New Marriott/Hilton cancellation policy irks (Reader Report)

José Carlos Cortizo Pérez / Flickr

José Carlos Cortizo Pérez / Flickr

Effective January 1 this year, new last-minute cancellation policies went into effect at Marriott and Hilton.

This means that the relatively standard practice of allowing cancellations up to 5 or 6 pm on the day of arrival is no longer in effect.

In order to avoid paying for that first night, you now have to cancel a full 24 hours (or more, depending on property) in advance.

Some observers suspect that hotel chains imposed new rules to prevent travelers from booking a standard rate, then canceling the reservation at the last minute and re-booking at a cheaper rate using popular new last-minute booking sites and apps.

This new policy recently tripped up TravelSkills reader L.H. who was hit with a pesky fee and sent us the following correspondence with Marriott. (We have added bolding to highlight important parts)

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Dear Marriott: Has your cancellation policy changed? I thought standard policy was until 5:00 PM day of arrival at location/property reserved. If my plans change, say, on a Thursday morning not requiring me to stay overnight that night will I still be charged for that night?

Regards,

L.H.

Dear Mr H: Thank you for contacting Marriott.  We appreciate the opportunity to provide you with information.

Each individual property has the authority to decide their own cancellation policy. This will vary with each and every location. The new common standard will be one day prior to arrival to avoid any penalty charges. Some hotels will require more notice. Some locations will have these policies that can vary by season. If we can be of further assistance, we invite you to reply to this email. Thank you for choosing Marriott.

Regards,

C.C.

Marriott Customer Care

Related post: How to find “hidden” hotel discounts

Hi C, Thanks for your prompt reply, although I find your answer somewhat evasive.

You seem to be trying to present a scenario where the “individual property” has the authority yet the “new common standard” is one day prior.

Sounds like an answer form a politician trying to please both sides. The individual property can claim it is Marriott policy and Marriott can claim each individual property has the authority.

Actually, your answer simply raises other questions.

Is there going to be full disclosure (prior to booking a reservation) as to whose policy or which policy is the rule?

What was the reason for changing this policy?

As a long time Marriott customer (Life Time Platinum) I find it odd that Marriott now decides to penalize its loyal customer base with such a change.

If I am traveling and for example, I wake up on a Wednesday and check e-mail to find that my business meeting for early afternoon has been cancelled. That meeting was to extend to the next day, which is also cancelled.

I am staying at a Marriott property and instead of checking out and being able to cancel that night’s stay as I have done in the past, I will now check out, but have to pay that night’s stay and the property will most likely sell that room thus resulting in a double sale for Marriott for that night on that room.

Often when traveling, I think I will end up in one city and turns out I need to bypass that city to go ahead to the next. Or, in a large metropolitan area, due to whatever reason, it is advantageous to move to a different property on the other side of town.

Business travel is very often subject to change for a myriad of reasons.

It seems counterintuitive for a company in business to accommodate business travelers with such a change that is quite unaccommodating to business travelers.

In the past, Marriott certainly seemed to be marketing its properties as business traveler friendly and flexible.

The simple answer, my opinion of course, is that Marriott as a company has decided to seek additional revenue gain through a cute maneuver via a  “policy change” to pad its coffers.

I invite you to share my e-mail with Marriott management. I am theorizing there are many other loyal (former?) Marriott customers shaking their heads over this one.

Regards,

L.H.

Marietta, GA

What do you think about these new cancellation policies? Is it fair for travelers? What about hotels losing money on no-shows? Please leave your comments below!  

–Chris McGinnis

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1,000 Marriott points + AA/US combine + Most hated fees + Delta-Virgin expands + Daylight saving + new routes

A brand new Marriott Courtyard in Salisbury, NC (Marriott)

A brand new Marriott Courtyard in Salisbury, NC (Marriott)

Get 1,000 Marriott Rewards Points. Courtyard by Marriott hits its 1,000 hotel milestone on Tuesday (March 31) and is offering 1,000 Rewards points to all members checking into any Courtyard hotel worldwide on that day. The company says that it will give away over 50 million points as part of the promotion. The festivities will be centered around the brand new Courtyard in Walla Walla, Washington, designated as the 1,000th hotel. The very first Marriott Courtyard opened in Atlanta in 1983 near Northside Hospital (since razed) according to Mark Woodworth of PKF Consulting. The Courtyard brand celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2013 and is Marriott’s second largest revenue generator.

Get 50,000 more Rewards points with the Marriott Rewards Premier Card

DaylightSaving-World-Subdivisions

Daylight Saving Time Reminder. Most of Europe switched over to Daylight Saving Time last night following the move made in the US three weeks ago. Did you know that Daylight Saving Time is primarily observed in the US and Europe only (See blue above)? The rest of the world remains on standard time. (Orange and red denote countries that have either stopped observing Daylight Saving Time or have never observed it.)

British Airways A380 arriving San Francisco. British Airways brings its big Airbus A380 to San Francisco today. The big new bird will fly SFO-London Heathrow five days a week complemented by a 747 on the remaining days. BA will also keep its second daily 747 on the route. Stay tuned for more details in a future post.

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 7.23.45 AM

AA starts merging loyalty accounts. March 28 is the day American Airlines begins merging US Airways Dividend Miles accounts into American’s AAdvantage program, a process that will take “several days,” the company said on its website. Dividend Miles members will be notified by email when the procedure is complete; once it is, they can book award travel through aa.com, but until then they can’t book free trips. Also, “Elite upgrades will vary by airline until we combine reservation systems later this year,” AA said. “To make sure you’re eligible for elite upgrades, you should book flights that are marketed and operated by the same airline – either US Airways or American. If you’re booked on a codeshare flight, you’ll only be eligible to upgrade when you check in, and as always, upgrades are based on availability.”

Readers all hot and bothered by this TravelSkills Reader Report: Shakedown in Mexico

Survey determines most hated fees. Even though major airlines have been trumpeting the amounts they’re spending on passenger enhancements these days, most air travelers — 62 percent — remain “frustrated” by the air travel experience, and would pay more to see improvements, according to a new consumer survey by the U.S. Travel Association. Three out of five said they would pay up to $4 more per ticket in user fees for larger, more efficient U.S. airports. Respondents cited airlines’ $200 change/cancellation fees as the most reviled, followed by $50 seat assignment charges, $25 checked bag fees and $50 priority boarding fees. On another issue, seven out of 10 respondent said that instead of trying to block access by foreign carriers, U.S. airlines should improve their own quality of service to be more competitive.

Tokyo's Haneda Airport is much more convenient than distant Narita.

Tokyo’s Haneda Airport is much more convenient than distant Narita.

DOT lets Delta keep Tokyo route. The Transportation Department tentatively ruled on Friday that Delta can keep its existing Seattle-Tokyo Haneda route, but only if it maintains year-round daily service. Delta had sharply reduced its Seattle-Tokyo schedule during the winter, prompting competitors to ask the government to give them the Haneda rights. American wanted to fly Los Angeles-Haneda and Hawaiian Airlines had filed for Honolulu-Haneda rights.

Delta, Virgin expand partnership. Delta and joint venture partner Virgin Atlantic announced an expansion of their joint venture schedules across the Atlantic this year. Upcoming new routes include a daily Philadelphia-London Heathrow flight starting April 26 and a daily New York JFK-Manchester flight beginning May 21, both operated by Delta; and a daily Detroit-LHR roundtrip starting June 1, operated by Virgin Atlantic. Next month, Virgin is set to add a second daily Los Angeles-LHR flight (in addition to Delta’s once-daily service, for a total of three a day) and to open a new Virgin Clubhouse at LAX. This weekend, Virgin lays on a second daily Atlanta-LHR flight and a second San Francisco-LHR service five times a week. Overall, the partnership’s schedule calls for 39 daily transatlantic flights this summer.

Shoulder Surfing. Have you ever been the victim of “shoulder surfing” when you just know that the person next to you on the plane is watching everything you do on your laptop. This hilarious video records what happens when someone fights back by turning on his laptop’s camera. How do you handle nosy neighbors on planes? 

United delays extra SFO-China flight. United Airlines has pushed back its plan to add a second daily San Francisco-Shanghai Pudong flight, citing slot issues. Instead of starting in early May, the extra flight won’t begin until July 2. United will use a 787-9 for the new service.

New routes: Emirates, Austrian, Philippine. Fast-growing Emirates will add another U.S. gateway on September 1, when it begins daily Orlando-Dubai non-stops, using a three-class 777-200LR … Lufthansa affiliate Austrian Airlines, a Star Alliance member, will start flying a 777 from Miami to Vienna five times a week on October 16 … Philippine Airlines has revived New York JFK-Manila flights four times a week, operating via a stop in Vancouver.

Weekend Edition

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

In Case You Missed It…

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

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

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

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

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

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

World’s 10 highest (and lowest) quality cities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How to find “hidden” hotel discounts

Front desk at the London hotel NYC

Front desk at the London hotel NYC

Frequent travelers know that nearly every hotel chain now guarantees that you’ll find the lowest “published” rate on their own branded websites.

The “best rate guarantees” usually offer to pay the difference (and toss in some other bennies) if you find a lower rate elsewhere.

But the operative word in those guarantees is “published.”

These days, there are all kinds of hidden or unpublished rates available, but who has time to poke around looking for these? Not me!

GoSeek.com is a month-old website that sniffs out and aggregates these bargains and posts them online.

FAA: Keep out of the (filthy) seat back pocket

These unpublished discounts rates are coupons, mobile rates, AAA rates, senior rates, rates that you’d normally only find at paid membership clubs.  Some of the rates are “subscriber rates” which require a free login to view, and are technically not published or publicly available.

GoSeek says that it offers lower rates on more than half the hotels you’d find on a typical metasearch site– with a savings of 20% or more.

We took a quick scan and did find some good deals. Let’s look at Tues April 7 – Thurs April 9 in New York City. The site produced multiple results, but here are two that I really liked– with a savings of $40 and $52 per night at two very nice hotels. And when I checked the individual hotel websites, I could not find these “coupon rates.”

Two of about 40 options presented by GoSeek.com

Two of about 40 options presented by GoSeek.com

Here’s what I found on the Bryant Park Hotel site for April 7-9:
Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 3.51.27 PM
And the London NYC site:
Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 3.54.30 PM
In both cases, once I clicked on the “get our best” tab, I was given a discount code to use to complete the booking on CheapTickets.com
GoSeek

Update: Major chain properties are in on this, too. I was even able to find a $70 discount for the popular, brand new Park Hyatt as well as several Best Western, Hilton, Marriott, Starwood and IHG properties.

Park Hyatt

So based on this quick look, GoSeek.com does seem to be able to find lower rates.

But what about getting those cherished loyalty points? We asked GoSeek and here’s what they had to say about that:

This is a complicated answer, and amounts to “sometimes”.  You get hotel loyalty points when booking AAA and Senior rates.  You get OTA loyalty points (e.g., Expedia or Orbitz) when booking a mobile rate.  You get OTA loyalty points sometimes when booking a rate with a coupon.  Two examples:  On Cheaptickets you do.  On Hotels.com you don’t.  And you shouldn’t be getting hotel loyalty points for OTA bookings with coupons, ever.  And you never get points – OTA or Hotel loyalty program – when booking a subscriber rate.

GoSeek is based in the Bay Area and headed up by Clem Bason, who was once president of Hotwire.com.

Would you use a site like this? Please leave your comments below.

–Chris McGinnis

No time to read Saturday and Sunday’s Weekend Edition? No probs! Here ya go:

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

Biz class discounts + Ryanair reversal + Delta/United Apple watch + Hotel shower fee?

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Biz class discounts + Ryanair reversal + Delta/United Apple watch + Hotel shower fee?

Ryanair's reversal on plans for ultra-low transatlantic flights (Photo: Ryanair)

Ryanair’s reversal on plans for ultra-low transatlantic flights (Photo: Ryanair)

Ryanair denies U.S. route plan. Dublin-based Ryanair, the largest intra-European ultra-low-cost carrier, late last week denied earlier reports that it plans to start flying to 14 U.S. cities within five years. According to the initial reports, the airline’s board was said to have approved the ambitious expansion plan, which would have called for transatlantic fares as low as 10 pounds (about $15) one-way — supplemented by the many ancillary fees for which Ryanair is famous. But a few days later, the Ryanair board issued a terse one-sentence statement saying that it “has not considered or approved any transatlantic project and does not intend to do so.”

4 ways to find discount biz class. If you want to snag a rare business class discount this summer, now would be a good time to start looking, according to a Wall Street Journal article posted this week. Many airlines discount business class during summer, but only if you purchase 60-90 days in advance. It also suggests waiting for last minute biz class discounts presented when you check in online or at the airport (Virgin Atlantic Etihad, Air Canada, Air India, Alitalia), bidding for upgrades on the likes of LOT, Etihad, KLM, Virgin or Air New Zealand, or using specialized travel agencies that sniff out biz class discounts by using unusual routings or volume discounts.

This week’s most popular post: FAA: Stay out of that (filthy) seat back pocket

Delta's got an app for that  new Apple watch (Photo: Delta)

Delta’s got an app for that new Apple watch (Photo: Delta)

Delta, United prepare Apple Watch apps. Following up on American’s plan to be an app launch partner for the new Apple Watch, both Delta and United are working on their own apps for the device. Besides providing a new way to store electronic boarding passes for airport check-in via Apple’s Passbook, the Delta and United apps would reportedly provide flight notifications, gate numbers and changes and other preflight data. The Delta app would also let users know which baggage carousel to go to when their flight arrives. The Apple Watch is due go on sale April 24.

Frontier boosts bag fees. Effective May 1, ultra-low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines will increase some of its baggage fees. For purchasers of basic economy fares, The gate check fee for a bag that exceeds permissible carry-on dimensions goes up from $50 to $60; and the fee for a first checked bag goes from $20 to $25 when purchased at web check-in, and from $25 to $30 for airport check-in. For both basic economy and Classic Plus fare buyers, the fee for a second checked bag rises from $30 to $35. All the more reason I think a lot of travelers will shy away from these carriers despite their recent big expansions into cities like Atlanta.

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

JetBlue adds Florida code-shares. JetBlue has forged a new code-share partnership with regional carrier Silver Airways, giving customers access to JetBlue-coded connections beyond Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale on 14 Silver routes within the state of Florida. Silver flies 34-seat Saab 340B Plus turboprops. JetBlue said that later this year it expects to expand the code-sharing to 13 Silver routes between Florida and the Bahamas. Meanwhile, JetBlue also announced that it will deploy its Mint premium-cabin service with lie-flat seats on flights from New York JFK to Barbados and Aruba starting in November.

Soak in the view from the shower at the Radisson Blu Royal hotel in Stockholm (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Soak in the view from the shower at the Radisson Blu Royal hotel in Stockholm (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Are ‘long shower fees’ coming? As travel suppliers look for new ways to soak their customers, could hotels start charging extra for spending too long in the shower? The University of Tulsa reportedly received a government grant to develop new technology that tracks the amount of water used in each hotel room. Could that be the infrastructure for a new revenue stream from long-showering guests? It might be a good idea in drought-stricken California, but customers in other regions would probably think such an idea is all wet.

Room rates ramp up. If you’re working on your business travel budget for the next couple of years, you better allow for significantly more spending on hotels. The prognosticators at PKF Hospitality Research are predicting that average U.S. room rates will jump by almost 12 percent from 2014 to 2016, as rising demand allows hoteliers to adjust prices upward. PKF said it expects to see average U.S. hotel occupancy (percentage of rooms filled) reach a record 65.6 percent this year, pushing room rates up by 5.3 percent. That will be followed by a 2016 increase of 6.3 percent in average daily rates, the company predicts.

Weekend Edition

 No time to read Saturday’s Weekend Edition? No probs! Here ya go:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why you should change the credit cards you carry

Rendering of the new SunTrust Park

Rendering of the new SunTrust Park coming in 2017

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

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

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

Mobile Passport

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

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

Why you should change the credit cards you carry

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 2.38.19 PM

Image: Lyft

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

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Watch out for rowdy coeds over the next few weeks as Spring Break blooms across the US (Photo: Sandpiper Beacon)

Watch out for rowdy coeds over the next few weeks as Spring Break blooms across the US (Photo: Sandpiper Beacon)

A long, cold and snowy winter and low gasoline prices combined with improving consumer confidence and stock market rallies is resulting in what could be a very busy and expensive spring travel season. If you are headed south, you need to prepare for noise and crowds. 

NICE SPREAD: Luckily, the spring travel season is spread out this year – roughly six weeks long – beginning this week and ending in mid-April, after Easter (Sunday, April 5). Interest in spring getaways is definitely up– for example, advance bookings for March and April at Best Western’s 2,000+ hotels in the U.S. are up 7.1 percent, compared to this time last year.

STRONG DOLLAR: The recent dramatic strengthening of the U.S. dollar is helping drive increased interest among Americans in international travel this spring – to Mexico, the Caribbean and especially Canada, where Best Western’s advance bookings for March and April have soared 18.7 percent.

Related: Crashing currencies = More travel deals for Americans

A4A

PACKED FLIGHTS: Airline trade group A4A projects spring 2015 air travel to rise to its highest level in seven years, with passenger volumes expected to fall just below the 2007 peak. Approximately 134.8 million passengers (2.2 million per day) are expected to fly on U.S. airlines during March and April compared to 132.2 million last year, up 2 percent over last year. This includes a record 17.2 million travelers (283,000 per day) on international flights. To accommodate the expected growth in demand, airlines are increasing the number of seats by 3 percent or 64,000 seats per day during this period.

Late spring travel deals: 6 must-see spring travel flash sales

CHEAP GAS: Gasoline prices have been in free fall over the last six months, but as the peak spring travel season approaches, prices have started to inch up. For example, the average price paid for a gallon of gas has jumped 20 cents from $2.27 in mid-February, to $2.47 in early March, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The biggest gas price increases are on the west coast, where the average price per gallon is now back to more than $3 per gallon. The cheapest gasoline (less than $2.20 on average) is in Gulf coast and Rocky Mountain states, which is great news for beachcombers or skiers.

Watch out for surprise crowds on weekends at the top 5 airports according to A4A

Watch out for surprise crowds on March weekends at the top 5 airports according to A4A

ROWDY COEDS: If you are flying on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays during March, you’ll find airports in or near college campuses and warm weather destinations packed with vacationing students, creating longer lines at airport security. In Atlanta, Emory, Univ of Georgia and Morehouse are on break this week.  Georgia Tech and Georgia State start March 14. See Collegiate Spring Break Calendar here. Also, beware of crowding and possible delays on highways and skyways on the days leading up to, and shortly after, Easter Sunday, April 5. To get the lowest fares, try to postpone trips until non-peak times, such as late April or May, known as the “shoulder season.” Also, travelers who can travel mid-week on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays are also more likely to find lower fares. TIP: If you are a business traveler staying over in a resort or beachside area, ask for a quiet room away from the pool or other public areas, which may attract a rowdy spring break crowd.

Most of these snippets are from my Spring Break Trends Report on Best Western’s YouMustBeTrippin.com blog.

–Chris McGinnis

In Case You Missed it…

>Which cities worldwide have the best (and worst) quality of life?

>United renovates airport clubs, boosts food quality.

>Virgin Atlantic will boost San Francisco schedule with a 787.

>Hilton finally jumps on the free Wi-Fi

 

Did you missed TravelSkills Weekend editions? No probs! Here they are:

Don’t buy Gogo onboard + Virgin to Hawaii? + Clever Delta ad + LaGuardia slots

$64,000 roundtrip + Bevy of new flights + Southwest bag fee + Lufthansa update + Kimpton nightcap

 


6 must-see spring travel flash sales

How will Hawaii be affected by the drastic drop in foreign currencies? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

How will Hawaii be affected by the drastic drop in foreign currencies? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Now that we are approaching the slower shoulder season, which runs from roughly Easter to Memorial Day, I’m starting to see some nice last minute deals pop up– quite good bargains for those flexy enough to travel in April or May.

Take a look and please note that these rates are subject to rapid change in price and availability:

Hawaii. The plunge in the value of world currencies compared to the US dollar has Hawaii nervous that it will get fewer visitors from abroad, and that its American base might be more interested in a flight to Europe instead of down to the islands. So fares are dropping for spring trips. For example, Hawaiian Air has nonstops between San Jose and Honolulu for as little as $358 round trip. Fly from Oakland or San Jose to Maui for just $388. To me, any West Coast-Hawaii roundtrip fare for less than $400 is a good deal. Hawaiian Air Deals Alaska Airlines is offering similar deals from San Jose or Oakland to Hawaii. Plus it has Los Angeles to Anchorage for just $320 round trip. Alaska Airlines deals

Emirates amazing 2-4-1 deal for economy class seats like these on a new A380 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Emirates amazing 2-4-1 deal for economy class seats like these on a new A380 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Dirt cheap to Dubai: Book two round-trip tickets to Dubai on Emirates for just $1,299 in economy (all in). This means just $650 per person, roundtrip from the US to Dubai. Yes, you read that right, only $650 round trip from any of Emirates nine US gateways: New York (JFK), Boston (BOS), Chicago (ORD), Washington DC (IAD), Houston (IAH), Seattle (SEA), Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO) and Dallas Ft. Worth (DFW) to Dubai (DXB). Travel must take place between March 24 and December 10, 2015. And you must book the trip by midnight March 12 PDT. I’ve never seen fares that low from the US to Dubai. Must have something to do with this! Emirates 2-4-1 special 

The SWISS flower power A340 appeared in San Francisco in 2010. I miss it! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The SWISS flower power A340 appeared in San Francisco in 2010. I miss it! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Europe! The euro continues to plunge against the US dollar, hitting a new low today of $1.07. Some observers think that we could see parity by this spring or summer (1 dollar = 1 euro), down from about $1.40 per euro last May. This means that Americans will find Europe a relative bargain bonanza when it comes to hotels, meals, local transport, gifts, etc. While airfare has remained stubbornly high, I’m now seeing some cracks, such as a flash sale (book by March 11) from SWISS with April/May round trips as low at $789 between Boston and Switzerland or Germany. New York and Budapest just $757.Roundtrips to Istanbul from San Francisco or Los Angeles are in the $1,100 range. SWISS sale fares.
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Virgin America & JetBlue launched a two day sale (book by March 11) with fares as low as $128 round trip. Some nice examples from JetBlue: Roundtrip New York to Charleston to watch the flowers bloom for just $128. Long Beach to Oakland or Las Vegas roundtrips for just $99. Seattle or San Diego-Boston for just $188 roundtrip is dirt cheap for a transcon.  JetBlue sale site. Virgin America’s sale is good through March 12 for travel April 7-June 10– with blackout dates and only good on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Some examples: Dallas-Washington DC is a super low at just $108 round trip. SFO-LAX roundtrips at $140; SFO-Vegas, Seattle & San Diego roundtrips $189. SFO-Palm Springs $199 roundtripVirgin America deals.

