting their points to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles at a ratio of 1,000-to-1,300. Both airlines also recognize each other’s elite flyers with reciprocal benefits, such as lounge access and cabin upgrades.

This year, Virgin America has lost its partnership with Airbnb and has been removed from the list of American Express Membership Rewards transfer partners. In fact, the Virgin Elevate program will meet its demise on Dec. 31, after which Mileage Plan will be the prevailing loyalty program for both airlines.

 

What are some other changes in the points and miles world that personally affected you this year?

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December 29, 2017 at 07:08PM

U.S. Airlines Add Cancun Flights in Bet That Travel Warning Memories Will Fade

U.S. Airlines Add Cancun Flights in Bet That Travel Warning Memories Will Fade

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Visit Cancun Riviera

Two tourists enjoy Cancun on December 4, 2017. U.S. airlines are increasing their flights to the Mexico city. Visit Cancun Riviera

Skift Take: Mexico is Southwest Airlines’ largest international market. Cancun is getting increased visitation as Southwest, Spirit and Delta ramp up flights, and the destination benefits from hurricane damage in other parts of the Caribbean.

— Dennis Schaal

U.S. airlines are wagering that American tourists will keep flocking to Cancun despite rising violence in Mexico and a warning from the State Department.

Southwest Airlines Co., Spirit Airlines Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc. are adding flights to the resort. United Continental Holdings Inc. is using one of its biggest jets once a week to ply the Chicago-Cancun route.

The extra flights suggest stable growth in U.S. tourism even after the State Department said turf wars between crime gangs were fueling a surge in violence in two Mexican states, including the one where Cancun is located. Mexico’s top beach destination potentially could also pick up visitors from other Caribbean destinations that suffered severe hurricane damage.

“It’s quickly become our largest international market,” Steven Swan, Southwest’s director of international planning, said of Cancun. It’s common for traffic to rebound after briefly dipping on travel warnings, he said. “People tend to have a relatively short-term memory.”

From the airlines’ perspective, Cancun flights are good business because of their lower costs, high passenger counts and heavy sales of booze, said Mark Drusch, a consultant and former airline executive. American Airlines Group Inc. has more flights into Cancun than any other international destination, American spokeswoman Kristen Foster said.

Traffic Rising

International passenger traffic to Mexico’s largest resort has climbed since the U.S. State Department’s Aug. 22 travel warning. It rose 6.3 percent in November from a year earlier and has increased more than 8 percent this year, according to the regional airport’s operator.

Without a doubt, some of the news coming out of Mexican beach towns this year has been grim. Innocent bystanders in Quintana Roo, where Cancun is located, and some other Mexican destinations have been caught up in shooting battles between criminal gangs, the U.S. advisory noted. Five people died in January at a nightclub in Playa del Carmen near Cancun.

But such warnings are “not top of mind” for people just looking to relax, Drusch said. Quintana Roo receives about 10 million tourists a year and accounts for a third of Mexico’s international visitors.

Terrifying Incidents

With all the news about mass shootings and racial tension in the U.S. this year, Mexico’s neighbor to the north seems just as dangerous, said Vancouver resident Clark MacPherson. The golf pro was trying to decide between Cancun and Nashville or the Carolinas for his recent honeymoon. Because of all the “terrifying incidents” in the U.S. recently, Mexico “seemed like the safer option,” he said.

Carriers expanding flights to the region in recent months include Southwest, which in November announced two new seasonal routes to the Mexican resort town from Pittsburgh and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, and deep discounter Spirit, which is adding year-round service from Baltimore/Washington and Chicago. Delta this month added a third daily flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to Cancun, and added another flight from Boston.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

This article was written by Michael Sasso and Mary Schlangenstein from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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December 29, 2017 at 07:01PM

The Year Russian L.G.B.T. Persecution Defied Belief

The Year Russian L.G.B.T. Persecution Defied Belief

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I can think of only two times it’s happened to me: I read a news story,
or even a series of stories, and thought that it contained such extreme
exaggerations that it had to be, essentially, false. I could enumerate
my reasons, which were similar both times: the stories came from the
Russian media, which is unreliable (even in the independent media
outlets, reporting standards are often lax); the stories described
awful, nearly unthinkable violence that came so neatly, so horrifyingly
packaged, that it defied belief. I have known violence to be insidious,
messy, trivialized by all participants, even as it happens, and these
stories seemed to paint the exact opposite picture. These stories were
preposterous—the word Hannah Arendt used in explaining why the world was
so slow to understand the murderous threats posed by Hitler and Stalin.

