New look for Newark + United goes Android + New Delta look at LAX + Fee at Hilton/Marriott

Which country boasts this gorgeous passport design? See below

Which country boasts this gorgeous design on passport pages including the North Star, Moon and Northern Lights? Scroll to bottom for full story!

AIRLINES

Just in time for the busy holidays, United has (finally) extended its new onboard streaming service to Android users. Apple iPhone and iPad users (as well as those on any laptop)  have been able to give the new service a try since last spring.  To use it, you must first download the United app from the Google Play or Apple App store in order to watch a variety free TV shows and movies while in flight on nearly 200 United aircraft, including its entire Airbus A319, Airbus A320 and Boeing 747 fleets and its Boeing 777 flying between the mainland and Hawaii. For the full story on inflight streaming, see this recent TravelSkills post: BYOD Entertainment on Planes. Have you tried United’s inflight streaming product yet? How did that go for you? 

You are reading Part 2 of this week’s Catch Up in Travel News from TravelSkills. Here’s Part 1

AIRPORTS

NEW RAIL LINK UP & RUNNING.  BART’s new Oakland airport service got off to a wet start last Saturday — with crews forced to squeegee off rain that had blown in and flooded the airport station platform — but nothing could dampen the enthusiasm of its jubilant first-day riders, according to SFgate.com “It was great, it was wonderful, it was easy, quick and cheap,” said one rider. New automated trains will transport riders from BART’s Coliseum station to the new Oakland Airport station every five minutes during peak hours; the ride takes eight minutes. The ride from the Coliseum station to/from downtown SF takes about 25 minutes. BART fares between the new Oakland Airport station and downtown San Francisco are $10.05.  More… 

A rendering of the future look for United's Concourse C in Newark (Image: OTG)

A rendering of the future look for United’s Concourse C in Newark (Image: OTG)

Big-name chefs coming to EWR. United Airlines and development partner OTG Management have revealed more plans for the ongoing overhaul of Terminal C at Newark Liberty International Airport. Not only is the revamped facility bringing in new restaurants from a number of high-visibility chefs, but travelers will be able to use their MileagePlus miles to pay for food and drinks through some of the 6,000 iPads that will be deployed in the terminal’s restaurants, bars and gate areas. The headliner restaurant will be chef Alaine Ducasse’s Saison, a French bistro; others include a French country eatery from Alex Guarnaschelli; an Italian steakhouse from Mario Carbone, and a surf bar and sushi outlet from Josh Capon.

Taxi turmoil at SFO. Organized taxi drivers clogged up the roadways outside passenger terminals at San Francisco International one night last week to protest the airport’s recent decisions to let app-based ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft operate there. And members of the Taxi Workers Alliance are threatening to repeat the curbside chaos at SFO “again and again” unless the airport changes its policy. Meanwhile, a top Uber executive stirred up a mini-scandal after word leaked out that he had threatened to start digging up dirt on journalists who write negative stories about the company. Would negative publicity about Uber make you less likely to use their service? Put your comments below.

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Delta's Sky Prority lobby at LAX efore (above) and after (below)

Delta’s Sky Prority lobby at LAX efore (above) and after (below)

Lobby remake at LAX. Delta has finished the renovation of its Sky Priority lobby at Los Angeles International’s Terminal 5. Take a look at the before and after photos.

HOTELS

New fees coming at Hilton, Marriott. Effective January 1, Hilton and Marriott will impose a new standard cancellation fee — a single night’s room rate — on no-show guests unless they have cancelled their bookings at least the day before scheduled arrival. If individual hotels within the groups already have more restrictive cancellation policies, those will remain in effect. Not all chains are adopting a uniform policy; e.g., things are unchanged at Best Western, a spokesperson said, where cancellation policies vary by the rate booked and the individual hotel’s policy; policies are listed under each rate bookable on bw.com.

This is what Norway's passport pages look like in normal light. (Image: Neue)

This is what Norway’s passport pages look like in normal light. (Image: Neue)

This is what the pages of Norway’s new passport look like in normal light. The darker image above (scroll to top), which reveals the north star and northern lights, is only visible under UV light. Beautiful! (Full story from CNN here)

You are reading Part 2 of this week’s Catch Up in Travel News from TravelSkills. Here’s Part 1

-Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

In Case You Missed It…

  • Olefactory stimulants: Chris lists his favorite travel smells. What are yours?
>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<

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Delta push at Seattle + Seat pitch compared + Southwest “Swagger” + Delta’s newest jets +

Delta & Alaska Air battle for Seattle (Photo: Jim Glab)

Delta & Alaska Air battle for Seattle (Photo: Jim Glab)

AIRLINES

Delta’s big(ger) Seattle plans. Last week Delta’s CEO told employees the company wants to expand from its current 11 gates to 30 gates at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, making it “a huge international gateway.” With those gates, Delta could operate up to 240 flights a day. Delta has been steadily adding transpacific and domestic flights at SEA, to the dismay of its erstwhile partner Alaska Airlines, which is following its own growth plan at its hub airport. Alaska currently controls about 40 percent of SEA’s traffic. Meanwhile, Delta announced another round of expansion at SEA next May and June, adding Delta Connection service to Denver (five flights a day), Sacramento (four a day) and Boise (four a day), plus seasonal service to Ketchikan and Sitka, Alaska.

Even with the cuts, JetBlue has a chart showing that it's legroom will still be better than others. (Image: JetBlue)

Even with the cuts, JetBlue has a chart showing that its standard legroom will still beat other carriers. (Image: JetBlue)

JetBlue overhauls fares, seating. Only two major U.S. airlines let all passengers check a bag for free — JetBlue and Southwest (Southwest allows two free bags) — but that will fall to just one in the first half of 2015. That’s when JetBlue will revamp its pricing into three “branded fare bundle options.” The lowest fares will be for “customers who do not plan to check a bag,” JetBlue said; the others will include one and two checked bags respectively, plus other perks. The airline also will “refresh” its A320s by installing “lighter, more comfortable seats” that will let it increase the number of seats per plane — and reduce its current (very generous) standard seat pitch, although it will still exceed pitch on major competitors according to the chart above (supplied by JetBlue). The airline pledged that its Wi-Fi will still be offered for free (at least through 2015). Meanwhile, a JetBlue exec said in an interview the airline is likely to expand its Mint premium seating product to transcon flights from Boston in the future.

Within days of JetBlue’s announcement, wily Southwest Airlines launched a retro-hipster, captivating new TV ad campaign focusing on its free checked bag option. This 30-second spot, called “Swagger” is worth a watch and listen! See below.

Delta places big widebody order. In a blow to Boeing, Delta said it will turn to Airbus for the next big phase of its fleet renewal program, placing an order for 50 twin-engine widebody jets to replace its aging 747s and 767s. The company has ordered 25 of Airbus’ next-generation A350-900s, to be delivered starting in 2017; and 25 A330-900neo aircraft, to arrive starting in 2019. The A350s will be used on transpacific routes, and the A330s will go onto medium-haul transatlantic routes and some west coast-to-Asia routes. Earlier this year, TravelSkills got an inside look at the A350, which claims to be the widest of widebodies. Check out our report and PHOTOS of the new A350.

Cheaper upgrades. Delta is offering winter travelers the opportunity to upgrade at a discount for flights now through February. A nice way to avoid some holiday travel hassles, yes, but (as usual) there are some important points in the fine print: The markets NYC to/from LAX / SFO / SEA will be excluded from this offer.  This promotion does not include any fares purchased in Delta’s cheapest E, V, or Y class.

Popular: Did you hear about the latest wave of downgrades at United MileagePlus? Read this! 

Watch those Wi-Fi charges. When you sign up for in-flight Wi-Fi, do you keep a close watch on how much data your device is eating up? One transpacific traveler found himself unexpectedly facing a bill for almost $1,200 from Singapore Airlines, and web site Skift examined just what went wrong for him– providing an object lesson for others. (P.S. Sounds like the guy’s not getting his money back…)

KLM's new economy seat (Image KLM)

KLM’s new economy seat (Image KLM)

KLM overhauls 777-200s. Delta’s SkyTeam partner KLM has started renovating the passenger cabins of its 777-200 fleet, following up on a similar overhaul of its 747s. The new World Business Class is getting fully-flat seats with more personal space for passengers and new 16-inch seatback monitors with upgraded entertainment options. In the 777-200 economy class, new seats will provide extra legroom, ergonomic headrests, power outlets and a new entertainment system with hundreds of programming options.

Route news: Alaska, JetBlue, Frontier, Spirit. Alaska Airlines said it will introduce daily Seattle-Washington Dulles service on March 11 … JetBlue last week started daily non-stops between Salt Lake City and Orlando … Spirit Airlines has big expansion plans at Houston Bush Intercontinental, where it will add 10 new routes next spring, including Tampa, Baltimore/Washington and Oakland as well as three points in Mexico and four in Central America … Frontier Airlines told employees that it plans to slash 15 flights a day at its Denver home base next year due to rising taxes and fees at that airport.

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Bottled cocktails on VX.  A new cucumber vodka mojito from Austin Cocktails, a line of bottled, craft cocktails, is now available fleetwide onboard Virgin America. The new pre-mixed drink is made with vodka, natural flavors and sweetened with organic agave and priced at $8.25. Culturemap Austin says this about the Mojito:  “For anyone watching her girlish figure, what may be most noteworthy is that all the drinks ring in at less than 100 calories a serving….and has a refreshing, lime-heavy flavor that gets better with subsequent sips. With its hint of cucumber, it reminds us of the cucumber-infused water you get at a spa.”

STAY TUNED! Part 2 of Catching Up on the week’s most important travel news comes tomorrow!

In Case You Missed It…

  • Olefactory stimulants: Chris lists his favorite travel smells. What are yours?
>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<

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Much needed upgrade in London

Heathrow Train

New cars for the London Tube (Photo: Transport for London)

The City of London has released plans for a futuristic upgrade to The Tube, one of the world’s largest underground rail systems. But don’t hold your breath– the fleet of 250 new trains won’t hit the tracks until the mid-2020s, and are anticipated to remain in service for 40 years. The Piccadilly Line, well-used by business travelers in central London, will be the first to get the new cars.

The cars were designed by UK-based PreistmanGoode, a design firm that specializes in transportation and has made its mark on many travel environments that touch us daily, such as seats on United, interiors of Qatar Airways’ new A380 or Heathrow’s Terminal 5. (Cool website!)

Simply called “the New Tube,” the trains will feature a few firsts.  They will be comprised of one contiguous walk-through barrel, rather than many interconnected cars. This stretched look means that more passengers can be transported on the same track, increasing capacity on the system overall. (You may have seen trains like this if you’ve taken the MTR subways in Hong Kong.)

Related: Chris’s column Business Trip: London

 

The new trains will bring a welcome reduction in crowding….the new layout increases capacity up to 60%, providing a significant boost for Tube travelers for the useful life of the new trains – pegged at 40 years or more. Slideshow here

Another welcome tech feature comes from the air-cooling of the cars. It’s not always possible to move air-conditioning at certain depths in the existing Tube system, and so this will bring cooler, fresher air to increase passenger comfort. (And could help eliminate that well known “Tube smell”– see our post about that here)

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The initial rollout will still have drivers in each car; eventually, the New Tube can run on its own without human guidance. As some viewers have pointed out on YouTube, this full automation has the added advantage of reducing, and eventually eliminating, chaotic Tube strikes.

London Travel Tip: During peak travel season, when tourists, business travelers and locals fill the city, do not depend on the ability of London’s current aging transportation infrastructure to get you to your meetings on time. Black cabs creep slowly through the traffic of central London. The London Underground, or Tube, is notoriously unreliable and susceptible to delays, forcing users onto lengthy alternate routes. To avoid being late in a city that appreciates promptness, always schedule your meetings with a very large cushion of time in between.

