Southwest adds free same-day standby for A-List members but there is a catch

Southwest has had a history of doing things differently than the rest of the airlines and that is what makes them awesome.  However, one thing I never liked was the fact that flying Standby required a full-fare (Anytime) ticket.  That meant if you took a low-cost fare on vacation and decide you need to come back earlier that day, you had to pay the difference in cost between that low-fare and the full-fare.  For shorter flights, this was less of an issue.  However, for longer flights where there are bigger fare differences, this was a real problem.  For example, if I booked a flight from Seattle to Dallas on a Wanna Get Away fare, it might be $149.  However, the Anytime fare would be well over $500.  So if I decided I needed to take a different flight that day, I would have to pony up the difference in fares.  That was really cost prohibitive.

Starting September 13th though, A-List and A-List Preferred members will now enjoy free same-day standby regardless of fare booked.  You can do this as long as it is on the same day and you are going to the same destination.  Here is the catch though, your standby flight has to be within two hours of the original flight.  This to me is a bit disappointing.  While this will be nice if I am trying to catch an earlier flight back from Houston (when there is a flight every half hour).  It doesn’t do me any good when I am flying across the country and flights are less frequent.  I think if Southwest opened this window to four hours it would be a lot more useful.  I am not complaining too much though as this is a step in the right direction none-the-less.

If you do want to try flying standby, just talk to an available gate agent to get your name added to the list.  A-List and A-List Preferred members still get priority standby as well so that means you might be able to get home earlier for less.

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Disney Cruise Line Series: Back-to-back cruising

If you are fortunate enough to have sufficient vacation time and money, you may have the unique opportunity to book back-to-back cruises on the same ship.  I had the pleasure of doing my first back-to-back in January of 2016 on the Disney Wonder.  I took a repositioning cruise from Galveston to San Juan, Puerto Rico and then followed it up with a Southern Caribbean cruise.  Today we’ll learn about what you should do to book your cruises, how to get ready, and what to expect on the day you transition between cruises.

Booking your cruises

Booking back-to-back cruises can be a bit painful.  Let’s talk about the easiest scenario first, booking while on-board another cruise.  It’s a known fact that the best cruise price you are going to get is on-board another cruise.  You get 10% off the “prevailing rates”, a reduced deposit, and usually some kind of statement credit.   I recommend filling out the cruise request form you get at the future cruises desk or with your navigator on certain days and dropping it off.  That’s because the process that the future cruise salesperson has to go through to book you is quite painful on their end.  They literally have to open up each cruise and toggle back and forth to find a room that is available on both dates.  If you are booking multiple cabins it gets even trickier.

If this is your first cruise with DCL or you didn’t book a cruise while you were on your last, your best bet is to call DCL.  Normally, in the travel industry, I wouldn’t ever recommend calling for anything but this is one of those special cases.  You can book back-to-back cruises yourself online but you have to do all of the hard work yourself of finding a room that is available on both cruises.  You then still have to call DCL and tell them you are doing back-to-back so they don’t kick you off the ship immediately on the last day of the first cruise.  Remember you want to be in the same room, so that you don’t have to pack up everything you have and move to a different room.

Once you are ready to book, you will have to put down a deposit for each cruise.  Keep in mind they are completely separate cruises and you are billed separately.  The final payment dates will also vary slightly between the two cruises.

Getting ready for your cruises

To get ready for your next cruise, it’s not all that different than getting ready for one.  However, you will have to deal with either bringing more clothes or doing laundry.  When you get your cruise booklet in the mail be sure and read the identification requirements for both cruises.  For example, repositioning cruises require passports.

Once on-board

Once you are on-board, have fun and tell the cruise staff you see frequently that you are going to be with them next week.  Whether, that’s your dining staff, bartender, a random officer, or party host, they will likely be excited to that you are sticking around with them.  A day or two before the end of your first cruise, you will get a letter from the officer that deals with the port about when and where to meet on the day you transition from your first to second cruise.  This is usually one of the lounges such as Wave Bands or Studio Sea.  The nice thing is you don’t have to be there until 10:00 am.  So skip the early breakfast and go to the buffet right before it closes.

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A view of the port at San Juan, Puerto Rico.

 

Here you have an option of either going out and visiting areas around the port or getting off the ship and right back on.  If you do go out and about make sure you have everything you need including identification.  You’ll then have to check back in with all of the new people getting on the ship.  Keep in mind there aren’t any port adventures on this day so you are on your own if you go out.  Just make sure you are back in time to check in and get on the ship before it leaves.

