Where to Eat at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport

By Robert McGarvey

More of you lately have been asking me the same question: where to eat at Sky Harbor Airport, Phoenix – which, for the record, is the nation’s 13th busiest airport – just behind Newark (11) and Orlando (12) and ahead of Miami (14) and Houston (15).

Makes sense that the questions are getting asked now, too. This is Phoenix’s busy season, the town is hopping with meetings, events, and Spring Training ball. There also have been recent, big culinary changes in Terminal 3.

Mainly, too, Sky Harbor is a pleasant facility. I can rant about JFK and am no fan of BWI but Sky Harbor usually seems well run, even calm.  I cannot even complain about the TSAs at Phx.

Can similar be said about the food?

Commendable is the airport policy to nurture local chefs.  Certainly there are the national chains – sometimes I believe there is a law requiring Starbucks at all airports – but in Phoenix your best choices may be places you’ve never heard of, by chefs you’ve also not heard about.

Thus the real need for local guidance.

Sky Harbor has three terminals and they are not equal. Terminal 4 is the busiest by far, handling perhaps 70% of Sky Harbor’s passengers.  

The best food choices, not surprisingly, are found in Terminal 4.  

By far the best.

AZCentral.com reporter Lauren Saria even managed to file a piece on the top 10 dining choices at Terminal 4.  There actually are good options.

A top choice is Barrio Cafe via chef Silvana Salcido Esparza who may be cooking the most thoughtful Mexican food in Phoenix.  

Also a good idea is Zinc Brasserie. Wrote Saria, “Zinc easily exceeds most expectations for an airport eatery. For a starter don’t skip the French onion soup gratinee, and for a more affordable entree the Zinc Burger can’t be beat. It comes with your choice of bacon and blue cheese or truffled gruyere and a side of crispy shoestring frites.”

It’s breakfast time?  Lucky you. Eat at Matt’s Big Breakfast, the airport outpost of a downtown Phoenix classic that has won its fame by serving very good breakfast staples such as scrambled eggs and bacon, what I always order.  The execution just is precise.

Save room for a stop at Sweet Republic – an outstanding local ice cream maker.  Really good ice cream.

And have a cup of coffee at Cartel. Wrote Saria: “When it comes to craft coffee, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more serious operation in greater Phoenix than Tempe-based Cartel Coffee Lab.”

If you have to eat at the airport in Phoenix, you will do well in Terminal 4.  You will do less well at the other terminals but you won’t starve.

Terminal 3 is a lesser used terminal. I can recall flying out of it only a few times.  That is reflected in the dining options.  But the good news is that, lately, there’s been a rush to open new venues. That’s giving diners much better choices.

Right now I would recommend Shake Shack and the Parlor Pizzeria (the airport location of a much praised Phoenix pizzeria that has sometimes been called the town’s best and that means better than Chris Bianco’s joints which is something. I don’t agree with that but Parlor is very good indeed).

I am also a longtime Shake Shack fan – so I won’t grumble when I can eat there.

Otherwise, Terminal 3 has a lot of blah choices – Starbucks, Habit Burger, Panera, and you get the drill.  Here’s the complete list.  

My advice: flip a coin. Heads you go for pizza, tails for a burger.  Forget the other options.

Stay tuned however because shortly a new Terminal 3 restaurant created by James Beard award winner Christopher Gross – called Christopher’s – is slated to open. That will demand our interest. I know I will give it a try.

Also slated to open soon is The Tavern, a new restaurant via Mark Tarbell, a local Phoenix celebrity chef. Mainly a burger, sandwich and salad place but Tarbell will try to lift it beyond the humdrum. I’ll stop here too when it opens.

Terminal 2 also is a lesser used terminal.  The best choice is NYPD Pizza, and fans of chef Silvana will want to stop at Barrio Avion.  Other choices include Wendy’s and a grab and go.

Terminal 2 is a backwater. Obviously. But at least you can get a decent burrito.

At what cost? Excellent question. Consumer alert: in December the Phoenix City Council repealed a policy that set airport restaurant prices at street plus 10%.  Restaurants may now set their own prices. So regular airport diners almost certainly will detect higher costs.

Is the food worth it? Remember my rule about inflight food: just don’t. Don’t eat the stuff, certainly not on any domestic flight.  So that often means eating at the airport.

The Inflight Retail Hustle


By Robert McGarvey

Have I stumbled onto Canal Street?

That thought popped into my mind on a recent flight as I witnessed attempt after attempt by the flight attendants to sell me stuff, lots of stuff. Everything from a credit card (note: I already have the thing!) to food (note: I don’t eat airline food) to alcohol.

Can’t a passenger get a little quiet?

The facial expressions of the crew are worth observing.  Some really get into this – presumably there’s a spiff system where the more they sell, the bigger the bonus – but the majority seem downright embarrassed.

