How to Earn 10% Back at Whole Foods for a Limited Time
Whole Foods fans are in luck. Amazon sent out emails to Prime Rewards Visa cardholders notifying them of a fantastic offer when shopping at the health-focused grocery store.
Between Dec. 17-24, Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Cardmembers can earn 10% back on Whole Foods Market purchases. There’s a $400 cap on how much you can earn, but that would mean you’d have to spend $4,000 at the store during the next week.
If you aren’t an Amazon Prime member and hold the Amazon Rewards Visa, you’re still eligible for double earnings, meaning 6% back instead of the normal 3%.
Since most people won’t be able to spend $4,000 on groceries during the next week, buying gift cards could be a great way to maximize this promotion. Although Amazon states in the deal’s terms that gift cards aren’t eligible for the increased cash back, past data points confirm that purchasing gift cards at the super market will work.
Whole Foods sells Amazon gift cards, so you could potentially stock up on Amazon credits at a great discount. Just be aware that it’s not guaranteed you’ll earn the 10% back, so hope for the best but expect the worst.
The Amazon Prime Rewards card doesn’t carry an annual fee but you’ll have to be an Amazon Prime member to hold the card, which costs $120 a year. TPG does recommend it as one of the best credit cards for Amazon and Whole Foods purchases, and if you don’t have the product, check out our list of the best credit cards for groceries..
To see more about the 10% back offer, log in to your Amazon account and click here.
H/T: Doctor of Credit
Featured image by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.
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December 19, 2018 at 02:01AM
Everything You Need to Know About Packing for a Ski Trip
With snow flying and lifts spinning across the country, skiers and snowboarders nationwide are all thinking about the same thing: traveling for steep slopes and deep powder. But when it comes to packing for a ski trip, things can get stressful.
First, there’s your gear to consider. Unless you plan on renting equipment upon arrival, be sure to pack your boots and bindings, skis (or snowboard) and poles in a single bag, when possible, to avoid accruing extra fees — though many airlines won’t charge extra for a separate boot bag.
Also, carefully consider what airline you choose to reach your ski town of choice. Alaska, American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest and United won’t charge an extra fee on top of the checked bag fee for ski equipment, so long as it’s packed according to the airline’s specifications. (Hawaiian, Spirit and Allegiant, on the other hand, have hefty charges for ski and snowboard equipment, in addition to checked bag fees.)
Of course, you need more than gear for a perfect ski vacation. To help you avoid dragging around bulky luggage that contains everything but the things you actually need, we compiled a list to help you pack only the necessities for your ski trip this winter.
The Right Layers
Many people overlook the importance of layering and venting while on the ski hill. Air temperatures can fluctuate depending on the day, time and elevation. Body temperature can fluctuate depending on how hard you’re skiing. Wearing multiple layers makes it easy to regulate body heat throughout the day. When heading out for an active adventure in cold conditions, try to avoid cotton, which absorbs moisture and takes time to dry. Instead, opt for synthetic materials, wool or fleece.
Not only do base layers provide an extra insulation, but they are also designed to wick sweat away from the body, keeping you warm and dry. Depending on the duration of the trip, one to two sets should be enough. For men, North Face makes a lightweight and breathable bottom layer as well as a wool crewneck top. Women should consider the brand’s warm tights for a bottom layer in addition to the wool crewneck.
The mid layer’s main purpose is to provide insulation. However, during warmer spring skiing days, a mid layer may not be necessary at all (or you can opt for something lightweight). Coalatree’s Camper hooded jacket is a midweight layer designed to keep you warm even when wet, and it’s stylish enough to wear around town. If your price point is a bit higher, Patagonia’s Micro Puff hoody provides a great warmth-to-weight ratio, keeping you surprisingly warm with minimal bulk.
Outer layers are the main protection against heat loss through convection. To put it simply, a good outer layer will keep you dry when it’s wet and warm when it’s windy. While some may opt for a heavier insulated ski jacket, using a waterproof shell for an outer-layer has its benefits. Waterproof shells provide breathable protection from the wind, and allow you to wear as few or as many layers underneath as necessary. The Skyward II Jacket, made by Outdoor Research, is waterproof, breathable and lightweight, and comes in both men’s and women’s styles. Patagonia’s Powder Bowl is a great option for shell pants, and also comes in styles for men and women. Best of all, a shell is going to take up way less space in your suitcase.
Gloves or Mittens
The quickest way to get cold hands is to wear gloves that make you sweat, so choose your gloves based on the forecasted temperatures during your trip. During the coldest days, consider the Mt. Baker Modular Mitts by Outdoor Research. If you prefer gloves over mittens, the Arc’teryx Anertia Glove will provide the warmth and breathability you need. When spring arrives and you’re ready for balmy days filled with soft corn snow, bring Black Diamond’s lightweight soft shell glove along.
A Lightweight Helmet
Your brain is the most important part of your body, so protect it. Bern has a nice array of stylish and warm helmets, perfect for a day (or hundreds of days) on the slopes. The Rollins is their snow-specific helmet, and it’s fairly thin, giving it a low profile and keeping the weight to a minimum. There is also an adjustable vent system, which allows for full control of ventilation based on conditions and preferences.
No one likes flying down the slopes at full speed, only to realize that the thick fog they just skied into is actually inside their goggles. When choosing a pair, be sure to pick a product with good ventilation and a dual lens to help prevent fogging. Revo’s Wordsmith goggle is polarized and manages the full spectrum of light, making it a great choice for most conditions.
