Oddball card offers reap big rewards

Honolulu for $89 plus change? It's possible! This is Hilton Hawaiian Village (Chris McGinnis)

Honolulu for $89 plus change? It’s possible! This is Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki (Chris McGinnis)

If you are a big shot with the Delta, United or American frequent flyer programs, you may not pay much attention to card offers from other airlines.

But right now there are two limited time offers that I think you ought to consider… how about a round trip to Hawaii or Mexico for less than $100 on US Airways? Or enough points for two roundtrips and a big jump on coveted Companion Status on Southwest?

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While it may sound odd to even consider a US Airways credit card since the airline is on the verge of disappearing, consider this: The US Airways Premier World MasterCard is currently offering a 40,000 mile sign up bonus.

Now, while most cards require you to spend thousands of dollars in a short period of time to get that bonus, this card does not.

To get the bonus, all you have to do is make a SINGLE PURCHASE and pay the annual fee. It could be a cocktail on the plane or a toothbrush at Walgreens. It doesn’t matter. After that single purchase, just pay the $89 annual fee with your first statement and bingo, you get 40,000 US Airways Dividend miles.

What can you do with 40,000 miles? Plenty! 40K could get you to Hawaii, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central or South America during  low or off-peak periods. It could get you home for the holidays or on a nice summer vacation. You could even redeem the miles for a ticket for someone else to come visit you.

Even if you don’t have a trip in mind for the near term, remember that those US Airways miles will convert into American AAdvantage miles at some point next year, which means even more opportunities for redemption. Need ideas? See the US Airways award chart here.

If you do fly US Airways a lot, there are plenty of other benefits that come with the card, like free checked bag allowance, companion certificates, priority boarding and more.

This one’s kind of a no-brainer… it’s basically a round trip ticket for $89 and change. Would you consider it? I would!

US Airways Premier

click to apply

Two round trips and head start toward Companion Status

A Southwest Airlines 738 in new livery takes of from Midland, Texas (Photo: Felipe Garcia / Flickr)

A Southwest Airlines 738 in new livery takes of from Midland, Texas (Photo: Felipe Garcia / Flickr)

Now, let’s move on to a brand new offer from Chase and Southwest Airlines.

This week the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier card DOUBLED its sign up bonus from 25,000 points to 50,000 points. To get that pot of points, you have to spend $2,000 within the first three months of getting the card. Spending $2,000 should be relatively easy with the holidays coming up, right?

50,000 Rapid Reward points is currently enough for two average roundtrip “Wanna Get Away” fares. Want to see where you can go on Southwest for 50,000 points? When you make a reservation on Southwest.com, you can pay with either cash…or points. Both show up on the flight search tool.

This means that the best time to redeem miles is when fares are lowest… like during Southwest’ periodic fare sales which we always highlight on TravelSkills. The lower the fare, the fewer points are required for an award seat. And… there are no blackout dates. Check it out here.  See the infographic below which shows the cheapest days to fly.

What’s nice about this offer is that those 50,000 bonus points earned for signing up count toward the 110,000 points needed to hit Southwest’s coveted Companion Pass status– one of the best deals out there for folks who fly Southwest a lot. Having companion pass status means that your spouse, your best friend, or maybe your mother can fly with you for free once you attain it.  (The credit card bonus points only count toward Companion Pass status…they don’t count toward A-list status.)

With this card, you must pay the $99 annual fee in with your first statement in order to get the 50,000 bonus miles. It’s a limited time offer, so sign up soon, especially if you currently, or plan to fly Southwest a lot in the coming year. For AirTran fans who are saying goodbye to that brand this year, getting the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card is a great way to get in and get going with the new program.

Southwest

click to apply

 

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Check out ALL of our featured credit card offers here!

Cheap flying

–Chris McGinnis

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

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Late summer airfare sale starts TODAY

Southwest 737 decked out in California state flag livery (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Southwest 737 decked out in California state flag livery (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

By now we all know this summer is toast when it comes to airfare deals. That means bargain hunters have had to wait around for any honest-to-goodness bargains.

Those deals arrived today.

This morning Southwest Airlines and AirTran kicked off a big three-day fare sale for late summer (and fall) trips starting Monday, August 25 and running through Wednesday, December 17 that other airlines are sure to match. (UPDATE: So far, we’ve seen matching sale fare pages posted from JetBlue, Virgin America , Delta, United, American )

To get the deals, you must book now through Thursday, June 5 at midnight in your time zone.

Get two free round-trips on Southwest! Click here for details

These deals are great for late summer…and pretty good for the slower fall season. You can bet your sweet bippy that those late summer fares will be snapped up in just the first few hours of this sale, so act fast.

Or, if you get stuck and can’t find a sale seat, check competing airlines that might be slow to match the sale, and have not sold out.

Examples:

$100 round-trip between Chicago and Memphis or Baltimore and Boston; San Francisco and Las Vegas

$200 round-trip between Atlanta and New York or Ft Lauderdale; Seattle and San Diego or Austin and Denver; Oakland to Denver or Phoenix

$260 round-trip between Washington DC  and Houston Hobby

$300 round-trip between Atlanta or Chicago and  Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco

Find sale fares on Southwest Airlines website

There are restrictions: Sale fares are not available on Fridays or Sundays, the busiest days of the week for flying. Blackout dates are September 1 (Labor Day) and November 21-December 2 (Thanksgiving).

If you are planning to fly to/from Nevada or Florida, here’s a weird rule in Southwest’s fine print: “Travel to Florida or Nevada is valid Sunday through Wednesday only.  Additionally, travel from Florida or Nevada valid Tuesday through Friday only.  Travel between Nevada and Florida is valid on Tuesdays and Wednesdays only.”

