Ugly Chinese + Delta first class sale + United fleet + Hackers on planes + Big summer ahead

Gorgeous light thru new stained glass inside the Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Gorgeous colored light flows thru new stained glass inside the Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills’ 12 most popular posts over the last week… plus a few newsy nuggets we missed. 

1. The tone of reader comments here is surprising: Ugly Chinese worse than ugly Americans?

2. One of two first class sales from Delta: First class airfare sale for summer

3. At long last, a public beta: Big changes at United.com

4. Is the attraction to Airbnb generational? Airbnb just won’t quit

Weekend Edition5. More new car smell: Hertz’s big new fleet: 235,000 cool cars

6. Most are headed south: Where will United fly its 787 Dreamliners?

7. Delta shows its true colors: You don’t have to be gay to fly first class

8. Hacking flight plans from seatback entertainment systems: United offers one million miles to hackers

9. United’s big spend in IAH making Chicago jealous: United’s shiny new terminal in Houston

10. Most engaging headline this week :) FAT FUK & FAR: Decoding airport codes

11. The ugly Chinese at it again: World’s biggest boondoggle?

12. Don’t overlook this option this summer! Premium economy at economy prices this summer on Lufthansa

TWO new 50,000 mile bonuses: United and Southwest. Scroll down for details.

Our favorite reader comment this week:

Regarding the post Ugly Chinese worse than ugly Americans? “They probably don’t know any better or that they are considered rude. So yes, if the Chinese government steps in to educate their outgoing residents on how not to be the Ugly Chinese – that would be a plus for all of us.” -Susan

Taking off on vacation or business this summer? Check out TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis new video to find out what to expect. CLICK image to launch video.

Click image to watch TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis talk about saving money on summer travel

Click image to watch TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis talk about saving money on summer travel

Juicy nuggets of news from other sources that we missed on TravelSkills this week: 

Hacker actually did control plane?

Is United two timing Chicago?

Delta does not like FAA plan for NYC airports

Update on Virgin America’s Viability

It’s confirmed: Alaska’s new preferred seating now for sale

SurfAir in Wine Country

Free wi-fi at all Spanish Airports by end of year

Hertz raises summer prices

Delta-Southwest spat over gates at Dallas Love won’t be resolved by July 6 deadline

All-Audi Silvercar opens up in Ft. Lauderdale this week; Also has MIA and PHX on sale this month for $39 a day.

Oakland Airport starts Terminal 1 improvement project

Airbus patents wide-aisle aircraft design

DOT: Airlines don’t have to honor mistake fares

Air New Zealand cranks out another eye-catching safety video- with lots of skin

Breaking news: Cheese slices at United Club at SFO are back to full thickness…but they are not Tillamook. Did you notice?

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TWO 50,000 mile bonus offers to consider if you are in the market for a new credit card:

bonus BEST FOR UNITED FLYERS  The United Explorer Card is perfect for those who don’t fly or spend enough to earn elite status– that’s because the card provides some nice elite level perks like priority boarding, passes to United Clubs and free first checked bags. Other nice perks: no irritating foreign transaction fees, primary car rental collision coverage and double miles on tickets purchased from United. Right now you can get 50,000 bonus miles for signing up and spending $3,000 in the first three months. Plus, the $95 annual fee is waived for the first year. Details in our TravelSkills post about the card here.

bonusBEST for travelers who love Southwest‘s no frills approach to travel: The Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Card offers 50,000 points (enough for TWO roundtrip flights) after spending just $2,000 in first three months, plus a 6,000 point bump every year on your cardmember anniversary. In addition, it does not charge foreign transaction fees, and offers two points per dollar spent on Southwest flights as well as its hotel and car rental partners. What’s nice about this offer is that the 50K bonus points get you almost half way toward Southwest’s coveted Companion Pass status, which requires 110,000 points. Details


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Hertz’s big new fleet: 235,000 cool cars

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s brand new website breaks out + Chinese tourists on notice + Fast trains in Spain + United’s 787 Dreamliner plans + New Oneworld lounge at LAX +

The 2015 Porsche Macan Turbo joins Hertz's Dream Car Collection (Image: Porsche)

The 2015 Porsche Macan Turbo joins Hertz’s Dream Car Collection (Image: Porsche)

Hertz Corp. said it is undertaking a “significant refresh” of the U.S. fleets of its three brands — Hertz, Dollar and Thrifty — by bringing in a wide variety of new 2015 models; in fact, the company said that as of April 30, it has added 235,000 new vehicles to its rental lots.

Have you tried one yet?

The new 2015 cars are coming from a wide range of manufacturers including Chrysler, Fiat, Ford, GM, Hyundai, Infiniti, Mazda, Kia, , Mercedes Benz, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen.

New models that will be “prominent across U.S. locations,” Hertz said, include the Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry and Chevrolet Cruze.

The company is also updating its Dream Cars Collection of luxury vehicles by adding the 2015 Mercedes C-Class, the 355-hp Mercedes CLA45 AMG, and the Porsche Macan Turbo.

Hertz said that with the re-stocking of its domestic fleet, more than 80 percent of its cars will have fuel efficiency of at least 28 highway miles per gallon.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s brand new website breaks out + Chinese tourists on notice + Fast trains in Spain + United’s 787 Dreamliner plans + New Oneworld lounge at LAX + Global Entry at Oakland 


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Speeding across the plains of Spain on a train

Madrid's exotic Atocha Station (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Madrid’s exotic Atocha Station (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

This week TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis is in Spain and will be posting various dispatches from the trip in addition to our regular news and tips. First up: Riding Spain’s high-speed AVE train between Madrid and Barcelona.

The three-hour trip from Madrid to Barcelona begins at Madrid’s Atocha Station and ends at Barcelona-Sants station. Both are centrally located and inexpensive, plentiful cabs can connect you to meetings or hotels. (No Uber in Spain)

Spain's Renfe AVE high speed train preparing to depart Madrid Atocha (Chris McGinnis)

Spain’s Renfe AVE high speed train preparing to depart Madrid Atocha (Chris McGinnis)

Madrid’s Atocha is a gorgeous, bright and airy space where older trains once arrived and departed. But since high speed trains now use an adjacent platform, the original station space has been transformed into an unusually lush tropical garden lobby. (see above) That’s a nice way to start a trip!

One-way walk up train fares are in the the $135 range for tourist class and $225 for first class. (But advance purchase round trips and discounts are all over the map, so investigate before buying.)

First class seats on Spain's Renfe AVE trains (Chris McGinnis)

First class seats on Spain’s Renfe AVE trains (Chris McGinnis)

Advance purchase round trip airfares start as low as about $160, but you have to factor in the time and cost of airport transfers. Plus discounts and deals vary a lot, so investigate.

Trains depart Madrid roughly every half hour between 7:30 am and 9:00pm for the three-hour trip.

Tourist class seats on AVE trains are 4 abreast. (Chris McGinnis)

Tourist class seats on AVE trains are 4 abreast. (Chris McGinnis)

Trains are remarkably clean, quiet and comfortable in tourist or first class. There is plenty of room for luggage and lavatories in every car.

First class seats are slightly larger and three abreast, tourist class are four abreast.

Meals are served via by attendants via a trolley in first class and there’s a bar/cafe car where tourist class passengers can purchase food or drink.

The Zaragoza station is impressively modern and has a hotel (Chris McGinnis)

The Zaragoza station is impressively modern and has a hotel (Chris McGinnis)

Our train made three quick stops along the way. The station in Zaragoza was impressively contemporary and bright and even houses a new hotel.

Spain’s rail systems is called Renfe, an acronym for Red Nacional de Ferrocarriles Espanoles, which means National Network of Spanish Locomotives.

Checking out the countryside on Spain's Renfe AVE trains (Chris McGinnis)

Checking out the countryside on Spain’s Renfe AVE trains (Chris McGinnis)

Top speeds are in the 190 mph range and the plains of Spain looked very much like New Mexico or Arizona to me. The countryside was much drier near Madrid, but greened up substantially as we approached coastal Barcelona and Catalonia.  

First class passengers get hot meals served by attendants on Spain's AVE trains (Chris McGinnis)

First class passengers get hot meals served by attendants on Spain’s AVE trains (Chris McGinnis)

Regrettably, there is no wi-fi on the these AVE trains, which is disappointing for business travelers. However, there are several channels of music, radio and a movie (Spanish only) which you can access via a headphone jack in your seat.

French TGV train on left meets up with our AVE train in Barcelona (Chris McGinnis)

French TGV train on left meets up with our AVE train in Barcelona (Chris McGinnis)

When our train arrived in Barcelona, a French TGV train was on the same platform, which meant I could have jumped off the train from Madrid and taken off for Paris in a matter of minutes. Why can’t we have a system like this in the US?

Before the train departed Atocha station, I took a sneak-peek at the conductor’s cabin at the rear of the train. Very cool! Take a look at me taking a seat in the conductor’s chair on the TravelSkills Facebook page.

-Chris McGinnis

The United Explorer Card is perfect for those who don’t fly or spend enough to earn elite status– that’s because the card provides some nice elite level perks like priority boarding, passes to United Clubs and free first checked bags. Other nice perks: no irritating foreign transaction fees, primary car rental collision coverage and double miles on tickets purchased from United. Right now you can get 50,000 bonus miles for signing up and spending $3,000 in the first three months. Plus, the $95 annual fee is waived for the first year. Details in our TravelSkills post about the card here.

 


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UberX okay in LA by summer?

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: Star Wars invade DEN + United’s new 50,000 mile bonus + Secret stash of hidden hotel deals + Big new carrier for ATL+ Roomier widebodies on domestic flights! 

(Photo: Jason Tester Guerilla / Flickr)

(Photo: Jason Tester Guerilla / Flickr)

Most Uber- or Lyft- loving frequent travelers know the silly drill when arriving at LAX: You get off the plane hoping to summon an UberX or Lyft ride, and you get a message stating “no cars available.”

At that point, you sigh and decide to pay the premium for UberBlack or SUV. Or pay a taxi $50 for a ride into town vs UberX or Lyft fares of about $30.

Or, like others, you jump on a hotel, rental car or parking lot shuttle, take a ride off airport grounds, and have your UberX pick you up there for your ride into town.

Deal: Get $20 off your first Uber ride!

The practice has become so common that companies providing shuttle services are now asking for proof that you have a reservation and are not freeloading.

All that may be coming to an end soon, though. Thankfully. Here’s what the LA Times is reporting today:

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 8.15.17 AM

Luckily in San Francisco, Portland and many other cities, airport officials have worked out a deal allowing UberX and Lyft to pick up passengers at at the airport. The deals require drivers to pay the airport a fee of around $4 for each pick up.

The hope is that LA can reproduce that- and soon. Let’s hope so!

Deal: Get $20 off your first Uber ride!

–Chris McGinnis

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: Star Wars invade DEN + United’s new 50,000 mile bonus + Secret stash of hidden hotel deals + Big new carrier for ATL+ Roomier widebodies on domestic flights! 


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Audi tests rental app in San Francisco

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s new 50,000 mile bonus + Easy 1,000 AAdvantage miles + The most outrageous luxury suites in the sky +Virgin’s new LAX Clubhouse! 

San Francisco is the test market for Audi's rental app. (Image: Audi)

San Francisco is the test market for Audi’s rental app. (Image: Audi)

San Francisco travelers can now use an app to order up a rental vehicle from Audi to be delivered to their door — but it’ll cost you, with daily rates starting at $165 for an Audi allroad, and going higher depending on the model you select.

The rate scale tops out at $1,195 a day for a V10, 525 hp R8 (if you think you can handle it).

The service is called Audi on demand, and it has launched in beta only within San Francisco’s city limits. You can download the app at the Audi on demand website and use it to register for the program and then reserve a car. Payment is made with a credit card.

When you complete your rental, you can have an Audi concierge come to pick up the car, or you can take it to an Audi on demand garage.

Audi said it expects to expand the program to other U.S. cities in the years ahead– but were just not sure if there are many more markets like San Francisco with a bunch of wealthy, sporty, carless entrepreneurs that could sustain those rates.

Would you?

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s new 50,000 mile bonus + Easy 1,000 AAdvantage miles + The most outrageous luxury suites in the sky +Virgin’s new LAX Clubhouse! 


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New hotel openings of note

Rendering of the new Hyatt Regency Tyson's Corner now open in a mixed use development on the Metro Silver Line

Rendering of the new Hyatt Regency Tyson’s Corner now open in a mixed use development on the Metro Silver Line

More openings: D.C., Georgia, Colorado. Hyatt opened a new property in metro Washington D.C.’s fast-growing Tysons Corner area, 15 miles from both Washington Dulles and Washington Reagan National; the 300-room Hyatt Regency Tysons Corner Center is accessible via the Washington Metro Silver Line— train service to Dulles Airport on the Silver Line should commence in 2018. 

Elsewhere near the nation’s capital, Marriott has cut the ribbon on another new AC property: The AC Hotel Washington National Harbor, across the Capital Beltway bridge from Alexandria, Va.

A new Westin opens on Georgia's Jekyll Island

A new Westin opens on Georgia’s Jekyll Island (Image: Westin)

Starwood Preferred Guest members have a new option for beachfront meetings and vacations: the newly-opened Westin Jekyll Island off the Georgia coast, part of the larger Jekyll Island Beach Village development, located 4-5 hours (by car) southeast of Atlanta.

In Boulder, Colorado, there’s a new Hyatt Place hotel on Pearl Street, fortuitously located  almost across the street from the site selected for construction of a big new Google campus.

In Case You Missed It…

 

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Uber’s back in Portland

Portland gets Uber back (Image: Uber)

Portland gets Uber back (Image: Uber) CLICK to get $20 off your first ride

Portland OKs Uber — for now. The Portland, Oregon City Council has agreed to let Uber and Lyft operate in the city for the next four months, subject to certain conditions.

Currently, UberX is the only option in town and airport to city runs cost $30-$40 each way.

Get $20 off your first Uber ride! Click here.

Opposition from the city had caused Uber to stop operating there shortly after it started in December.

The council said drivers for ride-sharing services must have liability insurance, get background checks, obtain business licenses and have their cars inspected.

At the same time, the council voted to deregulate the city’s traditional taxi industry, removing restrictions on hiring and fares. The council will review the situation after the four-month test period.

Unfortunately, Uber’s still having a tough time cracking back into Nevada— it’s especially painful not to have Uber in Las Vegas. Hey, did you check out our post on the latest, greatest, hottest hits in Vegas, baby? Here it is.

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Renting a car in Charlotte just got easier

Charlotte-Douglas Airport's new hourly parking deck is home to a  consolidated car rental facility.

Charlotte-Douglas Airport’s new hourly parking deck is home to a consolidated car rental facility.  (Photo: Charlotte Douglas Airport)

New rental facility at Charlotte. Rental car operations at North Carolina’s Charlotte Douglas International Airport have moved to a newly opened consolidated facility in the airport’s new hourly parking deck.

The new rental facility is a short walk from the terminal, eliminating the need for the rental car shuttles previously used.

Next year, the airport plans to begin building a new concourse on the site of the old rental car lots.

New central or “consolidated” rental car centers are all the rage these days…there’s even a wikipedia page about the concept!

But are they better than what we had before? I’ve heard complaints about long distances from terminals, infrequent train or shuttle service, long walks, and of course, higher prices and sneaky fees to pay for the facilities. On the upside, these central facilities can be cleaner and safer and protected from the elements.

What do you think? Please leave your comments below.

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Runway closure at LAX + New Starwood brand + More passport kiosks + New tier for IHG elites + Fast cars

Runway closure could put a crimp on LA flights (Photo: Phil Whitehouse / Flickr)

Runway closure could put a crimp on LA flights (Photo: Phil Whitehouse / Flickr)

Runway work at LAX. Los Angeles International Airport has started work on an improvement project for all four of its runways that will continue almost uninterrupted for the next two years. The job will require the closure of one runway at a time, and as a result, “passengers may begin experiencing impacts such as delays or a slight increase in wait times aboard aircraft,” the airport authority said. It noted that the biggest impact might be on the operations of Airbus A380s and 747-800s, which can only use two of the airport’s runways. The project includes the addition of so-called “Runway Safety Areas” at the ends of each runway to give pilots a little more leeway if they undershoot or overshoot their landings. A similar project at San Francisco International last year had little impact on flight operations, and actually wrapped up ahead of schedule.

TravelSkills

**TRAVELSKILLS HOUSEKEEPING! We will be updating our format over the next few weeks to make it more easily read on mobile devices. Things could get a little buggy so please bear with us as we make the transition. Thank you, dear readers! We look forward to hearing your feedback when it’s all done.**

International passengers arriving at SFO can now use faster kiosks at customs (Photo: SFO)

International passengers arriving at SFO can now use faster kiosks at customs (Photo: SFO)

Customs kiosks come to SFO, LAS. Those automated passport control (APC) kiosks continue to proliferate at major U.S. airports — a good thing for flyers, since they can cut down the line time for those re-entering the country by up to 40 percent. This week, San Francisco International is hosting a media event to show off the first of 40 new APCs it is installing in its U.S. Customs arrivals facilities. (SFO’s a little late to the show, since more than 30 airports already have them.) Meanwhile, Las Vegas McCarran last week unveiled a number of newly installed APC kiosks in the Customs Arrivals Hall in TerminWeekend Editional 3. And Miami International — one of the first airports to deploy the devices — said it has ordered 44 more APC kiosks, which will give it a total of 80. Passengers use the devices to enter their personal information and scan their passports, receiving a receipt to present to a Customs officer. Important: These kiosks are not Global Entry kiosks.

HOTELS

New elite tier at IHG Rewards. InterContinental Hotels Group said it will add a new top membership level to its IHG Rewards Club in July, for those who earn 75,000 points in a year or stay 75 nights. Those who achieve this new tier will get 100 percent bonus points on qualifying stays, and a choice of 25,000 bonus points or the upgrading of a family member or friend to Platinum level in the program. In addition, “The qualification requirements for all membership levels have been restructured to BestWesternLogomake it easier for members to be rewarded for their loyalty,” IHG said — e.g., 10,000 points or 10 stays will earn a Gold membership, and 40,000 points/40 nights will qualify a Gold member for Platinum.

Related: How to get a tidy 70,000 IHG Rewards Club points!

How to get $50 from Best Western. Best Western’s new spring “Jump Start” promo can help cut the cost of your summer trip, which by most indicators, could be one of the most expensive in recent memory due to high demand. All you have to do is stay at Best Western twice between now and May 25, and you’ll get a $50 gift card to use this summer. Registration required

The Royal Palm South Beach is part of Starwood's new Tribute brand (Image: Royal Palm)

The Royal Palm South Beach is part of Starwood’s new Tribute brand (Image: Royal Palm)

Starwood’s new brand. Marriott has its Autograph Collection, Hilton has Curio, Choice Hotels has the Ascend Collection, and now Starwood has introduced its own new brand of independent but affiliated hotels. It’s called the Tribute Portfolio, and Starwood said its members will be “four star upper-upscale hotels.” The first Tribute property is the Royal Palm South Beach Miami, and others will soon join in Asheville, N.C.; Nashville, Tenn.; Savannah, Ga.; and Charleston, S.C., the company said. Tribute properties will retain their independent names and designs, but will take advantage of Starwood’s booking channels and will be a part of the Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty program. Starwood said it expects to have 100 members in the Tribute Portfolio in five years.

Like to drive fast cars and stay at fancy hotels? (Image: Hilton)

Like to drive fast cars and stay at fancy hotels? (Image: Hilton)

Hot cars at Waldorf-Astorias. Like to drive really hot cars that you would never dream of buying yourself? Hilton’s Waldorf Astoria brand has just introduced a new program called Waldorf Astoria Driving Experiences at 12 of its properties in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East. Participants can book a package that includes a hotel stay and a “premier supercar driving experience” that puts them behind the wheel of a Ferrari 458 Italia, McLaren MP4-12C, Porsche GT3, Lamborghini Huracan, or Lamborghini Gallardo. They’ll also get driving tips from racing pros and suggested local touring routes to follow.

Oldie but goodie: Don’t make these 8 mistakes when visiting San Francisco!

Considering a new credit card? Then consider these offers from our credit card partners: 

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card offers a nice 40,000 point sign up bonus (after spending $4,000 in first three months), and you can use points on several airlines, hotels and other travel providers. Nice: no irritating and expensive foreign transaction fees. That 40,000 point bonus with Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is good for $500 in travel when booking through the very robust and flexible Chase Ultimate Rewards program, plus it now offers primary rental car collision coverage (most cards provide secondary coverage).

Recent: Turkish Airlines pings Silicon Valley

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NYC airport squeeze + Uber taking over + New Turkish livery + Top hotel programs + New Marriott in Venice

Summer storms could trip up travelers at JFK (Photo: Caren Mack Photography)

Summer storms could trip up travelers at JFK (Photo: Caren Mack Photography)

Squeeze on NYC airspace? Runway repair work at New York JFK starting this spring and lasting through summer could mean flight delays not just at JFK but at all of the region’s airports, since their airspaces tend to overlap. The Associated Press reports that JFK will shut down its main arrivals runway at the end of April for almost five months for resurfacing and repairs, making it longer and wider and giving it a new lighting system. The availability of three remaining runways at JFK should preclude any flight operations problems during good weather, AP said, “but during inclement weather, the loss of that runway could cause a ripple effect of delays at all three of the major airports in the crowded skies above New York.” TIP: At JFK and other airports, try to fly as early in the day as possible during summer to avoid the season’s airport-snarling afternoon thunderstorms. Uber

Uber overtaking taxis for biz travel. Certify, a major provider of business travel expense reporting software, said its analysis of first quarter spending data shows that Uber is quickly making massive inroads into ground transportation. In this year’s first quarter, the firm said, Uber transactions by business travelers accounted for 46 percent of all paid car rides, up from 15 percent a year ago, while the proportion of taxi/limo/shuttle rides dropped from 85 percent to 53 percent. The average Uber ride cost $31.24, vs. a typical taxi fare of $35.40, Certify said. In San Francisco and Dallas, Uber rides now dominate over traditional taxi service for business travelers. If you haven’t joined the crowd and tried Uber yet, do so from this link and you’ll get $20 off your first Uber ride!