The first story emerged in Russia about four years ago. Reports claimed
that organized groups of young men were entrapping gay men, torturing
them on camera, and posting the videos. I had a hard time believing that
the effort was as well organized and widespread as the reports claimed.
I have since learned that it was much more widespread than initially
reported. Vigilante groups continue to entrap gay men in several Russian
cities.

This spring, I didn’t believe a story that claimed that authorities—no
longer vigilantes but actual police—in Chechnya were rounding up and
torturing gay men, and that some of these men had apparently been
killed, while others were released to their relatives, who were
instructed to kill the men themselves. I tried to latch onto the things
that weren’t true. There were rumors of special concentration camps
for gay men—human-rights researchers said that this didn’t check out.
The original article in the muckraking Novaya Gazeta blamed the wave
of arrests on a Moscow activist’s effort to organize a Pride march
somewhere in the North Caucasus. This was a classic case of blaming the
victims, and also false. Yet the rest of the story was true.

I flew to Moscow in late May to report the story of the men who had been
able to flee Chechnya, and at that time I still couldn’t quite imagine
the scale of the purges. I dropped my bag at a hotel and immediately
headed to one of the safe houses. It had been difficult to get people to
agree to talk with me, and I feared giving them time to change their
minds. I spent the rest of the evening and half of the night talking to
victims of the Chechen attacks, and went back again the next day, and
the day after that. In my head, though, the stories began to run
together after a couple of hours. This happens when you listen to
accounts of extreme violence: bare suffering is a monotonous experience.
I developed short-hand notations for the executioners’ repertoire:
electrocution, solitary-confinement cells, beatings, dunking in a vat of
cold water, starvation.

Back in New York, I sorted through my notes on the men’s personal
tragedies. There was the guy whose name had been given up by someone he
seemed to have loved—and who was now presumed dead. There was the man
who had left his lover behind. And there were several men who were
married to women, and had children they adored, who were struggling to
figure out how to save their own lives and keep their families. There
were several very young men who desperately missed their mothers but
also knew that their families would probably kill them if they made
contact.

They were all men. This was not because lesbians faced less danger in
Chechnya but because they faced more. The men, at least, were free to
leave the region on their own; women’s lives were controlled entirely by
their fathers, brothers, and husbands. The activists who were helping
the men had sheltered one young woman, but, by the time I got to Moscow,
she had disappeared. I learned bits of her story from recordings of two
conversations with her on someone’s phone. A few days later, she was
dead, apparently killed by her family.

For security reasons, I couldn’t write about the rescue effort in much
detail, but I bet that, if I had read a story about it, I wouldn’t have
believed it. I could not have imagined that in Russia, where civil
society has been trampled by the authorities with such force, queer
people, who have been the government’s scapegoat of choice for several
years, would be able to pull off an effort as ingenious and sustained as
the one I observed. By the end of the year, the Russian L.G.B.T. Network
and the Moscow L.G.B.T. Community Center had succeeded in getting a
hundred and six people out of Chechnya and then out of Russia
altogether. A handful of people with no special training and very little
funding at the start managed to save a hundred and six people from
certain death.

Toward the end of the summer, my contacts in Moscow told me that they
were wrapping up their effort. They thought that they were about to send
the last of their charges out of the country. But then people kept
coming.

So far, most of the men they have helped have gone to Canada. A few have
landed in Latin America and in Europe. Many of them fear going to
countries with large Chechen diasporas, where they are likely to be
targeted again in exile. None of the men appear to have made it to the
United States. In general, the U.S. has been one of the half-dozen
countries that are reasonably likely to grant asylum to people
persecuted on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity—a
small subset of the very small number of countries that welcome asylum
seekers at all. (Other countries in the select group that grant asylum
to L.G.B.T. people include South Africa, Belgium, Argentina, the
Netherlands, and Sweden). For now, L.G.B.T. asylum seekers are still
faring well in the U.S., but the application process takes years, and,
with the Trump Administration reshaping this country’s immigration
landscape, it’s hard to imagine this country welcoming many Muslim gay
men, even when they are fleeing mortal danger.

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December 29, 2017 at 06:54PM

Hotel Review: Deluxe Room at the Hotel Vagabond in Singapore

Hotel Review: Deluxe Room at the Hotel Vagabond in Singapore

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I love staying in an upscale boutique hotel, but I also love booking with points. For a recent trip to Singapore, I was able to do both when I found a property in Starwood’s Tribute Portfolio that had earned a certificate of excellence from TripAdvisor, even though it had only opened in late 2016. How nice could a hotel called Vagabond be?