Scarves can be great for a cold evening around town, but they can be a serious hassle on the ski hill. Keep it simple by using a neck gaiter (such as the Merino 250 by Smartwool) to keep your neck warm on a cold day. And on the most frigid days, the Outdoor Research Helmet Balaclava may be the difference between spending the day shredding the slopes and seeing how many hot chocolates you can drink back at the lodge.
With a single pair of high-quality, knee-high synthetic or wool ski socks, your feet will stay warm and dry all day without having to fill your suitcase with bulky bundles of socks. Darn Tough has an assortment of light and heavy ski socks, and they’re some of the best on the market. Be sure to pack a few pairs, but because they dry fast, you can use them more than once on a single ski trip. Just saying.
Since you’ll be wearing your helmet on the slopes, you won’t need a hat to keep your ears warm. But when it comes time to walk through the village to grab a bite to eat for dinner, hopefully you won’t still be using your helmet for warmth. Mountain Hardwear’s Micro Dome beanie is made of a soft polyester fleece, and is lightweight and cozy. You may not need it on the mountain, but you won’t lose sleep about packing it either.
Waterproof Winter Boots
Of course, while you’re on the slopes, your ski or snowboard boots will be your footwear of choice. But chances are, if it’s cold enough to ski, it’s cold enough to need warm boots when you’re not skiing, too. And unless you plan on wearing your ski boots out to dinner, you may want to bring a pair of L.L. Bean’s classic Bean Boots along for the trip. Great for men, women and kids, these boots are waterproof, shearling-lined and stylish enough to wear out — so you don’t have to pile multiple pairs of shoes into your suitcase.
Chapped lips are something all of us have dealt with at some point in our lives. And when the temperatures drop, the wind picks up, and the air dries out, it’s not a matter of “if,” but “when.” Keep a stick of Burt’s Bees lip balm with SPF in your pocket, and you’ll have nothing to worry about.
Featured image via Shutterstock.
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December 19, 2018 at 01:35AM
Michael Flynn’s Dramatic Day in Court
On Wednesday morning, Donald Trump’s former national-security adviser, Michael Flynn, arrived at the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., dressed in a gray suit and a silver tie. Boosters and protesters called out to him and chanted “Clear Flynn now” and “Lock him up!” as he stepped from his car. He and his legal team skipped the security line.
A year ago, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to F.B.I. agents about his contacts with the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and began coöperating with the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election. Now it was time for Flynn—who, before his involvement with Trump, had a lengthy career in the Army, rising to the rank of lieutenant general and serving as Barack Obama’s director of the Defense Intelligence Agency—to be sentenced for his crime.
For the moment, Trump and many of his supporters were ignoring Flynn’s coöperation with Mueller. “Good luck today in court to General Michael Flynn,” Trump tweeted this morning. Outside the courtroom, one man remarked that Flynn’s crimes paled in comparison to what occurred in Benghazi—Hillary Clinton’s handling of the attack was a favorite target of Flynn’s during the Presidential campaign—and said the media attention on Flynn was “clickbait for reporters trying to keep their jobs.” In the overflow room, another man was wearing a red “Make America Great Again” T-shirt.
Shortly after eleven, the judge, Emmet G. Sullivan, entered the courtroom. He described himself as being in a puzzling position. After the special counsel’s office filed a sentencing memorandum on December 4th that described Flynn’s “substantial assistance” to Mueller’s team, over the course of nineteen interviews, and recommended no jail time, Flynn’s lawyers muddied the picture by claiming that Flynn wasn’t aware that lying to F.B.I. agents was a crime and noting that one of the agents who interviewed Flynn, Peter Strzok, was himself later investigated for misconduct.
“This sounds like a backpedalling on the acceptance of responsibility,” Sullivan said. Was Flynn assuming guilt or not? Sullivan called Flynn to the podium and had him sworn in. “Any false answers will get you in more trouble,” Sullivan said.
On several occasions, Sullivan, who was not on the case when Flynn pleaded guilty, provided Flynn with an off-ramp to retract his plea. But Flynn stood by the plea, seemingly ignoring everything that his lawyers had claimed on his behalf. Yes, he knew that lying to F.B.I. agents was against the law. Yes, he understood the nature of the charges against him. Yes, he still wanted to plead guilty. Yes, he was prepared to face his punishment.
Trump, his foundation, his campaign, his transition, and his businesses are facing numerous investigations. Even Flynn’s case has at least two prongs: one involving his contacts with Russian officials during the Presidential transition and another related to his lobbying work as a “unregistered foreign agent” of the Turkish government during the Presidential campaign. Many details about Flynn’s coöperation with prosecutors remain secret, redacted in government filings. Those details, however, may well show whether Trump staffed his campaign, like his business, with disorganized, corrupt grifters or with willing participants in a foreign conspiracy against the United States.
As the hearing went on, Sullivan repeatedly asked Flynn whether he felt misled by investigators at any point. (He didn’t.) The judge also, in colorful language, seemed to increasingly telegraph his opinions on the case. Lying to F.B.I. agents was “very serious,” Sullivan said, especially for someone in Flynn’s position, “a high-ranking government official who committed a crime while on the premises of and in the West Wing of the White House.”
He told Flynn, “You were an unregistered agent of a foreign country while serving as the national-security adviser to the president of the United States. Arguably, that undermines everything that this flag”—Sullivan turned to the American flag behind him—“over here stands for. Arguably, you sold your country out.” (Later, Sullivan corrected himself, noting that Flynn’s known Turkish work preceded his time as national-security adviser.)
