Big fare sale + Fancy food on United + Uber raises fares + Cuts at Qantas + Better biz class on AA

United upgrades first class fare with items like this caprese on Asiago baguette (Photo: United)

United upgrades first class fare with items like this caprese on Asiago baguette (Photo: United)

(TravelSkills is based in the Bay Area and yes, we felt the earthquake early Sunday morning! Thankfully no damage here at HQ. The rumble felt like riding along a dirt road in a Winnebago in the dark.)

AIRLINES

Big fare sale. As a busy summer comes to a close, all airlines have put fall and winter flights on sale, and most of these fares represent good value if you can book ahead of time. To get the deal, you must book by Thursday, August 28. Discounts are good for trips from early September all the way through early March. As usual, they do not include holiday season flights and include other limitations (like Saturday night stays) that make them mostly unusable for business travelers. But if you have a flexible schedule, you’ll like what you see here. United | Delta | American | Southwest | Virgin America NOTE: Many of the best deals are already sold out. To stay up to day on newsy updates and alerts like this, be sure to LIKE TravelSkills on Facebook. 

United revamps food & beverage. Premium travelers on United Airlines will see improvements in in-flight meals and drinks in the weeks ahead, as the airline unveiled plans for new options. The changes are aimed at first and business class customers on North American routes longer than 800 miles, who this month started seeing premium salads, and in September will be offered premium sandwiches and wraps like prosciutto on tomato focaccia, Thai chicken wrap, and Cobb salad wrap. This fall, United will add Prosecco sparkling wine to the beverage list, and next year it will extend the changes to the front cabins of shorter flights and United Express. In other news, United has introduced self-service bag tagging at its Chicago O’Hare hub. (What do you think of United’s first class food? Will the improvements change your booking habits?)

American starts refitting 777-200s. American Airlines has started work on a previously announced change to its international fleet, expanding the number of lie-flat business class seats on its 777-200s and eliminating first class. The change — which will leave AA’s 14 new 777-300ERs as the only ones in its fleet offering three-class service — follows a trend among major U.S. to scale back or eliminate the traditional front cabin to meet the changing demands of the business travel marketplace. (This makes me wonder how long it will take AA to yank those first class seats on its A321Ts flying between California and JFK, and replace them with business class.)

(Image: WoodlyWonderWorks Flickr)

(Image: WoodlyWonderWorks Flickr)

Thank you, dear TravelSkills readers. As you may recall, we recently posted news about a new 50,000 mile bonus for those signing up for a United Explorer card. We are pleased to report that you all rallied around that offer (for which we earn a commission), and that definintely helps pay our bills this month! Thanks to all of you who signed up– if you did not, consider doing so before the bonus goes away on September 2!

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!

Cathay adds BOS, remakes lounge. Boston travelers will get their first direct access to Hong Kong next spring, when Cathay Pacific is slated to start non-stop service on the route with a 777-300ER. Cathay will fly the route — its sixth U.S. gateway — four times a week, starting May 15, 2015. Meanwhile, Cathay also revealed plans to overhaul The Pier, its first class lounge at Hong Kong International Airport, remaking it to resemble a luxury apartment, with several rooms devoted to different purposes.

Big cuts coming at Qantas. Qantas announced this week that it would cut costs in its international division to the tune of a whopping $1 billion. The reasons for a massive cuts include overcapacity, competition from foreign carriers (especially UAE carriers) and weakened demand for flights between Australia and Asia. How will this affect the US to Australia market? The Sydney Morning Herald reports that one of Qantas two Sydney-Los Angeles flights will shift from a morning to an evening departure and it will add three weekly flights from Melbourne to Los Angeles in January. “The capacity increase comes as Virgin Australia recently announced it would withdraw its three weekly Melbourne-Los Angeles 777 flights from October in favour of a daily offering on the Brisbane-Los Angeles route. United Airlines will launch new 787-9 flights from Melbourne to Los Angeles around the same time,” the newspaper reports.

Frontier overhauls its elite status. Frontier Airlines told members of its EarlyReturns loyalty program that it is changing the requirements and benefits of elite status effective February 20, 2015. The existing Ascent and Summit levels will be replaced with a single status called simply Frontier Elite, and to achieve it, members have to fly 20,000 miles or 25 segments during this calendar year. Members will no longer get a free checked bag, but they will get a free carry-on (the airline now charges for carry-ons), and elite benefits will no longer be extended to members’ traveling companions. The airline also said it will impose a fee for redeeming miles, starting October 31, 2014.

CARS

(Photo: Uber)

UberBLACK prices soar in SF. (Photo: Uber)

UberBLACK raising fares. Last week we were alerted to a 7% hike in UberBLACK fares and the disappearance of flat fares to the airport by a TravelSkills reader in San Francisco who wrote, “Wanted to ask you whether you were aware that Uber has quietly dropped flat fares to SFO?  It apparently happened this week. I was unpleasantly surprised tonight when I was charged a $92 fare from lower Pacific Heights to SFO in Uber black car.  In fairness, the company dropped it to $65 when I emailed them tonight to complain, but buyer beware.  These are the new fees.  A 50% increase is beyond a rip off.  I’ll be going back to my regular limo company that charged the same $65.” We did find this blurb on its blog about the increase: “As we make UberBLACK even better, we’re updating how we present pricing. Starting today we’re slightly increasing prices by 7% and transitioning away from flat rates. We know you rely on UberBLACK and you trust us to get you where you need to go.” Uber told TravelSkills that “each market is different” and that this post was written specifically for San Francisco. Have you noticed any changes in recent Uber pricing in other cities? What do you think? Please leave your comments below. 

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Uber links bookings to United, Hyatt apps. Uber  is expanding its reach to a much wider market, especially business travelers, by releasing an application programming interface that links its booking service to the mobile apps of other companies. Its 11 launch partners include United Airlines and Hyatt Hotels, as well as other apps used frequently by business travelers like restaurant finder OpenTable, TripAdvisor, and even Starbucks. Users who sign up for Uber through the new partner links will get an incentive discount, and United is offering 1,000 bonus miles.

National offers free rental days. Members of National Car Rental’s Emerald Club can earn free days with the company’s Rent Rent Reward promotion. Registered members will get one free rental day for every two qualifying rentals of a mid-sized or larger vehicle for two days or more from now through January 31, 2015.

AIRPORTS

Phony TSA agent at SFO gets off. A Bay Area executive took airport hi-jinks a little too far when he had too much to drink and decided to pose as a TSA agent, then patted down a couple of female travelers. He was arrested, but charges were dropped because the two women had flown off and couldn’t be located. Another interesting fact emerged from the incident: While it is against the law to impersonate a cop, it’s not illegal to pretend you’re a TSA agent.

Southwest finishes move to new DAL terminal. In preparation for its big expansion of service October 13 to a number of long-haul routes out of Dallas’ Love Field, Southwest Airlines has completed the move of all flight operations out of the airport’s old terminal into the new one. The old building is now slated for demolition. Southwest was only using two gates in the old terminal; it will occupy 16 of the 20 gates in the shiny new one.

In Case You Missed It

>United will fly a Newark-San Francisco using a new 787-9 Dreamliner flight on October 20

>Will air travel to Europe be disrupted again by a new Icelandic volcano eruption, as it was in 2010?

>Ramsey takes a look at Airbus’ new A350-900 widebody.

>Virgin America is moving into the big leagues of airline competition.

-Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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What golden age of travel?

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SFO runways reopen + Fewer amateurs in PreCheck + Delta cocktails now $8 + United’s cool passport scan app

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Serial stowaway finally gets her free flight

3 brand new Los Angeles hotels (& 3 facelifts)

Free inflight entertainment + Delta dumping 747s + United hub reshuffle + 50K United bonus + Uber for business

The 50,000 mile bonus is back

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!

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What golden age of travel?

The Ponape Lounge onboard a Continental 747 (Photo: 1950sUnlimited / Flickr)

The Ponape Lounge onboard a Continental 747 (Photo: 1950sUnlimited / Flickr)

Was there really a “golden age of travel?” My favorite travel apps? Key advice for a newbie biz traveler? My most memorable trip? I’m on a mini-vacation this weekend, so I thought you all would like to read a recent Q&A with me that appeared in InsideFlyer magazine.

InsideFlyer
Do you feel that the “golden days” have come and gone for the frequent traveler?

Chris McGinnis
I cringe when I hear people talking about the so-called “golden age of travel.” When I began my career as a business traveler in the 1980s planes were filled with smoke, on-time performance stunk and there was no such thing as “lie-flat” business class. Passengers fought over the handful of magazines provided as inflight entertainment. Most airports were dull, dark and institutional. Hotels had yet to provide basics like in-room coffeemakers or desktop plugs. Nonetheless, I loved traveling then as much as I love it now. And now I get to enjoy things that I couldn’t even dream of back then like inflight WiFi, spectacular, architecturally significant airports (and airport lounges), big, bright business class hotels and checking in for flights and having my boarding pass stored on my mobile phone. Of course, there’s a downside: these days flights are more crowded, airport security is a bear (but improving) and it’s expensive. Nonetheless, I believe we are now living in the golden age of travel.

InsideFlyer
What are some of your favorite travel apps for business travelers?

McGinnis

UberLogoAlthough the media focus primarily on the air travel side of the business travel experience, the reality is that most business trips are by car. For that reason, I love the Waze app, which uses crowdsourced info from other “wazers” on the road to alert you to speed traps, traffic, etc. I use it all the time. When I attended the Freddie Awards in Seattle this spring, I used another favorite app, Hotel Tonight, to snag a significant last-minute deal at a posh hotel near Sea-Tac that I’d never heard of, but really liked. (Cedarbrook Lodge, which used to be a training retreat for Washington Mutual and is now a very nice hotel.) And I also have to mention Tripit Pro, which helps keep my crazy travel schedule organized, alerts me to changes or delays, and keeps my family informed of my whereabouts. Oh! And one more: Uber has completely changed the way I get to/from the airport. Push button on mobile phone, car arrives. Take nice ride. Get out. Thanks! No money changes hands and receipt arrives via email. It’s like magic! (Get $30 off your first Uber ride here)

InsideFlyer
What’s one piece of advice that you would give to someone who is new to business travel?

McGinnis
Always be nice. It will come back to you.

InsideFlyer
Do you have a favorite frequent flyer program? And if so, which program is your favorite and why?

McGinnis
All frequent flyer programs are pretty much alike, so it’s tough to name a favorite. However, since my business travel career began in Atlanta, I’ve kept a close eye on the Delta program over the years and watched and reported as it turned from an industry follower to a leader. I’ve earned more miles on Delta than others, but that’s changing now that I live in San Francisco and fly Virgin America and United the most.

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 50,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email-per-day updates!

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InsideFlyer
What is your opinion on the recent changes to Delta SkyMiles to align the program to revenue rather than miles flown?

McGinnis
I know I’ll catch a lot of flack for saying this, but I think what Delta (and Virgin America, Southwest, JetBlue) did makes a lot of sense and will improve the loyalty experience for true frequent business travelers in coming years. The airlines made a mistake when they started distributing applications for “frequent flyer” programs to everyone—even those who fly once or twice a year. That diluted the loyalty experience for the airlines’ best customers … the ones who pay the most (not those who flew the farthest). It opened the door to a wily generation of “gamers” who figured out how to snag more than they were entitled to by manipulating an admittedly imperfect system. The move to revenue-based programs realigns the system back to its initial premise: to reward truly frequent business travelers, those who fly 10+ times per year on non-discounted fares. If that’s not you, then sorry. If that is you, then get ready for things to get better. But it will take a while.

Chris & JohnnyJet host the weekly #TravelSkills chat on Twitter

Chris & JohnnyJet host the weekly #TravelSkills chat on Twitter

InsideFlyer
Tell us about your weekly #Travelskills chat on Twitter. What types of resources do you offer travelers?

McGinnis
I partnered up with popular travel blogger John E. DiScala (aka Johnny Jet) last year to create the #TravelSkills chat and it’s taken off like a rocket! Our weekly chats draw hundreds of travel enthusiasts and media in a free-for-all online conversation about a wide variety of topics. Since it’s called “TravelSkills” we always try to be sure that the chats are newsy, informative and teach participants new things. Recent popular chats covered: New York City, In-flight etiquette and hygiene and finding travel deals. Since the chats draw such big crowds and create millions of impressions, we’re lucky that a steady stream of some of the biggest travel industry brands have lined up to sponsor them. Please join the fun! Follow the #TravelSkills hash tag Fridays at noon eastern, 9am Pacific or see www.travelskills.com/chat.

InsideFlyer
With the changes and devaluations of frequent flyer programs, how can members still derive value from their memberships?

McGinnis
As I just mentioned, members who are true frequent travelers (10+ flights per year on non-discounted fares) will get the most value from the programs in the future. If that’s not you, and you have a big stack of miles sitting in your account(s), I advise you to redeem them as soon as you can because they will continue to lose value over time.

InsideFlyer
Do you have any insider advice for booking award travel?

McGinnis
I’m a frequent flyer program enthusiast, but I’m not an expert. When it comes to advice about frequent flyer programs, I would suggest turning to my fellow bloggers like Gary “View from the Wing” Leff, Ben “Lucky” Schlapping or Bryan “The Points Guy” Kelly. I’m impressed with their ability to track the minutiae of these programs and find little “aha!” gems I’d never see.

Landing at Tokyo- exiting the brand new 787 via stairs vs jetway was exciting! (Photo Chris McGinnis)

Landing at Tokyo- exiting the brand new 787 via stairs vs jetway was exciting! (Photo Chris McGinnis)

InsideFlyer
For our final question, we are asking everyone we interview—please tell us about one particularly memorable trip you took.

