Free inflight texting + Another 747 flies away + Lufthansa’s new premium economy + PreCheck not so special

AIRLINES

T-Mobile CMO Mike Sievert addresses the media at the Un-carrier 7.0 event  in San Francisco. (Photo: Jed Jacobsohn)

T-Mobile CMO Mike Sievert reveals new Gogo partnership in San Francisco. (Photo: Jed Jacobsohn)

Free inflight texting & voicemail. Starting September 17, T-Mobile customers can get free in-flight texting and voicemail service on all 2,000 U.S. aircraft equipped with Gogo Inflight Internet Wi-Fi. “To access the free messaging and voicemail services, T-Mobile customers will need to have their Wi-Fi Calling-enabled phone in airplane mode and connected to Gogo Wi-Fi.  From there, they simply launch their browser, verify they’re a T-Mobile customer, and follow the instructions,” Gogo told TravelSkills. (Interesting side: Gogo’s stock jumped 10% after this new deal became public last week.) If you don’t already use T-Mobile, does this make you want to switch? Leave your comments below. 

Click to see TVOne news report on Air New Zealand's final 747 flight from SFO

Click to see TVOne news report on Air New Zealand’s final 747 flight from SFO

End of an era at Air New Zealand. The latest airline to mothball its last 747 is Air New Zealand, which has flown the Boeing jumbos for 33 years. Its final 747-400 left San Francisco for Auckland last week, then was taken out of service. The carrier now uses 777s and 787s on transpacific routes. Meanwhile, Air New Zealand will add a third daily roundtrip to its LAX-Auckland route three days a week from April through October 2015.

Southwest boosts on-time record. Has Southwest Airlines figured out how to overcome its recent problems with late flights? The airline’s August performance showed a big improvement in on-time operations, up 10 percentage points from July when it (and JetBlue) were stuck at the very bottom of the the DOT’s on-time performance rankings.

Recent: How to choose the best new carry-on bag

Lufthansa's new premium economy seat on display at the Global Business Travel Association convention in August (Chris McGinnis)

Lufthansa’s new premium economy seat on display at the Global Business Travel Association convention in August (Chris McGinnis)

Lufthansa details premium economy service. Star Alliance member Lufthansa will debut its long-promised premium economy section in a few months, and it has posted a new website with details of what the service will provide to passengers and its planned schedule of deployment on international routes. It will be introduced starting in December on 747-8s from FRA to ORD, LAX and IAD; by late April on A380s to IAH, JFK, MIA and SFO; and in May 2015 on A340-600s to LAX, EWR and SFO.

Airline Wi-Fi searches. If you’re flying on United and you’d like to know in advance whether or not your aircraft is Wi-Fi equipped, you can look it up on this United website.  Passengers on Southwest can do the same thing with the carrier’s online Wi-Fi Finder. United & Southwest have taken the proactive step of notifying passengers on the day before their flight if the plane has wi-fi. (Whether or not the wi-fi is operational is another question ….)

Popular on TravelSkills: Another British Airways A380 for the US

The new soy ginger marinated salmon salad now onboard Virgin America (Photo: Virgin America)

The new soy ginger marinated salmon salad now onboard Virgin America (Photo: Virgin America)

Virgin America enhances front cabin menus. First class flyers on Virgin America will see a slate of new menu options this fall from celebrity chefs like Hiro Sone, Staffan Terje, Chris Beerman and Elizabeth Binder. New entrees include things like a grilled mushroom medley, soy ginger marinated salmon salad, roasted chicken with artichokes, ginger pepper noodles, and Marrakesh chicken salad. NOTE: If you fly Virgin America into San Francisco before Dec 14, bring your boarding pass to the Humphry Slocombe ice cream store in the Ferry Building marketplace for a free scoop! (It’s also served onboard flights departing SFO.)