“I’m not hiding my disgust, my disdain for this criminal offense,” Sullivan said. (On Tuesday night, Sullivan restricted Flynn’s travel to within fifty miles of Washington and forced him to surrender his passport.) Then, in perhaps his most controversial statement of the day, Sullivan asked prosecutors whether Flynn’s actions rose “to the level of treasonous activity.” (He went on to say that he did not intend to suggest that Flynn had committed treason.) He said that he was not ruling out the possibility of jail time.
Following a short recess, Flynn’s lawyer, Robert Kelner, stepped to the podium. Perhaps sensing Sullivan’s mood, Kelner reminded Sullivan that Flynn had “held nothing back” from the Mueller investigation. He also brought up the plea deal that the retired general and former C.I.A. director David Petraeus reached with prosecutors, in 2015, when he pleaded guilty to lying to F.B.I. agents about sharing classified information with his mistress, copped to a misdemeanor, and avoided jail time.
And since Flynn might still need to provide coöperation in the case of his former business partner who was indicted by federal prosecutors yesterday, Kelner requested that Sullivan consider postponing Flynn’s sentencing. Sullivan agreed, but not before issuing a mild warning to Kelner. Sullivan didn’t know the Petraeus case well, he said, but he certainly didn’t regard it as any kind of precedent. “Let me just say this. I probably shouldn’t. Having said that, I probably shouldn’t. I don’t agree with the Petraeus sentence,” said Sullivan.
Shortly after that, the courtrooms emptied, and Flynn was led back downstairs and into the cacophonous mob awaiting him outside. A giant, yellow, inflatable rat tied to the bed of a pickup truck hovered over the scene.
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December 19, 2018 at 01:10AM
Google Assistant Will Soon Tell You Why Your Flight Is Delayed
A Google tool will soon offer travelers mobile push notifications suggesting why an upcoming flight might be delayed.
The Google Assistant app currently lets travelers know when Google is 85% certain that a flight will be delayed – a feature launched earlier this year, according to a blog post by Richard Holden, Google’s vice president of product management for travel. But this latest update is designed to help a traveler understand what may be the underlying reason behind a delay, so the traveler knows whether they should still be on time.
While many airlines and apps seek to offer this same information, none have Google’s extensive reach. The Internet search giant most likely has access to this information because many travelers utilize Gmail to track their flight confirmations, and Google also owns the ITA Matrix, the comprehensive flight search software system. The Google Assistant tool will also draw from Google’s numerous other data feeds in order to pull together a comprehensive picture of the situation for traveler notifications.
Featured photo by Shutterstock.
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December 19, 2018 at 01:00AM
Oman’s ‘white gold’: Sniffing out the Incense Route
Mystical, pure and precious, frankincense is more than just an aroma. Emma Thomson follows the Incense Route in Oman to explore its 6,000-year-old story, and how its discovery changed this part of the world.
The smoke coils around the man’s sandaled feet like a cobra, slowly snaking inside his long white dishdasha (robe), until the air, and my head, are hazy from the rich perfume.
He places another tarnished green nugget on the smouldering charcoal. It fizzes a little. Travelers wander through the souk and stop to sniff the air. Ina world clouded by celebrity-endorsed scents, this aroma is ancient, pure and mystical. It is frankincense.
Known as ‘white gold’, it’s been traded for over 6,000 years. Egyptians packed the body cavities with it during the mummification process; Wise Man Melchior famously brought it as a gift for baby Jesus; Queen Sheba ferried it to Jerusalem when meeting King Solomon; and Roman emperor, Nero, burned an entire year’s harvest of frankincense at the funeral of his favorite mistress.
As we approach the UNESCO-listed ruins, the fierce sun singes our noses. Flat dry plains lie all around, but in its heyday, this area was green with grain, sorghum and coconuts, while leopards and black panthers roamed the nearby mountains.
We pass through the former monumental entrance gate. Goatskin has been wedged between the limestone slabs to demarcate the original and new stones. “Look here,” points my guide, Raya, clad in a black hijab and abaya. At first, the sun obscures what’s behind the Perspex sheet, but as my eyes adjust, I can make out scratches in the rock—2,300-year-old Arabian inscriptions.
I turn back to survey the site and try to imagine the fort whose wealth was so admired that even Alexander the Great spoke of conquering the ‘port of perfumes’.
And a Greek seafarer described seeing Sumhuram for the first time like this: “Incense can stand by the quay without being guarded, thanks to the power of a god that protects it. Not even a grain of the precious resin can be loaded unlawfully. If a grain of incense is loaded, the ship cannot sail for it is against the will of the god.”
The god he speaks of are jinns—supernatural pre-Islamic spirits. Belief in them runs strong even today. “Only Omanis are allowed to collect frankincense so as not to anger the jinns,” says Raya. “Baleed has the best position in Salalah, but no-one builds their house there because they believe it’s inhabited by the genies.”
“We still open the windows and burn frankincense before it gets dark,” she adds, “to keep out jinns and sickness. And in a way, we do that because we now know frankincense kills viruses.”
Indeed, the forts may have crumbled but frankincense is as in demand as ever. From the expensive medicinal Al-Hojari variety, used to treat high blood pressure, nausea, indigestion, improve memory and as toothpaste, to Annajdi and Asha’bi, which is burned to scent clothes and keep mosquitoes away. “We’re trying to keep frankincense alive among the youth,” laughs Raya. “I sneak it into their drinks!”