In This Post

A side view of the Hotel Vagabond, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel, Singapore.

Booking

As part of a special opening offer, rooms were available for 12,000 Starpoints per night (it’s a a Category 5 property, so the usual rate is 16,000 a night). But I only had 24,000 Starpoints in my account, and I needed to stay three nights! (If I had been able to get the recent 35,000-point bonus from the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card from American Express, I would have had enough for all three nights.)

I booked two nights for 24,000 Starpoints, but what about my third night?

To make up for the discrepancy, I had a few choices: I could have bought 12,000 more points for $357, I could have paid $248 for the third night, I could have transferred 36,000 Membership Rewards points to SPG, or I could have transferred 36,000 Ultimate Rewards points to Marriott and then transferred again to my linked SPG account. Instead, I used 13,181 Ultimate Rewards points to book the room through the Chase travel portal.

Once again, my Ultimate Rewards points came in handy.

This left me with two bookings: my Starpoints redemption for two nights and my UR redemption for the third. I didn’t want to have to check out and then check in again — especially if it meant changing rooms — so I called SPG to combine reservations. I was told they could not and I would have to do so at check-in. Another complication of this dual booking was that not only would the third night not earn Starpoints, but it would also have none of the benefits of my SPG Gold status (one of my favorite perks of my Platinum Card from American Express; another was fast free Wi-Fi). I was curious to see how this would play out. 

The front view of the hotel, which the driver found despite his initial doubts.

Location

My flight into Singapore got me through customs and immigration at 1:15am, which was too late for trains and buses. Despite the taxi driver’s “I’ve never heard of that hotel,” we arrived in less than 30 minutes for S$26 (about $18.80 in US dollars, a premium fare, thanks to the hour).

Check-in

The door was locked, but a staffer immediately let me in and offered me a hot drink. I enjoyed it even more when he said, “I’m happy to inform you we have upgraded you to one of the deluxe rooms.” He was also able to combine my reservations so I would have a seamless stay.

A perk of my Gold status was the choice of continental breakfast, a welcome cocktail or 250 Starpoints. I chose breakfast and was reminded that the booking I’d made for my third night included a full breakfast. I would not go hungry in the mornings in Singapore.
By the way, I can’t believe I’ve gone this far into my review without mentioning the giant, golden rhinoceros.

That

Yep, the front desk was made from a brass sculpture of a rhino. This place was funky and artsy. There were dozens of paintings on the walls of the lobby, and it was a sign of what was to come in the room. 

How pretty is this salon?

Room

While not quite as colorful as the lobby, my room (one of 41) had plenty of visual stimuli. Two larger paintings hung in the entranceway-cum-office space, with more than a dozen additional artworks scattered above and around the bed.

The gallery feel continued into the bathroom, and may have included me on display, as the window above the toilet gave an unobscured view to an outdoor staircase from an adjacent building. 

It was the same in the sizable shower, whose windows offered a clear view to the other side of the building (all windows had shades). The rainfall shower head was wonderful and almost made up for there being no tub.

Not much room to hang my own clothes in the closet, but glad to have a robe and a safe.

A closet and shelving unit was squeezed into a wall across from the sink and featured a compact clothes rack, safe and complimentary robes and slippers.

This is a nice shared balcony.

French doors led to a sizable balcony, with outdoor tables and chairs atop artificial grass. The balcony was shared with another room, though I never saw anyone else.

This is the view from the nice shared balcony.

The view left something to be desired, overlooking a concrete lot closed off with a chain-link fence.

So much bed, so much art.

The bed was pretty magnificent, not only large but with kitten-soft linens and neck-cradling pillows.

In bed? Enjoy watching the TV in your peripheral vision.

The size of the bed may have been too big for the room, as the flat-screen TV was placed at a right angle to the bed, making for awkward viewing.

Also awkward was the counterintuitive placement of the light switches, which even after three nights never connected to what I was expecting. On the flip side, all the electrical outlets made it simple to charge devices without an adapter, a nice touch that I wish all hotels had.

I also wish more hotels would offer a free mobile phone with unlimited calls and data during your stay. I’d never seen that before, and the provided phone was a huge help to a cheapskate like me. It’s a tremendous perk. 

The desk with a tray of minibar offerings and a handwritten note.

The desk also functioned as a minibar ($4.35 for a Coke) with a tiny fridge underneath. A handwritten welcome note welcomed me to the hotel.