Popular: Did you hear about the latest wave of downgrades at United MileagePlus? Read this! 

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>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<

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Google’s travel advice

Google travel

Ninety percent of holiday travel is by CAR, not by plane. With that in mind, the smarties at Google took a deep dive into their data and came up with some helpful insight and advice for avoiding Thanksgiving traffic as well as top searches in Google Maps before, during, and after Thanksgiving.

Traffic data was pulled from the Monday before Thanksgiving to the Sunday after Thanksgiving during 2012 and 2013, and Google Maps search trends are based on information from 2013.

According to Google’s data, Wednesday is the worst Thanksgiving traffic day for most cities, with Saturday the worst day to return. (This flies in the face of conventional wisdom that Sunday is the worst day to return.)

Google travel

  • Worst day to travel: For most cities, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the worst traffic day — but in San Francisco the worst day is Saturday. Other exceptions include of Boston (Tuesday), Honolulu (Saturday), Providence (Saturday).
  • Skip the rush: The worst time for Thanksgiving traffic falls between 3:00pm and 5:00pm the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Better to leave before 2:00pm or after 7:00pm on Wednesday if you want to beat the rush.
  • Second worst traffic day: Saturday and Tuesday vie for the second and third heaviest traffic days overall — Black Friday doesn’t draw huge road traffic.
  • Thanksgiving Day traffic: Thanksgiving Day traffic is a breeze — it usually has the least traffic of the entire week; for those looking to beat even the lightest traffic day, make sure you stay off the road between 12:00pm and 2:00pm on Thanksgiving Day.
  • When to drive back home: Traffic patterns show that you’re better off driving home from the holiday weekend on Sunday rather than Saturday — traffic can be up to 40% worse on Saturday.
  • Changes in holiday traffic: In six cities, Thanksgiving traffic has actually decreased slightly between 2012 and 2013 (Boston,Dallas, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and Providence).

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Food and drink top Google Maps searches the day before Thanksgiving, and Detroit football fans looked for directions to the stadium.

  • Last minute prep: The top three trending searches on Google Maps the day before Thanksgiving were ham shop, pie shop, and liquor store, as Americans do last minute errands just before Turkey Day.  I get liquor story, but ham shop? Really? :)
  • Gearing up for Black Friday: “Outlet mall” is the #1 trending Google Maps search term on Thanksgiving Day. Meanwhile, “outlet mall” is only the #3 trending search term on Black Friday itself.
  • Ready for Christmas: The top two Google Maps search trends on Black Friday had nothing to do with shopping — instead, people were already on to Christmas. The top two terms were: “Christmas tree farm” and “festival.”
  • Thanksgiving football: Lions fans plan ahead. The day before Thanksgiving football, Detroit fans searched for directions to the stadium (#1) and parking garages (#2). In comparison, in Dallas, stadium is the #9 search trend the day before Thanksgiving.

Google Travel

–Chris McGinnis

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My 9 favorite travel smells

The new scent globe a London Heathrow Terminal 2 (LHR Airports)

The new scent globe a London Heathrow Terminal 2 (LHR Airports)

This week sees London-Heathrow’s brand new Terminal 2 “The Queen’s Terminal” operating at full capacity with all 26 airlines (primarily Star Alliance) now in their new home. Airport authorities planned for the transition to take place over the five months instead of in one fell swoop. Good thinking since the process seems to have gone without a hitch, and the new terminal is a far cry from the old cramped quarters of Terminal 1 & 2.

TravelSkills got an early sneak peek at the shiny new terminal and United’s nice new business and first class lounges last spring. But regrettably, we missed out on the terminal’s new, one-of-a-kind “scent globe” which the airport says “will immerse the curious in the aromas of Thailand; South Africa; Japan; China and Brazil.”

The scents emitted from the globe come from key ingredients associated with the designated country and “are designed to transport passengers to far flung destinations.” South Africa smells of tribal incense, wild grass and musk. Brazil’s scent is rich in rainforest fauna with a palette of coffee, tobacco and jasmine. Japan smells cool, oceanic with a mix of seaweed and shell extracts, green tea and Ambergris. Thailand is mix of lemongrass, ginger and coconut.

This of course got me on a train of thought about distinct travel smells… there are many and some so strong and memorable that I could be blindfolded, yet know exactly where I am due to the olfactory sensation. 

For example, there’s what I call “the Marriott smell.” Have you ever noticed that Marriotts (all brands) smell like band-aids? I’m not certain, but I assume that the lodging giant centrally sources an iodine-based antibacterial cleaning compound that emits the smell. It’s not a bad smell… it’s a clean, reassuring smell. But it’s there. Am I crazy or does anyone else notice this?

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Speaking of travel smells… here are nine of my favorites (in no particular order)… what are yours?

Chestnuts Roasting NYC IMG_1703

Chestnuts roasting in Manhattan (Steven Depolo / Flickr)

  1. The smell of coffee brewing on a plane as a long overnight flight is coming to an end. And the smell of jet fuel as you walk off the plane and onto the jetway.
  2. The acrid, sour, but memorable smell of chestnuts roasting on a dry, cold New York City night.
  3. Getting into a rental car, noticing the “new car smell” and looking down at the odometer reading 000016 miles.
  4. The smell of rain & tropical flowers when stepping off the plane at almost any airport in Hawaii
  5. The minty-soapy-lotiony-cologne-y smell of my toilet kit- it means the road is calling.
  6. The leathery, carpet-y “new plane” smell on a brand new or refurbished aircraft.
  7. I love it when you walk into a hotel with a spa… and you can smell it. Usually eucalyptus. On the other hand, I hate it when you walk into a hotel with an indoor pool and you can smell the chlorine.
  8. The smell of cookies baking on a plane (even if they are only served in first class).
  9. A Cinnabon at the airport. A Lush boutique somewhere overseas. And yes, even a McDonald’s when I’ve been away from the US for too long.

To me, Seattle and San Francisco smell like dark roast coffee. Los Angeles and Phoenix smell like orange blossoms. Houston smells like refineries. Tampa and Orlando smell like hot summer afternoon thunderstorms. Paris like bread. London smells metallic, and rubbery, like the Tube.  Mumbai like sewerage and sandalwood. Boston smells like fish or the ocean. Denver like wood smoke. I could go on and on.

What about you? Please leave your comments and favorite (or least favorite) travel smells below.

–Chris McGinnis

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>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<

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United changes rules + Radical plan for NYC airport + Centurion “Studio” + Uber’s friends in DC

United

Somewhere over Greenland up in the bubble on a United B747 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

AIRLINES. 

Did you get the email from United last week? As expected (and as usual) the carrier mimicked Delta’s recent move to increase the amount of dollars members must spend to get (or maintain) Premier status. The 20% bump up applies to qualifying activity in 2015 for status in 2016. The 25K spend threshold on MileagePlus co-branded credit cards  for status is not affected by this. Details here. So far, American is still sitting back, watching and remaining vague about any plans it has for the move toward a revenue based program. So what do you think? Last time we wrote about airlines’ new revenue requirements, the general reaction from TravelSkills readers was, “Mmmeh, I’ll easily meet those spending requirements.” And some even lauded Delta and United for weeding out the gamers who don’t pay much but have figured out wily ways to snag awards and upgrades. Please leave your comments below. 

AIRPORTS

New Amex Centurion “Studio.” American Express can’t always find a airport space large enough for its super popular Centurion Lounges, like the brand new on in San Francisco. Such is the case in Seattle (SEA), where Amex announced that will open a smaller Centurion Studio instead. Amex says: “The Centurion Studio will be a retreat for Card Members but in a smaller space, featuring some of the amenities Card Members say are most essential: comfortable seating, charging stations, fast and free WiFi, and complimentary healthy snacks and beverages.” Amex told TravelSkills that it will be located “right off the Main terminal towards concourse B, post-security and easily accessible to all terminals.” It will be interesting to see how the smaller studio handles crowds…we’ve heard from several TravelSkills readers already about overcrowded conditions at the SFO lounge and elsewhere….

A grand re-imagining of New York's LaGuardia Airport- enter on Riker's Island & take a train to your plane (ReThink NYC)

A grand re-imagining of New York’s LaGuardia Airport- enter on Riker’s Island & take a train to your plane (ReThink NYC)

Visionary plan for LaGuardia. The New York Times reports that one local resident who thinks big has a grand plan for remaking LaGuardia Airport. His concept would move airport access much closer to Manhattan and expand the airport from two runways to four, and have as many as 160 passenger gates. How could this be? The airport would take over nearby Rikers Island — currently home to a big city jail — and put all the passenger gates there, freeing up space at the existing airport for more runways; a transportation terminal at the southern tip of The Bronx would bring in passengers from subways and Amtrak trains; and the whole thing would be linked with underground trains. Talk about outta-the-box thinking!

Big improvements planned at DCA. Airlines at Washington Reagan National have come to terms with the airport authority on a plan to invest $1 billion in facility improvements over the next 10 years. The plan calls for construction of a regional airline concourse linked to the north pier; connecting the three B/C piers inside security by moving TSA checkpoints from level 2 to level 3, making for easier connections between American Airlines flights; adding a new parking garage; and overhauling Terminal A.

Bonus Offers: How about a round trip to Hawaii or Mexico for less than $100 on US Airways? Or enough points for two roundtrips and a big jump on coveted Companion Status on Southwest? More…

CARS

(Photo: Uber)

(Photo: Uber)

Uber gaining Capitol friends. A new report finds that ride-sharing service Uber is making big inroads among Congress people and their staffs. Specifically, their use of Uber for local transportation increased from a zero percent market share in the 2010 election campaign to 61 percent this year. “Uber has overtaken taxis in both number of rides and amount spent,” the researchers said.

SFO adds another private ride provider. San Francisco International Airport, which in recent weeks reached agreements allowing UberX, Lyft and Sidecar to operate there, has issued a pilot permit to another operator — Wingz (www.wingz.me). Unlike the others, Wingz specializes only in airport transportation, offering a $35 flat rate to SFO for a private ride with “an awesome trained and background-checked driver.” Service should begin within 30 days.

Note: This is part 2 of our weekly “Catch Up” — have you read Part 1? 

Study tracks rental processing time. How effective are car rental firms’ express service programs for business travelers? The latest rental customer satisfaction study from J.D. Power finds that the vehicle pick-up and return process for business renters averages 41.5 minutes (including the shuttle ride) — only about three minutes less than the process takes for leisure renters. Overall customer satisfaction dropped slightly this year after rising steadily since 2009. Enterprise, National and Alamo topped the J.D. Power list this year. Hertz ranked #4.

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HOTELS

Hackers said to steal business travelers’ data at hotels. Internet security giant Kaspersky is warning business travelers about a corporate espionage campaign it calls “Darkhotel” that targets senior executives staying at luxury hotels — especially U.S. executives doing business in the Asia/Pacific region. The hackers “trick the person into downloading and installing a backdoor that pretends to be an update for legitimate software, such as Google Toolbar, Adobe Flash or Windows Messenger,” Kaspersky said, and can then hunt for stored passwords and logins as well as business data. The firm said travelers should be “suspicious” of suggested software updates when they are abroad, and should use a VPN provider. Has this ever happened to you– or anyone you know? Do you take any precautions when using a Wi-Fi connection in your hotel? Please leave your comments below. 

In Case You Missed It…

Note: This is part 2 of our weekly “Catch Up” — have you read Part 1? 

 

New extra bonus offer: Get a whopping 50,000 Rapid Rewards points by signing up for Southwest’s Premier card – that’s enough for TWO free tickets. 