McGinnis
All trips are memorable to me for one reason or another. But my most recent memorable trip was to Tokyo. ANA invited me and a group of travel writers on its brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner flight from San Jose to Narita last winter. The trip over (in business class on a brand new plane) was outstanding. But on the day after we arrived, the 787 was grounded worldwide due to battery issues. And there was a rare blizzard in Tokyo. Nonetheless, the trip was a success, made for some great blog posts on TravelSkills and we made it safely back to SFO on a Boeing 777.

–Chris McGinnis

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3 brand new hotels in Chicago

A spin around the new Airbus A350

Delta shuttle changes + Virgin beefs up Dallas + 747 quickly disappearing + Posh NYC hotel perch + DFW gets rapid rail

How to deal with Americans

10 little things some hotels get right

Better Sky Club snacks + New LaGuardia lounge + Marriott MegaBonus back + Nifty new ATL arrivals app

Month #3: A TravelSkills update from Chris

Airbnb for a business trip? Mixed results

SFO runways reopen + Fewer amateurs in PreCheck + Delta cocktails now $8 + United’s cool passport scan app

Mergers that make sense

Serial stowaway finally gets her free flight

3 brand new Los Angeles hotels (& 3 facelifts)

Free inflight entertainment + Delta dumping 747s + United hub reshuffle + 50K United bonus + Uber for business

The 50,000 mile bonus is back

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 50,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email-per-day updates!

A spin around the new Airbus A350

A350

The most noticeable feature of the new Airbus A350 is the unusual swoop of the winglet (Photo: Ramsey Qubein)

The world’s newest long-haul, wide body commercial jet, the Airbus A350-900, recently completed its route-proving mission in Helsinki and TravelSkills was invited along to take a look at the first of the “XWB” family of aircraft to debut.

Finnair will be the first European carrier to get its hands on the new bird when it takes delivery of its first of 11 in 2015. Initially, Finnair plans to deploy the A350 on routes between Helsinki and Bangkok, Beijing, and Shanghai. (Qatar Airways will be the first airline to operate the A350 later this year.)

In the US, both American and United are in line to add the A350 to their fleets with deliveries currently set for 2017 and 2018, respectively. There is no clear word from Delta regarding its interest in the A350, but with its recent retirement of four Boeing 747s and the need for more wide bodies, you never know! At a recent event in San Francisco, Cathay Pacific said that it plans to replace its fleet of Boeing 747s in part with the A350.

Airbus A350

High ceilings and a 3-3-3 configuration in economy make the A350 feel spacious (Photo: Ramsey Qubein)

Airbus designed the A350 XWB family to compete with Boeing’s popular and efficient Dreamliner (787) and 777. These smaller, lighter aircraft give airlines the flexibility to fly nonstop on “long, thin routes” where there’s not enough demand to fill a jumbo like the 747 or A380.

Disclosure: Ramsey was a guest of Finnair in Helsinki

The A350-900 has a range of 8,250 nautical miles (which means it can fly nonstop from the US East coast to cities in China or southern Africa) and will carry roughly 276 passengers in a standard two-class configuration. Since this plane can fly farther and holds a smaller number of passengers than larger aircraft, it gives airlines the chance to open new routes that may not have made sense before. The Wall Street Journal reports that 38 airlines have ordered over 700 A350s– its highest total ever for a new jet that has yet to enter service.

The “XWB” suffix stands for “Extra Wide Body,” referring to the interior of the cabin. The A350-900 is 18.3 feet wide “from armrest to armrest” which is six inches wider than the cabin of a Dreamliner, Airbus claims. Not a huge difference, but every inch counts when it comes to cabin space these days, right?

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A350_XWB_msn005_wing

An unusual curved winglet is the distinguishing feature of the new Airbus A350

In Helsinki, the first thing that drew my attention were the plane’s curved winglets, which reduce drag inflight. (See photo above.) They are not rigidly bent upward in the same way other aircraft winglets are; rather they curve upward and swoosh backward. This is supposed to improve the fuel economy that existing winglets already provide. Also, the shape of the aircraft nose is also unusually pointy,  something not found on other Airbus aircraft, and a characteristic that will make it easy to identify.

Related: A look at Finnair’s interior designs for the A350

Aside from the nose and the winglets, the aircraft looks very similar to the A330 family since it is a twin-engine aircraft. The cabin is wider and the windows are larger than its older sibling, however, which are two features that passengers will appreciate.

A sense of spaciousness is immediately notable on entering the plane. I attribute this to the  high ceiling, which is in part due to the way the overhead bins fold away into the ceiling of the aircraft. The bins are very deep and tall allowing more space for baggage.

A350

Another feature: a cabin that’s 220 inches wide… which can accommodate either 9 or 10 seats across in economy. Let’s hope airlines opt for the 9 abreast seen here.

Of course, each airline will decide how they want to configure the interior seating and cabins, which plays a role in the sense of space as well. The A350 is wide enough to have 10 seats across in the main cabin, if an airline chooses to do that. We hope airlines stick with a 9-abreast option to truly take advantage of the extra wide cabin and not pack us in like sardines. Thankfully, Finnair will have a 3-3-3 configuration in economy and a 1-2-1 design in business class. (Airbus feels that an 18 inch wide seat should be the standard and has launched a campaign to encourage airlines to adopt it.)

Like the Dreamliner, the A350 is a game changer because it is 25% more fuel efficient than similarly sized aircraft, which makes airlines (and environmentalists) happy. Airbus’s main selling point is that, when compared to the Dreamliner, the A350 burns 9% less fuel, yet still carries more passengers.

A350 XWB - ROUTE PROVING - TRIP 2 - HONG KONG THROUGH THE WINDOW

Windows on the A350 are larger than on other Airbus planes, but not as big as those on the Boeing 787.

In addition to the plane’s pleasing girth, passengers will notice larger windows than other Airbus aircraft (Airbus windows are noticeably smaller than those on Boeing and Embraer planes). Still, the windows are not as large windows those on a Dreamliner, and they don’t have electronic dimming capability.

A350

High ceilings and mood lighting add to cabin comfort on the new A350 (Photo: Ramsey Qubein)

LED lighting in the cabin can produce nearly 200 shades of color, which airlines can use for branding purposes or to create a more soothing atmosphere. Cabin lights will gradually become brighter as they are turned on. Lighting like this should offer flight attendants a gentle alternative to just blasting the lights on to wake everyone up for a meal.

The A350 airframe is crafted of composite materials that are corrosion and fatigue free. Like the Dreamliner, this makes it lighter. An advanced air filtration system will refresh cabin air completely every two to three minutes, which should help to combat dry skin and reduce the effects of jet lag. The cabin will be pressurized at 6,000 feet, which is similar to Boeing’s Dreamliner.

Related: Flying on a brand new United 787 Dreamliner

Finnair’s new aircraft will come equipped with wifi access, which will help to make those long flights feel shorter. Also, engineers integrated the inflight entertainment systems and wiring underneath the floor so there are none of those irritating boxes underneath economy class seats stealing your precious leg room! (There must have been a few frequent flyers at the drawing board, right!)

Overall, when the A350 takes to the skies with airlines in 2015, its passengers should be pleasantly surprised with the modern interior and sense of space…and airlines will be elated at the jet’s efficiency.

–Ramsey Qubein

 

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facebook like

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

Delta shuttle changes + Virgin beefs up Dallas + 747 quickly disappearing + Posh NYC hotel perch + DFW gets rapid rail

How to deal with Americans

10 little things some hotels get right

Better Sky Club snacks + New LaGuardia lounge + Marriott MegaBonus back + Nifty new ATL arrivals app

Month #3: A TravelSkills update from Chris

Airbnb for a business trip? Mixed results

SFO runways reopen + Fewer amateurs in PreCheck + Delta cocktails now $8 + United’s cool passport scan app

Mergers that make sense

Serial stowaway finally gets her free flight

3 brand new Los Angeles hotels (& 3 facelifts)

Free inflight entertainment + Delta dumping 747s + United hub reshuffle + 50K United bonus + Uber for business

The 50,000 mile bonus is back

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 50,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email-per-day updates!

Delta shuttle changes + Virgin beefs up Dallas + 747 quickly disappearing + Posh NYC hotel perch + DFW gets rapid rail

The art deco Marine Air Terminal at New York LaGuardia (Photo: Matt Green / Flickr)

The art deco Marine Air Terminal at New York LaGuardia (Photo: Matt Green / Flickr)

AIRLINES

Delta upgrades LGA-BOS Shuttle. On November 2, Delta will move its New York LaGuardia-Boston Logan Delta Shuttle from LGA’s remote (and cooly art-deco) Marine Air Terminal to Terminal C, and will upgrade its aircraft to 110-passenger Boeing 717s. (Those 717s used to belong to AirTran.)  Delta Shuttle’s LGA-Washington and LGA-Chicago flights will remain at the Marine Air Terminal and continue using Delta Connection/Shuttle America E-175s. Besides the larger planes (with three classes of seating, configured 2-3 in the back + wi-fi + power outlets), LGA-BOS Shuttle passengers will enjoy easier connections and a wider array of terminal services. (Any comments on the improvements Delta has made at LGA lately?)

Virgin expands DAL schedule. Virgin America beefed up is flight skeds from Dallas Love Field (DAL) not long after Southwest said it, too plans to start DAL-SFO/OAK flights. These higher daily frequencies are designed to make Virgin more appealing to business travelers. Virgin’s initial schedule at DAL starts in October, with three flights a day to SFO, LAX and DCA, and four to LGA. Now Virgin says it will add a fourth daily roundtrip to SFO, LAX and DCA starting April 29. (Unconfirmed reports suggest Virgin might end its SFO-Ft. Lauderdale route to free up aircraft for DAL; Virgin is also suspending SFO-PHL and LAX-PHL October 6.) It will also continue its twice-daily SFO-Austin service.

Legacy carriers cut routes… Delta and United are both eliminating some key business routes from their networks. At Memphis — once a Northwest hub — Delta plans to end service next month to Denver and to Austin, although it will add two more daily flights to its ATL hub. Meanwhile, United is due to end its daily non-stop Pittsburgh-Los Angeles flight on August 18, and its two daily Chicago O’Hare-Topeka flights on September 2, leaving that Kansas airport without scheduled passenger service.

…While low-cost airlines add them. Southwest Airlines last week kicked off six daily roundtrips between Chicago Midway and Washington Reagan National, plus three a day between DCA-Nashville and two from DCA to New Orleans. Southwest will add Cleveland-Phoenix service November 2, and just took over more Mexico routes from rapidly disappearing subsidiary AirTran … Spirit Airlines has started service from Kansas City to ORD, DFW, DTW, LAS and IAH, and announced new daily service linking Detroit-ATL and Detroit-New Orleans starting in November, as well as new once-daily service between ORD-ATL, ORD-MSY and ORD-BWI … Frontier said it will begin service on 10 new routes from northern cities to sun destinations this winter.

Alaska Airlines

An alert sent to TravelSkills by Alaska Airlines this week

Reminder: At SFO, all Alaska Airlines flights will move to the International Terminal, Boarding Area A, effective Wednesday, August 20. Details regarding lounge access for Board Room members are still up in the air, however. Stay tuned.

INTERNATIONAL

A fond farewell to Cathay's Queen of the Skies (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

A fond farewell to Cathay’s Queen of the Skies (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Cathay Pacific bids farewell to the B747. On August 31, the Cathay Pacific Boeing 747-400 will make its final departure from SFO, marking Cathay’s retirement of the graceful “Queen of the Skies” from long haul service. At a bittersweet farewell event at San Francisco International this week, Cathay’s Americas head Tom Owen said that Cathy is shedding itself of the B747 in “one of the fastest fleet replacements in history.” Why so fast? Owen said that while the company credits the 747 as the tool that made it a truly global carrier in the 1990s, “it was designed in an era when a barrel of oil cost $15-$20.” With oil currently hovering around the $100/bbl mark, Cathay is moving to the Boeing 777-300ER and the soon-to-be-released Airbus A350 (both of which are 25% more efficient than the 747) for its long haul flights. Cathay’s remaining 747s will be deployed on intra-Asia routes for the next two years, and will then disappear.

Related: Sad to see the graceful 747 fade away! 

Mockup of Aer Lingus' new true lie flat business class seat coming in 2015 (Aer Lingus)

Mockup of Aer Lingus’ new true lie flat business class seat coming in 2015 (Aer Lingus)

New biz classes at Aer Lingus, Finnair.  Aer Lingus has detailed its plans for a (much needed) revamped business class to debut in 2015, with fully-flat seats, free Wi-Fi, 16-inch hi-def touchscreens and Irish cuisine. Meanwhile, Finnair has unveiled the interior designs for its long-haul fleet of Airbus’ new A350 XWB (extra wide body) aircraft, which the Finnish carrier will start flying in 2015. The 297-seat A350s will have a 46-seat 1-2-1 business class with flat-bed seats, 16-inch touchscreens, Wi-Fi and more.  (TravelSkills contributor Ramsey Qubein recently flew to Helsinki for a first hand look at the first A350– stay tuned for his review later this week!)

Did you see our post on How to Deal With Americans? This is one of those cases where reader feedback is even better than the post! :) Check it out here.

