Catching up on Bay Area Travel news (Feb 10)

New fees on the way at Southwest Airlines (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

New fees on the way at Southwest Airlines (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Here’s what TravelSkills Readers (BATs!) need to know this week….

United Mileage Plus in court. A federal judge has rejected United’s attempt to throw out a lawsuit accusing the world’s largest carrier of taking benefits away from some of its most loyal fliers. The suit claims United revoked Million Milers’ “Lifetime Premier Executive” status, which entitled them to favored treatment in bookings, seating priority and upgrades, and demoted them to lower-tier “Gold” status.

Superstorm Nemo forces airlines to waive fees. The giant snowstorm that swept through the Northeast this weekend forced airlines to waive change fees for travelers holding tickets for air travel through Monday Feb 11. United was the last major carrier to join the gang offering to waive the fees, and then had to expand the window for waivers from 8-9 Feb to 8-11 Feb. Remember, if your flight is canceled and you decide to not take a trip at all (instead of accepting the airlines’ offer to re-accommodate you on another flight) you can ask for a full refund.

Spring break could be pricey, dicey this year. An early Easter (Sunday, Mar 31), that cold winter back East, and an improving economy means that travelers should brace for an expensive and crowded Spring Break travel season this year. Whether you have business trip plans or beach trip plans, if you plan to travel during the last two weeks of March—you need to make reservations now… and plan to deal with crowds and high prices. Listen to BAT editor Chris McGinnis discuss this news on KCBS last Friday.

Earn Virgin Elevate points when dining out. Virgin announced a new partnership with Mogl, allowing Elevate members earn points for something we all do a lot of in the Bay Area—dine out. All you have to do is register your credit card with Mogl, and then dine out in participating restaurants (good selection in SF and other California cities) The offer’s a bit complicated, but why not sign up? Details here.

American + US Airways merger expected this week. It’s been a long time coming, but most industry watchers say that a merger between American Airlines and US Airways will finally be announced this week. Most expect the new airlines to be called American, but the new CEO will be US Airways current CEO Doug Parker. The airline will be based in Dallas. Since both American and US Airways have little presence in the Bay Area, the impact here will be negligible.

Winter hotel promos: Marriott’s Megamiles promo is back—you can earn double airlines miles for every stay through April 30. Stay at Best Western three times between now and April 14 and you’ll get a certificate for one free night good for those price spring or summer peak season stays later this year.

Fly American from the Bay to Hawaii? An enhanced codeshare agreement between American and Alaska Airlines will allow American to put its code and sell tickets on the 22 Alaska Airlines flights from the Bay to Hawaii. For those of you with big banks of unused AAdvantage miles with dreams of tropical paradise, now’s the time to redeem.

ANA Dreamliner cancellations at San Jose extended. Until the root cause of battery malfunctions and fires can be determined, the Dreamliner will not fly to San Jose (or anywhere.) While investigators seem to be making slow progress, ANA decided to go ahead and cancel Dreamliner flights all the way through March 30 (That’s nearly 10 weeks of no flights.) TravelSkills asked ANA why they don’t substitute another aircraft on the route, they said that they only have certification to fly the 787 on the route and that applying to use another aircraft could take weeks or months. In addition, ANA is likely having a tough time filling the holes in its schedule by the grounding of 17 of its aircraft, and for now, its easier to bus San Jose passengers up 101 to catch their flights at SFO.

New fees at Southwest. Southwest Airlines passengers who are used to not showing up for a flight and then requesting full credit for that flight for future use later are in for a surprise. Southwest says it will soon impose a no-show fee on cheaper restricted tickets if you don’t contact the airline and cancel your plans within 24 hours of flight time. Southwest’s “Early bird” check in fees have increased to $12.50 from $10. In addition, if you want to nab an open position in the first boarding group, Southwest now charges a $40 fee for that. In addition, the fee for oversized or overweight bags, or a third checked have increased from $50 to $75 each. Southwest still does not charge for the first or second checked bag…but industry scuttlebutt is that Southwest will likely join other carriers in charging bag fees starting next year.