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Chris McGinnis

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Track MQMs + Coach upgrade + Economy Comfort MQDs + Delta’s secret 360 club + More

2014 MEDALLION TRACKER NOW ONLINE…No need to worry about Delta keeping tabs on your status for the New Year. A new tracker is now available on Delta.com under the My Delta section of your SkyMiles profile. It keeps check of your Medallion qualification metrics: MQMs (miles), MDQs (dollars), and MQS’ (segments)… it will also keep track of your Delta American Express credit card spend (as you remember, spending $25,000 in 2014 will provide a waiver for meeting Medallion Qualification Dollar spend next year). Effective Jan. 1, the tracker will also appear on the Delta app. Happy flying (and spending) in the New Year!

MORE ECONOMY CLASS COMFORT…Delta has boosted its international economy class with some nice recent enhancements. Delta offered many of these benefits nearly a decade ago, but cut back in economic hard times. The goodies are back for travelers though. In addition to recently announced free cocktails for economy passengers, now everyone will receive a large bottle of water and small amenity kit with eyeshades and socks among other travel items on long-haul flights. Delta is the only North American airline to offer these added benefits to coach passengers.

DELTA SEAT PURCHASES QUALIFY FOR MQD SPENDING…Purchasing Economy Comfort or a preferred exit row/bulkhead seat on your next flight in 2014? Well, you have more incentive now. That purchase will count toward your MQD spend. Previously, Economy Comfort brought more than added legroom; on international flights, it also brought free cocktails. This new MQD perk sweetens the pot, especially if you are getting close to hitting a threshold.

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DELTA CEO SAYS NO TO LOUD TALKERS…In a sigh of relief for most airline passengers and crew, Delta CEO Richard Anderson has publicly stated that there will be no in-flight cell phone calls permitted aboard Delta aircraft, even if other airlines decide to allow it. Other airlines, including Southwest, have also come forward saying they would not allow it on their flights. (Texting during flight? Bring it on, airlines. But please keep it cheap.)

LESS BUSINESS, MORE ECONOMY SEATING…Delta is pulling BusinessElite seats from several of its 777 and 767 aircraft in the coming year to make room for extra rows of Economy. Certain routes stimulate more demand in the back of the aircraft, and this will give Delta more flexibility to maximize revenue in certain markets. Certain 767s will lose 14 seats up front and gain 20 in Economy while 777s will lose 7 seats up front and gain 24 in Economy. There is already a subset of 767s in the Delta system that has fewer BusinessElite seats.

Delta 360 members are likely the ones getting views like this (from a Porsche on the tarmac) (Photo: Delta)

Delta 360 members are likely the ones getting views like this (from a Porsche on the tarmac) (Photo: Delta)

DELTA 360 TESTED FOR TOP ATLANTA FLYERS…Delta has been quietly sending out invitations to Delta 360, its high-revenue, elite offering (similar to United Global Services and American Concierge Key). There is no published revenue amount to qualify, and invitations were only sent to a subset of customers mostly in the Atlanta area. If it goes well, Delta hopes to expand the program, which comes with a dedicated reservations line and special monitoring of flights on the day of travel to proactively assist with connections and rebooking, if necessary. It seems to be a super-secret trial program right now reserved for Delta’s highest mileage, biggest spenders.  Surprised TICKET reader (and 2 million miler) LR provided us with a heads up on the program last month. He wrote: “Did I miss the article on Delta’s new 360 Priority program? I got an invite to 360 about a month ago, and when I called the Diamond line last night I was routed to a very competent 360 operator.  Pretty interesting.” Have you received an invitation? Noticed anything different when you travel so far? Please leave your comments below. 

MORE SEATTLE FLIGHTS…New Delta flights from Seattle bound for Juneau, Alaska and San Jose, California will keep flyers on the go. Also planned is an extra Seattle-Anchorage flight to leading to three daily nonstops in the peak summer season. This furthers the battle between Delta and hometown carrier Alaska Airlines. This Delta/Alaska tussle has re-kindled talk of an eventual Delta takeover of Alaska Air… what do you think?

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

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HOLLYWOOD SNEAK PEEK…During December passengers aboard Delta flights are enjoying a sneak peek at the new movie, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” Lucky TICKET contributor Ramsey Qubein chatted with one of the movie co-stars, Kristen Wiig, in Seattle as she returned from filming in Iceland earlier this year. Visitors to Delta’s Facebook page between Dec. 4-27 have the chance to win up to 50,000 SkyMiles through the Mitty-inspired “Stop Dreaming and Start Doing” sweepstakes.

Delta's newest jet, the Boeing 737-900 (Photo: Drewski / Flickr)

Delta’s newest jet, the Boeing 737-900 (Photo: Drewski / Flickr)

NEW SPIRIT OF SEATTLE PLANE…Delta has dubbed one of its newest Boeing B737-900 aircraft, the “Spirit of Seattle,” in honor of local customers and employees. The plane features a special livery and promotes its recent expansion at Sea-Tac. Flight attendants are also wearing pins commemorating the Spirit of Seattle. Expanded service from Seattle includes new flights to Fairbanks, Alaska and Vancouver, Canada, both of which will begin next summer. Have you flown on the 737-900, Delta’s newest aircraft? What do you think? By the end of the year, Delta will have a dozen of the shiny new jets in operation.

TICKET NEWS HITS FACEBOOK FIRST. When there’s news you need to know, The TICKET frequently posts it on our Facebook page first (and eventually it makes its way into a The TICKET.) So if you want to be among the first to know, join the thousands of TICKET readers who get a regular dose of fare deals, travel news, and advice via our Facebook page. Come on and join the fun…and stay informed.

GERMANY GOES ALL LIE-FLAT…If you are traveling between the U.S. and Germany on Delta, all business class seats now feature the latest flat-bed product with staggered single seats by the windows and two seats in the center section. Delta flies to Germany from Atlanta, Detroit, and JFK. From Atlanta, Delta flies to Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Munich, and Stuttgart.