Though the room felt new, it was not spotless, with smudges on the mirror and a light layer of dust on the closet shelves. Despite the little annoyances, I really liked how quirky and comfortable the room was. It had its own personality that suited mine well.

The Wi-Fi delivered, with fast upload and download speeds in the room.

Food and Beverage

The bar and dining area continued the hotel’s bold, upbeat theme and added punch to my breakfasts. The continental breakfasts I chose for my first two mornings were good: The toast was warm, pastries fresh and fruit ripe. They were, however, tiny: Only three little cutouts of watermelon accompanied the fruit-yogurt-granola parfait, and the selection was identical on both days.

The full breakfast on my third day was much more robust, and the full menu was available all day. The menu copy was cheeky and full of puns (“Omelette You Finish” FTW). It charged S$15 ($10.85) for kaya toast, and I was glad not to have to pay the rack rate for my eggs.  So pretty, so fresh, so tiny.

Amenities

The main feature of the hotel was its design, and it was a good one. Unlike other points-redemption hotels, which tend to blend together, this one stood out. With bold colors and upbeat music playing everywhere, the place was designed to within an inch of its life — there were more than 100 artworks in the salon and bar alone. Even in the elevator there was no escape, with a colorful Marco Brambilla video pastiche of various movie characters. That this was all retrofit into a 1950s Art Deco building was quite an accomplishment.

Guests booking a club room received more amenities, including access to a daytime lounge menu, hors d’oeuvres and drinks at cocktail hour and a S$15 laundry credit. Full-size umbrellas were on offer for all guests, and I used them every day.

Details like tailored cushions on the banquettes make the Vagabond stand out.

To the Point

Jacques Garcia was not messing around. The acclaimed interior designer got his hands on the Vagabond, and his fingerprints are all over. But the best part was that the Vagabond doesn’t just rest on its design laurels. Too many designer hotels focus on the design and forget the hotel part. Not here. Every staff member I encountered was engaged and responsive. Even the breakfast server expressed her concern about my not being able to have my Gold-status benefits on the third night (even though it turned out not to be a noticeable difference). It’s great to find a hotel with the individuality of a boutique property but with the backbone and benefits of Starwood. I found it a great value for the points.

The Vagabond: A place to get in trouble. Or just to stay in Singapore.

The slogan here is, “If you must get into trouble, do it at the Vagabond.” I’m glad to report that staying at the Vagabond was no trouble at all.

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December 29, 2017 at 06:31PM

The Best New Yorker Visual and Interactive Stories of 2017

The Best New Yorker Visual and Interactive Stories of 2017

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It is easy to feel overwhelmed by our digital lives—by the cacophony of
voices in our social feeds or the rapid dispatches of breaking
news—particularly this past year. But, focussed through the right lens,
online information can enlighten, transform, or delight us. That is what
the best visual and interactive stories do.

Earlier this year, shortly after President Trump announced his travel
ban, we published a visual
essay
by the photographer Tomas van Houtryve, who travelled through Turkey,
Greece, and France, following the “digital breadcrumbs” left by refugees
on Instagram. The feature challenges our perceptions by highlighting how
refugees present themselves in contrast to how they are portrayed in the
media. In “Faces of an
Epidemic
,”
the photographer Philip Montgomery shows the day-to-day realities of the
national opioid crisis as seen in Montgomery County, Ohio, where the
situation is most urgent. The visceral potency of Montgomery’s images
highlights the wreckage left in the wake of the opioid epidemic—the
faces of those now gone, of those who have managed to recover, and of
those left behind.

The tools of storytelling have never been more vast. This year, we also
brought stories to life through interactive
games
and
sketchbooks,
explainer
graphics
,
data
visualizations
,
and immersive
animations.
Our readers can create endless numbers of love letters using our
love-letter
generator
or follow our Poetry
Bot
on Twitter and
Facebook to receive a poem a day
from our archive, including poems by Audre Lorde, Joseph Brodsky, and
Ada Limón. Others might explore, in a browser or through a
virtual-reality headset, Christoph Niemann’s “Enchanted
Forest
,” the
three-hundred-and-sixty-degree illustrated cover of our Fiction Issue.
And, from our World Changers Issue, readers can wonder at small things
with a big impact in our
Micro-Revolutions
package. Here is a selection of the year’s best visual and interactive
stories.

Visual Features

Micro-Revolutions
Spidersilk, edible drones, artificial wombs, and other small things with a big impact.