Big bonus. Little time….What’s the best card for United flyers who don’t spend or fly enough to have Premier status? For a limited time, the United MileagePlus Explorer Card is offering an excellent 50,000 mile bonus for signing up and spending  just $2,000 in the first three months. The Explorer card also offers Premier perks like waived checked bag fees and lounge passes for those who don’t fly or spend enough to get status. Also, it offers double miles for United purchases. Act fast on this one because that 50K bonus is only good through September 2. Details here

AIRPORTS

New DART rapid rail connection at DFW

New DART rapid rail connection at DFW (Photo: Dallas Area Rapid Transit)

DFW gets a rail link. August 18 marks the opening of the DFW Airport Station, the terminus for a five-mile extension of Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s light rail. The station, part of DFW’s Terminal A, is opening four months ahead of schedule. The new Orange Line extension runs from the airport to Belt Line Station, with continuing service to Irving-Las Colinas, Dallas Market Center and downtown Dallas. It will make DFW the third-largest U.S. airport with a direct rail link to the city center.

HOTELS

A posh new perch in NYC

The striking new Park Hyatt: A posh new perch in NYC (Photo: Hyatt)

NYC Park Hyatt opens next week. An August 19 debut is slated for Hyatt’s new flagship property, the Park Hyatt New York, across from Carnegie Hall on West 57th Street. The posh property takes up the first 25 floors of a 90-story glass tower that reshapes the Midtown skyline; the floors above contain ultra-expensive condos. The Park Hyatt has 210 extra-large rooms (standard rooms average around 500 square feet), including lots of suite options; rates start at $700-$800 a night.

Rebranded Chicago-area hotels. There’s lots of hotel rebranding in and around Chicago this month. Downtown, the former Crowne Plaza at 160 E. Huron was remade into a dual-branded Hilton — the Hampton Inn and Homewood Suites by Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile … The former InterContinental Chicago O’Hare Hotel, a 556-room property across from the Donald Stephens Convention Center in suburban Rosemont, has been acquired by Loews Hotels and converted to the Loews brand … In the western suburb of Oak Brook, the former Renaissance has been converted by Starwood into Le Meridien Chicago-Oak Brook Center after a $25 million renovation; and the former Oak Brook Hills Resort & Conference Center is now the Hilton Chicago/Oak Brook Hills.

In Case You Missed It…

>Ten little things that make a difference in a hotel stay.

>Hawaiian Airlines will start SFO-Maui A330 service four times a week November 20, increasing to daily December 17.

>TravelSkills contributor has mixed results with a recent Airbnb booking for a business trip

-Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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How to deal with Americans

10 little things some hotels get right

Better Sky Club snacks + New LaGuardia lounge + Marriott MegaBonus back + Nifty new ATL arrivals app

Month #3: A TravelSkills update from Chris

Airbnb for a business trip? Mixed results

SFO runways reopen + Fewer amateurs in PreCheck + Delta cocktails now $8 + United’s cool passport scan app

Mergers that make sense

Serial stowaway finally gets her free flight

3 brand new Los Angeles hotels (& 3 facelifts)

Free inflight entertainment + Delta dumping 747s + United hub reshuffle + 50K United bonus + Uber for business

The 50,000 mile bonus is back

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 50,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email-per-day updates!

 

Better Sky Club snacks + New LaGuardia lounge + Marriott MegaBonus back + Nifty new ATL arrivals app

Entering the brand new American Express Centurion Lounge at New York LaGuardia (Photo: American Express)

Entering the brand new American Express Centurion Lounge at New York LaGuardia (Photo: American Express)

Summer’s not even over yet, but business travel news is coming at us from all directions, so we’re offering a double dose of news this week…

AIRLINES

Soup ‘n salad at Sky Clubs. Delta has updated and enhanced the menu offerings at its Sky Clubs, bringing aboard some healthier options like salads and soups that it has been experimenting with over the last year. You can see what’s new at this web page, and check out nutritional information for some selections. Meanwhile, in-flight duty-free shopping is no longer an option for travelers on Delta. The airline has terminated its relationship with the vendor it was using for the program, and reportedly has no plans to find a new one. So from now on, it’s the airport duty-free shop or nothing for Delta flyers. (Did you ever buy anything from inflight duty-free anyway– or see many others doing so?)

Airline cancellation rates vary greatly. According to the latest monthly government numbers, some airlines are much better than others at keeping their flights operating. Delta canceled just 19 departures in June, out of almost 70,000 flights operated. Other carriers with cancellation rates close to zero were Hawaiian, Frontier and Virgin America. By contrast, American’s regional subsidiary Envoy had a 6.5 percent cancellation rate.

Sunny skies for Virgin America. SF-based Virgin America posted a $37 million second quarter profit this week, up significantly compared to the same time last year when it lost $8.8 million. AP pegs the good results on increasing airfares, which are up 5% over the same time last year. We of course peg the results on Virgin’s recent sponsorship of the TravelSkills blog! :)

An 8-passenger SurfAir Pilatus. Have you or would subscribe?  (Photo: Chasen Richardson)

An 12-passenger SurfAir Pilatus. Have you or would subscribe? (Photo: Chasen Richardson)

All-you-can-fly airline expands. California-based Surf Air, a small new venture that lets customers fly as much as they want on its intrastate network for a membership fee starting at $1,599 a month, said it has seen “incredible demand from consumers” — so much that it plans a big expansion. The company has placed an order for up to 65 new Pilatus PC-12 eight-passenger turboprop aircraft, has raised another $73 million in capital, and plans to expand to more destinations. Surf Air claims 900 members already, with 350 more on hold awaiting more planes and routes. (Have you tried Surf Air or do you know anyone who has flown it? Please leave comments below.)

Frontier revamps elite levels. Frontier Airlines plans to replace its EarlyReturns Ascend and Summit elite levels effective February 15, 2015, with a single level called simply Frontier Elite. It’s open to members who accumulate 20,000 miles or 25 segments between January 1-December 31, 2014. Benefits include a free carry-on bag (the airline now charges a fee for them), but no more free checked bags. On October 31, 2014, the airline also plans to start imposing a fee (elites are exempted) for EarlyReturns redemptions booked less than 180 days in advance.

Please join the 50,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email-per-day updates!

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AIRPORTS

ATL tests international arrivals app. Those self-service Automated Passport Control kiosks — which speed up processing of international arrivals who are not part of the Global Entry program — are popping up everywhere this year, but now Customs and Border Protection is going a step further. CBP just started pilot-testing a free app at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson that lets arriving travelers input their passport data and Customs declaration on their mobile device, then gives them a scannable QR code to present to the CBP officer. Have you tried it yet?

Nice views from the new American Express Centurion Lounge at LGA (Photo: AMEX)

Nice views from the new American Express Centurion Lounge at LGA (Photo: AMEX)

AmEx adds an LGA lounge. American Express cut the ribbon on a 5,000-square-foot Centurion Lounge in New York LaGuardia’s Terminal B (third level, pre-security), offering work spaces with high-speed Wi-Fi and electrical outlets; cuisine from Cedric Vongerichten, executive chef at New York’s Perry St restaurant; and specialty cocktails and wine selections. Entry is free for AmEx Platinum Card and Centurion members; a one-day pass costs $50 for other AmEx cardholders. Other Centurion lounges are in Las Vegas McCarran and Dallas-Ft Worth with additional locations coming to SFO (construction now visible from inside Terminal 3 near the United Premier check in area) and MIA.

HOTELS

Marriott expands app check-in. Marriott unveiled a huge expansion of its new mobile check-in and check-out capability for Marriott Rewards members. Previously available at 500 properties in its Marriott Hotels brand, it’s being expanded to 11 more Marriott brands, from Ritz-Carlton to Marriott Executive Apartments. “With these latest additions, these services are immediately available at 1,200 properties worldwide, and will be live at more than 4,000 hotels worldwide by year-end,” the company said. The app is available for iOS and Android devices.  In other news, Marriott Rewards members can earn up to 25,000 bonus points for stays from September 15-January 15 with the group’s new Fall Megabonus promotion.

CARS

New planning app links with Hertz GPS. Hertz’ NeverLost GPS in-car navigation system has a new companion — a free trip planning app from Navigation Solutions for iOS and Android devices that serves up scads of information about local places and events. The app works in tandem with NeverLost via the cloud, and includes city guides for 40 U.S. cities, with additional data on many more. “The interactive app goes far beyond navigation, including events, local weather, Augmented Reality, social media sharing and much more,” Hertz said. Now that we all have Google maps and apps like Waze, does anyone still use NeverLost? Leave your comments below!)

In Case You Missed It…

>Here’s a progress report on the new TravelSkills after its first three months.

>Are Airbnb properties right for a business trip?

>A new Hilton promotion lets HHonors members earn triple points through October.

– Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

 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! 

Big bonus. Little time….What’s the best card for United flyers who don’t spend or fly enough to have Premier status? For a limited time, the United MileagePlus Explorer Card is offering an excellent 50,000 mile bonus for signing up and spending  just $2,000 in the first three months. The Explorer card also offers Premier perks like waived checked bag fees and lounge passes for those who don’t fly or spend enough to get status. Also, it offers double miles for United purchases. Act fast on this one because that 50K bonus is only good through September 2. Details here

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

Month #3: A TravelSkills update from Chris

Airbnb for a business trip? Mixed results

SFO runways reopen + Fewer amateurs in PreCheck + Delta cocktails now $8 + United’s cool passport scan app

Mergers that make sense

Serial stowaway finally gets her free flight

3 brand new Los Angeles hotels (& 3 facelifts)

Free inflight entertainment + Delta dumping 747s + United hub reshuffle + 50K United bonus + Uber for business

The 50,000 mile bonus is back

How to get on earlier flight without paying fee

Trip Report: ANA’s 787 Dreamliner to Tokyo

20 different biz class seats in 1 room- PHOTOS

Southwest pads schedules + 70K Marriott points + New airline for SFO + Chris at GBTA + Salt Lake makeover 

Frequent travelers love Chick-fil-a

Kicked off flight for a tweet? Southwest responds

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 50,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email-per-day updates!

 

SFO runways reopen + Fewer amateurs in PreCheck + Coach cocktails now $8 + United’s cool passport scan app

SFO's new EMAS runaway plane lane is finished! All 4 runways now open (Photo: SFO)

SFO’s new, federally mandated, EMAS crushable concrete “runaway plane lane” is finished! All 4 runways now open (Photo: SFO)

SFO runways reopen early. Good news for Bay Area travelers: San Francisco International goes from two operational runways to four effective today (August 10) as a major construction project wrapped up a month ahead of schedule. The two runways had been closed since May 17 to install federally-mandated Runway Safety Areas (designed to catch and slow down runaway planes), requiring airlines to adjust their summer flight schedules. (More photos here) Luckily, the project had minimal impact on SFO flight operations.

Fewer amateurs in TSA PreCheck lanes? Now this sounds hopeful: “We’ll start pulling back on the number of people who we include on a random, managed-inclusion basis, because we want to, frankly, cater to those who have actually signed up, and who we have the highest confidence in because we know the most about them,” John Pistole, TSA Administrator told the New York Times when asked about overcrowding in TSA PreCheck lanes. This is music to the ears of the 440,000 people who have actually paid for the service, and who have been complaining loudly about the increasing number of “random” travelers chosen to pass through the speedy lanes. Have you noticed any improvements?

More kiosks speed re-entry. The latest expansion of Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry kiosks is at Mineta San Jose International Airport, where two of the self-service devices are now in place for program members. Meanwhile, Detroit Metro Airport has installed 30 Automated Passport Control self-service kiosks for inbound international passengers who aren’t part of Global Entry, and Minneapolis-St. Paul now has 10 of the kiosks in its Lindbergh Terminal. (Have you noticed any change in immigrations and customs processing in the US lately? Are the kiosks helping? Please leave your comments below.)

Are you going to try flying into Dallas Love Field starting in Oct? Let us know! (Photo: Justin Terveen)

Are you going to try flying into Dallas Love Field starting in Oct? Let us know! (Photo: Justin Terveen)

No surprise: Southwest adds DAL-SFO/OAK. Southwest’s big expansion of service at Dallas’ close-in Love Field later this year is adding two more business destinations: San Francisco and Oakland. Starting January 6, the carrier will initially operate only one daily roundtrip in each market, but that’s still enough to give some competition to Virgin America Airlines, which plans to launch its own DAL-SFO service on October 13 with three flights a day — and three classes of service, something Southwest lacks. Will you start to fly into Dallas Love (DAL) or stick with DFW? Leave your comments below, please.

50,000 United points? Yep! Only for a limited time. This is a great way to bump up your MileagePlus balance and help pay for your holiday or summer trips NEXT year! Details here. 

United app will scan passports. A big hitch in checking in for international flights with an app has been the need for a passport scan. But now United has come up with a solution: It’s testing an upgrade to its mobile app (for both iOS and Android) so customers can do just that. “After initiating the app’s check-in feature, customers will have the option of verifying their existing stored passport data or scanning their passport. The app uses the mobile device’s camera feature to capture travelers’ passports, similar to a mobile banking deposit,” United said.

In-flight service squeeze at DL, AA. Flying on Delta during the cocktail hour? Be prepared to shell out $8 for that mixed drink in coach, up from $7, the airline confirms … Starting next month, American Airlines will discontinue serving meals to first class passengers on most flights under two hours 45 minutes, replacing them with snacks (exception: some of the most popular routes, like ORD-LGA).

Emirates arrives at Chicago ORD (Photo: Emirates)

Emirates arrives at Chicago ORD- that’s the Chicago city flag (Photo: Emirates)

Emirates to Chicago ORD; AA juggles Brazil service. Emirates last week started new daily 777-200LR non-stops between Chicago O’Hare and Dubai … American will discontinue Charlotte-Sao Paulo service Oct. 1, but will add new routes in December from JFK and MIA to Viracopo Airport in Campinas, Brazil; on October 25, AA will start seasonal suspensions of JFK-Dublin, ORD-Dusseldorf and PHL-Zurich flights … Air France now offers international first class travelers onward connections by four-seat private jets at Paris CDG. (Trivia Question: What do the four stars on Chicago’s city flag represent? Answer here.)