Alaska Airlines today announced a new nonstop between Seattle and New York JFK with fares as low as $298 round trip PLUS double miles if you purchase your ticket by March 16 and complete your trip by Nov. 18, 2015. Alaska Air to JFK

The view over the Venetian from my room at the Palazzo in Las Vegas (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The view over the Venetian from my room at the Palazzo in Las Vegas (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Las Vegas: Now here’s an interesting deal for folks who have a lot of IHG Rewards points. For today only, you can book the nice Venetian or the The Palazzo, in Las Vegas just 25,000 IHG Rewards Club points. That’s a big 50% discount on points required AND the deal is good for stays all the way through December 28. Must book today or tomorrow (March 11) by noon. IHGRewards 50% off.
 .
Please note that these rates are subject to rapid change in price and availability:
.

–Chris McGinnis

In Case You Missed it…

>Which cities worldwide have the best (and worst) quality of life?

>United renovates airport clubs, boosts food quality.

>Virgin Atlantic will boost San Francisco schedule with a 787.

>Hilton finally jumps on the free Wi-Fi

 

Did you missed TravelSkills Weekend editions? No probs! Here they are:

Don’t buy Gogo onboard + Virgin to Hawaii? + Clever Delta ad + LaGuardia slots

$64,000 roundtrip + Bevy of new flights + Southwest bag fee + Lufthansa update + Kimpton nightcap

 


$64,000 roundtrip + Bevy of new flights + Southwest bag fee + Lufthansa update + Kimpton nightcap

The big bed in Etihad's 3-room Residence aboard its A380 flying to New York in December (Photo: Etihad)

The big bed in Etihad’s 3-room Residence aboard its A380 flying to New York in December (Photo: Etihad)

The $64,000 question. Etihad Airways said it will put an Airbus A380 onto its New York JFK-Abu Dhabi route starting December 1, giving ultra-affluent air travelers a chance to try out the carrier’s posh cabins that it calls “The Residence by Etihad.” The 125-square-foot cabins have a living room, en-suite shower and a bedroom with a double bed, and come with white-gloved, Savoy-trained butler services. The roundtrip fare for the Residence between New York and Abu Dhabi? A mere $64,000. Which begs the question: Who in the world would pay that? Well, somebody out there already has! Etihad issued a press release on the day after the product announcement stating that it sold the Residence on the inaugural flight “within hours.”  What’s it like onboard? Check out Etihad’s video below. 

Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 9.19.27 AM

Clever comment of the week. Last week’s TravelSkills post US airlines vs Emirates, Etihad & Qatar sure struck a chord with readers, with the majority sounding off against US airline whining (see above).

Routes: American, Alaska et al. American Airlines last week kicked off new daily service between Miami and Austin … Alaska Airlines has started flying between San Diego and Kona on Hawaii’s Big Island three times a week … Air China will boost frequencies between Los Angeles and Beijing on May 2 when it adds a third flight four days a week, increasing to three daily roundtrips July 1; also on July 1, Air China will move from Terminal 2 at LAX to the Tom Bradley International Terminal … Lufthansa has put a new 364-seat 747-8 Intercontinental into service between Newark and Frankfurt.

 Southwest reassures on bag fees. Southwest Airlines is still under lots of pressure from Wall Street to start charging fees for checked bags — especially since JetBlue caved on that policy recently and will soon issue a new fare structure that eliminates a free checked bag for the lowest prices. But Southwest’s CFO told an aviation conference last week that the airline still has no plans to change its policy, which currently allows passengers two free checked bags.

Southwest heads south. This week, Southwest launched new nonstops to international destinations south of the border: San Jose, Costa Rica (from Baltimore) and Aruba (from Houston). Each of the new routes is longer than 2,000 miles each-way. San Jose service marks a milestone for the carrier by establishing a presence in a new country (not preceded by AirTran) and by connecting Central America to the Southwest network.

Inflight wi-fi fee hits a new high

All doors open during a behind-the-scenes tour of Lufthansa's hangar in Frankfurt (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

All doors open during a behind-the-scenes tour of Lufthansa’s hangar in Frankfurt (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Lufthansa updates in-flight experience, fares. Now that Lufthansa has almost finished refitting all its long-haul cabins with new seats –a job that should end by the third quarter, including expansion of premium economy seating from the current 30 planes to all 106 long-haul aircraft — the carrier plans to roll out some service enhancements. That includes “Business Class Restaurant Service” on long-haul flights starting this summer, with tables set individually, meals served from the galley instead of a cart, and more flight attendants in the business cabin; and the expansion of its FlyNet in-flight Wi-Fi service to all intercontinental flights. Lufthansa will also introduce new economy fares on intra-European flights next fall, with three levels: Light (no checked bags, rebooking or refunds), Classic (one bag, advance seat selection and rebooking for a fee) and Flex, with the most options included. Have you flown Lufthansa recently? What did you think? 

Food critic Elliott Mackle is back! Anyone who has lived in Atlanta for a while probably remembers food critic Elliott Mackle’s zingers in the AJC or Creative Loafing when it came to the Atlanta food scene. He’s a long-time TravelSkills reader and provides us with his take on Delta’s business class cuisine onboard a recent roundtrip between Atlanta and Buenos Aires. Here’s his Reader Report.

AmEx adds Gold Card benefits. Holders of American Express’ Premier Rewards Gold Card will see some additional benefits starting June 1, the company said, including double Membership Rewards points for purchases at U.S. restaurants, a $100 credit for incidental airline fees like checked bag charges, elimination of foreign transaction fees on trips abroad, and a personalized travel service. Oh, one more thing: The annual fee for the card will go up from $175 to $195 on the same date.

Don’t buy Gogo onboard + Virgin to Hawaii? + Clever Delta ad + LaGuardia slots

HOTELS

Kimpton’s free booze. The latest perk for guests at Kimpton Hotels — now a division of InterContinental Hotels Group — is the “Nightcap Program.” Guests at 17 Kimptons will get a free “small pour of a nighttime libation” and a paired snack each evening — things like scotch and shortbread, port and blue cheese, etc. It’s available at 17 Kimptons now, with more to be added through the year. Add this to the long list of “little things” that Kimpton always gets right– it’s one of my favorite hotel chains.

Mock up of the brand new Loews Chicago hotel

Mock up of the brand new Loews Chicago hotel

Openings, rebrandings: Chicago, Philadelphia, etc. Just weeks after announcing it was taking over San Francisco’s Mandarin Oriental, Loews Hotels has cut the ribbon on the 400-room Loews Chicago Hotel, two blocks east of Michigan Avenue just north of the Chicago River. It’s in the lower 14 stories of a 52-story tower … The former Hyatt Regency Philadelphia at Penn’s Landing is now the 348-room Hilton Philadelphia at Penn’s Landing … InterContinental Hotel Group’s new Kimpton Hotels subsidiary has taken over management of the Shorebreak Hotel in Huntington Beach, Calif., close to the city’s famous pier … Melia Hotels this month opens the 369-room Melia Paris La Defense in the district of the same name — the largest four-star hotel to debut in Paris in 10 years … Dubai has its fifth Hyatt-branded hotel with the opening of the Hyatt Regency Dubai Creek Heights; its 464 rooms occupy a pair of 538-foot towers … Got business in Haiti? Marriott opened the doors of its newly-built Marriott Port-au-Prince … Starwood has added a new Luxury Collection property in Mexico City: Las Alcobas, a gorgeous 35-room boutique-style property in the upscale Polanco district.

Why you should change the credit cards you carry

In Case You Missed it…

>Which cities worldwide have the best (and worst) quality of life?

>United renovates airport clubs, boosts food quality.

>Virgin Atlantic will boost San Francisco schedule with a 787.

>Hilton finally jumps on the free Wi-Fi

Weekend Edition

Did you missed yesterday’s issue of TravelSkills Weekend edition? No probs! Here ’tis:

Don’t buy Gogo onboard + Virgin to Hawaii? + Clever Delta ad + LaGuardia slots


Better, faster, “free-er” wi-fi at Hilton, others

(Photo: The Digitel / Flickr)

(Photo: The Digitel / Flickr)

Today Hilton (finally) announced that starting later this year it would offer free wi-fi to all guests except those who book through online travel agencies such as Expedia.

Until today, Hilton lagged behind most other major hotel chains in rolling out more liberal complimentary wi-fi offerings.

There are a few wrinkles to Hilton’s offer:

First, only top-tier Diamond HHonors members get free “premium” wi-fi– you know, the faster option that allows users to stream video, upload and download photos and crank through emails with large attachments. This starts in the “second quarter.”

Everyone else gets “standard” wi-fi– you know, the one that allow you to skim through email, Twitter and Facebook, check flight status or make an OpenTable reservation but that’s about it. (This goes into effect in August.) If you want a faster connection, you’ll have to pay up.

Unfortunately, new free wi-fi policies don’t apply at Hilton properties where there is an irritating “resort fee.” (UPDATE from Hilton: Diamond members who book directly through a proprietary Hilton channel or through one of our corporate travel partners will be upgraded to complimentary premium Wi-Fi at our hotels where there is a resort charge.)

Hilton was smart to add that guests who book via corporate travel departments or agencies will still get the free wi-fi.  When Marriott announced its “free” wi-fi, bookings made via corporate travel managers and corporate travel agencies were not included, leading to loud squawks.

Related: Hilton’s current double points promo

So far, Hyatt’s free wi-fi policy comes with the fewest strings attached– starting last month, Hyatt offers every guest fast, free wifi, regardless of how they booked their stay or their loyalty program status. Still, only Diamond and Platinum Gold Passport members get free premium wi-fi.

What are your thoughts about the difference between “premium” or “enhanced” versus “standard” hotel wi-fi? Is a standard connection enough for you? Please leave your comments below!

Here are the details of Hilton’s announcement today:

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 9.03.22 AM

What are your thoughts about the difference between “premium” or “enhanced” versus “standard” hotel wi-fi? Is a standard connection enough for you? Please leave your comments below!

Chris McGinnis

Did you miss our Weekend Editions? No probs! Here ya go: 

New transcon biz class + United mistake + Seattle + Cruise for miles + Marriott expiring
Southwest growth spurt + Better food? + Wi-fi on Delta + Hilton double + Whatever!

+++

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

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Don't miss the travel deals posted on TravelSkills!


New transcon biz class + United mistake + Seattle + Cruise for miles + Marriott expiring

Lie-flat comfort on Air Canada's new Business Class Transcon flights (Photo Air Canada)

Lie-flat comfort on Air Canada’s new Business Class Transcon flights (Photo Air Canada)

DOT excuses United on fare errors. A couple of weeks ago we reported on the controversy that erupted after United Airlines refused to honor some ridiculously low transatlantic air fares that many people booked through its website — if they switched their country of origin to Denmark. Although we disagreed with them, many observers felt that United should be held accountable for its mistake and should let those lucky travelers keep their bargain purchases. But now the U.S. Department of Transportation has weighed in, ruling that United didn’t have to honor the fares because to find them, consumers had to “manipulate the search process” by switching home countries to take advantage of a currency conversion glitch.

New Air Canada transcon biz class. March 1 is the launch date for a new Air Canada product it calls Business Class-Transcontinental, to be offered on widebody flights from San Francisco and Los Angeles to Toronto, as well as on intra-Canada service linking Calgary-Toronto, Vancouver-Toronto and Vancouver-Montreal. The airline said it will bring the comforts of its international business cabin to the transcon routes, including seats that recline fully flat, large pillows and duvets, noise-canceling headsets, priority check-in and boarding, Maple Leaf Lounge access and more. It will be on 787s, 777s, 767s and A330s.

United's new digs in the "T-gates" Concourse- no train ride required (Photo: Atlanta Airport)

United’s new digs in the “T-gates” Concourse- no train ride required (Photo: Atlanta Airport)

United at ATL. A United spokesperson confirmed to TravelSkills that a new United Club is indeed underway at Atlanta’s T-gates concourse adjacent to the main terminal, although she could not comment on the exact location. It’s expected to open “this fall.” Additionally, nearly Weekend Editionall United operations have moved to the much more convenient T-gates from Concourse D.  From ATL, United offers nonstops to Newark, Washington Dulles, Chicago, Denver, Houston and San Francisco. This TravelSkills post of United’s newest club at SFO should give you an idea of what the ATL and other planned renovations will look like.

Delta grows at Seattle. Delta’s next round of expansion at Seattle will come on December 19, when it plans to add new daily service to Kona on Hawaii’s Big Island — a route already served by Alaska Airlines. On the same date, Delta will add a second daily flight from SEA to Palm Springs and will begin daily seasonal service from SEA to Tucson, up from the current weekly flight. Starting in May 2015, meanwhile, Delta said it will extend its seasonal SEA-Fairbanks and SEA-Juneau service to year-round daily flights.

hdr_alaska_qq

Cruise with MileagePlus miles. Got a ton of United miles burning a hole in your pocket? The airline said last week that MileagePlus members can now book cruise vacations through its loyalty program and pay with miles. The ships of some two dozen cruise lines are available, United said, with itineraries worldwide. Sample prices: We saw a seven-night western Caribbean sailing on Princess cruises at 70,471 miles for an ocean-view cabin or 129,294 miles for a suite (mileage prices are per person based on two in a cabin). A new web page has been created at https://cruises.mileageplus.com/ where members can search all the cruises available. Not enough program credit? You can also combine miles and money to buy cruises, United said.

HOTELS

1,000 Easy (?) Hilton Points. Last week you read about how to earn 1,000 Hilton HHonors points for simply changing your password, but the promo was put on hold due to a technical glitch. Well, it seems the glitch is still hampering the bonus, but a spokesperson assures TravelSkills that it will indeed come back. So stay tuned.

Marriott gets tough on expiring points. According to the View from the Wing blog, Marriott is telling Marriott Rewards members that effective in February 2016, it will start enforcing a clause in its program rules that says all of a member’s points will expire without any qualifying activity in the program within 24 months.

Popularity contest: Here are the most read TravelSkills posts this past week, in descending order of popularity. Did you read them all?

  1. Why you should change the cards you carry
  2. Bloodbath for airlines a boon for travelers
  3. West Coast – New York LaGuardia flights on horizon?
  4. How to enjoy dining alone
  5. Does Virgin America need lie-flat seats to compete?

And our most popular post of all time? See it here.

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

Southwest growth spurt + Better food? + Wi-fi on Delta + Hilton double + Whatever!

+++

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

facebook like

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

Please join the 85,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email-per-day updates!

Don't miss the travel deals posted on TravelSkills!

 


Southwest growth spurt + Better food? + Wi-fi on Delta + Hilton double + Whatever!

Umm BBQ on United. Is airline food getting better overall? (Photo: United)

Mmm, BBQ on United. Is airline food getting better overall? (Photo: United)

Southwest grows at Love again. It was just a couple of weeks ago that Southwest Airlines announced plans for a new round of expansion at Dallas Love Field on April 9, when it will add non-stop service to 10 new cities. And now the airline says it will grow even more, adding eight more destinations from Love starting August 9. Those cities, which will each get one daily roundtrip, include Boston, Charlotte, Detroit, Omaha, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Raleigh/Durham and Salt Lake City. On the same date, Southwest will increase frequencies between DAL and Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore/Washington, Houston Hobby, Little Rock, Chicago Midway and Seattle; and will boost DAL-Charleston, S.C. service from weekly to daily. Meanwhile, Southwest has sent out a targeted promotion to select Rapid Rewards members offering them double points on flights to and from Love Field through July 31. (Virgin America has been running a double miles promotion for Texas flights through March 31. Will Southwest and Delta use the same tactic against new competition from Spirit and Frontier at Atlanta?)

Umm BBQ on United. Last month, United Airlines introduced upgraded meal service for premium-cabin domestic travelers in its mainline fleet. And this month it is doing the same for the front cabins of United Express flights. The new cuisine, served on china, was introduced March 1 on Embraer E170s and E175s, and will be rolled out on CRJ700s and Q400s starting in April. Breakfasts include things like a fresh fruit plate, yogurt and breakfast bread; lunches and dinners offer two entree choices like a barbecue chicken and coleslaw sandwich, or ginger and garlic marinated beef. Desserts will be triple chocolate chunk cookies. First and biz class meals seem to be getting a LOT better on all airlines these days. Agree or disagree? Leave comments below. 

How to enjoy dining alone

Whatever Woman by Phil Gyford / Flickr

Whatever Woman by Phil Gyford / Flickr

Survey probes mileage plan changes. Now that both Delta and United have switched their loyalty programs from a miles-flown basis to a money-spent regime, website MileCards.com surveyed more than 1,000 “active frequent flyer program members” to see what they thought of the changes. Perhaps most surprising, 71 percent said they didn’t even know about the switch. (They must not be reading TravelSkills!) And of those who did, more than three out of five said it didn’t matter to them. Why not? A great many frequent travelers have credit cards from their preferred airline, and of those who do, three out of five say they earn more miles on the card than they do in the air. Still, 24 percent of the respondents said they would probably book Delta or United less often because of the change, while just 9 percent said they would book those airlines more often. What about you? Has the move toward revenue-based programs changed your travel habits at all? Or is your attitude more “whatever!” 

New HHonors promotion. Hilton has revived its “Double Your HHonors” promotion, offering double HHonors points or double airline miles for stays from March 1 through May 31. Members can register for the promotion and see all the details at www.HHonors.com/Double.

InflightWiFiuser

(photo: Gogo)

Delta upgrades Wi-Fi. Delta said it plans to enhance and expand coverage of its in-flight Wi-Fi service by switching from Gogo’s air-to-ground technology to its new satellite-based 2Ku service, starting next year. Delta said the upgrade will go into more than 250 of its aircraft, bringing faster Internet service to long-haul domestic routes as well as flights to Latin America and the Caribbean. Aircraft getting the upgrade include 757-300s and -200s, 737-800s and -900ERs, and Airbus A319s. New A321s coming in 2016 will also have the upgrade. The airline said it also plans to enhance Wi-Fi service on its short-haul domestic fleet by using Gogo’s next-generation air-to-ground technology, bringing “faster connections at broadband speeds.” That includes 717-200s, MD-88s and MD-90s. Currently, only Virgin America has Gogo’s faster ATG-4 system fleetwide.

West Coast – New York LaGuardia flights on horizon?

Visa Checkout on smartphones

Visa Checkout on smartphones

Virgin adds new payment option. Virgin America said it has become the first U.S. carrier to add Visa Checkout as a payment option on its website (www.virginamerica.com). “After signing up once, Visa Checkout removes the need to enter card details during the online checkout process wherever consumers see the Visa Checkout button,” Virgin said. Visa Checkout accepts all credit and debit cards, including Virgin America-branded cards. Customers who use Visa Checkout on Virgin’s website through March 15 can get $25 off a future flight.

Weekend Edition

Coming in tomorrow’s Weekend Edition: Following up on United’s fare errors, new transcon lie-flat biz class, new Mileage Plus redemption options, Marriott’s expiring points, update on Hilton’s 1,000 bonus point snafu.

In Case You Missed It…

  • Virgin’s first class opts for plush pillows over lie-flat transcon seats.

+++

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

facebook like

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

Please join the 85,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email-per-day updates!

Don't miss the travel deals posted on TravelSkills!

 


How Uber/SPG picked me up

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

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

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

Here’s the core message:

Uber SPG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His main question:

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

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

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

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

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

–Chris McGinnis

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Loews shakes up hotel biz

The stunning view from the 48th floor of the soon-to-be Loews San Francisco (Photo: Mandarin Oriental)

The stunning view from the 48th floor of the soon-to-be Loews San Francisco (Photo: Mandarin Oriental)

San Francisco’s plushest hotel perch, the Mandarin Oriental, which occupies the top 11 floors of a 48-story office building at California and Sansome Streets, will become a Loews hotel in late March.

The 158-room, recently renovated property is the latest prize in Loews’ push to remake its brand, having recently added hotels (and updating them) in key locations in Washington, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles.  It’s also shed laggards, like the dated Loews Metropolitan on Lexington Avenue (now a DoubleTree), moving over to the Loews Regency hotel on Park Avenue.

The new Loews Boston used to be the Back Bay Hotel- inside an old police precinct building (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The new Loews Boston used to be the Back Bay Hotel- inside an old police precinct building (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

There are now 23 hotels in Loews rapidly expanding portfolio of luxury properties. I took a spin through the recently renovated Loews Boston hotel last year and was very impressed. It also recently opened a new-from-the-ground Loews Atlanta hotel in the city’s bustling midtown district. A gorgeous, brand spanking new new Loews opens in Chicago this month.

Downtown San Francisco’s hotel scene is in flux these days, with changes in brand and ownership at the Westin San Francisco Market Street (now a Park Central hotel) and the Parc 55 (now a Hilton hotel).

Have you stayed at a Loews hotel lately? What did you think? 