Driving back towards Salalah, we pull off the road into a gulley and I follow Raya on foot towards a frankincense tree. The bark has already been cut and sap is crystalizing on the surface like raw sugar. These trees are under threat. Ecologists are concerned that production of the fragrant resin will decline by half over the next 15 years, or the land lost to agriculture, because the old trees aren’t being replaced.
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December 19, 2018 at 12:56AM
A Cut Above: American Airlines A321T in Economy From New York to San Francisco
- 7 Ground Experience
- 19 Cabin & Seat
- 13 Amenities & IFE
- 18 Food & Beverage
- 21 Service
Amazing Wi-Fi and good IFE, great service, free meal
Surprisingly worn seats for a young plane, not a lot of room to work
I fly back and forth between the coasts often, since I live in New York but my family is in the San Francisco Bay Area. These frequent trips have led me to earn Alaska MVP elite status, and I’ve shied away from most other airlines on the five-plus-hour journeys.
I was assigned to review American Airlines’ transcontinental economy product, which is a step above what it offers on its other domestic (and even some international) routes. I’ve flown American on short hops many times over the past couple years and can never say I’ve been impressed by the hard or soft product, but I was hoping this upgraded service would change my mind.
The transcon market is saturated with all major carriers who compete on the premium-cabin-heavy routes. This helps keep economy fares low, meaning you can normally get round-trip nonstop transcon fares for about $260 (at least in the low season).
However, we booked this flight from New York-JFK to San Francisco (SFO) about a week out from departure, so we had to pay $242 for the one-way flight. We used the Platinum Card from American Express to net us 5x points on flights purchased directly from the airline or through Amex Travel. The fare booked into S class, meaning I avoided basic economy, which actually didn’t seem to be an option when flying this particular product.
Since this was booked as a cash fare, I earned both elite and redeemable miles. I netted 2,586 Elite Qualifying Miles, 212 Elite Qualifying Dollars and 1,060 redeemable American miles (5x miles on the base fare of $212) — those redeemable miles were worth about $15, according to TPG’s valuations.
Had we booked with miles, there were two easy options, either through American Airlines itself, which would have run 12,500 American miles, or through Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express transfer partner British Airways, which would have also cost 12,500 miles for a one-way award.
I arrived at JFK’s Terminal 8 via Lyft (three cheers for 2x SkyMiles!) well in advance of my early-morning flight to make sure I’d be able to capture the full experience. The terminal is home to a variety of Oneworld airlines, like American, Qatar and LATAM, making connections through the airport more seamless.
American had a massive check-in area for its flights, since it has so much departing traffic out of JFK. This meant dozens of self-check-in kiosks were there, so there wasn’t much of a wait checking in or printing a luggage tag. There were also a dozen desks if you needed to speak to an actual American check-in agent.
The area was mostly empty when I arrived, with about 25% of the kiosks being used and only a small line to talk to an agent.
I checked my bag, which normally would cost $30, but because I was a Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard holder, American waived the fee.
American had a handful of agents floating around the kiosks who asked if I needed any help, clearly seeing that I had my hands full with my camera and bags. The agent attached my luggage tag for me with a smile.
I headed to the bag drop and seamlessly handed off my cargo with an agent after they quickly weighed the bag.
I breezed through TSA PreCheck, which I was able to snag for free with my Chase Sapphire Reserve’s PreCheck/Global Entry credit. I still think this may be one of the best perks of airport travel.
Since I arrived at the airport hours early, I had time to kill before my flight. Bobby Van’s Steakhouse was recently added to Priority Pass, and members received a $28 dining credit. I used my Priority Pass, which I also received through my Sapphire Reserve, and went hog-wild ordering coffee, pancakes, sausage and fresh fruit. Everything was delicious and everything was free! I’d go as far to say that I’d rather get real meal at an airport restaurant than a half-assed one in an airport lounge.
While heading to my gate, 42, I got a glimpse of a couple of wide-bodies, including a LATAM 787 Dreamliner and a Cathay Pacific 777.
I was able to see the aircraft I’d be flying on for AA Flight 179, an Airbus A321T. The “T” stands for “transcontinental” — it’s not used by any other airlines and doesn’t actually denote anything different about the size or other specifications of the plane, just designates that this aircraft had four different classes of seating on the inside — an unusual layout for narrow-body aircraft.
The flight started boarding 30 minutes before takeoff at 10:30am, right on time. Since I was an American cobranded-credit card holder, I was bumped to preferred boarding, so I was able to board in Group 5, before the rest of the economy cabin.
The boarding process on this flight was quite smooth, unlike the usual AA hordes packing the boarding area way before their group is called. I’m assuming this had to do with the four cabins meaning there were a lot fewer people waiting to board (the A321T only has 106 seats) and less blockage in the economy aisle, like when someone is putting their bag in the overhead bin.
Cabin and Seat
With just 72 economy seats, the coach cabin on the A321T was quite small for a larger single-aisle aircraft. There were 36 Main Cabin Extra seats, which had extra legroom, and 36 regular economy seats.
I was in standard coach, since this was a nearly full flight, and had chosen a window seat, 18A, to be my throne for the six-hour journey.
The cabin was clean, although the fabric looked worn for an aircraft just a few years old. After settling in, I found the seats to be quite comfortable, at least as far as economy goes. They had thick padding and an adjustable headrest and were on the wider side at about 17.5 inches — that’s half an inch wider than other economy seats, where 17 inches is slowly becoming the norm. Recline seemed standard for a legacy economy product, giving me a few inches to lean back and relax.