Please join the 50,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email-per-day updates!

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CARS

Uber continues to disrupt ground transport with a new carpool sharing option (Photo: Uber)

Uber continues to disrupt ground transport with a new carpool sharing option (Photo: Uber)

Uber, Lyft try ride-sharing. Popular ride-finding service Uber is adding a new feature for users: Share your ride and both customers can save money. Called Uberpool, the feature is currently in beta; Uber still promises a ride in five minutes if you opt for Uberpool, and if it can’t find a ride share, it will give you a discount anyway. Competing ride-finder Lyft introduced a similar service called Lyft Line, initially available only in San Francisco and only via iOS devices. Meanwhile, an app called TaxiMagic — used to summon licensed taxicabs — is changing its name to Curb and upgrading its service to include higher-priced black car and limo rides. How do you get around on the ground? Leave your comments below. And if you’ve not tried Uber, do so from our links and you’ll get $30 off your first ride!

In Case You Missed It…

>Should JetBlue and Virgin America merge? How about Lyft and Uber? (Reader comments are great here!)

>Here’s what’s new and cool in the Los Angeles hotel scene.

>Think it’s impossible to sneak onto a flight? Think again.

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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! 

Big bonus. Little time….What’s the best card for United flyers who don’t spend or fly enough to have Premier status? For a limited time, the United MileagePlus Explorer Card is offering an excellent 50,000 mile bonus for signing up and spending  just $2,000 in the first three months. The Explorer card also offers Premier perks like waived checked bag fees and lounge passes for those who don’t fly or spend enough to get status. Also, it offers double miles for United purchases. Act fast on this one because that 50K bonus is only good through September 2. Details here

facebook like

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

Mergers that make sense

Serial stowaway finally gets her free flight

3 brand new Los Angeles hotels (& 3 facelifts)

Free inflight entertainment + Delta dumping 747s + United hub reshuffle + 50K United bonus + Uber for business

The 50,000 mile bonus is back

How to get on earlier flight without paying fee

Trip Report: ANA’s 787 Dreamliner to Tokyo

20 different biz class seats in 1 room- PHOTOS

Southwest pads schedules + 70K Marriott points + New airline for SFO + Chris at GBTA + Salt Lake makeover 

Frequent travelers love Chick-fil-a

Kicked off flight for a tweet? Southwest responds

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 50,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email-per-day updates!

Serial stowaway finally gets her free flight

UPDATE: THURSDAY AUG 7: After her arrest and incarceration in LA on Monday, Hartman went BACK TO THE AIRPORT on Thursday, and was arrested again. Full story here. 

Original story here:

After six thwarted attempts at stowing away on planes bound for Hawaii, San Francisco’s now famous Marilyn Jean Hartmann has finally done it.

NBC Bay Area news is now reporting that Hartman breached TSA security, boarded a Southwest Airlines plane in San Jose on Monday night and flew to Los Angeles where she was arrested. KTVU is reporting that she made it through security and on to the plane without a ticket by sneaking behind a family.

NBC provides a bit of the woman’s background here:

The San Francisco woman has a history of trying to get on flights without a ticket. Three times in February, twice in March and at least once in April she attempted to board flights at SFO. At least twice she was able to breach Transportation Security Administration security and make her way into the boarding area.

The San Francisco Chronicle has uncovered new information that shows Hartman has been up to these antics since 2010, and has even blogged about it.

(Photo: San Francisco Police Dept)

Marilyn Jean Hartman, 62, finally got on a plane. (Photo: San Francisco Police Dept)

This is the second time this year that Mineta San Jose Airport has been in the news due to people successfully stowing away on planes there. As you may recall, a teenager breached airport perimeter security and hid in a wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines plane for an icy trip to Hawaii. 

The TSA made the following statement in light of this latest incident:

“Following an initial review by TSA at San Jose International Airport, the agency has initiated minor modifications to the layout of the document checking area to prevent another incident like this one.”

Hartman’s multiple attempts to stowaway on planes bound to Hawaii have landed her on probation and slapped with a court order to stay away from all airports unless she has a valid ticket. But the publicity around her attempts to fly  have also prompted Silicon Valley types to set up funding sites to help buy her a ticket to Hawaii. For example, a GoFundMe.com page has raised nearly $1,300 although it’s not clear how or if that money has been disbursed.

The San Jose Mercury News reported in May that Hartman would “spend two years in a mental health facility to receive treatment for major depressive disorder.” The paper went on to say that Hartman,

was determined to be suffering from a ‘major mental illness’ and deemed a suitable candidate for the residential mental health program, prosecutors said. She was sentenced to two years supervised probation and will remain under strict supervision in the program for the next two years.

Sounds like that strict supervision wasn’t enough to quash this lady’s wanderlust and stated desired to “go somewhere warm.”

In the last year, we’ve seen a teenager slip through airport fencing at San Jose International and hide in a wheel well for a flight to Hawaii. At SFO, a drunk business traveler masquerading as a TSA agent lured two unsuspecting travelers into a private booth for a pat down.

Now this.

This latest incident poses a LOT of questions about the state of airport security. It also provides plenty of fodder for jokes on late night talk shows. :)

What do YOU think about this situation?

Leave your comments below!

–Chris McGinnis

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! 

Big bonus. Little time….What’s the best card for United flyers who don’t spend or fly enough to have Premier status? For a limited time, the United MileagePlus Explorer Card is offering an excellent 50,000 mile bonus for signing up and spending  just $2,000 in the first three months. The Explorer card also offers Premier perks like waived checked bag fees and lounge passes for those who don’t fly or spend enough to get status. Also, it offers double miles for United purchases. Act fast on this one because that 50K bonus is only good through September 2. Details here

facebook like

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

3 brand new Los Angeles hotels (& 3 facelifts)

Free inflight entertainment + Delta dumping 747s + United hub reshuffle + 50K United bonus + Uber for business

The 50,000 mile bonus is back

How to get on earlier flight without paying fee

Trip Report: ANA’s 787 Dreamliner to Tokyo

20 different biz class seats in 1 room- PHOTOS

Southwest pads schedules + 70K Marriott points + New airline for SFO + Chris at GBTA + Salt Lake makeover 

Frequent travelers love Chick-fil-a

Kicked off flight for a tweet? Southwest responds

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 50,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email-per-day updates!

Free inflight entertainment + Delta dumping 747s + United hub reshuffle + 50K United bonus + Uber for business

Like many other airlines, Delta is starting to get rid of these graceful, gas guzzling old birds. (Photo: Delta)

A Delta 747-400. Like many other airlines, Delta is getting rid of four of these graceful, gas guzzling old birds. (Photo: Delta)

AIRLINES

Delta debuts free entertainment. Delta last week rolled out a big perk for passengers: Free in-flight entertainment options on all its domestic aircraft — including two-class regional jets — for flights longer than 90 minutes, and on all international flights as well. Called Delta Studio, the service lets customers in all classes access free movies, TV shows, music and games via seat-back screens or by streaming to personal electronic devices through onboard Wi-Fi … And Delta said it will now allow passengers on international flights as well as domestic to keep using their personal electronic devices from gate to gate.

Delta dumping four 747s. Delta announced changes in its Asia/Pacific network, including getting rid of four of its 16 Boeing 747s. This means that Atlanta and Los Angeles will lose Delta 747s currently deployed on nonstops to Tokyo on September 30. Detroit will lose the 747 on the nonstop to Nagoya, and the 747 on Tokyo-Hong Kong will fly away in October according to aviation writer Christine Negroni. The 747s will be replaced by smaller, more fuel efficient B777s and A330s. Several airlines around the world have sadly begun putting the graceful old 747 out to pasture. For example, later this month, Cathay Pacific will say goodbye to its last remaining 747 with a farewell luncheon at San Francisco International. In case you missed it, here’s a TravelSkills post from earlier this year about 747s flying away…

Here's part of the invite we received from Cathay Pacific to bid farewell to its last 747. Stay tuned to TravelSkills for a full report from the event!

Here’s part of the invite we received from Cathay Pacific to bid farewell to its last 747. Stay tuned to TravelSkills for a full report from the event!

United plans hub reshuffling. United reportedly plans to overhaul flight schedules at its Chicago O’Hare, Denver and Houston hubs, compressing arrivals and departures into periodic clusters, or “banks,” instead of spreading them evenly throughout the day, in an effort to boost profitability. (American earlier this year revealed plans to do the same.) The airline is also revising its regional fleet — as are other major carriers — to replace 50-seat jets with larger models, which will lead to the elimination of some smaller markets.

JetBlue eyes Boston for Mint service. JetBlue has high hopes that its new Mint business cabins on the JFK-LAX route — and starting this fall, on JFK-SFO — will produce so much extra revenue that it will be worth expanding to other transcon markets. And the airline has set its sights on Boston for the first round of expansion. Chief Executive David Barger said it’s “not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when” JetBlue will begin SFO-BOS and LAX-BOS flights with the new premium cabin — which the airline is pricing well below the business cabins of major competitors.

new cabin design

Mod new cabin design for Embraer from Priestman-Goode (Love those Embraer windows!)

A solution to carry-on space wars? In a project for aircraft manufacturer Embraer, a London-based design firm has come up with a new cabin configuration that guarantees every passenger will find a place to put his carry-on bag. The plan also seeks to humanize lavatories with elements like glass tiles, touchless faucets and soft-close doors.

United’s sly safety video. Some airlines have started competing to see who can come up with the most creative safety video shown to passengers after boarding, and the latest entry is from United. The clever new UA video puts flight attendants into exotic or unusual locations as they explain the safety procedures. Take a look, and tell us what you think of it.

Big bonus. Little time….What’s the best card for United flyers who don’t spend or fly enough to have Premier status? For a limited time, the United MileagePlus Explorer Card is offering an excellent 50,000 mile bonus for signing up and spending  just $2,000 in the first three months. The Explorer card also offers Premier perks like waived checked bag fees and lounge passes for those who don’t fly or spend enough to get status. Also, it offers double miles for United purchases. Act fast on this one because that 50K bonus is only good through September 2. Details here

HOTELS

hilton app

Hilton’s digital revolution. By the end of this year, members of Hilton’s HHonors program will be able to use a mobile app to check in, select a specific room, and check out at 4,000 hotels worldwide across 11 Hilton brands. The technology will also let HHonors guests use smartphones or tablets to buy room upgrades and request specific room amenities before arrival. And in 2015, Hilton said, “the company will begin to equip its hotel rooms with the technology for doors to be unlocked with guests’ smartphones, enabling them to go straight to their rooms upon arrival.”

Please join the 50,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email-per-day updates!

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How fast is your Wi-Fi? A crafty new online service called Hotelwifitest offers users an inside look at just how fast their in-room Wi-Fi really is. Users can test the connection speed themselves and then share it with the site, which compiles the data to calculate the most likely speed that guests can expect to find after they check in.

BUSINESS TRAVEL

Airbnb, Uber seek business travelers. Airbnb, the booking service for thousands of unique private accommodations, last week unveiled plans to broaden its market to road warriors: Starting this fall, it will integrate with Concur’s TripLink, which will automatically bring Airbnb booking data into corporate expense reporting. It also opened up a separate booking area for the new market called Business Travel on Airbnb. Meanwhile, ride-finding service Uber is also linking up with Concur, and Uber’s new corporate booking service will permit road warriors to pay for their rides with company accounts. (Try Uber for the first time and get a $30 discount by clicking here or on the ad to the right.)

In Case You Missed It…

>San Francisco-based Virgin America finally goes public. Would you invest in Virgin or any other airline? Why/not?

>The reincarnation of low-cost carrier PEOPLExpress has started service between Atlanta and Newport News/Williamsburg, Va. (Not much of a biz travel player, but newsy nonetheless…)

>Check out the latest and greatest business class seating options. (Chris’s photo slideshow from GBTA convention)

>Strategies: How to catch an earlier flight without paying a fee.

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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Trip Report: ANA’s 787 Dreamliner to Tokyo

20 different biz class seats in 1 room- PHOTOS

Southwest pads schedules + 70K Marriott points + New airline for SFO + Chris at GBTA + Salt Lake makeover 

Frequent travelers love Chick-fil-a

Kicked off flight for a tweet? Southwest responds

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Southwest pads schedules + 70K Marriott points + New airline for SFO + Chris at GBTA + Salt Lake makeover +

Turkish Airlines's exotic business class lounge at IST (Photo: Turkish Airlines)

Turkish Airlines’s exotic business class lounge at IST– soon to connect nonstop to SFO (Photo: Turkish Airlines)

AIRLINES

Southwest’s on-time strategy. Southwest Airlines has seen its on-time performance suffer in recent months, dropping from 83 percent to 70. So it will turn to a favorite airline strategy for dealing with the problem: Starting next month, it will revise its schedules to allow for longer travel times—i.e. it will “pad its schedule.”

Turkish comes to SFO. Rapidly expanding Turkish Airlines will start San Francisco-Istanbul non-stops on April 13, 2015. Introductory fares for the 16-hour flight are already on sale for $699 in economy. Business class is running $4,000-$6,000. Turkish Flight 80 will depart SFO at  6:10PM and arrive in Istanbul at 5:05PM the next day. Flight 79 departs IST at 1:15 PM and arrives SFO at 4:25 PM on the same day. Turkish will use a Boeing 777-300ER on the 13-hour flight with business class in a 2-3-2 configuration and coach in a 3-3-3 configuration and no first class. Turkish Airlines is a member of the Star Alliance. Do you think of Turkish Airlines as “exotic?” I do and that’s how I described it on SFgate last week- but many readers felt that description was wrong. What do you think? Leave your comments below! 

