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

Turkish Airlines's exotic business class lounge at IST (Photo: Turkish Airlines)

Turkish Airlines’s exotic business class lounge at IST– soon to connect nonstop to SFO (Photo: Turkish Airlines)

AIRLINES

Southwest’s on-time strategy. Southwest Airlines has seen its on-time performance suffer in recent months, dropping from 83 percent to 70. So it will turn to a favorite airline strategy for dealing with the problem: Starting next month, it will revise its schedules to allow for longer travel times—i.e. it will “pad its schedule.”

Turkish comes to SFO. Rapidly expanding Turkish Airlines will start San Francisco-Istanbul non-stops on April 13, 2015. Introductory fares for the 16-hour flight are already on sale for $699 in economy. Business class is running $4,000-$6,000. Turkish Flight 80 will depart SFO at  6:10PM and arrive in Istanbul at 5:05PM the next day. Flight 79 departs IST at 1:15 PM and arrives SFO at 4:25 PM on the same day. Turkish will use a Boeing 777-300ER on the 13-hour flight with business class in a 2-3-2 configuration and coach in a 3-3-3 configuration and no first class. Turkish Airlines is a member of the Star Alliance. Do you think of Turkish Airlines as “exotic?” I do and that’s how I described it on SFgate last week- but many readers felt that description was wrong. What do you think? Leave your comments below! 

JetBlue weighs a bag fee. JetBlue and Southwest are the only two major airlines that don’t charge a fee for a passenger’s first checked bag (Southwest allows two checked bags free).  But JetBlue officials, concerned about all that lost revenue,  are hinting that they might reconsider their policy and start charging for that first bag. If they do, can Southwest holdout on its own?

US Airways shuffles partnerships. US Airways has started code-sharing with Finnair, a member of sister company American Airlines’ transatlantic joint venture. US Airways’ code goes onto Finnair flights to Helsinki and beyond, from JFK and Toronto, and members of the two carriers’ frequent flyer programs now have mutual benefits. Meanwhile, Dividend Miles will end its partnerships with Singapore Airlines and Turkish Airlines effective August 1. They were holdovers from US Airways’ former Star Alliance membership.

Briefs: Like British Airways, Swiss has started charging fees for advance seat reservations; on long-haul flights, fees are $32 for a “standard seat,” $54 for a “preferred-zone” seat, and $109 for an extra-legroom seat. Unreserved seats can be selected for free within 23 hours of departure … Virgin Australia will end its Los Angeles-Melbourne service in late October, but will boost LAX-Brisbane from four flights a week to daily (and in SF we still waiting for Virgin Australia to link with Virgin America and bring some much need competition on SFO-Australia routes)… Qantas will replace the 747 on its Dallas/Ft. Worth-Sydney route with an A380 in September.

GBTA CONVENTION:

TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis is attending the big Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) convention in Los Angeles this week. The giant expo attracts about 7,000 travel industry professionals for educational sessions, speeches and panels with the likes of United’s Jeff Smisek or Delta’s Richard Anderson. It also offers an outstanding exposition where travel suppliers display and boast their latest, greatest products and services for business travelers– to me, the coolest part is the ability to check out about 20 business and first class seats in one place! Stay tuned to my Twitter feed to see what I’m seeing and hearing. Find me say HEY if you are there, too!

AIRPORTS

A mock up of the new terminal at Salt Lake City International

A mock up of SLC’s brand new terminal provided by Salt Lake City International

Salt Lake City starts massive reconstruction. Work started last week on a $1.8 billion, years-long overhaul of Salt Lake City International Airport that will replace its existing three terminals with a single extra-large one. One level of the three-story facility will be reserved for international travel and Customs. The existing airport opened 50 years ago — well before Delta started using it as a hub. The first half of the new SLC airport is due to open in 2019 and the second in 2022. Delta announced this week that it will add SLC-Amsterdam nonstops using a B767 starting next May.

CBP boosts staffing at five airports. U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it has forged partnerships with five major airports that will mean increased CBP staffing for processing international arrivals, leading to reduced waiting time. The new pacts are with SFO, LAX, MCO, LAS and DEN. The agency said similar arrangements that it has in place with DFW, IAH and MIA — combined with the new Automated Passport Control kiosks — have reduced line time at those airports by 30 percent. Have you noticed?

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

Atlanta Airport gets another PreCheck center. The TSA has opened a second PreCheck application center at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson, located pre-security in the main terminal so the general public can access it without having a boarding pass. The new TSA facility is in Terminal South near Delta’s ticket counters. (The earlier facility is at Gate A19.)

Possible LAX mess. This item appeared on TravelSkills two weeks ago, but it bears repeating: This weekend, July 25-28 in Los Angeles, is being dubbed the “Century Crunch”, when Century Blvd. — a main road into LAX, used by one-third of all passengers — will close for demolition of an old railroad bridge. Officials advise everyone to avoid the area. 

CREDIT CARD BONUS NEWS

Earn 70,000 Marriott Rewards point, fast. Are you in the market for a new credit card? How about a big fat sign up bonus? This week the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card bumped up its signing bonus to a whopping 70,000 points for a limited time. Plus you get one free night at a class 1-5 hotel just for signing up and spending $2,000 in the first three months. Learn more on our Best Credit Cards for Business Travelers page. Note: we earn a commission when you sign up for new cards using links from TravelSkills. So if you are in the market for a new card, help us help YOU! :)

sfo cab

(photo: Alfonso Jimenez)

Taxi app starts airport bookings. An app called Flywheel — which lets users hail a cab electronically, track its position, and pay with a smartphone — has started taking advance bookings for taxi rides to San Francisco-area airports, including SFO, OAK and SJC. By the end of this month, the company said, the app will provide the same service in Seattle and Los Angeles, with more locations to be added “in the coming weeks.” Interesting to watch cab companies add technology to help them compete with the likes of Uber and Lyft (which by the way are two ride-sharing companies we’ve heard are feeling the urge to merge. Stay tuned to TravelSkills for more on that as we investigate!) Don’t forget that you get $30 off your first ride if you sign up for Uber via TravelSkills links. Just do it! 

TSA seeks queue tips. The TSA is shifting so many passengers to PreCheck lanes that it is getting concerned about how fast the lines move. So the agency has turned to Innocentive.com, a “global innovation marketplace,” to offer $15,000 in prizes to persons who can come up with the best ways to overhaul TSA’s airport lines. “The concept will be used to develop a model to be applied in decision analysis and to take in considerations of site specific requirements, peak and non-peak hours, flight schedules and TSA staffing schedules,” TSA said.

In Case You Missed It…

>Delta is building a new Sky Club at San Francisco International.

>New studies determine the best and worst airports and hotels for Wi-Fi.

>”I cringe when I hear people talk about the so-called golden age of travel.” Check this InsideFlyer Q&A with Chris about his career and the travel biz. A good read!

>A leading business hotel in London will join the Hilton family in September

>New report shows where business travelers spend money. Would you believe Chick-fil-a? (Check out the controversy this post elicited in the comments!)

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis


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Best & worst hotels, airports for Wi-Fi

How I watched the #MH17 tragedy unfold

Unusual ways to earn hotel rewards points

Should I renew my CLEAR card?

New global carrier for SFO with an Indian twist

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

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Hilton’s Conrad snags posh new London hotel

A room at the Conrad London hotel (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

A room at the InterConti– soon-to-be Conrad London Westminster hotel (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Hilton’s Conrad brand announced today that it will take over the InterContinental Westminster, which just opened in December 2012. The new Hilton Conrad London Westminster will make its debut in September.

The hotel has a central London location, service, and style business travelers require. It also has a handsome restaurant and bar with a type of food you would not expect to find across the pond.

While in the UK over the holidays in 2013, I checked in at the hotel for two nights.

The hotel is located in a quiet corner of London near Buckingham Palace (Chris McGinnis)

The hotel is located in a quiet corner of London near Buckingham Palace (Chris McGinnis)

>The 256-room hotel opened as an InterContinental in early December 2012 in a quiet, yet very central area of London, in between Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. It’s next door to New Scotland Yard. It will become a Conrad this starting September 14 2014.

>The new hotel was built inside a group of 19th century buildings called the Queen Anne’s Chambers—so even though it looks traditional red-brick-London on the outside, everything inside is modern and brand new. As a matter of fact, when I was there, rooms on two floors of the hotel were still under construction.

>Room rates are currently pegged at about $450 per night in August, and since it will soon be part of Hilton,  you will be able to earn and burn HHonors points here.

