A bright spot at LAX’s drab Terminal 3

Virgin America's Loft at LAX is hidden away in the upper level of Terminal 3 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Virgin America’s Loft at LAX is hidden away in the upper level of Terminal 3 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Anyone who has flown through Terminal 3 at Los Angeles International Airport knows that, despite efforts to gussy it up, it is a hulking relic from the 1960s.

To get inside, you must first pass through a TSA screening area wedged in a cramped, low-ceilinged and awkward space (that luckily has a mostly fast-moving PreCheck line). Once inside, there’s a Burger King, a Starbucks, a grab and go bakery and a few Hudson’s news shops. The outpost of LA’s popular Gladstone’s seafood restaurant is nice, but there’s frequently a line to get in, especially when flights are delayed.

Terminal 3 is the LAX home of Allegiant, Virgin America, Frontier, JetBlue and Spirit Airlines- all low-cost, low-fare carriers that don’t really have the funds for deep terminal renovations like Delta has underway at Terminal 5…or that the major international carriers (and the city) have created at the outstanding new Bradley International terminal.

Virgin's LAX Loft is not huge, but it feels that way due to brightness from floor to ceiling windows (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Virgin’s LAX Loft is not huge, but it feels that way due to brightness from floor to ceiling windows (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Standing out from the drab dreariness of Terminal 3 is Virgin America’s colorful LAX Loft. I have known about the Loft for a while– via Virgin’s PR machine, from TravelSkills readers, and from reading the lounge’s mixed reviews in the blogosphere. It’s been open since 2012.

Since I’ve had relatively good luck with flight delays at LAX, I have never had reason to decamp from the main terminal, so I’d never seen it in person.

When Virgin invited me to check it out during my recent trip to LA, I jumped at the chance.

Here’s the lowdown:

Entering the Virgins' LAX loft is like entering one of its planes. Moody & mod. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Entering the Virgins’ LAX loft is like entering one of its planes. Moody & mod. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Entry: Anyone traveling on Virgin America or its partner airlines can pay a $40 fee to enter the Loft. Full-fare first class passengers on long haul flights get in free. So do Gold and Silver Elevate members with their annually allotted day passes. Priority Pass or Lounge Club cardholders (plus companions) can also get in without a fee by presenting a valid membership card.

It’s located on the upper level of the terminal main gate area, accessible by elevators or a staircase and is open daily from 6am to 11pm. LAX is one of Virgin’s two primary hubs, so there is a steady stream of passengers all day long who might duck into the club.

Endlessly entertaining views plus loaner binoculars. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Endlessly entertaining views plus loaner binoculars. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The views: The club’s most outstanding feature? The breathtaking runway views. Plane-spotters can just sit back, relax and watch those colorful tails LAX is known for float by on the runway. Endlessly entertaining!

Wi-fi: free, password-protected, very fast and much better than the LAX’s free wi-fi. Plus, in Virgin style, there there are plenty of power plugs all over the place.

Design: It’s fun, mood lit and very much in keeping with what you see onboard Virgin America flights- lots of red, white and black. Modern furnishings (like Frank Gehry tables and big red Vitra sofas) float on a glossy gray (recycled material) floor. Regrettably, there is scant desk or table space for business travelers planning to get some work done. There’s a lively bar area, several separate seating areas, bathrooms, a marble-topped snack buffet and big views out to runways. There’s even a pair of powerful binoculars to check out what’s happening outside the big floor to ceiling windows.

I visited during late morning and only saw breakfast offerings like fruit, yogurt, pastries and cereal. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

I visited during late morning and only saw breakfast offerings like fruit, yogurt, pastries and cereal. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Food: Basic but good. There used to be a more elaborate buffet when Virgin Australia passengers used this lounge. But since that carrier moved into the Bradley International terminal last December, the repast is now on par with what you may find at most domestic US airline lounges- the current Loft menu in the morning includes pastries, bagels, breads, yogurt, fresh fruits, juices, cereal, and an espresso bar. In the afternoon/evenings, there is hot soup, breads, a cheese platter, fresh fruit, cookies and grab-and-go snacks like Krave Jerky and mixed nuts.

Hanging out at the bar and soaking up what's going on outside. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Hanging out at the bar and soaking up what’s going on outside. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Cocktails: Complimentary! I noted booze brands such as Glenfiddich, Jack Daniels, Tanqueray Sapphire, Bacardi and Sauza. Plus there are a couple vats of fruited, iced waters and an espresso bar. In addition to the usual beverages  you can also order “Lofty Libations” crafted by the bartender that include the Virgintini, Mile-High Margarita and Runway Ruddy Mary.

If you were stuck at LAX would you pony up the $40 for a visit? Have you visited Virgin’s LAX Loft? Please leave your comments below.

–Chris McGinnis

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Best & worst days for holiday trips

(Photo: Bert Kaufmann)

(Photo: Bert Kaufmann)

Holiday travel season usually mimics the peak summer travel season, which this year was very busy and very expensive, so I expect the same for the upcoming holiday season.

Screen Shot 2013-11-30 at 9.26.07 AMWhen’s the best time to buy airline tickets? Due to high demand, there simply are not any real airfare “deals” on the peak days around Christmas and New Year’s this year. Travelers who want the most convenient flights on their preferred airlines should book as soon as possible to get seats on those flights…otherwise they will likely be stuck paying the same high price for “dog flights” that depart super early or late, they’ll have to sit in those dreaded middle seats, or make several stops en route to their destinations. My favorite sites for shopping for air travel this year: Kayak.com and Routehappy.com.

Should I drive or fly this year? I always stick to the five-hour rule: If you can drive to your destination in five hours or less, it’s likely smarter to hit the road instead of the skies during the holidays. This is especially true for families traveling together. Good news this year is that gasoline prices are at their lowest in many years. One of my favorite new smartphone apps for driving trips is Waze, a GPS-based mapping tool that uses information provided by other drivers to help you avoid traffic, road hazards…and speed traps.

Screen Shot 2013-12-01 at 1.18.27 PM

What are the best days for traveling this year? The good news about this year’s holiday season is that it is longer than usual with Christmas and New Year’s falling on Wednesdays– the full season will be over two weeks long, which means more wiggle room for travelers. (Compared to a season when Christmas and New Year’s both fall on say, Sunday, which makes for a much more compact, crowded and expensive season.) Smart travelers will depart on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day and return on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day to avoid the biggest crowds and snag the lowest fares.

London in January? Why not? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

London in January? Why not? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Are there any alternatives or hidden secrets to getting good deals this year? If you have the flexibility to travel during the slowest times of year, the so called “dead weeks” of early December and early January, you can save 50%-70% on airfare or hotels. For example, airfares to Europe can be remarkably inexpensive during winter months. The best sites to shop for these dead week deals: Hotwire.com, Priceline.com and TravelZoo.com. It’s also a good idea to check out airline or hotel social media streams on sites like Twitter or Facebook to look for short term, last minute sales.

Is now a good time to redeem points or miles for trips? It’s nearly impossible to use airline frequent flyer awards during the blacked out, heavily restricted peak holiday season. Instead of dealing with those frustrations, focus on your credit card points! For example, the when redeeming Chase Ultimate Rewards points earned with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, you are not subject to blackouts or other restrictions. If a seat is available on any airline, you can get it!

What about airline baggage fees? If possible, avoid checking bags during the holidays– the risk of your bag getting lost and ruining your trip is just too high. Try to learn to live out of a carry on. If you have too much for a carry on, ship your bags ahead of time, but do so at the “ground” rate at UPS, FEDEX or the Postal Service. Shipping a 25 lb bag via next-day or two-day express is just too expensive.

What’s a good way to avoid holiday travel stress? Always try to book nonstop flights because you double your chances of a delay or cancellation with a one stop flight, even though you might save a few bucks. Another stress-busting move: Consider staying over in a hotel when visiting families during the holidays– rates at new hotels like a locally owned Best Western in or near suburban office parks hit annual lows during holidays (due to the lack of business travelers), and facilities are usually new and nice. Having your own space at a hotel is a big relief for both the traveler and the host during the stressy holidays.

Doesn't that look more appealing than a lumpy sofa bed? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Doesn’t that look more appealing than a lumpy sofa bed at the in-laws? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

‘Tis the season for Holiday Travel and I’m pleased to announce that I’ve teamed up with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card to produce a series of travel tips and advice for those heading over the river and through the woods this year. 

Chris McGinnis 

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SkyMiles upgrade (seriously) + Buying MQMs + Southwest shrinkage + Delta's big bump + Southwest surprise

Delta's Tiffany bag tag

Delta’s Tiffany & Co bag tag

Yesterday, Delta announced some welcome changes for its top tier platinum and diamond medallion flyers. This is especially good news considering the series of downgrades to the program we’ve seen over the last year. Regrettably, the move targets only Delta’s super-elite…the SkyMiles world is still a relatively cold and lonely place for those carrying silver and gold. 

FREE INTERNATIONAL UPGRADES…Well, almost. Diamond Medallions will finally have international upgrade certificates they can use on any flight no matter what fare they paid. Beginning in March of next year, Diamond members can select 4 Global Upgrades as one of their Choice benefits. These are good on any fare (except for the most restricted, and rare, E class) and subject to availability (we’ve been unable to determine how easy or hard this might be since Delta blocked Expert Flyer from showing upgrade space). Previously, systemwide upgrades were only good on pricey Y, B, or M fares. This move puts Delta in line with American, which offers similar systemwide upgrades to its top tier on any fare and above United, which requires a certain fare class to use systemwide upgrades. The new Global upgrades will also work on certain higher fare classes on KLM for upgrades to business and on Air France for upgrades to Premium Economy. Regional upgrades are another Choice option made available for Platinum (four certificates) and Diamond Medallions (eight certificates) and are good on any economy fare (except for E class). They are available to use on any flight that traditionally offers complimentary upgrades and can be requested and confirmed in advance. If no space is available, these upgrade certificates will receive a higher priority than complimentary upgrades.

UPGRADE CHANGES…If you are Hawaii-bound, Delta is now following United’s footsteps to offer free Medallion upgrades on flights that depart from Western cities. Flights from Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Seattle to Hawaii are now eligible for Medallion upgrades, but the Atlanta-Honolulu nonstop is not. Nor are any of Delta’s “direct” flights that stop over on the west coast on the way to Hawaii.  Delta giveth and taketh away though. Beginning March 1 of next year, those premium, flat-bedded, transcontinental flights between JFK and Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle (which don’t touch ATL) will no longer be eligible for complimentary upgrades. This means that a Diamond Medallion would have to redeem a Global upgrade, redeem miles, or purchase a business class fare (currently in the $3,500 range) to sit up front on those plush transcons.

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MORE CHOICE BENEFITS…Platinum and Diamond Medallions that reach certain flying thresholds will also have more choices next year. In addition to the new regional and global upgrades, starting in March Delta will add Global Entry application fee waivers (Diamond Medallion members get two and Platinum Medallion members get one. Value: $100 each) and two Diamond Medallion luggage tags from  Tiffany & Co.

Here’s Delta’s announcement regarding the coming changes.

Please leave your comments about the changes below! 

Lookout for Delta's holiday carts

Lookout for Delta’s holiday carts

DELTA CHEER CARTS MAKE HOLIDAY APPEARANCE…Delta’s flight attendants and pilots will be rolling out “cheer carts”  at various locations in Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle throughout the month. On the carts will be a selection of drinks, snacks, and gifts offered to passersby to promote the holiday spirit. Coca-Cola products and Biscoff are expected giveaways, but other treats will include airline swag like wings, t-shirts, scarves, and water bottles. Look for the carts on city streets throughout the holiday season as part of the airline’s surprise and delight efforts. To find out where the nearest cart may appear, visit Delta’s Facebook and Twitter profiles for more details. To watch the holiday video that features the cheer carts in action, click here. 

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 4.17.55 PMGOT CASH?, BUY MQMS…If you are short of MQMs for the year, Delta is following repeating its annual year-end opportunity to buy access to elite status at ridiculously high prices. (The deal was a lot better in leaner times! Remember this? Or the time Delta offered up to 15,000 MQMs for those who donated to charities like AID Atlanta or Grady Hospital? Those were the days!) Anyway… for flyers who are still missing MQMs, buying them is rarely the answer unless time is of the essence. Delta knows that many customers will come up short at the end of the year and has traditionally cashed in on those that need that slight nudge to the next level. The rates vary depending upon your Medallion level, so hold your nose and at least go check this link.  We are already getting comments about this like this one from CL: “Have you seen this year’s version of “buy your way to Medallion?” What a rip. Prices have doubled. Remember a few years ago where making a couple of $500 donations could get you 10k, and then last year, $995 cash got you 10k? This year it is $1,995 – what are they thinking?”

HOLIDAY FAVOR? Hey TICKET readers, will you please do us a favor? Please copy and paste the link to this post, forward it to at least FIVE FRIENDS and encourage them to sign up for The TICKET! We need more readers and this would help out immeasurably! THANK YOU!!

SOUTHWEST DITCHES THREE CITIES…Bags will no longer fly free from three cities beginning next summer when Southwest ditches service to Branson, Missouri; Jackson Mississippi; and Key West, Florida. None was able to sustain the demand that Southwest needed to continue operations there. The cities will be dropped from the route map next summer.

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DELTA BUMPS ENTIRE FLIGHT…Delta received some unwanted press recently when a Delta Connection flight was canceled for maintenance reasons from Gainesville, Fla. to Atlanta. Passengers may not have been so upset if they had not noticed the University of Florida basketball team boarding their same aircraft. They later learned that their flight was canceled so that the team could make their scheduled game in Connecticut. While the gate agent was not entirely forthcoming to passengers as to why the flight was canceled, Delta was certainly within reason to cancel the flight. The basketball team is also a Delta customer (sports charters are big business for airlines), and canceling one flight to move aircraft to serve another flight for maintenance reasons is not uncommon. What do you think about what happened? Would you have upset if the gate agent had been more honest about the situation?