Transition Day

Let’s be honest the day of your transition is pretty much shot.  You’re dealing with everyone leaving the ship and all of the new people coming on it.  If you are choosing to just get back on the board, after you have breakfast, go to the lounge you were told to meet in.  Bring your identification and Key to the World card.  Once in the lounge, you might have to wait a while for the officer to show up.  For example, ours was delayed due to paperwork issues at the port.  Hopefully, you don’t have to wait long though.

The officer will then escort you off of the ship and down to the port.  I recommend being a little aggressive and trying to be in the front of this line as it will give you a few extra minutes in the port.  Once you get to the port, you will notice it is eerily empty because no one else is there checking in yet.  Go check in to your next cruise just like you would any other and get your new Key to the World card.  Your old card will no longer be used.

Now, if you were and got to the front of the line, you have a few precious minutes to stop at the local gift shop inside the port terminal.  The key thing here is that many of these sell wine, beer, and liquor.  If you are interested in that kind of thing, run over there and grab what you can and put it in your bag.  Chances are you will be able to bring it on the ship without DCL noticing which is a win for you.  While you are at the shop though, keep an eye on the officer because you don’t want to get left behind when he or she walks everyone back onto the ship.

Back on-board the ship

It’s usually only 11:00 am or so by the time you make it back onto the ship.  During this time, you will see cast members frantically running around the ship making it ready for the next set of guests.  During the time, most ship services are suspended so there is not a whole lot you can do.  It’s ok to go to your stateroom though (even though the people boarding soon can’t).  This is an excellent time to go do laundry as the machines are not very full during this time.  However, don’t be surprised if you get an error when trying to swipe your card to pay for laundry.  While the system is “resetting” for the next cruise, there are periods of time where you can’t get the machines to work.  We had to come back an hour or so later.

The rest of the day is just like any other first day on the ship.  The usual mass chaos of family’s trying to discover the ship, people running into you while getting out of elevators, and of course the safety drill in the afternoon.  Just because you did it last time, doesn’t mean you are exempt this time.

At dinner time, you’ll more than likely have the same wait staff whom will welcome you back.  Hopefully, you left them a good tip on the first cruise!

Has the Disney Wonder lost its magic?

I’ve sailed on the Disney Wonder a couple of times and she is a great ship.  However, with her maiden voyage dating back to August 1999, she is starting to show her age.  This ship sails all over the world so it’s no surprise that some things are looking a little rough.

We see a lot of it in the staterooms which are harder to maintain.  From our stateroom, you can see where things need to be painted.

Paint peeling on the Verandah door

Paint peeling on the Verandah door

Looking over the railing, you can see things are starting to rust.

Rust is forming outside the verandah.

Rust is forming outside the verandah.

The divider on the verandah has really been banged up.

The divider on the verandah has been banged up.

The divider on the verandah has been banged up.

The ceiling has seen better days.

The ceiling in our stateroom needs a little love.

The ceiling in our stateroom needs a little love.

On deck 9, the rafters in the ceiling aren’t level any more.

On deck 9, the ceiling rafters have seen better days.

On deck 9, the ceiling rafters have seen better days.

The ceiling over the drink station on Deck 9 is really out of shape.

The rafters above the drink station on Deck 9 are really warped.

The rafters above the drink station on Deck 9 are really warped.

Don’t get me wrong though.  Maintenance crews are always working on the ship.  While we were having coffee one morning, we saw them brightening the yellow paint on the funnel for example.

Maintenance crews painting the side of the funnel.

Maintenance crews painting the side of the funnel.

Although not as big as the Fantasy or Dream, the Disney Wonder is still a big ship.  There are only so many maintenance crew members and there is just too much to do.  The Disney Wonder is a great ship though and we still have a few cruises booked on her.  Luckily for the Disney Wonder, she is rumored to be going into dry dock in September and October of 2016.  After then we should see a new Disney Wonder restored to all of its glory.

Disney Cruise Line Series: Maximize your character sightings on day one on the Disney Wonder

The first few hours on a cruise ship are nuts.  You can’t get to your stateroom until 1:30 and you are dreading the safety drill.  On top of that your kids are tired and cranky and still wondering why they haven’t seen Mickey Mouse yet.  Follow these pro tips though and you’ll have a near private experience with the characters as they get ready for the Sail Away party.

Coffee with Baileys at Cove Cafe

Coffee with Baileys at Cove Cafe

After the safety drill, book it over to Deck 10 mid-ship.  This is where Cove Café is located.  Parents if you get there quickly, go inside and get yourself a coffee.  You can even get them to put a little something in there to get through the day.