Turkish Airlines getting a special San Francisco-themed livery (Photo: Turkish Airlines)

A Turkish Airlines B777 getting a special San Francisco-themed livery (Photo: Turkish Airlines)

Turkish Airlines arrives. On Monday, Turkish Airlines inaugural Istanbul-San Francisco flight arrives painted in a specially themed livery. Turkish provided a sneak peak of the 777 getting all dolled up for the flight. We’ll have full coverage of the arrival here on TravelSkills and on our social media channels.

Loose change adds up for TSA. You know how you throw all your metal stuff into a bin when you go through the TSA security checkpoint, and if you’re in a big hurry to make your flight you might accidentally leave a few coins behind? Ever wonder what happens to that change? It goes into the TSA’s financial coffers and helps fund its operations. And just how much are we talking about? In 2014, travelers left behind pocket change totaling $674, 841. That’s a $37,000 increase from the previous year. New York JFK had the biggest spare change bonanza for TSA, at $42,550, followed by Los Angeles International at $41,506.

Recent: 6 tricky tipping dilemmas that trip up travelers

HOTELS

Best Western Reward points can be redeemed at 4,000 hotels worldwide, like this one near the Opera in Paris. (Chris McGinnis)

Best Western Rewards points can be redeemed at 4,000 hotels worldwide, like this one near the Opera in Paris. (Chris McGinnis)

Hotel Loyalty satisfaction poll. The newly released 2015 Hotel Loyalty/Rewards Program Satisfaction Report from J.D. Power and Associates ranks Hilton’s HHonors in the number one spot, tied with the Delta Privilege program at Canada’s Delta Hotels, a chain that was recently purchased by Marriott. Roaring into third place is Best Western’s Rewards program which has emerged as one of the powerhouses among hotel loyalty programs in recent years. In fourth place is the IHG Rewards Club at and in fifth, Marriott Rewards. The poll found that program members who can earn points for making product or service purchases at hotels showed much higher satisfaction scores than those who can’t; ditto for earning points at restaurants. The survey questioned 2,900 loyalty program members. What’s your favorite hotel program? Why?

Los Angeles restaurant recos: TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis just took a four-day business trip to Los Angeles and highly recommends two restaurants: One is perfect for a power lunch. The other is the newest hottest place to see and be seen. Check it our on our Facebook page, and be sure to LIKE it!

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Have you checked out Personal Capital yet? A powerful new tool from the former CEO of PayPay and Intuit (Quicken) to help busy people manage finances– some say it’s a better tool for wealth management than Mint.com. If you, like many business travelers, have a tough time keeping up with your investments, you should check it out today and help support TravelSkills!

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New JW Marriott Venice (Marriott)

Chic new JW Marriott Venice (Marriott)

Openings: Istanbul, Rio, Venice. In New York City, the former Mondrian Soho hotel on Crosby Street in Manhattan has been sold to new owners who have rebranded it as the NOMO SOHO (NOstalgic + MOdern) and brought it into the Preferred Hotels collection …Starwood Hotels has cut the ribbon on its first St. Regis property in Turkey. Located in an upscale shopping area in the city’s Nisantasi neighborhood, the new 118-room St. Regis Istanbul has floor-to-ceiling views of the Bosporus and a Spago restaurant from celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck … With the Summer Olympics coming to Rio de Janeiro next year, Hilton Worldwide has opened the 298-room Hilton Barra Hotel in the Brazilian city’s Barra da Tijuca neighborhood, five minutes from the Olympic Park … Forty acres of gardens and landscaping surround the newly opened JW Marriott Resort & Spa in Venice, Italy, located on a private island; most of the 191 rooms have glass walls and private balconies …  The new 391-room Sortis Hotel, Spa & Casino in Panama City, Panama, has become a member of Marriott’s Autograph Collection.

Weekend Edition

Did you miss yesterday’s issue of our Weekend Edition? No worries! Here ya go:

Delta hub in China? + Lufthansa lie-flat + AA points promo + Delta mileage sale + SAS new biz class

In Case You Missed It…

 

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Suspicious behaviors + 2 lounges at SEA-TAC + 80K HHonors points + CLEAR expands + New Wyndham program + Pricey room service

Keep yawning in check at the airport! (Photo: Natalia Lobato)

Keep yawning in check at the airport! (Photo: Natalia Lobato / Flickr)

Don’t do this at the airport. We recently reported on a lawsuit filed by the ACLU that seeks to put an end to TSA’s controversial SPOT program — Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques, in which TSA agents are trained to look for travelers exhibiting “suspicious” behaviors. Now a website called The Intercept has obtained a list of the specific behaviors that TSA agents are taught to watch for, like excessive yawning or throat-clearing, “widely open staring eyes,” or a face that appears “pale from recent shaving of beard.” Check out the list to see if you might be mistaken for a terrorist. Have you ever been singled out as “suspicious” by TSA personnel? Why?

Weekend EditionBig Hilton HHonors bonus. The Hilton HHonors Surpass/Amex card is offering a fat 80,000 HHonors Bonus Points if you spend $3,000 within the first three months of membership. If you are a Hilton regular, this card is a good one with automatic HHonors Gold status, plus you earn 12 points per dollar spent at Hilton brands. Annual fee: $75.  Details here

New lounges at Sea-Tac. Airport Lounge Development, which operates pay-per-use passenger retreats at several facilities, has opened a pair of them at Seattle-Tacoma International. An individual day pass to the facilities costs $35 (vs $50 at most major airline clubs), and the company also seeks out partnerships with international carriers who might want to offer the amenity to premium passengers. Known as ‘The Club,’ the Seattle locations are in Concourse A near Gate 11, and in the South Satellite near Gate 59. You’ll find similar clubs at seven other airports in the US (such as ATL, SJC), all with free snacks and beverages, Wi-Fi, workstations and showers.

Your CLEAR card will get you in the fast last at SF Giants games this season (Image: CLEAR)

Your CLEAR card will get you in the fast last at SF Giants games this season (Image: CLEAR)

CLEAR’s got game. After testing the concept last fall, airport trusted traveler company CLEAR will broaden its scope, setting up shop May 1 at the San Francisco Giants’ AT&T Park. Members will use biometric ID verification to gain expedited entry to the ballpark via a Fast Access lane located at the Willie Mays gate. (They will still be subject to bag checks, however.) CLEAR has identified major sports venues as a natural market for its product. (More on SFgate.) This spring, CLEAR says it will be adding service at Baltimore Washington and Miami International Airports. What do you think about CLEAR?

New entrance at ATL. Drivers heading for Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson’s domestic terminal can take advantage of a newly opened northbound entrance from Riverdale Road, made evident by a new 35-foot-tall sign. The new entrance means the previous airport access point from Riverdale Road, at the south end of Terminal Parkway, has been permanently closed. The change is made possible by the opening of the Riverdale Road-Airport Boulevard intersection. Airport officials said the change should mean safer trips for travelers by “eliminating short weaves and merges.” What’s more, “The improved roadways will also reduce congestion caused by traffic leaving the airport from the Rental Car Center and simplify airport access from Riverdale Road,” officials said.

Orange County OKs ride-sharing. Officials of southern California’s Orange County have approved passenger pick-ups by ride-sharing companies Uber and Wingz at John Wayne Airport. Both were due to start last week, under terms of a new agreement with the county that calls for the ride services to pay a fee of $2.25 per airport pick-up. Ride-sharing services were already allowed to drop off passengers at the airport, and Uber’s premium services like UberBLACK and UberSUV had been permitted to make pick-ups under a separate agreement.

Did you miss this? Coyotes (and other rare sights) on the runway

HOTELS

(Image: Hyatt)

(Image: Hyatt)

Room service/minibar costs rated. You’ve finished a long day of meetings and just want to crash in your hotel room with a club sandwich. But how much are you willing to pay for that sandwich? How about $24.15? That’s the typical cost of a club sandwich delivered by room service at New York City hotels — the most expensive in the country, according to a new TripAdvisor survey. How about just a snack, like peanuts from the minibar? That’ll cost $12.78 in Boston. A nice minibar vodka cocktail? New York wins again, at $16.76. In Denver, by contrast, the club sandwich is $11.65 and the vodka $7.17. And everything costs a lot less at hotels in foreign destinations, the survey found. Readers: What’s the most you ever paid for a hotel room service order or a minibar selection?

Wyndham revamps Rewards. Wyndham Hotel Group, which has 7,650 properties worldwide across a number of brands, plans to launch a “re-imagined” version of its Wyndham Rewards loyalty program on May 11. The company said the “core features” of the new Wyndham rewards include earnings of 10 points per dollar spent or a minimum of 1,000 points per stay, whichever is more; “Go Free” awards that let members claim a free night for 15,000 points with no blackout dates; and “Go Fast” awards, which allow members to book a night for 3,000 points plus cash. For details, go to www.wyndhamrewards.com.

In Case You Missed It…

  •  How to avoid fees when you want an earlier flight.

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Have you checked out Personal Capital yet? A powerful new tool from the former CEO of PayPay and Intuit (Quicken) to help busy people manage finances– some say it’s a better tool for wealth management than Mint.com. If you, like many business travelers, have a tough time keeping up with your investments, you should check it out today and help support TravelSkills!

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Most expensive city + Airport phoning + 25 million more PreCheckers + Cameras in rental cars + 2-4-1 deal in LA

San Francisco's dubious new title (Photo: Gags9999 / Flickr)

San Francisco’s dubious new title (Photo: Gags9999 / Flickr)

San Francisco: We’re Number One! The City by the Bay has captured first place in a new study, but it might not be an enviable ranking: According to the trade publication Business Travel News, San Francisco is the most expensive business travel destination in the U.S., with average costs (hotel, meals and incidentals) totaling $509.50 a day. That’s almost $15 a day more than second-place New York City. Boston ranked third, at $465.52. But San Francisco is a bargain compared to the travel costs Weekend Editionin some foreign cities, like number one-ranked Caracas ($1,325) and number two London ($576).

U.S. airport mobile networks rated. Have you noticed differences in your phone’s mobile data connections from one airport to another? The differences in network reliability and speed are real — and significant, according to a new report from RootMetrics. The company tested data networks at 50 major U.S. airports, and determined that Memphis International provided the best experience for travelers, while Dallas Love Field showed the biggest improvement, jumping from 40th place in a previous study to fifth place in the latest rankings. Rounding out the top five were Pittsburgh in second place, Chicago O’Hare in third, and Ft. Myers, Fla. in fourth. San Diego ranked in last place among the 50 airports. Atlanta scored a seventh place ranking, while San Francisco was 45th.

World’s 10 highest (and lowest) quality cities

PreCheck at Honolulu International (Photo: Hawaiian Airlines / Flickr)

PreCheck at Honolulu International (Photo: Hawaiian Airlines / Flickr)

‘Trusted Travelers’ increase. Do those TSA PreCheck security lines seem to be getting a bit longer? The Transportation Security Administration said last week that the number of registered PreCheck members has topped the 1 million mark. What’s more, Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry program — whose members are also eligible for the expedited PreCheck treatment — now counts more than 2 million travelers in its ranks. But just wait: TSA officials told a House committee hearing last week that they expect to sign up another 25 million Americans in PreCheck and CBP Trusted Traveler programs over the next several years — insisting that they would also reduce the number of non-members who are currently being selected for the speedier security lanes.

Have you checked out Personal Capital yet? A powerful new tool from the former CEO of PayPay and Intuit (Quicken) to help busy people manage finances– some say it’s a better tool for wealth management than Mint.com. If you, like many business travelers, have a tough time keeping up with your investments, you should check it out today and help support TravelSkills!

Why are cameras in Hertz cars? If you sat behind the driver’s seat in a rental car and saw a camera pointed squarely at you, wouldn’t you be a little suspicious — or at least curious? That’s what some Hertz renters are seeing: cameras and microphones installed in the company’s NeverLost navigational units. Hertz insists that the cameras are currently non-functioning and can’t be turned on. It suggests that in the future, renters might be able to turn them on for “videoconferencing” with Hertz representatives. Huh?

The new Kempinski Beijing looks like it belongs on another planet! (Photo: Kempinski)

The new Sunrise Kempinski Hotel Beijing looks like it belongs on another planet! (Photo: Kempinski)

Openings: Bahrain, Budapest, Beijing. A man-made island overlooking the capital city of Manama is the setting for the newly opened Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay. The 273-room urban resort’s restaurants were overseen by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck … The newest luxury hotel in Budapest is the Aria, which opened this month; located next to St. Stephen’s Basilica, it offers free breakfast and free high-speed Internet … The new 306-room Sunrise Kempinski Hotel Beijing, which boasts extensive meeting facilities and a unique circular design, is actually located at Yanqi Lake near the Yan Mountains, almost 30 miles from the city center … Raffles Hotels has cut the ribbon on the 173-room Raffles Jakarta, linked to the new Ciputra Artpreneur Centre in the city’s Golden Triangle … Effective October 1, 2015, Hilton will take over management of the Hotel Nikko Tokyo, located in the waterfront area of Odaiba, rebranding it as the Hilton Tokyo Odaiba … In Central America, InterContinental Hotels Group has opened a newly built Crowne Plaza less than a mile from Panama’s Tocumen International Airport.

The Getty Center overlooking the 405 and downtown LA (Photo: Justin Vidamo / Flickr)

The Getty Center overlooking the 405 and downtown LA (Photo: Justin Vidamo / Flickr)

Culture in L.A. Got business in Los Angeles? If you’re going there between April 6 and May 19, you might want to tack on a couple of extra days and bring your significant other along. Those are the dates of the new “Culture L.A.” promotion organized by the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board. Visitors who stay in a hotel at least one night during the promotion period can get two-for-one admissions to more than 30 of the area’s top performing arts venues and tourist attractions, including the Getty Center, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles Zoo, L.A. Chamber Orchestra, Aquarium of the Pacific and many more.

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Uber NYC + Feds watching you + New LAX lounge + Best airport + Airport parking

(Photo: Jason Tester Guerilla / Flickr)

(Photo: Jason Tester Guerilla / Flickr)

NYC taxis losing the Uber battle. The New York Post reports that ride-finding service Uber has reached a critical milestone in New York City, no doubt the biggest market in the nation for hired cars: There are now more Uber vehicles than licensed taxicabs in the Big Apple. The paper said that Uber now has 14,088 “black and luxury cars” available for hire in New York, vs. 13,587 medallion taxis — although total trips by taxi still vastly outnumber Uber rides. Uber drivers reportedly like the more flexible hours and the higher earnings compared with traditional yellow cabs. Meanwhile, Uber continues to face plenty of legal troubles around the world, most recently in France, Germany and South Korea — including a new ban of its lower-priced car service in Germany. Weekend EditionHave your Uber habits shifted over the course of the last six months? Please leave your comments below. And if you can’t comment because you’ve yet to give Uber a try, sign up here and get $20 off your first ride. 

Feds eye facial recognition. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has quietly started testing new facial recognition technology on U.S. citizens re-entering the country at Washington’s Dulles International Airport. According to the tech news website Motherboard, the program is intended to help Customs officers catch individuals who may be using a passport that isn’t their own — although some observers question what CBP plans to do with the passenger photos it accumulates. Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union last week sued the Transportation Security Administration, demanding to see documents related to its “Screening Passengers by Observation” (SPOT) project. That’s the program that trains TSA officers to watch for passengers exhibiting suspicious behaviors or appearing stressed or frightened, and subjecting them to extra inspections. The ACLU alleged that separate studies have found there is no evidence that the program works at all; an ACLU attorney said the program “wastes taxpayer money, leads to racial profiling, and should be scrapped.”

FAA: Keep out of the seat back pocket

Our famous photo of the updated men's room with a view at Singapore Changi Airport (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Our famous photo of the updated men’s room with a view at Singapore Changi Airport (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Changi tops airport list — again. For the third year in a row, Singapore’s Changi Airport has ranked as the world’s best in the annual passenger survey conducted by Skytrax. And once again, no U.S. airports managed to make it into the Top 10 Best list. London-based Skytrax is unique in its survey sample size: It claims more than 13 million travelers from 112 countries voted in its annual online poll, which covered 550 airports worldwide. Rounding out the Top 10 after Changi are, in order: Korea’s Incheon, Munich, Hong Kong, Tokyo Haneda, Zurich, Central Japan, London Heathrow, Amsterdam Schiphol and Beijing Capital International. Rated the best North American airport for the fifth consecutive year was Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky. Readers, do you agree? In your experience, what is the world’s best airport?

Looking over the duty-free area at LAX from the terrace of the new Emirates lounge (Photo: Emirates)

Looking over the duty-free area at LAX from the terrace of the new Emirates lounge (Photo: Emirates)

Emirates lounge at LAX. Emirates officials have cut the ribbon on a new $6.2 million Emirates Lounge at Los Angeles International Airport. Located in the Tom Bradley International Terminal, it’s open to first and business class passengers as well as Platinum and Gold members of the airline’s Skywards loyalty program. Seating 157, it offers a buffet food service, business center, free Wi-Fi, shower facilities, TV and reading areas and a prayer room.

Parking at Atlanta. Atlanta-area travelers worried about finding a parking space at the busy Hartsfield-Jackson Airport have a new option: online parking reservations. The airport said that for a $5 booking fee, customers can now reserve a space in the domestic Park Ride Reserve lot, which costs $12 a day; or in the international hourly parking deck for $16-$24 a day (the fee varies based on demand; the online rate is a significant discount from the regular $32 a day). Reservations must be made at least 24 hours n advance. The airport’s new parking reservations page is here.

Why you should change the credit cards you carry

In Case You Missed It…

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United schedule changes + Easy 1,000 HHonors points + Virgin 2-4-1 + New United gates + Lyft beats Uber

Say Aloha to Hawaiian's new slimline seats. (Photo: Hawaiian)

Say Aloha to Hawaiian’s new slimline seats. (Photo: Hawaiian)

Hawaiian adds seats. Hawaiian Airlines is increasing the capacity of its inter-island 717s from 115 to 120 passengers with the installation of new “slimline” seats. While some travelers have found the extra-slender seats to be less comfortable than the traditional kind, Hawaiian figures its passengers shouldn’t mind since all of its inter-island flights are under 60 minutes. Have you had the opportunity to go slimline yet? What did you think?

Schedule change in Chicago. If you fly through Chicago a lot, be on the lookout for plenty of schedule changes as United “rebanks” its flights this month. Air Transport World reports that United’s re-banking allows it to shorten connection times Weekend Editionand improve directional flows at hubs, especially those that rely on East-West traffic flows. United successfully rebanked at its Houston and Denver hubs last year.  ATW reports that United expects departures at O’Hare to fall 8% in some periods while aircraft size will increase 10 percent, allowing it to increase revenue and maximize use of valuable slots

New promo from Virgin. Virgin America is offering two-for-one fare discounts on its Dallas love Field routes to Elevate members when they provide the email addresses of three friends who might want to join that frequent flyer program. And the friends will get discounts of up to 20 percent. Virgin is also matching any competitor’s fare out of DAL through April 30. For details, go to www.weinventedhigherexpectations.com.

Why you should change the credit cards you carry

Rendering of the new SunTrust Park

Rendering of the new SunTrust Park coming in 2017

Delta goes to bat for Braves. When the Atlanta Braves move into their new stadium — SunTrust Park — for the 2017 season, marketing partner Delta will be there too. The expanded partnership between Delta and the ball club calls for the opening of an 18,000-square-foot Delta SKY360 Club on the lower level of the new ballpark, accessible from the premium seating areas. The club will offer dining, a pair of 20-foot video screens, and a 30-foot bar. The new park is located on the northern edge of the city in Cobb County near Cumberland Mall and the Galleria.

1,000 Easy HHonors points. This just in from Hilton… remember the glitch that stymied a promotion for 1,000 easy HHonor, points? Well, it’s back. HHonors members will need to update their passwords by April 1. As of that date, members will be required to create a new password upon login; Hilton will no longer accept PINs. “Since we know this can be a hassle for members, and to encourage adoption of this new login procedure, Hilton is offering an incentive of 1,000 Hilton HHonors Bonus Points if members update their passwords by March 25, 2015,” the company said. Just log in to your Hilton HHonors account, then go to “personal information” to change your password. More info

apple watchesTravel apps for Apple Watch. Why should you have to haul out that clunky smartphone every time you want to check in for something? The Apple Watch, unveiled last week, has already started to attract new apps from a variety of travel companies. The initial list includes American Airlines (check in with your watch), Starwood Hotels (open your room door with your watch), TripAdvisor, OpenTable, Expedia and Citymapper. Meanwhile, Marriott announced that instead of providing a credit card at check-in, its guests can soon use Apple Pay, simply by bringing their iPhone 6 or Apple Watch close to a contactless reader at the front desk. The service will be gradually deployed starting this summer at brands including Ritz-Carlton, Marriott, Edition and Renaissance.

Mobile Passport

Passport app expands. A new app called Mobile Passport, introduced last summer for U.S. travelers re-entering the country at Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson Airport, is now available for Miami arrivals as well. Users simply input their profiles and answer Customs and Border Protection questions on the app (vs on the old paper forms), then proceed to the Mobile Passport Control express lane, skipping the longer lines. It’s available in the App Store and at Google Play. (We still prefer Global Entry, where you enter via a kiosk instead of a human, but this is pretty good– free, too.)

United tests new gates. Want to see what United Airlines’ next generation of boarding gates might look like? Check out Gates B-4, B-8 and B-10 in United’s Terminal 1 at Chicago O’Hare. That’s where the carrier is testing a new gate-area design that features things like mood lighting, new seating layouts, standing work stations and “boarding poles” (a la Southwest) for more orderly boarding.

Why you should change the credit cards you carry

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 2.38.19 PM

Image: Lyft

Lyft in, Uber out at Austin. How can a ride-sharing service win approval to operate at an airport in competition with traditional taxi services? By giving the airport a piece of the action. With the popular SXSW festival starting up in Austin last week, Lyft won approval to transport passengers at Austin-Bergstrom Airport by agreeing to give the facility 10 percent of its profits. Uber failed to come to terms with the airport, so its drivers have been threatened with citations if they try to operate there. Meanwhile, San Francisco International Airport said last week it has developed a new system for tracking “app-based forms of ground transportation.” SFO officials said the technology — which it will license to other airports — collects data to be used “for fee calculation, roadway planning and facility improvement efforts.”

In Case You Missed It…

  • Here’s what you should know about Spring Break and its travel impact.

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How Uber/SPG picked me up

Special branded floormats in the Uber that picked me up (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

It was a full-on brand assault on Wednesday morning. Here are special branded floormats in the Uber that picked me up (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

By now you’ve likely heard that Uber and the Starwood Preferred Guest program have partnered to offer SPG points for Uber rides.