The new InterContinental Westminster near Buckingham Palace. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The  InterContinental Westminster near Buckingham Palace will soon be the Hilton Conrad Westminster. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

>This is one of the few luxury hotels in London that offers free wi-fi—and since the hotel is new, it has fat, fast pipes for quick and easy downloading, streaming, etc. (No word yet on whether Conrad will offer free wi-fi.)

>Rooms are decorated in a pale palette of blondes, beige and gold, with classy wood, leather, marble and chrome finishes, which keeps the rooms bright—a good thing since most windows in the low-slung (6 story) building look out to other buildings across alleyways and streets or into light wells.

>Bathrooms are big, modern and bright with separate tubs and showers. However, I was not a fan of the large, heavy, sliding doors separating the bathroom from the sleeping room. They seem awkwardly heavy, and not very soundproof, which can be important when more than one person is in the room.

>Its fresh-faced, young, and professional staff is energetic, highly trained– delays in opening the hotel meant more training time for employees.

A lovely, quiet parlour off the main lobby area. (Chris McGinnis)

A lovely, quiet parlour off the main lobby area. (Chris McGinnis)

>Since the hotel hopes to attract London’s political set, the lobby and common areas are all connected, and designed to see and be seen. For example, when you walk in to the chic limestone, sky-lit lobby, you can look through to Emmeline’s, an elegant tea and champagne bar, then through that to Blue Boar Smokehouse, the hotel restaurant and bar. (No word yet on if or how Conrad will change the restaurants.)

>Art and interior design are inspired by the hotel’s location. For example, carpet in the corridors sports an unusual fingerprint design (for the spooks in Scotland Yard next door). Most of the paintings and sculpture include characters from London’s rich political scene, past and present—for example, there are busts are Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and London’s blustery mayor, Boris Johnson.

>There’s a gym and fitness center in the basement.

Umm. Pulled pork on a silver platter at Blue Boar Restaurant & Bar. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Umm. Pulled pork on a silver platter at Blue Boar Restaurant & Bar. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

>It felt a bit odd for me, someone who grew up in the BBQ-sauce-soaked South, to dine on smoke ribs, pulled pork, baked beans and cole slaw in London. But I did, and loved it! In typical British style, the, the BBQ at the hotel’s Blue Boar Smokehouse is served on (get this…) a silver platter. And in another hat tip to British tastes, the restaurant offers pulled lamb. Kudos to the chef Jon Ingram, who served up sweet, smoky and moist pulled pork, and spare ribs charred and spread with just the right amount of sauce. To finish, a classy finger bowl is provided to rinse sticky fingers.

>The Blue Boar Bar, with green leather love seats, plaid loungers, wooden floors and a full bar looked like it would be great fun with a crowd. But when we were there, parliamentarians were on Christmas break, so it was quiet.

>Overall, The InterContinental Westminster is a very nice, new hotel in a quiet corner of London. It will be interesting to watch how it transforms into a Conrad.

>The neighborhood around the hotel is a hotspot for new hotels… nearby you’ll find the St Ermin’s hotel and 41 Hotel both opened within the last year and both worth a look-see!

–Chris McGinnis

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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

Best & worst hotels, airports for Wi-Fi

How I watched the #MH17 tragedy unfold

Unusual ways to earn hotel rewards points

Should I renew my CLEAR card?

New global carrier for SFO with an Indian twist

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

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

Are frequent flyer programs designed to fail?

Are Uber, Airbnb or Lyft safe?

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

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

Traveling with Carly Simon (reprise)

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

5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows

How to save $$ on pricey inflight wi-fi

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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

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Airline fees up 1,200% + Unusual new seat design + Wild Dreamliner ride + Secret Service warns about hotel PCs

Southwest Airlines turning its old leather seats into sneakers & soccer balls (Photo: Southwest Airlines)

Southwest Airlines is turning its old leather seats into sneakers & soccer balls (Photo: Southwest Airlines)

AIRLINES

‘Ancillary revenues’ skyrocket. In 2007, the world’s airlines took in $2.45 billion in “ancillary revenues” — those fees they charge for various amenities and services. By 2013, that figure had jumped to $31.5 billion — a 1,200 percent increase — according to the latest study by IdeaWorks Company. That’s $16 per passenger. United had the biggest haul, at $5.7 billion, followed by Delta ($2.5 billion) and American ($2 billion, not counting US Airways’ $1.1 billion). But the airline where ancillary revenues made up the biggest portion of total revenue was Spirit, at 38.4 percent. The bulk of ancillary revenue for all airlines (except Southwest) comes from those onerous $200 change fees and of course new checked baggage fees.

Recycle, recycle, recycle! The travel industry keeps finding ways to put things to good use. Southwest Airlines just started a project that will hire African youths to remake old leather seat covers into things like shoes and soccer balls for local communities. And in Atlanta, airport concessionaire HMSHost donates about a ton of unsold food from ATL each week to the Salvation Army to help feed the city’s hungry.

Boeing bares innovations. Visitors to the renowned Farnborough Air Show in the U.K. last week got to see some stunning aerobatics by Boeing’s 787-9, the newest version of its popular Dreamliner. Check out this video and be thankful (or jealous) you weren’t along for this wild demo ride. Meanwhile, Boeing also revealed some passenger-friendly design innovations for its upcoming 777X, like larger and higher windows, a wider cabin, next-generation LED lighting and improved humidity in the cabin air.

Alaska moves at SFO. Originally slated for June 25, Alaska Airlines now says that mid-August is the target date for its move from Terminal 1 to the International Terminal’s Boarding Area A at San Francisco International. The airline’s Board Room lounge has closed, but it plans to share lounge facilities with “one of our international Mileage Plan partners” at the new location once it makes the move, a spokesman said. In other news, TSA opened a PreCheck application office in SFO’s International Terminal, pre-security, G-side, near the BART station.

More cutbacks to Caracas. Delta and United are following the lead of American in reducing service to Venezuela, due to an unresolved dispute with the government about the airlines’ ability to take money out of the country. Delta on August 1 will cut its daily Atlanta-Caracas schedule to just one flight a week. And United’s daily Houston Intercontinental-Caracas operation will be pared from seven flights a week to four as of September 17.

newseat

Unusual new airline seat designed emerging. (source: Paper Clip Design, Hong Kong)

Seats of the future? How will airlines’ coach seating evolve in the years ahead? Airbus has filed a patent for short-haul “saddle seats” that look like glorified bicycle seats and are about as uncomfortable as they could get — although a lot more of them can be crammed into an aircraft. (The company notes that just because it filed for a patent doesn’t mean it intends to use them.) Meanwhile, a Hong Kong designer has come up with a long-haul economy seat concept that protects your knees during recline and even provides an easily-shared armrest.

I’m keeping my CLEAR card. Based on your reaction to Chris’s recent post asking whether or not to spend the $179 to renew his CLEAR card, he’s decided to keep it. Reader comments were mixed but leaned more toward keeping the card.

HOTELS

hotelbizcenter

Secret Service warning re hotel business center computers. (Photo: Hilton MSP)

Beware the Business Center computers. Do you use the computers in hotel business centers? Be careful what you do on them: The Secret Service sent a warning to hotels that scammers could be infecting their public computers with malware that logs users’ keystrokes and sends the data off to the bad guys by email. The agency especially warns against using the computers for personal business that requires you to input account information and passwords. Some scammers were arrested recently near Dallas for just this kind of crime.

Wi-Fi problems bug hotel guests. The biggest complaint by far from hotel guests is a slow or inconsistent Internet connection in their room, according to the just-released 2014 study of guest satisfaction by J.D. Power and Associates. But the biggest negative impact on a guest’s satisfaction is a room that’s not clean. Among the eight hotel categories rated, Four Seasons took the number one spot for luxury hotels, Kimpton for Upper Upscale, and Hilton Garden Inn for Upscale.

Best Credit Cards

If you are in the market for a new card, please do so via the links here. Remember, when you get a new credit card via the links provided here, TravelSkills earns a commission. This is what keeps us in business cranking out meaningful content and practical advice.  THANK YOU! Best all around cards for business travelers (and what Chris carries in his wallet): Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Barclaycard Arrival Plus World MasterCard. Both offer nice 40,000 mile sign up bonuses (after spending $3,000 in first three months), and you can use miles on several airlines, hotels and other travel providers. Neither charges irritating foreign transaction fees. And the Barclaycard now has Chip & PIN for easier use overseas. That 40,000 mile bonus with Chase Sapphire is good for $500 in travel when booking through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Try it, you’ll like it!