JetBlue weighs a bag fee. JetBlue and Southwest are the only two major airlines that don’t charge a fee for a passenger’s first checked bag (Southwest allows two checked bags free).  But JetBlue officials, concerned about all that lost revenue,  are hinting that they might reconsider their policy and start charging for that first bag. If they do, can Southwest holdout on its own?

US Airways shuffles partnerships. US Airways has started code-sharing with Finnair, a member of sister company American Airlines’ transatlantic joint venture. US Airways’ code goes onto Finnair flights to Helsinki and beyond, from JFK and Toronto, and members of the two carriers’ frequent flyer programs now have mutual benefits. Meanwhile, Dividend Miles will end its partnerships with Singapore Airlines and Turkish Airlines effective August 1. They were holdovers from US Airways’ former Star Alliance membership.

Briefs: Like British Airways, Swiss has started charging fees for advance seat reservations; on long-haul flights, fees are $32 for a “standard seat,” $54 for a “preferred-zone” seat, and $109 for an extra-legroom seat. Unreserved seats can be selected for free within 23 hours of departure … Virgin Australia will end its Los Angeles-Melbourne service in late October, but will boost LAX-Brisbane from four flights a week to daily (and in SF we still waiting for Virgin Australia to link with Virgin America and bring some much need competition on SFO-Australia routes)… Qantas will replace the 747 on its Dallas/Ft. Worth-Sydney route with an A380 in September.

GBTA CONVENTION:

TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis is attending the big Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) convention in Los Angeles this week. The giant expo attracts about 7,000 travel industry professionals for educational sessions, speeches and panels with the likes of United’s Jeff Smisek or Delta’s Richard Anderson. It also offers an outstanding exposition where travel suppliers display and boast their latest, greatest products and services for business travelers– to me, the coolest part is the ability to check out about 20 business and first class seats in one place! Stay tuned to my Twitter feed to see what I’m seeing and hearing. Find me say HEY if you are there, too!

AIRPORTS

A mock up of the new terminal at Salt Lake City International

A mock up of SLC’s brand new terminal provided by Salt Lake City International

Salt Lake City starts massive reconstruction. Work started last week on a $1.8 billion, years-long overhaul of Salt Lake City International Airport that will replace its existing three terminals with a single extra-large one. One level of the three-story facility will be reserved for international travel and Customs. The existing airport opened 50 years ago — well before Delta started using it as a hub. The first half of the new SLC airport is due to open in 2019 and the second in 2022. Delta announced this week that it will add SLC-Amsterdam nonstops using a B767 starting next May.

CBP boosts staffing at five airports. U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it has forged partnerships with five major airports that will mean increased CBP staffing for processing international arrivals, leading to reduced waiting time. The new pacts are with SFO, LAX, MCO, LAS and DEN. The agency said similar arrangements that it has in place with DFW, IAH and MIA — combined with the new Automated Passport Control kiosks — have reduced line time at those airports by 30 percent. Have you noticed?

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Atlanta Airport gets another PreCheck center. The TSA has opened a second PreCheck application center at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson, located pre-security in the main terminal so the general public can access it without having a boarding pass. The new TSA facility is in Terminal South near Delta’s ticket counters. (The earlier facility is at Gate A19.)

Possible LAX mess. This item appeared on TravelSkills two weeks ago, but it bears repeating: This weekend, July 25-28 in Los Angeles, is being dubbed the “Century Crunch”, when Century Blvd. — a main road into LAX, used by one-third of all passengers — will close for demolition of an old railroad bridge. Officials advise everyone to avoid the area. 

sfo cab

(photo: Alfonso Jimenez)

Taxi app starts airport bookings. An app called Flywheel — which lets users hail a cab electronically, track its position, and pay with a smartphone — has started taking advance bookings for taxi rides to San Francisco-area airports, including SFO, OAK and SJC. By the end of this month, the company said, the app will provide the same service in Seattle and Los Angeles, with more locations to be added “in the coming weeks.” Interesting to watch cab companies add technology to help them compete with the likes of Uber and Lyft (which by the way are two ride-sharing companies we’ve heard are feeling the urge to merge. Stay tuned to TravelSkills for more on that as we investigate!) Don’t forget that you get $30 off your first ride if you sign up for Uber via TravelSkills links. Just do it! 

TSA seeks queue tips. The TSA is shifting so many passengers to PreCheck lanes that it is getting concerned about how fast the lines move. So the agency has turned to Innocentive.com, a “global innovation marketplace,” to offer $15,000 in prizes to persons who can come up with the best ways to overhaul TSA’s airport lines. “The concept will be used to develop a model to be applied in decision analysis and to take in considerations of site specific requirements, peak and non-peak hours, flight schedules and TSA staffing schedules,” TSA said.

In Case You Missed It…

>Delta is building a new Sky Club at San Francisco International.

>New studies determine the best and worst airports and hotels for Wi-Fi.

>”I cringe when I hear people talk about the so-called golden age of travel.” Check this InsideFlyer Q&A with Chris about his career and the travel biz. A good read!

>A leading business hotel in London will join the Hilton family in September

>New report shows where business travelers spend money. Would you believe Chick-fil-a? (Check out the controversy this post elicited in the comments!)

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis


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Frequent travelers love Chick-fil-a

Kicked off flight for a tweet? Southwest responds

Conrad snags posh new London hotel

Best & worst hotels, airports for Wi-Fi

How I watched the #MH17 tragedy unfold

Unusual ways to earn hotel rewards points

Should I renew my CLEAR card?

New global carrier for SFO with an Indian twist

Bigger bins + Check-in not required + Beware LAX traffic mess + New low fare O’Hare flights + Big new build hotel LA Live +

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Best & worst hotels, airports for Wi-Fi

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 12.17.32 PM

 

Free wi-fi is great, but you usually end up getting what you pay for, right? Well, maybe not, according to an interesting study by a Wefi, a mobile network management company.

According to the study, the hotel chains that offer the fastest wi-fi are in the budget and mid-priced category, with brands like Red Roof, Holiday Inn and Best Western leading the pack. These are also the brands that usually offer free wi-fi.

Those that offer the slowest wifi are primarily upscale or luxury brands. Hyatt, Marriott, Westin and Four Seasons rank near the bottom. Many of these upscale brands charge for wi-fi. Hilton appears to be the upscale chain with the fastest wifi.

I should point out that this is not an exhaustive study– several major brands do not appear at all. A Wefi spokesperson told TravelSkills that they studied wi-fi speeds at a minimum of 10 hotel locations per chain to determine the overall score– not a huge sample by any means. The following metrics are based on a 45-day average of Wi-Fi speeds for each location starting from April 1 to June 15, 2014.

Hotels Avg Bandwidth
Red Roof Inns  4.34
Sleep Inn  4.14
Ramada  3.69
Holiday Inn  3.68
Best Western  3.66
Aloft Hotels  3.42
Studio 6  3.22
Hilton  3.17
Quality Inns  3.15
4 Points by Sheraton  3.04
Comfort Inn  2.99
Candlewood Suites  2.69
Radisson  2.43
Clarion  2.42
Doubletree  2.32
Intercontinental  2.31
Wyndham hotels  2.05
Crowne plaza  1.92
Global hyatt  1.90
Marriott  1.70
Westin Hotels  1.65
Four Seasons  1.34
Motel 6  1.26
Airports avg bandwidth (mbps)
Detroit Metropolitan Airport, MI  4.63
Denver International Airport, CO  4.33
Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International FL  3.74
Los Angeles International Airport, CA  3.29
Washington Dulles International Airport, VA  3.09
Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport, TX  2.88
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, WA  2.84
Houston George Bush Intercontinental TX  2.71
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, AZ  2.68
LaGuardia Airport, NY  2.67
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International GA  2.66
Boston Logan International Airport, MA  2.51
Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport  2.45
Las Vegas McCarran International Airport  2.41
San Francisco International Airport, CA  2.29
Nashville International Airport, TN  2.14
Baltimore-Washington International Airport  2.01
Chicago O’Hare International Airport, IL  1.88
John F. Kennedy International Airport, NY  1.79
Raleigh-Durham International Airport, NC  1.69
Orlando International Airport, FL  1.54
Miami International Airport, FL  1.37
Philadelphia International Airport, PA  1.18
Sacramento International Airport, CA  0.82

These results are interesting to me because, while I’m always grateful for the free wi-fi at less expensive hotel chains, I do usually feel like I’m getting what I pay for with slow (and sometimes no) speeds and balky connections. When faced with a free, but slow hotel room connection, I frequently think, “Jeez, I’d gladly pay for a better or faster connection.”

Airports are a mixed bag. Over the last year or so, I’ve been very impressed with the speed of the wi-fi at my home base airport at SFO, but it only ranks middle of the pack here. I’m glad to see Detroit at the top of the list– despite the city’s woes, its airport is awesome– one of the best hubs in the US as far as I’m concerned. As we reported here, Atlanta recently rolled out a brand new, reportedly very fast and free wi-fi network.

What about you? Do these findings mirror what you’ve found on the road? Please leave your comments below.

–Chris McGinnis

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New Delta Sky Club rising at SFO

Delta's new post-security Sky Club rising in the shadow of SFO's new ATC Tower (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Delta’s new post-security Sky Club rising in the shadow of SFO’s new ATC Tower (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Delta has confirmed to TravelSkills that it will open a brand new Sky Club at San Francisco International Airport in 2015.

In the photo (above) that I snagged while boarding a Virgin America flight from a Terminal 2 jetway last week, it appears that the new club will be located on the upper level and will have a large picture window opening up to the tarmac.

From the inside of Delta’s Boarding Area C in Terminal 1, you can’t miss the construction of the new Sky Club as you enter the terminal just after security.

The Sky Club will be located in the area above what was once a luggage store near Gate 41. (It’s to the left as you walk down the ramp from security.) Since the club will be located one floor above the gate area, I assume we’ll access it by an elevator or escalator. 

The current Delta Sky Club at SFO is inconveniently located outside the T1 Boarding Area C checkpoint and its location has long been a thorn in the side of Sky Club members. 

Related: What’s next for SFO? 

If you look closely at the photo above, you’ll also see that SFO is building a new post-security corridor that will connect Boarding Area C with Terminal 2 (home to Virgin America and American Airlines).  This is big boost for Delta flyers cooling their heels in the somewhat drab Boarding Area C– they will now have access to all the excellent post-security amenities of T2 (like a yoga room, fine dining restaurants and museum exhibits).

Stay tuned to TravelSkills for more details (including opening dates) as we get them… 

A new Delta Sky Club built in the shadow of SFO's new control tower (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

A new Delta Sky Club built in the shadow of SFO’s new control tower (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

–Chris McGinnis

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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

How I watched the #MH17 tragedy unfold

Unusual ways to earn hotel rewards points

Should I renew my CLEAR card?

New global carrier for SFO with an Indian twist

Bigger bins + Check-in not required + Beware LAX traffic mess + New low fare O’Hare flights + Big new build hotel LA Live +

World’s 5 most popular cities (and my comments)

Are frequent flyer programs designed to fail?

Are Uber, Airbnb or Lyft safe?

More TSA scrutiny on cell phones + Southwest overseas + United carry-on enforcement + SF hotel rates soar + More Silvercar

7 ways to avoid summer storm delays (TravelSkills on CNN)

Traveling with Carly Simon (reprise)

Free wi-fi NYC airports + New Star Alliance member + More food at ATL + Clear card in Vegas + UberX on sale

5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows

How to save $$ on pricey inflight wi-fi

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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Airline fees up 1,200% + Unusual new seat design + Wild Dreamliner ride + Secret Service warns about hotel PCs

Southwest Airlines turning its old leather seats into sneakers & soccer balls (Photo: Southwest Airlines)

Southwest Airlines is turning its old leather seats into sneakers & soccer balls (Photo: Southwest Airlines)

AIRLINES

‘Ancillary revenues’ skyrocket. In 2007, the world’s airlines took in $2.45 billion in “ancillary revenues” — those fees they charge for various amenities and services. By 2013, that figure had jumped to $31.5 billion — a 1,200 percent increase — according to the latest study by IdeaWorks Company. That’s $16 per passenger. United had the biggest haul, at $5.7 billion, followed by Delta ($2.5 billion) and American ($2 billion, not counting US Airways’ $1.1 billion). But the airline where ancillary revenues made up the biggest portion of total revenue was Spirit, at 38.4 percent. The bulk of ancillary revenue for all airlines (except Southwest) comes from those onerous $200 change fees and of course new checked baggage fees.

Recycle, recycle, recycle! The travel industry keeps finding ways to put things to good use. Southwest Airlines just started a project that will hire African youths to remake old leather seat covers into things like shoes and soccer balls for local communities. And in Atlanta, airport concessionaire HMSHost donates about a ton of unsold food from ATL each week to the Salvation Army to help feed the city’s hungry.

Boeing bares innovations. Visitors to the renowned Farnborough Air Show in the U.K. last week got to see some stunning aerobatics by Boeing’s 787-9, the newest version of its popular Dreamliner. Check out this video and be thankful (or jealous) you weren’t along for this wild demo ride. Meanwhile, Boeing also revealed some passenger-friendly design innovations for its upcoming 777X, like larger and higher windows, a wider cabin, next-generation LED lighting and improved humidity in the cabin air.