–Chris McGinnis

Have you been following our super popular Planespotting 101 series? Check out our first two installments here: 

Planespotting 101: Boeing 757, 767 (latest)

Planespotting 101: Boeing 737 vs Airbus A320

Planespotting 101: MD-80/90 & Boeing 717

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Big new Hilton in SF + New status/perks at Hilton/Hyatt + Fastest hotel wifi? + New storm

Parc55HiltonSFO

The Parc 55 is now a Hilton. Note the nearby SF Hilton Union Square tower in the upper left (Photo: Hilton)

Hilton adds two San Francisco hotels. HHonors members should be happy to hear this: San Francisco’s 1,024-room Parc 55 Hotel, located downtown at 55 Cyril Magnin St. near the Powell Street BART station and Union Square — is now a Hilton. The lodging giant said it purchased the Parc 55 (formerly a Wyndham) and four other hotels with the whopping $1.95 billion proceeds from its sale of the Waldorf-Astoria in New York to China’s Anbang Insurance Group. (The Waldorf will continue to be managed by Hilton, the company noted. And word on the street is that a massive, and much needed full renovation of the storied-but-tired property is in the works.)  Meanwhile, Hilton is taking bookings starting June 1 for a newly built Hampton Inn a few blocks away from the Parc 55 at 942 Mission Street near the Moscone Convention Center.

Weather update: Nearly 1,700 flights canceled to/from Northeast airports as the area is walloped by yet another winter storm. And another storm is now bearing down on Southeastern states. Airlines are issuing waivers for those wishing to postpone trips. In the meantime, it’s 72 degrees, sunny and springlike in San Francisco and the plum trees are poppin’ purple! Here’s some hope for the shivering masses: Daylight savings starts in just three short weeks! March 8. Still have the winter blues? British Airways just released a video of Oxford University’s all male a capella group Out of the Blue, remaking Wham’s holiday classic, ‘Club Tropicana’ in Malta.  Watch the fun video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92wSOebt4Nw

San Diego's new Terminal 2 WEST is state of the art while the rest of the airport is pretty dour

San Diego’s new Terminal 2 WEST is state of the art while the rest of the airport is pretty dour

Virgin moves at San Diego. Virgin America Airlines, which flies five times a day between San Diego and San Francisco, has moved its check-in operations at SAN from the dour, aged east side of Terminal 2 to the sparkling new west side. The new Virgin check-in counters and kiosks are located between the Delta and JetBlue positions, and airport signs have been changed to reflect the move. United also operates out of the new west side of Terminal 2.

Which hotel chain has the fastest free wifi? Huffington Post reports that of all hotel chains that advertise free Wi-Fi, good old moderately priced brands like Quality Inns, Ramada Inns, La Quinta and Best Western are among the very best, according to a recent study from Hotel WiFi Test, a site devoted entirely to testing Wi-Fi service. The company’s research found that nearly all midpriced hotel chains, for example, have functioning, free Wi-Fi, and it’s faster than what you’ll find at Hilton, Marriott or Sheraton.

When to buy your spring-summer airline tickets? 

Expedia buys Orbitz. Apparently online mega-travel site Expedia wasn’t satisfied with its recently announced plans to buy rival Travelocity, because Expedia is now planning to gobble up Orbitz and its affiliated companies as well, for $1.6 billion. Besides Orbitz.com, that includes Orbitz for Business, CheapTickets.com, ebookers and HotelClub. Besides its namesake website, Expedia also owns Hotels.com, Hotwire.com and Trivago. This leaves Expedia and Priceline as the two major OTA players. Do you use online travel agencies, known as “OTAs” to book trips why or why not?

HH_logo_bev_color_pos_TM_print

HHonors offers lifetime Diamond status. Longtime Diamond members of Hilton’s HHonors program will have that status extended for the rest of their lives, an HHonors spokesperson told TravelSkills. Specifically, the lifetime status will be offered to anyone who has held Diamond status for 10 or more years (not necessarily consecutive) and has completed at least 1,000 nights of paid stays. “Over the past several years we have learned from members that Lifetime Diamond Status is something our most elite members are extremely passionate about,” the spokesperson said, adding that members who met the requirements by December 31, 2014 will receive a lifetime card and a gift in the mail.

Hyatt has new perks for elites. Hyatt’s Gold Passport program is adding some new perks for top-level members. Starting March 1, Diamond members who transfer a free night paid with points to family or friends will have their Diamond in-hotel benefits (like breakfast, Regency Club access etc.) extended to those guests. Also effective March 1, Gold Passport Diamonds will get a pair of free passes each year for access to United Airlines’ airport lounges. And starting February 14, Diamonds and Platinums will get free premium Wi-Fi access at all Hyatts worldwide.

Seen this entrance to the new Baccarat hotel on W 53 in NYC yet?

Seen this entrance to the new Baccarat hotel on W 53 in NYC yet?

Another posh NYC hotel coming. March 2 is the opening date for the next of New York City’s posh and pricey hotels. This one is The Baccarat, at 20 West 53rd Street. Rates will reportedly start at about $729 a night for a classic king room. As its name suggests, the hotel’s decor will be heavy on glass and crystal touches.

WeekendEdition

Did you miss out on Saturdays’ Weekend Edition of TravelSkills? Check it out here!

Southwest Big Love + Hidden Delta rules + Remarkable Atlanta deal + SFO Centurion chef

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Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 9.39.35 AM

70,000 IHG Rewards Club points. How?

Now that IHG is absorbing Kimpton, one of our favorite hotel brands, it’s time to consider getting more deeply involved in the popular IHG Rewards program…and maybe even get the IHG Rewards Club card. In addition to the Kimpton news, a primary motivation right now is that Chase just rolled out a nice 70,000 points sign up bonus for the card (up from the standard 60K offer) after you spend just $1,000 in the first three months of account opening. What will 70,000 IHG points get you? Several free nights at IHG hotels, depending on when and where you say, and if you can take advantage of its lucrative point breaks and last minute reward nights options. Sign up today!

In Case You Missed It…

>American sets schedules for first 787 Dreamliners.

>Chris tries out (and photographs) JetBlue’s new Mint Class.

>InterContinental’s loyalty plan adds Kimpton hotels, new signup bonus.

Have you been following our super popular Planespotting 101 series? Check out our first two installments here: 

Planespotting 101: Boeing 737 vs Airbus A320

Planespotting 101: MD-80/90 & Boeing 717

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IHG Rewards bonus + Kimpton purchase = interesting!

I love how many Kimpton Hotels create hand written notes for its loyalty program elite! This one's form the Hotel Monaco in Portland OR (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Kimpton Hotels create hand written notes for its loyalty program elite! This one’s from the Hotel Monaco in Portland OR (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Now that IHG has closed on its recent purchase of popular Kimpton hotels, one of my favorite hotel brands, it’s time to consider getting more deeply involved in the popular IHG Rewards program…and maybe even get the IHG Rewards Club card.

Those who are big fans of IHG’s hip Indigo brand are likely most excited by the news that Kimpton hotels are coming on board. The two brands resemble one another for their boutique-y feel, local focus, design edge and habit of “getting the little things” just right. It will be interesting to see how IHG incorporates Kimpton into its brand line-up. (The Kimpton and IHG loyalty programs have not merged yet, but that’s coming…)

Related: 10 little things some hotels get right

The view from my room at the InterContinental Hong Kong in Kowloon. Wow! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The view from my room at the InterContinental Hong Kong in Kowloon. Wow! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

In addition to the Kimpton news, another reason to consider deepening your relationship with IHG is that Chase just rolled out a nice 70,000 point sign up bonus for the IHG Rewards Club card. (up from the standard 60K offer) after you spend just $1,000 in the first three months of account opening.

What will 70,000 IHG points get you? Several free nights at IHG hotels, depending on when and where you say, and if you can take advantage of its lucrative point breaks and last minute reward nights.

70,000 POINTS!

What else do you get with the IHG Rewards Club card?

>Automatic platinum elite status with the IHG Rewards Club, which includes free internet at all IHG hotels, priority check in, space available upgrades and a 50% bonus on base points.

>One free night per year

>Five points per dollar spent at IHG hotels, which include some of my favorite brands like Hotel Indigo, InterContinental, the rapidly transforming Crowne Plaza along with good ole Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express.

>Two points per dollar spend on gas, restaurants and groceries. One point on everything else.

>No annual fee for the first year, then $49. Sign up here!

I have to say that the InterContinental Hong Kong that seems to float on the water on the Kowloon side of the harbor (see above) is likely my favorite IHG property in the world. I loved Kimpton’s Hotel Wilshire in LA, too. What are your favorite IHG or Kimpton hotels? Why?

70,000 POINTS!

–Chris McGinnis

(Please note that TravelSkills earns a small commission when you sign up for credit cards via links posted here. So please use those links! It helps us help you.)

Did you miss Saturday’s issue of our weekend edition? Here ’tis:

United discounts awards + Delta eliminates chart + More Starbucks + United packs 777s + Southwest challenges Delta

 

New breed of hotel discount sites

End of the hotel room phone?

5 key questions to ask at hotel check-in

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New York City is too crowded!

Nearly 500,000 people pass through Times Square every day (Photo: Neo_II / Flickr)

Nearly 500,000 people pass through Times Square every day (Photo: Neo_II / Flickr)

Crowding in New York City is reaching epidemic proportions. Especially in Midtown and particularly in Times Square. 

In the rare case you haven’t been to Manhattan lately, you should know that the number of tourists visiting New York City hit an historic high last year. This week the NYC Mayor’s office proudly proclaimed that a whopping 56.4 million showed up to take in its sights and sounds.

That’s over 20 million more visitors than 14 years ago, in 2000, when 36.2 million showed up.

If you have been to New York recently and dared to venture into the Times Square area, you know that it feels like all 56 million showed up on the day you got there, right? Roughly 480,000 pedestrians pass through Times Square every day. Before 2009, that number was 350,000.

Sometimes you have to fight just to get in or out of your hotel room door. Finding a cab or open seat at a restaurant is nearly impossible. Bumping into first timers looking up and pointing from sidewalks, hawkers or people dressed up as costumed characters is a regular occurrence.

It’s become so crazy that I now take the advice of aggravated locals and just avoid Midtown and Times Square completely. (The New York Times opined about the problem last month)

The problem for me, and I’m sure for many TravelSkills readers is that business meetings frequently take place in Midtown. So if you want to stay close to your meeting, you are kinda stuck.

Our recommendations for the two best all around credit cards offering 40K bonus miles are …. 

(Image: InterContinental Hotels)

(Image: InterContinental Hotels)

I used to think I was being smart by staying at the InterContinental  or Westin Times Square, both located on what used to the be the quiet western edge of all the action. But with the resurgence of Hells Kitchen and Clinton neighborhoods along 8th and 9th Avenues, it’s packed over there, too.

I’ve found some respite in the limited service hotel village that has spring up between Herald Square and the Empire State Building, but even that’s becoming overcrowded and frequently sold out.

So I’m looking for some advice here. What are the best (or your favorite) hotels on the fringes of Midtown, away from the madding crowds, that are close enough to walk to Midtown, but far enough away that I don’t feel like I’m part of the circus?

Please share any tips or advice in the comments below!

 –Chris McGinnis

End of the hotel room phone?

5 key questions to ask at hotel check-in

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End of the hotel room phone?

MobileSuites

Prognosticators have long predicted the end of the hotel room phone. A new app will likely hasten its demise.

Starting March 1 you can use your smartphone to request nearly every hotel service, at over 1,200  big brand name hotels, with a new app called MobileSuites. By big brands, we are talking Marriott, Starwood, Hyatt and Hilton. (See below for examples.)sponsored-slider

Yep, you can use it to order a pot of coffee and toast from room service, schedule a taxi pick up, make a dinner reservation, request housekeeping, book a spa appointment or check out. You can even make these requests before you arrive at the hotel. 6. MobileSuites App - Housekeeping

So, instead of requesting hotel services the old fashioned way via the clunky, dirty room phone (and likely waiting on hold) you can now get what you need with just a few taps on your smart phone, according to Dennis Meng, MobileSuites CEO, who collaborated with TravelSkills on this sponsored post.

What’s most unique about the MobileSuites app is that it can be used across several brands. Meng said that his company waited to launch the app until they had a critical mass of key hotels in major cities around the country.

How does it work? The app is customized for each hotel. Once you are at the hotel and launch the app, geolocation engages, recognizes the property you are in and launches that hotel’s app, displaying the various functions available. You simply make your requests and the hotel responds in minutes with a confirmation email, so you know that that pot of coffee is on its way!

The MobileSuites team is now working to provide mobile check in across all hotels on the app. The next step in development will be a move toward keyless entry– using your app enabled phone to open your hotel room door.

You may have downloaded the recent batch of new apps offered by various hotel brands, which are great when it comes to making reservations or tracking loyalty points, but few of them do much for guests once they are inside the hotel. And none of them work across multiple brands.

“Travelers are a lot less brand-loyal today than they were just 5-10 years ago. We wanted to provide a solution that delivers a fantastic experience but gives travelers the flexibility to stay wherever they want and find value in having every brand in one app. We didn’t want to create a world where they’d have to use a new app for every different hotel,” says MobileSuites‘ Meng.  He added that the company expects to double or even triple its coverage of hotels in the next six months, and could have as many as 5,000 by the end of this year.

To promote the app’s launch, MobileSuites is offering users the chance to win a free three night stay at any hotel on its network. Destinations include Hawaii, Miami, New York, San Diego, and many more. To be entered in the lottery, users just need to sign up and refer a friend at http://mobilesuitesapp.com/refer.

They’ve built a database of over 1200 hotels across North America, including many hotels from the major hotel chains, and they’re adding new hotels every day. Through their app, they help facilitate the interaction between guests and hotels, even though they are not yet partnered with the major hotel chains.

Here’s a short list of some of the biggest or best known hotels on the MobileSuites app:

  • W New York – Times Square | New York, NY
  • Hyatt Regency Chicago | Chicago, IL
  • Hilton San Francisco Union Square | San Francisco, CA
  • Sheraton Dallas Hotel | Dallas, TX
  • Westin Bonaventure Hotel | Los Angeles, CA
  • Philadelphia Marriott Downtown | Philadelphia, PA
  • Waldorf Astoria New York | New York, NY
  • JW Marriott / Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes | Orlando, FL
  • Four Seasons Washington D.C. | Washington, DC
  • Hyatt at Olive 8 | Seattle, WA

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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38 new Marriotts + Double SkyMiles + Wi-fi block spank + New Hyatt brand + Virgin in Nashville

Marriott just added 120 new hotels in Canada

Marriott just added 38 new Delta hotels in Canada, like this one in Toronto

More opportunities to earn Marriott Rewards.  Marriott International will greatly increase its presence in Canada with the planned acquisition of that country’s Delta Hotels brand for $135 million. Delta has 38 hotels with 10,000 rooms in 30 Canadian cities; after the deal is complete, that will boost Marriott’s total presence in Canada to more than 120 hotels and 27,000 rooms. Marriott said that will make it “the largest full-service hotel company in Canada.” Meanwhile, Marriott also announced plans to bring its new Moxy brand from Europe to the U.S., with three new Moxy properties in New York City and others in San Francisco, Seattle, New Orleans and Chicago. The first Moxy opened in Milan last fall and others are coming in Munich, Frankfurt, Berlin Copenhagen and London. The Moxy brand will be modern and high-tech, with “highly social” lobbies, “free and furiously fast Wi-Fi” and such.

InterContinental offers double Delta miles. Members of InterContinental Hotels Group’s IHG Rewards Club who select Delta SkyMiles as their earning option can get double bonus miles for every qualifying stay at an IHG property from now through April 30. The offer requires online registration.

Blizzard warning in Chicago and heavy snow to snarl air travel Monday and Tuesday (Image: NWS)

Blizzard warning in Chicago and heavy snow to snarl air travel Monday and Tuesday (Image: NWS)

Storm update: Airlines have started to cancel flights and issue waivers of change penalties for Monday/Tuesday flights across a wide swath of the northern US. The National Weather Service has issued a blizzard warning for Chicago. Stay warm and remember: If your flight is canceled and you decide to bag your trip completely, the airline owes you a full refund.

FCC gets tough on Wi-Fi blockage. The Federal Communications Commission’s Enforcement Bureau issued a stern warning last week that it won’t tolerate hotels or other commercial establishments blocking customers’ personal Wi-Fi hotspots. Last year, the enforcement agency fined Marriott $600,000 after one of its affiliated properties was caught doing just that in conference rooms; it said last week it is seeing a “disturbing trend” of similar activity and is currently investigating several complaints. “No hotel…may intentionally block or disrupt personal Wi-Fi hot spots on such premises, including as part of an effort to force consumers to purchase access to the property owner’s Wi-Fi network,” the FCC said. Think this has happened to you? Go to www.fcc.gov/complaints or call 888-CALL-FCC with details. Do you prefer your own hotspot to the hotel’s Wi-Fi? Under what circumstances?

Full capitulation by Marriott. At first, it Marriott put up a fight over the heated hotspot issue, but quietly issued this “we thought we were doing the right thing” statement Saturday morning:  Bethesda, Md., January 30, 2015 – Marriott International has decided to withdraw as a party to the petition seeking direction from the FCC on legal Wi-Fi security measures. Our intent was to protect personal data in Wi-Fi hotspots for large conferences. We thought we were doing the right thing asking the FCC to provide guidance, but the FCC has indicated its opposition. As we have said, we will not block Wi-Fi signals at any hotel we manage for any reason. And, as of January 15, we provide free Wi-Fi to all members of our Marriott Rewards program who book directly with us. We’re doing everything we can to promote our customers’ connectivity using mobile and other devices, and we’re working with the industry to find security solutions that do not involve blocking our guests’ use of their Wi-Fi devices.

SpringHill Suites Security. Have you seen how SpringHill Suites is putting a wrap (and some cushy couches) on airport security? See this

Will this be disappearing soon? (Photo: Consumerist Dot Com / Flickr)

Disappearing soon? (Photo: Consumerist Dot Com / Flickr)

Demise of the hotel room phone upon us? We’ll have a TravelSkills post this week about a new app that could spell the end to the room phone.

Hyatt’s new brand. Is there no end to new brands in the hotel industry as major companies try to capture the growing market of Millennial business travelers? Hyatt has introduced five brands since 2006, and here comes a sixth: Some 15 Hyatt properties in key business destinations (like New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Miami and Paris) will take on a new identity this summer as the company launches the Hyatt Centric brand. Hyatt says it will be “a full-service lifestyle brand” for travelers who want “a cosmopolitan vibe in the center of the action” (hence the name Centric). Like so many new brands, Centric will offer a public area where guests can work and socialize, along with a “knock ‘n’ drop” room service (i.e., no “formal delivery”). For more, go to www.hyattcentric.com. Which new hotel brands have you tried? What’s your favorite? 

Related: Our take on Starwood’s Aloft brand – SLIDESHOW 

A brand new Virgin hotel planned for hot-n-happnin-now Nashville (Rendering: Virgin Hotels)

A brand new Virgin hotel planned for hot-n-happnin-now Nashville (Rendering: Virgin Hotels)

Virgin’s Nashville plans. Virgin Hotels just opened its first property — in Chicago — but already has released plans for its second, which will open in Nashville in fall of 2016. Appropriate to its address at One Music Row, the 240-room hotel will include one non-standard facility: A recording studio. Also on tap are a live entertainment venue, Virgin’s trademark Commons Club bar/restaurant/hangout space, a gym, wellness center and rooftop pool.

WeekendEdition

Did you miss the Saturday issue of our WEEKEND EDITION? Here ’tis! 

New jets SFO-LAX + Europe summer deals + United move at ATL + Delta wi-fi progress + Cathay biz class sale

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Putting a wrap on airport security checkpoints

SpringHill

Have you ever seen an airport security checkpoint that looks like this? (Photo: SpringHill Suites)

When was the last time you felt cool, calm and collected at an airport security checkpoint? 

You might feel that way the next time you pass through the new “Experience Zone” at Oakland International Airport’s Terminal 2 (used by Southwest Airlines).

Since last month, OAK’s security checkpoint area has been wrapped in colorful wall art, pumped full of soothing sounds from Pandora radio, and bathed in calm lighting, eye-catching videos and helpful displays showing current queue wait times.

Instead of just stanchions, benches and tables like you see at most security checkpoints, here you’ll find hotel-lobby-quality furnishings, rugs and a soft, comfortable place to sit down and “recompose” after passing through security.sponsored-slider

The new look is not just cosmetic– tests of similar airport Experience Zones show that security lines move about 25% faster than normal according to SecurityPoint Media, the company behind the effort.

Take a look at this time lapse video below to see how Oakland’s airport security was transformed from a cold and foreboding space that felt like a warehouse into something warmer and more familiar.

Watch the transformation in this 90-second time lapse video

“We have received tremendous feedback from travelers who have experienced the transformed security zones in some of the country’s busiest airports,” said Craig Fowler of SpringHill Suites. “We are excited to be able to continue to extend the hospitality of our brand by providing enhanced surroundings and unexpected moments of relief to busy travelers.”

The enhancements are a collaboration between SpringHill Suites, Oakland International, and SecurityPoint Media, which as created similar installations at Chicago O’Hare, Dallas Ft Worth and Charlotte Douglas airports. 

“This latest conversion in Oakland is the most dramatic to date,” said Joe Ambrefe, CEO of SecurityPoint Media. “Balancing the unique culture of each airport with the science of queue theory has proven to redefine the screening area as a point of service excellence.”

SecurityPoint Media

Watch the transformation in this 90-second time lapse video

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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5 key questions to ask at hotel check-in

Check in counter at The Nines hotel in Portland, OR (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Check in counter at The Nines hotel in Portland, OR (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Here are five questions every smart traveler should ask when checking in a hotel:

(This is a Blast from the Past post making a reappearance on TravelSkills. Enjoy!)

1) What’s the location of this room?

When you ask about the specific location of the room, the clerk becomes personally involved in your room choice—and does not leave it up to whatever the hotel reservations system has assigned you. Depending on your specific situation, you may want to ask for a room away from the elevator bank, ice machine or maintenance/housekeeping closet for peace and quiet. You may want a room that does not get direct morning or afternoon sun. You may want a high floor for the view or a low floor for safety. It’s up to you but best to always ask for something specific.