In Case You Missed It…

>Kimpton Hotels rolls out a new rewards program with lots of unique ways to earn points.

>A major Middle Eastern carrier will start flying to SFO this fall.

>Chris offers some thoughts on the Malaysia Airlines tragedy.

–Jim Glab

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

How I watched the #MH17 tragedy unfold

Unusual ways to earn hotel rewards points

Should I renew my CLEAR card?

New global carrier for SFO with an Indian twist

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

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

Are frequent flyer programs designed to fail?

Are Uber, Airbnb or Lyft safe?

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

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

Traveling with Carly Simon (reprise)

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

5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows

How to save $$ on pricey inflight wi-fi

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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

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Unusual ways to earn hotel rewards points

Rooftop pool at Kimpton's Hotel Wilshire in LA (Photo: Kimpton)

Rooftop pool at Kimpton’s Hotel Wilshire in LA (Photo: Kimpton)

This week the Kimpton Hotel Group, the rapidly expanding chain of 62 funky and functional boutique hotels across the US, rolled out a unique new frequent stay program.

To me, the most unusual feature of the new Kimpton Karma Rewards program is that travelers earn points not just for spending the night (and spending money), but for interacting with the chain on a variety of levels, and earning “karma points.”

For example, guests who attend the chain’s signature “wine hour” in the hotel lobby and engage with the GM might find a thank you and bunch of bonus points for showing up the next time they log on to their Karma Rewards account.  The same goes for guests who check out a free Kimpton bike for a ride around town, those who tweet, Facebook or Instagram about their stays, dine in the hotel restaurant, or hold an event at a Kimpton hotel. You can even earn extra points for booking your stay directly on the hotel’s website instead of using a third party.

Kimpton has 62 hotels in the US, including 4 in NYC and 8 in DC and is aiming to soon have 100.

Kimpton has 62 hotels in the US, including 4 in NYC and 8 in DC and is aiming to soon have 100.

These extra karma points are meant to surprise and delight guests who engage on a deeper level with the variety of experiences the hotels are known for.

“When we asked our members what they loved most about Kimpton and our old InTouch program, they did not gush about how easy it was to earn free nights. The said that they love and remember the unusual touches Kimpton provides, like yoga mats and leopard print robes in closets, the automatic $10 credit on the hotel bar or in-room mini bar, free wi-fi, or the nightly wine hour. So we decided to create a new program focused providing better experiences instead of focusing on free nights,” Kimpton’s Maggie Lang told TravelSkills.

Those extra karma points can help push members up through the four tiers of the program, which come with a raft personalized benefits. For example, those as the very top tiers get a free night at brand new Kimpton hotels, top tables and complimentary apps at hotel restaurants, spa credits and of course, room upgrades (which are only available at check in and don’t include suites, a bitter pill for fellow blogger Gary Leff). Also in the unpublished list of benefits are personalized surprises, like the one you see on this video:


Kimpton did not touch how members earn points – you still get one free night after seven visits or 20 nights. But as you can tell, the new program is not all about free nights…it’s about having a better time or richer experience during your stay.

I’ve stayed at just a handful of Kimpton hotels over the years- primarily on the West Coast… the Palomar in LA, the Solamar in San Diego and the Hotel Monaco in San Francisco come to mind. I’ve also checked into the Hotel Palomar in Atlanta while it was there (it recently switched to a Marriott brand). It has four hotels in NYC and eight in Washington, DC. Kimpton hotels definitely have an colorful, quirky, hip vibe, that I enjoy and I’ve always felt like they get “the little things” exactly right.

What are your thoughts on Kimpton hotels and the new Karma Rewards program? Please leave your comments below. 

Chris McGinnis

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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:

Should I renew my CLEAR card?

New global carrier for SFO with an Indian twist

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

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

Are frequent flyer programs designed to fail?

Are Uber, Airbnb or Lyft safe?

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

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

Traveling with Carly Simon (reprise)

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

5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows

How to save $$ on pricey inflight wi-fi

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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

Please join the 25,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email per day updates!

 

 

 

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

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

jetblue

(Photo: Jim Glab)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BUSINESS TRAVEL

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

AIRPORTS

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

HOTELS

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

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

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

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

In Case You Missed It…

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

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

>How safe are ‘sharing economy’ travel suppliers?

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

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

 

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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

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

Are frequent flyer programs designed to fail?

Are Uber, Airbnb or Lyft safe?

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

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

Traveling with Carly Simon (reprise)

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

5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows

How to save $$ on pricey inflight wi-fi

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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

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Are Uber, Airbnb or Lyft safe?

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

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

By Nancy Branka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy Branka

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

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

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

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

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

Traveling with Carly Simon (reprise)

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

5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows

How to save $$ on pricey inflight wi-fi

Is Chengdu China’s Chicago?

Delta waffles on transcon upgrade policy

6 most irritating actions of infrequent flyers

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

Newer, lighter Emirates A380s coming to SFO, IAH

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

Is Uber illegal?

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

Please join the 25,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email per day updates!

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

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 7.47.04 AM

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

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

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

British Airways experimental blanket monitors passenger brainwaves

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

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

AIRPORTS

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

HOTELS

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

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

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

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

GROUND

audi

Audi A4 (from Silvercar)

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

In Case You Missed It…

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

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

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

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

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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

+++

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

facebook like

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:

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

Traveling with Carly Simon (reprise)

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

5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows

How to save $$ on pricey inflight wi-fi

Is Chengdu China’s Chicago?

Delta waffles on transcon upgrade policy

6 most irritating actions of infrequent flyers

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

Newer, lighter Emirates A380s coming to SFO, IAH

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

Is Uber illegal?

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

Please join the 25,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email per day updates!

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

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

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

AIRPORTS

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

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

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

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

 GROUND

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

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

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

INTERNATIONAL

An Air India Boeing 777 (Photo: Tom Turner)

An Air India Boeing 777 (Photo: Tom Turner)

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

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

HOTELS

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

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

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

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

In Case You Missed It…

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

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

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

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

– Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

+++

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

facebook like

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:

5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows

How to save $$ on pricey inflight wi-fi

Is Chengdu China’s Chicago?

Delta waffles on transcon upgrade policy

6 most irritating actions of infrequent flyers

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

Newer, lighter Emirates A380s coming to SFO, IAH

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

Is Uber illegal?

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

Please join the 25,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email per day updates!

 

 

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

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

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Salt Lake City Airport (Photo: Jim Glab)

Salt Lake City Airport (Photo: Jim Glab)

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

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

Please join the 25,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email per day updates!

AIRPORTS

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

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

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

HOTELS

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

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

Chevy's new Spark CARS

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

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

In Case You Missed It

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

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

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

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

-Jim Glab

+++

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

facebook like

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

Mood lights on at new Virgin America site 

First look: The newest United Club (PHOTOS)

Beer price index helps gauge cost of trips abroad

United’s new copy & paste MileagePlus program

Marriott’s M Club lounge experiment

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

Flying on a brand new United 787 Dreamliner

The sad state of summer airfares to Europe

Tip: What exactly is “high tea?”

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

Economy comfort gets an upgrade (for some)

Late summer airfare sale starts TODAY

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

Please join the 25,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email per day updates!

Marriott’s M Club lounge experiment

M Club Lounge Marriott San Francisco Airport Waterfront (Photo: Marriott)

The M Club Lounge entrance at the Marriott San Francisco Airport Waterfront conveys its hip vibe. (Photo: Marriott)

Is there steak behind Marriott’s M Club Lounge sizzle? The giant hotel chain’s fans have been buzzing about its brand new club room concept, up-and-running now at four properties: San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront, New York Marriott East Side, Wichita Marriott, and Marriott Marquis Washington, DC.

Next in the queue is an M Club at the Miami Airport Marriott, set to open in July or August. Each of the four existing clubs is a little different—varying by hours, access policies, or food service, for example.

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What’s the game-plan? Marriott’s John Wolf told TravelSkills the company is testing these lounges as they’re rolled out with a “proof of concept” approach. So, the answer is, “it depends.” It depends on what works in real-life for guests and for the brand. We’ll see if there was steak behind that sizzle of the roll-out rhetoric.