>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<

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Virgin’s next moves? + NYC + New Lufthansa seat + Eastern Airlines + More A380s

A brilliant fall day in NYC from the top floor of the Parker Meridien hotel (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Greetings from New York City on a beautiful fall day peering out from the Parker Meridien hotel (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

AIRLINES

Virgin shares soar in IPO. And the airline could, too. This is going to be really fun to watch. Virgin America shares hit the market Virgin Americaon Friday morning at $23 each, and took off to reach $30 by the end of the day. That makes Virgin worth about $1.3 billion. Now, with about $220 million in net proceeds, Virgin is going to add new planes, new routes and hopefully more frequencies in key business markets. CEO David Cush said that Virgin will add five new planes in 2015 and another five in 2016. He also said the SF-based carrier has a few other “tricks up its sleeve.” Talk of new flights to Hawaii has re-emerged. With Southwest taking AirTran’s business class seats out of the SFO-ATL market, I’d love to see two-class Virgin dive in. Where would YOU like to see Virgin America (see current destinations) expand? And would you be willing to give up your legacy carrier frequent flyer miles to try it? Please leave your comments below. 

Lufthansa’s premium economy starts this week. That new Premium Economy Class at Lufthansa is opening up nine days sooner than expected. The carrier said that starting November 22, the new section will be available on all of its 747-8 routes, including Frankfurt to Chicago, LAX and Washington Dulles. Besides the extra in-flight comforts, passengers will get twice the free checked bag allowance of regular economy, and for a 25 euro fee ($31), Premium Economy passengers can access the business class lounge before departure. Currently, United does not allow redemption of MileagePlus miles for Lufthansa (or any Star Alliance) premium economy. Lufthansa is offering a 15 percent discount on Premium Economy bookings until December 9. Take a look at Lufthansa’s new seat in this TravelSkills post: 20 different business class seats in one room

etihadTheResidenceFclass

One of three rooms in the Etihad First Class “Residence” onboard its A380s (Etihad)

$20,000 first class suites going fast. Would you pay $20,000 one way to fly in a private first class suite the size of some Manhattan apartments? Etihad Airways says these super-premium accommodations on its A380s — called The Residence — are selling out, in spite of the stratospheric price tag. Each one has a private shower, living area, bedroom — and the services of a butler. Meanwhile, other leading international carriers have upgraded their own front cabins to meet strong demand from global business moguls.

I captured this image of the Asiana B777 wreckage when my Delta flight from Atlanta landed the day after the crash (Chris McGinnis)

I captured this image of the Asiana B777 wreckage when my Delta flight from Atlanta landed  at SFO the day after the crash (Chris McGinnis)

Asiana SFO flights suspended. The South Korean government has ordered Asiana Airlines to halt its daily service to San Francisco from Seoul Incheon for 45 days as a penalty for the airline’s crash of a 777 during its landing at SFO in July 2013, in which three passengers died and scores were injured. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board blamed the crash on errors by one of the pilots, who was unfamiliar with all the automated systems on the 777. Asiana said it will appeal the suspension, which could delay implementation of the order.

Related: Korean Air Trip Reports- SFO-Seoul on a B777  &  Seoul-Atlanta on an A380 

International route news: Etihad Airways, which begins daily San Francisco-Abu Dhabi non-stops November 18, said its upcoming Dallas/Ft. Worth route, beginning with three flights a week on December 3, will increase to daily on April 16; Etihad is a code-share partner with American …

>Emirates will put a fourth daily flight, using an A380, onto its Dubai-New York JFK route on March 8, timed to maximize connections with partner JetBlue. The carrier also said it intends to put the A380 super-jumbo onto more U.S. routes; it introduced the plane on its DFW route last month, and will do the same in December with San Francisco and Houston. Emirates will have 68 A380s in operation by the end of 2015 compared with 55 today according to Bloomberg …

>British Airways will replace the 777 on its Denver-London route with a four-class 747 starting in March (including its new 14-suite first class design) …

>El Al will introduce Boston-Tel Aviv service three times a week starting in June 2015 …

>On May 1, Aer Lingus will begin new seasonal service from Washington Dulles to Dublin four times a week …

>Lufthansa will add Tampa to its route network in September 2015, using an A340-300 for flights to Frankfurt.

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The new Eastern Airlines has painted its first jet. Brings back memories, no?

The new Eastern Airlines has painted its first jet, a 737-800. Brings back memories, no?

Something old, something new: PEOPLExpress, Eastern. The new incarnation of PEOPLExpress Airlines appears to be in trouble: Media reports indicate officials at Virginia’s Newport News/Williamsburg Airport are trying to evict the carrier from its home base, citing $100,000 in unpaid bills … The old Eastern Airlines name is also being revived in Miami. The “new” Eastern has started recruiting flight attendants, although it doesn’t yet have FAA certification. The company said it plans to operate 737-800s, but will initially serve only as a charter airline.

United’s holiday shopper lounges. Chase and United Airlines will soon open special VIP lounges for holiday shoppers in San Francisco and New Jersey. Available to Chase United cardholders, they’ll offer gift wrapping, refreshments, TVs, Wi-Fi and more, with locations at the Westfield San Francisco Centre (November 24-December 24) and The Mall at Short Hills (November 22-December 24).

Lake Tahoe at sunset (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Lake Tahoe at sunset (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Love Lake Tahoe? Then come chat about it! TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis will be talking about his favorite place to get away from it all MONDAY at 3 pm ET. Take a cool virtual tour here and come chat with us and FlipKey today! On Twitter, look for the #TakeMeThereTahoe hashtag at 3 pm ET, Noon PT today!

In Case You Missed It…

Stay tuned! Part 2 of this weekly “Catch Up” will post tomorrow morning…

 

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Trip Report: Korean Air A380 Seoul-Atlanta (Part 2)

Flight attendants are eager to help take photos of folks like me crossing scenes like sitting in KAL's Celestial Lounge off the bucket list

KAL flight attendants are eager to help take photos of folks like me eager to cross a scene like this off the ole bucket list. (Chris McGinnis)

It takes three jetways to load up an A380 here at Seoul's Incheon Airport (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

It takes three (clear glass) jetways to load up an A380 here at Seoul’s Incheon Airport (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Last month I finally crossed this off my bucket list:  Flying from Seoul to Atlanta on a Korean Air A380. KAL’s big blue A380 is Atlanta’s one and only double decker and I’ve wanted to float into my old hometown on it since the service started in September 2013.

The first leg of that journey started in San Francisco where I boarded a KAL B777 for the trip to Seoul. I was a guest of Korean Air and wrote about that part of the trip here.

In the first post, I concluded that there was not much difference between business class on the two planes once you are in your seat. But the differences do become evident when you walk around and explore the enormity of the big A380 bird.

See Part 1

Upstairs in business class on KAL's A380 feels big, bright and spacious (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Upstairs in business class on KAL’s A380 feels big, bright and spacious (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

There are 94 lie flat business class seats on the upper deck of KAL's A380 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

There are 94 lie flat business class seats on the upper deck of KAL’s A380 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The key feature of Korean Air’s A380 is its dearth of seats. I know that sounds crazy, but did you know that there are fewer seats, just 407, on a KAL A380 than on any other commercial A380? On most other carriers, the number is closer to 500, or well over it in some cases. (Lufthansa, for example, squeezes in 526 seats on its A380.) This means that there is a lot more room for passengers…for onboard lounges (two of them)…for two staircases….and even for a duty free store.

Ninety-four (94) lie-flat business class seats configured 2-2-2 fill the entire upper deck of this bird. On the main deck there are 12 first class “suites” up front configured 1-2-1, and 301 economy class seats configured 3-4-3 with a generous pitch of 33-34 inches. Korean Air does not offer a premium economy section. See the KAL A380 on SeatGuru.

Nice big storage bins reserved for window-seat flyers (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Nice big storage bins reserved for window-seat flyers on the A380 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

To me, the best business class seats on the A380 are window seats. That’s mostly because I really like looking out the window. But it’s also because of storage space. Due to the curvature of the plane, there is room for a good sized storage bin between the seat and the window. The bin is big enough to hold the contents of a briefcase, and that really comes in handy on a long flight (in this case about 14.5 hours). These bins are not available on the B777. The downside of the window seat is that you have to skirt around your neighbor to get to the aisle. Not a big deal to me but I know some folks don’t like that. All the other business class seats offer direct aisle access.

Roundtrip business class fares between Atlanta and Seoul run about $4,800. Economy class is about $2,100 in mid December. First class round trips? $18,000.

If you redeem Delta SkyMiles for the ATL-ICN roundtrip, you’ll pay a minimum of 70,000 in economy and 190,000 in business class. KAL first class is not available to SkyMiles members redeeming miles. (Based on a search for nonstops in mid January.)

Mood lighting in business class onboard KAL A380 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Mood lighting in business class onboard KAL A380 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Another feature that I noticed on Korean Air was the mood lighting which varied in brightness and color throughout the trip. I think flight attendants were trying to re-create morning and evening with the lights. Regrettably, I was on a different schedule and every time I opened my window shade for a peak out at the view, I was asked by flight attendants to close it. Nice: When window shades are up, business class seats enjoy quite a show out of two or three windows for each row.

Related Trip Report:  British Airways A380 on the “Red Carpet Route”

Korean Air

KAL’s Celestial Lounge at the rear of the upper deck business class section (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

This is the lounge at the front of the business class section adjacent to the staircase to the main deck (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

This is the lounge at the front of the business class section adjacent to the staircase to the main deck (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Here’s a look at the “Celestial Lounge” at the rear of the upper deck business class cabin. There is room to sit down and strap in if it gets turbulent. Those high cushions you see are for leaning if it gets a little bumpy. On my flight, business class was only half full, so the lounge never attracted a big convivial crowd…on my two trips back there I smiled through my bleary eyes at a few other bleary-eyed travelers checking out the space like I was. Flight attendants were eager to take photos of passengers saddled up to the bar or on the sofa. There’s another smaller lounge with similar catering at the front of the business class section.

Korean Air

Here’s part of the spread offered in the Celestial Lounge. Korean Air has partnered with Absolut, so there’s a icy well full of various flavors of vodka, wine and Champagne (Perrier Jouet). Snacks (which few passengers ate) consisted of a plate of nice canapes, some nuts, a big bowl of kettle fried potato chips and these colorful Korean-style dessert lollipops or gosibol– fermented cookies made of sweet rice and various freeze-dried fruits and grains. Since this flight departed Seoul at around 9 a.m. and arrived in ATL at about 9 am, it felt like morning to me throughout the (mostly sleepless) 14.5-hour flight, so I never partook of the boozy bevs.

Korean Air

Here’s a view down the rear staircase– this one is spiral while the one up front is not. Both staircases were roped off during the flight to prevent mixing of the classes. But I noticed several other curious travelers (like me) ignoring the ropes and taking self-guided tours of the plane.

Korean Air

A spacious and cushy first class “Kosmo Suite” on the main deck of KAL’s A380 (Chris McGinnis)

Korean Air's first class cabin flew empty from ICN to ATL (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Korean Air’s first class cabin flew empty from ICN to ATL (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

When I snuck downstairs to check out the first class section, I was surprised to find the the entire cabin empty. All that beautiful real estate just sitting there so lonely. Does this have something to do with Delta not allowing SkyMiles members to redeem miles for KAL first class? Probably. Especially on this route. But it made it much easier for me to take photos– which is usually something that first class passengers don’t appreciate. Korean Air calls its big seats “Kosmo Suites” and they are super spacious (79 inches long by 27 inches wide) and plush. Unlike a lot of carriers that wall off first class passengers into compartments, the KAL A380 open plan would be a lot more convivial if there had been more passengers. Korean Air is one of the few carriers that still serve caviar in first class.