As they should be.  I would not want to do the Canal Street hustle and I wouldn’t wish it on anybody else.

Then a Skift story popped into view: “In-Flight Pandering Erodes Airline Passenger Loyalty.” That’s because crews are turning up the heat.

According to Skift, “Several reports on social media share that captains and first officers on American are now making announcements on behalf of flight attendants while last week, a blogger on Boarding Area documented a credit card pitch that was flat-out wrong.”

Ouch.

It gets worse. On Frontier flight attendants now are actively soliciting tips. Bloomberg even asked the airline if, what the hell, is this sanctioned behavior and oh it is.  According to Bloomberg, “‘We appreciate the great work of our flight attendants and know that our customers do as well, so [the payment tablet] gives passengers the option to tip,’ said Frontier spokesman Jonathan Freed.”

Word of advice: just don’t. Don’t tip. I have long advocated – indeed lectured on — the importance of tipping hotel housekeepers, bellmen, et. al. but inflight is off limits in my mind. What, should we throw a deuce at the flight attendant when he/she bring us a glass of water? No.

Of course too we are getting ripped off when we buy stuff on a plane. The UK Independent, using data gathered by Kayak, wrote this about inflight purchases: “The report from travel search engine Kayak focused on the food and beverage offerings on Ryanair, easyJet, Jet2, FlyBe and British Airways, comparing staple items on the airlines’ menus with the equivalent at supermarkets Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s. Some of the biggest mark-ups were on drinks. A cup of tea on Jet2 was marked up by 8,900 per cent (£2.70 compared to 3p at the supermarket); coffee on a flight with the same airline had a 1,321 per cent mark-up (£2.70/19p).”

The report continued: “EasyJet were found to sell muffins with a 900 per cent mark-up (£2.50 compared to 25p) and chocolate bars for 260 per cent more (£1.80 compared to 50p).”

And then a tip on top makes sense?

You think it’s bad on United, American, BA, et. al.? It could get worse. Korea Air apparently wins the title as the most successful inflight shiller, garnering some $143 million in 2018 inflight sales.

Mainly Korea Air rings its cash registers selling cosmetics, booze and health supplements.

Don’t think this goes unnoticed in Chicago, Atlanta, or Dallas. The Big 3 US carriers have to be enviously eyeing this easy money. That’s why my guess is that more of this 30,000 ft retail is coming our way as carriers look for ever more “imaginative” ways to sell to a captive audience. Of course nobody reads the seatback shopping catalog anymore – is there still one? – and nobody reads the inflight magazine, so now the airlines have decided to put stuff to buy in our faces, literally.

But I can tell you this: I do not remember the last thing I bought on a plane.  I have a faded memory of buying a carton of Silk Cut smokes on a BA flight years ago but that was when smoking inflight was okay and also when I still smoked (I quit in 2001) so forgive my haziness.

If we don’t buy stuff they won’t try to sell it to us.

Say that again, say it loud, say it proud.

Just don’t buy and they will quit.

Eventually.

Meantime, earplugs will block the din out.  That’s my advice.

Welcome to the Circus: The Carrier Pursuit of Irrelevance


By Robert McGarvey

Don’t mind me, I’m only yawning.

The headline in trade pub Travelmarket Report triggered yawns in me: Major Airlines Duke It Out For Free Live TV Supremacy.  

For a brief second I was puzzled: what year is this?

I remember maybe 10 years ago when Continental, with much fanfare, introduced DirecTV and since I was flying business class in that era, it was free. In coach it apparently cost $6 and I’m sure I wouldn’t have paid for it because TV remains Newton Minow’s vast wasteland.  The less I watch the happier I am.

So of course I am not thrilled that now United, American and Delta apparently are battling to see which can offer free TV to more passengers. Call this the airline homage to Juvenal, the first century AD satirist who said the masses could be sated with bread and circuses —

iam pridem, ex quo suffragia nulli / uendimus, effudit curas; nam qui dabat olim / imperium, fasces, legiones, omnia, nunc se / continet atque duas tantum res anxius optat, / panem et circenses

Translation:  Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.

Call more TV at 30,000 feet circuses and even tho in coach free bread is but a memory, the executives at the carriers must think that maybe we’ll be sated with the circus, at least placated enough not to notice how dismal back of the bus carriage has become.

And I also scratch my head at how, well, primitive free TV on the seatback is. As Travel Market Report noted, “some airlines are choosing to remove seatbacks [that is, screens] altogether; after it acquired Virgin America, known for the quality of its inflight entertainment, Alaska Airlines said it would ultimately phase out the seat back screens in favor of better WiFi and streaming choices vis passenger devices.”