Cheerful seating at the New York Marriott East Side's M Club Lounge (Photo: Marriott)

Cheerful seating at the New York Marriott East Side’s M Club Lounge (Photo: Marriott)

The M Club Lounge concept is described by Marriott as “an exclusive space with premiere services where guests can work, enjoy a bite, recharge and connect.” The rooms provide a variety of seating options to relax or work, whether individually or in a small group. The brand-new Marriott Marquis in Washington, DC even has outdoor seating, an appealing option. Each lounge has a dedicated host, including a concierge, who can help with local recommendations and resources.

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

Of particular note for business travelers is free high-speed Internet and wi-fi printing, data ports, tablets (loaded with newspapers and magazines) and charging stations. Business services, such as computers, phone, fax, scanner and copier, are also available.

A few of the lounges are open 24 hours, which is an interesting idea—especially for those with jet lag, an off-hours flight or plain old insomnia. But hours are determined by location and are being tested by the chain.

Evening appetizers at Wichita Marriott's M Club Lounge (Photo: Marriott)

Evening appetizers at Wichita Marriott’s M Club Lounge (Photo: Marriott)

For the food and beverage side of things—for which biz travelers have high standards—there’s the expected breakfast daily, evening bar service and free appetizers. Aside from the complimentary food, a menu offers food for purchase. There’s also access to snacks and non-alcoholic drinks, including a Starbucks Single Brew Coffee Machine. And it all aims for flexibility: The idea is to provide food for consuming within the lounge, as well as grab-and-go opportunities for those who don’t want to linger.

TravelSkills reader JS from St Petersburg, FL wrote, “We stayed at the Marriott Waterfront Airport near SFO on Sunday night…. they are testing a new concept there I thought you might be interested in. The concierge lounge is now called “M Club” and it was very fancy.  Gourmet food, full service waiter/bartender.  You have to pay for drinks but the food is complimentary and it was fantastic. We had both the appetizers and dessert at night and the breakfast in the morning, nothing like I’ve ever seen before in a Marriott concierge lounge, more like Ritz-Carlton.”

Gold/Platinum Marriott Rewards members receive complimentary access and may bring one guest. For at least one property, the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront, additional guest passes can be purchased for $20 each. Others hotel guests can purchase access (upgrade) to the M Club Lounge when making reservations or upon check-in.  Upgrade prices vary among properties.

Have you experienced an M Club Lounge? What did you think? Do other hotel chains offer something similar that you like? Please leave your comments below. 

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–Nancy Branka

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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: 

Flying on a brand new United 787 Dreamliner

The sad state of summer airfares to Europe

Tip: What exactly is “high tea?”

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

Economy comfort gets an upgrade (for some)

Late summer airfare sale starts TODAY

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

JetBlue goes transpac? + Seattle battle + More 787s + Dirty planes + Centurion Lounge at MIA + New hotels for ATL SFO

Biz Trip: New York City

The most unusual Virgin breakfast

5 insider groups for ultra-connected travelers

An update on email frequency – note from Chris

Please join the 25,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email per day updates!

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

Seattle (pictured)  nabs two new nonstops to Asia (Photo: Jim Glab)

Seattle (pictured) nabs two new nonstops to Asia (Photo: Jim Glab)

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

AIRLINES

U.S. carriers launch new transpac routes. Transpacific travelers are getting several new options this month. Delta last week started daily non-stops from Seattle to Seoul, and on June 16 will add daily flights from SEA to Hong Kong. At San Francisco International, United plans a June 9 start for non-stop 787 service to Chengdu, China three times a week. (TravelSkills will be on the inaugural flight so stay tuned for our report!) And June 11 is the launch date for American’s new daily non-stops between Dallas/Ft. Worth and Shanghai Pudong. Meanwhile, Cathay Pacific last week added a fourth daily frequency to its LAX-Hong Kong route, and Etihad kicked off daily Los Angeles-Abu Dhabi transatlantic flights.

Survey slams slim-line seats. Those new slim-line seats that some airlines are installing in economy class aren’t a big hit with passengers, according to a new Tripadvisor survey of 4,300 flyers. Almost two-thirds said the slim-line seats are less comfortable than traditional seating. Uncomfortable seating remains air travelers’ top complaint (73 percent), followed by high fares and fees (66 percent), flight delays (45 percent), long waits at security (35 percent) and whiney kids (32 percent). Have you spent much time in slim-line seats yet? What did you think?

Delta's new A321s will be made in Mobile, Alabama (Airbus)

Delta’s new 195-seat Airbus A321s will be made in Mobile, Alabama (Airbus)

Airlines go for A321s. After years of adding Airbus A319 and A320 narrow-bodies to their fleets, U.S. carriers are now trending toward the larger A321. Delta just ordered 15 more (for a total of 45, starting in 2016); American selected specially-configured A321s for its new transcon fleet, and JetBlue will use them for its new premium-cabin (Mint) transcon service as well. What’s the attraction? They can carry many more passengers (e.g., 192 seats on Delta’s version, vs. 150 for its A320s) for almost the same amount of fuel burn.

Eagle getting new jets. American Airlines has taken delivery of the first of 30 new CRJ-900s that will fly under the American Eagle banner. They’ll have 12 first class, 32 Main Cabin Extra and 32 main cabin seats, and they’ll be equipped with Gogo Wi-Fi technology. No word yet on which routes get them first.

US Airways adds code-shares to Germany. American Airlines has long had code-sharing with oneworld partner airberlin, and now AA affiliate US Airways does too. US Airways’ code has gone onto airberlin flights from ORD, MIA and JFK to Berlin; and from MIA, JFK and Ft. Myers, Fla. to Dusseldorf.

2 most popular TravelSkills posts last week: 5 key questions to ask at hotel check in | Tip: What exactly is “high tea?”

AIRPORTS

Free Champers at the brand new United Club at SFO on opening day! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Free Champers at the brand new United Club at SFO on opening day! Stay tuned to TravelSkills for a slideshow! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

New UA Club at SFO. United recently opened a temporary 5,000-square-foot United Club at San Francisco International. It is located on the mezzanine level over the corridor connecting the new Boarding Area E with Boarding Area F. The temporary 100-seat club is expected to be open for only 16 months while a brand new United Club is being built nearby. It supplements existing Clubs in T3′s Boarding Area F Rotunda and the International Terminal. TravelSkills was there with a camera on opening day so stay tuned for a slideshow! 

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ATL offers free Wi-Fi. Travelers at Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson can now access the Web anywhere, for no charge, using a system operated by ATL itself. Previously, a $4.95 fee applied. “The lack of free Wi-Fi put our airport at a competitive disadvantage and it was the number one complaint we would receive from our customers,” a spokesman said. Have you had a chance to try it yet? Let us know about your experience in the comments below! 

HOTELS

Hilton adds a new brand. Like Marriott’s Autograph Collection, Hilton Worldwide has created a new brand of independently owned and operated hotels that will participate in Hilton’s reservations and marketing networks and its HHonors program. Initial members of the new Curio-A Collection by Hilton are the SLS Las Vegas; Sam Houston Hotel, Houston; Hotel Alex Johnson, Rapid City, S.D.; and Franklin Hotel, Chapel Hill, N.C.

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

The brand new Park Hyatt  Vienna is open! (Photo: Hyatt)

The brand new Park Hyatt Vienna is open! (Photo: Hyatt)

New hotels from Hyatt, Loews. Hyatt has opened its first hotel in Austria. The Park Hyatt Vienna, on Am Hof Square, is a rebuild of a 100-year-old bank. Meanwhile, an early July closing is expected for Loews Hotels’ acquisition of the Graves 601 Hotel Wyndham Grand in downtown Minneapolis; and the Radisson Plaza Hotel Minneapolis will be rechristened the Radisson Blu July 7 after a massive renovation.

In Case You Missed It…

>There are five questions you should always ask when checking into a hotel.

 >Take a tour of United’s first and business class lounges at London Heathrow’s brand-new Terminal 2.

>Pricing your summer trip to Europe? Be prepared for sticker shock!

>June 30 is the launch date for the reincarnation of 1980s low-fare carrier PEOPLExpress, operating three routes out of Newport News, Va.

–Jim Glab 

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

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts: 

Flying on a brand new United 787 Dreamliner

The sad state of summer airfares to Europe

Tip: What exactly is “high tea?”

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

Economy comfort gets an upgrade (for some)

Late summer airfare sale starts TODAY

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

JetBlue goes transpac? + Seattle battle + More 787s + Dirty planes + Centurion Lounge at MIA + New hotels for ATL SFO

Biz Trip: New York City

The most unusual Virgin breakfast

5 insider groups for ultra-connected travelers

An update on email frequency – note from Chris

Please join the 25,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email per day updates!

