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.

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

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

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

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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…

 

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

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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.

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

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.

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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

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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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

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

Should airlines waive change fees?

Lanai: A billionaire’s work in progress

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

6 end-of-summer travel deals. Act fast

Awesome Knee Defender animation VIDEO

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

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

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

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

(Image: WoodlyWonderWorks Flickr)

(Image: WoodlyWonderWorks Flickr)

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

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

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

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

CARS

(Photo: Uber)

UberBLACK prices soar in SF. (Photo: Uber)

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

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.

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

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

AIRPORTS

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

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

In Case You Missed It

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

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

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

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

-Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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What golden age of travel?

3 brand new hotels in Chicago

A spin around the new Airbus A350

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

How to deal with Americans

10 little things some hotels get right

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

Month #3: A TravelSkills update from Chris

Airbnb for a business trip? Mixed results

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

Mergers that make sense

Serial stowaway finally gets her free flight

3 brand new Los Angeles hotels (& 3 facelifts)

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

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

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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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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

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

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 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

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

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

How to get on earlier flight without paying fee

Trip Report: ANA’s 787 Dreamliner to Tokyo

20 different biz class seats in 1 room- PHOTOS

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

Frequent travelers love Chick-fil-a

Kicked off flight for a tweet? Southwest responds

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

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

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

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

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

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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