KLM New business class

FLAT-BED SEATS COMING TO KLM’s ATL FLIGHTS…Eventually. SkyTeam partner KLM is rolling out new flat-bed business class seats on its aircraft beginning with the Boeing 747 fleet of aircraft. Five aircraft feature the new seating and are appearing on routes like San Francisco and JFK to Amsterdam. The new seats extend to sleeping cocoons with larger entertainment screens than business class on Lufthansa and British Airways. By late spring 2014, the entire fleet of jumbo jets will be retrofitted guaranteeing flat-bed seats up front on 747 flights from Houston, San Francisco, Chicago, and JFK to Amsterdam among other international destinations in the KLM route network. Next up for the new seating will be the B777-200 fleet. Plans are in place to have flat-bed seating on all KLM long-haul aircraft in the coming years. For now, KLM flies the Airbus A330 to Atlanta, which still has the angled flat seats, but these will be updated over time as well.

DELTA TO BOOST DALLAS FLIGHTS…Delta is planning to expand its operation at Dallas Love Field should it get the green light from the U.S. Department of Justice. It has to bid on the gates, which are being made available thanks to the merger between American and US Airways. The new flights would include nonstop service to Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and New York LaGuardia. Additional frequencies on the existing route to Atlanta would also be added.

Chris McGinnis & Ramsey Qubein 

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Best and worst days for holiday trips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris McGinnis 

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First fall/winter fare sale worth a look

SouthwestTail

Southwest Airlines announced a three-day, nationwide fare sale today that will likely be matched by most other airlines across the country within 24 hours.

The prices are decent, but these fares are not available on key dates around the Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Years season. (See fare chart below.) Today, Travelocity reported that holiday airfares are 7% higher than last year’s holiday season…and last year was expensive.

These fare only apply to trips during the so-called “dead weeks” in early December and early January. They do not include travel on busy Fridays and Sundays.

However, if you have the flexibility to travel during the dead weeks, these fares represent good value. Here’s why:

>They are perfect for business travelers who may want to visit a client one last time this year, or early next year.

>They offer some good opportunities for end-of-year “mileage runners” hoping to gain or maintain elite status.

>They are also a nice break for flexible fliers who may not be able to shell out the big bucks for overpriced flights on key dates around the holidays.

>If you are planning to ski this year, Southwest offers plenty of great deals to cities near western ski resorts.

Here’s the Southwest fine print. Look for similar fares (with identical restrictions) to pop up on other carriers within one or two days.

These low fares are available for purchase on southwest.com starting Tuesday, Oct 8 through Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, 11:59 p.m. for the respective time zone of the originating city, for travel every day of the week except Fridays and Sundays, Dec. 4 through Dec. 18, 2013, and Jan. 7 through Feb. 12, 2014. For travel up to 500 miles, fares are $49 one-way. For travel 501 to 1,000 miles, fares are $99 one-way.  For travel 1,001 to 1,500 miles, fares are $129 one-way.  For travel 1,501 plus miles, fares are $149 one-way.

 Route Thanksgiving Peak: Nov 27-Dec 1 roundtrips Dead Week Deal: Dec 11-14 roundtrips
ATL-New York LGA $550 $197
ATL-Chicago MDW $355 $197
ATL-Orlando $375 $98
ATL-Denver $415 $238
ATL-LAX $573 $337

(Nonstop fares searched on Southwest.com Oct 8, 2014 and subject to availability and change)

HOW TO GET A $400 AIRLINE TICKET FOR $89: Want to snag an easy 40,000 bonus miles? Earn 2x miles on all purchases? Avoid obnoxious foreign transaction fees? Get TripIt Pro for free? Check out the new Barclaycard promo here or at the bottom of this post. Easy peasy! Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard – $89 Annual Fee Card

Chris McGinnis

*****

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More SkyMiles devaluations + Award holds + Aspen + Albany

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris McGinnis

*****

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Chris in Clark Howard's new book!

clark howard book

Clark’s new book is a real page turner!

By now you’ve probably heard that Clark Howard has a new book out … it’s called Living Large for the Long Haul and just rolled off the presses this month. ($12 on Amazon.com)

What you may not know is that Clark included an entire chapter (six pages!) called “The Savvy Business Traveler” about yours truly, TICKET editor Chris McGinnis! Yep, buy the book and flip to page 205 and you can see it for yourself!

Via an interview with me, Clark explains how my life (going all the way back to my childhood!) led to a career as a travel correspondent and consultant. He also reveals a lot of my top tips and best advice for business travelers. Of course and as usual, the book is peppered full of great practical and advice and tips…so buy it!

I’d like to highlight a few paragraphs from the chapter that I thought might stimulate a little dialog here on The TICKET. Take a read and please respond below!

Interestingly, Chris does not believe business travel is more difficult today than it was a generation or two ago.

‘I know I’ll get a lot of disagreement on this one, but having watched business travel closely over the last twenty years, I’m confident to say that business travel has improved enormously, and this has a lot to do with the transparency brought on by the Internet.’

Chris says that we have far more control over our trips than we used to– and control is all important to the business traveler.

‘Think of all the other advances we have now… Wi-Fi on planes; no smoking on planes; safer, new hotels; big, bright airport terminals; seats that fold into flat beds for sleeping on overnight flights; modern trains from airport to city; a fast and easy rental car process. All of these were dreams of business travelers back in what many like to call ‘the golden age of travel,’ when everyone dressed up to fly. Hogwash!

So dear TICKET reader… what do you think? Is business travel better or worse than it was in ‘the golden age of travel?” In your eyes, is the experience getting better…or worse? Please leave your comments below. 

*****

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

Virgin Atlantic's route map

New places to go! Virgin Atlantic’s route map

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delta CEO Ricard Anderson (Delta Air Lines)

Delta CEO Ricard Anderson (Delta Air Lines)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris McGinnis & Ramsey Qubein

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Alaska Airlines 737 at Atlanta Airport (Atlanta Airport)

An Alaska Airlines 737 at Atlanta Airport (Atlanta Airport)

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

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

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

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

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

Chris McGinnis

*****

 

5 travel fees worth paying

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

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

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

And why not?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are five fees I don’t mind paying:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris McGinnis

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

*****

Delta's new $200 fee + PreCheck at kiosk + More flat seats + Routehappy

DELTA’S  $200 FEE. This morning Delta joined United and US Airways in raising its standard change fee to a painful $200, up from $150. Like the same-day-change policy shift we wrote about last week, this news is particularly painful to business travelers, who are most likely to make ticketing changes. So far, American is the holdout in the move to the $200 fee. And as you may know, Southwest does not charge change fees at all—however, you do have to pay for any difference in price if the fare you booked is no longer available. How do you feel about a $200 fee? Is this enough to force the many Atlanta-based Delta devotees into the arms of Southwest? Please leave your comments below!