Here’s the core message:

Uber SPG

But what I found interesting was the big effort around getting word out about the program. Here’s how I saw it:

On Monday morning, I received an email from SPG offering me a chauffeured ride to work on Wednesday. To get the ride, I had to fill out a quick online survey that asked about what I like to eat for breakfast, what I normally do on a Friday night, and of course my address and SPG number.

I was not exactly sure what this was all about, but it sounded like an unusual and fun way to learn about a new SPG promo. And since I know that many of my readers are big Starwood users, how could I resist?

The only problem is that I work from my house, so I did not really need a ride to work. So I contacted the person who sent the invite and they agreed to just take me for a ride around my neighborhood.

I asked if they could take me up to Twin Peaks overlooking San Francisco (about 10 mins from my house), and they agreed that would be fine. I thought that would be a nice way to start my day given the glorious clear, cool and sunny winter mornings we’ve had here on the Left Coast lately while the east coast shivers.

West Coast – New York LaGuardia flights on horizon?
My driver David welcomes me to his car and offers a spiel (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

My driver David welcomes me to his car and offers a spiel (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Anyway, at 8:15 on Wednesday, a big shiny black Uber SUV with a Sheraton sticker on the door pulls up to my house and the driver texts that he’s waiting for me.

I go jump in the car and from a script the driver welcomes me and tells me that Uber and SPG are teaming up to offer SPG members points for their Uber rides. He hands me a insulated cup of Starbucks coffee and a box containing a breakfast sandwich. There are placards on the seatbacks and even special branded floor mats announcing the new partnership.

Then he hands me an iPad and asks me to watch an SPG produced video announcing the changes. (Talk about a brand assault!)

Watching an iPad video about the promo (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Watching an iPad video about the promo (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

But first, I have to inspect the tray sitting next to me, which included two Riedel wine glasses (In the survey, I said I like to drink wine on Fridays), and a pass for a free glass of wine at the Sheraton Fisherman’s Wharf. There’s also a single can of Starbucks Espresso.

Then I watch the video and peer out at morning breaking over San Francisco as we head up the hill to Twin Peaks.

My driver David told me that about 10 other drivers were doing similar runs for other writers, bloggers and media types in the Bay Area. The same thing was happening in New York City. But they were all getting rides to boring old office buildings. I was getting a ride to this!

Soaking up the fiendishly fabulous weather at Twin Peaks while the east coast shivers (Photo Chris McGinnis)

Soaking up the fiendishly fabulous weather on Wednesday at Twin Peaks while the east coast shivers (Photo Chris McGinnis)

Once we got to the top of the hill, I finished my coffee and breakfast sandwich, then scurried out to take in the incredibly gorgeous view and thank my luck stars that I’m in California and not back east.

Then we jumped back in the SUV and chatted our way back to my home office.

That was fun! And good way to let me and my readers know about an innovative new product.

I had a great time chatting away with my Uber driver, David (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

I had a great time chatting away with my Uber driver, David, posing here in front of Sutro Tower (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

I walked in and told my partner about the program new program, which I knew he’d love because he’s a big time user of both Uber and Starwood (Platinum).

His main question:

“I already get Amex Membership Rewards points when booking Uber because my accounts are linked. If I link account with SPG, too, will I now earn both MR points and SPG points when I use Uber, or will I have to choose one or the other? Can I double-dip?

He was pleased with the answer we got from a Starwood spokesperson: “The SPG partnership is independent of the AMEX partnership and people who have registered for both the Amex-Uber promotion and the SPG-Uber partnership will receive both bonus currencies.”

Guess what? You can get a ride like this, too… I’ll let SPG explain:

To kickoff the partnership, Uber and Starwood are teaming up to surprise and delight SPG members and Uber riders with an “SPG #SuiteRide” in five cities around the world. This Saturday, February 28 Uber riders who link their Starwood and Uber accounts can select the “SPG” vehicle option within the Uber app for a door-to-door branded hotel experience on wheels and 15,000 Starpoints – good for a free night at category 1-5 Starwood hotel. These one-of-a-kind, limited SPG Ubers will hit the road in the following cities around the world: Dubai, London, Mexico City, New York, and San Francisco from 2 pm – 7 pm local time.

Just in case you’ve not signed up for Uber yet, do so via this referral link and you’ll get $20 off your first ride! (Sign up here)

–Chris McGinnis

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Big storm + Unusual 747 + NYC Helicopters, rail link + Marriott Megabonus + Choose car from plane

Rendering of the modified 747 that will buzz Burning Man this August (Courtesy Lance Powell)

Rendering of the repurposed 747 that will buzz Burning Man this August (Courtesy Lance Powell)

Developing: A potentially crippling winter storm is bearing down on the Northeast and airlines are starting to announce waivers.”We are facing most likely one of the largest snowstorms in the history of this city,” says NYC mayor Bill DiBlasio. By Sunday evening, airlines had pre-emptively canceled over 800 flights.  The key thing to remember in these stormy cancellation situations is that you are entitled to a FULL REFUND if the airline cancels your flight and you decide it’s not worth taking the trip at all. Here’s what Delta’s waiver for Monday-Tuesday (Jan 26-27) states.

Delta waiver

Unusual 747. In an interesting adaptive re-use of a scrapped 747, a group called The Big Imagination Foundation is working on bringing part of a fuselage to the giant Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert this summer. (See rendering above, and read what SFist has learned about it. ) I’m probably to old for Burning Man, but seeing this sure makes me want to go. Have you been? 

CONSOLIDATION

Aer Lingus + British Airways. British newspapers are reporting that British Airways parent IAG’s sweetened offer for Irish carrier Aer Lingus will be accepted and an announcement could come early this week. The Guardian reports: “Aer Lingus is the fourth busiest operator at London’s Heathrow behind British Airways, Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic – with its expanding transatlantic routes a particular attraction to IAG. The Irish airline is well known to IAG boss Willie Walsh, who was chief executive of Aer Lingus between 2001 and 2005 before taking the helm at British Airways.”

Expedia buys Travelocity. Giant online travel agency Expedia, which has been providing services to erstwhile competitor Travelocity for the past couple of years, has now purchased that site from Sabre, the global distribution system, for $280 million. For years, Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity and Priceline have dominated the web-based travel agency game. Could this be a sign of more consolidation to come in an increasingly crowded field of old and new competitors? Readers who have followed my career may recall that I was once a spokesperson and travel trends expert for Expedia. During that time, I would never have dreamed that our arch competitor would end up swallowed up by Expedia. Times sure change! Related: Mergers that make sense

This TravelSkills post 7 last-minute fare deals worth a look! went viral last week, resulting in nearly 500 new readers signing up for our daily or weekly emails! Welcome to TravelSkills, folks! We hope you enjoy the ride! –Chris

AIRPORTS

(Photo: Gotham Air)

(Photo: Gotham Air)

New heli service in NYC. Gotham Air is joining the crowdsourced travel app game in New York City, allowing users to book helicopter flights to Newark or JFK airports. Its partner is Helicopter Flight Services, which does the actual flying from three Manhattan heliports. You can book your own departure time, and “as soon as four seats have been sold, the flight is confirmed. You are never on the hook for anything more than the price of your seat,” the company said. Scheduled flights will begin this spring, and the app should be available at the iTunes store early in February. First time users pay $99 to JFK or EWR; after the first ride, a one way fare is $199 – $219 dependent on departure time. Would you or your company spring for that? 

Here's a before and after look at Oakland Terminal 2's security checkpoint. (Photo: Security Point Media)

Here’s a before and after look at Oakland Terminal 2’s security checkpoint. (Photo: Security Point Media)

Branded airport security. Oakland International is the US airport to get wrapped in SpringHill Suites branding. Terminal Two, home of Southwest Airlines at OAK, offers “a new, relaxing atmosphere before and after the checkpoint with modern furniture, wall art, calming lighting, soothing music, custom video content and displays showing current queue wait times. A post-screening recompose area outfitted with comfortable, soft seating welcomes travelers to gather their belongings in a more relaxed setting.” What do you think about big brands stepping up to improve the airport experience as a means to expose travelers to their brands? Please leave your comments below. 

Rail link for LaGuardia? New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said last week that plans are in the works to build something New York-area travelers have wanted for decades: a rail link to LaGuardia Airport. The plan calls for a dedicated rail link from the airport to the existing Willets Point station a mile and a half away, next to Citi Field (home of the New York Mets). There, travelers could transfer to the Long Island Railroad or to the Number 7 subway line into Manhattan. Don’t hold your breath, though: The $450 million project won’t be finished until 2020.

What are the two best all-around credit cards? Both currently offer 40,000 mile sign up bonuses!

HOTELS

Marriott renews MegaBonus. It’s time for the latest version of Marriott’s popular MegaBonus promotion. Marriott Rewards members who register online by March 25 can earn 2,500 points for every paid stay at the company’s 15 brands from February 1 through April 30, up to a maximum of 25,000 points.

The Westin Market Street has a new name. (Photo: AAA)

The Westin Market Street has a new name. (Photo: AAA)

New name for Westin SF. Last Thursday night, guests went to bed at the Westin San Francisco and woke up at the Park Central hotel. The 36 story hotel at the corner of Third Street and Market Street (frequently confused with the Westin St Francis on Union Square) was previously the Argent Hotel and before that,  the ANA. Hotel staff told TravelSkills that for the time being, the hotel is still a “Starwood affiliated” hotel, so you can still earn Starwood points for stays. But the hotel’s new owners could change that in coming months. In perennially packed San Francisco, a hotel does not have to do much to attract business travelers, but we found a few new deals (like 15% off) on its website. 

CARS

National’s new Virtual Aisle. National Car Rental’s Emerald Club members who book a mid-sized car can bypass the counter and pick any vehicle in the rental lot’s Emerald Aisle at major airports. But we’ve been doing that for years. Here’s what’s new: Now National’s mobile app has a new “Virtual Aisle” feature fulfilling the same function for airports where National doesn’t have a dedicated Emerald Aisle. So as soon as you land, you use the app to pre-select a car from real-time inventory at 19 airport locations, including Tulsa, Richmond, Omaha, Knoxville, Norfolk, Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, Little Rock, Oklahoma City, Huntsville, Greensboro, Long Beach, Honolulu, Tucson, Reno, Baton Rouge, Phoenix (Mesa Gateway) and Savannah.

Look for this instead of the big furry stache (Photo: Lyft)

Look for this instead of the big furry stache (Photo: Lyft)

Lyft lifts the big ‘stache. What was ride-sharing service Lyft thinking when it decided to put a giant furry pink moustache on the front of all its cars? Apparently the powers that be at Lyft have come to their senses– sort of. They’ve decided to remove the Big Pink Fuzz, and instead will give their drivers a little banana-sized pink moustache that sits on the dashboard and glows softly at night. The move is part of a brand re-design brought on in part by Lyft’s new creative director Jesse McMillin, snatched from Virgin America last year. Read our 2011 profile of the very interesting and talented Jesse McMillin here.

At TravelSkills, we are big Uber fans, not only because of their generous $20 off your first ride referral program, but because the service has probably made the most consequential change in our travel habits than just about anything in recent years. But Uber’s reputation has taken a hit lately, so we’re wondering how many readers have considered  or used similar services like Lyft, Sidecar, or even gone back to taxis with apps like FlyWheel. Please leave your comments below.

Did you see Saturday’s TravelSkills Weekend Edition?

WeekendEdition

 

Best photo + United meals + Bid for Virgin upgrades + Delta downgrade + New Asian nonstop for SJC

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New SFO competition + Delta fights for Love + United Wi-Fi + Air China’s 747-8s + Bag woes at Denver

The new terminal at Dallas Love Field feels a lot like SFO's Terminal 2- light, airy, modern with a broad selection of dining & shopping options. Were impressed! (Photo: Chris McGinnis(

The new terminal at Dallas Love Field feels a lot like SFO’s Terminal 2- light, airy, modern with a broad selection of dining & shopping options. We’re impressed! (Photo: Chris McGinnis(


AIRLINES

New SFO routes for Southwest, JetBlue. Virgin America got some new competition on a couple of key routes last week as Southwest kicked off new daily service between San Francisco and Dallas Love Field, and JetBlue started two daily flights between SFO and Las Vegas. Southwest also added daily flights between Love Field and Oakland, completing its initial expansion at the close-in Dallas airport following the end of Wright Amendment restrictions last fall. That rule basically restricted service out of Love Field to states bordering Texas, and when it ended Virgin America moved its Dallas operations from DFW to Love Field. As a result of all this, November 2014 passenger traffic at Love Field jumped by 37 percent over the same month a year earlier. Meanwhile, Delta executives last week were in talks with Dallas airport officials trying to find a way to maintain the airline’s presence at Love Field for its DAL-Atlanta flights. As of this weekend, Delta negotiated a deal allowing it to stick around Love Field for the next 180 days. Have you flown into Love Field yet? Thoughts? On a recent stopover there, we were very impressed (See photo above).

American will cluster DFW schedules. In a few months, American Airlines plans to overhaul schedules at its Dallas/Ft. Worth hub, bringing groups of arrivals and departures closer together into clusters or “banks” instead of spreading them out evenly over the course of the day. The change will mean shorter connecting times for many travelers. AA did the same thing at its Miami hub last year, and plans a similar change at Chicago O’Hare in 2015.

WeekendEdition

Wi-Fi launched in United regional jets. United announced that it has started to roll out in-flight Wi-Fi in its United Express fleet. The project, slated for completion by the middle of this year, will bring Internet service to more than 200 United Express E175s, E170s and CRJ700s, using Gogo’s ATG-4 air-to-ground technology. “Additionally, the company will begin providing Personal Device Entertainment on regional jets this year, offering customers hundreds of complimentary movies and television shows to view on their Wi-Fi-enabled iOS and Android devices using United’s mobile app, as well as on laptop computers,” the company said. Interesting: United has chosen to use Gogo for these aircraft instead of its own United Wi-fi system rolling out on larger aircraft. Which system to you think is better? Please leave your comments below. 

Carriers battle for Tokyo Haneda. American Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines last week filed for new rights to fly to Tokyo’s close-in Haneda Airport (HND), as the Transportation Department studies whether Delta should forfeit its existing route authority in the Seattle-Haneda market. The U.S. only has access to four daily slots at HND; the others are used by United from San Francisco, Hawaiian from Honolulu and Delta from Los Angeles. American, which wants to use the slot for daily LAX-Haneda service, is arguing that Delta is underutilizing the Seattle authority, operating just a handful of flights through the slow winter season. Delta maintains it will resume regular service in March when business picks up. Hawaiian wants the slot for Kona-Tokyo service.

Air China brings 747-8s to New York, San Francisco (Photo: Air China

Air China brings 747-8s to New York, San Francisco (Photo: Air China)

Route news: Air China, Delta, JetBlue, etc. Star Alliance member Air China is bringing new four-class (including premium economy) 747-8 Intercontinentals to its non-stop Beijing-New York JFK and Beijing-San Francisco routes. Last week, the airline put a 747-8 onto one of its two daily JFK flights, replacing a 777-300ER; the SFO service starts May 1 … Delta will revive seasonal summer service between Pittsburgh and Paris CDG May 10 with five flights a week, increasing to daily in June …… JetBlue will expand at Ft. Lauderdale April 30, adding daily flights to Cleveland and Detroit; JetBlue also announced plans to fly from Portland, Oregon to Anchorage from June 18 to September 8 … On April 16, Spirit Airlines will launch regular daily flights from Boston to Las Vegas, and seasonal service from BOS to Detroit and Cleveland … Effective March 13, Frontier Airlines will add new daily service from Philadelphia to Atlanta, Charlotte and Chicago O’Hare.

denverairport

United’s having baggage problems at its Denver International hub (Photo: Jim Glab)


AIRPORTS

Baggage woes at Denver. United Airlines last month brought in a new company at its Denver International Airport hub to handle baggage on United Express flights, and the changeover has been traumatic. According to the Denver Post, United and its passengers at Denver in the past few weeks have been facing problems of “lost luggage, delayed flights and a chaotic baggage claim area, with bags tossed everywhere.” Some travelers have waited up to two hours to see their bags on the belt, only to be told to go home and wait for delivery, the newspaper reported. The problems extend not only to arriving DEN travelers, but to bag transfers onto connecting flights. Readers: What’s the longest you’ve ever had to wait to get your checked bag back? Do you believe bag delivery problems are worse at some airlines/airports than others? Which ones?

Carmel

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Airport lounge app debuts in U.S. LoungeBuddy, a smartphone app that lets users find and buy access to airport lounges, has expanded to the U.S. Previously available only in the U.K., the app is initially working with Alaska Airlines Board Room lounges as well as Minute Suites. “No memberships, elite statuses or premium seat purchases are required,” the company said. “As of today, instant lounge access will be available in 16 of the busiest airports throughout the world, including major hubs in the United States like Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW), Atlanta (ATL), Seattle (SEA), Philadelphia (PHL) and Los Angeles (LAX). LoungeBuddy will continue to roll this functionality out to more partner lounges within the US, Europe, Canada, Asia and Australia.” Download the free app here.

maseratighibli

Avis adds the 2015 Maserati Ghibli to its fleet (Photo: Maserati)

CARS

Avis’ hot new car. If you think an expensive, sporty vehicle will really impress your clients and colleagues, Avis has a new option for you. The rental giant has added the 2015 Maserati Ghibli to its Avis Signature Series; it’s available at locations in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, Orlando, Las Vegas, Phoenix and south Florida. The car’s 3.0 litre twin-turbo V6 engine cranks out 345 horsepower. What’s the rental rate? If you have to ask… Other Avis Signature Series cars include the Chevrolet Corvette, Lincoln Navigator, Infiniti QX60, Mercedes GL450, BMW X5, the BMW 3 Series Sedan and the BMW 5 Series Sedan.

In Case You Missed It…

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What are the two best all-around credit cards? Both currently offer 40,000 mile sign up bonuses!

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Faster Virgin Wi-Fi + Hertz status for SkyMiles + Kimpton purchase + Free Internet at Starwood

VirginAmericaWiFiservice

Virgin America Wi-Fi service (Photo: Virgin America)

 AIRLINES

Virgin speeds up in-flight Wi-Fi. Flyers on Virgin America who use in-flight Wi-Fi should notice an improvement in download speeds now that the airline has completed the deployment of Gogo’s ATG-4 Wi-Fi service on all 53 of its Airbus A320s. With speeds topping out at 9.8 Mbps, the ATG-4 service is more than three times faster than the first generation of in-flight Internet. To promote the enhancement, Virgin and Gogo are offering a chance to win roundtrip flights, a new iPad or free Wi-Fi service for a year to persons who “share their best ‘office in the sky’ moment on Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #OfficeInTheSky.” Readers, what’s your experience with in-flight Wi-Fi? Too slow? Too expensive? Or just right? Post comments below.

Gogo Wi-Fi Tip: Did you know that you can buy Gogo day passes online before your flight for just $16 vs the $35+ fee you’ll pay for connecting on the plane? This saves the most money for longer transcon flights. Get your passes ahead of time here: Gogo $16 day pass

SkyMiles offers Hertz status. Delta has bolstered its partnership with Hertz by offering SkyMiles Medallion members elite status in the car rental company’s Gold Plus Rewards program, which will give them expedited service and car upgrade eligibility. Gold Medallions can join Hertz’s Five Star Program, while Platinums and Diamonds are eligible for the Gold Plus Rewards President’s Circle. Delta set up a web page with a link to the registration process for Hertz status enrollment. Medallions can also scan Hertz’s summary of benefits for the Gold Plus Rewards status levels.

Alaska debuts new in-flight perks. Streaming in-flight entertainment to personal electronic devices is just one of the perks Alaska Airlines is rolling out as part of its new “Alaska Beyond” in-flight improvements. The company said entertainment streaming — currently available on 50 of its 737s, and coming on the rest by April — will be free through January 31; after that, movies and TV shows start at $1.99. The improvements also include new Recaro leather seats with power outlets and USB ports at every seat (currently on 95 percent of its aircraft) and new in-flight service that offers “locally-sourced, artisan food and beverage from iconic Northwest brands.” Later in 2015, Alaska is due to begin installing new overhead bins that provide 48 percent more storage space.

WeekendEdition

Routes: Southwest, JetBlue, AA. Southwest will add new service next year on several routes: On June 7, it will begin twice-daily Los Angeles-Portland, Ore. flights as well as new daily service between LAX-Indianapolis, Oakland-Nashville and Oakland-New Orleans. On June 28, it will add twice-daily Indianapolis-Boston flights and daily service between Austin-St. Louis and Austin-Orange County, Calif. … JetBlue last week inaugurated three new Florida routes from Washington Reagan National, including twice-daily service to Jacksonville and daily flights to Ft. Myers and West Palm Beach … American Airlines has filed for government approval to start code-sharing with Mexican carrier Interjet, with plans to put the AA code onto Interjet flights from Mexico City to Huatulco, Villahermosa, Merida, Tuxla Gutierrez and Oaxaca.

China connections: United, Virgin. United Airlines plans to boost seasonal capacity from San Francisco to China in 2015. The carrier said that from May 6 to October 24, it will double its SFO-Shanghai service to two flights a day, and from June 4 to September 1 it will increase SFO-Chengdu frequencies from three a week to daily. Meanwhile, Virgin America said that starting in 2015, it will offer members of its Elevate program reciprocal benefits with China Eastern, so they can earn and burn miles on the Chinese carrier’s flights. Virgin will also add the Shanghai-based airline’s code to a number of its U.S. routes.

Why not let holiday spending help you snag big credit card mileage bonusesCheck out our recommendations here and get your 40,000 miles! 

AIRPORTS

qantasloungelax

Qantas First lounge at LAX (Photo: Qantas)

New Qantas First lounge at LAX. Qantas has cut the ribbon on a new Qantas First lounge at Los Angeles International Airport that’s more than three times the size of its predecessor. The new Qantas First facility — open to first class customers, Qantas Platinum and Platinum One frequent flyers, and Oneworld Emerald and international first class flyers — can seat more than 200 guests. It has a 74-seat restaurant with cuisine from Australian celebrity chef Neil Perry, as well as enhanced services like faster Wi-Fi, wireless printing, cable TV, a pair of private work suites and seven shower suites. Meanwhile, Qantas last week increased service on it s LAX-Melbourne route from seven flights a week to 10.