Related Trip Report: Lufthansa’s inaugural A380 flight

Economy class on the A380 is configured 3-4-3 and seats have a generous 33"-34" of pitch and oversized seatback screens (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Economy class on the A380 is configured 3-4-3 and seats have a generous 33″-34″ of pitch and oversized seatback screens (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Korean Air

Korean Air flight attendant serving the first course of one of two meal services on the 14.5 hour flight from Seoul to Atlanta (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

KAL serves two meals (both lunch or dinnerish…no breakfast) on this 14-hour flight that departs Seoul at around 9 a.m. and arrives in Atlanta at about 9 a.m. on the same day. My jetlag counselor Bill Ashton (www.stopjetlag.com) suggests getting as much sleep as possible as early as possible in the flight, I postponed my first meal until later into the flight. Flight attendants were happy to oblige.

Korean Air

Roasted red snapper with paprika sauce served with squid ink spaghetti and braised zucchini (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

"Chinese style bean curd with minced beef and xo fried rice" (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

“Chinese style bean curd with minced beef and xo fried rice” in business class (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Korean Air

Korean Air’s duty free store is located at the rear of the economy class section near the circular staircase up to business class. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Americans are typically not big fans of duty free shopping. That’s because our government does not impose heavy excise taxes on luxury goods like booze, watches, cosmetics or cologne. But duty free is HUGE business in Asia. This is made very clear when you see the queue to get into the duty-free Louis Vuitton boutique at Seoul-Incheon airport. Korean extends similar discounts in its well stocked onboard duty-free store located at the rear of the main deck economy class section. From what I saw, Americans were there to gawk and pass the time….but the Asians were buying.

Related: 20 different business class seats in one room

Even the lavatories felt more spacious on KAL's A380- note the counter space (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Even the lavatories felt more spacious on KAL’s A380- note the wide counter space (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Korean Air

See Part 1 of this trip… my KAL flight from SFO to Seoul on a Boeing 777.

Disclosure: I was a guest of Korean Air on this trip

–Chris McGinnis

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New options for Delta flyers at SFO

Delta flyers can now enjoy the mod design and amenities of SFO's Terminal 2 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Delta flyers can now enjoy the mod design and amenities of SFO’s Terminal 2 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Delta flyers at SFO can now take a yoga break, partake of local organic food and wine or check out a cool museum space at SFO.

That’s because there’s a brand new airside (behind security) connector between Terminal 1, Boarding Area C or “T1C” (used by Delta) and the world famous Terminal 2, designed by the San Francisco design firm Gensler, where Virgin America and American are located. Starting in January, US Airways flyers can join the fun when its SFO operations move alongside Delta’s in T1C.

So next time you are stuck at SFO’s rather prosaic Terminal 1 due to fog…or maybe if you arrive a bit early, take a 10-minute stroll through this new 500-foot, glassed-in, “sterile connector” to Terminal 2 and you can enjoy what many people think is the best airport terminal in America.

Here's a rendering of the new connector viewed from the ramp (Fentress Architects)

Here’s a rendering of the new connector viewed from the ramp with T1 to the left and T2 to the right (Fentress Architects)

(See airport map here to get your bearings)

What’s so cool about it? Well, for one, there’s a new yoga room. I’m not sure how many travelers actually use it for yoga (the original one has been empty every time I’ve peered in) but it can also be used for naps, prayers or quiet time. To make room for the new connector entrance, SFO relocated the original yoga room from T2 to the connector.

Scroll to the bottom for a photo from INSIDE the connector.

SFO's famous yoga room has moved to the new corridor.  (Photo: SFO)

SFO’s famous yoga room has moved to the new corridor. (Photo: SFO)

What else is great about T2? Well, the food! About the only decent place to get a meal in Delta’s T1C space is Perry’s, a sit down restaurant. In T2, options multiply- there are 11 outlets and the food is outstanding… there are Burritos (Andale), Tapas & cocktails (Cat Cora), sushi & noodles (Wakaba), fresh healthy soups, salads and sandwiches (Pinkberry/The Plant), a wine bar (Vino Volo) and even rotisserie chicken (Napa Farms) or steak/seafood (Lark Creek). There’s a Kiehl’s store, too.

On of my favorite stops at T2 is the excellent maps exhibit. Endlessly fascinating to see maps old and new depicting the growth of San Francisco over the last 150 or so years. In addition, T2 is one of the best perches at the airport for plane spotting. Just go sit a big red egg chair facing out to the runways and gaze. T1 does not offer views like these!

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T1 redevelopment

Some other important points about what’s going on at SFO:

>Frontier Airlines, which used to operate out of T1C, has moved into Boarding Area B in T1, which does not have access to the new sterile connector.

>Airport spokesman Doug Yakel said that plans for a similar sterile connector between T2 and T3 (United) are in discussion, but “no schedule has been established for this as of yet.”

>Alaska Airlines has moved from T1 to the International Terminal Boarding Area A. Lucky Alaska Boardroom members now get to use Cathay Pacific’s outstanding business/first class lounge nearby.

>SFO’s iconic new 220-foot control tower, which is rising between T1 and T2 should be completed by mid-2015. The new tower is built to withstand an 8.0 earthquake with 215 piers embedded in bedrock 140 feet deep and anchored by 2,700 cubic yards of concrete, according the Fentress Architects which designed the tower and the new connector.

>A complete re-do of SFO’s Terminal 1 is already in the works and should be complete by 2024.

Here's a look down the new sterile corridor connecting T1 and T2 (Fentress Architects)

Here’s a look down the new sterile corridor connecting T1 and T2 (Fentress Architects)

–Chris McGinnis

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Trip Report: Korean Air B777 & A380 (Part 1)

Korean Air

Business class seats on Korean Air’s B777 are nearly identical to those on its A380 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Ever since Korean Air launched its Airbus A380 service between Seoul and Atlanta in September 2013, I’ve longed to take a seat on that 14.5-hour whopper of a flight.

Last month, I finally got my chance when Korean Air invited me over to Seoul for a look at the fast-growing, modern-yet-quirky South Korean capital.

The first leg of my journey was an 11.5-hour Boeing 777 flight from San Francisco to Seoul. I was in Seoul for three busy days, then boarded an A380 for the trip to Atlanta.

I was especially excited to be able to compare the business class experience on two different planes in a single trip. What did I discover? Well, it’s that business class on Korean Air is very consistent across these two planes. Except for the unbelievable business class lounges onboard KAL’s A380 (tune in to my next post for details/photos), nearly everything else was identical. There’s no need to be too disappointed if you can’t ride on an A380 because once you are in your seat, there’s very little difference– the seats, service, food, inflight entertainment, lavs… it’s all pretty much the same. And in both directions, the planes were squeaky clean– even down to the floor of the lavatories (see below).

Today, let’s take a look at that B777 flight from San Francisco to Seoul. Tomorrow I’ll post about my experience on KAL’s big A380 to Atlanta and we’ll explore the slight differences between the experiences.

At SFO, Korean Air uses British Airways Terraces lounge for first and business class flyers (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

At SFO, Korean Air uses British Airways’ Terraces lounge for first and business class flyers (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

At SFO, Korean Air new uses British Airways Terraces lounge for first and business class passengers. Luckily the KAL flight and the BA flights are timed well apart from each other so the lounge did not feel overcrowded.

Direct access to the plane from the lounge (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Direct access to the plane from the lounge (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Nice touch: When boarding KAL’s B777 from the Terraces lounge, business and first class passengers walk directly onto the plane from the lounge… the jetway is just beyond the door in the photo above.

Now, let’s jump onboard.

Korean Air

Carpet in the lavs on Korean Air’s B777 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

On the B777 flight from SFO to Seoul, I noticed something I’ve never seen on any aircraft: Carpet in the business class lavatories! My first thought was “eeuuww, what if this gets wet?” But upon closer inspection, I noticed that the carpet was actually a rug that was velcroed to the floor. If it gets wet, it’s removed and replaced with another. Based on how many times I noticed the hard working KAL flight attendants enter the lavs for cleaning during the flight, I was certain that it would get switched out if needed. But in any case, I have to say that it added a cozy or homey feel to the lav– much better than the black rubber floor I’m used to. It’s one of those “little things” but I noticed and appreciated it.

Korean Air

Buttonholes in the napkins on Korean Air (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Another one of the “little things” I noticed on this flight…. napkins with button holes. I’ve seen this on a handful of other carriers and always appreciate it… especially when I’m wearing a light colored shirt and eating things that easily spill… like soup or salad dressing. It shows that someone has really thought through inflight dining… a good sign. (And a shirt saver!)

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Korean Air

The dinner starter on SFO>Seoul: Seared tuna (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Meal service on the flight from San Francisco (which departed at 2 pm) started with seared tuna– accompanied of course by the ever present Korean chili paste gochujang and a two servings of kimchee-like pickles with an unusual rubbery crunch.

Korean Air

KAL’s famous bibimbap (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Next up for dinner was the popular Korean specialty bibimbap. Korean Air is famous for this… and even serves it from a truck at promotional events like its recent launch in Houston… it even offers it the Aspen Food & Wine Classic. It’s delicious and healthy. To eat it, you squirt that tube of chili paste over the top and then mix all the ingredients together. Yum!

Economy class on Korean Air B777 offers 33-34 inches of pitch (Chris McGinnis)

Economy class on Korean Air B777 offers 33-34 inches of pitch (Chris McGinnis)

Economy class on Korean Air’s B777s offers a roomy 33-34 inches of seat pitch– that’s very generous compared to other carriers (United, for example, only offers 31 inches on its B777). Seats are configured 3-3-3. Korean Air does not offer a premium economy seat.

Stay tuned! My next post will be about my 14.5 hour journey on KAL’s A380 to Atlanta! Here’s a teaser photo… explanations coming soon! 

Korean Air

–Chris McGinnis

Disclosure: I was a guest of Korean Air on this flight

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Delta bumps bennies + BART-Oakland sets date + LAX airlines move + Hilton HHonors hacked + W in Beijing

Delta has expanded its popular Porsche pick up service to three more airports (Photo: Delta)

AIRLINES

Delta expands Porsche transfers, expedites at Heathrow. Delta continues to lead the way when it comes to adding new services for its best customers. For example, last week it announced an expansion of its Porsche tarmac transfer program to three more airports — New York LaGuardia, Seattle-Tacoma and Detroit Metro. The program offers gate-to-gate rides in Porsche vehicles for select SkyMiles Diamond Medallion members who have tight connecting times. It’s already offered at Atlanta, New York JFK, Los Angeles and Minneapolis-St. Paul. (Here’s a video showing how it works.) At London Heathrow’s Terminal 3, meanwhile, Delta BusinessElite passengers arriving by private car service can now take advantage of an expedited greeting service in which Virgin Atlantic concierge staffers will meet them curbside with boarding passes, take their luggage, and speed them through security to the Virgin Clubhouse. Delta says, “On arrival at London Heathrow Terminal 3, Delta Air Lines BusinessElite customers can now enjoy a seamless and stress-free transfer from car to lounge in less than 10 minutes via the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Wing.” Keep in mind that many of Delta’s flights at Heathrow (including those to/from Detroit and Minneapolis) use Terminal 4 where this service is not available. Delta’s Atlanta-London flights switched to Terminal 3 from Terminal 4 on October 26.