Many other carriers are said to be kicking that idea around, especially as they confront the coming era of pricier jet fuel. When fuel is expensive weight matters and, yes, a screen weighs little but multiply it by the number of seats and the weight begins to exact a fuel toll.  Thus the interest in eighty sixing seatback screens – and putting the onus on passengers to tote their own devices (iPads, laptops, even smartphones) and to watch them.

Makes sense to me.  Other than some glances at DirecTV on Continental a decade ago, I cannot recall even noticing the seatback screen on flights.  My m.o. is to bring an iPad with a loaded Kindle app and to use flight time to read.  

But that’s only after handling accumulated email because a principle I travel with is arriving home with a clean desk – and that means responding to all emails received when on the road during the homeward bound flight.  If I have working WiFi – always a question and, yes, I’d be all in on an airline campaign to upgrade WiFi into a usable tool but we seem rather far from that — I’ll send off those emails from the air. But if not I’ll just backlog then and send when I land. Either way I’ve abided by my rules.

Which brings us to something that genuinely needs fixing: Most flights continue to lack WiFi and few have WiFi that is better than a nuisance.  If carriers touted a rollout of usable WiFi – not free TV – I’d be first to applaud.

But, apparently, carriers think we are so dimwitted that we’ll be sated by the flickering TV screen and may even forget that we still don’t have WiFi worth spit.

Sigh, at least I have my iPad with roughly 1000 books downloaded. I know I won’t be watching the free TV and if enough of us don’t, will carriers get the message that TV is not an adequate substitute for working WiFi? Nah, I doubt it.

But it’s pretty to wish as much.

Business Travel, Climate Change and You


By Robert McGarvey

We have met the enemy and he is us (apologies to Walt Kelly).

Travel is an enemy of the environment. That is fact.  And we are in the equation.

Skift recently had a piece on the scramble of hotels and airlines to respond to global warming which, by the way, is an undisputed reality – ask NASA.

And that got me pondering what I could do – what you could do.

It can’t entirely be on the hotels and the airlines. There’s a part in this for us too.

Of course we’ve known for some time about the link between business travel and global warming. No news there. Except matters just keep getting worse. A recent article in nature climate changeThe Carbon Footprint of Global Tourism” pulled no punches.  Wrote the authors: “We find that, between 2009 and 2013, tourism’s global carbon footprint has increased…four times more than previously estimated, accounting for about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions.”

They added: “The rapid increase in tourism demand is effectively outstripping the decarbonization of tourism-related technology.”

(Reporting on the paper is here in the UK Independent.)

Of course we’re not tourists. But, in my mind, business travel is a big part of this problem – especially as more of us are flying longhaul flights to Asia, Africa, etc.  It is becoming one world, and – increasingly – I find myself feeling out of it because I am becoming the only person I know who doesn’t have a 10 year Chinese business visa.

Think about how much pollution goes into that longhaul trip. Air travel is a significant polluter – accounting for upwards of 2% of global carbon dioxide.  

Ditto those x-country trips in the US.

Yes, there are many carbon offset programs and some, if not many, business travelers and their employers and clients participate.  And in some cases, the costs of an offset may be tax deductible.  

But is that enough?

Let’s be honest. Hotels are negligible contributors to global warming and many now are scrambling to further cut their emissions.  Of course we also can stay at LEED certified hotels but we probably can do a lot on our own in any hotel just by turning off lights when we leave the room, setting summer temps at 78 and winter at 68, re-using towels, and you know the drill.  All good steps, if symbolic in many respects, but we know what to do and more of us are doing it.

The carbon culprit is air travel.

A solution, where possible, is to take a train because it is vastly less polluting.  Many multiples less.

That’s very possible – indeed preferable – in Europe and it is increasingly a good option in Canada (read Chris Barnett on travel from Toronto and Montreal).

But it’s not a good option in the US, other than the short Acela route (Boston to Washington DC) and when I lived in Jersey City I often took the train to DC or Baltimore.  

Don’t think about trains on many other US routes however – they just don’t cut it. As far as I know there is no train stop in Phoenix, for instance. The nearest is in a town called Maricopa which, oddly, is in Pinal County, not Maricopa Cty where Phoenix is. It’s a town of 50,000, 35 miles south of Phoenix, and, nope, I’ve never been. I see an Amtrak train, costing $90 to LA, that will take 8 and a half hours. I can fly American non stop, roundtrip for $167 and the flight is under 90 minutes. I guess I’m not going to Maricopa anytime soon.

And tell me about the train from LAX to Shanghai. Or Paris. No can do of course.

On the ground, increasingly, I use mass transit (subways preferably or light rail).  Sometimes Uber. But I’m cheap and also honestly like subways, can’t think of any I disliked.  So usually you’ll find me in mass transit on the ground when I travel.

Oh, and always walk when that’s an option. Better for you, better for the planet.