With 31 inches of pitch, these weren’t the smallest of seats, but they by no means gave you a lot of legroom — but hey, at least it was no American 737 MAX. Still, I felt like I had enough space, with about four to five inches between my knees and the seat in front of me.
My main frustration with this seat was that there was an inflight-entertainment box underneath the seat in front me, restricting my ability to stretch out my legs. Airlines need to figure out a way to reduce the size of these hindrances, or at least store them elsewhere (without getting rid of seatback screens altogether).
I had just enough space to fit my 15-inch Macbook on the tray table. It was already pretty tight before the person in front of me leaned back, but once they reclined, it was much harder to work comfortably. The table was still a decent size, and a smaller computer would likely work better in this situation.
The back of the Airbus cabin was kept dark and made even darker by the fact that most people kept their windows shut. However, it let the blue mood lighting show off its subtle powers. It helped illuminate the cabin enough so you could safely get down the aisle or access overhead storage but wasn’t overpowering for people who wanted to catch some shut-eye.
Another perk of a tiny economy cabin is that you don’t have to share the bathroom with many others. There were two lavatories available for the 78 in the rear of the aircraft. The two bathrooms were well-kept and not incredibly small, like on the 737 MAX.
Amenities and IFE
For an economy flight, American really scored in the IFE and amenity department. I found a nice, thick fleece blanket waiting on my seat as I arrived. Receiving a blanket on a domestic economy flight is becoming rarer than spotting a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Even better was that it was comfortable and not paper-thin, like many other airline blankets you receive in international economy.
We received complimentary headphones before takeoff. Although the sound quality was pretty awful, it’s an overlooked amenity, as Bluetooth headphones become more popular.
Unlike newer aircraft, American A321Ts still had IFE screens, although you could stream movies and shows to your personal device if you pleased. The screen size was about standard and was touch-sensitive. Like TPG’s shower test, I’ve started my own IFE touchscreen-response test, and American passed with flying colors, as it was more than easy to navigate the system, and no lag meant no time wasted.
There was a USB port that you could use to charge a phone or tablet, but the regular power outlet on my plane wasn’t working, as the flight attendants announced shortly after takeoff.
You definitely had more than enough entertainment to bide the time if that meant you couldn’t work — there was a great variety of new movies to choose from, about 50 in the new-release section alone (“Annihilation,” “Avengers,” “Deadpool 2” and “Chappaquiddick”). Traveling families will be happy to hear that there was a deep Disney section.
My inner travel geek was elated when I discovered that American had six episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s hit “No Reservations” — one of the shows that inspired me (and many TPG staff) to start traveling. Old and new TV shows abounded: “30 Rock,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Silicon Valley,” with each program sporting at least five or six episodes.
Games like “Angry Birds,” “Tetris” and “Plants vs Zombies” were available, as were meditation exercises.
American had a solid interactive map that displayed our arrival information and flight time, and it even had an e-reader with inflight magazines like American Way and Nexos (the Spanish-language version). That was something I’d never seen before, and it was a nifty feature, but as a millennial who somehow still appreciates physical things, I think I’ll stick with print for now.
What I was most impressed by about American was the incredible speed of the Wi-Fi. American uses Viasat’s satellite-based connection and is slowly replacing the older Gogo ground-based system.
I truly have never been on a flight with an internet connection like this. I was able to stream video with nearly no issues, and would have been able to work at nearly the same capacity from the air as at the office. While upload speeds weren’t anything to be wowed by, the download speeds did impress. Viasat’s Wi-Fi could also be used from gate to gate, which eliminated the need to hit a certain altitude to connect to the internet.
What made the whole thing so unbelievable was the price — $12 for one hour or $16 for a full-flight pass. That was a third of the price I paid on a recent Delta flight and about half what I paid on Alaska — and both had slower service.
Food and Beverage
Meals for Purchase
The first and only meal service occurred about 30 minutes after takeoff. Food came quickly, since the flight attendants only had to serve a few rows before they got to me.
Since this was a premium route, American served a complimentary meal to coach passengers. Another rarity that harkened back to the golden age of travel! I could choose from a fruit-and-cheese plate, chicken wrap and hummus-and-veggie plate.
I went with the veggie option, which was probably a mistake from my growling stomach’s standpoint. It was pretty small, with five baby carrots, three sticks of celery, a tiny piece of dark chocolate and a small package of tiny pita bread. I also ordered a Bloody Mary, which ran me $9. (I had to pour the vodka into the mix myself.) Along with everything else, the flight attendant gave me small bag of pretzels.
However small they were, the veggies and hummus were surprisingly fresh tasting. The meal didn’t leave me with a lump in my stomach, unlike other heavier options. With about two hours left in the flight, the FAs came around for a final beverage service. I got a Dr Pepper and Biscoff cookies.
With such a small economy cabin the two American flight attendants were able to provide quick service all with a friendly smile.
Interacting with the the ground agents at JFK was pleasant but not exceptional, though as an economy passenger, there was nothing for me to complain about. It was nice to see American staff their airport even when it was not busy, meaning flyers could get help a lot quicker than they might normally.
Early on in the flight, one of the flight attendant asked my seatmate and me if either of us wanted to move into the row ahead of us, since there was only one person in it. I’ve never had an FA go out of there way when there was no reason to to make a passenger more comfortable! She was sincere about it and offered again later.