2) Does this room have a connecting door?

There’s not much worse than a noisy hotel neighbor, especially when the sound can be heard from under the door to the connecting room. I’ve been roused from precious slumber by loud snorers, screaming babies, eerie prayer chants, and worst of all, loud TVs that neighbors leave on ALL. NIGHT. LONG. Good grief. Avoid all that by requesting a room without a connecting door when you check in. (Did you know that there’s a difference between “connecting” and “adjoining” rooms?)

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3) When was this room renovated? Is it in the new part or floor?

Hotels rarely shut down completely for renovations. Instead, they renovate one floor at a time. Your question here should be two-pronged: 1) May I please have a room on a renovated floor? And 2) Should I be concerned about any renovation noise coming from above or below this room?

An ADA compliant bathroom at the Hilton Westchester (Photo: Hilton)

An ADA compliant bathroom at the Hilton Westchester (Photo: Hilton)

4) Is this an ADA compliant room?

Even though I do not have any physical disabilities, I always seem to be the guy who gets one of the hotel’s ADA compliant rooms. For some reason, hotel clerks won’t tell you this at check in, so you won’t know until you get to the room. You’ll know you have an ADA room when you see two peepholes in the door, the big wide door to the bathroom, metal grab bars around the toilet and the roll-in shower area. The hooks in the ceiling, the paddle-style sink hardware, the unusual closet layout. If I’m just there for the night, I’ll usually take it…and enjoy the extra space. But for longer stays, I’ll ask for another room.

RELATED: New breed of discount hotel booking sites | 

5) Do you have my correct loyalty program info?

I’m surprised how often I have to follow up on hotel loyalty credits because the person who booked my trip neglected to include the proper loyalty program numbers on the reservation. It’s a lot easier to get the points when checking in than trying to claim them after you’ve checked out. So double check.

Did I miss any? Please leave the question YOU always ask below… or comment on mine! 

Chris McGinnis

Blast from the Past is an occasional feature on TravelSkills where we revive old, but still relevant and previously popular posts to enlighten our newest readers. This week, we revive our most popular (and widely copied) post from 2014! 

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Which countries have fastest hotel wi-fi? Surprising answer

wi-fi

Do you insist on consistently good quality and wide availability of in-room Wi-Fi at hotels? Then you better travel overseas, according to a new report from HotelWiFiTest, the website that tracks these things worldwide.

The U.S. ranks fairly high up on the list for the availability of free hotel Wi-Fi, but fairly low down for quality. The report notes that “quality” doesn’t mean super-fast Internet; rather, it means “the percentage of hotels that offer adequate WiFi quality in a given geographical area.” It defines “adequate” as download speeds of at least 3 Mbps — sufficient for SD-quality video streaming — and uploads at 500 kbps.

wifi

“For most travelers, having super-fast and consistently stable WiFi is a great bonus, but their first priority is ensuring that basic quality expectations for Internet access are met,” the company noted.

Worldwide, Asia offers the best Wi-Fi quality, the report notes, available at 50 percent of the region’s hotels. Europe is second at 46 percent, and the U.S. is third at 35 percent. On a country-by-country basis, 92 percent of South Korea’s hotels offer quality Wi-Fi, followed by Japan (84.9 percent), the Ukraine (!) at 82.1 percent, Switzerland at 79.8 percent and Romania at 78 percent. Ranking just below those countries, in order, are Hong Kong, Sweden, Norway, Taiwan, Hungary and Russia. The U.S. comes in at 40th place worldwide (35.9 percent), just above Malaysia, Turkey, Spain and France.

According to HotelWiFiTest, that means 79 percent of the world’s countries have better quality hotel Wi-Fi than the U.S.

My two favorite airlines. Yours?

The report found that the opposite trend holds true for availability of free in-room Wi-Fi, however, with that amenity provided at 85.4 percent of U.S. hotels — about the same as Ukraine, Taiwan and Turkey, but still behind Norway (92.4 percent), Sweden (91 percent) and Russia (90.1 percent). (That U.S. figure should increase since major chains like Hyatt, Marriott and Starwood recently decided to make basic free Wi-Fi available across all their brands.)

wi-fi

HotelWiFiTest’s report also looked at individual cities. In the 20 U.S. cities covered, Portland was number one in the Wi-Fi quality rankings (available at 66.7 percent of its hotels), 10 points ahead of second-place Seattle. Following in order behind Seattle are Albuquerque, Orlando and Chicago. Los Angeles ranked 7th (46.3 percent), New York 8th (44.5 percent) and San Francisco 10th (42.7 percent). Of the 20 U.S. cities rated, Atlanta came in at the bottom, with quality Wi-Fi at just 22.5 percent of its hotels.

Related: Ranking inflight wi-fi by airline

U.S. cities with the highest percentage of free Wi-Fi hotels are Portland, Albuquerque, Austin, San Antonio, Houston and Denver, all above 80 percent. Ranking 20th out of 20 for free Wi-Fi was Boston at 56.6 percent, just below Washington D.C. (58 percent).

Overseas destinations outdo all of the U.S. cities in terms of Wi-Fi quality, the report concluded. Of the 50 cities worldwide covered in the report, the one with the best availability of quality Wi-Fi is Stockholm (at 88.9 percent of its hotels), followed by Budapest (84.4 percent), Tokyo (81.9 percent), Dublin (77.5 percent) and Montreal (69 percent). Atlanta ranked 49th on the list of 50, exceeding only Albufeira, Portgual.

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Crashing currencies: More travel deals for Americans

The elegant new(ish) W Hotel in Paris near Opera (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The elegant new(ish) W Hotel in Paris near Opera (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

In case you’ve not kept an eye on foreign exchange markets, you should know that the dollar is soaring compared to nearly every major currency in the world.

That means that right now during the so-called “dead weeks” is not only a very cheap time to fly to Europe, Australia or Japan, it’s also a very cheap time to be there. As of today, the euro is at about $1.11. The British pound is about $1.50. Aussie and Canadian dollars have dipped to right around 80 US cents.

“I was worried about our marketing events in Europe being over budget this winter. Now it appears we’ll be at or below budget due to the favorable currency fluctuations,” wrote a TravelSkills reader who manages events for a global tech company.

So how much will you save on your next trip to Europe? Let’s say you paid 350 euros per night for a room at the W Paris last spring when the exchange rate was at $1.40. Three nights at that rate would run $1,470. If you went back this week and paid 350 euros for three nights (@$1.11 per euro), that would set you back $1,165. That’s a savings of $305– more than $100 per night. Not bad!

There’s probably nowhere that the dollar has strengthened more than in Russia, where travel deals will likely abound.  “We are encouraging guests to consider Russia as a destination for 2015 – favorable exchange rates against the ruble, combined with lower prices, will make it an exceptional value for North American travelers this year,” says Richard Marnell, SVP of Marketing for Viking Cruises.

Another positive about a strong US dollar is that it could help drive down hotel rates in overpriced New York City, which relies on demand from international guests more than most cities. With their newly weakened currencies, Europeans may have to downgrade accommodations…or postpone trips. That dip in demand could make the Big Apple cheaper for Americans.

We grabbed the following charts from XE.com to illustrate just how quickly several major currencies have crashed compared to the US dollar over the last year.

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–Chris McGinnis

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

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

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

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

Delta waiver

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

CONSOLIDATION

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

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

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

AIRPORTS

(Photo: Gotham Air)

(Photo: Gotham Air)

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOTELS

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

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

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

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

CARS

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

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

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

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

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

Did you see Saturday’s TravelSkills Weekend Edition?

WeekendEdition

 

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

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Delta at JFK + First Virgin Hotel opens + Cuba + Free parking at Oakland + Marriott backs down

Delta's Terminal 4 at New York JFK (Photo: Delta)

Delta’s Terminal 4 at New York JFK (Photo: Delta)

AIRPORTS

Delta expands at JFK. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and Delta Air Lines have cut the ribbon on a $175 million expansion of Terminal 4 at New York JFK. The 11-gate, 75,000-square-foot extension of T4’s B Concourse allows Delta to move most of its regional Delta Connection flights there from Terminal 2. Delta said the expansion will make for easier connections and improved access to amenities in both its terminals. The facility features a new JFK jitney bus stop in addition to those at Gate B18 in T4 and Gate C60 in T2. All the new gates provide enclosed jet bridges for boarding regional aircraft. New facilities are great… but have have you walked the length of Delta’s T4 at JFK? It’s way out there. Way.

Free parking at Oakland. Bay area travelers who fly to Texas out of Oakland International can get up to three days of free parking in the airport’s Daily Lot. They just have to show a copy of their e-ticket itinerary (to any airport in Texas) along with a printable coupon available at www.OaklandAirport.com/ParkFree.

WeekendEdition

A 747 to Honolulu! Starting May 15, Delta is re-introducing Boeing 747-400 operations on Atlanta – Honolulu route, for the first time since October 2009. The 747-400 will operate daily, replacing Airbus A330-300. (Airline Route)

Reader question: TravelSkills reader A.S. has a question. Can anyone answer this one? Why don’t the airlines in the US onload and offload passengers from both ends of the plane, like they do in Europe? Please leave your answer below.

CUBA

Vamos a Cuba! In case you’ve been under a rock all week, you should know that new relaxed rules about travel to Cuba went into effect on Friday. NBC sent a crew out to TravelSkills World HQ to interview Chris about the new rules. While the interview lasted about 20 minutes, The TODAY Show used only about 20 seconds. (You can see it in the clip above at about 1:30 mins). What else did I say? I agree that this is a smart move– it’s time to abandon a 54 year old policy that is not working. AND, I think that it’s a GOOD thing that congress is going to stall on full repeal of the current embargo with Cuba, because once that is lifted, swarms of American’s kept away from this forbidden fruit of the Caribbean are going to invade and Cuba simply cannot accommodate them right now. Cuba simply does not have the infrastructure (hotels, roads, buses, airport gates) to deal with millions of Americans eager to get there. Once the embargo does come down and Americans have easy (and cheap) access to the island, the tourist economies of Florida and many Caribbean islands are going to take a hit– that’s probably a hidden reason there is so much opposition in Florida to relaxing travel restrictions. Also, many Canadians and Europeans have long favored vacations in Cuba because of the lack of Americans. That of course is going to change. Prices will rise, crowding will be an issue. In the near term, I also think we’ll see much more business travel to the island as US companies are eager to tap into this market of 11 million people and US hotel companies, cruise lines, airlines jump into the market. How do you feel about Cuba? Are you eager to see it? When might you go? Leave your comments below.  

HOTELS

virgin hotel chicago

The first Virgin hotel in the US has opened in Chicago and here’s a peek inside (Photo: Virgin Hotels)

Dead week hotel deals abound. Except for this MLK weekend, we are still in the depths of the “dead weeks” when travel prices plummet and last minute deals abound. This means that it makes good sense to wait around for last minute deals by trolling sites such as Hotwire or apps such as HotelTonight for deep discounts. New York Hotel Week will conclude shortly with super low rates ($100 to $200 per night) at some of the best known and most trendy properties in town (details here).  This month, hotel prices in key European cities have fallen to their lowest in the past four years, according to the Trivago Hotel Price Index (tHPI)– and a strong dollar is making Europe an even better bargain for US travelers this year.

Virgin’s first property debuts. Sir Richard Branson’s latest travel venture, Virgin Hotels, has opened its first property in downtown Chicago. The 250-room hotel — in the Old Dearborn Bank Building at 203 N. Wabash — offers free high-speed Internet, an absence of many traditional fees, and a social space called The Commons Club for dining, drinking and mingling. Virgin Hotels also introduced a downloadable app called Lucy that can be used to request hotel services, control guest room TVs and thermostats, find local restaurant suggestions and play music and movies.

Marriott revises Wi-Fi blocking policy. To re-clarify its position on guests’ personal Wi-Fi hotspots, Marriott said last week that because it “listens to our customers,” it will not block guests’ personal Wi-Fi “at any of our managed hotels.” (Note: Lots of Marriott-branded and affiliated hotels are not managed by Marriott.) A few weeks ago, the company said it would never block such activity in guest rooms or public areas, but it hedged on meeting rooms. Marriott and the American Hotel and Lodging Association have petitioned the FCC for a rules interpretation that would allow hoteliers to “detect and contain rogue and impostor Wi-Fi hotspsots” in conference rooms. Hotspots at meetings might be safe for now, but Marriott said it will continue to pursue the effort at the FCC “to clarify appropriate security measures network operators can take to protect customer data.”

In Case You Missed It…

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

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

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


AIRLINES

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

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

WeekendEdition

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

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

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

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

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

denverairport

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


AIRPORTS

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

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

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

CARS

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

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Mileage switch begins + Etihad mess + Marriott’s Mi-Fi blocking policy + Free Wi-Fi at NYC airports

Delta Connection flight for mileage item (Photo: Jim Glab)

Delta’s big SkyMiles changes now in effect (Photo: Jim Glab)

AIRLINES

Big mileage switch starts. On January 1, Delta became the first of the Big Three U.S. legacy airlines to transform the basis of earnings in its loyalty plan from distance flown to money spent. Under the new regime, non-elite SkyMiles members will get five miles per dollar spent on air fare, Silver Medallions earn seven miles per dollar, Golds get eight, Platinums nine and Diamonds 11. Delta has an online comparison calculator so you can figure how much a given flight would earn in the old vs. new structures. United will put the same spending-based structure in place for MileagePlus members starting March 1. (American/US Airways for now is sticking with the traditional mileage scheme, although during 2015 it has new mileage bonuses based on fare class, elite status and distance flown.) Some observers say the change to spending-based programs is a logical development following the hotel industry’s lead, but others see it as the latest step in a class warfare where airlines disproportionately cater to big spenders at the expense everyone else. Readers: Have you run any numbers to see if you’ll be better off under the new criteria vs. the old? What did you find?

Etihad mess. Etihad, which launched San Francisco-Abu Dhabi nonstops using Jet Airways B777s in November, took a big hit over the weekend when fog struck in Abu Dhabi. SFO-bound flight 183 had started its taxi toward take off when the flight was halted due to foggy conditions. Passengers ended up stuck on the tarmac for about 12 hours with no opportunities to get off the plane– and lots of bickering between passengers and flight crews according to various reports. After that ordeal, passengers endured the 16-hour flight to SFO. Luckily, the only damage from this incident is frayed nerves on the part of travelers and a big black eye for an airline just getting started in SFO. Regrettably, an elderly passenger on a Dusseldorf-bound flight facing a similar delay died. Since US rules (or fines and compensation) for such delays do not apply foreign airlines operating overseas, it will be up to Eithad to determine how it will compensate passengers and repair its image. Stay tuned….

WeekendEdition

Alaska lifts bag fee temporarily. All members of Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan who fly on the carrier during January will get a break from the carrier’s $25 fee for a first checked bag during that month. If you booked a January flight at an earlier date and your Mileage Plan number is in the reservation, the fee waiver will kick in automatically during check-in. What’s the purpose of the month-long fee waiver? “To encourage new and existing members to experience the benefits of Alaska’s award-winning frequent flier program,” the company said. For details, go to www.alaskaair.com/FirstBagFree.

Routes: Virgin, American, Spirit. Virgin America Airlines has kicked off new seasonal daily flights between New York JFK and Ft. Lauderdale … American reportedly plans to revive American Eagle service between Cleveland and New York LaGuardia on March 29, with three ERJ-140 flights a day — the same day United plans to trim its CLE-LGA schedule from eight daily roundtrips to six … Spirit Airlines is growing in southern California; it will launch daily San Diego-Denver service January 6, Los Angeles-Cleveland flights April 16 and a daily LAX-Denver roundtrip on the same date.

Meeting room at Phoenix Marriott Mesa Hotel (PHOTO: Marriott)

Meeting room at Phoenix Marriott Mesa Hotel (Photo: Marriott)

HOTELS

Marriott explains Mi-Fi blocking. Remember a few months ago when Marriott was slapped with a $600,000 fine by the FCC after its Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville was caught blocking the personal Wi-Fi mobile hotspots (also known as Mi-Fi) that some guests were using at meetings there? Marriott and the American Hotel and Lodging Association are asking the FCC for a ruling that such blockages do not violate federal rules, and last week Marriott sought to clarify its position on the issue. Marriott said it will never block guests’ Mi-Fi signals in guestrooms or lobbies — in fact, it encourages such activity. Instead, it only wants to block “rogue and imposter Wi-Fi hotspots used in our meeting and conference spaces that pose a security threat to meeting or conference attendees or cause interference to the conference guest wireless network.” (But if you read through the AHLA/Marriott petition to the FCC, it doesn’t say anything about limiting hotels’ Mi-Fi blockage authority only to meeting rooms.) Meanwhile, Google and Microsoft, along with other respondents, have jumped into the debate, urging the FCC to continue barring hotels from imposing any restrictions on Mi-Fi hotspots. Do you ever use your own Wi-Fi hotspot in a hotel? Will this be unnecessary as the big chains roll out free standard Wi-Fi at all their hotels? Post comments below.

Hilton, Marriott cancellation policies start. Just a reminder: January 1 was the effective date for new policies and Hilton and Marriott that require guests who won’t show up to cancel their booking no later than the day before their expected arrival. Otherwise, they’ll forfeit the cost of a night’s stay. (Some say the purpose is to stop guests from looking for better rates on last-minute booking sites.) We haven’t seen other major lodging groups match the policies yet, and if too many guests book away from Hilton and Marriott in favor of more lenient cancellation rules, the new policies might not last. Do cancellation policies affect your choice of hotels? Add comments below.

Resolve to get more out of your good credit score in 2015 with a new credit card! Here are our picks for the two best all-around cards– Both currently offer 40,000 mile sign up bonuses!

Lobby of Aloft Denver Downtown Hotel (Photo: Starwood Hotels)

Lobby of Aloft Denver Downtown Hotel (Photo: Starwood Hotels)

Starwood adds three Alofts. Are you a tech-minded Millennial? Then you’re the target market for Starwood Hotels’ trendy Aloft brand, and the company just opened three of them in key domestic business destinations. In Detroit, the historic David Whitney Building at One Park Avenue has been converted into a 136-room Aloft Hotel; another new Aloft has opened at 16th and Stout in the heart of downtown Denver; and the third has made its debut at Buffalo, N.Y.’s airport. Here’s our take on the Aloft near San Francisco International airport.

AIRPORTS

Free Wi-Fi coming to NYC airports. By the end of the first quarter of 2015, travelers in all terminals of the three major New York City-area airports should be able to enjoy 30 minutes of free Wi-Fi with no ads. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is working with Boingo Wireless to upgrade Wi-Fi technology at LaGuardia, JFK and Newark so that free high-speed 30-minute sessions can be offered in all of them. Currently, the amenity is in EWR’s Terminal C, LGA’s Central Terminal and JFK’s Terminal 4. For more time online, the system will offer hourly, daily or monthly fees.

In Case You Missed It…

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AirTran is over + SkyTeam priority perks + Hotel wi-fi standards + AMEX lounge for SYD

It's all Southwest, all the time at ATL these days. AirTran is no longer visible (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

It’s all Southwest, all the time at ATL’s North Terminal these days. AirTran is no longer visible (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

AIRLINES

AirTran’s legacy for Southwest. With Southwest subsidiary AirTran Airways due to fly off into the pages of aviation history this week as its last remnants are fully absorbed into its parent airline, Forbes takes a look at just what AirTran has brought to the larger carrier. Besides making Southwest the largest U.S. airline (in passengers flown), AirTran has given it international routes, a bastion in Delta’s fortress hub at ATL, and set the stage for new domestic growth. The magazine also notes that Southwest’s integration of AirTran was one of the smoothest mergers of the past several years. Here’s a good WABE/NPR report on AirTran’s final flightWhat do you remember most about AirTran? What will you miss most? Please leave your comments below.

More summer Europe routes: UA, DL. United and Delta have both announced additional seasonal summer service to Europe. United plans to fly from Chicago O’Hare to Rome from June 3 to September 23, using a three-class 777. Delta will begin 767-300 flights from Atlanta to Dublin five days a week on March 29, increasing to daily June 1; 757-200 service from New York JFK to Stockholm four times a week as of June 5, increasing to five a week June 15; and 757-200 flights from JFK to Malaga, Spain beginning with five weekly frequencies June 4 and increasing to daily on June 29. Good news: More summer flights to Europe usually means better award seat availability.

WeekendEdition

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Guest using Wi-fi at Hyatt Regency Chicago (Photo: Hyatt)

HOTELS

Hyatt’s free Wi-Fi: Everyone, everywhere. Just days after Starwood Hotels matched Marriott by saying it would offer free standard Wi-Fi systemwide to members of its Preferred Guest program who book directly through a Starwood channel, Hyatt has upped the ante on those two lodging giants. Starting in February, Hyatt said, it will offer free Internet in all guest rooms and public spaces of all its brands worldwide — and you don’t have to book through a Hyatt channel or even be a member of Gold Plus Rewards to get it. “Internet connectivity is no longer an amenity. It has become an integral part of travelers’ daily lives and a basic expectation,” said Kristine Rose, Hyatt’s VP for brands. “Travelers shouldn’t have to remember which brands or locations offer it for free or the strings attached to get it.” Currently, free Wi-Fi at Hyatt is limited to certain brands and to elite Gold Passport members. The company noted that where it is available, Gold Passport Diamonds and Platinums will get a free upgrade to premium Wi-Fi service.