DeltaTSAboardingPass

GOT PRECHECK? It is becoming even easier to know if you are on the TSA’s A-list. Delta now prints PreCheck notifications on boarding passes picked up at airport kiosks. This means that you’ll know whether or not you are selected before getting to security and waiting (hoping) for those beautiful three beeps.  Soon, boarding pass notification of PreCheck status will also be available for mobile boarding passes. You should see it on the same line where your elite status appears– directly underneath your name.

SOUTHWEST FLYERS NEXT IN LINE. Southwest Airlines, the only major airline that does not currently offer PreCheck, is apparently in negotiations with TSA to join in the fun. A Southwest spokesperson told The TICKET: “We are currently reviewing the program and considering participation sometime before the end of year.”  Insiders say that it’s not that Southwest does not want to participate, but that its reservations system is not capable of incorporating PreCheck yet. (San Francisco-based Virgin America just announced that it would participate in PreCheck this summer.)

TIGHTER SQUEEZE. Prepare to suck it in a little more when entering an even smaller lavatory aboard Delta’s new Boeing 737-900s pretty soon. Delta will install a new lavatory design that’s so small that it will be able to cram in an extra four seats on each plane. Delta says that much of the space is taken from the wall behind the sink so it will not be as noticeable (was there much space to steal from the bathroom anyway?). Get the hand sanitizer ready!

Business class on Delta's A330s (Photo: Delta)

Business class on Delta’s A330s (Photo: Delta)

GETTING FLATTER, FASTER. Delta has really sped up the installation of new flat-bed seating on international aircraft, and the Airbus A330 is the last aircraft type to be retrofitted. Delta inherited these wide-body aircraft in the merger with Northwest, and they all came with angled lie-flat “cocoon” style seat. Soon, all A330s will have 34 new lie-flat seats in a 1-2-1 configuration. Once the retrofit is complete (Delta says summer 2014) , all long-haul aircraft in Delta’s fleet will feature the new flat bed seating with the exception of the B757s flying to Europe on routes including JFK to Reykjavik, Iceland and Malaga, Spain, which have cradle-style seats.

SOUTHWEST SPREADING OUT AT ATL. This from the Dallas Morning News: “Southwest chief executive Gary Kelly said the airline will spread out its daily flight schedule at the Atlanta airport to attract more local travelers instead of those connecting to other cities. The number of daily flights won’t change from 175, he said. With fewer people and bags moving from plane to plane through the Atlanta airport, Southwest won’t need as many ramp and customer service workers, such as ticket and gate agents and baggage handlers.” The result? Southwest will lay off 300 AirTran workers at ATL.

FREE INFLIGHT WI-FI. Blackberry’s doing everything it can to get its hot new Z10 smartphone in the hands of travelers, and its teaming up with Delta to say “thanks” to those who’ve made the big switch. Fire up your browser on your Blackberry inflight, and you’ll enjoy free Gogo wi-fi on all Delta domestic flights through June 30. The promotion is in honor of Blackberry’s new Z10 device, which is on display in various airports around the system including stations in numerous Sky Clubs like New York LaGuardia and Boston. PLEASE take our poll! Which type of smart phone do you carry? (Be sure to click on the “Vote” button below… it may be hard to see) 

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


SNEAK PEEK AT DELTA’S T4 AT JFK. Delta just released a new video showing progress on its big new hub project at New York-JFK’s Terminal 4. Opening on May 24, the new terminal sports a giant 23,000 square foot Sky Club (See 1:40 in the video). In Manhattan, Delta has opened a new T4X “popup” demo of the new terminal in SoHo, and invites folks to come by for a look-see… and a $4 lunch!

MORE SIZZLE AT SEATTLE HUB. Delta’s and Virgin Atlantic’s plans to institute a joint venture on transatlantic flights is certain to be a boon for all Delta and Virgin flyers. It also brings about the possibility of new routes including a proposed flight between Seattle/Tacoma and London Heathrow. The flight is expected to benefit from the feed from Alaska Airlines codeshare flights and would make Seattle an even more important gateway in the Delta network. Neither Virgin nor Delta currently serves London from Seattle.

DELTA CEO PAY. Delta’s CEO Richard Anderson saw his compensation jump 42% last year — a combination of his long-term incentive pay and the fact that Delta made more money than its peers. His overall compensation rose to almost $12.6 million, up from $8.9 million in 2011, according to an Associated Press calculation based on an SEC filing Tuesday.

A China Eastern A330 at the gate at SFO (Photo: Peter Biaggi)

A China Eastern A330 at the gate at SFO (Photo: Peter Biaggi)

GET SHANGHAID. There’s a new way to Shanghai on SkyTeam partner China Eastern via San Francisco. The Airbus A330 departs SFO at 11:30 am and arrives at Shanghai Pudong airport (PVG) the following day at 4 pm. On the return, the flight departs Shanghai at 1 pm and arrives at SFO at 9:30 am. Three days a week, the flight offers continuing service to Wuhan (pop 10 million), a central Chinese city many refer to as “the Chicago of China.” China Eastern offers two types of business class seats on its Airbus A330-200—one type is the angled lie flight, the other is a true lie flat (180 degrees flat). China Eastern’s San Francisco manager Charlie Gu tells The TICKET that the San Francisco flight will always get the newer plane with the true lie-flat seats. Every seat on China Eastern’s A330 (coach and business) has personal seatback entertainment systems and access to AC plugs. China Eastern is the second largest carrier in China (after Air China), and flies a relatively young fleet—with an average age of just seven years. Have you flown or heard much about China Eastern? Please leave your comments below!