Vacation in Iran
“When I was a child, we often spent our time—at home and on trips—hiding from the revolution. Today’s youth is getting to rediscover the country.” Photographs by Newsha Tavakolian

Interactives

A Love-Letter Generator
A New Yorker variation on Christopher Stachey’s love-letter generator, based on the emulator developed by David Link.

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December 29, 2017 at 06:25PM

The Outsized Pleasures and Failures of Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing”

The Outsized Pleasures and Failures of Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing”

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Alexander Payne’s new movie, “Downsizing,” is three movies in one—a
passable one, a terrific one, and a terrible one. They’re unified in the
realization of the movie’s big idea, but the movie’s straining after a
big idea is its overarching weakness. Matt Damon plays Paul Safranek
(stress on the second syllable), an Omaha occupational therapist whose
life has got away from him. He wanted to become a surgeon but, owing to
family trouble, couldn’t stay in school. He spends time and money caring
for his ailing mother (Jayne Houdyshell); he and his wife, Audrey
(Kristen Wiig), can’t afford to move from their cramped house into a
larger one. That’s one film—the middle-class blues of sufficiency
without pleasure—and its view of the Safranek household is gentle, warm,
and thin. It’s only adequate, hardly a patch on Payne’s earlier
portraits of his fellow-Nebraskans, because, here, it’s merely a setup
and a pretext for a comedic drama that wrenches Paul out of the
practicalities of his place and into the realm of fantasy in what is the
movie’s raison d’être.

“Downsizing” is a science-fiction film, and, even before even
introducing the Safraneks, it opens with scientists in Norway who have
devised a technique for shrinking humans to about five inches tall. The
scientists promote the technology on environmental grounds: by shrinking
people, the human footprint on the planet will be greatly diminished.
The scientists display the efficacy of their technology with some
self-testing—one of the leaders of the project has shrunken himself and
others—and the team demonstrates that four years’ worth of the entire
production of garbage from thirty-six shrunken people fits into a single
full-sized trash bag. (They also demonstrate that downsized humans can
reproduce.)

Thus, Payne launches the exhilarating third of “Downsizing,” the virtual
documentary about the process and experience of shrinking, or, as the
characters call it (repurposing Steve Martin’s 1977 catchphrase),
“getting small.” In a ten-year flash ahead, downsizing has become a
widespread practice, as Paul and Audrey discover when a couple of
high-school classmates show up at a reunion as small people. Payne and
the film’s co-writer, Jim Taylor, delight in devising the odd
particulars of a miniaturized human realm, from its virtues to its risks
to its corporate implications, and the joy of the movie is in its
details. They giddily imagine the demands of “small” life and the
strangeness of its details, such as bus travel in terrarium-like glass
boxes, which are stacked up, alongside full-sized passengers, like so
many luxury cells or compartments.

The downsized live in large domed facilities that protect them from
full-sized birds and insects and from solar radiation, which
disproportionately affects the downsized. These facilities function as
permanent vacation colonies or retirement homes that match the
environmental advantage of downsizing with a personal incentive to do
so; when people are shrunk, their wealth is increased, by a factor of
about eighty-two. The Safraneks’ net worth of $152,000, if they
downsize, would become the equivalent of approximately $12.5 million.
(The colony that they’re considering is aptly named Leisureland; the
sales pitch shows small people living in mini-mansions that resemble
dollhouses.) They decide to do it.

The process of shrinking works only with living tissue, which is why, to
prepare for the procedure, an enema is administered, all hair is shaved
off, and all fillings removed from teeth. In the processing center, a
battalion of natural-sized dentists works on patients before downsizing,
and a battalion of small dentists gets immediately to work on the newly
downsized upon arrival—and the story reveals the disaster that would
await anyone who got downsized with fillings left intact. (The movie
also displays the aftermath of the process—when nurses lift the newly
small from beds to boxes with spatulas.)

Yet, while Paul is being downsized, Audrey bails. He arrives in
Leisureland alone, only to find out that Audrey is divorcing him.
(There’s bitter comedy when a truck rolls up to small Paul’s house with
his wedding ring, a keepsake that now resembles a solid-gold hula hoop.)
Unhappily alone, his expected wealth sapped by his divorce settlement,
he takes a dull job and lives a lonely life until he meets a neighbor,
Dušan Mirković (Christoph Waltz), a Serbian party animal and
wheeler-dealer who, with an unctuously Mephistophelian urging, pulls
Paul into his penthouse pleasure dome.