Here’s the bad news: the single biggest step the business traveler can take to cut his/her carbon footprint is to travel less – specifically, to fly less.

That’s really the only step that matters.

And often flying is the only real way to make the trip.

Before every flight, ask: do I need to go? Will a Skype video call suffice?  

Does your company need to send three execs when one would do?

Can you piggyback trips – so that flight to Shanghai leads into a train trip to Hong Kong. Thus cutting out one air roundtrip.

Bottomline: cutting the carbon cost of business travel means doing less of it. Sure, that is a kidney punch to our elite dreams. But so what?

This mean utterly rethinking how we travel and, more to the point, how we do business.

Less face to face isn’t a bad thing.  In fact it’s just reverting to how it was pre WW II. And that wasn’t so very long ago. It worked then. It can work now.

Heck, maybe we’ll also start sending letters via post. Wouldn’t that be something?

The Best Credit Card for Business Travelers


By Robert Mcgarvey

Put three business travelers at a Holiday Inn bar and around 9 p.m., after drinks have flowed for maybe three hours, toss out this topic – what’s the absolute best credit card for business travel, the one you won’t leave home without – and then hastily back off.

That’s because fists and bottles may start flying.

Nobody gets worked up debating the best domestic carrier – they all suck so why fight.

Or the best business travel hotel. Who gives a whit about Hilton vs Marriot vs IHC?

With the best bank there may be a little debate but, really, we all know the big banks stink and therefore the best answers are going to be curve balls. (Here’s my answer by the way.)

But the real fisticuffs come out when the debate is about credit cards because we all have them and we all have opinions.

The trigger for this column was a recent New York Times story headlined “Best Credit Card for Travelers? Probably Not One From an Airline.”

And right at jump I had to disagree.

Sort of.

According to the Times, your best bet for a travel card is Amex Platinum ($550) or Chase Sapphire Reserve ($450) — “they provide hefty credits that can be used with any airline to cover expenses like checked bags and in-flight purchases, along with other benefits like access to airport lounges.”

Personally I’ve had the Platinum card for years and I swear by the Centurion lounges, I like the annual $200 credit for Uber (dribbled out in monthly $15 tranches and a year-end bonus), the $200 airline fee credit (against checked bag fees, etc. – applicable only to one airline designated annually), free Priority Pass membership, reimbursement for Global Entry or Pre (I used it for Pre), and free Boingo Preferred WiFi access at many airports. There’s also 5x points on air and hotel expenses. And still more stuff.  It is indeed a feature rich card that returns what I pay for it and more.

But it is not quite enough for me.

Maybe I do not think they are the best credit cards for travelers. But I do also have a United World Explorer card – $95 per year and for that I get 2X miles at restaurants, hotel, and United purchases. There’s a free checked bag.  $100 towards TSA Pre or Global Entry (I used it for the latter.) A couple club passes annually. And no foreign transaction fees.  

There’s also priority boarding which is why I have the card in the first place. That gives me the key perk that comes with low level elite status which I no longer have because I have no airline loyalty.  None.

I also have an American Airlines AAdvantage Aviator card.  Also $95.  2X miles on American purchases. Free checked bag. No foreign transaction fees.  

And, again, priority boarding.

If you don’t have elite status – and unless it is easy to get why bother? – an airline credit card gives you what you most want from status.

Do I need both the airline cards? Probably not. I got the United card (nee Continental) when I lived in Jersey City NJ, flew out of EWR and always flew Continental.

I now live in Phoenix and usually fly American, thus that card.

But until Platinum gives me priority boarding – and I do not see that day coming – I will have at least one airline credit card. When you do carryon and only carryon, which is how I’ve flown for over a dozen years, early boarding is a must.  Hanging out at baggage carousels to collect a gate checked bag just is so uncool. And a complete waste of my time.

So I pay a small fee (tax deductible) for a card that gives me early boarding and that combination of an airline card with Amex Platinum is to me just about perfect.

Except — there is one perk I definitely think a travel card ought to include and that’s free access to Authentic 8’s Silo or a VPN, to give travelers much better Internet security at airports, inflight, at coffee shops, and also hotels. Public WiFi is a trap, simply awful. I do not use it. And recommend others don’t unless they take security precautions. Sure, a decent VPN or Silo can be yours for under $15 monthly – Silo is better, but it doesn’t run on everything – but as a perk I’d take either over Boingo any day. Just saying, Amex.

Cruising 101: The How To Guide

By Robert McGarvey

Horrors, the horrors. I read the recent JoeSentMe “first cruise” column by David Danto – “More Bruisin’ Than Cruisin’” – and my sympathy is profound. He says of his ship that it was “well – honestly – a toilet.  I use that term not only because of how bad the ship’s condition was, but because of the constant smell everywhere.  Our teeny, tiny cabin was so small that you could only get out of the bed on one side. It had worn and water-damaged walls, inoperable lights, and its one electrical outlet was as far away from the bed as you could get.”