HOTELS

Guest room at Kimpton's Hotel Monaco Philadelphia (Photo: Kimpton)

Guest room at Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco Philadelphia (Photo: Kimpton)

InterContinental to acquire Kimpton Hotels. The popular and fast-growing boutique chain Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, with 62 U.S. properties and 16 more in the works, is being acquired by InterContinental Hotels Group for $430 million. Noting that the boutique hotel business is “the fastest growing segment in the industry,” IHG said that Kimpton, with its distinctive designs and decors, will be “highly complementary with IHG’s Hotel Indigo and EVEN Hotels brands.” The purchaser said it would speed up the growth of Kimpton in the U.S. and introduce the brand in foreign destinations, citing a “significant opportunity” for expansion in Europe and Asia. There will be no immediate impact on customers; Kimpton told members of its Karma Rewards plan in an email that its program and the IHG Rewards Club “will continue to run as separate loyalty programs” for the time being.

Starwood expands free Wi-Fi. On the heels of a similar announcement by Marriott two months ago, Starwood Hotels & Resorts said that effective February 2, 2015, members of its Starwood Preferred Guest program who book their rooms directly through a Starwood digital channel including websites and mobile apps will get free standard in-room Wi-Fi access at all the company’s brands. Starwood already offers free Internet at its Aloft, Element, and Four Points by Sheraton brands in North America, and to SPG Platinum members. Starwood’s other brands include St. Regis, The Luxury Collection, W, Westin, Le Meridien and Sheraton.

Hilton digital check-in goes live. Hilton Worldwide announced last week that guests who use its Hilton HHonors app can now check in digitally at more than 4,100 of its properties worldwide in 11 brands, using their own smartphones, tablets or desktops. They can also use the app to select a specific room for their stay. Next year, Hilton said, it will expand the app’s functionality so guests can unlock their room doors with their smartphones, starting with its Conrad, Hilton, Waldorf Astoria and Canopy by Hilton brands. Have you tried digital check-in with any hotels yet? Any problems?

In Case You Missed It…

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

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What are the two best all-around credit cards? Both currently offer 40,000 mile sign up bonuses!

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

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iPhones on United + Delta backtrack + Holiday first class sale + Uber issues + New hotel for NYC

United's going big with the new iPhone 6 Plus. (Photo: United)

United’s going big with the new iPhone 6 Plus. (Photo: United)

AIRLINES

UA flight attendants get iPhones. Passenger purchases on United flights will soon be processed through an iPhone 6 Plus. The airline said it plans to give the big new iPhones to 23,000 flight attendants in the second quarter of 2015, and they’ll be able to handle most in-flight retail transactions. In the months to come, “United plans to develop a number of customer-focused tools for the device,” a spokesman said.

AmEx-Delta: No point transfer cap after all. American Express and Delta said they have agreed to “a multi-year extension” of their 18-year-old co-branded credit card partnership. And as part of that deal, the companies announced that they have backed off an earlier plan to cap American Express Rewards point transfers into SkyMiles at 250,000 a year. Also, “Platinum Card members from American Express and Delta Reserve Card members can continue to enjoy access to the Delta Sky Club,” the companies said. It was only a couple of months ago that the limit on point transfers, which was supposed to take effect January 1, was announced — and neither AmEx nor Delta offered any hints as to why it is now being dropped. Readers — care to speculate on the reason? Was this a big deal for you or not?

First class holiday sale from Virgin. Act fast (booking deadline is midnight Sunday, December 14) and use promo code MERRY50 and you can save 50 percent off Virgin America’s first class and Main Cabin Select fares for travel December 19-January 2.

Why not let holiday spending help you snag big credit card mileage bonuses? Check out our recommendations here and get your 40,000 miles! 

Here's a rendering of American's new look at the airport

Here’s a rendering of American’s new look at the airport

AA promises big customer improvements. American Airlines marked the one-year anniversary of its merger with US Airways last week by announcing it will spend $2 billion on passenger-oriented improvements in the months ahead. Besides fleet renewal — some 112 new aircraft will be delivered next year, AA said — improvements will bring new seats (including lie-flat, direct aisle access first and business class seats “on nearly every American Airlines widebody jet”); power ports in every row on narrow-bodies and at every seat on newly delivered 777-300ERs and 787s (AA’s first Dreamliner is due in the next few months); new Bose headsets in premium cabins of international and transcon flights; and Wi-Fi on international routes. Airport facilities and Admirals Clubs will also get an overhaul. Another part of the plan: American will install Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi over the next year on 250 of its two-class regional jets. Which passenger enhancement would you most like to see on American? Post comments below.

Cleveland Shuffle: Flights cut, added. United’s big drawdown of service at Cleveland Hopkins isn’t finished yet. The carrier’s latest cutbacks will include the end of Cleveland-Dallas/Ft. Worth service on March 5, followed by termination of flights to Ft. Myers, Ft. Lauderdale and Tampa on April 7. Meanwhile, JetBlue said it will add Cleveland as the 88th destination on its route map starting April 30, when it launches two flights a day to Boston. And low-cost Frontier Airlines plans to pull its service from Cleveland to LaGuardia, Washington Dulles and Chicago O’Hare in the weeks ahead.

International routes: China Southern, Delta, EVA. December 16 is the launch date for China Southern’s new service from San Francisco to Guangzhou, operating via a stop in Wuhan three times a week with a 787 … Delta kicks off new daily service December 20 between its Salt Lake City hub and Mexico City … Taiwan’s EVA Airways plans to begin new service between Taipei and Houston Bush Intercontinental in June 2015, flying three times a week with a 777-300ER.

Lufthansa’s new course. What’s going on at Lufthansa? Pilots have staged disruptive walkouts in recent weeks as the airline moves forward with a plan to compete against low-cost carriers by expanding its budget Eurowings subsidiary on both short and long-haul routes while still maintaining a full-service operation at the parent airline. Lufthansa chief Carsten Spohr explained the strategy in a New York Times interview last week. Have your plans been disrupted by LH pilot strikes? How did you handle it?

Recent: Better hotel deals on these 5 hotel-only sites? 

AIRPORTS

Delta coddles arrivals at Heathrow. Delta premium passengers flying into London Heathrow can now take advantage of a new arrivals lounge the carrier has opened in Terminal 3. Available at no charge to BusinessElite passengers as well as SkyMiles Diamonds and Platinums, the facility has 11 private showers, clothes pressing and shoeshine services, breakfast service, Wi-Fi and a business center. It’s open from 6 a.m. until 2 p.m. daily.

CARS

Uber’s legal ups and downs. It’s a real roller-coaster ride for the lawyers at ride-sharing app Uber these days. On the upside, Uber (and competitor Lyft) just won approval from the Dallas City Council to operate legally in that city effective April 30. On the downside, district attorneys in San Francisco and Los Angeles last week filed suit against Uber alleging violations of various consumer protection statutes (although both cities recently settled a similar case against Lyft). But that’s not Uber’s only difficulty: Web site The Daily Beast last week published a summary of the legal problems facing the company in a number of venues. And then there’s this: Who’s Driving You?

Have you entered the contest to win a $200 Amex gift card plus one year of National Executive status? All you have to do is offer one great travel tip! 

HOTELS

A big new Virgin hotel for NYC...but why not SF? (Photo: Virgin Hotels)

A big new Virgin hotel for NYC…but why not SF? (Photo: Virgin Hotels)

Virgin America adds sister hotel firm to Elevate. The newest participant in Virgin America’s Elevate loyalty program is its new sister company Virgin Hotels. Its first property is due to open in Chicago in mid-January; Elevate members will get 1,000 points per stay (doubled from January 15-March 31), and Gold members will receive free breakfasts and room upgrades. A Nashville property is expected to open in 2016, followed by a New York City hotel in 2017. The developer of the Manhattan property, at Broadway and 29th Street, last week revealed some details about the 38-story, 475-room hotel, including a rooftop bar, outdoor pool and spa. (We wish they’d build a new one in in San Francisco!)

In Case You Missed It…

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

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What are the two best all-around credit cards? Both currently offer 40,000 mile sign up bonuses!

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

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Advice from a road warrior [sponsored post & contest]

This smart traveler used points to get $150/night rate at this big pink hotel in Honolulu (Photo: Bret Robertson / Flickr)

This smart road warrior used points to get $150/night rate at this big pink hotel in Honolulu (Photo: Bret Robertson / Flickr)

I got my start in the travel industry teaching novice business travelers how to “learn the ropes” of the road through a training program. That’s why my company is called Travel Skills Group, Inc., a name that eventually morphed into the TravelSkills.com blog you are now reading.

I would contract with HR departments at big corporations or consulting companies to present a 2-4 hour seminar called “The Art of Traveling Smart.” In the presentation, I would supply tips and advice about business travel to new recruits in corporate management training programs. Advice covered the gamut, from determining the best seat on the plane, to finding the safest hotel room, joining the right loyalty programs or dealing with travel burnout. Instead of learning it “the hard way” attendees learned about business travel in a classroom setting.

That’s why I was pleased when National Car Rental  asked to team up with TravelSkills to talk about its popular Emerald Club and the current ONE, TWO, FREE promotion — get one free day for every two qualifying rentals between now and January 31, 2015. National also offered to give one TravelSkills reader a $200 American Express gift card and Emerald Club Executive status for one year. (See below for details)

Screen Shot 2014-06-12 at 11.48.20 AMNational hooked me up with one of its best customers, D. Cook, a 14-year veteran of the roads and the skies, for an interview about her life on the road and the advice she has for novice business travelers.

Cook is a Minnesota native who grew up in the Twin Cities. She’s a coordinator for a large company in the home construction business, responsible for its presence at major construction industry trade shows around the country.

She travels at least once or twice per month to cities like Las Vegas, San Francisco, Orlando and Denver. “Wherever there’s a trade show, that’s where I go,” she said. Her preferred airline is Delta where she holds gold SkyMiles status.

Focusing your loyalty and gaining elite status with an airline was the first tip she had for novice travelers: “The best thing about status is that you don’t have to stand in long lines, your baggage usually gets expedited, and it’s easier to upgrade.” She has a pretty good batting average for upgrades on Delta, too—on a recent multi-stop trip, she snagged big seats up front on four out of the five segments.

When it comes to car rental, Cook offers the same advice about focusing on elite status. As a long-time customer of National, she’s attained Executive status. To her, the best part about having that status is access to a wider variety of cars that she can choose off the National lot. Her car of choice is a smaller SUV or crossover because she feels safer when she’s able to ride up high and see what’s around her.

She also advises novice travelers to be on the lookout for promotions from preferred vendors. For example, she takes advantage of National’s ONE, TWO, FREE promotion each year. “Luckily, I get to keep the free days accrued on my business trips for personal use. Last time I used them to help cut the cost of a trip to Denver to visit my best friend,” she said.

She also used the free days to cut the cost of car rental during a recent first-time, dream trip to Hawaii. She cashed in her Delta miles for first class tickets to Honolulu, where she met her mother and rented a car to explore Oahu and stayed at the famous Turtle Bay Resort in the island’s northern end. She also enjoyed some R&R at the posh five-star Royal Hawaiian on Waikiki. She was able to reduce the cost of accommodation (from around $450 per night to about $150) by using her Starwood points.

This Briggs & Riley Transcend bag sells for about $375

This durable Briggs & Riley Transcend bag sells for about $375

Redeeming miles for award trips to Hawaii is notoriously difficult, but Cook was able to do it by timing her trip in November, a relatively slow period for travel to the islands.

Finally, Cook recommends that those getting ready to embark on a career requiring frequent travel invest in good luggage. “You have to be willing to spend $300 or $400 on a good, durable suitcase that will not fail you in the middle of an important trip,” she advises. She recommends Briggs & Riley bags because of her good experience with its no-nonsense warranty. “I’ve had to get my bag repaired three or four times, and they’ve always done it quickly and never charged me a cent.” She’s also a fan of TravelPro bags, which she noticed are favored by the ultimate frequent travelers, flight attendants. Cook also recommends using colorful TSA locks on bags to help make them stand out among the sea to black bags.

CONTEST: As part of this partnership, National is giving a $200 American Express gift card and an Emerald Club Executive Status for a year to one lucky TravelSkills.com reader*.  To enter, leave a comment below with the advice you’d give a novice traveler, and then share a link to this post on social media using the hash tag #ONETWOFREE. The winner will be randomly selected on December 15, 2014. Good luck!

And don’t forget to register for the ONE, TWO FREE promotion! You’ll get one free day for every two qualifying rentals with National between now and January 31, 2015.

*Only US residents 18 and over are eligible to win this giveaway. One entry per person.

–Chris McGinnis

Disclosure: Thank you for reading TravelSkills! We will periodically send out messages like this one from commercial partners about topics relevant to frequent travel.  Our sponsors’ support, and yours, help us keep TravelSkills a free publication. 

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

.

What are the two best all-around credit cards? Both currently offer 40,000 mile sign up bonuses!

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Virgin food award + Delta beer + New flights to Europe + 3 Miami hotels + First A350

VirginAmericasobanoodles

Virgin America soba noodles serving (Photo: Virgin America)

AIRLINES

Virgin takes top honors in food study. Charles Platkin, a nutritionist also known as the Diet Detective, has come out with his annual ratings of airline food in terms of its nutritional quality, and Virgin America has captured the top spot. “It’s great that Virgin America also provides ALL nutritional information, NOT just calories, and it’s on their website, too.  Virgin America also has on-demand eating – you simply select the food you want, when you want it right at your seat,” he wrote.  Platkin rated Delta’s in-flight food as most improved this year, thanks to a new partnership with healthy food company Luvo. Do you care about the nutritional value of in-flight food?  What’s the best meal you’ve had this year? Please leave your comments below. 

Delta broadens beer selections. The craze for regional craft beers is getting a boost from Delta, which said it is introducing seven varieties to the beverage carts on a number of its most popular business travel routes. The providers of the new brews range from New York’s Brooklyn Brewery to San Diego’s Ballast Point Brewing.

Qatar Airways A350 (PHOTO: Qatar Airways)

Qatar Airways A350 (Photo: Qatar Airways)

Qatar debuts world’s newest airliner. Qatar Airways, the global launch customer for the new Airbus A350 XWB, said it will take delivery of the first aircraft on December 13, and plans to put it into commercial service between Doha and Frankfurt in January. Qatar, a member of the Oneworld global alliance, has expressed its confidence in the new Airbus model by ordering 80 of them. The A350 is a wide-body, mid-sized aircraft designed as Airbus’ answer to Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, to be used on medium to long-haul international routes. Like the Boeing plane, the A350 relies on composite materials and aluminum alloys to reduce its weight and increase fuel efficiency. The XWB stands for extra-wide body — its cabin is a few inches wider than the 787’s. TravelSkills got an advance look at the A350 a few months ago; here’s our report.

Oneworld expands benefits. Frequent flyers who have achieved Sapphire status in the Oneworld alliance (American, British Airways, et al.) are getting an additional baggage benefit. In economy class on member airlines using a weight-based system, they’ll get an extra 15 kg. over the usual economy class allowance; and on those using a piece system, they’ll get a second checked bag (when the allowance is one) of up to 23 kg. Allowances were also increased for first and business class customers. In addition, Sapphire and Emerald-level elites will get priority baggage delivery.

International routes: Etihad, United, Lufthansa, Azul. Etihad Airways last week kicked off new non-stop service between Abu Dhabi and Dallas/Ft. Worth, using a three-class 777-200LR; its initial three flights a week will increase to daily next April … United on Sunday (December 7) begins daily non-stops between Houston Bush Intercontinental and Santiago, Chile, with a 767-300 … Lufthansa last week resumed seasonal Miami-Munich service five times a week, with a three-class A330-300 … Brazilian carrier Azul — run by JetBlue founder David Neeleman — has started its first service to the U.S. with a daily Ft. Lauderdale-Sao Paulo flight; it will add Orlando-Sao Paulo on December 15.

Delta sets seasonal Europe service. Delta last week unveiled plans for its 2015 seasonal transatlantic schedule additions. March 29 is the launch date for New York JFK-Nice service, using a 767-400 and operating five times a week, increasing to daily on May 2. Also on May 2, Delta will kick off daily JFK-Shannon, Ireland non-stops with a 757-200. On June 2, the airline will begin daily JFK-Prague non-stops, using a 767-300, and daily Atlanta-Barcelona service with an A330-300.

What are the two best all-around credit cards? Both currently offer 40,000 mile sign up bonuses!
TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis is in Washington DC this week-- flew nonstop SFO-Washington National on Virgin America

TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis is in Washington DC this week– flew nonstop SFO-Washington National on Virgin America

AIRPORTS

Clear Card in Vegas. CLEAR, the provider of biometric identity-based expedited access to airport security lanes, has finally added Las Vegas McCarran as its 10th location. The $179-a-year service is already available at SFO, SJC, DFW, DEN, IAH, HOU, SAT, MCO and HPN. Miami International MIA is next on the list for Clear although there is no firm start date. Do you use Clear? Is is still worth $179 per year? Leave comments below. 

Washington D.C.’s airports dilemma. The nation’s capital has expected Dulles International Airport to handle the region’s long-term traffic growth, but a report by the Washington Post notes that growth at IAD has stalled as more passengers and airlines are flocking to close-in Reagan National Airport. Part of the blame goes to Congress, which has opened up DCA to more long-haul flights, but part of it is due to Dulles’ remote location.

CARS

Uber, Lyft OKd in Denver. Ride-sharing services Lyft and Uber have both won approval from Denver International Airport officials to pick up and drop off passengers at the passenger terminals. Have you used Uber or Lyft for airport transportation? How would you describe the difference between the two?

HOTELS

marriott-edition-hotel

Miami Beach Edition Room (Photo: Marriott)

South Florida gets three new properties. The newest product of Marriott’s partnership with hotelier Ian Schrager has opened its doors — the Miami Beach EDITION. The 298-room EDITION — a remaking of the old Seville Hotel at 2901 Collins Avenue — was designed as an “urban resort” to appeal to business travelers who want to work and play in Miami Beach … Down the road at 4041 Collins Avenue, Thompson Hotels has cut the ribbon on the 380-room Thompson Miami Beach in an historic Art Deco building; it has 47,000 square feet of meeting space and a gourmet restaurant called Seagrape from local celebrity chef Michelle Bernstein … And in Palm Beach, Kimpton Hotels has added a new oceanfront property, taking over the former Omphoy Ocean Resort and rebranding it last week as the Tideline Ocean Resort & Spa after making a number of enhancements.

JW Marriott Houston Downtown room (PHOTO: Marriott)

JW Marriott Houston Downtown room (Photo: Marriott)

Openings: Houston, Brussels, Johannesburg. The century-old Samuel F. Carter building at 806 Main Street in downtown Houston has been remade into the newly opened, 328-room JW Marriott Houston Downtown. Each room has a 55-inch TV, Nespresso machine, touch-screen room controls, and an iPad for ordering hotel services … A landmark building in the heart of Brussels, close to the Grand Place and the Square Brussels Meeting Center, has been transformed into the new Hilton Brussels Grand Place, with 123 rooms and suites … The renowned Westcliff Hotel in Johannesburg, South Africa, has undergone an 18-month, $56 million renovation and reopened as The Four Seasons Hotel-The Westcliff Johannesburg. All 117 rooms were renovated, and the hotel has new contemporary restaurants, lounges and a spa …In Australia, luxury operator Langham Hotels has finished a $25 million renovation of The Langham Sydney (formerly the Observatory Hotel).

In Case You Missed It…

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What are the two best all-around credit cards? Both currently offer 40,000 mile sign up bonuses!

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Uber out in Vegas + United changes routes + Delta in Philly + Virgin’s next moves? + New India visa

alaska

Alaska Airlines is sticking to a miles-based program unlike most other carriers (Photo: Jim Glab)

AIRLINES

Alaska boosts mileage bonuses. Alaska Airlines has an early Christmas present for its Mileage Plan members: bigger earning bonuses for certain fare classes and for MVP Gold 75K elites starting January 1. The bonus for first class fares jumps from 50 to 75 percent, and for refundable coach (Y) fares from 25 to 50 percent. Some nonrefundable fare classes will start offering 50 percent (S class) or 25 percent (M and B) bonuses. And MVP Gold 75K elites will see their bonus rise from 100 to 125 percent. An Alaska official said airlines that have moved to revenue-based loyalty programs “have the potential of diluting the rewards earned for the average passenger,” and said Alaska will stick with a generous mileage-based plan. (Take that, Delta!)

United draws heat for Sacramento suspension. United Airlines will suspend its non-stop service between Sacramento and Washington Dulles for the winter season (January 6-April 6), drawing criticism from local politicians and members of Congress, who will have to make the trip via a connection during that period. United said the suspension is due to weak seasonal demand. California has 53 members of the house of representatives and two senators.

JetBlue debuts free Wi-Fi content. JetBlue last week went live with its new “Fly-Fi Hub,” a collection of free content that passengers can view on their personal devices aboard aircraft equipped with JetBlue’s Fly-Fi service. Content available both online and off-line includes Fox TV shows; e-book excerpts from 20 HarperCollins best-sellers; National Geographic programs; and educational videos including courses from Wharton Business School. Users also will have the option to buy Time Inc. magazines. Coming early next year is PBS programming for kids, as well as full access to the Wall Street Journal.

Popular! 6 most annoying actions of infrequent flyers

virgin-route-map

Virgin America routes as of November 2014 (Source: Virgin America)

Virgin America: Ready for takeoff? With its initial public offering successfully completed, its balance sheet in the black and fuel prices remaining low, Virgin America appears to be poised for a new period of growth and expansion, according to a newly released analysis by the CAPA Centre for Aviation. With new funds and 10 new aircraft joining its fleet in the next two years, it is expected to achieve capacity growth of 10-15 percent in 2015, and to focus on attracting an increasing number of higher-yielding business travelers. There’s room to grow, since Virgin only serves 15 of the top 50 U.S. markets, the report notes. Where would you like to see Virgin America fly next? On our wish list: Atlanta, New Orleans, Phoenix. What about you? Please leave your comments below. 