Texas all-you-can-fly air service plans autumn start. A Texas entrepreneur plans to launch a new small-plane air service this fall with an all-you-can-fly policy for flat-fee memberships, according to the Dallas Business Journal. Called Rise, its eight-passenger Beechcraft King Air 350 turboprops will initially concentrate on the busy Dallas-Houston market with high-frequency service. Memberships will cost $1,650 to $2,650 a month, and Rise will use its own terminal at Love Field. The former CEO of California’s Surf Air — which has a similar business model — is executive chairman of Rise.

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AIRPORTS

Mock up of what the new dining terrace at LAX Terminal 2 will look like

Mock up of what the new dining terrace at LAX Terminal 2 will look like

LAX shows plans for T2 overhaul. The Westfield Group, in partnership with Los Angeles World Airports, has created a video showcasing its plans for bringing 20 new retail and dining concessionaires to LAX’s Terminal 2. The revamped T2 will have a dozen dining outlets — twice as many as it has now — and will feature outlets of several local restaurants. The project, now underway, should be finished next year. (Currently, T2 primarily serves international carriers.) Terminal 2 is home to ten domestic and international airlines, including Aeroméxico, Air Canada, Hawaiian Air and Virgin Atlantic. 

Wi-Fi Update: Sites monitor airports, hotels. The folks at Cheapflights.com have compiled a handy guide to Wi-Fi at 25 major U.S. airports, including how to access it, whether it’s free or paid. Meanwhile, hotelwifitest.com — which lets users see the data speeds typically achieved at major hotels — enhanced its service so the results can be viewed directly by users of major hotel booking sites. “After a one-click install, the extension will automatically display the WiFi information block whenever you open a hotel page on Hotels.com, Expedia, Booking.com, or TripAdvisor,” the company told us.

SECURITY

TSA: Most travelers now use expedited lanes. Remember the early days of TSA’s PreCheck program when you were whisked through expedited screening while everyone else lingered in long lines? Those days are gone: TSA now sends more than half of all travelers through the expedited checks — not just PreCheck members, but various categories of low-risk flyers and persons selected randomly from regular lines. This is reportedly reducing wait times for all passengers — but early adopters of PreCheck certainly don’t feel so special any more.

CARS

Volkswagen's sporty new GTI now in the National fleet (Photo: VW)

Volkswagen’s sporty new GTI now in the National fleet (Photo: VW)

New cars at National. Members of National’s Emerald Club will have access starting this fall to new 2015 models in the company’s Emerald Aisle locations nationwide, including the Volkswagen GTI, Chrysler 200, Dodge Challenger, Jeep Cherokee, Mazda6, Mustang and Lincoln MKC. Some locations will also offer new Mazda MX-5 Miatas and Hyundai Velosters.

HOTELS

Marriott innovation: Healthy food from a machine. Hotel vending machines typically dispense candy bars and high-sodium snacks. But the Chicago Marriott O’Hare is trying out a new option: Fresh, healthy food from a vending machine. Priced from $3 to $12, options include things like the Detox Salad (kale, quinoa, fruits and beans); low-fat Greek yogurt with berries; and chicken breast from antibiotic-free, humanely raised birds.

In Case You Missed It…

Chris evaluates Virgin America’s LAX Loft lounge.

British Airways is bringing its A380 to San Francisco.

You can pile up bonus points with these fall hotel promotions

Southwest Airlines unveils a new logo and aircraft livery

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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A bright spot at LAX’s drab Terminal 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the lowdown:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Chris McGinnis

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Another British Airways A380 for the US

On BA's A380, business class is an upstairs-downstairs affair (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

On BA’s A380, business class is an upstairs-downstairs affair (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

British Airways announced today that it will deploy a brand-new Airbus A380 double-decker between San Francisco International and London Heathrow starting in April 2015.

This will be BA’s third US destination to get the big bird, after Los Angeles and Washington, DC.

BA’s Sean Doyle, EVP, Americas, told TravelSkills that the decision to put the A380 on the SFO run was an easy one, “This helps bring together the burgeoning innovation economies in the Bay Area and London. It’s a logical fit and a sophisticated product for a sophisticated market,” he told us, citing the aircraft’s advanced inflight entertainment system, fuel efficiency and smooth, quiet ride.