Ouch.

There are ways to avoid such a fate – we’ll get into that momentarily – but, first, know that for around a dozen years I wrote an Ombudsman column for Porthole Cruise Magazine and my email box overflowed with complaints that often ran similar to Danto’s.

It happens on cruises.

It happens way too often and it costs people both money and vacation days.

I have been lucky. It has never happened to me and I’ve been on a lot of cruises, at all price points, everything from ultra luxury to an old ship that operated as a “semester at sea” vessel for a non descript college and when school wasn’t in session they ran cruises on it.  (It was dated but actually quite pleasant.) I’ve also sailed a little known Chilean small ship down the Chile coast to Patagonia, a superyacht up the Napa River (it was supposed to also go into the Petaluma River but there wasn’t enough water), and just recently an ultra luxury vessel (roughly $1000 per head per night) from Montreal to New York, in late October and, yes, it snowed in Quebec City, hit freezing in Montreal, and rained torrentially in Bar Harbor.

How to avoid an unpleasant cruise? Here’s the advice I gave Porthole readers. It’s what I do when planning a cruise.

Start by researching, in some depth, the ship you will sail on.  We all think, oh, the ship doesn’t matter, we’ll spend all our time in ports. The ship matters.  Crucially. You will eat most meals on it. You will sleep on it. You will shower in it. You may use the fitness center, get a spa treatment, possibly play blackjack for money (I never have on a ship but I have seen many who do). You may also get sea sick (I also have never done this but I have an abnormal constitution in that regard).

How does price impact ship accomodations? More expensive ships have bigger cabins – usually much bigger bathrooms – and much more attentive staffs (who are better trained and often speak better English).  But I’ve had a pleasant cruise on a budget priced Carnival ship. I can’t promise that spending more insures a better cruise, just as I won’t say a cheaper cruise is worse. Go back, read the reviews and keep reading.  Ships do vary in character every bit as much as hotels do, even hotels under the same marque. Research before booking pays dividends.

Afraid of sea sickness?  Danto vividly related his personal sufferings and that’s a terrible thing.  But there are steps to take to possibly avoid it.

Research the ship and sea sickness. Small vessels generally have more of it.  Cabins in midship generally suffer less. Newer ships generally have better stabilizers. But if sea sickness is a personal problem, buy OTC meds and/or wrist bands. If it’s really an issue, get a prescription from a doc at home before sailing.  All cruise ships have on board physicians by the way but office hours generally are limited and while some freely dispense anti nausea meds, others don’t.  I recommend dealing with this at home before sailing.

If you don’t know your susceptibility to sea sickness, bring a box of the OTC pills and/or a wrist band. Just in case.

Also research the ports – and be aware that port calls do get cancelled, typically because of bad weather. I was on a Panama Canal cruise where three port calls – including Nicaragua, which I really wanted to see and I guessed this was going to be my only chance –  were cancelled due to bad weather. On my recent Montreal cruise two port calls were cancelled. It happens. Never count on a particular port call. Never.

Weather, as you’ve guessed, is the wild card on any cruise.  That’s why port calls are cancelled – probably because the ship cannot safely dock or, sometimes, because it can’t safely deploy tenders which are little ships that can sail into tiny ports that don’t accept big vessels.  Weather is also the why of sea sickness.

Me, I’ve learned to accept the weather, whatever turns up.  You can’t fight what you can’t control.

Follow my advice – mainly to do research and more of it – and is a good cruise guaranteed? Of course not.  But, as I said, I’ve never had a bad cruise and, curiously, my favorite is a cruise I took maybe 18 years ago aboard Renaissance in the eastern Med.  It went belly up in 2001 and probably was on life support when I cruised with them.

But it was a damn fun cruise anyway.  Even though I probably wouldn’t have taken it if I’d researched the line’s financial condition.

Let’s hope your next cruise is likewise.

Make Mine an E-Book: How I Travel in 2018

By Robert McGarvey

A contributor to JoeSentMe.com, for business travelers

Used to be – as recently as a decade ago – I’d always lug a book with me on every trip and, usually, it was a book I wanted to read but hadn’t for lack of time, I thought. And where do I have time? On flights – a x-country jaunt is good for 5 to 6 hours of interrupted reading.

I don’t do that heavy lifting of analog books anymore but I still subscribe to the belief that perhaps the best use of a flight is as a reading session.

Picture me in 2009 – into the carry-on would go maybe Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, a thick book, at least a pound. Or maybe Finnegans Wake.

I carried the latter a lot and, you know what, I still have not read it.

What I learned is that in packing for a trip my reading ambitions generally outstripped my realities. That’s why I often found myself popping into an airport newsstand and buying, say, a Parker (Spenser long has been a favorite) or a Tartan noir novel or any noir set in Los Angeles.