Tip: What exactly is “high tea?”

Afternoon tea at the Palm Court in London's elegant Langham Hotel is a sight to behold! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Afternoon tea at the Palm Court in London’s elegant Langham Hotel is a sight to behold! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Next time you are traveling in the UK or elsewhere in the current or former British Empire and a friend or colleague invites you “to tea” will you know what he or she means?

“Tea” can refer to any of several different meals or mealtimes, depending on a country’s customs and its history of drinking tea.

“Afternoon tea” is likely the meal most Americans think of when they hear the term. Afternoon tea is taken between 4 and 6pm and involves tea, scones, clotted cream, finger sandwiches, stacked plates, sweets (see photo) and good manners. It’s the type of tea you’ve likely seen in grand London hotels like the Langham or The Ritz. It’s also what you get on an afternoon flight back from the UK on British Airways.

Related: The sad state of summer airfares to Europe

Important: Afternoon tea is NOT “high tea.” High tea, or just “tea” is the typical hot, heavier evening meal served between 6-8 pm. (What most Americans think of as dinner or supper.) Americans tend to think of high tea as the fancy one…but it is not.

Of course, usage varies by class and location, so if confused by an invitation “to tea,” just be sure to clarify.

Here’s some more info on afternoon tea etiquette from The Langham Hotel’s Palm Court.

What do you think of the tradition of afternoon tea? Is it an appropriate venue for business discussion? Who does it best? 

Chris McGinnis

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

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts: 

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

Economy comfort gets an upgrade (for some)

Late summer airfare sale starts TODAY

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

JetBlue goes transpac? + Seattle battle + More 787s + Dirty planes + Centurion Lounge at MIA + New hotels for ATL SFO

Biz Trip: New York City

The most unusual Virgin breakfast

5 insider groups for ultra-connected travelers

An update on email frequency – note from Chris

Bigger, better RJs + Virgin website + More premium economy + ATL roadways + SFO on-airport hotel

Huge hotel mash-up in the works?

Marriott’s 4,000th hotel opens

Unusual collection: Airline amenity kits (photos)

Surviving “tourist season” at the airport: Chris on CNN

5 new business class hotels in Boston

Virgin Atlantic to fly to Atlanta!

Please join the 25,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email per day updates!

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

Checking in at the mod new Homewood Suites in downtown Denver (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Checking in at the mod new Homewood Suites in downtown Denver (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

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

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: Biz Trip: New York City | 5 New Business Class Hotels in Boston

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 ask below… or comment on mine! 

Please join the 25,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email per day updates!

Chris McGinnis

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

facebook like

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: 

JetBlue goes transpac? + Seattle battle + More 787s + Dirty planes + Centurion Lounge at MIA + New hotels for ATL SFO

Biz Trip: New York City

The most unusual Virgin breakfast

5 insider groups for ultra-connected travelers

An update on email frequency – note from Chris

Bigger, better RJs + Virgin website + More premium economy + ATL roadways + SFO on-airport hotel

Huge hotel mash-up in the works?

Marriott’s 4,000th hotel opens

Unusual collection: Airline amenity kits (photos)

Surviving “tourist season” at the airport: Chris on CNN

5 new business class hotels in Boston

Virgin Atlantic to fly to Atlanta!

Please join the 25,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email per day updates!

 

JetBlue goes transpac? + Seattle battle + More 787s + Dirty planes + Centurion Lounge at MIA + New hotels for ATL SFO

JetBlue hopes to be able to sell these Singapore Air seats as its very own with a proposed code share agreement (Photo:  Chris McGinnis)

JetBlue hopes to be able to sell these Singapore Air seats as its very own with a proposed code share agreement (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

JetBlue adds transpacific service (kinda). Most of JetBlue’s code-sharing deals with foreign carriers are unilateral — i.e., the partner’s code goes on domestic JetBlue flights, but not vice-versa. But now JetBlue wants government approval for a new partnership with Singapore Airlines that puts JetBlue’s code onto flights from San Francisco to Singapore via Hong Kong and via Seoul; from LAX to SIN via Tokyo Narita; and from New York JFK to SIN via Frankfurt. Singapore’s code would go onto 16 domestic JetBlue routes.

‘Battle for Seattle’ heats up. Alaska Airlines and Delta are ramping up efforts to outdo each other with new Seattle routes. In the latest round, Alaska said that next spring, it will add 27 more daily departures at SEA, to destinations including Boise, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Fairbanks, Palm Springs and Sacramento. That’s in addition to new service starting this spring and summer to New Orleans, Tampa, Baltimore, Detroit and Albuquerque.

Southwest Airlines mobile boarding passes now available at all US airports

Southwest Airlines mobile boarding passes now available at all US airports

Meanwhile, Delta plans to add SEA service to Spokane and Calgary on November 3, and to Maui, Bozeman, Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta on December 20.

Southwest finishes boarding pass rollout. Southwest Airlines said its passengers at airports throughout the U.S. can now use mobile boarding passes on smartphones and other electronic devices, and that its iOS and Android apps have been upgraded to provide flight status, boarding position and gate information. “Travel information will update in the app beginning 24 hours prior to a flight allowing customers to check in and access their mobile boarding pass from the homepage,” Southwest said.

New 787 routes coming. After the troubled rollout of the 787 Dreamliner, the FAA seems to be gaining confidence in the aircraft. Boeing said the agency will now allow 787s to fly routes that take them up to five and a half hours from the nearest airport; the previous limit was three hours. Air Canada, which starts flying its first 787 next month between Toronto-Tokyo Haneda, has revealed plans for the interiors of its international Dreamliners. And pilots at American Airlines have started 787 training; the first of its 42 Dreamliners arrives in November, although AA hasn’t yet said where it will fly them.

Study: Aircraft interiors are bug-friendly (esp seat pockets). Here’s a cautionary tale for travelers: A two-year FAA-funded study conducted by Auburn University found that dangerous bacteria can survive for up to a week on surfaces that passengers come in contact with aboard commercial airlines — “particularly the porous material such as arm rests and seat pockets,” the researchers said.  

AIRPORTS

Inside the big bright new Queen's Terminal (T2) at London Heathrow (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Inside the big bright new Queen’s Terminal (T2) at London Heathrow (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Heathrow’s new T2 opens. London Heathrow’s brand-new Terminal 2 will open for business this Wednesday, June 4, when United moves its operations there from Terminals 1 and 4. The new T2 will bring together all 23 Star Alliance carriers at LHR, as well as Aer Lingus, Virgin Atlantic’s Little Red and Germanwings, with moves scheduled over the next several months. The airport also issued a list of all the new shops and restaurants in T2. The spacious new terminal replaces the old T2, which was demolished in 2009. Known as the Queen’s Terminal, it will be dedicated by Her Majesty on June 23. Check out the TravelSkills slideshow from our sneak peek at United’s posh new business and first class lounges at T2!

Please join the 25,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email per day updates!

AmEx lounge coming to MIA. But who knows when? American Express announced plans to open an 8,000-square-foot Centurion Lounge — its fifth — at Miami International, although it didn’t give an opening date. AmEx already operates lounges at DFW and LAS, and plans to open others this year at New York LaGuardia and San Francisco International. For some strange reason, American Express is being coy about opening dates for all these lounges…

HOTELS

Atlanta, San Francisco get new hotels. Hyatt Hotels has cut the ribbon on what it calls “the first new full-service build in Atlanta’s Central Perimeter market in 25 years” — the 177-room Hyatt Atlanta Perimeter at Villa Christina. It’s inside the Perimeter and minutes from the Buckhead neighborhood at 4000 Summit Boulevard. In San Francisco, the 153-room boutique Hotel G has opened at 386 Geary Street; it’s a remake of the former Hotel Frank/Fielding Hotel.

In Case You Missed It…

>Check out our new guide to secret social media sites for business travel insiders.

>Is InterContinental Hotels Group going to be absorbed by Starwood?

>The 116 Protea Hotels in Africa and the Middle East that Marriott recently acquired can now be booked through Marriott central reservations and Marriott.com.

>Delta has resumed seasonal JFK-Copenhagen service, and United has done the same in the Chicago-Edinburgh market.

Please join the 25,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email per day updates!

–Jim Glab

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

facebook like

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: 

Biz Trip: New York City

The most unusual Virgin breakfast

5 insider groups for ultra-connected travelers

An update on email frequency – note from Chris

Bigger, better RJs + Virgin website + More premium economy + ATL roadways + SFO on-airport hotel

Huge hotel mash-up in the works?