The A380′s two decks carry a whopping 469 passengers, with 14 suites in first, 97  seats in business, 55 in premium economy and 303 in economy. (See BA’s A380 page)

What makes BA’s A380 unique is that all premium seats are at the front of the plane: first class is downstairs (“main deck”) in the nose, and business class is both upstairs and downstairs. Economy sections are in the rear half of the plane. Most other airlines with A380s put all business or first class seats upstairs only.

Related: Emirates to bring its big A380 to San Francisco & Houston | Trip Report: LAX-London on a BA A380

Premium economy onboard BA's new Airbus A380 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Economy class on BA’s new Airbus A380 is configured 3-4-3 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

British Airways has two daily flights between SFO and London. Starting in April 2015 (no firm date announced yet), BA will operate the A380 on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (#286). On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, BA will operate its Boeing 747-400. BA will continue to use a 747 for its second daily flight from SFO (#284).

BA’s Doyle told TravelSkills that the A380 and 747 will share the route “for the moment” but could not elaborate on longer term aircraft deployments in the SFO-LHR market. (Click here for news about a big refurb for BA’s 747s)

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British Airways posh first class suites onboard its new Airbus A380 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

British Airways nice, big first class suites onboard its new Airbus A380 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Fares on both the A380 and the 747 will be the same, but Doyle expects there to be more demand for the newer aircraft. Plus, of BA’s two daily flights, the A380 is the later one in both directions, allowing more time in either San Francisco or London.

When BA launched A380 service from Los Angeles on what it calls the “Red Carpet Route” to London last fall, TravelSkills was there. Here’s our trip report from that fun ride!

Have you flown on an A380 yet? What did you think? Will you give this new flight a try instead of competitors like United or Virgin Atlantic? Please leave your comments below. 

–Chris McGinnis

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British Airways to spruce up its 747s

A British Airways 747 prepares for takeoff at San Francisco International (Photo: Angelo Angelo - Flickr)

A British Airways 747 prepares for takeoff at San Francisco International (Photo: Angelo Angelo – Flickr)

Good news for passengers used to flying British Airways’ Boeing 747 jets from San Francisco, New York and elsewhere. BA is helping the “Queen of the Skies” age gracefully with plans to outfit eighteen 747-400s with new entertainment throughout, and upgrade seats in the economy and premium economy cabins.

BA admits these “much-loved” planes, which “have a special place in the heart of many of our customers” need sprucing up to compare favorably with the draw of younger birds, such as its big new A380s, 787 Dreamliners, or its shiny new 777s like the ones recently put into service on the Atlanta-Heathrow run.

The big news for passengers, especially those whose travel budgets don’t stretch to the airline’s business class cabin, is an upgrade to the entertainment and power systems on board. BA’s “next-generation” entertainment system will offer  twice as much content and a brand new tablet-style interface. BA’s introduced its unusual forward-and-rear-facing business class seats in 2000, but the current version dates to 2006.

Most of BA’s 747s have seen refurbs of the first class section in recent years, and the airline isn’t currently selling the “old” First cabin as First Class. Instead, lucky high-status business class flyers will get to sit in what used to be first class, though they’ll see the business class service. British Airways confirmed to TravelSkills that the very small number of 747s that still carry the “old” first cabin will be withdrawn from service next year.

Related: British Airways adds a new A380 in the US

British Airway's inflight entertainment getting an upgrade in coach (Photo: John Walton)

British Airway’s inflight entertainment getting an upgrade in coach (Photo: John Walton)

British Airways has been concentrating on its inflight entertainment recently, with the addition of content from HBO and the Discovery Channel, with new programming like a “paws and relax” section for the pet lovers, or a video showing the relaxing monotony of the sights you’d see on a Norwegian train journey.

Also in the cards: a full universal (UK, US, EU, etc) power outlet in premium economy, and a USB socket in economy. That’s a big step up from the annoying (and aged) EmPower port in premium economy and a big fat nothing down the back.