Route news: United, Alaska, Delta. United plans to add a pair of new seasonal routes to Europe on June 4 and double its service on another: Daily Newark-Venice service operates through September 23 with a 767-400ER; daily Chicago-Dublin service through August 17 with a 757-200; and a second daily Washington Dulles-Paris CDG flight through August 17 with a 757-200 … This week, United adds two Latin American routes: Denver-Panama City starting December 3, and Houston-Santiago December 7 … On July 1, Alaska Airlines will add three routes operated by partner SkyWest’s Embraer 175s: Seattle-Milwaukee, Seattle-Oklahoma City and Portland-St. Louis, each with one daily flight … Delta plans to drop even more routes from Memphis on January 5, including Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Dallas/Ft. Worth; in April, it will end MEM-Washington Reagan National service.

MileagePlus tests new shopping app. United recently revealed plans to let MileagePlus members use miles to pay for meals and drinks via iPads at Newark’s Terminal C once renovations are finished, and now it is expanding its app-based shopping technology. The airline said it has started testing with a select group of members what it calls the MileagePlus X mobile app, which lets members with iOS and Android phones instantly earn up to 24 miles per dollar spent at participating retailers, including Lowe’s, Sears, the Gap and AMC Theaters. “The airline plans to expand MileagePlus X to all members and offer more retailers soon,” a spokesman said. “United is continuing to improve MileagePlus X and plans to launch additional features, including the ability to redeem miles for in-store purchases.”

Philadelphia

Philadelphia (Photo: Murray Hedley, Flickr)

AA, Delta battle for PHL-London. When Delta recently began its own non-stop Los Angeles-London Heathrow service, American responded with plans to double its service on the route to two flights a day starting next spring — and now the same thing is happening on the Philadelphia-London Heathrow route. Delta said it will launch daily 757-200 flights between PHL and LHR on April 8 as part of its partnership with Virgin Atlantic. And American said it will add a second daily PHL-LHR flight starting March 29, operated by a US Airways 757-200, with a 9:55 a.m. departure time. That will give the AA-British Airways joint venture four daily PHL-LHR flights.

What are the two best all-around credit cards? Both currently offer 40,000 mile sign up bonuses!

CARS

Uber suspends Nevada service — for now. Ride-sharing app Uber’s presence in one of its newest big markets — Las Vegas — has been suspended after a Nevada judge issued a temporary restraining order against the service. It’s apparently the first time that Uber has failed to overcome the many legal and regulatory challenges to its business model, which generally involve whether or not the firm should have to follow the same rules as taxi operators.


Gas prices plunge. As air fares keep going up, gas prices keep going down. Late last week, the price of a barrel of oil plunged to a low of about $66. If this trend continues, it could lead some business travelers to consider adding more road trips to their schedules in place of shorter flights. Last week, average U.S. gas prices hit $2.82 a gallon, down 47 cents from last year at this time and at their lowest late-November level in five years, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Are you planning to drive more now that fuel prices are lower… but airfares are not? Please leave your comments below. 

International

Easier entry to India. The notoriously difficult Indian visa application process is now apparently a thing of the past according to QuartzThe Narendra Modi government on Thursday launched a “tourist visa on arrival” scheme for nationals of 43 countries (including the US and Cananda) traveling to India for 30 days or less—and only for “recreation, sightseeing, short duration medical treatment, casual business visit, casual visit to meet friends or relatives.” Applications must now be made online (instead of the previously required visit to a consulate) at least four days prior to arrival and cost $60.

In Case You Missed It…

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Much needed upgrade in London

Heathrow Train

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

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

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

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

Related: Chris’s column Business Trip: London

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Google’s travel advice

Google travel

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

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

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

Google travel

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

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

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

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

Google Travel

–Chris McGinnis

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

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

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

etihadTheResidenceFclass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Popular: 20+ TravelSkills readers have signed up for these oddball credit card offers that reap big rewards. Have you? 

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

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

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

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

Lake Tahoe at sunset (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Lake Tahoe at sunset (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

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

In Case You Missed It…

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

 

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

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AIRPORTS

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

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

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

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

TRENDS

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

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

CARS

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

HOTELS

The Grand Premier Suite at the new Moskva hotel in Moscow

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

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

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

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

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In Case You Missed It…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CARS

Uber now in Vegas, maybe

Uber now in Vegas, maybe

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

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

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

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

The tallest Holiday Inn. Photo by architects GKAPC in NYC

The tallest Holiday Inn. Photo by architects GKAPC in NYC

HOTELS

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

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

In Case You Missed It…

>Understanding your Tokyo airport options.

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

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

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

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

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Taxi usage down 65% + Newark, LAX upgrades + Plush transfers at DEN + TSA wait times decline

United's upgraded terminal at Newark could soon look a lot like this one-- which is Delta's a La Guardia. (Photo: OTG)

United’s upgraded terminal at Newark could soon look a lot like this one–> Delta’s Terminals C&D  at La Guardia. (Photo: OTG)

Terminal renovations at Newark. United Airlines is teaming up with OTG Management for a $120 million overhaul of Newark Liberty’s Terminal C over the next 18 months. UA’s hub terminal will get 55 new dining venues, and passengers will have free access to thousands of iPads “to track their flight, order from chef-created menus, and purchase travel amenities for delivery directly to their seat in the terminal while browsing the Internet,” United said. (This set up should sound very similar to Delta flyers who use New York La Guardia airport frequently– it’s the exact same concept.)

LAX upgrade. Meanwhile, LAX officials last week marked the groundbreaking for a $508 million makeover of Southwest’s Terminal 1 at that airport. It will get a new 12-lane security checkpoint, automated checked bag system, new and expanded dining and retail concessions; and relocation of the terminal entrances to the west end of the building.

Air France Update: Over the weekend, Air France pilots extended their crippling strike until Sept 26. The French carrier is flying about 40% of its flights.

SF Taxi biz down a whopping 65% (Photo: Athan / Flickr)

SF Taxi biz down a whopping 65% (Photo: Athan / Flickr)

Taxi usage in SF down 65%! Ride-finding apps like Uber and Lyft have become so popular in tech-savvy San Francisco (where Uber launched in 2009)  that the city’s traditional taxi business is in a downward spiral. A new report presented to city transportation officials said that the number of taxi trips in San Francisco has plummeted by 65 percent over the past 15 months. Have you switch away from cabs in favor of Uber, Lyft or other services in SF or elsewhere? Please leave your comments below. For me, I’m currently stuck in Las Vegas, a surprisingly non-Uber city, and feel lost without it! (Want $30 off your first Uber ride? Click here!)

Mercedes tarmac transfers at DEN. United’s best customers (Global First flyers and Global Services members) now have the opportunity for Mercedes-Benz SUV tarmac transfers to their connecting flights at Denver International. The service is already available at Chicago, Houston, Newark, San Francisco, LA and Dulles. (Something else that should be familiar to Delta’s ultra-elites who get tarmac transfers in Porsches.)

Runway closure at ATL. The northernmost runway at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson closed down last week for paving work that will continue through October 15. Four runways remain open, and because September and October are slow traffic months, “the runway closure is not expected to significantly affect flight traffic,” a spokesman said. However, TravelSkills reader RD begs to differ: On Sunday morning he wrote: “Just landed this morning at ATL and this is already creating a mess for arrivals. It added about 10 minutes to our taxi time.”

Inside the first class section of a United E175 (Embraer)

Inside the first class section of a United E175 (Embraer)

United adds more 76-seat jets. United Airlines is broadening its commitment to the Embraer 175 by ordering another 50 of the two-class, 76-seat aircraft for United Express, to be operated by a subsidiary of Republic Airways Holdings. The carrier is already taking delivery of its first batch of 70 E175s; the next 50 will come online from 2015 through 2017. The aircraft offer first class, Economy Plus and regular economy seats. Next year, United Express will start to remove 31 Q400 turboprops from its fleet. Last week, United Express started deploying the E175 at San Francisco, on the SFO-St Louis route; on October 26, it will put the planes on SFO-Austin, Dallas and Minneapolis flights.

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WestJet, Air Canada add bag fees. Canadian carrier WestJet, which flies to a number of U.S. cities and has code-sharing pacts with Delta and American, is ending its “first checked bag free” policy for passengers who buy its bottom-tier Econo fares. The new $25 fee for the first checked bag is effective for travel starting October 29. The carrier also launched a new WestJet Rewards tier program with three levels — teal, silver and gold — starting October 29; it’s based on spending rather than miles flown. In response, Air Canada — which already has a first-bag fee on transborder flights — said it would impose a similar $25 bag fee starting November 2 on domestic passengers traveling on its economy class Tango fares.

Routes: DL grows in Texas; Frontier comes to ORD. Delta Connection/Compass Airlines will begin four daily LAX-DFW flights on November 3; add a third daily LAX-Austin roundtrip November 2; and start twice-daily LAX-San Antonio flights April 7, 2015 … Frontier Airlines started flying out of Chicago O’Hare last week, with six flights a week to Washington Dulles.

So, what do you think of Spirit Airlines flamboyant new livery? Comments below, please! (Photo: Spirit)

So, what do you think of Spirit Airlines flamboyant new livery? Comments below, please! (Photo: Spirit)

AIRPORTS

TSA: Line times are down. The TSA says it is meeting its goal of getting all travelers through security after a wait of less than 20 minutes. From June through August of this year, the agency said, 99.6 percent of all travelers waited in security lines less than 20 minutes — and 99.98 percent of those in the expedited PreCheck lanes “moved through the checkpoint in less than 10 minutes.” And that’s with a total of 173 million persons screened during those summer months. Do TSA’s numbers about waiting times sound right to you, based on your experience?

SFO encourages networking, brainstorming. The newest public facility at San Francisco International is oddly called “#Converge@flySFO” — an 850-square-foot space in the International Terminal, boarding area G, on Level 3 near Gate G93. Equipped with tables, chairs, power outlets, Wi-Fi and a wall-sized white board with markers, “the space is designed to allow travelers to meet and exchange thoughts on technology, shared economies, and ideas that could make the world a better place,” a spokesman said. Persons who want to use it should post their topic, date and time via social media channels using the hashtag #Converge, and tagging @flySFO so the airport can repost it.

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

HOTELS

Marriott wants maids tipped. In thousands of Marriott hotel rooms across the group’s various brands, guests will soon start seeing envelopes encouraging them to tip their maid. Housekeeping workers reportedly receive tips less often than other hotel staff, and the company wants to make sure they’re not forgotten. It suggests $1 to $5 a night, depending on the room rate. We’d love to hear you sound off about hotel tipping and Marriott’s moves. Please leave your comments below.

In Case You Missed It…

>Nostalgia buffs can have dinner in a Pan Am 747.

>New airport concept: Park for free, rent your car while you’re away.

>Here’s a credit card for travelers with big bonuses and easy redemptions.

>Here’s how to find widebodies on domestic routes

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

CLICK>>Take a scroll thru what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <CLICK

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How to park for free at the airport

FlightCar provides a free black car shuttle to the airport and back. (Photo: FlightCar)

FlightCar provides a free black car shuttle to the airport and back. (Photo: FlightCar)

Parking at the airport is a pain. And an expensive pain at that! How would you like to avoid it, and maybe even make a little money instead of spending it? If your car is less than 13 years old and has fewer than 150,000 miles, here’s what you can do:

Two years ago, three college kids created FlightCar, which now operates in Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco (and coming in a few weeks to Seattle). A similar service called RelayRides has also branched into many more airports, competing head-to-head with FlightCar.

But for this post, let’s focus on FlightCar.

The basic idea behind FlightCar is this: Instead of driving to an airport parking lot and paying to park your car, you drop it off at the nearby FlightCar lot instead. While you are away, FlightCar will try to rent your car to an inbound traveler. If it does, you’ll get paid. If it does not, you’ll get free parking and a free car wash! How does that sound?

Here’s how it works.

First, you’ll make a parking reservation online by filling in some basic information about your departure/return dates and your car.

On the day of your trip, you’ll drive your car to the FlightCar parking lot near the airport. There they’ll make copies of your proof of insurance and title, and a black car will drive you to the airport. (What makes Relay Rides different is that it uses airport hotel parking lots and hotel shuttles to get you to/from the airport.)

Popular: Act now to get a “free” trip home for the holidays. Here’s how

Back at the lot, FlightCar takes a photo of your car and posts it for rent on its website. You’ll receive an email advising you whenever your car is rented.

When you return, call for an airport pickup. Back at the parking lot, if your car was rented while you were away, you are notified that you will receive a check in the mail based on the number of miles your car was driven (here’s how payment is calculated). If your car was not rented, well, then as always–Parking is absolutely free, as is the mandatory car wash.

That’s the standard program, but FlightCar also has a program specifically for business travelers. It’s the same setup, except that you pay $15 a day for parking but make up to six times as much per mile on rentals.

So, if you live too far from the airport to take Uber or a cab, you might find yourself driving.  If that’s the case, here are a few scenarios where FlightCar makes sense:

When you can’t expense parking. Lots of solopreneurs and business owners aren’t going to be putting airport parking on an expense report. Use the standard program and you’ll park for free. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to calculate this can be a huge savings depending on how long your trips are.

When you can expense parking but wouldn’t mind making some cash while you’re away. The business traveler program charges for parking but gives you back much more on rentals. So, your employer will be smiling as the parking fee is reasonable/average, but you’ll smile, too, as you drive away with a personal check. FlightCar claims the average business traveler returning from a five-day trip makes $120. And don’t forget the free car wash. “We are answering the demand and giving frequent business travelers who treat their parking as a business expense an opportunity to turn their unused vehicle parked at the airport into a personal revenue generator,” Rujul Zaparde, FlightCar CEO said to Travel Weekly

When the trip is for leisure. You can put away your Platinum card when you’ve got the family in tow and pull it out instead for something more fun on your vacation. I first took advantage of FlightCar when embarking on a two-week vacation with my family. We saved $250 in parking during that trip and came home to a rental check for $60. Not bad! For leisure trips, use the standard program.

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FlightCar

Dropping off your car with FlightCar at the airport (Photo: FlightCar)

When you just really like the idea. I know, we have to be practical as business travelers, but there is a small subset of us that just wants to support a cool idea or the underdog. Consider FlightCar an underdog, since, like other sharing-economy companies, it’s having its battles over theoretically dodging the taxes rental car companies pay. Founder Kevin Petrovic told TravelSkills, “Right now, the only battle of significance is our lawsuit with the SFO airport. While we work to come to a resolution on that, our San Francisco operations are not affected and will continue as normal. We have been engaged in the litigation since May 2013.”

If your brain is flooded with “what if’s” as you read this, check out the company’s FAQ. They’ve got you covered in every way I could think of, from accident liability to parking tickets. While in my experience, FlightCar is subject to a few of the occasional missteps of airport parking—once I even had to wait because a car with manual transmission blocked mine and none of the employees knew how to drive a stick–I’m unabashedly a fan. In the right set of circumstances, it’s a brilliant idea that’s a money-saver, too.

For this post I’m only highlighting the parking program, but if you’re on a tight budget, you might also look into the rental side of things.

Certainly, if you have a new or expensive car you don’t want a stranger driving, FlightCar is not for you. But for some others, it can be a viable option.

Have you tried FlightCar or RelayRides? Would you, if it were available in your city?

–Nancy Branka & Chris McGinnis

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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

How to get a free trip home for the holidays

How to find roomy domestic widebody flights

The 10 best places to live in America? 

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

How to choose the best carry-on bag

A bright spot at LAX’s drab Terminal 3

Another British Airways A380 for the US

British Airways to spruce up its 747s

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

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

Nail Painting onboard: Illegal or just rude? 

Biz Trip: Copenhagen

Virgin Atlantic adds new ATL, SFO & DTW flights

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Popular on TravelSkills: Another British Airways A380 for the US

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

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

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

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

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AIRPORTS

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

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

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

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

SECURITY

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

CARS

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

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

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

HOTELS

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

In Case You Missed It…

Chris evaluates Virgin America’s LAX Loft lounge.

British Airways is bringing its A380 to San Francisco.

You can pile up bonus points with these fall hotel promotions

Southwest Airlines unveils a new logo and aircraft livery

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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Nail Painting onboard: Illegal or just rude? 

Biz Trip: Copenhagen

Virgin Atlantic adds new ATL, SFO & DTW flights

Should airlines waive change fees?

Lanai: A billionaire’s work in progress

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6 end-of-summer travel deals. Act fast

Awesome Knee Defender animation VIDEO

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

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

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

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

(Image: WoodlyWonderWorks Flickr)

(Image: WoodlyWonderWorks Flickr)

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

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

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

CARS

(Photo: Uber)

UberBLACK prices soar in SF. (Photo: Uber)

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

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

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

AIRPORTS

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

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

In Case You Missed It

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

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

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

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

-Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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

Mergers that make sense

Serial stowaway finally gets her free flight

3 brand new Los Angeles hotels (& 3 facelifts)

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

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

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

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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AIRPORTS

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

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

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

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

HOTELS

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

CARS

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

In Case You Missed It…

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

>Are Airbnb properties right for a business trip?

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

— Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

Month #3: A TravelSkills update from Chris

Airbnb for a business trip? Mixed results

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

Mergers that make sense

Serial stowaway finally gets her free flight

3 brand new Los Angeles hotels (& 3 facelifts)

How to get on earlier flight without paying fee

Trip Report: ANA’s 787 Dreamliner to Tokyo

20 different biz class seats in 1 room- PHOTOS

Frequent travelers love Chick-fil-a

Kicked off flight for a tweet? Southwest responds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emirates arrives at Chicago ORD (Photo: Emirates)

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

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

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CARS

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

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

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

In Case You Missed It…

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

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

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

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

Mergers that make sense

Serial stowaway finally gets her free flight

3 brand new Los Angeles hotels (& 3 facelifts)

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

The 50,000 mile bonus is back

How to get on earlier flight without paying fee

Trip Report: ANA’s 787 Dreamliner to Tokyo

20 different biz class seats in 1 room- PHOTOS

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

Frequent travelers love Chick-fil-a

Kicked off flight for a tweet? Southwest responds

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

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Mergers that make sense

What are some travel industry marriages that might work? (Photo: Rosmary / Flickr)

What are some travel industry marriages that might work? (Photo: Rosmary / Flickr)

Over the last few years, we’ve witnessed a wave of travel industry mergers that seemed implausible a decade ago.

Yet here we are today with four major airlines (American, Delta, Southwest and United) that control at least 80% of the domestic market. Similarly,  the hotel industry is dominated by four giant companies: InterContinental, Hilton, Marriott, Starwood. (Just this week, Hilton squealed about hitting the 700,000 rooms mark. Marriott recently opened its 4000th hotel.)

Nearly 100% of the airport rental car market is now controlled by just three companies: Enterprise (National, Alamo), Hertz (Dollar, Thrifty), and Avis (Budget, Payless, Zipcar).

Big brand names that we’ve all known and loved (or hated) have evaporated or been gobbled up by conglomerates.

Have we reached the end of merger mania in the travel biz? I don’t think so.

Let’s speculate on a few more mergers that might make sense:

Uber's clever bashing of rival Lyft would disappear if the companies merged. (Facebook screenshot)

Uber’s clever bashing of rival Lyft in social media would disappear if the companies merged- but fares could increase. (Facebook screenshot)

Uber + Lyft

Uber is sitting on a valuation of $19 billion and is the undisputed king of the brand new ridesharing industry with an excellent product and a very loyal customer base. With that kind of money and power, Uber must be thinking about buying out its closest competitor, Lyft (valued at around $700 million), right? I would if I were Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.

The services offered by UberX and Lyft are nearly identical, so I could easily see Uber buying and folding in Lyft as part of its new carpooling initiative announced this week. And it’s curious that Lyft and Uber both came out with the same idea about carpooling almost simultaneously, no? Are the two companies already coordinating product launches?  Hmm.

The combo would probably make many buttoned up, Uber-loving business travelers a bit more comfortable with Lyft, which is known for its “citizen drivers,” fratty fist bumps and fuzzy pink moustaches. Those moustaches might be getting a makeover- Lyft recently hired a new design director to polish up its image. 

“Uber has been aggressive in its efforts to add both cities and capacity, and a merger could help it accomplish both,” said Henry Harteveldt of the Atmosphere Research Group. “A larger Uber would be more appealing to individual consumers and business travelers, and would have considerably more political clout.”  But he also warned that removing a competitor from the marketplace could lead to higher prices. 

What are the odds that these two will merge? Leave your comments below.

Virgin America and JetBlue jets in Los Angeles (Photo: InSapphoWeTrust / Flickr)

JetBlue and Virgin America jets in Los Angeles (Photo: InSapphoWeTrust / Flickr)

Virgin America + JetBlue

Virgin America and JetBlue are currently the darlings of commercial aviation in the US. Both are known for excellent service, new planes and positive consumer feedback.

But both are also in a bloodbath with financially healthy legacy carriers anxious to eat their lunch. It is increasingly difficult for these two upstarts to fight against the attraction of the major carriers’ robust frequent flier programs.

Wouldn’t it make sense for the two to combine forces to fight back?

Their route maps don’t overlap too much– JetBlue is primarily an east coast carrier and Virgin is big out west. JetBlue has a nice foothold in the huge New York City market. Virgin is adored in San Francisco and Los Angeles. JetBlue boasts the modern, convenient airport terminal (T5) at JFK. Virgin has the state of the art T2 at SFO. The two carriers could share the mod Virgin Loft at LAX since they both operate out of Terminal 3 there. Both carriers fly Airbus narrowbody jets.

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“JetBlue would benefit greatly from having one less competitor on the highly competitive transcon routes.  For Virgin America, its owners would likely love the idea of a merger so they could recoup their investments. If the price is right, then it should make sense for them,” said Brett Snyder who runs the popular Cranky Flier blog. “But my guess is that it would be tough to find the right price.”

If the two carriers did merge, which brand would survive? Snyder thinks it would be JetBlue due to more national name recognition and the fact that they would not have to pay the Virgin Group any royalties to use the Virgin name.

Aviation analyst Robert Mann told TravelSkills, “Only partially in jest, the three most important questions in mergers are where will it be based, what will we call it, and who gets to run it?  M&A is all about egos, right?”

What are the odds that these two will merge and which brand would survive? Leave your comments below.

Some other likely combos? 

The fabulous, colorful lobby at Kimpton's Hotel Monaco in Portland. (Chris McGinnis)

The fabulous, colorful lobby at Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco in Portland. (Chris McGinnis)

There are numerous other merger possibilities that make sense in the travel space. I’m thinking Kimpton and Hyatt would make a good pair– both do a great job executing excellent upscale customer service, and Hyatt is likely eager to enlarge its relatively small footprint in the market.

