Most popular: Cheap flights to London | Transcon sale | Free Vegas | Hilton promo | Best Credit Card

Washington DC

What a great week to be in Washington DC on the eve of an election for a Boarding Area conference (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):Weekend Edition

British Airways adds yet another Bay Area nonstop

Routes: Delta, ANA, Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, JetBlue, Alaska

Deal Alert: Transcon fares plummet in December

5 fabulously free things to do in Las Vegas

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

Don’t miss our post about free things to do in Las Vegas.  (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

17 moments in 17 hours on Singapore Airlines Airbus A350

These two Virgins are splitting up

Delta details plush premium economy plans

How to choose the best travel credit card

New hotels: Minneapolis, Chicago, Silicon Valley, Nashville, Atlanta

10 New device offers drivers a heads-up, hands-free display

Don’t miss: More cheap flights across the Atlantic-KLM, AirFrance, BA

HiltonHHonorsLogo

Hilton HHonors members who book through the HHonors App (get it here) and pay with a Visa credit card for stays during November 2, 2016 – January 31, 2017 will earn an additional 5,000 Bonus Points.  How? Here are the details http://www.HHonors.com/VisaBonus.

hotel hall corridor

REDRUM! We checked out this gorgeous new hotel recently and will write about it this week. Any guesses? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

Post-takeover layoffs begin at Starwood

Marriott installs “like” buttons throughout hotel

A beautiful behind-the-scenes planespotting tour at SFO (Slideshow)

Airlines bump up capacity for bigger Thanksgiving travel crowds

Airlines: Profitable, but worried

Delta rolled out updates to its already awesome app last week. Details included in this short video:

New pet relief rooms in concourses at ATL include fire hydrants

Delta finished Wi-Fi installations on its long-haul aircraft

Study: Most companies’ travel policies don’t cover Uber/Lyft rides on international trips

Uber unveils a big redesign of its app

Hello Gorgeous! New spa for Delta employees at ATL

Judge refuses to throw out price-fixing suit against major U.S. airlines

Lufthansa retires its last 737

Survey: Business travelers are more concerned about maintaining a good work/life balance

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

In the market for a new credit card? See our “Credit Card Deals” tab to shop around! It helps us help you! 

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British Airways adds yet another Bay Area nonstop

British Airways B777

British Airways will fly nonstop between Oakland and London-Gatwick using a Boeing 777-200ER (Photo: British Airways)

Brexit does not seem to be having much impact on British Airways’ plans for the burgeoning San Francisco Bay Area.

Today the airline announced that it will add a nonstop flight from Oakland to London-Gatwick on March 28, 2017. This is this is in addition to its recently deployed daily 787 Dreamliner nonstop between San Jose International and Heathrow, as well as its two dailies between SFO and Heathrow using an Airbus A380 or Boeing 777.

This means that you can now fly BA to London from all three Bay Area airports- no other carrier offers that. It also means that British Airways will be flying about 1,250 seats per day, each way, between the San Francisco Bay Area and London.

The new OAK-LGW flights will operate four days a week using a Boeing 777-200ER that seats 275 passengers: 203 in economy,  24 in premium economy and  48 in business class. (That’s a lot of room for upgrades or award flights!) The new flights will allow BA to tap into the populous and wealthy East Bay suburbs full of travelers who don’t (or won’t) cross the Bay for a flight out of congested SFO.

Gatwick Airport (LGW) is 28 miles south of central London but still convenient and even preferred by many travelers. Why? Because the easy 30-minute, approximately $25 Gatwick Express train can whisk you from the airport to Victoria Station in the heart of the city every 15 minutes. London’s Heathrow Express, while speedier, drops you off at Paddington Station, which may not be as convenient. On the flip side, those traveling into Oakland from London can now get to downtown San Francisco via a new BART spur that connects the the airport to the city in about 30 minutes for about $10 each way.

London's three primary airports. The Gatwick Express train connects the airport with Victoria Station (Image: Visit London)

London’s three primary airports. The Gatwick Express train connects the airport with Victoria Station (Image: Visit London)

This surprise move by BA comes on the heels of Norwegian Air’s introduction of Oakland-Gatwick nonstops last May.

To celebrate this announcement, British Airways has launched special fares for travel from March 28 to May 12 at about $600 roundtrip per person in economy and $1,115 in premium economy.  Business class fares run about $3,600. These fares include taxes, fees and charges.

These sale fares are higher than Norwegian Air base fares (which can run as low at $400 round trip), but keep in mind that Norwegian is a bit more fee-happy than British Airways. For example, you’ll pay $65 each way ($130 round trip) to check a bag on Norwegian Air for the flight to Gatwick– if you fly beyond Gatwick, you’ll pay a whopping $130 each way ($260 round trip) for that checked bag. British Airways does not charge a fee for the first checked bag for economy class passengers.  Both carriers charge fees for booking specific seats ahead of time. Norwegian Air flies a new Boeing 787 Dreamliner on the route that has economy and premium economy seats, but no business class.

BA Club World (business class) travelers flying out of Oakland receive up to five days of free parking in OAK’s Premier Lot, an added value of $190. Also, an airport spokesperson told TravelSkills that British Airways and MAG, which manages Oakland’s new airport lounge, are working out an agreement to provide BA customers with complimentary access to a new Escape lounge located in Terminal 1 near BA gates. But at this time, no agreement has been reached. One-time passes to the lounge (opening in mid-November) go for $45.

Don’t miss! Trip Report: British Airways Boeing 787 Dreamliner business class San Jose-London

British Airways B777-200ER

Seatguru layout of British Airways B777-200ER (Image: Seatguru)

 Don’t miss! Trip Report: Oakland to London on Norwegian Air (kinda)

British Airways is a member of the Oneworld alliance.

The year-round, 4x per week OAK-LGW flights will depart Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. BA will use Gatwick’s South Terminal where it moves into new digs in January– improvements include a brand new business class lounge, and upgraded check in area, and easier access to the Gatwick Express. (Currently, BA operates out of Gatwick’s North Terminal.)

BA seems to be on something of a roll recently. In addition to the new Oakland flight, British Airways has announced new nonstops to Ft Lauderdale and New Orleans from London in the last month.

Would you fly British Airways between Oakland and London? Why or why not? Why do you think BA is making this move? Please leave your comments below. 

–Chris McGinnis


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Most popular: Airport construction + Southwest fares + Singapore’s longest flight + United devalues

The view from the United Club at ATL (Chris McGinnis)

Watch out for construction hassles at ATL, SFO and elsewhere (Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):Weekend Edition

1 Construction zones and more: Airport news: San Francisco, Atlanta, Newark, Philadelphia

Is Southwest really a low fare carrier? Depends on…

3 Don’t accept the first offer! How to inspect your hotel room

4 Cool science An answer to filthy airplane drinking water?

SPG_AMEX_PHOTO_08.04.15

Big news for Marriott Starwood credit card holders; JetBlue, too

6 Finally nonstop to Berlin Airberlin’s new SFO & LAX nonstops to Berlin

United devalues; Delta throws a bone, Chairman resigns

Deal shopping? Go where business travelers don’t

Routes: SFO, LAX, DFW, New Orleans, Orange County, Miami, JFK, Houston

10 Singapore Airlines opens up about newest longest nonstop

Need a new credit card? Scroll up to our “Credit Card Deals” tab at the top to shop around! It helps us help you! 

United Hangar

United installed a basketball court (!) inside its massive SFO hangar to celebrate a new sponsorship (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

This week United announced a long-term sponsorship of the Bay Area’s Golden State Warriors basketball team. To celebrate, the carrier installed a temporary branded United-Warriors basketball court (complete with parquet floors and hoops) in United’s SFO Maintenance hangar where over 1,000 employees (and TravelSkills!) watched a dance team, drum corps and a handful of Warriors shoot hoops. As part of this agreement, United will soon have branding in Oakland’s Oracle Arena and, beginning in 2019, inside the new Chase Center, the team’s new arena on the San Francisco waterfront just south of downtown. MileagePlus customers will have the opportunity to use their miles for access to premium seats, suite tickets, VIP experiences and Warriors autographed items.

Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

Delta mulling low-frills transatlantic product

United stock surges, but it’s time for airline to deliver

Virgin America’s crazy new first class shoes

San Francisco judge says he’ll block Alaska’s takeover of Virgin America

Earn double points for Enterprise car rentals this winter (reg required)

Washington Reagan National airport to get billion dollar makeover

Airlines testing virtual reality headsets for passengers

A proposed flying taxi- let's go! (Image: Airbus)

A proposed flying taxi- let’s go! (Image: Airbus)

Check out this super cool new “flying taxi” from Airbus (I want one!)

New study sees “sluggish” growth in business travel spending

Uber, Lyft now handle more than half of all ground transportation for biz travelers

Airlines’ on-time arrival rates could drop with inclusion of regional partners

U.S. wants airlines to refund bag fees for delayed returns

Low business class fares attract mileage junkies

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts:

Kicking support animals off planes | Shocked passenger refuses to pay $3 for water | Marriott-Starwood: Higher prices, better rewards | The 10,000 points question! | Eye-catching maps explain state of the world | Test your planespotting skills!

In the market for a new credit card?

Wallet credit cards

Big news for big spenders as banks roll out new bonuses and perks (Image: Pixabay)

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Singapore Air opens up about longest nonstop

Singapore Airlines business class

Guests at St Regis gala take a gander at Singapore Air’s newest business class seat (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

This week in San Francisco, Singapore Airlines put on a posh gala at the St Regis to celebrate the launch of its newest, longest nonstop flight between San Francisco to Singapore.

SIA will deploy its newest aircraft, an Airbus A350, on the 17-or-so-hour flight, the first of which departs from SFO this Sunday. It’s the first time an Airbus A350 has touched down for commercial service at SFO. Fares for November flights are currently about $800 round trip in economy, $1,800 in premium economy and $4,200 in business class. There are no first class seats on the A350. (TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis will be on the inaugural flight, so stay tuned for his trip report!)

The city’s travel and diplomatic community gathered for a fancy fete where we dined on appetizers, meals and wine served in business and first class on Singapore Airlines flights. On the floor of the event space were two of Singapore’s latest generation business class seats– just like the ones on its new A350– along with a dozen or so “Singapore girls” to assist in transforming the plush leather seat into a nice wide bed for sleeping.

Don’t miss! Chris’s Trip Report from this historic inaugural flight

Singapore Airlines menu

Dinner menu included dishes served onboard Singapore Airlines flights (Chris McGinnis)

Prior to the event, I was able to sit down with Mr. Mak Swee Wah, Singapore Air’s Executive VP – Commercial, to talk about the new plane and the new nonstop flight, which will be the longest in the SIA network. Here are some highlights from our chat:

TravelSkills: What’s so great about the new A350? What will passengers notice about the plane as soon as they walk onboard? How does it differ from the current B777s used on the route? 

Mr Mak: This is the very latest generation twin jet in the market and is much more efficient than other planes. It is perfectly sized [253 passengers] for us to deploy on less dense routes. Singapore-Amsterdam was the first route for our A350s and San Francisco is the latest. The first thing passengers may notice when boarding is how spacious the cabin feels. The shape of the A350 fuselage is such that the side walls are nearly vertical, providing additional shoulder and head space for passengers seated at the windows.   When onboard, passengers will notice the latest generation of our seats in all classes- for example, in business class, they’ll enjoy the third iteration of our new business class seat. The carbon fiber used to construct the plane not only makes it lighter and more efficient, it also helps in pressurization and humidity, which makes flights feel more comfortable and helps prevent jet lag. It also makes inflight food taste better.  Hepa-filters keep cabin air as clean as in hospitals. Plus, the windows on the A350 are larger than on other Airbus planes- so better views, too.

TravelSkills: SIA is using SQ 31 and SQ 32 as the flight numbers for the SFO-SIN nonstop service. Did you all consider giving the new flight the iconic SQ 1 and SQ 2 designation that you now use on the SFO-Hong Kong-Singapore flights?

Mr Mak: There’s a logic to our flight numbers. For example, all the flights to/from the Americas have single or double digits. Since SQ1 and SQ2 were our first flights ever to the US, we want to preserve that history. Our flights to Singapore via Hong Kong are well established and popular, so we don’t want to change a good thing. When I see the numbers 31 and 32, though, it makes me think in Cantonese where numbers can have significant meaning. The number 3 signifies life and the number 1 is something like long-lasting or longevity. So flight #31 could be about long-lasting life. With 32, you have 3 meaning life, and 2 meaning easy or comfortable.  This is not how the company came up with those flight numbers, but it’s a nice way for me to explain them to you and your readers! [Read more about Chinese number superstitions here]

Singapore Airlines execs, Singapore's ambassador to the US, local media and Singapore girls on stage at the St Regis (Chris McGinnis)

Singapore Airlines execs, Singapore’s ambassador to the US, local media and Singapore girls on stage at the St Regis (Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills: What did Singapore Air learn about long distance flying when it ran A340s between Newark and Singapore- an 18-20 hour flight that was then the longest in the world? 

Mr Mak: We flew the Airbus A340 between Newark and Singapore from 2004-2013. It was an all business class flight with just 100 seats. On long flights like that, our service proposition really comes out and we take a three pronged approach offering good seats, good food and good entertainment. On the new A350, we’ll have the latest generation of our inflight entertainment system, which is arguably the best one in the world. We are currently working on expanding flexible dining options on ultra long haul flights so passengers can eat and sleep on their own cycle. [Later in the evening during a speech Mak said:] When we launch New York-Singapore nonstops in 2018 with the new A350ULR [“ultra long range”] we will reclaim the crown of the world’s longest commercial flight. And we’ll make business travelers in New York and Singapore very happy.

Singapore Air Silver Kris lounge at SFO (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Singapore Airines nondescript SilverKris lounge at SFO (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills: Are there any plans to upgrade or enhance the Singapore Air Silver Kris lounge at SFO? 

Mr Mak: We are looking at our options there. We are aware of the complaints from passengers about the facilities and are working on solutions to improve the lounge.

TravelSkills: United is sure to put its Polaris business class on its SFO-SIN nonstop soon. How will SIA compare or compete with that? How will you convince the many hardcore United Mileage Plus members to fly SIA instead? That’s 17,000 miles round trip!

Our schedules, our hard and soft product, our route network and our well-known inflight service all contribute to a very compelling value proposition. We are also a member of Star Alliance, so MileagePlus members can still earn miles when flying on SIA. [Here’s how you’ll earn United miles when flying Singapore Air]

TravelSkills: Will the A350 be able to fly full year-round or will there be weight or passenger limitations? 

Mr Mak: The aircraft can definitely perform on the SFO-SIN flight. However during winter months when winds shift, we will have to carry more fuel and less weight–  fewer passengers, less cargo or a little of both.

See Singapore Airlines A350 microsite for details and a tour of this new bird!

Singapore's long-range A350s will fly non-stop to Los Angeles and New York in 2018. (Image: Airbus)

Singapore’s long-range A350s will fly non-stop to Los Angeles and New York in 2018. (Image: Airbus)

Paul Edwards, the head of Design and Brand Management at Airbus made a speech at the St Regis gala about the new flight and the new plane– here are some interesting nuggets about the A350 that he shared:

>The current version of the plane is the Airbus A350XWB, which stands for Extra Wide Body. At 19.6 feet wide, it’s more spacious than the competing Boeing 787 Dreamliner at 18 feet, 11 inches. The longer range version is the A350ULR which stands for Ultra Long Range, and will be deployed on the New York and Los Angeles runs. [Interesting to note that SFO is closer to Singapore than LAX!]

>The A350 is 25% more efficient than other similar aircraft, which means it burns less fuel per passenger making it “the most environmentally friendly aircraft in the sky”

>The A350 has the largest overhead bins flying– so large that they don’t install them in the center of the plane– which makes it feel much more spacious.

>Cabin air on the A350 is changed every 2-3 minutes and is recirculated through hepa-filters which helps maintain a “fresh smelling” cabin

>There are 12 separate temperature zones on the A350, so rarely will you find hot or cold spots.

>The rate of change in cabin pressure is controlled by onboard computers and gradually increases or decreases during take off and landing, preventing ear-popping.

>Cabin pressure is the same as you’d find at about 6,000 feet on the ground [so about like Denver]. Other aircraft have cabin pressure at about 8,000 feet.

>The A350 is about six decibels quieter than other aircraft, which results in better sleep– and less need for noise canceling headsets.

>In economy class, those obnoxious underseat metal boxes that contain inflight entertainment systems have been removed to provide more legroom.

>New LED cabin lighting has thousands of variations, and they use a blue hue which supposedly helps counteract the effects of jet lag.

Have you flown Singapore Air? Do plan to? Please leave your comments below! 

Don’t miss! Chris’s Trip Report from this historic inaugural flight

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts:

Kicking support animals off planes | Shocked passenger refuses to pay $3 for water | Marriott-Starwood: Higher prices, better rewards | The 10,000 points question! | Eye-catching maps explain state of the world | Test your planespotting skills!

In the market for a new credit card?

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Big news for big spenders as banks roll out new bonuses and perks (Image: Pixabay)

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Airport news: San Francisco, Atlanta, Newark, Philadelphia

San Francisco's Terminal 1 overhaul is leading to some closures. (Image: San Francisco International Airport)

San Francisco’s Terminal 1 overhaul is leading to some closures. (Image: San Francisco International Airport)

In the latest airport developments, San Francisco warns travelers about some upcoming closures; Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson starts work on a major project; an international carrier opens a lounge at Newark Liberty International; and American will adjust its presence at its Philadelphia hub.

At San Francisco International, officials are advising travelers that due to ongoing renovation work in Terminal 1, some facilities and areas there will be closed in the days ahead, possibly resulting in some inconvenience or congestion. On Monday (October 24), the connecting walkway linking Terminal 1 and International Boarding Area A will be closed, so passengers will have to use AirTrain to transfer between those points. Also, the Southwest Airlines ticket counters will move to a new location closer to Delta and Frontier. On the arrivals level, October 21 is the starting date for closure of the traffic lane closest to Terminal 1 from Doors 1 through 10; and on the departures level, closure of the lane closest to Terminal 1 from Doors 1 through 5 starts October 28. Click here to see details and suggested tips for affected passengers. The airport has created a cool video simulation of the reconstruction process for T1. Worth a look but turn down the volume to avoid the Game of Thrones-like soundtrack 😉

Atlanta, ATL canopy

A dramatic new canopy and a new tunnel are part of Atlanta Airports $20 billion in improvements (Photo: ATL)

Preparatory work has begun at Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson for the installation of those massive overhead glass canopies above the pickup and drop-off areas outside the domestic terminal. It’s one of the most visible parts of the airport’s ongoing $6 billion expansion and renovation project. The initial stage of the canopy project – construction of the foundations — has led to some lane closures in the area around the terminal. The closures started earlier this month for shuttle and commercial vehicle pick-ups and drop-offs in the outer lanes of Terminal North, and similar closures will begin October 30 at Terminal South.  Airport officials are advising travelers to build in extra time if they’re going into those areas.

Air Canada opened a Maple Leaf Lounge at Newark. (Image: Air Canada)

Air Canada opened a Maple Leaf Lounge at Newark. (Image: Air Canada)

At Newark Liberty International, Air Canada has opened a new Maple Leaf Lounge for premium passengers near its departure gates in Terminal A, beyond the security checkpoint. The facility offers free Wi-Fi, refreshments, and work areas that include free printing. Air Canada operates up to 23 flights a day from Newark (including United code-shares), serving Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver. The airline said it will open a new Maple Leaf Lounge in Montreal next month, and an expanded facility in Vancouver next summer.

American Airlines inherited a hub at Philadelphia International from its merger with US Airways, and it is planning some changes to its operations there in the months ahead. On January 1, American will consolidate its arrival and departure banks – scheduled to maximize connections – from eight a day to six. This will mean rescheduling of flight times in many cases, so if you’re a regular PHL traveler, check AA’s schedules.  The airline also reportedly plans to reduce the number of flights it operates at Philadelphia, although in some cases it will switch from smaller to larger aircraft to minimize the impact on passenger capacity.

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts:

Kicking support animals off planes | Shocked passenger refuses to pay $3 for water | Marriott-Starwood: Higher prices, better rewards | The 10,000 points question! | Eye-catching maps explain state of the world | Test your planespotting skills!

In the market for a new credit card?

Wallet credit cards

Big news for big spenders as banks roll out new bonuses and perks (Image: Pixabay)

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Airberlin’s new SFO & LAX nonstops to Berlin

Airberlin will add Berlin service from San Francisco and Los Angeles. (Image: Airberlin)

Airberlin will add Berlin nonstops using A330-200 from San Francisco and Los Angeles next summer- at decent prices. (Image: Airberlin)

Germany’s second largest airline, Airberlin, will launch new nonstops between San Francisco and Los Angeles and Berlin-Tegel airport four days a week starting next May. This marks the first time for a nonstop to Berlin from the Bay Area. Flight time between SFO and TXL is about 11 hours.

A quick glance at airfares on Google Flights for June and July 2017 show round trips in the $1,300 range in economy– a good price for peak season transatlantic flights. Business class flights are about $3,400 round trip. Airberlin also offers upgrades to XL economy seats with 20% more legroom for about $100 each way. (LAX fares are similar)

screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-10-45-01-am

AirBerlin also flies nonstop between San Francisco, LAX and Dusseldorf during summer months. Air Berlin is a member of the Oneworld Alliance and is 30% owned by Etihad Airways. Last month Airberlin announced a radical restructuring that will ultimately lead to more of a focus on business travelers- you can read all about that here: “The new airberlin; analyst presentation”

Airberlin will fly nonstop from eight US cities in summer 2017 to Dusseldorf and Berlin: San Francisco, New York (JFK), Boston, Chicago, Miami, Orlando (new), Fort Myers, and Los Angeles. The airberlin hubs in Berlin and Dusseldorf are conveniently connected with many airberlin destinations in Germany, Europe and beyond.

All Airbus A330-200 operating these flights are equipped with airberlin’s premium long-haul product: 19 seats in the exclusive full flat business class section (1-2-1 configuration) and 271 Economy Class seats, including 46 XL Seats, which offer around 20 per cent more legroom.

Read more about Airberlin’s new business class here.

Air Berlin

Air Berlin’s new lie-flat business class seat (Photo: Air Berlin)

Have you flown Airberlin? Would you? Please leave your comments below. 

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts:

Kicking support animals off planes | Shocked passenger refuses to pay $3 for water | Marriott-Starwood: Higher prices, better rewards | The 10,000 points question! | Eye-catching maps explain state of the world | Test your planespotting skills!

In the market for a new credit card?

Wallet credit cards

Big news for big spenders as banks roll out new bonuses and perks (Image: Pixabay)

Scroll up to our “Credit Card Deals” tab at the top to shop around! It helps us help you! 

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SFO flips switch on shapely new control tower

SFO's new 221-foot air traffic control tower will open next summer (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

SFO’s new 221-foot air traffic control tower operational this week (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

After more than a year of preparation, air traffic controllers will be working in San Francisco International Airport’s gorgeous new control tower this weekend. 

Rising up in a graceful flare, the new tower is 221 feet tall.  The 650 square-foot controller work area gives air traffic controllers unobstructed 235-degree views of SFO’s runways and taxiways. It replaces the current tower on top of Terminal 2, which will be dismantled quickly beginning in January because it obstructs runway views from the new one.

To celebrate, let’s revisit the behind-the-scenes tour TravelSkills took in 2015 when the airport turned the tower over to the FAA, which spent the last year outfitting the voluptuous, flared cylinder with its systems, testing them and training controllers.

Ready to take a tour? Let’s start at the bottom and move to the top.

Inside the new corridor connecting SFO’s T1 and T2. View from T2 entry. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Part of the tower project was to create a bright new land side corridor (along the roadway) connecting Terminal 1 with Terminal 2. What’s amazing about the corridor is that it has a glass roof so you can stop and peer up at the new tower. Handrails are needed to keep folks from falling over as they crane their necks to view the beautiful new metallic cone. It’s gorgeous, almost hypnotic, and vertigo-inducing to look up at it as the clouds roll by.

The view looking up from the new glass-roofed corridor between SFO T1 and T2 (Chris McGinnis)

The view looking up from the new glass-roofed corridor between T1 and T2- note the waterfall of lights panels facing west (Chris McGinnis)

A new computer controlled display now lights up the tower in a variety of colors, which can be seen from miles away after dusk. Like the Empire State Building or San Francisco City Hall, the new “waterfall of lights” is used for special occasions– orange when the Giants win, or red and green for Christmas, etc.

Inch thick blast-proof glass across the front of the building under the tower (Chris McGinnis)

Inch-thick, blast-proof glass across the front of the building under the tower (Chris McGinnis)

The FAA has offices in a three-story building at the base of the tower, where the exterior and glass walls have been thickened and hardened to prevent damage from truck bombs on the nearby roadway.

The structure is built on “bay mud” according to project manager Tony Kingsman who said that the tower is supported in bedrock 140 below ground, and is designed to withstand an 8.0 earthquake and still be operational.

This is SFO’s fourth control tower. The current one was built in 1981 atop the current Terminal 2, deemed seismically unstable, so construction began on the new tower three years ago.