As for the seats, unfortunately there’s no upgrade planned to bring the seats up to the standard set in BA’s newer A380 or 777-300ER planes — see here— although the airline will try to make them look similar.

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BA's premium economy seats (British Airways)

BA’s premium economy seats (British Airways)

They’ll still be the same seats, but “new seat foams will be installed in World Traveller and World Traveller Plus to increase customer comfort and new style seat covers fitted to improve appearance and match those on the A380 and 787,” BA says.

Related: Boeing 747s slowly disappearing from US

The refurb is going to take a while: British Airways says 18 refits won’t begin until August 2015, and will be completed a year later, in August 2016. Unfortunately, since the seats are a like-for-like refit, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to tell if you’ll have a refurbished bird when booking.

The airline has nearly 50 747s still in use, though as more Airbus A380, Boeing 787 and particularly Airbus A350 aircraft reach the fleet the older planes (which date back as far as 1989) will be retired. According to Flightglobal, BA will speed up the retirement of older planes as larger 787-9 planes and the bigger A350s start arriving from 2017.

In the meantime, hope is not lost for a more modern experience on British Airways, which has finished taking delivery of a fleet of 12 Boeing 777-300ER planes with new seats and all the mod cons. These new planes started flying on BA’s Atlanta flights just this month. And of course, there’s BA’s new A380s from LAX, soon from Washington, Dulles, and from San Francisco next April.

-John Walton

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CLEAR opens security fast lane at SF Giants’ AT&T Park

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CLEAR opens security fast lane at SF Giants’ AT&T Park

You'll soon see something like this at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

Starting September 9, you’ll see something like this at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

From frequent flyers to fly balls, a special fast track lane for ballpark security is coming to AT&T Park, home to the San Francisco Giants.

A pilot program starting September 9th and running through the end of the season will be operated by CLEAR, the pay-to-enter trusted traveler airport security company currently operating at nine airports nationwide.

At AT&T Park, all fans have been screened with metal detectors or handheld wands this season, with the Major League Baseball organization requiring that all ballparks begin using metal detectors by the start of the 2015 season. Sometimes all that special screening can lead to backups.

“Ballparks are similar to airports as a lot of fans are going through security in a short time period,” CEO Caryn Seidman Becker tells TravelSkills. “During this pop up pilot, CLEAR members should expect the same great experience they have at the airport. CLEAR is all about making this process more efficient and effective.”

Related: Should I renew my CLEAR card?

How? After registering with the program, “CLEAR’s secure identity platform ensures you are who you say you are and you can use that identity in the airport and beyond. CLEAR is focused on bringing members an easier, faster, more efficient experience where they live, work and travel,” Seidman Becker promises — but wouldn’t say exactly how much time she expects members to save.

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Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 10.40.37 AM

Pre-game queues swell at AT&T Park (Photo: BullCityDave / Flickr)

But here’s how things will work at AT&T Park:

• The CLEAR lane can be found at the Marina Gate.

• The pilot will begin Tuesday, September 9th and run for the last 10 games of the season.

• CLEAR members must bring their CLEAR card to use the new pop up lane.

• If they bring a friend who is not a member, their +1 can use the line directly next to CLEAR.

CLEAR’s usefulness at airports gets a mixed reception from frequent flyers — and TravelSkills readers on our recent article about renewing CLEAR.

TSA PreCheck proved part of CLEAR’s undoing five years ago–  but with PreCheck lines increasingly choked by passengers unfamiliar with how the process works, CLEAR is starting to look more attractive again.

CLEAR lane

Not sure whether you want to spring for the $179 annual membership? “As busy travelers return to the grind, they can enroll with a two month free trial and get other “travel pro” tools as well for free until September 15th,” Seidman Becker tells us. “Just use code PROTRAVEL at checkout.  Members can always add a family member for only $50 more. All children under 18 are free and don’t require a CLEARcard. Kids can accompany CLEARmembers through the pop-up CLEARlane.”