Like Uber, Airbnb is sitting on a huge valuation ($10 billion) which it could use to buy out competitors… I wonder if Airbnb has its eyes on VRBO, which used to lead in this space, but now operates in the shadow of Airbnb?

Then there’s the notion that the major air carriers in each global alliance may one day merge to form truly global carriers. SkyTeam Air Lines? Oneworld Airways? Star Airlines? That’s probably years, if not decades away, but these global alliances are likely precursors. Sounds implausible, right? Well, maybe not!

What do you think are some likely merger possibilities in the travel space? Leave your comments below! 

–Chris McGinnis

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Serial stowaway finally gets her free flight

3 brand new Los Angeles hotels (& 3 facelifts)

How to get on earlier flight without paying fee

Trip Report: ANA’s 787 Dreamliner to Tokyo

20 different biz class seats in 1 room- PHOTOS

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

Frequent travelers love Chick-fil-a

Kicked off flight for a tweet? Southwest responds

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

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

new cabin design

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

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

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

HOTELS

hilton app

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

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

BUSINESS TRAVEL

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

In Case You Missed It…

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

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

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

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

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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How to get on earlier flight without paying fee

Trip Report: ANA’s 787 Dreamliner to Tokyo

20 different biz class seats in 1 room- PHOTOS

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

Frequent travelers love Chick-fil-a

Kicked off flight for a tweet? Southwest responds

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

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

jetblue

(Photo: Jim Glab)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BUSINESS TRAVEL

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

AIRPORTS

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

HOTELS

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

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

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

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

In Case You Missed It…

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

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

>How safe are ‘sharing economy’ travel suppliers?

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

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

 

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

Are frequent flyer programs designed to fail?

Are Uber, Airbnb or Lyft safe?

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

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

Traveling with Carly Simon (reprise)

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

5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows

How to save $$ on pricey inflight wi-fi

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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Are Uber, Airbnb or Lyft safe?

Lyft cars are easily identified by fuzzy pink moustaches (Photo: Raido / Flickr)

Lyft cars are easily identified by fuzzy pink moustaches (Photo: Raido / Flickr)

By Nancy Branka

Safety is a primary concern for most female business travelers, but it factors into travel decisions of both sexes. So, as I recently made my first-ever reservation on Airbnb.com for a business trip, I stopped and wondered, “Is this smart?”

New “sharing economy” travel suppliers such as Airbnb, Uber or Lyft can be exciting options for travelers– for their uniqueness, convenience and cost savings. But are the benefits of these services offset by safety risks?

I booked an Airbnb condo in Los Angeles because all the convention hotels near my conference were sold out—except one property 10 miles away . The thought of a 10-mile slog in LA traffic was unbearable. Through Airbnb, I booked a one-bedroom condo in a brand-new building that is literally across the street from the convention center. Like most business travelers, cost was not my primary motivation, but it made me smile to be saving $84 a night. Hip décor and free use of the building’s gym and pool didn’t hurt either.

This one bedroom apartment in the mid-Wilshire district of LA goes for about $139 per night (Photo from Airbnb website)

This one bedroom apartment in the mid-Wilshire district of LA goes for about $139 per night (Photo from Airbnb website)

Safety became top-of-mind when I began to set up my Airbnb profile. An elaborate system of matching your identity (including photo) with your public profiles (e.g. LinkedIn or Facebook) is in place. Hosts are also checked in this manner and a verified review system is a reality check to ensure they are reputable and dependable. I read these reviews carefully and chatted via text with the owner before making my decision. For women with safety concerns, I would highly recommend paying attention to reviews and getting to know the host pre-trip. My stay is at the end of this month, so I’m curious about how safe I will feel there. Yet, right now I couldn’t be happier with the booking experience.

Ground transportation is another realm of the sharing economy where safety may be in question for women travelers. We even questioned whether or not Uber is legal on a recent TravelSkills post. Last month Uber was in the news when a woman was allegedly kidnapped by an Uber driver. Turns out charges were not filed—it was not clear that an assault had occurred, and the driver may well have been trying to help the intoxicated passenger who could not remember her address.

Uber now operates in 35 countries and 100 cities. According to its website, drivers (for both ride-sharing and livery services) receive a three-step criminal background check that goes as far back as the law allows (seven years). After hiring, drivers’ records are checked on an ongoing basis. Uber also posits that not needing to hail a car is a safety benefit—you can stay in a safe spot until your car arrives. And you have a record of the driver’s name and vehicle information before you get in the car. A rating system means drivers are held accountable and are—theoretically—always working to do better and improve their ratings. (Uber offers detailed information about driver screening here.)

Lyft, another car-sharing service operating in 60 U.S. cities, has similar safety measures for passengers according to its website. Rideshare-startup Sidecar, also with these safety measures, operates in six U.S. cities.

Ride-sharing companies have been in the news as recently as last week, when they were given cease-and-desist orders in Pittsburgh. Municipalities and states continue to threaten these sharing economy services, usually under the mantle of public safety. However, because they threaten traditional and highly regulated taxi and chauffeur industries, the issue is also laden with political and tax revenue–related repercussions.

While it always pays to be particularly careful when traveling, I don’t see any reason to think these sharing services are less safe than the traditional. In my own travel planning, I will keep an eye on the news as regulations and companies evolve, but until I see proof that my safety is at risk, I will continue to use them.

Do you think sharing economy services like Uber, Lyft and Airbnb are risky? Why? Leave your insights and experiences in the comments!

Nancy Branka

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

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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

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

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

Traveling with Carly Simon (reprise)

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

5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows

How to save $$ on pricey inflight wi-fi

Is Chengdu China’s Chicago?

Delta waffles on transcon upgrade policy

6 most irritating actions of infrequent flyers

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

Newer, lighter Emirates A380s coming to SFO, IAH

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

Is Uber illegal?

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 7.47.04 AM

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

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

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

British Airways experimental blanket monitors passenger brainwaves

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

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

AIRPORTS

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

HOTELS

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

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

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

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

GROUND

audi

Audi A4 (from Silvercar)

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

In Case You Missed It…

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

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

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

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

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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

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

Traveling with Carly Simon (reprise)

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

5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows

How to save $$ on pricey inflight wi-fi

Is Chengdu China’s Chicago?

Delta waffles on transcon upgrade policy

6 most irritating actions of infrequent flyers

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

Newer, lighter Emirates A380s coming to SFO, IAH

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

Is Uber illegal?

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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

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

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

AIRPORTS

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

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

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

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

 GROUND

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

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

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

INTERNATIONAL

An Air India Boeing 777 (Photo: Tom Turner)

An Air India Boeing 777 (Photo: Tom Turner)

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

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

HOTELS

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

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

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

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

In Case You Missed It…

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

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

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

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

— Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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How to save $$ on pricey inflight wi-fi

Is Chengdu China’s Chicago?

Delta waffles on transcon upgrade policy

6 most irritating actions of infrequent flyers

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

Newer, lighter Emirates A380s coming to SFO, IAH

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

Is Uber illegal?

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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Is Uber illegal?

(Photo: Jason Tester Guerilla / Flickr)

(Photo: Jason Tester Guerilla / Flickr)

The recent brouhaha between popular ride sharing services (such as Uber or Lyft) and airport authorities may have frequent travelers uneasy about using them for airport runs. San Francisco seems to be the locus of the current controversy, but airports are taking action in other cities, too. For example, San Antonio airport authorities cited drivers and impounded cars last week.  

Ride sharing services and apps have changed the landscape of business travel like nothing else since, say, the proliferation of mobile phones in the 1990’s.

I’m a huge fan and frequent user when I’m home or when I’m on the road. And I’m a particularly heavy user on airport runs– it’s just too easy, simple and comfortable compared to a clunky cab ride.

But I’ve wondered, and I know that many law abiding business travelers out there have wondered, too:

As much as I love my Uber rides to the airport, is it illegal? If I’m a passenger in car that’s pulled over at the airport for violating public utility commission statutes, can I be penalized?

Of course, the answer lies in a gray area.  So let’s break it down.

First off, if you use Uber Black (limo, sedan or SUV), your rides to or from the airport are legal. That’s because Uber Black drivers are professional livery drivers licensed by the Public Utilities Commission for airport runs. UberTaxi drivers are also authorized to make airport runs.  

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Uber Black cars are okay for airport runs (Photo: Adam Fagan / Flickr)

Uber Black cars are okay for airport runs (Photo: Adam Fagan / Flickr)

It gets gray when you choose the less expensive services that utilize private or “citizen” drivers (like UberX, Lyft) using their own cars, and not holding airport permits. The California Public Utilities Commission recently granted these companies (called Transportation Network Companies or TNCs) permits to operate in the state, but their permits specifically disallow airport runs. Here’s what UberX’s permit states:

UberX permit

There lies the crux of the issue: No airports have authorized the services to operate on their grounds. But in flagrant violation of the permit, they continue to drive thousands of us to and from airports across the US every single day. Now that UberX is cheaper, more convenient, and more comfortable than a taxi ride to the airport, I use it all the time. No one has ever told me what I’m doing is illegal.

And now it sounds like some, but not all UberX drivers have airport permits. In a statement to TravelSkills, an Uber spokesperson said, “We are currently working with SFO on permitting for all uberX drivers. Right now, travelers can request any driver partner that currently has an airport permit. This includes driver partners who are on both uberX and Black platforms. We encourage travelers to open the app, request a ride, and they will be connected to a ride.”

But a rash of recent reports state that airports are getting aggressive with enforcement action on UberX and Lyft. So, as a law abiding business traveler, I’m wondering, as I know you are:  If it is illegal for these companies to be operating at the airport, what happens to me if my driver gets pulled over? Could I get fined or penalized, too? As it stands right now, it sounds like the answer to that question is NO.

“Under the law as it stands right now, I don’t see any liability on the part of a passenger for an UberX or Lyft ride to or from the airport,” said travel law attorney Adam Anolik of the Anolik Law Group in Sausalito, CA. “The issue really comes down to whether what Uber and Lyft are doing is illegal. If it is, then technically passengers are conspiring with drivers to break the law.  But, since the law has never been applied to passengers in the past, passengers should feel safe using these services until the enforcement methods are changed,” he said. 

Which credit card is currently offering $500 in free travel (among many other bennies) when you sign up? Click here to find out about this “no-brainer” offer! 

So the biggest threat to your business travel schedule right now is the possibility of delay–  you might be in a car that is pulled over by police at a California airport for the driver to get an admonishment– airport police at SFO have nabbed at least 300 drivers in the last month

“Our enforcement effort is focused on the driver, with a verbal admonishment,” Doug Yakel, spokesperson for SFO told TravelSkills. “If the same individual has been given two admonishments, the third offense would lead to a citation. The citation is a notice to appear in court, where a judge would determine the fine, etc. So while this doesn’t affect riders, the fact remains that TNC operations at any airport in California require the specific authorization of that airport.”

Do you use UberX or Lyft to get to the airport? Have you seen a driver get an admonishment yet? Who do you think is going to win…or lose…in this struggle? Please leave your comments below.

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Biz Trip: Denver

Minty fresh transcons + AA US Upgrades + Salt Lake fight + United SFO consolidated + Amex/Uber tie up + Tokyo’s newest hotel

Mood lights on at new Virgin America site 

First look: The newest United Club (PHOTOS)

Beer price index helps gauge cost of trips abroad

United’s new copy & paste MileagePlus program

Marriott’s M Club lounge experiment

More transpac + Slim-line seats slammed + More A321s + New SFO club + ATL free wi-fi + New Hilton brand

Flying on a brand new United 787 Dreamliner

The sad state of summer airfares to Europe

Tip: What exactly is “high tea?”

Feast your eyes on United’s new London lounges (PHOTOS)

Economy comfort gets an upgrade (for some)

Late summer airfare sale starts TODAY

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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Minty fresh transcons + AA US Upgrades + Salt Lake fight + United SFO consolidated + Amex/Uber tie up + Tokyo’s newest hotel

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

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Salt Lake City Airport (Photo: Jim Glab)

Salt Lake City Airport (Photo: Jim Glab)

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

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

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AIRPORTS

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

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

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

HOTELS

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

Which credit card is currently offering $500 in free travel (among many other bennies) when you sign up? Click here to find out about this “no-brainer” offer! 

Chevy's new Spark CARS

AmEx forges a tie-in with Uber. American Express has inked a partnership deal with the popular ride-finding app Uber, which operates in five dozen U.S. cities. Membership Rewards members who register their cards in the newest version of Uber’s iOS app can earn double program points, or they can use points to pay for rides.

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

In Case You Missed It

>United’s new transition of MileagePlus to a spending-based program is pretty much a carbon copy of Delta’s.

>Have you tried out Marriott’s new M Club Lounge concept yet? Here’s some background.

>Virgin America has rolled out an innovative redesign of its website.

>Amtrak is taking bids for a project to boost capacity and increase speeds of on-board Wi-Fi for its Northeast Corridor trains.

-Jim Glab

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

Mood lights on at new Virgin America site 

First look: The newest United Club (PHOTOS)

Beer price index helps gauge cost of trips abroad

United’s new copy & paste MileagePlus program

Marriott’s M Club lounge experiment

More transpac + Slim-line seats slammed + More A321s + New SFO club + ATL free wi-fi + New Hilton brand

Flying on a brand new United 787 Dreamliner

The sad state of summer airfares to Europe

Tip: What exactly is “high tea?”

Feast your eyes on United’s new London lounges (PHOTOS)

Economy comfort gets an upgrade (for some)

Late summer airfare sale starts TODAY

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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Virgin gets Love + Unusual SFO car wash + United to Tokyo Haneda + UberXL

Virgin America pulled out it's biggest gun in Dallas...and won! (Photo: Virgin America)

Virgin America pulled out its biggest gun in Dallas (Richard Branson)…and won! (Photo: Virgin America)

LOVE. After an unexpectedly contentious battle, Dallas city managers gave Virgin America the go ahead to operate flights from two gates at close-in and convenient Love Field. This is good news for business travelers for two reasons. 1) It will provide a new, convenent alternative to DFW for those with business in downtown Dallas. 2) It could eventually mean more options for one stop flights (via Dallas) to East Coast cities– and more east coast cities could land new Virgin flights.  Service begins in October. [more…]

CAR WASH. Last week, an unusual new car wash service debuted at San Francisco International. Here’s how it works. You park your car in any on-airport lot, noting the location. Lock up and keep your keys.  Then you log on to BuyMyWash.com and enter the make/license and location of your car, and the type of wash you want. (Rates for a car range from $19.95-$29.95) Then the mobile car washing service comes by and washes your parked car, using “only about a half-gallon of water for each wash, with virtually no runoff or overspray” according to SFO. The service is also available at Houston Intercontinental and Hobby airports. 

TOKYO. Today, United Airlines announced that it will crank up new nonstops from SFO to Tokyo Haneda airport starting Oct 23. Haneda airport is a much better option for travelers with business in central Tokyo because it’s only about 30 minutes south of central city whereas Narita is more than an hour to the east. United will split its current twice a day service to Tokyo, with one flight a day to Narita and the other to Haneda. Star Alliance partner ANA has a huge hub at Haneda for connections to other Asian cities. Currently Japan Airlines offers nonstops from SFO to Haneda. Delta’s daily nonstop to Narita ended earlier this year.

MORE UBER. The amazing phenomenon that is Uber has come out with yet another flavor this week in San Francisco: UberXL, a more affordable option for SUV trips. Instead of those gargantuan Yukons or Suburbans that you probably feel guilty gallivanting about town in, UberXL uses smaller Pathfinders, Highlanders or Explorers that can hold up to six passengers. Rates are 50% less than standard SUV rates. No word yet on the service in other cities served by Uber. Speaking of Uber, London black taxicab drivers plan to stage a slow down next month to protest the rapid increase in Uber use.  Get $10 off your first Uber ride by using this link. 

UberXL

–Chris McGinnis


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A long, hot and expensive summer ahead

A record number of foreign visitors expected in US this summer (Photo: Prayitno / Flickr)

A record number of foreign visitors expected in US this summer. Yosemite Valley. (Photo: Prayitno / Flickr)

A long, cold winter in much of the U.S., combined with an improving economy and increasing consumer confidence mean that the upcoming summer travel season will be busy, crowded and more expensive than last summer.

Here’s some evidence of a strong season ahead: The number of advance bookings for summer stays at Best Western’s 2,200+ hotels in the US are already up 9.5% compared to this time last year. Plus, business travelers have come back in droves–the Global Business Travel Association recently had to increase its spending growth forecast for 2014 last week to 7.1% this year, compared to its previous prediction of 6.6%. The Airlines Reporting Corporation says that summer airfares are already up 4% compared to last summer– and don’t forget that last summer’s airfares were painfully high.

Nonetheless, summer is the best time of year to get out and see the world, visit family and friends, or just get away from the grind to relax and renew. And with the economy percolating along, business travel is as important as ever.

So here’s my advice on making the best of the coming summer season.

HIGH PRICES. High demand is going to mean high prices, especially for those planning to visit popular destinations along the coasts, near national parks and amusement parks in the U.S. Remember, you will not only be competing with fellow Americans for those airplane seats, restaurant tables and hotel rooms–the U.S. Department of Commerce expects a record 72.2 million tourists from other countries in 2014. Perennially popular European destinations such as London, Paris and Rome will remain stubbornly expensive for summer visitors.

July 4 is on a Friday this year. Cavallo Point in Marin County, CA (Photo Chris McGinnis)

July 4 is on a Friday this year. Cavallo Point in Marin County, CA (Photo Chris McGinnis)

WHEN TO BOOK? Make air and hotel reservations now if you plan to travel on or around the summer’s long weekends (Memorial Day, July 4 or Labor Day) and just about any time during the “peak of the peak” weeks of July and early August. If you don’t make reservations early on, you’ll not only be shut out of any price breaks, but you’ll likely to have to settle for less desirable middle seats on the plane, or “garden views” instead of water or skyline views at hotels. You might also not be able to find the right size rental car for you or your family.

CALENDAR CHECK. Memorial Day is Monday May 26th this year. The 4th of July falls on a Friday this year, making for a compact, very busy, crowded weekend. And Labor Day is Monday, September 1.

FLEXIBILITY COUNTS. While summer is the most expensive time of year to travel with “deals” few and far between, those who can travel in early June or late August are most likely to pay the lowest rates. For those with schedules not dictated by school calendars, the “shoulder seasons” of May and September offer the very best rates due to lower demand. Generally speaking, summer airfares are least expensive for trips on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

canadian-flag-640US DOLLAR. Canada has become newly affordable due to a recent 10% decline in the value of its dollar compared to the US dollar. (Currently, a Canadian dollar goes for about 90 US cents) As a result, demand for vacations in Canada is up– for example, Best Western reports that advance bookings for summer stays at its hotels in Canada are up 17.7% compared to this time last year.

EUROPE. Despite economic doldrums in Europe, the euro and British pound have held up relatively well. For example, right now you need nearly 1.70 US dollars to buy a British pound or $1.40 for a euro. Airfares from the US to Europe are up 7% over last year, according to the Airlines Reporting Corporation. You can avoid high costs and still enjoy a European adventure by heading to eastern European countries that don’t use the euro such as Poland, Hungary, Turkey or Croatia. Among western European countries, the least expensive are the “PIGS”–Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain.

Editor Chris McGinnis hitting the road

Editor Chris McGinnis hitting the road

HIT THE ROAD. It doesn’t cost a cent to check your bag in the trunk of your car! If high airfares and increasing fees could keep you grounded this summer, take a road trip instead. The average price per gallon across the US should run about $3.57 this summer, a penny less than last summer. While we’ll likely see the typical early summer bump up in gasoline prices, the overall trend is down. According to the US Energy Information Agency, the average price of a gallon of gas in the US fell from $3.63 in 2012 to an average of $3.51/gal in 2013. This year, the agency expects the average price to continue to fall to $3.45 and even lower–to $3.37 per gallon in 2015.

THE BIG THREE. When shopping around for the best hotel rates, be sure you are comparing apples to apples. This means you always need to know what’s included in the rate…and what’s not. You’ll find the most value at hotels that include the “big three” amenities in their rates: wi-fi, breakfast and parking. If you can’t tell what’s included in the rate from a hotel’s website, always call to find out before you click the “buy” button! A family of four can start off the day saving about $40 by staying at a hotel that includes breakfast in the rate. And you could end up paying $50+ for parking at some downtown hotels.

(Chris McGinnis is Best Western’s travel trends expert and business travel blogger on youmustbetrippin.com where this post originally appeared)

-Chris McGinnis


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American & US Airways at T2 + Sonoma airport expands + UberX + Delta/Virgin + EVA expands

Have you ever been inside American's Admiral's Club at SFO Terminal 2? Nice! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Have you ever been inside American’s Admiral’s Club at SFO Terminal 2? Nice! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

US AIRWAYS-AMERICAN AT SFO. We asked our airport contacts when we might start seeing operations of merged American and US Airways at SFO’s  Terminal 2, but consolidation does not sound imminent. A spokesperson told TravelSkills: “The airlines will run separately for some time, so no word yet on combined operations.” Also, only six days to go and neither SFO or United has revealed what the first arrival or departure will be from the new T3E (opens Jan 28). Any guesses? Ours would be a flight to/from United’s home base of Chicago… but who knows? Please prognosticate below. 

Screen Shot 2014-01-21 at 1.57.52 PMMORE FLIGHTS FROM SONOMA? The Charles M. Schulz (Snoopy) Airport in Sonoma County is getting a makeover that could result in more nonstop flights.  With the biggest expansion since World War 2, the airport could soon see nonstops to Denver, Phoenix and Guadalajara in addition to the current Alaska Air flights nonstops to Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and San Diego.

UBERx CUTS PRICES. I dunno about you, but UberX has become my most frequent choice for transportation to and from the airport in SF and elsewhere. It’s just so easy. And now, it’s getting cheaper than cabs! In a new effort to be “the cheapest ride in town” UberX has cut its rates by 20%. Uber says that uberX rates are now 26% cheaper than cabs. Currently UberX from downtown SF to SFO is $25-$33; black car service is $65. From downtown SF to Oakland Int’l Airport, the fare is as low as $39. What do you think about Uber and UberX? Save $20 on your first Uber ride by clicking here. 