The two FAs came around at least two times offering glasses of water outside of the regular meal and beverage service, and were always friendly. Which again is something I rarely experienced before on American flights.
Not to harp on the benefits of a small cabin, but because there were only two FAs tending to less than half the amount of a normal load, the other passengers and I received great service on this flight.
American truly values its transcon product, both in its premium and economy cabins, and that investment shows. The service, IFE and Wi-Fi were top-notch, and the free meals didn’t hurt either. The hard product isn’t bad but doesn’t really shine, however I’d be surprised if anyone was truly disappointed by it. Even as an Alaska loyalist, I definitely wouldn’t mind flying American’s A321T again, and would choose it if I couldn’t find any suitable options on my preferred airline.
All images by the author.
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December 19, 2018 at 12:35AM
4 Credit Cards That Make Flying United Airlines More Rewarding
This video is part of our weekly YouTube series: To The Point. On this episode, TPG Editor at Large Zach Honig explains how picking the right credit card can make flying with United Airlines more rewarding. You can use cards to board the plane first, get a free checked bag or relax in United’s lounges in airports around the world.
Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube series for quick tips, tricks and answers for all things points, miles, credit cards, travel and aviation. Let us know what you want to learn more about on the next To The Point Episode in the comments.
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December 19, 2018 at 12:00AM
The Airline With a ‘Stunning Lack of Respect for Donald Trump’ Is Expanding in the US
Air Italy will launch a new route between Milan and Chicago on May 14, 2019, the airline announced Tuesday.
The airline currently serves New York and Miami from its hub in Milan, and recently announced new routes to Los Angeles and San Francisco coming in April, as well as Toronto in May.
The new Chicago flight, like Air Italy’s growing US route network in general, is the latest kindling to feed a simmering feud between US airlines and Gulf carrier Qatar Airways. The dispute began in 2015, involving the Big 3 US carriers — Delta, United and American on the US side — and Emirates, Etihad and Qatar on the Gulf side. The US airlines complained that the foreign carriers receive government subsidies that gave them an unfair advantage to compete in the US market. (The Gulf carriers have long denied these allegations.)
After years of dispute, Qatar reached an agreement with US President Donald Trump’s administration this past January. The Doha-based airline said it would open its accounting books and told the Trump administration it would not operate any flights from the US to locations outside Qatar, a type of route dubbed a “fifth freedom” flight. (Emirates and Etihad followed suit in May of this year).
Now, because Qatar Airways owns 49% of Air Italy, and is in turn owned by the Qatari government, the US carriers are accusing Qatar of breaking the deal with the Trump administration by expanding Air Italy’s destinations in the US. A coalition representing Delta, United and American Airlines in the dispute called Air Italy’s new US routes a “stunning lack of respect for President Trump” by Qatar.
“Once again, Qatar is using Air Italy as a Trojan horse built from subsidized cash to avoid its commitments to the Trump administration and launch new fifth freedom routes,” said Scott Reed, campaign manager for the coalition, the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, in a statement on Tuesday. “As we said earlier this month, faced with clear evidence that Qatar will not play fair or abide by its commitments, we expect the Trump administration will stand up for American workers in response to these violations.”
Air Italy denies that Qatar is pulling the strings, as it only holds a minority stake in the carrier. “They do not dictate what we do and where we go. They do not manage us,” Air Italy COO Rossen Dimitrov said, adding that he would like to work out a codeshare agreement with US airlines, which would benefit both nations “rather than spending time and money fighting each other.”
(Air Italy does not operate any fifth freedom routes to the US, nor does Qatar.)
The Trump administration has not yet indicated if it will take action on the matter.
via The Points Guy https://ift.tt/26yIAN2
December 18, 2018 at 11:35PM
There’s a Voice Missing in Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma”
Even noteworthy filmmakers may not see what they’re doing. They can reveal crucial aspects of their work inadvertently, bringing to light the cinematic unconscious, hinting at what a movie could and should have been. That’s what Alfonso Cuarón, the writer and director of “Roma,” did in an interview for a recent magazine article. Set in Mexico City in 1970-71, “Roma” depicts a family much like the one in which he was raised and is centered on a domestic worker, both maid and nanny, named Cleo Gutiérrez (Yalitza Aparicio); the character, Cuarón has said, is based on a woman named Libo Rodríguez, who played a similar role in his childhood (and to whom the movie is dedicated).
In the article, the journalist Kristopher Tapley conveys the substance of Cuarón’s inspiration for “Roma”: “Rodríguez would talk to Cuarón about her hardships as a girl, about feeling cold or hungry. But as a little boy, he would look at those stories almost like adventures. She would tell him about her father, who used to play an ancient Mesoamerican ballgame that’s almost lost to the ages now, or about witch doctors who would try to cure people in her village. To him it was all very exciting.”
Watching “Roma,” one awaits such illuminating details about Cleo’s life outside of her employer’s family, and such a generously forthcoming and personal relationship between Cleo and the children in her care. There’s nothing of this sort in the movie; Cleo hardly speaks more than a sentence or two at a time and says nothing at all about life in her village, her childhood, her family. She’s a loving and caring young woman, and the warmth of her feelings for the family she works for—and theirs for her—is apparent throughout. But Cleo remains a cipher; her interests and experiences—her inner life—remain inaccessible to Cuarón. He not only fails to imagine who the character of Cleo is but fails to include the specifics of who Libo was for him when he was a child.