Marriott’s 4,000th hotel opens

Unusual collection: Airline amenity kits (photos)

Surviving “tourist season” at the airport: Chris on CNN

5 new business class hotels in Boston

Virgin Atlantic to fly to Atlanta!

Huge hotel mash-up in the works?

The new (ish) InterContinental New York Times Square is one of my favorites (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The new (ish) InterContinental New York Times Square is one of my favorites (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

News broke today (Monday May 26) that the UK-based InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) is the target of a takeover by a US hotel company, which many believe to be Starwood Hotels & Resorts. IHG has reportedly rejected the $10 billion offer. (Memorial Day in the US and a bank holiday in the UK mean news is scant on this one.)

IHG brands include Holiday Inn, Indigo, Crowne Plaza, InterContinental and Staybridge Suites, among others.

Despite the rejection, Starwood could come back with a sweeter offer. Britain’s newspaper The Guardian speculated “InterContinental’s attraction to an American business would be to help it save billions by moving its tax domicile to Britain.”

This would be an interesting combination for frequent travelers. IHG’s Rewards Club is the largest hotel loyalty program in the world. Starwood’s Preferred Guest program is undeniably one of the most popular. A mash up of the two programs would expand earning and burning opportunities like crazy.

RELATED5 new business class hotels in Boston | Marriott’s 4,000th hotel opens

My first reaction is to try and figure out which IHG brands or hotel would align best with current Starwood brands. Here are a few thoughts. I’d love to hear yours!

First off, Starwood is likely after IHG for its prize: The Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express brands. Starwood has always lacked a strong midscale product (4 Points just doesn’t cut it) and this would round out its brand portfolio nicely.

If Starwood gets IHG, I bet it would keep the well-known Holiday Inn Brand, but likely fold IHG’s other brands into existing Starwood brands.

Starwood's new (and very popular) Aloft brand now at SFO (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

I’m a big fan of IHG’s hip Indigo Brand, and could see most of those new hotels easily folded into Starwood’s trendy W or Aloft brands.

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IHG’s InterContinental brand would probably split up, with its nice grand dames mixing nicely with Starwood’s Luxury Collection, Le Meridien or maybe even St Regis (although many would need significant upgrades.) For example, I could see the InterContinental Mark Hopkins in SF or the Barclay in NYC in that category. The larger, more modern convention-style InterContinentals (like the InterContinental Times Square, or the one by Moscone Center in SF) would likely become Westins or Sheratons.

Speaking of Sheratons, I could seen nearly all of InterConti’s Crowne Plaza hotels (primarily focused on meetings and, at least in my experience, hosting flight crews) fitting into the Starwood portfolio best as Sheratons.

IHG’s Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites would likely become Element hotels, Starwood’s new extended stay product.

How do you think Starwood and IHG would mash up? Does the combination of these two giant brands excite or scare you? Please leave your comments below!

Please join the 25,000 people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email per day updates!

–Chris McGinnis

Link to Guardian story here

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts: 

Marriott’s 4,000th hotel opens

Unusual collection: Airline amenity kits (photos)

Surviving “tourist season” at the airport: Chris on CNN

5 new business class hotels in Boston

Virgin Atlantic to fly to Atlanta!

4 warning signs of a long hot summer

Which airlines are most generous with miles?

Runway closure at SFO to impact summer travel

London’s highest hotel opens + More Delta to Europe + Southwest/AirTran integration + Ranking frequent flyer programs +

Is Delta the airline to beat?

Behind the Scenes at Cathay Pacific: 10 Cool Things Revealed

Feast your eyes on United’s new London lounges

Marriott’s 4,000th hotel opens

The wonderment of PreCheck

Tip: Snag the best hotel room

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Marriott’s 4,000th hotel opens

"The Birth of the American Flag" dominates the hotel's atrium. (Photo: Christian Molina)

“The Birth of the American Flag” dominates the hotel’s atrium. (Photo: Christian Molina)

Marriott opened its 4,000th property (!) on May 1, The Marriott Marquis Washington, DC, which (at 1,175 rooms) is now the largest hotel in town. It is located on Massachusetts Avenue, on the northern edge of the city core, adjacent to the huge Washington Convention Center.

The mammoth property is Marriott Rewards Category 6 where a one-night stay will cost you 25,000-30,000 points. Rates in June range from $180 to $400 per night. 

Ironically, the company’s 87-year history began with a more humble nine-seat root beer stand just up the street– a small replica of which turns out burgers, fries and root beer floats in the hotel’s cavernous lobby.

As can be expected with any brand new hotel, the hotel’s 11 TripAdvisor reviews (as of May 25) show plenty of praise, but also report uneven service issues and some kinks that still need to be worked out.

Check out these five cool features of the newest Marriott Marquis:

1. Art and architecture is meant to wow. The hotel’s 40,000-square-foot roof is all glass, so natural light floods the atrium and lobby (A.K.A. The Greatroom). Interior-facing rooms take advantage of this light. Exterior-facing rooms have views of downtown Washington, D.C. A 56-foot high, 27,000-pound sculpture, The Birth of the American Flag (above), by Baltimore-based sculptor Rodney Carroll is the largest piece of artwork in any Marriott Hotel. Even the lobby floor is art: a cherry blossom branch inset in the white marble.

Guest rooms are decked out in tech features. (Photo: Michaelann Millrood)

Guest rooms are decked out in tech features. (Photo: Michaelann Millrood)

2. The hotel has exactly what business travelers really care about: super fast, reliable wi-fi. Marriott installed a cutting edge DAS System (Distributed Antenna System) in this hotel to guarantee a strong wireless signal. (We prefer free everywhere, but Wi-Fi is $12.95 per day in guest rooms and complimentary in public spaces.) In the lobby, outlets and USB ports are plentiful. In guest rooms, you can stream your own content from your tablet or smartphone to the room’s interactive super-TVs. And just about anything can be done with your phone, from mobile check-in to ordering up room service.

Please join the 25,000 people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email per day updates!

3. The M Club Lounge for Marriott Rewards Silver and Gold Elite members sounds spectacular. And it’s open 24-hours, a cool place to work or get a bite to eat when you’re jetlagged and can’t sleep or to get assistance from the concierge. There’s even an outdoor terrace to get some fresh air. Have you experienced an M Club yet? Marriott Gold and Platinum members get in free. Others can pay $20. Recently we’ve received a lot of positive comments from TravelSkills readers pleasantly surprised about the new M Club….please leave your comments below.)

The Marriott Marquis is located on Massachusetts Ave by the city's massive convention center, north of The Mall (Rendering from Marriott)

The 1,126-room Marriott Marquis is located on Massachusetts Ave by the city’s massive convention center, north of The Mall (Rendering from Marriott)

4. The 8,000-square-foot bi-level fitness center has the latest equipment and technology—but in a historic space. It is located in what was originally the Samuel Gompers AFL-CIO building: The hotels’ new exterior enwraps the historic building. The fitness center’s Technogym equipment is also used by the military in their training.

5. The hotel is as deep as it is tall. (That’s 96 feet down…and up, with 15 above-ground floors.) Meeting space that is below-grade manages to incorporate natural light in the corridors that filters down from stories above.

Bonus! Because when you’re in the nation’s capital, you might as well imbibe it, so we couldn’t resist adding: Cocktails in the hotel’s Dignitary lounge are based on past presidents’ favorites. And check out this infographic with cool stats on the hotel.

What’s your favorite hotel in DC? Why? Please leave your comments below.

Please join the 25,000 people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email per day updates!

–Nancy Branka

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5 new business class hotels in Boston

They say you can still smell the sugar inside this hotel housed in an old candy factory (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

They say you can still smell the sugar inside this hotel housed in an old candy factory (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.

On a recent quick spin through Boston on business, I was able to stay overnight at one brand new hotel, have a business breakfast at another, and walk through several others. Here’s my report: 

Necco WafersThe 120-room Residence Inn Boston Downtown/Seaport (pictured above) opened in June 2013 in the gentrifying Fort Point or Seaport neighborhood across a small channel from the downtown core and just north of the sprawling convention center. What’s most unique about this six-story, red brick hotel is that it’s housed in what was once a New England Confectionary Company factory—the place where they made NECCO wafers. I have to say that it’s unlike any other Residence Inn I’ve ever seen: all rooms have 12-foot ceilings of exposed timber and utilities and are spacious by Boston standards at around 450-500 square feet. As is the case at all Residence Inns, there’s a small kitchen in each suite for those on long term stays. But if you are just there overnight, don’t miss the generous hot breakfast served in the lobby each morning. Since the hotel is so new, the free wi-fi is blisteringly fast and simple to log on. The Fort Point neighborhood is great for evening walks, and there are plenty of popular restaurants and bars within a few blocks. My favorite: Sam’s at Louis with an outstanding view across the harbor where you can watch planes landing at Logan Airport. There’s also the chic, upscale Italian Sportello next door. Rates run from $299-$699 depending on demand.