SOUTHWEST SURPRISES FLYERS WITH NINTENDO…In a nifty partnership with Nintendo, customers aboard Southwest flight 1883 from New Orleans to Dallas Love Field on Nov. 26 received a free Wii U console. Mario, of Super Mario Brothers, was awaiting customers in the terminal to hand out their new high-definition video game system. Lucky flyers!

ATLANTA AIRPORT MANAGER RETIRES…Hartsfield Jackson’s airport manager is planning to retire on Jan. 3 after spending 37 years in the aviation industry. He has worked at Atlanta’s airport since 2010. Louis Miller has helped boost the airport’s economic status in the community while also managing the successful opening of the Maynard H. Jackson international terminal. A new interim manager will step in until another airport chief is hired.

Chris McGinnis & Ramsey Qubein

 

AVOID HOLIDAY HASSLES WITH VALET PARKING AT ATL! Have you noticed the flurry of men and women in green blazers on the lower level passenger pick up areas at ATL? They are new parking valet attendants from GreenCoat Auto Concierge & Valet service. For $20 per day, you can now drive to the airport, leave your car with a GreenCoat at the terminal, and head off on your trip. The valet will drive your car to a secure, indoor, off-airport lot and park it. When you return, just call GreenCoat and let them know you’re coming, and an attendant will bring your car back to the airport terminal, hand it over to you, and you drive home. Nice! GreenCoat has just signed on as a sponsor of The TICKET so you’ll be hearing more about the service in coming months. Give it a try and let us know how it goes! NOTE: ADVANCE RESERVATIONS ARE REQUIRED. Special for TICKET readers: First timers get 1,000 Delta SkyMiles! 

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****

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Free booze + Airport roads + TSA tax + CNN @ATL + Delta #1

(Photo: jspatchwork / Flickr)

(Photo: jspatchwork / Flickr)

FREE BOOZE FOR EVERYONE…Earlier this month, Delta introduced a change that all international passengers are sure to like: free cocktails for all economy passengers on international flights that feature BusinessElite service. This means that transatlantic, transpacific, and deep South American flights will now offer complimentary wine, beer, and cocktails to all passengers on board. Until now, only BusinessElite and Economy Comfort passengers were enjoying the free stuff. This welcome change puts Delta in line with its joint venture partners including Air France and KLM.

ATL AIRPORT ROADWAY DETOURS/DELAYS…Drivers will soon notice detours and unexpected delays on roadways leading from I-85 to airport terminals, which began last Thursday (and in which your TICKET editor was stuck in unexpected traffic). The roadway improvement project will upgrade the roadway network between Interstate 85 and Camp Creek Parkway north of the airport, and Riverdale Road to the south. We’ll all have to be on the lookout for detours, rerouting, dust and dirt through the end of next year when the project should be complete.

AFA Airsick bagTSA FEES COULD DOUBLE…Airlines for America, a trade association that supports airlines and air travelers, is lobbying Congress to nix a proposed raise in the Sept. 11security fee, which funds the TSA. The hike would double the fee from $2.50 per flight segment to $5 per segment. Airlines argue it could affect ticket sales. The trade association is even distributing airsickness bags at airports with the slogan, “are high air taxes on travel making you sick?” Cuts from budget sequestration have prompted this scramble for additional revenue, but critics find it hard to believe that an bureaucratic organization like the TSA needs to have more funds thrown at it rather than improving its existing operation.

READER NOTE: This week we are experimenting with posting The TICKET more frequently…this week you’ll get 3-4 shorter-than-usual issues from us with various bits and pieces of travel news. Let us know what you think.

 

CNN's in depth behind the scenes look at ATL

CNN’s in depth behind the scenes look at ATL

CNN PROFILES ATLANTA AIRPORT…CNN recently profiled the full 24-hour operation of Atlanta’s airport in a fascinating article on its website. While much of it may not be a surprise to seasoned travelers, there are lots of interesting tidbits and photographs that give a behind-the-scenes look at the airport. For example, it was shocking to read about the number of homeless people that sleep at the airport and the amount of people that spend the night at the airport due to flight disruptions.

AMEX PLATINUM CARD DOWNGRADE… American Express Platinum credit card holders may be in for a surprise next year when the card’s airport lounge program drops access to American Admirals Clubs and US Airways Clubs on March 22, 2014. This means that the AMEX Plat card (we’re talking about the grey, non-Delta affiliated card) will now only provide access to Delta lounges domestically. For those who were using the card to access other airline lounges because they are already Sky Club members, maybe it’s time to reconsider the $450 annual fee.

Delta at SFO (Chris McGinnis)

Delta at SFO (Chris McGinnis)

DELTA TOPS BIZ TRAVEL SURVEY…Delta kept its top-place position for the third time in three years in the Business Travel News Annual Airline Survey. Voted on by travel agents and travel managers, the survey targets those with the best knowledge for capturing business travel data. The survey focuses on inflight amenities and overall service, but does place an emphasis on flyer programs—if it did, Delta surely would not have scored as high. Do you agree? Does the Delta’s captive audience in ATL really have it so bad compared to those in other airline hub cities? As much as we like to gripe about the big D, I think Atlantans are actually pretty lucky. Am I wrong? Please leave your comments below.

Chris McGinnis & Ramsey Qubein

 

AVOID HOLIDAY HASSLES WITH VALET PARKING AT ATL! Have you noticed the flurry of men and women in green blazers on the lower level passenger pick up areas at ATL? They are new parking valet attendants from GreenCoat Auto Concierge & Valet service. For $20 per day, you can now drive to the airport, leave your car with a GreenCoat at the terminal, and head off on your trip. The valet will drive your car to a secure, indoor, off-airport lot and park it. When you return, just call GreenCoat and let them know you’re coming, and an attendant will bring your car back to the airport terminal, hand it over to you, and you drive home. Nice! GreenCoat has just signed on as a sponsor of The TICKET so you’ll be hearing more about the service in coming months. Give it a try and let us know how it goes! NOTE: ADVANCE RESERVATIONS ARE REQUIRED. Special for TICKET readers: First timers get 1,000 Delta SkyMiles! 

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****

Subscribe to The TICKET via E-mail!

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Strangers in the PreCheck line…

Just who are these new people in the PreCheck lane? (Photo: Jaxworld)

Just who are these new people in the PreCheck lane? (Photo: Jaxworld)

WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE? Have you ever been in the PreCheck line along with someone who has no idea why they are there? Ive noticed is a lot lately. And I’ve heard from TICKET readers who wonder the same thing.

How could someone in the PreCheck line NOT know what it is, or that they don’t have to remove shoes, belts or laptops when they go through?

Turns out it’s because the TSA has vetted them, allowing them to use the PreCheck lane to relieve the pressure on the regular lanes. Here’s what TSA spokesperson Nico Melendez told The TICKET:

“Currently, TSA’s Secure Flight system uses information provided when making a flight reservation – such as name, date of birth, and gender – to identify and prevent known or suspected terrorists or other individuals from gaining access to airplanes or secure areas of airports. TSA will now use that information to identify passengers who present a lower risk to aviation security and offer those passengers expedited screening. This initiative will occur on a flight-by-flight basis and will not require passengers to enroll in a DHS Trusted Traveler program. If a passenger is eligible for expedited screening for a particular flight, a TSA Pre✓™ indicator will be embedded in the barcode of the boarding pass so that when scanned at the checkpoint, the passenger may be referred to a TSA Pre✓™ lane….This process will allow TSA to maintain its high security standards and create greater efficiency while offering more travelers the benefit of expedited screening through TSA PreCheck lanes.”

What do you think? Have you noticed this? Please leave your comments or observations below.

Chris McGinnis 

AVOID HOLIDAY HASSLES WITH VALET PARKING AT ATL! Have you noticed the flurry of men and women in green blazers on the lower level passenger pick up areas at ATL? They are new parking valet attendants from GreenCoat Auto Concierge & Valet service. For $20 per day, you can now drive to the airport, leave your car with a GreenCoat at the terminal, and head off on your trip. The valet will drive your car to a secure, indoor, off-airport lot and park it. When you return, just call GreenCoat and let them know you’re coming, and an attendant will bring your car back to the airport terminal, hand it over to you, and you drive home. Nice! GreenCoat has just signed on as a sponsor of The TICKET so you’ll be hearing more about the service in coming months. Give it a try and let us know how it goes! NOTE: ADVANCE RESERVATIONS ARE REQUIRED. Special for TICKET readers: First timers get 1000 Delta SkyMiles! >>See ad…click on ad>>

In case you missed it:

Try the new Greencoat Valet Parking at ATL and earn 1,000 SkyMiles

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8 things to like about Delta’s new California Shuttle

****

Subscribe to The TICKET via E-mail!

Follow @cjmcginnis on Twitter!

CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF THE TICKET? Then follow us on Facebook! Join the thousands of TICKET readers who get a regular dose of fare deals, travel news, and advice via our Facebook page. Come on and join the fun…and stay informed.

 

Did I get it right about Atlanta?

Have you been inside the mode new Hyatt Atlanta Midtown hotel at 10th & Peachtree yet? (Chris McGinnis)

Have you been inside the mod new Hyatt Atlanta Midtown hotel at 10th & Peachtree yet? (Chris McGinnis)

As many TICKET readers may know, I wear a lot of hats in the travel biz… one of my roles is Business Travel Columnist for BBC… I write the monthly “BBC Business Trip” column which features what’s new, exciting, helpful or interesting about major business travel destinations around the world.

This month, I wrote about our home town, Atlanta and I’d like to hear what you all think… did I get it right? What did I leave out? What sort of advice would you give a business traveler headed to Atlanta for a few days? 

Here’s the introduction to my story… click on the links provided to read the whole thing. 

Business Trip Atlanta BBCLike its official symbol, the phoenix, Atlanta is rising from the ashes of the recent recession, maintaining its position as the commercial capital of the fast-growing southeastern US.

Over the last five years Atlanta has added a $1.4 billion international airport terminal, opened or renovated a slew of hotels, attracted additional national and regional business headquarters, and spurred development of once decaying downtown neighbourhoods with multimillion dollar mixed-use developments and parks.

Evidence of Atlanta’s comeback: overnight visitation was up 9% in 2012 compared to 2011, according to the city’s Convention and Visitors’ Bureau. In October 2013, Korean Air added daily 407-seat Airbus A380 nonstop flights between Atlanta and Seoul. The city ranked fourth in the US for meetings and conventions in 2012, after Orlando, Chicago and Las Vegas. Its surprisingly sophisticated and dynamic dining scene continues to enthuse visitors and locals alike – Atlantans dine out more often than New York or Chicago residents, and enjoy restaurant prices well below the national average, according to Zagat.

Most business travellers arriving in Atlanta will meet, eat and sleep somewhere along the north-south corridor, which starts in the city’s central core (downtown) and moves north to MidtownBuckhead and the sprawling Perimeter Centre/Dunwoody area, which has more office space than downtown. Stick close to this spine and you can get around easily by taxi or MARTA (the city’s rapid rail system).  But if business takes you into the tech-heavy northern suburbs such as Marietta, Alpharetta or Gwinnett County, a rental car is necessary to traverse the sprawl.

I wrote about the new mod new Hyatt in Midtown (a down to the studs revamp), the chic Le Meridien out by Perimeter Mall, the classy Mandarin Oriental near Lenox and the popular St Regis, Buckhead. For dining, I suggested The Optimist, King + Duke, KR Steakbar and the unusual new Gunshow. I suggested a walk or ride along the new Eastside Trail and Beltline, and talked a bit about southern manners.

Please take a read and let me know what I may have missed! What would YOU suggest to an international business traveler coming to ATL? (Leave your comments below) And use this as a resource to send out to colleagues coming into town.

Chris McGinnis 

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Southwest (but not AirTran) joins PreCheck

TSA PreCheck lanes (Chris McGinnis)

TSA PreCheck lanes (Chris McGinnis)

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) today announced the expansion of TSA PreCheck to Southwest Airlines, Atlanta’s second largest carrier.  

Important: This does NOT apply to flights on AirTran Airways, which Southwest Airlines purchased in 2011. Why? A Southwest spokesperson told The TICKET: “It’s a function of technology. We are on two different reservations systems. With AirTran flights decreasing each schedule release, the technology was only enabled on Southwest.”

Today’s announcement makes a total of eight domestic carriers including: Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways and Virgin America. 

As most frequent travelers know, PreCheck allows pre-approved travelers to leave on their shoes, light outerwear and belt, keep their laptop in its case and their 3-1-1 compliant liquids/gels bag in a carry-on in select screening lanes at 100 airports nationwide.

Passengers who are eligible for TSA PreCheck include U.S. citizens of frequent traveler programs — including Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards — invited by participating airlines. Additionally, U.S. citizens who are members of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveler program and Canadian citizens who are members of CBP’s NEXUS program qualify to participate. Later this year TSA will launch an application program, allowing more U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to enroll in TSA PreCheck.

tsa_precheck_boardingIf a Southwest Airlines passenger is eligible for expedited screening, a TSA PreCheck indicator will be embedded in the barcode of the boarding pass so that when scanned at the checkpoint, the you’ll be granted access to a TSA PreCheck lane. Southwest Airlines will also print a TSA PreCheck indicator directly on the boarding pass so passengers will know in advance that they have been cleared for expedited screening. But remember, the TSA warns that is will always incorporate random and unpredictable security measures throughout the airport, and no individual will be guaranteed expedited screening. (which is why I still carry a CLEAR card, which works at both SFO and San Jose)

Here’s how it works:

Elite level Rapid Rewards members will receive notification that he/she is eligible to opt-in to the program and chooses to participate or a passenger includes a Known Traveler Number within a reservation, Southwest Airlines will share certain information with the TSA Secure Flight System.