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Lounge at Marriott’s AC Hotel New Orleans Bourbon (Photo:: Marriott)

Free hotel Wi-Fi: Great perk or gimmick? Now that Marriott, Starwood and Hyatt have all announced plans to offer free Wi-Fi systemwide in the weeks ahead — launching a bandwagon that other chains are likely to jump on — travelers will have to judge whether the free version is fast and reliable enough. In each case, the three hotel companies will also provide “premium” Internet access for free to the top elite members of their loyalty programs. As Starwood defines it, “Standard Internet access is sufficient for web browsing and emailing. Premium Internet access allows for streaming content and downloading large files.” But those are fairly vague definitions. With increasing numbers of travelers carrying more and more devices, all siphoning data through that same “standard” Wi-Fi pipe, will current hotel systems be sufficient for the demand? Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Electronics Association, suggested in a USA Today column last week that it’s time for the lodging industry to develop common standards for the levels of Wi-Fi connectivity hotels offer their guests, with clear guidelines as to who gets what, and for what cost (if any). In our own reader poll, conducted after Marriott started the free standard Wi-Fi ball rolling in October, only 28 percent were happy with a basic Wi-Fi connection, while 54 percent said they would use it, but it was “frustrating,” and 18 percent preferred to pay for a faster link. What’s your opinion on this issue? Share your comments below.

Openings, rebrandings: Marriott, Starwood, Four Seasons, etc. The first U.S. property in the AC Hotels by Marriott brand — which has 75 locations in Europe — opened this month in New Orleans. The AC Hotel New Orleans Bourbon is in the old cotton exchange building on Carondelet Street at the edge of the French Quarter … Also newly opened in The Big Easy is Starwood’s 410-room Le Meridien New Orleans, a remaking of the former W Hotel … There’s a second new Le Meridien in the South: Le Meridien Charlotte, close to that city’s Uptown Business District, is a transformation of the hotel previously known as the Sheraton Charlotte and the Charlotte City Center Hotel … Philadelphia will lose its Four Seasons Hotel in June, when the property is due to close for renovations before reopening under an as-yet-unnamed brand … Newly opened in the heart of downtown Miami is the YVE Hotel Miami, an upscale concept property that will, for instance, offer its guests bikes, scooters and Car2Go vehicles to get around town … Outside the U.S., the former Four Seasons Hotel in Dublin, Ireland, will become the InterContinental Dublin on January 1 … In Colombia, Starwood has cut the ribbon on the 168-room W Bogota in the center of town, its third W property in Latin America.

Resolve to get more out of your good credit score in 2015 with a new credit card! Here are our picks for the two best all-around cards– Both currently offer 40,000 mile sign up bonuses!

AIRPORTS

SkyPriorityatTokyoNarita

SkyTeam aligns priority perks. Delta’s SkyTeam global alliance — which includes Air France, KLM and 17 other carriers — said last week it has become the first alliance “to deliver aligned priority services worldwide” for Elite Plus, first and business class customers at some 1,000 airports. And at the world’s top 60 airports, SkyTeam said, it is currently rolling out SkyPriority Fast Track lanes at security checkpoints (already at 39 locations) and immigration (now available at 21 airports) for its premium flyers. The global program offers premium customers priority check-in areas and baggage drop-off, priority service at ticketing and transfer desks, and priority boarding and baggage handling. Readers: What’s your experience with finding common procedures and policies in place when you connect across global alliance partners? Any problems?

Sydney gets two new lounges. The International Terminal at Sydney, Australia’s airport has added two new lounges for weary travelers. American Express has cut the ribbon on a new Lounge that seats 60 and offers Wi-Fi, power outlets, food and beverages and more. It’s open to AmEx Platinum and Centurion cardholders for free, and to other AmEx cardholders for $55. Meanwhile, Delta’s SkyTeam alliance also has a new lounge at SYD, with seating for 150 travelers as well as showers, massage chairs, food and beverage service and Wi-Fi. It’s available for business class passengers on SkyTeam carriers, and for elite members of their loyalty programs.

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

VirginAmericaWiFiservice

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

 AIRLINES

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

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

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

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

WeekendEdition

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

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

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

AIRPORTS

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

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

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AIRPORTS

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

CARS

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

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

HOTELS

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

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

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

In Case You Missed It…

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

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

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

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New breed of hotel discount sites

The Trivago Guy is finding the best hotel rates in our test (Photo: Trivago)

The Trivago Guy is finding the best hotel rates in our test (Photo: Trivago)

It’s hard to miss the Trivago commercials on TV these days – they seem to be everywhere, and were propelled to infamy by a blogosphere riveted by the slightly disheveled look of the spokesperson, the aptly named “Trivago guy.”

So pushing past the hype, how does current crop of newly popular hotel-only search sites pan out for business travelers? Let’s take a look at Trivago, TripBAM, Hotel Tonight, Hotel Power and All The Rooms.

Trivago

Trivago found a rate of $299 at the Westin San Francisco on our sample search for Weds Dec 17

Trivago found a rate of $299 at the Westin San Francisco on our sample search for Weds Dec 17

As part of a recent investment by Expedia,  Trivago’s hotel inventory is now mammoth, and it continues to grow in popularity. For business travelers, the key feature being able to search for rates for the same room across multiple websites – it’s almost a meta-of-metas, showing how much a specific room costs across 260 websites.

Trivago is a quick and clean way to surface competitive pricing, and allows self-booking business travelers the ability to quickly understand the rate landscape for a particular trip. The Trivago rating is also useful, as it scrapes reviews from across the web and combines them into an overview score – super handy information to have while researching.

It’s great for business travelers on a budget or those responsible for managing their own travel, in addition to those seeking the best deals at specific hotel brands. The size and scope of the service has made for quick converts of many business travelers – and the newly updated mobile app makes these searches fun and painless.

TripBAM

TripBam monitors the web for the best rate within a geographic cluster

TripBam monitors the web for the best rate within a geographic cluster

TripBAM is a managed traveler’s dream, as it allows travelers to search for the lowest rates for a particular hotel or several hotels over time. The service allows the user to set a geographic bound, or “hotel cluster,” and then it monitors for rate changes within it, allowing you to cancel and re-book a hotel at that better rate. Plus, the site is easy to navigate and a lot of fun with a Batman-like cartoon quality.

This means that travelers can stick within their company’s travel policy while still having the independence of an unmanaged traveler. The “set it and forget it” nature of the monitoring service is its true genius, and will quickly rack up savings in both travel spend and trip planning time – no more having to check hotel rates every day to see if they’ve dropped. Definitely worth a look!

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HotelTonight

Hotel Tonight's advance rate at the Westin SF was slightly higher at $299

Hotel Tonight’s advance rate for Dec 17 at the Westin SF at $299, too

HotelTonight is definitely the hippest of the bunch – whereas the Trivago guy has made Trivago approachable to the masses, HotelTonight maintains its cult status as a hipster favorite with crossover appeal to the tech and design-minded crowd.

The brand has broadened appeal to business travelers with the recent addition of 7-day advance booking. This means that close-in trips can now be booked at the rates negotiated by HotelTonight. However, it’s rare to see HotelTonight advance rates differ much from what you might find elsewhere- it’s best deals are still found last-minute on the day that you want to stay.

This option is best for the non-brand-loyal, smartphone-focused traveler looking for a quick and visually rich experience– and a good last-minute deal. To sweeten the deal even more, right now it’s offering a nice $25 discount for bookings charged to MasterCard- details here. 

All the Rooms

AllTheRooms offered the same $299 rate, but also showed this VRBO apartment nearby for $175

AllTheRooms offered the same $299 rate for the Westin SF on Dec 17, but also showed this VRBO apartment nearby for $175

What’s new about AllTheRooms is that its search results show not only hotels, but private room offerings from increasingly popular sites such as Airbnb and VRBO. It’s a super helpful comparison tool to use when hotels seem overpriced… or sold out. For example, the site showed a rate at the Westin San Francisco for $299 (same as most other sites) but also provided a link to this 1 bedroom Financial District apartment on VRBO for $175.

HotelPower

HotelPower

HotelPower’s search found a rate of $329 for the Westin SF on Dec 17

HotelPower claims 400,000 properties in its inventory base, reaching further than the more curated options such as HotelTonight.

While the interface won’t win any awards, HotelPower is more about the savings. The brand that it offers 50-70% off posted hotel rates for members paying a subscription fee ($4.95 trial, then $49.95/yr), and also has a cash back program for specific hotels. It also says that it offers member extras such as complimentary upgrades, free breakfasts and late checkout– perks usually reserved only for elite level members of hotel loyalty programs.  However, you won’t see those extra bennies until you get behind the paywall.

Trivago is the winner here for overall ease-of-use and growing global scope – especially via the newly refreshed mobile app. TripBAM is the winner for locking in any savings when hotel rates drop – a combination of the two could be a quite potent combination for brand-flexible and savings-minded business travelers.

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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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Marriott’s Cyber Monday deals

One of Marriott's newest, largest hotels is on sale today only! Marriott Marquis Washington DC

One of Marriott’s newest, largest hotels is on sale today only! Marriott Marquis Washington DC

It’s not just retailers jumping on the Cyber-Monday bandwagon. The travel industry is there, too, and Marriott is one of the first out of the gate with some great deals for winter trips.

Screen Shot 2014-06-12 at 11.48.20 AMToday only, you’ll get 30% off rooms rates at over 180 Marriott hotels across multiple brands. To get the deal, you must book today and stay at least two nights between January 1 and February 28 2015.

What kind of deals are we talking about? A quick scan of rates for stays in mid-January produced these results. This should come as a relief to business travelers weary of this year’s notoriously high hotel rates.

If you know that you’ll be traveling on business this winter, today’s the day to snap up these good deals. Even better news is that airfare is much cheaper during January and February than at almost any other time of year.  For example, Virgin America has flights for 40% off today. 

The Marriott Marquis in San Francisco has an ideal location accessible to BART.

San Francisco: $174 per night at the Marriott Marquis in San Francisco between Market Street and Moscone Center. Nice: You can take BART from the airport and walk to the hotel from the Powell St Station.

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

The lobby of the Courtyard New York Manhattan/Midtown East (Photo: Marriott)

New York City: $139 per night at the Courtyard New York Manhattan/Midtown East on Third Avenue. On the other side of town, the Courtyard New York Manhattan/Times Square West is going for a low as $111.

Washington, DC: $118 per night at the brand new Marriott Marquis Washington, DC that TravelSkills profiled when it opened last summer.

The sale is only good for 24 hours (ends at midnight tonight) and you must book at www.marriottcybermonday.com and use promotional code 444 to get the deal. Or call 1-888-703-9727.

CyberMonday- 30% Off Regular Room Rates

  • 2 Night Minimum, Advance Purchase
  • Booking Window: Dec 1 12:00 AM EST – Dec 2 3:00 AM EST
  • Stay Window: January 1, 2015 – February 28, 2015
  • Core Hotels: Weekend (Thursday – Sunday nights)
  • Resort Hotels: 7 Days a Week
  • Customers must use promotion code 444 when reserving rooms.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Marriott. The opinions and text are all mine.

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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New look for Newark + United goes Android + New Delta look at LAX + Fee at Hilton/Marriott

Which country boasts this gorgeous passport design? See below

Which country boasts this gorgeous design on passport pages including the North Star, Moon and Northern Lights? Scroll to bottom for full story!

AIRLINES

Just in time for the busy holidays, United has (finally) extended its new onboard streaming service to Android users. Apple iPhone and iPad users (as well as those on any laptop)  have been able to give the new service a try since last spring.  To use it, you must first download the United app from the Google Play or Apple App store in order to watch a variety free TV shows and movies while in flight on nearly 200 United aircraft, including its entire Airbus A319, Airbus A320 and Boeing 747 fleets and its Boeing 777 flying between the mainland and Hawaii. For the full story on inflight streaming, see this recent TravelSkills post: BYOD Entertainment on Planes. Have you tried United’s inflight streaming product yet? How did that go for you? 

You are reading Part 2 of this week’s Catch Up in Travel News from TravelSkills. Here’s Part 1

AIRPORTS

NEW RAIL LINK UP & RUNNING.  BART’s new Oakland airport service got off to a wet start last Saturday — with crews forced to squeegee off rain that had blown in and flooded the airport station platform — but nothing could dampen the enthusiasm of its jubilant first-day riders, according to SFgate.com “It was great, it was wonderful, it was easy, quick and cheap,” said one rider. New automated trains will transport riders from BART’s Coliseum station to the new Oakland Airport station every five minutes during peak hours; the ride takes eight minutes. The ride from the Coliseum station to/from downtown SF takes about 25 minutes. BART fares between the new Oakland Airport station and downtown San Francisco are $10.05.  More… 

A rendering of the future look for United's Concourse C in Newark (Image: OTG)

A rendering of the future look for United’s Concourse C in Newark (Image: OTG)

Big-name chefs coming to EWR. United Airlines and development partner OTG Management have revealed more plans for the ongoing overhaul of Terminal C at Newark Liberty International Airport. Not only is the revamped facility bringing in new restaurants from a number of high-visibility chefs, but travelers will be able to use their MileagePlus miles to pay for food and drinks through some of the 6,000 iPads that will be deployed in the terminal’s restaurants, bars and gate areas. The headliner restaurant will be chef Alaine Ducasse’s Saison, a French bistro; others include a French country eatery from Alex Guarnaschelli; an Italian steakhouse from Mario Carbone, and a surf bar and sushi outlet from Josh Capon.

Taxi turmoil at SFO. Organized taxi drivers clogged up the roadways outside passenger terminals at San Francisco International one night last week to protest the airport’s recent decisions to let app-based ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft operate there. And members of the Taxi Workers Alliance are threatening to repeat the curbside chaos at SFO “again and again” unless the airport changes its policy. Meanwhile, a top Uber executive stirred up a mini-scandal after word leaked out that he had threatened to start digging up dirt on journalists who write negative stories about the company. Would negative publicity about Uber make you less likely to use their service? Put your comments below.

Extra Bonus! Here’s an easy way to top off your Chase Ultimate Rewards balance with 20,000 points!
Delta's Sky Prority lobby at LAX efore (above) and after (below)

Delta’s Sky Prority lobby at LAX efore (above) and after (below)

Lobby remake at LAX. Delta has finished the renovation of its Sky Priority lobby at Los Angeles International’s Terminal 5. Take a look at the before and after photos.

HOTELS

New fees coming at Hilton, Marriott. Effective January 1, Hilton and Marriott will impose a new standard cancellation fee — a single night’s room rate — on no-show guests unless they have cancelled their bookings at least the day before scheduled arrival. If individual hotels within the groups already have more restrictive cancellation policies, those will remain in effect. Not all chains are adopting a uniform policy; e.g., things are unchanged at Best Western, a spokesperson said, where cancellation policies vary by the rate booked and the individual hotel’s policy; policies are listed under each rate bookable on bw.com.

This is what Norway's passport pages look like in normal light. (Image: Neue)

This is what Norway’s passport pages look like in normal light. (Image: Neue)

This is what the pages of Norway’s new passport look like in normal light. The darker image above (scroll to top), which reveals the north star and northern lights, is only visible under UV light. Beautiful! (Full story from CNN here)

You are reading Part 2 of this week’s Catch Up in Travel News from TravelSkills. Here’s Part 1

-Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

In Case You Missed It…

  • Olefactory stimulants: Chris lists his favorite travel smells. What are yours?
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My 9 favorite travel smells

The new scent globe a London Heathrow Terminal 2 (LHR Airports)

The new scent globe a London Heathrow Terminal 2 (LHR Airports)

This week sees London-Heathrow’s brand new Terminal 2 “The Queen’s Terminal” operating at full capacity with all 26 airlines (primarily Star Alliance) now in their new home. Airport authorities planned for the transition to take place over the five months instead of in one fell swoop. Good thinking since the process seems to have gone without a hitch, and the new terminal is a far cry from the old cramped quarters of Terminal 1 & 2.

TravelSkills got an early sneak peek at the shiny new terminal and United’s nice new business and first class lounges last spring. But regrettably, we missed out on the terminal’s new, one-of-a-kind “scent globe” which the airport says “will immerse the curious in the aromas of Thailand; South Africa; Japan; China and Brazil.”

The scents emitted from the globe come from key ingredients associated with the designated country and “are designed to transport passengers to far flung destinations.” South Africa smells of tribal incense, wild grass and musk. Brazil’s scent is rich in rainforest fauna with a palette of coffee, tobacco and jasmine. Japan smells cool, oceanic with a mix of seaweed and shell extracts, green tea and Ambergris. Thailand is mix of lemongrass, ginger and coconut.

This of course got me on a train of thought about distinct travel smells… there are many and some so strong and memorable that I could be blindfolded, yet know exactly where I am due to the olfactory sensation. 

For example, there’s what I call “the Marriott smell.” Have you ever noticed that Marriotts (all brands) smell like band-aids? I’m not certain, but I assume that the lodging giant centrally sources an iodine-based antibacterial cleaning compound that emits the smell. It’s not a bad smell… it’s a clean, reassuring smell. But it’s there. Am I crazy or does anyone else notice this?

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Speaking of travel smells… here are nine of my favorites (in no particular order)… what are yours?

Chestnuts Roasting NYC IMG_1703

Chestnuts roasting in Manhattan (Steven Depolo / Flickr)

  1. The smell of coffee brewing on a plane as a long overnight flight is coming to an end. And the smell of jet fuel as you walk off the plane and onto the jetway.
  2. The acrid, sour, but memorable smell of chestnuts roasting on a dry, cold New York City night.
  3. Getting into a rental car, noticing the “new car smell” and looking down at the odometer reading 000016 miles.
  4. The smell of rain & tropical flowers when stepping off the plane at almost any airport in Hawaii
  5. The minty-soapy-lotiony-cologne-y smell of my toilet kit- it means the road is calling.
  6. The leathery, carpet-y “new plane” smell on a brand new or refurbished aircraft.
  7. I love it when you walk into a hotel with a spa… and you can smell it. Usually eucalyptus. On the other hand, I hate it when you walk into a hotel with an indoor pool and you can smell the chlorine.
  8. The smell of cookies baking on a plane (even if they are only served in first class).
  9. A Cinnabon at the airport. A Lush boutique somewhere overseas. And yes, even a McDonald’s when I’ve been away from the US for too long.

To me, Seattle and San Francisco smell like dark roast coffee. Los Angeles and Phoenix smell like orange blossoms. Houston smells like refineries. Tampa and Orlando smell like hot summer afternoon thunderstorms. Paris like bread. London smells metallic, and rubbery, like the Tube.  Mumbai like sewerage and sandalwood. Boston smells like fish or the ocean. Denver like wood smoke. I could go on and on.

What about you? Please leave your comments and favorite (or least favorite) travel smells below.

–Chris McGinnis

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

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

etihadTheResidenceFclass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lake Tahoe at sunset (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Lake Tahoe at sunset (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

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

In Case You Missed It…

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

 

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New hotels: Honolulu

Sunset mai tais and slack guitar at the Halekulani (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Sunset mai tais and slack guitar at the Halekulani (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

At TravelSkills, we love new hotels. They smell better, work better, feel better, and are usually bigger, brighter and hipper than others. But new can also have its downside: Construction noise, service issues, and/or locations in sketchy or “upcoming” neighborhoods. Some are so new that TripAdvisor reviews are scant compared to more established hotels. In an ongoing feature, TravelSkills reports on the newest hotels in the world’s most important cities. When we say “newest” we have certain criteria around that: The hotels have to be brand new or deeply renovated within the last few years, 3+ stars and appropriate venues for business travel.

On a recent quick business trip to Honolulu  I took a walk through Waikiki to check out the newest hotels fit for business travelers. (Okay, I did get to the beach once between appointments and had a sunset mai-tai at the always fabulous Halekulani pictured above.)

My first impression of Waikiki is that it has really cleaned up its act. It seemed overcrowded and a bit seedy last time I was there in 2012. While the improvement effort is working, the place is still clogged with fanny-packing vacationers, tour buses and hawkers– a good sign for the local economy. But a hassle for business travelers.

Related: 7 things to know about Hawaiian Air | Lanai: Billionaire’s work in progress

There are very few new-from-the-ground-up hotels in Honolulu…except for maybe the towering Trump hotel/condo structure, which opened in 2009 and the hotel seems permanently positioned at the top of Honolulu’s TripAdvisor rankings.  Most “new” hotels are massive refurbs of existing buildings that feel brand new and are great choices whether you are in town for work…play…or as is most likely, a little of both…

Poolside at the Modern Honolulu hotel- great for sunbathing or a power breakfast (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Poolside at the Modern Honolulu hotel- great for sunbathing or a power breakfast (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

ON THE EDGE. The best thing about the new 353-room Modern Honolulu is its location on the far western edge of Waikiki. The striking white, mid-century modern, 17-story hotel (opened in 2011) is the one closest to central Honolulu– a huge plus for business travelers with meetings downtown or at the nearby convention center.

The location also means that it is closest to the airport, which reduces transfer time in this notoriously traffic-clogged town. But you pay a price for that location—the hotel is not directly on the beach—instead it overlooks a marina, but the beach is a short, easy five-minute walk away.

The best rooms in the house are the two-room oceanfront suites facing the water—most have a walk-out veranda with big sliding glass doors that offer nice views and allow the trade winds to breeze through.

The other things I really liked about this hotel, which consistently ranks among the top two Honolulu hotels on TripAdvisor: Free, fast and easy wi-fi, desks that face windows instead of a wall, and big bright bathrooms bathed in terrazzo with walk in showers. There’s also a secluded, tranquil an adults-only pool—a rarity in this part of the world.

For entertaining, make a reservation at the hotel’s super-hip Morimoto Waikiki for some of the best sushi (and wagyu beef) in town, plus great views and people watching…it’s where President Obama dines when he’s in town. Room rates start at around $290 per night, based on the season, and thankfully there are no irritating “resort fees” which are common in Hawaii.

Hilton's brand new Hokulani Honolulu used to the the Ohana Islander hotel- but got a complete makeover (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Hilton’s brand new Hokulani Honolulu used to the the Ohana Islander hotel- but got a complete makeover (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

IN THE MIDDLE: Hilton’s new 143-room Hokulani Waikiki, which opened in February 2014, is a real find in the thick of things in Waikiki at the corner of busy Kalakaua Boulevard and Lewers Street. The hotel’s main entrance and lobby is on the second floor (up an escalator), which removes guests from the street level hubbub—the lobby’s big water feature adds to the modern, tranquil scene.

