Marshall Jackson, MJ on Travel, Shares His Enthusiasm for Aviation and Cruising
Marshall Jackson has been an aviation enthusiast since his first trip to the airport at the ripe old age of six. He obtained his commercial pilot’s license at age 19. Grounded by Type 1 Diabetes in 1996, he transitioned into operations management at one of the world’s largest airlines, later moving into airport operations management. He now has a career that includes plenty of travel. Jackson contemplates frequent floating versus frequent flying on his blog Marshall Jackson on Travel, and concludes, “Why not both?”
What inspired you to start your blog?
I’ve been involved in aviation in one form or another for a long time. After leaving the airline industry, I found myself serving as the de-facto travel agent in my new office when it came to things like miles, points, cruising and airline questions in general. I’m not sure I knew how to spell blog at the time, but on Aug. 3, 2006, my first post went live at MJ on Travel.
When did you join your first loyalty program and can you tell us about your first award redemption?
I joined my first mileage program, the Piedmont Airlines Frequent Flyer Bonus Program, in 1987. I was 17 years old. I wouldn’t say I spent a lot of time flying on airlines at the time, but you might remember that segment minimums were a bit more generous back then. I believe Piedmont’s minimum was 1,000 miles. Two years later, I redeemed my first award for 25,000 miles. Paper certificates came in the mail, which included not only the airline award, but also a hotel night and rental car day. The route of flight was FAY-CLT-LAX. Back then, you could upgrade with Piedmont on the day of the flight for a small fee. I’m not sure they were even supposed to upgrade coach awards, but I handed the agent $60 and I got two first class boarding passes in return. The CLT-LAX flight was on a 767, which I thought might be the coolest airplane ever at the time, multi-course meal, the works. You might say I was hooked on miles at age 19.
How did your love of flying and cruising develop a successful blog?
I’ve been an airplane nut for just about as long as I can remember. I think it’s worth noting that I received my commercial pilot’s license with multi-engine and instrument ratings, about a month before I took that first award redemption flight I mentioned. Aviation is something I am very passionate about, and I find the airline industry in particular, enormously fascinating. That said, because I still work in aviation, I’ve placed some wraps around topics I can write about for my own personal and professional reasons, which takes me to my other passion … cruising. I didn’t take my first cruise until 2004, and I recently completed my 35th. It’s something I have developed an interest in, primarily because I find cruise vacations to be a great value, but also because I simply love being at sea. That moment where the ship leaves the port channel and you head to the open sea remains my favorite of every cruise. Personally, I sail for the ships and their amenities, while my wife is very interested in the ports of call we’ll be visiting. We work together to find the best cruise vacations for both of us. There’s something for everyone on most cruises, I think I’m just as passionate about sailing as I am about aviation, and I hope it shines through in the blog.
Do you have a favorite cruise and/or cruise line that you would recommend for honeymooners? If so, what do you suggest?
I’ve called myself an unapologetic Royal Caribbean fanboy, and I still am. (Disclosure: I own just over 100 shares of Royal Caribbean stock that I bought because you get onboard spending money for being a shareholder. However, those shares turned out to be a marvelous investment.) I personally think Royal Caribbean does the best job of all the lines in pushing the envelope with ship development and amenities. My own honeymoon was aboard a Royal Caribbean ship, an 11-night repositioning itinerary from Baltimore to Tampa. But to get to the heart of your question, I would say that there are variables that would impact my answer. If you’ve cruised before, find a longer itineraryXthink Mediterranean if honeymooning in the summer, or southern Caribbean in the winter. For first time cruisers, I typically recommend starting with a shorter itinerary. There are some five-night Caribbean itineraries that might be a great fit for a honeymoon, especially if you combine the cruise with a few nights at a land-based resort on the front or back end of the cruise. Specific to cruise lines, I’d say active 20- to 30-somethings might like Carnival, Royal Caribbean or NCL, while those a little older might enjoy Celebrity or Princess more. There are no hard and fast rules there.
Please give our readers three quick travel tips.
1) Keep an open mind – some of my most enjoyable travel moments happened on trips I did not want to take; 2) Sometimes it’s okay to spend a little money instead of points and experience something off the chain-hotel path; and 3) If you’re thinking of taking your first cruise, don’t be afraid to enlist the services of a professional travel agent or just email me.