Business class to Orange County. Did you know that AirTran flies daily a 2-class Boeing 737 (business and coach) with Gogo wi-fi between SFO and Orange County? Coach class roundtrip fares are in the $150 range, and business class is only $315. (The flight stops at SNA, then continues on to Cabo)

BAT headlines from this week:

10 things about Singapore Airlines A380 at SFO (Photos)

United maintains dominance at SFO

Virgin America CEO David Cush: Why San Jose?




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  • Ken

    UAL has lowered many bars on many things important to customers since UAL defied anti-trust screenings and got the go ahead for the merger with Conti. These mergers are real bad for consumers. The airlines should be controlled and spilt up again. Their monopolitic trends are already apparent, soon after their mergers. Now along comes USAir and Delta. Another monolpoly is taking shape. WE are going in the wrong direction.

  • chris

    Thanks for your comment, Ron. Even combined, the US and AA have only a tiny presence at SFO– for example, American only has about 30 daily departures from SFO. US Airways only has 14. Combined, that is just 44 departures to just 8 cities… a drop in the bucket at SFO which handles more that 1000 flight operations per day. To your point, the combined carrier will likely beat out Delta at SFO in terms of flight ops… I believe Delta has about 25-30 departures per day. — chris

  • chris

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment, PS! I agree with you that Southwest’s policies are more consumer friendly when compared to other major airlines. However, I do not think that we expressed any outrage in the post about the new fees… we were simply making readers aware of those added in recent weeks…and there are several. Thanks for reading The BAT and please tell all your friends about it! — chris

  • Ron Garrity

    You say the impact here of a merger between AA and US would be negligible. I wonder if this is quite true. While each airline separately is minor local presence, combined could they be, if not a real competitor to UA, at least a strong second? A week or so ago, you published some statistics about traffic at SFO, what would the percentage of traffic be if you added AA and US together? Would it be greater or lesser than DL? (I have to admit, I was surprised to see DL as the second carrier at SFO.)

  • PH

    I’m disappointed by your coverage and others’ coverage of the changes in Southwest policy for not canceling tickets before flight time. Southwest did and still has one of the most generous policies in regards to changing tickets. There’s no change fee, only pay the difference in fare (which granted can be a substantial difference if you had bought a heavily discounted fare). They also would let you fail to cancel your ticket before flight time and still give you 100% of the funds you paid for that ticket for future re-use. Now, the new policy is that if you don’t cancel your ticket before flight time, they charge a fee. Every legacy carrier would simply make your ticket completely worthless to you if you fail to cancel the ticket before your flight. (More specifically, you’d lose the entire value of the flight you missed, although you might be allowed to keep the value of additional future segments on that ticket.) Where’s the outrage about the HORRIBLE unreasonableness of the other airlines’ long-standing policy?

    One of the operational costs of Southwest’s previous policy is that some people don’t bother to cancel their tickets even though they know they weren’t going to fly, because there was no penalty for them to be lazy. The gate agent is then stuck with trying to verify whether those people were ever going to show up or not, which prevents them from either closing a flight early or prevents them from accommodating standby passengers or dealing with an oversold situation as efficiently as possible. This wasn’t as bad when check-ins were either manual within 24 hours or at the airport (so most folks who weren’t going to fly didn’t check in), but Southwest now automatically checks in people in various categories, an admittedly self-inflicted wound. This recent policy change cleans things up a bit. Legacy airlines don’t suffer from this specific problem nearly as much because of their unfriendly policy of “use it, cancel it in advance, or lose it”.

    Long before this policy change, there have been online discussions about whether people should bother canceling their reservations when there wasn’t any penalty. I think the consensus was that it was courteous to do so, less abusive of a generous corporate policy, and beneficial to other passengers. For example, suppose you have a ticket for a 2:00pm non-stop flight from A to B. You don’t bother canceling even though you know you won’t fly. The 2:00pm flight is fully booked including to whatever extent Southwest is willing to overbook based on predictions. Somebody else has a 6:00pm non-stop flight from A to B but would like to change to an earlier flight if it can be guaranteed because their business meeting finished early. Otherwise they’d rather stay and work productively where they are instead of waiting around at the airport. Southwest can’t guarantee them a seat on the 2:00pm flight. So they don’t get to go home early. This is a non-optimal outcome.