After a long day in meetings or at a conference I just did not have the intellectual energy to plunge into Sartre’s meandering thoughts – not even Kierkegaard’s, whose writing I sometimes packed. A nasty bit of noir was just the ticket however. And a lot of same can be read in full even on, say, a Chicago to LA flight and, absolutely, on anything x-country.

But now when I fly I have it both ways, the heady intellectual stuff and the lighter weight reading are both available to me and I do it without paying any sort of weight penalty.

E-books are the answer.

In my case that mainly means Kindle – which I have on a Nexus 9 slate, a Pixel 3XL phone, a Kindle Fire, and an iPad Air tablet. I have a few books downloaded to Google books and that app is on those same devices. I’m not a fan of Apple’s iBooks mainly because I only have the app on an iPad and have no interest in buying more iOS devices.  Apple’s walled garden approach doesn’t work for my reading. Kindle, which seemingly runs on everything, is just the ticket.

On Kindle, Amazon tells me, I have 1087 books that run a gamut from Heidegger’s Being and Time and Clifford Rosenthal’s Democratizing Finance, a history of the community development credit union movement, through probably a dozen Spenser novels, a like number of Nero Wolfe mysteries, and a large number of Graham Greene novels. Mixed in there is T. S. Eliot’s Complete Plays, Milkman (the Booker winner this year), and Gangland Boston, a romp through the history of organized crime in Beantown.

Of the 1087 probably I have not read one third.  Probably there’s another 100 that I read but no longer recall the plot (early Spenser novels, some Chandler, some Hammett). And there are some I couldn’t tell you why I bought (“The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning”).

I have another 30 or so in Google Books, including Sartre’s Being and Nothingness (!) and Joyce’s Ulysses.  There’s also Marx’s Capital, Moliere’s plays (in English), and a Morimoto cookbook I have no recollection buying but I’m glad I noticed it and will remember to flip through it on an upcoming flight.  But, no, I can’t explain what’s in the Google library. Much of it probably predates my decision to standardize around Kindle because that makes it all simpler for me to read what I want no matter what device I have with me.

The bigger point is: no matter my mood, or energy level, there are books that I have that will amuse and entertain and quite possibly inform me on a plane ride.

A word of warning: you have to actually download the book to the device to read it. E-books require a little advance planning. It doesn’t matter if I downloaded a book I want to read to my Nexus slate. If I brought the iPad on this flight it has to be there. If I’ve forgotten, I remedy with a download via a cellular hotspot at the airport before boarding. (I don’t recall ever downloading an e-book via GoGo but I try to use that service sparingly, not so much to save money as to be kind to my blood pressure.)

Oh, and if I’ve forgotten my reading glasses I can just toggle a bigger font to read. How cool is that?

Nope, I don’t have nostalgia for the years I brought analog paper books. Nope.

Centurion Lounge Coming to PHX?

 

by Robert McGarvey

 

Big news is that just maybe Amex is bringing a Centurion Lounge to Phoenix Sky Harbor – which also happens to be losing its Priority Pass club.

Color me excited.  I am a fan of Sky Harbor – which some call the nation’s best airport – but I have never gushed about the club situation.  At PHX the Priority Pass club was tucked in a tiny (2985 sq ft), out of the way club – built to serve BA passengers but that meant much of the day it was empty so enter Priority Pass. The Arizona Republic reported on the pending closure of the Priority Pass lounge, apparently as the City Council juggled its club options. According to the Republic, “Priority Pass had notified its members via its website that they could not use the lounge after Dec.1. Now, the company says Priority Pass members can access The Club until the new operator takes over.”

If I had to guess, I’d guess Priority Pass will work a deal with a restaurant or two at Sky Harbor to accommodate cardholders.  If the restaurants are the right picks, there may be little grumbling among cardholders who may see it as a step up. I would.

Meantime, according to the AZ Republic, “Delta plans to open a 7,500-square-foot Sky Club lounge in Terminal 3 in early 2019. The lounge will have design inspired by the desert landscape’ as well as food offerings like the Sky Bowl. Guests can ‘build their own bowl choosing from grains, vegetables and proteins,’ according to Delta’s press announcement.” I’ve only flown Delta once in the past six years so no biggie to me…but for Delta regulars this is a big step forward.

United has made noises about building a new club when it moves to Terminal 3 but no timeline has been announced. You have to believe they will if they want to keep pace.

All that is prelude. The big news is Centurion which still counts as the best domestic airport lounge in my book.

The AZ Republic broke the news that apparently Centurion figures into a new lounge that will open at Sky Harbor.