Bottom line: if you fly frequently to the nine airports where CLEAR operates, you might find it useful. That’s especially true at airports where security can be swamped with vacationers, like Orlando or (soon) Las Vegas.

And now, AT&T Park.

–John Walton

UPDATE: Clear has published its own web page about the new fast lane at AT&T Park.

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CLEAR opens security fast lane at SF Giants’ AT&T Park

United’s newest jet + More Delta to UK + New Asian carrier at SFO + Grand plans for ATL & MEX airports

Nail Painting onboard: Illegal or just rude? 

Biz Trip: Copenhagen

Virgin Atlantic adds new ATL, SFO & DTW flights

Should airlines waive change fees?

Lanai: A billionaire’s work in progress

United streams entertainment + ATL short changed by merger? + Secret spaces on new jets + PreCheck milestone

6 end-of-summer travel deals. Act fast

Awesome Knee Defender animation VIDEO

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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United’s newest jet + More Delta to UK + New Asian carrier at SFO + Grand plans for ATL & MEX airports

 

United's "stretch" version of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is headed for Melbourne (Photo: United)

United’s “stretch” version of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is headed for Melbourne (Photo: United)

AIRLINES

United gets its first 787-9. Seems like just yesterday that airlines started flying the initially troubled 787 Dreamliner. But now United has taken delivery of the first new version, a stretched model called the 787-9 that can accommodate more passengers and fly longer distances (8,550 miles v. 8,200 for the 787-8). United’s version will have 48 BusinessFirst seats and 204 in economy (88 of them extra-legroom Economy Plus seats). The first of UA’s 26 787-9s will initially operate mostly between LAX and Houston, but it will begin regular international service October 26 between LAX and Melbourne.

Related: 5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows | ANA’s new Dreamliner to Tokyo

Delta adds transatlantic routes. As part of a route realignment with joint venture partner Virgin Atlantic, Delta will take over one of Virgin’s two daily Newark-London Heathrow flights starting March 29, 2015, and start its own daily JFK-Manchester service beginning June 2. For its part, Virgin plans to eliminate its Asian routes from LHR to Tokyo and Mumbai in order to beef up transatlantic services in several markets, as we reported last week.

China Southern to launch new SFO nonstops in December (Photo: Wikimedia)

China Southern to launch new SFO nonstops in December (Photo: Wikimedia)

New Routes: SAS, China Southern, Alaska. SAS has started flying six times a week between Houston Bush Intercontinental and Stavanger, Norway, using a 44-seat Boeing Business Jet (a specially configured 737-700 with all-business-class service, regrettably with angled lie-flat seats) for energy industry execs headed to Scandinavia’s gateway city for North Sea drilling operations China Southern plans to start a new North American route to San Francisco from Guangzhou and Wuhan three times a week starting December 16, with a 787. China Southern is part of the Delta-led SkyTeam alliance … Alaska Airlines last week added a new transcontinental spoke to its Seattle hub, operating one daily roundtrip between SEA and Baltimore-Washington International. Alaska also kicked off daily SEA-Detroit flights last week, and will add SEA-Albuquerque September 18.

Survey: Travelers want fee transparency. Do you have a hard time finding all the details about airlines’ various fees and charges when you book a ticket? A new survey of 1,000 air travelers found that consumers overwhelmingly support a proposed Transportation Department rule that would require airlines to share their fees for baggage and seat assignments through travel agents and on third-party websites. In fact, the survey found most consumers believe airlines should be required to sell ancillary services “wherever they sell their tickets,” and not just on their own websites.

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AIRPORTS

ATL will get more parking, other improvements. An Atlanta City Council committee last week heard a report on planned improvements coming to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Among first — due in the next couple of years — are a project to more than double parking capacity by replacing the existing four-story north and south parking garages with new ones of eight or nine stories; and the addition of a new taxiway that should speed up aircraft movements. Longer term, the master plan calls for building up to nine more gates east of the international terminal and eventually adding a sixth runway.