It cost about $120 million to build the tower, FAA office building and corridor. The FAA kicked in about 70 million of that– enough for a basic, utilitarian structure, but SFO wanted it to be an iconic, torch-like symbol of the gateway to the Pacific, so it contributed an additional $50 million for aesthetics, as well as additional airport space like the new corridor.

HNTB provided the conceptual design of the new structure and it was designed and built by Hensel Phelps and Fentress Architects.

With the new tower open, the old tower will be dismantled quickly so as not to obstruct runway views from the new one. There is talk of the airport adding a outdoor viewing platform, open the the public, in the old tower’s footprint atop T2, but for now, that’s just talk.

Okay then.  Let’s crawl up inside this spectacular structure! Watch this video and scroll through the images and video below.

(NOTE: This video was shot last year before the FAA moved its equipment into the tower.)

Aside from the stunning view, note that US Airways/American is now operating out of Delta's Boarding Area C (Chris McGinnis)

Aside from the stunning view, note that US Airways/American is now operating out of Delta’s Boarding Area C (Chris McGinnis)

First taking an elevator up about 10 floors and then walking up a spiral staircase, you enter a wonderland of planespotting— a full 270 degrees of unobstructed airport views through 24 giant panes of 1-1/2 inch-thick glass. On the western side of the 650-square-foot “cab” there are a few pillars that hold up the roof. I’ve never seen a view like this one.

Looking out from 221 feet over Terminal 2, home of Virgin America and American (Chris McGinnis)

Looking out from 221 feet over Terminal 2, home of Virgin America and American (Chris McGinnis)

 

The tower complex is covered in at least 100 lightening rods grounded by shiny metal cables. Look closely and you'll see them (Chris McGinnis)

The tower complex is covered in at least 100 lightning rods grounded by shiny woven metal cables. Look closely and you’ll see them (Chris McGinnis)

 

Looking out over T3 and the current control tower (Chris McGinnis)

Looking out at the United hangar and (oddly) looking down on the current control tower, which will soon disappear (Chris McGinnis)

 

Installation of air traffic controller stations- there is room for 13 up here, but usually only 6-8 on the job. (Chris McGinnis)

Installation of air traffic controller stations- there is room for 13 controllers up here, but usually only 6-8 on the job. (Chris McGinnis)

 

Looking out at one of two cranes used to clean and maintain the tower exterior (Chris McGinnis)

Looking out at one of two cranes used to clean and maintain the tower exterior (Chris McGinnis)

 

Looking over the parking lot and international terminal (Chris McGinnis)

Looking over the parking lot and international terminal (Chris McGinnis)

 

Air traffic controllers break room is one level below the cab- talk about a room with a view! (Chris McGinnis)

Air traffic controllers’ break room is one level below the cab- talk about a room with a view! (Chris McGinnis)

 

Here's the view from the air traffic controllers break room. Nice! (Chris McGinnis)

Here’s the view from the air traffic controllers break room. Nice! (Chris McGinnis)

 

Your excited TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis pondering a lightening rod on the top of SFO control tower (Doug Yakel)

Your excited TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis pondering a lightning rod on the top of SFO control tower (Doug Yakel)

Here’s a video watching an Air China 747-8 take off from outside the cab.

Take a 360 degree tour from inside the newly outfitted tower here:

Post from RICOH THETA. – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

-Chris McGinnis

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Love a lie-flat seat? You’ll love this…

Lie-flat front cabin seating on a Delta 757-200. (Image: Delta)

Lie-flat front cabin seating on a Delta 757-200. (Image: Delta)

Delta’s announcement this week that it will introduce lie-flat first class seats next spring on a new transcontinental route is just the latest step in a growing expansion of flat-bed front-cabin seats on routes across the country – an expansion largely fueled by JetBlue’s increased commitment to its Mint premium service.

Delta said it will use a 757-200 with flat-bed seats in first class when it starts flying on April 24 between Los Angeles International and Washington D.C.’s close-in, Reagan National Airport (DCA) which is preferred by most with business in the district. (Because perimeter rules limit DCA to just a handful of flights longer than 1,250 miles, Delta said it will drop one of its two daily DCA-Salt Lake City flights, but will begin a new flight from Salt Lake to Washington Dulles.)

The introduction of lie-flat front-cabin seats on domestic flights a few years ago was initially limited to service between the New York area and San Francisco and Los Angeles, where it is now offered by American and Delta out of New York JFK and by United’s “p.s.” service out of Newark Liberty International. When JetBlue rolled out its competing Mint premium cabins with lie-flat seats, it initially did so in those same two transcon markets out of JFK.

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

Washington National Airport gets lie-flat seats from Delta (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

But Delta has also introduced lie-flat seats on 757-200s between JFK and its growing Seattle hub. And that market has become one of several targeted by JetBlue in a big expansion of its Mint service.

JetBlue recently added the Mint option to its Boston-San Francisco route, and is doing the same on Boston-LAX this fall. And earlier this year, the carrier announced its intention to bring lie-flat Mint seating to even more transcontinental routes, with plans to increase the size of its Mint-equipped A321 fleet from 17 planes to 31 by 2017.

Transcontinental routes that JetBlue has targeted for Mint service expansion in the months ahead include Seattle-Boston, Seattle-JFK, San Diego-JFK, San Diego-Boston, San Francisco-Ft. Lauderdale, Los Angeles-Ft. Lauderdale and Las Vegas-JFK.

JetBlue has big plans for expanding its Mint service. (Image: JetBlue)

JetBlue has big plans for expanding its Mint service. (Image: JetBlue)

Two months ago, Delta unveiled plans for new routes out of Boston next year, including twice-daily service to San Francisco with 757-200s. (Although the announcement didn’t specify that these aircraft will have lie-flat front-cabin seating, it seems a safe assumption given JetBlue’s Mint service in that market.) JetBlue then said it will lay on a fourth daily Mint-equipped Boston-San Francisco flight next summer.

Virgin America has a nice premium cabin on its transcon routes, but the seats do not recline fully flat. The airline has talked about refreshing its front cabin, but that has taken a back seat to the impending merger of Virgin and Alaska Airlines. The combined carrier (assuming they are eventually combined rather than remaining as separate brands under common ownership) will have a big stake in transcon Seattle markets as well as SFO-JFK and LAX-JFK. The question is, what will Alaska decide to do with the front cabin product?

Whatever it decides, Alaska is already committed to adding a new Premium Class cabin to its 737-800s, 900s and 900ERs – not just regular coach seats with extra legroom, but an actual premium product with extra amenities and perks, situated between first class and economy.

Will that be the next big battlefield in transcontinental passenger options? How important is a lie-flat seat to you on transcon flights? Please leave your comments below. 

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts:

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Deal Alert: Major domestic fall winter fare sale

Southwest Airlines recently painted a 737 based on the Colorado state flag.

Southwest Airlines kicked off a good fall winter sale- including flights to Colorado for ski trips! (Photo: Stephen Keller/Southwest Airlines)

Travel demand and fares always tumble during the slower fall and winter months, and this year is no exception.

Today, Southwest Airlines kicked off the first big late fall and winter fare sale, and I expect other airlines to start matching these low fares in the next 24-48 hours. (see below for links)

So if you felt priced out of peak summer season, take a look at what Southwest has on offer during the “dead weeks” between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and into the cold, dark early winter months.

Southwest kicked it off today with with fares starting at $100 roundtrip. From there, roundtrip fares rise in several steps to around $300. These fares are about $10 more than a similar sale Southwest offered in October 2015.

Sample approximate round trip fares include:

$100: All intra-California and CA-Las Vegas flights, Atlanta-Chicago, Raleigh or Richmond; Washington DC-Boston

$160: SFO/OAK/LAX-Denver, Atlanta-most cities in Florida, New York LGA-Chicago,

$200: SFO/OAK/LAX to Dallas or Denver; Atlanta-Boston, Chicago, Dallas or New York

$260: Houston-PhoenixAtlanta-Los Angeles/Las Vegas; Denver-Atlanta;  New York to Chicago or New Orleans; SFO/OAK-Chicago

$300: Most transcon flights between New York, Baltimore, Atlanta or Boston and LAX, SFO/OAK, Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle

Expect other major airlines to match these low fares over the next 24 hours. (We’ll update this page with competitive matches as they roll out…see below). Keep in mind that even with matches, Southwest’s fares are cheaper if you plan on checking baggage- it offers two bags for free.

Don’t miss out on TravelSkills fare alerts! Sign up here for one email-per-day updates!

Party scene on the roof of the brand new Virgin Hotel Chicago

You can party on the rooftop of the new Virgin Hotel in Chicago this fall or winter (Nancy Branka)

This sale is good for flights during what’s known in the biz as the “dead weeks” when travel demand plummets to annual lows– this means that hotel and car rental costs are also at annual lows, so it’s a great time to take a cheap trip. It’s also a good time to get home and see the family if pricey peak holiday season fares keep you grounded.

For business travelers who have not been able to get out and see clients due to this year’s high fares, this is a great opportunity save by traveling when most folks are staying at home. You can take off for a quick visit just before Christmas or drop by during the cold dark months of January and February.

Details of Southwest’s 72-hour sale:

>Must buy your tickets between now and Thursday, October 6 at 11:59 p.m. (in originating city).

>Travel windows: November 30-December 20; January 4-February 15, 2017

>Not available on Fridays or Sundays (bummer for business travelers or weekenders)

>Black out dates: Christmas/New Years peak season from Thursday December 21- Wednesday, January 4

>Very limited time: Only a handful of seats on each flight are on sale- you snooze, you lose.

>See Southwest website for other rules and restrictions, or to book trips.

Stay tuned for UPDATES: Airlines matching this sale so far include: Virgin America | United | Delta (Dec. only) | JetBlue

–Chris McGinnis

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts:

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Deep Dive: United Polaris business class (Part 2 of 3) Food & beverage, lounge

United Polaris

New Polaris serving ware including the death star and the golf ball (Scott Hintz)

This is Part 2 of our Deep Dive series about United’s much anticipated new Polaris business class which will debut in December. The fleetwide rollout is expected to take about three years. In our previous post (Part 1), we focused primarily on the new seat.

In this post we’ll look at the new food and beverage offerings and take a peek at what Polaris business class lounges are all about.

Food and Beverage

United is making a big deal of its partnership with the Charlie Trotter group to come up with restaurant-inspired menus, although there weren’t many specifics in terms of the food that will be served.  It sounds like they partly want to keep it a secret, but also that the food is still being developed and hasn’t been finalized.  But apparently UA will introduce more variety into its menus, offering more regionally-specific meals than in the past.

For example, the airline previously considered China a single region and offered the same menu on all flights departing China, but now realizes that cuisine varies widely from city to city and will offer a different menu from each of the airports it serves in China.  It sounds like the entire U.S. will have the same menu for originating flights, but different food will be offered across various cities for European departures. When I asked about providing healthier options, a spokesperson said that they are definitely keeping that in mind, but couldn’t promise anything specific other than that they will begin offering a fifth entree option on all flights, which will be a salad with a warm protein.

For pre-departure beverages, Polaris will now have an integrated design where a plastic cup will be slid onto a post that’s part of the plate that will feature a welcome-aboard chocolate.  United will be serving real champagne from Pouilly-Fuissé in addition to water and juice choices.

Here are links to Part 1 (The new seat) and Part 3 (Bedding, Service) of this series…

United Polaris

Polaris pre-departure beverage cups and trays (note how they fit together to prevent spills) with welcome-aboard chocolate (Scott Hintz)

In terms of new, unique service features, United will begin offering a bloody mary cart for flights departing before noon. Flight attendants will wheel a cart down the aisle and allow customers to customize their bloody marys — in the words of a United product lead, “if someone wants 10 olives in their drink, they can have 10 olives.”  For flights departing after noon, in lieu of the bloody mary cart, Polaris will feature wine tasting flights.

United Polaris

Something new: A Bloody Mary cart on flights that depart before noon (Photo: Scott Hintz)

For wine selections, the airline says it will focus on offering some up-and-comers who you may not have heard of, in addition to some classics that are more familiar.  But the wine lineup will be consistent across the globe.  So if UA is featuring a Greek “up and coming” wine, that will be offered on all flights around the world.

United Polaris

Wine flights offered on departures after noon (Scott Hintz)

All the serving ware is being updated to be more stylish and incorporate a lot more United branding.  You’ll notice the pixelated globe design from the United logo will show up prominently in the ice cream dish, while more subtle nods to the design will adorn plates and cups.  Linens and glassware all felt upscale. (See photo at top.)

Introducing a little fun on the dinner tray, the salt and pepper shakers are both plastic globes that mimic the United logo design.  United folks jokingly refer to the pepper shaker as the “death star” and the salt as “the golf ball.”  I could see these as being great gifts to take home to loved ones after a big international trip.

United Polaris

Fun salt and pepper shakers dubbed the “death star” and “golf ball.” Notice the United logo design incorporated into salt and pepper as well as the bowls to their left (Scott Hintz)

Finally, United says that flight attendants are being trained much more extensively on the food and wine service so they are more knowledgeable about the offerings.  And they’ve also re-designed some of the service to be more efficient (such as serving the appetizer and salad at the same time on a single tray instead of as separate courses, as is done currently), for a couple of reasons.  First, that should make the meal service go faster and allow passengers more time for sleeping, a top priority of the Polaris experience.  Second, it should free up flight attendant time to spend more effort on new elements like the wine tasting flight, where the crew can chat with customers and tell them the story behind the wine and have it be more of an interactive experience.  Sounds great in theory, but will be interesting to see if this pans out in reality.

Here are links to Part 1 (The new seat) and Part 3 (Bedding, Service) of this series…

Polaris Lounge

Another important component of the Polaris experience involves a new business class lounge that will be offered at nine of United’s largest stations for international flights.  United says they believe they will be the only U.S. carrier with a true business class lounge.

United Polaris Lounge

Bar area in Polaris lounge (Scott Hintz)

The Polaris lounge will include a few features that do stand out from the competition.  First, as previously mentioned, customers can have a sit-down meal with waiter service if they wish to eat prior to the flight, so they can maximize sleep while on board.  There will also be an upgraded buffet of “premium” hot and cold food, although no specifics were given at this time.  The next is a series of sleep rooms that will include chaise lounges and offer a quiet place to relax between flights.

United Polaris Lounge

Polaris dining options include sit-down waiter service and buffet (rendering courtesy United Airlines)

A product spokesperson said that United actually considered adding a spa to its Polaris lounges, but ultimately decided it was a liability because so many customers are disappointed when they can’t get an appointment.  I actually agree with UA, as it’s nearly impossible to get into the British Airways spa as a business class passenger, and I’ve also has challenges when flying Etihad, Virgin Atlantic, and JAL, even as a first class passenger.

While I wasn’t able to see a real-world sample of what the lounges will look like, United was offering a very slick virtual reality tour of them during this press event.  And the virtual tour certainly did make the lounge look great, but I’d reserve final judgement until we see the real thing.

United Polaris Lounge

Sleep rooms in Polaris lounge (rendering courtesy United Airlines)

And speaking of seeing the real thing, the first Polaris lounge will open Dec. 1 at Chicago O’Hare.  There will be 9 lounges in total, including Chicago-ORD, Houston-IAH, Los Angeles-LAX, Newark-EWR, San Francisco-SFO, Washington Dulles-IAD, Hong Kong-HKG, London Heathrow-LHR, and Tokyo Narita-NRT.

That’s it for part two of our Deep Dive series on United’s new Polaris business class. Next up we will look at bedding, amenity kits, inflight service, and more. Come back!

Here are links to Part 1 (The new seat) and Part 3 (Bedding, Service) of this United Polaris Deep Dive series…

This post was written by TravelSkills contributor Scott Hintz. Check out Scott’s other amazing contributions here.

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts! Kicking support animals off planes | Shocked passenger refuses to pay $3 for water | Marriott-Starwood: Higher prices, better rewards | The 10,000 points question! | Eye-catching maps explain state of the world | Test your planespotting skills! )

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Routes: SFO, Seattle, Oakland-Rome, JFK, Boston, Montreal, Detroit

China Eastern is using an A330 for its new San Francisco flights. (Image: Airbus)

China Eastern is using an A330 for its new San Francisco flights. (Image: Airbus)

In international route developments, Norwegian hints at Oakland-Rome nonstop; China Eastern adds San Francisco service; China’s Xiamen Airlines comes to Seattle; Delta will add new Europe routes from the East Coast next spring; Air Canada plans a very long haul from Montreal; and Aeromexico will begin a Detroit route.

Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines, a member of Delta’s SkyTeam global alliance, this week kicked off new service to San Francisco from Kunming – the capital of Yunnan Province in southwest China – via a stop in Qingdao, a port city in Shandong Province. China Eastern will use an Airbus A330 and will operate the flight three times a week, with SFO departures on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

A Xiamen Airlines 787 now flies to Seattle from Xiamen (Image: Boeing)

A Xiamen Airlines 787 now flies to Seattle from Xiamen and Shenzen (Image: Boeing)

Another new China route also opened up this week: Xiamen Airlines started service to Seattle from its hometown of Xiamen, operating via a stop in Shenzen. It’s the airline’s first U.S. route (although it also flies to Vancouver) and the first non-stop service between Shenzen and the U.S. The carrier’s future plans include service from Xiamen to Los Angeles and Fuzhou-New York, officials said. Xiamen has inked a partnership pact with Alaska Airlines for easy connections at SEA. It’s also a member of the Delta-led SkyTeam Alliance. The carrier will use a 787 Dreamliner on the route, which operates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Rome Colusseum

A new nonstop between the Bay Area and Rome? Hope so! (Photo: Pixabay)

It was really big news when Norwegian Air announced new Oakland-Barcelona and Oakland-Copenhagen nonstops starting next spring. When TravelSkills attended the announcement event at Oakland’s Jack London Square, we snagged a few minutes with Norwegian Air execs. They told us that since they’ve received such a positive reception in the Bay Area, the carrier will soon announce nonstops between Oakland and Paris…. AND that the carrier is looking to add Oakland-Rome and Oakland-Madrid, too! Stay tuned for more details.

Delta will add some new service to Europe next spring. On May 25, Delta will begin daily flights from Boston to Dublin as well as daily service from New York JFK to Lisbon. At the same time, Delta will resume daily flights between JFK and Berlin. The Dublin and Lisbon routes will use 164-seat 757-200s, while the Berlin service will be operated with a 225-seat 767-300, Delta said. Meanwhile, Delta also announced an expansion of its six-month-old code-sharing partnership with India’s Jet Airways. In addition to the existing connections at Amsterdam to Delhi and Mumbai, starting October 30 Delta flyers will also be able to connect via Paris Charles de Gaulle to Jet Airways flights to Mumbai and beyond to 20 other Indian destinations. Delta joint venture partner Air France KLM is also a party to the code-sharing deal with Jet.

Air Canada will put a 787 onto its new Montreal-Shanghai route. (Image: Air Canada)

Air Canada will put a 787 onto its new Montreal-Shanghai route. (Image: Air Canada)

A new route between North America and China will begin on February 16, when Air Canada is due to begin flying once a day from Montreal to Shanghai with a 787-8. It will be Air Canada’s first use of a 787 out of Montreal. Onward connections at Shanghai will be available from Star Alliance partners Air China and Shenzen Airlines, Air Canada said. The carrier plans to begin another ultra-long-haul starting July 1, with three non-stop flights a week between Toronto and Mumbai, using a 787-9. Air Canada hasn’t served that route since 1991. Also on tap for the Canadian carrier: Daily Vancouver-Taipei 787 flights beginning June 8, and three 767-300ER flights per week between Vancouver and Nagoya, Japan, starting June 1.

Aeromexico will add a new U.S. route starting January 10, when it begins flying between Detroit and Monterrey, Mexico. The carrier will use an Embraer 190 for the daily service.

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts! Kicking support animals off planes | Shocked passenger refuses to pay $3 for water | Marriott-Starwood: Higher prices, better rewards | The 10,000 points question! | Eye-catching maps explain state of the world | Test your planespotting skills! )

DONT MISS! The 100,000 points question!

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Inside Delta’s newest SkyClub (Slideshow)

New Delta Sky Club

Over the last two years, you’ve likely seen the huge structure being built atop of Concourse B at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Now you can take a look inside the posh new lounge via the slideshow provided by Delta above. (Hover over image to start show)

The new 25,000-foot space boasts floor-to-ceiling windows offering panoramic views– and when you are up that high, you can get a nice view of the downtown Atlanta skyline.

Delta’s Andrea Robinson has curated a wine selection that is featured at a unique wine wall where guests can request a taste, glass or a flight of wines. A wine ambassador will help you sample just what they’re looking for. (Sounds a lot like what the American Express Centurion Lounge in San Francisco is doing- see post and photos.)

At the bar, you find the standard variety of premium and complimentary options including cocktails, Sweetwater craft beer and Starbucks coffee, freshly brewed or espresso-based drinks from a Swiss coffee maker. (Similar to what we have seen at Delta’s stellar SFO SkyClub which opened last year– see post and photos here.

Delta SkyClub

It almost feels like you are in the ATL control tower when peering out from Delta’s new SkyClub at Concourse B (Photo: Chris Rank, Rank Studios)

Delta says that the food offerings will include locally inspired soups, salads and breads exclusive to the Atlanta B Delta Sky Club. Additional menu items include pasta and rice salads, corn and blueberry muffins, rye rolls and soup toppings, including crispy chickpeas, coconut shavings and croutons. At breakfast, there are locally baked bagels, hard boiled eggs and a yogurt bar with toppings.  Fruit and snacks are offered throughout the day.

This club is second in size only to New York – JFK’s T4 facility. Located on Concourse B near Gate B18, the new space 500 seats and is expected to be the busiest Club in the entire Delta system. Delta’s two original SkyClubs on Concourse B are now closed.

What’s Next for Delta’s SkyClubs? 

  • In mid-October, Seattle’s second Delta Sky Club will open between Concourses A and B, offering another option for global travelers.
  • The renovated Club in Raleigh-Durham is set to open in late November 2016, and will offer additional seats, more accessible power and a new food and beverage area.
  • A new Club expansion is coming to Newark in late 2016, including a redesigned bar and more food options.

What’s your favorite airline lounge? The best Delta SkyClub? Which airline has the BEST clubs overall? Please leave your comments below.

(All photos provided by Delta and Chris Rank of Rank Studios in Atlanta)

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts! Kicking support animals off planesShocked passenger refuses to pay $3 for water | Marriott-Starwood: Higher prices, better rewards | The 10,000 points question! | Eye-catching maps explain state of the world | Test your planespotting skills! )

DONT MISS! The 100,000 points question!

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Most popular: NYC/SF warning | Cool maps | Doomed jumbos | Credit card question | New SkyClub

DONT MISS! The 100,000 points question!

New Triplex Suites atop the New York Palace hotel have huge outdoor decks w Jacuzzis (Chris McGinnis)

Triplex Suites atop the New York Palace hotel have huge outdoor decks w Jacuzzis. Sweet! But I’m not sure if this is where the President stays. (Chris McGinnis)

Obama

President Obama (Photo: Wikimedia)

Fair warning for New York or San Francisco bound travelers this week: Beware of traffic, sold out restaurants and hotels, long waits for taxis and Uber/Lyft surge pricing. Why? In New York, blame the meeting of the UN General Assembly (which will include a Sunday-Wednesday visit and address by President Obama, which makes traffic even worse). As we’ve reported here on TravelSkills, the President now stays at the Lotte New York Palace hotel (Madison and 50th) which means near constant gridlock in that part of town. When we checked, the few rooms left at the Marriott Marquis on Times Square were running $754 per night. Layer on the additional security in the city due to this past weekend’s bombings, and you have a recipe for for some big travel headaches.

In San Francisco, blame the huge Oracle Open World Conference this week, which fills the city and airports to the gills with techies- and everything is overpriced. Both Sting and Gwen Stefani will have private concerts for attendees. Airports (and airfares) will be most crazy on Sunday (start) and Thursday (end). Hotels are mostly full, but what’s left over is overpriced– like the handful of rooms left at the Hilton Financial District going for $600 per night. Also, since so many attendees extend their visits, both weekends will be pretty crazy. And a reservation at a top SF restaurant? Feggedaboudit! And it’s not over yet! The even larger Dreamforce 2016 conference packs the city similarly– It runs Tuesday Oct 4 – Friday Oct 7, and includes a concert by U2!

Headed to SF? Here are 8 Mistakes Every Traveler Must Avoid in San Francisco!

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

1 Gotta see this: Eye-catching maps explain the state of the world

2 A new way to London: Trip Report: British Airways 787 Dreamliner San Jose-LondonWeekend Edition

3 Bummer! Are double-decker jumbo jets doomed?

4 Comments say “yes!” Would you fly a 737 transatlantic for $69?

Routes: AA, Air India, Cathay, WOW, Air Canada, Royal Air Maroc + more

Airport news: LaGuardia, Atlanta, Heathrow, Chicago Midway, Nashville

7 And the answer is… The 100,000 points question

View special credit card offers we have available here

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

Gorgeous light in Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia Cathedral. A must-see on any trip to Barcelona, even if you’ve seen it before- because it’s always changing (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

8 New nonstop to Spain Bay Area to Barcelona, nonstop, $199 + more low fares to Europe

9 More than a facelift in La-La Land: An amazing upgrade for LAX- in pictures

10 Most drink more on trips than at home Are you a boozy traveler? 

Last year CNN dropped by for some advice about traveling to the Bay Area– see this video to find out what Chris had to say.

Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

Details on Delta’s new SkyClub at ATL Concourse B

Another VERY easy 500 points from Virgin America

Apple headphone changes: a problem for airline inflight entertainment

American Airlines Assisted ‘Sully,’ But Won’t Show the Movie on Its Planes

Cathay Pacific pilot attempts round-the-world flight in home-made plane

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Do you follow Chris on Instagram? Come on! CLICK THE PIC. It’s fun! (Photo at Lake Tahoe)

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Trip Report: British Airways 787 Dreamliner San Jose-London

British Airways business class club world

A middle seat that’s actually preferred? Yep! On British Airway’s 787 nonstop between San Jose and London (Photo: Scott Hintz)

Trip Summary

  • BA’s new San Jose (SJC) – London Heathrow (LHR) nonstop offers its standard (if a little long-in-the-tooth) Club World experience. It’s a solid product that hits all the basics, including a flat bed that’s decent for sleeping on the 11 hour flight
  • The new 787-9 Dreamliner BA flies on this route is terrific in that it’s new, offers features that help provide a better night of sleep and reduce jetlag and fatigue, and has a 2-3-2 layout including a middle seat that’s actually preferred by some solo business travelers
  • A very unusual take off pattern from SJC (see below)
  • A smaller, simpler airport (than nearby SFO) and later departure time make this flight a very convenient option for Bay Area travelers, especially those located in Silicon Valley and the larger South Bay. Mineta San Jose International Airport is about 40 minutes south of SFO, depending on traffic.
  • Nonstop, roundtrip fares from SJC to LHR this fall are in the range of $1,100 to $2,400 in economy; $1,500 to $2,600 for premium economy; $6,500 to $9,000 in business; and $8,000 to $15,000 for first.  These fares are roughly the same as similar nonstop BA flights out of SFO. (NOTE: British Airways is currently offering upgrades to First for those paying certain business class fares and flying before Dec 23 2016.) 
Scott Hintz

TravelSkills contributor Scott Hintz prepared this Trip Report

Flight Details:

BA 278 SJC to LHR | July 20, 2016 | Club World (business class) | Seat 13K

This flight was provided by British Airways so that Travelskills could review the new route from San Jose to London.  However, the opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Background

British Airways launched this new route from San Jose to London in early May of this year.  This is BA’s first time serving the San Jose airport and is the airline’s fourth destination in California (SFO, LAX, and SAN are the others).  For Bay Area travelers, the SJC flight complements BA’s existing twice-daily flights to SFO, currently flown on an A380 and a B777.  The San Jose flight is operated by the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, which is a relatively new aircraft for BA.  The flight currently departs SJC at 8:05pm and arrives at London Heathrow the next day at 2:15pm.  The return flight from LHR departs at 3:20pm and arrives the same day at SJC at 6:10pm.

BA is one of several new long-haul international flight options that have opened up at SJC recently.  Lufthansa recently started service to Frankfurt, Germany, while ANA now flies nonstop to Tokyo (Narita) and Hainan Airlines flies directly to Beijing.  Last month, Air China began nonstop service to Shanghai.

SJC Airport Experience

The first thing you notice upon arrival at Terminal B at SJC, where BA is located, is how much smaller and easier to navigate it is than SFO. BA had several check-in lines open and it was easy to get through quickly.  

San Jose SJC

British Airways ticket counter at San Jose Airport (Scott Hintz)

After check-in, I headed to security, which was also very quick.  While SJC does offer TSA Pre-Check, only a small number of international carriers (Air Canada, Aeromexico, Etihad, Lufthansa and WestJet) participate, and unfortunately British Airways isn’t one of them at this point.  Thankfully, there was a dedicated line for first and business class customers and it was short and moved quickly.

Terminal B at SJC is modest in size, but is modern, open, and airy, with plenty of shops and restaurants. After clearing security near gate 27, I had to walk almost the entire length of the terminal to get to BA’s gate 18, and even further through a connector to terminal A to get to gate 15, where the lounge is located. (A nice workout before a long flight, right?)

San Jose SJC Brit Pub

British pub restaurant near the BA gate — coincidence? (Scott Hintz)

 

San Jose SJC Jamba Juice

Terminal B at San Jose Airport (Scott Hintz)

 

San Jose SJC Connector

Connector from Terminal B to Terminal A at San Jose Airport (Scott Hintz)

 

San Jose SJC Pet Relief

People traveling with pets will appreciate the pet relief area conveniently located right within the terminal! (Scott Hintz)

Lounge

At SJC, British Airways (and almost all other carriers) use a shared contract lounge called The Club at SJC, located near gate 15.  Upon entry, I presented my business class boarding pass and was admitted right away.  

The Club at SJC

The Club at SJC in Terminal A at San Jose Airport (Scott Hintz)

 

The Club at SJC San Jose

Airlines using The Club at SJC (Scott Hintz)

 

Club at SJC lounge

Reception desk at The Club at SJC (Scott Hintz)

I arrived at the lounge around 5:30pm, well in advance of our 8:05pm departure, but the lounge was already pretty busy.  The lounge was light and spacious with nice views, one side looking out toward San Jose and the other looking onto the runway.  There are two main rooms, one being more quiet as it’s designated as a cell-phone free zone, whereas the other one contains the buffet, bar, and cafe.  The food selection at the buffet was pretty lackluster, consisting of pretty standard snacks you’d find in a domestic U.S. lounge from AA, UA, or DL — crudite, cheese and crackers, mixed nuts, popcorn, chips, fruit.  In addition, there was a very limited selection of cut pieces of sandwiches, although they didn’t look very appealing.  There’s a full bar with an assortment of beer, wine, and spirits, in addition to a self-serve soda machine and small bottles of water.  Wifi in the lounge was free and seemed to work well with fast speed and a reliable connection.  Power ports were also plentiful among the seating.  Finally, the bathrooms in the lounge were a weak spot as they are small and outdated and weren’t very clean at the time I visited.  There is a separate room where you can shower, although it was in use, so I couldn’t see inside it.

Club at SJC San Jose

The “quiet” room in The Club at SJC (Scott Hintz)

 

Club at SJC

The main (non-quiet) room of The Club at SJC (Scott Hintz)

 

Club at SJC

Bar at The Club at SJC (Scott Hintz)

 

Buffet club at SJC

Food selection at The Club at SJC (Scott Hintz)

 

British Airways San Jose

View of the tarmac from The Club at SJC — our aircraft taxiing to the gate after arriving from London (Scott Hintz)

Boarding

The flight had a posted delay of five minutes, seemingly due to a late arrival of the inbound aircraft from London.  Even when running on schedule, the plane has just under two hours on the ground at SJC, which is pretty quick for a plane of this size — impressive that BA was almost able to keep us on schedule even with a late incoming aircraft!  I headed down to the gate at the original boarding time and found it to be very busy with nowhere to sit.  The gate areas in this terminal are pretty snug, so boarding a larger plane like the 787-9 definitely maxes out the waiting area.  Thankfully, it wasn’t a long wait before boarding began.  BA allowed a lot of time for pre-boarding and a number of people took advantage of that, including a surprising number of families with small children.  The joys of traveling in the summer!  General boarding followed the expected sequence of priority boarding by class and elite status and went very smoothly.  

SJC flight attendants

Crew arriving at the gate for the flight to LHR (Scott Hintz)

Settling In

First impressions once on board were good.  Being a new plane, everything looked clean and shiny — and the large windows on the 787 did a nice job of lighting up the interior so it was bright and welcoming.  This plane is configured with all four classes of service — First, Club World (business), World Traveller Plus (premium economy), and World Traveller (economy).

The first class cabin consists of two rows in a 1-2-1 configuration for a total of 8 seats.  BA’s first class seat has beautiful finishes and looks great, although the seat itself is compact and limited in privacy.  Many travelers call BA’s first class “the best business class out there,” given that the seat is similar to what you find in business on airlines like AA (777-300), DL (A330), Cathay Pacific, etc.  But it’s nice that BA at least offers a first class cabin on the SJC route, as the smaller 787-8 only offers business class.

British Airways First 787-9

First class cabin on BA 787-9 (Scott Hintz)

 

British Airways First

First class cabin on BA 787-9 (Scott Hintz)

Business class consists two rows in a “mini-cabin” directly behind first class, then another four rows in a larger cabin just past the lavs and galleys.  Seats are arranged in a 2-3-2 configuration with the seats against the windows, as well as the center seat in the middle 3-across section, facing backwards.  This is a familiar layout to anyone who has flown BA in business before and it’s essentially the same seat BA has been flying for quite a while.  What’s somewhat nice about the 787 is that the middle section only has three seats, so the middle seat is all by itself and offers a lot of privacy for a solo traveler.  On other BA widebody aircraft, the middle section has four seats, including two coupled together in the middle — great for a couple traveling together, but far too intimate for two strangers who happen to be seated next to each other!

British Airways 787-9 middle seat

A very private middle seat in business class on BA’s 787-9 (Scott Hintz)

 

British Airways Club business class 787

Club/business cabin on BA 787-9

 

British Airways 787-9 (SeatGuru)

British Airways 787-9 layout (SeatGuru- CLICK for page)

I took a quick look in the premium economy cabin, which felt nicer than I was expecting.  It’s definitely a big step up from the “economy plus” type of extra-legroom seating that most of the U.S. carriers offer, with seats feeling a lot more like what domestic U.S. airlines have in first class. Finishes were nice, legroom looked good, and I like that you have a footrest to take the pressure off your legs on a long flight.  The cabin is in a 2-3-2 layout, as opposed to the 3-3-3 layout in economy, so the premium economy seat is wider in addition to the extra 6 or 7 inches of legroom.

British Airways World Traveler Plus 787-9

“World Traveller Plus” premium economy cabin on BA 787-9 (Scott Hintz)

British Airways World Traveler Plus premium economy 787

“World Traveller Plus” premium economy seat on BA 787-9 (Scott Hintz)

 

British Airways economy class 787

Seats configured 3-3-3 in British Airways World Traveler (economy) section (Scott Hintz)

Back in the Club/business cabin, I took my seat.  Waiting there was a blanket and pillow, along with a pair of noise-canceling headphones. After a few minutes, a flight attendant stopped by to offer me a pre-departure drink and a menu for the food service on the flight.  Later, another flight attendant came by distributing amenity kits.  The business class amenity kit on BA is nothing spectacular, but it offers all the basics and I happen to quite like the Elemis products it contains.  It all comes in a somewhat unusual sack that feels a little like a shoe bag — I’ve never really understood why the bag is so large when you unfold it, as it doesn’t seem particularly useful for any other purpose.  The kit contains earplugs, a pen, hand lotion, facial cream, lip balm, toothbrush/toothpaste kit, socks, and an eye mask.  As I finished inspecting the kit, the safety video played and we began preparing for departure.  At this point, I noticed that the business cabin was roughly three-quarters full, so there were plenty of empty seats where you could grab an extra blanket or pillow.  Which was handy, because the pillow BA offers is on a the small and thin side, so definitely try to grab an extra if you can.  I find the blanket to be quite large and just the right balance between being warm while not overly bulky or hot.

British Airways Champagne

Pre-departure beverage in BA business class (Scott Hintz)

 

British Airways amenity kit

Amenity kit in BA business class (Scott Hintz)

 

British Airways menu business class

BA business class menu (Scott Hintz)

The Seat

The BA business class seat was revolutionary when it was introduced in the 1990s as it offered a flat bed at a time when that was only found in first class. Today, the BA seat lags the competition, but it gets the job done.  Given the 7-across seating on an aircraft where many other airlines only have 4-across, it’s definitely snug in terms of width.  But it does recline into a fully-flat bed that I find sufficient for sleeping, which is perhaps the most important criteria for a business class seat.  And if you can get one of the window seats, or that single middle seat in the center section, then you also have a fair amount of privacy.  I would definitely try to avoid any of the four aisle seats, if at all possible.  However, the downside of the window/middle seats is that you have to step over the feet of the person next to you if they happen to be reclined at the time.  I don’t find it that hard to do and it’s worth the tradeoff to have more privacy, so I definitely prefer the window/middle seats.  If you choose seat 13K on this flight, the window in the last aisle of business, you get the bonus of unimpeded aisle access, since there is nobody in the row behind you that you need to step over.

With the alternating forward/backward seat layout, there is a privacy partition between seats that you can move up or down.  If you’re flying with someone, it’s actually a nice feature as you are essentially looking at each other face-to-face if you have the divider down.  But if you are traveling alone, it can certainly be a bit awkward to have a stranger sitting there looking right at you!  (The partitions must be in the down position for take off and landing, too. Hello, neighbor!)

The seat controls are simple and intuitive, allowing you to easily recline into a lounging position or go all the way flat for sleeping.  There’s a controller for the entertainment system that you can detach from the wall and use in your hands, or you can just reach out and touch the monitor, which I find easier than pressing small buttons on the controller.  The video screen itself is on the small side at roughly 10.5 inches.  There are two power ports for charging devices, including a versatile plug that can accommodate USB or many common plugs, including U.S. style.  The screen pops out from the wall of the pod, but it must remain stowed during taxi, takeoff, and landing, so you can’t watch programs gate-to-gate.  Beneath the monitor is the meal tray, which also pops out from the wall of the pod.  Finally, you have a decent-sized storage drawer near the floor with plenty of room for devices, amenity kit, headphones, etc.

One last noteworthy feature of the seat is the window.  As is standard for the Dreamliner, the windows are clearly larger than other aircraft, making for some great views and providing generous sunlight.  There’s also the standard button for electronically dimming the window.  It worked fine for me, and this seems to be a feature that some people like and others don’t.  I’m indifferent, although I didn’t love the fact that it took almost a full minute for the window to completely darken when I was ready to go into sleep mode.

British Airways business class 787

Business class seat, BA 787-9 (Scott Hintz)

 

British Airways Club divider

This is what it’s like looking into the facing seat with the divider down on British Airways Club (Scott Hintz)

 

Seat controls business class British Airways

Seat controls in business class on British Airways B787 (Scott Hintz)

 

British Airways 787 windows

Electronically-dimmed windows on BA 787-9 (Scott Hintz)

 

Power ports on BA 787-9 (Scott Hintz)

Power ports on BA 787-9 (Scott Hintz)

 

Business class storage drawer on the BA 787-9 (Scott Hintz)

Business class storage drawer on the BA 787-9 (Scott Hintz)

The Flight

Takeoff consisted of a zigzag pattern out of the Bay Area and afforded for some incredible views as the sun was setting.  

Unusual akeoff pattern from SJC airport (Scott Hintz)

Unusual akeoff pattern from SJC airport (Scott Hintz)

 

San Jose 787 wing

Beautiful views of Silicon Valley departing the Bay Area at sunset, including the gorgeous wing of the 787-9- note the curve! (Scott Hintz)

Shortly after takeoff, I perused the entertainment selection of the on-demand system.  It had a fairly typical assortment of movies, including many newer releases, TV shows, music, games, etc.  Menus were easy to figure out and the system was quick and responsive.  I watched Zoolander 2, which was really funny and much better than expected!  Unfortunately, this aircraft, and all aircraft in the BA fleet, currently do not offer WiFi — although they have recently announced plans to start adding super-fast WiFi to their transatlantic fleet in 2017.

Zoolander

Seatback entertainment options – I chose Zoolander 2 (Scott Hintz)

Flight attendants came around with hot towels and then came back to offer drinks and nuts.  The nut mix was in a package, as opposed to the warm nuts in a ramekin that AA and some others provide, but they were still tasty.

Post-takeoff drinks and packaged nuts in BA business class (Scott Hintz)

Post-takeoff drinks and packaged nuts in BA business class (Scott Hintz)

Meal service then began with a choice of starters, a salad, and fresh warm bread from a basket.  It seemed a little strange that one of the two starter choices was a salad, meaning that if you select it, you have a starter salad and also a separate salad course before the main entree.  But both salads were very good, consisting of fresh ingredients that tasted good and which were attractively plated.

Starter salad and separate salad course in BA business class (Scott Hintz)

Starter salad and separate salad course in BA business class (Scott Hintz)

For the main entree, you had a choice of filet of beef, Atlantic salmon, Pappardelle pasta, or yet another salad.  Yes, it’s possible to have three salads in a single meal, perhaps a nice option for those who avoid meat.  I had the salmon, which didn’t look so great with the liquidy sauce and fairly monochromatic pallet, but it actually tasted pretty good.  I’ve often had fish on a plane that is overcooked and dried out, but this one was moist and seemed fresh.  Dessert consisted of only one choice, a cheesecake brownie, which was good, or you could opt for a cheese plate.

Salmon dinner entree in BA business class (Scott Hintz)

Salmon dinner entree in BA business class (Scott Hintz)

Service was complete around two hours into the flight, which seems pretty typical.  For a flight that departs at 8pm, I would expect that most people would want to sleep pretty quickly, so it would be nice if BA offered either a pre-flight dining option or some kind of express meal service on board the plane.  Still, finishing service around 10:30pm San Jose time is pretty reasonable in terms of people then sleeping at a normal bedtime.  The crew dimmed the lights after service was complete and it seemed like most people slept for a majority of the remaining seven hours of flight time.

The crew was active during the meal service, but then you rarely saw them after that.  I think that’s a good thing, as the cabin stayed nice and quiet for sleeping.  Flight attendants throughout the flight were professional and efficient, although they weren’t particularly warm or chatty.  Nobody addressed me by name or struck up conversation or anything else to go above and beyond performing their required duties.  Again, I think that’s perfectly fine, especially for business class.  I certainly did not encounter any crew members who were cold or rude in any way.

While the cabin was dark, it remained quiet and there was minimal traffic up and down the aisles.  This is also the point of the flight where I could really feel the differences of the Dreamliner, namely the more humid air and the higher pressurization.  Even after five hours of flight, I didn’t have the normal altitude headache or dried out skin and airways that I normally feel on a long haul flight.  This benefit was felt for the duration of the flight and my body definitely felt much better the day after the flight, as well.  This alone makes me a big fan of the Dreamliner to the point that I would seek it out for future long-haul flights, if available.

BA offers a “club kitchen” area within the galley where you can stop for a snack or drink if you have a craving during the night.  The selection is modest, but comes in handy when you just want something quick and simple without any hassle.  

The lavatories in business class are basic, but functional.  Unlike the A380, which offers some very large lavs, they are quite small on the 787-9.

Lavatory in BA business class on the 787-9 (Scott Hintz)

Lavatory in BA business class on the 787-9 (Scott Hintz)

Around 90 minutes prior to landing, the crew began breakfast service.  An assortment of beverages was offered, including coffee, tea, fruit juice, and a smoothie, followed by choice of fruit plate or greek yogurt.  Flight attendants also came around with a pastry basket before serving the entree, which was a choice of a full English breakfast, an asparagus and mushroom frittata, a continental breakfast of cheese and eggs, or a hot breakfast sandwich.  I had the frittata, which was surprisingly good.

Fruit plate breakfast starter in BA business class (Scott Hintz)

Fruit plate breakfast starter in BA business class (Scott Hintz)

 

British Airways Breakfast

Asparagus and mushroom frittata breakfast entree in BA business class (Scott Hintz)

Arrival

After breakfast, the crew prepared the cabin for landing.  The approach to Heathrow was routine and we were at our gate in T5 a few minutes early, despite our slightly delayed departure.  We disembarked from the forward door, and even though I was in the last row of business class and had to walk to the front of the plane, I was off the plane within 10 minutes of arrival at the gate.

Since I was connecting onward to Germany, upon leaving the plane I followed the clearly marked signs for connections and took advantage of the Fast Track lane offered to BA first and business class passengers.  Heathrow T5 is notorious for long, slow security lines, but this was one of the better times I’ve passed through there.  It took roughly 20 minutes to completely clear security, allowing me a quick visit to the BA Galleries Lounge before proceeding to my connecting gate.  The lounge is very large (and there are two separate business class lounges within the main T5 terminal) and has a wide variety of snacks, drinks, full buffet of hot food options, free wifi, bathrooms, and showers. The lounge was busy, but not packed, during this visit, so it was easy to find seating and an empty power outlet to charge up my electronics.  

I love that BA has an Elemis Spa within their lounge in T5 and business class passengers are entitled to a free treatment, with a choice of a few quick, basic therapies such as shoulder massage or facial.  However, in my experience, open appointments tend to be scarce.  While I didn’t really have enough time on this short connection to enjoy a service regardless, on my return flight I had a 3.5-hour layover in T5 and the spa didn’t have a single appointment available during that lengthy interval.  Too bad, because in the past when I have been able to get an appointment, that quick shoulder massage can do wonders for the body.

Summary

This was a solid business class experience on BA.  The flight itself was pretty routine with the standard BA seat, food, entertainment, etc. The crew was good and, while not standing out as particularly engaging, performed their duties and took good care of passengers.  

However, the Dreamliner aircraft was a definite plus as it’s new and quiet and is easier on the body with improved air and pressurization. That alone would be a good reason to take this flight on a long-haul trip to Europe relative to competitive offerings with other carriers. Add in the benefits of the easy-to-navigate San Jose airport and a later departure time that allows for a full day of work prior to the flight and, for many, an easier time sleeping after the meal service, and this new BA flight is a great new option for Bay Area travelers.

Have you flown BA from San Jose? Would you? Please leave your comments below.

(This Trip Report was prepared by TravelSkills contributor Scott Hintz. Be sure to see what wrote about his recent experience on Japan Airlines, too.)

Note: British Airways covered the cost of air travel on this trip. The write covered the cost of hotels, meals, transfers and other related expenses. 

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts! Shocked passenger refuses to pay $3 for water | More Delta SkyMiles for Asian tripsTips from a Hawaiian Vacation | JetBlue-Delta slugfest means lower fares | Test your planespotting skills! )

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Shocked passenger refuses to pay $3 for water

WOW Air

Welcome onboard! We charge $3 for a bottle of water, okay? (Photo: WOW Air)

Over the last few years, travelers welcomed a new type of airline known as “ultra-low-cost carriers” or, in travel industry parlance, “ULCCs.”

You may have never heard of many of these airlines, but they are a key reason we’ve seen airfares come down this year. When a ULCC enters a market, major airlines usually pay attention and lower fares accordingly.

Domestically, ULCCs include Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit Airlines. European ULCC’s include include WOW Air and Ryanair. Norwegian Air acts like a ULCC, but considers itself a low-cost, high frills carrier along the lines of JetBlue or Virgin.

Have you flown on an ultra-low-cost carrier yet? What did you think?

While ULCCs have been around a while, I still frequently hear from readers who are shocked SHOCKED to discover all the extra fees that come with those ultra-low fares. This include nearly everything from drinks and meals to carry-on bags and advance seat selection. Some even charge to print a boarding pass if you did not do it at home.

Here’s one of the most recent reader letters. Take a read and let me know what you think. Is it okay for a ULCC to charge for a bottle of water? Please leave your comments below.

Dear Mr. McGinnis,

As an expert traveler, blogger, and columnist who has written extensively about traveling and has been an advisor to frequent travelers at SFGATE, you were the person I thought of, who could address in your columns the risks of flying with a low-cost airline.

I would like to share with you my experience regarding a recent flight that I took on August 23rd on a low-cost carrier called WOW airlines, an Icelandic airline (wowair.com) from San Francisco to Paris. I decided to fly on this airline because the cost of the ticket was a lot cheaper than on other airlines ($760 round trip + $77 to check a bag). At the time,  I was aware that flying with WOW meant that items such as food and beverages were not complimentary. [Currently, WOW Air is promoting fares as low as $440 roundtrip between SFO and Iceland for fall trips. From the east coast, fares are as low as $239 round trip. That is CHEAP!]

I have experienced this when traveling on other low-cost airlines in Europe such as EasyJet. I didn’t mind this, seeing as the duration of the flights were usually short, i.e. no longer than three hours.

However, I had assumed that on longer flights, the airline would provide passengers with food and beverages free of charge. I was stunned when I discovered that on the first leg of the flight from San Francisco to Keflavik, the main airport in Iceland, food and beverages were not complimentary. This was after all an 8-hour flight! I believe that flights that are transatlantic and longer than six hours, should provide at least some food to their passengers.

Wow Air offers roundtrip fares as low as $440 between SFO and Iceland

Wow Air offers roundtrip fares as low as $440 between SFO and Iceland

While I wasn’t thrilled about this, I told myself that this is the way low-cost airlines work. If I pay less, then, this is to be expected.

What I did not expect was having to pay for water on this flight! I had taken a water bottle with me and had drunk all of it. When I asked if I could refill my water bottle, the flight attendant came back with a water bottle and a portable credit card machine. She told me that it cost three dollars to buy the water bottle.