But, from his sudden contact with the upper crust of Leisureland, Paul
is suddenly connected to its downtrodden and despised as well. Awakening
the next morning in Dušan’s trash-strewn pad, Paul sees an Asian woman
cleaning the apartment laboriously because of a severe limp caused by an
ill-fitting prosthetic leg. He tells the woman, Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong
Chau), that he can adjust it, and he goes home with her to do so. Rather
than taking one of the free-to-use cars available to such Leisureland
residents as Paul, she takes a bus—which, unlike the rest of the
microcosm, is filled with people of color. Ngoc Lan and Paul ride to a
remote neighborhood near the wall of the dome. Then, in a dramatic coup
of design, the bus goes through a surreptitious hole in the wall: Ngoc
Lan lives in a huge, overcrowded complex of poor people that’s situated
just outside the barrier—the very definition of precariousness, inasmuch
as the warren-like complex is unprotected against full-sized animals and
the elements.

It quickly becomes clear that the permanent comfort of Leisureland
hasn’t actually obviated the political realm but only exiled it beyond
its walls. The third strand of the drama—the weakest strand—thrusts Paul
into that realm and, literally, out of his bubble. The result is a
sentimental sermonizing that reeks of second-hand assumptions and
unquestioned stereotypes even as it reflects, sincerely but clumsily, a
real political fury.

Paul’s bond with Ngoc Lan—a former Vietnamese dissident who was
downsized against her will, as political punishment, and who lost her
leg as a result of a dangerous escape to the United States—deepens along
with his involvement in her community. But Dušan and his associate,
Konrad (Udo Kier), need Paul’s help with a business deal (a drolly
innocuous bit of smuggling) that will take them to Norway—to the
original colony of “smalls” and to the scientist who invented the
technology—and Ngoc Lan persuades them to take her on the journey as
well. There, the scientist explains his mission: a methane leak in the
Antarctic will cause a mass human extinction, and he and his colony have
constructed a deep subterranean shelter, sealed off from the surface of
Earth and stocked with supplies for a self-perpetuating society, that
will serve as a sort of Noah’s Ark to preserve and regenerate a vestige
of the species.

The stifled, wide-ranging political vehemence of “Downsizing” is
directed not only against greed, not only against the pallid ideal of
wealth-padded leisure, but also against the political emphasis on
environmentalism itself. It depicts environmentalism as a politics of
white privilege, a bubble of purity whose flip side is racial purity,
economic self-segregation, and isolationism—a sort of personal therapy
or self-help disguised as humanism and altruism. The movie circles
around from its end to sting the very notion of downsizing humans to
protect the environment—a setup that wastes effort and resources on
replicating the world as it is and perpetuating its unrelieved political
ills instead of changing society and remedying those ills. Yet the movie
does so in a way that is itself resolutely personal and conspicuously
apolitical.

Payne’s art is in the detail that pops, the salient action, gesture, or
line that springs to the surface of a densely envisioned social setting.
In “Downsizing,” he gives himself a tall order, a great challenge—the
film’s underlying social setting is a fantasy that needs to be
constructed from the ground up. For part of the film, he meets that
challenge. He engages effervescently in the art of world-building, the
creation of a realm of the downsized, only to undercut, daringly but
sanctimoniously, the very pleasure that emerges from admiring its
pleasures. The movie is a fantasy devised to purge viewers of their
fantasies. For all its scintillating cleverness, it yields to a
self-satisfied moralism to set up a final, painless twist that fuses
virtue and pleasure, public good and private happiness. Undercutting a
hermetic dream of middle-class white privilege, it morphs into a
feel-good vision of a white savior in which the savior is saving, above
all, himself.

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December 29, 2017 at 05:57PM

Hilton Adds Breakfast Benefit for Elite Members at Waldorf Astoria Hotels

Hilton Adds Breakfast Benefit for Elite Members at Waldorf Astoria Hotels

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The Hilton Honors program is adding a new benefit for its mid-tier and top-tier elite members — beginning January 1, 2018, Hilton will offer its Gold and Diamond members the option of a complimentary continental breakfast when staying at its Waldorf Astoria properties.

If you’re a Hilton Gold or Diamond member, as of January 1 you’ll be able to choose between a complimentary continental breakfast or an equivalent food & beverage credit as a MyWay benefit choice at Waldorf properties. The breakfast benefit will also be extended to an additional guest, though of course only if it’s the MyWay benefit you choose.

The option to select complimentary breakfast was a benefit already available at Conrad properties for both Gold and Diamond guests. But now with the addition of Waldorf Astoria hotels, the chain is making the benefit available to its highest elite members at all of its luxury properties.