All rooms (which start at about $350 per night) in this 16-story building are brand new one-bedroom suites with hardwood floors, free, fast wi-fi, efficiency kitchens with refrigerators and cooktops and a microwave (great for longer stays). Bathrooms include separate walk in showers and big soaker tubs. For fresh air, most have sliding glass door access to shallow balconies.

There’s a big bright pool deck and bar on the roof with views down to the beach across the sprawling Waikiki Beach Walk development, which has redefined and enhanced this once somewhat seedy part of town.

Since it’s so new, the hotel has only garnered just over 100 reviews on TripAdvisor but already ranks #14 out of 82 Honolulu hotels. Best of all, you can earn or burn your HHonors points at the Hokulani—it’s the newest Hilton in town.

View from the recently refurbed Ali'i Tower at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. (Photo Chris McGinnis)

View from the recently refurbed Ali’i Tower at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. (Photo Chris McGinnis)

Speaking of Hilton, if you are a fan of the kitschy, crowded but supremely popular Hilton Hawaiian Village, you’ll be pleased to know that when I was there, foundations were being laid for at least two more towers. Right now, business travelers should opt to stay in the recently re-furbed Ali’i Tower– this original tower at the massive complex emerged from a major $26 million facelift in 2013 and feels like a brand new hotel.  Plus, it offers some of the best water views in the Village. (See above)

Disclosure: I was a guest of Hawaiian Airlines on this trip, which arranged a 2 night stay at the Modern.  

–Chris McGinnis

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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!

How do you feel about "basic" hotel wi-fi?

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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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Marriott’s new “free” wi-fi: Is it fast enough? [POLL]

Marriott wifi

Today Marriott announced that it would offer free wi-fi to all Rewards members at all its brands, worldwide, including Ritz-Carlton, starting in January. That’s 42 million members getting free wi-fi at more than 3,800 hotels around the world. That’s huge!

Or is it? (See poll below)

Dig into Marriott’s release about the plan, and you’ll see that the free wi-fi is the “standard” or basic version- at many hotels that’s only fast enough for a quick check of email or flight status. Plus, to get free wi-fi you have to book directly with Marriott.com or with a hotel– travel agency or other third party bookings won’t qualify.

Have you ever tried to do anything else with the basic version of wi-fi at Marriott or any other hotel? To me, basic wi-fi is now basically useless given today’s much bigger bandwidth requirements. But hey, it’s better than paying $16.95 for a crappy connection, right? (PLEASE TAKE POLL BELOW)

How do you feel about "basic" hotel wi-fi?

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Some good news: Marriott is giving free “enhanced” wi-fi to its elite Platinum and Gold Rewards members. If that’s not you, you’ll have to pay up for the fatter pipes.

Helpful: Choose your hotel based on its wi-fi speed

In any case, Marriott’s announcement is more evidence that it pays off to join nearly every hotel loyalty program at at least the basic level. Marriott joins other brands like IHG,  Kimpton and Fairmont in offering free wi-fi– but only to registered members of their loyalty programs. Best Western was the first chain to offer free wi-fi at all its hotels way back in 2004.

Bonus: How to get 50,000 Marriott Rewards points

Tell us what you think about Marriott’s big move…and what you think about “tiered” hotel wi-fi speeds. >PLEASE scroll up and take our poll!< 

>>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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Like new hotels? You’re in luck

Park Hyatt NYC

The 57th Street entrance to the brand new, $375 million, Park Hyatt New York (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

If you like new or renovated hotels as much as we do, you’ll be pleased to know that investors are set to spend a record $6 billion on upgrades and new properties this year. That’s a 7% increase over last year, which set the previous record.

There are a whopping 400,000 new hotel rooms in the US development pipeline as of this month– that’s 14% more than this time last year according to STR. So if you like “new” when it comes to hotels,  you are in luck.

Source: STR /Hotel News Now

Where most new hotels are under construction (Source: STR /Hotel News Now) 

Many hotels were in desperate need of updating, especially as our appetite for technology has accelerated well beyond the previous standard. The impact of the recession of 2009-2010, in which there was a scary 40% drop in hotel capital expenditures, was a deferral of important and necessary investments. The hotel industry has now come full circle from those dark days.

Where are hotels sinking the most dollars?

  • Smart TVs and improved wi-fi network access to take advantage of these multi-media, connected televisions. (Thank goodness.)
  • Fundamentally redesigning hotels to include larger lobbies and public social spaces, reflecting the changing needs of the millennial travelers as that cohort grows into peak spending age.
  • Improved and expanded meeting facilities, including connected technologies for more tech-heavy presentations and conference environments.
  • Upgraded gym and fitness equipment to match rising awareness of the fitness-focused traveler.
Get this: A pool lit by chandeliers at the brand new JW Marriott Dongdaemun in Seoul (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Get this: A pool lit by chandeliers at the brand new JW Marriott Dongdaemun in Seoul (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

While these figures are limited to the US market, the trend holds worldwide (especially in Asia) as new projects come online with no-expense-spared designs. Plus, older hotels are digging deep for a property-wide refreshes to position their properties globally (like the Four Seasons Manele Bay in Hawaii).

With the markets steadily improving – and the stock market pushing near record highs – hotels are ideally positioned to benefit from the increased investments. Of course, this means hotels will keep up pressure on rates to recoup and enjoy return on the investment. Corporate negotiated hotel rates in the US for 2015 will increase 5.5-6.5% year over year, according to analysis by Bjorn Hanson, a clinical professor at New York University’s Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management.

A suite at the new Thompson Hotel in Miami Beach- opens Nov 21 (Photo: Thompson Hotels)

A suite at the new Thompson Hotel in Miami Beach- opens Nov 21 (Photo: Thompson Hotels)

At TravelSkills, we love new hotels. They smell better, work better, feel better, and are usually bigger, brighter and hipper than others.

But new can also have its downside: Construction noise, service issues, locations in sketchy or “upcoming” neighborhoods. Some are so new that they don’t yet have a robust set of reviews on TripAdvisor.

In an ongoing feature, TravelSkills will report on the newest, most recently renovated and most notable business class hotels in the world’s most important cities.

And since the global hotel scene is always in flux, keep us posted with hotel tips, advice and recommendations from your trips in the comments below.

Latest cities covered: 

>Boston

>Chicago

>Hong Kong

>Los Angeles

Coming soon: Seoul, Honolulu, London

What’s your favorite new or newly renovated hotel? Please leave your comments below.

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

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Cadillacs on the tarmac + 2nd Ebola case in US + Dallas Love Field recap + Virgin hotels splash

This is Part 2 of this week’s Catching up on Travel News with TravelSkills! Here’s Part 1.  (Sorry if you get this email more than once today…we are still getting the hang of our email distribution system)

AIRLINES

American will soon be picking up its best passengers at LAX in Caddies.

American will soon be picking up its best passengers at LAX in Caddies like this one. (Source: GM)

American Airlines teams up with Cadillac. Following the lead of Delta’s partnership with Porsche and United’s with Mercedes-Benz, American Airlines is teaming up with Cadillac to provide rides across the tarmac to connecting flights — starting at Los Angeles International — for ConciergeKey members with tight transfer times. AA said it will expand the service next to Dallas/Ft. Worth and New York’s LaGuardia and JFK, using Cadillac CTS, SRX or Escalade models. Also, as part of the promo AAdvantage members can earn 7,500 miles for test-driving a new Cadillac.

Breaking news: A health care worker in Dallas has contracted Ebola according to health officials there. If confirmed by CDC, this would be the first case of Ebola transmitted in the US. Hmm. I’m wondering how many TravelSkills readers (including yours truly) might want to change their answer to our recent Ebola fear poll from “not fearful” to “somewhat fearful” after hearing this news. One thing you can count on: Increased Ebola screening at airports that could cause long lines.

How fearful are you of the possibility of contracting ebola?

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Love Field route recap. October 13 marks the end of the Wright Amendment at Dallas Love Field, and here’s a reminder of what’s happening there route-wise.

  • Virgin America, which moves operations from DFW to DAL, will have three daily flights starting Monday, October 13 from DAL to SFO, LAX and DCA, adding four daily DAL-LGA roundtrips October 28. (Still no word on when it will add flights to Chicago.)
  • Southwest on Monday starts five daily roundtrips between DAL and Chicago Midway; three each to LAX, Baltimore, Denver, Las Vegas and Washington National; and two to Orlando.
  • On November 2, Southwest adds one more daily frequency to Midway, Las Vegas, LAX and Orlando, and boosts DAL-DCA to six a day. Also on November 2, Southwest begins service from DAL to Atlanta (4x/day), LGA (3x), PHX (4x), Ft Lauderdale (2x), Nashville (2x), San Diego (2x), Orange County (1x) and Tampa (2x).

All-you-can-fly airline comes to OAK. California’s Surf Air, which charges a flat fee starting at $1,750 a month for unlimited flights in its Pilatus turboprops, is expanding to two more airports — Carlsbad’s McClellan-Palomar (CRQ) north of San Diego on November 18 and Oakland (OAK) on December 15, with flights to Hawthorne, Santa Barbara and other locations. “Both markets were added based on the high current and potential member demand–with more than 100 deposits already placed for membership in these regions and relatively limited service by other carriers to either market,” Surf Air said.

Love your United FA, then say so via the carrier's website (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Love your United FA, then say so via the carrier’s website (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Thank your flight attendants. Members of the flight crew seem to be regularly bashed by frequent fliers more times than they are appreciated. Here is a way you can quickly send your message praising a flight attendant who served you well on a recent flight via United’s web site. Although this topic is primarily for passengers of United Airlines, other airlines are discussed in this MilePoint string as well. Have you thanked a flight attendant lately?

HOTELS

The brand new Conrad Seoul hotel is on the south side of the Han River which bisects the city (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The brand new Conrad Seoul hotel is on the south side of the Han River which bisects the city (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis just returned from a business trip to Seoul, South Korea with a big batch of great pics and news about this burgeoning, modern, high-tech (and quirky) Asian city. Stay tuned for a few fun trip reports and another in our series of new hotel updates. Have you been to Seoul recently? What did you think? Please leave comments below or email Chris. 

The first Virgin Hotel will be located in this Chicago building.

The first Virgin Hotel will be located in this Chicago building. (Virgin Hotels)

First Virgin Hotel opening soon. Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group has been working for years on a hotel subsidiary, and its first property — in downtown Chicago — is set to open January 15. The 250-room property (including 42 suites) is in the Old Dearborn Bank Building at 203 N. Wabash. Rooms start at $209 and bookings are open now through a new website at http://virginhotels.com.

In Case You Missed It…

>Looks like a major renovation is in store for New York’s iconic Waldorf-Astoria following its sale by Hilton to a Chinese insurance company for nearly $2 billion.

>Airline lounge memberships: Why they’re not for everyone.

>Try these tips for catching some Zs in your hotel room.

>Eight essential tips for business trips to San Francisco.

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

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Delta raises bar for Medallions + More LAX flights + Ebola poll results + Delta back in Love

This is part one of this weekend’s Catching Up on Travel News (part 2 comes tomorrow)

AIRLINES

Delta keeps making moves to improve the ride for it's customers with deepest pockets.

Delta keeps making moves to improve the ride for it’s customers with deepest pockets. (Photo: Jim Glab)

Delta tightens SkyMiles rules — again. Will United? In the latest tweak to its ever-changing SkyMiles program, Delta is increasing by 20 percent the minimum spend required during 2015 to achieve 2016 Medallion status — e.g., Medallion Qualifying Dollar requirements go from $2,500 to $3,000 for Silver status and so on, up to $15,000 for Diamond from the current $12,500. Delta says it is upping the ante to increase exclusivity of higher status– much like it’s done with more restrictions on guests allowed in Sky Clubs to control crowding. And keep an eye on United, which in keeping with it’s WWDD (What Would Delta Do) policy of mimicking every Delta move, could impose similar higher spending requirements. Is it working to make the experience more exclusive? We frequently hear from both sides of this issue, so please leave your comments below.

Another Delta squeeze. In another change, Delta will downgrade its Basic Economy fares (E fares). Effective February 15, passengers on those low-cost fares (typically on fares where the carrier competes with the likes of Spirit or Frontier) will not be able to get free Medallion upgrades, paid upgrades or advance seat selection; no refunds, changes or same-day standbys are allowed; and Preferred and Economy Comfort seats are off-limits.

Delta gets more time at DAL. Instead of being forced out of Dallas Love Field on October 13 as reported earlier, Delta will now get a reprieve at least until January 6 to keep operating its five daily DAL-ATL flights. What changed? Southwest Airlines — which controls 16 of DAL’s 20 gates — agreed to let Delta use one of them for a few months, and United anted up ticket counter space as well. Delta has been subleasing two gates from American Airlines, but those will be transferred to Virgin America this week.

An American Airlines B737-800 will soon fly ATL-LAX (Photo: BriYYZ / Flickr)

An American Airlines B737-800 will soon fly ATL-LAX (Photo: BriYYZ / Flickr)

American adds another key ATL route. A week ago, American revealed plans to revive LaGuardia-Atlanta service on January 6. And now AA announced another stab at the heart of Delta’s network: It will begin three flights a day between Atlanta and its Los Angeles International hub on March 5, and is already taking reservations. LAX-ATL will be a mainline AA route, operated with 737-800s. So for those of you who say you are ready to dump Delta for a carrier that (so far) has not made the move toward revenue-based frequent flyer rewards, you now have more options.

Ebola fears in check. Based on our recent Ebola Fear Poll and post, it sounds like frequent travelers are not too alarmed about the possibility of contracting Ebola. With nearly 500 votes from TravelSkills readers in so far, 68% say that they are not fearful about Ebola, 22% say they are somewhat fearful and just 10% say that they are very fearful. Have you participated in the poll? In case you missed it, here’s one of the most viral travel videos this week showing hazmat crews entering a plane where a passenger joked about having ebola. VIDEO

How fearful are you of the possibility of contracting ebola?

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wipesSpeaking of germs, we got a kick out of this email from TravelSkills reader MM about a recent flight where she was seated next to one of the 10% who are very fearful of Ebola: Dear Chris: I had to share an inflight experience I had tonight traveling from DFW to the ATL.  So I am seated on a three seat row, when a passenger seated beside me (I was stuck in the middle seat) gets to her aisle seat to settle in. I said a quick hello and continued looking at my phone.  She then began to pluck what I appeared to be antibacterial wipes from a container…they were ALCOHOL wipes—big ones!!  She proceeded to stand up and wipe down her entire seat…every inch…seat belt included..straps too.  Then she wiped down her tray table, light and ac controls, arm rests…the whole kit-kat and caboodle!  By this time, I am having flashbacks to having my ears pierced in seventh grade at Rich’s department store where they doused you in alcohol.  Then she neatly sat down.  There were so many fumes that I felt like I needed the pull down the oxygen mask before take off!  This is what happens when the fear of germs affects the quality of flight I thought to myself. Then I smiled and thought…I couldn’t wait to email TravelSkills about this!  I am anti-germy myself but keep my hand sanitizer neatly tucked away.  This woman was ready to do battle with bacteria!  Oh, the stories that will emerge from all this…”

HOTELS

Marriott's new wireless charger

Marriott’s new Kube wireless charger

Marriott tries a new tech amenity. if you see an odd black box in a Marriott lobby, don’t hesitate to put your phone on it — that’s what it’s for. Marriott installed Kube Systems wireless charging stations in the lobbies of 29 hotels, acting on a suggestion from customers at its idea website, www.TravelBrilliantly.com. Besides the wireless charging surface, the boxes have built-in connectors to power up to six devices.

In Case You Missed It…

>Looks like a major renovation is in store for New York’s iconic Waldorf-Astoria following its sale by Hilton to a Chinese insurance company for nearly $2 billion.

>Airline lounge memberships: Why they’re not for everyone.

>Try these tips for catching some Zs in your hotel room.

>Eight essential tips for business trips to San Francisco.

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

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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5 ways to sleep better at hotels

Getting to sleep and staying that way can be the supreme challenge when on the road. (Photo: 900hp/Flickr)

Travel can be the enemy of sleep. I’ve spent too many nights in hotel rooms—as you probably have, too—unable to fall asleep (after all, it’s only whatever-o’clock at home) or tossing and turning (who could be stomping down the hall at 3 a.m.?). It’s all-the-more frustrating because you know getting a good night’s sleep will be essential to performing well at your business meeting in the morning.

Sure, you can use medication or melatonin to help regulate your sleep when traveling. But there are also some simple, non-medical ways to ensure a peaceful sleep while at hotels.

>Bring your own alarm. Use an alarm on your phone or go old-school and bring along a travel alarm. Do not rely on a wake-up call from the hotel or trust your ability to properly set an unfamiliar alarm clock. Important: if you aren’t using the hotel alarm clock, be sure the alarm is set to “off”, so it does not go off in the middle of the night. If you can’t figure out how to do that, just unplug it.

>Keep neighbors at bay. Always ask for a non-adjoining, non-connecting room when you check in. (Not sure about the difference? Read this.) Sounds from noisy neighbors can seep under the door and disturb you. If you get stuck in such a room, take a preemptive strike against interruption by rolling up a towel and placing it along the crack at the base of the door.

>Do not disturb. Always hang the “Do Not Disturb” notice on your door. Hotel staff will respect that, and rowdy guests in the hallway might quiet down if they know someone is trying to sleep. Call the hotel operator and ask for all calls to be blocked. If you are not using your mobile phone as your alarm clock, turn it off; if you’re using its alarm, set notifications to silent. Slide the door bolt across so you won’t worry that someone may inadvertently enter your room.

Screen Shot 2014-10-03 at 12.00.50 PM

A good Bucky eye mask and earplugs can help ensure slumber (Photo: Bucky.com)

>Travel equipped. Keep a set of comfortable eyeshades and earplugs permanently packed. Airline amenity kits usually come equipped with these, so they’re a great source for maintaining stock. There are two types of earplugs: the more common type is made with expandable foam. A less common, but much more effective type is made of soft wax or silicone that completely seals off the ear canal. Beware—moldable earplugs work so well that you could sleep through an alarm or wake up call. Both types can be found at your local drugstore. If you’re caught without earplugs, just ask—most hotels can provide them. And if your room’s curtains won’t close tight and you forgot eyeshades, use a slacks hanger in the closet to clamp the curtains together.

Are you in the market for a new credit card?  Then check out our BEST CREDIT CARDS FOR BUSINESS TRAVELERS and scoop up the deals!

>White noise. Try using the hotel room heater or air conditioning fan to provide enough “white noise” to drown out disturbances. When doing so, be sure the switch is set to “on” instead of “auto” which can make the fan go on and off throughout the night. There are also several helpful white noise apps to use with your smartphone.

>Location, location, location. At the hotel, choose a room on a higher floor, away from elevators, ice machines, hotel bars, stairways or entryways. Or simply ask for a very quiet roomfront desk staff usually know which areas of the hotel are the most peaceful. Also, north or west facing rooms are less affected by early morning light.

Do you sleep better in the hotel or at home? What’s your best tip for getting some shut eye on the road? Share your tips in the comments.

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

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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Don’t make these 8 mistakes in San Francisco

Now that's an unusual approach to SFO, right? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Now that’s an unusual approach to SFO, right? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Nearly every frequent traveler visits San Francisco at least one time each year. And it’s most likely that visit will take place between September and December, the city’s peak convention season.

That’s especially true if you are in the tech or related fields. For example, San Francisco-based cloud computing giant Salesforce.com puts on its annual Dreamforce conference in October or November at the city’s sprawling Moscone Convention Center, attracting 60,000+ people, and this year it’s bringing in the likes of Hillary Clinton and Bruno Mars. Oracle OpenWorld and it’s 60,000 techies just left town last week.

When a big “citywide” like that comes to town, nearly every hotel in the Bay Area is sold out, or its rates are hyper-inflated. During these peak weeks,  you’ll pay a minimum of about $500 for an decent room and feel lucky that you even found one. When citywides come into town, Airbnb hosts lick their chops and fluff their pillows. Restaurant reservations become scant. And Uber drivers kiss their families goodbye and work double shifts for several days in a row.

So now’s probably a great time to offer some advice to the arriving throngs—and this advice is good whether you are coming San Francisco next week or next year. (If you are in SF, please forward this to your future guests!)

1>Don’t schedule business meetings on Friday afternoons after 2 p.m. On Fridays, when New York closes for the weekend at 5 pm eastern, so does much of San Francisco (at 2 pm Pacific) especially when it’s warm and sunny outside. Cocktail and beer carts start making the rounds in offices at about 3 p.m. While there are exceptions to this rule, your Bay Area colleagues are likely to groan if you send out a calendar invite for a 4 p.m. meeting on Friday. Make it at 11 a.m. instead.

San Francisco's a town that gets started early...even when it's foggy out (Photo: Frank Schulenburg / Flickr)

San Francisco’s a town that gets started early…even when it’s foggy out (Photo: Frank Schulenburg / Flickr)

2>Don’t be surprised about an early start. In a similar vein, know that the workday starts relatively early here, so an 8:30 a.m. meeting is not considered out of order. If that feels too early for you, just bring along some caffeine from Blue Bottle, Ritual or Philz and you’ll be fine. Lunch hour begins promptly at noon, but you find that locals may ask you to show up at 11:45 a.m. “to beat the crowds.” Expect the same early schedule for dinner meetings, which can and do start as early at 6 p.m. Most restaurants are empty by 9:30 on weekdays and by 10:30 p.m. on weekends.