In the process, he turns the character of Cleo into a stereotype that’s all too common in movies made by upper-middle-class and intellectual filmmakers about working people: a strong, silent, long-enduring, and all-tolerating type, deprived of discourse, a silent angel whose inability or unwillingness to express herself is held up as a mark of her stoic virtue. (It’s endemic to the cinema and even leaves its scars on better movies than “Roma,” including some others from this year, such as “Leave No Trace” and “The Rider.”) The silent nobility of the working poor takes its place in a demagogic circle of virtue sharing that links filmmakers (who, if they offer working people a chance to speak, do so only in order to look askance at them, as happens in “Roma” with one talkative but villainous poor man) with their art-house audiences, who are similarly pleased to share in the exaltation of heroes who do manual labor without having to look closely or deeply at elements of their heroes’ lives that don’t elicit either praise or pity.
That effacement of Cleo’s character, her reduction to a bland and blank trope that burnishes the director’s conscience while smothering her consciousness and his own, is the essential and crucial failure of “Roma.” It sets the tone for the movie’s aesthetic and hollows it out, reducing Cuarón’s worthwhile intentions and evident passions to vain gestures.
“Roma” is the story of a family in Mexico City’s Colonia Roma neighborhood (where Cuarón grew up): father, Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), a doctor; mother, Sofía (Marina de Tavira), a biochemist who is running the household and not working; grandmother, Teresa (Verónica García), who is Sofía’s mother; and four children (a girl and three boys), ranging, seemingly, from about six to about twelve. And then there’s the household staff, Cleo and Adela (Nancy García García); there’s also a man who drives the family car, but he is utterly uncharacterized.
The youngest child, Pepe (Marco Graf), an imaginative boy who talks about being a pilot, seems to be the Cuarón stand-in, though the movie isn’t dramatized from his point of view. (I’ll avoid disclosing some major plot developments.) The family is solidly upper middle class; they live in a house separated from the city street by a gate and divided from neighboring houses by an alley, in which they park their cars (and in which the family dog, Borras, runs loose and defecates). Antonio, who claims to be heading to Quebec for a temporary research project, actually remains in Mexico City, simply having left his wife and family in order to live with another woman.
Meanwhile, Cleo, quiet and patient, has her own romantic dreams: she’s dating Fermín (Jorge Antonio Guerrero), a cousin of Adela’s boyfriend, Ramón, and becomes pregnant. The family sympathizes with her; Cleo continues to work for them and receives good medical care, thanks to the family’s connection to a major urban hospital. But trouble ensues when Cleo goes on a shopping trip with Teresa, during a day of student protests; they know that such protests have been violently repressed, but this time the violence is worse than before, and Cleo and Teresa observe it up close. (Cuarón is dramatizing an actual historic crisis, the Corpus Christi Massacre, of 1971, in which soldiers and paramilitaries gunned down student protesters in the streets of Mexico City and pursued them into their hiding places and refuges, including hospitals.)
Cuarón expands the story with copious, carefully observed—rather, carefully constructed and planted—details that, for the most part, rather than developing a wide-ranging and deep-reaching view of the life of the family and its times, lines them up and points them all in the same direction. But, because his view of Cleo is willfully, cavalierly vague, his view of the public and historical events in which she becomes entangled, and which he dramatizes, is similarly flattened and obscured.
For instance, when Cleo learns that she’s pregnant, she’s seen sitting pensively at the window of the small garret room that she shares with Adela. Does she give any thought to abortion? What was the law on the subject in Mexico at the time? Was the practice common, regardless of legal strictures? Or consider the political context that Cuarón places into the story. There’s an ongoing issue regarding land use and ownership; the family’s wealthy friends living on a large estate are in a dispute with poorer local residents over land, and the conflict turns deadly. What are the issues in question? It’s all the odder that the movie remains vague when Adela mentions that Cleo’s mother’s land, in her native village, is being confiscated. What were the specifics of the political conflicts in Mexico then?
Cuarón sets up the story of the Corpus Christi Massacre with a close view of the training of the paramilitaries (with a hint—but only a hint—of the C.I.A.’s involvement). Yet here, too, he empties the conflict of its ideas. What are the students protesting? What are they advocating? Why do they seem to threaten the regime? In a scene of a political campaign (a rather absurd one, featuring a human cannonball launched into a net) in a distant village, where unpaved streets are fetid with standing water and basic infrastructure is the Presidential candidate’s main promise, Cuarón suggests that Mexico was, at the time, at least a semblance of a democracy. But the film doesn’t make clear whether it was actually democratic, whether censorship was stringent, whether ordinary people, such as the family at the center of the film, lived in fear of repression.
What’s missing is, once more, supplied by Cuarón in an interview—one that appeared in Le Monde several days ago—in which he discusses the massacre and its place in his family’s life: “At the time of the Corpus Christi massacre, in 1971, I was ten years old. Part of my family was very much on the right, they hated the students who were protesting. But I had a Communist uncle. I repeated to him the rightist remarks that I was hearing and he asked me why I talked that way about the students and got me to realize that I was one of them, at the age of ten. I said to myself: I’m like them, except they’re older.” Which is to say that, although the specifics of Mexico’s political crises were a part of his family life and personal reminiscences, Cuarón carefully omits them from the film.