Shiny new EVA Air 777-300ER flies SFO-TPE (Photo EVA Air)

Shiny new EVA Air 777-300ER flies SFO-TPE (Photo EVA Air)

EVA AIR INCREASING. Taiwan’s EVA Air will bump up its weekly SFO-Taipei frequencies to 14 from the current 12 on July 3. EVA told TravelSkills that since joining Star Alliance last year, demand from business travelers flying EVA to Taipei and beyond has increased. EVA gets three more brand new Boeing 777-300ER in the second quarter which it will deploy on all its North American routes. We included EVA Air’s business class seat in our Business Class Sampler story from 2013Have you flown EVA Air? What did you think?

American Eagle's new name and logo

American Eagle’s new name and logo

NEW NAME. SAME PLANE. American Eagle, the commuter partner of American Airlines, has announced it will change its name to Envoy (which, not coincidentally, is what US Airways calls is business class product).

Delta's arrival kiosks at it's new JFK Terminal help reduce immigration wait times (Photo: Delta)

Delta’s arrival kiosks at its new JFK Terminal help reduce immigration wait times (Photo: Delta)

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NEW PASSPORT READERS AT ORD AND JFK…So, you may have heard about these new passport readers popping up in places like Delta’s terminal 4 at JFK and ORD, and wondered, “Why did I pay the $100 for Global Entry.” Well, there is a difference…these are totally separate systems. With this passport scanning system (free, no $ or interview required) , new arrivals insert passports, answer similar questions to what is found on the traditional blue landing card, and then wait in line to show a receipt to the CBP official who verifies that it is indeed you. So unlike Global Entry, kiosk users don’t bypass that step completely although it is much faster. The time spent with the CBP agent is reduced because users have already entered passport info into the system.

DELTA AND VIRGIN ATLANTIC LINK SCHEDULE. As we reported late last year, Delta and Virgin Atlantic have launched a joint venture, which officially started on Jan. 1. It includes all flights between the U.S. and the U.K., including Virgin’s daily flight from SFO to Heathrow. This means Bay Area flyers can now book SFO-London Heathrow nonstops on Delta.com, even though the flight will be operated by Virgin Atlantic. Benefits for travelers include access to Virgin’s impressive lounge network and earning and redeeming SkyMiles on either carrier. We hear mixed reviews about Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class seats on the SFO-LHR run on its 747-400… many love them, others say they are a bit tatty and in need of replacement. (Virgin’s newest version of Upper Class is currently only available on its A330s and 747-400’s flying to/from London Gatwick.) Have you flown Virgin Atlantic lately? How was it?

Looking out the window from landing jet at Asiana crash last summer (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Looking out the window from landing jet at Asiana crash site last summer (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

SAFEST YEAR EVER? Despite the Asiana tragedy at SFO last summer, 2013 clocked in as the safest ever for air travel. In related news, last week the San Francisco Fire Department released gruesome video of the Asiana crash rescue scene, which clearly shows the body of one of the teenage victims and early attempts to keep fire trucks away. Very sickening and sad.

FLY OVER CANADA MUCH? Then you’ll be pleased to know that Gogo recently flipped the switch on its new Canadian network, which means more connectivity onboard Air Canada flights. Currently, only two Air Canada Airbus A319s have Gogo onboard testing out the service. Even if you don’t fly Air Canada, you’ll get better reception when, for example,  you are on a Virgin America flight to Boston that flies over southern Canada to get there.

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Screen Shot 2014-01-19 at 9.56.23 AM

PLEASE, RECRUIT YOUR FRIENDS. If you like TravelSkills, would you please tell your friends and colleagues about it? The ONLY way we grow is via word of mouth from happy readers. Like every online publication, we need more eyeballs and appreciate your support.  Here’s something you can copy and paste into an email TODAY!

Have you ever heard about TravelSkills—TravelSkills– for frequent travelers? It’s a free local travel blog that I subscribe to. It’s full of helpful news and advice for frequent travelers who live in the Bay Area…just like us.  I think it’s definitely something you could use. See “Subscribe” in the upper right margin of the blog, or just sign up right here. Thanks! [ADD: *Your signature*]

 

— Chris McGinnis

And just in case you missed it, here’s what else you need to know about Bay Area Travel over the last month:

United transcon bonus + United 787 domestic + Fewer 747s + Delta vs Alaska

*How to earn a quick 40,000 United miles*

Anticipating T3E + Google Int’l + New Virgin Visa + More Southwest nonstops

Southwest: Blackfish backlash

United: T3E & UA500 & 49ers-Seahawks Game fares

What to do if pulled over by the police [Infographic]

***

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What to do if pulled over by the police [Infographic]

Since most business travel is by car rather than by plane– and even if it’s by plane, there’s likely a car trip at one or both ends of the flight, we offer the following infographic as a public service.

If you’ve ever wondered how to behave when pulled over by the police, here’s a good primer on what to do, and what your rights are.

Know Your Rights
Source: Online-Paralegal-Programs.com

Have you ever been pulled over by the police while on a business trip? Share your stories below.

— Chris McGinnis

And just in case you missed it, here’s what else you need to know about Bay Area Travel over the last month:

What winter storm?

12 wishes for better Bay Area travel in 2014

*How to earn a quick 40,000 United miles*

Are you a “data traveler?”

Virgin SFO-LaGuardia + AA’s newest jet + Global Entry delays + more

New terminal at SFO: hard hat tour (photos)

16 brand new, must see NYC hotels

Update: United p.s. fleet SFO-JFK

 

***

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12 wishes for better Bay Area travel in 2014

Looking out at the bowed wing of ANA's 787 to Tokyo and pondering 2014 (Photo:  Chris McGinnis)

Looking out at the bowed wing of ANA’s 787 to Tokyo and pondering 2014 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

1-That airlines come to their senses and strive to be the first to offer low-cost texting during flights instead of feeding the media frenzy over the possibility of inflight phone calls.

2-That Virgin America continues its recent string of quarterly profits so we don’t have to worry about it disappearing and leaving us without an airline that makes us smile. Nonstops from SFO to New York La Guardia would be nice, too!

3-That United is able to smoothly roll out dependable inflight wi-fi on its entire fleet, as some of its competitors have already done. It would also be nice to see United respond to competitors and bring its SFO lounges up to international standards.

4-That airlines quickly dump their uncomfortable “angled lie flat” business class seats, and bring them up to the new “true-lie-flat” standard offered by the likes of United, which now offers one of the best business class seats flying to/from SFO. (Lufthansa could take care of this quickly by deploying its new Boeing 747-8 on SFO-Frankfurt!)

5-That all hotels adopt the reasonable practice of offering basic wi-fi for free to all guests, limiting charges only to those who want to pipes fat enough to stream movies, or send/receive very large files.

6-That competition between Alaska, Delta, United and Virgin America continues to make travel up and down the West Coast cheap, frequent and full of unusual extras.

7-That new planes, new seats and new technology on the busy SFO-NYC corridor helps drive down business class fares, which now hover around $3,000-$4,000 roundtrip.

8-That upstart companies like Uber, Lyft, FlightCar, RelayRides and SilverCar continue to disrupt the staid, overpriced and over-regulated ground transportation business and make it easier and cheaper for us to get to/from airports and around town.

9-That all credit card companies dump irritating foreign transaction fees and add chips to cards to make them cheaper and easier to use overseas.

10-That airlines stop chipping away at their frequent flyer programs, making it tougher to redeem miles, and ticking off their best customers.

11-That San Jose and Oakland International Airports can add frequent and reasonably priced nonstop flights to more key destinations, which will help make them viable alternatives to increasingly crowded and delay-plagued SFO. Norwegian’s new nonstops between Scandinavia and Oakland and ANA’s nonstops between San Jose and Tokyo are a great start.

12-That all our cherished Bay Area Traveler blog readers continue to engage and interact with TravelSkills and tell at least FIVE FRIENDS to check it out and sign up! 

What would YOU like to see in 2014? Please leave your comments below! 

Happy New Year! — Chris McGinnis

And just in case you missed it, here’s what else you need to know about Bay Area Travel over the last month:

Are you a “data traveler?”

Virgin SFO-LaGuardia + AA’s newest jet + Global Entry delays + more

Best/worst days for holiday trips

New terminal at SFO: hard hat tour (photos)

16 brand new, must see NYC hotels

Update: United p.s. fleet SFO-JFK

Asia on sale + PreCheck newbies + United wi-fi + Free airport parking + Nancy Pelosi

Virgin first class sale + Hilton HHonors downgrade + Chase Sapphire w chip + United dumps ExpertFlyer

More A380s + Cathay discounts biz class + SJC courts Asia + Double Elevate pts

>Southwest FINALLY joins PreCheck

>United to allow handhelds below 10K feet

>Travel advice fit for a Queen (Latifah!)

***

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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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Follow @cjmcginnis on Twitter!

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


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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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Follow @cjmcginnis on Twitter!

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


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Best/worst days for holiday trips

(Photo: Bert Kaufmann)

(Photo: Bert Kaufmann)

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2013-12-01 at 1.18.27 PM

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2013-11-29 at 4.25.17 PM

The Chase Sapphire Preferred card now comes with an embedded microchip for easier use overseas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris McGinnis 

 

And just in case you missed it, here’s what else you need to know about Bay Area Travel over the last month:

New terminal at SFO: hard hat tour (photos)

16 brand new, must see NYC hotels

Update: United p.s. fleet SFO-JFK

Asia on sale + PreCheck newbies + United wi-fi + Free airport parking + Nancy Pelosi

Virgin first class sale + Hilton HHonors downgrade + Chase Sapphire w chip + United dumps ExpertFlyer

More A380s + Cathay discounts biz class + SJC courts Asia + Double Elevate pts

>Southwest FINALLY joins PreCheck

>United to allow handhelds below 10K feet

>Travel advice fit for a Queen (Latifah!)

***

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Did I get it right about Atlanta?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris McGinnis 

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

 

 

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how to try it for yourself:

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

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

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

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

Ameripark CEO Chip Patterson

AmeriPark CEO Chip Patterson

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

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

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

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

See www.gogreencoat.com

 

*****

In case you missed it:

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

Holiday travel advice fit for a Queen

New rules about using electronics onboard

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

8 things to like about Delta’s new California Shuttle

****

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

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

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

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

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

Delta Boeing 717

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

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

Progress on Delta's installation of flat bed seating

Progress on Delta’s installation of flat bed seating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ramsey Qubein & Chris McGinnis

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Better SFO wi-fi + more TSA lanes + Southwest rules + OAK Connector + 50% p.s.

Here’s part 2 of our catch-up on the most important travel news for TravelSkills Readers from the last couple months. We’re sending out a couple installments of TravelSkills this week. ICYMI, here’s Part 1 of this week’s catch up!

Here's the hipster landing page you'll see when logging on to SFOFREEWIFI

Here’s the new hipster landing page you’ll see when logging on to SFO FREE WIFI

BETTER WIFI AT SFO. Logging on the (thankfully free) wi-fi at SFO became a clutter free experience this summer with an upgrade to a newer, faster network. Instead of a greeting of irritating ads, you can now log on with one click accepting terms and conditions, and boom, you are good to go for up to two hours.  Look for “SFO FREE WIFI.” When the airport is busy, the connections tend to slow down a bit, but hey, you get what you pay for, right?

The walls obscuring construction of SFO's T3 Premium security checkpoint (Chris McGinnis)

The walls obscuring construction of SFO’s T3 Premium security checkpoint (Chris McGinnis)

PREMIUM SECURITY EXPANSION AT SFO. Have you seen boarded up area adjacent to United’s Premium Security entry point (F-3) on the far western side of Terminal 3? Apparently, it’s hiding a significant expansion (six lanes, up from current four) of the frequently clogged security checkpoint, but we’ve not been able to squeeze any more details (such as opening dates) out of SFO yet. Stay tuned.

BART OAKLAND CONNECTOR UPDATE. The project to add an elevated spur line from BART’s coliseum station to Oakland Airport is on time and should open this time next year. The 3.2-mile ride should take just eight minutes and while fares have not been finalized, they could range from the current bus shuttle fare of $3 to as high as $8. The San Francisco Business Times reports that the project was initially pegged at just $100 million, but the final tab will be closer to $500 million. Now if we could just get BART to circle the Bay with a stop at San Jose Airport, we’d be world class! Will you be more likely to use Oakland Airport with the addition of the rail link? Please leave your comments below.

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

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Screen shot 2013-09-18 at 10.30.03 PM

(discoverlosangeles.com)

NEW LAX TERMINAL OPENS. This week marks the long awaited opening of the new $1.9 billion Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX. At 150,000 square feet, it’s half again as large as its dingy predecessor. The new curved-roof terminal we’ve all watched under construction in recent years is bathed in natural light, full of electronic art, mod furnishings, upscale dining and retail, new airline clubs and fantastic views of the tarmac and runways. (Sounds a lot like SFO’s Terminal 2, no?) The terminal is still a work in progress– it won’t be fully opened until 2015. To see more, check out this slideshow from the LA Times.

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

Inside San Diego's snappy new Terminal 2 West (Chris McGinnis)

Inside San Diego’s snappy new Terminal 2 West- those wavy lights are actually an art installation (Chris McGinnis)

SAN DIEGO MODERNIZES. Terminals at San Diego International’s 60s-vintage Lindberg Field are in dire need of repair or replacement. Flying Virgin America out of SFO’s state-of-the-art Terminal 2 last month and arriving at San Diego’s dingy old Terminal 2 East was a real eye opener. However, peering out from the old, dark eastern side of Terminal 2 I saw something bright and shiny and was pleased to be able to take a walk over to the new western wing of Terminal 2—and the difference was like night and day. In August, United opened a sparkling new 6,000 sq ft United Club in this new space. The United Club features spectacular views of the Point Loma seaside community, balcony lounge seating within the atrium and a centrally located buffet and bar. United is consolidating its operations at SAN, relocating all gates to Terminal 2 West and moving all its ticket counters there. No word yet on when much the much needed refurb of Terminal 1 (Southwest, Alaska) and Terminal 2 East (Virgin, others) will occur.

p.s. HALFWAY THERE. United says that it now has reconfigured eight of its 15 p.s. service flights to/from JFK and SFO/LAX. All planes should be completed by the end of this year. Have you flown on the refurbed 757 yet? How was it? Please leave your comments below.

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MORE MONTREAL. Did you know that Air Canada offers nonstops between SFO and Montreal during summer months? Starting this November, the 5.5-hour flight will transition to year-round using an Airbus A319. The Air Canada flight departs SFO at 8:10 am and arrives Montreal at 4:30. On the way back it departs Montreal-Trudeau at 5:35 pm, arriving SFO at 9 pm.  TIP: Air Canada offers some very competitive transatlantic fares from SFO via Montreal… and since it’s a member of Star Alliance you’ll earn MileagePlus points.

RENO-TAHOE. When Southwest pulled out of the Oakland-Reno market this year, Allegiant stepped in with fares as low at $40.00 each way on its Friday and Sunday (only) roundtrips. Allegiant also flies from Oakland to Bellingham WA, Eugene OR, Phoenix/Mesa AZ, Provo UT. Note that it only offers flights on certain days of the week—none daily.

Fares falling for fall flights to Hawaii!

Fares falling for fall flights to Hawaii!

MORE HAWAII. Beginning January 5, 2014, Hawaiian Airlines will offer daily wide-body 767 flights between Oakland and Honolulu, increasing its flights from four times a week. Daily service between Oakland and Kahului, Maui will continue as scheduled. In addition, Hawaiian Airlines will start new annual summer service between Oakland and Līhue, Kauai three times a week, and Oakland and Kona four times a week running from June 14 to August 15, 2014. We have started noticing the decline in Bay-to-Hawaii fares that comes during fall months… below $500 in some cases. When you seen anything near $300 roundtrip, you know you have a deal so grab that!.

MORE ONTARIO. United is adding a fifth daily flight between SFO and Ontario (ONT) starting December 19th using a CRJ-200.

ICYMI, here’s Part 1 of this week’s BAT news catch up!

Like what you are reading? Then please PLEASE forward this link to at least three frequent travelers and tell them to sign up for the Bay Area Traveler! THANKS!

Chris McGinnis

***

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United’s silver sedans + iPads inflight + Virgin fees up + RelayRides SFO + more

Sorry for the recent lag in updates! Let’s catch up on Bay Area Travel (BAT!) news right now! Due to the info overload, I’ve split this post into two parts… Part One today, Part Two arrives tomorrow!

United has deployed two silver Mercedes at Houston IAH to shuttle arriving passengers. (Photo: United)

United has deployed two silver Mercedes at Houston IAH to shuttle arriving passengers. (Photo: United)

UNITED PERKS INCLUDE MERCS. If you have Global Services status or fly in first class to or through Houston, United might pick you up in a new Mercedes sedan at the jet bridge when you land and then drive you to your next flight. The new service is similar to what Lufthansa offers first class passengers at its super elite first class terminal in Frankfurt. It’s also very similar to the Porsche rides Delta has been surprising its super elite with at Atlanta airport. Currently United is using silver S or GL class models “to surprise and delight our top customers who may be anxious about missing a connecting flight.” Right now it’s only in Houston, but United is saying that it could add it at “another United hub” in the future. Have you received this rock star treatment yet? What do you think? Please leave your comments below.

Here's my view of the Asiana 214 crash as I flew in from Atlanta on a Delta 767 on July 11. What a sight! (Chris McGinnis)

Here’s my view of the Asiana 214 crash as I flew in from Atlanta on a Delta 767 on July 11. What a sight! (Chris McGinnis)

ASIANA AFTERMATH. Asiana will re-number its daily flight between Seoul and SFO in light of the recent crash. What was Asiana flight 214 will become Asiana flight 212 from Seoul and flight 211 for the return SFO-Seoul flight according to the AirlineRoute.net website. It also reports that United has quietly canceled its code share agreement with Asiana on this route only due to the ongoing investigation of the accident. United has its own 747 deployed on the SFO-ICN route every day. In similar news, in light of the Asiana accident, the FAA will no longer allow foreign carriers to touch down side-by-side with other airlines as they sometimes do on clear days at SFO. Domestic carriers will still be able to touch down in tandem.

IPAD OR KINDLE IN FLIGHT? Remember hearing that the FAA was convening a passel of experts to determine if it was okay for us to use our iPads or Kindles during take off, landing and taxi? The group was to have made their recommendations this week. But they didn’t. They’ve asked for an extension on a decision until Sept. 30. Bah!

RelayRides come-on to SFO travelers-- avoid airport parking fees, get a free car wash.

RelayRides come-on to SFO travelers– avoid airport parking fees, get a free car wash.

ARRESTING DRIVERS AT SFO.  NBC Bay Area reports: “In the past month, San Francisco International Airport officials have been citing and arresting drivers from mobile-app enabled rideshare companies that pick up and drop off passengers. Airport spokesman Doug Yakel said there have been seven citizen arrests issued to various offenders since July 10.  The airport had issued cease and desist letters to several rideshare companies, including Lyft, Sidecar and Uber, in April. Since then, Yakel said airport officials, in conjunction with airport police, had been ‘admonishing’ drivers that came to the airport. Yakel said the companies are not permitted to offer their services at SFO and they are now being arrested for unlawful trespassing.” While the situation sounds increasingly bellicose, yet another company, Relay Rides has opened up shop down by the airport. Relay Rides (with services similar to FlightCar) is hoping to get around airport rules by operating out of the Aloft SFO airport hotel parking lots and having its customers use existing hotel shuttles to get to/from the airport. An SFO spokesperson told TravelSkills: “Relay Rides contacted us to request the information to get permitted to operate with SFO. They’re not permitted yet, but we have provided the information to them.” What do you think? Is it fair to let this new and disruptive breed of “sharing” services operate without paying its dues at the airport? Would you consider renting out your car parked at SFO to avoid $18/day parking fees? Please leave your comments below. 

VIRGIN AMERICA ALTERS UPGRADE FEES. Upgrades to Virgin’s Main Cabin Select up to 24 hours before flight time now range from $39 (short haul west coast flights) to $159 (transcons). Upgrade fees to first from Main Cabin Select are up significantly– now $50 to $240, up from the previous $39 to $169. Upgrades from standard coach to first class are now $89 to $299. While higher fees and fares are painful for travelers, they could spell salvation for our hometown carrier, which has struggled to post profits in its five years of existence. Stay tuned for Virgin’s financial reporting for summer quarter due out next week.

PS FLIGHTS SFO-JFK UPDATE. United’s new TV spot for transcon p.s. flights seems a tad early considering there are only four of 15 refurbished p.s. flights flying between SFO, New York and LAX. It’s tough to tell, but I’m hearing that LAX is seeing more refurbished planes than SFO. Have you been on one? Thoughts or observations?  

United's 757-200 refurbished

United’s 757-200 refurbished– the one to look for when booking SFO-JFK in biz class

HOW TO BOOK A REFURBISHED 757? How to tell if the plane/flight you are booking is refurbished?  Go to united.com to book a flight. Before selecting a flight, click on the “View Seats” link and look for the 757 that has 28 business class seats. Keep in mind that United reserves the right to swap around planes, so you may not always get what you think.

JETBLUE SUITES TO JFK? As the battle for the premium transcon passenger heats up, JetBlue is apparently considering adding four enclosed “mini-suites” on its transcon A321 aircraft. While JetBlue remains hush-hush on the topic, the blogosphere lit up last month when plans for the plush new seats were uncovered in a filing with the FAA and revealed by the APEX Editors Blog.

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ALASKA AIR FEES UP. Starting October 30, the fee to change an Alaska Air ticket within 60 days of departure will cost $125, up from $75. Gold or 75K MVP members will continue to have the fee waived. Checked bag fees on Alaska are now $25 each for the first or second bag, and a steep $75 for the third. Elite level members of Mileage Plan, Delta SkyMiles and American AAdvantage get can check two bags for free.

The world's first "edgy" hotel: Radisson Blu Royal hotel in Copenhagen (Chris McGinnis)

The world’s first “edgy” hotel: Radisson Blu Royal hotel in Copenhagen (Chris McGinnis)

COPENHAGEN ON BIZ? Remember when I wrote a trip report about my flight to Copenhagen on the SAS inaugural SFO-CPH run last spring? Here’s part of the result of that trip, my BBC Business Trip: Copenhagen story. I think the Danish city might be one of the best in the world for business travelers. Check out the story (and slideshow!) and see if you agree.

MORE CLEAR. Clear expedited security lines will open this fall at Houston’s Intercontinental and Hobby airports. The service also recently opened at San Antonio. Clear operates at every entry point at SFO. Do you use Clear? What do you think? How does it compare to PreCheck? Please leave your comments below.