Now that you’re happy, go outside the café where the elevators are and wait.  You’ll probably notice that there are a few crew members dressed in all white.  They are usually quite social and will have a conversation with you.  It’s these crew members that are waiting for the right time to lock the elevator so that they can go down and pick up some of your favorite Disney characters.

Once its the right time, you will see Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Chip, and Dale come out of the elevator.  Get your cameras ready!

Goofy coming out of the elevator on Deck 10 Midship

Goofy coming out of the elevator on Deck 10 Midship

You never know what to expect.

Goofy pointing.

Goofy pointing.

The characters will wait up here for a little bit.  Sometimes they go into the room in the middle.

Disney characters entering the green room on Deck 10 before the Sail Away party

Disney characters entering the green room on Deck 10 before the Sail Away party

Sometimes they act a little silly.

Disney characters getting warmed up for the Sail Away party on the Disney Wonder.

Disney characters getting warmed up for the Sail Away party on the Disney Wonder.

The characters will usually interact with you (especially if you have children with you).

Minnie Mouse greeting people

Minnie Mouse greeting people

Goofy is usually pretty entertaining.

Goofy shoving a cast member back into the elevator

Goofy shoving a cast member back into the elevator

You should set your expectations correctly though.  The characters may choose a different route to enter on your cruise.  Also, I know this doesn’t work on the Disney Fantasy as the characters come out from a different location.  Also, the characters may or may not let you take pictures with them.  It really just depends.  Remember, they are about to go on stage and they have a schedule to maintain so don’t be “that Mom”.

Seeing the characters up this close and personal does me with a cost.  You will likely not have a good place to stand once the Sail Away party starts.  If you can split up that might be a good plan.

Sail Away party on the Disney Wonder

Sail Away party on the Disney Wonder

Does Southwest have business class or first class?

For people that are new to Southwest Airlines they often ask if Southwest has an equivalent of business class or first class.  For a seasoned Southwest traveler that may seem like a dumb question, but I get traffic on my web site every day with people asking that exact question.

Does Southwest have business class or first class?  No. 

Remember, once onboard a Southwest plane every one on the plane is equal.  There aren’t a handful of seats at the front of the plane filled with the elites.  All the seats are roughly the same with some small differences around exit rows, bulk heads, and the back of the plane.  It’s true the people with status are probably sitting up front, but not always.

What is Business Select though?

Business Select is Southwest’s top fare aimed at business travelers.  While it is the most expensive fare, it is only usually $22 more than the refundable fare.  Whereas a first class or business class ticket on another airline can cost hundreds if not thousands more.

What does Business Select get you?  You’ll be one of the first on the plane with a position of A1 – A15, you’ll get the most rapid rewards points possible for the flight, and you’ll get a free drink coupon for that flight.  You’re one of the first people on the plane and that is nice.  Keep in mind though that you still board after the pre-boarders.  Some flights will also have passengers from a previous stop as well.  Still you get to board before everyone else after that so if you are picky about where you sit, Business Select is for you.

Is Business Select worth it?  Depends on the flight.  If you can get someone else to pay for it, absolutely.   Business Select is usually reasonable for those flying on short regional flights at the last minute.

On longer flights such as Dallas to La Guardia, the Wanna Get Away fares don’t get booked up as fast on last minute flights.  That means the price difference between Wanna Get Away and Anytime / Business Select might be a few hundred dollars each way.  That’s usually hard to justify.

When it comes to points, you get double the amount per dollar (12 points versus 6 points).  Couple that with the higher fare and you will get a huge number of points for each Business Select flight you take.  No other airline can compare to this.

Note, if you don’t use your drink coupon on that flight, you can usually get away with using it on another flight.  This is a good use for those drink coupons you get from those 6 am flights on the way to see a client.  It means you can double-up on the way home.

Hopefully that explains how Business Select works on Southwest.  If you still have questions about flying on Southwest, be sure and read my Beginner’s Guide to flying Southwest.

TSA ends Managed Inclusion Program for Pre-Check – Business Travelers celebrate!

TSA PreCheck LogoI have long been critical of the TSA Managed Inclusion Program for Pre-Check.  Under this program, passengers who were considered low-risk would get tossed into the Pre-Check line even though they weren’t a part of the Pre-Check program.  This often resulted in inexperienced travelers and seniors being dumped into the Pre-Check line.  This slowed things down.  It was not uncommon at some airports like San Antonio and Dallas to see the line filled with passengers who had no clue what to do. 