Note: Only reservations booked after opting-in are eligible for TSA PreCheck.

Global Entry or Trusted Traveler participants will need to provide their CBP-assigned PASS ID number in the “Known Traveler #” field during the booking process at southwest.com andswabiz.com. The passenger’s Trusted Traveler information will be submitted along with reservation information to TSA’s Secure Flight system. Trusted Traveler program members should also remember to enter their full name, date of birth, and PASS ID exactly as it appears on their membership card.

tsa_precheck_whosflying

IMPORTANT: Global Entry and CBP Trusted Traveler participants can add their PASS ID number to their Southwest Rapid Rewards Member profile to have the number automatically sent to TSA when booking reservations. 

For more information, see www.southwest.com/TSAprecheck.

Chris McGinnis 

*****

In case you missed it:

ATL ranks last + more Delta devaluations + 747 refurb complete + loaded guns

Holiday travel advice fit for a Queen

New rules about using electronics onboard

ATL Valet Parking + IHOP + SkyMiles downgrade + 717 delay + Double miles + Hot Nuts

8 things to like about Delta’s new California Shuttle

****

Follow @cjmcginnis on Twitter!

CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF THE TICKET? Then follow us on Facebook! Join the thousands of TICKET readers who get a regular dose of fare deals, travel news, and advice via our Facebook page. Come on and join the fun…and stay informed.

Valet parking at ATL + 1,000 Delta SkyMiles (sponsored)

Make your reservation, then look for the green blazer at the curb at ATL! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Make your reservation, then look for the green blazer at the curb at ATL! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

How many times have you been slowed down by the hassle of finding parking at ATL…schlepping your bags across a cold, rainy, or dark parking lot…or riding in a bouncy shuttle bus through traffic to or from the terminal?

Wouldn’t it be nice to just drive your car to the front door of the airport, and hand your keys to a valet who is waiting there for you?  When you return from your trip, the valet is there waiting for you, keys in hand, car warm and dry, and you jump in and drive home?

This fall, GreenCoat Auto Concierge & Valet Service cranked up operations at ATL, and it has partnered with The TICKET to get word out to frequent travelers in and around Atlanta.

make_a_reservationPartnerships like this help fund The TICKET and keep it free for readers, so we encourage you to read on, learn more about this unique new service… and give GreenCoat a try!

GreenCoat is currently offering an introductory rate of just $20 per day to encourage first time users. In addition, they are offering 1,000 Delta SkyMiles to all TICKET readers! (Just enter coupon code #SkyMiles when making your online reservation.)

Here’s how to try it for yourself:

1> Make advance reservations. GreenCoat does not have a valet stand at the airport like you might see at a restaurant. You must make a reservation in advance via www.gogreencoat.com or by calling 678-865-8400. Upon making a reservation, you will receive a courtesy phone call from a GreenCoat concierge to confirm all details.

2> Meet your GreenCoat concierge at your selected terminal door at ATL at your selected time. You just saved 20 – 30 minutes on departure!

3> When returning to ATL, text or call GreenCoat when you land.

4> Meet your GreenCoat concierge at your selected exit door. You just saved another 20 – 30 minutes at arrival!

Ameripark CEO Chip Patterson

AmeriPark CEO Chip Patterson

GreenCoat is part of Atlanta-based AmeriParkthe largest valet parking company in the US.  The company was started in 1986 by longtime TICKET reader Chip Patterson—he or one of his valet parkers likely took care of your car at a Buckhead restaurant, mall or hotel back then.

Now, AmeriPark operates all over the US, and offers similar airport valet parking services in Birmingham, Charleston and Louisville.

Please, give GreenCoat, The TICKET’s new sponsor, a try and let us know what you think!

Make your online reservations here.  Leave your comments, questions or experiences about the new service below.

See www.gogreencoat.com

 

*****

In case you missed it:

ATL ranks last + more Delta devaluations + 747 refurb complete + loaded guns

Holiday travel advice fit for a Queen

New rules about using electronics onboard

ATL Valet Parking + IHOP + SkyMiles downgrade + 717 delay + Double miles + Hot Nuts

8 things to like about Delta’s new California Shuttle

****

Follow @cjmcginnis on Twitter!

CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF THE TICKET? Then follow us on Facebook! Join the thousands of TICKET readers who get a regular dose of fare deals, travel news, and advice via our Facebook page. Come on and join the fun…and stay informed.

ATL ranks last + more Delta devaluations + 747 refurb complete + loaded guns

Tempting, yes. Healthy? Not so much. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Tempting, yes. Healthy? Not so much. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

ATLANTA AIRPORT FOOD RANKS LAST. First, the good news: Overall, airport fare has become a lot healthier in recent years… we’ve come a long way from those wizened wieners and dried out triangles of pizza from years gone by. According to a new study from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, 76% of airport restaurants offer at least one cholesterol free, plant-based entrée such as salads, veggie soups, wraps or burgers—that’s up from just 57% in 2001. Now the bad news… all those yummy Chick-fil-a sandwiches with waffle fries, Varsity dogs and rings with F.O.s and IHOP pancakes have put our airport at the bottom of the list when it comes to healthy food. According to the study, only 51% of the restaurants at ATL offer at least one high-fiber, cholesterol free option. ATL has ranked last for the past three years. Airports in Denver, Detroit, Chicago and Los Angeles ranked first, with over 80% of restaurants offering healthy options. What’s your favorite restaurant or food stand at ATL? Does it offer anything “healthy?” Please leave your comments below.

One Flew South at ATL Concourse E has some healthy options (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

One Flew South at ATL Concourse E has some healthy options (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

IN SEARCH OF HEALTHY FOOD? Here are some suggestions from the Physicians Committee for finding healthy food at ATL: Fresh Healthy Café (Concourse C) may be travelers best bet with fresh kale wraps, dairy- and gluten-free salads, mega berry smoothies, and spiced apple oatmeal bowls. Try cauliflower and parsnip soup, edamame, and garden mint sushi at One Flew South (Concourse E) or stop by D8 Grill for a black bean burger. Checkpoint Grill (Concourse T) offers fire-roasted tomato soup and a grilled Southern vegetable plate, overflowing with grilled asparagus, collard greens, and a side of sweet potato fries.

AWARD CHART CHANGES PART DEUX…Following United’s move last week to drastically increase mileage prices, Delta has taken the knife to its SkyMiles chart yet again. Despite already announced increases beginning June 1, 2014, Delta is raising rates for awards for travel on or after Feb. 1, 2014, clearly an opportunity Delta did not want to miss for snatching away more hard-earned miles. Take a peek and you’ll see increases on popular awards including low-level awards in first class to Hawaii (up 5K from 85,000 to 90,000 miles) and business class to the South Asian subcontinent (up 20K from 120,000 to 140,000 miles) and in low-level economy to Hawaii (up 5k from 40,000 to 45,000 miles), the Middle East (80,000 to 85,000 miles), and the South Asian subcontinent (80,000 to 85,000 miles). And if you are crazy enough to redeem high-level awards for business class travel, increases to Africa and most of Asia are also in place. These are additional increases set to take effect before the third devaluation in June. Confused yet? There are now THREE charts to muddle through: current, interim (Feb 1-May 31, 2014), and new. Good grief! Thoughts please at the bottom!

DOUBLE MILES FROM SEATTLE…Delta is really sinking its teeth into the Seattle market and is offering double miles AND double MQMs on all Delta-operated flights between SEA and Anchorage, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Portland, San Diego, and San Francisco. In what is direct, head-to-head competition with partner Alaska Airlines, this is certain to get some attention from local flyers. Even better, the promotion lasts until October 31, 2014. When was the last time you saw a year-round promotion? Maybe it’s time to move to Seattle! Register here

Virgin Atlantic's Clubhouse spa at London Heathrow Terminal 2 (Josh Friedman)

Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouse spa at London Heathrow Terminal 3 (Photo: Josh Friedman)

DELTA MAKES BIG LONDON CHANGES…In partnership with Virgin Atlantic, Delta is moving its JFK, Boston, and Seattle nonstops to terminal 3 at Heathrow beginning April 2, 2014. This is a big plus for passengers excited about using Virgin’s famous Clubhouse lounge. All other Delta flights will continue to operate from the newly-renovated-but-still-not-as-sexy terminal 4 including the nonstop flights to Atlanta. This may cause some initial confusion, and passengers connecting at Heathrow from other SkyTeam flights (a minority of travelers overall), will have to switch terminals. Delta is also adding a second nonstop from Heathrow to Detroit beginning June 1, 2014. Virgin and Delta are also re-timing some of their flights to spread out frequency on the London-New York route with a total of nine departures daily including departure every 30 minutes during the early evening peak from New York.

AMEX POINT TRANSFER BONUS. American Express is offering a 20% bonus on points transfers to partner British Airways through Dec 31… and a 30% bonus on transfers to Virgin Atlantic through Nov 30.

All of Delta's 747's now refurbed (Photo: Redlegsfan)

All of Delta’s 747′s now refurbed (Photo: Redlegsfan)

DELTA COMPLETES 747 REFURB…All of Delta’s 747s are now equipped with comfortable flat-bed seating in BusinessElite. With 16 747s in the fleet and a full schedule between the U.S. and Asia, it is no easy task to pull them aside for interior refitting. The main deck biz class features 1-2-1 seating in the main section with 1-1 seating upstairs and in the lower deck’s nose section. These aircraft also received new economy class upgrades with entertainment systems installed at all seats, which was a much-needed and, now appreciated, overhaul.

HILTON OFFERS DOUBLE MQMs…Earn 250 MQMs with every two-night qualifying stay at a Hilton family property between now and Dec. 13, 2013. Plus, you will receive double SkyMiles if you have opted to receive points and miles with your Hilton HHonors account. Click here to register.

TSA SETS NEW RECORD FOR GUNS FOUND; ATL #1…The total tally for guns found year-to-date in coat pockets or in carry-on bags at airports across the U.S. comes to more than 1,500. The majority of the guns were loaded, and a third of them even had a bullet in the chamber. Atlanta is still the number one airport for guns discovered at TSA checkpoints with 91 found so far this year. Plans are in place to increase the signage indicating that weapons are not allowed. Perhaps these people forget they have them with them? Or are they trying to prove a point? Or were they living in a cave for the past decade? What do you think?

EXPERTFLYER LOSES UPGRADE DATA…If you use ExpertFlyer.com to access upgrade data, both Delta and United have nixed some of this information from public view via the service. Both airlines prefer to keep this information private, but for Delta frequent flyers searching for certain upgrade availability, it was often the best way to find RU/OU classes (complimentary domestic and Caribbean/Central American upgrades). If you are a Medallion and buying a ticket within your upgrade window, Delta.com will still show if upgrade inventory is there, but ExpertFlyer gave this information in advance of the upgrade window. Luckily, the inventory for systemwide certificate or mileage upgrades (RP/OP) still shows on ExpertFlyer.

NEW FLAT-BED SEATS ON JFK-LAX…Delta is placing three Boeing 757 aircraft equipped with new Business Elite flat bed seats onto the premium JFK-LAX run beginning July 1, 2014. Tickets are now available for purchase. By 2015, all flights on this route will feature the flat bed seats up front. These aircraft are primarily used on long-haul flying to Europe and South America plus these premium transcontinental flights between JFK and LAX, SFO, and SEA. LAX will be the first to see officially these on the schedule; if you know your summer plans, the beds are open for booking!

Chris McGinnis & Ramsey Qubein

*****

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Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard – $89 Annual Fee Card     Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard - $89 Annual Fee Card

  • Earn 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 or more on purchases in the first 90 days from account opening. 40,000 bonus miles equates to $400 off your next travel redemption!
  • 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 12 months after account opening. After that, variable APR, currently 14.99% or 18.99%, based upon your creditworthiness
  • Earn 2X miles on all purchases
  • No mileage caps or foreign transaction fees
  • Get 10% miles back when you redeem for travel statement credits (i.e. redeem 25,000 miles for travel and get 2,500 miles back)
  • Use your card to book through any airline, hotel or discount travel engine with no blackout dates or seat restrictions
  • Easily redeem your miles for statement credits towards all or a portion of your travel purchases within the last 90 days
  • Complimentary online FICO® Score access for Arrival cardmembers

 

ATL Valet Parking + IHOP + SkyMiles downgrade + 717 delay + Double miles + Hot Nuts

The first ever airport IHOP opened last month at ATL (Chris McGinnis)

The first ever airport IHOP opened last month at ATL (Chris McGinnis)

FIRST AIRPORT IHOP LOCATION OPENS IN ATLANTA…Need a maple or boysenberry syrup-drenched griddle before takeoff or a carb reload after landing? Well, ATL can now proudly proclaim that it is the first airport to offer an IHOP at its terminal. The restaurant is dubbed “IHOP Express,” and it’s open 24 hours a day. It’s located before security in the main terminal atrium with seating for 100. A “to go” section will be available for those that prefer their pancakes on the plane instead of having them in the restaurant to enjoy. IHOP says it plans to open other airport locations in the near future.