I was shocked. How could they charge for water? It’s a basic need! Plus, the cost was ridiculously high for a water bottle. I told her that I just wanted to fill the bottle with water, but she replied that they only had water bottles.

Related: What’s it like to fly Norwegian Air? 

I refused to pay. This was really beyond the pale. How could a flight not have water readily available to its passengers? What if there was an emergency and a passenger needed to drink water ASAP? Would they charge him/her, too? Because I didn’t want to pay for water, I didn’t drink anything for several hours until I arrived in Paris.

When I came home, I wrote to the airline to inform them that I was very displeased with the fact that they charge for food and beverages, especially water on an 8-hour transatlantic flight. Soon after I wrote them, I looked at reviews of the airline online only to discover that it received scathing reviews due to poor customer service and its tendency to lose luggage, have significant delays, and be unavailable or unhelpful to passengers when they needed information about their flight.

I received yesterday a reply from WOW. Here it is:

Replied on Thursday August 25th:

Dear L,

Thank you for getting in touch with us. We are firm believers in the business model “you pay for what you use”. We are a low-budget airline so all extra services are not included in the ticket price and come for an additional charge.

We believe it’s unfair for our guests to pay for something they have no intention of using. That is why you are allowed to choose what you pay for, you do not pay for anything you do not use.

Feel free to write back should you have any more questions!

Have a nice day.

Kind regards,
Briet
WOW air

I found this answer unacceptable and appalling. As a result, I deemed it important to inform the community of travelers about this airline and its treatment of its passengers. By sharing our stories with travel experts and advisors, we can show that this kind of behavior is unacceptable and, in my view, amoral. I believe that low-cost airlines should be held accountable for the way they operate and treat their passengers.

Thank you very much for having taken the time to read this.

Kind regards,
LG

So readers, what do you think? Is it okay for an ultra-low-cost carrier to charge $3 for a bottle of water? Would you pay for it?

Please leave your comments below.

-Chris McGinnis

This post originally appeared on Chris’s SFgate blog, The Frequent Travel Adviser. The post has attracted more than 300 comments and was the most popular post on SFgate two days this week. 

(We’re back from summer vacation! In case you missed our other recent round-up posts, here they are: Domestic Routes RoundupTips from a Hawaiian Vacation | August’s most important travel news)

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What Delta, Korean Air fence-mending means for SkyMiles

Korean Air KAL 747 747-8

Soon it will be much easier to earn Delta SkyMiles on Korean Air flights like the new 747-8 flying SFO-Seoul (Image: Korean Air)

Delta frequent flyers will get a lot more opportunities to earn and burn Delta SkyMiles on trips to Asia starting later this year. The carrier is planning a big expansion of its code-sharing partnership with Korean Air, followed next year by the addition of a new Delta flight from Atlanta to Seoul Incheon.

This is great news for flyers affected by the previously chilly relationship between the two SkyTeam partners which greatly diluted (or eliminated) the ability to earn Delta SkyMiles (including MQMs) when flying Korean Air. When Delta places its code on Korean Air flights, you buy the ticket from Delta, which means that you earn SkyMiles just like any other Delta flight. But when you get to the airport, you board a Korean Air flight.

Delta and Korean Air have been partners in the SkyTeam global alliance since it was founded 20 years ago. But that partnership got a little rocky in recent years when the two carriers could not agree on a potential joint venture.

With the big code-share expansion, subject to government approvals, Delta’s code will go onto Korean’s flights from San Francisco and Houston to Seoul, and on Korean Air flights beyond Seoul to 32 Asia destinations including Taipei, Osaka, Singapore, Nagoya, Okinawa and others.  Korean will put its code onto Delta’s new Atlanta-Seoul flights and on Delta flights beyond Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York to 115 destinations in the U.S. and Canada.

Related: Trip Report- Korean Air Boeing 747-8 SFO-Seoul

The Delta-KAL codeshare lets you buy a ticket from Delta, but fly KAL (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The Delta-KAL codeshare lets you buy a ticket from Delta, but fly on KAL metal (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

“Combined, Delta and Korean will offer round-trip connectivity to 142 destinations in the Americas and 33 destinations across Asia between their joint Atlanta-Seoul schedules,” the airlines said.

Delta said its new ATL-Seoul flight — set to launch on June 3 of next year using a 291-seat 777-200LR – will complement Korean Air’s existing daily service in the market. The flight will have 37 Delta One seats, 36 in Delta Comfort and 218 regular economy seats. Korean’s ATL-Seoul flight uses a 777-300ER with eight seats in First Class, 42 in Prestige business class and 227 in economy. The Delta flight will depart Atlanta at 1:05 p.m.; Korean’s flight leaves Atlanta at 12:20 p.m.

If you had to chose Delta or KAL to fly to Asia, which would you pick? Why? Please leave your comments below. 

(We’re back from summer vacation! In case you missed our other recent round-up posts, here they are: Domestic Routes RoundupTips from a Hawaiian Vacation | August’s most important travel news)

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Bay Area to Barcelona, nonstop, $199 + more low fares to Europe

Barcelona El Prat's big bright and gorgeous international terminal (Chris McGinnis)

Barcelona El Prat airport’s big bright and gorgeous international terminal (Chris McGinnis)

Norwegian Air will add the Bay Area’s first nonstop service to Spain when it launches Oakland to Barcelona flights next summer. Introductory economy fares on the route are as low as $199 each way, including all taxes and fees. Norwegian has announced that it will also add new nonstops between Oakland and Copenhagen in March (starting at just $179 each way), with both routes using its fleet of new Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

The schedule is a little thin, though– flights to Barcelona and Copenhagen from OAK will run only twice per week during the peak summer months.

This expansion makes it clear that Bay Area travelers are responding well to Norwegian Air’s low-fare, low-frills service. With Barcelona and Copenhagen, Norwegian now flies to five cities in Europe from Oakland. (It does not offer service from SFO or San Jose). With the addition of these new flights, Oakland will become California’s third major gateway to Europe, beating out San Diego.

In addition to Oakland, Norwegian will offer nonstops to Barcelona from Los Angeles (starting June 5 2017), Newark and Ft Lauderdale. Oakland to Barcelona starts on June 7, 2017; Copenhagen starts March 28.)

Norwegian will fly a brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner between Oakland, Oslo and Stockholm next year.

Norwegian Air will fly a new Boeing 787 Dreamliner between Oakland and Barcelona next year. (Photo: Oakland International Airport)

This low-cost carrier flew into the Bay Area in two years ago with nonstops to Stockholm and Oslo from Oakland. Then earlier this year, it added nonstops from Oakland to London-Gatwick. Gatwick (LGW) is 28 miles south of central London but still convenient–the easy 30-minute, approximately $30 Gatwick Express will whisk you from the airport to Victoria Station in the heart of the city.

Don’t miss: Trip Report: Oakland>London Gatwick on Norwegian Air

On its 787 Dreamliner, it only offers seats in economy class (259) and premium economy class (32). All premium economy seats offer in-seat power outlets if you want to stay up and work across the pond. Norwegian refers to its premium economy seats as simply, “Premium.” Premium fares to Barcelona will start at $1698 round trip. Plus in-flight wi-fi is free on its intra-Europe flights.

Take a look at how Seatguru describes economy and premium economy seating on Norwegian Air’s 787 Dreamliner.

But limited recline is disappointing for those expecting lie-flat.

Limited recline in Norwegian’s premium economy seats might be disappointing for those longing to lie-flat. (Photo: Nancy Branka)

GET ALERTS: Do you want to get fare deal alerts and travel news sent to your email box? Sign up for the TravelSkills.com blog here

Economy cabin has a clean look and decent seat pitch on Norwegian Air

Norwegian 787 economy class cabin has a clean look and decent seat pitch, configured 3-3-3. (Photo: Nancy Branka)

We checked today and the $199 fare is indeed available for SFO-Barcelona in June (see below). However, the least expensive return from BCN to SFO in June is $256, making the lowest round trip $455 all in– that’s quite a deal and it won’t last long.

Fare check on Weds Sept 7

Fare check on Weds Sept 7

Have you flown Norwegian Air yet? What did you think? Please leave your comments below.

–Chris McGinnis

(We’re back from summer vacation! In case you missed our other recent round-up posts, here they are: Domestic Routes RoundupTips from a Hawaiian Vacation | August’s most important travel news)

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International routes update: Delta, Air China, United, Hainan, Turkish, Southwest, American + more

Air China will use an A330-200 between San Jose and Shanghai. (Image: Mehdi Nazarinia/Wikimedia Commons)

Air China will use an A330-200 between San Jose and Shanghai. (Image: Mehdi Nazarinia/Wikimedia Commons)

In international routes news, Air China comes to San Jose; Delta is dropping routes to Tokyo and Moscow; Las Vegas gets a Beijing flight; Southwest and American plan new service to Mexico from LAX; LaCompagnie suspends London flights; Copa doubles up on San Francisco service; Air Canada trims San Diego-Vancouver capacity; Turkish trims flights to US and EVA adds more seats from Seattle to Taipei. Also, stay tuned to TravelSkills for some really good route news for Oakland coming out this Thursday.

Mineta San Jose International Airport added another international route last week when Air China kicked off new service from SJC to Shanghai – the airline’s only route to Shanghai from North America. Air China is using a two-class, 237-seat Airbus A330-200 on the route, departing San Jose on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Departure time from SJC is 1:30 p.m. for the 12.5-hour flight, with arrival in Shanghai at 4:40 p.m. the next day.

Delta, which recently won new rights to operate daytime flights to Tokyo’s close-in Haneda Airport from Los Angeles and Minneapolis-St. Paul, said it plans to discontinue its daily New York JFK-Tokyo Narita service on October 2. On October 3, Delta will axe its daily Narita-Osaka flight, and on October 29 it will end its daily Narita-Bangkok service. The airline will still fly to Narita from Seattle, Portland, Detroit and Atlanta. Meanwhile, Delta this week suspended its New York-Moscow non-stop service for the season, with plans to resume the flights in May 2017.

Las Vegas will also get new service to China by year’s end. Hainan Airlines has applied for government approval to fly three times a week between Las Vegas and Beijing, with a starting date of December 2. Hainan has been growing its U.S. presence in recent months, and currently flies from San Jose to Beijing, Los Angeles to Changsha, and Seattle to Beijing and Shanghai.

(We’re back from summer vacation! In case you missed our other recent round-up posts, here they are: Domestic Routes RoundupTips from a Hawaiian Vacation | August’s most important travel news)

Southwest will add three routes from LAX to Mexico. (Image: Jim Glab)

Southwest will add three routes from LAX to Mexico. (Image: Jim Glab)

Both American Airlines and Southwest Airlines apparently see room for growth in the Los Angeles-Mexico market. American is planning to start new daily 737-800 flights on December 15 from LAX to both Cancun and Puerto Vallarta. And Southwest on December 4 will launch twice-daily service from LAX to both Cancun and San Jose del Cabo, as well as one flight a day between LAX and Puerto Vallarta. Meanwhile, Mexican low-cost carrier Volaris plans to begin new service December 1 between Denver and Monterrey, Mexico, operating two A320 flights a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays).

United is switching up equipment on key routes between SFO and Europe for the winter season starting October 30. On SFO-London it will run two 777-200ERs instead of the current 777 and 787 Dreamliner. On SFO-Paris, the current 767-300ER will be replaced with a 787.

Panama’s Copa Airlines, a member of United’s Star Alliance, plans to increase service between Panama City and United’s San Francisco hub. Effective November 1, Copa will increase its schedule on the route from one to two 737-800 flights a day. (Regrettably both departures from SFO are red-eyes, arriving Panama City in the morning.)

All-business-class La Compagnie blames Brexit for dropping Newark-London flights. (Image: La Compagnie)

All-business-class La Compagnie blames Brexit for dropping Newark-London flights. (Image: La Compagnie)

La Compagnie, a niche carrier that offers transatlantic all-business-class flights with 74-seat 757s, said that it will drop its route linking Newark with London’s Luton Airport effective September 25. In October, the carrier will add a second daily flight to its Newark-Paris CDG route. In explaining its decision to drop Newark-London service, La Compagnie said that the recent decision by British voters to take the U.K. out of the European Union – aka Brexit – “has created an unprecedented level of legal and economic uncertainty for airlines that service Great Britain.” 

Taiwan’s EVA Air will boost capacity this fall on its route to Taipei from Seattle. The carrier plans to add a second flight three days a week, for a total of 10 a week, beginning November 19. EVA will use a 777-300ER for the extra flights.

Turkish Airlines

Turkish Airlines is cutting back on weekly frequencies, but not to SFO, pictured here (Chris McGinnis)

Turkish Airlines is reducing frequencies to several US cities in the wake of the downturn in demand due to recent events as well as the slower winter season ahead. Airline Routes is reporting service cutbacks (but no elimination of service) between Istanbul and Atlanta, Boston, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami.

Air Canada currently operates an Air Canada Rouge A319 on its daily San Diego-Vancouver route.  But the carrier plans to temporarily suspend the route effective October 17, and when it resumes service December 14, it will downsize to a CRJ-705 operated by Air Canada Express. Elsewhere in Canada, Westjet plans to convert its seasonal Calgary-New York JFK service into a year-round route, operating six flights a week when its winter schedule begins October 30.

(We’re back from summer vacation! In case you missed our other recent round-up posts, here they are: Domestic Routes RoundupTips from a Hawaiian Vacation | August’s most important travel news)

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Popular: More PreCheck | Easy Virgin points | Cell phone warning | Delta biz class | Hotel bonuses + much more

Lufthansa's A380 maiden FRA-SFO voyage loads up in 2011 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Lufthansa now a part of PreCheck (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

While we were away in August (see post), the biggest travel news story seemed to be Delta’s computer outage, which wreaked havoc on summer travel plans, cost Delta $100 million, and exposed how airlines have wiggled out of previous arrangements to honor each other’s tickets in such cases. What a mess!

Nearly every major hotel chain rolled out new fall promos last month, all of which require registration. We’ve included links to them below.

After plowing through emails and notifications, here are the stories that caught our eye (in no particular order). I’m sure we probably missed a few, so please help us catch up by adding your two cents in the comments! (Next up in our catch-up is a big airline routes update, so stay tuned…)

Lufthansa is first European carrier to join PreCheck: Up til now the only international carriers with PreCheck were Air Canada, WestJet, Aeromexico & Etihad

Easiest 500 Virgin America Elevate points ever: An easy no-brainer- just sign up for an email alert

FTC warns that rental cars might be able to steal data from your phone: Yikes! Connecting your phone to car via USB or Bluetooth could set you up for a breach

Alaska Airlines produces a hip new mood-lit video designed to woo Bay Area travelers: Conservative Alaska Air’s first foray into hipness. But no real news about fate of Virgin brand. Thoughts?

United changes Mileage Plus award rules for multi-leg trips: Screws continue to tighten on frequent flyers

Delta A350 business class

Rendering of Delta’s new business class suite with a door on its A350s (Photo: Delta Air Lines)

Delta’s new business class suites with privacy doors for A350: But it’s going to be a while until you can get cozy in one of them

Some airport Starbucks to serve booze

British Airways axes half its JFK-London City all-biz-class flights: Looks like Brexit is taking a toll on the high end of the market

American’s new ad campaign suggests that you need so bone up on your Travel Skills! 😉 See it yet? Thoughts?

American now offers free Main Cabin in-flight entertainment on domestic flights– following in the footsteps of Delta

If you apply for more than five credit cards every two years, you should read this: New “5/24” rule stymies credit card points hobbyists

The new Marriott Residence Inn in Portland, OR (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The new (ish) Marriott Residence Inn in Portland, OR (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Most major hotel brands rolled out fall bonus promos- go ahead and sign up for all of them, because you never know where you might be staying!

Marriott’s popular MegaBonus is back and it’s choosy (registration required)

Double (or triple) your Starwood SPG points this fall (registration required starting Sept 12)

Double points for every stay at all Hilton portfolio hotels (registration required)

Stay five nights, get 5,000 points (plus plus) from Hyatt (registration required)

New high-end Chase Sapphire RESERVE card offers 100K sign up bonus: Did Chase make this bonus too good? Rumors swirl about delays/changes due to high demand. When shopping for a new card, please be sure to use our new card resources pages! It helps us help you.

Priceline dumps “name your own price” for airlines; keeps it for hotels and rental cars

SFO

On-airport parking rates at SFO soar (Photo: Monte Deignan)

SFO Parking rates hit new high- some up up 40%: Apparently the airport is trying to encourage use of public transport options by jacking up prices for individual cars

Fly Virgin America by Sept 30, earn 999 Elevate points (Registration required): Another easy no-brainer if you fly Virgin a lot

Virgin America to lay off 225 management workers as Alaska Air merger approaches: I guess we all saw this coming. We still wonder if a JetBlue merger is in the works…

Amtrak’s new Acela trains in the northeast will hit top speeds of 220 mph: Currently, trains run at 135-150 mph. See the video of the sleek new trains

Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge Istanbul

Turkish Airlines outstanding “Heroes of Democracy lounge” (new name) at Istanbul (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Check out the slick new Turkish Airlines lounge at Washington-Dulles: Not as grand as its Istanbul counterpart (pictured) but a nice addition at IAD

Korean Airlines introduces no-show fees on long-haul flights: Joining Emirates, Singapore and JAL in this unusual practice. If you can’t make your flight, just call ahead and let them know– or you’ll pay.

U.S., Mexico agree to open up air routes, frequencies: Could lead to cheaper flights for spring break- and more nonstops

KLM plans to retrofit its A330s with new business class: Its B777s, 747s and 787s already have it

FAA clears Indonesian carriers to fly to the U.S: Garuda could come back, but would you?

Delta starts deploying RFID baggage tracking technology systemwide: Good news for the few TravelSkills readers who frequently check bags

Delta quietly boosts prices of SkyMiles business class awards: Yet another unannounced sneaky move

Google teams with Waze to challenge Uber, Lyft in San Francisco: Getting paid to carpool. Would you?

Marriott upgrades the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Card

Hanalei, Kauai, Hawaii, sunset

Watching the sunset from Hanalei, Kauai (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Chris’s summer vacation in Hawaii… don’t miss his pics and tips from the trip!

Hilton expands, upgrades Digital Key and other features of HHonors app

Gogo to be available in China

New 787 crisis? ANA will replace engines on all 50 of its Dreamliners

Virgin Atlantic will offer free live TV on its 787-9 fleet

We have a big new airline routes update coming next. But what did we miss? Please share what you think are the biggest travel news stories over the last month in the comments below!

–Chris McGinnis

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DEAL! $540 to Hong Kong from U.S. East/West coast, roundtrip

Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong in top floors of the ICC Tower in Kowloon (Photo: Ritz-Carlton)

Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong in top floors of the ICC Tower in Kowloon (Photo: Ritz-Carlton)

Nonstops on United and Cathay to Hong Kong plummet (Google Flights)

Nonstops on United and Cathay to Hong Kong plummet. Show are prices from SFO CLICK to check (Google Flights)

Fares for nonstop flights to Hong Kong cities like San Francisco, New York, Chicago and Boston decreased substantially this weekend. Act fast if you want to head to Honkers late this summer or fall.

The cheapest fares we found for nonstops in September, October, November or December are as low as $533 round trip on United and Cathay Pacific! (Last week, we found an even lower fare of $357 round trip, but it required a stop in Seattle, and was not nearly as widespread.)

Related: The world’s nicest airport lounge is at HKG

Nonstop roundtrip fares from both SFO and NYC are just $533 - remarkable! (Google Flights)

Nonstop roundtrip fares from both SFO, BOS, ORD and NYC are just $533 – remarkable! CLICK to check (Google Flights)

Check these deals out for yourself on Google Flights. Act fast because fares like this never last very long. I usually think that any roundtrip fare between the US and Asia that is less than $800 is a good deal, so these are really remarkable.

NOTE: Fares valid when posted at 8:00am on Sunday, July 24

Don’t miss! The 3 most spectacular hotels in Hong Kong

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: How to get the BEST summer fare dealsOne airline fee fading fast | Trip Report: Aer Lingus Economy Class | 5 top jobs for frequent travelers  | First class phase out coming soon

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How much for new Lyft Premier ride to airport?

Lyft's new Premium service includes cars like the BMW 5 Series. (Image: BMW USA)

Lyft’s new Premium service includes cars like the BMW 5 Series. (Image: BMW USA)

Uber has long offered an upscale ride option called Uber Black, and now its smaller competitor Lyft has unveiled a similar luxury service.

It’s called Lyft Premier, and it’s being offered in response to what the company said were many customer requests for “a more stylish arrival for business trips and special nights out.”

Pricing for Lyft Premier

Pricing for Lyft Premier

Lyft Premier is initially available in the Bay Area, Los Angeles and New York City. Those who summon a Premier ride with their Lyft app will be transported in a BMW 5 Series, Audi A6, Lexus ES or Cadillac Escalade, the company said. “Premier will be arriving in more cities soon,” Lyft said.

How much more will you pay for that ride? We checked and found Lyft Premier rates between downtown San Francisco and SFO at $55-$67 compared to regular Lyft rates which run $26-$34. In New York, a Premier ride from Manhattan to JFK runs $101-$121, while a regular Lyft costs $52-$65.

In addition to the new Premier rides, Lyft’s service options include Line (shared ride for no more than two passengers), regular Lyft (car with four seats), and Lyft Plus (six seats).

Have you tried Lyft yet? It’s become our go-to ride-sharing service because they make it so easy to tip drivers. Give ’em a go from our referral link and you’ll get $20 off your first ride!

Related: Should I tip my Uber driver? 

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: How to get the BEST summer fare dealsOne airline fee fading fast | Trip Report: Aer Lingus Economy Class | 5 top jobs for frequent travelers  | First class phase out coming soon

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How to get the Delta discount from CLEAR

CLEAR announces new airport fast lanes at DCA and IAD (Image: CLEAR)

CLEAR announces new airport fast lanes at DCA and IAD (Image: CLEAR)

Today I received my annual renewal notice from CLEAR, and once again the decision wheel began to roll in my head. Should I? Or shouldn’t I? $179 is a lot, but think about the few times when CLEAR has come to the rescue when an unexpected line popped up at airport security. I’ve had good success with PreCheck this year, so is it worth it?

When I wrote about this in 2014, asking readers if I should renew, the answer in blog comments was a pretty emphatic YES. At the time, CLEAR seemed seems stagnant, and not in a lot of airports.

But now CLEAR is now in 12 airports, and just today, it announced that it will soon be in both Washington, DC airports, National and Dulles. Plus last week it said it was moving into Seattle-Tacoma. (We’re  still waiting to hear how Delta will deploy CLEAR at its hubs) 

Renewal email from CLEAR

Renewal email from CLEAR- but wait, do I really have to pay $179? 

And then I remembered that Delta now offers membership discounts to its SkyMiles members: Delta Diamond Medallion members get complimentary CLEAR enrollment, while Platinum, Gold and Silver Medallion members it for just $79. Even general members get a nice discount: annual membership for just $99.

So I replied to CLEAR with this query: Hello: Now that Delta is offering discounts for SkyMiles members, I’d like to continue my CLEAR subscription with them at the lower annual price. How do I go about doing that?

Promptly, CLEAR member services replied with a YES! Dear Christopher, Thank you for contacting CLEAR. To add your Delta Skymiles to your CLEAR account, you will need to send us your Skymiles number. We will check the rate, then add that to your account.

Sweet! With a $100 discount, ($79/year vs $179) the decision is made and I’ll renew my CLEAR membership for another year. What about you? 

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: How to get the BEST summer fare dealsOne airline fee fading fast | Trip Report: Aer Lingus Economy Class | 5 top jobs for frequent travelers  | First class phase out coming soon

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Most popular: SFO in 3D + Delta discounts CLEAR + Washing planes + Uber prices

Lake Burton

Happy Fourth from Lake Burton, GA! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

1 San Francisco’s new airport terminal (See interactive 360 degree view below)

2 Delta’s deep discounts for CLEAR membership

3 Worst airports for customs/immigration linesWeekend Edition

4 How often do planes get washed?

5 Routes: San Francisco, LAX, Houston, San Jose, New York, Washington, Chicago

6 A chat with Qantas CEO re LAX, SFO, 787, lounges

7 Stunning changes at iconic NYC hotel

8 Airport news: Houston, Chicago, San Jose, Orange County

9 Uber scraps surge pricing – not!

10 6 highly annoying habits of infrequent fliers

Don’t miss! New Hotels in Honolulu, Washington DC, Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland

SFO Interim B

Click to see a cool 360 degree view of new SFO Interim Terminal B

Brexit won’t affect British Airways operations much

Delta plans special summer events at its Atlanta, JFK Sky Clubs

Interactive 360 degree view of SFO Interim Terminal B

Five years after merger, United flight attendant groups might finally get a single contract

EU gives antitrust clearance to merger of Starwood and Marriott

Airlines consider virtual reality headsets to replace traditional in-flight entertainment

Boeing said to consider a supersized 777 model to compete with the Airbus A380

Starwood plans to open a Four Points by Sheraton in Havana this month

Southwest’s new platform will enable easier booking

Starwood expands keyless entry guest room technology

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: How to get the BEST summer fare dealsOne airline fee fading fast | Trip Report: Aer Lingus Economy Class | 5 top jobs for frequent travelers  | First class phase out coming soon

twitter-floowmeDo you follow us on Twitter? It’s a great way to keep up with the latest news!