Alaska moves at SFO. Originally slated for June 25, Alaska Airlines now says that mid-August is the target date for its move from Terminal 1 to the International Terminal’s Boarding Area A at San Francisco International. The airline’s Board Room lounge has closed, but it plans to share lounge facilities with “one of our international Mileage Plan partners” at the new location once it makes the move, a spokesman said. In other news, TSA opened a PreCheck application office in SFO’s International Terminal, pre-security, G-side, near the BART station.

More cutbacks to Caracas. Delta and United are following the lead of American in reducing service to Venezuela, due to an unresolved dispute with the government about the airlines’ ability to take money out of the country. Delta on August 1 will cut its daily Atlanta-Caracas schedule to just one flight a week. And United’s daily Houston Intercontinental-Caracas operation will be pared from seven flights a week to four as of September 17.

newseat

Unusual new airline seat designed emerging. (source: Paper Clip Design, Hong Kong)

Seats of the future? How will airlines’ coach seating evolve in the years ahead? Airbus has filed a patent for short-haul “saddle seats” that look like glorified bicycle seats and are about as uncomfortable as they could get — although a lot more of them can be crammed into an aircraft. (The company notes that just because it filed for a patent doesn’t mean it intends to use them.) Meanwhile, a Hong Kong designer has come up with a long-haul economy seat concept that protects your knees during recline and even provides an easily-shared armrest.

I’m keeping my CLEAR card. Based on your reaction to Chris’s recent post asking whether or not to spend the $179 to renew his CLEAR card, he’s decided to keep it. Reader comments were mixed but leaned more toward keeping the card.

HOTELS

hotelbizcenter

Secret Service warning re hotel business center computers. (Photo: Hilton MSP)

Beware the Business Center computers. Do you use the computers in hotel business centers? Be careful what you do on them: The Secret Service sent a warning to hotels that scammers could be infecting their public computers with malware that logs users’ keystrokes and sends the data off to the bad guys by email. The agency especially warns against using the computers for personal business that requires you to input account information and passwords. Some scammers were arrested recently near Dallas for just this kind of crime.

Wi-Fi problems bug hotel guests. The biggest complaint by far from hotel guests is a slow or inconsistent Internet connection in their room, according to the just-released 2014 study of guest satisfaction by J.D. Power and Associates. But the biggest negative impact on a guest’s satisfaction is a room that’s not clean. Among the eight hotel categories rated, Four Seasons took the number one spot for luxury hotels, Kimpton for Upper Upscale, and Hilton Garden Inn for Upscale.

Best Credit Cards

If you are in the market for a new card, please do so via the links here. Remember, when you get a new credit card via the links provided here, TravelSkills earns a commission. This is what keeps us in business cranking out meaningful content and practical advice.  THANK YOU! Best all around cards for business travelers (and what Chris carries in his wallet): Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Barclaycard Arrival Plus World MasterCard. Both offer nice 40,000 mile sign up bonuses (after spending $3,000 in first three months), and you can use miles on several airlines, hotels and other travel providers. Neither charges irritating foreign transaction fees. And the Barclaycard now has Chip & PIN for easier use overseas. That 40,000 mile bonus with Chase Sapphire is good for $500 in travel when booking through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Try it, you’ll like it!

In Case You Missed It…

>Kimpton Hotels rolls out a new rewards program with lots of unique ways to earn points.

>A major Middle Eastern carrier will start flying to SFO this fall.

>Chris offers some thoughts on the Malaysia Airlines tragedy.

–Jim Glab

+++

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

How I watched the #MH17 tragedy unfold

Unusual ways to earn hotel rewards points

Should I renew my CLEAR card?

New global carrier for SFO with an Indian twist

Bigger bins + Check-in not required + Beware LAX traffic mess + New low fare O’Hare flights + Big new build hotel LA Live +

World’s 5 most popular cities (and my comments)

Are frequent flyer programs designed to fail?

Are Uber, Airbnb or Lyft safe?

More TSA scrutiny on cell phones + Southwest overseas + United carry-on enforcement + SF hotel rates soar + More Silvercar

7 ways to avoid summer storm delays (TravelSkills on CNN)

Traveling with Carly Simon (reprise)

Free wi-fi NYC airports + New Star Alliance member + More food at ATL + Clear card in Vegas + UberX on sale

5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows

How to save $$ on pricey inflight wi-fi

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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 25,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email per day updates!

Should I renew my CLEAR card?

CLEAR card renewal email

CLEAR card renewal email

Last week I received an email from CLEAR Card (see above) asking me to renew my $179 annual membership.

In the past, renewal for CLEAR was an easy decision. I always thought that $179 was a small price to pay to have CLEAR come to my rescue when surprised by an unusually long line at airport security. That $179 bought peace of mind that is invaluable to business travelers. In the back of my head, I always felt like I could push time limits and get to the airport late because, if need be, CLEAR could come to my rescue and get me through security in less than five minutes.

But over the last couple years as the TSA’s PreCheck program has expanded, I’ve found that I barely use my CLEAR Card at all any more. As a matter of fact, I prefer to go through the PreCheck lane because it does not require me to remove my belt, coat or shoes or take the laptop out of my carry on. Plus I don’t have to deal with having a CLEAR agent escort me to the front of the line, break me in front of other passengers and face their “who does that guy think he is” glares (a painful ritual my CLEAR-Card-carrying friend has referred to as the “walk of shame”). So PreCheck is always my first choice.

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!

BUT…as most frequent travelers know all too well, PreCheck is based on “random” selection. It’s not guaranteed. I know I can’t rely on it. And every now and then, just when I think I’ll sail through security, I check in for my flight and can’t find that PreCheck logo on my boarding pass. That’s when I smile to myself and think I’m so smart for renewing my CLEAR Card. Or am I?

A CLEAR card entry point in SFO's Terminal 3 at about 8 pm last Monday (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

A lonely CLEAR card entry point in SFO’s Terminal 3 at about 8 pm last Monday (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Almost every time I pass by a CLEAR kiosk or entry point at my hometown airport (SFO), there’s usually one or two employees standing there looking alternately bored and or eager to help. (Or there’s no one there at all.) Sometimes I feel like going through the CLEAR lane just to bring some joy to their work days. Recently I’ve begun to wonder if those going through CLEAR lines are less likely to be stopped by the newly empowered armies of airline baggage police? Despite what looks like a sinking ship, CLEAR claims that its 300,000 members in the U.S. have passed through CLEAR lanes almost two million times. It has a nifty new web site redesigned last September. Its website says that more than 250 companies have signed up to offer the CLEAR Card to their frequent travelers.

While I rarely need CLEAR Card assistance at SFO, it comes in most handy at airports where throngs of leisure travelers can overwhelm security lines, like Orlando. And CLEAR has just announced that it will soon be moving into McCarran-Las Vegas Airport where security lines can swell unexpectedly, such as on the last day of a city-wide convention. Or Sunday afternoons. That’s when the CLEAR Card could come in handy. CLEAR is currently in nine airports across the country and says that it is in serious talks with airport authorities in 12 other cities.

Still I wonder, should I spend the $179 for a CLEAR Card again this year? Help me.

Do you have a CLEAR Card? Will you renew it this year? If you’ve let your membership lapse, why? Please leave your comments about CLEAR below. 

Chris McGinnis

+++

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

New global carrier for SFO with an Indian twist

Bigger bins + Check-in not required + Beware LAX traffic mess + New low fare O’Hare flights + Big new build hotel LA Live +

World’s 5 most popular cities (and my comments)

Are frequent flyer programs designed to fail?

Are Uber, Airbnb or Lyft safe?

More TSA scrutiny on cell phones + Southwest overseas + United carry-on enforcement + SF hotel rates soar + More Silvercar

7 ways to avoid summer storm delays (TravelSkills on CNN)

Traveling with Carly Simon (reprise)

Free wi-fi NYC airports + New Star Alliance member + More food at ATL + Clear card in Vegas + UberX on sale

5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows

How to save $$ on pricey inflight wi-fi

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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 25,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email per day updates!

 

 

Bigger bins + Check-in not required + Beware LAX traffic mess + New low fare O’Hare flights + Big new build hotel LA Live +

New Boeing bins allow Alaska Air travelers to pack em in sideways (Photo: Boeing)

New Boeing bins allow Alaska Air travelers to pack em in sideways (Photo: Boeing)

AIRLINES

Alaska gets ‘Space Bins.’ Alaska Airlines said it will be the first carrier to install new “Space Bins” from Boeing — a new generation of overhead bins that will hold 48 percent more bags than the Boeing Sky interior pivot bins currently on Alaska’s planes. On a 737-900ER, that’s room for 174 standard bags, vs. 117 today. The new bins will be on Next-Generation 737 and 737 MAX aircraft scheduled for delivery to Alaska starting next year. They can even fit “non-standard items” like guitars, a spokesman said. (No word yet on whether larger bins will lead to relaxation of the recent wave of enforcement on oversized carry ons…just sayin’…)

What’s the big deal? After all the hoo-ha about the TSA’s new security procedures requiring some travelers to turn on cell phones, we’ve heard very little from travelers faced with having to do so. We’ve also heard very little about this causing any major delays. Have you? Please leave comments below. 

jetblue

(Photo: Jim Glab)

Skip a step when checking in. JetBlue customers who book extra-legroom ‘Even More Space’ seats are the first beneficiaries of automatic check-in technology the company introduced last week. Instead of going online to check in, “eligible customers will receive an email 24 hours before their scheduled departure with a ready-to-print boarding pass, as well as the option to download a mobile boarding pass via JetBlue iOS or Android mobile apps,” the company said. The service will be expanded to other passenger categories in 2015.

Frontier nibbles at Chicago-O’Hare routes. In its never-ending quest to find profitable markets, Frontier Airlines now has its eye on some plum Chicago O’Hare (ORD) routes — even though it already serves Chicago Midway. Two months ago, Frontier announced it would begin ORD-Washington Dulles service as one of 14 routes it will launch at Dulles in August and September. And now Frontier says it will begin O’Hare-Denver flights October 1 and O’Hare-Atlanta service October 2, but with only five weekly flights on the former route and four on the latter– not much help for business travelers who value frequent flights. Nonetheless, the competition should help keep fares in check.

Security fees increase. In addition to higher fares from airlines this summer, the Transportation Security Administration will increase the Sept. 11 security fee to $5.60 each way on July 21. The fee currently is $2.50 for a nonstop flight and $5 on a trip with connections. Under the new fees, trips with lengthy stopovers — more than four hours between two domestic flights — will see larger increases.

TRAVELSKILLS QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Is inflight food on long haul flights getting better…. or worse? Comments below, please!

My first class breakfast on United SFO-BOS flight last week. Not too pretty, but tasted good. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

My first class breakfast on United SFO-BOS flight last week. Not too pretty, but tasted good. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

My Main Cabin Select protein plate BOS-SFO last week. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

My Virgin America Main Cabin Select protein plate BOS-SFO last week. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

BUSINESS TRAVEL

Group travel leads biz trip revival. In its latest analysis of U.S. business travel trends, the Global Business Travel Association notes that group travel — for meetings, conferences and the like — jumped a healthy 8.6 percent last year, much more than individual trips. This is “a significant indicator that the business travel industry is recovering from the Great Recession and increasing discretionary spending,” GBTA said. The number of individual business trips is forecast to grow by 2.3 percent this year, and spending by 5.6 percent, GBTA said. TravelSkills will be attending the big GBTA Annual Convention in Los Angeles later this month and will provide a full report of the news the trends we uncover! Stay tuned…

AIRPORTS

Travel advisories for ORD, LAX. Chicago O’Hare officials are notifying travelers that the airport’s internal people-mover system will partially close for the next three and a half months, starting July 15. Shuttle buses will be used instead of trains between Economy Parking Lots E/F and Terminals 1,2, 3 and 5. Inter-terminal trains will not be affected … July 25-28 in Los Angeles is being dubbed the “Century Crunch”, when Century Blvd. — a main road into LAX, used by one-third of all passengers — will close for demolition of an old railroad bridge. Officials advise everyone to avoid the area.

HOTELS

Marriott's newest megabuild near the LA Live complex downtown Los Angeles (Photo: Marriott)

Marriott’s newest megabuild near the LA Live complex downtown Los Angeles (Photo: Marriott)

Marriott adds LA twins; new Hilton in Miami. Marriott’s newest dual-branded property is the Courtyard and Residence Inn L.A. Live, now open at that big entertainment and dining complex in downtown Los Angeles … Hilton has cut the ribbon on the 231-room Hilton Cabana Miami Beach, at Collins Ave. and 62nd Street … Denver’s newest hotel is The Crawford at Union Station, part of the massive overhaul of downtown Denver‘s Amtrak station (which will soon feature light-rail service to DEN) … InterContinental Hotels Group opened its second wellness-oriented EVEN Hotel, this one in Rockville, Md.

The glamour of Glass. Are you a tech early adopter who can’t wait to try Google Glass? San Francisco’s Stanford Court Hotel has a new package made for you: It includes accommodations, breakfast, a couple of drinks and use of your own Google Glass device during your stay. Purchasers also get a tutorial and a handout that instructs overeager users on “how to not be a ‘glasshole,’” the hotel says.

In Case You Missed It…

>Have you been to all five of the world’s most popular cities?

>Virgin America’s new video tweaks frequent flyer programs.

>How safe are ‘sharing economy’ travel suppliers?

>Marriott Rewards’ new technology pushes geo-targeted offers to members’ mobile devices.

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

 

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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

World’s 5 most popular cities (and my comments)

Are frequent flyer programs designed to fail?

Are Uber, Airbnb or Lyft safe?