VALET PARKING ARRIVES AT ATL. Have you noticed the flurry of men and women in green blazers on the lower level passenger pick up areas at ATL? They are new parking valet attendants from GreenCoat Auto Concierge & Valet service. For $20 per day, you can now drive to the airport, leave your car with a GreenCoat at the terminal, and head off on your trip. The valet will drive your car to a secure, indoor, off-airport lot and park it. When you return, just call GreenCoat and let them know you’re coming, and an attendant will bring your car back to the airport terminal, hand it over to you, and you drive home. Nice! GreenCoat has just signed on as a sponsor of The TICKET so you’ll be hearing more about the service in coming months. Give it a try and let us know how it goes! NOTE: ADVANCE RESERVATIONS ARE REQUIRED. Special for TICKET readers: First timers get 1000 Delta SkyMiles! >>See ad…click on ad>>

Delta Boeing 717

DELTA BOEING 717 DELAYS DUE TO CERTIFICATION ISSUES…The Boeing 717s coming from AirTran to the Delta fleet were originally supposed to enter service in September, but snags with FAA certification of the aircraft have pushed the first flight into late October. (First flight to Newark was on Friday Oct 25) One of the problems that had arisen involved tray tables in the emergency exit rows, which needed to be reworked before approved. The rows were readjusted to accommodate for Delta’s Economy Comfort seating. The updated 717s will eventually replace many of Delta’s ancient DC-9s and cramped CRJs.

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SKY MILES AWARD BOOKING HOLDS BITE THE DUST…Delta quietly discontinued its policy for 48-hour courtesy holds on award bookings for elite members. This change was proposed to be a positive for customers since it will make more award space available rather than having it tied up in “holds” for customers. However, for many passengers, the reverse is true since it means that travelers will have to lock in their trip right away, and using the clunky delta.com reservation process makes that even more cumbersome since finding connecting flights on award partners and organizing hotels make things more complex. Just when you thought the Delta award booking process could not get more difficult, it got worse. If you don’t have free mileage redeposit as a Diamond or Platinum Medallion, how will this  change affect you? Please leave your comments below.

Progress on Delta's installation of flat bed seating

Progress on Delta’s installation of flat bed seating

MORE DELTA UPDATES:  Delta will soon add new flat bed business class seats on its 767-300 flights between ATL and Zurich. Currently 69% of Delta’s international fleet have lie-flat biz class seats. Delta’s once per week nonstops between ATL and Freeport, Bahamas starting Dec 19. Delta will test the waters in Haiti with a new nonstop 737 flight between ATL and Port-au-Prince starting next June, but the seasonal service will only run through August.

DELTA’S HOLIDAY SAFETY VIDEO. It’s not even Halloween yet! But with everyone already talking about the holiday travel season, Delta’s just released its new holiday themed pre-flight safety video. Check it out for a few cameos from familiar faces…and the same kinda cute ‘n corny antics from the current pre-flight video collection. Insiders say that Delta’s already working on a new round of in-flight safety videos…we’ve heard that some of Delta’s top brass ordered the update… stay tuned! What do you think? Please leave your comments below.

DOUBLE SOUTHWEST RAPID REWARDS POINTS…Between now and Nov. 21, Rapid Rewards members will receive double points on Southwest flights. To register for the promotion, visit www.southwest.com/nationwidedouble. New Southwest flights from ATL to Jacksonville, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Boston, and San Antonio crank up next April (replacing AirTran service), and sale fares as low as $99 one way are in place to kick off the new schedule. Travelers to or from San Juan can enjoy triple Rapid Rewards points for travel between now and Dec. 12 no matter what their destination or origination.

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No more hot nuts on Delta's overseas flights (Photo: SFO777/FlyerTalk)

No more hot nuts on Delta’s overseas flights (Photo: SFO777/FlyerTalk)

NO MORE HOT NUTS?…Delta has revamped Business Elite meal service again, and some customers may have strong feelings about the changes. In the new service, hot nuts have been eliminated from the cocktail service, and customers are pushed right into the appetizer along with their first drink. (However, packaged nuts are offered with pre-flight beverages before take off.) In addition, drinks and trays are delivered from an economy class-style cart cleverly disguised with a cloth to hide its industrial side. The soup and salad course are now served together. The overall change is meant to speed up meal service to allow for more sleeping time, which some customers may appreciate, but for others…the change could be perceived as a downgrade to the more robust offerings that the Business Elite brand was based upon when launched. What do you think about these changes? Have you noticed them yet? Please leave your comments below. 

AMERICAN EXPRESS CENTURION LOUNGE OPENS AT DFW…Following a recent opening in Las Vegas, Amex has opened another Centurion Lounge; this time, at Dallas-Fort Worth’s international terminal D. The airport lounge is swankier than most facilities in the U.S. because it features its own spa (offering 15-minute treatments to all entrants for free), more substantial food menus in partnership with Dean Fearing of Fearing’s restaurant in Dallas, signature cocktails by Jim Meehan, and concierge services that go beyond just airline issues to extend to destination assistance. The best news of all is that American Express Platinum (Note: NOT SkyMiles Platinum) cardholders now receive free access to the Centurion lounge system (previously, it was reserved only for Centurion or “black” cardholders). Access comes with two guests or one’s spouse and children and includes all Centurion lounges in the system including Las Vegas. Day passes for $50 are open to cardholders of other American Express cards. Our sister publication The B.A.T. reports that a new Centurion Lounge will open at San Francisco International next summer, located in United’s Terminal 3. (Delta, Southwest & AirTran fly out of Terminal 1)

$100 HOTEL ROOMS IN NYC? YEP. Anyone who has traveled to New York recently has felt the pain of some of the highest hotel rates in the country. But that will change during the cold dark weeks of early January. From Jan 3-12, you’ll find rates of $100, $200 and $300 available at a variety of properties, (many of which currently go for nearly $500 a night), so the savings can be substantial. For example, the popular Affinia Manhattan is going for $100 per night; the hip and brand new Refinery Hotel (garment district) and Jade hotel (Greenwich Village) are going for $200 per night. For $300 you can squeeze in the trendy new Thompson LES (Lower East Side) for $300. For a full listing of participating hotels and how to get the discount see this. 

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DELTA MOST PUNCTUAL U.S. AIRLINE IN SEPTEMBER…Would it surprise you to learn that Delta had the most on-time flights of any major U.S. airline in September? We here at The Ticket have been impressed with the smooth operation of our Delta flights over the past few months, and Delta’s 89.3 percent of on-time arrivals in September, according to FlightStats, is not surprising. On-time flights are defined as those that arrive within 15 minutes of schedule. Behind Delta was Alaska with 86.8 percent and Virgin America with 84.8 percent. Southwest had a poor showing with only 76.6 percent of its flights arriving on time in September. What have been your recent experiences?

DELTA DOUBLES UP TO SAO PAULO…Beginning in March 2014, Delta will place a second aircraft on the daily service rotation to Sao Paulo, Brazil. Like all other Sao Paulo flights, the second flight will feature full flat-bed seats in Business Elite and Economy Comfort seating in the main cabin. Delta secured the extra landing slot from the Brazilian authorities, and it is made even more beneficial for travelers thanks to the codeshare possibilities with Brazilian airline partner GOL

Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard - $89 Annual Fee CardHOW TO GET A $400 AIRLINE TICKET FOR $89: Want to snag an easy 40,000 bonus miles? Earn 2x miles on all purchases? Avoid obnoxious foreign transaction fees? Get TripIt Pro for free? Check out the new Barclaycard promo here or at the bottom of this post. Easy peasy! Money Magazine says that the  Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard is the BEST reward card out there. Check it out and help out The TICKET! When you apply via our links we earn a commission. THANKS!

Ramsey Qubein & Chris McGinnis

*****

Subscribe to The TICKET via E-mail!

Follow @cjmcginnis on Twitter!

CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF THE TICKET? Then follow us on Facebook! Join the thousands of TICKET readers who get a regular dose of fare deals, travel news, and advice via our Facebook page. Come on and join the fun…and stay informed.

 

Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard – $89 Annual Fee Card     Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard - $89 Annual Fee Card

  • Earn 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 or more on purchases in the first 90 days from account opening. 40,000 bonus miles equates to $400 off your next travel redemption!
  • 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 12 months after account opening. After that, variable APR, currently 14.99% or 18.99%, based upon your creditworthiness
  • Earn 2X miles on all purchases
  • No mileage caps or foreign transaction fees
  • Get 10% miles back when you redeem for travel statement credits (i.e. redeem 25,000 miles for travel and get 2,500 miles back)
  • Use your card to book through any airline, hotel or discount travel engine with no blackout dates or seat restrictions
  • Easily redeem your miles for statement credits towards all or a portion of your travel purchases within the last 90 days
  • Complimentary online FICO® Score access for Arrival cardmembers

 

8 things to like about Delta’s new California Shuttle

 

Nice view out the window as  the Delta California Shuttle arrives at LAX. (Chris McGinnis)

Nice view out the window as the Delta California Shuttle arrives at LAX. (Chris McGinnis)

Good news for TravelSkills readers who spend a lot of time on the West Coast! In early September,  Delta added hourly “California Shuttle” flights between San Francisco International and Los Angeles International using a fleet of Embraer 175 jets. And last week, Delta  announced that starting next April it will add six flights per day between SFO and Seattle using the same type of aircraft. 

Delta now offers up to 15 flights per day on the busy SFO-LAX route using the 76-seat Embraer 175 operated by its partner Compass Airlines. Flights depart SFO as early as 6 a.m. and return from LAX as late as 9 p.m.

Delta recently invited me to give the new service a try on a Tues-Sat trip from SFO to LAX.

Here’s what I liked:

Loath crowds? Delta's Terminal 1 is nearly empty mid-afternoon (Chris McGinnis)

Loath crowds? Delta’s Terminal 1 is nearly empty mid-afternoon (Chris McGinnis)

1> A ghost town of a terminal for my mid afternoon flight south on a Tuesday at  4 pm. That’s likely to change as Delta bulks up at SFO with even more flights to Seattle next spring. But be warned: Delta’s Terminal 5 at LAX is much busier, more crowded, and currently undergoing a major renovation, which will be complete in 2015.

Deserted PreCheck lines at Delta's Terminal 1 Boarding area C security checkpoint (Chris McGinnis)

Deserted PreCheck lines at Delta’s Terminal 1 Boarding area C security checkpoint (Chris McGinnis)

2> Fast and easy check in (including PreCheck) and security at Delta’s nearly exclusive terminal 1, Boarding Area C location.

Onboard a recent Delta Embraer 175 flight SFO-LAX (Chris McGinnis)

Onboard a recent Delta Embraer 175 flight SFO-LAX (Chris McGinnis)

3> Nice, new, roomy Embraer 175 jets w big square windows, all leather seats and overhead bins large enough for my rollaboard bag.

 

Delta's Economy Comfort seats onboard the Embraer 175 (Chris McGinnis)

Delta’s Economy Comfort seats onboard the Embraer 175 (Chris McGinnis)

4> Three classes: standard economy (52 seats) , Economy Comfort (12) configured 2-2;  first class (12) configured 1-2.

Full first class section on Delta's California Shuttle to LAX. Note the Great Dane service dog in the bulkhead! (Chris McGinnis)

Full first class section on Delta’s California Shuttle to LAX. Note the Great Dane service dog in the bulkhead! (Chris McGinnis)

5> The first class section was full on both my south and northbound flights. Economy almost empty on the way down from SFO, full on the 9:30pm Saturday night departure from LAX

Healthy inflight dining for first AND coach passengers (Chris McGinnis)

Healthy inflight snacks for first AND coach passengers (Chris McGinnis)

6> Super friendly, eager to please flight attendants and healthy, organic snacks like edamame hummus, raw sunflower seeds, whole grain crackers, raw veggies– for both first and economy passengers.

7> Gogo wifi on all flights (although my connection was spotty)

8> Free beverages, beer and wine, for all passengers in first and  economy include Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. craft beer, Starbucks coffee and Wente Vineyards wines.

Although Delta paid for my ticket, fares are always low on this hyper competitive route, no matter what airline you fly. Currently, economy fares range from about $100 to $350 round trip, depending on how far in advance you book. First class runs $300-$500 round trip.

Chris McGinnis

 

Elements of Sky Priority for sale + Food at ATL + Southwest devalues + MQDs + PreCheck + SPG upgrades + Delta's Porsches

Summer's officially over and it's time to hit the road and skies again. (DickTay2000)

Summer’s officially over and it’s time to hit the road and skies again. (DickTay2000)

SOME SKY PRIORITY BENEFITS FOR SALE…Delta is putting elements of Sky Priority and other travel benefits up for sale for general SkyMiles members between now and Jan. 5. The cost is $199 and applies to up to eight additional travelers in the same record, which is an extraordinary value for a family or group of colleagues that travels together and checks luggage. Medallion members cannot purchase this benefit. The Smart Travel Pack, as Delta is calling it, includes one free checked bag per person, priority boarding, a discount for Economy Comfort seating (half off on domestic flights and 25 percent off on international flights), and access to preferred seating. The member that buys the package will also receive a benefit of 20 percent more SkyMiles. While it is good to see Delta making additional revenue, it could come at the expense of Medallion members who book tickets at the last minute since they may now have fewer preferred exit row and bulkhead seats to choose from…was that not the point of introducing the preferred seating in the first place? However, Medallions and first class passengers will probably still hold priority in boarding, but it certainly increases the percentage of people that have first crack at the overhead bins. Pretty much everyone has priority boarding these days! How do you feel about this move? Please leave your comments below.

UPDATE: Delta reached out to The TICKET this morning to respond to the above item stating: “The sale of Delta’s Smart Travel Pack does not diminish any benefits that a Sky Priority eligible customer would receive through their SkyMiles Medallion or front of cabin status. While certain elements similar to what customers receive through Sky Priority are offered in the Smart Travel Pack promotion, they are not the same. For example, Priority Boarding offered through this promotion comes after Sky Priority customers are invited to begin Delta’s boarding process.”