MARVELOUS MAKEOVER. In partnership with the city of Los Angeles and Los Angeles World Airports, Terminal 5 at LAX will benefit from $229 million in construction and refurbishment work (expected to take place in phases beginning now through 2015). Ticketing and security screening areas will be expanded and include a separate VIP entrance and SkyPriority check-in lobby similar to that at JFK. The Sky Club will finally receive additional charging stations for passengers needing juice for electronics. There are plans to install a pricey new Luxury Bar replacing the more popular (and cheaper) self-service bar. Other terminal amenities include new baggage carousels and baggage recheck areas for inbound connecting passengers, and a fresh new look and new restaurants and bars that reflect LA’s culture and lifestyle.

TERMINAL F MAKES THE GRADE. The coveted LEED designation has been given to the new international terminal in Atlanta recognizing its environmental design and Earth-friendly production materials. Many features promote sustainability including a water box on the roof that collects rain water for filtering and release to the environment; thermal glazing to prevent loss of heating or cooling through windows; low-flow faucets in bathrooms; energy-efficient lighting, and a strong recycling program. It also includes those new “waterless” (and stinky!) urinals—men, do you know what I’m talking about here? P.U.!

Screen shot 2013-04-29 at 9.41.54 AMARE YOU A HAPPY FLYER? Just fiddling around with the new Routehappy website makes us feel happy. Why? After a year of  researching, analyzing, and grading aircraft types and amenities, Routehappy applies “happiness factors” most business travelers care about such as seat pitch, width and layout, entertainment, Wi-Fi, in-seat power, plane quality, and trip duration to help you pick the option flight. In addition, it manually gathers complex information about flights from sources like the airline’s website, press releases, staff, industry analysts & influencers, blogs, forums, news stories and reviews from road warriors and “route experts.” It then applies a “happiness score” to each flight to help make the best decision. For example, I’ve always known that Delta’s roomy, jumbo B767 flights between ATL and SFO are much more comfortable than those long, narrow torture tubes known as Boeing 757’s. Routehappy exposes that. This sounded very similar to Hipmunk’s “Agony” index, which uses an algorithm to rank flights based on price, duration and stopovers. Routehappy seems to have taken flight ranking a step beyond that with more robust information that includes human input. Take a look at Routehappy and let us know what you think. Leave your comments below.

Chris McGinnis

*****

Big SkyMiles bonuses at hotels + Calculating Delta MQDs + Inheriting SkyMiles

PUBLIC hotel chicago

How about a nice 10,000 Skymiles bonus for a couple nights at the chic Public Hotel in Chicago? (Photo: Public Hotel)

BIG SKYMILES BONUSES FOR HOTEL BOOKINGS. Have you heard of RocketMiles? It’s a new hotel booking site (new since last November) that is offering unbelievably large mileage bonuses for bookings at a handful of high-end hotels in several major cities around the country. For example, it’s offering a whopping 9,500 SkyMiles bonus for a two night stay at the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan in April; 10,000 SkyMiles for a two-night stay at Ian Schrager’s swanky new PUBLIC hotel in Chicago. How about 7,000 SkyMiles at the InterContinental San Francisco near Moscone Center? How do they do it? “Every property is selected and screened by our staff of experienced business travelers. Rocketmiles attracts the type of frequent travelers that our hotel providers are trying to reach, which is why they offer us rates with enough margin to bundle the rooms with incredible amounts of airline miles. It’s a win-win for everybody,” said Bjorn Larsen, one of RocketMiles’ founders contacted by The TICKET. We checked and found some of RocketMiles’s hotel rates mildly inflated compared to rates found on the hotel brand sites. For example, the RocketMiles rate at the InterConti San Francisco is $319 per night, but on IHG.com, it’s $284. So this might work best for “unmanaged” business travelers who simply have to submit a receipt to their client or company for reimbursement. Larsen contends that in a recent RocketMiles study, its rates were the same or lower than other online sites 85% of the time. Along with Delta SkyMiles, RocketMiles works with American AAdvantage, HawaiianMiles and United Mileage Plus. Check it out and let us know what you think.  Note: RocketMiles has a “refer a friend” offer on the site, and we signed up for it (and you can, too).  So if you make a booking from links posted here, we get 1000 miles. Come on and help us out! 

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TAXES & FEES…AND SURCHARGES. Delta’s new SkyMiles rules state that you’ll earn Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs) on fare only—you will not earn it on the taxes and fees included in the ticket price. When we first dug into that new wrinkle, it looked ugly. For example, on a $1,149 coach fare between Atlanta and London in May, nearly half that– $644– is comprised of “taxes/carrier-imposed fees,” which made it look like you’d only earn 505 MQDs for that round trip.

Screen shot 2013-04-02 at 4.58.00 PM

That seemed like a total rip off, so we asked Delta to confirm.

Thankfully, Delta told The TICKET that it’s only the government-imposed taxes and fees that don’t count as MQDs. Since “surcharges” are imposed by Delta, they do count toward MQDs. In the case of the $1,149 ticket to London, there’s a $458 “carrier imposed international surcharge.” So when you tack that on to the $505 base fare, you get $963—and 963 MQDs.

Screen shot 2013-04-02 at 5.19.18 PM

Not great, but not as bad as we thought.

This means that the math used in this widely circulated CNN/Fortune/Money article about Medallion Qualification Dollars– which was sent to us by many alarmed TICKET readers– is not correct.

SKYMILES IN YOUR WILL? Here’s another reason to burn up those banked SkyMiles as soon as you can. Last month Delta quietly (and without any warning) changed its rules when it comes to passing your SkyMiles along to heirs when/if you die. The new rules state that as of March 2013 “miles may not be transferred…upon death.” Old rules allowed an executor to transfer miles to the accounts of heirs. Delta joins several other carriers that do not allow mileage transfers upon death. How do you get around this? First, those who are terminally ill should transfer miles to heirs as soon as possible. At a minimum, everyone should leave their SkyMiles account number and login information with someone who can redeem miles or make transfers in the event of their demise. Have you done this??

