Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Airports (page 1 of 4)

5 Reasons Why Sacramento is my Favorite Northern California Airport

With all the delays and cancellations that plague our tiny regional airport, I’ve had to look beyond our “Redwood Curtain” for reliable flights. Not to mention cheaper. Prices out of ACV are insane.

There are a number of options in the northern section of the state, including Redding, Santa Rosa, Sacramento and three more airports in the Bay Area. But one stands out above the rest: Sacramento.

If you’re a local and am wondering why I associated Sacramento with Northern California, have no fear. I’m firmly in your camp (SEE: 5 reasons you *must* visit coastal northern California). The Bay Area and Sacramento Area don’t qualify as NorCal in my mind. But since there are millions of people in the middle section of the state that don’t agree with us, I have to throw in the towel and go with the prevailing definition.

Couldn’t ask for easier access

The most appealing feature of Sacramento International Airport is the utter lack of traffic. Coming from Humboldt County, I head south on Highway 101, cross over to Interstate 5 by way of State Route 20, and then it’s another 45 minutes south to the airport.

Because the airport is located north of downtown Sacramento and busy Interstate 80, you don’t ever have to deal with any substantial traffic. I’ll take it over Oakland, San Francisco or San Jose any day.

From curbside to gate in no time at all

Along with the lack of the terrible traffic that plagues the Bay Area, everything is faster at Sacramento. The walk and time through security can be comparable to Oakland or San Jose, but its the proximity of the rental car center that helps significantly. It is located much closer, with a fast and frequent shuttle (ease of access to the rentals car center varies at San Jose airport depending on which terminal you are flying into or out of).

I’ve clocked my time through Sacramento Airport on a couple occasions. On one occasion I pulled up to drop my rental car with Enterprise at Sacramento at 4:58 a.m. I made it on the shuttle by 5:03, arriving at security at 5:05. Clearing security took all of a couple minutes and I made it to my gate by 5:09 a.m. Total of 11 minutes. No way I could do better than that at SFO.

Little to no price premium

As a mid-size airport, you might think Sacramento would have higher prices than a large hub like SFO. This is certainly the case if you’re looking to fly somewhere overseas, as Sacramento only has a few international flights (Air Canada to Vancouver and AeroMexico or Volaris to Guadalajara, if you are wondering). But for many domestic destinations, there is little to no difference in price. Sometimes it’s actually cheaper.

Don’t make the mistake of leaving off Sacramento Airport from your flight searches. It’s literally another 4 characters on the keyboard when searching airfare with Google Flights (SEE: 6 reasons Google flights is the BEST flight search engine). Just hit “S-M-F-space”, and then proceed to type in SFO like you planned to in the origin box.

Plenty of options

Sacramento has a leg up on Santa Rosa airport due to the number of airlines and flight options it offers. While Santa Rosa has definitely expanded in the past year, and is on track to continue this trend (SEE: Santa Rosa Airport Expands to Meet Crushing Demand), it still doesn’t have nearly the same number of flights. For example, American Airlines only offers one flight per day out of STS, and it is just after noon, making it hard to catch an eastbound connection in Phoenix that arrives on the East Coast at a reasonable time.

Sacramento offers many more options. Sure, it’s not SFO. But there are a number of reasonable departures on all the major carriers. You can pick from American, Delta, United, Alaska, Southwest, JetBlue, Frontier, and Hawaiian domestically. International carriers include Air Canada, AeroMexico and Volaris, as previously mentioned. Southwest offers the most nonstop destination options by far (which makes sense, as they have 53% of the market share at SMF).

Consistent rental car prices

Since I have to get myself to and from Sacramento Airport, I do have to take into consideration the cost of renting a car. I’ve found that I can pretty much always get a car for $100-150 depending on when and which direction I am going. This may sound like a lot, and it *is*, if it is coming out of my own pocket. But it work is paying, I can often justify it since the difference in fare is more than the cost of the rental car. The typical differential is $300+ between a fare out of Sacramento and a fare out of Arcata.

There is the issue of added travel time, but depending on the itinerary, even this may not be substantial. Most of my United itineraries for work back east involve two connections. Flying out of Sacramento allows me to cut it to only one. In some cases, flying out of Sacramento only adds 1-2 hours to my trip each direction. The added reliability makes this trade more than worth it.