Screen shot 2013-09-23 at 3.05.12 PMSOUTHWEST DEVALUES RAPID REWARDS. So it’s not just Delta devaluing its frequent flyer program. Southwest is jumping in the game, too. This week they sent out this friendly warning that the points required to redeem is lowest fare tickets would soon increase 15%: “We want to inform you of an upcoming change to the Rapid Rewards Program that will affect the number of points needed for reward travel. Wanna Get Away reward flight bookings made on or after March 31, 2014 will require 70 points per dollar. This is an increase from the 60 points per dollar currently required…We hope you understand that in order to continue providing these benefits, we must make changes to the Rapid Rewards Program from time to time.” Sound familiar? Do you understand? 

MQD TALLY NOW APPEARS AT DELTA.COM…The Medallion Qualification Dollar (MQD) amount, the total number of dollars you spend on qualifying Delta or partner airline tickets beginning with -006, now shows online in your profile. The breakdown also appears next to each flight segment along with your earned mileage. Remember taxes and most fees are not included in your MQD tally, which will be used as an additional measurement of attaining Medallion status in 2015. Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, the MQD minimums will need to be met in addition to MQMs for each level ($2,500 for Silver; $5,000 for Gold; $7,500 for Platinum; and $12,500 for Diamond). MQDs earned in 2013 do not count and do not carry over; they are simply listed now to get travelers used to the idea.

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New Chick-fil-a, PF Chang's and more now at ATL Concourse A (Getty)

New Chick-fil-a, PF Chang’s and more now at ATL Concourse A (Getty)

NEW FOOD COURT OPENS IN ATL CONCOURSE A…Hungry? Well, there is no better time to get your grub on than now. Terminal A at Hartsfield-Jackson has unveiled a new food court featuring several eateries including Boar’s Head Deli, Qdoba, Chick-fil-A, and Boardwalk Burgers and Piano Bar. Also recently opened on the same concourse is P.F. Chang’s China Bistro with seating for 190.

SOUTHWEST NO-SHOW NOW IN EFFECT. On Sept 13, Southwest’s new no-show policy went into effect. Customers who cancel a Wanna Get Away or Ding fare before departure can reuse their funds toward future travel without a change fee as in the past. Customers with other higher priced fully refundable fares either request a refund or hold funds for future travel. HOWEVER, if the ticket is not changed or canceled within 10 minutes of departure (no show), travelers lose the entire value of the ticket.

CHOOSE RENTAL CAR FROM PLANE? Yep. National Car Rental’s Emerald Club members will soon be able to fire up their phones when the plane touches down and using the new National smart phone app, choose among a real time display of available cars by make, model, even color. It’s sort of a virtual version of National’s popular Emerald Aisle where travelers who have reservations for a mid-sized or large car are allowed to choose any car on the lot. The new app will work at airports in Omaha, Richmond and Tulsa starting September 30 and National says it should be working at a total of 25 airports by the end of the year. Check out this video (above) of National’s Rob Connors explaining how it all works.

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TSA PRE-CHECK MORE THAN DOUBLES AIRPORT COUNT…The popular TSA Pre-Check program is expanding from the current 40 airports to an additional 60 by the end of the year. The list of new airports is extensive and a huge boost for travelers that are tired of enduring long lines. Not every concourse will have the expedited screening, but the list includes airports where at least one terminal will have it. Delta was the first airline to add the indicator on boarding passes alerting travelers as to whether or not they have been pre-selected. Southwest is planning to add TSA Pre-Check capability sometime later this year. Is it coming to an airport near you? Here’s the full list: http://www.tsa.gov/press/releases/2013/09/04/tsa-precheck-expands-60-additional-airports

NEW LAX TERMINAL OPENS. This week marks the long awaited opening of the new $1.9 billion Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX. At 150,000 square feet, it’s half again as large as its dingy predecessor. The new curved-roof terminal we’ve all watched under construction in recent years is bathed in natural light, full of electronic art, mod furnishings, upscale dining and retail, new airline clubs and fantastic views of the tarmac and runways.  The terminal is still a work in progress– it won’t be fully opened until 2015. To see more, check out this slideshow from the LA Times.

STARWOOD PLATINUMS TO GET DELTA UPGRADES…Delta’s Crossover Rewards program has taken yet another step in its groundbreaking industry stride and given Starwood Platinum Elite members access to Delta’s first class cabin on domestic and Caribbean flights free of charge. Technically, though, the only people this will hurt is nonrevenue Delta employee flyers as Starwood Platinums would only clear after ALL Delta Medallions have cleared (unless the SPG Platinum member is a Medallion member). So it will not take away from Delta flyers’ access to free upgrades, but provides a nice boost to Starwood Platinums. Be sure to link your Starwood and Delta accounts here: https://www.delta.com/profile/spgLanding.action

Korean Air gets its official squirt at ATL (Photo: Atlanta Airport)

Korean Air gets its official squirt at ATL (Photo: Atlanta Airport)

AIRBUS A380 TOUCHES DOWN AT HARTSFIELD-JACKSON…The long-awaited arrival of Korean Air’s Airbus A380 has finally come. The first flight from Seoul Incheon touched down on August 31, but the official water cannon salute festivities did not occur until Sept. 6 due to the Labor Day weekend. Still, the excitement at the airport was tangible with numerous employees and support staff on the tarmac and in the terminal ready to greet the aircraft and snap plentiful photos. Did you know that the KAL A380 must dock at ATL’s Concourse E and not at the new $1.4 billion Terminal F? That’s a surprise to many. Delta flies nonstop to Seoul from Detroit and, just recently announced, Seattle, but Korean Air’s service is preferred by many travelers for its more attentive in-flight service and Korean-inspired meals including bibimbap and bulgogi. Korean Air also features both first and business class lie-flat beds and has fewer seats on board the entire aircraft (407 to be exact) than any other A380 operator. A duty-free showcase store displays goods for sale, and the Celestial Bar and lounge can be enjoyed by premium cabin passengers in-flight. The double-decker jumbo jet only operates three times a week (777s operate daily), but the A380 is expected to appear daily beginning in late October. Korean Air already flies A380s to Los Angeles and JFK, as well as to Hong Kong and Frankfurt. THE TICKET hopes to bring an in-flight report to readers in the coming months.

When customers are given a ride from one jetway to another, they are handed this card as a takeaway to thank them for flying with Delta and to find out more information about Porsche vehicles. (matthew-daniel.com)

When customers are given a ride from one jetway to another, they are handed this card as a takeaway to thank them for flying with Delta and to find out more information about Porsche vehicles. (matthew-daniel.com)

HAD THE PORSCHE TREATMENT YET?…Well, if you are a Diamond Medallion or high value customer and have not been picked up in a Porsche in Atlanta with a tight connection, you now have your chance in Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York, and Los Angeles. The service is never guaranteed, but is meant to surprise and delight customers on a tight connection. An agent holds a sign with your name on it in the jet way and whisks you down to the ramp and speeds you across the bustling tarmac traffic to your next flight. Want this kind of treatment? Well, travel on stormy days and spend a fortune! (Interesting to watch United mimic Delta’s move with jet way pick-ups in Houston by silver Mercedes-Benz.) Have you experienced the Porsche treatment?

delta 747FLY THE WHALE…Delta’s Boeing 747-400 aircraft typically fly international routes, but aviation geeks may have their chance to fly the “whale” on select domestic flights this fall. A Delta 747-400 is scheduled to fly Atlanta to Seattle on Nov. 30 and Seattle to Atlanta on Dec. 1. Also, the jumbo jet will fly one way from Atlanta to LAX on Jan. 5. Talk about excellent upgrade chances! Remember, Delta can change the schedule at any time, but for now these planes are on the schedule.

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JFK TERMINAL TWO GETS A FOOD UPGRADE…Delta is partnering with OTG, an airport food and beverage supplier, to enhance the dining options in JFK’s terminal 2. While most of the attention has been on the new terminal 4, the older terminal 2 continues to handle some domestic flights and regional jet operations. Customers will be able to place orders via iPads placed at seating areas if they wish from numerous eateries including Due Amici (Italian), BRKLYN Beer Garden, Shiso (Japanese), Croque Madame (French bistro), and Tagliare (New York-style pizza) among others.

A Nokia 820 used by Delta flight attendants (Photo: Delta)

A Nokia 820 used by Delta flight attendants (Photo: Delta)

FLIGHT ATTENDANTS GET NEW INFLIGHT SMART PHONES…Delta is providing all flight attendants with new handheld devices (Nokia Lumia 820) designed to allow them to more easily process in-flight payments. Now, swiping a credit card will happen in “almost” real time (whereas before transactions were only completed once the aircraft landed). The device also opens up new sales opportunities including allowing passengers the option to upgrade to an Economy Comfort seat in-flight. (Remember when AirTran pioneered this concept?) The device will prompt flight attendants the correct amount to charge, and the option will be rolled out progressively beginning with longer transcontinental and international flights. Flight attendants will also have the ability to issue coupons (bonus miles or coupons for future Delta flights) in the event of a service failure (faulty entertainment system, etc). The goal is that flight attendants will soon be able to access more information about passengers (destination, elite status, tight connections, etc) to provide better service in-flight.

NEW AIRBUS ORDER FOR DELTA…Forty new Airbus aircraft are on the books within the next decade including 30 Airbus A321 aircraft, which will be a new type never before flown by Delta. The aircraft will feature 20 first class seats, 22 Economy Comfort seats, and 148 economy seats. (Roughly the size of a 757) They will also feature Airbus’ new sharklet winglet designed to reduce fuel consumption. Ten Airbus A330-300 aircraft will supplement Delta’s growing fleet of the long-haul aircraft. These planes will be specially modified to carry additional payload giving them a longer range and permitting Delta the opportunity to open or grow markets across the Atlantic and the Pacific. In addition to Economy Comfort, the widebody A330s will also have 34 fully flat Business Elite seats. Deliveries of these aircraft are expected to begin in 2015.

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. THis month 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!)

SOUTHWEST SHOWS ATLANTA SOME LUV…Southwest Airlines has become the Official Airline of the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. The museum, which will open next August following its relocation from Indiana to Georgia, is located next to the Omni Hotel at CNN Center. Southwest is also the official airline of the Atlanta Falcons.

Ramsey Qubein & Chris McGinnis

*****

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More SkyMiles devaluations + Award holds + Aspen + Albany

Are Delta's lie-flat business class seats worth 25% more? (Delta Air Lines)

Are Delta’s lie-flat business class seats worth 25% more? (Delta Air Lines)

DELTA RAISES AWARD PRICES BY 25%…Thought Delta had punched you in the gut enough already? It ain’t over. Delta is bumping up the prices for those already scarce low-level BusinessElite seats by as much as 25 percent for flights after June 1, 2014. The advance notice is appreciated to allow flyers to book trips at the 100,000 level, but only if they can find them using Delta’s frustrating delta.com website. The pricing tool is often broken or confusing, and the calendar feature can be misleading showing low-level awards when they are not really there. Delta claims this change is actually positive, in a way, since the introduction of new flat-bed seats across the fleet (coming soon to 757s flying overseas) and new amenities like Tumi amenity kits and Westin Heavenly Bed pillows and duvets have made the flying experience better (hence, the seats are more valuable). We believe, however, that those upgrades were actually just catching up with the competition. Burn your miles now before they are devalued yet again. Tell us what you think! Please leave your comments below.

AWARD HOLDS GONE…Delta has also shortened the window to hold awards down to 48 hours on delta.com. The change goes into effect Sept. 9 and is hailed as a positive since it will free up seats for people ready to book awards. While this may be the case in some situations, Delta is making it seem that it will drastically improve award availability. However, it’s almost guaranteed that delta.com will still deliver the same clunky errors and poor award space results as before. Still, Diamond and Platinum Medallion members can book rewards and cancel or modify them prior to 72 hours before departure.

Tokyo Haneda NaritaDELTA CEO WANTS TO MOVE TOKYO HUB TO HANEDA…Richard Anderson is urging the Japanese government to open the country’s skies to greater competition from non-Japanese airlines and wants to move Delta’s Narita hub to the more convenient Haneda airport. (It’s located just 30 minutes south of central Tokyo while Narita is 90+ mins to the east.) The government controls the slot restrictions heavily at Haneda and often prioritizes domestic carriers All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines before catering to foreign companies. Ever wonder why some of Delta’s Haneda flights have such odd departure and arrival times? Slots. The government contends that the airport is full and that adding more than the planned 42 daytime slots coming next spring could pose a safety concern. Delta wants 25 more slots in order to make the move. Have you flown into Haneda; what did you think?

NONSTOP SEATTLE TO SEOUL AND HONG KONG…Delta is beefing up its Seattle presence even further adding nonstop flights to Seoul Incheon and Hong Kong. The Seoul flight will operate aboard a Boeing 767-300ER while the Hong Kong flight will ply the route using an Airbus A330-200. Both are outfitted with lie-flat beds in BusinessElite and Economy Comfort seating. This announcement continues the growth at Seattle/Tacoma, but also comes in the shadow of Delta announcing the cancellation of nonstop Seattle to Osaka service.

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Entry at Albany's shiny new terminal (Photo: Charles B. Gillespie)

Entry at Albany’s shiny new terminal (Photo: Charles B. Gillespie)

BRAND NEW TERMINAL FOR ALBANY. The Southwest Georgia Regional Airport in Albany debuted a shiny new $11 million terminal earlier this month, which replaced the aging McAfee Terminal. Delta Connection serves the airport with three 50-min flights per day to/from Atlanta. Roundtrip fares are about $250. (Hat tip to long time TICKET reader Charles Gillespie for bringing this to our attention!)