More TSA scrutiny on cell phones + Southwest overseas + United carry-on enforcement + SF hotel rates soar + More Silvercar

7 ways to avoid summer storm delays (TravelSkills on CNN)

Traveling with Carly Simon (reprise)

Free wi-fi NYC airports + New Star Alliance member + More food at ATL + Clear card in Vegas + UberX on sale

5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows

How to save $$ on pricey inflight wi-fi

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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!

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More TSA scrutiny on cell phones + Southwest overseas + United carry-on enforcement + SF hotel rates soar + More Silvercar

Southwest Airlines 737's taking over many AirTran international routes (Photo: Jim Glab)

Southwest Airlines 737′s taking over many AirTran international routes (Photo: Jim Glab)

AIRLINES

Cell phone scrutiny. As part of newly enhanced security procedures, be sure your cell phone is charged up before going to the airport, especially when returning from the US from overseas. Sounds like the TSA has received credible information that electronics could be used in a terrorist act involving aviation. Here’s part of the new TSA Directive issued over the July 4 weekend: “As the traveling public knows, all electronic devices are screened by security officers. During the security examination, officers may also ask that owners power up some devices, including cell phones. Powerless devices will not be permitted onboard the aircraft. The traveler may also undergo additional screening.”

Southwest goes international. Continuing to gobble up the network of its AirTran subsidiary, Southwest Airlines last week launched its first international flights, from Baltimore to Aruba, Jamaica and Nassau, Bahamas; from Atlanta to Aruba and Jamaica; and from Orlando to Jamaica. Southwest plans to add service in August from Orange County, Calif. to Los Cabos and from Milwaukee, ATL and Baltimore to Cancun. AirTran’s roomier business class cabin will surely be missed on these long flights! Southwest says that the AirTran will disappear completely by the end of this year.

Study: Passengers aren’t using devices more. The government earlier this year relaxed the rules so personal electronic devices can be used from gate to gate, but most passengers still aren’t using them much in-flight, according to a new study from DePaul University. “We expected the new policies to encourage more consumers to remain ‘powered up’ from gate to gate, but that simply didn’t happen,” said study co-author Joseph Schwieterman. Only about one-third of air travelers are using their devices at any given point, DePaul said. “Most passengers instead opted to devote their time to reading print material, eating, sleeping and relaxing.” How do you spend your in-flight time?

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 7.47.04 AM

Maybe you SHOULD be using your devices more. TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis will be flying around the U.S. on Virgin America during the month of July hoping to network with other flyers using the new Here on Biz app via the Gogo inflight network. I could probably come up with an better way to describe how Here on Biz works, but the easiest way to describe it: It’s sorta like Tinder or Grindr for business networking. Using geolocation, it finds and connects business people interested in networking and growing their enterprises.  Download the iOS app, find Chris on a Virgin flight this month and you might walk away with a surprise. First flight is TODAY BOS>SFO. Find me!

Virgin America is tops in T&L poll. San Francisco-based Virgin America Airlines captured the number one spot among domestic airlines in Travel + Leisure magazine’s annual “World’s Best” reader poll. JetBlue came in second, followed by Hawaiian and Southwest. Among international carriers, Singapore took the top spot, followed, in order, by Emirates, Cathay Pacific and Virgin Atlantic. The best U.S. airport was Portland, and the best overseas airport was Singapore Changi.

United’s carry-on pledge. United’s on-line check-in procedure now not only informs you about the specific maximum dimensions allowed for carry-on bags and personal items — it also requires you to acknowledge that you read and accepted the rules.

British Airways experimental blanket monitors passenger brainwaves

British Airways experimental blanket monitors passenger brainwaves (photo by Tim Maroney)

BA blanket tracks brain waves. British Airways started testing a high-tech wrap it calls the “happiness blanket” to measure passengers’ brain waves. It has neuro-sensors linked to fiber optics that change color to show the person’s state of agitation or relaxation. “The airline hopes monitoring a person’s sleep and relaxation patterns during a flight will inform decisions made to improve aspects of the in-flight service; from changing the timing of meals, what food is served and even the types of films shown,” a spokesman said.

AIRPORTS

US Airways moves at O’Hare. The latest step in the consolidation of merger partners American Airlines and US Airways comes at AA’s Chicago O’Hare hub, where US Airways has moved its flights from Terminal 2 to AA’s Terminal 3. For now, travelers who need to print US Airways boarding passes or check baggage must still do so at T2, clearing security there and walking to departure gates on T3′s H Concourse. Ticket counters should be relocated later this year.

HOTELS

Hotel rates are sky high in San Francisco these days. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Hotel rates are sky high in San Francisco these days. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

San Francisco hotel rates spike. Got business in San Francisco? Be prepared to spend about $200 a night for your accommodations. The city says that’s now the average cost of a one-night stay in the City by the Bay — a jump of 40 percent (from $123) since 2009.  The reason? High costs and lengthy timelines for new hotel development have prevented the city’s room count from keeping pace with burgeoning demand.

New Crowne Plaza in Atlanta, Hyatt in D.C. The 500-room Melia Atlanta at 590 W. Peachtree is being converted to InterContinental Hotel Group’s Crowne Plaza brand and undergoing a massive renovation that will change part of the property to a 102-room Staybridge Suites by 2016 … The newly opened Hyatt Place Washington D.C./U.S. Capitol is in the city’s NoMa district just north of the Capitol Building, close to the NoMa-Gallaudet U Metro station … Hilton officials cut the ribbon on the 293-unit Homewood Suites New York/Midtown Manhattan Times Square-South on West 37th St. off Eighth Ave.

GROUND

audi

Audi A4 (from Silvercar)

Silvercar adds two locations. Silvercar, which rents nothing but silver Audi A4s, has opened a new location at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport and will start operating at Miami International on July 14. The company also has locations at DFW, SFO, LAX, DAL and AUS. Customers use the company’s smartphone app to book vehicles and even to unlock the car doors. Rental rates include GPS navigation, SiriusXM satellite radio, in-car Wi-Fi and a toll tag.  Have you tried Silvercar? Would you? 

In Case You Missed It…

>Here’s an update on that runway construction project at San Francisco International.

>Ramsey shares some inside information about Delta after a visit with officials at its Atlanta headquarters.

>Worried about summer storm delays? Try following these tips Chris shared on CNN.

>American Airlines’ US Airways affiliate will add a second daily Charlotte-London Heathrow flight starting September 13.

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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! 

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P.S. Facebook is taking its time merging our previous pages into the new TravelSkills Facebook page. If you like to stay in touch and get breaking news/deals updates that way, please visit the page and LIKE it. Thanks!

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

7 ways to avoid summer storm delays (TravelSkills on CNN)

Traveling with Carly Simon (reprise)

Free wi-fi NYC airports + New Star Alliance member + More food at ATL + Clear card in Vegas + UberX on sale

5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows

How to save $$ on pricey inflight wi-fi

Is Chengdu China’s Chicago?

Delta waffles on transcon upgrade policy

6 most irritating actions of infrequent flyers

Pay more for fewer hassles? + Delta’s big boast + United expands in Latin America + Lush new LAX lounge

Newer, lighter Emirates A380s coming to SFO, IAH

Trip Report: SAS business class SFO-Copenhagen (PHOTOS)

Is Uber illegal?

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

Please join the 25,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email per day updates!

7 ways to avoid summer storm delays (TravelSkills on CNN)

Don’t let peak season storms like Arthur spoil your well-laid travel plans. Just follow TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis’s advice as shared on CNN! (Click on arrow to launch video)

Watch the video to learn more about these seven tips:

1) Book the first flight of the day

2) Learn to live out of a carry on bag

3) Be sure airline has your updated contact info

4) Use apps like FlightStats, FlightAware and HotelTonight if stranded

Please join the 25,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email per day updates!

5) Buy day pass to airline airport club

6) Don’t stand in line! Get online or on the phone instead

7) Know when to ask for a FULL REFUND!

Have a nice holiday weekend!

–Chris McGinnis

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! 

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P.S. Facebook is taking its time merging our previous pages into the new TravelSkills Facebook page. If you like to stay in touch and get breaking news/deals updates that way, please visit the page and LIKE it. Thanks!

facebook like

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

Traveling with Carly Simon (reprise)

Free wi-fi NYC airports + New Star Alliance member + More food at ATL + Clear card in Vegas + UberX on sale

5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows

How to save $$ on pricey inflight wi-fi

Is Chengdu China’s Chicago?

Delta waffles on transcon upgrade policy

6 most irritating actions of infrequent flyers

Pay more for fewer hassles? + Delta’s big boast + United expands in Latin America + Lush new LAX lounge

Newer, lighter Emirates A380s coming to SFO, IAH

Trip Report: SAS business class SFO-Copenhagen (PHOTOS)

Is Uber illegal?

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

Please join the 25,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email per day updates!

 

 

 

San Francisco airport runway construction update

You must see this mesmerizing video of fog rolling over SF from Simon Christen.

On May 17, San Francisco International Airport shut down two of its four runways for federally mandated safety upgrades.

Since then, summer fog and heavy air traffic have caused occasional minor back ups, but significant delays have been minimal. Over the last month, I have noticed longer taxi times and airplane “traffic jams”  as they wait in line to depart at peak times. I’ve kinda enjoyed the new flight path for departures (a hard right immediately after take off). But I’ve heard from few travelers experiencing anything major, or ongoing. Have you? 

Due to a combination of weather and outdated runway design, SFO has one of the worst reputations for on-time performance among all major airports. That’s not great. But the fact that things have not gotten worse due to the construction project is good news.

“The project is moving along well; we’re a bit ahead of schedule, now looking at completion in late August. Delays are on-track with our expectations; averaging about 15-20 minutes when weather is not a factor, 30-35 minutes when we start the day with low clouds and fog,” airport spokesperson Doug Yakel told TravelSkills. 

Please join the 25,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email per day updates!
New flight paths are about the biggest change fliers have felt during SFO runway shutdow (Courtesy SFO)

New flight paths are about the biggest change fliers have felt during SFO runway shutdow (Courtesy SFO)

Virgin America says that the impact of the construction project on travelers has been eased through a combination of carriers altering summer schedules ahead of time and its proactive notification to guests. 

Last month TravelSkills obtained data from FlightStats that show that not much changed between April (prior to the shutdown) and early June (after the runway shutdown). Before the project began, 75-80% of arrivals and departures were on time, and the same held afterwards. When arrivals and departures are delayed, the average wait before and after the shutdown remained about the same, too, in the 45-60 minute range. Not great. But not bad enough to spoil a business trip. And not all that out of the ordinary. 

So it appears that so far, we have a non-event on our hands in San Francisco. What do you think? Have you experienced significant delays this summer at SFO or elsewhere? Leave your comments below. 

–Chris McGinnis

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! Top off that mileage balance for a free trip home for the holidays!

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P.S. Facebook is taking its time merging our previous pages into the new TravelSkills Facebook page. If you like to stay in touch and get breaking news/deals updates that way, please visit the page and LIKE it. Thanks!

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

Free wi-fi NYC airports + New Star Alliance member + More food at ATL + Clear card in Vegas + UberX on sale

5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows

How to save $$ on pricey inflight wi-fi

Is Chengdu China’s Chicago?

Delta waffles on transcon upgrade policy

6 most irritating actions of infrequent flyers

Pay more for fewer hassles? + Delta’s big boast + United expands in Latin America + Lush new LAX lounge

Newer, lighter Emirates A380s coming to SFO, IAH

Trip Report: SAS business class SFO-Copenhagen (PHOTOS)

Is Uber illegal?

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

Please join the 25,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email per day updates!

Free wi-fi NYC airports + New Star Alliance member + More food at ATL + Clear card in Vegas + UberX on sale

An increasingly common sight at airport customs and immgration halls (Photo: Customs 7 Border Protection)

An increasingly common sight at US airport customs and immigration halls (Photo: Customs 7 Border Protection)

AIRPORTS

Free Wi-Fi coming to NYC airports. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has renegotiated its contract with Boingo Wireless so passengers will be able to access limited free Wi-Fi starting this fall. Travelers at JFK, LaGuardia, Newark and Stewart airports will get 30 minutes of free access; after that, fees kick in. Currently, fees are $4.95 an hour or $7.95 a day.

CLEAR comes to LAS. CLEAR, the provider of biometric identity-based expedited access to airport security lanes, plans to add Las Vegas McCarran as its 10th location this summer. The $179-a-year service is already available at SFO, SJC, DFW, DEN, IAH, HOU, SAT, MCO and HPN. Do you use Clear? Is is still worth $179 per year? Leave comments below. 

Passport kiosks spreading fast. Those self-service Automated Passport Control (APC) kiosks that reduce waiting time for U.S. international arrivals by up to 40 percent are proving so popular that airlines and airports can’t install them fast enough. Delta, which put APC kiosks into its JFK terminal last fall, said last week it recently installed 74 of them at ATL, 30 at DTW, 20 at BOS and 10 at LAX, and is adding 14 of them at SEA, as the busy summer travel season kicks in. United announced that it just put 20 APCs into the Terminal C customs hall at its Newark transatlantic hub; it already has them at ORD and IAH. MIA plans to double the number of APCs there to 72 by year’s end. At San Francisco International, officials hope to have them in place by April 2015. The kiosks are for travelers who are not members of Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry program.

New concessions at ATL. Atlanta airport officials last week unveiled an overhauled Terminal D concessions area with more than a dozen new offerings, including locally renowned Grindhouse Killer Burgers; Wolfgang Puck Fresh Express sandwiches/salads; Harvest & Grounds bakery/cafe; Jay Z’s 40/40 Club bar; and The Food Network Kitchen, among others. Meanwhile, Minute Suites — which offers small sleeping units on ATL’s Concourse B by the hour or overnight — will bring that concept to international concourses E and F next year.