Futuristic new airport for Mexico City arriving soon (Photo: )

Futuristic new airport for Mexico City arriving soon (Photo: Foster & Partners  )

Mexico unveils plans for new airport. Officials in Mexico City have revealed the winning design for a new airport that will replace the aging Benito Juarez International. Plans call for a $9.2 billion facility that should have three runways operating by 2020 on a dry lakebed site close to the existing airport. Its first phase will handle 50 million passengers a year (vs. the current airport’s 32 million), but expansion plans over several decades call for a six-runway airport that could accommodate 100 million. The design from U.K. architect Norman Foster and Mexico’s Fernando Romero calls for a single large terminal with soaring interior spaces.

Related: BBC Business Trip: Mexico City

HOTELS

Hotel rates keep going up, up, up. Have you finalized your 2015 travel budget yet? Maybe you should allow more for hotel costs. Lodging specialists at PwC US say they expect U.S. hotels to achieve their highest occupancy level in 20 years in 2015 — 64.8 percent — and that will drive room rates up by an average of 5.7 percent next year. That’s on top of a 4.4 percent increase in 2014, and it represents the biggest rate increase since the pre-recessionary boom year of 2006. The company said hotels expect to see especially strong gains in group business — i.e., meetings and conventions.

Big US brands like Hyatt are making major inroads into Asia-- this is the new Hyatt in Suzhou (Photo:  Hyatt)

Sleek designs at the brand new Hyatt Regency Suzhou (Photo: Hyatt)

Rebranding in London; new hotels in China. Less than two years after it opened, central London’s InterContinental Westminster is ending its affiliation with InterContinental this month and taking on a new identity with the Hilton family as the Conrad London St. JamesGot business in China?Three major chains have openings there this month, including Marriott’s Renaissance Beijing Wangfujing, overlooking Beijing’s Forbidden City; Starwood’s St. Regis Chengdu in “the Silicon Valley of China;” and the new Hyatt Regency Suzhou in eastern China’s Suzhou Industrial Park, an hour by car from Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport.

In Case You Missed It …

> Delta partner Virgin Atlantic has revealed U.S. expansion plans for 2015.

> Airline change fees are getting ridiculous. Should they be waived for elites?

> Chris checks out the changes on Larry Ellison’s Hawaiian island of Lanai.

-Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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Nail Painting onboard: Illegal or just rude? 

Biz Trip: Copenhagen

Virgin Atlantic adds new ATL, SFO & DTW flights

Should airlines waive change fees?

Lanai: A billionaire’s work in progress

United streams entertainment + ATL short changed by merger? + Secret spaces on new jets + PreCheck milestone

6 end-of-summer travel deals. Act fast

Awesome Knee Defender animation VIDEO

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Virgin Atlantic adds new ATL, SFO & DTW flights

Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic A330-300 with the 1-2-1 reverse herringbone config (Photo: Tom Mascardo)

Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic A330-300 with the 1-2-1 herringbone configuration (Photo: Tom Mascardo)

Virgin Atlantic announced some major network changes today that will mean more opportunities for Delta flyers to give the popular Virgin product a try…and earn or burn SkyMiles while doing so. 

Here’s what’s coming our way in 2015:

>A year-round daily roundtrip between London Heathrow and Detroit

>A new daily nonstop between Atlanta and Manchester

>An additional summertime nonstop between London and Atlanta and San Francisco 

>Additional frequencies on the busy routes between London and New York JFK and Los Angeles

>An additional daily flight between London and Miami

The Upper Class bar on a new Virgin Atlantic A330-300 (Photo: Tom Mascardo)

The Upper Class bar on a new Virgin Atlantic A330-300 (Photo: Tom Mascardo)

Some notes:

Flights are not yet loaded and bookable, but soon the added capacity will mean more award seats for Delta SkyMiles members.

Virgin’s nonstops between Atlanta and Heathrow (announced last May) begin on October 26 using Airbus A330s.

Virgin has also announced that it will build a new Clubhouse airport lounge at LAX.