Lines at Global Entry kiosks? Oh my! (Chris McGinnis)

Lines at Global Entry kiosks? Oh my! (Chris McGinnis)

DISAPPOINTMENT WITH CUSTOMS & BORDER PROTECTION…The traveling public is not the only group of people annoyed with the inefficiency of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Long entry times at numerous airports (including Delta’s new terminal 4 at JFK) have created a tremendous backlog of missed flights and delayed passengers. Each passenger traveling internationally pays a portion of taxes included in their ticket to support the immigration and customs process so it is only fair to have this service rendered appropriately and efficiently. Even Global Entry kiosks, hailed by many as a time saver, are often not functioning or have lengthy lines of their own. Delta’s CEO recently joined the chorus of rants about CBP saying, “I think it’s an embarrassment for our government that as much as we as an industry pay into Customs And Border Patrol that we have issues at not just JFK but at Newark, at Chicago, at Los Angeles where we cannot seem to get our government to perform a very basic service. And those of us that travel extensively around the world and go to countries like Japan and China and Europe, Customs is a breeze. And in the U.S. despite all the investment that we make as an industry – we collect a fee from every passenger – we cannot get the kinds of levels of support … we’re pursuing every avenue in Washington and in Congress to get this problem solved.” Relatively speaking, CBP does a pretty good job at ATL. Agree or disagree? Have you experienced lengthy waits at U.S. entry points recently?

SKI BUMS GET NEW SERVICE…Delta will add new nonstop, daily, seasonal service to Aspen/Snowmass, Colo. from Atlanta and Saturday-only flights from Minneapolis-St. Paul beginning Dec. 21. The flights will be operated with CRJ-700 regional jets featuring nine first class, eight Economy Comfort, and 65 economy class seats. Aspen’s airport cannot accommodate larger aircraft, which is why the CRJ-700 is performing this lengthy flight. Aspen is providing Delta with financial incentives to offer the new flights.

MORE DL LOVE FOR LAX…Delta is extending its chauffeur-driven Porsche service to the tarmac of Los Angeles International Airport. In a service similar to what’s offered in Atlanta, high-valued passengers, especially those with extremely tight connections, will be shuttled to their next gate in style. Like Atlanta’s offering, it is an unexpected offering that is never guaranteed, but meant to surprise important travelers with wallet power to continue being loyal to the widget.

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Delta's party in LA w actor John Stamos (Overallsite.com)

Delta’s party in LA w actor John Stamos (Overallsite.com)

STAR POWER…If you thought Atlanta and New York were the only thing on Delta marketing folks’ minds, think again. The power list at its latest LA glamour party included local bigwigs and Hollywood celebrities including John Stamos. Why that one singular star was invited is vague, but the effort by Delta to make in-roads in the Hollywood and greater LAX market is not. As one of the U.S.’s biggest travel markets, the impressive market share by Delta is growing. Most recently, announcements to launch daily Cancun and Puerto Vallarta year-round service and double-daily Guadalajara summertime flights and Delta’s new LAX-SFO California Shuttle have bolstered the schedule.

CENTRAL U.S. TO CARIBBEAN BOOSTED…Delta is following the footsteps of package-tour and charter operators (a la USA 3000 Airlines) and launching service from Middle America to the Caribbean on weekends when planes are otherwise sitting idle from operating business-heavy flight schedules. New flights from Pittsburgh to Punta Cana and Nassau have been added to the schedule, which already includes Saturday-only flights to Cancun and regular flights to Paris. Indianapolis also picks up weekly service to Punta Cana and Nassau in the winter in addition to its weekly Cancun flight. Atlanta flyers should only find joy in these announcements as it boosts upgrade possibility from Atlanta by diverting Medallion-stronghold Midwestern traffic to nonstop flying.

TSA STILL TELLING ATLANTA PASSENGERS NO GUNS…As if you did not know by now, guns are not allowed on airplanes. As reported in The TICKET last month, TSA officials in Atlanta are still reporting record numbers of passengers passing through security with armed weapons. (ATL holds the dubious title of the airport where this happens most often.) Warnings were recently issued by TSA officials in Atlanta of jail sentences and fines up to $7,500 of passengers caught bringing armed weaponry through the checkpoint. While TSA is far from perfect (seen more random gate checks of your coffee and ID at the gate lately? Thank your tax dollars for that), there seems to be a subset of travelers that has not watched the news in over a decade. Keep your eyes peeled at security!

SOUTHWEST NO-SHOW POLICY TAKES EFFECT…Beginning Sept. 13, the full no-show policy will go into effect on Southwest tickets. Customers who cancel a Wanna Get Away or Ding fare before departure can reuse their funds toward future travel without a change fee as in the past. Customers with other fully refundable fares either request a refund or hold funds for future travel. HOWEVER, if the ticket is not canceled prior to departure (no show), travelers lose the entire value of the ticket.

Chris McGinnis

*****

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Delta backs down + Better food? + New ATL lounge + New Delta plane

(Credit: CaptainKimo.com / Flickr)

(Credit: CaptainKimo.com / Flickr)

DELTA BACKS OFF SAME-DAY CHANGE RESTRICTIONS…But just barely. Following significant feedback from customers, Delta has made the decision to soften the blow of recent changes to same day rules. Now, same-day confirmed changes can be made any time 24 hours prior to flight time. No fee will be required for Gold, Platinum, and Diamond Medallion members, but the same booking class must be available. This booking class restriction remains in place from the initial change, but the window for free changes has been extended to 24 hours (rather than within the previous three hour window). If your same fare bucket is not available, the free standby option remains. If you were upgraded on the original flight, going standby only puts you in the running for a seat in coach since the upgrade list is generally cleared first. This new policy is expected to be fully in place by late August. How do you feel about this slight “giveback”? Please leave your comments below!

Hugh Acheson of Empire State South

Hugh Acheson of Empire State South

DELTA HOLDS COOKOFF FOR NEXT CHEF…Delta is teaming up with Food & Wine magazine to look for the next celebrity chef to provide input on meals for Atlanta-departing flights. The culinary video series, named “Cabin Pressure Cook Off,” features four contestants including two Atlanta stars: Hugh Acheson of Empire State South and Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene and Holeman & Finch Public House. The Cabin Pressure Cook Off, which will air in October on Delta flights, will feature culinary challenges filmed at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. Delta prepares more than 110,000 inflight meals daily.

NEW LOUNGE OPENS IN ATLANTA… As mentioned on The TICKET Facebook page, The Club at ATL lounge on Concourse F has opened. It welcomes Lufthansa and British Airways premium passengers in addition to full Priority Pass members. Other passengers can buy a day pass for $35, which is cheaper than the Delta Sky Club $50 fee for general one-day access. Complimentary beverages (including wine and beer) in addition to light snacks and free wi-fi will be on offer, but the lounge is still little competition for the flashy new Sky Deck at the neighboring Delta Sky Club. Similar The Club lounges are located at airports in Raleigh-Durham, Las Vegas and Dallas. Have you visited one yet? Thoughts? 

FIRST CLASS SNACK BASKET CHANGES…Noticed a few changes in the Delta snack basket recently? Delta is now stocking Fritos chips instead of SunChips (some flights may still have the latter until stocks run out). Other new items include Pirouette cookies and Hershey’s chocolate bars. Luckily, fresh fruit and Biscoff cookies are still here to stay in addition to other favorites like Pretzel M&Ms, Quaker granola bars, and peanuts. What’s your snack basket pick? Please leave your comments below.

Some of the firearms found in hand luggage and confiscated by the TSA

Some of the firearms found in hand luggage and confiscated by the TSA

TSA FINDS MORE GUNS AT ATL THAN OTHER AIRPORTS…Atlanta TSA agents discovered more travelers attempting to pass through security with guns than any other U.S. airport last year. TSA didn’t keep statistics on guns intercepted before 2011, but the government agency says there is an upward national trend in recent years. In the first six months of the year, screeners found 894 guns nationwide either on people or inside carry-on baggage. Atlanta set the record last year with 96 guns found. Do these people not watch the news? The help build awareness, the TSA now has an Instagram page with photos of confiscated weaponry. Take a peek– you won’t believe what you see.

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O’HARE CREEPS UP ON ATLANTA’S TITLE…Since Atlanta stole the title of world’s busiest airport from Chicago O’Hare in 2005, the race has been fierce, and O’Hare is finally gaining traction again. This year, Chicago’s largest airport has seen an increase in flights, and according to a recent Chicago Tribune article, many believe it may steal back the title with the most flights in the coming years. In the first half of 2013, Atlanta handled 453,800 takeoffs and landings, while O’Hare accommodated 426,800 flights, a preliminary FAA tally shows. Atlanta carries also more passengers than O’Hare. In 2012, Atlanta was the busiest airport in the world for total passengers, and O’Hare clocked in at number five. But just wait…airports in China should supersede ATL or ORD any day now…just wait.

Southwest B737 at ATL. (Chris McGinnis)

Southwest B737 at ATL. (Chris McGinnis)

ATLANTA A WEAK PERFORMER FOR SOUTHWEST? In a recent earnings call Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly included ATL among cities where it’s struggling. Here’s the quote: “In terms of what I think we would be comfortable sharing for competitive reasons, the markets that are in more of a transition from AirTran through some step process into Southwest, those are the ones that are in more development. So, if you sort of think about the Atlanta, Baltimore, Milwaukee where there’s a lot of change taking place. Those markets are not performing as strong as markets that aren’t affected by that kind of transition, that’s very clear.” How would you gauge Southwest’s performance in Atlanta so far? Have you tried Southwest? Why or why not? Please leave your comments below.  

Buh-bye Pinnacle, hello Endeavor Air

Buh-bye Pinnacle, hello Endeavor Air

ENDEAVOR AIR FLIES FOR DELTA CONNECTION…Never heard the name? Troubled Pinnacle Airlines has rebranded as Endeavor Air with a fresh logo. The Delta Connection carrier, a subsidiary of Delta following its investment in the bankrupt Pinnacle, will continue flying about 1,000 flights daily. The airline had its headquarters in Memphis, but it has since moved to Minneapolis. Only a handful of Endeavor’s flights touch Atlanta, and most flights are operated by CRJ-900s. The airline also operates CRJ-200s, but these are being phased out quickly.

WATCH YOUR MOVIES LONGER…Notice something different on your last Delta flight with inflight entertainment? Delta has decided to switch on the entertainment system upon boarding rather than after takeoff to allow people to watch live TV, movies, and other programming from the moment they sit in their seat. This will ease some of the stress from summer weather delays although it will be difficult to sell headsets in the main cabin before takeoff so stash a pair in your carry-on. Have you noticed the change? 

Simulated look at a Delta Boeing 717 (NBflightsim.com)

Simulated look at a Delta Boeing 717 (NBflightsim.com)

DELTA DEPLOYS NEW AIRCRAFT TYPE. Remember the news last year when Delta agreed to buy all of AirTran’s Boeing 717s from Southwest? The first of those planes will be deployed on Delta’s ATL-Newark route starting Sept 19. By the end of October, all flights between ATL and Newark will be on the 717. The aircraft will feature Gogo wifi, 12 first class seats, 15 Economy Comfort seats, and 83 economy seats. More 717 destinations will be coming online soon.

UNITED TEAMS UP WITH MARRIOTT…United copied Delta’s move to team up with a hotel brand. While Delta offers Crossover Rewards with Starwood allowing flyers to earn hotel points and hotel elite status (Starwood elites earn Delta benefits too), Marriott and United now provide similar benefits. Marriott Rewards Platinum Elite and Platinum Premier Elite will receive complimentary United Premier Silver status. Good advice from reader LH: “This may offer ATL AirTran business travelers, that meet the Marriott Rewards Platinum-level qualification, an elite status option over the pending switch to all-coach class Southwest. While it may be United’s lowest tier, the instant elite status will provide an alternative for those not wanting to start from the bottom with Delta. United Silver status brings complimentary upgrades, 25% mileage bonus and free Economy Plus seating within 24 hours of departure. Register here. United elites will also benefit from special benefits and elite status with Marriott as well; United Gold Premiers and above get automatic Marriott Gold Elite status, which offers club access, free breakfast, late checkout and more. What do you think about these instant elite partnerships? Are they fair to people who work to earn status the hard way? Please leave your comments below.

SEATTLE TO HEATHROW NONSTOP…Delta has announced nonstop Seattle to London Heathrow nonstop service beginning March 29, 2014. The flight will be operated using a Boeing 767-300ER aircraft with lie-flat seats in the pointy end of the plane. The flight is part of the new code share with Virgin Atlantic.

SOUTHWEST ON ATL-DCA. Southwest will operate one of the six daily Atlanta to Washington Reagan National flights beginning Feb. 13 with AirTran continuing to fly the rest.

Can you ID this plane type? Please leave your comments below!

Can you ID this plane type? Please leave your comments below!

DELTA HERITAGE MUSEUM GETS A MAKEOVER…Delta is investing in memories and updating the Heritage Museum located near the Atlanta airport and corporate headquarters. The $6.3 million in renovation funds are coming from The Delta Air Lines Foundation and corporate sponsors and will restore the historic hangars, which house significant amounts of important airline memorabilia. Its most popular items on display are the Spirit of Delta, a Boeing 767-200 aircraft purchased through employee contributions in 1982 as a sign of appreciation and now housing an interior cabin mockup display, and Delta’s first 1940s era Douglas DC-3 aircraft. Tours, event space, and a gift shop will all be part of the revitalized facility when it reopens in the summer of 2014. Have you ever taken a look a the Delta Heritage Museum? Why or why not?

Chris McGinnis & Ramsey Qubein

*****

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How to avoid rising inflight wi-fi prices

Taking a ride on the Gogo inflight internet lab last year in Itasca, IL (Chris McGinnis)

Taking a ride on the Gogo inflight internet lab last year in Itasca, IL (Chris McGinnis)

Inflight wi-fi provider Gogo released statistics today showing that San Francisco International has the highest percentage of passengers using its service, followed by New York JFK and then John Wayne/Orange County. LAX is the fourth most-connected. Interestingly, Atlanta did not even place in the top 10. (See infographic below.)

