Harriet Baskas

Alaska Airlines expands its Wine Flies Free program

Here’s good news for wine lovers: Alaska Airlines has expanded its popular Wine Flies Free program, which allows the carrier’s Mileage Plan members to check a case of wine – 12 bottles – for free.

The program includes domestic flights on Alaska Airlines, Horizon Air and Skywest flights from the cities listed below, but does not include Virgin America flights until May 2018.

In Washington: Bellingham, Pasco, Pullman, Seattle, Spokane, Walla Walla, Wenatchee, and Yakima

In Oregon:  Eugene, Medford, Portland, and Redmond

In Idaho: Boise and Lewiston

And in California: Burbank, Fresno, Los Angeles, Monterey, Oakland, Ontario, Orange County, Palm Springs, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Sonoma

In addition to allowing passengers to check a case of wine for free, Alaska’s Wine Flies Free program has another valuable perk: the wine-tasting fee charged by many wineries in Oregon and Washington will be waived for those who show their Alaska Airlines boarding pass.

Details on the Oregon Wines Fly Free are here. 

In Washington wine country, not only do many wineries offer free tastings to Alaska Airlines customers who show their boarding passes, under the Wine Flies Free program Hertz rental car will waive the drop off fee, so travelers can pick up a car in one city, travel through wine country tasting and buying wine, and then drop the car off in another city. Details are here.

So drink up!

 

 

Harriet’s Hotel Stay: Hilton London Heathrow Airport Terminal 5

As an airport aficionado, I’m a big fan of hotels that are right in or right at-the-airport. So, when heading to London recently for a business event taking place near Heathrow Airport, my first thought was to stay at the Hilton London Heathrow Airport (connected to Terminal 4) or the Sofitel London Heathrow (at Terminal 5).

I’ve stayed at both hotels in the past and adore the convenience, but no favorable rates could be found, so this trip I decided to give the Hilton London Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 a try.

Except for a bit of transportation inconvenience (more details below) I see why this hotel is especially popular with business travelers and why it gets so many repeat visitors.

The Welcome:  Arriving worn and weary well before official check-in time, I was expecting nothing more than a place to store my bags. Instead, check-in was a breeze, I was given helpful “what’s where” information, and I was in my room within 5 minutes.

The room:  I didn’t tour all room types, but my room had a super comfortable Hilton bed, complimentary Wi-Fi (no password hassles), a large flat screen TV, a speaker in the bathroom and both UK and International power plugs at the roomy desk.  There was even a cookie with the coffee and tea set-up.

Executive lounge privileges came with this room and I stopped by one morning for the complimentary breakfast and both evenings of my stay for the complimentary evening cocktails and canapes.

Hotel dining and amenities: In addition to a 24-hour fitness center, this hotel has a spa area with a don’t-forget-your-swimsuit hydrotherapy pool. For dining, there are two bars, a lobby coffee shop, and the Gallery Restaurant, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.

This Hilton hotel also has a surprise hidden treasure: Mr. Todiwala’s Kitchen. Closed Sundays, I missed my chance to eat there, but now that I know its reputation and uniqueness (as a hotel restaurant, but also for London), I will make an extra effort to go back. Chef Cyrus Todiwala has an award-winning restaurant – Café Spice Namaste – in London proper and many of the signature dishes from that menu are offered at his popular restaurant at this Hilton, which draws locals and out-of-towners alike.

Getting there: Except for the hotels inside the airport, getting to any of the hotels near Heathrow can be confusing and time consuming. This is not one of the Heathrow-area hotels accessible by a free local bus, so an Uber or the Hoppa Bus (buy tickets in the terminal before you board to save a pound each way) is the best way to get back and forth from the airport. Call or email the hotel ahead of time for  instructions and study the Hoppa timetable so, like me, you don’t dawdle and miss the bus by two minutes on a cold night and have to hang around at the bus stop for an extra half hour.

(I received a discounted media rate for my stay the Hilton London Heathrow Airport Terminal 5; opinions are my own.)

JetBlue starts Mint service between Seattle and Boston

This week JetBlue kicks off its “Mint” preimium service on updated Airbus A321 planes flying between Seattle and Boston, offering passengers who purchase the upgraded fares lie-flat beds, plated tapas-style meal selections, Molly Moon ice-cream and other welcome amenities.

I rode along on the first flight out of Seattle. Here are some pics from the trip.

Mint cabin seating is set up with either single suites or side-by-side seating.

The single Mint suites have an extra-large storage cabinet for belongings you want to keep near by.

In addition to complimentary alcoholic drinks and a seletion of tapas-sized dishes, Mint service out of Seattle includes ice-cream made by local favorite, Molly Moon.