Overall, this is a positive change for Hilton Honors, and a great way to kick off 2018. Early in 2017, the program underwent a refresh, adding features and changing its name from HHonors to Honors, but the lack of complimentary breakfast at its high-end Waldorf Astorias was an obvious hole. Hilton now has a leg up on Marriott on this front, as Marriott doesn’t offer complimentary breakfast to elites at its own high-end Ritz-Carlton properties.

As a reminder, several credit cards come with complimentary Hilton Honors Gold elite status, which now will carry the choice of free breakfast at Waldorf hotels. Cards that come with Hilton Gold include the Platinum Card from American Express and the Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express.

Featured image of the Waldorf Astoria Orlando.

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December 29, 2017 at 05:09PM

Free Things Aboard Disney Cruise Line

Free Things Aboard Disney Cruise Line

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There are a lot of free activities and things aboard Disney Cruise Line. This post offers tips for taking advantage of freebies, all of which are no money and no strings attached. Some are relatively unknown, being under-promoted offerings on Disney Cruise Line’s ships. Others are entertainment offerings that would have a high ‘real world’ […]

This is a post in the Disney Tourist Blog RSS feed. For tips on Disney vacation planning, including dining reviews, tips & tricks, and other guides, check out Disney Tourist Blog!

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December 29, 2017 at 05:09PM

The Women Who Shaped the Art World in 2017

The Women Who Shaped the Art World in 2017

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A Jenny Holzer “Truism”—“Abuse of power comes as no surprise”—was
perhaps the most cited artwork of 2017. But not being surprised didn’t
mean not taking action. In January, a day after Donald Trump’s Inauguration,
more than three million people in the United States staged a Women’s
March to protest his Presidency. Their whimsical badge of honor, the
pink “pussy hat,” has since found its way into the collections of some
major museums, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, in London, and
the New-York Historical Society, in Manhattan. (I wish I’d seen one in
MOMA’s superb exhibition of wearables, “Items: Is Fashion
Modern?”) At year’s end, women are still speaking truth to power, as the
#MeToo movement rages on. Below, a short list of women who made a
strong showing in 2017.

“Marisa Merz: The Sky Is a Great Space,” at the Met Breuer

The Italian movement Arte Povera has long been considered a boys’ club.
It was thrilling, then, to discover that the wife of one its key
members, Mario Merz, was one of its greatest artists. Smaller
exhibitions, at the Gladstone Gallery, in recent years, have hinted as
much, but here was a floor-filling accumulation of marvels by a woman
who spun the humdrum—paraffin, cardboard, aluminum—into the sublime.

“Sara Berman’s Closet” and “Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the
In-Between,” at the Met

Late in life, Berman, the mother of Maira Kalman, left her husband and
moved to a studio apartment in the West Village, where she lived with a
devotional tidiness and wore only white. The installation of her small
closet—garments and linens folded with tender precision, a potato
grater, a bottle of Chanel No. 19—amid the museum’s ornate period
rooms was a shrine to humility and intention. The Costume Institute’s
Kawakubo show was as wild as Berman’s closet was tranquil. For the
Japanese designer, clothing is art of the highest order and bodies are
just armatures on which to enact her radical experimentation.

“We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85,” at the
Brooklyn Museum

The Brooklyn Museum may be the only encyclopedic museum in the world
with a center dedicated to feminist art, but it comes with a caveat:
each show it presents must connect thematically to Judy Chicago’s
ceramic behemoth, “The Dinner Party” (1974-79), which is a permanent
fixture. Chicago’s sculptural “herstory” may be iconic, but only one
black person, Sojourner Truth, has a seat at its triangular table. The
curators of “We Wanted a Revolution,” the museum’s astute Catherine
Morris and the rising star Rujeko Hockley (who is now at the Whitney),
reminded us that black women were at the front lines of second-wave
feminism—as artists, activists, writers, and gallerists—in a show
that was as vibrantly beautiful (notably the paintings of Emma Amos,
Dindga McCannon, Faith Ringgold, and Howardena Pindell) as it was
edifying.

“Louise Lawler: Why Pictures Now” and “Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding
Portrait,” at MOMA

Louise Bourgeois. “Triptych for the Red Room.” 1994.