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San Francisco’s new $2.5 billion airport terminal

SFO Terminal 1

Rendering of SFO Terminal 1 to be complete by 2024 (Image: SFO)

Today San Francisco International Airport officially launched the much needed, long anticipated renovation/replacement of its aging Terminal 1, from which Southwest Airlines currently operates.

Today also marked the last public appearance of long-time airport director John Martin who retires next month. In his remarks, Martin got a big chuckle from the crowd (including SF mayor Ed Lee) when he recalled his first ever trip to SFO for a job interview saying,  “I flew into Terminal 1 on World Airways, and while I was excited to be there, I thought the place looked like a bus terminal. I’m very pleased to see it go.”

To celebrate the kick off of the project, Martin, Lee and other dignitaries whacked at a Terminal 1 column with shiny new sledgehammers.

Instead of shovels, dignitaries used sledgehammers at SFO event. Interim terminal construction in background (Chris McGinnis)

Instead of shovels, dignitaries used sledgehammers at SFO event. Interim terminal construction in background (Chris McGinnis)

The $2.4 billion terminal will be completed in phases over the next eight years. The first phase will be to demolish much of what’s there while preserving a sliver of the current structure as the “Interim Boarding Area B” where Southwest will continue to operate from 9 temporary gates during the renewal. From what I could tell, the interim terminal layout it identical to the old, but will be updated with new carpet and mod egg chairs. (This is where the event was held today.) By 2019, there will be 17 new gates in operation.

Rendering of what Southwest's Interim Terminal B gates will look like (SFO)

Rendering of what Southwest’s Interim Terminal B gates will look like (SFO) CLICK for 360 degree view

SEE: 3D view of interim Terminal B 

SFO spokesperson Doug Yakel told TravelSkills: “In September, Southwest will shift from their existing gates to newly-developed gates 23-28. These gates will have all-new materials and finishes, in line with Terminal 2 or Terminal 3 East. This move allows work to begin on the permanent new Boarding Area B, which will be built around the gates Southwest is using right now.”

When it’s complete, the new Terminal 1 Boarding Area B will be bigger, brighter and designed to look and feel like the popular Terminal 2 (Virgin America & American) or United’s newest Terminal 3 Boarding Area E.

Don’t miss: 6 highly annoying habits of infrequent flyers

SFO Terminal 1

SFO’s new terminal 1 will connect to the International Terminal (to the left) and to Delta’s Boarding Area C (to the right). It will also accommodate overflow from international terminal.

Upon completion, Boarding Area B will feature a total of 24 gates, including six gates which can accommodate international arrivals by providing direct access to the U.S. Customs & Border Protections Federal Inspection Area.  Connecting walkways located post-security will provide easy access to International Boarding Area A and Boarding Area C (Delta), which has a new behind-security corridor to Terminal 2. Eventually, another behind-security corridor will connect T2 with United’s Terminal 3 although there’s no firm date for when that project will launch.

Save! How to shop for summer airfare “deals”

All good… but it is going to take a while! Here’s the phasing schedule:

September 2016:    Interim Boarding Area B opens with 9 gates

December 2018:     New Boarding Area B opens with 9 gates

June 2019:             New Boarding Area expands to 17 gates

September 2020:    New Boarding Area B reaches full capacity of 24 gates

Mid-2024:              Terminal 1 Center, refreshed Boarding Area C complete

For more information, please visit: www.flysfo.com/about-sfo/airport-development/t1

 –Chris McGinnis

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: How to get the BEST summer fare dealsOne airline fee fading fast | Trip Report: Aer Lingus Economy Class | 5 top jobs for frequent travelers  | First class phase out coming soon

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Worst airports for customs/immigration lines

Customs lines are a lot longer at some airports than others, a study finds. (Image: Customs & Border Protection)

Customs lines are a lot longer at some airports than others, a study finds. (Image: Customs & Border Protection)

If you’re traveling abroad this summer, the time you’ll spend waiting in line to get through Customs & Border Protection (CBP) on your return could be torturous – or it could be pleasantly brief. It all depends on the airport you come back through.

And whether you belong to CBP’s Global Entry or not, of course.

A new study from MileCards.com warns that the longest CBP lines will be encountered during July and August, averaging 21 to 22 minutes. And the worst waiting times will be at California airports. The top 10 worst airports for CBP line times out of the 41 that have international arrivals facilities include five in the Golden State, the study found: Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, Fresno and Los Angeles.

Considering only the nation’s busiest airports, MileCards.com determined that the longest waiting times are at Miami, with an average of 27 minutes, but maximum line time that ranges up to 55 minutes. In second place was San Francisco International, with a 24-minute average and maximum line time of 48 minutes; New York JFK also posted average waits of 24 minutes.

customswait1

By contrast, the shortest lines among the busiest international airports were at Phoenix, averaging 10 minutes; close behind Phoenix were Charlotte, Washington Dulles and Atlanta, all with average waiting times of 12 minutes or less.

customswait2

MileCards.com noted that 13 of the busiest airports (including San Francisco and San Jose) now offer the free Mobile Passport Control app (www.MobilePassport.us) that can handle arrival formalities and gives users access to an expedited CBP lane as well as priority lanes for Customs declarations. Other advice from the company: Try to schedule a return flight that doesn’t arrive very early in the morning, as many flights from Asia and Latin America do. For returns from Europe, try to avoid mid-afternoon arrivals.

At San Francisco International, a spokesman confirmed to TravelSkills that the airport had the highest growth rate for international arrivals of any U.S. airport last year. He said that it is trying to reduce line times by installing more self-service Automated Passport Control kiosks (increasing their number last month from 40 to 64, with another 16 coming this fall), and that SFO is currently “pilot testing the first 24/7 Global Entry enrollment office in the U.S.,” as we reported a few weeks ago.

Global Entry

Plenty of kiosks, but few travelers at SFO’s Global Entry queue (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The study suggests that travelers coming back from Europe should arrive through Atlanta or Washington Dulles instead of JFK or Newark, while Asia travelers should look to a Seattle return instead of California airports.

It also suggests enrolling in CBP’s Global Entry trusted traveler program ($100 for five years) over the Mobile Passport Control app, especially for travelers with connections from their re-entry gateway. (Why? Because in addition to speeding members through the Customs checkpoint via self-service kiosks, Global Entry also provides TSA PreCheck privileges.) MileCards.com notes that several credit cards will reimburse holders for the cost of Global Entry membership.

MileCards.com this week also issued a comparison of the Mobile Passport Control app vs. the Global Entry program, with details about how and where they work, along with a list of credit cards that cover the cost of Global Entry.

Are customs and immigrations crowds affecting you? Please leave your comments and experiences below. 

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: How to get the BEST summer fare dealsOne airline fee fading fast | Trip Report: Aer Lingus Economy Class | 5 top jobs for frequent travelers  | First class phase out coming soon

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Trip Report: Turkish Airlines Business Class to Istanbul

Turkish Airlines

Checking in for a 6:10 p.m. departure from San Francisco to Istanbul (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

I’ve dreamed of jumping on Turkish Airlines ever since I first began seeing images of its unusual business class lounge in Istanbul and hearing about its over-the-top inflight service. Most people who have flown Turkish said, “Get to Istanbul airport early so you can enjoy the lounge for a few hours before your flight.” Or, “Don’t eat for a day before flying Turkish- you won’t believe how much food they serve on the plane!”

Those dreams came closer to reality when Turkish started nonstop service between San Francisco and Istanbul last year. My interest was heightened even more when it launched nonstops from Atlanta last month because many TravelSkills readers hail from there.

Regrettably, unrest in Turkey has resulted in a decline in visitors to the country. So when Turkish offered to fly me from SFO to Istanbul (IST) for a TravelSkills Trip Report, I asked if I could fly to Athens instead and report on the experience using IST as a connecting airport, which I thought would be a much more likely scenario for our readers. Currently, about 60 percent of its passengers are transiting IST instead of starting or stopping trips there, and that number could rise.

As would be expected, flight attendants pass trays of Turkish delight candies during each flight (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

As you might expect, flight attendants pass trays of Turkish delight candies during each flight (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Since neither SFO or ATL have nonstops to Athens, connecting to Greece via Istanbul (IST) is an easy and convenient option for those headed there or to the popular Greek Isles. (Plus, Turkish and other carriers have deeply discounted business class roundtrips a few times this year to as little as $1,500 round trip, so set up your fare alerts and grab one if you can!) For September trips, business class fares run about $4,000 round trip. Economy is about $1,100. There is no first class or premium economy “comfort” class on the SFO flights.

Turkish is a member of the Star Alliance, so United Mileage Plus members can redeem miles for Turkish Airlines trips.

My trip to Greece and back was quick…just four days on the ground there, plus two days flying. The flight from SFO to IST runs about 13 hours. From Istanbul to Athens is a short hop– only about 90 minutes. So the entire journey, including a quick 90-minute layover in IST was about 15 hours.

Highlights of this Trip Report include:

  • Diverse, delicious and copious inflight dining that dazzled my eyes and filled my belly
  • The best and worst seats on the plane
  • Unusual touches like candle-light dining (see the gif!), hot towels served on small plates
  • Overheated cabins
  • Young, energetic and professional crew
  • Issues around booze
  • Two different B777s on the route
  • That lounge. Oh, that lounge! (Included in Part 2 of this report)

Check in at SFO was smooth and easy at about 4:30 pm. There were only three people in the business class line and a very friendly, talkative agent wearing a hijab checked me in and told me to proceed to the United Club on International Concourse G.

Flight 81 departs SFO at 6:10 pm, so the club was very busy since several flights depart at around this time. Good news: United has upgraded the food station in the club, offering a broad selection of cheeses, sausages, vegetables, hot soup, bread, crackers and cookies. Plus the spread now has a nice view! Other than that, the United Club has not changed much since my last visit.

United Club food

Newly expanded food offerings with a view at SFO International Terminal G (Chris McGinnis)

When I’m flying to write up a TravelSkills Trip Report, I usually ask if I can board a few minutes early to get some good photos of the cabin before passengers board. Thankfully, Turkish obliged and I snagged some great shots of both business and economy class cabins. I was unable to get an good image of the plane (a Boeing 777-300ER) from the gate area, so I’ve used one from the inaugural arrival at SFO in April 2015. 

Turkish Airlines inaugural flight with San Francisco mural arrives at SFO (Chris McGinnis)

Turkish Airlines inaugural flight with San Francisco mural livery arrives at SFO (Chris McGinnis)

Business class seats are configured 2-3-2. Since you get outstanding views of North America and nearly the entire continent of Europe during this flight, a window seat is my recommendation. Plus it’s quieter and less likely to be disturbed by movement in the aisle if you are sleeping– and that’s the main upside to the dreaded “middle seat” seen below. Those are the “E” seats.

Turkish Airlines

Seats are comfortable and spacious, and the cabin is nice and open…but there are 7 middle seats that you’ll want to avoid if possible (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Business class is split into two sections on this plane. What you see above is the forward cabin, which has four rows. The aft cabin, behind the galley, has three rows.

What I really liked about this cabin is its open floorplan. Low seatbacks make it very social and fun compared to other layouts which cocoon passengers in their own little worlds. Plus, in this cabin style, I could watch flight crews as they went about rolling out the elaborate inflight meal service. If you are like me, and like to watch what is going on, book a seat near the rear of the cabin. If you want to sleep or work, go for one near the front.

Big bright seatback touch screens, leather ottomans, plenty of nooks for storage (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Big bright seatback touch screens, leather ottomans, plenty of nooks for storage (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

There are miles of legroom between the seat and seatback. It’s tough to use those nice leather ottomans as footrests due to the distance, but it’s a perfect place to sit and visit with friends or colleagues face to face. Note the storage space for shoes and other items underneath the ottoman. When the seat is in full recline, the ottoman becomes part of the lengthy bed.

Turkish Airlines

Nice: Each seat comes with a lumbar support pillow (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Turkish Airlines

Gigantic overhead bin space easily accommodated my carryon bag (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Turkish Airlines

Economy class on the Turkish B777 configured 3-3-3 with rainbow colored leather headrests (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Unlike other Turkish Airlines B777 flights, the planes on the SFO run do not have a premium economy or “comfort” section.

Turkish Airlines

32 inches of pitch between economy class rows (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Turkish Airlines

Economy class on the Turkish 777 is 3-3-3. Each seat has a large IFE screen plus USB power.

See: Turkish Airlines B777-300ER V2 on SeatGuru.com

Okay, let’s get back up front and take a look at the service and the seat in business class. First thing you should do before boarding a Turkish flight is learn how to say THANK YOU in Turkish. You would not believe the big, surprised smiles you get from the crew when you say Tesekkurler when they help stow your bag, offer you a juice or help make your seat into a bed. It’s pronounced something like Teh-shay-koo-lahrd. Here’s how to say it! Just do it!

Turkish Airlines

Fun, friendly flight attendants offer 3 types of juice or water while boarding. Want champagne? Ask for it (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

I’ve heard over the years that getting a cocktail on Turkish Airlines is complicated. That’s mostly due to the country’s (and current government’s) Muslim roots. For example, Turkish recently stopped offering alcohol on its domestic flights and on several international flights to other Muslim countries.

So for those who’d like to imbibe, here’s how it seems to work: During boarding, flight attendants pass through the business class aisles offering fruit juice and water from a silver tray, but no champagne, a common offering on most other airlines. If you ask for champagne, the flight attendant is more than happy to go get you a glass, but it’s not on the tray. I noticed the same thing during meal service, if you ask for wine with your meal, you’ll get it, albeit a relatively small pour. Flight attendants do not offer you more unless you ask for it– which is quite different from U.S. or European flights where flight attendants wander the aisles with bottles, looking for empty glasses 😉

Turkish Airlines

Business class recliner control (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Seats are comfortable, but I never really understood this recliner control. I still don’t know what the MR and M+ buttons do! Similar to what I experienced on Qantas (See our Qantas Trip Report), a flight attendant will make your seat into a bed at your request, covering the seat with a fitted quilt, offering a large pillow and a blanket. Turkish does not offer business class passengers pajamas for this 13-hour flight.

Turkish Airlines

Flight attendants make seats into cozy, quilt-covered beds at passenger request. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

One this B777 flight, there were 15 crew members, including three chefs and four flight attendants in business class.

Turkish Airlines

A small but very classy touch that I noticed: Hot towels are served on a china plate, not handed to you with tongs (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Turkish Airlines

Elaborate menus in English and Turkish are like menu origami– unfolding into beautiful shapes (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Turkish Airlines

3 chefs onboard our SFO>IST flight- this one is taking our dinner orders and explaining how each dish is served. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

On SAS, “Chefs” are really flight attendants who change clothes to serve meal. (See our SAS Trip Report) But on Turkish, these guys are dedicated to meal service throughout the flight– there were three onboard in both directions.

Turkish Airlines

A nut mixture that include pistachios, almonds, macadamias and hazelnuts– not a peanut in sight! Note the parsimonious pour of wine. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Prior to the full meal service, the chef and flight attendants wheel out a tiered cart full of all kinds of unusual and delicious appetizers– passengers can choose from about eight options that include: Prawns, smoked trout with horseradish cream, grilled crab cake with sweet chilis, avocado tomato salad, spiced chicken breast, beet & goat cheese salad, hummus, deep fried eggplant with green pepper and tomato sauce, romaine salad with cherry tomatoes and creamy tomato soup! (Sorry I don’t have good photos to share of this course.)

And that’s just the starters! After that, the main courses come. Thankfully, the beautifully orchestrated service takes a while, so it gives you time to assimilate all the food. And I can’t think of a better way to pass the time on a 13-hour flight that departs at dinner time. But I know that a lot of folks would rather just eat quickly and go to sleep and if that’s the case, you can order a open-faced salmon sandwich and cheese cake at any time.

Turkish Airlines

Even the bread plate is elaborate on Turkish Airlines (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

My experience on Turkish was replete with those “small things” that really make a big difference. For example, bread is served in a special cloth pouch to keep it warm and moist– have you ever noticed how fast bread dries out while flying? Not here. Also note that you get both butter and olive oil for your bread, and a small dish of Turkish spices in addition to real salt and pepper shakers. And get this…. they are magnetized so they stick to the plate!

Turkish Airlines

Magnetic salt and pepper shakers! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

By far the most noticeable small touch are the votive candles in tiny bags placed on each dining tray. While these are small electronic votives, they flicker just like the real thing, and add a warm and welcome ambience to the meal service. It’s quite a nice sight to see the entire cabin filled with these flickering lights. Good job!

Main dishes included grilled salmon with parsley butter and zucchini, filet of beef with arugula and roasted potatoes, or mushroom ravioli with leeks, tomatoes and parmesan.

Turkish Airlines

Mushroom ravioli on Turkish Airlines (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Turkish Airlines

Steak option on Turkish Airlines (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

After the main course, there is even more! A dessert and cheese cart including several baklava-type Turkish desserts plus apple pie, chocolate mousse and strawberry ice cream. Phew! I agree with the advice I’ve received from others: Do not eat at all before getting on the plane. You’ll regret it!

Turkish Airlines

Chef is back with the cart (for the fourth time) with a broad selection and explanation of tea blends and coffee (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Turks are really big on tea, and the tea selection was endless, including an anti-jet lag blend of melissa, camomille, sour cherry and lavender. For digestion, there’s a fennel, anise and caraway blend. And to help “resolve the edema, reduce the swelling,” there’s a blend of green tea, cherry stalk, cornsilk and close. For stomach relief, you get a cold blend of mint, fennel, lemon and date syrup. Seriously!

Turkish Airlines

When was the last time an airline served you tea like this? Talk about elaborate service! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

After a cuppa tea, it was time to start thinking about cooling off and bedding down for the rest of the flight. But the cooling down part was tough. Turkish, like most other European carriers, tends to keep cabins way too warm… to the point of feeling stuffy. Maybe it’s just an American thing, but to me, a cool cabin promotes sleep and is just more comfortable. I inquired about turning the temperature down a bit, but flight attendants pushed back, stating that they are instructed to keep the cabin at 23C – about 75F, and showed me the thermostat. But the cabin sure felt warmer than that, and as you can see below, fellow passengers slept in mostly uncovered. This is not the first time I’ve suffered through an overheated flight, and probably won’t be the last, but is it just me? Or do you feel like some airlines keep the heat up too high? Please leave your comments below.

Turkish Airlines

How do you know a cabin is too warm? When sleeping passengers don’t use their blankets! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Despite the warmth, I was able to get about six hours of sleep on this flight and woke up in late afternoon, Istanbul time, for a hearty breakfast that included a small greek-like salad, cold cuts, and eggs with potatoes and spinach, coffee. Then I took a walk through the plane cabin, and had some fun with the crew just before our 5 p.m. arrival.

Turkish Airlines

One of many small touches that impressed me: Fresh flowers in the galley corridor (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Turkish Airlines

Even breakfast included appetizers– a cheese and tomato salad and sliced turkey (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Turkish Airlines

Breakfast main: omelet with spinach, tomato and potatoes. Plus a smoothie, not pictured (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Turkish Airlines

The fun, young crew on this flight having some fun with me posing for a selfie (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Turkish Airlines

Inflight wi-fi was free for business class passengers... but the connection was relatively weak, allowing for texting, email and light surfing, but I was unable to upload photos, or access photo-dense websites.

Turkish Airlines

Seatback inflight maps and exterior cameras for views (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Turkish Airlines

Istanbul Ataturk Airport has clearly outgrown its space. How do I know? Every Turkish Air flight I was on parked at a remote pad, and passengers were bussed to and from the terminal. After a 13-hour flight, a 15-minute bus ride to the terminal is unwelcome, but did not take too long. Due to the growth, Istanbul is now laying plans for one of the largest airports in the world, to be called Istanbul New Airport, the first phase of which is to open in 2018.

My connection from Istanbul to Athens was only about two hours, so I hightailed it to a place I’ve been waiting to see for years, the famous CIP Lounge. It turned out to be everything I’d dreamt of, and more… and my only regret is that I did not have enough time to really soak up all it had to offer! Like pool tables, olive bars, fresh pizza, a driving range, two grand pianos and more!

This post is already long enough, so stay tuned for Part 2, which will include a good look at the lounge and my trip from Greece back to San Francisco. Thanks for reading this far!

Have you flown Turkish Airlines before…or dreamt about it? Please leave your comments below. 

Turkish Airlines

Here’s a sneak peak at the stunning and unusual CIP lounge in Istanbul. Stay tuned for a full report about my experience there! (Photo: Chris McGinnis

–Chris McGinnis

Disclosure: Turkish Airlines covered the cost of Chris’s airfare to Athens. TravelSkills paid for hotels, transfers, meals and other incidentals related to this trip.  

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: How to get the BEST summer fare dealsOne airline fee fading fast | Trip Report: Aer Lingus Economy Class | 5 top jobs for frequent travelers  | First class phase out coming soon

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How to shop for summer airfare “deals”

Google flights

Google Flights maps entice, for July 4 weekend flights from SFO (Image: Google)

My eyes roll and I sigh every time I see a study or opinion about “the best day” to shop for low airfares. Gimme a break!

For many years, Tuesday was supposedly the “best day” for airfare shopping. A recent study shows that weekends, especially Sundays can be even better. I’ve heard some people advise staying up until 1 a.m. on Wednesdays. According to some experts, you should buy your ticket 42 days ahead of time. Oh, wait, the latest study says 57 days.

That advice is even more bogus as peak summer travel season approaches— a time when all “rules” get thrown out the window. (Peak summer season this year starts about June 15 and ends around August 21.)

The fact is that there is no “best day” for buying airlines tickets because each traveler and trip is different.

July 4 is on a Friday this year. Cavallo Point in Marin County, CA (Photo Chris McGinnis)

July 4 is on a Monday this year. Cavallo Point in Marin County, CA (Photo Chris McGinnis)

One bit of good news right now? Airfares are trending down due to lower fuel prices and overcapacity. But don’t think you are going to find any real bargains if you are planning to travel in July or August this year. While fares will probably be about the same or slightly lower than last summer, they are still painfully high during summer season and this year will be no different. (For example, I just booked a midweek trip from SFO to New York City- to get the nonstops and time that worked for my schedule, my client is paying a whopping $740! Ouch!)

The best time to find true fare deals is during slower fall “shoulder” season and airlines roll out deals to help keep all those seats full. Fall is one of the best times of year  for those with schedule flexibility to troll for last minute fare deals– or last minute “deals” on frequent flyer mile redemptions. Fall shoulder season begins the week after Labor Day.

Here are 6 steps to remember when fare shopping: 

1) Determine the “going rate” for the trip on the dates that work best for you– and keep in mind that Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays are generally the cheapest days for flying. Shop for fares on your airline of choice and also on fare comparison or shopping sites (my favorite is the ITA Matrix, but it’s kinda geeky). Google’s Flight Search tool is great for a cursory glance. And don’t forget to check Southwest.com since Southwest fares don’t show up on most comparison sites.

2) Factor in fluctuations in demand for your target price. For example, you won’t find that $300 transcontinental round trip in July or August…but you might find it during the slower fall months, or dead weeks of early January. You’ll likely find decent summer fare to Europe in September… but feggedaboutit in July or August. Subscribe to blogs like TravelSkills or follow our Facebook & Twitter feeds to stay on top of periodic fare sales.

3) Set up fare alerts for price drops— fare shopping sites such as AirFareWatchDogKayak, Hipmunk, FareCompare or major online travel agencies will do this for you. Based on your research of the “going rate” set a fare level that feels comfortable for you (based on demand), and you’ll get an email if the fare drops below that. Don’t forget to include all the airports near your destination– some can be significantly cheaper than others (such as Oakland instead of SFO, or Long Beach instead of LAX).

Economy class on United p.s. 757 (Chris McGinnis)

When was the last time you had an empty seat next to you?  (Chris McGinnis)

4) Once you see a fare that fits into your budget and timeframe, BUY IT. Feel good knowing that you snagged a good seat on a convenient flight at a reasonable price. Don’t sweat it. By waiting, you’d likely not find the most convenient flight for you. Convenience is worth paying for.

5) Monitor for fare drops during the 24-hour grace period you have for canceling reservations without penalty. In the rare case that you find a lower fare within 24 hours, cancel your original reservation without penalty, rebook, and repeat. (Tip: Clear your cookies before doing another search.)

6) If you are still worried that you might have paid too much, Yapta.com will monitor your fare and help you get a refund if you discover you overpaid. (But Yapta can’t get you out of paying cancellation or change penalties.)

Watch TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis offer his fare shopping advice on this CNN segment! 

What are your best tips for snagging the lowest fares? What’s the best deal you’ve obtained this year? Please leave your comments below. 

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

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New: Global Entry enrollment office to open 24/7

Global Entry SFO

Global Entry members bypass regular immigration lines at SFO (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Nearly every truly frequent international traveler now enjoys the magic of the Global Entry program. Those who enroll submit to a background check, and once approved, can re-enter the U.S. via a special kiosk lane at customs & immigration that takes seconds instead of minutes (or in some cases, hours).