Then the Points Guy dug into this and reported that Amex replied to his inquiry with this statement: “We are always looking at opportunities to bring our premium Centurion Lounges to more airports across the globe and are working closely with the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport as this location is certainly of interest for both us and our Card Members. We hope to have plans to announce soon.”

That is not a flat out commitment to opening in Phoenix – but it comes close. It is a definite statement of keen interest.

This would be terrific news for PHX passengers.

According to the Points Guy, “The [City Council] minutes revealed more details about how the space would be designed and included Amex’s signature wall of foliage, a ‘chef’s table’ and an area that could be closed off for private events. The plans suggested a December 2019 or January 2020 opening date.”

On the official Amex opening list for Centurion Lounges in 2019 are LAX, JFK and Denver. No PHX.

But apparently if the right opportunity arises, Amex will pounce on it – and Sky Harbor just could be that opportunity. It’s been kind of a club desert and, no, we may live in a desert but that does not mean we want our airport to be similarly barren.

It would be a small Centurion – second smallest after Seattle per View From the Wing – but we’ll take it.

The drum beats keep getting louder. According to AwardWallet, in a round up of what’s known about Centurion plans, “There is also a strong possibility that a Phoenix Sky Harbor (PHX) location will be announced soon.

Many in Phoenix have puffed with pride as Sky Harbor has notched high praise in various airport rankings – 3 in a Wall Street Journal and 7 in a Conde Nast Traveler ranking.  Add in #1 with the Points Guy and things are looking good – and then there is the club situation which has been downright mediocre.

Which only gets worse when Priority Pass shuts probably soon.

A Centurion would change all that.

 

 

After the Marriott Breach, What Now? Can You Protect Yourself?

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

Another day, another hotel breach. Face reality. Hoteliers suck at protecting your data. There is no gentle way to put that. They really, really stink.

Hotel News Now has a piece that explores the many hotel data breaches over the last decade. Read it and weep because it is your data that now is in play on the dark web.  

Can you in fact stay in hotels and protect yourself? Maybe, we offer tips below. But, first, feast on how inept hoteliers are at data security.

Hotels treat your personal data – name, address, credit card numbers, passport info – the way a deadbeat treats yet another bill collection notice.  

HNN traces the history back to 2010 when there was a big Wyndham data breach. That prompted an FTC suit against Wyndham that eventually was settled. I covered this and, honestly, I find it increasingly tiresome to write about the hotel industry’s cluelessness, or maybe just indifference, to guest data security.

Along the way White Lodging, a management company, had data breaches. So did Trump. Mandarin Oriental.  Hilton. Hard Rock. Kimpton. Noble House. IHC. Sabre.Hyatt. Radisson. Many more.

And now there’s Marriott where maybe 500 million guests were compromised. Apparently because of Starwood data insecurities.

Marriott has not been forthcoming about specific details pertaining to the breach.  It has said it is notifying customers who have fallen victim – so expect a phone call, or email, if you’ve stayed at a  Starwood in memory. (For the record here’s the company statement on the breach.)

Word of immediate advice: right now go and check any rewards accounts you maintain at Marriott.  There are suggestions that maybe these crooks were after those points – there is no confirmation on that front – but it is believable because there’s increasing evidence that hackers are hungry for points and miles that are fairly easy to convert into cash or cash equivalents (like an iPad or iPhone). Make sure all is copacetic and if it’s not, raise a loud yell at the nearest Marriott rep.  

Should you in fact expect meaningful compensation? Nah. That rarely is on offer. If points were stolen, almost certainly they can be restored. But beyond that I suggest never holding one’s breath in expectation of real compensation for pains suffered in a data breach.

The usual compensation is a year or two of monitoring of credit and dark web activity by a namebrand cybersecurity outfit. My favorite such is when T-Mobile revealed some 15 million applicants for credit – yours truly among them – had their data compromised when a server maintained by Experian was hacked. Victims were offered free credit monitoring by, you guessed it, Experian.

What can you do to protect yourself?

Do make it a practice to get free activity reports from such as MasterCard. Closely monitor credit activity and do stay on top of accrued rewards points. If offered free credit monitoring by Marriott, sure, take it.

Accept that by now bad guys know all your private data, from Social Security to your health insurance number (yes, there’s brisk trade in health insurance documents).

So what more can we do to protect our data security? Personally,  I cannot recall the last time I booked directly with a hotel, despite their massive push for that. I use OTAs and many of them have tech company roots and, as an industry, tech has fared a lot better in regard to data privacy than have hotels. OTAs aren’t perfect but I’ll bet on them before a hotel company. In that regard I’ve liked Expedia and will soon start using Google.

But what about the nasty business of check-in where the desk clerk asks for a photo ID and credit card? I am increasingly tempted to buy a fake (“novelty) Nova Scotia driver’s license – on sale for $89 or maybe an Irish driver’s permit for 30 quid.  Use a fake name – maybe Michael Collins – a fake address and I have a good ID to flash at check in at a hotel.