Conclusion

I have a love/hate relationship with our local airport, which has made me look into flying out of other airports many times. Now I’ve finally settled on my favorite of the most easily accessible.

Header image courtesy of jericl cat via Flickr under CC BY 2.0 license

Timberline Grille Denver Airport: Priority Pass Restaurant Review

During one of my work trips to and from the East Coast earlier this summer, I was able to finally stop by the Timberline Grille Denver Airport. The restaurant is one of those within the Priority Pass network. Priority Pass has been on a spree lately when it comes to restaurant additions to their network, which I think is a major plus for travelers. The latest are in San Francisco (SEE: Two SFO Priority Pass restaurants added to network!), which I hope to stop at next time I pass through there.

Timberline Grille Denver Airport: How to use Priority Pass

The Timberline Steaks and Grille is located in Concourse C of Denver International Airport. Since all of DEN is accessible from a single security checkpoint, you can easily access the restaurant even if your flight is from a different concourse. Just take the train there, but give yourself enough time to get back to your gate.

The restaurant is located in the center of the concourse. The hours are from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

timberline grille denver airport

Priority Pass membership will give you and each registered guest $28 off the final bill. Depending on the membership, guests may be free or you may be charged. With my Chase Sapphire Reserve Card, I can bring two guests into a lounge for free, which would give us $84 off the final bill. This is plenty for three people at this restaurant.

To use your Priority Pass membership at the Timberline Grille Denver Airport, you must present your Priority Pass card and same-day outbound boarding pass. Some lounges let you access them on arrival, but it may be that the Timberline Grille does not. Since I was connecting to San Francisco, I had an outbound boarding pass.

When you get your final bill, $28 will be deducted per person registered with the Priority Pass account. If you register people beyond whatever number of free visits your membership provides, you’ll be charged $32 per person, so you’ll actually be paying extra.

Food and drink

The menu offered by the Timberline Grille Denver Airport is excellent. Rather than the typical domestic airport lounge which offers small bites, snacks, and other fairly cheap fare, the Timberline Grill has a full menu or steaks, burgers and other offerings.

The steaks will eat up most, if not all of the Priority Pass credit, so you may still end up paying a little. But for a sit-down airport meal, it’s still a fantastic deal.

I ordered a pulled pork sandwich, which came with a salad. The food was very good.

The view of the airport was nice as well.

The Timberline Grille Priority Pass credit can also be applied to drinks. It turned out that the sandwich and a glass of wine fell a few dollars short of the credit. My server still happily ran my card so I could tip her.

One note: I did find the Timberline Grille Denver Airport to be rather busy during my visit. I had to wait about 10 minutes to be seated. Luckily, I had a healthy connection and still wasn’t rushed. The wait might make stopping by a bit hard if you don’t have enough of a window of time to eat. I’m sure the fact that the Timberline Grille takes Priority Pass hasn’t helped the demand!

Conclusion

DEN doesn’t offer any other Priority Pass lounge access, but the Timberline Grille Denver Airport more than makes up for that. It’s a great place to stop for a meal if you’re passing through. And for mostly free. Which is obviously the best part. 🙂

Best way to get from CDG Airport to Paris

When researching destinations, the first thing on my mind is how to get to and from the airport. For Paris, the main airport is Charles de Gaulle (CDG). It is the hub of Air France, and is primarily used by the major/full-service carriers. This is where we were flying into, so I wanted to find was the best way to get from CDG airport to Paris.

Luckily, there are a number of options. Some may appeal more to the cash-strapped backpacker, while other may be better for the time-sensitive business traveler.

Which makes it a bit hard to determine the best way to get from CDG airport to Paris center. But we’ll try. Here are four options:

Convenient: RER B Train

One convenient option is the RER B train that departs regularly from CDG. Expect to wait 10-15 minutes for a departure. The cost is 10.30€ per person (7€ for kids 4-9), and you can use the ticket machines to purchase your fare by card. The machines do have English as a language option. For myself and the kids, we paid 27.60€ for our transportation from CDG to Paris.

best way to get from cdg airport to paris

The RER B takes about 30 minutes from CDG airport and will take you to Gare du Nord as the first major stop. Additional stops include Saint-Michel Notre-Dame, Luxembourg Gardens, and Port Royal, among others.

The train does make local stops along the way to the center of Paris. At least ours did. I don’t know if this is standard. Maybe only some do this and we ended up on a local train.