It’s aging fleet of Airbus A340s will soon be replaced with 16 new Boeing 787 Dreamliners– the first of which will be deployed 0n Boston-London in October.

In order to bulk up in the U.S., Virgin is withdrawing from several markets elsewhere– it will cease flying from London to Tokyo, Mumbai, Vancouver, and Cape Town.

Related: Virgin Atlantic to fly to Atlanta! 

Here's how Virgin's flights appear on Delta.com

Here’s how Virgin’s flights appear on Delta.com

Here’s a look at Virgin Atlantic’s new long haul network in the U.S. including the new flights which come on board in 2015:

  • Atlanta/Heathrow
  • Atlanta/Manchester
  • Boston/Heathrow
  • Chicago/Heathrow
  • Detroit/Heathrow
  • Las Vegas/ Manchester
  • Las Vegas/Glasgow
  • Los Angeles/Heathrow
  • Miami/Heathrow
  • New York (JFK)/Heathrow
  • New York (Newark)/Heathrow
  • Orlando/Belfast
  • Orlando/Glasgow
  • Orlando/Manchester
  • San Francisco/Heathrow
  • Washington DC/Heathrow
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Here's how Virgin Atlantic flights appear on Delta.com

Here’s how Virgin Atlantic flights ATL-LHR appear on Delta.com

For now, Delta flyers can earn SkyMiles (including MQMs) or burn SkyMiles for Virgin Atlantic flights– when you book flights on Delta.com, Virgin flights are shown as options. However, it’s still uncertain when or if Delta Medallions will be able to use miles or Global Upgrade certificates for upgrades. Delta SkyMiles Gold Medallion (and higher) members get dedicated check in, priority security, boarding and baggage when flying Virgin Atlantic. 

In the past, Virgin’s Upper Class business class product and over-the-top lounges far exceeded anything Delta could offer. But since Delta has been upping its game lately, the product and service gap is narrowing. In what situations would you choose Virgin over Delta… or vice versa? Please leave your comments below.

– Chris McGinnis

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Should airlines waive change fees?

Lanai: A billionaire’s work in progress

United streams entertainment + ATL short changed by merger? + Secret spaces on new jets + PreCheck milestone

6 end-of-summer travel deals. Act fast

Awesome Knee Defender animation VIDEO

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

What golden age of travel?

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

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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United streams entertainment + ATL short changed by merger? + Secret spaces on new jets + PreCheck milestone

BYO device entertainment systems working on United flights (Photo: United)

BYO device entertainment systems finally working on more United flights (Photo: United)

AIRLINES

United expands in-flight streaming. Passengers on most United Airlines A319s and A320s can now (finally) stream entertainment in-flight. A United official said at an industry conference in Las Vegas that the airline recently activated in-flight entertainment streaming on almost three-fourths of its 152 Airbus narrow-bodies, with the rest coming soon. In-flight streaming — which is already available on UA’s 23 747-400s and all 777-200s to Hawaii — was dependent on completing the installation of in-flight Wi-Fi equipment, he noted. (Have you tried it yet? How did it work?)

ATL flyers short-changed by merger? Southwest’s acquisition of AirTran could prove to be more costly than beneficial for Atlanta-area flyers, according to an analysis by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The paper said that when the government approved the combination, it didn’t foresee Southwest’s drawdown of service at ATL, giving more of the market to an already-dominant Delta. The report said Southwest/AirTran has already cut competition on more than a dozen routes out of ATL, and that Delta’s market share there has grown from 78 to 83 percent.