It’s no surprise that airports located in coastal areas with a preponderance of longer transcontinental flights come out near the top of the list. It’s just not worth the hassle or the cost to break out the laptop or tablet on a flight under two hours. That’s why the poorest performers when it comes to wi-fi (such as Pensacola, Savannah or Akron) are small airports that primarily offer only short commuter flights to larger hubs where longer flights await.

In other Gogo news, the price to log-on onboard has jumped lately. Last week when flying between Atlanta and SFO, I noticed that the fee for a day pass purchased onboard had jumped to $26.95. Ouch! That’s a lot when you consider that Gogo competitor Row 44 only charges $8 per day  per device for inflight wifi on Southwest Airlines flights.

When I tweeted about the surprise price increase, Gogo responded with the suggestion that frequent users purchase a $14 all day pass BEFORE they get onboard. That represents a significant savings, and will be something I do before every transcontinental flight in the future. Especially now that it seems that buying wi-fi at the last minute at overly bloated prices is like buying last-minute airline tickets at overly bloated prices.

What’s nice about the $14 day pass is that it’s good for 12 months on any Gogo-connected airline– so if you end up not using on one flight, you can use it later. For those with a heavy month of travel ahead, a monthly pass is available for $49.95. Gogo is also offering a three-pack for just $30 good for flights through the end of August. (Look for the “Summer sun 3-pack” on the Gogo home page.)

The key here is that Gogo obviously is pushing us to buy passes ahead of time instead of onboard. 

Are you a heavy user of inflight wi-fi? Does the availability of it influence your airline decision? How much is too much to pay for the convenience of logging on on the fly? And finally, have you noticed any improvement is speed or connection using Gogo lately?

Please leave your comments below! 

Chris McGinnis

 

Gogo most connected cities wifi

 

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Delta/Virgin done + pricey summer travel + PreCheck @ SFO + mess at United

Virgin Atlantic's route map

New places to go! Virgin Atlantic’s route map

DELTA AND VIRGIN ATLANTIC INK DEAL. Delta’s recent acquisition of 49% of Virgin Atlantic Airways is now complete, paving the way for the roll out of new benefits for travelers. Immediately, Delta Platinum, and Diamond Medallion members plus business class flyers gain access to Virgin Clubhouses (oases of luxury with restaurant menus, luxury bars, beauty salons, and spas all with Virgin’s compliments). Unfortunately, those of you flying from London-Heathrow to Atlanta (or New York) on Delta will still be using Heathrow’s nice but more prosaic SkyTeam lounge since Virgin flights do not depart from terminal four where Delta flights leave. However, if you are a Delta Platinum and Diamond Medallion member flying back to the states on Virgin, you’ll have access to its super-posh Clubhouse in Heathrow’s Terminal 3. Now there’s a reason to arrive early at the airport! Have you flown Virgin before? What did you think? Please leave your comments below. 

Virgin's super posh, recently renovated Clubhouse at JFK. Seen it yet? (Virgin Atlantic)

Virgin’s super posh, recently renovated Clubhouse at JFK. Seen it yet? (Virgin Atlantic)

DELTA-VIRGIN DEAL BOOSTS NYC-LONDON FREQUENCIES. There are no current plans for Virgin Atlantic to fly to Atlanta, according to a Delta spokesperson. But the key  development of this new partnership is that Delta and Virgin will now offer 9-10 flights daily (depending on the seasonal schedule) on New York – London, one of the world’s busiest and most lucrative routes. In addition to reciprocal lounge access, Delta flyers will earn mileage on Virgin flights and have access to priority check-in and boarding plus increased baggage allowance. Would you fly to London via New York (JFK or EWR), Boston or Washington DC instead of nonstop on Delta from ATL to fly on Virgin Atlantic or to sample its clubhouses? Please leave your comments below.

DELTA FINED FOR IMPROPER BUMPS. This just in from New York Times:  The government has fined Delta $750,000 for bumping some passengers involuntarily, without offering compensation or seeking volunteers first. Airlines sometimes sell too many tickets for a flight, and have to move, or “bump,” them to a later flight. If travelers do not volunteer, the airline has to compensate them. The Transportation Department said Wednesday that in March 2012 it visited the Atlanta headquarters of Delta and reviewed 310 complaints about how it handled overbookings from November 2010 to January 2012. The agency said it found numerous cases where Delta had failed to tell overbooked passengers about their rights to receive payments, failed to provide written notice, or failed to seek volunteers before bumping passengers involuntarily. Full story here. 

PRICEY SUMMER. This is expected to be the busiest summer travel season since before the recession of 2008. The peak of the peak summer travel season, which runs from roughly June 21 through August 10 this year, is now upon us. Airlines say that the busiest days of this summer will be Thursdays and Fridays, so avoid those if you can. Since this is THE most expensive, most crowded time of year to travel, try to postpone trips until late August if you can, and you may get through this summer with your wallet and sanity intact. (Check out my in-person travel tips in the above video, which is part of a summer travel project I’ve been working on with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.)

United flight attendants improvisation when toilet paper ran low. (Credit: Unknown)

United flight attendants improvised when toilet paper ran low on an London-SFO flight (Credit: Unknown)

UNUSUAL TP ON UNITED? By now you’ve likely heard about United flight 931 from London to San Francisco that somehow took off… without enough toilet paper. United uses a 747-400 on the 10-hour daylight flight from Heathrow, which has nine lavatories. Over the last week, the story has gone viral. A quick Google news search using “United Toilet Paper” shows at least 28 stories have run so far.While the story was originally posted on FlyerTalk, here’s our favorite take on it, from the Daily Beast: “Is it us, or does flying keep getting crappier? Every airline seems to be cutting back on something, but United took it to a whole new level by taking off for a ten-hour flight without [enough] toilet paper on board. Some quick thinking flight attendants stocked the bathrooms with cocktail napkins, but the effort didn’t sit well with passengers. In a statement, United said, ‘We apologize to our customers on this flight for the inconvenience and would like the opportunity to welcome them back.’” Another good headline from USA Today: “United is wiping up after a customer service mess.” CNN confirmed that the lavatories lacking TP were in the coach section, not in business or first class. Thoughts please! Leave them below in the comments section.

Precheck logo TMPRE CHECK ARRIVES AT SAN FRANCISCO. Delta flyers soon will have access to the speedy PreCheck lane when traveling on from SFO’s Terminal 1 Boarding Area c used by Delta. The lanes are expected to open in mid-July.

NEW SEATTLE-SHANGHAI SERVICE. Delta continues to bolster its Seattle-Tacoma gateway with international flights and has added nonstop Seattle-Shanghai service using a Boeing 767 aircraft fully equipped with lie-flat beds in BusinessElite and a retrofitted Economy Comfort cabin. Delta’s commitment to growing Seattle is also evidenced by Alaska Airlines’ recent announcement that it will drop all other international codeshare agreements (including Qantas and Emirates) to focus on its partnership with Delta. In the SEA-TAC gate areas, Delta has also added popular charging stations for those needing a power boost. We are hearing rumors about a potential new Delta nonstop between Seattle and London-Heathrow. Stay tuned!

MEMPHIS HUB OFFICIALLY AXED. Delta has finally announced the closure of its hub operation in Memphis, meaning more than a dozen cities lose nonstop flights to the one-time Northwest Airlines hub. Most of these flights used gas-guzzling CRJ-200 50-seat regional jets that Delta is phasing out anyway. This will funnel more traffic through the Atlanta hub, but Memphis will still maintain flights to major cities including Los Angeles, Boston, Washington DC.

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CINCINNATI SAFE, ACCORDING TO DELTA CEO. Richard Anderson publicly announced that Delta’s Cincinnati hub will continue to operate despite speculation that Delta might dump it, too based on the raft of recent cuts there.  For now, Delta still maintains a significant presence including nonstop service to Paris Charles de Gaulle. Anderson was even quoted as saying, “the hub is doing quite well…we feel really good about where are service levels are there.” What do you think… will CVG survive? Please leave your comments below.

Delta CEO Ricard Anderson (Delta Air Lines)

Delta CEO Ricard Anderson (Delta Air Lines)

DELTA CEO HAILED AS A HERO. Richard Anderson grabbed the spotlight in a positive way after quietly giving up his seat to a distressed traveler on her way to pick up her daughter from a diabetes camp. She has had experienced a trail of delayed and canceled flights throughout the day. In a classy move, neither Delta nor Anderson flaunted the act of kindness until the traveler publicly commented about the incident via a thank you letter on Facebook that went viral. Apparently,  Anderson even helped her lift her bag into the overhead, then sat upfront in the jumpseat with pilots for the flight.

UNITED FOLLOWS DELTA IN REVENUE REQUIREMENT FOR ELITES. Delta’s move to establish revenue requirements for flyers looking to maintain elite status  caught the eye of United, which followed suit this month with an even more harsh plan. United’s revenue requirements include similar spending levels and a credit card-spending pathway to avoid the revenue thresholds. However, United’s top-level, Premier 1K, (equivalent to Delta’s Diamond) does not qualify for an exemption no matter how much you spend on a co-branded United credit card. Flyers must spend $10,000 if they wish to maintain that top level of elite benefits. Like Delta, the changes go into effect in 2014 for 2015 elite qualification. Now the big question is whether or not American will join the club. What do you think?

ATL TO GET TOUCH-SCREEN GUIDES. A $2.1 million project to replace existing signage in Atlanta’s terminals with interactive screens is set to begin, pending a final approval from the city. These new signs will be easier to use and allow passengers to look up information about the entire airport such as the location of certain shops or restaurants. The old-school, static signs now are location-specific.

ANOTHER ATL NONSTOP TO SAO PAULO COMING. Delta has received preliminary approval for a second-daily nonstop between ATL and Sao Paulo. If approved, it will feature all lie-flat seating in business, plus several rows of Economy Comfort seats (which are now fitted on all mainline aircraft).

Delta's new Sky Deck at ATL. (Photo: Brad Bell)

Delta’s new Sky Deck at ATL. (Photo: Brad Bell)

SKY DECK OPEN AT ATLANTA TERMINAL F. The long-awaited Sky Deck at the Sky Club has opened allowing al fresco seating for club guests as they await their flights. See photos of JFK deck here. Views of the tarmac and aircraft below are captivating, and they are similar to those found at the newly opened Sky Deck at JFK terminal four. Outdoor seating was designed by Thom Felicia in partnership with Architectural Digest magazine. Have you tried it yet? Or are you waiting for the summer humidity to die down?

The apple-sized Beacon Phoenix wireless speaker in my NYC hotel room (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The apple-sized Beacon Phoenix wireless speaker in my NYC hotel room (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

PORTABLE BLUETOOTH SPEAKERS. Last month Beacon Audio sent me one of their new, fist-sized, Phoenix Bluetooth speakers ($49-$99 depending on where you buy it) for a test drive. I’m no audiophile, but this tough, rubberized, rechargeable and travel-friendly speaker packs a wallop of sound that’s great for jamming on iTunes in the hotel shower—it also adds a deeper dimension to watching videos on my iPad. I plan on bringing it to the beach later this summer. Do you pack a portable speaker for your listening pleasure when on the road? What’s your speaker of choice? Why? Please leave your comments below.

Chris McGinnis & Ramsey Qubein

*****

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New York to California in 45 minutes? Maybe

Since Elon Musk (the mind behind Tesla Motors and SpaceX) quipped about a new “hyperloop” high speed transportation system last week, futurists and techies have been abuzz about a new mode of transportation that could eclipse air travel one day—cutting travel time between New York and California to just 45 minutes, or between New York and Beijing to just two hours.

One company called ET3 is apparently working on a plan for “Evacuated Tube Transport” which is loosely based on pneumatic systems once used in banks, offices or hospitals (for those old enough to remember) to transport documents within buildings using capsules inserted into suction tubes.

(ET3/YouTube)

Six person capsules include luggage bays (ET3/YouTube)

ET3 says that its tubular network could transport 6-passenger, automobile-sized capsules up to 4,000 mph in a frictionless environment inside tubes using magnetic levitation. The company claims that ET3 can be built for a tenth of the cost of high speed rail, or a quarter of the cost of a freeway, and provide 50x more transportation per kilowatt than electric cars or trains. Tubes could be built along US interstates, could travel across Alaska to reach China or even go underwater.

(ET3)

Travel by tube? (ET3)

Is this the answer to carbon spewing aircraft…or how we’ll be traveling when we run out of fossil fuels? Who knows? But it’s certainly an interesting thought and likely something we’ll be hearing more about.

While Musk was short on details, he has described the technology as “a cross between a Concorde, a railgun and an air hockey table.” He hinted that he might have more to say about it later this month.

How would you feel about a 45 minute hop to NYC for lunch? Would you take “the tube” across the country or around the world? Please leave your comments below! 

Chris McGinnis

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Fewer Sky Club freebies + JFK Extension + New PreCheck lane at ATL

Delta's Sky Club Luxury Bar on Concourse E (Chris McGinnis)

Delta’s Sky Club Luxury Bar on Concourse E (Chris McGinnis)

FEWER FREEBIES AT SKY CLUBS. With little notice, Delta has moved several beverages from the Sky Club complimentary bar menu to the Luxury Bar pay menu. You’ll now be asked to pay for beers like Heineken or local brews, liqueurs such as Bailey’s and other popular pops.  We contacted Delta to determine what it still offers at no charge at Sky Clubs and a spokesperson sent over this list of the free stuff:  Vodka – Gordon’s; Gin – Gordon’s; Rum – Myers’s Platinum; Scotch – Scoresby; Bourbon – Jack Daniel’s;  Sweet & Dry Vermouth – Martini & Rossi; Beer- Budweiser & Miller Lite; Wine- no changes.  Delta also sent us the new Luxury Bar Menu, effective May 15. Which of your favorite adult beverages has disappeared from the “complimentary” list and what are the new prices? Please leave your comments below.