The AirBART station is located at the front door of Oakland International

The AirBART station is located at the front door of Oakland International

BART-Oakland Airport sets date. Bay Area Rapid Transit officials have finally announced an opening date for the new BART rail link to Oakland International Airport. On Saturday, November 22 the new automated trains will transport riders from BART’s Coliseum station to the new Oakland Airport station every five minutes during peak hours; the ride takes eight minutes. The ride from the Coliseum station to/from downtown SF takes about 25 minutes. BART fares between the new Oakland Airport station and downtown San Francisco will be $10.05. That’s a nice break from cab fares which run as high as $75-$80. Are you more likely to use Oakland Airport now? Leave your comments below. 

Virgin America posts another profit. After dipping back into the red in the first quarter of 2014, Virgin America was solidly profitable in the third quarter, reporting net income of $41.6 million and a healthy operating margin of 12.9 percent. After years of operating in the red since its founding in 2007, Virgin has been profitable now for five of the last six quarters, putting it in a good position for its upcoming initial public offering. Virgin said in an SEC filing last week that its IPO shares will be priced at $21 to $24, valuing the company at up to $1 billion. The anticipated $320 million from the share sale should allow Virgin to move ahead with an ambitious expansion plan to buy new planes and add new routes.

Sneeze alarm. With all the concern about disease lately, especially as it affects travelers, you might get a little paranoid when a fellow passenger on your flight sneezes. Did you ever wonder just how far that sneeze can travel? Check out this video — if you dare.

American adds Europe routes. American Airlines has unveiled plans to add a pair of new routes to Europe next spring. On May 7, AA will inaugurate new daily narrowbody 757 flights from New York JFK to Birmingham, England. And on May 14, the company will kick off daily 767-300 flights from its Miami hub to Frankfurt.

AIRPORTS

The nice new Star Alliance lounge at LAX's new Tom Bradley International Terminal (Air New Zealand)

The nice new Star Alliance lounge at LAX’s new Tom Bradley International Terminal (Air New Zealand)

Air New Zealand, US Airways move at LAX. Effective December 3, Air New Zealand will set up shop in Los Angeles International’s refurbished Tom Bradley International Terminal 3, moving out of Terminal 2. That will give premium customers easy access to the new Star Alliance Lounge at LAX, which Air New Zealand manages. The carrier operates twice-daily service to Auckland (to be increased next summer to 17 a week) and one flight a day to London from LAX. Meanwhile, American Airlines affiliate US Airways last week moved from Terminal 3 to Terminal 6, gates 60-63, “with convenient access to connections on flights operated by American Airlines at Terminal 4 through an underground connector,” American said. “Shuttle service is also available to Terminal 4 and the Remote Terminal for American Eagle flights.”

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New airside connector at SFO. We’ve heard (but not confirmed) that the new airside connection between SFO’s fabulously famous Terminal 2 (Virgin America & American) and the more prosaic Terminal 1C (Delta’s boarding area) has opened. This means that Delta flyers socked in by delays now have some exciting new dining and retail options once they are behind security.

Outdoor spaces are the craze these days. Here's what JetBlue's will soon look like at JFK (Image: JetBlue)

Outdoor spaces are the craze these days. Here’s what JetBlue’s will soon look like at JFK (Image: JetBlue)

JetBlue’s JFK terminal grows. On Wednesday (November 12), JetBlue will open a $200 million extension of its home base, Terminal 5 at New York JFK, to be used for international flights. (The airline’s international arrivals currently use leased gates at Terminal 4.) The new six-gate expansion offers full federal inspection facilities in an arrivals hall and 40 automated passport readers. JetBlue plans to develop a public outdoor area on the new facility’s rooftop, akin to the popular High Line park in Manhattan. Meanwhile, Air France has finished a complete renovation of its two-level lounge at JFK’s Terminal 1.

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HOTELS

Hackers hitting HHonors accounts. How safe are your points in Hilton’s HHonors loyalty program? Recent online reports indicate that hackers have been raiding some accounts, not only stealing points — and in some cases selling them — but also gaining access to members’ credit card information.

Related: Hilton’s newest hotel in Honolulu

Hotels roll out keyless entry apps. Starwood and Hilton last week both announced new app functionality that will allow guests to open their room doors with smartphones. The Starwood Preferred Guest app’s new SPG Keyless feature is available now at 10 select Aloft, W, and Element hotels, with more to come in the months ahead; it allows SPG members who book directly with the company to bypass the front desk and go directly to their preassigned room, where a tap of their Bluetooth-enabled phone will unlock the door. Hilton said keyless entry will be available through its HHonors mobile app starting in 2015 at its Hilton, Waldorf Astoria, Conrad and Canopy brands, and at all 11 of its brands in 2016. The app will also work with other locked areas in Hilton’s hotels such as executive floors, fitness centers and garages.

A room at the new W Beijing located near the Forbidden City (Photo: Starwood)

A room at the new W Beijing located near the Forbidden City (Photo: Starwood)

Openings in Beijing, Sydney, Paris. The newest hotel in China’s capital city is Starwood’s 349-room W Beijing-Chang’an, located close to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. Each room is equipped with a digital tablet that controls its lighting, 48-inch TV and Bluetooth sound system… InterContinental Hotels Corp. has cut the ribbon on the InterContinental Sydney Double Bay Hotel a few miles from that city’s central business district; the 140-room property is a luxury remaking of the former Double Bay Hotel … Hilton scheduled a January opening for the 268-room Hilton Paris Opera in the heart of the French capital; the company spent $50 million restoring and improving the 125-year-old building, formerly the Concorde Paris Opera.

In Case You Missed It…

>Check out these two airline credit cards for bonus benefits.

>American Express has opened a Centurion Lounge at San Francisco International.

>Two airlines offer free in-flight Wi-Fi.

>Here are six tips for securing the best air fare.

New extra bonus offer: Get a whopping 50,000 Rapid Rewards points by signing up for Southwest’s Premier card – that’s enough for TWO free tickets. 

>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<

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First look: Centurion Lounge at SFO [photos]

Centurion Lounge

SFO’s new American Express Centurion Lounge is located on the far west end of Terminal 3, behind security (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The new American Express Centurion Lounge at San Francisco International Airport’s Terminal 3 opens on Thursday, November 6.

It joins three other Centurion lounges at New York LaGuardia, Dallas Ft Worth and Las Vegas McCarran airports.  A spokesperson told TravelSkills that the next Centurion Lounge will open at Miami International in the first half of 2015. She also said that Amex is working on securing space at several other airports.

The SFO Centurion Lounge is located in Terminal 3 (United) behind security. This means that it is easily accessible for travelers in Terminal 3 or the International Terminal Boarding Area G. But it is going to be inconvenient for passengers flying in or out of the airport’s other terminals because getting there requires an extra trip through the T3 security gauntlet. At SFO, Terminal 3 is not connected on the airside to Terminal 2 (American, Virgin America) or Terminal 1 (Delta, US Airways, Southwest).

American Express invited TravelSkills in for a sneak-peek at the lounge which included a sit down dinner prepared by Chef Christopher Kostow, who will oversee the lounge’s full kitchen. The menu items he prepared for this special meal were similar to those that will be on offer at the lounge. (see photos below.) All Centurion lounges offer a full hot buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner. SEE MENU

What’s unique about the San Francisco lounge is its wine wall. Members get a paper chit with a bar code when they check in. This chit entitles them to five small pours of wine from an automated dispenser (See photos below.) Wave the chit under a reader, push a button, and get your pour. Very cool! There’s also a full complimentary bar stocked with call brand booze and beer. There’s a single shower, a quiet nook with chaise lounges for napping, a small business center that pays homage to Bay Arean Steve Jobs and a big bright & colorful living room space. Thankfully, there’s a glassed in “family room” for kids.

And before we get started with photos, here’s a link that explains who gets in Centurion lounges. (It’s free for Amex Platinum and Centurion card holders only- this does not include Delta/Amex Platinum card holders. Anyone else with any type of Amex Card gets in for $50.) See the screen grab at the bottom of this post for more details.

Free Rides to SFO! To celebrate the opening of The Centurion Lounge at SFO, American Express is working with Uber to give Amex card holders a complimentary Black Car ride to the airport. On November 6 Amex cardhholders who have any Amex card as their selected method of payment can enter the promo code CENTURIONSFO in the Uber app to receive a complimentary Black Car ride from San Francisco to SFO.

Now let’s take a look! Leave your comments below, please… 

Extra Bonus! Here’s an easy way to top off your Chase Ultimate Rewards balance with 20,000 points!

Centurion Lounge

All Centurion Lounges sport a “living wall” (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Centurion Lounge

Check in here to enter. Only Platinum and Centurion cardmembers get in free. All others pay $50 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Centurion Lounge

A big bright “living room: area with windows that overlook Terminal 3. Sorry, no views out to runways. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Centurion Lounge

The SFO lounge’s most distinguishing feature is this wine wall. Each member gets 5 free pours (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

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Wave this chit under a reader and then choose your pour. Very cool! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

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Wine expert Anthony Giglio shows how to pick your pour. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Centurion Lounge

An all Mac business center pays homage to Steve Jobs. Nice touch! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

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The glassed in family room for kiddies (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 Extra Bonus! Here’s an easy way to top off your Chase Ultimate Rewards balance with 20,000 points!

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A full kitchen staffed by chefs serving hot meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

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Eat your hot meal or sip on your wine here. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

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Full bar with plenty of nice call brands and beer (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

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A nook for napping (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

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Plenty of color pops…and room to sit down (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Centurion Lounge

Looking down from the lounge which is located on the mezzanine level– accessible by this staircase or a glass elevator. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

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A nice sit down dinner for special guests included menu items likely to be served (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

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“Slow roasted pork shoulder apple lees vinegar” paired nicely with a big fat Somerston Estate red blend from Napa (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

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Chestnut pudding with roasted chocolate for dessert (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Centurion Lounge

–Chris McGinnis

Extra Bonus! Here’s an easy way to top off your Chase Ultimate Rewards balance with 20,000 points!

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Delta hubs suffer + Shuttle moves at LGA + Oakland BART connection + Double Hilton points

The long awaited BART link to Oakland airport expected to open this month (Photo: BART)

The long awaited BART link to Oakland airport expected to open this month (Photo: BART)

AIRLINES

Demand keeps driving fares upward. When the price of oil goes up, air fares go up. So when oil prices fall as much as they have in recent months, air fares go down, right? Not in a period of strong demand for air travel. Jet fuel prices are down 22 percent this year, but an ongoing series of small increases has kept air fares above 2013 levels. According to the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ latest report (for the second quarter of 2014), the average U.S. air fare rose 2.5 percent year-over-year to $396. Delta is a big beneficiary of the higher fares; Its Cincinnati hub once again had the highest average domestic fare at $523, and its Atlanta hub recorded the biggest average fare increase of any major airport — up 11.3 percent to $435. Have you noticed? Please leave your comments below– what’s the most painfully high fare you’ve paid this year? 

Delta Shuttle moves at LGA. A reminder to frequent flyers in the Northeast Corridor: Sunday (November 2) is moving day for Delta’s New York-Boston Shuttle flights at LaGuardia. The hourly LGA-BOS flights will move from LGA’s remote Marine Air Terminal to Delta’s recently-renovated Terminal C. The airline has also switched the flights to two-class 717 aircraft with 12 First Class, 15 Economy Comfort and 83 economy seats. Delta’s Chicago and Washington Reagan National Shuttle flights continue to use LGA’s Marine Air Terminal with Delta Connection/Shuttle America E-175s.

Southwest quickly absorbing last remnants of AirTran. This just in from Southwest: “As of today, all flights previously flown by AirTran between seven international destinations and nine domestic gateway cities are now flown exclusively by Southwest. Additionally, Southwest is proud to announce that we have finalized the integration of Southwest.com and AirTran.com. Effective today, Customers attempting to access AirTran.com will be routed to an informational page on Southwest.com where they can book travel, view integration-related FAQs, and find loyalty program information.”