 GROUND

UberUberX on sale. For a limited time this summer, UberX has dropped prices by 25% in several big markets like Los Angeles, Denver, Minneapolis and Washington DC. Uber says these new rates are about 40% less than taxi fares. Some examples:

  • Los Angeles- West Hollywood to LAX: Current UberX-$19; Standard UberX-$26; Taxi-$37
  • Denver-  Downtown to Cherry Creek: Current UberX-$10; Standard UberX -$14; Taxi-$16
  • Orange County-  Disneyland to John Wayne Airport: Current UberX -$20; Standard UberX -$27; Taxi-$36

Uber says no promo code is necessary. You’ll see this promotion automatically applied on your uberX receipt. Sign up for Uber via TravelSkills and get $30 off your first ride!

INTERNATIONAL

An Air India Boeing 777 (Photo: Tom Turner)

An Air India Boeing 777 (Photo: Tom Turner)

Air India joins Star Alliance. The global Star Alliance — including United, Lufthansa, Air Canada, Singapore and others — has approved the addition of Air India to the group, effective July 11. That will add 400 flights a day and 35 new destinations to the alliance’s worldwide network, and will include reciprocal frequent flyer benefits with other Star carriers. With Air India’s less than stellar reputation…would you choose it? Have you flown it in the past? Please leave your comments below.

New routes to Qatar, Vienna, China. Qatar Airways, which just started Miami service, will add daily 777 flights between Doha and DFW July 1 … Austrian Airlines will supplement its Vienna-JFK flights with 767 service between Vienna and Newark starting July 2, offering five flights a week … China’s Hainan Airlines inaugurated service between Boston Logan and Beijing, with four 787 non-stops per week … July 1 is the launch date for new Air Canada daily 777 service from Toronto to Tokyo Haneda, switching to a 787 July 15.

HOTELS

Room with a view! A posh new Peninsula opens in Paris (Photo: Peninsula Hotels)

Room with a view! A posh new Peninsula opens in Paris (Photo: Peninsula Hotels)

Peninsula adds Paris location; IHG debuts EVEN. The old Hotel Majestic in central Paris — which opened in 1908 — has been reborn as the Peninsula Paris … The JW Marriott Hotel Beijing Central has opened in the heart of China’s capital … InterContinental Hotels Group debuted the first property in its EVEN Hotels brand, in Norwalk, Conn. EVEN, designed for “wellness-minded travelers to maintain their balance on the road,” will add a Rockville, Md., property shortly, followed by two in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn … A former federal courthouse in Tampa has been reborn as Le Meridien Tampa … The new Hampton Inn Downtown Financial District has opened in Manhattan at Pearl and Moore streets … Starwood’s popular W Chicago-Lakeshore has finally finished a $38 million overhaul, renovating all 520 rooms and adding a signature restaurant.

Ritz-Carlton’s fast path to elite status. Members of the Ritz-Carlton Rewards program have a new benefit: double credit for each night’s stay during 2014 (including those already completed), offering them “an accelerated journey to maintaining their current elite status or achieving a higher level,” the company said.

In Case You Missed It…

>Want to save money on in-flight Wi-Fi? Here are some suggestions.

>Delta is luring Medallion members to its upgraded transcon flights with comp upgrades.

>Here are six ways that infrequent travelers can drive you nuts in-flight.

>Looks like Delta can’t get exclusive rights to “the world’s most trusted airline” after all.

– Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

+++

P.S. Facebook is taking its time merging our previous pages into the new TravelSkills Facebook page. If you like to stay in touch and get breaking news/deals updates that way, please visit the page and LIKE it. Thanks!

facebook like

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows

How to save $$ on pricey inflight wi-fi

Is Chengdu China’s Chicago?

Delta waffles on transcon upgrade policy

6 most irritating actions of infrequent flyers

Pay more for fewer hassles? + Delta’s big boast + United expands in Latin America + Lush new LAX lounge

Newer, lighter Emirates A380s coming to SFO, IAH

Trip Report: SAS business class SFO-Copenhagen (PHOTOS)

Is Uber illegal?

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

Please join the 25,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email per day updates!

 

 

Is Chengdu China’s Chicago?

Chengdu's modern airport is the fourth busiest in China (Photo: Christian Ortiz / Flickr)

Chengdu’s modern airport, 10 miles from downtown, is the fourth busiest in China (Photo: Christian Ortiz / Flickr)

Chicago’s “Second City” nickname reflects an age-old inferiority complex– it was the second largest city in the U.S. until overtaken by Los Angeles. So, when I began a trip from San Francisco to Chengdu, in southwest China and the capital of the Sichuan province, I wondered if what I’d heard about Chengdu was true.

What I had heard is that Chengdu could be considered “The Chicago of China” due to its central location and big industrial/manufacturing/transportation base as well as its “second tier” status (compared to Beijing and Shanghai) and laid back feel.

Would I find Chengdu to be at all like Chicago?

United Airlines is betting on Chengdu to be more than that. On June 9 the airline began nonstop service between San Francisco (SFO) and Chengdu (CTU) on Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, and I traveled on the inaugural flight (as a guest of United). The 14-hour flight is the first of any U.S. airline beyond Beijing or Shanghai and into China’s interior. United’s hope is to grow service from three times a week to daily.

Chengdu is the capital of the Sichuan province (PATA.org)

Chengdu is the capital of the Sichuan province (PATA.org)

My pre-trip question reflected my naïveté about China. And perhaps the biggest lesson is that there are few parallels between the U.S. and China.

True, Chengdu is considered a “second tier” city in China (an official government designation), and, to the casual observer, Chicago could be said to sit on the same tier. But the numbers show there’s no comparison: Chengdu’s population is 14 million, while Chicago’s is 9.5 million. (Updated) It’s important to note that those numbers are for “metro areas” (for Chengdu, the sub-provincial city population, and for Chicago the U.S. Census Bureau’s Consolidated MSA that includes counties in Indiana and Wisconsin). However, Chengdu’s metro area of 4,684 square miles is less than half of Chicago’s 10,874 square miles. So you can only imagine how dense Chengdu feels.

Like Chicago, Chengdu sits in the interior of a huge country and is often overlooked by travelers. An Asia-based United Airlines sales executive I spoke with said he finds the Chinese who have traveled to New York and Los Angeles, for example, feel they have “done” the U.S. The same could probably be said of Americans who’ve been to Beijing and Shanghai.

However, like Chicago, Chengdu offers a different kind of experience and an interesting jumping-off point for other travel. And according to my seatmate on one flight, a Brit who has lived five years in Chengdu, the city is an excellent starting base from which to explore the rest of Asia: Bhutan, Nepal, Singapore, Thailand.

Living the "panda life." Chengdu's relaxed lifestyle centers on its teahouse culture. (Photo: Nancy Branka)

Living the “panda life.” Chengdu’s relaxed lifestyle centers on its teahouse culture. (Photo: Nancy Branka)

It could also be said these two cities share a relaxed lifestyle, relative to larger cities. Chicagoans are known for their friendly, aw-shucks nature, with pace a little slower than in New York. I found the same in Chengdu. Riffing on the popularity of the region’s largest tourist draw—the giant panda–Chengdu’s residents pride themselves on living “the panda life.” Pandas do little else but eat and sleep, and the lifestyle in Chengdu–with its dominant teahouse and mahjong cultures–is considered much slower-paced than Beijing or Shanghai’s.

But parallels stop there, I found.

What Chicago lacks in population, it makes up with charm. Chengdu does not. While I was pleasantly surprised by some tree-lined streets in Chengdu, the Gingkos do little to mitigate the concrete and steel as far as the eye can see. Compare this to Chicago’s anchor at Millennium Park and its long sweep of Lake Michigan shore, which make the city feel so livable. And once you’re out of the Loop and Magnificent Mile, brownstones and bungalows comprise friendly neighborhoods. By contrast, Chengdu is an intense city of high rises and more high rises. The only “charm” is the Chinese affection for lighting these skyscrapers: At night the Chengdu skyline is as jaw-dropping as Hong Kong’s.

Shopping is an obsession for the Chinese, but in Chengdu the luxury brands are everywhere, making Chicago’s Magnificent Mile feel focused and limiting. One of my favorite scenes in Chengdu is Tianfu Square, the city’s center plaza, where the almost-100-foot-tall statue of Mao Zedong stands squarely across from French jeweler Cartier. Such contrast–the story of a nation.

Chengdu will need to prove itself as a transport hub for Chinese travelers to the U.S. and vice versa. But as I said, it’s a pretty safe bet for United. San Francisco is a particularly favorable half of the city pair, with the route connecting the high-tech business of Silicon Valley with one of Asia’s major tech cities. (Seventy percent of the world’s iPads, for example, are manufactured in Chengdu.) But it’s also an untapped market for interior China’s new travelers to launch into the U.S. In fact, I met a number of people in Chengdu who had already booked the flight, thrilled to eliminate the need to connect elsewhere in Asia.

The 353-room Ritz-Carlton Chengdu opened October 2013 (Photo: Chris Cypert)

The 353-room Ritz-Carlton Chengdu (pictured here) opened October 2013 (Photo: Chris Cypert)

For American travelers like myself, the opportunity to visit a second-tier city was particularly interesting. One expert on China who was traveling with our group said the Chinese government is promoting the growth of “medium-sized” cities now, to take the heat off first-tier cities. American businesses investing in China are also seeing the growth opportunities in second-tier cities. For example, in October Ritz-Carlton opened properties in Chengdu (where I stayed) and Tianjin. The luxury market is robust in these cities.

If I had money to put on the table, I’d place United’s bet, too. The Chengdu/Chicago comparison may lose its parallels quickly, but both cities have matured to earn their place at the world economic table.

Have you been to Chengdu? If so, how do your impressions compare? Let us know in the comments.

–Nancy Branka

Disclosure: Nancy was a guest of United Airlines and Ritz-Carlton for this 3-day business trip. 

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New JetBlue Mint class cranks up on LAX-JFK; coming to SFO in October (Photo: JetBlue)

New JetBlue Mint class cranks up on LAX-JFK; coming to SFO in October (Photo: JetBlue)

AIRLINES

JetBlue introduces transcon business class. This week JetBlue operated the first transcontinental A321 equipped with its new Mint business class, offering 16 lie-flat seats (including four privacy suites) and an array of special amenities and perks. It’s designed to compete with the recently upgraded premium cabins of its transcon legacy competitors, but at a much lower price (currently starting at $599 one way). For now, it’s only on one daily JFK-Los Angeles flight, but will expand as the airline takes on more of the 11 specially-equipped A321s. It will start on the JFK-SFO route on October 26.

AA, US Airways start reciprocal upgrades. American said last week that AAdvantage elites can now upgrade to first class on US Airways within 24 hours of departure on domestic flights (except Hawaii) and those to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Bahamas, Bermuda and Central America. And Preferred-level members of US Airways’ Dividend Miles can do the same on American. The size of carry-on bags on both was also standardized at 45 inches of combined dimensions. The programs are expected to merge fully in 2015, AA said.

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Salt Lake City Airport (Photo: Jim Glab)

Salt Lake City Airport (Photo: Jim Glab)

Alaska invades SLC. Slapping back at Delta for encroaching on its Seattle base, Alaska Airlines last week and this week is laying on seven new routes from Delta’s Salt Lake City hub — Portland, Boise, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose, plus a third daily SLC-SEA flight…Is American’s plan to put a two-class A321 onto the DFW-SFO route this fall a response to Virgin American’s new DAL-SFO service? … Since Delta failed to get the Love Field slots it wanted, it’s now planning four daily DFW-LAX flights instead, starting this fall.

More new international routes open up. Besides its new Dallas/Ft. Worth-Shanghai route, American also kicked off new daily service last week from DFW to Hong Kong with a three-class 777-300ER…Air China last week started flying from Washington Dulles to Beijing’s Capital International Airport four times a week, also with a 777-300ER … Qatar Airways has launched the only non-stops from Miami to the Mideast, flying a two-class 777-200 to Qatar’s new Hamad International Airport … AA’s US Airways unit began code-sharing with joint venture partner Iberia, putting the US code onto the latter’s flights to Madrid from JFK, MIA, BOS, ORD and LAX.

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AIRPORTS

United consolidates at SFO. Just a reminder: Now that United has finished renovating its Boarding Area E in Terminal 3 and added a new United Club there, all of its domestic flights now operate from T3, eliminating the need for connecting travelers to take that awful shuttle under the airport to or from Terminal 1.

Dramatic skyline view from the newest Hyatt in Tokyo (Photo: Hyatt Hotels)

Dramatic skyline view from the newest Hyatt in Tokyo (Photo: Hyatt Hotels)

HOTELS

New luxury hotels in Tokyo, Taipei. Hyatt has added a Tokyo hotel to its upscale Andaz brand. The newly opened, 164-room Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills occupies the upper floors of a 52-story tower with sweeping views of the city. It’s between Tokyo Tower and Imperial Palace, not far from the Ginza district. Meanwhile, the Mandarin Oriental Taipei has opened in the heart of Taiwan’s capital near Taipei Shongshan Airport.

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Hertz’ new EVs get 119 MPG equivalent. Hertz has added the 2014 Chevrolet Sparto its fleets at Los Angeles International and San Francisco International airports. The company says the subcompact electric vehicles achieve the greatest fuel efficiency of any EV — the equivalent of 119 MPG combined city and highway driving. They’re also being rolled out at Hertz’ local rental outlets throughout California.

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-Jim Glab

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