Screen shot 2013-04-02 at 5.59.06 PM

 

*****

V4R8GNSJRTNA

15 top business travel tweeters

twitter_londonHave you dabbled in Twitter….or are you a power user? Let’s face it, Twitter can be overwhelming for time-pressed business travelers. Who has the time to sort through the millions of #travel-related tweets?

Finding truly useful business travel information can be as tough as finding that free drink coupon at the bottom of your carry-on bag. But flitting around on Twitter can unearth some very useful, topical information that can help you save money, have better trips, and be a better-informed traveler.

To help you out, here is a list of those I feel are the top Tweeters when it comes to business travel.

(Listed in alphabetical order)

@ajcairlines – The AJC’s Kelly Yamanouchi does a great job keeping up with, and tweeting out, newsy and helpful info regarding aviation and Atlanta airport news.

@ausbt - The Australian Business Traveller tweets from down under with news and advice that that doesn’t just apply to Australians.

@barbdelollis – It’s smart to follow USA Today’s super-connected hotel blogger Barbara Delollis, who keeps us up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in at hotels—every business traveler’s home away from home on the road.

@cjmcginnis - That’s me. Having covered the business travel beat since 1991, I’ve developed a good nose for what’s important to frequent travelers, and provide links to top travel news as well as my posts on BBC.com, SFgate, The TICKET (of course)  and elsewhere.

@econbiztravel – Official postings from Gulliver, The Economist’s excellent business travel blog—a good mix of US and European coverage.

@executivetravel – The twitter feed from Executive Travel Magazine, “which supports the affluent, executive lifestyle of the world’s business leaders.”

@frequentlyflyin – The feed from LA-based Darren Booth, who is CNBC’s Road Warrior editor, and also writes the FrequentlyFlying.com blog.

twitter-floowme@garyleff – The prolific Washington, DC-based Gary Leff writes the popular View From the Wing blog, and primarily tweets news and strategies for managing loyalty points.

@globetrotscott – New York-based Scott Mayerowitz is the airline reporter for the Associated Press, and frequently breaks important business travel news with his tweets.

@johnnyjet – LA-based John DiScala is the travel industry’s social media master, and supplies a steady stream of useful links and updates from his frequent jaunts around the world.

@sean_oneill – Travel techies should follow London-based Sean O’Neill, who covers travel tech for BBC.com and Tnooz.

@skiftnews – Skift.com is a slick and sophisticated new travel news site that’s taken the industry by storm, and its twitter feed provides an excellent, frequently updated stream of travel industry intelligence that leans heavily in the direction of business travel.

@smartwomentrav – Don’t let her twitter handle fool you—Orlando-based author and blogger Carol Margolis tweets a helpful stream of business travel “pearls of wisdom” that apply to both sexes.

@stuckatairport – Business travelers spend as much time in airports as they do on planes. If there’s something going on at an airport in the US or around the world, blogger Harriet Baskas is one of the first to know about it…and tweet about it.

@thepointsguy – I get dizzy watching Miami-based Brian Kelly, aka The Points Guy, masterfully keep up with the frequent changes in airline, hotel and credit card programs, and then tweet out smart strategies for earning and burning.

@todayinthesky – Washington, DC-based Ben Mutzabaugh writes USA Today’s popular Today in the Sky blog, and is frequently the first to know… and tweet… important airline industry news.

@travelfoodguy – Vermont-based bon vivant Larry Olmsted provides business travelers a helpful stream of all-important dining, golf and travel advice, along with links to his work on Forbes.com, Cigar Aficionado and USA Today.

Who did I miss? Please add your favorite business travel tweeters below! 

Checking in on new AirTran A+ Rewards card

Screen shot 2013-03-12 at 8.41.26 AM

Here’s an interesting discussion between TICKET reader N.G. and Southwest’s Director of Rapid Rewards regarding recent changes in the AirTran A+ Rewards card.

Dear Chris: I just opened my mail and received the new rules for AirTran’s Juniper/Barclay card that is moving over to Chase.

First, they are changing the annual bonus. I used to receive two $50.00 certificates each anniversary. Now it will be 2,000 A+ reward dollars which get transferred to two A+ Reward Credits. Remember, you need eight credits to get a one way flight; so the hundred dollars is changing to one quarter of a one way flight. That stinks!

Two credits sounds good but they are not flight credits. It takes eight to fly (one way).

They still say every $8,000 charged on the card gets another credit bonus (above the one credit per $1,000 spent). But the Chase site says it will take $9,600 charged to get the AirTran credit bonus.

They are just trying to make me leave…

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I now have over 10 years of Elite status with AirTran and have only flown Delta once (Brazil)  in the last five years. I never could get past Silver with Delta because I only fly short hops…

But now Southwest is the new owner and bad things are happening. Like no more business class. And a lot of standing in the cattle yard to board.

And, we still have no idea about Elite reciprocity over at Southwest…

Regards;

NG (Half million Delta; quarter million AirTran; none on Southwest yet)

The TICKET contacted AirTran/Southwest with N.G.’s letter. Here’s what they said:

Dear N.G.:

We’re very sorry for your disappointment in receiving the recent communication regarding your Barclays A+ Rewards Credit Card change in ownership letter. We truly value your loyalty and welcome the opportunity to respond to your concerns.

Southwest B737 at ATL. (Chris McGinnis)

Southwest B737 at ATL. (Chris McGinnis)

As we combine the operations of AirTran and Southwest, we want to ensure you continue to get the most value from your A+ Rewards Credit Card program.  Over time, A+ Members may have fewer opportunities to use the certificates as our terminals change from AirTran to Southwest. [Full integration is expected by end of 2014.]   By changing your Anniversary Bonus to 2,000 A+ Rewards Dollars, which is equal to two A+ Rewards Credits, you’ll be able to redeem them towards AirTran flights and upgrades or transfer them to your Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Member account program.  Plus, the 2 A+ Rewards Credits are valid for 24 months as opposed to the certificates which were only valid for one year. We hope that this will give you more flexibility and give you opportunities to fly more on our extended network.