Then I can ask an issuer of a credit card that I already have to issue a supplementary card in Mr. Collins’ name.  Bills continue to go to me and I would make monitoring the account a prime task because there really is no trusting the hotel.

Isn’t this extreme? Of course.  But if hoteliers refuse to take the proper precautions to safeguard our data we have to take our own precautions. And traveling under a false flag may be just the answer.

Have different suggestions on staying safe? Have at it in the comments box below. I’m at wit’s end myself, forced to cogitate on forgeries. Better ideas are welcome.

Is Sky Harbor the Nation’s Best Airport?

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

I need to count myself lucky.  The Points Guy has again annointed Phoenix- Sky Harbor Airport as the nation’s best and, because I live in Phoenix, I am in and out of it with some frequency.

I still remember when I first saw it – 1974 on a business trip – and I was a north Jersey kid who had lived in Boston and moved to Washington DC for a job.  I just did not understand that at Sky Harbor the way to exit was that they pushed some kind of stairway out to the plane. Back then, it seemed so, well, hick.

A lot has changed at Sky Harbor as Phoenix has grown to be the nation’s fifth biggest city.

Understand, I moved to Phoenix six years ago, after a stint in Jersey City where my regular was EWR, just a few miles away from my home. I actually grew to like Newark Airport, mainly out of familiarity, but you could also call it a product of the Stockholm syndrome. EWR, per the Points Guy, is in a race for the bottom rank against its Port Authority brethren, LGA and JFK. Okay, they all suck. But when you live there, you get used to them.

When I moved to Phoenix I saw – vividly – what a better airport really looks like.

What made Sky Harbor number one in this ranking? According to the Points Guy: “What’s Sky Harbor doing right? Like last time, it didn’t come in first in any one category but made strong showings in nearly all of them, including being easily reached by car or bus, having cheap parking, negligible wait times at security compared to other airports and respectably low delay and cancellation rates (though it could use more lounges for its size).”

Yep.  I get there via Light Rail -$2 for a one way fare – that takes maybe 20 minutes from my door.  Inside, I remember only once encountering a daunting security line – I stupidly was flying on the Monday of a three-day weekend in the spring and Phoenix had filled up with students on break as well as Cactus League devotees.  My bad. I still made my plane. But it was not the fast stroll that security usually is at Phx, even without TSA Pre (which I acquired only a year or so ago).

With Pre, by the way, security is in the blink of an eye.  Painless, no friction, pleasant TSA staff.

Flights don’t often get cancelled at Sky Harbor.  The most common reason is heat.  But that’s rare.  A big plus for Phoenix.

As for lounges, I usually head to the Priority Pass lounge in Terminal 4.  It’s okay but I would not write home about it. I’ve been in various airline lounges at Phx and they too are okay (if rather overcrowded).  Put a Centurion Lounge in Sky Harbor and I’d do cartwheels but I don’t see that on the Amex roadmap. Pity.

If you get into a lounge free at PHX, do it.  (I have access via Priority Pass, also Diner’s Club.) But I wouldn’t part with a sawbuck to buy entry into any of them.

Another grumble: Sky Harbor is not a truly international airport. Sure, it has flights to Canada and Mexico.  Also Frankfurt and London. There’s a flight to Costa Rica. That’s about it.  Sorry. If you are going to Paris or Singapore or Helsinki you are going to fly to Heathrow or Atlanta or JFK or Lax first.

To me, this is a bummer. I lived most of my adult life in cities where international flights were plentiful (Washington DC, LAX, and EWR).  

The restaurant situation could be better – but it at least has put an emphasis on local joints, not only big chains.  Barrio Cafe, La Grande Orange, Cartel Coffee, Matt’s Big Breakfast are all Phoenix local staples that I can recommend.

So PHX isn’t a culinary wasteland. Even if it doesn’t hit foodie home runs.

But you adjust.  And you accept that PHX still does lots of things very well indeed.

Incidentally, it’s not just the Points Guy who showers love on Sky Harbor. It placed third in a Wall Street Journal ranking.  It placed in the top 10 in a Conde Nast Traveler ranking (number 7 to be exact).

Is it simply that Sky Harbor is good because it is small?  That occurred to me and, no, it’s not that small. PHX ranks as the 9th busiest airport in the U.S.  O’Hare, DFW, JFK, Atlanta of course are much bigger.  But Phoenix can’t be dismissed as tiny.

So why is it good? Maybe it’s because it strives to be the friendliest airport and, in many ways, it succeeds.  It also is clean and when it has a failure – bed bugs for instance – it attacks the problem with the aim of fixing it.

And Sky Harbor also simply seems to believe it can be good and efficient.

Generally it succeeds.