From each of the stops, you can catch at least one metro line to other destinations within Paris. This is what we did, catching line 5 to Republique from Gare du Nord. You must have your train ticket to exit the train.

One detail I missed is that you can apparently use your RER B ticket to transfer to the metro for free. I wasn’t aware of this. We bought three metro tickets needlessly.

Roissybus

This was my backup option if I decided not to take the train. We were originally going to be staying at the Holiday Inn Paris Opera and Grands Boulevards, and using the bus would make more sense as it takes you to the Opera neighborhood.

If you want to take the Roissybus, you can buy a ticket at the bus station at CDG. The cost is €12. Busese run about every 20 minutes.

The transit time of the bus varies based on traffic. Generally, it will probably take 45 minutes to an hour to get you from CDG to Paris. Because we weren’t staying in the Opera area, the bus didn’t make much sense, as it is both more expensive and takes longer than the train.

Shared Van

A shared van could possibly save you a bit of transit time, but with some added cost. It won’t be as expensive as a taxi or Uber, however, since they are transporting multiple people. The plus side is that you will be taken to your actual destination and won’t need to transfer anywhere.

Prices vary depending on your destination. Transit between our hotel (Crowne Plaza Paris Republique) and the airport with Super Shuttle prices at €47 each way for three people. This is definitely more than the train, but it isn’t outrageous.

You can schedule your pick up and drop off ahead of time and pay ahead of time as well, which is convenient.

Potentially fastest: Uber/Taxi

If time is your most critical factor, Uber or a Taxi may be the way to go. Just expect to pay a whole lot more than for the train or bus. However, if you are traveling as a family, the cost differential might not end up being quite as bad.

A taxi or Uber can get you to the Paris city center in ~40 minutes, but it obviously depends where in Paris you are staying. The benefit here is that you will be taken directly to your destination rather than to a station from where you have to take a city bus or metro to your final destination.

But it comes at a cost. Uber will probably cost upwards of €50, and I’d expect a taxi to cost even more. Might be worth it if you’re traveling as a group and can pile several people into a car.

Personally, I don’t value the time savings that highly. I’d rather stick with the train, which in my opinion is generally the best way to get from CDG airport to Paris after reviewing all the options.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, it really depends on your needs to determine the best way to get from CDG Airport to Paris. The train is probably the most consistent and economical for the majority of folks. I’d maybe consider a rideshare if in a group, but I probably wouldn’t consider the other options, mainly due to cost.

Roissybus photo used under CC 2.0 license

San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront Executive Studio Suite Review

Pros: Fantastic location, beautiful lobby, great loyalty recognition, room had an awesome airport view

Cons: Lounge wasn’t serviced well in the evening

Our final night before we called off our original trip to Europe (which was subsequently re-planned) was at the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront. I wanted to be in close proximity to the airport for our flight out the next day, and it was a great option. It would also be the final night for finishing off my Marriott Platinum challenge (SEE: Fast track status: how to sign up for a Marriott Platinum challenge).

Arrival at the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront

We didn’t have to travel far to the hotel since we’d been staying in SF for free the previous two nights. There were a couple reasons I wanted to be in a hotel that night. First, I needed to be able to clean the apartment, launder the linens and towels, and tidy up in general, and I didn’t want to rush through all that during our last morning. Second, I wanted the kids to be able to enjoy themselves after two days of being cooped up with just their math books, activity books, a few toys and a couple movies while I was in all-day work meetings. I knew that a swim in the pool would make their day. Plus, I was still split on whether we’d actually head out on the trip and I wanted them to enjoy some part of our excursion to San Francisco.

The most cost-effective option to get to the hotel was (amazingly) Uber from the city. We paid right about ~$30 to get to the airport hotel. BART to the airport would have cost us a hair more, and then we would have had to walk through the terminal and take the airport shuttle. After thanking the Uber driving we walked inside to a beautiful lobby with a great view of the Bay.

san francisco airport marriott waterfront lobby

There was no check-in line when we arrived at the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront. I had decided not to check-in early with the Marriott app, hoping to ask for an upgrade to at least a bay view room from which we could watch the planes land. The agent at the front desk said that wouldn’t be a problem and soon we were on our way to the 10th floor with our room keys.

