Virgin bonus + United Clubs + LAX + Dining miles + PreCheck/CLEAR

Fall is in the air! (Photo: DickTay2000 / Flickr)

Fall is in the air! (Photo: DickTay2000 / Flickr)

It’s been a long busy summer for TravelSkills and fall is already in the air. So let’s play catch-up with the most important travel news for TravelSkills Readers from the last couple months. We’ll send out 2-3 installments of TravelSkills this week! Enjoy, and please tell at least 3 friends about TravelSkills ! Thanks. 

Here goes:

AMEX-VIRGIN BONUS. If you’ve been sitting on a pile of Virgin America points wondering how you’ll redeem them, consider this: You’ll get a 40% bonus when transferring your American Express Membership Rewards points to Virgin America Elevate points now through September 30. “In my opinion, a 100% transfer bonus where you could get points at a 1:1 ratio would be great. However, with the 40% bonus, at least you’re getting between 1.12-1.6 cents per Amex point in value,” writes Brian Kelly in his blog. Kim Crawford Sauvignon BlancKeep in mind that you can redeem your Elevate points for flights or upgrades on Virgin America as well as partners like Hawaiian Airlines (to Hawaii or Asia), Singapore Airlines or Virgin Atlantic. Also, Virgin is now offering double Elevate points to booking its fancy First or Main Cabin Select seats between now and December 31.

NEW BOOZE ‘N BREWS. In a move mimicking Delta’s Luxury Bar, United has announced new premium booze and brews at United Clubs, including local microbrews such as Anchor Steam (SF) Karl Strauss (San Diego), Shiner (Texas); wines like Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc or Joel Gott Cabernet; spirits such as Ketel One vodka, Hendricks gin and Hennessy XO cognac. United’s been busy copying Delta this year, with its near identical moves to revenue-based MileagePlus elite levels and fancy car transfers across the tarmac for super elite fliers.

DELTA BUMPS UP BAY AREA-LAX AGAIN. Earlier this summer, Delta announced that it would launch shuttle-style service with 12 flights each way between SFO and LAX. Today it announced that it’s adding even more Embraer 175 flights for a total of 15 per day in each direction, starting as early as 6 am. It’s also now flying five times per day between San Jose and LAX. Fares range from $150 to about $400 roundtrip depending on how far in advance you book. (I’m jumping on one of these new Delta flights later this month, so stay tuned for a trip report!)

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UNITED AT LAX. United has announced that it will spend about $400 million to upgrade its aging facilities at LAX, including updates to gate areas, new jetways, expanded and enhanced screening areas. Although United operations are spread between LAX Terminals 6,7 and 8, the bulk of upgrades are planned for Terminal 7. A new United Club will be built in Terminal 7, replacing the old Continental Presidents clubs now in use in Terminal 6. Improvements could be completed as soon as 2015.

Star Alliance Lounge LAX

A mock up of the outdoor terrace at the new Star Alliance lounge at LAX opening next week.

NEW STAR ALLIANCE LOUNGE AT LAX. A brand new Star Alliance lounge will open in the new Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX next week, which will include a sexy outdoor terrace and bar. The new lounge was designed by architectural firm Gensler and is “inspired by a contemporary interpretation of modernist L.A. architecture of the 1950s and 1960s.” It will be operated by Air New Zealand on behalf of the Star Alliance member carriers and offers space for more than 400 passengers. In total, eight Star Alliance member carriers currently operate out of the Tom Bradley International Terminal – ANA, Asiana Airlines, EVA Air, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, SWISS, THAI and Turkish Airlines. Air New Zealand plans to move to the terminal in mid-2014.

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UNITED DINING BONUS. If you’ve not already joined the United MileagePlus Dining program, you can earn a 3,000 mile bonus plus five MileagePlus miles for every dollar spent at hundreds of restaurants bars and clubs. Since the program is free and you are likely already patronizing many of these establishments, this is kind of a no-brainer. To get the 3,000-mile bonus, you must sign up between now and Oct 31 and spend $40 within 40 days of joining, and write a short online review of the program when prompted. Have you signed up yet?

INDY. United will add a single daily roundtrip between SFO and Indianapolis on January 7 using an Airbus A319. The flight will depart SFO at 1:35 and arrive IND at 8:51. On the return, the flight departs IND at 8 a.m. and arrives SFO at 10 a.m. (Have you seen Indy’s modern new airport yet? Nice!)

MORE PRECHECK. Everyone loves PreCheck to everyone should be happy to know that there will be PreCheck lanes at all three Bay Area airports by the end of this year. The TSA announced this month that it would expand PreCheck to 100 airports nationwide, including Oakland and San Jose. PreCheck is already in Terminal 1 (Delta boarding area) Terminal 2 (AA & Virgin) and Terminal 3 (UAL) as well as the international terminal entrypoints at SFO. Currently all major carriers except Southwest and JetBlue are part of the popular TSA program. Southwest told TravelSkills that it will be part of the program at some point in the fourth quarter.

MORE CLEAR HERE. CLEAR has launched at San Jose Airport, making it the ninth airport in the CLEAR Network, which now includes: San Francisco, Denver, Dallas-Fort Worth, Orlando, San Antonio and Westchester County. Houston Intercontinental and Hobby will come on line in November. With all the chatter about the TSA’s popular PreCheck program, and plenty of emails from readers asking if CLEAR is still worth the $179 annual fee, we called its co-founder and president Ken Cornick and asked him. He told TravelSkills: “CLEAR and PreCheck are highly complementary. CLEAR uses biometric technology to give customers the fastest, most predictable experience through airport security.   With CLEAR, members can leave at average of 30 minutes to an hour later for the airport with the assurance they will get through the long airport security lines in ~5 minutes or less each and every time.  In MCO, DEN and SFO – CLEAR and PreCheck are integrated so our members can benefit from the predictability and speed that CLEAR offers, and if eligible that day for PreCheck can integrate seamlessly into that screening lane and keep shoes on.”  The key word here is predictable– Clear offers a guarantee of faster passage through security while PreCheck offers no guarantee that you’ll be selected. Question to readers: How often does CLEAR get you to the head of the PreCheck line at SFO? Do you use CLEAR or PreCheck more often? 

Like what you are reading? Then please PLEASE forward this link to at least three frequent travelers and tell them to sign up for the Bay Area Traveler! THANKS!

Chris McGinnis


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  • JRSF

    I haven’t been able to predict when Pre-Check will let me through. Delta outbound at SFO is reliably a Yes. Delta JFK return, No. I fly mostly SWA but at least once a week there. Would be awesome to have that at OAK, although in fairness their TSA line is the usually the quickest one I use even for the 6a flight SWA mobs. If only the OAK baggage would be as speedy. . . .

  • David Troup

    I wish Clear lots of success, but I dropped my membership, feeling like Precheck was a better product and that the Precheck line is usually nonexistent which negates Clear’s benefits. But now that the TSA is opening Precheck to anyone and trying to expand the program by hundreds of thousands of users, that may change and there may be reason to consider using both programs in tandem.

    I have never (yet) had the experience of being denied use of the Precheck line, but I guess that can happen at random.

    I love Precheck, it’s like a return to the sanity of pre-9/11 security.

  • Chris McGinnis

    Thanks, Chuck! At least that United flight will be on a new (ish) A319, likely with wi-fi. Cheers– chris

  • Chuck Smith

    The SFO-IND nonstopper is such a great thing (at least for me, with family on the far end of that trip). Wish it was an airline that I enjoy traveling on more than United, but it’s been several years since a regular nonstop was available, so I’ll take it. And yes, the new IND terminal is beautiful and oh-so-easy to travel through!

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