3>Don’t always rely on taxicabs. This is Uber’s hometown, so download the app and use it if you haven’t already done so and enjoy all the different “flavors” of Uber available in the Bay Area, which include the standard town car UberBLACK, private car “citizen driver” UberX (cheaper than taxis), UberSUV, UberXL, and the new UberPOOL where you share a ride with someone else headed in the same direction. Cabs are fine when available, but the industry has been decimated by the likes of Uber and Lyft and their business is down by 65%. Don’t rent a car at the airport unless it’s absolutely essential. SFO rental rates are notoriously high, the car rental center at is distant and unloved, and downtown hotel parking rates are in the $60 per night range. If you’ve not signed up for Uber yet, do so here and get $20 off your first ride.  In addition to your discount, TravelSkills gets a $20 Uber discount when you sign up, so help us out :) 

4>Don’t put off making dinner reservations. This town is HOT and wealthy right now, full of cool kids and visitors with sophisticated palates who love to dine out. If you are here to try the city’s best restaurants, make reservations at least two or three weeks in advance…or more for top spots like Boulevard, Frances, State Bird Provisions, Gary Danko, and others.  One common mistake among visitors is thinking that the city’s best Chinese food is in Chinatown. Not necessarily. Grab an Uber or jump on Muni and head out to the western neighborhoods like the Sunset or Inner Richmond which stake claim to the real thing.

MUNI, pictured here, and BART are not the same thing. (Photo Torbakhopper / Flickr)

MUNI, pictured here, and BART are not the same thing. (Photo Torbakhopper / Flickr)

5>Don’t confuse subways. You should know that San Francisco has TWO main subway systems—BART is the rapid rail regional system with several stations along Market Street connecting out to the suburbs and airport. MUNI is the slower central city subway & streetcar system used frequently (and frequently derided) by inner city residents. Of course, there are San Francisco’s fabled cable cars, but those are mostly a tourist attraction and rarely a primary means of transport for locals.

6>Don’t think BART to airport is going to save much time. BART is a great option for those who travel light, but you should know that takes 30-40 minutes to get to the Embarcadero from SFO (for $8.65 each way). If there’s no traffic, a taxi or Uber can get you to or from the airport in about 20 minutes. UberBLACK flat rates are $65. UberX can be about half that. And cabs run about $50 including tip.

7>Consider hills when walking. First timers with hotels on Nob Hill may look at a map and think, “Oh, I’ll just walk to my hotel from Market Street. It’s close.” Well, yes, it’s close as the bird flies, but try lugging your rollaboard up the side of the hill to the Ritz-Carlton, Fairmont, Scarlet Huntington or Mark Hopkins and you’ll learn quickly that this may not be the smartest option. Especially if you are wearing heels!

8>Don’t forget your layers. While the rest of the country is experiencing an autumnal cool-off right now, SF is experiencing its typical October heat wave, so that new black sweater or suit won’t work when it’s 85 in the city during the day. But of course, it could be perfect in a matter of hours when the fog, a storm or cold front blow in off the Pacific. (By the way, wear black here. It always works.)

Finally, never call San Francisco “Frisco” or “San Fran.” Laid back locals won’t say anything, but inside, you can bet they are groaning. To be safe, just call it “The City” or San Francisco.

I’m sure our many Bay Area readers can add to this list, so please fire away in the comments section below and help your fellow frequent traveler headed west!

–Chris McGinnis

.

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

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Marriott jams wi-fi + Hilton-AA bond + New InterConti LA + Lufthansa moves at LHR

This is part 1 of our weekend catch-up! Part 2 arrives tomorrow…

Marriott's big, bright, glass-top Gaylord Opryland hotel blocked guest wi-fi (Photo: Marriott)

Marriott’s big, bright, glass-top Gaylord Opryland hotel blocked guest wi-fi (Photo: Marriott)

Marriott caught blocking guests’ wi-fi. The Federal Communications Commission has slapped Marriott with a $600,000 fine for allegedly blocking Wi-Fi access for guests with personal wi-fi hotspots who were attending meetings at the chain’s Opryland Hotel in Nashville last year. The blocked access reportedly affected meeting rooms and ballrooms, but not guest rooms. Why would the hotel do that? Because conference organizers would then have to pay $250 to $1,000 per access point to use the hotel’s wi-fi system. Marriott says it was just trying to protect guests from “rogue wireless hotspots.” We’d love to hear your thoughts about this… please leave them below….

Hilton, AA offer targeted promotion to loyalists. Hilton’s HHonors program is tightening its bond with American’s AAdvantage plan by offering AA Platinum status until January 31, 2015, to selected members who register by October 15. The targeted promotion will let participants extend that Platinum status for another year, and pick up 20,000 HHonors points, if they accumulate 9,000 elite-qualifying AAdvantage miles by January 31.

Here's a mock up of Korean Air's new Wilshire Grand Center in downtown LA

Here’s a mock up of the tippy top of Korean Air’s new Wilshire Grand Center in downtown LA

New InterContinental coming to L.A. The $1.1 billion, 73-floor Wilshire Grand Center in downtown Los Angeles will include a 900-room InterContinental Hotel from the 31st to 73rd floors. Owned by Korean Air and its parent company, the building will be the tallest in the western U.S. when it opens in 2017.

Lufthansa moves at Heathrow. Star Alliance member Lufthansa has joined up with its partner carriers at London Heathrow, moving its operations there last week into the new Terminal 2. Star members United, Air Canada, ANA and Air China moved to T2 when it opened in June and all Star Alliance partners at LHR will be in T2 by the end of October. Lufthansa said its facilities at LHR T2 include “its largest lounge outside Germany” — a Senator and Business Lounge that can accommodate up to 350 travelers in 1,600 square meters. The new London lounge will also welcome Star Alliance Gold Customers as well as those traveling in First or Business Class on any Star Alliance member carrier from Heathrow

Related: TravelSkills sneak peek at United’s new first & business class lounges at Heathrow T2

The dining room at British Airway's swish new lounge at Dulles (Photo: British Airways)

The dining room at British Airway’s swish new lounge at Dulles (Photo: British Airways)

BA enhances IAD service. British Airways has unveiled a new and improved business and first class lounge at Washington Dulles. The 10,000 square foot facility can accommodate up to 200 premium travelers, offering free alcoholic beverages, work areas, showers, a VIP area and dining. The opening of the new lounge was timed to coincide with BA’s introduction of the Airbus A380 on its London Heathrow-Washington Dulles route last week.

Please participate in this week’s poll on how fearful you are about ebola:

How fearful are you of the possibility of contracting ebola?

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In Case You Missed It…

>Are you ready for BYOD (bring your own device) in-flight entertainment?

>Tracking the ebola risk for air travelers. (please take our fear poll!)

>Chris explains what’s new at Hawaiian Airlines.

>Direct flight? Non-stop? What’s the difference

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

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

Big day in big D + New carrier for ATL? + New LAX lounge + NYC grand dame facelift

Will Turkish Airlines land in Atlanta any time soon? (Photo: Turkish Airlines)

Will Turkish Airlines land in Atlanta any time soon? (Photo: Turkish Airlines)

AIRLINES

Big day approaches in Big D. In two weeks — on October 13 — the Wright Amendment expires, opening up Dallas’ close-in Love Field to a new era of long-haul domestic routes, and the major players are getting ready. Virgin America teamed up with ride-finding service Uber and with HotelTonight to offer discounts and digital promotions at a special website, www.ShareTheLoveDallas.com. Southwest has scheduled a series of concerts and a golf tournament, and will give away prizes in-flight to passengers during the first week of service. Southwest set up a website detailing its new DAL routes at www.nonstoplove.com.

Turkish Airlines eyes ATL service. In an interview with Bloomberg News, Turkish Airlines CEO Temel Kotil said the fast-growing carrier plans to start flying from Istanbul to Atlanta, although he gave no date for the service. The airline already announced it will begin San Francisco flights next April. Kotil said the carrier also plans to add more frequencies to Chicago, Washington Dulles and LAX. Turkish is part of the Star Alliance, and its other U.S. routes include New York, Boston and Houston. Turkish giving the fast growing Gulf carriers like Emirates or Etihad a run for their money competing for passengers headed to the Middle East, India and Africa. A new carrier in ATL might help the airport retain its title as “world’s busiest,” which this NPR story says might be in jeopardy.

Air France strike ends. According to AP, the painful Air France strike has ended.  Meanwhile, Lufthansa braces for it’s own pilots to strike by canceling a raft of transatlantic flights.

Big smiles at Delta. If  you notice that your Delta flight attendants or gate agents have a bit more spring in their step in coming months, it could be because Delta is giving all employees a nice 5% profit-sharing payout for 2014 and has promised a 3-4% payout next year. Forbes reports: Delta will report record profitability in 2014, while its stock is a top twenty S&P 500 performer and its operational reliability and customer satisfaction are at the top of the industry.” In similar news, United Airlines announced Monday that it will offer its thousands of flight attendants an early and voluntary buyout option, a lump-sum payout worth up to $100,000. Time reports that United would not disclose the criteria needed to earn the maximum buyout but is hoping at least 2,100 employees take advantage of the offer. 

Frontier Airlines is expanding from its Denver stomping grounds with new nonstops in SFO & PHX.  (

Frontier Airlines is expanding from its Denver stomping grounds with new nonstops in SFO & PHX. (Phot0: Jim Glab)

Frontier grows at SFO, PHX. Frontier Airlines — whose strategy as a new ultra-low-cost carrier (along the lines of Spirit Air) is to nibble at the edges of major business markets — plans to start flying from San Francisco International to Houston Bush Intercontinental and Phoenix November 20. Technically, the service will break up United’s SFO-IAH monopoly and could impact its high fares, but it’s hardly a big threat since Frontier plans one flight a day vs. United’s 10 — and since Frontier levies some heavy fees, like a carry-on bag charge for low-fare passengers. SFO-Phoenix is dominated by Southwest and American/US Airways, with dozens of daily flights vs. Frontier’s planned single departure. Also on November 20, Frontier will add once-a-day flights between PHX-Houston and PHX-Salt Lake City.

People Express suspends service. After a big kick off last summer, Virginia-based People Express is already hitting hard times. According to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, the carrier suspended service suddenly last week. But it said that it might crank up again by Oct 16 according to a press release. Hmm.

Cost of a disrupted trip: $1,475. The most common “travel mishap,” according to a new survey of 500 business travelers, is a flight disrupted by a delay, cancellation or missed connection (like those entangled in the Chicago air traffic shutdown on Friday) — and the average cost to the traveler caught up in the problem is $1,475 in missed work and out-of-pocket expenses, according to the Global Business Travel Association. If the mishap occurs overseas, the average cost jumps to $2,148. When a mishap causes the traveler to miss work, the average time lost is 2.3 days. What was your worst ‘travel mishap’ and how did it impact your schedule?

Plan now: How to get a free trip home for the holidays

AA plans DFW-Beijing flights. American Airlines wants to add Beijing as the newest transpacific spoke from its Dallas/Ft. Worth hub. The carrier last week filed for government approval to begin daily 777-200ER flights from DFW to Beijing’s Capital International Airport sometime next summer. AA already flies from DFW to Hong Kong, Seoul, Shanghai and Tokyo, and it serves Beijing from Chicago O’Hare.

JetBlueFlyFilogoWi-Fi progress at JetBlue, Virgin Atlantic. JetBlue has only installed its super-speed Fly-Fi Internet service on 70 planes thus far — and is adding a dozen aircraft a month — but it said more than a million devices have already connected to the free Ka-band satellite service. “On JetBlue we see 40 percent of customers logged on, while other airlines get single-digits only,” a JetBlue official said. Fly-Fi claims data speeds of 12 to 20 Mbps …. Wi-Fi provider Gogo said Virgin Atlantic has signed on to become the first European carrier to install its satellite-based 2Ku Wi-Fi service fleetwide, offering “unprecedented bandwidth.”

Lower fares at ATL thanks to Spirit. Ultra low-fare carrier Spirit Air’s entry into the Atlanta-Detroit market has resulted in lower fares on not just Spirit, but on Delta and Southwest, which had significantly jacked up fares over the last two years, according to the Detroit Free Press. In related news, when United announced a big downsizing of its Cleveland operation several months back, Frontier started beefing up its presence there, and now Spirit Airlines is doing the same. Spirit will begin new CLE service in mid-January to Orlando, Tampa and Ft. Myers; on February 5 to Ft. Lauderdale, DFW and Las Vegas; and April 16 to Los Angeles and Myrtle Beach.

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AIRPORTS

Southwest's expansion at Denver

Southwest’s expansion at Denver International’s Terminal C (Photo DIA)

Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at LAX. In airport news this week, Virgin Atlantic will build its own Clubhouse for Upper Class passengers at Los Angeles International. No details yet, but it will occupy 4,000 square feet and open next spring. Currently, the airline’s premium flyers use Virgin America’s and Air New Zealand’s LAX lounges …Los Angeles International has installed 40 of those new automated passport control kiosks for arriving passengers in the Tom Bradley International Terminal, and Delta opened up 10 of the devices in Terminal 5 .

Uber, Lyft, Sidecar back in hot water. Ride sharing companies are facing a new round of legal threats from city officials in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Seems like a never ending story… and thankfully, Uber and others seem to just ignore the threats and continue hauling business travelers around town and to the airport. In a related note, Uber has reportedly reinstated it’s flat $65 fare between San Francisco and SFO. TravelSkills riders in Pacific Heights had complained loudly about airport trips costing $95 or more… apparently Uber heard the squawks and fares are back down. Have you noticed? 

Southwest grows at DEN.Denver International cut the ribbon on a five-gate expansion of Terminal C, allowing Southwest Airlines to expand…pushing Frontier into other cities and keeping United on its toes.

Free wi-fi at Houston airports. Houston started rolling out free Wi-Fi at its airports; it’s now available in all terminal areas at Hobby, and in Terminals A and D at Bush Intercontinental; it should be in all IAH spaces by year’s end …

Speeding up at Ft Lauderdale Flight delays at Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International should ease up considerably following the opening last week of a new 8,000-foot runway there.

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

HOTELS

The grand old InterConti is going dark for an extensive (and much needed) 18-month facelift.

Manhattan’s  grand old Barclay InterContinental is going dark for an extensive (and much needed) 18-month facelift. (Photo: IHG)

NYC property closes; new Ritz-Carlton in Florida. The InterContinental New York Barclay Hotel in Midtown Manhattan has closed its doors for a much needed,  18-month, $175 million renovation. (The Barclay is located alongside another NYC grand dame that needs the same type of loving restoration…which hotel are wer referring to?? Leave your guesses and comments below!) In other hotel news: Florida’s One Bal Harbour Resort north of Miami Beach will become The Ritz-Carlton Bal Harbour, Miami effective October 2 … A former Sheraton a mile from Washington’s Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Va., is now the Westin Crystal City.

In Case You Missed It…

>Here’s how to save money on overseas mobile roaming.

>The latest on the great in-flight voice calling debate. (Check out your comments! They’re great. Thanks!)

>Try these tips for making free or low-cost calls from overseas.

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AIRPORTS

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

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

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

HOTELS

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

In Case You Missed It…

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

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

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

>Here’s how to find widebodies on domestic routes

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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

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Which Las Vegas hotel are you?

photo 1

View out my window at the Mandalay Bay with the sassy new Delano on the right (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The newest, hippest hotels in Las Vegas this month are: The SLS, The Delano (grand opening this weekend) and the Nobu Hotel at Caesar’s Palace.

But if I had to pick a hotel that is me? Probably the Vdara– it’s off the strip hidden behind the showy Aria & Mandarin Oriental hotels in City Center, nearly new, all rooms are like mini-apartments….plus, there’s no casino (I’m not a gambler) and no smoking at all.

Like many of you,  I don’t get to pick my hotel (they are more likely chosen by clients)– for example, I’m at the Mandalay Bay for the conference I’m attending this weekend. (It’s fine, but my room is looking a little worn around the edges– like it’s been steam cleaned too many times.)

Popular: Have dinner in a 70′s-era Pan Am 747

But if you’e not been to Vegas in a while, here’s an infographic that might help you find the hotel that best suits your personality.

What’s you favorite Las Vegas hotel? Why? Please leave your comments below. 

Which Vegas Hotel Are You?

 Source: www.intensegambling.com

Chris McGinnis

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Have dinner in a 70′s-era Pan Am 747

How to park for free at the airport

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Popular on TravelSkills: Another British Airways A380 for the US

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

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

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

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

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AIRPORTS

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

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

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

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

SECURITY

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

CARS

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

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

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

HOTELS

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

In Case You Missed It…

Chris evaluates Virgin America’s LAX Loft lounge.

British Airways is bringing its A380 to San Francisco.

You can pile up bonus points with these fall hotel promotions

Southwest Airlines unveils a new logo and aircraft livery

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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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

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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Fall hotel promos you can’t ignore

Earn burn your HHonors points at Hilton's newest hotel in Waikiki- the Hokulani (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Earn or burn your HHonors points at Hilton’s newest hotel in Waikiki- The Hokulani (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

As Labor Day passes each year and the flood of summer leisure visitors dries up, hotel marketers have traditionally tried to prime the pump of autumn business travel by rolling out special bonus or discount promotions for members of their loyalty programs — and this year is no exception.

Even though the autumn offers are not as rich as we’ve seen in recent years due to higher business travel spending and increasing occupancy, they still shouldn’t be ignored. Here’s a rundown:

Please note that some of these promos are targeted to certain members and may not work for everyone.

IHGInterContinental’s IHG Rewards Club just launched an “Into the Nights” promotion offering members a choice of bonus points, bonus air miles or free nights, based on their stays at its 11 hotel brands from now through December 31. How generous are the bonuses? Hard to say, because they apparently vary from one individual to the next. The company says only that members who register online (at www.ihg.com/freenights) “will receive personalized offers” — although they do mention that the promotion will let members earn “at least two free nights or 50,000 points.”

Screen Shot 2014-09-06 at 3.09.21 PM

Marriott Rewards members can earn up to a maximum of 25,000 bonus points when they register online by November 15 in the company’s Megabonus promotion, for stays at any of Marriott’s 15 brands (including Ritz-Carlton) between September 15-January 15. The offer provides double the usual program points for every stay — starting with the second one — during the promotional period, up to the maximum bonus.

Screen Shot 2014-09-06 at 3.10.58 PM

Hilton HHonors’ fall promotion, currently in progress, matches Marriott in providing members with double points (for stays through October 31, not November 15) — but it goes a step beyond that by upping the ante to triple points for weekend stays (Friday-Sunday). Hence the promotion’s name: Triple Your Trip. The offer actually started August 1, but the bonus doesn’t kick in for your stays until you are registered prior to check-out. Bonus points are based on the average nightly folio of your total stay. (Caveat: Not all Hilton family properties are taking part in the offer; here’s a list of dozens that aren’t.)

Screen Shot 2014-09-06 at 3.12.55 PM

If you belong to Best Western Rewards, you can score 1,000 bonus points per stay from now through November 23 when you book that stay — at any qualified rate — through the group’s website at bestwestern.com. (Elite members get another 500 bonus points on top of that.) Select the Best Value or Web Special rate when you book, and you’ll get up to 20 percent off the hotel’s Flexible Rate. To take advantage of the promotion, members must register online.

Screen Shot 2014-09-06 at 3.14.49 PM

Choice Hotels is offering members of its Choice Privileges plan the ability to earn one free night’s stay for every two qualifying stays at Choice brands from September 4 through November 12 when they register online. (Clarification: The “free night” is based on picking a property from the 8,000-point reward level in the program; most require more points than that.) While a single night qualifies as a stay at some Choice brands, the promotion sets a minimum of two nights for qualifying stays at its MainStay Suites, Suburban Extended Stay, Rodeway Inn and Econo Lodge brands. And members who have set airline miles instead of Choice Privileges as their program earning preference are ineligible.

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Members of Kimpton Hotels’ new Kimpton Karma Rewards plan should act fast to take advantage of its Luxe Liberation offer. They can snag a discount of up to 20 percent when they stay in a Kimpton suite from now through October 31 — but the booking deadline is September 13.

Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 10.18.59 AM

Starwood has a fall promotion called Triple Crave that rewards Preferred Guest members for dining at many of its hotel restaurants. It offers triple SPG points for restaurant purchases of $50 or more Monday through Thursday from now throughDecember 30, and requires online registration. The site has a link to a list of participating restaurants worldwide, including 144 in the U.S. For weekend stays, Starwood also has launched its More For You campaign offering double or triple points for weekend stays.

Screen Shot 2014-09-06 at 3.18.31 PM

Country Inns & Suites by Carlson will serve up double Club Carlson Gold Points — along with early check-in or late check-out — to members who book a “Business Package” stay at its North American properties from now through December 31. The Business Package rate also provides a hot breakfast, high-speed Internet, use of the fitness and business centers and a daily newspaper.

Screen Shot 2014-09-06 at 3.25.57 PM

With the Sweet Dreams Sweet Rewards promo, Hyatt Gold Passport members earn 5,000 Hyatt Gold Passport bonus points after the first five nights and “thousands more” for every additional five nights at any Hyatt hotel worldwide from September 1 through November 30, 2014. After 20 nights, that’s 50,000 bonus points. 

–Jim Glab

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

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

Nail Painting onboard: Illegal or just rude? 

Biz Trip: Copenhagen

Virgin Atlantic adds new ATL, SFO & DTW flights

Should airlines waive change fees?

Lanai: A billionaire’s work in progress

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

6 end-of-summer travel deals. Act fast

Awesome Knee Defender animation VIDEO

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

 

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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AIRPORTS

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

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

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

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

Related: BBC Business Trip: Mexico City

HOTELS

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

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

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

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

In Case You Missed It …

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

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

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

-Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

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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Lanai: A billionaire’s work in progress

Arriving at Lanai's tiny airport

Chris arriving at Lanai’s little airport (with wi-fi provided by Four Seasons)

By now you’ve likely heard that billionaire Oracle CEO Larry Ellison recently paid an estimated $300 million for 98% of the Hawaiian Island of Lanai.

Included in that sale were two Four Seasons resorts and nearly all the land on the tiny (140 square mile) island.

What’s been going on since the transaction closed in 2012? A lot!

While on a business trip to Hawaii last week, Four Seasons invited me over for a stay and a look-see at the progress. (See photos below.)