Delta now operates from T4 and T2 at JFK. The old Pan Am Worldport will soon be gone.

Delta now operates from T4 and T2 at JFK. The old Pan Am Worldport will soon be gone.

DELTA’S JFK EXTENSION. On May 24, Delta took the wraps off its new digs at New York- JFK, which will replace the now shuttered vintage Pan Am Worldport, or Terminal 3.  Delta is currently demolishing that leaky old Mad-Men-era terminal to allow easier movement and more parking between terminals 2 and 4. It’s important to note that Terminal 4 is not brand new—it’s been around since 2001– but Delta has completely remodeled and lengthened the B-side space adding nine new gates to the existing seven. The new terminal also features TSA PreCheck, something that many international terminals do not have presently. New dining options include an outpost of Manhattan’s favorite burger joint, Shake Shack. T4′s opening also gives Sky Club members their first look at a new SkyDeck, an open-air, glassed-walled terrace overlooking the tarmac—great for spotting all those exotic tails that float around JFK runways. Outdoor seating and umbrellas are a great way to get some fresh air. A similar SkyDeck will open later this year in Atlanta’s F concourse. The Sky Club at JFK’s T4 is now Delta’s largest.  Many domestic flights and nearly all Delta Connection flights will continue to use Terminal 2 (JFK’s oldest), while most Delta transcons and all international flights will now use T4. By 2015, Delta will add an additional 11 gates to T4.

DELTA WAITS IT OUT. Earlier this month CEO Richard Anderson said that Delta is in no hurry to order new aircraft like the Boeing 737 Max or Airbus A320neo. He said Delta would rather have other airlines test them first to work through any kinks such as the recent battery issues exhibited by the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner. He said that not only does this allow for a more efficient rollout of aircraft within its fleet, but it also allows for more affordable pricing when it comes time to upgrade a fleet. Delta is, however, taking new Boeing 737-900s in the coming years, but these are already being flown by a number of airlines including United, Delta’s closest domestic rival at the moment.

MORE PRECHECK AT ATL. Atlanta’s north security checkpoint now has a TSA Pre-Check lane for expedited security. The north checkpoint is used primarily by non-Delta flyers, which means Southwest/AirTran travelers will eventually enjoy speedier access once it joins in on the PreCheck fun. Southwest will only say that it is working on getting into PreCheck…nothing certain yet. If it wants to compete with Delta for business travelers in Atlanta, it frankly needs to get on the stick and become part of PreCheck. Agree? 

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FLAWS IN RECENT AIRLINE SURVEY. IdeaWorks’ fourth annual survey of airline award seat availability ranked Delta dead last. But to be fair, we must point out that the survey only used airline websites to gauge availability, and we all know that Delta’s is pretty dismal when it comes to redemptions. IdeaWorks searched for two tickets on 280 different dates, at the restricted award levels. Southwest clocked in at first place, and Delta tied with US Airways for the worst among domestic airlines. By picking up the phone (after doing significant research via other websites like AirFrance.us via its Flying Blue program), Delta flyers usually find much more open space. But, the survey does not reveal that. What was accurate and fair about the survey was that it ranks Delta much higher for close-in availability as award seats are often released more freely within two weeks of departure.

ON THE OTHER HAND, KUDOS. On a brighter note, Delta ranked as the top legacy carrier in the recent JD Power survey. It also ranked second best (after Southwest) among majors in a recent Consumer Reports survey. It’s easy to pick on the dominant, hometown carrier…but compared to its peers, Delta’s sitting pretty these days.What do you think? Do Atlantans whine too much about Delta when they might have the best of the bunch in their own backyard? Please leave your comments below.

Love the rocking chairs a Charlotte Douglas Airport (Francesco Mucio)

Love the rocking chairs (but hate the high fares) at Charlotte Douglas Airport (Francesco Mucio)

NEW GOUGE: CHARLOTTE. From TICKET reader JJ: “Has anyone noticed that since Southwest and AirTran left the Atlanta-Charlotte market that Delta fares (a few weeks ago were $200 or a little more) are now over $600 no matter how far out you book? This used to be the case before AirTran went into Charlotte and now that they have left, good old gouge you Delta is at it again. Oh well I guess I’ll have to go back to driving to Charlotte – hate that drive.” (Agreed! That drive up truck infested I-85 is awful!)

THOUGHT DELTA WAS SNEAKY? Delta is not the only airline monetizing its upgrade programs. For example, passengers can bid how many miles or how much money they are willing to spend to upgrade on long flights. Air New Zealand, Austrian, Etihad, and Virgin Atlantic are all offering this type of program. Customers can still use miles for business class seats, but this new auction system allows the demand to ratchet up the price on busy flights putting more money in the airline coffers. It also helps to fill seats that would otherwise go empty making low bidders quite happy (although the cheapest fares are often restricted). Could Delta be next? What do you think about such an idea? Please leave your comments below.

NEW SOUTHWEST FLIGHTS. Atlanta will see additional Southwest flights to New Orleans, New York LaGuardia, St. Louis, West Palm Beach beginning Nov. 3. Also on that date, AirTran’s Atlanta to San Juan flight will switch to Southwest instead of an AirTran plane with business class.

CURTAIN CALL FOR AIRTRAN BUSINESS CLASS. AirTran regulars may have noticed that there are no longer curtains between business and coach class. This removal is part of the alignment with the Southwest model and preparation for operating with a single cabin of service. So its buh-bye business class…but at least it’s a long buh-bye!

WE NEED YOUR HELP! Dearest Devoted TICKET readers:  The TICKET needs more readers!  Can you help us out? Please forward this link to at least three frequent traveling friends, travel agents, travel managers, travel bloggers and tell them why you love The TICKET and encourage them to sign up! THANKS!

An Alaska Airlines 737 at Atlanta Airport (Atlanta Airport)

An Alaska Airlines 737 at Atlanta Airport (Atlanta Airport)

PLUS PORTLAND. MINUS SEATTLE. Delta partner Alaska Airlines will add a new Boeing 737-800 nonstop between ATL and Portland, Oregon on August 26. When the Portland-Atlanta route begins Aug. 26, Alaska Air will reduce its Seattle-Atlanta route to once daily.

FLINT. With AirTran/Southwest out of the picture on the ATL-Flint, Michigan route, Delta is deploying a larger A319 on the route, adding 60 extra seats between the two cities starting in June. Delta is currently using an RJ on the route. With Delta as the only nonstop in the market, you can only guess which direction prices have gone recently….

Join Chris McGinnis & JohnnyJet for the #travelskills chat on Friday mornings!

Join Chris McGinnis & JohnnyJet for the #travelskills Twitter chat on Friday mornings!

SEEKING SUMMER TRAVEL DEALS AND ADVICE? Join in the #TravelSkills chat with @JohnnyJet and me every Friday at noon Eastern! Our new chat has been trending in the US on Twitter on nearly every Friday, so stop by and join the fun. And learn something, or uncover a summer travel deal! See www.travelskills.com/chat

Chris McGinnis

*****

 

5 travel fees worth paying

The evening spread at the Park Royal on Pickering in Singapore is substantial. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The evening spread at the Park Royal on Pickering in Singapore is substantial. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The whole country seems to be making a collective groan when it comes to planning summer vacations.

And why not?

An early look at airfares (especially to Europe) shows some painful peak pricing, especially in July and early August. For example, July nonstops from Atlanta to cities such as London, Frankfurt and Paris are already running $1,500+ roundtrip. (And if you don’t book now, you’ll likely pay close to $2000 round trip later this summer.)

United made us all go bug-eyed when it announced that it was raising change fees on nonrefundable tickets to an egregious $200 last month. Our eyes popped even more when American, Delta and US Airways quickly matched the higher fee.

Then Frontier Airlines announced that it would begin charging $2 for in-flight beverages (including water) and $100 for gate-checked bags that don’t fit under the seat.

While I think that bag fees and change fees are rotten, the airlines love them—last year they collected nearly $6 billion in baggage and change fees alone. Fees, which now comprise nearly 30% of airline revenues,  are what’s been keeping them in the black in recent years.

But airlines aren’t the only ones playing fee-for-all. By now nearly every frequent traveler has been hit by a surprise “resort fee” or overpriced wi-fi fee at hotels. (Beware of those evil “per device” vs per room wi-fi fees, especially when traveling with others!) Rental car companies pile on all kinds of extra “concession” fees or hit us with obnoxiously high per-gallon fees when we don’t have time to fill up the car on the way back to the airport.

United Economy Plus seating usually provides enough room to work on laptops. (Photo: United)

United Economy Plus seating usually provides enough room to work on laptops. (Photo: United)

But all fees aren’t bad. As a matter of fact, I’m happy to pay fees that can truly improve my travel experience.

Here are five fees I don’t mind paying:

>Roomier seats. Elite level members of airline frequent flyer programs get free access to “premium economy” seats near the front of the cabin and by exit rows. However, non-elite travelers can pay a fee for access to these seats. Airlines determine such fees by the length of the flight and demand, and can range from $10 to $100. But on a long flight, a few extra inches can provide enough space to open up a laptop and be productive inflight. It can also make a big difference in comfort if you are tall like me, so it’s a fee I’ll pay when I have to.

>Early boarding. One of the most cherished benefits of elite status with airlines is the ability to board first and lay claim to overhead bin space. However, I spread my airline business around, and I’m not elite on every carrier I fly. So, for example, I’m happy to pay Southwest a $12.50 “Early Bird” fee to get me near the front of the boarding line—especially in the heat of the summer when planes are packed and overhead bin space scarce.

>Inflight wi-fi. When inflight wi-fi from Gogo or Row 44 works well (which seems increasingly rare), it’s definitely worth the fee to me, especially on transcontinental flights. We are lucky in Atlanta with both Delta and AirTran at 100% coverage for domestically configured flights. Delta is adding new satellite connections on its international fleet. It helps pass the time, keeps me productive and eliminates arriving at my destination to a full email box. $20 for a good connection on a five-hour flight? Sure. That’s money well spent to me.

Tip: To help sooth the sting of high fees, consider this: When you charge these travel related fees on credit cards linked to rewards programs, you are earning points you can use for free trips down the road. For example, with my Chase Sapphire Preferred card, I earn two points per dollar spent on travel (including most fees). Eventually, all those charges will add up to points I can redeem to help cut the high cost of future trips.

Inside the nice new Club at LAS near the Virgin America gates at Las Vegas McCarran Airport (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Inside the nice new Club at LAS at Las Vegas McCarran Airport (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

>Airport Club access. Have you ever been stuck in Chicago, Dallas, or Houston or during the summer thunderstorm season? Hordes of summer vacationers milling around…air conditioning systems straining to keep things cool…then the clouds roll in and gum up the works for hours. That’s the time it’s worth the $50 fee for a day pass to airport lounge. But get there early—once the lounge fills up, it’s open to members only. Also, be on the lookout for new non-airline, pay-to-play lounges such as The Club at SJC, Club at LAS (Las Vegas) or others like it– the per use fee is just $35 and definitely worth it during a long layover!

>Hotel Club Floor. When you know a trip is going to be all business all the time (and you don’t plan to get out much), a hotel club, executive or concierge floor is almost always worth the extra cost. When you pay the premium, you’ll likely get breakfast, snacks, booze (sometimes) and heavy hors d’oeuvres at night, free wi-fi, gym and business center access. Rooms are usually slightly larger and likely to be on upper floors offering better views. Plus, you can check in and out in the lounge and not have to wait in lines that can form in the hotel lobby. If I’m not planning to get out much, I’m usually happy to pay the premium of 20% or 30%. A weekend holed up on the club level at a Ritz-Carlton can be awesome!

Do you agree? Which travel fees seem most onerous to you? Which are you  happy, even eager to pay? PLEASE leave your comments below. 

Chris McGinnis

Disclosure: My company, Travel Skills Group, Inc, has a commercial relationship with Chase Card Services, which is mentioned in this post.

*****

Airport warns of significant security delays

(Photo: Hyku)

(Photo: Hyku)

Airport officials sent the following alert out on Friday May 10 regarding significant delays (up to 70 minutes) at ATL due to TSA staffing issues. Have you noticed? Please leave your comments below. 

ATLANTA – In light of TSA staffing shortages and long lines at the domestic security checkpoint, Department of Aviation officials at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport advise passengers to arrive 90 minutes to two hours prior to their scheduled departure time.

Wait times were as long as 70 minutes on Friday, as passengers experienced what appears to be the effects of sequestration on TSA staffing.  The Airport has 22 checkpoint lanes at the main checkpoint in the domestic terminal.   However, only 13 lanes were open when lines were at their longest.

“It is unacceptable to have so few lanes open during peak passenger traffic,” said Louis Miller, Aviation general manager.  “It’s obvious TSA has a staffing shortage.   And, it is affecting our ability to offer the level of customer service we’re committed to.”

Airport officials have stationed extra customer service representatives along the checkpoint lines to direct passengers to the shortest lines within the checkpoint areas.  Additionally, the representatives monitor all three domestic checkpoints to determine when passengers should be directed to other  least congested areas.

“We’re doing everything we can do to keep the lines moving,” said Louis Miller, Aviation general manager.  “ But we will continue to meet with TSA to stress the importance of providing enough staff.   Hopefully Congress will take the appropriate action to rectify the problem.”

Hartsfield-Jackson , the world’s busiest airport, sees about 45,000 passengers pass through it domestic checkpoints on an average day.  Officials estimate that approximately 55,000 passed through on Friday, the start of a busy Mother’s Day weekend.

Have you noticed? Please leave your comments below. 

Chris McGinnis

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