Sweet first impressions

The agent failed to tell me that he had gone beyond just an upgrade to a bay view room; we were given a corner executive suite with a stunning view of both the airport and runways! My kids were thrilled. To date this is the best Marriott upgrade we’d been given, and I didn’t even hold Platinum status (although I do now).

The suite had two queens beds in the bedroom area, which was separated from the living area by a doorway.

The living area for its part was furnished sufficiently, with a couch, armchair and a table and chairs for four.

san francisco airport marriott waterfront suite living space

The best part of all was the view, of course. I’ve already touched on that. Watching planes coming and going at SFO from the comfort of our room was awesome. You can sit and eat (or work) and catch every wide-body that touches down at SFO.

The room had the other typical amenities, like a desk and TV.

Oddly, there wasn’t a second TV in the living area.

Most suites I’ve ever been given have more than one TV if the bedroom and living areas are separate (or a creative solution like this Hyatt House hotel). But this is a small concern to me. We hardly ever turn it on anyway.

I don’t know the occupancy of the suite, but it would have been sufficient for our family of five. With a couch, a table and chairs, a desk and plenty of space, it is ideal for a family. The primary difficulty would be guaranteeing that you get the room, short of paying the $350 the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront was asking that night.

Bathroom

The bathroom was the only awkward part of the room. For starters, the door didn’t lock. This really isn’t an issue if you’re traveling as a couple. But with two of my kids, it could have been a bit awkward. Luckily, the toddler wasn’t along to pull it open on me.

The suite had only a glass shower, which was fine. I actually prefer this. But note that there isn’t a tub, in case that is a necessary amenity for you.

I never really care what the branding is of the bathroom amenities as long as they give you some. The only ones that ever really wowed me were at the Park Hyatt Milan.

M Lounge at the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront

Since I have Marriott Gold status, we were granted complimentary access to the M Lounge. Typically, lounges offer a light breakfast in the morning and snacks in the evening, plus some other amenities. The M Lounge offered a good amount of seating.

We arrived a little late, and there wasn’t much to be found in the lounge. They had a few canisters of snacks, consisting of gummies, M&Ms and Chex mix. Not really anything you could even being to call dinner. I prefer when places will at least have crackers, veggies and other light fare that you can eat enough to say you had dinner.

Well…the options here were let the kids eat snack food or go pay for dinner at the hotel restaurant. I did what any dad would do when mom is not around and let the kids eat Chex mix and gummies for dinner. We fortunately also found some yogurt, which ended up being the main staple. I’m sure it was in the cooler as part of breakfast, but I still considered it fair game. Our other choices were milk, butter and a single type of soft drink.

The lounge space itself was nice enough. The one problem was that people continued to come through, and no one was there to either clean or restock any of the snacks.

Finally, just when we were about to leave, an employee came by with more of everything to refill the canisters.

Breakfast

Breakfast in the morning was a bit better in the M Lounge. Selections included eggs and bacon, fruit, yogurt and other items. The selection wasn’t huge, but we found it sufficient.

The one downside was that the place was a zoo. This is the one reason I didn’t take any photos during breakfast. It always feels awkward to me trying to take photos at a hotel or lounge buffet with people all around me.

Alternatively, you could eat in the hotel restaurant. But free food at the lounge with Marriott elite status is a perk. I’m not going to turn it down.

Swimming Pool

If your kids are anything like mine, the most important amenity of a hotel is the pool. We definitely made time for a morning swim.

The pool at the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront isn’t very large. But it’s nice enough. There is also a sizable hot tub.

The plus was that we had the pool to ourselves when we visited. We stayed about an hour before heading back up to our awesome suite to watch some more airplanes.

An avgeek paradise

The San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront sits to the south of SFO with enviable views of the airport, runways and bay. It’s in an ideal location for an aviation geek. If you decide to visit, make sure to book a room with a Bay View and/or ask for an upgrade at the desk. The view of the airport is really the hotel’s best feature.

We were in a corner suite on the airport side, so our views not only included runways 28L and 28R, but San Francisco Airport itself. We could watch jets land and take off at our leisure.

Given the dirty state of the windows, the photos aren’t the best.

san francisco airport marriott waterfront view

You could probably get some great shots from the waterfront walk along the Bay in front of the hotel, which is another great spot to hang out. How I wished I had a decent camera to take some photos of the airplane landing action on 28L and 28R.