SILVERCAR RENTALS FOR FREE? Silvercar, the new rental car company with a fleet of silver Audi A4s (only) is giving away two free rental days in Dallas or Austin between now and August 15. Catch: you must fly Virgin America by Aug 15 and book by tomorrow, July 31! Details here.

SINGAPORE AIR OVERHAUL. Singapore Airlines will overhaul eight of its Boeing 777-300ER jets starting this September. Those nice wide sofa-like biz class seats will get new 18-inch inflight entertainment screens and more stowage space. Best of all, the planes will get the newest version of Singapore’s excellent Krisworld in-flight entertainment, which will feature touch screen hand controllers. Economy class passengers will have access to the same content (1000+ movies, programs) on larger seatback screens. Plus, economy class seats get a revamp adding an extra inch of knee room and more cushioning. CNN asks if it could be the “world’s best economy class.” However, there is no firm date set for the arrival of Singapore’s overhauled 777s at SFO. Stay tuned.

Chris McGinnis

***

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New York to California in 45 minutes? Maybe

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

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

(ET3/YouTube)

Six person capsules include luggage bays (ET3/YouTube)

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

(ET3)

Travel by tube? (ET3)

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

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

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

Chris McGinnis

*****

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San Francisco to New York in 45 mins? Maybe

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

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

(ET3/YouTube)

Six person capsules include luggage bays (ET3/YouTube)

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

(ET3)

Travel by tube? (ET3)

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

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

How would you feel about a 45 minute hop to NYC for lunch? Should we be building a hyperloop instead of a high-speed rail line between San Francisco and LA? 

We’ve got a lot of catching up to do! Stay tuned for a “Catching up with Bay Area Travel News” issue later this week, which will include United’s new boarding procedures at SFO, Virgin’s new fast lane, the newest United Club, slow progress on new PS flights to NYC and much more! 

Chris McGinnis

***

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Mileage Plus ranking + new 787 @ SFO + PreCheck + Airport standoff

In This Issue: New 787 Dreamliner flight at SFO, Mileage Plus ranks highly, Sour Milk, SFO Airport Tiff, Virgin America loss, Tito’s vodka, dream of a new Terminal 1 at SFO. Sorry for the recent lag in updates! Let’s catch up on Bay Area Travel news right now>>>

A Japan Airlines 787 Dreamliner at San Diego Int'l Airport.

A Japan Airlines 787 Dreamliner at San Diego Int’l Airport– soon at SFO!

MORE 787 DREAMLINERS.  Starting September 1, Japan Airlines will fly a new Boeing 787 Dreamliner between SFO and Tokyo’s close-in Haneda Airport, replacing the current B777 service. ANA will re-start Boeing 787 flights between San Jose and Tokyo-Narita on June 1. (Did you see the slideshow from my ANA flight from SJC to Tokyo?) Currently, United has no plans to fly Dreamliners from SFO.

UNITED EASIEST TO REDEEM. Among major legacy carriers, United ranks highest when it comes to redeeming awards online, according to a survey by Ideaworks. The report says that United had award seats available 80% of the time. By comparison, American had award seats available only 49% of the time. Delta and US Airways are the most parsimonious with awards, with seats available only 36% of the time. Only AirTran/Southwest and JetBlue ranked higher than United. Full report here.

VIRGIN AMERICA NARROWS LOSS. Our hometown carrier is still struggling to climb into the black, even as many of its competitors are showing relatively healthy and consistent profits (except United). In the first quarter of this year, Virgin America lost $46 million, which is not good. But it’s better than the loss of $76 million during the same period a year ago. It’s expanding, too, adding new flights between LAX and Las Vegas, and from SFO to Newark and Austin, and between San Jose and LAX. Based on that sorta good news, the carrier is flirting with the idea of an IPO. Would you invest in Virgin America if it manages to go public? Please leave your comments below.

Rendering of proposed Terminal 1 at SFO

Rendering of proposed Terminal 1 at SFO

DREAMING OF A NEW TERMINAL 1. Check out this interesting proposal for a massive re-do of SFO’s Terminal 1. It’s many years away, but it looks super cool. And tatty old T1 could use some help, that’s for sure.

PRECHECK NEWS. Have you noticed that United has started printing your PreCheck status on your boarding pass? Nice to know before you go whether or not you’ll get those glorious three beeps! Another good thing about PreCheck: It’s now available for those traveling on “select international flights.” Has anyone out there been able to use PreCheck internationally yet? SFO officials say that there are no PreCheck lanes at the international terminal yet—so is it smarter to use the PreCheck lanes at T3, and then walk to your international flight?  Please leave your comments below.

INFLIGHT WI-FI POLL. Last winter we visited Gogo headquarters in Itasca, Illinois and took a fun ride on their in-flight lab for a look-see at a new system called ATG-4 that is designed to improve Gogo’s connections and speed. That was six months ago and we are wondering… Have you noticed a difference? PLEASE ANSWER! (The “Vote” button might appear clear, but you must click it to VOTE and see the results)

Have you noticed an improvement with in-flight wi-fi performance?

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FlightCar

FLIGHTCAR UPDATE. By now you’ve likely heard of FlightCar, a new online service that offers air travelers free parking by SFO, plus the opportunity to earn some cash when they rent your car to other passengers arriving at SFO. Sounds like a good “sharing economy” deal, but the airport is not at all happy about these unlicensed interlopers (including other services like pink mustachioed Lyft).  Earlier this year, SFO issued a cease and desist order, forbidding these new companies from operating at the airport. To get around the C&D order, FlightCar hired a licensed black car service to shuttle its customers between the airport and their private parking lot. FlightCar’s Shri Ganeshram told TravelSkills: “We’re operating within the legal bounds of the system using independent licensed liveries to drop off and pick up passengers at the airport.” He says that FlightCar is now renting about 80 cars per week, despite the SFO cease and desist order. So we contacted SFO spokesperson Doug Yakel to find out if FlightCar is operating legally. He said, “As a public agency, we need to ensure a level playing field for all providers of ground transportation, and FlightCar must sign a permit and provide proof of insurance like every other off-airport rental car company.  This is a matter of basic fairness. FlightCar has yet to meet the obligations, including insurance, required for an SFO permit that would certify them for safe and legal operation at the airport. Their method of transportation to/from the offsite location does not change the fact that they are attempting to operate at SFO without a proper permit. It remains an issue of safety and fairness for us.” How do you think this will all shake out? Have you, or would you use FlightCar? Please leave your comments below!

6 MONTHS FREE AND CLEAR. Starting later this month, CLEAR card holders will be able to use their cards for expedited security screening at San Antonio International Airport. And starting this month, Visa Signature is working with CLEAR to bring the uninitiated a free 6-month CLEAR membership — and $60 off the annual rate of $179 when membership automatically renews. Do you have one of the many Visa Signature cards? Then check this out.

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

CLOUDY MILK. The campaign to rename San Francisco International after Harvey Milk has come to a vague close with only a promise to name an as-yet unnamed terminal at SFO after him. I’m glad the whole contentious issue is (mostly) behind us. What about you? Please leave your comments below.

New 76-seat Embraer 175 from United

New 76-seat Embraer 175 from United

MORE BARBIE JETS. United will add 30 Embraer 175 regional jets to the United Express fleet starting next year. The 76-seaters will replace the less efficient 50-seat RJs currently in use. United says, “The aircraft will be configured with 12 United First, 16 Economy Plus and 48 United Economy seats. The design of the aircraft will result in more personal space for customers with wider seats and aisles than those on the 50-seat aircraft. The aircraft can accommodate standard carry-on bags, resulting in more convenience for customers.”

BETTER VODKA. Starting in June, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, made in Austin, TX, will replace Absolut vodka on all United flights. Did you know that vodka is the most-served spirit on US flights?

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? Join in the #TravelSkills chat with @JohnnyJet and me this Friday at 9 am PDT. 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

MORE MEXICO AT SFO. Aeromexico will add a second daily round trip to Mexico City on July 15. Check out BAT editor Chris McGinnis’ recent Business Trip: Mexico City for BBC!

San Francisco  Mexico City

Flight Number Departure Arrival Frequency
AM 0665 01:00 am 07:14 am Daily
AM 0669* 01:25 pm 07:53 pm Daily

Mexico City  San Francisco

Flight Number Departure Arrival Frequency
AM 0664 08:26 pm 11:25 pm Daily
AM 0668* 09:30 am 12:07 pm Daily

*New flights schedules available starting July 15th, all in local time and subject to change without notice.

SEEKING SASSY WHEELS in Dallas or Austin? High end Silvercar (which rents only silver Audi A4s) is offering four Virgin America Elevate reward points per $1 spent, 2,500 bonus points with your first rental, and another 2,500 points for your fourth rental through November 30. Have you tried Slivercar? What did you think?

Chris McGinnis

***

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New SFO flights + United fee hike + SFO Terminal video + 787

Catching up on Bay Area Travel news: New flights to France & China; United hikes fees; video inside new SFO Terminal; flirt on Virgin America flights from San Jose; 787 Dreamliner update, new Routehappy booking site; FlightCar is back.

China Eastern's A330-200 at SFO (Photo Peter Biaggi)

China Eastern’s A330-200 at SFO (Photo Peter Biaggi)

HUANYING AND BON VOYAGE. Last Friday (April 26) was a busy day at San Francisco International.

At 9:30 am, the first China Eastern A330-200 arrived from Shanghai to a water cannon salute and a welcome celebration at the airport. For now, here’s what we know: 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.” At the festive inaugural dinner at the Westin St Francis, I learned that 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 assured me that the San Francisco flight will always get the newer plane with the true lie-flat seats. It has to, if it plans on competing for business travelers with United since the deployment of its excellent new business class product on SFO-PVG nonstops. 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. SFO joins New York, Los Angeles and Honolulu as the fourth US city served by China Eastern—although, oddly, the airline does not have a US website. China Eastern is a member of the SkyTeam alliance, which offers Delta flyers a new way to earn and burn points on flights to burgeoning China. We’ll provide an in depth look at the new China Eastern flight to Shanghai in a future post.

Passengers on United's inaugural Paris flight greet by a 12-ft Eiffel Tower & free French inspired food & drink. (Photo: United)

Passengers on United’s inaugural Paris flight greeted by a 12-ft Eiffel Tower & free French inspired food & drink. (Photo: United)

On Friday afternoon, United recommenced nonstop service between SFO and Paris-CDG. (United discontinued SFO-CDG nonstops in Oct 2005.) Flight 990 departs San Francisco daily at 2:45 p.m. and arrives at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport at 10:45 a.m. the next day. For the return, flight 991 departs Paris at 10:05 a.m. and arrives in San Francisco at 1 p.m. the same day. United operates this new service with Boeing 767-300 aircraft, which offer 30 flat-bed business class seats, 49 seats in Economy Plus and 135 seats in standard economy. The BusinessFirst cabin (configured 2-1-2) includes 15.4-inch touchscreen monitors for personal on-demand entertainment, electrical and USB outlets, iPod jacks and five-course meals. Each seat in Economy features a 9-inch touchscreen with personal on-demand entertainment, and all rows (configured 2-3-2) include access to electrical outlets. Book and fly United to Paris by May 31, and you’ll earn some tidy Mileage Plus bonuses. Air France is currently the only other carrier offering nonstops between SFO and Paris. Paris-based XL Airways offers summer season SFO-CDG flights.

UNITED HIKES CHANGE FEE TO $200. In what appears to be a poorly timed slap in the face to customers just coming off a year a dismal performance by United, the carrier has increased its fee to make changes to nonrefundable tickets by a whopping $50. That means if you want to change a domestic ticket, you’ll now pay $200 (plus any change in fare) for the honor. Want to change an international ticket? That will now be $300, thank you. Shortly after United hiked its fees, US Airways matched, which likely means its future merger partner American will follow suit. That leaves Delta as the hold out, but it’s probably waiting a bit to hike fees after taking so much heat for changing its same-day change fee last week. As we all know, Southwest does not charge change fees at all, but passengers do have to pay any difference in fare if it has increased from the time of purchase. Alaska Airlines and Virgin America still charge a much more reasonable $100 change fee. Is the $200 fee enough to make you switch away from United? Please leave your comments below.

A LOOK AT TERMINAL 3 PROGRESS. SFO has produced a video providing a virtual hardhat tour of the new Boarding Area E at United’s Terminal 3, which is due to open earlier next year. Some interesting facts picked up in the video: The glassy new terminal should be as nice or nicer than SFO’s award winning Terminal 2 (home to Virgin America and American). Expect very wide corridors, high ceilings, giant picture windows with dramatic ramp views, a new “information terrace” at the entryway, environmentally sustainable design and local food vendors.

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

MEGA-MILE BONUS SITES GET FUNDING. Remember when we wrote about mega-miles bonus sites Pointshound and RocketMiles last month? Seems like venture capitalists think the sites are on to something. This morning, TravelSkills received a note from RocketMiles announcing that the six-month old company raised $2 million in its first round of external financing.

GET FLIRTY ON VIRGIN AMERICA. You see that hottie in the boarding area and try to establish eye contact. Bingo! You got “the look” back! You get onboard and see the object of your desire a few rows ahead of you. Instead of posting a “missed connection”  on Craigslist (and hoping for the best), a new service from Virgin America allows you to send a drink to someone via its seatback entertainment and food ordering system. Locate that hottie on the seatmap, choose a cocktail, and then send it over to them, then follow up with a text message via the system’s seat-to-seat communications platform. (Have a few minutes? Then check out this hilarious Asian animation of the new Virgin service.)

SPEAKING OF VIRGIN AMERICA. South Bay and Peninsula dwellers should be happy to note that Virgin America’s new four-times-daily nonstops between San Jose International and LAX crank up on May 1. Why suffer on another carrier’s cramped RJ when you can jump on Virgin’s mod A320 and send the hottie across the aisle a cocktail? Virgin will be entering the very crowded San Jose-LAX run, which is already served by five carriers: Low fare leader Southwest , United (which dominates the Bay Area) as well as American, Delta and Alaska Airlines. Southwest flies a one-class 737 on the hour-or-so long route, Delta, United and American fly regional jets, and Alaska uses a turbo-prop. Virgin is offering a two-for-one sale on SJC-LAX flights through May 31.

STATUS OF SFO’s LONG TERM PARKING LOT? From TravelSkills reader Damian: Chris, I love TravelSkills!  Have you written about the SFO Long Term Parking garageIt has had floor closures for a couple years and is now empty.  One parks outside or even gets a pass to go to short term parking at the same rate. Does the garage have structural problems?  Seems like it should be a scandal. Perhaps this is old news but in poking around on the Web I didn’t happen to find anything.” Having noticed the same thing…and wondered, we contacted SFO, and spokesperson Doug Yakel helped clear things up. He said, “The level closures in the Long-Term Garage are part of an ongoing, pre-planned schedule to accomplish routine maintenance. This includes pressure washing, restriping of ground markings and light bulb replacements. Only one floor is closed at a time for this work, and the work is scheduled to ensure all levels are open during peak demand periods such as the holiday travel season. We also monitor occupancy rates to ensure the appropriate match of supply and demand, and modify closure schedules if needed.”

ANA's expansive true lie-flat business class seat on its Boeing 787 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

ANA’s expansive true lie-flat business class seat on its Boeing 787 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

787 UPDATE. As you may recall, ANA’s important new nonstops from San Jose to Tokyo-NRT were waylaid by the Boeing 787 Dreamliner grounding, forcing all passengers to fly via SFO. While the FAA and Japanese authorities have given a conditional green light to new flights, ANA says it will begin by “replacing existing batteries with new batteries, changing to new battery chargers and installing new battery containment boxes and venting system. The improvements will require approximately one week per aircraft, with work on all seventeen aircraft scheduled to be completed by the end of May.” After that will be new crew training and a series of heavily monitored “proving flights.” This week, an ANA spokesperson told TravelSkills that it should have a firm date for the resumption of SJC-NRT by May 9. How would you feel about flying on a Dreamliner across the Pacific? Please leave your comments below.

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 SFO and Atlanta 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.

GET AROUND SFO CEASE & DESIST. The smart guys at FlightCar have found a way around the airport’s recent cease and desist order pushing it and other new-fangled airport transport options such as Lyft off airport property. Now, instead of dropping your car off with a FlightCar attendant at the airport, you drop your car at its off-airport lot, and then a licensed black car brings you to your terminal. When you land, you call FlightCar and the black car is sent to pick you up and brings you back to your car. Have you tried FlightCar? Should unlicensed transportation serviced be allowed at SFO? Leave your comments below. 

Chris McGinnis

***

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Ridesharing unwelcome at SFO + Virgin matches SW elite + New arrival from Europe

In this issue: Ridesharing unwelcome at SFO, Virgin expands elite matching, SAS nonstops from Copenhagen land at SFO, United upgrades IAH terminal, Presidential visit, 787 flying (empty), $100K a year to travel and blog?

No more pink moustaches at SFO (Photo: Lyftstagrams)

No more pink moustaches at SFO (Photo: Soy_Fans – Lyftstagrams)

RIDESHARING UNWELCOME AT SFO. San Francisco International has issued cease and desist letters to six car/ride sharing services picking up or dropping off customers at the airport. Uber’s licensed, chauffeured town cars are allowed at SFO, but UberX “community drivers” are not. Sidecar, Lyft, InstantCab and FlightCar (recently included in TravelSkills) all received the letters. Do you use ridesharing services? What do you think about this? Leave your comments below. 

MORE ELITE STATUS. Virgin America has expanded and enhanced its elite-level status match promo. Now, Southwest Rapid Rewards elites (in addition to United and American elites) can get bumped up to Elevate elite. Virgin has also extended the deadline to enroll until June 30.

NEW ARRIVAL FROM EUROPE. A water-cannon salute awaits SAS’s first Airbus A340 at SFO when it lands this Monday (April 8) between 2 and 3 pm.  SAS will offer flights between San Francisco and Copenhagen six days per week (no Tuesday flights). The Bay Area Traveler-TravelSkills will be trying out the new service later this month, so stay tuned for a full report. Skål!

How do you get the presidential helicopters to SF? On a C5 freighter like this (Photo: SFO)

How do you get the presidential helicopters to SF? On a C5 freighter like this (Photo: SFO)

ENTOURAGE. President Obama and entourage arrived at SFO last week for some Bay Area fundraisers. In addition to the bright and shiny Air Force One B747, a giant C5 military cargo jet was also stationed at SFO all week (which transported the presidential helicopters, et al). Did you see it? Obama’s helicopters touched down at Crissy Field for Golden Gate Bridge photo ops, and then buzzed down to Atherton for the events.

OAKLINK. Have you noticed the progress on the 3.2-mile AirBART rail line connecting Oakland Airport to BART’s Coliseum station? There is now a 300-ft span over I-880. The project is now 60% complete…and should be operational in late 2014.  Will you consider Oakland Airport more often when the trains start to run?

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NEW TERMINAL AT IAH. If you fly United via its massive Houston Intercontinental hub a lot, you will be pleased to see the new $152 million Terminal B south concourse opening this month. The new concourse will house operations for all United Express regional flights. It’s about four times larger than the old terminal, with lots of new stores and celeb-chef and regionally inspired eateries.

COOL TRAVEL JOBS. Have you ever dreamed of being a travel blogger? Travel website Jauntaroo (set up to help you decide where to go on vacation) is hiring a “Chief World Explorer” to travel the globe for a year, at $100,000 salary, to blog about their experiences and give back to communities through the site’s “Travel With a Cause” commitment. Details are thin right now, but Jauntaroo says it will open applications later this spring, and has produced this teaser video to build awareness. Tourism Australia has just launched a separate, but similar “Best Jobs in the World” promo, offering six positions at $100,000 each for just six months work. What are you doing reading TravelSkills? Get that application in now!

DREAMLINER UPDATE. Boeing is now conducting test flights of its beleaguered 787 Dreamliner, and will submit results of those and other tests to the FAA. The New York Times reports that the FAA could approve the changes later this month, and the plane could be flying again in May—just in time for the busy summer travel season. Would YOU jump on a Dreamliner this summer? Please leave your comments below.

IN THE BAT LAST WEEK. United is expanding its operations at SFO’s Terminal 1 while delays have pushed back the completion of Terminal 3 renovations. Also, there are a few new details about United’s new p.s. service to New York.

Chris McGinnis

***

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No SkyTeam for Virgin + New Delta Jets + 500 miles for middle seats

Upper Class seats on Virgin Atlantic (Photo: Gary Bembridge / Flickr)

Upper Class seats on Virgin Atlantic (Photo: Gary Bembridge / Flickr)

VIRGIN WON’T GO ALL THE WAY. For now, at least. Delta says that its new partner, Virgin Atlantic, won’t be joining SkyTeam any time soon. Seems strange considering joining an alliance was one of the main reasons troubled Virgin said it needed to partner with Delta back in December. Delta paid Singapore Airlines $360 million for its 49% stake in the British carrier. “At some point down the road SkyTeam will come up, and I’m certain that over time it will be viewed favorably, but right now that’s not the priority,” said Delta’s Ed Bastian, as reported by Bloomberg. “Their main priority is addressing their financial needs in respect of the losses they’ve been posting.” So it sounds like everyone who was hoping to be able to once again earn or burn SkyMiles for Upper Class seats on posh Virgin flights are going to have to wait a while.

BIG (NEW) DELTA JETS. Reuters reports that Delta is in talks to purchase small and wide-body jets from Airbus and Boeing in deals potentially worth about $6 billion at list prices. Potential orders involve about 20 each of the plane makers’ most popular jets – the Airbus A320 or Boeing 737 in the medium-haul, narrow-body class and the Airbus A330 or Boeing 777 in the long-range, wide-body category. Sorry folks, no A380s or 747s—or the currently grounded 787 Dreamliner. What’s your favorite Delta jet… and why? Please leave your comments below. 

Middle seat in business class on ANA's Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Look at all that space to spread out and work! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Middle seat in business class on ANA’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Look at all that space to spread out and work! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

BOEING 787 UPDATE. Speaking of, Boeing is apparently ready to test batteries on two 787 flights, which could lead to the resumption of flights “in a matter of weeks.” Boeing is also polling frequent flyers on their perceptions of the beleaguered aircraft, but keeping the results of these polls confidential.  Let’s help them out with a poll of our own. (Hover over the “Vote” button to cast your vote...on some browsers the button might appear clear)

Have you noticed an improvement with in-flight wi-fi performance?