The line delays aren’t the cause of the shutdown of the Managed Inclusion shutdown though.  The TSA cites that the program was discontinued for security reasons.  I can definitely understand that.  Either way as a member of the Pre-Check program, we should all be happy with this change.

If you were one of the lucky ones that happened to get selected for Pre-Check without being in the program this affects you.  You can always go and register for the program for $85.  It’s a small price to pay to have access to a faster line when traveling.

Disney Cruise Line implements restrictive onboard alcohol policy

This week Disney Cruise Line (DCL) implemented a new onboard alcohol policy effective September 30th, 2015.  The change is as follows:

Effective for cruises embarking on or after September 30, 2015, Disney Cruise Line Guests 21 years and older may bring a maximum of 2 bottles of unopened wine or champagne (no larger than 750 ml) or 6 beers (no larger than 12 ounces) on board at the beginning of the voyage and at each port-of-call.

If you are not familiar with the exiting policy, it was much more relaxed.  Basically, “if it fits (in your carry-on), it ships”.  Before you could bring a bottle of wine for dinner every night plus a few bottles of spirits.

This new policy applies whether you are on a three day cruise or a fourteen day cruise.  You can resupply at each port-of-call, but good luck finding a decent wine in the Caribbean.

Since the policy was announced, die-hard Disney cruisers have taken to social media sharing their disappointment and support (mostly disappointment) for the new policy.  If you take a look at the visitor comments on Disney Cruise Line facebook page, you will see no shortage of comments on the topic.  There are hundreds of comments and they still keep coming in.  Disney cruisers have been flooding customer service with calls and e-mailing as well.  DCL has a PR nightmare without a doubt.

The way I see it there are three angles to the story:

  • Disney Cruise Line simply wants to increase revenue.  That’s what Disney does.  DCL hasn’t made a statement yet but you can assure you that it will be something like this “We have evaluated our onboard alcohol policy to make it more in line with the rest of the cruise industry.  We still have a generous policy.  Thank you for your concerns.” That will cause even more outrage among people, but I honestly don’t think things will change.  Some have argued that it’s for some other reason, but when you look at the facts, it’s hard to ignore the revenue lost by their old policy.
  • The “Holier than thou” have also risen up in support of the new policy (although mostly in the closed facebook groups).  People that have fallen into this category have quickly labeled people as “alcoholics” and “drunkards”.  They have reminded everyone that this is a “family cruise”.  In all my cruises, I’ve seen very few people on a Disney ship that I could classify as “drunk”.  When I have seen people that were drunk, it was always at the mixology class.  You take a bunch of inexperience drinkers and serve them five cocktails in under two hours and that’s going to happen.  This is when you see Mommy showing up tipsy to the Oceaneer’s Club to pick up the kids before dinner.  Is DCL going to stop having mixology classes?  Absolutely not at $20 a head.
  • Supporters of the old policy quickly become combative with the “Holier than thou” stating that they don’t deserve their titles simply because they had a glass of wine at dinner.  Their argument consists of a few things.  The first issue is obviously cost.  Why pay $9 for one Rum and Coke, when they can bring an entire bottle for $15.  They remind us that DCL is already charging a premium for their cruise and the previous alcohol policy made it bearable.  The next issue is that some people don’t drink beer or wine.  They prefer spirits and now we can’t bring those onboard.  The last issue people have is that the onboard beer and wine selection is really not that good.  If you are a fan of craft beers, well you are on the wrong ship.  The wine selection is all over the place, and I haven’t really had that many good glasses.  When it comes to cocktails, the bar menus really aren’t great.  They are dated.  What’s worse is that the bartenders can’t deviate much from the bar menu.

If you do decide to bring some wine on board, the uncorking fee is now $25 (up from $20).  Now for a pro-tip.  If you have your own wine, go get a wine glass from any bar and pour your wine into it.  Pour yourself a healthy glass.  Then walk into dinner with that glass and you completely avoid the uncorking fee because the wait staff assumes you bought the wine on the ship.

This really just makes DCL like any of other cruise line when it comes to alcohol.  You are just going to have to sneak it on.  It’s really not that hard to do, you just have to be creative.  I hate that it comes to this, but I think that’s what passengers will do.

Here is what I really think will happen.  First, DCL won’t change the overall policy.  However, I think they will recant and allow you to bring one bottle of spirits.  If you look at the comments on facebook, that’s really what people are most upset about.  The overwhelming sentiment to drink a Cuba Libre on your balcony is huge.

I’ve also reached out to the Disney Cruise Line PR contact and have had no response at this point.  I’ll post an update when I hear more.

Read more about my Disney Cruise Line tips and tricks.