Here’s what I saw:

The Four Seasons Lanai at Manele Bay has a spectacular position on a secluded white sand beach. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The Four Seasons Lanai at Manele Bay has a spectacular position on a secluded white sand beach. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

First off, big changes are underway at the Four Seasons secluded Manele Bay property. As soon at the deal closed, renovations of public areas began. The dramatic lobby is now sheathed in rich wood paneling and stark white furniture with views out to an aquamarine pool deck that spills down to the hotel’s almost private white sand beach.

There are only two other hotels on the island, the homey, high-country Four Seasons Lodge at Koele in the cool uplands– with a revamped grand lobby and famous golf course awaiting a makeover by Jack Nicklaus (opening date unknown), and the rustic 10-room Hotel Lanai, recently purchased by Ellison.

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

At Manele Bay, a hotel staffer told me that, “Mr. Murdock’s style is a lot different from Mr. Ellison’s.” Hearing that, I assumed that the previous owner was billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch, but soon found out that it was actually David Murdock, the head of Hawaiian conglomerate Castle & Cooke, which owns Dole Foods, and the 98% of Lanai that Ellison recently bought.

How different are the the two owners’ styles? Very different! Check out the lobby chinoiserie before the recent design changes.

Major room revamp hidden behind temporary walls at Four Seasons Manele Bay (Chris McGinnis)

Major room revamp hidden behind temporary walls at Four Seasons Manele Bay (Chris McGinnis)

In addition to the modern Hawaiian look in the lobby, a new Nobu restaurant is under construction. When I was there, about half of the hotel’s 217 rooms were closed for a major revamp, which will bring them up to global five-star resort standards with see through glass balconies, hardwood and slate flooring, 75-inch LED flat screen TVs and big bright modern bathrooms. The current plan is to open the new rooms by this October and have both old and new rooms open for the holiday season.

Here's a peek at the chic new look of renovated rooms at Manele Bay available this October (Four Seasons)

Here’s a peek at the chic new look of renovated rooms at Manele Bay available this October (Four Seasons)

When the holidays are over, the rest of the rooms will close down for their revamp. The entire resort will look and feel brand new (sans construction noise) by the end of 2015. During the transition, guests who opt for the older rooms get a “third night free” deal. Guests who reserve the new rooms (which command a $200 premium over the older ones) get a $100 resort credit for stays of four or more nights. The older rooms are comfortable with outstanding views, but pale in comparison to the new designs. Current rates for early November are about $530 per night.

Wild turkeys roam freely on golf courses & elsewhere on Lanai. This is a view from the recently revamped Views restaurant (Chris McGinnis)

Wild turkeys roam freely on golf courses & elsewhere on Lanai. This is a view from the recently revamped Views restaurant (Chris McGinnis)

Leave it to me to find the only other person on a “real” business trip on this tiny Hawaiian island. At the general manager’s reception at Views, the hotel’s striking new restaurant overlooking golf courses with views out to neighboring islands, I met Erik Barnes who works in sales for Algae Aqua-Culture Technology, Inc. His company builds power plants that utilize sustainable and green methods to produce electricity. He was there to promote his company’s wares on an island that Ellison envisions as a sustainable, self sufficient eco-topia that includes transforming old pineapple fields into organic farms and greenhouses, doubling the population (from the current 3,000 to 6,000), adding desalinization plants for fresh water, a new satellite campus for the University of Hawaii and much more.

Check out the colorful plumage of Ohana by Hawaiian's ATR fleet. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Check out the colorful plumage of Ohana by Hawaiian’s ATR fleet. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

With all the new focus and activity on Lanai, getting there is getting a makeover, too. In February 2013, Ellison purchased Island Air, which now offers 5 ATR flights per day to and from Lanai City (LNY) from a newly refurbished, club-like terminal at Honolulu airport. Hawaiian Air’s new inter-island operation, Ohana by Hawaiian offers three flights per day on a colorful fleet designed by Sig Zane. Both airlines use new ATR turboprops for the 25-minute flight. Fares from Honolulu are currently about $70 each way (there is no nonstop service to Lanai from the mainland). Nice: Free, fast wifi is provided at Lanai City Airport by Four Seasons.

– Chris McGinnis

Disclosure: Four Seasons paid for my two-night stay at the Manele Bay property

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

6 end-of-summer travel deals. Act fast

Awesome Knee Defender animation VIDEO

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

What golden age of travel?

3 brand new hotels in Chicago

A spin around the new Airbus A350

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

How to deal with Americans

10 little things some hotels get right

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

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

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

hawaiianbagtag

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

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

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

This week’s most popular post

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

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

SECURITY

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

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HOTELS

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

In Case You Missed It…

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

>Check out these interesting facts about airline flight numbers.

Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

6 end-of-summer travel deals. Act fast

Awesome Knee Defender animation VIDEO

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

What golden age of travel?

3 brand new hotels in Chicago

A spin around the new Airbus A350

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

How to deal with Americans

10 little things some hotels get right

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6 end-of-summer travel deals. Act fast

(Graphic courtesy Hipmunk)

Early birds get the best seats on most convenient flights this year. (Graphic courtesy Hipmunk)

Thanksgiving already? If you are planning to travel over Thanksgiving, you may want to consider buying your ticket now… Hipmunk says that by doing so you could save 17% over waiting until October when most people make their Thanksgiving travel plans. For Christmas bookings, I’d say wait until about mid-October. And don’t expect many out-of-this-world bargains this year… a busy, expensive peak summer is usually an indicator of a busy expensive holiday travel season. This year the early birds won’t get huge discounts, but they will at least get the best seats on the most convenient holiday flights.

Fare Sale. Last week the airlines rolled out an across the board fare sale with some really good deals for fall and winter (no holiday) travel. As of today the fare sale is over, but there are still a few deals lingering out there…like this JetBlue fare between SFO and JFK for just $336 roundtrip. While there is no “official” sale going on right now, check fares anyway and you still might find some decent fares for fall/winter trips.

Source: US Energy Information Administration

Source: US Energy Information Administration

Gasoline! Some good news for drivers and flyers: Labor Day pump prices are at their lowest level in four years, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Prices are lowest on the Gulf Coast ($3.24/gal) and highest on the West Coast ($3.83/gal) as of August 25. Gulf Coast prices are often low compared with prices in other regions because of the Gulf Coast’s proximity to half the nation’s refining capacity. Oil is still trading at around $100/barrel which means less pressure on airlines to raise fares to cover fuel costs. But remember, all this could change as tensions flare in the Middle East. The EIA forecasts that the U.S. average retail price of gasoline will decline modestly through the end of the year, reaching a monthly average low of $3.30/gal in December.

This week’s most popular TravelSkills post: What’s your favorite flight number? 

Holiday Business Class sales: Want to fly overseas for the holidays in style…and at a discount? Joe Brancatelli does a masterful job of keeping track of biz class discounts airlines offer when those seats otherwise fly empty over the holidays. These are not cheap fares by any means… but they are cheaper than standard business class. We’re talking $2,500 to $3,500 round trip to Europe from the US vs the normal $5,000-$8,000. Currently, SAS has the best deals…Christmas in Copenhagen anyone? Based on a recent study, Americans are not all that jazzed about overseas travel during the holidays anyway…which means that we’ll probably see even more bargains (relatively speaking) on overseas flights as holidays approach.

Ask for the special buy one, get one free deal at the gorgeous Cliffs at Princeville

Ask for the special buy one, get one free deal at the nice Cliffs at Princeville condos on Kauai

Hawaii on your mind? Fares from the mainland to Hawaii have also dropped as the fall “shoulder season” gets underway. Hawaiian Airlines has been dangling round trip coach fares of around $400 round trip from the West Coast lately, so use that as your gauge when trying to determine whether you are getting a “deal” or not. Due to high demand, fares to Hawaii as well as hotel rates have skyrocketed this year, so seeing fares around $400 is a relief. Hawaiian has a fare sale that ends Sept 2– but keep an eye out for future fall deals on all airlines. Dreaming of Kauai? TravelSkills readers can get a very special buy-one-get-one-free deal at the Cliffs at Princeville condo resort if you book this week. The deal applies to stays of any length, booked for any time. No strings attached. Rates start at $324 per night. But you have to commit by Sept 4. To get the deal call 808-367-8024 and mention “TravelSkills.” Check out what TripAdvisor says about The Cliffs here. 

Alaska Mileage Plan sale. Alaska Airlines is offering BIG discounts for award trips between now and Oct 31. For example, travelers in San Francisco can fly to Seattle, Portland or Salt Lake City for just 5,000 miles each way. Flights from many other mainland cities to Mexico are just 12,500 miles each way. Details here. 

That’s it for now! Have a great Labor Day weekend!

–Chris McGinnis

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

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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:

Awesome Knee Defender animation VIDEO

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

What golden age of travel?

3 brand new hotels in Chicago

A spin around the new Airbus A350

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

How to deal with Americans

10 little things some hotels get right

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

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


3 brand new hotels in Chicago

(Photo: MEBS09 / Flickr)

(Photo: MEBS09 / Flickr)

At TravelSkills, we love new hotels. They smell better, work better, feel better, and are usually bigger, brighter and hipper than others. But new can also have its downside: Construction noise, service issues, and/or locations in sketchy or “upcoming” neighborhoods. Some are so new that TripAdvisor reviews are scant compared to more established hotels. In an ongoing feature, TravelSkills reports on the newest hotels in the world’s most important cities. When we say “newest” we have certain criteria around that: The hotels have to be brand new or deeply renovated within the last few years, 3+ stars and appropriate venues for business travel.

Chicago is the business Mecca of the Midwest and the third largest city in the U.S., so understandably it’s a huge destination for business travelers. Like many cities, its face is changing with a number of new hotels coming on the scene and more in the pipeline. Here are three of the newest on Chi-town’s hotel scene.

Hotel Chicago Lobby

The vibe in Hotel Chicago Downtown’s lobby is pretty playful but very upscale. (Photo: Marriott)

ICONIC STAY. A beautiful new jewel in the crown of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, what was formerly Hotel Sax has been reborn as Hotel Chicago Downtown (opened Feb 2014). Its history lends it iconic status—part of the famous Marina City complex, designed by Bertrand Goldberg and the very first mixed use development in the U.S. You’ll recognize Marina City’s crazy cylindrical condo towers from any skyline photo of the city since 1963. The location (333 N. Dearborn) is super desirable, whether business takes you up Michigan Avenue or into the Loop, and you’re a short walk to many of the city’s best restaurants and attractions. In fact, speaking of iconic, you can stroll next door to landmark music venue House of Blues. Of course, the Hotel Chicago is very much of today, with the usual biz features: a well outfitted business center and meeting space that spans the entire fourth floor and includes a paneled board room and central rotunda for breaks. While the 354 rooms (from $280), have a hip, bohemian vibe, you’ll find all the more standard conveniences you’d expect from a Marriott property, including an onsite fitness center and room service.

Convenient access to the convention center is a huge plus for the new and improved Hyatt Regency. (Photo: Hyatt)

Convenient access to the convention center is a huge plus for the new and improved Hyatt Regency. (Photo: Hyatt)

CONVENTIONAL COMFORT. The huge renovation of the Hyatt Regency Chicago McCormick Place is particularly noteworthy if you’re one of the 2.3 million people a year who attend an event at McCormick Place, the nation’s largest convention center. In fact, meetings and events there generate 21 percent of all business traffic to the city. The Hyatt Regency underwent a $110 million expansion and renovation, completed last summer. Enclosed skybridges connect it to McCormick Place—a huge selling point (especially when icy winds blow). So while the location isn’t the best if you want easy access to downtown, it’s unparalleled if you’re attending a convention. With a new guest tower included as part of the expansion, it’s now a mega-hotel with 1,258 rooms, the fourth largest Hyatt in the world. The hotel offers all the amenities business travelers care about, including a FedEx Office Business Center, a 24-hour gym and an indoor lap pool with outdoor sundeck. Rooms ($150-$200) are standard Hyatt Regency fare, but technology is updated with “Jack Packs” with additional outlets and HDMI, iPod/iPhone, VGA, USB, video/audio and RCA connections. For those with a conscience, the hotel is now LEED gold certified.

The Langham Chicago executive lounge updates the Mies aesthetic. (Photo: Langham Hotels)

The Langham Chicago executive lounge updates the Mies aesthetic. (Photo: Langham Hotels)

EAST MEETS MIES. Asian elegance meets Chicago’s architectural history at The Langham, which opened in September 2013. The hotel comprises the first 13 stories of a 52-story landmark building designed by world-renowned local architect Mies van der Rohe. His style is a perfect match for the restrained elegance of Langham. The hotel’s 316 rooms (from $550) are luxurious but in a quiet, sophisticated way. Like the Hotel Chicago, it’s very well located just north of the Chicago River (330 N. Wabash), making the Magnificent Mile, Millennium Park and the Loop easily walkable. There’s plenty of meeting and event space, with four board rooms. Then, let’s say you sign the deal you came for, use that as an excuse to visit the Chuan Spa, which includes a fitness studio and pool. And check out some innovative ways to unwind there: a salt stone sauna, aromatherapy shower and warming recliners.

Hip and cozy decor at the new Thompson  Chicago hotel (Photo: Commune Hotels)

Hip and cozy decor at the new Thompson Chicago hotel (Photo: Commune Hotels)

A couple of renovations are also worth mentioning: the W Chicago – Lakeshore (just completed a $38 million facelift) and the uber hip Thompson Chicago on the Gold Coast (formerly Sutton Place Hotel) Some exciting projects are still in the pipeline, too. Big buzz surrounds the first hotel in Richard Branson’s portfolio, the Virgin Hotel Chicago, scheduled to open in the fall. Coming in 2015 are a 400-room Loews Hotel on the north bank of the Chicago River and the Hyatt Chicago The Loop at Clark and Monroe. In late 2016 the 1200-room Marriott Marquis McCormick Place is slated to open, positioned as a convention headquarters (and offering those nifty skybridges to keep you out of the cold and heat).

What’s your favorite hotel in Chicago? Why? Share your review in the comments.

–Nancy Branka 

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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)

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

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

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

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

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

Alaska Airlines

An alert sent to TravelSkills by Alaska Airlines this week

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

INTERNATIONAL

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

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

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

Related: Sad to see the graceful 747 fade away! 

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

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

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

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

AIRPORTS

New DART rapid rail connection at DFW

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

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

HOTELS

A posh new perch in NYC

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

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

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

In Case You Missed It…

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

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

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

-Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

How to deal with Americans

10 little things some hotels get right

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

Month #3: A TravelSkills update from Chris

Airbnb for a business trip? Mixed results

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

Mergers that make sense

Serial stowaway finally gets her free flight

3 brand new Los Angeles hotels (& 3 facelifts)

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

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10 little things some hotels get right

When it comes to the best hotel stays, it’s not plush spas, marble lobbies and striking architecture that really matter.

It’s the little things some hotels get right that really make a difference…and make us want to come back. Am I right?

Here are 10 little things I’ve noticed that always make me feel good about the hotel I’m staying in:

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Real cream (such as these “mini-moos”) provided with in-room coffee maker…and not those nasty packets “non-dairy creamer.”

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Real exhaust fans in the bathroom- not just some spooky looking “vent.” 

Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Photo: Chris McGinnis)

A clean TV remote… plus a TV that does not make me flip through menus and pay per view ads to get to CNN

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Light switches that do not require an engineering degree to operate. (Who needs “twilight” in a hotel room?)

In Copenhagen! I usually prefer a walk in shower, but this tub shower with a view was pretty nice! (Chris McGinnis)

In Copenhagen! (Chris McGinnis)

A shower with plenty of light a glass door and no filthy shower curtain. 

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(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Real hangers, please! 

This hotel in Bangkok only had a heavy curtain separating the bathroom from the guest room. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

This hotel in Bangkok only had a heavy curtain separating the bathroom from the guest room. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

A real door that closes to the bathroom (not some sliding wall that does not block bathroom sound, light or odors)

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Windows that open to the outside– no hermetically sealed rooms, please. 

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

An easy to understand thermostat with AC that is not “motion controlled” and turns off in the middle of the night.

(Chris McGinnis)

(Chris McGinnis)

Plenty of knobs on which to hang towels, clothes or toilet kits in the bathroom.

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Glasses, cups or mugs that are wrapped in plastic so I know they are clean

One thing I have not yet seen, but would love to: A hotel that provides a mouse pad for use on glass-topped desks! Has anyone ever seen that? I usually have to use a menu or magazine to make my portable mouse work.

What are the “little things” that you notice when you stay at a great hotel? Please leave your comments below.

–Chris McGinnis

 

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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

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

Month #3: A TravelSkills update from Chris

Airbnb for a business trip? Mixed results

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

Mergers that make sense

Serial stowaway finally gets her free flight

3 brand new Los Angeles hotels (& 3 facelifts)

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

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

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

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.

AIRPORTS

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

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

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

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

HOTELS

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

CARS

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

In Case You Missed It…

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

>Are Airbnb properties right for a business trip?

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

— Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

Month #3: A TravelSkills update from Chris

Airbnb for a business trip? Mixed results

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

Mergers that make sense

Serial stowaway finally gets her free flight

3 brand new Los Angeles hotels (& 3 facelifts)

How to get on earlier flight without paying fee

Trip Report: ANA’s 787 Dreamliner to Tokyo

20 different biz class seats in 1 room- PHOTOS

Frequent travelers love Chick-fil-a

Kicked off flight for a tweet? Southwest responds

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

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Airbnb for a business trip? Mixed results

Airbnb balcony view

The view from the balcony of my Airbnb accommodation (Photo: Airbnb)

During a recent business trip to Los Angeles, I stayed in an Airbnb apartment for the first time. When I made the booking, I was thrilled at the prospect of getting more for less—fabulous location, more space, free parking and (of course) free high-speed wi-fi. But as a first-timer, I also had a plenty of questions about using Airbnb for a business trip.

Regular TravelSkills readers may recall why I chose Airbnb for this trip…here’s a snippet from my previous post Are Uber, Airbnb or Lyft safe?

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 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.

Recently, Airbnb has made a play specifically for the business travel market with a new, focused portal and by partnering with Concur on its TripLink product.

But does Airbnb really make sense for business travelers? Let’s see…

Airbnb living room 2

The unit’s living room was a lovely place to hang out at the end of the day. (Photo: Airbnb)

Here’s how my Airbnb stay played out:

Right off the bat, I have to say that I missed the familiarity of checking in in a hotel lobby. “Checking-in” at my Airbnb proved to be confusing and time-consuming. I was thrilled to have free parking for my rental car. So when I drove in from the airport, I followed the instructions the host provided. Entry required punching a code into a garage keypad, identifying myself and waiting for someone on the other end to open the gate. There were some miscues, and that process took about 10 minutes. The iron gate finally swung open.

The unit’s keys were to be in a lockbox on a pillar by the parking space. Thankfully, opening the lockbox went without a hitch. But then, it was not clear how to get from the parking garage into the locked building. At this point I was thinking fond and nostalgic thoughts about hotel front desks—I wanted one! After 10 more minutes, two phone calls and a few texts, I was in. Hours later I realized the fob for building entry was on the key ring. Dumb. Still, at a hotel, I would have been unpacked by then.

Bedroom in my Airbnb accommodations. What happens when you need to call "housekeeping?" (Photo: Airbnb)

Bedroom in my Airbnb accommodation. But what happens when you need to call “housekeeping” for an extra towel? (Photo: Airbnb)

Luckily, it got better once inside. The apartment was lovely and as clean as any hotel room. The view of the Convention Center, Staples Center and L.A. Live was just as the listing promised. There was complimentary coffee (Keurig!), tea, and water bottles, and snacks were provided free of charge. And of course, free wi-fi is always a welcome amenity.

The primary reason I chose this Airbnb apartment was its super-handy location. I was only a three minute walk from the front door of the LA Convention Center and reveled in the convenience– I was closer than all those other attendees at my convention who were paying significantly more up the street at the JW Marriott, or Ritz-Carlton.

Related:  Best new biz-class hotels in L.A.  | 20 business class seats in one room

In the morning, it felt a little weird waiting for the building’s elevator with some “real” (non-Airbnb) residents. And I wondered…as an Airbnb guest, was I a persona non grata? Maybe. I smiled and looked down. The following days I would conceal my convention badge.

One day while at the convention, I realized I needed my laptop, which I’d left back at the apartment. I dashed across the street and back in the span of five minutes. If I’d chosen a hotel, this would likely not have been such an easy option. Big score for Airbnb.

The front door to my Airbnb apartment near the LA Convention Center (Photo: Nancy Branka)

The front door to my Airbnb apartment near the LA Convention Center (Photo: Nancy Branka)

When the sun went down, though, I wasn’t feeling the love. I attended a convention-sponsored party at a nearby venue. Easy—just a short walk, right? When I walked over to the event in the evening light with lots of fellow conventioneers around, I felt happy about the sunset stroll.

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

However, when the event was over and I had to walk back to the apartment in the dark,  I wasn’t so sure about the neighborhood. There was no brightly lit and active hotel front door and lobby staffed by a doorman and a steady stream of cars, taxis and guests. And I wasn’t comfortable with the homeless man camped out by the building’s front door, something I’d less likely encounter at a business-class hotel.

Did my real-life Airbnb experience meet my expectations?  Overall, it was a very positive stay because of location, location, location. So I’m glad to have Airbnb in my arsenal of travel resources. Now that I’m no longer an Airbnb newbie, I would feel more comfortable about doing it again, especially for a longer stay. 

But on the other hand, there were some hassles that would make me think twice about using Airbnb again for a business trip. Every Airbnb unit, every host and each location is different– careful scrutiny of both is essential to a successful stay. Luckily, the Airbnb site is very helpful when it comes to this with plenty of safeguards, user reviews, verified photos, maps and information. But booking a brand name, business class hotel room doesn’t require such scrutiny.

Have you ever used Airbnb for business travel? Would you feel comfortable using it? Share your thoughts in the comments.

– Nancy Branka 

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:

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

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!

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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