What makes Global Entry even better is that once approved, you automatically get into the TSA’s essential PreCheck program, which speeds you through airport security.

At $100 for five years, you get two proven line-busters at the airport. That’s just $20 per year. That’s a no-brainer, right?

Well, the problem with Global Entry is that it might have become TOO popular. Especially after all the recent falderal about long airport lines. That popularity means that the wait to get your Global Entry status has swollen to unacceptable levels.

Global Entry

Special lanes marked by floor signs at SFO (Photo Chris McGinnis)

For example here’s one of several emails we’ve received recently at TravelSkills:

Wondering if you can discuss the ridiculous long waits for the Global Entry appointments at SFO?  The wait is now six months!  Luckily I managed to get a cancelled time slot, so I only needed to wait two months. My “interview” took less than five minutes, even though each interview is allotted 15 minutes.  There were three agents there at the enrollment office.  So instead of handling just 12 people in that hour, they clearly could have handled 24-36 people in that one hour, at least halving the wait times.  

Well, that frustration might be ameliorated soon at San Francisco International and elsewhere. According to SFO, US Customs & Border Protection has announced a pilot program to expand the hours of the Global Entry enrollment office to 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The pilot is set to begin on June 12 and run for 60 days, at which time the program will be evaluated.

“Due to the overwhelming success of the Global Entry program and the subsequent increase in applications, CBP clearly recognizes the need for additional interview opportunities,” said Brian J. Humphrey, CBP’s Director of Field Operations in San Francisco.

A CBP spokesperson told TravelSkills that currently the the 24/7 pilot program will be tested at SFO only. 

The Global Entry Enrollment Center at SFO is located pre-security on the arrivals level of the International Terminal. The facility already offers permanent hours of 7:00am-11:00pm, and will expand to 24/7 on June 12, 2016 for the 60-day pilot program. The expanded hours will offer an additional 826 appointment slots for travelers to enroll. For more information, visit: www.globalentry.gov.

Do you have Global Entry? Or are you in the queue waiting to get your membership? Please leave your comments below.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

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Popular: Fare sale + Secret spaces + First class + New biz class + PreCheck

Turkish Airlines

On Turkish Airlines, flight attendants offer lemon, orange or raspberry juice as a pre-flight beverage. If you want Champagne, you have to ask for it (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Last week TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis took a quick trip to Greece via Turkish Airlines. Wow! You are not going to believe the inflight service on these flights. Stay tuned for his Trip Report!

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):Weekend Edition

Heads up: Crazy business class sale to Europe (fading, but still a few deals!)

2  Secret spaces on planes you’ve never seen before

First class phase-out picks up steam

A typical window seat in United's new Polaris business class. (Image: United)

A typical window seat in United’s new Polaris business class. (Image: United)

United unveils new business class, dumps first

Routes: San Francisco, Portland, Atlanta, Houston, Washington D.C. + more

Transborder changes at SFO, Chicago, LAX, Houston, Minneapolis and SLC

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

Our famous photo of this unusual men’s room at Singapore Changi Airport (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Bay Area gains one new Asia route (SFO-SIN), loses another (SJC-PVG)

Is TSA PreCheck too expensive?

TSA explains confusion over PreCheck policies

10 Routes: American, Delta, United, Southwest

The New York Times did a nice job covering Delta’s new “innovation lanes” at Atlanta’s south security checkpoint. Based on what we’ve heard from TravelSkills readers, the new lanes are working and lines have been reduced significantly since the lanes opened last week. Have you tried ’em? (They are very similar to lanes we’ve seen at London Heathrow Terminal 5). No word yet on where these newer, fast lanes may turn up next.

Video of the week: Delta’s new innovation lanes open at ATL security checkpoints- see how they work!

The New York Times reports: In the United States, passengers going through airport security usually unload their belongings into bins one at a time, but with the innovation lanes, five fliers can unload their belongings in five different bins at the same time.

Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

Airports put brakes on Delta’s plans to add CLEAR fast lanes at hubs

Marriott Rewards offers airline bonus miles

American dumping Gogo for ViaSat inflight wi-fi

American politics make you want to move to Canada? Air Canada wants YOU! VIDEO

Delta forces Qatar Airways to use de-ice pad instead of gate for inaugural ATL flight

Take a virtual flight with Nicole Kidman on Etihad

Turboprops set to make a comeback in US

Former Virgin Atlantic 747 goes up for sale — on eBay

AA chief: Airlines should price more like hotels

Flying over the Bosporous, where Europe and Asia meet, on Turkish Airlines (Photo: Chris McGinnis) CLICK to follow me on Instagram!)

Flying over the Bosporous in Istanbul, where Europe and Asia meet, on Turkish Airlines (Photo: Chris McGinnis) CLICK to follow me on Instagram!)

State Department issues warning about travel to Europe this summer

Saudis invest $3.5 billion in Uber

New law requires rental firms to fix recalled vehicles before renting them

Southwest Airlines bulks up in the Bay Area

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

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Popular: Cheaper phone roaming + Delta spat + More at SFO + Quiz + Norwegian Air + United secret

Can you name this business class section? Hint: Look at the big windows! Plus it's included in our fun quiz! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Can you name this business class section? Hint: Look at the big windows! Plus it’s included in our fun quiz! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

1 Must sign up to get it: AT&T follows Verizon, T-Mobile to more roaming

2 Nonstop ribbon cuttings Slew of new flights at SFOWeekend Edition

3 Oh, pulleeaze! Inside Qatar Airways event that sparked Delta tantrum [PHOTOS] (See comments)

Don’t miss the AJC editorial about the Delta-Fox brouhaha which starts out like this: Atlantans were aghast last week when the body of the beloved Fox Theatre was found in a car trunk, bound and gagged, a single shot to the back of the head.

4 Battle begins Alaska, Southwest fight for California with new flights

5 Try it, you’ll like it Are you a business class seat expert? Take our fun quiz! Come on, 2,000+ readers have taken it so far! 

6 Oldie but goodie remains popular TSA explains confusion over PreCheck policies

Premium Economy seats on Norwegian

Premium Economy seats on Norwegian Air (Image: Norwegian Air)

7 New nonstop Oakland-London on Norwegian: Low fares, low frills

Routes: Atlanta, Raleigh-Durham, Chicago, Newark, Honolulu, JFK

9 Check ’em out, then check in 4 brand new hotels in New York City

10 Members only Hilton’s big summer sale

TravelSkills was invited to a big United Airlines event in NYC in early June which requires signing a non-disclosure agreement to get in the door. Regrettably we can make it due to a prior commitment (flying Turkish Airlines to Istanbul!), but we’ll keep an eye out for the news. Rumor has it that United will reveal a new BusinessFirst seat design at the event. But who knows? What do you think it could be? Leave your prognostications below.

United is rolling out a new first class seat for its A319, A320 and some 757 aircraft (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

United revealed this new first class seat for its domestic A319, A320 and some 757 aircraft last year. Will a new BusinessFirst seat be revealed next week? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

Atlanta Airport director Miguel Southwell sacked

Beware Delta’s new middle seat “upgrade”

United offering mystery elite status upgrades. Get one?

Scariest item ever seen by TSA? Gruesome

Summer sale at Kimpton hotels: 25% off + double points

Smarter to use ATL’s international terminal to avoid TSA security lines? Maybe. Maybe not. 

San Francisco’s newest tourist attraction: The Apple Flagship store on Union Sq

Delta CEO Ed Bastian

Delta’s new CEO Ed Bastian in his office at ATL HQ (Image: Airline Guys)

VIDEO: See inside Delta CEO Ed Bastian’s office at Delta HQ in ATL

Delta optimizes ‘SkyMiles Experiences’ website for mobile

Uber tests self-driving car in Pittsburgh

Eight low-cost Asia-Pacific airlines form an alliance

Falling fares will bring a record number of U.S. air travelers this summer

These are the most popular U.S. cities for meetings and conventions

American discontinues in-flight announcements of connecting gate information

(Image: Big Imagination Project)

(Image: Big Imagination Project)

In case you missed Saturday’s post about one of our favorite subjects, the much-loved Boeing 747: The 747 Project

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

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United Club improvements: hot breakfast, menus, beepers

Entry to the new United Club at SFO (Chris McGinnis)

Entry to the new United Club at SFO (Chris McGinnis)

United is tinkering with more robust food service at United Clubs, and reader BH emailed us yesterday with this report from Chicago, O’Hare:

I am sitting in the UA Club in Chicago (near B18) this morning and they are now serving proper food for breakfast at no charge (egg scramble, sausage, toast).  A big step up from the yogurt, fruit, and cold cereal (although that is still here).  They are calling it Club Bistro.  They also have menu ordering for a charge.  They give you a restaurant “beeper” and bring it to where you are sitting.  I have attached the menu.

Menu from United Club at O'Hare

Menu from United Club at O’Hare

I am sure that this is very new.  Lots of United suits with ID badges wandering around, watching, and talking.  I spoke with one of them and she said that they are planning on expanding this to other Clubs.

This really takes the United Club to the level of a non-US airline—a big step forward and I welcome their investment in improving their product.

Anyway, I just thought that you might find this interesting.  Keep up the good work.

Thanks, BH! We contacted United about this, and a spokesperson confirmed it, providing a few more snippets about “the official start of our United Club Transformation.”

“We want to become the industry leader in airport lounge customer experience, and the B18 United Club is the first one fully transitioned to our new service partner Sodexo, which currently provides services at dozens of locations including our award-winning LHR (London Heathrow) United Club and Global First Lounge. The new club offers our customers a higher-quality experience including a new bar program created by mixologist Adam Seger and chef-inspired menus from restaurateur Art Smith.”

TravelSkills was in London LHR last year when Sodexo showed off its food service prowess (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills was in London LHR last year when Sodexo showed off its food service prowess (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

“Breakfast offerings included sausage and eggs, fresh breads, muffins, fresh fruit, yogurt and granola. We’ll also offer seasonal hot food items for lunch along with a build-your-own salad bar and a wider selection of artisanal cheeses and charcuterie. We’re also piloting a for-purchase program with Giordano’s pizza — customers can order from a kiosk and Sodexo will deliver the food to their table.”

Click here for a 3D virtual tour of United’s renovated Club at O’Hare B18

Have you noticed a change at United Clubs? Please leave your comments below.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

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A new lie-flat seat on busy California corridor

Bunk in for the trip to LA or SF (Photo: Sleepbus)

Sleepbus CEO Tom Currier bunks in for the inaugural trip to LA from SF (Photo: Sleepbus)

A startup in San Francisco has launched lie-flat seat service…on a bus between downtown San Francisco and west Los Angeles.

Fares on the new Sleepbus are $65 each way (currently discounted to $48). You can bring up to three bags (plus a bike if you want). There’s an attendant, free wi-fi, in-seat power, coffee and a bathroom onboard. And fog or rain won’t slow down this bus.

The southbound bus leaves San Francisco’s downtown Caltrain station at 11 p.m. sharp, and takes about 6 hours, 30 minute to arrive at the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles. The bus unloads as soon as it arrives, but Sleepbus says passengers may continue sleeping until “check out time” at 7:30 a.m. The northbound schedule is identical, picking passengers at the Santa Monica Pier North Parking departing at 11 p.m. and arriving in San Francisco the next day at around 5-6 a.m. 

Each bunk has a privacy screen (hopefully a thick one to block snoring sounds) and fresh clean sheets from Casper (the popular online bedding company).

Sleepbus’s Tyler Gothelf told TravelSkills that the first trip to Los Angeles departed April 18th full from SF, and that seats are sold out on four runs over the next week. So far, he says, the company has sold 180 tickets.

Reminds me of the crew rest area on this Boeing 747!

There's the current "pilot" version of Sleepbus (Photo: Sleepbus)

There’s the current “pilot” version of Sleepbus (Photo: Sleepbus)

Sleepbus has rented a rig from an Illinois company for the “pilot phase”, but Gothelf says the company has intentions to switch to Google-style double decker buses in the near future, with bunks upstairs and a lounge downstairs.

Given the hassles of flying the California corridor, what with warnings of longer-than-ever TSA lines, frequent flight delays or cancellations at SFO due to low clouds and fog, traffic hassles on both ends, this might be a good option for some– especially those on the techie neighborhoods that surround Sleepbus endpoints.

And an added bonus is that you could actually sleep on the bus both ways and avoid overly inflated hotel costs in both cities. (SF is now the most expensive city for business travelers in the country.)

Sleepbus Facebook page here. 

Departing SF on the maiden voyage to LA (Photo: Sleepbus)

Departing SF on the maiden voyage to LA on April 18 (Photo: Sleepbus)

In addition, let’s say you need to take a last-minute trip to LA for a meeting. If I booked a trip to SFO-LAX today departing tomorrow and returning the next day, that would run me a whopping $457 round trip. Sleepbus (if it’s not sold out) would run $130.

Check out the UK version of the Sleepbus– the MegabusGold.

If I did it, I’d be sure to pack my Mack’s earplugs and Bucky eye mask. Maybe I’d sleep like I did on my recent Qantas flight to Australia. Or maybe not. But I’m curious.

Would you try Sleepbus? Why or why not? Please leave your comments below.

DON’T MISS YOUR CHANCE to fly in business class from SFO to China and write about it for TravelSkills! Details here. 

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NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

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Most popular: Airline ticketing tricks + Alaska/Virgin + NZ deal + 787 + California corridor

Delta Atlanta rains

Delta among major airlines pushing pricing shenanigans on multi-city trips (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

1> Airlines hosing us again? Warning: Be careful pricing multi-leg trips (readers sound off in comments!)

2> More new Routes: Southwest, American, United, Alaska, JetBlue

3> Consolidation drama Alaska Airlines + Virgin America: What you need to know now / Reactions to Alaska Virgin merger vary widely

4> Stunner- Deal alert: US to New Zealand for $898 roundtrip! (book by April 14)

KLM's new 787-9 Dreamliner (Photo: KLM)

KLM’s new 787-9 Dreamliner (Photo: KLM)

Weekend Edition5> Blue bird! KLM’s first 787 Dreamliner route to U.S. (photos)

6> Positive reader comments on this: New California corridor small-jet service: $109 each way

7> Some worse than others 8 European cities most affected by terrorism

8> America’s most unloved airport: United could face more competition at Newark

9> SPG not for everyone: Starwood surprise in latest JD Power survey

10> Sorry, folks. Seat size regulation killed in Congress

In this CBS 5 TV interview, Chris likens the the Alaska-Virgin merger to combining IBM & Apple. And don’t say anything about his ski-burned face! He was straight off the sunny Lake Tahoe slopes 🙂

Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

Relax. No combined Marriott-Starwood loyalty program until 2018

New: US Embassy in Turkey warns Americans in Istanbul, elsewhere 

Why the heck is United flying a new 787 Dreamliner between LAX and Newark? 

How to get the best flight deal to Europe

Delta shuts down, moves @DeltaAssist Twitter handle

Confessions of an airport thief

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)

World’s two busiest air routes? Surprising answer

United, Delta drop plan for JFK-Newark slot swap

How airlines are using post-booking emails to sell things to customers

Atlanta’s airport looks for ways to speed up security screening lines

Poll: Most hotel guests go online within seven minutes of checking in

These design innovations could improve the air travel experience

New study rates airports’ Wi-Fi performance

Survey finds road warriors are stressed out by international trips

Company develops 21-inch seatback touchscreens

Most popular Instagram photo this week is a photo of a photo on the wall at San Francisco International- an overhead shot of SFO’s international terminal in the 1960s.

Click to follow Chris on Instagram!

Click to follow Chris on Instagram!

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

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KLM’s first 787 Dreamliner route to U.S. (photos)

The Bay Area is getting yet another on of these shiny new birds (Photo: KLM)

The Bay Area is getting yet another one of these shiny new birds (Photo: KLM)

It becoming increasing difficult to find a flight out of the Bay Area that’s not on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Today, KLM announced that it, too, will deploy its first US Dreamliner between Amsterdam and San Francisco International on May 4.

KLM will offer 787-9 Dreamliner flights twice weekly throughout the summer season in addition to its daily flight, currently operated by a Boeing 747-400 from San Francisco-SFO to Amsterdam-AMS. KLM told TravelSkills that “after the summer season the Dreamliner could remain on the AMS-SFO route based on demand.”

KLM Dreamliner flight schedule – on Wednesdays and Sundays only:

KL610: Departs San Francisco-SFO at 4:45 p.m., arrives at Amsterdam-AMS at 12:15 p.m. the following day;

KL609: Departs Amsterdam Airport Schiphol-AMS at 12:40 p.m., arrives at San Francisco-SFO at 2:45 p.m.

KLM is the only carrier offering nonstop flights between SFO and Amsterdam. I’m surprised to see that fares are currently extremely high on its nonstop flight compared to one-stop options. According to Google Flight, business class SFO-AMS roundtrips in May are about $10,000 roundtrip. Economy Comfort is around $3,000 and  economy is about $1,700. (One stop business class on other airlines is running as low as $4,000, economy is at about $1,200)

Related: The #1 Boeing 787 Dreamliner hub in the US

KLM 787

Business class seats on KLM’s 787 Dreamliner (Photo: KLM)

The Dreamliner will be a far cry from the ancient MD11 that KLM only recently removed from regular service on the SFO route. The 306-passenger jet will offer a state-of-the-art inflight entertainment system, Wi-Fi for all passengers, and new World Business Class (WBC), Economy Comfort, and Economy class cabins designed by renowned Dutch Designer Hella Jongerius. It’s also outfitted with inflight Wi-Fi. And like other Dreamliners, the plane will have larger windows, a higher cabin pressure and special LED-lighting.

There are 42 seats in business class, 48 in economy comfort (35 inches of pitch) and 216 standard economy seats (with 31 inches of pitch). See SeatGuru layout here. All business class seats have direct aisle access– no middle seats on this bird. Interestingly, every seat is a slightly hue of blue or gray and gets a 16-inch entertainment screen- as well as a smaller handset that mirrors the image on the main screen. Oh, and there’s inflight espresso, too.

Cool! Track all Boeing 787 Dreamliners in flight right now

Economy class seats on KLM's new 787 (Photo: KLM)

Economy class seats on KLM’s new 787 (Photo: KLM)

KLM says its economy class seats recline 40 percent more than previous models and have access a power outlet. There are also new 11-inch HD entertainment touchscreens, interactive 3D maps, and the option to communicate via Seat Chat with fellow passengers who are not seated nearby.

Take a virtual tour of the new plane here. 

KLM is a member of the SkyTeam alliance.

Have you flown KLM before? What did you think? Please leave your comments below. 

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NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

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Deal alert: US to New Zealand for $898 roundtrip!

Air New Zealand flies a 777-300 like this on its LAX-AKL run (Photo: Air New Zealand)

Air New Zealand flies a 777-300 like this on its LAX-AKL run (Photo: Air New Zealand)

Today Air New Zealand announced an astonishingly low fare for summer trips to cities throughout New Zealand. If you’ve been scared away from Europe due to the recent terror attacks, this might be the summer to head to the antipodes instead.

Fares to Auckland from Los Angeles and San Francisco are just $898 round trip. From Houston, they are just $1098 round trip. And for just $50 more, you can add on an additional city in New Zealand.

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 3.36.25 PMIt’s rare to see fares to Australia or New Zealand dip below $1,000 round trip. These low airfares combined with a strong US dollar make for some of the lowest overall trip costs you’ll see in a loooong time. (Exchange rate is currently 68 cents per NZ$1.)

So if you’ve always dreamed of a trip to these mystical islands, this could be the time to make the jump! To get the deal, you must purchase your ticket by April 14. Here’s the link to the deal.

Regrettably, these low fares must be purchased from Air New Zealand in “G” class, which means that you cannot earn United MileagePlus miles on these flights.

Travel periods vary from city to city…and keep in mind that mid-summer here is mid-winter down there, which tends to be cold and wet. But November is warm and springlike. To get the lowest fares, you must travel on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. Friday, Saturday and Sunday flights cost $50 more (still a great deal!)

  • Travel period from Los Angeles is July 10-19, July 24 – Sept 21 and Nov 8 – Nov 26, 2016.
  • Travel period from San Francisco is July 1 – July 18, Aug 5 – Sept 21, Oct 28 – Nov 22, 2016.
  • Travel period from Houston is July 5 – July 18, July 31 – Sept 18, Oct 28 – Nov 30, 2016.

More info here

Competitive response? Keep an eye on United, with SFO-Auckland nonstops that start in June and Qantas, which may match (or come close to matching) this low fare.

–Chris McGinnis

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Should I tip my Uber driver? + Boeing 747 nearing its end? + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 + World’s best airline lounge? + Fares to Europe tumble 

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Most popular: Qantas 747 + Alaska-Virgin? + AA 24-hr rule + Tesla + Nightmare room

Virgin America's newest A320's have sharklets on the wings. Seen em? (Photo: Virgin America)

Virgin America: What’s going to happen to this popular airline? Photo: Virgin America)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

1 Jump on board with me! Trip Report: QANTAS 747-400 business class San Francisco – Sydney (Photos)

2 Big news My thoughts about Alaska Airlines getting Virgin America. Yours?

Routes: San Francisco, JFK, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto

4 Pretty in pink? Or not… Is this Hilton room a dream or nightmare?Weekend Edition

5 It depends… Worst summer ever for European trips? Or the best?

Munich Airport: Big new terminal, new US route, new hotel

Interview: 5 things Marriott CEO said about Starwood deal

San Francisco snags new UK nonstop

A look inside Delta’s newest jet (photos)

10 AA wants another big China route

Qantas just announced that it is collaborating with Tesla to offer special benefits to fliers– check this out… a Tesla vs a jet

Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

American dropping its flier friendly 24-hour hold on reservations- moves to refund instead

Southwest adds nonstops between Long Beach and Oakland

Delta is new sponsor of Washington Nationals

Flights to Las Vegas frequently get lucky numbers (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Flights to Las Vegas frequently get lucky numbers (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Passenger wins nearly $1 million at Las Vegas airport slot machine

Conditions ripe for Zika outbreak in southeastern US states

American Airlines poised to be largest transpac carrier from LAX

Even the White House gets Atlanta airport name wrong

Alaska Airlines tests electronic baggage tags

Will your passport move onto your smartphone?

Get used to long TSA lines unless you’re in PreCheck

Hilton and Uber integrate their apps

Southwest Airlines offers Rapid Rewards bonus to Lyft riders

Avis adds Land Rovers to its fleet

Hertz brings special-edition Ford Mustang Shelby GT-H  models to some airport locations

Japan Airlines starts online meal reservation option

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Should I tip my Uber driver? + Boeing 747 nearing its end? + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 + World’s best airline lounge? + Fares to Europe tumble 

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Breaking: Alaska Airlines reportedly wins Virgin America

Alaska Airlines is adding an international mileage and code-share partner. (Image: Jim Glab)

Alaska Airlines is reportedly going to get Virgin America (Image: Jim Glab)

Alaska Airlines has reportedly clinched a deal to purchase Virgin America, snatching the opportunity away from JetBlue.

The Wall Street Journal reports that “people familiar with the situation” say that there’s no guarantee that Alaska will get Virgin, but if it does, Alaska Air is expected to pay around $2 billion for the Burlingame-based carrier– a price inflated by all the recent speculation that Virgin was actually up for grabs. (Prior to the kerfuffle about the sale, Virgin America was valued at around $1.5 billion.)

If Virgin and Alaska Air combined, it would create the nation’s fifth largest carrer– a title currently held by JetBlue.

I’m writing this post having just returned from the sunny slopes of Northstar at Lake Tahoe and my mind is of course bursting with speculation and possibilities…. here’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to know what YOU are thinking, too, so read on and leave your comments below.

Related : Travel industry mergers that make sense!

-If Alaska Airlines buys Virgin America, which name would survive? If Alaska Airlines wants to be a national carrier, it will likely need to shed its regional name, right? But would Alaska be willing to pay whatever fee Richard Branson wants for it to carry the Virgin name? And speaking of regional-sounding names, Southwest Airlines sounds regional, but it has succeeded in becoming a national carrier, so who knows?

-What’s going to happen to Virgin’s hub at the fab Terminal 2 in San Francisco? It’s currently bursting at the seams so I’m not sure if Alaska’s operations are going to fit in there. But since there’s now the behind-security passageway between Terminal 1 C (Delta) and Terminal 2, Alaska could squeeze in there? Combined, the two carriers would become SFO’s second largest carrier, with 15% of all flights. (United will remain firmly in #1 position.)

-What’s going to happen with JetBlue? Will it just walk away from the deal… or will it come back with a higher bid (just like what’s been happening with Starwood/Marriott/Anbang). Who knows? But if the deal is done, the WSJ says that we could hear about it as soon as Monday. Wouldn’t it be interesting if Alaska Air bought BOTH Virgin and JetBlue? It could happen! Or…maybe Delta could swoop in at the last minute with a sweeter offer? And speaking of Delta, what’s going to happen with Delta’s relationship with Virgin Atlantic and Richard Branson if Alaska Air butts in?