In regard to the information you saw on Chase’s website concerning the amount you’ll need to spend in order to receive your credits, the information you relayed in your note is information for Customers that apply for a new card, not existing Cardholders.  You’ll continue to receive one A+ Rewards Credit for every 1,000 A+ Rewards Dollars you earn. The way you earn rewards will improve with the transition to Chase.  While you’ll continue to earn two A+ Rewards Dollars per $1 for purchases made directly with AirTran Airways, you’ll now also earn two A+ Rewards Dollars per $1 for Southwest Airline purchases and purchases made with Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Hotel and Car Rental Partners.  For all other purchases, you’ll continue to earn one A+ Rewards Dollar per $1 spent on all other purchases.  The complete Program rules and regulations will be included in your welcome package along with your new card.

We know our Customers are anxiously awaiting for integration updates. If you’d like for your A+ Rewards Elite Status to be reciprocated on Southwest Airlines, we’d be happy to accommodate that request for you. [Emphasis added] Please provide us with your account information so we can take care of that or feel free to call A+ Customer Service (1-888-327-5878) directly to request through one of our A+ Customer Service Representatives. Again, we value your loyalty and would welcome the opportunity to discuss further with you.

Sincerely,

Jonathan Clarkson, Director of Rapid Rewards, Southwest Airlines

We presented N.G. with that note, and he swung back with a final word that reflects a lot of the frustration frequent flyers are feeling with not just Southwest, but all loyalty programs.

Thanks, Chris.

The point they still miss is I am used to receiving $100.00 each year and the new system will give me 1/4 of a one way ticket; which is worth about $40.00 since you can only use them on cheap segments and have to double up to get the more desirable flights…

But, I guess everyone is squeezing the programs.

Hilton just made some changes that take away from the Diamond members. What are these guys thinking?

Regards,

NG

How do YOU feel about the current state of frequent travel loyalty programs? Are they taking away more than they are giving us? Please leave your comments below. 

Spring travel could be pricey, dicey

Spring breakers to invade Florida in late March. (Photo: Ampresco / Flickr)

Spring breakers to invade Florida in late March. (Photo: Ampresco / Flickr)

Combine a long, cold winter, spiking gasoline prices, and an improving economy. Then fold in a very early Easter and you have the recipe for what could be a very crowded and expensive spring travel season. To avoid the highest prices and the possibility of sold out flights, hotels or rental cars, those planning March trips should make reservations as soon as possible– especially if headed to popular spring break destinations such as Florida (especially Gulf coast cities such as Panama City, Destin, Ft Walton Beach), Mexico, nearby Caribbean resorts in Bahamas or Dominican Republic, and Rocky Mountain ski resorts.

This year, the peak spring travel season will be compact–only about three weeks– beginning on Friday, March 8 and lasting until Monday April 1. Already, advance bookings for March at Best Western’s 2000+ hotels in the US are up 8.9% compared to this time last year.

Due to an unusually early Easter (Sunday, March 31), March is going to be a month when college students, families and business travelers converge on the nation’s airports, highways and hotels. Collegiate spring break will peak in mid-to-late-March during mid-semester break. Family spring break will peak during the last week of March when most elementary and high schools close prior to Easter weekend. Spring Break week for Emory and UGA March 9-17; Georgia State and Georgia Tech: March 16-23.

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Rowdy spring breakers whoop it up in Mexico (Photo: EytonZ / Flickr)

Rowdy spring breakers whoop it up in Mexico (Photo: EytonZ / Flickr)

To avoid the biggest crowds at airports, try to avoid traveling on weekends during the peak collegiate spring break period–from roughly March 8 through April 1. If you are flying on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays during March, you’ll find airports (like ATL!)  in or near college campuses and warm weather destinations packed with vacationing students, creating longer lines at airport security. Also, beware of crowding and possible delays on highways and skyways on the days leading up to and shortly after Easter Sunday, March 31.

In addition, St Patrick’s Day falls smack in the middle of spring break on Sunday, March 17 this year. Travelers should expect extreme vigilance on the part of police and highway patrol when it comes to drinking and driving.

Peak spring break travel season should end on about Tuesday, April 2. From April 3 through May 23 there will be an earlier-than-normal “shoulder season”–of the best times of year to save money and avoid crowds–and one of the smartest times time to schedule business trips. During shoulder season, demand for travel (and prices) drops significantly from the highs you’ll see during the spring and summer peaks. (The summer travel season kicks off on Memorial Day–May 27– weekend.)

TIP: If you are a business traveler staying over in a resort or beachside area, ask for a quiet room away from the pool or other public areas, which may attract a rowdy spring break crowd.

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Airfares:
Since January 1, airlines have attempted three across-the-board fare hikes. The first two failed. The jury is still out on whether or not the third one will stick. But don’t think that this means prices will not rise. Over the last several years, airlines have reduced the number of seats flying. At the same time, improvements in the economic outlook and consumer confidence are translating into more demand for air travel— and when you have high demand and limited supply, prices rise. Therefore, spring travelers should budget for higher airfares (up 5-10% compared to last year), and more fees.

TIP: To get the lowest fares, try to plan trips during non-peak times, such as April or May known as the “shoulder season.” Also, travelers who can travel mid-week–on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays are also more likely to find lower fares.

Hotels:
While demand for hotels is increasing, average rates have only crept up about 5% compared to this time last year. This should be a relief for travelers who are finding that they are spending more than they’d like to at the gas pump or when buying airline tickets.

Over the last two years, hotel rates have jumped the most in large coastal cities in the US such as Boston, New York, Washington DC, San Francisco and Seattle. Rates in smaller, interior US cities remain about the same as this time last year.