Air Canada changes loyalty plan. Air Canada is the latest major carrier tighten up the rules of its frequent flyer program. For 2015, the minimum flight requirement to reach Altitude status levels is increasing and the minimum 500-mile earning per flight will end. On March 15, the number of eUpgrade credits to upgrade to business class will rise, but members will also be able to use those credits to upgrade to Premium Economy.

Some say that business class on American's B777-300ER is the best in the US. What do you think? (Photo: American Airlines)

Some say that business class on American’s B777-300ER is the best among US carriers. What do you think? (Photo: American Airlines)

Route news: AA, JetBlue, Alaska. Faced with new competition from Delta between Los Angeles and London Heathrow, American said it will add a second daily non-stop on the route in March, using another of its popular 777-300ERs (giving it a total of four a day in combination with joint venture partner British Airways) … JetBlue keeps growing at Ft. Lauderdale. In its latest expansion last week, it added flights to Cartagena, Jacksonville, Las Vegas and Pittsburgh … On March 5, Alaska Airlines will begin service three times a week between San Diego and Kona on Hawaii’s Big Island.

AIRPORTS

Oakland prepares for BART launch. An extension of Bay Area Rapid Transit rail service to Oakland International Airport is expected to start passenger service sometime this month, and testing of the trains is already under way. The 3.2-mile extension will link Oakland’s Coliseum Station to the airport, and will replace the buses currently used for that purpose, with trains running every four to five minutes. Here’s a video of the pre-launch testing of the new OAK trains. In typical municipal fashion, BART is not willing to offer up a hard date for opening…but says it might be up and running before the holidays. (See photo above.)

DOT probes ‘interference’ in new Georgia airport. The Transportation Department is looking into a complaint that Delta may have interfered in efforts to develop a second Atlanta-area airport. The complaint was filed by county commissioners in Paulding County, who said they want to see commercial low-cost air service at Silver Comet Field, about 40 miles northwest of Atlanta. Atlanta is the only one of the 10 largest U.S. metro areas that doesn’t have a secondary airport. UPDATE: DOT is not investigating Delta per se, according to FORBES. 

Customs kiosks come to Denver. Denver International is the latest U.S. airport to install Automated Passport Control (APC) kiosks for U.S. citizens returning from international trips. The 16 new BorderXPress APCs — which passengers can use to provide passport and customs declaration information and to verify identities — are expected to speed up processing, especially during the busy 4-7 p.m. period. The APCs are now in 17 U.S. airports.

POPULAR this week: How often do planes get washed? Surprising answer

TRENDS

Do your eyes glaze over when you hear or read about yet another report, panel discussion or product launch focusing on millennial travelers? This young demographic cohort is getting so much attention that other important segments of the population might be getting overlooked. In this post for the Switchfly blog, Chris examines the full spectrum of US generations and exposes their traits when it comes to travel. First of all, he labels them. (Age ranges are estimations.)

  • GenZ or iGen (under 15)
  • Millennial or Gen Y (14-34)
  • GenX (35-49)
  • Boomer (50-69)
  • Silent (70-84)
  • Greatest (85+)

CARS

Uber wins a legal round in Las Vegas. A Nevada judge last week turned down the state attorney general’s request for a temporary restraining order to block ride-sharing service Uber from launching service in Las Vegas. The operation is being opposed by the Nevada Taxicab Authority and the state transportation authority. It’s just the beginning of the legal battle; a hearing on a requested preliminary injunction is set for November 14. But in the meantime, Uber is operating in Las Vegas. Viva!

HOTELS

The Grand Premier Suite at the new Moskva hotel in Moscow

The Grand Premier Suite at the new Four Seasons Hotel Moscow (Photo: Four Seasons)

Four Seasons debuts in Moscow. The old Hotel Moskva, located close to Red Square on central Moscow’s Manezhnaya Square, was reborn last week as the Four Seasons Hotel Moscow. The historic facade was preserved, but the interior was remade, including the hotel’s 180 rooms and suites. It has a 24-hour business center, a fleet of Wi-Fi-equipped BMWs, and a signature Italian restaurant; a spa will open early next year.

Double points at Hilton. Last week, Hilton unveiled a new promotion for HHonors members who sign up online: They can earn double points from now through January 31, beginning with their second stay.

Have you voted in our hotel wi-fi speed poll yet? Read our post about Marriott’s big move this week… Check out the results below after you vote!

How do you feel about "basic" hotel wi-fi?

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In Case You Missed It…

Look closely and you'll see the "space ship" part of this aircraft in the middle-- it detaches from the larger aircraft to shoot into space. That's the part that crashed. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Look closely and you’ll see the “space ship” part of this aircraft in the middle– it detaches from the larger aircraft to shoot into space. That’s the part that crashed on Friday. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

>Our disturbingly up-close-and-personal photos & video of Virgin Galactic’s spaceship that crashed on Friday.

>Marriott is expanding free basic Wi-Fi for Rewards members who book direct.

>American Airlines revealed plans for merging frequent flyer programs with US Airways.

>JetBlue’s new Mint service drives down JFK-SFO premium fares.

>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<

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A new way to get to New York – La Guardia

Virgin America get a ceremonial squirt with its inaugural flight from Dallas to New York La Guardia (Photo: Virgin America)

Virgin America get a ceremonial squirt with its inaugural flight from Dallas to New York La Guardia (Photo: Virgin America)

Virgin America’s first flights into New York’s close in LaGuardia Airport arrived yesterday. The new nonstops originate from Virgin’s new mini-hub at Dallas Love Field (DAL) and are currently on sale for just $89 each way. Virgin now offers four daily roundtrips on the important business route. Southwest Airlines offers three daily roundtrips.

The new service provides an additional one-stop transcon option for travelers who might prefer to skip the traffic and hassles of JFK or Newark for the close-in ease of LaGuardia, even though total flight time is longer.

For example, Virgin’s one-stop (same plane) flight from SFO via DAL departs at 7:20 am and arrives LGA at 5:35 pm and takes about 7 hours. Southwest’s one stop flights are routed through Denver or Chicago Midway and take about the same amount of time.

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LaGuardia Airport is the closest airport to Manhattan

LaGuardia Airport is the closest airport to Manhattan

From LGA, the trip to Manhattan via cab or car is about 25 minutes vs 45-60 minutes from JFK. (Cost is $30-35 plus tip and toll from LGA and a flat $52 plus tip and toll from JFK.)

Virgin’s return flight from LaGuardia to SFO via Dallas Love takes 8.5 hours, departing LGA at 3:45 pm and arriving SFO at 9:10 pm.

By comparison, Virgin’s nonstop SFO>JFK takes 5-6 hours (depending on winds), departing SFO at 7:00am and arriving JFK at 3:35pm. Return flights take about 6.5 hours due to winds.

TIP: In the market for a new credit card? With the holidays coming up, apply now and you’ll likely meet the spending requirement for BIG bonuses! How about $500 in free travel?

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 8.10.54 AM

At LaGuardia, Virgin and Southwest both use the main “Central Terminal B.” This week the Central Terminal celebrates the opening of a the first batch of nearly 60 new food and specialty stores which are part of an $18 million re-do of the aging terminal. Long term, LaGuardia could get a multi-billion dollar makeover.

Maybe one day there will be nonstop flights between west coast cities and La Guardia (click here to read more about that). But in the meantime…Would you fly Virgin via Dallas Love to get to NYC or vice versa? Leave your comments below.

TIP: In the market for a new credit card? With the holidays coming up, apply now and you’ll likely meet the spending requirement for BIG bonuses! How about $500 in free travel?
>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<

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Half off first class JFK-SFO fares

JetBlue hosted a shindig at San Francisco's Bentley Reserve to kick off its new Mint service on SFO-JFK (Photo: JetBlue)

JetBlue threw a swank shindig at San Francisco’s Bentley Reserve to kick off its new Mint service on SFO-JFK (Photo: JetBlue)

JetBlue’s new Mint class nonstops cranked up on the SFO-JFK run on Sunday, offering a totally new premium transcon experience…and significantly lower first class fares on the popular route.

Key points:

Mid-December fares on JetBlue

Mid-December fares on JetBlue- those low Mint fares are going fast!

>Currently the lowest Mint roundtrip fare is $1,200-- that’s about half off compared to average first class fares on offer before Mint entered the market. All other carriers on the route have now discounted first class to match JetBlue’s new Mint fares– but that fare is only available on a few seats per flight. A quick look at JetBlue.com shows nearly all the $1,200 Mint fares sold out through mid December- the next step up is about $1,620 round trip.

>JetBlue says that Mint class (click for pics) features the widest seat and longest fully-flat bed in the U.S. domestic market and four private suites among the 16 seats. Each seat has a 15 inch flat screen TV with 100 channels and in-seat power ports. Mint is only available on JetBlue’s A321 aircraft.

JetBlue's new A321s not only have Mint, but some of the most spacious coach class seats on the route  (Photo: JetBlue)

JetBlue’s new A321s not only have Mint, but some of the most spacious coach class seats on the route (Photo: JetBlue)

>In coach, JetBlue offers 10-inch seatback screens and in-seat power outlets in each row. Coach passengers also have access to a complimentary self-serve station full of snacks and soft drinks. JetBlue is known for having some of the roomiest coach class seats flying and it’s A321s boast 33-37 inches of pitch.

>By early next year, JetBlue will offer five roundtrips per day between SFO and JFK. Currently, there are three daily SFO-JFK nonstops, two have Mint, one does not. By December, all three will have Mint. (JetBlue will have Mint on seven daily LAX-JFK roundtrips by December 19.)

>All JetBlue A321s are also equipped Fly-Fi, JetBlue‘s new, fast inflight wi-fi. It’s currently free, but likely not going to stay that way for long.

October Mint menu on eastbound lunch/dinner flights

October Mint menu on eastbound lunch/dinner flights

>Mint class passengers choose from five “tapas style” menu items curated by New York’s popular Saxon+ Parole restaurant. For dessert there is Blue Marble ice cream.

Will you give JetBlue a try on your next trip to NYC? Leave your comments below.

>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<

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Big United-Hertz deal + Uber in Vegas? + Virgin in Atlanta + Biz class sale + Holiday Inn NYC

Virgin Atlantic's brand new Dreamliner touched down at ATL this week (Photo: Hartsfield-Jackson)

Virgin Atlantic’s brand new Dreamliner touched down at ATL with Richard Branson onboard this week (Photo: Hartsfield-Jackson)

This week! Uber getting scrappy in Las Vegas – A Virgin 787 lands in Atlanta – Big changes for United flyers who rent cars – United & KLM discount holiday business class….

AIRLINES

Virgin Atlantic in Atlanta. Last Thursday Virgin Atlantic loaded up its newest plane, a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, with two rock bands and Sir Richard Branson for a promotional trip to Atlanta, touching down at Hartsfield-Jackson on Thursday. Virgin’s new daily nonstop service (using an Airbus A330) cranks up this Sunday. The new Virgin flight replaces Delta on one of the latter’s three daily Atlanta-LHR roundtrips. Simultaneously, Delta is taking over one Virgin Atlantic’s two daily LAX-LHR flights. This is just one of several new flights Virgin has planned for Atlanta– Virgin’s Chris Rossi said that within 6-8 months the airline will launch nonstops to Manchester, England and will add a second daily Atlanta-London nonstop.