Ryanair rolls out business fares. Business travelers have never been too fond of Ryanair, the intra-European airline known for ultra-low fares and its broad range of ancillary passenger fees. But now the carrier has come out with a new category of business fares. They’re significantly higher than base fares, but include a menu of services that would otherwise incur hefty fees, like a checked bag, priority boarding, access to premium seats, and, perhaps most significant: a waiver of change fees.

hawaiianbagtag

Print your bag tag at home, insert it into special bag tag sleeve at airport, and bypass long luggage check in lines. (Photo: Hawaiian Air)

Hawaiian tries out self-checked luggage. The latest carrier to start testing a procedure for passengers to check their own bags is Hawaiian Airlines. For two months, travelers on its flights from Seattle and Oakland to four Hawaiian destinations can use the TAG@HOME option, which lets them print out bag tags at home when they check in for flights. At the airport, they’ll find a stand with reusable sleeves; tags are slipped into them and attached to the luggage, which is taken to a bag drop. Alaska Airlines offers a similar option for home printing called Self-Tag Express, and United has started offering a self-tagged bag procedure at Chicago O’Hare, but with tags printed at the airport.

Earlier boarding for uber elite? This just in from TravelSkills reader EJ: “When the Delta gate agent called for first class boarding on a recent flight to New York, she invited Diamond Medallion members to board the flight with first class passengers. The agent then waited two minutes before inviting other Sky Priority passengers — Platinum, Gold — to board. As a Diamond flyer with Delta, the invite to board with first class passengers was a pleasant surprise. I’ve had issues with Delta over the years, but Delta deserves kudos in this case. Delta seems to me upping its game on multiple fronts.” Has anyone else received special treatment like this?

This week’s most popular post

Hawaiian, Frontier add routes. Members of American’s AAdvantage program in the San Francisco area are getting a new option for award travel to Maui. AAdvantage partner Hawaiian Airlines said it plans to begin four weekly flights between SFO-Maui on November 20, increasing to daily December 17, using a 294-seat A330-200. Meanwhile, Frontier announced new service starting in late October from Cincinnati to DFW, Orlando, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Ft Lauderdale; from Chicago O’Hare to Phoenix and Salt Lake City and from DFW to Memphis.

Secret spaces on new jets: TravelSkills in London’s Daily Mail. Last week, London’s popular Daily Mail website post on a story we brought you two years ago: An inside look at airline crew rest areas. The Mail story included several images as well as our 8 Best Beds video we created in 2012 when invited on a Cathay Pacific B777 delivery flight from the Boeing factory in Seattle to Hong Kong. The post was hugely popular… as a matter of fact, view on our video jumped from around 90,000 to over 240,000 in just a few days.

SECURITY

TSA PreCheck hits a milestone. TSA said last week its PreCheck program, now about nine months old, has passed the half-million mark in approved members. What’s more, Customs and Border Protection now has more than 3 million members in its own trusted traveler programs, which include Global Entry for international airport arrivals. TSA said PreCheck is currently available at 118 U.S. airports, while Global Entry can be used at 51 U.S. airports and at preclearance stations in Canada. TSA has opened more than 300 PreCheck application centers nationwide.

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HOTELS

Fees on hotel guests hit a new record. A new study by NYU’s Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management finds U.S. hotels are on track to haul in a record $2.25 billion in fees and surcharges from guests in 2014 — up from $1.7 billion just four years ago. “Fees and surcharges are highly profitable; most have incremental profitability of 80 to 90 percent or more of the amounts collected,” the study noted. Hotel charges include things like resort fees, early departure fees, Internet fees, room service surcharges and business center fees, among others. Have you been seeing new hotel fees lately? Which ones irritate you the most? 

In Case You Missed It…

>Check out this amusing video about the controversial “Knee Defender” incident on United last week.

>Check out these interesting facts about airline flight numbers.

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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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

6 end-of-summer travel deals. Act fast

Awesome Knee Defender animation VIDEO

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

What golden age of travel?

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

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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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)

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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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

What golden age of travel?

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 + Uber for business

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!

.

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

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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

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3 brand new Los Angeles hotels (& 3 facelifts)

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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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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)

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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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.

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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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

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)

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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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!

.

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! 

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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)

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

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.

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.)

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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

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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

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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

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3 brand new Los Angeles hotels (& 3 facelifts)

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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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Free inflight entertainment + Delta dumping 747s + United hub reshuffle + 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.

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.”

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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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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

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

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Southwest pads schedules + 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

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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

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!

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

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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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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