Nonetheless, with the compact nature of this spring’s peak month of March, expect higher rates than normal, especially in popular warm-weather regions

Last Minute Deals:
Waiting around for last minute deals or flash sales rarely results in significant discounts during peak travel periods such as spring break.

Those who have their heart set on a specific destination in March should make reservations early in order to get the best deals. Waiting around for last minute deals is only advisable if you really don’t care where you go…you just want to get away.

On the other hand, waiting for a last minute deal makes much more sense if you plan to travel during periods of lighter demand, such as April or May, when travel providers are more likely to unload their excess inventory at big discount.

–Chris McGinnis

This item appeared first on Best Western’s youmustbetrippin.com blog for which I write.

*****

Lowest travel prices of the year

Mexico is magical (and cheap) during the so-called “dead weeks” of winter (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Did you know that right now… in early January… is the cheapest time of year to travel? We are in the midst of what are known in the industry as “dead weeks” and travel bargains abound.

The dead weeks are a good time for business travelers on a budget to get out there and dig up some new business face-to-face. It’s also a great time for leisure travelers with flexible schedules to take advantage of amazingly low rates for quick last minute getaways.

How cheap, you may ask?

>Most fares from ATL to Florida are now $200 round trip… or less.

>Houston, Denver, Colorado Springs are going for about $220 round trip from ATL

>Chicago, second to NYC as the #1 biz travel destination for Atlantans, is running at about $220 round trip.

>Five and six night Caribbean cruise are rock bottom at $300-$350 for 4-6 nights ex Ft Lauderdale.

Look for these deals on last minute deal pages of web sites such as ExpediaAirFareWatchDog,HotwireTravelZoo, or apps like Hotel Tonight. (NOTE: Above prices checked Monday Jan 7 and subject to change.)

I’ve been working with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card over the last few months on a series of travel tips that it will be posting on its social media sites this year—reminding travelers that the card offers two points per dollar spent on travel and dining.

Here’s an early look at some of that advice:

DEAD WEEKS & EXCEPTIONS. The long, cold, dark stretch between the Christmas/New Years holiday and Easter may seem to last forever, but thankfully there are two long weekends to help break up the monotony of winter: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday January 21 and President’s Day on Monday, February 18. While travel prices are generally very low during winter months, you can expect to see spikes around these long weekends as demand rises.

EXTRA LONG WEEKEND? Romantics might consider turning Valentine’s Day (Thursday, Feb 14) into a nice four-or-five-day weekend by combining it with the long Presidents Day Weekend.  But keep in mind that many others will likely have the same romantic notion, and higher demand will lead to higher prices over this weekend.

EASTER COMES VERY EARLY. Another date to keep in mind: Easter, which comes very early this year on Sunday, March 31. This means that most spring break travel will be concentrated in the month of March this year, leading to much higher prices. The good news is that an early Easter means that we’ll see a longer “shoulder season” during April and May when the weather begins to improve, but demand and prices remain low and flexible travelers can score some great last minute deals.

(Have you scored your 500 Delta SkyMiles bonus for using TICKET sponsor Peachy Airport Parking yet?)

Top bargain destinations for winter travel:

Las Vegas: If you are looking for a fun and inexpensive time to visit Las Vegas, January’s the time to go—but be careful. When there are big conventions in town (like the Consumer Electronics Show Jan 8-11), prices spike… but at the same time, they drop dramatically during non-convention periods. For example, rooms at big name resorts like the Venetian and Aria are in the $500 range during CES this week. But make your trip during the week of January 22, and you’ll pay only about $179 per night.

Cross country skiing near Crested Butte, Colorado. (Photo: Trailsource.com)

Colorado: Heated airline competition in Denver has made it one of the cheapest cities in the US to fly into or out of. That helps bring down the budget for winter ski trips to Colorado all winter long. If you want to find the very best deals, book your trip in early January after the holiday crowds have gone home. But do it before the long Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend (Jan 21), when prices begin to rise, and then peak on President’s Day weekend, and then remain high into March. You might be taking a chance with snow conditions, but you’ll find great deals if you can wait for the two-week period between Easter (March 31) and April 15 when ski resorts close for the season.

Utah: Utah may be less of a bargain when it comes to airfare, but hotel deals make up for the difference. Instead of overnighting in pricey slope side condos or hotels, stay and après-ski in relatively inexpensive Salt Lake City instead and commute up to the ski resorts, many of which are within 30-45 minute radius of downtown. Another great deal: If you fly into Salt Lake City in the morning and bring your airline boarding pass to any of Park City’s four ski resorts on the same day, they will give you a free lift pass for your first day on the slopes. Details here.

Latin America. January and February are magical in Mexico because hotel and resort prices are low, the sun is out, beaches are warm, and the big crowds don’t come until March, which is peak Spring break travel season. Due to the lack of demand, airfares between the US and Mexico can be remarkably inexpensive, too. If you’d like to venture further south, consider a winter trip to Argentina, which still offers excellent value to US travelers due to its wobbly economy and currency. Buenos Aires is considered “the Paris of South America,” and offers a warm, cosmopolitan alternative to Europe’s cold wet winters. Brazil, on the other hand, is very expensive for Americans now due to it improving economy and significantly stronger currency.

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Anna Maria Island near Tampa is one of Florida’s best kept secrets. (Photo: Florida Bird Watchers)

Northern Florida. Unlike southern Florida hotspots like Miami or Ft Lauderdale, which pack in snowbirds paying high peak season rates all winter long, consider a break in northern Florida instead. Due to cooler winter weather and less demand, airfares (to Orlando, Jacksonville, Tampa, Tallahassee or Pensacola) and hotel rates tend to bottom out in January and February. While you may not be able to swim and sunbathe, you can still enjoy long walks on beaches, local seafood, and gorgeous sunsets. It’s also the cheapest time of year to enjoy nearby attractions such as Disney World or SeaWorld.

Where are YOU going this winter?

Editorial Disclaimer: This editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program. Responses in the comments section are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.”