United/Hertz ink exclusivity deal. Big changes are in store for United’s MileagePlus members who rent cars. On November 1, the loyalty program kicks off an exclusivity agreement with Hertz Corp. and its three brands (Hertz, Dollar, Thrifty), making them the only ones that earn MileagePlus miles. Members will generally earn more miles for Hertz rentals than before — using a per-rental basis rather than the current per-day basis, on a sliding scale ranging from 500 miles for general members up to 1,250 for top-tier elites. (Dollar and Thrifty earning levels are unchanged.) In January, top-level elites will also be able to sign up free for Hertz’s President’s Circle. A United spokeswoman confirmed to TravelSkills that the deal means members won’t be able to earn miles with other rental companies currently listed as MileagePlus partners — Avis, Alamo, Budget, National and Sixt. Does this mean similar deals might be forthcoming from American and Delta with Avis/Budget and Enterprise/National/Alamo?

KLM's new lie-flat business class seat-- on sale for holiday trips (Photo: KLM)

KLM’s new lie-flat business class seat– on sale for holiday trips (Photo: KLM)

Watch for holiday biz class sales. If you don’t mind taking business trips around the holidays (or are looking for a cushy ride home or on vacation), you might score some great deals on premium-cabin fares, since business travel normally drops off then. E.g., United is offering discounted BusinessFirst travel to South America in late December, with roundtrip fares like $2,473 from Chicago to Santiago and $2,944 from Houston to Sao Paulo. KLM has business class sale fares to Europe for travel December 15-January 3 including $1,803 roundtrip from New York to Barcelona and $2,651 from Washington to Amsterdam.

New overseas routes begin. It’s a big weekend for new international routes. Delta on Sunday (October 26) launches a daily Los Angeles-London Heathrow non-stop with a 767-300ER.  Meanwhile, United is launching a pair of new transpacific routes on the same day, including daily San Francisco-Tokyo Haneda 777 flights (in addition to its SFO-Narita flights), and service six times a week between LAX and Melbourne, using a new 787-9 Dreamliner (that one’s 15 hours 45 minutes westbound, about an hour less eastbound).

European court rules on flight delays. Is an aircraft’s arrival time determined by when its wheels touch down or when the door is opened? It makes a difference in Europe, where consumer regulations assign levels of compensation based on how long a passenger has been delayed — up to $800 on transatlantic flights. According to a firm called Flightright, which tracks these matters, the court has ruled that a flight’s arrival time is determined by when the cabin door is opened — not when it lands.

Codeshare, interline pacts announced. American Airlines on October 26 starts code-sharing with Jetstar Japan, putting the AA designator on domestic flights from Tokyo Narita to Fukuoka, Matsuyama, Osaka (Kansai) and Sapporo. Jetstar’s owners include Oneworld carriers Qantas and Japan Airlines. Meanwhile, Alaska Airlines has inked an interline pact with Florida’s Silver Airways, permitting single ticketing for connecting itineraries. Silver serves multiple destinations in Florida and the Bahamas.

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CARS

Uber now in Vegas, maybe

Uber now in Vegas, maybe

Uber in Vegas, baby. At long last, Uber is operating in Las Vegas as of this weekend according to its company blog. That’s great news to Uber addicts who could never believe that the ride sharing company did not operate there. The service got off to a rocky start, however, and its future is now uncertain (at least in the short term) since a federal judge blocked Uber from operating in Nevada just four hours after its launch. Despite the block, an Uber spokesperson told TravelSkills that as of Saturday morning (Oct 25) Uber is operating and its cars are on the road. Currently Uber is the only rideshare service with the will and deep pockets to go up against the powerful and well-connected taxicab industry in the state- Lyft, Sidecar and others are not in the market. Stay tuned… In the meantime, an interesting read about why Vegas is ripe for ridesharing from the Cato Institute.

UPDATE 4:30PM Saturday: Uber is still operating in Las Vegas. The court order applies to rides in Carson City only and Uber expects an apology from the Attorney General according to The Las Vegas Review Journal.

SFO comes to terms with UberX, Lyft. San Francisco flyers who worried about using UberX or Lyft for airport rides that were technically illegal can relax. SFO officials said last week they have forged agreements with both ride-finding companies that will allow their drivers to pick up and drop off riders at airport terminals. The announcement comes a week after the airport inked a similar deal with Sidecar. “Both companies are expected to begin operations at the airport within the next 30 days,” a spokesman said. Terms of the agreements were not disclosed, but they could lead to similar deals at other airports where the companies have been at odds with local officials and taxicab operators.

(Disclosure: If you sign up for Uber via our links, you get a free ride, up to $30,  and so do we. Thanks for your support!)

The tallest Holiday Inn. Photo by architects GKAPC in NYC

The tallest Holiday Inn. Photo by architects GKAPC in NYC

HOTELS

World’s tallest Holiday Inn debuts. A 50-story, 490-room hotel said to be the world’s tallest Holiday Inn was due to open last week in lower Manhattan’s Financial District. Located at the corner of Washington and Rector streets, it has Executive Club Level rooms, many with great city or river views.

Openings in China. Newly opened business hotels in China this month include the Rosewood Beijing, a five-star, 293-room property from Texas-based Rosewood Hotels located in the city’s Chaoyang central business district across from the iconic CCTV Tower; the 386-room Haikou Marriott, in the capital city of southern China’s Hainan Province; and Starwood’s Castle Hotel, a Luxury Collection property in Dalian, in northeast China.

In Case You Missed It…

>Understanding your Tokyo airport options.

>What to expect at American Express’ new SFO Centurion Lounge.

>The Apple iPad Air 2’s SIM card offers carrier flexibility.

>The U.S. is seeing a boom in hotel construction.

>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<

Like what you just read? Then say so! Scroll back up to the top and  LIKE the post on Facebook, post it on Linked In and/or tweet it! 

facebook like

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Are you in the market for a new credit card? Looking for a fat points or mileage bonus to sweeten your balance? Then check out our BEST CREDIT CARDS FOR BUSINESS TRAVELERS and scoop up the deals!

Please join the 80,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email-per-day updates!

In Tokyo: New airport options

Haneda Airport International Terminal New Wing

The new wing at Haneda Airport’s International Terminal (Photo: Jun Seita / Flickr)

Quick — where is Tokyo International Airport? If you haven’t flown into Japan recently, your reflex response might be “Narita,” the airport located well over an hour east of the capital by train or even longer by taxi or shuttle bus.

However, closer-in Haneda (HND) is also known as Tokyo International Airport. This near-city-center airport is getting an increasing amount of attention with a newly expanded international terminal that turns four this month, and a handful of new flights.

For example, United launches a new daily nonstop from SFO to Haneda this Sunday October 26th, using a three-class 777-200ER. On December 1, Japan Airlines will deploy a larger, newly revamped, four-class Sky Suite 777 on the SFO>HND run. And American Airlines is fighting to get in on the Haneda action.

United’s new flight departs SFO at 6:15 pm and arrives at HND 10:45 pm the next day. From Tokyo, the flight departs at 1:00 am and arrives in SFO at 5:10 pm.

On the plus side of the scheduling for US flyers,  return flights from Haneda are a pleasing late night departure (ideal for connecting from elsewhere in Japan or Asia, since Haneda has far more domestic flights than Narita), and tend to arrive at west coast hubs in the late afternoon, in time for a 7-9pm connection– or dinner and bed.

(Note: Starting in Sunday, United will operate once-daily service between SFO and Narita, rather than the twice-daily service currently offered.)

United seat map

Looks like United’s new Haneda flight is popular with business travelers already… only 5 biz class seats left on Sunday’s inaugural flight last time we checked.

Frequent Tokyo traveler and TravelSkills reader Hitoshi Hokamura told us, “I have been flying SFO-Narita for 23 years but after a one-time experience on a Haneda night flight, I have completely switched to HND for both my business and pleasure trips. Haneda is much closer to Tokyo, plus timing is great. For example, with Narita flights, my first day and last day of the trip used to be chopped in two on both ends, but with this night flight to/from Haneda, I have almost a full day on both ends .”

In addition the United’s and JAL flights from SFO, flyers from or connecting in North America also have the option of Haneda flights from:

  • Los Angeles, Honolulu and Vancouver on ANA
  • Honolulu on JAL
  • Los Angeles (and seasonally Seattle, but more about that below) on Delta
  • Toronto on Air Canada
  • Honolulu on Hawaiian

Are you in the market for a new credit card? Looking for a fat points or mileage bonus to sweeten your balance? Then check out our BEST CREDIT CARDS FOR BUSINESS TRAVELERS and scoop up the deals!

So why aren’t we all flying to Haneda? Well, the authorities granting slots for Haneda have been slow to let non-Japanese carriers in — and when airlines like Delta and American have been granted slots, they’re forced to depart and arrive during inconvenient overnight hours. (Haneda is the second busiest airport in Asia and the fourth busiest in the world.)

That type of restriction on US carriers makes Haneda flights only effective for flights to and from the west coast. That’s why American cut its New York JFK-Haneda flight last October, and that’s why Delta shifted its Detroit-Haneda flight to Seattle.

More controversially, timing is also allegedly part of the reason why Delta’s flight is operating on what’s basically a seasonal basis. For its part, American doesn’t think Delta’s playing fair, and has asked the US DOT to hand over Delta’s slot for Los Angeles service — so we could see an American Airlines flight shifting from Narita to Haneda if the DOT agrees.

Haneda vs Narita: Which is best for you?

Choose Haneda for: Evening west coast US departures, evening US west coast arrivals/connections, late night Japan departures, if your destination is Tokyo, or if you’re connecting late in the day on a return from another city

Choose Narita for: More flight options, non stops from non-West-Coast cities, same-day connections to major Japanese cities, if you want to connect on a US airline elsewhere in Asia for upgrade or status reasons, wider choice of connections to Asia.

Related: Trip Report: ANA’s Dreamliner to Tokyo

map

Good Advice for getting to or from Haneda:

Keikyu, the primary railway company for access from Haneda, is probably the best way to get to or from Haneda for most business travelers, and offers three options: $10 on a fast, clean train to Shinagawa station in 12 minutes for Y410 (knock off two zeroes to convert approximately to USD, so about $4) or Tokyo station in 20-30 minutes for Y580). Compare that with over $30 on the NEX train from Narita or $25 on the more complicated Keisei option.

Second, Keikyu and other companies offer limousine buses that are direct with no transfers, take about an hour and range from $10-25 depending on your destination. That’s less than half the time and about half the cost of Narita limousine buses.

Third, there’s a set-fare taxi option that will set you back the best part of $85, but is obviously door-to-door to or from your hotel. That’s less than a third the price of a taxi from Narita, which is in excess of $200.

And, lastly, there’s the Tokyo Monorail, which is a bit of an advanced user option that connects to four lines including Tokyo’s circular Yamanote Line. If you’re familiar with Tokyo and know how the Suica card system works (it’s a tap-the-card payment system that works across Tokyo and several other cities in Japan for everything from transport to vending machines), then this is probably the best option for you.

>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<

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Searching for Centurion lounge?

A look at the main "dining room" area with the bar and hot/cold buffet in background (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

A look at the main “dining room” area with the bar and hot/cold buffet in background (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

What is the most frequently searched term that leads people to TravelSkills.com? According to our stats, it’s “Centurion Lounge SFO.” 

American Express has done a masterful job keeping a lid on the goings on on the mezzanine level of  San Francisco International’s Terminal 3. All that will change in early November when the lounge opens.

Since it’s clear that inquiring minds want to know, here are some photos from my recent visit to the Centurion Lounge at Las Vegas McCarran. Based on what I’ve been able to see, and what I’ve heard from airport insiders, the SFO lounge is going to be very similar to this one. So consider this a sneak-peek! (SFO will be the fourth Centurion Lounge… others are at New York La Guardia and Dallas. There’s apparently one in the works for Miami.)