"Flights with Benefits" is the racy name for one of Virgin America's new A320 ETOPS jets (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

“Flights with Benefits” is the racy name for one of Virgin America’s new A320 ETOPS jets (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

-Frequent Flyer programs. Alaska Airlines has resisted following the pack of major airlines down the path of devaluation. As a matter of fact, it remains the largest airline with an intact mileage-based program versus the new-fangled spend-based programs of the majors. Virgin America’s spending-based Elevate program has never been a huge draw, so maybe integration with Alaska’s more popular and lucrative Mileage Plan would be a good idea.

Hawaii flights could become more expensive. Alaska and Virgin have been competing heavily on fares to the islands ever since Virgin launched Hawaii nonstops last December. One less carrier in the market could mean higher fares.

Related: Trip Report- Virgin America to Honolulu

-How will the two carriers integrate their fleets? Alaska Airlines is all Boeing. Virgin is all Airbus. While other airlines have both types in their fleet, it service issues could become more unwieldy/complicated.

-What’s going to happen the the hip fun culture that Virgin America has created? Will it be washed away in a take over? Alaska Airlines runs a great operation, and has similarly built up a loyal following with very good service, new planes and good on-time performance. Which culture will come out on top?

Okay. That’s it from me now. Time for some apres-ski time in sunny Truckee. Please share your speculations and comments below! We’ll regroup on Monday!

–Chris McGinnis

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Should I tip my Uber driver? + Boeing 747 nearing its end? + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 + World’s best airline lounge? + Fares to Europe tumble 

twitter-floowmeDo you follow us on Twitter? It’s a great way to keep up with the latest news!

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Most popular: Delta jets + Virgin America sale + Hotels California + Lie-flat economy seats

Tokyo cherry blossoms

Cherry blossoms along the streets of Tokyo in April (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

1 More, wider seats A look inside Delta’s newest jet (photos)

2 Mating season Is Virgin America for sale?

Last minute deal: We are seeing round trips on Virgin America from SFO to Hawaii for just $358-$378 round trip for April or May trips. That’s a smokin’ good deal! To get the deal must click all the way through to fare calendar.

click through to calendar to see deals we grabbed here (NOTE: Fares subject to change!)

click through to calendar to see deals we grabbed here (NOTE: Fares subject to change!)

SFO Maui

SFO Maui is even cheaper!

Routes: JetBlue, Delta, United, Alaska, SpiritWeekend Edition

Briefs: Best United clubs, Alaska PreCheck, Delta videos, Air Canada Wi-Fi

5 Does it matter? Not really Switch to spending-based programs is no big deal

6 Drama is not over Marriott gets Starwood back…for now

7 Ouch California hotel rates are soaring

8 Blast from the past resurfaces TSA explains confusion over PreCheck policies

Uber/Lyft at airports: Seattle, San Diego, Milwaukee, New Orleans

10 Trip Report: 5 newest business class hotels in Sydney (Photos)

Don’t forget! We are in the peak of the peak spring break travel season for the next two weeks. Prepare for delays by building in a fatter time cushion than usual. More advice here. 

Chris's most popular Instagram photo this week: Vintage B&W photo on the wall at SFO. CLICK to see more photos & follow Chris!

Chris’s most popular Instagram photo this week: Vintage B&W photo on the wall at SFO. CLICK to see more photos & follow Chris! (Photo: SFO Museum)

Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

App from start-up lets users book San Francisco hotels by the hour or the minute.

Air India introduces $50 fee for preferred coach seats on U.S. routes.

Could these be the first lie-flat economy seats?

Argentina ends $160 ‘reciprocity fee’ for U.S. visitors.

Airbus unveils Airspace, its next-generation cabin interior scheme.

Alaska Airlines passenger’s iPhone catches fire on Hawaii flight.

Singapore Airlines extends voucher offer for Changi transit passengers.

Colorado firm eyes new SST design, and Virgin Galactic is interested.

FAA sees 20-year gain of 50 percent in domestic air traffic, 100 percent international.

The new Devil's Slide trail is just 30-min Uber ride away from the city (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Did you know that you can now find views like this just 30 mins south of San Francisco? Find out how by CLICKING on the image. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Should I tip my Uber driver? + Boeing 747 nearing its end? + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 + World’s best airline lounge? + Fares to Europe tumble 

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4 more reasons to love San Francisco

Sunset at the Golden Gate Bridge (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Sunset at the Golden Gate Bridge (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

(Earlier this month Steven Shalowitz, host of the One Way Ticket Show podcast, interviewed TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis about recommendations for visitors to San Francisco– from that interview, he prepared the following post for us to share with readers. Enjoy! And please share YOUR best SF tips in the comments)

Chris McGinnis is the Founder of the Travel Skills Group, and the purveyor of the popular travelskills.com website, which offers money-saving, comfort-enhancing travel advice, with a business travel bent.

In my recent interview with McGinnis on The One Way Ticket Show, he chose San Francisco for his one-way ticket destination.

He shared with me some of his top picks in “The City by the Bay”, which he’s called home since 2005.

1. Hang Like a Local

Dolores Park San Francisco

The new playground at San Francisco’s recently revamped Dolores Park (Photo: Barkley Dean)

Chris loves Dolores Park, one of the most popular parks in America, and only blocks from his Noe Valley neighborhood.  According to McGinnis:  “It has just gone through a $28 million redo.  It’s a site to behold.  It’s a place where you’ll find local San Franciscans.  It’s where everybody that lives in a cramped little apartment in San Francisco (goes) when they want to get outside and get some fresh air and hang out with their friends and drink a beer and take in the view.  It’s always busy, and it’s always full of locals”.

Plus, Chris notes, you might even catch a glimpse of Noe Valley’s most famous resident, Marc Zuckerberg, walking his dog in the park.

2. Get Outta Town

The new Devil's Slide trail is just 30-min Uber ride away from the city (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The new Devil’s Slide trail is just a 30-min south of the city (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

McGinnis enjoys heading just 30 minutes south of the city to the Devil’s Slide Trail.  This was a precarious part of Highway One where, according to Chris, “You’d take those drives along the cliff and see the waves crashing and the birds flying over and whales jumping out in the ocean”.  As spectacular as it was, the road kept giving way and sliding down the cliff (thus the name).  Last year they put in a large tunnel so cars could avoid the danger.  They nevertheless preserved the roadway which is now a bicycle and pedestrian path

For Chris, Devil’s Slide is especially ideal for biz travelers who just want to take in something a little extra in an afternoon and don’t have the time to make it down the Pacific Coast Highway to Big Sur.   “You can even take Uber down there and and take a fantastic walk with one of these just spectacular Highway One views that is so iconic about California”, he says.

3. Come Hungry!

Fresh seafood always on the menu in San Francisco (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Fresh seafood always on the menu in San Francisco (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

“I think it’s the best food city in the world”, Chris says of his adopted hometown.  “We’ve got such a diverse ethnic population so we’ve got all kinds of great food that way.  We live close to so many sources of fresh produce, we’ve got the ocean, it’s just such a fantastic place for great food”.

When it comes down to the must-try, typical San Francisco fare, McGinnis opts for the Mission Style Burrito.  “It’s about as big as a shoe”, he says.  “It has your typical rice and beans and meat and whatever else you want”.

Generally found in taquerias in the Mission District, Chris’ personal favorite is Pancho Villa on 16th Street.  He also likes La Taqueria for their Tacos Dorados, a crunchy style taco stuffed with meat and avocado which he describes as “outstanding”.  It’s a popular place though, and apparently there’s always a line, especially at weekends.

Alongside San Francisco’s thriving burrito culture, lives cuisines whose origins are on the opposite side of the Pacific.

For Asian, Chris believes “The best Chinese food in San Francisco is not in Chinatown.”  He suggests heading to the western side of the city to the Sunset or the Richmond Districts where, with its large and vibrant Asian communities, you’ll discover the best Chinese food (Chris recommends asking locals where they like to eat), Vietnamese (he likes Thanh Long with its special roasted garlic crab), and Burmese (McGinnis’ choice is “Burma Superstar”).

4. Linger Before Flying Off

Inside SFO's Aviation Museum & Library inside the International Terminal (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Inside SFO’s Aviation Museum & Library inside the International Terminal (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

A frequent flyer like McGinnis knows a thing or two about airports, and for him, SFO is “one of the best managed and most interesting airports in the country”.  With several entrances and security stations you don’t find the long lines you do at other airports.  And while it’s easy to access, once in, you may not want to leave.  For McGinnis, the highlight is Terminal 2, home to Virgin America, which he says feels like you’re walking into a four or five-star hotel lobby (it was built with that intention).  “There are designer chairs, there’s beautiful views, water stations, there’s lots of good food…And they’ve taken that Terminal 2 concept and they’re applying (it) in the other terminals”, McGinnis said.

If you want to take in a little culture before you take off, Chris states “San Francisco is the only airport in the country that is recognized as a museum”.  One can not only find a museum in the airport, but mini exhibitions throughout the terminals from the San Francisco Fine Arts Museum’s superb collection.

Whether for its outdoor spaces, food or culture, it’s easy to understand why Rudyard Kipling is reported to have said “San Francisco has only one drawback, ‘tis hard to leave”.

Click here for Chris McGinnis’ interview where he talks San Francisco, plus, offers valuable travel tips.

Steven Shalowitz is the Host of The One Way Ticket Show where he explores with his guests where they’d go if given a one way ticket (no coming back!).  Destinations may be in the past, present, future, real, imaginary or a state of mind.  Visit the site:  www.theonewayticketshow.com or search for it on iTunes.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Should I tip my Uber driver? + Boeing 747 nearing its end? + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 + World’s best airline lounge? + Fares to Europe tumble 

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Poor showing for U.S. in global airport honors

How many airports have a koi pond? Singapore Changi does, in Terminal 3. (Image: Changi Airport)

How many airports have a koi pond? Singapore Changi does, in Terminal 3. (Image: Changi Airport)

The 2016 Skytrax World Airport Awards have been announced, based on an online survey of more than 13 million travelers from 106 countries, and the biggest news for U.S. airports is how poorly they performed relative to their foreign counterparts.

Once again, no U.S. airport made it into the list of the world’s top 10; in fact, not a single U.S. airport made it into the top 25. The highest-rated U.S. facility was Denver International, which came in 28th (up from 33rd in 2015). The only other U.S. airports in the top 50 were Cincinnati in 32nd place, San Francisco in 37th, and Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson in 43rd place.

The top airport in North America was Vancouver, winning that spot for the seventh year in a row. Seattle-Tacoma took top honors for best airport staff in North America, while Denver was rated the top regional airport in North America.

But for the most part, airports in Asia and Europe dominated the rankings. Ranking first, second and third – the same order that they held in 2015 – were Singapore Changi (ranked first for the fourth year in a row), Seoul Incheon and Munich Airport. Tokyo Haneda rose from fifth place in 2015 to fourth this year, while Hong Kong dropped from fourth to fifth. Rounding out the top 10, in order, are Chubu Centrair Nagoya Airport in Japan; Zurich; London Heathrow; Kansai (Osaka) International in Japan; and Hamad Airport in Doha, Qatar (which jumped from 22nd place last year to tenth this year).

One of the best things about Tokyo Haneda is the big open air rooftop tarmac-viewing area. Wow! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

One of the best things about Tokyo Haneda is the big open air rooftop tarmac-viewing area. Wow! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

World’s top-rated airports for 2016

1    Singapore Changi Airport
2    Seoul Incheon International Airport
3    Munich Airport
4    Tokyo International Airport (Haneda)
5    Hong Kong International Airport
6    Chubu Centrair Nagoya
7    Zurich Airport
8    London Heathrow Airport
9    Kansai International Airport
10  Hamad International Airport (Doha)

The farther down you go in the rankings, the more U.S. airports turn up – e.g., Seattle, DFW and New York JFK ranked 54th, 58th and 59th, respectively, while Houston came in at 71st, Minneapolis-St. Paul 75th, Detroit 89th, LAX 91st and Boston Logan barely cracked the top 100 in 97th place.

Here’s the full listing of the top 100 airports for 2016, and their 2015 rankings.

Inside-the-airport entrance to Crowne Plaza hotel at Singapore Changi (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Inside-the-airport entrance to Crowne Plaza hotel at Singapore Changi (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Airport hotels were rated, too. The Crowne Plaza at Singapore Changi was named world’s best airport hotel. Regional winners included the Hilton Munich for Europe, Movenpick Hotel Bahrain for the Middle East, the Pullman Guangzhou for China and the Fairmont Vancouver for North America.

Readers: Are U.S. airports are getting a bad rap in these rankings, or are they really that much worse than their foreign counterparts? What’s your favorite airport worldwide?

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Should I tip my Uber driver? + Boeing 747 nearing its end? + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 + World’s best airline lounge? + Fares to Europe tumble 

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Big airfare deals from SFO: Denver, Boston, New York, Vegas

Eventually, you'll catch trains from Denver's modern Union Station to Denver International Airport 40 miles northeast of downtown (Photo: RTD)

Starting April 22 you’ll catch trains from Denver’s modern Union Station to Denver International Airport 23 miles northeast of downtown (Photo: RTD)

Denver has always been a very inexpensive city to fly to because of an ongoing fare war between United and Southwest. But since Denver based Frontier has gone “ultra low cost” and SF-based Virgin America has entered the market, we are seeing some outstanding deals from Bay Area airports.

For example, Virgin launched a systemwide fare sale today to several cities, but Denver fares are some of the best. For example, it is offering nonstop round trips SFO-DEN for just $118! Yes, that is roundtrip. It’s good for flights in April and May. While many flights are coming in at  $59 each way ($118 round trip), we are also seeing them at $79 ($138-$158 round trip). That’s still a screamin’ deal! Check it out here.

Some other good deals from today’s Virgin sale: SFO-Seattle is just $128 roundtrip for April and May flights. SFO-New York is below the rare $300 threshold at $298 roundtrip on a handful of flights. Hawaii is running below the $400 threshold at $398 roundtrip to both Honolulu and Maui for flights through early June.

See all of Virgin’s sale fares from SFO here. ALSO, be sure to check other airlines that compete on these routes for matching fares.

JetBlue has rock bottom rates to Boston and Las Vegas! (Image: JetBlue)

JetBlue has rock bottom rates to Boston and Las Vegas! (Image: JetBlue)

Another great deal that TravelSkills reader EW found for us: JetBlue’s new Mint class (with lie flat seats!) between SFO and Boston is going for just $986 round trip. It’s rare to see seats at the front of the plane on transcon flights for less than $1,000 so jump on this! JetBlue introduces the posh new Mint service to SFO-Boston on March 24. See the TravelSkills Trip Report about JetBlue Mint class here.

In addition to this phenomenal fare, JetBlue is flying SFO-Las Vegas for just $88 round trip this spring. Find all JetBlue’s deals here.

NOTE: Fares searched March 15 and subject to change

Have you ever flown JetBlue? Would you? What did you think? Please leave your comments below.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Should I tip my Uber driver? + Boeing 747 nearing its end? + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 + World’s best airline lounge? + Fares to Europe tumble 

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6 things about JetBlue + New credit card

All of JetBlue's A320s (pictured) and some A321s will get new seats and improved technology. (Image: JetBlue)

JetBlue’s big on the east coast, but less well known out west, or in Atlanta (Image: JetBlue)

A few things you may not know about NYC-based JetBlue, which just last month turned 16 years old and is now the fifth largest carrier in the U.S. Plus, it just added a new credit card (scroll down for details).

The biggest U.S. city that JetBlue does NOT serve is Atlanta. It jumped in the ATL-JFK market briefly, from May to December of 2003, but quickly retreated after a crippling fare war with Delta and AirTran. It’s never tried going back.

Even though it’s based in NYC, JetBlue is the largest carrier on TWO Caribbean islands: Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. It was the largest carrier in the Caribbean until American and US Airways merged last year.

JetBlue now flies to THREE countries in South America: It just launched new flights between Ft Lauderdale and Quito, Ecuador, in addition to existing flights to Peru and Colombia.

See JetBlue’s extensive route map here.

JetBlue will add more Mint flights on transcon routes this fall. (Image: JetBlue)

JetBlue will add more lie-flat business class Mint flights on transcon routes from SFO. (Image: JetBlue)

Starting March 24 JetBlue will offer its outstanding lie-flat Mint business class product on those looong 6-hour SFO-Boston flights, which until now has only been available on flights to its JFK hub. See TravelSkills Mint class Trip Report here. Fares for Mint started as low as $986 round trip— below the $1,o00 threshold which is a screaming deal for front-of-the-plane transcon flying. Introduction of MINT will be staggered between now and October, so be sure to choose the Mint flight (among JetBlue’s three flights per day to BOS).

JetBlue is bigger in the Bay Area than you might think. From SFO, it flies nonstop to Long Beach, Las Vegas, Ft Lauderdale, New York and Boston. From San Jose, it offers nonstops to Boston and New York. And from Oakland, it flies nonstop to New York, Boston (summer only) and Long Beach. (And it even flies to nearby Sacramento and Reno.)

This month, JetBlue launched new credit cards – switching from American Express to Barclaycard. For consumers, there’s the basic JetBlue Card, and the more lucrative JetBlue Plus Card. I’d go for the Plus Card, which is currently offering 30,000 points if you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days with a fee of $99 per year. Its basic card is not bad, either, offering 10,000 bonus points if you spend $1,000 in the first 30 days, plus no annual fee. Also good: no foreign transaction fees and Barclaycards offer true chip & PIN instead of the less useful chip & signature technology offered by other cards.

Have you ever flown JetBlue? Would you? What did you think? Please leave your comments below.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Should I tip my Uber driver? + Boeing 747 nearing its end? + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 + World’s best airline lounge? + Fares to Europe tumble 

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Flying to the tech center of the universe

SFO's new 221-foot air traffic control tower will open next summer (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

SFO’s new 221-foot air traffic control tower is not just a gateway to the Pacific, it’s a gateway to Silicon Valley. CLICK to see inside it! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

San Francisco International Airport had the highest rate of international passenger growth among US airports last year, and continues to add new international flights at a dizzying pace. And it’s not just SFO that’s growing– San Jose and Oakland are picking up new overseas flights, too.

This is most likely due to the strength of the Bay Area economy, and the need for better, faster access to the tech center of the universe.

According to the International Trade Administration, SFO posted a 9 percent increase in international travelers in 2015, ahead of other major international gateway airports such as New York-JFK, LAX, and Miami. Much of the increased traffic to SFO and elsewhere in the US is coming from China which grew a whopping 25% in 2015.

If you are having trouble keeping up with all the new flights coming to the Bay Area, here’s a rundown:

In 2015, SFO added the following new flights:

The right side of Turkish Airlines B777 is a mural of Istanbul (Chris McGinnis)

The right side of Turkish Airlines inaugural B777 to SFO was a mural of Istanbul- on the left was a mural of San Francisco (Chris McGinnis)

  • April – Turkish Airlines launched nonstop B777 service to Istanbul
  • May – Swiss International nearly doubled its nonstop service to Zurich
  • June – China Southern began nonstop service to Guangzhou
  • September – COPA launched with nonstop 737 service to Panama City
  • December – Air India launched the first nonstop flight from U.S. West Coast to Delhi
  • December – Qantas returned to SFO with B747 nonstop service to Sydney
Fiji Airways is SFO's latest coup (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Fiji Airways is SFO’s latest coup with flights starting in June (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

In 2016, SFO keeps up the momentum:

  • March – United Airlines begins nonstop service to Tel Aviv
  • May – Air Berlin launches with nonstops to Düsseldorf, Germany
  • May – United Airlines begins new nonstop flights to Xi’an, China (Plus there are rumors of a new United nonstop SFO to Hangzhou)
  • June – United Airlines begins the first U.S. nonstop flight to Singapore
  • June – WOW Air launches nonstop flights to Reykjavík, Iceland
  • June – Fiji Airways inaugurates nonstop service to Nadi, Fiji

It’s not just SFO that is growing by leaps and bounds…so are other Bay Area airports. For example, San Jose International has recently snagged (or has pending) new 787-9 nonstops to London (British Airways), Frankfurt (Lufthansa), Beijing (Hainan) and Shanghai (Air China) in addition to its ANA nonstop service to Tokyo.

Norwegian will fly a brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner between Oakland, Oslo and Stockholm next year.

Norwegian Air flies 787 Dreamliners to Oakland International (Image: Oakland International Airport)

Oakland is on a growth spurt, too, with its major international carrier, Norwegian Air adding nonstops to London-Gatwick this June in addition to its flights to Stockholm, Sweden, and Oslo.

All this new competition is very good news for frequent flyers. That’s because more flights and more seats usually mean cheaper fares.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Should I tip my Uber driver? + Boeing 747 nearing its end? + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 + World’s best airline lounge? + Fares to Europe tumble 

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Most popular: Last chance 747 + Bankrupt airline + Europe on sale + United Global Services

A United 747-400 enroute to Osaka (Photo: InSapphoWeTrust / Flickr)

How to jump on a big 747 like this for a domestic trip (Photo: InSapphoWeTrust / Flickr)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

1 Get on it while you can! One easy, last chance to ride a United 747

2 How’d that happen? Another airline declares bankruptcy

3 Screamin’ deals: Fares to Europe tumbleWeekend Edition

Routes: Southwest, Delta, American, United

5 Up or down? It depends: Airfares all over the map

6 Gimme a break! Airlines face new scrutiny over surcharges

7 Big job ahead for Marriott How would YOU merge Starwood & Marriott? [Poll]

More, better food on Delta, United & American

9 Great comments! Excuse me, do you speak English?

10 Bay Area to London for $299 + United non-stops to Singapore? + New Paris route + more

Chris McGinnis on CNN at SFO

Chris McGinnis on CNN at SFO

Off to Australia! Hey folks! I’m off to Sydney, Australia for four days this week to give QANTAS a try and write up a Trip Report. Plus I’ll be checking out Sydney’s 5 newest business class hotels. And I’ll dip into the city’s famous Mardi Gras celebration on Saturday. Have you been to Australia lately? What should I see, where should I eat? Please leave your comments below or email me. 

Are you elated or worried about the impending merger of Marriott and Starwood? How would you suggest the two hotel giants merge their many brands? Stay tuned to TravelSkills for a post about our meeting last week with Marriott’s top loyalty brass! And be sure to offer your two cents because Marriott is listening!

The view from my room at the JW Marriott LA Live, Los Angeles (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The view from my room at the JW Marriott LA Live, Los Angeles where I stayed for Marriott’s “Future of Loyalty” forum (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

What’s it like to be Global Services on United?

Delta’s newest, edgiest Donald-Sutherland-voiced commercial

Global corruption index 

Earn 10,ooo IHG Rewards points for stays in NYC, DC

Why did American threaten to dump Gogo?

Take a look at plans for world’s largest airport in Istanbul

Dubai International gets new billion dollar terminal 

Starbucks loyalty program follows airlines “spend more get more” mantra

A first class “bunk bed” proposed

Chris's "Caged Bird" on Instagram. CLICK on the pic to follow him!

Chris’s “Caged Bird” on Instagram. CLICK on the pic to follow him!

Free inflight wi-fi on QANTAS

Experts question security of in-flight Wi-Fi.

Crackdown of Uber. Lyft at Newark Airport may be back on.

Southwest flyers can use Pay With Amazon to access in-flight Wi-Fi.

Virgin America’s Elevate program hits 4 million members.

Australia gives final OK to Qantas-American transpacific partnership.

Climate change could make flights longer, more turbulent.

Choice Hotels loyalty program adds vacation rental option.

Norwegian passenger poll shows data on in-flight Wi-Fi usage.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Should I tip my Uber driver? + Boeing 747 nearing its end? + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 + World’s best airline lounge? + Fares to Europe tumble 

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One easy, last chance to ride a United 747?

United 747 Chicago

A United 747 at Chicago O’Hare (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Although United won’t confirm it, it’s now being widely reported that the carrier is planning to retire its aging fleet of 747s earlier than expected. This could mean that its current fleet of 22 “queens of the sky” could fly away by the end of 2018– two years ahead of schedule.

But there’s one easy way you can jump on a United 747 on a rare domestic run…but more on that in a minute…

Delta has followed a similar, accelerated path to retiring its gas guzzling 747s. Last April it put six out to pasture, and plans to retire the final six by the end of next year, to be replaced by the newer, more efficient Airbus A350. Just last month, Air France celebrated the final flight of its last 747 after flying the plane as the mainstay of its intercontinental fleet for almost 46 years.

Brian Sumers, who first reported the United news, wrote: “For now, United flies 747s from San Francisco and Chicago. But this week, United also told pilots it will remove the 747 from Chicago in February 2017, leaving only San Francisco with 747 service.”

If you are feeling reminiscent about this beautiful bird, and fly frequent between Chicago and San Francisco, consider picking up a leg or two on an one of the few domestic 747 flights United is running this spring.