Courtesy the Easton Foundation and the Metropolitan Museum of Art / Licensed by VAGA

Lawler’s photographs combine a lacerating eye for the absurd conditions
in which works of art find themselves—from collectors’ homes to
storage facilities—with an empathy for the frailty of the human
condition. Marxist critique has never felt more like love. This
retrospective was long overdue and well worth the wait. Even longer in
coming was Bourgeois’s career: she didn’t have her first big museum show
until 1982, at the age of seventy. It was also at MOMA, curated by
Deborah Wye, now the museum’s chief curator emerita, who may understand
the artist’s work better than anyone. Although it was judiciously seeded
with a handful of sculptures, “An Unfolding Portrait” was a deep dive
into the artist’s works on paper—her first, last, and, arguably,
greatest medium.

Laura Owens at the Whitney

How should a painting be in the age of the exhausted image, when
everyone with an iPhone has a portable studio? More to the point, should
a painting even be in the digital age? Owens’s big, bodacious pictures answer the second question with a resounding, “Hell, yes!” She’s a
conquering hero to a new generation of painters, who were weened on the
Internet, and a thorn in the side of old fools who believe that painting
has ever been pure.

Agnes Gund

Not long after a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat sold at Christie’s for
a hundred and ten million dollars
, news broke that Gund, an art
collector and president emerita of MOMA, had privately sold a Roy
Lichtenstein painting (to the hedge-fund honcho Steven A. Cohen) for
fifty-five million dollars more than that. But, happily, the price tag
wasn’t the story—it was that Gund had donated a hundred million
dollars from the sale to establish the Art for Justice Fund, a five-year
initiative dedicated to grappling with the national plague of mass
incarceration. She also threw down a gauntlet to other collectors to do
the same. Last month, the fund, which is partnered with the Ford
Foundation, announced the thirty recipients of its first round of
grants, totalling twenty-two million dollars. In the words of another
Jenny Holzer “Truism”: “It’s good to give extra money to charity.”

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December 29, 2017 at 04:11PM

Iberia Award Sale: Fly to Europe for Just 25,500 Avios Round-Trip or 51,000 in Business

Iberia Award Sale: Fly to Europe for Just 25,500 Avios Round-Trip or 51,000 in Business

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If you’ve been wanting to take a trip to Europe, now could be a great time to book your flights with miles on Iberia. The Spanish carrier is offering an award sale with 25% off its normal Avios prices on select routes, which means you can fly round-trip between Spain and select Iberia US destinations for as little as 25,500 Avios in economy or 51,000 Avios in business class.

To take advantage of this discount, you must book by January 31, 2018, and travel between February 1 and March 23, 2018, or between April 1 and May 15, 2018. The discount is only valid for direct flights marketed and operated by Iberia, Iberia Express and Air Nostum in all classes of service.

There are some great sweet spots on Iberia’s off-peak award chart, and they’ll be made even sweeter thanks to this sale. Note, however, that we’re not seeing these discounts on all US destinations — only Chicago (ORD) and Boston (BOS) — so this promotion is more restricted than sales of the past.

Flying from either Boston or Chicago to Spain falls within Band 5 of Iberia’s Avios award chart, since it’s 3,001-4,000 in each direction. That means it normally costs 17,000 Avios in economy or 34,000 Avios in business class, but with the 25% discount from this promotion, you can fly between either city and destinations like Madrid (MAD) for 12,750 Avios one-way in economy or 25,500 Avios one-way in business class. Also, Iberia doesn’t charge excessive taxes or surcharges, so you won’t be paying too much out of pocket.

Iberia features lie-flat seats in its transatlantic business class and it’s a decent ride, so this is a great price to get to or from Europe in comfort. The economy cabin is average, though a recent review of the experience by TPG Contributor Lori Zaino notes that the airline has stepped up its game when it comes to food, beverage and in flight entertainment in coach.

Here are some samples of what you can book during this sale:

Boston (BOS) to Madrid (MAD) for 25,500 Avios + $189 round-trip in economy:

Boston (BOS) to Madrid (MAD) for 25,500 Avios + $88 one-way in business:

Chicago (ORD) to Madrid (MAD) for 12,750 Avios + $88 one-way in economy:

Chicago (ORD) to Madrid (MAD) for 51,000 Avios + $236 round-trip in business:

Iberia doesn’t have many award sales like this, so if you’re looking to take advantage, be sure to do so by January 31, 2018. Keep in mind that Amex Membership Rewards transfer to Iberia at a 1:1 ratio, as do Chase Ultimate Rewards since Iberia is now a direct transfer partner. Membership Rewards points can be earned from credit cards like the Platinum Card from American Express and the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express, while you can accumulate Ultimate Rewards with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

H/T: Rapid Travel Chai

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December 29, 2017 at 04:01PM