Economy class seating features upgraded seats with adjustable headrests and larger in-flight entertainment screens.

And for those who get hungry during the flight, there’s a serve-yourself pantry with plenty of complimentary snacks and soft drinks.

Not flying between Seattle and Boston? JetBlue will offer its Mint service from Seattle to NY’s JFK starting in mid-April.

Virgin Atlantic’s heart-shaped flight

While I was hanging out at Heathrow Airport on Valentine’s Day waiting for my Virgin Atlantic flight to Seattle, there were lots of lovebirds getting their photos taken with a big heart frame.

Meanwhile, across town, Virgin Atlantic flight VS850P set out from London Gatwick Airport and mapped a heart shape in the sky as part of a training flight.

Flying on Valentine’s Day? Cupid may be too.

Charles Lindbergh-themed Valentine

Air travel isn’t romantic unless you’re flying with your sweetie or are on your way to being with them, but this Valentine’s Day some airports and airlines are doing what they can to make the day special.

Shortcut to marriage

The uptick of couples applying for last minute marriage licenses in Las Vegas around Valentine’s Day usually overwhelms the downtown county’s clerk’s office, so this year there’s a pop-up marriage license bureau set up through February 17 in the baggage claim area of Terminal 1 at McCarran International Airport.

Couples will still need to find someone to perform the legal marriage ceremony, but filling out a pre-application and getting a license at the airport can go a long way in streamlining the process. For lovebirds in a rush, keep in mind that the Terminal 1 baggage claim area at the Las Vegas airport also has 24-hour flower vending machines and a to-go liquor shop.

Flowers and chocolates

(Courtesy PHL Airport)

As they have in previous years, volunteers at both Philadelphia International Airport and Florida’s Jacksonville International Airport will be handing out Valentine’s Day carnations to passengers.

To celebrate the opening of its automated people mover – called SkyConnect – and its new 2.6 million square foot rental car center, Tampa International Airport will be giving out 1,000 roses to passengers and guests who come out for the first ride.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport caps off its fourth “We Love Our Guests Campaign” on Valentine’s Day with key rings and teddy bears for passengers and photo booths and love-themed music playing throughout the airport.

There will be a “Kissing Booth” distributing chocolate kisses and Valentines to passengers at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) on February 14 and a chance to hug and pose with some of the miniature therapy horses that regularly visit the airport.

The horses at CVG will be decked out in their Valentine’s Day attire, as will the therapy dogs at Los Angeles International, Phoenix Sky Harbor and many other airports around the country. The love-fest will continue February 16, when specially-dressed therapy dogs and team-member Lilou the pig help passengers usher in the Lunar New Year at a photo station in San Francisco International Airport.

Heat-shaped lollipops will be handed out to passengers during Valentine’s Day in many terminals at Los Angeles International Airport and in the Hollywood/Fort Lauderdale International Airport they’ll be celebrating the day with a live entertainment, face painting, and complimentary chocolate roses and candy buffets.

Chocolates will be offered to passengers flying through Austin Bergstrom International Airport on February 14 and, for those who still need to purchase a Valentine’s gift before leaving the airport, they’ll be a booth selling chocolate-covered strawberries from local favorite Amy’s Ice Creams in the bag claim area. Shops in most every other airport will have chocolates, heart-shaped bake-goods and trinkets and other romantic items wrapped and ready to go as well.

Valentine’s Day activities at Heathrow International Airport will include live music, free heart-shaped candies, Polaroid photo ops, complimentary caricature sketches and make-your-own Valentine’s Day card stations. And to insure no Valentine’s Day proposals are inadvertently ruined by a shiny engagement ring drawing the attention of a security officer at the checkpoint,  officials at England’s East Midlands Airport have been offering “secret codes” to travelers who’d like their bags inspected out of their traveling companion’s line of vision.

Airlines offering Valentine’s Day treats for travelers. 

Passengers on Southwest Airlines flights will be treated to a complimentary alcoholic beverage on Valentine’s Day and, at airports across the country, airline employees will be setting up candy and card stations for passengers. Some Southwest flights will be declared “fun flights,” with employees hosting trivia games and giveaways as well.

United Airlines will be setting up Valentine’s Day candy stations in its club lounges on Valentine’s Day, ANA (All Nippon Airways) will be handing out specially-made chocolates to all passengers, and Alaska Airlines will be unveiling a heart-shaped sculpture with a special meaning at San Francisco International Airport.

And Economy and Business Class passengers taking a Valentine’s Day flight from Dubai on Emirates will be served heart-shaped chocolates with their meals.