And before we get started with photos, here’s a link that explains who gets in. (Free for Amex Platinum and Centurion card holders. $50 fee for anyone else with any type of Amex Card.) See the screen grab at the bottom of this post for more details.

Don’t miss: Is this the most epic airline safety video ever? 

Centurion SFO

A big blue door with a garden wall behind it is likely at SFO– you’ll see this from Gates 74 & 75, and upon entering, take a glass elevator up to the lounge (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Centurion SFO

Warm, modern accents sustainable wood paneling, tables and floors (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Related: Raft of new perks for elite flyers

Centurion LAS

A busy, social bar area where cocktails are complimentary (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Centurion LAS

A robust meal offering including both hot and cold items, also complimentary (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Please join the 80,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email-per-day updates!
Centurion LAS

Plenty of space to work, rest or people watch (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Centurion LAS

I was at the LAS Centurion Lounge at lunchtime, and this Mediterranean style beef and lamb pie topped with a lemony yogurt sauce was on offer (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Recent: There are currently 400,000 hotel rooms under construction in the US

Centurion LAS

Do these privacy chairs look familiar? They are the same ones used by Virgin America at its LAX Loft lounge we covered last summer (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Centurion Lounge

 –Chris McGinnis

>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<

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Cadillacs on the tarmac + 2nd Ebola case in US + Dallas Love Field recap + Virgin hotels splash

This is Part 2 of this week’s Catching up on Travel News with TravelSkills! Here’s Part 1.  (Sorry if you get this email more than once today…we are still getting the hang of our email distribution system)

AIRLINES

American will soon be picking up its best passengers at LAX in Caddies.

American will soon be picking up its best passengers at LAX in Caddies like this one. (Source: GM)

American Airlines teams up with Cadillac. Following the lead of Delta’s partnership with Porsche and United’s with Mercedes-Benz, American Airlines is teaming up with Cadillac to provide rides across the tarmac to connecting flights — starting at Los Angeles International — for ConciergeKey members with tight transfer times. AA said it will expand the service next to Dallas/Ft. Worth and New York’s LaGuardia and JFK, using Cadillac CTS, SRX or Escalade models. Also, as part of the promo AAdvantage members can earn 7,500 miles for test-driving a new Cadillac.

Breaking news: A health care worker in Dallas has contracted Ebola according to health officials there. If confirmed by CDC, this would be the first case of Ebola transmitted in the US. Hmm. I’m wondering how many TravelSkills readers (including yours truly) might want to change their answer to our recent Ebola fear poll from “not fearful” to “somewhat fearful” after hearing this news. One thing you can count on: Increased Ebola screening at airports that could cause long lines.

How fearful are you of the possibility of contracting ebola?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

(click on the vote button or the clear looking button to cast your vote)

Love Field route recap. October 13 marks the end of the Wright Amendment at Dallas Love Field, and here’s a reminder of what’s happening there route-wise.

  • Virgin America, which moves operations from DFW to DAL, will have three daily flights starting Monday, October 13 from DAL to SFO, LAX and DCA, adding four daily DAL-LGA roundtrips October 28. (Still no word on when it will add flights to Chicago.)
  • Southwest on Monday starts five daily roundtrips between DAL and Chicago Midway; three each to LAX, Baltimore, Denver, Las Vegas and Washington National; and two to Orlando.
  • On November 2, Southwest adds one more daily frequency to Midway, Las Vegas, LAX and Orlando, and boosts DAL-DCA to six a day. Also on November 2, Southwest begins service from DAL to Atlanta (4x/day), LGA (3x), PHX (4x), Ft Lauderdale (2x), Nashville (2x), San Diego (2x), Orange County (1x) and Tampa (2x).

All-you-can-fly airline comes to OAK. California’s Surf Air, which charges a flat fee starting at $1,750 a month for unlimited flights in its Pilatus turboprops, is expanding to two more airports — Carlsbad’s McClellan-Palomar (CRQ) north of San Diego on November 18 and Oakland (OAK) on December 15, with flights to Hawthorne, Santa Barbara and other locations. “Both markets were added based on the high current and potential member demand–with more than 100 deposits already placed for membership in these regions and relatively limited service by other carriers to either market,” Surf Air said.

Love your United FA, then say so via the carrier's website (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Love your United FA, then say so via the carrier’s website (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Thank your flight attendants. Members of the flight crew seem to be regularly bashed by frequent fliers more times than they are appreciated. Here is a way you can quickly send your message praising a flight attendant who served you well on a recent flight via United’s web site. Although this topic is primarily for passengers of United Airlines, other airlines are discussed in this MilePoint string as well. Have you thanked a flight attendant lately?

HOTELS

The brand new Conrad Seoul hotel is on the south side of the Han River which bisects the city (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The brand new Conrad Seoul hotel is on the south side of the Han River which bisects the city (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis just returned from a business trip to Seoul, South Korea with a big batch of great pics and news about this burgeoning, modern, high-tech (and quirky) Asian city. Stay tuned for a few fun trip reports and another in our series of new hotel updates. Have you been to Seoul recently? What did you think? Please leave comments below or email Chris. 

The first Virgin Hotel will be located in this Chicago building.

The first Virgin Hotel will be located in this Chicago building. (Virgin Hotels)

First Virgin Hotel opening soon. Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group has been working for years on a hotel subsidiary, and its first property — in downtown Chicago — is set to open January 15. The 250-room property (including 42 suites) is in the Old Dearborn Bank Building at 203 N. Wabash. Rooms start at $209 and bookings are open now through a new website at http://virginhotels.com.

In Case You Missed It…

>Looks like a major renovation is in store for New York’s iconic Waldorf-Astoria following its sale by Hilton to a Chinese insurance company for nearly $2 billion.

>Airline lounge memberships: Why they’re not for everyone.

>Try these tips for catching some Zs in your hotel room.

>Eight essential tips for business trips to San Francisco.

>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<

Like what you just read? Then say so! Scroll back up to the top and  LIKE the post on Facebook, post it on Linked In and/or tweet it! 

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Delta raises bar for Medallions + More LAX flights + Ebola poll results + Delta back in Love

This is part one of this weekend’s Catching Up on Travel News (part 2 comes tomorrow)

AIRLINES

Delta keeps making moves to improve the ride for it's customers with deepest pockets.

Delta keeps making moves to improve the ride for it’s customers with deepest pockets. (Photo: Jim Glab)

Delta tightens SkyMiles rules — again. Will United? In the latest tweak to its ever-changing SkyMiles program, Delta is increasing by 20 percent the minimum spend required during 2015 to achieve 2016 Medallion status — e.g., Medallion Qualifying Dollar requirements go from $2,500 to $3,000 for Silver status and so on, up to $15,000 for Diamond from the current $12,500. Delta says it is upping the ante to increase exclusivity of higher status– much like it’s done with more restrictions on guests allowed in Sky Clubs to control crowding. And keep an eye on United, which in keeping with it’s WWDD (What Would Delta Do) policy of mimicking every Delta move, could impose similar higher spending requirements. Is it working to make the experience more exclusive? We frequently hear from both sides of this issue, so please leave your comments below.

Another Delta squeeze. In another change, Delta will downgrade its Basic Economy fares (E fares). Effective February 15, passengers on those low-cost fares (typically on fares where the carrier competes with the likes of Spirit or Frontier) will not be able to get free Medallion upgrades, paid upgrades or advance seat selection; no refunds, changes or same-day standbys are allowed; and Preferred and Economy Comfort seats are off-limits.

Delta gets more time at DAL. Instead of being forced out of Dallas Love Field on October 13 as reported earlier, Delta will now get a reprieve at least until January 6 to keep operating its five daily DAL-ATL flights. What changed? Southwest Airlines — which controls 16 of DAL’s 20 gates — agreed to let Delta use one of them for a few months, and United anted up ticket counter space as well. Delta has been subleasing two gates from American Airlines, but those will be transferred to Virgin America this week.

An American Airlines B737-800 will soon fly ATL-LAX (Photo: BriYYZ / Flickr)

An American Airlines B737-800 will soon fly ATL-LAX (Photo: BriYYZ / Flickr)

American adds another key ATL route. A week ago, American revealed plans to revive LaGuardia-Atlanta service on January 6. And now AA announced another stab at the heart of Delta’s network: It will begin three flights a day between Atlanta and its Los Angeles International hub on March 5, and is already taking reservations. LAX-ATL will be a mainline AA route, operated with 737-800s. So for those of you who say you are ready to dump Delta for a carrier that (so far) has not made the move toward revenue-based frequent flyer rewards, you now have more options.

Ebola fears in check. Based on our recent Ebola Fear Poll and post, it sounds like frequent travelers are not too alarmed about the possibility of contracting Ebola. With nearly 500 votes from TravelSkills readers in so far, 68% say that they are not fearful about Ebola, 22% say they are somewhat fearful and just 10% say that they are very fearful. Have you participated in the poll? In case you missed it, here’s one of the most viral travel videos this week showing hazmat crews entering a plane where a passenger joked about having ebola. VIDEO

How fearful are you of the possibility of contracting ebola?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

(click on the vote button or the clear looking button to cast your vote)

wipesSpeaking of germs, we got a kick out of this email from TravelSkills reader MM about a recent flight where she was seated next to one of the 10% who are very fearful of Ebola: Dear Chris: I had to share an inflight experience I had tonight traveling from DFW to the ATL.  So I am seated on a three seat row, when a passenger seated beside me (I was stuck in the middle seat) gets to her aisle seat to settle in. I said a quick hello and continued looking at my phone.  She then began to pluck what I appeared to be antibacterial wipes from a container…they were ALCOHOL wipes—big ones!!  She proceeded to stand up and wipe down her entire seat…every inch…seat belt included..straps too.  Then she wiped down her tray table, light and ac controls, arm rests…the whole kit-kat and caboodle!  By this time, I am having flashbacks to having my ears pierced in seventh grade at Rich’s department store where they doused you in alcohol.  Then she neatly sat down.  There were so many fumes that I felt like I needed the pull down the oxygen mask before take off!  This is what happens when the fear of germs affects the quality of flight I thought to myself. Then I smiled and thought…I couldn’t wait to email TravelSkills about this!  I am anti-germy myself but keep my hand sanitizer neatly tucked away.  This woman was ready to do battle with bacteria!  Oh, the stories that will emerge from all this…”

HOTELS

Marriott's new wireless charger

Marriott’s new Kube wireless charger

Marriott tries a new tech amenity. if you see an odd black box in a Marriott lobby, don’t hesitate to put your phone on it — that’s what it’s for. Marriott installed Kube Systems wireless charging stations in the lobbies of 29 hotels, acting on a suggestion from customers at its idea website, www.TravelBrilliantly.com. Besides the wireless charging surface, the boxes have built-in connectors to power up to six devices.

In Case You Missed It…

>Looks like a major renovation is in store for New York’s iconic Waldorf-Astoria following its sale by Hilton to a Chinese insurance company for nearly $2 billion.

>Airline lounge memberships: Why they’re not for everyone.

>Try these tips for catching some Zs in your hotel room.

>Eight essential tips for business trips to San Francisco.

>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<

Like what you just read? Then say so! Scroll back up to the top and  LIKE the post on Facebook, post it on Linked In and/or tweet it! 

facebook like

Would you rather get TravelSkills Weekly instead of Daily? No probs! click here to sign up for TravelSkills Weekly. 

Are you in the market for a new credit card? Looking for a fat points or mileage bonus to sweeten your balance? Then check out our BEST CREDIT CARDS FOR BUSINESS TRAVELERS and scoop up the deals!

Please join the 80,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email-per-day updates!

 

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