Cuarón doesn’t have any more to say in “Roma” about whether Cleo has any political sympathies, inclinations, or ideologies. She is not only angelic but devoid of any wider consciousness beyond her immediate well-being. In the film, politics are strictly personal, de-ideologized, dehistoricized. Cuarón even manages to empty out the social abrasions that he drops into the script as asides. For instance, in one brief scene at the cousins’ country estate, Cleo is brought by another domestic worker, named Benita (Clementina Guadarrama), to a New Year’s Eve party of fellow-laborers. But Benita doesn’t want to invite Adela, one of the “city nannies” whom she considers haughty and snobbish—yet there’s nothing of this attitude, or these social differences, reflected in Cleo’s interactions with Adela, who’s her close friend. But, because neither Cleo nor Adela is given the script space to say much at all beyond the immediate demands of the plot, neither has enough dramatic personality to grate on anyone at all.
The film’s point of view isn’t clear regarding its characters—and Cuarón’s decorative visual style is calibrated to match the script’s vagueness. “Roma” is filmed in a silky, digital black-and-white palette that, in eliminating film grain, emphasizes visual details. There are many long takes, staged with a theatrical precision—rehearsed to death and timed to the moment—that offer a sense of disparate fields of action unifying in the characters’ lives, and that raise the events to a heroic monumentality, which both emphasizes and depends on the cipherlike blankness of the aggrandizing portraiture. For all the movie’s respect for physical work, nearly all the scenes of work, of which there are many, have a detached, distanced imprecision, which suggests the checking-off of a scene list rather that an interest in the specific thoughts and demands of the work at hand. (There is, however, one extraordinary moment of observation, when Cleo, holding a downstairs phone until Sofía can take the call upstairs, hangs the phone up—but not before wiping the mouthpiece on her apron.)
The intellectual core of the drama is the parallel of Cleo and Sofía’s abandonment by the men in their lives. Both Antonio and Fermín behave irresponsibly and leave the two women in dire straits; the movie offers one moment, one line of dialogue, in which their plights are explicitly linked—and it’s Sofía who delivers the line, to which Cleo listens mutely. Does she speak of her experience (and Sofía’s) to Adela or another friend or relative? Not in the movie she doesn’t; Cuarón lends both voice and consciousness to his intellectual character, to the stand-in for his mother.
“Roma” is a personal film, but the term “personal” is no honorific, and it’s not an aesthetic term. It’s a neutral descriptor, though it often suggests that a filmmaker is inspired by more than the mere pleasure or power of a story—by an urgency that taps into a lifetime’s worth of experience and emotion. The downside is the risk of complacency, the sense that one’s own account of experience is sufficient for dramatic amplitude, psychological insight, character development, and contextual perspective. Cuarón proceeds as if the mere affectionate and compassionate depiction of a Libo-like character were a sufficient cinematic gesture in lieu of dramatic particulars—and as if lending the entire range of characters their individualizing and contextualizing traits would risk viewers’ judgment of them on the basis of those particulars rather than on the basis of the social function of class, gender, and age that they’re supposed to represent. In his effort to make his characters universal, he makes them neutral and generic. For all its worthy intentions, “Roma” is little more than the righteous affirmation of good intentions.
via The New Yorker – Culture https://ift.tt/2vBNPRa
December 18, 2018 at 11:09PM
Register Now For Bonus Hilton Points on all Stays Through May 2019
New year, new hotel promos. Hilton has announced its bringing back its Points Unlimited Promotion for 2019. Launching on Jan. 4, 2019, this year’s promotion works just like 2018’s version.
After registering for the promotion here, you’ll earn bonus points for every stay completed from Jan. 4 through May 5, 2019. The points earning breaks down like so:
- Earn 2,000 bonus points for every stay you complete
- Earn an additional 10,000 bonus points for every 5th stay completed or every 10th night completed, whichever comes first (this is uncapped and resets every time you’ve achieved this level)
Remember that a stay can be as short as one night, so you could hypothetically earn 2,000 bonus points per night if you check-in and check-out every morning.
If you do take advantage of the promotion, you’ll want to pay with one of Hilton’s new credit cards, which earns a huge amount of bonus points:
- Earn 7x on Hilton purchases with the Hilton Honors American Express Card. The card is offering a welcome bonus of 75,000 Hilton points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
- Earn 12x on Hilton purchases with the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card. The card is offering a welcome bonus 125,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months
- Earn 14x on Hilton purchases with the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. The card is offering a welcome bonus 150,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
- Earn 12x on Hilton purchases with the Hilton Honors American Express Business Card. The card is offering a welcome bonus Earn 125,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
The best option is the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, which is earns 14x on Hilton purchases and also awards you complimentary Hilton Diamond status where you’ll earn 20x points per dollar on stays booked directly with Hilton. That’s a whopping 34x points per dollar earned on paid Hilton stays and doesn’t include the additional 2,000 points per night/10,000 bonus points from points unlimited.
Lets say you have $100 in spend at a Hilton brand that’s eligible for points earning. You’d earn 3,400 Hilton points from Diamond status and the Aspire card and then another 2,000 from the Points Unlimited promotion. That makes for a haul of 5,400 points worth about $32 according to TPG’s points valuations.
These promos take just a few seconds to register for and are really a no-brainer, even if you only plan on staying at a Hilton once or twice since you’ll still earn bonus points.
And once you’ve racked up a nice haul of Hilton points, you can redeem them at amazing luxury properties like the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort and Spa in French Polynesia or the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills.
Featured image by Darren Murph / The Points Guy.
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December 18, 2018 at 10:31PM