The Loews Boston is in the old Police Precinct Building (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The Loews Boston is in the old Police Precinct Building (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The 225-room Loews Boston Hotel used to be the Back Bay Hotel, located near the city’s South End and Theatre District. Boston Common is just a few blocks away. Interestingly, before it was the Back Bay Hotel, it was the Boston Police Precinct Headquarters, a designation that is carved into the building’s freshly scrubbed limestone façade. Once Loews got its hands on the hotel, it meticulously (and deeply) renovated the entire building, floor by floor—the big job just completed in March 2014. Unusual: In the hotel’s cozy lounge area off the main lobby, there’s an enormous nine-panel video wall tuned to news stations all day. Even if you don’t stay at the Loews, slip into the excellent Precinct Kitchen + Bar on the lower level for a power breakfast with colleagues like I did. Impressed! As in all Loews hotels these days, wifi is free throughout the hotel.

Check out the mod lobby in the new Revere hotel in Boston. Chic! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Check out the mod lobby in the new Revere hotel in Boston. Don’t let the hulking exterior fool you. This place is chic! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The 370-room Revere Hotel Boston Common hotel in the Theatre District used to be a giant, imposing concrete Radisson hotel. While the hulking concrete shell remains, the interior is hip, modern and well-done. Most rooms sport big, oval white enamel desks and stark white bathrooms. One of the best features left over from the hotel’s former life are the balconies accessed through sliding glass doors in every room. One of my hotel pet peeves are rooms without access to fresh air from windows that open. At the Revere, that’s not a problem! The hotel renovation was completed in April 2012 and rooms run in the $300-$500 range, depending on demand. Fortune magazine recently named The Revere as one of the Best New Business Hotels in the US for 2013.

A room at the recently re-done Boxer Hotel on Boston's North End (Photo: Boxer Hotel)

A room at the recently re-done Boxer Hotel on Boston’s North End (Photo: Boxer Hotel)

The recently revamped, Flatiron-shaped, 80-room Boxer hotel (formerly the Bullfinch) is located in the North End near Beacon Hill. Rooms are on the small side, but offer free wi-fi, in-room Keurig coffee makers and cool, gray interiors with soft touches like tufted headboards and plaid blankets paired with more industrial and steel, wood and stone desks. A full renovation of all rooms and the restaurant (Finch) was completed in May 2013. Room rates run in the $200-$300 range.

No front desk at the new Chandler Suites (Photo: Chandler Suites)

No front desk at the new Chandler Suites (Photo: Chandler Suites)

A stay at the tiny 12-room Chandler Studios Boston probably feels more like Airbnb than a regular hotel. Guests check in at the nearby Chandler Inn and then get an escort to the new building (completed in October 2012) where they enter via a keyless entry system (no front desk or lobby). Each studio has a fully equipped kitchenette, free wi-fi and phone service. Interiors are clean and modern with oversized black and white vintage photos on the walls. Rates: $300-$400 per night.

What’s your favorite hotel in Boston… and why? Please leave your comments below! 

–Chris McGinnis

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London’s highest hotel opens + More Delta to Europe + Southwest/AirTran integration + Ranking frequent flyer programs +

Check out the view from a desk in a room a London's newest hotel. See below for details (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Check out the view from a desk in a guestroom a London’s newest, tallest hotel. It’s located south of the Thames. See below for details (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

AIRLINES

Delta boosts Europe service from JFK, ATL. On June 16, Delta will kick off new year-round daily service between New York JFK and Zurich, using a 767-300ER; the airline also recently started seasonal daily A330-300 flights from JFK to Rome. From its Atlanta hub, Delta said that this coming winter it plans to increase European frequencies as well, offering four flights a day to both Paris and Amsterdam in conjunction with joint venture partners Air France and KLM.

Southwest expands mobile boarding passes; relaunches credit card; will end AirTran program. Southwest Airlines, which was slow to start out with mobile boarding pass technology, is catching up. Previously available only in at Dallas-Love, Houston-Hobby and Austin airports, the airline’s mobile passes are now offered to passengers flying out of Baltimore/Washington, Phoenix, Orlando, Denver and Chicago Midway. Meanwhile, Southwest has started to notify members of subsidiary AirTran’s frequent flyer program that the latter’s A+ Rewards plan will be fully integrated into Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program in November. The Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card is now offering a 25,000 points sign up bonus  (enough for a roundtrip flight) after spending just $1,000 in first three months, plus a 6,000 point bump every year on your cardmember anniversary. 

Survey: Alaska’s Mileage Plan is tops in member satisfaction. Members of Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan frequent flyer program are more satisfied than those in other carrier loyalty programs, according to the results of a new survey by J.D. Power and Associates. Southwest’s Rapid Rewards ranked second, followed by JetBlue’s TrueBlue. J.D. Power doesn’t assign specific scores to United, Delta and American, but rather describes their loyalty member satisfaction levels as “about average.” It looks like United’s Mileage Plus program did a bit better than American AAdvantage and Delta SkyMiles, which tied. US Airways Dividend Miles program was at the bottom. Virgin America was not included in the survey, but there’s no explanation as to why not.

Frontier's animal emblazoned planes (tails and even winglets) coming to Dulles (Photo: Lynn Friedman / Flickr)

Frontier’s popular animal-emblazoned planes (tails and even winglets) coming to Dulles (Photo: Lynn Friedman / Flickr)

Frontier adds a big presence at Washington Dulles. Denver-based Frontier Airlines, now an ultra-low-cost carrier (i.e., it recently started charging a fee for overhead bin carry-on bags), will invade new turf this summer when it starts flying out of Washington Dulles to 14 destinations. On August 19, it will begin service from IAD to Atlanta (6x per week), Charlotte, Orlando, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Tampa. On September 8, it will add flights to Chicago O’Hare, Cincinnati, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas, Memphis, Fort Myers, St. Louis and Jacksonville/St. Augustine.

American unveils new routes for the fall. American Airlines will add eight new routes to its domestic network in the months ahead, operated as American Eagle or US Airways Express service. Grand Rapids-Charlotte and Grand Rapids-Philadelphia flights start September 3. Routes kicking off October 2 include Charlotte-Evansville, Ind.; Charlotte-Ft. Wayne, Ind.; Chicago-Bismarck, N.D.; Dallas/Ft Worth-Bismarck; Philadelphia-Ft. Wayne and Phoenix-Cleveland.

AIRPORTS

United and Delta offering posh pick ups at LAX (Photo: United)

United and Delta offering posh planeside pick ups at LAX (Photo: United)

United adds tarmac transfers at LAX. Selected United Global Services and United Global First customers at Los Angeles International Airport can now make flight connections in style via a chauffeur-driven Mercedes across the tarmac. This new trend in premium pampering was started by Delta (with Porsches) and then picked up by United, which already offers it at Chicago-ORD, Houston-IAH, Newark-EWR and SFO.

Atlanta & Charlotte airports get new automated passport kiosks. Both Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson and Charlotte Douglas International Airport have deployed new automated passport control kiosks that should help to speed up the entry process for U.S. citizens who are not members of Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry trusted traveler program. The self-service touch-screen kiosks can reduce line time by 20 to 50 percent. Charlotte also got a new application center for travelers who want to join TSA’s PreCheck program.

New American Eagle gates debut at DFW. Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport this month opened a new 10-gate concourse extension of Terminal B to handle American Eagle regional jet flights. The 20,000-square-foot extension has charging stations, free Wi-Fi and “a comfort zone seating area,” and its entrance is adjacent to a Skylink station.

HOTELS

Business properties open in London, Washington. It opened several months behind its original schedule, but officials of Shangri-La Hotels this month finally cut the ribbon on the group’s first London property, with 202 rooms occupying floors 34 through 52 of The Shard, an 87-story pointed tower near London Bridge (south side of the Thames) that claims to be the tallest building in western Europe. Shangri-La Hotel At The Shard has guestrooms with floor-to-ceiling windows and nightly rates starting at $759. (TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis was there last month for a sneak peek and snagged the photo above.) Meanwhile, Marriott’s newly opened Marriott Marquis Washington D.C., linked to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, is the largest in the nation’s capital with 1,175 rooms.