TravelSkills reader Daniel E emailed us this week with this tip: “Everyday from March 3 there is a 747  leaving SFO at 8:35am (UA1570) to Chicago, O’Hare. Then I dug around some more and there is another one returning from ORD to SFO, UA1213 leaving at 4:05 pm also from March 3. I’ve flown back and forth between San Francisco and Chicago A LOT in the last 10 years and wide bodies are rare, let alone a 747.”

We checked and sure enough, we found the 747 flights on SFO-ORD– and United confirmed to TravelSkills that it “will operate daily 747 service between March 3 – March 25 and then again from April 6 – May 25, 2016. The flights are loaded and available for purchase.”

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 3.03.22 PM

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 3.22.15 PM

Wouldn’t it be nice to ride on a gorgeous and graceful 747 instead of the standard 737s or A320s United normally flies on this route? Maybe upgrade for a sweet ride upstairs in the business class bubble?

Still plenty of business class seats on the flights we selected (Image: United.com)

Still plenty of business class seats on the flights we selected (Image: United.com)

What do you think about the retirement of the 747… on United or other airlines? Will you miss it, or have you found a newer, younger more efficient favorite? Please leave your comments below.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Should I tip my Uber driver? + Boeing 747 nearing its end? + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 + World’s best airline lounge? + Fares to Europe tumble 

twitter-floowmeDo you follow us on Twitter? It’s a great way to keep up with the latest news!

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Routes: Alaska, United, Southwest, AA, Virgin + more

United plans to fly 757-300s from Washington Reagan National to San Francisco and Denver. (Image: BriYYZ/Wikimedia Commons)

United plans to fly 757-300s from Washington Reagan National to San Francisco and Denver. (Image: BriYYZ/Wikimedia Commons)

In U.S. route news, Alaska Airlines plans to expand at Mineta San Jose Airport with new intra-California service, and it is also growing at Portland; United trims its Cleveland schedule and puts larger aircraft on two Washington Reagan National routes; Virgin America makes a seasonal SFO route year-round; Southwest plans to fly to another Los Angeles-area airport; American adds a new spoke from LaGuardia; and a small niche carrier targets Pittsburgh for expansion.

Alaska Airline's mod new look. What do you think? (Image: Alaska Air)

Alaska Airline’s mod new look. (Image: Alaska Air)

Alaska Airlines announced an expansion in the Bay Area, with plans to add service from Mineta San Jose Airport starting June 5 to both San Diego and Orange County/Santa Ana, Calif. The carrier will operate three daily flights in each market, using 76-seat Embraer 175s from SkyWest Airlines. The planes have 12 seats in first class, 12 in preferred class and 52 in the main cabin, and are equipped with Wi-Fi and free streaming entertainment. Meanwhile, February 18 is the launch date for three new Alaska Airlines routes out of Portland International. The carrier will begin once-daily service from Portland to Kansas City, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Omaha.

Effective May 4, United Airlines plans to drop two routes from Cleveland Hopkins Airport, ending its service to Las Vegas and to St. Louis. That brings United’s presence at Cleveland down to 15 destinations, from 58 two years ago. Meanwhile, United also plans to expand capacity on a pair of routes out of Washington Reagan National by switching to 213-seat 757-300s from smaller aircraft. The 757s will replace 737-800s starting March 23 on the San Francisco-DCA route, and A320s and 737-800s on the Denver-DCA route beginning March 3. In other developments, United plans to discontinue service April 4 from Chicago O’Hare to Elmira/Corning, N.Y., and to operate Saturday/Sunday seasonal service from O’Hare to Great Falls, Montana from June 11 through August 14.

Southwest Airlines, seeking to expand its network to “five for five in Greater L.A.,” has applied for takeoff and landing slots at Long Beach Airport. The airline already flies out of Los Angeles International, Burbank, Orange County Airport and Ontario. Southwest didn’t say where it wants to fly from Long Beach, but California and Nevada media are speculating that it might have its sights on the Bay Area and/or Las Vegas. The airline said it hopes to start service at Long Beach later this year.

According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, American Airlines plans to start daily non-stop service from that Kentucky city to New York LaGuardia effective June 2. It said American will operate one daily roundtrip with a 50-seat regional jet.

A red carpet welcome under wintry skies at Palm Springs International

Virgin America’s inaugural flight to Palm Springs got the red carpet treatment (Chris McGinnis)

Virgin America Airlines said that its seasonal service between San Francisco and Palm Springs will be operated year-round from now on. The airline said it will fly the route four times a week through the fall. Virgin’s Palm Springs-New York JFK flights will remain seasonal, continuing through May.

OneJet, a small but fast-growing niche airline that operates seven-passenger Hawker 400 jets on routes in the Midwest, said it plans to make Pittsburgh its next focus city. The little airline, which already flies from Pittsburgh to Milwaukee and Indianapolis, plans to start twice-daily Pittsburgh-Hartford flights on May 9, and then to add four more destinations from Pittsburgh in the second quarter, although it didn’t day which ones.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Boeing 747 nearing its end? + “Targeted” for an upgrade? + 5 newest biz class hotels in New York + TSA PreCheck is exploding + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 

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Trip Report: Virgin America SFO-Honolulu

Virgin America

Headed west out over open water on one of Virgin’s new ETOPS rated A320s (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Last week I jumped on a Virgin America flight to the islands- my first since the carrier launched nonstops from San Francisco to Honolulu and Maui late last year. It has since announced that it will add nonstops from LAX to Hawaii later this year.

Virgin’s entry into the Hawaii market has helped spur a fare war, with flights frequently falling into the low $300’s round trip from the west coast- quite a good bargain! The California-to-Hawaii market is packed with nonstops from nearly every other US carrier, including Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian and United.

"Flights with Benefits" is the racy name for one of Virgin America's new A320 ETOPS jets (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

“Flights with Benefits” is the racy name for one of Virgin America’s new A320 ETOPS jets (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

To be able to offer these flights, Virgin needed a new plane, an ETOPS-rated Airbus A320 (pictured above) that is equipped to fly long distances over water. So that’s the first thing I noticed when I boarded– that “new plane smell” as well as a shimmering new surfaces lit with purple hues from its mod mood lighting.

This A320 also has the newer, higher-definition version of the RED seatback entertainment system– which includes a much more robust, interactive inflight mapping program that kept me occupied for hours. (I am usually much more entertained by the inflight map than inflight movies!)

Inflight internet & live TV not yet operable on Hawaii flights (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Inflight internet & live TV not yet operable on Hawaii flights (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Despite the fab new seatback system, I was disappointed to learn that the plane’s satellite-based connectivity system is not working yet, which means no inflight internet or live TV for the 5+ hour flight. Flight attendants rolled their eyes when I asked about this…saying that it’s a very common complaint from Virgin America regulars who love their inflight wi-fi. Regrettably they said that they don’t expect it to be operable until “later this year.” A Virgin spokesperson responded, “Not quite yet” when I asked when the service would be working.

Despite connectivity issues, the RED system does not disappoint– even without a connection, there’s a full roster of very good, current movies and TV shows to watch, some great indie and international choices, and that wonderful inflight mapping feature.

While this picture-of-a-picture is grainy, in real life seat back images are sharp (Chris McGinnis)

While this picture-of-a-picture is grainy, in real life seat back map images are sharp & interactive (Chris McGinnis)

Another downside on these 5+ hour nonstops is crowding at the back of the plane when lines for for the two lavatories form. On my flight, there was a nearly constant queue back there, especially 2-3 hours in. That’s uncomfortable for passengers seated the last 3-4 rows as well as flight attendants who told me that due to a new configuration of the galley area, they are unable to sit down for rest breaks. Luckily on this flight I upgraded to Main Cabin Select, and was seated in row 10 over the wing (exit row).

See Seatguru’s seatmap of Virgin’s newest A320

Main cabin on a new Virgin America A320 seats 138 (Chris McGinnis)

Main cabin on a new Virgin America A320 seats 138 (Chris McGinnis)

Overall, the flight was very nice and a standout when compared to other carriers– much like nearly all my Virgin America experiences. But to be honest, I was hoping for a bit more fun and celebration about the fact that we were flying to Hawaii. A lei, a flower or slice of pineapple in a cocktail, an aloha shirt or maybe a little ukele music over the PA system would have been a nice addition. All I saw that celebrated this a flight to paradise was a can of POG (Passion, Orange, Guava) juice available on the seatback food & drink ordering system. Nonetheless, the flight was pleasant and on-time.

Take a spin through my trip in the slides below:

At 6:45 am, PreCheck at SFO's Terminal 2 was a breeze (Chris McGinnis)

At 6:45 am, PreCheck at SFO’s Terminal 2 was a breeze (Chris McGinnis)

 

Gorgeous sunrise lights up our new A320 and SFO control tower (Chris McGinnis)

Gorgeous sunrise lights up our new A320 and SFO control tower for a 7:30 am departure (Chris McGinnis)

 

Virgin America

This is what a brand new Virgin America A320 looks like: black leather & mood lights. Wow (Chris McGinnis)

 

Virgin America

Plenty of knee room on exit row 10 Main Cabin Select (Chris McGinnis)

 

Virgin America

Seatback mapping system provides trip stats. Note that image is much clearer that what shows in this photo (Chris McGinnis)

 

Virgin America

Note the clear HD image, and the POG reminder that this flight is paradise-bound! (Chris McGinnis)

 

Virgin America

My go-to meal on Virgin America, the Protein Plate & Honest T Green Tea, did not disappoint (Chris McGinnis)

 

Virgin America

My seatmate ordered the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And a POG (Chris McGinnis)

 

Virgin America

I love the healthy food options on Virgin- this is one of three pages of choices- order from the screen & flight attendant delivers (Chris McGinnis)

 

IMG_2545

One of two shiny new lavs at the back of this A320 (Chris McGinnis)

 

Virgin America

Flying over gorgeous Oahu on approach to HNL (Chris McGinnis)

 

Had some fun scrambling around Kauai! (Chris McGinnis)

Had some fun scrambling around Kauai! Then headed back (Chris McGinnis)

 

Japan Airlines HNL

I love Honolulu’s open air corridors. Such a nice welcome to paradise 🙂 (Chris McGinnis)

 

Spectacular view of Honolulu at take off. Note the sparkles in the paint on the engine! (Chris McGinnis)

Spectacular view of Honolulu at take off for SFO. Note the sparkles in the paint on the engine! (Chris McGinnis)

 

Virgin America Honolulu Waikiki

Final look at Waikiki and Diamond Head on our way back to SFO. Aloha! (Chris McGinnis)

What’s your favorite way to get to Hawaii? Been lately? Please leave your comments below.

–Chris McGinnis

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Boeing 747 nearing its end? + “Targeted” for an upgrade? + 5 newest biz class hotels in New York + TSA PreCheck is exploding + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 

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Deal alert: $499 roundtrip to Asia on Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines' new Boeing 777 can't fly to Singapore from the US (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Rock-bottom rates on flights to Seoul & Singapore on a B777 like this (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Say what? Round trip across the Pacific for less than $500? On Singapore Airlines?

Yep, and you found it here…and it’s only here on the TravelSkills.com blog: SFO to Seoul for $499, SFO to Singapore for $699.

TravelSkills has teamed up with Singapore Airlines on private sale that includes one the lowest transpacific fares I have ever seen: Just $499, including all taxes and fees, for roundtrips between San Francisco and Seoul on Singapore Airlines.

$499 for an 11,320-mile round trip. That works out to just four cents per mile!

And you are flying on one of the top-ranked airlines in the world to one of the world’s coolest, hippest, most up-and-coming destinations. (I’ll be writing more about the Seoul’s burgeoning food and hotel scene later this week!)

And the deal doesn’t end with SFO-Seoul. You can fly all the way to Singapore for just $100 more each way, so a total of just $699 roundtrip from SFO. Wait, what? 

Get this special deal here

Taking a look at the infinity pool atop the famous Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore

Taking a look at the infinity pool atop the famous Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore (Chris McGinnis)

I was in Singapore a couple years ago for BBC, and here’s what I saw– quite an amazing place! Hotels, like the Marina Bay Sands (pictured) are built to knock your socks off. The food scene, especially the outdoor “hawker stalls” are fun, healthy and super-diverse. If cold weather’s got you down, you’ll warm up in Singapore as its equatorial location means warm, tropical weather year-round. And Changi Airport itself is worthy of a trip! See this to find out exactly what I mean.

Seoul reminds me a lot of Tokyo— super modern and efficient. Wealthy. Clean. Gorgeous new hotels. A chic fashion-and-design-forward and super friendly population. Unusual food. And a nice climate in the Spring, which can range from 45-75 degrees F on average in March and April. Plus, Korea’s Cherry Blossom season in early April rivals what you see in Tokyo!

Get this special deal here

Unbelievable sights, sounds and flavors at Seouls indoor/outdoor food markets (Chris McGinnis)

Unbelievable sights, sounds and flavors at Seoul’s indoor/outdoor food markets (Chris McGinnis)

 A trip to either of these destinations would be an awesome way to spend a spring break vacation! 

UPDATE Feb 18: Response to this sale has been enormous, and many flights are now sold out. But if you are flexible with dates, you can still grab the deal.

Details of this exclusive offer are available to anyone using this link to our private sale:

  • Only available in economy class
  • The $499/$699 deal is only available via links found on this page
  • Book between now and February 21
  • Travel between March 1 and April 14
  • Not available on Fridays or Saturdays on outbound portion from SFO
  • Tickets are booked in K class, which earns 10% of miles flown in Singapore’s KrisFlyer program. K fares do not earn United MileagePlus or other airline miles

What’s so great about Singapore Airlines? It’s famous inflight service, of course! It also has more spacious 3-3-3 seating in economy class  while others have moved to a tighter 3-4-3 configuration. And there’s an unending supply of inflight entertainment via the Krisworld seatback system. (Don’t miss our Trip Report about Singapore’s renowned business class.)

Here’s a good video showing what it’s like to fly in economy class on Singapore Airlines between SFO and Seoul.

Seoul or Singapore for Spring Break? Why not? Conde Nast just wrote about Seoul’s coolest neighborhood.

Singapore Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 5.13.42 PM

Are you ready to book your trip? Here’s how!

Get this special deal here

 

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


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Most popular: Nicest lounge + SF mistakes + March warning + Hawaii sale + LAX terminal

Cathay Pacific Lounge

Nearly everyone wanted to join our tour inside this exclusive space (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

1 Let’s move in! World’s nicest airport lounge? [Trip Report]

2 Made for the Super Bowl 8 mistakes to avoid in San Francisco

3 Warning: Think twice about trips in late MarchWeekend Edition

Routes: Virgin’s new Hawaii sale; JetBlue’s Mint to        Boston; Alaska to Atlanta

5 They are up to it again… More airline fee tricks

6 Bright spot: More, better food on Delta, United & American

More TSA PreCheck love + Expense Reports + Longer trips

8 Far, far away United Airlines reveals its newest, longest flight

Airports: New LAX terminal, Coke at DFW, ORD upgrade, MSP beer

10 Log on! Delta nearly done with global wi-fi rollout; United, AA catching up

WEATHER WARNING: Airlines issuing waivers for Monday flights to Northeastern cities due to storm

My Instagram pic of the week:

Shaquille O'Neal

I took a stroll in downtown San Francisco on Super Bowl Saturday and found Shaquille O’Neal ducking into limo! Click image to follow me (Chris McGinnis)

Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

Marriott Rewards adds 54 hotels in Canada

Shift in airport parking dynamics rationale for new IHG hotel at ATL

United reverses policy on boarding

Take a look: Collegiate Spring Break dates for 2016

SWISS International gets a shiny new plane (Image: SWISS)

SWISS International gets a shiny new plane (Image: SWISS)

See inside the new SWISS flagship (coming soon to SFO)

11 airlines that offer FREE inflight wi-fi

New Delta CEO Ed Bastian pledges to “stay the course” says WSJ 

New United amenity kit for p.s. biz class passengers

Here’s what the CDC is saying about the Zika virus

Atlanta leisure fares down 23% in last year

5 reasons why Uber is killing it

Why is JetBlue flying Buffalo-LAX? 

 

Knickerbocker Hotel New York

One of the most dramatic rooftop bars in NYC (Photo: Knickerbocker Hotel)

We’ve completed our series of New York’s five newest business class hotels. Did you see all of ’em? If not, here ya go:

 1 Hotel Central Park (Midtown)

The Baccarat (Midtown)

New York EDITION (Flatiron/Madison Sq Park)

The EVEN Hotel (Near Penn Station/Garment district)

The Knickerbocker (Times Square)

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Boeing 747 nearing its end? + “Targeted” for an upgrade? + 5 newest biz class hotels in New York + TSA PreCheck is exploding + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 

twitter-floowmeDo you follow us on Twitter? It’s a great way to keep up with the latest news!

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Routes: Virgin’s new Hawaii sale; JetBlue’s Mint to Boston; Alaska to Atlanta

Hanging out at the bar and soaking up what's going on outside. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Virgin America will bring Hawaii service to Los Angeles this year. (Virgin’s LAX lounge photo: Chris McGinnis)

In domestic route news, Virgin America plans a new Hawaii route; JetBlue sets schedules for the launch of Boston Mint service, and adds new cross-country markets; Alaska will resume an Atlanta route; and a niche carrier sets its sights on Portland.

Following up on its recent inauguration of service from San Francisco to Honolulu and Maui, Virgin America announced this week that it will serve the same two destinations from Los Angeles. The company said it has scheduled a May 5 start for daily flights from LAX to Honolulu, and a June 14 launch for daily service linking LAX with Kahului, Maui. Virgin noted that the new LAX schedule will allow even more connecting possibilities to Hawaii from the other cities it serves. Virgin is offering sale fares between Hawaii and LAX for as little as $338 round trip — today (Tuesday) only — and is offering Elevate members an award flight price starting at 8,278 points. UPDATE: As of Wednesday morning Feb 3, these “one day” sale fares ($338 rt) are still available when searching for SFO to Hawaii on VirginAmerica.com

NICE: These sale fares are good for travel all the way from now through summer– and they apply to flights from San Francisco, too! 

Are you signed up for the TravelSkills.com blog? Why not? Do it right now and don’t miss out. 

JetBlue will add more Mint flights on transcon routes this fall. (Image: JetBlue)

JetBlue will add more Mint flights on transcon routes from Boston. (Image: JetBlue)

Following up on plans it announced months ago, JetBlue has set the starting dates for the expansion of its premium Mint service to routes out of Boston.  According to Airlineroute.net, JetBlue will introduce a Mint-equipped A321 on one of its three daily San Francisco-Boston flights effective March 24, followed by a second daily Mint service beginning April 20 and the third starting September 20. JetBlue’s Boston-Los Angeles route will get the same treatment, but so far only one of the three daily flights on that route has the new Mint service scheduled, with a starting date of October 20.

Meanwhile, JetBlue also has its eye on some new cross-country markets. The carrier said it will begin new daily service between Boston-Salt Lake City on May 12, and between Ft. Lauderdale-San Diego as of June 16. Also in the works is new daily service linking Los Angeles with Buffalo, N.Y. starting June 16. On all three routes, the eastbound departure will be a red-eye.

Alaska Airlines is adding an international mileage and code-share partner. (Image: Jim Glab)

Alaska Airlines is bringing back nonstops between Atlanta and Portland, OR (Image: Jim Glab)

Alaska Airlines dropped service between Atlanta and Portland, Ore. a few years ago, but now it is planning to revive that route on a seasonal basis. The airline said it will operate a daily 737 roundtrip on the route this year from June 4 through August 27. Delta already serves that market. Alaska also announced plans to operate weekly Saturday service this summer between Spokane and Anchorage, from June 11 through August 27.

Don’t miss: The “unofficial” airport of the big game giveaway

Minnesota-based Sun Country Airlines plans to begin new year-round service between Minneapolis-St. Paul and Portland, Ore. on June 9, according to Airlineroute.net. The 737 service will initially operate five times a week, and will be reduced to four a week after August 31.

Are you signed up for the TravelSkills.com blog? Why not? Do it right now and don’t miss out. 

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Boeing 747 nearing its end? + “Targeted” for an upgrade? + 5 newest biz class hotels in New York + TSA PreCheck is exploding + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 

twitter-floowmeDo you follow us on Twitter? It’s a great way to keep up with the latest news!

Please join the 100,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email-per-day updates!

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8 mistakes to avoid in San Francisco

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

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

With all eyes focused on San Francisco as the Super Bowl approaches, I thought now would be a good time for a reprise of one of our most popular posts about the mistakes many travelers make when visiting the Bay Area.

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

That’s especially true if you are in the tech or related fields. For example, San Francisco-based cloud computing giant Salesforce.com puts on its annual Dreamforce conference in the fall at the city’s sprawling Moscone Convention Center, attracting 60,000+ people. Oracle’s OpenWorld conference is usually just before or just after Dreamforce.

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

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

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

SF is hot these days- in more ways than one (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

You are most likely to find sunny weather in San Francisco in the spring and fall (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

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

3>Hailing cabs is so 1999. Use an app instead. This is the hometown of both Uber and Lyft, so download the apps and use them if you haven’t already done so. You can enjoy nearly all the different “flavors” of Uber available in the Bay Area, which include the standard town car UberBLACK, private car “citizen driver” UberX (cheaper than taxis), UberSUV, UberXL, and UberPOOL of LyftLine where you share a ride with someone else headed in the same direction. Cabs are fine when available, but the industry has been decimated by the likes of Uber and Lyft– for example, Yellow Cab Coop of San Francisco recently declared bankruptcy (but is still operating). One way to get around irritating “surge pricing” from car sharing companies is to use new taxi hailing apps such as Flywheel. Also, don’t rent a car at the airport unless it’s absolutely essential. SFO rental rates are notoriously high, the car rental center at is distant and unloved, and downtown hotel parking rates are in the $60 per night range.

Related: The “unofficial” airport of the big game giveaway

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

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

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

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

6>Don’t think BART to airport is going to save much time. BART is a great option for those who travel light, but you should know that it can take more than 30 minutes to get to the Embarcadero from SFO (for $8.65 each way). Plus, you’ll have to walk to your hotel from the nearest BART station (see below). If there’s no traffic, a taxi or Uber can get you between the airport and city in about 20 minutes. UberBLACK rates are around $68. UberX and Lyft can be about half that. And cabs run about $50 including tip.

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

8>Don’t forget your layers. Winter is cool and wet, but never freezing. Spring and fall are typically the sunniest, driest months. Summer days can be gorgeous and bright, but the fog rolls in and cools everything off by about 4 pm on most days, so don’t venture out in evenings without a sweater.  (By the way, wear black here. It always works.)

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

Last year CNN dropped by for some advice about traveling to the Bay Area– see this video to find out what I had to say.

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

–Chris McGinnis

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Boeing 747 nearing its end? + “Targeted” for an upgrade? + 5 newest biz class hotels in New York + TSA PreCheck is exploding + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 

twitter-floowmeDo you follow us on Twitter? It’s a great way to keep up with the latest news!

Please join the 100,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email-per-day updates!

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5 travel deals: Hawaii + Ski hotels + Airline lounges + Uber + more

Hawaiian Airlines new Airbus A330s are its long haul workhorses (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Hawaiian Airlines new Airbus A330 at HNL (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

HAWAII: Whenever you see a roundtrip fare from the west coast to Hawaii for less than $400, it’s time to book! Right now Hawaiian Air has roundtrips from west coast cities to Hawaii for $400 or less– that’s a great deal. $728 roundtrip from New York. From Book by January 21 for trips in April or May. Hawaiian sale details. United also has some good deals to Hawaii for winter trips, but none for less than $400.

Need info: Chris is headed to Kauai next month (for the first time) and needs tips/advice on what to see. Email him

SKI: Best Western is offering some excellent last minute deals (around $100 per night or less) at hotels near ski resorts in the US and Canada. This is a flash sale and deals disappear at midnight January 20. Details. TIP: If you are not into NFL football, hit the slopes instead! Superbowl Sunday (Feb 7) is usually one of the BEST Sundays of the year due to lack of crowds.

LOUNGES: The helpful LoungeBuddy app has teamed up with TripIt. TripIt Pro members get a one-time $25 credit to use on a lounge pass, as part of the TripIt Pro VIP Benefits program. Just book your lounge pass through LoungeBuddy and then forward the reservation, just like any other travel plan, to plans@tripit.com.  Then, when you arrive at the airport, pull up your lounge pass information right from the TripIt app. More details here.

(Image: Uber)

(Image: Uber)

UBER DISCOUNTS: To bump up demand during slow winter months, Uber says it has discounted fares in 80 U.S. cities. Bloomberg reports that Uber will cut prices in Los Angeles and San Francisco by 10 percent, Houston by 20 percent, and Richmond, Virginia, by 15 percent. Prices in some cities, including New York and Chicago, will remain unchanged– but if you fly to/from Newark Airport, you are in luck. Uber says that is has cut fares from EWR to midtown Manhattan by 50% to around $45 each way! Haven’t tried Uber yet? Use this link and get $15 off your first ride!

Curious about Lyft? Give it a try and get up to $50 off your first ride!

SEE DOUBLE: Both Virgin America and JetBlue are unleashing a powerful tool to help boost winter bookings. Both are offering double points promotions. You must register for both: Virgin double & JetBlue double

 

NOTE: Be sure to click here