Final remarks

The San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront is now in the running for best SFO airport hotel. The other one I’m really partial to is the Staybridge Suites San Bruno, where we burnt our IHG free night certificates last year (SEE: Why the “best value” redemptions might not actually provide the best value).  The benefit of Staybridge is that they offer a full breakfast and a better evening reception that can double as dinner. I wasn’t impress with what the M Lounge had to offer.

san francisco airport marriott waterfront dusk view

Still, the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront has a lot going for it, especially given its amazing location near SFO Airport and its runways. For those with a love of airplanes, I’d highly recommend the hotel. Elite recognition was also good, given that we were upgraded to a suite without top-tier Marriott status. I’d happily stay here again.

My Kids Magically Fixed United

Let’s face it…traveling anywhere when you live on the beautiful California Redwood Coast is a chore. I have a love/hate relationship flying out of the Arcata airport. The convenience cannot be understated. But that is when things go smoothly. When things go wrong, and they go wrong far too often, it can be a major pain in the neck (SEE: My Second United Horror Story).

Lately I’ve taken to booking out of a bigger airport if time is of the essence, typically if I am flying across the country for work. But for our recent trip to the Southwest, convenience won.

Flying out of Arcata Airport worth the deal

For our trip to the Southwest, I booked last minute tickets for a steal: $91 and 22,500 Avianca LifeMiles for all three of us. The beauty of this plan was that we got to fly out of Arcata. The nerve-wracking part of the plan was also that we were flying out of Arcata.

Over a total of about 15 flights that I’ve flown in or out of Arcata, no fewer than 3 have been canceled. A solid 20% cancellation rate. That’s horrible. Delays or cancellation have thrown a wrench in our plans enough times that I literally prefer driving to the Bay to fly most places these days.

Given this experience, there was a bit of trepidation as our trip approached.

Wait…this was an Arcata flight, right?

I kept my eye on the United app during the day of our planned departure. The previous legs serviced by our aircraft were on time, so things were looking good. Our plane landed at the Arcata Airport right on time while we were still driving north. It looked like everything would go smoothly. And there was no fog to stop us this time (SEE: My Second United horror story)!

Boarding was quick in Arcata, as the plane was barely half full. Amazingly, there wasn’t any message from the captain stating the SFO tower had requested we stay on the ground. Too often they don’t have a spot for us and the flight gets delayed until SFO air traffic control can slip our landing into the incoming traffic. This time we were off the ground well ahead of schedule.

Maybe it was because we’d taken off “backwards”. On all other flights in or out of Arcata, the everything is operated off of Runway 32. This time we took off in the opposite direction, from Runway 14. This allowed me to get the shot of the airport as we circled around to the west.

Besides a little turbulence, the flight was fantastic. We were even in economy plus, and I had two seats to myself, so there was room to spare. These ERJ-175s are a much better ride than the tiny CRJs. I couldn’t believe it when we arrived in San Francisco a ridiculous 29 minutes early.

This has never happened on any flight I’ve taken out of Arcata. I’m pleased if we are even remotely on time. Had we really just flown the same little route that is so constantly plagued by delays???

I told the kids this was the best flight I’d ever taken out of Arcata. They didn’t seem to care in the slightest. Figures their first time flying outta here would go more smoothly than I’ve ever experienced.

Being treated like we’re in first class

To top things off, the service was ten times better than it’s ever been. While the flight attendants pretty much never offer drinks on the short hop to the Bay, they do bring by snacks. The offering consisted of only pretzels…unless you were my kids. The flight attendant offered them the last two stroopwafels from the morning. Lucky ducks. All they did was munch snacks and stare out the windows.

Then near the end of the flight the first-class flight attendant brought me two more snacks: Oreos and gummy bears. Do kids hardly fly? Or do the Skywest FAs single them out for special treatment? I’ve never really observed either. It’s like they knew we try to limit our kids sugar intake and were working against us.

To top it off, the flight attendant on the plane to Tucson handed me an small bag of Haribo gummy bears for the kids. I didn’t even know they had these on the plane! Or maybe they were her own. I have no clue. I just know people kept handing me candy for the kids, our flights were empty, and far more ahead of schedule than I’ve ever seen them. If this is the new United Airlines experience, sign me up every time.

Conclusion

I’m not sure what happened to the old United Airlines I’ve come to love endure, but this was definitely my best flight ever out of Arcata. And a great start to our week-long road trip.

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