In Case You Missed It….

>Potentially delay-inducing runway construction got off to a good start last week at SFO– on Sunday, delays did not exceed one hour for most of the day.

>Virgin America last week won two gates at Dallas Love Field.

>Members of Marriott Rewards can now earn up to 2,000 points a month for their social media activity.

>Booked your vacation flights yet? Don’t wait: The volume of U.S. air travel this summer is expected to be the highest in six years.

–Jim Glab

5 new & notable hotels in Hong Kong

Marriott Courtyard Hong Kong

The lobby of the Courtyard by Marriott Sha Tin is designed for business travelers’ convenience, but is still stunning. (Photo: Courtyard by Marriott)

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. In an ongoing feature, TravelSkills will report on the newest hotels in the world’s best business cities. We begin here with Hong Kong.

On my recent visit to Hong Kong, a city bustling with new construction, I toured five new and notable hotels that would especially appeal to business travelers. Here’s how I sized them up.

Courtyard by Marriott Sha Tin

Opened on March 18, 2013, the 539-room Courtyard by Marriott Sha Tin will feel very comfortable for North American business travelers. Its design reflects an upscale and very refreshing version of state-side Courtyards, with Asian touches. Its location in Sha Tin, in the New Territories, may be an asset or a deal breaker, depending on your needs. My guide and I took the Metro from the airport—with several transfers—plus a taxi, which took almost an hour. A taxi from the hotel to the Central district on Hong Kong Island will set you back about $20.00. However, if your meetings are in the New Territories, you’ll enjoy being in a more green and relaxing environment. The location also makes it relatively affordable, with very reasonable rates ($360 – $450 standard double). Rooms feel shiny-new and are designed for business travelers with a spacious desk and Wi-Fi. Many have pleasant views of the river. For dining, the MoMo café serves both Western and Asian cuisine and is appropriate for casual dining, plus two beautiful private dining rooms are perfect for business meals. On TripAdvisor, currently ranks just #51 out of 99 business class hotels– likely because it’s so new with only 108 reviews compared to thousands for other more established hotels. 

The glass-bottom pool at Hotel Indigo (Photo: Hotel Indigo Hong Kong Island)

The glass-bottom pool at Hotel Indigo (Photo: Hotel Indigo Hong Kong Island)

Hotel Indigo Hong Kong Island

If you’ve stayed in a Hotel Indigo elsewhere, you have an idea of what to expect here. Great, funky design. 138 well appointed rooms. A small lobby but with a hip vibe. We had trouble finding the 29-story hotel (a full renovation completed in February 2013)—it’s tucked away but deceptively convenient to the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre and shopping, in the Central district. A Metro stop is a very short walk from the hotel. Internet is free for guests, and the hotel has a business center. The hotel restaurant, Café Post, looked pleasant enough for business dining, and the “library” is a pleasant lounge I know I’d enjoy sitting in to do some work. A rooftop bar is an appealing spot for cocktails. Nearby, I couldn’t help but be curious about the glass-bottom pool. Upon closer look, I could see that one end of it cantilevers over the sidewalk, many stories down, indeed with a glass bottom so swimmers can watch pedestrians stroll by (and vice versa I suppose). Rooms range from $206 to $464 in an IHG.com search for June stays. On TripAdvisor, Hotel Indigo Hong Kong Island  currently ranks #16 out of 99 business class hotels.

Mira Moon's whimsical Secret Garden is an enchanting place for a cocktail. (Photo: Nancy Branka

Mira Moon’s whimsical Secret Garden is an enchanting place for a cocktail. (Photo: Nancy Branka

Mira Moon

Well located in the Wan Chai neighborhood of Hong Kong Island and with a stunning look, the Mira Moon hotel, which just opened in Q4 of 2013, is tiny and would be ideal for a business traveler looking for something different. The hotel’s design firm took an ancient Chinese legend about the moon, immortality and a rabbit, and carried it throughout in charming details. Colorful mosaics abound, as do the hotel’s signature red chairs. In a perfect world (with an unlimited budget), I would reserve one of these room long-term as a pied-à-terre. Each floor contains just four rooms ($220 – $323), for a total of 91. The metro station is three blocks away, and shopping is close. The Super Giant Tapas restaurant (Spanish-Chinese fusion small plates) is casual but very appropriate for business dining—its private room would be perfect for a larger dinner meeting. But the standout venue for me was the Secret Garden bar’s outdoor patio—a surprise on the third floor–its high walls planted thick with lush greenery. It’s an incredibly pleasant spot for a cocktail, to get to know a client, or to catch up on some work. On TripAdvisor, Mira Moon does not currently appear in the ranking of business class hotels.

Dim Sum at the Ritz Carlton's Tin Lung Heen is incredibly elegant. (Photo: Ritz Carlton)

Dim Sum at the Ritz Carlton’s Tin Lung Heen is incredibly elegant. (Photo: Ritz Carlton)

Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong

One of the most spectacular hotels in the world, the Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong may not be the newest hotel in town (it opened in 2011), but it is many other –ests, including the highest hotel in the world. Subjectively, it could be said to be among the stunning-est. Located on floors 102 – 118 of the International Commerce Centre (ICC), its 312 rooms have quite amazing views, and of course are beautifully appointed. The hotel is well located on the Kowloon side of the city, adjacent to a luxury shopping mall. When your business colleagues ask you where you’re staying, you will be making a statement when you answer, “The Ritz-Carlton.” Dining is, unsurprisingly, exceptional. I had a beautiful business lunch in the Michelin-starred Tin Lung Heen—the most elegant dim sum I’ve ever been served, in an extremely refined setting. The Italian restaurant, Tosca, looked equally appropriate for a high-level working lunch or dinner. And the rooftop bar, Ozone, would make an enviable way to end an evening, looking out on the city’s light show. All this comes with a price: Standard rooms range from $955 to $1,225. On TripAdvisor, the Ritz Carlton, Hong Kong, currently ranks #4 out of 99 business class hotels.

Rooms at the Best Western are tiny. (Photo: Nancy Branka)

Rooms at the Best Western are tiny, but highly functional. (Photo: Nancy Branka)

Best Western Grand Hotel

What a contrast to visit the Best Western Grand after the Ritz Carlton. But I could quickly see the value to this modest, new 29-story hotel. For those busy all day with meetings and then entertaining in the evening, these accommodations offer all you need: a comfortable bed in pleasant surroundings. The 396 rooms are tiny. There’s no other way to say it. But they’re also efficient. In fact, the desk folds up from the wall, so don’t expect to work much in your room. (Note that most rooms have two twin beds.) The hotel, opened in December of 2012, is squeaky clean. To the positive, my guide told me he thought the location of this hotel in the TsimShaTsui district in Kowloon was exceptional, in a neighborhood filled with interesting restaurants and a lively bar scene. It’s also handy to the Metro. With standard room rates at $116 – $155 by season, with a $65 supplement for a slightly larger room, it’s a decent value for some business travelers. On TripAdvisor, Best Western Grand Hotel gets only mediocre marks, and does not currently appear in the ranking of business class hotels.

While the length of my trip limited me to touring these hotels, I was curious about which properties rank as very newest. According to the Hong Kong Tourism Board, the five newest business class hotels in the city (as of April 30, 2014) are: Ovolo 2AR,  Courtyard by Marriott Sha Tin (see above), Hotel Elan, V hotels, and EAST Hong Kong.

Have you stayed at any of these hotels? What’s your favorite business hotel in Hong Kong?

Nancy Branka

Tip: Snag the best hotel room

A spectacular view from a corner room at the mid-century mod Radisson Royal Hotel in Copenhagen (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

A spectacular view from a corner room at the mid-century mod Radisson Blu Royal Hotel in Copenhagen (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The very best way to get the very best hotel room starts as soon as you check in.

With a big smile and firm politeness, always ask the front desk clerk for something specific, like a room away from the elevators, or away from the glare of morning sun, or on a low or high floor.

By asking the clerk to get involved in the room choice, you’ll get a better one…not one that was chosen by the hotel reservations system. 

And as always, if you get to your room and it’s a dog, turn around and go back to ask for another one and you’ll likely score. But sometimes, especially when arriving late, you’ll have to take the dog room. But only take it for one night. Ask to move the next day.

--Chris McGinnis

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